THE MAGIC PENGUIN

January 25, 2015

penguin

Far ago and long away a grandmother struggled to raise her granddaughter in a tidy cottage next to the windmill by the canal. One night, after a long day’s sweeping and scrubbing, the grandmother sat by the fire resting while Elsa, the granddaughter, prepared the gruel. A knock on the door sounding as if from a weary knuckle was heard. Elsa looked to her grandmother, who nodded. Elsa opened the door, revealing a bent crone dressed in filthy rags, who took a single step forward and fell senseless. The grandmother hurried to help Elsa drag the visitor to the fire.

‘Bring some gruel and our best water,’ said the grandmother to Elsa.

Soon the crone was revived and comforted, wrapped in the patchwork quilt and sipping water.

‘Your kindness shall be rewarded,’ said the crone. ‘Listen clear. South, far south, so south as you can go, there is a black bird with a white belly and flippers instead of wings. She lives on the Plain of Whedge, where the white blossoms bloom. Find her and say you are sent by Old Mombillia to collect a reward. Blessings on you, child and child’s grandmother.’

So saying, the bent crone staggered to her feet, waving away Elsa’s attempts to help her. She turned at the door, grinned toothlessly, and disappeared.

‘What was that, do you think, grandmother?’ said Elsa.

‘I don’t know, but heading south to look for a bird with flippers can’t be worse than staying around here sweeping with broken brooms and scrubbing with inferior wax, can it?’ reasoned the grandmother.

The next morning they began their journey. It took them a year to reach what they thought might be the place.

‘Well, grandmother, as far as the eye can see, the ground is blossoming white. This must be the Plain of Whedge,’ said Elsa.

‘I don’t see a bird,’ said the grandmother. ‘Let’s give up.’

They had just decided to turn back when Elsa caught sight of a far off black fleck. Her eyesight was sharper than any day creature’s anywhere. And so they began to run, Elsa struggling gamely to keep up with her grandmother, one of the fastest runners of any grandmother anywhere.

The black bird with the white belly and flippers instead of wings regarded the onrushing pair. Gasping, Elsa and her grandmother pulled up short in front of the bird.

‘Well, I am Whedge,’ said the bird. ‘What do you want?’

Recovering her wind enough to answer, Elsa said, ‘We are sent by Old Mombillia to collect a reward. We gave her gruel.’

‘That was kind,’ said Whedge, the bird. ‘You shall be rewarded.’

Whedge dipped her head, and Elsa and her grandmother found themselves back in their cottage, none the worse for wear. The cottage, however, had changed. Freshly painted and insulated, it was spruced up to a fine neatness. And there were new brooms and a lifetime supply of the most superior scrubbing wax. Elsa and her grandmother could not have been more pleased.

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THE SEAHORSE

January 17, 2015

seahorse

Once in a town not far from the palace there lived a baker’s apprentice. She toiled from well before dawn to far after dusk every day. She milked the cow, drew water from the well, chopped wood for the oven fire, gathered berries for pies and tarts, mixed the batters, kneaded and shaped the dough, baked everything all in preparation for when the baker awoke at noon and did his part. His part was to pipe ribbons of icing onto the cookies and cakes and pies, producing magnificent flowers, stars, and delicate whorls. Then he left to rest, leaving the cleaning up for his apprentice.

One afternoon while gathering berries in the wood, the apprentice, whose name was Millie, gasped in shock when an otter leaped from a nearby stream and ran up to her, shouting, ‘I know you! You’re the baker’s apprentice. You work, work, work, don’t you? You know what I bet? I bet you could win the baking competition at the palace next week.’

Millie replied, ‘Of course I couldn’t. My master is gong to enter. He pipes the most glorious flowers.’

‘Listen,’ said the otter. ‘I like you. You work hard. You deserve to win. So here’s all you have to do. Follow my stream to the ocean. Stand on the shore and shout over the waves, “Oven of fire under the sea, take me below and teach me to be the finest baker the Queen will see.”‘

‘Will it really work?’ asked Millie, hoping.

The otter assured her the spell wouldn’t fail and spent half an hour or more helping Millie to memorize the words. It proved to be a difficult task for Millie, for she had no formal education to speak of beyond baking.

Muttering the spell over and over to herself, Millie walked along by the stream until she reached the sea. She stepped to the shore, cleared her throat, and cried out, ‘Oven of fire under the sea, take me below and teach me to be the finest baker the Queen will see.’

A wave swept up, engulfed Millie, and hauled her down to the bottom of the sea. Before she could register shock, surprise, fear and amazement, a beautiful gold and white seahorse, speckled black, swam up to her and nodded. A great bubble of air surrounded Millie and the seahorse, who wasn’t a seahorse any more, but a golden sorceress in a white gown, speckled black. Down a path to the lava ovens Millie was led by the sorceress.

‘You shall be the greatest baker of all,’ said the sorceress. For she knew all about Millie from her friend, the otter.

Oh, the glory of the cakes on the day of the contest at the palace. Tables groaned under the weight and beauty of them. The Queen paced slowly around the table, observing each cake in turn. Then she circled the table once again, this time sampling a morsel from each. She stepped back, closed her eyes, and nodded. ‘This one,’ she said, indicating the half dome rainbow cake.

And so Millie became the Royal baker. She was most beloved by her many apprentices. For you see, she insisted on doing most of the work.

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THE MUSHROOM

January 10, 2015

mushroom

In the meadow at the edge of a great pine forest a tiny mushroom poked its head out of the ground.

‘I’m a mushroom,’ it said, surprising itself. ‘Why, I can talk. What a marvel! Say, green shoots, have you ever met a talking mushroom?’

The green shoots all around said not a thing. A few waved, but that was because of a gust of wind, not because they heard the mushroom speak. Not discouraged at all, the mushroom shouted a greeting aimed at the nearest tall pine tree. The pine tree, being regal and not a mere green ground shoot, replied.

‘I hear you,’ it said. ‘You don’t have to shout. And to answer your question, I admit that you are the first mushroom ever to speak in my presence, and that’s saying something, I assure you. For I am 213 years old.’

The pine tree went on and on, telling of this, boasting of that. The mushroom grew restless, so eager was it to have another turn at talking. In fact, the mushroom grew so restless that it wrenched itself out of the ground and began to walk. At once the pine tree fell silent.

‘Oh, look!’ said the mushroom. ‘I can talk AND walk. I must be marvelous. Why, I’m off to make my fortune!’

So saying, the mushroom hurried across the meadow and away. The pine tree, its dignity offended, muttered, ‘I could walk if I felt like it.’ But, of course, that was not true.

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RAGWEN’S ESCAPE

January 1, 2015

2014-12-25 11.43.56

Ragwen, a California mountain elf maiden, lived comfortably in a set of spacious rooms under three boulders in the meadow. Unfortunately she was just the ornament the giant witch from the land of giants was looking for to display in a cage on the window sill close by the giant witch’s favorite cauldron. I say unfortunately because Ragwen was captured and delivered to the giant witch by a free lance ogre that knew of the witch’s ornamental desire and happened to wander through Ragwen’s meadow when Ragwen was napping on the largest of the three boulders.

The witch, humming out of tune and cackling now and again for no reason Ragwen could see, often paused to peer at Ragwen in the little cage on the window sill and say, ‘Oh, dearie, isn’t it smokejoy?’ Not having the slightest idea how to respond to such nonsense, Ragwen merely shrugged. This seemed to satisfy the giant witch.

One day a spark jay, a bird with red wings and a blue head, landed on the window sill. The jay, smarter than two whips, had watched the witch fly off on her giant broom minutes earlier. Bending down to the tiny cage, the jay said, ‘So you’re the ornament they’re all talking about. Puny, aren’t you? But I do like your sash. May I have it?’

Ragwen, smarter than three whips, answered, ‘Of course. All you have to do is bend the bars of the cage, free me, and fly me back to my meadow in California.’

‘Well, I don’t know. California’s a long way from from here,’ mused the jay.

‘I’ll throw in my green cap. It’s made of satin,’ bargained Ragwen.

It’s a deal,’ said the spark jay, and before anyone knew anything, the bars were parted, Ragwen was aboard the bird, and they were off and winging.

Unfortunately, yes, again unfortunately, the giant witch had seen all with her far sight eye and was in hot pursuit. More than hot, flaming was the pursuit. Luckily, yes luckily and not unfortunately, the spark jay, smarter than two whips, led the chase with many a zig and a zag and cleverly climbed higher than high after reaching Ragwen’s meadow. Then, with a swift turn, the spark jay plunged straight down toward the earth, and the raging witch plunged after, drawing nearer and nearer. The spark jay turned aside with a double whip smart twist a bare instant before the bird would have crashed into the ground and been smashed to a pulverine. Unfortunately and luckily, depending on whether you were the witch or Ragwen and the spark jay, the giant witch was unable to make the turn.

Often, for years after, when the spark jay would visit Ragwen, they would sit by the three boulders and gaze out at the brushy end of the giant witch’s giant broom, all that was left to remind them of that time long ago when Ragwen had escaped the window sill of the giant witch.

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THE BROKEN ORNAMENT

December 24, 2014

Broken Christmas ornament

All of the decorations gathered in the closet to discuss what should be done with the broken ornament. The broken ornament waited, trembling in a dark corner.

‘Throw her out of course, but in the nicest possible way,’ twinkled the silver icicles.

‘Broom, are you willing to sweep her outside?’ asked the grand gold globe, largest of the ornaments.

‘I’ll do it if you save me the place on the hearth by the fire. It’s cold out there in the blizzard, you know. My straws could stiffen and break,’ said the broom.

So it was decided. The wreathes and ribbons and lights and garlands and all else shiny and splendid retreated to the storage box, leaving the broom and the broken ornament alone.

‘Well, you got a tough break, kid, and I mean that in many ways, but out you go,’ said the broom.

Whish whoosh swept the broom, and quick as that, the broken ornament was scattered in the snow.

‘Lucky for you the storm stopped,’ said the broom before going into the house and slamming the door.

Oh, fragile despair. The broken green ornament was left without hope to stare at the bleak dark night.

A pair of owls, brothers, happened to swoop by and noticed a green sparkle on the snow. Down they flew and landed near the broken green shards of ornament.

‘This would brighten the old hole in the tree some, wouldn’t it, Rolf?’ said one.

‘That it would, Ralph,’ said the other.

They carefully picked up every last piece of ornament and sped back to their tree. They arranged the ornament inside, placing parts here and there and drawing back to admire the effect.

‘Perfect,’ said Rolf.

‘Spiff,’ said Ralph.

The broken green ornament sparkled all year round for years and years instead of being tucked away cramped for most of the time in a storage box in a closet.

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THE OWL OF WINTER

December 10, 2014

white owl

In the before time, Old Hareek lived with her granddaughter in a small cottage at the edge of a wood. When winter arrived, they tucked themselves inside near the fire and lived on roots and nuts. Lola, the granddaughter, listened entranced to Old Hareek’s tales. So it was that they passed the time.

One evening, when a slender slice of cold moon hung high in the sky, Old Hareek said, ‘Lola, I tell you now that today was your 8th birthday, and it is time for you to hear of the spell under which we have been cast.’

Lola huddled low, and her eyes grew wide, but she said not a word.

‘How fine it was when I had my powers,’ began Old Hareek. ‘Oh,I had them. I was a splendid witch, to be sure, until. Until the white owl challenged me to answer the question. I failed, Lola, and it was then that the owl cast its spell. Doomed to be powerless I was, doomed.’

‘What was the question?’ asked Lola. ‘We’re witches?’

‘We won’t be witches again until the question is answered. I can’t tell you the question. It must be heard from the owl’s very beak. The owl prophesied that I would one day have a granddaughter, and when that granddaughter turned 8 years of age, she, and only she, could break the spell by finding the owl and answering the question.’

Lola jumped up and said, ‘Where is it? I’ll go now.’

‘Yes,’ said Old Hareek. ‘Wear my cloak to keep warm. There is an open meadow in the center of the wood. Go there and spin around three times, calling “Owl, owl, owl”.’

Lola raced from the cottage into the black of night under the sliver moon. Her trail through the snow was straight and true to the meadow in the center of the wood. She spun around three times and cried out, ‘Owl! Owl! Owl!’

Low it came over the snow, white of wing, white of face. It settled softly and regarded Lola. The owl blinked its eyes, and of a sudden gold they glowed.

‘I am Lola, 8 years old and the granddaughter of the one they call Old Hareek. What is the question?’ said Lola boldly.

‘How can you count to ’17’ by ‘2’s?’ asked the owl.*

‘So easy,’ said Lola, who was quite clever with numbers. ‘Start at 1/2. 2 times 1/2 is 1. Then go 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17.’

The owl was astonished speechless and flew off in ragged confusion. Lola felt powers stirring and ran home, growing all the while. She burst into the cottage to find the 8 year old Hareek grinning at her. Old Lola looked down at her wrinkled, twisted hands.

*Thanks to L. Frank Baum for the question.

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CRANBERRIES 3

December 5, 2014

3 cranberries

We are the cranberries 3

Not one of us has a knee

We live in a log not far from the bog

And dine on peppermint tea

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We are the cranberries 3

You won’t find us climbing a tree

We roll all around the nice soggy ground

The finest of berries are we, are we

The finest of berries are we

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AGNES AND HER 3 RAVENS

December 1, 2014

ravens

Agnes never smiled. She was dutiful and worked at learning her sums and important dates in history. When instructed to do so, she practiced the piano without complaint. She allowed them to take her to the park every day, where she walked slowly until time enough had passed, and she was led home. They wondered why she spent all of her free time sitting on a chair with her arms folded and staring out the window. Some said it would be nice if just once she would dance about in a rage and fling something, but she never did. She never ran, skipped, or spun in circles to get dizzy. She walked.

One day in the park three ravens flew down and settled behind Agnes as she walked. The ravens formed a line and, walking, followed Agnes. The nanny and the governess thought it strange and tried to shoo the ravens away. Agnes turned on them her disapproving stare, and they instantly subsided. The ravens followed Agnes home and lived with her from that day forward. Nothing else changed. Except at night.

Oh, how wild they would fly free, the four ravens.

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THE SNOW PANDA

November 23, 2014

snow panda

Once in a land far away a shoemaker and his wife had 3 daughters. Wunny was the first born, Tuella the second, Threeda the third. Threeda was the wildest and most impetuous. So when a traveling crone passing through the village told the shoemaker and his family all about how a golden castle on the top of a snowy mountain could be claimed only by a bold maiden, Threeda jumped up, said she would do it, and ran out the door. Since she hadn’t waited long enough to be told where the mountain was located, she soon raced over the edge of a cliff and was never heard from again. Meanwhile, patient Wunny listened to the crone’s full list of instructions, sighed, nodded, and said she supposed she would go. She wandered listlessly, as was her manner, all the way to the base of the golden castle’s mountain. Seeing how steep it was, she sighed and wandered into a small cave and took a nap. When she awoke, she decided she liked the cave and would live there forever. So she did. Now that left the third daughter, Tuella. A year had passed, and the shoemaker and his wife still talked and talked about how nice it would be to live in a golden castle on top of a snowy mountain. Tuella promised to do her best to find it. Extra sharp of mind, Tuella remembered each and all of the crone’s instructions, including the one about taking along a cake made of the finest leaves. When she reached the base of the mountain, she began without pause to climb up, up, and up through the softly falling snow. Halfway to the top she saw a panda sitting in the notch of a tall tree.

‘What say you?’ said the panda.

‘I say I seek to claim the golden castle and I bring a cake of the finest leaves,’ replied clever Tuella.

‘You say finest leaves? Show me then,’ said the panda.

Tuella produced the cake and held it up for the Panda to see. The panda climbed down, received the cake, and ate it.

‘Now I have no need to eat you,’ said the panda. ‘Go on up. The castle is yours.’

Tuella went up, claimed the castle, returned to fetch her parents, journeyed again to the castle, and lived with her parents there not bored for a long time, often playing cards with the panda.

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THE LITTLE BLUE FROG

November 14, 2014

little blue frog

Once there was a small queendom wedged in a canyon between two towering cliffs. It was peaceful. It had a stream, a small castle, and a little blue frog.

Each morning the queen led all of her subjects (there were nine of them) to the frog room and supervised the preparations for viewing the frog. For you see, across deserts, over mountains and seas and lakes, visitors came in streams, waves, and ripples to marvel at the frog and pay a fine price to do so. The queen herself collected payment at the door before allowing visitors in groups of four to step inside and view the frog for no more than ten seconds.

One day in May the queen went into the frog room and shrieked. The frog was missing from its twig! The queen slumped to the floor and was restored to consciousness only after considerable effort by eight of her subjects fetching water, cloths, medicines, and so forth. The ninth subject grinned, and when the queen blinked her eyes, he brought forth the little blue frog which all the while he had hidden in his hand behind his back.

‘Just kidding,’ he said.

‘Good one,’ said the queen, and an hour later she and all eight of her subjects were ready to receive and take payment from the masses of strangers eager to view the little blue frog.

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