THE GREAT RED ROSE

December 23, 2016

Once a long time ago this happened. A family of owls gathered in the hollow of a tree to wait out a winter storm. This particular winter storm had been raging for seven years without pause, after having imprisoned spring, summer, and autumn in a copper globe at the bottom of the sea. Although icy winds howled and blustered in fury, the owls remained safely warm in the deep bowl of the hollow. Feathers ruffled. Eyes blinked. Heads twisted all around. A few yawns were observed. Here and there occasionally a wing stretched. When all owls at last settled into a calm sort of stupor, Old Noddy spoke.

“Now, for once and for all and finally, a volunteer is required to fetch the Great Red Rose in order to end the tyranny of winter, to in fact release imprisoned spring, summer, and autumn from the copper globe beneath the sea,” said Old Noddy.

The owls looked one at the other and the other, heads twisting impressively. In time, the gaze of every yellow round unblinking eye locked on Pinch, the smallest of the owls.

“Oh, me? I?” said Pinch. “Well, where is it?”

Each of the other owls pointed a wing up toward the opening to the hollow high above. Pinch shrugged, beaked and clawed her way up, and threw herself into the storm. Battered and blown here to there and around and over, she fluttered fiercely, eyes pinched tight shut as was her custom. Her name WAS Pinch. How long she tipped and flipped and sank and sailed she could not tell, but exhaustion finally stepped forward to take charge, and the young owl was soon senseless and motionless beneath an ever growing mound of snow.

She dreamed of a garden with oceans of yellow roses sparkling with dew. A single red rose trumpeted from its spot near the iron fence surrounding the garden. Pinch, safe in her dream, approached and asked it formally to release spring, summer, and autumn from the copper globe at the bottom of the sea. The rose opened, revealing its resident sprite.

“It is done, brave Pinch,” said the sprite.

When the mound of snow above Pinch melted away in spring, on that very spot sprouted and grew a small rose bush. When its flowers bloomed, they were all yellow save one. That one was red.

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THE WINTER SOLSTICE LIMERICK

December 21, 2016

When tilted away from the sun

Up north we have lots of fun

We dance in the dark

And lark in the park

Until, exhausted, we’re done

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THE RED RED BERRY

November 28, 2016

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Once in a far off land there lived a foolish simpleton. This was most unfortunate, for the foolish simpleton was also the King. On a day not unlike others, he called his advisors into the kitchen and forgot why.

‘Well, we are gathered,’ he said, casting about in the vast empty cavern of his mind for something to say. Surprisingly, he caught a thought. ‘I know that I am the smartest person in the world and the most handsome, but am I the richest? Advisors, advise me. What can I do to become the richest?’

‘You’re so handsome. You’re so smart,’ mumbled the advisors all in a mash, not knowing what to add, each of them being nearly as simple and foolish as their King.

‘Here’s what you must do, oh smart and handsome,’ cried a voice from behind the throne, and Lemon Bright, the lowest servant, stepped from out of sight into sight. ‘Where the red red berry grows, and on the green green holly it snows, there if you choose correctly, you will be the richest directly.’

Lemon Bright, the lowest servant, smiled and nodded at the King. The King leaped from the throne and shouted, ‘I’ll go at once. Bring my best horse and a spare.’ And in no time at all, the King thundered across the drawbridge riding his best horse followed by a spare. Lemon Bright in the Great Hall disappeared into thin air. She had work to do, being not at all in fact the lowest servant, but instead a most playful and clever sorceress.

The foolish simpleton King plunged heedlessly through drifts of snow, falling and flailing time and time again. The spare, discouraged, wandered back to the castle. Lemon Bright quickly conjured a hedge of green green holly dappled with red red clusters of berries to spring up directly in front of the King before he had time to be thrown by his best horse into a stream and drowned.

‘Ha ha, see how smart I am,’ said the King. ‘Now I will choose correctly because that’s how smart I am.’

He hesitated not at all and reached to pluck what he considered to be the red red reddest of the red red berries. Foolish simpleton, he was wrong, and the penalty for being wrong was clever and playful. The foolish simpleton King was now a jingle bell on a jester’s cap, and he remained thus and so forever.

Of course, it must be noted that none of the red red berries plucked would have made the King the richest fool in the world. Such was the playfulness of Lemon Bright.

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THE OLD MILLER

November 16, 2016

golden-harp

Once upon a time an old miller crafted new paddle staves to replace the many worn out staves of his waterwheel. Sacks of oats ready to be milled lined the walls of the long shed where he worked. After many hours of labor he decided to take a nap. He arranged three oat sacks to that purpose and stretched out in comfort. Soon he was asleep and dreaming.

In the dream he stood by the mill stream. He felt afraid and soon knew why. For from the stream there arose inch by inch slowly until completely emerged a river hag wrapped in a long red cloak. As rivulets of water ran down the sodden cloak, the hag engaged the old miller eyes to eyes with a dark frozen stare.

‘When you awake, be quick, be sharp, and bring to the mill my lost golden harp,’ croaked the hag, and poof she was gone, and the miller awoke.

He ran home and told his good wife all about the dream. She sat in the rocking chair, rocking and thinking, rocking and thinking. The old miller, who always relied on his good wife for counsel, waited patiently for her to speak.

She stopped rocking and said, ‘It’s this. A sorceress has enchanted you. You must find her golden harp and bring it here. I will send for our nephew to run the mill until you return.’

And so the miller set off. He went from village to village, castle to castle, explaining his quest, and not once did he hear tales of a river hag’s golden harp until a day many years later when he rested sitting in a deep wood with his back against the thick trunk of great twisted oak. Soon he nodded off to sleep. He dreamed.

Again, in the dream, he stood by the mill stream. He trembled with fear and soon knew why. The river hag rose from the stream and engaged him again eyes to eyes with a dark frozen stare.

‘When you awake, be quick, go home, never more so far to roam. I found my harp, no thanks to you. Forget all about it, and I’ll forget, too,’ croaked the hag, and poof she was gone, and the miller awoke.

He arose from the oat sacks in his long shed and returned to crafting new staves.

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THE BALING HOOK

October 13, 2016

baling-hook

‘I am very good at puzzles. I am the best,’ said Little Daphnis.

The gatekeeper looked doubtful and smiled crookedly. ‘A scrap of a thing like you? Tell me another. Go off and leave the labyrinth to fools a good deal older than you.’

‘I have a baling hook. It’s iron. The smith made it for me. I gave him one of my gold nuggets. Here’s the other for you if you’ll allow me to enter the labyrinth,’ said Daphnis, taking the baling hook and the nugget from the sack she carried.

‘Ah, that’s altogether different then, isn’t it?’ said the gatekeeper, and his eyes widened, sparkling with greed. ‘Give me that nugget, and I’ll let you through. Keep the hook for all the help it won’t be. You will be number 1,852 to enter. If you succeed, you will be number 1 to return with the key.’

The gatekeeper swung wide the gate, and Little Daphnis entered the labyrinth. The gateway disappeared, and she found herself on a narrow path between high smooth walls running off to the left and to the right out of sight. Daphnis considered for a moment, and then tentatively touched the wall. The walls rotated. The path now went forward or back out of sight. Oh. She touched the wall again. The path spun madly. She took her hand away. The spinning stopped. The path stays ever straight, but where it goes depends on the spin of the walls, thought Little Daphnis. I’ll walk a while before I touch the wall again. She walked along the ever straight unchanging path. High overhead she could see the sky. Why don’t I dig footholds in the wall with my hook and climb up to have a look around? she asked herself. She scratched and scraped at the wall with the baling hook, but when she freed the hook to make a second step, the first gash healed. So much for that idea, she thought. She sat down. She made the path spin and stop, spin and stop by tapping at one wall, then the other. This is getting me nowhere, thought Daphnis, and she idly scratched her baling hook beside her along the path. The path fell away beneath her. Glowing green stairs appeared. This is better,she thought.

Down the stairs she hurried, and when she had descended the last step, she faced a great metal door. She pushed at it. It didn’t budge. She stepped back to think. She stepped forward and swung her baling hook with every ounce of her strength at the door. CLANG. The door swung open.

‘Huh?’ said the gatekeeper, jumping up and grabbing at his chest.

‘I am very good at puzzles. I am the best,’ said Little Daphnis.

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JOHNNY OATCAKE

October 10, 2016

My name is not something you buy in a store, Oh, Johnny Oatcake,

My name is not something you find on the floor, Oh, Johnny Oatcake,

Instead my name’s something found high in the sky, Oh, Johnny Oatcake,

Weather Satellite Remington Bligh, Oh,Johnny Oatcake.

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THE MINSTREL

September 28, 2016

lute

‘Villages disappeared. Where they had thrived were empty fields of waving grasses and moaning winds,’ the storyteller began, rubbing his chin and looking around to engage in turn each of his young listeners. Then he whispered, ‘Hear me well if you would save this village from … the minstrel.’

The children shrank down, wide-eyed. The storyteller nodded and pulled his lute by its strap around from behind his back. He sang. The village disappeared.

Days later, mist formed on a lake at dawn and drifted toward a nearby village. It paused and took shape. One black boot, one white. Satin tights, one leg scarlet, one leg gold. A checkerboard tunic of green and black. A jingle bell cap of driftwood grey. A fine lute strapped to his back. He strolled into the village and headed for the marketplace. At noon, the village disappeared.

Beware the minstrel. Beware the mist.

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MED OF THE NORTH

September 3, 2016

star

Cloak

Med of the North opened wide the dark green velvet cloak behind her and thrust her pale green membraned wings, first left, then right, through the pair of carefully measured cuts in the fabric. She drew the cloak about her and snapped shut the clasp at her neck. She turned her gaze to the star.

Star

Through the night directly toward the bright bold light flew Med of the North, bobbing in slow rhythm on the whuff whuff whuff of her membraned wings. She drew nearer and nearer.

Ice

Over vast canyons of ice she flew searching. Aha! A red glow. Down she glided to land. The ice door glistened, opened. The red glow beckoned.

Morning

‘Meadow Jane Harper, it’s time to get up. Do you want to be late on the first day of school?’

Med opened her eyes. She smiled.

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THE RAG DOLL

August 7, 2016

rag doll

In a secret hollow deep in the great mound of trash on the edge of town, Maisie, the rag doll, called a meeting of all the abandoned toys. The toys worked their way through shoals of bent wire hangers and around innumerable tires and over crusty crumpled scattered newspapers to heed her call.

When all the toys had assembled and settled, a bent music box called out, ‘Well, what is it, Maisie?’

‘We ought to leave this pile of garbage and live somewhere else,’ announced Maisie.

Toys with eyes rolled them. The most vocal toys said, ‘Duh.’ A stuffed serpent said, ‘Well, obviously. But where can we go and how can we get there?’

‘I have a plan,’ said Maisie.

Silence. The abandoned toys listened, motionless.

‘Let’s make a wish,’ Maisie continued.

Hubbub. Moaning. ‘Oh, great.’ ‘Sure.’ ‘Fine. Excuse me while I go back under my broken chair.’

‘I WISH WE COULD LIVE IN A CARPETED PALACE WHERE WE COULD SING AND DANCE AND SLEEP OR NOT AND TALK AND PLAY GAMES OR NOT FOREVER!’ Maisie shouted to be heard over the noisy retreat of the disappointed toys.

Three magic sprites flitting above the trash mound on their way to a brook party heard Maisie’s cry and shrugged why not? one at the other and the other. Fast as fast and twice as quick, the abandoned toys found themselves in a carpeted dream palace of their own where they happily ever aftered ever and after.

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GOLDEN RIBBON

July 13, 2016

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Once far away and long ago a dutiful young servant girl, scarcely 9 years of age, polished the silver candelabra in the music room. Molly, for that was the servant girl’s name, couldn’t help but hear the story being told by the governess to the young master and young mistress of the manor. For there they were, the three of them, seated near the music room’s fireplace. They noticed Molly not at all. To them she was an invisible cleaning service. But the invisible cleaning service had ears. And what’s more, she had dreams.

‘And the Golden Ribbon brought them wealth and happiness beyond their wildest desires,’ said the governess, concluding the story.

Later that night in her tiny attic room, Molly, instead of sleeping, gathered all her belongings and placed them in the tiny pocket of her apron. I’ll find that Golden Ribbon, she thought. And without a moment’s delay, she crept down the steep narrow winding back stairway and flashed out and away under the light of a fat pale moon.

By the time she was 12, Molly had known forests, villages, lakes, fields, valleys, and mountains. She lived by her wits and cleaning skills, but whenever she inquired of a jester or a miller or a blacksmith or a baker or a seamstress about the Golden Ribbon, shrugs and ‘Never heard of it, dearie’ and ‘That be a true stumper to me, missy’ were all she received in reply.

One day it so happened, fair and true, that she came to the edge of a great wide river. The sun was sinking, and Molly’s jaw dropped when she saw a golden ribbon fall sparkling across the water. She sat down heavily.

‘The Golden Ribbon,’ she murmured.

‘That it is, to be sure,’ said a soft musical voice.

Molly turned, and there was the smiling Magic River Queen in all of her sparkling splendor.

‘Come with me,’ said the Queen with a reach of her delicate pale green hand, ‘and I will bring you wealth and happiness beyond your wildest desires.’

For Molly in her long happy life, it turned out to be a promise well kept.

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