Penny

Once upon a time in a small village between two mountains there was a little girl who had power over the wind and sun. She didn’t look like someone who would have such immense magical powers. She was small for her age and freckled and had hair that couldn’t make up it’s mind if it was blonde or brown and eyes of faded blue that twinkled when she talked but otherwise attracted no attention.

She didn’t act like someone who would have supernatural abilities either. She went to school (where she only did fine and not outstanding) and helped her mother around the house (though she often forgot the proper way to sweep a floor) and played with the village children (who outran her in games of tag and dared her to walk fence lines without a single care for whether or not it would rain).

She didn’t know any secret magic words. She didn’t have a mysterious old grandmother or aunt who cast a spell on her as a baby. She didn’t have a magic cloak or a name of power. She wore clothes made by her mother and her name was Penny (though most people called her plain old Pen).

Still, the fact remained that when plain old Pen walked out her door with an umbrella, the clouds would roll in and the rain would pour down. When Penny picked out a sundress on an early spring morning, the air would immediately begin to warm. When Penny appeared in the village wearing snow boots and a fur-lined coat, everyone brought in extra firewood, knowing the snow would fall any minute.

There were a few who didn’t believe, of course. The village seamstress (who had studied at a university and taught school for several years before realizing that she really didn’t like children) was adamant that such magic could not exist. She insisted that it was all coincidence and silly superstition. Old Granny Spencer was too smart to believe in coincidence, but she didn’t see how a little slip of a thing like that could control something so wild and free as the wind and the rain. Instead she told all she met that Penny could merely sense the weather before it came, much the way Granny’s own knee ached when the rain was rolling in.

Several of the village children, led by little Nanny Whipple, thought Penny too plain to have such powers. They were sure it was just her magical boots that made the rain. They yelled this loudly on the playground until the day that Nanny worked up the courage to swipe Penny’s boots. She was bold enough to wear them to school the next day, bragging of how she would make it rain. Penny came to school barefoot that day, and it was the warmest April day that anyone had ever seen, a perfect, cloudless summer day come too early. That night Penny found her boots sitting outside her front door, and the children’s playground taunts turned to someone else.

So the children’s doubts were silenced, and with very few exceptions the grown-ups all believed in Penny’s powers. It was only a matter of time before they all began to think of using these strange powers to their own advantage.

It was Eleanor Pratt, the mayor’s daughter, who first approached Penny with a gift. Eleanor was getting married on Saturday and had planned the loveliest wedding under the willows down by the stream. The only thing that could ruin it’s perfection would be rain. Smart girl that Eleanor was, she never mentioned the weather to Penny at all, just gave her the prettiest pink sundress sprinkled over with delicate flowers. “I hope you’ll wear this to my wedding on Saturday,” she said in answer to Penny’s squeals. Penny did, and they all danced in the brilliant sunshine that day.

The farmers were the next to show up at Penny’s door. It had been a warm summer (not surprising, as Penny was running around barefoot and swimming in the creek every day). After three rainless weeks, a string of gifts began arriving for Penny. Three umbrellas, two pairs of galoshes, and a lovely waterproof rain coat. This last gift was shiny and polka-dotted, and Penny couldn’t help but try it on. The farmers breathed a sigh of relief as a warm, steady rain fell on their parched crops.

It didn’t take long, of course, for things to become ridiculous. By the end of summer, it wasn’t uncommon for Penny’s mother to find a pile of gifts outside the door: a warm woolen scarf from a grandmother who was tired of the summer heat, a pink parasol from a housewife planning a picnic, a rain hat from another housewife who had not been invited to the picnic and was determined to ruin it, and three kites from hopeful children who wanted enough wind to fly their own.

Naturally, there was no way for Penny to use all these things at once, and there was no way for everyone to get the kind of weather that they wanted. Someone was always disappointed and some of them became angry. They would stop Penny on the street to beg, bribe, or threaten her, depending on their mood. She became quite frightened after a while, and her mother was extremely worried. After one horrible encounter in which three angry women tried to force a pair of rain boots onto Penny’s feet right in the middle of town square, Penny’s mother tucked her up into bed, closed all the shutters to the house and refused to let Penny go out at all.

For a week Penny stayed inside, and for a week the weather was suspended. It may seem impossible for there to be no weather at all, but that is exactly how it felt. No wind, no rain, no clouds at all. The sun was in the sky, but it brought no warmth to the air, no sparkle to the stream, no brilliance to the plants and trees. It was as if the whole world was holding its breath.

The gifts piled up around Penny’s door. After a few days, the givers began to pound on the door, more and more insistent the longer that no one answered.

Inside, Penny’s mother and father came to a decision. The village was no longer a safe place for Penny. They would take her to the big city where there were so many people and so much bustle that no one would notice one little girl and her connection to the sky. Quietly they packed their things and made their plans.

The next day, a group of villagers arrived at Penny’s house. The strange unweather had filled them with unease, so that they determined to break down the door if necessary and bring the little girl out by force. There was some argument about what kind of weather they wanted, but they all felt that anything would be better than this.

Boom! Boom! The men’s booted feet crashed into the wooden door. The air outside was still and heavy. Boom! Boom! Crack! The lock began to give way, and a chill swept over the crowd as clouds silently rolled in. Boom! Boom! Thud! The door flew off it’s hinges and hit the floor. At that precise moment sheets of rain began to pour out of the sky. A few of the villagers cheered in relief at this immediate change. The wiser ones cast a dark eye at the sky and hurried into the house.

It was empty. Penny and her family were no where to be found. The hearth was cold. Food and clothing were missing. It was clear that they had left in the night and did not plan to come back. The crowd finally made its way up to Penny’s room where they found a huge pile of discarded hats and gloves and boots and umbrellas and sunglasses. The mayor, who had been carrying a sweater and hoping for the weather to cool, threw it down in disgust.

CRACK! A jag of lightning split the sky. There was a cry from outside, and everyone rushed down. The storm was in a fury, gust of cold wind and hot wind alternately whipped the town, rain pelted their heads, mixed with bits of hail and snow. Thunder boomed. It was as if all the weather they hadn’t had in the last week was visiting them at once. But that was not what caught the mayor’s attention. The first thing he saw was his house. It was on fire.

That day the lightning burned up seven different buildings around town. The fires did not spread due to the unceasing rain, but each time lightning struck, a new building was charred from the inside out. When the weather finally spent its full fury, the villagers were left feeling quite as hollow as those husks of buildings.

They rebuilt. They replanted. They lived very quietly. No one ever mentioned Penny, and no one ever saw her again. And no one ever complained about the weather.

And far away in the city, the rain came and went, and sunny summer passed into windy fall and snowy winter, and no one ever noticed the sweet little girl who was always perfectly prepared for any kind of weather.

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Fritz and the Mystery of the Waters, Part 2

Early one Sunday morning, Fritz put his boat into the rushing water and let it carry him away.

He told no one where he was going. He didn’t want to worry them. Instead, he wrapped up food, an empty bottle for water, and some dry clothes in a big bundle, tied it all to his back, and set off alone. He knew nothing about sailing a boat, of course, so he had no way to steer, no way to stop, no way to control his own fate. He just stepped into the boat, tipped it off the edge into the flood and held on tight.

It was exhilarating. Wind whipped past his face as the water sped him along. The boat rocked back and forth but stayed afloat, and gradually Fritz loosened his tight grip on its sides. The moon and stars gave just enough light for him to see that he was all alone, a tiny, bobbing speck on a vast gurgling sea of water. A feeling of such loneliness overcame him that he almost regretted his decision. It was too late now, and anyway, the feeling of complete freedom that came from speeding along in the darkness soon overcame his fear.

The sun came up, and Fritz sailed on. Now he could see the distant mountains on either side of the great plain filled with water. Behind, the mountains were just a smudge, too far away to see. The village of Burgh was out of sight. Ahead, water stretched on to the horizon. Fritz sailed on all day. He ate some food. He slept a bit. He filled his bottles with water, reaching very carefully over the side of the boat. The sun went down. The boat moved on. Fritz sailed through the darkness again.

With no stilted houses to measure the height of the water, Fritz didn’t even notice when the level began to drop. He did eventually sense that the boat was going a bit slower than before. Then he felt a tiny bump. Then a scrape. Then the boat jerked to a halt, throwing him forward a bit. The bottom had hit mud and stuck tight. A foot of water still flowed around Fritz’s feet as he got out to investigate. Then just a few inches. Then just a trickle. Then nothing. It was hard to see much by moonlight, but as far as Fritz could tell, mud was on every side. Nothing but mud, exactly like at home. A flash of intense disappointment struck him. He sat down in his boat to wait for daylight and the long walk home. Emptiness eventually buried him in sleep.

As often happens, daylight brought many changes. The first thing Fritz saw when he woke up was that the mud did not continue in every direction. To the left, yes. To the right, yes. Behind him, mud as far as he could see. But ahead was something strange. Ahead some stones seemed to be sticking up out of the ground. It seemed like only a few minutes walk away. Fritz went eagerly to investigate.

What he found was the most incredible thing he had ever seen. After walking about twenty minutes, he reached the series of rocks. They were about as tall as he was and spaced out through the mud, each several feet away from the others. They were perfectly rectangular, looking like they had been cut out by some giant hand. This was not the incredible part, though. What truly amazed Fritz was what was on the other side of the rocks. Just where the rocks stood, the mud came to an abrupt end. In fact, the whole ground came to an abrupt end. It just fell away below him. Fritz stood, one hand on a huge stone block and looked down and down and down to the bottom so far away that it made him dizzy.

This answered the question of where the water went. Fritz could see it down at the bottom of this immense cliff. The sun was sparkling off its surface. Water stretched out as far as Fritz could see, bigger than a sea, bigger than anything Fritz had ever seen. He had a sudden thought that if his boat had gone any faster, he could have passed right between these stone blocks and poured with all that water over the edge of this terrible drop, falling and falling into that vast stretching water below. Fritz didn’t need to know about distances and height and impact to understand that he would have died from such a fall. He backed up a few steps. What he felt was fear, but also triumph. His journey hadn’t been a waste. He had found the answer to at least one question. Now, what to do next? Would he have to walk all the way home? Could he even do that in a week before the waters washed him away again? Did he have any other choice?

Fritz was pondering these new questions when a a strange sound reached him. A shrieking sound. And was it coming from the sky?

Fritz looked up. A huge animal with flying through the air overhead! Fritz had never seen a bird. There were no birds in Burgh because there was no place for them to live and eat. You can imagine, then, how terrifying this giant flying thing seemed to him. It swooped past again and again, crying out in its loud voice. After a moment, Fritz made the horrifying discovery that it had two heads! Then one of the heads dipped down for a moment and yelled, “You there!”

Fritz’s heart stopped. The animal could talk? It swooped by again. “You there!” This time Fritz saw that it wasn’t one animal with two heads. It was an animal with a person on its back. Instantly Fritz’s fear was matched by longing. What would it be like to climb on such a creature and fly through the sky? It would be even better than rushing along in a boat!

No sooner had he thought this than the creature darted toward him and in one motion wrapped its talons around his middle and lifted him into the air. Up, up, Fritz went into the air, leaving his stomach behind on the ground. He was sure he was going to be sick. And yet. And yet, it was wonderful. Horrible and sickening and wonderful.

He opened his eyes, which had squeezed shut at first out of sheer instinct, and saw the world stretch out beneath him. He closed them again and tried to steady his insides. Before he could open the up again, his feet bumped into something solid and he was set down. A moment later, a rustling thump sounded next to him, and he looked up again.

The creature had set him down on top of one of the rectangular rocks, and now it had landed next to him. A girl just about his age was sliding off it’s back, holding a short rope in one gloved hand.

“Who are you and what are you doing here?,” she asked.

TO BE CONTINUED….

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Fritz and the Mystery of the Waters

Once upon a time there was a little village all built on stilts. The general store, the school house, the tiny café, and the post office all sat in the middle, perched high in the air like a cluster of long-legged ostriches gossiping on the plains. Out to each side, a little row of houses stretched, connected in one long line by sturdy wooden bridges suspended twenty feet in the air.

If you happened by the village (Burgh, it was called) on a Tuesday or a Friday, you would be astonished by the apparent whimsy of its lofty location. Situated on an open plain, with nothing but dry, cracked mud underneath and blazing hot sun overhead, it seems an odd choice of construction.

If you arrived on a Sunday, however, you would understand because if you arrived on a Sunday, you would be arriving by boat. Every single Sunday at 1 a.m., the water came to Burgh. Not a gentle rain that slowly filled up the muddy plain. Not a gradually rising flow, like some river that overflowed its banks. The water came in one big rush from the north, slamming into the wooden stilts of Burgh’s houses with enough force to make the buildings tremble a bit, then hurrying past with undiminished power.

Each Sunday morning the citizens of Burgh looked out their windows at water as far as the eye could see. That is why Sunday was washing day. When everyone went to bed on Sunday night, the water would still be rushing along, but at precisely 11 p.m. each Sunday night, the flow stopped. By midnight the water was all gone.

Each Monday morning, the citizens of Burgh looked out their windows at mud as far as the eye could see. That was why Monday was collection day. Rope ladders were let down from the General store, and everyone who was tall enough and strong enough to slog through the mud climbed down and searched for valuable items that had washed into the vicinity. The children always eagerly awaited the day they were big enough to join the Collection. Everything from beautiful stones to rubber tires to old toasters could be found stuck in the Monday mud, and it was great fun to slip and slide along looking and even more fun to pry things up. They made the most satisfying sucking sound as the mud slowly let them go. By sundown Monday, the mud had always been completely dried by the baking sun. The hard earth would not part with any more treasures. The citizens of Burgh went home and washed up in water from the Sunday barrels.

This weekly cycle may seem strange to us, but to the citizens of Burgh it was as normal as your mother shaking you awake for school each morning. True, the rushing water could be a bit dangerous, but no one ever went down to the plains on any day except Monday, unless they were repairing the stilts, and it was very rare for anyone to be lost. In exchange for this slight risk, the flooding brought them fresh water for the barrels, nets full of fish to eat all week, and of course, the treasures in the mud.

So life went on in this regular fashion, and the people of Burgh lived unquestioningly on fish and what small vegetables they grew in the giant pots on their back porches, until Fritz came along. Fritz was like any other child of Burgh. He grew up running along the wooden bridges of the town, learning letters and numbers at the small school, drinking fish oil when his mother thought he was sick, carrying water from the Sunday barrels to his father’s garden pots, and dreaming of the day he could join the Collection. Only one thing made Fritz different. Curiosity. Fritz, unlike the rest of the citizens of Burgh, wanted to know why. Also where. And how. And if.

Why did the water come? And why only once a week?

Where did it come from? And where did it go to?

How did it come so quickly? And how did it disappear so quickly?

If we are here, are there people other places, too? And if the water always comes on time, is someone out there controlling it?

Fritz tried asking grownups these questions, but they always shushed him quickly.

“The water is there. That’s all you need to know,” said his mother.

“Don’t waste time on such talk. There’s work to be done,” said his father.

“The water is a fact of life, like the sun, and the mud,” said his teacher. “It’s not our job to understand them, just to use them as best we can.”

These non-answers were extremely non-satisfying to Fritz. And who could blame him?

As Fritz grew bigger, his questions grew, too. Eventually, he joined the Collection and began to find fascinating things. Screwdrivers, bits of broken glass, branches off of trees that he had never seen before, an odd rectangular box full of gears and other bits of metal. He studied these things. He drew pictures of them. He took them apart when he could. And mostly he wondered.

Then one Monday, Fritz found a very small item in the mud. It was a little toy, shaped like a cup, but stretched out a bit and with pointy ends. At first, Fritz had no idea what it was for. It was too small to be a hat. It couldn’t sit flat, so it didn’t make a very good cup. It was quite by accident that he finally solved the mystery. Fritz had been carrying the little toy around in his pocket, and one day when he went to fetch water from the Sunday barrels for his mother, the odd thing fell out of his pocket and right into the huge barrel. Fritz stared, fascinated. It floated. Fritz eagerly retrieved the Floater and took it home. (It’s real name, of course, was BOAT, but Fritz had never heard that word.)

Fritz loved to play with his new Floater. Whenever he was alone, he would find buckets or bowls and set the toy on the surface of the water. He learned that if he put small items in it, they too could float around. Slowly, an idea grew in his mind. If he could build a Floater that was big enough…could he float on the waters himself some Sunday?

Fritz started collecting wood that he found each Monday. He contributed his portion to the town, of course, but what he got to take home, he stored under his bed, waiting until there would be enough.

Finally, when the wood pile in his room made it nearly impossible to get in and out the door, Fritz began to build a boat.

TO BE CONTINUED

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Now I Hope They Aren’t Dreaming At All

In the dead of winter
When trees are fast asleep
The sap is creeping slowly
From frozen roots down deep

Branches bare, encrusted
Ice coating every part
Beneath that frigid stillness
What dreams consume their hearts?

Do they dream of sunshine?
Warm rays, caressing light?
Of birds with trilling music?
Fresh clothing, green and bright?

Perhaps they dream of freedom
Of roots pulling out of dirt
Of crossing the horizon
Roaming, watchful and alert

Or are their dreams much darker?
Full of mist and damp and gloom?
In sleep they conjure ghosts of saplings
To bring careless humans doom

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What If?

“I like Grandpa’s house, Mommy.  There’s lots of places to play.”

“Me, too, little Joe.  Did you have fun exploring today?”

“Mm-hm.  Mommy, what would you do if you found a door in the side of the mountain?”

“That would be very mysterious.  I would wonder what was inside.”

“What if you went right in and it was too dark to see anything?”

“I would probably go get my flashlight.”

“What if you saw a pile of candles and some matches right by the door?”

“Oh.  I would definitely light a candle and go exploring.”

“And what if you discovered a long, long tunnel that went right into the heart of the mountain?”

“I would keep right going until I saw what was at the end.”

“What if you got really hungry and thirsty walking so, so far, and when you got there, you saw a table full of yummy food and a big cup of juice?”

“I would be pretty suspicious of food inside a mountain, but if I was that hungry and thirsty, I might be tempted to eat and drink just a little bit.”

“What if you drank some juice and then fell fast asleep?”

“I would think that I probably shouldn’t have drunk that juice.”

“And what if you woke up and the room was full of animals?”

“I would be pretty confused and maybe a little scared.”

“What if you saw that the animals were all wearing clothes and dancing around to pretty music?”

“I would be really amazed.”

“What if just then you noticed that your shoes and coat were missing?”

“I suppose I would be worried that my mother would be mad.”

“But what if you looked over and saw that a mountain goat was wearing your coat and a baby bear cub was dancing in your shoes?”

“It would make me pretty mad.  I might go right over and ask for them back.”

“But what if they just laughed at you?”

“Then I would tackle that bear cub and get my shoes back.”

“What if his mother came along and picked you up and put you in the corner.”

“I would stay in the corner.”

“What if the animals danced for so long that you fell asleep again?”

“I would be afraid that I was missing dinner.”

“But what if you woke up and the animals were gone and your shoes and coat were sitting next to you on the floor?”

“I would put them on and run home as quickly as I could.”

“What if your shoes didn’t seem to fit anymore and running was too hard?”

“Then I would walk, I guess.  And I would be pretty mad at that bear cub for stretching out my shoes.”

“Mommy?”

“Yes, little Joe?”

“Are you going to go into town tomorrow?”

“Yes, Grandpa wants me to pick up his medicine.”

“Do you think you could get me some new shoes while you are there?”

Posted in Frogs and Snails | 3 Comments

The Lonely Planet (Two Views)

I

I heard the most amazing news today
The scientists discovered something new
Looking into space so far away
They checked and double-checked that it was true

For in the vast and empty reach of space
A planet floats that doesn’t have a star
No shining sun that pulls it into place
It’s all alone to drift however far

Now if you’ve studied planets at your school
You know that’s not the way it’s meant to be
That planets orbit stars is just the rule
They move in circles, bound by gravity

So how could this one be there all alone?
And with no star how does it chart its course?
What tragic past has left it on its own?
How it must miss an outside guiding force

How terrifying sailing through the night
With no real place to go,  it’s all just wrong
They called it “Lonely Planet” which seems right
For space is huge with nowhere you belong

II

“The Lonely Planet?” What a brilliant thought.
A body in the heavens who broke free
To challenge everything our teachers taught
By very definition it can’t be

Imagine! The impossible exists
A wonderful exception to the rules
Something that won’t fit on any lists
An inspiration for all daring fools

Instead of endless circles, it roams free
No star to tell it which way it must go
A universe of possibilities
Its future unpredictable, unknown

It may feel scared, if it can feel at all
(It is a ball of rock, we must admit)
But fear just adds a thrill, adventure calls
To break the mold is better than to fit

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The Firecracker House and the Terrible Bitter Winter

Once there was a rough and tumble, rattle-trap, loud and lively house, and everyone said it looked like a fire-cracker. It was true that its perfectly cylindrical shape, bright blue color, and red-checkered cone-shaped roof made it look like it could shoot into the air at any moment, but in reality it was firmly attached to the earth.

That didn’t mean what was inside it wasn’t explosive, though. Indeed, inside its rounded walls, lived four of the brightest, fieriest, most intense children the world had ever seen (and their parents). Their sparking brains teemed with ideas which their active bodies were quick to carry out, and of course, every one of their multiplying ideas was combustible.

Not content to built forts out of blankets and chairs like most kiddies, these children invented ways to hang sheets from the ceiling and tie ropes to the chandeliers, creating a super fort that covered two levels of the house and could be navigated by swinging like monkeys from room to room.

Simple games such as Monopoly and Clue were too boring for this crew, so instead they combined all the boards and pieces into one massive new game with rules so complex that no one could keep them straight, and every round ended in a knock-down drag-out fight.

Soap on the floor for ice skating, leaping from the bannisters onto enormous piles of stuffed animals, Lego towers that reached to the ceiling and caused serious injury when toppled, massive science experiments that involved baking soda and vinegar filling the bathtub. The house trembled with the sounds of their shouts and laughter and glowed with the heat of their incessant activity.

With such constant friction inside, you can imagine that the house needed some form of release, and like any clever house it eventually found the perfect solution. Late at night, when the little power-houses were finally asleep in their beds, storing energy for the next adventure, the house opened up the chimney on its tippy top and sent up all the sparks and steam that had been gathering in its attics all day. No doubt the neighbors would have been quite alarmed if any of them had seen it, but they were so thankful that the round blue house was finally quiet that they were always fast asleep themselves, and if any passing strangers happened to notice the strange sight, they always imagined that someone was celebrating an important occasion with a particularly sparkly bonfire.

All was well, then, until the year of the terrible bitter winter. Temperatures all over the country reached unheard of lows. Mounds of snow piled up everywhere. People both old and young were forced to stay indoors, huddled around a fire and frantically boiling water for the gallons and gallons of hot tea necessary to survive. Except of course, for those who generated their own heat by the sheer force of their existence. For example, the occupants of the fire-cracker house, who scarcely noticed the cold outside their frosty windows, so busy were they with sparkling schemes of all sorts.

Such heat indoors while the world outside is frozen may seem like a tremendous blessing, and in many ways it was, but it also brought unforeseen problems. After a full day of brilliant, crackling, wall-bouncing activity, the little house was quite filled with sparks and smoke. It waited patiently for midnight as usual, but then, to its utter dismay, when it went to open its little chimney, it discovered that it was frozen quite solid. Several inches of ice covered over with a thick blanket of snow and wrapped in a world of frigid air were too much for the huffing, puffing little house. After a great struggle, it was forced to give up and settle down to a slow all-night simmer.

Several days passed in this fashion, the heat building by day and banking up by night. Slowly the house filled with the tension of pent up energy and unreleased heat. The air was thick with steam and the temperatures reached unbearable levels. At last, the pressure became simply too much. It started as a tremble, then a squeak, as tiny cracks around the ceiling began to let out bits of super-charged air. At last, with a terrific CRACK, the ice burst away as the entire cone of the roof burst away from the house and flew up into the air.

The column of steam could be seen for miles around, and no one can say exactly how high up the roof was blasted before it began its descent. The neighbors were all drawn to their frozen windows in awe as the steam spread out, melting snow in its path. As the first heat they had felt in weeks touched their own walls, the surrounding families breathed a collective sigh of relief. Then they all watched in fascination as the odd, round roof slowly drifted back down and settled into place.

The terrible bitter winter didn’t relent, of course. Months of frozen bleakness still had to be endured. But now the whole neighborhood knew that every few days a new explosion of steam would come to break the monotony and remind them of what warmth felt like. And no one ever complained of the noise from the fire-cracker house again.

At least, not until the summer.

Posted in Nature | 1 Comment

Emily Jane’s Imagination

Emily Jane had two great gifts: an imagination and a best friend.

Emily Jane’s imagination thought up spectacular things: rhinoceros hunting on the African plains, tea parties in the halls of the woodland elves, a scientific endeavor to capture the essence of rainbows in a bottle. There was no end to the things it could dream up, and each day held wonder, for you never knew what adventure was waiting.

Emily Jane’s best friend lived right next door. Her name was Holly. She was small and dark-haired and sweet and always willing to set out on any quest that Emily Jane’s imagination invented. In fact, though Emily Jane scarcely noticed, Holly brought a little magic of her own to every adventure.

The pursuit of scientific progress was almost halted by determined clouds that even Emily Jane could not imagine away, and only when Holly found an old lamp in the attic was Emily Jane’s imagination able to create a suitable rainbow laboratory. An elvish kingdom of eternal autumn in which fall leaves sprinkled down constantly would have lived only in Emily Jane’s imagination if it weren’t for Holly tying a rope to the branches above their tea table and learning just the right way to shake the leaves free as she drank her elvish nectar. And though only Emily Jane could have imagined it possible to trap a rhinoceros using only tree branches and twine, it was Holly who found a way to weave the branches tightly together. Once Candy, the neighbor’s fluffy white dog, got hopelessly tangled in them, it was no trouble at all to imagine a wild beast doing the same.

Things continued in this happy way for several years, which felt like always to two little girls, until one day when Emily Jane went to Holly’s front door, busily dreaming of giants in the clouds, Holly’s mother said she was too sick to come out and play. Emily Jane was sorry to hear it, but she was preoccupied with her giants, so her disappointment wasn’t too severe. The next day, she needed Holly for a space adventure she was planning, but Holly was still too ill. Space adventures wait for no one, and this one went off anyway, but Emily Jane found it very difficult to imagine herself defeating the evil Zargod alone. The next day, Emily Jane brought over her tea set for a nice quiet tea with the owls who lived in Holly’s back yard, but Holly could not even sit up for tea. At last Emily Jane was truly worried. No one should ever be too sick for tea.

For several weeks, Holly stayed in her bed, and Emily Jane was left alone with her imagination. She found that though her imagination did not stop supplying her with adventures, each one was flat and dull without a best friend to supply the extra magic. Emily Jane struggled on alone for a while, but at last, she knew that something must be done. She knew that Holly had seen a doctor, and she knew that she was taking medicine, but none of that seemed to be working. Emily Jane knew of only one thing that was strong enough for a problem like this.

Emily Jane and her imagination knocked on Holly’s front door and asked to see the patient. Holly’s mother sadly nodded, and with only one caution to be quiet and still, led Emily Jane upstairs. Emily Jane was shocked to see how pale and thin her best friend looked lying in the big bed, but holding her imagination tight, she bravely sat next to Holly and took her hand. Emily Jane looked at her friend’s white face and summoned all the power of her imagination. She imagined Holly’s cheeks were rosy and her eyes bright and her mouth smiling. She imagined Holly sitting up, full of energy, asking what they should do today. She imagined the two of them skipping down the stairs and out into the sunshine. Emily Jane held this picture in her imagination and waited. Always before, when Emily Jane saw something in her imagination, Holly made it come alive. Emily Jane squeezed her best friend’s hand, and whispered her imaginings over and over. Was that a tinge of pink she saw?

Emily Jane sat there for a long time, long after it became impossible even for her imagination to convince her that anything had changed. She did not know what to think or what to do. After what seemed like hours, a noise in the kitchen startled her, and she slipped down the stairs and out the door before anyone could see her and the tears on her face. Emily Jane went home and crept into her own room where she curled up on her own bed quietly. For the first time in her life, Emily Jane’s imagination had let her down. That it happened on the same day that her best friend also let her down was nearly unbearable.

The next day, Emily Jane did not imagine anything, or the day after that, or the day after that. In fact, a whole week went by without a single adventure. True, on the fifth day she found a whole tree laced up in cobwebs and her imagination began to whisper to her, but Emily Jane silenced it immediately. What good would defending silk fairies against giant spiders be without a best friend by your side? Refusing to listen to her imagination gave Emily Jane a grim satisfaction, but life was very grey when you only saw what was actually there. The week dragged to a close, and Emily Jane felt old and tired and sad as she thought of another lifeless week to come.

But Emily Jane’s imagination had had enough. One week of moping was all it could take, and since she wasn’t listening to it in the day time, it broke into her dreams and left a trail of wonderful ideas in her sleeping brain.

When Emily Jane woke up, she knew exactly what she was going to do. She pictured all the fun adventures that she and Holly had been on together and remembered all the things that made Holly smile. Then she got to work. Emily Jane baked cookies and she wrote stories and she cut out paper flowers and she built a fairy house out of bark and twigs. Each day, she carried one of Holly’s favorite things over to her house.

It didn’t work instantly, as magic is said to do. In fact, for the first several days, Emily Jane did not think it was working at all. But helping was so much better than moping. In fact, it was almost as good as imagining things. So she kept on day after day, until the day that one of her stories made Holly smile again. The next day, Emily Jane’s special blend of tea brought a slight pink tinge to Holly’s cheeks. One day soon after, Holly even sat up to put on the crown of leaves that Emily Jane had brought.

On the day that Holly could finally come outside again, Emily Jane decided to wake up her imagination. She knew she would need a very special adventure, and she hoped her imagination hadn’t gotten too rusty. Of course, it hadn’t. Though Emily Jane didn’t recognize it, her imagination had been working all this time, thinking up ways to make Holly feel better, and now that what was required to help Holly was an adventure, Emily Jane’s imagination had a spectacular one all prepared. A wagon pulled by wolf hounds (represented by one grumpy beagle), a picnic lunch in an Alpine meadow (or a tree house decorated with rocks and flowers), and a musical show put on by shooting stars (supplied by an old record player and leftover Christmas tinsel).

Emily Jane thought it was the best adventure yet, and Holly quite agreed. As they walked home at the end hand in hand, each girl felt filled up with love for her best friend, and even Emily Jane’s imagination could not think of anything better.

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Little Red Didn’t Listen

“Don’t forget to put away your shoes,” said Little Red’s mother, but Little Red didn’t listen. She left her shoes in the middle of the hall, and her puppy chewed them to pieces.

“Chew with your mouth closed,” said Little Red’s mother, but Little Red didn’t listen. She gave her father a lovely view of her half-eaten food and got sent away from the table before she was finished.

“Don’t draw on the walls,” said Little Red’s mother, but Little Red didn’t listen. She slipped behind her bedroom door and drew an extra large wolf in red crayon on her wall.

Her mother never even noticed it was there.

That night, while Little Red slept, the wolf’s round eyes began to glow. Bit by bit he peeled himself off the wall and padded on silent feet across the toy-strewn floor to stand over Little Red’s bed. For a long time he stood there, watching her sleep until he was startled by the click of the furnace turning on and darted noiselessly to the door and out into the night.

“Take this basket to your grandmother,” said Little Red’s mother, “and listen carefully to the rules.” But Little Red just yawned as the words washed over her, and waited for her mother to tie on her hood.

The forest was misty and cold as Little Red walked, and she didn’t like the crunch of the stones on the path beneath her feet. “Stay on the path,” her mother had said, but Little Red was wearing her old shoes that pinched, and the grass looked so much more comfortable for walking. She wandered among the trees and never noticed that someone was watching her from their shadows.

“Don’t open the basket,” her mother had said, but Little Red was hungry from missing her supper the night before, and delicious smells were rising up through the cover. She opened it up and began to nibble the cake inside. Soon nibbling turned to gobbling, and the cake was all but gone before she was halfway to her grandmother’s house. She never looked behind to see who was sniffing hungrily at the crumbs.

“Don’t talk to strangers,” her mother had said, but when the wolf approached, Little Red thought he looked oddly familiar. She told him her name and where she was going, and never noticed the ravenous look in his eyes when he saw that her basket was empty.

“Call me when you get there,” her mother had said, but Little Red never did.

Posted in Scary stories, Untold tales | Leave a comment

The Window

Once there was a boy named Tom, and he lived with his mother and father in a little house in the big city, but every summer he went to the country to stay with his grandmother for one week. That was Tom’s favorite week of the year. He loved his grandmother’s house. She had a big backyard, with a garden and a tire swing hanging from a pine tree in the corner. She had a dusty old attic with only one tiny window, which let in just enough light for exploring the piles of old furniture and boxes of treasures without ever being bright enough to take away the mystery. Best of all, she had a whole room filled with books where Tom could sit for hours and read about all the places in the world he would visit one day.

At his grandmother’s house, Tom ran free from attic to cellar, but there was one door he was never allowed to open. Upstairs, just across from the little room where he slept, that one white door was always closed. Tom knew that it was locked tight because he had tried to open it many times. When he asked his grandmother about it, she always said, “Some things are not for children.” That was a very annoying answer, but since it almost always came with homemade cookies after, Tom didn’t hold it against her.

Things continued in this comfortable way until the summer that Tom was ten. That year, he went to his grandmother’s as usual, and ate a huge dinner the first night as usual, and slept in his own small room as usual. The next morning when he woke up, though, the little white door across from his was open just a crack, which was not at all usual. Tom knew that his grandmother must have left it open by mistake, but this was exactly the sort of mistake he had been waiting for all his life.

His curiosity burned as bright as ever, and he tiptoed across the hall and lay his hand on the handle of that door. His heart was pounding as he slowly pushed it open, and in that instant, all the possibilities of what could be inside, things he had imagined over the years, flashed across his mind. Maybe there was a chest full of treasure, left there by a pirate out of gratitude to Tom’s grandmother for saving his life one stormy night. Maybe he had a crazy aunt, locked away all these years because she thought blue was red and talked endlessly about the sky falling. A mummy? Stolen art collection? Dracula sleeping in his coffin? Proof of the existence of Bigfoot? A shiver whispered up his spine, but Tom told himself not to be silly. He stepped into the room.

It was completely ordinary. A wide, comfortable-looking bed filled most of the room, with tiny tables painted white sitting on each side. One rocking chair sat in the opposite corner, but no crazy aunt was rocking in it. A bright rag rug was on the floor, and the walls were painted light green and completely devoid of famous art. Tom felt empty inside. He had been so sure that something wonderful was in here. He looked under the bed. Nothing but dust bunnies. Why had he been kept out if this was all there was? He turned toward the closet door. This was his last hope. This time when he opened the door, he held his breath, but all that greeted him was a neatly hanging row of clothes, and some old men’s shoes lined up on the floor. No secret chests of treasure, no wonderful maps, no mummies in the far corner. Utterly disappointed, Tom closed the closet and walked over to the wide window. It looked out onto the back yard. The sun was shining, and the huge apple tree was covered with white blossoms. Tom felt very old. A childhood dream had been lost. Here he was in the secret room, and the world looked way more interesting outside.

Tom wasn’t as old as he felt, though, and like all children, he couldn’t linger in a gloomy mood for long. Not when the smell of bacon and pancakes was drifting up the stairs. Not when all that sunshine outside was calling to him. He ran down and ate his breakfast, saying nothing to his grandmother about the room. Instead he ate in silence and planned his morning. He rather thought that apple tree would be perfect for building a tree fort.

After breakfast, Tom sped outside, eager to get started. He knew where his grandmother had a pile of old boards out by the shed. He would use those for his fort. When he rounded the corner into the backyard, though, he stopped and looked around, confused. Where was the apple tree? His grandmothers garden was in the corner, just as he had seen it from the window. The sun was shining down. The fence was newly painted white. But there was no apple tree in the yard at all. He remembered climbing that tree when he was younger. He tried to remember whether it had been there the year before but found that he wasn’t sure. Quietly, he went back inside.

“Grandma, what happened to the apple tree in the back yard?”

“Remember that, do you?” She sighed. “It was struck by lightening two winters ago and had to be taken down. Such a pity. That tree produced dozens of pies every year. But don’t you worry. I’ve got cherries, so pie is still on the horizon.”

When she turned back to her dishes, Tom slipped quietly back upstairs. He crept into the unmysterious mysterious room. There, out the big window, the branches of the apple tree waved lightly in the breeze. Tom didn’t feel like playing outside any more. He spent the rest of the day reading instead, but even in a book he couldn’t escape the persistent questions that wandered around the back of his brain. That night, he had a hard time falling asleep, but eventually it began to rain, and the sound of the raindrops pattering on the roof relaxed him at last.

The rain was still falling when he woke up the next morning. The first thing Tom noticed when he left the room was that the little white door was open even wider than before. Unable to resist, Tom crept inside the room. Then he stopped short and a shiver went over his whole body. Outside the wide window, the sun was shining brightly on the blossoms of the beautiful apple tree and a lovely breeze skipped through the flowers in his grandmother’s garden. Tom could still hear the rain on the roof. He ran back to his own room and looked out the window. It was gray outside, and a steady stream of rain fell, puddling up all over the front the yard. He slowly walked back across the hall, drawn irresistibly to that impossible window. He wondered if it opened, and if so, what he would find when he stuck his head outside. He looked for the latch.

“That window never did open.”

Tom’s grandmother was standing in the doorway behind him, and the sound of her voice made him jump so high, he hit his head on the window ledge.

His grandmother didn’t seem to notice. She just slowly came into the room and sat on the bed. “So now you’ve seen my window.”

Tom nodded slowly and sat down in the rocking chair. He wanted to ask a million questions but none of them came to mind. The two of them sat in silence for a while. Then his grandmother began to talk.

“When your grandfather asked me to marry him, he told me he would build me the best house I’d ever seen, and he did just that. He built this place with his own hands, and when it was finished, we got married and lived here all the years of his life. Your father was born here. Your mother brought you here when you were only a week old, and your grandfather held you on his lap in the library downstairs and read you your first book. The next spring, your grandfather died. It was completely unexpected. He was out in his workshop as usual, and his heart just stopped.

“After that, your father suggested I move into the city with you all, but I couldn’t do that. This house is a part of your grandfather, his personality fills it up from attic to cellar. As long as I’m here, I feel him every day. I did close up this room, though. This used to be our bedroom, and I couldn’t face coming in here, so I locked the door and left everything just as it was. For a long time, I felt that the day your grandfather’s heart stopped was the day mine stopped, too. I spent too much time just sitting on the porch swing and staring at nothing. My garden was grown over with weeds. The books that your grandfather loved were covered with dust.

“Then your mother brought you for a visit. You were one year old. She set you on my lap and handed me the same book that your grandfather had read to you. I started to read, and you listened to carefully, it was like you were grown up and not a little toddler who just wanted to run all over the house. Every page of that book reminded me of your grandfather, and getting through it all was the hardest thing I’d done yet. But there you were looking up at me and waiting patiently for the end of the story. When it was done, I set you down and you began to explore, but I just sat there thinking. It was like I could hear your grandfather saying, ‘Get up. Get on with it.’ So I did.

“That night, I opened this door. This room sat here just as it always had. And there, out the window, was the sunny afternoon in spring, everything exactly the way it was on the afternoon your grandfather died. It should have been dark outside, but in here, it was bright daylight. I sat in that chair where you are and watched the birds flying back and forth and felt happy for the first time in a year. That was when I knew. Life goes on. I had you and your father and your mother and my friends and my garden. A life. But I would also have this. Forever. So I locked this door and I went downstairs and I made you your first apple pie. But after that, whenever I needed to talk things over with your grandfather, I came in here and he was waiting for me. And even on the darkest days, the sun was shining out that window.”

She fell silent after that, and Tom sat there, looking at the window. He knew now that the door had not been left unlocked by mistake. He knew that he was old enough that his grandmother wanted him in here. That by sharing with him her favorite place on earth, she was introducing him to her favorite person. Suddenly the window didn’t seem creepy at all. So he held his grandmother’s hand and rocked in the chair his grandfather had made and looked out at the sun shining down on their past.

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