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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One Response to Penny

  1. What a fun story! I laughed when I read the line, “For a week Penny stayed inside, and for a week the weather was suspended.” I guess I better quit complaining about the weather. It can always get worse:)

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