Tea with a Cheshire Cat

Sep 24

Desert magic






One midsummer day, Megan and I sat in my enclosed porch, drinking raspberry ice tea, and working on that years quilt. This one had a compass rose pattern, with scrapes from Kate Larson’s family. We were making her a wedding gift. We connected patches of colors, with patches of the past, connecting both with thread and prayers. She and I had done so, as our mothers had. The only things different were our mothers were no longer with us, and the skill of our stitches. Megan and I chatted; her sense of humor was sharp as her needle. 

"Somebody has got to put a stop to this. The sheriff says, ‘Boys will be boys.’ Easy for him to say when it’s not hitting his pocketbook. Plus, where will it lead to? Those boys have no respect and no shame, Elspethf."

"Spoken like a grocer’s wife," I said, finishing a block and beginning another. "Some boys take some beer and you think we should call the FBI."

"Grocer’s widow," Megan said.

I regretted what I had said. Before I could apologize, however, Megan said, “How could they do so right in front of Sister Anne?” 

"Well, they did wish her a good morning."

Megan’s impish look told me everything was OK. The first year without Joel was difficult on her. There were times she didn’t open the store, or get out of bed. In a small town, with a closed grocery store, life can come to a standstill. Now she seemed to be recovering from her loss. Megan was too young and too full of life to remain grief-stricken.

The raven that stood watch on top of the telephone pole cawed three times. I knew my husband, Cyrus was home. 


"Good afternoon, ladies." Cyrus, returning from his rounds, filled the room with masculine energy. His athletic build, sun-kissed skin, dark hair, and blue eyes, made women want to touch themselves and touch him. 

" Cyrus." A dutiful kiss with a smile was my prize. After years of apprenticeship with my father, our two year courtship, and five years of marriage, I still felt that inspiration to please him, and to be near him. At least I didn’t drop things because he was around, or giggle at everything he said anymore. 

"Hello." Megan put her hand to her face and smiled at him. 

"And how is Megan today, full of spice?" 

"Pure pepper," I said.

"Good. I like pepper." He winked at her and her face turned red as her shirt. 

"Megan has just been telling me that we have thieves even in this tumble weed of a town. The Jackson boys, over the hill, stole beer right in front of Sister Ann." 

A small jet pealed by causing us to pause in our conversation. I placed a hand on his. 

"Shocking," Cyrus said to Megan and gave a melting smile. "Is nothing sacred?"

Megan gave a smug look. 

He stood watching the jet practicing maneuvers; it was a student from the National Test Pilot School. “One day I’m going to talk that Sean Roberts into letting me take free lessons.” In his hands, a book, which meant someone was beyond his initial attempts at a cure.

"Who’s ill?" Megan asked, noticing the same thing.

The wind came, pushing a tumbleweed. 

"The Mill’s little girl. Her fever won’t go on its way," he said, turning serious. The book shifted in his hands, I glimpsed the words on the spine: "Potentiae artis magicae." My heart tightened. I’d hoped for one of my father’s medical journals, but Cyrus held the book of magic he bought after my father’s death. 

The wind grew stronger, causing the oak wave. 

“Elspeth, is there some of your wonderful coffee?” 

I nod. 

On four separate occasions my husband had spoken incantations from that book, to heal what he couldn’t cure naturally. As a result I was missing a finger, two toes, and my left ear. What price would I pay for the Mill’s girls fever?

Megan and I returned to our quilt. Don’t ask me what we talked about the rest of the afternoon, though I told myself to savor our conversation. If Cyrus read from that book, my remaining ear might pay the price for his lack of skill and my hearing would be compromised. It could be worse. There are only so many parts a person can do without. 

The winds kicked up. I could see the wind farms hard at work. 

Megan left, and I asked Cyrus whether he’d like me to go with him when he visited his patient. Several times in the past I’d been able to prevent Cyrus ‘s use of magic by “assisting” him in his work. Dad had always said I would have made a great doctor, if only I had been born a man. In the big city’s women were many things, but small towns hold on to the traditions, giving us our culture and our strengths. Some ties that bind, can keep you from taking off, no matter how much wind there is.

"Don’t trouble yourself, Nichola’s fever is probably breaking already."

Both of us refrained from mentioning the magic book, but he saw me looking at it. 

" Elspeth, I never want to hurt you." He gave me a reassuring look with those blue eyes and my heart melted. "When you come it undermines my authority. It reminds them that I am not your father."

I kiss him, hoping for a little more than a passing peck. 

Nodding, I hope that his love for me would keep him from opening that cursed book, again.

After dinner, Cyrus went back to the Mill’s house to see what he could do for Nichola. I meant to stay up as late as necessary to greet my fate, but I must have fallen asleep. When I awoke in the morning, Cyrus had come home and gone again. 

I took a quick inventory of my body, fearing the worst. Finding nothing awry, I checked again, more carefully. I began to wonder if it had finally happened, if I had lost something internal, but everything seemed to be in working order. 

Hazel nut coffee on the porch is good. Watching the warren of desert cottontails that live in our yard is good. They were home with thier family but they too felt what I did- on guard. The coffee felt solid and reassuring in my hands. Perhaps… perhaps Cyrus had been able to cure the Mill’s child without the book. Perhaps his skills and confidence had grown. 

More than likely her body had overcome her aliment, as did most things. 

Behind the wire fence that borders our backyard lays a large open field and behind it, the cemetery of planes. Permanently parked jumbo jets baked in the sun. Part of me wanted to buy a ticket, board a ghost plane, and go somewhere cool and far away. Far enough away to remain untouched by love and spells.

I turned to look at the raven on the pole. “What do you think?” He ruffled his black feathers. Rather noncommittal. 

Megan’s store was less than a mile away, an easy bike ride. I readied for my journey. 

I rode on the shoulder of Highway 58, past the crooked pink house, Jesus Saves signs, and the fast food joints. The aroma of fires tempted me. Thoughts of a thick, cool milkshakes seemed to pull at my bike. I held strong. My ass would thank me later. 

Camin Keplinger rearranged her books on the stall outside the second hand shop/second hand news. I could inquire about the Mills’ girl there. 

"Morning, Camin.”

"Morning Elspeth," she said I as I parked my bike. 

"What’s new?" A steady, but slow pace of cars and trucks drove by, adding to the dust in the air. 

Camin, pleased at the opportunity to share her crop of gossip, launched into a catalog of Mojave’s doings. There had been another theft, cigarettes and chips. Allison Lonsdale was pregnant yet again, and Bill Mills was back at work at UPS. 

"But I’m sure you already knew that," Camin said, giving me a pointed look. Camin attempted to construct a hypothesis about portentous non-communication between Cyrus and me. "He still having trouble with his phone?" Those who were active in magic often experience interference with things like phones, an indication that someone dabbled. 

" Cyrus was up at first light to drive out to the Keller’s house this morn," I said with a Coca-Cola smile. "Glad to hear that the Mill’s girl is better today. I’ll take the cookbook. It might be fun to try polish cooking."

The new information tumbled in my head, quick recovery, aided by magic or medicine? Unspoken truths between husbands and wives, marking distance and nearness.



At the store I kept the cookbook in hand; I gathered the ingredients for dill pickle soup and rye bread. 

Megan saw me, and came out of her office. She gave Sarah a break and rang me up. She held up the second jar of pickles and asked, “You pregnant?” she said, grinning at me. She displayed a gaping hole where her right front tooth should have been. 

"I’d tell you before I told Cyrus." I took out my credit card. "What happened to your tooth?"

"Oh." Megan covered her mouth. "I knocked it loose in the night," she said, giving a hesitant smile with her lips closed. "I’ve got an appointment in a couple of hours. In fact, I am ready to leave in about fifteen minutes. Can I give you a lift? We wouldn’t want anything to happen to your jars of pickles." 

Megan fussed so. She dealt with the bike and carried in the groceries, all the while telling why a pickle was better than a man.

"I’ll have my delivery boy drop by some ice cream to go with those pickles, free of charge." 

"You’re trying to fatten me up." 

"Nonsense." 

“Love you Elspeth.” 

She seemed anxious, like rabbits when a red tail hawk was close by. Her behavior was out of place. Down deep, a feeling grew. My skin itched. Something new was wrong. Part of my mind kept probing the problem, looking for reasons and clues that I might have overlooked. I began to recall odd looks and unfinished statements that I had never noted before. Matching these incidents with dates. An all-too-believable story formed in my mind.

I did what I often did when frustrated, I baked. Rye bread to go with my dark mood. 

Things had begun to change between Cyrus and Megan a few weeks ago, right after I lost my ear. This newest disfigurement mortified me worse than the others, and I confided my agony to Megan—although not of course the reason for the loss. Megan had reassured me that Cyrus ‘s feelings for me would not change because of a simple physical imperfection. She had even helped me to arrange my hair so as to hide my mismatched features. Then she teased me asked about my mother’s earrings. 

Words busted out of my mouth, “How could I be so stupid?!” The heel of my palm slammed into the dark dough. I rolled the dough back. “To think… how could she?” One more truth came to mind, this bread would be tough. I’d over worked it. 

While the bread baked, I started the stew. What else would go with these feelings. 

Did I consider she had spared me the loss of a tooth, no. That gap was merely a symbol of her perfidy. The sacrifices for Cyrus ‘s career were my burden, my badge of honor. How dare she take them from me? 

Anger and pain make you take actions that I would never normally have considered. 

When the bread came out, I left it on the counter and left the crock-pot on warm. I changed and retrieving my backpack.

Around Mojave are a few mines, long abandoned. I hiked to the Gold Queen Mine. The path got rougher as I got closer. Clumps of rock became larger, along with the yucca and greesewood. Train whistles drifted in the still, night air reminding me of whale songs. Bits of rusted debris displayed the proximity to the main entrance. I placed a towel over the barbed wire, and gingerly made my way past the barrier. Thick, bleached wood framed the black hole. 

I called out, “Your majesty,” and pulled the chain to ring the bell. 

An echo came from the opening, “Who rang that bell?”

"Me."

"Can’t you read?"

"Read what?" 

"The notice of course."

"What notice?"

"It’s right there- as plain as the nose on my face! It… oh…"

"Tsk, tsk, tsk." A rustling came from within the cave. A moment latter a large wooden sign hit the ground. Freshly painted words read: Bell out of order, please knock. 

I knocked. 

"State your business." 

I curtsied. “I’ve come to beg for feather alum.” 

"My feather alum." 

"Only the finest will do." 

"The finest you say?"

"Oh yes, your majesty." I curtsied again. 

"What gifts do you bring?" 

Magical beings and things required payment. I shuttered to think what such entities would ask for in the big city. 

"Music." I pulled out my iPod and hit play. The Beatles buzzed.

A laugh echoed. 

"Mine your step. Get it? Mine your step.”

"Very humorous your majesty." 

She told me where I could find the mineral, feather alum. I was grateful she didn’t inquire why I wanted it. I wasn’t sure how my tale would strike her. She was moody. 

A sense of relief came as I stood safely on the other side of the barbed wire fence. The Gold Queen Mine wasn’t always so kind. I called out, “Thank you.” She hummed something back. 

#

Just as the city lights became bright, I heard something akin to a didgeridoo speak, ” Elspeth,” the Joshua tree said. 

As much as I would have liked to have hurried home, I knew better than to ignore things like talking trees. 

"You have secret." 

"Yes."

"Me too." His branches swayed, making the pop tabs twinkle. "Got tab?" 

"Nope." 

"Watcha got?"

I rummaged through my backpack: phone, towel, first aide kit, leatherman tool, three empty water bottles, two full and one partial. I opened the first aide kit. Inside was a reflective blanket. 

The Joshua tree shimmied. “Me like.”

I thought about how to attach the offering. I got out the leatherman and made the reflective blanket into strips and tied them to his branches. He seemed pleased. 

"Tell," the tree demanded. 

"My husband is bad." 

"Not, bad, flawed." A breeze caught the shinny strips. "And…" Another breeze, he stretched to catch it. "Still loved." 

I crossed my arms. I couldn’t wait to leave. “It’s been nice…” I reached for my pack. 

"Wait." 

I let out a sigh. “Yes.” 

"New life." 

"Yes, I want a new life." 

"Have new life." 

"Not yet." 

"Late September." 

Trees may be wise, but they don’t always make sense. “Late September what?” 

"New life come."

"I hope sooner than that." It was only February. 

"Baby come when baby done." 

"Baby." I felt as if I’d been knocked down and picked up at the same time. According to a talking Joshua tree, I wasn’t even three months yet. All I needed was more things to contemplate. Baby. 

I needed action. I needed more thought. I hoped what I had gotten from the Gold Mine Queen would buy me enough time for both. 

+++

Cyrus wasn’t home. I placed the backpack on the kitchen table and got a bottle of white wine chilling in the fridge from last month. 

With the mortar and pestle I crushed the feather alum and placed the dust into the wine. I couldn’t drink it anyway. 

I set the table, taking care to not use the clear wine glasses. 

I waited. 

Cyrus came home light as a cool breeze. He sat at the table, as he was about to dig in. 

“I’ll get the wine,” I said as rose and entered the kitchen. 

“Wine? What’s the special occasion?” 

“I have some news.” Part of me wanted to share the happy news. Part of me thought the news would solve everything. But I needed to what was right for the baby and me. A baby may not solve my issues. My life. My hands. Hands that would be holding a new life. 

I reached for the wine. Gone. Vanished. Thieves. 

An urgent knock came from the front door.

Mrs. Johnson and her two sickly sons waited on our front porch. 

"Doc, you’ve got to do something! My boys,” her voice quivered, “there something awful wrong with them."

It looked to me like some of the “wrong” was about to make its way out into the world. I ushered the boys into the surgery and got them a wastepaper basket, and a bedpan while Cyrus asked about the boys’ symptoms.

"We were just sitting about to eat our frito pie, when all of a sudden, one throw-up and then the other joined in." Clear snot ran in a huge stream from her beak of a nose. 

"They hadn’t eaten anything?" Cyrus asked, pressing his hands against the boy’s red and sweating foreheads.

"Noth’ng since lunch," Mrs. Johnson said. 

Jimmy and Clarence squirmed a bit and glanced at me. Undetected by Cyrus or Mrs. Johnson treated Jimmy and Clarence to an all-too-knowing glare. Jimmy blanched and Clarence threatened to have an eruption from one end or the other. I think it was this last that galvanized Cyrus ‘s decision. 

"Mrs. Johnson, I don’t want you to worry. Elspeth will show you to the sitting room, and I’ll do what I can. I’m sure they’ll be better in no time."

"Oh, thank you, Doctor.” There was so much genuine relief in her face that I knew she couldn’t hear the panic in Cyrus ‘s voice. As he closed the door I saw him reach for his magic book.

I sat with Mrs. Johnson in the parlor to keep her mind off the boys’ condition, but I was more nervous than her. The risk was mine. I could lose… the baby… over nothing than teens drinking. Cyrus would not know the warning signs of poisoning by feather aluminum as someone who was well studied in local resources. Cyrus, never had too much interest in it. I doubted he would detect the smell of lavender on their breath, or see the flicker of sliver in their eyes. 

The boys carried on like a train had hit them. Their mother was protective, but believed the best in them. Even when their antics glared in front of her. 

Cyrus would not know all he would have to do is wait another couple of hours and the illness would pass. The panic in eyes was unmistakable— inexplicable symptoms, he would resort to magic. 

The boys wailed, “We’re going to die,” as they turned greener than Kermit the Frog. 

What if I was wrong? What if the boys had a forum bird flue? I didn’t check their breath. Maybe there wasn’t a flicker of sliver. Maybe my husband and my best friend since preschool were pure. 

I would deserve what I got. 

I heard him softly speak words. Magic. 

What if were right? Megan had sought happiness in my husband’s arms. Megan would deserve what she got. Or, more to the point, what she lost. Better her than something new, something innocent. I wished I didn’t feel that way. I wish I could pack the fear, doubt, anger, in a box and Mr. Mills pick it up and UPS take it to Midian and keep the monsters company. 

They emerged from the surgery looking relieved. Mrs. Johnson leapt to her feet and gathered both boys to her generous bosom. 

"Oh, thank you so much, Doc," she said, releasing her boys to pump my husband’s hand with both of her arms like she was trying to get water from a well. "I don’t know what I would’ve done if anything had happened to them."

While Cyrus and Mrs. Johnson were occupied, I caught both boys’ eyes and them a knowing look. I told them that if they kept stealing and drinking I would heal by telling Sheriff Philip K. Decker and, what would their poor mother do if they went away to spend time wearing orange jumpsuits? I don’t believe they ever stole again. 

Cyrus ‘s eye avoided mine. Neither of us could pretend that the boys’ instantaneous cure had been natural, and my unchanged body demanded an explanation.


Cyrus showed them to the door, and for a moment I thought that he was going to walk them all the way home rather than face me.

A great horned owl arrived saving Cyrus from a confrontation. Owls meant bad news. They were leftovers from times gone by, older than my father’s time of doctoring. But owls were proud, and small towns are too. 

Without asking for any particulars, Cyrus grabbed his coat and bolted out the door. 

By the time Cyrus got home, I was in our bed, feeling small again, like I was five, but no teddy bears to guard me. 

The winds outside blew hard. If I woke in black and white Kansas tomorrow, I would not be surprised. 

Once in our bedroom, he removed his shirt with a distracted air. He paused. I thought he would turn away, but he took a deep breath and sat on the edge of the bed.

My chest tightened. My stomach turned. My head began to ache. 

Tenderly he placed his head in his hands. “It was Megan.” He paused for such a long time that I wondered if he would say any more. He dropped his hands and looked at me. “She’s caught the ‘wasting illness,’ Elspeth. I can’t tell you how sorry I am.” 

The winds stopped. 

I said nothing. Did nothing. 

"Say something!" he said.

"Does Megan know the cause of the ‘illness’?"

He sighed. “She does. Her spontaneous amputations horrified her and she wanted me to cure her. I had to tell her why that would be impossible. Healing magic only goes one way.” 

We were both silent for a moment. A bitter but not unpleasant taste filled my mouth. “Perhaps now she will think twice before dallying with another woman’s husband.”
I told myself, “Elspethf, you do not care.” I rolled over and pretended to sleep.

#

If I had been in the season of finter, I was now in the season of winall. Desalinate and cold. How the child in me managed to grow, I don’t know. I forced myself to eat. I forced myself to breathe. 

Even though I was finally safe from sudden maiming did not soften the knowledge that the man I loved most in the world did not love me. At best I would be a woman who poured their love into a child. Too much for any healthy child to bear. They would grow fat and blotted, stealing wine and beer, seeking their defiance. 

I longed for Megan. I talked to her a hundred times a day and now for weeks nothing. 

Cyrus could not ask me to leave the house; it belonged to me, an inheritance from my father. He could—and did—leave me alone in it, however. Cyrus stayed at a small apartment whenever he wasn’t working. I suspect how he spent his evenings, but I didn’t ask when our paths crossed. 

One morning I ran into Camin Keplinger in the market. I was careful to go when she shouldn’t be there. Garrulous as ever, she regaled me with news of the local goings on. 

"And I hear that your Cyrus is going to visit Rosemary Bower this afternoon," she concluded, "to see what can be done about her baby girl’s cleft palate. I pray he can help her.”

"Yes," I said. 

Camin told me about Rosemary Bower making her husband go into rehab, but I didn’t hear the rest of the conversation—a fact, which did not deter Camin in the slightest. My thoughts were filled with Megan. Cyrus would have to read from his magic book this afternoon, and Megan would endure some sort of loss. I pitied her for the sacrifice to come. I wanted to go to her, but I stood my ground. I did nothing wrong. 

The following evening, the raven on the telephone poll was upset, squawking the cries of intruder. He knew all that I was going through. He was my only confidant. Rabbits are not good at conversation. 

A knock came at my front door. Strange, everyone in town knew that they could now find the good doctor at his apartment or at Jake’s Stake House in the evenings. A veiled woman stood on my porch. Even dressed as she was, I recognized her- Megan. 

I followed her into the living room, and before I could speak, she dropped her veil. Any residual anger I felt for my friend dissolved when I saw her. My oldest, dearest friend’s once beautiful face had been ruined by the loss of her nose, eye, and her right hand. 

"I’m so sorry." I flung my arms around her and held tight. We stumbled to the settee and sat sobbing and holding each other. She put her hand on my now swelling belly. 

"I deserve everything I’ve gotten. I can’t explain my actions. But after Joel died, I was so lonely, and Cyrus was so kind," she said, melting into tears once more.

" Elspeth, I’ve betrayed my best friend and I’ve become a monster for it. I need no other reason to feel wretched, but…" Megan took a deep breath and crushed the handkerchief in her good hand. "Did you hear Enid Penley had a daughter with a cleft palate? Well, Cyrus healed her…and Rachel Ashberry lost a thumb."

"Rachel? The one with the flashy clothes? But she—How could he—?” 

We called her names and tore at every detail of her life apart and stomped on it. He didn’t fair too well either.

I sighed. “It’s not her, just like it wasn’t you. It’s him. He betrayed us both, and look at how he left us, like broken dolls.” 

We were quiet for a moment, contemplating our losses. 

"Gods help me, Megan," I said, putting my head in my hands. "I still love him." 

Megan held me tight, I almost couldn’t breath. 

The winds that once blew from west to east blew east to west. I saw the raven suspended in air as he tried to land. 

"Come with me!" I said, leading the way to the bedroom. 

From back of the closet, I brought out my father’s book of magic. Something I swore I never would. The baby kicked, hard. 

Some time later there was a commotion on my front step. Megan and I, whole once more, opened the door to find Aaron Boone supporting Cyrus.

"Mrs. Morris, something terrible has happened," Aaron said, helping my crippled husband into the parlor. "He was having drinks with Alice Shoemaker at Jake’s Stake House and all of a sudden he just screamed and fell off his chair." Aaron propped Cyrus on the settee and stepped back. "We checked to see what was the matter with him and—well, you can see for yourself…"

Indeed, I could. Cyrus ‘s right foot, two fingers on his left hand, his right eye, his nose, and his tongue were gone. 

"Jake threw him out of the stake house. Said he was either diseased or cursed. Cyrus couldn’t come here by himself, so I brought where he belonged."

"Thank you so much, Aaron," I said, but he was staring at Megan.

"I’ll take care of him now," I said louder, making an effort to catch the burly Miller’s attention. "Will you walk Megan home?"

"I’d be honored to," he said, taking Megan’s arm. I spared a moment to hope for the best for those two, before turning to care for my husband. He was always sweet on her, but she was always blind to his attentions. With her new eye, perhaps she would not be. 

#

Our reconciliation took some time. Cyrus, unlike me, bore all of his losses at once, so he had a lot to get used to. He also had not been expecting it, as I did. He’d never had reason to believe that anything like this would happen to him. 

That irritated me. Really irritated me. Considering how he’d consigned me to a similar fate not so long ago. 

I gave his magic book to the rabbits. 

I kept my fathers. I’ll never open it again. Having it satisfies me, for now. 

I can see the flicker of worry in his eyes sometimes. I love Cyrus very much, but I am human, and I am not as noble as I want to be. I am working on it. 

The attention he received from women vanished. His deformities don’t seem to bother me as mine used to bother him. I gained a faithful husband and he gained a whole wife and a daughter. 

I took over the practice when it became clear that Cyrus, could no longer be a doctor. It was easier than I thought it would be. Most of Mojave remembered that I had studied under my father before Cyrus came to live with us. Many recalled that I had been meant to inherit more than just my father’s house. While my cures are not as miraculous as Cyrus’s sometimes were, my patients trust me. 

And I am a good doctor. 






Chines lights sotry idea



The Ghost Festival Chinese festival 

In Chinese tradition, the fifteenth day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar is called Ghost Day and the seventh month in general is regarded as the Ghost Month (鬼月), in which ghosts and spirits, including those of the deceased ancestors, come out from the lower realm. During the Qingming Festival the living descendants pay homage to their ancestors and on Ghost Day, the deceased visit the living.

On the fifteenth day the realms of Heaven and Hell and the realm of the living are open and both Taoists and Buddhists would perform rituals to transmute and absolve the sufferings of the deceased. Intrinsic to the Ghost Month is ancestor worship, where traditionally the filial piety of descendants extends to their ancestors even after their deaths. Activities during the month would include preparing ritualistic food offerings, burning incense, and burning joss paper, a papier-mache form of material items such as clothes, gold and other fine goods for the visiting spirits of the ancestors. Elaborate meals would be served with empty seats for each of the deceased in the family treating the deceased as if they are still living. Ancestor worship is what distinguishes Qingming Festival from Ghost Festival because the latter includes paying respects to all deceased, including the same and younger generations, while the former only includes older generations. Other festivities may include, buying and releasing miniature paper boats and lanterns on water, which signifies giving directions to the lost ghosts and spirits of the ancestors and other deities.

The Ghost Festival shares some similarities with the predominantly Mexican observance of El Día de los Muertos. Due to theme of ghosts and spirits, the festival is sometimes also known as the Chinese Halloween[1], though many have debated the difference between the two.

e Ghost Festival is celebrated during the 7th month of the Chinese Lunar calendar. It also falls at the same time as a full moon, the new season, the fall harvest, the peak of Buddhist monastic asceticism, the rebirth of ancestors, and the assembly of the local community.[2] During this month, the gates of hell are opened up and ghosts are free to roam the earth where they seek food and entertainment. These ghosts are believed to be ancestors of those who have forgotten to pay tribute to them after they had died, or those who have suffered deaths and were never given a proper ritual for a sendoff. They have long thin necks because they have not been fed by their family, or it is a sign of punishment so they are unable to swallow. Family members would offer prayers to their deceased relatives and would burn joss paper. Such paper items are only valid in the underworld, which is why they burn it as offering to the ghosts that have come from the gates of hell. Like in the material world, the afterlife is very similar in some aspects, and the paper effigies of material goods would provide comfort to those who have nothing in the afterlife. People would also burn other things such as paper houses, cars, servants and televisions to please the ghosts.[3]

Families would also pay tribute to other unknown wandering ghosts so that these homeless souls would not intrude on their lives and bring misfortune and bad luck. A large feast is held for the ghosts on the 14th day of the 7th month, where everyone brings samplings of food and places them on the offering table to please the ghosts and ward off bad luck. In some East Asian countries today, live performances would be held and everyone was invited to attend. The first row of seats are always empty as this is where the ghosts would sit. The shows were always put on at night and at high volumes as the sound would attract and please the ghosts. Some shows include Chinese opera, dramas, and in some areas, even burlesque shows.[4]
 These acts are better known as “Merry-making”.[5]

For rituals, Buddhist and Taoists alike would hold ceremonies to relieve ghosts from suffering, many of them holding ceremonies in the afternoon or at night (as it is believed that the ghosts are released from hell when the sun sets). Altars are built for the deceased and priests and monks alike perform rituals for the benefit of ghosts. Monks and priests often throw rice or other small foods into the air in all directions to distribute them to the ghosts.[5]

During the evening, incense is burnt in front of the doors of each household. Incense stands for prosperity in Chinese culture, so families believe that there is more prosperity in burning more incense.[5] 
During the festival, some shops are closed as they wanted to leave the streets open for the ghosts. In the middle of each street stood an altar of incense with fresh fruit and sacrifices displayed on it.[5]

14 days after the festival, to make sure all the hungry ghosts find their way back to hell, people flow water lanterns and set them outside their houses (a practice mostly found amongst the Japanese). These lanterns are made by setting a lotus flower-shaped lantern on a paper boat. The lanterns are used to direct the ghosts back to the underworld, and when they go out, it symbolizes that they found their way back.[5]

Kuchisake-onna (口裂け女 Kuchisakeonna?) (“Slit-Mouth Woman”) refers to both a story in Japanese mythology, as well as a modern version of the tale of a woman, mutilated by a jealous husband, and returned as a malicious spirit bent on committing the same acts done to her.
Contents [hide]
1 Legend
1.1 Story Variations
2 Urban legend and public panics
3 In fiction
4 See also
5 References
6 External references
[edit]Legend

The legend is said to originate with a young woman who lived hundreds of years ago (some versions of the legend state the Heian period) and was either the wife or concubine of a samurai. She is said to have been very beautiful but also very vain, and possibly cheating on her husband. The samurai, extremely jealous and feeling cuckolded, attacked her and slit her mouth from ear to ear, screaming “Who will think you’re beautiful now?”
The urban legend picks up from this point, stating that a woman roams around at night (especially during foggy evenings), with her face covered by a surgical mask, which would not be especially unusual, as people with colds often wear masks for the sake of others in Japan. When she encounters someone (primarily children or college students), she will shyly ask, “Am I beautiful?” (“Watashi kirei?”). If the person answers yes, she will take off her mask and say, “Even like this?” (“Kore demo?”). At this point, if the victim answers “No,” she will slay them or cut their mouths to resemble hers (in many versions, her weapon is a pair of scissors). If the victim tells her she is pretty a second time, she follows the victim home and slays them at the doorway to their residence, due to the fact that “kirei” (きれい), Japanese for ‘pretty,’ is a near homophone of “kire” (切れ), the imperative form of “to cut”. In other versions of the myth if you reply yes after she removes the mask she will give you a large blood soaked ruby and walk away.
During the seventies, the urban legend went that if the victim answers “You’re average”, they are saved. When the urban legend was revived around 2000, the answer that would save you was changed to “so-so,” with the change that this answer causes the kuchisake-onna to think about what to do, and her victim can escape while she is in thought. Another way to escape while the Kuchisake-Onna is distracted is to throw candy or other sweets at her, or simply offer her candy. One other way is to ask her if you are pretty. She will get confused and leave.
[edit]Story Variations
A number of variations are available possibly due to wide spread of part the rumor with people not knowing the whole story. A variation tells of the reason of the slit being made by an unlicensed plastic surgeon, another tells of it being a curse from the excessive use of the power of the inugami from family traditions.
[edit]Urban legend and public panics


This section does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (February 2008)
During the spring and summer of 1979, rumors abounded throughout Japan about sightings of the Kuchisake-onna having hunted down children.
In October 2007, a coroner found some old records from the late 1970s about a woman who was chasing little children, but was hit by a car, and died shortly after. Her mouth was ripped from ear to ear. It is believed that she caused the panics around that time.
In 2004, a similar legend spread throughout cities in South Korea of a red masked woman, though this may have been fueled by tales of the 1979 cases in Japan, as well as a 1996 Japanese film (see below).

Idea story



The Ghost Festival Chinese festival 

In Chinese tradition, the fifteenth day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar is called Ghost Day and the seventh month in general is regarded as the Ghost Month (鬼月), in which ghosts and spirits, including those of the deceased ancestors, come out from the lower realm. During the Qingming Festival the living descendants pay homage to their ancestors and on Ghost Day, the deceased visit the living.

On the fifteenth day the realms of Heaven and Hell and the realm of the living are open and both Taoists and Buddhists would perform rituals to transmute and absolve the sufferings of the deceased. Intrinsic to the Ghost Month is ancestor worship, where traditionally the filial piety of descendants extends to their ancestors even after their deaths. Activities during the month would include preparing ritualistic food offerings, burning incense, and burning joss paper, a papier-mache form of material items such as clothes, gold and other fine goods for the visiting spirits of the ancestors. Elaborate meals would be served with empty seats for each of the deceased in the family treating the deceased as if they are still living. Ancestor worship is what distinguishes Qingming Festival from Ghost Festival because the latter includes paying respects to all deceased, including the same and younger generations, while the former only includes older generations. Other festivities may include, buying and releasing miniature paper boats and lanterns on water, which signifies giving directions to the lost ghosts and spirits of the ancestors and other deities.

The Ghost Festival shares some similarities with the predominantly Mexican observance of El Día de los Muertos. Due to theme of ghosts and spirits, the festival is sometimes also known as the Chinese Halloween[1], though many have debated the difference between the two.

e Ghost Festival is celebrated during the 7th month of the Chinese Lunar calendar. It also falls at the same time as a full moon, the new season, the fall harvest, the peak of Buddhist monastic asceticism, the rebirth of ancestors, and the assembly of the local community.[2] During this month, the gates of hell are opened up and ghosts are free to roam the earth where they seek food and entertainment. These ghosts are believed to be ancestors of those who have forgotten to pay tribute to them after they had died, or those who have suffered deaths and were never given a proper ritual for a sendoff. They have long thin necks because they have not been fed by their family, or it is a sign of punishment so they are unable to swallow. Family members would offer prayers to their deceased relatives and would burn joss paper. Such paper items are only valid in the underworld, which is why they burn it as offering to the ghosts that have come from the gates of hell. Like in the material world, the afterlife is very similar in some aspects, and the paper effigies of material goods would provide comfort to those who have nothing in the afterlife. People would also burn other things such as paper houses, cars, servants and televisions to please the ghosts.[3]

Families would also pay tribute to other unknown wandering ghosts so that these homeless souls would not intrude on their lives and bring misfortune and bad luck. A large feast is held for the ghosts on the 14th day of the 7th month, where everyone brings samplings of food and places them on the offering table to please the ghosts and ward off bad luck. In some East Asian countries today, live performances would be held and everyone was invited to attend. The first row of seats are always empty as this is where the ghosts would sit. The shows were always put on at night and at high volumes as the sound would attract and please the ghosts. Some shows include Chinese opera, dramas, and in some areas, even burlesque shows.[4]
 These acts are better known as “Merry-making”.[5]

For rituals, Buddhist and Taoists alike would hold ceremonies to relieve ghosts from suffering, many of them holding ceremonies in the afternoon or at night (as it is believed that the ghosts are released from hell when the sun sets). Altars are built for the deceased and priests and monks alike perform rituals for the benefit of ghosts. Monks and priests often throw rice or other small foods into the air in all directions to distribute them to the ghosts.[5]

During the evening, incense is burnt in front of the doors of each household. Incense stands for prosperity in Chinese culture, so families believe that there is more prosperity in burning more incense.[5] 
During the festival, some shops are closed as they wanted to leave the streets open for the ghosts. In the middle of each street stood an altar of incense with fresh fruit and sacrifices displayed on it.[5]

14 days after the festival, to make sure all the hungry ghosts find their way back to hell, people flow water lanterns and set them outside their houses (a practice mostly found amongst the Japanese). These lanterns are made by setting a lotus flower-shaped lantern on a paper boat. The lanterns are used to direct the ghosts back to the underworld, and when they go out, it symbolizes that they found their way back.[5]

Kuchisake-onna (口裂け女 Kuchisakeonna?) (“Slit-Mouth Woman”) refers to both a story in Japanese mythology, as well as a modern version of the tale of a woman, mutilated by a jealous husband, and returned as a malicious spirit bent on committing the same acts done to her.
Contents [hide]
1 Legend
1.1 Story Variations
2 Urban legend and public panics
3 In fiction
4 See also
5 References
6 External references
[edit]Legend

The legend is said to originate with a young woman who lived hundreds of years ago (some versions of the legend state the Heian period) and was either the wife or concubine of a samurai. She is said to have been very beautiful but also very vain, and possibly cheating on her husband. The samurai, extremely jealous and feeling cuckolded, attacked her and slit her mouth from ear to ear, screaming “Who will think you’re beautiful now?”
The urban legend picks up from this point, stating that a woman roams around at night (especially during foggy evenings), with her face covered by a surgical mask, which would not be especially unusual, as people with colds often wear masks for the sake of others in Japan. When she encounters someone (primarily children or college students), she will shyly ask, “Am I beautiful?” (“Watashi kirei?”). If the person answers yes, she will take off her mask and say, “Even like this?” (“Kore demo?”). At this point, if the victim answers “No,” she will slay them or cut their mouths to resemble hers (in many versions, her weapon is a pair of scissors). If the victim tells her she is pretty a second time, she follows the victim home and slays them at the doorway to their residence, due to the fact that “kirei” (きれい), Japanese for ‘pretty,’ is a near homophone of “kire” (切れ), the imperative form of “to cut”. In other versions of the myth if you reply yes after she removes the mask she will give you a large blood soaked ruby and walk away.
During the seventies, the urban legend went that if the victim answers “You’re average”, they are saved. When the urban legend was revived around 2000, the answer that would save you was changed to “so-so,” with the change that this answer causes the kuchisake-onna to think about what to do, and her victim can escape while she is in thought. Another way to escape while the Kuchisake-Onna is distracted is to throw candy or other sweets at her, or simply offer her candy. One other way is to ask her if you are pretty. She will get confused and leave.
[edit]Story Variations
A number of variations are available possibly due to wide spread of part the rumor with people not knowing the whole story. A variation tells of the reason of the slit being made by an unlicensed plastic surgeon, another tells of it being a curse from the excessive use of the power of the inugami from family traditions.
[edit]Urban legend and public panics


This section does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (February 2008)
During the spring and summer of 1979, rumors abounded throughout Japan about sightings of the Kuchisake-onna having hunted down children.
In October 2007, a coroner found some old records from the late 1970s about a woman who was chasing little children, but was hit by a car, and died shortly after. Her mouth was ripped from ear to ear. It is believed that she caused the panics around that time.
In 2004, a similar legend spread throughout cities in South Korea of a red masked woman, though this may have been fueled by tales of the 1979 cases in Japan, as well as a 1996 Japanese film (see below).

Ideas and Apples

To appear in Bewildering Stories: Issue 286, April 21,08



Ideas.
So many. 
They fill drawers
and boxes
They whisper, 
and shout from corners
and jars.

My blanket is heavy with them.
I try to be gentle, but some hit the floor.
I trip over them as I go to the bathroom at night,
I step on sharp words,
I swear at them,
call them names,
make horrible noises at them.
Perhaps…
this is why so many of mine
are dark. 

I wish I could write faster 
but when I do 
it’s lackluster.

It is those words. 
The hunt for 
the right words 
to form a sentence, 
a paragraph, 
a word to paint what I see, 
to display what I feel, 
taste,
touch, 
hear 
what it is I am looking at 
close and far away—ideas. 

Ideas
linger among stars. 
Always above, 
and far away. 
Although they are there during the day,
show best at night.
lovely things
we will never truly reach. 

Stars ideas do not stand still,
as I do not stand still, 
I chase them, 
tripping,
running, 
skipping,
I stand, 
Staggering, 
linger…
Star ideas not knowing,
not caring, 
I do all these things to possess. 

And just as I touch them, 
I change them. 

What was,
will never be what it was, 
or could have been. 

I try not to crush them. 
But some are so big,
or heavy,
it is hard not to.
I wish, 
I was a stronger writer. 

Some are light
like cotton candy they melt, when they should float. 
Others are clouds, 
something that is clearly there
or is it that it stands in the way of what is behind it,
keeping me from seeing beyond it. 

I like the apple ideas best. 
Those I pick
after they have grown big,
bursting with juice.
I take just one, 
or pounds. 
I can do so much. 
Peel,
chop,
bake,
mix them in.
Or I bite into the flesh as is—raw.
Just the idea and my mouth.
My teeth tearing chunks of idea, 
chewing,
tasting, 
taking it in so that it is a part of me.
I only hope when I am done 
it does not turn to dross. 

Apples ideas bruise and spread their spoil. 
They are always falling. 
The trick is to catch them before they hit the ground. 

Furry Dash

The witch threw down the book she was reading and began to rant, “Enough with the tragic, dark, mysterious love interests. 

“I want a man who’s taken his misfortunes and instead of using them as an excuse why he can’t be with the one he REALLY loves, grows. How about those events giving him strength, wisdom, and character?”

She played with the glass vial that hung around her neck. Inside floated two fleshy balls. 

"And a real man does dishes, even when he is a werewolf."

A howl of agreement came from the kitchen.

Black Feathers

BLACK FEATHERS
Mari Mitchell

The gift fell from its forgotten place, as if unseen hands had pushed it from the shelf of the closet. The tag read, “To Ellery,” and nothing more. Ellery picked up the curious object and shook it, attempting to decipher the secrets that lay within. A hollow echo came from the inside like paper wings beating. 

The contents spilled out: moments of the past captured and transfixed onto paper, preserved by chemicals and light becoming photographs. Strangers smiled from within snapshots. Christmases past lurked, mingling with Thanksgiving feasts of old. One picture stood out from the collage: a snapshot of an unknown house. 

The mysterious two-story house appeared to be crumbling from age and neglect. Shingles and paint stripped away a fragment at a time. Stark trees, bare of life, surrounded it. The only thing that didn’t seem to be a part of death was the smattering of ravens.

Ellery turned the photo over to see if anyone had bothered to write on the back. There, written in a graceful hand, were the words: “Ravens House 1972.” He knew all too well that was the year his father had vanished, like smoke from a fire. Even after you couldn’t see the smoke you could still smell it. Smoke has a way of tainting everything it touches. No matter where he went, all around him was the smoke of his father. 

The fire of his father’s disappearance had scorched his life and consumed his mother’s life. It took her years to turn to ash while he still quietly remained embers. After her husband’s disappearance she walked around with scars that could only be seen on the inside. 

A picture of his father Phillip was on top of the pile that still lay on the davenport. The photo had been hidden underneath the one of the house. His father’s crooked grin and dark eyes, intense and haunting, looked out from the photograph. Ellery wondered how much it might have helped his mother if he hadn’t looked so much like him. 

Ellery was sure of one thing: he was fated to try and solve the mystery of his life; from the Hardy Boys he read as a boy to his namesake Ellery Queen, what choice did he have? At least they hadn’t named him Sherlock or Poirot like they had the dogs.

He placed the portrait of the house on the mantle of the fireplace. His father’s picture was its neighbor. 

Ellery booted up his faithful Mac. He ran an internet search to see what he could come up with on Ravens House. In all of Googledom there were 913 possibilities. He stopped to read about ravens. The webpage said ravens were classified as sentient, often gather and protect treasures, and live in the same places for decades in family units. 

Ellery thought, What do ravens treasure? Coffee? No, ravens don’t drink coffee. At least you never see them ordering from Starbucks. I need coffee. After all, when looking for things, coffee always helps things along.

Among webpages of flag football, pro-wrestlers and some TV show he had never heard of, Ellery fell asleep. Strolling in his dreams, a stout stonewall bordered death lying in wait under tombstones. He thought for sure it was close to winter and wished that he’d not only thought to wear a jacket but his shoes as well. Past the inky trees the house from the picture waited. Ravens ambled about the desolate grounds, and sat on the roof. With atramentous eyes that seemed to hold no soul, they watched as he approached. 

It was then that he noticed her. Frail, almost as if she were made of glass, she stood under the eve of the veranda. Black tears ran down her alabaster cheeks contrasting sharply with her cerulean eyes and cerise lips. 

“Ellery!” the stranger called. 

She rushed out to meet him as the ravens ascended. With their talons and beaks they pulled her ebony hair; fragments of her dress were stripped away. Her once perfect alabaster skin became blotted with blood. Screams echoed all around as the cries of the ravens became deafening. 

Ellery sprang into action, not knowing exactly what he was going to do. He moved as only one can in a dream; painfully slow at first, as if running through water, then all at once arriving. He reached through a sea of ebony feathers and took the glass girl in his arms. The two made their way to the house as kamikaze ravens hit one after the other. Once they were on the veranda, the ravens dissipated, leaving them alone. 

Ellery opened the door and pulled them into the inner sanctum of the house. Carefully, he placed her on the davenport, now covered in photographs and black feathers. Tenderly, he wiped the blood from her face. 

“Thank you, Ellery. I’ve been waiting for you,” she said in a weak whisper. 

“You’re welcome, whoever you are.” 

“Lemuria,” and nothing more. 

As she spoke her name, the dream ended. It clung to him like thick mud making him feel heavy and cold. He took a long hot shower hoping to warm his bones and wash away the remnants of the strange and bewitching nightmare. 

Ellery then sat in his living room sipping his third cup of coffee. A feeling of longing, of dissatisfaction, gnawed at him. It was as if he somehow wasn’t whole inside; there were large pieces of him missing. His incompleteness was why he had never really felt able to connect with the people around him. He wanted to, but that piece of him must have been lost under the davenport years ago.

He was about to take another crack at searching for Ravens House when the pizza arrived. 

“Hello, that will be nineteen fifty for the thin crust meat trio… please.” 

“Sure. Let me get my wallet.”

“Do you mind if I step in for a moment? That wind is a bitch out there.”

“Nope. I shouldn’t be more than a minute.” 

Ellery disappeared into the hall somewhere, leaving the pizza man to look over the room. On the mantel, the photo of Ravens House still lay. Just as Ellery came back into the room, he picked it up to look at the photograph closer.

“Okay here we go.” Ellery couldn’t help but be a little annoyed at the delivery guy touching his things. He thought to himself, There goes his tip, as he retrieved the picture. 

“Pretty lady,” the pizza guy said.

Ellery gave him a twenty and waited impatiently for him to leave. 

With a smirk the delivery guy replied, “Thanks for the tip.”

Ellery locked the door and sat down. It was only then that he looked at the picture. She stood in the threshold of Ravens House. Lemuria’s dress was tattered, and black tears stained her sallow face. He thought for a moment that the pizza jerk must have switched photos. The scenario seemed farfetched but how could he have missed her? 

Ellery had scanned-in most of the pictures and burned them onto a disc. A quick check to see if she was there all along and he could quiet the voice that was screaming in his head. 

He clicked on the thumbnail of the house: no one. Ellery looked at the photograph that lay beside his Mac. There she was just as big as the moon.
“Just because you can’t explain how or why something’s happening doesn’t mean there’s not an explanation.” 

Rationally he knew things like this didn’t happen but he couldn’t deny the change either. Ellery hesitated to touch the photograph. With the tips of his fingers he shoved the picture in the desk drawer and locked it. 

“I need to get out of here.” 

Ellery headed for the nearest bar. It wasn’t something he did often but once in a while a fellow needed a drink, and unlike Sam Spade, he didn’t have a bottle tucked away. In a bar it was easy to find meaningless conversation or silence at the bottom of a beer glass. 

A few hours and a taxi ride later, Ellery managed to find his way home. He paused before leaving the safety of the cab. On the roof sat not one but three black-as-coal ravens. 

Finally the keyhole stopped evading his efforts to unlock, and Ellery quickly made his way past the desk to the refuge of his bed. All he needed was sleep. Through beer-induced dreams he once again visited Ravens House. Lemuria had changed her black dress to one of azure. She wore her hair in a neat Betty Page, so black that a tinge of blue shone. Her lips were a matching, glossy bee sting. Despite his desire to not be there, he couldn’t help noticing how beautiful she was. He made his way as quickly as he could to the door. 

“The ravens won’t let you go.” 

As Ellery opened the door, he saw it. At first it appeared to be a dense shadow. Then some of the shadow broke away and he could see that it was the ravens swarming. Their eyes were no longer atramentous but burned red with the fire of an unknown hell, and all of them watched him. 

“What kind of strange dream is this?” Ellery slammed the door shut and backed away from it. “Why am I here?”

Instead of answering, Lemuria disappeared into a hallway. By the time he reached the corridor she was gone and there was only a series of doors. Some were locked but the third opened. 

The room was a massive library. To his left was a fireplace that looked straight out of Citizen Kane. Two wingback chairs flanked its sides. On the mantel were two photographs: one of him and one of his house. 

“What the hell?” 

From one of the chairs came, “Well, you’re close. Although it’s not like any hell I’ve heard of.”

Ellery recognized the voice. He turned to meet it. There sat his father, smoking a cigarette. He thought, Why not? That makes as much sense as anything else.

“Well son, aren’t you going to say hi?” Phillip asked.

“What are you doing here?”

“The same thing you are. I just am; one moment I was driving home and the next I was here.”

“No. Not like me. You’re dead and I’m dreaming. There’s a big difference.”

“If you say so.” 

“What is this place?”

“When you find him, you can ask.” Phillip indicated the fireplace. Above the two small pictures was a much larger one of the man Ellery knew to be his grandfather. 

Lemuria began to scream. Ellery left the room, trying to find her. In a green and wooden room she was being held down on a bed. On top of her lay a raven large as any man. No clothing concealed her naked form as the colossal raven had his way with her. 

Ellery searched for something to stop the abomination. He picked up a wooden chair and, with all his might, broke it on the bird’s black back. With sensational speed the leviathan bird turned towards Ellery. 

It tried to pierce Ellery, stabbing with a beak sharp as Azathoth’s tooth. The bird’s second blow hit the side of Ellery’s head, throwing him back through the blackness of the dream to the light of consciousness. Before his eyes opened, he saw Lemuria reaching for him as she spoke desperate words:

“I need you…” 

Then nothing more. 

Weakened and awake, Ellery made his way to the kitchen, longing for the comfort of warm black coffee. He passed the mantel. Now two pictures lay where only one should be. The smaller one that once held the image of his father stood empty. But even more disturbing was the one next to it. The photograph of Ravens House had returned and had again changed: Lemuria was nowhere in sight but from one of the windows in the dark stood a man he knew was his father. At that moment he became aware of the warm stinging of his cranium. His refection in the mirror showed that he had withstood an injury. His knees gave way as he moved towards the davenport. 

Lemuria’s words reverberated in his heart: 

“I need you…”

The connection he felt to her was undeniable. It pulled on him like gravity. 

Ellery spoke as he surveyed the severity of his wound, “As Sherlock Holmes said, ‘When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’ ” 

Inside Ellery knew what he had to do. There wasn’t any point in trying to avoid sleep. It would come sooner or later. Who knew what tortures she was enduring as he sat there safe in his home? It was not in Ellery’s character to put off unpleasant things. In his lexicon putting off always equaled bad. A couple of sleeping pills and a plan would go a long way toward freeing them both from their undeserved fate. 

Still as death, the house of ravens welcomed him. He wandered through the labyrinth of rooms until he found her, waiting in some inner chamber filled with unfathomable darkness and ravens. Two goliath ravens stood beside her as she extended a delicate hand of alabaster glass. 

“Come,” and nothing more. 

“Whatever it takes, Lemuria, we’re getting out of here.”

Lemuria laughed. Her cerise lips formed a cruel smile. Her once bright azure eyes turned to rubies. Black feathers rustled as the rookery of ravens cawed and clicked, echoing their queen’s laugher. Ellery studied her more carefully. Now he saw her hair had feathers tucked within its waves of ebony. 

“I think not. You’ll be taking your place among my conclave.” She rose in all her full, dark loveliness. With one hand she stroked a leviathan raven. “Don’t you agree, Phillip?”

The goliath black bird ruffled its feathers and nodded its massive head. 

“I don’t believe you’ve met your grandfather.” The second giant raven cocked its head. 

Ellery, lost in madness, staggered back. 

Her attention was still with Grandfather Bird. “He’s such a naughty old bird, stealing my treasure.” 

“But I did nothing.”

“Nothing! You carry his tainted blood. You came willingly, fulfilling your fate.” 

“Why didn’t you say something to me, Dad?”

Father Bird ruffed his obsidian feathers and squawked, “Do no good.”

A thousand ravens rose, all at once descending upon him, tearing flesh from bone, each black bird swallowing chunks of Ellery, taking him in, flesh and soul, becoming.

***

On the mantel of Ellery’s fireplace sits a photograph of a house. Ravens fly and wait. From one of its windows he watches the world pass as black tears fall from his dark and haunting eyes. No more a man of flesh, but one of chemicals on paper, black feathers…

…and nothing more.

Notes on Song of Soulbin

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

Draft a list of your characters and write a brief profile on each one (first and last name, age, occupation or relation to main character(s) and rough physical description.) Keep your list handy for future updates throughout the Prep.


Kaylee: 9 at the start of the book and 21 at the end. She is creative, spiritual, curious, willful. Strawberry blonde hair that is always out of control. Loves to be outside, loves animals and nature. 

Mother of Kaylee, Bao. (He calls her Treasure) She is a botanist and is from Hong Hou. Willowy. Strawberry blonde. China doll. Willful and graceful, loves to sing. makes up silly songs.

Father: zoologist. Smart dark hair, dark eyes. booming voice. Smells of pipe. 

Ed: off-world miner, dark hair, dark eyes, booming voice. Smells of pipe. sings. Takes Kaylee home and sees her as something they can use. 

Fairfax, Ed’s son: Airagant, uninterested in nature. or art. Selfish and bit lazy. 

Heath: off-world minor, finds Kaylee really sexy and hates that he does. He doesn’t want to force her, but almost. Wants to turn her over to the cops. 

Joe: the other off-world minor. Red hair, facial hair. Seems indifferent to Kaylee. He is the one that had something to do with Kaylee’s parents’ disappearance. 

Mr. Snufflugluss: Sand cat, Snufflufflafagus

Snarp: Sand cat

Skai: 

Smog:

Story, Smudge, Salem Seuss, Shim-Shim-Shiree, Snagglepuss, Sinjin, Sultan, Suri, SaengDuan, sera ( Seraphine ), Shanghai Lil



iComp: Steve Jobs. Hologram, tall, thin, impressive hands, dark hair with a touch of grey short and a heck of widows peek. Black turtle neck. wire frame glasses. 

iComp: Maya Angelou. Hologram. light africain woman, old, warm, kind, animated voice, red turbin. hoop earrings, necklace, colorful dress. 

iComp: Gorden Ramsey: rugged features, blond hair, blue eeys, ENglish accent. 

iComp: Darwin, Hologram, wears a black suit, bushy white beerd, blading, white fuzzy hair.

000000

The first draft of your outline.
Options:
Using traditional outline format : Define what happens at the beginning, climax, and the end.
Using Index Cards (Paper or Electronic): Define your beginning, climax, and end. As you build your outline throughout October, you can easily shuffle around plot elements.
The Snowflake Method : Write a provocative one-sentence description of your story. Example from Randy Ingermanson’s Transgression : “A rogue physicist travels back in time to kill the apostle Paul.”


Kaylee and family take a working vacation back to her mother’s home world. After her parents disappear, she lives on the streets. She is given a home with a group of off-world miners. She has a crush on one miner, but learns he wants her to marry his son who is cruel to her. She spends lots of time alone and becomes friends with sand cats that the miners find as troublesome. Through the sand cats friendship, she gains independence, and learns about the world of nature around her. At the end Kaylee shows the world that is at risk of being destroyed, and how it can live in harmony with tech and nature.





===



Kaylee, gets off the airship along with her parents. Mom is a botanist. Dad is a zoologist. They are on a family vacation.

The is city is big and bright and beautiful. 

They stop at candy shop and buy a huge bag of hard candy. Her mom tells Kaylee the story about how they remind her of grandmother.http://www.21food.com/products/old-fashioned-hard-candy-161692.html This is something Kaylee already knows by heart. 

Day trip to the botanical gardens. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huntington_Library

Day trip to the zoo. Bought a stuffed toy, a sand cat she names named Mr. Snuffleupagus.. http://www.auduboninstitute.org/

The next day they are planning on going to the Dunes and ocean. http://www.travelblog.org/Wallpaper/sand_dunes_mui_ne.html

When Kaylee wakes up her parents are gone. 



Kaylee is a couple of years older, living on the streets. She is stealing, begging. She has a hovel that is underground and she can hear the animals. In her home, is the stuffed sand cat, Mr. Snuffleupagus. 

The city is loud, dirty, cold, full of people who are mean people. A man almost traps her for a sex and almost rapes her. She gets away. 

Kaylee see a small group of men and a boy. She begs from and they give her something. She eyes that one of them has a huge stash of hard candy, the same her use to give her. She follows them and tries to steal the candy. One miner wants to turn her into the cops. One wants to let her go, but the other has different plans for her. 


3
They travel to the coast where the miners have a compound in which they live when on the planet. 

In the adjoined living room is a blank wall that comes a live when they enter. It is the TV, which interacts with them. 

The tell her she can stay if she helps to take care of the place. There are creatures that break in when they are gone, steal and break things. She agrees. Thrilled to have a home. She takes a bubble bath. One of the miners, Heath catches a glimpse of her. 


4
One of the miners cleans out the storage room, and Fairfax resents it. It was going to be his room when he came of age. 

Paints the room. A bed is delivered along with dresser. 

There is a camera in every room of the house that the miner’s can access at home or while on the ship. 


5
Ed takes her shopping. They buy clothes, candy, toys, a new iCompanions or iComp and programs for basic education, and home making. 

http://flickrhivemind.net/Tags/nyghtcraft,steampunk/Interesting 

She gets the fragment holo pic of her parents, her parent’s note book, a handful of light drives for an old iComp. She is rushed, because she runs into the man who had threatened her, she drops her stuffed sand cat. When they briefly go back it is gone. 


6
They spend a week together. The miners show her how things work, where things are. Fairfax is secretly mean to her. They show her the traps to catch the sand cats. When one is captured she lets it go and breaks the trap. 

They play a couple of games together, eat together, she starts to feel like a real family. 

http://gadgetsin.com/steampunk-usb-flash-drive-with-glowing-quartz-crystal.htm


7
The miners go back to work, leaving Kaylee alone. She cries. The TV talks to her. The iComp projects a small glowing person, more or less instruction on school, and guiding her how to cook and clean. 


8
Life on the ship. 

9
Kaylee explores the dunes. Collects rocks, dries and press plants.She eats lunch on beach and feeds the birds. See strange footprints. Hears the mono raths laughing. 

On the doorstep is a carved bird; its wing move. 


10
Stuff happens with the miners. Heath peaks at her. Need a sub-plot that ties in with main story- at least at the end. 


11
The iComp projection is of Ed. 

Kaylee gets the iComp projections to resemble her parents. More exploring. She follows tracks and sees a sand cat. The cat sings and a rock lifts in the air and gently goes down, making a path. 

The sand cats are just stupid animals as she was told. 


12
Miners come. Ed forgets her candy. They don’t want to play games with her. 

13 
While she is out in the tide pools gathering sea glass, the sand cats break into the compound. 

She fears the miners will be mad, as she has not been setting the traps. They have stole all of the sugar and honey and tinfoil. 

14
Miners

15
She notes that the miners are always late coming home and barely check in on her any more. The care packages have stopped altogether. She forms a plan to be more financially independent. 

She is lonely. 


16
miners

17
She explores. Where she saw the sand cats she leaves home made candy. She hides and watches. They take it and add what she thinks is sand or salt. A sand cat looks at her, even though she is sure they should not be able to see her. 


19
Miners

20
She manages to record images of her sleeping, watching TV, or cooking or showering. 10 days worth of things that lop and exchange out. 


21
miners


22
Another gift is left. This time it is a shell flute. A paw print is beside the gift. 


23
miners

24
Her mom comes to her. She tells her that she is loved. Have faith in her heart. Seek her peace. Seek understanding. She hears the sea and the songs of the beach come into harmony, the sands, the sea, the cats, the mono raths, the birds, the humming of the insects. The miners enter the dream and sounds like broken glass. 

25
miners

26
When she wakes, she pack for day of exploring. Glowing sand. She finds a trail of stones. The stones lead to a cave. Inside the cave are sand cats. These cats are wearing jewelry and some clothing. The cavern is smooth, and cool, the walls of the cave are painted. They sing, and lights appear. A moment of perfect beauty. 


27
The miners are in disharmony. 


28
Exploring. She watches as sand cats take large sticks and dance, making patterns in the sand and play something akin to a didgeridoo and rain sticks. 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6ZqKmaN2qw

29
Miners come home. All they want is for her to serve them. She picks on the idea that she is intended to stay there, perhaps even marry Fairfax. This is not a happy thing. 

32
Miners

31
When the miners leave, she destroys the traps. She no longer sleeps in Ed’s bed, nor does she wear any of his things. 

She resolves to be as independent as she can. Not sure what she can do, but she knows she must. The house is her trap. 

33
Miners

34
She and the sand cats exchange things and knowledge. 

35
miners

36
She makes jewelry from shells and sea glass and weaves string from grass. Makes herb bundles. She makes wreaths of driftwood with dried flowers. She fills bottles with glowing sand. Bouncing rocks. Plays the flute. She buys her own cloths, candy, and things for making bread and jewelry.

Her parents are back as holograms. 

37
The miners. Heath is caught looking a Kaylee. Nothing is done. He says she doesn’t know, how can it hurt her? 

38
Kay spends almost all of time swimming, and in nature. She’s made a little place of her own. This is where she keeps her things. 
The sand cats show her the butterflies migrating. They are still in the trees, like leaves. They sing and butterflies take off. 

39
Miners come home without telling her. The house alters her. She rushes into the clothes they have given her. She barely fits in them. They are tight, and barley cover her. 

Heath goes into part of the house and he storms out. One of the sand cats have broken into his part of the house. He doesn’t mean to, but he pushes her and falls into a glass table. 

40
She wakes in the hospital. Heath stays in the background. 




========

She is no longer a little girl. She barely fits into her clothes. 


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jli3ruqWYlc


The sands cats are in conflict with the miners because that is their natural habitat. They have a huge affect on the surrounding eco system. This already part of the my plot. In the end the fight to protect their home, as the miners do. But if the sand cats goes, no more sand cats. 

Not too sure about using a prophecy. To me that feels well-worn. Kaylee will do an exchange of knowledge with the sand cats. 

Kaylee was brought to the compound, which are in the dunes. The miners brought there as a watchdog, and perhaps a someday wife of of one of the miners sons. 

The sand cats of course believe that they are keepers of the world. I doubt that’s true, but they thinks so. Of course where they is sacred land. Aṉangu land is still inhabited by the spirits of dozens of ancestral creator beings which are referred to as Tjukuritja or Waparitja.

I don’t want technology to be evil. I want there to have to come to some harmony. 


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6ZqKmaN2qw&feature=related

The compound is in the Dunes of Song. 

Breathe in the air, deep and strong. The scent of perfumed salt, cool dark water, grass and wood, mix. 

From a door of the compound, is a raised walkway made from the smooth wood of sun-bleached tulgey trees. Each footstep, causes the wood to complain and make old man sounds as it bends and shifts. Sometimes the planks pinch the soles of your bare feet. Near one of the pylons is a nest of mome raths. At night you can hear them call, like echos of someone laughing. 

Mounds of milky sand lump together, with spikes of horses tail grass stand among S patterns of the sand, as groups of hairy spinaflex clump together. Where the sun rises are the Biggers; mountains of saffron sand that wear drifts in the shape of garlands. When the winds come, the sands sing as the grains of sand wash down. 

Further out, is the fence, like overgrown popsicle sticks stuck in the sand. Woven wire holding one to the other. 

Near the end the walkway, warm sand covers the wood. 

Steel grey sky turns into ocean. 

Salt spirits cling, kissing the crisp air. The ocean of Paracles rumbles; small waves roll in on wet chocolate sand that fades into ecru. Footprints of birds pepper the sand. There are the distinctive markings of the snarps, with their thick, scaly tails, and fat paw prints, that fade into the dunes.

Where the sun sets, are scraggy cliffs. Caves hide. Cold water rushes in, crashes into the boulders of the shoreline. Here, treasures can be found: hazy blue, cloudy purple, murky green sea glass, spiral shells, anemones bloom in the shallow pools, and cities of barnacles abound. 

Batches of pungent seaweed wait to be gathered and dried on clotheslines, and sold at the open market. 

Twisted driftwood lies bathing is in the sun. There gribbles scramble, shipworms burrow, crabs tuck under. 

This is the whole world as far as Kaylee can see. Far away from the noisy streets of Kong Hou, and its blinking gaslights and talking billboards






Clouds of Color

In the Tower of Esa, two stood guard. Ath pulled at his stiff collar hoping a little fresh air would find its way in. The other, Cob, leaned on a rough stone wall; his pike leaned too. It was difficult to tell who was more lazy, the pike or Cob. Cob rubbed his redden nose and tried to make more conversation, not because he was all that interested in what Ath thought, but more in a effort for something to do. 

“What do you think Ath?”

“What?”

“About the Ennedi being all, ya know, grrr.”

Ath lifted one eyebrow and shrugged. 

“I heard last night after last meal, that they had 4 and 20 camps on near the hills of Nelt. Least that’s what Duby said, he said he seem them in the direction of the sun comin up.” He pointed toward the west. 

Ath pointed the other way. 

“Yah that’s right.” Cob changed to match Ath’s direction. His hand went under his codpiece and gave a good scratch. “Yah hungry?” 

Ath made a duck face and gave a quick nod. 

Cob got his well-worn pack and fetched a bundle wrapped in large leaf. Inside the green leaf was Peli pasty, filled with bits of taters and lamb. He gave half to Ath, who in turn offered Cob mead. Cob opened his mouth, allowing Ath to shot a stream of golden liquid into his mouth. Only a small amount dribbled down his unkempt beard. Just as the two finished, footsteps could be heard. Ath brushed off crumbs from his jerkin and stood erected, pike in hand. Cob, blew his red nose into the leaf, dropped it, and took hold of the pike. 

In the voice that would scare the fur off of a great bear, Ath spoke, “Who goes there?” 

“Emer.” He paused in the archway. “I have the mid day meal.” Tray filled with dishes in hand, scroll under one arm; the face like a dried apple was perched on top of hickey stick of man. Emer lowered his head, so he could consider the pair without the aid of his glasses that rested on what was left of his nose. 

“Place the tray on the table,” Ath’s great voice bounced of the stones. 

“I know.” As Emer shock his head, the straps to his cap waved. “Everyday the same thing. Never hello Emer. How is the family, or Emer met any good birds? “ He began to walk backwards toward the opposite wall. “Never…” 

Ath spoke on top of Emer’s words, “Back toward the wall.” 

“I know. I’m doin it aint I? Gods of Harath help us if you ever uttered a single word other than those.” 

Ath jestered to Cob who waddled to the table and inspected the offering: Roasted quail with roses, fresh bread, leeks in saffron, and breney. The sticky fruit of breney glistened. A full bottle of wine, the onyx cup contrasted with royal seal of a white unicorn. A scrolled tied was placed 

“Cob you have mustard in your beard. Clean yourself man,” Emer said with disgust as he picked up the scroll and tray. 

Ath stood, his feet wide apart, pike across the doorway, glaring at Emer. 
Cob said, mustard still in his beard, “Just say it.” 

Emer let a long breathe, and rolled his eyes. “Is she safe?” 

Ath gave a sharp nod and went into a rest position. 

As Emer stomped up the stairwell, he could be heard to say, “Safe from what, is what I would like to know. Moths? Or witty conversation?” Further off in a half echo, “Mysterious person roaming the halls, my arse fanny? More like mysterious spider. Doesn’t anyone every dust?”

Some time later Emer made his way down the stairs, tray in hand, with leftovers and yesterdays rumpled paper. Cob picked up the scroll. At the top in a fancy scroll where the words: The Crier of Good Kingdom of Harath. Bits had been cut out; stains of wording were blackened out. 

“That’s just silly,” said as stuck his tongue though an opening. 

Emers ignored whatever they were doing, and made his way out to cart and donkey. 

Cob began to read, “King Prell, not since the great battle of.” Cob made long beeping sounds, his mincing of the black lines. “Enned,” More beeping. Cob stopped and placed the scroll down. Ya know what their talking about… “ He gave a quick look to see if anyone else was around and then whispered, “Bibbity bobbity.” One hand made a circular motion, eyes widened. 

Ath’s griped the pike tighter and glared at Cob. He quoted the holiest of tombs, “Thou Shalln’t…”

Cob said in hast, “I know. I know. Say no more, say no more.”

“Nine Goddesses be praised.” Ath released the tension from his hands. 

Cob went on, as he tossed the scroll to the floor, “Cant imagine a time when she,” he pointed up, “reigned. All that Salagadoola mechicka went on. Tell ya, we’s are better offs. Jussa knows what’s he doin.” 

Ath added, “In Jussa we trust.”

"I gotta piss," Cob said. He made his way over to the window. Puffs of colored clouds floated by, one of greens, another of blues, but it was the pink that gave him pause. As his stream Cob’s was going well, Emers shot across the sky like cannon ball, screaming. 

Ath grabbed the pike and charged toward the window, knocking Cob aside. He was in time to watch the donkey who looked as if he was trying to fly. 

Ath bolted toward the archway and looked in both directions. “Fire the alarm!”

Cob staggered one way and the other, dumbfounded momentarily as to what he should be doing. Once he was in front of the box, Cob tried three keys before the lock was undone. Flags of different colors were tossed. Cob called out in a shaky voice, “What color?”

"What?!" Ath blew out a loud breathe of sheer disgust. "Any."

Cob put up all three and hoisted the cries of help. 

Ath said, “Let’s hope the military comes before the repairmen or the doctor.”

In the middle of the room a storm cloud of three colors bloomed. From each color a middle aged woman with tiny wings and pointed hats appeared. 

"Philomina, the slob," said the one blue. 

"Yes, Merryweather," said the one in pink. Philomina wiggled her wand. Zap, and room became fat with the scent of roses. A pulse of pink struck Cob, turning him into an uncommon khmer: the head of pink rose and the beak of goose, the body shinny teal with spots, green webbed feet in front, back feet of a chicken. On its erected tail, flew three flags. 

"Felicia, the other." The one in green waved her wand, making it crackle. A shower of green sparkle flited down, freezing Ath in his place. 

Cob waddled. “That’s strange; all at once I don’t feel myself.” 

Three fairies turned as one. Their tiny wings worked furiously as they made their up the stairs. 

From the highest tower came a tempest. Cobalt, fuchsia and beryl wafted in enormous billows of thick clouds. The air crackled; then boomed. Rose petals rained down, leaving drifts of pink petals. Green sparkles whorled into tornadoes. Blue mist washed over flora and fauna. 



Magic, Midnight and Mischief

Once upon a time…

Locked in a tower, far away from the entrance of her father’s manor, Ashley stood tippy-toed so she could see from the narrow window. The royal carriage stopped in front of her father’s manor. Ashley refused to let a single tear fall, but she was overflowing with worry. 

She closed her true blue eyes tight. “Please hurry,” she prayed to the still chamber.

A small pop drew her eyes to a tiny hole in the corner. A plump, little mouse burst like a champaign cork. Wheezing from exertion the mouse puffed, “Ash … Ash … Ashley.” He pulled at his shirt and tried to cover his exposed white belly. “They’re … here!”

She turned toward the round rodent, his crooked tail now in its mouth. “Where’s Jack?”

The round mouse thought and thought, then said, “Ummm, no.” Dus trilled his tail nervously in his paws. “I mean, I don’t know. Ummm no.”

"Could you please tell Remmy and the others to look for him?"

The mouse stared blankly at her with its black eyes. “I think so.” He turned overly quick, as if time worked differently for him. Dus bumped into the plaster wall, missing the hole by a couple of inches. He looked back at Ashley and gave a goofy bow. “Here I go,” he said as he rubbed his pink sore nose. 

Ashley flopped onto the bed of straw. Her mind filled with thoughts of “what might bes” and “if onlys.” She considered the spinning wheel that sat in the corner, unused. In a few moments, the prince would come into her father’s manor with all his charms, and ask to see the young women of the house to try and fit a lost ruby slipper. The same slipper she had lost on the stairs on the third night of the ball, as she rushed to her waiting carriage. All too soon, the carriage would revert back to being nothing more than a cart full of squash, as the dress would be nothing more than an ill fitted hand-me-down. 

Another small ball of mouse rolled across the floor as if it was shot out of a catapult, and smacked into a table leg. A bubble of blue formed over the mouse just before he hit, saving him from broken bones. 

Ashley sat up and watched as the rodent uncrumpled itself. The magic bubble popped and coated him with light layer of blue wet residue. Dizzy, the tall, thin mouse staggered trying to find something to steady itself. You could almost see the small stars circling his tiny, pointed head. 

"There you are. I was getting so worried. Do you have it Jack?" 

He shook his head. The green cap followed the action of his head a fraction of a moment later. If the cap did not have holes for the mouse’s ears it would have fallen off. 

Her eyes narrowed as a stern look came over her face. “Now what am I going to do?” Ashley hands grabbed her tattered skit and clenched the patched cloth hard with worry. 

Jack searched his oversized jacket and pulled out a lock of curly chestnut hair. 

Her face widened and sparkled with hope. “I thought …” She leaned down and extended her hand. 

The mouse shook the stars off its heads, helping to form the multiple of things he saw into smaller numbers.

"I am sorry Ashley, but it is hard to get use to the speed spell. It disorients me so. I hardly know where my tail is sometimes." He picked one of the many Ashley’s and handed her the lock hair but it past through her hand. He tried again. Tentatively, he placed the lock of hair in her hand. 

She took the small treasure from Jack’s paws. “You wonderful thing. You may be the best thing I ever did. Until now …” 

Jack straightened out the oversized jacket and shirt he wore. By now, the wet residue dried to a pink powder that smelled of spring flowers, he could dust off. Some of the other mice teased Jack and told him his grab looked like a dress. Smelling like a girl was the last thing he needed. For the most part, Jack ignored what they said, knowing the mice were jealous of his position in the house as head mouse. Jack made a note to find something for a belt to help with slack of fabric. Perhaps that would keep it from catching on nails, both those that stuck out of the walls and those of the cat. 

Once more a pop came from the mouse hole. Dus returned. “As,” cough, “ley,” Dus wheezed. “Remmy said, that Jack,” he stammered. The round mouse clung to the entrance of the hole. 

Jack gave Dus a look of bewilderment.

Dus spotted Jack standing between the table and Ashley. The cogs in Dus’ mind turned, clink, clink, clank. “Oh … Sorry …” 

"It is all right," she said without thought. 

Jack gave his companion a look of disbelief. It was hard to get help. Not all mice took well to a multitude of spells being cast on them. They simply did not have the constitution for it; after the second or third incantation, the mouse would implode. 

From under the bed of hay, Ashley pulled a book. The two mice watched Ashley, one puzzled, the other mouse fascinated. She opened the book and quickly read to herself from it. She put the book down gently on to the bed of hay. 

Next, Ashley sat on the wooden stool beside the spinning wheel, her foot moved up and down on the treadle bar and the wheel began to spin. A small hum arose, as she placed the hair and hay in her lap. Graceful fingers grabbed a tiny amount of each. 

The humming became a song:

"Falagadoola nechicka doola dibbidi-dobbidi-doo.
Put ‘em together and what have you got?
A prince so charming, 
it’s alarming.
Falagadoola Nchicka doola dibbidi-dobbidi-doo.
A step-sister so foul,
I hope she fits the shoe now.
Dibbidi-dobbidi-doo.
Falagadoola means Nechicka Doolaroo
Loves forever.
I am so clever.
Dibbidi-Dobbidi-doo
Falagadoola Nenchicka Doola Dibbidi-Dobbidi-Doo
Put ‘em together and what have you got?
A wedding.
A bedding.
A baby for me to take.
Oh, how their hearts will ache.
Power for me to claim, 
and nothing will be the same.
Dibbidi-dobbidi dibbidi-dobbidi dibbidi-dobbidi-doo.



The hair and hay flickered as they touched the spindle, silver sparks arose. Round and round the wheel went. Round and round the bobbin filled with glistening thread. At the end of the song the bobbin full with golden thread shinned.

"Perfect, I knew this thing would be useful one day." 

Dus nodded his mouse head enthusiastically. If he nodded with any more gusto, it would have wiggled off. As it was, Dus’ brain bounced in its tiny head. 

Ashley carefully retrieved the spun gold thread and took it over to the rustic table. Pots and jars lined the back of the table. Each container filled with dried herbs and coarse strange powders. Candles stood on top of small wax hills, fixing them firmly in their pedestals. A mortar and pestle rested on the right, to the left, a perfect red rose and a bell; in the middle of the table was a goodly-sized pumpkin. 

With little effort, Jack scurried up the table leg, anxious to be of aid. Jack ran over to the pumpkin and lifted its cut lid. 

Dus took a running leap and hit another of the table legs with a small but solid thud. One more thud followed, as he hit the floor. What Dus lacked in brain or physical skill he made up for with enthusiasm. He got up and pulled his fuzzy, butterball self up the leg, one paw at a time; the whole way saying intermittingly, “I think I could… I think I could…” 

Jack did not watch what Dus was doing, he heard enough. No matter how many times Jack read the story to Dus, Dus could never get the words right. At least the meaning of the story stuck. That’s all that really matter, stories and their meaning. 

Ashley stood in front of the table oblivious to what her servants were doing. Her whole focus was on the task at hand. Concentration was important. Although magic came natural to her, it was still new. In time, she hoped to have enough power that her will would be enough to cast spells, but for now she needed books, bells and candlesticks. With a wave of her hand, the golden thread rose like a snake and slithered into the hollow gourd, making its belly glow. 

Dus finally made it to the tabletop. On the edge of the table, he sat like a mound of mashed mouse potatoes. Beads of sweat dampened his fir, a halo of perspiration hung under his arms. 

"Dus, the rose, please." 

The mouse got up with as much speed as he could muster. Most of the speed spell had worn off; for that, Dus was grateful. Mice, especial round mice were not meant to endure such speeds. He rushed to the rose, stumbling before he reached the flower. Dus told himself the next time Ashley was not looking; he would try again to remove the pointed shoes. Someday he hoped they would come off. Maybe then, he would not be quite so clumsy?

Ashley shook her head at the Dus’ capabilities; her flaxen hair cascaded across her back and chest. “What am I going to do with you?” The tone of her voice sweet as an apple. Each word she spoke Dus loved her more. Each word she spoke to him made Dus want all the more to do her bidding. 

One large black paw patted at her skirt. Ashley looked down; an enormous coal black cat with a petite white bib of fur under its chin waited. Large green eyes looked wantonly at her. 

"You are such a good cat. I knew I could count on you." 

A shockingly pink ribbon hung from the cat’s mouth. 

She stroked the cat’s ample coal black fur. “Thank you Satan. If I had known that you would have been so capable, I might have enchanted you first.” 

He purred loudly has she gave a quick scratch under his chin. 

"Now… where was I?" 

Dus opened his mouth, but before he could form a helpful word, the cat meowed. 

"Oh yes… Thank you Satan." 

Whatever the cat said, the mouse could not understand. He did not speak cat. Or was it he could not read the cat’s mind? Dus could not remember which it was. But he knew that Ashely always heard him. She may not have always paid attention to what he thought or said, but she heard him. One thing Dus understood, it did not go the other way. He only heard what she wanted him to, or what she spoke.

One finger beckoned to the pink ribbon. Zigzagging, the ribbon darted up to the table. She motioned to the pumpkin. Jack was barely in time to lift the lid before the obedient ribbon slipped in. A blushing puff of smoke burst from the great gourd as the pumpkin opened, then a purple smoke came forth as the ribbon was swallowed. 

On his feet again, Dus held the rose. “Ash,” he said a little too loud. “ley,” on the second syllable of her name he said spoken quieter. The mouse held the rose tight in both paws. His tail tense with anticipation of the wondrous things that were happening. Magic was full of surprises. He never knew what was going to happen next. The pumpkin could sprout legs and begin to dance, or the table might speak or better yet, turn in to cheese. Dus always hoped for things to turn into cheese. 

Ashley’s eyes turned to the round mouse. “Well, put the rose inside the pumpkin.” 

Dus heaved the rose up and in a vortex of color and magic, the rose lingered, its red petals falling like drops of red blood into the awaiting pumpkin caldron. Flashes of sapphire, amethyst, and gold erupted. Crackles of color snapped and spurt. Finally, the magic settled to a misty goo. 

With joy, Ashley clapped her hands. “That went pleasingly well. One more spell so that I might see.” 

She turned to bare wall and with a raise of her hand, “Mirror,” and one large ornate mirror appeared happing from the wall. 

Ashley began to sing another song, “Mirror, mirror upon thy wall, show me what I want to know.” 

The glass turned to fog and then shifted its reflection, no longer displaying the view in front of it. The fog cleared, showing another part of the manor. 

In the main hall, her stepsister Olli sat on a chair, all eyes upon her as she stuck out her bare foot than the other. Each toenail painted in a bright garish orange with a letter; together they read, “Pick me.” 

The prince’s servant looked at her feet aghast and then at Olli’s enthusiastic face. She gave him a none-too-subtle wink, and a wide smile. 

He did his best to not make a sour face. “One will do nicely, thank you my good lady.” 

"Yes of course." The left foot hit the stone floor. 

The prince’s servant bent on one knee, holding the ruby slipper in his hands. In vain, he tried to place the shoe upon her foot. Olli grunted as she struggled as best she could to make the shoe conform to the ample circumference of her foot. 

When he failed, Olli got up and tried with all of her might to shift her foot from one place of the shoe to the next, hoping her foot would find its way into the stubborn shoe, but the ruby slipper would not give. Olli’s foot would not fit. 

In the locked room, Ashley strummed her fingers on the plastered wall. The mirror did not show a clear enough angle. The spell only worked from mirror to mirror. If someone had not moved the chair, Ashley would have been able to see all she wanted. The not-knowing nibbled at her. “I wonder?” 

Once more she consulted the book. The morning after the ball, she had found a small book under a tree. Books were uncommon. Girls being able to read even more so, but her father taught. When Ashley would neglect her school work, her father would tell her, “Two days before your mother died, she came to me and said, ‘Give your word to me, swear you will teach our daughter to read and write. Knowledge will serve her, there are secrets yet untold.” What her mother had meant Ashley did not know until that fateful day. 

On Wednesdays, Ashley tended to her mother’s garden. Roses, herbs and fruit and nut trees and all manners of useful flora grew at a substantial rate. She felt at peace in her mother’s garden. From the great oak something dropped. First striking her on back as if a small rock had been thrown. She looked for it, intending to throw it back even harder at whom ever had hit her. Among the thick roots something unusual waited. A book, no larger than a walnut lay on a large green leaf. Not even a mouse would be able to make out the words on its page. As she held the odd little thing in her hands, a breeze whispered through the oak’s leaves telling her, “Keep the book. It is only for you. Ashley, you must keep it hidden and safe.” She tucked the book in a pocket of her apron. 

When night fell, Ashley wept, knowing her wishes would never be granted, all she had left a lovely dream of what should have been. No one cared for her, her life would be nothing but and endless amount of chores. 

Something stirred in her shirt. At first she thought a mouse had gotten caught. As quick as she could, she took the layers of skirt off and shook them hard. The small book fell to the stone floor and let out a soft scream. 

Her blue eyes widened as the book grew. Four nights ago she would have run screaming, but after she saw a woman appear in a pink puff of smoke, then witnessing a cart full of squashes changing to a grand coach, and more; a book becoming larger was not too intimidating. 

The leather cover curved and contorted into a mouth and smiled at her. It spoke, “Pick me up.”

Ashley stared at the book, unsure of what to do. Picking it up may not be the best thing to do. What if it ate her or did something worse? 

Again the book spoke, this time with more force, “Pick me up!” 

This time, Ashley did as commanded. It seemed like not doing, as it commanded would be worse. The book felt peculiar in her arms, almost as if it were vibrating. It flung open and flipped through its pages, finally stopping at a blank page.

Puzzled, Ashley stared at it, not knowing what she should do. “I don’t understand.”

As if an invisible hand was writing a word appeared, “Ask.”

Ashley considered the curious event; unsure of what her question should be, not knowing how many questions she might have, she considered what she should ask. 

"What do you want?" 

"To serve," the book wrote. 

Ashley pondered the meaning of those words. ‘That’s an interesting answer.’ She inquired once more, “To serve who?”

The previous word disappeared and another appeared, “You.”

"How?" 

"To reveal." 

"Reveal what?"

"Your stolen heritage."

Ashley’s knees weakened and before she knew, she was sitting. “My heritage? How was it stolen?” 

With that, the pages fluttered, as a gust of gentle smoke appeared before her. In another moment, Ashley saw her mother with the same book in her hands. Her mother filled it with secret knowledge, and spells. Some of which, she used to marry the man of her dreams. 

As she thought of her mother, the book flipped again. The pages settled and a moving picture formed of her mother’s wedding day. Her mother wore a dress of periwinkle with hints of pink, setting off her eyes and skin to perfection. Her father, so handsome and so nervous until his eyes fell upon Aurora. All his fear vanished because his soon to be wife looked at him and smiled— warmer than a summer day. The image faded.

Another took its place. Now her mother appeared in the woods with a full belly. With little pain or effort, she took the babe that only moments ago rested inside her but now rested in her arms. It was Ashley. She washed her babe from a spring and sang a song she had heard many times. This image faded replaced by another.

Ashley witnessed her mother’s death. A large woodsman stood towering above her mother, a knife held high and with a pray, the blade pierced her heart. Reddest blood surged from her breast, spilling to ground seeping into soil, feeding the tree, her tree, the tree that spoke to her and gave her the book. 

Ashley knew who was responsible for mother’s death—the royal family. Fearing the foretelling of her witch-child marrying their only son, they had done away with her, hoping to remove an unthinkable future. They could not have a heathen marry their son and corrupting their kingdom. That would not do. 

Another shimmer and another shift, now Ashley saw how her mother had already placed her daughter’s future in motion, hiding the book inside the tree where her mother’s life had been taken. 

With each moment she felt what her mother had felt: all the warm joy and cold sadness. When Ashley looked into her mother’s true blue eyes, she knew the greatest love. Her mother did not regret her death, because she knew that it insured her daughter’s future, only regretting she would not be able to be there in body. 

Ashley clasped and wept for the loss of what should have been. She held the book close to her breast as if it were her mother. With a broken heart, Ashley swore revenge on all those who had hurt her and her beloved mother. 

A hunger awoke her. Ashley wanted so much and she knew how she could feed her desires. She posed a thousand questions and read ravenously from her mother’s book. She learned how truly awful her step-monster, Mara, and her magpie twin stepsister Olli were. The only pleasure the trio took was in greed and cruelty. 

With each new revelation her resolution grew—revenge. "Carpe diem, my friend. You’re the one who taught me that, remember? At all costs. All for family and your not family.” The harsh words rang in her heart. 

On the second day of working with the book her grimoire, she charmed the mice, not transform them from mice to men as she had seen her godmother do, but they grew in intelligence, stood upright, did her bidding, even speak in away that both understood each other. She indulged the happiness of her new pets, making them tiny garments to wear; without the garb Ashley could hardly tell one from the other. 

Three days after Ashley received the book, a mirror appeared in her room. She recognized it at once. It was the glass her mother had gazed upon as she brushed her golden hair, singing. Then she understood, her mother was not just singing, she was casting, scrying and seeing. 

In less than a week, her power became substantial. Each new incantation became easier. What she could not do yesterday she could do today and what she could not do an hour ago she could now do with ease. 

Ashley sat in front of the mirror, brushing her hair. She sang, “Mirror, mirror upon thy wall, show me what I need to know.” 

The looking glass misted as a voice spoke, “Yes, my future queen.”

The obedient mirror began to gleam with silver starlight. She saw herself marrying the prince and what her life would be: every moment scheduled, every moment watched, each day more controlled than the last. What she drank, where she ate, what she wore— all dictated to her. Who she truly would be locked far away in a dark place, sense of self and soul imprisoned. 

And what about her prince? He soon lost his charm, as she saw him taking his pleasure with handmaids and more. Kings could have their pleasure, but a queen must to be controlled. Ashley watched as he grew fat and lost both his teeth and hair. No amount of charm now could counterbalance that future. 

More horrifying, her royal children who would be sent far away, first to schools, then to distant lands. Their love she would never have. Their futures too were at stake and all those who served them as well. She saw burnings. At first it was books and schools, but then people too. All to hold on to the past and never allow change. 

Her mother’s death would not be in vein. All her mother sacrificed, all of her dreams would come forth. 

The mirror misted once more, as her mother’s face appeared. “My darling daughter, your fate is in your own hands. I have given you the means to cast your future. I hope it is a happy one.”

Ashley eyes began to tear, she raised her hand to touch her mother’s image, but the cold boundary of time and glass did not allow them to touch. 

The moon rose in full bloom, Ashley formed her future. One quite different than the one she had glazed upon earlier. 

Something different was in Ashley’s reflection. Innocence lost, power gained. Looking inside herself, she saw her heart changed, no longer that soft pink of childhood. She possessed a witch’s heart, one that could only be touched by the love of a child, even if that child was not born to her. 

Satan meowed again as Ashley gazed into the looking glass. Her frustration boiled at the ridge of her control. The meow went unheard or ignored; Satan could not be sure which. This time with aid of his paw and a louder, “Meow!” Ashley final broke her focus. 

"Yes Satan? What is it?" she said with irritation. 

The cat’s green eyes meet with Ashley’s true blue eyes. “You right. I should have thought of that myself. You are such a clever cat. I wonder, if there is a spell to change a cat into a man? I think you would make a very handsome man. If there were only away to fix you, so you would not go roaming at night.” 

Ashley waved her hand. “Clear!” The sundries of witchcraft rumbled and then tumbled and stack themselves neatly into an unused corner. Only a few cracks and chips appeared on the fragile pots and jars. Trace amounts of precious herbs and powders spilled. 

Pleased overall with quality of the impromptu spell Ashley knew the next time it would go even better.

"Thank you." 

"Table!" her voice echoed with the strength of a great witch. The wood moaned and ached as the four stiff wooden legs bent and wobbled towards her. 

"There!" 

The dutiful table placed itself under her mother’s mirror. 

Ashley smiled. She waved both hands and directed one at the table and the other at the sundries. “Be still.”

She made her way on top of the table. Satan was right; Ashley could make out the chair. The cat landed on the table with grace of a stone gargoyle. He rubbed across her ankles, a black bloom of tail up. 

"You want to see too? I guess you should see."

"Meow," the cat strained. 

"I am sorry. Quiet right. What we have been working for." She reached down and picked up the large cat. The cat purred a song of happiness as Ashley shook his head. 

She tapped on the glass showing the cat where to look. 

#

Mandy, Olli’s twin almost pushed Olli from where she sat. As quick as Mandy could, she kicked off her shoes and greedily took her place on the chair. She gathered her skirts displaying more leg than necessary, and gave the prince’s servant a knowing look. She made little kissy faces at him and sat as she had practice for the last week. The pose was meant to show off her best features. 

The prince’s servant tried hard once again to conceal his distaste and went on with the duty he was charged with; finding the maiden who fit the ruby slipper. He looked at Mandy’s foot and knew the shoe would never fit. Mandy’s feet were even larger than her twin sister’s. Still he tried. He had to keep his word and try each unmarried maiden in the county. The prince had to marry and would only marry the maiden who fit the ruby slipper. No other would do. 

Mandy shut her brown eyes tight, willing her foot in. She thought, ‘Please, oh please. I’ll give anything, if the shoe fits.’

Ashley gave a half smile, the edges of it tainted as she heard her stepsister’s silent thoughts. 

Ashley sang, “Dibbidi-dobbidi dibbidi-dobbidi dibbidi-dobbidi-doo.”

All at once, the shoe shifted, and slipped onto Mandy’s foot. All who were in the hall watched in utter disbelief. Mandy’s mouth gapped with shock as she saw the shoe on her own foot. No one said anything out loud, but the thought took form, ‘Magic.’ The question was good magic or bad… 

Quietly to herself Mandy said, ‘Thank you, thank you!’ 

Ashley said from locked tower, “You’re so welcome, sister dear.” She nodded her head. 

The ruby slipper brightened, becoming hot, red hot. 

An expression of pain exploded upon Mandy’s carefully painted face. Quickly she swallowed it, not allowing the pain to take hold. Mandy would not let the shoe be removed and with it, her destiny. 

The shoe shifted again, cooling. 

Relief washed through Mandy. The pain lessoned. ‘Wishes have a price,’ she told herself. Then a new sensation took hold, tiny teeth nibbling at her foot. Mandy gripped the chair holding on with all her will. 

"Are you all right?" the prince’s servant asked. 

She shook her head. “I’m fine. I am just so, so thrilled.” Thrilled was spoken with emphasis. Weakly she said, “May I have a glass of wine?”

"Certainly," her astonished, but pleased mother said, as she motioned to her other daughter Olli, who was now green with envy. 

The ruby slipper continued to feast. Tears ran down Mandy’s pale face, but she did not cry out. 

Olli hastily handed her twin a glass of red wine. 

Mandy gulped it down. “More!” she demanded. Mandy caught her mother’s displeasure. “Please,” she said more lady-like. 

Olli fetched the wine and filled the goblet again and then again, until the bottle was quite empty and Mandy was quite full of red wine. 

With much help, the limping and tipsy Mandy made her way to the prince’s awaiting carriage and to her future. Her mind filled with images of expensive dress of silk, fine jewelry, people to do her bidding and balls. Mandy envisioned music and cake and more wine. A queen can do as she pleases. 

Mandy, and her twin sister Olli, their mother and the prince’s servant sat in a lovely carriage. The carriage carried them to their new destinies, one that would be very different than any of them had imagined. 

***
Ashley sat contently in front of her mother’s mirror humming happily to herself and Satan. She looked into the cat’s green eyes. 

"Oh all right," she said as she scratched his white chin. "How can I resist such a clever cat, such a helpful cat anything?" 

The round cat smiled. He leaped from her arms and landed much more softly than he did moments before, this time onto the floor of the locked tower. Satan made his way to where Dus entertained himself with spinning a lost button. The cat stood still and so quite as he watched the fat, tasty mouse amuse its simple self. 

The button lay still on the rough wooden floor. Satan sat pleased and full. No more Dus. 

Jack made his way back into the hole, making good his escape while he could, away from mirrors and magic while Ashley was enraptured with her newest accomplishment. He was sure if got far a way enough she would not be able to hear him and would soon enough forget and move on. No more mischief for him. Surely there was another place a mouse with his talents and abilities could feel safe and appreciated. He heard good things about Hamlet. 

Ashley, content with the knowledge that Mandy’s limp would always be around - especially with one foot considerably larger than the other. Mandy would not be waltzing at her wedding, but Ashley would. There would of course be a ball, music and cake. 

Ashley thought, as she brushed her golden hair, ‘Who needs a happy ending made by marrying a prince, when you can make your own magic.’

The end


Word Count: 5200

Memory Tree

The Memory Tree

This is an attempt at magic realism. 


King James Bible:
And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking.







Memories make up most of our lives, and sometimes they turn into stories. Some stories stay with you, just like the people we love. At least, that is what my grandfather Kauri told me. 

^„^



When Kauri De Tamble was a boy, he did not get along with people very well but he did get along well with cats, books and trees. Where he grew up, a small wood lined his street. The happiest time of his childhood was when he was wandering in the woods of Ent, often with his cat Calista. 

Kauri admired and felt a strong connection to trees. For a long time whenever people asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, the only truthful answer he could think of was “a tree” because he had not seen any one he wanted to be like, but the trees had it down. He knew they had the secret to life.

Most days he and Calista would traipse among the trees. Each tree was unique; each season brought with it a variety of birds and bugs and colors. Calista climbed and hunted as Kauri read or admired the surroundings or watched his black cat investigate nature. The two would find a spot under a tree where they would sit and share in a sandwich. 

In Calista’s blue eyes, he felt at peace. In their conversations, he felt understood. In her black fur, he felt comfort. 

As with all things, Calista came to pass, from one world into the hereafter. Kauri was heartbroken with grief. Calista had been his confidant and companion for almost a decade, and when you are a boy that is a life time.

With gentle care, Kauri gathered Calista into a basket. In his other arm he carried a sapling of an oak. On his back, he strapped a spade and the two went one last time into the woods of Ent. He dug into the dark earth making a hole deep and true. At the bottom of the hole he placed Calista wrapped in the blanket she so often slept on. Carefully, he covered it with dirt and then placed the oak, tucking it into the rich soil. 

Calista’s tree grew much faster and larger than any of its comrades, what should have taken decades took only a couple of years.

When the oak was of the proper size for climbing, it started producing large amounts of acorns. Kauri collected the acorns by the box full, as they fell in the fall. Not for any real reason, they just felt nice in the hand and somehow a big bunch of them felt satisfying. Often, one was in his pocket. An acorn would be left wherever he had been: library, grocery stores, park benches on buses. Sometimes Kauri would paint a word on them or a face. Sometimes he would whisper a wish to it and hoped that if the tree took root, his wish would come true. Not that he had ever seen an oak sprout up behind a box of corn flakes or in the library. 

Kauri lay under the spreading limbs of his oak. The sunlight shined through the colored leaves making it look like a sunset. Rustling among the leaves woke Kauri from his thoughts. Just for a moment, he thought he saw a cat. 

Then came a familiar, “Merow.” 

Kauri looked again, this time with more intent for something black, with four paws and a long tail. He called, “Calista,” not really believing she would come. 

High, where the branches became thick but not too thick, there was a sizable tree hollow. One that was large enough to keep a book in or two. Kauri shimmied up the trunk to look. Inside the hollow was a tin box that had once contained cookies, the kind you got at Christmas from your Aunt Shelly. Kauri had never placed any box in the hollow. He tucked the box into his shirt and climbed a little higher so that he could sit on a branch.

Inside the tin box were large cat’s eye marbles, a deck of cards, a few white feathers and two of his acorns. On one was the face sticking out its tongue and the other was a word: friendship. He considered each card and each feather and looked at them carefully, one at a time through the marbles. 

"What are you doing in my tree!" a voice called from down below. 

Kauri did nothing. All at once he felt acorns being chucked at him with good accuracy and stung as they hit. 

It was Alerce Balanos. She was new to the school and the neighborhood. One thing was for sure; she was mad. Her heart-shaped face was as red as her hair. 

"Why are you in my treasure box?" Alerce said with exasperation as she reached down to grab two more handfuls of acorns. Just as she was about to bombard him again, a black cat with blue eyes appeared and weaved through her legs. 

The cat gave a familiar, “Merow.”

Kauri placed the card he was considering back into the tin and closed it, and swung down. As he landed, Kauri said with a raised eyebrow, “It’s not your tree.” 

Flummoxed for a moment, Alerce said, “Okay, I do not own the tree but that is my box, with my stuff in it. Thief!”

"Thief! I didn’t take anything." 

She held out her hand. “Oh yah?! Hand over the box.” 

"The box is up there. If you want it so damn much, go and get it yourself!" 

The black cat walked toward Kauri and sat right in front of him and looked up with her blue eyes. 

"Fine! I will! Stay out of my tree!" Alerce’s lips pursed together in determination as she stomped toward the oak.

"It’s not your tree! It is mine," Kauri stated. 

She turned back, hands on her narrow hips; her face squished like she had sucked on the world’s sourest lemon. “It’s not your tree either, Karen,” Alerce said the name mockingly. 

He hated it when people called him that, “Karen.” Just as Kauri was about to hit, or shove, or something; the black cat leapt onto Kauri’s chest. Without thinking, he grabbed hold of the cat for support. 

"Don’t pick up my cat. Put him down." 

"No Al. If she wanted down, she would not have gotten up," he said as he stroked the cat. His mouth opened and then snapped shut, stopping the nasty thing he was about to say from coming out. Instead he said, "It is too my tree. I planted it, I take care of it. I even named it."

Alerce shook her head in small tight movements. “You did not,” she said with heavy sarcasm. 

Kauri made an indignant face and shook his head. “Whatever.” 

The black cat purred. 

Alerce stood with her feet wide apart; she leaned toward Kauri, with hands on hips. “Not whatever. I’ll have you know it takes decades for an oak to grow to this size. You aren’t decades old are you?” she said with a snarl. 

"I know how long it takes and I know I planted it."

Alerce looked at him as if his head just floated off. 

"Think what you want. The truth does not need you," Kauri said. 

The black cat adjusted itself and placed herself onto Kauri’s shoulder. She nuzzled him and washed his face with her rough tongue. 

"What did you do? Rub tuna all over your face?"

"No, cats like me," Kauri said matter-of-factly. 

"Glad someone does." 

"It’s not like you have a ton of friends at school either. I see you alone at lunch." 

The truth stood between them making them equal. 

Alerce’s a tattered copy of The Thief of Always fell from her pocket. She picked it up and dusted it off. 

"Good book."Kauri noted. 

Alerce nodded cautiously. “What did you like best?” 

"I liked Mrs. Griffon. She reminds me of someone I want to know."

The black cat leapt down from Kauri’s arms and began to wash her black fur. 

"Me too." A peak of a smile could be seen at the corners of her mouth. 

"Have you read The Star Diaries?” 

Kauri nodded. “Read it last year. Toomarrow’s a small town, there are only so many books that have anything to do with time travel.”

"What about From Time to Time?” 

"Nope. Any good?" 

"It was okay."

Kauri knelt down and scratched the black cat behind her ears. “What’s the cat’s name?”

"Who-cat."

"Good name," Kauri said with a small laugh. 

In that moment Alerce, Who-cat and Kauri became friends. 

^„^



Years later, Kauri left Alerce an acorn on her doorstep. It was his way of telling her to go to their tree. 

Up she went to the sitting branch. Carved above the hollow was, “KDT + AB 4ever.” Inside the hollow was their treasure box. It was their habit to leave each other notes and small gifts: sometimes a bird’s nest, stones, letters or a book. This time there was a small box covered in green velvet. Inside was a band of fine silver leaves, which held three stones of tourmaline: two of green and one of deep yellow. 

A note was tucked inside, it read: “We all have our time machines. Some take us back, they’re called memories. Some take us forward, they’re called dreams and in mine, I see you. My past, present and future.”

An acorn struck the trunk of the tree. “What are you doing in my tree!” a voice called from down below. 

"Your tree? Next you’ll say that’s your cat." She brushed the halo of red hair away from her face. 

"No, but she is a friend of mine."

She enthusiastically came down and hugged him around his neck. The two shared a long, warm kiss.

"Thank you for my present. I love it." 

"That’s good. So… will you?" 

Alerce gave him a puzzled look. 

"Let me see your treasure." 

She handed him the box. He got down on one knee and opened the box as the calico sat beside him. “Alerce, spend the rest of eternity with me?”

"I wouldn’t have it any other way."


^„^



Up high in the tree, two black cats played among the fall leaves as they said their vows. The tree’s branches seemed to bow as the yellow leaves fell like snowflakes, gracing the couple with its blessing. 

Alerce became the town’s librarian and Kauri ran a nursery, baked very good cookies, told wonderful tales to the young and old. The two shared lives with many cats and raised a trio of daughters. One had their mother’s red hair, green eyes and freckles; the other two had hair black as pitch and blue eyes. 

Children grow as trees do and each found their own piece of sun. Daphne married like her sisters and had children. But unlike her sisters, her twelve year old daughter, Echo was left without parents after a car accident. This is how Echo became tucked into her grandparent’s lives and they raised her with everything they had to give.

Although Echo visited her grandparents for special events and enjoyed their time together, she did not look forward to moving in with them. What Echo wanted was for it all to go back to how it had been or at least to not have to move clear across what seemed like the world. She was from the big city; she enjoyed all the variety such a place offered. Now, Echo was moving to a small town, with one movie theater, no book stores or coffee shops in the modern sense of big couches and big cups of coffee where you listened to bad poetry. The coffee shop in Toomarrow was for old people and meals after church. At least the cherry pie was good but there was no double latte’ to go along with it.

Grandma Al had gone ahead by plane to “ready” a place for Echo. Echo was not sure she liked the sound of that. She pictured pink bunnies and ballerinas. 

Echo and her grandfather Kauri drove over a two thousand miles. On the “road trip” she endured pancake houses and burger joints, not any she had ever heard of. Grandpa did not believe in fast food. 

"Good food is not fast," he said. 

"You’ve said that a zillion times, Grandpa," as Echo said just as many times as he had the other. She longed for a Starbucks or an Asian salad from Micky D’s.

"It’s local cuisine or nothing. That way you feed your soul and not just your indigestion."

She listened to stories about her mom and aunts growing up, stories about cats, stories about fairies and how they lived in trees and Echo learned more about trees than she ever wanted. 

"Dryads were almost always long-lived and tied to their homes, their tree, but some were a step beyond most nymphs. These are the hamadryads who were an integral part of their trees. If the tree died, the hamadryad associated with it died as well," he said and things like, "In Celtic mythology the oak is the tree of doors. They believed it to be a gateway between worlds, or a place where portals could be erected."

Grandfather was the king of useless information. 

Along the way, they stopped at roadside attractions. Mystery spots, shoe trees, botanical gardens, wax museums, cowboy towns and biggest this and thats, were always a must. Along with fudge. Echo had no idea there were so many kinds. Almost always good, too — almost. 

He took pictures and bought t-shirts, clocks and snow globes. By the time they reached the town of Toomarrows where her grandparents lived, Echo was sure she had a lifetime supply of keepsakes. She went along with it all and tried to put on a happy face even though her grandfather said she did not have to. 

Without fail, he managed to always have an acorn in his pocket. Along with a tip or on a shelf, he left an acorn. Echo was sure he would have run out long before they got half way there, but he always seemed to have one. A Crown Victory was roomy, but not so much as she would not have noticed where all the acorns had come from. 

Just once, when she was sure he was not looking, she took the acorn he had given her weeks ago and wished. I want to be with my parents again. Echo placed the sad looking acorn under some t-shirts. Her wish did not come true. 

At least when they were driving she could tune it all out when she was listening to her music; although there were times when it was hard to not hear Grandfather Kauri sing along with the Beattles and John Denver. 

The car games and card games they played were not as juvenile as Echo would have thought. In the weeks of travel, she found her heart lifted now and then. 

"Echo, our grief will never really go away, but it does lessen with time. With time, many things are possible."

She made a discontent face; put her music back in and shut her eyes closing out the world and allowing the song to take her to another place. 

^„^



Grandma Al stood under the apple tree; a ginger cat at her side. Everything looked the same as it had last year, but it felt different now. 

Echo’s grandmother, greeted them with hugs and plenty of kisses. “Welcome home my darlings.” Grandmother Al, guided Echo inside their new home. 

Grandma Al stood beside her granddaughter and placed an arm around her shoulders, as she spoke, she squeezed. “In this house we do not worry about bedtimes or what you read or eat. Some things nature takes care of.”

They stood inside with an unease. Echo took in the surrounding anew. What was once quaint seemed eccentric and odd. The bird nests that were placed around the house, the clocks that told different times, the books that were stacked everywhere and the cats of every color. Not one of them had a sensible name. They were all things like: Dingers cat, Brigadier cat, Ace cat and Wells cat. 

"I feel a batch of Forget Me Nots cookies coming on," he said as he disappeared into the kitchen. Brigadier cat sauntered his ample frame past Echo and joined Grandfather Kauri who had already placed several things on the table for baking. 

"I’ll show you where your room is," her grandmother said. 

When they came to the attic they stopped. The wall and door were covered with different ornate keyholes. 

“Why all the keyholes?”

“Because you have many opportunities ahead of you, and because I like them. Don’t worry; there is only one that works. The rest are there for decoration.”

"We thought you needed some space to sort things out." Grandma Al opened the door. The attic still had the scent of fresh paint: the walls were buttercup, on the ceiling was robins egg blue. Half of the room was stuffed with boxes while the had been made into a bedroom. 

"Your grandfather made it years ago for your mother." The headboard and footboard were made out of raw sycamore tree limbs. They appeared to be held together with green ivy. A strain of morning glories was its crown. 

Grandma Al picked up the quilt off of the bed and showed it to Echo. “I made it for you.” She pointed to a patch. “This was your father’s shirt. He got it when we all went to that Greek festival.” She pointed to another. “This is from a dress your mother used to wear when she was your age.” Her finger moved across the patchworks. “And this one was from that monkey shirt you wore all the time when you were four.” She wanted to share each patches stories but she held off, not wanting to press her too fast. “When you want, I can tell you the story about the patches, but we are all in there; everyone who loves you.”

Echo wanted to say thank you, but tears swelled up insider her throat so she could say nothing. 

"Would you like me to help you unpack?"

"Not really."

"Of course. You must be tired. Don’t be worried if you hear something moving around up here. It’s only Swick cat. I am afraid that his curiosity has gotten the best of him. That white cat is here somewhere.

"Maybe later on, you will come down for a game of snap? You can help me beat your grandfather!" she said as shut the door. 

Echo looked at the boxes and as much as she wanted to swim in their contents, she did not want to touch them either. That would be too real. Instead she explored the room. In a corner near the window was a small tree. The green bookshelf was half empty. On the nightstand was a picture of her and her parents from the trip to the red woods. There was a wardrobe on one wall, the overstuffed couch from her parent’s living room, her chest of drawers. Everything seemed out of place — even her. 

Echo only left the room to soak in the claw foot tub. Her music vibrated in the water over her skin. Wells cat would come in and watch her as he washed his ginger strips. 

Plates of cookies were brought up along with sandwiches and bowls of soup. Echo did little more than move slowly from one thing to another. 

^„^



"It’s time," Kauri said to Al.

She put down the book she was reading. “I did not think it would ever get here. My limbs have been itching to go since you got here. I’ll get the basket ready.”

Grandfather Kauri went up the stairs knocked on Echo’s door. No answer came. He slowly entered the room and saw her wrapped in the quilt looking at the window, as Swick cat lay near sleeping. 

"Get your shoes on and a sweater. We’re going for a walk." 

"Don’t want to." 

"We all must do things we do not want. The trick is to find the happiness in each thing we do." 

She rolled her eyes and sighed as she sat up. 

"Come on, the tree is calling." 

Slow as winter she got dressed and with even less speed she made her way down the stairs, past keyholes and the family snapshot that smiled from inside glass and frame. 

Wells cat lead the way as they walked to woods of Ent; Swick cat followed Echo’s shadow. The oak stood above all of the other trees, thick as half a dozen others put together. Grandma Al spread out a blanket for them to sit on. 

"Have a seat Echo," Grandfather Kauri motioned for her to join them. 

She and Swick cat sat at the edge of it as her grandmother took out paper, pens and string from the basket. Wells cat investigated the open basket and pawed at the string. When he got bored of that, Wells cat rolled in the dirt and scampered up the tree, disappearing somewhere high up in its green leaves. 

Grandmother Al handed Echo a pen and paper. “What do you want me to do with this?”

"That depends. Sometimes we write a poem or a letter, or a prayer, but mostly we write memories," her grandmother said. "Today I thought we would honor your parents."

Dozens of pieces of paper were inscribed upon. Some were read, some were kept secret. They were folded. Holes were made and string was laced through and tied into a loop. One by one, the tree was adorned with poems, prayers and promises. 

They dug two holes at the base of the tree and from the basket came two small boxes. Grandfather handed Echo a box. Each placed theirs in a hole and gently covered it. 

"We commit our loved ones to the family tree; may they forever be part of us." 

A black cat with blue eyes came down from the tree as a grey one followed. 

"Do you want to say anything Darling?" Grandmother asked. 

"No. I’m good."

"They danced at their wedding to this." When I’m Sixty-Four blared from the speakers. "May I have this dance?" He bowed in front of Echo. She gave a small nod. The two joined hands and danced as if guided. 

A spontaneous party was held that evening; neighbors brought food and drink. Lanterns were hung in the trees and some brought their instruments and played. It was a joyful event, one full of new and happy memories. 

^„^



Echo embraced her new life, while holding on to the memories of her past. Time moved forward as it often does, and Echo grew-up and left her home for school and her own life until years later when she got an email from her Grandma Al. 



Darling, 

I hate to impose upon you, but I am afraid that I must ask a large favor from you. I must go into the hospital for my operation and my recuperation time will be great. Your grandfather will not be up to looking out for himself. Sometimes he forgets where he is and what he is doing. Not very often, but enough to where something might happen. 

He refuses to have anyone else to come in. 

I hope it will not take longer than a month. 

I hope you can help. And even if you cannot, we will always love you. Time will take care of it. 

Alerce Balanos De Tamble, your loving grandmother Al



Echo came. Grandma Al had her operation but she did not recover and Grandfather lost so much of his spirit. On the day he should have attended his wife’s funeral, he became ill. He said his limbs hurt and he just felt rotten. Echo did not return back to her apartment, instead she continued to live with her grandfather and the cats. 

As time wore on, Grandfather lost track. At first he was happy and he knew who Echo was, it was what year and what day that drifted. It was easy to say Grandma was at the library or at the store. More and more he would not believe it. 

What made things worse was the tree. The tree that they had celebrated birthdays under, decorated for Christmas and had placed her parents’ remains – was withering away. 

Grandfather Kauri stood in front of the mantel of the fireplace. He stared at it. At first Echo thought he was looking at Grandma’s portrait, but then he grabbed the ginger jar. Inside were Grandma Al’s ashes. He held them tight to his chest and almost collapsed to the floor sobbing. 

"It’s her. Isn’t it Echo?" 

Echo’s lips tightened. She no longer wanted to lie to him. Perhaps once he knew the truth he could embrace his grief and come back to this world. “Yes.” 

She held him until there were no more tears. She sang the Yellow Submarine, and Sunshine on My Shoulders until the sun came up. Sleep came for them both. When she woke, he was gone, along with Grandma’s ginger jar. None of the cats were home either. 

One thought leapt to her mind — the tree. 

Echo ran toward the woods of Ent, toward Grandfather’s tree. She prayed he would be there. 

At his tree he mumbled and whaled, his grief made even stronger by the state of his beloved tree. Both of his hands were deep in the dirt, digging. The cats all around were yowling; together they sounded a melancholy durge.

Echo leaned down and touched him. “Come back home for now. We’ll come back with a shovel and you’ll be wearing more than PJs and a robe. What would Grandma say?” She grabbed hold of his cold, red hands, cracking and bleeding for his efforts.

He ripped away from her. “No! I will finish. Now help me if you want me to go with you. Otherwise go away and leave me alone.” He patted the tree. “There, there, my dear. Soon we will be together and all will be right again.” 

Echo got on her knees and helped him finish digging. The two covered Alerce’s ashes. She stood up and cleared some of the dirt away as the chill grew. “Let’s go home now. Maybe you can show me your recipe for your snowflake cookies?”

"Maybe after a cup or three of tea." 

"Sounds good," Echo said as she weaved her arm around his and her head lay on his shoulders. Some cats followed and some pulled us home.

"Poor tree. It was so hungry. No ones had been feeding it." 

"I did. I read all your books and did what it said. But it just seemed to give up." 

"That’s because you were not feeding it the right things."

^„^



She woke to hear the sounds of singing and clattering in the kitchen. The smells of chicken roasting lofted in the air and mixed with gingerbread and fairy cookies. On the living room table was a basket. 

"Oh you’re up. Could you be a help and fill the basket."

"It looks as if it already is." Pixel cat made a furry circle inside the basket. 

Grandfather looked up from frosting cookies. “I meant with the things beside it, the paper and alike.” 

She did and also got out a heavy coat to keep the chill away and hats, scarves and mittens Grandma Al had made. 

Grandfather Kauri came into the room with a basket in tow. “Trade with me.” He indicated the baskets Echo did as one of the clocks chimed. “Time to go. The tree is waiting. Don’t forget the quilt.” 

At the front door all the cats waited for it to be opened. Together they made their way to the woods of Ent, to Grandfather’s tree. 

"We only have a couple of hours before it’s dark."

"There’s time enough." 

^„^



As the tree came into view, the air warmed. In place of a rotting oak was one of life. Its branches bore buds of out of season. 

Once again the quilt was spread under its branches. They filled parchment with memories and love as the cats frolicked among the trees, as other cats joined. The two tied them to and fro in the tree as songs played too loud and were sung too off-key. 

After they were done, they ate heartily and left plenty for the tree and its spirit cats. 

Echo fell asleep near the door after she had moved things in front of each door. The quilt her grandmother made so many years ago around her and Pixel cat on her lap. She woke just as the last cat was leaping out the window and all of the clocks chimed. 

"Damn it. I should have," she said as she shoved the chair out of the way. Echo ran toward the woods; her grandmother’s quilt wrapped tight around her shoulders, a corner of it whipped in the night’s air. Clouds covered the heavens. The woods of Ent seemed faraway and dark. 

Grandfather Kauri stood under his tree looking up. “Echo, I am so glad your here.” He held out his arms, welcoming her. “Come on, and keep me warm.”

Echo joined him and tried to pull him home, back to the warmth, back home, but he stood his ground. 

"Look." He pointed to his tree. 

The wind blew the fresh green leaves and the parchments. One by one the poems and prayers became incandescent and glimmered. The parchment twisted and twined and reformed itself. The glistening papers pulled at their strings, until one by one each found its freedom and flew. 

The clouds parted as the paper rose high touching heaven. 

"I never…" Echo said. 

^„^



Grandfather and Echo for time enjoyed each other company. But time wears things and he began to drift again, his mind, his soul, not with her in the present like one of the many clocks in the house, you could never be sure what time it was for him. Sometimes Grandfather Kauri would be cradling a cat and calling it one of his daughter’s names or wrapping boxes of acorns or having conversations with trees. 

^„^



Again all of the clocks struck midnight as she woke — the front door left open wide. 

In a panic, Echo raced toward the woods of Ent, toward his tree. 

As Echo reached the tree she saw nothing but Quattrocento cat was at the base of the tree. Echo went around the tree and called out, “Grandfather.” 

Somewhere in the tree the leaves moved and she heard him say something soft like when you are too out of wind to form words. 

"Damn," she said under her breath. "I’m coming Grandfather. Hold on." Echo made her way up the tree. On the sitting branch she positioned herself to see what she could. The tree was dense with thick leaves and all she saw were three cats among its limbs. She began to weep. 

"Echo don’t cry. It’s all right," her grandfather said softly. 

She held still and tried to establish where the voice had come from.

"Darling," she heard her grandmother say. 

Echo turned around and peered at the hollow. A small door was where none had ever been. She got closer. 

"I think I’ll have another cup of tea while I wait," her grandmother Al said. 

"I feel a batch of Forget Me Nots coming on," her grandfather Kauri called back.

Echo tried the small door but it would not budge. She sat and listened in disbelief as he sang happily, but horrible off-key. She knocked but no one answered. 

As Echo landed on the ground she saw two cats, one grey and one black go around to the other side of the tree. Echo followed. At the base of the tree, where she and her grandfather had placed her parents ashes was another small door. From inside she heard, “When I was a boy, I always wanted to live in a tree house.”

^„^



That is my story, my memory. I left with most of the cats and went home, knowing in my heart that some stories stay with you, just like the people and places we love.