Welcome. I hope your coffee is hot and you can spend a few minutes here. Everything on this creative writing blog is fiction – unless noted otherwise in the Anecdotes – and created solely from my imagination and written by moi. I’m maintaining a Table of Contents so you can check out my earlier compositions. Leave me comments if you like (please be kind…). Be brave and click Follow so you can receive my latest disaster masterpiece as soon as it’s published. Thanks for visiting, be sure to come back. Elaine

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Christmas eve

Sadness won’t you leave me please
I need peace this Christmas eve.
End the pain I feel so strong
for everything that’s gone so wrong.

All the violence and the hate
that dominates our news of late
is evidence how far we’ve strayed
from the path that Jesus laid.

I wish the tears that flow from me
could renew the oceans and the seas.
My sorrow would not be in vain
if Your Earth could be clean again.

It’s not for me to understand
Your eternal faith in my fellow man.
You’re still here after all we’ve done
to each other and Your only Son.
You sent that babe so long ago,
a sign of love we did behold,
and as He grew He taught us of
Your spoken truth and undying love.

Tomorrow is Christmas and I’ll feel again
Your message of Hope and Goodwill toward men.
My heart will fill with love and joy
for the babe in the manger, that little boy.

For now I’ll wait in peaceful calm
Because You’ve been with me
all along.

Candle

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Strength of Heart

window-tree

A nail that had been in an empty wall for years now held a painting. The painting faced a window, and each morning the blind went up to reveal trees and leaves and weather, and at night the blind went down and a lamp was turned on for a while, then turned off, leaving the painting in darkness.

This was fine as far as the painting was concerned. For the last few years it had been stored on a shelf like a book, leaning against the painting behind it and being leaned on by the painting in front of it, with only one of its narrow sides exposed to the openness of the basement. It hadn’t been handled in years because it was in storage and this is what storage means. But the other day it had been pulled off the shelf and moved onto the floor and lined up with other paintings the same size, one in front of the other, tilted backward against each other like a collection of vinyl records. And it was from this position on the floor that it had been lifted free from its companions and carried out of the basement and up into natural light to be discussed with its creator then wrapped, transported, and unwrapped to be placed where it now hung with a nail at its back facing the window.

One night the painting became aware of a number of animals on the floor before it, looking upward and tilting their heads this way and that, moving closer then backing away, standing in different corners of the room to gain a better viewing angle, and it became apparent to the painting that none of them had seen anything like it before. “It’s…..different”, said Penguin. “It’s lumpy”, said Puffin. “At least it doesn’t smell”, said Doggie. Each night for many nights the animals came into the room to scrutinize the new painting, and since all the animals were prone to politeness, they either used very generic adjectives when discussing it, or they didn’t say anything at all. Only the Witch doctor thought it looked like a flamingo had been put through a blender, which he apparently said to the pots and pans in the kitchen, well away from the painting.

After a few nights of this, the novelty of viewing the painting wore off, and since the animals no longer left their own room to come look at it, they forgot all about it, high on the wall as it was, and nighttime for the painting once again became peaceful. It would hang in the dark facing the blind, and since the slats of the blind weren’t a perfect fit, on some nights thin strips of moonlight would make their way past the tree in the garden and enter the room to shine on the floor. The painting would watch the moonlight cross the floor as the night wore on and be entertained by the patterns of shadow made by its pale light as it moved across the room.

moonlight with blind

One night the winds were particularly fierce and all the leaves were blown from the branches of the tree in the garden, so when the moon shone down on the blind its angle was true and unobstructed when it entered the room. As with so many nights in the past, the painting watched the moonlight shine on the floor but on this particular night the moonlight was also able to reach the wall and shine on the painting itself. The painting was startled to find itself so illuminated, but also rather pleased, and as the moonlight crept across its canvas, feelings of joy spread with it and the painting was overcome with excitement. It wanted to reach out to the moonbeams, and that very thought of reaching out was enough to free small droplets of paint from the panel, tiny droplets of colour that floated out into the room and began to swirl and mix in the moonlight. As wonderfully unexpected and a little unnerving as this was, it wasn’t long before the entire painting had emptied itself into the room as a million tiny droplets of paint, separating and coming together again to cast its own shadows on the floor and wall as the night wore on, no pattern repeated in its joyful dance. And as dawn approached and the moonlight faded, the painting drew itself back to its wooden panel so when the blind went up in the morning it looked as it always had.

And this is how the painting began to spend its nights. The winter moon and the cloudless skies and the absence of leaves on the tree in the garden created optimal conditions for the moonlight to shine through the blind and onto the painting. Then the entire panel would lift joyously from the wooden backing and transform into a million colourful beads of paint and float out into the room to revel in its freedom. On some nights it would drift through the house on the warm currents of air, seeing the penguin and puffin and doggie asleep in one child’s bed, the snake, the wolf and Winnie the Pooh asleep with the other child, even the Witch doctor standing guard in the living room, hands on his hips as he stared out the big picture window. And when bad dreams entered the heads of the children, the happy painting would place little beads of red and yellow and gold on their eyelids and in the morning the children would tell their mother they had dreamed of beautiful sunsets over the lake at the cottage.

sunset

One night when the moon was hidden from the garden by a thick layer of cloud and the painting remained in the dark on the wall, an evil spirit entered the house through the basement and began to move up the stairs to the main floor. It kept itself low to the carpeted steps and when it came to the landing at the top of the stairs it transformed itself into a shapeless black cloud so it could seep through the crack at the bottom of the door and crawl into the kitchen. Immediately the pots and pans were terrified and began to tremble in the cupboard. The rattling of their lids woke the Witch doctor in the living room and as quick as a whip he appeared in the kitchen and cast a spell that entangled the evil spirit and threw it out the window. But even as the spirit was being twisted and knotted and tied up by the Witch doctor’s powerful spell, it saw the crayon drawings stuck to the refrigerator and the toy trucks under the breakfast table and it realized that children lived in this house. And the most perfect source of fear that fed the evil spirit and kept it alive was the fear that came from little children when it terrified them with nightmares as they slept in their beds. So even as the wretched spirit was being expelled from the house, it vowed to return.

witch doctor

The next night the Witch doctor called a meeting to tell all the animals about the attack. “It will likely come back”, he said. “Be vigilant.” Some of the animals thought that the only one who needed to be vigilant was the Witch doctor since he was the one who got rid of the bad spirit in the first place, and other animals didn’t know what vigilant meant so they weren’t sure what to think. Anyway, in the end they all got the gist of his order so that night the animals sat up in bed to keep watch over the sleeping children rather than lying down under the blankets as they usually did.

Many nights passed and all was calm and peaceful. More nights went by and still nothing happened. The Witch doctor stayed alert in the living room and the nights turned into weeks and still all was calm. The animals began to think they could stand watch by lying down and shortly after that they thought they might was well get under the blankets since they were lying down anyway, and it wasn’t long after that that they were once again snuggled in close to the children sleeping the long winter nights away. Each night the snow fell silently in the garden, the ice built up inside the bedroom window, the furnace clicked on – clicked off and the tick-talk of the clock in the kitchen counted the hours to dawn.

During this whole time the painting had remained steadfastly fixed to its wooden panel. It had heard the terrifying battle in the kitchen between the Witch doctor and the evil spirit and had been paralysed with fear during the whole ordeal. And when it overheard from the meeting that the horrible thing may actually return, it was so overcome with fear that it decided right then and there that the safest place for it was to remain by day, by night, a painting on the wall, out of the way and forgotten. All the joy it had experienced when it had floated uninhibited through the house, free as it wished to dance in the moonbeams or create beautiful mosaics in all sorts of colours, shapes and sizes as it floated above the children, the exhilaration and peace it had felt when it drifted with the warm currents through the house during those nights past, all those feelings had completely disappeared, thrown out – as it were – when the Witch doctor had hurtled the evil spirit through the kitchen window. Joy and Wonder had been replaced by Fear and Anxiety, so even on crisp, clear nights when the winter moon shone through the blind and crept across the wall, the painting clung anxiously to its wooden backing. It began to wish desperately that it was back in storage in its old basement, hidden on a shelf with the other paintings far away from this place, and it longed for the mundane silence and boredom it once knew. So as the long winter nights went by, the animals returned to sleeping under the covers with the children, the Witch doctor stood watch in the living room and the painting hung nervous and afraid on the wall.

And it was precisely on one of these quiet, peaceful, dark and tranquil nights that the evil spirit chose to return to the house. This time it came in through the roof, far away from the living room and the watchful eyes of the Witch doctor. It crept through the attic and down through the seams in the insulation until it found the wires that powered the light fixture in the hallway. It followed the wires to the electrical box where its black, shapeless form could drip drip drip ever so silently past the bulb in the fixture and down onto the floor where it formed a pool of evil, well away from the noisy pots and pans in the kitchen. In the darkness of the hallway the menacing spirit collected itself and, keeping close to the wall, began to creep along the floorboards toward the sleeping children in the bedroom at the end of the hall.

The entire house was asleep. In the pitch black silence of the night, no one had the slightest hint of the danger that had returned. No one, that is, except the painting. Too nervous to sleep, the painting had formed the habit of staring at the blind while waiting anxiously for dawn to return. But on this particular night, a very faint draught came into the room from the hallway and drifted up the wall and across the surface of the pallet, and the painting, tense and alert already, realized with horror what lurked in the hallway. Petrified, the painting waited desperately for the sound of the Witch doctor to come flying to the rescue but only silence filled the house. Seconds passed into minutes and still no help came. The fearful painting began to tremble and its trembling was so severe that small bits of paint became dislodged from its surface and floated out into the room. Horrified, the painting tried to retrieve itself back onto the safety of the pallet but each time it stretched forward to collect its droplets, more became dislodged until, disbelieving, the painting found itself floating in its entirety in the darkness of the room, a large cloud of trembling droplets. And down there, passing the doorway, it could see the pitch black mass of the evil spirit as it slunk and slithered on the floor toward the children’s bedroom.

The painting had little time to act. Pressing itself up against the ceiling it found the warm currents of air generated by the furnace and hurried out into the hallway where it passed unnoticed over the evil spirit and into the bedroom where the children slept. Once in their room the painting spread itself thinly over both sleeping forms, blending its colours over their heads and hands so perfectly to match the pillow cases and sheets that both sleeping forms were completely camouflaged and the beds looked no more than a jumble of blankets. No sooner had the painting hidden the children than the evil spirit crept through the door and into the room, slinking under the dresser and across the rug, searching searching searching for the tender, innocent hearts that must surely be asleep in these beds. Closer it crept, checking the bed of first one child then the other. The painting was terrified but it knew that if it trembled even a little bit, a few droplets of paint would surely float up into the air and the children that it had so perfectly hidden would be revealed. Waves of terror at being so close to the wretched spirit washed over the painting and threatened to destroy it completely but even though all it wanted to do was rush from the room and get as far away from the horror as possible, still the painting clung to the children and kept them safely hidden.

The spirit searched the entire room. Children should be in these beds but none could be found. Perhaps under the beds, or in the closet, but even though it looked high and low it could find no young hearts and no innocent minds to torment with nightmares. Enraged when it realized that children didn’t live here after all, the spirit rose up in an angry cloud that whirled through the bedroom with a force that knocked over books and tumbled clothes off the dresser and woke the sleeping animals. “AAAAAHHH!!!” screamed Puffin. “AAAAAHHH!” screamed Penguin. “WITCH DOCTOR!!” screamed Doggie, and in a flash the Witch doctor was there in the bedroom, his tiny form in the centre of the rug, his Witch doctor eyes fixated on the massive black cloud as he entangled it in one of his powerful spells that shrunk the spirit to no more than a speck and flung it out the window.

black cloud

By now all the animals were awake. They stood in a paralysed silence looking at the Witch doctor. “It won’t be back”, he said. “We’re in the clear”, and a collective sigh of relief passed through the group. Everyone began to busy themselves getting resettled for the rest of the night when a new panic spread through the room – where were the children? They frantically began to rustle through the blankets when one of the children snored softly and turned onto their side. “What the heck is THAT?” asked Tiger, pointing to the child’s face, and they all crowded around to look at the jagged border with paint on one side and tender skin on the other. “Hmm,” said the Witch doctor, “Clean it off and meet me in the next room.” All of them set to work carefully removing the paint from the children’s faces and hands, then carried it into the next room where the Witch doctor stood looking up at the empty pallet on the wall. “Oh bother,” said Pooh, “It would seem that someone has taken the paint from the painting.” All the animals looked down at their paws holding the droplets they had removed from the children and suddenly they all knew what had happened. The brave painting had tricked the evil spirit and saved the children from certain torment. “Let’s put it back,” said the Witch doctor, and with the flick of his hand he cast a spell that brought the pallet floating gently to the floor and the animals set to work reconstructing the painting that they had studied so carefully when it first arrived. When they were finished the Witch doctor cast the same spell in reverse and the pallet floated upward to return to the wall, though there was some difficulty in placing it correctly and the painting slid back and forth a number of times before settling in its proper position. All the animals stepped back to admire the beauty and character of the painting that was now so evident in its bumps and swirls. “It looks like a flamingo– .” “HEY!” said the animals, and the Witch doctor held his tongue.

Everyone returned to the children’s bedroom, the Witch doctor returned to the living room and a peaceful silence fell over the house. “What did you scratch on my back when the Witch doctor was putting me up?” asked the painting. “Strength of Heart,” said the nail. And the painting stared at the blind to wait for dawn, happy and content.

painting

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The Tern

Image

A tern that fished along the same stretch of shore each evening dove into the water and caught a minnow, and as he flew off to his nest the little minnow began to beg for its life.

Please let me go, please, PLEASE”, it wailed. “I’ve just learned how to swim! I’ve had no chance to live my life! You’re a masterful hunter and you’ll catch something else in no time, truly! Please don’t eat me! Please let me go!” On and on it sobbed until finally, to save himself from all this incessant noise, the tern released the whiner and as he flew off empty-billed, he was followed by a long and fading “THANK YOOOOU……”.

The next evening the same thing happened. The tern caught another minnow and as he flew back to his nest the little fish began to beg for its life. Once again the moaning and lamenting from its tiny mouth was so grating on the ears of the tern that the bird dropped the fish back into the water to shut the thing up and escape its bawling.

 tern dropping fish

After these unpleasant experiences, and not wanting to leave his favoured stretch of water, the tern decided to switch to a diet of flying insects that filled the evening air along the beach. He was indeed a masterful hunter and the little tern had no trouble filling his stomach with flies and gnats and dragonflies and mosquitoes and all sorts of buzzing creatures that stood no chance escaping the agile and acrobatic manoeuvres of the little hunter. He would dodge and spin through the warm summer air and as the sun made its way below the horizon and the sky turned orange and red in the sunset the little tern would return to his nest to settle down on a full stomach, have a little bug burp then tuck his beak under his wing and go to sleep.

sleeping tern

And this is how it went for a some time. But even though the little tern was eating lots and feeling satisfied at the end of each day, the problem was that all those insect legs and antennae and wings and skeletons that piled up in his stomach and pushed against the sides and top and bottom to make him feel full; all those bits and pieces took a long time to digest. Not only that, those bug bits didn’t have the right amount of fat and protein and other nutrients that the little tern needed to stay healthy and fit. So even though he was eating lots, his diet did little to replenish the muscle fibres and tissues and blood cells and all the other parts of the tern’s body that had to be kept in prime working condition so he could remain a masterful hunter. And without the proper tools to repair itself the little tern’s body began to deteriorate. After a while the delicate white feathers that covered his face and his neck and his breast began to lose their grip on the lackluster skin and come off his body as he flew. And so it was that each evening as the bird struggled to fly back to his nest, tiny white feathers would fall like tears from his body and drift down through the orange and red rays of the setting sun to land on the water and set sail through the night.

feather floating on water

The tern became very weak indeed. This weakness made it extremely difficult to catch anything to eat, so his unsatisfactory meals became smaller and smaller which further compounded the problem of his declining health. His wings became stiff and wooden and all the feathers on his undersides fell off, and his body itself had many naked patches that showed pale, delicate skin with small, thin veins underneath. Flying with any sense of purpose became an exhausting feat indeed, so it’s no wonder that one evening as the poor little tern managed to leave his nest and struggle into the air on his scraggly wings, he was completely overcome with fatigue by the time he arrived at his favoured stretch of water. Close to shore he tried to hover over the shallows to wait for a meal to come within reach but when a dragonfly flitted past and the little tern stretched out his head to give a feeble snap of his bill, he lost his balance and tumbled down through the air to land on his back with a gentle little plop on the surface of the water.

The tern stared up at the sky. His wings floated out from his body and the water on which he rested that had been warmed all day in the summer sun came against his bare skin. The wind held its breath and the evening was very still. The undersides of the few clouds in the sky turned orange and red as the sun said goodbye to the day and disappeared below the horizon. Still the bird floated on the water. After a while the night began and its darkness gave the stars a chance to shine and thousands upon thousands of them appeared in the sky. The little tern was fascinated by the display and as he lay on the water staring up at the constellations he totally forgot about his predicament and he felt rather peaceful and content. By this time, all the remaining feathers that had clung so desperately to the wings and back and tail of the little bird had lost their grip and drifted away so when the moon rose in the sky and shone down on the naked little tern, his body looked just like a twig that had bid farewell to its branch overhanging the river and floated down to the lake to explore the shore.

The tern fell asleep. He awoke in the darkness before dawn to find that a moth had settled on his bill. With a small flick of his head, the tern caught the moth and swallowed it down but these movements were enough to flip the tern over and now he floated on his stomach with his face submerged. Daylight was returning and delicate rays of sunlight began to shine on the lake and bend too and fro before landing on the ripples of sand under the water. The tern felt the sun on the back of his head and along his spine and through the skin of his wings and he felt warm and comfortable in the morning light and not the least bit soggy. But after a while, the rays of sunlight became too warm for his tender skin so he took to dipping himself under the water to cool off, and as the sun rose in the sky and the angle of the rays beat down, the little tern spent more time under the surface than floating on top. After a while of doing this, and devoid of all his feathers as he was, he discovered that by folding his wings around himself and crossing his knees and pointing his toes, well, he could manouver through the refreshing water quite nicely and he found this very interesting and rather exciting. And due to his clever moves, he was able to capture small swimming creatures that were in their pre-insect state that didn’t yet have their bulky wings and long antennae and spiky legs but instead were soft and squishy and very tasty as well as nutritious.

larvae in water

And so the day unfolded. The little tern thoroughly enjoyed being submerged in the warm water and only once in a while did he return to the surface to poke his beak upward for a breath of air before angling his knees and toes and propelling himself downward again. He meandered along the sandy bottom and watched the rays of sun through the water divide into patterns that resembled the waving grasses on the dunes and the branches of trees along the shore and the little tern felt very at home in his new environment. He saw many minnows in the distance and he watched the way they flicked their tails to move about and when he tried this trick with his own tail he spun and twisted and corkscrewed through the water then shot through the surface by mistake. The air was such a shock to his naked skin that his whole body froze and when he dropped back into the water he made a big splash. He was just getting himself back to swimming properly when all of a sudden his body was caught in a vise so powerful that his back and stomach were pressed almost together and he felt himself wrenched from the water and carried up into the air. He saw the seagull’s wings beating steadily above him and his favourite stretch of shore disappearing below and in a state of panic the little tern let out a frantic squawk and began to beg for his life.

Please let me go, please, PLEASE”, he wailed. “I’ve just learned how to swim! I’ve had no chance to live my life! You’re a masterful hunter and you’ll catch something else in no time, truly! Please don’t eat me! Please let me go!” On and on he sobbed until finally the seagull released him and as he tumbled through the air toward his new home in the warm water of the lake, he remembered to holler a loud and grateful “THANK YOOOOU!!”.

shoreline

Posted in Animals and such, Short Stories | 2 Comments

The Snake

          She’d always done well on her own.

          And she’d been on her own from the beginning. When the time was right, she’d broken free of her shell and pulled the air into her lungs and propelled herself forward and disappeared into the undergrowth. The scrapes and bumps and hardness and softness of the earth that drew lines down her length when she moved became familiar sensations immediately. Her brain registered them all and with no effort on her part she knew everything about the terrain she was on. With a flick of her tongue to taste the air she knew all she needed to know about the world beyond her sight. She knew what to eat and where to find it and when her stomach was full and she was resting and growing she’d reflect on this and think it was all rather marvellous.

          She’d survived 4 summers and 4 winters. She’d thrived when others had lived, and lived when others had died. She’d left her skin behind countless times among the dried grasses and fallen leaves and little twigs and pebbles that were part of the landscape she travelled, her footprint – her with no feet – to mark her passing. She’d found warm places to sleep, safe places to hibernate and dry places when it rained. She excelled at survival due to her intelligence, resourcefulness and vigilance. She was a master at the craft of living and the length and breadth of her body was her proof.

          Which is why she was so incredibly annoyed with herself now as she hung like a length of broken vine from the talons of a golden eagle as it carried her high through the air, it’s great wings propelling them forward with hardly a flap. 

golden eagle carrying snakeThe frigid temperatures at these heights had taken all the heat from her body and immobilized her so she hung as if dead, her head swinging out behind in the draft, those deadly feathered feet clasped around her end. How ridiculous to be caught, her of all creatures. She had been terrified to be ripped from the earth, separated from the comfort and familiarity of the ground that she had moved over with her entire body, chin to tail, every day of her life. And now to be airborne, to feel weightless and have the wind pass along her underside was a horrible sensation that somehow worsened her predicament. Trapped as she was, she could do nothing but watch the passing of the trees far below, the rocks, the outcroppings, the river, the fields, the moose in the marshes, the deer at the forest edge, the groundhogs in the meadows, the small birds flying among the shrubs. These sights filled her eyes and she became fascinated to see the earth from so high up, the same earth she could only travel when her whole body was pressed against its surface. The images poured into her brain and as she was flown over the landscape she was amazed to see even the curve of the horizon. In a flash of awareness she realized her perception of the world and the earth as she knew it was but a small piece indeed of the endless, beautiful mosaic laid out below her, and she was in awe of it all.

          The great bird angled its wings upward and slowed in mid-air then swung its feet forward. The movement snapped her head around and she saw the huge nest, a mass of sticks in a haphazard circle with an ugly white chick in the centre.

chickHer life depended on getting this right, she knew there was no room for error and no second chances. As the deadly feet with her in their grasp stretched out to land on the nest she used every fibre in her being to make her sluggish, frozen body respond. With a sickeningly slow movement that was no more than 5% of her normal ability but at this very moment was 1000% of her effort, she lunged straight for the baby and toppled the ugly thing backward and out of the nest. The parent bird squawked furiously and dove after its offspring but in the fray of flapping wings and fumbling feet and her own twisting body, one of its razor sharp talons sank into her belly. As the eagle disappeared below to chase its fallen young, the talon ripped open her undersides in a deep gash that cut through her soft hide down most of her length. Blood poured from the wound and the sticks on the edge of the nest where she clung became slippery and she lost her grip and fell over the side. Down she fell, twisting and turning through the air, her blood leaving her body and falling with her in a red rain. She looked down and saw the fast approach of the canopy far below and by some miracle of miracles she righted herself and fell through the branches before landing in a heap on the forest floor. The impact sent dead leaves flying into the air and as she lay stunned on the surface of her familiar earth the leaves settled to ground and covered her up.

dried leaves on forest floor          She didn’t move for days. Her body set to repair itself and while she lay unmoving on the forest floor the wound closed and scar tissue formed and new blood was made to fill her veins. The day came when she stretched herself out, and when she was free of the leaves that had kept her hidden and warm while she recovered, she examined her underside and was dismayed to see a long white scar marking her underside. It shone like a beacon against the black and brown and yellow markings of the rest of her skin, a bright reminder of how close she had come to being ripped to shreds and shoved into that hideous little beak.

          She was starving and she set out with determination. The eagle had carried her a long way from her familiar grounds and she had fallen from the sky into a strange forest where she’d need all her experience to interpret her surroundings and keep herself alive. But she was a survivor and as the weeks passed and the summer drew on she regained her strength and once again became a master of her new environment. The muscle fibres that had woven themselves together to close the wound had healed stronger than the rest of her body and she had to adjust to this new power that quickened her strike to invisible speed. The length and breadth of the scar itself had toughened her underside so she could now fly without caution over rough ground that would previously have sliced into her hide and peeled off her skin. She revelled in these new abilities and thought them just reward for having survived the whole ordeal.

          It was the height of the summer. Heat and stillness repeated themselves day after day so that even she sought relief from the sun. The forest floor was as dry as bone and the dead leaves and twigs jostled against each other as she moved over them and made disconcerting vibrations through the air that she could hear so she knew her movements were not silent like they should be. She was flicking her tongue to taste the air and suddenly stopped short. An awful, choking, bitter taste had been drawn into her mouth and she raised her head in alarm. There it was again. She turned her head in different directions but there was no escape. Everywhere she turned, every time she tested the air she drew in the same horrible taste. The forest had become very dark and hot and even through the toughened hide of her belly she could feel tremendous movement on the earth. She became frightened and began to move quickly. She had to get out of here. But what direction? This way! Stop to taste the air. No no, it’s worse! What was happening? Go this way! Faster, faster! She stopped again and raised her head. She stared. There before her stood a deer. It was staring into the distance, unmoving, transfixed by what it saw. Small animals were clinging to its back, its sides and even its belly, though it seemed not to notice. She turned her head to follow its gaze and she saw the brilliant flickering light and thick black smoke that covered the sky and blocked out the sun.

forest fire          She turned back to look at the deer and saw that its long legs were unencumbered and she made her decision. With lightening speed she was at its side and up its leg then she wrapped her length around its neck and held her head above its head between its ears. As gently as she could she pulled its head to the side to break the trance it was in and when the deer no longer saw the dancing flames filling its vision it began to run. Wrapped around its neck as she was she had no trouble keeping her balance and she raised her head high between its ears to look far ahead through the trees. She tasted the air and the taste was better. She used her body to direct the deer, moving its neck this way and that to guide them through the burning trees and its pounding legs flew over the ground and leapt over smoking logs and she began to have hope. Then suddenly the ground disappeared and for the second time in her life she was falling. She relaxed her body and unwound most of herself from the neck of the deer and she looked down at the brave creature that had saved her life and the lives of the small animals falling beside her and she saw it was gazing up at the cliff and the row of burning trees they had just escaped, then its focus changed and it was looking at her scar.

          With a tremendous crash they hit the water and disappeared under the surface. The weight of the deer dragged her downward and she began to panic. She wanted to let go of the thing and swim to the surface.

big splash in a lakeDown they went, her lungs crushing along her sides, desperate for air. She thought the deer must be dead, it made no effort to swim. Should she let go of the thing and save herself? The thought left her mind as quickly as it entered and she filled herself with determination and tightened her grip around its neck. The master of the sky that had wounded her body had made her the strongest creature on the ground and she would not fail now. Through the murky darkness she saw the trunk of a tree jutting into the depths and she wove her head through its branches and began to pull herself and her burden toward the surface. Up she went, dragging the deer with her and when she finally managed to pull its head free of the water she was relieved to hear it take a small breath. The shore was close and though branches lay in her way and the legs of the deer caught in them constantly, she inched herself along the trunk, resting to catch her breath and relax her grip around the neck of the deer so it could do the same. Finally she made it to shore and heaved the creature up onto the mud where it lay quietly on the bank, its side rising and falling rhythmically, blinking as it looked at her.

          She turned away and headed into the undergrowth. Both of them had come close to dying today. But she was a survivor and she wasn’t ready to die. Not yet.

Posted in Animals and such, Short Stories | 2 Comments

The Deer

Image     There once was a deer that was born in the springtime to a very old and very experienced mother. The weather was good and there was plenty to eat and his mom knew what she was doing so all these favourable circumstances meant that he had a good start in life. In no time at all he lost all his baby spots and by the end of the summer he was big and strong and eating grass and shoots and running around the fields and meadows with all the other young deer. His life was perfect and that’s when the wolves took his mother. When that happened the herd scattered like dried leaves in a storm and in the confusion he became disoriented by the thundering noise of pounding hooves and the flashing white tails all around him and the terrifying sound of his own frightened blood in his ears. Everyone was fending for themselves and no one noticed him tumble down a slope and into a ravine where he landed in a stream and got all cold and wet and covered with gravel. By the time he got himself upright and had shaken off the water and climbed the far bank to get up to a place where he could see what was going on the herd had vanished. He had lifted his nose to the breeze and opened his nostrils wide and hurried back and forth frantically for hours to catch their scent but no luck. As the sun set behind the hills and the moon rose in the night sky he found himself completely alone for the first time in his life.

     So he stood in the meadow like a statue. He didn’t move. He remembered a time long ago when his mother had told him to lie down and stay still when she went off to graze so maybe this was the time to do that again. He folded his legs and lowered himself into the grasses and let his ears lie along the sides of his neck and he didn’t move a muscle. After a while the night breeze crossed the open space and the tips of the grasses swayed back and forth and bent over his body and hid him from above and distorted the horizon so that even from ground level, the space where he lay was hidden from danger. The moon and the stars passed overhead and the hours crept by but still he did not move, and when night faded away and dawn brightened the sky he rose out of the grasses and walked to the edge of the forest, a survivor.Image

     That first night alone was by far the worst night of his life. But as the days began to pass and the seasons began to change, call it luck or call it fate, but whatever the reason, the elements around him contrived to keep him well fed and safe from harm. He grazed near the forest and found plenty to eat in the rich grasses and shrubs and ground cover that he had all to himself. At night he stood amongst the trees and the aspen would shake its leaves and soften his outline so he blended into the treeline. When fall came he lay down on thick carpets of warm leaves and as he slept under the branches the trees would sprinkle his golden coat with their foliage that had turned brilliant red with the frost. Winter came with its biting winds and driving snow but he stayed in the shelter of the forest, dry and protected under branches that wove themselves together over his head to catch the downfall. He’d paw at the earth to loosen the moss and crunch the frozen morsels between his teeth and watch his frozen breath in the still air. The days were mostly night and as the long winter months dragged on he’d stand alone in the darkness and listen to the wind click the branches together that sometimes snapped with a loud crack under the weight of snow.

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     Now, it’s true that for the most part his physical needs were attended to, but that’s not to say he had an easy time of things. He was incredibly lonely. He had no company. He had no one to look at and no one to stand beside. He stayed in the forest unmoving to conserve heat and energy but even though his body was still, his mind was not. A turmoil of dark thoughts began to seep into his head, frightening thoughts that came from nowhere and repeated themselves over and over in his mind and chased him down terrifying pathways that sometimes split into different bad thoughts that were even worse than the bad thoughts they’d come from. It wasn’t so hard during the day when sunlight would sometimes throw shadows across the snow that moved in interesting patterns, but the nights became times of turmoil for him and through his head would race horrible, fearful, anxious thoughts that had such a tremendous grip on his emotions that they made him feel terrified and vulnerable and helpless. Every corner of his mind would be filled with awfulness that caused his heart to pound as if he were running and make his eyes dart back and forth to find the danger that was so real he must be able to see it. It was incredibly difficult for him, this mental turmoil that beat on his mind more relentlessly and more ruthlessly than any winter storm that roared across the landscape. And while his mind raced uncontrollably through the long winter months, the food began to disappear and his body had no choice but to consume itself. The layers of fat melted away and the fat between his organs too began to disappear so that his liver and stomach and intestines sagged and bumped against each other under the sack that was his hide. Through the dark and bitter winter his body struggled to withstand the brutal elements while his mind fought mightily against fracturing to pieces under the onslaught of the terrifying and detestable thoughts. Image

     Time passed like this for him for a long time, awful as it was. But after a while – after a very long while – he began to realize that no matter how horrifying the things were in his head, nothing actually happened to him. And once he began to realize this and let go of some of his fear, an interesting thing happened. The rampage of terrible thoughts in his head lost their power over his mind and they became rather weak and faded and dull and short in their duration. He found this startling and completely unexpected and as the days lengthened and balance returned to the daylight hours he began to feel a sense of release, a calm that slowly dissipated the bad thoughts and pushed them into the distance. And eventually the time came when the horror left him completely and his mind became silent. Released as he was from their grip, he found he now had space for new thoughts, new ideas that weren’t scary or fearful or upsetting. He looked around himself and began to notice other animals in the forest and when the hare came by in its scraggly winter coat that was falling off in clumps that stuck to the twigs as it passed by, he’d imagine himself following along behind it. On the breeze his ears would hear the flap of heavy wings and he’d turn his head to look for the shadow of the owl passing over the melting snow and as the great bird sailed overhead his heart would beat in time with those wings and he’d imagine himself flying over the landscape beside the owl. As the days continued to lengthen his mind began to fill with joy at the things he now saw all around him and he was amazed at the depth and breadth of it all. In his darkest hour when he’d been completely consumed with terror, he’d felt his mind to be a vast monstrous burden of a thing but now he realized it had been nothing more in size than a grain of sand compared to how his thoughts were now, filled with peace and joy as he was.

    So when he stepped out of the forest on shaky legs that were hardly able to hold him upright and his head brushed the ground because all the muscles in his neck had long since disappeared, he had a lightness in him that had nothing to do with his emaciated frame.

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All his senses were awakened to see and hear and smell and touch the world around him and when his cracked and broken lips pulled into his mouth tender new shoots full of flavour and nourishment he tasted the earth as he never had before. The days passed and the warmth of the sun brought more new growth from the meadow and this new growth passed into his body which began to repair itself so that fat and muscle lay itself down and his hide no longer drooped like a blanket on his bones. His legs carried him further from the forest and he began to explore new meadows and new fields and new valleys to satisfy the desires of his eyes and ears and nose to see more, hear more, smell more of the world he was in. He drank his fill at the edge of the river, swollen with the spring melt and deadly fast with its current, then he’d climb the rocks that lined its bank and stare down into its black depths to watch the quick movements of a trout far below the surface. He’d imagine himself a masterful fish withstanding the powerful current and exploring the maze of boulders and rocks and sunken driftwood deep under the water.

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     All around him in everything that passed through his gaze he saw shapes and colours and textures that layered themselves with a thousand scents in impossible combinations that fascinated his mind and filled his heart with joy and wonder. He wanted a better view of it all and he climbed to higher heights into the hills, his destination an outcropping of rock high on the face of a cliff. After days and days of edging himself upward he reached the perfect spot and he stood on the ledge and gazed out over the landscape and down at the river far below where he had satisfied his thirst, and the forest that had seen him through the depths of his physical and mental despair, and the fields and meadows with their offerings that had brought him back from the verge of death. He lay down on the ledge and let the sun warm his side and the rock warm the other and he gazed up at the sky and watched the clouds pass overhead. And the cliff rejoiced at the weight of him and the feel of the pollen that slipped from his hide onto the shale and small pebbles began to gently tumbled downward and pile up carefully along the length of his back and along his neck and to the end of his nose. And when he finally rose to leave his lookout the little wall of pebbles that was no longer supported by his body rolled forward and filled in the space where he had lain, and as he disappeared back down into the hills there remained on the ledge an image of himself to celebrate his passing.

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     That summer was hot and dry. Day after day the sun beat down on the earth and pulled from it all its moisture while returning none. Grasses began to wilt and leaves began to wither and twigs on the ground cracked and split under the slightest touch. The river became a series of dark pools linked together by a small trickle that barely had the energy to go around the rocks that were in its way as it moved a drop at a time into the next dark pool. Everywhere the landscape slumped and cracked open and turned to dust in the heat. Thunder would rumble across the sky and lightening would split the dark at night and the next day the sun would shine. This went on for weeks so when the fire started further north it needed not even a puff of breeze to bring it flying down into the hills where he stood in the thin shade of bare branches, unmoving and panting with his mouth open in the mid-day heat. He saw it first, the darkness in the daytime, and he raised his head to see thick clouds of black smoke blocking the sun.

Image Then he heard it – a deafening roar of noise upon noise that was filled with explosions and cracks and snaps like none he’d ever heard before. He became confused and in his confusion he stayed still and tense with his head up and his ears forward, trying to identify this strangeness that was happening all around him. Suddenly he felt a sharp pain on his leg and he turned to see that a ferret had climbed onto his back and was digging its nails into his hide. And from nowhere other small animals came from the forest and climbed his legs and clung to him, digging in their claws as they held onto his sides and his legs while others hung from his stomach and chest and used their teeth to take in mouthfuls of his fur. And about his neck wove a snake that wrapped itself around and around and around until it had no more neck to cling too and its head had to float above his head between his ears. Still he did not move, could not move, but when a nearby spruce exploded in a fiery torrent the snake wrenched his head away from the horror, and pulled from his trance as he was, he started to run. He ran through the stands of burning dead, he ran through smoke, and where fire blocked his path he ran through that too. He ran through the thunderous noise of exploding trees, through thick walls of pitch black darkness, through orange and yellow fiery light, through his fear, his terror, his madness, his hope, his despair, he ran through all of it and while he ran he carried the small animals that clung to his back and his legs and his chest and his stomach. But suddenly his legs were no longer on solid ground and he was falling…

…falling…

…falling…

…and his body had turned upside down and he was looking up at the edge of the cliff and the line of burning trees that had chased him to the brink. And around him were all the animals that had clung to him but had now let go in mid-air and were falling as he fell. He saw his legs pointing up at the sky and the length of the snake that had begun to unwind itself from his neck so that it floated like a ribbon above him. And he thought how curious it was that the underbelly of the snake was so white while the rest of it was so black, black like the little animals that were falling beside him and black like his own legs, all covered with soot as they were. And he thought, it shouldn’t be this way….

     He landed with a huge splash and disappeared under the water. The coolness after the heat of the fire shocked his body and he thought that was the reason he couldn’t breath. He was still upside down and he saw the burning trees on the cliff waiver and break apart and come back together as the water distorted his vision and he sank deeper and deeper and deeper into the depths. He wanted to breathe, he felt he should be able too breathe, he was a fish now wasn’t he? Exploring the bottom of the pool? He remembered wanting to be a fish but he thought it should be easier than this….

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     His neck wrenched upward violently and he was yanked from his thoughts. He’d forgotten about the snake still entwined about his neck and now it was strangling him. Another violent pull but he was helpless. He didn’t know which way the air was, everything was dark and for some reason his legs no longer worked. He couldn’t get his body to do anything he wanted; he was attached to a dead thing and it seemed ridiculous for some reason, this separation of his thoughts from his body but the 2 things still somehow together. Suddenly his head broke through the surface and the tightness around his throat loosened and air rushed into his lungs. He could see blue sky and white clouds and different colours that moved through his vision and as his eyes regained focus he saw the snake had wrapped itself about a tree that was growing out over the pool. The water had washed it clean and he saw it was a beautiful thing, brown and black and yellow and every hue between and he was fascinated to see the incredible muscles working along its length as it strained and strained, its mouth open wide with the effort, as it inched along the cedar toward shore. And the strangling sensation about his neck would come and go and he realized the snake had hauled him to the surface and now it was using every fibre of its being to drag him to land. How different it would be to be a snake, he thought, to have the strength to pull something his size, and he relaxed his body and relaxed his mind and breathed when he was able and soon he was in the shallows and resting on the bank against the mud and the rocks alone, the snake having long disappeared into the undergrowth. Image

     His last day was shortly after that. The rains had returned to the earth and new growth filled in the barren landscape and everywhere the wildflowers had bloomed and the grasses had made up for lost time and the leaves had returned to the trees. There was life in the air and warmth in the sun and a softness in the land that permeated his body and eased his aches and pains. But the stiffness in his back made it difficult to run so when the wolves began their chase it took him a few strides to get going. He took off across the open field, his pounding hooves silent on the soft grass, his shadow stretching out before him, and he breathed in the end-of-summer air and he felt the effort of his body and he rejoiced in the feel of his muscles and his moving legs and his pounding heart. And when the shadow of the wolf came along side his, the angle of the sun and the uneven ground distorted its shadow and he saw how similar it was to his own and he thought it had only been a small twist of fate that had made him something other than a wolf. And when the 2 shadows finally came together and there was no more need to run, he felt the softness of the grass for the last time and he gazed up into the sky and thought tonight he’d fly with the owl. For real.

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The Shrub

forest edge

     At the edge of the forest there grew a small shrub. The forest canopy captured most of the sunlight during the day but for a few hours each afternoon the warm rays would shine down at an angle that would reach the little shrub and land on its thin branches and small leaves, and the sunlight combined with the few nutrients in the soil that the trees didn’t take meant the shrub was able to cling to life. Flourish, no, but live, yes, and each spring the little shrub would wake from dormancy and look forward to the warmer weather and the chance to sprout a few new leaves along its twigs and add a bit of length here and there to its branches, if conditions allowed.

     Being rather thin and scraggly, the little shrub tended not to have visitors. There was plenty of succulent and tasty vegetation around so the animals always grazed elsewhere. Thick overgrowth with big fat leaves provided better protection for those of flight and since the spindly little shrub could barely cast a shadow, thin as it was, it was passed over by the butterflies and bees, and the insects didn’t come to nibble its leaves and the birds didn’t land on its branches to hide from danger and wipe their bills on its bark and smooth their feathers. For these reasons the little shrub was rather alone in the world but since it had never known the company of others, never felt the tickle of the inch worm, never watched a caterpillar spin a cocoon to hang from one of its branches, never felt the weight of a blue jay, having never felt any of these things the little shrub had no idea that life could be anything more than what it knew. It passed the time by watching the clouds overhead and the deer walk past in the distance and the birds and insects fly by in a hurry, and it didn’t mind in the least that it only knew the breath of the wind and the taste of the rain and sometimes the warmth of the sun when the angle was right.

     One fine spring afternoon the shrub watched as a little field sparrow hopped around on the ground tossing debris this way and that as it looked for something specific. With its head down and intent on its task the sparrow had no idea that its searching was taking it closer to the shrub, and indeed the shrub itself was getting a little nervous with the approaching sparrow and all its flinging, so when the sparrow suddenly found itself under the branches of the shrub and the shrub suddenly found the sparrow beneath it they both gave a little cry of fright.

field sparrow

     The sparrow was the first to recover and looking up at the shrub said, “I need a twig for my nest.”

     To frightened to speak, the shrub looked down at the old dried twigs from previous years that lay scattered on the ground around the sparrow, then it dropped at the sparrow’s feet a new growth of twig that was supple and smooth and nicely curved. The sparrow picked it up and flew off without another word.

     As the sparrow flew out of sight with the twig sticking out both sides of its beak, the little shrub began to think about this encounter with another creature and it decided that it quite liked the feel of the sparrow rummaging around under its branches and even the sound of its voice was unusual in a pleasing way. It gave the shrub plenty to think about and although nothing similar happened for the rest of that day, or the next day or the day after that – no other creatures came near and no insects or birds thought to perch in its foliage – the encounter with the sparrow had expanded the world of the shrub and the shrub decided it was an interesting and all in all positive thing that had happened. So when the little field sparrow returned after many weeks to thank the shrub properly for the very nice twig that had fit so beautifully into its new nest and the young ones were doing very well and were flying on their own now, kids grow up so fast, the little shrub was happy to have this second visit and wanted to give a good impression of itself. So with much effort to put its nervousness aside and contain its fear and overcome its shyness, the little shrub gathered all the courage it could muster and said to the sparrow, “No problem”, because it wanted to sound relaxed and casual.

     Now when the other creatures saw the field sparrow talking to the little shrub for the second time they began to think that maybe the shrub was worth noticing after all, and although it was a slow process, over time a few of them began to pay attention to the little shrub and nod hello as they passed by or they would stop to nibble its twigs or tentatively perch on one of its skinny branches for a moment or two to say Hi. And the more often this happened the more able the little shrub was to overcome its shyness and it got rather quick at passing a greeting to whoever came near, for the little shrub never knew how long any of the creatures might stay and it wanted to try its best to be pleasing when the opportunity arose. And since every word the shrub uttered was either kind or sympathetic the creatures found they enjoyed speaking to the shrub and would return to hear its gentle words and in this way relationships were formed between the shrub and the residents of the forest. The deer would stop by to tell the shrub it had been stung by a bee and the shrub would say “I bet that smarts”, and the bee would stop by to tell the shrub it had lost its stinger in a deer and the shrub would say “That’s a bummer”.

deer grazing

     And so it was that all the creatures came to know the little shrub as a source of kindness and understanding and as the years passed, the animals and birds and insects began to go out of their way to visit the little shrub as they travelled into and out of the forest. But the hooves of the deer and the moose and the elk were sharp, and the weight of the black bears and grizzlies and wolverines was heavy and after a while the grasses that had always grown around the shrub became trampled and flattened and stunted. As the years passed all this coming and going by the animals made it impossible for any grass to grow at all and the ground around the shrub became hard and bare. And when it was time for the trees to die whose canopy had stretched over the little shrub, new trees had no chance to take hold in the hard ground and no chance to withstand the parade of animals who came seeking the kind and loving words that the little shrub always had to say to each and every one of them. And though none of them could ever have predicted this would happen, the time came when the little shrub was surrounded by a great expanse of stark, barren, dusty ground, earth that the wind dried to granite and the sun cracked and split with its rays, a vast field of death, devoid of all life save that of the thin little shrub that clung to life in its centre.

barren landscape

     Consumed as it was with its plentiful friendships, the shrub itself had little time to notice the changes that had taken place gradually over the years to the landscape surrounding it. Instead, it lent all its attention to the fascinating stories of adventure and travel the animals and birds and insects were always eager to share when they returned from places the shrub could only imagine. And when the stories were troubled, or concerns and doubts were expressed, never did the little shrub waiver in its kindness and understanding, never did it have anything but compliments and encouragement to offer, or sympathy or love or even silence if that was what was needed at the time, and always the creatures that shared their thoughts with the little shrub, always they left its presence feeling renewed and rejuvenated and hopeful and full of love for life itself.

     One night when it was very late a bat flew out of the blackness and landed on the shrub then hung upside down from one of its twigs. The little shrub had met plenty of bats in the past and knew the creatures to be rather timid but this bat was different and the little shrub began to feel uncomfortable. The bat held tightly to the twig and its claws dug deep into the bark and through to the pulp and the little shrub felt a jab of pain and tried to shake the bat free.

bat      The bat opened its mouth wide and let out a laugh and the dim light of the night shone on its fangs and on the drool that fell from its mouth so that it glistened in a long, shimmering strand. The little shrub was terrified and began to tremble but instead of ridding itself of the bat, the horrible creature opened its wings and flipped itself upright and transformed into a monster that towered over the little shrub, its talons grasping the twigs and branches like a vice. Drawn by the expanse of barren, lifeless landscape the demon had come to destroy the little shrub and claim the wasteland for its own perfect home and now it held the defenceless little shrub in a paralysing fear that delighted the demon and fed its power. Stricken as it was, the shrub could think of nothing, could say nothing, could feel nothing but terror and horror, and try as it might to shut the monster out from its sight and block the horrible laughter from its hearing, it was impossible to do so and the little shrub was trapped as tightly by its terror as it was by its very roots that held it to the ground. The monster laughed its terrifying laugh then released its grip on the shrub and rose into the air, and with a flick of its wings made the little shrub burst into flames. In the blackness of the night, the light of the burning shrub illuminated the hideous monster and the demon laughed its horrible laugh and shrieked with delight as the little shrub went up in flames and when the fire died down and the embers were out and the smoke no longer rose into the still night air the monster turned once again into a bat and disappeared across the lifeless landscape of its new home.

demon

     Early the next morning the first animal to arrive was a deer that had made the long walk across the empty land to tell the little shrub all about its night of grazing in a new field it had found by accident, but when the deer arrived at the place where the shrub was supposed to be it found instead a small heap of ashes, black and grey. The deer was overcome with grief at the loss of the little shrub and bowing its head low, it sank to its knees then lay down on its side and stretched out its legs and lay with its head on the earth, one ear to the ground and the other skyward, unmoving and still beside the cinders. As more animals came and saw the small mound of ashes instead of their beloved little shrub, they too fell to their knees and lay on their sides, legs extended and heads on the ground not moving a tail or flicking an ear but still as death. And as the hours passed and the sun rose in the sky the barren landscape that once circled the little shrub became covered with bears and elk and moose and skunks and ferrets and racoons and countless other animals that had come to speak to the little shrub but now lay on their sides as if exhausted, staring unseeing at the sky. And the birds that flew in expecting to perch on a welcoming twig saw for themselves the black stain of ash and they landed on the ground and flopped down among the legs and heads of the animals and rested their heads on their chins and spread their wings open on the earth. The insects found emptiness where a small leaf use to be and ceased their buzzing and landed not on the animals or the birds but the small empty patches among the bodies and as the day wore on the entire landscape that had only yesterday been devoid of life for so many years became covered end to end with all the animals and birds and insects that over the years had come to rely on the loving kindness of the little shrub and the way it made them feel about themselves. But now all of that was gone and the creatures lay unmoving upon the earth around the little heap of ash that was the black pupil at the centre of a vast unseeing eye of grief.

ashes

     As the sun set and the night became dark the bat-demon returned to fly over the skies of its new home. But rather than seeing the cracked and barren landscape that had attracted it in the first place, the bat was outraged to see the thousands upon thousands of animals and birds and insects lying quietly under the stars. Turning itself into a monstrous flying beast the demon opened its mouth wide to roar its fury and frustration down upon the creatures below but as its fangs shone in the moonlight and its eyes glowed in its hideous head, the cavernous mouth was suddenly filled with a cloud of black ashes and its red eyes were blacked out behind the swirling ash that covered its face. No matter which way the demon flew or how fast it dodged or how often it filled its lungs to unleash its terrifying scream, a thick cloud of ash would stifle its roar and the peace and calm of the night would not be broken. Enraged beyond fury the evil demon set to burn the animals alive and it spread its wings wide and flapped them forward to send roaring torrents of fire hurtling downward to incinerate the fur and flesh and wings of the sleeping animals. But no matter where the hateful beast aimed its deadly fire, no matter how accurately it was thrown or how fast it was hurtled the fire that flew from the demon was swallowed and suffocated by a swirling cloud of black ash that cut the flames to pieces and put them out. And though the battle raged for the entire night, not once did even a spark from the hideous demon singe a single hair or tiny feather or delicate wing of the sleeping creatures that lay on the earth below, asleep and oblivious to the life and death battle that raged in the night sky overhead. And when dawn finally began to colour the horizon and the morning light cast a glow over the land the demon conceded defeat and turned itself back into a bat then disappeared with the vanishing night.

     As the sun rose in the sky its warm rays shone down on the creatures that still lay unmoving on the skin of the earth. The sunlight worked its way under their eyelids and its warmth began to melt away their grief and ever so slowly the animals rose to their feet one by one and turned their backs on the past and made their way across the emptiness and into the distant forest. The birds rose on their legs and dusted themselves off and fixed their feathers and took to the air. The insects also left and by mid morning all the creatures had gone and when the clouds darkened the sky that afternoon a gentle rain fell on the deserted landscape and washed the little heap of ashes deep into the cracks of the barren earth.

     And shortly thereafter the wind brought seeds and scattered them amongst the cracks in the land and the seeds took hold and the following year a vast meadow coloured the places where nothing had grown for years. And in the midst of the meadow there was a little shrub that looked rather thin and scraggly but always had a kind word to say to anyone who passed by. shrub with baby

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Wannabee

castle

There once was a dragon who was so useless at being a dragon that he actually got kicked out of Dragon School.

His teachers tried very hard for many years to teach him all the important skills necessary to become a respectable dragon, but no matter how much time they spent with him and how often they demonstrated what they were trying to teach, he just didn’t get it. Like when he cooked Little Red Riding Hood to a cinder because he couldn’t follow directions and ended up burning down the wrong forest. The poor little girl and her grannie stomped all the way up the mountain and screamed bloody murder in the headmaster’s office for half an hour. And the time when all he had to do was fly from one mountain top to another but instead he fell in the canal and sank like a stone so the staff had to get the Little Mermaid to haul him out and drag him to shore. Nor could he roar worth a bean. The best he could manage in Frightening Noises class was a mild hoot, and whenever he tried to puff out thick black smoke like the other students only a little grey wisp would rise from his nostrils. His report card was straight A’s (for Awful) when they should have been D’s (for Dragon level). So even though his teachers knew he tried his best, it got to the point where he couldn’t even meet the Basic Requirements To Being A Dragon and they had to accept the fact that he wasn’t going to graduate. They switched to counselling sessions and discussed many other professions with him and showed him books on ‘How To Be An Ogre’, and ‘Find Your Monster Within’, and ‘Where’s Your Wrath’, then they said their goodbyes and after that the headmaster kicked him off the mountain.

Now he sat in the valley by the river flipping through the pages of one of the books trying to decide what to do with his life. He wanted to be a good dragon but he was also rather practical and realized that his chances of being hired by a town were pretty slim. All his classmates would soon be graduating and would surely be scooped up by the many villages who advertised for dragons that were skilled at things like making smoke screens and defeating villains and flying in tight spaces. And since those skills were rather difficult for him, his prospects of becoming a Town Protector were dismal indeed. So he sat looking at pictures of monsters while he considered his next move but the warmth of the sun and the lull of the river managed to dissipate his worries and eventually he fell asleep.

sleeping dragon

While the dragon slept by the river with his head on his books he had no idea that he was about to be discovered by some children who had come to the river to fish. The children had never seen a dragon up close before because even though their village was at the base of the mountain, the dragons up there always wanted to find places far away to call their home once they graduated. So the little village in the valley had never had a dragon to call its own, which is why the children had no dragon experience and no clue what to do, so they hid amongst the boulders and fiddled with their fishing poles and stared at the sleeping beast.

This became boring after a while and the children began to whisper amongst themselves. What did they know about dragons? Only that they flew high through the air and made loud farting noises on the mountain. How long had this one been here? It wasn’t here yesterday, that’s for sure. It smells horrible, maybe it’s dead. What if it is dead? It can’t be dead, watch its nose – and they stared at the dragon’s nostrils and watched a little puff of grey rise through the air. Eventually everyone ran out of things to say so their minds turned to the problem of what to do next. No one would admit to being too scared to go closer so they decided to run home and tell their parents what they had found on the bank of the river.

And this is how it came to be that everyone from the village stood in the valley upwind of the sleeping dragon while their children pointed at it and said “I told you so”. There wasn’t much discussion going on because the parents also had no dragon experience, but it was pretty clear that something had to be done. They couldn’t have a sleeping dragon filling up their valley, no siree. So a delegation was elected and the little group set off to climb the mountain to talk to the headmaster.

Oh him!” said the headmaster, “asleep is he? Well, you’ve nothing to worry about. Horrible dragon, I assure you. Couldn’t scare a mouse. Tried very hard though! Wanna ta be! No matter, I’m sure he’ll fly off when he wakes.” And the headmaster politely showed the delegation out the door.

Back in the village with everyone gathered together, the delegation gave their report. The dragon had got kicked out of school, didn’t graduate you see, didn’t meet the Basic Requirements. It was a Reject. That was Something Useless out there asleep by the river. No one wanted it.

Well, this was terrible news. The village in the valley had wanted its own dragon for years and now that one was finally within reach they find out it’s defective. Tempers flared and arms waved and voices shouted and feet stomped but they couldn’t decide what to do about it so everyone went to bed. In the morning when people were less grouchy, serious plans were formulated and priorities were set and teams were assigned. First and foremost, they had to get rid of it, scare the thing off by setting bonfires on top of its head, then they’d – bonfire

Did the headmaster tell you its name?” asked Pieta who was only 4 and had to tug on her father’s shirt to get his attention.

Pieta’s dad looked at the members of the delegation and the members of the delegation looked at each other and thought this over. Yes, yes, they were sure it was mentioned, it was something like…

Wannabee,” said Gretchen’s dad and while the other members of the delegation nodded in agreement the dragon’s name began to be repeated over and over again by everyone in the village. “Wannabee, is it?” and they practised saying the name and rolling it around in their mouths and showing each other their lips as they said it, drawing their mouths wide and ending with a smile when they said the “bee” part, and soon everyone was smiling at each other when they said “Wannabee”. And while the dragon’s name was falling so nicely from their lips and landing so gently on their ears, one by one the people in the village became silent and stood with their heads down as they realized that the beast asleep by the river that they were planning to scare off by starting fires on its head had a name they liked saying.

Let’s reconsider,” said the town crier and they all hastily agreed.

Now, given that it was spring time and the fields had to be prepared and there was a lot of other work to do, it didn’t really feel like they were making excuses when everyone in the town said they’d worry about the dragon later. The parents went back to their daily routines and the children went back to helping out when they felt like it, but mainly they went back to fishing because now that they knew the dragon was harmless, the monstrous sleeping beast by the river became an enormous attraction that was impossible to ignore. They’d run down to the river and fling their poles into a pile then start climbing on the dragon. Their little hands grabbed the scales and their little toes worked themselves between the cracks and when the spring rains fell the smelly grime that covered the dragon washed away, leaving a sparkling emerald green magnificent hill of a dragon as their playground. They’d climb up his forelegs and make their way up his neck to the top of his head then race as fast as they could down between his shoulders and up up up his back between his wings then down down down the length of his tail and jump off the end. It was their favourite game, a continuous string of children climbing and running 400 feet and jumping off the end, a line of 2 legged ants sprinting through the scales with their hands out to the side slapping the scales as they ran past. If someone behind was faster than the one in front, the one behind would jump over the scales that lined the spine and slide down a wing, hit the ground running then sprint to the back leg, climb up again and come out in front to finish the run down the length of tail. Eventually they’d tire and slow to a walk and a line-up would form at the head of the dragon and the children would sit on his head and lie back between his eyes and sit cross-legged along the length of his nose while they waited their turn. And as the sun rose in the sky and the children became sleepy they’d lay down where they sat and rest their heads on their arms and the entire length of the dragon would became draped end-to-end with tanned legs and tanned arms and different coloured clothes and different coloured hair from the sleeping children, strewn as they were across the emerald green blanket that was the dragon. And later when the sun began to set the children would wake and reluctantly climb off the dragon and walk home, telling their parents that once again they hadn’t been able to catch any fish.

And that’s how things went for a few weeks. And in case you’re wondering how the dragon managed to stay asleep while all this was going on, the truth of the matter is, he didn’t. But he’d read the books about ogres and monsters and he knew all the ways to act scary and mean so he thought if he just did the opposite then the children wouldn’t be afraid to visit and he could stay where he was until he figured out what to do with his life. So he was always very careful to keep his eyes closed and not move a muscle when they were climbing all over him, though sometimes it was terribly difficult to stay still, especially when they sat with a leg on either side of his ear and swung their feet and tapped his skull with their heels.

One night the gentle spring rains turned into a torrential downpour and sheets upon sheets of water fell from the skies. Down it poured all that night and all the next day, churning the smooth roads in the village to seas of mud and pounding on the rooftops so loudly it was impossible to hear. Down the rain came, blocking out the sun so that daytime became like night and the roar of thunderous noise never ending beat upon the village and terrified the children and their parents. High on the mountain the streams over flowed their banks and the mountain began to throw the water off itself and trees and boulders and rocks and shrubs were thrown with it and down off the mountain roared a massive wave of destruction that ripped to shreds all that dared stand in its path.river

And when this moving wall of terror reached the valley it was travelling at maximum speed and trees in its fray became daggers and boulders became hammer stones set to beat the dragon to death. But the dragon was ready. He spread his legs wide and dug his claws deep into the soil then he opened his wings and cast a huge net on either side of himself. He arched his back and curved his tail and raised his head and anger filled his eyes and thick black smoke billowed from his nostrils. In the pouring rain the dragon took his stance of strength and courage and raised his head to face his villain and as the terrifying wall of moving murder thundered toward him the dragon threw back his head and roared a deafening roar full of fire that cut through the torrential rain and shook the earth with its vibration. And as the water bashed into the dragon and the daggers of trees cut into his body and the boulders set to crush his bones and the water rose to cover his head the dragon held his wings wide and braced his legs and dug his claws into the earth and roared his mighty roar. For what seemed an eternity the 2 mighty forces battled each other and when it was finally over the water had receded and the exhausted dragon stood with his wings shredded and broken and every scale on his body covered with mud and debris. So encased he was in mud that he was unable to move and when the people from the village ran down to the river this was how they found him, standing huge and mighty, filthy and exhausted, towering over them all on the bank of the river with a little wisp of grey smoke rising from his nose.

mighty dragon

The children let out a mighty cheer when they saw the dragon was still alive and all of them rushed to climb his legs and start throwing off the mud and sticks and branches to clean him up. Their parents wept with joy and gratefulness because they knew the dragon’s courage had saved all their lives and soon everyone began to sing “Wannabee our Dragon, Wannabee our Dragon”.

Well, he sure did. That’s all he ever wanted. And he didn’t have to worry about what he was going to do with his life any more.

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