Friday, December 24, 2010

So You Don't Want to Leave the Cave of Your Blankets?

-by Janin Wise

Thursday morning, the weather was cold and rainy, and I have to admit, I greeted the alarm clock with less than friendliness. My children were just as disinclined to remove themselves from their covers, so I climbed into bed and we hunkered under the covers as though we were in a big cave.

“Did you know that there used to be a giant cave that people were afraid to enter? It was believed to be the home of a monster!” (At this opening, two pair of little eyes peek at me, and the boys begin to wake up.)

Oh it wasn’t just any ordinary kind of monster. No. We’re not talking about the kind that hide under beds and like to grab ankles to make you scream. And we’re not talking about the kind that leap out of closets shouting, “Boo!” to laugh as you run away.

We’re talking about the kind that eats fair young maidens for breakfast and knights are sent after to kill it…not that any have had much success… and besides, knights make excellent dinner.

Oh I know what you’re thinking. You’ve got ‘dragon’ on the brain. But if the monster was a dragon, well, I figure they’d have called it a ‘dragon’ and not a monster, don’t you?

(as both of my boys nodded.)

Not that I’m saying it –couldn’t- have been a dragon. After all, no one who had ever laid eyes on the beast was alive to describe it!

Well one day, a young girl had had enough of all the fear and worrying. It was hard to go out and do your chores if you thought you were going to end up some beast’s breakfast! And she was tired of being fussed at about getting behind in those self same chores.

So she packed herself a small kerchief of bread and cheese and took a couple tart apples she was sure wouldn’t be missed, and began the journey to the fear encrusted cave.

It took her a good part of the day to make the journey and she had just reached the mouth of the cave when a powerful hunger overcame her, so she sat on a rock just outside and opened her pack to enjoy her simple feast.

As she took her first bite of the crisp crust of the bread, she heard a voice from deep in the cave ask, “Whatttt are you eattttt-ing?”

She thought the voice a little odd, but answered without fear, “A loaf of bread my mother made this morning. I also have cheese and some tart apples if you would like some.”

“I havvve nevv-er tassssted such thingsssss…..” answered the voice that was coming closer. “You would really sssshare them witthh meeee?”

“Sure!” answered the innocent girl.

And from the cave came a giant serpent! A snake so large it could encircle the world –twice- if it so chose!!

For a brief second, the girl was frozen in fear, but her manners overcame her paralysis, and so she broke the bread in half, as well as the cheese, and set them before the giant creature. She also placed half the apples before the beast, then sat back down and ate of her meal, keeping a watchful eye on the serpent.

It bent it’s giant head, flipped out it’s giant tongue and took the bread in a single movement. But it did not swallow it whole, as the girl half thought that it would. Instead, the snake chewed slowly, slowly savoring the new taste it had found.

And as the snake ate, the girl looked at it. At first glance, her fear had told her it was a hideous monster, but the longer she looked at it, the more she realized the scales of it’s body were a beautiful metallic mirror that reflected all the dazzling colors of the rainbow.

The two of them ate their meal in silence, and when the snake had finished the last succulent bite of sweet and tart apple, it turned to the girl and said, “Never before has a day such as this come to pass! You came to my cave and I thought that surely you were another knight come to try to slay me. But you did not enter my home like a rude invader nor uninvited guest. Then you sat outside and opened up your meal pack and I smelled things that I did not know existed—and you were kind and shared your food with me. Oh the wonder that is bread and cheese and tart apples!! I did not know that such marvels were real in this world! A steady diet of maiden and knight may be high in protein, but it gets kind of monotonous.”

At this moment, the girl had a brilliant idea. “Oh great and might snake! I was thinking, perhaps, if you’d give up your diet of people, I could come each day and share with you the variety of delicious foods that there are to be enjoyed.”

And the snake agreed without a moment’s hesitation! So the young girl came every day and shared her meal with the snake—and the people stopped fearing the monster when it was safe to head out and do their chores—and over the course of the days and the months and the years, the girl and the snake became friends.

One day, as the now young maiden came to the mouth of the cave, carrying her basket of goodies, the snake was already waiting.

“Oh good!” hissed the snake slowly. “I wassss worried thattt I would nottt live to ssseee you. For I am getting very old and I know that my time issss upon me. When I passs, you must take my heart. And all that is within my cave, I bestow to you, my one true friend.” And with these words, the snake gave up it’s last breath and it’s body vanished, leaving nothing save a brilliant palm sized rock of rainbow colors that could only be it’s heart.

The girl cried out in great sadness! It had happened so fast! She hadn’t had a chance to say good-bye! She fell to her knees by the rock, and reached out slowly towards it. As she picked it up, she felt the warmth and the pulse within it and she carefully placed it in her apron pocket.

As the tears rolled down her face, she entered the home of the late serpent to find that it was filled with many a treasure, and quite a lot of armor (but what would you expect with so many knight kabobs?) There was enough that she would never be poor or live in want again. And so she took the heart of the serpent from her pocket, raised her face to the sky, and thanked the generous snake for it’s kindness and it’s friendship. Then she ate her meal and lived her life happily ever after.”

“And if you’ll get up and get dressed, we can all go eat our first meal of the day before the bus gets here, alright?”

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Story Mash Up

--by Janin Wise

Okay, so I was wrong about being it just a single story a day (as yesterday was at least three, and today is going to be two.) "Two Princes/ Two Brothers" is a story that I made up for my children a couple of years ago. But in order to tell the tale of the Story Mash Up, I also needed to share this story.

*Please be advised, these have not been edited. They are just as they were typed for the
NaNoWriMo project.*

Wednesdays in our house tend to be the night that we relax. There’s usually no rush of desperation to –do- anything. So this evening, my boys decided we play a game called story mash up. It’s where you take two stories that you like, mix them up, add other parts and make a completely new story.

My oldest chose one of my boys’ favorite made up stories, so I’ll have to share it with before we can mash them up. My youngest son chose the more traditional story of “The Three Little Pigs.”

“I chose , “Two Princes”, Mom!” my oldest said gleefully.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, in a kingdom so very far away, there was a magnificent castle. And in it lived two princes. The older prince had dark hair and dark eyes, while his brother was fair haired with blue eyes. They were both kind and wise beyond their years.

On this particular morning, they decided to go out hunting, so they mounted up on their horses and headed out. But on their way, they came across a wagon on the side of the road where the axel had broken and an old woman was desperately trying to move the produce from it.

Now the princes had a choice, they could ride on about their way and do as they pleased, or they could stop and help the poor old woman. Being the kind young men that they were, they stopped.

“Pardon me, old mother, but what happened?”, asked the oldest Prince as he and his brother began to help her.

“I was driving my wagon into the market to sell my produce when I was run off the road by a fast moving caravan. I must get my good to the market, or I will starve!”

The Princes replaced the broken axel, helped the old woman load her goods back on the wagon, and then escorted her to the market to make sure that she arrived there safely.

“Thank you so much for you assistance! I shall repay your kindness. When you head out to hunt today, follow the golden stag, but do not shoot him! He will take you to a spring of cool, pure water, but do not drink! From the same fount, a golden bird will drink. Do not kill her, but strike only two feathers from her tail, and good fortune will befall you.”

The princes thanked her for her advice and headed out on the hunt. Just as the old woman had described, a golden stag leapt across their path. The older brother raised his arrow to shoot, but his younger brother stilled his arm saying, “Remember what the old woman said! Let us follow the beast and see where it leads. What harm could come of it?”

And so the princes followed the stag for a day and night and a night and a day on an exciting, though sometimes trechearous path until they came the most refreshing pool of water they had ever seen. The younger brother dismounted from his horse and went to drink from the pool, but his older brother stayed him, saying, “Remember what the old woman said! We must not drink from the spring. Let us see if the bird she spoke of comes to pass.”

And so the brothers waited in repast. It was not long that they heard beautiful music unlike anything their ears had ever beheld in this world. It was the song of the golden bird as the landed at the pool. When she dipped her head to taste of the water, the older brother knocked his arrow and taking careful aim, struck 2 feathers from her tail. The bird gave an ungainly squawk of pain and vanished into the sky.

Each brother gathered a feather and decided to head home. When they reached the market, they chose to stop and check on the woman, and she was still there, loading her cart to return home.

“I have had much success at market, thanks to you! And how did you fare on the hunt?”

To which the princes pulled out their golden feathers.

The old woman nodded and smiled and before their eyes turned into a beautiful, young woman. “I am a fairy,” she said, “and it is my job to test the hearts of men. You stopped to help me when you could have rode by. You followed the stag when you could have shot. You did not drink from the water though your thirst was great. And you bear two feathers because you would not kill the golden bird. You have passed each and ever test presented. And as your reward, I will grant you each one wish.”

The brothers thought for a moment, and then the oldest said,”I wish for peace and prosperity for me and mine, both family, friend and kingdom.” And the youngest said, “And I wish for health for me and mine, both family, friend and kingdom.”

“Wise and honorable wishes,” the good fairy responded. “These do I grant.” And she vanished as though she had never been.

The princes, their family and all of their people lived their lives in peace, prosperity and health, and are doing so still if they’ve not yet passed from this world.

And so began our mash up:

“Once upon a time, long, long ago, in a kingdom so far away it’s hard to image the distance, there were two princes, who lived in a maginificent castle.

One morning, the princes decided to go out hunting. So they mounted up on their horses and headed on their way. It was not long that they came across a wagon on the side of the road with a broken axel, where a little pig in a funny suit was trying to remove the load of hay and straw he had piled, that he could repair his wagon.

Now the brother’s had a choice, they could stop and help the befuddle creature, or they could continue on their way. Being the kind hearted young men that they were, they chose to stop.

“Pardon me, Oh Curly Tail, but what happened?” asked the oldest brother as they began to help the pig.

“Oh me, oh my!” replied the Little Pig. “Just this morning, my brothers and I set out on the world the find our fortunes. I found the absolutely most wonderful location to build my house—why it’s just over that ridge there, with a clear view of the forest below—I’ll be able to watch the changings of the seasons from my porch if I wish! But I was run off the road when a large caravan came through. I doubt that they even saw me in their haste. If I do not get my home built, the Big Bad Wolf will gobble me up!”

So the brothers fixed the pig’s axel, helped him bring his wagon to the rise of the cliff, then helped him build his house of straw and hay.

“It may not look like much, and I’ll probably need pots and pans when it rains, but the view! Oh the view is completely worth it!” said the Little Pig contentedly. “Thank you so very much for you assistance! I never could have done it without you.”

The brothers acknowledged the pig’s gratitude and turned to enjoy the view the Pig valued so much—when they saw a golden stag running through the very same forest below.

The brother’s glanced at each other in excitement, said brief good-byes to the pig, and raced down the path to catch another glimpse of the stag, and perhaps a clean shot.

They followed the stag for a day and a night and a night and a day, never getting a clear shot. And then they came to a beautiful, clear, pure spring.

The younger brother lept from his horse’s back and stooped to take a drink, when he was interrupted by the sounds of desperation and frustration coming from just beyond the spring.

The two princes decided to investigate. And what do you think they found?! Why, it was –another- little pig, dressed similarly but different to the first little pig. They knew that this must be the first little pig’s brother. And he was having a –terrible- time, for his wagon full of twigs and sticks was stuck in the mud by the pond.

“Pardon me Pig, but it appears that you could use assistance,” said the younger brother.

“Oh me, oh my!” said the second Little Pig. “My brothers and I set out to find our fortunes and when I saw this spring I knew that this is where I wanted to build my house—but I was distracted listening to the mostly marvelous music that I got my wagon stuck in the mud and I cannot get it out again and if I do not build my house, the Big, Bad Wolf will gobble me up!”

Well the brothers pushed and pulled and helped the pig free his wagon from the mud, then they helped him build his house of sticks and twigs.

“Thank you! Thank you!,” said the second Little Pig. “I know it will be drafty in the winters, but, Oh! To hear that music every day! That will be completely worth it!”

And at that moment, the air was filled with the most astonishing music, unlike anything they had ever heard. It was the song of a beautiful golden bird and she had stopped to take a drink from the pond.

As the princes drew their arrows to knock, there must have been a creaking in the string, for the magnificent creature suddenly took flight.

With a quick farewell to the pig, the brother’s mounted up on their horses in hot pursuit of the marvelous bird. The followed the bird for a night and a day and a day and a night when it landed on a perch for a perfect shot. The older brother knocked his arrow and prepared to let fly, when a donkey ran into his horse and threw off his aim. Instead of piercing the bird cleanly through the heart as he had intended, the shot merely knocked two feathers from it’s tail. The beautiful bird gave an ugly squawk of pain as she vanished into the forest.

As the older brother gathered the two feathers, the younger brother rounded up the mule and they began to search for the owner of the beast. It was not long that they came across a third little piggy, this one with a wagon full of mud bricks, with his head buried in his hands for loss of his mule, for he could not move this load without the beast’s assistance.

“Pardon me, Forked Foot, but does the beast belong to you?” asked the younger brother.

“Oh me, Oh my!” said the third little pig, “Why yes indeed! He broke his strap and I feared him lost! My brothers and I headed out into the world to seek our fortunes and I found the perfect site to build my home—but without the mule, I cannot move these bricks to the site. And if I do not build my house, the Big Bad Wolf will gobble me up!”

So the princes helped the pig attach the mule to the cart, helped him bring it over the ridge, and helped him build his home of bricks and mud.

“I chose this spot because there’s a clear, pure pond just around the corner, where the song birds love to gather and I can hear them sing.” Began the third Little Pig, “There’s also a delightful ring of mud around the pond for wallowing. And from my porch I can watch the changing seasons of the forest. My house is strong and sturdy, and would not exist without your help. Thank you so much for….”

But he was interrupted! For at that moment his brothers came running as fast as their little legs could carry them, saying, “Brother! Brother! The Big Bad Wolf is coming! And he is going to gobble us up!”

The pigs rushed into the house of brick. But it was too small a home for full grown Princes to enter, so they slipped into the woods to see what would happen.

Just then, a great big wolf appeared, who knocked on the door saying, “Little Pigs! Little Pigs! Let me in!”

To which the pigs replied, “Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin!”

“Little Pigs! Little Pigs! Let me in!” bellowed the wolf in frustration.

“Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin!” was the only reply.

“Little Pigs! Little Pigs! Let me in! Or I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll BLOW your house in!”

“Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin!”

So the wolf huffed! And he puffed!....and he huffed! And he puffed! And he huffed and he puffed some more and still to no avail. The house of brick could not be blown down.

At this moment, the brothers came from their hiding spots, their arrows ready and ended the threat of the Big Bad Wolf.

The pigs thanked them for their kindess and the brother’s gathered up the wolf’s pelt to take back with them on their journey home.

As they reached the forest outside of their castle, they saw yet another wagon on the side of the road, and expecting it to be another pig, were more than a little surprised to see an old woman removing produce that she could fix a broken wheel.

The brothers chose to stop and offer her assistance, “Old Mother, what happened?” asked the youngest Prince as they began to help her.

“I was driving my wagon into the market to sell my produce when I was run off the road by a fast moving caravan. I must get my good to the market, or I will starve this upcoming winter!”

The Princes replaced the broken axel, helped the old woman load her goods back on the wagon, and then escorted her to the market to make sure that she arrived there safely.

“Thank you so much for you assistance!,”said the old woman, and then she nodded and smiled and before their eyes turned into a beautiful, young woman. “I am a fairy,” she said, “and it is my job to test the hearts of men. You stopped to help me each of the little pigs, when you could have rode by. You followed the stag when you could have shot. You did not drink from the water though your thirst was great. And you bear two feathers because you would not kill the golden bird. You killed the wolf that he could not continue to threaten the pigs. And you stopped to help an old woman when you were ready to be home. You have passed each and ever test presented. And as your reward, I will grant you each one wish.”

The brothers thought for a moment, and then the oldest said,”I wish for health for me and mine, both family, friend and kingdom.” And the youngest said, “And I wish for peace and prosperity for me and mine, both family, friend and kingdom.”

“Wise and honorable wishes,” the good fairy responded. “These do I grant.” And she vanished as though she had never been.

The princes, their family and all of their people lived their lives in peace, prosperity and health, and the three little pigs are enjoying the song of the golden bird, the changes of the seasons from their front porch, wallowing in their mud hole—and not needing to put pans out every time it rains!”

“And now it is time that two little boys close their eyes and see if they can find the sweet pure pond. Perhaps you’ll get to hear the song of the lovely golden bird when you rest tonight!”

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Story, Within a Story, Within a Story, Within a Dream

--by Janin Wise

*Please be advised, these have not been edited. They are just as they were typed for the NaNoWriMo project.*

Would it surprise you to know that I dream stories on occasion? I suspect if it did, it won’t for long. And so the dream began,

A traveler began his journey on a well worn path through the woods. The smell of autumn was in the air. Some trees were dressed out in their autumn finery—bright golds, vibrant oranges, fiery reds, that rustled and danced in the wind. The sound of dead leaves crunched pleasingly beneath his boots and the periodic hawk flashed its white breast through the sky as it hunted for it’s meal.

He paused a moment, closing his eyes and lifting his face to the warmth of the sun before inhaling a deep breath of the crisp, cool air, then continued on his journey.

Now he was an unassuming man, but his eyes were always drinking in his surroundings. Very little escaped his attention, so he was not caught completely by surprise when he came to the fork in the road and found a gibbet with it’s fresh dead occupant only beginning to ripen the air with decay. As he stood pondering which direction to turn, he wondered what this poor soul had done to end up in such a state, when the corpse woke up, opened it’s cage and demanded that he tell it a story, or it would steal his life for its own.

The traveler said, “I will tell you a tale, but when it is done, you will answer me a question.”

“Agreed.” Answered the dead man.

And so the traveler began to set up camp there.

“Make me a fire, for my bones are so cold!” demanded the corpse. And the traveler obliged him. After it was a nice warm roar, the traveler sat down and began his tale.

“Once upon a time, long, long ago, in a kingdom far, far away, animals were gifted with the language of man. Oh, I know what you’re thinking. There must have been many a plea for nuts and berries, handouts, pettings and scratching, but only wise animals can appreciate a gift of tongues, and being wise, they did not waste their words on these petty thoughts.

Now in this kingdom, they were ruled by a wise and gentle leader, a man. But he had no heir and the day soon approached that he passed from this world into the next, leaving no one to take his place as king.

All the creatures great and small, for you must understand that man was considered equal to the beasts, were in a clamor and uproar as to who would be the next ruler. The leader of man stepped forward, saying, “The previous ruler was a man, therefore the NEW ruler should be a man!”

A great eagle, as the swiftest of the birds countered, “But he was not always leader, and others before man have held the position as well! I believe a bird should take on the mantle of leadership, for we are swift with far-seeing sight and a leader is needed now.”

And suddenly there was a great commotion as each type tried to shout out all others that the leader should be picked from their own—the bears, the cats, the snakes—all of them arguing, the cacophony almost overwhelming!

They were on the verge of coming to blows and making war within this once peaceful land, when the humble donkey brayed once and gathered everyone’s attention.

“When I was a young foal, my herd gathered to celebrate the fullness of the moon and the brightness of the stars. As we celebrated in an open clearing, my grandfather told us a tale.

My grandfather began, “Long ago, when the grass was thin and sparse and hunger ruled, the mule had no herd. Our ancestors were solitary creatures, each fending for themselves. What mattered if your neighbor starved, if you could have a full bite?

Each day, always the same—fight for what was yours. Live to fight another day. There was so much misery. And it was so lonely.

One day, a foal was born, and like all foals he took his first steps moments from his birth to take his first taste of his mother’s milk. But unlike all foals before, when his mother saw him, she saw more than future competition: His silky coat, his funny tentative steps, and the complete and total trust as he approached her for the first time. She felt something she had never expected, something she had never known, something she could not define, though we know it as ‘love’.

And so, when the day came that he no longer needed her milk, she did not abandon him, to fend for himself, as all mothers always had. Instead, they stayed together. They looked for fresh water together. They shared the grass and grains they came across.

And something began to happen! Something unexpected and unusual: food was easier to find. There seemed to be more of it, and better quality. And the other mules began to notice.

At first, they would chase the mother and child off—but the bounty always stayed with them, it mattered not where they went. You chase them from the water, it dried up into a dusty mud hole and sprouted where they stopped.

For the land was flourishing from their love and caring, as they themselves were.

It was not long that a solitary mule took a different approach, and walking towards them cautiously, without intent to drive them away, he introduced himself and asked if he could join them. Without hesitation, mother and child told him, “Yes.” And when he stooped his head to taste the sweet oats, they stayed beneath him. And when he dipped him muzzle to feel the cool water, it tasted of refreshing purity.

Other mules noticed, and slowly they joined, and thus the first herd was formed, based on love and sharing.”

When the mule reached the end of his story, he said no more, only dipped his head to take a bite of the sweet grass at his feet and the other animals stood in shame of their behavior. For it mattered not who the leader was, a leader would come when a leader was needed. What mattered was that they were united in purpose—a world of peace, prosperity and hope. Working together, they had achieved it. Continuing to work together, they could maintain it.”

As the traveler finished his story, the corpse nodded. It could appreciate the wisdom of the tale, and so responded, “You have passed and I will let you live. What is your question?”

And the traveler asked, “How is it that you ended up in a hang man’s cage at this junction of the road?”

And the corpse began his tale.

“Well, you see, I was much like you: an adventurer out to seek my fortune in the world, when I chanced upon a town in mouring. All the windows were draped with black fabric—no children played in the streets and the old women sitting on their porches openly weeped.

I stopped a man of the town to ask what terrible thing had befallen them.

“It is not a thing that –has- happened. It is a thing that –will- happen. For the Baron’s beloved daughter is gravely ill and no one has been able to cure her. And with each doctor who fails, the Baron grows more and more enraged. He has placed their heads on spikes around his keep as a warning to charlatans who would come to pretend to cure her in the hopes of becoming heir to his property.”

Now it so happens that I was born with the gift of understanding animals. And as the man finished speaking, a crow pecking at the eye of one of the unfortunate doctors said, “If only they knew that she is so gravely ill because her mother is a jealous witch who has been poisoning the girl! Each night she brings her a potion ‘to help her sleep’ that steals away her vitality and will eventually drain away her life. If they could kill the toad that croaks beneath the vile queen’s window, she would no longer be able to take the girl’s vitality for herself.”

So I headed to the Baron’s keep to see for myself what was what. I was greeted and welcomed in by the staff, and they told me of their misfortune. As I stood there, I saw the Baron approaching with his wife and the household doctor, a slim, cunning looking man who had apparently not tried his hand at curing the girl, as his head was still attached to his body.

The Baron stopped in the court yard and addressed me in a rage, “What is this?!? Another ‘doctor’ come with false promises and hope?”

To which I replied, “No, Sir. I am no doctor. But I believe that I can help your daughter. If you would give me permission to stay three nights, I believe she would be much improved.”

“Ha!” laughed the desperate and disillusioned Baron, “I will give you two. And when you have failed, I will place you in a dead man’s cage at the crossroads as a warning to all who would deceive me.”

I accepted the terms, confident in the words of the crow. And so that first evening, I hid in the shadows of the sickly heiress’s room. I could see that she was gravely ill, but even thus, she was a beauty. I remained hidden in the dark corner as the Baroness came in with her poisoned drink, gently stirring the girl from her deep slumber,

“You must drink your sleep aid my dear. It will help you rest, and rest will help you recover.” Said the Baroness.

And so the drowsy girl drank from that vile cup and a wicked smile curved the mouth of that evil woman.

After the girl had fallen asleep and the Baroness had left the room knowing that her evil deed was done for yet another night, I crept out into the courtyard to find the Queen’s chamber and the toad that croaked beneath her window.

It was well into the early hours of morning before I chanced upon it. I crept to the toad and crushed it beneath a heavy rock. She would draw no more death from it.

But I did not know that the Baroness had already drawn poison from the vile creature that morning. And so I rested easy that night, believing that the girl would recover in the morning of the second day from lack of the draught.

I was rudely awakened in the morning by two guards who dragged me before the Baron.

“Charlatane!” he bellowed. “Pretender! My daughter is no better now than she was the day that you arrived, and your two days have passed!”

I was given no moment to explain, but thrust into the cage you saw me in when you first arrived at these crossroads.

As I withered away in it from starvation and thirst, I heard that the girl began recovering the very next day—and the doctor was taking credit for my deeds. As anger and rage filled my heart and my body began to die, I swore vengeance at any cost. And so here I am, falsely accused, unjustly sentenced, and completely dead.”

Now the traveler felt compassion for the dead man, “Is there anything that I could do to help?”

“Yes,” answered the corpse, take my pointer finger on my right hand with you and travel the path to the left to the town that was the death of me. Bring me to the Baron and I will be avenged.

As the traveler made his promise, the dead man handed him the finger bone and the rest of him drifted away as dust. The traveler wrapped the finger in a bit of cloth and placed it in his pack, then slept for the night.

In the morning, true to his word, he headed down the path to the left. As he came over the rise of a hill, he saw a town before him decked out gaily for celebration. Banners and steamers, laughter, music and merriment all greeted him as he entered the town square. He stopped a man, “What is the cause of celebration? Is there a faire?”

To which the townsman replied, “No, stranger, but you come with such good timing! The Baron’s beautiful daughter had been on the very verge of death and we all despaired at the prospect of her loss—but then the house doctor cured her of her illness and now that she is much recovered, the Baron has promised her hand in marriage to him and so we are preparing the celebrate their wedding!”

The traveler made his way to the keep, where the heads had been removed (for really, who wants to see dismembered heads on their wedding day?), and was welcomed into the court by the servants. As the Baron, Baroness, their daughter and the Doctor entered, the finger bone in his pack began to hum.

You would think something so muffled in otherwise such a noisy area would go unheard—but everyone there could hear the hum clearly as though it were right beside their own ear.

“What is that noise?” asked the angry Baroness.

The traveler answered, “I believe it is coming from my pack.”

“Well take it out and let’s see!” the Baroness demanded.

And so the traveler removed the wrapped bone from his pack, as he removed the cloth from it the bone raised into the air of it’s own accord. It flew towards the wicked Baroness and all could hear it plainly exclaim,

“The Baroness used a poisonous toad, three drops a day in a potion, to steal the life of her own offspring, what a evil and vile notion!”

And as it pointed at her, accusing, the ghost of the corpse appeared to the Baroness alone in all his rage. She intook breath to let out a scream and instead was turned instantly to stone for her terrible actions.

Then the finger pointed to the house doctor,

“Timing is such a peculiar thing, for you never tried your hand at a cure, but when my deed made the young maid well, you could not resist the allure.”

And the ghost of the corpse appeared before them all, attached to his finger as he turned to the Baron,

“And you, oh Baron, are the worst by far, for you took my very life, I cured your girl as I said I would, and you give her falsely to him as a wife.”

Then the ghost vanished, his revenge achieved, his peace spoken.

The Baron turned to the doctor and asked him the truth of the ghost statement, to which the man stammered and stuttered, thus showing the truth of his lie. And when the Baron turned to the traveler to find out how all these terrible and marvelous things had come to pass at his arrival…. He was no where to be seen.

For after the ghost had had his say, the traveler had kept his promise, and felt no longer obliged to remain, but turned and continued on his journey, every now and then stopping to enjoy the warmth of the sun on his face, or the sound of the cool, autumn breeze stirring the leaves.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Total Lunar Eclipse and the Winter Solstice

They coincided this morning. My eight year old and I woke up at 2 am to see it. My five year old grunted a 'no' as he rolled back over and went back to sleep. My son stayed up and outside for a grand total of 20 seconds (; Just long enough to see the moon, say, "Cool...Can we go back in now?" and go right back to bed.

Yesterday, I came across a link that said that the last time these two happened at the same time was December 21, 1638. But it got me wondering-- who said so? So a quick search this morning, says that it came from Geoff Chester of the US Naval Observatory, who inspected a list of eclipses going back 2000 years.

The last eclipse that I saw was in the fall of 1996. And that moon was -huge-! So I have to admit, I was a little surprised at how little the moon was at 2 am (lol).

Unlike my children, I stayed out there for almost half an hour, watching it and trying to catch a picture with my camera, which was a complete fail.

What was VERY cool about the eclipse last night is it was a perfectly clear night sky and Orion was practically pointing at the moon.

Gardening, a NaNoWriMo Story

--by Janin Wise

Now sometimes it happens, after my boys have long since relaxed and sighed into slumber, that my own mind won’t stop racing and running. You might wonder where the tradition of stories comes from, and I can tell you honestly that I grew up with them. My mother, her sisters, my Grandparents—all of them wonderful story tellers. So I have to admit that sometimes, I have to tell myself a story to calm that overactive mind down enough so that I too can rest and sleep.

This night happens to be such a night.

So being November, even though it's southern Alabama, the temperatures are starting to dip. And this year, I’ve decided to plant winter annuals. The funny thing is that my morning glories, that traditionally bloom all spring, are still blooming into the beginning of winter! And it makes me smile to see my lovely blue, white and purple morning glories brightening the side of my house with the sunny yellow and fall leave orange mums.

But it got me thinking about seasons, time, and purpose (under hea-eaven!).

One day, as the sun was kissing the earth and beginning to waken her from her winter slumber, the surface was pinched and broken by mortal hands, trying to implement a change. A series of small hard pips where gently placed, covered over with the displaced earth, and watered.

For a long time, nothing happened, but as the sun awoke the earth, so too did it waken the life wrapped snuggly in the kernel of those pips and roots began to reach for nutrients, and stems began to reach for the warmth of the sun, and Morning Glory, in her infant stage began to grow.

Every day was a wonder of light! Reaching, reaching towards the heavens. She could feel her roots growing deeper and stronger each day.

Some days, she wilted under the weight and burden of that light, but the Shadow would pass, bringing with it the cooling, much needed touch of precious water.

And so her days continued in the pattern for time uncountable—for what matter hours and days in the life of a flower?

And then the day came that she blossomed into adulthood—putting forth a near unending supply of supple, sweet flowers that called to the bees and wasps, butterflies and humming birds. Oh! To see the variety of beautiful creatures that stopped to visit her every day—the wealth of colors in their bodies, the smell of other flowers that clung to them, the sounds of the buzzing of some of their wings—or the silence of others. All of it was a never ending marvel to her! She knew that this was her prime, and like all creatures in their prime, was sure that it would last forever!

Then one day, the weather began to turn cooler. She shivered in the piercing wind as she watched the leaves she had known all her life fall from the trees around her. Change. The irresistable, immutable, unalterable and often terrifying was upon her. The ground that had forever provided nutrients seemed to harden and chill her roots. The sun, that she had always lifted towards seemed further away and stingier with her warmth. She began to despair, as many do when they feel the breath of death across their flesh.

And something happened. She watched as the Shadow stood long before her, digging into the earth around her roots, and placed a new flower at her feet. This flower introduced himself as Chrys.

They had many talks about the lives they’d led. And Morning Glory learned from Chrys that he knew his life was but a single season. “It has always been this way in my family.” As she herself knew that the blossoms she had put forth all season long were turning into the seeds she would drop for the following year.

She could not understand how he could cheerfully greet each day, knowing how short his life would be.

But he said, “No one knows the length of their life. Lighting could strike that mighty pine tree standing before you tomorrow, and all his years would count for naught. Wind can trample the fresh planted grass before they’ve even a chance to begin. But to worry about an end you cannot see is merely to spend a life in misery. It is better to enjoy each and every day for the wonders it provides.”

And so the fear and worry that had gripped her as she realized that her time would soon be upon her, released from her leaves and she blossomed more strongly and brightly than she had during the entire spring of her life! The last minute pollen gatherers thanked her for her efforts, as she would help them survive the winter. And their efforts gave her yet more pips to release for the upcoming year.

And Morning Glory and Chrys, in all their tender talks, began to fall in love. So instead of always reaching up, as she had done all her life, she reached tenderly, tenderly down and wrapped a blossom around her love. They held each other in this loving manner until the wind and chill became too much for her and she released her offspring into the unknown future, scattering them amongst the protective blossoms and leaves of Chrys who would look over the children of his love through the long cold winter months, still holding on the memory of their time together.

And as this thought passed through my mind, the jumble in my head calmed and I found myself at peace, and drifting off to join my children in slumber.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Cold Night Creation Tales

--by Janin Wise

*Please be advised, these have not been edited. They are just as they were typed for the NaNoWriMo project.*

You might think that telling a story in the morning means there’s no need for a story that night, but a bed time story is tradition in our house, so there’s no avoiding it.

Now it happens to chance that we’re getting the first really cold weather of November. Which is all fine and good when the heater –works-… but becomes quite interesting when it doesn’t.

So when it came time for bed, both boys were told to bundle in their warm winter jammies, and I placed a mink blanket over the rest of their covers for them to burrow down inside as the story began.

Once upon a time, in the deep, dark, arctic cold of always winter, man didn’t have nice houses with heaters. In fact, they didn’t have houses at all!

They had to live together in caves when they could find them, and live several families together so their body heat would help them stay warm. And they spent their time in terror, for not only was it cold, but it was always dark. They had not yet discovered fire and knew nothing of the sun, for it never rose in this place of eternal darkness and misery.

Times were getting tough and fear was rampant. But one young man decided that he would travel out into the world to see if he could find them a better life. He asked if any of the others would be brave enough to travel with him, and one other young man, his brother, was the only one to speak up. So the two of them gathered what little belongings they had, and despite the protests of those that loved them, headed out into the world to seek their fortunes.

Now it so happens that one of these brothers was an excellent archer. There was not a thing he could not hit with his arrow, even with his eyes closed! And the other of the brothers was an accomplished fighter. Why! He could take one a mammoth bare handed all by himself and feed the tribe for months! (So you can see why there were so many protests when the two of them decided to head out!)

They traveled for many days through the endless night, only resting as they became tired, when they began to see something to the east they had never seen before. If they had seen gold, they’d have said it shined like it! And it beckoned to them, calling them onward towards it—and they came willingly, for never had either of them seen light.

As they got closer, the came to a land of all light—the warmth as they approached had them stripping layer after layer of clothing from their bodies. Oh! It felt so GOOD!

It was not long that they came across two travelers coming towards them, moving to the west. The four men decided the make camp together and share their tales. After the brothers spoke of their world, the strangers told them about the land they had entered.

“Yes, there is always light. It is impossible to sleep! And though it may feel good now, we are always hiding in caves because it scorches the world and us as well. Nothing can grow in it! Nothing can stay in it for long! We are looking for something better. A way to improve the lives of our people!”

And the four men realized they had similar problems, and each other’s solution…but how to share it?

They could try to convince their tribes to move from their ancestral homes—but even as it was suggested it was discarded. They all knew their people would never leave. And besides, all they would be doing was swapping problems.

So they needed another solution…

The younger brother thought silently for a moment and then he asked, “Have you ever been to the source of your light?”

To which the strangers responded that they had gone east before turning west, and had come to the origin of the light. But as that would not help them, they had abandoned the idea. They suggested the brothers abandon it as well.

With these words, the four men broke camp. The strangers continued their journey to the west, and the brothers continued theirs to the east, this time, looking for the source of the light.

They traveled many, many days, remembering the caution of the strangers and stopping frequently in caves along the way. Until one day, they heard a strange noise. Less brave men would have quaked in terror and fear, perhaps turned and run, but the brothers were strong in their convictions and headed onwards.

And what made such a terrible, shiver causing, wet your pants and hide kind of noise?!?

Why! It was a fire dragon!! Oh, I’m not talking about a fire breathing dragon like you hear about knights going off to fight in the middle ages. No, this, THIS was a more elemental! Larger, more primal, and much, much more dangerous. For this was a dragon OF fire, simple as that! Yellow flames were the spikes that raced down it’s back. Red flames kissed with purple were the scales across it’s body and it shown beautifully as that fire flickered!! It’s eyes were the fiercest, brightest fire of blue, and from it’s mouth came fire so bright and white, their eyes watered to witness it!

Now I know what you’re thinking. They’d come to steal the fire and slay the dragon, but if you’d seen this creature, you’d have known that being good men, these thoughts never even crossed their mind, for before them was a wonder and marvel of innocence, and only evil men could bring such a thing to an end.

Instead, the two brothers laid aside their weapons and walked into the presence of the beast, saying, “Oh beautiful, majestic creature, may we please speak with you for a moment?”

And the great dragon, seeing into their hearts, knew them for the honorable men that they were, and granted them this request.

Now the brothers told the dragon of the plight of their home, and not being selfish men, also told it about the plight of the others who lived so much closer to the dragon.

The dragon had been completely unaware of the world outside and how it’s presence was affection it. For you see, the dragon lived by dancing to the music of the cosmos—and if a mere mortal could hear it, why! They too would do nothing but dance, even unto their death! So it’s lucky for us that the music is beyond our ears while things like eating matter.

The three of them talked about it, and the dragon knew that it could survive without land beneath it’s feet. So it flew higher and higher into the sky, the brother’s watching it. Periodically, the dragon asked if it was far enough away that it’s light no longer hurt, and when it reached the right distance, the brothers shouted that it was where it needed to be.

But still, there was the land of dark to fix. The dragon reasoned that without land tying it to one spot, it’s dance could flow around the world in an unending pirouette of light and beauty and so it began it’s journey heading west towards the land of darkness, bringing it’s light with it.

Now, it so happens that as the brother’s began their journey home, the dragon was sharing the marvelous astounding experience with all the other dragons in the universe—each of which had never considered dancing in the sky! And so as the brothers reached home, where the strangers were staying with their tribe, and had witnessed the glorious passing of the light for the very first time, the other dragons took to their skies as well, and the night sky was peppered with the lights of a million billion dragons, dancing to the music of their cosmos.

And that, my loves is where day and night come from, as the dragon dances across the heavens sharing it’s radiant light with the world, and the other dragons sparkling in the night sky are the stars we see on a clear night!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

No Zombies, huh.... How about Flesh Eating Banshees, then?

--by Janin Wise

*Please be advised, these have not been edited. They are just as they were typed for the NaNoWriMo project.*

So if you’ve ever had children like mine, then you know stories aren’t limited to bed time. Especially at my house. So the morning rolled around (as it’s wont to do) and it was time for my boys to wake up. My youngest, after climbing grumpily from his cocoon of warmth pulled his arms into his nightshirt and asked, “Where are my arms?!”

To which I replied, “They’ve been eaten by the flesh eating banshee!”

After a small fit of giggles and laughter, my boys wanted to know more about this creature.

You see, long, long ago, there was a lovely woman. And madly, truly, deeply in love (insert ‘kissey, kissey!” from my five year old) with her beau. They were soon to be wed, but war struck their homeland and he was called off to defend their home. She waited at home, desperately fearing for his safety.

(“Why didn’t she just call him on her cell phone?”

“Honey, remember, ‘long, long ago?’… they didn’t –have- cell phones.”

“Oh. So why didn’t she send him a letter in the mail?”

“We’ll get there, just wait, alright?”)

Every day, she wrote letters to her love, telling him of the good things in their home land, hoping to brighten the days she knew would be terrible for him. And every night, she cried in fear that their good-bye the day he left would be their last.

One evening, the sky was crystal clear and the heavens appeared to go on forever before her. She looked at the stars in absolute wonder and saw a shooting star pass overhead clearly. Without thinking, she made a wish: “I would give –anything- that my true love return to me unharmed!”

Now frequently, it is said, that good fairies grant wishes. And just as frequently, it is said, that the Devil can’t resist desperation. Unfortunately for her, it was the latter listening that night.

Now the Devil is known for being cunning. And he’s also known for being wicked. It’s a common bit of knowledge that he enjoys the suffering of others. So it took him just a little bit to decide how he was going to grant her wish… in the most miserable way possible. And being outside of the time the rest of us live in, his mind was made up as she finished saying, “…true love return to me unharmed!”

In her mind, she heard the echo of a whisper, “anything?” and in her heart, she answered it, “Anything.”

(“She shouldn’t have done that.”

“Well, but she’s worried about her true love, and besides, she didn’t KNOW she was making a deal with the devil at the time.”

“I don’t like the devil. He’s really tricky.”

“That’s the truth, my love. That’s the truth. It’s a good thing to remember before you go making careless wishes, maybe.”)

Now it wasn’t long after that the letters she sent became fewer and fewer. Why?, you ask. Well, if you remember, she was sending him letter about the good things at home… but things were starting to go bad, and she didn’t want to burden him with troubles at home. See, it started with a terrible drought—the land just dried up and all the plants withered away and died—and with no plants to eat or water to drink, the livestock and farm animals began to wither up and die as well. And without fruits, vegetables, water or meat—well, the –people- began to die as well.

Now some few knew that death was clinging to the land and were fortunate enough to have family in other villages that they could go to, but, though they asked her to come with them, she would not. She wanted to stay where her love could find her when he returned.

Days passed into weeks, and weeks into months. The hunger became more than she could bear and she turned to cannibalism—consuming the flesh of the dead to stay alive. And all the while, the devil laughed in merriment at her plight.

“But did she ever receive letters from her love?”, you might ask. Well, she did at the beginning, but like hers, they’d become fewer and fewer until one day they’d stopped—and all she had to sustain her (other than the flesh of the fallen villagers) was her love.

And then the fateful day arrived. She stood in the window of her old home, watching, waiting, as she did every day, watching the rise of the hill for any sign. The man she loved returned to his village and his home. The war was over! She was about the rush out to greet him—when she saw that he did not travel alone. Riding a horse just a short step behind him was a beautiful young woman, from the land they had been at war with! And they rode together in an easy, familiar way. He must have said something funny, for the woman, threw her head back to laugh, then placed her hand on his arm—and the light caught the wedding band on her finger and flashed it brilliantly into the heart of the silent, unseen woman in the window.

She stood unmoving as they came closer and she heard the man she thought was her true love say, “And this is the village of my birth. I wanted to see it after I’d heard news that it had been abandoned. It hardly looks the same at all, from when I remember it…. Those were much happier days.”

They did not stop at her house, but passed without a glance. If they had looked, they’d have seen the jealousy and hate burning in her eyes as she watched them proceed to his father’s home.

They decided to stay the night. Just as the devil had planned. For you see, the devil had given her exactly her wish—that he should return unharmed… but she had not ask that he still love her.

And she plotted and planned to end their lives in revenge. She waited until the lights turned out and the house grew quiet, then she snuck inside, carrying a butcher knife. She slunk quietly, quietly up through the house, headed towards the bedroom she knew they would be in. She slipped in, silently, silently through the door they had not closed, and stood at the foot of their bed, preparing to plunge the knife into his deceiving heart—when the light of the full moon shone in through the window upon the married couple. He lay on his back, his arms wrapped protectively around his wife. She lay curled up to his side, her arm about him. And she knew in that moment that she still loved him and could not bring herself to do this terrible deed.

Instead, she turned and fled from their home running to the cliff above the lake, where she plunged the knife into her own breast and plunged into the water.

Now surely, an eater of the dead that the devil had spent so much time on would be destined for hell—but he had one more trick up his sleeve. He denied her the complete embrace of death and used her unrequited love against her as punishment for failing to kill the two innocents as he had planned.

And thus was she turned into the flesh eating banshee.

“Now, how about you find your arms and get dressed for the morning so you’re not late for school?”

....in retrospect, I might have to save this story for when my boys are a bit older...don't want to -completely- warp their little minds...

ah, who am I kidding. I'll probably read it to them tonight (;