Dorie’s Cottage

This story will eventually be in a collection tentatively named “The Dreamweaver’s Tales.” I have several of them done; this is the first.


Dorie’s Cottage

by Robin Wood

Once upon a time there was a young girl who lived in a mostly-forgotten house at the edge of a mostly-forgotten village tucked away in a mostly-forgotten corner of a great kingdom.

It wasn’t mostly-forgotten by the people who actually lived there, you understand. They saw it every day, and called it home, and everyone they loved lived there. They weren’t about to forget it.

But the mapmakers, carefully drawing towns on parchment under the watchful eye of the King’s Master Cartographer, mostly forgot to put it in among the little triangles that showed the Great Eastern Forest.

The historians, recording Incidents of Interest on snowy paper in their careful round hands mostly forgot it, because things they considered Incidents of Interest tended not to happen there.

Even the Traveling Merchants, with their brightly painted wagons and bolts of exotic cloth and expensive spices from Distant Lands mostly forgot it, because the people who lived there would come to the see the displays and marvel; but they didn’t have coin to actually buy.

So Dorie, for that was her name, lived alone in a tiny cottage on the outskirts of Little Hambleton with her papa.

Her papa was a kind man, and he worked hard, but they had very little because the plot of land that had been left to him by his father and his grandfather before him backed up into the mountain. There was a bit of level land in front of the cottage, about the size of your living room, and from there it rose in leaps and slides and cliffs with hillocks on them mostly straight up into the clear air.

It was so steep that if you went into the front door of the cottage, took seven steps across the room to the ladder, climbed up into the loft, and scrambled out of the window next to Dorie’s bed, you would be standing on the ground.

It was land fit only for raising goats. So that’s what Dorie’s papa did.  But so did most of the other people who lived in Little Hambleton, so there wasn’t much call for milk, cheese, or wool; and Dorie and her Papa were quite poor.

That didn’t bother them so much. Everyone they knew was poor.

But there was something else that bothered Dorie’s papa quite a lot. You see, Dorie was very pretty, with soft black hair, a winning smile, and a laugh like the chiming of silver bells. But her eyes were as white as the snow that fell on the mountains in the frosty winter. For Dorie was quite blind, and always had been.

Which is where the problem lay. Not because she was blind, although that did pose certain difficulties. But because when she was very small her papa, who sometimes had more imagination than good sense, had started lying to her. And now he couldn’t stop.

He hadn’t meant to lie. He had only meant to make her smile. But now he was stuck.

It had started innocently enough. She had been very glum one day, when she was about three years old. She had been sitting at the table, kicking her heels and scowling, and her papa had been at his wit’s end trying to cheer her up. At that moment, the sun had broken through the clouds, and a ray of light lit the table right next to Dorie’s little hand.

“Oh, Dorie-my-dear,” her Papa had said softly, “if you open your hand and move it just a little, you can catch a sunbeam!”

She did, and felt the warmth against her palm. “Oh Papa!” she whispered, enchanted, all gloom forgotten, “I caught a sunbeam!”

Her papa had been delighted, and so encouraged to see a smile on her little face that he couldn’t help but embellish it, just a bit.

“A sunbeam with a rainbow in it!” he agreed.

“A rainbow!” breathed little Dorie. “Where did the rainbow come from, Papa?”

Her papa, at a loss, found himself telling a bigger lie to prop up the first one, as usually happens.

“Oh, from the stained glass in the window.” he replied.

“We have stained glass?! I never knew that! What is stained glass, Papa?”

Her papa could not disappoint that little face, turned so eagerly towards him. So he invented a beautiful stained glass window, with roses and lilies, and a cloud breaking over a mountain and sending fingers of light down to caress the crystal stream that was so realistic you could almost hear it chuckling over its bed, tucked tenderly in its little valley.

That’s where it started. But that’s not where it stopped.

As time went on, he invented more and more.

The faded curtains, worn nearly threadbare, became iridescent drapes of the softest gauze. The ancient quilt on Dorie’s bed became a marvel of pattern, color and design. The newspapers pasted on the walls to cover the bare boards became rich wallpaper.

He invented carvings all over the beams, where Dorie could not reach, and described them so well that all the flowers, leaves, squirrels, butterflies, and strange, capering forest gnomes were alive in Dorie’s mind. She knew their names, and exactly which ones were above her at any moment.

In Dorie’s sightless eyes, the cottage glowed with light and color. The bare rocks behind the house, which she was forbidden to climb because they were too steep and dangerous, were covered with wild roses, climbing in her place. She ate off of plates with a delicate glaze, that changed colors as the light hit them. The thatched roof was patterned with different colored straw, and had straw animals marching along the ridgepole. The house itself was painted glowing white, as pure as driven snow, with green shutters where painted birds frolicked among curling vines.

In short, Dorie thought that she lived in a kind of fairy cottage, tucked against the most picturesque of mountain sides.

This caused some confusion in Little Hambleton.

For instance, once young Dorie stroked the calico in the Mercantile, and asked what color it was. When Se Flourie, the kind woman who ran the store, told her it was red and white, she sighed and said, “that would never go with the iridescent gauze we have in the windows.”

Se Flourie thought about the gray rags hanging in the cracked windows that faced the street, and was totally confused.

When little Geoff handed her a bouquet of flowers, she asked, “Are they as pretty as the roses that grow behind my lovely cottage?” Geoff looked at the cottage, gray with age, and spotted with peeling paint, its shutters hanging askew and the thatch in need of repair. He stared at the bare bones of the mountain, with never a rose in sight, and shrugged, completely confused. Then he ran off without a word, because he couldn’t find a single one to say. (Which, truthfully, confused Dorie in her turn.)

When Bobbin Hamsin offered to give her a kitten, and she told him she had to reluctantly refuse his kind offer, because she was afraid kitty would tear the silks of their coverlets, he was very confused, and not a little hurt that she would mock him so.

Eventually, they all decided that young Dorie was not only blind, but “not quite right.”

Her papa heard the whispers, but was too ashamed to tell them what was really happening. He couldn’t face the thought of his neighbors disapproval, or of Dorie’s reaction if she learned she really lived in a hovel. So he went on telling lies to everyone, hoping he would not be found out, and growing more unhappy as the years went by.

Things continued like this until the summer that Dorie was 12.

One bright day in late June, when Dorie happened to be at the Mercantile trading goat cheese for sugar, Vonnie Merlsin burst through the door, red faced and panting.

“Se Flourie! Se Flourie!” he cried, gasping for breath. “There is a Healer come to Greater Hambleton!”

Se Flourie gave a little yip, and dropped the sugar scoop, nearly spilling the precious grains all over the counter. (She was lucky, and it all landed on the brown paper she was going to use to wrap it.)

“A Healer, you say? Just down in Greater Hambleton?”

“A Healer?” Dorie whispered, clasping her hands tightly together, just above her heart.

She didn’t need to ask what a Healer was. Everyone knew.

But you might not, so I’ll tell you.

In that country, there were sometimes, very rarely, children born with the Gift of Healing. As babies in their cradles they could touch a bruise or cut, and it would heal instantly. When they were old enough, another Healer would come to their homes, and take them to the legendary Hospice. No one knew where the Hospice was; but everyone knew that was where the children would be taught all the anatomy and physiology they needed to develop their Gift. When they were old enough, they would leave the Hospice and wander all over the Kingdom, going from city to town to village to outpost, healing everyone who came to them.

They could heal practically anything but old age and heartbreak. Any wound. Any illness. Any deformity.

Even blindness.

There hadn’t been a Healer anywhere near their nearly forgotten corner of the kingdom in almost 20 years.

But now there was.

Word spread through the village like a hot summer wind. By nightfall, Dorie and her papa had been outfitted by their neighbors, with better clothes and a borrowed wagon so as not to shame Little Hambleton in front of the Healer.

They spent a restless night, Dorie in a maze of anticipation, her Papa in despair as he knew his lies were about to be revealed.

The next morning, when the mountain peaks blushed pink with dawn while night clung to the valleys like a sleeper reluctant to roll out of bed, they set off.

Greater Hambleton was nearly 17 miles from Little Hambleton, in a wider, and therefore richer, fold of the valley. By the time they reached it, the sun was well up in the sky, and the lines of people waiting to see the Healer snaked around the Headman’s house, into the Village Square, around the well a couple of times, and then meandered down a side street. There was a boy with a hand cart doing a brisk business selling sweet buns, and several girls with buckets and dippers earning pennies refreshing the thirsty crowd.

By the time they finally were ushered into the room where the Healer sat, Dorie and her papa were both nearly sick with excitement and fear.

“Good afternoon,” said the Healer. She sounded very tired to Dorie. “Ah, you are the patient,” and she took Dorie’s hands. Her grip was soft yet firm, and her hands felt very hot. “Blind since birth?”

Dorie’s Papa cleared his throat. “Yes. Her mama had a hard pregnancy, and a long labor. She didn’t survive. And when my precious daughter opened her eyes for the first time, they were as you see them.”

The Healer drew a long breath. “Close your eyes, my dear,” she said, “and sit here on this stool.” And she guided Dorie to a low stool and helped her sit down. Then she moved behind her, and covered both Dorie’s eyes with her hands. Slowly her hands grew hotter, until Dorie was afraid they would burn her. Then there was a sharp, short pain, and something in her eyes moved. And then, for the first time, Dorie’s world was flooded with light!

The healer moved her hands, and Dorie’s papa started to cry. “Your eyes are the color of walnuts!” he sobbed. “Just like your Mama’s.”

Dorie blinked, and looked at the Healer. She looked kind, but tired, and she was older than Dorie had expected. Her hair was streaked with silver, and there were lines in her face.

“Oh, thank you!” cried Dorie, and tears filled her eyes as well. “How can I ever repay you!?”

The Healer gave her a tired smile. “Just be kind to everyone you meet.” She said.

She turned to Dorie’s papa. “You should stay in the village tonight. It will take your daughter some little while to adjust to her vision. I believe there are several barns that have been opened to travelers, or you can camp in the meadow if you would prefer. The weather will be fine all night.”

Dorie’s papa bowed to her. “Thank you. Thank you. I have no words to thank you.”

Then he took Dorie’s hand and led her away. Behind them, the young mother who was next in line, holding her ailing baby, slipped into the room.

Dorie’s papa dropped the coin the village had given him to give to the healer into the pot by the door, and added the fine cheese he had prepared as a gift the night before, and then they were back in the street, where the shadows were lengthening into twilight. The whole thing had taken less than five minutes.

There was still a line, but now the people in it were getting ready to settle into their places for the night. The Healer would not work after sundown, as everyone knew, but she would start again at dawn.

Dorie’s heart was as light as a hummingbird that night. She kept pointing things out to her papa, all joyous and excited. “What is that color? Is that what clouds look like!? What kind of flower is that? Look! That’s a bird, isn’t it? Listen to it sing! I never knew they were that small! Oh! Oh! Is this a sunset? It’s more glorious than I ever imagined!”

But over and over, she would tell him that she could not wait to see their pretty little cottage for herself! And she would describe it to him, in loving detail, just as he had described it to her.

His heart grew heavier with each word. He started, several times, to explain. But he simply could not bring himself to do it. He was afraid to quench her joy, and see the light go out of those beautiful brown eyes. Eyes that were so very like her mother’s.

So he said nothing. He smiled, as well as he could, and tried to share in her delight. He told her which names went with what colors, and answered her eager questions, and dreaded their eventual homecoming.

She was still just as excited the next morning, as they set out on the return journey. And he was just as reluctant to break her happiness.

Finally, about a mile from their village, he made one final attempt. “Dorie,” he began.

She turned to him, eyes sparkling. “Yes Papa? Oh, Papa, why do you look so unhappy? Is something wrong?”

For the first time, her brow grew troubled, and he could not go on. He told himself he could not deprive her of a single moment of joy; she would know the truth soon enough.

So he smiled. “It’s nothing. Just that Little Hambleton is right around this next curve in the road.”

“Oh! At last!” She breathed. And in her excitement she stood up in the wagon, impatient to see her village, and her fairy cottage, for the first time.

And then they were there, and the whole village turned out to welcome them, and the children were jumping with joy, because pretty Dorie could see!

She laughed her silver laugh, and looked all around. “But where is our cottage?” she asked.

Little Geoff (though he was not so little now, being the same age as Dorie,) flung a careless hand towards an aging hovel huddled into the mountain, as if it was too weak and tired to stand on its own.

“It’s that one, there.” he laughed, “hard against the mountain! See it?”

Dorie turned pale, and sat down very suddenly. “Yes,” she whispered. “I see it.”

Se Flourie looked at her shaken face, and her father’s unhappy one, and her shrewd mind suddenly put all the pieces together.

She grabbed the horse’s bridle, and led the wagon to the door. “Go home, you lot,” she said. “Can’t you see the child is tired? It’s all a bit much for her. She can see all of you tomorrow. She’ll be seeing everything for the rest of her life. Now give her some space, and let her rest.”

And she lifted Dorie off the wagon seat and whisked her into the house.

Inside, Dorie shrank into herself as she looked at the  gray, ragged curtains. The cracked, dirty glass in the window. The newspapers on the walls. The threadbare quilts. The house beams adorned with nothing but cobwebs. The bleak and cheerless house that was her home.

“How could he?” She whispered.

“What did he tell you?” asked Se Flourie.

“He said there was stained glass. Iridescent gauze at the windows. Carved beams.” Her voice rose as she went on. “He said it was white with painted shutters. He said there were roses! He said it was beautiful!! It’s a dump! I’ve wanted to see it all my life, and there is nothing to see!”

She turned to her Papa, where he stood miserably in the doorway, with his hat in his hands.

“How could you!?” she yelled. “You lied to me! You made me look like a fool!”

“I….” He coughed, and then looked up, tears streaming unnoticed down his worn cheeks. “I don’t know. I’m so sorry. It made you smile. It made you happy. Watching you believing it, I could almost believe it myself. I had so little to give you. I..” He shrugged. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.

Se Flourie watched them, and her kind heart broke a little, and then firmed in resolve.

“Don’t you see, Dorie? He gave you a beautiful place to live, your whole childhood.”

“He gave me a lie!”

“Yes. And it was wrong to lie. He should have told you your beautiful cottage was only in your imagination. It would have saved some confusion and hurt feelings. But don’t you see? He imagined beauty for you, and he gave you that gift.”

“But it was so real to me! I could draw that window now!”

“Sweet girl, you are very smart,” said Se Flourie. “You must have known at some level.”

“I didn’t! How could I?”

“Think, child. Did you ever smell roses? Did you feel the patterns in the glass? Did you feel silk under your fingers when you touched your quilt?”

Dorie covered her eyes, and sat very still. She loved her father dearly, but this was betrayal of the deepest order!

But as she sat there, she knew she could hear the wind whispering through the cracks in the wall, as it had whispered her whole life. She could remember lying at night and listening to the slow drip where the roof leaked. She could smell the dust and decay all around her. She knew she had never smelled roses. She sighed, as she realized that she had known.

“But I wanted so badly for it all to be true,” she whispered. “I believed it with my whole heart, to make it true. But it doesn’t work that way, does it?”

“No,” said Se Flourie. “It takes more than just believing and wanting to make our dreams and wishes come true. It takes a lot of hard work.”

Dorie dropped her hands, and stared at Se Flourie. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, my dear, that you can make it real. You said you can draw that window? So draw it! We’ll have to start with a good scrub, but unless I miss my guess, you can live in a pretty cottage. Oh, maybe not the exact one your papa imagined for you, with stained glass and silk coverlets and iridescent gauze at the windows. But anything a good cleaning, new paint, and honest calico can do for you, you can have! I need help at the Mercantile. I’m not as agile as I once was. And I’ll pay you with cotton and paint.”


So Dorie wound up living in the prettiest cottage in the village after all. Although most of them are prettier than they were. It turned out that she had quite a talent as a painter. So many of the village homes have painted shutters, and paintings on the walls.

Dorie’s, though, is the one there, with all the roses and lilies in the yard, and the cat curled up on the window sill. The white one, with the green shutters that have painted birds frolicking among the flowering vines. You can tell it by the fancy thatching. She got that in trade for painting flowers and squirrels on the thatcher’s shutters.

If you go inside, you’ll see pretty calico curtains hanging at the shining window. There are all kinds of fanciful things painted on the beams. They may not be carved, but Dorie knows all their names, and can tell you their stories. On the beds are the prettiest patchwork quilts you have ever seen.

And hanging on the wall, just where it catches the evening sun, is the most exquisite painting with roses and lilies, and a cloud breaking over a mountain and sending fingers of light down to caress the crystal stream that is so realistic you can almost hear it chuckling over its bed, tucked tenderly in its little valley.

It might not be as splendid as the fairy cottage that existed in Dorie’s imagination when she was growing up. But as she would tell you, it’s much cozier!

These days, her papa walks around whistling all the time. He is also much in demand as a storyteller, although he is careful to make sure his listeners know the stories spring from his imagination, and nowhere else.

Of course, it took a few years to make all this happen. It takes time, as well as hard work, to pull something from the Realm of Imagination into the Real World.

These days, when Geoff comes courting, Dorie can see the beautiful bouquets he brings for her. And she never compares them to her roses, although she could, because she loves Geoff nearly as much as he has always loved her; so his flowers are dearer to her than any others. Not even the fairy roses of her imagination can compare.

Because his flowers, like his love, are real.

The End


Hope you liked it! As always, I welcome any comments or feedback. Thanks!

Sanctuary

When the world seems to be coming apart, when all the news makes us cry, when it just seems too horrible for words, we all need a place of Sanctuary.

I’m not talking about a physical place we can go to escape, although that’s nice if you happen to have one.

But we can all do some work to give ourselves a place to regroup, internally. It’s not perfect, and it won’t magically make everything alright, but it’s worth doing.

Here are some steps you might want to consider, if you’d like to build a place where you can go to weather the storm.

1. Do Not Despair

I can’t emphasize this enough. It’s of paramount importance. Despair is tempting, but it saps your strength, breaks your will, and destroys your spirit. Fight it.

Like other negative emotions, it’s a signal that there’s something deeply, deeply wrong.

The thing is, despair never rights that wrong. Despair gives up. It’s tempting, because it means you can stop fighting for a bit, and we all get so tired that we just want to stop fighting.

Instead of despairing, just stop fighting for a while. Give yourself a breather. That’s perfectly alright, in fact, pretty much necessary. Take an intentional break. All soldiers need a bit of R&R from time to time, so don’t feel you’re not entitled to some. Take whatever time you need.

But while you’re doing that, hold in your mind that others are still fighting, and you’ll fight again a different day, or perhaps a different battle.

The arc of history is long, and sometimes it really is 3 steps forwards, and 2 back; but that’s still progress, and it does bend toward justice.

There will be light after the storm. The dawn will eventually follow the night. This, too, shall pass.

Do not despair.

2. Notice the Good Stuff

When things get really bad, it’s easy to overlook the small, wonderful things that are happening all around us. There’s a tendency to think that, for instance, who cares if it’s a beautiful day when people are dying?

But we need to notice the sunshine and flowers, as well as the horrible things. That will help keep us balanced.

Yes, a lot of bad things are happening. There’s cancer, and racial and political bias that’s turning deadly, and global problems that seem overwhelming.

But there are also children taking their first steps, and kids making gifts for homeless people, and people helping other people in ways large and small, every day.

Make a point of noticing all of those things, too. it gives you a more balanced view of the rich cacophony that is the world, and it really helps.

3. Turn off the Media, and Get Crafting

Once again, this sounds corny, but it’s true. Taking a media break, and making something with your hands instead can help you regain an even keel.

There have been a number of studies that have shown a correlation between crafting and happiness.

I’ve found this to be very true in my own life. When I carve out time to sew, knit, or do one of the other physical, hands on crafts, I’m calmer, more relaxed, and happier.

It’s not just being creative; all I do is creative stuff (and occasionally housework.) But there’s a difference between writing, or working with 3D apps on the computer, and actually handling beautiful fiber and fabrics.

When I’m touching real materials, I can lose myself in the color and texture, and the meditative, repetitive, sensory-rich experience. It’s healing.

If you don’t craft, you might want to try it.

4. Spend Time with Friends

Too many of us are too isolated, too much of the time. Try to arrange some time socializing with people you enjoy. Don’t talk about the things that are bothering you, if you can help it. That can be valuable, too, but it can also just make things worse, by focusing on all the bad stuff.

Instead, spend time doing things that make you laugh. Tell bad jokes, dance, play games, eat good food, celebrate the fact that you are alive, because you are, even if you’re not always sure of that.

Share the good things that are happening to you, or the good things you’d like to have happen. Focus on the present moment, and how great it is to be together.

Life can be sweet. Enjoy it.

5. Do Small, Unexpected Things for Other People.

One of the things that I found long ago will send me “spiraling down the funnel” is thinking too much about myself, and my own perceived inadequacies. My helplessness in the face of global unrest. My inability to do anything to “make it all better” when someone I love is hurting. My powerlessness to stop pain.

Especially when a group I’m a member of is the target, when I feel that everyone wants me to just cease to exist, it’s very easy to slide down into despair.

I learned that when I’m feeling that way, the quickest way out is to stop looking inward, turn around, and look outward instead.

Don’t focus on my own ineffectiveness, or indeed on my own anything. Just ignore all of that. It’s not about me. Even when my group is the target, the person saying that we don’t deserve to live isn’t saying that about me personally. They don’t even know I exist. They are simply venting their spleen, and announcing to the world their own fears and perceived inferiority.

People who are happy and comfortable with themselves don’t pick on others. People who aren’t afraid of “others” don’t need to make sure “others” are kept far away.

So, turn your focus outwards. You can’t fix the problems of the world; no one of us can, although together we just might be able to. But don’t worry about you, and don’t worry about the world. It’s too big. We can’t grasp it.

Instead, just do something you can do, to brighten a few moments for one other person.

You’ve been crafting. Give someone a pair of mitts when they’re not expecting it. Slip a flower onto a co-worker’s desk. Smile at people you meet on the street. Tell the teller in the bank you appreciate her hard work. Offer to help, when you see someone who might need a little help.

It really takes very little to brighten someone else’s day, and it makes you both feel better. The more of this you do, the better you’ll feel, and the more ripples of kindness you’ll send out into the world.

The more people who do this, the more the kindness and love will combat the hate and fear. This is how we’ll win, eventually.

6. Meditate

You probably already know this, but meditation can help with all kinds of conditions, from stress reduction to alleviation of pain (both physical and mental,) to helping chronic medical conditions.

If you’ve never tried it, you might not realize how very simple it actually is. Forget about being perfect, and it’s something that anyone at all, anywhere, can do. Even those of us who aren’t physically able can manage this one.

There are tons of different kinds (even knitting can be meditation, really) so find the ones you enjoy the most.

Your mind will wander, because it’s a mind, and that’s what minds do. So when you realize it’s doing it, just smile at it, and start again. No judgement, no harshness, no upbraiding yourself for not “doing it right.” There is no “doing it right,” so you’re doing fine.

The link above is to a page on the Mayo Clinic site that lists a number of types and methods of meditation, or you can just google around, and find some to try.

It helps.

Do these things, and you’ll find that you have inside yourself a sanctuary that will shelter you from the worst of what’s happening in this time of change and upheaval. Because of course, that’s what’s going on in the world right now. We’re simply living in a time of rapid change, and rapid change is often very uncomfortable.

Every bit of work we do to promote equality also erodes privilege; it pretty much has to.

To those of us who enjoyed that privilege and didn’t recognize it as privilege, this can feel like oppression. Things that we’ve always taken for granted, as just the way the world works, aren’t working that way any more. This is unexpected, and the unexpected is frightening. To those of us in this position, the world is spiraling out of control. Those of us who feel this way want to put on the brakes, to stop the change, and so we lash out. It’s a perfectly natural, understandable reaction.

It won’t stop the change, because the change is needed.

People will eventually adjust, and come to embrace equality.

But it’s going to be a struggle, I’m afraid.

It’s very important that we all find sanctuary and balance, no matter which side of the struggle we’re on.

It will enable us to approach things calmly, without fear. Which will, of course, make the whole thing much less painful for everyone.


Picture Attribution; This is a detail of an image I made in 2002. The whole image is in the Prints part of this site.

Each More Beautiful

A fairytale by Robin Wood

I’m one of 12 princesses, each more beautiful than the last.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Except that “more beautiful” is a relative term. It would be just as true to say that I’m one of 12, each plainer than the next.

My youngest sister, Eleanor, is lovely, with golden curls, dimples, and bright blue eyes. In fact, the youngest four are all really quite stunning, in their separate ways. The three before that are fairly pretty as well. Megan, Princess number five, is just ordinary looking; nothing special, but nothing untoward. Juniper, number four in line, has an unfortunate squint (she will not wear her spectacles) and unruly hair. Grace, the third oldest, is sadly knock-kneed, but happily her dresses hide it. She also freckles and somehow manages to look rumpled most of the time.

Jasmine is the oldest. You’d expect her to be the plainest of all, and I suppose if your idea of beauty is based entirely on softness and femininity you’d think you were right. She looks exactly like our father the king, but without the beard. She inherited his regal, beaked nose, his height, and his breadth across the shoulders, as well as his straight dark hair and piercing blue eyes. Like him, she’s slender and athletic, and inclined to stride about bellowing. She’s also going to inherit his crown, so really, her looks aren’t terribly important. She has plenty of suitors.

I’m Gayla. Second oldest. And I’m a mess. I’m as tall as Jasmine, but also what our mother the queen describes as “heavy set.” She means fat. On someone shorter, as I’ve had explained to me many, many times, it might be considered plump or cuddly. On me, because of my height, it just looks formidable, and unladylike. I’m not at all athletic, so our father has explained to me that there’s no reason for me to be so tall. I’d love to be shorter, but somehow it’s been years since I’ve managed it.

I also have wiry mud-brown hair that knots itself into tangles and escapes from all attempts to control it. My eyes aren’t any particular color, and they’re weak, necessitating the use of spectacles (which I wear.) I have freckles. And a wart next to my nose. And I’m clumsy.

There are 12 of us because our father the king really, really wanted a son and heir. But that didn’t happen, and by the time my mother the queen had had 12 daughters in 14 years, my father realized what story he was stuck in. Privately, I think he’d also grown so fond of Jasmine he wanted her to have the throne, not some hypothetical son of unknown character.

I’d figured out that we were going to be 12 Princesses by the time I was 10. I’d also realized that I was going to be the one that never married. At the time, I was delighted, because I had very little use for boys; I found them loud, stupid, obnoxious, mostly sticky, and with a tendency to laugh at things that weren’t funny.

So I decided I’d grow up to be Court Magician instead, and help our kingdom that way.

That would have worked out better if I’d had some magical aptitude. I was great with potions, but not so hot with the magic itself.

When I was 11, I decided that I’d become a great scholar and historian. My vast pool of knowledge and incisive decision making would save our kingdom in its darkest hour.

But history bored me to tears, and although I loved books, and would read for hours at a time, the books I loved were fiction; especially fantasy stories about places with no magic, and no monarchy. Which weren’t exactly prime material to learn anything that would be useful in the real world.

At 12, it was my ambition to excel at strategy and tactics. I would be a great general, renowned throughout the continent, and opposing armies would quail when they heard my name. I blame that on General Wain, who my father the king employed that year to teach us older girls about the Art of War. I thought he was devastatingly handsome, and cut a dashing figure in his bright uniform, glittering with gold embroidery and so many medals they could have doubled as armor.

It certainly wasn’t because I like war. On the contrary, when I see someone in pain it hurts me, too, and I do whatever I can to ease it and make them feel better. I can’t even kill a bug. There’s not a chance that I could order troops into combat.

I was 13 when Eleanor was born, and my mother the queen said “enough.” In my mind, that pretty much sealed my fate.

In a world like ours, where Destiny and Magic are the most powerful of the Natural Forces, I figured that meant I was just a placeholder. It was clear that Eleanor was going to have some kind of adventure and wind up marrying a hero, and the rest of us would be the 11 Princess who weren’t the youngest.

So we grew up.

We learned all the things that young princess are taught, including Statecraft, and how to rule a kingdom. Even Eleanor had to learn that, because her Hero might also be a Prince. As both our parents, the king and queen, were fond of telling us, it’s immense help to a king to have a queen who is well versed in all aspects of statecraft, including trade and taxes. I’m afraid I didn’t pay much attention, though, because I knew I’d never need it. Jasmine excelled in it, because she was going to have to rule after our father the king, which delighted him.

None of us could actually get engaged until Eleanor had had whatever-it-was, of course. But as the years went on it seemed that the palace was always full of various princes, courting one or another of us, or just hanging around. There’s no lack of small kingdoms like ours, which means lots of alliances and treaties. There’s nothing like a marriage to cement peaceful relations between kingdoms. I never doubted that Megan and even Juniper would wind up marrying some prince or other.

Grace has a lovely singing voice, so I assumed some blind harper would probably snap her up.

Which left me as the only one with no prospects at all.

By the time that Eleanor was 16, and it was reasonable to think that her adventure would happen soon, I was  29. Jasmine had taken over a lot of the State duties for our father, and I was helping with judgements and so on, but I still hadn’t figured out what I was going to do with myself once Eleanor was settled. Most of the younger ones had “understandings” with various princes by then.

I liked all the princes, which was good since a lot of them might wind up being my brothers-in-law, but I mostly sat back and watched rather than joining in. I mean, really, who would want to dance with me? If I stumbled, and I probably would, I might lurch against him and crush him like a bug! They asked, but I knew they were just being polite, so I always refused.

Instead, I concentrated on being happy for the younger ones, and tried not to think of myself too often.

Then it happened, right on schedule.

My parents noticed that Eleanor, who had always had a complexion like a blush rose, was getting paler and paler. She stopped eating, and started mostly playing with her food. She was tired and listless all day, and sometimes her bed looked as if she hadn’t been in it all night.

My father the king knew exactly what to do. He’d been preparing for this for years, after all. As soon as he realized that this was finally it, he sent one of his councilors to check on her in the dead of night. Sure enough, she was missing; but the door guard swore that she hadn’t left the room, and she wouldn’t say where she’d gone, or why.

He sent out a proclamation that very morning, announcing that he would give the hand of a princess in marriage to anyone who could solve the mystery.

All the princes who had been hanging around lined up. A fair number of young, unmarried men who weren’t royalty did, as well. (So did a few who were not young, but after a hurried consultation with my mother the queen, they were disqualified. The proclamation was amended to read “young men (under 35 years of age.)”

I expected Eleanor to perk up. After all, she’d been waiting her whole life for this. But I caught her peeking between the curtains at the line of men signing up for their chance, with tears in her eyes.

“Eleanor?” I said, as softly as I could. “Come to your Gayla,” and I held out my arms. She came, and leaned against me, crying her eyes out. “Do you want to talk about it?”

She burrowed into my shoulder, and then mumbled, almost too softly to hear, “I hate Destiny. Hate it, hate it, hate it.”

I sat down on the bench next to the window, and took her onto my lap. Great girl that she was, I was still much bigger, and had no problem at all cuddling her as if she was still six, with a banged up knee. “Don’t you want to have your Adventure?”

She sat up, and glared at me. “No! It’s stupid! Just because I’m youngest, I’m going to have to marry one of them.” she spat it out like a curse. This girl, who’d spent her childhood dancing around, singing and teasing the rest of us about her Adventure, no longer wanted any part of it! I have to admit, I was stunned.

She collapsed against me again. “Oh Gayla! I wish I was you, not me!”

“Me!?”

She nodded, sobbing. “You’ll never be forced to marry someone you don’t like, while your True Love is out there.”

Oh. “Eleanor,” I said, as softly as I could, “Have you met someone you want to marry?”

She nodded. I handed her my handkerchief. She blew her nose.

“Are you sure that he’s not out there in line, in disguise?” After all, that’s what I would have done, if it had been me in love with a princess. This was the chance for anyone to win her hand, and our parents the king and queen wouldn’t be able to object, no matter what.

“He can’t be.” She sniffled.

“Why not?” I asked. “Oh Eleanor… he’s not a vampire or something, is he?”

She smiled sadly, and shook her head.

“Is he under an enchantment?”

She sat up and looked at me, as serious as I’ve ever seen her. “Can I really, really trust you?”

That hurt, but I tried to hide it. “Oh dear heart! Of course you can!”

She held up her little finger. “Pinky swear?”

I hooked it with mine, without a moment’s hesitation. “Pinky swear!”

She looked up and down the hallway. When you have 11 sisters, you learn to be cautious.

“He lives in an underground kingdom, and the gate only opens when the moon shines on it.”

“Ah.” My father the king didn’t want to waste any more time than had already gone by. He’d been waiting too long, and he wasn’t a patient man. So all applicants had to be signed in today, the same day as the proclamation, although from the looks of that line it would take weeks for each of them to have their night.

Unless the answer was found before that, of course.

“Okay. This is what we’ll do,” I said. I had her total attention now.

“If this batch all washes out, then our father the king will have to open the competition again, and your beau can nip out while the gate is open, wait for the morning and the new proclamation, and be first in line.”

She nodded mournfully. “But what if this group doesn’t all wash out?”

“I don’t suppose that you could just go without seeing your prince for a few weeks?”

Her eyes got huge, and she clutched her heart. “I couldn’t!”

“Not even if it meant that you’d be able to marry him eventually?”

She started to cry again, and shook her head.

“Then I’ll see to it that all the ones in this group fail. A sleeping draught is easy enough to make. If they’re asleep, they can’t very well follow you when you sneak out at night.”

She gave me a tentative, watery smile. “You’d do that for me?”

“To see you happy? Of course I would.”

So that’s what we did.

For the next two weeks, I fixed a sleeping potion every night, and every night I’d give it to that night’s prince (or whoever) as he got ready to wait and watch on the couch in Eleanor’s room. Every night, it made him super alert for the first 10 minutes or so, and then he’d sleep soundly. Once he was snoring, Eleanor would creep out, see her prince, and sneak back in.

Every morning, the poor prince (or whoever) would stand before the court, and admit that he’d seen nothing; just the princess laying there. Some of them said she was there all night, and some admitted that they weren’t able to stay awake, but none knew where she went. Only a couple were dishonorable (or desperate) enough to make up stories; but they had no evidence, and broke down under cross-examination.

Eleanor still looked wan, because she still wasn’t getting any sleep to speak of, and she was still not sure that our little ploy would work as we hoped.

In the meantime, all the princes kept hanging around, as they had for years, except now they were joined by an odd assortment of other young men, from the traditional soldiers and woodcutters to the occasional clerk or farmer. We even had one artist, a tall, handsome fellow, who painted little miniatures of all my sisters and thrilled them to bits. He offered to paint mine, too, but I didn’t want one. You wouldn’t either, if you were me. He was fun to talk with, though.

I did what I could to make them all feel comfortable and welcome. My father the king was at his most jovial, since the Long Wait (as he put it) was coming to an end. My mother was a little on the frantic side, as she prepared for a dozen weddings all at once. She was convinced that the rest of us would be married within the week, once Eleanor was “taken care of.”

For those two weeks, all went well, and I was sure it would continue to do so.

Then it was the artist’s turn.

As I handed him the potion, he asked me, “What’s this for?”

None of the others had asked; they all seemed to assume that I wanted my sister married as quickly as could be, so I would be on their side, of course.

For a moment, I couldn’t think of anything to say. Then I said, “I just thought you might want something to drink.”

He reached out, and took the goblet, examining it carefully. Then he looked up, and pinned me with his gaze. “Do you bring this to all the suitors?” he asked.

I smiled. “Of course!”

He nodded. “Of course.”

I watched while he drank it, but the room was dim, and his clothes were covered with stains and blotches from all the paint. I never noticed him dribbling it down his chin, and into his smock.

He handed me back the empty goblet, and I smiled, told him to take care, and left.

My heart was lighter than usual, because the moon was waning. The next night there would be no moon, and it would be safe. More fool I.

The next morning, as usual, we all assembled in the throne room.

Eleanor looked worse than ever, because she knew that she wasn’t going to be seeing her love for a day or so. I was on edge, although I didn’t know why. My other ten sisters were getting impatient; they’d hoped to have this settled by now. The rest of the court was enjoying the show.

The trumpets sounded, the double doors were flung open, and the artist walked up to the thrones with a huge grin on his face. My heart fell to my slippers.

“Well?” my father the king bellowed. Not to be alarmed. He usually does.

The artist gave a sweeping and courtly bow. “Your Majesty, I have solved the riddle!” And he proceeded to lay out the whole thing. How as soon as the moon rose, my sister got out of bed, and tapped on the wall, opening a secret door. How she crept out, and he followed. All about the meeting with a prince dressed in white velvet, moonstones, and pearls. How they whispered vows of undying love, and spoke of the gate being closed except when the moon shone on it. He even had a tiny piece of the prince’s cloak, which had gotten caught on a bush, and tore off as he rushed to get back inside before the gate closed at moon-set.

As he spoke, poor little Eleanor got paler and paler. When he held up the scrap of white velvet, with tiny moonstones sewn to it, she was as white as it was.

Everyone in the court could tell that the story was true. There was no sense in denying any of it.

My father the king sighed, took her hand, and held it out to the artist.

“You have solved the mystery, and her hand is yours,” he said. I don’t think he was happy. He did love her, the most beautiful of his daughters, and she was obviously heart broken.

“Sire,” the artist said, “Your proclamation stated that I could have the hand of any of the princesses.”

My father the king blinked, and said, “You don’t want Princess Eleanor?”

He shook his head. “No sire. I have no wish to break a maiden’s heart.”

Eleanor smiled like the sun coming out. “Oh thank you!” she cried. I don’t think anyone has ever been so delighted to be rejected, before or since.

My father the king let go of her hand, and she quickly withdrew it. “I don’t understand! Would you rather have another of my daughters?”

He nodded solemnly. “Yes, sire, I would.”

“Well, which one?”

There was a rustle among my sisters. He was just an artist, although he was very handsome. I could tell that some were hoping it was them, and some were hoping he’d choose someone else, because of their “understandings.” Jasmine’s jaw muscles bunched, and I knew she was thinking that he was going to claim her, and through her, the throne.

But he smiled, and looked right at me. “Princess Gayla,” he said.

I sat there, stunned, while the room erupted in cheers.

Jasmine and Grace, sitting on either side of me, nudged me. I got to my feet, and stumbled over to my father. He took my hand, smiling as if it would crack his face, and put it in the hand of the artist. He’d scrubbed his hands well. There was only a hint of paint left, around his cuticles.

“Why me?” I asked, under the noise of the crowd.

He smiled fondly at me. “Because you’re the kindest.”

“But I’m so ugly!”

His eyebrows shot to the top of his forehead, and he stared at me. “Why would you say that? You’re lovely!”

I just stared back, thinking that perhaps he needed spectacles too.

He smiled. He has a wonderful smile. “You’ll make a striking queen, as well as a kind one.”

I smiled ruefully back at him. “Oh dear. I’m afraid that it doesn’t work that way. You have me, but not the title.”

“Oh, right! I was forgetting.” He grinned, and winked at me.

“Your Majesty!” he had to bellow almost as loudly as my father the king to be heard. But the crowd quieted as soon as he had.

“Yes?”

“I have a confession to make.” He let go of my hand, and ripped off his old paint-stained smock.

You can guess what happened next.

Sure enough, under it he was wearing a doublet made of cloth of gold, with emeralds sewn in an intricate pattern all over it. “Art is only a hobby of mine. I’m really Prince Giles, heir to the kingdom of Luxinstan.”

I thought the cheering had been loud before. The court pretty much exploded at that. I mean really, hats were tossed, the trumpeters each started to play a different fanfare for no particular reason, children were shouting and jumping up and down. It was just bedlam. After all, Luxinstan is the largest, richest kingdom around here, and my father had been trying to set up an alliance with them for ages. Being allied through marriage pretty much meant that there would be peace in this corner of the world for the foreseeable future.

So my mother was right. She did have to arrange a duodecuple wedding, (which was probably less work than 12 separate ones, but still.) Eleanor married her Prince, and was glowing so brightly she was practically luminous. They got married here, and also in his kingdom, because, as she said, anything worth doing was worth doing more than once. Jasmine married the prince she’d picked out to be her king nearly a decade before, and all the others married the princes they had understandings with. Even Grace married a prince, not a blind harper after all.

It turns out that looks aren’t everything, although Giles still insists that I’m not lacking in that department.

But I do wish I’d paid a bit more attention during Statecraft lessons. Life is a weird, unexpected journey. You never know what you’re going to need.


So, that’s the new story promised every-other-Saturday. I’m sorry there’s no picture for this one. I’ve been pretty sick, and didn’t manage to make one. 🙁

I hope you like the story! If you want to keep ’em coming, please consider joining my Patreon. Thanks!

Bully for You

Another Kip Andrews story! Enjoy. It’ll be up here for everyone to read for free until July 2, and then I’ll be moving it to Kindle.


I was in the middle of a book when the big Glass in the living room chimed.

“Kip, can you get that?” My mother was in the kitchen, making dinner.

I sighed, put my book down and got it.

“Kip Andrews.” The glass cleared, responding to my voice, and revealed a very pretty lady with a huge smile.

“Hi!” she said, all bright and chirpy, “This is Dana from the Pertwee Magical Supplies Assessment Office. Is a parent home?”

“Sure. Please wait a moment.”

I went into the kitchen, “It’s a lady from some Pertwee place.”

Mom put down the apple she was slicing. “Oh good!” She hastily wiped her hands on her apron, and bustled out of the room, calling “Keep your fingers out of that salad!” over her shoulder.

Fair enough. I opened the drawer, and got out an eating knife. No fingers, as ordered.

A squeal from the living room stopped me cold, with my knife poised over the bowl. My mother is not the squealing type.

“Mom? Are you okay?” No answer. I dropped the knife, and rushed into the living room.

“Mom?”

“Oh Kip!” my mom grabbed my hands, and twirled me around. My mom does not do things like that! I pulled my hands free.

“Mom, what happened?”

She clasped her hands under her chin, beaming at me, with tears in her eyes.

“Kip, we had the wood from the tree assessed. It’s all pure Lighting Struck Oak, grade 4, worth 3 ells a decidun. A decidun Kip! And we have a whole tree of it!”

We had a whole tree, because a couple of weeks ago, lightning struck the tree in front of our house, almost killing my brother, Jasper. Usually, lightning struck oak gets burned, or some of the tree isn’t energized. But this had been a big bolt, followed by enough rain to quench any fire. Grade 4 meant it was super charged, and the wood was sound, in pieces big enough to carve things out of.

“Now, we won’t get that much, of course. That’s retail, and we’ll be selling to them wholesale, but still, it’s going to come to several million!” My mom gave a little hop. I could see why. I couldn’t help grinning myself.

We were rich.

This was going to change everything.

By the time I got to school the next day, everyone knew. I have no idea how. I sure hadn’t told anyone. But somehow, the news had spread, and everyone was staring at me.

This was not going to make my life easier.

“Hey, Rich Kid!” I froze. I knew that voice. Lem Carter. He was the biggest kid in school by a fair piece, and he was an equal-opportunity bully. He picked on everyone. But there are degrees of being picked on.

Until two weeks ago, I’d been low on his list.

Yeah, I was hopeless in magic class, but I was a whiz in math. It evened out, at least in Lem’s tiny mind. Until I saved my brother’s life by using magic to get that tree off his throat. Some kids flat didn’t believe I’d done it, and Lem was their leader.

“I hear you got a pile from that tree. What say you give me a thousand or so?” He poked me in the shoulder. A tiny hint of what would happen if I didn’t.

I closed my locker, swiping the crystal to make sure he could see it was locked. Then I turned, swallowed the lump in my throat, and looked at him.

“Are you crazy? It’s not my money. It’s my parent’s!”

“Is that so? Hummmm… “ he rubbed his chin, pretending to consider, but his eyes were narrowed and gleeful. “Well, I guess I’ll just have to be content with whatever you have on you, then.” He grinned.

I scanned the hall. No teachers. Of course. Just his backup squad, cutting me off from everyone else.

I gave him a friendly smile. I hoped.

“Why do you think I have cash, Lem?” I could hardly hear myself over the pounding of my pulse in my ears.

His smile turned meaner than ever. “That’s a point. And I can’t ask you to glass it, you’d only stop the payment.” He paused. “I know! You can bring me cash tomorrow.” He stopped smiling. “At least 100.”

“Why do you think my folks would hand me 100 in cash?”

“You better pray that they do, Stunto. Just pray that they do.”

He laughed, and he and his so-called friends turned and sauntered away. I leaned back against the lockers, trying not to be sick. There was no way I could get that much money. No way.

After that, things just went from bad to worse. Of course. It was Tuesday, and that meant Magic Lab.

I’ve hated magic since I can remember. Two weeks ago, the very day that lightning struck, I realized it’s because I hate change. Magic makes things change into things they have no business being. I mean, I guess I don’t hate the magical tech, or anything. I’m not a Fudder. But tech is different. It’s not something I have to do, myself.

I had hoped that when I understood what my problem was, it would go away, at least enough to get through Magic Lab. But no such luck. It seems that just knowing why isn’t enough. I still had a hard time making myself do it.

So there I was as usual, making a mess of Larkin’s Smooth Surface. It has an easy sigil, which I’d already drawn, but it takes more power to activate than anything we’d done.

Mr. Wilfred had given us all little petri dishes full of dirt. Mine was mixed mud, gravel, and what looked like a crumpled candy wrapper. The spell was supposed to turn the whole thing into a polished slab.

Most of the other kids weren’t having any problems. Their dirt melted and flowed into what looked like marble.

But mine just sat there, stubbornly remaining a handful of dirt. Probably from the playground.

Jamie, who was next to me, leaned over. “Having trouble, Stunto?” she whispered. Then she looked quickly to the table past hers, where Lem was leering as he watched.

I didn’t blame Jamie. She didn’t want to be on Lem’s bad side. No one does. Of course, all his sides are bad, but you know what I mean.

I ignored her.

“Someone who can work half a tree of Lighting Struck Oak shouldn’t have any problems with a measly little smoothing spell.”

I sighed. “What are you trying to say?” I looked past her, at Lem. I knew who was the puppet, and who the puppeteer. And I wasn’t going to waste words talking with the puppet.

“Admit it, Stunto.” He left Jamie out, too. “That tree missed your brother. He broke his arm falling, and you stepped in and took all the credit. You just wanted to look a little less like the Magical Stunto that everyone knows you are.”

“Believe what you want.”

“Oh, no. I’ll believe the truth. And the truth is that you are just a pathetic Stunto. You’re not fooling anyone. If you could do magic, you would. But you can’t, can you, Stunto?”

Around me, I could hear the whispers starting. “Stunto, stunto… “

Mr. Wilfred looked up, from where he was helping Sherri Therein, in the front of the room.

“Lem, do you need something?”

“No, sir.”

We all turned back to our dishes. I hate Magic Lab.

I tossed my stuff onto my desk, and looked over at Jasper. That’s my brother. He’s Perfect, you know. But right now, he has yellow bruises all over, especially on his throat, and his arm is in a cast.

He was reading, with his face all kind of screwed up.

I’ve been trying to be gentle with him, since the accident. I don’t really mean gentle; that’s not the right word. It’s more like he’s taken care of me, ever since I can remember. So I’ve been trying to take care of him. Like the power running the other way, or something. Anyway, I’ve been trying not to bug him.

But this was too much for me, and he was still my big brother, so…

“Jasper, I have a problem.”

He looked up, his eyes clouded. “Oh, for…   What now?” He sounded disgusted. He never sounds disgusted.

“There’s this kid at school, Lem Carter.. “

He rubbed his hand over his eyes. “Let me guess. He’s being a bully.”

“How did you know?”

“He has a brother in the year below mine. Bad news.”

I sighed with relief. I didn’t have to explain.

“Yeah, and he’s telling me that I have to bring 100 ell in cash to school tomorrow, and give it to him.”

Jasper frowned. “Where did he get the idea that you have that kind of money?”

I shrugged. “I dunno. It seems like everyone knows about the tree, and that we’re rich now.”

“We’re not rich now. We’ll be rich in a couple of months, when the sale of the tree goes through, and all the taxes are paid. That kind of money takes a while to set up and transfer.”

“Yeah, I know. I tried to tell him.”

“What do you want from me, Kip? I can’t go to your school and beat him up for you. This is your problem. You handle it. You know what to do. Tell someone, ignore him, make a joke – Mom’s told you all of this.” He went back to his reading.

“Jasper? But.. “

He slammed the book down. “Just leave me alone for once in your life, and don’t keep asking me to do everything for you! Okay?” He got up, and left the room.

He’s changed. I mean, I know he’s in pain and all of that. Mom says he’s coming to grips with his own mortality, whatever that means. But still.

My old brother’s superior attitude could be really annoying. But right then, I wanted my old brother back.

Did you know that you can mold mashed potatoes like clay? They’re lots softer, but they can hold a form, for a while.

“Kip, that’s enough.”

I looked up at my Dad.

“Stop playing with your food, and eat it.”

I sliced the head off the tiny statue of Lem, lying defeated on my plate, and dutifully ate it.

“What’s wrong, Kip?”

“Lem Carter,” said Jasper. Traitor.

“Who is Lem Carter?” my dad was puzzled.

“This kid at Kip’s school. He’s decided to extort 100 ell from Kip, or the beatings will commence.”

I glowered at him, but he ignored me.

“Oh Kip!” said my mom, putting her knife down. “That’s serious! What did your principal say when you told her?”

I looked away. “I can’t tell her. It’ll just make him worse. I was hoping Jasper would have some useful trick, or I wouldn’t have told him, either.” I shot him an accusing glare.

“I’m glad Jasper told us,” said Dad. “And we will certainly let your principal know. This ends here.”

But it wouldn’t. I knew it wouldn’t. It would only give Lem a real reason to hate me.

“Kip,” said my mom, “I’ve taught you how to handle a bully, haven’t I?”

I nodded. Only about a thousand times.

“A bully targets you because they’re jealous, to feel powerful, or to look popular. Some are being bullied themselves, or in other kinds of intolerable situations. You need to understand, reframe the bullying, and treat them with empathy and .. .”

I tuned her out. Yeah, yeah. Poor unfortunate bully. Acting out because they’re so unhappy. Yada yada. There are other ways to handle unhappiness that don’t involve making everyone else miserable. I’m sorry, but I didn’t pity Lem a bit. I thought he probably deserved whatever bad stuff might be happening to him.

“Understand? Kip?”

I snapped back, and quickly reran the conversation in my head. Oh no! They were seriously going to talk with my principal!

“Mom, Dad, really, I can take care of it. Okay?” He’d break my bones if I got him kicked out of school! Then I remembered my parents gushing over the idea of a new house. “Besides, we’re going to move soon, right? I can handle it a while longer. Please.”

They looked at each other doubtfully.

“Even if we had the money in hand, Kip, it will take at least six months before we can move. I really think we should have a meeting with your principal,” said Dad.

“But what if he was just kidding?”

“Do you really think that’s a possibility?”

“Maybe? Please.. Just don’t go to the school about it.”

“Okay. Unless he actually assaults you, we’ll let it ride. For now.”

Predictably, Lem was waiting for me in the hall by my locker.

“Hi, Stunto the Rich Kid,” he grinned, and held out his hand.

I don’t know what came over me, but I reached out and shook it.

His little cohort whooped with laughter, but he pulled his hand out of mine and scowled. “Yeah, good joke. I want 100 ell, punk.”

I smiled innocently at him. “I can understand that. I’d like 100 ell, too. But you know, neither of us actually has that kind of money.” In fact, I didn’t have cash at all. I’d made sure of that.

“Yeah? I gave you a whole day to come up with it.”

“I could explain how long it takes to actually get money when you’re selling magical supplies, but you’re not interested, are you?”

He grinned evilly. “No, I’m not. Tell ya what, since you don’t have cash, I’ll take that jacket.”

“This jacket? It would never fit you!” It just popped out.

“Yeah, that’s a point. Tell you what, give it to me, and I’ll sell it.” He smirked. “It would be nicer if you just handed it over now. I’ll get it, one way or another, and I’d prefer it without bloodstains. They’re such a nuisance to remove.”

He advanced, and I retreated, looking quickly over my shoulder. No teachers. How did he do that? If I tried to do anything bad, a teacher always popped up! Maybe I should do something against the rules now, and conjure one.

He took another step forward, and I took another back. Thinking about rule-breaking had given me an idea.

Most people need to physically draw sigils before activating them. But there are people who can do magic in their heads. They don’t need to draw anything. They just visualize the sigil on the thing they want to change, activate it, and wham.

I’d never been able to do that. I’d barely managed to do any spells, no matter how carefully I drew the sigils, except in an emergency.

Judging from the racing of my heart, this was one. And Larkin’s Smooth Surface has a really simple sigil.

I pictured it on the floor, as clearly as I could, and activated it as strongly as I was able. I couldn’t tell if the floor was any slicker than it had been. It was pretty polished anyway.

I took another step back.

Lem and his friends took another step forward. And it was perfect! Their feet went right out from under them, landing them smack on their rumps! They tried to get up, but they couldn’t; the floor was too slippery. They just kept sliding around, while the ones who hadn’t fallen laughed like loons.

And yep, there was a teacher, right on cue.

I reversed the spell as quickly as I could, and was relieved to see that worked too. As they climbed to their feet, I murmured, “You wanted to see me do magic.”

Lem glared. His face was brick red. “Just you wait, Kip Andrews” he whispered.

Oh no. I’d only postponed the beating. I was dead meat.

I couldn’t concentrate on any of my classes after that. Well, who could have?

Everything I knew about bullies and how to deal with them kept going round and round in my head. I knew that nothing worked with every bully, but there had to be something that would work with this one. Negotiation didn’t work. Joking didn’t work. Placating didn’t work. Nothing worked! It was horrible! There was nothing I could do!

But then I looked at Lem’s broad back in the seat in front of me, and remembered what Jasper had said, about Lem’s brother. For my whole life, Jasper had always been kind and patient; someone I could depend on. Right then, he was in a bunch of pain, and snappish from it, but even so, I knew he would never beat me up.

What would it be like to have an older brother like Lem had, instead. To be afraid of someone in your own family? Someone you could not escape?

His parents must be just as bad, or they would have stopped it.

That would be awful!

He didn’t even have any friends. All he had were followers, who followed from fear. I mean, I don’t have a ton of friends. But I do have a couple, and we’re friends because we like each other. He had no one.

It’s strange, but I really did feel sorry for him. I wished he could have a friend. A real friend, who wasn’t afraid of him.

How would I act around him, if we were friends?

I was musing it over, kind of lost in that alternate reality, when my pencil broke. Without thinking, I leaned forward, and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around, with his mouth open, and one eyebrow raised.

“Got a spare pencil I can borrow, please?” I whispered.

He glanced at the teacher, then back at me, and wordlessly handed me a pencil.

“Thanks!” I smiled at him.

“No problem.” He looked kind of pole-axed, and turned back to his work.

After school, sure enough, there he was by my locker. But his hands were shoved deeply into his pockets.

“Why did you do that?” he blurted out, as soon as I was in hearing distance.

I shrugged. “I broke my pencil, and didn’t have a spare.”

He shook his head.

“I really don’t have the money, you know.”

He shrugged. “It’s not important.” He looked at me quizzically. “I can’t figure you out, you know?”

“What’s to figure?”

Lem shrugged, looking puzzled.

I pulled the pencil out of my case. “Here. Thanks for the loan!”

He took it from me, and carefully put it in his own case.

Then he looked up. “You’re all right. You know that?” He turned, and walked off.

I thought about that all the way home. We’ll probably never be real friends. But at least he was off my back. And really, he’s not completely evil.

New Story on Patreon

I just put a new story up on my Patreon page, for those people who subscribe at $5 a month or more.

This could be you!

The story is from a collection that I’m tentatively calling The Dreamweaver’s Tales. Here’s the introduction for the collection.


The Dreamweaver

Introduction to the Dreamweaver’s Stories
by Robin Wood

Long ago, in the Before Time, our arm of the galaxy twirled through a spoke of the Cosmos that was filled with Enchantment. In those days, all the world was thick with Magic, and fantastical creatures roamed land and sea, bringing joy or terror, according to their natures.

There were many kingdoms then that have since fallen to dust, and even the ever-so-very-great grandchildren of the ancient Kings and Queens no longer remember their names.

You might be one, all unknowing.

In one of those kingdoms there was a mighty city, with walls and towers of shining alabaster that blazed white in the sun. Many-hued banners snapped in the breeze at the tops of the towers, and the air was filled with the perfume of a thousand flowers.

There was a bustling marketplace there, where hundreds of merchants hawked their wares under colorful canopies. There were rows of booths filled with amazing fabrics, shimmering in the sunlight. There were hidden nooks where mysterious figures shrouded in robes stiff with mystical embroidery sold jeweled treasures glimmering with magic. There were pens and cages filled with animals from every corner of the globe, from small crested dragons no bigger than your thumb to towering, tusked creatures that were armored for war. There were sections filled with a thousand musical instruments, all inlaid woods and gleaming strings. There were whole squares given to selling foods from plain bread rolls to the most exotic spiced confections you can think of.

Imagine it, if you will.

Picture the rows of booths, each with its bright awning to shade the buyers and sellers. Picture the sunlight, dazzling as it reflects from polished wood, metal, and precious stones.

Picture the sounds with your mind’s ear; the sweet notes of women singing of perfumes and baubles to entice customers. The harsh bellows of men outshouting each other in their attempt to engage the crowd. The calls of the livestock, the peals of metal chimes, the snatches of song played by wandering minstrels, the calls of the street performers, all mixed into a cacophony that somehow blends into a busy, harmonious whole.

Picture the scents with your mind’s nose, perfume, and heat, the spicy musk of the wooly beasts, spices, rare woods, meltingly delicious desserts, and the cool fragrance of growing plants.

Picture the crowds, dressed in clothing from all the world, feathers nodding in an elaborate head dress here, long sleeves flowing there. Bare feet, scarlet slippers, and tooled leather boots with curled toes all vying for space on the red porphyry pavement. Children in splendid finery, and children in little more than rags laughing and playing as they slipped through the crowds together.

Let us follow two of them, a boy and a girl in plain homespun with just a touch of embroidery, as they race below the elbows of their elders.

Together, they weave their way past the booth where an old, old woman is selling sweets dripping with honey. Past the fat, bearded old man with ranks of toys. Past the young woman with bunches of bright ribbons. Not even pausing for the flute player, or the puppets, or the man with a basket of silky-furred puppies.

Down to the far corner of the market they run, to a nondescript tent of dusty brown, with a single silver star on a deep blue banner trailing down the side.

Here they pause, catching their breath and each other’s hands. And then they lift the flap and slip inside.

Inside, all the noise and light from the market are gone. Inside, it’s quiet and cool, and stars glimmer in the twilight. Inside, it’s outside, on a still hilltop, on a summer evening.

There are other children here, and grown-ups, too, all sitting in a circle, watching a still figure draped in white.

For a moment she remains motionless, as we settle in the circle with the others.

Then she lifts her head, and smiles gently.

“I spin you a dream,” her soft voice stirs her listeners. “a dream from the Borderlands between this world and the next.”

Then she lifts her hands, and starlight and dream-stuff pour between them. She gathers it up, spins it into shimmering strands, and from the strands she weaves a visible dream. A dream of shifting colors and flowing shapes, of light and substance. Of pale shadows and strong sparks.

A dream of Good and Evil. Of how our smallest choices can make huge differences. Of the warmth and courage of the human heart.

This is a Dreamweaver, and these are some of her Dreams.

The End – Or perhaps The Beginning

If you want to read the first one now, instead of waiting for a month for it, you can support me on Patreon.

There will be another story posted here tomorrow; it’s the next Kip Andrews. Those are written in a totally different style than the fairytales, like the Dreamweaver’s stories. You might like it better, or you might not. I’d love to hear one way or the other.

Finally, for people from Second Life, the mesh for the hammock that I showed yesterday is finished!

hammock for Second Life, work in progress, with no textures
The finished mesh for the hammock.

I still need to make all the textures, the LODs, bring it into SL, and assign animations and script it so the hammock will swing. So yeah, next week, at the earliest.

In the meantime, I hope you all have a wonderful weekend, and I’ll see you tomorrow!


Picture – a shot I took in a glassblower’s booth at the Michigan Renaissance Festival in Holly, MI. I wish I knew whose work it was, but sadly I didn’t keep a note of it. (If you know, please tell me!)

Expectations

I was working on an embroidery panel for Sami’s wedding dress when I heard the unmistakable sound of a mouse skittering through the wall. My house is warded against natural mice, of course, so I checked the magic signature to see who it was.

Then I heard the scrabbling as he emerged into my pantry! I jabbed the needle into the cloth to hold it, and practically threw the whole piece onto my side table.

“Willoby Jamison Vogelman, don’t you dare touch my food in mouse-form!”

There was a flash of magic, and my great-grandson sauntered out of the pantry, with a brownie in each hand.

“How did you know it was me?” he asked with his mouth full. He was scattering crumbs everywhere. I have no idea why ten year old boys disdain little niceties like plates and forks, but in my experience they all do.

“I have ways.” One thing I’ve learned, with 3 children, 9 grandchildren, and 21 great-grandchildren is never to tell them how you know things about them. Not until they are old enough to need the tricks for their own youngsters. Thinking that adults simply know everything is a powerful deterrent, and with a brood like mine, I need all the deterrents I can get!

He settled on the stool in front of me, chewing serenely.

“You’re making crumbs in my sitting room.”

In reply, he shoved both brownies into his mouth at once. They didn’t fit, of course. The child has a wide mouth, but I am generous when I cut my brownies. He made a valiant effort, but crumbs leaked everywhere. I thought about requiring him to return to mouse form and eat them off the floor, but he would probably enjoy that. So I just glared at him instead.

For some reason, that made him grin, which made the crumb problem worse. I decided to ignore him, and picked up the embroidery, making sure the charm that kept the white from getting smudged with anything, including chocolate, was intact.

Will chewed energetically and watched me work until the double brownies were gone.

“Why didn’t you want me to eat in mouse-form? I would have gotten full more quickly.”

“You know that only lasts while you are a mouse. As soon as you became a boy, you’d have been as ravenous as ever. And I’d have been left with half-nibbled brownies, and tiny chocolate footprints all over the pantry.”

“What would you have done if I’d stayed a mouse?”

Will is one of the ones who always wants to know the outcomes of every possible choice. Not a bad trait; it will make him a careful, thoughtful adult. But at the moment, he’s still a child, and sometimes prone to repeating behavior, good or bad, to test the variables.

“I’d have dragged you out of the pantry by your tail, and warded it against you for a week.”

He looked at me, his hazel eyes full of mischief and speculation. “But would you have been able to catch me?”

I almost laughed. “We can try the experiment any time you like.”

He smiled and sat back. He has learned that when I’m that sure, it’s not wise to test me. Besides, I never, ever, lie to any of them, and they know that.

I finished the leaf I was stitching, and cut the thread.

“So, to what do I owe the pleasure?” I asked. There are times my family drops in just to visit, but I was pretty sure this wasn’t one of them.

“Mom sent me,” he answered. “She said to give you this.” He fished in his pocket, and pulled out a note. It wasn’t in bad shape, considering everything I was sure had happened to it since his mother handed it to him.

I set aside the embroidery, broke the seal on the note, and spread it on my lap, smoothing the wrinkles enough to read it. I was being invited to dinner on Friday.

That was odd. Not the invitation; I was frequently asked to join my various family groups to share meals, celebrations, and so on. But generally not in writing.

Will craned his neck, trying to see, and I realized that for some reason, Peg hadn’t wanted him to know I was coming. I folded the note in half, thwarting his efforts, and tucked it in my work basket. Peg hadn’t given me any details, so she was either assuming I could handle whatever it was on the fly, or that I already knew what was going on.

Sometimes giving grandchildren the illusion that you know everything can come back and bite you!


On Friday, I showed up at Peg’s house punctually at 4:00, as requested. I find punctuality important. It allows people to plan.

“Nana!” Peg greeted me warmly. “Thank you so much for coming!”

I laughed and hugged her as tightly as I could with one arm occupied. “Of course! Now, care to tell me what this is about?”

“It’s Steph. She’s very troubled, but she won’t tell either Greg or me what is wrong. We tried to send her to you, but she won’t go. So I decided to bring you to her.”

“Ah. Why the note and the mystery?”

She shook her head and smiled, “You know Will; he’s such a tease. If he knew, he’d be likely to taunt Steph with it, and close her up tighter than ever.”

Steph is one of my younger great grands. She’s only seven, and very quiet and reserved. Unlike the rest, she never changes into something unexpected and just pops over and lets herself into my house. When she does come to visit, she always knocks on the door, and always in human form.

I put the cake I’d brought on the kitchen table.

“Where is she now?”

“On the swings. She’s been spending most of her time there. What a lovely cake! You didn’t have to!”

I just smiled. If I ever showed up without something good to eat, I’m fairly sure they’d all wonder if it was really me.

I let myself out the back, and walked to the little copse where the swings are. I could see Steph, her back to the house, listlessly kicking the ground in a half-hearted attempt to swing. Something wrong, indeed.

She looked up as I took the swing next to her. “Grandnana. I knew they’d make you come.”

Might as well get right to the point. “They are worried, because they love you.”

She turned her head away, but not before I saw her eyes fill with tears.

“They won’t, when they know.”

Oh dear. This was worse than I thought. I stood up, gathered her out of her swing, and carried her over to the double glider. I’m so glad young children are small enough to pick up easily!

For a while, I just held her and swung gently, while she cried. “That’s right.” I murmured, “Let the tears wash the pain away. And know that I will always love you, no matter what.”

She wrapped her arms around me, and wept for a while.

“Now,” I said, “who did you murder?” She was startled enough to laugh, and doing that while crying caused her to hiccup. Loudly. Which made her gulp and half laugh again.

She sat up, and I handed her a handkerchief to dry her tears. She took it, took care of herself, and shook her head.

“It’s not that! You know I’d never do that, right?”

“I didn’t think so.” I gave her a squeeze. “So, we’ve established it’s not as horrible as murder. What is it?”

She sighed, and relaxed against me. “You know they teach shape-shifting in second grade, right?”

I did, indeed. Although my descendants  generally figure it out well before that. I’d never seen Steph – oh no. I knew where this was going.

Sure enough, she started to sob again. “I tried, Grandnana. I tried really hard. They’re going to kick me out of the family, aren’t they? Please don’t hate me, Grandnana! Please!”

I held her as tightly as I could, and covered the top of her head with kisses.

“Oh, my poor little Stephie! My very own, dear little Stephie! Of course not! I’m so sorry you thought that for a minute! You’re our own darling Steph, and we don’t care a bit if you can’t Shift! Not everyone can, you know!”

“Everyone in this family can! Everyone but me. I’m a failure.”

She was holding me so tightly that it hurt. She had accidentally grabbed a pinch of my skin, under my shirt. I’d have a bruise there tomorrow, but that was insignificant next to this.

“No, honey bunch, you are not a failure. Don’t say that about my great-granddaughter. Lack of one talent does not a failure make.

Besides, haven’t I taught you that people may fail at many things, but people, themselves, are never failures?”

She nodded, and sat up slightly, releasing her hold. Oh thank goodness!

“But you are so famous for shifting, and I can’t do it at all! People will make fun of me.”

I held her close, taking her hand in mine. She could hold my hand as tightly as she liked. “What will they say?” I asked.

“They’ll say I can’t Shift!”

“Is that true, as far as we know right now?”

She sniffed, and nodded miserably.

“Then say, ‘Yes. And?'”

“What?”

I sighed. “People who tease are trying to get a reaction from you. Lots of times, they don’t care what reaction, as long as they get one. Any reaction at all makes them feel, just for a minute, like they mattered to you. Just for a minute, you saw them, and interacted with them.

“People need interaction with other people as badly as they need air and light. They’ll do anything to get it, even when they have no idea that’s what they are doing.”

“So, if I just say yeah, as if it’s no big deal, they’ll leave me alone?”

“Perhaps. They might also be reaffirming their group identity, showing their friends that all of them like the same thing, so they are part of the same group.

“The trick is a two prong approach. Let them know that not shifting is something neutral for you, like having dark brown hair or green eyes. But also interact with them doing things that make you all feel good, because it’s the interaction they crave.”

“But it’s not neutral! It’s one of the most important things there is! Ever since I was tiny, I’ve been waiting until I could turn into a bird and fly through the sky, or turn into a horse and run like the wind, or be a fish in the brook! And now I never will!”

I held her close, and felt the pain I would feel if I had to give up all those things. “You’re right. It’s hard to give up dreams and expectations. It hurts a lot. I know.”

“How? Did you ever have to give up anything?”

“Oh my darling, yes. Think how old I am. I’ve had to give up so much! So many dreams, plans, hopes that never happened.”

“Can you tell me one?”

Well, it was only fair. She’d shown me her pain. “The worst was when I realized I’d have to live without your GrandGrampa. I didn’t think I could. I’d always imagined us going on forever together. But life doesn’t go on forever, and his ended before mine.”

“How did you manage?” she whispered.

“By concentrating on the things I still had. Your grandpa, and your great-aunts, and all your aunts and uncles and various cousins.”

“And me?”

I squeezed her. “You weren’t born yet. But now that you are, yes, you.”

She was thoughtful as we swung for a while, and I left her space to think. I had memories of my own to think through.

Finally she said, “I can still throw a charm faster than Will or anyone, even if I can’t shift. If he wants an interaction, I can make his pants fall off!”

I had to laugh. “Well, yes. But that’s not quite the kind of interaction I was thinking of. That would probably not make him feel good.”

She laughed too. I was so happy to hear it. “Probably not! What is the most important thing, Grandnana?”

I could answer that one without thinking. “Being kind. And that’s not dependent on any talent or ability or skill in the world. Everyone can do that, no matter what.”

She nodded, thoughtfully. “I better go tell mom what’s been bugging me, huh?”

“Yes. Want me to come with?”

She turned, gave me a kiss, and slid off my lap. “No. I can do this. You’re sure she’ll still love me?”

“I’m sure. She might want to have you tested, or tutored, but that’s because she doesn’t want to give up her hopes and expectations for you, not because she doesn’t love you, even if you never shift at all.”

She nodded. “That makes sense. Okay. Love you, Grandnana!”

“Love you, Steph.”

She straightened her little shoulders, and marched off to the house.

I watched her go, her back straight and head up, and thought about my husband. I still missed him dreadfully, at times. But I know he’d be so very proud of our brood!

Stormy Weather on Amazon

I got Stormy Weather made into a Kindle book yesterday, and today it’s up for sale on Amazon!

I really should have researched the title before I used it. I had no idea how many other books were also called “Stormy Weather” although I certainly should have. It’s not like it would have been hard to do. Oh well, too late now! It’ll be easier when it’s just the name of the first story in the collected Kip Andrews book. (It’s a very short read – only 13 print pages, so it’s perfect for reading during break.)

If you’re a member of KindleUnlimited you can read it for free. If not, I’m afraid it’ll cost 99¢. Amazon won’t accept a lower price.

I’d like to thank everyone who read it here, and encouraged me. If you liked it, and you can leave a review, that would be great! Good reviews really help.


If you’d like to read any of the 3 stories that are still here, while they’re still free, you can find links to them below.

Beauty and the Beast Retold

A Little Bird Told Me – A Grandnana Story

May Eve

May Eve Story

It’s Saturday, and time for another short short. This one is just shy of 1000 words. I wrote it on May Eve, and thought I should post it before the month is over.

Hope you like it!


May Eve

It was raining that day. If it hadn’t been for the rain, none of the rest of it would have happened.

Without the rain, I’d have been out on the Lake, sailing to the Island where the woods were carpeted with spring beauty and glory-of-the-snow. I’d have been picnicking under the tender new maple leaves.

That was my plan for the day.

If it hadn’t rained, I wouldn’t have been stuck indoors. I wouldn’t have gotten bored, and decided to put together a wreath out of dried flowers and bird feathers and bits of this and that, all hot glued to an old form I’d been given for a long-ago housewarming. Without the rain, I’d have been far away from the house, and I’d never have heard the doorbell, even if it rang.

But I did make the wreath, and hung it proudly on the front door, where the porch sheltered it. And I was home, so when the bell rang I answered it.

At first glance, I thought it was a child, standing there as gray as the rain, dripping on the mat. I wondered who was letting their little girl wander around in the rain, without so much as a hat. But then she lifted her eyes, and I realized it wasn’t a child at all.

I can see you expecting me to say it was a Little Person. But it wasn’t.

She wasn’t human. No human has ever been born with eyes like that. Solid green, those eyes, with flecks of gold floating in them. No whites, no dark pupils, just shades of green, dancing like leaves in a forest breeze, burning as if lit from behind.

Those eyes captured me, and I stood there stunned, unable to move.

“Can I come in? It’s very wet out.”

I stepped aside, and motioned her past me. That was probably a mistake, in retrospect, but I wasn’t thinking really clearly at that moment.

“Ah much better!” she chirped. She scooted by, and straight to the fireplace. There wasn’t a fire, of course. I seldom turn on the gas, except for holidays and other special occasions.

“Your hearth is cold!” She gave me such a look! Accusation, disappointment, condescension, disdain, annoyance. In my own home!

Wordlessly, I walked over and flipped the switch. With a whoosh the gas caught, and blue flames licked the artificial logs.

She started, and then peered at the fire. “What is this? You’re no sorcerer!”

I shook my head. My voice was still not working.

“Speak!”

She pointed a surprisingly long finger at me, and I found myself saying, “It’s a gas fire. Natural gas is piped into the house, and a spark from the electronic ignition unit causes it to burn, but very cleanly. There’s no ash, and no smoke.”

“Huh.” She turned back to the blaze. “Well, it’s truly fire, so I suppose that’s legal, even if it doesn’t smell right at all.”

She turned her diminutive back to the warmth, and shook her hair out with both hands. In no time at all, it dried to white frizz like a dandelion clock, all over her head.

“So, I suppose we should come right to the point,” she said.

“The point?”

“Why I’m here. Are you daft?”

“I’m not sure.” Ten minutes earlier I’d have said not a chance, but I was standing there talking to someone who wasn’t human, and I had no idea if anyone else would even find her visible. So yeah, of course I was questioning my sanity. Wouldn’t you?

She peered up at me, and then around the house, or as much as you can see from the living room. “Not bad, although it’s been far too long since you washed your curtains. Still, I’ve seen worse.

“Okay, I’ll take the job. Payment will be a full saucer of cream, delivered nightly, and mind it’s fresh! I’ll have none of the waste that you’re thinking of giving to the pigs.”

“Wait.. what? What job?”

She looked at me, my own puzzlement reflected on her tiny face, and then scampered to the door, and threw it open. “There’s the sign, right enough, hung smack dab on the middle of the door, on May-Eve.” She pointed to my new door wreath. “Did you think no one would answer?”

“I … Did I… Sign for what?”

She stared at me for a moment, and then started to laugh. I’d never heard such a sound, like a brook chuckling, and butterflies dancing, and bright ribbons waving in the breeze. It was pure merriment. I had to laugh too. I couldn’t help it.

“Oh me, oh my!” she gasped for air, and then sat right down on the floor, pointing weakly at the wreath.

“You’ve no idea, do you? Well, that’s just too bad. I was looking for a new situation, and I’ve found one! You’ve hung the sign, and invited me in. You kindled your fire anew for me. It’s all signed and sealed, according to the old laws. The contract is made, and now you’re stuck with it!”

“Stuck? What?”

She hopped up and skipped over to me, where I’d collapsed on the couch. As quick and soft as a kitten, she patted me several times on the knee, and said, “It’s okay. You’ll get used to it. But don’t forget the cream, or you’ll wish you’d never been born!”

Then she twirled around once, and vanished.

But she didn’t leave. Oh no. She never left.

I’m not saying that I’m not grateful for her help at times, although I’ve learned not to say “thank you.” Not ever.

But you see, that’s why I need cream. The freshest you have, please.


If you enjoyed this story, please consider joining my Patreon. You’ll be able to read the stories early, and I’ll be able to write more of them!

A Little Bird Told Me

A new short story; it’ll only be up for four weeks, so if you want to read it for free, now’s your chance!


A Little Bird Told Me

by Robin Wood

I was just starting to knit the lace trim on a cap for the newest baby, when a little blue bird with a yellow head and white bib flew through my open window.  It settled on the footstool next to me, hopped up down a couple of times, and then plunked right down on its tail feathers, sticking its little twig legs straight out in front of it.

As soon as it did, it’s legs grew longer and thicker, while its body stretched up, the feathers sank into her arms, and her face changed from a bird to a girl. In a moment, my fourteen year old great-granddaughter, Sophie, was sitting there, with her blond curls, a blue dress with a white collar, and a scab on one brown knee. Her eyes were still bright black, and still laughed at me.

I have no idea why she sits down like that to change. I find it much more comfortable, not to mention graceful, to change while standing. But grace wasn’t high on Sophie’s priority list.

“Hi Grandnana!” she said. “Do you have any cookies?” And she hopped off the stool and went into the pantry to investigate.

I only had three children, but between them, they presented me with 9 grandchildren, and so far I have 21 great grandchildren and 3 great-great grandchildren with no end in sight. All of these people feel free to drop in unannounced at any hour of the day or night. I do love them, but I tell you true, some days I think about going to live at the bottom of the sea just to get a little peace! Except I’m sure they would find me before I had a chance to unpack.

When I was young, and just had the three, I worked very hard to make sure everything was always even. If I made Gertie a new dress, I made one for Caroline, too, and a shirt and tie for Albert.

I tried to keep that up with the grandchildren, at first. But the day baby Ellie came crying because her little hands were cold, and I realized if I stuck to “everyone equally” I’d have to knit 9 pairs of mittens to give one toddler warm fingers, I gave it up. I made one tiny pair, and stopped worrying about the others.

Now I give to each what each one needs. If one needs more than the others, that’s for the gods to sort out. None are left wanting, and none have piles of things they will never use.

They help themselves to whatever food I have whenever they come over, though. All of them. I try to keep lots on hand. Anything I especially want to eat, I disguise. They think I have a fondness for particularly stinky cheese, and I’m not about to disabuse them of that notion.

On this occasion, Sophie’s voice rang out, “Chicken pie! That’s even better than cookies. I’m starving.” She wandered back out, with a generous slice on one of my good dishes, her mouth already full.

“Not that I’m not glad to see you,” I said, “but to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?” I didn’t bother to mention she wasn’t using an everyday dish. I gave up that battle long ago.

She swallowed, and waved her fork airily, scattering pastry crumbs. “Oh, Mom’s started spring cleaning, so I thought I’d get out of there.”

“Didn’t it occur to you that your mom might want your help with the cleaning?” I asked.

“Sure! That’s why I left,” she chomped down on another forkful of pie. “I’ve cleaned enough for one day, and she’s nuts on the topic. No one will ever see the top of the cupboards.”

I let that pass, too, along with speaking with her mouth full. Her mother could teach her all of that. I was tired.

I was also not going to get any more knitting done. It was a new pattern that I hadn’t memorized yet, and counting stitches to follow written instructions was not going to be possible. I made a note of which row and stitch I was on, and folded the knitting neatly into the pattern, setting it aside for later, while Sophie polished off the pie.

When she was done, she licked the plate. Disgusting, but flattering in its way.

I got out some piecework to sew, while she mounted another raid on my pantry. She came back with a slice of cake, on the same plate. I suppose she thought it was “clean enough.”

She ate that without a word, while I sewed squares of bright cotton together with a quarter inch seam. Something was bothering her. If I didn’t push, she’d tell me what it was. I suspected that was the main reason for her visit, although avoiding housework had certainly played a part.

When the cake was gone, she got up without a word, went into the kitchen, washed the dish and fork, and put them in the rack to dry. Without being asked. Whatever was bugging her, it was bad.

Then she came back, reached into the work basket, and took out a block to sew. I keep them there, pinned together in order, for just such an occurrence. And my own convenience too, of course. She threaded a needle, and got to work.

Outside, the bees hummed around the window box, birds sang, and the creek chuckled to itself as it hurried to its eventual appointment with the sea. The only sound inside was the clock ticking.

I finished my nine-patch block, and started another. Sophie got the first three patches of hers sewn, and reached for the clapper board to set the seam.

“Grandnana, have you ever made a bad promise?”

“A bad promise?”

She sighed deeply. “Yeah. There’s this girl in my class at school. I don’t know her all that well. She doesn’t really have any friends, and I guess I felt sorry for more than anything else.”

She set the seams, and put the row aside, picking up the next two squares to sew. Not the way I’d do it. I sew all three rows before setting the seams. But her way would finish the block, and was only a little more work.

“Anyway, she asked if I’d help with a spell, and I said yes without asking what kind of spell it is.” She shook her curls away from her face, and looked up at me. “I know that was dumb, but I never thought it was going to be anything but a common, simple spell!”

“I take it that’s not what she wanted.”

Her mouth twisted, she looked back down, and jabbed the needle viciously into the cloth. “Not hardly. There is this new boy, called Mitt, who is really handsome. I mean, if you picture masculine handsomnimity, he’d be what you imagined. He’s rich, too. His Dad owns this big business or something. Anyway, they moved into that huge house on Chestnut, and he gets a ride to school in a limo with a chauffeur and everything.

“No one knows what he’s doing at our school. You’d expect him to be at a ritzy boarding school or something. Apparently he was, but his family missed him too much. Or maybe he wasn’t fully appreciated there. Or something. No one knows the real story.”

I could see where this was headed, but I waited for her to tell me.

“Anyway,” she dropped the sewing into her lap, heedless of the needle, and scrubbed her face with both hands. “This girl, Chrissy, decided she is in love with him. She wants help with a love spell. I tried to tell her she doesn’t know him. I tried to tell her how spells like that bind people, and it’s coercion and wrong, and how when the victim finds out, and he will, he will hate and resent you forever. I tried to explain how horrible it is to be bound to someone who hates and resents you.”

She dropped her hands, and grabbed her skirt, twisting it while staring at me with anguished eyes. “I tried every way I know, Grandnana, and she *still* insists she wants to do the spell!”

I reached over, and picked up the needle from her lap. She had missed running it into her hand by about half an inch. She glanced down as I did, saw how narrow her escape had been, and made a face.

“I don’t know what to do! I can’t let her do the spell, and she says she can’t anyway without my help. Her spells all fizzle, except the really simple ones.”

I used the needle to catch the patches she was sewing, and lifted them out of the way before she tangled the thread or did herself an injury. I put it back with the rest of that patch, and laid my own aside too. She just waited, looking at me with a tortured expression. Finally I said, “Then don’t help her.”

“But I gave my word!”

“You did. But you didn’t know what you were promising. Would you have promised if you had known?”

She shook her head violently, curls whipping everywhere. “No, never!”

“So promising was a mistake?”

“In the worst way! I wish like everything I’d asked her what spell, first!”

I nodded. “I’m sure you do. Would keeping that promise make the original mistake better, or worse?”

“Only about a quadrillion times worse!”

“Then break the promise.”

“But…. I thought breaking a promise is a horrible thing! You have to keep your word. It’s your honor and your bond!”

I reached out my arms, and she came and sat in my lap, great gangly girl that she is. I wrapped my arms around her, and held her close. “It is, honey bunch, and you must never break it simply because keeping it is inconvenient, or because you have found a different thing you would rather do, or because you are angry at the person you gave your word to, or afraid keeping it will be hard.

“But sometimes you find that it was a mistake to give your word in the first place. Sometimes, you’ll be coerced. Sometimes someone will lie about the circumstances, or about what they are asking for. Sometimes you simply won’t have all the information, like this time.

“In all those cases, and probably more, keeping your word will make a bad situation worse. When there is no good choice, always choose the path that will cause the least harm.”

She rested her head on my shoulder. “I’m going to go back and tell her I won’t help. She’ll tell everyone I broke my word, and people might hate me. But that’s better than helping to ruin two whole lives.”

I rocked her gently. “She might not tell anyone. Telling them will reveal the kind of spell she had planned. But if she does, even if you choose not to explain why, and you could certainly do that, people will get over it. They always do, eventually.”

She nodded, reached up, and kissed my cheek. “Thanks, Grandnana. I knew you would be able to help me.” As annoying as my family can be, they all know exactly how to  melt my heart.

I had just finished threading the ribbon through the cap for the newest baby when a little bird flew through my window.

It was Sophie again.

“Hi Grandnana!” She headed into the pantry. “Guess what! Oh! Donuts! Yumm!”

She came out, with a donut in each hand, spewing powdered sugar with every word. “You know that new boy I told you about? Mitt? Well…” She settled on the footstool, and looked up at me, eyes glowing, “It turns out he was expelled from that fancy school for ‘excessive cruelty’.” She put half a donut in her mouth, and chewed with great satisfaction. “He was caught torturing a puppy,” she scowled fiercely, “can you imagine? They took it away, and it’s going to be okay, and it has new owners now.” Her face cleared, and she popped the other half of the donut into her mouth. “But it turns out he’s just as mean and nasty as he can be, and he’s been expelled from our school, too.” She finished the other donut in three bites, and licked her fingers.

“Chrissy told me she is *so* glad that I didn’t help her with that love spell. Can you imagine being bound to someone like that? And she says she’s swearing off compulsion spells for life.”

She wiped her hands on her skirt, and gave me a very satisfied look. “So that turned out better than I expected! I’m so happy I came to you!” She hopped up, and went back into the pantry. “Ewww. There’s that horrible cheese again. Got any roast beef?”

I’m glad she came over too. And I’m glad she doesn’t like stinky cheese. I’m planning to have that leftover beef for my supper.


Picture Attribution; IMG_1878-333 by Nigel Used under a Creative Commons 2Generic License. Resized, but no other changes made.

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One of Those Days

The news has been really discouraging for the last little while. I’m so very, very tired of all the bias and judgement. So yesterday I wrote a tiny little piece of flash-fiction, and I’m posting it today, even though it’s not Saturday. Hope you like it!


It’s been one of those days. Do you ever have them? I’m achy and cranky, and I can’t settle to doing anything.
From the time I crawled out of my warm little nest this morning, all I’ve wanted to do is crawl back in.
I can’t even decide what gender to be, or what skin color, or age, or orientation or anything.
Usually I have a hard time deciding because every choice limits the rainbow of possibilities. If I pick a middle aged straight man, I can’t skip down the street no matter how much I feel like skipping. If I decide to be a 7 year old mixed race girl with a mass of curly red hair, I can skip, but I can’t buy lunch without people calling Social Services. If I settle on an androgynous teenager, I can get lunch, and probably even skip, but what will I do if I need to pee before I get home?
You know how it is.
But today, I can’t make up my mind because everything I can think of comes with more responsibility, or more hassles, than I want to deal with.
If I choose a large black gay man, white women are likely to pull their children out of my path. If I choose to be a straight Latino cis female, then I have to watch every word, and put up with endless nonsense, just to let my hair flow and wear a pretty dress and strappy sandals. I could be an old woman, not a young one, and become pretty much invisible; but not if I wanted to wear that dress and sandal combo. People would frown, and think I was behaving inappropriately.
Usually, when I feel overwhelmed by it all, I just go as a nondescript white male of indeterminate age. That seems to be the default in the culture I’m currently studying, so it’s easy to blend in and not be noticed. But the thing about that is you have to be strong, and can’t cry. And I feel like I might burst into tears at any moment.
I’ve been standing in front of the Wardrobe, dithering.
I could be homeless. Homeless people are invisible, and can cry or even talk to themselves without anyone giving them a second glance. But if I go out like that, I’ll have to stay out all day. Homeless people can’t step into a store or other public place, even though they are more in need of them than anyone.
I nearly just gave up and crawled back into my nest, but reports are due next week, and I’m behind. I can’t afford to waste a full day.
I need to find something that will let me go out in public, and just be however I feel like being at the moment, without anyone judging me, or attacking me, or barring me from participation in society.
Just something that everyone will treat with kindness, dignity, and respect.
Got any ideas?


Picture Attribution; Unity in Diversity by fady habib Used under a Creative Commons 2Generic License. Resized and lightly cropped on the top and bottom, to fit this format.