Friday, December 19, 2014

NOTHING FOR CHRISTMAS

Matthew and John met under the Fourth Street bridge as they often did. But this was no ordinary meeting. Tonight was a special occasion. Each man carried a cardboard box under their arm which had been wrapped up in great swaths of old newspaper. John had even folded some newspaper into a sort of a bowlike shape and stuck it on top of the box.

"Merry Christmas, John!”

“Merry Christmas, Matthew!”

“I trust you are having a merry holiday?”

“Indeed, my good man. Why this very evening I feasted on pheasant under glass with foie gras and truffles.” As he said this he scratched the heavy, unkempt beard under his chin and felt a small pigeon bone which he flicked away carelessly. “How fare you this day of days?”

“Tolerably well, John. My valet was somewhat careless in serving me my soup this evening, as you see by the lapel of my Brooks Brothers suit.” So saying, he pointed to the large blot of soup he had spilled on the outermost of the three coats he wore at this time of year at the soup kitchen he had just come from. “I would have discharged him of course, but this being the holiday season, I was inclined to be merciful.”

“An attitude that does you credit, my good man. And now, if you will permit me, I must admit my curiosity somewhat piqued by that large package you carry beneath your arm. Whatever might that be?”

“Well may you ask! It is, as a matter of absolute fact, a small token of my appreciation for your friendship and counsel this past year. Merry Christmas, John.” With a grand gesture he extended the parcel to John who accepted it with his free hand.

“You are too kind, sir. As it happens, the parcel I carry—which I fancy you were mere moments from asking about yourself—is a similar remembrance for you, friend Matthew.” So saying, he handed his own package to his friend who took it in both hands, not unlike an eager child who can't wait to see what Santa brought him.

The exchange complete, there was a brief debate as to who should go first. Ultimately, the honor fell to Matthew and he tore open the paper and peered inside the ratty, slightly moldy, shoebox which, as it did every Christmas without fail, contained absolutely nothing. But Matthew’s face broke in a wide grin and he reached into the box, closing his fingers around empty air as though he was holding an imaginary object in his hand. He held the invisible something to his ear, and smiled as he imagined the tick of the precision Swissmade gears echoing in his ears.

“It’s beautiful! I shall wear it always.”

“I took the liberty of having it engraved.”

Matthew looked at the back of the nonexistent watch and what he pretended to read seemed to get him all choked up. He wiped an equally invisible tear from his eye with the left index finger that poked through the torn tip of the wool glove he had found outside the convenience store three months ago.

“I will treasure this gift, and the kind words it bears, for the rest of my days. Now, I must insist that you open my gift to you. Though I am certain it will pale in comparison to this wonderful token.”
Just as Matthew had done, John opened the gift and smiled with delight as he beheld the box’s invisible contents. He reached in and seemed to remove the two small objects with his fingers. Then he began fiddling with the sleeves of the torn, ill-fitting, long-sleeved tee shirt he wore under his many outer layers of clothing. Afterward, though there was no visible change to them, he held his wrists up for Matthew to see. “How do they look?”

“They suit you perfectly, old man! And as you can see, they too are engraved, though only with your initials. I didn’t have the room for a personal message, as you did. Rest assured, if I had done, I would have expressed my gratitude at being able to count you among my closest friends.”

“Thank you, my friend. I shall wear them to the great New Year’s Eve Gala. Will I see you there?”

“Have you ever known me to miss a gala?”

“Of course not. Whatever was I thinking?”

“Well, this is a most satisfactory Christmas, is it not? And now,” he added, glancing at his bare wrist, “I see by my beautiful new watch that it is very nearly midnight. Just time enough I think for a spot of Christmas cheer.” He reached into the copious pockets of one of his coats and removed a bottle of very cheap gin and two paper cups he had found in the street and rinsed off as best he could. “Join me for a brandy?”

“Matthew, it would be my absolute pleasure.”

As John and Matthew shared a midnight drink of brandy to celebrate another wonderful Christmas together, a nearby radio crackled and part of a late night broadcast was born on the chill night air…

“...another clear night and tomorrow's forecast calls for light ran in the morning but, otherwise, it's shaping up to be a beautiful Fourth of July Weekend. The time is now nine fifteen and you're listening to...”

“Merry Christmas, Matthew.”

“Merry Christmas, John.”

THE END 

Friday, November 28, 2014

THE WORKSHOP

'The Workshop' is a Christmas play which I wrote many years ago and which was produced by the University of Kentucky Theater Department back in 2003. Here are some highlights from that production:

First, this opening scene which establishes some of the main characters, what things are like at the North Pole during the Christmas rush, and the kind of problems Santa's elves have to deal with in order to get him ready for his "big ride":


Later on, of course, we meet Santa himself and learn that he insists on "doing the List" himself even though it's time consuming and he's a little too forgiving of the children's bad behavior. Maybe Mrs. Claus can convince him to let someone else do the List...or maybe not.


Will Santa finish the list? Will Rodney and his staff be able to get everything ready for Christmas Eve? Can this team really pull off yet another Christmas miracle? Find out when you buy your copy of the play at Lulu or Amazon. Either way, I hope 'The Workshop' will become a part of your holiday as well.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

READ YOUR GOOSE A STORY

If your goose is feeling sluggish
Or she doesn’t want to play,
If she moans, and groans and whimpers
And she stays inside all day
When it’s nice and bright and sunny,
Then the problem just might be
That your good and loyal goose has
Been o’er taken by ennui.
Yes, everyone feels boredom,
Even gooses, it is true.
So, to make your goose feel happy
Here is all you have to do:
Read your goose a story!
Just pick out your favorite book;
Let her sit upon your lap so,
If she wants to, she can look
Upon all the pretty pictures
Which are right beside the words
And which make the story come alive
For large aquatic birds.
Gooses love to be told stories
By a grandma or a friend,
As long as it's exciting
And it has a happy end.
But be careful! If you do this
And the goose has too much fun,
She just might come back and see you
To be told another one!

Friday, July 18, 2014

THE PRINCES THREE

By Freddy Flunkerer


Once upon a time and long ago there lived a king who had three sons called Christopher, David and Matthew. As they grew up together, the three princes became the best of friends. They did everything together. They learned how to swordfight and hunt and shoot arrows together. They studied history and languages together. They did that thing where you put the hood on a falcon and take it off and the falcon flies away for some reason and…I don’t know; it’s just a thing princes do, apparently. In fact, there was really only one thing preventing these three brothers from having a perfect relationship:

They were super competitive.

They were always trying to one up each other. When they went fishing, “I caught a much bigger fish than that!” At the dinner table, “I can eat more suckling pig than you!” When they were playing games together, “Ha! You landed on Marvin Gardens with two hotels! You’re bankrupt!” For some reason known only to the royal psychiatrist, the princes three were each obsessed with being the very best.

One day, their father told them that they must go out into the world and find brides. So the brothers set forth in different directions to seek out awesome girls to marry. Christopher went North, David went East and Matthew went sort of Southwest, that is, he started West then veered slightly South and then he curled around to…never mind, the point is they went out and looked for girls.


C H R I S T O P H E R

Christopher, the eldest, went North to the mountains and arrived at the village of Neun where he announced that he was looking for a wife, and that she’d have to be pretty awesome to marry an awesome prince like him. Now, the good news is that the ruler of Neun did in fact have a beautiful young daughter called Princess Billie who was lovely and fair and graceful and had golden blonde hair and the bluest of all the eyes ever. The bad news is that at the moment, she was not available.

“And why is she not available?” demanded Christopher.

“Because this morning she was kidnapped by a terrible ogre.”

“Well, yeah, I can see where that might be a problem.”

The ruler of Neun said he would give Christopher permission to marry his daughter if he could rescue her from the ogre. To aide him in his quest, he gave the prince three magical items. The first was a gold ring with a red stone which would protect him from the ogre’s hypnotic gaze. The second was a sword which had once been stepped on by an old, nearsighted cow, which according to local legend, meant it was magic somehow (not all local legends are totally reliable, you know). And finally, a pair of really great athletic shoes which offered great arch support and padding, but which were so lightweight that it felt like Christopher was in his bare feet. These weren’t really magic in the strictest sense, but c’mon! How hard is it to find a really great pair of sneakers that don’t cost an arm and a leg? Seriously!

Armed with his new thingies, Christopher strode confidently into the ogre’s cave. His sword drawn, he marched bravely into the cave where he did, indeed, find the princess…who had just finished defeating the ogre on her own.

“Hi there!” she said, in a warm friendly voice. “Did you come to rescue me from the ogre?”

“Well, yeah, kinda.”

“Yeah, sorry. Obviously, I would’ve loved to have waited for you, but I was getting impatient. Also he was going to eat me, so, I figured I’d better do something.”

“No, no, I understand. The important thing is that you’re safe. It’s just…”

“What?”

“Well, your father gave me all this magic stuff and these awesome sneakers and said if I rescued you I could marry you.”

“Oh…”

“Yeah, so it’s a little awkward if I go back and tell him that you…”

“Right, I see what you mean. Well, we can always tell him that you saved me. No one’s ever gonna know.”

“No, that’s not fair. You vanquished him. You should get the credit.”

Anyway, they went on like this for a while and finally decided to share the credit. They went back to Billie’s father and told him that Christopher had arrived just as the princess had sprung into action, and they worked together to defeat the ogre. This seemed to satisfy Billie’s father and he gave his blessing. So Christopher headed for home with his bride-to-be, the strong and beautiful Billie.


D A V I D

David, the middle son, went East to Zehn, one of those countries that someone decided to build in a the desert for some reason. Just as Christopher had done, he announced to anyone who would listen that he was looking for a really cool girl to marry. And, sure enough, the local Sultan had a beautiful daughter called Freema. She was dark-eyed, dark-haired, dark-skinned and oh-so-beautiful. She was lythe and athletic and also happened to be the finest dancer in the country, known far and wide for her infamous Dance Of The Six And One Half Veils. It was one of those belly-type dances where girls’ hips look like they’re made of rubber.

“What must I do to win your daughter’s hand in marriage?” asked David.

“You must perform only one task,” said the Sultan. “You must beat me in a game of skill.”

Well, David was awfully clever and he felt certain he could win, especially with the beautiful Freema to motivate him. “What game shall we play?”

“We shall play chess!” announced the Sultan.

“Yeah, I don’t know how to play chess.”

“Very well. Then we shall play backgammon!”

“I really don’t know how to play backgammon.”

“Checkers?”

“What are we, five?”

“All right, what do you want to play?”

David thought long and hard. He knew he had to choose just the right game. It had to be a fitting battle of wits between him and this wise old ruler. “How about Monopoly?”

“Perfect! But I get to be the horsey-guy!”

And thus began the longest, most incredible game of Monopoly ever played. For three full weeks the game raged on. Just when one seemed to have the advantage, the other would pick up a Chance card and the tide would turn. The citizens came from miles around to watch the game. Poets and scribes wrote epics about the game. It was physically and emotionally exhausting. Then, finally, twenty-two days, seven hours, four minutes and eighteen seconds later:

“Ha!” said David. “You landed on Marvin Gardens with two hotels! You’re bankrupt!”

And so it was that David had won the Greatest Game Of Monopoly Ever and won the hand of the beautiful and exotic Freema.


M A T T H E W

Matthew, the youngest of the three princes, had heard an old legend about a place called the Elf Islands where beautiful women lived, just waiting for handsome young princes to come and carry them away. So, he went to the type of bar where sailors usually hang out and announced that he was planning a trip to the Elf Islands. When he said this, everyone gasped.

“The Elf Islands? There are monsters there, sir! Sea monsters, haunted islands, mermaids who—”

“Mermaids? That’d be perfect! Wait till my brothers see me marrying a mermaid! Right, who’s with me?”

“Sir, you need to know about these mermaids, they—”

“Money is no object.”

“I’ll come!”

“Me too!”

“Yeah, why the heck not?”

And so, with a crew of surprisingly stupid sailors, Matthew set sail for a group of dangerous islands in the hopes of marrying a mermaid.

Yeah, he’s a nice guy, but not a lot going on upstairs, if you know what I mean.

Soon (by which I mean about a month later) the islands were in sight. Matthew gave the command to land the ship at the nearest island and called for a fishing net so that he could catch a bride.

“Sir,” said the wide-eyed sailor from earlier, “I really wish you’d let me tell you about these mermaids.”

“I already know about mermaids, you wide-eyed sailor!”

“My name is Josh, sir…”

“See, the top half is like a lady and the bottom half is like a fish, but I read this story once where the prince kissed one or something and she turned into a—”

“SIR! Please, let me explain. The mermaids of Elf Islands are not like the ones in storybooks.”

“Aren’t they?”

“I fear not, sir. See real mermaids sing a beautiful, sweet song to lure men in and then when you’re close enough, they grab you and pull you under and suck out your very soul through your right ear.”

“So…not just pretty girls with fish legs?”

“Not really, no.”

Matthew was beginning to consider giving up and just going home when he heard a beautiful sound. A voice far too beautiful to be human, singing a song that was, at once, beyond his comprehension, and yet so crystal clear that it made him want to weep. Soon, he and all the sailors were leaning over the railing into the water. Sure enough, the ship was entirely surrounded by beautiful maidens floating in the water and singing. Most of the crew were hardened old seadogs, so they had enough sense to ignore the siren song and restrain some of their younger shipmates.

Matthew, however, has been established as sort of foolish, which is why, mere seconds after being told about the treacherous mermaids, he dove into the water.

The mermaids tried to drag him down but Matthew’s crew was able to save him with the very same fishing net he was going to use to catch a bride. But before he was rescued, as the mermaids pawed at him, one swam right up to his left ear and simply whispered, “Please help me.”

Once he was safely back on the deck of the ship, Matthew told his men what had happened. They told him to forget it, that it was just another mermaid trick, but he wasn’t convinced. He leaned over the railing and called out, “Attention mermaids! I am Prince Matthew! My father is a king from a distant land! I demand to speak to you on a matter of great importance.”

A moment later, three mermaids surfaced and, glaring up at the prince said, “What do you want?”

“Have you taken a prisoner?”

“Many years ago, a young woman was scorned by her lover. In her despair we were able to trick her into becoming one of us. Now she is doomed to help us ensnare stupid, gullible men for all eternity.”

“I demand that you set her free at once!”

“What will you give us in exchange?”

“You can take me in her place.”

His crew tried to stop him but he wouldn’t be dissuaded. Doing heroic stuff like this is part of the job when you’re a prince. He took a longboat to the beach, where he stood on the sand and waited. He saw a figure step out of the water, walking onto the land. A moment ago she had been a mermaid. But now she was a beautiful young woman with long cascades of red, red hair and seagreen eyes. She was soft and gentle as the waves that lapped against the beach. As she walked up onto the land, Matthew started to walk down, into the water. At the halfway point, they met and the woman put up a hand to stop him. She turned to the mermaids in the sea. “Give me a moment to thank the man who saved my life.”

The mermaids agreed. The woman put her arms around Matthew’s shoulders and whispered, “The spell they placed on me hasn’t fully worn off yet. This should keep you safe. Until we meet again, my brave prince.” So saying, she kissed Matthew. And not only did he feel the usual awesomeness that comes from getting kissed by a pretty girl, but he also felt something strange. A tremendous rush of energy, as though new life were literally being breathed into him. With a wink and a smile, the young woman continued walking onto the beach and Matthew continued walking into the sea until the mermaids had him and were pulling him under…

But here’s the thing about mermaids: They can’t eat your soul if you haven’t drowned. And there are two ways to avoid drowning if you’re underwater. The first is to be a fish. The second is to have received the legendary Mermaid’s Kiss, which allows the recipient to breathe under water. After nearly an hour of trying unsuccessfully to drown Prince Matthew, the mermaids finally gave up and tossed him back onto the shore like a fish that was too small.

Which is howcome Matthew survived and he and his crew turned the ship around and headed home…with one additional passenger: the gentle and mysterious Princess Karen.


T H E   M I R R O R

And so, all three princes returned home and there was a grand and glorious triple wedding. Christopher married Billie, David married Freema and Matthew married Karen. Indeed, everything was all set for one heck of a mega happy ending…except for that nasty competitive streak I mentioned back when this ludicrous story began.

“My wife is the most beautiful girl in the world.”

“No, my wife is!”

“You’re both nuts! My wife is the most beautiful girl in the world!”

Of course, we know that this was the silliest thing in the world to argue over, but for some reason, the princes were determined to settle it once and for all. Which is why they decided to go on another quest, together this time, and seek out the Witch of the Mirrors. Legend had it that in a tiny cottage deep in the forest lived a witch who did nothing all day but make magic mirrors and play the lottery. In two hundred thousand years, she hadn’t won so much as ten bucks, which is why she had so much time to make mirrors.

And why were they seeking the Witch of the Mirrors? Because another legend had it that there was a Mirror of Truth which would answer any question asked truthfully and which never failed to give an answer to any question. So they would simply stand before the mirror ask “Which of our wives is the most beautiful?” and her face would appear before them, thus solving the question once and for all. Unfortunately, no one knew where the Mirror of Truth was. But they figured the Witch was a good place to start. And so, despite the protests of their beautiful new wives, the three stupid princes went forth to find the Witch of the Mirrors to find the Mirror of Truth to find the…whatever, you know the bit.

After two long days of traveling, the princes found the cottage of the Witch of the Mirrors and knocked on her door. Excited to have company for once, the Witch let them in. She showed the princes her impressive collection of magic mirrors. One showed you what you would look like when you were a hundred. One could show you any event in the past that you wanted to see. One of them made you look all bendy and distorted (it was essentially just a fun house mirror). Then there were some that were traveling mirrors. Matthew stepped into one and came out through a mirror on the other side of the hut.

“These are all really cool mirrors,” said David. “But we are looking for a particular mirror. The Mirror of Truth.”

The Witch’s eyes went wide. “The Mirror of Truth? You seek the Mirror of Truth?”

“That’s right.”

“Er…no, you don’t want that old thing! Wouldn’t you rather have this one? See, when you look inside it, it magically alters the image so that the left appears on the right and the right appears on the—oh, wait, this is just a regular mirror. I should label these better.”

“Please,” said Christopher. “Do you know where the Mirror of Truth is?”

“That mirror was stolen from me a hundred a seven years ago by my cousin, Phil. He lives in an old, haunted castle two hundred leagues from here.”

The princes thanked the Witch and traveled to the old haunted castle of her cousin, Phil. They knocked on the giant doors, which swung open as if under their own power. Swords drawn, the princes stepped carefully into the dark corridor and the doors slammed shut behind them. Then the walls of the corridor lit up with long lines of candles that stretched all the way to the end of the hall. They followed the candles (which went out as they passed) until they reached the throne room. There was Phil, seated on the throne.

“What brings three young princes to my dominion?”

“If you please, sir,” said Matthew. “We seek the Mirror of Truth.”

“The Mirror of Truth? And what sum would you pay for this mirror?”

“Any you care to name,” said David.

“Good to know. But, unfortunately, I do not have the mirror anymore. I gave it as a wedding gift to a great king. It is too far to ride, but I can lend you my dragon to fly you there.”

A few minutes later found the princes riding on the back of a mighty dragon to a place so far away from their home that none of the three princes had even known it existed. Once there, however, the king said he had regifted the mirror to another king and the brothers went to see that king. But this king lost the mirror in a game of cards to a fairy in yet another part of the world. The fairy told them she had given it to an enterprising dwarf who was down on his luck, the dwarf traded it to a dentist in exchange for a painting of some frogs, the dentist sold it to an enchantress and the enchantress had sold it to a witch. By now the princes were getting pretty tired of the whole thing, so the enchantress offered to magically transport them to the home of the witch she had sold it to…

Imagine their surprise when they found themselves back in the home of the Witch of the Mirrors.

“Oh, there you are!” she said cheerfully upon their arrival. “I remembered just after you left. I had the mirror the whole time. You see, I got it from an enchantress who—”

“Will you please just show us the freaking mirror?!?!?!?!”

“Okay! Geez, you’re grumpy! It’s there in the corner.”

Their long, arduous and ultimately pointless journey at an end at last, Christopher, David and Matthew stood shoulder to shoulder to shoulder in front of the Mirror of Truth and, simultaneously, asked the question, “Which of our wives is the most beautiful?” The image in the mirror began to ripple, as though it were a pond someone had tossed a pebble into. Then the image began to change, until it was a perfect likeness of…

“Billie! That’s my Billie!”

“What are you talking about? It’s Freema.”

“Are you two blind? It’s clearly Karen!”

It was clear that though they had asked the same question and were all looking at the same mirror, each prince was seeing a different image. They were each seeing their own wife smiling back at them. They were, in a word, confused.

“Don’t you see?” said the Witch. “Beauty is not something that can be measured or compared or contrasted. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So the answer to the question ‘Who is the most beautiful girl in the world?’ would be different for every person who asks it. You all have lovely wives, who are probably missing you terribly after all this time you’ve been bouncing around the world (sorry about that, by the way), so what does it matter whose wife is most beautiful.”

And that’s how the princes three learned that sometimes in life there was no biggest or best, there was no winner. Sometimes things were just different. Not better, not worse. Just different. As far as each of them was concerned, they had married the most beautiful girl in the world, so what else mattered?

Finally, the brothers returned home to their wives who were, don’t get me wrong, a little annoyed at their husbands for wasting all that time on such a stupid wild goose chase, but they had also gotten to know each other very well in the meantime and were now closer than sisters. As for the Witch of the Mirrors, she eventually did win the jackpot and retired from mirrormaking once and for all. Today she is known as the Witch of the Large Amount of Money.

And our Princes Three? They of course lived happily ever after.

THE END

If you enjoyed this long, rambling tale of competitive brothers and mirrors and Monopoly and...wait, what was this one about? I can't remember. Anyhoo, there's a lot more just like it in Flunkerer's Fables available from the Amazon Kindle Store for hardly any money at all! (But it does cost some money)

Monday, July 7, 2014

THE VOYAGES OF SINBAD THE SAILOR

Adapted from the Arabian Nights fables.


It was many, many years ago, when I was a much younger man. I was a sailor then, and had hired myself off as a crewman to a mighty vessel called...well, I don't remember. Bill or something, who knows?

The point is, there was another sailor on board that ship and at night, he would tell us all the amazing story of his adventures on the seven seas.

 “I was born for the life of a sailor,” began Sinbad (for that was the sailor's name). “My father was a merchant who traded across the sea, so it was only natural that, when the time came for me to choose my vocation in life, I would become a sailor. I set out on my first voyage with great hope and excitement. We were out at sea for days without sighting land. So when the cry of ‘Land ho’ did ring out, young and foolish as I was, I dove into the sea and made for the tiny island with all my might. My fellow sailors called after me, ‘Stop! Come back, stupid!’ and similar nautical expressions but I paid them no heed and kept going until I had reached the island…

“Which, as it turned out, was not an island, but rather a giant whale which immediately began swimming away with me on his back!

“I finally managed to get away from the whale and, come nightfall, found myself alone on a desert island. I stayed there for several days, eating the fruits and herbs that grew there and drinking from a stream. I was beginning to give up hope that I would ever get home, and began to despair of ever finding my way home.

“Then, one day, I began exploring the island. I came to a wide open area of land where I saw what was, at the time, the strangest thing I’d ever seen. It was a giant, round object, pale white and smooth. I rapped my fist against it and it echoed. There was an opening of some kind inside this thing. I had only a few seconds to try and figure out what it was when I, and everything around me, was plunged into shadow. I looked up and it instantly became clear what the second strangest thing I’d ever seen was based on the existence of the first strangest thing I’d ever seen:

“A giant bird coming out of the sky to sit on her giant egg.

“I saw at once a chance for escape! I unraveled the turban on my head (apologizing to Allah as I did so, but desperate times call for desperate measures) and used the linen to tie myself to the bird’s leg. Soon the bird took off (no doubt to gather food for its soon-to-be-hatched offspring) and flew away with me tightly bound to her leg. I didn’t know where we were going, but I assumed, as we began to land in another country, that anyplace was better than where I just was.

“I was wrong...very, very wrong.

“Upon untying myself from the bird I realized that she had left me on the floor of the Valley of Diamonds. Those of you who have heard the legends will know that the good thing about the Valley of Diamonds is that the floor of the valley is, of course, covered with the biggest, purest diamonds you’ll ever see. The bad thing of course is that the walls of the valley are so steep that you will never be able to climb out.

“And even if you could climb out, the rest of the country’s not exactly hospitable either. Huge serpents, birds bigger than the one that carried me, savage beasts and…the giant!

“The giant is as tall as forty men and has skin as black as pitch and only one giant eye in the middle of his face. And every night, he searches the valley for men who have climbed in looking for wealth only to find death. When he reached out his hand to grab me, I quickly filled my pack with as many diamonds as I could before he took me to his cave and dropped me into a cage with two of my countrymen, fellow travelers named Bakbarah and Alcouza.

“‘We’ve been here for two days’ said Bakbarah. ‘He keeps saying that he needs more man meat before he can cook us. Now he might have enough!’

“‘I almost hope he does,’ said Alcouza. ‘It’s worse stuck in this cage knowing what’s coming but not being able to do anything about it.’

"'How is that worse? Seriously, how is being in a cage worse than being eaten?'

"'I'm just saying...'

“‘We can do something about it, my fellow ingredients!’ I said defiantly. ‘We can get out of this cage, attack the giant and make our escape!’

“‘Even if we could attack the giant,’ said Alcouza, ‘how can we get out of this cage? The bars are too hard for us to break through.’

“‘Not too hard for these,’ I said, opening my pack. Diamonds, of course, are the hardest things in the world, so it was no trouble to break through the bars while the giant was taking a nap. Then we went to the fire place and took a long piece of wood which was still smoldering at one end and drove it into the giant’s eye. He screamed in pain and started clawing around in blind fury, but we were long gone!

“My new companions and I ran for the seashore as fast as we could, just in case the giant was following. As luck would have it, a ship had stopped to gather provisions and happily brought us aboard. Unfortunately, our first night on the ship we ran into a terrible storm and I was, once again, cast into the sea where I spent a full day and night floating on a plank of wood before washing up on another desert island.

“But I wasn’t alone for long this time, as some very elegantly dressed men and women found me and brought me to their magnificent city of Karamesh and their great King Miraghe, who ruled over the entire island. I was welcomed by the king and soon became a favorite among his courtiers when I told the stories of my many adventures. And, when I observed that neither the king nor any of his subjects used saddles, stirrups or bridles when they rode horses, I described them to the royal craftsmen and had a complete set of riding accessories made for the king. Soon it caught on and, thanks to me, everyone in Karamesh was riding much more comfortably.

“‘Sinbad,’ said the king after a month, ‘I like you and I want you to do something for me.’

“‘Of course, your majesty, anything you want,’ I said, stupidly.

“‘I want you to marry my daughter. That way you can stay here forever and never return to your own home.’ Well, lovely though his daughter was and pleased though I was to be popular among the court, I couldn’t very well stay there forever, so I declined…the king did not take my refusal very well…he made a pointed argument in favor of my staying…I remained resolute…long story short, I soon found myself running away under cover of night.

“For a full week, I lived in the jungle, hiding during the day in case the king’s men found me and eating only what I could find. One day I heard human voices talking, and I hid in the branches of a tree until they had passed. To my surprise, however, they were not the voices of King Miraghe or his subjects, but voices I had heard before.

“‘Bakbarah? Acouza?’

“‘Sinbad?’ My friends embraced me. The captain of the ship that had so recently rescued us had been searching for me ever since, and my loyal friends, who perhaps felt they owed me a debt after I helped them escape the giant, volunteered to search every island in the area until I was found. So now we were set to return to the ship and bid farewell to Karamesh once and for all.

“Which is how I come to be here among you fine men,” said Sinbad, his story at an end. “And when at last we pull into port, I am sworn never to leave home as long as I may live.”

THE END

Sinbad's story is just one of many told by Scheherazade to the Sultan in the classic 1001 Arabian Nights. I have selected the best bits, taken out the long, boring, repetitive parts (which, while perfectly reasonable from an overall plot standpoint, do tend to make for some pretty tedious reading) and put them together in my own version of the book which you can purchase HERE.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

THE MAGIC PEACH TREE

A "Cinderella Story" adapted from 'Il Pentamerone' by Giambattista Basile

Zezolla was a very happy girl. It had been almost a year since her poor mother had died, and she still thought of her often, but apart from that, Zezolla wanted for nothing. Her father, too, was very sad to have lost his beloved wife, but Zezolla was so much like her mother that he consoled himself with his love for the little child. But, happy as they both were, they would always miss Zezolla’s mother.

There was, among the staff of servants in their home, a handmaiden who Zezolla favored above all others. She treated Zezolla with great love and affection, almost as a real mother would. And when they were together, she didn’t miss her mother as much.

“I wish you could be my mother,” she said one day.

The handmaiden smiled. “I could be. If you would ask your father to marry me. Then we would all be one big happy family. Will you do that for me, little Zezolla?”

Zezolla said she would, and after asking a few times, her father agreed and married the handmaiden. The wedding was beautiful; a joyous occasion in which the whole kingdom shared. And it was there that little Zezolla, more content than she had been since she lost her mother, staring out the window at the beautiful sunset, met the fairy.

A little green fairy landed on the windowsill and said, “I am very sorry.”

“Sorry?” said Zezolla, who apparently didn’t find the existence of the fairy at all unusual. “For what?”

“For the terrible fate that has befallen you. But know that my kind will always look after you. And if you ever want for anything, you will find us in Fairy Grove on the Island of Sardinia.”

“That’s kind of you,” said Zezolla, confused. “But what are you talking about? What terrible fate? I have a new mother. We are all going to be very, very happy for ever after.”

The fairy sighed. “Just remember what I have told you, child.” And without another word of warning, she flew away.

Well, for a few days at least, Zezolla was right. Happiness did reign supreme in the home of the prince and his new princess (Did I forget to mention that Zezolla’s father was a prince? Sorry, must have slipped my mind) and Zezolla felt sure she would love her stepmother just as much as her birth mother…but then the handmaiden’s…sorry, the stepmother’s true nature revealed itself.

All this time she had been pretending to be kind toward Zezolla in order to trick the child into asking her father if he would marry her. She didn’t really love Zezolla at all. In fact, she had six daughters of her own (whom she conveniently hadn’t mentioned to anybody until after the wedding) and though they, unlike Zezolla, were homely and nasty and spoiled, their mother doted on them endlessly. And to make matters worse, this wicked stepmother even turned Zezolla’s father against her!

So now the Prince and Princess and their six daughters were very happy…but Zezolla was ignored. Treated like dirt. Forced to wear rags and old hand-me-downs while her stepsisters wore silk and satin. Forced to clean and cook and keep house while her sisters lazed about in the lap of luxury. Forced out of her comfy bed and her cozy bedroom and made to sleep on a cot in a closet. Poor Zezolla had no one left…until she remembered the fairy!

What reminded her was the news that her father would be going to Sardinia on business and, before he left, he asked each of his stepdaughters what they would like him to bring back as a gift for them…what he should bring them each back…for what should each be bring…sorry, this is troublesome grammar. He asked each of the stepdaughters, “What would you like me to bring you from Sardinia?”

Is that clear? Good. On we go:

They asked for pretty new dresses, dolls, jewelry, expensive tokens and treasures. Finally, almost as more of a joke than anything, he asked the same question of his own flesh-and-blood daughter, Zezolla.

“You don’t have to bring me anything, Father,” said Zezolla. “But I do ask that you do me a favor while you are in Sardinia: Commend me to the Fairies of Fairy Grove and ask them to bring me something. Promise you won’t forget.”

The Prince said, sort of carelessly, that he promised and went on his way. He completed his business in Sardinia, bought the expensive junk his stepdaughters wanted and—as we all knew he would—completely forgot about Zezolla’s request. He boarded the ship bound for home, but when it was time to cast off and take to the sea…the ship didn’t move. The ocean currents should have carried it out to sea, but it didn’t move. They unfurled the sails but, though the wind was with them, they didn’t move. Heck, they didn’t even bob up and down in the water like other ships did.

That night, the captain of the ship slept, trying to figure out why they weren’t moving, when a fairy came to him in a dream.

“Captain,” said the fairy, “do you know why your ship will not leave port?”

“No, as a matter of fact I don’t,” said the captain. “We even tried pushing it with big sticks but that didn’t work either. Honestly, I don’t think it would even sink at this point. I have to say, it’s very disconcerting.”

“I’m sure it is. But actually, it’s the Prince’s fault.”

“Really? How come?”

“He made a promise to his daughter that he would visit the fairies before going home and he broke it. Until he does as his daughter asked, your ship will not budge.”

“Well, heck by the hatful!” said the captain.

(Actually, real ship’s captains almost never say “heck by the hatful”)

The next morning, the captain explained the situation to the Prince who, grudgingly, went to Grove of the Fairies. He didn’t know where it was, but, thankfully, the cabbie knew the way. When he got there he found himself in a small grove of trees which, while pretty enough, appeared entirely devoid of life. He felt silly but he had a promise to keep. So he cleared his throat and said, “I commend my daughter, Zezolla, to your good graces and ask on her behalf for a gift…or…something.”

And just then, the grove sprang to life and fairies appeared all around him. They were just like the one Zezolla had seen: Tiny, beautiful, colorful and they actually kind of put him in a good mood just from being around them.

(Some years later, a fairy would fall in love with a mortal man and turn herself into a human in order to marry him. But her children all had that same gift: of being able to make people happy just by being near them. So the next time you meet someone who makes you happy for no reason, they might just be descended from that same fairy…this has nothing to do with Zezolla’s story, but it’s pretty neat, huh?)

The fairies gave the Prince three gifts: A silver spade, a golden pail and a single peach pit. They explained to the Prince that she must use the spade to plant the peach pit and water it with the golden pail. The Prince took these home and, after giving the fancy, expensive gifts to his stepdaughters, gave the pail, spade and peach pit to Zezolla, telling her the same thing the fairies had told him.

Excited by the gifts, Zezolla immediately went out into the garden and dug a hole with the silver spade. She dropped the peach pit in, covered it with earth and filled the golden pail to water the plant. When she awoke the next morning, the peach pit had grown into a beautiful peach tree! With peaches and everything!

All this talk of peaches makes me want to eat a peach. I’ll be right back…

Okay, I’m back. (That was a good peach)

Anyway, after his trip to Sardinia, the Prince went back to his old self, neglecting Zezolla in favor of his six wicked stepdaughters. Possibly if the family had paid more attention to Zezolla, they would have noticed the peach tree springing up literally overnight. They also would have noticed Zezolla herself stealing away to sit in its shade as often as she could. Somehow it made her feel…loved. The way she had felt those first few days before her stepmother stopped pretending. The way she had felt before her mother died. Sitting under that tree was the closest thing to a hug poor Zezolla had received in years.

Then came the King’s Annual Festival. For three consecutive nights, there would be fantastic feasts at the palace and the whole kingdom was invited! Obviously, that included Zezolla. Even more obviously, her stepsisters were not about to let her go. She had nothing nice to wear, her hair was a mess and did she even own a pair of shoes?

On the first night of the festival, Zezolla stayed behind and waved to her stepfamily as they rode away to the king’s feast. Once they were out of sight, Zezolla ran outside and hurled herself under her peach tree and cried and cried and cried. Her tears landed in the soil around the tree, seeped through to the roots of the tree and as soon as that tiny molecule of moisture touched the tree itself, something magical happened. Several peach blossoms opened to reveal, not peaches, but fairies. They flew all around Zezolla and raised her spirits the way they had done for her father back in Sardinia.

“We tried to warn you that the wedding of your father to that horrible woman would bring you only misfortune,” said the fairies.

“You were right,” said Zezolla. “I just wish they had let me go to the festival.”

“All you have to do is ask,” said the fairies. “Ask the tree and you shall have anything you wish.”

“Okay…but I kind of did ask. Didn’t I? Just now when I said ‘I wish?’”

“Oh, I guess you did. Okay, here we go!” The fairies flew all around her. They were fixing up her hair, cleaning her skin, doing her nails and turning her ragged clothes into a beautiful gown. Meanwhile, several fairies had taken a large peach from the tree and were turning it into a coach. The fairies themselves took the form of the horses and soon Zezolla was off on her way to the King’s festival.

(By the way, in case it’s not clear, this king is not Zezolla’s father’s father. He’s a prince from a small kingdom, and the other is king of a big kingdom, so they’re not related or anything. Sorry, it’s just that this is going to be important later in the story and I wanted to make sure you understood.)

Well, when this mysterious, but beautiful, stranger arrived at the feast she created quite a stir. All heads turned wondering who she was…okay, the women wondered who she was. The men were wondering if she had a boyfriend or a husband. Even the Prince and his horrible stepfamily wondered who she was. It had been so long since any of them had seen Zezolla without dirt caked on her face from hard work or ragged clothes on that they didn’t recognize her.

Then the King saw her. And he fell instantly in love with her beauty. He ignored his hosting duties all that night and spent all of his time with Zezolla. And the more time he spent with her the more in love with her he fell. Everything was going very well until Zezolla saw her family leaving the party. She knew she had to get home and changed out of these fancy clothes before they got home, or else they would want the magic of the peach tree all to themselves. She apologized to the king and ran to her coach.

“Wait!” cried the king. “I don’t know who you are. Where are you from?”

Zezolla smiled, “I floated to your majesty in a golden pail.” With these enigmatic words she fled, beat the others home, asked the peach tree to change her back and was inside, pretending to sleep on her cot when the family arrived.

All that next day, the mysterious maiden was all anyone could talk about. Who was she? Where was she from? Would she be back the following night? Zezolla did her best to ignore all of these questions, but had the family paid her more attention, they might have seen her accidentally smile once or twice.

And, just like the night before, after the others had left for night two of the festival, Zezolla got dolled up by the tree and arrived in the magical peach coach. Again she spent the whole night with the king and again she left in time to beat her family home, but not before telling the king “I dug my way to your majesty with a silver spade.”

The third night of the festival was the grandest of all. And, once again, Zezolla was the center of attention. The King, however, was determined that he would not lose her this time. He had his guards posted at every exit and they were given strict orders not to let her leave. So when the time came to run home, he let her go. Knowing that his guards would soon have her. And, indeed, when she was only a few steps away from the coach, she was set upon by the guards, who ordered her to stop. But, foreseeing just this kind of contingency, Zezolla had prepared herself. She had asked for something extra from the peach tree tonight, and as the guards advanced on her she took them from her pocket and scattered them all over the stairs.

Diamonds! Pearls! Precious jewels!

The guards knew these were valuable and not to be thrown away so they began to pick them up, giving Zezolla plenty of time to get into her coach. And as she pulled away, she called back to the guards, “Tell His Majesty that my love for him grows like a peach tree!” and, for the third time in as many days, she made it home just in time to get changed back into her old rags by the peach tree. But this time, she noticed that she was missing something. In the commotion caused when she dropped the precious stones, her left slipper had come off. She took the other one and hid it under her cot where it would always be there to remind her of this wonderful adventure…which she thought was behind her forever.

The festival was over. The mysterious maiden was gone. The king was despondent. Until his guards showed him the shoe. It was the most amazing shoe the king had ever seen. It seemed to be woven of pure gold. Sturdy as leather but soft as silk. And intricate designs had been embroidered into it. Along the left side, water flowed from a golden pail. Along the right, a silver spade dug through the earth. And on the toe, a peach tree with shiny fruit and fairies all around.

The King smiled. He knew he could find her again!

The next day, there was a knock on the front door. Zezolla, of course, answered it, and was surprised to see the King himself standing there. She recognized him, of course, from the party, but he didn’t know her because of how different she looked…still, she thought there was a glimmer of recognition when he saw her…but that may have been her imagination.

“Good afternoon, miss,” he said. “May I speak to your master and/or mistress?”

He had assumed (as who wouldn’t) that Zezolla was a servant. Still, she showed the King and his attendants in. One of the attendants, she noticed was holding a pillow on which rested an object hidden under a fine cloth. She had a hunch she knew what it was. Soon the entire family was assembled in the sitting room with the King.

“I’ll get right to the point,” said the King. “You may have noticed that I spent most of my time at the feasts these past few nights with a certain young woman. She, sadly, has fled without a trace…or, rather, almost without a trace. For she left behind the shoe which my associate, Tomas, has on the pillow he is holding. So I figured…”

“That you would have every maiden in the kingdom try on the shoe,” interrupted Zezolla’s stepmother, “and whoever it fits you’ll marry!”

“What? No, of course not!”

“What?”

“I’ll bet lots of women fit that shoe. I could end up marrying anybody if I did that. No, that won’t work. Luckily, the shoe is very unique. So instead, I’ll just ask you all if you can describe the shoe. I figure only the person who lost it would be able to do that in any kind of detail. So, who wants to try first?”

The King went down the line of Zezolla’s stepsisters, but of course none of them could describe the shoe. They had seen them, and admired them, along with the rest of the partygoers, but none had seen them close enough to be able to say for certain what was embroidered on them. None, that is, except the very youngest sister, who had been trying to remember any detail she could while her sisters were being questioned.

“There was…something…on the toe,” she said, straining her memory. “It was a tree…an apple tree!”

“No it wasn’t.”

All heads turned. Zezolla had been nonchalantly dusting the furniture during this entire interview, without saying a word or even looking up from her work until now. She still had not lifted her head and had made the comment conversationally as if her stepsister had misquoted a book or something.

“Zezolla!” scolded her father. “You have no right to speak before the King!”

“Excuse me,” said the King, sternly. “But I will decide that for myself, if you don’t mind.” Then to Zezolla he said, “What did you say, miss?”

“Just that it’s not an apple tree. They’re peaches. And,” she carried on talking even though she had turned and gone into the next room, “on one side there’s a golden pail pouring out water and on the other side there’s a silver spade digging the soil. In fact, it looks…kind of like this.” She had returned from her cupboard with the other shoe, which she held up for all to see. The King was flabbergasted. Without really knowing why, Tomas took the cloth off the shoe on the pillow in his hand to prove to the world that they were a matched pair.

And, of course, they fit Zezolla’s feet perfectly.

You may be wondering whatever happened to the prince and his wife and her six horrible children? Well, I actually have no idea. Because after marrying the king, Zezolla never saw any of them again as long as she lived. Though I think, privately, in her own heart, she forgave them their cruelty. All I know for sure is that Queen Zezolla lived happily ever after.

THE END


This is just one of the many stories throughout history and from all over the world which eventually became the story of Cinderella which we all know today. I have collected and adapted several of them in my book The Glass Slipper Project. Buy it today from the Amazon Kindle Store and learn a little something about the evolution of fairy tales whilst (and at the same time) enjoying some happy endings.