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.

Friday, June 20, 2014

THE FALLS OF FLICKEN

Three strangers met in the woods one day at sunset. They had each traveled a great distance alone and agreed to make camp together for the night and share their provisions among themselves. The first was Frawd, a Dwarf from the mountains who leaned heavily on a cane as he walked. The second was Amos, a Human hunter from the valley who wore a patch over his left eye. The third was Tyrone, a Dragon with a broken horn and a weak and shriveled right arm.

“Perhaps our friend the dragon could oblige us with a fire,” suggested Amos.

“I’m sorry,” said Tyrone. “But I have no fire. I lost it some time ago.”

“A dragon with no fire?” said Frawd, who was far more compassionate than people expect dwarfs to be. “That must be very difficult.”

“It is,” said Tyrone. “You see, among dragons, the day we can first breathe fire is like…like when a man’s voice changes or he starts to grow hair on his chin. It is sort of a coming-of-age, you see. A dragon who cannot breathe fire is considered little more than a hatchling.”

“How does a dragon lose his fire?” Amos asked, preparing to light a fire the old-fashioned way.

“Perhaps the same way a hunter loses an eye?”

“You’re right, of course. With only one good eye, I cannot tell how far away my prey is. A hunter with a handicap like that is no more use than—”

“Than a dwarf who cannot work,” interrupted Frawd. “Ever since I lost the use of this leg, I have been unable to work the mines. Working is very important to dwarfs, you know. I am as much an outcast among my people as you two are among yours.”

“So, we are all outcasts,” said Tyrone. “Perhaps it is fate that we meet.”

“Forgive me if this is impolite,” said Amos, “but I’m still very curious about how you came to be in this state. I’ve never heard of a dragon losing his fire before.”

“As far as I know, I’m the first one to suffer such a fate. My story begins with a beautiful dragon named Morina. I wanted to ask her to be my mate, but a bigger, stronger dragon beat me to it. I challenged him to combat and lost…though not after receiving these souvenirs,” he added, pointing to his injured horn and arm. “But it was the internal injury that was the most terrible. You see, we dragons make our fire with a special organ in our throats. Our own personal flint, you might say. This other dragon damaged it in the fight. I have not been able to produce so much as a smoke ring since.”

“Still, fighting for love,” said Frawd. “At least that’s a noble pursuit. My injuries are due to arrogance. As you may have noticed, I’m getting older, and I’m not as strong as I used to be. But it’s so difficult for me to admit any kind of weakness. And while working in the mine one day, my fellows and I came upon a long-abandoned tunnel. Certainly dug by our ancestors and abandoned even before we were born. The others wouldn’t dare step inside, but I was certain I was a match for anything. Once inside, there was a rockslide and my leg was trapped. Without my crutch I cannot move at all.”

“Trying to reclaim your youth is understandable,” said Amos. “In my case, however...You see, where I come from I am known as the greatest hunter of all. But a new hunter came to our village…or should I say huntress. And she soon surpassed me in skill and talent. I am ashamed to admit that the idea of a woman besting me infuriated me and I attempted to play a trick on her and drive her out of my valley once and for all. I followed her into the woods on a hunt one day, intending to create a false path and lead her into the darkest, densest part of the forest where I felt sure she would get lost. But I underestimated her skill and she sensed my presence almost at once. Assuming I was either an animal or a threat to her safety…she fired her arrow.”

“And that’s how you lost your eye?”

“What? No, she hit me in the leg. It hurt like all heck and as I was stumbling around in the underbrush I fell on some thorny bushes.”

“And you poked out your eye on the thorns?”

“No, the sound of my thrashing alerted a wild boar and he gored me in the eye.”

Both the dragon and the dwarf cringed slightly at Amos’ story. Eye stuff is always the worst, isn’t it?

“But now, Gentlemen,” said Amos, “I must ask if it has occurred to either of you, as it has to me, that we all might be bound for the same destination?”

“The thought crossed my mind,” said Frawd.

“You don’t mean that both of you are also going to the Falls of Flicken?”

“The very same.”

It made perfect sense that these three downtrodden souls would all be making their way toward the legendary Falls of Flicken: an immense waterfall to the north which was said to have healing powers to anyone who walked beneath its waters. No matter how serious or old the injury or malady, one trip through the curtain of those falls was said to cure anything, even if nothing else in the world could.

Except death. Cuz, ya know…obviously, right?

So the three strangers-turned-friends decided that very night to travel the rest of the way together and help each other along whenever possible.


As our party traveled north together, all was going well. Then, all of a sudden, Amos held out a hand, signaling for the others to stop. “Did you hear that?” he whispered.

“I don’t hear anything,” said Frawd.

“I do.” Then he inhaled deeply. He was smelling for something. “There is another hunter in this forest.”

“So what? We’re not animals…well, not wild ones, anyway.”

“Thanks,” said Tyrone.

“You don’t understand,” said Amos. “I’ve heard of the hunter who lives in these woods. He has a violent temper and has sworn to kill any trespassers who try to hunt on his territory. Even if we could convince him that I’m not trying to hunt here, he might not believe it. Trust me, we need to pass through these woods quickly.”

“I can fly,” said Tyrone. “But dragons’ wings are not built for long trips, which is why I was walking to the falls instead of flying. And they’re usually just strong enough to carry the dragon’s weight.”

“Do you think you could manage?” asked Frawd.

“Just long enough to get out of the woods? Yes.” And he wrapped an arm around the man who wrapped an arm around the dwarf and the dragon took off into the sky. Sure enough, the hunter Amos had heard (and, apparently, smelled) fired an arrow at Tyrone after he broke above the tree line. Luckily, it missed, and Tyrone was able to reach the far side of the forest and safety.

“How do you feel?” asked Amos.

“A little worn out,” admitted Tyrone. “Could we stop and rest for a bit?”

“Of course,” said Frawd. “You saved our lives back there. It’s the least we can do.”

“I never would’ve flown away in the old days,” said Tyrone. “Back when I had my fire…and both my arms…I wouldn’t have been afraid of some lousy human…no offense, Amos.”

“I was the same way when I was younger,” said Frawd. “As a matter of fact, that’s why I dug into that cavern where I got hurt. To prove I was still not afraid of anything. But, trust me, sometimes in life it’s better to just walk away. Or fly as the case may be.”

“Maybe you’re right. Say, I meant to ask,” he added, turning to Amos. “How did you know there was a hunter in the woods?”

“I know what a man sounds like when he’s trying to make as little noise as possible,” said Amos. “But it was the smell that gave him away. Hunters sometimes cover themselves in pungent flowers and plants so that animals can’t pick up our scent. It works on animals, but not on me. The thing that smelled like stinkweed was moving. That’s how I knew it wasn’t stinkweed, but a hunter trying not to be traced.”

“Wow! You must be the best hunter in the world!”

“I don’t know about that. Admittedly, losing my eye has made me appreciate my other senses a bit more.”

For a moment, they all sat in silent thought. When Tyrone was feeling better they continued on their journey. And it wasn’t long before they arrived at the legendary Falls of Flicken! That famed waterfall of magical healing water! That glorious…spectacular…tiny little…it was a spring. That’s all it was. Just a little trickle of water passing over some rocks.

“These,” said Frawd, “are the Falls of Flicken?”

“I guess some of the stories were exaggerated,” said Tyrone.

“Well…are they at least magical?” asked Amos. To find out, Frawd cupped some of the water in his hands (which took a very long time, as you can imagine) and splashed it on Tyrone’s bad arm. They all three stared at it. Nothing happened. It was clear that the Falls of Flicken did not have healing powers. They had come all this way for nothing.

Sadly, the travelers went their separate ways, readying themselves for the rest of their unhappy lives…but that’s not quite how it happened. They met again, these three companions. Once more, years later, as they did the first time, by chance on the road and shared what had happened in the meantime:

When Tyrone got to his home, everyone was still laughing at how spectacularly he had been beaten and teased him about his lack of fire. Except one very pretty girl dragon who didn’t like guys who were always fighting and preferred the sensitive, gentle type who looked before he leaped. She felt bad for what Tyrone had been through and became a very good friend to him…and a very good wife!

When Frawd arrived home, he was asked to take over the position of Chief Dwarf. His years of experience and wisdom, not to mention the bravery he showed in trying to mine that abandoned tunnel, made him perfect for the job!

When Amos got back to his village, the huntress who had shot him, thereby indirectly causing his injury, felt terrible for what she had done. And she admitted that while she was a good shot and had a keen eye, she needed training on some of the subtler aspects of hunting. Listening carefully, recognizing smells, things like that. Amos agreed to teach her and, about a year later, to marry her!
So, you see, even though all three of our friends thought their lives were over, all that their injuries really meant was that they had a chance to start new lives. Lives that were very long and very happy…all thanks to the Falls of Flicken!


Freddy Flunkerer wrote some extraordinary (and unusual) fairy tales back in his native country of Jolsonburg. Read all about the man and his stories in Flunkerer's Fables, for the Amazon Kindle or whatever mobile device you prefer!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

MELVILLE'S BOOK NOOK


Hello! I am Melville! And, as you just saw from the video, I have read all the books. My brain is stuffed full of knowledge and wisdom. In fact, it is so full of knowledge and wisdom that sometimes I can't get the knowledge and wisdom out. It's like when two people try to go through a door at the same time so they get stuck and they're like "Move!" and the other guy is like "No, you move!" and then the first guy says "I was here first!" And then the second guy says...

Sorry, I forgot what we were talking about.

Anyway, my buddy whose name escapes me at the moment said I could say anything I wanted on his blog. So, I decided to say this: Read a book! Everybody should read a book, like me. Some of the best experiences of my life have come from reading...or so I assume. I can't remember any of them, but I have a pretty strong feeling that reading was involved. That's why I do my "Book Nook" series on YouTube, to tell the peoples all about how great books are!

But, you may be asking, where to begin? There are sooooooooooooooooooo many books out there, which ones should I read? Well, you should read them all, like me. But, if you don't have time for that, here are some of my suggestions:

The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary
This book has everything! There's a mouse...and a motorcycle! How cool is that?

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
See, there's this girl called...something and she goes...someplace. Maybe I better reread this one.

Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
There's seven of these books and eight movies...I know, it confuses me, too. But they're good books. Even if the last couple of ones are kind of dramatic (I cried at the end).

The Princess Bride by William Goldman
My favorite part is when the guy says "Hello, my name is Indigo Malkovich. You killed my brother, you dirty rat!"

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammet
See, this guy is really thin and that's why he's a good detective...no, wait...he's a good detective and that's why he's so thin? No, I'm not sure what this one is about, but there's a dog in it! And that's good.

The Jeeves Stories by P. G. Wodehouse
There's a whole bunch of books by this guy about this other guy who works for a guy and the guy who works for the guy is called Jeeves and Jeeves helps the guy to fix his problems and it's funny and it's British and they say "Pip Pip" and stuff like that.

A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond
One of my favorite books ever...but not for the reason you think! Unless, of course, you think it's because it's about a bear...cuz that's the reason.

Bone by Jeff Smith
It's what they call a "graphic novel" which is like a comic book, but classier. It's really long, but it's exciting and it's funny and the little guys are pretty cute.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Okay, now I distinctly remember there being songs and dances in this one. But my friend tells me that I'm confusing the book with the movie. But I'm pretty sure he's wrong and that the singing is in the book. You'll have to let me know when you read this one.

Well, that should get you started. Let me know what you think of these books. And if you need any more recommendations, or have any questions about books, I'll be happy to answer them. Happy reading!

EVERYBODY'S UNCLE

All my life I kept telling myself that I should do volunteer work but I never got around to it until I was almost forty. I met someone who said exactly what I needed to hear to get up off my ass and help out. I signed up to be a driver for Meals-On-Wheels. And I liked it. Giving back to the community, being a friend to some nice people.

About a year after I started doing this, a new house was added to the end of my route. I took the van out to the address I was given and saw that it was a very nice Victorian style home upstate. Lots of property, beautiful home, but not very well maintained. I knocked on the door and it was opened by a very frail, elderly woman named Daphne Harrison.

Daphne’s body was frail, but her mind was still sharp at ninety-two years old and there was something playful, almost childlike about her. Her piercing blue eyes could no longer see, but they were still entrancing. I got the distinct impression that, in her youth, Daphne had been very beautiful. Glancing at a few photos on the mantle confirmed my suspicions. I was used to lingering in these people’s homes after dropping off their meals—many of the people on my route had signed up for the program for companionship just as much as for nutrition—and was fully prepared to nod and smile politely for a few minutes before heading for home.

But then I saw the painting.

A portrait, maybe sixteen by twenty or so, in a simple wooden frame. The man depicted was standing in a grassy field. He was not conspicuously handsome, but there was something immediately likeable about his face. His short, brown hair stuck up at odd angles and he had a crooked, endearing smile. He was wearing a dark gray suit with an extremely ugly Hawaiian shirt under the jacket. His shoes, just visible over the blades of grass among which he was standing, were blue and, though it wasn’t clear in the painting, I knew they were suede dancing shoes, just like the kind Elvis wore.

“Did you paint this?” I asked, pointing at the canvas. In an instant, I remembered that Daphne would have been unable to see what I was pointing at even if she hadn’t had her back turned to me and I felt a little sheepish.

But even without looking, she said, “Yes, I did. When I was twenty-one. A school project.” This was not quite the answer I had expected and Daphne, perhaps, sensed this because she turned around and faced me with her unseeing eyes. “Have you seen him before?”

“I…I thought…no,” I said, hastily. “It reminded me of someone, but…well, it couldn’t possibly be the person I was thinking of. I saw him last year and…well, no offense, but you weren’t twenty-one last year.”

“No I was not,” she chuckled. “In the center of the mantel,” she continued, seemingly apropos of nothing, “is my wedding photo. But there’s another picture hidden behind it. Take a look.”

Not quite sure what I was doing, I followed Daphne’s instructions. Sure enough, a much smaller framed photo was wedged between the large wedding portrait and the brick fireplace. This picture depicted a child’s birthday party. I saw kids playing, adults trying to pretend they weren’t bored out of their skulls, and in the center of it all, a little girl who was, undoubtedly, Daphne as a child who had just turned ten.

Then, in the background, just barely visible, almost like one of those Bigfoot photos from terrible newspapers, I saw him. I looked back at the painting. I searched my own memory, as if trying to convince myself that I was remembering his face wrong. But, no. There was no mistake. They weren’t brothers, or a father and son, they weren’t just similar in appearance. It was, without question, the same man.

“How is this possible?” I asked. “He looks exactly the same in this picture. Does he just not age?”

“No, he does not,” said Daphne. “Which is the great tragedy of his life. He never changes, but the rest of the world does. All of us age and wither and die and all he can do is watch us. That’s why he keeps his distance. Why he stays away. Not because he doesn’t love us...” (Her voice caught in her throat; she might have been close to tears) “…but because he loves us too much.”

“Who is he?”

“You ought to know,” she said, smiling up at me. “You’re one of his nephews.”



Photographs lie, (Daphne told me). That picture of my sixth birthday party makes it look like everyone is happy and enjoying themselves. But behind the plastered smiles and feigned friendliness, the real story is not as pleasant. My mother and father never liked each other. Not for one minute. My mother became pregnant and my father did what he thought was his obligation and married her. But I cannot remember a single moment when either one of them showed any affection or even fondness toward the other.

I believe they stayed together because of me, though I suspect it would have been better for me to be away from all that animosity.

My sixth birthday was a disaster. Mother insisted on a party, but my father was not interested in spending a lot of money on something I’d never remember. Little did he know something would happen to me that day to make sure I remembered it for the rest of my life. After two solid hours of yelling and fighting and cruelty and anger, I couldn’t take it anymore and I ran away. Our backyard opened up onto a sort of forest and my father told me time and again not to go near it. He used to threaten me with violence if he ever found out that I was playing in those woods. But I didn’t care. I just wanted to get away from all of that.

I slid through the gap in the fence and I ran as fast as I could as far as I could before I finally tripped over a tree root and fell forward. I cried. I cried and cried and cried. I was covered in mud, my dress was torn, I was alone in the forest and I was miserable. I cried for every night I’d gone to sleep to the sounds of my parents screaming at each other. For each indifferent word from my father’s lips and each lie my mother told me to justify it.

In that moment, there was nothing in the whole wide world except me and my sorrow.

And that’s when Uncle Charlie found me.

“Are you okay?”

A kind, grownup voice broke through my sobs. He helped me get to my feet and, pulling a towel from his long gray coat, tried to clean me up. I didn’t know who he was, and I was told not to talk to strangers, but somehow he didn’t feel like a stranger. He has that gift. He engenders such immediate trust in everyone he meets.

“You’re not hurt are you?” he asked. He seemed genuinely concerned.

“No, sir,” I said, remembering my manners.

“No need to call me that. I’m Uncle Charlie.”

“Uncle Charlie?” Not only was I pretty sure I didn’t have an uncle Charlie, but this guy did not look anything like anyone from my family.

“That’s what people call me,” he said. “Now tell me what’s the matter.”

“I’m running away.”

“No, I got that. From the running and stuff. I even know what you’re running away from. A birthday party.” For a minute I thought he was psychic or something, then he reminded me that I was still wearing that stupid pointy hat. “Yours?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“How old are you?”

“Six.”

“Six? That’s a great age. So I hear. But why are you running away from your own party?”           

“Cuz everyone’s mad. Mom is mad at Dad, Dad is mad at me. I got upset…and I ran away.”

“I see,” said Uncle Charlie. “Well, I don’t blame you. Sounds awful. But you know…now that you’re here, maybe you can help me. See, I’m tracking a dragon and he’s somewhere around here but—”

“A dragon?” I said, suddenly very excited.

“Yeah. Here, I’ll show you.” He held out his hand for me to take. I did, without hesitation. He led me down a steep hill to an open area and pointed to some animal prints in the soft earth.

“See? Dragon tracks.”

“Those aren’t dragon tracks,” she said. “Those are dog tracks.”

“What? What are you talking about? Those are clearly dragon tracks.”

“They look like dog tracks to me.”

“Okay, well, there’s one way to settle this. We’ll just have to follow them and see where they lead us. Then we’ll see whether it’s a dog or a dragon.”

I agreed and we followed the tracks. “We have to be real quiet,” he said. “Or else the dragon.”

“Dog!”

“Whatever! Will hear us coming. Now shhhh!!!”

The tracks led us to a small cave and we heard an animal scuffling around inside. “Okay, keep close. I’m going to draw it out with my patented dragon call.” Before I could protest, he made the most ludicrous sound I had ever heard. Like a snake hissing while trying to gargle the alphabet. Not surprisingly, it had no effect. “Okay, have it your way.” And he said, “Here boy! Here boy!”

This garnered immediate results. A beautiful golden retriever came loping up to us. He was very friendly and affectionate.

“I knew it! It is a dragon! Stay back!”

“What are you talking about? That’s a dog!”

“Are you blind? Of course it’s a dragon. See how it’s covered in fur and walks on four legs and pants and goes ‘woof’ and…is it not dragons who do that?”

“No, it’s dogs!”

“Oh…oh I see. All this time I thought that was a dragon. So, what’s the big scaly thing with wings that breathes fire?”

“That’s a dragon!”

“OH! Now I get it. That makes a lot more sense.”

“He’s beautiful. I wonder whose he is?”

“Well, he’s yours now.”

“What?”

“If you want him, of course. His previous owners...well, let's just say they've gone away and they can't take care of him anymore. But he seems to like you, so maybe he should be your dragon...dog! Sorry, dog."

My parents weren't too happy that I'd run off, or that I'd brought home a pet. But, both of them seemed to think that it would be a good idea for me to have a friend. It may have been the first and last time they ever agreed on anything. They were a little perplexed by my insistence in naming the dog "Dragon," but he was my best friend for a long time. And even when things were really bad, he was there for me. When my mom got really sick and never recovered. When my dad finally gave up and left and I went to live with my Aunt Ruth who made no secret of the fact that she thought I was a burden, I always had Dragon. 

And, even though I didn't always know it, I always had Uncle Charlie.


"So you saw him again?"

"Many times. In a way, I think it was worth all the sadness to know Uncle Charlie. And looking back, I wouldn't change a thing."

"When did you see him next?"

"When I was nine. But I think we'd better save that story for the next time you come to see me. You are gonna come back to see me, aren't you?"



 TO BE CONTINUED