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.

MEET SHELLY HOBBES

Inspired by 'A Study In Scarlet' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle



For those of you who don't know me, my name is Warren J. Morton. I was orphaned at an early age and spent most of my early childhood in foster homes. I look back on those years as the worst of my life. That isn’t to say anything against the foster care system. I was always well cared for, had plenty to eat, always had the basic necessities. No, the reason I was so miserable back then was because I was lonely. There were usually lots of kids around, but I was very nervous around people and, therefore, had a hard time making friends.

That all changed when I was nine years old. It was October 7th, 1993, and I was transferred to a new foster home. It was on East Treebark Street, #122. A fairly large building where several other kids were staying. I was terrified as I looked around, thinking about how hard it was at my last home. I was worried that it would be the same thing all over again and I wouldn’t have any friends here. And people don’t want to adopt kids who can’t make friends.

The lady who ran the place was Mrs. Holloway and she was very nice when she first met me. She showed me around the activity room, the kitchen and what she called the “visiting room,” where kids could sit down and talk with prospective parents. She also introduced me to the other kids. I think I may have managed to say “hi” to a few of them, but I was scared and don’t remember. Then she took me to Room B, my room, which she said I’d have to share with another kid. That made me even more scared.

I was surprised that my roommate was a girl, since I was expecting to share with another boy. When we came in, she was sitting on her bed with her nose buried in a big book called The Sign Of The Four. I could see that she was wearing a sweater that was at least a size too big, old blue jeans, and a pair of very, very worn tennis shoes which may, at one time, have been pink.

“Shelly,” said Mrs. Holloway, “I’d like you to meet Warren. He’s going to be your new roommate.”

The girl, Shelly, looked up from her book and eyed me carefully. I saw that she was my age, with glasses and large green eyes, with which she was carefully scrutinizing me.

After a few seconds she said, quite simply, “You’re going to need a heavier coat. It gets much colder here than it did in California.”

I was surprised, but Mrs. Holloway just sighed (or maybe groaned; she did both quite a lot when Shelly was around) and said, “Shelly, please, don’t start with this again.”

“But, Mrs. Holloway, I have to practice on people I don’t know. I already know everything about you and the other kids here.”

“Excuse me, Shelly,” said Mrs. Holloway, perturbed by Shelly’s impertinence, “but you do not know everything about me.”

“Oh, then you’re not fifty-five years old, widowed, divorced, with no children, born and raised in Michigan, allergic to ragweed and at high risk for diabetes?”

A peculiar expression crossed Mrs. Holloway’s face. It was an expression I came to see a lot when I was with Shelly. It was equal parts anger, at being spoken to so rudely, embarrassment, at having personal information blurted out so casually, and amazement, because everything Shelly had said was completely correct. That was followed by exasperation at not knowing precisely how to respond, and, in the end, Mrs. Holloway just grunted angrily and stormed out, leaving me alone in room B with the girl who I did not yet realize was going to change my life forever.

“Sorry about that,” said Shelly. “I sometimes get carried away. I’ll have to apologize to her later. Anyway, here’s your bed.” With that she picked up her book and disappeared into it once again.

Engaging others in conversation was never easy for me, but in this case, I found the strength because I just had to know. “How did you know that?” She looked up. “That I came here from California?”

“That’s not all I know.  I know that you only got into town this morning, that you had lunch on the way here, that you’ve been an orphan for as long as you can remember, you’ve recently had a growth spurt and that you’re very uncomfortable in social situations and I’m making it worse by talking about you like this…”

She seemed as surprised by that last statement as I was, as though she were realizing it for the first time as she was saying it. Her expression softened and she said, “Sorry. Like I said, I get carried away. Did I get anything wrong?”

“Um, no. No, it was all right. But…how did you know?”

“I didn’t know. I saw.” She took a deep breath. “You still have your ticket stub in your jacket pocket, you probably would have thrown it away if you’d gotten into town any earlier than this morning. There’s a fresh ketchup stain on your shirt and some at the corner of your mouth. The shirt stain shows signs of someone trying to wipe it up, so you’re not a messy eater. That means the ketchup on your face and shirt was an accident. Maybe the car hit a bump while you were eating, whatever the case you were clearly eating while on the move. The skin on your face and hands is slightly darker than the skin below your neck and wrists, which I can see because your clothes don’t fit you very well, hence the growth spurt. The tan tells me you’ve been somewhere sunny. Your bag is made by Stamford, a regional maker of luggage and backpacks based on the west coast. Hence, California.”

She paused. “The bag also tells me how long you’ve been an orphan. It’s small and there’s still not much in it. Kids like us, who have been orphans all our lives, usually pack light because we know we might have to move to a new home at a moment’s notice.”

For a while, neither of us said anything. Then I said, without really intending to, “That was…amazing.”

Shelly looked up at me again. But I think this was the first time she was really seeing me and not studying me. She smiled at me. I smiled back.

“It’s not so amazing. Observation, logic, deduction. It’s elementary.”

“Where did you learn to do all that?”

“Haven’t you ever heard of Sherlock Holmes?” she showed me an illustration from the book she was reading. It was a tall, slender man with an overcoat, a pipe and a funny-looking hat. “He’s the greatest detective in the whole wide world. He uses his skills of observation and reason to solve mysteries by finding clues that even the police overlook. When I grow up, I want to be just like him. Except, you know, a girl.”

“Wow. That’s cool.”

“Really? You think it’s cool? Most people think it’s weird.”

I didn’t realize it at the time, but Shelly was not used to being praised for her deductions. “Weird” was one of the kinder words people used to describe her. But I meant it. I thought it was really cool!

Still do, in fact.

“Anyway,” said Shelly, “if you want to unpack your things, there’s a dresser you can use in the closet.”

I started to unpack my things. I was a little embarrassed, because I didn’t have very much to unpack. Just a few clothes and the only toy I owned: A doctor’s kit. I didn’t even remember where I got it from, but, for whatever reason, I always had it with me. Most of the kids thought it was weird that that’s the only toy I had, but Shelly looked at it with wide eyes.

“Is that a doctor’s kit?” she asked.

“Y-y-yes?” I said, nervously.

“That’s great! That means you can be my Watson!”

“N-no, Warren. It’s Warren.”

“I know your name is Warren, but I thought you could be my Watson. Here, I’ll show you.” She flipped through the book again until she found another illustration. This time the tall, thin man was sitting in a chair facing another man in a chair. This man was stockier and had a mustache. “Whenever Sherlock Holmes solved a mystery, he always had help from his best friend, Dr. Watson. I just thought since you like to pretend to be a doctor, you could be my sidekick when I pretend to be Sherlock Holmes. Okay?”

I didn’t understand most of what she had said…in fact, there was a lot that Shelly said that I didn’t understand (part of that’s because she said it very, very fast). But what I did hear made it sound like she wanted to be my friend, so I nodded. Shelly squealed excitedly and put out her hand. I took it and we shook. “Welcome aboard, my dear Watson.”

“Warren.”

“No, I know, I just…fine, whatever, my dear Warren it is.”

How could I have known? How could I possibly have known that this simple interaction with a perfect stranger was going to change me in ways I still don’t fully understand? I didn’t know that this was going to be the beginning of many great adventures with a truly remarkable person. At the time, all I knew was that I had a friend and I was happy.


From then on, Shelly and I were practically inseparable. She showed me around the neighborhood, told me everything I needed to know about the other kids (and quite a few things I didn’t need to know and which I had no idea how she had figured them out), and she showed me her special Sherlock hat, which she told me was really called a “deerstalker” and which Arthur Conan Doyle only made mention of briefly on one occasion, but most people associate it with Sherlock because of an illustration by Sidney Paget…Again, I didn’t know what any of that meant, but it was really exciting hearing her talk about it.

That night, before bed, she even read to me from one of her Sherlock books. I say she read it to me, but what she was doing could more accurately be described as “translating.” Shelly was way more advanced than I was, but she had no problem, for lack of a better term, “dumbing down” the parts I didn’t understand.

"‘How are you?’ he said cordially, gripping my hand with a strength for which I should hardly have given him credit. ‘You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.’ ‘How on earth did you know that?’ I asked in astonishment.”

“That’s like what you did when we met.”

"Exactly. I observed the evidence, made a logical connection, then deduced the answer. It only seemed amazing because I skipped to the end and told you the conclusion before I told you how I got there. But it's really simple.” 

“I don't think it's simple. You're like...Nancy Drew or somebody.”

Shelly winced at the sound of the name. “I know you think you're complimenting me by comparing me to Nancy Drew, but you're not. Nancy Drew was the worst! Some kind of supergirl who could solve the case, swim in the Olympics, win a dance contest, design a box girder bridge, star in a play and still get home in time to cook like Betty Crocker. I don't see how anybody could relate to someone so far-fetched and unrealistic.”

It was the last time I ever mentioned the name “Nancy Drew” in her presence again. 

But what Shelly liked to do most of all was to hone her detective skills. She used to tell me the most important thing about being a detective was observation. Noticing details that others overlook. To illustrate this, she asked three of the other kids who lived with us a simple question: “How many steps are there in the front stoop of this building?” Of course, every one of them had walked up and down that stoop more times than they could count…but none of them could remember how many steps there were. “See what I mean?” Shelly said. “Observation, logic, deduction.”

It was six, by the way. Six steps. In case you were curious.

There were six other kids living in the house besides us—Joey, Rachel, Sarah, Charlie, Scarlet and Lee—and while I still spent most of my time with Shelly, I was beginning to make friends with them as well. I didn’t even realize it at the time, but suddenly I wasn’t so shy and nervous around people as I used to be. Something about Shelly being my friend made me feel more confident and helped me open up. From then on, I was never short on friends…though, of course, one always stood head and shoulders above the rest.

Then came that fateful evening, about four days after we had first met. Shelly and I were playing Connect Four in our room (she was killing me!) when we started to hear moaning in the next room.

Shelly quickly put on her Sherlock hat and shouted, “C’mon, Warren! And bring your kit!” and ran out the door. I didn’t know why, but I took my doctor’s kit and followed her to the next room, where Scarlet and Sarah slept, and there was Scarlet on her bed, moaning and wailing and clutching her tummy in pain. Shelly told me to examine her and I took out my toy stethoscope and listened to her tummy. It was growling and grumbling like an angry bear.

“Yep,” I said to the small crowd of kids that had gathered at the door. “Definitely a tummyache.”

“Yes, thank you, Warren,” said Mrs. Holloway, coming in and scooping Scarlet up in her arms. “But if you don’t mind, I think I’ll take it from here.” She took Scarlet downstairs to give her something for her upset tummy. The kids started to go back to their own rooms, but Shelly grabbed me by the arm and led me back inside Scarlet’s now empty room. Sarah was going back downstairs to watch TV, so we had the room to ourselves.

“Now that everyone's gone,” she told me, “we can start looking for clues.”

“Clues? What clues?”

“A crime has been committed here, Warren!”

“It has?”

“Yes!...well, maybe...I don't know, that's why we have to investigate! Just in case it is a crime.” Shelly looked at me. My confusion must have shown on my face. She sighed. “Warren, how can I be a detective if I never solve a mystery? There are no crimes or criminals these days. I need a case to prove to everyone that I'm not just some weird little kid who's read too many books. That I really can be a detective. Now will you help me look for clues or not?”

“Okay,” I said, still not entirely sure why.

“Thank you.” She smiled and took her magnifying glass out of her pocket. “The game is afoot!”

“It's...what?”

“Just start looking.”

I wasn't expecting to find anything. I figured Scarlet had just eaten something that had disagreed with her. But it was, for some reason, important to Shelly, so I looked. I did find something, though: a small carton of soy milk. Most of it had been drunk and it was lying on the ground next to Scarlet’s bed. A bendy straw was sticking out the opening.

“Interesting,” said Shelly when I showed it to her. “She was drinking this soy milk right before the tummyache hit.”

“Maybe it’s spoiled?” I suggested.

“No,” said Shelly, looking at the expiration date on the carton. “It says here it’s good for another week. Or as good as it can be…soy milk. Yuch!” She put the half-full carton on the bedside table between Sarah and Scarlet’s beds. That’s when Shelly found our next clue: Scarlet’s drawing book! Scarlet was an artist and always had her drawing book and colored pencils with her. It was open to a page with no drawings, though. Just a word in her favorite color, red: “RACHE.”

“Rache? What does that mean?”

“It’s German,” came a voice from behind us. “It means revenge.”

Shelly and I looked around and saw that Sarah had entered the room. It was her room, after all. Apparently, someone was already watching a TV show she didn’t want to see, so she had come back upstairs to read.

“My last foster mom was German,” she explained. “What are you guys doing in my room?” Shelly explained that we were investigating what had happened to Scarlet. “I don’t know what’s wrong with her,” said Sarah, crossing to her bed. “She was feeling fine after dinner. Then she came up here and started feeling bad.” Sarah picked up the carton of soy milk and took a sip. “You know, this stuff’s not as bad as I thought it would be. Tastes almost like real milk.”

“I don’t think so!” said Shelly. “But maybe you can help us. What has Scarlet been doing lately?”

“Well, a few days ago, she had that tea party. Then yesterday she and I drew pictures and talked about what kind of animals we’d like to be. Then we pretended we were those kinds of animals. Then today we mostly watched TV and read.”

“Hmmm,” said Shelly, and I could tell she was doing some very careful thinking. Just then, we heard more moaning, from down the hall this time and we ran to Rachel and Joey’s room where Joey was moaning and crying just like Scarlet had been doing. And a moment later, Mrs. Holloway had taken him downstairs to join Scarlet for some tummyache medicine. Once again, Shelly and I started looking for clues.

“Another one!” I said.

“Another what?” asked Shelly.

“Another carton of soy milk. With another bendy straw. I didn’t think so many people liked soy milk. The bendy straws I get, but…”

“It’s not so much that they like it, but it’s all they can have. Joey and Scarlet are lactose intolerant.”

I thought about that, and then I sniffed the milk in the carton. “Funny,” I said. “Sarah was right. This does seem like real milk to me.”

“Let me try it.” Shelly took the carton and sipped it. “Wait a minute…this is not soy milk!”

“Sure it is. It says so right—”

“Scarlet got me to drink some of her soy milk once and it was disgusting. This is real, actual, for real, out of a cow type milk!”

“Then it’s no wonder they feel sick. If they’re lactose intolerant and they drank all this milk, of course they’d get upset tummies.” Looking back, I realize that this case was my first practical exercise in diagnostics. “But why was there real milk in a carton of soy milk?”

“Elementary, my dear Warren,” said Shelly (I always did like it when she called me that). “Someone must have put it there. And what’s more, it was someone in this house!”

“What?” I said. “How do you know? How do you know it wasn’t a mistake at the milk company?”

“What, you think the people who put soy milk in those little cartons accidentally put real milk in some of the cartons? It’s impossible! And once you’ve eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth! Therefore, the switch must’ve taken place here in this house. And there’s something else that leads me to think this was intentional.”

“What’s that?”

“Bendy straws, Warren! Bendy straws! Joey and Scarlet don’t have bendy straws in their rooms, those are in the kitchen. Which means the cartons must’ve been opened long before they got to either Scarlet or Joey. Someone must’ve opened the cartons, poured out the soy milk, poured in real milk, added bendy straws and given them to our victims.”

“But who? And why?”

“I think I know who. In fact, I think Scarlet was trying to tell us before her tummyache got so bad.”

“She did? When?”

“When she was writing in her drawing book! Don’t you get it?”

I didn’t, but it didn’t matter because just at that moment, Rachel joined us.

“What are you two doing in here?” she asked.

“We were just…” I began, but Shelly cut across me.

“We’re proving that you’re responsible for giving tummyaches to Scarlet and Joey!”


“I still don’t think I understand it all,” I said when we were getting into bed that night. “Explain it again, please, Shelly.”

“It’s very simple, Warren,” she said. “I first became suspicious of Rachel when I realized that the two victims were lactose intolerant. A condition which Rachel also shares. Once they felt better, both Scarlet and Joey were able to confirm that Rachel had been the one to bring them their soy milk and that it had already been opened and bendy-strawed before it got to them.”

“But I don’t understand why.”

“The tea party, Warren. Don’t you remember? The day after you got here, Scarlet held a tea party. Rachel happens to love tea parties but she wasn’t invited. In fact, the only person who was invited was Joey.”

“A boy going to a tea party?”

“Exactly! I deduced that Scarlet like-likes Joey, and the tea party was actually a secret date they were having. But Rachel thought Scarlet was being rude by not inviting her and wanted revenge.”

“So ‘rache’ did mean revenge…sort of.”

“Sort of. But mostly, it meant that Scarlet got too sick to finish after she started writing ‘Rachel.’ Anyway, the rest you know. She put real milk in a soy milk carton, then took a regular soy milk and went to Scarlet’s room, pretending to apologize and offering to drink a soy milk toast. She drank the real soy, and Scarlet drank the real milk, making her sick. Then she did the same thing to Joey.”

“Amazing! You figured that all out all by yourself?”

“Well, not all by myself,” she said with a smile. “I couldn’t have done it without you.” I smiled back at my new best friend. “G’night, Warren.”

“G’night, Shelly,” I said. But I couldn’t sleep. I was so excited about the mystery, and my new friend and all the wonderful adventures I knew we’d go on. And, sure enough, this was only the first of many adventures I would have with my best friend: Shelly Hobbes, the Master Detective!



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!