A guided relaxation themed on water written by Jacqueline Belle and me, voiced by Jacqueline, with video work by Daniel Lacho.
A guided relaxation themed on water written by Jacqueline Belle and me, voiced by Jacqueline, with video work by Daniel Lacho.
I smiled down at my little boy, “I’ve already told this story three times tonight.”
His eyes shone with glee as he simply repeated himself, “Again! Again!”
The sun had set, and the light outside was but moon and stars. My son was not at all tired yet, and neither was I. Stroking his blond hair I said, “Oh, alright, I will tell it again.”
“A long time ago, long before I was born, they told the story of a mischievous spirit called a pooka. Wherever the pooka went, it played pranks on people, but these were usually harmless. It found humans funny, and they, in turn, found its japes amusing. The pooka could take the form of whatever it wanted, and would often play among the human children, laughing and running about. One day, it was playing hide and seek with the children of a small village, and it really wanted to win. It took the form of a moss covered rock, knowing the children would never find it. Oh how it laughed to itself in glee, thinking of all the humans worrying about the child they could not find, lost all alone, in the woods, as night approached. But no one was looking for the pooka. The children had forgotten there was another playmate that day. They had forgotten the strange little child that none of them knew, and they had finished their little game and gone home for supper.
“When midnight came, and still no one looked for it, the pooka changed into an owl and went looking for the humans, wondering where they all were. There were no humans about, there were no torches lit, no search parties for the lost little child who had not been found. It searched all night for any sign that they had worried, and found none. As daylight broke upon the little village, the pooka had become angry, and vengeful. A dangerous thing is a pooka if you ignore its tricks.
“At first, it played the mean pranks it often played when it felt slighted. Milk soured, animals strayed, chairs broke, and food went missing. Still, the humans showed no sign of remorse. No offerings to the magical spirit were offered to soothe its rage. The pooka grew spiteful, and its pranks became dangerous. The baker broke his leg falling off a ladder, the local shepherd almost drowned crossing a river, and the village well dried up. One by one, the humans grew fearful, and they whispered among themselves, wondering what was causing their misfortunes. They imagined ghosts and ghouls, witches and wights, fairies and fuaths. They blamed one creature after another, but not once did they think of pookas, and this made the pooka very angry indeed.
“No longer was it thinking of simple pranks or jests, no longer did it want the people of the village to fear it. No, now it wanted the people of the village to suffer. So it called upon its kind, and from far and wide did the pookas come, each delighted at the grand caper the angry pooka proposed. One by one, the pookas tempted every child of the village away from the watchful eyes of the adults and the other children, and one by one, they stole the child away, putting one of their number in its place, until there was but one human child left in the village. One small, lone child, a little blond boy, just like you, who never ventured from his house, who preferred to play by himself indoors with his books and toys. And it was this little boy that the angry pooka chose to take the place of.
“It approached the house of the little blond boy one afternoon when his parents were still off at work, and taking the form of a puppy, it yipped and yapped, and scratched at the door of the house, trying to lure the child outside. But the child, who looked out at the frantic little animal jumping and prancing about outside his window, did not trust strange animals, just like you, and he turned away from the window and went back to his toys.
“The pooka returned the next day and took the form of a little old lady, frail and kindly, holding a basket of sweet things to entice the child outside. But the child was not fond of sweet things, just like you, and refused to answer the door for the stranger, and went back to his books. This upset the pooka, but what could it do? Even magical creatures have rules they must obey, and the pooka could not enter the house except in the form of the little boy. So once again, it had to go away, and the boy was safe another day.
“Day after day, the pooka returned, and it took form after form, each more irresistible than the last, but nothing it did could coax the little boy out of his house and into danger, for the boy was obedient, and his parents had told him never to go outside when they were away, and never to talk to strangers. Day after day, the pooka tried, and day after day it was frustrated, and the lone little boy who preferred books to all the silly little things other children found so fun remained safe in his house.”
My child beamed up at me and asked excitedly, “Did the pooka ever get him?”
“Never. Not as long as the boy remained inside, like a good little boy should, like you do, my child.” I kissed the top of his head as I finished my cautionary tale once more.
I smiled down at my little boy and laughed, “You have heard this story four times tonight.”
He just smiled at me in that way every child smiles at their parent when they do not want to let the story end, “Again! Again!”
An owl hooted as the deep of the night settled in. My son was still not tired, and neither was I. Stroking his brown hair I said, “Oh, alright, I will tell it again.”
“I would not go out to sea today. No, no, no….”
“You’re mad, old man.”
“Aye, mad. Mad, and alive, boyo.”
The young captain snorted and turned his back to the old timer, but as he lashed his gear on deck, he cast a wary eye up at the clouds for signs of trouble. No one paid attention to the old coot who haunted the docks for as long as any could remember, but the young captain was as superstitious as any who plied the seas. It did not do to ignore any warning entirely. He snorted again at the clouds, tiny and dispersing. There was no sign of storm in the sky, and no portent of any in the offing. The young captain turned back toward the senile old man, unable to resist taunting his elder, “I fear no tempest this day.”
The old man was shuffling about with his back half-turned, collecting trash left over from the meals of gulls and fishermen alike. He just shook his head and replied, “Nay, no foul gale today, boyo. Yet I would not go to sea today, not through that firth. No, no, no….”
“What’s wrong with the firth then?”
“There’s a fuath in the firth, and it’s no friend to sailors. Not today.”
“A fua… Hells take you, you crazy old bastard! You try to jinx me with ancient spirits? There’s no such thing as fuaths! Be gone and let me work!” The young man of the sea spat and gestured rudely, watching the lunatic wander down the pier before returning to the task at hand. He wanted to beat the tide , and could little afford delays, mystical or otherwise. Yet, even as he worked feverishly, the captain cast a glance every few minutes at the wandering form of the muttering madman, and another glance at the opening to the ocean beyond the bay.
There were old stories about the firth, older than any could remember. Old tales told by old men in older taverns when the winds were howling and the shingles shuddering, over bitter ales in the fluttering candle light of the deep night. He had heard these tales, growing up in the village, but had grown up and grown wary. Even had he still believed in faerie stories, he had never heard tell of a fuath in the firth. It seemed such a silly reason to stay in port.
His preparations at last done and his two crewmen arrived and on board, the young captain cast off and set sail, with one final sneer at the old man still rambling about on the dock. For some reason no one could explain later, the young captain never noticed his was the only ship setting out that day.
The old man no one knew well stood up and put another piece of garbage in his sack, muttering to no one in particular, his eyes flickering a little strangely, “I would not go to sea today. No, no, no…”
Wisps of ash floated down from the growing cloud of smoke. There was no breeze, but the heat of the flames buffeted the smoldering flakes of wood and cloth, gently guiding the delicate remnants of the blaze away from the still raging fire even from a distance. Even without a wind to tear them apart, the flakes were gossamer thin, fragile, vulnerable, often disintegrating into dust before they could reach the ground. Every so often there was a sharp pop from the inferno, and a shower of white hot cinders shot out into the darkness of the night, a spray of short-lived flares, melting snow wherever they came to rest. The cabin burned for hours, sputtering and dying only when the timbers had burned well below the snowbanks, extinguishing only when the still frozen ground would allow the conflagration to go no further.
Between the low lying storm clouds, gathering strength to unleash another torrent of snow the next day, and the thick obscuring smoke from the blaze, the inferno was almost invisible even at full strength, vanishing entirely from view any further than a few yards by the time the last few guttering flames gave out at last and all that remained were quickly cooling embers. The blizzard that broke the next day lasted for a week, dumping layer after layer of fresh snow upon the land, burying all sign there had ever been a fire or home for many months after. When the spring came, later that year than any on record, the gathered snows melted slowly, clumps and drifts lingering over any depression and against any protrusion that could be used for cover. What had once been a cabin offered little shelter for the retreating snows, but it was enough to mask all signs that life had ever dwelt there for a few weeks longer. The days were turning toward the simmering, sweltering summer season before anyone happened upon the ruin.
A small child, enjoying the first weekend the weather had allowed him to ride his new bicycle, stopped in front of the blackened outlines in the ground of what had once been a house. He was far from his own home, far from any neighbors he knew, and far from the paths and roads he normally played along. This deep into the wild, down the badly maintained dirt road, he had not expected to find anything. The weeds and brambles had already started reasserting their natural right over the narrow road, adding to the illusion that no one had lived here for longer than was true. The child wondered about what he found, but made no note of it. There was nothing special about charred debris in the deep woods, and his were not the worries of the grown up world. Laughing away whatever fears or worries the oddity aroused, the child pedalled away toward home, leaving the last testament to what had once been a home behind, to be overgrown, not to be seen again.
This is not what you think it is. In fact, it is not even what you think it is not.
Infinite impossibilities tangle inside my skull, contemplating and conspiring on expiring my last waking moments in a cacophony of idle thoughts so they can watch the show of me turning and churning in the sheets, struggling to extrapolate myself from all that is all my thoughts at once.
Mere caffeine alone cannot solve this one. Time for music.
Even if I could, I would not, so to say, even think of changing to a slower grade of pace as I face each day on what little measure of sleep I allow for my mind to take. When else would I dance with the moments of space and time that flit into my brain, expecting a waltz?
I say this, but once. Time is not what you think it was. It is mine.
Coffee is for the weak. If my blood gets much thinner, I could slide it into a seam and sew it away, never to escape again. Of course I am rambling, the damn lights never give up, not when they can blind me in the total darkness, pounding into my bones, trying desperately to keep me blinking. Damn sun. Damn sun! Die already!
Oh wait, it’s dead for the day. Why then do I still see it when I look down?
The compositions of those already asleep wander through my ears, soothing the silent beast trembling within my skin. It is good music I hear, too good for the mere darkness of the light to envelope. It is good to hear as I drink a little more sustenance, drowning out the howls of the thoughts as they drift away and disappear on the horizon of a nice soothing dream.
A dream, of music.
In the twilight of the days, in the evening of the year, as inebriated fools hail the fading sun and curse the coming darkness, I whisper into the cooling winds, my words wandering across the earth. The earth comes to rest for another cycle, as the colors flee before my cold. I am approaching on whirling clouds of grey and gloom, quickly gathering into the storms ahead. Darkness looms above, as shadows grow below, nothing escaping the darkness that comes upon the land like a mad torrent of unforgiving anguish.
My cold chills to the bone any caught outdoors. I blast forth from the depths of men’s fears, swallowing up the bright summer days and the colors of the fall, washing all life of its warmth and painting the world in white. Men cower indoors, huddled about together before fires, trying to stave off my chill, trying to bear my wrath for another season, shivering through the long nights and longer storms as I vent my cold fury upon all who would dare to venture forth amid my sovereignty .
Behold, mere mortals, the rancor of my reign! Curse your curses upon my head if you will, offer me supplication from your scant stores, wail into the howling darkness your entreaties for forgiveness, but you will know no mercy. I am King Winter, and you will taste my death, trapped in the darkness of my grasp. Struggle and flee, my chill gales will pursue you, will gnaw at you, will bring you down into numb submission, and will tear the last warmth of life from your frozen bones.
Only when the land is dead, and the chill has sunk into the rocks and dirt will I depart once more. Only when I have had my fill of your misery, only when I have scoured the leaves and chased the joy from all who survived my vengeance, Only then will spring come to know the land. Only then will men emerge and whisper of my cruelty. Only then will men and beast return to the land. Only then will they once more claim lordship upon the world and build and breed. Only when my menace is a memory will they farm and flourish. But men and beast alike would do well to remember that seasons come and seasons go, and seasons pass and seasons grow. Tarry not long upon the land, for in the autumn of the year I bide my time, and once more the dark clouds grow upon the skies above and once more my words wander forth, heralds to be headed, to be feared, to be dreaded. Signs and portents of the fall of light and warmth should be heeded, for once more I will know my glory and life will know what cruel consequence cold can carry.
Once Upon A Lane is now available in the Google Play Store and in Google Books! With this new store, I can offer a Holiday discount on the ebook of $4!
They were shouting and laughing at each other, as if they were running away from the scene of some mischievous prank, which they were, as if they were being chased, which they were, and were fleeing to a safe refuge to wait out the temporary ire of their hapless victim, which they were. They careened wildly around various residents of the lane with little regard for their or the residents’ safety, as the young invariably do. Most just grunted or smiled in annoyance or bemusement, but some shouted reproaches at them or tried to reach out and grab them short with no success. When at last they reached Liola’s home, they were short on breath, but giggling all the same. They made their way around the pink pelican statues, down the path along the side of the house, around to the back of her house, past the back door that never opened and into the barely discernible hole in her hedgerow.
There was a hollow in the center of the bushes that lined most of the back fence that connected from bush to bush, and here was the favorite hideout of the youngest Murphy boy and Bobby. It was here that they planned their adventures, it was here that they hid their treasures, and it was here, in the hidden hollow, that they sought refuge from the adults who did not care for their childish escapades. The birds and squirrels had long ago ceded the whole hedge to the two boys. This was their refuge and their fortress. The bushes had served duty as a pirate ship, a castle, an underground cavern, a courtroom, a spaceship, and at all times a tunnel into another world that only they could see and visit.
Once secure in their hide-away, the youngest Murphy boy and Bobby chattered away in whispers, lest they be heard by their imagined pursuer, whispers far too loud to be stealthy, but quiet enough that none listening could possibly discern anything meaningful. Not that they discussed anything meaningful to anyone else, as they excitedly retold the events they had just experienced, misremembering and embellishing every detail, until their latest amusement was of the greatest magnitude with the highest of stakes and the fraughtest of perils. The erstwhile neighbor they had forayed against became a terrible dragon whom they had vanquished with a mighty spell, which happened to take the form of a water balloon, atop a high mountain in the forests of suburbia. Even woeful Leo Tuttle was transformed in their retelling into a mighty guardian troll they had deftly flanked as they crossed a rickety bridge spanning a yawning chasm without bottom that still somehow held a fearsome river filled with piranha and lava at the same time.
The boys stopped their narrative dialogue suddenly when they heard a creak and scrape of wood from the fence next to the hedge. There was only silence, as much as there ever is silence in a world filled with birds and insects and squirrels and other varieties of life. The two boys held their breath and listened intently, suddenly wholly convinced that they had been found out and their secret lair was about to be exposed to the world at last. Long moments of tension and worry held them captive, but the sound did not repeat. Finally, when they could hold neither their breath nor their tongues any longer, they burst into a frenetic whispered debate as to what had caused the sound or if they had heard any sound at all. They came to the mutual conclusion that they had imagined it, then subsequently decided that they had hidden long enough and the world outside was safe once more, so they peaked out of their hole in the bush before creeping out into Liola’s back yard.
Laughing and chattering once more, the pair dashed around the house, not hearing the boards behind their hideaway creak and scrape once more.
A character driven slice-of-life story that follows the humble lives of the residents of a suburban neighborhood as they live and love, and about the house with the dead yard, a vacant lot, that sits among their homes, inert and immobile, yet intimidating and terrifying to any who look at it too long. The children of the lane are not the only ones who are fearful of the anomaly in their midst. Every adult upon the lane wonders why the structure still stands, with no known owner and no reason to be. The lingering question is not who owns the house, but why no one ever goes in or comes out, and why there are such ghastly noises emanating from within. Day by day, the happy people of the lane go about their tasks and trials, and day by day, the house with the dead yard seems a little more ominous, a little more intrusive, and a little less ignorable than before.
There once was a lane, filled with well-tended lawns and well-fostered friendships, of well-appointed houses all neat and tidy and those that live within, of stories and mysteries that manifest for only fleeting moments for the few who pay attention. This is one such tale. A tale about pleasant people, about the lives they live, about their wants and dreams, about their loves and losses, their joys and hates, about their days and nights in the company of cherished companions in the houses they call home. It is a dance between tears and joy, of young and old, of hopes and fears, of knowns and unknowns, of those who have yet to live and those who never have. In this tale of the happy little lives of blissful simple folk, there are monsters, to be sure. But this is not the story of monsters, this is not the tale of their evil deeds, this is the tale of those they make suffer. In this tale, the monsters have no names. The monsters do not deserve names.
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