Monday, February 18, 2019

Dancing with the Moon


                             Dancing with the Moon
                                                      
By Valerie L. Egar

           
            Very long ago, in a land of ice and snow far to the north, a beautiful young woman, Eldreth, lived with her elderly father in a large house in a village nestled at the foot of a mountain.  Nothing thrilled Eldreth more than long sleigh rides in the snow, the full moon rising over the mountain and all the animals— snowy owls, fox, wolves— that lived in the forest.
            “Soon it will be time for you to marry,” her father said.
            Eldreth shook her head. “Not interested!” she replied. She was busy with her stable of horses and long mountain hikes.


            As time passed, though, news of her loveliness spread to nearby villages and those interested in winning her love appeared at the door. One after another, Eldreth sent them away.
            “What is it you want?” her father asked.
            “I will marry the one who dances with the moon,” said Eldreth.
            A few ambitious men climbed to the highest mountain peak on a night when the moon was full and seemed close enough to touch. When they reached the summit, though, they realized that no matter how high they climbed, the moon was too far away.
            After that, people gave up, realizing Eldreth’s demand was her way of saying she didn’t wish to marry.  Every now and then, someone from a land far away would hear about “dancing with the moon” and visit the town to see the odd girl. Then they’d write about it in their travel journal. Aside from attracting a few visitors from foreign lands, no one rushed to the challenge of dancing with the moon and Eldreth remained alone.
            One day, while she was hiking, Eldreth encountered a fox at the edge of an icy stream. Its foot was caught in a trap and it whimpered softly. Eldreth was enraged. “These are my father’s woods and they will not be violated!”


            She freed the fox, wrapping its injured paw with a strip of green silk she ripped from her dress. She spent the rest of the afternoon finding  traps and destroying them. Every day after that, she patrolled the woods, looking for traps and poachers, but found none. “Good! I chased them away!”
            A few months later, on a full moon night, Eldreth looked from her window, admiring the moon. It reflected in the frozen lake just beyond her house, a perfect silver orb on the ice.  Eldreth noticed a fox, jumping and spinning around the silver orb. The fox was dancing with the moon!
           Eldreth ran to the lake and peeked out from behind a tree.  The fox bowed to the moon, jumped high and spun, yipping joyfully.  “I think he loves the moon as much as I do,” Eldreth thought.

When the fox finished his dance, Eldreth stepped from behind the tree and the fox walked to her. He dropped a scrap of green silk at her feet.
“It’s you!”  She kissed the fox on the forehead and though he did not turn into a prince, he did transform into a man who loved Eldreth and treasured the moon as much as she did.

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Copyright 2019 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published February 16, 2019 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).


Monday, February 11, 2019

Escaped Nightmares!



                               Escaped Nightmares!
                                                  By Valerie L. Egar

            Once upon a time, an old wizard worked his magic to trap all the nightmares in the world.  Every scary dream beast was rounded up and locked in a sturdy box. The wizard jammed anxiety dreams— ones in which children and adults dreamed they had exams for courses they’d never taken or were about to go on stage to recite lines they’d never learned— into pottery jars and corked the tops so they couldn’t escape. Dreams about falling, being chased, losing something precious— the wizard tracked each one down, lassoed it and locked it up.
            The wizard took the nightmares he’d captured and hid them in a dark cave. Locked boxes, corked jars— the wizard filled the cave with hundreds. He placed a large boulder in front of the cave’s opening and cemented it in place, so the nightmares would be contained for all eternity.
Thousands of years passed and people dreamed only happy dreams when they fell asleep, but one day, two explorers hiking through the mountains came upon the boulder.  In the passage of time, the cement holding the boulder to the cave’s opening had given way. With rain and snow, the erosion of earth, the boulder had moved enough to show the cave’s entrance.
 “Someone was trying to hide the opening,” one explorer noticed, pointing to the remains of cement. Of course both immediately thought of hidden gold and jewels. They determined to go inside.
They pried the boulder aside and into the cave they went. Breaking the boxes and jars open, the explorers were frightened by a terrible howl. All the nightmares, free at last, flew out of the cave. Only then did the explorers see the inscription the wizard had written on the wall in every language known to man: Nightmare Cemetery. Do not disturb!
People all over the world tossed and turned when they went to sleep that night! Word spread that explorers had unleashed ancient nightmares that had been locked away.  No one knew what to do.
“Catch them again and lock them away!” people said, but no one knew the ancient spell the wizard used to corral the nasty dreams. Besides, no waking person could see them. They were wisps and changed shape quickly. Catching them was impossible. A nightmare might be the sound of footsteps running behind a person, coming closer, closer one minute and then turn into a spiral staircase with slippery steps climbing high into the sky the next.
“Let’s give them a part of the world to call their own— an unpeopled island, a remote mountain,” was another suggestion. A committee of wise women spoke to the nightmares in dream time and asked whether they might agree to live in a place away from people.  The nightmares laughed. “Without people, we wouldn’t exist at all. We aren’t going anywhere.”
            Round and round the arguments went with people getting less and less sleep every night.  Businesses sold charms against nightmares, but still the nightmares came. People wrote advice— sleep with your window open and they escape your room. Sleep with your window closed tight so they don’t come in.  Never eat chili after eight o’clock. Eat chocolate before you sleep. (Everyone loved that idea, whether it kept nightmares at bay or not.)
            No matter what people did, the nightmares continued to trouble sleep.
            “Maybe they’re just hungry,” a child said.
            Eyebrows raised.  People frowned. “What?”
            “They’re hungry. I feed them all the time and they don’t bother me at all.  I have good dreams.”
            “What do you feed a nightmare?” people wondered and imagined awful things— worms and snakes, monsters.
            “Laughter. When they’re happy, they go to sleep. And they like long walks and sunshine. Drawing pictures. Flowers.”
“Nightmares like nice things?” Everyone was surprised.
 The little girl nodded. “They like simple things that are fun.  Baking cookies. Smiles. Hugs.”  She paused. “ And I almost forgot.  They really like truth.”
People started feeding the nightmares by talking long walks. Gardening. Laughing out loud. Dancing. Being truthful. The nightmares weren’t hungry at night anymore and they slept, allowing people to sleep well, too.

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Copyright 2019 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published February 9, 2019 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Truthful Parrots



                                                   The Truthful Parrots
                                                                        By Valerie L. Egar
Inspired by a South American myth
            Long ago, parrots were admired not only for their colorful feathers of green and bright blue, scarlet and yellow, but also for always telling the truth. A parrot perched in the corner of a store or house was the best guardian a person could wish for, a tiny observer who truthfully reported what he saw or heard.
“Oh,” a mother might say to a child at supper, “how wonderful! You’ve eaten all your lima beans.” Then the parrot would remark, “No. Eduardo fed them to the puppy.”
Or, a shopkeeper would smile at a customer and assure him the coffee was fresh, only to hear the shop parrot shout, “Brewed five hours ago!”
People learned not to stretch the truth with parrots around! They also learned to not ask questions when they didn’t want to hear truthful answers.  The mayor asked villagers what they thought of his daughter’s singing.
“Like a nightingale,” they politely replied, even though they thought the girl sounded like a duck. All eyes turned towards the parrot. “Quack. Quack,” came from the perch in the corner.
 Not everyone appreciated parrots’ unvarnished truth, but the scoundrel Tevra despised it.  When he stole squash from his neighbor’s garden, his misdeed quickly came to light. Despite his denials, his parrot quickly set the record straight.  “Tevra stole three squash yesterday from the garden,” the parrot said. “He ate them last night.”
“Parrots lie! We’ve been duped for years,” Tevra cried, but of course, no one believed him. “I can prove it,” the devious Tevra announced. “Come back tomorrow morning and you will see.”
That night, before the moon rose, Tevra draped the parrot’s cage with black cloth. He took water from his cistern and climbing a ladder, sprinkled it on his tin roof, making it sound like rain. When he pounded the roof, it sounded like thunder.
The next morning the villagers arrived early to hear Tevra’s proof.
“Did the moon rise last night?” Tevra asked the parrot.
“No,” the parrot replied. “It was very dark.”
“And the weather was clear,” said Tevra.
“Not at all! It rained for a long time.”
“A gentle spring rain?”
“No! There was thunder.”
The villagers looked at each other in astonishment. “The moon was full. It was like daylight outside.”
“Not a drop of rain fell.”
 “I told you parrots cannot be trusted,” smiled Tevra. “Think of all the other lies they have they been telling us.”
The shopkeeper nodded his head. “Tevra is right. My coffee is always fresh and the parrot said it wasn’t.”
“My sweet daughter sings like an angel,” shouted the mayor. “ Everyone knows that.”
All the villagers were willing to believe parrots lied, much happier with lies than the parrots’ truth. Only Eduardo’s mother doubted that her son had really eaten his lima beans, knowing that feeding them to the puppy was much more likely.
The parrots were dismayed by how easily their service to mankind was dismissed. Flying into the jungle to consult with each other, they met a wise mynah bird. For centuries, mynah birds could speak, but only repeated what people said.
“People like hearing themselves talk,” the old bird said. “Repeat what they say, and they will always be happy.”

And, from that day on, parrots only echoed what they heard and everyone was satisfied.
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Copyright 2019 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published February 2, 2019 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME)

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Discovering Center





                                     Discovering Center
                                                     By Valerie L. Egar
            
             When I turned thirty, I suddenly longed to learn ballet. Though I could hardly walk down a flight of stairs without stumbling, I imagined leaping like a gazelle. I usually avoided exercise, but now the idea of stretching until I ached appealed.
I tried to ignore the urge, but my desire persisted, acute as my need to smell apple blossoms in the spring.  In mid-December, I joined a class that had been dutifully stretching and leaping since September. To the instructor’s cheery, “Of course you’ve taken ballet before,” I murmured a quiet, “No.”
That evening I began a struggle that continued week after week. Like a kindergarten child, I confused my left foot with my right. My knees creaked when I attempted to pliĂ©, a sound as odious as belching at the Ritz.  When we moved away from the barre and combined steps, my memory and feet failed me. My classmates leapt and whirled. I stared at the floor.
One evening, the teacher demonstrated the pirouette, twirling gracefully across the room. “To move easily,” she said, catching her breath, “keep your balance by staying centered. Stay too closed up, you won’t move.  Extend too far off center and you’ll fall.”
 Her words flashed like lightning and struck home. “Stay too closed up and you won’t move.” For years I’d stood still, frozen to my possibilities, fearing I’d make the wrong choice. I yearned to write, but what if I failed?  I risked nothing.
“Extend too far off center and you’ll fall.” When I tried to move forward, I didn’t take small steps towards my goal, but invariably overextended myself, hit a bump and careened off course.
So this was the trick— to discover my center, the point of balance inside and to stay so exquisitely in touch with this soft spot that I could leap, turn, move constantly, without falling.
When I finished the class, I still couldn’t dance, but I knew I’d come a long way.

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Copyright 2019 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be reproduced, copied or distributed without permission from the author.
Published February 3, 2019 Maine Sunday Telegram.