Monday, March 26, 2018

The Miser's Punishment

The Miser’s Punishment
            By Valerie L. Egar

            Once upon a time, a very long time ago, a wealthy man lived in a fine mansion in a bustling city.  He had everything he needed and more— bedrooms filled with gilded furniture, even though no one ever visited, food to feed many, though he always dined alone. Everyone knew he was stingy. “Oh, he wouldn’t throw a diamond to a star to help it twinkle,” the fruit seller said.
            “Nor give the moon a piece of silver to make it shine!” agreed the butcher.
            “He’s such a miser, he’d deny the sun the gold to make it glow,” said the baker.
            A star, the moon, and the sun overheard the comments and were angered. They were each generous with their light and held it back from no one. The star twinkled in the night sky with other stars and inspired people to write songs. The moon glowed silver, lighting forest paths at night for people and animals. The sun’s rays nurtured trees and flowers, making them grow. Who was this human who would dare deny them? They decided to test him.
            The following day, the star, disguised as a girl, knocked on the rich man’s door. Though her smile sparkled, her clothes were poor. “Please, sir,” she said sweetly,  “would you donate to the Star Fund? It will help—”
           The miser scowled and shook his head. “No!” he said. “Go away!”
            The next evening, the moon tried. She went to his door disguised as a woman. Long silver hair fell to her waist and her eyes shone blue as the oceans she so powerfully moved.
    The miser opened to her knock. “What do you want?”
            Her pale hands held a bowl that shone like the finest pearls. “Will you donate to the Moonglow Fund? No donation is too small.”
            “Go away!” shouted the miser.
            “Not even one piece of silver?” the moon asked.
            “Not even a copper penny!” said the miser and slammed the door.
            The next morning, bright and early, the sun banged on the door. With his red hair and cheerful smile, he reminded most people of happy summer days.
            Once again, the miser opened the door. “Another begger?”
            The sun smiled widely and tried to warm the miser’s heart. He held a bright yellow bowl in his tanned hands. “Would you care to donate to the Sunshine Fund?”
            “I would not,” said the miser. “I would care to go back to sleep!”
            “Wouldn’t you like to know what the Sunshine Fund does?” the sun asked.
            “I don’t care if it makes the sun shine in the sky,” said the miser. “Go away!”
            The star, moon and sun brought their complaint about the miser to the Supreme Council, a court of the highest order. “A star twinkling doesn’t move him,” said the star.
           “He denies the moon and the creatures that benefit from its light,” the moon argued.
“Not one drop of sunshine enters his cold heart,” the sun said.
The charges were serious. What to do with a man so stingy he wouldn’t give even a penny for the sun’s rays, silver moonlight, or the happy twinkle of a star?
“Turn him into a frog,” yelled one Councilor.
“An insult to frogs!” said another. “Frogs love sunshine, the moon and stars.”
“A mole?” suggested another.
“The blindest mole loves the warm sun on its back, especially in the spring.”
“A rock. A rock would suit.”
“Not! Rocks hold the sun’s warmth for lizards and nothing looks better in moonlight than a mountain.”
It seemed everything in nature appreciated the sun, moon and stars more than the miser.
The wisest Councilor spoke. “If a rock loves the rays of the sun and the miser does not, if a deer appreciates the light of the moon and he does not, if a child wishes on a twinkling star and he cannot, isn’t the miser a most unhappy man?”
The Council considered. There was nothing in the world the miser could be turned into that was worse than what he already was, and so they left him a lonely miser for the rest of his days.
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Copyright 2017 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.

At The Crossroads

                                                       At The Crossroads
                                         By Valerie L. Egar
England 1586
          When Aldi heard the cathedral bells ring once, he slipped from his bed in the attic and crept down the stairs, making certain his heavy knapsack didn’t smack against the stair rails and wake anyone. Gunner would be angry if he knew he was leaving. Aldi foraged in the kitchen and found half a loaf of bread and a handful of walnuts. He put them in his knapsack and opened the front door.
In the distance, an owl hooted and a thin slice of moon lit the sky. Aldi walked on cobblestones in the shadows of the stone buildings lining the street. Past the baker, past the apothecary, past the weaver.           
“Woof!”  The weaver’s dog, Sitsi, barked. Aldi quickened his step and was soon at the city’s edge. He sighed. His knapsack was heavy, but his unseen burdens were heavier. Along with three other boys, Aldi was apprenticed to Gunner to learn the trade of scrivener— copying legal documents neatly and accurately and on occasion, writing petitions to the Queen. Though he liked Gunner and all he was learning, in the past week, Gunner had done the unthinkable— he’d taken a girl as an apprentice!
 The tone of the workshop changed immediately. Instead of joking when they ate a quick lunch at noon, they remained quiet. They watched to see whether Margaret struggled preparing the quills.  Aldi tried to see how many blots she made on her first day attempting the neat, measured calligraphy called “the court hand.”
Though Aldi might have been happy relinquishing his job making ink for everyone to Margaret, he was sure crushing the minerals in a mortar and adding just enough gum Arabic and rainwater was not something she could easily master. He looked carefully at the first batch she made, hoping to find a tiny lump of charcoal. “This looks a little watery,” he said, glancing at the older apprentices thinking they might join in.  Margaret hung her head.
Gunner didn’t even look at the ink Margaret had just poured into his inkhorn. He said, “I don’t recall anyone being unkind to you when the red ink you made looked orange, Aldi.”
“Or when you cut the quill wrong and it bled ink all over the page,” said the oldest apprentice John.
Aldi turned bright red. Then, Margaret giggled. That was it!  Much as he liked Gunner, much as he liked learning to be a scrivener, he made his mind up to leave. He couldn’t return home— his parents would send him back. He wasn’t sure where he was going. He got to the crossroads and sat on a rock to think.
The road was dark and it wasn’t safe to be wandering around at night. Aldi heard more than his share of stories about spirits that roamed the countryside. He was certain he heard  footsteps approaching , but it was too dark to see. He thought he saw movement, a slight form coming closer. If he ran, whatever it was would be alerted to his presence.  If he stood quietly, maybe it would pass by.
Aldi  leaned against a tree, holding his breath as the footsteps grew closer. Whatever it was sat on the same rock he occupied moments ago! Wouldn’t a ghost float or move more quietly? This seemed to be human, and from what he could see, much smaller than he. “Who goes there?” 
“Oh!” a girl screamed.
Aldi recognized her voice. Margaret. “What are you doing here?”
“Running away. None of you want me around.”
Aldi didn’t know what to say.
“You just think I’m a dumb girl who’s going to mess things up. You don’t know my father was a scrivener. I helped him make ink since I was 8. He was going to teach me but he died.” She started to cry. “It’s all I ever wanted to do.” Margaret paused. “What are you doing here?”
Aldi shrugged. “Running away.”
“Because of me?”
Aldi felt foolish. Maybe he’d judged too quickly. “Why don’t we walk back together?” he said. “It’s awfully dark to walk back alone.”

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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied or reproduced without permission from the author.
Published March 18, 2018 Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME)

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Elephant and the Boy

                                                  The Elephant and The Boy
   By Valerie L. Egar

A long time ago, a young boy named Dev lived in a small village in a country where flowers bloomed year round and spices scented the air. In  monsoon season, rain turned streets into rivers. In the dry season, days were so hot, even cobras uncoiled themselves in the shade and forgot their cobra ways.
Every day, Dev walked to school at the edge of the village. Most days, he listened to the teacher, a strict man who drilled the class and was quick to notice any student whose eyes drifted to the open window.
“Master Dev!” the teacher called one afternoon, startling Dev from a daydream. “Perhaps you can explain this equation?”
“No, sir.” The class giggled.
“The second time this week, is it not?”
Dev nodded.
The teacher sat at his desk, pulled a piece of paper from his drawer and began to write. “You will take this letter to your father. I wish to see him tomorrow.”
 Though Dev’s father was kind, he would not be pleased with a note from the teacher and Dev was ashamed to go home. After school, he lingered playing games with the other boys. When they left, Dev walked towards the river on a dirt path, careful to watch for snakes. He threw a few rocks in the water. When he saw the sun sinking lower in the sky, he reluctantly started for home.
As he walked up a hill, his foot caught in a tree root. His ankle twisted. “Ow!”  He tried to stand, but couldn’t. He ankle felt tight and began to swell. Dev dragged himself to a tree and leaned against the trunk.  He was far from the village. Even if people searched for him, he wasn’t sure they could find him.
Night was dangerous. A tiger or leopard might come to the river to drink and see him, helpless.  A crocodile might leave the river and try to eat him. Dev was alone and scared.

He heard heavy footsteps and rustling in the bushes.  An elephant! Huge and grey, the beast that was approaching towered over him and could easily crush him.  Dev pushed his back against the tree and tried to make himself invisible.

The elephant stopped. She saw him. Dev closed his eyes, expecting the worst.  Instead, he felt the smooth skin of the elephant’s truck patting his arm. Dev gently extended his hand and rubbed the elephant’s trunk. All of sudden, he didn’t feel as lonely.
Though Dev expected the elephant to leave, she guarded him all night, protecting him from predators. In the early morning light, Dev heard voices.
“I’m here!” he shouted. The elephant, hearing people approach, lumbered towards the river.
Many years later, Dev had a fine house and children of his own. He told the story of the elephant to anyone who would listen. Some believed, others thought a frightened boy imagined an elephant friend, but Dev knew the elephant was as real as he.
One day, two men drove an elephant in chains through the center of the village. Dev heard the noise and ran to the street. “What are you doing with this poor creature?” he demanded.
“Selling her to a circus. She is worth a lot of money.”
“Yes,” said the other. “We worked hard to catch her. She will bring a fine price.”
Something about the creature was familiar, even though so many years had passed. But, Dev thought, even if it is not the same elephant, I must save her. He’d never forgotten the comfort of the gentle pat when he was scared and alone.

“Whatever the circus agreed to pay, I will pay you double.”
The men considered. 
“And, because  you need work, I will give you jobs.”  Dev did not want the men capturing and selling elephants ever again.
The men agreed and walked the elephant to the edge of town.
“Unchain her.”
Freed, the elephant paused and raised her trunk to pat Dev gently on the shoulder and turned towards the river.
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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied or reproduced without permission from the author.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Marisol's Magic Mirror Trip

                                      Marisol’s Magic Mirror Trip
                                        By Valerie L. Egar
           Marisol knew she had curly chestnut hair, blue eyes and dimples. These weren’t likely to change, so she didn’t look in the mirror every time she walked by. She could find her face and wash it without a mirror’s help. She even fixed her hair without a mirror. A quick shake of her head and her short curly hair fell into place perfectly. Marisol didn’t care much about mirrors, until she saw the Venetian glass mirror in Aunt Lucy’s house.
            “This is where you’ll sleep,” Aunt Lucy said, opening the door to a large room. A large antique bed with a lacy canopy and embroidered coverlet looked soft and inviting. Marisol sat on the bed to test it and saw the mirror on the wall across from the bed. Small mirrors, in the shapes of scrolls and shields, surrounded a large oval mirror. Sunlight danced on the glass and the room sparkled. Marisol took a closer look.
            She saw the mirror was old— silver had worn off a few tiny spots. Each small mirror was etched with flowers and vines and glowed like small jewels.
        “You like the mirror,” said Aunt Lucy. 
Marisol nodded.
 “Your Great Uncle Julius bought it in an antique shop in Venice many years ago. The shopkeeper told him it was from a palazzo.”
“A castle?”
“More like a big house. A mansion.”
“How old is it?”
Aunt Lucy shrugged. “Three hundred years? Something like that.”
            That night, instead of going to sleep Marisol sat in bed and stared at the mirror. Moonlight shone through the window and instead of throwing sparkles like the sunlight, it made a silver path into the mirror. Marisol followed the path and found herself floating like a feather in the wind.
            She landed with a thump next to a wide canal and noticed men standing at the back of narrow boats, guiding them through the canal. “I think those are gondolas,” thought Marisol. “I must be in Venice.” She looked around.
People lined up, waiting for a gondola. They appeared to be dressed for a costume party. The women wore old-fashioned long silk dresses trimmed with jewels. The men wore colorful brocade jackets with fancy shirts trimmed with lace and fitted dark pants. Everybody wore masks.

Marisol realized she must look out of place in her blue pajamas, and looked at her clothes. She was wearing a sea green silk gown, trimmed with gold. She also wore a mask. She stood in line with the others.
 A young man said something to her in Italian. She shook her head. “I don’t understand.”
“Ah, you are British,” he said.
“I’m American.”
“What is American?” he asked. “You are from the colony so far away?”
Marisol looked around again. She realized there were no electric lights in any building. Here and there, a lantern burned. In the distance, someone carried a torch. No motors hummed. No TVs blared.
“What year is it?”
The man laughed. “1706.”  He helped Marisol into a gondola. “Tonight you will enjoy the finest party of the year at Palazzo Leoni. You will see a special marvel the Doge unveils tonight.”
Music filled the air from the palazzo’s open windows as Marisol stepped from the gondola. Violins played a lively tune. The ballroom was lit with hundreds of candles in silver candelabras and chandeliers. People danced. Marisol stood at the edge of the room and watched. She enjoyed the spectacle, 

but she worried how she was going to get home. “I have to find the mirror,” she thought, suspecting it was close by.
The music stopped. A man stood at the front of the room. Next to him, a large oval was covered with fabric. He said something Marisol couldn’t understand and pulled the fabric off. The mirror! This was the marvel people had come to see.
 Everyone clapped. “It is beautiful is it not?” the man who had helped Marisol into the gondola said. “You do not have such things in the colonies?”
“Not yet,” said Marisol. 

She followed the candlelight’s gleam into the mirror and landed, thump! back into bed.

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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied or reproduced without permission from the author.
Published March 11, 2018 Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME).