Monday, April 30, 2018

The Stolen Rainbow Crystals

                                          The Stolen Rainbow Crystals
                                              By Valerie L. Egar

A long time ago, deep in the forest, where tall oak trees reached for the stars and owls taught Wisdom School, a goblin named Desyrae lived in an underground den. Desyrae had tunneled into the earth near a slight hollow, clawing dirt with her hands and feet like a badger, but digging deeper into the earth than any animal would. She dug a huge cavern for sleeping, another to store dried worms and spiders (her favorite foods) and the largest room of all for the beautiful crystals she had stolen from the Sun.
Though the woods were peaceful and inviting, Desyrae never took a long walk. She never sat by the brook and watched the dragonflies. Not once did she lie in the fern glen. Instead, she lingered near the entrance to her den, building booby traps to protect her stolen treasure. At night she hardly slept, wondering whether anything— another goblin, troll, mischievous fairy— had discovered her lair and was trying to take her crystals for themselves. Desyrae had little sleep, hardly any exercise, no friends, but she guarded the magic crystals and counted them every morning and night.
 The crystals’ magic could only be activated by the Sun. A drop of sunlight beamed through the translucent crystals made rainbows, every color, clear and pure. People changed, touched by the rainbow. Worries disappeared. Heart songs returned. Words became softer and kinder. Hidden in the dark underground cavern far from sunlight, the crystals had no rainbow power at all. Since Desyrae didn’t shine like the sun, she couldn’t make rainbows with them.
            “They’re no use to you,” a crow cawed from a tree when Desyrae dug in the earth for worms. “No use!”
             “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” she hissed.
            The crow’s flock joined him and their crow laughter echoed through the forest. “Greedy goblin! Greedy goblin!” they chanted.
            Desyrae stamped her foot. “They’re mine now and I’m not giving them back!”
            She continued to guard her stolen treasure and though the sun continued to shine, something was missing.Rainbows disappeared, and with them, songs about rainbows. Colors were not as bright. People felt sad.
            The Sun did his best to penetrate the earth with his rays to touch the crystals, but he only managed to sear the grass and moss near Desyrae’s den.
            “I’ll go and get them,” volunteered a crow. “I’m dark like the night and she won’t see me.”
           “Too dangerous,” the Sun replied and hid himself in shame, blaming himself for losing the rainbow crystals to the greedy goblin.
For days and days, no one saw the sun. Then it started to rain. It rained so much the rivers rose. It rained so long, they kept rising. Rivers overflowed their banks and floodwaters rushed across the land, eroding the earth beneath.
The forest flooded like everyplace else. Water filled the goblin’s den and flooded the tunnels and caverns she had so carefully dug. The force of the water ripped the top layers of soil away and exposed the hidden crystals.
The rain stopped, and a rainbow appeared in the sky. The crystals were returned to the Sun who was careful to guard them from goblins. And Desyrae? The crows whispered that she moved to the desert where the sand was easy to dig and the scorpions quite delicious.

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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published April 29, 2018 Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME).

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Ravens and the Swans

                                          The Ravens and The Swans
                                                  By Valerie L. Egar

            Two clever ravens lived in an oak tree in a park. They spent most of their time watching people stroll by and listened to their conversations. Soon they learned to mimic speech. They said “Hello,” and  “How are you?” and had fun seeing people look around to see who was talking.
Every now and then, one aimed an acorn for a person’s head while the other cawed, “Look out below!” People always assumed a naughty boy high in the tree threw the acorns, but they wondered why they could never see him. Meanwhile, the ravens flew in circles above the tree, cawing happily at their jokes.
They enjoyed the oak tree and their raven games until two swans settled in the park’s lake. The swans looked elegant and swam with such ease, the water hardly rippled. People admired them and so did the ravens. Unlike the swans, the ravens couldn’t swim and though they glided on air currents, no one ever called them graceful.
The swans loved their lake. They swam among yellow water lilies and spent their days eating marsh grass and water hyacinths. When they felt tired, they drifted lazily. They slept in the water, allowing the current to gently rock them to sleep.
 The swans were content until they heard the ravens cackling in the oak tree, teasing  passers-by. Being a swan was hard work— everyone expected a swan’s feathers to be snowy white. It took hours of grooming to get their feathers just right.  Being a raven seemed like a carefree life— the ravens made everything fun.
One day an odd man visited the park. He sat on a bench and watched the swans. He noticed the ravens, too. When they called “Hello,” instead of looking around, he simply answered, “Hello, ravens. How are you today?”  The ravens looked at each other. How did he know?
As the swans swam back and forth, the man enjoyed watching them and he sensed they envied the ravens’ carefree ways. He listened carefully to the ravens cawing in the trees. “Hmm,” he thought. “The ravens envy the admiration the swans receive for their gracefulness.”
The man wasn’t sure he should meddle, but the sun was hot and he was bored. He waved his hands and said a few words no one heard. All of a sudden, the two swans turned into ravens and found themselves high in the oak tree. The ravens turned into swans and found themselves gliding gracefully in the lake.
For the first few hours, the new ravens said, “Hello” and “Hi” over and over.  They tossed every acorn they could find on peoples’ heads and took turns screaming, “Look out below!” They flew high into the clouds and glided on air currents.  When it was time for bed, they headed for the water and then remembered they weren’t swans anymore. They perched on a branch. Unlike water, the branch didn’t rock them back and forth gently. They couldn’t sleep.
The ravens who turned into swans spent the first few hours grooming themselves. Every time they thought their feathers were spotless, they found another speck of mud or a piece of green algae. “This is impossible!” they grumbled. “There’s no time to play!”
They enjoyed swimming for a little while, but each time water plants brushed against their legs, they jumped. They imagined catfish whiskers and slimy water snails, leeches. The water didn’t seem inviting at all, now that they thought about what might be lurking there. How could they possibly fall asleep with all those things swimming around them in the water? The only thing they wanted was to be ravens again.
The cathedral bells chimed twelve times. Midnight. Whoosh! All of a sudden the ravens and the swans transformed into their true selves. The swans were happy to find themselves in the water where they could finally sleep. The ravens were happy for their sturdy tree branch with no fear of water creatures nibbling at their feet. The ravens and the swans were grateful for a good night’s sleep and happy to be themselves.
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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published April 22,2018 Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME).

Monday, April 16, 2018

Petyr Finds His Fortune

                                                     Petyr Finds His Fortune
                                            By Valerie L. Egar

When  Petyr awoke, he was surprised to find a woman he did not recognize in the kitchen making soup. Her long fingers spidered over the potatoes in the bin and she selected a few. She whacked them into pieces with a cleaver and threw them into boiling water. She was tall as his mother, but her hair was grey and unruly instead of brown and straight.  Instead of humming the way his mother did, this woman talked to herself in a raspy voice while she worked. “Soup, soup, he’ll eat and like it. Or else.”
            “Where’s my mother?” Petyr demanded.
            “I’m your mother,” the woman cackled.
            “You are not!”
            “Don’t get fresh with me,” the old woman yelled, pointing the cleaver in Petyr’s direction. “You will eat your soup and start on your journey.”
            Petyr’s eyes widened. “What journey?”
            “Stupid boy!” the woman hissed. “To find your fortune, of course.”     
            “What if I don’t want to?” he yelled. “What if I just sit by the river and do nothing?”
            The old woman laughed. “Then fate will find you sleeping, and you’ll be sorry!” She ladled soup into a bowl and gave it to Petyr. “Hurry up!” she said. “You’re already late.” She handed Petyr a sack with a thin slice of bread and an apple. “Don’t come back until you find what you’re looking for.” She pushed him out the door. The lock clicked behind him.
Petyr rubbed his eyes.  He wasn’t crying exactly, but he didn’t know what to make of his world changing so quickly.  Yesterday he had a kind mother, food and a warm place to sleep. Today, an old witch who claimed to be his mother tossed him out of the house to make his way in the world. He wiped his eyes and began the only way he knew how, one foot after the other on a gravel road that seemed to whisper, “This way.”
For months, Petyr walked, foraging for berries along the sides of the road, drinking cool water from rivers and streams. At night, he sheltered under bushes deep in the woods, and once, when he thought there might be wolves nearby, he climbed high into a tree and lashed himself to the trunk to sleep.
He thought it odd to have seen no one. Not a person to talk with, not a person to ask a question, no one at all. It was as though he was the only one left in the world, but with all his walking, he grew stronger and more clever, too. He knew
 when it was going to rain by reading the clouds. He knew when a predator was near by listening to the birds. And, with all the time he spent alone in thought, he knew what he believed, what mattered to him and what didn’t.  Never had his mind been so clear. In months of wandering and fending for himself, he had changed from a boy into a man. Still, he hadn’t found anything he considered his fortune, and he continued to wander.
In his tenth month of wandering, Petyr came upon a bearded man wearing a straw hat and baggy work clothes, sitting on a wall at the edge of a field. “Hello!” Petyr called.
The man said nothing.
“Hello!” Petyr said louder.
The man slowly turned and gazed into Petyr’s eyes.
“I’ve been seeking my fortune.”
The strange man nodded and began to whistle a song Petyr’s mother always sang. Suddenly, Petyr was homesick and tired of wandering. He turned and began to hurry home, miles and months away.
Arriving home, he found a welcoming mother and a house in a small village he had never loved as much as in that moment. Never had the lilacs by the porch smelled so sweet. Petyr sat in the twilight and watched the stars emerge in the night sky. He discovered his fortune and it was here, in his village and home, but he would never have known except for his journey.

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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied or reproduced without permission from the author. 
Published April 15, 2018 Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME).

Sunday, April 8, 2018

A Dog's Guide to Humans

        A Dog’s Guide to Humans 
                              By  Valerie L. Egar

A speech for the Midnight Howl Convention by Professor Max B. Vanderwoof:

Ladies, Gentlemen, Honored Guests:
            As a noble canine, you no doubt encounter a variety of animals— cats, squirrels, rabbits, birds. Depending on where you live, you may also see turtles, skunks and perhaps a moose or bear. I have addressed a dog’s relationship to these animals in my bestselling book, Skunks Stink! I turn today to address the most interesting animal in a dog’s life, the human.  
            Your human companion loves you, feeds you, walks you and plays with you. You are an important member of their family. Humans often speak of  “training the dog.”  You have, no doubt, learned what they call “commands”— “Sit,” “Stay,” “Come.” That is all very well, but I am here to tell you today that it is your obligation to train your human. Properly training your human will ensure abundant treats and lots of toys. You will assume your rightful place as leader of the household.

           First, all of you know how to wag your tail. Tail wagging is the best reinforcement for appropriate human behavior. It makes humans feel that they have done something good and that you love them. Get a treat, wag your tail. Hear the leash jingle, wag your tail.  Show enthusiasm!  The more your tail wags, the more your human will do, so use it to your advantage.

  You have every right to expect table scraps and last bites of a sandwich. When people are eating, they tend to think jumping at the table and barking is annoying. Tail wagging in this situation is not recommended. Any of these behaviors may get you exiled to another room. Instead, sit quietly and watch them eat. Make your eyes big and a little sad. Every now and then, lick your lips. Few can resist this ploy.  Wagging your tail to say “Thank you,” is advised once they relent. It reinforces them and they are likely to feed you from the table again.
            It is very important for people to have schedules and it is your job to make sure they stick to one. Your meals cannot be random. An expectation that your dinner will be served at the same time every day is perfectly reasonable. If your person is occupied and loses track of time, pace back and forth by your food dish. Nudge your person with your nose. Most humans are smart and will understand.
 If your person is not home in time to feed you, make certain when he or she walks in the door, they IMMEDIATELY attend to your food. Licking an empty food dish and looking sad works very well in this instance. That should keep your human timely for at least two weeks.

Vacations. At least once a year, sometimes more, people go on trips and sadly, many do not take their dogs. Should you be placed in a kennel or have a dog sitter while your people are away, you must not greet them effusively when they return home. Pretend you have forgotten who they are.  Try to look thinner by holding your stomach in. Ignore them. More than likely, they will give you lots of treats, buy you toys and take you for rides.  They may even consider vacationing with you next time they go away.

            Finally, when your people are not home, don’t be afraid to sleep or play on  any of the places you are not allowed when they are watching. People seem to take great delight in hiding cameras around their house and when they see you jumping on the bed or sleeping upside down on the couch, all they will do is post the pictures on the internet for their friends to see.
            I leave you with this thought: you can train your humans.  Do it well and a car ride and a game of Frisbee is only a tail wag away.
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Copyright 2017 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be reproduced, copied or distributed without permission from the author.
Published February 5, 2017 Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME)

Monday, April 2, 2018

The Guardian Giants

                                                      The Guardian Giants
                                                            By Valerie L. Egar

Once upon a time, long before people existed, two giants, Hannah and Rose, lived high in the mountains. The sisters made a cave their home, enlarging it to fit their height with one mighty kick that sent tremors through the earth for miles.  
            They spent most of their time outside, up early to watch the sun rise and break through the clouds. During the day, they took turns rearranging the rocks in their rock garden. That was hard work and when either of them sighed, a strong breeze swept down the mountain into the valley. Every evening, they leaned against the side of the mountain to watch the sun go down, enjoying the bright streaks of red and orange in the sky.

            Despite their size, they didn’t need much to survive. A quick scoop of water from the nearby river quenched their thirst, though they were always careful to sieve out the fish and water creatures and return them to the river.  Once a snapping turtle nipped Rose on the finger. Though it didn’t hurt very much because her fingers were the size of logs, after that, she always swirled the water a little before scooping it up.
           When they felt hungry, Hannah stood on Rose’s shoulders and reached high into the sky, with a fine net to gather space plankton. Tiny almost invisible creatures made delicious and nourishing soup, exactly what giants liked.
Hannah and Rose led a peaceful life, watching over the valley from the top of the mountain. They acted as guardians for all the wildlife on the mountain and in the valley.  One summer, when a searing drought parched the land, Hannah found a dry field and stomped her foot to make a deep hole. Rose scooped water from a faraway river to fill the hole Hannah made. The newly formed lake quenched the animals’ thirst.

When a hurricane tore through the valley uprooting trees one autumn, Rose and Hannah spent the following days carefully lifting each tree and placing it back into the earth.  Birds and squirrels chattered happily, knowing their homes were saved.
One day, a wildfire tore through the valley. The flames leaped from tree to tree and across grassy fields. Hannah and Rose scooped water from the river over and over to douse the flames, but to not avail. The fire continued to spread. Bears, moose, lynx, deer, and other wild animals fled the flames but the high mountains blocked their escape. What could be done?
Hannah and Rose saw the frightened animals at the base of the mountain trying to escape the fire. Together, they started kicking the mountain and throwing rocks aside to create a mountain pass for the animals to safely cross to the other side. Never had they attempted such a big job! On and on they worked until they made a pass wide enough for the biggest elephant and smooth enough for  the smallest hedgehog to navigate.
Hannah and Rose stood at the pass in the thick smoke that filled the valley and yodeled so the animals could find their way to safety by following the sound of their voices. On and on the animals came, big and small, old and young, throngs and throngs of them, anxious to escape the flames. They scurried to safety guided by the giants’ thunderous voices.
Even though they were exhausted, Hannah and Rose stood at the base of the mountain pass and guided the animals until the very last creature, an old porcupine who moved slower than the hours from midnight to morning, was well on his way. Just then, a gentle rain began to fall. The dark sky promised a long rain, one that would extinguish the fire.
 Hannah and Rose, tired as they were, collapsed and fell asleep where they stood, their hard work finished. The rain washed over them and in the morning, two tall stone peaks stood, glittering with crystal, beside the mountain pass to mark it forever for those who needed to find their way to the other side.


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Copyright 2017 by Valerie L. Egar.  May not be copied or reproduced without permission from the author. 

Published July 22, 2017 Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME)