Monday, January 28, 2019

The Owl and The Mouse

                              The Owl and The Mouse
By Valerie L. Egar

          The tiny mouse wandered through the meadow foraging for seeds to eat. Sunshine filtered through the tall grass and warmed his grey fur.  Hidden from hawks and eagles, he remained alert. He knew foxes frolicked in the meadow. Even the youngest ones were quick enough to pounce and catch him.
            His ears pricked up.  “Tu-who! Who! Tu-who!” The mouse knew the call of the horned owl well— owls were not friends to mice. But, the owl slept during the day.  To hear one calling in daylight was unusual. The mouse was curious. Instead of running away or hiding, he crept towards the sound.
            He’d heard children imitate crows and ducks. Maybe someone was imitating an owl?
            The mouse hid under a bush and listened. “Who! Tu-who!” 
            “Don’t stand there! Run!” a chipmunk chattered as he scrambled by. “That’s an owl, dummy!”
            The mouse frowned. “I know that!” He looked at the chipmunk. “I even know what kind of owl and I’ll bet you don’t.”
            The chipmunk shrugged. “You’re right I don’t. I call him ‘Chipmunk Slayer’ and that’s enough for me. I’m outta here!”
        The mouse crept closer and climbed high into a bush so he could see what was going on. He peeked between the branches and saw a Great Horned Owl on the ground, flapping one wing. He noticed the owl’s other wing and both feet were tangled in twine.  The owl couldn’t fly and would be unable to hunt. Once again the owl screeched, frantically.
            A red squirrel skittered by.  “Come on, get out of here!” he shouted to the mouse.
            The mouse shrugged.  “The owl can’t do anything,” he replied. “Do you know what happened?”
            “Kite string,” whispered the squirrel. “The kite was caught in a tree and he got tangled in the string.”
            For a long time, the mouse watched the owl from his hideaway in the bush. The owl tugged at the string to undo it, but the string only grew tighter as he pulled. The owl grew frantic at his inability to fly and exhausted himself flapping one wing.
That mice were a favorite menu choice for owls did not comfort the mouse, but he knew he could easily cut the string with his sharp teeth.  What a story that would be! How brave others would think him when they heard he approached the great owl, stood next to his mighty talons and survived!
The mouse approached the owl.  “I can help, if you will allow me,“ he whispered.
The owl was tired and had almost given up hope. “How can you help me?”
 “My teeth are sharp.” The mouse smiled, showing his teeth. “I can have the twine undone in a minute.”
“Why would you help me?” the owl asked. “You know I eat mice.”
“Yes,” the mouse said. “But not me I hope.” The mouse did not tell the owl that he imagined lady mice swooning at his bravery. That he might write a book about saving the owl. That he expected all eyes would turn his way wherever he went after his owl adventure.
“It’s a lot to expect,” said the owl.  “I promise not to hurt you, but I suggest you run and hide as soon as you’ve chewed through the last piece of twine. I’m hungry and I don’t know how well I can control my owl nature.”
            In a few bites, the twine was in pieces and fell from the owl’s wing and from his legs. The mouse scrambled into the high weeds as the owl advised.
“Thank you mouse,” the owl called as he flew away. “Your kindness has saved me, but killed a thousand of your brothers.”
After that, the mouse told his story about the owl under the summer stars and on moonlit winter nights to all who would listen. Mice from far and near marveled at his daring— speaking to a great owl! What bravery! Who among them would walk so near those sharp talons? Who would dare chew twine from an owl’s wing? And of course, in the mouse’s story, the owl flew away dipping his wings in praise, saying nothing.
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Copyright 2019 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author. 
Published January 26, 2019 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Fortuneteller's Prediction

                        The Fortuneteller’s Prediction
                                                            By Valerie L. Egar

            One upon a time, a very long time ago, a handsome son was born to loving parents. They named the child Ansel, and because they wanted to know what was in store for him, they consulted a famous fortuneteller.  
            “He will be more famous than the King and richer, too,” the fortuneteller predicted. “Everyone will know his name.”
Ansel’s parents were familiar with every fairy tale in which children were fated to riches and fame. They took the prediction seriously. From that day forward, they began preparing Ansel for his destiny.
Though Ansel liked to paint pictures and draw, his tutors insisted he learn fencing and swordsmanship. “You may be called upon to slay a dragon,” Professor Elkhorn advised.  Poor Ansel had to practice lunges and parrys, neither of which he did very well.

“You must learn the minuet,” Madam Lafou insisted. “Dancing is expected of the rich.” Ansel hated dancing  and no matter what Madam Lafou did, he still stepped on her toes.
 When Ansel lost interest in his studies and looked sadly at his paints and brushes, his teachers said, “Ansel!  Pay attention!  Painting pictures is silly. You are destined for greatness.”
 Most days, Ansel felt lonely. He slipped outside at night with his dog, Elba and looked at the stars. “This is all your fault,” he exclaimed, pointing to them. “I just wanted to be a regular little boy.” 
            When Ansel turned 16, his parents gave him a small bag of gold, a horse and a map of the world so he could go and find his fortune. This is exactly what parents in fairy tales did and they did the same, expecting Ansel to return in a year or two with wagons brimming with gold and exciting adventure stories.      
Starting out, Ansel expected that sooner or later, a tree or animal would speak and tell him what to do. Maybe a cat or a donkey would give him a magic charm to help him, were he to meet a dragon or ogre. That’s what happened in fairy tales and that’s what Ansel expected would happen to him.
Did it? No.  He rode for miles without any guidance at all except from the map, which wasn’t accurate. No monsters in the lake, no trolls in the meadow! The pictures on the map were mere decorations, no help at all.
            At last, Ansel came to a city.  “I’ve come to find my fortune!” he announced at the inn where he stopped. He expected the people gathered there might tell him
about a princess who needed to be rescued or a  beast that needed taming.  Instead, the men and women sitting near the fire laughed.
            “He must think he’s in a storybook!” jeered one.
            After that, Ansel became less talkative about his plans. He wandered aimlessly, expecting that sooner or later, he would come upon a great treasure he could proudly bring home to his parents.  Or, maybe he would fall into a wonderful adventure and a King or Prince would reward him.
            Ansel travelled for months and months, but nothing noteworthy happened. He rode his horse, he spent his money and neither fame nor riches came. Finally, far from home, he spent his last few pieces of gold on paints and brushes. “At least I’ll be able to make a little money for food,” he thought. “I don’t want to starve.”
            When he stopped in the evening, he set up his easel at the hostel and painted a few quick portraits.  “That’s lovely!” “Will you paint a picture of my daughter?”  “Stay here another few days,” people begged.
            His reputation grew. Soon, the King requested that he paint the walls of the castle with scenes of the Kingdom. Another request came for him to paint angels on the ceiling of the Cathedral.  He was paid for each commission and soon, he was rich and famous throughout the land, doing what he loved most. “And I never had to dance the minuet,” he said, “or use my sword. Not even once!”
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Copyright 2019 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be reproduced, copied or distributed without permission from the author.
Published January 19, 2019 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).


Sunday, January 13, 2019

Skating in Moonlight

                                    Skating in Moonlight
                                                            By Valerie L. Egar
Ingrid stood on the cold floor and peeked from her bedroom window at the moon shining on the frozen pond at the far edge of the Maine farm. Newly fallen snow glittered in the moonlight. Stars sparkled through bare tree branches.
            Ingrid shivered. Her loft bedroom was always colder than the rest of the house except in the summer, when it was the hottest. The woodstove fire that warmed the house had died. Momma and Papa were sleeping, her baby sister Gretchen in her crib beside them.
Moonlight shining through her window into her eyes wakened her. She loved looking at the silvery light, but her feet were cold, even though she was wearing wool socks. She turned to jump back into bed, but glimpsed something moving on the pond. Deer?
She squinted to see better.  Not deer.
A lone figure glided across the ice, twirled, leapt high and landed. Someone was skating!
Ingrid pulled the wool blanket from her bed and wrapped it around herself.  From her distance, she couldn’t see who the skater might be. She couldn’t even tell
 whether it was a man or woman. Ingrid watched until she fell asleep.
At breakfast, Ingrid announced, “Papa, I saw someone skating on the pond last night.”
Her father frowned. “That doesn’t seem likely. No one lives near. Too late for skating.”
Mama served Ingrid scrambled eggs and a big slice of homemade bread. “Are you sure you weren’t dreaming?”
“I was awake!” insisted Ingrid.
At supper Papa announced he’d walked to the pond to see if anything was amiss. “No foot steps in the snow except the ones I made walking there. The snow on top of the ice isn’t disturbed. No one was skating last night.”
“But I saw them!”
“Sometimes dreams seem real.”
          Late that night, Ingrid woke herself up. She looked out the window. The moon shone bright upon the pond and the glittering snow. Back and forth, a  person skated, twirling and leaping.

Ingrid ran to her parent’s room and shook her father. “The skater’s back!”
Groggy from sleep, her father and mother rose and looked. Nothing.
“She was there! I saw her!”
Her father shook his head. “So now it’s a ‘she’? No one could tell from this distance.”
 Ingrid was embarrassed. She couldn’t really tell, but something inside told her it was a woman.
“Go back to bed, Ingrid,” Papa said. “It’s a dream.”
The next night, Ingrid hid her hat, boots and coat under her bed, determined to prove she wasn’t dreaming.  When she awoke and saw the skater, she put on her clothes and snuck out the door, running to the pond.
She watched the skater from behind a tree. Tall and thin, the woman glowed in moonlight. Ingrid was surprised she wasn’t dressed for the cold. Instead of a heavy winter coat and mittens, her hands were ungloved. She was clothed in white, in a dress one might wear to a summer picnic.
Fascinated, Ingrid stepped out from behind the tree. The woman stopped and stared, the way a startled deer might. Wordlessly, she pointed to a pair of skates at the edge of the pond and motioned for Ingrid to join her.
Ingrid laced up the skates, which fit perfectly. Though she wobbled the first few steps, she found her skating legs quickly. The woman took her by the hand and together, they glided across the ice. When the woman leaped, Ingrid leaped. When the woman twirled, so did Ingrid. Faster and faster they went, until the stars overhead spun. Ingrid felt more alive than she ever had.
Clouds covered the moon and snow began falling. Without a word, the woman disappeared.  Ingrid found herself at the edge of the pond back in her boots, the skates she’d worn disappearing  with the woman.
 “Where are you?” Ingrid called. “Come back! Tell me your name.”
The next night, Ingrid looked for the woman, but she wasn’t there and Ingrid never saw her again. For the rest of her long life, she remembered flying over the ice in moonlight with a mysterious woman whose name she never knew.

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Copyright 2019 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published January 12, 2019 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).

Monday, January 7, 2019

Kira's Great Escape

                                 Kira’s Great Escape
                                       By Valerie L. Egar
           Once upon a time long ago, when unicorns inhabited the forests and dragons ruled the skies, two water nymphs, Imani and Kira, lived in a clear river not far from the ocean. They were sisters and spent their days frolicking in the water with the other nymphs and tending lotus flowers that grew near the riverbank.

            On sunny days, they assumed human form and lounged on warm rocks at the river’s edge. Though they sometimes wandered into the woods or picked flowers in the nearby meadow, they never strayed too far from the river they loved. In the water, they became one with it, sparkling in moonlight, flowing with currents, rippling in the wind.
            One day, as Kira skipped through the meadow following a dragonfly, a merchant and his caravan stopped by the river to water the horses and refresh themselves.  Seeing them coming, Imani called to her sister, but it was too late.  Kira did not have time to run back to the river. She hid herself as best she could among the weeds.
            “What’s that over there?” Did you see it?” One of the men pointed.
            “I did. A shimmer of light in the meadow. What do you suppose it is?”
           The men walked towards the meadow. Imani splashed 

in the water to try and distract them, but it did no good.  They easily discovered Kira crouched behind a stand of weeds.
“What a pale child!”
“Her hair! So silvery, it’s almost blue!”
Kira looked for a chance to run to the river, where she could easily meld with the water, but the men were strong and held her tight.
“Can you say something?” one asked.
Kira remained silent.
“We found a strange little girl,” the men called to the merchant.
Alkar, a disagreeable man with greedy eyes and a nose 

for profit, looked at Kira. He noticed the way her eyes changed color in the light, like water. He saw the slight shimmer on her skin. He observed her hands moving like waves. “Get a cage!” he shouted.  “That’s a water nymph you’ve caught.”
Alkar knew Kira would be the perfect addition to the King’s zoo and that he would pay handsomely for her. He imagined piles of gold at his feet.  Surely today was the luckiest of days for him.
Kira remained silent, but she heard Imani’s voice, calling from the river. “Where ever you go, where ever you are, I will find you. Have faith, I will find you.”
 The men tied Kira’s cage to the back of a wagon and the caravan went on its way, plodding over rough roads and over high mountains, fording streams. Kira cried. She was getting further and further away from her river home. How would Imani ever find her?
Months passed before the caravan arrived at its destination. Kira had grown thin, her eyes dulled. Though she had been lovely when she was captured, now she looked wan and brittle.
“What’s this you’ve brought me?” shouted the King to Alkar.  “A sick creature you probably stole? I’ll not pay you a penny!”
Kira hoped the King would release her into the water, but he put her in the zoo with a sign, “Water Nymph?”
She curled up in her cage, longing for her river, her sister and the other water nymphs. She needed to hear the river babbling on the rocks. She yearned to float on the water in moonlight, making sparkles. She ached to swim with the fish and play hide and seek with dragonflies among the lotus.  
Kira’s heart was sad and she began to cry, big wet tears. Then she remembered the stories Mother Water told. At the time, the stories seemed intended only to entertain, but now Kira understood they were the key to her freedom. 

           Kira paced her cage. Mother Water spoke of water’s patience. Pointing to the smooth rocks lining the riverbank, she said, “Rocks are not born smooth. We make them that way, but it takes years. We patiently flow over the roughness, year after year and smooth the rocks.”
            Kira took a deep breath and steadied herself. She would be patient.
            Then, she took her food bowl and dumped it. She had no idea why anyone would think a water nymph would eat earthworms and turnips. She thought of her sister Imani and yearned to be reunited with her, wishing to swim once again in the river she loved so much. She had an idea how to send her a message, because unlike most things, water can appear in many forms, can change its shape and move place to place in many ways.
Kira cried, tears almost filling the bowl. She held the bowl up to the sun’s rays. “Evaporate my tears and change them to drops of rain, “ she pleaded.
Every day, she filled the bowl with tears and every day they evaporated until a rain cloud formed. “Wind, blow the rain cloud to Imani.”
The cloud blew across the land and rained tears on the river where Imani lived. Imani knew they were Kira’s.  She could feel Kira’s presence and hear her voice. “Come for me, sister. ” Imani knew where Kira was from the direction of the wind and the message in the rain.
It would be a long journey, but Imani was determined and persuaded a few brave water nymphs to come with her. They swam the length of the river to the place it joined the ocean, then swam hundreds of miles through the ocean to another river.  They finally arrived in the Kingdom where Kira was held captive.
Imani told the other water nymphs to wait. “I will need your help when I return.” Disguising herself in a shroud of mist, Imani moved through the city unseen until she reached Kira. “Sister!”
Kira cried with joy. “You have come for me!”
Imani looked at the lock on the cage. She breathed water into the lock and then held it until the water froze and expanded, breaking the lock.
Watery mist enveloped both of them as they ran towards the river.
A zookeeper discovered the open cage. “The water nymph has escaped,” he yelled. He knew water nymphs always returned to water.  “Head towards the river! After her!” he screamed as all the keepers came running.
Imani could hear them approaching. “Mother Water! Help us!” In an instant, huge hail stones began falling from the sky and filled the road behind them. The hail pelted everyone, making them take cover indoors, including those in pursuit of Kira.
When they reached the river, Kira quickly jumped in and melded with the water. The river sparkled brightly and whirled as she swam in circles making whirlpools. “Let’s go home,” she shouted.

“Not quite yet,” said Imani. “You’re safe now. Give us a few minutes.”
Imani whispered to the other water nymphs. Twirling in the river, they created a huge cloud of vapor that rose to the sky. The wind made it bigger and sculpted the cloud into the shape of a dragon.

People leaving their cottages to assess the damage from the hail looked up and shuddered.  They saw huge dragon looming over them, fiery sun rays shooting from its eyes, an omen.
The water nymphs joyfully swam back to their river home, splashing  and making rainbows in the water.
In the Kingdom where Kira was held captive, drought came, drying up the streams and river, withering the crops, until the Kingdom turned into a desert without a drop of water anywhere.

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Copyright 2019 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be reproduced, copied or distributed without permission from the author.
Published December 29, 2018 and January 5, 2019 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).