Tuesday, July 23, 2019

A Day in the Life of the River

A Day in the Life of the River
            By Valerie L. Egar
The first rays of the sun touched the river, cutting through mist rising from the water. The light awakened a Canada Goose nesting on an island. Four goslings followed her into the water and swam downstream with the gander following behind to protect them.

The sun awakened the kingfisher. He darted over the water, looking for a tasty fish to catch.  All along the river, birds chirped and whistled, ready for a new day.
As the sun rose, it dappled the water with gold. A girl and her father stood on the riverbank, fishing. “Early morning is always the best time to fish,” her father said.
“When I caught the trout last week, it was 11:00,” she reminded him. “I could have slept a few more hours.” Her Dad laughed.
         Further down the river, a scout troop paddled kayaks through swift rapids. Negotiating the rocks was tricky, but fun. Water sprayed into the air and the sun turned the spray into rainbows. Everybody was happy when the water calmed and they pulled the kayaks onto the shore to eat lunch.
            After lunch, a few boys skimmed rocks across the water. “Can we go for a swim?” The leader nodded. Swinging from a vine that hung over the water and plopping into the river thrilled them. The afternoon was hot and cold water felt refreshing.
            The river threaded its way past farms where cows grazed near the water. It flowed through small towns. Young couples pushed baby strollers through a park on the waterfront. Children threw corn to ducks. Others sat on park benches and enjoyed watching the water flow by.
            Miles away, the river grew wider and cut through a city. A bridge arched over the water. As evening fell, the city’s lights reflected in the water and shimmered.
            The river grew still wider as it neared the sea. Its banks were sandy and the water tasted salty.  Most of the people near the river were fast asleep, but not the trucker, driving along the highway that skirted the water. He had a truck full of potatoes to drive south.

            The train engineer was awake too. Freight cars headed to distant cities rumbled on tracks next to the river. The engineer glimpsed the moon shining on the water. He yawned, eyeing the dark houses where people slept peacefully.
            From its source high in the mountains to its mouth where it emptied into the ocean, the river sparkled in moonlight. In darkness, animals came to the water’s edge to drink— moose and bear, bobcat and fox. A raccoon searched for mussels, otters played tag.
            Except for the sound of flowing water and an owl hooting now and then, the world was quiet. 

The sun would rise soon enough and a new day would begin. But for now, the river stretched mountain to sea wrapped in moon glow. And, from one dark house, a little face peeked out a window at her river friend before she fell back asleep.

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Copyright 2019 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be reproduced, copied or distributed without permission from the author.
Published June 15, 2019 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).


Thursday, July 18, 2019

Ashra's Adventure with Ton-Ton

                                    Ashra’s Adventure with Ton-Ton 
                                                            By Valerie L. Egar

      Most people don’t think of a cat as a travelling companion. When Ashra decided to take me with her on her journey, her father shook his head. “You should take a dog, Ashra. It will guard you at night as you sleep by the fire.”
            “Why not a horse?” Ashra’s friend Elizabeth asked. “You could ride a horse instead of walking.”
            The townspeople laughed. “Foolish girl, not even smart enough to take a nice fat hen. At least she would have eggs to eat. What good is a cat on a journey?”
            But, Ashra insisted on taking me. I’m Brackton the Bold, but Ashra calls me ‘Ton-Ton.’ I do as I please, answer when I wish and consider myself rather clever.
I’ve been Ashra’s best friend and companion since she rescued me from a farmer who wanted nothing to do with a black kitten. “Bad luck,” he declared. Ashra didn’t believe that nonsense and took me home and raised me. But for her, I wouldn’t be here telling stories.
In those long-ago days, young men left home to find their fortune. With luck, a boy would have good stories to tell when he returned and perhaps some money. The stories we heard around the fire on a winter’s night were about meeting princesses, receiving gold from kings, battling dragons— the stuff fairy tales are made from.
 Ashra listened to these stories and decided she would leave home when she was old enough to find her fortune. How she was ridiculed! It wasn’t something girls did. Her father tried to talk her out of it. Her mother fretted that no boy would ever marry her. And, those who thought it might be acceptable for a girl to go on a journey all agreed— the cat should stay home.
Ashra wouldn’t hear of it. She had a mind of her own. She packed a small sack she could easily carry, hiding a few gold coins in a purse tied inside her belt. She bundled her hair under a floppy hat to protect herself from the sun. She packed bread, nuts, dried fruit and cheese to eat. “You might have to depend on your hunting skills, Ton-Ton,” she whispered.
“No problem,” I thought.  If she liked mice and moles, I could feed her too.
For days, we walked. Dirt roads, cobbled streets in small towns. We crossed rivers. (Actually, I suspect it was the same river and we saw it from both sides as we made our way north.).  We slept on beds of pine needles in the forest and in grassy fields under starlit skies.
“Are you bored Ton-Ton?” Ashra asked.  “I think we should have had some kind of adventure by now.”
Maybe it’s me, but it seemed that as soon as Ashra said that, we came around a curve in the road and were enveloped in mist.  When the mist parted, I saw an inviting cottage. That made me very suspicious. Why, you might ask.
 Think of the cottage in Hansel and Gretel.  The children were lost and hungry and all of a sudden, a house made of gingerbread appears? That doesn’t sound like  coincidence to me.
We were hungry for adventure and the house seemed to promise that. A path that twisted and turned led to the front door, which was bright red with a brass door knocker in the shape of a hawk. The shutters were open and bird song seemed to pour from the small house.
            Ashra smiled. “Shall we?”
            I followed behind her as we walked the twisty path to the house. We passed a garden planted with wheat, sunflowers and millet. No potatoes or turnips? Very strange. Everyone plants root vegetables.
            Ashra knocked and in a moment, an old woman came to the door. “A visitor, how nice!”
            She looked startled when she saw me. “Oh! I’m afraid of cats.”
            “Ton-Ton is very well behaved,” Ashra told her and stepped inside.
             Not me. I decided I’d sit in a sun patch on the porch and listen at the window.
            “How old are you?” I heard the woman ask.  “And you’re by yourself?”
        I crept nearer the window and peeked inside. I watched
 the woman as she talked, noticing how she moved her hands. They fluttered back and forth nervously, especially when Ashra mentioned me.
The woman offered Ashra dinner and a warm bed. “What about Ton-Ton?” Ashra asked.
“He’ll be fine outside,” the woman answered. “I’m sure he’ll enjoy hunting for mice.”
The woman’s voice was shrill and raspy. She talked as she set the table for dinner.
“No butter for the bread.” She explained. “Butter doesn’t agree with me, I hope you don’t mind.” She placed a dark loaf on the table.
“I’m grateful for your hospitality,” Ashra replied, ever polite.
“No cheese! I never cared for it. Have some sunflower seeds. They’re delicious.”
I saw Ashra place a few seeds on her plate.
“A few berries, perhaps?”
“Oh yes,” Ashra replied. “I like berries.”
They ate in near silence, the woman cracking sunflower seeds out of their shells with her teeth, gobbling berries in between. I have to say, I expected better table manners.
 Ashra picked at her food. I knew she would have enjoyed a tasty chunk of cheese or a fat pat of sweet butter for her bread.
Not long after, the woman announced it was bedtime and showed Ashra to her room. Coming back into the living room, she spun round and round, faster and faster and in a moment, a tiny sparrow had taken her place.
My cat instincts took over and my protectiveness towards Ashra. I wasn’t sure Ashra was safe here. By what magic had this woman turned into a  sparrow? Unseen, I crept through the window and pounced. I held the bird, but it slipped away and flew to the mantle. I leaped to the mantle and a vase of flowers crashed to the floor. Another miss.
I chased the bird around the room, making sure to keep it away from the window, fearing it would fly away. Finally, I cornered it and I did what most cats do. I bit it.
I heard a boom like thunder and felt the room shake. A young woman, not much older than Ashra stood before me.  “I’m Cora,” she said picked me up and hugged me. “You’ve broken the spell!”
Of course, by that time, Ashra had awakened and ran into the room to find out what was going on.
Cora’s story was similar to all those Ashra and I listened to for many years— a witch cast a spell and turned her into a bird as revenge for her picking sunflowers in the witch’s garden. She was doomed to live as a sparrow until the spell was broken.
“You’re my hero! My father’s not rich but he’s a fisherman and he’ll give you lots of fish!”
I don’t want sound impolite, but unlike most cats, I’ve never cared for fish. I left the two young women to a late night of talking and went into the night to hunt.
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Copyright 2019 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published in two parts in Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME) on July 6, 2019 and July 13, 2019.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Around the World in Five Sneezes

                                Around the World in Five Sneezes
                                                       By Valerie L. Egar

            Luke did not feel well. In fact, he felt perfectly awful. His throat was sandpaper. He felt too hot under a blanket, but shivery without a blanket. His nose was runny.  When he coughed, he sounded like the neighbor’s St. Bernard.
            Settled on the sofa in the den, Luke could see blue skies outside. It was the nicest spring day since the snow melted. He wanted to be outside playing, but he had a cold. “You can’t go outside until you’re better,” Mom said as she poured another dose of icky tasting cough medicine in a little cup.
            “I thought this was supposed to taste like grapes,” Luke complained.
            “That what the doctor said.”
            “It doesn’t!”
            Luke was bored.  All the TV cartoons were reruns. He’d seen all the movies on the Kids Channel hundreds of times.  No matter how much he begged, the family’s corgi, Belle, preferred following his mother around the house instead of staying with him. 
            “I wish I wasn’t sick, stuck on this stupid sofa!” Just then, Luke sneezed, a great big explosion of a sneeze. “KERCHOO!”
           Everyone closes their eyes when they sneeze and when Luke opened his, he wasn’t on the sofa anymore. He was standing on a white sand beach. Tall palm trees rustled in a light breeze. High waves rushed towards shore and he saw several surfers riding the waves.
            “Hey, want to try?” a tanned teenager asked Luke.
            Luke waded into the water. All of a sudden, he sneezed. “KERCHOO!”
            Luke opened his eyes found himself on a baseball diamond in the middle of a game. Not just any game— the last game in the World Series.  The stadium was filled to capacity. Luke looked at the scoreboard: seventh inning and the score was tied at 5-5.  Bases were loaded with two outs.
            “Get your glove, kid. You’re playing third base.”
            “Me?” It was an awful lot of pressure for his first professional game. Luke slipped on a glove, but it felt too big. The pitcher wound up to pitch and everyone heard a loud “KERCHOO!”
            Kangaroos? Koala bears? “Am I in Australia? “ Luke wondered. He didn’t wonder long.
            “Howdy, mate!”
            The man guided Luke to a eucalyptus tree and Luke pet a shy koala bear.  Luke was surprised by the size of the kangaroos and even more surprised by the ostriches which weren’t exactly friendly.  He turned his back and heard the thump, thump, thump of something running towards him. The ostrich!
          Never had a sneeze been so well timed. Luke opened his eyes and the Great Pyramid of Egypt stood before him. Ever since he’d read about the pyramids, Luke wanted to see them. He stood, awed by their magnificence.
            “Perhaps you would like a boat ride along the Nile?”
            “Oh yes, please!”
            Luke followed the man to the water’s edge. The boat looked small to Luke and on the far bank, he saw a huge crocodile. As Luke got into the boat, the crocodile slipped into the water and started swimming towards the boat.
            “I’m not sure this is a good idea,” Luke started to say as the croc drew closer.
            Luke stood at the counter in his favorite ice cream shop.  “At least I’m getting closer to home,” he thought.  He wanted a cone, but with over 100 flavors to choose from, the decision was hard. He was just about to say, “Triple dip, black cherry, chocolate raspberry and coconut,” when his mother appeared.
            “Not before dinner!”
            Luke was surprised. “How did you get here?”
            “I sneezed,” she said.  “I must have caught your cold.”
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Copyright 2019 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be reproduced, distributed or copied without permission from the author.
Published April 20, 2019 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).


Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Table Dog

                                           Table Dog
                                                   By Valerie L. Egar

            As soon as they stepped into the house, the young dog ran room to room exploring his new home. Tail up and nose to the floor, he circled the sofa. He sniffed  the fireplace screen and the tall plant in the corner of the living room. In Ryan’s room, he spent a few minutes looking under the bed.
            Ryan rolled a tennis ball towards the husky, which the family hadn’t yet named. “You like this?”  The dog ignored it and stuck his head into the bathroom.
            “C’mon,” Mom called from the kitchen. “Water.” She swished her fingers in the metal bowl for the dog to hear and put the bowl on the floor. He ran into the kitchen and took a long drink.
            “I like the name Togo,” Mom said, not for the first time.
            “What’s wrong with Sinatra? That’s what they called him at the shelter.” Dad pat the dog’s head.
            “What’s a Sinatra?” Ryan asked.
            “Not what. Who. A famous singer who had blue eyes, Frank Sinatra.”
            Ryan wrinkled his nose.
            “We can wait a while to name him. Let’s see what fits.”
           Finished drinking, the dog spotted the large wooden table next to the windows. With one easy leap, he jumped on top.
            “No, no,” chided Mom. “No table.”
            The dog stood, looking out the windows. A large expanse of fields. A view of the driveway. If he was going to protect the house, this was the place to be!
            “Off the table,” Dad said and the dog complied. He had other rooms to explore.
            Later that evening, the family went to a restaurant for dinner. Coming home, Ryan spied a furry face at the kitchen window as they pulled into the driveway. He hoped Mom didn’t see, but when they went into the house, their new dog was still standing on the table, wagging his tail, happy to see them.
            “You were waiting for us, weren’t you boy.” Ryan grabbed a biscuit and called him.
            “I’m not sure I like him jumping on tables,” Mom worried.
            “He can’t see outside, except from the table,” Dad pointed out.  “He hasn’t jumped on the table in the dining room and won’t. It isn’t near a window.”
            Mom wasn’t convinced, but she soon learned Dad was correct.  The dining room table, at the center of the room, held no interest for the dog. He liked positioning himself under the table when they were eating, hoping for a scrap or two to drop, but he never jumped on the table.
           The kitchen table was a different story. Though the dog gave up the table for the family’s breakfast, the dog viewed it as his for the rest of the day. 
They bought him a nice soft dog bed. “That will do the trick.”
            Though the dog enjoyed sleeping on his new bed at night in Ryan’s room, he still spent most of the day on the table.
            From the table, the dog watched wild turkeys in the nearby field and occasionally, a white tail deer.
            From the table, he caught the first glimpse of Ryan walking up the driveway from the school bus and got ready to greet him.
            From the table, he saw the delivery man put packages at the door and barked.
            From the table, the dog guarded and protected the house and the family.
           “Maybe we should call him Sentry?” Dad suggested and they agreed Sentry was the perfect name.
            “Except when he’s sleeping in a patch of sunlight,” Mom teased because she’d found him more than once fast asleep on the hard table in a puddle of sunshine.   

Like the story? Let us know by commenting, sharing with FACEBOOK friends and 'liking.'
Copyright 2019 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published June 8, 2019 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).