Wednesday, June 10, 2020

The Secret Cat

                                                                The Secret Cat
                                            by  Valerie L. Egar

When Uncle Tasher said he was bringing Julie a cat he’d found in Egypt, she wondered how he managed to bring it home on the airplane. Then, she wondered how he persuaded her parents to allow a cat in the house. She’d asked for a kitten over and over and they always said, “No!”
 Julie couldn’t wait to see it, but when Uncle Tasher arrived, all he carried with him was a small painting of a ruddy colored kitten with large green eyes. Julie thought she might cry. It wasn’t what she was expecting at all. She wanted a real cat, not a picture of one.
“Let me hang the picture for you,” said Uncle Tasher. Julie pointed to a place on the wall in her bedroom. While he hammered the hook into the sheetrock, he explained that he bought the painting from a mysterious man in crowded bazaar. “He assured me it’s magic, “ Uncle Tasher said. “Just wait until tonight.”
Julie rolled her eyes. Uncle Tasher was always making jokes.
            That night, when the moon shone on the picture, the cat’s eyes seemed to glow. Julie thought she saw its head move, but maybe it was a shadow from the tree outside her window. She stared at the painting and watched, fascinated, as the kitten stood and stretched. Then, with a great leap he jumped onto her bed.
           “Oh my!” Julia said. She scratched him under the chin and he purred happily.
            “Do you need something to eat?” she whispered. She wasn’t sure whether magical cats needed food and water. She sneaked into the kitchen and got a tiny cup of water and a piece of cheese, but he didn’t want any. Instead, he explored the room, rolled a few pencils off her desk and batted at the cord hanging from the blinds. Then he settled on the windowsill, bathing in the moonlight.
            “You need a name,” said Julie. She tried to remember some of the Egyptian names Uncle Tasher mentioned. He’d talked about kings, queens and ancient gods and goddesses, but Julie couldn’t remember any of them. She loved his description of a boat ride on a river called the Nile, and that’s what she decided to call the kitten.
            When Julie woke up, Nile was gone. Julie glanced at the painting. There he was, still and quiet.
            Never had Julie been so anxious to get to bed as she was that night. She didn’t ask for a second bedtime story. She didn’t say she was thirsty.
            When she put the light out, she stared and stared at the picture. At first it seemed like nothing was going to happen. Then, Nile’s tail curled and he yawned.  A great leap and he was on the bed, purring and rubbing his head on Julie’s face.
           Julie wiggled her toes and Nile pounced on them. Julie giggled.  She fell asleep with Nile curled beside her on the pillow. When she woke, Nile was gone, back inside the painting.
Every night Julie and Nile played and enjoyed each other’s company. Every morning, Nile was back inside the picture frame, silent and still.
One day as Mom vacuumed the bedroom carpet as Julie dusted. Mom noticed what seemed to be cat hair on the deep blue rug. She was puzzled. “Can’t be,” she said.
Julie looked at the picture on the wall and the mysterious little cat winked. Julie winked back at her special, secret cat.
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Copyright 2016 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published May 8, 2016, Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).


Saturday, May 30, 2020

The Old Woman and The Fire

                          The Old Woman and the Fire
                                                            By Valerie L. Egar

A very long time ago, when everyone spoke the same language and the rocks, trees and animals spoke as clearly as any human, an old woman left the place where she’d been born. She’d been widowed for many years and her children were grown and far away. During a war, foreign soldiers ravaged her farm and left no food for her to eat. Her neighbors had their own struggles and could not help.
The woman pulled on her worn boots, cut a walking stick from an alder tree in the front yard, glanced at the house where she had raised her family and began to walk. She was heavy with sorrow, sad to leave her home and worried how she would fend for herself.  Her sorrow and worries weighed upon her like a heavy sack of potatoes.
She soon came to a rushing river. It was clear and sparkled in the morning light. The old woman sat by the river to rest and had an idea. “River, river, will you take my sorrow and my worries? They are too much for me to carry, but you are strong and flow swiftly. Surely you can take them away.”
“No,” replied the river.  “Do not leave them with me. They are heavy and will sink like a stone and be mine forever. I cannot take them.”
 The woman walked on, observing everything around her. A gentle breeze kissed her face and cooled her. “Wind,” the old woman said.  “You are so kind to refresh me. Will you take my worries?  Blow away my sorrow?  I am old and growing tired of carrying them.”
The wind huffed and huffed. “No, I cannot,” it replied. They are heavy and will not move no matter how hard I blow.”
Once again, the old woman travelled on. She was weary and hungry. Her worries grew as she walked and her back ached under the terrible weight of her sorrow. On a rocky path over a mountain, the woman asked, “Earth beneath my feet, may I give you my worries? May I bury my sorrow in you?”
A deep voice replied. “If you bury them, they will live in me forever. I do not want them. I cannot.”
That night the woman sat alone at the edge of a great forest. She built a small fire, boiled water for tea and roasted a small potato. The fire warmed her and she looked into the flames. “Fire, will you take my worries and my sorrow?”
The flames crackled as the fire answered. “Yes, give them to me and I will change them into something else. I will turn your worries into ash, lighter than feathers and the wind will whisk them away. I will shine light through your tears and make rainbows. I will burn away what has no use and leave pure gold. I will take your burdens and transform them.”
 The woman understood and looked through her small rucksack for things to feed the fire. A small pebble from her village.  Living there was behind her, she had no need for it. An old dress she’d worn during hard times. Her empty coin purse.  A sad letter from her daughter.  To say thank you, she added a pinch of lavender from the garden she’d left behind. Smoke rose and she danced in it, singing for the first time in many years. 
A much younger woman awakened in the morning, refreshed and bright, excitement for new adventures burning in her heart.
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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author. 
Published August 12, 2018 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Orissa, Queen of the Forest

                                Orissa, Queen of the Forest
                                                By Valerie L. Egar

A young girl named Orissa lived at the edge of a great forest with her mother and father. She was eleven, with braids long enough to neatly wrap around her head. In the spring and summer, her mother wove flowers Orissa picked in the meadow into her braids. Daisies and honeysuckle, red  poppies and Queen Anne’s lace crowned Orissa. She loved wearing flowers in her hair.
            One morning, Orissa’s mother gave her a metal pail and asked her to go into the forest to gather berries. Orissa skipped down a dirt path into the forest singing,
                  Raspberries, blackberries, ripe and sweet,
                 Tonight we’ll have pie to eat!
As much as Orissa liked flowers, she liked her mother’s berry pie even more.
Orissa slowed when she entered the forest. She admired the mottled white bark on the birch trees and took a deep breath to smell the clean scent of pine. She listened to the cuckoo’s call and the shill cry of a hawk. Warm sun filtered through the leaves and made lacy patterns on the forest floor. Orissa sat in the velvety moss underneath the trees to rest and listen to the birds for just a moment. Soon she fell asleep.
 Orissa woke with a start and found a bright blue eye staring into hers.  A tall woman wrapped in a blue cape lifted her to her feet. “At last! The Queen of the Forest!” The woman pointed to Orissa’s flower crown.
Orissa shook her head. “No,” she said. “I’m a little girl.”
“Ha!  You can’t fool me,” said the woman “I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday. You’re the Queen of the Forest.” The woman smiled slyly. “Now that I’ve caught you, give me all the gold you’ve hidden.”
Orissa frowned. “Only leprechauns hide gold.” Orissa looked at her empty pail and how high the sun was in the sky. She was anxious to pick berries or there would be no pie after supper.
            “Wait, maybe I have my creatures mixed up,” the woman said. She scratched her head. “Pearls. I want all your pearls!”
Orissa rolled her eyes. “I’m not sure, but I think mermaids have those.”
“How about diamonds? Rubies?”
“Where would I find those around here?” Orissa said.  “This is the forest!”
The woman’s eyes narrowed and she looked at Orissa’s empty pail.  “Oh, you’re a clever one, trying to trick me. What’s the pail for?”
            The woman laughed. “Magic berries! That’s why you look so young. Why I bet you’re over a hundred years old and you don’t look a day over ten.”
            “I’m eleven,” Orissa said.
             The woman cackled. “And I’m only twenty-one. Ha! I can’t wait to eat some of those magic berries. ”
            Orissa shrugged. “If you help me fill my pail,” she said, “I’ll show you where the berry patch is. You can have as many as you can eat today.”
            “I understand,” said the woman. “They’re only magic when the moon in full. Tomorrow they won’t be magic anymore.”
            “No,” said Orissa. “I leave enough berries for the birds and the bears. They enjoy them, too and people shouldn’t be greedy and take more than they can use.”
            “Right,” said the woman. “You’re the Queen of the Forest. I should have expected you’d say that.”
            The woman quickly helped Orissa fill her bucket with sweet ripe berries and Orissa sang her way home. A pie was soon baking in the oven.
            The woman stayed in the berry patch and gobbled berries until her fingers and lips were stained and her stomach was full. Since she expected the berries would make her younger, she was careful not to eat so many that she turned back into a baby. She thought being eighteen or nineteen again might be nice and that’s what she hoped for.
When she looked in the mirror the next morning, she wasn’t even one day younger.  For the rest of her days, she told anyone who would listen how the Queen of the Forest tricked her.
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Copyright 2017  by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published October 8, 2017, Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).

Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Magic Wishing Eggs

                                           The Magic Wishing Eggs
                                                            By Valerie L. Egar

            A long time ago, a stranger drove his donkey cart into a small village on market day. Bright red, decorated with painted yellow and blue flowers, the cart drew everyone’s attention. The villagers thought the stranger, a tall man with a neatly trimmed beard, looked like a scholar, though no one could say for sure, since a scholar had never visited their town.
            The stranger parked his cart near the market and passers-by noticed the back of the cart was filled with coconuts. “How odd that someone so well-dressed would be selling coconuts!” the villagers thought.

             After almost everyone had seen the coconuts, the stranger took a large blue cloth from under the cart seat and began covering the coconuts, carefully tucking the cloth around them, so the villagers could no longer view what was in the cart.  Curiosity got the best of one onlooker. “I was hoping to buy a coconut to make a cake,” she said. “Aren’t you selling them?”
            The stranger gasped. “Madam,” he said, “these are NOT coconuts.  They may look like coconuts. If you broke one open it might taste like a coconut. But, I repeat, they are NOT coconuts.” He said it in such a way, the woman was embarrassed by her ignorance and didn’t want to ask what they really were.
 The man lowered his voice and whispered, “These are magic wishing eggs. Handled properly, they hatch whatever a person desires. I’m taking them across the river to sell.”
         The woman’s eyes widened. Magic wishing eggs! What could be better than that? “Sell them here!” she demanded.
          The man shook his head. “I can’t. I promised  them to—” He pointed toward the river.
            “Dundershine? “
            “Yes, that’s it,” he replied. “The mayor of Dundershine promised me the villagers would pay the highest price for my magic wishing eggs.”
            “Well,” the woman huffed. “As far as I know you never asked us!” She set out to complain to anyone who would listen. Soon, word spread that their small village had been overlooked and that magic wishing eggs were headed to Dundershine.
            A group of townspeople approached the stranger, who was sitting in his cart, reading a book.
            “I’m a lawyer,” a squat man announced. “I’ve brought some of our finest citizens with me. “We would like the opportunity to purchase the magic eggs.”
            The stranger shook his head. “I am sorry they weren’t covered when I drove into town. I promised them to Dundershine, every single one. Perhaps next year, if I can find some more—”
          “We want them now!” a man yelled.
 “We’ll pay double,” said another.
           “I’m not the kind to break a promise,” said the man.
           “We’ll pay triple,” said the lawyer, “and you won’t have to cross the river or deal with those foolish people in Dundershine. They aren’t very smart, you know.”
            The man sighed. “All of you are so kind. I wish I’d met you before I promised Dundershine the magic wishing eggs. Whatever you desire would be at your fingertips. See my beautiful cart? I have it because of the wishing eggs. My fat donkey, my tailored clothes? All from the magic wishing eggs. I have a beautiful wife, a fine house. I owe everything I have to the wonder of the magic eggs. But, I am a man of my word and I cannot I break my promise to Dundershine.”
            “We’ll pay ten times more than Dundershine!”
            A small tear rolled down the man’s cheek. “Good people,” he cried. “You are making it so hard. I would not, would never go back on my word, but I could help my dear sister with so much money. She is widowed and alone with seven small children—”
            The crowd began to clap.
            “So, I must say yes, yes, you may buy the magic wishing eggs.”
            The stranger unloaded the cart and took the money— a great sum for ordinary coconuts— and hightailed it out of town.
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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author,
Published June 3, 2018 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME)