Thursday, February 27, 2020

Prem and His Wondrous Melons

Prem and His Wondrous Melons
                By Valerie L. Egar

            Once upon a time, a very long time ago, a young farmer, Prem, lived at the edge of a small village. He was a cheerful man, and well liked by the townspeople.
Prem loved the earth and all its creatures. He talked to seeds as he planted them and sang to the earth as he walked on it. When he planted grain, he always planted a share for the birds. He was grateful for the sun and the rain and particularly thankful for a little patch of earth on a hillside that was perfect for growing melons.
            “Oh, what a beautiful vine you will grow to be,” he said as he planted each seed. “The fruit growing on your vine will be sweet and plentiful. I am so happy to help you grow.”
            As the vines grew, Prem tended them with great care.  He loosened the hard soil around them and fertilized them.  When weeks went by without rain, he hauled barrels of water from the river with his horse cart and watered each plant. Not one weed slipped past his sharp eye.
 When the vines flowered and the melons began to form, he talked to each one.  “How sweet you will be!” he murmured.  “Oh, what a beauty you are!”
As the melons ripened in the summer sun, Prem took them to the village market and sold them. They were fragrant and promised to be delicious. He quickly sold them all.

Those who were fortunate enough to have bought one of Prem’s melons could speak of nothing else that week. They could not describe the marvelous taste with simple words, only with comparisons. “Rainbow-flavored,” one person said.  “Spiced with the light of the morning star,” said another.
 The following week, Prem found a line of people waiting for him when he arrived with his wagon of melons. Once again, he quickly sold them all.
Word of his incredible melons continued to spread. Soon, the King heard about them. He was a greedy man and decided if the melons were so delicious, he would have all of them for himself. He sent a letter to Prem telling him he would buy every melon Prem had.
Most farmers would be happy to sell their whole crop so easily, but Prem wasn’t that kind of man. He thought of the children who would delight at a sweet bite of melon and the old women who said even a small taste made them remember long ago summers. He thought of the families carrying one of his ripe melons on a picnic and anticipating its flavor as it was sliced. If the King bought them all, no one else would have any. He didn’t want to sell all of the melons to the King.
 That night, by the light of the moon, Prem worked until each melon bore the name of a person in the town, his knife delicately piercing the skin to write the name, but not so much to cut into the sweet flesh. On and on he wrote, until dawn came. The skin would scar as the melons continued to ripen, leaving the name.
In the morning, Prem was tired, but not so tired that he didn’t go to town and spread the word about what he had done. Each of the townspeople happily paid Prem for the melon ripening in his field with his or her name. Then, Prem wrote to the King. “Dearest King,” he said. “I am afraid I do not own any melons to sell you. Each of the people on the attached list owns one melon. Perhaps you will find someone willing to sell you theirs.”
            The King immediately sent a messenger with a bag of gold to buy whatever melons he could. A few people sold theirs to the King, which was to be expected, but when their neighbors talked about the flavor of the melons from that extraordinary crop for so many years and so often it became legend, they wondered if they hadn’t missed something very special.
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Copyright 2017 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME) May 21, 2017.


Sunday, February 16, 2020

Alexi, The Dog and The Mule

​                   Alexi, The Dog and The Mule
                                      By Valerie L. Egar
            A long time ago, a boy named Alexi walked to the village market to sell two bags of wheat. His family was so poor they didn’t own a horse and cart to haul the wheat. He strapped the bags on his back and his knees buckled under the burden.
            “Get the best price you can,” his mother said. “Buy three laying hens with the money and we will have eggs to feed the family and not be hungry.”
            On his way to the market, Alexi met a man dragging a large dog tied to a rope. The dog was thin and grey around its muzzle. Alexi noticed the man’s cruel eyes and how the dog shied away from him.
            “Boy,” the stranger said, “Let me lighten your burden by trading this fine dog for whatever you are carrying on your back.”
            Alexi stopped. The dog looked at him hopefully and Alexi’s heart was touched. He remembered what his mother had told him. They needed laying hens, but perhaps not three. He would eat less, so they could get by with two. “One bag for the dog,” he said.
            The stranger agreed and was soon on his way with a bag of wheat. The dog pranced happily next to Alexi.
           Soon Alexi came upon a woman driving a cart hitched 

to an old mule. She whipped the mule to go faster, but the mule stumbled.  She looked at Alexi. “Boy, today’s your lucky day.  I will give you this fine mule and the cart for what you’re carrying on your back. You and that dog will ride like kings.”
            Alexi saw the mule was old and lame. The cart was little better than a plank with wobbly wheels, but Alexi felt sorry for the abused mule. He cut the bag of wheat from his back and handed it over.
Surely his mother would be angry. He had nothing to bring his family except a thin dog, a lame mule, and a rickety cart.  Alexi decided to spend the night in the woods to think about what he should do. He made a camp near a stream and gathered grass for the mule to eat. He shared his thin slice of bread and cheese with the dog.  Alexi lay on the cart, wishing the dog or mule would have magical powers like the animals in fairy tales. In those stories, animals always discovered treasures or gave good advice and the person who helped them was richly rewarded. Alexi sighed and patted the dog snuggled next to him. “It’s OK, boy,” he said. “Saving both of you from harm is reward enough.”
            In the middle of the night, Alexi woke with a start. He heard voices. “Stop cryin’ if you know what’s good for you.”  By the light of the moon, Alexi saw two men with a young boy.
            “Ha,” said the other. “ The King will pay a good ransom for you!”  The scoundrels had kidnapped the Prince! Alexi tried to think what to do.
           His dog howled, a mournful howl that sounded like a ghost.
            The men stopped. “What was that?”
            The mule brayed, and sounded like a host of demons.

           “These woods are haunted!”
            The frightened men looked around and the dog ran to one and bit him hard on the leg. The mule galloped to the other and kicked him so hard he fell over.  Alexi grabbed his rope and tied the two scoundrels up. He threw them on the cart and rode them into town with the frightened Prince sitting on his lap.
            When the King and Queen asked Alexi what he wanted, he asked for three good laying hens. They laughed and  gave the dog, mule and Alexi gold medals for bravery.  Alexi received rich farmland, a house large enough for his family and gold to keep them comfortable for many years.
Alexi continued to rescue animals that had hard lives. He never expected them to have magical powers or speak to him, even when the moon was full. That he made their lives easier with his kindness was reward enough for him.
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Copyright 2017 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published October 1, 2017 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME)

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Puppy Huxley, Chew, Chew, Chew!

                              Puppy Huxley, Chew, Chew, Chew!
                                                     By Valerie L. Egar

Layla lingered at the cage, gazing at the oversized puppy with black and golden fur who looked at her eagerly. One ear stood straight up and the other flopped down. He held his tail high in the air and it curled over his body like a question mark. “Are you sure he’s a puppy?” At five months old, the young dog weighed fifty pounds and stood tall as her school desk.
“Look how big his paws are. He hasn’t grown into them yet,” Dad said.
        “What kind of dog is he?” Layla asked.
The shelter’s adoption counselor smiled. “I’d guess a little collie, mixed with some golden retriever and maybe a hint of husky.”
“Sit,” Layla said. The dog sat. “Good boy, Huxley,” said Layla.
Layla nodded. “I saw the name in a book I read.”
 Huxley went home with his new family, but not before they stopped at the pet food store to buy puppy chow and a nice squeaky stuffed frog for Huxley to play with.
Huxley liked his new toy, but he was curious and had to find out how it made noise. He held it down with one paw and tore at it with his teeth. Soon the stuffing and the plastic squeaker were on the floor. He carried the unstuffed frog to Layla. “Oh, Huxley!” she sighed.
Huxley liked discovering new things to chew. Mom brought in bags of groceries. Huxley stuck his head in every bag when Mom wasn’t looking. He found a box of tea bags, carried it to his dog bed and chewed it open. Tea smelled nice, but Huxley didn’t want to eat it.
Dad hung pictures in his office and left the hammer on the floor. Huxley thought it looked a little like a bone. He carried it to his dog bed and chewed on the handle. Yuck! It didn’t have much flavor. Dad found the hammer decorated with tooth marks.
A bottle of water looked very interesting and it was easy to carry when Huxley grasped it by the top with his teeth. He carried it to his dog bed and gnawed on it. Eww! It made his bed wet.
The vacuum made too much noise. Huxley fixed it by chewing the electric cord off.
Magazines had wonderful scented paper perfume samples inside. Huxley loved how they smelled. Too bad he had to tear up the whole magazine just to get to them out.
Huxley found a feedbag of nuts and dried fruit his family bought to feed the woodpeckers. Huxley put his head deep into the bag and gobbled the woodpecker food. It was delicious. “Are you a woodpecker?” his family asked. “That’s not for you, Huxley.”
When his family forgot to shut the closet door, Huxley explored inside and found piles of shoes. They had funny looking spiky sticks on one end and looked hard to walk on. They were made from leather though and rather tasty. He chewed a red one, a blue one and another that was an odd shade of brown.
“Good thing I don’t wear high heels anymore,” Mom said. “You’re helping me clear the closet, Huxley.”
Layla found him with a canister of oatmeal, the lid chewed off and oatmeal sprinkled all over. “Oh, Huxley,” Layla said. “How did you reach the counter?” 
Huxley’s family went to the store and bought lots of chew toys for him—fancy ones shaped like bones and rubber ones they stuffed with treats. Maybe, just maybe, he would chew on his toys instead of things he wasn’t supposed to chew, like table legs and TV remotes. Huxley enjoyed his new toys, but he was still a puppy and now and then, he still decided to taste something new.
“Oh, Huxley! Not my science homework!”

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Copyright 2017 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be published, distributed or reproduced without permission from the author.
Published December 31, 2017 Biddeford Journal Tribune (Biddeford, ME).