Evil?

There are causes and effects, actions and reactions. But “evil”? Evil is a chimera, a phantasm; it has about as much objective meaning as “hate,” which is another favorite term bandied about by politicians, media shills and other assorted pimps and whores of the establishment, all to their own purposes. What is “evil”? Is it predation? If so, then all of nature must therefore be a reeking quagmire of this metaphysical stuff, this “evil”; as all of nature is, essentially, predatory, locked in Darwinian struggle. When the State determines what is lawful, it determines what is “evil,” and thus, everything “evil” is only that which contravenes the interests of the State; which is only rooted in its own self-serving interests and need to propagate and maintain its power and coercion through brutality, force and violence. Thus, it will wield the very cudgel that, in another’s hands, it would decry as an instrument of “evil.” Hypocrites all.

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Peter, Susie and the Tea That Ran Up the Wall!

Peter and Susie were walking along the weird, overgrown path, wondering at the purple plants and all the other strange things arrayed about them.

Since they had come to this enchanted place, this Valley of Kirk-Havens, or whatever the sign back there had said precisely (the letters seemed to keep shifting as they had tried to read them), they had seen no end to strange and unusual things; so many, in fact that, at one point, Susie had turned to Peter and said, “I do wish the rabbits wouldn’t babbit, and the snabbits wouldn’t crabbit, and the plants weren’t purple, and the grass would stand in one spot under your feet. For, the way everything around here is always shifting and snoozling, and sneezingly oozling, it fairly gives one a tummy ache trying to keep up with it all!”

Peter, who, under different circumstances, might have scolded his sister for coming up with nonsense words like “snoozling” and “oozling”, let the matter lie, as the world they had awoken to find themselves wandering (After falling asleep in the meadow reading a smashing great book of stories, all about knights and the like) seemed to be just the appropriate place for sneezing out a mouthful of nonsense words (like “snizzlepickle,” “snatbrat,” or “scrumcuddlyrumptious”…all of which, thought Peter, sounded like perfectly delicious words to him).

“It’s okay Sue. I suppose it’s something you just have to get use to if you find yourself lost here.”

Susan looked frightened suddenly.

“Then we are lost! Oh, whatever shall we do? It will be getting dark soon, and we’ll be hungry and cold, and Mother will miss us and be terribly worried and afraid!”

Peter frowned, leapt forward in front of her path, and wagged his finger.

“Don’t you go losing your head on me, Sue!”, he exclaimed, and then said, “We’ll find our way back out of this, soon. That is, if we aren’t simply having a huge, fantastic dream!” He stopped, put his finger to his bottom lip, and considered.

“Why, for all we know, right now, you or I are back home, cuddled up in bed, with visions of sugar plums and sweets taking a little break dancing around in our heads, waiting for Christmas morning and all the sugar plum cookies we ate last night to wear off. Pretty soon, we’ll be dreaming something merry and cheery, and forget all about this place, and it will be time to open our eyes–”
“And our presents?” Sue suddenly asked, brightening. Peter didn’t know if anything he just told his sister was true or not, but he thought it was better to have her cheery and smiling than gloomy and crying, and so he said, “Why, of course! You don’t think a bad dream can last forever, do you!”
Sue said, “Of course not!

And Peter replied, “Of course not!”

And then, as the wind shifted, and the woods grew darker, and the breeze seemed to carry odd laughter and tinkling music up and down the dark, twisting path, Peter peeped up and said, “Sue? Do you smell that?”

Sue raised her nose to the air and sniffed.

“Jam cake!” She said, her dark blue eyes brightening. “Why, I smell jam cake!”

Peter nodded his head, and agreed, saying, “Yea, and hot baked cross buns! And buttered scones!”

And Sue quickly added, “And lemon tarts!”

And Peter replied “And peach ice cream!”

And the children (who, if they weren’t merely dreaming, realized they had not had any food for hours) raced forward, following their noses.

Soon, they found themselves standing on the crest of a little hill, looking down into a hollow. At the bottom of the hollow nestled a little cottage.

“Hey, look! I bet you that’s where the delicious smell is coming from, Sue!”

And Sue said, “Sure enough! Why, I can smell it coming out in delicious waves of smell! I bet they’re cooking up a feast fit for a king inside. Say, Peter: do you think they would overmind so very much if we happened in on them, two little kids like us, and maybe, well, we COULD do the dishes or something in exchange for whatever we eat…”

Peter looked at his sister, half annoyed, and half frightened at the prospect of going up to a strange door, in a strange land, and begging to be let in for dinner. Plus, “overmind” was another of the little words she was always making up, so that following what she said often became a spot of bother. Little wonder her nickname was “Miss Malaprops.”

“Well, well I suppose you’re right, Sue! But, at any rate, if we don’t at least ask them, we’ll starve to death out here! Of course, they could be crazy people, or even hideous trolls or monsters–”

And Sue, upon hearing this, put her hands to her mouth and exclaimed, “Oh no, don’t say that!”
Peter frowned. “Well,” he stated matter-of-factly, “it’s true. We don’t know that they are, but they COULD be!” He paused for a moment, shuffled his feet, puffed out his lower lip, and said, “Well, I guess since I’m the oldest one, and a boy, it falls on me to go up and knock! You wait here, just in case–”
And Sue almost squeaked out, “Just in case WHAT?” in mounting fear and terror; but, somehow, she found her voice catching in her throat.

Peter went up to the door, his little heart hammering in his throat. He was amused to note that the door was perfectly round, and green, with all sorts of lovely and weird flowers painted on it in bright colors. In the center, of course, was a little round brass knob.

Above this was a knocker, designed to look like a ring in a boar’s snout. He put his fingers to it (they were shaking a bit, to be perfectly honest), and he made three stout raps and then waited. It seemed as if he waited there a long, long time, shifting nervously from foot to foot.

Finally, after what seemed like a terribly long, long period of time, he could hear some shuffling and wheezing from behind the door. His heart began to race a little in anticipation. Then, the wooden door began to squeak and squeal open, with a shuddering shriek of rusted hinges and creaking wood, and, standing there, half hidden in the dark, was the form of a bent, crooked old crone, with a long crooked nose. (And, of course, with a wart on the tip.)
She stood in the doorway wheezing and puffing for awhile, her seamed, wrinkled and warty face working in consternation and puzzlement. Hoarsely, she spat out, “Well? What in the world do you want?”

Peter fidgeted, his hands in his pockets. Behind him, Sue looked as if she might burst out bawling. Peter then worked up the courage to speak.

“Oh, Missus, you must help us! My sister and I have taken a wrong turn somewhere, and gotten ever-so-lost in this strange, wonderful country. We smelled the delicious smell of tea and blackberry jam as we were walking past, and we thought that you might see fit to give a slice of bread and jam to us!”

At this, the old woman fidgeted and fadgeted, and scratched her noggin, and shook her head a little warily, rolling her eyes and twisting her face up into a look that rendered it almost inscrutable. (And, as ugly as it was, it was a darn hard thing to try and make out, really, just what in the world was going on beneath the flowing mop of greyish hair atop her head, to be perfectly honest.)

“Oh, well, come on in, the both of you! But, be quick about it! It’s sundown, soon…”

Peter didn’t know what she meant by that, but he and Susie went, a little cautiously, through the round little door and into the kitchen, which was rather clean and neat, but which, weirdly seemed to lean one way, and then another, the walls seeming…off somehow. In fact, a person really couldn’t tell, exactly, just how the walls intersected or held together.

“Oh Missus,” said Peter, his thumb on his lower lip. “These walls are so very peculiar!”

And the old woman said, “Why, what on earth could you possibly mean?”

And Peter scratched his head, and fidgeted around, tossing the weight of his body on one foot and then the other. Finally he said, “Well, Missus, it’s just that the walls seem…funny to me. It seems they are off, somehow.”

“Off,” said the old woman, her voice a rasping croak. “How do you mean off?”

“Well,” said Peter, scratching his chin, “it’s just that, they don’t seem to join together at proper angles, and it confuses the eyes. I mean, one wall seems to join up with the other over here, which is ALL wrong, and then when you blink or get a different perspective, it seems to join up with that one over there. And, at first, it seems to lean this-a-way, and that wall, fer instance, seems to lean that-a-way; but then you blink again, or shift around a bit and find out that you were completely wrong. Wrong. Wrong.”

And Peter thrust his hands into his pockets with a little “humph” of consternation.

The old woman considered a moment, casting her gaze about the crazily leaning walls and doors, and the dipping and rolling ceiling, before blowing air through her puffed-up cheeks and exclaiming, “Stuffin’ nonsense!”

Susie came up behind Peter cautiously, but then, sliding one of the kitchen chairs across the rickety, uneven wooden floor, she exclaimed, “Oh, whatever you’re baking smells so frightfully, frightfully good, Missus! Why, it smells like gooseberry pie! Why, it’s been so dreadfully long since we’ve had supper, and it’s almost time for tea, and, my gosh!” Susie scrunched her little face up into a pitiful state, managed a tear or two, and said, “Might we not have a taste of your so-delicious pie?”

The ugly old woman cogitated a moment before slapping her open palms against her apron, smiling a toothless smile, and exclaiming, “Oh, my yes! Missy! My, where are my manners! Here, I’ll just be a moment.”

And, before either of them knew it, the old woman had opened a creaking round door into the kitchen, revealing a quaint little sideboard stacked with tea kettle, saucers and cups, and a truly MASSIVE iron stove, so big it seemed to almost fill the entire little room. The front of the stove looked, for all the world, like an angry iron face.

The old woman rustled around a few moments, her bum stuck in the air, before emerging again with a silver tea service and setting it carefully on the table.
Then, she went back through the creaking door. Peter and Susie could hear her huff and puff and strain, but, soon, she emerged from the kitchen with the most ENORMOUS gooseberry pie either Peter or Susie had EVER seen in their lives. The two kids goggled at each other in stupefied wonderment.

The old woman carried the thing over her head with two hands, heaving and straining and sweating before setting it down on the little table (which, on the whole didn’t look large enough to hold it, or even sturdy enough); she then took out two comically little plates and forks, asking Peter and Sue if they wanted a slice of cheese on top–but then, putting her finger to her chin in a quizzical manner, she said to herself, “Oh, oh my no. I guess not. I fed it all to the mouse of the house. He gets so dreadfully hungry and fed-up just nibbling away at the cheese crumbs, old bits of stale bread and the woodwork and whatnot, I felt rather bad for him. So I gave him some of the smelly cheese. Oh, never fear: you wouldn’t have liked it anyway; it stank to high heaven…Phew!”

And, as if to demonstrate, the old woman put her fingertips to her nose and squeezed. Peter and Sue both began to devour their square sections of gooseberry pie, ravenously hungry both.

The two kids both tried to fill their tea cups. But, to their shock and amazement, the little things quite quickly took legs and skittered up the wall! The tea itself went gushing after, trying as best as it could to land its wet bottom in the terrified porcelain cups. Peter and Sue looked at the old woman quizzically.

She laughed, and waved her hand as if to shoo away their doubts and wonder.
“Oh, don’t mind them, children. Happens around here all the time. Why, them cups is scared half to death of that hot burbling tea! Afraid it will burn them good and proper. And it would!

“So the tea kettle and tea goes chasing the cups, and the saucers join in because they must, simply MUST have someone sit on them to keep them company.

Don’t you pay it no nevermind!” Lacking anything to say to that, Sue and Peter looked at each other like baffled little orphans before turning to their food again.

It was not long after that a weird, snorting and scuffling sound could be heard coming from the overgrown yard outside.

Sue looked up from her plate through one of the weird, crooked windows that looked out on the dark, weed-choked backyard. She patted brother Peter on the arm.

“Oh Peter! Lookity-look-look-look!”

There were a troop of weird little men marching, single file, across the wide expanse of yard. Each seemed to be wearing an identical little suit, each had their perfectly slicked, black hair parted down the middle and combed over side to side, and each had a terribly ugly, gnome-like little face. As a matter of fact, thought Susie to herself, they quite look like gnomes if one gets right down to it!

Huff-puff-grumble-grimble-snort-chew-whoosh!

These were the sounds that seemed to be emerging from outside, as the strange little line of dwarfs came up to the crazily-leaning backdoor. The door was then thrust open (it seemed to hang precariously from the hinges), and the little troop of strange men came pounding in with their terrible heavy-soled, hobnailed boots banging on the floor.

“Hi Ma!” said the first.

“Hi Ma!” croaked the second.

“Hi Ma!” wheezed the third, and on and on as they entered.

There were maybe two dozen of them, all remarkably similar, all very small and grunting and wheezing and stamping and snorting as they went. They all came through the door, still single-file, like a troupe of overgrown infants; and, as each of them entered, they all said, in the same croaking grunt, “Hi Ma!” one after another.

Ma nodded pleasently, a toothless smile crossing her face. Seemingly from out of nowhere, a huge table and chairs was produced, and the place where Sue and Peter was sitting eating was swept out of sight. The boys, all of them, sat down their grubby mits at the table, while Ma went around, scolding them, calling them “Damned little piglets!” and wiping behind their ears with a damp sponge.

“Look at them! Will you just look at them? D-mned little piglets every one! Think they’d bother washing their filthy little hands before they come in to dinner? Think so? Why, of course they don’t! D-mned little oinkers!”

Suddenly, Ma threw up her hands in the air, causing her apron to flutter up to her surprised face. “Oh! The soup is burning!” she exclaimed.

As she rushed into the kitchen. her strange little sons soon began to pass out the plates from a strange little cupboard which Peter and Sue hadn’t seen before. They set the table, and Ma set the huge soup kettle on the table, which sent the plates and spoons rattle-clattering, and the table skittering a bit.

She ladled out heaping hot bowls full, passing each bowl back across the line of her weird, dwarfish little troupe. She then went to retrieve a loaf. Peter and Sue were also offered a bowl, but Peter was woozy and full from all the gooseberry pie, and Sue didn’t quite like the smell of the stuff. So they both said no.

The piggish sons bent their noses into their bowls, and each began to slurp and slurp, with soup running down their chins, and some snorted as they sucked soup up through their nostrils occasionally; and some stopped to belch, long and loud and free, and rather rudely, considering they were all still sitting at the table.

The old woman bounded back into the kitchen for the bread and jam. She brought both out, heaving and puffing and huffing under the weight of the heaviest and largest jam pot either Peter or Susie had ever seen.

“There, you little piggies,” she said, wiping her greasy jam hands, dripping with butter, on her apron. “Now, I hope you and your filthy fingers are all satisfied!”

The boys fell upon the bread, not bothering to use the knife, but pulling sweet handfuls of the huge loaf (Peter and Sue could not yet see how such an immense pot of jam, loaf of bread, and kettle of soup could all fit on such a tiny table; but, as the walls and floors also seemed curiously out-of-whack, they should probably not have wondered too much.) out and stuffing it in their gobs.

Soon, the boys were belching and rubbing their big bellies in contentment. One boy piped up, “Shnat! Shnat! do something what entertains us as we let our food crawl around our guts!”

To which was replied: “Shprat, I’m too derned stuffed to even get up out of my seat! Bolger, Bolger ain’t there a song ye keed sing, or a tune whistle, to keep us all entertained while the soup sloshes around in out bellies?”

To which Bolger replied: “Nah, Molger! Tis too early for whistling and too late to sing! Anyway, I’m fair fit to be tied! Fit to be tied, I tells ya! Duffle, can’t you come up with something to keeps our guesteses entertained?”
To which Duffle replied, “Aye, Fluffle, I think I’ve got just the thing. Oh, Willwee! Williewee, my dear…”

And he approached the littlest brother, and put his arm on his back, and said, “Why don’t you show ’em that gooseberry pie trick you showed us at three-thirty on the a and ’em yesterday? Fair kept us in stitches for forty-five minutes, twelve seconds…” and, considering a moment, he raised one finger and added, “and a hair and a click!”

And with that Williwee got up, and, dusting off his trousers, swooped over to Sue’s half full plate of gooseberry pie; and, greasing his hands and feet down with the delicious filling, and blossoming up his puffy cheeks with the stuff, began to skate around on the wooden floor, trailing a slug trail of black gooseberry filling behind him.

He’d skate by on one foot, and skate by on another, holding his leg behind him as he went, doing circles and somersaults and leaving a sluggish gooseberry trail of slime in his wake. This spectacle was greeted by shouts and claps and cheers from the other sons, and wonderment from Peter and Sue, who each stared at the spectacle other with faces agoggle.

“Why it gets madder and madder every minute here!” exclaimed Sue.

“Yes, most curious, isn’t it? As if we’ve really fallen down the rabbit hole, like Alice.” Peter tsk-tsked like a grownup, almost in disapproval.

“Yes,” retorted Sue again. “A real life, Alice in Wonderland hole in the ground!”

Ma came blundering, with her big, huffy bulk, out of the kitchen; and, when she saw the sort of mess that Williewee was making of the floor, threw her hands in the air and exclaimed, “Tarnations, boy, look what you’re doing to my nice clean floors! Why, I’ve a mind to make you scrub it all up with your tie! Now, stop that! Stop it right now!”

But no sooner had she taken a step forward when, her heavy feet caught in the slug-like trail of gooseberry innards, she began to slip and slide.

She jerked this-a-way, and that-a-way, flailing her arms out and sending black splatters of gooseberry all over everything, and saying to herself, “Oh dear!”
and “Oh my!”, and even, “How arfully, bleedin’ undignified!” But, wonder of wonders, the woman and her great bulk managed to keep their balance (although, truth be told, a few of her sons surrounded her, their arms out thrust, in terror of her falling and not being able to get back up!).

Soon, she righted herself, and managed to say, “Well, it’s too messy is all. Going to take all day and night to clean these floors!” And she snapped her fingers imperiously.

“You, Fadget! Fetch the mop! And you, Dadget! get the bucket!”

She held her old crooked fingers out, then turned her attention back to Peter and Sue.

“As for you two…well…” She rubbed her hairy chin. “I suppose we DO have to make sure you’re nice and entertained until it is time for you to leave. Now, anyone have any idea how we should go about doing that?”

The sons ambled around for a moment, muttering amongst themselves, scratching their oily headed, slicked-down hair, seemingly without a solid idea of how this could be done. Finally, one of them piped up, exclaiming, “I know, I know!”

Ma put her fists on her hips and, leaning over to meet his gaze, asked, “What?”

“Well gussie up the gander and lay claim of the goose!”

And Ma considered this a moment, her face twisting up into a pretzel of consternation. After a few moments, she replied: “No. No, I don’t think that will do at all.”

Another son then piped up, “We’ll mollify the Mock Turtle as it meanders in the mire!”

To which Ma retorted: “Oh! Do come on! Can’t any of you think of any better ideas than that?”

And then yet another son piped up and said, “We’ll scrutinize the scrutable! We’ll dutify the dutiful! We’ll magnify the beautiful! We’ll multiply the fruitable! We’ll…”

Ma threw up her hands in exasperation, her apron fluttering upaward as she did so.

“Oh, now I’ve heard everything! None of these darned ideas are worth a plug nickel in a brass bucket. Oh, my, I thought I raised all of you better than that!”

Then she considered, putting one knobby old finger to her chin. She turned to Peter and Sue, who were sitting at table still, a little sleepy, but quite amused for all of that.

“I suppose we’ll ask you two. Now, Petey and Susie, what sort of things do you two like to do? What do you think of as fun?”

And Sue and Peter both scrunched up their faces in consideration. Why, they seemed to say to each other with their eyes, we enjoy all sorts of things and find them to be fun; but, seeing as how we don’t have our jump rope, or toy soldiers, our jacks or badmitton set handy, we certainly are at a loss as to how we could manage to have fun right here, right now.

And then Peter said, “Well, Sue and I, sometimes, when we’re alone in the treehouse, and the wind is blowing, and the sky is darkling, and the lark is larkling, we like to…we like to…”

“Tell fairy tales!” Sue suddenly chimed in.

Peter’s face brightened.

“Yeah, that’s the ticket! Why, Sue and I just love to tell those old stories. ‘Hansel and Gretel,’ ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ ‘Cinderella.’ Mum use to lull us to sleep with them when we were wee little tots!”

A huge grin stretched across Ma’s face at hearing this, and she clasped her gnarled old hands together and exclaimed, “Why, what a wonderful Idea! And, you know: my boys are just chock-full of old tales to tell, great stories they share with each other on those long, hot days when they are down in the peppermint mines!”
Sue exclaimed, “Peppermint mines?”

“Yes,” answered Ma. “They’re very near the butterscotch lakes. Now, all of my boys know a tale or two, so if you’ll just settle in by the fire…”

And, before Peter or Sue could even be surprised by this, they saw, as if by magic, a crackling fire and a pleasant hearth in the far wall of that very strange house; though, said Sue later, she was certain it had not been there before.

Regardless, everyone settled around the fire, and Ma said:
“Now, I’m off to the kitchen to make tea and scones. You chaps keep our little guests entertained while I’m away. Ahem.”

And with that she disappeared. There was a long moment of silence, as if, silently, the sons were communicating who was to go first at storytelling. Then, one slowly opened his mouth and began to speak.

The Surprise in the Haystack

Bub and Dub Taylor went out on the porch, Bub Talor lighting the wet end of an old cigar. Bub smelled terrible, as always. But he never spent much time with anyone except his brother and the old woman that owned the farm, so he hardly cared.

They walked across the yard to the old field adjacent, grabbing their pitchforks as they went. Mighty lot of hay to bail this afternoon. Dub looked up in the sky.

“Say Bub,” them sure are some mighty strange-looking birds what’s flying up there! You see ’em?”

Bub stopped, put his hand above his eyes to shade them from the sun, and said, “Nah, I don’t see nothin’! It’s all in your head! Now, get to work. You want to be out here come sun down?”

The two started bailing the hay. One turned his back to the other to pitch the hay, and then the other did likewise. Peter and Susie continued to fall, fall, fall, faster and faster, from the sky. Dub kept a shady eye on them,a s he still thought them some species of strange, flapping bird.

In one split second when they both had their back turned, Peter and Sue came plummeting down into the huge hay stack; which, broke their fall, and good thing it did. Otherwise, they’d have a lot of broken bones to heal.

Bub Taylor turned around and started to thrust his pitchfork into the haystack.

“Wait! Stop! Don’t!”

Bub’s heart was thrust into his throat, and he reeled backward, dropping his fork.

Dub stood stock-still in terror. Two strange figures, both covered in hay, climbed slowly from the haystack, and Dub Taylor suddenly exclaimed, “Martians! I swar it’s Martians, Bub! Come down to haunt us!”

Soon, the two little surprises in the haystack had cleaned themselves off, and Bub Taylor swiped his brother across the arm with his hat.

“Quieten down, you idjit!” he spat. “Can’t you see it’s just Master Peter and little Sue?”

The children’t aunt was watching all of this curiously from the front porch. At seeing her two lost little lambs emerge from the haystack, she picked up her apron and skirts, and clicking her heels, ran across the yard to sweep them into her arms.

“Oh, oh you dear little lost lambs! You’re home again! You’re really home again”
“Oh yes, Auntie, we are! And oh, Aunt Em! I’m so glad to be at home again!”

The Crocodile, the Rhinoceros, and the Flea

Once, there was a rhino, a crocodile and a flea. The three animals were all sunning themselves at the edge of the swamp when they got into a bitter argument.

“I,” declared the Rhino, “am, without any doubt, the grandest and most powerful of all the beasts. And so, I should be king of the swamplands!”

To this, the Crocodile replied, “No, sorry old timer, but it is I who am greatest of all the great animals of the swamp. For I can stalk my prey quietly, buried half in the muck, and steal upon them stealthily, and then I can devour them with ease!”

But, to this, the rhinocerous grew indignant. Puffing out his chest and thrusting his horn in the air, he exclaimed, “Thou fool, what good is it to have iron jaws and stealthy tread against one who, by simply rolling over upon thee, can crush thee flat into the earth?”

And, not knowing how to answer this, the Crocodile said nothing. Just then the Flea, who was so tiny he could barely be heard above the racket being made by the other two, piped up and squeaked, “Pardon me, but you are both in error. For you see, it is I, and I alone, who am most powerful of all the animals of the swamp.”

At this, the Rhino and the crocodile grew incredulous.

“You, why, you’re nothing but an insignificant little pipsqueak. Why, you couldn’t harm a fly, Mr. Flea! How is it that you claim to be the greatest, most powerful and fearsome of all the animals of the swamp?”

And with that, the flea puffed out his chest, and stretched out his wings, and exclaimed:”I’ll show you how!” And he straightaway flew to the Crocodile, and, flying ove rhis scaly back, found the one spot on his body where the scale was missing, and the flesh exposed. Then, he dove straight for that spot.

The Crocodile was so shocked by the sudden bite of the Flea that he thrashed about, and his huge, powerful tail snapped the neck of the Rhoncerous, killing him instantly.

The huge animal wobbled on his legs for a moment, before falling over and rolling over the uneven ground. The slow-moving crocodile was caught beneath him, and thus, bith of them were killed!

And the moral of this story is: Sometimes, it is the smallest actor that can upset the balance of things in the most significant way.

“Ah Sue,” said Peter, as they continued flying over farmlands that looked like little squares of mush and pudding, far below, “That wasn’t a proper tale. More like a kiddie tale. Whtachamacalit? A, a…”

“A fable?” Sue offered helpfully.

“Yeah,” answered Peter, snapping to. “A fable! That’s it. That’s it exactly! it was a fable!”

below them, tyhey could see the tops of the trees, and feel the tippy-top of the nranches brush against the soles of their shoes. Sue said:

“Well, if you’re such a doggone expert storyteller, then do give us one more before we land! Whenever that will happen to be!”

Peter answered, “Must be pretty soon, I’ll wager. See, over there! It’s the theater! And, over there, the row of shops! And, look Sue, over there, it’s the baseball diamond in McGreely Park!”

Sure enough, they could see all these things fromt heir vantage point flying through the air.

“Well, gee Sue, I didn’t have anything prepared really, but, well, here goes–”
And, with that, he began the tale of–

The Woman that Slept All Day

Once upon a time there was a sore-besotted husband with a fantasticly lazy, good-fer-nuthin’ wife, who spent her days lolling in bed while her idiot children drolled and quacked, and flapped their feet, and tracked mud across the floor, and spilt their food and drink everywhere. The husband beat his breast against the inscrutable workings of God, saying, “Oh Lord, why hast thou seen fit to burden me so? For, I have a good-fer-nuthin’ layabout wife, and two idiot children, and a shovel to wield, and bitter tears to spill!”

And so it went, on and on, the husband working like a dray horse all day in the fields, and his wife sleeping the entire day away while the idiot brats ruined the place: making the house filthy and letting the dogs loose, and rooting with the hogs when they were hungry, and leaving the popholes closed against the baby chicks.

Well, one day, the husband, noting the rack and ruin about him, decided that he should teach his wife a lesson by playing a trick on her. To that end, he bundled up some soaking wet rags, and, going to the stove, stuffed them carefully up the flue. Then, using the bellows, he coaxed the fire until it was a roaring inferno.

The smoke, trapped, as it were, by the burning rags, began to fill the room. The husband ran to his wife, exclaiming “Get up, get up my dear! The house has caught fire, and the children have run away!”

The children he had bundled up to hide away in the closet. The lazy wife peeped her eyes open, rolled over on one arm, hoisted herself up, and said, “Oh husband! Dost thou endeavor to deceive me? For, thou hast simply stuffed a rag up the flue, causing all of this smoke to fill the house. And the children thou hast bundled into the closet, to hide! Now, leave me be, for it is still early, and I need my beauty rest!”

And with that, the incorrigible, lazy woman rolled over, soonfalling back to sleep.

Well, at hearing this, the husband gnashed his teeth, and pulled his hair, and rent his clothes, and exclaimed, “Oh Lord, why hast thou burdened me so? For I have a lazy, good-fer-nuthin’ wife, and two idiot children, and a shovel in a hovel, and not so much as a dram of whiskey to quench my thirst!”

And at that, he broke down in weeping. Well, things went on like this for many, many days, until, one day, the husband, feeling he could stand it no longer, conceived of a plan whereby he might arouse his wife from slumber and teach her a lesson.

“I know!” he exclaimed to no one but himself. “I shall have my idiot children run the length and breadth of the house, and war-whoop like savages, and throw stones at the house! Then, when my wife awakes, I shall tell her that ruffians are attacking the place! And, she’ll be so took with surprise that she’ll fly from her bed in a fit of trembles!”

And, to that end, the man (who was really rather a pathetic fool in his own right) took his children into the yard, and, instructing them as best he was able on how to war-whoop like savages, and throw stones at the walls, went back inside and gave the signal that they should begin. And so they did.

Well, the noise they made was fantastic, and the stones they threw pounded the walls, cracking the plaster and sending pebbles and dust flying across the room.

Waving his arms, the husband exclaimed, ‘Get up, get up, my dear! For, a gang of ruffians is attacking the place, war-whooping like savages, and throwing stones at the house!”

The lazy, good-fer-nuthin’ wife peeped above her elbow, where her head lay resting, and, yawning said, “Oh thou most foolish husband! Thous seekst to deceive me still! Tis no band of savages are attacking the house, but only our two idiot children, whom thou has set to being mischievious and loathsome, and whom with deviltry stone the walls of our humble cottage, and likewise raise up war-whoops to the heavens! Now, get thee hence and leave me be! I need my beauty rest!”

And with that, the horrible woman rolled back over, and was again fast asleep.

Well, at hearing this the bitter, sore-besot husband rent his garment, and gnashed his teeth, and bit his tongue, and blew spittle out his nose, and turned a bright, bright red, and then said, “Curses! Ghastly curses! Why, oh Lord, hast thou seen fit to burthen me so? For, I have a lazy, good-fer-nuthin; wife, and two idiot children, and a filthy hovel, and a shovel, and not a drop of cider to cool my tongue!

, beating his fists on the floor and stamping his feet like a child, he went sullenly to bed, to curse his ill-starred life and draw up further plans.
It was not long after that that a new, even more clever idea came to him. Or, at least he judged it clever himself.

“I have it!” he exclaimed. “I shall spin webs and dust across the walls, and paint the childrens’ faces with mud, and tie tent posts to their feet, and I myself shall put on a robe and a wig, and likewise paint my own face, so that I migth appear to be an aged and doddering fool! Then, when my lazy wife awakes from her slumber, she will think that she has slept for ten or twenty years! THEN she will be sorry she has slept her life away!”

And so he set about doing just that. First, he went down to the river for a few handfuls of wet clay, then, he rubbed it all over the faces of himself and his idiot children, making sure to spread it nice and thin so the flesh would look old, and seamed. Then, he boosted his children up a few feet by tieing tent pegs to their little legs, and covering them with long breeches. After that, he strewn across the house stringy cotton for webs, and spread dirt and debris across the floor, cracking the plaster to make it look as if time had worn away the floorboards and walls.

Then, in a fit of panic, the stupid man went about yelling at the top of his old, rheumy lungs, “Get up, my precious pet! For, thou has slept through the decades,a nd now thy husband is a doddering,a ncient fool,a nd thy children are old and grey!”

And the lazy, good-fer-nuthin’ wife rolled over on one fat arm,a nd yawning, said, “Oh my husband! I have not slept through the decades! Thou has simply caked thy face with mud from the river, and the faces of our idiot children, as well! And thou hast tied stilts to their legs, to make them taller, and hast strewn dust and cobwebs about the walls and doors, to make it seem as if the passage of time has been very, very great! Now, leave me be! I must needs have my beauty rest!”

And with that, the old woman rolled back onto her side, and was once again fast asleep.

At hearing this the old man rent his garment, and tore his hair out by the handfuls, and beat his breast, and fell to the floor, and rolled over in the dirt, and bit his tongue; and his eyes popped from his head, and spittle flew from his mouth as he screamed, “Oh God why hast thou seen fit to burden me so! For I have a lazy, good-fer-nuthin’ wife that sleeps all the day, and a hovel and a shovel, and a scoot and a boot, and two idiot children to the bargain!”
And with that, he considered taking himself to the cliffside and casting himself down to his death, in utter despair. But, just then, an idea occured to him. He said to himself, “I finally have it! I shall make three coffins, and powder the faces of my idiot children, instructing them to lie within, as though they were dead. And then I shall demolish my house, so that it shall look as if the ravages of time have laid it low. I shall then get into the third box, as though I were finally dead, and, when my lazy wife awakes, she will think that she has slept so long that she has missed out on our deaths and funerals. And, well, perhaps THEN she will learn and mend her ways!”

And, with this mad plan in mind, the man went about making his final preparations. They became more elaborate, though, as he proceded. He first went and fetched dirt from the local burial yard, scattering it about the floor.

Then he dressed the idiot children in winding sheets, making their faces up with powder so that they looked ghastly and corpse-like. He then went to hammer together three stout pine boxes, one for himself, and one for each of the children.

He then went about the town, hiring drunks and lagards to come and play the part of mourners.

Lastly, he went about the house with a mallet, smahing the windows and doors, pounding holes in the walls, flinging dirt, smearing and caking mud and blowing dust and debris to hell and gone. He even brought in mouldy furnishings to complete the task, before finally settling on what he saw before him.

“Oh, it is excellent!” he exclaimed. “When my lazy wife awakes, she will look about her, and think that the decades have passed while she was asleep! And, oh, won’t she be regretful then for all the hours she has wasted?”
And so, to a chorus of howls and sobs from the hired mourners, the man laid out the three caskets, and getting his idiot children to climb each into theirs, he likewise did the same; and then, ringing a brass funeral bell, he beat his hands against his breast as if he were a mourner at his own funeral, exclaiming, “Oh my wife! Get thee from thy bed in haste! For, thou has slept through the ages, and thy husband and children now lay here stone dead!”

And, upon hearing this, the old woman bolted up from her bed in terror.

Upon seeing the chorus of mourners sobbing and beating their breasts, the general total destruction of her house, and her two children laid out in caskets, she exclaimed, “Oh my! What have I done? For I have been lazy and indolent, and have slept for decades and decades, and missed the growing old and dying of my idiot children!”

And, upon seeing her husband sitting in his own casket, yet seemingly as animate as a corspe returned from the dead, speaking and beating his breast in grief, she exlaimed, “Oh my husband! Thou art dead, but, thou sittest up and beath thy breast, and mourn thy own passing!”

And the shock of this was all too much for the woman, who fell over onto her own comfortable bed, stone dead now herself.

And the moral of this story is: Laziness never profits the lazy. Or, perhaps, sometimes the cure is more damaging than the disease. Or, it never pays to try and solve a simple problem with a complex solution. Or, really, what do YOU think the moral should be?

Home Again, Home Again, Lickety-Split!

Soon the sun started to dip beneath the trees, and the tales began to sputter out, drawing to a close. Susie yawned, and Peter looked at his watch.
“Oh my Sue! We had better get going if we hope to have any hope of getting home before supper!”

To which Susie replied, “But, Peter, it’s such a frightfully long way home, and such an oorfelly-awferly queer country to be lost in, and I don’t see how we can possibly make it back before nightfall! And, oh,” she added, shivering, “It is frightfully dark and fearsome in the woods–and not to mention cold!”

Suddenly, one of the squat, ugly sons cried out, “Ma! Dees folks, dey, dey need to leave, Ma! Ma! You know howsabout they can get home in time for supper? Right Ma?”

And the huge old woman came out of the kitchen, where, presumably, she had been baking. It must have been sweltering hot in there, too, because she was sweating quite badly; little beads like glistening dew drop pearls were rolling down her fat chins and dampening her blouse.

She said, “Well, mayhap I do and mayhap I don’t. But, say: ain’t you boys forgetting something?” she asked, a little hint of smug exasperation creeping into her voice.

The little toad-like men scratched their oily, slicked-over heads, and looked at eachother with puzzled consternation. Then one of them snapped his fingers, pointed to the ceiling with a most comic look on his face, and exclaimed, “I got it! I got it! It’s ‘Will O’ Wispoween’!”

His other brothers erupted in a general murmur of approval, slapping the “smart one” (which they seemed to instantly have christened him) on the back, before Peter piped up with, “Will O’ Wispoween? Why, what is that? I’ve never even heard of that before!”

And one of the sons croaked in his little bullfroggy voice: “Why, it’s a special day, is what it is!”

And another said, “It’s a day of days! A day when snuggs and guggs–”
“And duggs!” added one.

“And luggs that eat buggs!” croaked in a third.

“Roam about, roam about, roam about roam! They roam about, roam about, far from their home!”

And the little men began to walk around eachother like vengeful little ghouls, their arms raised, moaning and groaning as if they were the lost souls of the VERY BAD PLACE.

“Peter,” said Sue, rolling her eyes, “I’m not sure I’m getting any of this!” She suddenly felt, he could tell, very tired and cross and exasperated. Soon she would stamp her foot and demand, “I just want to go home!” She might even cry.

As if realizing what the two were thinking, the old woman (still sweating pretty heavily) wiped her hands on her apron, and, bending close to Sue and Peter, said, “It’s the day of days, alright, and most likely the reason you two managed to find your lonesome way here at all. It’s a day when the invisible gate between two worlds is left open, swinging wide like a rose garden fence in a summer storm. And the Will O’ Wisp comes out to play, he does. And those that seek passage from this world, to the next, are eager to pass on through!”

Peter and Sue looked at each other in fear and puzzlement, before Peter said, “Missus, do…do you think the Will O’ Wisp could help us get home? We’re awfully tired and, well, walking back from here seems as if it is just too arfully-oorferlly far for one night!”

And the old woman smiled a strange little smile, and, turning to her weird brood of sons, said, “Boys! Take these young pups down to the Great T-Bone, and see if you can’t find a way to see them home, safe and sound!”

And the ugly little men began to hustle and bustle and fustle, for they had been given a task to perform, and were not sure they were up to it. After a few minutes of pointless bustling and occasional bumping into each other, they lined up single-file and, marching out the door, the first one in line pointed his finger in front of him and ribbited “Please follow us!” Which, since they had little choice, Peter and Susie did.

***
They hastily thanked and said goodbye to the old woman, who, on the whole, seemed neither glad nor sad to see them off, and then followed the single-file, snakelike line out the door and through the yard.

They tromped through trees and up rolling hills and down tiny, craggy dips. The single file line of little men was curiously quiet as they went. Finally, they seemed to come to the edge of a small lake. Peter could see a weird shape casting a long shadow against the setting sun.

“Hey Sue, look!” he said, pointing at the thing. It really looked a little like a giant cross with the arms raised upward. When they approached closer, Peter could see, to his utter atonishment, that it seemed ot be a giant bone, stuck into the earth.

Peter asked the last little man in line about it. The man, who, like his brothers, was breaking formation now that they had arrived, said, “Oh, that’s the Great Wishbone. It’s been stuck here for–” And then he scratched his head and, turning to his brother, said, “Say Gog, how long has the Great T-Bone been here, anyhow?”

Gog considered, before qanswering, “As long as a buck’s hind leg.”

Which, on the whole, made absolutely no sense, but to which his brother Mog observed, “Well, my that is a long time!”

One of the little men came up to them, and, thrusting his hands in his pockets nervously, said, “It was here in the Long Ago Days, long ago. They say two giants were fighting over a piece of meat when one of them decided to cram the whole thing into his mouth. And then the other giant, who had a hold of the other end of the meat, did the same! And they each started chomping and swallowing that meat, which was the biggest piece of meat in the whole world at the time, now or forever, and then they got down to a single wishbone, and they each tried to swallow the other’s end. And darned if it didn’t KILL both of them! Well, scavengers came and dragged away the carcasses of the two giants…but, still,w as left this great bloody bone! So someone got the bright idea to turn it into a sort of giant slingshot. Now,” and the little man pointred out across the lake at some strange, twinkling orbs that seemed to be shining in the sky distantly, “out there is the gateway between our world, and your world. A sort of thin place, see? A place where many slip in, and few slip out. But, now, miss, if you’ll just stand up on our shoulders–”

And the little men made a sort of pyramid, with the sturdiest of them huffing and puffing below while their brothers crawled atop their backs.

“You can walk up this pyramid of our bodies,” said one below, who seemed to really be straining under all the weight.

Sue looked at Peter, and Peter looked at Sue. Both of them had their mouths hanging open in wonderment.

“You mean you want to launch us out of a giant slingshot, out across the water, into the mouth of some…some, whatchamacalit? Some sort of portal or gateway between worlds? A, a ‘thin space’?”

The little men, even the huffers and puffers, all nodded in agreement, and murmured that, indeed, that was the only way to see them both home.

“There really is no other alternative, miss,” said one of the little men, who was sweating profusely under the weight of his brothers. “But, you’ll have to be quick about it, as we can’t hold this position much longer, I fear.

“Peter,” began Sue.

“Sue,” began Peter.

Then: “I guess we don’t have any other choice but to trust them. I guess.

Anyway, I guess I’ll go first!” Sue began to climb over the pile of little men.

Peter called up to her as she climbed, “Okay Sue, best of luck to you. Be careful! See you over on the other side!”

Sue waved back. She stepped carefullty from the pyramid of little man bodies into the crook of the giant wishbone. She leaned back into the huge leather strap, which was fastened by two lengths of rubber to each side of the bone.

“Hold on tight, my dear!” cried one of the little men, as the others got behind to form yet another human pyramid. Several of their brothers ascended, and, grabbing the leather strap by the back, began to pull Sue backward as their brothers beneath them began to groan and moan, changing positions painfully so the pullers could pull the thing back further; hopefully, to launch Sue like a good-sized rock out across the river.

“Alright, hold tight! Here we go, Miss!”

And with that, they let the stretchy, rubbery stuff stretch to enormous stretchiness, until Sue was leaning, far, fa back, ready to be launched–

“Into space! They’re trying to launch me into orbit!” she excalimed.

But, indeed they were not. One of the little men cried out, “Now! On my signal, at the count of three. One…two…three!”

And with a trmeendouc springing sound, and a shout of excitement from Sue, Sue was launched into the air in a tremendous arc.

sailed through the sky, over the lake, to the glimmer in the distance. Soon, she was quite out of sight.

“Sue!” cried Peter, worrying that he might never see his beloved sister again. But, then he realized it was his turn to sit in the sling, and so, as the little men arranged themselves again into a pyramid of bodies, Peter began to climb up them, not liking the way they moaned and puffed and groaned beneath his feet.
***
Sue sailed through the air, watching in wonder below as vast fields of wheat and grain looked like squares of multi-colored mush, all divied up neatly, she supposed by God.

“Hey Sue! Is that you over there? Here I am!”

Sue heard Peter’s voice crying over the rushing wind. She called back, “Why, don’t be such a silly goosey! Of course it is me! Who else would you meet flying over the earth after having been launched in a giant slingshot at precisely,” and she looked at her watch, “–precisely seven thirty o’clock?”
And Peter called back, “Well, I suppose you do have a point about that. Oh, Sue! Isn’t it just so marvellously strange! Why, I feel as if I’m swimming in jelly!”

And, as if to demonstrate, Peter flapped and flopped his arms and legs until he had swam up right beside Sue.

“Frightfully good little fellows those dwarfs, or whatever they were. Why, they all lined up to wave me goodbye when I launched!”

Sue looked a little irritated at hearing that, and siad, “Hm. Well, they must be those most frightfully bad chauvanists, as they didn’t wave me bye-bye at all!”

Peter started to say, “Ah, don’t take it so hard, Sue!” but then thought better of it. Instead, he looked down at the earth far below, and said,”My everything is so frightfully far below us. And, well it is all farm fields and the like; but, up here, it looks like a hospital tray of different colors of mash and mush–porridge, pudding…all done up in different-sized squares.” Peter puffed out his bottom lip in wonderment, in a manner that Sue found particularly undignified.

Sue answered, “Yes, well, it is rather dull, though, simply flying through the air all day and all night, hoping against hope that we will ever see home again. Say, Peter, do you want to tell a few more stories, maybe, just to pass the time?”

Peter puffed out his bottom lip even further, sighed, and said, “I suppose I could think of a one or two, if you could as well. Might give us something to do as we are waiting to see if we shall ever make it back down to the ground alive and in one piece!

And with that, Peter began to to tell a tale he had squirrled away like a rather succulent chestnut.

The Frog Prince

Once there lived a king, the love of whose life was his precious young daughter.

He was forever giving the daughter presents; but, strange to say, her favorite was a simple silver ball, which she liked to play with while she was out walking through the gardens.

One fine day, while she was playing in the garden, tossing her ball up and down, she tossed it a bit too far, and it fell into a well. The young girl immediately burst into tears; firstly, because it was her favorite toy, and secondly, because she feared her father would scold her for losing his present to her.

Just then she heard a ribbity sound, and what should she see perched upon the side of the old stone well but a huge, hideous bullfrog.

“Why weepest thou, fair maiden?” asked the Frog. He was really a very cordial, polite fellow, she realized, for just being an ugly old bullfrog.

She wiped her eyes and said, “Because I have lost my ball down the well, and my father will be angry with me, and scold me and send me to bed without supper!”
And, at that she began to weep all the harder, until the Frog said, “Oh, fiddlesticks! Do not weep, fair maiden! I will retrieve thy ball for thee.”

And with that, the Frog dove face-first into the well, and, in no time, emerged with the silver ball held on the end of his snout.

At seeing this, the Princess was overjoyed, and said, “Oh, Mr. Bullfrog, whatever shouldst thou ask of me, I will give to thee!”

At this the Bullfrog curled up his froggy nose, and, ribbiting hard, said finally, “I ask that thou takest me back to thy palace. And when thou dost eat thy dinner, have me eat beside thee. And, when thou takest to thy bed, have me sleep beside the on thy pillow.”

And, not at all liking the terms, yet, honor-bound by her words, the young princess agreed to all of this. But, then, running off bouncing her ball, she just as quickly forgot her promises to the hideous bullfrog, “Who,” she considered, while being a rather nice fellow, is hideously ugly and warty, after all.”

It was many days later, while she was sitting down with her father and his courtiers to a hearty repast that, while the servants were serving, and her chops were fairly watering with hunger, a strange knock came at the dining room door.

At this, the courtiers and the guards were immediately put on alert, and men drew their swords and prepared to defend the King. How amazed they were, then, when, upon throwing open the door, they saw not some grim assassin waiting, but nothing more than a peculiar little bullfrog.

The Bullfrog quickly hopped inside, and the King asked him, “Mr. Bullfrog, eh, what exactly is it that brings you to our fair and humble abode?”

To this the Bullfrog replied, “Oh, Good My King, thy little daughter lost her silver ball the other day, and, whenI did retrieve it for her, promised to let me eat with her, and sleep on her pillow, and be her pet.”

Well, at seeing the ugly bullfrog come home to roost (as it were) the Princess was horrified. She began to protest, “Papa, I cannot do this thing of which he asks!”

But her father was resolute.

“Daughter, if thou hast so promised the Bullfrog these things, then, surely, thou must keep thy word. Come, friend Bullfrog, and share our meal with us!”
And so the Bullfrog, much to the Princess’s displeasure, sidled himself up to the edge of her plate, and nibbled a bit here and there, and made her feel increasingly ill. She put the best face on it, though, and somehow made it thorough dinner.

She carefully avoided the Bullfrog the rest of the evening, sitting with her father glumly as he was advised by his advisers. Finally, though, she became very tired and yawned and stretched, and decided it was time to go to bed.

Remembering that she would have to sleep with the bullfrog upon her pillow made bedtime seem a little less happy, but, she was too tired to care.

She went to her bed chamber and curled beneath the covers. In a moment, the Bullfrog made his appearance, and, hopping up on the coverlet, climbed to her pillow.

This made her skin crawl.

Soon, she was awakened by a ribbiting.

“Kiss me goodnight,” ribbited the Bullfrog.
The Princess, unable to believe her ears, said, “Oh, Mr. Bullfrog, thou dost ask too much of me. Why, what if thou givest me a wart on my nose?”

To which the Bullfrog replied, “Kiss me goodnight. Quickly. If thou so doest, thou wilt have for thy bedtime a surprise!”

And so, just to stop his infernal ribbiting, the Princess bent and gave the Bullfrog a little peck on his fat Bullfrog cheek.

Then, a strange thing occurred.

The Bullfrog began to grow in size, and change shape, and was soon transformed before the Princess’s astounded eyes. Soon, lying next to her on her pillow, was not a Bullfrog at all, but the figure of a tall, handsome man!

“Oh heavens,” she cried, “What trickery is this?”

But the young man said, “Oh, fair maiden! I did not mean to deceive thee! I am but a poor, unfortunate prince, who, owing to a horrible curse from an evil sorceress, was long ago transformed into a hideous frog. Thy dainty kiss has lifted this awful curse from me, and restored me to what once I was! Come, let us be married, as I feel I have fallen instantly in love with thee, and wish thee to be my queen!”

And so, the overjoyed princess married the handsome young prince.

And they all lived happily ever after. (Or, at least, we suppose they did.)
(Source: The Brothers Grimm)