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!”

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A Fit of Trembles!

Once upon a time there was a poor girl from a poor family, living in a very poor village at the edge of a vast barren plain. This girl was cursed from birth, it would seem, for, whenever the clock struck the hour of half-past-noon, her body would begin to shake and tremble, and jars of jelly would fly from the shelves, and pots of butter would crack, and the thatch of the roof would come cascading down, and plaster would peel from the walls.

“Oh, woe is me,” thought the girl to herself, “for I have been cursed to have a fit of trembles, every day, at half-past-noon; and so I will never marry, for if I grasped my husband at half-past-noon, I would tremble and shake, and break the bones in his precious body. Likewise, I can never have children, as at half-past-noon, just as I am to feed them their bottles, or spoon them their curds and whey, I will have another fit of trmebles, and shake the milk from the bottle, and splash and splosh the curds and whey all over the floor and ceiling!”

And with that, she began to cry, and soon she became so discosolate that her father implored her mother to do something.

“Alas,” said the mother. “There is nought that can be done, my husband. For, when I was pregnant, I went to the witch woman, for thou hast said I should bare a daughter, like as not, as I had, hitherto, borne only sons. And so I went to the woman and asked, ‘Oh, couldst thou not use thy sorceries to ensure I bare a daughter now, instead of the sons I have givern birth to hitherto?’
“And she replied, ‘Why, the thing is simplicity itself!’ And passing her wand over my belly, she spake an incantation, and throwing sea salt and baby’s breath into the air in a pinch, said, ‘It is accomplished!’ Then she said, ‘There is just one thing! Thou must needs leave one dram of goat’s milk and two of cream at thy doorr every night for a fortnight, six months after the babe is born. You must do this every night, and NEVER FORGET, lest ill-tidings fall upon thee!’ And with that, I knew that the thing had been accomplished, and so I left.

“Oh my husband, how I would delight in telling thee I did the thing she asked without fail! Alas, it was not to be! For, as the babe was born, and was our delightful daughter, I grew petty and forgetful, and likened the birth to something, anything but the incantations of the olde witch. I wanted so badly to forget that I had relied on her strange spells, that I soon was lax in leaving out the dram of milk and two of cream, and clean forget them several nights in a row.

“Well, I began to feel afraid, so I started putting them out again. And I thought, my husband, that this should be sufficient in mollifying the old witch. But, one day, while I was slaving for thee in the kicthen, a terrible gust of wind and a smelly smoke wafted up from nowhere; and, who should I see therein, but the terrible form of the old witch herself!

“Her face gleamed with a terrible rage, and she exclaimed, ‘Curses upon thee! thou wast instructed, as per our agreement, that thou shouldst leave for me one dram of milk and two of cream at thy door, every night, for a fortnight, as payment for the infant wench; and did I not, likewise warn thee, if thou shouldst fail to do so, a curse would fall upon thee, so that thou wouldst rend thy garb, and tear thy hair, and curse the day of thy birth?”

“And, fallimg to my knees, I implored her, with upraised, folded hands, as if to heaven, to forgive my impudence, and spare me her wrathe.

“Alas, she would have none of it. Instead, her eyes became blazing coals, and her face a hideous, death-like mask; and heaving to and fro, and smoke flying out her nostrils, she shrieked, ‘I curse thee, thou impudent old wretch, that thy newborn suckling shall have not a day of rest, nor a moment of peace, all the days of her life; instead, she shall tremble and quake ere the coming of midday, when the devil is let loose to walk with earthly feet!’

“And with that, oh my husband, she disappeared in a cloud of reeking smoke.
Well, I cursed my ignorance, and gnashed my teeth, and pulled my hair, and rent my garment fore certain; but, these things were to no avail. For, ever since the fateful day, our daughter has trembled and shaken so that the dishes fall from the shelves, the Bible flaps open like a huge brown bird, the boards of the house crack and creak, the floorboards moan and cry in pain, and the mouth of stove flies open like a snuffling iron snout. Oh, husband, whatever are we to do?”

Well, the husband was most disturbed by all of this. So he paced the floors for a few hours, pulling thoughtfully at his pipe, before exclaiming, “I shall have to take her away, deep, deep into the forest, and leave her for the animals.

For, we cannot very well have her here, where she causes the dishes to fly from the shelves and shatter, the Bible to flap like a bird, the plaster to chip and moan, the floorboards to groan, and the stove to shudder and frown! Come, now, and say your goodbyes!”

And the woman was beside herself with griwf. But, realizing that what the husband said was true, she quickly got hold of herself and, taking a kerchief from the cupboard, wrapped for her daughter some bread and cheese, and then told her, “I am sending all the luck I have in the world with you, though, as you cna see by looking around you, that isn’t much!”

And, weeping madly, she fell to her knees, beating her fists on the floor as the husband lead his poor daughter away to abandon her in the forest; where, he surely must know, she would never be eaten alive by the wolves.

Well, the strange duo journeyed high and low. They walked by night, and rested by day. Soon, as they were deep in the forest, down a lonely trail, the man realized it was midday. He said, “Oh, we should not tarry here long, for, we are standing under an acorn tree, and thou art about to be taken with a fit of trembles!”

As if in reply, the unfortunate daughter suddenly began to shake and tremble so violently that the ground felt as if it were moving beneath them. The trees above them, heavy with acorns, suddenly began to rain them down, and the father exclaimed, as squirrels and birds began to fall from the trees,”Come, before we are pelted to death with acorns, or have chipmunks fall upon our brows!” And so they ran down the path, arm in arm, but, before long, they were met with the presence of Tom the Cotter.

Tom said, “Lo, I have traveled high and low, looking for a wife to bear my children and be my mate. And, just a few moments ago, as I traveled, I could feel the ground rumble beneath me, and the trees shake like fingers above me, and I know that I had received a sign from the Lord above!”

And with that, the girl’s father, suddenly realizing the opportunity he had been granted here, said, “Yes, indeed, “’tis a sign from above. Here, take my fine daughter to be the wife of your youth. For, is she not comely and young, prim and demure, and will she not bear thee stout children, and be a good woman and friend?”

And Tom the Cotter said, “Oh, indeed, she is a fine lass to behold! Why, I think she’ll do quite nicely!”

And so, without further ceremony, the young woman was lead off to be married to Tom the Cotter.

After the wedding, as the young woman was being placed in her new position as mistress of the house, Tom the Cotter was home from the fields one day, taking his lunch, when the clock struck noon.

He was amazed to see his wife begin to tremble uncontrollably, shaking violently, so that the dishes fell from the shelves above, the dog hid behind the bureau in terror, the windows cracked in their frames, the plaster fell from the walls, the boards fell from the ceiling, and Tom the Cotter fell from his chair!
“Alas!” he cried, “what deviltry is this?”

And, turning to her new husband shamefully, the woman implored him, “Oh, good my husband, thou hast been decieved most dreadfully. For, I am a woman suffering under the dreaded curse of an ancient witch, who has burdened me grievously! For an imagined slight she has made it so that, at noonday every day, I am took with a ‘fit of trembles,’ so that I shake with such violence that all standing anywhere near me are effected by it!”

Upon hearing this the new husband was wroth; but, straightway divining what he must do, he took the wife by the hand and, leading her out the door, went through the forest until, passing by the shop of Stuart the Smithy, stopped when he heard, “Ho! Who is it leads such a fair and comely maiden outside my door at noon of the clock?”

And to this Tom the Cotter replied, “Oh, ’tis but an errand I am on.” And, introducing his wife, the Cotter said, “Takest thou this woman for thy helpmeet? For, she is a lax and lazy dullard, and her I cannot abide!”

And upon saying this, Tom the Cotter quickly turned and fled back through the forest. (And, after so humiliating himself, he must have decided to move on to another hamlet, for he was never seen in those parts again.)

Well, seeing how beautiful and comely the fine but unfortunate trembling daughter was, he opened wide his door, and said, “Comest thou inside, and be mine helpmeet, oh daughter of Eve. For, I am a lonely smithy, and am wanton, and thus, must have a wife.”

And with that she entered. But, seeing as how it was midday, soon the terrible change began to come over her. Her body began to shake, and tremble, and soon the hammers and saws and instruments of iron began to rattle and shake on the walls.

The Smithy became outraged. “Oh thou miserable and tortured wretch! I cannot keep thee as my wife. Why, to do so would destroy everything in my shop, and ruin me, and would cause me to pull down my grey hairs with sorrow to the grave! I’ll have to throw thee out of doors to wander, alone and disconsolate as Demeter looking for Persephone!”

And the Smithy began to move forward. But, before he could reach her to throw her out of doors, the trembling and shaking disloged a heavy iron hammer where it hung from the wall.

It came crashing down on the poor Smithy’s head, sending him reeling back into the fire of his own forge! His head exploded in a ball of flame!

Fearing for her life, Trembles ran screaming from the Smithy shop. She flew through the forest as fast as her legs could carry her, her arms flung above her head, until, stumbling over a craggy bit of rock, she went tumbling, head first, into a sodden bundle of old rags.

To her astonishment, the rags jumped up and yelled.

She sat back heavily on the ground. Getting up before her was the dirtiest, foulest-looking man she had ever seen. His hair was matted and filthy, his beard was long and scraggly, and his body was covered in smelly rags that looked as if they might badly itch. This was Vincent the Vagrant, the village idiot.

“Howdee doo, missy?” said Vernon, beating the dust from his trouser legs. As she looked up into his craggy, care-worn, sunblasted face, Trembles could see that the man had only a few teeth left in his head. His smile, nonetheless, was oddly infectious. She began to smile too.

“Missy, I see that you’re a feller down on his luck, just as am I. Come! We’ll sit on yonder wall together, facing the passersby. And we’ll hoot, and we’ll holler, and we’ll beg bread, and we’ll beg cheese, and they’ll throw tomatoes and raw eggs; and if they aren’t too rotten, we can eat our fill of those.”

And so, starving as she was, she decided to join Vincent atop the wall. All day long they wailed like banshees, and clucked like chickens, and barked like dogs, and crowed like roosters, and grunted like pigs, and generally, played the daft fools so well that disgusted travelers, when passing by, would,

indeed, throw eggs and acorns, tomatoes and old, rotten fruit. Occasionally, too, children passed in little gangs to tease and throw rocks.

Whenever food was thrown, in between throwees, Vincent would climb down from the wall and collect the boiled eggs and old raspberries, and acorns, and half-rotted tomatoes, and gather them in his apron, and then the two of them would eat. But, thought Trembles, it is, none of it, very good.

All the same, she was happy enough to have it.

Well, everything was going along swimmingly until the next day, when noontime came. Then, Trembles began to shake and tremble as always, and the wall that her and Vincent the Vagrant sat on began to crumble and sway.

“Oh my!” exclaimed Vincent. “Young lady, this is no good. No good at all! Why are you doing that? You must quit doing that!”

But it was too late, for the wall soon came tumbling down, dashed into smithereens. Clouds of dust flew upward, and Trembles coughed to clear it from her throat.

When the dust had finally settled, she was amazed to see a little knot of villagers gathered around.

“Look!” one of them exclaimed, pointing, “Vincent the Vagrant! Why, HE’S DEAD!”
A little tow-headed boy with snot dribbling from his chin stepped forward and excaimed, pointing, “She did it! She killed him! I saw it all!”

“It’s Trembles,” excalimed another. “She’s cursed!”

“She starts to tremble and shake, and things fly all over the place, as if there is an earthquake.”

And, so, not knowing exactly how best to deal with trembles, the mob of villagers quickly bound her head and foot, and the Burgomaster, a rather fat, pompous and stupid fellow, exclaimed, “Come! We’ll imprison her in the old stone tower in the middle of the cursed, thorny vines! Then, if she is guilty, she will be eaten by the ogre.”

And one man peeped out, “What if she is innocent?”

The Burgomaster considered a moment, putting his fat finger to his wobbly chin, and then said, “Then, surely, she will not be eaten. Instead, she may jump down from the tower window, and thus find the mercy she was denied in life.”
And another villager said,’But…but if she jumps she’ll be killed!”
To which the Burgomaster replied, “That, my friend, is no business of mine!”
And so they carted Trembles off to the stone tower, which rose great and grey and grim in the center of a huge forest of thorny bushes and vines. (How, precisely, they got her to the tower, and inside, without having to pass through the forest of murderous thorns, we are not told. Rest assured, however, the thing was accomplished.)

Trembles sat in the uppermost room of the tower, weeping. She was cold and hungry and alone, and knew that she would, most assuredly, die here, alone and unloved. Soon, she heard heavy steps outside, and the heavy wooden door suddenly flew open.

Standing there, horrible beyond horrible, with bald, peeling head, red eyes, blazing lips, huge, tusk-like teeth, filthy beard, ragged clothes, and hobnailed boots, was the Ogre, who lived in the tower, having been banished here by magic spells, many years ago.

“You!” he growled, pointing one filthy, scaly, crooked, claw-like fingernail at her. “Don’t go thinking you’re gonna sit around here all day weeping and wailing and not doing any work! No! Thou shalt earn thy keep by the sweat of thy brow! Seest thou that spinning wheel, yonder?”

And, spittle flying out his mouth, the Ogre pointed his crooked, filthy, claw-like finger at the wheel; which, as it was really the only other item in the room, was rather hard to miss.

Trembles nodded tearfully. Beside the wheel was a huge pile of flax.

“Thou shalt toil day and night, spinning this magic wheel, spinning this flax into gold! And thou durst not ever cease, for I’ll be coming up here to make certain thou art working most dilligently. And if thou shirkest thy toil, I shall grind thy bones to powder, and thy flesh to clay, and eat thee for dinner that night!”

And with that the foul, reeking Ogre blew out the door. Weeping bitterly at her sorry lot in life, Trembles sat at the spinning wheel and began to spin the flax, which she was amazed to see actually did turn to long, ropy strands of gold as she worked.

“Oh, wailings and lamentations! MIsery and hardship seem to be my lot in life! Whatever shall I do? For, if I work ceaselessy spinning flax into gold, I shall surely drop dead from exhaustion, hunger or thirst! Bit, if I stop, the Ogre will find out, and he’ll grind my bones, and drink my blood, and bake me in an oven, and turn me into stew!”

And she began to weep loudly and long,. And she wept all the night through.
That morning, just before dawn, a young nobleman came riding by on his noble steed, when he heard the tears and imprecations of the so-distressed damsel.
“Hark!” he exclaimed, cupping his hand with his ear. “Methinks me hears the sorrowful tears of some distressed damsel, some unmerry maiden who requires the immediate attention of a strapping young palladin to come to her aid in her hour of distress?”

And, following the sound of her weeping, and the plop-plop of her copious tears on the stones below her window, the young nobleman used his sharpest dirk to cut a path through the thorny brambles; although, to be honest, it was damn hard work, he was stuck more than once, bled all over his sharp, expensive leather jerkin, and carefully avoided looking at the hanging skeletons of men who had braved the thorny jungle before and had not survived. Finally, dripping with sweat, sore and bleeding, the young nobleman stood beneath the high window of Trembles.
“Ho!” he exclaimed. “Why weepest thou so, oh sweet and bounteous young maiden? Dost thou not know that in Spring the roses bloom, and the trees grow full, the snow melts and the weather brightens? Happiness waxes and weariness wanes.

Wealth increases, and merriment reigns?”

But, alas, the poor maiden could not halt the flow of her tears. She exclaimed, choking on her sobs, “Oh, my Lord! I am a poor unfortunate girl held captive here for a crime she did not commit. Now I am doomed to spend the rest of my days spinning flax into gold, lest the ogre of this foul tower keep come and gobble me up straigtways. Og, coudst thou not see fit, oh brave and noble man, to climb up this golden spun flax, as if it were a sort of rope, and rescue a maiden sore beset in this cruel world, plagued by one terrible tragedy after another!”

And, upon saying this, Trmebles threw down a knotted rope of spun gold, affixing the other end to a hook in the wall opposite. (The hook was, most likely, used to chain up prisoners in the terror in years gone by.)
She then went back to the window and called down.

“There my Lord! It is really quite strong and secure. I think that thou shalt surely not fall and tumble to thy death if thou dost climb to my rescue. But, do hurry! The hour grows late, and something tells me the ogre comes!”

And, never having seen a maiden quite so lovely as Trembles, the handsome young nobleman grabbed onto the golden rope, and slowly and carefully began to make his ascent. He huffed and he puffed, and he was already quite tired from having to have had to cut his way through the thorny brambles.

“Oh, my Lord! Dost thou come?” asked Trembles, cautiously. The young nobleman answered in the affirmative, exclaiming, “Never fear thou miserable maid! I shall be there in one, two, three shakes of a horse’s tail!”

Finally, sweating and heaving, and scratched and bleeding from head to foot, the young nobleman climbed up to the window, seated himself on the ledge, and finally entered the tower room in a bleeding, filthy heap.

“Oh!” exclaimed Trembles in exultation. “Oh my handsome, brave and bold savior! Come to me! I want to throw my arms around you and smother you in kisses!”
But, before she could do this, the door of the tower room blew open; and, standing there, smoke blowing from his nostrils and his eyes blazing in fire, was the Ogre!

He pointed his clawed fingers at the two, and yelled, “You think to escape me, is that it? You shall not, I swear. leave this tower alive!”

The vicious Ogre flew forward, his teeth bared and his claws gripping a heavy hammer with which to crush his enemies. The young nobleman was prepared for this , though, and, with a speed and strength that Trembles could not have believed he posssessed, he drew his sword and, with a magnificent swing, chopped the charging Ogre into two bloody, horrible halves (so that one half of him fell one way, and one half the other).

Trembles, who had been holding her breath in terror, said, ‘Oh, my, thou hast slain the most terrible Ogre, oh my Lord! I did not think, truly, that the thing were possible! But, come, let us now leave this terrible, terrible stone tower, and be away!”

“Yes,” said the young nobleman. “I shall make thee my wife, and thou shalt bear me a son, an heir to my fortune and lands. We both shall live ever after–happily. Now, come, it is almost midday…”

But, at hearing that it was almost midday, the unfortunate Trmebles suddenly remembered her curse. Her heart caught in her throat as her body began to shake horribly. Suddenly, the force of her shaking was so powerful that the stones of the tower began to fall from the ceiling and wall, and the tower bgan to wobble first one way, then another.
The shaking and trembling then brought the tower crashing down, killing the two young romantics within, before they even had a chance to truly be in love.
The end.
***
“Oh my!” cried Sue. “That was terrible! Terrible! Terrible ! You’re a horrible, horrible person, Peter Sampson, and I hope your life is like one long winter which never finds Spring!”
And she folded her arms across her chest, puffing her bottom lip out in defiance. Peter laughed, shrugged, and looked far, far below them.
“Sorry if my story upset you, Sue. But, hey, look, it’s out house! Down below! And Bub Drubb, bailing hay!”
***

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)

Ewan’s Bloody Shirt


Ewan looked in befuddled amazement as the old washerwoman held up a stick with a wet tangle of bloody tunics dripping from it.

“Here, lots of shirts from strapping young men, what’s been killed in the battle. My, look at this one! Why, isn’t this one yours?”

Ewan felt his blood go icy in his veins. He knew this, suddenly, to be a “Woman of the Night,” a ghost or Shee, bringing an omen of impending doom to himself.

Suddenly, the old woman came forward, her face squinting into a cruel mask.

“If thy darling wife should offer thee bread and cheese from her own hand, thou shalt avert thine own terrible doom. Otherwise, I shall be washing the blood from thy clothes…”
***

“Ewan of the Little Head” was the son of the Fifth Laird of Lochbuie (Iain Og), and was prompted by his termagant wife, known to history as the “Black Swan” (But, the reader will ask him or herself, “What is in a name?”) to press his father for his rightful portion as a Chief of the MacLaines. (As you might have guessed, we’re in Scotland.)

This was premature, and Lain Og refused him, enraging his son and causing him to erupt in a tirade of petty vengeance. Lain Og, to his credit, was having none of it, and told his insolent, petty brat that if he should like to meet his own army on the field of battle, well, then, by all means…

The whole thing started as a result of the dissatisfaction of the Swan to her husband’s paltry, uncomfortable estate. Where it would end was destruction and bloodshed.

To wit:

The morning of the battle, Ewan MacLaine arose before dawn, going out to the court where he was met by a strange washerwoman.

A bent-over old crone, with a warty nose and green complexion, we might imagine. She was washing bloody clothes. He then recognized his own shirt in the tub. He felt his blood go icy, for he now knew this to be an omen of impending doom. He was told by the Shee, the supernatural washerwoman, that, should his young wife, the “Swan,” offer him bread and cheese by her own hand, he might live. Otherwise–

Returning home, he was dismayed to find that he was offered no such morning repast.
***

His horse galloped past the great outcropping of rock. Ewan, despite the dire vision of hours earlier, was elated that his men seemed to be winning the battle. He brought his horse to halt for a moment, letting the animal catch its breath. It was then he heard a scuffling above him.

“Aieee!” came a terrible cry, as the shadow of a headsman’s axe fell across Ewan’s forehead. He reached instinctively for his sword, but it was too late.
His head was carried home by victorious soldiers atop a pike.
***
A black mare gallops past the doomed, crumbling walls of Duart castle. The peasant gardener feels his blood grow chill to see it, as it disappears into a roiling, mysterious cloud of foggy haze. Tall and lean, dressed entirely in black, the phantom rider bodes ill, he knows, for the Chief of the MacLaines–as it always has. It is “Ewan of the Little Head”; or, rather his ghost, come round to haunt the grounds of this ancient dwelling, and foretell of an impending doom come to the family, as a curse. But, the peasant reflects, this name of the “Little Head” was intriguing–maybe even comical. For, you see, the phantom rider hadn’t any head at all!