The Wizard and the Trees

  
From the first day his family arrived at their new village, Jack knew that a wizard lived in the big dark house on the other side of the square.  

For one thing, tight ranks of enormous trees grew on all four sides of the place like some kind of living fence, pierced only by a single wrought-iron gate with a lightening bolt marked in the middle.  For another thing, Jack had actually seen the man on that very first night, slipping out of the gate just as darkness fell, wearing a hood that covered his face but not the long grey beard that fell from his chin.  The man had been carrying some sort of rod with a metal tip, probably a wand or magic staff, but in the darkness, Jack hadn’t been able to make out the particulars.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Jack’s father the next day as they set up the tools in the new blacksmith shop. “There are no such thing as wizards.”

“But his gate has a lightening bolt right on it,” Jack argued. “Did you see it?”

“I did,” said his father. “It was a very fine gate, high quality materials and workmanship.  Rich folk like fancy decorations of that sort, and if this neighbor is as rich as he seems, I expect he’ll be a regular customer, so see to it that you don’t say anything impertinent.”

“He’s just an old man, out for his evening walk,” said Jack’s mother when he tried the subject again with her after dinner.  

“But he had a hood and a wand and a beard longer than Opa’s!” said Jack stubbornly.

“Lots of old men have beards and most lean on staffs, too.  And as for the hood, it’s getting chilly enough these nights, it’s about time you brought out your own winter cloak.”

Jack hated his winter cloak, made of a scratchy wool that itched his neck, so he quickly dropped the subject.  

He didn’t stop thinking of it, though, or keeping his eyes open for another glimpse of his new neighbor.  Through constant vigilance, he was able to discover that the old man went out his gate each night at the exact moment the light disappeared from the sky.  Jack tried several times to stay up late enough to see the man return, but he always fell asleep without seeing a thing.  

It wasn’t until his father asked him to come into the blacksmith shop early one day to help that Jack finally saw why he had been missing the old man’s return.  Jack’s mother had woken him up while it was still dark, and he was standing by his window splashing water on his sleepy face just as the sun peeked up over the horizon.  Just then, he saw his neighbor, hood still drawn approach the lightening bolt gate.  Something sparked from his hand and the gates opened.  Jack’s jaw dropped and water dripped off his chin. Had he just seen a spell being cast?  Quickly he rubbed his eyes, and when he looked again, the old man disappeared behind the trees.  The gate was closed again.

He couldn’t help but mention it to his father later as he pumped the bellows for the roaring fire.

“Like as not he was just out for a morning walk and not all night as your imagination is telling you,” said his father between blows of the enormous hammer onto the anvil in front of him.  “And even if he was, it’s no business of ours. You’re best served focusing on your work and learning your trade.  There’s no good goggling at every oddity you see, for you’ll find that life is full of them and it takes no magic to make it so.”

Jack did focus on his work.  He loved the smithy, with its roaring fire radiating heat and the sparks flying up from his father’s hammer.  He wanted to be just like his father, to have strong arms and skilled hands.  Jack already knew how to fashion simple things like nails.  He was eager to learn more.

Still, he didn’t stop watching the wizard’s house closely.  He was sure something mysterious and wonderful was going on there, and he wanted to know more.  He worked hard but his mind wandered to that shadowed place across the street.  Of course he would finish his apprenticeship, but he would not let this mystery go unsolved.  He didn’t see any reason why he couldn’t do both.

Jack started waking up early in the morning.  From his bedroom window, he saw his neighbor return home each morning just as the sun came up.  Always that little flash caused the gate to open, but Jack could never see what caused the little flash.  Finally, one day he determined to get a closer look.

Just before sunrise, Jack crept across the town square and found a convenient shrub to hide behind.  He pushed deep into the leaves to be sure he couldn’t be seen.  Then he waited.  It didn’t take long.

Soon the old man came up the street, carrying his dark staff.  He paused as he approached the lightening bolt gates and took a large silver key out of his robes.  The sun peeked over the horizon just as he slipped the key into the lock.  The light reflected off the silver, flaming out for just a second, and then the old man tucked the key away again into some inner pocket.  

Jack was disappointed.  There was no magic here after all.  Just a key glimmering in the sunlight.  His mother and father had been right.  He had let his imagination run away with him.

Just as he was about to turn and creep home, though, something caught Jack’s eye.  The old man had now stepped through the gate and was passing under the trees down a path that presumeably led to his front door.  As he walked past, each tree bent its trunk, leaning forward in a most unnatural manner, as if bowing to their returning master.

A spurt of excitement coursed through Jack.  The trees were enchanted!  The old man truly must be a wizard! 

Over the course of the next week, Jack couldn’t stop thinking about the wizard and his magical trees.  Jack’s father kept him so busy at the smithy that he couldn’t stay awake at night or get up early enough in the morning to continue his spying, but that didn’t stop Jack from imagining what other wonders might be inside that house or from dreaming at night of walking through the gate and having those forbidding trees bow in greeting.

At last, Jack could take it no longer.  He asked his father for a day off from the smithy to go fishing, and his father, pleased at how hard Jack had been working, agreed.  Jack rose early the next day, gathered his fishing gear and slipped out of the house.  It didn’t take long to find a good spot in the square for hiding his fishing pole, and then Jack slipped across the road and approached the lightening bolt gates.

Cautiously, he reached out a hand and touched the iron lightening bolt.  Nothing happened.

Braver now, Jack grabbed hold of the bars.  He only had a few minutes before the sun would come up and the old man would return with his shining key.  Jack intended to be inside the gate before then.  With a burst of terrified energy, Jack scrambled up the bars and threw himself over the top and onto the path on the other side.

He landed with a crunch of dried leaves and looked around. The giant trees that lined the fence also stretched in long rows up toward to the house. Jack stepped forward on the path, holding his breath.  

The trees bent.  Their tops dipped toward the earth.

They were bowing!

But instead of bending low and then straightening again, the tree tops ducked down and and down.  The branches stretched out.  They reached Jack and wrapped around him.  Jack struggled in terror as they lifted him off the ground, completely enmeshed in their limbs and suspended him high in the air.  No amount of writhing could free Jack.  He was well and truly trapped.

A glimmer of light and a clanging of metal.  The crunch of footsteps.  Jack stopped his struggling and looked down   into the upturned face of the old man on the path below.

“Hello, neighbor,” said the man.

“Help me, please!” Jack squeaked.  “Make them put me down!  I’m sorry I sneaked in! I’ll never do it again!”

“I will help you, of course,” the old man said calmly, “but I’m afraid I cannot make the trees to do anything they don’t wish to do.”

“But you’re a wizard!” Jack cried. “They bow down to you!”

The old man smiled.  “I’m no wizard,” he said. “And as for the bowing, if they do it is only from common courtesy. After all, I live here.  This is where I belong, and even trees know a man deserves courtesy in his own home.”  He raised his eyebrows at where Jack hung tangled.  “You, on the other hand, are not where you belong.”

Jack nodded miserably. “I’m sorry,” he said again.  “I was just curious, and my curiosity got the better of me.”

The old man smiled.  “Curiosity can do that.  It’s always wise to get the better of our curiosity before it leads us into trouble.  I confess, though, I have often been unwise in this myself.”

The trees slowly began to lower Jack toward the ground.

“And as you can see,” said the old man, “trees also understand curiosity.  I don’t think they’ll hold your discourtesy against you this one time.  But you might want to be on your best manners from here on out.”

Jack gasped with relief as his feet touched the ground and the branches slowly pulled away and left him free.

The old man cleared his throat and nodded significantly upward.

Jack turned red.  “Thank you for letting me go,” he said very politely to the trees.  “I’m sorry I broke in so rudely.”

The treetops rustled gently.  Jack couldn’t help but feel that his apology had been accepted.

“Well done!” said the old man.  “And now, as your curiosity has brought you here, perhaps it might also induce you to come inside and share my morning cup of tea.”

Jack followed his neighbor up the path, each tree bowing to its master as he passed.  From up close, the house did not look so forbidding.  Large, of course, and shaded by many branches, but also very clean and with many flowers growing in baskets and barrels.  

The old man boiled water in an ordinary kitchen and made tea in a simple white teapot.  He served it to Jack with little raisin buns on the back porch looking out at the lawn.  It was all so unmagical that Jack began to be rather disappointed, even though the raisin buns were delicious.

After tea, the old man yawned, and Jack realized that after being out all night, he must be ready to sleep now.  Jack wanted to ask what the man did all night, but now that he had seen the consequences of rudeness, he worried it might be impolite to ask.

“It’s nearly time for my morning nap,” the old man said.

Jack swallowed his questions and nodded.  “Thank you for the breakfast,” he said.  “I can find my own way out.”

Jack shook the old man’s hand and turned to go.

“You’ve learned your lesson well,” the old man said.

Jack turned around with a question on his face.

“You’ve mastered your curiosity and remembered your manners.  I think that deserves a small reward.”

Jack’s heart began to beat as the old man drew out his metal-tipped staff.

“You are a wizard,” he said before he could stop himself.

The old man laughed.  “No, at least not in the sense that you mean it.  I am only a man with as much curiosity as a boy.  Come with me.”

The man led the way into the house and up several flights of stairs to a locked door.  He unlocked it with his shining silver key and opened it up to a tiny attic room.

Inside was giant telescope, pointed up through a window in the roof toward the sky.

“You won’t be able to see as much in the light of the sun,” said the man, “but perhaps it will be enough to be worth the effort.”

He fitted the metal tip of his staff into a hole in the telescope and began to make adjustments. “Come look,” he said when he had finished.

Jack stepped forward and put his eye to the tiny hole.

What he saw, dimly, through a slight haze of sunlight, was a star.  A star in all its glory, brought close enough that he could almost touch it.

Jack lifted his head in wonder.

The old many’s eyes twinkled at him.  “Not magic, but perhaps just as good?”

Jack pressed his eye to the glass again.  The universe within reach.  He didn’t care what the old man said, this was magic and the man was a wizard.

“Your next lesson must be in the night,” said the wizard as Jack left. “Bring your father. I’m in need of new fittings for my telescope.”

So Jack did.  He and his father and his mother went often to the old wizards house, sometimes to drink tea and sometimes to work and more often to look at the universe beyond.  Jack’s father showed him how to use a smith’s tools to make delicate instruments and the wizard showed Jack what those intruments could do.  

Jack was very careful to always knock politely at the gates, though, and wait to be let in.  He was very careful to whisper a thank-you to the trees each time he left.  

And in time, when Jack had spent so many hours at the wizard’s house that he, too, belonged, there came a day when he received his own silver key.  It glinted in the sunlight as he unlocked the gate and went in all alone..

And the trees bowed to greet him.

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Hiraeth

hiraeth

James Hadar was nine years old, but he could only remember six of them.

James had his father’s brown hair and tanned skin, but somehow his father’s hair lay straight and did not curl up when the full moon came out as James’s hair did.

James had his mother’s blue eyes, but hers did not have the same trick of twinkling secret messages.

James lived at 414 Heartsbane Dr., and so far as he knew, he had lived there his whole life, but every once in a while he would start up out of a deep sleep and look around his bedroom with eyes that found everything strange and unknown.

After a while, his heart would stop pounding and he would recognize his row of hats and his bookshelf and his little league trophy, but though he knew them, he still felt that they somehow didn’t belong to him.

Those were the days when James would stop on his usual route home from school and cock his head to the side, listening to the faint tinkling of music that floated on the breeze.  He would hum the familiar notes of a tune he had never heard before, but before he could follow the sound to its source, it would gently fade, leaving him with a sense of loss he could not explain.

Or perhaps on those days, it would be a scent that stopped him in tracks, a whiff of baking food that made his mouth water and his body yearn, even while he couldn’t quite place what meal awaited.  He would breath deeply and step off the path, but then always, always, the fragrance disappeared, floating away on the wind and leaving him without even a memory to satisfy his craving.

James asked his father about these sounds and smells, but his father told him it was only his imagination.  James didn’t think so.  He could never imagine music that beautiful or food that delicious.

James asked his mother, and she just hugged him close and rumpled his hair.  “Nothing to worry you,” she said, “just someone else’s music and someone else’s dinner.”  James was not worried, and he didn’t know how to tell her that it was his music in some way that he could not explain or that he was sure that dinner was meant for him.

When James’s grandmother came to visit, she did not tell him it was his imagination or that he should not worry.  When he told her about it, she nodded her head and looked straight in his eyes.  “You know,” she said.

And James felt sure that he did know, though he could not remember. He tried with all his might to remember what he already knew, but memory doesn’t work that way.

The way memory works is this.  One day in late summer, James was coming home from a friend’s house and he crossed through an empty field.  A dog barked somewhere in the distance, and suddenly James’s eye fell on a spotted mushroom, or rather, a whole row of spotted mushrooms, or really a ring of spotted mushrooms, for that was how they grew: in a perfect circle.  In a flash, James saw in his mind another ring of mushrooms and he felt the cold, cold wind that blew on them and he saw the little boy who had fallen asleep, his fevered skin making him oblivious to the icy air.  James saw the boy and he knew exactly what would happen and exactly what he could do to prevent it, and James heard the music of his village and smelled the aroma of the nectar for the festival and knew exactly what he would be giving up.  And then a woman called out in the distance, and her call was a name, and the name was James, and the boy didn’t move, and James stepped a little closer and a little closer and then he was in the ring of mushrooms, too.

The woman’s voice called out again. “James!” It was his mother, and she was calling him in to supper.

James looked up from the ring of spotted mushrooms and stepped away from his memory and into the back yard of 414 Heartsbane Dr., which was home.  And he sat down to supper with his dark-haired father and his blue-eyed mother and they gave him a smile which exactly matched his own.

James Hadar was nine years old, but if you looked into his eyes, there was a little something that made you doubt it, that made you want to look again. Then when you looked again it would be gone.

luna

Not very far from where you live, a small island hides in the middle of a wide river.  There isn’t much to it. A thick growth of trees holds the soil in place as the swift current rushes past on both sides.  Very few people have even seen the island, placed so far from either bank that it looks like a mere smudge from the shore.  Those who float past it in boats steer clear of the tree roots that extend out into the water like claws looking to trap living things.  No one ever lands there.  There is no shore to land on.  Just a tangle of trees that looms up as you approach and then dwindles quickly as the river carries you past.

But in the middle of that island, unseen by anyone, there is a cottage, and in that cottage, there is a young girl, and she is very far from home.

Luna was born among the stars.  Her father was a solar flare and her mother a glimmer of moonlight, and Luna herself glowed brightly in the night sky.  When she was very small, she darted about, winking and twinkling and delighting everyone who saw her.  As she grew and began to shine more brightly, she took her place near to her mother.  From the surface of the earth, she appeared to be a star, though in reality her glow was much more dim.  But like her mother, the moonlight, she loved the Earth and kept her light only for those who walked its surface, while the stars went their own way, busy with their own concerns.

Still, there was one star who noticed little Luna: the Morning Star.  Morning was used to being the brightest star to fill Earth’s sky, and she was not pleased at the attention that Luna received from astronomers and small children alike.  Morning went to Luna’s mother and demanded that the girl be sent to live near her father, where her light would be eclipsed by the day, but Luna’s mother refused to be parted from her daughter.

It is not wise to refuse a star, for they burn with the intensity of a sun, and their anger is fearsome to see.

So it was with the Morning Star that she radiated rage, and calling on all of her immense power, she cast Luna out of the night sky and down to earth, imprisoning her on a little island in the middle of a rushing river.

On the island Luna is neatly trapped, for though here on the ground she appears to be a normal human girl, still inside she is made of fire.  The trees of the island fear her and will not let her near them, and she herself fears the water of the river.

Luna’s parents, of course, still shine on her from above, her mother keeping her company at night and her father during the day, but both are distant and though she speaks to them, they cannot answer back, and Luna is very lonely.

Still, moonlight and sunlight are not without power, and though they cannot rescue their daughter themselves, they have formed a plan.  Men once walked on the surface of the moon and men could do so again if they chose, so Luna’s parents are looking to men to bring their daughter home.

First she must be found.  Luna’s father pushed hard on a passing meteor and sent tiny fragments of metallic rock to land on her island.  Each day he pulses with heat, causing the rocks to glitter and shine.  Nothing attracts men so much as the glistening of precious metal.

Then she must be flown to the moon.  Luna’s mother, beautiful as she is, has very little power of her own, but she still has the power to intrigue and bewitch.  Each night she turns her glimmer toward the earth and causes it to flicker in an obvious pattern.  Nothing makes men want to investigate so much as a mystery that no one else has solved.

How Luna is to get from the treasure hunter who discovers her to the scientists who will study the moon is up to her.  She watches the sky and sees her parents’ plan and thinks of all that she learned in her years of watching men on Earth.

So Luna waits, not for a prince to rescue her but for ordinary human curiosity to give her an opening, a chance to rescue herself.

The water rushes by, and her parents smile down on her, and Luna waits.

All was silent.

The few moments before the music started were Sam’s favorite. Everyone stopped talking. All movement was stilled. One perfect, shining moment. He held his breath.

His mother started to play. Her fingers gently caressed the keys, setting the notes free. They tumbled over each other in their haste to escape, flying through the air with indescribable grace.

Hidden out of sight under the belly of the enormous grand piano, Sam swam in an ocean of music. He lifted up his face and let the song swirl around him. It pulsed in his fingers and throbbed in his chest. It rumbled in the ground beneath his back.

Sam floated.

The ocean swelled, great waves lifting him high. He felt the thrill of of being powerless, of soaring without wings and without control. The wave built and built, and Sam flew higher than he had ever flown. Nothing but sky surrounded him, and only the gentle warmth of water on his back reminded him that he was still attached to Planet Earth. With a farewell caress, the wave launched him.

Sam flew.

The air was all playful breezes, ducking in and out, playing jumprope with Sam’s hair. Light as a feather, the winds set him down on a mountaintop. Sam surveyed the earth. It was beautiful.

Majestic plains spread out in every direction, beckoning Sam to come and run. Those vast open stretches were freedom and life. They were very far away.

The ground beneath his feet rumbled. The rocks shook. Trees on every side shivered and swayed. Sam trembled, and the tremble was joy. A storm struck. Thunder crashed and lightening broke the sky. Sweet terror filled Sam’s body as he huddled, one with small forest creatures tucked away in their dens. Sam ducked his head. He curled up small. The storm raged around him, then blew itself out in fury.

Sam opened his eyes.

The last gentle drops of music rained down on his face, each one as warm and comforting as his mothers hands.

The music ended. The grownups applauded. Their voices filled the room again, along with the clinking of glasses and the shuffling of feet, the happy sounds of Christmas partying.

Sam lay in the shadows and pitied them.

Glow

Once upon a time there was a City all alone in the middle of the wilderness.  It was protected from all that wildness by high walls and a love of learning along with a certain sense of superiority.  Many years of experimentation and hard work had enabled the citizens to grow beautiful gardens and build strong buildings and make a comfortable life inside the walls of their city, but the wilderness outside was harsh and untamable.  No plant would grow in it.  No animal would live in it.  The rivers were poison and the ground was hard and unyielding.

It had been many dozens of years since the last time someone had ventured outside, when a group of children playing up on top of the wall (without their parents permission, of course) spotted a man walking through the wilderness toward their city.  They stopped their play and stared.  The City had been alone for so long that none of them had ever seen a stranger before.

When the man arrived at the gates that hadn’t been opened in many dozens of years, they opened for him without a sound.  The children were the first to run toward him, though they hung back far enough to be cautious. The man was not particularly old nor particularly young.  He had pale, pale skin and striking dark eyes and hair.  Though he looked very tired, he smiled at them all as he reached into the small leather bag he was carrying on his shoulder.

dandelionWhen he pulled out a single flower, round and soft-looking and glowing with a silver light, the children drew closer.  Without a word, the man held out the flower and allowed the children to touch it with wondering hands.  These hands, when they pulled them away began to glow with the same light as the flower.  The childrens’ eyes grew round, staring at their own glowing hands.  The man knelt before them and spoke in a quiet voice.  The chilrens’ faces brightened as he spoke, and then one by one they ran off in separate directions.

It wasn’t long, of course, before the adults came to see the strange man where he sat resting beside one of the city’s many life-giving wells.  Children with glowing hands tend to attract attention.  The adults questioned him, and he answered.  A few came close enough to touch the flower themselves and see their own hands transformed, but not very many.  Most hung back and observed, wondering where he had come from and how and what he could want in their City.

Last of all, the town elders arrived.  They were very busy and important and had little time to chase down rumors, but once the whole town was abuzz, they could ignore it no longer.  The man greeted the elders with the same smile he had given everyone.  The flower he showed them had faded somewhat by then and was not so bright as before.  The elders examined it, receiving a tinge of glow on their own hands.  By the time they had finished, the flower, though still soft, was dull and plain.

The whole City looked on as the elders received the only information the man would share.  The glow was a sort of magic, of course, a power that could make things grow where nothing else would grow.  It could only be passed on by human hands and each hand could only hold so much, which is why he had traveled so far through the wilderness to find their City, the only place where people thrived and enough of them were available to spread the magic.  Now if any of them with glowing hands would pass through the gates into the wilderness, they could press their hands to the earth and think of something beautiful, and it would grow in that place.  The magic would not last forever, he warned, so they must use it soon if they would see the wilderness transformed.

The whole City took this news very seriously.  It was hardly surprising to any of them that they, who had built this wonderful place, would be chosen for the great honor of restoring the wilderness, as well.  The elders immediately called a town meeting to discuss the best way to use this new gift.

The meeting was long and full of argument.  It didn’t take much time for everyone to agree that they needed a plan but what that plan should be was much more difficult.  Several of the City’s citizens were designers of gardens, and each of them thought he or she should be the one to design the new wilderness.  While they fought among themselves about which was the most qualified, new arguments broke out about methodology.  Some thought that those with glowing hands should be sent out systematically near and far to carefully cover the most possible area.  Others thought they should focus all their energies right around the City to make that part of the wilderness as beautiful as it could be.  Some thought to start to the north and others to the west.  Some thought to send out those with glowing hands in pairs and others in groups and others as individuals.  On and on the debates raged, straight through the night and into the next day.

It was well past breakfast time when the first cry went up.  The first woman who had been brave enough to handle the magic flower held up her hands.  The glow, which at first had been so bright, could now hardly be seen.  The others who had glowing hands now looked down and noticed that theirs, too, had faded.

At first this only led to shouting and confusion, but the brave woman took action immediately.  She ran for the gates and burst out into the bleak landscape beyond.  Immediately, she knelt and pressed her hand, now barely shining at all, to the ground.  A green sprout leaped up, bursting into bloom as soon as it was full-grown, a lovely lily.  Those who had followed her exclaimed in wonder, but the woman just began to cry.  Her hands no longer glowed at all.

Other citizens of the City crowded through the gates.  No one’s hands were glowing now.  They stared at the one lily which was all they had made from so much magic and they felt their own foolishness right down to their toes.

Then someone shouted.  In the distance a little girl came skipping toward the City.  A ways behind her a boy wandered, collecting rocks as he came.  The adults of the City realized in an instant that in their preoccupation with their important new task, no one had been watching the children at all.  They began to look around.

In the distance, points of color could be seen.  Red.  Orange.  Yellow.  Purple.  Pink.  White.  Blossoms of every variety.  And green.  Green and green and green.  There was no design, no pattern, no plan, no perfection.  But all those colors stood out against the colorless landscape with breathtaking beauty.

Most wonderful of all, the little girl who now skipped over to them held up her hands.  They were glowing still.

dandelion2Before anyone had recovered speech to ask how it was possible the little girl smiled and pressed her hand to the ground.  Green shoots.  Green tendrils.  A bud, just a hint of white fuzz at the edges.

Slowly the flower opened, glowing with a silver light.

 

Lovely dandelion photos by the incredible Tara of The Viewfinder by TSDG.

Penny

Once upon a time in a small village between two mountains there was a little girl who had power over the wind and sun. She didn’t look like someone who would have such immense magical powers. She was small for her age and freckled and had hair that couldn’t make up it’s mind if it was blonde or brown and eyes of faded blue that twinkled when she talked but otherwise attracted no attention.

She didn’t act like someone who would have supernatural abilities either. She went to school (where she only did fine and not outstanding) and helped her mother around the house (though she often forgot the proper way to sweep a floor) and played with the village children (who outran her in games of tag and dared her to walk fence lines without a single care for whether or not it would rain).

She didn’t know any secret magic words. She didn’t have a mysterious old grandmother or aunt who cast a spell on her as a baby. She didn’t have a magic cloak or a name of power. She wore clothes made by her mother and her name was Penny (though most people called her plain old Pen).

Still, the fact remained that when plain old Pen walked out her door with an umbrella, the clouds would roll in and the rain would pour down. When Penny picked out a sundress on an early spring morning, the air would immediately begin to warm. When Penny appeared in the village wearing snow boots and a fur-lined coat, everyone brought in extra firewood, knowing the snow would fall any minute.

There were a few who didn’t believe, of course. The village seamstress (who had studied at a university and taught school for several years before realizing that she really didn’t like children) was adamant that such magic could not exist. She insisted that it was all coincidence and silly superstition. Old Granny Spencer was too smart to believe in coincidence, but she didn’t see how a little slip of a thing like that could control something so wild and free as the wind and the rain. Instead she told all she met that Penny could merely sense the weather before it came, much the way Granny’s own knee ached when the rain was rolling in.

Several of the village children, led by little Nanny Whipple, thought Penny too plain to have such powers. They were sure it was just her magical boots that made the rain. They yelled this loudly on the playground until the day that Nanny worked up the courage to swipe Penny’s boots. She was bold enough to wear them to school the next day, bragging of how she would make it rain. Penny came to school barefoot that day, and it was the warmest April day that anyone had ever seen, a perfect, cloudless summer day come too early. That night Penny found her boots sitting outside her front door, and the children’s playground taunts turned to someone else.

So the children’s doubts were silenced, and with very few exceptions the grown-ups all believed in Penny’s powers. It was only a matter of time before they all began to think of using these strange powers to their own advantage.

It was Eleanor Pratt, the mayor’s daughter, who first approached Penny with a gift. Eleanor was getting married on Saturday and had planned the loveliest wedding under the willows down by the stream. The only thing that could ruin it’s perfection would be rain. Smart girl that Eleanor was, she never mentioned the weather to Penny at all, just gave her the prettiest pink sundress sprinkled over with delicate flowers. “I hope you’ll wear this to my wedding on Saturday,” she said in answer to Penny’s squeals. Penny did, and they all danced in the brilliant sunshine that day.

The farmers were the next to show up at Penny’s door. It had been a warm summer (not surprising, as Penny was running around barefoot and swimming in the creek every day). After three rainless weeks, a string of gifts began arriving for Penny. Three umbrellas, two pairs of galoshes, and a lovely waterproof rain coat. This last gift was shiny and polka-dotted, and Penny couldn’t help but try it on. The farmers breathed a sigh of relief as a warm, steady rain fell on their parched crops.

It didn’t take long, of course, for things to become ridiculous. By the end of summer, it wasn’t uncommon for Penny’s mother to find a pile of gifts outside the door: a warm woolen scarf from a grandmother who was tired of the summer heat, a pink parasol from a housewife planning a picnic, a rain hat from another housewife who had not been invited to the picnic and was determined to ruin it, and three kites from hopeful children who wanted enough wind to fly their own.

Naturally, there was no way for Penny to use all these things at once, and there was no way for everyone to get the kind of weather that they wanted. Someone was always disappointed and some of them became angry. They would stop Penny on the street to beg, bribe, or threaten her, depending on their mood. She became quite frightened after a while, and her mother was extremely worried. After one horrible encounter in which three angry women tried to force a pair of rain boots onto Penny’s feet right in the middle of town square, Penny’s mother tucked her up into bed, closed all the shutters to the house and refused to let Penny go out at all.

For a week Penny stayed inside, and for a week the weather was suspended. It may seem impossible for there to be no weather at all, but that is exactly how it felt. No wind, no rain, no clouds at all. The sun was in the sky, but it brought no warmth to the air, no sparkle to the stream, no brilliance to the plants and trees. It was as if the whole world was holding its breath.

The gifts piled up around Penny’s door. After a few days, the givers began to pound on the door, more and more insistent the longer that no one answered.

Inside, Penny’s mother and father came to a decision. The village was no longer a safe place for Penny. They would take her to the big city where there were so many people and so much bustle that no one would notice one little girl and her connection to the sky. Quietly they packed their things and made their plans.

The next day, a group of villagers arrived at Penny’s house. The strange unweather had filled them with unease, so that they determined to break down the door if necessary and bring the little girl out by force. There was some argument about what kind of weather they wanted, but they all felt that anything would be better than this.

Boom! Boom! The men’s booted feet crashed into the wooden door. The air outside was still and heavy. Boom! Boom! Crack! The lock began to give way, and a chill swept over the crowd as clouds silently rolled in. Boom! Boom! Thud! The door flew off it’s hinges and hit the floor. At that precise moment sheets of rain began to pour out of the sky. A few of the villagers cheered in relief at this immediate change. The wiser ones cast a dark eye at the sky and hurried into the house.

It was empty. Penny and her family were no where to be found. The hearth was cold. Food and clothing were missing. It was clear that they had left in the night and did not plan to come back. The crowd finally made its way up to Penny’s room where they found a huge pile of discarded hats and gloves and boots and umbrellas and sunglasses. The mayor, who had been carrying a sweater and hoping for the weather to cool, threw it down in disgust.

CRACK! A jag of lightning split the sky. There was a cry from outside, and everyone rushed down. The storm was in a fury, gust of cold wind and hot wind alternately whipped the town, rain pelted their heads, mixed with bits of hail and snow. Thunder boomed. It was as if all the weather they hadn’t had in the last week was visiting them at once. But that was not what caught the mayor’s attention. The first thing he saw was his house. It was on fire.

That day the lightning burned up seven different buildings around town. The fires did not spread due to the unceasing rain, but each time lightning struck, a new building was charred from the inside out. When the weather finally spent its full fury, the villagers were left feeling quite as hollow as those husks of buildings.

They rebuilt. They replanted. They lived very quietly. No one ever mentioned Penny, and no one ever saw her again. And no one ever complained about the weather.

And far away in the city, the rain came and went, and sunny summer passed into windy fall and snowy winter, and no one ever noticed the sweet little girl who was always perfectly prepared for any kind of weather.

The Window

Once there was a boy named Tom, and he lived with his mother and father in a little house in the big city, but every summer he went to the country to stay with his grandmother for one week. That was Tom’s favorite week of the year. He loved his grandmother’s house. She had a big backyard, with a garden and a tire swing hanging from a pine tree in the corner. She had a dusty old attic with only one tiny window, which let in just enough light for exploring the piles of old furniture and boxes of treasures without ever being bright enough to take away the mystery. Best of all, she had a whole room filled with books where Tom could sit for hours and read about all the places in the world he would visit one day.

At his grandmother’s house, Tom ran free from attic to cellar, but there was one door he was never allowed to open. Upstairs, just across from the little room where he slept, that one white door was always closed. Tom knew that it was locked tight because he had tried to open it many times. When he asked his grandmother about it, she always said, “Some things are not for children.” That was a very annoying answer, but since it almost always came with homemade cookies after, Tom didn’t hold it against her.

Things continued in this comfortable way until the summer that Tom was ten. That year, he went to his grandmother’s as usual, and ate a huge dinner the first night as usual, and slept in his own small room as usual. The next morning when he woke up, though, the little white door across from his was open just a crack, which was not at all usual. Tom knew that his grandmother must have left it open by mistake, but this was exactly the sort of mistake he had been waiting for all his life.

His curiosity burned as bright as ever, and he tiptoed across the hall and lay his hand on the handle of that door. His heart was pounding as he slowly pushed it open, and in that instant, all the possibilities of what could be inside, things he had imagined over the years, flashed across his mind. Maybe there was a chest full of treasure, left there by a pirate out of gratitude to Tom’s grandmother for saving his life one stormy night. Maybe he had a crazy aunt, locked away all these years because she thought blue was red and talked endlessly about the sky falling. A mummy? Stolen art collection? Dracula sleeping in his coffin? Proof of the existence of Bigfoot? A shiver whispered up his spine, but Tom told himself not to be silly. He stepped into the room.

It was completely ordinary. A wide, comfortable-looking bed filled most of the room, with tiny tables painted white sitting on each side. One rocking chair sat in the opposite corner, but no crazy aunt was rocking in it. A bright rag rug was on the floor, and the walls were painted light green and completely devoid of famous art. Tom felt empty inside. He had been so sure that something wonderful was in here. He looked under the bed. Nothing but dust bunnies. Why had he been kept out if this was all there was? He turned toward the closet door. This was his last hope. This time when he opened the door, he held his breath, but all that greeted him was a neatly hanging row of clothes, and some old men’s shoes lined up on the floor. No secret chests of treasure, no wonderful maps, no mummies in the far corner. Utterly disappointed, Tom closed the closet and walked over to the wide window. It looked out onto the back yard. The sun was shining, and the huge apple tree was covered with white blossoms. Tom felt very old. A childhood dream had been lost. Here he was in the secret room, and the world looked way more interesting outside.

Tom wasn’t as old as he felt, though, and like all children, he couldn’t linger in a gloomy mood for long. Not when the smell of bacon and pancakes was drifting up the stairs. Not when all that sunshine outside was calling to him. He ran down and ate his breakfast, saying nothing to his grandmother about the room. Instead he ate in silence and planned his morning. He rather thought that apple tree would be perfect for building a tree fort.

After breakfast, Tom sped outside, eager to get started. He knew where his grandmother had a pile of old boards out by the shed. He would use those for his fort. When he rounded the corner into the backyard, though, he stopped and looked around, confused. Where was the apple tree? His grandmothers garden was in the corner, just as he had seen it from the window. The sun was shining down. The fence was newly painted white. But there was no apple tree in the yard at all. He remembered climbing that tree when he was younger. He tried to remember whether it had been there the year before but found that he wasn’t sure. Quietly, he went back inside.

“Grandma, what happened to the apple tree in the back yard?”

“Remember that, do you?” She sighed. “It was struck by lightening two winters ago and had to be taken down. Such a pity. That tree produced dozens of pies every year. But don’t you worry. I’ve got cherries, so pie is still on the horizon.”

When she turned back to her dishes, Tom slipped quietly back upstairs. He crept into the unmysterious mysterious room. There, out the big window, the branches of the apple tree waved lightly in the breeze. Tom didn’t feel like playing outside any more. He spent the rest of the day reading instead, but even in a book he couldn’t escape the persistent questions that wandered around the back of his brain. That night, he had a hard time falling asleep, but eventually it began to rain, and the sound of the raindrops pattering on the roof relaxed him at last.

The rain was still falling when he woke up the next morning. The first thing Tom noticed when he left the room was that the little white door was open even wider than before. Unable to resist, Tom crept inside the room. Then he stopped short and a shiver went over his whole body. Outside the wide window, the sun was shining brightly on the blossoms of the beautiful apple tree and a lovely breeze skipped through the flowers in his grandmother’s garden. Tom could still hear the rain on the roof. He ran back to his own room and looked out the window. It was gray outside, and a steady stream of rain fell, puddling up all over the front the yard. He slowly walked back across the hall, drawn irresistibly to that impossible window. He wondered if it opened, and if so, what he would find when he stuck his head outside. He looked for the latch.

“That window never did open.”

Tom’s grandmother was standing in the doorway behind him, and the sound of her voice made him jump so high, he hit his head on the window ledge.

His grandmother didn’t seem to notice. She just slowly came into the room and sat on the bed. “So now you’ve seen my window.”

Tom nodded slowly and sat down in the rocking chair. He wanted to ask a million questions but none of them came to mind. The two of them sat in silence for a while. Then his grandmother began to talk.

“When your grandfather asked me to marry him, he told me he would build me the best house I’d ever seen, and he did just that. He built this place with his own hands, and when it was finished, we got married and lived here all the years of his life. Your father was born here. Your mother brought you here when you were only a week old, and your grandfather held you on his lap in the library downstairs and read you your first book. The next spring, your grandfather died. It was completely unexpected. He was out in his workshop as usual, and his heart just stopped.

“After that, your father suggested I move into the city with you all, but I couldn’t do that. This house is a part of your grandfather, his personality fills it up from attic to cellar. As long as I’m here, I feel him every day. I did close up this room, though. This used to be our bedroom, and I couldn’t face coming in here, so I locked the door and left everything just as it was. For a long time, I felt that the day your grandfather’s heart stopped was the day mine stopped, too. I spent too much time just sitting on the porch swing and staring at nothing. My garden was grown over with weeds. The books that your grandfather loved were covered with dust.

“Then your mother brought you for a visit. You were one year old. She set you on my lap and handed me the same book that your grandfather had read to you. I started to read, and you listened to carefully, it was like you were grown up and not a little toddler who just wanted to run all over the house. Every page of that book reminded me of your grandfather, and getting through it all was the hardest thing I’d done yet. But there you were looking up at me and waiting patiently for the end of the story. When it was done, I set you down and you began to explore, but I just sat there thinking. It was like I could hear your grandfather saying, ‘Get up. Get on with it.’ So I did.

“That night, I opened this door. This room sat here just as it always had. And there, out the window, was the sunny afternoon in spring, everything exactly the way it was on the afternoon your grandfather died. It should have been dark outside, but in here, it was bright daylight. I sat in that chair where you are and watched the birds flying back and forth and felt happy for the first time in a year. That was when I knew. Life goes on. I had you and your father and your mother and my friends and my garden. A life. But I would also have this. Forever. So I locked this door and I went downstairs and I made you your first apple pie. But after that, whenever I needed to talk things over with your grandfather, I came in here and he was waiting for me. And even on the darkest days, the sun was shining out that window.”

She fell silent after that, and Tom sat there, looking at the window. He knew now that the door had not been left unlocked by mistake. He knew that he was old enough that his grandmother wanted him in here. That by sharing with him her favorite place on earth, she was introducing him to her favorite person. Suddenly the window didn’t seem creepy at all. So he held his grandmother’s hand and rocked in the chair his grandfather had made and looked out at the sun shining down on their past.