A full moon shone high overhead. The monster convention was well underway. Vendors sat behind their tables, and lines at the food court remained steady. At the other side of the convention center, the next set of classes and presentations were starting to fill up.
One of the rooms might have appeared empty to any passing human. But, as humans were the one monster not welcome at the convention, everyone could see that most of the seats had been taken by ghosts of various types. It was almost time for the panel discussion on Haunting and Modern Technology.
Soon enough, the room was full and the doors were closed. If a few latecomers quietly phased though the closed doors and floated at the back of the room, no one said anything. The moderator wailed mournfully and rattled some chains. It was time for the discussion to begin. Read More
Once there was a little girl who, sadly, developed an infectious laugh. This may sound like a nice thing, but it wasn’t. Every time she found something funny and started laughing, everyone around her felt compelled to join in and laugh until they felt sick.
All the laughing also left them susceptible to catching giggle pox. The whole town was immunized against them before she started school. Even so, it wasn’t uncommon to hear someone laughing at random intervals only to notice them scratching at little pink smiley faces trailing up their arm or across the bridge of their nose. An infectious laugh isn’t very nice at all.
At home, the little girl was called Mary, even though the rest of the town called her Little Miss Please-Don’t-Laugh. Her family loved her very much, and tried to raise Mary to be a serious child. They watched documentaries with her, read to her from the dictionary, and discussed philosophy at the dinner table.
Unfortunately, Mary had a naturally sunny disposition, and she managed to find the humor in even the most serious situation. There were days that her family spent so much time laughing themselves sick that they couldn’t eat anything from sunup to sundown. On one of these days, Mary’s mother laughed as she packed a large picnic basket of treats and managed to send Mary to go visit her grandmother for the day.
“Have fun,” she gasped out in-between chuckles. “Don’t talk to strangers. Come back in the evening after we’ve had a chance to rest. Give grandma a big hug from us.”
Mary happily took the basket and skipped out the door. She loved visiting her grandma. Grandma always let her stay inside and watch cartoons while she was busy outside hanging up the laundry or working in the garden. Mary loved cartoons. They were so much funnier than documentaries about the life-cycle of metamorphic rock.
On her way through the woods, Mary met a talking wolf. “Hello, little girl, where are you going?” he asked.
It was just like in the cartoons! She laughed just thinking about it. The wolf laughed too. “I’m going to grandma’s house,” she said cheerfully.
The wolf, still laughing, darted off into the forest. Mary chuckled and continued on her way. A talking wolf! It was so funny.
Grandma already had a basket of laundry waiting outside. Cartoons already! Mary squealed and hurried inside. Grandma wasn’t in the kitchen or living room. Was she in her bedroom? Mary knocked on the open door and skipped inside.
“Grandma?” she said, looking around. Grandma was in bed, but she looked so funny! Her face was all furry and she had big teeth. Mary smiled widely and took a deep breath.
“Little miss, please don’t laugh,” Grandma said in a scratchy voice.
“That’s me!” Mary said, and she laughed and laughed and laughed.
Grandma laughed too and stumbled out of the room. She came in a little later, looking a lot more like herself. “Mary, you saved me from the terrible wolf!”
“What terrible wolf?” Mary asked.
“Never mind. Do you want to watch cartoons?”
And so Mary watched cartoons and ate the treats that her mom sent over. Grandma turned down her hearing aid and finished hanging up the laundry.
Not many years later, Mary temporarily grew out of her infectious laugh. She became a teenager and played angry music and sighed and rolled her eyes whenever anyone said anything funny. The town celebrated.
When she grew up a little more and went to college and another town had to be immunized against giggle pox, the townspeople all smiled at the news. “That’s our Little Miss Please-Don’t-Laugh.” They raised enough money to send her far, far away for an internship when she finished her degree.
Mary found a job in her new city and settled down. The townspeople breathed a sigh of relief. Except when she came home to visit. Then they laughed themselves sick, of course.
Once upon a time, there was a happy picnic table who lived in the shade of a tall oak tree on the bank of a small stream that murmured cheerfully as it flowed over its bed of river rock. The leaves of the tree whispered in reply, and the picnic table was content to listen to the conversation as it waited for happy people to come picnicking. And they did come.
The people brought their baskets and coolers and rested in the shade of the tree and waded in the stream and they were happy. The children shrieked with laughter as they splashed each other with water and hung from branches. Adults smiled and talked quietly and gazed around in wonder, as if they’d forgotten how lovely the world could be.
The picnic table absorbed the happiness around it until it felt like it surely must glow in the dark. Those were the happy times. But the happy times didn’t last.
One summer, the weather grew hotter and hotter. At first, this meant more families came to splash in the stream. But the stream slowly ran dry. There was no more water. The leaves of the tall oak tree turned brown and began to fall early. The people stopped coming.
There was a late summer storm. The wind blew the rain harshly against the table, scouring the paint that had begun to peel in the summer sun. There was a horrible cracking sound, and the oak tree lost several large branches. It didn’t live much longer after that.
The picnic table was all alone. It had no stream, no tree, and no people. Everything was too quiet. But the picnic table had absorbed too much happiness to give up. It knew that life could be better than this. It just needed to find out how to make that happen.
It gathered some acorns and planted them next to the old oak tree. Then it followed the bed of the dry stream back towards its source. If the stream was blocked somewhere, the picnic table would figure out how to fix it.
It waddled along on stumpy legs through briar patches and cockleburs until it came to a small bridge. An even smaller troll was sitting under the bridge, curled up into a ball and radiating misery. As the table shuffled closer, the troll straightened up. “A table?” The troll stood up and shuffled over. “With the stream dried up, I’m all alone. If you are traveling to a better place, please take me with you.”
The table paused and lowered one of its benches and the troll hopped on. The misery had changed to hope. The table felt a little bit stronger. The troll and table followed the stream together, moving at night, and finding shade for the troll during the day. The troll ate roots and bugs when they stopped, and sang odd warbling songs as they traveled. The picnic table almost felt at home.
One night, as they trundled along, they heard a loud cracking sound in the dry river bank. The troll stopped singing, and the table crept closer. A grumpy river fairy looked up at them from a pile of broken river rocks. “What are you doing here?” he asked.
“We’re on a quest,” the troll said.
“You and the table?” The fairy raised an eyebrow.
“We’re going to find a new home or save the river or something. I’m not really sure. But we’re going to do something,” the troll said.
The fairy nodded. “That sounds much better than staying here. I’ll come too.” The fairy jumped on the bench next to the troll. Anger shifted to hope. The table felt happy and strong. And now the fairy sang strange lilting tunes that wove around the troll’s songs on their journey.
And so they traveled on, picking up confused dryads and lonely wood elves and frightened water sprites. The benches were a full chorus of hope and happiness and determination to succeed. And the picnic bench strode forth, strong as a mountain and as bright with happiness as the sun.
And one day, they reached the source of the dried up river that fed the dried up little stream. It was a wide hollow area, with a large, round boulder where it was deepest. “The spring has dried up,” the grumpy fairy said sadly. “There’s nothing we can do.”
“What about the boulder? Maybe it’s blocking the water,” the troll said.
“I can take care of that,” the fairy said. He pointed at the rock and said something low and fierce. Nothing happened. “Why won’t my magic work?”
“Maybe the rock is too big,” the dryad said sadly.
One of the wood elves stood on the table. “Let’s move the boulder together! Together we can save the river.”
And they all jumped from the table and pushed with arms and legs and roots and magic. The picnic table shouldered its way in and pushed too. With a shudder, the boulder started to roll. And then a sound rang out like a clap of thunder, a crack appeared from top to bottom, and the boulder crumbled.
In the middle of the rubble, a baby dragon looked up at them with wide eyes. “Mom?” it asked, looking around. Just then, water gushed from the ground beneath the dragon. Everyone piled onto the table, dragging the dragon along with them. The picnic table waded to shore through the turbulent water of the rapidly filling spring.
The air almost seemed alive with happiness. Only the little dragon wasn’t happy. It was confused and sad and hungry. It cried louder and louder and louder. The dryads and sprites and elves all tried singing to the little dragon. The troll brought it some bugs and roots to eat, but that only helped for a moment or two. The little table, now stronger than a hundred mountains, scooped up the little dragon and flapped its benches.
The dragon egg could only have come from the highest peak, far overhead where the dragons nested during the hot, hot summers. Somewhere, high above them, a mother dragon must have lost an egg. The picnic table flew higher and higher, up through the clouds and higher still, until he reached the peaks where the dragons soared in the blistering sunlight.
The picnic table found a nest where there was only one baby dragon, instead of the usual two or three, and dropped off the little baby. A mother dragon swooped in to snuggle and feed the little dragon. A wave of happiness hit the little table, and it glided back down to the spring, strong enough to carry the earth on its back, bright enough to glow with happiness as long as there were people left to eat picnics.
Everyone climbed back on the table and rode downstream singing with happiness. They quickly returned home, the table last of all. A little sapling was waiting for it. The table had saved its home. And to its great joy, the people came back to picnic the very next day.
Marlin, the distinguished second cousin of Merlin, was a most excellent wizard. His spells were in demand year round. Farmers wanted rain and spells that would drive off wildlife. Hunters wanted sunshine and spells that would attract wildlife. Marlin almost never mixed the spells up.
He sold spells to politicians that helped focus all attention on them. He sold spells to shifty looking watch salesmen to help them hide, because apparently watch salesmen were too popular. Who knew?
Humans wanted so many different types of spells. Magical beings had needs too. They wanted to hide or to grow ever-blooming flowers or find rainbow monkeys to keep as pets. Marlin did his best to help. Sometimes he even made house calls. Most of the time he got the spells right.
And so, Marlin should have been the happiest wizard this side of Stonehenge. Happier than Merlin even, who meddled too much in politics and weaponry. Unfortunately, one day, when it was both sunny and rainy because farmers and hunters both wanted to take advantage of the long summer days, Marlin lost his hat. Read More
“I joined a magic club today,” Hortense told her sister.
“A what?” Kezia nearly knocked her crystal ball off its stand. “You’re kidding.”
“No, I saw a flyer for it posted on the wall at the grocery store.” Hortense flicked her fingers at the fruit basket, and and apple hopped into her hand.
“That sounds dangerous. Was it charmed so that only magic users could see it?”
“No, there weren’t any runes on it or anything.” Hortense bit into her apple. “Weird, huh?”
Kezia made a face. “Don’t talk with your mouth full, or I’ll make that apple disappear.”
Hortense laughed. “You sound just like Mom.”
“Well, Mom had manners. Now tell me about the club.”
“So bossy.” Hortense took another bite of the apple.
“Can’t talk. My mouth’s full.”
Kezia muttered and snapped her fingers. The apple vanished. “There. I solved that problem for you.”
Hortense scowled. “Fine. You’re so mean.” She sat on the couch with a huff.
Hortense looked up at her sister. “You know, it was nice to be around magic again. But it was such a weird mix of spells. Some people were doing mind reading, some were making things appear and disappear. One guy was talking about cutting people into pieces and putting them back together. How would that even work?”
Kezia shook her head. “I wouldn’t want to risk it. I can’t believe that was allowed.”
Hortense shrugged. “I guess he was just talking about it. Anyway, they had a magic demonstration planned for next week. I signed up. I think I’ll do some tricks on my broom. It’s been too long since the poor thing’s been out of the house.”
“We talked about that when we moved here. In a big city like this…”
“Yes, yes. People, cameras, blah blah blah.” Hortense slumped back into the couch. “I don’t see why we’re both stuck here just because you want to try to fix air pollution with rune-covered crystals.”
“It’s a global problem, and my research…”
Hortense sighed loudly. “I know. And I came to help out. It’s just not easy to feel so trapped.” She sat up. “You should come next week. You never leave the house at all any more. It’s not healthy.”
Kezia snapped her fingers and the apple reappeared in Hortense’s lap. “All right. It might be nice to get out.”
The next week, they sat in a dimly lit, crowded room, watching the first act. The man pulled a rabbit from his hat and roses from his sleeves. Kezia sat up and narrowed her eyes. She began muttering during the next act as playing cards appeared and disappeared.
When the man with the giant saw wheeled his victim onstage, Kezia snorted. Hortense looked at her sister in confusion. “Kezia?” she whispered.
“It’s fake. None of them are using any magic at all. It’s just pretend,” Kezia whispered back.
“What?” Hortense said loudly. It was drowned out by the cheers of the magicians around them as the victim was repaired. “What do you mean? How could they even do that?” she whispered fiercely.
“Pay closer attention. You’ve let yourself get sloppy,” Kezia said.
After watching a man escape from a burning box and appear in the audience, Hortense sighed. “You’re right. Does that mean I have to cancel my performance?”
Kezia looked around at the audience. “No, I think you’ll be fine.”
“What do you mean?” Hortense asked. But already she was being called to the stage. Trusting her sister, she flew some loops around the stage and did a few flips. The audience roared in approval.
After the show, she was surrounded by eager magicians. “How did you do it?” one of them asked. “I have to know!”
The club president came over and shook his head. “Now, now. You know the rules. A magician never reveals their secrets.”
“Oh yeah. Sorry,” the man said. The group stared to drift away.
The club president smiled at Hortense. “Tell your sister I am a big fan of her work.” Then he winked and walked away.
Kezia brought their coats over. “Are you ready to go?”
Grinning, Hortense took her coat and started to put it on, only to realize she was holding it upside down. “You won’t believe what just happened!”
Kezia smiled. “I can’t wait to hear all about it. It’s good to see you this excited about something again.”
“Well, maybe the city isn’t so bad after all.” Hortense managed to get all her coat buttons fastened. “Let’s go home.”
It was the night before Christmas, and the power was out. The whole neighborhood was cold and dark. Marianne packed a bag with supplies and they bundled up to check on the neighbors. Miss Marta answered the door dressed in a parka. She had a shawl draped over her shoulders