Melanie was in her room reading. Unexpectedly, there was a thumping sound in her closet. She put the book down. Someone giggled, even though there wasn’t anyone else in the room. Melanie ran for the door.
“Wait, Melanie,” a young sounding voice said. Melanie paused, halfway out the door. A small child tumbled out of the closet, followed by two older children. The oldest seemed to be around Melanie’s age.
“You can’t call her Melanie,” the oldest child said.
“Well I can’t call her Grandma,” the youngest child said. “She doesn’t look old enough. It would be weird.” Read More
The team leader turned and his hands flew through a number of complicated signs. The faces around him looked grim. This was it. They dashed forward.
They broke through the barriers and took down the electric field within minutes. Three members of the team were down before they could take out the guards. However, it looked like they were in induced comas, so the team following behind them would be able to treat them.
The team surged forward and secured the lab. Most of the scientists surrendered immediately. However, the three scientists guarding the man covered in electrodes fought back. They were biting and scratching and hitting people with clipboards. One of them even tried to stab the team leader with his pen.
It didn’t take long to knock them out and leave them in a holding room with the others. They returned to the room to look at the man wearing the electrodes. It was the lead scientist and head criminal himself.
One of the team signed a question, “do we pull the plug?”
The team leader shook his head. “That’s for the clean up crew to decide,” he signed.
The team took their positions and waited. They had found and secured the latest threat to world peace. Now, it was up to someone else to get back the vowels.
Terrorism in the 25th century had become refined and deadly. As scientists finished their detailed map of the brain and its functions, psychoterrorists began to use the information to plot targeted attacks. In the most bizarre chapter of the attacks, one disgruntled scientist discovered how to steal all the vowels.
He built a machine that amplified thought waves, and used his own brain to give commands that were interpreted through his machine. He had presented prospective designs for the machine at a conference, but was unable to find funding. Investors thought it was too unethical.
Somehow he managed to build it anyway and use it. People could still remember that there were vowels, but not what they were or how they sounded. Those who didn’t know sign language were reduced to guessing games and charades to communicate.
After hours of confusion, the scientist sent his demands through a prerecorded message. He projected images of himself with money, a new laboratory, and a large crown onto every available screen worldwide.
After cutting off his access to the media, world leaders began to confer. They all agreed to ignore his demands. Teams were sent to find him and reverse his attack. Meanwhile, “w” was declared the new all-purpose vowel.
It took weeks to find the scientist and even longer to undo his work. He refused to cooperate, and was sentenced to solitary confinement. They led him from the courtroom kicking and screaming.
People were thrilled to have their vowels back. There were news reports of babies saying “mama” or “dada” for the first time and married couples finally able to say “I do”. It was a time of celebration.
In remembrance of the defiance against this and any other new terrorist attack, the English-speaking world gave “w” a place of honor. In a ceremony presided over by hundreds of heads of state and diplomats, “w” officially took the place of silent “e”, permanently becoming a vowel.
In the world peace garden, a new fountain was built, capped with a model of the letter “w”. The plaque at the bottom simply read, “In Remembrancw.” The scientist’s machine was duplicated and nations threatened to use it against each other, but no one ever did. It was forgotten after the next big threat came along.
Less than a century later, the strange story had become a short paragraph in grammar books. Children splashed in the fountain and had no idea that there was anything at all to remember. History is like that quite often, after all.
Marianne looked at the thermometer and sighed. “Still feeling under the weather, I see. You’ll need to call in sick again.”
Isaac frowned. “I feel fine.”
“You don’t look fine,” Marianne said. “I can’t remember the last time you were sick. Take one more sick day. It’s what they’re for.”
“Fine,” Isaac said. He collapsed back onto the pillow.
Marianne smiled. “I’m taking Charlie to school and then I’m going to the post office. Do you need anything?”
“No, thank you,” Isaac said.
Marianne patted his shoulder and left the room. A little while later, he heard Charlie yell, “Bye Dad!” The front door slammed.
Isaac called in sick. Then he rolled over and stared at the wall. He was bored already. He kicked off the blankets and wandered down the hall.
He looked in Charlie’s room. Charlie had made a huge blanket fort. Blankets were tied with yarn to his bed and the rod for hanging clothes in the closet and his desk chair. Several blankets were pieced together with safety pins.
“Wow!” Isaac whispered. He crawled inside. He could sit up with room to spare. There were pillows and books grouped around an old turquoise rug. Where did Charlie find that? He stroked the faded rug and left behind a darker stripe of color as he changed the position of the fibers.
Isaac’s grandmother, his Nona, had given him the rug when he was Charlie’s age. Isaac smiled fondly. He lay back on the rug and looked up at the blanket ceiling. There was a paper safety pinned there. In big block letters, it said, “Do you like my tent dad?” Charlie obviously knew him too well.
He started to laugh, which caused him to cough. He continued a weird mix of laughing and coughing until the rug unexpectedly lifted itself, and Isaac too, into the air a few inches. Isaac stopped laughing and coughing and the rug silently popped them both to somewhere else.
The somewhere else was a cave. Torches along the far wall did their best to light the cave, but shadows lurked everywhere. Around the edges of the room, there were piles of things that gleamed in the dim light. In the center of the room there was a pedestal. On the pedestal, there was a small, shiny oil lamp.
Isaac was thrilled. He cautiously rolled up the rug and stuck it under his arm. He listened and looked around the room again. He was alone. Watching where he stepped, he approached the pedestal. Isaac picked up the lamp and rubbed it on his sleeve.
A tall young man appeared next to him. He looked at Isaac and scowled. “Well?”
“Are you a genie?” Isaac asked. He wasn’t dressed like a genie. He looked like a normal teenager.
“Djinni,” the young man said, sounding bored.
“Do you grant wishes?” Isaac asked.
The young man looked at him. “Hmmm. You can have two.”
“Not three?” Isaac asked.
“Inflation,” the young man said.
“Could you take me home?” Isaac asked.
“Yes,” the young man said. He rolled his eyes.
“Please may…I mean, I wish for you to take me home,” Isaac said. Everything blurred around him for a second, and then he found himself in his living room, holding the rug and lamp.
“One more wish,” the young man said.
Isaac looked around. He looked at the djinni that looked like a teenager. “Would you like to be free from the lamp?” he asked.
“Of course I would,” the young man said.
“Then I wish for your freedom,” Isaac said. There was a flash of light and the lamp and young man disappeared. Isaac smiled. He took Nona’s rug back to his room and hid it on the top shelf of his closet.
He took the rug out of the bathroom. It was fluffy and had red and white stripes. It reminded him of candy canes. He arranged it in the blanket fort and then took a pen from the mug on Charlie’s desk.
He wrote, “I love it!” on Charlie’s note and added a smiley face. Then he decided to take a nap. It had been a busy morning, and maybe he was feeling a little under the weather after all.
Prince Ferdinand had traveled farther than he’d planned. As he wandered through the woods, he was fairly sure he was past the borders of his own kingdom and into the next. He stopped to pull out his map.
Sure enough, he should have stayed on the other side of the river. He folded up the map and put it away. “Where are you going?” A voice behind him asked.
Ferdinand turned. There was an old woman standing on the path. She hadn’t been there before. “Right now, probably back that way,” Ferdinand said, pointing back down the path. “After that, I’m not sure. I’m seeking my fortune,” he said.
“Let me help you,” she said. “The king of this land has twelve daughters who wake every morning tired, with holes in their slippers. No one knows why. If you solve the mystery, you can marry one of the princesses.”
The prince raised an eyebrow. “I assume the king has already tried leaving someone to watch them all night? The simplest solution is that they are leaving somehow.”
The old woman smiled. “The guards outside their door don’t see them leave. Princes and peasants have tried their luck, but no one who has tried watching in the princesses’ room has managed to stay awake all night.”
“That doesn’t sound likely. Something must have interfered with them. What do they say? Was there a strange smell? Some sort of food or drink offered?” The prince asked.
“No one knows. The king kills everyone who fails to solve the problem after three nights,” the old woman said. “But I know.”
“The king sounds rather harsh,” the prince said. He shook his head. “However, you should tell the king. I’m sure he’d reward you.”
“I cannot leave this wood,” the old woman said.
The prince sighed. “I don’t want to marry one of the princesses, but tell me what you know and I’ll do what I can to help.”
“Thank you,” the old woman said. “Do not drink anything the princesses give you. Pretend to be asleep. Then…” she handed him a cloak. She hadn’t had one in her hands earlier. “…use this cloak. It will make you invisible, and you can follow the princesses.”
“Wow,” he said. “Thank you. I’ll do it.”
The old woman smiled and disappeared. Prince Ferdinand pulled out his map. It took all afternoon to get to the castle. Once there, he met with the king and agreed to the task.
He did as the old woman said. He poured out the wine the oldest princess handed him while pretending to drink it. Once they thought him asleep, the princesses laughed at him. Prince Ferdinand thought they weren’t very nice. How many young men had they tricked knowing their father would kill them?
The oldest princess clapped her hands and her bed sunk into the floor and a trap door opened. The prince put on the cloak and followed them. He broke off a branch with silver leaves as they went through a forest to prove he’d been there. Soon, they arrived at a river.
The princesses met twelve princes who rowed them across a river and took them to a ballroom in an underground castle. Prince Ferdinand took a gold goblet from the table. It would be more proof. As he waited, he looked around the ballroom. The people seemed a little off, as though they were in disguise somehow.
This was obviously not a normal castle. He wondered if the princesses could continue visiting once they were found out. They’d probably be sad when they couldn’t go out and dance all night.
This could be a business opportunity. He watched the people dancing, pausing at times to talk and eat and drink. He began to mentally take notes. When the princesses had worn out their slippers, he followed them back to the river, making sure to slip ahead of them when they reached the shore.
He again pretended to be asleep. In the morning, he told the king everything and showed him the branch and goblet. Shocked, the princesses admitted to the truth. “So,” the king said. “Which princess do you want to marry?”
Time to be diplomatic. “Your highness,” he said. “I’m not yet ready to get married. However, I believe that this problem of yours could lead to an excellent business opportunity.”
The king, who had started to scowl, now looked interested. “A business opportunity?”
The prince smiled. “Yes. I think that a dance club like the princesses visited, one where people had to pay for entrance and any food or drink, could be very popular. Your daughters can help with the details and tell you what they think would work best.”
“That sounds expensive,” the king said.
“I’d be happy to provide start-up costs for a small percentage of the profits,” the prince said.
The king narrowed his eyes. “You have money to throw around so carelessly?”
“I have a small amount of money to invest wisely. I think this could be a good investment, if done well. You should earn enough for dowries for your twelve lovely daughters and more,” the prince said.
The king leaned forward. “How much money will you send?”
The prince shook his head. “I’ll send back my lawyers to draw up the agreement and determine how much money you will need. Once they return, I’ll send the money.”
The king folded his arms. “I’m not sure about this,” he said.
“I think this could be great. Your daughters had so much fun they wore out how many shoes dancing all night? Trust me. You could be very wealthy,” the prince said.
“All right,” the king said. “You have a deal.”
“I’ll leave now and send my lawyers to come meet with you,” the prince said.
Prince Ferdinand headed home. He passed through the forest, but didn’t see the old woman. “Can I keep the cloak?” he asked. No one answered. He decided that meant that he could.
A business opportunity and a magic cloak. It had been a successful trip indeed. Perhaps he could even find someone who could grow a tree from the branch he’d saved. Maybe he should get lost more often?
The little girl ran out of the house squealing. “Buttons, buttons, lalala,” she sang loudly. She shook the button jar she was holding with every note. “Buttons are pretty, buttons are mine…”
Mem the evil fairy sat up and scowled. The sun was barely up. Who comes running around and yelling like that so early in the morning? She casually tossed a bad luck curse at the button jar and flew off to find a new tree to sleep in.
The little girl tripped. She clutched the button jar to her chest and ran into the house crying. That night, her mother got sick with a mysterious illness. A week later, her father lost his job. The water pipes burst. Rats moved into the walls. The little girl got lice. Two months later, they decided to move. The little girl buried the button jar at the base of the tree the night before they left.
After their move, the mother miraculously recovered. The father found a better job. The little girl stopped tripping over her feet. The family was glad to have recovered from their terrible patch of bad luck.
However, the bad luck was just beginning for the family who bought their old house. Somehow the home inspection missed the rats and fractured pipes. The father discovered eight new allergies and the mother had constant headaches.
Their little boy, Ned, was often sent outside to play quietly. On one of these occasions he was wearing his favorite pirate hat that he kept accidentally sitting on lately. He found a broken shovel and started digging at the base of the tree in the back yard.
He paused to try to remove all the splinters in his hands and then kept digging. Clink! Ned uncovered the button jar. He pulled it out of the dirt, and it made an ominous hissing sound as the buttons shifted.
“Hey, look! The new kid found treasure,” someone shouted. Ned looked up. There was a boy watching from the fence. Ned hadn’t been able to make any friends since moving into the awful new house. Perhaps this was his chance.
He trotted over with the button jar. There was a gathering crowd at the fence. “It’s just buttons. You can have it if you’d like,” Ned said. He handed over the button jar without hesitation. Somehow, everything suddenly seemed lighter.
“Hey, you’re not so bad,” one boy said. “I don’t need any buttons. Well, maybe the one that looks like a baseball.”
All the kids took one or two, except for Mert, who was kind of mean sometimes. He took the rest of the buttons and the jar too and stomped off. The other kids stayed to play pirates.
Ned’s luck had finally changed. His mother’s headaches and his father’s allergies seemed to vanish overnight. “We must have been acclimatizing to the new place,” his father said.
Someone finally came to fix the pipes, and the problems weren’t as extensive as they’d thought. The rats finally started eating the poison left for them in the attic. There was a terrible smell for a few weeks, but it just meant they spent more time outside.
Ned’s new friends had mildly bad luck over the next few weeks until all the buttons had been lost here and there. The playground was an unlucky place to be for a while after that.
But poor mean Mert seemed unlucky for a long time after that. He got terrible grades and awful rashes and no one picked him for anything. Six weeks later, he stepped on a rusty nail and had to stay in the hospital for a week.
His mother took the opportunity to clean out his room. She tossed the button jar, along with Mert’s collection of baseball cards that one day would have made him a very wealthy man.
The next day, the neighborhood kids visited him with handmade cards. Mert was so grateful to be remembered and included that he wasn’t even slightly mean. His luck changed after that.
However, the town now had the most unlucky, haunted landfill ever reported. Twice, filmmakers tried to come make documentaries, but it didn’t work out well for them. They stopped trying. Landfills just aren’t all that attractive to film in the first place.
Mem did eventually find a tree in a quiet place. She built herself a lovely little house inside the trunk and felt no guilt over cursing anyone who bothered her. In her opinion if they were yelling and shouting in a graveyard, they deserved what they got.
Prince Ferdinand was traveling through the woods when he saw the most amazing sight. An older woman was climbing up a tower using someone’s hair as a rope. He waited until the woman climbed back down and was preparing to leave.
“Wait, Madam,” he said. “I have a few questions for you.”
The woman turned and scowled. “Well?”
“That hair, that impossibly long, strong, lustrous hair. How did you do it? Is it a potion or spell? Is it repeatable?”
Her eyebrows raised. “It’s a potion.”
The prince smiled widely. “That’s excellent. Would you be willing to take a few minutes to discuss a business opportunity? Let me introduce myself. I’m Prince Ferdinand.”
“Hazel,” the woman said.
Twenty minutes later, they were sitting in the tower drinking tea. The long-haired girl was staring at the prince. “Don’t mind her,” Hazel said. “She doesn’t get out much. Now tell me about this business opportunity.”
“Gladly,” the prince said. “It isn’t widely known that in years past, my family had fallen on some hard times. The last few kings really weren’t careful with money. They bought ridiculous things like solid gold grandfather clocks that can’t be resold at anywhere near market value.”
“Um, that’s terrible?” the long-haired girl said.
“Hush, Rapunzel,” Hazel said. “Go on, then.”
“Well, it’s fallen to me to increase our fortunes. Through careful investments, we’re on the mend. However, I’m always on the lookout for a good investment opportunity. You, madam, are gleaming with potential.” The prince raised his teacup to her.
“I am?” Hazel asked. “What do you mean?”
“Do you know how much people would pay to be able to guarantee long, strong, beautiful hair?” He waved a hand at the hair filling the room. “It’s amazing. Obviously, you’d need to weaken the formula a bit, but you could be famous for something like this. And very rich. I’d provide start up costs and such, for a percentage of the profits of course.”
“I hadn’t even considered… I don’t know…Rich and famous?” Hazel tapped a finger on the table.
“Rapunzel is it?” The prince asked. Rapunzel nodded her head. “Rapunzel would make an excellent hair model. We could find a hairstylist to be your spokesperson and together they could sell the product, freeing up your time for lab work and such.” He paused and looked at Rapunzel again. He frowned. “Is there a reason she stays in the tower?”
Hazel looked embarrassed. “I was angry at her parents for stealing from me and demanded the baby in return. I didn’t really want the baby. What do I know about babies? But they didn’t counteroffer or anything, just handed her over. It was terrible. So I kept her up here to keep her safe when I’m away. Of course now I love her dearly.”
The prince nodded. “We’ll have to put a different spin on it of course for the media. Perhaps she could start out as your assistant until she’s ready to interact more with the public.”
“Could I go to school?” Rapunzel asked.
“We could probably arrange tutors or something,” the prince said. “What do you think, Hazel?”
“Oh, I don’t know, I suppose so,” the woman said.
“Excellent.” The prince clapped his hands together and smiled. “I can draw up a contract and return here in a week. Think of any terms you’d like to suggest. Would you like me to bring a lawyer to answer any questions?”
“Um, yes please,” Hazel said.
“Well then,” the prince said. He stood up. Hazel and Rapunzel stood too, and he shook their hands. “Before I go, have you given any thought to hair dye? Does your formula include a detangler or is it separate? Oh, I can see I’m going to need to write up a list of questions.”
“That would be fine,” Hazel said. She and Rapunzel watched the prince climb down the tower.
“I’ll be back in a week with my lawyer,” he said.
“That was so exciting,” Rapunzel said. “What’s a lawyer?”