Tag: winter

The Alchemist’s Garden

Once there was an alchemist who was scanning through the real estate listings hoping to find the perfect home. Apartment buildings are not really well-suited to alchemy. People kept knocking on his door and interrupting his experiments to say things like,

“Can you stop all the sulfur smells and explosions? I just got the baby to sleep.”

He needed to get away from all the sleeping babies and grumpy telecommuters so that he could get back to his life’s work. And, if there was room for a garden so that he could save money on ingredients, that would be even better. He circled the most promising listings with a smile.

It took weeks of touring homes and meetings and paperwork, but finally the alchemist had a new home with a lovely yard that bordered on the forest. It was far from the center of town, and there were no neighbors close by to be disturbed by silly things like smoke or smells or loud noises. It was perfect.

Except that the previous owners said that deer lived in the forest and would probably come eat his garden. Luckily, he had a solution. He would grow a magic hedge around his property. The deer would be repelled by the magic in the hedge and stay far away from his garden.

During the terrible drudgery of house-buying, the alchemist had spent many hours concocting an extra rapid plant growth solution for his garden. He bought the seeds for the hedge from his favorite apothecary before he left town. Before he unpacked a single box, he dipped the seeds in the potion and planted them. He had a tall magical hedge in place by dinner.

The next morning, the hedge was gone. The alchemist raced outside in his slippers and pajamas and crouched down in the empty space, looking for clues. The hedge had been chewed to the ground.

Deer were supposed to be repelled by magic hedges. He must have been sold nonmagical seeds. What an outrage! He called the apothecary and complained just as loudly as a neighbor who was woken up at 3am by an explosion of twenty glass beakers.

Within an hour, he had new seeds, guaranteed to be magical. He dipped them in potion, planted them, and his hedge was in place by lunch time. In the morning, it was gone.

Perhaps it wasn’t the seeds, after all.

He used the last of the seeds to plant a third hedge. Then, that evening, he waited out by the hedge in the dark. When he heard chewing sounds, he shook the corked vial of light solution. It glowed brightly, showing his hungry visitors. They were much larger than deer.

Dragons? Why were dragons eating his hedges?

He went inside and pulled a few books off the shelves to read in the morning. The next day, after a lot of reading, he learned that dragons liked to eat magical hedges. Of course. It would have been nice to know that before spending a fortune on magical hedge seeds. But, how was he to know that there were dragons in the forest? The previous owner never mentioned that.

He hired someone to build a non-magical fence out of wood. The deer and dragons had plenty of wood in their forest to eat, so they certainly wouldn’t go out of their way to eat his fence. Sure enough, the fence was there the next day. And the next. And the next.

Once he was certain that the fence was going nowhere, the alchemist planted his ingredients and set up his workshop. He had so many ideas to try! It would take months just to go through the first pages of his notebook where he jotted down ideas.

The garden grew quickly and well. It grew so well, that he had more ingredients than he expected. The magical beets were especially prolific, and he had more than he could turn into potions or eat. He developed a new potion that turned beets into chickens. Soon he had a yard full of chickens that all wanted to eat his garden full of potion ingredients.

He hired someone to build a chicken coop. The garden recovered, the chickens laid boiled eggs, and he was able to get back to his notebook. The alchemist had time to experiment as much as he liked.

And then winter came. The garden stopped growing. The hens stopped laying eggs. During a particularly long storm, the road to town was blocked for weeks.

Deprived of the sun, the chickens finally turned back into beets. The alchemist ate them. It was a nice change from eating canned food and food substitute potions. When he ran out of firewood, he burned the coop. Then the fence.

Finally, the storm ended. Winter ended. The alchemist stepped into his backyard and looked around. No plants. No chickens or coop. No fence. He was back to the beginning.

Yet, he wasn’t. Not really. He had survived the winter. He knew what to expect. And, he knew what to do next.

He hired someone to build a non-magical fence out of wood. Then he called the apothecary to order some more seeds.

Charlie’s Room: Away and Back Again

It was winter, when the daylight was pinched at both ends. Isaac left home in the dark, feeling like he was going to work in the middle of the night. He arrived home just before dinner, and there wasn’t much daylight left afterwards for the long walks he enjoyed in the summer.

He started eating his lunch while wandering up and down the sidewalks, peering into the windows of the different businesses near his work just to get a little more time in the sunlight. One day, he was looking into the windows of the antique shop, and he saw a little cloth doll. It was either a floppy eared cat or a long-tailed bunny. It could have been a kangaroo without a pouch, but the shape was all wrong.

Curious, he wrapped up his sandwich, shoved it in his pocket and stepped inside the store. The man behind the counter looked up when he entered. “Can I help you find something?”

Isaac pointed back towards the shop window. “I’d like to see the cat bunny doll.”

The man looked confused, but stepped around the counter towards the window. “Cat bunny?”

“I don’t know what it is.” Isaac followed him to the window. “That’s why I’d like to look at it more closely.”

The man looked into the window. “Oh. That. Go ahead and look at it if you’d like. I’ll be back by the register if you need anything.” He left Isaac standing by the window.

Isaac reached in and picked up the cat bunny with both hands. Its eyes glowed blue, and the next thing he knew, he was hanging in the air upside down in the dark. Something nearby hissed, and then there was a rustling sound.

Trying to listen and remain still and calm, Isaac waited. After a moment, there was a spark of light, and then the glow of a candle. He could see two small figures crouched over it. Then they abandoned the candle to come closer.

He heard the hissing sound again, and realized they were whispering to each other. Up close, it was easy to see that they were children. He tried to understand what they were whispering, but it was in a language he’d never heard before.

Hanging upside down was beginning to get uncomfortable. “Could you let me down please?” he asked hopefully.

The children whispered a little louder to each other, and then suddenly he could understand the end of a phrase. “…translation spell.”

The children both looked at him and held up their hands. Isaac slid to the floor and sat up.

“Was that a spell? Isaac asked. “Was it a spell that brought me here?” He looked around for the cat bunny, and saw it lying on the floor close by him. He pointed at it. “Did you send that?”

One of the children picked it up. “It was supposed to bring us Caasi. But you’re not Caasi.”

The other child shrugged. “I told you it wouldn’t work. Mom said that spells can’t wake the dead.”

“But I asked for her to come back from another world. It should have worked.”

The child looked over at Isaac. “Are you from another world?”

“Maybe.” Isaac frowned. “I don’t think spells work in my world, but I could be wrong.”

“Is your name Caasi?”

Isaac thought for a moment. “How do you write that?”

The children scrawled alien characters that strongly resembled “C-A-A-S-I.”

“I’m Isaac. That’s caasi backwards.”

The other child nodded. “Maybe bringing you from another world put everything backwards. Maybe that’s why you were upside down.” The child hurried to a shelf, pulled down a book and started turning pages rapidly.

Isaac turned to the child who remained. “Who’s Caasi?”

“Our best friend. She’s so smart. She could purr and jump so high, and she always knew where we hid her treats.”

That didn’t sound much like a person. “Was Caasi a cat bunny?” Isaac asked.

The child frowned. “She’s a felare. I don’t know cat bunny.”

He pointed down at the doll again. “Like that?”

“Yes,” the child said. “But alive.”

Isaac nodded. “That’s important.”

“We miss her.” The child looked away.

The other child snapped the book closed. “It says the dead are in the underworld, and normal spells can’t reach there.”

“Oh.” Both children looked sad.

Isaac held out his hand for the doll. The child handed it to him and he looked down at it with a smile. “It sounds like Caasi was a good friend. It’s okay to feel sad when a friend dies. Is there something you can do to say goodbye?”

Both children turned to look at him. “Like what?” one said.

“You could draw a picture of her, or write down what you remember about her, or put flowers on her grave.”

“I guess so.” The child took the doll back.

“You should talk to your mom about it. She might have ideas,” Isaac said.

The children looked at each other and began talking rapidly. “Talking to mom is a good idea.” “We should send him home first.” “I’m not sure how.” “Look at the book again. It must say somewhere.”

They consulted the book, and after some arguments, managed to charge up the doll for a return trip. The doll’s eyes glowed blue when they handed it to him. Moments later, he was back in the antique shop. The doll was gone.

He looked around. What was he going to tell the shop owner? He decided that the truth was always best. He walked over nervously. “The doll took me to another world, but it disappeared when I came back.”

The store owner shrugged. “That happens sometimes. Don’t worry about it.”

“Really?” The man didn’t appear to be joking. Isaac nodded. “All right. Thank you. I’d better hurry back to work.”

He rushed back through the sunlit streets, eating big bites of his sandwich as he jogged. He arrived at his desk just in time. He glanced back out the window and wondered if it was time to get a pet for Charlie. Something he could keep in his room. Maybe a fish or two?

Charlie’s Room: Ice Cream

On Friday night, Marianne, Charlie, and Isaac drank cocoa and watched the snow drift slowly through the beam of the street lights. “It’s like living in a snow globe,” Marianne said.

“But who’s been shaking the world?” Charlie asked.

Isaac laughed. “I’ve been told that it’s always spinning in space. I guess that’s enough to shake things up.”

Charlie tipped up his mug and slurped the last of his cocoa. He set his mug on the table with a sigh. “Speaking of shaking things up, why do we always have cocoa in the winter? Why not ice cream?”

“It’s too cold for ice cream.” Marianne set her mug down and wrapped both hands around it with a smile. “A bowl of ice cream wouldn’t warm your hands like this.”

“But I like ice cream.” Charlie looked into his empty mug and sighed again. “Cocoa is always gone too fast.”

Isaac smiled. “I think we can try ice cream in winter and see what we think. I need to go to the grocery store tomorrow for more apples. I’ll go while you both go to the library.”

“That’s a great idea. There are a few other things we need, too. I’ll write a list.” Marianne finished her cocoa and picked up her mug and Charlie’s too, and took them to the sink and rinsed them.

The next morning, Charlie and Marianne left for the library as soon as it opened. Snow still fell gently, but the roads were salted and slushy. Isaac drove to the grocery store. Grimy slush filled the parking lot. Isaac was glad he wore his boots.

Most of the list was fairly easy to gather. However, the ice cream was a little more difficult. There were too many choices. Everything sounded nice. He decided to pick one of the mixed flavors, so that it was like buying more than one type. After eeny miney moe between Neapolitan and Rainbow Sherbet, he ended up with Neapolitan.

Back out in the parking lot, he set his groceries in the trunk and closed it with a thump. Right after, he heard a muffled thump and a yell. Isaac turned. An elderly woman was sprawled in the slush nearby, groceries spilling out of a shopping bag at her side.

Isaac hurried over to help her up. When she tried to stand, she yelped as she put weight on her right foot. Isaac caught her before she nearly fell again. “Lean on me,” he said. “I’ll walk you to that car, then come back for your groceries.” He balanced her weight and walked her to a nearby car. She leaned on it while he hurried back for her bag.

“What do I do? I can’t drive like this.” She tried to wipe the slush off her slacks.

Isaac held out his free arm, her grocery bag dangling from his other hand. “I can help you inside where it’s warm. There’s a bench inside the door. Do you have someone you can call?”

She frowned and patted her pockets. “I left my phone at home.”

“Let’s go inside, and you can use mine. My name is Isaac, by the way.”

“I’m Maude.”

Isaac waited with Maude until her daughter came. Then he helped her into her daughter’s car, and tucked the grocery bag at her feet. He waved them off, and drove home a little later than expected, through a world that still looked like the inside of a snow globe.

Marianne and Charlie were already there, reading their library books at the kitchen table. “I checked out a book for you.” Charlie held up a book. “It’s all about castles. I thought it looked interesting.”

“Thank you. That looks wonderful.” Isaac held up the grocery bag. “I got the ice cream. And the rest of the list, of course.”

“Let’s have some now!” Charlie bounced out of his seat and hurried to the cupboard for bowls and spoons.

Isaac set the bags on the counter and pulled out the ice cream container. It recently spent more than half an hour in the trunk of his car. However, when he opened the container, it was still perfectly frozen.

“I know a good reason to buy ice cream in the winter,” Isaac said happily as he scooped it into bowls.

“What’s that?” Marianne took the receipt from the bag and used it as a bookmark.

“It stays frozen, no matter how long it takes to get it home.” Isaac handed around the bowls and put the rest of the ice cream in the freezer.

For a moment, the kitchen was silent as they enjoyed the ice cream. Then, Marianne paused, spoon in the air. “I just thought of something,” she said. “Do you know what would make this the perfect winter treat? Hot fudge. I’m making some right now.”

“Finish your ice cream first,” Charlie said, pointing at her bowl with his spoon. “It’ll melt.”

“I thought winter kept it frozen.” Marianne smiled, and ate a big bite of ice cream.

Charlie rolled his eyes. “Not inside. It’s too warm inside.”

Isaac smiled. “I’m so glad it is. It’s nice to have a warm house to come home to when it’s cold outside.” Marianne and Charlie smiled. They ate their ice cream, and then Marianne made hot fudge. It became a new favorite winter treat.

Months later, Isaac and Maude saw each other again in a warm, non-slushy parking lot. They waved at each other like old friends. Maude had completely recovered from her fall and looked happy.

Isaac reflected for a moment on life and how a day could contain falls and slush and freezing weather, and also contain snow and library books and ice cream and hot fudge. The good and the bad combined together, bitter stirred into the sweet like flavors of ice cream all mixed together. Did that make hope, love and gratitude the hot fudge that made it all just right? Isaac had no idea. But he smiled as he put his groceries in the trunk of his car and drove home.