Stone Folly

Forgotten by generation after generation of men and women, the old stone building sat in the middle of the grassy meadow. Time, however, had not forgotten it, but had caressed it, each year adding to its predecessor. The stone turned browner in the summer and grayer when the rain and snow washed away the accumulating dust of summer. Vines grew and shriveled and grew again on the building’s walls, wrapping it like a comforting green blanket as the seasons and years passed.

The stone building had no doors. It had no windows. It had no chimney. It was entirely closed, impossible to get in. Eventually, when it was rediscovered by humanity, it was seen as a curiosity. When architects and historians tried to discover who had built it, they couldn’t find records of it. An old manor house had burnt down some miles from the site of the stone building, but there was no record of the wealthy family to whom the manor house belonged having ever built the structure. Farmers in the vicinity all said that they didn’t use the meadow because their cattle didn’t like grazing in it. They said they trusted the animals’ instincts and stayed away.

When it was written about in guidebooks, it was called a folly – a building constructed for decoration, for aesthetic purposes only, that had absolutely no useful value. The name commonly given to it was “The Stone Hut in the Meadow”, as if it was impossible to think up a more imaginative title that wasn’t strictly descriptive. The truth was that it didn’t really matter. Even now that the place was marked, mapped, written about and remarked upon, it didn’t draw many tourists to it. One or two hopeful tourists would stop by every couple weeks, hoping to find a picturesque spot to take photographs in, but they were usually disappointed by the simplicity of the house. There were teenagers who sometimes trekked to the stone building on a dare, hoping to be the ones to find a secret way into it, but they were always let down as well.

So it was that even though the stone hut was recognized, it was largely an empty, desolate spot.

**

Ruvy Ben-Shalom, a dark and grizzled man, walked along the highway and wondered whether he was going to reach a Denny’s or Dunkin Donuts at any point in the near future. At the last intersection, he’d managed to flag down a car. The woman had two small boys sleeping peacefully in the back seat, and she’d opened her window only a crack, to ask if he needed her to call anybody for him. She’d refused to give him a ride, but pointed him down this route as the best way to find the nearest rest-stop.

He knew he looked like a hobo. He wore black gloves that were two large for his small, delicate hands, and his eyes must look large, hungry and sleep deprived. Probably, he mused, because he was hungry and sleep deprived. Sleeping out in the open during the cold nights was no picnic, especially along these apparently endless highways that went from one nowhere town to another nothing town. He always arrived at inhabited places too late, when everything was already closed. Rest stops, though, had diners and McDonalds and bathrooms that were open all the time, and he yearned to sit town on a toilet and wash his face at a sink. He couldn’t wait to get a cup of coffee into his aching stomach, even though he was exhausted.

On his right, through the gloom of dusk, he saw a stone building. It was smallish, about the size of a two room house – he couldn’t help but compare it to the home he’d left two weeks ago – but it seemed to be pleasant enough. He wanted to go and see what was there, because it was beautiful. Something about it called to him. There was a great deal of grassy meadow to get through, first, and he walked into the grass rather unwillingly, getting his pants wet almost at once. He cursed softly, under his breath. The dew was collecting on the long stocks of overgrown weeds, and his cargo pants, which were already cold and too thin, got soaked, immediately. At least his boots were waterproof.

The little stone building’s walls were covered with ivy, except for a perfect square where the doorway was. Someone had very neatly pushed and tidied the ivy away from it, and it looked far newer than the rest of the house. The door was bright red and looked freshly painted and shiny.

Ruvy knocked three times, before thinking about it for long. The door opened, and he began to sob.

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Around the World and Back Home

Once upon a time, a little girl asked her grandmother what was on the other side of the forest. You see, this little girl had lived all her life in the little cabin that her grandmother owned, and this little cabin was on the edge of a large forest. Its treeline extended as far as the eye could see on both sides of the cabin.
You may wonder how it is that this little girl had never seen the other side of the forest; the town where her grandmother went to sell the chickens’ eggs and the cow’s milk and to buy provisions she couldn’t grow for herself was on the other side of that forest. You may surmise that the girl didn’t go with her grandmother on these excursions to town. You may assume that the girl was too little to walk across eight miles of winding, forested path to reach the town.
But the truth is even sadder than that – the girl had never been outside her own room since the day she was born and set into her dying mother’s arms. The little girl was very ill, you see, and too weak to leave her bed. She spent her days reading the books her grandmother exchanged at the library in town, and looking out of the window.
Why, you know what’s on the other side of the forest, my dear, the little girl’s grandmother told her when the question was posed. It is the town that I sell our produce to and get your books from.
Yes, Grandmother, I know, the little girl said. And what is beyond that?
Beyond that there are roads and other towns, the grandmother said.
And beyond those?
Beyond those, I suppose, there is the ocean.
And beyond-
Look here, the grandmother interrupted the little girl’s question, we’ve talked about how the world works. I brought you that book with the big maps in it, remember? Beyond the ocean is more land and more ocean, and if you continued to ask what was beyond and beyond and beyond, why, eventually we would come right back to this little cabin of ours.
The little girl sighed and smiled. I thought so, but I wasn’t sure, she said. So it doesn’t really matter that I can’t get out of bed, does it? Because even if I could walk all around the world, I would just get back here.
The grandmother bit back her tears, kissed the little girl’s forehead and left the room. That very night, the little girl died with a smile on her lips.
Her grandmother wasn’t satisfied with the answers she’d given to the little girl. If she had known that the little girl would die so soon, she thought she would have found a way to bring her into the world and show her all its marvels. She felt that by making the world seem like a small place, she had cheated the little girl out of her life. Perhaps, the grandmother thought, the little girl would have lived for many years if she’d have thought that there was something worth seeing out there. The grandmother had thought that the books the little girl read would convince her of that and would help her get stronger so that she could see the world. But the grandmother had been wrong.
It was the custom in the place where the grandmother lived to burn the loved one’s remains and keep them in an urn on the mantelpiece. But the grandmother decided that she couldn’t live out the rest of her life with the urn sitting there and reminding her of the little girl who thought the world wasn’t worth it.
Instead, the grandmother packed up some provisions into a bag, tucked the urn under her arm, and walked through the forest and into town. She walked beyond the town and into another forest and then into yet another town. She continued walking until she reached the ocean, and then she boarded a ship and sailed to the next continent.
It took her ten years, but eventually, she had walked and sailed right around the world. Hobbling home from the opposite direction of that she had started in at the very beginning, the grandmother held the urn tightly. But she was very tired, and the ground was wet with the spring rain, and she slipped and fell.
The urn smashed, and the little girl’s ashes scattered in the meadow as the wind picked them up merrily, as if greeting an old friend. The grandmother watched the gray dust that was once her granddaughter fly happily to and fro, and she smiled. There, she said to the little girl who she could suddenly see quite clearly before her. I’ve taken you right around the world and back home.

Becalmed

A ship sails in the darkness. Only three people are aboard. The captain stands on the deck, watching the stars’ reflection in the calm waters that lie beyond the ripples that the ships rocking movement is creating. She sends an arm out, wishing she could touch them – the reflections, not the stars. The stars are too far away. They’re intangible and require faith. The little specks on the water, however, are as real to the captain as the silver streaks that she sees during the day and knows to be fish.

Her first mate lies stretched out in her cabin below. It is not her watch yet. The captain will wake her when she’s needed, she has no doubt about that. But she cannot sleep, even though it’s almost impossible, making a ship work smoothly with only a captain to guide her and a half-mad, broken-down sailor to aid her. She worries about the following day and wonders whether the winds will finally rise and help them. She’s heard horror stories before about becalmed ships, but she never thought that it would be so incredibly frightening to be on one. The absence of any certainty is eating away at her: she knows not when the winds will rise, she knows not when she will see land again, she knows not whether she will live to touch her loved ones again. There is enough food to last a while, but the water has begun to seem a lot less plentiful than it had a week ago when the winds disappeared.

The lone sailor, a simpleton to begin with and driven almost out of her wits by the plague that destroyed the rest of the once large crew, rocks back and forth in her hammock in the large, empty room that she shared, until two weeks ago, with many others. The ropes creak comfortingly and she hums their notes as she swings, trying to lull herself into comfort. She has had no joy beyond the wooden planks of this ship; it is the one and only place she has ever found camaraderie. It’s almost all gone now, and she clings to the memories of what she had and tries to forget the sight of her fellow sailors in their death throes.

The wind doesn’t pick up. There is no hope yet for the three aboard the ship. But all three are human, and so they cannot help hoping anyway.

The Greensword Tales

Most stories begin at the beginning. Some begin in the middle. But I go by the lesson my Auntie Greta drummed into me all those years when it was just her and me in that little house off the highway. We didn’t have a TV, and our electricity came from this old generator. Point is, there wasn’t much entertainment besides the books we got at the library or taking walks in the woods, but leaving the house at all – whether to pick up new books or find a new trail – was dependent on the weather, and that was a tricky, fickle thing.

So my Auntie Greta told me stories, and she taught me how to tell them too. She taught me that sometimes beginning at the end is more efficient. This story, for instance, began with the end. Auntie Greta and me – we’re the last survivors of the sprawling Greensword family, and our story begins hundreds of years ago. I know as many tales and legends about our family as Auntie Greta does, and maybe a few more since I learned to use the computers at the library and managed to find out some other stories people tell about us.

But out of the dozens of stories Auntie Greta and I told each other, there’s only one that really meant something to us. It was our story; the story of living with the knowledge that we were the last of our kind and that there would be no more. Let me tell you, that was some burden to bear. We’re still living it, Auntie Greta and I. Our story is the ending of a long epic, but it’s not over quite yet.

The Library’s Tale

Once upon a time, there was a library. The library had three floors, each with its own distinct personality, although the decor was very similar in all. There were wooden tables, wooden chairs, some beanbags and many shelves of books upon books.

The library liked its function and enjoyed being useful to people. It knew that it was even a comfort to many, and that felt good. But there were two periods of time, three weeks each, that came every year, and which the library dreaded.

These were the weeks when its doors remained open twenty-four hours a day. Most of the time, it got at least seven hours of peace and quiet every night, and while its doors were shut it could breathe in peace and maybe even nap, allowing the books to whisper among themselves and the wooden tables and chairs to stretch their legs and take strolls up and down the aisles before becoming stationary again in the morning.

None of that could happen during those three week periods, though. Instead, the tables and chairs cramped up from the need to stay in the same place for days; the books got bored and sometimes allowed the humans to hear them whispering (which was dangerous); and the library itself, poor thing, began to smell a little bit, to become shabby around the edges, and to feel pale and sickly. Worst of all, though, it had to hear the way the people inside it criticized it, talked about how much they were sick of it and hated it. The library always felt deeply hurt and wounded by this, even though it knew, rationally, that the people didn’t actually mean it; they were only taking their frustration out on the library because they didn’t know it was sentient.

So the library took it, year after year, but it always dreamed of one day allowing itself to expel – with a violent shove out the door – all those spiteful people who decided to curse it for their own need for all-nighters.

Stage Fright

When I was younger, I loved putting on a show. My friends and I would create little plays with our dolls and perform for each other. I would rally the girls younger than me at old family friends’ dinners and we’d end the evening by enacting some fairy-tale story for the grownups. I participated in drama classes starting in second grade and didn’t stop taking them until my teens.
There was a glitch, though. I didn’t get accepted to the performing arts high school’s drama program, and that broke my heart. Later, when my dad became ill and passed away, I became even more introverted than I’d been before (in all aspects of life except acting, I’d always felt shy and awkward). Acting became a thing of the past, an old dream that was quickly being shadowed by my passion for reading and writing.
I don’t want to be an actress anymore. The pipe dreams of rock-stardom have disappeared as well. But the stage fright that had gripped me melted away during the past few months when I went back to acting in an amateur theater group at my school, a place where I can practice both writing and performing every week with an entirely new show. It’s a hit-or-miss kind of production, and all the more fortifying because it means I’ve seen that a bad show isn’t the end of the world.

Oddly enough, now that the end-of-year performance at the music school I’m taking voice lessons at is upon me, my stage-fright is virtually nil. I need to leave in twenty minutes and I haven’t even picked out what I’m going to wear yet. I know that I’ll probably get rubber legs once I’m onstage, and maybe I’ll even have the nervous jitters in my stomach that’ll be asking me to please run away as fast as I possibly can. But right now, I’m feeling none of that. And while it’s pleasant, I also feel almost too reckless, too uncaring.

UPDATE: And now, back from the concert, I realize what an idiot I was to write this. I jinxed myself or something. I had an awful night, an awful concert; I was out of tune and sang badly. I’ve rarely been as embarrassed as I was tonight, singing the wrong notes in front of a roomful of people, all of whom came only to see their children sing and who were probably wincing at my voice booming out of the bad sound equipment. I know that I’ll get over this. I’ve gotten over worse. But right now? Right now I’m going to allow myself an evening of self-pity and depression. I suppose those are needed sometimes, too.

Creatures of the Mind

Far off in the meadow,

Resides the fairy queen.

She’s always dressed in yellow,

Her face always serene.

**

High up in the cloudy sky,

Santa Clause snores away.

His wife bakes him apple pie,

For warmth on chilly days.

**

Deep down in the earth,

The devil plays at cards.

He welcomes to his turf,

All sinners, cheats and bards.

**

In every theater around,

Dionysus spends some time.

He helps sew up the gowns,

And always shares his wine.

**

The graveyards hold Death,

In all his austere glory.

He’ll take away your breath,

When it’s time – don’t be sorry.

**

In recesses of our minds,

Inside the hearts of all,

Live things we can’t define,

Unreal creatures, great and small.