Golden Bird Lays Pretty Eggs

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Lottie perched at table, beheld a patterned pysansky preserved in waxed glory. ”Exquisite egg.”

Nina sipped tea. “Family heirloom.”

“European,” Lottie asked.

“A tale from Ukraine goes with it. A girl found hundreds of golden birds stiff with cold, helped a few, and found homes for the rest. ”

“How kind.” Would that there were more kindness.

“In spring, the villagers who’d fostered them released the birds who Easter next flew to each house. This egg and hundreds of others appeared on doorsteps throughout the village, a thanks from the grateful birds.”

“A beautiful story, more so even than the eggs.”

Foolish Woman Not So Dumb

Baba Yaga, foolish old woman, rattler of chicken bones magicked from soup. Her elder son nurses historic delusions. In the younger one, hope persists. Hers is tough love at best. Battles rage. Forgotten, the soup gets cold.

Baba Yaga makes a cake with pears, no mushrooms. She absorbs the stove into herself, casting a spell on the forest. Her heart, a net to catch the half-cracked madness. The cake, an irresistible odor summoning the children to the table in Baba Yaga’s stilt perched house. As they eat, she turns the house upside down, shaking up what had seemed inevitable.

The Truth at Slant

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A bomb exploded. The bean stalk shook. A clear violation of fairy tale neutrality. Reaching a hand through the palace window and grabbing a Russian MIG, the giant nearly ate the pilot, but there was no salt.

The poor man shivered.

The giantess finished an aleph in her sampler. “Young idiot, you could have hit the Golden Goose.”

“That’s a fairy tale,” said the pilot.

“Poor deluded man. Hermie, call that nice rabbi in Moscow. We need a golem.”

A light broke in the pilot’s face. “Because first we came for the Ukrainians?”

Zelda smiled, though it was more complicated.

Freedom Fighters

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Here’s a story my grandpa told about a friend he had from Birmingham. He’d gather us kids around and we’d listen, the big ones shushing the little ones and holding them on our laps. Must’a been near a hundred when he died, but what he told us lives on.

I knew it was over when Jesse told me his people could fly. We were down at the creek and when he said it I had a feeling that the Old South was destined to collapse like a circus tent after the last performance. Not that I’d ever say that to my daddy. He was sympathetic to old Dixie. Figured things had to change some after the North won the war. But he couldn’t see it changing that much.

“Come on,” Jesse said. “I’ll show you.”

Instead of digging crawdads for supper, we spent the afternoon leaping from boulders, arms spread, rolling into the water. We confessed to Jesse’s mama in the kitchen at the big house. Thanks to her being from a long line of Gullah storytellers, she forgave us. That tale of magic, passed down by word of mouth from one generation to the next, saved our hides.

Me and Jesse, we stayed in touch even when I went up to Boston for school. When I come back six years later to practice law at my daddy’s firm, Jesse was the first one I hired. He was whip smart; did my research. I wished he’d had a law degree. He fled north when vigilantes carried out their coup against some of our duly elected aldermen, 1898 I believe, in Wilmington. I gave him a password so he could get through the cordon the Klan set up the night before all the bloodshed. In the dark, he could pass. The way that damned mob went through destroying the businesses in the colored section of town was enough to make you think the whole thing was over, the whole Emancipation. But it wasn’t. Like so many of the survivors, the wish for justice went into hiding but it never died.

Jesse was lucky. He settled in DC, where he got another law job with a friend of mine from school. I tried to get him to come back to Wilmington, but he found his calling in the capitol. I sat in the front row at his law school graduation. Turned out he was good at organizing and that city was ripe for protest. Much of the segregation in Washington was enforced by custom, not law. They had more marches there than a centipede has legs. I visited him, but he never come down to North Carolina. Not until 1965 when he stopped on his way to Alabama for what he said might be his last protest, but maybe his best.

Me and Jessie were ninety years old, riding in that caravan our kids started to Montgomery to hear Dr. King speak. It was six carloads all told. Seniors at the wheel, a passel of squirming grandchildren in the back while them could walk marched across the Pettus Bridge. Jesse and I looked at each other when Dr. King said the words, “…the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Afterwards, Jesse said, “That moral arc Dr. King talked about must be a rainbow. You need faith to believe there’s an end to it.”

“And do you? Have faith?” I thought I knew the answer to that, but I didn’t expect him to say what he did.

“If anybody’s going to find justice at the end of a rainbow, it’s the people who fly?” He picked up his two year old great-granddaughter. “You remember that story, don’t you?”

I nodded.

Then he passed that child, arms spread, to her mother and said. “This one’s in training.”

So that’s the story. That little girl was my play cousin Sarah. You’ve met her. A tiny woman. Strong as an eagle, wise like an owl. She’s flying with a slew of others across the land. They’re darkening the sky for justice, a righteous swarm of freedom fighters. They carry the message that we are a nation of laws, not custom; that faith is not enough. In the spots where the sun shines through the clouds of flapping wings, both ends of the rainbow are within reach of anyone with the will and the courage to fly.

Christmas Coal

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La Befana, the Christmas witch, and Old St. Nick sipped eggnog in front of an electric fire.

Befana said, “Here’s to generosity and goodwill.”

St. Nick said, “How long have you been giving gifts?”

“A lady never reveals her age, but I’m from that old time religion.”

Nick said, “Eons?”

“You’re right and also very wicked. I’d leave you coal in your boot, but it’s out of fashion.”

St. Nick said, “Don’t I wish. If they keep burning that stuff, the North Pole will melt away. Mermaids will replace elves in the workshop. For the sleigh, porpoises instead of reindeer.”

Can’t Catch Me

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It was the season for gingerbread. Cinnamon, nutmeg, and other delicious smells wafted through the village from the bakery at the edge of the forest. It was the year the old woman who had baked him and the old man he called father had passed.

The Gingerbread Boy kept the business going, paddling cookies in and out of the ovens. On the day he learned that the estate went to the man’s brother, who did not accept him as a nephew, the orphan decided to make headlines. He ran for his life, beating every Olympic record and securing his future.

The Customer is Wildly Wrong

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The boat salesman overheard three men planning a rafting trip. When they approached the register, he estimated their combined weight at six hundred pounds and knew that the tub they’d picked would not make it through the calms, let alone the rapids.

“This one’s rated at two hundred fifty pounds. Two small women. Three children at most.”

He didn’t add that even one of these gentlemen would be enough to sink it.

“Well now, I reckon we can read,” said the ginger-haired man.

The mutton-chopped guy put down a credit card. “Customer’s always right.”

The salesman thought, Not this time.

From the Immortal Poets, Guaire the Generous

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It was a fine table Guaire set for the poets who stayed in his castle. But Seanchan, the most renowned, was displeased. “What victuals these? Better suited to cats than to learned men.” And by cats he meant the nobles filling their faces down the table. “So fat these cats, the mice run wild in the kitchen.”

When Irusan, King of the Cats, heard this insult, he came to kill Seanchan. Loading the bard on his back, he ran like the wind until they encountered St. Kieran who ran a hot poker through Irusan, saving Seanchan to reconcile with Guaire.

Retold from Ancient Legends of Ireland by Lady Wilde.

Looking for the Light

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“Why do you fear the dark?”

“It’s too quiet. It blocks my sight.” Dagny’s bright yellow hair contrasted with Lilith’s dark curls.

“Close your eyes,” she said.

He did. Reluctantly.

“What do you see?” Lilith moved a hand across his shuttered gaze.

“A flash, dark, flash.”

She dropped her hand to her lap. “Then gather the light that is left behind your lids and see my form in your mind’s eye.”

To begin, Lilith was a shadow. Her hair was the first to differentiate itself. Then her lips and her eyes, and once her face appeared, Dagny had no fear.

Inspired by Jane Yolen’s The Moon Child.

Independence Day- Stone Soup

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“Where ya goin’?” Not that Fred needed the wall anymore. The war was over.

“You want some soup?” Neville, prone to compromise, hoisted a weathered quartz.

Fred sneered. “What’s it now? Stone soup?”

Neville nodded, making his way across the field.

When Fred joined the other villagers, he saw three strangers. Soldiers. Fred spat at their feet.

“What’s independence with nothing to eat?”

“There will be.” Despite tattered clothes, the speaker had a commanding air.

Fred sat on the ground. Neville joined him. “There’s more than stones. Sausage, potato, and carrots. A right good Independence Day. We can start again.”

See the Stone Soup entry at Wikipedia if you’re not familiar with this folk tale.