First snow

firstsnow
We went to service against the wet, white wind,
our cheeks blushing at its advances.
And my daughter asked if there would be snow, and my son repeated the sound.
Mommy said maybe.

In the front of the warm wood sanctuary they lit flames of hope
Atop the heads of purple pillars (and I wondered again why the one was pink),
While snaking down the minister’s stoll were merry signs of threaded gold,
uncoiling on fields of white.

And You talked and we sang of silence,
The moments distilling drop by drop upon each other, upon thirsty tongues.
In those moments we forgot the weariness and worry,
or maybe we gained strength to face it.
Word and Sacrament, a duo of grace…

She colors a picture of Mary,
Who was not much older than her,
laying her new baby into a soft bin of straw.
Everyone smiles in these pictures.
Her little brother screams a lot, so Jesus must look like an angel.
I wonder if she’s envious, but probably she just likes coloring.
I wonder what she will be at thirteen.

After song and word and bell,
There’s treats for the old and treats for the young –
His favorite part of church.
He bears a crumpled cookie in each hand and wonders as he wanders.
I sip church coffee for the warmth.

And glancing outside, we suddenly see white.
A present magic grows in every tiny chest and many an old heart.
Children crowd at windows, fogging them with warm cookie breath and exclaiming:
Snow!

When we left,
Coat-bundled to keep in the heat,
My son suddenly understood this stuff
And raised chubby fingers skyward in awe,
To catch the moment.

I thought to myself
that the prayers we need answered most aren’t even the ones we utter,
And the blessed manna fell like so many starclusters to the blacktop lot,
And it was an answer.

Through fathoms

leagues

That evening in the leaf pile,
My daughter told me that the sky was the surface of the sea,
And that the trees were many-tentacled,
And that we had to hide by the steps until they left.

The dangers lingered,
Impotent until imagined,
And waving ominous puckered arms,
And we shrieked as we ran
(Such fun to be afraid).
The creatures missed us in the shadows by the bench,
And we tumbled back into the foamy reef.

Perhaps the moon shimmered down
From a higher sky through oceans clear as air,
Or maybe it was phosphorus undulating through the waves.

Whatever it was that lit the deep,
We paddled on through auburn piles
And waded among the grasses, strewn like so much seaweed on our path.
And as we lay in leaves looking up
Through fathoms
Speckled with brown and yellow schools of falling fish,
The deep, deep sky reflected us back
And we felt free
In the peaceful rush of the tide.

We saw and understood something
Of life and its mercies,
Leagues below the sky.

The Map

piratemap

The playground near me is small, like me. Mom says it’s just my size. I like it because it has a tall slide. But today there’s a kid at the top.

He sticks out his tongue at me.
“This is my slide.”
I tell him that the park district owns the slide.
“No, I’m on it so I own it.”
I ask if I can have a turn.
“You can’t slide until I’m done.”
I ask how long it will be.
“Hours.” And he spits over the side at me.

He misses, and some of it gets on his sweater. I watch him. He wipes himself off and watches me.

I think about my options.

He is bigger than me, so I can’t push him.
He won’t listen to me, so I can’t talk to him.

I walk to the sandbox nearby and sit on a corner with my back to him. I set my backpack down and suddenly notice a crinkled corner of paper in the side pocket. I pull it out and examine it. It has markings and numbers and x’s on it. It has ink smudges everywhere, and it looks old.

The kid slides to the bottom and climbs back up. He slides again. He climbs again. I think he watches me out of the corner of his eye.

I count under my breath as I look at the paper. I look over my shoulder at him. He sees me do it, and I quickly turn back. I stand, and with my head down I mark out paces by the sandbox.

He slides, but doesn’t climb.
“What are you doing?”
Nothing.
“What’s that you’ve got?”
Nothing.
“No, seriously. Let me see.”
It’s a map.
“For what?”
Not telling.

He comes closer and watches me. I stop pacing and look at him.
“Seriously. What’s the map for?”
I glance over each shoulder, then whisper.
Can you keep a secret?

His eyes get big and he leans in.
“Yeah!”
What’s your name?
“Ben.”
Mine’s Pete. Nice to meet you.
“What’s the map about?”
It looks like a map to buried treasure.
“No way.”
Yes way.
“What kind of treasure?”
I don’t know yet. Do you want to help me find it?

He considers.
“What if you’re lying?”
I’m not lying about it. I could use your help to get it.
“Okay. What’s your name?”
Pete.
“I’m Ben.”
Nice to meet you.
“Where do we start?”

We pace along the walls of the sandbox together, looking carefully at the map. It leads us from the sandbox, around a tree at right angles, toward the gate.

Take Elm to the corner of Madison. We get our bikes. Ben has a cool blue ten-speed with racing stripes. He brags about how he got it for his birthday from his rich uncle. I got mine from my mom. It’s smaller, but fast and red and it has a bell that sounds like a boatswain’s whistle. He thinks that’s pretty cool. He says his bike was so expensive that his mom couldn’t afford it so his uncle got it for him.

We bike to Madison. A riddle about a tiny house with books living in it. There’s a house with a little box lending library attached. They have Sea of Monsters. He likes Tyson. I like Grover. We debate.

We check the number by the riddle against a page number. There’s a yellow post-it note with my address on it – “beware the front gate; go to the back.” The back gate is unlocked. We pace thirteen, left four, right twenty, and find a pile of fresh dirt and two trowels. We unearth a cardboard chest.

Inside are two pirate outfits, two foam swords, and a basket full of chocolate gold coins.

“Sweet! You be Jack Sparrow, I’ll be Blackbeard!”
Okay!

We spar and walk the plank and leap from piles of mulch. We eat too many coins. Ben does a great parrot impression.

Dad walks out the back with lemonade.
“Who’s your friend, Pete?”
This is Ben.
“Hi Ben! Cool swords.”
Ben waves it at him and growls.
“Arrrr ye landlubber!”

We get lemonade.

Dad catches me looking at his hand, and wipes a smudge of black ink from it. He winks.

I turn to Ben.

Come on, let’s go hunting for treasure again.

Pepperoni Joe!

pizzatrain

Whooooooooo
Chugga-wugga pizza train,
It’s Pepperoni Joe!

Hey look, it’s
Pepperoni Joe!
He is the
fastest in the land.
He’s packing
Up his trusty pizza train
And setting up his plan.

You know that
When you order up
He’s gonna
Have it to you quick.
He’s packing
Up his trusty pizza train
With crust both thin and thick.

Whooooooooo
Chugga-wugga pizza train,
It’s Pepperoni Joe!

You know he
Clicks along the track,
And then he
Clacks up with a screech,
And all the
Pizzas slide on forward
So they’re just within his reach.

He checks the
Address on his list
And hurries
Up there with a cheer
And rings the
Doorbell twice and yells real nice:
“The pizza train is here!”

Whooooooooo
Chugga-wugga pizza train,
It’s Pepperoni Joe!

Now one day
Pepperoni Joe
Just got so
Hungry on his route
That he ate
Every single pizza slice
Without a second thought!

Nooooooooooo
Chugga-wugga pizza train,
Now where’d my pizza go?

He chugged on
Up to my front porch
And rang the
Doorbell nice and neat
And said “I’ve
Got a plan, see, I’m your man.
You’ll get your pizza treat!”

He tossed some
Sugar, salt, and yeast
And then some
Water in a bowl
And mixed it
Up with flour for half an hour:
P. Joe was on a roll!

Whooooooooo
Chugga-wugga pizza train,
It’s Pepperoni Joe!

He let it
Rise then spun it high
And then he
Sauced it with a smile
And added
Sausage, cheese and anchovies,
A pepperoni pile!

He opened
Up the oven door
And did a
Dance upon the floor.
“Now let that
Pizza pie cook up on high
For ten minutes or more.”

Whooooooooo
Chugga-wugga pizza train,
It’s Pepperoni Joe.

So when you’re
Hungry for a slice
And want it
Fast and that’s a fact,
Just call the
Pizza train and once again
Old Joe has got your back!

Whooooooooo
Chugga-wugga pizza train,
It’s Pepperoni Joe.

It’s P-E-P-P-E-R-ONI
Pepperoni Joe! Hey!*

 

*”Hey” is optional but recommended

The Archaeologist

archaeology

His brow, it’s taut with focus deep.
Who knows what secrets this place keeps?
The stakes are high and thus require
Determined dimpled chin and mind;
Nothing keeps his focus so.
What treasures will he find?

The finger, slim and nimble, creeps
Down passage long and knuckle-deep.
He snags it, pulls it, draws it out
From depths unseen by human eyes,
And holds it up for all to see:
The treasure that no money buys.

This little blob, he made this heap.
It’s stuff of him, his fruit to reap,
There’s nothing like it anywhere,
Not east nor west nor north nor south.
He transfers nimbly to his thumb
And pops it in his mouth.

Henrietta McFlub and the Great Rainbow Caper

raccoonHenrietta McFlub was a minnow. Like most minnows, she was small and relatively drab.  She all but disappeared in the shallows of Cricket Creek, where she lived with her family. This was considered a good thing by the elders of the minnow community, since minnows make excellent meals for any number of hungry animals. Mud was a good color for hiding.

However, Henrietta had more important things to do than hide. She made colorful outfits out of wild flowers, leaves, and grass. You may think that minnows don’t need outfits, and you would be right. But they enjoy colors just as much as you do. At this point in the history of Cricket Creek, colorful clothing was very popular.

Henrietta was an expert. Bonnets, neckerchiefs, overalls, evening coats and gowns all flew from her sewing needle in brilliant colors as the seasons shifted – late summer goldenrod,  autumn russet, purple coneflower in the spring.

On that fateful September day, it might have been advisable for Henrietta and her friends to have gone with a basic color like mud or scum green, but I will leave you to decide.

Henrietta and her friends Bip and Flicker were playing tag that day in a quiet, shady pool. Henrietta was wearing sunflower yellow, Bip had vest of indigo borage, and Flicker wore a hat made from a particularly bright green leaf Henrietta had found. Flicker was “it”, and had just darted after Bip in a threatening manner when the the world became a rainbow.

Henrietta found herself swimming in a whirlpool of vivid reds, blues, greens, yellows, purples, and oranges. Before she could blink, she felt something she didn’t understand (the feeling of flying, she later discovered) and everything went black.


Finn Chitterack trotted along the road, carrying a suspicious lumpy bundle and looking very pleased with himself. His bright eyes flicked left and right down Cricket Creek, but it wasn’t clear if the raccoon was keeping watch or looking for an audience. He had bagged his loot only moments before.

He skipped forward, leaping high over roots and rocks and humming a tune that sounded remotely like Wabash Cannonball. Finn had a dream. He was making that dream happen, bundle by bundle, and the closer he got to the dream, the more excited he became. And the less likely to watch where his feet were going.

The root reached right up to grab his ankle and down he went, ripping a hole in his sack and unleashing a stream of jelly beans into the shallows of Cricket Creek.


Henrietta could see pinpricks of light in the blackness. Bip and Flicker slipped close to her side. There was about an inch of water in the bag from the hasty scoop, and the friends pushed out a small pocket apart from the weight of the beans. They huddled there, waiting, listening. There was a rattling of metal on metal, a rusty creak, a bump and a dull skittering.  A hole, held closed before, appeared in the side of the bag, and through it she saw a shaft of light for an instant. The rusty creak again, followed by a darkening final clang. Silence.

The water was steadily seeping from the bag.  Henrietta knew she had moments before they couldn’t breathe at all. She dipped under, took a deep breath, and struggled out of the bag, followed by Bip and Flicker.


Finn didn’t mind a little water. He figured his loot would dry off by the time he got back with his last load.

He clambered down the ladder and leapt to the path below. Dusting the rust off his paws, he looked up at the giant goblet of goodies. This water tower had stood by Cricket Creek for as many years as the Hill ‘o’ Beans Candy Factory, and probably more. Visions of paddling round a sea of candy beans, gobbling as he went, played past his eyes. It was almost full. It was almost time. He could almost feel the sugar coma in his face.


Henrietta and her friends heaved themselves over the piles of strawberry, grape, and lime jelly beans toward what looked like a giant wheel. She hoped this opened the exit hatch she had seen.


Mr. Chitterack was no more than twenty paces down the road when an ominous creak reached his ears. He turned, slowly. The tower had creaked, to be sure. He took a step forward and shaded his eyes.


“Again!” called Henrietta.

“I’m losing water!” Bip groaned as he coiled and sprang.

“Again!”

Flicker slipped and skittered down, gasping on the slope. Bip and Henrietta landed on the spoke, and the ceiling of the tower became a star field of colors as sunlight poured through the heap.


Finn Chitterack stood and watched years of candy beans waterfall into Cricket Creek. He sat and watched his beautiful, transcendent trove float lazily down the river toward the dam. He lay back and watched the cerulean sky, pondering life and its many mysteries as he listened to the steady rush and plop of beans falling into the river.


Henrietta and her friends understood what it meant to fly.


Shortly after the torrent subsided, Finn had determined to leave a life of crime and become a vicar. He stood long, looking at the creek, and picked up four beans that had fallen by the wayside. He ate them one by one, with great reverence, then slung his empty sack over his shoulder and trudged away up the creek path.


For weeks after, the more human types along the creek marveled at the sweetness of the water. Folks near the dam told tales of a rainbow of colors cascading from the gates (which no one believed because the colors immediately churned into an unassuming brown).

And everybody commented on how fast the minnows were swimming.

DROOGLE

droogle

(this awesome person drew this)

(to be read with growls and grumblings)

One day DROOGLE woke up with his tummy RUM-DRUM-GRUMBLING.

So DROOGLE ate a leathery weatheredy boot that was (barely) missing an owner. But DROOGLE was still hungry.

So DROOGLE took a bite out of a flippy flappy book (down, DROOGLE, down!) But DROOGLE was still hungry.

So DROOGLE gobbled a rubbery flubbery tire, from a car that had (almost) no need of it. But DROOGLE was still hungry.

So DROOGLE munched on an dingy wingy swing set that was (slightly) unoccupied. But DROOGLE was still hungry.

So DROOGLE crunched on a squeaky creaky boat. The owner had (recently) discarded it. But DROOGLE was still hungry.

So DROOGLE swallowed a tooting scooting train whose passengers had (just) left. But DROOGLE was still hungry.

DROOGLE downed three chugging, tugging tractors that were (quickly) left alone by three farmers. But DROOGLE was still so very, very hungry.

DROOGLE was sad, because nothing stopped his chubby, fuzzy tummy from RUM-DRUM-GRUMBLING all day long.

Then, DROOGLE saw a gleaming, steaming present from the (terrified) townsfolk.

DROOGLE sniffed and whiffed.
DROOGLE picked and licked.
DROOGLE ate every last tasty-basty bit.

THIS was what DROOGLE wanted all along. If only DROOGLE had known!

DROOGLE was full of yummy scrummies.
DROOGLE sat back and patted DROOGLE’S roly-poly tummy.
DROOGLE started snoring snoozily.

And the townsfolk fell asleep too, and slept (almost) mighty-tighty all nighty long, until early in the morning when…

…DROOGLE’S tummy went RUM-DRUM-GRUMBLY!

(Also, seriously, check out Josie’s stuff on Facebook and Instagram. You won’t be sorry.)

Acorns

img_4815-2

Acorns, breathless, released their grip on the old oak, dropped for a heart-stopping moment, and struck gravel.  They rattled several feet from impact, losing their tattered caps along the way, and settled on the creekside path.  Perhaps they congratulated themselves for their bravery.

Little Brooklyn gathered them studiously.

“The squirrels need their dinner.”

Mummy provided a vessel.

“They will love this dinner.  What do you think they will do with it?”

“They make acorn bread and acorn stew and acorn honey and peanut butter sandwiches and acorn cake with pink frosting and acorn ice cream.”

Mummy, whose alternate and mildly educational explanation involved burying the acorns in the ground for winter snacks, thought better of providing a statement of such exclusivity.

“Perhaps they do, Brook. Perhaps they do.”

They trundled down the path, Brooklyn pausing every few steps to add more acorns to her cup. She had a patience for the task that far surpassed the short attention spans of adults. Perhaps due to the notion that their tasks take on increasing importance, adults lose the ability to be patient over time. It is primarily an attribute of the young.

“Brook, we must get home for our own dinner.”

“I’m picking up acorns for the squirrels, Mummy.”

On cue, a squirrel appeared ahead of them.  He jerked his way along the path, pulled by an invisible string in his nose.  He was round in the cheek.  Brooklyn scooped several acorns into her fist and hurried forward.  The squirrel, sensing danger of the toddler variety, scurried across the path and corkscrewed up an old oak.  He chunnered merrily to himself, anxious as any squirrel and enjoying every minute of his anxiety.

Brooklyn spiraled around the tree dutifully.  Following a squirrel ’round a tree seems a primordial pleasure, similar to scratching an itch or hugging those who cry.  Perhaps an eternal hope springs up in our hearts: this time, I’ll catch the uncatchable.

This time, Brooklyn did not.  But she did get dizzy and collapsed to the forest floor, giggling even in her defeat.

Mummy caught up.

“Oh, honey, I don’t think we’ll catch him.”

Brooklyn nodded solemnly. “But we can leave the acorns for him.”

“That’s a wonderful idea.”

And they found a knot near the base of the tree, and Brooklyn unloaded, acorn by acorn, her precious, delectable trove. The squirrel peered down benevolently at this strange little creature and her abundant sacrifice.

Brooklyn stepped back and located the squirrel.

“There’s your dinner!” she hollered up to him.

The squirrel ducked back.

Brooklyn stood looking up for a moment or two before Mummy moved in.

“Time to move along, darling, we have to be home for dinner.”

Brooklyn nodded.”But what about the squirrel dinner?”

Mummy thought.

“Well, Brook, squirrels are suspicious of strangers.  Maybe if we left it there overnight, he would come down and take it off of the root.  We can come back tomorrow and see.”

Brooklyn pondered this, and it seemed good to her. She took her mother’s hand and turned toward home.

For several moments afterward, nothing but the early evening buzz of the woodland was heard.  A rustle, a scrabble, and Mr. Silas Squirrel poked his head around the corner of the oak tree, cautious but excited.  He carried a small burlap sack on his back.

“Hmn, well isn’t that, yes, a wonderful find, yes, wonderful find.”

He rolled the acorns in his paws carefully, checking for spots and mold before popping them, one by one, into his bag. He shouldered the lot and, moving with the agility of many seasons, scampered three-legged up the trunk.

“Hmn, now, Mrs. Squirrel, I’ve, hm, I’ve brought us something wonderful. ‘Tis indeed.”

Mrs. Squirrel bustled over to him and gave him a peck on the cheek, taking the sack in one motion.

“Why Silas T. Squirrel, where did you ever find so many…”

“Oh well, it was, er, nothing hm, now really…”

But Mrs. Squirrel was already excitedly preparing her kitchen for this arrival and didn’t hear the blame-shifting.  This was all for the best, in Silas T. Squirrel’s mind.  He propped his paws upon a chair near the window and leaned back as Mrs. Squirrel prepared her kitchen.

“So, hmn honey bumpkins, what shall we have tonight from such a find?”

“Oh, acorn bread, acorn stew, acorn honey and peanut butter sandwiches for the children, and acorn ice cream and cake with pink frosting for dessert.”

“Splendid.”

And he chunnered to himself.

“Yes, quite a find, quite a find. Indeed.”

 

 

Stories

stories

The old man rocked and rocked and rocked
The same old chair, the same old place,
The same old frown upon his face.
“Nothing new,” he croaks and sighs
“Everything is made for flies,
I’ve seen it all so now I’ll die.”

His daughter’s daughter clambers up
And gestures mildly with her cup.
“Whaddaya mean, Grampop,” she peeps,
And settles curls on wrinkled cheek.

“All the stories have been told
From time to time, they all are old,
Aged, useless, and so am I.
I’ve seen it all so now I’ll die.”

“You’re silly Grampoppa,” she giggled away,
“I’ve just read a brand new story today
With princesses, dragons and trolls and moats,
And a city in clouds that bobs and floats.”

“Derivative!” snarled the Grumpop, sitting,
“And hardly worth the time, not fitting
For young impressionable minds
Find something better to do with your time.”

“Well Grampop, I don’t believe that’s true.
Every story I read is new.
What about this one – a really great read,
About a young lady and brilliant white steed,
And the horse has great wings, and the lady can fly
On her steed over mountains up into the sky.”

“Child, that’s barely a plot line at best.”

“But Grampop, just wait ’til I tell you the rest.
She saves this whole village she grew up in, poor,
And if that isn’t enough, I’ve got more.

There’s this story about a humongous old mole
Who gets loose and climbs snarling up out of his hole,
But it turns out he only wants jelly beans, stat,
So they feed him and send him back down, how ’bout that?

And then there’s this one with a dog made of rain,
And the one where a berry bush grows from a drain,
And the wishing bench guarded by gnomes and wee elves,
And the furniture people who hide in the shelves.”

“Good grief, my darling, these stories are silly.”

“Oh no they’re not, Grampop, it’s you that is, really.
Don’t tell me you don’t know the one about mops
You can fly on like brooms but you never can stop,
Or the one with the things that hide in the dark,
That turn into dust at the song of the lark.”

“I’ve not heard of that one, I guess. All the same,
What are you thinking to prove with this game?”

“Then there’s the gnat who grows big as the moon,
So he flies off the world into space, none too soon.
The man-eating letters,
The bees who make sweaters,
A macaroni boat on an ocean of cheese!
The mouse with a limp,
The tap-dancing shrimp,
And the circus of kids run by fleas!”

“Okay now, okay!  I get your point, child.
Just where did you read all these stories? They’re wild!
In all of my life, I’ve not heard of such stuff.”

“That’s because, Grampop, I made it all up.”
And she smiled and leapt down off his lap with her cup.

He sat a while rocking and rocking, and slow,
His mind afire with newfound things,
And thoughtfully, watched her blond curls go
On down the hill to make use of the swings.

“Well, sweetheart, what a gift to give:
You’ll never see it all; so live.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charley’s War

charleyswar

The night was a starless one in late summer, the type when you leave the windows open for a cool breeze and the crickets lull you to sleep.

Charley knew the danger.

“Mommy, you can’t close the curtains all the way. If you leave one open They can’t get in.”

“Charlotte, honey, the streetlights are too bright. You won’t sleep. You still have your nightlight.”

So the curtain was closed, the blue-green faded ballerina light was turned on. Charley was tucked into bed with a brush of a kiss and a pat on the head. She closed her eyes to a slit, her whole being set for action, as her mother closed the door.

Click.

Shuffle.

Creak.

Charley was out of bed in a heartbeat, padding like a cat across the muddy carpet. She knew the urgency.

“Philemon, up.”

A breeze wafted the curtain, throwing splatters of light from the streetlamp to the ceiling. The crickets droned. She had ten seconds at most.

“Up, Philly!”

Breathless, she tied her blanket tight around her neck, draping it skillfully to the floor. She felt on the third shelf of the bookcase for her tiara, frantic, grasping. Philemon lifted his fuzzy head with the blank stare of the recently awakened.

“Wassat.”

“Philly, They’re coming.”

Philemon blinked three times, slowly. Then alarm entered his black eyes. Charley had her tiara on.

The curtain suddenly stopped hovering and fell back, hanging like a dead thing from the gallows. The knife-edge of lamplight disappeared.

Charley whirled, reaching desperately behind the bookcase, shielding the nightlight with her pink cloak.

Fingers of darkness began soaking the edge of the window, like a towel catching water from an overflowing bath. Slowly, slowly, at first, then more quickly until the stain was almost a foot wide on every side. The air was still, offensive, and Charley covered her mouth with a corner of her cloak to filter it.

Philemon T. Bear leapt from the bed to her side, his small form growing to child-size as he landed. He turned to the window and produced a heart-shaped shield of red metal, emblazoned with his family’s coat of arms.

“How many?”

“As many as last night.”

The stain grew to two feet.

“Or… maybe more.”

Click. Shuffle. Creak.

To the untrained eye, the change was subtle. Charley knew the signs, knew to look for the places where emptiness replaced darkness, and saw the claws grasping the edge, the dribbling tentacles slip to the floor, the horns, the teeth, the eyeless heads.

“Hold, Philemon.”

Philemon held, readying his weapons. Her hand found what it had been looking for.

The Nightmares gathered at the corners of the window, cautious, smelling the air and reaching out. In her favor was that they couldn’t see her, being eyeless, and they always assumed, being witless, that she would be in her bed.

Philemon growled low. Their heads snapped toward him, and silently the bodies followed.

“Hold.”

The Nightmares heard her. They moved more quickly toward the corner.

“Now!”

Philemon stretched his bow as she threw back her cloak. The warm glow of the nightlight blasted the first two rows of Nightmares into ash. The back rows fell to the edges of the glow, clicking and gnashing their empty teeth at them, but couldn’t escape the first salvo from Philemon’s bow.

Philemon had recently sharpened his extensive collection of Crayolas, and now put them to good use. A tentacled mass was decimated in midair by Forest Green, and Electric Pink snuffed out the scuttling blight to his left.

Charley drew her wand, acquired at great price ($2.25 plus tax) from a street fair vendor two weeks earlier, and lit it by whacking the head off a snaky blot who’d slid past the line.  The red and blue flashing lights confused the demons, and the rubber spikes hardened to titanium in her hand. The flying ones attempted dives at her head but rebounded back from her crown.

She cut down great swaths of Nightmares, leaping and spinning, stabbing and swatting, Philemon by her side, firing Tangerine’s and Cherry Red’s into the heart of the horde.  Together they whirled around the room, by the bookcase, atop the table, bouncing from the bed. Her heart sung in her chest as each fell, and their numbers could not dismay her.

Until the nightlight flickered.

She glanced back at it, doubtful, and tread on her cloak.

Her blanket slid from her back. She fell, it seemed in slow motion, from the bed, landing on Philemon and crushing two crayons and her tiara beneath her. Her wand slipped in the process, and landed a foot from her wild hands. It flashed twice, and with no further impact to keep it alight, went dark.

The nightlight flickered again, and the Nightmares, sensing weakness, grew larger, closer, substantial.

“Milady!”

Philemon struggled out from under her and leapt to the fore, his shield blazing red as he took a blow meant for her.

“Quick, take my cloak.”

The sturdy knit shrunk in her hands to the size of a doll’s blanket, useless.

“Milady, you must believe!”

Charley slid to the wall, setting her back to it and turning her face from the darkness. Philemon leaped to her, smaller, smaller, his shield slipping. The Nightmares cackled in triumph, flaunting their growing reality, and closed in.

Charley cried out.

Click.

Shuffle.

Creak.

The door swung open. Life-giving lamplight scattered the closest monsters into nothing, and the others cringed. Charley looked.

Her mother, framed in glory, stepped brazen into the fray, broom in hand. She swept back the horde, catching a web-winged object full in the face and laying a spiky hulk flat into fragments. Charley recovered enough to retrieve her wand, and knocked the nearest many-legged creature into the bookcase. It exploded to absence with a satisfying splorch.

In seconds it was over. Her mother lifted Charley in her arms and held her, stroking her hair.

“I’m here.”

Charley clung to her for a good while. Being five (almost six), of course, she didn’t really need that long, but she wanted her mother to feel needed too… Eventually, her mother carried her to bed, fished the blanket from behind the bed, and tucked her in tight.

“I’m always here.”

She picked up the broken pieces of warfare from the floor and placed them on a shelf.  Then she dusted Philemon off, set his shield right, tied off his cloak, and slid him in next to Charley. Charley held him tight, her stalwart, and whispered.

“Th… the nightlight is going out.”

Her mother saw the flickering and exited, returning in moments with a new bulb. The light now shone steady.

“Charley, I’m here with you. Even when you can’t see me, I’m here.”

A snuggle. A kiss. A whispered love. And she was gone. But she left a spell of protection behind her in the room, one which the Nightmares couldn’t break. The darkness seeped away, and the night breeze wafted the streetlight’s glow onto the ceiling.

Charley slept.

 

 

 

“Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.”

G. K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles