Day 85 The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde Published 1906
Please read this story on Project Gutenberg. There are beautiful illustrations that accompany the story. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/14522/14522-h/14522-h.htm
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Day 86 Cinderella by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm Published 1812
A rich man's wife became sick, and when she felt that her end was drawing near, she called her only daughter to her bedside and said, "Dear child, remain pious and good, and then our dear God will always protect you, and I will look down on you from heaven and be near you." With this she closed her eyes and died.
The girl went out to her mother's grave every day and wept, and she remained pious and good. When winter came the snow spread a white cloth over the grave, and when the spring sun had removed it again, the man took himself another wife.
This wife brought two daughters into the house with her. They were beautiful, with fair faces, but evil and dark hearts. Times soon grew very bad for the poor stepchild.
"Why should that stupid goose sit in the parlor with us?" they said. "If she wants to eat bread, then she will have to earn it. Out with this kitchen maid!"
They took her beautiful clothes away from her, dressed her in an old gray smock, and gave her wooden shoes. "Just look at the proud princess! How decked out she is!" they shouted and laughed as they led her into the kitchen.
There she had to do hard work from morning until evening, get up before daybreak, carry water, make the fires, cook, and wash. Besides this, the sisters did everything imaginable to hurt her. They made fun of her, scattered peas and lentils into the ashes for her, so that she had to sit and pick them out again. In the evening when she had worked herself weary, there was no bed for her. Instead she had to sleep by the hearth in the ashes. And because she always looked dusty and dirty, they called her Cinderella.
One day it happened that the father was going to the fair, and he asked his two stepdaughters what he should bring back for them.
"Beautiful dresses," said the one.
"Pearls and jewels," said the other.
"And you, Cinderella," he said, "what do you want?"
"Father, break off for me the first twig that brushes against your hat on your way home."
So he bought beautiful dresses, pearls, and jewels for his two stepdaughters. On his way home, as he was riding through a green thicket, a hazel twig brushed against him and knocked off his hat. Then he broke off the twig and took it with him. Arriving home, he gave his stepdaughters the things that they had asked for, and he gave Cinderella the twig from the hazel bush.
Cinderella thanked him, went to her mother's grave, and planted the branch on it, and she wept so much that her tears fell upon it and watered it. It grew and became a beautiful tree.
Cinderella went to this tree three times every day, and beneath it she wept and prayed. A white bird came to the tree every time, and whenever she expressed a wish, the bird would throw down to her what she had wished for.
Now it happened that the king proclaimed a festival that was to last three days. All the beautiful young girls in the land were invited, so that his son could select a bride for himself. When the two stepsisters heard that they too had been invited, they were in high spirits.
They called Cinderella, saying, "Comb our hair for us. Brush our shoes and fasten our buckles. We are going to the festival at the king's castle."
Cinderella obeyed, but wept, because she too would have liked to go to the dance with them. She begged her stepmother to allow her to go.
"You, Cinderella?" she said. "You, all covered with dust and dirt, and you want to go to the festival?. You have neither clothes nor shoes, and yet you want to dance!"
However, because Cinderella kept asking, the stepmother finally said, "I have scattered a bowl of lentils into the ashes for you. If you can pick them out again in two hours, then you may go with us."
The girl went through the back door into the garden, and called out, "You tame pigeons, you turtledoves, and all you birds beneath the sky, come and help me to gather:
The good ones go into the pot, The bad ones go into your crop."
Two white pigeons came in through the kitchen window, and then the turtledoves, and finally all the birds beneath the sky came whirring and swarming in, and lit around the ashes. The pigeons nodded their heads and began to pick, pick, pick, pick. And the others also began to pick, pick, pick, pick. They gathered all the good grains into the bowl. Hardly one hour had passed before they were finished, and they all flew out again.
The girl took the bowl to her stepmother, and was happy, thinking that now she would be allowed to go to the festival with them.
But the stepmother said, "No, Cinderella, you have no clothes, and you don't know how to dance. Everyone would only laugh at you."
Cinderella began to cry, and then the stepmother said, "You may go if you are able to pick two bowls of lentils out of the ashes for me in one hour," thinking to herself, "She will never be able to do that."
The girl went through the back door into the garden, and called out, "You tame pigeons, you turtledoves, and all you birds beneath the sky, come and help me to gather: The good ones go into the pot, The bad ones go into your crop."
Two white pigeons came in through the kitchen window, and then the turtledoves, and finally all the birds beneath the sky came whirring and swarming in, and lit around the ashes. The pigeons nodded their heads and began to pick, pick, pick, pick. And the others also began to pick, pick, pick, pick. They gathered all the good grains into the bowls. Before a half hour had passed they were finished, and they all flew out again.
The girl took the bowls to her stepmother, and was happy, thinking that now she would be allowed to go to the festival with them.
But the stepmother said, "It's no use. You are not coming with us, for you have no clothes, and you don't know how to dance. We would be ashamed of you." With this she turned her back on Cinderella, and hurried away with her two proud daughters.
Now that no one else was at home, Cinderella went to her mother's grave beneath the hazel tree, and cried out: Shake and quiver, little tree, Throw gold and silver down to me.
Then the bird threw a gold and silver dress down to her, and slippers embroidered with silk and silver. She quickly put on the dress and went to the festival.
Her stepsisters and her stepmother did not recognize her. They thought she must be a foreign princess, for she looked so beautiful in the golden dress. They never once thought it was Cinderella, for they thought that she was sitting at home in the dirt, looking for lentils in the ashes.
The prince approached her, took her by the hand, and danced with her. Furthermore, he would dance with no one else. He never let go of her hand, and whenever anyone else came and asked her to dance, he would say, "She is my dance partner."
She danced until evening, and then she wanted to go home. But the prince said, "I will go along and escort you," for he wanted to see to whom the beautiful girl belonged. However, she eluded him and jumped into the pigeon coop. The prince waited until her father came, and then he told him that the unknown girl had jumped into the pigeon coop.
The old man thought, "Could it be Cinderella?"
He had them bring him an ax and a pick so that he could break the pigeon coop apart, but no one was inside. When they got home Cinderella was lying in the ashes, dressed in her dirty clothes. A dim little oil-lamp was burning in the fireplace. Cinderella had quickly jumped down from the back of the pigeon coop and had run to the hazel tree. There she had taken off her beautiful clothes and laid them on the grave, and the bird had taken them away again. Then, dressed in her gray smock, she had returned to the ashes in the kitchen.
The next day when the festival began anew, and her parents and her stepsisters had gone again, Cinderella went to the hazel tree and said: Shake and quiver, little tree, Throw gold and silver down to me.
Then the bird threw down an even more magnificent dress than on the preceding day. When Cinderella appeared at the festival in this dress, everyone was astonished at her beauty. The prince had waited until she came, then immediately took her by the hand, and danced only with her. When others came and asked her to dance with them, he said, "She is my dance partner."
When evening came she wanted to leave, and the prince followed her, wanting to see into which house she went. But she ran away from him and into the garden behind the house. A beautiful tall tree stood there, on which hung the most magnificent pears. She climbed as nimbly as a squirrel into the branches, and the prince did not know where she had gone. He waited until her father came, then said to him, "The unknown girl has eluded me, and I believe she has climbed up the pear tree.
The father thought, "Could it be Cinderella?" He had an ax brought to him and cut down the tree, but no one was in it. When they came to the kitchen, Cinderella was lying there in the ashes as usual, for she had jumped down from the other side of the tree, had taken the beautiful dress back to the bird in the hazel tree, and had put on her gray smock.
On the third day, when her parents and sisters had gone away, Cinderella went again to her mother's grave and said to the tree: Shake and quiver, little tree, Throw gold and silver down to me.
This time the bird threw down to her a dress that was more splendid and magnificent than any she had yet had, and the slippers were of pure gold. When she arrived at the festival in this dress, everyone was so astonished that they did not know what to say. The prince danced only with her, and whenever anyone else asked her to dance, he would say, "She is my dance partner."
When evening came Cinderella wanted to leave, and the prince tried to escort her, but she ran away from him so quickly that he could not follow her. The prince, however, had set a trap. He had had the entire stairway smeared with pitch. When she ran down the stairs, her left slipper stuck in the pitch. The prince picked it up. It was small and dainty, and of pure gold.
The next morning, he went with it to the man, and said to him, "No one shall be my wife except for the one whose foot fits this golden shoe."
The two sisters were happy to hear this, for they had pretty feet. With her mother standing by, the older one took the shoe into her bedroom to try it on. She could not get her big toe into it, for the shoe was too small for her. Then her mother gave her a knife and said, "Cut off your toe. When you are queen you will no longer have to go on foot."
The girl cut off her toe, forced her foot into the shoe, swallowed the pain, and went out to the prince. He took her on his horse as his bride and rode away with her. However, they had to ride past the grave, and there, on the hazel tree, sat the two pigeons, crying out: Rook di goo, rook di goo! There's blood in the shoe. The shoe is too tight, This bride is not right!
Then he looked at her foot and saw how the blood was running from it. He turned his horse around and took the false bride home again, saying that she was not the right one, and that the other sister should try on the shoe. She went into her bedroom, and got her toes into the shoe all right, but her heel was too large.
Then her mother gave her a knife, and said, "Cut a piece off your heel. When you are queen you will no longer have to go on foot."
The girl cut a piece off her heel, forced her foot into the shoe, swallowed the pain, and went out to the prince. He took her on his horse as his bride and rode away with her. When they passed the hazel tree, the two pigeons were sitting in it, and they cried out: Rook di goo, rook di goo! There's blood in the shoe. The shoe is too tight, This bride is not right!
He looked down at her foot and saw how the blood was running out of her shoe, and how it had stained her white stocking all red. Then he turned his horse around and took the false bride home again.
"This is not the right one, either," he said. "Don't you have another daughter?"
"No," said the man. "There is only a deformed little Cinderella from my first wife, but she cannot possibly be the bride."
The prince told him to send her to him, but the mother answered, "Oh, no, she is much too dirty. She cannot be seen."
But the prince insisted on it, and they had to call Cinderella. She first washed her hands and face clean, and then went and bowed down before the prince, who gave her the golden shoe. She sat down on a stool, pulled her foot out of the heavy wooden shoe, and put it into the slipper, and it fitted her perfectly.
When she stood up the prince looked into her face, and he recognized the beautiful girl who had danced with him. He cried out, "She is my true bride."
The stepmother and the two sisters were horrified and turned pale with anger. The prince, however, took Cinderella onto his horse and rode away with her. As they passed by the hazel tree, the two white pigeons cried out: Rook di goo, rook di goo! No blood's in the shoe. The shoe's not too tight, This bride is right!
After they had cried this out, they both flew down and lit on Cinderella's shoulders, one on the right, the other on the left, and remained sitting there.
When the wedding with the prince was to be held, the two false sisters came, wanting to gain favor with Cinderella and to share her good fortune. When the bridal couple walked into the church, the older sister walked on their right side and the younger on their left side, and the pigeons pecked out one eye from each of them. Afterwards, as they came out of the church, the older one was on the left side, and the younger one on the right side, and then the pigeons pecked out the other eye from each of them. And thus, for their wickedness and falsehood, they were punished with blindness as long as they lived.
Rapunzel by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm First published 1812
Once upon a time there was a man and a woman who had long, but to no avail, wished for a child. Finally the woman came to believe that the good Lord would fulfill her wish. Through the small rear window of these people's house they could see into a splendid garden that was filled with the most beautiful flowers and herbs. The garden was surrounded by a high wall, and no one dared enter, because it belonged to a sorceress who possessed great power and was feared by everyone.
One day the woman was standing at this window, and she saw a bed planted with the most beautiful rapunzel. It looked so fresh and green that she longed for some. It was her greatest desire to eat some of the rapunzel. This desire increased with every day, and not knowing how to get any, she became miserably ill.
Her husband was frightened, and asked her, "What ails you, dear wife?"
"Oh," she answered, "if I do not get some rapunzel from the garden behind our house, I shall die." The man, who loved her dearly, thought, "Before you let your wife die, you must get her some of the rapunzel, whatever the cost."
So just as it was getting dark he climbed over the high wall into the sorceress's garden, hastily dug up a handful of rapunzel, and took it to his wife. She immediately made a salad from it, which she devoured eagerly. It tasted so very good to her that by the next day her desire for more had grown threefold. If she were to have any peace, the man would have to climb into the garden once again. Thus he set forth once again just as it was getting dark. But no sooner than he had climbed over the wall than, to his horror, he saw the sorceress standing there before him.
"How can you dare," she asked with an angry look, "to climb into my garden and like a thief to steal my rapunzel? You will pay for this."
"Oh," he answered, "Let mercy overrule justice. I came to do this out of necessity. My wife saw your rapunzel from our window, and such a longing came over her, that she would die, if she did not get some to eat."
The sorceress's anger abated somewhat, and she said, "If things are as you say, I will allow you to take as much rapunzel as you want. But under one condition: You must give me the child that your wife will bring to the world. It will do well, and I will take care of it like a mother."
In his fear the man agreed to everything.
When the woman gave birth, the sorceress appeared, named the little girl Rapunzel, and took her away. Rapunzel became the most beautiful child under the sun. When she was twelve years old, the sorceress locked her in a tower that stood in a forest and that had neither a door nor a stairway, but only a tiny little window at the very top.
When the sorceress wanted to enter, she stood below and called out: Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let down your hair to me.
Rapunzel had splendid long hair, as fine as spun gold. When she heard the sorceress's voice, she untied her braids, wound them around a window hook, let her hair fall twenty yards to the ground, and the sorceress climbed up it.
A few years later it happened that a king's son was riding through the forest. As he approached the tower he heard a song so beautiful that he stopped to listen. It was Rapunzel, who was passing the time by singing with her sweet voice. The prince wanted to climb up to her, and looked for a door in the tower, but none was to be found.
He rode home, but the song had so touched his heart that he returned to the forest every day and listened to it. One time, as he was thus standing behind a tree, he saw the sorceress approach, and heard her say: Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let down your hair.
Then Rapunzel let down her strands of hair, and the sorceress climbed up them to her.
"If that is the ladder into the tower, then sometime I will try my luck."
And the next day, just as it was beginning to get dark, he went to the tower and called out: Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let down your hair.
The hair fell down, and the prince climbed up.
At first Rapunzel was terribly frightened when a man such as she had never seen before came in to her. However, the prince began talking to her in a very friendly manner, telling her that his heart had been so touched by her singing that he could have no peace until he had seen her in person. Then Rapunzel lost her fear, and when he asked her if she would take him as her husband, she thought, "He would rather have me than would old Frau Gothel." She said yes and placed her hand into his.
She said, "I would go with you gladly, but I do not know how to get down. Every time that you come, bring a strand of silk, from which I will weave a ladder. When it is finished I will climb down, and you can take me away on your horse." They arranged that he would come to her every evening, for the old woman came by day.
The sorceress did not notice what was happening until one day Rapunzel said to her, "Frau Gothel, tell me why it is that you are more difficult to pull up than is the young prince, who will be arriving any moment now?"
"You godless child," cried the sorceress. "What am I hearing from you? I thought I had removed you from the whole world, but you have deceived me nonetheless."
In her anger she grabbed Rapunzel's beautiful hair, wrapped it a few times around her left hand, grasped a pair of scissors with her right hand, and snip snap, cut it off. And she was so unmerciful that she took Rapunzel into a wilderness where she suffered greatly.
On the evening of the same day that she sent Rapunzel away, the sorceress tied the cut-off hair to the hook at the top of the tower, and when the prince called out: Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let down your hair.
She let down the hair.
The prince climbed up, but above, instead of his beloved Rapunzel, he found the sorceress, who peered at him with poisonous and evil looks.
"Aha!" she cried scornfully. "You have come for your Mistress Darling, but that beautiful bird is no longer sitting in her nest, nor is she singing any more. The cat got her, and will scratch your eyes out as well. You have lost Rapunzel. You will never see her again."
The prince was overcome with grief, and in his despair he threw himself from the tower. He escaped with his life, but the thorns into which he fell poked out his eyes. Blind, he wandered about in the forest, eating nothing but grass and roots, and doing nothing but weeping and wailing over the loss of his beloved wife. Thus he wandered about miserably for some years, finally happening into the wilderness where Rapunzel lived miserably with the twins that she had given birth to.
He heard a voice and thought it was familiar. He advanced toward it, and as he approached, Rapunzel recognized him, and crying, threw her arms around his neck. Two of her tears fell into his eyes, and they became clear once again, and he could see as well as before. He led her into his kingdom, where he was received with joy, and for a long time they lived happily and satisfied.
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Day 87 The Tinder Box by Hans Christian Andersen Published 1835
A soldier came marching away along the highroad. One! two! One! two! He had his knapsack on his back and a sword at his side, for he had been in the wars, and now he was off home. Well, he met an old witch on the highroad. She was ugly! Her lower lip hung right down on her chest. Said she, "Good evening, Soldier! What a fine sword, and what a big knapsack you've got! You are a proper soldier. Now you shall get as much money as you care to have."
"Much obliged to you, old Witch," said the soldier.
"Do you see that tree?" said the witch, pointing to the tree that stood just by them. "It's quite hollow inside. You climb up to the top of it, and you'll see a hole that you can let yourself slide down and get right to the bottom of the tree. I'll tie a rope round your waist so as I can hoist you up again when you call to me."
"Well, what am I to do at the bottom of the tree?" asked the soldier.
"Get money," said the witch. "You must know that when you get down to the bottom of the tree you'll be in a long passage. It's quite light, there are more than a hundred lamps burning. There you'll see three doors: you can open them, the keys are in them. If you go into the first room, there you'll see in the middle of the floor a big chest, and on it there sits a dog. He's got a pair of eyes as big as a couple of teacups, but you needn't mind that. I'll give you my blue check apron. You can spread it out on the floor, and then go straight up and pick up the dog and put him on the apron. Open the chest and take as many pence as you like. They're all copper; but if you'd rather have silver, you must go into the next room. There sits a dog who's got a pair of eyes as big as millwheels, but you needn't mind about that: put him on my apron and take the money. But, if on the other hand, you'd like gold, you can get that too, and as much of it as you can carry, if you go into the third room. Only the dog that sits on the chest there has two eyes, each of 'em as big as the Round Tower. He's a dog and a half, I can tell you. But you needn't mind that. Just put him on my apron, he'll do nothing to you, and take as much gold out of the chest as you like."
"That's not so bad," said the soldier, "but what am I to give you, old Witch? For of course you'll be wanting something too, I suppose?"
"No," said the witch, "I don't want a single penny. You need only bring me an old tinder box which my granny left behind by mistake the last time she was down there."
"Right! let's have the rope round me," said the soldier.
"Here you are!" said the witch, "and here's my blue check apron."
So the soldier climbed up the tree and let himself plump down into the hole, and there he was, as the witch had said, down in the big passage where all the hundreds of lamps were burning.
Then he opened the first door. Lor! there sat the dog with eyes as big as teacups, and stared at him. "You're a nice sort of chap!" said the soldier, and put him on the apron and took as many copper pence as he could carry in his pocket, shut the chest, put the dog on the top again and went into the second room. Gracious! there sat the dog with eyes as big as millwheels.
"You shouldn't look at me so hard!" said the soldier. "You might injure your eyesight!" Then he put the dog on the witch's apron; but when he saw the heaps of silver money in the chest, he threw away all the copper money he had got and filled his pocket and his knapsack with nothing but silver. Then he went into the third room. No, now, that was awful! The dog there really had two eyes as big as the Round Tower, and they went round and round in his head like wheels.
"Good evening!" said the soldier, and saluted, for such a dog he never had seen before. But after looking at him for a bit he thought perhaps that would do, and lifted him down on to the floor and opened the chest. Mercy on me, what a lot of gold there was! Enough to pay for all Copenhagen and the cakewomen's sugar pigs, and all the tin soldiers and whips and rocking-horses there were in the whole world. There was money there right enough! So the soldier threw away all the silver shillings he had filled his pockets and his knapsack with, and took gold instead; till all his pockets and his knapsack and his cap and his boots got filled up so that he could hardly walk. Now he had got some money!
He put the dog back on the chest, slammed the door and then shouted up through the tree: "Pull me up now, old Witch!"
"Have you got the tinder box?" asked the witch.
"That's true!" said the soldier. "I'd clean forgotten it." So he went and got it. The witch pulled him up and there he was back again on the highroad with his pockets and boots and knapsack and cap full of money.
"What do you want with the tinder box?" asked the soldier.
"That's got nothing to do with you!" said the witch. "You've got your money all right. Just give me the tinder box."
"Fiddlesticks!" said the soldier. "You tell me straight off what you mean to do with it, or I'll out with my sword and cut your head off."
"No!" said the witch.
So the soldier cut her head off. There she lay! But he tied up all his money in her apron and put it on his shoulder in a bundle, shoved the tinder box into his pocket and went straight to the town.
It was a splendid town, and into the finest hotel he went, and ordered the very best rooms and the dishes he liked best, for he was rich, now that he had all that money.
The servant who had to clean his boots certainly thought they were very funny old boots for such a rich gentleman to have; but he hadn't bought any new ones yet. Next day he got boots to walk in and clothes of the smartest. The soldier was now become a fine gentleman, and they told him about all the splendid things that were in their town, and about their King, and what a pretty princess his daughter was.
"Where can one get a sight of her?" the soldier asked.
"Oh, she can't be seen at all," they all said. "She lives in a big copper castle with lots of walls and towers round it. Nobody but the King dares go in and out to her, for it's been foretold that she'll be married to a quite common soldier, and the King can't have that!"
"Well, I'd like enough to see her," thought the soldier; but he couldn't anyhow get leave to do so.
Well, he lived a very merry life, went to the play, drove in the royal gardens, and gave a lot of money to the poor, and that was a nice thing to do; he knew well enough from old times how horrid it was not to have a penny-piece. He was well off now, and had smart clothes and made a number of friends, who all said he was a good sort and a real gentleman, which pleased the soldier very much. But as every day he laid out money and got none at all back, the end of it was that he had no more than twopence left, and so he had to shift out of the nice rooms where he had lodged, up into a tiny little garret right under the roof, and clean his boots for himself and mend them with a darning needle; and none of his friends came to see him, because there were so many stairs to climb.
One evening it was quite dark, and he couldn't even buy himself a candle. But just then he remembered that there was a little stump of one in the tinder box he had got from the hollow tree where the witch had helped him down. He got out the tinder box and the stump of candle, and just as he struck it and the spark flew out of the flint, the door sprang open, and the dog that had eyes as big as teacups, whom he had seen down under the tree, stood before him and said: "What are my lord's orders?"
"What's this?" said the soldier, "why, this is a jolly tinder box. Can I get whatever I want like this? Get me some money," said he to the dog, and pop! he was back again with a big bag full of coppers in his mouth. Now the soldier saw what a lovely tinder box this was. If he struck once, the dog came that sat on the chest with the copper money, if he struck twice the one that had the silver came, and if he struck three times the one that had the gold.
The soldier moved back now into the nice rooms, got into the smart clothes, and at once all his friends recognized him, and were very fond of him indeed.
Well, once upon a time he thought to himself: "It's a rum thing, so it is, that one can't get a sight of the Princess. They all say she's very pretty, but what's the use of that if she's got to stay all the time inside that big copper castle with all the towers? Can't I anyhow get a sight of her? Where's that tinder box?" So he struck a light, and pop! here comes the dog with the eyes as big as teacups. "I know it's the middle of the night," said the soldier, "all the same, I should dearly like to see the Princess, if it was only for a minute." The dog was off through the door at once, and before the soldier had time to think, here he was again with the Princess: she was sitting on the dog's back, asleep, and she was so pretty, anybody could see she was a real Princess. The soldier couldn't help it, he had to kiss her, for he was a genuine soldier. Then the dog ran back again with the Princess. But when it was morning, and the King and Queen were pouring out their tea, the Princess said she had had such a funny dream that night about a dog and a soldier! She had ridden on the dog, and the soldier had kissed her.
"Upon my word, that's a nice story!" said the Queen.
One of the old Court ladies had to watch at the Princess's bedside the next night, to see if it really was a dream, or what else it might be.
The soldier longed dreadfully to see the beautiful Princess again: so the dog came in the night and took her and raced off as hard as he could. But the old lady-in-waiting put on water boots and ran after him just as fast, and when she saw them disappear into a big house she thought: "Now I know where it is," and she drew a large cross on the door with a bit of chalk. Then she went home and got into bed, and the dog came back too, with the Princess. But when he saw there was a cross drawn on the door where the soldier lived, he too took a bit of chalk and put crosses on all the doors in the whole town; and that was clever of him, for now the lady-in-waiting couldn't find the right door, since there was a cross on everyone of them.
Early in the morning the King and Queen and the old lady-in-waiting and all the officials came out to see where it was that the Princess had been. "Here it is!" said the King, when he saw the first door with a cross on it. "No, it's here, my darling husband," said the Queen who spied the next door with a cross on it.
"But here's one, and there's one!" said everybody. Wherever they looked there were crosses on the doors, so they could see it was no use searching.
The Queen, however, was a very clever woman who knew more than how to drive in a coach. She took her large gold scissors and clipped a big piece of silk into bits, and then made a pretty little bag; this she filled with fine buckwheat flour, tied it to the Princess's back, and when that was done, she cut a little hole in the bag so that the flour could run out all along the way where the Princess went.
At night the dog came again and took the Princess on his back and ran off with her to the soldier, who was very fond of her and would dearly have liked to be a prince, so as to have her for his wife.
The dog never noticed the flour running out all the way from the castle to the soldier's window, where he used to run up the wall with the Princess. So in the morning the King and Queen could see plain enough where their daughter had disappeared to, and they took the soldier and put him in the lock-up. There he sat. Ugh! how dark and dismal it was; and then they said to him: "To-morrow you're to be hung." It wasn't amusing to be told that; and he'd left his tinder box behind at the hotel. Next morning he could see, through the iron bars of the little window, the people hurrying out of the town to see him hung. He heard the drums and saw the soldiers march off. Everybody was on the move; among them a shoemaker's boy with a leather apron and slippers, going at such a galloping pace that one of his slippers flew off right against the wall where the soldier sat peering out between the iron bars.
"Hi! you shoemaker's boy, you needn't be in such a hurry," said the soldier to him; "nothing'll happen before I come there, but if you don't mind running to the place I lived at and fetching me my tinder box, you shall have fourpence; only you must put your best foot foremost." The shoemaker's boy wanted the fourpence, so he darted off to get the tinder box, and gave it to the soldier, and—now we shall hear what happened!
Outside the town a great gallows had been built, and around it stood the soldiers and many hundred thousands of people. The King and Queen sat on a splendid throne straight opposite the Judge and the whole Privy Council.
The soldier was already on the ladder, but just as they were going to put the rope round his neck, he said that as a criminal was always allowed, before he underwent his punishment, to have one innocent wish granted him, he would dearly like to smoke one pipe of tobacco: it would be the last pipe he smoked in this world. The King wouldn't say no to this, so the soldier took out his tinder box and struck a light. One! two! three! and there were all the dogs; the one with eyes as big as teacups, the one with eyes like millwheels, and the one with eyes as big as the Round Tower.
"Help me now, so as I shan't be hung," said the soldier; and the dogs dashed at the judges, and all the council; took one by the legs and another by the nose and threw them yards and yards up in the air, so that they tumbled down and were broken all to bits.
"I won't!" said the King; but the biggest dog took him and the Queen too, and threw them after all the rest. Then the soldiers took fright, and all the people called out: "Dear good soldier, you shall be our King and have the lovely Princess." So they put the soldier into the King's coach, and all three dogs danced in front and shouted "hurrah!" and the boys whistled on their fingers, and the soldiers presented arms.
The Princess was brought out of the copper castle and made Queen, and very much pleased she was. The wedding lasted eight days, and the dogs sat at table and made great eyes.
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Day 88 Fire Red and Acorn Brown by Joshua St. Clair
Everyone knew Primula. She came into the village each Friday to sell honey, sachets of scented lichens, and other produce gleaned from the forest. The women knew her for her kind demeanor and her dried wildflower circlets. The men knew her for her hair, which was the rich, warm brown of acorns and flowed down well past her waist. Everyone knew Owen as well. The men of the village knew Owen’s skill with a bow and his fine metalwork. The women knew that he was tall enough to hit his head on the door every time he went into the inn and that his broad shoulders barely fit through the door of his smithy. The women and the men both knew of Primula’s and Owen’s love for each other. However, today the lover’s faces were sour, their brows knitted. Owen was going off to war tomorrow. Primula begged him to stay. When he returned, she feared she would no longer be young and beautiful. “Nonsense,” he said and kissed her forehead. Primula’s honey was well-seasoned with tears, but bitter honey could not call Owen back. The next day, Owen and the other young men, outfitted by Owen’s smithy, rode, like sparkles in a sunbeam, to war. Primula watched Owen leave without tears but with a determined jaw. After Owen’s shining helmet receded past the oaks at the horizon, she ventured further into the forest than she ever had before, down the grassy path that her parents advised her never to tread. She knew what was at the end of this path: Cynthia, a woman of the forest that her parents warned never to seek. Cynthia was well-known for her wisdom and power. For generations, she offered help and assistance to women who sought her out, but only few were brave enough, and knew the forest well enough, to find her. Some women, of course, got lost along the way. She walked down the grassy path for hours as it wound its way into the elms and lindens. Now and then, she began to see other trees—hollies and yews, underplanted with ivy. Primula spied a clearing with a small cottage and a beautiful young woman with ringlets of fire red hair, picking foxgloves in the garden. Primula called out. Cynthia slowly turned around, holding a large bouquet. She greeted Primula with a smile, then asked why she had come. Primula, as quick as she could, said enough—then too much—about Owen, handsome Owen, strong Owen, perfect Owen, and how she was afraid that she would be too old for him when he returned from war. Primula said that she would give anything to stay young for him. Cynthia invited her into her cottage for some clover tea sweetened with honey. She told Primula that she knew why she had come and that she could give Primula a potion that would make her sleep so that when Owen saw her again, she would be as young and beautiful as she was today. Primula agreed with the sort of desperation only suppressed true love can muster. Cynthia told her to come back at twilight on the night of the next new moon. In a few weeks, Primula arrived back at Cynthia’s cottage with her beautiful head full of half-formed nightmares, she was as resolved as ever to drink Cynthia’s potion. Cynthia invited her in, but the cottage looked different on that moonless night. So many shadows. Cynthia told Primula that she would simply drink the potion which would be sweet to the tongue and, then, she would guide Primula to the basement where she would sleep. The effects would take a few minutes to manifest. Primula quickly drank the glass vial Cynthia offered her. It tasted of honey and catnip and dreams. Cynthia led her downstairs into darkness and bid her lay down on a pallet. Then she lit a lantern, and said, “sleep, sleep.” In the lantern light, Primula, her eyes already growing heavy, looked around the room. She made out other bodies sleeping, the bodies of women. With a shock, she realized the sleeping form next to her had no face or scalp. Her chest still rose and fell as snores whistled through her skull and her lidless eyes lolled around in unthinkable dreams. Primula screamed through her drowsiness and whipped her head around to Cynthia. Cynthia’s red hair was gone. Instead she held it in her hands. Her head was bare of skin, and she smiled, such as she could without a face. She walked around Primula’s supine body, then fitted the fire-red hair and scalp back onto the woman next to her. Sleep was quickly overtaking Primula. Screams were beyond her now. She desperately held her eyes open to prevent the magical sleep from overtaking her and she tried to heave herself back up the stairs. Cynthia shook her head and repeated, “sleep, sleep.” She wrestled Primula back to her pallet, then pulled a sparkling silver knife from her bodice. By this time, sleep had almost taken Primula, so all she could do was watch the hideous thing called Cynthia begin the grisly work of the knife. Cynthia kissed Primula where her forehead once was and said, “How do you think I will look as a brunette?” But Primula did not hear, she had finally been taken by the magic of the potion. The people in the village wondered why Primula stopped bringing her wares into town. They found her cottage empty and eventually gave up hope after searching the forest, concluding that she must have been attacked by wild animals. The moon waned to nothing seventeen times before Owen returned from war with the other young men of the village. When he arrived, a beautiful young woman with long hair, the color of rich, warm brown acorns, flowing past her waist came to meet him. She cried out, “Owen, handsome Owen, strong Owen, perfect Owen! Am I still young and beautiful?” Her voice was sweet but different. She must have aged, he thought. Of course, so had he. Owen got off his horse, smoothed the young woman’s hair and looked at her face—not a new line, not a new freckle—perfect— and they surrendered to a kiss. She looked up at his broad shoulders and square-jawed face. Yes, she thought, he would satisfy her until the next one came along.
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Day 89 Jessi by Linda Sparks
Munching on fried mushrooms and watching music videos kept me up late. Yes, I am nocturnal and scary movies, zombies, armies of the dead, even limping undead are the very best things in my opinion. Love that stuttering heart, that gasp coming from my mouth because even I can be surprised. I’d just gotten out of the hospital and my doc told me I was going to die. You know, the usual scare tactics, massive infections that they hadn’t yet invented the antibiotic strong enough to kick these invasive killers. Also diabetic, survived open heart surgery with a valve replacement, survived an aneurysm of the kidneys and I now have 11 different people’s blood flowing through my veins. We haven’t even been introduced. What the doctor said, rattled me but I refused to feel sad. I had beaten the Grim Reaper so many times and I would do it again. Seems like he and I had a relationship going, he’d come so close to sucking my last breath from me while my family tried to keep me alive. It’s not like they give medals for surviving the taunts and talons of Death. It’s all part of my life since blood sugar decided to run rampant in my blood. I’m now considered to be a vampire. I didn’t bite the neck and slurp from a vein. I had it all piped in to keep my heart beating, that heart with the new bovine valve. I was told it might last ten years and that seemed like a bleak future but for me, each day I awoke was a great day. I could flip off Grim and get on with my day. I have to tell you that I joked a lot about being a hot mess. Sometimes you have to have a good sense of humor even when there is danger sniffing at your heels like a rabid creature from the woods. I used to sit in the garden and watch the red wolves come out and they sniffed at me and then continued on with their business of staying alive, since I knew that there were only 24 red wolves known to be in the wild. Yes, they were on the endangered species list and I also knew that I was heading that way myself. I didn’t want to think too much about death. We all wonder what will happen when we cross over into that other realm. Will we be carried off to paradise? Will Valkyries come to pick us up? Will we have to go through a review of our life and make apologies? Will we be given the chance to live again in a new body? Or will the darkness take us and there will be nothing? Those mushrooms and music on full blast were great and I posted on social media, wanting to share my joy, and my defiance against that alleged death sentence, with all my friends and loved ones. It’s not like I had a chance to hide from Reaper. He knew where I lived as he had kept a constant watch on me. The thing about being a vampire is that they get to live forever unless they get staked, burned by daylight or several other known tools that might be used against them. Those vampire hunters wear crazy outfits and they take their mission quite seriously. For me, one more day or two or a month or a year were all things I wished to have as possibilities. Looking out into the woods, I knew there were things watching me but I ignored them. I was tucked away safely indoors and enjoying my delicious mushrooms. I knew fried foods certainly would not extend my life but sometimes you just have to go big. That night, I set my phone down and curled under the covers and slipped into a deep sleep. The next thing I remember is the doc in the ER puncturing my lung while he was attempting to put in a CV line. I can tell you that it hurt a lot. More pain when they had to insert a chest tube to keep my respiratory system working and to pump out the blood that was trying to fill up my lungs. The nurse asked me to squeeze her hand and I definitely did that. The human touch can make us feel safer, even in the most painful times. I could hear my mother demanding to see me and forcing them to call administration who immediately came to the scene. The thing is, they tried to cover their tracks pretty quickly and they intubated me and put me on a vent, also giving me Propofol. Anyone remember how that same drug killed Michael Jackson? It fried my brain. My EEG which tests for brain wave activity revealed that there was very minimal activity. Like I said, fried. What I didn’t understand was why I was aware, despite what their machines registered. My sisters came and brought me heavy metal music and played it loudly in my ears and I wiggled my eyebrows in reaction. The docs told them that was not a directed response. In other words, my incapacitated brain was not capable of performing these eyebrow movements and that some primitive part of my brain was doing that. Time passes differently when you are in such a condition. I watched my sisters and parents trying to feel positive and they kept telling me that I could make it. We waited for my brother to arrive. As I lay in that hospital bed, I saw something in the corner of the room towards the ceiling. It was fascinating as that thing finally formed into a person and that person was me. I was then able to shift into that corner and watch my own broken body in the bed below, unmoving, and that is when I realized that I no longer had a need for that corporeal form. I could be free. There was all that crying and I hated to make my family cry, especially my father as I had never seen him cry in my entire life. They held tightly to me and did not want to let me go, even though I was no longer a viable human. I had become someone else. I didn’t understand how I could explain this to them, as I could not speak. When they agreed that I would not have chosen to live in that broken body, they set me free. There was darkness that swallowed me but I soared high, moving above it, leaving the Earth. Leaving those I loved. Love is a powerful thing and there is no scientific explanation for its dominion. Yet, I was raised in a family who saw ghosts all the time and never felt frightened or upset that the dead were manifesting in their lives. I did not want to scare them so I began to develop my abilities slowly. I could feel the magnetic power of their grief as they pulled me back into the world. I knew exactly where to find my mother. She kept late hours writing and reading. She didn’t sleep much and it had become even nearly impossible since I had left. Mothers are like that. You are their child, even if you are grown or an axe murderer, or a politician. They love you no matter what. Did I forget to tell you that my mother is a witch? She has the magical powers that have often kept us safe and I know, she was sorely tempted to drag out her grimoire and her incense and her athame. She might even have shed some blood. A sacrifice? But ultimately, she understood I had chosen this life path long before I was born, before I entered her womb, before I gave my first strangled cry and fought for my life as I suffered severe seizures and other complications from that birth, due to medical negligence. We needed a wise woman and a midwife but had only a partying physician. I knew from the very beginning of my physical life that I would always do things the hard way. But that’s half a century of history. Yes, it is true. I only lived 50 years. Carefully, I sent my energy towards the lamp that rested on a table near where she sat reading and there were tears running down her face. I flickered the light bulb violently. I could not bear her grief. Hadn’t I passed through the veil of death and managed to come back to see her? I could do this. “Jessi” she said, a look of wonder upon her face. I flickered the light again in response. This time there were tears of joy upon her face. “You’re here,” she said. “I am so glad you have come.” It took a great deal of energy to do this and I faded away sooner than I hoped but I knew she understood. I slipped back into the darkness for a while to try to regain my strength. I got better at it. I could throw pictures off the wall, send things flying across the room, and always enjoyed messing with the lights. Then I decided to try something different and I managed to open the door and with enough focus, I could speak. “Hi, Mom and Dad. It’s Jessi.” They heard me and they were thrilled. I also left them a voice message that was somewhat garbled but my message came out loud and clear to them because they were waiting for it. Since my mother is a dreamer, I knew I could visit her in her dreams. It was surprising how easy I could do this and it made her feel so happy. In one of her dreams, she and I were at a hospital together and there was a baby crying and we were both looking over at the sound of the crying. It was my granddaughter who was yet to be born and by coming into her dream, I was able to let my mother know this. Several other times, I came to her in her dreams and she was always surprised but also very happy. I was also able to send messages to my sisters. One sister was in the checkout line and the clerk said to her, “I’m a hot mess.” She started crying and her daughter had to tell him that she was thinking of her brother. When she got her receipt, she saw that the clerk’s name was Jesse. Every time I saw my mother, I always told her how beautiful she was. It was Christmas time and she was in a checkout lane and I put it into a woman’s mind who was a complete stranger to her to come up to my mother and tell her, “You are so beautiful.” Immediately, my mother knew it was a message from me and that I was thinking of her at Christmas time even though I could see the sadness in her heart. Little tricks of the trade that I have learned since I’ve been on the Other Side. I am becoming stronger and now possess a great deal more control over these things I want to do to let my family know I am still here. I know, I know. I should be off earning some angel’s wings or reviewing my life or trying to decide whether or not I want to leap into a new life, as this one was a life filled with a painful body but the love of my family got me through. That thing called love again. Who can quantify it? Who can even define it? Perhaps it should be an element on the Periodic Table. I kind of like coming in and out whenever I want to do this. I no longer have pain in my body. In fact, I feel the best I have ever felt. I know I should be moving on and doing some other things but it seems I am not yet ready to say goodbye. My loved ones are not yet ready to let me go either, even though they have voiced to me that I can leave if I need to go. I know it is hard for them to say that but they are willing to set me free even though they still want me around forever. Not as a vampire, of course, because that’s a bit tricky. They don’t mind ghosts at all. As I said, we are a family of empaths and sensitives and we are not afraid. I am not afraid of what awaits me when I finally decide to let go and get on with things. I have even had a little bit of fun scaring a few people. I know. I shouldn’t be messing around like that as a lot of people don’t believe in ghosts and so when they see one, they become upset and scared and sometimes even scream. Blood curdling screams like in a horror movie. Which brings me to that tricky part of being a spirit. There are some malevolent angry guys out there and they intend to do harm if they can get away with it. I feel like I want to stay around for a while longer just so I can protect my family from the bad guys. They are attracted to grief as they see it as a vulnerability and so I need to make it clear to the other spirits that my family is off limits. I’ve had to be pretty vigilant and strong on this as some spirits are predatory and enjoy sucking the joy out of people’s lives and making them believe they are either imagining things or they are going insane. As I said earlier, time passes differently for me. In fact, it has very little meaning and sometimes months have passed and I awaken or remember and I rush to see my family. They still call me with their love. How can I refuse to answer them? No one has told me to go into the light. That’s a bit of a trite phrase after all and not all of us have any interest in doing that. There are various levels of existence and I have not yet explored what the light means. I’m not like the ghosts in that Dickens’ tale. I have no admonishment or guidance to give. I am here for as long as I need to be. One of my sisters nearly died recently and I had to give her a push to stay alive. She has a good life ahead of her if she can find it and keep it and I am not calling her to me to become a ghost. We’d probably argue with each other about which of us was the biggest and baddest ghost. That’s what siblings do. I can wait until it is their proper time to join me. By then, I’ll be running the place and I can teach them all the things they need to know. There is one last thing I need to say, even though it won’t be the last they hear from me. I am enjoying this spirit thing. Always loved Halloween so this is my element. Just like in that Terminator movie I loved nearly as much as I loved Star Wars and Aquaman, I promise you one thing. I’ll be back.
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Day 90 Felicity at Christmas Eve by J. L. Short
Felicity flew over treetops, across mountains frozen in the long night of winter. As she searched the mountains, she spotted the lights of a house shining off in the distance. She glided down to the crest of a hill and stood quiet among the trees, gazing at the lights and dreaming about the people who lived inside the house. Felicity often stood and watched the windows of a house shining in the night. The light in the windows meant that people lived in the house, sheltered from the cold and dark. She wondered about these people in their brightly lit houses. What kind of people were they, and how did they live their lives? Felicity made up little stories about the people as she stood quietly in the snow watching the lights off in the distance. Tonight, Felicity’s eyes told her a different story. She spotted a house with all its lights on. She immediately sensed this was something out of place. This late at night, the lights meant that someone might be alone. That someone might be alone meant there might be blood. For Felicity, blood was a matter of life and death. So, on this winter night, she flew towards the lights and glided silently to a landing in the snow where the smell of wood smoke filled the air. She crept up and cautiously peered through the bright windows. Circling the house, she saw that all the rooms were empty, except the kitchen where she found an unkept man hunched over a piece of machinery resting on the counter. He was working with a screwdriver. While Felicity watched, the man put his tool down and took a long drink from a beer can and put it back to sit with several identical cans on the counter. Felicity took a little snow in her fingers and dabbed it under her eyes so that the snow melted and made a little streak down either side of her grimy face. With her face now marked she went to the door and knocked. After a long pause, heavy footsteps approached, and the door opened to reveal a large man. “Hello there . . . what . . . are you doing out here?” “Please, I would like to come in.” “Of course you may come in! My God . . . the thermometer says 30 below . . . don’t you have a coat?” As he spoke the smell of beer washed over Felicity. Mixed with the shock and concern in the man’s eyes was a dull stupor and a smile that did not match the rest of his face. He was a big man who spoke with a rural accent. An old, stained shirt covered a large belly. The jeans also had a few stains, and his feet wore raggedy slippers. Most of all Felicity noticed the man’s eyes. Enormous, red rimmed watery eyes that spoke of a sadness that even beer could not conceal. As Felicity crossed the threshold, a large paternal hand took her by the shoulder and led her down a hall and into the kitchen. Some old magazines were cleared off a battered chair to make a seat for her. “What is your name girl?” “Felicity.” “Felicity what, may I ask?” “Felicity Brown, sir.” The man shook his gray head, “I don’t know that name. My name is Rodney Amsten.” Rodney paused and took another long drink of his beer, emptying the can. He opened the grimy refrigerator, took out another can, and as he did so he asked, “Would you like a beer? No! Of course not! You’re a girl and you want something hot. I’ll make you some hot tea. You must be frozen through.” Rodney pulled the ring tab off his beer, took another drink, and then he filled a kettle with water and put it on the stove. As the water heated, he drank more of his beer, scratched his gray stubble and stared in wonder at Felicity. “My goodness young lady, how did you get here?” Rodney asked the usual questions and Felicity gave the usual answers. She had wandered off and become lost. Together they made tentative plans to take Felicity to her home the next morning. She said her Daddy was in Brandon. Rodney’s eyes widened in disbelief, “Brandon is several miles from here. You walked all that way in the cold?” “Yes.” She said, letting out a long sigh. The man’s eyes turned from boozy stupor to teary concern. “Are you alright girl? Let me get you a blanket.” Rodney left her alone in the kitchen for a moment as her eyes adjusted to the electric lights. The intensity of electric lights still amazed her, even after seeing them many times before. The harsh electric lights brought the kitchen into sharp focus. Unwashed dishes were piled in the sink. Ashes and charcoal lay un-swept around the wood stove. Still more dishes and some very undomestic junk littered the counters. Grease and grime lay on everything in random patterns. This was obviously old grease and grime, the product of long neglect. Rodney returned with a hand knit comforter that looked out of place in his large hand. In his other hand he carried a metal pan filled with soapy water. He put the pan on the stove to keep it warm and put the comforter over her shoulders. Rodney picked up a wet rag out of the soapy water, carefully squeezed it out and began cleaning Felicity. First, he tenderly wiped the grime of her face and then rinsing the rag he cleaned her hands. As he worked, he spoke gently, “You are filthy girl! Don’t start away. This is an old rag, but it is clean and soft, just the thing for cleaning little girls. You must have been lost for a long time. Your hair? I’m not going to mess with that. I’ll look for a brush that you can use. I had children once like you . . . a long time ago. Now they are gone, and they are not coming back.” Rodney sighed, exhaling beer onto Felicity, “People are like that, the only see the bad and they forget about the good . . . They forget there is a person living here, in this house. You noticed, didn’t you girl, by golly you noticed!” As he began to clean her dirty hands, he stopped, staring at her small hand in his large hand. “It’s a miracle you are not frost bit. Why are you not frost bit? Why are you not . . .?” He looked Felicity in the face and said, “Jesus, girl, did you fall from the sky?” Felicity did not answer, she only stared back at Rodney as the kettle began to boil. Rodney started to speak but hesitated as confusion clouded his face. Then he smiled as a new thought came to him, “Are you hungry?” *** The living room had a stone fireplace with two armchairs at the hearth. A bright fire blazed and snapped in the fireplace. Felicity sat in one chair wrapped in a comforter. After repeated offers she consented to take some crackers, and some candy “because kids love candy.” The tea and the crackers now sat on a little table between the two chairs. Rodney had left for a moment and Felicity studied the living room. General dirt and neglect were in evidence here as well, but there was more to see of Rodney’s life. The room had little feminine touches. There were lace doilies underneath the dust that coated the tables. Pictures hung on the walls, including two of young children. A severe old woman in long ago clothing stared out from a dusty frame. In another frame, a pretty bride smiled next to a much younger version of Rodney. Felicity’s study of the room was interrupted by the older version of Rodney returning, carrying a large tumbler of brown liquid. He spilled a little as he set it down on the table and she caught the medicinal odor of strong spirits. Turning to her, Rodney smiled, “Isn’t this cozy? I’ll turn out the light so we can enjoy the fire.”” Rodney rose unsteadily to his feet and clicked off the electric light. Now the room was lit only by the fire, its warm glow flickering on Rodney’s face. He picked up his tumbler of liquor, winked at Felicity and said, “Merry Christmas!” before taking a large swallow. Felicity remembered something and asked, “Will you be seeing anyone tomorrow?” At this question Rodney sat in silence for a moment and stared at the floor. “No, I’m not seeing anyone tomorrow.” Saying this, he quickly finished his tumbler, got up, left the room and returned with the glass full again. He quickly finished his second glass. The fire crackled in the quiet and burned lower. Felicity could see by the dimming light that the man’s face was flushed red from the heat and the raw alcohol. As she watched closely, Rodney’s eyes drooped, flickered and then closed. He slumped over in his chair. His breathing became slow and regular through a mouth that hung part way open. Felicity waited, then she crept out of her chair, climbed into Rodney’s lap, and took hold of his head with both her hands. She opened her mouth wide baring sharp animal teeth and with a soft growl she bit down on his neck and tore open his flesh. *** Afterwards, Felicity returned quietly to her chair and her comforter. The fire died down to a few coals that glowed and hissed in the darkness. She stared absently at the coals. The warm glow of Rodney’s alcohol filled her body, and she grew dazed and sleepy. For a short while she spoke quietly to someone who seemed to be in the fireplace. Then all was quiet, and her breathing became slow and regular. Early the next morning Felicity awoke, sensing the impending dawn. She was now sick from the alcohol that lingered in Rodney’s blood. She also felt that uncomfortable something that she always felt at times like this, a vague sadness made more acute by alcohol. Felicity shuddered and waved away the sadness. She got out of her chair, searched the house and found the cellar door. She crept down the steps into the windowless cellar, lay down on the cold dirt floor and went to sleep. She knew that in this house, and on this day at least, no one was coming to visit. As Felicity slept, daylight came, and daylight left. All the fires in the house went out, and the relentless cold crept in. When she awoke and ventured out of the cellar after nightfall, the house was now dark and very, very cold. Felicity could leave now, but for some reason she wanted to say goodbye to Rodney. When she switched on the living room light, she found him slumped in his chair where she left him. Dried blood covered his old shirt. His head was at an unnatural angle and the face seemed squashed and tilted to one side, like the frame of an old house falling over. The eyelids were parted just a bit, and what was visible between them was drying in the winter air. Felicity stood alone in the room for a moment, and then she switched off the light and left the house. Felicity flew over treetops, across mountains frozen in the long night of winter. As she searched the mountains, she spotted the lights of a house shining off in the distance. She glided down to the crest of a hill and stood quiet among the trees, gazing at the lights and dreaming about the people who lived inside the house.
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Day 91 The Grimoire by Michael Rhys
The great fire had erased the old city. Its flames had cleared the narrow, filthy streets as efficiently as the plague had cleared the city of people just a year before. Now, nearly twenty years later, the streets had returned, wider, and with buildings of brick and stone so that fire would never again run unchallenged through the streets of London. The people had also returned, and in such numbers as had never been seen before. But Death still walked among them unhurried and unrecognised. The soldier moved with ease through the crowd. He was dressed in finer clothes than most with a red embroidered silk doublet and a large beaver felt hat adorned with sweeping, coloured ostrich feathers. In one hand he held a delicate, perfumed handkerchief, and in the other, a leather bound book. As he walked, the soldier kept his attention on the wooden shop signs that hung from iron brackets over each establishment. He stopped under the sign of the bookseller and looked through the small glass panes of the large bay window. Peering through the gently rippled glass into the dark interior was like staring into the deep of a cold ocean. He tucked the leather book under his arm and pushed through the door. It was lighter inside than he had assumed from his brief glimpse through the glass. The walls of the small shop were lined with books of all sizes, from the floor up to the oak ceiling. Most were bound in brown leather, their spines light with gold. Others were of white vellum, some with inked titles drawn in a well practiced hand. A small arch in the centre of the shelves of the far wall led into the darkness of the back rooms. The soldier walked across the open floor to the counter that lay before the books, keeping them a safe distance from the thieving hands of customers. He placed his book down and knocked hard on the dark wood. Through the dimness of the arch came the bookseller. An old man whose clothes were dull and hung loose about him. His walk was the slow deliberate step of an invalid. As he passed into the light, the soldier saw the man had suffered great injuries. The skin on one side of his face was mottled and ridged. The imperfect healing of burnt skin. The bookseller said nothing until he had reached the counter and placed his hands on the wood. “How may I help you, sir,” he said, with slow, deliberate words. The soldier glanced at the bookseller's hands. The right bore a ring of silver, its bezel, round and engraved with unfamiliar symbols. His left had the same ugly patches of stretched, mottled skin as his face, the three centre fingers were stiff and immobile, the skin grown together like flesh coloured candles melted into one. The soldier looked up at the bookseller, “I was told you have great knowledge,” he said. The bookseller raised his crippled hand and gestured to the books around him, “I do, indeed.” “Then perhaps you can help me. But, first...” the soldier pointed to the bookseller's hand.“I’m curious. Were you hurt in the great fire?” The bookseller briefly touched the scars of his face. “Yes,” he said. “A terrible thing. It has taken me a great many years to rebuild my shop, and my stock." The soldier looked around at the many books, "Fire must be a great fear of yours, I assume," he said. "Yes, knowledge is fragile, sir. It can be lost so easily.” The bookseller glanced at his hand, “no matter how hard we try to protect it.” “A latter-day Alexandria,” said the soldier. “Indeed. Such losses are a cruel blow. But..." He paused a moment, looking carefully at the soldier "You also are a man of knowledge, yes? A man of the world, certainly. Your doublet is Italian, and your belt is of a fine Spanish type. And I see something of the soldier about you.” “That has been my profession, across many countries.” “I too was once a soldier. So, how may I help you.” “I wish to ask you about this book.” The soldier removed his hand from the leather book on the counter and pushed it towards the bookseller. “I acquired it on my travels. It is a most curious thing. I thought perhaps you might know something about it.” The bookseller reached into his shapeless clothes and took out a pair of bone spectacles which he held to his eyes as he looked down at the book. “As you can see,” continued the soldier. “It has no title upon the spine, nor indeed any words in the entire book save for a most curious frontispiece where there are but four words and a picture of...nothing, just blackness. Beyond that the entire book is empty.” He reached out to open the book, but the bookseller placed his crippled hand on the closed leather cover. “ ‘Look upon your death’ he said, staring down at the book. “That is what is written, no?” “Ah, so you know this book.” The bookseller placed his spectacles down on the counter and stood silent a moment before looking up at the soldier. “How did you acquire it, if I may ask?” “Gambling. In Venice.” The old man nodded, “Yes, that is where it was made.” He pulled the book towards him. “This book is nothing more than a curiosity, as you say. I will give a shilling for it.” The soldier reached across and picked up the book.“I am not here to sell, so I thank you for your time. Good day” He turned and walked to the door. “Five shillings,” called the old bookseller, behind him. The soldier stopped. “It is becoming an expensive curiosity,” he said, half to himself. He turned and walked back to the counter, a slight smile on his lips. “Tell me, why are you so interested?” The bookseller reached under the counter and brought out a leather bag, heavy with coins. He placed it on the wood. “I will give you five pounds,” he said “That is all I have here. That book cannot be allowed to leave this shop.” The soldier looked at the bag and laughed, “How about I give you 10 shillings if you tell me what I have.” “You do not want to know, No God fearing man would want to know.” “Well, since I have no fear of God, my ears are yours.” The soldier placed the book on the counter and turned it towards the bookseller who touched his stiff, crippled fingers to the leather. “You have looked upon the frontispiece?” he asked. “As I have described to you, yes.” “Then you are lost.” “Lost?” “This book is the Grimorio Vuoto, a Grimoire of the deepest magic.” “Grimoire?” “A spell book if you will. The latin written within can only be seen by those who are -- worshippers of a different god. It is filled with incantations of the most heinous nature. Some say even the devil himself can be raised with its words.” “Can he now?! But what of the frontispiece? Why is that visible to all, and in English?” “The Grimorio Vuoto is not merely about magic, it is magic, and the frontispiece is it’s protection. To gaze upon it is to allow the book to see deep into your soul, and once there it will seek out your greatest fear, and that will become your fate. ‘Look upon your death’ That is what the book says to those who dare open that page and in whatever language that unfortunate soul speaks, and there they will see the nature of their passing, for the book will make it so, and quickly too.” The soldier laughed. “Well, that’s quite a story, old man, but not one that passes so easily for truth. I have looked upon the frontispiece many times and have seen nothing but a square of empty black. And in death, that is the fate for all of us, is it not, the blackness? I see little of magic in that.” The bookseller straightened and spoke with an earnestness quite detached from his frail figure “The blackness of a dungeon, perhaps. Or the dark waters that take you as you sink into the ocean trapped within the hull of a stricken vessel. Or stabbed, maybe, through the eyes by blades or arrows. The answer lies within you. Your fear, sir, the darkest fear of death that you have.” The soldier placed both hands flat onto the counter and leaned towards the bookseller. His eyes were dark and his voice hissed, “I have hacked the heads off a hundred enemies. I have slit the throats of spies and traitors, I have burned whole villages for the crimes of a single child, I have challenged God on every battlefield and hear his silence as I dismember and cruelly take the lives of his followers. I have no fear. Death is nothing to me. The light of God cannot penetrate my soul.” “Then the light of darkness already has. And I fear the book will reveal itself to you.” The bookseller grabbed the grimoire with both hands and turned, quickly disappearing with it through the archway into the dim space within. The soldier vaulted the counter and followed. Beyond the arch and short passage was a transverse corridor. He stopped and listened. From the right, he could hear a crackling fire and then the brief sound of metal sliding across wood. He edged his way carefully along the short dark corridor and into a room crowded with papers and shelves and cabinets. The large fireplace was lit, it’s flames feeding on coal that sent black smoke up through the chimney. Standing by a table in the centre of the room was the bookseller. In his right hand was a sword. In his left, held between thumb and useless fingers, was the Grimorio Vuoto. “I too once lived by the sword,” said the bookseller, breathless and scared. “And I will kill you if I have to. You will not have this book.” The soldier smiled, “How many years has it been since you held your weapon, old man?” he said. “Not since the fire I imagine. Especially since you are left handed, why else would only the left be burned? Trying to save your precious books. Can you fight with the right?” He walked slowly forwards, his eyes on the bookseller, “I don’t think so.” As he came around the table, the bookseller lunged forward with the rapier, but the soldier easily stepped aside. He grabbed the bookseller's arm and slammed it hard against the table. The sword fell to the wooden floor. The soldier pushed the frail old bookseller backwards towards the fireplace, the grimoire still held tight in his disfigured hand. Reaching down, the soldier picked up the weapon. The old man held up the book “Then, I will burn it!” he shouted and turned towards the fire, but the soldier was too fast. He jumped forward and with a well practiced swing,sliced, with the cracking of bone, through the bookseller's arm just below the wrist. The book and the severed hand fell to the floor. The bookseller screamed and dropped to his knees, his right hand clutching at the raw meat of the stump as blood oozed over his fingers, dripping onto his dark clothes. The soldier calmly tossed the sword to the floor behind him and picked up the severed hand. He looked closely at the disfigured, scarred fingers as the bookseller whimpered as he knelt. Turning the hand over, the soldier threw it into the fire. He stood over the bookseller. “What is your deepest fear, old man?” he said. He lifted the book from the oak floor 0and opened it slowly “What will you see? I think I already know.” He held it towards the bookseller and turned the page to the frontispiece. “Look, old man.” The bookseller closed his eyes tight as he held the damp, slippery red stump of his arm. The pain throbbed like the beating of his heart that still sent fresh blood to the open wound. “Open your eyes.” The soldier held the book inches from the bookseller's face. “Open your eyes.” The bookseller started to pray, the words hurried whispers on his lips. “Pray, old man,” the soldier taunted. “Pray to the empty air.” As the old bookseller recited his desperate prayer, the sounds of the crackling fire, the taunting of the soldier and even the whisper of his own weak voice were sucked away into a deep silence that hung like dense fear upon the bookseller. And the grimoire began to speak. “Look upon your death.” The voice filled the close, confused spaces of his mind. “Look upon your death.” Tiny thin needles of pain pricked at his eyelids, as though a demon were sitting upon his face with it’s sharp pin-like claws pulling at the translucent flesh, pulling it upwards. “Look upon your death.” The bookseller could feel nothing of his body, nothing of his flesh. Only the growing light of his opening eyes as the needle-clawed demon raised the curtain upon his fate. And he saw. In colours as vivid as those that took the city, that took his shop, that took his hand. The flames burned deep within the page of the book, and he knew. He had always known, this was to be his end. “Look upon your death.” The soldier kicked the crouching figure of the bookseller into the fire. At once the orange flames took hold of his wiry hair and grabbed at his face. The old man screamed as the intense heat dug into his skin and boiled his eyes white. The mad flailing of his arms fanned the hot coals that threw threads of flame to his dark, sombre clothes, and lit them resplendent with dancing red appliques of death. The soldier closed the book and watched as the body twitched and crackled and popped in the flames before finally becoming still. He took a handful of loose paper from a nearby shelf and lit one end in the fire, which he then applied to the papers on the table and the books on the shelves. He watched as the flames climbed high before he turned down the dark corridor and out into the shop. The smoke began its grey crawl across the ceiling as the soldier took the leather bag of coins that sat on the counter. He walked out into the street, the book tucked securely under his arm.
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Day 92 The Enso by Linda Gould
Japan, 1073 A.D. The man set down his brush to admire the knife and the blood-red circle he had just drawn on its handle. He had lost count how many times he had used the knife, but he remembered the first time with such clarity he could still see the shock in the stranger’s eyes as it slipped between two ribs and straight into the man’s heart. As the victim drew his last breaths, the man had carefully dipped a small calligraphy brush into the gushing blood and, using one full breath, had drawn a circle on the stone handle of the knife. That circle, his first enso, was ragged and unfinished, a mirror to the thrilling chaos that raged through him during his first kill. Later, he calmly etched the circle deeper into the stone handle and pressed more of his victim’s blood into the depressions he made. For 30 years, the man added fresh blood from each of his victims to the enso. The circle had grown potent and as black as death itself. The man’s life was nearing an end, but he had no intention of dying. He pulled a small book from his kimono sleeve. He’d found it so many years ago on a traveller who’d passed out drunk at his father’s inn. He tore pages from the book and tossed them into the fire, absentmindedly massaging the side of his head where his father had hit him when he handed over the book along with the coins he’d stolen. “Only you could be so stupid as to take a worthless book,” his father had scolded. But he knew his father was wrong. The book had called to him, and when he touched it, power surged through him, power so forceful, he had gotten an erection. That night, he ran his fingers across the pages, and though he couldn’t read, voices whispered the book’s secrets to him. Tonight, he would use those secrets. He would become immortal. The book had taught him that dying breaths held slivers of the soul. He’d learned, victim by victim, exactly how to prolong each death so he could catch the soul slivers before they could coalesce into a flame that would protected the soul en route to the Afterworld. So, today, one by one, the man had pierced the heart of each of his fellow monks. As they lay dying, he devoured the wispy slivers emanating from their exhalations. He savored the desperation and agony of each monk’s life force and felt his own subsume theirs. Their blood was added to the enso. He bent down to a butterfly resting under a glass dome. “You thought you could escape, didn’t you?” He clinked the glass with the tip of the knife. The butterfly didn’t move. It appeared to be watching him. “You thought I didn’t know about soul transmigration, didn’t you?” the man addressed the butterfly. He paced, stepping over a lifeless body with each circuit of the room, tearing pages from the book as he spoke, and tossing them into the fire. “See this book?” he held up the spine to the glass on his next pass. “This is why I knew to look for a butterfly when your soul didn’t leave your body. This book taught me more than you ever did. And now look at you, your body dead, your soul trapped under glass, the zen master outdone by his student.” Entering monkhood had been a stroke of genius. No one questioned his late nights of study, and he could explain his disappearances into the woods as meditative training. His fellow monks had no idea of the number of bodies he’d buried in these woods. And no one but him would ever know the truth or have access to the book’s secrets. He tossed the book’s binding into the deepest part of the fire then pushed a few partially-burned bones over it. He hadn’t realized how slowly bodies burn. It didn’t matter. By the time someone discovered the massacre, the foxes he had seen creeping within the forest shadows would have taken care of anything that didn’t burn. They would take care of his own body, too. He lifted the glass and snatched the butterfly. One wing off, the second wing off. The small body squirmed as he carried it into the forest where he kneeled at the base of a gnarled tree, a portal that linked this world with the Afterworld. He dug the knife tip into the tree, opening a slit that released malignant energy, dark and thick like sap. He pushed the poisoned knife tip gently into the butterfly’s small black body. The blue wisp that emerged cast a strong glow against the black night; this soul was ancient and powerful. The man sucked up each wisp and felt the multitudes of his master’s lives fill him with power. He closed his eyes and summoned his own soul, which tasted rancid after his feast on monk souls. Slowly and purposefully, he drew an enso in his mind’s eye as he exhaled his own soul as a glorious blue flame that shimmered against the backdrop of the dense, dark forest. The man willed the flame into the dark energy that leaked from the tree. It flashed within the black ooze, grew dim, then disappeared, emerging moments later as a black butterfly with a human, fiendish face. The man held out the knife and the butterfly dove into the enso, flitting across the open white center before nestling into the circle’s shadows. He plunged the knife into his abdomen, splattering blood onto the handle before dropping to the ground. His own fiendish face, now tucked into a shadowy section of the enso, was the last thing he saw. *** A small town outside of Tokyo,2018 Yasu’s stomach launched a stream of half-digested fish mixed with whiskey onto the sidewalk. He rested against a bench, mesmerized by the steam wafting from his vomit, and waited for the heaving to stop before sitting down. He rested his elbows on his thighs, his head in his hands, and wished for a bottle of water to wash away the sour taste in his mouth. That new waitress knew exactly what she was doing when she flirted with him and plied him with drinks. Yasu sighed. He’d known what she was doing, too, though, and had secretly enjoyed the flashes of cleavage when she set his drinks down and the casual taps on his shoulder. It had been years since his wife had treated him like more than a human wallet, and, after the day he’d had, a little human touch felt good. He even caught glimpses of her panties when she bent over to deliver drinks to the other men at the bar. He wasn’t the only man in the bar who noticed, but he could’t bring himself to pat her bottom like some of the others did. He would wait until he got home to imagine the softness under those panties. Staying for those extra drinks meant he had no cash and had to walk home. He could call his wife to pick him up, but she would spend the entire car ride complaining about being dragged out in the cold, his alcohol breath, and the stench of cigarette smoke on his clothes. He just couldn’t bear that right now. A young man strrode past him and slipped in Yasu’s vomit, releasing a whiff of bile and whisky. “Ugh! Disgusting drunk,” he muttered, wiping his shoe off as best he could. “This’ll be you in a few years!” Yasu called back, angry that the man had walked past him instead of offering to help. The neighborhood was full of strangers since those damn developers bought up all the land and planted houses where rice and soybeans used to thrive. He heaved himself to standing and waited for the dizziness to settle. He walked a few yards, then stopped at a set of stairs leading onto a narrow forest path that connected the main road to his neighborhood. He hadn’t considered the shortcut. The forest path would cut his walk in half, but…he looked around…where was DetectiveNakamura? She usually patrolled this street to prevent people from entering. It would be so much easier to take this path, but just thinking about the forest made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. No matter how bright the day, light struggled to penetrate the canopy. Weird shadows slithered along the path, and an air of gloom and unease hung so heavy there, people usually spoke in hushed tones and rushed to get to the end. But mostly, Yasu avoided the forest because of the terrible memories it brought back. Two of his best friends, who had always appeared light-hearted and joyful, had committed suicide there. And rumor had it, that there had been others since. Yasu vomited again, this time into the grass. He just wanted to get home. He’d get through the forest as fast as he could. He glanced around to make sure Detective Nakamura hadn’t appeared, then stumbled up the three stairs and staggered into the forest. He was oblivious to a thick mist that slithered from the trees and crept along the path behind him. *** Detective Nakamura arrived at the forest entrance and checked her watch. --Damn! Twenty minutes late. She exhaled in frustration, noticing her breath materialize, then immediately fade away. She stamped her feet, in part to warm her toes, but mostly because she was furious with herself. “Say something next time,” she seethed. She had just put her jacket on to start her patrol when the Mayor dropped in for a late-night meeting with the Chief. The fact that she was senior detective didn’t override the fact that she was female. She was ordered to bring the bigwigs tea. So, with tea tray in hand, she had walked past the five patrolmen who were “busy”writing up their reports, and did what the men expected of her. Speaking of men, one of the locals was trodding toward her. She nodded to the salaryman, who she recognized was from the new development, but she wasn’t surprised when he walked by without acknowledging her. Most of the men on their way home at this time of night were half drunk and dead tired. The social niceties were forgotten. She knew some of them, in their eagerness to get home to a warm bath, would be tempted to take the forest shortcut. She was there to make sure they didn’t. Nakamura’s father was a Buddhist priest. Part of his duties was to perform ritual prayers for the souls who had committed suicide. She could practically smell the incense that floated through the shadowy temple and feel the rhythmic drumming as her father fanned the sutras from hand to hand and chanted the mantras. According to the temple registry, for hundreds of years, two or three men had committed suicide each year, and according to legend, most of those were in the forest. “If the forest is dangerous, why doesn’t the city cut it down?” she had asked one day as she set out sutras and prayer beads for the visiting monks who prayed with her father. “There are some mysteries you don’t challenge,” was his reply, which Nakamura thought was a ridiculous answer. “Father, if the city knows that a place invites suicide, then they should take away the invitation.” “If someone wants to end their life, they’ll find a way to do it.” “Well, you don’t have to make it easy for them, and the city should do something about it.” Nakamura shuddered at her teenage naivetee. The city had cut down the forest, although for development, not public safety, leaving only this strip, but the suicides had continued, and she had investigated eight of them. She exhaled another breath into existence and watched it quickly evaporate. If only the city would cut down this part of the forest, she wouldn’t have to spend every night guarding the shortcut entrance—or deal with the sneers and jokes of her colleagues, who said she was reacting too emotionally. Yeah, she was obsessed, but who wouldn’t be under the circumstances? Each of the eight men committed suicide at the same gnarled tree, its trunk deformed by lumps and growths that resembled tortured bodies. Their expressions—mouth in a silent scream, protruding eyes—haunted her. But the strangest part, the thing that made her unable to sleep at night, was that each one had been found with-- “Arrghh!” Nakamura held her breath, listening intently. Had someone cried out? She took a few steps into the forest, but, as usual, the dark ate the light from the street, and she could only see a few feet in. All remained quiet. She exhaled in relief, oblivious to the mist that flowed from her mouth. *** The forest path at night was like an obstacle course, and in his drunken state, Yasu tripped over exposed roots and stumbled over the forest’s uneven surface. Shadows blocked his way and wet leaves smooshed under his feet like soft flesh. He fell twice, his hands sinking into the cold, clammy muck. It wasn’t the pain in his wrist from the fall, though, that worried him; it was sitting at breakfast tomorrow morning and listening to his wife whine incessantly about his dirty suit. A branch cracked behind him. “Arrghh!” he cried out when he spun too quickly and fell into the cold, wet leaves. “Are you all right?” A middle-aged man bent over him. “I didn’t mean to scare you. Here, let me help you up.” Yasu took the offered hand, then brushed the leaves and dirt from his suit. “Sorry,” he said to the stranger. “To be honest, I’ve had too much to drink. It wasn’t your fault.” The man laughed. “Oh yes, I know the feeling. I’ve walked this path drunk many times. Are you a salaryman?” Yasu grunted his assent. It was all he could do not to vomit on the stranger. He found one of the benches that lined the path and leaned forward again with his head in his hands, breathing deeply and hoping the cold, sharp air would sober him. The stranger waited patiently, then offered Yasu his arm. “Here, lean on me and we’ll walk together.” “I used to be a salaryman, too,” the stranger offered as he guided Yasu along the trail. “Gave it all up.” “So you weren’t on the last train like me? You’re not on your way home?” “Not this time.” “Oh!” Yasu stumbled, but the man caught him. His vision was blurred, and he was again ashamed that someone had to see him in such a state of drunkenness. Not for the first time, Yasu questioned why he bothered going through the motions every day. However, it was all he could do to focus on walking, so he just let the stranger talk. “Yes, my life as a salaryman was tough,” the stranger continued. “I woke up each morning at 4:30 to catch the train into Tokyo. You, too?” “Yes.” Exhaustion crept into every joint as Yasu realized that, in a few hours, he would wake up and head back into work. “The train grew more and more crowded as we approached the city, and since I rarely got a seat, I was crushed on all sides. And the smells! Garlic on one man’s breath, sweat from another, cloying perfumes…” The strong aromas of garlic, sweat and perfume assaulted Yasu’s senses, as if he were on the train the stranger described. He gagged in response, leaning heavier on the man’s arm. Yasu looked at the man who was so kindly helping him home. Home…what did the man say about home? “Oh!” he called out, remembering. “If you aren’t going home, why are you out here at this time of night?” “I lost something in the forest. I couldn’t sleep, so I thought I would come look for it.” “At this time of night?” “Phew! I’m sorry, but I’m a little tired from holding you up,” the man replied. “Let’s rest for a moment.” Yasu sat down with a thump. He stretched his legs out, leaned back against a tree, and sighed in unexpected comfort. “So you quit because of the long travel time?” he asked. “Well, I hated my work, too, you know?” The man paced while he talked. “The work was mind-numbing, but my boss was an asshole. He watched our every move and the slightest infraction would set him off.” “Ha! Tell me about it! My boss yelled at me today, and for nothing,” Yasu explained. “That’s one reason I went out drinking tonight.” “Everyone in the office lived in fear of our boss, and he took full advantage of it…” the stranger continued, but Yasu wasn’t listening. He was re-living the events of the afternoon, allowing the rage he had suppressed earlier to surface. He had been in the middle of entering a long serial number into the database when the phone rang. He finished typing the number and answered the phone. When he finished the call, his boss leapt up and berated him in front of the entire office for answering on the second ring instead of the first. Yasu sat there, head bowed, apologizing repeatedly. The stranger had stopped talking and was eying Yasu, who was shaking from the day’s humiliation. Hatred for his boss pushed aside his nausea, and for a moment, blinded him to all but the stranger’s silhouette against what little light there was in the forest. When the man resumed speaking, his words sliced Yasu like a knife. "And then, my wife…” An image of Yasu’s wife scolding him that morning for forgetting his obento box at work was the last straw. Fury, resentment and bitterness engulfed him. “I hate my life!” he screamed. *** “Hey, Nakamura-san!” called one of the regulars who walked the road. “It’s pretty cold out tonight. Don’t you have a man at home to warm you up?” The man’s laughter boomed against the silence of the night. “Stay on the road, Tanaka-san,” was Nakamura’s response, inwardly rolling her eyes at yet another man who thought it appropriate to question her decision not to marry. She had known Tanaka since she was a girl, so he knew that she had turned down offers of marriage to study to become a detective. At least he didn’t offer to warm her up himself, as some of the men in town did. Nakamura expected Tanaka to walk away in frustration and say a few foul words, as he did most nights that they met. Tonight, though, he stopped. “You say that every time,” he said. He jabbed his finger at her, “Why do you have to make it so difficult for people to get home?” Nakamura was tempted, not for the first time, to explain the reasons for her obsession. But the Chief wanted to keep the strange details of the suicides secret. “Let people think what they want,” he had said, “People are already uncomfortable with a woman detective. You tell them about the knife and they’ll think you’re crazy?” She waved Tanaka on his way. “You need the exercise, old man! Off you go,” she said with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. She watched him walk around the corner and out of sight and knew her boss was right. The community already thought she was strange. If she told them about the knife with the ebony enso etched into its handle, she would have no authority over them. She shivered, whether from the cold or the memory of that knife, she didn’t know. The enso symbolized the eternal connection between life and death, a reminder that ‘what is’ and ‘what is not’ exist simultaneously. Her father had insisted she learn to draw the enso as a calming technique, and she could still hear his quiet voice guiding her each time she picked up the ink stick: “Hold the sumi and feel its weight, its presence in the world, its influence on you.” At first, she coudn’t understand how her father found the process calming. She had ground the charcoal stick against the cold stone, a stone so black, she thought it had stolen the ink and that her brush would come up dry. When she pressed the tip of her brush against the pure white paper and a black spot materialized, she had felt such overwhelming relief that her first ensos were warped and misshapen. Her shame had made her cry, further spoiling her work and making her more anxious about the next attempt. Her father had been patient, despite her childish anxiety, and eventually, the process of grinding and mixing the ink was as meditative for her as was the drawing of the enso itself. Inhale, complete half a circle. Exhale, finish the circle. Inhale; lift the brush and set it gently on the inkstone. Exhale; contemplate the newly created enso that represented her existence at that moment in time. That simple exercise infused her entire being with calm. The knife’s Enso, though, was anything but calming! One end was splattered, as if an ink-drenched brush had been violently bashed against the stone. A slash of black stabbed through the circle, slicing into its center, and droplets dripped from the razor-fine tip. Smudges of grey blended with the ashen tones of the handle, creating misty shadows that resembled a face. She had found the knife in the abdomen of the first suicide victim she had been assigned to. As she bagged it for evidence, she gasped and dropped it to the ground. The coroner had laughed at her rookie mistake, but she hadn’t cared. That shadow ‘face’ had turned to look at her and its hatred was unmistakable. No one knew where the knife had come from. The dead man’s wife said it was all they could do to pay their monthly bills. Such a knife was far beyond their means. The second death occurred only a month later. The same tree, the same look of terror on the man’s face. Another knife with the same Enso symbol. Nakamura had hung her head in shame for presuming the first death was a suicide simply because she knew the forest’s history. Clearly there was a serial killer in town. By not investigating the first death properly, she held herself responsible for the second, but she would not make the same mistake again. With such a distinctive clue as the knife, she had expected to find the murderer quickly. Since that time, six more men had died on that forest path—of suicide or murder, she still didn’t know—at the same tree, in the same manner, and literally, with the same knife. When she’d gone to check the first knife for fingerprints, it was missing from the evidence box. The second knife, too, disappeared from its box. She and the the Chief had set up video surveillance and placed the knife in a locked safe, but each time the Enso-carved knife disappeared, only to be found in the abdomen of the next victim. And each time, that face glared at her from the shadowy depths of the enso. She wasn’t sure if the Chief was right to keep it secret, but she followed his orders. All she could do was keep people away from the forest path at night until she figured out what was happening in there. “I hate my life!” There was no mistaking a sound in the forest this time. Despite the cold, thick fog shrouded the path and seeped about the tree trunks, Nakamura raced up the stairs and into the forest. *** “Yes, I know you hate your life.” Yasu was crying, now. “How often do you see your children?” “A few hours on Sunday.” He woke up before his children on work days and arrived home after they’d gone to bed. At lunch on Sundays, they would talk briefly about school and the girls’ extracurricular activities, but after a few minutes, his daughters chatted to each other or their mother, making it clear how little he knew his own children. But he loved them so much, which made their disinterest in him that much more painful. He reached down and took out his wallet. “They’re good kids,” Yasu told the stranger, “see?” A thick fog began to envelop the two, but Yasu held up a photo to show the man. His youngest daughter held her fingers in a peace sign, her head tilted to one side, a joyful smile splashed across her face. The other daughter stood tall and straight, holding an ice cream. “But you’re not in the photo.” Pity dripped from the man. No, his boss had called him in to work the morning of the trip, so his family had gone to the beach without him. That wasn’t the only time he had been left behind. “Look at you,” the man said, “drunk, angry, miserable. What do you have but years and years of this? Your kids will move away, practically strangers, your wife will go out with her friends while you head off to a job every day where nothing but humiliation and suffering wait for you. Sake and whisky are all you’ll have to dull your misery.” It was as if the man had read Yasu’s mind. Thinking about his future depressed him, so Yasu usually avoided the subject, but the man’s reminder of the endless bleakness and anxiety facing him were unbearable. “I know,” he wailed. Cold seeped into Yasu’s joints. His body ached from retching. The fog had grown thick, and it would be even more difficult to get home. He realized he was somehow not sitting on a bench, but on the cold, hard ground. “What am I…How did I get down here? Can you help me up?” He bent his knees to stand. The stranger pushed Yasu hard against the tree. Fog swirled around the man’s face, giving him gaunt lines about the eyes and mouth, as if he were starving. He bent towards Yasu, tongue licking lips that were thin and dry. Yasu jerked backwards in fear. Knots in the tree dug into his back. The man leaned in close. He pursed his lips and exhaled ice-cold breath that pierced Yasu’s face like needles. “Lean back.” The stranger’s voice was mesmerizing, his eyes all that Yasu could see through the thick fog. “Lean into the tree.” Yasu did as he was told. Something dark oozed from the tree and embraced him, pulling him against the trunk. The knots that had been grinding into his back were now soft and writhed against him with a lover’s passion. “All that waits for you at home is a cold meal and a colder wife.” The man’s indisputable truth stabbed at Yasu’s heart. “Do you want to feel happy again?” Yasu nodded, tears growing cold as they slid down his face. “I found what I was looking for,” said the stranger. “It’s there. Can you get it for me?” A knife lay on the ground next to Yasu’s hand. A black circle on the knife’s glowing handle throbbed as if alive. Captivated, Yasu touched his forefinger to the circle, then gasped as joy coursed through him, eliminating his pain and nausea. The stranger held out his hand for the knife, but Yasu held it tighter and traced the black circle with one finger, reveling in the almost orgasmic thrills that grew each time he completed the circle. He glanced up at the stranger, who was surrounded by hundreds of misty phantoms that swirled and thrashed like snakes in a pit. Yasu dropped the knife in surprise. Fog surrounded the stranger. “Pick up the knife,” the man urged. Yasu grabbed the handle so his palm covered the black circle, then grunted and moaned in ecstasy. The tree’s knots pushed against him, soft and warm, and Yasu imagined them to be the waitresses breasts. When he opened his eyes to see what was pressing his hand harder against the black circle, he noticed the writhing phantoms. “You can be happy again, like they are.” The man held his arms wide and gazed up at the swirl of phantoms. “But they don’t look happy,” Yasu said. “Yes! They’re dancing. Can’t you see it?” Their movements didn’t look like any dance Yasu was familiar with. They swarmed about in chaos, pulling, pushing and tripping over each other. Two of the phantoms darted between him and the stranger. He recognized his childhood friends despite their gaunt features and look of urgency. Their mouths were black holes and they swung their heads from side to side. They grasped at Yasu’s hands, but broke up into misty swirls with each attempt. Yasu smiled and reached out to greet them, but the stranger grabbed Yasu’s hand and returned it to the enso. “Let the enso help you feel better.” Yasu closed his eyes and let the surge of euphoria peel away at the edges of his misery. The stranger placed the knifepoint on Yasu’s abdomen and pushed slightly. Yasu’s eyes sprung open. “You can do it,” the man urged. Yasu’s friends twisted and turned behind the man. “Join your friends or continue your miserable life! Yasu called to his friends, “Ken-chan! Dai-kun! I miss you.” Choose!” the man commanded. Yasu did. He plunged the knife into his abdomen. Blood flowed over the enso, and pain engulfed him. Someone was laughing. “It’s so much more delicious when you kill yourself,” the stranger said. His smile cut across a fiendish face that was now a network of veins with strips of hanging flesh. Yasu couldn’t look away from the man’s eyes, once so kindly, now black holes where shadows darted about deep within his sockets. The fog of phantoms had ended their dance. They hovered behind the man, heads hanging. From Yasu’s wound, the man extracted faint wisps of what looked to Yasu like blue smoke. He felt as if the man was pulling at a thread connected to something deep within him and collecting the smoke-thread in his hand. The collected wisps of blue began to take shape. A flame, weak and small, but growing brighter each time the man pulled another one out of him. “Stop!” Detective Nakamura crashed through the fog and grabbed the hand that held the knife. She had just enough time to notice that the strange blue light she had seen through the fog leapt into the man’s wound before a shriek pierced her skull. She screamed in agony, but kept her hold on the man’s hand. The thick fog blinded her. Something solid was punching at her chest, again and again. She raised an arm to push away her attacker, but met only air. Her heart skipped a beat with each thunderous blow, but she kept her grip on the hand that held the knife, hoping the man wouldn’t plunge it any deeper into his abdomen. The pounding on her chest stopped. She had just enough time to say to the man on the ground, “You’re going to be ok,” before she felt two hands wrap around her throat, squeezing tighter and tighter and tighter. Her breath became gasps; her grip on the man’s hand grew weak, then she let go. Laughter, cruel and triumphant, rang through the forest. The fog receded slightly. Hovering before Nakamura was a butterfly. Black. Macabre. A butterfly with a demonic face—the face from the knife!— and hands that encircled her throat. Fog obscured all but the demonic face that glared at her as she grew limp and small bursts of light exploded behind her eyes. She was only dimly aware of foglike fingers wedging between her and the butterfly. The fog thickened, then congealed into a jellified wall that pushed the butterfly away from her. The pressure on Nakamura’s throat weakened, then abruptly stopped. She dropped to all fours, gasping for breath. The butterfly-beast dove into the knife in the man’s abdomen, which Nakamura recognized as the one she had found and lost so many times. The fog drifted away, formed into a funnel, then followed the butterfly into the enso. Nakamura recognized the man as one of those she regularly saw at this time of night. He grabbed the knife handle with both hands. “Don’t do it! Think of your family!” Nakamura yelled at the same time Yasu screamed, “I want to live!” and jerked the knife out of his abdomen. Blood boiled up from his wound. Nakamura picked up the knife. It’s handle glowed, its enso pulsed. She dared to look at the face that had once terrified her. Fury burned in its blackened eyes. She gasped, then coughed at the pain that tore across her injured throat. As she coughed, her breath misted and brushed against the enso before dissipating. The enso burned blue for a moment; the face recoiled. Curious, Nakamura breathed on the knife again, harder this time. The enso again turned blue, and the face partially retreated into a gray shadow in the stone, but then paused when the enso returned to black. Each time she breathed on the enso, the face grimaced, as if in pain, but the enso always returned to black. A ragged, triumphant smile slowly spread across the face as it emerged from the shadows, bold and fierce. Yasu moaned. Nakamura knew she should get help, but she sensed that, if she left now, the cycle of death would continue. She closed her eyes, resigned to saving the life of the man in front of her, and furious that the end to the deaths was so close, but would remain elusive. Then, her father’s voice from those long-ago lessons echoed in her mind: “Your essence couples with your breath, your breath connects to your movement, your movement draws the Enso, the Enso is you in the context of the moment.” Nakamura took a chance and breathed smoothly and evenly, allowing her breath to carry away the pain in her throat. With each breath, she drew an enso in her mind. Something deep within her formed and moved through her. She opened her eyes and blew a long stream of misted breath onto the knife handle, then stared in astonishment as a speck of blue light radiated from within her breath, then darted into the enso. It landed on the dagger-like point that defiled the enso’s center. She continued her focused breathing. With each exhale her light in the knife’s handle glowed brighter. Its dazzling energy lit the inner edges of the enso, eliminating the shadows. The ghostly face, with nothing to hide behind, screamed and writhed, twisted and shriveled, like the edges of burning paper. Its black eyes were the last to burn away. Nakamura dropped the knife in surprise when a column of phantoms flew out of the enso and disappeared into the sky. *** The beep, beep, beep of the monitors cut through the sobs in the hospital room. “Daddy, please don’t die. Come back to us,” whispered a little girl, her mother stroking her hair. The other girl held her father’s hand, holding back her tears. Yasu heard. I’m trying. *** Nakamura shuffled across the tatami mat. She bowed deeply to her father, whose eyes were still alert despite his one hundred and five years, and placed a knife with an enso etched into its handle in front of him. “I have something that might interest you, father.”