Archive for May, 2017

Storytime: Stumped.

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

Timothy Lean was in a quandary, which is like a quarry but self-creating. It was driving him to strong language.
(geez)
The exam leered at him from the vast, sparkling emptiness of his desk. Its surface was a painful white; the white of a blister – from frost, from fire, from sweat. It was making him cross.
(shit, fuck)
Timothy ransacked his skull – oh, how he hated the emptiness of that thing! – and found nothing. But wait, but wait! Just behind that was…
…more nothing.
Stumped.
(BALLS!) he shouted aloud, and was tossed out immediately.

So Timothy Lean picked up his backpack and his hat and his gripes and he dragged them all the way down the subway through the winding ways up beneath the highways and into the farthest pits of the byways, where he found his grandmother, who was a witch.
“Grandmother,” he said to her, “you’re a witch.”
“Yes,” said his grandmother. “You know that. I know that. Everyone else knows it too. You benefitted nothing and no one with that sort of thing. This is why your mother and I don’t speak.”
“Grandmother,” he ploughed onwards, “I am most pretty profoundly cursed in my brains. Every exam I’ve taken for the past six months, I’ve found myself stuck. Caught. Stopped dead. Stumped.”
“Study harder,” she told him.
“Well that’s not very helpful.”
“Neither are you.”
“I know you are but what am I?” asked Timothy, cunningly.
His grandmother had fallen right into his trap – filled with as much disgust as she was at that moment, she would’ve agreed to run over glass barefoot to get him out of there. “Fine. Fine. Here’s your stupid magic, you rotten fruit of my fruit’s loins. Put this little twig around your neck. Then, just before your exam, find a tree. Walk up to it and put your lips to its knothole and say ‘I’m stumped!’ loud and clear. Then get out of the way and go inside and take your exam and everything should work out okay.”
“Will I get As?”
“It’s magic, not miracles. You’ll get Cs and like it.”
“Okay, okay, okay,” he sighed, and he put the twig around his neck and walked home without saying thank-you, which honestly was to his benefit as his grandmother probably would’ve smacked his teeth loose if he’d said one more word in arm’s reach.

Biology. Mitochondria, the Golgi apparatus. Ribosomes. Timothy could already feel them leaking from his head as he hurried back to the campus.
But he had just enough time to stop and lean against a little sapling to catch his breath. And once he’d grabbed it, he twisted over his shoulder, leaned in close, and said “I’m stumped.”
WHOMP, went the air and he almost fell over, because the tree was gone and nothing was left but, well, a stump. A pretty short one.
Timothy scratched his head. Then he went indoors and had the smoothest, best biology exam of his life. He even remembered all the names of all the stages of cellular mitosis.

History was next. Dates and names and places and perspectives and texts and worst of all worst of all WORST of all: critical thinking.
Timothy stopped by a rotten old apple tree outside the building’s door for a quick moment. “I’m STUMPED,” he told it.
WHOMP there it went. The air around him was filled with falling, flying, mushy apples. One landed right on his head.
“Fuck,” he complained to the universe at large. But he knew what he knew, and he knew he couldn’t do much about it.
So he went into class and spent two hours describing post-colonialism and post-communism and the origin of the post-office. With moderate success.

Last class, last gasp, and oh Timothy was running on it. From one side of campus to the other, legs flapping, backpack bouncing, brain broiling.
And maybe it was because he’d been to see his grandmother, but he was a bit more tired than usual.
And maybe it was because he was so happy to have his exams finally turning around, but he was a bit more distracted than usual.
And maybe it was because he was wiping the applesauce out of his hair as he went, but he was a bit more clumsy than usual.
Whatever it was, there he went, up up up the steps and into the doors and woops he’d forgotten his tree and he ran outside and looked around desperately through streaking vision and THERE IT WAS and he ran up and grabbed it and gasped, extremely quiet, on his last puff of breath “imstumped.”
Nothing happened. His heart rate doubled.
“ImStumpt” he mumbled.
Nothing happened. Red fury filled his eyeballs.
“I’MSTUMP!” he roared, and he pulled off the twig around his neck and punched it as hard as he could.

Now, maybe it would’ve been okay if he’d said ‘I’m stumped.’
It could’ve been alright, if he’d had the twig around his neck.
Fewer problems if he hadn’t punched the tree.
And of course, he would’ve been much better off if he’d been talking to a tree instead of a lovely and artistically wrought lamp-post.
But we don’t live in the world with the best decisions so instead Timothy Lean went WHOMP.

Campus emergency services took about sixteen hours to dig him out. He’d put down some pretty deep roots.

Storytime: The Hagfish.

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

The silverware sparkled.
The glass gleamed.
The dishes… well, they didn’t bear describing. Words failed.
And in the center of the table in a great gold platter, dripping in her own sweat and bile, lay the Hagfish. The guest of honor once again.

“Five years?” a courtier inquired of a fop.
“Six, surely,” the fop guessed.
“It’s seven, or I’m senile,” assured a countess.
“Nine,” said a voice.
It was not a voice that should be listened to. Every instinct screamed at every smarmy syllable. If it had been a vase of flowers, it would consist entirely of little red trust-me-nots, shining with the meaty intoxications of freshly-picked fibs.
But it belonged to their host, the Duchess of Dalby, and so instead of throwing their drinks away and kicking off their shoes and running (not screaming! Waste of breath to run with!) for the windows they bowed and scraped and muttered many congratulations, humble thanks, flattery on her apt memory, etc, etc, etc.
The Duchess smiled, and they looked up it without flinching, and they knew their task was complete, and thankfully so. The Duchess’s memory for happy moments was exceeded only and greatly by her perfect and crystallized recall of any and all grudges.
For that, one had only to examine the banquet table. And the Hagfish.

“A grand ball.”
“Your finest yet.”
“Really, is this truly the hundredth? How time flies!”
And the Duchess of Dalby smiled and nodded and said “thank you,” and “my thanks,” and “indeed!” but what she thought after the last comment was how very funny a thing counting was. It all depended on where you started the list.
For instance, if one counted all the parties, balls and processions she had hosted as a single unit, this was her hundred-and-forty-ninth.
Then again, if one also included all the parties, balls and processions she had hosted under an assumed name, or anonymously, that total would grow again to one-hundred-and-sixty-three.
And if one truly wished to be generous, and included all the parties, balls and processions she had so thoroughly managed on others’ behalf as to have hosted them herself, the total would rest at a respectable three hundred and ninety seven, at which point it would be easier to count those she had not been involved in at all.
But this particular ball was special for a specific and most particular reason, as it was the hundredth since a most particular day indeed.

As the evening wore on, the requests came, pit-a-pat.
“Duchess, a word.”
“Duchess, if I might.”
“Duchess, may I be so bold?”
And obliquely and haltingly and hesitantly and discretely came the details, coughed up from the black depths of the human psyche and the bitter dredges of bad old wounds left to rot and fester in the mind.
“She spurned me.”
“He insulted me.””
“They wronged me.”
And the Duchess of Dalby nodded and smiled and made polite noises and kept most careful track of all that was said and requested and promised – so many meanings behind each word exchanged! – and recorded them in her most faithful logbook, which was inside her skull and nowhere else, and finer than that made by any pen.
She would be busy indeed when the ball was done. Truth be told, the planning of the things bored her to tears, but oh she did love the work they brought in.

The meal was served – no, launched. The Hagfish squirmed in limbless appreciation at it, chuckling from the depths of her serving platter.
“A good spread tonight,” she told the Duchess of Dalby as she served herself of the grand stew – a seething, frothing thing whose body was meat and whose spirit was sublime and whose smell was euphoric. The Hagfish’s voice was coarse and strangely high. Years before it had been very different, the Duchess thought fondly. Before she had made a project of her throat. She patted the old mangled thing on her hip – touching the raw exposed bone and needling a bare nerve – and strode away to the appetizers.
“Use the knife!” the Hagfish called after her. “They always like a spotless death, but it works better if you use the knife! They never forget that.”
Eleven years since the first piece came out of her hide and the old bat still persisted in telling her what to do, thought the Duchess, as she savagely skewered a selection of cheese. You’d have thought she’d have learned her lesson after the Duchess removed the fiftieth fragment of her liver.
But no. This wasn’t the Hagfish’s night. She was just the table setting. This was her night. Her moment. Her commemoration. She mustn’t forget that. She mustn’t let anyone else forget that.
The Duchess clicked her fork against the side of her glass, once. And the room fell silent.
Yes, this was what she needed.

“A toast,” she said, “to yourselves. My clients, my friends, my proud acquantances.”
The cheers flew freely.
“A toast!” she cried, “to this night. A wonder the likes of which I promise you’ve not seen.”
Oh, the windows shook.
“And a toast,” she screamed, “to the old-gone queen of the assassins, the handmaiden of death, the mother of murder, the Hagfish, Nella Triy, who was once the host for so many lovely parties such as these, and whom I have mutilated so thoroughly in the past eleven years nine months and fourteen days that even I, in all my long, careful memories, cannot recall how pieces of her flesh have been cut off and thrown away!”
And the cheers were loudest of all, coming though they did from mouths stretched tooth-baringly wide with terror.
But the sound that killed the applause was very small and slight, and it was the chuckling from the grand banquet table. From the golden platter. From somewhere inside the torn, eviscerated frame of the Hagfish.
“Oh my me!” she rasped. “Oh really! I had the guess that on?”
The Duchess of Dalby did not sigh.
She did not frown.
Not so much as a crease puckered her brow.
So it couldn’t have been more glaringly obvious how furious she was, as she strode up to that table, one hand reaching into her eighth hidden pocket for something sharp and smoky-dull-shaded.
“You know better,” she murmured, as she stood above the Hagfish, considering her target, “than this.”
“And you as well!” said the Hagfish cheerfully. “Why, I knew you’d lose count some day. I just thought you’d be less proud of it. Tell me, did you enjoy the stew?”
The Duchess of Dalby opened her mouth to retort, but fell silent. Something was sinking inside her, dragging her back twenty years to when she had made a boast to her teacher, Nella Triy, and had realized immediately that it had been very stupid.
“Just a little piece,” said the Hagfish. She winked. “Nobody’d miss a little piece of me, would they? And dearie, dearie me, you DO remember how I always said never to use a poison you haven’t tried yourself.”
The sinking feeling was accelerating, and the Duchess of Dalby’s knees shook.
“I’ve got more death in my littlest scrap of flesh than you have in your whole body, poor mite,” said the Hagfish. “Although, well, I suppose that now you do too.”
The Duchess of Dalby’s mouth still had not closed. Her muscles were quivering against the bone; her blood was boiling up around her teeth. And when she fell, it was as if a signal had been raised.
There were exactly seven hundred and forty-eight guests. But there was no one there to count their bodies, no one but the Hagfish, laughing on the banquet table.
“A bit of a long job,” she said to herself. “But I’ve never fussed much about the little details. They’ll come out or they won’t, I always say. Right, m’girl? Oh! Never mind.”

Storytime: The Orchard.

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

The trees were whispering lively strong that day. Maybe it was the steady sun, giving them all the good things and watching them grow. Maybe it was the soft wind, shaking their branches and filling the air with their rustling plans.
Maybe it was something else. Passing secretive, were those trees. But they could be persuaded to share, for a price.
And oh, she knew that price, the gardener did.
Under her chime, under the bough, under the leafiest, smallest of the orchard she waited, the gardener and her cups and her little mortar and littler pestle. Aged earth granted aged flesh.
Today there would be three. Busy. But that was people for you, the ones that weren’t trees.

The first was a slight, pale thing. Torn and frayed at the edges from worries and wears on the inside. It trembled in the breeze, and would’ve trembled without it too.
“Do you have dreams?” it asked.
“All dreams,” said the gardener. “Ever.”
“I have a dream. Can I find it here?”
“What is this dream?”
“I would dream to be strong,” it said. “I would dream to speak out when my friends are slighted, to protest when asked to do wrong, to stop harm when I see it done, to witness my bad acts and stop them before they reach my hands. Can you grant me this dream?”
“Yes, I can grant you that dream,” said the gardener. She selected a cup from the old stump of her table-top, and it was a very common cup indeed – wood, plain wood, fresh wood that was almost from any tree you’d ever seen. “Follow me.”
The walk through the orchard was quiet, but that was normal whether the gardener walked with thin trembling things or boisterous loud ones or by herself. The trees induced it. Nobody likes to interrupt a long-running conversation, whether from politeness or awkwardness, and this was very old indeed.
“Here,” said the gardener, at the edge of the grove, by a thin sapling. “Lie down.”
The slight, pale thing lay down in the soft grass and looked up at the sky, which was marbled. Thick warm blue and soft cool white, mushed up like scrambled eggs. The sapling’s branches flickered at the edge of the eyes – elusive, bare, but tipped with something that could be green.
A cup intruded upon this, trailing a mild scent that could’ve been bitter or maybe not. “Drink,” said the gardener. “This fruit came from this tree, and your dream is inside it.”
The slight, pale thing drank, and when the cup was empty it fell back entirely and closed its eyes and was gone.
“A very common dream,” said the gardener in the face of sleep. “But this is no bad thing.” She eyed the tree’s branches, squinting in place of glasses. “And maybe it may be, if it not maybe not.”

When the gardener came back to her chime and her bough the second visitor was already there and waiting, which did not surprise her very much. The trees had been awfully gossipy of it – it was fidgeting as it stood there, snapping a twig into smaller and smaller pieces and picking at the bark. Its muscles seemed to jump of their own volition, like startled weasels.
“Hello there, uh, oh, hi,” it said. It dropped the twig, almost swore, then started over. “Hey.”
“Hello,” said the gardener. “Where did you find that?”
“Found what?” asked the fidgeter. “Oh, that. Not sure. Hey do you have any dreams? I was wondering if you had dreams. Do you have a dream I think I might’ve been thinking of? It was a, it was a specific kind. It was big. I got bigger, and I knew more, and people listened, and I changed the world. I changed it. I did. Because it was a big idea, so big it changed it. I made things different. Better, I’m sure. Me. Can you think of a dream like that?”
“You know,” said the gardener, “I’m nearly sure I did. Follow me.”
The path they took was bumpy and more sticks than stones and stones than dirt. But the gardener was sure-steady as a tortoise, and the fidgeter, for all its shambling gait, seemed to find out where its feet were meant to be eventually. At the heart of the orchard they halted, at the foot of a winding, wandering thing whose trunk had branched and branched and branched until its twigs were nearly trunks in themselves, and whose crown was somewhere out of sight and above mind.
“Lie down,” said the gardener, and the fidgeter did this even if it took a while for it to find a spot that made its head comfortable – the ground was littered with broken branches and dead leaves.
“Drink,” said the gardener, holding a spiraling cup in her wrinkled palm. It had two or three openings and it took a moment and a bit of spillages for the fidgeter to find out where its lips should be.
“Tastes like ash, eurgh – or wait, just clean water, or wait, maybe-” and the gardener was alone again, although this one’s eyes, she saw, did not shut.
“A good sign,” she said, “for a dream that may be good or bad. Good luck, I suppose.”

The walk back for the third was longest of all, because the gardener’s hips were passing lax in their duty by this time.
Her third was just coming up the path as she sat down. Steady of gaze, strong of stride. Bright-eyed.
“You have dreams,” it said, forcefully.
“The trees have the dreams,” said the gardener. “I just make them easier to swallow.”
“Nevertheless, you can give them. I have a most rare and powerful dream, and I want to know if it is within your ability to understand this and grant me access to it, which I want very much.”
“Please, tell me,” said the gardener.
The bright-eyed thing leaned forward, shoulders hunched in the earnestness of the deathly serious, and it opened its mouth and it spoke. “I would see a world of mirror. I would see all those who do not look like me; who do not speak like me; who do not think like me; who were born in places I was not; who were taught things I was not taught; who act in ways do not; who have families that I do not see, I would imagine them gone, all of them, forever and in all places, until I am all that is left and I am many and I am all that there is and ever will be, unchanging. Can you grant me this rare and powerful dream?”
“Oh dear, my dear, oh dear,” said the gardener, and her laughter made her hands shake as she picked up her largest cup, which was carved from dead solid stone. “That is the oldest dream of them all.”

It was not a walk. It was barely a stroll. Just the other side of the path to the orchard it lay, outside the bounds and outside all company; a solitary, giant thing. Its bark was knotted, its trunk was twisted, and its branches seemed reluctant to spread, tucked tight against its sides. Its roots spread far and wide and passing shallow, and the ground was covered with its dead needles. It was a tricky thing to approach without losing foot, especially with the bright-eyed thing refusing to look down. But they managed it, and at its base the gardener pointed at the ground and said “here.” Her voice was loud and harsh against the flat air. There was no wind here, and the silence pressed down.
The bright-eyed thing sat down, but there was a frown that marred its face. “This prickles. Is there nothing better to sit against? Do you have a pillow?”
“It is what it is, and nothing less,” said the gardener. “It’s a shameful thing, to pretend a dream isn’t what it is. I wouldn’t dare.” She reached out her arms, gripping the ancient cup two-handed and wobbling. Old pungency seeped from its sides. “Here. Drink, and dream.”
The bright-eyed thing jerked its head back. “No, no, not like this, it’s meant to be”
The gardener lifted her arms up over her head and dropped the cup, which landed home with a firm smack, and she was alone again.
But the bright-eyed thing wasn’t. She could already feel the roots creeping under her feet, eager to anchor themselves. She could hear the groan of all those buried voices, under sap and bile.
“Congratulations,” she said, as she picked up the empty cup.

The needles were sharp underfoot, and though it was the shortest the walk back home seemed oh so painful.
But the wind was still there when she returned, and so were the whispers of the orchard.

Storytime: Mother’s Day.

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

“Happy mother’s day!” said the sea turtle.
“Well, that’s a surprise,” said the sea turtle’s mother. “I can’t say I expected that.”
“It did take me forty years to find you,” the sea turtle admitted. “But you know, you DID bury us in the sand and swim away immediately.”
“Fair true, fair true. So. Did you get me a present?”
“Well, we were going to make you a nice brunch-”
“Ooh!”
“-but Barry was going to get the groceries, and a seagull ate him –”
“Ooh.”
“-and Janice was the one who was going to work the pancakes, and she was buried too deep and suffocated before she could dig her way out of the nest –”
“Oh.”
“And the rest were eaten by various fish one way or t’other. Sharks, a lot of us. I’m all that’s left, sad to say.”
They bobbed there in the current, considering all this.
“And what was your job, may I ask?”
“Oh. I had to wish you happy mother’s day.”
“Well done.”
“Don’t mention it. Well, see ya.”

“Happy mother’s day!” said the bear.
“Well isn’t that just adorable,” said the bear’s mother. “And what have you got there?”
“’s a cooler!”
“Well that’s nice.”
“’s blue!”
“A good colour.”
“Got sandwiches innit!”
“Oh my!”
“’n those guys wannit back!”
“Well. That DOES explain the crashing noises. Tell you what dear, I’ll hold onto this for you – thank you so much, it’s really very lovely – and you climb this tree for a moment.”
“Aw.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll save some for you.”

“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant. “The others said to say ‘happy mother’s day!’, but they couldn’t fit in the brooding chamber.”
“That’s very kind of you all,” said the queen ant, their mother. “May I make a request?”
“Yes!” they chorused.
“Could you please take care of your younger sisters today? They grow up so fast, and they really do need a nursemaid or four dozen.”
“We do that every day,” one said. “That’s just normal.”
“Girls, please kill and dismember your sister and feed her to the babies.”
“Augh!”
“Thank you very much, all of you! Such lovely daughters I have.”

“Happy mother’s day,” said the elephant.
“Fuck off,” said the elephant’s mother.
“I got you a present.”
“Go to hell.”
“It’s a really nice one.”
“It’s shit and so are you.”
“It’s this little shiny thing I pulled off a car.”
“I never want to see you again.”
“Look ma I TOLD you I’m sorry that our gestation period is nearly two years, and I feel real bad about-”
The elephant’s mother rammed him repeatedly until he ran away into the bush and left his birth herd forever, as was customary for his age group.
“NOW it’s a happy mother’s day,” she said.

“Happy mother’s day,” said the cowbird. “Can you feed me? I’m starving away here.”
“Are you sure?” asked the mother warbler. “I’m sure I just fed you. And wait, did you say-”
“Yes, it’s mother’s day. A happy one. I demand you bring me breakfast in bed. Peep peep peep oh no I’m withering away, feed me feed me feed me aaaauuuugh.”
“Alright, if you say so.”
“Sucker.”

“Happy mother’s day,” said the global community to the planet at large.
“Well, that’s nice,” said the planet. “What brought this on?”
“I need a loan.”
“Oh.”
“Just a little one though.”
“How much?”
“Everything you’ve got times like one point five, at negative interest.”
“That’s-”
“Thanks mom. See ya.”

Storytime: The Monarch

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017

“Pillories.”
It was a beautiful blue sky.
“Shackles.”
Most people would give a lot to see that kind of sky.
“Thumbscrews.”
But at that particular moment, naked and bleeding on his back, in that meadow, the king would’ve given more and more besides to make it go away behind those tiny white wisps of cloud.
“Knives! Torches! Pinchers! Salt!” screamed the king, and collapsed even farther in on himself, with a thump.
One of the little white clouds detached itself from the sky and landed on the tip of his nose.
“Hello,” she said.
“Begone, my subject,” said the king. “I am suffering in silent dignity.”
“Goodness,” said the cloud. “That must be hard. Why are you doing that?”
“I am the rightful king, and I have been deposed and betrayed and backstabbed and exiled and stabbed.”
“You said stabbed twice.”
“The second time was less metaphorical than the first.” The king winced. “And now I am left to cook to death on my back in this damnedable meadow of mine. If the thirst won’t take me first.”
“This meadow is yours?”
The king glared, and if his eyes were feeble oh his brows so very much made up for that. They beetled with the fury of a full jungle topsoil. “ALL things here are mine, as I am king. This is my meadow, my grass, my boiling, awful sky, and you are my subject and MY cloud, damn you. Why you do not cloak this sun from me, I do not know. More treason, no doubt.”
“I am a butterfly, actually,” said the butterfly as politely as she could. “And I didn’t know I was yours. Is there anything I should do to help?”
The king wheezed out a grand, slow sigh.
“Pardon?”
The king’s eye twitched.
“Hello?”
The king’s pulse wobbled alarmingly, then hiccupped reluctantly back to normal.
“Oh dear.”

When the king woke up again, he sputtered. His mouth was full of soft sweetness, mixed with the tiniest granules. His face smelled like flowers.
“Don’t spit it out! Don’t spit it out! It’ll take AGES to get all that nectar back in you!”
The king swallowed, then passed out again. The next few days were like that.

“It was my sons, you see,” he told the butterfly.
“Was what?”
“Who committed the grandest of treasons, my subject. They turned upon me for an early inheritance, to take what was mine from me and divide it up amongst themselves. But I’ll warrant they’ve already fallen to their own backbiting – the first betrayal makes the second so much smoother. Swine! Filth! I’ll have them placed in a gibbet and garroted! I’ll have them scalded with branding irons, then placed in iron maidens! I’ll see them drawn and quartered in this very meadow, under this damned, burning, always-searing sky!”
“Oh that sounds very nice,” said the butterfly. “When you’ve finished drawing them, may I see the pictures?”
The king tried to explain, but as he rasped he shifted and writhed in pain. “Ah!”
“Is it the backstab? You said there was a backstab-”
“The sunburn. The sunburn. Always the damned, damned, damned sunburn,” he moaned. So he turned over – painfully – onto his stomach, showing his pale spine to the world and hiding his reddened face under his beard. And he refused to say another word but made his way to painful, prolonged sleep.
His dreams were full of whispers, a soft susurrus that didn’t come from anything as complicated as a mouth. Tiny, hairy legs brushed his ears, and he whimpered until he was gone again.

When he woke, he was covered in the lightest, airiest sheet he could’ve imagined, something between a robe and a blanket. It was pale in the morning glow.
“What is this?” he asked the butterfly.
“Spider-silk,” she told him. “Most of them are quite friendly if you’re too big for them to eat. And I’m a little too big, and you’re MUCH too big, so they were a little friendly enough to feel much too friendly. Is it nice?”
The king hadn’t felt anything so smooth since his childhood cradle. And here was where he found his problem: he couldn’t nod regally to signal his gratitude, because his head was squished into the dirt against his beard.
So he did something else, something he hadn’t done for. Well. Maybe ever.
“Thank you,” he said. And he meant it.

There were good days and bad days.
On the good days, the king stood up, and walked all the way to the tree at the edge of the meadow and back.
On the bad days the king tripped over a root at the tree and fell over on his injured back and couldn’t get back up again, or even turn himself over.
There had only been one bad day. But it had been enough.
“Are you alright?” asked the butterfly.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” said the king. “It’s nice and shady here, anyways. It’s good to have a break from the sun. Nobody should be boiled like that.” He yawned. “You know, I had people boiled once.”
“Really? What for?”
The king shrugged. “Foolishness.”
“They must have been very foolish indeed to need it boiled out of them like that.”
“Oh no, the foolishness wasn’t theirs.” The king scratched at his beard. “This is a good meadow. I feel silly to have never seen it until now.”
“But you said it was yours.”
“Oh, everything is mine,” said the king. “But most of it I hardly had any use for. A real pity. I feel like I could’ve done a lot with that. It’s all over now, though. I don’t think I can be a king anymore. No throne, no court. No crown.”
“What’s a throne?”
“A sort of seat.”
“Well, you have the tree. What’s a court?”
“A bunch of subje – of people, who help you.”
“You have us. What’s a crown?”
The king tried to left his hand to his brow, but all his arm would do was shake. “A sort of hat. It goes on your head. Goodnig” and that was the end of that conversation, as it had been so many.

When the king woke up at sunset, there was weight in his lap. Not much, but weight.
Reeds and stems, willow and weeds. Woven in silk, beaded with water, and smelling just a little like fresh pollen.
“You’re still a king now, aren’t you?” asked the butterfly.
The king smiled. “I suppose so. But still, not for much longer. Do you know, I’m seeing more than a hundred of you?”
“There ARE more than a hundred of us. How do you think we carried the crown here?”
The king was covered in little white clouds, each as delicate as a baby’s breath. He wanted to laugh, but was afraid to hurt them. Or his lungs.
“Thank you,” he told them. “Thank you all so much. But even if I was well, I think you’d be much finer monarchs than I ever was. You should keep this. I can’t wear it.”
“But we don’t have crowns, or thrones, or courts,” said the butterfly.
“Those aren’t the real things that make a king or queen,” said the king. “It’s what others think about you. And right at this moment, I am most definitely your subject. And I will show you exactly what I think.”
And the king reached up with one trembling, withered finger to his brow, and with another he tapped the tip of the butterfly’s face, and when his finger came away the butterfly had turned from the whitest of clouds to the bright strong orange of the cloudy evening sky.
“Thank you,” said the old man. And he died.

The monarchs ranged far, after that, and travelled wide and furiously.
But they remembered the little places and things wherever they roamed. And one in particular.