Storytime: Taking Baby From a Stranger.

October 23rd, 2013

Once upon a preamble, an old, old storyteller walked the long lonely roads of the backwoods, on his way from somewhere to somewhere else. And as he walked he sang, to keep his spirits up. And as he sang he got hungry, because his legs were old and creaky and his lungs weren’t much better and damnit they’d made hills less steep back in his youth, when did these things get so tall.
So he had a sit-down, and he had a look around for food. Berries there were none, small stupid furry creatures were absent, nuts and fruits nowhere to be seen.
But just as the old, old storyteller was about to give it all up for lost, lo and behold he did bump his foot upon a soft white thing! “Aha!” he cried. “Is that what I think it is?” And he picked it up and discovered to his great satisfaction that it was indeed an egg, and the ugliest, lumpiest, and soft-shelledest he’d ever set eyes nor fingers upon, and that it smelt faintly of dung.
Cursing his bad back and luck alike, the old, old storyteller wrenched himself to his feet once more and prepared to throw the offending object away, but then a faint twittering voice appeared.
“Whatever are you doing?” it said. The old, old storyteller looked up – his neck fairly snapped in three at this exertion – and saw a fat, stupid-looking blackbird perched up above him in a rough little nest.
“I’m perishing of hunger,” explained the old, old storyteller. Then an idea brewed itself in his old, old kettle-head, and he smiled. “Would you care to make a trade? A single one of your little itty-bitty eggs there in your nest for this, the largest egg I have ever seen!”
“I don’t know about that,” said the blackbird. “But I don’t not know about that either. I’m confused.”
“Heed the wisdom of an old, old storyteller,” said the old, old storyteller. “Once upon a time there was a bird and a man. The bird gave away a small lousy egg and got a big wonderful one in return. The best chick in the world came from that egg, and the bird had a happy and fulfilling life afterwards.”
“I’m still confused,” said the blackbird.
“The moral of the story is that bigger is better,” explained the old, old storyteller.
“The what of the story?”
“Take this, give me that,” said the old, old storyteller.
“Oh,” said the blackbird. “All right!”
So they traded eggs, and as the blackbird explained himself to his wife the old, old storyteller walked down the road with his fresh-laid lunch in hand, sucking happily at it.

In due time, the eggs hatched. There were many of them, and the blackbird and his wife had a tough time of keeping track of them all. There was one, who was big, two, who was bigger; the other one, who was fat; the little one, who wasn’t as small as the other one; and Maria, who was slightly larger than all of the others put together, possessed a mouthful of sharp little teeth and a long, sinuous tail, and had no wings, beak, or feathers.
“It’s so much trouble remembering you all,” complained the blackbird. “And all you do is eat, eat, eat. We barely have worms for ourselves these days.”
“Right,” said his wife.
But as the weeks went by, the blackbird and his wife found their burden pleasantly alleviated. For even as their young grew, their appetites seemed to shrink and shrink. Maria in particular didn’t seem to eat any worms at all. At first this pleased the blackbirds. But then one day the blackbird’s wife noticed something.
“Dear,” she said, “how many children do we have?”
“I don’t know,” said the blackbird. “There was one and two and the other one and the little one and Maria. How many are in the nest?”
They thought about that.
“That’s not as many….is it?” said the blackbird.
“I don’t think so,” said the blackbird’s wife. “But she’s too lazy to leave. They should all be getting ready to leave now, and she just sits around all day. And I don’t think her feathers are growing in properly.”
So they spoke to their daughter, who was now overflowing at both sides of the nest, and reluctantly informed her of their difficulties.
“You’ll have to go,” said the blackbird.
“Why?” asked Maria.
“It’s not personal,” explained the blackbird’s wife. “It’s just practical.”
“We can’t raise a little nest forever,” said the blackbird. “Especially if you aren’t going to move. You’re too big for the nest. Actually, you’re nearly too big for the tree.”
Maria whimpered feebly, and shuffled awkwardly in the (slightly bloody) down that filled her bed. “It’s my fault, isn’t it?”
“Not at all,” they explained. “You’ll be fine somewhere else, when you go someplace else. You just don’t fit in.”
“Oh,” said Maria. And then because it had been a long while since the other one, she ate them.

Days later and Maria wandered through the woods, lost and alone (and a bit sore from the fall). “All by myself, with nowhere to go, with nothing to be,” she lamented loudly. “Where will I fit in? Where am I meant to be? What am I meant to do?”
“I take pity on you, little lost person,” said a nearby berry-bush. “Why not come live as a berry-bush with me?”
“Oh, could I?” sighed Maria. “What do you do?”
“Yes indeed!” said the berry-bush. “It’s as simple as can be. Just plant yourself right there, in the dirt.”
So Maria did that.
“Now you just wait there until something nibbles on you,” said the berry-bush.
“Then what?” asked Maria.
“Why, it’ll run away with your seeds, of course!” said the berry-bush. “The more the better. Look! Here comes one now!”
Sure enough, there came a little frightened skittering thing, made of fluff and bone –a squirrel. It sat in its tree with frightened eyes, checking every which way for danger sixteen times over. Then it leapt to the ground, where it froze and crouched and looked even behind its own shadow. Then finally it plucked up its courage, made a mad dash, and ran straight into Maria’s mouth where she swallowed it.
“Did I do it right?” she asked.
“Maybe try again,” said the berry-bush. “Carefully.”
Some months later Maria had grown another few feet and the berry-bush’s crop had entered the final stages of rot-on-the-vine.
“I think,” said the berry-bush, hoarsely, “that you’d better leave. I think.”
“Why?” whispered Maria, a tear crawling down her scaly cheekless cheeks.
“It’s just… I don’t think you’re going to get it. It’s not quite your proper place. You just don’t fit in.”
“Oh,” said Maria. And she walked off sobbing, crawling over the berry-bush in her grief and accidentally mashing it straight into the forest floor with her low-hanging belly.

Weeks later and Maria roamed the grasslands, lost again and more alone than ever, and ferociously hungry.
“All by myself again, with nowhere to go, with nothing to be,” she complained at the top of her lungs. “What am I? Who knows? Not me.”
“Oh you poor litt – really quite big thing,” sighed a passing doe. “You remind me so much of my own children, all grown up and eaten by wolves now, bless their hearts. I’ll look after you. You can be a deer.”
“Please, please, please tell me how,” pleaded Maria. “What do you do?”
“Stand around and be frightened,” advised the doe. “If you hear anything, flip your tail at it and run away as fast as you possibly can. If you have time, try to nibble on some grass or something like that.”
“All right,” said Maria. “I’ll try.”
So they stood there, the two of them, the doe and Maria, both staring without blinking. Then there was a snap of a twig and fwip-bounce-bounce the doe was bounding away into the bushes, leaving Maria standing there.
“What was that?” she asked.
“Me,” replied a voice.
“Me,” added another.
“And me too!” hurried in a third.
“Huh,” said Maria. She still couldn’t see anything, but then again she was only a foot or so off the ground. “What are you?”
“Ah,” said Maria very wisely. “Of course. Wolves. I see.”
“Say, did you see which way that deer went?” asked the first voice.
“No,” said Maria. “I didn’t see the doe I was talking to run away in any direction at all.”
“Hmm. Which way did she not run?”
“She PARTICULARLY did not run that way,” said Maria craftily.
“Ah. I see,” said the voice. “Very good. Carry on with…whatever you’re doing.”
Maria waited there for a while.
And a while.

And another while.

“Oh right,” she said. “Run away as fast as you possibly can! Whoops.”
So she picked herself up and trundled carefully away into the forest as fast as her stubby little legs and sluggishness out of the sunshine could take her, and in no time at all she stumbled across the doe, who was lying on one side on the ground and missing the other side entirely.
“Oh deer,” said Maria. “What’s happened to you?”
“wolves.” wheezed the doe. “ate me.”
“Oops,” said Maria. “I’m sorry, I forgot to run.” Then she remembered. “Oh! And I forgot to flip my tail! I forgot everything! I didn’t even nibble any grass!” She began to cry again. “I’m not even frightened right now!”
“maybe. you shouldn’t. don’t. fit in.” managed the doe.
“Oh no, oh no,” wept Maria. And she ate the doe because the wolves had left so much of her behind and she was still very hungry and the grass didn’t look tasty to her.

A month and more came and went and found Maria wandering the rough hills by the rivers, tripping on rocks and chewing on the odd gopher – not nearly enough for her, now that she’d grown bigger yet. “This is lonely and I am still not doing anything properly,” she complained to everyone near. “Can someone please help? Can someone tell me what do? Can someone tell me who to be?”
“I’ll do it!” said a man digging a deep pit. “That said, stop walking. You’re going to land on my head in a minute.”
“Sorry,” said Maria. “What are you and what do you do?”
“I’m a potter,” said the potter. “I happen to be needing an apprentice. You’ll be digging pits and hauling firewood and stoking kilns and shoving carts. It’s hard work, but it’s good for you. You don’t eat too much, do you?”
“I only eat one meal a week or less,” said Maria.
“Sounds good,” said the potter. “Now come along and pull me out of here. I’m stuck up to my crotch.”
And it did sound good. But as it turned out, Maria’s one meal was the size of about twenty potter’s meals, and she didn’t move much until the sun was high in the sky, and after that she could only work for a few hours until she needed to go and cool herself off. Come spring and the grass she sprung, the fresh air and new life found the potter destitute, emaciated, despondent, and pissed off. Maria was doing nicely, though.
“You’re a good-for-nothing freeloader and a load and a cheat and a waste of space and I wish I’d never met you,” he explained to her. “Also, you’re shit at making anything but pinch-pots. And to be honest, I wouldn’t put anything liquid in those.”
“Sorry,” said Maria.
The potter rubbed his head with his hands, removing sick or seven buboes as he did so. “Look, this isn’t working at all. You just don’t fit in at all.”
“But where will I go?” sobbed Maria. “Everyone says that to me all the time and they never tell me what to do and I STILL don’t know what I am!”
“Go jump in a lake,” said the potter.
“Oh!” said Maria. “Oh! Thank you very much! Thank you so very much!” She would’ve thanked the potter more, but after that her mouth was full of him and it was difficult to speak.

It wasn’t a long trip to the lake. The potter had lived just a short walk north of it, though he preferred to take his drinking water from the little shallow creek that ran along the side of his house, barely deep enough to wet the bottom of Maria’s belly.
Water that was deep enough to swim in was new to her. She flopped in and paddled along, and was most disconcerted to find herself unable to tell herself apart from the floating logs surrounding her.
“Oh no!” said Maria. “Not again! I’m lost AGAIN, and this time I can’t even find myself! Can somebody please, please, PLEASE tell me what I’m meant to be doing here? Can someone tell me what I am?”
“You’re doing it right now,” said a large log just upstream.
“Oh!” said Maria. “What are you?”
“A crocodile,” said the log. “Same as you.”
“Then please, please, please tell me what we do, because I’ve tried asking everyone else and nobody ever helped me much at all,” said Maria.
The crocodile grinned at her. Its teeth were even bigger than her own. “It’s pretty simple. You want to know?”
“Please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please,” repeated Maria. “Lots.”
“We eat anything and everything.”
“We eat anything?” asked Maria.
“We eat anything,” said the crocodile. His tail twitched in the current, propelling him forwards at a lazy ant’s-pace.
“We eat everything?” asked Maria.
“We eat everything,” confirmed the crocodile, drifting nearer.
“I think that I am a proper crocodile,” said Maria. “May I stay here?”
“Yes indeed, little one,” boomed the crocodile, now snout-to-snout with her. “You’ll fit right in.” And with a lunge-chomp-chomp, Maria found that she did exactly that.

The old, old storyteller would have explained the moral, but he’d died nearly a year before. Salmonella.

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