Once there was a fisherman who saw a school of fish. And each of these fish appeared to him as the same fish. They were all one fish really just separated into many kinds of the same fish. And after he caught that fish, he walked home and saw the longest vine with a thousand bulbs about to bloom and they appeared to him as one and the same bulb. And after the sun set, he ate his fish by the fire and looked up at the sky and saw all the stars as the same star split into many, but all the same, one star, really. And when he walked through the village to go fishing the next day, he saw the people as himself, as the same person divided into many. And when he talked to some of them he felt like he was talking to himself. And when they looked at him they looked at themselves as much as he did himself when he looked at them. Back on the boat he cut the fish open. Split it down the belly. But each half became a whole again and now there were two fish but they were also one.
Once there was a toad that used to be a boy. And another boy found this toad in the woods. It hopped sloppily and slowly so it was easy for the boy to catch. The boy picked it up and it screeched horridly. The boy thought it was so ugly and it made such a horrid sound that it should not live and he threw it as hard as he could against a tree trunk and the toad was splattered to bits.
As the boy walked home along the path, though, a witch appeared from out of the dead leaves. And her face was as ugly as a toad’s but she sang a melody that wiggled its way inside him. The beauty of her song made the boy see that he had been unfair and unkind judging life in such a trivial way. He pleaded for forgiveness on his knees in the mud. She had seen this before and dismissed his plea as a lame attempt to squirm out of her grasp.
But this witch was ugly in her thirst for punishment rather than forgiveness since she became addicted to the cycle of revenge. She had learned to savor punishment as her only reward for how the villagers treated her. Besides, the toads also made for a great stew sometimes.
When she tried to turn him into a toad, the spell ricocheted off of the boy’s genuine remorse, bounced off a few trees, and came back to strike her right between the eyes. Her flesh turned inward as she shrank into an actual toad. The boy thought it best to leave the toad alone this time so he went home and swore to never hurt another creature in that way again.
The witch flopped around in the mud, and struggled to hide in the dead leaves. Soon enough, another boy came wandering in the woods. She struggled to sing her sweet song to lure the boy into helping her but it came out as a screech the boy squished with his boot.
Once there was a prince who was the most spoiled prince of all. When the king would not give him one thing that he wanted, it would be the first and last time because the prince did not know how spoiled he was since the king had spoiled him so completely.
But somehow the prince had a gut feeling that the king might say “no,” so he asked for his wish in front of the entire kingdom. And the one time the king put his foot down, it felt like an elephant’s foot stepping on a pampered pup and the audience witnessed his little beating heart pop out of his little spoiled puppy dog chest.
All the innocent prince had wanted was to house the poor and sick in their castle in order to care for them as a member of their own family. The kingdom heard the prince’s wish and cheered for his charity and felt his love in their hearts with his spoiled request.
This made the king so irate that he called his son a spoiled brat before all of his subjects and in that moment the king looked like the most spoiled brat of all to his entire kingdom. It was as if his own son had split him in half with a sharp diamond-edged sword. One half his self-image made by him wobbled at the other image of him made by his kingdom. Caught between the betrayal of his son and his kingdom and his own betrayal of them drove the king mad. The prince thereby ascended the throne and became a king who spoiled the poor and sick until they were neither anymore.
I wrote this tale because “spoiled” is such a loaded word. Call someone spoiled and it is extremely offensive. But it also has this boomerang effect. For example, parents who spoil their children seem to be prone to calling their children spoiled. Or politically-minded people seem to thrive on the idea that their opponents are the spoiled ones, while their opponents think the same of them. Spoiled people do not think they are spoiled but are quick to point out someone who is more spoiled than they. Lastly, the word can have a pleasurable connotation. When you spoil a child or a pet rotten and they exhibit spoiled behavior at you who spoiled them, you can get this feeling where anger at being taken for granted crosses its wires with your absolute devotion for what you love and the result fills the chest and flares the nostrils with a certain joyous mischief.
Once there was a great tree whose branches served as a canopy over the village and when it had leaves everyone worshipped its protection. But it had lost its leaves after a long drought and was thought to be dead, so the villagers cut its branches whenever they needed them until the limbless trunk was left. The village was naked under the blazing sun and they hated the tree for having died. After they got used to the heat, they forgot about the tree.
There was one villager, though, who never stopped watering the tree everyday. Even when water was scarce, she shared whatever she had of her own supply. And when the rains came to end the drought, the great tree came back to life and regrew its heavy limbs but they only stretched over her house.
The other villagers regretted calling her an imbecile for watering the tree when they had given up on it. And they begged her to make it grow back over the rest of the village. And she told them that when she was a little girl she had a dream about the tree. Its branches covered the entire sky, all the way to the farthest horizon. The leaves floated on high like clouds. But then the entire tree flattened before her into a surface without depth and revealed its timeless form. And she became a breathless stone beside it. Never did she feel such a bond reverberate between her and the tree. When she woke up, she felt the warm sensation of peace emanating from her stomach.
The villagers scratched their heads because they had never had such a dream nor felt such things but decided to worship the tree anyways, and though their faith wasn’t as strong as the dreamer, it was consistent now. And the great tree slowly forgave them by branching out to cover their village once again.
Once there was a magical swing deep in the woods and whenever someone swung on it, one and only one wish was granted.
A girl swung on it and wished that she were a beautiful princess and as the swing swung she found herself in a castle with everyone calling her their princess. But she was immature and not ready for such a life. And when the king expected her to marry the ugliest man she had ever seen for some territory to add to his kingdom, she ran away and stumbled into a hard life of trading things for food and a place to sleep and she quickly got a burning illness and died wishing she had never been granted her wish in the first place.
A boy swung into his wish to become a hero. And the boy found himself thrust into battle for which he was not ready. The only thing he could think to do in the heat of battle was to throw himself in front of the king and he took an arrow to the heart and died a hero but lived such a short life without savoring any hard won accomplishment.
An old man swung into his wish to be young and healthy again. And he went with other young people but they didn’t like him because he acted so old. He went with older people and they didn’t like him either because he looked so young and it reminded them of what they had lost. And when he witnessed his children pass away, his heart broke for he hadn’t thought of going through that when he made the wish and so he jumped off a cliff.
An old woman swung into her wish to be the most powerful king. As king, she handed over her power to the queen and commanded the kingdom to obey the transfer of power. And when the queen assumed the throne, she had the king executed so that he could not try to regain the power he lost.
A man swung into his wish to be the horse of his unrequited love. He galloped when she requested. He trotted for her. He shook his handsome mane in her radiating presence. he savored every brush stroke and when she gave him a little heel kick in his ribs he yearned to lick her beautiful toes. Every sugar cube tasted like bliss as she gazed into his eyes. But when he couldn’t hold it back anymore and advanced on her in the barn, they had to put the crazed horse down.
And there was a woman whose mother always said to be careful what you wish for. So she swung into her wish to not become anything she wasn’t prepared for. Her wish came too true. Since she stuck to only what she was ready to do, she couldn’t progress or gain insight through the mistakes her wish forbade her from making.
Once there was a deranged warrior who swung his mace across his own land since there were no more wars to fight in other lands. Drunk on his power, he asked anyone who crossed his path if they saw what he saw and if they could not say what was exactly on his mind he would swing his mace and smash their heads clean off. He asked anyone young or old, small or big, and dispatched thousands of them in this way. The thing that was on his mind was always the same exact thing: if I am not you and you are not me then how are we us?
The warrior had already smashed a few heads one day when a little girl stood before him with a rigid posture that bothered him. She looked so fragile but that rigidity scared him to think that anything powerful could be in such a little thing. He had already raised his mace so that its shadow covered her face when he asked her his question but the little girl said exactly what was on his mind and then answered his question: “silly fool, do you not see that a triangle must have three points to be a triangle at all? You are trying to make three points into one and it’s impossible. So shame on you for killing all those people for your stupid riddle.” Clearly the warrior did not understand what she had just told him and he begged her to explain it to him so he could understand it.
The girl took a triangular cracker out of her pocket. She said she would explain it more clearly if he dropped the mace and got on his knees and ate this cracker out of her hand. So he got down to her level and put the cracker in his mouth. But it was hard as a stone and cracked a tooth. He spit it out but she told him that he had to eat it if he wanted to understand. He tried to swallow it but its triangular shape stuck in his throat and his face went red. As he choked on the cracker, the little girl told him in the most rigid voice he had ever heard, “you are not you anymore but I am still I and we are still us without you and that is the cracker of truth you couldn’t swallow.”
Once there were two lovers who met at a cascading waterfall with three pools. It was love at first sight at the top pool which was crystal clear. The sandy bed cushioned their feet and the surface sparkled in their eyes. The waterfall made the pool full of bubbles tickling their bodies as they swam in bliss.
Eventually they wandered down to the middle pool where the waterfall flowed with less power than at the top. It was warm and pleasant. This emerald green pool mirrored the canopy of the trees. It was so serene that the lovers knew their lives could be spent there. It seemed as if each were a part of the other. Their bodies swam together in perfect synchronicity.
Then they wandered down to the bottom pool, or really more a black pond where the waterfall came to a trickle. It was so dark there under the heavy canopy that it could’ve been a cave.
The lovers accidentally fell into the black pond. It became thick and sticky. The lovers argued about what to do and who got them in this situation as the water became a sludge. Transfixed, they could see faint traces of skeletons intertwined at the center.
When they escaped the black pond and made it back to the middle pool, it appeared differently to them. Not as serene as before. The emerald green pool lost its luster. The canopy was dull and sagging. It was as if the black pond had oozed upstream.
The lovers ran desperately to the top pool. Somehow the top pool had changed but it had become even richer. The effervescence broke on their skin. And as they swam in that most blissful of pools, their bodies transformed into caustics of light.
Once there was a boy and a girl who went into the woods but only the boy returned. The villagers went looking for the girl but only found her clothes drenched in blood. And when they demanded that the boy tell them what had happened, he could not speak a word.
Some of the villagers blamed the boy for killing the girl and demanded that he give up his life in return.
Other villagers blamed the boy’s parents for not raising him correctly and demanded that the parents pay the ultimate price for the endless sorrow of the girl’s parents.
And others blamed the girl for going into the woods with the boy and said she got what she deserved.
And some even blamed her parents for not teaching her better and thought they also deserved to go in the woods and never come back with their self-inflicted sadness.
One villager said that they all were to blame for this tragedy because they should’ve prevented the boy and girl from going into the woods in the first place. But the rest of the villagers blamed him for blaming them for something that did not involve them or their children as they saw it.
And that night, suspicions grew so wildly that some villagers set fire to the homes of those they blamed. And they in turn torched the homes of whoever they blamed. Eventually the entire village was on fire.
In the morning, the villagers were ready to kill each other when the missing girl stepped out of the woods.
And they blamed her for destroying their village and so they knew they had to sacrifice her. They decided it was best to sacrifice the boy as well for not talking, even though the boy pleaded that he did not talk for the very reason that he had seen them do this before.
And after they burned them at the stake, the villagers rebuilt their homes together and lived in brief harmony until the next outburst of blame and it’s only solution.
Once there was a warrior who hated everybody. This hatred made him the most formidable opponent anyone ever faced. His bottomless hatred was sharpened by several disciplines of combat. He lived according to the rule that pain is the best teacher of all. He bathed in ice and slept near a furnace. He shaved his hair and tattooed his entire body to intimidate others. He ate and drank anything sour and bitter to kill all pleasure.
In battle, he never showed mercy to even the weakest opponent. He drove spears into the backs of anyone who ran away. He crushed the skulls of those who groveled for their life on all fours. He had beaten the best in every way he could imagine.
But there was a warrior from another kingdom. This one did not look like a warrior at all. He always had a smile on his face. And he was fascinated by fighting. He saw battle as a game of thresholds. Endlessly fascinating to figure out the breaking point of an opponent with the least amount of effort on his part. Strategy motivated him. He felt no shame when he lost but seldom did. Defeating an easy opponent gave him no thrill. He always wanted to compete against someone perceived as better.
Everyone loved the smiling warrior because he loved just about anything there was to love when he wasn’t fighting. He knew in his heart that the only reason to battle was to save what was worth fighting for and that was love. He loved his king and queen. He loved his wife and his kids. He loved his fellow warriors. And he loved to drink and eat. But he also had a love for the less fortunate who needed his protection.
One day the hateful warrior met the smiling warrior on a battlefield. Their kingdoms had clashed and they were the flashpoint. The hateful warrior thought nothing of the smiling warrior. And the smiling warrior laughed in his face. In anger, the hateful warrior lifted his mace and swung it to smash that smile right off his face. But the smiling warrior’s reflexes were much faster and he moved backward just enough to feel the wind of the mace brush his nose.
The hateful warrior stumbled off balance but regained leverage and performed a surprisingly quick backswing that lifted the smiling warrior off his feet and on his back. The smiling warrior rolled over and got to his fight with a spring in his step. He had gone with the blow so it did not hurt him as badly as it looked. And he blew the hateful warrior a kiss.
The hateful warrior screamed and rushed at him like a bull. The smiling warrior unsheathed his dagger as he pirouetted beside the bull rush and mid-spin sliced the nape of his neck where he had spotted a space between armor and helmet. The hateful warrior felt blood gushing down his back. His eyes reddened with madness.
The smiling warrior noticed a hot pain as he was pirouetting and looked down to see that a few of his fingers had been lopped off by the hateful warrior’s sharp armor. The smiling warrior wrapped his hand in a cloth and pulled out a single needle and told the hateful warrior that if he accepted defeat he would not destroy him with this single needle.
The hateful warrior grabbed his sword and lunged forward to skewer him. The edge of his blade sliced the smiling warrior’s armor but didn’t touch his belly flesh. And the smiling warrior poked the hateful warrior’s left eyeball. One of the hateful warrior’s men laughed at the absurd fight and the hateful warrior beheaded him mid-laugh with one backward swing.
The smiling warrior offered him another chance to surrender. But the hateful warrior lunged forward again. The smiling warrior could’ve easily poked out his other eye but told him that he should do better than repeating the same move on him. The hateful warrior swung to lop off the smiling warrior’s limbs but the smiling warrior swiftly dodged the blows and went ahead and blinded the hateful man since in his view he had insisted upon it.
Covering his eyes, the screaming hateful warrior bent over and the smiling warrior kicked him in the ass toward his own men. He accidentally fell on one of their swords and impaled himself.
Many years later the smiling warrior met his match in a much younger man. They danced in battle for what seemed an eternity. He was in combat bliss as they traded equal blows. And when his age caught up with him and his reflexes failed him he took his defeat with much satisfaction at being dispatched by such a worthy opponent. And in his fleeting moments, he smiled as he thought of all he had loved.
Once there was a knight who found a labyrinth. As soon as he entered it, though, he exited it in an instant. He wondered what he could have missed because he had been told that this labyrinth was impossible to escape.
He turned around and went back in through the exit and turned corner after corner to find the entrance that he could not so easily find. Some corridors looked long but then felt short. And as soon as the walls seemed to be unfolding toward the entrance that had become the exit, they folded back in on him and made him feel like he was trapped in the smallest of cages.
In one cul-de-sac, he saw a child playing and unconcerned with being in the labyrinth at all. In another dead end, he saw an old knight who was skin and bones and was, like the child, unconcerned about the situation he found himself in. He wondered what cruel hand could have made such a trap.
Sometimes the ground felt soft and the walls seemed to wobble, but then he’d turn on his heels and the ground turned hard and the walls impregnable. He tried to follow a breeze but it would change direction. And the shadows were no help since they changed to fit his view. When he tried to mark a wall or the floor, they appeared where he was sure he had never been before.
The knight wished he had never thought of coming here. He should’ve listened when they told him it was impossible to leave. But exactly that notion of impossibility made it impossible for him to resist. So there he was, where he had always been. But he hadn’t thought enough about it, until he did, and went in through the exit to find the entrance only to get lost in time’s design instead.