The Rattling Carriage

Once there was a carriage that rattled so much that it struck fear into the passengers who rode in it.  And there was a man who believed that he feared nothing and so he sought out this carriage and took a ride in it.  

He watched the other passengers, one by one, slip into their fears as the carriage rattled them this way and that.  They pushed their bodies back into their seats and their hands gripped anything near and their knuckles whitened as much as their faces.  And they were speechless as they closed their eyes as hard as they could and waited for the torture to be over.

And the carriage swung around turns on a mountainous road but this did not frighten him at all.  And the carriage rattled harder as it outrun some thieves who had tried to ambush them on the road, but he did not fear them because he was well-armed.  And the carriage jolted one of the passengers, a little boy, off his seat and out the window, but the man caught the boy by the ankle without even a flinch of fear for the child.  

Then the rattling stopped.  And the quiet allowed the passengers to open their eyes and relax their grips.  Everyone felt weightless as their bodies slightly hovered over their seats and the passengers laughed at how good it felt compared to the heavy rattling before.  The man looked out the window but only saw the air and yelled at the laughing passengers and called them insane.  They laughed even more at the face the man made.  It was the face of someone who had never felt fear before and it looked really funny to them.

When the carriage rattled again, the man could not believe it so he looked out the window again and he saw that they had gone down a very steep path of sand.  And he begged them not to tell anyone about how – as he put it – he had merely lost his cool for a moment.  And the passengers smiled at him in a way that made him give that face again.

The Secret Drawer

Once upon a time there was a very small boy whose parents had died in a terrible accident.  A carriage had bolted along the country road and squashed them under its wheels.  But he wasn’t an orphan for long because a carpenter and his wife adopted him.  From the first day, though, it was clear why.  They needed a worker to help with their business.  And this carpenter had seen the boy’s size as extremely useful to his purposes because he was in the business of building elaborate wardrobes, mostly for wealthy landowners and even royalty.  

Now everybody has secrets and such people as his customers had more to lose if those secrets ever came out.  So they needed wardrobes with secret drawers that no other carpenter could ever figure out or especially anyone who would know about such things and expose or blackmail these customers of good fortune.  

So the carpenter taught the boy the basics of his trade and the boy’s small hands were nimble and as good at detailed work as the carpenter suspected.  Also the carpenter would make a box for the boy to get into and practice woodworking in that box for however long it took to finish a particular task.  Then, the carpenter would make another box, but smaller.  And they did this until the boy could fit into a box of the dimension that the carpenter needed for him to be able to not only fit into but work in as well.  

One day, the boy was ready.  The carpenter had him climb into a wardrobe.  In there he traveled from drawer to drawer until he had found a drawer the size of that smallest box and he contorted himself to fit in it and built a secret drawer from within that no carpenter could build in the normal way.  When he finished, the carpenter inspected it and was astonished at how secretive it was.  

When the first wealthy customer arrived, it was imperative that the boy hide from sight and so he put him in a box.  He had already told the boy that the wealthy people could not know how the secret compartment was made so they could never know that he existed.  Knowing that he’d have to hide in the box, the boy had already made a few peepholes that looked more like pinholes to an average sized person.  

He peeped on the wealthy customer and heard the carpenter mention his name and title.  He was a duke from the north who was amazed at the woodwork but astonished at the secret compartment.  When the carpenter took all the credit, the boy felt the box shrink on him.  This box was much bigger than the one in the wardrobe that he worked in.  But now this box felt much smaller.  Unbearable.  It hurt so bad to have his legs and arms so confined that they yearned to flail out but somehow he managed to stay contorted until the duke left with the wardrobe.  

Busy counting his money, the carpenter forgot to tell the boy to come out of the box.  The boy slipped out of the box and grabbed a few of his things and snuck outside where the Duke’s carriage was about to leave.  He managed to slip himself under the carriage and between the axles.  And he rode this way for the entire day until they reached the duke’s castle.  

At the castle, the duke had his wardrobe placed in his bedroom.  The boy found it remarkably easy to slip into the castle.  There were hiding spots for him in every room.  He could easily contort himself to fit into any space and so he found his way to the duke’s bedroom and watched the duke place his most precious secret in the secret drawer that he had made.  When his wife came in, she had asked him about the Queen’s jewel that they had stolen and if the compartment was secret enough so he showed it to her.  That night the boy snuck into the kitchen and nibbled on some bread and cheese.  Then he found a comfy spot inside a cabinet so full of bedsheets that it was like sleeping on a bed itself.  In the morning, when the duke and his wife left to go hunting in the forest, the boy slipped into the wardrobe and retrieved the Queen’s jewel from the secret drawer.  He pocketed it and left the castle.  

It took him a few days to get back to the carpenter’s house.  The carpenter and his wife yelled at the boy for having disappeared.  They were very upset.  They had given him room and board and all he had to do was some little work in exchange.  They said they would not be able to forgive him and that he’d have to be locked up from now on.  So she made a bed for him in the closet and that became his bedroom.  

The boy made a secret drawer in his new bedroom and put the Queen’s jewel in there for safe keeping.  For weeks the carpenter set to work on a new wardrobe for another wealthy customer and the boy waited until his work was needed.  But one day, the duke returned with some guards and accused the carpenter of having stolen his precious secret item which was so secret that he could not say what it was but he said that the carpenter knew exactly what he was talking about.  The carpenter was confused and apologized.  The boy had never seen a man grovel like the carpenter did.  He kissed the feet of the duke as he begged for trust.  

The duke did not believe him and he had him and his wife arrested for theft.  Lucky for the boy he had his carpentry tools hidden in his bedroom and he was able to carve his way out of the locked door.  The boy found the jail and slipped into the cell with ease.  

The boy asked the carpenter if he could agree that if he got him out of jail and cleared him of the crime would he and his wife give him back his proper bedroom and let him work on the wardrobes for not only room and board but for a proper profit.  The carpenter eagerly agreed because he wanted this nightmare to just go away.  He knew nothing else but carpentry.  He cared for nothing but his business.  

So the boy rode from carriage to carriage and found his way to the queen’s castle.  He slipped into the queen’s study and startled her with his voice.  He bowed and told his story to the Queen as honestly as he could.  The queen heard true remorse in the boy’s voice and saw his tears of regret for having put the carpenter, who might not be the best father to him but did give him a roof and meals and work, in jail.  The queen mulled it over until her eyes lit up with the glimmer of an opportunity.  

She took back her precious stone and had her staff prepare a bedroom for the boy.  She had the carpenter and his wife taken from the jail to her court.  And she had the duke and his wife executed tout de suite.  

At a lavish dinner, the queen instructed the carpenter and his wife that he would be exonerated from the accusation of theft, and the boy too of course, if and only if they would make her the grandest wardrobe with multiple secret drawers.  They all agreed eagerly with wide smiles of joyful fear at the powerful presence of the queen.  But, she told them, the wardrobe had to be built in the castle and only after that would they be able to return to their home.  

And so the carpenter, his wife, and the boy built the wardrobe of wardrobes.  Absolutely ornate in detail and a labyrinth of drawers with several secret drawers that would defy anyone’s sense who did not know exactly where the secret drawers were beforehand.  The queen inspected the wardrobe with absolute approval and told them that she would deliver the payment to their house, but that the she had one more request that the boy stay with her for another week because she had enjoyed having a boy around ever since she had lost hers to a hunting accident.  The carpenter and his wife agreed without a second thought and revealed to the queen a lack of genuine concern for the boy.

A carriage took them away from the castle but took a detour into the woods where they were executed and buried.  And their home and workshop were bequeathed to one of the queen’s subjects who had been a loyal servant and an aspiring carpenter.

The queen told the boy that the carpenter and his wife had given her sole custody of him and that she hoped that he would accept her as his suitable guardian if not mother.  The boy kissed her hand and she hugged him.  And this is how the boy became the queen’s son and spy.

Same Fish

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.

The Toad’s Screech

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.

The Spoiled Brat

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.

The Living Canopy

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.

Swinging Wishes

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.

A Cracker of Truth

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.”

Three Pools

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. 

Blame’s Only Solution

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.