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.

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. 

The Smiling Warrior

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.

The Kingdom Plucked

Once a knight was out plucking flowers for his queen’s crown when he looked more deeply than usual into one.  Inside the flower, the knight, much to his surprise, saw a kingdom the mirror image of his own. He could see the castle and the grounds upon which he stood. 

More flabbergasting than that, he saw an ant-sized human exactly where he stood, and it moved exactly as he did. He realized it must be his miniature self looking into a minute flower. Then, the knight felt like someone else was looking at him. He could feel a strong gaze on his nape. He turned around but saw nobody.

However, when he dared to look up, he saw a giant eye filling the entire sky as it looked back down on him. The earth shook. And the castle came crumbling down. And the gardens folded back into the earth.

He looked back at the flower in his hand and saw that he had accidentally crushed it when he had seen his own enormous eye staring down at him from the firmament.  He cried out and lamented what he had done.

He had plucked his kingdom for no great purpose.

The Accidental Labyrinth

Once there was a bricklayer who had a daughter as beautiful as any princess, but he was a poor bricklayer. And men from the village were always trying to sneak into the house. So the bricklayer did the only thing he could do and laid down walls within the room and a hallway within a hallway that led to his room first.  It was very uncomfortable for her because the windows were walled over and the room within the room was considerably smaller. And the hallway was so tight she had to side step it.  

But the men kept coming. The bricklayer had a most beautiful daughter and no choice but to build more proxy hallways and rooms that once the men entered, he would wall up and seal their fate. He built the walls so thickly that nobody could break them without the necessary tools. And so he put up hallway after hallway and room after room to trap every man who dared woo the daughter he loved more than anything else.

Thirsty for revenge and hungry to protect his precious gem of a daughter, the bricklayer stayed focused on building his traps but failed to keep in mind any overall plan. Eventually, he trapped himself with suitors on every side and had lost track of where he might even be in relation to his daughter’s room.

The bricklayer’s daughter worried when her dad did not return but when she exited her house she found herself on the outside of her dad’s accidental labyrinth. She knocked along the outer wall and each one claimed to be her father.  

As she sat down to cry, a man approached and asked if she had lost her father.  She was choked up and just nodded. The man promised to get her father out only if he could marry her. Taken aback by the rings on his finger and the handsome robes draped from his broad shoulders, she told him that he didn’t understand. She couldn’t marry him because she didn’t want anyone to save her father. She was crying tears of joy.  

And she shamed the prince for offering such a promise that by the very offering made the opportunity of shrugging off her dad’s self-imposed fate a little harder for her to swallow and this somehow made her feel like it was the prince’s fault.  The prince insisted that she did not know what she was saying and insisted that he ask her father for her hand. At once, she saw her father in this prince. He wasn’t listening to anything she said. He wasn’t royal in spirit but another bricklayer who wanted to do the same thing her dad had done to her.

She showed the prince the sledgehammer and he ripped a hole in the roof where her father was. The prince extended his hand and lifted her father out of the hole. But dad pushed the man in and sealed the roof back up.  

The bricklayer returned to his daughter’s empty room. She had escaped. And her poor father did not understand why. A heavy sleep overcame him. And he slept for days in his daughter’s bed.

When he finally awoke, he found himself wearing his daughter’s dress. When he saw his reflection, the bricklayer didn’t know what overcame him but he could not stop dancing and laughing at himself. And this silly joy attracted men from all around who wanted a dance with such a fun girl. When he tried to tell them that he was a man also, they laughed even harder. When he stopped dancing, the men chased after him to gain his hand in marriage.

The bricklayer walled himself back up in his house. He really wanted to be outside in this dress and dancing and laughing for the sake of nothing but fun in any space without walls (his whole life had been about lousy walls, he screamed in his mind), but he couldn’t with all these serious, deranged men around looking for property to own at all times. And then it dawned on him what he had done to his daughter. He hadn’t protected her. He had imprisoned her. Worse, prepared her for another man to imprison her as well.

To make amends, the bricklayer tore down all the walls he had built. He destroyed the accidental labyrinth. Released all of its prisoners. And became a carpenter who built a nice house of wood with plenty of windows and doors. And he planted a garden and spent his time kneeling beside his plants in the sunshine. He yearned for nothing anymore except the freedom of wide open spaces.

His daughter returned one day but she didn’t recognize her father. She demanded that this man in one of her dresses tell her what had happened to her father and the labyrinth that used to be here. He stroked his beard for the right words to say but they never came. Instead, he brewed her a tea from his garden and asked for her forgiveness. Then it hit her that this was in fact her father so she accepted his heartfelt apology.

She found the new house inviting with all of its doors and windows. And she moved back in. And whenever a man came to visit, if dad didn’t wear him out with dancing wildly in the fields or by showing him everything in his garden, his daughter could easily slip out any window or door if any man let his possessiveness ruin the situation.

The Old Man’s Return

Once there was an old man who wanted to return to the village where he was born one last time before his passing.  He had left his home long ago by following one type of work after another and in so doing lost track of how far he had traveled away from the home of his childhood.  

His life appeared to him as the strangest dream from which he had awoken.  He was so far away that he was unsure of how to find his way back home. So he retraced his steps and went form place to place where he had worked.  But after a few places he got lost. Because he was so old, some of the places where he had worked were abandoned or destroyed.  

He asked anyone he could if they had heard of his village and people told him that nobody called it that anymore, not in many years, but they told him the new name.  And when he came to the village by a different name, he was sure that it wasn’t his old home at all. There were no familiar or friendly faces and the village didn’t even look the same. So he moved on.

He did indeed come upon the village of his youth eventually.  And he spoke with his folk and they smiled and smirked at each other as they heard his stories. He swore that they hadn’t aged a bit. All the sweet faces he had longed for were before him now.  They thought him a peculiar old man who told them he came from there, when they knew he never did.  They took him in anyways and cared for him. His last days were spent in bliss.