“Who’s there?” Star called out while discretely wrapping her hand around a rock. It would not be much, but she had no other weapons available and a stone could crush a skull as well as anything else—albeit it took the right arm behind the rock, and Star was not sure if she had that arm.

“Oh, I’s sorry,” replied the disembodied voice. “I beed forgetting that yous could not be seeing me. Now where did I’s be putting that…Aha!” The voice finished triumphantly and a small, peculiar being was suddenly standing right in front of Star. Though the creature was puny, each and every feature of its face seemed exaggerated; from his big puddle-like eyes to the bulbous nose jutting out from his face to the oversized ears that flapped around the sides of his head. The creature seemed in every way the exact opposite of an ogre. He wore a very ragged green jacket and trousers with worn out brown boots. The tips of his boots used to curl up into a point, but had burst open to reveal toes as long and curly as the boot tips. His green hat, though as tattered and torn as the rest of his costume, sat at a jaunty angle atop his head and a merry red feather rode proudly in the brim.

Seeing Star’s surprise, the creature swept his hat off and offered a courtly bow. “I’s muchly honored to be meeting yous, milady. Yous can call me Quisle.”

Star quickly hid a chortled behind her hand. The sight of this little being acting so regally reminded her of a jester imitating royalty. “And I am Star,” she managed to say gravely, after composing herself. “You’ll have to forgive me, but I’ve never seen a being such as yourself before…”

Quisle leapt into the explanation that Star had hoped he would give. “We’s ergolses, milady. Yous probably beed noticing how much we’s not be resembling ogreses? There bes a very Dark Wizard over theres, if yous be acrossing that hill. One day, this very Dark Wizard beed doing his very Dark Charms on some ogreses. He beed wanting to has smart ogreses who doesn’t eat everythings. He beed wanting to has smart ogreses who doesn’t be running away from the water. The very Dark Wizard beed failing and making ergolses.”

“So, you…you ergols are creatures of the Dark Wizard?” Star inquired warily.

“No, Milady,” Quisle responded swiftly. “I beed escaping, only I’s be feeling terrible. My family bes back there, with the very Dark Wizard.”

“My family, too, is in the hands of the Dark Wizard.”

“Theys who I beed asking if yous beed seeing,” said Quisle. “We’s could be working together to be freeing thems—my family and yourses.”

Star’s head was beginning to ache from trying to understand the eager little ergol, but she was elated at the thought of an ally in her rescue attempt. Not only was she glad of a companion, but Quisle seemed to have the talent, or at least possession of an invisibility talisman.

Moments later, the two rescuers lay prone on the ground at the crest of the hill, surveying the encampment below them. “Look at the Dark Wizard on his throne,” Star said dejectedly. “He seems to be watching everything. My mother is right next to him. There’s no way we could sneak our families out without his notice.”

“Oh, milady, yous do not be understanding,” replied Quisle, “That boy bes held captive, too.”

I had made it through 7 hours of kindergarten with no major incidents.  The kids were obedient and the sub plans were comprehensible.  The morning class had been a breeze and the afternoon class was shaping up to be the same.  With less than one hour to go, I thought I had it made.  Then, one boy pushed another boy (hard enough to knock him to the ground).  I had warned this student a few times to make sure his behavior was appropriate for school or he would have to sit out until he could “remember how to be a kidergartener.”

When I sent him to a chair away from the rest of the class, he walked over quietly without arguing, so I thought that this would be a piece of cake.  The moment his butt hit the chair, however, he set up a howl so loud, I am surprised that you didn’t hear it wherever you were at.  I ignored his tantrum while I read a book to the class and gave them their snack.  He had to know that positive behavior would get him the attention that he wanted and that his negative behavior would not(it’s an ideal, and sometimes I am so idealistic that it borders on nieve).

While the other students were eating, I walked over and talked to him in a quiet voice so that he had to stop his fake sobs to hear me.  “Isn’t it sad that you missed the story and the snack?” I observed.  “What’s the problem?”  I asked.  “I want to go home,” he replied.  I told him that he couldn’t go home yet, but that school would be over in 30 minutes.  Then I asked why he wanted to go home.  “I WANT TO GO HOME!” he screamed.  I said that I was sorry, but that school would be over soon.  He just glared at me.  Then he scrunched up his face like he was putting a lot of effort into something.  Then he looked up at me like he had just gotten the better hand in a card game.  “I wet my pants.  Now I get to go home.”

I guess when you wanna go, you gotta go.

Teddy’s Cutlass

Teddy charged down the hallway on his hobby-horse; albeit, he charged very quietly as father had already arrived home and was seated in his chair in the parlor with his head surrounded in a cloud of pipe smoke. Father was “not to be disturbed” when he sat in his chair and Teddy knew that if he made so much of a peep, Mother would send him outside to play. Under different circumstances, Teddy would not mind playing outside—Mitchell and Drew had a swell new kite he wanted to try his hand at—but he had torn the seat of his short pants rescuing that very kite from the apple tree this morning and he didn’t want to draw attention to that particular fact.

Perhaps Mother had a few cookies left from her Ladies Group! Teddy decided that checking the cooky jar was a very quiet activity. Nudging his hobby-horse to turn left into the kitchen, Teddy moseyed around the table just in time to see is sister, Sophie, run out the kitchen door and let it slam shut behind her. Sophie was always in a hurry to visit her friends. Teddy hoped Father wouldn’t think that he had slammed the door!

The breeze from the door had sent something shiny scooting across the kitchen table and that something was now wafting to the floor. What could it be? wondered Teddy. Taking his hobby-horse by the reins, he walked over and picked up the sandwich-sized piece of heavy paper. It was gold on one side with black scrolling lines and silver on the other. This is perfect! thought Teddy. It will make a wonderful cutlass for my soldier!

Teddy spent nearly an hour working on the cutlass. First, he thought out exactly what he wanted the weapon to look like—this was not the kind of paper that you could erase your pencil marks from and he would have no second chances. Then, he meticulously drew the curved, sweeping blade and the finely detailed handle.

He had just made the final cut with Mother’s sewing scissors when he heard a scream behind him. Dropping the scissors he turned around to see his sister standing in the doorway in a towering rage. With another wordless scream she flew at him and grabbed the cutlass and the remaining scraps of paper out of his hands. “Mother!” she shrieked, “Look at what he did!” Sophie went into a full blown tantrum—at sixteen! “I was going to go and May belle promised me her pink silk dancing slippers and I’ve never been to one and Teddy has gone and cut up the invitation!” She ended her tirade with another piercing shriek, brushed past Mother (who was, by now, standing in the doorway) and stomped up stairs to her room.

Teddy looked helplessly at Mother. She had a stern look on her face; but, oddly, her eyes looked like she was laughing. Father still hadn’t left his chair, so Teddy was starting to wonder how firm and fast the rule was about Father and his chair.

Mother sat down in a chair and pulled Teddy into her lap. “Sophie is very disappointed that you cut up her invitation. This was to be her first party and everything about it was very special to her—especially the invitation.”

“I didn’t know it was an invitation, Mummy.” Teddy said, “Do you think I could make her a new one?”

“That’s a start. Can I have the sword and the scraps? Maybe I can piece them back together.”

Teddy and Mother worked side by side on their projects. Mother finished hers first and then worked on supper while Teddy laboriously formed out the letters on the paper that Mother had given him. When he was finished, this is what it said:

Der Sophie,

i am soree i cut yore papr. plz dont be mad. Yu kin com to my partee. We can dans and mebbe Mother will bake a cake if i ask.



When Sophie came down to supper, with her eyes all red and puffy, the two invitations were resting on her plate. Teddy had decorated his with dancing slippers and swords. Mother had repaired the other with clear plastic tape. Sophie eyes ran over Teddy’s invitation, then looked at him and smiled.

“What is that foolscap doing on the supper table!” blustered Father. He had no idea what had happened that afternoon while he was “not to be disturbed.” Teddy and Sophie exchanged a secret glance of amusement—perhaps that rule was more for Mother!

When I was in middle school, my biggest worries were not being able to find my class and having my period leak through on my jeans.  I have been substituting in a nearby middle school for the last few days and I am both amused and pitying toward those little pre-teens (although, I don’t have much room to talk about them being “little” as most of them are either taller or wider than me).  They want to much to be high-schoolers so they take what they percieve to be high school traits and exagerate them.  They are crude and disrespectful.  They talk about things that they have no idea about.  Even worse is to watch the couples.  They say they are “going out” (going where?  They can’t drive).  I watched a “couple” standing near the buses in front of the school after the bell rang.  They hugged akwardly and then kissed.  It didn’t seem like they wanted to kiss, just that they were expected to.  I’ve only been out of middle school for a decade, but I already look back and say, “They’re just kids!”

The terrain became more and more similar to the meadow where she had met the creature (after the illusion had been stripped away). Star slowed Stew to a slow walk as even the dead grass disappeared, leaving swirling dust and small pebbles. What little grew here was oddly colored, as if sick or mutilated. Suddenly, Stew froze and would not budge a hoof forward, no matter how Starlynn urged.

Curious, Star dismounted and reached her fingers forward beyond the mare’s muzzle. With a tingling sensation, the tips of her fingers vanished! Star yanked her arm back as if burned. She examined her fingers carefully, incredulous to find them once again whole. Tentatively, she reached out and pushed her hand through and the tingling rested on her wrist. Star attempted to wriggle her fingers and found that, on the other side of this strange barrier, they responded.

The next step made Star a little queasy. Retracting her hand, Star pushed her entire face through the barrier and looked around. The barrier was like a great invisible dome and the inside was filled with dark clouds, oozing swampland, and lightning. The sulfuric smell made Star’s stomach (still on the outside of the barrier) dry heave. Grunts and bellows filled the air and Star could hear the clang of metal striking rock. The actual scene was blocked from view due to several low hills.

Star pulled her head back out of the barrier. She knew she could spend the day half in and half out, leaving both halves in danger of discovery. Grabbing the bridle, she pulled Stew’s head and looked the horse straight in the eyes. “You won’t come with me, will you?” It was more of a statement than a question, but Stew’s snort of disgust confirmed it. Star released the bridle. The loyalty side effect of Aunt Thyme’s charm had obviously worn off. Even though Stew would be a good escape, Star knew she couldn’t leave the horse here to be found. Grabbing the reins, Star turned the stubborn horse around to face the way they had come. She emptied the last few crumbs of food from the saddle bags into her satchel. When she released the reins and stepped back the horse didn’t move. “Go on,” Star encouraged, “Go home, Stew!” Still the mare stood there. Star drew back her hand and smacked Stew hard on the rump. “Home!” she shouted and finally the horse took off at a gallop.

Feeling frightening and isolated, Star ducked under the barrier. She felt exposed but, looking around, saw no one. Leaving her satchel at the foot of the incline, Star dropped down on her stomach and used her elbows to pull herself forward. What she saw when she reached to top of the hill made her breath catch in her throat. Tall, disgusting creatures that she had never seen before stood towering over people who writhed in agony on the ground. Companies of the creatures marched by in endless rows. And over to one side sat someone on a throne, looking down on the entire scene with smoldering anticipation. Star was surprised. She thought the demon from the meadow would be the one who had ordered her siblings taken. But this man—no, more boy than man—was darkly handsome. His face was hard and angular as stone and smooth as marble. His maroon and navy blue garments looks like they belonged to royalty. He inspired fear, not through appearance as the demon had, but through actions—and he seemed a man capable of terrible deeds. Cowering next to him was a miserable woman in rags. She had long, scraggly hair and was dressed in colorless rags. Something about the woman seemed familiar and Star tried to focus on facial features. Mother! Star’s heart leapt in her chest. Her mother was still alive! She was here! Perhaps she could—

“Has you seed thems yet?”

Star jumped and looked around, but could see no one.

Star gathered up several armfuls of Maid’s Moss. She picked up Stew’s trailing reins and clucked softly, encouraging the mare to approach the fierce river. At first, Star would immerse a small amount of the moss, hold it underwater for a moment, and bring it up dripping and trebled in size. She used larger and larger chunks until she had a pier that extended a few feet into the water. Tentatively, Star stepped forward onto her make-shift bridge. It was a bit spongy, but it supported her weight.

She looked back at Stew and the horse tugged lightly against her grip. “Oh, don’t be a goat!” she scolded lightly, “I need to know if you can cross on my bridge or if you have to swim across.”

The mare’s eyes widened, as if she understood the threat and took two steps forward onto the bridge. It held!

Gleefully, Star gathered up more and more moss, dropping armfuls into the river. Because of the porous nature of the moss, the current swept right through it and didn’t carry her building materials away. Star spent the entire morning building her bridge and by midday she leapt the last few feet to the bank.

Star felt exultant at her own creativity. She smiled as she munched on a roll and let Stew forage. Her smile disappeared quickly when she focused on the image of Andy and Bella secreted away in the corner of her mind. The two of them shivered with cold and fear. Hastily, Star gathered her things and called Stew towards her. The image stayed with her as she traveled. She passed through meadows and over smaller streams. They were coming up to the foothills that marked the entrance to the mountain passes. Star felt she was gaining on the ogres, now that she had Stew, and together they fairly flew through the areas where the trees grew sparse.

Without warning, the picture in her mind disappeared. She drew up the reins and repeated the tracking charm. She saw nothing. Frustrated and out of range to ripple with Aunt Thyme, Star knew she must continue on—with or without help from the charm. She urged Stew on, murmuring the charm over and over under her breath, though she knew it was hopeless. The ogres must have taken Andy and Bella past the border of an area protected by some sort of enchantment.

Which Button?

Katherine sat in her favorite corner of the couch and leaned forward slightly as she watched the characters on her favorite TV program solve yet another unsolvable problem through friendship and ingenuity.  On the other side of the house, her Momma decided that the computer needed to be turned off (be it because of the energy it sucked up or the heat it put out or just because no one was using it at the moment).  “How do you turn off the computer?” she called out.  Katherine had three choices.  She could get up and turn the computer off herself (missing the amazing conclusion to the program).  Or, she could try to explain to her mother how to move the mouse and click in the appropriate places.  “Just push the button and hold it!” she shouted back, thinking to have solved the problem.  After a pause, Momma called back, “Which button?  There’s a whole keyboard full!”

The tracking charm led Star and Stew right up to the edge of the river and beckoned at the other side. The current rushed along, sloshing water up on the banks. Star dismounted slowly. She saw no signs of the ogres’ crossing. Dread bubbled up inside of her as she considered, again, what would drive the creatures to actions so against their nature. Remembering the apparition in the field, Star shuddered and wondered no further. It would have many tricks and could invade the ogres’ simple minds with ease.

Scanning the opposite edge of the river, Star noticed two poorly constructed rafts—logs and twigs lashed together in a haphazard way with knotted rope. Unlike ogres, she could not tear down tree trunks with her bare hands and it would take an entire day to scavenge enough down wood to create a raft big enough for herself and her horse. Star crouched down on the riverbank and picked up a handful of gravel.

Unbidden, a memory of her mother pressed itself upon her. Star had seen six winters at the time of the memory. She walked along, hand in hand with her mother. On her mother’s other arm was a basket of plants they had collected at the edge of the woods and were taking home to dry. “Nature loves her children very much,” explained her mother. “She provides everything they need, just at the time they need it.” Star’s mother plucked one stem out of the basket from among the many. “Take tynslvine, for example. When I was a small child, there came a dark wizard out of the mountains to the North. He made his stronghold in that pass—” she put her hand on Star’s shoulder and pointed, “—the one where the sun sets in the winter. He had the gaze of an ogre and more power than the entire valley combined. He seemed immune to herbs and charms. He unleashed dark terrors on the valley and if he caught you in his ogre’s trance, he absorbed your essence until there was no life left.”

Star’s eyes were as big as serving platters, frightened by the tale and surprised at the gruesome detail that her mother was sharing. “But you had the talent, Mama. Weren’t you safe?”

“No one was safe—especially those with the talent. If you had the talent, he didn’t consume you wholly. He kept you alive and drew on your power. One girl could sometimes glimpse the future. He kept her locked deep in the caverns of his stronghold and used her to see what we would do next. The wizard only allowed plants with no known use to grow in his stronghold. One day, among the saberleaf, the girl found a patch of tynslvine. When she touched it, the leaves began to shine like the reflection of the sun off the washtub. She picked a stem and tried to tear it in two, but it was too strong. Murmuring charms, the girl caused the tynslvine to lengthen and grow stronger, until she had a length of cord that could not be broken. She used it to overpower her guards and climb down the mountains. Nature provided when her one of her children needed her most and the girl was able to escape and return to her family.”

That was how her mother had always taught—by telling a story. Thinking again of her current predicament, Star could not think of a single thing that nature could provide to get her across the river. There may be plants to grow rope, but none that Star knew of would grow a bridge. What other plants had her mother taught her about that day?

“But Mama,” asked six-year-old Star, “what happened to the dark wizard? How did the people of the valley finally defeat him?”

“Have you ever seen Maid’s Moss?” responded her mother. “We use it for cleaning because it is so absorbent. Well, the girl who escaped the wizard had a plan. Together with her sister, the two of them gathered as much of the moss as they could find. You see, Maid’s Moss doesn’t just absorb water; it soaks up whatever is the most concentrated in its surroundings. Most of the time, that’s air. When we clean, it is surrounded by water, soap, and dirt. The girls, however, found the dark wizard and bombarded him with clumps of the plant. They stuck to him, sucking his power out of him just as he had done to people with the talent. He began shrinking and bending over. Soon, all that was left of this great dark wizard was a shriveled old man. Like his victims, he did not die and his power would eventually return. Even without his great power, no one could destroy him, so they put him in the same cavern he had hid the girl and blocked the entrance, first with a layer of Maid’s Moss, and then a layer of stone. Guards were placed at the entrance to the cavern and there he has remained ever since.”

Her mother had taught her about all the plants in the basket that day. Casting her eyes about again, they fell on a patch of Maid’s Moss. She looked back at the river again and smiled brightly. If there was enough Moss, her plan just might work.

Katie was an avid reader.  She didn’t know why people said that.  Weren’t avids the little white bugs that ate Mamma’s roses?  All she knew was that when people called her one, it meant that she liked to read a lot, and that part was true.  She read all the time.  She read at the bus stop and on the bus.  She read before dinner and before bed.  She read during school and she even read during lunch.  This was where her problem started.  Day after day, Katie read as she stood in the lunch line, waiting to get her lunch ticket punched.  She set her book down on the tray long enough to choose her entree and request extra French fries (even on days that they weren’t serving French fries–she figured that if she asked enough times, it would eventually work).  After grabbing a chocolate milk, she opened her book and read, carrying her tray one-handed as she had learned from her mother, who was a waitress.  As she walked carefully to her table, in would swoop Mrs. Newton.  Mrs. Newton was not Katie’s teacher, but she taught another second grade class in the room next to hers.  She had bright red hair and a face like a bat.  Katie was a little afraid of Mrs. Newton, but refused to show it.  It was Mrs. Newton’s job to make sure that the order in the cafeteria was maintained.  She took her job very seriously.  Everyday, the bat-faced woman yammered at Katie from the time she picked up her book to the moment she sat down at her table that she oughtn’t read and walk at the same time.

On this particular day, Mrs. Newton had been delayed by a boy picking his nose in the lunch line.  Stephan, a trouble-maker in Mrs. Newton’s class, saw Katie reading as he stood up from his class’s table and got a mischievous glint in his eye.  An observer reading his body language might have said he was winding up for something.  Holding his tray in front of him, he ran across the cafeteria and plowed into Katie, knocking them both over and splattering her lunch around a five foot radius.  Mrs. Newton hustled over and promptly began yelling at Katie, blaming her for the accident!  Stephan told her that I had run into him and that it was his lunch that had been spilt!  Poor Katie!  She had to buy that wicked boy a new lunch and had no lunch for herself.  For the rest of the year, Katie waited until she left the cafeteria to read–well, maybe for a week or two, until she found herself reading another page-turner that she just couldn’t put down.

The charm had been easy to reproduce. Star’s attention was directed…somewhere in the distance. Her mind flew ahead of her body and soared along the landscape. It ducked and twirled joyful and free, yet always intent on the destination. At first, Star feared that she had done something wrong–what if she were tracking the wrong creature, like a squirrel, or–worse yet–something that could harm her. Mounting Stew and hurrying the mare by digging her heels in and slapping the reins, Star tried to close the distance between her body and her mind. By dusk, her mind’s eye had reached the ogre camp and there it stayed. As much as she pushed it to go further and give her knowledge of the arduous journey her siblings must make the next day and the camp wherein her mother was incarcerated, it would stay with her quarry until she had caught up with it. Having seen the terrain in the light of day by the charm, Star could move about confidently in the night. Stew trusted her guidance, communicated by the gentle pressure of Star’s legs on the mare’s sides.

At dawn, Star was still hours away from the ogre camp. Her mind watched in agony as her brother and sister were kicked into wakefulness by the none too gentle ministrations of their captors. Each child was bound, faced outward, to an ogre and then the whole herd of them galloped off–every stride carrying them further away from rescue.