The Child in the Field

In a large field there sat still a small child. Looking up, he noticed something in the distance, something he thought remarkable. He had to get up.

The child stretched out his arms and planted them in the earth. Now on his knees, he pressed hard upon his toes and began to wobble upward, swaying like the blades of grass all around him. He hoisted one hand from the ground, staggered, and just before toppling, found his balance.

Relief must’ve tickled his brain and reverberated throughout the remainder of his body, for he exhaled a pronounced, giggling sigh. Now with newfound mettle, he was adamant to hasten his journey and encounter this thing that stirred him.

The first step was giant, and to him felt like lifting an anvil from a bog. As soon as his foot left the ground it returned with a slam. It took his breath away, as if the shock of forward movement was too precious to endure. So he gulped and gimped once more.

This subsequent lunge equaled the thrill of the first, yet carried into a frightful halt, as though two legs weren’t meant to be found so perfectly together. Panic seized the boy’s countenance, and he tumbled forward, a descending timber on a vast plain.

As his open hand struck the ground his breath left him and his eyes closed. Yet full impact evaded him, and he managed to jolt up again and press on.

The steps, from there, were easier. Not all better, of course. For he fell as much as he always had, and the scrapes cut deeper. But to move felt light. Despite the same feeble limbs, they flew like feathers. To move meant something.

To the boy, it may have taken a minute or a year. Nonetheless, he had arrived, panting, aching, and laughing. For he had come upon his vision. While neither a mirage, nor what he expected, it was no less beautiful, and perhaps moreso.

The spent lad plopped down, poked his ruddy knee, and glanced back over his shoulder. Somehow, he had done it, traversed the entire field like a knight upon his horse.

He puffed out his chest, raised his chin, smiled to the sky, and sensed the familiar, steady grip loosen and release his small hand.

Once more, the small child sat still in a large field, and once more, it was time to get up.

The King’s Proclamation

*This story is not a metaphor. You will be doing yourself a favor to just read it as a dumb story.

There once lived a king who ruled a fair land.

It could be said that while he was not the greatest of kings, he quite aptly represented his people.

For he wasn’t particularly strong, and bore the physique of a sedentary ape who’d indulged in a life’s work of honey and cheese. Nor was he quite clever, and more often appeared to be devoid of any common sense. He was perpetually selfish, regularly petty, and rarely kind, thoughtful, or just. But also, like his people, he responded swiftly to unfavorable circumstances, and generally did so with resounding proclamations.

Indeed, when a bulbous, barrel of a man could not be pulled free from a stockade, the king proclaimed:

“Release him with the grease of a goose. I will show the people my mercy while not sparing this miscreant deserved humiliation.” The people thought and nodded.

And when there was a grain famine in the land, the king decreed:

“When there is no food, we must not feast on one another. But bring me the belly of a swine and we will feast together.” Then nothing happened, except a few journeyed off to find swine.

And when a plague struck his people one cold winter, he dictated a message from his warm bed to be distributed throughout the land.

“Courage, courage. I have called on Providence to awaken your fledgling bones that you may skip into glory like a virgin calf. Take heart and eschew the wicked vermin from your abode!” The people listened and coughed and a few fell over.

And so it went, for many years. Problems arose, the king spoke, and the people remained generally satisfactory.

But one day, the kingdom encountered a threat far greater than it had ever seen.

For from the West, a menacing and fearsome clan had traversed through the mountainous terrain and into the kingdom’s outer villages.

Townspeople were tossed aside. Their homes were ransacked and burned. Most of them fled to escape the devilish brood of barbarians.

News traveled quickly to the king, who was presently bathing while imbibing a flagon of fine wine.

“Your Majesty! The kingdom is under attack. Barbarians have come and attacked us from the West.”

The king shot up, spilling his drink upon his beard as bundles of bubbles flew into the air and burst around him.

He lifted his finger and cleared his throat.

“Hear this! A tree has no power without its roots, while a thorn shall not sting with no flower.”

Tell my people. ‘Dig. Dig deep. Dig deeper, as though your very trenches may birth a soul. Find the snake and eat it. When the ogre vomits, harm it with a fiery lance upon a dirty mule!'”

The king’s men slowly nodded and hurried from the room. They ascended their horses and disbursed throughout the kingdom, bringing the king’s message to all the towns.

“Hear ye, hear ye!” cried one of the king’s men in Millerton. “The kingdom is under attack. But be not alarmed, for the king has sent his people a message. He implores you to ‘Dig deep. Nay, dig deeper. As though your very, uh, trenches may birth a soul.'”

At first the people gasped, then they looked at each other in bewilderment.

“And furthermore,” the king’s man bellowed, “‘Find the snake and beat it. I mean, eat it. And…when the ogre vomits, you must harm it with fiery pants upon…uh…30 mules!”

Some people panicked and ran to their homes. Others scrambled to begin gathering supplies. Most stared at one another, rubbing their chins and counting their fingers.

“Go, all of you! Do as your king instructs.”

Likewise, the rest of the king’s men delivered messages in other villages, determined to galvanize the people and accurately dictate the king’s stirring oration. Likewise, the people panicked, scrambled and stared.

Meanwhile, the clan was moving quickly through the western region, primed to pillage whatever town lie ahead.

Townspeople, knowing they were no match for the barbarians, abandoned their villages and retreated toward the country’s epicenter and home of the royals.

Within two days, a massive crowd had assembled within the city square and its outskirts.

The mob was a motley assortment of peasants, plebeians, and soldiers in the king’s service. Strange sights and noises accompanied the group. Some were holding objects that seemed to have no place at such a gathering, while others rode upon odd beasts typically not purposed war.

Suddenly, a clamor rose among the people. Rumblings turned to shouts. Someone was coming.

From the north of the square ran a long, bright green hill that steadily ascended to the castle. Down the one road coming from the castle rode a phalanx of horses and men, carrying the colors and flags of the old and honored Sir Wesley. Behind them rode a stout man in heavy velvet robes with a shimmering golden crown upon his head. There was no doubt. It was the king.

As the riders and their king descended upon the square, all marveled and subsequently genuflected as he passed by. Within moments the liege and his subjects were in the center square, and came to an impressively synchronized halt. The dust cloud slowly lifted to shine the sun upon the men and their king.

The clamor had rapidly dissipated, and a quiet stillness set in. As all stood and stared, with the king peering out upon his people, a dull, thumping murmur seemed to whisper through the air. Slowly, very slowly, it rose to more of a clapping, and the ground seemed to tremor. All bodies and heads turned to the West, and one could fairly descry a thin, dark line of motion upon the horizon. There was no denying it. The barbarians were approaching.

The king raised his head and surveyed the people surrounding him. He observed a diverse mob of civilians, a group that was as odd as it was interesting. Were his people prepared for battle?

This wasn’t unprecedented. In the past, the king had moments where he had attempted to galvanize his people. And sometimes his orations were taken quite literally, and other times quite seriously, and other times they weren’t quite taken at all.

The king stroked his beard and pondered. Had the people received his message? Had it mattered?

“What say you my people?” the king shouted. “Are you prepared to encounter this filthy Western brood?”

“We are ready, your Majesty!” exclaimed a burly commoner, brandishing a very large shovel. “We have been digging deep, deep holes for hours.”

“As have we, your Majesty!” proclaimed a thinner man, caked in dirt. “We dug until my fair lady bore our seventh offspring this morning in the trench. A new soul for the kingdom!”

“Hurrah, hurrah!” the people shouted. The energy seemed to build, and now more people were grinning and speaking than before.

“Yes, your majesty! We are ready!” another proclaimed. “Though it took time, we have found the snake. ‘Twas the most ill of vipers in this land. On the way here, we beat it!” And he lifted the dead snake into the air.

“‘Scuse me goo sir,” remarked another man, who was hard to understand, because he appeared to be chewing on a snake. “Why d’ya beat it? We were to bind it and eat it.”

“What say you, my fair fellows of Galen?” asked another. “Why did you disturb the snake at all? Our instruction was to mind the snake and treat it. So we considered our village snake and blessed it with a plump rat.”

At this many mutterings erupted from the crowd. Some laughed, some cried, some continued to chew on their dead snakes.

Despite the many rumblings, the king remained calm and undeterred. But the barbarians were near. The pounding horse hooves produced a thunder coming down toward the square. The king drew his sword. “Behold, the ogre!”

The people gasped. Battle was upon them. “What shall we do?” many cried. But there was no time to think. Barbarians were now entering the square. All they could do was act on the king’s words.

The king’s soldiers withdrew their red lances and charged. While doing so, men all around the square hastily removed their trousers and set them ablaze. Ascending their dirty mules, they lurched forward.

For they had seen the ogre, and would harm it with fiery pants.

A cacophonous clash of metal now rang throughout the town’s center. Screams and roars echoed all around. The surrounding air thickened with smoke and the stench of burning hemp and wool.

Then above the cacophony ascended a different, melodious sound. Many curious citizens and barbarians alike raised their heads to observe a queer yet harmonious procession. For a group of men eloquently pranced into the fray, playing sweet tunes for all to hear.

For they had seen the ogre, and would charm it with lyre and dance.

From here, nothing very good happened. Grubby villagers, fatigued from hours of digging, couldn’t lift a shovel, much less a hand to attack the enemy. Men everywhere frothed and keeled over with half-eaten snakes in hand. Incinerated trousers were trampled upon while their owners shivered and shook their cold, bony legs. Lyres and dancers alike were indiscriminately and promptly obliterated.

The foreign clan was rapidly overtaking the town. The spirited battle cries had now mostly been replaced by moans and mule brays. There was no mistaking that circumstances looked dire for the kingdom.

But, there was the king. His presence among the multitude was undeniable, and those left standing found it remarkable he was not dead. Unflinching and unrelenting, the king moved around on his weary steed, swinging his sword and bellowing spirited utterances at every barbarian he encountered.

“Behold my brandished blade! May you taste its silver and plunge into a pool of your own crimson!”

“See the door of death! Knock, enter, and be greeted with a guillotine of profound terror!”

“Meet your end, worm! ‘Tis time to writhe in your lonely abyss ad finitum!”

The opponent, though filled with bloodthirsty wrath, would generally pause at whatever remark the king spewed. For these clansmen from the West knew nothing of monarchy and had never witnessed such valor or unabashed boasting from a general of men.

And the pause was enough, a momentary lapse of concentration that allowed the king to meet his mark upon each and every unenviable swing. The enemy fell one by one.

The king’s people noticed this sudden and unexpected success. So inspired by this newfound, naive confidence, they too purposed forward, with pomp and unmitigated braggadocio. Some upon horses, some upon mules, they lunged at their adversary with swords and tongues.

“Rabid ghoul!” one man spewed. “Inspect your soul, make peace, and bid your beating heart adieu!” And he thrust his sword into a bewildered barbarian.

“Inhale the toxic cypress, ripe and ready to plunge you into the world of nether!” said another, as he walloped his foe.

Still another provoked his challenger. “See my sickle, fiend! See it and greet it. Usher it into your abode, fluff its pillow and serve it a lukewarm tea. Then, insist it stay the evening and be ensured that-” and was unfortunately cut short by an emphatic body blow. Indeed, elongated addresses proved inadvisable.

But for the most part, men eloquently recited their threats and subsequently pummeled the enemy, to the shock of the citizen and foreigner alike. Each fallen barbarian inspired confidence in the king’s people, while the confidence of the foreign clan waned. Rebel yells were quieted with pithy declarations. Thundering horse whinnies were replaced by mild mule brays. Even the pluck of the lyre returned.

In minutes, it was over. The distressed, decimated clan hurriedly retreated from the town. The kingdom roared in victory, clanging shovels and throwing snakes into the air. Amidst it all, someone shouted “Long live the king!” Others repeated it, and then looked around. Where was the king?

As the town quieted, what was noticeable was the many remaining clansman retreating up the hill to the West. As they did so, a lone figure chased them upon a horse. Yes, valiant to the end, it was the king purging the enemy from his land. He held his sword high and rode semi-swiftly behind his foe. Though it was hard to tell from the vantage point of the square, he seemed to be barking still, only more vigorously than what was his custom.

Then suddenly, the king and his horse disappeared into the earth. For what he had not foreseen was a vast, gaping trench, freshly dug by undoubtedly a great number of his people. A collective gasp arose from the townspeople, who wasted no time rushing out of the town and up the hill to the scene of the catastrophe.

When they arrived, they looked into the trench, fearing the worst. The hole was deep and dark, so much so that they saw no king, or horse, or bottom.

“Your Majesty, your majesty! Tell us, are you alive?” shouted one of the king’s men.

At first there was no sound, but then a light rustling started. Then there was a deep moan, which could’ve been the horse. And then more silence, enough to deflate the men’s hopes.

“Aye!” came a cry from below. Men crowded around the trench at the sudden, welcome response of their king.

“Aye!” he bellowed again. “Though my bones be a mangled wasteland, though my blood hast breached the dam of my flesh, though all feeling hast retreated my corpus like those filthy savages from this fair land, I say to you, ‘Aye,’ I retain the vitality of a juvenile vulpine! So bring forth the vestiges of yore. Find the elaborate garb and drape it upon the most pristine of willow trees. Gather in gaiety, take your finest fool, and wade together in the sweetest of stews!”

Then some cheered, some scratched their heads, and others shared strong opinions regarding the finest region for willow trees.

But they all lived happily ever after.

 

No Kings for Christmas

Palace

The bedraggled boy sat high on the hill, overlooking the great city. He glared down upon the multitude of torch-lit buildings, down upon the brilliant palace, down upon a sprawl of vitality that he could no longer call home. The magnificent flickering of lights appeared now like a hazy firmament through his tear-filled eyes. His lip quivered. He shook with a chill.

As he gazed at the marvelous towers, pricking the night sky, he gritted his teeth. Memories began to flood over him like a cruel torrent. He recalled his wounded hand, which he slowly lifted to his face. The gash oozed over cruddy fingernails. Touching his cheek, he recounted the blows, the merciless episode with the king’s men. He sat dejected, disheveled, angry and ashamed.

Conjuring some energy from this new tide of disgust, he unfolded his crumpled self and stood. With one final glower at his native kingdom, he turned and trodded toward the sea.

The sea, he thought, could carry him away from his troubles in this land. It was his home, but it was a brutal place, particularly if you offended those who were important. The boy paced along in the darkness, sulking in bitterness, considering all that had transpired. Gradually he made his way down the hillside and into flatter land that would draw him to the port. He passed through a small seaside village, home mostly to poor fishermen and their families. The tiny huts were at best modest and at worst dilapidated. Much of the town was asleep, while many of the fisherman were likely at port preparing their boats for the night’s fish. The few in the village who were still out paid no attention to the boy, as if a small lad, dirty and bleeding, was no uncommon site to them.

Finally he arrived at the port and began to scan the boats and their captains. Of course, his only chance of departing this land was to sneak onto a boat and stow away, wherever that may take him. He noticed two men having an argument, unaware of anything happening around them. Like a cat, he slipped by and scurried into the boat. In the back was a small space holding dingy ropes and rags, a good place to hide, he thought. Tucking himself into the compartment, he tried to ignore the stink of fish, and buried himself in the ropes and rags. He sat still, and before long, he fell into a deep sleep….

A sudden jarring awoke the boy, who gradually opened his eyes to the sting of sunlight. Wherever he was, it was so noisy he lay there perplexed, wondering how he hadn’t awaken much earlier. He sensed there was no one in the boat, so he threw the ropes and rags aside and crawled out of his nook. As he stood and looked out, he beheld a queer land that looked nothing like his former one. He noticed he was on a shore, yet this one was rockier in its terrain and had significantly more boats. He scampered out of the boat, wishing to remain undetected.

As he walked along the beach, he couldn’t help but fixate on the spectacle built into the mountain ahead. There stood a magnificent palace, its walls and parapets adorned with beautiful red banners, its formidable, unblemished ramparts, its numerous towers stretching high and wide. The boy stopped. Anger swept over him like a desert wind. If he could hurl a boulder that would dash the palace to rocks and dust, he would do it. How he loathed a kingdom. He would walk in its opposite direction as far as his small legs could stand.

1604-green-hill-2880x1800-nature-wallpaperAfter ascending and descending a great hill, he came upon a path that eventually led him to a river. Parched and tired, he stopped for a drink. As he gulped down the water, he noticed a trio of black horses far ahead, standing on the bank. He heard laughing as well, though it didn’t seem hearty or joyous, but unkind and sinister. All of it frightened the boy, so he stepped off the path and hiked some rougher terrain to avoid any chance of trouble ahead. Coming off the rough terrain, he came upon a nondescript village. He entered the village and found a shady tree nearby to sit beneath. He plopped down, exhausted and somber.

Within moments, it was apparent he’d been noticed. A small girl carrying a knitted article had come off the path and made her way toward him. Her clothes were brown and simple, her shoes were tattered and mud-crusted, yet her smile gleamed like a gemstone.

“Hello. I’m Mariana. What’s your name?”

“Erind.”

Mariana studied Erind, noticing his gashed hand, puffy eye, and dirty hair and skin. “What happened to you?”

“I was…some men hurt me.”

“Why?”

“I made their king mad.”

“How?”

“I’m not sure. I just wanted to meet him—and then—and then…”

Erind trailed off, deciding to keep his troubles to himself. He sat still with his head sunk low, looking over the grass. Mariana stared at the friendless boy, sitting quietly herself. After some sustained silence, she took up her needles and began to knit. As she did, she pondered how she might engage Erind.

“I’m knitting a scarf for my friend for Christmas. What do you want for Christmas?”

Erind shook his head and turned back to the ground. “Nothing,” he muttered.

“Nothing? How could you want nothing? Everyone wants something for Christmas.”

Erind withheld any response, now picking at the dirt with a stick.

Mariana persisted. “Think of something you want right now, more than anything in the world.”

Erind shot up and barked at the girl. “I want a world without kings!”

Mariana gulped and stopped knitting. She looked at Erind and watched the tears pool in his eyes.

“I know a good king,” she said.

Erind balked with a furious head shake. “I don’t believe it. I won’t.”

Mariana pitied Erind. She wanted to help. “Would you like to come to my home? We are having a special dinner tonight. Please come.”

Erind rubbed his face and nodded. The two children stood and walked back to Mariana’s house.

After walking for about ten minutes, they came to a small home in a group of many small homes in the village. They stepped to a beaten wooden door and entered. Instantly they were greeted by several other small girls, just as earth-splotched and untidy as Mariana. Mariana introduced Erind, who acknowledged the girls, though couldn’t hide his gloom. From the fireplace came an older women, thin in figure and warm in expression. She knelt down and inspected the boy’s bruised brow and blood-caked hand. She guided him outside to a large barrel of water, took a rag and began to wash him. Erind grimaced at the strong strokes brushing over his panged body. When she was finished, she dried him off with a towel and showed him back inside.

The girls were giggling and singing while they decorated the home with ribbons, fresh garland and holly. The woman sat Erind down and gave him a hunk of bread, which he promptly devoured. She asked Erind what had happened to him, and he explained with the same brief responses he had offered Mariana. The woman told him he could stay with them until they figured something out. She also reiterated Mariana’s news that a special guest was coming to eat with them that night. Erind was immune to the occasion, his attention fixed on the boiling pot of soup over the fire.

The evening came, and the girls were agog with excitement. They danced and sang while the woman prepared the table. Erind was quiet, warming himself by the fire. Soon everyone’s attention was diverted outside, from which came the whinnying of horses. A carriage had stopped in front of the home. Erind peered out of the window and noticed many of the villagers gathering around the carriage. Each man, woman and child appeared to be awaiting some happy spectacle. The coachman hopped off his seat and opened the door of the carriage. Out stepped a man, solid in stature and dressed in a simple but finely woven red robe. A small smile shone through his bushy brown beard. His deep-set eyes acknowledged each villager, who were bowing and kissing his hand. After many greetings, he approached the door and knocked.

The woman flung open the door and genuflected. The man took her hand and helped her stand again. “Welcome Your Majesty. Welcome!” said the woman, ushering him in. The girls came forward with nervous glee, one at a time, and cutely curtsied before him. Erind stood still. The woman introduced all of the girls as the man shook hands with each of them.

“And this is Erind,” the woman exclaimed. “Erind, this is our king.”

Erind looked down. He felt the rapid thump of his heartbeat, the sweat forming on the back of his neck. He tried to back away but he was already leaning against the fireplace. Fear had overcome him. His little hands shook and his eyes clouded with tears. The king raised his hand, and it was too much to bear.

Erind whisked under the king’s outstretched arm and bolted past the girls through the door. He ran hard. Past the swath of curious villagers, past the simple homes, past this foreign inhabitance that offered no cures for his aching soul. The boy ran along the river for some time until he found a path, the same path he had taken earlier in his trip. Pounding down the path along the river, he took notice of very little. He descried the great hill ahead, and discerned the whinnying of horses and the cruel laughter of men, which made him further quicken his pace. He came to the great hill and made the arduous ascent.

As he reached the top, overlooking the palace and the grand city beyond it, he collapsed. Panting for air and gripping his blistered feet, he curled up on his side and stared out at the city. The thousands of houses taunted him, for he knew he couldn’t call one his home. He envied the people inside of them, for he knew they could call each other family. The night was quiescent and stiff and fell upon him abruptly. He would have to wrestle upon the lumpy earth in lieu of sleep. Though the air was cold on his skin, the loneliness made him shudder. Exhausted, defeated, in a small ball of himself, he began to sob.

After what seemed like hours of crying and shivering, he was alarmed by the steady sound of hooves approaching. He rolled over to face the noise ascending the hill. In a moment, the large beast and its rider revealed themselves. Stopping just before Erind, the rider dismounted and paced forward. Stepping into the moonlight was the figure of the king.

Erind lay there, numb from a coldened body and spirit. He could only lift his eyes to behold the man approaching. The king stood over the boy, and knelt down. He draped a heavy article of wool over him.

“Erind, can you hear me?” The voice was strong, yet kind.

Erind said nothing.

“Don’t be afraid of me. I’m here to help you.”

“You can’t.”

“Why did you run when I met you? Tell me son, I assure you I want to help you.”

“Never. I am miserable. End me, I don’t care.”

“End you? My son, I would never harm you. Why do you think I would?”

“Because you are a king. That is what kings do.”

The king reached out and placed his hand on the boy’s head. “Tell me son. What did your king do to you?”

The king’s question prompted devastating memories, ones that infuriated and depressed Erind simultaneously. Yet somehow, this king’s gesture momentarily altered Erind’s attitude. He wanted to share his story. And it seemed that this king actually wanted to hear it.

Erind shivered and spoke. “I have no parents. No home. In my land, I begged by the palace. Sometimes, people gave me money or food. Most times no one paid attention to me. One day, a man gave me some paint and pieces of canvas. I painted lots of things—people, animals, the buildings around me. The next week he brought me more pieces. On that same day, I saw the king. He was getting back from something in the town square. I got a good glimpse of him. So I painted him. Several times on different pieces of canvas. People walking by liked them. They told me I was a good painter and a few of them gave me money for them. Soon I ran out of canvas, and had one painting left of the king. I kept it instead of selling it…because I was proud of it. A few weeks later, the king was coming into town from a trip. As he came up to the gates, I decided I would show him my picture. I thought he would like it since, you know, everyone else did. I ran up to his horse and held up my picture. He looked at it real fast and crumpled it into his fist…and then…he…he…”

“Yes, go on. You can tell me.”

“He hit me…in…in my face. He said ‘dirty boy’ and told his guards to get me away. They told me begging and selling things with no permit was illegal, and I didn’t belong there. So…so…they hit and kicked me. When they were done, they told me to go far away.”

The rehashed memories stung Erind with a new, deeper degree of bitterness and pain. He put his hands to his eyes and wept. He felt the king’s heavy hands on his head and shoulder. When he had emptied himself of tears, he looked up. What he saw astonished him. The king, too, was wiping tears from his own face. He sat Erind up, and held him wrapping his firm arm around the boy’s shoulder. He pointed out to the marvelous city, and the handsome palace before it.

“Do you see all of this Erind? I want it to be yours.”

It was too much to comprehend for a small boy. He didn’t know what to say. “But—me? How?

“You don’t have to worry about that. Just trust me.”

Erind placed his hand in the king’s. For the first time in days, weeks, even months, he felt comforted.

“We must go,” the king said suddenly. “This is not a good place to be at night.”

moonWith that, the king swept Erind up and placed him onto the horse. The king mounted and urged the horse forward, patiently down the great hill and toward the river path. The night’s crescent moon shone dimly on the earth and offered very little light to their journey. The air was cool, dark and thick. A light breeze blew. Once the horse reached the bottom of the hill, she broke into a light gallop. Within minutes they were upon the river, and found the path that stretched along it that led to the villages.

They hadn’t been traveling long when something suddenly darted across the path ahead of them. Then, Erind recognized the unwelcome noise of horses followed by strained, surly laughter. The king slowed his horse and looked ahead to observe three ominous shadows coming near to them on the path. Into the dim moonlight they emerged, the figures of three menacing men on horseback. They were garbed in dark crimson cloaks and carried awful spiked clubs at their sides. With only two horse lengths now between them, the king and the cloaked men stopped and stared at each other.

“What do you want?” asked the king.

The toothless brute in the middle spat and peered at the king. “We want whatever you have. What’s that on your finger?”

The king said nothing.

Another man with a crooked nose and raspy voice pointed at the king. “Yes! It’s a royal ring. Tell us who you are. Now!”

Again, the king did not respond.

Now the third man spoke, who was uglier than the others and white as a ghost. “You are the king! You must be! So odd though—the king would show his face in these parts. And at Christmas, no less. Well, that was ill-minded of you. We do not care for kings.”

Without warning, the crooked-nosed fellow withdrew an unlit torch and sparked it with one flick of a flint. He threw it at the feet of the king’s horse, who reared up in fright and threw off Erind and the king. Now there wasn’t much time.

The king grabbed Erind’s face. “Listen to me. You must run. As fast as you can. Back over the hill, toward the city and palace. They are going to kill me, and they’ll kill you too. Go. Go!”

The men had just dismounted and were approaching them. Erind was sore and exhausted, but he wanted to honor the king. So he stood and ran. The ghostly man started after the boy but was tripped by the king as he passed him. The king stood and braced for the other two. The crooked-nosed one leapt forward and swung his club, but the king caught his forearm on the downswing. The toothless one simultaneously swung his club and caught the king on his hip. Still firmly holding the other man’s forearm, he staggered for a moment but grabbed the toothless man, and in one mighty instant tossed them both upon the ghostly man, who still lay prone upon the ground.

The king looked up in a flash and watched Erind run away into the darkness. Erind looked back and watched the king do something most peculiar. Instead of attempting to run, or attacking the men, he stood there like a statue and braced for the next blow. One missed. Another he intercepted and tossed the man aside. The next blow caught him on the hand, yet he grabbed the club with the other hand and chucked it aside. Another blow came to his knee and crippled him. He continued to dodge and absorb the buffeting, shielding the men from advancing beyond him. At last, he succumbed. But not before Erind was far away.

The night was wearisome for young Erind. It took him nearly all he had just to arrive at the great hill. Ascending it was even more laborious, and when he reached its apex, he nearly collapsed in the same spot he lay a few hours earlier. But he didn’t collapse. For at that moment, his blood curdled upon hearing the whinnying of horses in the distance. He was being followed.

He hurried down the hill and toward the beach. He could see the mountainside that contained the palace and the city beyond it. As he neared the port, his strength began to fail. His little feet were cramping and his sight started to swirl. When he came to the first row of boats, he fell over and passed out….

sunlightWhen Erind awoke, he slowly opened his weary eyes to see a high ceiling above him. He noticed he was strangely comfortable, and found himself lying on a fluffy pillow and plush, red velvet sheets. He was warm, and he was rested. Still sore, he crept out of the bed and walked to the tall window. The sunlight beamed upon his face and his eyes adjusted to the bright morning. There, outside, was the long beach, bustling with boats and sailors and fishermen. There was the end of beach that led to the great hill. There was the city with its many homes and buildings. Near him was the mountainside. He looked down to see great red banners upon parapets and ramparts. A tremendous tower stood directly to his right. There was no doubt. He was in the palace.

A knock came at the door and in walked a pudgy, mustachioed man in noble attire. “Merry Christmas, young lad. I am Giru. You are in the king’s palace.”

“How did I get here?” asked Erind.

“You were brought here last night by a sailor who found you passed out near his boat.”

“But why did he bring me here?”

“That I will explain more later. Please follow me.” Erind was confused and a little afraid. He was in a palace, a place he knew he didn’t belong, a place he shunned above all others. He couldn’t believe he was wanted, and wondered what they would do to him there. But then he thought of the king. He thought of his last, sad image of him, being crushed with fists and clubs by those evil men. All to set him free. Perhaps this palace was different.

Erind followed Giru into the hall, where there was an extraordinary opening that revealed long, winding staircases, magnificent marvel columns and painted ceilings with intricate patterns. They descended the stairs and came to an expansive room with a burning fireplace and a wonderful, clinquant Christmas tree. As Erind marveled, he heard a collection of noise bustling into the palace through the grand doors at the main entrance. It was the sound of other children. In a few moments, they were ushered into the room. It was Mariana with the girls and the older woman.

Mariana immediately noticed Erind, ran to him and gave him a big hug. The other children and the older woman also came over to greet him. Giru and some other servants collected the children’s coats and offered them seats by the tree. Giru looked at the children with kindness and cleared his throat.

“Children and madam. No doubt you are wondering why you are here. First, I have sad news.” Giru drew his fist to his mouth and closed his eyes. Obviously shaken, he took a moment to compose himself and cleared his throat again. “The king—is dead.”

The great room was silent, save the crackling of fire. Erind noticed some of the servants wiping tears from their eyes as they stood still. The children were sad and confused. Giru continued.

“Tragically, his life was taken from us last night. The men who did it have been captured. We understand mostly what happened, and that you were involved Erind. We are glad you are okay.”

“Before all of this happened, the king set some things in motion. There is a reason he visited all of you last night. The king had no wife and no children, thus no rightful heirs to his throne. And he wanted to share his throne with his people, the people of this land. But he didn’t want to give it to the rich or the powerful. He wanted to give it to children, like you, who weren’t part of his family, who weren’t part of any family. So, he resolved that when he died, he would give the kingdom to the children. This,” Giru waved his hand to showcase the room, “is now yours.”

The children were in awe, and though they struggled to fully grasp this momentous generosity, they still smiled and rejoiced. Erind meanwhile, sat puzzled, remaining somber. He looked up at Giru.

“But why me? I am from another land. I am not even from this kingdom.”

Giru explained, “The king wished to welcome his people as well as foreign children. And you, Erind. You left an impression on him. Do you know his heart broke for you? As you ran away last night, he alerted the kingdom to look out for you, and if anyone found you, to bring you to the palace gates. Then, he went to find you himself, and remarkably did. Your last journey led you to the port, and when the sailor found you, he had already been given the news that you were missing. So, he brought you here directly.”

Erind was pondering everything, trying to make sense of why the king did what he did.

“But. I—I—I don’t deserve all of this. Any of this,” he mumbled.

Giru came to Erind and knelt before him. He lifted Erind’s quivering chin as tiny tears trickled down the boy’s face. “That is precisely the point, young lad,” said Giru. “The kingdom could not be earned. It had to be given, as a free gift. It did not benefit the king. He simply did it because he loved you. Accept the gift my son.”

Erind gently nodded. Giru hugged him and stood. “Merry Christmas to all of you. Let me show you around your new home.”

The servants led the children out of the room. Mariana came over to Erind, and took his hand. “Remember the scarf I was knitting when I was with you under the tree?

“Yes,” said Erind.

“Well, I told you it was for my friend for Christmas. But, I don’t really have a friend. So, I want you to have it.” Mariana smiled and handed the scarf to Erind. Erind smiled back and thanked her.

Mariana gazed at Erind. “You said you wanted a world without kings for Christmas.”

“I did,” Erind confessed. “But now, I can’t think of a world without one.”

And he grabbed Mariana’s hand and followed the other children for the tour of their new home.

Battle and the Pool of Morphoo

School was out for the summer; Battle was out of his mind. Most kids get pumped for the absence of homework, the nearing of summer camps, and the prospect of sleeping in. But Battle was not most kids. He found most homework to be easy and wouldn’t have minded continuing with it if he had too.

He didn’t love summer camps; they were a tad too structured. Two years ago during arts and crafts activity at a camp called Tremendous Town, Battle finished his work early, got bored, and fed his pastels to some not-so-picky pigeons to the chagrin of camp counselors. Let’s just say the day remains in camp lore as the day the birds “painted the Town.”

And to Battle, sleeping in meant missing out. After all, who can sleep when all the birds are ready to have someone chuck them their worms? That’s how Battle thought, anyway.

Battle grabbed his gear and made his way to the backyard before anyone in his family stirred, and just as the Sun itself was waking up. Today Battle planned to hike northwest as far as he could go, then turn around at lunch to come home. But as it so often happens in Battle’s big backyard, his plans would go awry.

He did manage to make it over the stepping stones of Culvert’s Creek, past the Great Oaks of Center Wood and down into the The Ole Valley. It was at the base of the valley Battle noticed a tiny brook he had never before encountered. As clever and rational as Battle could be, curiosity made him abandon all inhibitions. When Battle discovered something new, his reaction was akin to a pirate happening upon a buried treasure he didn’t know existed. So Battle would joyfully cackle and start digging for more. Today this tiny treasure of a brook would lead him to a trove of natural wonder.

Within a mere few hundred paces, Battle encroached the great, unknown site. Through some thick limbs and brush ahead, he could descry a light forcing its way through any opening and spilling throughout the forest around him. After a few hacks with his hands to eschew the branches, a glorious site lay before him. The beacons of light that had beckoned Battle to the scene were coming from the sun’s reflection off a magnificent, glistening pool. The pool was so beautiful that you’d hesitate to try and swim in it and disturb its picturesque nature. Battle looked down and saw where the pool gently spilled over to feed the brook he’d discovered. The pool settled itself at the base of several hills that made their way up from The Ole Valley. Within these hills were carved some dark, cavernous pits that were dripping with water. Perhaps this is where the pool’s source of water originated. It was definitely the source of the interesting figure Battle would soon meet, perched just above the pool and nestled into the darkness of the rocks, as if only a shadow spoke.

“Hello down there,” said a friendly yet somewhat nervous voice.

“Hello,” said Battle. “I’m Battle. Will you come down so I can meet you?”

“I’d rather not, boy. I don’t feel like being near the water today.”

“Not ready? What are you waiting for? It’s so beautiful. I think I’ll have a swim right now.”

“Oh no, don’t, don’t! You mustn’t. It’s obvious you know nothing about the Pool of Morphoo. It’s been here ever since I was born. It’s been said that great treasure lies within, but also legends of people and creatures going in and submerging themselves but never coming back up. Any wise one who passes by steers clear. It is a treacherous oasis. A Siren song. I doubt I should ever enter it. Neither should you.”

Battle stood puzzled for a minute, inspecting the pool and wondering if it was indeed dangerous. He wasn’t surprised to hear about legends. The Woods were full of them. It was hard to know what legends were false and true, unless you experienced them for yourself. Battle’s bravery and curiosity often caused him to go against his better judgment. In fact, the talk of a legend that was able to be tested was quite tempting to him. He stepped forward and stopped at the pool’s edge.

“Hey, hey, what are you doing?” said the voice from the cavern.

Battle looked up. “I think I’ll have a go at that treasure.”

For some reason, Battle’s proclamation was enough to get the voice in the dark to come out into the light. It came down from the rock wall and positioned itself at the edge of the pool as well. The creature was almost Battle’s size. His body was slender and sleek. Oddly, the newcomer’s features did not seem to make him fit for land, Battle thought. And what was quickly apparent was it was very interested in the pool.

Battle observed as the slender thing performed a number of odd tasks, which together appeared to be a kind of routine. It started with the creature dipping what we may call feet (though they didn’t seem to be feet) into the water. Next, it splashed some water to its face, licking some of the liquid and shaking his head. “Still just not quite right,” it mumbled. Then, it took a long, thin stick, which was quite dark and moist, as if it had spent a lot of time in the water. The creature dipped the stick down a ways, then withdrew it, then shook its head once more. “This is not good. Too quick. Much worse than I thought.”

“What are you doing?” Battle asked.

“I’m just…Oh, I don’t know. This pool…it used to be even more beautiful—when it was higher. That was many, many years ago. Over time, it has been draining, draining down the little brook I suppose you came upon to help you find the pool. And it seems in recent times the draining has quickened—” the creature paused and frowned, as though the magnitude of his words had suddenly struck him upon their delivery—”and, anyway, I know I can’t go in, even if I’d like to.”

“But you could just go in right now, who cares?” Battle exclaimed, becoming more incredulous at the creature’s reservations.

The creature shook his head. “Ahh, but you don’t understand. I’ve observed this pool my whole life. Some days I find it to be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever witnessed, and I have little doubt it contains a marvelous treasure within. Other days I fear the pool so much I can’t even look at it. But really, it’s so mysterious because I know something will happen to me if I enter it.” He said these last words with a hint of wonder and fear, it seemed to Battle.

Meanwhile, one couldn’t help but notice that the pool was shrinking. The rustling of the brook descending from the pool had now become more audible, and a considerable amount of clay on the banks revealed itself. The creature once more took the stick and plumbed the water, and once more withdrew it muttering to itself something about things being even worse.

Battle wanted to help. For a split second he considered pushing the beast into the water. But what if the pool did swallow things up? Battle didn’t want to kill anyone. Then he had another idea; this one felt worth sharing.

“Why don’t you wait until the pool drains completely? If there is treasure, you can just go in and grab it. If there is no treasure, at least you didn’t risk going in the pool to search for something that was never there.” Battle thought this made sense, but the creature did not.

“I’ve consulted every sage who has passed by here. They are sure that if the pool runs dry, any treasure that might be there will be lost. At least, that has been their understanding of other pools in other places from other tales. So there is my dilemma. Enter this dreaded oasis for a speculative treasure and risk never surfacing again, or allow the pool to dry up, likely leaving no treasure (if it ever was there in the first place) and forever regretting my choice.”

Battle listened to the beast while staring down at his own feet upon the bank. The water just beneath him continued to disappear, finding its way into the brook, which was now rushing down the hill. Battle looked up at the creature, who was obviously troubled by the circumstance, yet remained obstinate. Battle was growing impatient. He couldn’t believe the two of them would stare at and talk about this gorgeous pool all afternoon yet neither one jump in, especially with the prospect of treasure. What in the world could they be missing out on?!

Once again the creature bellied up to the bank, this time barely able to reach down far enough to touch the water. It sat up, sighing deeply, with its head remaining drooped. Battle thought the creature was preparing to cry, but he didn’t really know what such an act would look like from such a strange beast.

Battle wondered what it would be like to have the pool drain completely while the creature stood there, likely sobbing and babbling something about things being as bad they were expected to be. As the boy thought this, he grew angry and felt as though he couldn’t tolerate his own quiescence. He looked up at the creature, now appearing almost catatonic, staring at the soil and lost in its thoughts. Once more, Battle looked down at the bank beneath him. He kicked off his shoes. And he stepped into the water…

Sting. The burning sensation was immediate. Battle howled as the hot pain ran through his toes, sole, and ankle. The creature shot up to see Battle rolling back onto the bank, grasping his foot. Battle grimaced and inspected his ruddy foot with the weird skin-burn feeling setting in. And as if his choice was not injurious enough, it seemed to cause the pool to withdraw at its most rapid rate yet and signal its imminent demise.

Battle composed himself, holding his foot and looking up at the creature. The creature stood stoically, a look of shock on its face. Yet the look was not one of disturbance…but of revelation. And his expression changed more with each passing moment, as if rich recollections and thoughts were flooding his mind unceasingly. He caught Battle’s eyes, and spoke with tranquility.

“Many years ago, when I was very young, a boy about the same age as you came bounding through the forest and discovered my pool. I stayed in my cave and observed him from my perch. The boy appeared spellbound by the pool, allured by its beauty. It was a hot summer day, like this one, and the boy removed his shoes and shirt to go for a swim. He climbed up on that boulder right there and bent over to dive. Suddenly—out of nowhere—a hawk darted by, squawking loudly and causing the boy to fall awkwardly off the rock. The boy landed right by the bank and his foot submerged, just like yours. He yelped in pain from what appeared to be a bad burn from the water. He cried for a little while and rubbed his leg, until he finally calmed down, put his clothes back on and left the pool never to be seen again.”

“Yeah? So what does it mean?” inquired Battle.

“I’m not sure. But I know most who’ve come to the pool don’t attempt to go in. The two boys who have, they’ve been burned, yet graciously spared. Yet the Pool of Morphoo, though I’ve feared it, has always been kind to me.”

And with that, the creature slid down the bank into the water, and disappeared.

There were no screams or signs of the creature resurfacing, just simply the odd sounds of water running back up the brook and refilling the shallow pool. Battle sat still for almost an hour, observing the brook diminish and the pool replenish. Finally, the transfer ceased and once more the water filled the pool to its brim, even splashing some of its contents over the bank. The pool sparkled and glistened magnificently in the sun. Battle put on his shoes, stood up and went home.

Awfice Mates: The Pistachio Bag

c02579c937172325Michelle was so nice. She was the only person in the office who ever brought in goodies.

Some people, like Joe, always thought about bringing in goodies, but never did for the fear that any food item would undoubtedly be objectionable to someone. These days even something as simple as a brownie was daunting. Go for the delicious chocolatey sugar-bomb brownie but tick off the people who resented the temptation of sweets. Or make the brownies nutty and risk someone’s throat closing up. Or leave the gluten in and give someone insufferable gas the remainder of the day.

Other people, like Tammy, never considered bringing goodies in because Michelle was always doing it. Those people were always thinking, “Nah, no need to bring something in this week. I’m sure Michelle will come through.”

And come through she did. It was a sleepy Monday morning when Ted strolled in and caught sight of the large bag of pistachios in the break room. He walked over to look at the bag and noticed it hadn’t been opened. Ted started to sweat a little. He really wanted to tear open the bag but he knew the second he did someone would walk in and catch him opening the bag of pistachios and think, “Of course fat Teddy is divin’ into those nuts early. He simply can’t contain himself.” So Ted thought all that and risked it anyway, and opened the bag just as Craig walked in and smirked, which made Ted sweat a little more from self-consciousness. But it wasn’t enough to stop him from grabbing a handful and nervously adding “Gotta love pistachios.”

The pistachios were a hit. By early afternoon the half-eaten bag had found its way to the conference room, just in time for the weekly team meeting. Many had gathered around the nuts, except Ted who was wiping himself off in the corner.

Edward took the bag and emptied a small number of nuts onto a napkin.

Craig snickered. “You eat like a rabbit.”

Edward glared back. “Well Craig, how would you have handled the pistachios bag?”

“I wouldn’t have sprinkled eight nuts out onto a napkin.”

“Oh no? Would you have stuffed your dirty hand in the bag so no one else would want any? Would you dump a pile into your mouth like a damn animal?”

“I’m just saying it would be normal to pour out a double digit number of pistachios, like this—” Craig poured out what he thought to be a normal number of pistachios.

“Normal, huh?” Edward rolled his eyes. “Well I had no idea people make judgments on pistachio intake. Next time I’ll make sure no one is looking or I just won’t have any at all.”

“See, I’d expect you to have none at all because you are as skinny as a beanpole,” Craig remarked, a bit awkwardly while chewing.

“Craig, you don’t even know what the hell a beanpole is. And I think you are envious of my skinniness.”

“Are you saying I’m fat?” Craig asked, inadvertently spitting pistachio particles like shrapnel.

“I’m not saying you’re fat. But compared to me, perhaps you are fat. Perhaps you should sprinkle your pistachios instead of horsin’ ’em down like you’ve never tried food.”

Meanwhile, Phil walked in and grabbed the pistachio bag. “Hey fellas.”

“What’s up Phil?” everyone said.

“Craig, you should give some of your pistachios to Edward.”

“Are ru sayin’ I vat?” Craig asked with a muffled mouthful.

“You are fat. But no, I’m saying Edward is obviously emaciated and it is cruel to deprive malnourished men of sustenance.”

Edward shook his head. “Thanks Phil, I’m so touched you too are concerned about my nut consumption. Would anyone else like to comment so I can shove my shells up your nostrils?”

“Oh don’t waste the shells,” said Phil. “Craig eats those too.”

The attention shifted to their boss, Glenn, who was pacing quickly into the room. “All right everybody, let’s get started.”

“First off, thanks Michelle for bringing in the pistachio bag. It’s been a pleasant surprise for an otherwise mundane Monday. And secondly…uh Craig? Everything all right?”

Everyone turned to Craig, who was holding his throat and sputtering pistachio shells.

“Oh no! He’s choking!” someone shouted.

Immediately Ted sprang from his chair and positioned himself behind Craig, grabbing him like he was hugging a refrigerator. Ted clasped his hands and gave a forceful thrust to Craig’s chest. A few more shells spewed from Craig’s face but he continued to choke.

Ted kept thrusting, Craig kept choking. Ted was now sweating so much that with his proximity to Craig it looked like Craig was sweating. Ted continued to aggressively thrust Craig’s chest. The more he did, the more he sweat. Everyone stood in panicked shock, bracing for Craig’s shells to dislodge while equally witnessing the greatest display of sweat profusion ever. Craig was turning blue and Ted appeared to be melting like a popsicle in a microwave.

Several people dialed 911 while others offered to help Ted. But Ted appeared to be in such an odd, unrelenting zone that it seemed impossible to even talk to him. In fact, now that Craig had been choking for about 20 seconds, Ted looked in worse shape. As the waterfall of sweat cascaded down his face, it appeared to be taking Ted’s hair with it. Craig was still choking. Ted was losing bodily fluids and balding.

The next thirty seconds was insane. Craig’s eyes had closed and he slumped over in Ted’s bear hug like a rag doll. Ted was still thrusting and panting, nearly bald. His clothes were soaked and sagging, and appeared to no longer fit him. His eyes were no longer open either, while his agape mouth served as a reservoir for his dripping, ghost-white face. It was hard to tell if he was aware of his toil or permanently engaged in some out-of-body exercise he no longer controlled. Beneath the pair of men a not-so-small pool of sweat had formed on the oak floor. And in a moment so singular that it is difficult to articulate, Ted’s feet slipped and shot forward from under him, suspending both himself and his patient in mid-air, long enough for the entire office to gasp in fright. In a second Ted crashed backward upon the floor, still clutching Craig for dear life. At the moment of impact with the floor, two things happened simultaneously that were unlikely to ever be witnessed again in human history: Craig’s now rag doll of a body jolted, and from him heaved an impossible amount of pistachio nuts and shells. And Ted. It’s hard to say. It looked like between Craig and the floor a water cooler exploded, creating a splash of Sea World proportions.

Phil and Edward quickly bent down to assist the two men. Craig was coughing and sucking in air, and the color was returning to his face. Phil pulled Craig off of Ted and sat him down. Edward took a look at Ted and nearly fainted. If the human body was 60% water, Edward suspected Ted was closer to 100%, or at least used to be. Edward rapped at Ted’s now moribund face until his eyes finally opened. He sat up and muttered something about home and a shower, then staggered out of the room.

Everyone’s attention quickly turned to the middle of the room and the sound of a bag rustling. Michelle blushed and held out her pistachios, giggling nervously. “Still a few left. Anyone?”

Michelle was so nice.

The Night I Played for the King

The night is etched in my memory as the most vivid of my childhood, perhaps my life.

I first recall walking along the road of my hometown, gazing up at the skies. In those days we were all looking up, as we witnessed a particular star that seemed to hover over our little town with marvelous illumination. It hadn’t been too long since the night the star first appeared, causing a great commotion. And again tonight, ahead of me on the road, was a similar commotion.

As I approached, several men were hurriedly dismounting their beasts, wasting little time to return their sights skyward. Most nights it would be hard to descry these men from where I was, but this night was quite different. The light shone brightly upon their faces, making out every contour that formed their magnificent smiles. Each of them was squinting, and I supposed the tears they shed were caused by something greater than the gleam of starlight. I remember their laughs, hearty and nervous, as though they’d reached a long-sought treasure but were not sure what it would mean when they actually beheld it. They were embracing. One of them shouted something and the rest nodded, lifted their robes from the dusty earth, and began to dance.

I was just a small lad then, so my curiosity beckoned me to inquire of them what was happening. When I got near, one of them noticed me and lit up as if I was the very person he wanted to see. He was a small man, clothed in magisterial yet dusty attire. He knelt down and softly placed his hands on my little shoulders. I distinctly recall the way he asked me if I knew what what happening, as if he had some news he couldn’t keep to himself. I shook my head, and he began to explain what he believed about the star and the long journey he and his friends took to find it. I remember him chuckling and shaking his head as he described everything. He could hardly seem to believe what he was telling me.

At last, he pointed to the house ahead. He told me a king lived there, a king whose coming was foretold centuries before, a king whom my ancestors had long awaited, a king who somehow, in this tiny town where little ever happened, was born in these days. He said that I must go with him and his friends to meet the king. I looked at his friends and it was then I noticed each of them gripping packages they seemed keen not to drop. The man placed his arm around me and as we began to walk, he withdrew his own package from his robe. He told me that each of them brought their very best gift to lay before the king.

As we approached the house, I remember becoming anxious. I had never met a king. I knew nothing of proper manners, my clothes were tattered and smelled of sheep’s pen, and I had brought nothing to give. I decided that if I was let into the house, I would stand back near the door while the men gave the king their gifts.

I came to the door with the man and his friends, and their excited clamoring stopped. A great hush now enveloped them and they swayed back and forth in nervous anticipation. The door slowly opened, revealing an old woman who greeted and whispered us inside. As we walked in, we came upon a very young woman, sitting and holding a baby boy. I presumed he was the king by observing the men step forward and kneel down before him. One man stared at the boy, trembling in wonder. Others placed their faces in their hands. For a time the room was silent but for the sound of some sniffling and deep sighs.

After a few moments, the thick smell of incense and oils filled the room. The men were presenting their gifts. I studied each ornate jar and box that was offered, revealing contents with fragrances so fine or minerals so pristine that I could not imagine their value. Each man bowed and placed his gift at the mother and boy’s feet. The boy quietly observed each gift being presented, while his mother graciously nodded in appreciation. The men stepped back, huddling together and gazing upon the boy with glee and adoration.

I too stepped back, embarrassed by the generous gift giving, hoping I could stay hidden in the shadows. I’ll never forget it was then the child’s mother looked up at me. Her slightest gesture summoned me forth, and I stood before the king.

I wanted to apologize for my appearance. Yet it struck me that the king and his mother wore clothes similar to mine. They looked much more like me than the men who had brought me there. A strange feeling came over me that this king was somehow common like me. So I finally spoke, and told the little king that I was a poor boy too. I admitted that I had no gift to give. Nothing fit for a king, anyway.

Feeling helpless and ashamed, I put my head down. And as I did, I noticed the small drum in my hand, which I seemed to have forgotten. It was then that I had an idea. Perhaps the little king would like a song! I looked up at him and asked if I could play for him on my drum. The king’s mother gently nodded, and I started to rap. Pa-rum.

I remember my first several hits felt awkward; I was already messing up and struggling to find the beat. Pa-rum-rum. I tuned my ear to find the right sound, and discerned another sound that seemed to be coming from outside. Indeed, it was the sound of hooves stomping— an easy, soothing beat which had calmed me all of my life. The beats started to form a rhythm. Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum.

It was then that I distinctly remember the uneasy feeling of everyone’s eyes upon me. I closed my eyes, focused, and the rat-a-tat quickened. Rum-pum-pum-pum. Rum-pum-pum-pum. Others were listening, but I was just playing for the king. I hoped the king thought my drumming was good; I was playing my best. Rum-pum-pum-pum. Rum-pum-pum-pum. I continued rhythmically rapping, and I opened my eyes to look at the king.

Then he smiled at me. Me and my drum.

Though he was just a baby boy, his smile flooded my heart with joy. I remember from that moment everything changed. No longer did I worry about messing up… No longer did I try to impress him… I simply played to please him. Suddenly my hands flicked effortlessly, thumping the leather at a rate beyond my own perceived capability. The great rhythm was born and filled the room with smooth, sweet bursts of sound. Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum! Rum-pum-pum-pum! Rum-pum-pum-pum!

A rush of glory came over me, when at the pinnacle of my effort, the chorus began. The ox and lamb stomped and bleated with rapture. The men clapped, bellowing shouts of a foreign tongue and raising their hands towards the king. The king’s mother closed her eyes and began to sing soft words over her child. The king looked into my eyes, his face full of light, and he giggled with delight, as though no offering could have pleased him more. Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum! Rum-pum-pum-pum! Rum-pum-pum-pum!

That was many years ago. Since then, countless stories have filled the land about this king and the things he did. And so I’ve given you my story, the story of the night I met my King, with nothing to give— and He rejoiced over me.

 

Alex Gets Fired

Sad-businessman

Brent called Alex into his office.

“Sit down Alex, I have some bad news. The company missed again on its annual sales goals. We’re going to have to make some layoffs. We are terminating your position effective immediately.”

“Good,” said Alex surprisingly. “Layoffs are a necessary part of every company. Are we eliminating the product placement division?”

“Yes,” said Brent, nonplussed by Alex’s casual demeanor. “Everyone in your division will be terminated.”

“Excellent,” exclaimed Alex excitedly. “Those guys struggled mightily. They’ve been bringing down our company for years.”

“Yes, and you do realize you are part of that division right?,” said Brent.

“Absolutely, and I couldn’t agree more with your decision. It will be sad to see them go, but we should be fine without them,” said Alex.

“You mean ‘we’ as in me and the other people who are not fired,” grumbled Brent.

“Precisely. But about that, Brent. I’m sorry…but…without the product placement division, you will have no one to manage. I’m afraid we’re going to have to let you go,” said Alex, frowning.

“Alex, stop screwing around. I am your boss. You can’t fire me,” Brent exclaimed with a huff.

“And I don’t want to fire you, but corporate is forcing my hand. Let’s not make this any harder than it has to be,” said Alex.

Brent slammed his fist down on the table. “Ok, get out of my office, pack your things and leave the premises by 2 p.m.”

“Ahh, 2 p.m., no can do,” said Alex. “I have an important meeting with Brent.”

Brent erupted, “I’M BRENT!”

“Fantastic!” Alex beamed. “Great to meet you Brent, I guess I’m a little early for the interview. But once I heard about the job opening Alex vacated—well—I just had to come as soon as I could.”

Then, Brent killed Alex.