Monday, September 14, 2015

The Dispersing Agent" Part 5, the conclusion

Angela and I slept in the tent that night out in the yard.  Angela gabbed till midnight and then snored while I lay awake, thinking desperate thoughts.  When dawn came I crept out of the tent and went to the tunnel.

"Have you thought of anything?" I asked the Queen.

She held up a baby food jar with water in it.

"Dewdrops," she said proudly.  "We've been collecting all night."

"But is it strong enough to disperse the Watchers?"

"What do you think I am, a magician," she said, scowling.  "Take it or leave it."

I took it.  I could always add something to it.  If I could only think what.  Gus said you had to balance the poles.  The Watchers were heavy and cold and dark.  I got my quartz crystal and polished it up, then dropped it into the jar of dew and took it out to the pasture, putting it on the big granite rock where it could soak in the sun.

At breakfast I looked at my family, trying to memorize their faces.  I didn't know if I'd recognize them tomorrow or not.

I showed Angela how to do all the chores in case I wasn't around to do them myself.

"The possoms' cage needs to be cleaned every day, and they need fresh water.  They like to eat fruit and milk and eggs."

While Angela played with the possoms I sneaked  out to the tunner again.  I asked the Hedge Queen if she could somehow kidnap Angela for the day.

"It'll cost you," she said.  "We'd lose a whole day's work."

"I've got a bag of marbles," I said.

"Cat's eyes?"


"And more of the striped canes."


"Send her in."

I told Angela there was a surprise partway down the tunnel.  As soon as she crawled in, I ran to the house.

"Where's Angela?" Mom asked.

"She went to town with Dad," I said.

"She did?  Why would she want to go to the MFA?"

I shrugged.  "I think she wanted to stop at the drug store."

I finished my teepees.  Every now and then I could hear Angela hollering in the hedge.

Dad got back from town and came out to the garden.

"Where's Angela," he asked.

"She's helping Mom," I said.  I hoped Dad wouldn't hear the shouts.

"Cam," he said, "you'd better put some minnows in with the tadpoles, otherwise those things will be nothing but mosquito hatcheries."

Another chore.  I started down to the creek but heard the bluebirds scolding again.  The snake was back.  I dealt with him, got the minnows, then went inside to make some sandwiches.

"Where's Angela," Mom asked.

"We're having a picnic lunch at the creek."

"That sounds nice.  There are oatmeal cookies in the jar."

I packed everything in a bag, poured a jar of water and took it out to the tunnel.

"How's it going?" I asked the Queen in a low voice.  I felt horribly guilty.

She looked harassed.  "We had to give her a sleeping draught."

"Well, here's some food for when she wakes up."

I sneaked upstairs to my room.  I wanted to compose letters - one for my mom and dad, one for Glen.  There was so much I wanted to say, in case I wasn't able to later.  It took a long time.  I put the letters in envelopes and left them on my bed, then sat looking out the window.  I'd had a good life up till now.  I guessed I couldn't complain.  I went outside and spent awhile with the Old Man, petting and talking to him.  He'd been with us almost five years.  I'd found him walking along the road, half starved, with sores on his feet.

"Don't worry," I whispered to him, "Mom and Dad won't turn you out.  And if you're still around when Glen gets older, he'll take care of you."

I had one more thing to do, and that was finish the dispersing agent.  It needed potentizing.  I fished the crystal out of it and spent a long time stirring it with an elderberry twig, first one way, then the other.

"What's that?"

My head jerked up.  Angela was standing next to me.  Her arms were scratched and she had leaves and cobwebs in her hair.

"How did you - ?"  I looked towards the hedge and saw the Queen waving a white handkerchief at me.

"I got stuck in there for the longest time.  Didn't you hear me hollering?  Then I fell asleep, and when I woke up I was starving, but luckily I found a bag of food.  Was that the surprise you were talking about?  What's that?"

I stopped stirring.  "It's a dispersing agent.  Some evil spirits are going to take me over tonight unless I can stop them."

"He he he he!" Angela said.  "Cam, you are so funny.  Where do you come up with all that stuff.  Dispersing agent!  He he he."

At supper I was so nervous I couldn't eat.  I said I had a stomach ache and went to lie down.  I woke up after dark.  My mouth was dry, my stomach in knots.  I got up.  No way was I going to lie in the dark and wait for them.  I wrapped the white sheet from my bed all around me and pinned it with safety pins.  I didn't know what the Essenes wore, but white seemed like the best choice.  I got the jar of medicine and tiptoed downstairs.

Outside the moon was rising, giving me enough light to see.  I could hear Angela snoring in the tent as I passed.  I set off towards the sink hole, the Old Man beside me.  I felt numb.  Halfway there I realized the goat's rue warriors were pacing on either side of me, tall and silent in their loin cloths and bare feet.  I heard rustles and turned around.  All the hedge people were coming along behind with the Queen in front, carrying a staff with a winking marble on top, wearing her raveling dress and droopy crown.  Next came the cane dwellers and the little brown man in his patchwork pants, followed by a host of transparent creatures who lived in the thistle flowers along the pasture fence.

My spirits lifted at the sight of them all.  Together we walked to the sink hole and stood around it.  A sudden breeze set my white robe flapping and I shivered.  The Old man started to howl.  Out of the hole came the Watchers, their eyes burning red in the pale beams of moonlight.  They started towards me and I called out, "Wait!"  This was it.  My teeth were chattering and my hand shook so hard I could hardly raise the jar.  Taking a deep breath I flung the medicine into the sink hole.

Nothing happened.  No flash of light, no crack of thunder, no roaring wind.  Nothing.

Hope died as the Watchers surrounded me, pressing against me with their coiling bodies.  I stifled a scream, feeling them pass into me, one by one, each colder than the last.  I stood there swaying, numb with cold and dread, feeling the boy Cam slowly dying.  New thoughts were forming in my head, cold, dark thoughts that slithered through me like snakes in a pit.  My heart was going to burst.  I couldn't live with this terrible pressure.

"No!" I screamed, clawing at my chest.  I fell to the ground, doubled up in agony.

Suddenly the pressure eased and I looked up.  A figure stood in front of me, right over the sink hole.  He looked like an Essene, white and glowing, with sparks flying from his hair.  I knew who he was.

"I thought the dispersing agent didn't work," I said.  "I didn't know how to make it."

"Cam," said the Mediator in a voice that freed my heart from its terrible burden.  "you are the dispersing agent, didn't you know?  The goodness in your heart is the most powerful medicine you have.  All the love you've shown to those in your care has done its work."

Tears began pooling in my eyes and running down my cheeks.  "But I lied," I said.  "I was mean to Angela."

"And now you'll be able to make it up to her."

"But the Watchers?"

"They were no match for you.  They've gone back underground where they belong.  The earth has been healed."  The Mediator opened his hands and red flower petals fell from them into the hole.  I smelled roses.

A cheer went up from the nature folk gathered around me.  The sound went on and on, like a song drifting gently over the fields, hovering above all the small quiet places I loved.  I and the Old Man walked back to the house.

The End

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Dispersing Agent (a story) part 4

In the morning when I got up, I'd actually forgotten all about the terror in the night until I went downstairs and saw Glen sitting in his highchair.  The cold dread came back.  I felt like I weighed three hundred pounds.  I wanted to sink down onto the floor and stay there, but there was too much to do.  Where should I start?

"Cam, are you all right?" my mother asked, feeling my forehead.

"Fine," I said, trying to smile.

"Well, go get your chores done.  Your cousin Angela's coming later.  She's going to stay with us awhile, won't that be fun?"

I heaved a huge sigh and looked at the ceiling.

"Cam, what's wrong with you?"

"Nothing!" I yelled, and ran out the door.  Crap!  Crap, crap, crap!  I couldn't deal with Angela right now, not on top of everything else.

I opened the chicken coop door and filled the feeders, slamming the lid back onto the grain can, making the chickens squawk and run.  Bard, the rooster, bobbed his head and sidled toward me with his wing down, spoiling for a fight, but I plowed past him like a tornado.  I fed the possums and changed their bedding, opened the greenhouse, fed the Old Man, checked on the baby bluebirds and visited my tadpole ponds.  I still hadn't gotten the teepees made.

What would it be like, I wondered, when the Watchers took me over?  Would I remember who I was?  Would I go out at night and do terrible things?  Maybe I'd have to be locked in a mental hospital.

Mom called me in for breakfast.  I wasn't hungry but forced myself to eat.  I had to keep my strength up.  Luckily it was Sunday and there weren't many chores to do.  We picked what had to be picked and washed the coolers.  The next market day was Wednesday.  I'd be taken over by then.

As soon as I could, I went to the tunnel.  The Hedge Queen had made herself a crown out of some copper foil and a piece of cardboard.  I figured she'd taken the foil from Dad's shop, but didn't say anything.  There were some ribbons hanging off it and red buckbrush berries woven in.

"What do you think?" she asked, turning this way and that.

The crown drooped low on one side, making her squint.

"It's nice," I said.  "What do you know about dispersing agents?"

"Dispersing agents!"  She sat down on her stump throne and crossed her skinny legs.

"The rain disperses the dust.  The spring disperses the winter.  Flowers disperse pollen."  She looked pleased with herself for being so smart.

"See, here's the thing," I said.  "The retarded spirits from the sink hole are going to take me over unless I can make a medicine to transform them.  We're talking white magic here."

"Hmmm," said the Queen.  "I and my subjects have been concerned about these beings.  Let us discuss it.  Come back later."

Not until I left did I realize she hadn't even asked for any rent.

In the corner of the front field was a big patch of  goat's rue plants with yellow and pink blossoms.  The goat's rue warriors were the most powerful beings on the farm, except for the Great Farm Spirit whom I'd only seen once or twice.  The warriors were very tall, with hard, ropy muscles and solemn faces.  They never smiled, and didn't talk much, but I trusted them.  Sometimes they walked beside me when I went to the creek.  There were three of them, two men and a woman.  I explained about my problem and though they didn't speak, they looked at me so directly I knew they understood.  The cold weight in my chest lessened some and I felt stronger.

I started for the creek, but a voice stopped me.

"Yoohoo.  Cam!"

Angela.  My heart sank.  She was wearing pink shorts and a white t shirt with a teddy bear on it, and yellow thongs.  Her toenails were sparkly pink and she had a fringed purse over her arm.

"I'm eleven now," she said, snapping her bubble gum.  "Let's see, you don't turn eleven for seven months yet, do you?"  She fluffed her pale hair.

"So what," I said, and set off for the creek again.

"What are you doing?"  She ran to catch up.

"Working on the Peoples' Agricultural Project.  I have to cut cane."

"What people?"

"The ones who live here."  I walked as fast as I could, but she kept coming, puffing a little, her thongs slapping on the ground.

"I guess that includes me then, at least for the next week."  She popped a purple bubble and laughed.

All day I had to put up with her.  She talked so much I couldn't think.  I felt like throwing her in the canoe and sending her off downstream, but she outweighed me by about twenty pounds, so I didn't think I could manage.

I didn't see the Watchers anywhere.  Maybe they'd gone.  Maybe last night had just been a bad dream after all.  But I knew it wasn't.  I had one more day.  Tomorrow was it.  I would have to get my medicine made.  And I'd have to do something about Angela.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

"The Dispersing Agent" (a story) Part 3

That night at supper I asked Dad about the sink hole.

"Dad, how long ago did Virgil Carver live here on this land?"

"That was before your grandparents bought it.  Fifty years, I imagine."

"Do you think he put bad things in the sink hole?"

Dad laughed.  "You do come up with some stuff, Cam.  What kind of things?"


"What brought all this up?"

I shrugged.  "We had that earthquake last month, and now -" I stopped, chewing on my lip, trying to figure out what to say.  I didn't dare mention the Watchers.

"Have you seen something?" Dad asked.

"A weird looking frog."

"Grandpa told us Virgil used to be a mortician," said my mom.  "Morticians use terribly toxic chemicals to embalm people.  There's no telling what's in that hole.  Don't you be playing around it, Cameron."

I slept on the porch again, but didn't hear anything.  The next day was Saturday.  I went with Dad to the farmers' market, and when we got back I rode my bike over to see Gus Bovene.  He was sitting on his cabin porch in his old army fatigues, reading a book and swatting flies.  He wore his long grey hair pulled tight into a ponytail and knotted on top of his head like a Samurai warrior.  I wanted to wear my hair like that, but Mom kept making me get it cut. Some chickens were fighting over a dead lizard under the porch and his dog Cassy lay beside his rocking chair.

"Cam," he said as I got off my bike, "why do you think the Essenes wouldn't pass through gates with images on them?"

"I don't know," I said.

Gus looked at my sweaty face.  "Go in and get yourself some lemonade.  Bring me a glass, too."  He swatted a fly on the arm of his chair.

"Now, the Essenes," he continued as I handed him his glass, "the Essenes were very exemplary people.  They helped the poor, they healed the sick, they lived an incredibly pure life.  So pure that the evil retarded spirits that plague mankind couldn't touch them.  They were above sin.  They were so pure they wouldn't pass through gates with pictures on them because evil might be living in the images."

"That's pretty pure," I said, drinking my lemonade.

"But here's the thing," said Gus, rubbing his grizzled beard.  He leaned forward in his chair and the fly swatter fell on Cassy, making her jump.  "Not everybody could be an Essene.  If the whole world had become Essenes, life would have come to a screeching halt.  Do you know why?"

I shook my head.

"Because there wouldn't have been anybody left to do the dirty work.  The work the Essenes wouldn't do because they were too pure.  So the world needs regular folks like you and me, too.  Someone has to keep the wheels turning, you know what I mean?"

We watched the chickens a few minutes.  Finally I said, "Gus, something bad's come out of the sink hole after the earthquake.  Virgil Carver put poison chemicals in it."

"Did he now," said Gus.  "That's terrible.  Old Virgil unleashed something underground that shouldn't have been disturbed, and now your family has to deal with it.  I don't see any Essenes around to clean up the mess, do you?"  He shook his head and sighed.  "Where will the nature kingdoms go if we poison their home?"

"I need to know how to fight them, Gus."

"Fight who?"

"The retarded spirits, the ones that plague mankind.  They've come out of the sink hole."

Gus leaned back in his chair.  "Don't try to fight them, Cam.  Fighting only makes things worse in the long run.  I learned that the hard way.  No, it's our destiny to redeem evil, not destroy it.  I'm talking about transmutation here, white magic.  The Essenes knew all about it.  They knew that evil comes in two opposing poles, and illness is always an imbalance between them.  And the healer, when he makes his medicine, has to ask himself, how do I balance the poles?  Do I need heat or cold?  Moisture or dryness?  Rest or activity?  He might need to use a stabilizer or a dispersing agent, a coagulator or a dissolver.  And when he gets it right, when the medicine does its work correctly, he comes face to face with the Mediator, who is the point of perfect balance between the poles.  It's all about balance.  Balance, balance, balance."  He hit the fly swatter on the chair for emphasis.  "The earth needs to be healed that way."

We talked some more and then I left.  On the way home I found a dead possum in the road with three babies still clinging to her back.  I stopped my bike and watched them a minute, then took off my shirt, wrapped the babies in it and put them in my bike basket.  They were old enough to hiss at me, but didn't put up much fuss.  When I got home Dad found a big cage in the barn and I got them settled into it, with wood shavings on the floor and a tree branch to practice climbing on.  Mom mixed up some egg and milk and I fed them.  Luckily they were old enough to drink from a saucer, so I wouldn't have to do the bottle thing.

"They'll be in the pear trees before long," Dad grumbled.  "I don't know why you think you have to save every critter that comes along, Cam."

"I just couldn't leave them, Dad."

"I know," he said.  "I know."

"I'll take them down by the creek when they're older and fix them up in a hollow log."

"Yeah, like they'll stay there," said Dad.  But he sat with me awhile, watching the possoms explore their new home.  We laughed at them trying to climb the branch.

At dusk the Watchers were back at the gate.  I was sick of the sight of them.

"Retards!" I yelled, shaking my fist.  They stood like statues, and I ran inside.

That night I slept upstairs.  The coyotes were making a racket, and the Old Man was howling back.  The sound worked its way into my dreams and I tossed and turned uneasily.  I dreamed about twisted figures crawling out of the sink hole, blacker than the black night, slinking across the pasture in coyote shapes, slipping through the pasture gate, coming upright and walking silently to the house, gathering silently there on the steps, scraping at the screen, oozing through the cracks around the door.  I woke up with a start, or thought I did, but I couldn't move.  I was trapped in some twilight world between waking and sleep with a terrible fear pounding in my heart.  A cold, dead weight pressed down on my chest.  I struggled to breathe, making small, gasping moans.  There was enough moonlight for me to the the black shapes passing my open door.  They had come at last.  With a huge effort of will, I flung myself out of bed and ran to Glen's room, standing beside his crib.

"Listen," hissed a voice in my ear.  "We can no longer live in the earth, but neither can we live on it without bodies suited to its conditions.  And so we seek out bodies to inhabit.  That's why we've come.  We've chosen the youngest child because he suits our purposes.  So young and limber, we can mold and shape him to our liking.  Stand aside, we mean to have him now."

"No you won't!" I yelled at them.  "You can't have him  He's my brother.  I'll never let you.  I won't!  You'll have to take me instead."  I tried to call out to my parents, but I knew they wouldn't hear.  I was still trapped in that strange land of dream that wasn't dream, terrified because of what I'd just said.  But I meant it, and the Watchers knew it.  I could see them considering.

"Easier with one who's willing..."

"An older child will be stronger..."

"You have to give me a little time," I said, "to get ready."

They considered some more.  "Just before the full moon, two nights from now, we'll come for you."

It was done.  Somehow I found myself lying back in my bed.  The weight lifted off my chest and I fell into a deep sleep.

coming Sunday, Part four....

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

"The Dispersing Agent", (a story) Part 2

I wanted to go to the swamp after breakfast.  I had things to do there, but Dad was already prickly about the gun and because I'd left the sprinklers on in the garden, so I helped pick peas and pull onions.  When I pushed the garden cart up to the washing station I heard the bluebirds twittering around the bird house.  That could only mean one thing.  I ran to the shed and got a burlap sack.  A big black snake, longer than I was tall, was under the bird house, starting to crawl up the pole.  I got him behind the head and put him in the sack, tail first, then tied it shut.  I wished I could take him down the creek road on my bike, far enough away that he wouldn't be back, but Dad would notice if I went missing that long, so I hauled the sack to the front field and dumped the snake out, hoping it would give the baby birds a few more days before he came back.  Maybe they'd fly by then.

I saw the Watchers again on my way back, five of them, squatting around the old sink hole at the top of the field next to the woods.  The sink hole was a creepy place.  There were old pieces of rusted metal in it that someone had thrown out long ago, and slimy mosses clinging to the sides that smelled really rank.  One time I saw a frog with five legs jump out of it.

 Maybe the Watchers lived in the sink hole.   I didn't look at them directly, but threw glances their way.  All I could see was dark shapes.  The sun never seemed to shine on them - they were like black ink blobs that absorbed all the light and turned it into something vile.  I wasn't sure if they knew I could see them or not.  I figured it was better to pretend I couldn't.  It might help me learn what they were up to.  I ran down to the pasture gate, the hairs on my neck prickling because I was sure they were watching me.  Out of breath, I stopped at the big oak tree just beside the gate.  I felt safe there.

The little brown man was sitting under the tree in his usual place.  I'd seen him there many times as far back as I could remember.  He always wore a grey vest with fringes on it and a pair of short pants made of small pieces of cloth stitched together like a quilt.  His hair was long and tangled, his face wrinkled like an old dried apple.  He was pretty ugly, but I thought he looked wise, and there was a peacefulness about him.  I often saw him sewing bits of cloth together with a wooden needle and coarse thread.  Sometimes I left rags under the tree for him.  We'd never spoken, but if our eyes happened to meet, he would turn his head and squint sideways at me in a way that seemed friendly.  Today he was winding a ball of thread onto a spindle, carefully working the knots out with his fingers.   As I started to pass, he raised a finger and I stopped.

"It's because of what was put into the ground there.  That's why you see them."  His voice was gravelly, like he hadn't spoken in a long time.

He went back to winding the thread, and I stood there, thinking.  Was he talking about the Watchers?

"Are they bad?" I asked.

He was silent a long time, and I thought he wasn't going to speak again.  But finally he said, "Their element was disturbed.  Now they're out of place."

That didn't sound too good.  I wanted to ask more, but I had to help Dad dig potatoes, and when I went back after lunch, the little brown man was gone.

I decided to work on the Peoples' Agricultural Project, PAP.  I found two buckets and a plastic scoop that was part of a ball-tossing game I'd gotten on my last birthday, and headed out to the tunnel through the hedge.  It stretched along the fence line between the garden and the pasture, down the hill to the swamp.  I used it when I didn't want Dad to see me and give me more chores to do.  Plus now I had the Watchers to worry about.

The Hedge Queen met me at the entrance, wearing her filthy old dress with the raveling hem.  She had belted it up with some twists of honeysuckle, but it still hung like a sack.

"Rent", she said, thrusting her hand in my face and rubbing her knobby thumb and fingers together.

I pulled two of Glen's teething biscuits from my pocket and handed them over.  The Queen eyed them suspiciously.  They'd gotten a bit damp and the corners were mushy.

"Who's been chewing on them?"

"No one", I said.

She pursed her lips.  "What about the striped sticks?  I want more of those."

She meant the candy canes.  I'd found them stashed in the attic with the Christmas decorations.

"Tomorrow", I promised.  I could see her face taking on that sourpuss look and added, "I could probably bring some chocolate, too.  And a mirror."

"Well", she said, poking at her snarled hair.  A flea jumped out.  "Don't forget.  It's a real inconvenience having you traipse through here all the time.  It disturbs my subjects no end."  She put the biscuits in her pocket and gave a shrill whistle to let the hedge people know I was coming, otherwise I'd be all scratched up and bloody, with burrs in my hair and spider webs stuck to my clothes by the time I reached the end of the tunnel.  I crouched down and humped along through the dim shadows in a half-crawl, half-duck walk.  The buckets and scoop slowed me down, but I wan't in a hurry.  I could hear the hedge people tapping and whistling in the honeysuckle.  I didn't disturb them.  I wanted to stay on their good side in case I ever needed a favor.

At the swamp there were hundreds of tadpoles wiggling in the shrinking puddles, trying to stay wet.  We hadn't had rain for quite awhile.  Last spring I had dug out a small area to make a deeper trough that would hole water longer.  I worked as fast as I could, scooping tads and transferring them to the deeper water, putting some into my buckets.  But I knew I couldn't save them all.  I felt sad for all those frogs and toads that would never have a change to grow up and hop around.  If only we'd get a giant rain.  But then the potatoes and onions would rot, and the tomato plants would get diseased, and Dad would be in a bad mood.  I scooped up some algae for the tads to eat, then went up the hill with my filled buckets.

I had three flying saucer sleds set up around the garden, plus two more holes I'd dug and lined with plastic.  I emptied my buckets of tadpoles into the mini ponds.  The frogs would hop down to the creek when they grew legs, but the toads would stay and eat bugs in the garden.

Mom called me up to the house.  She had Glen on her hip.

"I have to run to the store," she said.  "Will you watch Glenny for me?  I won't be gone more than an hour.  Dad's in the barn if you need him."

"Okay", I said.  It would hamper my work, but I could manage.  After Mom left I heaved Glen into his stroller and strapped him in.  He was a very fat baby and weighed about a ton.  We started out the drive and the Old Man came with us.  When we got to the cane patch along the creek road I parked Glen in the shade and gave him a cookie.  I figured I had maybe five minutes before he started to fuss.

The Old Man dug up a mole and started running in circles around it, growling and snorting.  Good, that would keep Glen entertained.

I got to work cutting cane.  I wanted to make teepees over the mini ponds so the water wouldn't get too hot in the sun.  My knife wasn't very sharp.  I only got three pieces cut before Glen started hollering.

"Just two more, Glen," I said.  I ran the stroller around in circles a few times, getting him to laugh, then went back to work.  I spotted an extra large stalk of cane and went over to it, hacking at the base.  It took awhile, but I finally got it sawed through.  I reached for another stalk but stopped.  It was suddenly very quiet.  I looked up.  Some of the cane dwellers had gathered to watch.  They were small, shorter than me, with greenish skin and big ears.  They wore cane leaves in their hair and around their waists.  Usually they darted through the cane so fast you could hardly see them, but today they stood still, their eyes on something behind me.  Goosebumps raised on my arms and I whirled around.  I couldn't see the stroller.  How had I gotten so far from Glen?  I went crashing through the cane and stopped dead in my tracks.  Two of the Watchers were bending over Glen.  He had fallen asleep.  They were going to take him!

"Hey!  Hey!" I called out, my voice cracking like an old donkey's.  The Watchers stood up.  Their faces were blurry and indistinct, their bodies like thick black smoke.  I rushed at them, slashing the air with my knife, yelling at the top of my lungs.  The Old man came bounding up, growling and snapping at their heels.  They back off and melted into the cane.  Glen started screaming.  I took off running, the stroller bouncing along in front of me, the Old Man loping beside us.  By the time we got home Glen had stopped crying.  I put him in his highchair and gave him a drink.  My arms and legs were like rubber.  I was shaking all over.  The weight of this terrible danger pressed down on me.  I wished I could tell Mom and Dad about it, but I knew I couldn't.  They don't see the things I do.  They would think I was making up stories and try to send me to summer camp.  I would just have to deal with it on my own.

Coming on Saturday - Part 3...

Monday, September 7, 2015

"The Dispersing Agent" (a story) Part 1

The Watchers were back again.  I saw them standing on both sides of the back lane at dusk when I went to shut the garden gate.  Silver Bell was roosting in the apple tree again.  I threw stones at her till she flew down squawking, then hurried her into the coop and shut the door.

One more chore to do.  I ran to the greenhouse and looked inside.  Two black swallowtails and three or four of the small orange and brown butterflies were fluttering against the glass.  I caught them carefully, released them and closed the door.

It was almost dark now.  I flattened myself against the barn wall and stuck my head around the corner.  The Watchers had faded into the shadows but I knew they were still there.  They were coming closer and closer every day.  I sprinted across the yard at top speed, taking the porch steps two at a time, slamming and locking the door behind me.

"Cam", my mother called, "did you turn the sprinklers off?"

"Yeah", I said.  Actually I'd forgotten the sprinklers, but no way was I going back out there in the dark with them prowling around.  The garden would flood.  Dad would throw a fit but I didn't care.

I went upstairs and got the sheets and pillow off my bed, poking my head into Glen's room to check on him.  He was asleep, his fuzzy bald head pressed up against the bars of his crib.  I propped his green rabbit where he could see it when he woke up, then hauled my gear down to the back porch.

"I'm sleeping out here tonight," I told Mom.

"Don't disappear in the morning," my dad said.  "I'll need help picking peas."

I fixed my bed on the glider and called the Old Man in, making him lie in front of the screen door.  He had a fondness for rolling on the dead mice that the barn cats left laying around and smelled pretty bad, but I wanted him there.

Next I activated my alarm system: a single strand of dental floss stretched around three sides of the porch, across the exact middle of all the screens including the screen door, with small bells hung from it every two feet.  I debated about putting a pail of water in front of the door, but decided against it.  The Old Man might knock it over and then I'd have to clean it up.  I wished I'd thought to put one outside on the top step, but it was too late now.

Later I lay in the dark, listening to my parents talk in the kitchen.

"Don't work him too hard, Tom.  He's only ten.  Let him have his summer."

"Ten is plenty old enough to learn some responsibility, Marge.  He's off by himself too much anyway.  I don't know what the heck he does all day."

I blew the hair off my forehead and rolled over on my stomach.  There was so much to do.  I could barely keep up.  But no matter what, I had to keep my family safe.  They didn't know what was out there.

Deep in the night the Old Man growled, and I shot out of bed like a thrown dart, kneeling beside the glider.  I thought I saw a shadow move beyond the screen door.  The Old Man growled again and stood up, sniffing the air.  My heart was slamming against my chest so hard I thought I might be having a heart attack.

I crept to the door that led into the kitchen and eased it open, slipping through as quietly as possible.  I felt my way down the hall to the closet and got Dad's shotgun.  The shells were on the shelf above the coat rack.  I turned on the light and loaded the gun, my fingers shaking.  I wanted to stay in the closet and shut the door, but I made myself go back to the porch.  The Old Man whined when he saw me and lay back down.

I sat in the wicker chair with the gun across my lap, listening.  Somewhere a twig snapped.  Probably a deer, I told myself, or a coon.  I thought about other things.  Swimming with my snorkel and fins, fishing with Dad, riding my bike fast over the bumps on the dirt path to the creek.  Finally I fell asleep.  I'd planned to get up before Dad did and put the gun back, but I overslept.

"What the hell's going on?  Cam, what are you doing with the gun?"

"I heard noises in the night," I said.

"What kind of noises?"

"I don't know," I said lamely.  "The Old Man growled."

Dad snorted.  "He growls at field mice, for God's sake."

He took the gun from me.  "It's loaded!  Cam, you know you're not to load this gun unless I'm with you.  My God, you could have shot yourself.  Promise me you won't ever do this again."

I didn't want to.  I might have to use it one day.  I gave a tiny bob of my head, but Dad wasn't buying it.


"Okay," I said.  Lying was better than losing your family.

to be continued Wednesday....

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Ballad of Tam Lin

This old Scottish ballad dates from at least 1549.  There are several versions and 14 variants, but all of them quite similar. " The Ballad of Tam Lin" is my favorite fairy tale, told in verse.  It is impossibly romantic, and the old Scottish words and phrases give it great charm and accentuate the mystical, magical subject of the story.  And I like it that the heroine is a young girl who must rescue her true love, instead of the other way around.  She shows great courage in winning him away from the fairy queen.


Tam Lin
O I forbid you, maidens all,
That wear gold in your hair,
To come or go by Carterhaugh,
For young Tam Lin is there.

There's none that goes by Carterhaugh
But they leave him a wad

Either their rings, or green mantles,
Or else their maidenhead.

Janet has kilted her green kirtle
A little above her knee,
And she has braided her yellow hair
A little above her brow,
And she's away to Carterhaugh
As fast as she can go.

When she came to Carterhaugh
Tam Lin was at the well,
And there she found his steed standing,
But he was away himself.

She had not pulled a double rose,
A rose but only two,
Till up then started young Tam Lin,
Saying "Lady, pull thou no more."

"Why pullest thou the rose, Janet,
And why breakest thou the wand?
Or why comest thou to Carterhaugh
Withoutten my command?"

"Carterhaugh, it is my own,
My daddy gave it me,
I'll come and go by Carterhaugh,
And ask no leave of thee."

Janet has kilted her green kirtle
A little above her knee,
And she has braided her yellow hair
A little above her brow,
And she is to her father's house,
As fast as she can go.

Four and twenty ladies fair
Were playing at the ball,
And out then came the fair Janet,
The flower among them all.

Four and twenty ladies fair
Were playing at the chess,
And out then came the fair Janet,
As green as any glass.

Out then spake an old grey knight,
Lay over the castle wall,
And says, "Alas, fair Janet, for thee,
But we'll be blamed all."

"Hold your tongue, ye old faced knight,
Some ill death may ye die!
Father my babe on whom I will,
I'll father none on thee."

Out then spake her father dear,
And he spake meek and mild,
"And ever alas, sweet Janet," he says,
"I think thou goest with child."

"If that I go with child, Father,
Myself must bear the blame,
There's never a lord about your hall,
Shall give the child a name."

"If my love were an earthly knight,
Though he's an elfin grey,
I would not give my own true-love
For any lord that ye have."

"The steed that my true love rides on
Is lighter than the wind,
With silver he is shod before,
With burning gold behind."

Janet has kilted her green kirtle
A little above her knee,
And she has braided her yellow hair
A little above her brow,
And she's away to Carterhaugh
As fast as she can go.

When she came to Carterhaugh,
Tam Lin was at the well,
And there she found his steed standing,
But he was away himself.

She had not pulled a double rose,
A rose but only two,
Till up then started young Tam Lin,
Saying "Lady, pull thou no more."

"Why pullest thou the rose, Janet,
Among the groves so green,
And all to kill the bonny babe
That we got us between?"

"O tell me, tell me, Tam Lin," she says,
"For His sake that died on tree,
If ever ye were in holy chapel,
Or Christendom did see?"

"Roxbrugh he was my grandfather,
Took me with him to bide
And once it fell upon a day
That woe did me betide.

"And once it fell upon a day
A cold day and a snell,
When we were from the hunting come,
That from my horse I fell,
The Queen of Fairies she caught me,
In yon green hill to dwell."

"And pleasant is the fairy land,
But, an eerie tale to tell,
At the end of every seven years,
We pay a tithe to Hell,

I am so fair and firm of flesh,
I'm feared it be myself."
"But the night is Halloween, lady,
The morn is Hallowday,
Then win me, win me, if ye will,
For well I think ye may."

"Just at the mirk and midnight hour
The fairy folk will ride,
And they that would their true-love win,
At Miles Cross they must bide."

"But how shall I thee know, Tam Lin,
Or how my true-love know,
Among so many uncouth knights,
The like I never saw?"

"O first let pass the black, lady,
And then let pass the brown,
But quickly run to the milk-white steed,
Pull ye his rider down."

"For I'll ride on the milk-white steed,
And ride nearest the town;
Because I was an earthly knight
They give me that renown."

"My right hand will be gloved, lady,
My left hand will be bare,
Cocked up shall my bonnet be,
And combed down shall be my hair,
And there's the tokens I give thee;
No doubt I will be there."

"They'll turn me in your arms, lady,
A lizard and an adder,
But hold me fast, and fear me not,
I am your child's father."

"They'll turn me to a bear so grim,
And then a lion bold, 
But hold me fast, and fear me not,
And ye shall love your child."

"Again they'll turn me in your arms
To a red hot brand of iron,
But hold me fast, and fear me not,
I'll do you no harm."

"And last they'll turn me in your arms
Into the burning gleed,
Then throw me into well water,
O throw me in with speed."

"And then I'll be your own true-love,
I'll turn a naked knight,
Then cover me with your green mantle,
And hide me out o sight."

Gloomy, gloomy was the night,
And eerie was the way,
As fair Jenny in her green mantle
To Miles Cross she did go.

At the mirk and midnight hour
She heard the bridles sing,
She was as glad at that
As any earthly thing.

First she let the black pass by,
And then she let the brown,
But quickly she ran to the milk-white steed,
And pulled the rider down.

So well she minded what he did say,
And young Tam Lin did win,
Then covered him with her mantle green,
As happy as a bird in spring.

Out then spake the Queen of Fairies,
Out of a bush of broom,
"She that has gotten young Tam Lin
Has gotten a stately-groom."

Out then spake the Queen of Fairies,
And an angry woman was she,
"Shame betide her ill-fared face,
And an ill death may she die,
For she's taken away the bonniest knight
In all my company."

"But had I known, Tam Lin," she said,
"What now this night I see,
I would have taken out thy two grey eyes,
And put in two of tree."

-- Translated from original version (Child 39-A) by Steffen Mallory, who apologizes for mucking up the rhyme scheme in places for the sake of clarity of meaning

Sunday, February 8, 2015


I'm in mourning.  My favorite hen, Sadie, disappeared recently without a trace.  Not a single feather remained to give me a clue what might have happened.  We've never lost a hen to a hawk and I've not seen a big hawk around our place for years.  The chickens now stay within the fenced garden so that pretty well keeps large predators out.  Why, out of all my 69 hens, was Sadie the one to go?

It may seem silly to be attached to a chicken, but Sadie was special.  I could pick her voice out of the flock immediately.  She was very smart and friendly.  When I check for eggs in the coop, some of the hens puff up and squawk at me or even peck.  Sadie would bob her head, cluck softly and stand up so I could check underneath her.  In the yard I would squat down and hold out a worm and call "Sadieee" and she would come running just as fast as her short little legs would go.  I will sorely miss her.  It's hard not knowing what happened.  She was 4 years old and could have lived a lot longer, but at least I had the pleasure of her company for those years, and the satisfaction of knowing she had a good life here.