Fanciful Stories

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Maria Coatney

There are wonderful things. There are mysterious things. When was the last time you looked?
Fall
No, I wonít call it autumn. Iíve never liked that name. I think itís a stupid name. People use it when they want to be fancy, like it makes them sound superior. It makes me mad when people do that, bunch of stuck up snobs. I mean really, where does that word even come from? It doesnít even make sense. Fall, now that makes sense. After all, thatís what all the leaves are doing.
My favorite leaves are the maples. They turn a fiery red, oranges, and yellow, as if the tree were ablaze. Caught, frozen in the middle of burning. Slowly that fire burns down, day by day, each yellow spark turning into a ruddy ember and falling to the ground, leaving the fireplace bare. Those leave and the smell of wood-smoke from our neighborsí chimneys mean cold weather is coming. But they also mean that Halloween is near.
I love Halloween. Itís a festival of spirits and a celebration of the supernatural and fictitious. On Halloween anything can happen. Itís a wonderful time for me, since Iím a fiction writer, because ideas are walking down the street, ringing my doorbell. I like to dress up too and enjoy letting my imagination run wild. Sure, most of the costumes people wear are from movies and TV. The rest have stories that have been told again and againĖ witches, vampire, werewolvesĖ but I can tell them my way. Besides with all those people, one is bound to lead to a weird dream, and thatís where some of my best fiction comes from.
I am wearing my red and black plaid skirt and pink and black thigh high tights. I run down a street filled with old brick buildings, clutching my broom in one hand. Iím a witch and there are police and scientists chasing me. I take a wrong turn, into a toy store.
Wrong turn or right turn? The back wall is a two story window. The wood in between the panes of glass looks old and flimsy. But my way is blocked. Somehow, one of them got in front of me. Thereís a bin full of balls in front of me. I leap on my broom and try to fly over, to get out through the window. I donít even make it across the bin. Instead, my broom stalls and drifts down. My heart in my throat, I look up. Of course. Thereís wiring in the ceiling above the bin. When I get low enough Iíll kick off of the edge of the bin.
From that dream I started a story about a young witch named Curiosity, aka Rio, who loves Halloween, because itís the one time she can carry her broom and no one will suspect what she is. Of course in her story Halloween has been cancelled and she doesnít know because she shorted out the TV. If not for Halloween and dreams, how would I have decided electricity and magic donít mix? Since then, Iíve read a story where magic shorts out electricity, but never the other way around like with Rio. Another part of Halloween that I like is pumpkin carving.
I like going to the store to pick out pumpkins. I always look for a big one because we roast the seeds. I check for bruises, make sure itís firm, no mold, a good strong stem preferably big enough to grab, and I usually pick one thatís fairly smooth. I like round ones, not the ones that are flat on one side or pear shaped, but sometimes Iíll get one with character. Itíll have little bumps and be lopsided; maybe itíll be partly green. I love pumpkin carving. I like squishing the stringy insides of the pumpkin in between my fingers to get the seeds and watching the orange goo ooze out. My brothers think itís gross, especially Dylan, my younger brother. I think that itís funny that it grosses them out, so I make a point of describing it and talking about it while I do it. It makes a fantastic sound too. The pumpkins are always freezing inside, even if theyíve been indoors. I end up with pumpkin innards all the way to my elbows, at first itís slimy, but then it dries. At that point my arms start to itch and usually turn a splotchy red. I think thatís normal though, so I ignore it, after all Iíll be fine once I rinse off. I almost never use a pattern to carve my pumpkin, I just draw right on it with a sharpie, whatever I want, and carve away. One year I did a cat face on one side and its rear on the other. It looked pretty good. But some teenagers had smashed all the pumpkins on our street.
A full moon glares down from the top of the house five or six boys, probably in high school, stand on the deserted street. The light over Bobís garage casts their shadows out before them. The wind blows the dry leaves along the ground rustling. Maybe some of them are having second thoughts. Is that grey house haunted? With the deep claw-like shadows of the trees clutching at the door it doesnít look inviting. The lights are off, even the light by the door, indicating that there is no candy left. This year the house isnít decorated. ďI guess that means they get a trick.Ē They laugh a little too loud a little too high. They step into the dark shadows of the house, imagining that itís colder here, they can see their breath. ďLook itís a fucking cat, meow.Ē Theyíre whispering now. One of them, an athlete probably since he thinks heís strong enough, picks up the biggest pumpkin. He grunts, but canít back out now. They each grab a pumpkin and go out to the center of the street, hurl them. In the morning the only recognizable one is the one with a cat. The rest have turned into a slippery orange smear on the street. They celebrate their triumph with candy stolen from little kids.
Someoneís always trying to ruin it, to make sure the magic will end. But the full moon will rise over the barren trees again and those silver lined shadows dancing across the ground could hide anything.
Winter
When the leaves are long gone and the air smells like frost, watch the sky, it might snow. More often the weather will turn and the smell, the promise of snow, will be washed away. The rain might turn into hail or freeze later in the night. If the sidewalk looks wet and my breath seems frozen, Iíll walk carefully just in case. Black ice isnít only for roads. But when the ground is freeze dried rock hard and I smell frost on the air, then Iíll watch. The clouds are glowing and something grey is drifting down. I watch the snow hit the ground, staring. Is it cold enough today, will it stick? Or is the air too warm. I wonít be distracted as I leave nose-prints and fog up the window. Of course the best kind of snow is the kind I donít have to wait for it to accumulate, the kind that happens overnight.
Years ago I woke up Christmas morning to find the whole world dusted white. In that white were two sets of deer tracks. Definitive evidence that Santaís reindeer had been in our yard. That was three exciting things packed into one: snow, Christmas, and evidence of Santa. Those were real deer tracks, in otherwise untouched snow. Even a child can tell if someone tried to cover their tracks in less than an inch of snow. There was enough snow to hold the tracks but that was it. Of course no one at school thought they were real. Some grouch decided that first or second grade was long enough to believe in Santa and Brandon insisted that not only did Santa not exist but that the deer tracks were fake. I knew better, if nothing else the tracks were real. There was no way for Brandonís claim that my Dad put the tracks there to be true. Thereís no way, because he would have left his own tracks and I would have seen them. Neither of us gave in, but I know I was right about the deer tracks. In Brandonís defense he probably thought I mistook my Dadís tracks in the snow as Santaís but there were no boot prints, only deer. Santa didnít leave tracks in the snow, why would a magical person who can go down chimneys leave tracks in the snow? Itís not like he tracks soot across living rooms, let alone snow and ice. No I was right, there were deer in my yard. The deer had no idea of the controversy they caused.
She treads lightly across the snow, alert for dangers. Her mother showed her this place, where the humans live. Her dark eyes reflect the colored lights in the trees. She knows those are not food, even though they do look tasty. With her fawn following she steps up to one of the bushes. She nudges her son, and then plucks off part of the bush. Even in winter there is food here. But there is danger here too, animals that wound and kill, itís just like everywhere really. For now the night is quiet. As she moves farther into the neighborhood, she stays alert. By morning they will both be gone from here, having stolen their fill of shrubs and apples before disappearing back into their forest home. She will teach him to survive on the edge of this place where rainbows hang in the trees over the snow and the only deer that stay all day are made of stone.
Vehicles make it a huge risk for the deer to come here, but sometimes they come anyways. Iíve seen other wildlife too or at least evidence, of animals that were living on the edges. Their tracks are little miracles, evidence that some can adapt and live unnoticed in our spaces. Itís easiest to find tracks in the snow. We donít get snow very often at my house, so itís an exciting event.
The whole world glowed as my family and I put the dogs on their leashes and ran out into the snow. Even though the sun had gone down the snow was still glowing with light reflected from the streetlights and farther off sources bouncing light down from the clouds. We took the dogs over to the schoolyard and ran with them. Jackson put his face in the snow and plowed through, pushing with his back legs, sledding along on his face and front legs. Then heíd poke his head up, with snow piled on top of it, and pant and snort, a breaching whale. I kept getting snow in my boots while running with him, even with the extend-o-leash I couldnít keep up with him, so he just pulled me along, then Iíd let go so he could run to the next person, but he kept coming back and nudging me, a wolfish grin on his face. He yapped at me and off Iíd go again, until my legs were numbed with cold. We left the schoolyard when the hail started, but mostly because we were all cold and wet, not to mention tired. Mom made hot chocolate with whipped cream and candy canes in it to warm us up, even though it was almost midnight. Of course if I were a polar bear I wouldnít have been cold.
I look at my arms and they seem normal enough, but I can feel it, Iím a polar bear. Iím in a cafeteria, eating lunch because itís only ever lunch in school cafeterias. I had my food and sat down at one of the tables. Jason sits down across from me. I start eating my spaghetti, like a polar bear.
Jason looks me in the eye, ďWhy arenít you using silverware?Ē Heís the only person so far who can see through my polar bear skin.
I look up, and shrug at him. ďIím a polar bear, polar bears donít use silverware.Ē As if that is the most ordinary thing in the world.
ďOh, yeah, right of course.Ē Because somehow he still knows.
Not having thumbs makes it a little awkward to open the chocolate milk. I wonder what it means when a real person in your dreams is the only one to ever identify the human inside the animal as human. Why did Jason see me as human?
Why do children feel like they have to tell the ones that still believe that thereís nothing to believe in? Is it so bad to keep believing? Why canít deer tracks be magic? The world is not as simple as black and white, if I saw those tracks again this year I would still feel the same thrill and awe, they would still be magic. Why donít adults play in the snow, are they really that busy? Why do we have to stop being amazed, who decided that? I donít want to believe that there is no mystery, no magic. After all, what are dreams? No one can make it go away; it will still be there tomorrow.
Spring
Spring is beautiful allergies. All those petals hanging on the trees, we have a decorative cherry tree in our front yard. That tree gets thousands of tiny light pink flowers at the beginning of spring. Theyíre soft and silky. They usually only last a couple of week because they get drenched or the wind blows and either one will wreck them. I actually like watching them blow away in the wind; they look like snowflakes, a blizzard drifting past our kitchen window. When they get rained on the flowers sag like wet tissue paper.
We also have tulips which bloom at the beginning of April. Every year there are more. There are red, pink, purple, yellow, and striped ones. We get more yellow ones than the other colors and they seem to last longer too, this year they were the last ones left. Itíll be a great surprise for the next person who lives here. The tulips are invisible, dormant for months, then the weather warms up and they sprout almost overnight. They bloom quickly, erupting in color, leaving no doubt that winter had come to an end; spring is here.
Thatís when I start to watch for the geese. A couple of times Iíve been outside while hundreds of them fly by above me. Watching them flock in formation, heading towards the Hillsboro airport and the fields outside the fairgrounds. Honking, cheering each other on, happy to be out in the crisp sunny morning air, one looks down and sees a woman with blond hair, her mouth hanging open, blue eyes wide, and honks a hello. Her mouth closes and slowly forms a grin, she chuckles to herself. ďWow and they missed it. Heís so absorbed in his videogames, he didnít even notice to look outside.Ē She shakes her head, looking at the ground; the geese disappear from sight though she can still hear them. She shrugs, laughs again, and walks off down the driveway, singing to a song on her Zen V, ďJust a day, just an ordinary day, just trying to get by, just a boy, just an ordinary boy, but he was looking to disguise...Ē leaving one brother working on homework, and another playing his PS3.
Those geese are so lucky; theyíll all look out for each other. All birds are lucky really, because they can fly. But geese are especially lucky because they have a hundred friends to cheer them on. I wish I could fly; it must be fun to see all the places they do. I probably look funny to them, walking along on the ground. I donít envy them when it rains.
I have an umbrella in my backpack for when the rain pours down and the ground turns into a river, but half the time when it rains the wind is blowing so hard the umbrella is useless. If Iím going to someplace then Iíll keep it from turning inside out by pointing the top of it into the wind and holding the edge with one hand. It works well enough to keep my backpack dry. Itís not particularly water proof and I donít want my homework and books to be wet, especially not my writing journal. More than once, when Iíve been walking home from the MAX, Iíve been caught in a downpour so fierce that Main St turned into a two inch raging rapids, and the wind was blowing. When I got home I was so wet that my clothes just looked a darker color than they really were. It didnít look like I was wet at all until I took my coat off and the dry part of my pants showed. On days like that itís better to be indoors, but itís not too surprising to get drenched if I look behind me and see a curtain of water hurtling down the street towards me. And after it pours, maybe the fleeting spring sun will come out for a moment and give me a rainbow.
I wouldnít mind a thunderstorm either, as long as I donít have to go anywhere. The electricity in the air, the metallic smell, and suddenly a balmy day turns cool. Warm rain pelts down and the sky splits, boom! A flash of light, did I see the lightning or just the reflected light from it? I try to turn my head fast enough, hoping to catch the next bolt or branch. Then I hear the rumble and they get closer and closer together as the storm approaches. I canít stop grinning as I stand outside for a while to watch. The wind lashes my hair into my face and spits rain on me. For a moment flecks of ice are bouncing off of things, then itís rain again as another flash and grumble erupts.
The cloud is frowning down at the world. It has a face like an old manís, complete with a beard. It looks like a wrathful god as it glares down at the houses. This cloud is silent, the wind does not move him and he doesnít hurl thunder or lightning. There is no rain. But I hide under the bed, if he sees me, Iím in for it. If the cloud sees me it will rip the house apart. If only I could close the blinds, but heís watching through the windows and if I move so much as an inch itíll be the end. And now his friends are here too. Grey, purple, looming, malevolent clouds, waiting to get me and anyone else they find. Iíll just wait until theyíre looking the other way, then Iíll close the blinds and wait this one out indoors. I know how to trick the clouds.
Terrifying or awing, nature is powerful and canít be ignored. It will rain whether I acknowledge the rain or not. If I close the blinds and lock the doors the world will still be there, outside, it doesnít need me to exist. Closing my eyes wonít make the faces in the clouds disappear; I just wonít be able to see what the clouds are doing. Stop trying to explain things away, it wonít work. Thereís something out there.
Summer
In the summer itís the full green of the oaks that I like best. From farther back they look like giants crowns of broccoli. But that green canopy only lies on the edge of the branches, way out on the very tips. I like watching from under the split oak, the way the shadows hide then shift and reveal a bird. I think theyíre sparrows, every year the brown speckled girls and boys with black and white striped faces come back, chattering and scolding, to nest in the neighbors pine trees. But my favorite bird to find, the ones I wait hours to see, are the little blue grey woodpeckers. There are two at the beginning of the summer and four or five by the end. I donít remember if they make a sound, I donít think they do, thatís why theyíre so hard to spy on.
Thatís what I do, sit very still under the trees, maybe writing about a strange dream I had and then taking a break to watch, and see what I can find up there. Sometimes the birds, sparrows, come very close, watching me with those bright eyes. Checking to see if I will chase them the way they chase the flies. They run, hop, and flutter in tight circles chasing after their prey, chattering constantly, then flying away as one sounds an alarm, a hawk, a dog, a cat, a person, usually I never know. Iím careful though, if a squirrel comes down, Iíve almost been mistaken for a tree before and Iíd rather not be climbed. I donít want to get bitten.
I climb down the tree; this yard has dogs in it. But I donít see any. Drat, they moved my stores; the pots are on the porch now. There are no humans around, but there is a funny looking new tree. No matter, I creep onto the porch and sniff around the plants. I think I left a nut here. I start digging, checking every couple of moments for danger. All is quiet.
ďOh, hello there.Ē Something behind me roared.
Thereís a human not a foot from me, waving his claws at me. My heart just about explodes as I run towards the nearest tree. No, itís not a tree itís a trap, the tree is a human! At the last second Iím able to turn away, tricking the human so it wonít catch me. If it had caught me I would have bitten its fingers off, no creature shall eat me!
During the day those oaks are just a background to all the life in them, they seem closer and smaller for all the activity, but at night they show another side. After itís dark and all the scuttling noisy creatures of the day have settled down, those trees become giants. Iíll go out there, with the dogs, and walk into the yard, the back light adding some color to the shadows. Iíll look up at the tree nearest the house, the full bulk of it towering over me. If thereís a breeze the trees whisper above me in the dark, up there against the inky blue, the dots of stars. The trees dance in that breeze, better if itís a wind. Thereís something about that black and grey and green that reminds me of a dream. Those branches are not filled with leaves, but with shadows, great apelike forms, ancestors, dancing through the branches in the middle of a summer thunderstorm. The lightning illuminating me, but not them, as we move through the branches dancing. And soon itís only me and the tree again, just me on the ground. The leaves are back where they go, still dancing, a stately sway. I sometimes bow to them before I go inside, whisper my thanks to them.
Something ancient, something I donít wish to outlive. Yes, theyíll be there for a long time yet.
Outside
Thereís something outside the seasons, outside the trees, something so old that its age canít be measured. Magic is outside all the seasons and woven inside them as well, but itís hidden. Hidden because magic and electricity donít mix, they canít. And so many people are blinded by technology with its all powerful electricity that they canít see that thunder and lightning are what happens when magic connects electricity instead of an extension cord. I can feel it in the air during a thunder storm. And then it dissipates only to condense and gather on the feathers of goose wings, fall to the ground as snow, hide in animal prints, animate clouds and dreams, change the color of the leaves, and flow into trees that become giants that hold tribal dances at night. Magic doesnít end, like a beach ball shoved under the surface of a lake it will resurface, the question is when and where and who will be there to see it.