The Life of a Storyteller

A story is a living thing. People sometimes don’t understand that. They don’t understand the way stories are born, that they grow up and grow old and die slowly or all at once. They have never been to my homeland and could never have seen stories breeding and multiplying. We watch this happen as if we could see destinies woven into strands of DNA, little cells that twist and twine into something new.

I was twelve years old when I got my first story. It was born during sentencing season when ideas are blooming and the stories are suddenly something from nothing. I named it – I can’t tell you the name now though – and I took it home with me. I fed it from a little bottle and I wrapped it in a blanket. I slept curled around it for weeks until it was too big to fit in my bed. It grew quickly, my story. It was from a common and vigorous breed, but I loved it as if it was new and like nothing told before.

Hardcover book gutter and pages

Most stories are old stories. Old breeds, rather. The strains of story have gone back generations, millennia. We recognize the shapes of their bodies. The curves and shines of their faces are familiar to us. We tell them again and again, in new forms. Some of these stories are old and tired, breeds that perhaps should have died out long ago. Most of them are well-loved, for all that.

My first story was one of these. Of course my parents would never have trusted twelve-year-old me with a rare breed. I didn’t care, though. I’d grown up in a family of tellers, and I told my story as if it were special. Children are often the best storytellers for that reason. That is, they love stories for themselves, however overtold they are. Children haven’t learned yet to scoff at the faded strains of story.

Stories are something like pets. They find tellers they like, and they hang around wagging their tales or brushing against legs until they are stroked into complaisance. Some people sort of collect stories, amassing all sorts of different kinds. Some people just tell the same story over and over again, or they trail a pack of stories that all look alike. I guess they find comfort in uniformity. Sometimes, if you look closely enough, you can see that stories have little notches or curves that make them distinct, despite their similar shapes. Sometimes, though, you look at a story bedecked and embellished to find that under all that it’s the same as the one next to it.

I guess the point is that you never really know. I raised my first story and told it out into the world, whispering it into an ear, sending it on its own to find its way. I’ve had countless stories since then. I’m a decent teller. It’s a lovely thing to watch, a story that gets to where it’s meant to be. They fill the world, like shadows, even when you can’t see them in the dark. They know when they’ve gotten to the right place. I like see them scamper or slink or swagger away from my window, where I sit with a couple of new tales and, perhaps, a book.

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Dragon Problems

There was a hoarse roar and a puff of flame, which swirled and flickered into a glowing thread in the air. A hacking sound followed, hitting the hot dry air and hurting Sylvia’s ears. She sat and waited, and then Anna emerged from the cave. She was coughing, waving the smoke from her face and holding the side of her face. When she peeled her hand away there was a blotch of blistered pink skin, and Sylvia gasped and frowned. Every time Anna went to confront the dragons, something like this happened. Anna looked up and smiled, in a tired resigned sort of way.

Dragon

Photo credit: Wikipedia

“Stop, dear,” she said. “It doesn’t hurt so much, and the poor thing didn’t mean it.” Anna sighed and sat back, crossing her legs and leaning to peer at the cave’s entrance. It was quiet for now, a dark hollow with the occasional faint glow.

Sylvia crooked her eyebrows at her friend. “What, he just spat fire at your face without realizing?”

Anna glared at her, crossing her arms and then wincing. Her tone was soft, though, when she said, “No, it just wasn’t his fault. The whole litter’s colicky, and I swear I don’t know how to make them feel any better.” There was a loud scraping sound from inside the cave, and both women flinched. “Poor sad little beasties,” Anna said. “I hate to see them in pain.”

“I hate to see you in pain!” said Sylvia. “You’re going to really hurt yourself one of these days.”

“Oh hush. They’re harmless mostly, and now they’re just sick. Don’t be a snob.” Anna’s voice was scolding, but she smiled. Her hair was slightly singed too, Sylvia noticed.

There was another scrape and flourish of fire that billowed from the cave, and both Sylvia and Anna started back again. “I’d better go in again.” Anna stood and dusted off her skirt. “Why don’t you come in with me? I’ll make sure I aim them away from you, dear, and you’ll be surprised how they’ve grown in just a couple of months.” Sylvia shrugged.

They stood, and Anna grabbed Sylvia’s hand, who followed her reluctantly into the cave. They both ducked their heads at the entrance, and shuffled together into a room in the back. It was warm and small, and full of dragons. Anna went in first, sinking down at once into the pile of scaly small creatures that writhed up to surround her. She wound her arms through the swarm and scratched a bony little head, which closed slotted eyes and purred.

Sylvia hung back, watching. Anna picked one of the dragons up with both hands, holding it out to her friend. It was red and shiny, whipping its tail from side to side. It thrust its head forward toward Sylvia, who jumped. “Shhh,” said Anna, her voice low and comforting. “She just wants a pet, go on, put her hand on her head.” Sylvia reached forward, timid, and laid her palm on the bumpy brow of the little monster. It wriggled and crooned, starting to rumble. Sylvia rubbed its head and pulled her hand back, and the dragon swooped back to Anna’s side. It mostly fell, shrunken wings barely keeping it aloft, and then nestled into her.

Sylvia folded herself on the floor to watch Anna cuddle and play with the beasts. She tensed and shivered with the spurts of flame and hisses, but those were infrequent. They spent the afternoon that way, quietly together with the dragons.