Strange Things Are Happening

There seemed to be a dragon flying overhead. Theresa couldn’t believe it. Barely anybody else was glancing up, and after rubbing her eyes and looking back she assured herself it was nothing but an odd-shaped bird.

When she got to the office, she could have sworn that the man sitting at the front desk today had pointed ears. He nodded at her cordially enough, and when she stood in the elevator she shut her eyes tight and told herself to get a grip.

The work day passed mostly without event; that thing that looked like a tail flicking from a co-worker’s skirt was probably a scarf. Or something. She decided to get a lot of sleep that night, she was clearly seeing things.

She walked home, feet tapping the sidewalk as always, chiding herself for being silly – she didn’t believe in that stuff. She needed a good night’s sleep and an aspirin, that was all.

A moment later, she stopped short. That was definitely a goblin walking by.

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The Magic Hat

The first time Allison found the magical hat, she was six. She had clambered up to the attic when her mother wasn’t looking, and she climbed over boxes and ducked under old furniture until she happened upon it. It was hanging off the edge of the cabinet that had hidden in the attic from before they bought the house, and it was beautiful. Fuchsia, wide-brimmed and velvety, with a profusion of fake flowers and a spray of feathers.

Allison tugged on it and set it squarely upon her head. She was most surprised when she looked down and she had disappeared. She tested it – walked downstairs, where her mother was cooking dinner, and outside. She only stopped herself from walking across the street, since the cars probably wouldn’t stop for an invisible girl. After an hour of watching quietly as her mother diced, chopped, stirred and leaned on the counter watching television, she took the hat upstairs and laid it gently back on the cabinet corner.

She used the magic hat sparingly. Perhaps she already sensed somehow that she had to keep from using up all the magic in it. When Allison was eight, she remembered it was there and she spent a half hour rearranging the desk and ten minutes moving her mother’s coffee mug around the kitchen. She carried a pen past her father and watched him crinkle his forehead and stare at the patch of air where a pen had just floated merrily by.

When she was ten, she walked into the kitchen and listened for twenty minutes to her parents having a conversations she was sure she wasn’t meant to hear. When she was eleven, she hid an entire package of cookies in her room. Just after she turned thirteen, she learned to juggle and watched the mirror in fascination as little plastic balls flung themselves into the air to bob up again. At fourteen Allison snuck out of the house, hid the hat under the rhododendron book, and slipped into a waiting car. When she was fifteen, she walked downstairs and her mother said, “Hey, sweetie. Where did you find that ridiculous hat?”

The magic of the hat was over, she concluded. She put it under her bed, but she remembered it when she moved. Allison kept the magic hat – just in case, she thought.

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.

In the Magic Place

Joe was staring, his mouth hanging open, his heart beating a rhythm of staccato awe. The woman in front of him was juggling colors. She flung one hand up, the fingers outstretched toward the sky, and a spinning clump of blue whirled in a neat round arc. The red sank into her other hand, which clasped it comfortably, and the yellow and purple flew in between. That all happened in the space of a second, and then she did it again. Her hands, moving up and down, framed a spinning circle of color that smeared pink and green and turquoise between the pieces of color she was throwing and catching.

Arielle tugged on Joe’s hand, and he started. “Come on,” she said, “We don’t have that much time left here, and before I bring you home I want to show you some other stuff.” She was pulling him toward the corner of the block. There was a living statue there. A man was standing next to it, motionless until Arielle plucked a coin from Joe’s shirt pocket and tossed it to him. Then his hand snapped up to catch the coin and he twirled, bowing to them and touching a gentle hand to the lump of silver towering over him. It was softly rounded and droopy, like a piece of metal that was interrupted halfway through melting.

When he touched it, though, it began to come to life. The shapes gathered themselves and their edges shrank into being, lines carving themselves on its surface. Suddenly the lump of silver had lengthened and was a gleaming tiger, tail flicking and head swinging from side to side to watch them with cold metal eyes. The man clicked a finger against it again, and it began to shift once more. It drew itself up and then folded, and then it was a rather old man, shining wrinkles wobbling on his chin and a dapper cap drawn low over his head. He was sitting and reading a silver newspaper on a bench that wasn’t there. One more tap, and the man melted to re-form as a statue, a lovely young woman with blank eyes and perfect proportions, her mouth a round O and her hands clutching a silver sheet around her. Joe and Arielle looked at the statue in its lovely still splendor for a moment, and then the statue smoothed and dropped into nothingness again. They thanked the man, who gave an almost imperceptible nod from his resumed position next to his magic treasure.

There was a candy stall on the next block, just across the street. Joe began to walk toward it, but Arielle caught him by the shoulder. He protested, “No, wait, I just want – ” She shook her head at him, and pulled the other way. He craned his neck to look as he stepped toward her. The second person had just bought a candy and popped it into his mouth. After a moment, he began to float – at first, just a few inches about the sidewalk, but he circled higher and higher until he was several heights above everyone in the street, at the same level as the first floater-eater. The table was piled high with jars and boxes  – Joe read “Fireballs – very hot!” and “Jawbreakers CAUTION” on one corner, while “Rescue Candy” and “Bubbly gum” were stacked on the other. He said, “Listen, Arielle, can’t we just – ”

“No,” she interrupted him. “We can’t. I’m sorry, but I have another tour coming up, and you know you can’t do magics here, not even borrowed or bought-for-a-quarter.”

Joe slumped and followed her, forlorn. The tours were expensive, and he couldn’t afford another for a while. “Chin up,” said Arielle, smiling at him. “We had to get you back to the real world eventually, after all.”

Under the Sea

A man walked down the dock and stood at the edge, curling his toes around the damp cold wooden slat that marked its end. Then he dove off into the dark sea.

He dove down and down and down, past the shock of the cold crashing waves and the pull of currents, the crush of the deep toward the blackness below. Then he saw a mermaid, coiled on a rock set in the sandy sea bottom. The mermaid had floating black curls twisting through the saltwater, and a gray- green tail, and her eyes lit bright like dying sunlight on the waves when she saw him.

He drifted down toward the mermaid, and she reached up and grasped his hand, outstretched to dive down. She pulled him to her, and he curled beside her. The mermaid spoke, and her voice was muted by the water. She said, “Hello, strange man. If you stay with me, I will tell you a story.”

The man nodded his heavy head, and nestled closer to her, and put his head on the mermaid’s scaly lap.
The mermaid began her story. “Once, there was a girl. This girl could run and dance and swim under the sun like all other. She was carefree, and cared not a whit for anyone. Then a man fell in love with the girl. He was a powerful man, and moved the fire of the sun and the waves locked in the earth with his desires. He wanted the girl, and wanted her, and she wanted nothing but to run and dance and swim under the sun. She wanted none of his desires. The man got angry, and when this man got angry, stones shook and stars trembled. He trapped the girl in another form. He trapped her dancing legs together, bound them in a fish’s wriggling fins forever so she could dance no more, and never again run from him. But still she swam away, with rage and fear now and not just disdain. So it wasn’t enough for this man to change her body. He trapped her too in one place, pinned her down to a story. She became something everlasting and immortal, bound by the laws of the sea to follow the path of legend.”

The man on the mermaid’s lap twisted and pawed at her waist, his eyes half- lidded. He asked stupidly, his voice slurred and dulled, “Do you have a boyfriend, or a girlfriend, or a merfriend?”

She smiled at him sadly. “No, sweet, and I can’t, not ever. I’ll tell you why, for it’s in my story. The legend he bound the mermaid to, it was that of a siren. He bound her to sit on a rock and comb her hair, to watch the waves far above and dream of more monotony. And any man that ventured near would be trapped too. Any human too close met the same fate. The girl had to tell her story of woe and pain and loss to any traveler passing by, and that poor soul would be lost as well.”

The mermaid was quiet now, lips barely moving, her voice muffled by the stir of the saltwater. She threaded her fingers through the man’s hair, but he didn’t look up. So she spoke again, “That’s how the lover I never wanted condemned me to this life, lifetimes ago. How the foolish girl I was became the sad creature I am now. How I came to be here, sitting on the sea floor and telling stories to the dead.”

The edges of the scales rubbing against the man’s face had cut into his skin, but he didn’t notice. His eyes were closed and his breathing shallow, his arms wrapped around the mermaid’s waist and unmoving. She stroked his hair absently. The light from far above shifted and swirled in broken fragments over his still face and the mermaid’s bent head as she waited, silent, for another foolish human to listen to her story.