Once Upon A Never: A Playground Tale

This playground never existed, but it might have. Introducing: Ashara, Lady of Mysteries. Sort of.

"Heave-to, lads, we're almost to the Lost City of Gold!"

There comes a tiny grunt, like a child straining under a weight. "Corwinne, this weighs a ton and you keep squirming! Quit moving around so much!"

"Jaspar, stop being so grouchy. It's not like it's just you down there."

"Yeah, but Darkleaf keeps kicking me in the shins and then sticking his tongue--OW, he did it again!"

"Did not," comes the retort. "And anyway, I'm always happy to help carry a Sky Captainess' airship around."

"There's no such thing as a 'Captainess'. And anyway, it's just a wooden crate--OW!"

"Less complaining, ye scurvy dogs, or you'll feel my lash again!"

"Corwinne, if you hit me with your belt one more time, I'm totally going to drop you."

"Aww, is widdle-baby Jaspar gonna cry? Is he--OW, hey!"

"No more of that talk, Mister Darkleaf, or ye'll walk the plank to yer doom!"

Whispers: "Can we dump her?" "Yer goddamn straight we can dump her. She used the end with the buckle!" "Well, you were being mean." "Not to her, jeez!" "Yeah, you're always really nice to her. You know she doesn't like you, right?" "Does too!" "Does not!"

"I think you should dump her." The voice is somehow older than its body, feminine. "Come on, Jaspar, I want to play princess."

"Uh, hey, Ashara. Um, I'm kind of..."

A shrill screech from above. "Ahoy! It's the vile kraken, lifting its hideous tentacles from the deeps and trying to steal away my crew! Row faster, lads!"

"Ugh. Corwinne, you're such a sky cadet."

"Oh yeah? And what's 'playing princess'?"

"Jaspar likes it when I play princess."

"Does not!"

"Ugh. I'm leaving. Jaspar, are you coming?"

"I, uh..."

"I'll stay and play Sky Captains with you, Corwinne. OW, what the hell?!? Seriously, what is with the buckle?!?"

"I hate you, Ashara!" A crash as an airship becomes a wooden crate on the ground, and the sound of small feet running away.

"My, my, I didn't think she'd tear off sobbing like that. Now I feel just terrible."

"You don't look like you feel terrible."

"Jaspar, I swear, you are such a grouch! Are you going to be my prince or not? Well?"

"It's not that I don't want to, it's just that--ah, dang it, Ashara, wait up!"

"Nice going, grouchy."

"Shut up, Darkleaf. You suck."

"Maybe, but Ashara still needs a prince. See you around, loser."

Fairy Tale

"Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten." ~ G.K. Chesterton

Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Kieran.

Every night, The Bad Thing would happen to him. His parents - loved and trusted - would abandon him inside a wooden cage, to fend for himself against the Night Visions. He would lay there, curled into a little ball, trying to be brave while the blackness of the room crept over his eyes and into his mind and it all began again.

Inevitably, he would wake up, visions of teeth and sharpness scampering away, promising to return as soon as his wails died down and his parents left him again.

"You can't escape us," they would say. "We are where you go when you sleep."

His parents, well-meaning but bumbling and clueless idiots with no idea what terrors lurked in the dark, were of no use. They would barely make it through another night as serpents and scorpions hissed and stung all through the gloom, and would wonder, bleary-eyed, at how after no sleep Kieran could seem so happy to see the day break again.

One night, instead of the usual cautionary tale about not eating rotten breakfast products with a goat on a boat - in which the protagonist without fail gives in to peer pressure and suffers a massive hallucination when the tainted dairy short-circuits his visual cortex - Kieran heard a different story.

"Once upon a time," it began, "there was a little boy named Kieran."

As it turned out, in this story, the hero - who had the same name as the little boy! - found himself every night in a dark maze, with a terrible monster. The monster would chase the boy through the maze night after night, and only barely miss gobbling the boy up because he would wake up just in time. The little boy in the story was certain that one night, he would not wake up in time and would get gobbled up, and he was terrified.

"But," he said to himself, "if I just knew my way out of the maze, the monster couldn't get me."

So one night this little boy in the story that Kieran was hearing took a ball of string to bed with him. When he wound up in the maze, he did not run in a panic: he just tied the string to a rock and started letting it out behind him as he went. Whenever he came across a string in his travels through the maze, he doubled back and turned the opposite direction at the previous intersection. In no time, he was out of the maze, leaving a hungry monster behind to howl in impotent anger. When he woke up late in the morning, his parents were mystified at how their child had slept so late, and why there was a ball of yarn all tangled up throughout his crib.

Kieran liked this story very much, especially the part about the boy getting away from the monster. That night, his Night Visions were as bad as ever, but he got a thought: maybe I can get away.

The next night, he heard another new story, this one about an evil witch who chopped up little boys and made them into soup. But he also heard about how to trick the witch, and to escape from her. Night after night, he heard new stories, many of which were scary, but he listened hard, because he was sure that these were tales that would help him fight the monsters.

Then, one night, he found himself in a maze.

He panicked at first, because he certainly didn't have a ball of yarn. But he had heard another story, one involving breadcrumbs, and he discovered to his delight that he had a cache of Cheerios in his diaper. He laid these down as he went, and he was out of the maze in no time. He never even heard the monster.

He slept like a baby. The kind you read about in stories.

This story is a fairy tale, but one that I hope can be true nevertheless. In the meantime, sorry about the semi-erratic posting schedule. I'll try hard to stick with regular Wednesday posts, but please forgive me if I'm too tired to get up at four in the morning regularly when I'm up for three hours in the middle of the night.

-JDMB