The Witching Hour

The sun warms my back while a large floppy hat shades my face. Spade in hand, I am hunched over a cluster of dark violet iris’s, digging into the soil with blackened fingernails.  A clump breaks away and I quench the roots in a bucket of water while I work. Butterflies flit about and this quiet summer morning smells like grass, flowers, and baked earth.

The meditative trance of my gardening is shattered by the sound of metal brakes screeching. A bowling ball sized lump forms instantly in my guts. I shoot to my feet and look to the South, listening in horror to the sound of steel crunching, smashing, and a pillar of black smoke pummeling into the sky. My spade falls from my hand and my body is frozen stiff. I force all of my will power into my legs and they finally respond.

Adrenaline pumps through my body. My bare feet slamming down hard on the gravel road. I run with a force that I have never known in my life. Out of the corner of my eye I see a grey blur. My faithful dog must have felt the same panic and now ran along side of me down the country road. The mile and a half to the race track stretched out into what felt like a hundred miles. Why hadn’t I drove? I couldn’t formulate a response to the question, so I ran harder. Tiny rocks imbedded themselves into the sticky blood coming from the souls of my feet, breifly I thought how strange that I can’t feel the pain in my feet as they rip and tear from the abuse. I pushed my head forward and ran faster.

As I closed in on the entrance to the race track, I can hear men screaming in an unusually high pitch. Tears block my vision as I struggle to see the vehicle involved. I see the distorted blend of colors, crumpled like a sheet of paper in a flaming ball. I fall hard onto my knees.

Sucking in as much air as possible I sit up in my bed. The numbers on the clock glare at me, it’s 3am… the witching hour. My hand shakily slides across the sheets, out into the darkness, and feels the empty spot next to me in the bed. I am consumed by grief. Some people will cut themselves to release the build up of pain, others will take a pill and chemically silence it. Not me. It’s been 8 months now, every single night, the same dream, the same response. My body can go through the motions while I sleep walk, it has become so accustomed to the habit. Summer, fall, winter, or spring it does not mattter.

Half dazed my feet hit the carpet below. As if being called by the pied piper, I walk to the French doors and open them. Cool spring air blasts my face and body with a fine mist. My dog, ever so vigilant, sits beside me waiting for our nightly ritual. Down a few stairs, across the patio, and into the damp grass. My feet move mechanically, they know where they need to go. Like a ghost I drift across the lawn and glide into the orchard.

Wide trails are covered in pinkish white petals that shine brightly like jewels in the moonlight. Early spring flowers have begun to pop through in scattered masses. The rushing sound of the waterfall sings me towards her. I follow the well known path, to where the water falls and empties into a deep lagoon which never freezes over. I stand at the bank of sandy soil, gazing into the deep dark water and shimmering surface ripples.

I slowly step into the cold water. I am used to her bite by now. One foot after the other, the water rising above my waist, my night dress floating around me on the surface. Further I step, until the water is at my chin. I take a deep, long breath in, and plunge below the water line.  Half floating and half sitting crossed legged, I feel the the ripples swaying over my head.     It is so quiet here.     The quiet erases the screams and crunching of metal that were ringing in my ears. It feels like being in the womb, safe and untouchable.

After a while I can feel my lungs start to expand and the first traces of suffocation tingle in. I don’t want to leave this quiet place. Please just let me die here, in the silence that soothes me. Every night I try to stay longer. I try to ignore my body and focus on the lovely stillness around me. The pressure inside ampliflies, and I steady myself against it. How long will I last? Could I train myself to stay here for hours? The numbing cold helps me resist the urge to breathe. Like a companion it teams up with my mind to bully my lungs into submission. Not yet, don’t breathe yet.

Electrical snaps and pulses trace down my limbs, my body is preparing to save itself from me. Not yet. Consciousness begins to fade in and out gradually. Finally instincts kick in, over powering my will, and my body involuntarily thrashes towards oxygen. My face breaks the surface and air floods into my body. The silence is broken and my ears ring intensly. I make my way to land and my clothes are so heavy.

My dog sits paitently waiting for me to emerge. We make our way back to the house. Into the doors which I close behind me. I stand at the side of the bed and stare at the emptiness. A dark circular stain on the rug below me reveals the evidence of my months of formality. Dripping and shivering I stare in a zombie like state.

I do not recover from my trance as a golden white light pours into the room from above. It continues to flow downwards in a liquid gold state as a form inside begins to take shape. I do not turn my head to look, but I can feel it’s presence beside me, and I can feel warmth from the driplets of golden light when they splash against my arm.

The room is filled with a voice, a voice that calms and comforts me.

“I have been watching you for many months. I have felt your suffering. Although I can comprehend your sorrow, I admit I am curious about your behavior. Please, I must know, why? Why do you go to the water, why do you stay? What relief does it bring you?” The light being asked.

I thought for a moment about the water. The sweet silence, the temporary triumph over my breath, the very second my body responds to death and reacts against my will. I gave my answer.

“Because for that one split second, when my body wins and I panic to the surface, I am reminded that deep down…somewhere inside of me…I want to live.”

What to do About Raymond

animal-beak-bird-946344.jpgOn a quiet suburban street, lined with perky modern homes and plastic mailbox sentinels at the end of each smooth blacktop drive, there is a mysterious dead end. The dead end is marked by a rickety wooden mailbox, a roughly worn gravel drive, and a thin tree-line that conceals an old wooden shack. In the shack lives an old crone. No one could say for certain how long the old woman had lived at the end of the street, but she seemed to have always been there.

Children imagined she was a witch, adults assumed she was nothing more than a hermit. A well-known fact about the woman was her remarkable talent with wildlife. The townspeople would brave muddying up their sharp new SUV’s, to take a drive down the gravel pathway whenever a stranded animal blemished their immaculate lawns. As they passed through the tree-line, the townspeople would tisk and click their tongues at the tangle of vegetation overflowing throughout the yard. There was no green velvety grass, like that which carpeted all of the other lawns. Insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, and fairy folk all knew about the crone too. They knew, because the strange tangle of vegetation that humans considered off-putting was actually expertly designed for an abundance of life.

Every inch of the yard was full of fruits, berries, vegetables, medicinal and culinary herbs, tubers, flowers, nuts, and every possible species of foliage one could imagine. The old woman still practiced the One-third Rule, a very ancient rule that was once common knowledge. Long ago, in a time when households relied on independent food production, it was the practice. The rule goes as follows: One third of a harvest is collected to reseed the following years’ crop, one third is used for the sustainability of the old woman, and one third is given as offering to the wildlife and the fairies that ensure a bountiful harvest year after year.

The old yard was lavish and alive, unlike the artificial picturesque lawns, where life cannot survive. Behind the shack, in the far back of the yard is a shallow pond. The pond has a stepped-terraced drop, covered in smooth river stones, and a waterfall that trickled down the step-terrace into the pond. Huge stacked stones covered in plush moss and forest succulents bordered the pond, and wrapped around the backyard in a wall that separated the upper and lower terraces. The stone wall created cave palaces where the Salamander’s lived. The Salamanders have been here since the Earth first cooled. They are the Chiefs of all the fairies, and are responsible for ensuring that seedlings emerge come spring.

The Salamanders do this by taking a pilgrimage around the yard each year, one full moon cycle before the Spring Solstice. The eldest and wisest of the Salamander Chiefs plays his magic nose flute, which wakes up the seedlings from their earthen slumber. The vibrations encourage them to crack open their seed casings, and creep out from the dark depths of the soil. The pilgrimage takes an entire week to complete, and all of the fairy families celebrate and provide hospitality when the Salamander convoy passes through their gardens. The nose flute that the Salamander Chief plays has a legend of its own.

The legend says that the instrument is carved out of an egg-tooth, shed from a baby owl. The tooth was both a symbol of the innocence of birth and the wisdom of the owl. Once upon a time, a carpenter ant was farming her enormous herd of aphids. She grazed her flock on a juicy mugwort shrub that grew next to a blackberry bush. She had grown bored with her monotonous life of collecting syrup from the aphids and carrying it to the nurse ants. That is when she stumbled over the egg-tooth on the ground. She picked up the tooth and turned it over to inspect it. She broke-off a thorn from the blackberry bush, and used the pointed end to whittle the tooth into the magical flute. The ant often dreamed about what it would be like to be any of the other inhabitants of the property. She dreamed of being a cricket, or a snail, or a butterfly, or anything nobler than a farming carpenter ant.

As she carved into the dark of night she imagined the other life in the wilderness. Her thoughts were incorporated into the intricate designs that enchanted the nose flute. When she put the flute to her nose and breathed into it, the music that flowed out vibrated her all of the way into her very soul. Other insects began to show up. A cricket leaped and danced in front of her. “That is the sweetest sound of cricket playing I have ever heard!” he exclaimed. A beetle showed up and rubbed his wings together. “That music, it is like the honey of a beetle’s song!” The beetle danced and swirled. Each insect that was drawn to the music of the flute, heard their own songs playing out of it. No two species heard the same song; instead it was the sweetest version of their own sound.

The performance of the flute even caught the attention of the royal Salamanders. The young ant was offered to live in the palace caves, to be the musician to the Salamanders, and to accompany them with the bringing of spring as they made their annual journey. She accepted and lived happily with Salamanders for the rest of her life. Before she died, she passed-on the magical nose flute to the young son of the Salamander Chief. She predicted he would be the greatest of all of the Chiefs, and taught him how to play. He fulfilled his destiny and the flute has been passed from Chief to Chief with each succession ever since.

In the front of the old property is a raised bed full of nectar dripping flowers for the butterflies and bees. This garden box is the home of a young moth fairy named Una. Una is camouflaged with the identical transparent green wings as a Luna moth. Her best friends are Symin and Trim, brother beetle fairies that fly with the lightening bugs, and resemble their anatomical structure.

Una’s job is the well-being of the butterfly garden. She listens to the plants and moves insects from one to another when a plant has been munched on enough. She also helps with pollination and spreading water evenly. She is nocturnal, working throughout the night and resting by day. Una loves her garden spot, and loves her work.

High above Una’s garden on a knotty branch from a towering pine tree, cradled the nest of a raven family. Inside trembled a lonely chick named Raymond. Raymond is cold, hungry, tired, and frightened. His parents never returned from their foraging, and darkness had set over the yard. For hours before the sun had set, Raymond had chirped as loud as he could for his parents. His stomach growled and his throat was sore from crying out. He would surely freeze or starve to death during the night if they did not return. He shivered in his fluffy down, for he hadn’t grown feathers to keep him warm yet. He had barely opened his eyes, and could not see well, especially into the night.

The walls of the nest were too high for him to see over. Out of desperation, Raymond began to move closer to the edge, to peer into the night for help. He clambered up the walls until he could look out over the twig barrier. He couldn’t see very far. He looked from left to right. He looked up above him. He tried to look down, but needed to get closer to the edge to see over. He carefully made his way toward the lip of the nest. He stretched his neck out as far as it would go and looked down. The ground was very far away. He thought he saw something flittering far below him. “Momma, is that you?” He thought to himself.

He inched closer to the edge to get a better look. His foot became tangled in a braid of grass. He kicked and yanked to get it free. The grass let go of his foot, but it sent him sailing over the edge. Raymond squawked as loud as he could. He flapped his wings but to no avail. He was slapped and battered by the tall flower stalks as he plummeted, and landed with a soft thump on the ground in a spray of pollen. Raymond tried to stand but a pain shot throughout his body, telling him that his left leg had been injured during this ordeal.

In his defeat Raymond began to sob. He would surely die now. He wanted his nest, he wanted his warm parents, and he wanted something to put in his aching belly. Una saw something crash through her garden. She heard cries that would certainly bring stray cats, and stray cats were not good for the garden. She flew as fast as she could and found the fat little raven chick. She zipped down to him and slapped his beak shut, holding him silent with her arms.

“What are doing? Stop that! You’re telling every cat in a mile where we are!” She yelled at the fuzzy sobbing chick. Suddenly she felt pity for him. He stifled his sobs to a small whimper and she let go of his beak.

Una looked up the tree and saw the nest high above. “Where are your parents? Shouldn’t they be looking for you by now?”

“Th-they d-d-didn’t come back,” stammered the raven baby.

Una tapped her chin as she thought about what to do. She could try to get him back in his nest and hope his parent’s come back, but he wouldn’t survive on his own yet. He sat, helpless as an egg while she inspected him. He was dehydrated, so Una picked an English bluebell and filled it with the sweet nectar of the torch lilies. She brought the liquid to him and he drank thirstily.

“Thank you.” The raven said after licking out every drop. The sugary water made him feel a little bit better. “I’m Raymond. What’s your name?”

“My name is Una. We’ve got to get you some help Raymond. You won’t make it out here on the ground alone.”

“I know, but I’ve hurt my leg. I can’t even move to hide.” He looked so pathetic.

Una wanted to help him. She knew about the old crone and had even seen her on occasion tending the yard at dusk. Una recalled her long waves of hair. Much like a choppy ocean covered in silver moonlight, which flowed down to her old ankles, just above bare feet. Her fingers were long and knobby, but her touch was said to be so gentle it could unharmingly caress the powdery scales of a butterfly wing. To humans the old woman was an outcast, but to the fairies she was a powerful Magi. Una knew she had to get Raymond to the old woman, but a fairy interacting with a human is strongly forbidden.

“Hello…Una, are you there?” It was Symin and Trim. Una flew out to meet them. “What is it? You look worried, Una.”

“Just follow me,” she instructed and took them to Raymond. “He fell out of his nest, and he’s injured.”

“We could try to get him back inside of it” offered Trim.

“Yes, but how? He’s much too heavy for the three of us to lift up.” Una reasoned. Raymond just sat listening, trying not to cry.

“What if we tied him to a few hummingbird moths? They are much bigger and stronger than us.” Symin reasoned.

“We could try.” Una flew off to ask the moths for help. She returned with four huge hummingbird moths, and Symin and trim had made ropes out of morning glory vines. They tied two moths to each of Raymond’s stubby wings. They tied a third rope to the unbroken leg and the three of them grabbed hold. On the count of three, the bulky moths and the small fairies flew as hard as they could. Raymond rolled over onto his belly while his wings and leg stretched out in three different directions, as if to pull him apart limb for limb.

“Stop! It’s not working!” Yelled Raymond, his throat scratchy and rough. He was right; they never even got him off of the ground. They returned and decided to try one more time, but it too was unsuccessful. Tired and tattered they took the ropes off and thanked the moths for their efforts.

“Now what do we do?” asked Symin. “We need someone bigger than a moth.

“You mean, like a bat?” Una asked back.

“Haha, yeah right, Una…you know bats eat insects, and they can’t tell us from them. How would we get a bat to help us?” Trim nervously replied.

“We could catch one. And then ask him to help us.” Una wrapped her fingers around her fist and thought out loud.

“Catch a bat! How would we do that?” Trim gasped. Una tapped her chin as she pondered.

“There is netting by the pea shoots, for them to climb as they grow. We could lure a bat into the netting and capture him. Then ask him to take Raymond back to his nest, maybe he won’t eat us.” She shrugged at the last part.

“That is a crazy idea.” Trim stated.

“He’s right Una, we can’t catch a bat.” Symin agreed.

“If we don’t help him, he’s not going to make it through the night, look at him!” Raymond was losing color inside of his mouth and his eyes began glossing over. He would not make it, that much was clear.

“We can’t catch a bat, Una. It’s just too dangerous, I’m sorry.” Symin tried to comfort her, but Una wasn’t asking for permission. She glared into Symin’s eyes and blew her bangs out of her face.

“Then stay here and protect him until I get back.” She took off into the night.

“Una, wait!” Symin yelled out as he and Trim went after her. When they caught up to her, she had already waved down a bat, and was flying at full speed towards the pea netting. They quickly joined her side.

“I can’t believe that we are doing this!” Symin called to the others.

He couldn’t hide the smile of excitement on his face. They synced up, and dove down towards the vegetable garden in unison. The bat was right at their heels as they positioned themselves to duck through the half inch square openings in the pea net. Just as they had hoped for, the bat didn’t sense the netting in time, and slammed head first into it. He flapped and tangled himself violently. His crashing about made it impossible to get close enough to capture him. The bat ripped and thrashed itself free, leaving the three fairies behind with nothing but a torn net. Una sighed loudly.

“What in nature is going on over here?” They had drawn the attention of the vegetable garden fairies. They are wingless and round, with short arms and long skinny legs. They wear the skin of a toad as a uniform, and it fits their rotund figure perfectly. From above they look like a toad, but from down here they are clearly a fairy in a toad coat. They tend to vegetables and roots mainly. They are the masters of root knowledge, and are often employed by other fairies when they experience root damage in their own gardens.

“Who is causing all of this damage to the vegetable garden, huh? Answer me!” bellowed Tageris, patriarch of the garden fairies.

“I’m so sorry,” Una pleaded, “we were trying to catch a bat…I mean, help a raven, I…mean…” She trailed off unable to find the right words.

“Fairy folk shouldn’t be catching bats! And ravens don’t fly at night! What’s going on girl?” he demanded. Una, Symin, and Trim explained to Tageris about the raven chick, injured in the butterfly garden. Since ravens have little to do with roots, Tageris was unmoved to help the youths.

“You could always take him to the Salamander Chief. His word is the final law of the land. He would know what to do.” He suggested, as a way to rid himself of the conversation. “If it were up to me though, an orphaned and injured chick is hard work, best to let nature take its course, I say.”

“I’m not going to let Raymond die in my garden,” Una said sharply. “Come on guys, we need to get back to him, he’s all alone and hurt.” She sneered behind a furrowed brow at Tageris as she stamped off and took flight back to her garden. When Una returned, Raymond’s head was flopped over to the side. His breath was so shallow she had to press an ear to him to hear it.

“U-U-Una…is that you?” he mumbled to her, weak and limp. Symin and Trim landed on the ground and looked miserably at the poor chick.

“We have to get him to the Salamander Chief,” Una looked at Symin with tears welling in her eyes.

“How Una? It takes a week for the Salamanders to loop the property, and the pond is in the far back, it would take us two days at least to drag him back there. That’s assuming we could find a way to drag him there ourselves.” Symin wasn’t being helpful, Una thought.

“Then I will bring the Salamanders to him.” Una said flatly.

“You know the Salamanders only leave the cave palace once a year. It’s mid-summer; they have eggs or young now. I want to help you Una, and Raymond, just tell me what to do.” Symin said taking her hands in his. Her eyes sparked with an idea.

“We need beetles, lots of beetles. We will make a sled, and we will pull Raymond to the pond with a team of beetles. Trim and I will cut an iris leaf, and make a harness to tie them together. You go get as many June bugs as you can find!” Una directed Symin and he flew off to find them.

Trim made a strong harness with morning glory vines, while Una used a sharp stone flake to cut the large curtain of iris leaf. The fibers were thick and vibrant, making much work for Una to cut across. Finally the leaf severed and fell to the ground in a spiral freefall. Una and Trim dragged the heavy leaf cutting into position beside the poor raven. They pushed and rolled the lethargic bird onto the leaf. By this time, Symin had returned with sixty June beetles. They quickly strapped the beetles into the harness, in two rows, and they began to pull in accord.

The strong legs of the beetles and the smooth leaf moved easily across the worn footpaths. Una offered another bluebell of nectar to Raymond, but he was far too weak to finish it this time. Inch by inch the sled team carried Raymond through the vegetable garden, past the medicinal herb garden, around the strawberry vine tangles, into the culinary herb gardens, and over towards the dark corner of the back yard, where the waterfall and stone terraced wall stood like monoliths.

At the top edge of the pond, enormous tunneled spider webs covered the mouth to the rocky waterfall. Una and her friends were terrified. The spiders came out of the tunnels and watched them pass, hoping to snare one of them in her web. Centipedes and other scary things creeped around in the damp ground cover surrounding the pond. Una listened as the grass rustled and moved around them. A green snake slithered up and flicked its tongue at them.

“What are you planning on doing with that s-s-sumptuous dead chick?” asked the snake menacingly.

“He’s not dead. We are taking him to the Salamander Chief.” Una informed the snake. Had she not mentioned the Salamander Chief, Raymond was as good as snakes’ meat. But the Salamanders were the rulers, and all of the lifeforms obeyed them.

“Well, let me lead you to him.” hissed the snake.

“We can’t trust him,” said Symin. “He will lead us to his den and eat us.”

“I would do no s-s-such thing. Tell me children, what do you believe the S-S-Salamander Chief will do with an almost-dead raven chick?”

“That is for him to decide,” Una replied briskly.

“Hmmm, I s-s-see…” hissed the snake. “The Salamander Chief lives under the fourth s-s-stone from the pond, at the bottom of the wall. I could take you there, if you wish. It’s not s-s-safe for moth fairies and beetle fairies to be out wandering with s-s-such a moist and meaty hunk of raven, wafting around.”

“And what would you ask for in return?” questioned Symin.

“From you three? Nothing. But should the S-S-Salamander Chief not be able to help the raven, perhaps helping remove the carcass would be reward enough.”

“You are a monster, he is my friend!” Una shouted at the snake.

“What would you do with a dead raven chick, girl? Be intelligent about it” challenged the snake.

“Take us to the Salamander Chief,” cut in Trim.

“It would be my pleasssure.” The snake slithered through the grass and smoothed a trail for the team of beetles to travel. Una wrapped her arms and wings around the chick to try to warm him. His heart beat was growing fainter.

The sandy beach before the pond was teaming with life. Congregated there were frogs and toads, salamanders, crickets, spiders, snakes, dragonflies, wasps, mosquitoes, snails, and dozens of night lovers. There was a hum of activity at the water’s edge. But all that chatter slowed to a hushed silence when the beetle pulled sled with the three fairies and one slumped over raven chick arrived. Thousands of blinking eyes stared at them in silent astonishment.

Una could feel the stares and was quite uncomfortable. Out of the corner of her eye she saw something in the dark. A black shape moved in the shadows towards them. It was tall and the outline of it was undeterminable, Una shuttered. When it stepped into the clearing of the beach, she saw it was the Salamander Chief.

With his long slender body, short arms and legs, and red paint covering his flesh, he hovered over them like a bent Kokopelli. Unlike the garden fairy that wears a toad skin like a Halloween costume, the Salamanders actually wear a live hypnotized salamander on their backs. They paint their skin with red ochre to camouflage with the red bellies of the salamander, and when they close their eyes, you cannot detect them. The black backside of the salamander keeps the Salamander Chief well concealed, and many fairies have never seen the face of one, up close in person. Salamander Chiefs are the most ancient bloodline of fairy.

“You have travelled far to get here, moth and beetle fairies. How did you acquire this raven’s chick?” His voice was thick like old leather and mud. He picked up Raymond’s head in his hands, and blew into his nostrils. Raymond awoke and cringed in fear at the large crowd gathered around them. Una climbed off the sled and stood before the Salamander Chief.

“He fell into the butterfly garden tonight. He is injured, cold, and starved. His name is Raymond, he is an orphan, and he is my friend.”  She smiled at Raymond and he attempted a smile back through his fear.

“That’s enough blood to live a month on!” shouted a spider.

“Casualties of nature, I say feed him to the snakes!” prompted the green snake that lead them here.

“No,” shouted Una, “we have to help him!”

“Can’t help him, he’s already half dead. He’ll be worm food by morning!” shouted another bystander.

“Hey, that’s enough!” yelled Symin, trying to hide his insecurity.

The Salamander Chief listened to each remark carefully. “What would you suggest we do with him?” he asked Una.

“We can wake up the crone. She knows how to help animals, she can save him.” Una suggested to the wise Salamander Chief.

“We can’t wake up a human!” screeched a cricket. The whole crowd erupted with commotion over the idea.

“She can’t be serious. If we made a bunch of distress noise, the stray cats would be the first to arrive. Then the snakes and spiders would be out one fat raven chick,” snarled a frog.

Una had tears running down her cheeks now. “What is wrong with you? I told you he is my friend! I love him, and I don’t want him to die!” She flew up to Raymond and hugged him tightly. He was crying too, for he did not want to be eaten by spiders and snakes. Symin and Trim joined her in a protective stance around Raymond.

“Those fairies are senseless! Ravens grow up and eat insects. She will probably be eaten by her friend if he lives.” The spider yelled out. “Best he goes first, instead of us!” A cheer came from the crowd followed by a second eruption of chatter.

The Salamander Chief raised his hand and everyone went silent. “The spider speaks truly; the raven very well could grow up and eat the young moth fairy.” He smiled at Una, “and yet she still pleads for his life.”

“We live in a world where it is easy for us to see others outside of ourselves as an enemy, as a threat to our very existence. But this is not our only endangerment. The water has become unsafe to drink. The land is covered with toxins. Our forest has been reduced to one property. Our families were once many, and now we are but a few who seek refuge on the only land that remains untainted to us.”

“The weather has become fierce and unpredictable. Seed and fruit bearing plants have been cleared away for lawns that are saturated with poisons regularly. If you were a young raven mother with a child to raise, which yard would you nest in?” He questioned the crowd that stood frozen, hanging on his every word.

“This land is sacred not only to our people, but to all life on Earth. It is a sanctuary for the few who remain. The pond runs with cold sweet water and the plants grow heavy with seed. Life outside of this land is unforgiving. Fortunately here, the old woman has provided us with bounty so that our kind may survive. She does this for all of Earth’s creatures, without discrimination.”

“Should a life find itself in this sacred place, it should be nurtured for the betterment of the planet. It is our duty to ensure all who come here are welcome and cared for equally. This place has been provided for us, and protected for us by the old woman. And she would not allow the raven to perish, so we will not allow the raven to perish either.”

The Salamander Chief walked to the edge of the water and he raised his short arms into the sky. Turtles bubbled up from the murky pond floor and with their shovel like heads, scooped up the raven and put him on the shell of one of them. The Salamander Chief climbed onto the shell of a different turtle and led the way towards the old shack.

The turtles cautiously crept out onto the back brick patio. This place was wide open and quite dangerous at night. Using their heads, they removed the chick and placed him on the bricks. They quickly retreated to the grass line where they could hide in the thick blades. Una stayed behind, holding her cataleptic friend.

The Salamander Chief slid from his turtle and placed both hands around the nose flute, which was hanging from a vine around his neck. He brought the flute to his nostrils and breathed a slow steady breath. The music that poured out was sweet and thick like pine sap. The tune carried up in the night sky, and through an open window near the sleeping old lady.

The old lady dreamed of a raven chick out in the yard, squawking and calling for help. The nightmare was so intense that it woke her. She sat up in bed and listened to the sound of the chick, echoing in her ears. Although she knew it was a dream, the urgency made her uneasy. She felt compelled to put on her slippers and have a peek outside. She opened the door and peered into the darkness.

A Luna moth fluttered about in a strange and frantic manner near the ground. The old woman strained her eyes and looked harder. A slumped over black lump was just below the moth. The old lady walked outside and lifted the small frail ball of down. “Oh my, how did you get out here?” She took Raymond inside and warmed him.

Over the next several weeks she nursed Raymond into adulthood. He was never caged, he came and went at will, and so it was the raven and old lady remained life-long friends. He visited her every day and they chatted while she fed him treats. He raised chicks of his own too. He made sure that they knew to never eat insects from the yard.  His young were raised on a strict diet of fruits, nuts, seeds, spiders, and snakes.

Sylvia’s Plants

cacti-gardening-grow-707194.jpgSylvia was very shy. Although she was timid to talk to, there was some undefinable joy that permeated her unremarkable appearance. At her data entry job, she would sit in her cubicle behind a false sense of isolation and security. Occasionally a co-worker would notice her, and ask what her secret is for always being so happy. Sylvia would blush and claim she had none, to avoid further embarrassment. She deeply feared being made fun of, so she rarely said any more than was necessary, and never shared her personal thoughts.

Sylvia knew exactly why she was always so genuinely cheerful. Her desk was neat and sparsely covered, little more than the essentials, nothing except for three little potted plants. Sylvia loves her plants. Her windows at home are stacked from floor to ceiling with pots of every imaginable shape and size, and hanging baskets brimming with bloomed foliage. She misses her desk plants each night and is grateful to greet them each workday. Leaves fill her with a secret joy. No matter where she is or what she’s doing, something green is usually nearby, and can ease her social awkwardness.

One day Sylvia came home from work with a plain cardboard box. On top of that box peered out three little plants. Sylvia wasn’t her usual perky self. Something had happened at work. The company downsized, and although she had been there for eight years, she had always failed to stand out. She smiled at the three little desk plants with tears threatening her eyes, as she made room for them in a front window sill. She didn’t feel like having dinner, so she showered and went to bed early.

The next morning she wept as she watered her tropical and temperate menagerie. Her mind worried about finding employment, and the anxiety first interviews would bring. She was lost in her train of thought when a soulful tender voice interrupted her.

“Why are you so sad today, Sylvia?” The voice asked her.

Sylvia looked around startled but saw no one. “Hello? Who said that? Is someone here?”

“I’m right here in front of you, in the hanging basket you just watered.” The voice huskily replied.

Sylvia, watering can in hand and mouth slightly agape, turned her gaze up to stare at her largest spider plant. It was a behemoth of a thing, bursting like fireworks out of the coco liner. Oh no, she thought, I’m hearing voices, my plants are talking to me.

“Come on now child, you tell me what’s got my baby so blue?” The spider plant pushed.

“I lost my job. I’m afraid to go looking for another. And afraid of if I don’t find something soon enough, before my savings run out, I’ll be in a bad place.” Sylvia just let it all out. Why not, plants won’t laugh at you, will they? Sylvia had never been so raw and honest verbally before.

“Oh, I’m sorry baby. I know how much you loved to work there. Always coming and going, day after day, happy each morning, mmm-hmm.” The spider plant soothed.

Sylvia thought about it a minute. “Well, I didn’t really love to work there. I didn’t mind it. I was just eager to see those three,” she pointed at the new comers.

“Well those three seem to be doing just fine. Don’t be sad Sylvia. Here, you can take some of my babies,” The plant started.

Sylvia looked down at the dozens of pups swinging from stems below their mother.

“Hello!” They sang to her in unison.

“Share them with the world; see if you can make a few bucks. I can always make more. Maybe they can bring joy to others too.” The spider plant reasoned.

“You can take some of my niños! My terra cotta is overflowing!” A much crowded aloe shouted out.

“My roots are so tight in here,” said a peacock plant, “perhaps you can separate me into several pots, and give me more room to stretch them out?”

One by one all of her beloved house plants began offering to propagate and share themselves with anyone who would choose to appreciate them. Sylvia couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Also, she worried she may have had a mental breakdown. She went to her shed anyways, and pulled out stacks of dirty used plastic pots. She cleaned them up as good as new. Then she drove to the hardware store and loaded her trunk with heavy bags of soil.

Over the next several days she clipped and snipped, separated and rooted all of her plethora of plants. She set up a nursery area in her dining room, because it had the best windows and sunlight. She would sing to the tender cuttings as they established in their pots. Gently watering and tending to them as if they were her very own children.

One sunny afternoon she loaded her car seats with boxes, brimming with cheerful young sprouts. Sylvia drove around to flower and garden shops all day. She must have talked to thirty different stores. Three stores agreed to purchase her potted angels, and took her information should they need another order.

A few days later, Sylvia took photos of dozens of her lovely plants and created a web-site to sell them. After two months she was able to invest in a greenhouse for her backyard. Sylvia had the happiest plants, and they beamed for her camera. Her houseplant business grew and grew.

She continued her tenderness and care with each new batch of babies in the nursery. She would always tell them the story of their elders. It began like this…

“One day, I lost my job,” the sprouts would lean in to listen to the tale.

“It was the greatest day of my life.”

 

Anna of the Wood

boulder-cascade-creek-219932.jpgHer eyes gazed out of the window of the airplane at the geometric shapes framing the farm plots below. Miriam internally grinned at the improbability of it all. She remembered to thank her mother in heaven for naming her. The story was the most incredible human survival anomaly known to modern day science. It began almost a year ago, when a Washington state logging company discovered, and captured, a feral woman in the remote old growth forest. The early photographs showed an extremely fit naked woman, who appeared to be early thirties, caked in a mud mixture that covered her entire body, leaving only her wild blue-eyes exposed.

The images were shocking and captivated a worldwide audience. This was only the tip of the iceberg. The woman was taken to a local hospital to be medically assessed. She could barely speak, and when she did, it was in some form of a broken ancient Germanic dialect. Once authorities had established a crude way to translate some of her words, the woman indicated that she was of Danish decent, and born in 1012 A.D. Of course medical professionals and custodians thought that it must be a mistranslation. However, over the next couple of days and weeks, they observed her rapidly aging and deteriorating. As of this day, all of the medical efforts to stop the onset of increased aging have failed.

The mysterious woman now lay confined to a hospital bed nearing the end of her unbelievably long life, which science could not disprove to be true. Every newspaper, magazine, tabloid, media outlet, medical or science publication, all wanted to interview the old woman before she expired. The woman was highly protected, but her handlers agreed to grant one interview to tell her story. A narrowed list of applicants was presented to the old woman, and Miriam had been selected, simply because the old woman liked the sound of her name. That was how a young D.C. reporter, whom nobody has ever even heard of, landed the interview of the century.

A few hours later, and Miriam was straining to see out of the tinted windows of her transport vehicle. They approached a section of the forest that had been fenced off and restricted. Few were granted access, limited only to those who cared for the woman. Guards at the entry gate checked the identification badge that Miriam was given when she arrived at the airport. The stone faced man nodded approval, and the blacked out SUV rolled down a long narrow dirt path which led to a tiny one room hunting cabin. A sweaty legal representative greeted her and briefed her on the time restrictions and recording limitations that she must obey. After signing a contract, agreeing to the one hour perimeter and no electronic devices whatsoever, Miriam was patted down and taken into the shed-like building.

The woman was petite and frail in the hospital bed, with beeps and monitors crowning her in a halo of apparatus. A solitary chair had been provided for Miriam, with a small side table to put her writing materials on. The stout legal man introduced Miriam, gently waking the woman, who then raised the head of her bed to greet her guest. The old woman smiled at her with those clear blue-eyes. If it were not for them, Miriam would not have recognized the woman based on her earlier photographs.

A stiff, polished, middle-aged nurse positioned a translator box around the old woman’s shoulders. The mechanism resembled a harmonica player’s gear. It identified phonetic patterns as the woman spoke, deciphering the warped accents from her years of isolation. Next it computed through thousands of known languages, and seamlessly converted the broken Germanic tongue into modern day English. The box matches the pitch and tone of a person’s voice, mimicking the sound, to produce a natural vocal and speech replica. The more the woman had used it, the faster it learned to decipher her pronunciations. This device enabled Miriam to communicate easily with the old woman.

“Hello Miriam, I’m pleased to meet you.” The woman said once her translator was switched on.

Her husky voice caused Miriam to smile a warm smile back. “I am very pleased to meet you too. What name shall I use for you?” she teasingly asked.

“I used to have a name, but I forgot it long ago. You can call me Anna, if you like? I enjoy the sound of that name very much.” The woman answered.

“Very well, Anna it is then.” Miriam smiled again and gently clasped the woman’s hand to softly complete the introduction. The team of caretakers left with shuffling noises on the wooden floor boards, closing the door behind them.

“Let’s get started, shall we?” Miriam grinned with a child-like gleam.

The reporter emptied her satchel and put her writing materials on the table, and then took her seat beside the bed. She carefully opened her tablet and lay her pen down on it, before looking Anna in the eyes again.

“I want to begin by thanking you personally for allowing me the opportunity to tell your story. I must say again that I am so delighted to have the opportunity to meet you in person.”

Anna laughed faintly. “I am nobody important, dear. But don’t tell them,” she motioned towards the door. “They think I am something special.” She let out a shallow giggle. Miriam couldn’t help but feel endearment for this sweet old lady.

“Your secret is safe with me.” Miriam winked. She picked up and rolled the pen between her fingers.

“I’m going to ask you a few questions, and you tell me what you can remember, how does that sound?”

“That sounds perfectly logical to me.” Anna replied through her translator box.

“Okay, let’s start with the big one. It has been reported that you were born in the year 1012, which would make you one thousand and six years old at minimum today. Everyone’s first question is- how could this be? Can you help us understand what enabled such a fascinating longevity?” Miriam studied the woman’s micro-expressions, something she picked up in her short time as a journalist.

“I can’t remember the exact date I was born. My father was an avid record keeper.” She recalled.

“1012 was a year many died, and few were born. He made a mark for each death and each birth. When I was a child, he taught me how to read the markings on the staff. He showed me ‘in this year I was born, and I was the only surviving birth that year’. Illness struck the camp that winter; most of our people did not survive. The few who did scattered into the wilderness come spring. ” Her long thin fingers waved in a shooing motion.

“You are talking about the Rune stick you were discovered with, which is a calendar of sorts? You continued to record events, which historians have been able to accurately trace, helping to confirm your tale.” Miriam flipped through her notes.

“The records begin in 992 A.D., twenty years before your birth, so these would have been your fathers’ markings, tell me about him.” The young reporter coaxed.

“My father was broken-hearted at the loss of my mother and sister that winter of death, the year I came into the world.” She confided to the young woman.

“He began record keeping as a young man, full of adventure. He sailed across great water on a long ship, with a handful of explorers seeking infamy and treasure. They came to the new world and began to settle the lands. Rivalries and allegiances were formed with the aboriginal tribes. Trade began and the future seemed secured, until the sickness came. Our camp and many neighboring Native settlements were virtually wiped out. Tribe’s turned against the cursed white-men.”

Her words were breathy and labored, still she continued.

“My father lost my mother, then my sister to the disease. He left the camp after a raid had burned it down. He was in good standing with a Micmac Settlement, where he found a wet nurse to care for me. After four years he returned to the Tribe, as a wild man of the forest, to reclaim me.”

“Micmac Territory,” Miriam sifted through her brain catalog. “Isn’t that the Quebec area? That’s on the opposite side of the continent. How did you get all of the way to the Olympic National Park area?”

“I walked.” Anna stated simply. Miriam half laughed.

“Why did you migrate westwards, did you have a specific destination?” She asked the sweet old woman.

“My father had chosen that direction, so I continued to travel the same star path we had always followed. I sometimes stayed in an area for long periods of time, but when it was not a safe place to be, I would head west. As I knew east was no longer suitable since I had already been there.”

“Tell me more about your father.” Miriam prodded.

“He was a fine woodsman, a skilled hunter and tracker, but knew little about being a mother. He taught me about plants, animals, and seasons. We foraged together and departed deeper into the forest each day. He went into the ground as a man in his sixties, defeated from a toe infection that refused to heal.”

“Do you remember his name?” Miriam looked at Anna as she asked, and then back at the tablet to write as Anna spoke.

“His name was Papa.”

Miriam smiled and then she squinted her eyes in a concentrated manner. “Why do you believe you have lived for over a thousand years, without any medicine or contact with the outside world?” She was briefly distracted by the limited time allotment, and glanced up at the plain white clock on the wall.

“I have always had access to medicine, perhaps it is not the type you would recognize. It has become clear to me that modern man is unknowingly diminishing his own life.” Anna commented.

“What makes you say that?” Miriam asked.

“Everything here is toxic to the human body. Filtered air, filtered water, artificial light, everything must be sterilized and chemically treated. Here you eat for the sake of eating, with preset times to determine when one should eat a meal. In the natural world, this behavior does not exist. Humans have cut off communication with their own bodies. When they feel discomfort, the answer is to chemically silence it, instead of interpreting the bodily requirements and satisfying them.”

“For example, say I am walking along and my body tells me that I am deficient in magnesium, I will know by the way I feel. I will know what source is high in magnesium by the way the material smells, or tastes. I bite a leaf and listen to my body. It will tell me, yes this is the nutritional source I crave, or no, this is not the correct nutrient, please continue to look for another. Streams are another important way to get nutrients. I can tell by the taste and smell of the water if a particular bend has a dense saturation of minerals or photo nutrients, which I will crave if my body needs them.”

“How do you know what a magnesium deficiency would feel like, did your father teach you about these things too?” Miriam inquired.

“The name of the mineral is unimportant, this is a modern identification. I know that when my body feels a certain way, there is a perfect satisfying nutrient nearby. I use my nose and stomach to find it. A smell will come across my nostrils, and my stomach will rumble in agreement with the scent. Or a smell will come to me, and my stomach will become queasy, as if to say, this is not a good nutrient for my body at this time, or this is unsafe to consume.” Anna informed her.

“Do you also hunt and eat meat, as your father once did?” Miriam continued.

“Sometimes I may eat a birds egg, or a fish, but only if it is required.” She answered.

Miriam scribbled at her notepad. “What do you think of modern cuisine?”

“I don’t like it.” Anna admitted.

Miriam chuckled at the juvenile tone of her answer. “Not even these beautiful vegetables and fruits, over here?” She pointed her pen at a picturesque basket of fresh produce that had been provided by the nurses earlier that day.

Anna spit out her tongue and shook her head. ”At the hospital, they brought me small lumps of unrecognizable substances that steamed and burned my nostrils. After I refused to eat it, they brought me those monstrous oddities. When I smelled them, I was very confused. The nutritional components are depleted or missing.”

“Can you explain that in more detail? You believe these foods are not nutritious, in what ways does it differ, what is ‘missing’?”

“Did you know that mycelium is the Neural and Nervous System of the natural world? Modern man grows food in sterilized soil, and then pours chemical fertilizers and insecticides all over them. A plant without mycelium is a body without a brain, a zombie.” Anna informed.

“Then man chemically programs the zombie tomato, you must be ten times bigger than your root ancestor. You must be ten times redder, and we will artificially sweeten you to make you more gratifying to the taste. You must produce ten times more perfect looking fruit than your root ancestor. Yet no attention to what has happened to the poor tomato nutritionally? It is a big, beautiful, sugary, poisonous version of a tomato, and I can smell only synthetic compounds in its cells.” She shook her balding head.

“Nature provides only that which is necessary. A tender sprout has different nutritional properties than a fully fruited adult. Plants have specific nutritional functions from root, to stem, to leaf, to flower, to fruit, and even the seeds are all nutritional sources. Here, even the water is bleached and burns the throat, yet humans today do not even notice these things.”

Anna paused to catch her breath. She continued on.

“Modern man sterilizes his property from insects, but the natural world has much need for them, nutritionally and medicinally. Aphids are undesirable in these decontaminated crops, but all of nature knows they secrete a powerful serum that heals any muscle damage or heart strain. From the grass-hopper to the bear, all know that heart strain can be remedied with aphid secretion. That is why they are welcomed to exist in the forest. Entire sections are devoted for their use.”

“The forest mycelium knows that the seeds of consumed vegetation will travel far, and that the plant will live on genetically. So the sacrifice is worth the necessity. Mycelium makes all of the decisions. Who goes where and who gets what, like a cellular Maestro directing the symphony of living organisms. Living within nature the human body becomes hyper sensitive to sounds, smells, colors, taste, even the position of the sun and stars become inherent subconscious familiarity.” Anna finished.

Miriam was alarmed by the implication that our amenities are lethal to us.

“Is our absence of knowledge of the natural world the reason you believe our life span is limited to, say 100 years? And why do you believe that your body has begun to age rapidly ever since leaving the forest?”

“I believe that through incremental exposure human bodies have acclimated to this environment over decades and centuries, mine has had no affiliation until now. The filtered air smells like…plastic, the nourishment and water are like venom to my body. Yet they must have some nutritional value to modern man, who has transformed alongside of these resources. The low humming of the lights and machines gives me frequent headaches and mood swings. The most difficult part of this past year has been feeling my body succumb, and not being able to do anything to help myself.” She responded thoughtfully.

“Why haven’t you left this place?” Miriam asked. “Why not go back into the woods and heal your body?”

“I would have never left, if I had my choice. Instead I was given this designated area here in the forest. They assumed it would slow my aging, but they do not permit me to go beyond the fence line. I am caged, and a caged being is a broken creature.”

Fighting the urge to scoop up the frail old woman and run off with her into the forest, Miriam looked at the wall clock, enough time for one more question. “Before I leave, I would like to ask you about the mud mixture used to cover your skin. The body paint was a combination of minerals, organic matter, and menstrual blood? Forgive me, but as a woman I have to ask, does a thousand year old woman…still menstruate?”

“Before capture, my body was strong and youthful. In the wilderness I experienced two ovulation cycles each year, spring and autumn. Today women’s bodies are very differently evolved. My blood is an important resource that was sacredly utilized. It identifies me to the hairy men of the forest, bears or other predators, and establishes my territory. It is my marker, my fragrance. It is part of my camouflage, my indicator to alert others of my presence, and it is vastly nutritious for my skin. ”

Miriam’s brain stuck on something Anna said.

“I’m sorry but, the ‘hairy men of the forest’? “

“They have huge, hairy, heavy physiques. They detect my seasonal time and make their presence known. They keep their distance though, and don’t ever try to mate with me.”

“You can’t …don’t mean…a Bigfoot?” Miriam was astonished at the implication.

With a confused look Anna replied. “No, no, I don’t believe so. They have appropriately sized feet, and when my season ends, they bugger off back into the woods.”

The old woman looked exhausted, and Miriam was about to get escorted out due to the time constraint.

“Have you ever had a child?” She asked next.

“No, I never mated. My father had imparted on me to remain undetectable to men. Territories are fiercely protected and I could not communicate with the many differing Tribes. I knew women were often property, so I obeyed and never made contact. Until the day I was cornered where the forest had been cut down, where the trees get smaller and smaller.” She trailed off.

“Do you believe that humans could learn from your story, and expand life for themselves? Is the longevity you have experienced something we could all achieve?” Miriam snuck in the quick questions, though she could hear footsteps approaching.

“People are so fond of asking and answering questions. Perhaps the question you ask is not correctly formed. The real question is, if the soul is eternal, why then is the body so temporary? Possibly the answer is that the body is not so temporary, and you just haven’t been using it correctly, my dear.”

Miriam glared at the wall clock, as if willing it to reverse. “Let me take you out of here.” She whispered to the woman, not believing the words as she spoke them. “Let me take you back into the forest where you can heal and be youthful again.”

“Far too late for that to work, sweet child,” she took Miriam’s hand into her cold boney clasp. “I can feel my bones turning into powder. There is nothing out there that can remedy this deterioration. But I am pleased that you came to visit me, Miriam. I like the way it sounds to say your name.” The smiling old woman patted her hand, and the lawyer knocked at the door before opening it.

Miriam wiped the tears from her eyes, straightened her skirt, collected her belongings, and kissed Anna on the cheek.

“It’s been such a pleasure to meet you, Anna of the woods. Thank you for gracing my life with your presence.” She sniffed.

Anna nodded her goodbye and Miriam followed the authoritative cues to exit. As she walked to the doorway of the cabin, she heard behind her the alarms from the halo of monitoring machines, signaling the tragic end of the longest human life ever recorded.

The Flea

adorable-animal-animal-world-209037.jpg

“Oh my, oh yes…this will do nicely!” The flea gleamed as he inspected his new form. A hooked claw slowly traced down the hard sclerites that covered his body like a suit of armor, finishing with a knock-knock on the lowest plate. Next, he cautiously caressed the long length of his freshly formed proboscis with both front claws.

“Oh yes, very nicely.” The flea whispered, quite pleased with himself. Having just emerged from the casing of his larval stage, he now displayed the full form of a brand new adult flea.

Previously, the flea had gorged on the organic matter that clumped up in deposits on his hosts’ supple hide. But now with his proboscis, he was going to get to taste true, warm, blood for the very first time. Indeed a milestone achievement for a young flea such as himself, he reasoned. Emergence as an ambulatory adult is cause to celebrate, and he was not going to rush to satisfaction for his one and only ‘first’ drop of blood.

He pointed his nostrils upward to get a big whiff of the landscape. As he did so, he felt the power winding-up in his jumping legs. Whoa now, best to remain close to the ground at first. Slowly he unwound the pressure in his hind legs and directed his gaze back toward the pink flesh below. One foot and then another, he weaved easily through the thick fur.  The membrane thinned as he came to an ideal feasting place.

The armpit of the squirrel, where veins throbbed as the heart pumped blood close to the surface. The aroma was irresistibly decadent. It was also a very warm and cozy spot. Saliva dribbled down his needled appendage in anticipation. Instinctively he teased his hooks into the squirrels’ fur. Once satisfied that he was tightly anchored, the flea pulled in a strong inhalation, followed by effortlessly plunging his proboscis deep into the dermal layers. He sipped the thick heavy syrup into his belly, and his eyes crossed in sheer ecstasy.

Now, had he been a wiser flea, he would have known the dangers of over indulging in one spot for too long. He would have been aware of the eat-move, eat-move pattern that older fleas adopt in order to stick to their host. But he was not an older, more experienced flea. He was a young flea, with much to learn. Not only had he over consumed to the point that his fat round belly made it difficult for his tiny hooked arms to grab onto the fur, but he ate himself to sleep.

He was unconscious due to gross consumption, when like a scythe splitting wheat; the hind toenail of the squirrel dislodged his feeding apparatus, sending him sailing through the sky. From high up the oak tree he plummeted towards the earth, tightly grasping small clumps of loose fur. The falling seemed to be in slow motion at first. He saw the whole neighborhood, then the yard below him. Two boys hunched over something close to where he would eventually land. He saw grass and was relieved he would not be landing in water or on concrete, though he would survive a fall onto either likely.

Just then, he remembered his jumping legs, and promptly wound them up. Now with excitement, he aimed for a blade of grass. As he neared it he readied himself, and on impact he jumped straight up, as high as he could go. It was exhilarating. As he descended he prepared for another jump. This one sent him torpedoing straight towards the two children. The flea saw what he was about to confront and he twisted his body, desperately trying to change trajectory. The boys had a large handheld magnifying glass and were using it as a weapon to execute some ants.

His claws grasped out at passing blades of grass as he neared the laser beam of death. Finally his momentum halted and he clung to the stem of whatever had stopped him. Mere millimeters from absolute doom, the death ray began to move around above him. The flea jumped this way and that to avoid direct contact with the concentrated sunlight. As he dived from blade to blade of grass, the flea saw something truly terrifying. Smoke began to raise from the dry grass, and following right behind in short order, leaped a single flame.

The grass quickly went ablaze and the flea could find nowhere to jump to. Smoke polluted his vision, and the curled hairs that covered his sclerites were singed and smoking. His hooks and jumping legs were being scalded as he frantically tried to find his way out of the inferno. Without warning, the giant human offspring began to stomp at the fire. The flea was stamped into the ground and nearly crushed to death.

Shaken but still alive, he jumped blindly into smoke as the children easily extinguished the ring of flame. In one leap he found himself landing into the soft fibers of a human sock. He scurried into a fold and hid. He hid for hours. He stayed frozen in the same spot while the child ate his dinner. Innocently swinging his legs back and forth as he ate, the swaying made the flea nauseous. Later the child piled his clothing on his bedroom floor. The sound of the boy bathing in another room and the stillness of the fabrics coaxed the flea from his hiding place.

His eyes burned and vision blurred. His hooks were severely melted and damaged. All of the jumping had depleted his blood filled belly, and the flea was now feeling the pains hunger taking hold of his awareness. His stomach growled and gurgled. How would he find a squirrel inside of a human dwelling? After all he had survived, would he simply perish from starvation? He needed to locate a food source, and quickly.

The flea rubbed his eyes with grotesquely deformed claws. He wound his sore tired jumping legs and weakly bounced into the air. While airborne the flea spotted something on the child’s bed. He jumped again, with more vigor, to confirm his suspicion. A great orange cat lay at the foot of the bed, its tail hanging just over the edge. The cat is not too far away. Perhaps the flea will even find a new community once he gets there, he thought to himself.

He began to make his way towards the cat, yet the chemicals leaching out of the carpet fibers were confusing and disorienting him. Unlike grass or fur, the carpet smelled of impurities and was difficult to navigate. The synthetic fibers stuck to his melted hairs and hooks, ensnaring him with each step. Half jumping and half clawing his way, the flea inched towards the bed covers that draped to the carpet. With so much effort, the flea grew hungrier and hungrier.

At last he reached the edge of the bed. He looked up and saw the flicking curl of the orange-striped tail. Almost there. His hunger began to burn inside of him. The promise of blood only intensified the pain. Soon he can feed and rest, and put this terrible nightmare behind him. With all of the energy he could muster, the flea jumped up and grabbed ahold of the blanket. His arms shook and trembled as he pulled himself up the vertical climb.

His muscles and tendons burned and ached, he almost fell as one hook gave up its fight and snapped off. The flea closed his eyes and focused on dragging one claw in front of the other, one step at a time. As long as he did not stop climbing, he had a chance to live. The smell of fur and flesh opened his eyes again, and the tail was finally within reach.

He hooked the tail hairs and climbed toward the soft pink terrain hidden below the dense tangerine pelt. He was so hungry he nearly poked his proboscis immediately, but the skin at the tip of the tail was calloused, and the capillaries much deeper than on softer parts of the body. So the flea continued his journey, with much more ease now that silky hairs enveloped him.

There was something which was increasingly starting to alarm the flea. The flesh on this cat was immaculate. No thin crust of dirt from living outdoors, and even more disquieting, not one speck of flea waste. In fact, there was no evidence any flea had ever seen the soft sweet surface of this pampered house cat. Such a predicament would put procreation completely out of the question. No matter, thought the flea, I will eat, rest, and heal before I become concerned with the labors of egg lying.

The flea had traveled to the belly of the cat, and the soft membrane rolled out before him like a pink meadow covered in downy orange fuzz. He teased his deformed hooks into the belly hairs and planted himself firmly. He probed his pointy proboscis into the warm inviting canvas, and took a long deep suckle. It was not delicious. In fact it burned. His proboscis promptly ejected as the poisonous coating caused him to vomit relentlessly. His brain raced and he could not focus. He went blind and began to stagger about. His legs twisted and curled toward his stomach. Finally his heart and lungs seized, and the flea lay there a crumpled corpse.