Posts Tagged 'fantasy'


“It is warm in there, warm as a badger hole,” said Elizabeth, who was 10 and therefore considered very practical and mature.

“How do you know how warm a badger hole is?” Michael interrupted, even more practical at 12 and dull as dirt, at least to Elizabeth.

“She just knows, so you shut up,” said Isabella, who was almost as old as Michael, and competitive, as cousins sometimes are.

“But – but- but “ said Jeremiah ,stretching his words for dramatic effect, “It wasn’t just the horse who went crazy that day.” He bulged his eyeballs and rolled them at the smaller children, who laughed or whimpered, depending on how much younger, and how susceptible.

“It wasn’t just the horse who went crazy that day,” Jeremiah repeated, stretching his teeth into a tight grimace and bugging out his eyes. The children stared, and laughed, uneasily, or tucked their noses into their cousins’ warm wooly armpits, eyes peaking out beyond the fear.

“It was also the sparrows, and the finches, and the robins,” he listed solemnly. Each bird, as named, made a silent space in the room for each child, as they thought back about sounds they’d never heard, not this spring, more silent than any spring before. More silent than any spring since, although they’d no way of knowing that at this moment in time.

Michael, Jeremiah and Elizabeth would meet many years after this initial encounter at a conference on entomology, mythology, and oly-ology held in San Francisco in a building that looked like a crochet hook, reaching up to the sky and then dropping down a handful of conference rooms on the tag end of the hook, conference rooms that swung slightly for 48 or 72 hours, engendering both a slight queasiness and a sense of comfort. Deeply felt conferences were cradled in that hook – Elizabeth looked back on these as a kind of magic, although not necessarily a magic she would be comfortable wearing every day.


I come from the island country of Concatenation. The commonwealth of Concatenation was named by the state poets and accountants who were held responsible for balancing the books, booking the best artists, poets and musicians; and the doctors, who raised the technology of health care to a single point of light. Every citizen of Concatenation was entitled to unlimited hair removal, dermabrasion and cold laser therapy. They were uniformly smooth, soft and silky to the touch, but unfortunately utterly unable to tolerate touch of any kind, and so the pedestal was actually invented in the commonwealth of Concatenation, a little known fact that has nonetheless shaped the past and future of the Catenates who first migrated to the island in 1846 from a small atoll on a deep current that passes Concatenation during times of climate change.

There was a heavy wind that day, I remember distinctly, with a sunset that was mango colored and shot with clouds. There was a ringing in my head, and a sense of warning, as of shipwreck, the shipwreck that is in the bones of all natives of Concatenation, the one that brought us here, and threw us away, stranded, on foreign soil.

Standing on the prow of a sailing ship is a young boy, or a young girl, no one ever knows in these stories, but whoever or whatever he is, he stands tall and looks far as the ship tosses. Only the very young can be tossed like this without severing an artery or rupturing a disc, and so we know that the young boy or girl is rubbery and ripe for the hard action of adventure. The slim bare feet are dirty, the kerchief ties the tangled brown hair back and away from the face, which is both brown and mischievous. This child, regardless of age, stature or gender, has been traveling like Pan on the seven seas, and here has come to the island of Concatenation, where the adventure changes suddenly from swashbuckling and overt to spicy, mysterious, and internal. I saw the child there, hanging onto the ropes, nearly falling into the wash, and I saw my future. Pulling against my mother’s skirts, I tugged away, away from her brush and her braiding, away from the skin, hair and nail care that made up my predicted path, and ran into the foaming waters at the edge of the sea on the island of concatenation, where I heard the sea birds ringing in the changing of the season, tintinabulating, sang the birds. And so what, you may ask? That was the first day of my life as a pirate, is what I say back to you, the me who is little and wild and still hairy as might be. Saved.

Moonlight and nightingale


The moon is hanging in indecision. A nightingale sat on a low-hanging branch. He sang a love song to a rose in the moonlight. The rose turned her face away from him, up toward the eavesdropping moon.

I do not shine brightly enough, said the nightingale and hid his head in shame. A beam of moon reached down through the night sky and touched the nightingale lightly on his shoulders, stroking the strong wings, soothing the dark feathers. The nightingale lifted his head and looked at the moon. She was smiling at him, a simple half smile that suggested something not quite specific. He flew, with a light heart, from the lower branch to one at the top of the tree and sat there swaying on the highest, thinnest branch. A light breeze came to dance with him, and the moon wrapped her white light around him. This was the happiest nightingale had ever been and he opened his mouth to tell the moon about adoration and love and soul and so on. He opened his mouth and out came a song so brilliant, so trippingly and thrillingly embellished that he almost fell off the branch. Sitting there in the moon circle he was fully visible to every bird for miles around, his voice carrying from tree to tree, from tree to meadow to forest to river. Every bird began to sing back, to the glory of the moon, to the calling of the nightingale and he sang with a thousand song birds, a few hundred crows, and one or two sparrows who couldn’t sleep well for one reason or another. Their song shook the leaves, who began to dance, and the water, which began to jiggle and percolate in the wide shallow river. Someone turned the volume up high and they all danced together until the early hours of tomorrow, until the dance and the day was done.

Summer vacation

wooden crate

I lived for a time in a solid wooden box. Not cardboard, you can’t live in cardboard for long; first rain takes you out, puts you back in shelter.

I believe in shelter. I believe in shelter like I never believed in some other things. Once, when I was little, I lived in a doll house behind a big old palace, or mansion I guess it might have been. In Texas. The folks who lived in that mansion were almost never there; they lived in Connecticut most of the time is what I heard from Elba, who washed their clothes and put food out for the stray cats in the neighborhood (pretty good food, it was, and with cloth napkins, sometimes). I slept in that doll house, belonged to these folks little girls, only like I said they were never there anyway and I guess the people who kept the place up while they were gone didn’t much mind me for a certain length of time. I stayed there one entire summer. It was small for a real house, but real big for a doll house. There was a kitchen that actually worked, only it was short, like for kids about 7 years old or so, with a sink and a little fridge. No stove, but I did find cigarettes and matches in the little bitty roll-top desk in the living room. There was a velvet sofa in there, too, almost big enough for me at the beginning of the summer but I had a growing spell and had to switch to the little bedroom with the two twin beds. I had one big summer of pretend. I pretended I was Goldilocks. I pretended I lived in the Magic Kingdom. I pretended I was a fireman. I pretended I was flying through space in a rocket ship. I found a telescope one evening in the gardens near the house and looked through it on a clear night and I saw shooting stars and I imagined myself up there in the constellations riding a horse with magnificent wings. This was maybe my best summer ever in my entire growing up years. There was a little bitty library in that small house, too, and since I like to read I found myself curled up on that velvet sofa or stretched out on those twin beds with the chenille bedspreads reading all night.

In the daytime, when there were people around, I headed on into town and went to the full size library, where they didn’t have snacks lying around or anything like a little privacy, but they did have air conditioning, which was new in Texas at that time and most welcome by just about everyone. Back then all the older ladies still carried their fans with them everyway, and every one of them smelled like lavendar sachet and talcum. Old ladies always made me sneeze, and I can barely think of them even now without the end of my nose twitching reflexively. In those days, librarians were strict about silence, and about not folding the pages of the book back. I knew how to follow the rules, even back then, and how to break them without getting too lost from my own sense of what was right and what was wrong.

At the end of the summer, I came home to the doll house one evening and found that it had been visited. There were piles of toys stacked against the wall in the little living room, most of them with their price tags still on. There was this one toy donkey, about 3 foot high, almost big enough to ride on, and if you pulled his tail and let go, he made a big hee-haw sound and his ears wiggled. That was one expensive donkey. I looked around – didn’t seem like anyone had noticed my stuff, it wasn’t touched at all. So I gathered it up and put it back in the pillow case I’d been carrying it in before I stopped here, and I left. I found a bag out by the back porch where the cats eat, with peanut butter sandwiches, some fritos, and a few apples, and I took those with me. Cats don’t really like peanut butter, anyway, I said to myself.

stuffed donkey

Exquisite corpse found in Corrales living room

leaf in water

We stayed up all night because of the fire and the hot ashes and the fear. As the sun was rising, I said to Carl, “Don’t worry now, now that we’ve got some daylight, I’m sure we’ll find them.” Carl is my neighbor, a decent fellow overall, although we don’t agree about a thing. He leaned back in his chair and yawned.

“Probably right,” he said, and gathered up his gear, put his coffee cup in the sink, and left without much more to be said. The ashes that cover a dry, brushy area during a fire hang thick in the air, straining the lungs and sitting heavy on the skin. For the next four days, we all roamed around, grey and wheezing, like asthmatic zombies. Then the rains came.

Puffing up mini clouds of dust, when those first droplets fell, some of us thought we might be dreaming. I did, anyway. If felt cool, wet and dry, heaven washing away the tarnished past.

I had an inkling, and I saw it in their eyes, too, that we might actually have some change in direction, that the powers that be might possibly have it in them to look kindly on us just for a moment, to give us a break.

The rain, at least at the beginning, gave me hope. It cascaded down the dry hillsides and filled the arroyos with the rushing cries of a herd of horses suddenly released from their pen in the clouds. The water frothed under the bridge, began to spread out beyond the edges of the wash, losing energy like a tired old lady at the end of her daily walk. The rain, too, began to tire, slowing in its descent, ambiguous about falling from the sky. Mischievous drops bounced on the driveway, splatting roundness turned flat. The imprint of envy left some drops small and unable to make an impression, impressionable driveways were begging for more, they truly envied the rain, fall, dance, strike, spill, evaporate, reincarnate full again, a cycle a driveway could only dream of from its flattened, squished and gray existence in front of the white two story bungalow.

As the rain fell, a child sat in the bay window and watched as it ran from the driveway into the street, gutters filling and running fast into some unkown adventure. She sat there for what seemed like forever, and must have fallen asleep. When she woke, she found she was no larger than a mouse, and that she was riding a wide green leaf in a rushing stream to who knows where. She reached into her pocket and drew out a small, unfamiliar book. “How to Get Along in Any Language at All, Wherever You May Be,” said the title page, and she opened it to see how she might begin.

“Chapter One,” she said aloud, and looked around her as she noticed that the rain had finally stopped and her leaf had come to dock in a quiet green yard.


This is an example of an exquisite corpse. It’s a collective freewrite project. Everyone in the group has paper. Write for a predetermined number of minutes (5 minutes per person in this example). At the end of that time, everyone hands the paper to the person on their left. Looking only at the last line, everyone continues to write, and then passes it on again after five minutes. Continue until the papers return to their original owners. Again, looking only at the last line handed to them, the original writer finishes the piece. Thus, each person has a beginning and an end, with all the middle pieces having been handed around. This one took 30 minutes to create.

Collectively written by Teresa, Rosemary, Jan and Mike (did I get that right, guys?)


Georgia and Tom on the Oregon Coast


“You get a line and I’ll get a pole, honey, honey. You get a line and I’ll get a pole, babe. You get a line, I’ll get a pole, we’ll go down to the fishing hole, honey oh babe oh mine.”

Tom couldn’t help singing. Tom hitched a ride with his happy thumb on his way to Anchorage Alaska, where he intended to build an igloo and marry himself an Inuit girl, skin seal and harvest amethyst in the frozen ice caves of Siberia. Tom was a born entrepreneur, but a southerner too, at heart, and it got too dang cold for him just about midway up the coast of Oregon and he never made it to Alaska. Stopped in Gorgeous, Oregon, in the deep wet forest that runs along the west coast. For a year or two he lived on blackberries and fish and his hair grew long and shaggy. He slept too hard to snore, and was too unreconstructed to think about farming, or storing, or hardship.

Oregon is a fine plentiful place for people who don’t mind a little rain, and Tom got comfortable, although not soft. One summer he gave forestry a try, strip cutting a corner of the Kalmiopsis near Biscuit, but he found he could not bear to cut the tree people. There is more bleeding in a tree than he’d ever felt in a salmon, though he could not explain that to himself or the woman who eventually convinced him to put his shoes back on and get out of the tree. He became a spokesman for trees, a miner of bees, he cultivated honey, and made a little money. Then he planted gobble sum and toad willow and buddha fingers and poultry rhymes. He opened a nursery on the edge of a small state road where people who were not in quite such a hurry might stop and talk and buy a cold drink, a Yoohoo or a Sierra Mist. He sold plants and named them himself, as much the inventor of his own roadside stand as any other stepaway of that particular time and place.

The Oregon coast is green, wet, mossy, and cool. At one time (at the time of this story, in fact), there were not many signs or arrows pointing to particular destinations, and it was not unusual for strangers to lose their way. They might find themselves slipping from a long low road into an awning of dripping willows, lining the drive where Tom lived with his trees and the woman he eventually married. Her name was Berry, who stings the fingers and stains the mouth, but she was sweet on Tom and he on her, and this worked, out there in the small stone house where they lived together, with their bees, their honeysuckle, their ginger snap trail blossoms and their two-fingered lobulus marionettes. The garden was fresh and they grew herbs, and kept a few chickens, and wrote some books about living in Alaska and building igloos out of ice and amethyst, and swimming with polar bears in the melting snow waters of high summer in the far north.

Georgia liked to make honey syrup from the berries as they ripened. She made a blackberry syrup, raspberry, blueberry, mulberry and rye berry. Each one had a distinctive flavor and a color that was either natural to the berry or boiled in a colored honey blend to brighten them up. Tom smelled each syrup as it mixed, and measured and tested each flavor with nose and tongue and fingertip, looking for the combination that lifted the spirits and let them fly away out into the cool wet air, where smoke from wood fireplaces hung and ruffled in the cool breeze as the sun went down. The fireplace smell was ashes and fruit, and Georgia and Tom’s three big labs liked to lay there, slightly damp but warm throughout, to let the heat seep into their ribs when the nights were long. Georgia gave birth one time, then two, and Tom hung fishing nets along the fence on the deck where they sat while Georgia recovered. Georgia began to identify each of her two births from one another by markings, by sound, by temperament. She did this surreptitiously, quietly, on little padded cotton feet that did not track much into the house. Eventually, she considered naming the children, but by then they were up and ready to name themselves.


Butterfly hunter

In a small fishing village on the coast of Baja California, there lived a young man. The young man’s name was Gordon, and he was a musician. He played the piccolo, the piano and the flute. He also played the harmonium, pipe organ, and the xylophone. He was incomparable on the guitar, the violin, and the cello. In fact, every instrument he touched he played as if he’d known it all his life.


Gordon was a talented young man. Coincidentally, he was also the most beautiful person who ever lived, with curly chestnut hair, eyes of sea green and skin the color of honey. Although he was a brilliant musician, when he played, the young women of his village hardly heard him at all. They were too busy staring at his honey-gold skin and dreaming of wrapping his chestnut hair around their fingers.


Gordon never noticed them at all, so intent was he on making and playing music. Gordon wanted to write a symphony composed of every instrument ever played since the beginning of all time. He collected exotic instruments – the didgeridoo, the kazoo, the shakade, the lute – and learned each one of them just as quick as that.


One day in the marketplace, an old woman in a faded blue caftan with a shawl on her head told him of an instrument that he did not yet have.


“It makes a sound,” she said, “somewhere between a whistle and a hum. With it you can render the sound of bees buzzing, and horses’ hooves, a baby crying, a pounding surf, the laughter of children, and then again the bees buzzing.”


“What is the name of this instrument?” asked Gordon, in quite a tizzy.

“I can’t tell you that,” said the old woman, and she winked at him a little wickedly or maybe a little crazily, it was hard to tell which.


“I will only tell you where you may find it. The rest is up to you.”  She leaned over and whispered into his ear. “It is in Yakutz.”


Then she kissed him on his beautiful smooth lips, said “If only I was young . . .” and disappeared down an alley before he could say, “But where is Yakutz?”


Gordon decided then and there to go to Yakutz for this miraculous instrument that could the render the sound of bees buzzing, and horses’ hooves, a baby crying, a pounding surf, the laughter of children, and again the bees buzzing. He packed his bag (a striped Guatemalan bag that was deep and sturdy) and strapped it to his back.  As he left the town just at sunset, a wailing could be heard in the streets behind him as the women of the village realized that their handsome young man had left them without even as much as a glance from his gorgeous green eyes.


Young Gordon went to India and Peru and Paris and Beijing. He went to the Bahamas, Australia, the Yukon and the Sandwich Islands. Everywhere he went he asked “Where is Yakutz?” (which he could not find on any map anywhere). 


But everywhere he went the people he met were so stunned by his beauty that they would say anything to get him to stay with them. In Italy they called him “bellisimo.” In Guadalajara he was called “el guapo.”  In San Francisco they called him “honey,” and they called him all the time.


He worked his way around the world in a jiggery pattern (Gordon had a horrible sense of direction). Everywhere he stopped, he made his living playing exquisite music on exotic instruments. No one ever listened, though, because although he was a brilliant musician, his beauty eclipsed everything else. And everywhere he went, he asked every stranger about an instrument that could make the sound of bees buzzing, and then horses’ hooves, a baby crying, a pounding surf, the laughter of children, and then again the bees buzzing.


Gradually, Gordon became aware that he had a problem (he was beautiful and talented, but he was not quick). People were lying to him left and right, promising to take him to Yakutz (which more than once turned out to be a time share on one tropical beach or another) and then trying to seduce him instead. He became discouraged, and took himself to a small dude ranch in northern Utah, where he arranged to play the fiddle and teach clog dancing to pay for his room and board.


One evening he sat on a fencepost in an empty corral and played his fiddle with a sad heart. The corral was on a broad mesa with a view that went all the way to Wyoming (he assumed), and the moon was high and full. He heard coyotes howling not far away, and he thought they were crying with him. He wondered if the instrument he was seeking could make a sound like howling coyotes or belching frogs. He played even more sadly as he though of Yakutz.


Walking back along the moonlit trail to the dude ranch, young Gordon came upon an old woman walking slowly with a cane. She wore a babushka, and as he drew closer, Gordon saw that she was blind.


“You play the fiddle more brilliantly than anyone I’ve ever known,” said the old woman. “Except perhaps one, an old man I knew as a child who could play any musical instrument as if he’d done it all his life.”


Gordon thanked her, and they walked together in silence for a moment.


“You are a young man,” the old woman said at last. “What can possibly make you play so sadly?”


Gordon told her of his search for the one musical instrument he had yet to find, the one that could render the sound of bees buzzing, and horses’ hooves, a baby crying, a pounding surf, the laughter of children, and again the bees buzzing. He told her of his travels around the world, and of how sad he was that no one who saw his face would listen to him play or help him in his search.


The old woman listened without interrupting and then asked “Where did the old woman say you could find this wonderful instrument?”


Gordon told her, and the old woman said, in great excitement, “Why, I am from Yakutz! Let me take you there. What a fine time we will have!”


Gordon hesitated for a minute, thinking of past offers and hoping that the old woman’s Yakutz would not be another Club Med experience. Looking at her, though, he saw again that she was blind, and so they went to Yakutz together.


Yakutz is in Siberia, you know, and it is cold cold cold. The Yakuvitz keep warm with potatoes and vodka, with red-cheeked women and with music and dance.


How they danced in Yakutz! How they drank! Gordon was spun from dancer to dancer and his glass was filled again and again until he was as blind as the old woman, who sat in the corner with a potato in one hand and a glass of vodka in the other.


Late that night, Gordon lay on the floor with the room spinning wildly in a vodka dance around him. As the room settled and the Yakuvitz sank to the floor, where they slept, Gordon heard a sound. First he heard the sound of bees buzzing, and then horses’ hooves, a baby crying, a pounding surf, the laughter of children, and then at last again the bees buzzing, more faintly this time, as if they were buzzing away.


“What is that I hear?” said Gordon and he tried to get up on his knees, but he fell down again (because he was terribly drunk, to tell the truth).


“It is a Jew’s harp,” said a voice, and Gordon turned his head to see lying next to him a beautiful Russian girl, with red cheeks, flashing black eyes, big strong arms and the barest trace of a mustache on her upper lip. She smiled at him, and he stared back, entranced by the gap between her front teeth and the dimple on the left side of her face. She tried to sit up, but was just as drunk as he, and so they went to sleep, with their heads touching, on the floor underneath the table.


In the morning, the old woman introduced her granddaughter to Gordon, and was very pleased that they’d gotten to know each other on the floor underneath the table the night before. Her name was Valenka, and she hugged him with both her strong arms and gave him the Jew’s harp from a pocket under her apron.


Gordon put the Jew’s harp in his mouth and played. The cold morning air was filled with the sound of bees buzzing and horses’ hooves, and Gordon took the harp from his mouth and smiled bigger than he’d ever smiled before. Valenka smiled back, and Gordon realized that she was smiling at him and his Jew’s harp and his music, not at his most beautiful face, and he felt himself blush all the way to his toes.


That evening at sunset they were married. They played many an exotic instrument at the wedding feast and danced ’til the sun came up the next day. Afterwards they left Yakutz and traveled to Kyoto, where they’d heard a Zen master made a Jew’s harp of bamboo, and that with it one could make a sound like the beating of hummingbird wings. They didn’t know the name of the Zen master, but they were sure they could find him, if only they looked long enough.



©1995 Teresa Phillips. May not be used without permission.

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May 2020