Friday, March 2, 2018

The Pocket Man

The Pocket Man
Heidi Eisenmann-Jones

            “Miss Hazel! Tom and Marla saw the Pocket Man!  He went into the woods.  Will you help us find him?”
            It’s Heather, the youngest of the Ross brood, one of the children I’ve been reading to at the library every Saturday morning.
            “I don’t think so, Heather,” I say.  “You know the Pocket Man is only a make-believe character in a story.”
            He carries treasures in the pockets of his cape; dreams wrapped in gossamer silk, stolen from the snores of sleeping dragons, plucked from the blushing red cheeks of young maidens, lifted gently from the lips of lovers as they prepare to kiss...
            “No he’s not,” insists Heather.  Tom and Marla saw him.  He had a long black cape with treasures inside.  Come on!”  She grabs my hand and pulls.
            I’m on my way home after a trip to the bank’s ATM to deposit my paycheck from the Brownsville Public Library.  I’ve already had a brisk walk and am looking forward to a quiet Sunday afternoon with a pot of tea and a good book.  But I let Heather pull me along, captured

by the look of excitement in her eyes and the stain of color across her cheekbones whipped by the chilly November wind.  It’s a dark and gloomy afternoon, perfect for chasing fantasy characters through the woods.  What the heck, I think, all the exercise will make me sleep well tonight.
             It isn’t really a woods, just a long stretch of wild land owned by a city man who uses it to hunt.  There are small copses of Osage orange, wickedly thorny, thickets of blackberries, equally thorny, and sumacs, their leaves flame-red against the barren stalks of goldenrod and queen anne’s lace.
             We hurry after the sounds of Tom and Marlas’ voices up ahead, following the narrow footpath that winds over hills, around boulders and through lonely little dells where the wind lifts dead leaves and sends them swirling around our ankles.
            If you manage to steal up on him and touch the folds of his cape, he’s obliged to open it and let you choose one of his treasures...
            We skirt a large cedar tree, Heather’s coat brushing the branches and releasing its clean, sharp scent.  Up ahead Marla and Tom come into view, running toward a cluster of twisted little trees.
            “Wait!cries Heather, “Tom, wait!”
            Tom turns, waves impatiently, and Marla calls out, “Look!  There he is!  Quick, Tom!”
            I look in the direction she’s pointing and see a shadowy figure disappearing around a bend.  A swirl of black material trails behind him.
            Intrigued, a little alarmed, I hurry to catch up with the other children.  Again we glimpse our quarry up ahead, closer now.  He glances back over his shoulder, then rushes on.  He’s definitely wearing a cape and tight black pants with strange-looking shoes.  High tops, with buttons.  He has an odd, bow-legged stride.
            “What in the world,” I mutter, again feeling alarm.  But the children renew their efforts, sensing the chase is nearing its end.
            “Kids, I don’t think - ”
            I break off as the man leaps out from behind a boulder, growling, bent over with his hands outstretched.  The children shriek and fall back.  Heather runs behind me and peers around my skirt.
            The man’s blue eyes are opened wide, his dark hair is long and tangled, his cheeks ruddy.  He snarls and laughs maniacally, flexing his fingers as if to grab us.
            Marla, the oldest, sees through his playacting and rushes forward, tugging on his cape.
            “Oh ho,” he says, putting his hands on his hips, glaring down at her.  “So you want treasures, do you?”
            “Yes!  Yes!” they shout.
            “All right, then.  You’ve caught me fair and square.  Only one apiece now.”  He spreads his cape open to reveal dozens of pockets sewn into the lining, each one bulging with odd-shaped lumps.
            Tom goes first.  He reaches into a pocket and pulls out something crisp and blue that expands in his hands to become a long-tailed kite.  Marla gets a necklace of sparkling stones, and Heather, after some encouragement from her sister, shyly reaches into a pocket and pulls out a clown doll with a fancy silk costume.
            They all rush away, eager to show off their gifts, remembering to call out “thank you” as they race home.
            I eye the man curiously.  “Did the library hire you?”
            He looks back intently.  “Hazel, don’t you want a gift too?”
            I frown.  “How do you know my name?”
            But he only smiles, lifting the folds of his cape so the pockets are exposed once more.
            “Come on, Hazel,” he coaxes, “I’ve something for you, too.”
            I blush.  “I’m too old for this.”
            Decisions, decisions, all of them enticing, but remember as you choose, some dreams lead you forward, others hold you back...
            There’s a pocket high up under his arm that looks flatter than the others, as if it’s empty.  My eye is drawn to it again and again.  My hand reaches out and slides into its silky depths.  The Pocket Man stands very still.  I fancy I can feel his heart beating inside the pocket.  My fingers close over a small, hard shape and I pull out a skeleton key, old and rusty.
            “Well,” I say, foolishly disappointed, (what had I expected, gold dust?  Rubies and emeralds?)  “I suppose this is the key to a long forgotten magic kingdom in need of a princess, if only I can find it.”
            The man still stares at me and I grow uncomfortable.  What does he see?  A thin girl with pale hair, grey eyes and a pointed chin, nothing remarkable.  Suddenly he lets his cape fall and bows low.  “Good day to you, Hazel, and good luck.”  He turns and strides off, leaving me utterly mystified.

            Monday at the library I ask Sylvia, the head librarian, if she knows anything about the Pocket Man.
            “You’ve got to be kidding me,” she says, peering over her reading glasses.  “Hazel, you should report him.  He could be a pervert or something.”
            But I don’t, even though he was quite bizarre.
            At lunchtime I sit in the back room eating my sandwich with Maxine, my co-worker and best friend.
            “So, have you gone out with Larry yet?”  She raises an eyebrow and waggles her head, her short brown curls bobbing.
            “Larry who?”
            Maxine snorts.  “Hazel, the man’s been in here five times in the last four days, and it’s not to see me or Sylvia.  He’s a nice guy.  You should get to know him.  You’re too young to waste your life away in the library.”  She stirs sugar into her coffee.  “What are you, thirty-one?  Sheesh!”
            “Only a year older than you, and you’re not married”, I point out.
            “But I’m looking!  You’re not.”
            “Why do people always think you’re wasting your life if you don’t get married?  I like living alone.”
            “Bullshit!” says Maxine, a little too loudly.  A mother herding her children past the doorway glares in at her.
            “One day you’re going to wake up and be seventy years old and realize life has passed you by.”
            She bites into an apple and eyes me thoughtfully.  “Seriously, Hazel, don’t you want a family of your own?  A husband?  Children?”
I sigh.  “It’s not that.”
“Then what?  You’ve dated two really nice guys since I’ve known you and you dropped them both.  Now Larry’s dying to take you out and you’re ignoring him.”
“I just don’t feel the magic, Max.  There’s something missing.”  My turkey sandwich suddenly tastes flat.  How can I explain?  I don’t even understand it myself.
“You spend too much time reading about the past.”  Maxine looks pointedly at the book lying beside me on the table.  It’s a historical novel set in medieval England.
“Get with the 21st century.  There are no knights in shining armor anymore.  And you should change your hairstyle.  Let it loose!”
I poke at my pale, swept up hair, tucking in a few wisps.  “You may as well give up on me, Max.  I’m the quintessential spinster librarian.”
Maxine shakes her head in exasperation.  She crumples her lunch bag and tosses it in the trash.   “But you don’t have to be.  Take my advice: go out with Larry before he gives up and moves on.”
“Maybe,” I say, but I know I won’t.
Do you long for something unknown?  Longing is a mournful dove that forever flutters out of reach.  Her feathers are fashioned from lost hopes and forgotten dreams.  These the Pocket Man gathers as they fall, weaving them into new beginnings, and tucks them into his cape.  There they wait, shimmering faintly in the dark folds, till the right person comes along and sets them free again.
            All week the key lies in a small scalloped dish on my dresser, totally incongruous with the delicate porcelain.  I should throw it out.  Maxine is right.  I live in a dream world, waiting for the magic door to open.  I know there are no such doors, no fairy tale princes, but time and again when I reach out to pick up the key and toss it in the trash I can’t bring myself to do it.
            And then I start seeing keyholes everywhere I go.  I see them in knotty tree trunks, in public restrooms, in picture frames.  Tiny slits, large cracks, round or ragged or only vague outlines, they appear like magic in floor boards and ceilings and in the backs of chairs at the movie theater.  I find myself staring at people’s briefcases, grandfather clocks, car doors, post office boxes, dresser drawers, wind-up toys.  I dream about them.  Over and over I fit the key inside a keyhole, breathless with anticipation, and then wake up before the lock turns.  It’s driving me nuts.  I’ve got to get rid of the key.
            On Saturday morning during story hour the Ross children are full of talk about the Pocket Man.  But their parents have forbidden them to look for him again.
            “Will you find him, Miss Hazel?  Tell him to come to the library so we can all have more presents.”
            I smile and change the subject.  “Today we’re reading about a platypus named Alvin.  Does anyone know what a platypus is?”
             When I get home I go straight to my dresser and get the key, fastening it to a cord around my neck.  I’ll walk downtown and throw it in the dumpster behind the grocery store.  That way I won’t be able to retrieve it.  I feel relieved.  It will soon be over and I can get back to normal.
            The day is gloomy and overcast again.  I leave my little old weather-beaten house which sits on a hill above town and enter the back garden. I bought this place three years ago because it was the only house I could afford, and because of this secret little garden, surrounded by a high wooden fence covered in ivy.  In the center is a stone statue of a young girl holding a bowl.  The birds perch on her head and shoulders and drink out of the bowl, which I keep filled with water.
            I open the back gate and pause, eyeing the stone steps that lead down to Myrtle Street.  The vines have grown over and through the fence and have begun covering the steps.  I really must do something about them.  I lift a cluster of vines beside the gate and see a keyhole.  My heart starts to hammer.  Slowly and carefully I lift away more ivy and uncover a square cut into the fence, about waist high, fastened with old, rusty hinges.  It looks like it hasn’t been opened for ages.  Centuries, maybe.  I have to try the key.  If I don’t, I’ll forever wonder.  My hands tremble as I lift the string from around my neck and fit the key into the lock.  I take a deep breath.  It won’t open, of course.  I turn it, and there is an audible click.  The little door opens with a creak and a shower of rust as the old hinges labor.
            I look into a garden, but not mine.  Night is falling.   There’s a pathway leading to an arbor with vines growing over it, weeping willows on either side, and in the distance I see a house with lighted windows.  Under the arbor is a stone bench, and on it sits a woman with long red hair, wearing a filmy green dress, a short jacket with puffed sleeves and silk shoes.
            She’s crying, and her sadness seems deep and old and without hope.  I feel the pain of it stirring my heart.  Tears well up in my own eyes until the scene grows blurry and indistinct.
            A shadow appears in the picture.  I blink hard and the shadow becomes a man walking up the path, dressed in a white shirt, black trousers and a black coat.  He has a head of dark curls and a smile on his face.
            “Cara,” he calls, and the woman looks up.  Her face registers shock and disbelief, then wonder, then shining joy.
            “Oh, Charles!” she says, “Charles, it’s been so long!”  She reaches out her arms and he moves into them.
            I slam the door shut.  My breath is ragged and my emotions raw.  This is someone else’s dream, not mine.  I have to give it back.  My feet fly through the garden to the front of the house, across Pine Street to the wild stretch of land where the Pocket Man appeared.  He’s got to be here.  I have to find him.  For an hour or more I wander up and down the lonely path, looking behind rocks, hoping for a glimpse of the billowing black cape.  Finally I give up and start for home, and there he is, leaning against a tree, watching me with those intent blue eyes.  He still wears the cape, the black pants, the buttoned shoes.  His hair is still a mess, long and tangled, stuck with bits of dried leaves.
            I hold out the key.  “This was meant for someone else.  I can’t keep it.”
            He scrutinizes me, taking in my wispy hair falling out of its bun, my heavy old sweater with the baggy sleeves, my long wool skirt, my scuffed boots.  “Why have you never married, Hazel?” he asks, ignoring the key.
            I’m suddenly angry.  “Look, I don’t know who you are or how you know my name, or what gives you the right to ask me personal questions, but I’m tired of it.  Take the key back and I’ll be on my way.”
            “I can’t,” he says.  “Once a gift is given it can’t be taken back.  It’s yours, Hazel.  Do with it what you will.”
            “I don’t want it,” I say, my lips stiff from the wind and from a sudden coldness deep inside.  I throw the key down on the ground in front of him.  He picks it up slowly and comes close to me, slipping the cord over my head.
            “Why don’t you want it, Hazel?  What are you afraid of?” 
            I start to say “nothing”, but I know it’s not the truth.  I am afraid.
            The Pocket Man is an illusive fellow, always disappearing just around the bend.  But muster your courage and follow if you dare, for treasures await at the end of the chase!
            “Who are you?” I ask. 
            “My name is Jack.”  He bows and walks away, and for some reason the sight of his bow-legged stride makes me smile.

            But I don’t smile much in the next week.  I keep bursting into tears at the oddest times.  It’s as if a dam has let loose in me and I can’t shore it up.  Maxine catches me crying in the library.
        “What’s wrong?” she asks with concern.
            “I have no idea,” I blubber, swiping at the teardrops on the new mystery novel I’m unpacking.  I shove it onto the shelf and reach for another book but I have to stop to blow my nose.
            “Maybe you need to talk.  You could come over after work.”
             But talking isn’t what I need.  I have to go back to the window in the fence.  There’s unfinished business behind it, something I need to learn.  Finally, on Thursday, I screw up my courage and go out to the garden gate, lifting the strands of ivy.  The window is still there.  Slowly, carefully I turn the key in the lock and push the window open.   The same scene appears: the arbor, the trees, the bench, the woman sitting on it.  She looks like a flaming candle in the dusk, crying wearily while the willows sigh in sympathy.
            This time I’m watching for the man.  Charles.  I mouth the name as I watch him come up the path.  He sees the woman and smiles.  I can feel his joy.  His heart overflows with love for her.
            Oh, to be loved like that!  It’s unimaginable, almost too much to bear.
            I notice a little mole on his chin as he walks by.  My finger wants to reach out and touch it.  I know how it will feel.
            “Cara,” he calls out.
            She looks up, gasping.  Her face goes through its transformation.  “Oh, Charles!  Charles, it’s been so long!”
            They embrace, and I close the window.  I can’t bear it.  I slide down the fence and crouch on the cold ground. Deep sobs tear out of my chest.  I’m shattering into a thousand pieces, gripped by something I don’t understand and don’t want to face.  I stay there till it’s almost dark, then stumble inside, numb with cold, hardly able to breathe from crying.  I go to bed and stay there all night and all the next day, calling in sick at the library.  Finally, late in the day I get up, shower and eat a little.  I feel calm and empty.  When it’s dusk, I take the key and go back to the window in the ivy.  This time the bench is empty.  I grasp the edge of the window and vault over it, into the garden.  My long red hair tumbles over my shoulders.  My green dress rustles as I hurry to the bench and sit down.  As soon as I do, everything is clear.  I’m in a lifetime long past, sitting here as I’ve done every evening for three years, mourning the loss of my husband, Charles.  I wait, fighting back the tears, until I see a shadow appear on the path, emerging out of the mists of time.  The shadow becomes a figure, and I know it is my own dear husband, a fisherman, swept away long ago by a storm at sea.
            I had gone with him to the harbor that morning to see him off.  I clung to his jacket, begging him not to go, for I had a bad feeling.
            “Please, Charles, don’t go out today.  What if you don’t come back?  I couldn’t bear it.  I couldn’t live without you.”
            “Cara, don’t be afraid.  I’ll always come back to you.”  He kissed my face over and over.  “Even if the boat were to go down I would find you again.”
            “Promise me,” I said fiercely.  “Promise you’ll come back no matter what.  Say the words.”
            “I promise you,” he whispered against my hair.  “Our love is so strong it will last through all the ages to come.  We’ll always be together.”
Now I watch as the shadow figure approaches through the dusk.  All I have to do is call out and he will see me.  We’ll be together again, and live the life we were meant to, in the house behind the garden with the welcoming glow in its windows.  Love blossoms in my heart.  I open my mouth to call out, bursting with joy.  But the sound dies on my lips.  Something is wrong.  I can’t do it!  I am Hazel now, not Cara.  Yes, I could go back and pull him to me.  But at what cost?  The past and the future are not mine.  Only this moment.  The rest belongs to a Whole shaped not by sadness or joy or the tug of desire, but things far beyond our ken. 
With one last look at his beloved face I walk back to the window and climb through, softly pulling it shut.  The hinges creak one last time, then crumble and disappear.  The seam in the wood closes up.  The key falls out of my hand and becomes a shower of rust, trickling into the ivy.  The dream and the promise that bound Charles and me is gone, setting us both free.  I swallow the lump in my throat and wander aimlessly back through my garden, dropping bobby pins as I go and shaking my head loose from its bun.  Couldn’t I at least have kept the beautiful red hair? 
            I find myself on the path through the wild land across the road from my house.  It’s almost dark.  A shadow appears in front of me, emerging out of the trees.  The shadow becomes a figure in a long black cape, walking with a bow-legged gait.  The Pocket Man comes quite close before he sees me.  Finally his head jerks up and his blue eyes widen.  There is a tiny mole on his chin.  My fingers itch to touch it.  Love is blossoming in my heart.
            “Oh, Jack,” I sigh through the tightness in my throat, “It’s been so long, so long.”
            He smiles and opens his arms.  I move into the folds of his cape and the treasure-filled pockets close tightly around us both.       

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A Tale of Grey Dove

When I got new chicks this spring, I noticed an odd one that didn't look like any of the other 79 chicks.  I figured she must be an Easter Egger because of her blue legs, but she didn't have the tufted feathers on her cheeks like the other Easter Eggers.  When I first picked her up and held her, she didn't struggle and peep to be put down, nor did she settle into my hand and close her eyes like the others.  Instead, she turned her head and very calmly looked me right in the eye.  What was she thinking?  What did she see?  I saw a special little chick.  I named her Grey Dove because she was a pale grey color and her movements and body shape reminded me of a dove.  Later she developed a lovely gold overlay.

She is quite calm and friendly, and a great forager.  So great, in fact, that she has discovered how to get up into the cherry tree in the chicken yard and then fly over the fence.  She gets out in the morning and scratches her way all around the yard, (and we have a BIG yard), turning over the leaves to find delicious things. Then she enters the open back porch, settles herself in a sack of old straw and lays a big pale blue egg.  After a short rest, she hops down and resumes her foraging, eventually wandering back to the chicken yard gate, where she calls to me in a funny croaky voice until I come out and open the gate for her.  She usually gets out again in the late afternoon to make her rounds once more. The yolks from her eggs are bright golden due to her superior foraging skills.

What a super hen!  I'm so glad she came to me, as I have really enjoyed getting to know her.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Super Food - Microgreens

Starting in the back, left to right: pea shoots, chia, fenugreek, more chia, sunflower greens, amaranth and flax.

I have a passion for growing and eating the most nutritious foods possible.  Without going into a long spiel about compost and minerals and organic cultivation, I can easily share my new love of microgreens.  Buy appropriate seeds, plant in shallow trays of good, loose soil, keep moist and out of sunlight to start with, let them grow a bit and green up outside or in a sunny window, then cut and eat.  No weeding or cultivating required.  Microgreens are bigger than sprouts and contain nutrient levels up to 40 times higher than mature plants.  This is because all the enzymes, minerals, vitamins and anti-oxidants are concentrated in the tiny leaves.  Plus when you buy mature greens in the store, they've been sitting around losing more and more nutrients each day.

Microgreens are incredibly tasty.  Flavors run the whole gamut from hot and spicy to nutty to mild and buttery.  You can google microgreens and find oodles of articles about growing them, their nutritional profiles and how to use them.  Not all seeds are suitable but there are dozens and dozens that can be used this way including herbs like dill, basil and lemon balm.

Pea shoots taste just like crunchy, sweet peas!

Growing them is easiest if you have a greenhouse, but they can be easily grown outside on a table in warm weather and in a sunny window during winter.  Give them a try and treat yourself to some of the healthiest foods you can eat.

Amaranth is very mild tasting and practically melts in your mouth

Sunflower greens have a delicious, nutty taste and a wonderful crunch

Flax greens have an indescribable taste that my body craves


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Nature's Apothecary

The essential oils produced by plants are basically the plants' immune system, developed through interactions with the environment over long eons of time.  After all, plants can't run out to the drug store to purchase medicine for what ails them, so they produce their own!  Plant oils contain anti-fungals, anti-bacterials, anti-virals, decongestants, hormone regulators, anti-inflammatives, anti-spasmotics, even mood enhancers, developed to entice bees and butterflies to feed on sweet nectar and aid pollenation.

Every plant is a tiny apothecary, filled with hundreds of chemicals that aid its health, growth and survival.  When these oils are properly extracted and used, they can enhance human health as well, with virtually none of the side effects that pharmaceuticals create.  Furthermore, the complex nature of plant oils prevents microbes from developing tolerance to them like they often do with antibiotics.  Lavender oil alone contains over 1200 components!

Inhaling essential oils is a wonderful way to begin exploring their health promoting benefits.  Oil diffusers can be used in offices, sick rooms or anywhere in the home to greatly reduce airborne microbes.  A pocket inhaler is indispensable for travel, especially on airplanes or in crowded places with stale air.  Combinations of oils can effectively reduce microbes in the nose and throat and stimulate our own immune system to ward off infectious diseases.  And when we do succumb to colds or flus, inhalers, along with topical rubs, can help eliminate viruses, decongest nose, throat and lungs and soothe spasmotic coughs, so we recover quicker.

I am now offering inhalers in my Etsy shop, made with high quality organic, authentic essential oils, formulated for synergistic effects.  Stop by my shop and begin your exploration into the many benefits of these marvelous natural medicines.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Dispersing Agent" Part 5, the conclusion

Angela and I slept in the tent that night out in the yard.  Angela gabbed till midnight and then snored while I lay awake, thinking desperate thoughts.  When dawn came I crept out of the tent and went to the tunnel.

"Have you thought of anything?" I asked the Queen.

She held up a baby food jar with water in it.

"Dewdrops," she said proudly.  "We've been collecting all night."

"But is it strong enough to disperse the Watchers?"

"What do you think I am, a magician," she said, scowling.  "Take it or leave it."

I took it.  I could always add something to it.  If I could only think what.  Gus said you had to balance the poles.  The Watchers were heavy and cold and dark.  I got my quartz crystal and polished it up, then dropped it into the jar of dew and took it out to the pasture, putting it on the big granite rock where it could soak in the sun.

At breakfast I looked at my family, trying to memorize their faces.  I didn't know if I'd recognize them tomorrow or not.

I showed Angela how to do all the chores in case I wasn't around to do them myself.

"The possoms' cage needs to be cleaned every day, and they need fresh water.  They like to eat fruit and milk and eggs."

While Angela played with the possoms I sneaked  out to the tunner again.  I asked the Hedge Queen if she could somehow kidnap Angela for the day.

"It'll cost you," she said.  "We'd lose a whole day's work."

"I've got a bag of marbles," I said.

"Cat's eyes?"


"And more of the striped canes."


"Send her in."

I told Angela there was a surprise partway down the tunnel.  As soon as she crawled in, I ran to the house.

"Where's Angela?" Mom asked.

"She went to town with Dad," I said.

"She did?  Why would she want to go to the MFA?"

I shrugged.  "I think she wanted to stop at the drug store."

I finished my teepees.  Every now and then I could hear Angela hollering in the hedge.

Dad got back from town and came out to the garden.

"Where's Angela," he asked.

"She's helping Mom," I said.  I hoped Dad wouldn't hear the shouts.

"Cam," he said, "you'd better put some minnows in with the tadpoles, otherwise those things will be nothing but mosquito hatcheries."

Another chore.  I started down to the creek but heard the bluebirds scolding again.  The snake was back.  I dealt with him, got the minnows, then went inside to make some sandwiches.

"Where's Angela," Mom asked.

"We're having a picnic lunch at the creek."

"That sounds nice.  There are oatmeal cookies in the jar."

I packed everything in a bag, poured a jar of water and took it out to the tunnel.

"How's it going?" I asked the Queen in a low voice.  I felt horribly guilty.

She looked harassed.  "We had to give her a sleeping draught."

"Well, here's some food for when she wakes up."

I sneaked upstairs to my room.  I wanted to compose letters - one for my mom and dad, one for Glen.  There was so much I wanted to say, in case I wasn't able to later.  It took a long time.  I put the letters in envelopes and left them on my bed, then sat looking out the window.  I'd had a good life up till now.  I guessed I couldn't complain.  I went outside and spent awhile with the Old Man, petting and talking to him.  He'd been with us almost five years.  I'd found him walking along the road, half starved, with sores on his feet.

"Don't worry," I whispered to him, "Mom and Dad won't turn you out.  And if you're still around when Glen gets older, he'll take care of you."

I had one more thing to do, and that was finish the dispersing agent.  It needed potentizing.  I fished the crystal out of it and spent a long time stirring it with an elderberry twig, first one way, then the other.

"What's that?"

My head jerked up.  Angela was standing next to me.  Her arms were scratched and she had leaves and cobwebs in her hair.

"How did you - ?"  I looked towards the hedge and saw the Queen waving a white handkerchief at me.

"I got stuck in there for the longest time.  Didn't you hear me hollering?  Then I fell asleep, and when I woke up I was starving, but luckily I found a bag of food.  Was that the surprise you were talking about?  What's that?"

I stopped stirring.  "It's a dispersing agent.  Some evil spirits are going to take me over tonight unless I can stop them."

"He he he he!" Angela said.  "Cam, you are so funny.  Where do you come up with all that stuff.  Dispersing agent!  He he he."

At supper I was so nervous I couldn't eat.  I said I had a stomach ache and went to lie down.  I woke up after dark.  My mouth was dry, my stomach in knots.  I got up.  No way was I going to lie in the dark and wait for them.  I wrapped the white sheet from my bed all around me and pinned it with safety pins.  I didn't know what the Essenes wore, but white seemed like the best choice.  I got the jar of medicine and tiptoed downstairs.

Outside the moon was rising, giving me enough light to see.  I could hear Angela snoring in the tent as I passed.  I set off towards the sink hole, the Old Man beside me.  I felt numb.  Halfway there I realized the goat's rue warriors were pacing on either side of me, tall and silent in their loin cloths and bare feet.  I heard rustles and turned around.  All the hedge people were coming along behind with the Queen in front, carrying a staff with a winking marble on top, wearing her raveling dress and droopy crown.  Next came the cane dwellers and the little brown man in his patchwork pants, followed by a host of transparent creatures who lived in the thistle flowers along the pasture fence.

My spirits lifted at the sight of them all.  Together we walked to the sink hole and stood around it.  A sudden breeze set my white robe flapping and I shivered.  The Old man started to howl.  Out of the hole came the Watchers, their eyes burning red in the pale beams of moonlight.  They started towards me and I called out, "Wait!"  This was it.  My teeth were chattering and my hand shook so hard I could hardly raise the jar.  Taking a deep breath I flung the medicine into the sink hole.

Nothing happened.  No flash of light, no crack of thunder, no roaring wind.  Nothing.

Hope died as the Watchers surrounded me, pressing against me with their coiling bodies.  I stifled a scream, feeling them pass into me, one by one, each colder than the last.  I stood there swaying, numb with cold and dread, feeling the boy Cam slowly dying.  New thoughts were forming in my head, cold, dark thoughts that slithered through me like snakes in a pit.  My heart was going to burst.  I couldn't live with this terrible pressure.

"No!" I screamed, clawing at my chest.  I fell to the ground, doubled up in agony.

Suddenly the pressure eased and I looked up.  A figure stood in front of me, right over the sink hole.  He looked like an Essene, white and glowing, with sparks flying from his hair.  I knew who he was.

"I thought the dispersing agent didn't work," I said.  "I didn't know how to make it."

"Cam," said the Mediator in a voice that freed my heart from its terrible burden.  "you are the dispersing agent, didn't you know?  The goodness in your heart is the most powerful medicine you have.  All the love you've shown to those in your care has done its work."

Tears began pooling in my eyes and running down my cheeks.  "But I lied," I said.  "I was mean to Angela."

"And now you'll be able to make it up to her."

"But the Watchers?"

"They were no match for you.  They've gone back underground where they belong.  The earth has been healed."  The Mediator opened his hands and red flower petals fell from them into the hole.  I smelled roses.

A cheer went up from the nature folk gathered around me.  The sound went on and on, like a song drifting gently over the fields, hovering above all the small quiet places I loved.  I and the Old Man walked back to the house.

The End

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Dispersing Agent (a story) part 4

In the morning when I got up, I'd actually forgotten all about the terror in the night until I went downstairs and saw Glen sitting in his highchair.  The cold dread came back.  I felt like I weighed three hundred pounds.  I wanted to sink down onto the floor and stay there, but there was too much to do.  Where should I start?

"Cam, are you all right?" my mother asked, feeling my forehead.

"Fine," I said, trying to smile.

"Well, go get your chores done.  Your cousin Angela's coming later.  She's going to stay with us awhile, won't that be fun?"

I heaved a huge sigh and looked at the ceiling.

"Cam, what's wrong with you?"

"Nothing!" I yelled, and ran out the door.  Crap!  Crap, crap, crap!  I couldn't deal with Angela right now, not on top of everything else.

I opened the chicken coop door and filled the feeders, slamming the lid back onto the grain can, making the chickens squawk and run.  Bard, the rooster, bobbed his head and sidled toward me with his wing down, spoiling for a fight, but I plowed past him like a tornado.  I fed the possums and changed their bedding, opened the greenhouse, fed the Old Man, checked on the baby bluebirds and visited my tadpole ponds.  I still hadn't gotten the teepees made.

What would it be like, I wondered, when the Watchers took me over?  Would I remember who I was?  Would I go out at night and do terrible things?  Maybe I'd have to be locked in a mental hospital.

Mom called me in for breakfast.  I wasn't hungry but forced myself to eat.  I had to keep my strength up.  Luckily it was Sunday and there weren't many chores to do.  We picked what had to be picked and washed the coolers.  The next market day was Wednesday.  I'd be taken over by then.

As soon as I could, I went to the tunnel.  The Hedge Queen had made herself a crown out of some copper foil and a piece of cardboard.  I figured she'd taken the foil from Dad's shop, but didn't say anything.  There were some ribbons hanging off it and red buckbrush berries woven in.

"What do you think?" she asked, turning this way and that.

The crown drooped low on one side, making her squint.

"It's nice," I said.  "What do you know about dispersing agents?"

"Dispersing agents!"  She sat down on her stump throne and crossed her skinny legs.

"The rain disperses the dust.  The spring disperses the winter.  Flowers disperse pollen."  She looked pleased with herself for being so smart.

"See, here's the thing," I said.  "The retarded spirits from the sink hole are going to take me over unless I can make a medicine to transform them.  We're talking white magic here."

"Hmmm," said the Queen.  "I and my subjects have been concerned about these beings.  Let us discuss it.  Come back later."

Not until I left did I realize she hadn't even asked for any rent.

In the corner of the front field was a big patch of  goat's rue plants with yellow and pink blossoms.  The goat's rue warriors were the most powerful beings on the farm, except for the Great Farm Spirit whom I'd only seen once or twice.  The warriors were very tall, with hard, ropy muscles and solemn faces.  They never smiled, and didn't talk much, but I trusted them.  Sometimes they walked beside me when I went to the creek.  There were three of them, two men and a woman.  I explained about my problem and though they didn't speak, they looked at me so directly I knew they understood.  The cold weight in my chest lessened some and I felt stronger.

I started for the creek, but a voice stopped me.

"Yoohoo.  Cam!"

Angela.  My heart sank.  She was wearing pink shorts and a white t shirt with a teddy bear on it, and yellow thongs.  Her toenails were sparkly pink and she had a fringed purse over her arm.

"I'm eleven now," she said, snapping her bubble gum.  "Let's see, you don't turn eleven for seven months yet, do you?"  She fluffed her pale hair.

"So what," I said, and set off for the creek again.

"What are you doing?"  She ran to catch up.

"Working on the Peoples' Agricultural Project.  I have to cut cane."

"What people?"

"The ones who live here."  I walked as fast as I could, but she kept coming, puffing a little, her thongs slapping on the ground.

"I guess that includes me then, at least for the next week."  She popped a purple bubble and laughed.

All day I had to put up with her.  She talked so much I couldn't think.  I felt like throwing her in the canoe and sending her off downstream, but she outweighed me by about twenty pounds, so I didn't think I could manage.

I didn't see the Watchers anywhere.  Maybe they'd gone.  Maybe last night had just been a bad dream after all.  But I knew it wasn't.  I had one more day.  Tomorrow was it.  I would have to get my medicine made.  And I'd have to do something about Angela.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

"The Dispersing Agent" (a story) Part 3

That night at supper I asked Dad about the sink hole.

"Dad, how long ago did Virgil Carver live here on this land?"

"That was before your grandparents bought it.  Fifty years, I imagine."

"Do you think he put bad things in the sink hole?"

Dad laughed.  "You do come up with some stuff, Cam.  What kind of things?"


"What brought all this up?"

I shrugged.  "We had that earthquake last month, and now -" I stopped, chewing on my lip, trying to figure out what to say.  I didn't dare mention the Watchers.

"Have you seen something?" Dad asked.

"A weird looking frog."

"Grandpa told us Virgil used to be a mortician," said my mom.  "Morticians use terribly toxic chemicals to embalm people.  There's no telling what's in that hole.  Don't you be playing around it, Cameron."

I slept on the porch again, but didn't hear anything.  The next day was Saturday.  I went with Dad to the farmers' market, and when we got back I rode my bike over to see Gus Bovene.  He was sitting on his cabin porch in his old army fatigues, reading a book and swatting flies.  He wore his long grey hair pulled tight into a ponytail and knotted on top of his head like a Samurai warrior.  I wanted to wear my hair like that, but Mom kept making me get it cut. Some chickens were fighting over a dead lizard under the porch and his dog Cassy lay beside his rocking chair.

"Cam," he said as I got off my bike, "why do you think the Essenes wouldn't pass through gates with images on them?"

"I don't know," I said.

Gus looked at my sweaty face.  "Go in and get yourself some lemonade.  Bring me a glass, too."  He swatted a fly on the arm of his chair.

"Now, the Essenes," he continued as I handed him his glass, "the Essenes were very exemplary people.  They helped the poor, they healed the sick, they lived an incredibly pure life.  So pure that the evil retarded spirits that plague mankind couldn't touch them.  They were above sin.  They were so pure they wouldn't pass through gates with pictures on them because evil might be living in the images."

"That's pretty pure," I said, drinking my lemonade.

"But here's the thing," said Gus, rubbing his grizzled beard.  He leaned forward in his chair and the fly swatter fell on Cassy, making her jump.  "Not everybody could be an Essene.  If the whole world had become Essenes, life would have come to a screeching halt.  Do you know why?"

I shook my head.

"Because there wouldn't have been anybody left to do the dirty work.  The work the Essenes wouldn't do because they were too pure.  So the world needs regular folks like you and me, too.  Someone has to keep the wheels turning, you know what I mean?"

We watched the chickens a few minutes.  Finally I said, "Gus, something bad's come out of the sink hole after the earthquake.  Virgil Carver put poison chemicals in it."

"Did he now," said Gus.  "That's terrible.  Old Virgil unleashed something underground that shouldn't have been disturbed, and now your family has to deal with it.  I don't see any Essenes around to clean up the mess, do you?"  He shook his head and sighed.  "Where will the nature kingdoms go if we poison their home?"

"I need to know how to fight them, Gus."

"Fight who?"

"The retarded spirits, the ones that plague mankind.  They've come out of the sink hole."

Gus leaned back in his chair.  "Don't try to fight them, Cam.  Fighting only makes things worse in the long run.  I learned that the hard way.  No, it's our destiny to redeem evil, not destroy it.  I'm talking about transmutation here, white magic.  The Essenes knew all about it.  They knew that evil comes in two opposing poles, and illness is always an imbalance between them.  And the healer, when he makes his medicine, has to ask himself, how do I balance the poles?  Do I need heat or cold?  Moisture or dryness?  Rest or activity?  He might need to use a stabilizer or a dispersing agent, a coagulator or a dissolver.  And when he gets it right, when the medicine does its work correctly, he comes face to face with the Mediator, who is the point of perfect balance between the poles.  It's all about balance.  Balance, balance, balance."  He hit the fly swatter on the chair for emphasis.  "The earth needs to be healed that way."

We talked some more and then I left.  On the way home I found a dead possum in the road with three babies still clinging to her back.  I stopped my bike and watched them a minute, then took off my shirt, wrapped the babies in it and put them in my bike basket.  They were old enough to hiss at me, but didn't put up much fuss.  When I got home Dad found a big cage in the barn and I got them settled into it, with wood shavings on the floor and a tree branch to practice climbing on.  Mom mixed up some egg and milk and I fed them.  Luckily they were old enough to drink from a saucer, so I wouldn't have to do the bottle thing.

"They'll be in the pear trees before long," Dad grumbled.  "I don't know why you think you have to save every critter that comes along, Cam."

"I just couldn't leave them, Dad."

"I know," he said.  "I know."

"I'll take them down by the creek when they're older and fix them up in a hollow log."

"Yeah, like they'll stay there," said Dad.  But he sat with me awhile, watching the possoms explore their new home.  We laughed at them trying to climb the branch.

At dusk the Watchers were back at the gate.  I was sick of the sight of them.

"Retards!" I yelled, shaking my fist.  They stood like statues, and I ran inside.

That night I slept upstairs.  The coyotes were making a racket, and the Old Man was howling back.  The sound worked its way into my dreams and I tossed and turned uneasily.  I dreamed about twisted figures crawling out of the sink hole, blacker than the black night, slinking across the pasture in coyote shapes, slipping through the pasture gate, coming upright and walking silently to the house, gathering silently there on the steps, scraping at the screen, oozing through the cracks around the door.  I woke up with a start, or thought I did, but I couldn't move.  I was trapped in some twilight world between waking and sleep with a terrible fear pounding in my heart.  A cold, dead weight pressed down on my chest.  I struggled to breathe, making small, gasping moans.  There was enough moonlight for me to the the black shapes passing my open door.  They had come at last.  With a huge effort of will, I flung myself out of bed and ran to Glen's room, standing beside his crib.

"Listen," hissed a voice in my ear.  "We can no longer live in the earth, but neither can we live on it without bodies suited to its conditions.  And so we seek out bodies to inhabit.  That's why we've come.  We've chosen the youngest child because he suits our purposes.  So young and limber, we can mold and shape him to our liking.  Stand aside, we mean to have him now."

"No you won't!" I yelled at them.  "You can't have him  He's my brother.  I'll never let you.  I won't!  You'll have to take me instead."  I tried to call out to my parents, but I knew they wouldn't hear.  I was still trapped in that strange land of dream that wasn't dream, terrified because of what I'd just said.  But I meant it, and the Watchers knew it.  I could see them considering.

"Easier with one who's willing..."

"An older child will be stronger..."

"You have to give me a little time," I said, "to get ready."

They considered some more.  "Just before the full moon, two nights from now, we'll come for you."

It was done.  Somehow I found myself lying back in my bed.  The weight lifted off my chest and I fell into a deep sleep.

coming Sunday, Part four....