The Witch Made Me Do It
An improbable genii, a color-shifting cloak, a helpful skunk-some of the things in this shimmering collection of wonder tales for children. These fairy tales are set in today's world, in places where the young readers and listeners already live. Literally a labor of love, this collection was first written for the author's grandchildren who star in most of them. The tales are waiting for you to read them aloud to your children and grandchildren.
Care and Feeding
Terry ran crying into the reeds behind his house. He hopped from tussock to tussock, staying dry until he reached his secret place. The patch of ground was circled by tall reeds, making him invisible. Deer bedded there at night, but during the day the little island was Terry’s alone.
No one else would want to come. Terry peeked eastward through the reeds at a brackish pond, and across the pond, at the town landfill. The town’s garbage and broken toys and worn out clothes and grass clippings had been dumped there for over 50 years. The slope facing Terry was ash-tinged dirt decorated with patches of weeds and scrub brush.
He dropped down onto a bed of broken reeds warmed by the sun. The dried reeds crackled and sent out puffs of plant dust. Terry stared at the landfill without really seeing it. He’d stopped crying, but was pretty sure he’d cry again tomorrow.
Bruce had hit Terry three times, then pushed him down. Before that, Bruce had sat behind Terry on the bus ride home, whispering to Terry what would happen to him once the bus let them off and before Terry could run home. And he’d done it.
The sinking sun behind him robbed the landfill of colors except red. And as Terry stared without focusing, wallowing in his thoughts, something moved out onto the slope across the water. He squinted. It was a person, no, maybe an animal, something bigger than Terry. And then it spread its wings.
Terry turned to run back home, but before he could jump onto the first tussock he heard a leathery whooshing and was picked up and dropped back onto the islet.
Now there’s a bother. It wasn’t words, but the sense of the words, uttered without sound right into Terry’s mind.
I am sorry, but I’m going to have to kill and dispose of you.
Terry opened his eyes. A greenish-red something was staring at him, slowly beating its wings and flexing the talons where its feet and hands should be. Terry screamed.
Only thing that’ll do is scare away the deer.
Terry screamed again anyway. Then he stood up, getting ready to run, when a front limb talon grabbed his arm. “Please, please,” he sobbed. “Let me go. I won’t tell anyone.”
First rule: Never trust a human, they lie to everyone, even to themselves. No, I’m sorry. If you have any last thoughts, think them now.
Despite his fear, Terry began to stare at the thing clutching him. Its thorax was lit from within by greenish and yellowish lights that slowly swirled from one spot to another, vanished, and rekindled. It didn’t really have a face, it had a snout—with flaring nostrils and large pointed teeth. Its black wings were skin, not feathers, with pronounced veins and tendons. Smoke roiled from its mouth, and something was waving behind its back.
“I didn’t do anything to you.”
Doesn’t matter. You know that I exist—you die. But I’m not a wild beast. If you prefer, I can drown you. And although it makes perfect sense to eat you, I can leave you to rot in the ground or the pond if you wish.
“You—you can’t do that, you’ll be arrested.”
The skin around its mouth curled up, exposing more pointy teeth. We’ve been able to hide from you for two millennia; I doubt the police would know where to look.
“Two millennia? But you just came out of the landfill. Do you live there?”
Look, Terry is it? I wish you’d quit asking questions so we could just get on with this. One bite and it’s pretty well over. But, since you asked, you’d almost exterminated us when we discovered the garbage dumps you humans were piling up next to your cities and towns. You’ve been providing us with food and hiding places ever since.
“And you can eat garbage?”
We swallow all kinds of plant and animal material whole and cook it into energy—grass, wood, rats, mixed garbage, it doesn’t matter; we’re better omnivores than you are. The digestion generates as much heat and light as one of your furnaces.
“But what are you?”
Ah. You used to call us dragons and spend a considerable amount of time hunting us down and killing us. Once we’d been hiding in the trash heaps for a century or two you switched to killing other things.
The dragon tightened his hold on Terry’s shoulder, talon points pushing through his skin. I can just bite your head off if you wish. It’s messy, but quick.
Terry’s thoughts had been churning, but it was like trying to stir cold oatmeal. “Wait, ah, what should I call you?’
Hrraushtu. The sound is like clearing spit from the back of your throat.
“Hrraushtu, there must be things that you want but can’t always get living in a garbage pile.”
Hrraushtu threw Terry back down onto the reed bed and stared at him. Of course. Fresh fruit, we so rarely get fresh fruit. And chocolates. We almost never find chocolates that aren’t all dried out and rocky. He flapped his wings, talons curling in the process. But no point wanting what you can’t have. Sit still, little one, while I open you up.
“No, no, you don’t understand. I can bring you these things—chocolates and fresh fruit and meat.”