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Bedtime Stories By Cristian Butnariu

Copyright 2012 By

Cristian Butnariu

Table of content: 01. 02. 03. 04. 05. 06. 07. 08. 09. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19.

The Fountain from the End of the Rainbow The King Melon The Milky River The Truest Lie The Watch Dog Why My Dog's Ears Are So Long? A Story with Mum, Dad, Michael and the Polar Bear Frederick the Elephant Toddler My Friend Alicia The Box of Words Tinkling Call Myrmidone the Caterpillar - Part One Myrmidone the Caterpillar - Part Two The World's Largest Animal The Tale of Zuccheria Ayako, Alinka and the Enchanted Prince The Runaway Parrot The Bride's Dish The Alphabet's Story

The Fountain from the End of the Rainbow In a village, nearby a big city, lived two children, a little boy who not long ago started school, and his older sister. They only had their mother, but once day she unexpectedly died, and the two children had to leave school and find a place to work so they won’t starve. They took some books and clothes in a bag, and set out towards the city. They went through the streets with magnificent buildings, looking for a job and at the same time learn a trade, but no handicraftsman received them, telling them that their timid and silly faces did not inspire them trust. They entered a painting studio by chance. There, they found a big easel and someone working behind it, and the children thought the man didn’t even notice them. They slowly entered and walked towards the easel, but the man behind shouted: - Stay right there! Don’t move! The children stood stone-still and stayed that way for long hours, until a hand, with a brush, appeared from behind the easel and signalled them to come closer.

They slowly walked towards the painter and with amazement they saw the painting with the two of them painted on it, along a stork, castles, bridges …and more suns. The painter took out some money from his pocket: - "This should be enough for you two, he said." Then he soaked his brush in paint and again, started painting. The children told him of their mother’s death, and that they were looking for work. The painter thought for a minute and then told them:

- "Well, you kids could stay at my house, in the morning you could go to school, and when you come back you can stay here in the workshop and help me paint."

The children agreed and the second day they started working for the painter. But even thought they liked painting and tried their best, they could not match the different colours of blue or yellow, and the paintings looked terrible. The painter was losing his patience, and full of anger wiped his brushes on the children’s clothes, such that they always walked around with stains of all colours. Moreover, when he was most infuriated, the painter collared their faces and made moustaches under their noses, and the children had to go about in the town all painted while the passersby stopped and laughed at them. Somehow happened that the artist became poor, because no one wanted to buy his drawings, and he fell sick. The boy remained with him, but the girl travelled on a plane to various countries and was able to sell some of the paintings for a huge amount of money. She came back with a case filled with money and cold. The artist got well and asked the children to forgive them for the wrong behaviour he had towards them. He opened the case with money and asked them: - "Tell me, dear children, what you wish for?” The boy said without thinking: - "I want to see my mother!” And the girl shook her head in agreement. The painter thought for a while and said: - "Hmm, that will be difficult, but not really impossible. The boy jumped and grabbed the painter, his hands clenched to his clothes: - "Oh please! I would be thankful to you for the rest of my life!”

- "My child, I have to tell you that this will not make you as happy as you think it will.” The boy puckered up and quickly said: - "It doesn’t matter, I beg you!” The painter looked at their red cheeks and lively faces. - "Yeah, we have a deal! I’ll do that!” he said. He soaked the brush in paint, grabbed the girl by her chin lifting her face, and she thought that he will scribble her face again, as he used to, and she frowned. The painter smiled, took her head kerchief off and drew a star on her forehead right under her bangs, then tied her head kerchief back. - "You two have to go to the Fountain at the End of the Rainbow! Walk towards the sun rise, go out of the city and walk through the field, see, where the wild blue-bells grow. You’ll arrive at the frontier of a country where you will be met by some evil guards, fully armed, but who have to do their duty and not let anybody go through the frontiers. But you”, he said to the girl "show him the star on your forehead and he will let you pass through." "However, no one can help you in the Skies city. It all depends on you” the master said, raising his forefinger. "Be very careful when you pass under the Rainbow Bridge, walk fast because it can collapse anytime!”… The next day the two children woke up very early. Maria, that was the name of the girl, put on her country clothes that she felt most comfortable in, and tied a head kerchief around her head, then took her brother by the hand, who wore his white chemise shirt and together they left. Outside, the sky was cloudy and dark. The kids left the town and walked through the field towards the sun rise, guiding after the wild blue-bells of a dark blue, for two days and two nights without stopping. Then, they started climbing on the low clouds at the horizon, but the children didn’t notice and thought they were still walking on the ground; the only thing changing was the landscape, and

it was plain, downy, with strange herbs, and were looking for the dark blue blue-bells that stained the white and gray sky. Here and there, between the clouds, they were able to see the ground, as if it were another world, strange, and made of drawings and lines. They walked for a long time, until the shadows of the buildings and derricks were casting on the horizon. That was the Skies Country, and as they were getting closer to it, those images were becoming larger and exactly when they passed the monumental gate of a town, four guards, with misshapen faces, looking as iron, wearing armours with spears and shields, stopped them and set the spears on their chests. The children were frightened and forgot about what the painter told them to do, but the boy clenched to Maria’s chest with his hands stuck on her raw silk headdress. Maria’s head kerchief fell off her head and when the guards bended over, they saw the star that was shining under Maria’s hair. The guards took their spears back and granted them free pass. The two kids entered the city and blended in with the multitude of people, who weren’t much different from the people on earth, except for the clothes that they wore and their faces were kind. The kids were drawing attention to themselves with their tired and worried faces. They quickly intermingled through the crowd, and stopped too look at the surroundings – disoriented. It was a really old town, paved with stone plates of yellow colour, shiny and deteriorated from thousands of footsteps; it was a fortress with overarched windows, united by walls exaggeratedly thick, with castled and manor houses everywhere. Some streets were anfractuous and wide, so that carriages can go through, while others were so narrow that the peasants could shake hands from their own windows. Here and there, the streets led to plazas with fountains in the centres, where

the inhabitants were carrying water from. Among the roof tiles were little windows that looked just like someone’s eyes, and the two children often thought that those eyes were blinking. On the roofs, there were stork nests, families of five-six birds sitting on one leg, chattering and watching the crowds go by. The children were wondering whether they should dare ask anyone about the fountain or not. The girl stopped a woman who was walking with her little boy but the woman spoke an unknown language. Then the boy started talked to a stork that was sitting in front of an inn. At first, he thought that the stork was made of clay, and set next to the big flower vases, but the stork moved and the boy stopped and asked her: - "Ms. Stork, do you happen to know where the Rainbow Fountain is?" The stork looked at him with good will and started mumbling: - "It is in a castle that has a fountain drawn on the gate, and the castle – you can find it if you pay attention to the eyes on the roofs. As she was saying this, the stork took off and flew to a tall chimney, sitting on one leg. Then, they understood that when they arrived to the right place, windows on the roofs were starting to blink, lifting the wooden rolling shutters. So they strayed like this a couple of days, and no one helped them; but they didn’t even think about their hunger, or sleepiness, all they thought about was seeing their mother again. The stork was following them, and every now and then appeared on random roofs, sitting on one leg and mumbling to them: "Don’t stop, don’t stop!” The little streets had little plates with unidentified letters and they were so entangled that sometimes it gave them the impression that they’re walking in a circle, on the same streets. Fatigue, hunger and the cold air of the night wore them out. They saw as the passersby looked at them with compassion, and at times, a man or a woman would let down a bucket filled with water and said: -

"Please, come into my house, my dears, I will give you food and you can rest…” On a roof nearby, a stork was standing on one leg, watching them worried. A strange instinct, the words and the presence of the stork always made them refuse the offers of the people. - "You know what?” said the boy to the girl. "I think that the inhabitants of this city came here just like we did, in a quest for the fountain. They couldn’t find it, couldn’t withstand, received housing and remained here forever." - "I think so too”, murmured the girl and shook off her tiredness and weariness. We don’t need to receive any help, not even if we die." They walked for another while, without counting the days, nights, weeks or even months. And one day, the boy leaned powerless against a wall. When he started walking again, his sister saw that his back was dirty of red and blue chalk, and saw that it had the design of a fountain. With their last strength, the children knocked on the castle’s gate. An old and bent lady, dressed in black, was hardly coming from the bottom of a long courtyard, and it seemed that she was not coming any longer.

When she arrived at the gate, she searched the huge iron key for a long time through the pockets of her large skirt, then opened the gate and welcomed them in the courtyard which was paved with yellow flowers. Then she walked them to a hall of the castle that had old armchairs and a round and big table that occupied the whole room. The children were sat at the table and the stork that followed them, happily sat with them. They looked at each other in the shiny tableware and the old lady stayed in front of them and told them about the Skies City, then asked them about the place they come from and what they’re seeking. They told her everything and the woman went and brought them plates with foods, fruits, and drinks, and in the stork’s front,

she put a deep pot, full of pomegranates. The children and the stork ate with appetite and then thanked her. After they finished eating, they saw with amazement that the plates and cups were floating on the water. The shiny table was the surface of a fountain. It was really the Rainbow Fountain! The old lady gathered the tableware and then a fish came to the surface, and flipped making a “Clop!” with his tail. The kids took water with a clay pot, drank, and all of the fatigue disappeared, and they became more beautiful and charming then before. They washed their eyes and the old lady brought them a towel to dry, and they dried they faces. All of a sudden, everything around became intensely painted, with strident colours. The old lady was a little girl of Maria’s age, dressed in turquoise, with locks red as fire! She brought them clean clothes and helped them get dressed; the girl in a golden dress and the boy in blue clothes. Then she walked them to the tower of that castle, where they saw the whole city through which they walked for so long, and saw that the walls of the city were of green and turquoise granite, the roof tiles were joyously painted. A network of thin bridges of rainbows united the towers of all the castles above the city. From the tower that they were in, a solid rainbow began, and climbed very high in the skies, and the sky seemed tough and of a strident blue. They said their goodbyes to the girl in turquoise and started walking on the bridge. Remembering the words of the painter, they started running. The rainbow was ascending, then started descending, as they were running on the blue and red slopes and their hearts beating as they were about to break out of their chests, because at the end of this rainbow, they discerned a woman with arms that embraced the whole rainbow, and who couldn’t be any other than their mother. She hugged them and held them tightly to her chest, then she put them down, and they saw that she was a tall, thin and

fragile being, and her hair was long and chestnut brown, with golden shades. Mother leaned towards them, took them by the hands and walked them to a city even more fantastic than the Skies City. The walls and towers were much higher, thinned and more laced, and were made of crystals and precious stones, transparent, reflecting the lights play of the sun. After they visited the city and travelled by different trains, they went on a larger train, made of red and blue mosaics. Four suns were rising and setting one at a time here and there, and wherever the sky was darker, there were stars bigger than the ones on earth. The three started playing basketball with a blue ball. The baskets were very high and the ball was outlining the big canopy of heaven. The hard and glassy surfaces underneath and around them were reflecting their voices, the dribbling of the ball, in melodious echoes, and multiplied their silhouettes in a multitude of images, uniform or distorted, and this by itself was a game. At a point, the Mother threw the ball so high that it remained on the skies and then they saw that there was a sun. They then arrived on a field freshly ploughed, soaked in oil and painted by thick shapes of brushes, in thousands if colours of purple, yellow, dark green, bloody red, and indigo.

The field was full of hoof marks that looked like mouths with enormous lips and when they stepped into them, the hoofs caught their legs and they had to pull themselves with strength to come out. On a pasture they saw the cows, with black, white and purple spots. The oil that soaked the land made the colours shine so intensely that they always had another shade of colour depending on the angle that they saw them. But they didn’t get dirty, the painted slime was sliding on their skins without leaving vague spots that didn’t grow din, then disappeared. The grass has tens of colours of dark and fresh green, and it was loaded with flowers, of golden, red and purple colours, and from them, thick pollen was flowing. Clouds of powder of

shimmer pollen were floating above the think grass as if they were traced with brushes too think. The three sat on the grass next to the lily bushes whose corollas were hanging filled with pollen, and when the children bended to smell them, the flowers licked their cheeks leaving a trace of dark yellow. In the Rainbow City, there was no street without at least one painter working on a wall or at a window, in harmony with the things and colours around, and they walked and painted the white walls of an old fortress, and this labour captivated them entirely and took a long time.

The stork was climbed on a wall, and of course, was analyzing everything. At night, they all slept in a bed with mattresses made of clouds, in a room filled with toys. One day, all three of them sat in the floor and started setting cubes one on top of the other, building all kinds of houses, columns and epistyles, and the more cubes they put the more that the walls grew, and now made up a palace with terraces, and they were running up and down the stairs, looking at themselves in the mirror walls, and as they were running through a file of halls that intertwined, they realized that their mother was no longer with them.

They called her and searched for her everywhere, but couldn’t find any trace of their mother. Their meeting came to an end. The castle began to shake and collapse and the two kids ran holding their hands while behind them, tons of crystals were crumbling with deafening noises. They were running on a rainbow that descended on the earth, and the stork was running and flying next to them. They passed the clouds when the bridge was beginning to vibrate and its intricate structures started to dismember piece by piece. The children ran further until they fell among glowing fragments of metal and glass. They did not fall all the way down. From a plane nearby, a couple of blue parachutes were launched, and the parachutists caught the kids in their arms and landed at the

end of the town where they first left. The stork landed next to them. The children came back to the master painter’s workshop. The painter was hiding behind his canvas and was painting everything but the stork flew and sat right on his easel.

The King Melon Once upon a time there was a king who loved melons very much and that’s why he was called King Melon. His gardeners tried for years to grow melons. The king himself, who loved to watch the plants sprout and raise their creeping stems out of

the ground, would sow the seeds brought over from faraway places and would patiently care for them, but the melons that sprouted would rot in the field before ripening. The queen, although she shared the king’s concern with the melons, wanted to have a baby, especially because she was not that young anymore and she thought she would have no one to comfort her in her old age. One day, the king’s page, Butterbur, could not wake up early in the morning to draw the melon-painted curtains from the king’s bedchamber so that the powerful sunlight would not disturb his master, even though the big cricket sleeping under his pillow chirped and chirped. The king woke up with the hot rays on his face and saw the bare windows and the sun ruthlessly pouring its light through the crystal windows.

-“Butterbuuuuuur!” The page was sleeping in his closet, dead tired from watering the melons all day long. He jumped up and made haste to the king’s chamber. He understood at once why he had been called. -“Forgiveness, Your Highness, I couldn’t wake up because…” -“Shut up, you fool! If something like this ever happens again, I will send you to the woods to raise the pigs and I’ll bring Cutterbur, the keeper of the pigs, to take your place!” Butterbur drew the curtains, painted with rows of watermelons, and walked out wistfully.

He left and got into the barrel used for watering the garden, in which he took his daily bath, and started to ponder. The keeper of the pigs was the only person he hadn’t asked why the king’s melons would not grow. What if he went and asked him… you never know where the answer might come from. He got out of the barrel, got dressed and set out in his used-up car towards the woods looming in the distance. There the king’s pigs were guzzling beech-nuts. Butterbur found Cutterbur, the keeper of the pigs, but not without some trouble, and told him:

-“Our king likes melons and we’ve been toiling for years to grow melons; but after their fruits appear they start rotting and we get nothing out of our work. Do you happen to know if there’s anything we can do about this?” -“Maybe it rains too much for them”, said the keeper of the pigs. “Come back tomorrow and I will have some seeds brought all the way from the Green Country, which is famous for melons, but I just have to look for them.” Butterbur thanked him and returned to the castle. Weary from worrying about the melons and from the long trip in his rumbling car, he couldn’t wake up the next day either to fulfil his duties to the king. The king woke up with the sun on his face again as in the previous morning and roared “Butterbuuuuuur”, the crystal windows broke to pieces and the entire chamber was filled with shivers tiny as the sand. The page opened the door and the king and the queen were sitting up in their golden bed, stupefied, covered in a shiny dust in the bright light of the sun. Butterbur could not handle this awesome sight and fell down unconscious.

But this did not tame the king. Immediately Butterbur had to throw all of his clothes and belongings into the car and start off towards the woods where Cutterbur, the keeper of the pigs, lived. -“You came!” rejoiced the keeper of the pigs when he saw the page. He ran into his cottage and brought a small bag, unopened, and said: -“Take this to the king and tell the gardeners to sow the seeds tomorrow!” -“The king ordered that you go to the castle and be his page instead of me, and for me to take care of the pigs, said poor Butterbur.” -“Hmm, let’s go together and my brothers can take care of the pigs.”

Butterbur thought the king would forgive him if he gave him the seeds so he didn’t say much else. The two of them entered the car that was very heated by the sun and set off on the dusty road to the castle. When they arrived, King Melon was in the throne room, holding a council meeting with the great adviser StingingNettle. Upon seeing them, the king became red with anger and the adviser lifted his long and spiky beard from his chest and gave them a squinting look, full of disdain. Butterbur kneeled on the carpet holding the bag up towards the king: -“These are melon’s seeds from the Green Country, Your Highness!” The king stretched out his hand to take the bag; wanting to harshly reprove them for not obeying his command, he kept it stretched, but something inside of him would not let him do that. He grabbed the bag, opened it and toppled the black seeds over a tray.

-“Well start sowing, and if this time the melons fail to grow, your heads will take their place on this tray.” Cutterbur and Butterbur prepared the field and sowed the seeds and the small plants sprouted quickly and started to grow in creeping stems. The melons appeared, green they were, but then the gardeners noticed the same weird thing happening, the barely ripened fruits began to rot. The two pages were walking on the field turning and twisting the melons on all sides when to their joy, they saw that there was a healthy melon perfectly ripened. When the time came for it to be eaten, the two pages picked it, put it on a golden tray and presented it to the king and the entire court. On one hand, the king was happy because for years there have been no melons on his field, and on the other hand he was upset: only one single melon in the entire field? He took the

big silver knife and wanted to prick the melon’s rind but the melon slid and rolled under the chairs and through the hallways into the gun room. It kept hiding and then reappearing, and when someone thought they had it, the melon continued to roll head over heels. It finally rolled until it reached the king’s chamber and landed on a curtain covering the floor, so that no matter how much they looked for it, nobody noticed it. The king bent down and set the curtains aside looking carefully under the bed and yet, nothing! At nightfall he stopped looking and went to bed. He locked the doors and his servants kept on looking for the melon throughout the entire castle. They looked for it till morning, when they collapsed frustrated and dead tired.

The next morning nobody was able to draw the curtains at the windows, but the king was not upset anymore. The sunlight fell right on the melon that was on the curtain and it was the first thing the king saw when he woke up. -“Goodness gracious, there it is!” said the astonished king. -“Knock, knock!” said Butterbur and Cutterbur who came in pale as a ghost and shaking: -“Your Highness, the melon vanished into thin air!” -“You will vanish, you fools, soon enough. Take it away!” and he pointed to the melon. The two pages lifted the melon and took it away and then the king joined them to split the melon and eat it. But when he stretched his knife towards it, the melon slid again and started rolling, and the advisers began to follow it again. As the day before, when they thought they had it, the melon would find a way out and roll either under an armchair or a table or behind some statues. At one time, the great advisor cut in front of it, saying:

-“There’s no way you can escape now!” but the melon slipped between his legs and the great advisor fell backwards and landed on the biggest staircase in the throne room. After this trick, the melon reached a summer house where the queen was sitting and knitting. It hid at her feet, under her wide silk skirts. After she finished sewing she lifted her arms and stretched them to loosen them, got up and fell on the melon. The melon turned a little bit and the queen giggled. Then the melon started spinning her about the summer house and the queen loved this and was laughing out loud. The ladies of honour rushed to see why the queen was laughing and were taken aback to see her spinning around on the melon.

-“Enough, for I am getting dizzy!” she shouted and the melon stopped. Then she went into her chamber with the ladies of honour and the melon went rolling with them in between their skirts. The queen went to the mirror. She took the melon and laid it on her belly, turned around and took a look at herself from the side, sighing. Then the melon entered her womb and she became a pregnant woman, ready to give birth. The queen and the ladies got scared but in the same time they were happy. The queen sat down on the throne with the ladies of honour next to her, while the king and the courtiers were under the table searching for the melon. She smiled and said: -“Stop searching, the melon is with me!” Great was the king’s astonishment. He wondered what the queen would give birth to if inside of her was a melon. But when he touched her belly, he felt a living creature moving exactly like a baby in its mother’s womb.

Shortly after that, the queen gave birth to a big beautiful son. The king was beside himself with joy and they feasted and partied for three days. They named him Prince Charming Meloan and he grew in one year as others would in seven years. After the birth of the boy, the melons started to grow and to ripen on the king’s field with no trouble at all. King Melon’s melons were so sweet and tasty that they were heard of beyond the borders of their country. The neighbouring king, Deadly Nightshade, asked for seeds. Cutterbur and Butterbur, by now great advisers, sent him some, but on his land nothing sprouted from the seeds. Enraged, King Deadly Nightshade set out with his army to lay waste the fields of king Melon.

King Melon got very upset. Being the peaceful king that he was, he was not very skilful in regard to war, but Prince Charming Meloan said to him: -“Don’t worry, father!” and whistled once, and all the melons in the field came out and formed an army rolling towards King Deadly Nightshade’s army, their enemy. The melons rolled at such speed that they knocked the soldiers backwards. Meanwhile, Prince Charming Meloan fired shots from his musket from behind the melons. The battle was over in one day and the enemy’s army was knocked down. A year passed by and King Deadly Nightshade set out against King Melon again. This time his army was twice as big but the neighbour’s melons were also a few hundred times more numerous.

The king’s soldiers made catapults for melons and struck the enemies until they destroyed them. King Deadly Nightshade would not give up. He summoned the state council and decided to first of all destroy the melons, and then King Melon. But how would they do this?

They sent an army of hungry hamsters to invade the king’s fields and nibble on the melons. But great was King Deadly Nightshade’s surprise when he saw Prince Charming Meloan coming towards him with an army of huge hamsters, their bellies full of melons, fat, satiated and holding guns in their paws. A terrible battle began.

All of a sudden, during the fight, a rider on a white horse showed up, with long locks of hair emerging from beneath his helmet. He took off his helmet and lo and behold: King Deadly Nightshade’s daughter, so much more beautiful than even the most beautiful sunrise! The girl started shouting: -“Hey, Prince Charming, stop the fight for I want to be your wife!” Prince Charming tried to look at her but had to shade his eyes because of her great beauty. Immediately he stopped the fight and they made peace. He went back with the princess and her father, King Deadly Nightshade, to King Melon’s palace. There they had a wedding that lasted three days and three nights. King Deadly Nightshade offered them a quarter of his kingdom, but after a while, being the miser that he was, asked to have it back. This only made Prince Charming and his wife laugh. They gave him back the lands, this time full of melons and lived happily. Who knows, maybe they still do today, in case they haven’t died yet. Cutterbur and Butterbur prepared the field and sowed the seeds and the small plants sprouted quickly and started to grow in creeping stems. The melons appeared, green they were, but then the gardeners noticed the same weird thing happening, the barely ripened fruits began to rot. The two pages were walking on the field turning and twisting the melons on all sides when to their joy, they saw that there was a healthy melon perfectly ripened. When the time came for

it to be eaten, the two pages picked it, put it on a golden tray and presented it to the king and the entire court. On one hand, the king was happy because for years there have been no melons on his field, and on the other hand he was upset: only one single melon in the entire field? He took the big silver knife and wanted to prick the melon’s rind but the melon slid and rolled under the chairs and through the hallways into the gun room. It kept hiding and then reappearing, and when someone thought they had it, the melon continued to roll head over heels. It finally rolled until it reached the king’s chamber and landed on a curtain covering the floor, so that no matter how much they looked for it, nobody noticed it. The king bent down and set the curtains aside looking carefully under the bed and yet, nothing! At nightfall he stopped looking and went to bed. He locked the doors and his servants kept on looking for the melon throughout the entire castle. They looked for it till morning, when they collapsed frustrated and dead tired. The next morning nobody was able to draw the curtains at the windows, but the king was not upset anymore. The sunlight fell right on the melon that was on the curtain and it was the first thing the king saw when he woke up.

-“Goodness gracious, there it is!” said the astonished king. -“Knock, knock!” said Butterbur and Cutterbur who came in pale as a ghost and shaking: -“Your Highness, the melon vanished into thin air!” -“You will vanish, you fools, soon enough. Take it away!” and he pointed to the melon. The two pages lifted the melon and took it away and then the king joined them to split the melon and eat it. But when he stretched his knife towards it, the melon slid again and started rolling, and the advisers began to follow it again. As the day before, when they thought they had it, the melon would find a way out and roll either under an armchair or a

table or behind some statues. At one time, the great advisor cut in front of it, saying:

-“There’s no way you can escape now!” but the melon slipped between his legs and the great advisor fell backwards and landed on the biggest staircase in the throne room. After this trick, the melon reached a summer house where the queen was sitting and knitting. It hid at her feet, under her wide silk skirts. After she finished sewing she lifted her arms and stretched them to loosen them, got up and fell on the melon. The melon turned a little bit and the queen giggled. Then the melon started spinning her about the summer house and the queen loved this and was laughing out loud. The ladies of honour rushed to see why the queen was laughing and were taken aback to see her spinning around on the melon.

-“Enough, for I am getting dizzy!” she shouted and the melon stopped. Then she went into her chamber with the ladies of honour and the melon went rolling with them in between their skirts. The queen went to the mirror. She took the melon and laid it on her belly, turned around and took a look at herself from the side, sighing. Then the melon entered her womb and she became a pregnant woman, ready to give birth. The queen and the ladies got scared but in the same time they were happy. The queen sat down on the throne with the ladies of honour next to her, while the king and the courtiers were under the table searching for the melon. She smiled and said: -“Stop searching, the melon is with me!” Great was the king’s astonishment. He wondered what the queen would give birth to if inside of her was a melon. But

when he touched her belly, he felt a living creature moving exactly like a baby in its mother’s womb.

Shortly after that, the queen gave birth to a big beautiful son. The king was beside himself with joy and they feasted and partied for three days. They named him Prince Charming Meloan and he grew in one year as others would in seven years. After the birth of the boy, the melons started to grow and to ripen on the king’s field with no trouble at all. King Melon’s melons were so sweet and tasty that they were heard of beyond the borders of their country. The neighbouring king, Deadly Nightshade, asked for seeds. Cutterbur and Butterbur, by now great advisers, sent him some, but on his land nothing sprouted from the seeds. Enraged, King Deadly Nightshade set out with his army to lay waste the fields of king Melon.

King Melon got very upset. Being the peaceful king that he was, he was not very skilful in regard to war, but Prince Charming Meloan said to him: -“Don’t worry, father!” and whistled once, and all the melons in the field came out and formed an army rolling towards King Deadly Nightshade’s army, their enemy. The melons rolled at such speed that they knocked the soldiers backwards. Meanwhile, Prince Charming Meloan fired shots from his musket from behind the melons. The battle was over in one day and the enemy’s army was knocked down. A year passed by and King Deadly Nightshade set out against King Melon again. This time his army was twice as big but the neighbour’s melons were also a few hundred times more numerous.

The king’s soldiers made catapults for melons and struck the enemies until they destroyed them.

King Deadly Nightshade would not give up. He summoned the state council and decided to first of all destroy the melons, and then King Melon. But how would they do this? They sent an army of hungry hamsters to invade the king’s fields and nibble on the melons. But great was King Deadly Nightshade’s surprise when he saw Prince Charming Meloan coming towards him with an army of huge hamsters, their bellies full of melons, fat, satiated and holding guns in their paws. A terrible battle began.

All of a sudden, during the fight, a rider on a white horse showed up, with long locks of hair emerging from beneath his helmet. He took off his helmet and lo and behold: King Deadly Nightshade’s daughter, so much more beautiful than even the most beautiful sunrise! The girl started shouting: -“Hey, Prince Charming, stop the fight for I want to be your wife!” Prince Charming tried to look at her but had to shade his eyes because of her great beauty. Immediately he stopped the fight and they made peace. He went back with the princess and her father, King Deadly Nightshade, to King Melon’s palace. There they had a wedding that lasted three days and three nights. King Deadly Nightshade offered them a quarter of his kingdom, but after a while, being the miser that he was, asked to have it back. This only made Prince Charming and his wife laugh. They gave him back the lands, this time full of melons and lived happily. Who knows, maybe they still do today, in case they haven’t died yet.

The Milky River That spring, father’s business was not good. Father came back angry from the market, as more than half of the herd was unsold and, as usual when he was angry, he swore and went to bed without taking a bite. Next day, all the neighbouring cattle farmers gathered with father in the big room downstairs, poured wine and began to deliberate. They were all true cow herders, had

hundreds of cows in their stables, bathed twice a year, at Easter and Christmas, and drank brandy as if it were water, swore terribly and wiped their greasy lard knives on their trousers. They were not evil people, however, and there was always sugar in their pockets to give to horses and kids. They faced big competition for their herds; when going to the marketplace they had to sell their cattle well below cost or return home with it, while folk from the Milk Valley sold theirs immediately, their cattle being slender, with long twisted horns, gave lots of excellent milk; and what's more, it was believed that their cows were grazing at night and that's why they gave so much milk.

However, those who buy them mix them with the other cows in the herd and bring them to graze during the day, and then they give milk just like all the other cows; so why do they buy the cows from them? "Because of their reputation," Dad said, with anger, and all heads mumbled, still puzzled: "reputation." Immediately, I thought about Luke. We were going to the same school and were friends. He was from the Milk Valley and has even asked me to come over and visit one day. I had to go to find out the truth. I set out on a holiday, and went part of the road on foot and part by train to arrive at the Milk Valley. The village was situated on a plateau opening into a large and wide valley, cut by three rivers that would join further up into a single river, surrounded by reddish, barren hills.

Luke’s house was the last in a group of homes, and was located at the edge of the plateau, the back wall being right at the edge of the precipice. It was early morning, there was nobody in sight, and the geese of the village were coming along swaying; when they saw me they turned their heads and started hissing. The gate was half opened and I squeezed myself quickly into the yard. From there, I saw the geese

reaching the edge of the cliff and taking off over the plain. Luke was at the door, smiling. "They return in the evenings, they know how to take care of themselves," he assured me. I entered the cool house and sat on the bench. The room was small and the white walls were covered with sheets of bark. By the wall was an iron stove with legs like dog’s paws that took half the room’s space. It was a warm spring, and the stove was no longer used, and in the kitchen May’s lovage was drying on the range. Through the open door I noticed a weaving loom. "Where are your folks?" I asked. "Mom just went out to freshen up a bit. She's been weaving all night long," he replied. While talking with Luke about this and that, a noise was heard from the stove; the cast iron rings of the cooking range were shaking and rattling. Putting the lovage bunches aside, I took the burners out and a child’s head emerged and got out the stove. "It’s my sister," Luke said, and hurriedly picked her up and I froze thinking that this was a kid’s bed. The girl, who looked about two years old, was naked and I helped Luke wash her in the bath pile and dress her in a white shirt and skirt, and after that she looked like a living dandelion that needed to be sheltered from the wind so it won’t scatter. She was looking straight at me and I had the strange feeling that she could see through me.

For a while she stayed motionless in her big brother’s arms, as if listening to something, then she started to fret; on her nose a sled could glide rap Alicia, climbing a little on top and stopping at the edge of the precipice.

The girl laughed, but inside me I felt like falling. "There now, grumbled Luke, Mom said she will hire a man to look after the cows but I'm afraid that it will be she’s going to do the job after all." "Where are the cows?" I wondered. A small window opened to the stable. I set the curtain aside. The cows were fast asleep. "What's your sister's name?" I asked. "What's your name?" Luke turned and asked her. "Ariana," she answered cheerfully, "in the evening I'm taking the cows"… I looked at Luke. 'No one can contradict my Mom!' he said. We stepped out holding Ariana’s hands between the two of us and went down to the valley.

"Ariana is already given, you know, when she's eighteen she will marry a lad seven villages away, that is waiting for her, until then she'll graze the cows and sew her dowry. You don’t know how intricate a wedding dress is around here." Then he added, "A dress like this takes years to make, since this is the most important event." He started reciting rhythmically, bending towards the little girl that was laughing like a spoiled child: The four evangelists were three Luke and Matthew (but not me!) They found what they were looking for The round Earth they can control.

I felt like suffocating. "She won't go to school?" I asked. "What would she do at school?" he replied. "Would her sewing be better if she goes? Will she find out why she came here, why she's going and how to survive first love?" "I will not survive first love," I said with difficulty, looking at Ariana. Luke was silent like an old man full of wisdom; he was three years older than me; he took his sister on his shoulders

and we went further away into the valley. The rivers were as white as milk and were slowly boiling. "Try to put your foot in my footsteps, he said, there are spots that are quicksand while others are solid they are shifting, everything is ever-changing; only the river stays where it is, although this is not expected from it...the river shows the way” Facing the sun with her eyes closed, Ariana was singing and dangling her feet on her brother’s chest.

We sat on the river’s edge, among huge white rocks and green grass. We laid on the cobbles to catch some sun, then we dipped in the river, the water was thick as milk and steamy. Ariana was chasing some blue small butterflies. There was a smell of sun baked stone, grass and milk. I was looking at that area, arid, reddish, little vegetation, my eyes wondered along the rivers. They were flowing towards a plateau, rising to the sky, like a wall. "Here the land is desolate, there is too much iron, and there aren't many pastures," said Luke. "And where are the cows grazing?" I asked. Luke looked intently at a small insect Ariana has found, and said "They are going far away" and he pointed with his arm towards the plateau, "on those hills..." I closed my eyes, and listened to the sounds of water rushing between stones…I thought I heard some familiar sounds… "Does the river talk?" I asked. Luke smiled broadly: "It invariably says: everything is good." “What do you mean?” “Because everything, this means anything, first of all, is and second, is either close to whatever is there or is part of

whatever is there; so it turns out that one can only place good after is, so even if something is bad, it's still good." "The way you said it first was clearer," I mumbled. I looked at Ariana bathing in the river; she was as white as the river. "Look how much she grew up since this morning," I said. "Sorry?" Luke asked as if he hasn't heard me. "She is taller," I said. "Not at all," muttered Luke.

Some thoughts of bad words went through my mind, to tell Luke and be off with him forever; how could he believe he can fool me like that, the girl’s face was different as well, damned breed of sorcerers! "Listen," Luke said, "you are my friend, what you said is true, but I don’t know how to explain, it is and it isn't at the same time." I remembered what he said, that when NOT is in front of IS it's the same as YES, and I didn't say anything. I gestured that I was fed up. The sun was setting behind the hills and the valley became dark and very chilly; a chill that gets into your bones. I went home with Luke and got to meet his mother. She was making food in a kitchen hastily put together in the yard. She was white and fat, moving around like a goose and also talking like one. She served us dinner, then retreated to her weaving loom, perhaps she was making Ariana’s dowry. Luke kindled the lamp that was hanging from the ceiling, a lamp made from a musty pumpkin. We ate heartily and before we were about to finish the food in the pots, Ariana got up from the table and went out, without saying a word. She was a bit shorter than I. I remained looking into nothing, staring at the black frame of the door through which the girl disappeared. "There's full moon tonight," Luke said staring at the pumpkin. Then, he guided me to a small room and put sheets on a bed with a mattress made of grass.

I stretched with my arms under my head; through the low clay walls, full of bumps and cavities, a reddish light was penetrating. I was about to fall sound asleep, exhausted from the long journey and the dip in river, but I pulled myself out of bed and rushed out, to the edge of the precipice. The rivers were sparkling white in the darkness of the valley and the village cows were walking on them, in a neverending row - there was mooing and cowbell noise, and on one of the cows one could see Ariana’s silhouette. They were heading towards the flat plateau, beneath which the moon was rising, and the first cows were climbing one after the other, slender and black, haloed. Everything was true then. This was the starting point of all the trouble for my folk and all the cattlemen that had gathered around the table. But how come Luke asked me to come to his place when he knew I would see everything? I returned to my bed shivering from the cold. Luke was lying in bed, looking at me. "Please don’t get upset, I know we are a curse for the honest cattlemen but you see we have no choice; however we will all leave this place soon." "And you’ll go where?" I asked, frozen. "To where the pastures are," Luke answered. The next day I woke up and washed at the well, pouring water over my head with the bucket, while the images I saw at night were lingering in my head, and I couldn't think of anything else. I looked at the stable and saw the same thing; the cows were sound asleep, with pleated horns. I said goodbye to Luke and asked about Ariana, but he told me that she was very tired and was sleeping. I remembered myself as a child, sleeping among the cows and asked myself if she were also sleeping like that, or on a white soft bed, as a girl like her deserved. What did it matter though? I went through the door at the same time with the

geese, I looked at them again as their flock was flying over the valley and getting further away, then walked to the station. The long journey was good for me, as I could think undisturbed. Should I tell father what happened? How come Luke was not worried about this? I got home. Father was in the stable with two servants, grooming the horses. "You’re back," he said happily, and then asked briefly "Hey, what’s up?" His face was honest yet upset at the same time. I could not lie to him. Facing the ground I said: "It’s true"… "Damn them then!" and he mounted the horse and galloped away. The next day, riding on their horses through the fog, they all went to the Milk Valley. But they found nothing, nothing at all, not even a forlorn cat, only the houses and the stables, all empty and abandoned. The slender cows with long horns never again showed up at the markets. Ten years went by. One summer day I mounted my horse and went to the abandoned village. I could not find the homes anymore, and could not recognize the place; only the river was as white as before, with white rocks and green grass on the edges. I walked on the hills till the evening, went into the water, and saw that it was shallow; it hardly covered the horse’s hoofs and was slowly boiling. I started to go forth in the direction of the river, from one side of the river to the other. I was thinking…with a wife like Ariana I wouldn’t mind if I sold the cattle or not, or hmm, I wouldn't be that upset. Is she still that beautiful, as an adult? And having a goose for a mother… The children are beautiful to make the adults protect them, it’s only a defence weapon of the species, when they grow up they start looking like their parents; but for sure I would love her still, and if she got to look like her mother, I would know that she is hidden there in a goose-woman and that would be enough for me.

At the same time I was hearing Ariana’s childish voice singing. I stood straight and did not sway. The skunk sniffed me and ran away. I was drunk and could not stay, But was caught into the fray Hip-hop, I had it made, I lit a fire with nobody's aid.

The Truest Lie Once upon a time there was a witch. She was the worst good witch and she lived in the biggest little house, in the oldest young forest. The house was neither white nor yellow, neither purple nor black. It was actually the whitest black house, and the reddest pink house. One day, was the sunniest rainy day, two little boys passed by. One of them had the bluest green eyes and the fairest chestnut hair, while the other one was the bravest coward boy. The witch was at home and the boys saw her hiding after the curtain, next to the window. “Hey, lady witch, give us some water….” “We are very thirsty because we have arrived here walking on the most twisting straight pathway.” “Drink by yourselves! What do you want – the spring is there, under your noses… ” And the boys drank, but because it was the coldest warm spring that crossed under the best bad witch’s house, donkey ears grew on their heads. They were the shortest long ears ever seen, but they were still donkey ears.

Firstly, when the boys found themselves endowed with those ears they laughed. But then they cried. Then they started thinking about what is there to be done about it. “We can’t go on looking like this.” This was exactly what the witch was waiting for. She said:”I know how you can get rid of these ears. In exchange, you will have to tell me a story. “Yeah, of course, they said. We know a lot of stories. Which one do you prefer?” “I want … I want you to tell me a story about the truest lie. This is the story I want you to tell me. But you have to tell it in such a way the no one can realize which part is the truth and which is the lie. Can you do this? If you can’t you will be mine!”

The two boys thought for some time. If they didn’t find the truest lie they would become the witch’s slaves forever. And this wasn’t all. They would also remain with those donkey ears for the rest of their lives. So they had a talk, and then they started their story under the best bad witch’s surveillance. “Good. Listen! The goat, the lion and the cow became brothers. They wanted to save their money together in order to open an inn at the edge of the forest. Then, the goat…” “You are lying! This is impossible! The lion would immediately take the cow and goat’s money away, moreover the latter could be grateful to survive after such an experience. It is a shameless lie! Can’t you do any better?” Then the two boys withdrew again, discusses for a while, and the second boy said: “Once upon a time there was an excellent cook. One day she took a chicken and cooked it. Her master had guests for lunch. The chicken smelled so good that you couldn’t resist it.

‘I have to taste it, to see if there is enough salt in it ’, the cook said. And she broke a wing. Then, in order for the master not to notice anything, she broke another wing. Gradually she

ate the entire chicken. Then she went to her master and told him that the chicken was ready but the knives were blunt, and they need sharpening. So the master started to sharpen the knives for the guests. She waited for the guests to arrive and told them that her master has gone mad. ‘Can you hear him sharpening the knives? This is because he wants to kill you.’ And so all the guests ran away frightened. Then the cook went back to the master and said ‘You have such bizarre friends! They came, stole the chicken and then ran away!” “This is a true story! I even met the cook myself! You have no idea of how stories should be told! Come on, one more try! I don’t have all day to listen to you! If you do not succeed this time, you are mine!” So the two boys talked to each other for the last time. Eventually, hastened by the impatient witch, they started again. “Once upon a time, there was a dwarf, named Kiki” “The witch was silent because although she had never seen a dwarf she couldn’t say that it was a lie.” “He was the most giant dwarf.” The witch was silent again because she still couldn’t contradict them. Who could say how tall a dwarf could be? “His best friend was the giant Meme. He was the shortest giant. They were good friends and together they went to conquer the most beautiful ugly girl’s heart. She was the most honest thief’s daughter, whose only fortune was an apple. This apple was the reddest and could even sing. Hit sang every night to the gayest sad girl, ad this would fill your heart with sorrow.” The witch fiddled for a short time but still didn’t say anything. So the little boy continued.

“When the boys arrived there they didn’t know what to do because they both liked the girl very much. ‘Should we fight for her?’ they wondered. We cannot agree with this, we are friends. Kiki and Meme – have a legendary friendship.” At this point both boys shut up. “And then? What happened next?” “We will tell you since we are Kiki and Meme. We will tell you if you guess which one is Kiki and which one is Meme.”

The witch thought for a pretty long time, but wasn’t able to guess the truth. So she had to give up. And what’s more, she had to rid them of the mule ears. But before the two boys left, she asked them to tell her the end of the story. “Well, that’s very simple. The ugliest beautiful girl had a sister.” “She was most beautiful ugly girl. So both- that is to say all four of them were happy. “And then? What next?” “Nothing happened next. We are heading to the wedding. Would you like to come? We are not mad at you.” But the best bad witch didn’t go to the wedding since she is not yet fully convinced whether Meme and Kiki’s story was true, or just a very whopping lie.

The Watch Dog From the kitchen window I could see the earthen stable, aslant, with a tile jutting out, in the white vastness of the plain, where the hawk would stand. It was only when the house was ready that I did realize I would live there, so I thought of a saving solution – commensurate with the land and the house - a dog to watch outside day and night, ignoring the bitter cold. In front of the stable, in the middle of the yard, I set the kennel of Baruck, a shepherd puppy who would bark all day long; he barked at the hawk, at the sparrows, at the hamsters, he barked at all living creatures. His bark was filling the

darkness, sliding down to the river and knocking against the hills. As the puppy was growing, I felt more and more secure and well at ease. He was getting more and more vicious and had a special repugnance to Uncle Samuel and Uncle Gabriel, my neighbours on the right and on the left, respectively. He drew near the fence and barked at them till foam came to his muzzle. Worst of all, I didn’t have a solid fence. It was quite expensive to set up such a long fence and I didn’t have enough money for that.

There was an iron fence on Uncle Gabriel’s side, but one day the old man had it removed and sold it to buy fire wood. His nephews replaced it with putrid boards which they laid among the half-dead trees, their leaves torn out by the wind. If only he had asked me, I would have paid him for the fence provided he had left it there. But when I came from work, the job was done. The next day I heard noises and I saw Baruck running about Gabriel’s yard and chasing the hens. He had jumped over the fence and tumbled down with the boards and all, on the fowls that were quietly pecking their grains. I called out at him but he pretended not to hear me and he went on fooling around. I ran as fast as I could to get him out of the yard; as I was pulling at the leash to force him out, for he wouldn’t obey my orders, uncle Gabriel’s head as longish as a champ, with a high cap on it, appeared at the attic window. God knows how long he had been hiding there, poor man, not venturing to come out. Suddenly I felt I was warm and I took off two of the three pullovers I was wearing. Lest he should go on fooling around, I chained up Baruck. The chain was long enough to allow him to move. Baruck would turn around the kennel until the chain almost strangled him, so he would start to yelp and I had to roll him over so that he could break loose.

My wife Alma and I set ourselves to pull down an old ruined shed. Uncle Samuel called on us, a bottle of fresh milk in his hands. He sat down on a pile of wood and watched us work. Baruck was struggling fiercely in his leash. - “You got yourself a dog as big as your own fear” he said and began to explain why the dog was raging and fuming against them. Samuel was Gabriel’s brother and his lands, our lands and Gabi’s as well, had once been part of the same piece of property which had been divided among three brothers. Baruck, standing right on the middle lot, felt that the lands around belonged to his master, yet they were trodden by aliens. Their father’s dog felt that way too, just like the dog of their brother who had dwelled in that house, and the dog of the nephew from whom we had bought the land and any dog that would have stayed in that yard would have acted in the same way. I was just jumping on a beam to fell it when, looking up, I saw Baruck running around, dragging the kennel through the garden, where tender green shoots and shrubs were sprouting here and there. The hook to which the chain was attached was broken so I had fixed it to the kennel. My wife rushed along and tried to hold Baruck but she couldn’t.

He was as tall as Alma and if he put his forepaws on her chest, he was even taller. Samuel rushed upstairs in the garret, making for safety, all you could see was his high pointed cap. We gave up demolishing. I put the kennel back in its place, I fixed another hook into the concrete wall, I chained up the dog and I helped Samuel down. One evening, as I turned round the corner of the street, I saw Baruck’s big white head peeping through the fence and the shadow of a villager going round by the other side. Whenever we found Baruck loose outside we feared lest someone should knock at the door complaining they had been

bitten by the dog and we asked ourselves whether Uncle Samuel and Uncle Gabriel were safe and sound and sitting by the fire. I opened the gate and drove the car into the stable and Baruck pushed it too, standing on his back paws. In a box we kept a donkey we had received from Uncle Samuel.

I gave the donkey some hay then I chained up the dog while Alma was stuffing the hen house with straw lest they should be cold. It was freezing so hard that it seemed to me the air was getting thick as if turning into metal. We made for home. I called the cat in, I lighted the fire, we ate some bread and cheese and we went to bed. It feels so good to warm yourself by the fire on such a frosty evening, while a big, fierce dog is watching outside. But it was not before long that I heard Baruck barking. I knew when he barked just for fun, when he barked with indifference, to do his duty, when he barked at the passers-by, or at the tomcat who was passing by the end of his chain, I knew when he barked impatiently and joyfully on welcoming us, or when Samuel or Gabriel were walking through their own yards, when the hawk would sit on the tile or when the hedgehogs came out from under the tool-shed, but this time his barking was filled with hatred for intruders. I sat up and listened. No, it was not just an impression. It was that bark. Barefoot as I was, I grabbed a flashlight and the club we used to keep behind the door and I ran out of the house. I directed the flash to the place from where the bark was heard. Baruck came by my side then ran towards the far end of the garden, as far as the chain allowed him. A hedgehog was sauntering Alicia through the frozen weeds. I pushed him on a shovel and took him inside the house that Alma could see him as well. We turned the hedgehog on all sides and then I carried him back in the bushes. I had fallen fast asleep when Alma shook me by the shoulder.

-What is it? I asked her. - It’s Baruck again. He’s barking desperately. - Oh, God, I mumbled and wrapped myself up. But the bark never ceased. I got up again, took the club and the flashlight and went out. The dog was busy with the tool-shed, under which was a cellar full of carrots and cabbages. I had a look round the orchard, the fences and the neighbouring yards and returned home. Alma was standing at the window, scanning the darkness. - It’s the hares, she said with a sigh, I saw them hopping about the trees. I went back to sleep and as the bed seemed to carry us down into the realm of slumber, I heard the dog bark again. We were getting lower and lower, the sounds were fading away in the distance and soon we were sailing on silent waters, surrounded by huge cotton walls. Behind them a battle was being fought that couldn’t reach us. When we awoke, a sun of an icy winter morning was stealing through the window panes and the clock stroke seven. At that hour the hens were waiting for their grains, peeping through the loops of the wire fence covered with dry stems. But there was no hen, only the cock was crowing in despair and flapping its wings, on top of the stable. I got out of the hen enclosure and I called Baruck, shouting as loud as I could, I rushed into the yard running to and fro like a madman. I entered the tool-shed. I was taken aback. We used to keep a cart there which had been left there by the former owner. There was no cart. I went round the house and I ran into Alma who was running from the other side, searching. We rushed into the stable. The donkey was nowhere to be found. Neither Baruck was. I entered the house to call the police and the cock followed me. He jumped on the table in the middle of the kitchen and began to flap his wings and to crow like hell. As I was holding the receiver at my ear and, at the other end, the constable was

asking for more and more details, I put the receiver under the cock’s beck and went off to complain to my two neighbours. - So, your dog has vanished, hasn’t he, said Uncle Gabriel, with an ironical twinkle in his eyes. - Oh, don’t be sorry ‘bout the dog, said Uncle Samuel with a jerk and pulled his cap over his eyes, but the hens and the donkey, what a pity! Uncle Gabriel made for the field and took me along. He showed me the wheel tracks of the cart. Here, that’s the road they took. He stretched out his arm towards the hazy horizon. I looked that way and suddenly I caught sight of black and white spot looming out of the haze. Baruck! He went round by a reed thicket and I saw him grow. Uncle Gabi said a quick good-bye and off he went. Whenever Baruck runs to me like this, I step aside lest he should knock me down. I don’t always succeed in stepping aside and for sure I didn’t succeed that time, so the dog tumbled over me and I fell down. I caught him by the collar and I fixed the leash and we took the road back in the direction from which he had come. He was pulling me along. It was only in the third village that he stopped in front of a farmstead and began to bark. I knocked at the door and two lads came out. They were the culprits. They had stolen the dog to sell him for a tidy sum of money, they had intended to keep the hens and the donkey for themselves, as for the cart, which I treasured as an antique, they wanted to set it on fire. They had tied the dog and locked him up in a storehouse but Baruck had gnawed the rope, then jumped through an opening and ran off. They hadn’t expected that much. I don’t know why I felt something was missing. - Was it just the two of you? -No. Zsolt, Snape and Peter are at the dispensary. I gave them some money to buy medicines and heal their wounds. Then I took the donkey, the cart and the hens and make for home, with Baruck tied to the axle. As I got near the house I saw a constable in the yard, quarrelling with the cock. Knowing Alma, I can bet she was hiding behind the curtain,

enjoying the scene. I stopped the cart in the field and I waited for the constable to leave.

Why My Dog’s Ears Are So Long - See what happened? … My friend, Coco, shouted. I’ve always told you, do not let the dog alone with the cat, but once again, you did not listen to me! -But I didn’t let them sit together; when I left for work, they were each sitting in their places, but ... Spotted was in the kennel in the centre of the courtyard, each day and night. Only in the winter he is allowed to stay in the hall next to the kitchen, in a basket with a mattress. Try to imagine, it’s pouring outside, it’s cold, and a brown cat with black ears and blue eyes comes from the backyard, and passes pawing the stones, to see whether it is worth touching them with her paws, while watching the dog pulling around the chain. Then, the cat turns around, proudly and rhythmically swinging her tail, and as she approaches the house, she pushes her little door with her head and comes in. Sometimes, the owner, that is to say: me, allows the dog to come inside in the house, and go around the rooms. Often, when he sees the cat, sitting near to Alicia in the tall bed, he starts barking.

One day, when the owners were out, while the cat was stretching over the bed covers, Spotted jumped and with his forelegs on the window, glanced inside. But the cat was fast asleep. But it wasn’t only spotted who was staring inside the house. The rooster, the three hens, and the goat came to watch, and even a little hedgehog, kindled by the huddle in front of the window, decided to climb the ivy stems. Two yellow hamsters who didn’t dare move from the shelter they made under the chimney, afraid that the cat might come, climbed to the other

window. The donkey burst in too, and lifted his forelegs on the wall, between the hamsters. Since he’s been working all morning, pulling the cabbage carriage, he asked the two yellow neighbours – the hamsters:

- “What did that cat toil to be sleeping in so late?” "The hamsters, morose because of the bad weather and the back pain caused by carrying sacks with provisions off the fields, answered with their mouth half closed: "- “That cat doesn’t work, doesn’t even carry grains, like we do. The master lays the food under her mouth basically!” "The hens started to cockle: - “Maybe she’s just about to lay eggs?” "And the rooster said:" - “Ha-ha, cats don’t lay eggs like you, nor do they sing like me!” - “Oh, shut up, it is your fault!” said the others, “You don’t sing loud enough in the mornings for everyone to hear you and wake up!” - “What is that? The master wakes up only at the sound of my cock-a-doodle-doo, which is loud enough to be heard three miles away. His watch can break, but my voice won’t fail.” Then the rooster shouted a cock-a-doodle-doo so sharp and loud that those around him covered their ears and the cat turned on the other side. The rooster shouted once more, even louder, and then the two windows split into thousands of cracks. The cat jumped terrified, saw all those faces at the window, and bristled her tail. Angry at the dog for making a fool of her, showing everyone what a lazy animal she is, the cat decided to take vengeance. The following day, the cat went to talk to the dog, and approached him wreathing her branchy tail around his foot:

- “Look, this is what I’m thinking, when the owner leaves and lets you roaming around the courtyard, come inside the house and sleep in that warm and soft huge bed. But pay attention; firstly, make sure that you wash your paws like I do, because otherwise you will get me in a lot of trouble.”

Spotted was so happy that he didn’t waste any moment thinking. As soon as the owners left, came running to the cat’s door. The cat was speaking from behind the door: - "Oh, goodness, the mistress left this house too warm; maybe I should crack a window to make it cooler.” - "No, please, leave it like that!” said the dog, soaked by the autumn drizzle and his nose steaming. And tried to come inside the house, but his head got caught: -"Wait!” said the cat "First, show me your paws.” The dog sneaked his paws through the door, but the cat whined: -“O see some dirt on your left leg, go get that water hose and wash it off, then come back.” The dog ran and washed his legs again, then pushed the little door to enter the house, but got stuck, because he was a little bigger than the small door opening.

After many efforts to sneak in, he entered, but half of his body was still stuck. The cat, however, continued to encourage him: -"Come on, just make another effort!” The dog kept shoving himself in, but it was all useless. -"Your fur is very bushy and curly, hold on maybe if I’ll trim it and you’ll get thinner and will surely fit through the door!” Then the cat brought in a scissor, and started chopping his fur. Spotted slid a little through the opening, but got even more stuck. He was not able to move any way longer. At seeing this, the cat looked at the big watch on the wall, and began lamenting:

-’’Oh my God, in a little while the masters will be back home and they will catch us, and we are going to be in so much trouble!'' Then, desperate and frightened, the cat started pulling the dog’s ears. Spotted was worried too, but he didn’t make a sound, and allowed the cat to pull his ears, happy that she’s helping him to get in. The cat kept pulling and pulling, and the dog was telling her: ''pull harder please!'', and afraid that the owners will come home and see him, he ignored all the pain. When I got home, I found Spotted stuck in the little door, his ears were extremely long, like Cockers, and his fur all chopped. I had to cut the door with a jigsaw to get him out of there, and then I took his to get his hair cut and arranged. He stayed in the hall until his fur grew back. And since then, my dog has long ears….but it looks better this way! -''True'', agreed Coco. ''And what happened to the cat?'' -"Well ... what happened to the cat? Well … you know how it is … you come home tired and the cat jumps in your lap and starts purring…” -"I know…”

The World's Largest Animal Once upon a time, there was a girl named Michelle. Michelle had a twin brother, whose name was Wolfgang. One day Michelle and Wolfgang wanted to go to the big city, but although Michelle has been searching for her shoes for more than ten minutes, she couldn't find any of her shoes. "Ha, ha, ha, she can't find her shoes, she can't find her shoes!" was Wolfgang mocking her. But his laugh quickly disappeared when he realised that ... he couldn't find his shoes either.

Now they were both looking for their shoes, but these were not to be found. They looked behind and in front the door of the big room, behind and in front of the bathroom door, in the closet, even in the refrigerator, but the shoes couldn't be found ANYWHERE.

Well, finally Michelle found her right shoe. It was hiding under the bed. And, Wolfgang also found his left shoe, behind the armchair. But neither of them could find the other shoe. "So what do we do now?" asked Michelle. "Let's go for a walk. Let's try something new," suggested Wolfgang. Michelle was thinking aloud: "One shoe for each of us should be enough. I would wear my right shoe and hop on my right foot, and you would wear your left shoe and hop on your left foot. And just so that we won't fall, we will have to hold each other. "And so they did. On their way they met Martin. "What are you doing here?" asked Martin. “We are playing a new game. It's called Hop with one shoe only," Wolfgang explained. "Can I play too?" asked Martin. " You can't, how could you? You're wearing both your shoes."

Martin took off his left shoe, propped himself on Michelle's shoulder and now all three were hopping. " Where are we hopping to?" asked Martin after a while. “Let's go to Lena first," said Michelle. They went to Lena, and Lena took the sandal off her left foot and started hopping with her friends. The four were now hopping towards the city centre. On the store front, they met Mrs. Schmidt-Bierbaum.

"Good day, Mrs. Schmidt-Bierbaum. We are playing. Let's hop with one shoe only. Please come and play with us." Mrs. Schmidt-Bierbaum was a very nice person and she

found this suggestion to be a very good one, particularly since her left shoe has been hurting her for a few days already.

Relieved, she threw her shoe into the first garbage bin she encountered. She propped herself on Martin and ... joined in. Now, there were five people hopping around with one shoe only — four kids and one lady. Some people would turn their heads and ask, "What's this foul trick?"

Others found this game so funny, that they immediately joined in. After about half an hour, the chain of people who were hopping with one shoe was almost a hundred yards long. Miriam, Wolfgang's friend was all alone in her room. She has just finished eating a couple of biscuits, when she threw a short glance over her window and she couldn't believe her eyes. She could see thousands of people, hopping on one foot and wearing one shoe only, and at the head of all these people was her friend Wolfgang. "What's this?" asked Miriam. "This is a caterpillar," said Wolfgang. "This is the longest caterpillar in the world!" and everybody was laughing. Sometime later they all returned alone to their homes, hopping on one foot.

A Story with Dad, Mom, Michael and the Polar Bear

-“Mom, it's time for my story!” -“Hmm, yes, you're right! What story would you like to hear?” mum asked. -“One with dad, mom, Michael, the polar bear and dad going to the North Pole and then coming back to Michael ... “ -“Ohh!”

-Once upon a time, there was... dad, who went to the North Pole to take some pictures he needed for work. Dad went by bus, by train, by supersonic airplane and finally on a sleigh drawn by twenty huskies. He got to the North Pole and

started taking pictures while a polar bear kept walking around him. The bear befriended dad so much that when dad finished taking photos of the ice floes, the glaciers, the seals, the penguins, the auroras borealis and the Eskimos and got in his sleigh to take off, the bear quickly climbed up the back of the sleigh and rode along with dad to the nearest airport.

Riding back with the bear was no easy thing to do; the polar bear had to be hidden carefully, otherwise he could not have gotten on the plane. Dad crammed him in a huge travelling bag, the most enormous bag ever to ride the luggage conveyor belt of an airport, but he got away with it because nobody checked it. Dad was watching the bag getting closer and closer and was worrying about how he would pick it up, but it leaped off the conveyor belt by itself, then dad and his jumping bag got out of the airport and... -“I need a taxi, please, at the airport ... for the railway station.� But when the taxi arrived and the driver saw what he was about to carry, he quickly turned around and left without hesitation. Finally, a horse-drawn carriage stopped, picked up dad and the polar bear and, with moil and toil, took them home.

Upon getting home... they got in the house. The neighbours were watching through the fence, asking themselves what could their neighbour have brought home from abroad; what a huge bag he had... they were looking forward to being invited to see it, especially because dad was a very friendly person and the neighbours were always welcomed to their house. Only this time nothing happened.

Dad had a mysterious smile, mom was very busy and the little boy would shriek, and many times you could hear this indescribable noise, the doors and the windows would shake, as if the whole house was jumping and it seemed it wasn't really straight anymore. The neighbours knocked at the door to say 'Hi' but mom served them coffee in the garden, on the little table covered in snow. There was no noise coming from the house; it was very quiet and calm. The polar bear walked around the whole house, inspecting it, and then stopped by the fridge – it was somewhat familiar – he opened it, took out the whipped cream and the milk and drank... well, actually gulped them down, and continued to sniff the cold box that was now buzzing because its temperature was rising.

He found the bottom compartment, a drawer full of frozen fish. He took out the drawer, sat down in a corner and began to lick, suck and champ the fish, and then he licked the drawer clean and threw it far away.

-“Hello”, mom called dad“, you'd better go and buy fish, whipped cream and the fattest milk”. -“How much of those do we need?” -“Well, about a hundred kilograms of fish and as much whipped cream and milk as you can buy, and a huge freezer to fit them all. -“And all of those are meant for the bear?” -“Exactly, what do you think your little friend from the North Pole will eat? Or you want him to eat us?” Dad never became flustered: -“The best solution would be to rain with fish, a whirlpool to sweep through the pond and pour the fish into our yard ... “

Mom didn't become flustered easily either: -“Yes, that would be the best solution, but since the ponds are frozen now ... “ Dad got home with a huge cooling box, full of fish and a few litres of whipped cream and... Knock! Knock! On his right: -“Hello, neighbour, would you please stop taking the milk to the collection centre, I'll buy it from you!” -“Twenty litres a day it’s what I want neighbour.” -“Twenty, I hope it'll be enough.” Knock! Knock! On his right: -“Hello, neighbour, would you please stop taking the milk to the collection centre, I'll buy it from you!” -“Well, its ten litres neighbour!” -“Than we have a deal!” The two neighbours leaned towards each other at the gate. -“What is our neighbour's business with our milk? Ever since he got back from the North Pole, they've all been acting so weird!” And the bear would sit with the fish drawer in his lap and lick, suck and champ in great haste, and you could see about five bottles of milk and whipped cream lined up in front of him: two fish, half a bottle, two fish, a bottle, and a bit further away, sitting at the table, dad, mom and Michael were eating bread with salt and tomatoes. At night, they would go out to walk the bear, gently, for him not to get hot, because polar bears have a thick layer of fat under their fur and they warm up fast if they run, and the dog was supposed to watch over him. Then the food ran out. The bear would sit and lick the empty fridge and would give dad a very sad look when he came in the door. Michael would pass by their neighbours,

sometimes the one on their left, sometimes the one on their right, and would smell the pots they had on the stove. They would ask him to come in and eat and were surprised at how hungry he was and what a nice figure mom had. It's obvious she goes to the gym every day, her friends were saying. One day, dad looked at the huge freezer – empty - and told the polar bear: -“Let's go back, boy! What would the bear do, winter was almost over and spring was going to be hard to endure.” Dad and his white buddy got ready for the journey, only this time they were helped by an organization for the animal protection that sent them a truck. Dad accompanied him to make sure he got there alright and left him right there where he had met him, that is, the North Pole, on an ice floe, using this opportunity to take some more pictures. The bear jumped in the ocean, grabbed a fish and wolfed it down, and then he brought one to dad as well. Dad thanked him, put it in his bag and told him: -“I'm going to eat it at home, with Michael and mom!” And so he did.

The Tale of Zarinhka Once upon a time there was a very beautiful country, called Arrkhom Land. King Guenther and Queen Lucinda reigned there, but the witch Thaandalia had sold her heart to the devil in exchange for an enchanted mirror that could see

everything that happened around the world and this with wanted to reign in the Arrkhom Land. Guenther, who was a wizard himself cast a spell over the Arrkhom Land and made it invisible. People could reach it only in their dreams and only if they were able to love, that is, if they had a heart. Therefore, Thaandalia ran away to Aver Land where she sheltered under Prince Grunjhar’s bed, who immediately went down with an illness. After a period of time Arrkhom Land, which was a rather small county, became too crowded for King Guenther’s children. He loved them equally, both the younger and the elder ones, the whiter and the darker ones, the lazier and the more hard-working ones, but the one he loved the most was Zarinhka, his eldest daughter. Zarinhka was tall and slender, with ring-like curly hair, with bright and lively eyes that shone like stars, white pearl-like teeth and lips that were red like true love. She was gay and kind, generous and gentle. Moreover, she was the most reputed singer and dancer in the whole Arrkhom Land, but also a witch. One morning Guenther gathered all his children and told them: “Chej bari mure, chave muri, my princes and princesses! Arrkhom country is no longer big enough for you, go out into the wide world as your heart’s desire and fulfil your destinies. Spread into the world and be of good use to the people, fill the world with your gifts, be kind-hearted, joyful, love and enjoy life! And should you encounter any difficulties, or remain without a shelter above your head, sleep on the bare earth, dream and we shall meet again! But be aware, once you have returned to the Arrkhom Land you cannot go out of it unless carried away over the rainbow by true love!” And this is how Guenther and Lucinda’s children spread around the world. Those who loved silver went under the leadership of Rhuupy, and those who loved gold went under the leadership of Sumnakal, and they became silversmiths and

goldsmiths. Others, who loved the fire and its bright lively colours joined Carros the coppersmith and fed the world from their cast-iron kettles. Those who loved freedom, cool forests and endless plains chose Graasthias as their leader and they became horse coppers and carters, while those who only knew how to live life to the full and enjoy it started to wander the cities and settle around their outskirts and entertain people with their dancing and singing. Zarinhka, king Zuralio’s most beloved daughter followed this latter group. Meanwhile, in the Aver Land, Prince Grunjhar was quickly dying out because Thaandalia who was still hiding under his bed, tortured him night after night. She would go into his dreams, and would whip and scratch him in an attempt to make him find his way to the Arrkhom Land. But she didn’t succeed because the Prince had never met real love. When Guenther’s sons and daughters arrived there with Zarinhka, the settled at the border of the city, put up their tents, built the fire and started partying. Grunjhar could hear the music of the Arrkhom tribe from his window and, and he realized that his heart started beating faster, and then an unusual desire takes hold of him gradually. So the Prince wrapped himself into his darkest mantle and got out of the city. He hid behind the trees and trying to have a better view of the party he fell over some stinging nettles and let out a loud scream. The musicians surrounded him instantly, their knives out: “Don’t kill him” Zarinhka cried out loud, “I want to see his face! What were you doing here?” she asked him sharply. “I was trying to dance on your music”, admitted the Prince, embarrassed at being caught like a common thief. “Is that so?” Zarinhka laughed. “Then go ahead, dance! We want to see you. And you,” -she said, turning in the musicians’ direction- “go on singing!”

Grunjhar made some dance steps but Zarinhka approached him and said, “Not this way. Keep your back straight. Look, like this!” He started dancing again, while looking at her, and Zarinhka, in turn, could not take her eyes away from the Prince. They partied until dawn, but right before sunrise a powerful wind started blowing. That was Thaandalia who had become acquainted with the fact that the Prince was not in his bed. The musicians spread and Zarinhka took Grunjhar’s hand and ran into the forest, towards a clearing where Graasthias’s horses were grazing, and mounted Balval the fastest of all horses. Followed by Thaandalia they arrived at Carros’ place, who offered then a copper kettle. They threw it behind them and a black water river appeared. But the witch swam after them clenching the mirror strongly in her arms. Then they reached Rhuupy’s place and he gave them a silver comb. When they threw the comb behind them, a forest of sky-tall thorns appeared. But Thaandalia crossed it, tearing her flesh and becoming a skeleton with a mirror in her arms. Left with no place to run to Zarinhka and Grunjhar fell asleep in the tall grass, and went to Arrkhom land as Grunjhar and Zarinhka had found true love. There they met King Guenther and queen Lucinda. Meanwhile, Thaandalia could see everything that was happening in her enchanted mirror so she entered the Prince’s dream and showed herself to Guenther in the shape of a devil with burning eyes. Then she threw herself at Guenther and a terrible fight followed. Thaandalia burned everything that came into her sight but Guenther made a sign and it started to rain. Thaandalia brought fog over Arrkhom Land but Guenther came riding the moon and dispersed the fog. Then Thaandalia turned herself into King Guenther and nobody could tell which one was the real king.

However, in order to do that she had to let go of the enchanted mirror for a few moments, which gave the true Guenther the opportunity to take it, to lock Thaandalia inside it, and to throw her inside a rainbow. So, even today, when there is rain, or fog, we can see Thaandalia struggling to get out, but she cannot hurt anybody anymore since she is powerless. Zarinhka and Grunjhar went happily back to people’s land, walking on the rainbow, because they were led by true love. As to Arrkhom Land, you can hear from time to time about what a wonderful land it is, with high mountains and deep waters, covered in a bright rainbow, and reined by a great wizard king and a very beautiful queen: Guenther and his love, Lucinda.

Frederick the Elephant Toddler Frederick, the elephant toddler was left home alone for the first time ever. He lived with his parents in the Elephants' Forest. Frederic was a very nosy young elephant. He opened the door slowly, and a bit hesitatingly, he went out the door. Proudly carrying his trunk, he went on a walk through the Elephants' Forest. At every step he would meet other elephants who went for a walk in the forest. "Good day, Frederick," he was greeted by the elephants he would meet. "Good day," answered Frederick raising his trunk. "Are you going for a little walk?" asked his uncle. "Yes, I am," answered Frederick. "Are you well, Frederick?" asked one of his aunties. "Yes, auntie, I am very well, indeed!" answered Frederick. Frederick went further and further away from his house. He hasn't even realized that he was already past the Elephants' Forest and that he has reached an unfamiliar forest. There, in this forest, he met a lion. Frederick has never seen a lion before. "Good day," said Frederick, "my name is Frederick. And, who are you?" The Lion did not answer. He just started roaring as loud as he could. His roar was so loud that the trees started to shake.

“What’s going on here?" asked a startled Frederick. "Can't you talk?" Surprised, the Lion asked: "Have you no fear of me at all?"

"Fear? What is fear?" asked Frederick. "Fear is a feeling that comes when one sees a lion, and starts to tremble," the Lion replied. "I only tremble when I am cold," said Frederick. "You are very brave," the Lion said. "Brave? What does brave mean?" asked Frederick. "Brave means not to tremble when we see a lion," the Lion said. "Until now, all those who saw me were scared and ran away. You, Frederick, were the only one who was not frightened." "This is not so good for you", said Frederick. "It means that you are always alone."

The Lion agreed. Frederick was absolutely right. Indeed, he felt that he was very, very lonely. "Come with me," said Frederic. There, in the middle of the forest, they met a magician who was wearing a huge hat. The magician was sitting under a tree doing magic tricks. He was turning flowers into balloons, and balloons into flowers.

He was smiling, very content with himself. One could tell that doing magic was much fun for him.

"Why is he doing this?" Frederick asked himself. Almost one hundred balloons were gently floating above the forest. Every balloon was bigger than a tree, and had unbelievably beautiful colours. The balloons looked like a dancing rainbow. The magician saw that Frederick was staring at him and asked:

"Don’t you like my balloons?"

"Oh yes, yes, I must admit that I do," said Frederick. All of a sudden, the Lion emerged from behind a tree and started to roar the way he always did. The Lion roared so loudly that one of the balloons blew up. The magician started to shake and tremble with fear. "Don’t be afraid," said Frederick. "The Lion is my friend and he will not harm you or anyone else." But the magician continued to tremble. "Could you please also tell him that you don’t harm anyone?" Frederick asked the Lion. "Frederick is right," the Lion said, "I just roar for my own pleasure. I like to roar just as you like to do magic," the Lion told the magician, "and I was very lonely until I met Frederick." Thereafter, the magician did not fear the Lion anymore. "I would like to be your friend," the magician told the Lion. "Anyone who is the Lion's friend is also my friend," said Frederick.

The three friends started walking. And walking in a threesome was more fun than walking as a pair. And so they walked into the forest, and they went deeper and deeper... Frederick was walking in front, followed by the Lion, and the magician was the last in their line. At some stage the magician took off his hat, and… he pulled a few rabbits out of it. The Lion was very surprised.

He was so surprised that he started roaring. This time he roared so hard that the rabbits were startled; they jumped out of the hat and ran into the forest.

"My friend," said Frederick, "can't you control yourself a little bit?" "Yes I can, Frederick," said the Lion. "Look, I am done roaring."

The next time, when the magician pulled a rabbit out of the hat, the Lion needed much self-control not to start roaring. He was as quiet as a mouse. He was so quiet, that the rabbit was not afraid of him at all. And the one that does not know fear has no reason to run away. "Again? Okay, Okay, Frederick, I am so sorry," said the Lion. And the Lion promised to be quiet, so as not to scare his friends. And thus these friends were walking and walking through the unknown forest... "Where are we headed?" the Little Rabbit wanted to know. "That's a very good question," said the magician, and he asked the Lion. In turn, the Lion asked Frederick. The Rabbit was also happily jumping behind his three friends. Now they were four and walking in a foursome was even more fun than in a threesome.

"Hey, Long Ears, now you are also our friend," said the other three friends. "You don't have to be afraid of the Lion when he's roaring. He's only doing it for fun," said the magician. "That's very true," said the Lion. "That's me, it's my nature." And to convince the rabbit that it was true, he was going to roar then and there, but Frederick noticed it in time, and when the Lion was about to open his

mouth, he admonished him: "Frederick, where are we heading?" And Frederick also didn't quite know the answer to this question. But since he was at the head of their line and he had to decide, he said to his friends: "Let's go back to the Elephants' Forest. I know that forest, that's my home, and I invite you all to my place." This idea wasn't half bad, because his Mom and Dad were already worried about him. After Frederick and his friends walked a long, long time, they finally got back to the Elephants' Forest. His Mom and Dad were very happy to see that Frederick has returned back home safely. "Where have you been?" they asked Frederick. "I've been very far away," answered Frederick, "and look, here are my new friends." In the afternoon they had a very big party, to which all the elephants from the Elephants' Forest were invited. Frederick's father played the accordion, while the Lion was blowing the bass tuba, the Rabbit was pinching the strings of the contrabass, Frederick was hitting the drums and all the other guests were dancing to the music. The only one who wasn't dancing was the magician. He was standing in the middle of the dancing crowd and was busy doing his magic tricks and letting thousands of balloons out of his enormous hat. The balloons were very beautiful and the party was all the merrier with them.

Ayako, Alinka and the Enchanted Prince On the same day on which Mum severely scolded me for not brushing my teeth, my good friend Ayako asked me if I would want to get hold of an enchanted prince. She had read somewhere, in an old book with torn covers and with stains of cocoa drink with milk, how we could find such a creature. By the way, Ayako it's a name, not a nickname. Just like everybody calls me Alinka, she's called Ayako, because her parents are Japanese. It may very well be that in their language 'Ayako' may actually mean 'Alinka' and that's why we get along so well together.

"And if we do get hold of an enchanted prince, what do we do with him?" I asked her. "I don't know...perhaps we put him in a box and look at him," she said. "And what do we feed him?" I asked. "Well, if he's small, he'll get a milk bowl," she said. "And if he's large— rolls of cabbage," I added. "What are 'rolls of cabbage'?" wondered Ayako. "Oh, you really have no idea? These are those round patties made with rice and ground meat that we are made to‌" I replied. "Oh, I know, I know! This is a kind of Romanian sushi, with pork," said Ayako. After that we quarrelled a bit. I would have liked that, since he already has magic powers, we should put him to do our homework, but Ayako's opinion was that we would be better off keeping him in a box until we grow up and marry him. "After all", she said, "we could catch two of them, one for each of us. And, if they were a pair, they wouldn't get bored; they could play pretending they are samurai warriors". I have already forgotten this discussion, but last night something weird happened. I was already in bed under the blanket, had turned the light off and was watching the moon and the phosphorescent stars glued to the ceiling in my room. I can actually watch the real stars through my window on clear nights, because I live on the eighth floor. But tonight it was clouded, and the windows looked as if someone has poured crude oil on them. Suddenly, I heard a knock on the window. At first I thought that this was some tree branch brought over by the wind, or perhaps a bat that has just gotten a new bump on its forehead. But the knocks kept repeating and in my chest the heart started humping. I pulled the blanket over my head, hoping that I won't hear any noise any more. I was frightened. You have to admit that it's no shame to tremble when the reason is an unknown visitor, in the middle of the night, on

the eighth floor. I was very close to screaming to call my parents, who were in the next room with their door open. I would have done that, but my curiosity made me peep, with one eye, just one eye, from under the blanket. Right in front of the window, a patch of light from a lantern revealed the face of a child who was saying something, but I didn't hear a thing. Looking more closely, I realized that this was no other but Ayako. Or, well…it could have been also someone else who resembled her perfectly. I gathered some strength and got closer, and the creature was desperately signalling me to open. With unkempt hair and slanted eyes, she looked as if she was on the watch, and it could have been a wicked demon that took my friend's appearance. Nevertheless, it seemed to be her, by the way her mouth was mumbling non-stop. No, I couldn't tell whether it was really she or not. With a heart the size of a flea that has been starving for a week, I opened the window. "Is that you, Ayako?" I whispered. "Well, it's not the Emperor of Japan, is it? Please let me in already, or I'll pee on myself…" "And what if you are a wicked spirit?" I asked "If I were, I would have eaten you fifteen times already…'If he's large—rolls of cabbage', is this password good enough?" she said. She borrowed my pyjamas, as we are the same height, and away she went to the toilet, so as not to stick out in case she met someone from the household. She left her enchanted balloon with me, the one with which one could travel at night only. Apparently, my sleepy dad has scolded her for drinking too much tea in the evening. When she returned, I got dressed; we both hung ourselves from the balloon and went on the search for the charmed prince. Ayako had it all written down on paper. In a forest known only to her, we were supposed to catch an ugly toad and give it a kiss, between midnight and half-past-midnight.

It would transform immediately into a handsome prince. This is what the book said, and we had no reason to doubt its teachings. The more ugly the toad, the better‌ In the forest I had to keep my teeth clenched to keep them from clattering. It was pitch dark and one could hear the branches crackling with a terrifying noise. A bird opened its wings right on our lantern, and kicked it one metre away. Luckily, it hasn't turned itself off. All of a sudden we came upon what we thought was a toad, with big eyes and with a mouth as big as a slice of watermelon, but Ayako didn't think it was ugly enough. With a stick, she turned it with its belly up and whispered: "See, it's got no bumps, it's a frog, not a toad". So we kept looking. Well, finally we found one that suited, ugly enough. We both leaped in the air with joy. It was big and wide, like a succulent pear crushed by a truck. It only had one eye, with cold skin, slobbering, and as an additional ornament, his belly was full of small orange dots, like some disgusting fish eggs. It had a real itchy rash. The time was twelve twenty-five. The first one to kiss it, with much emotion, was Ayako. As it wasn't showing any visible signs of transformation, she handed it over to me. I looked into its only eye and, without much hesitation, deposited a kiss on the top of its head. It croaked with a hoarse and sleepy voice. We both sat in tension, watching it. Every moment now was passing with difficulty and our Enchanted Prince was letting us wait. After about one hour we decided to call it quits and started to go home. We quarrelled all the time we travelled above the city. Ayako was saying that most probably her watch has been running fast, and we did not follow the exact time, whereas I was convinced that we kissed an ordinary and disgusting frog, and not an enchanted toad. Until morning, all I did was to dream about the ugly monster and to wipe my mouth with the sleeve of my pyjamas.

When I woke up, the first thing I did was to wash my teeth for a quarter-hour, with a quarter tube of toothpaste. "Hey! Bravo! That's exactly how I like you to do it," cried Mum. "See how effective scolding can be sometimes?" she later told Dad.

My Friend Alicia Once upon a time there was a morning in which my friend Alicia refused profusely to go to school. Her mother begged her, but to no avail: -“Alicia, it’s seven o’clock; I have your toothbrush and your toothpaste ready, come brush your teeth!” Alicia stretches and yawns. -“Wake up, Alicia, it’s ten past seven, the tea, bread and butter are ready!” Alicia grumbles. -“Alicia, it’s a quarter past seven; you need to hurry up… Alicia, have you prepared your school-bag?” -“I’m never going to school again. Let it be clear! I want to sleeeeeeeeep!” She rolled over on the other side and even started to snore lightly. But it wasn’t that simple because, although Alicia did not want to go to school, her legs did. So they started pulling her: -“Alicia, Alicia, it’s twenty past seven, let’s go to school… Alicia, we are ready! Come on, Alicia, come on, and take us off the bed!” -“Oh no, I am not going anywhere! I want to sleep! If you want to, you can go, I’ll stay here!” So Alicia’s legs started off to school, while she kept on sleeping. But it wasn’t long before Alicia’s arms started to pull her: -“Alicia, Alicia, come on already! It’s twenty-five past seven, let’s go to school! We are bored here at home, take us to school, Alicia! Come on, Alicia, come on…” -“Oh no, I’m not even thinking about it. If you want to, you can go, I plan on sleeping!” And the arms hurried to school, lest they be late, because, as everybody knows, arms walk more slowly than legs. Alicia kept on sleeping and did not care a bit that her arms and legs left for school. Not long after that, Alicia’s stomach started shouting as well:

-“Alicia, would you move already! It’s seven thirty… I’m hungry and I want to exercise! Take me to school or I’ll also go by myself! -“Oh, my Lord, what a chaos is here! But leave already and let me sleep!” And the stomach, after wolfing down the bread, butter and the tea, went grumbling on his way as well. He was sneaking so that no one would see him and get scared. A stomach wandering by itself on the streets is not quite a common sight for those good children that are not late for their first class. Alicia was sleeping free of worries but also free of legs, arms and stomach. She couldn’t care less about this and then her ears started to yell, but very loud, because that’s the way ears usually yell: -“Alicia, the time is twenty-five to eight! Are you going to get up… or what? Do you want to be late for school again? Alicia, you hear me, Alicia…? I say! Are you deaf?” -“You know what? I’m sick of you! Leave already, all of you, and let me sleep in siiiiiiiiileeeeeeence!” Frightened, the ears took off with earrings in them, and off to school they went; and Alicia kept on sleeping like this, with no arms, with no legs, with no stomach and with no ears… She was sound asleep. After a while, not a very long while, her tongue started to fidget. The tongue didn’t quite know how to get to school and was afraid to make her own decisions, so at first she tried to wake Alicia up: -“Alicia! Heeey, Alicia, it’s twenty to eight… Alicia!” But Alicia didn’t have ears anymore, so she couldn’t hear her, so the tongue had no other choice: she found the courage and left as well, leaving her there to sleep happily. It didn’t matter, right? Now that she had no arms, no legs, no stomach and no ears? She wouldn’t need the tongue anyway… A little more time passed and Alicia’s hair started walking around the head. He saw the ears were gone and he felt like

leaving as well. He thought of a way to wake Alicia up and so he started to pull. He pulled to one side and then to another, then up, then down, he kept trying to pull harder but Alicia would still not wake up. With no choice left, the hair started off to school, floating lightly in the wind, and alongside was flying – more difficult but vigorously, trying to keep up – Alicia’s brain. He was also rather worried about being late to school. They got there at exactly eight o’clock, all sweaty and breathing heavily. They threw themselves in the third desk from the wall, in the seat on the right. There they found the legs, the arms, the stomach, the ears and the tongue that had already arrived.

The teacher was about to come in and they were very nervous, hoping he would not notice that Alicia was not there. At eight sharp the door opened gently and the whole class became quiet. The children stood up and there entered: -“Alicia!” -“Got you! You came to school without me, again! Shame on you; that’s a bad thing you did! Because of you I was almost late. You have no idea how hard it is to get to the first class with no legs, arms, stomach, ears, tongue, hair and brain. Let me see, are you ashamed or not?” But the legs, the arms, the stomach, the ears, the tongue, the hair and the brain did not get to say anything or be too ashamed, because the door opened again and this time it was the teacher who walked in. And Alicia barely had time to sit down very-very-very quickly at her desk. Well, thus they all saved face. And this was the last time when something like this happened. I promise, dear children, since then, the legs, the arms, the stomach, the ears, the tongue, the hair and the brain never left for school by them again without my friend, Alicia.

The Runaway Parrot Once upon a time there was a parrot named Booboo. He took a lot of pride in his red back and wing feathers, in his yellow neck and in his green phosphorescent chest. He believed that he was the most beautiful parrot in the world and this might have been true. People would laugh and feed him when he uttered the three words that made up his vast vocabulary: cucumbers, nonsense and boo-hoo-hoo. He would go to parties and entertain the guests, and this is what made him feel like a great artist. No one was able to talk when he was present. Booboo would immediately make him or her shut up, to the entertainment of the rest of the people present. So, it didn’t take him long to become a star and be wellknown in the show-industry. He was even invited to a television for a couple of time and some chocolate makers created a special sort of chocolate with his image on it: Booboo chocolate. You must have tried it kids. As you might have already guessed, Booboo lived in a double-door luxury cage and was free to wander freely around the house, provided the windows of the 7-floor apartment where he lived with Daniel, were closed. Daniel was a dancer and an actor, and obviously Booboo’s master. It was him who took Booboo to parties, and it was due to him that Booboo had learnt the three magic words that he would often successfully utter. These were…let’s see if you can remember kids…yes, these were cucumbers, nonsense and boohoo-hoo. In a beautiful spring day, Daniel mistakenly left the cage door open, and being also a scatterbrain he left the kitchen‘s

window half open as well. Therefore, Booboo climbed onto the window sill and from where he was standing he looked out over the city stretching in the distance- you can get an excellent view of the city from the seventh floor. You can even see the hills at the border of our neighbourhood, where the green forest starts and where Hears-Pretty-Well Rabbit lives, with Salvador Squirrel and Little Wood-Pecker, and they are all Booboo’s friends. Booboo looked up, at the clear sky, in the distance at the green forest, and then down and he started feeling dizzy. It is not safe to look down at the cars and people crowding on the pavement at the mall traffic-lights junction. Booboo holds on to the edge of the window, and then, being so dizzy jumped from the sill towards the world that was stretching below. Because Booboo couldn’t fly he had to cling with his claws to the window frames and gripped with his strong beak, which he used to use for breaking the nuts and peanuts he received from his fans. Not far away from his, at another seventh floor, in a balcony Pedro the Puss was lingering in the sun. He was a green-eyed, almost yellow cat who could see very well during the day, unlike other cats that see much better at night – and this is called Nyctalopia, in case you didn’t know that. Stretching his limbs, Pedro followed Booboo. Out of curiosity, of course, and not for any other reasons! Jumping from balcony to balcony Pedro followed Booboo on the street, and they both entered the mall, finding their way through the people that were strolling there, shopping, or simply looking around. Booboo strolled for a while among people’s feet, watching out not to be stepped on, pecking a few sesame seeds from a lost pretzel, swallowed a couple of candies from the sweets department, then jumped on a canvas marquee, then in the artificial palm-tree next to the spring fountain by the café. There he mirrored himself in the colourful shop windows and decided to go back home. But a little girl with a funny blue hat said: “Look there, a parrot!”

And Booboo answered the only way he knew: “Nonsense!” “What are you looking for in here little one?” “Cucumbers!” “And what is your name?” “Boo-hoo-hoo!” On hearing him the people started laughing and gathered around the plastic palm tree. And from the plastic leaves Pedro’s head appeared. “You remember him, don’t you? The puss just followed Booboo.” Frightened the parrot started climbing higher and higher on the palm tree, Pedro following him. While climbing the parrot was shouting his three words: Cucumbers! Nonsense! Boo-hoo-hoo! And the people laughed as they all believed it wasn’t but a game. But you kids can realize that Booboo was in great danger – although he was still hoping to be rescued by the television of the fire brigade, as great starts usually are, when they find themselves in such danger! This was not the case though. As Booboo was getting higher and higher Pedro was approaching even more menacing, licking his lips. And the people downstairs were laughing and discussing. Only the little girl stretched her hand and told him: "Fly, little one, fly!" Sometimes we all need an urge, an advice, or simply someone to believe in us, although we have never before done the thing we are expected to do and we don’t even know whether we can do it. Just like Booboo. He had no idea that he could fly. But on hearing the little girl’s confident voice, he said to himself that he was going to give it a try, he jumped towards her, moved his wings several times and then floated in the air, stopping on her shoulder, to the delight of everyone present. Just in time, as Daniel, the actor and dancer that Booboo lived with, was already worriedly looking for him. But Booboo had made a new friend. And when Daniel wanted to take him back home, Booboo answered “Cucumbers” in a rather naughty manner. So there was nothing left for Daniel to do,

but to leave Booboo there with his new friend, who had helped him to fly. What about Pedro? Well, Pedro remained in the palm tree, licking his lips pointlessly and spitefully, because when leaving Booboo couldn’t help shouting happily “Boo-hoo-hoo!” And he did this repeatedly, for Pedro to understand and not go wild again, following any runaway parrot.

The Box of Words Once upon a time there was a place words sprang from. They came randomly, sometimes hardly dripping, other times flooding, but nevertheless they sprang unceasingly. There were neither sentences longer than two or three words, nor phrases, nor were stories, but everywhere there only words: they buzzed around unexpectedly and you could bump into them everywhere, only that they were meaningless. They were so disorderly that you couldn’t understand anything. But one day, Fantezissimus, a good wizard, but kind of a trickster, came across the words spring. He liked to make all sorts of spells, although some of them were rather sassy, but as I have mentioned before, he was basically a good wizard. Fantezissimus liked The Spring of Meaningless words. He played with them for a while, grouped them in rows of ten, then rows of one hundred, he made word carpets and word houses, where the fire was burning into the fireplace and

smoke came out of the chimney in the form of words. This took a while, but eventually Fantezissimus became bored with it. Then he thought about casting a more complicated spell that would last forever and that would never bore anybody. He started with the study of words and he observed that they were not alike. He noticed that there were very conceited words that named everything around us. There were also words that brought about other words which followed them obediently, the same way cubs follow their mothers. There were naughty words that linked the other words, and also limping words, grumpy words, big and small words, good and bad words, all sorts of words. They were like the bees in their hive. And they even looked like bees, because they were flying around, stinging pretty badly, and sometimes it would happen that they dripped honey while playing. After Fantezissimus realized how many types of words existed he started organizing them. He took some small special boxes and built all sorts of objects made of words, which he then placed inside the boxes for safekeeping. It sometimes took him an enormous amount of time to fill the boxes; other times he could do it very quickly. He them places the boxes onto some big shelves, which he sent into the world in order to offer the people a present. And the people called these presents “books”. Books are like boxes; inside the books there are many objects made of words, sitting there nicely, well-organized by Fantezissimus and when you open them you can find unimaginable things: animals and rivers, big ships, palaces, fairies and delicious cookies recipes, but also more entangles things that are difficult to repeat, like Maths and Physics lessons. Certain words from certain boxes start running or jumping inside your home as soon as you open the book – sorry, not the book, but Fantezissimus’ box. Then they return and quietly wait for somebody else to open the box. Sometimes they can wait for months, years, or centuries. They sometimes stay young but they can also grow old and when you open the box again they are not so nimble any more, they squeak and they need repairing.

This is why in such cases other words come to assist them, and these are younger, newer words that Fantezissimus sends to their rescue. This is possible because the words spring functions unceasingly, and the wizard of words, Fantezissimus has settled there and keeps making these magic boxes even nowadays.

The Bride's Dish The village was called Corn's Cradle, and was located in a saddle in the midst of a few round hills, so that the inhabitants could watch their cattle grazing on the hilltops, pushing the sun with their twisted horns. I arrived at the house where I was expected in the evening. The cows were returning from pasture and were pouring into the big yards. In all of the neighbouring farms the excitement was high, the animals were given water and dinner was being prepared. I entered and patiently waited for the cattle to finish feeding, and after they disappeared in their stables, the eldest

daughter, a thin and stiff sight with dull hair, brought me a jar of water. I was hot from the long trip, and my lips were cracked and dry. I drank the jar in one breath and asked for more. They filled up one more jar, and the house owner, the girl’s father, a guy as big as a mountain, with dry-roasted skin and a red moustache told his daughter in an angry voice: "Bring over a bucket of milk!" The girl headed to the back of the yard and quickly fetched a bucket of milk—the whole family was busy milking in the stables, and she wanted to pour some more into the jar, but I could not hold it —I grabbed the bucket, drinking half and spilling the other half on my shirt. I put the bucket on a table outside, then took a breath and started drinking again until I finished the whole lot. I wiped my mouth with a towel and thanked them. "God bless you, big boy," mumbled the man looking at the bucket. And then he asked me what brought me there, as if he did not know. I told him that I am after a bride, because I heard there are many girls in the village, that are beautiful and hard working. "Yes, that's true," he said," one of these girls is my eldest daughter. Because she is conceited and turned down all the young men that have proposed —and she has been proposed by many— because she found none as good looking and clever as to suit her, she was left single and past her prime, but that's not too bad, since flowers are beautiful when they are in full bloom, aren't they?"

I nodded in agreement, looking at that hideous thing. It was getting dark; the surrounding hills were taller and gathered tighter around the village like black ghosts that were scheming something. In the round yard enclosed by beams were steaming puddles of cow urine and the farmhands were gathering the dung and carrying it in wheelbarrows to a pit at the edge of the yard. There was a strong smell of manure and smoke. Two girls, probably the younger sisters, have led me to a room

while pushing me, allegedly because of the dark; they lit my lamp and started making my bed while giggling. I let them do their work and went out to wash at the well. I got a bucket of water and poured it over my head. I washed and felt thoroughly refreshed; I then wiped myself with the towel. I had left my shoes a bit further away they so they wouldn't get wet, but when I went to get them, I slipped and fell into a hole of cold, sticky mud. I started to struggle to get out of there. I screamed for help but from the lit house nobody came; suddenly, I noticed next to me two wide open glassy eyes and I heard some fast breathing—it was a cow that was trapped as well, and judging by her stifled moo she was not delighted to share the mud with me. I screamed, and out came the unmarried monster and spoke to me while making fun at my predicament. "Don’t be scared, just kiss her and she'll let you get out unharmed!" she said. I could not believe my ears. I was looking at her, then at the cow. "Couldn’t I kiss you instead?" "Hm, that's not right," she said, and started swinging from one leg to the other and twisting her apron in her hands, "and then again, it's not me that's in the mud with you." The cow was staring fiercely, tapering her thick drivelling lips. "God, what should I do?" I tried to escape, but I sank more and more into the mud, while the beast lowered her twisted horns and mooed furiously. I don’t know when I kissed her and got out fast. I started to wash yet again, this time being careful not to fall into to the mud, and indeed, I only lost the soap in the well. As I was pulling up my trousers, I noticed in the semi-darkness a white shape, surely one of the girls, possibly the ugly one, has remained in the yard and was staring at me. "Hmm!" I went to my room and got dressed and after a while the lady of the house came and asked me to come and have dinner. She was a dark-skinned peasant woman, with big thick feet, and she was constantly fiddling with the benches. She led me to the big kitchen.

At the fireplace were two girls that that were hastily stirring with a stick in a huge cast iron kettle where a corn flour mash dish, called polenta, was boiling and bubbling, and the owner put three pots with cow’s butter and cheese on the table. The whole family came and sat by the table, there were about twenty in all, including the farmhands. The girls turned over the reddish polenta—as big as a cart wheel—on a wooden tray right in the middle of the dinner guests. The hideous one was out of sight and I noticed a couple of lovely girls sitting at the table, among them one who was very much to my liking. The father started cutting the large polenta into slices with a thread. After the scare with the cow, I asked where his was most beautiful daughter, pretending to be interested, since I didn't see her. "My daughter", he said, "is very sensitive with her food, and shy; when she feels there are suitors around she retreats— something that seldom happens to such a beautiful girl, one that wants to be seen by the whole world..." "Oh, I see," I said, and the threatening face of the man that spoke those words made me abstain from smiling. "Good luck to you, brave fellow!" he said, while raising and gulping his glass of liquor, "may you find the one destined to you, and who knows, perhaps my eldest daughter would also find a husband..." I was going to say "God forbid!" but caught myself in time and said "With God's help!" I took the glass and gulped it, and started eating. Lifting my eyes suddenly, I could avoid seeing how the girls could hardly hold their laughing, holding their jaws together and their noses in the bowls. The tradition was that on the day of the summer solstice, all the groom-seeking girls in the village prepared dishes of polenta and set them on a special table at the village centre. A suitor would select a particular dish of polenta, either by its looks or by its taste, and then he would marry the girl whose dish he selected. People would come from far-away places to seek wives in Cradle’s Corn.

In choosing a bride I was a very picky fellow. Realising that the years went by and I was still not attracted to any girl, my mother sent me off to Cradle’s Corn, telling me that if I cannot decide, fate will decide for me. My mother was usually right, and besides she knew that all the marriages made in Cradle’s Corn were fortunate, and no husband or wife were ever known to complain against one another. I had to give them a hand with their work, and I asked to take the cows to graze. They gave me the cows and the goats. I was fearfully looking to spot the cow that fell in the mud, but she was not among them. I got the bag with cold mush and onion and I went uphill leading the herd, together with a ten-year old boy and a couple of shaggy dogs. I reached the top of the hill and the cows started grazing, then when the sun was up I took them to the river flowing at the bottom of hills where they watered and dipped themselves in mud in the swamps on the river's banks, as was their custom. All of a sudden I saw the boy pushing them with his stick and muttering: "How I wish you got married so I can get rid of you!" "They will marry the oxen when their time will come”, I said smiling. "What nonsense are you saying? You’re a fool!" said the boy, speaking angrily, just like his father. "What did you just say?" I got angry and got him by his ears. At that moment all the cows raised their muzzles from the water and were getting ready to come at me. It was no joke. I patted the boy’s head and the cows went on drinking water, however their bulging evil-looking eyes were fixed on me. "Tell me, please, what’s going on here?" I said. The kid kept quiet, looking at me with an ugly look. "Look what I’m giving you," I said, trying to appease him, and took out of my shirt a beautiful enamelled clay bird, went to the river, filled it with water and started whistling and giggling with it. It was more than he could stand. He took the clay bird from me and said:

"These cows you are grazing today are girls punished by the villagers because they didn't want to go with those that have chosen the mash they made." "And they are not making polenta?" I asked. "They do, but they prepare it in the evening, and next day its cold and as it happens only very few choose this mash, because everyone chooses the hot mash that's steaming. This way they are left unmarried, this is their punishment." So this was also possible! We returned in the evening, the cows followed us obediently, even though they were looking hatefully while the boy was whistling filling the valley with music. We arrived and sat down at the table, the boy was cheerful while I was thoughtful thinking about the tale of the unmarried cows. The next day, all the marriage-ready village girls got up very early and started to make the marriage polenta mash, as was called in those places. I went out and washed at the well, taking care this time not to fall in the cow’s mud. It seemed as though the animal was not there, but looking carefully I noticed the horn tips slightly piercing the surface. I went back inside. The hideous girl was at the fireplace stirring the pot, while from the stove one could smell a stew made with unknown herbs growing up on the hills known only to the local women. Strangely, I thought about my childhood. My mouth was watering. The old cow wanted to get married then. Were her sisters making polenta as well? They were nowhere in sight. What if I randomly picked hers? Could I be that unlucky? Then some thoughts crossed my mind. There were girls that rejected the suitors. Could the suitors reject the girls? And if so, what would happen to them? If the stubborn girls turned into cows, were the stubborn boys turning to... oxen? I went to the village at around noon. The polenta dishes were presented on a long table, covered with towels and the young men were circling around. They were tossing their hats, looking, tasting. Each mash had a sign underneath and that sign was recorded in a register kept by the village chief, so there was no place for cheating.

Besides the polenta, the girls prepared other foods that could be eaten with the mash, like stuffed cabbage rolls, sauerkraut, or rabbit-and-partridge stew, and of course, there were plenty of glasses full of the local plum brandy, called racki. I was very hungry, since the suitors were not getting any food on that day. I looked at all of the polenta dishes, but they were not different from one another. I saw there were also cold and hard polenta dishes, as the young boy said, and realized this was no joke. I saw a suitor picking a mash. Immediately its owner appeared, a very beautiful girl, and I was very envious. Another man picked a polenta mash that belonged to none other than the hideous girl's nice sister, the one that I liked. Angry at how lucky those two got, I quickly picked a polenta mash and immediately my host appeared holding the hideous one by her hand and said "Congratulations, young man!" and the hideous girl grinned, showing her long protruding teeth while fixing her dull hair with much haughtiness. I think my face turned black. The man shouted: "Have a look at this beauty! It’s not in vain that you waited to get married for so long and made the long way here." Since I kept quiet while staring at her foolishly, he briefly asked me: "Hey, is there anything wrong?" "Yes, I mean NO�, I stuttered. "What then?" he asked. "I am overwhelmed, it's beyond my expectations...'' I said. "Ah, I'm glad," he said and rubbed his palms. "I felt you were going to be my son-in-law from the moment you came in through the door, don’t be angry with me for telling you, it happens sometimes. I've always dreamt that my daughter will get a worthy person." I wanted to raise hell, to tell the other suitors the whole matter with the cows and the danger they were putting themselves in if they were refusing a girl, and start a rebellion. But I got hold of myself. Something in my head told

me to go ahead, so that I won't be the victim of a bigger misfortune. Maybe I push her along the way into some tree hollow and find refuge in a monastery, become a monk and I won’t need a wife as long as I live. The ugly girl giggled and looked at me lovingly: "My beloved, could you please go get me some chamomile? I am so fond of these flowers..." "Right away, my dear!� I just said. I whistled to my horse, but they didn't allow me to mount it, they gave me one of their horses. I sat in the saddle and started going uphill, thinking it was a good opportunity to escape. But when we came by a slope covered with flowers, the nuisance horse threw me down and said: "Come on now, hurry up and pick the flowers; I want to go back, I have an urge for some dry hay." There was nothing I could do. I picked the chamomile, got back on the horse and returned to my bride. The fiddlers were playing the well known bride song 'Be quiet young bride, do not cry' and the hideous girl was trying hard to shed some tears. We sat at the table, all the new couples, about thirty of us, and we started eating and drinking while the fiddlers were playing their fiddles and the guitars. When dancing the bride’s dance, as the custom was the damned bride, decorated according to the village customs, danced in a peculiar rigid way as if she swallowed a cob that prevented her from bending freely, and from time to time she was spinning like a top. The time came to depart. I thought she would get her own horse, but no, we both had to use the one horse. She said goodbye to her mother and father, sisters, brothers, brothersin-law and other relatives, and to her beautiful sister who was also a bride and was trying hard to refrain from laughing. I then took my beautiful wife in my arms and threw her on the saddle and she started to scream and wail loudly: "Daddy, this one doesn't love me; look how he threw me on the horse!"

"What?" he father got angry, "be careful on how you behave, son-in-law!" "That's not true my dear, you imagine things..." I said. "No, she did not imagine this, I felt how you threw her!" said the horse. "Aha," screamed the man, "wait a minute, boy. Look here fellow villagers, this man thinks he deserves a better bride. Bring him what he deserves!" Shamed and miserable, not knowing what to do, all of a sudden I noticed a herd of cows coming, and among them was a big cow with loose skin and a dribbling muzzle I recognized as the cow from the mud. God! She stopped and clapped her huge lips once. The village chief, holding the register under his arm said: "Tell me young man, who you choose?" "I don’t want any other choices; I’ll stay with my beloved darling bride!" I said, trembling. I jumped on the horse's back behind the bride and wanted to leave, but her mother called in a sharp voice: "This cow is part of the dowry, she goes with you. Don’t go too fast, so she won't get tired!" I knew the dowry will arrive about two weeks later, so why did this cow have to come with us? "Don’t worry," I said. We left slowly, with the cow right behind us, but when we passed the hills and nobody could see us anymore, I spurred the horse and it started to go fast. Just when I thought that I managed to get rid of the repulsive animal, I felt a punch in my back. Turning around, I saw the cow, her burning piercing eyes underneath her bent horns pointed at me. "Stop it!" I shouted," Okay, I’ll wait for you and we’ll go together..." The cow slowed down and I slowed the horse down and we made a halt, while the cow grazed on the tender grass. The bride asked to get off the horse and started to dance and I was looking at her and at the cow, and at one point I thought she was charming. At the next halt, after we untied the towel with the food and ate together, talking about all the things in the world, we mounted the horse again and went on our way all

cheerful, together with the cow. On the way I saw that she was becoming prettier and prettier by the moment and when we got home she was nothing else than wonderful. My mother came to greet us and I stated proudly: "Look at the bride I got!" She looked and said nothing. The bride jumped on top of the oven while the cow sat at the door and started to yawn and ruminate and there she is to this day. Within a week the twelve carriages with the dowry arrived, and with it a big herd of cows. Mother nodded her head, cheerfully: "Oh! That's more like it." That's the way it was...We had three sons and we lived happily to be very old and look, I also had the chance to tell you too how I got myself a bride...

Tinkling Call Once upon a time, on this side of the plains, beyond the hills, a peasant’s sandal away from the Iron Gates, at a stone’s throw from the stony path, laid the kingdom of King Icicle. In the middle of the path, under the white collar of the death cap mushroom there was a hole that led to a big cave. The walls were made of limestone and were covered with soft silky moss. The light of the sun would penetrate here and there, illuminating only some corners of the sea of rocks. Nobody knew of that cave, although the majestic palace of King Icicle lay in it. No, this was not the crystal palace with golden pillars encrusted with gems. Nor were the windows adorned with diamonds‌ But were there any frosty flowers? Yes, plenty of them. Ice columns arrayed the entrance, ice tuberoses were taking shape on the floor and on the ceiling thousands and thousands of milky icicles were clinking and clanging.

In this palace lived Queen Icicle and King Icicle, together with their daughter, princess Tinkling Call. Every morning, the princess would go out of the palace and sit on the bank of the glacial pond. In the pond there lived some reddish fish, the blind salmons. They didn’t have any eyes, yet they had as many ears as the scales on their back! The princess would play with the fish all day long and she would strike up a crystalline melody that not only would the blind salmons frolic as she sang but also the icicles would clink, clang and rattle. This singing in a loud voice could be heard all the way to the Iron Gates. A peasant’s sandal away from the Iron Gates the Woodcutter was working, when suddenly a sound tickled his ear. -“I wonder what is this clinking and clanging. But I will find out very soon”, the Woodcutter thought. He laid his axe on his back, picked up his knapsack and set out to find the tinkling voice. -“Your voice brings me to my senses, your song makes me dizzy, lift up your tinkling call!” the Woodcutter would shout. However, Princess Tinkling Call would answer him from the cave: “On this side of the black fields, Under the mushroom of death cap, Beyond the valleys and the hills, In a cave, in its depth, In a palace with frosty flowers, Icicles sing and play In a glacial pond Six little salmons dance. Eeney, meeney, miney moe, Knock-knock, I will not go!” The woodcutter walked and walked, but did not come upon the tinkling call. He lay down next to the white collar of the death cap mushroom, pulled out his knapsack and started eating his food heartily. He threw the remains from the bread in the hole underneath the mushroom and they fell right next to King Icicle’s palace, in the glacial pond. The woodcutter searched for the tinkling call a little while longer and disappointed, set out on his way.

The princess watched with sadness the woodcutter’s food floating in the pond. The blind salmons could hardly push the bread crumbs to the side of the pond. Tinkling Call gathered the crumbs then sat on the bank of the pond and sang her little song:

-“On this side of the black fields, Under the mushroom of death cap, Beyond the valleys and the hills, In a cave, in its depth,” Hardly had she begun to sing then suddenly, tramp-tramp, a horrible trampling disturbed the princess and the blind salmons’ play. An army of soldiers riding on big horses had passed nearby and the tinkling voice allured them as well. The soldiers were rummaging throughout the whole forest. They even glanced under the white collar of the death cap mushroom but in vain; nobody realized the hole was so deep and it was actually the mouth of a cave. -“Reveal yourself; reveal yourself, whoever you are, Tinkling Call!” the soldiers called the princess. But she would not come out of her hiding place: -“On this side of the black fields, Under the mushroom of death cap, Beyond the valleys and the hills, In a cave, in its depth, In a palace with frosty flowers, Icicles sing and play In a glacial pond Six little salmons dance. Eeney, meeney, miney moe, Knock-knock, I will not go!” The soldiers sat down next to the death cap mushroom and started a party that lasted three days and three nights. They ate, drank, hopped, rolled over, did cartwheels and threw into the hole all the wickers, the carafes, the knives, the forks, the helmets, the armours and the crumbled food.

They left without even thinking about the harm they had done. The glacial pond was now full of dirty objects. The princess was crying, the fish were wailing as well, the pond itself became sad and King Icicle’s heart shook with anger: -“You ate, you drank and you were merry but your litter you did not carry! You poisoned the glacial pond and my palace you destroyed Good humour you had, I suppose now angry sparks from my eyes soar” Seven days and seven nights worked the servants of the palace from morning till night, till all the mess they cleaned up. But the eighth day everything started over. The princess was singing, the blind salmons were dancing and one at a time, artisans, heroes, even kings and princesses reached the mouth of the cave. The music of the icicles enchanted everybody. But in vain did they rummage and search everywhere; they could not find the owner of the tinkling call. Not being able to find her, they would throw their old stuff in the hole under the mushroom. They threw and threw until the entire palace was filled with garbage. The brilliance of the ice columns and tuberoses faded away, the blind salmons got sick. Deeply distressed and with tearful eyes, the princess locked herself in her room. In vain did her mother try to ease her pain; Tinkling Call could not get over her sadness. The King’s eyes were either shooting sparks or gleamed with tears. He went out on the bank of the glacial pond and yelled as much as he could but because of the piles of garbage only a few sounds reached the top: -“You poisoned my pond And my palace you destroyed My kingdom shall reign My daughter’s hand shall have The one who my icicles will clean And my salmons will heal!”

The death cap mushroom was awakened by the king’s lament. One, two, three, he passed on the news to the owl. So the owl told the sparrow, the sparrow told the bloodhound, the bloodhound told the gopher, the gopher told the squirrel, the squirrel told the tree frog and the tree frog told the bull that King Icicle offers his kingdom and his daughter’s hand in marriage to the one who will clean the palace of all the garbage in it. The news spread swiftly as an arrow and reached the ears of the Poor Lad. Well, since then, the lad had no rest day and night. He constantly thought of the singing palace. He thought and thought and one day he threw some food for the road in his knapsack and set out to look for the palace from the cave. He walked and walked, beyond the fields, beyond the hills and beyond the woods until he got lost. The road led him to a stubble field, where the Schaefer was binding a sheaf. -“What are you looking for, lad?” the Schaefer asked. -"A deep palace made of ice Where the icicles all dance… You tell me what road to take So a bride for me I’d chance." - “Well, my dear friend, I am the only one that knows where this palace is. It is in a cave whose mouth is under a white mushroom and is very hard to spot. But ever since the world began, one hand washes the other and they both wash the face, said the Schaefer. If you repair my reaper, I’ll tell you how to get there.” The Poor Lad made the deal. He worked with screws from morning till night till the reaper was fixed. The Schaefer was an honest man. Word by word he explained to the lad which way to take, turn right, take a left and then keep going. Moreover, he took out a circle of rope, pulled it up on the lad’s shoulder then let him go.

The Poor Lad walked and walked, turned right then took a left and darkness started to fall. He noticed a small light nearby. He made for it. He reached a house and knocked on the door. It was the house of the Chief Iron Worker. -"Who is it? Who disturbs me in my home?" spoke in a stuckup voice the Chief Iron Worker and slightly opened the door. -"Chief Iron Worker, I come in peace. I’m only looking for a roof over my head… Well, and something to eat would not hurt my hungry stomach", said the Poor Lad politely. -"So be it! You will get shelter and food, but by the day after tomorrow you will have founded one thousand cast-iron kettles", said the Chief Iron Worker. -"It’s a deal", answered the lad and stretched out his hand through the door’s crack. Chief Iron Worker let him inside. The two of them ate a very good meal and then they rested. The Poor Lad woke up the next morning at daybreak, set a huge fire, melted the iron and stirred it vigorously from morning till night. Then he moulded one thousand cast-iron kettles and put each of them on top of another, forming a big mountain of iron that astonished even the birds of the air. Then the Chief Iron Worker said: -“You kept your promise and made a thousand cast-iron kettles. You take one, too!” and pushed a big cast-iron kettle towards the lad. The lad thanked him for the gift and proceeded on his way. From here the road was straight and in a blink of an eye, he got to the death cap mushroom. Yet he didn’t see the mushroom, or the hole, or the moss or the ray of the sun. Instead, he found helmets, spoons, knives, rusty forks and worn out boots. The Poor Lad took out the big cast-iron kettle and started to gather the mess. He worked for seven days and seven nights, but with no visible results. And alas! On the eighth day, the Poor Lad sat down gloomy under the shade of an oak and said to himself that the ice palace would perish because he could not fight the garbage by himself. All of a sudden he heard the owl from the oak:

-"Who-who-who-who, don’t give in, For we will help you get it clean. The icicles we will wash And the garbage we will cart." The Poor Lad was dumbfounded at the sound of this weird voice. Hardly did he pull himself together then the owl called the sparrow, the sparrow called the bloodhound, the bloodhound called the gopher, the gopher called the squirrel, the squirrel called the tree frog and the tree frog called the bull. The animals set to work. The gopher, the squirrel and the tree frog gathered the garbage. The bloodhound and the bull carried the cast-iron kettle to the garbage dump. This is the way they worked from dawn till evening, every day. A long time passed. By the time they managed to take out all of the rotten things in the cave, the Poor Lad grew a long beard. After finishing, he drew out the rope he got from the Schaefer and tied it to the thick trunk of the oak. He filled the big cast-iron kettle with water from the well, let it down deep in the cave then he went down as well. He was dumbfounded at the sight of the huge palace. Ice columns arrayed the entrance, ice tuberoses were taking shape on the floor and on the ceiling thousands and thousands of milky icicles were clinking and clanging. The Poor Lad took out some water from the cast-iron kettle and washed the entrance, scrubbed the frosty flowery floor and wiped clean all of the pale icicles, one by one. He filled the pond with clean water and thoroughly washed the sick salmons. And what a miracle! The salmons got healed all of a sudden and started dancing and singing: "Clean water in the pond! Six blind salmons are staring now! Trump-trump-trump, come play with me, And my match now you will be!" -"Where is this music coming from?" asked Princess Tinkling Call and ran to the bank of the pond.

She couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw the palace shining again. She was beside herself with joy, so she started singing and the icicles were going clink! Clink! Clink! -"On this side of the black fields, Under the mushroom of death cap, Beyond the valleys and the hills, In a cave, in its depth, In a palace with frosty flowers, Icicles sing and play In a glacial pond Six little salmons dance. Eeney, meeney, miney moe, Knock-knock, I will not go!" Meanwhile, the king, the queen and all the servants of the palace scampered outside and danced with joy. The Poor Lad was standing proud as the hero that he was, but he couldn’t utter anything. Never in his life had he heard a more alluring song or had he seen a more beautiful girl than Tinkling Call. He took heart, took a step towards King Icicle and spoke: -"Your pond I cleaned, Your salmons I healed, The icicles are singing and playing Give me the princess to marry!" The old king patted the lad on the shoulder and said: -"My dear boy, from now on you will rule this palace! Here’s my daughter’s hand in marriage. May our young people live well and thousands of icicles clink as well!" The Poor Lad and the Princess Tinkling Call had a wedding whose report was heard on this side of the plains, beyond the hills, a peasant’s sandal away from the Iron Gates, a stone’s throw from the stony path, and they lived happily ever after, and maybe are still alive today…

The Alphabet's Story Once upon a time … This story, my dear children, happened right here, in our school, to two first grades little girls. It is impossible not to know where the first grade is: on the second floor, right above the administration. You must know Emma and Ella, the twins sitting at the third desk, in the middle row. But who doesn’t know them? They play all day long: they jump the rope, they draw hopscotch on the sidewalk with the chalk they secretly slipped into their pockets at school – that’s why there’s no chalk at the chalkboard…they climb trees, pull the dogs’ ears…you must have noticed such restless little girls, and, to be honest, quite cute. Although twins, they were quite different. Emma had greenish-blue eyes and twenty freckles, while Ella had bluishgreen eyes and nineteen freckles. Therefore, to be frank, they were extremely different. That day that we are talking about, Emma and Ella were supposed to read one word – a simple word…and quite a tasty one. So, together with their teacher, they began reading: - A…P…P…L…E…S - A…P… - Well? - A…P…E…S - Ha! Ha! - Emma. Emma. Emma. You are not paying attention. Ella, please repeat after me:

- A…P…P…L…E…S Aaaaa…. A…P…P…L…E…S - We don’t know and we don’t want to know how to read! - How come? - I like playing with my dolls! -OK, but you still need to learn your ABC. -And I love playing ball! -Sure you do, but the alphabet is as important. -OK…but what do we need those letters for anyway? They are so boring and moody as well. -So the teacher had no other choice than to let them play… the whole day…. until dusk. And while they were rope jumping, they two little girls were singing a song they had made up, which sounded like this: One…Two… Three…Cool! -You’ll not find us at school. One… Two…Three…Four -We don’t like school any more. We keep playing on and on -And there’s nothing we want to learn, The whole day, cold or hot, -From early morning till late at night. -“Ohhh, I’m so tired. It’s getting dark already. And I’m getting sleepy.” Emma and Ella are sleeping now, tired of so much play. But they don’t know that, without letters, the world would be in great danger. The letters are everywhere. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to get around. There would be no mail, because there would be no addresses. We would mix up the jars of jelly, because there would be no labels. Moreover, we wouldn’t know who we are, because our names are spelled with letters. There would be no money, because there are many letters on the money. We could almost say that money is made out of letters. But the saddest thing of all is that there would be no books. Neither would movies, computers, road signs…nothing, nothing! The world, dear children, is made entirely out of letters. And one place where they meet is the alphabet book. Well, you understand the letters heard everything that had happened and they got upset. Consequently, their decided to teach the little girls a lesson and they sneaked into their

dreams. Because, I forgot to mention it, being twins, Emma and Ella always dreamed the same dream. That’s how Emma and Ella woke up on the lake side where a very crabby old man was fishing. His name was Chatterbox. But, instead of fish, he was catching letters. High above in the sky, letters were flying. And down on the earth, instead of people and animals, all sorts of letters were wandering around: bigger or smaller, cursive or block, printed or handwritten. You couldn’t get pass them unless you called them by name. But Emma and Ella didn’t know them all; in case they wanted to return home, they had no other choice: they had to cross the lake. And Mr. Chatterbox told the girls that, if they knew what letters he was catching, they would take them to the other side of the lake. So here go Emma and Ella: - It’s a C. - Yes, from cat, corn, or cup. - No, I don’t like it. I’ll keep fishing. - OK, go ahead! Pull, pull!! - Whoops! But this is an A from apple, airplane, or aviator. Pull! Keep pulling! Again! - Oh… this is an R, from red, rabbit, or robin. - Come on! One more time! But Emma and Ella didn’t know Mr. Chatterbox’s last letter, so they could not cross the lake. Well, you can’t say that C, A and R make up a word, can you? Then, above them, there was a huge bird: - A pigeon… - I am Pigeon Lilli But I’m also something else… - Guess and you can go! Quickly enough, the girls realized that Pigeon was also the letter P, from pigeon or parrot. Together they read all the letters that Mr. Chatterbox caught, and all of the sudden a huge CARP jumped out of the waves and invited the two girls on his back, so he could take them to the other side of the lake. They said good bye to Mr. Chatterbox, which proved to be the

letter C incognito, and to the Pigeon Lilli, who was in fact the letter P in disguise, and then left. On the other side of the lake, the girls saw a house, and on the door, it was written in capital letters, which the girls had already known: EMMA AND ELLA’S AWAKENING! The password was the alphabet. What do you mean...the girls were thinking…to say it by heart? We won’t be able to do it, said the girls sadly. But hardly did they start crying that from the windows, from every corner of the house, or from the top of the roof down came their very own friends, the letters. And they all started singing the ABC: A, B, C, D, E, F, G H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y and Z. Now I know my ABC; Next time will you sing with me? And just like that, while singing the ABC together with the letters, Emma and Ella were able to open the door and emerged from the dream into the real world, down in their own bed, exactly when their alarm clock stuck seven, as it does every morning. It was time for school! - You can guess the surprise on the teacher’s face that day, when Emma and Ella knew all the letters of the alphabet, and read the word APPLES perfectly: - A…P…P…L…E…S. APPLES. - Way to go, girls! Wonderful! I see you finally made friends with all the letters. - Yes, we did! - Well, was it hard? - No, no!

- Of course it wasn’t! With a little effort and a little help, you made it! - Yes, we did! Of course you did! The world, my dear children, is made out of letters. Emma and Ella already knew that the world was made out of letters‌ letters that were neither moody, nor boring any more. The letters were their friends.

Myrmidone the Caterpillar - Part One The Kingdom of the Green Caterpillars was under constant threat from the gray locusts. War followed war and the casualties were big on both sides. The green caterpillars owned vast land with apple orchards, while the gray locusts ruled over the neighbouring quince and pear orchards. There were more and more locusts year after year and their quince orchards were already too small to feed them all. Often they would invade close-by territories, devouring the trees to their last leaves.

The caterpillars, on the other hand, when feeding were leaving the flower buds untouched, even sparing a few leaves, so their orchards were always leafy and the locusts were interested in them. Bud, the caterpillars' fortress, was standing up high, right in the middle of the orchard. Each family had shelter within its walls, while the grubs were raised together in a big hall, to be as protected as possible. There, the caterpillar nurses were bringing them green leaves and wrapping them up in green blankets to keep them warm. The caterpillars' princess, Myrmidone, was young and inexperienced in leading the kingdom. Her parents, the old King and Queen have died during the last war against the gray locusts. Their long spears felled not only them, but also the great General Seventy-Legs-on-the-Footpath. Of course, the general did not have seventy legs. The caterpillars' strength laid in their legs, that made them unbeatable compared to the locusts, that although could hop, they were getting tired rapidly since hopping required more effort. The caterpillars that were acting as generals had their names changed to pompously sounding names suitable to their rank. The name-change pattern was to use an even number, of at least twenty, followed by 'legs' and linked to another word that would be a nice descriptor, and the numbers would grow by two legs or stripes, according to their acts of heroism and battles won, each leg symbolizing an additional stripe. So far, the late general was the only one to have reached the seventy legs level. After the death of her parents, Princess Myrmidone was spending her time in council with the three generals in the military reserves and twelve counsellors, considering how to go about saving the kingdom from the gray locusts. However, for the last three hours, the debates were focused on the names of the generals. The names of the three generals were Twenty-Two-Light-Legs, Twenty-Two-RunningLegs, and Twenty-Four-Omniscient-Legs.

They all claimed that in the last battle they have accumulated a lot of legs; however the tree beetles that served as observers fell from the trees and did not take notes of the events. "Let it be absolutely clear," said Myrmidone, "That your names will remain unchanged until the next battle." This statement caused a wave of murmurs between the three generals and the counsellors and they became very impertinent following the events of the last battle. The Princess looked at them in disbelief, her lips dried and she wanted to get up and adjust her skirt, but General Twenty-FourOmniscient-Legs was holding one of his legs on her lap. She pushed him away and he mockingly curtsied. She then asked for green tea, but the chamberlain grinned and said that he had run out of water and she would have to wait until he boiled some more. Myrmidone was a lovely, slender caterpillar. Her face was white, with pink freckles and big green eyes. She was always chewing gum made of tree wax. Two long antennae, largely bent over her face, were shaking on her head. She was tired and could hardly stand on her small feet. (The caterpillars were mostly walking vertically on their last four pairs of legs, and they would use all eight pairs only if tired). She got up and said: "Before I retire for the day, gentlemen, I wish to remind you that I am your Queen now and you have to respect me." The crowd bowed, but after the princess went out the door, some bursts of laughter could be heard. Myrmidone was heading towards her room, but changed her mind and rushed back into the council meeting hall, banging the door as hard as she could.

Then, she spat her gum in the insolent general's face, sticking a gelatinous mask on him. She was so angry, that she could bite somebody and when she talked, the big candelabrum's crystal tassels were shaking.

"You hairy, shameless caterpillars! The Kingdom is at an impasse, but all you can think about are your ranks. I have the right of life and death over you, don’t you forget that! If you do not present me with a new defence strategy within eleven minutes, you have my word as Queen that you will swing in the apple tree." (That means 'in a noose' in caterpillars' language). She looked at them with a ferocious look, eyeing and weighing each and every one of them, and left as she came in. The candelabrum swung a bit more, and then it fell on the council's table making a terrible noise. "Oh, My God!" exclaimed an emaciated and bent counsellor who was wearing a huge robe, heavy with appleshaped gold ornaments. He intended to trigger the mocking of the princess again, but the generals were not in that mood any longer. The chamberlain immediately brought them strong peppered tea with cinnamon and they proceeded to move to a smaller hall, where they started to draw maps of the area. Meanwhile, an endless swarm of ants carrying tiny jars of colourless glue came into the hall and started to rebuild the candelabrum, bit by bit and crystal bead by crystal bead. As soon as she got up, Myrmidone rushed to examine the generals’ plans. It was lunch minute, but she did not allow them to eat. She also did not take a seat among them, but sat herself at the top of the table on a rosewood armchair, while they lined up on each side of the table at a distance of three chairs. She unfolded the plans and maps while munching apples. The counsellors were talking in low voices and from time to time there was a deadly silence, where one could hear Myrmidone crunching the fruit with her teeth, followed by the sounds of the counsellors’ empty stomachs, since they only had tea. Suddenly, a spying firefly arrived, demanded to see the Princess immediately, and announced that the locusts were going to attack within an hour, having formed four armies

lead by four commanders, with the famous General Tar amongst them.

Twenty-Four-Omniscient-Legs quickly noted: "We need yet another general, Your Majesty. I recommend Captain Thick-Fluffy." Myrmidone rose and started walking along the windows. She was ready to accept the General’s suggestion, when she noticed a young caterpillar fellow who threw his spear directly to the head of a poppy flower through the crowns of a few apple trees. Myrmidone was so stunned, that her eyes popped out. With difficulty, she uttered: "Bring that fellow over. What's his name?" "That's the spear-thrower Hop-on-Flower," she was told. Hop-on-Flower entered the hall and bowed respectfully, his face showing goodwill and readiness. Myrmidone looked at him, and then said decisively: "He will be the forth general". "What will be his name?" the generals inquired, worried. Hop-on-Flower sat on the third vacant chair by the Queen and said: "Please don’t bother with my name. What we have to do now is to divide the army into four units, and each of us will lead one." This was the moment the three generals were waiting for. They could clear their ranks and select the weakest and most stupid soldier-caterpillars as the troops of the new general. "Hmmm", said Hop-on-Flower looking at the soldiers that were smiling from ear to ear. "Stand in formation!" The soldiers gathered around him, stepping on each other's feet. According to the new plan, each of the four units was to build a fortress made of mounds of soil in four strategic points that were also approved by Myrmidone. The generals could not make their caterpillars listen to them. Each soldier thought he was smarter and more

inventive than the other, and they were fighting with each other to impose their own ideas. Their fortresses turned out to be huge, but strangely shaped and without tunnels. Hop-on-Flower's caterpillars, on the other hand, were following every instruction blindly, gathering earth and stumping on it with their many legs. They built a smaller fortress that was raised a few feet above ground, had labyrinths and was covered in bark. When the locusts' attack started, the four units took shelter in the fortresses and started to shoot arrows and load their guns with rotten apples. The fortresses the tree generals have built had walls without crenulations, so the soldier-caterpillars had to expose themselves while aiming their arrows. Two of the fortresses fell, taking down the invaders as well as the soldiers. However, Hop-on-Flower and his troops saved the battle. From his position he was able to shoot his arrows against the invaders of the other three fortresses, killing and wounding many. Myrmidone watched over Hop-on-Flower’s troops, his building of the fortresses and the battle. She was considering how to punish the three generals as they deserved, and gave orders to build the scaffold. Seeing the princess coming down from her strategic observation post in the tree and hearing her heavy wooden steps, the generals started shaking with fear. But the scaffold was not yet finished, and the caterpillars already had to defend a new attack. Myrmidone thought that a great leader, the like of Seventy-Legs-on-the Footpath, who could stimulate the soldiers was needed. But who could it be? Myrmidone wore her armour and helmet, and took her spear. She showed up unexpectedly in front of her soldiers, took aim and threw her arrow at General Tar, smashing his armour and gravely wounding him. The caterpillars could not believe their eyes. They were watching Myrmidone, who was obeying Hop-on-Flower's orders. It was a glorious victory.

Myrmidone was triumphantly led under a roof of apple flowers, and was crowned; and Hop-on-Flower got to be named Thirty-Legs-on-Flower. Shortly after, within the same hour, they celebrated the engagement of Myrmidone and Thirty-Legs-on-Flower. There was a big party in the fortress. The caterpillars drank pink wine and danced until they got dizzy. While taking a walk with her fiancé under the blooming apple trees, the locusts attacked them and even though Hop-on-Flower had his spear with him and fought bravely, the Queen was kidnapped and taken to the Gray Fortress. -Part Two – Myrmidone was brought to General Tar. Without losing sight of the princess, he told the six messenger-locusts aligned in front of him: "Go to Bud and let them know that Myrmidone will be freed in exchange of two…" he weighed the queen again with his eyes a little bit before continuing, "…no, let's make it four apple orchards." The queen spoke arrogantly and scornfully, while chewing: "You should make a more realistic proposition, since my caterpillars know better than giving up their land in exchange for a queen." "Shut up, grub!" said General Tar. This was a terrible insult. Myrmidone became very furious and spat her gum in the general’s face, which was now covered in a sticky, hard-to- remove mask. The lady locusts, stupefied, commented that Myrmidone “is so vain that she cannot fit in her own skin." They did not imagine how true their statement was, though. To soften the glue, Tar had to sit with his face facing the fire while the servants were pulling his beard and shaving him

with a razor blade. Myrmidone was transferred to the Orange Tower, where she was fed just one leaf and one drop of water an hour. When they brought the food, the executioner-locusts also entered the room, together with three soldier-locusts that were pinning Monarch butterflies to the wall with needles, and Myrmidone was spitting gum on their faces or showing them her very long tongue. Myrmidone sat by the table on a chair, her back to the pierced butterflies, for four hours straight. The locusts were talking to her, but she didn't even turn her head. "What happened to her that she doesn't spit at us anymore?” the executioner and the soldiers wondered. Since the caterpillars did not reply to Tar’s demands, as if they didn't care that their Queen would be pinned among butterflies, Tar sent messengers to the caterpillars' kingdom, which was ruled during Myrmidone's absence by General Hopon-Flower. The guards led the ten messenger locusts to the Throne room, but all of a sudden they stopped; their eyes nearly popped out, and grew as big as quinces, since sitting solemnly on the golden throne was no other than Myrmidone, the one they knew was jailed in their tower! The messengers returned hopping and told Tar what they saw. He climbed to the Tower, took Myrmidone in his paws and realised…that the princess was only a skin in perfect form, but empty inside. She has shed her shell and escaped using some butterfly wings. Enraged, he and his locusts launched an ambush, kidnapped Hop-on-Flower and locked him in the Tower in Myrmidone’s place, where he was kept under constant supervision, after checking his mouth. Myrmidone sent twelve messengers to General Tar, with a letter saying: "If you dare fight me with a spear and I win, you will set Hop-on-Flower free, and if you win, we will surrender

two orchards." "No!" replied the General in a letter. "If we win, you'll become my wife!" "So be it!" she replied. Within an hour the Green Caterpillars' and the Gray Locusts' armies have lined up facing each other on a neutral territory between the orchards, at a great distance from one another, to watch the fight between Myrmidone and General Tar, both wearing armor and helmets. Myrmidone did not wait for the General to come near, and immediately threw the spear and pinned him to a tree trunk.

"Now, set Hop-on-Flower free," said Myrmidone to the adjunct-general locust. The adjunct-general locust saluted and said: "General Tar has to set him free, but since he is pinned down he cannot do that". "Why is that? Our understanding was that if he was defeated or killed, the locusts would set him free," said Myrmidone. The adjunct-general opened her letter, which he has kept rolled under his belt and pointed with his gloved hand: "You have not specified what happens in case he was dead." "Hmm‌" Myrmidone realised that he was trying to find a pretext. Who could be so cunning in the gray locusts' kingdom?" The caterpillars were trampling their feet eagerly. Captain Thick-Fluffy signaled to attack, while General TwentyTwo-Running-Legs shouted: "Brothers, this could be our last battle. For our Queen Myrmidone, attaaaack!" That was what the caterpillars were waiting for. They fought with ferocious pleasure spearing the locusts and

pinning them to the trees, so much so that the orchard started to look like an insectariums. The adjunct-general was captured and dragged to Myrmidone. When they took off his helmet, they realized that it was...General Tar. “Ha, ha!" he said, "I too like to fool around, Your Majesty". "You coward, you didn’t dare fight a woman," angry voices were heard saying. Myrmidone’s eyes nearly popped out of their sockets and she rubbed two pairs of palms with amazement. "Let’s go to the council room and decide what to do about him!" she said. The queen entered the room and saw that only half of the council members were present. "Where are the other members?" she asked. General Twenty-Two-Easy-Legs was livid and pointed towards a few green looking bags hanging from the windows and said: "They have entered their chrysalides, My Queen!" Their clothes were scattered on the ground. "Oh!" was all the queen could utter. "I don't have time to select another council, but we have the scaffold already built and standing in place." The General was seized and brought to the scaffold. The entire caterpillar nation gathered to watch the execution. Myrmidone was sitting on the throne, watching while thumping her feet. "General Tar likes to play with words," she said, addressing the caterpillars. She then turned to Tar and said: "You'll have to guess a word. You can guess by saying whole words or letters, as you like. Myrmidone whispered the word to a caterpillar, who then wrote it with charcoal on a white tree trunk, first and last letter and a few dashes in between for the missing letters. B- - - - - - - -Y

"Once you guess a letter that repeats itself, it will be written in the word as many times as needed." Tar bowed and said: "Thank you for your kindness, My Queen". "No kindness here," she replied, "just the rules of the game. You're entitled to five guesses. Each error brings you closer to the gallows". General Tar took a face that seemed to be attentive, tame and even affectionate. "Could I please know if B or Y also occurs more than once in the word? If so, this will have to be disclosed." Myrmidone smiled sweetly: "No, they do not." Tar thought, thought and thought some more, analysing the orchard, the caterpillars, and the hanging noose. "Does it contain the letter M?" The caterpillars all answered together: "Nooo!" General Tar was lifted on to the chair. "A?" The noose was put around his neck. "TT?" Myrmidone signaled and the caterpillar entered the two T's in the word. "You are entitled to one more guess," she said. Tar fretted and rubbed his wings. "Hmm, it’s a word all the caterpillars know, it’s something of their own, but what could it be? What?" he thought to himself; and then he said: "Butterfly." The crowd burst in cheers. A caterpillar climbed on the scaffold and freed him from the noose. He bowed and was allowed to leave, and after signing a document that he will never again spear butterflies, he sealed it with the personal seal he always carried in his coat. Myrmidone announced that within two hours her marriage with General Thirty-Legs-on-Flower would be officiated. In the fortress the preparations have started. But Myrmidone was worried because changes were occurring. As they were growing older, the caterpillars were becoming butterflies and were leaving Bud. The soldiers, captains and generals, all hated metamorphosis. What's this stupid game of

playing butterfly? They lose legs (retaining just six out of sixteen), become frail, with wings that are easily damaged, they cannot drink wine, binge or put on weight, and most importantly, they cannot fight with spears and use heavy bark shields. They would be beautiful though, but who needs beauty? But it was not up to them. Wailing, the famous generals with tens of legs entered their chrysalides. Myrmidone and the council had to choose others to replace them. At about the time the wedding was about to take place, Myrmidone entered the Butterfly Temple, but the groom was not there. She remained facing the altar, her head turned towards the door, to where the folds of her long robe reached. In front of the altar, she waited motionless, for many, many minutes, while the temple was full of bustle and whispers. Suddenly, through the massive door entered a butterfly with black wings with orange circles. It was Hop-on-Flower, who just got out of his chrysalides. A big party started in the caterpillar's kingdom. The groom embraced the bride and took off with her to a quince bud.

Bedtime Stories  

This is a collection of 19 folk tales and fairy tales for children. We hope that you will find the book entertaining and easy to read.

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