They keep asking me why I did it. Then, as soon as I start to explain, D C Grainger butts in with: ‘Was this on the morning of June 11th?’ I deal with that and then D C Singh chimes in with: ‘Did you tell anyone that was where you were going?’ I struggle past that, and then as soon as I get to the bit about the Holy Spring, I see ‘em exchanging those ‘Has he escaped from the funny farm?’ looks. A dispiriting business for a university professor accustomed to a respectful audience. So I’m setting it all down on paper. And then I’m not telling the police another bloody word.

     I live in Scotland now, but most years I manage a visit to my mother’s country, the Welsh Borders. When I was a child, I used to spend every summer holiday in the Abergavenny house of my grandparents, Harry and Gladys Cecil. The little town is surrounded by seven hills, but for a child the hill that holds the greatest glamour is the Sugar Loaf (its Welsh name is Pen y Val), which looms over the north of the town. Every summer, I would pester Grandad Cecil to re-tell the story of how Buffalo Bill brought his Wild West Show to Abergavenny in the summer of 1903. Grandad had been one of the children in the audience when Buffalo Bill vowed to his audience that he would walk up the Sugar Loaf. And that’s just what he did the next morning, accompanied by half the adults and all the children of Abergavenny.

     After the wedding of her sister Lily White to Rufty Tufty, a fête champêtre or country feast that took place in the woods between the two kingdoms, Brown Betty contracted a mysterious illness. She no longer wanted to eat and drink, not even a sliver of honey cake. She no longer had the strength to walk, not even to see and smell the flowers abundant at that time of year.

    Most alarming, the wit Brown Betty had from birth, the store of intelligence and sparkle which won universal admiration, this sense of humor left her in the lurch. She no longer read the latest books and offered her own amusing opinion. She heard important news from abroad and yawned with indifference.  Even to the latest gossip at court she seemed at a loss for what to say. All she could do was lie in bed and listen to the birds repeat their songs again and again, with slight variations.

    The royal physician examined Brown Betty and reported to the queen. (more…)

     It is a hectic Friday afternoon, coming on the heels of a very dramatic week. I have secured our dinner of rotisserie roasted, whole chicken, and the double-egg potato salad. Leaving the deli, I’m a homeward bound hunter leaving the shopping cart jungle and the parking lot wilds with the fruit of my labor.

     Wow! There’s an enormous, tall black man near the rear of my new Benz. Shit! I casually check around me. Whew, the parking lot’s jammed. People everywhere. Witnesses on foot and in cars. He wouldn’t dare try anything. Where’s the parking lot security?

     Oh, shit! He’s looking, looking at me. Is he? He is. Oh, boy, I just need to be calm. Maybe he dented my car and, and…I’m here at the car, so fast, too quick. (more…)

     There once was a queen who was brought to bed of a son so ugly and badly formed that the midwife doubted the baby was human.

    “It isn’t normal, ma’am. You may have been bewitched.”

    A fairy who was present at the birth reassured the queen.

    “The boy is healthy. He will always be lovable, because he will have plenty of wit, which is to say presence of mind. By virtue of the gift I now bestow, he will also be able to give as much wit as he wants to the person he will love the best.”

    This prediction consoled the poor queen. Though beyond reproach, she was distressed to have brought into the world such a queer monkey. True enough, when the child began to talk, he said a thousand pretty things. And something in his prinks and pranks won people over. His mother, his nurse, and the inner circle of the royal court proclaimed him utterly charming. (more…)

     The storm, when it comes, is a storm of teenage girls.

     Teenage girls in miniskirts, teenage girls in strategically ripped jeans, in ill-fitting yoga pants. Teenage girls texting, taking selfies as they fall. Teenage girls taking the best picture ever.

     We can hear the chatter of their voices in the moments before they strike the ground or the rooves. One of them gets hung up on the fencepost outside the Catholic church, another draped over Mr. Schmiedeskamp’s old Studebaker. Some of them are singing.

     After the storm, we’ll be the most famous town in the world for a few days. The media will use the word deluge to describe the storm. The girls from the storm will remain unclaimed, dazed. Some of them will be scooped up in Jimmy Kuykendall’s roadkill truck and disposed of properly. Others will stumble round the town on broken ankles. The media will try to interview the girls from the storm, putting microphones into their stuttering faces.

     I’m fine, the storm girls will say. How’s my makeup?

     Leonard from down the street will fall in love with one of the storm girls, one with curly red hair and a broken smartphone. When he takes her to the local diner for a hamburger, she’ll stare at the cracked screen whenever he speaks. She’ll accept his declarations of love with a bemused smile.

     She’ll say: Sure, Leonard. I love you too. Sure, let’s get married. (more…)

     This happened long ago, exactly as I will describe it to you. One morning, an Indian named Jacinto walked to the headwaters of the Amazon, where he lived. There was yucca in plenty at his home, but he craved protein, and cast his line into the coffee-colored water and hoped for a delicious catch. Almost at once, the line went taut at the end of his wooden stick–I will not call it a fishing tool– and he lifted his catch in the air. His eyes grew wide; the fish, perhaps one pound in weight, glittered in the morning sun. Jacinto turned to his left with the fish held aloft, and let it down slowly onto the grassy bank; he squatted and watched it gulp for air and at last lay still. Inside its gills, stones sparkled. He took a finger and pried them loose. A single diamond and single emerald fell to the ground, and picking them up, he marveled at their properties. It defied credibility. He pocketed them and turned over the lifeless creature. Again with care he ran his rough finger down the length of the fish, and then reached beneath its gills. Again, stones emerged: a diamond, flawless in its handsomeness and an emerald as richly green as the basin of his home. (more…)

     In a land of grassy green meadows and thickly forested hills, not unlike upstate New York or Vermont, lived a little girl named Cheddarella. She was thin, with elbows that poked and a chin that jutted. Everyone agreed she was sharp.

     Cheddarella lived with two older sisters, Lactette and Butterinda, on a farm with one hundred cows. Their father drove the cows out to pasture in the morning and back to the barn in the evening. He milked them twice a day. Their mother made the milk into skim and two-percent, cream and yogurt, and a certain kind of cheese. Cheddarella helped her father with chores in the barn, and her mother with chores in the house. She was stronger than she looked, so no matter how hard the task, she got it done.

     Lactette and Butterinda never lifted a finger on the farm. They went to school, where they learned to read and write. When they were home, they complained about how hard school was. They watched cartoons, flipped through magazines, and talked about friends in an unfriendly way. Vain and idle, they believed that life should always be fun and easy as pie.


     Miki was twirling atop an ice cube when Vida first saw him. Each time he leapt off the edge with his fist in the air, her heart followed. Perhaps it was too soon, but she couldn’t help it.

     She’d heard the stories about the children from Hiemslandia. The ice thieves. The giants. And the rescue—of course the rescue. Even with the condensation droplets in the way, Vida could see Miki’s wounded eyes that shone through the chilled glass.

     Vida sat down at his empty table and smiled. And Miki sat down on the ice and looked back at her. He extended his arm to the foggy covering and polished it with his sleeve. His action was nothing—not really. But Vida, seeing his openness toward her, giggled and loosened her shoulders.


     Folk called her Queen Frost; her voice glittered like frozen moons. In a kingdom of snowlit forests, she sat beside the king. The castle was warm with her laughter. She taught her children songs as bright as low stars and told them tales of lands which never were. In the winter, when the nights were as long as black winds, she trekked food parcels to old folk in the deep woods.

     One day, she became ill. Wise women gave her herbs grown from icicles and owl song, but her eyes dimmed and her voice became as thin as frost light. Her children stayed at her bedside. Candles burned through the quiet night. When the sun rose over the snow lands, she didn’t wake. The silence in the castle was as vast as mountain skies.