Special toes

The other day I was cleaning out my parents’ attic. It had not been cleaned out since God knew when. I knew my parents were not up to it. They were getting on in years and could no longer climb the stairs. So I took a weekend off.

I emptied box after box, making a list of items. My parents could choose what was to keep and what was to be gotten rid of.

It was late Sunday afternoon when I came across an old wooden chest filled with my stuff. A chest I had forgotten existed, packed with mementoes from my childhood and teen years. I unlatched the beast and opened it. It squeaked.

The chest was stuffed to the brim. There was all sorts of paraphernalia. A baseball cap and a trophy, my scout uniform and my high school yearbook and other treasures. Setting them on the floor next to me, I soon had a pile of yesterdays. I was almost through when I noticed a picture of a toe. How could I have forgotten that toe?

I took the picture and studied it. Sure ‘nough it was Joey’s eleven-year-old toe.

Joey’s family moved into the house next door. From the first, Joey and I took to each other. All that summer we did everything together. Bike riding. Baseball. Glueing together model airplanes. Watching monster flicks while baby-sitting his little sister.

One afternoon we rode our bikes over to the swimming hole on the Rustin’s farm. We went skinny-dipping. Finally we crawled out of the water and laid out on the grass, looking at the sky, proclaiming what each cloud was.

As we went to pull on our socks, I looked over at his bare feet and said, “Wow, you have six toes.” I couldn’t believe it. It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen.

Joey quickly pulled on his socks to hide his extremities.

I grabbed his arm and stopped him.

“Don’t,” he yelled.

“B-b-b-but that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” I gazed in wonder at that foot. Then I realized he didn’t have an just one extra toe on. Both feet had six toes. “How come you have the extra toes and I don’t?”

“Usually kids laugh when they see my feet. You’re not laughing.”

“Laughing? Why would I laugh? I want extra toes like you. How can I get them?”

“Don’t know. I was born with them.”

When I got home that night, I asked my mother, “Joey has six toes on each foot. How come I don’t have six toes?”

My mom thought for a couple of minutes, then, “Joey’s special.”

“How come I’m not special?” I asked.

“But you are. Only in a different way.”

“I want to be special like Joey.”

When Dad got home, I confronted him.

He said, “Joey’s special in his own way. And you are special in your own way.”

I wasn’t satisfied. When I went to the pediatrician, I brought up the subject.

His answer, “You’re special the way you are. Joey needs a little bit extra to be special.”

“I want you to give me extra toes,” I demanded.

“I don’t have any to spare.”

I was not one to take no for an answer. I wanted to be special like Joey.

Joey and I spent the next month of Saturdays, scheming on how I could get those two toes I wanted. We thunk and we thunk as young boys often do. Finally we agreed that there was no other answer than digging up a kid’s grave and sawing off two of his toes.

Then we realized we didn’t have to do no digging. The following Friday night happened to be Halloween. We decided Halloween at midnight would be the perfect time to catch a ghost kid. We’d get one of the ghosts as they returned from their hauntings to the grave.

We arrived at the cemetery early. We were not going to miss our chance. The moon was out and it was showing its smiley face for all the world to see. We pulled out two brown paper bags of peanut butter sandwiches and a canteen of water and consumed the food. Then we watched.

Just about midnight the first ghost arrived and headed for its grave. It was a old woman. And she had big teeth. We decided this one was not the one for the toes. Slowly more and more ghosts passed us by. Now you’d think we should have been scared. But we weren’t. We’d seen enough haunted house movies to know just what to do if we had to take one on. We had more bravery than we had sense.

Finally a eleven year old kid came by us. Before he could slide back into his grave, we jumped him. He slugged me first, then Joey. I jumped back on him and Joey grabbed his skeleton arms.

“I got him,” Joey shouted. “Get the knife and cut off the toes.”

“No,” he screamed. “Please don’t. I have to keep my toes.”

Out of curiosity, I asked,”Why?”

“If I don’t return with my whole body, I can’t get back in. And you don’t know what it’s like when they don’t let you in.”

“But I need just two toes,” I said.

Just as I was about to slice the beasts off, he bit Joey. Joey let go of the kid and he was gone.

I began to cry. Joey joined me with my crying.

“What are you two doing here this late?” came a voice behind a flashlight. “Answer me.”

We told him about the toes I needed.

“Oh, I can fix that.”

The man grabbed Joey’s foot and took out a giant knife.

I jumped him and knocked the knife out of his hand. As he went for the knife, he released Joey’s foot from his hold.

Joey and I up and ran as fast as we could away from that cemetery. When we made it home, I said to Joey, “You keep your special toes. I think I’m special enough.”

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Did it snow in Eden?

This one sounds like a theology question, doesn’t it? Yet here I am, throwing the question out there. I am here to say that perhaps it did.

Perhaps after all that garden tending and naming names business, the First Couple needed a little vacay. God decided, “Hey, guys, you just won a all expenses paid vacation to the North Slope.” Then He showed the two the resort virtual reality style without the headgear.

Unlike us, Adam and Eve didn’t need longjohns. They didn’t need to bundle up. They didn’t need ear muffs. None of that heavy winter clothes gig. They got the bennies of winter without the suffering through the downers. No heavy duty blizzards to suffer through. And when it came to skiing, they had perfect balance.

There was that time Adam was up on the slopes with Eve. They were in their Hawaiian garb. Shorts and Hawaiian shirts all decked out with flowers. They stood on the slope, skis on their feetsies.

“Shall we?” Adam asked.

“Race you,” Eve said.

So off they went. Faster than a speeding bullet. The snow was all packed down for a good ride. They came to a place where the land dropped fifty feet. Did they stop? Heck, no. Down they went and caught themselves standing. They were having one whissssss of a ride.

Up ahead there were some trees. Adam found that he was heading straight toward the biggest tree of all. It was like one of those Sequoias. Closer, closer, closer he came. He couldn’t stop himself. He made one last effort to turn. Didn’t work. He slammed right into the big galloot. Maybe the biggest Sequoia ever was. Splat!

It was one of those splats you don’t want to hear. Especially if it happens to you. It’s like Wiley Coyote slamming into the side of a mountain. A big ouch. That’s what it was.

Eve pulled up beside Adam. “You okay?” she asked the way she always asked.

“Aw shucks,” Adam said. The only injury he had was those big stars circling his head like they do in cartoons. After a couple of sips of hot toddy he was back on the slopes.

Talk about health insurance. Adam and  Eve had the best medical care that money could not buy. They had God. And God never let them down.

The Hound of Culann

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, here is an Irish tale. It is based on “Táin Bó Cúalnge”. In English, that’s The Cattle Raid of Cooley.

The Blood of Cu Chulainn

In the long long ago days before Patrick came to the Emerald Isle, before the Holy Man chased the snakes away, before the Blessed Saint converted the Irish folk away from their pagan ways, there was a mighty mighty man. Mightier than Hercules of the Romans and the Greeks, Mightier than Thor of the Norsemen. Mightier than Paul Bunyan.

His name was Cu Chulainn, the Hound of Culann. Known by some as The Cuke. For one thing, it was easier to pronounce. For a t’other, the mighty mighty man had a tendency to run amucksky from time to time. His amucksky was enough to throw the Incredible Hulk into a corner, crying for his mommykins. That’s how badass The Cuke was.

Now that we’ve met our hero, it’s time to meet the Villain. Notice I capitalize Villain. Her name was Medb, but we’ll call her Maeve. Take Catwoman, stir in a dose of Mystique, throw in a dollop of Bella Lestrrange, then toss in a dollop of Morgan Le Fay, and you’ve got Maeve.

Being bested in a contest could get her dander up. She did not take lightly to losing. Take the time she was runner-up for Miss Teenage Celt of Ireland. Miss Teenager Celt dropped dead the day after her coronation. Everybody said it was poison but they couldn’t prove it. There was no CSI in those days.

Before that, she was supposed to be Paris’ lady love. Maeve was none to happy that he ran off with Helen. Maybe that was why Troy ended up the way Troy ended up. And when Arthur came calling, then change his mind and went after Guinevere. Well, it was bye-bye-Miss-American-Pie for Camelot. As you can see, Maeve was used to getting her way. When it came to Maeve, it was like Nancy Sinatra sang. You didn’t want to go messing where you shouldn’t be messing. Just ask her four husbands. After all, she was the daughter of the High King of Ireland.

One night, after playing a game of frisky with her fourth husband, Ailill, King of Cannaucht, the two got into an argument of who had the bestest–and the mostest–stuff. Laughing, she said, “I’ll show you.” So they jumped out of bed and had their servants bring all their treasures to the Great Hall: silver buckets, golden pots, rings, jewelry, sheep, horses and pigs. People were really into livestock in those days.

When they got to cattle, Maeve turned up one bull short. That just wouldn’t do. There was no way that the daughter of the High King was going to be one bull short.

Now she figured that since she was one bull short, why not get the best bull. She decided she wanted Donn Cualinge, The Brown Bull of Cualinge. But he was up in Ulster. There was nothing to do but go and get him. Unfortunately, the bull was guarded by none other than The Cuke.

Maeve called in all the favors owed her and Ailill. She sent messengers to the Four Counties. “We’re going to war.”

To ready herself, she gave her fashion designer, and all-around good dress maker, a hoot and a holler. He was someone who had dressed queens from one end of the planet to the other. You name the princess and he’d done her get-up. Now Maeve needed some get-up and go for her ownself. And she was about to get it. He had saved his best work for Maeve. After all, his blood bled green. “I have just the thing for you, dahling,” he said.

And it was just the thing. A silver helmet that left her long red hair free to flow in the wind. Golden armor that reflected the sun, and yet revealed the physicality of her physicality. In it, her curves had curves.

And the piece de resistance was her makeup. Her makeup artist painted her face with such war paint that it could’ve scare the bejeesus out of Hades. She looked her best kick butt. And, of course, her chariot was the Ferari of Chariots from none other than Chariots Ellite. It was the latest CE-337.

She seated herself beside her driver, then the chariot pulled out in front o her army. With her green eyes ablaze with war, she commanded, “On to Ulster.” Away she went, leading her troop to war. As they made their way through the countryside, people lined the roads to watch the parade go by.

Since every war needs a theme song, her men marched onward, singing, “Faigh scuab agus nigh do chuid fiacia.” Translated, it meant “Get a brush and clean your teeth.” Maeve was way ahead of her time when it came to hygiene. She showered twice a day. She’s the one who came up with “cleanliness is next to godliness.”

Guiding the way to Ulster was Fergus mac Roich. Once upon a time he was King of Ulster, but no more. Though he was on the outs with the current king of Ulster, he was still buddy-buddy with The Cuke. He secretly did a Paul Revere and sent his friend a message, “The Irish are coming, the Irish are coming.” Then he led the queen here, there and everywhere, but not to Ulster. To give his friend time to prepare.

“Fergie, what are you trying to do, Big Boy?” Maeve asked with her best Mae West. “Why’s it taking so long?”

“Well,” Fergus answered, “it’s a long way to Tipperary.”

“We’re not going to Tipperary.”

“That’s not what your husband told me.”

Ailill defended himself. “I didn’t say Tipperary. I said temporary. We’re going to Ulster, you goof.”

“Don’r call me a goof. Apologize or I’ll have you for lunch.”

Not wanting to distract from the current campaign, Ailill apologized.

“Just watch it,” Fergus said.

Queen Maeve was tired of the tit for tat. “We’re going to Ulster, and you are a goof.”

“Why didn’t you say so?” Fergus asked. “Ulster’s that way. At least, I think it is. Without the gps, I’m not for certain.”

“You’re just trying to put things off,” Maeve said. “Now let’s get to it before I turn you into a frog.”

“You can do that?” Fergus wanted to know.

“You bet your sweet booties. Now on to Ulster.”

“Would you like to go  the secret way? That way we’ll get the Bull without anybody knowing. And we’ll avoid The Cuke.”

“Cuke, smuke. We have an army. We have two armies Ulster will be no match for us. Besides they have the Curse.”

The Curse? you ask. Years earlier, a witch, one of Macbeth’s three-bies, placed a Curse on the Ulstermen. When an army approached, they would go off into a little snooze. Because The Cuke was a superhero, the Curse never affected him.

Maeve’s army came to a river. The heads of four of her warriors were facing her, sticking out their tongues.

“Who did this?” Maeve demanded.

“Only The Cuke could do such a thing,” Fergus answered the sixty-four thousand dollar question.

“We’re just going to have to whop up on this Cuke,” the queen said, and she meant it.

The great warrior Froech of the mac Fidaigs stepped forward. “Your majesty, I’d be pleased as punch if you would let me do the pleasure.” And off he went, taking nine buddies with him. The Cuke took them out like Captain America took out Red Skull.

Next up was another group of warriors with muscles up the ying-yang. The Cuke did a Muhammad Ali on them, KO-ing them like there was no tomorrow.

Over the next few days, The Cuke stacked up the bodies and begged Maeve to keep ’em coming. There was no way she was going to get past him if The Cuke had anything to say about it. Unfortunately he didn’t have anything to say about it. All the rough housing and beating the crap out of guys who wanted to be the next champion of the world had worn him out.

Maeve managed to sneak past him without her army. She picked up the Bull and slipped him past The Cuke. And then she took off, heading back home.

The Cuke gave chase. But it wasn’t much of a chase. His energy had sapped out and he dropped. That was when daddy showed up. Lugh was a god and he had come to get his boy back in shape. Fro three days and three nights, Lugh put his healing magic to work.

The Cuke recovered and chased Maeve and her army. Then he wreaked his vengeance on her men. Maeve begged for more folks to go out and take on The Cuke. “Are you crazy?” the asked, knowing that she was half cuckoo. She promised them gold and sex, and silver and sex, and sex and sex. She was very persuasive. So they went after The Cuke. They met him in the swamp known as Blood Iron. They did not make it back.

Finally she called for The Cuke’s foster brother, Ferdia. She promised and she promised and she promised. But he kept saying, “Ain’t no way, lady. He’s my bro.” Then she lied, “He said that slaying you would be so easy peasy.”

Ferdia had his pride. There was no way he was going to take that from anybody. Even a brother. So he armored up and headed down to the river.

“Bro, I am not going to fight you,” The Cuke said.

“You got no choice,” Ferdia said, no realizing he’d been tricked by the Wicked Witch of the West.

First it was short spears they fought with. The it was long spears. Then it was large stabbing spears. Each time The Cuke protected himself with a shield that would take three large men to lift. Ferdia was elegant with his shield maneuvers as well.The next morning it was stabbing spears. The day after that, swords were the weapons. After each fight, the two spent the night, reminiscing and toasting each other and feasting till their bodies were filled. Then they slept like logs.

Finally, on a bright summer’s morning, the two met for one last battle. They put on their best armor. Then, like Hector and Achilles, they charged each other. Ferdia swung hard, each swing barely missing. The Cuke’s temper got the best of him. He leaped in the air, brought the spear down, drove through Ferdia. Ferdia dropped to the ground.

The Cuke’s temper left him. All he was left with was sorrow. Uncontrollable sorrow. Holding his brother in his arms, tears ran down his face. Then Ferdia died. The Cuke lowered the limp body to the grass. Then he sang a lament.

The next morning he was joined by the men of Ulster. The Curse had been lifted. Then they went to battle. When Ulstermen went to battle, they really went to battle, slashing and bopping and cutting and thrusting and do all sorts of un-choreographed maneuvers that looked really cool. They fought the men of Connaught and they fought till the men of Connaught had no more fight in them.

Realizing the foolishness of it all, Ulster and Cannaught smoked the peace pipe. Fergus was the one who summed it up best. “What was it all about? A cow. Can you believe that?”

The Cuke joined in with the sentiment. “Let her have her stupid cow. Let’s go home.”

And for seven years there was peace in the land. And when men gathered around a fire, they sang of the Cattle Raid of Cooley. And remembered fondly the deeds of Cu Chulainn, the Hound of Culann.

 

 

Sir Herbert of the White

Maeve was the faerie queen. For as long as the wood had been, she ruled the faeries. There had been others who wanted to take her scepter but Maeve always came out on top.

One of the laws of the wood was that no adult human saw Maeve. If they did, they were to die. So when Sir Herbert of the White came through the forest, he caught a glance at the queen. He was a kind knight who slayed dragons and saved maidens in distress and did all sorts of just and good things. Still it was the law the Sir Herbert must die.

But how? That was his choice. The faeries went to Sir Knight in a dream and let him choose. Being pure in heart, he chose to die doing a good deed.

When the folk throughout the kingdom heard the good Sir Knight was to die, they were struck with grief. Even the king was struck with grief, and grieving was not something he did often. But tears rolled down his face as he asked, “How can we save our good friend?”

Sir Herbert of the White answered the tears, “I am a mortal man. All mortals must die. When I pass, remember me and urge others to slay dragons and save maidens in distress and do all sorts of just and good things.”

Late one night Queen Maeve sat up, looking at the stars and thinking how so many faeries had given their lives to be one of those stars. It made her happy that they were remembered as such but sad that they were no longer with her.

Then she thought of the dilemma of Sir Herbert of the White. She was impressed that his was a pure soul and the world had few pure souls. She was saddened that such a soul had to die. The law was the law but mercy was mercy as well. Was there a way to circumvent the law, allowing Sir Herbert of the White to live?

She studied and her astrologers studied they came to the same answer. Sir Herbert of the White had to die.

After a bit, she went to the Lake of the Lakes, dropped the tip of her wand into its waters and stirred. The Lake spoke to her, “There is a way if you have the courage to follow it.”

“I have the courage,” Queen Maeve answered.

“You must die,” The Lake spoke again.

Queen Maeve wished with all her heart she might save Sir Herbert of the White. But not enough to give her life. Sir Herbert of the White must die.

Finally Queen Maeve’s curiosity overcame her. Before he died, she must see this brave knight so many were mourning for.

Three nights before Sir Herbert of the White was to die, the Queen of the Faeries slipped away from her court. Alone she went through the forest. She met the Big Bad Wolf and huffed and puffed him out of her path. She met the Three Bears. She wanded them out of her way. They were too big and too small and not just right. She passed Humpty Dumpty just as he fell off his wall. She even passed the chicken crossing the road.

In the distance she saw Sir Herbert’s campfire. His horse was peacefully grazing on the green grass. Sir Herbert was fast asleep. She sneaked up on him as soft as soft could be. And she glanced at the knight.

Her heart was smitten. In other words, she swooned and fainted. Cupid’s arrow hit her so hard she was out like a light. Some hours later Queen Maeve woke up and realized what had happened. There was no way she was about to let her true love die. If it was her life that was required, it was her life that was to be given.

Fortunately, there was a great and powerful wizard passing through the forest on that very night. On his way to a destination that was most secret, he decided to take a detour. He had never seen the forest and it was a must-see in Rick Steves’ Tour of the Kingdom. So he decided he could afford a little off-the-beaten-path time.

He crossed into the forest and a squirrel approached him. ‘O Great and Powerful Wizard, you must save our friend, Sir Herbert of the White.”

As Mr. Wizard investigated the situation, he realized there was a solution no one had thought. Sir Herbert of the White must be transformed into a faerie.

And so it was written. And so it was. And to this day, Sir Herbert of the White rules beside Queen Maeve as King of the Faeries. And there is much rejoicing throughout the Wood.

Near 500 words: To Shop Or Not To Shop

Matthew hated shopping. He put it off as long as he could, then he went out and shopped till he dropped. At least, that was how he put the whole thing. Mel loved to shop and couldn’t contain herself when she did. Any day was a shopping day for her. Matthew was on one of his excursions when he accidentally bumped into Mel. They were standing in line at a cashier’s station.

“Ouch,” she said and turned to Matthew behind her.

“Oh, sorry,” Matthew came back with.

Over the years, she had said ouch and he had said sorry for what must have been hundreds of times. He always ended up bumping into others. She always ended up being bumped into. This time it was different. They saw something in each other that they had never seen in another human being.

Matthew made the first move. “I really am sorry.”

“And I really did feel an ouch.” She laughed. Mel laughed often but there was something about this laugh. It filled up her face and went all the way to her toes. Mel wasn’t sure what was going on but she liked it. She like it so much she said, “Would you like to get a cup of coffee?”

Matthew hesitated. He had so much shopping to do. He had put it off for a long time.

“With me, I mean,” Mel added.

Her “with me I mean” made up his mind. “Yes, I’d like that.”

They paid for their items, then went over to the nearby food court. Saw a Starbucks. Ordered. Then found a table.

Matthew wasn’t sure where to begin.

“Why don’t you begin at the beginning,” she answered his unspoken query.

He took a sip of his coffee. It was hot. Burned his tongue a bit. “I’m Matthew.”

“And I’m Mel.”

It was a beginning. What next? Where were they going to go to now? They both looked at the other and neither could come up with a thing to say.

Matthew studied her face. She had a nice face. Not beautiful. The word “comely” came to him. Hazel eyes, a middle-sized nose, small mouth that became large when she laughed. Auburn hair that fell pleasingly onto her shoulder. And she smelled like cherries. Matthew loved cherries. How they smelled. How they felt in your mouth. How they tasted.

Matthew did not have the best of faces. It looked like it had some wear and tear. Mel concluded that came with experience. He was starting to lose his hair. In a few years, he would be bald like her dad.

As they sat there, they weren’t able to come up with small talk. Mel could small talk her friends to death. Especially about shopping. But not here with Matthew. Matthew had never been much for small talk. It just wasn’t in him.

After fifteen minutes, Matthew asked, “Would you like to go to dinner? With me, that is?”

Mel wasn’t sure why she answered the way she did but she gave him a yes.

Neither moved from where they were. Something kept them there. It was like they had known each other for a very long time. In a previous life perhaps.

Then Matthew said, “You know I hate shopping.”

“I love shopping.”

Matthew’s face showed that he had an idea. “Would you help me with my shopping?” the words stumbled out.

Mel reached over and squeezed his hand. “I would love to go shopping with you.”

Matthew and Mel then left the table, holding hands.

From another table, two men watched the whole episode with Matthew and Mel. The taller of the two said, “Finally we’ve gotten them together. Contact Command and let them know we’ve accomplished our mission.”

“You think they’ll be okay?”

“They have to be. Our planet depends on it.”