Hidden Kingdom (Chapter 2-adding page 9)

To see the complete Chapter 1, use the following link;https://catchafallingstarbook.net/2018/11/24/hidden-kingdom-chapter-1-complete/

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Filed under artwork, comic strips, fairies, Hidden Kingdom, humor, Paffooney, pen and ink

An Unexpected Gift 

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This post is a movie review for Thor : Ragnarok , though I don’t really plan on talking about the movie very much.   It was an excellent comic book movie in the same tongue-in-cheek comedy tradition as Guardians of the Galaxy.   It made me laugh and made me cheer.   It was the best of that kind of movie.  But it wasn’t the most important thing that happened that night.

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You see, I spent the weekend in the hospital thinking I had suffered a heart attack during the Thanksgiving holiday. I thought I was facing surgery at the very least.   I knew I might have had an appointment to play chess with the Grim Reaper.   It is a lot to worry about and drain all the fun out of life.

Well, one of the things that happened that day, Tuesday, my first full day out of the hospital and, hopefully, out of the woods over heart attacks, was that I received my new replacement bank card because my old one had a worn out, malfunctioning chip in it.  So, I took my three kids to the movie at the cheapest place we could find.  I tried to run my bank card for the payment, and it was summarily declined.  I had activated it previously during the day, and there was plenty of money in the account compared to the price, but it just wouldn’t take.  So I had to call Wells Fargo to find out whatever the new reason was for them to hate me.  It turned out that it had already been activated, but a glitch had caused it to decline the charge.  While I was talking to the girl from the Wells Fargo help desk, the lady who had gotten her and her husband’s tickets right before us put four tickets to the movie in my hand.

The middle-aged black couple had lingered by the ticket stand before going in to their movie just long enough to see a sad-looking old man with raggedy author’s beard and long Gandalf hair get turned down by the cheap-cinema ticket-taking teenager because the old coot’s one and only bank card was declined. They were moved to take matters into their own hands and paid for our tickets themselves.

That, you see, was the gift from my title.  Not so much that we got our movie tickets for free, but that the world still works that way.  There are still good people with empathetic and golden hearts willing to step in and do things to make the world a little bit better place.  The gift they gave me was the reassurance that, as bad and black as the world full of fascists that we have come to live in has become, it still has goodness and fellow feeling in it. People are still moved to pay things forward and make good on the promise to “love one another”.  I did not have a chance to thank them properly.  I was on the phone with Wells Fargo girl when it happened.  The only thing that couple got out of their good deed was thank-yous from my children and the knowledge that they had done something wonderful.  I plan to pay it forward as soon as I have the opportunity.  Not out of guilt or obligation, but because I need to be able to feel that feeling too at some point.

I do have one further gift to offer the world.

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After we got home from the movie, I opened an email that contained the cover proof for my novel, Magical Miss Morgan.  Soon I will have that in print also if I can keep Page Publishing from messing it up at the last moments before printing.  It is a novel about what a good teacher is and does.  It is the second best thing I have ever written.

Sometimes the gifts that you most desperately need come in unexpected fashion.

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I Hope You Dance…

When you walk to the front of the classroom and take up the big pencil in front of a group of young teens and twelve-year-olds, there is a strong pressure to learn how to sing and dance. That, of course, is a metaphor. I was always too arthritic and clunky in my movements to literally dance. But I looked out over a sea of bored and malevolence-filled eyes, slack and sometimes drooling mouths attached to hormone-fueled and creatively evil minds. And I was being paid to put ideas in their heads. Specifically boring and difficult ideas that none of them really wanted in their own personal heads. So I felt the need to learn to dance, to teach in ways that were engaging like good dance tunes, and entertaining in ways that made them want to take action, to metaphorically get up and dance along with me.

I wanted them to enjoy learning the way I did.

But the music of the teacher is not always compatible with the dance style of the individual learner. The secret behind that is, there is absolutely no way to prompt them to dance along with you until you learn about the music already playing in their stupid little heads. (And you can’t, of course ever use the word “stupid” out loud, no matter how funny or true the word is,) You have to get to know a kid before you can teach them anything.

The discordant melodies and bizarre tunes you encounter when you talk to them is like dancing in a minefield blindfolded. Some don’t have enough to eat at home and have to survive off of the nutrition-less food they get in the school cafeteria’s free-and-reduced lunch program. Some of them have never heard a single positive thing from the adults at home, enduring only endless criticism, insults, and sometimes fists. Some of them fall in love with you. Some due to hormones. Some due to the fact that you treat them like a real human being. Some because they just stupidly assume that everyone dances to the same tunes they hear in their own personal head.

Some of them automatically hate you because they know that if you hear their own secret music in their own self-loathing heads, you will never accept it. They hate you because you are a teacher and teachers always hate them. Some of them, deep down, are as loathsome as they think they are.

But, if you find the right music, you can get any of them, even all of them, to dance. It might be hard to find. It might be a nearly impossible task to learn to play that music once you find it. But it can be done.

And if you get them to dance to your music, to dance along with you, I can’t think of anything more rewarding, anything more life-fulfilling. Have you ever tried it for yourself? If you are not a teacher, how about with your own children or the children related to you? Everybody should learn to dance this dance I am talking about in metaphors. At least once in your life. It is addictive. You will want to dance more. So the next time the music starts and you get the chance… I hope you’ll dance!

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My Cousin Karen

When I took this picture from the western entrance to Uncle Harry’s farm, capturing a picture of the Lonely Windmill in the middle of the cornfield, the old house was replaced long ago, the barn torn down more recently, and somebody new, not relatives for the first time in almost a century, living on the farm place. And for the first time, the first member of our generation of our family, is now also gone.

Karen died of Covid this week.

Karen was a second cousin. Her father was my great uncle, my Grandma Aldrich’s littlest brother. I was the first born of all Grandpa and Grandma Aldrich’s grandchildren. I was two years younger than Karen. Her brother Bob was only a couple months younger than me, and in my class at school in Rowan, Iowa. My cousin Wanda, Uncle Don’s oldest daughter was a year younger than me and Bob. Then came my sister Nancy and cousin Beth, Uncle Larry’s oldest daughter, a year younger than Wanda. A year younger than Nancy and Beth was Diane, Uncle Don’s second daughter. (the tyke on the trike.) Uncle Larry’s twins, Janice and Jeanette, and my little sister Mary were two years younger than Nancy and Beth. The babies of the four families were Mark (Uncle Larry’s son,) David (My little brother,) Tom (Karen’s baby brother,) and Sandy (Uncle Don’s youngest, the littlest of all of us.) You get the idea. In the picture of the tribe of feral munchkins hoping for either a smile from Dorothy, or an autographed broom from the Wicked Witch of the West, Karen is the tallest one in the back of the group. The group, of course, met for family gatherings on every holiday, birthday party, card party, and scheduled family reunion through the 60’s and 70’s.

Karen was the first of us to learn how to read. I remember the Thanksgiving when she proved it by reading aloud Grandma Aldrich’s copy of The Little Red Hen to those of us old enough to know how to talk and theoretically listen. She seemed to be a lot like the character of the Little Red Hen to me, taking charge of the baking and assigning those of us who wanted to eat the cookies the jobs we were destined to refuse to do. Or do wrong until Karen growled at us and forced us to do things at least twice.

Karen was good at lecturing. I still remember when I tried to commit the crime of telling my cousins that Santa Claus wasn’t real. First she set me straight. Then she told Aunt Wilma on me, getting me into trouble so bad I nearly got spanked. I had to apologize to crying girl cousins and sisters. How could I have believed such terrible things told to me in school by second-graders?

My first memory of the love of her life, Harlan, was when he caught the bully that gave me and anybody smaller than me the hardest of times in middle school, and pushed him around and threatened him until he stopped bullying the other kids, at least whenever Harlan and his football-player-sized friends could possibly see him. They were the perfect pair. The Boss and the Boss with muscles. (And you know which one is Karen without me saying it, don’t you?)

I don’t get to attend the funeral. I am stuck several States away. But I am going to miss her. She’s caused more than a few tears this week. And now that she’s gone, I’m the oldest cousin still living. So, I am probably the next one the Reaper will give that final handshake and escort. There are downsides to getting older.

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Fairy Tales and Dragons (with pointillism)

Going through my old drawing portfolio, I found my children’s book project from my undergrad college years.  I have no idea now looking at the illustrations what the story was even about.  I lost the actual story, and I never made a cover for it.  But here is a look at old hopes and dreams and a way of seeing the world that begins; Once Upon a Time…

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I have no earthly idea what the heck this story is even about, but I do like the pen and ink work, and probably couldn’t repeat it if I had to.

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An Idiot’s Guide to Art Day

No, I am not calling you an idiot, dear reader. I am the one providing the guidance material.

This idiot is not actually me… This is Doofy Fuddbugg. He is not overburdened with book-learning, but he can fix practically anything around the house or in the car. He can also tell a story pretty well that makes you laugh.

So, if I were to try to explain art day in an Idiot’s Guide aimed at explaining the essence of it to Doofy Fuddbugg, one idiot trying to educate another, I would explain that I am lazy on Saturdays. All I want to do is post pictures and not have to write a lot of heavily-thought-out words and ideas in the usual droning idiot’s essay of 500 words or more. So, I go through my WordPress picture file and find interesting pictures to post without having to draw or paint anything new.

I confess that I do not merely select pictures at random. I try to get pictures I haven’t used in a good while. This double portrait of Gretel Graymalkin, and what she looks like naked in the moonlight, hasn’t been used in a post since last year. And there is a bit of rhyme and reason to it too. Gretel is an idiot.

And this is a picture that any idiot can tell is a real picture of fairies in the park discussing the building of a new fairy circle after it finally started raining heavily again in Texas after almost a decade of drought. Of course, it has to be an idiot to tell that. Most people would recognize this as a pen-and-colored-pencil drawing photo-shopped over a photograph. Even the mushrooms are not real. I have it on good authority from fairy-kind that they are actually pixies in disguise.

And then there is this rare bird I drew a couple of years back. He is a surrealistic peacock who thought of auditioning for NBC before he learned they don’t still do those “Now in Living Color…” ads anymore. He’s surrealistic in that he could not possibly be real, unless he were really just a bowling pin and lady’s fan put together by a deranged painter with a mental disorder that makes him do decoratively dippy drawings on things you really shouldn’t be drawing upon in the middle of a bowling tournament.

And who can forget this idiot, an avatar of me as a purple Mickey in the style of the late great Don Martin of Mad Magazine fame? He’s the whole reason you get foolish lazy-Saturday posts like this at all, There has got to be a cure for that somewhere in the multiverse.

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The Reds and the Blues

Lord, grant me peace

In times of great violence

Grant me wisdom

As everything around me burns in ignorance

Let the cold blues

Be tempered with warm reds

Let me juggle life’s fortunes and misfortunes alike

Red balls over blue balls

Yellow, purple, and green

Over and under

The spiraling path

I’ll keep written records

In journals with pictures

And share my discoveries

With any who’ll listen

And I’ll always keep close in my heart

The people and places and memories

That mattered and shattered

The whole color wheel

Because Shakespeare once showed us the whole color wheel

Is necessary for magic to form on the page

And though yellow is also a primary too

It’s the reds that warm life as the color of blood

And the blues let us chill as the deeper color of ice

But let there no period be

To stop the color progression

Of this warm/cold blank verse

Nor rhythm or rhyme sully

The Reds and the Blues

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The Necromancer’s Apprentice… Canto 9

The Mysterious Magic Hat

When Mickey and I heard that we were going to use the Magic Hat, Mickey got really excited.  It was his turn to put on the ceremonial robe and bring out the hat.

“So, you do have the Magic Hat?” the girl Derfentwinkle asked while frowning.

“You know about that?  What did Bluebottom tell you about it?”

“Nothing.  But I read it in a letter he was writing.  It’s a rare magic item that used to belong to Dezmodotto the Scroll and Sword Wizard.  He believed you got hold of it when Dezmodotto died.”

“When Bluebottom killed him, you mean.”

“I didn’t know that part, but yes.”

“Everything that Derfie just said is true.  Master Eli, however…” began Kack.

“Shut up, Kackenfurchtbar!” ordered Master Eli.

Meanwhile, Mickey had run to the vault-closet, used the key, and came back wearing the red apprentice robe and carrying the red, conical Magic Hat.

“I did it, Master!  I brought the hat, and it didn’t turn me into a pigeon, and it didn’t suck out all my brainpower and make me stupid.”

“You mean it didn’t make you more stupid,” said Master Eli with a chuckle.

“Yes… um, I guess so.”  Mickey put the hat on the floor between Master Eli and Derfentwinkle. 

The hat itself was impressive.  It was tall and stiff and red… covered with golden-yellow sigils and symbols.

Master Eli picked it up and immediately pulled another hat out of it.  Another exact copy of the original hat.

“Here, Derf.  Put this on your pointy head.”

“What is it going to do?  Sort me into the proper house in the castle?”

“Ha!  No!  It’s good that you know about Slow Ones’ children’s literature, especially all the way from England.  But this hat will judge whether you are evil or not.  It may empty all the magic out of your head.  Or it may turn you into a pigeon.  I am interested to see.”

He put one of the two copies of the hat on Derfentwinkle’s head.  Then he put the other on Mickey’s head.

“Why on my head?”  Mickey squeaked.

“Because there may be secrets and spells that can alter the brain, and I don’t want them transferred into my head.”

Mickey looked at Derfentwinkle with horrified eyes.

“I know it is your turn to be the apprentice for this,” I told Mickey.  “But if you are afraid, I will take the hat… if you need me to.”

“No, quiet boy.  There won’t be anything that the mouse-boy won’t like.  He’ll be okay.”  She looked at me with what I hoped was a trustworthy look.

The hat on Derfentwinkle’s head began to hum… sort of.  And at the same time Mickey’s eyes began to cross.

“MMMM!  There it is!  The sex magics!” crowed Mickey as his rat tail began to stiffen and twirl in small circles behind him.

Derfentwinkle appeared to be in pain.  She dropped the plastic bottle containing the bottle imp, and held her stomach with both arms as if that’s where it hurt the most.  I was concerned for her.  Especially when her eyes dilated and she seemed to be staring through all of us with black orbs for eyes.

Then, mercifully, it all came to a stop.

“Aw, no!  Where did the sex magics go?  They were right here in my head.  I knew how to do wonderful things.”

“Mickey, the hat absorbed all the evil spells.  And then it recorded all the good ones.  Just like it was meant to do,” said Master Eli.

“Oh, but I wanted to…”

“What?  What did you want to do?”

“Um… I don’t know.  The Magic Hat took it all out of my head again.”

“Just like it was meant to do.  You were too young for any of that nonsense anyway.”

“Um, I am not feeling well,” said Derfentwinkle.  “Can I lie down and sleep a little?”

She began to topple over, and I caught her up in both arms.  She was really rather light to carry for a girl who was actually slightly taller than me.

“Well, the poor girl has just been through a wringer,” Master Eli said. 

“Do I lay her down in the Harpy cage?” I asked, looking sadly at her unconscious face.”

“No, Bob.  Take her to your bed… um, on second thought, take her to my bed.  Let her sleep on the soft mattress there.  But stay next to her.  If she tries to escape or do something evil, you will need to kill her.  But don’t get blood on my nice blankets.”

“How will she do evil in this state?” I asked.

“Oh, she won’t.  Most likely you will just need to guard her and make her comfortable.  If she has the wizard-skill I think she does, then she is going to be a very valuable property.  So, be kind and take good care of her.

“Why does Bob get to do that good stuff, and not me?” complained Mickey.

“Because, although he’s not very bright.  He’s smarter than you are, Mickey.” The stinky little wererat grumbled darkly as I carried the limp girl up the stair to the upper tower and gently placed her on master’s nice, soft bed.

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In the Outhouse

In the Outhouse (a poem by a terrible poet)

So, here I sit for a while to ponder,

While I’m taking care of needs down yonder.

I read the paper’s news-less ruses.

And think that here, at least, the thing has uses.

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Olfactory Story Telling

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My dog Jade

While walking the dog yesterday, we struck up a conversation about writing and being a writer that proved once and for all that DOGS REALLY DON’T KNOW HOW TO WRITE!

She turned around on the end of her leash and looked at me with that woeful you-don’t-feed-me-enough look on her little well-fed face.  “You know, I was reading your blog today, and I think I know how to make you a well-known writer and best-selling author.”

“Oh, really?” I said.  “Since when do you know anything about being a writer or marketing fiction?”

“Well, you do remember that I wrote a couple of blog posts for you already.”

“True.  But I can’t afford to do that again.   You type with your tongue and it leaves the keyboard all sticky.  I haven’t gotten it truly clean and working properly again since that last time.  If you are asking to write another post, you can forget it.”

“Well, sorry about that.  But I do think I know how to make your writing more popular with a bigger audience.”.

“Oh?  How could you possibly know that?”

“Hey, talking dog here!  That has to count for something, doesn’t it?  Don’t you think people would be amazed to learn about things from a dog’s perspective?”

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“Nobody’s going to believe I have a talking dog.  That isn’t something within the realm of what is normal.  They are all going to think I am just a crazy old man.”

“Well, you are a crazy old man.  I can’t help that.  But what if you told stories from a dog’s perspective?  You know, things that only a dog could’ve come up with?”

“Oh, like what, for instance?”

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Why does the neighbor’s dog always smell like burritos?

“Well, you know that more than half of what a dog perceives about the world she gets through her sense of smell?”

“Okay…”

“Like that spot on the grass over there.  Boy dog.  Handsome border collie… ate three hotdogs about four days ago.  Ooh!  He smells perfect!”

“You’re talking about poop smells again, aren’t you?”

“Well, yes.  But I can also tell you about the pigeons that were in that live oak tree there yesterday.”

“Oh?  What color were they?”

“I don’t know… gray maybe?”

“Bird doo.  You are smelling old bird poop!  You want me to write about poop more?”

“Well, no… not exactly.  But if you could tell your stories through the sense of smell more…  that would be unique and different.  People would like that a lot because it’s never really been done before.”

“You do understand that I can’t use my laptop to write smells?  There are no words I could use that will automatically put smells into the reader’s nose.”

“Well, but if you could invent one…”

“According to you, it would be mostly poop smells anyway.  Who wants to sniff that?”

“It would make your blog more popular with dogs.”

“But dogs don’t read!”

“How do you know for sure?  You believed me when I said I read your blog today.”

“Well, you certainly got me there.  Now, don’t we have some important business to take care of?”

“Yes, but…  You see that squirrel over there?”

“Yes, so?”

“So one day soon, I’m gonna eat him!”

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A Walk in the Park

We have across the street from our house an extensive green-belt park. It meanders through the city along a controlled and, often, brick-walled creek. It is really a portion of the city’s drainage system that prevents more of the horrible flooding that occurred in Texas cities in the 1980’s and 1990’s, As you can see, if you need to exercise for your heart-and-joint health, it is a perfect spot for a nice, long walk and think. So, today I am thinking about what I walked and thought about.

Mini-Wizards

I started my walk thinking about my current work in progress. It is called The Necromancer’s Apprentice. And it is a story about a fairy society filled with tiny, three-inch-tall magical people. They live in a castle-city made from a living, hollow willow tree. The city is under attack by an evil Necromancer (a death-wizard) who wants something unknown from the wizards in the city. Eli Tragedy is a sorcerer representing the good guys. He has two apprentices already, quiet Bob and chaotic Mickey the were-rat. And he captures the necromancer’s apprentice, and instead of killing her like his superiors want, he makes her into his own third apprentice. He’s a good wizard because he helps students learn and values them as people. The bad guy is the opposite. He is evil because he’s focussed on his own power and wealth, and he’s wasteful of the lives and suffering of others. So, in many ways, he is like a Republican politician in the real world.

The Great Books You Have Read Make You Who You Are

So, I began thinking about what the necromancer’s favorite great work of literature is. Obviously, it would be former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s favorite book, Atlas Shrugged. In that book, the hero John Galt asserts the notion that only certain people, creative types like himself and Ayn Rand and, presumably, Paul Ryan have the right to design the proper life for everybody. And they are capable of doing anything and getting away with it for the reason that it is in the best interests of everybody, even if it kills the poor and other lesser people.

This recognized classic book of fiction supporting a selfish philosophy is the reason why we have things like Reaganomics, Trump tax cuts, and border walls. The perfect explanation to certain readers of, “All the reasons why I should turn to evil.” It obviously is a book read and loved by not only Paul Ryan, but other important weasels in charge of everything like Senator Ted “Cancun” Cruz, Senator Mitch “Turtle Man” McConnell, and former Presidential Advisor Steve “The Human Sweat-stain” Bannon.

A good wizard (or Sorcerer) would have read and been influenced more probably by some of the great books of Uncle Boz, um, I mean, Charles Dickens. His is a much gentler and more generous philosophy which finds value in forlorn and mislaid individuals like Sydney Carton, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, or Tiny Tim. I know these books of magic are the ones I choose to battle evil wizards in my own life.

So, if great books made me, perhaps I can write my great book with heroes influenced by Dickens and villains influenced by Ayn Rand.

The Final Turn of the Park’s Sidewalk

As I head homeward from my walk in the park, I have two things gained from the exercise. My legs and back are very tired. And my head is boiling over with things I need to write.down.

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Inspiration…

So, what if it is true that the future begins with the story-teller? Smart phones are obviously descendants of the communicators and tricorders and computers that Gene Roddenberry introduced to us in the original Star Trek series. George Orwell gave us timely predictions and warnings of the rise of fascism and authoritarianism in his novel, 1984.

If we truly wish to be a force for good, we have to take the evil bull by the horns and turn its momentum away from the future we seek to protect. Like Solzhenitsyn we may be gored in that bull-fight and end up spending time in the gulag. But those of us who choose to be writers, especially story-tellers, must take on that responsibility. What if ours is the story that changes the mind of a nation, like when the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn took on slavery and the unjust treatment of others who think that, because they are white, or have money, or are somehow smarter than everyone else, they have the right to abuse, take advantage, or even kill other people? What if ours is the story that turns the rich into selfish engines of greed as Atlas Shrugged obviously did?

It is a tremendous responsibility. It is a power we must not wield unwisely, even if our talent level is only that of the disastrously lazy Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

What sort of a story-teller will I be?

What sort will you be?

Where will I lead my readers (If indeed there ever are any)?

And where will you lead yours?

If any questions are important now during these days of self-reflection, isolation, and Coronavirus, it will surely be these. So, tell me what you think.

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