Holding On

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Once there was a man whose name was Tim, though most people called him Fetch thinking that was his name.

Tim, or Fetch, was slightly eccentric and always dragged a large dead branch around with him. It looked like half a tree, really. One day the neighbourhood bully had mocked Tim walking by with his branch, tossed him a ball and yelled, “Here, fetch!” The other boys had laughed, and somehow the name had stuck.

Dragging a branch around with you all day every day brings a lot of problems with it. Tim had a hard time finding a job or a flat. Shops didn’t like it when he came in, and after an incident with the door, he couldn’t even go on the bus anymore. People mocked him and sometimes threw things.

Whatever difficulties the branch caused him, Tim found a way around them. Sometimes he thought wistfully about all the things he couldn’t do because of the branch, and then he hated it. Again and again, he decided to let it go, but somehow he just couldn’t.

A few times he tried to get help. The first time, they wouldn’t even let him in to see the doctor as he refused to leave the branch outside. Then, one day, he saw an advertisement for a new therapist promising a 100% success rate in letting things go. Tim decided to try again and made an appointment.

The man with very shiny teeth invited Tim to lie down on the couch. He was to close his eyes, let go of the branch, and count backwards from 100 in steps of 3. When he opened his eyes, everything would be alright, and he would no longer need the branch. Tim was scared, but he so longed to free himself of the branch that he screwed up his courage and forced himself to try. When he opened his eyes again, the branch was gone.

Tim screamed and screamed, and even under sedation he only calmed down when he was safely holding on to his branch again. He left the office shaking and promised himself he would never, ever trust anyone again. Better to live with his branch, however poorly, than to subject himself to such an ordeal again.

So time went on, and Tim still lived with his branch. The many practical difficulties didn’t bother him so much, but he did get lonely. No one seemed to want a friend who dragged a dead branch around with him. So when one day, as he was walking in the park, a lady looked up from her book and gave him a nod and a hint of a smile, it was almost a shock.

Tim thought he might have been mistaken, so the next day he took care to walk past the bench she was sitting on, and again she gave him a smile. It became a habit: he would walk past her bench, and they would exchange a smile. This may not sound like much, but for Tim it quickly became the best part of his day.

So when one rainy day she wasn’t there, he was very disappointed. He turned to leave the park, but then she called from a pavilion. Elated by this sudden turn of events, he went up to her, sat down beside her on the pavilion steps, and said hello.

From then on it became a new habit: they would sit on the bench together a while and talk. Nothing much, just things about the weather and the park, or maybe the squirrels. Then one day she asked him whether she could touch his branch. This was quite a shock for him. People had mocked his branch, some boys had tried to kick it, but no one had wanted to touch it, much less asked his permission to do so. But still he shook his head, he’d rather she didn’t. “That’s fine,” she said, “it’s your branch.”

A few days later, he shyly said she might touch the branch if she wanted. And she did. Gently, and not for long. “It’s a good branch,” she said. Tears came into his eyes, and he hurried off. “Why did you say that?” he asked the next day. “Well, it clearly means a lot to you,” she replied.

One day he asked about her job, and she told him she was a therapist with an office beside the park. He told her about his experience with the man with the shiny teeth. He couldn’t quite hear what she muttered, but he did catch the words “dangerous” and “quack”. Some weeks later, after making her promise she would never try to take his branch away from him, he made an appointment.

“Where did you get the branch?” The question surprised him. He had never really given it much thought, it seemed to have always been there. But slowly it came back to him. The sea-trip when he was a boy. The accident, the screaming. Grabbing hold of a floating branch, and never letting go.

“So it saved your life,” she said. Tim looked at his branch with new eyes. “I guess,” he said. “That’s something to be grateful for,” she said. “But maybe you don’t need to hold on to it all the time anymore?”

Step by step, Tim learned to let go of the branch. First just for seconds, then minutes. Soon he could cross the room and sit on the couch, hardly taking his eyes off it in the beginning, later only glancing at it now and then. Then he could leave it in the waiting area, and one proud day he came to the office without it.

Tim kept the branch, in his bedroom at first, then moving it to the spare room, and finally into the attic. And when he came across it by chance he would remember that whatever difficulties it had caused him, one day, when he had nothing else to hold on to, it had saved his life.

The Iron Kingdom

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Once upon a time there was a king who had four sons. The sons’ lives were ill-fated: one died of illness, another fell to his death from a tower, and a third was killed in battle. Then there was only one son left to succeed his father. The last young prince was a sickly boy, and doctors warned the king that his son’s heart might not be strong enough to let him live to be king.

This was a tragedy, not only for the king and queen who loved their last little boy dearly, but for the whole kingdom. Without a clear succession, many feared it would once again be racked by civil war. So the king offered the highest reward for anyone who could save the prince’s life.

Scores of healers and magicians made their way to the castle, but all the herbal droughts and magic amulets did not make the young prince any better. Indeed, he grew weaker by the day. So when at last a man came along and proposed a radical solution, the desperate king and queen were willing to listen.

The man who called himself the magister said he would take the prince away to heal. And as the problem was the boy’s heart, a band of iron would be set around it to make him strong. This had worked well on many a sickly boy, the magister said, indicating the hearty adolescents in his company. The king was impressed with the lads, with their mature and resolute air. Such a lad could well succeed to the kingship, he thought.

The queen did not want to part with her precious little boy, but the magister was persuasive. The young prince needed to be away from the restrictive castle atmosphere and the nurses’ coddling, to play and be educated amongst other boys of his own age. A boy who would one day be king, he said, must needs let go of his mother’s skirts one day. The prince would be in the very best hands and the iron band around his heart would make him strong. Reluctantly, the king and queen agreed to let the magister take the prince away.

The prince thrived, or so the magister’s reports told the king and queen. And once the boy had mastered his letters, his tales of sport and play warmed his parents’ hearts. As the king’s son and heir had been sent away, many noblemen’s sons were sent likewise. And their letters too told of sport and play, of lessons and rewards.

Now and then, the prince was sent back to the castle to visit so his parents could assess his progress. The queen would cry a little when he came, and more when he left again, but the king would always remind her it was all for the prince’s own good.

The years went by, and at last the prince returned for good. He was tall and strong now, fearless and resolute. But the queen found it hard to recognise the son she had sent away all those years ago, and she grieved for the little boy she had lost.

As the king grew older, the prince took on many responsibilities, and finally became king himself. He fulfilled his promise and became a strong leader, though he had little time for those who were weak or poor. Away from home he had known only the company of noblemen’s sons: now he knew little of ordinary people’s lives, and cared less.

When the young king in turn had sons, he too sent them away, and had an iron band set around their hearts to make them strong. His aging mother protested, surely they were healthy enough and didn’t need it. But her son only laughed: it never did me any harm, did it? So it became the fashion, and all the noblemen’s sons were sent away, and soon the daughters too. And an iron band was set around their hearts to make them strong.

For most of the children it seemed to work: they became resourceful and independent, if a little distant, a little cold. But some had their spirits crushed by the iron band: they died or left the kingdom, never to return. These were the weaklings, it was said, and the kingdom was better off without them.

Over the years, the kingdom changed. There had been greed and nepotism before, but there had also been laughter and music. Now the rulers had only cold disdain for all who were not of their kind, laughter was mockery or icy ridicule, and the music died away. The land became the Iron Kingdom, ruled by people with iron in their hearts.

But for those who fled, there was a signpost behind the pass leading out of the kingdom. It showed the way to a forge by a river where a smith with a crinkly smile would receive the traveller kindly. If they had that look of cold despair, he would offer to remove the iron band. “Can you do that?” they would ask in disbelief. “It will hurt,” the smith would say gravely, “but it can be done.”

Once the operation is over and the traveller is up and about again, they walk by the river. And soon they sit down, and the tears start to flow. Suddenly, they can hear the sweet gurgle of the river, the singing of the birds, and the shepherd’s pipe. For with an iron band around your heart, you cannot cry. And without tears, there can be no music, no laughter, and no love.

When the traveller sets off again there is still pain, but there is also hope. With heartfelt thanks the traveller takes leave of the smith, offering payment. The smith waves it away. “I was once like you,” he says, and shows his scars.

As the traveller leaves they exchange a smile of kinship: the kinship born of shared pain, which, eternal or fleeting, runs deeper than that of blood.

Dizzying Heights

I inched forward, holding my breath. Don’t look, don’t look. My eyes flickered downward, and I gave a little lurch. I was falling.

Get a grip! a little voice inside me growled. People are staring! I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. Everything’s fine, the voice breathed.

After a while the idiocy struck me of standing by one of the most spectacular sights of the world – with my eyes screwed shut. Come on, the little voice coaxed. With an effort I opened my eyes: first one, then the other. I looked at the cliffs opposite. Breathtaking.

Suddenly I was soaring.

This week’s wcgu prompt. Photo by Julia.

Finding Beauty

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Life is simply a collection of little lives,

each lived one day at a time.

Each day should be spent

finding beauty in flowers and poetry

and talking to animals.

Nicholas Sparks

The Sunday Post Challenge: Simplicity.

Round Robin

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Dear Friends.

as usual our family has enjoyed an eventful year, and we’d like to share our news with you all.

As some of you already know, our house was repossessed earlier in the year, due to an unfortunate misunderstanding with the tax authorities. Happily we’ve found the perfect little family home, and we’re currently parked just 3 miles up the North Road. Grant attached it to a power line with his usual technical skill. Later in the year he was fired from his job, but not before he got hold of some choice bits of information on several members of the board. We are looking forward to a comfortable retirement in the near future.

Our pride and joy Sharon failed the entrance exam to the new school, but with her usual courage she’s decided to soldier on and try again next year. Her charming new boyfriend Dwight is very successful in the pharmaceutical line, so let us know if you need anything. Our dear son Steven was arrested (his first time!!!), but we’re confident he will get off on a technicality.

After our move, Rover went missing, though we believe he may still be in the area. We have heard of a number of chickens disappearing, and he always did love chicken. Ginger on the other hand is thriving – and providing us with regular fresh meat: the local butcher has a cat-flap.

As for me, I’ve got my little flask, and am fine as always.

We wish you all a Merry Christmas and an equally successful 2013.

Donna + Grant + Sharon + Steven + Rover + Ginger

The End Is Nigh

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The End is Nigh! the man shouted.

Is there still time for hot chocolate? Riley asked.

The-End-is-Nigh guy blinked. Ah, maybe, I don’t know.

― Jana Oliver, Forbidden

Why, thank-you, dearie. I never say no to a biscuit. And what’s your name, young lady? Louise? The old face cracked in a smile.

Do I believe what? That the dragon is coming and the world will end tomorrow?

Now, when I was your age, the world was always coming to an end. Left and right people were predicting disasters. I think it’s because they want the world to change. And right they are! But no, I don’t think the world will end tomorrow.

The dragon, now, that’s a whole other story. The old eyes twinkled. I’ve seen it myself, you know…

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T.Mastgrave’s story challenge: the End of Time.

The Veil

Art: the reproduction of

what the senses perceive in nature

through the veil of the mist.

Edgar Allan Poe

When I was young I thought a lot about life, truth, what is right, and what is good. I was confident that, with time, I would know more. Now my eyesight is fading, and it seems that the answers are further away than ever. Indeed, I’m no longer sure these questions have an answer at all.

As if reality is receding into the mists, leaving more and more grey areas. I wonder whether you become less and less sure of your ground, until you are swallowed by the mists of uncertainty?

Is that why they mean by “behind the veil”?

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The 100-wcgu at Julia’s Place: Grey.