The Grasshopper and the Merchant

There once was a grasshopper who lived in the reeds of a merchant’s garden. The garden was beautiful, so beautiful in fact, that it was held in greater esteem than the emperor’s own.

The grasshopper had many friends in this garden. The butterfly and the firefly, in particular, greatly enjoyed his company. Life was pleasant and good for them, even though the merchant who owned the land was foul-tempered and unkind. The townspeople avoided the merchant, and he ignored them, seeking nothing more than silence, for music was a blight to his ears.

Every night, the grasshopper would climb upon a simple blade of grass and begin his soliloquy. Nothing brought him greater joy. But no sooner would he start his concert each night, that the merchant, in a rage, would come outside and threaten him with an old broom. Our poor grasshopper was merely a grasshopper, however, and saw no harm in his chirps. The next night he would return, and carry on as usual.

This distressed the merchant, who found the grasshopper’s chirp lowly and unbefitting. After many nights of restless sleep, the merchant decided to take action. The next morning, while the grasshopper slept, the merchant commanded his servants to cut down all of the grass upon which the grasshopper liked to perch. The firefly was so heart-broken that he had to move away.

Quieter, and sadder, became our grasshopper’s nightly songs, but even this was too much for the merchant, who then ordered his servants to pull every flower in his garden up by the root. The townspeople cried to see the godly garden maimed, and the butterfly, no longer having any nectar to drink, was forced to leave as well.

How disheartened, our grasshopper friend.

The grasshopper was clever, however, and devised a plan. He knew that the merchant was a single man, for no married man would care about the chirping of grasshoppers—he would be doing plenty of chirping on his own.

He went to the river and gathered a great many reeds, which he bundled into a fine skirt around his waist. Then, he went to the lilies by the bank and painted his face to be in the custom of human women. Peering onto the water’s surface, the grasshopper found himself rather handsome, and the fish agreed.

He crept back to the merchant’s house and hid behind a window’s reed shutter. Chirping, in the sweetest voice he could muster, the grasshopper called to the merchant inside. “My, what a handsome fellow! I wonder if there is a home here for me?” For you see, that is the chirp grasshoppers make.

The merchant was quite charmed, and instantly ran to the window to pull back the reed. But the grasshopper stopped him, because if the merchant were to look carefully past the window reed shutter, he would know his true identity immediately.

“Oh no! Please don’t look. Only my husband can have the privilege.”

And so the merchant stopped, and rather than be suspicious of the secretive woman, he only found himself endeared. “Pray tell, Gentle Lady, what one must do to be your husband.”

The grasshopper could hardly contain his chirp of amusement. “Plant me a pretty lawn, to match my robe, and I will wed you.” And he flourished the lush reed skirt for the merchant’s desiring eyes.

The next day, the merchant hastened to install a fine green lawn in his yard. The gardeners toiled all the day. By evening, the firefly returned, drawn by the aroma of the fresh verdant grasses. This pleased the grasshopper, but butterfly had not yet returned, and he felt he owed the merchant a little more mischief. That night, he went back to the pond, where he gathered yellow ginkgo leaves to make an even finer robe. He returned to the window once again, and hiding behind the shutter, chirped sweetly, “My, what a handsome fellow! I wonder if there is a home here for me?”

merchantandgrasshapperThe merchant, confused, dashed to the window once more. But he remembered the lady’s shyness, so did not attempt to pull back the shutter. “I do not understand. Do you not see the fine green lawn I have planted? Am I still not fit to be your husband?”

The grasshopper shook his pretty, painted face. The gingko dress rustled like tin bells. “Oh, this lawn is very fine, but it is not nearly right enough. For you see, my robe is yellow. You must have gotten it wrong.”

The merchant, dismayed, apologized and promised to set it right.

The very next day, he had the gardeners remove the green lawn and instead plant a wondrous variety of yellow flowers. Daffodils, rape weed, roses, and gladiolus peppered the whole of the garden. The smell was intoxicating, and butterfly, drunk before noon, thanked the grasshopper heartily. The merchant, for his part, was certain that his night caller would be most impressed.

But that night, the grasshopper arrived in red. Petals from the crimson gum trees by the pond fashioned a royal skirt and corset, and it was all the merchant could do not to throw open the shutter and steal her for his wife.

Nonetheless, the grasshopper denied him, and chirping in his most lovely voice, begged the merchant to try again.

Now this continued for many days, and the merchant’s neighbors wondered at the drastic changes in his yard. Soon, everyone came every day to see the merchant’s most wondrous lawn changing color. On the day the changes started, it was a Monday, and now, by Sunday, they had seen blue, orange, purple, and white besides.

They did not know it was the grasshopper, and the merchant, a fool in love, never suspected a thing. But high time was coming, the grasshopper knew, that the game end, for he was tired of outwitting a simpleton.

On this final evening of our story, the grasshopper returned to the pond, and begging some scales from his goldfish friends, and the lights of a dozen or so fireflies, he fashioned the most wondrous celestial robe, and painting his face finer than any other night before, he returned to the merchant’s window.
This night, the exchange between the grasshopper and the merchant was quite melancholy, and the grasshopper cautioned the merchant. “I grow tired of your teases, my lord. Tomorrow. Tomorrow, will be your last chance to prove yourself to me.”

The merchant swore to appease his night caller, near mad with desire for the woman beyond his screen. The next day, he had the gardeners lay solid gold bricks upon his lawn, and before the night fell, every single one of them had been stolen by the people who had come to see his garden.

The merchant had become too poor to have his garden weeded, and the grasshopper was free to chirp to his heart’s content.

Also, everyone in town was a little bit richer.

Shopping and Lies by Kathryn White

shopping&liesthumb

Monday February 9, 2009

 

Underpants.

Right now, my biggest problem is underpants. This is despite the fact that just a week ago, I eloped with fiancée of five years and no one, except for Samuel (who is now, of course, my husband,) and my dad (who funded the whole thing,) knows about it and they all think that our real wedding is going to be this huge, elaborate ceremony that my mother-in-law (who thinks that she is my soon-to-be mother-in-law,) is organising and will take place on Saturday, which is not only Valentine’s Day, but it will be my birthday as well. Anyway, despite the obvious problem of having to either a, reveal that Samuel and I went and got married without her knowing about it and causing Ursula considerable hurt and upset, or b, go through with an elaborate ceremony that neither of us asked for or wanted, right here and now, my biggest problem is underpants.

Or, to be a bit more specific about it, my biggest problem is underpants that are completely the wrong style, not to mention the wrong size.

This morning, I was feeling a bit lousy, which I suppose is normal when you’re not only a liar, but you’re a liar who has just told the whopper of the year to the majority of your family and most of your friends (no, no, I’m not already married, I’m not getting married until next week,) and you also happen to be pregnant and have just gone for your billionth fitting for the maternity wedding dress of the year that your mother-in-law is buying for you and not only do you not want it, but you’ve just discovered that it does not fit and it will have to be altered again, and so I decided to treat myself to a brand new bra and a matching pair of knickers. I found the perfect pair almost straight away and was secretly feeling rather triumphant that I found them all on my own and that the bra was a perfect fit, meaning that I didn’t have to worry about any kind of interference from that rather smug looking woman who works behind the counter at L’duds, who always reminds me of Mrs Slocombe from TVs Are You Being Served. Her name, at least according the little piece of gold plated plastic that she has pinned to her apron is Florence but I bet that her name is really Shirl, Marj or Beryl. (I don’t think that there is anything wrong with those names by the way. I just think that it is silly for people to be embarrassed about them and to want to call themselves something else, as if pretending to be named Florence magically makes them a better person.)

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Caged by Ellen Mae Franklin

Birdcage

“JEREMY!”

 

Bolt upright, tangling all askew in sweat soaked sheets Trend reached out a shaky hand. He ran it over a mop of light, yellow coloured hair.

 

“Jeremy!”

 

Trend moved to the edge of his bed. The sheet snagged around his leg and with a heavy thud the boy fell to the floor. Memories, dream induced was a hazy reflection. The breeze blowing through the open window sent a shiver through his thin body. Trend wondered which star was his mother. Would she be watching him now? Did she know he lived?

 

He tried to stand. I have to shut the window I’m freezing, but of course Trend couldn’t. He fell to the floor, just another dark shape on the ground. Grunting he dragged his body a few inches. How could a one legged boy walk to the window? So strange to think he could feel the other one, as though he had two legs, only the pain lancing up a tender thigh failed to keep the wishing dream alive. He closed his eyes; sleep rarely came to him these nights for memories haunted the shadows, as much as they did the bright sunlight days.

 

The boor opened bringing with it a shaft of hallway cheer. A silhouette filled the doorframe. It stood there motionless.

 

Trend spoke, hidden from his brother’s sight having fallen from the warmth of his bed.

“Jeremy, please help me? I’m afraid.”

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GLB46 by HMC

 

hmc glb46 I knew the GLB46 Program was wrong. But I had a choice, be wrong, or lose my mind.

 

Nessy dragged me to the car. I couldn’t quite remember why I was angry at her, so I pulled in the opposite direction toward our waterside mansion where I’d rather be in front of my big-screen TV. Almost bowled her backward at one stage. Poor old girl. I was stubborn as an old nail, and I wasn’t coming out for her. Not today. My shows were on. She was making me miss my shows. San Tracey Murdock was about to shoot the bad guy, and he’d been aiming all season. Damned if I’d miss it. Damned woman!

‘Get in the car, you buggar!’ She pulled my arm. Strong grasp this one. I taught her that. Was all right to be a strong girl. Nothin’ wrong with being able to beat up the fellas. She pushed me toward the silver Mercedes. My fault she could handle me like Raggedy Andy. Some strange guy came over to us and helped Nessy put me into the passenger seat.

‘Who are you?’ I demanded.

‘I’m your driver. Harry. Harry Carmichael.’ He had a familiar face.

‘Harry’s been driving us for five years, Bill,’ said Nessy as she climbed in the other passenger-side door.

‘Where the hell’s Reggie?’ I demanded.

‘Shush! Have some respect,’ Nessy whispered harshly. ‘He died. And Harry’s his son, so be quiet and have some compassion.’

‘Oh,’ I said. Shame that was, Reggie being dead. Good guy he was. That’s why Harry was so familiar – looked like his dad. Didn’t matter he’d been driving me for five years. Some days I didn’t even recognise my own face, let alone my bloody driver.

Nessy strapped herself in. ‘Now, Bill, you need to be on your best behaviour. Do you hear me?’

‘Stop treating me like I’m seven, Nessy! I’m bloody-well 66 years old. You treat me with some respect, woman!’

‘You’re 74, Bill Bins. Keep your voice down.’ She was calmer than usual, believe you me. Nessy wasn’t called Nessy for nothin’. It came from her name Vanessa, but it also came from her brothers when she was knee-high, and she stomped around like the Lochness Monster.

‘What’s going on?’ I studied her close. ‘You takin’ me to a doctor?’

‘I’ve already told you, and if you can’t remember, then shuddupaya face and read the paper.’ She threw the Sydney Herald at me, and glanced out the window, as we pulled out the front gates. The paper said April 8th, 2015. Geez, time flies. Continue reading

Zinotchka – Anton Chekhov

ZZinotchka
by Anton Chekov

(about 2400 words)

Petya is a young boy full of all the mischief of most young boys, and when he happens to catch his governess in an indecent kiss with his older brother, he can hardly contain himself with amusement and excitement for what he’s seen. He’s overeager to let Zinotchka and his brother know that he knows, and when one day he accidentally lets slip a little of his secret in front of his stern and virtuous mother, Zinotchka’s whole attitude for him changes. Suddenly he is the most hated, vilest creature on the planet to her, and she’s not afraid to let him know it, either. Finally. Petya blabs the whole thing to his mother who is naturally outraged, and by the by lets Zinotchka go. Years later she is married to his brother, and despite Petya himself having grown up, her dislike of him is still strong. One’s first hate, after all, is not dissimilar from one’s first love.

anton chekhovAnton Chekhov was born on January 29, 1860 in Taganrog, Russia. His father was the owner of a grocery story and his mother a story teller to her children. The former was the abusive head of the family, which left a lasting impression on Chekhov. His father, who was a devout orthodox Christian nevertheless made life miserable for his family, and after going bankrupt, fled to Moscow which broke Chekhov’s mother. Chekhov stayed behind to finish his eduction, and to sell all that remained of the family possessions, and was forced to board with another man in a similar situation. He sent all the extra money he made that didn’t go toward paying for his education back to his family in Moscow. When he finally finished his schooling, he moved in with the rest of his family to pursue a medical degree. This is a man who had an abusive, financially insolvent father, no place to live, and paid for his education in part by catching and selling wild birds, and he not only became a doctor, but one of the most celebrated short story writers of all time. No more complaining about the hard life of a broke college student! Oh, and I forgot to mention that even though he became a doctor, he didn’t make a lot of money off of it, as he treated the poor for free because he was just amazing all around, apparently. During this time he was still writing as well and quickly gained popularity. Unfortunately he also gained tuberculosis, but really, do I even have to mention that at this point in the challenge? He traveled for a good long time, writing as he did and stubbornly refusing to admit that his lungs were dissolving in his goddamn chest until finally he was reluctantly persuaded to go see a damn doctor. He died on July 15, 1904 at the age of 44.

The Yellow Wallpaper – Charlotte Perkins Gilman

YThe Yellow Wallpaper
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

(about 6000 words)

A young woman who is in poor health as judged by her husband and brother, both physicians, is taken to rest at a country house. Once instated there, she’s told that she shouldn’t go out, or move much, or eat much or in general do too much that would cause her excitement, for fear that it would upset her delicate lady constitution and throw her into a mad fit the likes of which men of this time are always trying to prevent, presumably because they all don’t know a damn thing about how women work. Not unlike today, actually. Anyway, she takes this as the way of the world and more or less remains trapped in a single room for so long that she starts going loopy in the head, seeing things that aren’t there on the yellow wallpaper. Soon, her stifled mind begins imagining all sorts of strange, horrific scenarios that have taken place in the room she occupies. This of course leads her husband to think her condition is worsening, and he confines her even more, until at last she giddily escapes, assuming the identity of the woman she’s imagined this whole time has been staring at her through the yellow wallpaper. Cabin fever guys, it’s serious business.

Charlotte_Perkins_Gilman_by_Frances_Benjamin_JohnstonCharlotte Perkins Gilman was born on July 3, 1860 in Connecticut, USA. Like Poe, Gilman’s father abandoned the family when she was still a baby. Unable to support the family, Gilman’s mother often received help from some of her paternal aunts, among which was Harriot Breecher Stowe. Gilman was forced to teach herself to read at the age of five, since her mother was too ill to see to her schooling herself. Her mother discouraged the reading of fiction and deep friendships in a misguided attempt to protect her children from the sort of hurt her husband’s abandonment had left with her. Fortunately Gilman’s father wasn’t a complete deadbeat, and he did support her continued education as well as advancing her mind with book recommendations. Gilman married when she was 24, and after the birth of her only child, suffered a severe bout of postpartum depression. This largely became the inspiration for The Yellow Wallpaper. She separated from her husband four years later and joined several feminist movements in California. During this time she also sent her daughter east to live with her husband and his second wife, acknowledging his right to know his daughter and visa versa. Perhaps her own experiences with an absent father helped shape this progressive view. When she moved back east she became romantically involved with her first cousin, and the two were happily married until he died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage. Gilman herself was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer in 1932, and three years later, ended her life on her own terms.

X-ing a Paragraph – Edgar Allan Poe

XX-ing A Paragraph
by Edgar Allan Poe

(about 2500 words)

Mr. Touch-and-go Bullet-head has just arrived in Alexander-the-Great-o-nopolis to set up shop as a newspaper editor, which he does across the street from an existing newspaper, The Gazette. The first thing Bullet-head does upon arrival is print a piece talking smack about his rival across the street. Of course, this doesn’t sit well with the established editor, John Smith, who proceeds to write a counter piece about Bullet-head’s style, specifically his perceived fondness of the letter ‘o.’ Mockingly, John suggests that Bullet-head is so enamored with the vowel that he wouldn’t be able to write anything without it. Naturally incensed Bullet-head takes up his pen and spends the entire night writing the most ridiculous, o-filled paragraph imaginable. This he sends to his type setters late at night before heading off to bed. But what a surprise his type-setters get when they discover that their boxes of O’s have completely vanished! Standard practice says that they should replace the missing letters with X’s, and they do, all the while accusing The Gazette‘s editorial staff for swiping their O’s. In the morning, when the paragraph goes live, Mr. Bullet-head is nowhere to be found. Presumably he’s off somewhere dropping the mic, along with a scattering of O’s along the way.

PoeEdgar Poe was born on January 19, 1809 in Boston, USA. He was born to a pair of actors, the youngest of three children, and the year after his birth, his father abandoned the family. He was later orphaned when his mother died the next year. He was adopted by John Allan, with whom he would have many disagreements with throughout his life. After receiving a large inheritance from his uncle, Poe lost much of it in gambling and studies at a university that had strict, yet unenforced rules. He had a falling out with his foster father over his gambling debts. Briefly he enlisted in the military as a means to support himself. He dropped out of the military the same way he dropped out of university, and though he regained contact with his foster father, the two continued to fight until eventually Poe was disowned from the family. His writing career started in earnest after the death of his brother, and he is credited with being the first notable American writer to attempt to live solely on his writing. Unfortunately he had a hard time of it, as pirated British works were cheaper for publishers than paying new, American authors. As a result, Poe sort of epitomized the image of the starving artist through much of his writing career. He married his thirteen year-old cousin while bouncing between jobs, and was with her for eleven years before she died of tuberculosis. Poe, already known as being an alcoholic, began to drink even more heavily. During this time, he sold “The Raven” for only $9, and continued his generally career destroying behavior of being cantankerous and argumentative with both writers and editors alike. Poe’s death in Baltimore on October 7, 1849 is still largely disputed by historians. He was found delirious and rambling the night before and was taken immediately to the hospital where he ultimately died. Possible causes ranging from excessive alcoholism to syphilis to voter fraud have been posited, but all his medical records have since been lost and his death remains a mystery.

What the Moon Brings – H. P. Lovecraft

W-12What the Moon Brings
by H. P. Lovecraft

(about 700 words)

Returning briefly to horror stories, this incredibly short work by H. P. Lovecraft reflects the primitive sort of fears we all have of the dark. The inability to see potential threats heightens the danger of every shadow, and combined with our overeager brains’ need to make sense of the information it receives, those shadows and small tricks of light quickly morph into something bestial and horrific. Lovecraft captures this sense of helplessness, being at the mercy of one’s own faulty senses and imaginings in this story which whips the reader along in a chaotic up and down tempo, nicely emphasizing the erratic nature of fear and the dark.

H._P._Lovecraft,_June_1934Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born on August 20, 1890 in Rhode Island, USA. While his works are undoubtedly very popular now, Lovecraft found difficulty in supporting himself with his writing during his life. Withdrawn and being something of a night owl, he didn’t socialize much, and had trouble promoting himself and his work. This behavior seems to have stemmed from lack of confidence in his childhood, when he was bullied by his peers and kept home by an overprotective mother for “illnesses.” After his mother died, Lovecraft married Sonia Greene, who offered to support him while he tended his writing career. His writing appeared only in pulp magazines to limited success, unfortunately, and when Sonia lost her hat business, the couple quickly fell on hard times. Lovecraft’s lack of experience in anything but writing kept him from more lucrative work, and Sonia continued to be the principal earner of the family. They moved around a lot before finally settling in Providence where Lovecraft continued to write for very little money. Harsh comments from critics affected him more than he let on, and he became even more withdrawn from the literary world, going so far as to ignore inquiries from publishers about possible novels. Falling even further into poverty, Lovecraft moved in with an elderly aunt in the later years of his life, before succumbing to intestinal cancer on March 15, 1937 at the age of 46.

Warrior’s Reward by Wayne Hills.

“Grass—dime bags—loose joints.”

“Smack. Blow.”

Although well after lunchtime for most of the city’s residents, it was ‘up at the crack of noon, first-thing in the morning’ for the pushers in Washington Square Park.

The buyers and sellers did a brisk business during the final year of John Lindsey’s tenure as New York City’s Mayor. Their dealings were tolerated as long as everyone got a taste. The mobs, dealers, and beat cops all got a piece of the pie.

The park’s residents, bums as they were known in those pre-PC days, who couldn’t afford anywhere else to live, spent their days around the circle of the long-dry fountain. Martha Mumbles talked to herself and the pigeons. Nate the pharmacist held court by the public restrooms. And Vietnam veterans, Mick the tunnel rat, and Felix the sniper, moved as the sun did; shifting their locations to stay in the shade. Always keeping their backs against a wall or fence to, ‘cover their asses’, in case of attack.

They all lived below the line that society set for the lower class. Way below it. These were the cast-offs, the losers in life’s game between the haves and the wish-they-hads. Wish they had a home, had a dry bed, had a warm meal. Their days spent squirrel-like, storing up supplies to get them through the nights.

The sun shed light on the hiding places of the monsters, human and imagined, that would soon be hunting for provisions of their own when darkness shrouded the park.

The vets were sitting in the shadow of the triumphal Washington Arch studying the sidewalk scenery.

Without turning, Mick said to Felix, “Let’s jump on the subway and crash at the old World’s Fair site in Queens, I met a guy who’s got a still like we had back in the Delta.”

Both men had volunteered to fight the Viet Cong. Mick, believing the rhetoric about the domino effect of communism, joined to fight for democracy. Felix chose the war over going to prison for stealing a car in order to run away from his abusive father. The friends met during a tour in the Mekong Delta, where they had learned to survive on C-rations and whatever mind-altering concoctions they could find.

Mick thought Felix’d had it easy when they were in-country.

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The Veteran – Stephen Crane

VThe Veteran
by Stephen Crane

(about 1800 words)

Comfortable in his old age, an army veteran regales his friends, employees and family with stories of his first days in the war. When asked whether or not he was afraid in battle, the man answers candidly that he had been, that it had been hard not to be, when it felt like the whole world was coming to pieces around him. He admits, likewise openly that during his first battle he’d run, before he finally “came into” the whole thing and doing his duty. This information shocks his young grandson, who holds him as a hero. The thought that his grandfather might have run from battle completely undoes all the valor and bravery that the boy had held in the old man, and nothing, not even talk of young horses can break the boy out of his new, sullen mood.

Later that evening, a drunk farmhand knocks over a lantern in the barn and the whole thing goes ablaze. The old man rushes to save his livestock, entering the barn again and again, despite receiving a hip shattering kick from a horse in the process. When at last he brings the final animal out he’s reminded of the colts still trapped in the blaze, and goes in for the final time. The roof collapses upon him, and the old man, with his courageous spirit, dies in the fire.

stephen craneStephen Crane was born on November 1, 1871 in Newark New Jersey. He was the final addition to the family and had thirteen elder siblings, four of which had died before he was born. He taught himself to read before he was four, and wrote his first poem at the age of eight. He excelled in his early schooling, and despite a spate of deaths in his family in his younger years, completed his first book at the age of fourteen. His talents in university were heavily in the arts and social sciences, and he did poorly in maths and hard science. He dabbled briefly in the military, but his family discouraged his enlistment, and when he transferred universities to pursue an engineering degree, he was lazy with his studies and his attendance. In the end, he quit his studies altogether and took up writing full time. While he wrote an incredible amount he was never financially successful, which prevented him from marrying. Much of Crane’s life and reputation has been tarnished by his scandal and relationships with prostitutes, though these seem to be amicable friendships and writing related research relationships rather than sexual ones. Nonetheless, his name was smeared because of them. Crane spent some time as a world-wide war correspondent, was ship wrecked on a boat bound for Cuba, and sank into debt. He died in Germany on June 5, 1900 of Tuberculosis, which from here on out I’m going to refer to as writer’s lung.