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27702 Crown Valley Parkway #117
Ladera Ranch, CA 92694
FOUR FAIRY TALES
(Told in the Style of Hans Christian Andersen)
Suite 117, D-4
Ladera Ranch, CA 92694
Four Fairy Tales https://www.scribd.com/doc/242087963/FourFairy-Taleshttp://www.scribd.com/daleandersen
Table of Contents
The Prince and His Pipe………………………………………………………………………Page 3
The Cookie Girls and the Same Time Boys……………………………Page 6
Our Little Holy Girl……………………………………………………………………………Page 12
The Only Man in the World………………………………………………………………Page 21
THE PRINCE AND HIS PIPE
Each day, she stood on the same corner, shivering. People
hurrying to work brushed past. A few took pity and stopped.
But most turned their faces away and rushed on by.
She was an orphan. She lived with a poor family who made her
sleep in a chicken coop and sent her out every day to sell
matches and flints. On the street, she would cry out, "For
the love of Mary, for the love of Joseph, for the love of
the Christ Child, please buy my matches." If she came back
with no money, they beat her.
She saw the sailors walking by, so warm and well-fed in
their woolen uniforms. One day, when she could stand it no
more, she ran off and enlisted in the Navy. The old sea dog
who administered the oath to her thought she was a hungry
little boy, so thin was she from the watery gruel that was
her daily diet.
The Navy sent her to a ship. There she was given a mop and a
rag and told to swab the deck. She thought to herself, "This
is better than shivering on the street." Plus, the chow was
One day the ship got a new commander. He was the King's son,
the Prince, tall and blue-eyed. He liked to stand at the
flying bridge, assume an heroic pose, his long, blonde locks
trailing in the breeze as he puffed on his pipe. Ladies in
their finery would gather at the strand to watch the ship
pass, hoping for a princely wave or salute.
Alas, the Prince was not nimble-fingered. It was hard for
him to light his pipe in the wind and keep it lit, which
detracted from his maintaining a godlike pose for the
ladies, a crushing blow to his ego.
One windy day, it was the last straw. The Prince threw his
pipe down and exclaimed, “I'm at my wit's end. I've a mind
to chuck it all and lock myself in my cabin.” Now on that
very day, the girl happened to be at the helm. She said in
her little boy voice, “I think I can help.” The Bosun
sneered. The Quartermaster jeered. But since no one had a
better idea, they shrugged and sent her out to the Prince.
It was her big chance. She showed him her tricks, learned
from years of peddling matches on windy streets. She trotted
out her full repertoire of techniques for lighting and
shielding a flame with cupped hands. The Prince was
delighted. He ordered that she be assigned as his cabin boy.
He moved her quarters from the berthing area to a room near
his. And not a second too soon. For all that rich Navy food
was causing her feminine aspects to peek through.
Her duties consisted of cleaning the Prince's cabin, ironing
his uniforms, serving his meals. But most important, being
at his side in a starched white uniform as he stood on the
flying bridge, puffing away on his pipe, while the ladies on
the strand swooned.
He told her how much he valued her. She was never so happy.
But then one day, the King fell ill. The Prince was ordered
back to the Palace. He directed that she was to go with him.
She knew then it was time to bare her soul.
She went to her knees, bowed her head and said, "Your
Majesty, please forgive me. I confess I'm a girl, a fact I
hid from you." He smiled and responded, "I know. I always
knew." She looked up in surprise. He raised her to her feet.
"I'll tell you something else. If I could marry you, I
would, but I'm betrothed to a Greek Princess. So I'll do the
next best thing. I'll marry you to my best friend, the Young
Duke." Her head was swimming at hearing this. All she could
think to say was, "Will the Young Duke love me?" "He will
if he values his Dukedom."
It was the grandest of ceremonies, held in the Royal Chapel
and presided over by the Archbishop himself. And the
aftermath was more than she could have hoped for. The Young
Duke turned out a loving husband, attentive and caring.
Time passed and four handsome little boys were added to the
family. She watched with pride and wonder as they grew in
stature and wisdom.
One day, as she walked near the Palace with her
side, she heard a voice that took her back to
time. The voice was of a girl, crying out, "For
for Saint Gabriel, for Saint Michael, please buy
sons at her
She turned the corner and there on the sidewalk, she saw a
poor girl, shivering in the cold, dressed in rags and
barefoot, an array of cheap pots and pans spread before her
on the pavement. She drew nearer. As she looked into the
girl's face, she thought she saw herself from a different
time and place.
She removed her thick coat and put it on the poor girl's
shoulders. Then she stood next to her and cried out, ""For
the love of Mary, for the love of Joseph, for the love of
the Christ Child, please buy these pots and pans." The
passers-by stopped and stared. A Duchess and a beggar-girl?
They didn't know what to think. Her four sons joined her at
the poor girl's side. She was never more proud of them.
When she returned to her mansion later that day, she threw
herself on her bed and burst into tears. Her husband heard
her sobbing. He was wise enough to know this was a private
sorrow that he could not share. So he was careful to leave
The next day, a courier brought
Prince, now the King. It read:
"Your Majesty. Years ago, you showed compassion and
generosity of spirit to a poor young girl. For that, she
will be eternally grateful. There is another poor girl
begging on the streets a block from the Palace. Please show
her the same mercy and kindness."
THE COOKIE GIRLS AND THE SAME TIME BOYS
Once upon a time, in the vast domains of the Khan, in a
neighborhood, on a certain street, in a certain house, there
lived four sisters, Sara, Sonia, Sofia and Salome. And all
the boys round about yearned for them passionately. When I
say "yearn," I mean to say the boys dreamt of them, observed
them from afar, wrote bad but honest poems about them,
bragged about them to boys in other less-fortunate
neighborhoods. And if they wished to refer to all four, they
simply said “the Cookie Girls” and everyone instantly knew
what was meant.
The Cookie Girls were as warm, soft and melt-in-your-mouth
sweet as a sugar cookie fresh out of Ato Malikai’s oven. Ato
Malikai owned a wonderful bakery smack dab in the midst of
the neighborhood. The Peacock Biscuit Factory it was
called. In addition to being purveyer of fine cookies, Ato
Malikai was the proud father of the Cookie Girls. He loved
his daughters dearly. Each he regarded as a precious jewel
in the crown he would one day wear when he entered Heaven
at the end of a long, virtuous and fertile life. His wife
kept warning him he was spoiling the girls. At this, he'd
merely smile his "I know what I'm doing" smile and go back
to baking his cookies.
Now the Cookie Girls were as close as four peas in a pod. If
you tapped one of them on the shoulder and asked her to name
her best friends, she would point to her sisters. Indeed,
they were like mirror images to the extent of wearing each
other's clothes, walking in each other's shoes and even
finishing each other's sentences.
And they were invariably polite. But that was true of
everyone thereabouts. If there was one thing you could nail
to the wall, it was this: the people in that place were not
rude. They were never rude. Never ever. And you needn’t take
my word. Check the history books. Chinggis Khan himself, in
a famous speech to his thanes, once commented on the unusual
courtesy and civility of the populace of the parish. And
Chinggis Khan, to be sure, was no easy man to please.
Ato Malikai claimed the Khan, certainly not Chinggis Khan
but the current Khan, had a Peacock Biscuit cookie each
afternoon with his tea. And who could dispute him? For two
things are known for a fact. One, the Khan never suffered
his name to be taken in vain. And two, the Khan never
commanded Ato Malikai to cease and desist. Hence, everyone
assumed the Khan ate the same wonderful cookies they ate.
Which of course made them taste even better.
Sara, Sonia, Sofia and Salome grew into four beautiful young
ladies. And this was no closely guarded secret. It was plain
as the nose on an Armenian peddlar's face. For they could be
seen by anyone any day of the week. All one had to do was
walk into the Peacock Biscuit Factory during store hours and
there they'd be at the counter, smiling and saying,
“Welcome. May I help you?" And when not serving customers,
they could be seen laughing, singing, dancing and chattering
like magpies about this, that and the other. As for the
boys, they watched in wonder and dreamed the dreams boys
One afternoon, the Khan went to his den to get his cookie
and his cup of tea. He frowned. There was no steaming pot of
tea. And worse yet, no Peacock cookie. And then he
remembered. His faithful butler, Emamu, was taken ill and
in bed with a fever, leaving the Palace routine in a
shambles. How could a Khan rule a khanate in any proper way
without his afternoon tea and cookie?
He called for his son and said, "Quick! Go to Ato Malikai's
and get me a sugar cookie pronto!" The Young Khan wondered
aloud whether this admittedly menial task might be assigned
to someone lower in rank. He would have said more but for
the angry look on his father's face. So he went into the
town, grumbling aloud as he approached the big Peacock
In the back room, the four Cookie Girls, as usual, were
chattering like magpies about this, that and the other when
one of the bakers rushed in. "There's a young man out front
and he's making all sorts of rude noises. Someone should go
deal with him." Sofia sniffed and said, "Not I. I have no
patience with rude young men." Sonia agreed, "Rudeness is
not an acceptable quality." Salome nodded emphatically in a
gesture of sisterly solidarity. So it was left to Sara, the
eldest, to handle the situation. She sighed, rolled her eyes
and stood up.
To say the Young Khan felt the earth shake would be an
understatement. Suffice to say, as Sara came into view, he
saw that she seemed to float on air. And when she flashed
her smile, the room seemed to brighten and music, sweet
music, seemed to envelop her. Later, he would swear he
detected the scent of a rich rose garden as she drew near.
All in all, it was a sensation most profound.
That evening, back at the Palace, the Khan noted a visible
change in his son. Now the Khan was a man with experience in
matters of the heart. Which is another way of saying that
he, too, had once been young and in love. He had also heard
snippets of news now and then of the Cookie Girls. So he did
what any conscientious dad would do in a similar situation.
He summoned Ato Malikai to the Palace for a chat.
"Now listen, my friend," the Khan said in his most sugary
tone of voice, "Your cookies are famous. And rightly so. I
like to think of the Peacock Biscuit Factory as a national
treasure of the first rank. And it ocurred to me that it
might be fitting to link your cookies to the Palace in some
concrete way. What do you say?"
Well, what do you say when the Khan wants something? You say
yes, of course. So Ato Malikai nodded and bowed low and went
back to his cookies engrossed in thought. At the same time,
he was sure that whatever was to come of this, if anything,
would occur at a snail's pace. That's the way it always
seemed to be with the Palace. There would be endless
announcements and what not. It could take months, even
years, before anything material manifested itself.
Imagine how surprised he was when, the next day, six Palace
Guards appeared at his door to collect a bride for the Young
Khan. They kept repeating there was not a moment to lose and
time was of the essence. Ato Malikai thought for a moment.
Sara was at Aunt Min's birthday tea. Sonia and Sofia were
busy in the store. Salome was on break. So Salome it was. He
stuck his head in the break room, "Quick!" said he. "Brush
your hair. For tonight you will be married at the Palace."
The Guards whisked her off quick as boiled spinach. Her
father barely had time to give her a bag of cookies for the
Khan and a good-bye kiss. It happened much too fast.
Late that night, there was a furtive knock at the back door.
Ato Malikai, in his pajamas, opened it a crack to see the
Khan standing there in a bathrobe. "There's been a mistake,"
he sniffed, "The girl you sent is the wrong one. My son did
not notice until he pulled back her bridal veil." "I'm sorry
he's unhappy, My Lord." "Oh, don't get me wrong. He's very
happy. The girl is wonderful. Perfect, actually. She's just
the wrong one." With that, the Khan turned and left, leaving
Ato Malikai in a state of confusion.
The next day, the Palace Guards were again at his door,
clamoring for a bride for the Young Khan and be quick about
it. There was no sign of Salome so Ato Malikai assumed she'd
be returned later in the day after the error had been
rectified. At just that moment, Sonia walked past with a
tray of hot cranberry scones. He snatched the tray from her
and said, "Quick! Straighten your apron. For tonight you
will be married at the Palace." And off she went in the
carriage with the Palace Guard escort.
That night, the Khan was back again at Mister Wong's door.
"Wrong girl again," he groused. "She's perfect, even more
perfect than the first. But she's not the right one."
Meanwhile, work was starting to pile up at the biscuit
factory. Ato Malikai was about to ask for the return of his
two daughters but before he could open his mouth, the Khan
had vanished into the night.
The next morning, the Palace Guards were at his door. Sara
was busy working the counter. Sofia was out back feeding the
ducks. So Sofia it was. Ato Malikai kissed her and wished
her godspeed. As she disappeared in the dust of the road, he
shrugged, donned an apron and pitched in next to his one
remaining daughter, filling orders for customers.
"How many perfect daughters do you have anyway?" asked the
Khan that night. "I've one more," Ato Malikai answered.
"I've always thought of them as wonderful girls but I never
thought of them as perfect." "Well, they are, perfect as
perfect can be." And so, the next morning, Sara was carted
off to the Palace. Ato Malikai put a sign out, "Closed Until
The Khan could not help but notice a newfound energy and
pronounced get-up-and-go in the Young Khan that had been
sorely lacking in the past. The young man's heart seemed
lighter, his smile brighter. And wonder of wonders, he
had a pleasant word for all and sundry, even for the meanest
And it was all due to the Cookie Girls. Everyone saw that
the gloomy old Palace was suddenly imbued with a spirit of
sweetness and light. People called it a miracle, but in fact
it was all in a day's work for Sara, Sonia, Sofia and
Salome. For wherever they went, cheerfulness and joy seemed
to go with them. At the Palace, they were doing nothing they
hadn't done before. They were simply being themselves,
laughing, singing, dancing and chattering about this, that
and the other.
For the Young Khan, this was all like a magical dream from
which one never awakens. True, it was a dream that could get
a bit confusing. For it was a given that the Cookie Girls
were so very much alike in so very many ways. And when they
went out and about in each other's clothes and shoes, he was
never quite sure which Cookie Girl he was talking to. And
so, the dream went on. The Khan, seeing the joy in his son's
life, prayed it would never end.
But nothing stays the same forever. Even with the Cookie
Girls. One sunny day, Salome turned to Sofia and said, "I
feel strange." Sofia replied, "Me too." Sonia put her hand
on her tummy, "What do you suppose it is?" The next morning,
while Sara was baking a tray of almond scones for her
father-in-law, she exclaimed, "I, too, feel quite odd, like
I have never felt before." It was all very mystifying.
The strange sensation refused to go away. And since it
incorporate it into their routine as something you just
endured. They assumed it was a natural change, part and
parcel of the process of growing up and becoming women.
And, in a way, they were right. For becoming women does
involve change and it was thus that change came to the
Cookie Girls. On the same day, all four took to their beds
as if sick. Panic spread thoughout the Palace. The Khan's
Personal Doctor was summoned. He took one look and sent for
his nurses. And hot water. Lots and lots of hot water.
After a long night of sweat and toil, he threw open the
doors. And there the Cookie Girls were, each holding a
newborn baby boy. The Khan was overjoyed. Trumpets sounded,
drums beat, bells pealed. A day of rejoicing was proclaimed
throughout the land.
Then the Doctor told the Khan the strangest thing. He said
the four boys were born at precisely the same time, down to
the very second. The nurses affirmed what the Doctor said.
Everyone was most disturbed, for this had never before
happened in written history. It sounded ominous. But the
Khan just laughed. He said with a merry wink, "I see it as a
good omen. We'll call them the Same Time Boys and leave it
at that." Of course, the Doctor was richly rewarded.
And time marched on, for that's what time does. One cold
winter day, the Khan passed away and was buried with his
ancestors. The Young Khan succeeded to the throne.
Meanwhile, the Cookie Girls watched with pride and wonder as
their sons grew in stature and wisdom. Surprisingly, there
was none of the jockeying for power one would expect with
mothers of princelings. They remained the best of friends
and the Same Time Boys learned early on that a word of
reproof from one Cookie Girl carried weight with all. In the
end, the only one allowed to spoil the boys was old Ato
Malikai, now living in an apartment at the Palace with his
pension and a certificate, signed by the old Khan, declaring
him "Chief Baker to the Palace".
The Same Time Boys, now men, had grown so wise and virtuous
the young Khan sent them to the four corners of the domain
to govern in his name. It was a time of profound happiness
and contentment. In every temple, church and mosque, prayers
rose to Heaven with the wish that this span of peace and
tranquility never end. And for a time, it seemed Heaven was
Then a day came when Sofia was walking in the Palace garden.
She stopped abruptly. "I feel a bit dizzy," she said, "I
must sit." A servant helped her to a nearby bench. At the
same moment, in the Palace kitchen where she was busily
directing the bakers in the preparation of macaroons, Sara
gripped the edge of a counter top. "Oh dear, I seem to have
lost my sense of balance," she said. The bakers helped her
to a chair. In other rooms in the Palace, Sonia and Salome
had similar sensations. The Doctor was summoned at once.
When he arrived, he was rushed to their bedchambers. But all
he could do was close their eyes. He told the Young Khan
that the Cookie Girls had passed quietly and peacefully.
Then he said the most amazing thing: that their hearts had
stopped beating at the very same moment. It was as if they
each had a piece of the same heart.
The young Khan was devastated. A month of mourning was
proclaimed. Every window in the khanate was draped in black.
A seemingly never-ending line of people of every class and
station passed by the four open caskets to show their
respect. The Same Time Boys were called home from the four
corners of the domain to serve as chief mourners at the
massive funeral for their mothers. Never were so many tears
shed as on that day.
The Young Khan was inconsolable. He took to his bed and
refused all food and drink. When he emerged a week later, he
spoke to no one, recognized no one, acknowledged no one, not
even his sons or his closest advisors, so profound was his
grief. The Doctor could do nothing.
And so, barely a month after the Cookie Girls' funeral, the
Young Khan breathed his last. The official cause of death
was listed as starvation but everyone knew the real reason.
Once again, a numb and traumatized citizenry draped their
windows in black and mourned a passing.
And once again, the Same Time Boys acted the part of chief
mourners. But this time, owing to the emaciated state of the
Young Khan's corpse, there was no open casket. The funeral
was a private one, attended only by close kinfolk and
trusted Palace staff.
What happened at the graveside was attested to by only the
Same Time Boys. The fact is, they were the only ones who saw
it. As the heavy bier was being lowered, four doves appeared
in the sky. As they passed in formation directly overhead,
they were joined by a fifth. The five flew straight up and
disappeared from view.
Days later, when the Same Time Boys tried giving an account
to an official assembly of Wise Men, it was gently suggested
that what they had "seen" was an illusion, a vaporous
manifestation of grief. After that, the Same Time Boys spoke
of it no more. But they knew what they had seen. And that
they pondered in their hearts.
OUR LITTLE HOLY GIRL (AND HOW SHE WAS REMEMBERED)
They grew up side by side, he in the red house and she next
door in the white one. From the time they could crawl, they
were as close as close could be. They laughed, played jokes,
fought, made up, told each other secrets and did all the
things best friends do. Everyone said, "Someday they'll be
married." Well, everyone except maybe her mother.
Close rarely lasts a lifetime. And their closeness was no
exception to the rule. And so, on the morning of the day he
turned eighteen, before the sun was up, there was a tap on
her bedroom window. She knew who it was. The tap was their
secret signal. She hopped out of bed and opened the window.
"I must leave," he said.
"I must see what there is to see, take what the world has to
offer, learn the life lessons it has for me and become a
well-rounded man able to survive and thrive."
"You haven't said when you'll return."
"I will return, but I can't say when."
She helped him pack and off he went. She waved from a
He crossed into a foreign land where they spoke and dressed
differently. He stuck out like a sore thumb. In a
marketplace, a woman in garish garb and heavy makeup
"Do you believe in the fullness of time and the spirit?" she
"Is it related to life's lessons and becoming a well-rounded
"Yes. Something like that."
She crooked a finger and he followed. They came to a house,
a strange dark affair at the edge of a marsh. She went
inside. He followed. He looked at the bare windowless walls.
"Where is this fullness of time of which you spoke?"
"Patience, little man, patience," she said as she hung her
hat and coat on a hook.
Then she turned and touched her finger to her nose.
Suddenly, he felt the floor under him give way and he fell
into a deep pit.
He lay there, doing a mental check of his arms and legs.
Nothing broken. As his eyes became accustomed to the dark,
he saw movement and realized he wasn't alone. Strange hands
reached out and helped him to his feet.
"Where am I?" he asked.
"You're in a pit belonging to Madame des Lacs, a powerful
witch. We all are."
"There are a number of us here."
"You don't sound unhappy."
"Over time, you learn to make do."
Back home, months went by with her not receiving a letter
"This is not like him," she thought.
She inquired of his parents, his teachers, the parish
priest. No one had heard a word. She began to fear the
worst. Against her better judgment, she decided to consult
Lady Montespan, the village psychic.
She brought with her a silk wristband he had made for her
earlier in the year. Lady Montespan took it in her hand and
pressed it to her forehead. She muttered a strange
incantation and fell into a trance. A minute or so later,
"I'm sorry but I didn't see him," she said in an exhausted
"Does that mean he's alive?"
"All I can say is, he's not in the spirit world. He's not
among the recently deceased."
"Either he's in trouble or he's found someone else. If he's
in trouble, you should wait for him to get out of trouble
and come home. If he's found someone else, you should get on
with your life."
"But which course should I take?"
"Can't help you there, dearie. Five ducats, please."
Sadly, she took neither course. Instead, she closed herself
off and began wasting away. Her parents grew worried. They
consulted a cousin who had a reputation for being wise.
"What should we do?" they cried.
"She needs a social life, she needs to get out and about.
I'll send my daughter to stay with her. She has many
suiters. She'll take your girl to parties and dances. She'll
meet someone and this sadness will end."
A week later, the daughter arrived amidst much fanfare. She
brought with her a large trunk packed with fine dresses and
gowns and a plethora of bright accessories. She took out a
blue silk gown with matching shoes.
"These should fit you perfectly."
That night a carriage pulled up to the door and off they
went to the ball at the Duke's palace. She saw many finelydressed young men there. They stared at her in wonder and
desire for in the blue gown she was stunning. She danced
with all of them.
Late that evening as she danced with a handsome young
Margrave, a man cut in. From the way he held her, she could
sense he was not like the others. And he did not smile.
"What are you doing here?" he asked.
It was more an accusation than a question. She tried
stammering out an answer as the orchestra struck up a lively
tarantella. He cut her off.
"Your friend is not dead."
"How do you know that?"
"He will not die before his time. He will return."
"He will? When?"
At that point, he separated from her.
"Go home. You have work to do."
He bowed, turned and began walking away.
"When will he return?" she called after him.
He kept walking.
"What did you mean about 'work to do?"
But by then, he had disappeared in the crush of dancers. On
the ride home, the daughter of the cousin yammered on and on
about this and that. But she was barely listening. She was
thinking. What did he mean about "work to do?"
Back home, she grew restless. She'd leave home for hours,
not telling her parents where she was going. They worried
but could do nothing. One day, she brought home a street
woman covered in boils. Her father blocked the door.
"She can't be in here. She'll make everyone sick."
She built a lean-to in the back for the woman. She brought
her food and drink. Curious neighbors peeked over the fence
and watched as she treated the poor woman's boils. They saw
that she would pick up some loose dirt, spit into it and rub
the paste on the boils. They noted that after a few days of
this, the street woman stopped cursing.
By her own hand, she sewed a dress to replace the soiled rag
the woman was wearing. After a month, the woman emerged, the
boils gone and her skin smooth. The people in the
neighborhood were amazed. Not to mention, they were glad to
see the woman, with her quirky manners and blunt language,
leaving for good. Maybe now, they thought, things would get
back to normal.
But no such luck. More street people with various maladies
appeared at the lean-to which now had been enlarged and
extended. There were a pair of sisters stricken with
leprosy, a poor blind old man and a ten-year-old with
elephantiasis. A rank odor permeated the yard.
People noticed a change in her appearance. Heretofore,
had been very attentive of her looks, meticulous to
point of obsession. Her mother used to brag to friends
neighbors that her daughter was pretty enough to some
catch the eye of a rich man. But now, they saw grime on
her skin and dirt under her fingernails. Worse still,
hair was turning into a chaotic tangle.
One day, the young Margrave arrived to pay court. The mother
answered a knock at the door to see the Margrave standing
there, hat in hand, and next to him, his footman holding a
cushion on which was displayed a glittering diamond
necklace. The nobleman was in the process of stammering out
how he "couldn't get the girl in the blue gown out of his
mind" when, lo and behold, the girl herself emerged from the
back yard covered in dirt and ash followed by a menagerie of
sick and lame street people. He gasped in horror and ran to
his carriage and sped away, never to return.
Meanwhile, word had spread beyond the neighborhood about the
woman cured of boils. A famous doctor arrived with a long
list of questions. After an hour, he walked away muttering
about the abysmal lack of "scientific principles" in her
"Prayers and spittle are not a generally accepted objective
procedure," he sniffed. "I see nothing worth noting in the
girl's modus operandi."
But no one cared what the old doctor had to say. What people
knew was the sick came to her and went away cured. Even the
old blind man could see, though he seemed to be having some
trouble focusing. A retired bishop came to inspect her
enterprise. He declared it theologically sound to the
resounding cheers of her growing throng of supporters. In
their minds, this was a formal confirmation of her unique
connection with the diety.
Some neighbors asked the father if he might please do
something about the smell and about the strangers coming
over the back fences. He shrugged, "What can I do? If I
tried, they'd probably lynch me." So the smell and the
people climbing over the fences became part of a new normal.
Some other things seemed far less
began limiting herself to a daily
a handful of beans. She described
ascetics of the past lived. Her
daughter's increasingly emaciated
normal. For one thing, she
diet of a cup of water and
to her mother how the true
mother just looked at her
frame and shook her head.
She dragged a six foot plank into the back yard to sleep on.
She put bits of broken glass and small, sharp pebbles on it
to "punish the flesh." She explained to listeners how the
pain and discomfort "enhanced the spirit." Some began
referring to her as a "living saint."
All kinds of people began paying visits.
Lawyers came at
night with their clients to touch her as she slept. A woman
begged her help her find a dead brother's insurance policy.
Mothers came with daughters in tow to seek help in
attracting rich suiters. Gamblers begged her to kiss their
dice. Lottery players begged for the secret to winning
numbers. They all offered her money. She had them sent away.
Her parents watched with alarm as she gradually reduced her
food intake. She made no secret of this. Her goal, she
announced, was to subsist on a single bean and a drop of
water each day. Strangely enough, the thinner she grew, the
greater the number of her followers. Whenever she went out,
people crowded around to touch her garment. As if by
touching her, they somehow partook of the residue of her
Time continued to pass. And there came a day when she could
no longer stand without help. It was whispered that she was
dying. Too many people started to come to the house. Her
followers took to posting hourly updates on the gate. On the
day she sank into a coma-like state, prayer vigils were held
throughout the province. One official, up for re-election,
publicly offered his own life for hers. But nothing helped
and she expired four days after her thirty-first birthday.
At a midnight meeting, the city council proclaimed a "month
of sorrow." A massive funeral was planned with the Governor
himself slated to deliver the eulogy. At the viewing, a
seemingly endless line of mourners shuffled past her open
bier. No one had thought to post a guard of honor. And none
would have been needed, had people acted in a respectful
manner. But some of the bolder ones in line began cutting
off bits of her garment to keep as relics. By the time the
powers-that-be realized what was transpiring, very little of
her garment was left. An alarm was sounded and ten burly
monks rushed in to rescue her corpse just as a woman was
about to snip off her big toe with a pair of poultry shears.
Meanwhile, an odd thing occurred in a foreign land. Madame
des Lacs vanished in a puff of malodorous blue smoke as she
was stalking a fresh victim in the marketplace. At the very
same instant, the pit below her house pushed up and ceased
to be a pit. And the people who had been trapped therein
walked free, blinking in the sudden bright light.
A week later, he returned to what had been his home. He had
no idea how long he'd been away. When one is forced to live
in a pit, one loses all sense of the passage of time. He
knocked on his parents' house. A strange man answered and
told him to "begone!" He went next door to the white house.
He saw a man watering the front lawn. He took him to be the
"Excuse me, sir. Do you work for the people who live here?"
"Nope. I work for City Parks & Recreation."
Just then a man, a woman and two children walked out the
front door. They waved and left.
"Are those people the new owners?"
The Parks & Recreation man laughed.
"Nope, they're tourists, come to see where our holy girl
"Yep, our little holy girl. You've never heard of her? Where
you been? Living in a pit or something?"
He pointed down the road.
"Follow the road about a half mile. You'll learn everything
there is to know about her."
And with that, the man went back to his watering. So he went
where the man had pointed, filled with questions and
memories of a girl who was so careful about her appearance
and whose mother had such plans for her. What happened to
all of that?
And then, there it was, a vast structure, somewhere between
a cathedral and a mausoleum. Near the entrance, he saw a
larger-than-life statue of her in a robe, a resolute
expression on her face, her arms draped around two poor
children dressed in rags. He went inside. On the walls, he
saw a series of giant murals depicting events from her life.
There was one of her curing the woman with boils, another of
her praying over the old blind man, still another of her
lying on her plank, on her face a look of angelic ecstacy.
As he took all this in, he began to feel faint.
"It takes your breath away, doesn't it?"
He turned. Next to him stood a well-dressed, older man. He
looked vaguely familiar.
"It is an amazing exhibit."
"My name is Christopher Bunch. I'm chairman
foundation dedicated to memorializing her."
"Mister Bunch! You were my math teacher. Don't you remember
The older man looked closer. He shook his head.
"You don't look familiar."
He pointed to the statue outside.
"I sat next to her in algebra. I grew up next door to her."
"Oh. So you're saying you knew her."
"Yes! Everyone used to say how we were so close that someday
we'd probably get married."
The older man blinked in surprise.
"It was a joke. Her mom wouldn't have allowed it. She was
planning for her to find a rich man."
"Is there anything you recall relating to the spiritual
aspects of her personality?"
He thought for a moment, then shook his head.
"All I recall is that she was fun-loving, liked to dance and
"Those aren't useful memories. You're describing tendencies
completely out of character with the person she became.
Where are you staying?"
He wasn't staying anywhere, so the older man told him he had
a spare bedroom for use until he got himself situated. It
seemed like a generous offer. And it was. Until the next
When he awoke, two men were waiting for him on the porch.
They were polite but firm. They took him to a barn-like
structure not far away. Inside there were perhaps fifteen
people and there were classrooms. He was given a book. He
was told instruction would begin in a day or so. He opened
the book and began to read.
It seemed an odd book, purporting to be about her life with
emphasis on her spiritual growth. On page one, there was a
story of how, at age five, she nursed a mockingbird with a
broken wing back to health. There were accounts of her
restoring a psychotic boy to health and organizing her tenyear-old school friends into a meditation circle. These
early-life incidents served to foreshadow the person she
would later become.
The older man appeared as he was finishing chapter one.
"Quite a powerful story, don't you think?"
"I don't recall any of this, sir."
"You don't remember her healing the bird?"
"I remember she once threw a rock at a blue jay that was
bothering her cat."
"Have you ever thought you might be misremembering?"
"What do you mean?"
"Instead of remembering a thing as it actually was, you
remember it the way you want to remember it and block out
anything that runs counter."
"Why would I do that?"
"I don't know. You tell me."
Class began the next morning. It is not unusual that people
misremember, said the presenter. Take murder trials, for
example. How many times has an eye witness sworn he saw soand-so do it, only to have the conviction overturned later
when someone else was identified as the actual murderer?
He had a term for the things people misremember. He called
them "aberrations". He said they grow like weeds in the
brain, choking the life out of everything else. Past reality
is not something to be taken for granted, he said with a
warning finger. Think of your mind as a garden. What happens
when you neglect it? That's right. It becomes overrun with
thorns and thistles and brambles.
The students were given mental exercises to help expunge the
aberrations. He found the exercises to be frustratingly
difficult. Day after day, he strained to focus his mind on
"correcting" his misrememberings with no apparent success.
At night, his head hurt. He had trouble sleeping.
Then one day, just when he was at his lowest emotional ebb,
an image began to come into view in his mind. At first, it
was hard to make out, all grainy and full of dark shadows.
But as it recurred over the next few days, it brightened and
came more into focus. And finally one night he saw that it
was a little girl. She was holding an injured bird. He was
so excited. He knew at once that he was making progress in
eliminating the aberrations.
He couldn't wait until the next morning when he would tell
THE ONLY MAN IN THE WORLD (AND HOW HE STAYED THAT WAY)
In the back, left-hand corner of the Universe, in a solar
system overlooked by just about everyone, there was a
solitary world with exactly one sentient being. The story of
how it got that way varies, depending on who's telling the
But the one thing the tellers of the tale all agree on is
that this one sentient being was immortal. Some say he was
born immortal. Some say he achieved immortality as a reward
for a singular, world-shaking feat. Still others say it was
thrust upon him by some queer twist of fate.
As soon as he came of age, which was approximately one
minute after his birth, this being proclaimed himself to be
the very epitome of perfection.
"I am immortal," he said. "And therefore, perfect."
Soon thereafter, he set about eliminating all aspects of
imperfection on his particular world. A perfect being should
inhabit a perfect world, he theorized, and a perfect world
by its very definition cannot have the least flaw or defect.
It took him more than a few eons of long hours and hard work
but, in the end, he succeeded in causing every less-thanperfect mammal, plant and reptile living on the surface of
his world to cease to exist. This, of course, included his
"There may still be some imperfect beings swimming deep in
my seas or burrowing far down into my soil," he thought.
"But it's clear that I have them on the run and, by and by,
they'll be gone, never to return."
He rewarded himself with a well-deserved time out to rest
and take pleasure in the world he had so diligently crafted.
As he walked up and down in it, he nodded with approval at
the clean lines and flat landscapes everywhere. He smiled at
the sight of the perfectly level far horizon, the same in
every direction. No matter where he went in his world,
everything was uniform, and therefore perfect.
"This is what perfection is about," he
variations, no permutations, no surprises."
More eons passed. He fell into a routine of getting up late,
retiring early, doing the absolute minimum required. After
all, he had earned it, having expended such massive amounts
of energy in setting his world in motion. From here on, he
reasoned, it would take care of itself. Nothing would
advance, nothing would retreat, everything would stay in
balance, everything would remain the same. Had he been
keeping a diary (and he wasn't), each day's entry would have
read, "Same as yesterday."
But "same as yesterday" was not a thing that could last an
eternity. Fate, chance and the celestial roll of the dice
were put in place to ensure things stayed in flux.
Accordingly, after a million billion years, give or take a
century, on a day pretty much like any other day in a
perfect world, he awoke with a sense that something wasn't
right, something he couldn't quite put his finger on. His
first thought was perhaps a disoriented deep sea creature
had popped to the surface. He grabbed his club and rushed to
the sea shore.
When he got to the beach, all he saw was a huge open thing,
very much like a giant clam shell, and, leading away from
it, a set of footprints in the wet sand.
"Those prints look very much like the ones I make," he
thought. "But how can that be? I'm the only one who is like
In this way was he introduced to that pesky thing called bad
news. And as with all bad news, he began to feel
apprehension, an unfamiliar sensation which he did not at
all enjoy. There is a saying about bad news: if you ignore
it long enough, maybe it'll go away. For him, this became
the line of least resistance. Back home at his cave, he
tried convincing himself what he saw was a figment, an
anomaly, a product of his imagination, something to be
ignored. But no matter how hard he tried, his mind persisted
again and again in digging up the image of the footprints on
the beach, a thought that kept him in a deep funk for a long
A day came when he could stand it no longer. He slammed his
fist on a stone table, nearly breaking a fingernail.
"I'll prove it was nothing," he said. And off he went, back
to that same beach.
Except it was no longer a beach. The earth had somehow been
pushed up and the ocean had been moved. The nearest beach
was now almost one hundred miles away. And the far horizon
was a craggy, herky-jerky, up-and-down affair, not at all
like the straight and level template he had put there long
"This is not perfect," he thought.
He found the shell-like thing, cracked down the middle and
half-buried in sand. And the footprints were still there,
frozen in time in the hardened earth.
"This is definitely not perfect," he said aloud as he glared
He decided to follow the prints.
"I should have done this last time," he grumbled.
The trail went on for days, leading upwards into a high
mountain range which he didn't recall being there in the
past. The air got thinner and the going, tougher. Black soil
changed to sand and then to gravel and then to solid rock
and finally, the footprints vanished. Walking became so
difficult he had to stop every few hundred yards to rest and
catch his breath.
As he sat, a small stone bounced by from above. He looked up
to see a being pretty much like himself staring down at him.
The being spoke.
"You're on my land. You're trespassing."
He felt a wave of anger running through him. This fellow's a
nervy one, he thought. He decided to ignore him. Perhaps
he'll get tired of making a fool of himself and go away.
But no. Suddenly, the being was standing in front of him,
jabbing a boney finger at him.
"Didn't you hear? I said you're trespassing!"
Now this was really getting to be too much.
"Get that finger out of my face!"
"Oh, it's more than a finger you'll be getting if you don't
They glared at each other. Then the being snapped his
fingers. Two larger, heftier versions of himself appeared
seemingly from nowhere and took hold of him. They lifted him
into the air and within minutes they were back at the cave
where they set him down.
"Stay here in the flatlands and we'll all get along fine,"
His head was swimming.
"What does that mean?"
"It means you're to stay off any land owned by our master.
He has placed signs to this effect at various junctures. You
are not to venture past the signs."
"What is a sign?"
"You ask way too many questions."
And with that, they left. As he watched them vanish behind
the clouds, he began to feel vaguely ill. The next morning,
he had no desire to get up. And as one day merged into
another, he felt himself beginning to put on weight. His
hair began to fall out. He developed an aversion to open
spaces. Only rarely did he venture beyond the mouth of his
own cave. If he had been keeping a diary (which he wasn't),
each day's entry would have read, "Nothing happened."
But "nothing happened" can't last forever. And sure as a
summer sunrise, there came a day when something did happen.
It was on a day when a beam of the brightest sunlight
crossed his face, waking him up. He grumbled, rolled over
and covered his head with his blanket. It was exactly then
that a voice called out.
"Hello in there!"
He tried covering
"Hello?!? Anyone home!?!"
He reverted to his old tried-and-true, ignoring the voice in
the hope it would go away. But no such luck. The voice was
not only insistent, but persistent. It was when the voice's
owner was heard to be coming from inside the mouth of the
cave that he felt aroused to take action. He grabbed his
club and crept forward toward the light.
There were two of them, smaller than the two who had evicted
him from the mountaintop. They wore big smiles.
carried black leather cases. The thin one spoke.
"Ah, that's a fine-looking club. May we have a look?"
Without thinking, he handed it over. They passed it back and
forth, turning it over in their hands, admiring it.
"Very nice workmanship. We'd like to feature it in a display
in the museum of indigenous art we're planning to build."
"That is, if you have no objections."
He was flummoxed by this line of conversation, but he
shrugged and said he didn't mind. They carefully wrapped it
in tissue and packed it in one of the cases, smiling all the
They introduced themselves as Sears and Roebuck. The thin
one, Sears, did most of the talking.
"This is your lucky day, sir."
Roebuck took out several pages of thick, parchment-like
documents from his case. He unfolded them and laid them out
on a flat rock. One of the documents was a kind of map.
"This is a certified copy of a chart filed and recorded
eight hundred years ago by a man named H. P. Ford. As you
can see, it delineates about two-thirds of the land on this
place. One of Mister Ford's great-great-great-great-greatgreat-grandchildren,
endeavoring to complete a survey of the property, subdivide
it and sell it in parcels to investors. I hope we're not
going too fast for you."
They were in fact going too fast, but he wasn't about to
admit it. Certainly not to them. He decided to try and get
them to the point.
"This Wencelas Krikorian. Is he the one who evicted me from
my own land?"
Sears and Roebuck suddenly grew very serious. Sears voice
went down one whole octave as he intoned.
"Correction, sir. It's not necessarily your land. Mister
Ford's claim was legally filed in keeping with all
appropriate treaties and conventions, giving him and his
descendents a valid claim. Mister Krikorian may have
overreacted, but he was within his legal rights to have his
two robots physically remove you."
Then Roebuck chimed in.
"The thing is, though, he mistook you for a claim jumper.
The robots were programmed to return you to your ship. But
when they detected no orbiting vessel, well - -"
"Long story short, it turns out you may be indigenous to
this world. Big surprise. Mister Krikorian called us in to
work out an. Um - "An arrangment."
He took all this in, only vaguely comprehending.
"A modus vivendi. A mutual agreement. An understanding. You
After a lot more hemming and hawing and backing and forthing
on the part of Sears and Roebuck, it became clear that H. P.
Ford had designated his discovery as "uninhabited." And it
turned out there were different rules for worlds that were
unpopulated and those that were populated. In the case of
the latter, "arrangements" had to be made for the well-being
of the so-called "indigenous inhabitants." Failure to do so
could result in sanctions, fines and (in extreme cases)
"How about let's cut to the chase. We're willing to offer
you free transportation to any place in the known Universe,
complete with room and board for life."
"Room and board?"
"Three meals a day and maid service Tuesdays, Thursdays and
"You can't get a better deal than that."
"I don't know. I feel like I'm being pushed into something."
He was right. For spread out on the rock next to the map was
a quitclaim deed all filled out with every "t" crossed and
every "i" dotted. Roebuck had his notary stamp and ink pad
at the ready. Krikorian's two robots were on stand-by to
serve as witnesses. It was really being orchestrated to the
And all the while, Sears kept flipping pages in a binder of
smiling, happy people water skiing, playing golf and walking
on pristine beaches at sunset. He held out a pen.
"See it for what it is. An exciting new phase in your life.
Isn't it time to break out, to go places and do things?"
A long silence. He was thinking. Finally, he shook his head,
no. Truth be told, he didn't want to go anywhere. He didn't
want to walk on beaches or play this odd game they called
golf. He just wanted to be in his cave and left alone.
Sears and Roebuck were admittedly disappointed but they had
a "Plan B," as well as a Plan C, D, E and F. Like all
resourceful salesmen, they kept chipping away. What they
were after was a deal, which entailed a signed and notarized
quitclaim deed. Until they had that deed, they wouldn't have
fulfilled the terms of the contract they had with Krikorian.
But the chipping away was hard.
A deal happens when contending parties reach a meeting of
the minds. Each party wants something and is willing to give
up something else to get it. But identifying that elusive
something else, putting a value on it, and making it
integral to the aforesaid meeting of the minds -- that is
where the art of the deal comes into play. And that is why
Krikorian called on Sears and Roebuck. They had written a
best-selling How-To Book entitled, "Getting to Yes in the
Asteroid Belt: The Deal at Warp Speed." They were reputed to
be expert dealmakers. As experts, they did not come cheap.
But even experts strike out occasionally. And it was
beginning to look like this might be one of those times. It
wasn't that he was playing a deep game with them. He wasn't.
He was simply saying "No" to any offer that involved offsite relocation. He even refused the offer of a luxury
estate on Trantor, where it is perfectly legal to have up to
999 wives. As the negotiation process dragged on, Krikorian
began to grumble. Sears and Roebuck's fee was on a per
minute basis and Krikorian's cash flow was starting to get
shaky. Something had to be done and bloody quick! So Sears
and Roebuck dragged out Plan Z and dusted it off. They
presented it to Krikorian.
"We give him a life estate in the unimproved parcels."
"What's a life estate?"
"For the duration of his life, at the end of which, the
parcels revert to you."
"Well, how long will that take?"
Roebuck produced an Actuarial Table and handed it to Sears.
"Now mind you, this is only a ballpark estimate, but based
on eyeballing the fellow's appearance and health, the land
should be yours in, say, fifty years."
"Fifty years!?! I'll be dead by then!"
"Then it would go to your estate."
"Can't we just kill him?"
"Alas, the courts take a dim view of that sort of thing."
Krikorian paced back and forth, cursing under his breath. He
checked the balance of his bank account and saw it
continuing to decline minute by minute.
"All right! Yes! But I want you two involved. That means
every third year, you personally check on him and report his
condition in writing to me."
So it was a deal. Kind of. A meeting of the minds. Sort of.
Each party got what it wanted. More or less. The life estate
documents were executed and recorded, after which Krikorian
began selling parcels like gangbusters. The market rapidly
overheated, prices on improved parcels went sky-high,
affecting the value of everything, even the vast, unimproved
sectors of this solitary world.
Time passed. Forty-eight years in fact passed. Then one
autumn day, a lander descended from an orbiting ship and
settled with a low roar near the cave. An old man and a
younger man got out. The older man, looking to be in his
nineties, walked bent over, using a cane to steady himself.
He shook when he moved.
"Mister Sears, has it been three whole years since you were
"Actually two years and ten months. This is probably my last
"Isn't it obvious?"
"Doctors have told me to stop. Interstellar travel plays
heck with my arthritis and immune system."
The younger man, looking to be in his early sixties, stuck
out his hand.
"Name's A. J. Sears. I'm the son.
triennial trips from here on out."
"Pleased to meet you."
"Guess you've heard about Krikorian."
"Was in all the papers."
"I don't read."
"Long story short, everything he owned was under water.
Killed himself after the last bankruptcy filing. Left no
will. There was a probate hearing and his children showed
up even though there was nothing for them. But then all
these other people showed up, too. Turned out, Krikorian was
a big-time womanizer. Kept it secret by deeding parcels of
land to his lady friends. Now these children didn't know
about the financial situation. They thought they were going
to be rich. So when the judge started to lay out the facts,
a big fistfight broke out. Total chaos."
"But in the end, everybody got something, because Dad
stepped in, bought Krikorian's ownership interest for five
cents on the dollar."
"A win-win, as we real estate pros like to say."
"So that makes you sole owners."
Old Mister Sears leaned in to whisper something to his son.
"Dad says he can't help note you haven't seemed to age a day
since the first time he met you."
"I've been fortunate."
"So just how old are you?"
"I don't know. I never counted."
Young Mister Sears' eyes narrowed to slits.
"You know, one could argue that failure to disclose a
significant material fact, such as one's life span
approximating immortality, constitutes fraud and makes a
valid case for voiding a life estate.”
"True, but if it were voided, then where would we be? Back
in no man's land before the life estate marked the
boundaries. I hear the courts can be quite unpredictable in
cases touching on the rights of indigenous inhabitants."
"You been talking to an attorney?"
"What if I have?"
"Well, we're not relinquishing one iota of our rights."
"Well, neither am I."
So Sears & Son went back to their ship and blasted off. A
couple years later, right after Krikorian's last bankruptcy
was finally discharged and the escrowed funds distributed, a
tall man with an intense-looking face and a halting way of
speaking appeared at the mouth of the cave. He said his name
was Kirwin Rockefeller.
"I represent Sears & Son, confirmed by the courts as the new
owners with all rights and privileges derived therefrom."
He went on to say he wanted to ensure, from the getgo,
there were no misunderstandings or misconceptions. So for
the next few months, they flew in Kirwin's hovercraft over
the length and breadth of the world, demarcating the land
between "what is mine and what is thine." It was boring
work. Boring because all the flat land was the part deemed
unimproved while the hilly areas and the places with deep
canyons and lakes and rivers for white water rafting were
designated as improved. Finally, they had the precise
boundaries, marked with warning signs at each quarter mile.
Time had come to sign the map and the various attachments.
Kirwin arrived with a battery of lawyers, a court-mandated
observer, a recorder, a notary and four bonded robot
witnesses. The map was passed around and the provisions and
stipulations were read aloud. The senior partner of the
attorney firm, a gentleman named Fitzhugh Espinosa, looked
across the table to the one man sitting there.
"Okay then. I guess we're ready to go ahead."
Everyone on Kirwin's side of the table held their breath.
"I want it in writing that indigenous law applies on all my
"The agreement must say that anyone entering the lands
defined as my life estate becomes subject to the laws of the
"We'll need a copy of those laws as an attachment to the
agreement, won't we?"
"No copy exists. The laws are part of a rich oral tradition
going back nearly to the dawn of history."
"Well then, how does one know what the law says?"
"One has to ask."
He held up a pen.
"What if I stole this pen?"
"Under the current, operative indigenous law, you would be
thrown in a a pit of vipers for a year."
He snapped the pen in half.
"What if I stole the pen and broke it in half?"
"You'd be flayed alive and fed to the ants."
They all turned to the court-mandated observer, reputed to
be an expert on indigenous cultures. The observer cleared
"You have these accounts of societies where they'd rip the
still-beating hearts out of prisoners' chests and feed them
to the gods. Or where they'd throw the accused into a lake
and if he drowned, he was innocent because the water
accepted him. These cultures have been deemed “advanced” by
serious scholars. It's always a slippery slope to dismiss
what we do not fully understand. And remember, we don't use
the terms "barbaric" or "savage" anymore."
Well, that pretty much summed it up. The documents were
signed. The agreement was executed. And Kirwin swung into
action, selling parcels at rock-bottom prices to retired
prison guards and political refugees who had the cash.
Business seemed to be clicking right along.
As for the occasional bungler who went left instead of right
and ended up on the wrong side of the boundary, the next of
kin were usually informed that their loved one probably fell
down an abandoned mine shaft or sank in a peat bog.
At just about this time, he started changing his routine.
He'd get up early and go outside the cave. He'd take long
walks, enjoying the sun in the morning. From time to time on
his walks, he'd see Kirwin zipping here and there along the
boundary in his hovercraft. Kirwin would wave. He'd wave
back. He looked at the mountainous terrain on Kirwin's side
and at the perfectly flat, level horizons on his own side.
"Maybe it's not as perfect as I'd like," he thought. "But it
could be a lot worse."