Uninvited Guest

Without wind, the snow fell softly straight downward.  The sun was quickly setting, ushering in the longest night of the year.  The world was quiet and still, except for one moving figure.  A small person – perhaps a child? – trudged through the snow.  Up to a front door it walked and pressed the bell.

Light and warmth came spilling out of the open door in equal measure.  A man stood in the entrance and peered out at the visitor.

“Can I help you?”

The small face peered up at him but said nothing.

“Well, what do you want?”

Still, it did not respond.

“Do your parents know you are out here?  Go on home.”  The man shut the door.

Within an hour, the first guest arrived.  The child – for what else could it be? – was sitting on the porch.  When the guest inquired, the man stepped outside.

“I told you to get out of here!  You cannot just sit outside my front door.  This is private property.  Leave, or I will call the police.”

But it did not leave.  More guests arrived, and each one asked about the person sitting on the porch.  Every time the man came out and tried to make it go away.  Despite his threat, he did not call the police.  His guests and neighbors might wonder what had happened to bring the police to his house on this night.  While his guests showed momentary curiosity, the festivities of the night quickly replaced it.

At the end of the night, after the last guest had left and well after midnight, the man went back out onto the porch.  He was determined to get this intruder off of his property.  The night had not been ruined, but this had gone on long enough.

On the porch were the clothes the person had been wearing.  They were crumpled as if they had just fallen in that place.  There was no sign of the person besides the clothes.  No tracks in the fresh snow led away from his door, as all the guests had used the walk.  The man picked up the clothes and threw them in the bin on the side of the house. Then he went back inside.

As Big As You Need It To Be

Two people sat on a hillside, looking down into the valley.  Trees filled the land, cut by a river winding its way through the forest.  It kept going until everything blurred together far off in the distance.

The young boy turned to the old man next to him and asked, “Grandfather, how big is the world?”

Without pause, the old man replied, “As big as you need it to be.”

The boy’s face crinkled in confusion.

The old man laughed.  “Forgive me, child.  It is sort of a joke I used to make.  Why do you ask about the size of the world?”

“Father said that the world was small.  Only a few moons journey, end to end.  He mentioned older beliefs about the world being bigger, but that he rejected.  I began to wonder about those beliefs and thought you might know something.”

“Do you think me wiser than your father?”

“Oh no!  I just meant…  You are his father after all, and…  I meant no disrespect to either of you…”  The boy’s face was bright red.

“Quiet, child.  You need not fear.  I am not trying to trick you into revealing some disloyalty.  I merely wonder why you do not take your father’s word, and instead seek out the old opinion of an even older man.”

The boy sat silently for a little while, considering how to respond.  “Grandfather, I want to understand the world,” he began after a time.  “I have not seen its size, so I ask those who might know to teach me.  Father says he knows, but he has never been gone from the village more than a day.  Should I accept his words?  I do not know what is true?”

The old man smiled.  “I have never been gone more than a day or two myself.  Why would my answer be more compelling than your father’s?”

“So I should accept father’s claim?”

“That is not what I said, child.  I have no more experience outside the village than does your father.  If his experience is not sufficient, than neither is mine.”

“So there is no way to know?”

“Perhaps.  But perhaps there is knowledge beyond our direct experience.  Have you been to the end of the river?”

“No.”

“But you know what is there?”

“The sea.  Everyone knows that.”

“How?  Not everyone has been there.”

“The boatmen have told us, though it takes nearly a moon to get here from there.”

“So you know, but you have not seen.”

“Yes.”

The two sat quietly again for some time.

The boy finally asked, “So have either you or father spoken to someone who has travelled the length of the world?”

“No.  We have not.”

“So how do you know the size of the world?”

“Is it not enough that it is your father who tells you?  Or your grandfather?”

“I again mean no disrespect to either of you, but no, it is not.  Both of you are due my respect and obedience, but if you disagree, how am I to decide who is right?”

“Ha, ha!  Good.  Good!  You have come to it.  That is the question you must ask.  How, indeed?”

“So?”

“When you leave here and go back home, will it be the same place you left?”

“Yes.”

“And yet, what was happening when you left?”

“Sister was helping mother clean up after our morning meal.”

“What will be happening when you get back?”

“Father will be preparing the evening meal, and expecting my help.”

“Are those the same?”

“No, of course not.”

“So how will it be the same place?”

The boy was puzzled.

“The whole world is like that.  The same, but always changing.  The world is as big as you need it to be because it is always new, and there is always somewhere else you can go.”

The boy’s puzzlement became a scowl.  “That is not what I was asking, though.”

“No.  It is not.”

“So do you agree with father or not?  And how do you know?”

The old man sighed.  “So close,” he muttered.  “The question you ask is both more difficult and less interesting.  It will keep for another time.  For now, think about our conversation today.  Talk with your father and ask him how he knows.  Next time, we will discuss his answer.”

A Simple Spell

Palms together, perfectly aligned.  Rub back and forth to build up heat and draw forth the threads that link everything together.  Once the threads become visible and reactive, cup each hand to form a sphere.  Slowly the threads wind their way around the sphere, taking its shape.  This is crucial, for they must be coaxed into filling every space of the shell.  Any flaw, any weakness will undermine the whole.

Gently expand the sphere by opening the hands, touching the pinky side of each and then bringing together the thumbs.  Repeat, increasing the size of the sphere slightly with each movement until it reaches the appropriate dimensions.  The threads move and shift, stretching to accommodate the demands of the shaper.

Were this intended for a stationary item or place, it would then suffice to locate it where it was required.  This one must be able to move, however.  Carefully, then, move the sphere up and down, right and left, front and back.  The threads begin to separate from the others near them.  Eventually the sphere breaks free, riding the other threads, but remaining apart.  The broken ends quickly uniting and eliminating the tear.

Now it is ready.  Holding it in both hands, gently blow it towards the target.  The sphere envelopes the orange tabby and vanishes from sight.  The kitten blinks once, and then again.  As it walks around the small kennel, the threads crisscrossing the area deform ever so slightly to indicate the protective sphere that now surrounds it.

It isn’t much.  It isn’t a home.  But that extra layer of protection may help it find a safe and happy space with a proper owner.  I smile sadly as it paws at me and then slowly walk away.

Twenty Dollars

I’m not exactly sure when it happened.  My best guess is when I had helped someone out.  It had been a sunny day in November, and the temperature had been rather mild, so I went for a walk in the park.  In the middle of nowhere, I found this older guy laying on the ground.  He was dressed in layers of shabby clothing.  I went to check on him, make sure he was still alive.  He seemed to wake up suddenly and grabbed me, asked who I was.  I tried to reassure him that I was just trying to help, but I couldn’t calm him down.  He shambled away before I could call for someone to look after him.

As I said, I don’t know if it was the old man or not, but if not, I have no idea where else I might have picked it up.  Later that day, I found a twenty dollar bill in my pocket.  I hadn’t put it there.  I certainly hadn’t been carrying around that much money.

While I was excited by my sudden good fortune, I felt a bit guilty as well.  If it was the old man’s, he almost certainly needed it more than I did.  I went back to the park, but he was nowhere to be found.  And I haven’t seen him since that day.

My attempt at returning the money thwarted, I went to dinner.  Nothing fancy, just some fast food.  But it was the most I had had to eat in a few days.  Only after I got back to my apartment did I make the discovery.  In my pocket was a twenty dollar bill again, even though I had used it to pay for dinner.  There was no sign of the change I had gotten back, just the twenty.

Had I forgotten to pay, I wondered.  But the receipt was still in my pocket.  It showed I had paid with a twenty and received change back.  The contents of my pocket told a different tale.  I chalked it up to a weird moment and went to bed.

The next day, the weirdness continued.  Paid for my coffee with the twenty.  I got eighteen dollars plus a few coins back, put one of the dollars in the tip jar, and put the rest in my pocket.  Then I sat, drinking my coffee.  When I finished, I stood and put my hand in my pocket.  Inside was a twenty dollar bill and no sign of the change I had been given.

The rest of the day, I experimented.  Before buying lunch, I drew a small stick figure on Jackson’s forehead.  When I checked my pocket, the drawing wasn’t on the bill.  Just to be sure, I went to the cashier and asked to see the bill I had given her.  Despite the funny look she gave me, she showed me the bill.  The stick figure was on it.

That eliminated one cause for concern.  At least the bill wasn’t disappearing from the person I paid and then returning to my pocket.  It seemed to be a new bill.  But how?  Part of me thought I should just be happy with this magic bill, but I was curious. I wondered how long it took to be replaced.  I stopped waiting to check.  As soon as I put change in my pocket and took my hand out, the bill would return.  But that raised a new worry.  What would happen if I didn’t get change back?

I was scared to try it.  I didn’t have much money, after all.  An endless supply of twenties wasn’t something I could afford to throw away.  But, I supposed, it was better to find out right away, before I got used to it.  The problem was figuring out how to spend exactly twenty dollars.  I didn’t have any other money on me, so I couldn’t spend more.  After some time at the drug store, I figured out a combination of pens, batteries, and tape that came to exactly the right amount, after tax.  I hoped that I could return it all if the bill didn’t appear, maybe get the twenty back.

After I paid and walked away from the register, I put my hand in my pocket.  Inside was a twenty dollar bill.  I breathed a heavy sigh of relief before realizing the clerk was staring at me.  I gave him and awkward smile and left the store.  It seemed I couldn’t lose the money that way.

I think the next step was obvious.  How to make into more money.  I could have all the twenties I wanted, one at a time.  Now I just needed to accumulate them so I could afford more expensive things.  The first thing I tried was putting it down on the coffee table and checking my pocket for a new one.  That didn’t work.  So I left the room.  Sure enough, a twenty appeared.  Excitedly, I returned to the living room, but the bill I had put down was gone.  I repeated the experiment, this time placing a glass on top of the bill.  But it was still gone when I returned, and the glass had not moved.  I tried drawing on it again.  The bill I found in my pocket had the drawing on it.  This wasn’t going to work.  I was disappointed, but not yet ready to give up.

I called up a friend of mine and asked him to come over.  I didn’t want to share my secret, not yet, but I hoped he could make this work.  I asked him to hold the bill for me.  My pocket remained empty.  Once again, I walked away, but I knew what had happened as soon as I heard his exclamation.  The bill was back in my pocket.  He told me it was a great trick and asked how I managed it.  I said a magician never reveals his secrets.  He looked disappointed, but not as much as I felt.  After he left, I consoled myself with the fact that, even if I couldn’t get rich, always having a twenty would still be useful.  No reason to ever go hungry again.

It was several days later that I stumbled upon the catch.  I should have known there would be a catch; there always is.  I had taken some money out of the ATM for rent.  The magical twenty wouldn’t cover it, but it had let me keep the last of my savings for the purpose.  I really needed to find work.

When I got back to my building, the landlord was waiting for me.  I smiled at him, glad I could get him off my back, and went to pull out the cash.  The only thing in my pocket was the twenty dollar bill.  There was no sign of my rent money.  I tried to laugh it off and offered him the twenty.  He just scowled and gave me a week to get the money, otherwise he’d evict me.

I went into a panic.  There was no sign of the money anywhere.  Checking an ATM, I found my account was basically empty.  I tried borrowing money from people, but each time, the money vanished.  I always had my twenty, but it was all I could have, it seemed.

A week later, I was on the street.  I didn’t have to go hungry, but I didn’t have a place to sleep.  Sometimes, someone would let me crash on their couch; more often than not, I was outside, wrapped in as many layers of clothing as I could manage.  I could always get more from a thrift store.

There was little point in looking for a job.  Even if I had gotten one, any money I earned would just disappear.  The twenty kept me alive, but it also prevented me from improving my lot.

I should probably figure out a way to get rid of it.  I even think I know how to do it.  If it was the guy from the park who gave it to me, then that’s what I need to do.  Give it to someone without expecting anything back.  But if I do that, I really could starve to death.  Right now, at least I’ve got something.  It doesn’t seem worth it to give up that security for a future that might be better, but also might not be.