By Forest, Field, and Old Side Road

A bit over a year ago, I went out for what would be my last road trip for a long time.  It was the beginning of lockdown and the end of the Before Times.  Some of the trip was morbid curiosity; I wanted to see what the world looked like without traffic and people everywhere.  It was, as expected, disconcerting and more than a little apocalyptic.  A lot of it though was, honestly, to say good-bye.  I didn’t know when I’d be back on the road again, if ever.  I didn’t know what the world would look like if I was able to be out there again, but I knew that whatever it was, it would never be the same.  Something was dying, and I needed to be there to witness and honor its passing.

It’s strange to be getting back out onto the roads again.  The last time I was off the road for this long was when I broke down in the Bridge God’s courtyard, and that was a long time ago, now.  My body has forgotten how to be behind the wheel for very long, and finding that almost Zen-like state where the truck becomes an extension of me is harder than it used to be.  I know it will return soon enough, but in the meantime, it’s hard not to wonder if this is the time that I just can’t get it back, that too much time has passed and I’ll never remember how to hear the Road sing again.

The world is different now, as well.  Places that I used to pass by all the time are gone now, doors and windows shuttered.  Others are still there, but changed.  Some places the changes are obvious; restaurants and coffee shops with outside tables on extended sidewalks or sections of parking lots, that sort of thing, while others are changed more in feeling.   They feel almost haunted, as if some intangible part of them died, and while they’re still going through the motions of being Places, there’s something that’s gone.

Still, there are other places that are…cozier…than they were before.  Like over the recent months the place drew closer to itself, remembered what it was, and found a kind of  strength from the remembering.  Places like this were where I passed the world’s Most Adorable (and socially distanced) Town Fair and a small farm that had decided to set up a stand with a sign for Free Food, because they knew how much people are struggling and this was what they could do to help.  I cried a little at that one, because it’s good to see people caring for, and taking care of, each other.

Of course, there are the places that haven’t changed and there’s a comfort in knowing that the area around the Quabbin is still Very Clearly Riddled With Terrible Fae Traps like the “Detour” sign directing people off the highway and down a narrow, tree-choked dirt road, or a “Help Wanted” sign at the end of another dirt road leading off into the woods, with nothing indicating the presence of an actual business of any kind… (Sadly I was on a time schedule on the way home at that point, or I’d have gleefully turned the truck down either or both of them to investigate, because that’s just the kind of dumbass I am.  Maybe next time.) 

Overall, it was a good drive and good way to start scraping the rust off.  Now that the seal has been broken, Wednesdays are officially designated weekly Road Days.  Even pulled together a nice collection of dishes and utensils specifically for eating Real Food while I’m out and about, instead of scarfing down a protein bar or having to stop at a fast food place.   My goal is to eventually get a small trailer with a bathroom/shower hookup, or an rv, so I can go on longer trips, but that’s a ways in the future yet.  For now, this is a good restart while I figure out the new protocols and get back in the swing of things.

Let’s see what’s down those little side roads, shall we?

(Your friendly Routewitch preparing to get back behind the wheel.)

A Life In Myth

Once there was, and once there was not, a young girl. She lived with her mother and father and an assortment of cats, and if they never lived in one place for very long, it was alright.  No matter where they lived, they were always surrounded by artists, musicians, actors, storytellers, magicians, and other misfit sorts of people.  It was a hard life, to be sure, for Society doesn’t like people who don’t fit into its neat little boxes or don’t have deep roots, but for all that, it was hers and she was happy in it.

Then, one terrible morning, her mother died, and with her, the way of life the girl had known.  Her father remarried and her step-family, while pleasant enough people, were very different from the people the girl had grown up around, and they didn’t understand why she was the way she was, nor she, them.  Soon enough, all of the people from her childhood were gone, as well.  When the last of the musicians drifted away and the house fell silent, the girl put her face in her hands and wept for all she had lost.  It would be the last time she did so for many, many years to come.

She learned to live like the Rooted People, or at least go through it’s motions, and pretend she didn’t desperately miss her old life.  She grew up and took a job she hated to her marrow because it was expected and made her father and step-mother happy, and if she dreamed of open roads and a life of stories and music and art, she didn’t say a word. 

She tried to escape from time to time, but it never worked.  She married briefly, but he was one of the Rooted People, and while he liked the idea of her world, he didn’t want to live in it.  When he decided that he didn’t want her living in it, either, she packed her things and her cats and left him behind.

She wandered for some time, trying to fit into the Rooted People’s world just enough to find her way again and build a life from what shattered pieces she still had, but the pieces were so old and fragile and the Rooted World still refused to accept her, Unrooted misfit that she was.  Eventually, she met someone who was neither one of the Rooted People nor the Unrooted People, but was something else in between.  He had no interest in living an Unrooted life for himself, but understood and accepted that she needed to and if he stayed home while she wandered in search of stories and songs, he didn’t try to stop her and she knew he would be there when she came home.  She unpacked her things and the cats found sunny spots to sleep in, and there was music of a kind and stories and actors and the freedom to be again, and she was mostly content.

There were still issues, though.  The Rooted World still didn’t want her and as she grew older, she grew tired of trying to fit into a world that had never done anything but reject her.  

One night, she took out the box she kept the chipped and faded shards of her old lives and held them in her hands.  She cast them onto a cloth to see what she might see, but no matter how hard she looked, or how many times she recast them, the only thing she could see for certain was that the pieces were simply too broken to ever be put back together again.  The girl put her face in her hands once more and wept for all she had lost and for so many years of pain and grief and loneliness until she had cried out every last tear she had in her.

When she was done, she washed her face, poured herself a mug of tea, and considered the pieces again.  She couldn’t piece them into anything that made sense, that much was clear, but maybe there was some other thing she might do.  She sipped her tea, thoughtfully.  She thought about her lives, the child she’d been, the sound of her mother singing while she painted, as her father played his guitar along with her, and the silence that came after her mother died.  She sighed deeply, and gazed into her tea.  As she watched the faint wisps of steam dance along the deep amber surface, she had An Idea.

She gathered up the broken pieces and, one by one, considered each carefully.  She discarded some and kept others and when she was done sorting them like millet from ashes, she put the pieces she’d chosen to keep into an old stone mortar and ground them into a fine powder.  She mixed this powder with seawater and rosewater and turned them into ink.

She couldn’t rebuild her broken life but, using the parts she loved most and the things she had learned over the years, she could write herself a new life, with all the fantastic stories she could think of or find.  It would be hard, for the Rooted People probably still wouldn’t understand, but that was fine, because she found that she no longer cared.  If they wouldn’t accept her no matter what she did or did not do, then their opinions didn’t matter.

She smiled, and began to write…

Dishwasher Souls, Goblin Markets, and Other Curiosities

I collect odd things.

No.  That’s not right.  I collect ephemeral, liminal things and interesting curiosities.

A dried (probably cursed) pomegranate in a small birdcage.  Several souls, carefully bottled and labeled after washing, stored in a velvet-lined box.  Flowers painted in moonlight.  Somewhere around there’s a star, wrapped in a scrap of silk.  Threads of rose and nettle. Ghosts, moth dreams, roadside gods…you get the idea.

I also collect unusual humans…a mixed media painter who makes amazing abstract art in soap; a soapmaker and herbalist who also creates beautiful jewelry and wall art out of wire and found objects; a professional muse…

Sometimes, I even collect places.  An empty rest area in Maine at 2:15 in the morning in late October.  A chimney with no house deep in the woods in mid-March.  A parking lot antique shop of abandoned amusement park paraphernalia run by retired carnies, only open when the stars are right. 

I don’t know what to do with this, to be honest.  I suspect that, in a different world, I’d have a table or shop tucked away in a corner of a bazaar or open-air market where I’d trade a story or curiosity for a coin or two, or have a little travelling wagon that would appear or disappear with the seasons for the same.

My little curiosities and ephemerals have a harder time in a world that has certain…


of how Things Are Supposed To Work and it doesn’t like strange little collectors and purveyors of art and other oddities like me.  We are messy and don’t fit into neat little boxes.

Still, I collect my curiosities, my cursed fruit and weird little monsters, and someday, hopefully, I’ll figure out how to share them the way that they need to be.

(I’ve been reexamining what had been October’s Market and wondering if I can get it back to what it was supposed to be, as it got very much lost in the weeds trying to figure out how to make it something that could exist in the “Real World”, and in the process forgot what it actually was.  The fact that we live in a capitalist hellscape that makes it exceptionally difficult to do what I want to do with it doesn’t help, and I need to find a way around that without losing it’s heart again.  I desperately miss my Market.)

Something Weird Is In The Woods

I was walking through the Woods one night, and saw a strange, pale creature walking along the road.   The Wood was silent as snowfall, despite being a clear, spring night, as if all the other creatures held still and quiet as it walked.  It nodded slowly as we passed one another, and continued on it’s way.  As it passed out of sight, the trees seemed to sigh and the Wood released the breath It had been holding, and the owls and chorus frogs began to call once more…

I have a suspicion that my new friend here may have other friends somewhere in the Woods, as well, and I am looking forward to meeting them.

A Crossroads Mystery

The day started off like any normal morning.  I woke up, crawled out from under the pile of snoring cats, staggered out to the kitchen, and started the coffee maker.  Leaning against the counter, waiting for it to brew so I could pour liquid consciousness down my throat and get my brain fully online, I poked blearily at Facebook on my phone.  I know, it’s a terrible idea, but it’s either that or I glare at the coffee slowly dripping into the carafe, and that’s not much better for my temper, to be honest.  As I scrolled, not exactly registering a lot of what was passing by, one image caught my attention.  I stopped scrolling and centered the image on the screen.

It was of a perfectly unremarkable hallway in a generic professional building- white tiles, neutral wall color, insipid landscape paintings, the usual- but in the middle of the floor there was a circle of reddish-brown bark mulch, neatly flattened and carefully shaped, with a large compass-like symbol drawn across it in some sort of yellowish powder.  Huh.  Well, that’s something you don’t see every day.  Weird meme?  I looked at the name of the person who posted it, to try and figure out what I was looking at.  It was my boyfriend’s post, and it wasn’t a meme.  It was a photo he’d taken in the building he was working in, and while it answered the location (the work site he was on was in Boston), it only opened up more questions.  For starters, what the chicken-fried fuck?  I dropped a Supernatural gif in the comments as a placeholder for later, to come back to when I had enough brain to communicate in words.  (The Supernatural fandom has a gif for everything, and it’s remarkably useful, especially pre-caffeination.)

Look, the coffee was still brewing, and I am not at my best mental capacity before I’ve caffeinated.  I wake up about as easily as a bear coming out of hibernation, and am about as personable and coherent.

Something about the symbol was bugging me.  A lot.  It looked really familiar, but I couldn’t pull the information out of my sluggish brain, and it was annoying.  I hate mysteries first thing in the morning.

The coffee finished brewing, finally.  I poured it into a mug and spent several minutes staring blankly out the window while I worked on drinking enough of it to kickstart my brain into a semblance of functionality.  I could feel the inner librarian in my head rifling through the stacks and card catalogues, trying to place the symbol.  It was bugging me that I couldn’t remember it, and would do so until I figured it out.

About halfway through the coffee mug, I remembered why it looked familiar.  The answer still made no sense, though.  Maybe I was mistaken?  Going to my office, I opened my laptop to double-check, and no, I wasn’t mistaken.

What the hell was the veve for Papa Legba, the Vodoun loa of crossroads and doorways, complete with proper ritual placement and components, doing in the middle of the hallway of an office building in Boston?!?

Yeah, this was going to need some looking into…

Roadside Lore: “Softly Do These Languid Shadows Whisper”

I saw a ghost one night, years ago, and the memory of it has haunted me since.

 It was around midnight or so, in late autumn, at one of those big rest areas off the Maine Turnpike.  There was a woman standing by the big glass window, looking out. Even though it was late, that particular rest area is always pretty busy, but she was standing there, alone, a still figure in a pool of quiet amid the louder river of people, and no one seemed to see her but me.  

She wore a black chiffon party dress, patterned with fern green flowers and emerald beads that glittered slightly from the fluorescent lights overhead.  In one hand she held a pair black high heels dangling loosely from her fingertips, the strap to one clearly broken.  On her feet she wore a well-worn pair of brown hiking boots, and over her fancy dress she wore a faded, blue flannel shirt that was somewhat too big for her.  Something about the way she wore it made it clear that it had never belonged to anyone else, instead of something given to her by someone else to keep her warm.

Her hair was long and dark, and hung loose down her back, though it looked like it had been pinned up not long before.  At first glance, she looked young – maybe 22 or so – but was more likely past 30.  She had one of those faces that are hard to place ages to.  Not ageless, per se,  but more like Time wasn’t quite sure where she fit, if you know what I mean?

She seemed to be both gazing at her reflection, lost in thought and unaware of the discordance of her surroundings, and looking out into the darkness, past the parking lot lights, at some distant thing only she could see.  Her expression was a strange blend of emotions – sorrow, hope, resignation, determination – all at once.  It was like she was looking at her past and future at the same time and making up her mind about something.  It was a look to break your heart, because you knew there was a deep hurt behind it that hadn’t yet started to heal.

After a moment, she sighed, turned, and walked out, pausing on the concrete landing just outside the glass doors of the lobby.  As at the window, no one seemed to notice her as she passed them, or they, her.  She looked thoughtfully at the broken shoes in her hand for a moment, as if unsure of something, then placed them on top of the rubbish bin.  She stepped onto the pavement and walked out in the darkness beyond the lamplight, the handkerchief hem  of her skirt fluttering in the chill autumn breeze and wind from the nearby turnpike.  Another wandering ghost resting for a moment in the liminal space of a rest stop in the middle of the night before continuing on down the road.

Crossroads Bargains and Childhood Friends: In Which Our Heroine Befriends Monsters

Some people have guardian angels who watch over them, and protect them from things that go bump in the night as they dream of sugar plums and fairies or whatever it is that normal people dream of.  I have Angus.  He’s the monster under the bed. He mostly eats dust bunnies and occasionally one of the cats’ toys now, and he doesn’t live under the bed anymore.

You see, when I was little, I was utterly terrified of the dark.  I mean, flat-out screaming terror if the lights were out.  I couldn’t sleep without a nightlight until well past the age when most kids have given up their fear of the dark and moved on with their lives.  Nothing my parents or anyone else said would convince me that there wasn’t anything in the dark to be afraid of.  I was regularly informed that there was “nothing there in the dark that wasn’t there in the light”, which, I mean, I guess they meant well, but that merely meant things were there and I just couldn’t see them.

I didn’t sleep much as a child.

Now, every child knows (and those adults who have not forgotten that the world is bigger and far more interesting than most want to think about) that there are monsters everywhere.  There’s the monsters under beds, the monsters that live under the backless basement stairs, the monsters that live in the shadow behind the streetlamp posts, the ones that run beside the car at night, and countless more.  None, though, are as fearsome and terrifying as the monster in the closet*.  It is known. 

I had a particularly menacing specimen in my closet who, to make matters worse, moved with us.  So, even though we moved every couple of months, I couldn’t shake the bastard.  At one point my mother, who was also a witch, tried to banish it, but I’m pretty sure I heard it laugh as it increased the menace rating.  This was, to say the least, A Problem.

One day when I was maybe around 10 or 11, I had a really bad night.  The shadowy horror in the closet wouldn’t give the looming a rest, and even when I did manage to get a little sleep, it whispered nightmares into my dreams.  By morning, I was exhausted.  That day, I decided that I had had enough of being afraid and that it was time to try a new tactic.  I was desperately underslept and nothing had worked so far, but I had to try something else.

I went to the library to try and do some research on the subject (it was the 80s and the internet didn’t exist yet…it was a Dark Time), but couldn’t find much that would help me.  I knew how to deal with fairies and trolls and all that, having read basically every collection of fairy tales and lore I could get my grubby little fingers on, but nothing in them had information on what category my problem fell into.  Folklore has an odd gap when it comes to these types of monsters, and I’m still not sure why, given how common they are.

I didn’t leave completely empty-handed, though.  One theme that comes up frequently is bargains, and to be honest, if I’d been a little less desperate, I probably would have dismissed it, but let’s face it…I’d been dealing with this monster for as long as I could remember, and it had to go.

Now, you’d think that I’d have tried making a bargain with the monster in the closet directly, but you’d be wrong.  I had two monsters that lived in my room;  the bastard in the closet and the one under the bed.  Either of these are dangerous, but of the two, the monster under the bed has rules that are sacrosanct.  Don’t let your hands or feet dangle over the edge, don’t get too close when getting in or out (it’s best if you can jump, but if not, go ask quickly as you can), and never use a hand to retrieve something that went under at night (wait until morning, or have an adult get it for you), and most importantly, ignore it, no matter what it says. For it’s part, the monster under the bed stays under the bed, and tries to convince you to look at it, or reach a hand under, or generally get close enough to where it can grab you with it’s spindly claws.  As long as you follow the rules and don’t listen to it, you won’t get eaten.  Clearly this was who I had to strike up a deal with.

Also, the monster under the bed is in closer proximity, and of the two, I’d rather the one who lurked under my pillow be on my side in all this.  At the moment, it was effectively a neutral party, and I needed to shift the balance of power in my favor.

One of the most important things that I knew from folklore was that when dealing with fairies, goblins, and the like, they were probably going to ask for something excessively unreasonable, like my firstborn child or some unspecified thing like “the first thing you see when you leave the room” that was likely going to be something like my cat or my mom, and that agreeing to something like that is a totally rookie mistake.  No, I was going to make this bargain on my terms from the start.

That night, after dinner, I went to my room and sat, cross-legged, on the old loveseat I’d commandeered when my parents had gotten a new living room set the year before, facing the bed from the safe distance of across the room.

“Okay, monster, let’s talk.” I said, addressing the shadowy recess under the bed.  “I have a proposition for you.  You and I both know the situation with You Know Who over there.  This needs to stop.  So, I was thinking that you and I call a truce and instead of trying to lure me out so you can have me for dinner, which has proven wildly unsuccessful after all these years, if I might add, you start protecting me from it.  In exchange, you can have whatever finds it ways under the bed, on the condition that it’s not one of my pets, any belongings I actually care about, or something that I’ll get in trouble if it goes missing.  The deal is off if you eat something not on the list (if there’s doubt, leave it for 24 hours….if I haven’t claimed it by the next evening, it’s yours), you attempt to eat me, or if it comes after me and you let it.  Please let me know by tomorrow, so I know whether or not I need to find…other solutions… Thank you for your time.”

The “other solutions” part may have been spoken in such a way as to also imply dealing with removing it from my life, as well as the one in the closet.  I wasn’t above subtle threats, as well.  I think he appreciated that, to be honest.

That night, I slept better than I had in a long time, as I did for many nights afterward.  My bargain had been accepted.  

Within a few weeks, I felt comfortable enough to try turning off the night light, and never turned it on again.  The monster in the closet still stood in the shadow, but it mostly sulked and tried to loom from a distance, which was reasonable progress and an acceptable compromise.  I’d gotten rather used to its presence, to be honest.  I still kept my hands and feet from dangling over the edge, because it was best not to tempt my new bodyguard, but I didn’t jump on or off the bed anymore, and made sure to uphold my end of the bargain.  I made a habit of thanking him, as well, because manners.  Eventually I learned that my monster’s name is Angus, and we became friends. The closet monster moved out, but still pops in to check on me now and then, but it’s mostly out of habit now and not a serious dinner attempt.  Angus still hangs around, but he moved out from under the bed years ago and spends most of his time bothering the cats and relaxing.

I still keep my hands and feet on the bed, and I still keep an eye on what goes under the bed, though.  A deal is a deal, after all, and it’s best to not break promises made to the things that go bump in the night.

*There’s some debate whether the monster in the closet is the worst, or the monster behind the door.  Several informal polls have shown the results so close as to be more or less tied.

For The Woods Are Dark And Deep…

Did I ever tell you about the time that the forest spirits decided to have a laugh with myself and a few friends, and got us lost in my backyard?  No?  Well, then, let’s fix that, shall we?

One afternoon, many ages ago, when I was a much younger river nymph than I am now, some friends and I decided that we would go into the forest that grew beside the house I lived in at the time, to perform arcane rituals of our own devising* on a heath that I and my brother had found the previous autumn while following a herd of deer at dusk.

It was an overcast day in early spring, and the air held that chill mistiness that it often does in the northern forests at that time of year.  Everything is half-frozen, still, and it’s as likely to snow as it is to rain.  Generally not the best time to be venturing deep into the trees, but we were determined. The ritual needed performing, and we weren’t sure when we would get another chance, so out we went.

There is a place in those woods where several pine trees grow in two, perfect rows, for reasons that no one knows.  They weren’t particularly old trees, maybe a decade or two, in the middle of a much older stretch of forest.  To get to the heath, you have to follow an old, forgotten road until it’s swallowed by the trees and ceases to exist, cross through a small valley, pass on the right side of the boulder on the ridge, pass to the left of the row of pines, and straight on until you come to the remains of an old stone wall, the other side of which is the heath.

Seems simple, right?  Except on that day we didn’t pass the pines on the left.  Instead, when we approached, I noticed how the light had a peculiar quality about it as it filtered through the mist and the grey-green haze of the pine needles, and my attention was raptly caught.  I had been to this spot before, but had never seen the light look so captivating, and decided to walk between the rows, and the others followed behind.

We came to the stone wall, which is only a couple of hundred feet from the pines, and crossed onto the heath.  After some wandering and discussion, we found a place among the rocks and winter-dry grasses to perform the ritual we had come to do to, and when we were done some time later, we left the heath to cross back through the woods in search of lunch and warm drinks.  It was good to be outside, but we had sat on cold stones and bare dirt long enough to be chilled, and the air had taken on the warning hints of incoming weather.  We wanted to be back under a roof before it started, with cocoa and sandwiches in hand.

We crossed back over the wall, one by one, and passed to the right of the pines, but after a short while realized that we had not come to the boulder as we should have.

This was something of a problem, particularly since you can see the boulder from the edge of the pines.  It should not have been possible to miss it.  As we looked around, my brother and I exchanged a troubled glance as we realized something else.  Despite the fact that we had both been out this way many times in the recent months, both together and separately, neither of us recognized where we were.  So we retraced our steps back to the pine row (this was easy, considering that our fellow woodland adventurers were very much not wilderness types and left a clear, broad trail in their wake) and tried again.

As we did so, I noticed something odd, but kept my tongue behind my teeth at what I saw.  We started back out, and this time passed the boulder and kept on our way. 

We walked and walked and walked, and we did not come to the valley, nor did we come to the remains of the old, lost road.  We crossed a small brook by walking over the remnants of an old beaver dam, which was very worrying, as I knew of no running water or ponds nearby.  Judging by the set of my brother’s shoulders, he did not know of any, either.  One of the girls slipped on the wet logs, and twisted her ankle just enough to make walking harder.  We stopped to rest, and my brother and I conferred away from the others.  Neither of us had recognized anything since before the brook, but decided that it was best, for the time being, that we not let the others know just how bad the situation was just yet, as we still hoped to be able to sort the path out.

We walked on, and the day grew late.  The clouds were that flat, uniform grey that ensures there is no chance of telling where the sun is, and it had begun to drizzle very lightly.  As the light faded, we decided to stop walking and resigned ourselves to a deeply uncomfortable night under the trees.  We started to build a makeshift shelter that would at least protect us from the worst of the elements, and hoped that there were enough of us that our body heat would help stave off hypothermia.  My brother decided to take one last scouting run a little way further, just in case.  The area was thinly populated, but we should have come to a house or road long since, and he didn’t want to spend the night in the woods within shouting distance of someone’s back door.

He came back a few minutes later, laughing oddly.  He knew where we were!  He had come across a small clearing that he and his father had spent many a morning in while out hunting, and it was not far from the dirt road that ran past my house.  We stopped building the shelter and followed him out of the woods and at last stepped onto the road.

Maybe fifteen minutes later, we walked down the driveway of the house, where my father and a friend’s father were standing.  They had been out in the woods yelling for us, but we had never heard them.  Once it was determined that everyone was fine and none the worse for the wear, my friends left for their respective homes, and it was just my brother and I in the kitchen, sipping cocoa and staring out at the dark line of trees.

“When we went back to the pines to try and find the boulder again, did you notice that there were no tracks through them, or on the other side?”  I asked him, not taking my eyes off the trees?

“You noticed that, too, huh?” he replied.


“Remember that clearing that I go hunting in, that we found our way out from?  It’s about four miles away.   That wasn’t a four mile walk back. “

“I know,” I said. “There’s also only 100 acres* of woods right there, before you hit the heath, the road, or the orchard.”

“Yup.  Not sure where we went, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t where we thought it was.”

“Yeah…. Pretty sure those pines are somehow involved, and we should probably not go through them again.  I’m also pretty sure we shouldn’t mention this to the others.”


We sipped our cocoa and thoughtfully looked at the trees, wondering what else was looking back at us from the shadows, as the moon began to climb from behind the clouds into the cold night sky…

*Oddly enough, not a metaphor.  We were a strange and raggedy collection of souls, prone to creating odd rituals and looking for magic in mundane places.

*About 1.5 square miles.

Of Unicorns and The Treachery Of Bullfrogs

A story for a dark winter’s night…

A long time ago, just yesterday…when I was just a wee little river nymph of maybe 10 or so, we lived in a little town (barely more than a village, really) in an old white house with black shutters, where my mother grew roses and lilies in the yard.  Behind the house, across a small road, there was a swamp where, I was convinced, a unicorn was known to visit…

Now, my mother tried to convince me that there was no such thing as unicorns, not really, but let’s be honest; when you’re the daughter of a witch and a river some things are just not to be believed.  A unicorn visited the swamp and that was that.  I just needed to wait long enough and I would see it.

I would go out into the swamp in the early morning before the mists were burned off by the sun, and in the evening as the last rays of daylight sank into the shadows, day after day, week after week, month after month, but still there was no sign  Yet my stubborn self persisted.

One day, after months of nothing but failure (though a developing appreciation for the sunrise and sunset) , I decided to try something different.  I went up the road to where a feral apple tree grew and I picked the best apples I could find, reasoning that unicorns were distantly related to horses and horses love apples so unicorns probably did too, but were likely more interested in wild apples instead of the boring ones from the market.  I stashed the apples where my mother wouldn’t find them (she didn’t approve of my habit of eating them, because they were probably full of worms and she didn’t believe that I could tell which ones had worms and which ones were fine, and besides, you can just cut the wormy bits off and the rest of the apple was fine and well, it was just easier to hide them) and went on about my day, secretly planning.

That night, when I went to bed, I pretended to fall asleep and, when I was certain that it was late enough for everyone else to be asleep, I quietly crept out of bed and, taking my stash of feral apples, snuck out of the house and out into the swamp.

It was a full moon that night, or near enough, and so I didn’t really need to carry a light to find my way through the small patch of woods and to the edges of the swamp.  It was so bright and beautiful, and it looked nothing like I was used to it looking, and it was wonderful.  I knew from all of my research that unicorns were drawn to singing and so I sang little songs to the water and the frogs and the summer night’s wind and watched the light play on the water while I sat on a small rock that was the perfect size and shape to sit comfortably on for hours.

The mosquitoes were, to be honest, more than a little annoying, but I was determined to ignore them.

I admit, I got a little bored after a while, and noticed that there were an awful lot of frogs around the water’s edge…green frogs, wood frogs,  pickerel frogs, tiny little peepers, and of course, great croaking bullfrogs. I fed  them some of the mosquitoes that were trying to eat me, because the circle of life is a beautiful thing and in the swamp sometimes it’s eat or be eaten, and I had Opinions about being on the menu.  Besides, it never hurts to have friends in watery places.

Then, after a small age, I heard a faint splash in the distance.  I stopped singing to listen, in case I was mistaken, but then it came again.  This was it.  I knew it.  As the sound drew closer, the frogs and crickets grew quiet, and so did I.  There was a Feeling in the air, like something magical approached.  I was as still and quiet as a mouse, and as I watched, I saw a faint glow shimmering through the grasses and water-logged trees.  It was here!  The unicorn!  Any moment it would step through the grass into view and I would see it in it’s pale, moonlit glory, and I would offer it one of my carefully chosen apples and it would accept my offering and eat it and I would be the first river nymph in generations to befriend a unicorn and…


There was a frantic splashing and the sound of hoofbeats running into the distance.  Angrily, I looked down at the edge of the water at the base of my rock and there I met the flat, bored gaze of the one who had chosen that, of all moments, to decide to announce TO A UNICORN that this bit of swamp was his.

A big, fat, bullfrog.  Unrepentant and shameless.  I HAD JUST FED HIM MOSQUITOES AND HE HAD BETRAYED ME.  I glared at him, and he just looked at me, unblinking.  I wished owls on him.  I wished herons and turtles and weasels on him.  He was unmoved by my wrath, treacherous thing that he was.  I threw an apple at him but he dodged and stared at me from a little further down the shore.

I knew that there was no chance of the unicorn returning again that night, and besides, it was getting early and I knew that the longer I stayed, the more likely it was that I would be caught and get in trouble for wandering off into the night.  Leaving the remaining apples for anyone else that might come by, I crept out of the swamp and snuck back into my bed before my absence was noticed.  

I tried a few more times, but never again did I hear the unicorn nor see the gentle glow of it’s horn, as it made its way through the swamp.

To this day, I still blame that frog for scaring it away.

Never trust bullfrogs.  They will always betray you, no matter how many mosquitoes you give them.

Crossroads, Clerics, and Roadside Lore.

At long last, I am free of the World’s Most Annoying Headcold and am back on my bullshit again. 

Last weekend, while still down with said cold, I had a day where I was feeling well enough to start getting a bit stir-crazy from being stuck inside for days and, even though it was supposed to snow, I decided to go out anyway.  The road was calling and I needed to answer it.

Normally, a spontaneous drive mostly involves me pacing around the house for a couple of hours before realizing that I’m super restless and should probably grab a bottle of water, some snacks, and my keys and go for a drive.  This day was different.  There was a sense of, I don’t know, Fate or something behind the restlessness.  As if the Road was telling me that there was something I needed to see out there, and it would not be denied.  This was not to be a typical drive, but was one that I should approach as the routewitch that I am.  This required preparation and everything I brought with me was important, and as such it was important that each item be chosen with care, down to the drink that I brought with me.

As I stood before my tea selection, I considered the feeling that I was getting from the Road, and narrowed down to two options….blackberry-sage, or a chai blend from a company that no longer exists, called Crossroads.  I couldn’t figure out which was more appropriate, and so I consulted the dice.  The dice said that the Crossroads were the key, and so that was what I filled a travel mug with (it’s a chai made with lapsang and darjeeling, so it has a harsh, smoky finish…perfect for the message I was getting.), and went out on the Road.

There is a flat, steely kind of light to the world before a snowstorm, and a silence as loud as a warning. As the snow begins to fall, the powder skitters and slides across the pavement, ghostly as mist and shadow.  It is an eerie beauty.

As I drove and the snow fell and the light faded, I began to wonder why the Road had called me out onto the roadways, and if I had misunderstood what it had told me, but the pull remained strong, a whispered “wait and see” sighing through my soul.  I drove on, through the woods and the farmland and the towns slowly being blanketed in white, while the other travellers faded off the roadways to curl up by warm fires. 

Then, just at the edge of a small town, at a place where two roads crossed, I saw them; a small band of Juniper Monks, gathered along the edge of the road. 

No one knows for sure who, or even what, the Juniper Monks are. Often mistaken for burlap-wrapped evergreens (hence their name), they are rarely seen, and then only under specific conditions.  They appear in severe weather, generally snowstorms, but they have also been reported during heavy rains, as well.  Why they gather during these times is not known, and speculation ranges from harbinger to messenger to things more sinister in nature.  Most, however, believe that they are a kind of roadside guardian, appearing to warn travellers of dangers and protect them from harm.  Some carry talismans in their vehicles, tucked into glove compartments or hung from mirrors, to invoke their protection when venturing out in bad weather. Most go their whole lives without ever seeing them, and it is considered great fortune to encounter a band of them.  To be honest, I had believed that they were a myth, myself; a figment of the imagination, brought on by the dim light and swirling snow playing tricks on one’s eyes, but now, having seen them for myself, I can’t deny their existence.

Having seen the Monks, the Road signalled that I had seen what I had been called to see, and that it was time to go home.  I came to a roundabout, and returned back the way I had home, though the Monks were gone by the time I drove past the intersection again.

I’m thinking about acquiring a talisman to carry in the truck with me, as I often find myself out in inclement weather.  If I’m able to locate some, I’ll try to get some for others who may also wish to invoke the protection of the Juniper Monks for their own travels, as well.