Fair, Dark, And Trembling

Born beneath a weeping willow
where winds never dared to billow
the sisters three seemed blessed at first,
though, given time, seemed more so cursed
by the names given, and fortunes
dictated by the eldritch runes.
When they were born, the sisters three
filled their proud parents with such glee
as the angels in most high skies
in their exultant maker’s eyes.
Fair, Dark, and Trembling, the lasses
grew up apart from the masses
in the woods, by the little creek,
where the willow trees often speak.
Distinguished by their features
they were apt-named, comely creatures
without equal in that kingdom,
nay, nor the world in all its sum.
Fair was of hair gilded flaxen
that she seemed a purebred Saxon
and Nordic goddess, gold and pure,
graceful, nimble, her step so sure
that she danced on slippery rocks
as fleet-footed as the Fae fox.
Lovelier, there were none more so:
stars in her eyes, and skin aglow
that the sun seemed to pause apace
while beaming on her freckled face.
When she giggled others did feel
her sweetness, the dear daffodil
spreading her joy like many seeds
which none so wise dared deem as weeds,
sowing where there could be sown
a bliss by her presence alone.
Alas, a blessing may, too, curse,
and so it was, her fate adverse.
Catching the eye of the prince
so handsome and rich, therefore hence
entranced the two by the other
that neither would love another
their ensorcelled hearts demanded
prince and maiden become banded
despite his pledge to a neighbor
whose father promised the saber
should the pact not be held so true
by one side as the other, too.
Therefore though it flattered the pride
of both the parents and the bride
a war began soon after they
announced the coming joyous day.
First came the splendid celebration
joyous across the wide nation,
pomp aplenty, and holy vows
and banners, bugles, and crowns on brows,
then came the wars and the bloodshed,
the piling high of mingled dead
until, at length, the angry host
were driven from the far-off coast
and back to their lands in the East
like a cur, a brow-beaten beast.
Fair, and her husband, then rejoiced
while their people quietly voiced
anger and sorrow at the war,
calling Fair a worm-apple whore.
But the new rulers paid no mind
to the scowls and whispers, so blind
with Love they heard nothing at all
that should echo coarse through their hall.
Then came the bud of the next heir,
next liege, sure likewise to be Fair
and for a time the whispers stopped,
if only because the axe chopped
all talk short as the days went on,
bringing with them a bloody dawn
to peasant and noble in turn
and anyone not yet to learn.
Soon Fair swelled fertile in her womb
like the daffodil soon to bloom,
but with the pangs she wilted so wan
while her glow faded, on and on,
draining fast from her golden face
till a pallor assumed its place.
Like the most fleeting of flowers
her life did but last a few hours
before she died and left the earth
for the sake of a vain stillbirth.

Erstwhile, Dark saw what thus became
of girls gifted by name and fame,
and being wiser more than Fair,
Dark reveled in her raven hair.
Dark was pale like the Gaul or Goth,
like moonlit-powder of the moth,
and her black hair was a shadow
such as only witches may know
when looking into the deep pit
of their cauldron, cold and unlit.
She courted midnight with her art
to seek the most infernal heart,
for she had talents just as strong
as sister Fair had in her song
and, so, used her Black magic skills
to fly at night over the hills
on a stick woven of willow limbs,
following the sound of fell hymns
to a misty, covenant glade
where a coven of witches prayed.
Herein she found her kindred kind—
women awake and not so blind,
for Dark dreamed quite oft of a life
beholden to none, never wife
to any man, nor any god,
free as Lilith drifting abroad
to the basins of Babylon,
haunting bedrooms from dusk to dawn.
Whereas Fair was the favored child,
(beauty peerless and temper mild)
Dark would have been most pretty
had she been of some other three,
but be it as it may, Dark was
judged on the sisterly mark ‘twas
and could do no more to ever change
the scale set so by bloodline’s range.
Nor did this aggrieve Dark quite much
as the rules upon her, and such,
for she spoke not as daughters should,
instead shunning what some thought good,
like reading the Bible each day,
going to church to kneel and pray,
and fearing the wise midwife folk
of whom the preacher often spoke
unkindly, fearing their knowledge
would tempt his flock to thus pledge
to them instead of his theory
about Heaven and misery.
And so Dark became the black sheep
of the flock in the preacher’s keep,
for she so loathed hypocrisy
that she oft sought apostasy.
Gathered in the belladonna
she looked a fell Madonna
who had at beck and call the night
and all its shadows and moonlight.
Just so, she dared never conceive
that on this sacred Endor Eve
that Satan would come before her
with gifts to sway and implore her
to lay with him and so beget
a child the whole world would regret.
Enthroned in nocturnal power
in the glade’s shade-brimming bower,
Dark lay with that horn-crowned Satyr
amorous as any traitor.
The other witches watched within
the woods where they all grinned akin
to wolves, or buzzards, or weasels,
caterwauling, shrill as seagulls.
It was not long before spilled seed
beset, begat, began to breed,
the growth so fast, the pangs so great,
that Dark split apart, like a date,
screaming and bleeding at her sex
while the hags spoke, as if a hex
the hymnal blasphemies of old
to strengthen the child in the mold.
The child came forth as from the tomb,
expelled a corpse beset by doom
and so enraged was that great Foe
that he trammeled Dark in shadow,
then left her bloodied in the glade
where she died amidst daytime shade.
Dark unto dark did thereby pass,
all her clever thoughts now but grass.

Oh, but Trembling was lass so weak
that oftentimes she dared not speak
for fear of hurting her thin throat,
the lissome girl sad and remote.
She knew what came of her sistren
and prayed that they could, at last, ken,
the choices they made and each crime
for which they would burn for all time.
She had no voice, but she could pray,
and did so, often all the day,
a judge meanwhile masked in silence
pretending saintly compliance
as she laid baleful eyes elsewhere—
a basilisk’s cold, stony glare.
She thought on Dark and Fair, their ends,
and knew they died to make amends
for Dark’s pride, come before the fall,
and Fair’s vanity, that old thrall,
and vowed against the same mistake,
knowing herself of purer make.
Indeed, she grew as a daisy
from the deaths of those whose stay she
could not abide, nor then pity,
feeling only an enmity.
She thought herself a chosen soul
and pledged to serve all her life whole
to the God of the Holy Tome
while still cloistered at home.
Yet, she was ever quivering
as if in the cold, shivering
and did little, but wavering
ever in her room, quavering
like a hare hiding in its den
while the hawk circles round again.
Knowing she would never marry
and finding the world so scary
she joined a convent faraway
and pleased herself often to say
she would never fall prey to Man
nor the sins of the flesh, her plan
to die a virgin, bride of God—
a fate which kept her overawed.
But a foul star had overseen
the sisters three, its twinkling sheen
as that of a crone meaning ill
above the willow, and its Will.
The longships came and beached anon,
coming ashore with noonday sun
and laying siege till the walls fell
while the convent rang loud its bell.
Trembling knew not where to go
and a Viking struck her a blow
and clutched her roughly like a sack
of spoils to claim, returning back
to his ship, then upon the sea,
following a wind Northwesterly
and coming to a frigid land
whereat she was a serving-hand
and a bed-warmer for the Nord
who was her husband, and her lord.
Ever Trembling and cold, she wept
and in the night she never slept,
but prayed to her god that she may
go to Heaven, without delay,
but she never went, never died,
and knew she could never suicide
or else suffer the pits of Hell,
nor had she the courage to sail
away from that foreign soil
of heathen gods and tiresome toil.
A heathen son she bore in time
who was like that coldly clime,
having eyes like ice, hoarfrost hair,
and her own cool, judgmental stare.
Scornful of Trembling in the cold,
he said she was ugly and old
and foolish to pray to that which
was deaf, feckless, an inert lich.
Trembling tried to teach him her creed,
but like the dregs of an old mead
he poured it out from his spirit,
choosing never to revere it,
esteeming, instead, wise Odin
and thunderous Thor, beholden
to the ways of his father’s clan,
spurning that feeble, beaten man
she loved as her Lord and Savior
who would never be of the Aesir.
And so, unloved by lord and Lord,
Trembling trembled among the Nord
from fear, from chill, from yearning wants
of her creed, and the pagan taunts
till the day she was at last laid
into the earth, a tomb thus paid
by grueling years and countless woes
that packed together, like the snows.
Just as Fair was no longer fair
and Dark not dark, nor anywhere,
so, too, Trembling trembled no more
upon that icy, foreign shore.

Thus the sisters three came to end,
blessed with curses that could not mend,
all lovely in ways exceeding rare
like flowers plucked to perfume air,
born beneath the old willow tree
that wept evermore for the three
as they were bound, as like the withes
of willows, their Wyrd-woven lives
bending back to their cursed names
to satisfy Fate’s cruel games.

The Little Mermaid

Hans exaggerated when he had written
that she threw herself into the sea
after her beloved prince became smitten
with a more talkative beauty.

She did not, in fact, become a bubbly spirit
nor simply die in the tossing sea foam,
nor go up to heaven, or anywhere near it,
nor beg the sea witch to let her return home.

Rather, she went wandering away from Denmark
and became lost in Germany, and then France.
Homeless, she was found starving in a park
by a kindly woman, who saw her by chance.

The woman happened to be a teacher of ballet
who owned her own school in Paris
and she felt pity for the girl, asking her valet
to stop and invite her to lunch on the terrace.

As the woman watched the girl eat she bethought
that the lithe, pretty thing had a certain essence
which could be transformed, if only trained and taught
to dance; she had a certain stage presence.

While the girl could not talk, she could nod
and so when asked if she would like to live with her
she answered “Yes” and the woman said, “Then, by God,
we will have you dancing hence thither!”

Because her tongue had been cut out to pay
the witch so she could walk on land
she could not talk and gossip and flirt everyday
like the other girls under the old woman’s guiding hand.

Undistracted, she practiced with her human legs
to finely tune their muscles and sinews
until she could dance unfaltering along pointy pegs
only on her toeballs, and without ballerina shoes.

Pain, too, was an apt teacher for her
as the spell’s knives cut her in her swirls
and so her acrobatics were airy, yet surer
than any of the other ballerina girls.

Such a deft foot when she danced!
Each step was cautious of the spell’s sharp bite
so while she spun and leapt and pranced
she did so soft as a falling feather, and just as light.

She could also tip-toe in perfect rhythm
to the most chaotic, jazziest piano tempo
and, while in a group, pirouette in harmony with them,
her arms arced above her head, or akimbo.

In time she unburdened her heavy heart
of that old barnacled anchor that was Love
and excelled at every single dancing art,
so weightless of form she seemed to float up above.

Famous, yet nameless, she was dubbed “Ariel”
for she danced as if upon the very air
and was as powerful as Shakespeare’s fairy thrall
in stirring tempests in hearts everywhere.

For her dance was of the air and of the sea
united between the two, as a swirling hurricane
that comes ashore, a terrifying beauty
whose expression was joy and sorrow and pain.

She danced only once in her prince’s palace,
unrecognized in her ballerina outfit
as her prince peered lazily over his chalice—
his dark eye indifferent about it.

He had grown tired of his new wife, and her prattle,
and “Ariel” smiled to know she escaped a fate so fraught
as being bound to one who viewed people as chattel
and could not care less what his wife thought.

She left his palace with the rest of her troupe
and looked out upon the sea, where diamonds burn,
watching in the shallows an array of fins in a group
that waited for their princess’s return.

Scorn

The tree’s shadow was a raven’s wing—
ragged, black, and riotously flapping
to the bellowing gales of the coming storm,
the winds cold, yet the season warm.
She waited until the sun had disappeared
behind the dark clouds that rose and reared
like black bears newly awakened from sleep:
angry and clashing, their roars loud and deep.
She went, then, searching for the three witches
as the forest struck her with its hateful switches,
and she came to the storm’s eye, where they dwelled;
a calm circle around which the vortex swelled.
The lightning crackled and the witches cackled,
each to the black cauldron was shackled.
The girl approached them, unhesitating,
while they watched her, silently wry and waiting.
“Did you summon the storm?” the girl asked,
“Or did it summon you?” The witches, each masked,
stirred the steaming, storm-funneled pot,
the broth of which bubbled sullen and hot.
“Take a gander into yourself,” the witches said,
“and know what it is that is in your head.”
The girl stepped toward the cauldron’s fuming funnel,
and dared a glance into that whirling, swirling tunnel.
She saw in the broth Hanna, the foreign maiden
whose beauty she hated, only now her body laden
with a humpback and warts and all of the features
that would ruin the most divine of creatures;
and she saw a prince, handsome and strong,
lifting herself to his saddle, amidst a festive throng,
and he had the face of the man to whom she gave
her virginity, thinking he would thereafter save
her from the mills and the cottage and the peasant life
and take her to his castle to make her his wife.
She saw the villagers who mocked her for a fool,
including her parents, now subject to her rule,
and relished how they kneeled and bowed
as she stood tall above them, beautiful and proud.
She saw, also, herself bedecked with jewels and lace
as her husband held her close and kissed her face.
And lavish banners were raised in her honor
while lords and ladies of the court fawned on her.
But as soon as these sights appeared, they dissipated,
and she saw images of what was true, what she most hated:
her prince adjusting his purple pantaloons as he rose,
shoving her aside as he struggled to put on his clothes.
Gruffly, he left that hayloft where they had embraced—
her maidenhood bleeding; no longer chaste.
“Who are you?” the girl whimpered, recoiling from the broth
as it bubbled over, slobbering like a lunatic’s froth.
“We are you,” the three witches said, “as you well know.”
The girl tried to flee, then, but found she could not go.
They doffed their masks: maiden, mother, and crone,
and they each had her face, and her face alone,
marking, with a map of ridged wrinkles, her future years,
mirroring her life to come, carved by heartache and tears.
The cauldron was her heart, the storm her soul,
and the rage and the sorrow swirled from that hole.
The blackguard’s fickle word, and betrayal,
had churned this fury, they say unknown even in Hell.
Her rage increased, like a whirlwind of annihilation
that gyred outward to level village, castle, and nation
with all of the powers of a woman thoroughly scorned,
her Hecate crown like the sickle moon, sharply horned
with all the bestial rage of her jilted pain
as the elements obeyed this vengeful Queen’s reign…

The guards found her at the first light of dawn,
babbling madly upon the diamond-dewed lawn.
She raved and clawed at the prince’s tower—
his wedding was moved to a later hour.

Frog Legs

Hey there now. A fellow frog-gigger, I see. This pond has some good pickings, but it ain’t nothin’ like the waters of Suamp county. No, not Swamp County—Suamp County. Never heard of it? Course not! And I bet you ain’t never heard of Joseph Willet, neither. Lucky you. He was what Suamp County was known for, among its locals, anyway. There weren’t no knowing worth knowing unless it was knowing of Joseph Willet.
Joseph Willet was known as the handsomest young man in all of Suamp County. He had a hammer chin, dark black hair, the straightest teeth ever known in that tobacco-chewin’, moonshine-chuggin’ bottomland. He had his choice of women, and consequently had the choicest women, and he was envied by every man with sense enough to think of his own shabby lot in life in the shadow of that sunny son-of-a-buck. But young Joseph had his troubles, too, and, like himself, they weren’t your ordinary run-of-the-pondmill troubles. They were damn near biblical.
It happend one day that he was out near the swamp, gigging for a living, as we all did back then. I was with him, and a couple of other boys, in his ol’ pontoon. We had quite the haul that night, and stayed out till mornin’, fillin’ our buckets and bringin’ ‘em back ‘n’ forth to the dock. It was as daylight broke that we reckoned we had had enough and so docked one final time. Me and the other boys were estimatin’ how many pounds of frogs we’d gotten ourselves while Joseph was securin’ his pontoon to the dock with his rope. Ain’t nobody ever wrapped cord fast as Joseph did. Some of ‘em women in town would have fainted to see his biceps flexin’ as he worked ‘em on that needsome task.
Nonetheless, he was only half-done securin’ it when he happened to see a frog perchin’ on his boat. The audacity of the frog was what halted him. I reckon he didn’t know if it had hopped up there when we docked or had been perched there all the while we was busy in our humble profession. Whatever the case, ol’ Joseph looked at that frog with ire in his eyes, and also with mischief.
“Look here,” he told us, and we obeyed, because you always obeyed Joseph Willet. Back then, anyway. “How much you wanna’ bet I can knock that frog off with a spit?”
We knew better than bettin’ anythin’ against Joseph, so we just grinned and told him to do as he liked. And he did. He hacked up a loogy— never mind you how big— and reared back and spat at the frog, knocking it clear off the rim of the boat and we all startin’ roarin’ with laughter. And then we stopped, cold in our chuckle-headed idiocy. For the frog landed on the deck, and consign me to the nuthouse if it didn’t go and suddenly bloom into a woman! Or half-bloom, so to speak, for the naked girl weren’t but half and half, frog and woman. I swear by the three nails that Teed Jesus it did! She was something to see! Faintest nub of a nose with slitted nostrils always flaring and closing as she breathed through ‘em, and lank black hair, slimy and matted and clingin’ to her wide head, and whatever else it happened to touch, like pond algae, and nearly so green, and bulging golden eyes that locked onto Joseph as if he was Christ come again. Her fingers and toes were webbed, the latter being so long she could have skied with ‘em, and all of her body either lime green with dark stripes, or pale white, such as her chest and neck and belly.
Me and the boys was all dumbstruck as a pair of donkeys that up’d and kick each other in the nuts. But not Joseph Willet. He saw her layin’ there, naked and all a’sprawl on his boat as if God had just made her— in a fit of indecision— and he ran inside his house and fetched his other pair of coveralls. I should say that— and not unkindly, you see—while he was seein’ to her, his boat’s rope unwound itself and his pontoon drifted out toward the salt marshes. I guess you could have said his ship had lit’ally sailed out to sea. But he didn’t mind none of that then, even if he did later on. He just took his time and gently put her in ‘em coveralls, though they was too big and long for her strange body. That cumbrousness didn’t stop her none, though, after he had let her go from dressin’ her. She squatted down, contractin’ her doubly-long legs, as was her wont, and she hopped about, just like a damn frog. From then on, that woman was inseparable from Joseph, even for all his tryin’. Her eyes bulged, as I might ‘ave said, or might not ‘ave said, and were golden, the pupils more in proportion to a normal woman’s as they rolled about in those large round whites, and they ever went anywhere with half so much light as they went to Joseph.
And why wouldn’t they? It was the fairytale come true! Or half come true, as it were, and inverted as a snake-skin boot inside out and backwards. It was all sorts of muddied up, on account of Joseph breakin’ her curse with his spit instead of a kiss. Course, I don’t reckon I can say where she came from, neither. There ain’t no kingdoms ‘round there, and never had been. It’s goddamn swampland and river bottom! She must have floated a long ways away.
Anyway, Joseph tried to kiss her afterwards, and make her wholly woman by pressing his lips against her wide, lipless mouth, but Fate wasn’t havin’ any of it. The girl’s eyes bulged in loving admiration of him all the same, and she hopped after him, as I said,, with her long legs foldin’ and springin’ under her and standin’ up like a real woman only when she was of a mind to hug him.
She had no human speech, her human brain but only halfway transformed, but we all knew she likely been turned by a witch long ago, or some such moonshine. And now Joseph was obligated to her, as these things were, and so him being a young man of honor he did her right, putting her in some clothes borrowed from his sister and takin’ her to Preacher Tinnell’s chapel for a brief ceremony. She did not stand most of the time, squatting down next to Joseph’s feet instead. Preacher Tinnell had some reservations, as we all did, but Joseph was a man set upon his path and so the goodly Preacher carried through it anyhow, hoping to sanctify the two of ‘em before it was too late and this abomination should stick in the craw of God overlong.
Only a few of us attended the wedding, it being so slapdash, but rumor always flies fast when the word is peculiar, and soon everybody was talkin’ about it. The women were downright vicious with their gossip, as it was they resented the frog-girl for what she happened to have: Joseph, with all his straight teeth. The men, also being resentful of Joseph, laughed at his luck and congratulated themselves on his being out of the way, now. I often heard them talkin’ unseemly when I visited them, sayin’ there was a lot of good “frog-giggin’” goin’ on near Joseph’s pond. They’d make gestures and faces and I laughed along with the rest of ‘em, though it shames me to say so today. I knew Joseph well, and knew he hadn’t touched that frog girl one bit other than tryin’ to kiss her right. He had married her out of tradition, and tradition was strong and ‘onorable in these parts. Least, once upon a time it was. Nothin’ stronger to compel a man than tradition.
That is to say, other than, perhaps, the need of settlin’ an eye for an eye.
But the sad truth was that his new bride disgusted Joseph. Not only did she look like a frog and a woman all mixed up, but she acted like it, too. She caught bugs all the livelong day with her tongue, snatchin’ ‘em out of the air like a sniper. The human side of her would try cookin’ for Joseph, only she’d do it with the whatnot the frog-side favored. The other boys laughed about this, too, when they heard him complainin’ one day about her cookin’, but I’ll tell you one thing: you never saw no mosquitoes and horseflies around Joseph’s land much after she came. Who could think meanly on that? I know I don’t like havin’ my ass bitten by bugs every minute of every hour of every day! No, sir!
And no one could say Joseph and his bride didn’t try to do right by each other. They looked after one another, which is more than what I could say about the rest of ‘em two-timin’ lovers in Suamp County. Even Joseph forewent his womanizin’ for his new bride’s sake. Whatever else might be said, he tried to be a good husband to her. And the more’s the pity! I noticed— and I don’t doubt Joseph noticed— that his new bride was aware of what was wrong with her sometimes. Often she kept her lank green algae hair draped over most of her face, as if she was keen aware how her eyes and nose weren’t “right” and bothered people. She rarely went to town, stayin’ instead on Joseph’s marshland and waitin’ for him to come home. She never leapt so high as when he come back from town. And how many husbands can say that of their wives?
And I’ll say one more thing on the matter of her love: her eyes shined bright gold beneath her slimy dark bangs whenever she looked upon her husband. There weren’t no fakin’ that shimmer. No, sir! And here’s another secret: Joseph, the pride of Suamp County, didn’t give her cause to fault him, for he smiled at her more often than he had any reason to.
Still, Joseph liked to drink, as well all did in Suamp County. There wasn’t much else to do there, really, other than workin’ and survivin’. One night he and I was drinkin’ on his porch. Nobody else was there, except his wife, but she always stayed in the cabin when he was drinkin’. She didn’t like the smell or somethin’. Anyhow, Joseph got to drinkin’, and so got to hankerin’ after a woman, as he always did when he was drinkin’. He hadn’t touched a woman since marryin’ his frog-girl and he was damn restless. The problem was that there was no willin’ woman to take him on account all of ‘em in Suamp thought the lesser of him for takin’ the frog-girl as his wife (and not any of ‘em). And, as I said, I don’t think even drink would have compelled the self-righteous fool to break a religious vow (even if plenty in the Bible did it all the time).
As I said, he was restless like a bitch-cat in heat. Nothin’ was holdin’ his hankerin’ back but opportunity. But then his girl came out on the deck, offerin’ him a pie made of fish and mice, and he got to lookin’ at her— more than he ever could of looked at that godforsaken pie—and as his drink turned to lust he saw she had haunches more or less like a woman’s, never mind the elongated ankles and toes and the green of all that, and she had pale breasts, even if the nipples stuck up in the air like toadstools and were as dark green as her algae hair, and her webbed fingers were dainty enough, and she had no teeth, which, I suppose were all the better for it when indulging the carnal flesh, and so she was well enough a woman, besides all those peculiar exemptions, to be hankered after. So, he hankered after her, and took her to bed while I left to mind my own damn business and drink myself into oblivion over what was happenin’ then and there at that moment. Yet, I don’t blush to say that even now I imagine him hunkerin’ down on her, as a frog might another frog, and she received him willingly enough, and even gave it a go with her own hunchin’ on him, and, in sooner time than he would have thought, how he begot child upon her, the two of ‘em layin’ down in whatever sweat and slime was conducive to their fornicatin’.
And from then on, every night was one where Joseph took his passions to her, never needin’ again a drink to grease his gears, for he never bought none from me no more! Hell, he rarely invited me or the giggin’ boys over again after that. Don’t know if it was from embarrassment or from not havin’ the time or energy to entertain company with a friendly word. What I do know is that his frog-woman birthed several hundred eggs in that pond of his, away from predators. I seen ‘em. Clear as day through the swamp canopy! They startled me near to an early grave, comin’ upon ‘em without warnin’. But I thought they was cute enough when they hatched and took to the water. You could say they was all happy there; happy as tadpoles in a mud hole. But it had to end. Every blasphemy has to end sooner or later, even Eden.
The bad business started when the kids grew legs and lost ‘em tails and started comin’ on land. Really it started before that, with the envy and jealousy of Suamp County, but that weren’t the trigger of it. True, that place had always been backwards—backwards and back-looking and backwoods and backwater. It never had no tolerance for things that were different. And boy were those kids different! They could do all sorts of things the other kids couldn’t. Out-swim gators in the swamp, leap from one tree to another, play Tag with their tongues from waaaaay far away. Unlike their mother, these kids could talk and they talked to animals just as good as they did any people tryin’ to speak to ‘em. They helped their daddy catch fish in the deeper parts of the swamp, like gar and carp and whatever other big fish they could get their webbed hands on. They also found pearls for their momma, divin’ deep into the sea and comin’ up with a fortune’s worth of precious things. Joseph gave such things to his wife, or sold them to outsiders, and though he had lots of wealth, on account of his wife and his children, he never moved away or flaunted it to the rest of us. He even gave a hefty sum to the Preacher Tinnell’s Church, all the while grinnin’ his straight teeth as if he never deviled nobody.
All the same, my fellow Suampians became wroth with resentment. It seemed to ‘em that his wife and children were spawn of the Devil, and that good-lookin’, straight-toothed Joseph was the Devil in question. Not that I ever suspected it. No, sir! Not me.
Then came the day that one of Joseph’s many sons got his leg caught in a bear trap that had never existed in that part of the woods beforehand. It was right suspicious, those circumstances, and because his bones hadn’t fully hardened, the poor boy lost his leg in a single snap of that rusty gator. His brothers and sisters carried him home. While Joseph and his wife were tendin’ to their dyin’ son, the bear-trap, and the boy’s leg, disappeared. Don’t ask me how. I won’t give you nothin’ but soft morass to stand on. I’m not one for conjecture, neither, or gossip. All right! All right. Some say Joseph’s long-time Suamp County rival, Cleetus White, was the one that set that trap and took off with that leg. It certainly makes enough sense to me. But the worst ol’ Cleetus did to Joseph and his family was to come after they had already buried that boy in the soft, muddy ground.
What a mind for vengeance Cleetus must have had. Was it conscious, though, or subconscious that led him astray like it did? I imagine it was a little of both; like seein’ a gator’s head in the water and watchin’ it float over to you, and goin’ out to meet it instead of fleein’ in the other direction like any sensible person would do. But Cleetus was strange even by Suamp County standards. He had a mind for vengeance. Slow, like that gator, and then springin’ forth all at once. Once he got you in his death roll there was nothin’ helpin’ for it.
I can even imagine him now, lookin’ at that leg and sayin’ “That looks just like a frog leg,” and then he starts thinkin’, “That’s an awfully big frog leg,”, and then he thinks,”I bet it taste just like a frog leg”, and so he heats up his deep fryer and chops that poor boy’s leg up, and eats it. The hankerin’ for it then got hold of his head like a gator and wouldn’t let go. He had to eat more of it, and he had to share it so others could know what he knew. It would get ‘em on his side. And so he did just that.
That’s how I imagine it. Maybe Cleetus was jealous of ol’ Joseph and his wealth, as he was jealous of everythin’ Joseph had. Maybe Joseph never thought to see Cleetus as nothin’ but another well-meanin’ neighbor, too beneath him to be a threat. And maybe Cleetus wanted revenge for that slight. However it really happened, it happened that several people got a taste of that boy’s leg during the Church Sunday lunch. And when they got a taste of it, they got a hankerin’ for it, just as Cleetus did. And by hankerin’ for it, I mean they wanted to eat it more badly than any fried catfish they usually slapped with grease and breading and threw in a fryer for Jesus. I’d even wager that their hatred of Joseph and his family was what imparted such flavor. Frog legs never tasted so good to me before I had me a bit of that leg. I’ll promise you that!
The night of the raid was spontaneous and without a leader. We all just sorta’ converged on Joseph’s land in the middle of the night, surrounding the pond, where his children slept, and lettin’ none of ‘em escape. We took his wife, too. He tried to stop us, but shotguns had better say than anything he tried to do that night. We left him in a pool of blood on the porch, and so far as I know he is still rottin’ there. A lot o’ good his straight teeth did him that day!
As for the rest of us Suampians, we fried up every one of those children and ate ourselves stupid. Afterwards, the hankerin’ remained, but since we had no frog-people to satisfy it, we tried regular ol’ frog legs. They didn’t do no good for it, so we thought plain ol’ people would do just well enough. We began to snatch each other’s children, in turns, and then the elderly, and finally each other. It was cannibalism run amok, and it didn’t satisfy nobody at all, yet we was set in it. At the end of the year only one person remained, and he left Suamp County for good, tryin’ to leave the whole fiasco behind him.
So. That’s why you ain’t never heard of Suamp County. I don’t miss it much, to be honest, but I feel real bad ‘bout what happened to Joseph and his family. If we had only left a few alive to breed then we could ‘ave eaten ‘em special frog legs from now to kingdom come. But when you get a hankerin’ for something, you never can control yourself much. You eat till there ain’t no more left. And now there’s nothin’ left.
You donna’ believe me, do you? Well, I promise by my great-great-great-grandfather Louis Clay White that it happened. Sure, there are things I ain’t so square on no more. As I said, I donna’ know if Cleetus just forgot that he put that bear trap out there, where the Willet children always went playin’, or not. I also don’t know if Cleetus got the idea in his head before or after eatin’ that leg. Maybe he just hated Joseph for all the wealth he brought to Suamp County with his devil-spawn kids, and thought he’d get him good. Maybe the frog fairytale comin’ true was the last straw, even if it only came half-true. Maybe it was the way Joseph’s straight teeth grinned as if God himself wasn’t makin’ a fool out of him with his half-frog wife. Who knows? I donna’ know, myself.
Slim pickings tonight, ain’t it? Real shame, too. I got a hankerin’ for it somethin’ fierce. By the way, you got a nice set of legs on you…

The Knight And The Dragon

He was a dragonslayer, born and bred
to hunt and kill those hot-blooded lizards
with spear and shield and a plume upon his head,
and without the aid of ballistas or armies or wizards.

His kingdom flew proud banners at high mast
with vibrant colors arrayed in blue, red, and white
and held a celebration for him to thereby cast
him forth from the castle with love and delight.

Yet, the only person who set forth with him
upon the long journey into faraway foreign lands
was his squire, Verus, for whom the apparent whim
was a means of funding life’s necessary demands.

Rumor told that there was a new dragon, very strong
and more snake in make than the previous drakes,
its eye shrewd, its fangs sharp and its coils long
so that its constant burrowing caused great earthquakes.

Where the dragon flew, acid rain fell in its wake
as it snorted coal-black smoke and ashen death
to poison every creek, river, and freshwater lake
that it touched with its sooty shadow and putrid breath.

This new dragon was, in fact, quite old
and had bided its time with patient care,
taking land and tribute, but not being too overbold:
remaining quiet as its coils expanded in its lair.

The knight knew he needed to slay it soon
ere it became too big in its massive size,
but there were things to curtail the dragon’s fortune—
natural impediments to its scaly enterprise.

To the Southwest lay a mountain range, tall and wide,
and just on the other side many foes did roam:
large Bengal tigers who hatefully eyed
the dragon as it grew close to their beloved home.

To the North spread a bleak reach of ice and snow
where there slept a bear, brooding in his cold war cave,
and to the East a sea of hostile depths, its uneasy flow
rife with sea serpents that vowed to protect their enclave.

As for the knight, he knew the perilous path
and ventured forth boldly, fancying the quest
a fairytale story, full of valor and courage and wrath,
never doubting that he was the best of the best.

He glanced upon the terrain where the dragon dwelled
and bethought himself more than ready for the fight,
even as his squire told him to wait, lest he be felled
by overconfidence and the want of keener insight.

But the knight was bold, impatient, in want of war,
riding into the rice paddies with his spear raised high
and charging at the dragon with the intent to gore
the serpent as it slept beneath its smoggy sky.

Imagine the knight’s surprise when his brand new spear
suddenly snapped like the thin twig of an elm tree
as it struck the giant dragon’s hide from the rear
and bent and broke into pieces of two and then three.

Astounded, the knight could only blink in dismay
as the dragon began its terrible counterattack.
The knight was thrown from his horse, falling to lay
sprawled out, spreadeagled, on his aching back.

His armor fell apart with each undercutting slash
and so the desperate knight called out to his squire
as his breastplate melted in a blinding white flash
from the serpent’s breath of industrial fire.

“Wherefore mine armor thus fail?”
he demanded, retreating from the beast,
fleeing as if followed by the flames of Hell
and fearing to be the main course in a feast.

“It was cheaply made by the dragon himself,”
the squire said. “And so is cheap attire, to tell truth.”
The knight exclaimed, “T’were better some witless elf
made it in mirth and mischief! Forsooth! Forsooth!”

After having retreated to a distance, the knight
stripped down to his cloth, then cast aside his spear,
and looked about for a way whereby he might
win the day, and not submit to despair and fear.

The squire, being a curious boy, climbed a nearby rock
and watched the dragon as it coiled inside its cave.
He said to the knight, “I think you should try to talk!”
to which the knight replied, “You are a silly knave!”

But then the dragon gestured toward the knight
as if he did, in fact, wish to speak of treaty terms,
and the knight, having already lost the good fight,
thought it prudent to speak with this king among wyrms.
So the knight followed the dragon inside his den,
finding, to his surprise, golden coins of all types,
including a lot of gold coin from his own kin
and his own house, inlaid with stars and stripes.

“You make such cheap things, dragon,” the knight said,
“and I do not believe any of us should pay more.”
He then crossed his arms and ruefully shook his head,
to which the dragon replied, “You get what you pay for.”

The knight blinked at this, then suddenly laughed out loud,
and so, too, did the dragon, each one eyeing the other
with an uneasy sneer as they laughed, too proud
to admit aloud that they truly needed one another.

“But what of my people?” the knight said at last,
thinking of his kingdom and what they might think.
“If I do not kill you I will be exiled, an outcast!”
The dragon told him he could kill him, with a wink.

The knight, thereafter, returned home to his people
with a cheap, fabricated dragon’s skull
which he paraded through town, and beneath the steeple,
before putting it in his house’s bank, now not half so full.

As for Verus, the squire, he stayed with the dragon
to learn what he could from that poisonous beast,
and learn much he did, though he was not one to brag on
how much he knew, for that was not wise in the least.

The dragon, himself, grew larger, spreading to the savanna
where lions and elephants pledged that they, too would be loyal
and to give him tributes of labor and land and mana,
much as the knight did, gripped in each tightening coil.