STORY SPINNER & WORD WEAVER
A short collection of short stories
An ongoing series of informational entries
THE MECHANICAL HEART
(inspired by experience)
February 14, 2018
The little bird seemed ordinary in every way, except inside her feathered body she had a tiny mechanical heart made of gold. But her yellow heart had grown rusty, for she was kept inside a small cage by a lonely man. Although it was furnished with beautiful trinkets to keep the bird happy, a cage is still a cage no matter what it holds inside.
One day the man forgot to lock the cage and upon seeing this, the little bird felt a cog turn in her golden heart and a faint flutter in her feathered breast. Then she heard a soft whisper on the wind that said, “little bird with the heart of gold, fly once more before you grow too old”. So, she hopped outside her finely furnished prison and felt another cog move inside her breast. Then all at once, every bit of her tiny mechanical heart began to move, to twist, to turn. Then a small joyous sound, flew out of her beak and disappeared into the night.
Something very strange was happening to the little bird, something very strange indeed. She looked around for the lonely man, but he was nowhere to be seen. Dare she? Could she still fly? She remembered the what the wind had told her, with a beat of her tiny wings she flew off high into the sky. What a glorious feeling, to be finally free. To do what birds do best, to fly, fly, fly.
On that wondrous night she flew so high she visited the man in the moon who told her stories of old. Then she visited the silver stars who sung her long-lost songs. It really was the most magical of nights. Perhaps that is why the little bird didn’t feel the pain grow stronger inside her mechanical heart. So, she flew ever higher for she wanted to see the creator and thank him for her feathered wings. But her wings grew heavy and her tiny heart grew tired until they both finally stopped beating.
The body of the little bird fell back to earth and landed beside the cage that had been her home. No life left in it, for once you have escaped you can never go back inside.
The next morning, the lonely man came with seeds for the little bird and cried a solitary tear to find her dead. He plucked a red feather from her breast, then buried her in his favourite part of the garden, before he went out to buy another little bird to keep in his cage.
THE WOMAN WHO LOVED AN OAK
(inspired by a muse)
February 14, 2018
This story began with an acorn, who grew into a tall oak tree, with roots that touched the heart of the earth and branches that reached up to the stars. For this tree was the son of sky and earth, grandson to the moon and sun. A more magnificent tree there never was.
Each leaf that grew upon the great oak, contained a poem from the heavens. All who touched the leaves were blessed with the gift of thoughtfulness, so the wonder of the words could flow through the hearts of human beings, like blood flows through the veins of a body.
It happened on a certain day in early Autumn, that a lonely silver-haired woman passed by the tree and stopped to take shelter under its great twisted branches, but as she lay her battered and bruised body against its trunk, something miraculous happened. The leaves began to fall and covered her in a blanket of warm poetry.
She slept safe and content for what seemed like a hundred years, wrapped in the brown blanket of invisible words. She awoke to the gentle sound of the first acorns falling from the branches of this wonderous tree. It was then that she felt something stir inside her, something so deep and forgotten that at first, she was not sure what it was. For she had known little kindness in her life, but this feeling was unmistakable, for there is no other like it. LOVE. It was warm and joyful and despite all she had endured it made her soul smile.
Then she felt a kick, when she looked down at her swollen stomach, she saw that she was with child and knew that she would never feel the pain of loneliness again. She thanked the Oak tree for the miracle of creation that grew inside her and promised to love him like no other in return.
Before the winter came, she built a shelter beside her tree husband with his fallen branches, made fire from his kindling and fed herself and the new life inside, with the invisible words that were written on his leaves. She wanted for nothing, safe and secure in the arms of the great oak tree.
The child was born the next spring, as you might imagine this was no ordinary child. For its mother was a mortal woman and its father was the king of the forest. Its skin was rough like bark and its limbs shaped like little roots and branches. This miracle wooden child brought magic and hope back to the world of mankind.
Time passed slowly, and the woman lived beyond her years. When she took her last breath, the silent oak wept for he was full of sorrow at the passing of his grey-haired wife. But his grandmother the moon, saw his sadness and shone light down upon the lifeless body that lay beside his huge trunk. When the moon beams touched her human skin, the woman was transformed into a silver birch tree, so the great oak could live till the end of time with the once mortal woman who had loved him dearly.
THE ENCHANTED PEARL
(inspired by a man with a loch for a heart)
February 14, 2018
One day in June a lonely woman stood on an easterly shore and cried seven tears into the cold dark sea, for the cunning folk had said that this was the way to call out for a selkie lover and she was finished with mortal man and his cruel ways.
The sea washed away all the sorrowful tears, except for the last one that had rolled down her wet cheek. This final tear contained the wish of love. It was so full of longing that the sea mither who ruled over the seas during the time of summer, took pity on the woman, turned the tear into a precious pearl and washed it ashore on the island of the woman’s ancestors. Where it was found by a quiet man who worked the wind-swept land of her long-time dead kin. He too had cried many salty tears, for pain had knocked at his door more than once. Over the years he had learned to swallow them back down, and all his hopes and dreams had drowned in the little loch that grew inside the place where his heart once was.
Than one ordinary day, he saw something shimmer in the shallow summer water, picked it up and held it gently in his rough hands. Instinctively he parted his lips and gently kissed the pearl. It was then that something very strange happened. The woman who had called out for a selkie lover felt his warm soft lips on hers even though they were divided by the gaping sea.
The man took the pearl home and wrapped it in a bit of tweed that his grandmother had woven before her fingers became crooked with age. He placed it under his pillow for safe keeping but that night he dreamt of a woman who stood crying into the sea. To begin with he never saw her face, just her long silver hair blowing over it in the salty breeze.
Each night before he slept, he unwrapped the pearl and kissed it tenderly before putting it back under his feather pillow. At the same time the woman who once wished for a seal coated lover, felt a tender kiss upon her lips. Her mouth was warm to the touch after this kiss from a formless lover. It was so real that she could taste his sweetness on her lips long afterwards.
Visions of the crying woman continued to fill his dreams. Each night he saw just a little bit more of her face. On the seventh night, the north wind blew away her long silver tresses to reveal her pale white skin and blue-green eyes that were full of sorrow. That night he dove into her eyes and swam in her scarred soul for what seemed like a lifetime. It was then that the man who was of little words, fell in love with the woman who appeared nightly in his dreams. He knew her pain, for if you remember he had a little loch inside him where his heart should have been.
He was so deeply in love with her that he could not wait to lay his head on his pillow. The woman longed to feel his warm kiss on her lonely lips. This dreaming and longing went on for seven months until the summer had given way to the autumn and the autumn gave way to the winter and the earth was about to become a maiden once more.
He could wait no longer, so it was then that the quiet man took the enchanted pearl that was wrapped in the woven cloth and set out in his boat of skins to search for the shore that the crying woman stood upon in his dreams. He knew that she must be real, and he could not ignore the calling in his soul. But the sea mither who warmed the oceans and calmed the storms that took the lives of many a fisherman no longer ruled over the waves. It was still the time of Teran, the spirit of the winter sea whose anger could be seen in the mountainous waves that crashed against the island’s coastline.
As you might imagine, the coracle was no match for the cruel winter waves that coveted yet another life. The little boat soon overturned, and the body of the quiet man sunk to the bottom of the sea to the place where the selkies reside. Just before the last breath left his body the enchanted pearl rolled out his pocket onto the sea bed. A big bull seal swum over to investigate and gazed into the pearl. He saw the deep love that existed between the two humans, so the seal decided to grant the gift of life to the man from the island. But this gift came at a price, the cost was the death of his humanly body before his soul could be born again as a selkie.
For seven long years the woman felt no tender kisses on her fleshy lips. She became lost in a lonely world that was emptier than before. Each morning she stood on the easterly shore and cried more tears into the salty cold water but was given no warm kisses in return. The vitality that once coursed through her veins was ebbing way with each tide that passed. Her face old but still hauntingly beautiful and each furrowed line upon her brow told a tale of hardship.
Her tears began to dry up, she could no longer cry seven tears, some days she barely cried one despite the pain that lived inside her being. Her time in this world was coming to an end and she was at peace with that. The world had turned full cycle seven times since the first kiss one day in June. She sometimes believed it had all been a dream created by her longing to be loved and held.
Despite her doubts, she summoned the strength to walk down to the shore outside her cottage. It was then that she saw a colony of grey seals bobbing about on the water. This sight brought joy to her sorrowful eyes. She run her fingers over her thinning lips and a memory of warmth and tenderness rippled over her ageing flesh. To her surprise seven tears rolled down her cheeks and fell once more into the cold sea.
Then she closed her eyes and made a final wish, but not the same wish she had desired for such a long time. This time she wished for an end to her suffering, she wished the sea to take her body and grant her freedom from a tormented life. When she opened her eyes, she was floating gently down to the bottom of the sea bed. Her body cradled by a young grey seal with a shiny pearl around his muscular neck. The seal brushed against her lips. She felt a familiar warm tender kiss of love that had once given her hope of happiness. She gazed into his dark eyes and knew that what she saw back was soul of the man who kissed an enchanted pearl and loved her in his dreams.
Just as life had been given to the quiet man, the big bull selkie gave life to the mortal woman and she was reborn into the body of a female selkie. So it was, that the man who had a loch instead of a heart and the woman of seven tears, lived out the remainder of their time in their seal skins. For their love was like no other, it was a great love of ages that overcame even death itself, for true love is indeed both sacred and eternal.
THE TIME OF FIRST SNOWDROPS
(inspired by a memory)
February 14, 2018
To begin with the omens whispered softly through the long summer grass, ripe with seeds. Then they spoke through the golden autumn leaves, as they began to fall thick from the trees.
Still the woman refused to listen until winter came, and they screamed from the bare brown earth beneath her feet, the stormy sea that surrounded her home and the grey sky above the fertile land that she and her ancestors had lived upon since the ice had melted long ago.
Almost driven insane by their never-ending wailing that gave her no quarter, the seer finally surrendered to their wisdom. Knowing that she could hide from the dark omens, or the unwanted message they brought no longer.
It was then a quiet peace washed over her troubled soul, resigned to the impending doom of what would come to pass when the lambs would begin to bleat in the time of first snowdrops.
She spent the remaining time with her husband, he would often ask why her bright eyes held such sadness. She never replied, turning to wipe away her tears, telling him to ‘hush’ as she gently run her fingers threw his salty white hair. Savoring every moment, for the blanket of snow that once lay thick on the ground was now melting and their time together had almost run dry.
The night the first lamb was born, was the night that the man with the salty white hair died in the loving arms of his bonny lass. ‘Fare ye weel, ma ane true love’ was all she said, as she kissed his cold brow and laid a posy of snowdrops on his plaid covered chest.
LETTERS TO A GHOST
(inspired by a past life)
February 14, 2018
The woman sat at an old oak desk that could have told stories of its own if it had a voice. Fountain pen in her right hand. Black Indian ink in little glass bottle with an ornate silver top. Ivory parchment paper at the ready. She was a lover of old things and old ways. A dreamer some might say. A believer in the great mysteries of life. She began to write a letter. One that would never be posted but one that had become part of her nightly ritual for the last twenty years. I can only imagine it gave her a strange sort of comfort. Perhaps the only kind that could be had under the sad circumstances.
The scratch of the pen on the paper echoed across the silence in the room. From time to time the woman stopped to reflect, to recall a memory. Sometimes it seemed like she might smile, but she never did. Occasionally her blue eyes would fill with tears, but none ever fell down her cheeks. For by all accounts she inhabited a place beyond tears. A veiled world where only the broken hearted can survive, if you could call that surviving. She was alive but in name only. A pale pink shadow of a woman, whose soul was lost to love more than two decades ago.
When the writing was done, she picked up the ivory paper and kissed it gently. In the same way that she once kissed her lover’s lips, with a tenderness that matched the tenderness of her heart. An extraordinary creature that belonged to a bygone era of satins and silks. The letter was then placed gently down on the top of the wooden desk. The candles that lit the bedroom were slowly snuffed out one by one.
She whispered a prayer that was only for the ears of god, before lying down and closing her eyes in the hope that sleep may come and give her some respite from the pain and longing that reminded her that she was still alive. No dreams had come to the woman since she had lost her love. She saw no color in the black and white world that was her internal prison. Heard no birdsong, nor whispers of the trees. No awareness of the people in uniform who came and went and took care of her physical needs. In her fractured mind, time itself had stood still, when her true love had died all those years ago.
What about the letter I hear you say? The hand-written words were for all intents and purposes written to a ghost from the past. Those that took care of her would remove it from the old wooden desk during the night and place it in a big box along with all the others. They never read the letters. For they were not theirs to read. Every morning when she awoke the woman would ask in an urgent voice. “Have any letters come for me”? The reply was always the same. “No letters today”. These were the only words she ever spoke until her hair turned silver and she passed away one snowy winters night.
She was buried on a bitter cold January morning in the year 1919. A hundred years ago to this very day. Two shovels broken to dig her resting place. Almost as if the earth didn’t want to take her. In the same way that a mother doesn’t want to lay a child to rest before her time. The letters she had written to a ghost from the past were buried beside her, along with all her sorrows and secrets.
THE THREE FEATHERS
(inspired by ma granny, the bird charmer)
February 14, 2018
The wise woman stood deep amongst the tall Scots Pines. Part of the landscape that was her home. She was almost a tree herself. Each line etched on her furrowed brow marked her age, like the rings on the trunk of her beloved trees. To many too count, but each one earned by a lifetime of servitude. Her long grey hair tied back with an old worn rag that had seen better years. A discoloured apron tied around her full waist.
The old woman was the last of her line. No kin to pass the old ways onto. What she knew would die with her. All her secrets would be tied into her winding sheet and taken with her to the summer-lands. But that day would not be today. For today she had important work to do. She pursed her thin dry lips and let out a silent whisper that could only be heard by the wind from the East. Who came when it was called, for few knew its name any longer. The warm wind lingered around her and caressed her sunken cheek like a young lover in the dead of night. It brought with it three feathers, each from a different bird. Each with its own magic. She unfurled the tattered rag from her hair and wrapped the feathers carefully inside it, before she placed them in her large apron pocket. She thanked the wind and made her way back to her wee cottage on the shore of the loch.
Her apron began flapping wildly in the breeze, or was it? For it seemed that something was moving inside it. She was glad by the time she got home, for by now it was almost too heavy to carry. No sooner had the woman shut the door when out popped the first bird. But no ordinary bird mind you, but a bird born from a single raven feather and some other magical bits and bobs that the old woman had in her apron.
The bird never stopped talking. But unlike some people, what it had to say was important, for the shiny black feather had come from the first raven in the world. This bird told the old woman the story of mankind and all his ups, downs, roundabouts and ways that made no sense to cunning folk. Surprisingly it took no time at all. In fact, this tale was finished by the time the kettle had boiled, which was just as well as the old woman liked to chew on a muddy root and wash it down with a cup of hot dandelion tea.
At the last slurp from the chipped cup, the apron began to move around again of its own accord and out squawked the second bird. A rather splendid white-tailed sea eagle. This made the old woman smile with joy. She was so happy that starlight shone from the gaps where her missing teeth had one been. She hadn’t seen one of these magnificent birds in over 100 years. The sea eagle didn’t use words like raven, instead it spoke directly to her heart and told her of mankind’s greed. How he took more than he needed and had almost hunted his kind to extinction. This was a sad tale and one she often heard often from other creatures, like wolf and bear. She was so angry that the kettle began to boil itself. No root, or cup of dandelion tea would help but she had one anyway.
There was no starlight left in the room by the time the apron began to flap around once more. A song could be heard before a bird could be seen. It was a little robin red-breast. He sung his story to the wise woman and a glorious song it was indeed. For it contained the most magical ingredient of all. HOPE. This is what had been missing from humanity for a long time and this little bird with his bonnie red breast had brought it back to the world. This good news called for more than tea, it called for a big dram o’ malt.
The old woman savoured every drop of whiskey along with the song from the robin. It was time. Time for new stories. Time for new ways and time for the little robin red breast to spread hope all around the world. With that she opened her door and watched the three birds fly off into the night sky.
(inspired by the pain of heartbreak)
February 14, 2018
I shall begin with the box. For it contained something that isn’t normally found in a box. It contained a broken human heart. Not the kind of flesh and blood. But all the deep feelings that are associated with it. This took the physical form of letters. Black inky pain. Paper remnants of false promises. But let me be clear, it is not love itself that causes a heart to break. It is love in the hands of fools that is mortally dangerous.
As for the box, it was wound tightly with red yarn along with a binding charm, that was sung to lock the hurt inside. An ancient charm the woman had learnt from her grandmother when she was still a girl. Perhaps all grandmothers should teach this to lessen the pain of heartbreak. Then again, perhaps we need this pain to teach us that nothing is more sacred than life itself.
When the ritual was done, the woman took the small box and a cutting to an old burial ground that hadn’t been used for centuries. It seemed apt that this should be the place she laid it to rest. For it was full of dead things. Today, this love that once shone brighter than all the stars in the sky would become just another ghost.
The woman chose a place beneath the great Yew. She thanked the tree, who swore to keep her secrets safe. Then knelt upon the soft wet ground. Gently held the wooden box to her chest and breathed in its contents. Allowing herself to feel that intoxicating emotion for one last time. The memories coursed through her veins. Their intensity almost drowning her. It was time to let go of this unbearable burden, to bury the fragments of her tender heart. Time to say a final goodbye to shallow promises. To old songs that sung of a lasting love. To everything that had made her vulnerable to its heady spell.
She let out a cry like a wounded animal as she tore the box away from her heart. Then clawed at the earth with her bare hands. Needing to feel something, even if it was only wet black dirt under her fingernails. Needing to bury the box that contained a heart, that once beat madly and deeply but was now silent.
She kissed it softly before laying it to rest in the little hole. The first handful of soil placed upon it, not only covered the box, it covered the pain. The old charm worked to contain the heartache inside. When it was done, the cutting of a red rose was planted on top. Watered by the ocean of tears that flowed from the woman’s blue eyes.
It was then she noticed a hole in her chest, where her heart had once been. Instinctively she filled this hole with the soil that lay on top of the grave, until it was also covered like the little coffin of memories buried below. The wetness of the earth soothed her tormented soul. An acceptance of the finality of a dead love. A mournful sigh left her lips, carried away by the wind to a faraway place. It was done.
That night she slept, no memories of her lover to haunt her dreams, finally free of his spell. But in the morning, she noticed something very strange, very strange indeed. For a little red rose was growing out of her chest. She tried to pull it out, but it would not budge. Its roots had attached themselves to her very soul.
Like it or not, it was now part of her. A forever reminder of the love she buried. For you see, once your heart is broken it can never be the same again. Having a rose grow out your heart although strange, isn’t necessary a bad thing. For it meant that something beautiful was beginning to grow in the barren soil of her empty heart. Maybe, just maybe, in time love would grow there again.
THE LONELY KELPIE
(inspired by my love of the exception to the rule)
February 14, 2018
It’s not just mankind that feels lonely, lots of creatures feel the pain of living a solitary life. None more so than a Kelpie. For they are skin shifters, part human and part horse. Hated and feared by both mortals and horses alike. Humans would tell terrible stories to their children about these water spirits, to keep them away from water. Horses could sense that although they looked the same, they were somehow different, so they mostly kept their distance. Sometimes they did mate with Kelpies but their offspring rarely lived. Don’t get me wrong, some water horses were dangerous beasts who would drown and devour every part of a human except the entrails, but not the Kelpie who dwelt in Barra. Perhaps he was more human than water spirit, that happens sometimes. All I know is he felt loneliness like no other creature. It was this loneliness that drove him closer to the island folk.
There was one islander in particular he liked to watch from afar. Her name was Florrie. She was a sight to behold with her bonnie red hair, milk white skin and rose bud lips. Her mother had passed when she was a small child, so it was just her and her aged father on the croft. The young woman bore the burden of the work, as her father was too frail to help out.
Now Florrie knew she was being watched by the big black horse on the hillside. She knew he was no ordinary horse, for his wet mane was full of water weeds. She also knew how strong a Kelpie is and decided to try to capture him. The kelpie had ideas of his own, but instead he dreamed of capturing her heart. Despite what people think, it’s not that easy to transform from a horse into a human or vice versa. In fact, it is very painful and can only be done a few times in any Kelpies life. But the pain of loneliness was greater than shifting into skin, so he bore it for love of bonnie Florrie.
The next morning, he went to woo her. He told her his name was Angus. The young woman was no fool, she knew it was the Kelpie in human form, for his black hair contained the same water weeds that were once in his mane. But she needed to clear a field of big stones before it could be ploughed, so she went along with the pretence that he was human and hired him to help her work the land. Waiting patiently for her chance to remove the silver charm around his neck, to turn him back into his equine form. This proved to be no easy task, she had to be careful. The days passed into weeks and she began to grow very fond of the handsome new farm hand with the long black hair. He had a gentle way about him and the loveliest dark eyes she had ever seen.
Each night her father would ask if she had captured the Kelpie yet and reminded her that he wasn’t like them, that he was a cursed creature and not to be trusted. Florrie knew she would have to do it soon, for she could feel her heart quicken whenever she could sight of Angus. That night while he slept, she crept into the barn and quietly removed the rune of white silver that hung around his neck. The sound she heard would haunt her walking days and nights forever. The pain of shifting back into a horse caused Angus great pain. He screamed in agony as his neck grew longer and longer. His feet and hands into hooves and his body changed into that of a big black horse.
It was a terrible sight to behold. Florrie felt immediate regret, but the deed was done. She placed a leather harness, signed with the symbol of the cross on the Kelpie. It was then she saw a single tear fall from the horse’s eye. That night as she lay in bed, full of shame for what she had done, she wept more than one tear of sorrow into her feather pillow.
Her father reminded her that they could harness the strength of the Kelpie for a single year, no more or a curse would befall them. Each day she rode the black stallion and put him to work in the fields, but she could not look him in the eyes for she knew that inside his beast was a gentle soul, who had made her heart beat like no other. Despite what she had done, the Kelpie gave her no trouble, such was his love for bonnie Florrie.
Sometimes in the old stories time passes quickly around magical creatures but when your days are full of remorse and longing, a day feels like a week, a week feels like a month and a month feels like a year. For Florrie, it was the longest year since time began. When the year was over, she took off the harness and iron bridal that had enslaved the water horse. She told him he was free to leave but the horse would not go. How could he ever leave the woman he loved so dearly.
When Florrie saw that the kelpie would not leave, any doubt of her deep love for this creature vanished. She placed the silver charm around his neck but this time there was no change. Flora felt like her heart might break in two, so she decided to visit the wise woman, for if anyone knew of a way that they could be together it would be her.
The wise woman told Florrie the kelpie had likely changed too many times and was now stuck in equine form. She picked up her clay pipe, lit the tinker’s tobacco and took a long hard drag on the magical plant. She saw something in its blue smoke that hung thick in the air. Got up and stuffed some herbs into a small tweed bundle and whispered secret words over it. The old women then gave it to Florrie with strict instructions on what to do. Before she could rush out to do just that, the wise woman warned the girl that if she lay with the Kelpie in human form, she would never be a mother.
“Angus has given me love enough to fill both my heart and my arms” said Florrie.
The Kelpie shifted back to skin for the last time and neither he, nor Florrie was ever lonely again. I heard it say, that despite the wise woman’s warning Florrie did bear him a bonnie bairn. I do not know if that part of the tale is true, perhaps the angels were smiling down on them both, but I do know that love is powerful magic.
“Magical storytelling that totally immerses you so that you fully believe that you are truly there with each of the characters in the story”. (Tahir Sharif)