Walking the Windsong
The seventeen stories and ten poems in this book contain a touch of mystery, a touch of fantasy, a touch of science fiction and more than a touch of humor.
At the same time, some of these timeless stories touch, in timely fashion, on how people make time, keep time, and put in time. In no time at all, you’ll be reading about wasting time, killing time, passing time and having the time of your life. After that, whether you’re having time out, or doing time, you’ll never be behind the times.
For the time being, though, have a look at the poems. They’re all over the map. But, since there are only ten, it’s not a very big map. And do read the two cat stories; cats are sensible people who don’t care about clocks unless it’s tuna time.
Ebook, 60,400 words
$4.99 US at Smashwords
(Smashwords offers ebooks in all formats.)
TIME TO GO
Sara Sapphira didn’t look like a witch. Most witches are imposing and at least a little scary, with tall black hats and long black cloaks. They ride broomsticks and are followed everywhere by black cats, though several years ago one became famous for having a white Pekinese as a familiar.
Sara was short and rather round, and favored pink cotton dresses, often with darker pink stripes. On cool mornings, she wore a little beige sweater slung over her shoulders and, always, pink or orange runners. She tried to keep her gray hair pulled straight back into a bun, so that she’d look appropriately severe, but it was naturally curly and kept springing out of the bun to curl around her face. Unlike the lean and hollow-jawed witches of story, her cheeks were rosy and plump, just as she was plump in years, though she could never be persuaded to say how much time she had seen go by.
And, to avoid upsetting her neighbors, she rode a pink bicycle rather than the usual broom. This allowed her to sleep in for an extra fifteen minutes and still get to the store on time.
Her emporium looked equally ordinary. The name, Time to Read, marched in bold, gold, italic letters neatly across the front window. Below the sign hung a tidy little notice which listed prices for the different categories of books she sold.
Customers soon learned that the bookstore was a front for her real business and that the prices on the notice in her window referred to what she charged for time. It was simple, really. Five dollars bought five minutes, ten dollars bought ten, forty-five dollars bought forty-five minutes. Five dollars also bought, of course, a romance novel.
Most people in the little town of Strawberry were delighted when Sara set up shop and especially when they discovered the business behind the business. If they needed a good book to make time fly, or an extra ten or fifteen minutes for something, they simply dropped into Sara’s store to get them. It was so thrilling to open the front door, and hear the bell that sounded like the ticking of a very large, hoarse grandfather clock. Then Sara’s raven, Spinnaker, who usually perched on top of the old silver-colored cash register, would announce the visitor with a guttural “Reader!” If Sara was on her knees in the very back of the storeroom, unpacking books, he would call “Buttercup!” That was her nickname from when she was young and blonde and hadn’t yet become a full-fledged witch.
Sara even took trade-ins if a customer couldn’t afford the full price. She would accept anything up to fifteen minutes, provided it hadn’t been badly used. Minutes accidentally lost in sleep were perfectly fine, but she refused time which had been carelessly squandered in recriminations. She did not approve of people who wasted time.
The business of selling time, however, had a serious drawback.
It was illegal.
Sara Sapphira didn’t care that she was breaking the law. She wanted to heal people. She wanted to make sure they had time to get over stress, to dream, to live in little fantasies, because that made them more relaxed and therefore happy. She refused to even say the word ‘timelegger,’ though she knew that’s what she was. When the grandfather clock chimed a new customer, she always looked up in momentary fear that the mayor, Bramley Bumblebutt, would walk in, discover her cache of time, and run her out of town. All her efforts to make Strawberry a happy place would be wasted.
She had made it her business to find out about the mayor because she’d been told that he was a demon for the law. Bramley Bumblebutt was not much taller than Sara, and equally as round. Demons of any kind are usually lean and cadaverous, like normal witches. However, the fact that he didn’t look like a demon was offset by the fact that he believed he was the most important person in all of Strawberry, perhaps even the whole world, and thus wore his huge seal of office on a fat gold chain around his neck everywhere he went. The man was almost as proud of his thick brown hair. It fell to his waist and was decorated with gems or braided with delicate silver chains.
When Spinnaker saw the mayor, he croaked, “It’s gray! He dyes it.”
That happened the first time Bramley entered Time to Read and heard, to his surprise, the ticking of a grandfather clock, but without any timepiece in evidence. His sniffer dog, a big Rottweiler named Baby, who went everywhere with him, growled, for he’d never heard such a sound before.
Sara, who’d been in the back, unpacking a new box of books, came to the counter and said, “Can I help you, sir?” She knew at once that this was the mayor, the man who cared more about laws than about people.
Bramley pushed out his chest a little more. “I’ve come to inspect your bookstore, madam. I am responsible for the welfare of the people of Strawberry and I must be assured that you’re not selling anything illegal.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t do that,” Sara said, crossing her fingers behind her back and wondering if she knew enough spells to win a battle against the ogre. She had seen at once that he was an ogre, not a demon. Unfortunately, she hadn’t attended a coven meeting for some little while and was thus behind the times on using spells.
“I should hope not,” said the mayor. “For example, selling time is illegal. It should be very illegal because people become addicted so quickly.”
Sara repressed a giggle. Actions were either illegal or not illegal. There was no such thing as ‘very illegal’ just as there was no such thing as ‘very unique.’ But this concern for the language was her personal hobby horse and for the time being, she needed to put him out to pasture.
Her amusement quickly turned to sadness, for the mayor’s words reminded her of the time addicts she’d dealt with. Some were so desperate that they literally grabbed the packages out of her hands and swallowed the crystals before they’d even paid. Some were manic and tried to hoard time, which never worked, for the expiration dates were precise. But such people always imagined that Sara would slip up and they’d be able to add to their precious pile of minutes.
Bramley Bumblebutt glanced around the crowded bookshelves. “Mind if I have a look?” he said, and proceeded to begin a close inspection before she’d had a chance to say yes or no. But she wouldn’t have dared say no, so it made no difference.
When he’d inspected all the shelves, even removing books to see what might lurk behind them, he said, “Now, madam, I would like to see your storeroom and your workroom, should you have one.”
“The storeroom holds only extra copies of books,” she said, “and a small table where I do my accounts.”
“There’s no accounting for witches,” Bramley said. “I must insist on an inspection. It’s my usual practice. And it’s the law.” He spoke truly, but he had something else in mind. In his travels about the town, he’d discovered that Sara Sapphira was wildly popular, and he wished to know why. She was merely a witch who sold books, which meant nothing, though she was certainly attractive, he thought, as she preceded him into the storeroom. It was not as if she could claim any status at all. There had to be an easy way to discredit her and enhance his own popularity. The best way method would be to discover that she was doing something illegal.
The storeroom was small and quickly checked. Then he noticed a black safe in the corner. “Open that, please.”
“No,” Sara said. “I’m sorry, sir, but you have no authority to look in my safe. I can read the laws as easily as you enact them. Safes are sacrosanct.”
“Madam! You will regret those words.” Bramley made his voice loud and gruff, trying to sound like his distant cousins, who claimed they often ate people. He’d never even taken a bite out of one, for he hadn’t been close enough to do so since he’d left his parents’ home. He suddenly noticed Sara’s soft, round arms and wondered if there was a chance he could learn. He wouldn’t bite hard, though.
Sara gathered her strength and worked hard on looking less succulent.
Baby, the Rottweiler, had been nosing around the shelves but now he came to the safe. He began to whine.
“I knew it!” exclaimed Bramley. “There’s something in that safe that shouldn’t be there. And I won’t be at all surprised if you are found to be timelegging!” What a coup that would be, to catch a witch actually selling time. She probably made it, too.
“According to scientists and philosophers,” Sara said, “time is not real and therefore doesn’t exist. It’s only something we imagine. If that is true, no one has time, and therefore I can’t possibly be selling it.”
“Scientists and philosophers speak in the particular jargons of their disciplines and pretend to understand what they’re saying to each other, but I don’t believe it,” said the mayor. “I’ve seen plants grow and clouds move across the sky.”
To cover her surprise that an ogre could be even a tad poetic, Sara said, “But if time exists, perhaps it isn’t important.”
“Oh, it’s extremely important,” Bramley exclaimed. “Time must never be wasted, or spent foolishly and that is why I have to make sure that no one gets more time than they were born with.”
“I understand,” Sara replied, “but that has nothing to do with me. I will not open the safe for you.”
Bramley stood as tall as he could and sucked in his tummy. “In that case, I will call on the judge and in his own good time he will swear out a writ. If you don’t open the safe for that, then I’ll make sure you do time in the castle dungeon. And I will set a dragon to watch you.” He turned on his heel and marched out of the store. The grandfather clock bonged a farewell.
Once Sara was sure the mayor had gone, she opened the safe and looked at her stock of time, wondering if there was any way she could disguise the small shiny envelopes. The five-minute quantities were packaged in blue, the ten-minute in purple, the fifteen-minute in green. The next three were red, yellow, and violet. The violet envelope contained forty-five minutes, which was the most anyone could swallow.
“Cast a glamor over the packages,” croaked Spinnaker. “Bumblebutt wouldn’t be able to see through that.”
“Oh, I think he would,” Sara said, with a sigh. “His powers and mine are roughly equal, you know.”
“You could bury them in the backyard.”
“But what would I do when someone comes in to buy time? Some people are desperate and I’d have to dig up the packages and someone would be sure to see that and report me. Then I’d really be in trouble.”
“What about making a pact with a devil?” Spinnaker rasped.
“Oh, dear!” Sara said. “I failed that section of the witchcraft course. And I don’t know any devils, or where I could find one.”
“Maybe Bumblebutt is a devil.”
“No,” Sara said, “he’s just a lonely little man trying to be a big one. But he has the power to take my time and lock me in the tower.” She began to feel angry. “Just like an ogre, to swallow my business so that no one benefits.”
“In that case,” said Spinnaker, “I suggest we skip town.”
“A tempting idea,” Sara replied, “but I would rather not. It may take the mayor several days to get that writ and, in the meantime, I can go on selling time to those who need it.”
“It’s your funeral, sweetheart.”
It was a whole week before Bramley got his writ and could return to Time to Read. While he’d waited for the judge to sign the parchment, he put in some time asking people about dragons but nobody he asked had ever seen one. He supposed an ordinary human would do as a guard, but he’d had his heart set on a dragon, preferably a blue one with a bright, hot flame. It would enhance his reputation to have the only dragon in town.
He walked into the bookstore, waving the writ, while Spinnaker croaked a short, unintelligible word and the grandfather clock ticked a timely greeting. Suddenly Bramley held his hands to his head. A violent headache seemed about to explode his brain. Baby, the Rottweiler, whined and rubbed his head against Bramley’s knee, nearly knocking him over.
“What’s the trouble, sir?” asked Sara.
“Migraine,” moaned Bramley. “It must have been that damn ticking.”
“Sit in the reader’s chair,” Sara said. “I’ll have water and a headache pill for you in no time.” That was a lie, of course, for no event could happen so fast that it took no time at all. Even the shortest event took a nanosecond. But never mind, the spell she’d set on the clock recording had worked after all. Luck was with her; she hadn’t done that one for a long time.
Bramley sat, holding his head. Too much stress, that’s what it was. Waiting for the judge, looking for dragons, anticipating an arrest, polishing his chain of office. It was too much responsibility for one man. He must somehow make time to hire an assistant.
Meanwhile, Sara opened a purple envelope and poured the ten-minute crystals into a glass of water. She hurried back to the mayor. “Down that!” she ordered. “All of it.”
He did so. Sara watched as his face relaxed and he leaned back into the comfortable pillows. She poured more crystals into a dish of water for Baby. The dog drank it down and collapsed into a sound sleep at his master’s feet.
Time out, Sara thought, and maybe the ogre will get out, too. She kept watching, while Bramley sat dreamily in the chair, staring into space as though it held everything he wanted. The dog snored.
At the end of the ten minutes, Bramley looked up at Sara. “The headache’s gone!” He rose. “That’s amazing. I’ve never had a headache tablet that worked so well.” He pulled an old brass pocket watch from his vest pocket. “And so fast! Why, it didn’t take more than a few seconds.” He wound the watch, which always helped to calm his nerves. He’d already had it repaired four times because of overwinding.
“I’m glad I could help,” Sara said.
“Where do you get those headache powders?”
She’d been afraid of that question. “I make them up myself, from an old recipe of my grandmother’s. The powders have ingredients no ordinary person would think of.”
Bramley chuckled. “Yes, of course, one has learned that witches use bat and toad and eye of newt. But I’m sure you didn’t, for I’m equally sure I would have recognized the taste of such things.” Belatedly, he remembered why he’d come to her bookstore. But it seemed mean to make her open her safe when she’d done him such a good turn. Still, he couldn’t afford to lose face. Or time, either. He was, after all, a busy man.
“May I ask you a riddle?” Bramley said.
Sara crossed her fingers behind her back. “Of course.”
“Think about the afternoon rush hour,” Bramley said. “Time after time, cars are caught in traffic, engines running, exhaust fouling the air, drivers fidgeting over the loss of time. Tell me, what should the drivers do about those lost minutes?”
“Oh, but those minutes aren’t lost,” Sara said, “merely unused. Swearing at the traffic isn’t proper use. Just waiting isn’t proper use, either. Instead of waiting or cursing, the drivers should be meditating or, even better, conjugating Latin verbs.”
Bramley blinked. This woman was clever as well as round and pleasing to look at. “Very good,” he said. “Then I’ll ask another. Scientists say time and space are one thing. Is that true?”
“I don’t know,” said Sara. “I’m not a scientist.”
Well! She was honest, too. “I’ll ask a third. Scientists also claim that time is circular. What do you say to that?”
Sara thought about that for a moment, while Bramley fidgeted. “I suppose it might be true,” she said. “Sometimes things happen that I’m sure have happened before.”
He felt sure now that she was time-legging. She knew too much about time for it to be anything else. Not to mention that he suspected she’d given him enough time to cure his migraine. “I’ll think of another riddle,” he said. But the thoughts going through his mind were telling him that a few extra minutes from time to time could be a very good thing.
“Miss Sapphira, would you care to go out to dinner with me?” Bramley clapped his hands over his mouth. How had those words got out of his mouth?
But Sara was smiling at him. He’d asked that question right on cue. “I’d love to have dinner with you, Mr. Bumblebutt. I’m sure we’ll have a delightful meal and, at the same time, a stimulating conversation.”
Gradually, Bramley’s heart slowed down to its normal rate. He began to think about all the ways Sara could be useful to him. In time, with proper training, she might be qualified to act as his new assistant. He would allow her to go on selling time and thus reap the eternal gratitude of all the townsfolk. He would be the most important person in Strawberry when the witch was his. There were bound to be many benefits from such a partnership. He congratulated himself on having the intelligence to recognize such potential, and decided he would call her his ‘jewel.’
The arrangements for dinner having been made, Bramley Bumblebutt and Baby left the store and went on their way, while Sara watched from the front window. Before they reached the corner, a cat crossed directly in front of Baby. The dog paid no attention. The cat, however, stopped and stared at him. It couldn’t decide whether Baby was real or stuffed. The dog smelled real but acted stuffed. Tempting it to start a chase had been a waste of time.
“Excellent!” thought Sara. She would have no problem controlling the Rottweiler. Five minutes mixed up with his crunchies every day and he would be hers forever.
She turned to Spinnaker. “I’ll take that time off you now. Was it very heavy?”
“The opposite,” croaked the raven. “I had trouble not floating away. And I had the distinct impression that if I did float off the perch, I’d be going in circles.”
Sara rummaged among his black plumage and carefully removed the Scotch tape that held her packets of time under his wing feathers. She put the packets back in the safe and locked it. She had let her stock dwindle in order to have less to hide, but she could remedy that without any trouble.
She picked up Bramley’s unserved writ from the floor. It was a very pretty document, with the capital letters done in color and outlined in gold. Tonight, she would do a forgetting spell over it, then use it to start the fire in her cookstove.
“What’s going to happen now?” Spinnaker croaked.
“What always happens,” Sara said. “Bramley and I will get married and spend time happily ever after.”
“So. And will you get change?”
“Of course not. If one is happy, one doesn’t need change.” Sara smiled. “I have decided that the mayor will refer to me as his ‘jewel.’ I rather like the idea of being a jewel.”
“You already are,” Spinnaker rasped. “The business has been saved and the townsfolk can go on treating themselves to little parcels of happiness. They’ll have the time of their lives!”
“As soon as we are married,” Sara said, “I will have the sign on the front window repainted. It will read, as it always should have, Time to Go.”