Emmie Learns a Lesson

Emmie liked to talk. She talked when her mother pulled up the shade in the morning. She talked when brushing her teeth – foamy white painting her chin. She talked while she pulled her purple panda shirt past her ears. She talked at the kitchen table, her tongue bouncing off consonants and cheerios.

“Esmeralda, if you don’t stop talking, your head is going to fall off,” said her mother.

Emmie talked to her bus driver as she bounced to school. She talked to her best friend, Yasmarie. And to Perilla, Jules and Marjoram. Yasmarie tapped her toe and sighed.

“Esmeralda, if you don’t stop talking, your head is going to fall off,” said Yasmarie. Continue reading

The Selfie

Alain had time enough to work out how she arrived. Her likeliest route. He thought maybe from the Black Hills or beyond. Through northern Minnesota and the U.P. Down along the Wolf River, staying east of La Crosse, Ripon, Beaver Dam and Whitewater. Crossing near Hebron and then heading down the Chain of Lakes; jogging east to follow the Des Plaines into Chicago. Most of the suburbs designated preserves along the river.

But how did she get from, say, Northbrook to Chicago without being detected?

Moving at night, sure; but still. Are humans that oblivious?

How he came to be here was much easier to determine: his teacher led the 7th grade on a field trip to the Checagou Nature Preserve. One hundred and fifty acres of restored prairie, wetlands and woods…including a working nineteenth century farm.

As his class followed the guide along a trail, Alain noticed a seldom-beaten path leading to the woods; a slack chain at knee-height, barred passage. Back at the Center, the class summoned their collective patience to endure a presentation on the effects of urban-creep upon wild populations. Lunch to follow.

During the presentation Alain drifted to the back of the room and then away, assimilating into another tour group. He drifted again as the group neared the trails. He found the forbidden path, stepped over the chain and here he was.

Why he chose to break the rules was a harder question. He was not a renegade by nature. He was neither lured by a seductress, nor compelled by self-preservation. He concluded that since the chain warned humans away, walking the path promised a more authentic embrace of the Preserve’s mission.

A quarter-mile on, the path opened to a dell – a slight depression, no more.

Alain was moved to a silence even deeper than the one he was deploying. Instead of concentrating on the woods’ native pings and clicks, he concentrated on the silence, willing his brain to shut-up, for once. A ghosted image of an Oak, hundreds of years old, a hundred inches in diameter, boasting a seventy-foot canopy, materialized out of the silence, replacing the dell. Alain watched the Oak die, then break apart, then tumble, and then decay – its stump finally eroding, it’s trunk-thick roots imploding into the depression, becoming loam.

Another boy might’ve said: And, now, nothing remained of the once mighty Oak. But Alain saw that the dell was the daughter of the Oak. The empty space was as alive as the Oak had been when it was in its prime and Chicago was prairie, woods and wetlands.

Alain snapped to the present when his eyes sent a txt to his brain: that is a curious dabbling of light, there.

A fawn stood at the edge of the clearing, white spots on a tan coat, as iconic as any Disney might render. Alain took a step and stilled. Waited a long minute before taking a second step. The fawn did not move. Scanning the floor, Alain found a scattering of beechnuts and acorns. As deliberate as a sun, Alain lowered himself into a squat and scraped the nuts together – rising with as much restraint as his quadriceps would allow. He extended his arm as far as it would go and took another step.

Here is where Alain excelled. He worked at a pet store. His job was to acclimate new arrivals to their stalls and cages, and to human hands. His secret was patience. If it took an hour – or an afternoon – to get to square one, then he took it. His other secret was understanding there was always a place before Square One. It was as important to honor this place as it was to progress from Square One to Square Two.

The place before Square One was the dell: the silent power of the vanished tree. Alain set the ghost of the Oak behind his eyes as he edged nearer the fawn, only advancing when the dell gave him leave.

His outstretched hand holding the nuts reached the fawn’s muscle. Her nostrils flared; she bowed her head and accepted the gift. Alain took two baby steps, closing the space between them. With as light a touch as he ever deployed smoothing ruffled feathers, he stroked the fawn’s flank.

She ate the last beechnut. Alain continued to pet her, checking his periphery for more nuts. He spotted a clutch of pine nuts, but he would have to reach across her. Too risky. Perhaps she would stay without being fed.

A selfie!

His cell was in his backpack; if he was careful…

He drew out the phone and held it away to take the picture.

What is the best angle to get both the fawn and

As he lifted his eyes and turned his head, seeking to align his face in the foreground of the imagined portrait, he saw her. The Her. And there he was, frozen, his arm pointing to the sunless woods, his head tipped back, as still as any marbled Caesar exhorting his countrymen.

A cougar waited on the opposite rim of the tiny dell, its rump in shadow, her smallish, intent face staring at him. Alain figured the cougar had been eyeing the fawn before he had drawn her attention. Now he understood why the fawn had indulged his vanity.

His first concern – how long can I stand like this – gave way to a second…one that caused him to soak his clothes, socks to collar, in perspiration. He recalled a line from a joke:  just faster than you. The joke even contained a lion.

I don’t have to be faster than the lion…just faster than you.

Who would a hungry lion prefer to chase through the trees: a boy or a deer?

What would happen if Alain bolted, first?

Such was the debate Alain interrupted in order to visualize the cougar’s progress from Wisconsin to the Preserve. He fought the urge to look at the fawn. What if it had walked into the woods while Alain faced the cougar?

That would be awkward.

Especially since he planned to do the same to the fawn: back-step to the treeline, fading into the shadows until…well, until the inevitable.

The dell exploded. It’s silent center, the heart that had once been the indomitable Oak, erupted in generated syncopation. The song “Roar” filled the space and Alain’s body. He yelped, tossing the blaring cell phone, his body jerking. A blur crossed his peripheral vision.

Instead of running straight into the woods, the fawn sprang at an oblique angle across the dell. The cougar charged, rode her spine and forced her to the ground. Alain’s shock held him long enough to see the pounce, to see the muscles in the cougar’s head and neck bulge as she sank her teeth into the fawn’s neck.

Alain sprinted through the woods, cutting between trees, his subconscious assuming navigation duties, arcing him onto the forbidden woodchip path and back to the Center.

His teacher had called his cell when the lunchtime headcount came up one Alain short. Alain offered no accounting for his whereabouts, except for: around.

It was his mother who told him about the cougar. She’d seen the story in the news.

“Did they catch it?”

“No. But it killed a deer at Checagou, yesterday. They said, probably around dusk.”


“I know. You were there, yesterday!”

The following day his mother drove him back to the Preserve. They had discovered his cell phone. When Alain retrieved it the woman asked why he had been in the off-limits area. He shrugged.

“Do you know that the cougar killed the deer in that location?”


“Wow is right. Now you see why we have those signs?”

“Uh, huh. Did they catch the cougar?”

“No. But she was just sighted near Bannockburn.”

“She’s headed back to Wisconsin.”

“How do you know she came from Wisconsin?”

Alain shrugged and replied, “She wasn’t a Chicago cougar.”

On his way back to the car Alain checked his pics. The last one was a blur of empty space.

The End
© Brian Wapole


Alain hunched his shoulders against the late October wind. He had failed the science test. A first. But what did he expect? He was in seventh grade, now; he had to study to get good grades. Yet, he let it slide until the…

A rustle from a maple tree turned his head. He saw a flash of fluorescence behind the plume of red and dirty-gold foliage. It flew into a hedge near a parked Elantra. Alain was running before his eyes saw the hawk. Waving his arms, shouting. The Red-tailed Hawk followed the same trajectory as the fluorescent flash, arriving at the hedge a stride, or a flap, before Alain.

Alain was close enough to hit the Hawk – or have an eye gouged by a talon – when the great bird rose away from the hedge leaving his prize on the ground, wounded.

Alain knelt, his cupped hands mimicking a halo, surrounding the fallen bird. Then he scooped it as if it were made of water and would drain through his fingers if he wasn’t careful. He held a parakeet of tapering turquoise and blue luminescence. Dazed, sure. But the Hawk hadn’t left a… Continue reading

When to Feed the Animals

The day seemed not to notice her. The Sun made no slight dimming and brightening to announce her release into the world. The winds did not gather about and spin her in-stride as she ran through the bluegrass and rye of the great green field across the street from her home. The sky remained soaked in the same clear Azure she knew.

But someone was taking note as Emmie neared the little wood at the center of the park.

Emmie walked. Sometimes skipped a step or two. Sometimes bent to retrieve a likely stick along the woodchip path meandering to the foot bridge. She bounded up the bridge’s two rough-hewn, worn to gray, pine-board stairs.

Often it was little more than a gully, but today the stream ran strong, which was why Emmie was there. She toed the bottom crosspiece of the bridge’s picket fence and hooked her arms around the crowning crosspiece and pitched the stick up-river. Then she unhooked her arms, jumped down and darted to the downriver railing. She hung from her armpits, waiting.

The stick arrived – neither pausing to accept praise nor express its thanks – and continued navigating the fickle currents until Emmie could no longer track it.

This she did again.

And again until she was out of sticks, which arrived just as she wearied of playing. As if the sticks’ counsel had been sought in the devising of the game.

And her armpits hurt, too.

She leapt off the bridge and sometimes running sometimes skipping all times singing continued down the woodchip path. It traced a wobbly U through the little woods so that when she reemerged into the sunlight she would be facing home.


Emmie finally noticed who had been watching her. She had been standing near the bridge while Emmie played. She didn’t need to hide to be invisible; she could will it. She stepped from the shadows, muscles tracing sinuous grace, to stand in the woodchip path blocking Emmie’s way.

“Now what will you do,” asked the grey wolf. Continue reading

The Brave Duck

The duck did not miss the girl wearing the yellow T-shirt with the giraffe on the pocket. He missed the bits of bread and lettuce she tossed. But the girl? He didn’t think so.

She yelped and he startled, dropping the lettuce she tossed his way, fluttering back into the glistening pond. One of the older drakes had bitten her hand. He knew what she felt, having received nips on his tail speeding out of their way. Whichever way their bills were pointed was “their way.” They allowed him to paddle in all other directions…unless one of those directions led to bread crusts and lettuce.

He watched the little girl and her father walk away from the pond. He watched her fingers knit into his fingers. He paddled around the bend to the pile of stones where the stream emptied into the pond. He hopped onto the stones and waddled up the stream, eyes ahead. Maybe he missed her a little.

Upstream he saw the little girl walking on the river stones, still holding her father’s hand. Her father swung her onto the grass and they disappeared over the crest of a green knoll.

The duck fluttered onto shore and then over the trees, circling…watching them walk across the great green field toward their home. Continue reading

The Very Long Winter

A story from the novel The Feast of the Moon as told by Ichilles to his friend Shrew:

“Would you like to hear a story?”

“Does it contain the words: and that is the end?”


“So, I have something to look forward to.”

I had lied: I did not know how it would end. When I started a story without knowing what shape it would take (I imagine the Sun had that problem when He created opossums), a voice behind my eyes picked up the first acorn it saw and handed it to me.

“This is a story about Hamster and Bluejay and a very long winter.”

Shrew groaned at very long winter.

“But the story is not long,” I added.

“The winter I spend this evening listening to it will be.”

I ignored him and continued.

Long ago, when the world was still warm from the Sun’s paws, Hamster and Bluejay were trading songs, enjoying the cool of the evening. Continue reading

Walking Backward

Emmie hung from the railing by her armpits, watching her twig navigate the listless currents of the stream. Four of its predecessors had snagged themselves on a mat of branches by a Y in the stream.

“Come on. Come on.”

The twig caught itself in the tangle. Emmie sighed. Then she looked up. Someone was singing.

The light voice rose and fell amidst the breathing cadence of the woods. She tossed her fist of twigs over the railing and ran off the bridge following the stream, sometimes retreating to the woodchip path when the underbrush became too thick.

The woods were attached to the great green field across street from her home, and all of it resided within a large municipal park. A row of houses bordered the woods’ eastern edge; a branch of the stream flowed behind their back yards. Emmie stood on its embankment and peered into one of these backyards.

A girl about her age was idling on a swingset facing her house, singing.

The girl didn’t know all the lyrics. When she came to a line she couldn’t recall she half mumbled/half hurried past it. Continue reading

The Abandoned Farmhouse

Not so long ago an abandoned farmhouse was struck by lightning and caught fire. It burned through the night and into the next day. When the firefighters finally inspected it only embers smoldered in the rubble. The massive oak crossbeam supporting the roof had cracked and buckled causing the roof to collapse to the second floor. The second floor and roof crashed to the first floor which in turn caved-in to the cellar.

The lieutenant of the crew frowned at the wreckage. The corkscrewed and splintered bones of the old house were heaped in a pile nearly reaching ground level. It looked like a knot of prehistoric snakes spaded up from the center of the earth. He ordered a thorough soaking.

The lieutenant studied what remained of the second story. To his surprise a lolling section of roof rode atop the two walls still standing. It was balanced as if someone with too much time and not enough ambition had leaned two playing cards together and poised a third one just so.

He ordered his crew away from the area. The roof was going to follow the rest of the old house before long.

But it didn’t. The roof maintained its improbable poise.

Over the next few weeks village and township inspectors frowned at the blackened walls and shredded roof. Knocking it down would’ve been prudent. Having the other guy pay for it, wiser still. And so the farmhouse stayed.

The land it now teetered upon hosted a working replica of a nineteenth century farm. It backed to the small woods that were next to the great green field that was attached to the municipal park across the street from Emmie’s home. Emmie visited the farm whenever she could. She loved holding the chicks, petting Bonnie and Babe on their wide muzzles, watching the turkeys chase each other and laughing at the pigs as they rolled in the mud.

Even before the fire Emmie was fascinated by the abandoned farmhouse. She dedicated a minute or so every few visits to walking off the foot path leading to the new farmhouse, high-stepping-it through the brush choking an overgrown side path to stand in the abandoned farmhouse’s shadow.

When she came upon the farmhouse this time the devastation startled her. She shifted her eyes back and across the wreckage trying to figure out a how come. Her gaze settled on the juncture of roof and walls. She considered the bowed walls and crumpled roof magnificent. They appeared ready to keel over that second, but also like they had been set there by Druids a thousand years earlier. Both at the same time.

An iridescent flash at the crux of roof and wall caught her attention. A bird bobbed in and out of that delicate space and then flew away. Emmie watched as it graced the invisible currents between Here and There. He returned with a scrap from the woods where Emmie liked to idle. He flew to the crux of wall and roof, again bobbing in and out of view. Emmie sidled to her right, angling backward to get a better look. Continue reading

The Water Drop

A droplet condensed out of the heavy fog high above the curve of the blue world. Having been born from mist, riding currents beneath a horizon of limitless translucent clouds he knew only falling. And, so, took falling for life, and not falling at all.

On his journey toward the gentle curve, the droplet watched as cousin-droplets evaporated around him – too small to hold their shape against gravity and wind. It did not occur to him that he was destined for such an end.

“Help me,” cried a tiny droplet, no more than a foglet. “I can feel myself fading away.  I’m so scared.”

The water droplet saw that there was nothing to be done; the little foglet was going melt into the thick air. So he reached out to offer comfort, to hold the frail droplet, to say, “there, there,” until the foglet had evaporated into the humid air.  But when he embraced the droplet, it disappeared. Continue reading

A Piece of Laughter

Esmeralda did not relish the doing of the homework.

She did, however, relish the ceasing of the badgering. And she came to appreciate how the badgering would cease upon the completing of the homework. But the appreciating of the doing of the homework? No.

Nor the getting of the smarter. What was to relish? She didn’t feel smarter. Did not feel like a different Emmie. But the ceasing of the badgering (as well as the ceasing of the “I’m very disappointed in you, Emmie-ing;” and the “sitting right there until it is finished, Emmie-ing”) she relished.

This homework assignment jabbed more needles into her rising balloon of swing-setting, hamstering, play with Lucy-ing, and laughtering than previous homework assignments.

She had to write a poem. Continue reading