"Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable."
~ The Wizard of Oz
“I don’t think you could have picked a windier day to build your seven magic towers, Kiddo,” said Jonathan.
He was tucking Cailyn in bed while Eleanor hung the girl’s clothes in the closet. Harvest lay on his stomach in the hallway. Eleanor could see him propped up on his elbows to listen. Cailyn sat back against pillows, her legs under the embroidered quilt. Jonathan sat on the edge of the bed.
“It’s always windy here, Uncle Jon,” answered Cailyn. “Will you tell me a story?”
“Hmmm,” said Jonathan. “What kind of story would you like?”
“A made-up one.”
“A made-up one? Why don’t you start it for me?”
Cailyn put her head to one side. “Okay, I’ll start it from a dream that I had.”
“Okay,” Jonathan told her. “That sounds good.” He stretched himself across the foot of her bed.
“Once upon a time,” started Cailyn. “There was a girl. She had brown hair and blue eyes and she wore leotards every single day.”
“Remind you of anyone?” asked Harvest.
“Shh!” Eleanor tried to silence him. Jonathan and Cailyn looked at her. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Go on, Sweetie.”
“Yeah,” said Jonathan. “This is going to be a good one, I can tell.”
“Okay,” said Cailyn. “So this girl, she decided to go for a walk in the forest one day.”
“What color was her leotard?” asked Jonathan.
“It was purple,” said Cailyn. “And she had a long flowey skirt on over it. The kind that you can see her legs through, but almost you can’t because it’s kind of see-through, but not totally see-through.”
“Right,” said Jonathan. “Long flowey skirt.”
“Yes,” said Cailyn. “And it was summer in the forest, so even though it was very shady because of the branches that made a canopy over the trail, she was warm. There were lots of flowers everywhere, like daisies, violets,” she paused.
“Fennel, columbines, rosemary,” suggested Harvest.
Eleanor stepped across the room and abruptly shut the door. She heard Harvest’s voice muffled on the other side.
“Don’t forget the rue,” he said.
Eleanor returned to sit on the floor at the foot of the bed. Jonathan looked at her quizzically. “I’m all right now,” she said. “Go on, Cailyn.”
“So as she was walking in the forest, she came to a clearing.”
“Oh,” said Jonathan. “Good things happen in clearings.”
“Or bad ones,” added Eleanor.
“You guys!” laughed Cailyn. “Let me tell it!”
Both adults nodded obediently. Jonathan drew his fingers across his lips, as if to zip them closed.
Cailyn accepted their silence and continued. “So the girl was walking in her flowey dress through the shade of the summer forest when she came to a clearing. In the clearing she saw a huge beast!”
Both Jonathan and Eleanor raised their eyebrows.
“Yes,” said Cailyn. “She had almost walked into the clearing without noticing because she was so happy and warm and the flowers smelled so good. But luckily she noticed in time. She peeked out through a brambly bush to see if she could figure out what kind of beast it was.”
“What kind of beast was it?” asked Jonathan.
“Uncle Jo-o-o-n!” complained Cailyn. “You said you wouldn’t talk anymore.”
“Well,” defended Jonathan. “Technically I didn’t say I wouldn’t talk.”
Cailyn squinted at her uncle.
“Okay,” said Jonathan, “You’re right. I’m just so intrigued. Aren’t you intrigued, Sis?”
“Oh yes,” said Eleanor. “Very intrigued.”
“Okay,” Cailyn was placated. “Just listen.”
They nodded at her again.
“She peeked out through a brambly bush,” said Cailyn. “Then she saw that the beast was covered all over in ropes, like a giant net. The beast was the color of sunflowers and she could smell it all the way from where she was hiding. It smelled like a really warm cat, because it was lying in the sun. The girl watched it for a long time and she finally decided that it was asleep. She stepped out into the clearing and walked around the beast to the front where she thought the head would be. When she came around to the other side of the beast, she saw that it was a giant mountain lion.” Cailyn paused for dramatic effect. “Its paws were all tangled in the ropes and it had its eyes closed. The girl got closer and closer. She felt like it couldn’t be too dangerous since the mountain lion was completely trapped by the ropes. Then the mountain lion opened it’s mouth and said, ‘Human Child, come closer.’ Its breath smelled like peppermint. The girl came closer. Its eyes were the color of green apples. She could see the claws like giant silver fish hooks between the mountain lion’s toes. When the girl was close enough to touch the mountain lion, it said, ‘I am trapped here, Human Child. If I do not get free, I will die, for the hunter will come and skin me and make cheeseburgers out of my flesh.'”
Jonathan laughed. Cailyn gave him a reproachful look.
“Sorry,” said Jonathan.
“The girl liked cats. Actually,” said Cailyn, “they were her favorite animal. She liked the ones with long white hair and the ones with stripes and the ones with brown spots. But she had never seen such a big one before. Its mouth looked big enough to gobble her up in one bite. ‘Why should I help you?’ she asked the mountain lion. ‘How do I know you won’t gobble me up in one bite?’ The mountain lion purred so deep that the girl could feel the purr rumbling in her tummy. ‘I will tell you my name,’ said the mountain lion. Now, the girl knew that finding out someone’s real name would give you power over them. She said, ‘Okay, if you tell me your name, I will find a way to free you. So the mountain lion said, ‘My name is Pancake.’”
“Wait,” Jonathan interrupted. “The lion’s name was Pancake?”
“Uncle Jon,” said Cailyn seriously. “It's a mountain lion. And yes, his name was Pancake. Why?”
Jonathan looked over at Eleanor, who stifled a laugh.
“Um,” he said. “No reason.”
“Okay,” said Cailyn. “So the girl said to the mountain lion, ‘Now Pancake, lay still,’ and she sat down on the ground near Pancake’s paws and started to pick at the knots with her little fingers. She worked and worked at it for a long, long time, until she had taken apart all the knots from around Pancake’s feet. Then she did the ones around his face. She was so close to Pancake’s mouth that she knew he could bite her head off, but he had said that he wouldn’t, so she kept undoing the knots. It was very hot with the sun beating down and the girl was very sweaty and thirsty and Pancake’s fur was like a huge rug that just came out of the dryer. Finally all the ropes were untangled. The girl’s fingers were sore and red, but when the giant mountain lion stood up and the ropes fell to the ground, she was happy that she had decided to help him. The sun was starting to set and the girl realized that she had spent the whole day untangling the ropes. Pancake bent down his head, because he was really tall, and put down his face to the girl’s face. ‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘I am forever in your debt.’”
“So Pancake didn’t gobble her up in one bite?” asked Jonathan.
“No,” said Cailyn. “In fact, he told her to get up on his back. ‘I will give you a ride home,’ he said to her. ‘But Pancake,’ said the girl. ‘I live on the other side of the valley. How will we get there before dark?’ But Pancake just crouched down, like a cat when it is going to jump on top of the TV stand and after the girl climbed on, he said, ‘Hold on tight,’ and he leaped into the air, so high that the birds flying home to their nests were startled, so high that he soared straight across the valley. The girl grabbed onto his fur. She held on very tight with her sore fingers. The wind blew in her hair and her skirt flowed out behind her. Pancake landed very close to where her the girl’s cottage was. She jumped down from his back and she patted him on the leg, ‘cause that’s only as high as she could reach when he was standing up. She said, ‘Will I see you again Pancake?’ and he said, ‘If you want, I will visit you on the last day of the month and take you for a ride.’ The girl thought she would like that a lot and she told him so. He promised that she would see him in a month, and then he disappeared into the dark forest.”
Jonathan sat up. “That was a good story. Did the mountain lion ever come back like he promised?”
Cailyn slid down on her pillows. She pulled the covers up to her shoulders. “Yeah,” she said. “He came back. He thought the girl would be waiting for him where he had left her outside the cottage, but she wasn’t. He looked in all the windows and a woman came out of the cottage with her broom and said, ‘Get out of here you monstrous beast!’ She waved the broom like she wanted to hit him with it. Pancake said, ‘I came to visit the human child who lives here.’ The woman yelled, ‘I don’t believe you. My daughter disappeared in the forest three weeks ago. You probably gobbled her up and came here to eat the rest of us!’ Pancake tried to tell her the truth, but she wouldn’t believe him and she kept waving her broom. So he leaped away into the forest. He decided that he would look for the girl. He looked for the rest of his life, asking everyone he met if they had seen a human child like the girl who had saved his life.”
“Did Pancake ever find her?” asked Jonathan.
Cailyn yawned. “No,” she said.
Eleanor stood, wiping her eyes. She leaned over the bed to smooth Cailyn’s hair. “It’s time to go to sleep.”
“Okay, Mama,” answered Cailyn. She rolled to one side, already drifting off.
Jonathan kissed his niece’s forehead. “Thanks for the story, Kiddo.”
“You’re welcome, Uncle Jon,” said Cailyn faintly.
Eleanor pulled the door open, Jonathan following her into the hall. Harvest was sitting at the top of the stairs with Baz and Pitchtongue.
“I liked that story,” said Baz.
“You would,” mocked Pitchtongue. “Flying pumas and contemporary dance costumes.” He snorted. “Why don’t you get a hobby?”
“Can you believe that imagination?” Jonathan whispered. “I forgot to ask her the name of the girl in the story.”
Harvest chuckled as he stood to make room for Eleanor and her brother to pass. “How does he not know?” he said to Eleanor.
“Madelyn,” Eleanor told her brother. “The story was about Madelyn.”