Once upon a time, in a kingdom so magical it was called The Magic Kingdom — but that name was spoken only in whispers because of trademark issues — the magical king and the magical queen were having a tiff.
Now, a tiff is a little more serious than a disagreement but less serious than a row, but the thing about disagreements is they can lead to a tiff, and the thing about a tiff is they can lead to a row, so the best course is to settle things before one thing leads to another.
And so the magical daughter stepped in to say, “Mother, Father, please don’t let this tiff spoil this magical day. Surely you can find common ground or a middle solution.”
“How can such a big problem have a little solution?” asked the king, who was hard of hearing.
“You old coot, she said ‘middle’ with an M,” the queen sputtered. “And how can you say this is a big problem? It’s fiddlesticks and froo fram.”
“So you’ve been saying,” the king muttered. “You never listen to me.”
On they sputtered and muttered until they were all puttered out. Then they smiled at each other and held hands.
“That’s better!” cried the magical daughter. “I’m so glad that’s settled.”
“We haven’t settled anything,” said the king.
“But you’re holding hands,” the daughter said. “You have your love, and love settles everything.”
“You are still young, and learning,” said the queen, “and have not yet learned that sometimes love isn’t enough.”
“Oh, but you are old, and forgetful,” the daughter replied, “and what you have forgotten is that love is all you need.”
At that the king leaned over and purred something into the queen’s ear that made her giggle. She kissed him, and he kissed her, and they wrapped their arms around each other, and quickly they both forgot what the tiff was about in the first place.
“Perhaps you should get a room,” suggested the magical daughter.
Cuteness Eversweet drew back her bow and eyed the target carefully. A hummingbird buzzed around a lilac bush.
Cuteness let the arrow fly, and a moment later a sudden shaft protruded from the center of a bull’s eye planted under a tree. Startled, the hummingbird darted away.
“Oh, I’m sorry, little one,” she said. “Don’t worry, no one’s going to hurt you on my watch.”
Cuteness Eversweet loved all living things in equal measure. Well, fine, she did not apologize to carrots when she chopped and diced them. But Cuteness loved animals and was a diehard vegetarian. Her friends stopped inviting her to dinner because of the sad faces she made as they savored their ribeyes.
One day a hungry bear approached Cuteness Eversweet in the forest. She led the bear to a raspberry bush, then a beehive brimming with honey, but the bear kept eying Cuteness like her friends eyed juicy hamburgers.
“Can’t we come to some agreement not to eat each other?” Cuteness Eversweet asked.
“Let me think about that for a second,” said the bear. “Um — no.”
So Cuteness sadly picked up a large stick and clubbed the bear on the side of his head. The great beast dropped like a stone, unconscious.
“I suppose you’re going to eat him now,” said the hummingbird.
“Goodness, no, of course not,” said Cuteness Eversweet.
“But I am,” said a hunter who suddenly appeared, wielding a great hunting knife with which to dispatch the bear.
Before he could do any such thing, however, Cuteness bashed him in the side of the head, too.
Now she had a dilemma: Two carnivores, side by side, unconscious, and likely more than willing to devour each other once they awoke. Also, both of them were too big for her to drag one or the other to safety.
She set to work with rope that the archery range coincidentally had stockpiled in its storage shed, and when they awoke the bear and the hunter were surprised to find themselves securely tied.
“If I release you, I want you both to walk away and leave the other in peace,” Cuteness told them.
“Are you crazy? I’m a hunter,” said the hunter. “I shoot bears.”
“And I’m a bear,” said the bear. “I eat people.”
“I sincerely wish you would not,” said Cuteness Eversweet.
“Yeah, well, if wishes were horses, then beggars would ride,” said the bear.
Suddenly a horse appeared, and a huge white-haired bearded man dismounted.
“Why it’s Duke X. Machina,” cried the hunter.
“That’s me,” said the duke. “And you two must depart these woods in peace, for I have so decreed.
Grumbling, the hunter and the bear skulked away in opposite directions.
“Thank you for resolving my dilemma, Duke,” Cuteness Eversweet said gratefully.
“It was my pleasure, milady,” said Duke X. Machina.
“I love a happy ending,” the hummingbird hummed.
And come to think of it, they all did live happily ever after.
All the realities swirled around his brain as he dug in the garden removing weeds. The flowers that bloom in the spring tra la needed room to breathe, and the weeds were encroaching.
Suddenly, after he pulled a weed he knew vaguely as a whimsy root, a vast hole opened and he tumbled down a sudden underground slide that deposited him 20? 50? 100? feet below ground in a vast room that should have been pitch black but instead glowed with a warm but eerie glow.
“Step forth, young man,” said a voice from nowhere that came from everywhere at once. “Yes, you, with the dirt on your hands.”
He stepped timidly toward the voice — that is to say, he stood stock still, because he had no idea where the voice originated.
“Where am I?” he said once he found his voice again.
He heard the melodies. He felt the rhythms. He smelled fresh lilacs and tasted mint. And all the world burst forth from on the page.
Tensions, pent up, eased. His shoulders relaxed, having never sensed their tightness.
The cascading waterfall in his chest slowed to a trickle.
“So, this is peace,” he whispered, and was well.
A respite from the rush of frantic need, the quiet nearly overwhelmed him until he sank into it and allowed it to surround his troubled soul, to comfort him with its nothing. He scarcely had noticed the weight until it was lifted, and now this freedom astonished him with its lightness.
He heard the scratch at the corner of his consciousness, and he knew the relief was temporary. One by one, the troubles would settle on his shoulders again, but now he knew what it felt like to shrug them off, and perhaps he would learn to shrug.
“Bring me back,” he cried in his sleep. “Bring me back.”
“Floyd, wake up,” said his groggy wife. “You’re talking in your sleep.”
“Oh. What? Yeah,” Floyd said, as he responded to her entreaty and woke up. “Wow, that was so real.”
“No, it wasn’t,” she said. “I saw. You were right here all along.”
“You know what I mean, Jen. I was walking down the street in some city —”
“No, it was a bright sunny day. And this guy comes up, grabs my arm, and says, ‘Come with me,’ and I says, ‘I don’t want to come with you, I got things to do,’ and he just hangs on and says, ‘Come with me.’”