Investment Opportunities

Prince Ferdinand was traveling through the woods when he saw the most amazing sight. An older woman was climbing up a tower using someone’s hair as a rope. He waited until the woman climbed back down and was preparing to leave.

“Wait, Madam,” he said. “I have a few questions for you.”

The woman turned and scowled. “Well?”

“That hair, that impossibly long, strong, lustrous hair. How did you do it? Is it a potion or spell? Is it repeatable?”

Her eyebrows raised. “It’s a potion.”

The prince smiled widely. “That’s excellent. Would you be willing to take a few minutes to discuss a business opportunity? Let me introduce myself. I’m Prince Ferdinand.”

“Hazel,” the woman said.

Twenty minutes later, they were sitting in the tower drinking tea. The long-haired girl was staring at the prince.   “Don’t mind her,” Hazel said.   “She doesn’t get out much. Now tell me about this business opportunity.”

“Gladly,” the prince said. “It isn’t widely known that in years past, my family had fallen on some hard times.   The last few kings really weren’t careful with money. They bought ridiculous things like solid gold grandfather clocks that can’t be resold at anywhere near market value.”

“Um, that’s terrible?” the long-haired girl said.

“Hush, Rapunzel,” Hazel said. “Go on, then.”

“Well, it’s fallen to me to increase our fortunes. Through careful investments, we’re on the mend.   However, I’m always on the lookout for a good investment opportunity. You, madam, are gleaming with potential.” The prince raised his teacup to her.

“I am?” Hazel asked. “What do you mean?”

“Do you know how much people would pay to be able to guarantee long, strong, beautiful hair?” He waved a hand at the hair filling the room. “It’s amazing. Obviously, you’d need to weaken the formula a bit, but you could be famous for something like this. And very rich. I’d provide start up costs and such, for a percentage of the profits of course.”

“I hadn’t even considered… I don’t know…Rich and famous?” Hazel tapped a finger on the table.

“Rapunzel is it?” The prince asked. Rapunzel nodded her head.   “Rapunzel would make an excellent hair model. We could find a hairstylist to be your spokesperson and together they could sell the product, freeing up your time for lab work and such.” He paused and looked at Rapunzel again. He frowned.   “Is there a reason she stays in the tower?”

Hazel looked embarrassed. “I was angry at her parents for stealing from me and demanded the baby in return.   I didn’t really want the baby.   What do I know about babies? But they didn’t counteroffer or anything, just handed her over. It was terrible. So I kept her up here to keep her safe when I’m away.  Of course now I love her dearly.”

The prince nodded. “We’ll have to put a different spin on it of course for the media. Perhaps she could start out as your assistant until she’s ready to interact more with the public.”

“Could I go to school?” Rapunzel asked.

“We could probably arrange tutors or something,” the prince said. “What do you think, Hazel?”

“Oh, I don’t know, I suppose so,” the woman said.

“Excellent.” The prince clapped his hands together and smiled. “I can draw up a contract and return here in a week. Think of any terms you’d like to suggest. Would you like me to bring a lawyer to answer any questions?”

“Um, yes please,” Hazel said.

“Well then,” the prince said. He stood up. Hazel and Rapunzel stood too, and he shook their hands. “Before I go, have you given any thought to hair dye? Does your formula include a detangler or is it separate? Oh, I can see I’m going to need to write up a list of questions.”

“That would be fine,” Hazel said. She and Rapunzel watched the prince climb down the tower.

“I’ll be back in a week with my lawyer,” he said.

“That was so exciting,” Rapunzel said. “What’s a lawyer?”

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A Strange Request

Betsy trudged down the dirt path. In the past year, her family had died and she’d lost her job. Now all she owned could fit in her backpack and she couldn’t even afford to pay bus fare. Well, it just meant she was probably due a bit of good luck soon.

The path wandered through the woods. The trees were tall and the light was dim. Betsy rounded a turn and saw someone slumped over at the base of an old, dead tree.   As she walked closer, the person slowly stood. It was an old woman.

The woman’s cheeks were lumpy and her eyes were sunken in. Her hair was white and wispy and stuck out all over. She was holding a blue gingham apron tightly in her hands.

“Young lady,” she said.   “You look strong and kind. Could you help me? I’ll reward you well.”
“What do you need?” Betsy asked.

“This tree is hollow,” the old woman said. “If you climb up and lower yourself down, you’ll see three rooms.   In one there is a dog with eyes as big as salt shakers. He sits on a chest of copper coins. In the next there is a dog with eyes as big as bicycle tires. He sits on a chest of silver coins. In the last, there is a dog with eyes as big as a lighthouse.   He sits on a chest of gold coins.”

“Eyes that big seem rather implausible,” Betsy said.

“And yet they are,” the old woman said. “The dogs won’t hurt you if you show them my apron. If you put it on the ground, you can lift them onto it so that you can open the chests. Take what you want.”

“And what do you need?” Betsy asked again.

“My tinderbox. It was my grandmother’s.”

“What’s a tinderbox?” Betsy asked.

“It’s a little metal box with flint and wood and such inside. It’s used to start fires,” The old woman said.

“So how am I supposed to lower myself down into the tree?”
“I have a rope.” The old woman picked up a cloth bag that had been leaning against the tree. She pulled out a rope that must have filled the small bag. The bag didn’t look any less full. “I can hold the end for you while you climb down.”

Betsy shook her head. “I’ll tie it to one of those thick looking branches. That way I won’t have to worry about your arms getting tired.   I’ll leave my pack here and put your apron in my pocket.”

The old woman handed over the apron and Betsy climbed up the tree and secured the rope to a branch. She carefully climbed down the inside of the tree, holding the rope tightly.

There was a stone room underneath the tree, lit by hundreds of lamps. A little round metal box stood against the wall in a pile of dead leaves, as though it had been dropped through the hollow tree and left there. Betsy picked it up and walked down the hallway. There were three doors, all with keys sticking out of the locks.

Betsy checked the first. There was a big-eyed dog sitting on a chest. She checked the next. This dog on a chest had unbelievably big eyes. She checked the last room. She almost closed the door again. How was it possible for a dog to have eyes that big?

She cautiously waved the apron and laid it at its feet. She shuffled the scary dog onto the apron and opened the chest.   It was indeed filled with gold.   Finally some good luck.

So, how much was she willing to pay herself for helping an old woman for less than an hour? It seemed mean to rob her blind just because the old woman was desperate. Betsy grabbed a handful of coins and felt a little guilty as she put them in her pocket.

She shifted the dog back and picked up the apron and the box. She tied the apron around the box and tied it to her belt loop. Then, she climbed back out of the tree. The old woman was waiting at the bottom of the tree, hands clasped together.

“Did you get my tinderbox?” she asked.

“Yes. I grabbed some gold too,” Betsy said. “Would you like some?”   She started to climb down the tree.

“No thank you, dear,” the old woman said. “Just the box.” Betsy untied the apron and handed it back to the old woman with the tinderbox. The moment the old woman had it back in her hands, she began to change.

She somehow melted into a young woman Betsy’s age, with black curly hair and dark brown eyes. The apron and box melted together into a tall wooden staff. “Finally!” the young woman said. “Thank you. What’s your name? I think we’ve completely forgotten introductions.”

“I’m Betsy. What happened to you?”

“I’m Griselda, but call me Rizzie. I had a great job working as a member of the palace staff. It gave me access to their library and I learned a lot.   When I was ready to move on, I decided to try out one of my new spells. I baked a bunch of live blackbirds in a pie. When the king touched it with the knife, they burst out singing.”

“Wow! So what happened?”

“The royal mage charmed one of the birds to find the culprit. It came and bit my nose. Then he locked my magic and set up that awful task. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t come along,” Rizzie said.

“And the dogs? And chests and such?”

“Just one really.” She whistled and a normal looking dog appeared next to her. It wagged its tail. “The money was all the money I had in the bank.” She waved her staff and muttered something.   “It should be in my bag now, except what you took. And the staff really was my Grandmother’s. Thank you again.”

“So, where are you going next?” Betsy asked.

“I’m not sure,” Rizzie said.

“I hear there’s a kingdom nearby where the crazy king locked up his daughter because a seer said she’d marry a commoner,” Betsy said.

“Well, that’s stupid. Why not just hold a ball and choose who you invite? He’s just asking for a crazy risk-taker to run away with her,” Rizzie said.

“Care to see if we could go straighten things out?” Betsy asked.

“Sounds like fun,” Rizzie said. “But stop me if I want to play a trick on the king. That didn’t work so well the last time.”

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The Piano

The piano was very lonely. The Jones family put the Christmas tree up in the room with the television this year.   Then they spent the holidays in there watching movies and playing video games.

No one came in to visit. Not even to sing Silent Night or to try to pick out the melody of a cartoon theme song. It seemed like they’d forgotten him completely.

The piano hoped that after Christmas, things would return to normal. But, even with the tree gone, the family didn’t come back. That was it, he decided. It was time to remind them of all the fun times they’d had together.

He slipped down the hall, passing the room where the television was making terrible noises. It sounded painful. He paused outside the kitchen. Mrs. Jones was humming and doing dishes.

Oh, he recognized that tune. Mrs. Jones played it often. The piano started to play along. Mrs. Jones looked up. The piano hid behind the corner before she could turn around. When he heard footsteps, he scurried down the hall and waited in place.

“I thought I heard…” Mrs. Jones said. She looked around. “I guess not.” She sat down and started to play. Success!

She eventually went back to the dishes, but the piano was pleased. One down, three to go. Take that, noisy television.

When Mr. Jones went down the hall to change, the piano followed quietly. It softly played Broadway show tunes outside the door and then hurried back to wait.   Mr. Jones came back down the hall singing.

He sat at the piano and sang loudly. Baby Amanda came in and clapped and giggled. Mrs. Jones sat in the armchair and started knitting. The piano felt warm and cozy and part of the family again.

All too soon, it was dinnertime and the family left again. The piano was alone. He played softly to himself and thought.   There had to be some way to remind James and Jordan to come practice.

The next morning, the piano waited by the television room and played cartoon themes. There was no reaction. He played the theme of Jordan’s favorite television show. “Did you hear that?” James asked.

“Nope,” Jordan said.

The piano played a dissonant chord in disgust. He tried playing some scales as an unsubtle hint.   James turned up the television.   The piano played a sad little tune in a minor key and shuffled sadly down the hall.

When he reached his room, baby Amanda was waiting.   She clapped her hands and squealed.   “Piano,” she said. Then she started stomping on his pedals and pounding on his keys.

Ouch! This was alarming. Wasn’t anyone going to come save him? If he broke would they chop him up for firewood? Would he never play Silent Night again?

Then an angelic voice floated down the hall from the kitchen. “James, go get the baby,” Mrs. Jones said.

“Fine,” James said. He started stomping across the hall.

“And while you’re in there, practice the piano,” Mrs. Jones said.

“But Mom,” James said.

“You’ve had over a week off. You don’t want to start losing all your hard work.”

James took Amanda away and returned. He grumbled at first, but finally relaxed and started playing. Jordan was sent in to practice next. The piano was happy. He had all his family back. Thank you, Mrs. Jones!

That evening, the piano played softly to himself and thought. There had to be some way to teach Amanda to play nicely. This might be the toughest problem yet, but he wouldn’t give up.

Two weeks later he gave up. Babies only learn things when they’re ready to learn them.   The best thing to do is wait.   And try to hide his keys when he sees her coming.

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Charlie’s Room: Homework

Isaac woke up feeling cold.   It was the kind of cold that made him curl up and shiver. “What’s wrong?” Marianne asked.

“It’s cold,” Isaac said. His throat was sore and it hurt to talk. He coughed. Ouch.

Marianne checked his forehead. “I think you have a fever. Let me get the thermometer.”

“Could you bring me another blanket?” Isaac asked.   He buried his head under the blankets.   That made it hard to breathe, but it was warmer.

Marianne brought several blankets and the thermometer.   “Yep, a fever. You’ll need to call in sick. I’ll go get some medicine.”

“My throat hurts too,” Isaac said.

“Oh dear,” Marianne said. “I have a lot of errands to run today. I’ll buy the ingredients for chicken soup while I’m out.”
“I’ll call work,” Isaac said. He called in sick and curled up under a heavy pile of blankets.

“Dad!” Charlie yelled. Isaac woke up out of a strange dream where telephones were taking over the world.

“Charlie?” Isaac struggled to wiggle back out of the pile of blankets and sit up. Wow, now he was feeling much too hot. Why did he have so many blankets?

“Dad, my homework is gone. I left it on my desk last night and now it’s gone,” Charlie said.

“You didn’t put it in your backpack?”

Charlie sighed. “I wasn’t sure on some of the answers.   I was going to ask you to check it, but I forgot. Now it’s gone.”

“I’ll write you a note,” Isaac said. He scribbled out a note that he hoped made sense.

“Can you look for it and bring it to me if you find it?” Charlie asked.

“We’ll see,” Isaac said. He handed Charlie the note and kicked off the blankets. He drank the cup of water that somehow appeared on the nightstand, and curled up again and fell asleep.

He woke up mostly feeling better. He felt all sweaty and icky and his throat hurt, but his head no longer felt like it was packed full of cotton balls. He got up and shuffled into the kitchen for another drink of water.

On the way back to his room, he passed Charlie’s room.   Hmmmm. Maybe the homework had just fallen behind the desk or something. He went in to check.

He paused. Charlie had a photo of his Grandfather Charlie on his desk.   Marianne must have given it to him.   Isaac picked up the picture of his father, looking much younger. He would have been sixty-seven today.

Isaac picked up the picture, feeling sad. His father had been a schoolteacher, and in the picture he was at his desk correcting papers. He was looking up and smiling at the camera. Isaac imagined his dad was smiling at him.

His dad winked. Isaac blinked and looked at the picture. His dad seemed to smile a little wider and lifted the paper he was holding, just a bit. Isaac squinted. Was that Charlie’s homework?

Isaac laughed. Ouch. His throat still hurt. “Thanks for looking out for Charlie,” he whispered. “I love you, dad. Just leave his homework on his desk when you’re done.”

He hugged the photo to his chest tightly and then put it back on Charlie’s desk. He waved and maybe his dad nodded back. He went back to bed and fell asleep.

He woke up to Charlie jumping onto to the end of the bed with a thump. “Thanks for finding and checking my homework, dad,” he said. “The teacher says I can turn it in tomorrow.”

“It wasn’t me. It was your Grandpa Charlie,” Isaac said.

“Oh, are you still feeling sick?” Charlie said.   “I’ll go get mom.”
“Tell her I want a photo of Grandpa Charlie for my desk too,” Isaac said.   Then he snuggled back under the blankets and tried to decide if he was ready to get up.

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Food Fairies

“Simon,” Janet said, “Stop eating pieces of that candy house. You know better. Who knows what they put in it to preserve it?”

Simon brushed the gingerbread crumbs off his shirt. “It’s dad’s fault. What was with his ‘you take the high road and I’ll take the low road’ nonsense? If he didn’t know the way home, we should have stuck together,” Simon said.

“I hate hiking.” Janet sat on a rock. “Stop it now, Simon. A candy house that big is unnatural.”

Simon bit the top off a candy cane and grinned. “Witches aren’t real, Janet. You won’t need to push anyone into an oven.”

“Maybe not, but something bad always happens in movies when the group splits up,” Janet said.

“That’s true.” Simon dropped the candy cane and backed away from the house. “Let’s get going again before it gets dark.”

An old woman, dressed in black, appeared in a cloud of smoke. “It’s too late children,” she said. “I have caught you eating my house and now you’ll have to work to pay for damages.”

“We’re still minors,” Janet said. She began to back away. “You’ll have to talk to our father first.”

Simon turned and started to run. Janet followed him. The old lady laughed and cages appeared and fell on the children, trapping them inside.

“If she has the materials to make giant metal cages, why is she building her house out of gingerbread?” Simon asked.

“That’s what you’re worried about?”

“No. But, wouldn’t it get sticky when it rains? And the effort to keep it all fresh…” Simon said.

“Silence!” The old lady said, smacking the metal bars with a black cane that she hadn’t had a moment before.

“But I babble when I’m nervous,” Simon said. “Ask anybody.”

“It’s true,” Janet said.

“Then I will leave you out in the cage, and your sister can help me with the housework,” The old lady said.

“That’s a terrible idea. Janet breaks dishes when she washes them, and she burns toast,” Simon said.

“Well, she’d better learn quickly, or else,” the old lady said.

A green mist filled the clearing. “I’ve found you, gingerbread fairy. Your partner, the potato chip fairy has already been captured and returned to his cell,” a voice said. The mist cleared. The old woman and her house had vanished.

In their place stood a tiny, half-eaten gingerbread house and a little person with wings dressed in a brown dress with embroidered candy accents.   Obviously this was the gingerbread fairy.

A fairy in green with a poofy skirt was putting handcuffs on the gingerbread fairy. As they clicked into place, the gingerbread fairy, the candy house, and the cages all disappeared.   The fairy in green fluttered over.

“Are you all right?” she asked.

“Who are you? Is your hair naturally green?” Simon asked.

“Simon!” Janet said. She turned.   “Um, thank you for saving us, Ma’am.”

“Just doing my job. I’m the broccoli fairy. We food fairies get power when humans eat our totems. Always eat your broccoli, kids. And avoid junk food. It’s evil,” the tiny fairy said. Then she disappeared.

“Did that really happen?” Janet asked.

“She didn’t answer my question about her hair. Now I’ll never know,” Simon said. He frowned.

“Come on Simon, let’s go meet dad,” Janet said. “Did I mention I hate hiking?”

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