The Dandelion King: Chapter 3 and 4

The Dandelion King: Chapter 3 and 4

A Chapter by Tonks

A mother's traumatic experiences send her deep into the woods


3. The Cuckoo and the Magpie

The great spotted cuckoo bird has a chalky outer layer to its eggshell.  This is meant to prevent cracking as the egg is deposited rather hastily into the host’s nest in the early morning hours.  The host bird, a poor unsuspecting and hard working magpie, returns to the nest and cares for the cuckoo egg. If the magpie rejects the cuckoo egg, the cuckoo’s mother comes back and destroys her hard built nest and all her cared for eggs.  If the magpie leaves it, it will hatch first and push all her eggs out of the nest.  So what is the poor magpie to do? Maybe she doesn’t notice, and considers anything inside her nest to be her brood.  Maybe she resigns herself to raise the parasite, like a mafia wife, fooled into entering a life she cannot leave.  Perhaps she even grows to love the giant bird and, as she never knew her own offspring, considers its reliance on her mothering barter for her loss. 


Abby took her first step into the woods and paused.  She stood among the sumac's aggressive spring shoots, preparing to unfurl on the forest's border.  Ferns curled up from the ground, carved into turns like the heads of fiddles at her feet.  The ground was softening into the day's dawning warmth, but the air remained cold.  If she exhaled with her mouth wide, the vapor on her breath clung to the air like a white ghost and wafted wraith-like into the trees. 

Her body stayed motionless, the baby's as well.  She surveyed the morning's budding undergrowth with furtive shifts of her eyes as though her sanity had slunk somewhere in among the bright spring green.  If she stood very still, she might see it.  What am I doing? The question lingered as though she had spoken it out loud.  She moved then, bowing her head and laying her chin upon her collarbone to see her baby's face.  It was a beautiful face.  Her husband's brow hoisted above the ubiquitous amorphous squishy baby nose they all get and we all adore.  The eyes were still gray, although they were shut now. 

And yet, the doubt lingered.  She was unwilling to commit herself one way or another.  She had no evidence that her vision wasn't a hallucination.  All she had was a debilitating sense of urgency.  What was she going to do in the woods anyway? Any militant or aggressive approach would make her search harder.  She needed to go somewhere neutral, somewhere that satisfied her urgency and yet didn't commit her to insanity.  Her plan hatched like a sunrise in her mind and for the first time since her water broke, she knew what to do.


The Turner Public Library had housed first editions of New England settlers’ work, which carried little literary worth, but captured the era in their text, hand, typeset, and bindings.  Local historians would make pilgrimage to Vermont to consult and examine the library’s holdings, the rare incunabula, first - and often only - editions, which could not be found in all of New England.  It had also housed, until a fateful decision in the early nineteen hundreds, the bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Colonel Robert J. Turner.  One other mausoleum-library existed in New England, and had been built around the same time.  Perhaps the sister building’s location in heathen Providence spurred the residents of then very Christian-minded Randolph to move the dead to a proper place of repose.  A fire early in the twentieth-century claimed many of the library’s oddest holdings.  The renovation that followed allowed the residents and trustees the unforgiveable opportunity to move the final resting places of the Colonel and his wife to the nearby cemetery.  The building, despite the renovations and being freed of its once permanent residents, still glowered amid the downtown.  Its gloomy aura continued to exude an otherworldly sense of space, which made it the ideal place for Abby’s plan.


She arrived in step with the librarian, “We don't open, really, until eight.” Abby said nothing, she simply chewed her lip.  The woman's eyes read the expectant look on Abby's face and interpreted it as anxiety over her baby. She cooed and adored the baby appropriately, as though she measured out the amount of adulation necessary and then stopped. “But you can come in and read from the stacks if you like. I won't be able to help you check anything out for a little bit, while I open up and shelve, you know.”

Abby simply nodded.  She followed the librarian in and made her way to the card catalog.  The librarian flipped on the lights and turned on the reference computer before disappearing into the back of the office section.  She pulled a drawer in the aged wooden card catalog, flipped to subject references for faeries, fairies, fey folk, ferrish, elves, imps, changelings and sprites, and found that they all referenced the same section of the library, so she started reading the stacks and ultimately found the books in a literary section of the non-fiction wing.  She pulled a book, Faerie Lore, from the stacks and sat and pretended to read it. 

She spoke so softly that only her delicate ward strapped to her front, as though he were still inside, could hear.  “Hmm.  Chapter six, permanently exposing a changeling.  Okay.” She mocked flipping ahead to chapter six and pretended to scan for useful information.  The baby stirred and seemed to take interest in the book. “Hmm. Take a lock of fleece fresh from a lamb or a woolen yarn fresh with morning dew and tie a loop about the child's ear.” She continued, shifting the book as though actually reading, reviewing in her mind the words to use " which came to her with surprising alacrity.  “The suspect's ear will show its natural form at which point it must be severed from the imp's body with haste to force the elf to shed the assumed shape.” She pretended to deliberate over this made up section word by word.  Then she pulled a length of yarn from her sweater, still damp from the edge of the woods and began to wrap it about her baby's ear.  Nothing happened.

“Oh my.” she feigned.  “I wasn't hallucinating. This is awful.  I. It...” She pulled the knife from her bag and placed it beneath the baby's unchanged ear.  “Here goes...” She pressed the bluff.

“Hold!” Came a small voice from the tiny creature strapped to her front.  “My lovely ear, my lovely ear, no. No. Wait. Hold. Parlay, we can this to discuss. Discuss it we must it.”  The voice, while tiny, did not befit an infant.  It was a bit gruff, yet high pitched, like if an old seasoned cricket were to hang around in a singles' bar.  He struggled, but was bound so tightly he could not move.  Her bluff had worked.

“Give me my baby.” She whispered.

“I cannot.”

“Then what's to stop me?” She pressed the blade into the flesh below the ear again. 

“I cannot, for I have him not. Your spawn is gone, but not lost.” He hissed.

“You'll take me to him.”

“Yes, that I can, in a way.”

“What do you mean?”

“He is not lost, nor is he easy to find. There will be a cost for to return him for he is not mine to give.”

“Okay, who has him?” When he hesitated, she pressed the blade into his skin hard enough to leave a red mark.

His voice receded and his eyes dropped to the floor, as though he were deflating, then he whispered very softly, as if too fearful to say it any louder, “The Dandelion King.”

“You will take me to him.” She put away the knife and turned to go.  A sudden flurry of activity in the library's office indicated to her that she had been watched.  She bolted for the door and headed again for the woods.  Now her urgency was compounded by the likelihood that while her son was in fey danger, she herself was pursued by the police for pulling a knife on her infant. 


She clutched the burbling bundle to her chest and stole out the front doors.  She looked back from the top of the stairs to see how much of a jump on the prying librarian she may have managed.  As she turned, her extended foot found only air where she thought there was more of the granite landing.  She watched herself from a distant position, like from the clock tower across the street, place her befuddled foot firmly on the next step down, where it slipped forward.  Her head whipped around and she grabbed the baby tightly and held it as she laid herself backwards, supine upon the stair top. Her entire back from her shoulders to her coccyx landed simultaneously, her head following with a bump on the welcome mat.  Lying still, trembling, she breathed. A hug grew out of her grip and she rolled onto one side to inspect her prisoner.  She laughed a single snort out her nose as her baby took her finger in his tiny grasp and stuck it in his mouth.  She felt his tiny gums and looked down at his sparse hair.  Her eyes wandered to an intangible space and darted back and forth, as though along the bank of a stream she sought to ford.  I love him. Even if I am insane, even if I am right, I love him. Even if he isn't right. Even if I'm not right in the head, at least I know I love him. 


The walk to the woods took her back along the street she and her husband had fallen in love with. They had imagined bike rides and leisurely walks. There were signs of other children, and at the end of the street, the pavement turned to dirt, or mud, depending on the time of year, and continued past Turner's Woods. Here there was one last house before the road wound along, splintering into many thin logging roads until each evaporated altogether. She stood at the base of this watershed of civilization, where the ambling paths gained enough momentum to become a thoroughfare and don not only pavement but houses as well. She noticed this last house, her house, needed new paint on the second story. She thought about when she could get around to it, or " less likely " when she could get her husband to get to it.

Perhaps the walk had cleared her head, maybe the air had done her some good. She felt relieved to be distracted, to not be of one purpose for a moment. Perhaps she could put these hallucinations behind her and return to her home to calmly start the day anew. She could sit on the couch and wait for the baby to take her breast or not and then wait. The hours of idling between minuscule tasks left her vacant. Sentences had deteriorated so that when she tried to speak, her inner primordial grunt and point cave woman was more lucid than she was. She could sit on the couch and wait for him to smile, but she was sure it would be ages of the same pale colored walls and stained cushion covers with a nagging sensation, like the buzz of an alarm clock distant in a dream, that something was wrong and she had simply forgotten. She parked the stroller, re-steeled her resolve and strode along the dirt road, seeking entrance to the forest through the underbrush. Whether or not she had hallucinated, this was absolutely necessary.

She was aroused from her thoughts by the sounds of someone not too far behind her. Half startled, half embarrassed, she leapt, a bit prematurely, into the underbrush and found her fleecy outer layer stuck fast on the woody thorns of last year’s berries.




4. Wasps and Caterpillars

Stephen Jay Gould wrote about a tumultuous debate over the nature of god and the problem of evil, and whether the essence of god could be divined from the study of nature. The ichneumon wasp was at the center of the debate, as how could naturalists, apparently including Charles Darwin, and bishops assign any goodness, regardless of the amount of foresight, to its nefarious activities. She stings a caterpillar, then stabs her ovipositor into the back of the creature and delivers her cache of eggs into its back. Once the paralysis wears off, caterpillar shows no effect. He returns to foraging until, within a week, paper caskets, like mummies' wraps, form suddenly along his back, like spiny hairs. From the caskets emerge larval wasps, which burrow into the caterpillar and proceed to devour its insides, prioritizing with peccant precision to leave the vital organs in tact and the caterpillar living throughout the ordeal to the brood's last meal.

Does the wasp consider herself evil? Is she like the New York City subway station clerk who knows she's a b***h, but that's how the job gets done? Are her offspring " children seems too soft a word, are her spawn evil for engaging in the precision of survival for which they know no alternative? Would despeciation, an active pursuit of making the ichneumon family extinct for their vile practice, be a noble pursuit to eradicate evil?

The tale of the tortoise and the scorpion has many variations. The desert suffered a day of sudden rains, which caused flash floods to cascade down into the lowlands and wash out several feet of banks along otherwise dry streambeds. The tortoise emerged from his shady repose to see rushing water on every side of him, and the eroding banks of his neo-island were creeping hastily toward him. Out of a nearby hole jets a panicking scorpion. She races to each edge of their shrinking island. The tortoise considers wading or jumping or staying put as each equally treacherous, since he cannot swim, but could maybe push off with his stumpy feet or take a deep breath and so float it out. While he is paralyzed with indecision, the lady scorpion comes near. He backs away and steps into the water.

“Wait!” she cries. “Let me come with you,” she says as the water rises.

“Certainly not,” he replies, “you'd sting me, even if we make it alive, you'd kill me once we were out.”

She nears the end of the last bit of land, “I won't, you have my word!” So he lets her climb onto his shell and as the two of them bob helplessly along in the torrent, her stinger lashes out and strikes him in the soft flesh between his head and carapace.

“Why? Why would you do that?” He pleads as they drown, “now we both will surely die!”

 She replies, “It is my nature.”



© 2010 Tonks

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Added on March 11, 2010
Last Updated on March 14, 2010
Tags: Nature, evolution, biology, fairies, childbirth, mother, PTSD



Granity, VT

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