The Dandelion King: Chapter 5 and 6

The Dandelion King: Chapter 5 and 6

A Chapter by Tonks

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


5. Mailboxes and Mosquitoes

He dug his nails into his thin ankle skin with wilderness at his claw. He peeled away layer upon layer of skin around the swelling puncture, where the mosquito had pierced his defenses. Along his route, Bob the Mailman often would stop to breath in the day, to let a fanciful thought worm its way into, through, and out of his mind, before continuing on his way. Because of his propensity for pondering, Bob the Mailman had convinced himself that if he walked faster, the bugs wouldn't get him, and that he'd rather have bug bites than cancer from the DEET or unknown effects of its gentler replacements. He believed it, and that if he wore his socks pulled up over his astonishingly well-developed calves, almost to his knees, they couldn't get him. It was a bit of a comical look, without the uniform he'd seem to be out of his time, like the kid from Leave it to Beaver who gets sucker punched by crew cuts " but being the only walking mail carrier for Randolph, Bob the Mailman's anachronism set the standard for mail carriers. Those less traveled, which was most of the population, might think that the US government had within its more irregular laws a dress code for our delivery assistants that included knee-highs with shorts, as though the shorts were a concession mitigated by requiring the socks to be pulled up.

He couldn’t finish a single thought. Then he would likely start remembering whether that was an episode of Leave it to Beaver, or some other childhood program. He would have enjoyed washing windows or any occupation that indulged his tacit and thoughtful nature.

Truth is, people don't talk to their mail carriers. When they do, it is always one of the same three conversations. The weather conversation, for which he has developed about fifteen witty one-liners that he employs depending on the day; election and tax time conversations, which generally require no response " people just want to hear their thoughts out loud, so they use him; and animal conversations for when that doggy smells the treats he carries and remembers to get a head scratch from him " for these the treat is the bulk of the conversation followed by, “You like that, doncha, doncha, Doncha,” with the ‘donchas’ getting progressively more inane and breathy until the dog tries to lick his mouth, as dogs do.

            So he spends most of his route in his head and will find himself on someone's porch, stupefied, statuesque, unaware of his pause. Awakening to the hum of a female mosquito at a 20-cent sharp G, landing on the soft skin between his temple and ear lobe. She was one a brood hatched into futility by the heavy rain and now dying in the morning’s cold. Her nuisance had bought one of her billion sisters enough time to penetrate his ineffective ankle protection. He waves her away from his ear and descends from the porch, wondering mildly if anyone had seen him staring like an idiot.

            Immediately he would forget to be embarrassed as he remembered the time in high school when his idiotic dream-stoned state left his eyes pointing at Mary Nydig's bulging sweater and the hell he caught for it, considering her popularity and his, well, ugliness.

            Alone, each of Bob the Mailman's features could have been forgiven on a child fortunate enough to possess just one, but together, the sticky-outty ears, the pointed hooked nose, the protuberant eyes, the thin lips, the feminine eyelashes, the bushy and nearly connecting eyebrows made a hideous amalgamation upon his face. His lithe, wiry form begged for some more meat upon his bones, except, that is, from behind. His calf muscles were a cyclist’s, a rock climber’s, or a Stair-master mistress's dream. They were rock hard with crisp definition, even through his pulled up gym whites. They were something to be proud of, except that, oddly, he couldn't see them. Of course he could physically bend himself, use mirrors, or lift his leg in a contorted way to see his own leg, but he could not see himself for his appearance. Perhaps as a preservation mechanism, the brain of a young, sensitive, thoughtful, introspective, and mildly intelligent yet ugly boy disconnects the ability to judge one's own appearance. It's not that he thought he was good-looking, he simply couldn't give it any thought. A mirror was for checking to see if he had a booger on his nose, if his bed-head seemed unprofessional, if he needed to shave, or if he had salad in his teeth.

            If the combination of his occupation and his appearance didn't isolate Bob the Mailman enough, he lived alone as well " with of course a cat, as required by the introspective thoughtful persona, and a fish. Each of their names evolved each week through tiny cute alterations of the previous weeks' names, then punctuated by a sudden shift when an event would garner a new obvious name, like Bubbles to Bubbly to Bumpity to Mr. Bumps to suddenly Mr. Dirty Bowl and then Mr. Clean and so on.

            His ankle started to bleed from scratching. He didn't notice until halfway down the porch stairs, when he wiped his nose and smelled the cold iron smell of blood on his fingernails. At the bottom step, he pulled his long, white sock back up and noticed a small bleb of blood seeping through and growing ever so slightly in size. He sighed at the thought of laundry and continued on his route. Now thinking, unfortunately for him, about his route. He had done both sides of the street on his way out along the road toward the edge of Turner's Woods, which might allow him a long uninterrupted walk back to the cross street.  He glanced up and noticed that this last house needed some paint on the second story.

Then he noticed that there was a woman with a baby strapped to her chest caught in the brambles along the logging road, where he knew there were no more houses, but because of the very same lack of houses, or mailboxes, didn’t know what there was.

The choice to deviate from his daily path felt akin to an Olympic long distance runner not turning at the end of the track. Bob the Mailman’s mind was no longer free to roam, but had to focus on what his body was doing and where it was going. He approached her and was uncomfortably uncertain about when to greet her. She saw him and appeared to try harder to force her way through the brambles, which resulted in becoming further ensnared.

“Wait, hello, uh, here, let me help.”

“No, I’m fine, I just need to "”

“Well, take your scarf off, and then it’s really just your bag, and " well, you can probably pull your leg free now.” She ripped her leg through the last of the brambles and stood on the other side. She felt blood wet her jeans to her ankle. Bob the Mailman, who she had barely met when they moved in, stood fixated on the imp strapped to her front, his hands unconsciously picked at the thorns fixing her scarf to the forest underbrush.

“Where did you find that…?” He realized what he might have just said, thing, and stumbled some more, “Is that your, I mean, is it your baby?”  He cringed, he had emphasized baby in a way that challenged whether or not it was a baby, not whether or not it was her baby.

She stymied the urge to bolt into the woods. “You can see it?” She had to find out.

“Well, I mean, yeah.”

“I mean, it doesn’t look like a little pink babe to you.”


She looked at him on the other side of the thicket. Her mind reeled while her gaze fixed on his soft, distant eyes. She worked back through why she was here. Against all rational or reasonable explanations, she had to dash into the woods for her baby’s life. She thought through her reasons, ‘That dream I had " it spoke! " The crazy old woman this morning " the eggshell thing, and now the mailman can see clearly what I glimpsed in the kitchen.’

She looked at him on the other side of the thicket. He was not her hero. He would be company, but she did not want company. This she had to do alone, and certainly not with that guy. “Thanks.” As she turned and walked briskly into the woods, dodging branches and stepping over logs, she heard him call to her. She steeled her resolve and picked up the pace, finding a rabbit trail and breaking into a jog. When she finally glanced back, he was completely obscured by beech, maple, and the occasional larch.







6. Heroes and Ravens

“Have you ever felt like you had to do something that might get you really hurt, but you went ahead and did it because you had to?”

He adjusted the rear-view mirror so that it framed Ellis’ face, and then down shifted as he came off the interstate. If he had a second mirror, the two faces, his and Ellis’ face, would look like the same person as a boy and man, even their eyes were the same mysterious green gold.  They spent enough time together that they had the same expressions, too. Bruce had a permanent wrinkle on his right cheek from the same snickering sideways smile that crept up Ellis’ mouth when he was being clever or up to no good.

“What do you mean by, ‘had to’?” He asked. His heart glowed at the thought of another good conversation with his son. For the moment they weren’t rushing from swim lessons to soccer practice or other youth activity.

“Well, have you ever known that someone might get hurt and that you were the only person that could stop them from getting hurt?”

Bruce thought about his wife’s frail heart since Ellis’s birth. “Or that your actions and memories were the only ones that could help someone who was sick?”

“I guess so. Except, no. I mean, have you ever put yourself in danger, like you might get hurt, to help someone else?”

Bruce thought and realized that he hadn’t done a single heroic thing. He remembered watching someone’s pickup truck pop out of gear, roll over a gas pump and burst into flames and although he was close enough to stop it, something about his calm calculating nature made him observe instead of act. He remembered watching the bullies in eighth grade throw Scott Siderly in the snow and knock Alex Ross’s clarinet case out of his hand to burst open on the sidewalk and scatter its ebony contents on the salted pavement and being thankful that it wasn’t him. Instead of answering, he said, “Why do you ask?”

“Well I was thinking of a Clem story.”

Bruce’s eyes lit up, he loved his son’s creative streak. They had read nearly forty stories by a pair of obscure authors about a brave boy named Clem and when they ran out of stories, Ellis had started making them up himself.

“But I don’t know if it makes sense for Clem to put himself into danger not knowing if he will come back out. I know that he’s brave, but would you go somewhere that you might die just to help someone out of trouble, not danger, just trouble, not knowing how it might go?” 

“Let me hear your Clem story.”

“Okay, well, it was like this. Sleeks, Clem’s school chum, came racing into the village tavern one day shouting that trolls had stolen all the village’s sheep while out at pasture. Since he had done this two or three times that week, no one in the square did anything more than look at him and go back to work. He rushed up to Clem, who looked at him with pity.

“‘You ought to stop doing that,’ said Clem, ‘people won’t trust you ever again.’

“Sleeks grabbed at Clem’s vest and said, ‘You can help, you have to come quick!’

“Clem thought about this and realized that the other times Sleeks had played his trick it was to get Clem’s mother to leave her sweet rolls unattended. This time, Sleeks was asking just for Clem’s help, and Clem didn’t make very good sweet rolls. He did make good berry ‘shine, which made people tell him what he asked, but regretted not having made any for today. He agreed to come, but wanted to get some supplies at home first.

“Sleeks said, ‘It’s not far, it would be faster if we just ran.’  The suggestion to run was uncharacteristic of Sleeks-”

Bruce blurted out, “Did you just say uncharacteristic?”

“Yes,” said Ellis and pride crept up one side of his face into a wry grin. “Anyway, Since Sleeks would never suggest running, Clem was convinced that there really was a problem and he followed Sleeks immediately toward the Smoking Mountain.

“They came to a cave in the bottom of the mountain and saw the trolls herding the last of the sheep into the cave. In the bushes, Clem whispered to Sleeks, ‘I know those trolls " those are the same two trolls that lost a bet to us over the caber-toss they tried to rig. What could they be up to?’

“They crept closer, ducked behind a hollow log and listened carefully.

“One troll was counting, ‘Thirty-eight…thirty-nine…thirty-ten. We never going to have forty sheep for waking up Great One.’ 

“The other troll was licking his lips and drool shone down his decayed teeth, ‘Then why not us be eating them?’

“‘Because that is not the plan for how we get all the villagers to do what we say all the time, rockhead,’ said the one that was counting. ‘Pointy-nose-man say we need forty sheep to wake up Great One and when Great One come, we get to rule all people in village.’

“‘I know what Pointy-nose say, I was there, rockhead.’ Clem stopped listening for a minute to think about what he had just heard. There was only one pointy-nosed man he knew of who would want to trick trolls into stealing sheep. But he wondered what the Viceroy’s plan was when no Great One showed up. Clem looked at the hollow log they were hiding behind and had an idea. He immediately told Sleeks what he needed to do.

“Moments later a great pounding noise came from the forest. Clem burst out of the woods running as fast as he can and ran straight into one of the trolls at the mouth of the cave. ‘Oh, no!’ He said.

“‘Oh yes! This is going to be very good for us!’ Said the troll.

“‘Not you, the sheep! Not more sheep! Quick, get rid of them!’ Clem nearly shrieked. The trees just beyond the clearing’s edge started to sway. They swayed so hard they looked like they might break. The trolls looked at each other.  Clem ran back away from the cave, but suddenly he was lifted up in the air, almost off his feet, and thrown to the ground by something invisible and enormous. He tried to get up but was lifted by his wrist, dangling so his toes just touched the ground.

“‘Please, Great One, please, let me be. I meant to please you when I brought you the sheep, the Viceroy tricked me, I only wanted to "’ Clem said as he was dashed to the ground again. He was slowly lifted up by the ankle and dangled by one leg, only his hands still touched the ground. ‘Please, help me!’ Both trolls were watching Clem eagerly when a great voice bellowed out.

“‘How dare you bring me sheep, I am tired of sheep. I have eaten four hundred sheep just today, Clem. Now I am hungry for boy, or troll!’

“The trolls’ eyes widened with fright. ‘Take the boy!’ They said, then they started pushing each other toward whatever it was they thought was holding Clem in the air so that only a toe was on the ground. ‘Eat him, I am no good, eat him, O Great One.’

“The great voice bellowed out again, ‘A boy in the hand is worth two trolls in the brush!’  Then Clem was flung to the side. Clem lifted his head up, stared directly into the trolls’ eyes and shouted, ‘Run!’ and ran off into the forest. No sooner had Clem said this, than the trolls scrambled over each other in the opposite direction. They were still crashing loudly through the forest when Sleeks and Clem got the last of the sheep out of the cave and headed back toward the village.”

“Were the villagers happy to see them?” Bruce asked his son.

“No, but they weren’t unhappy, either. They didn’t know that anything had happened, and Sleeks didn’t want to tell them about how bad a shepherd he had been. But Clem did perform a few gymnastics tricks on the village green to celebrate their safe return and that made Sleeks smile.” 

“I see what you mean about putting yourself in danger to help someone else out, but you didn’t say that it would also be without anyone knowing, wow!”

“Sleeks knew, and that’s important. They are good friends,” Ellis said.

“Are they like brothers?” Asked his dad.

“Not really. Penny is closer, more like a sister than Sleeks is like a brother. Plus he’s always eating and Clem isn’t.”

“What’s it like, having a brother? You know you’re the only one in our family who has a brother. So, what is it like?”

“No, Dad, I’m not the only one who has a brother, Oliver has one too.”

“You are so very right, but I can’t very well ask him, now can I?”

“Well it’s not so great now, because all he does is baby stuff, but I think it will be good when he can run and jump and climb and do other boy things.”

“Do you think you’ll still want to do those things when he’s older, because you’ll be older too.”

“You’re pretty old and you still play.”

“Hey, what do you mean ‘pretty old’?”


  They turned up the hill, past Kimmel’s Greenhouse and into the quiet neighborhood. Ellis watched the houses roll by. The weren’t suburban cookie cutter cloned houses, but there were really two kinds of house, the really old big kind, like theirs, which is cold in the winter and creaks when the train goes through town, and the split-level ranch. The two house types alternate on the streets leading through the neighborhood. He imagined the big yards and tall trees that he’d seen pictures of, from before the people sold their yards and put in ranches. His yard hadn’t been sold, but it also hadn’t been kept a yard. About twenty years of an ailing woman not tending to her yard created little difference between their house’s surroundings and the growth edging the forest just behind them. Rabbits sometimes darted between the shrubs and immature maples thickly entwined around their sprawling Victorian.

The driveway was the only ground where no battle need be fought with vine or branch. As they pulled in, Ellis spied the stroller lodged in the brush up on the side of one of the logging roads near the house.

“I’m going to see if they’re napping inside,” Bruce said.

“I don’t think they are,” said Ellis. “Look, the stroller.”

“Well, Mama’s always leaving it around when she’s doing things. Maybe they went for a walk without it.”

Bruce crept inside while Ellis walked over toward the stroller. Something made him feel uneasy. When he got to the woods, the stroller seemed normal enough, but a little farther along there was his mother’s scarf stuck in the brambles. He peered into the forest and saw glints of light shimmer and dark things flit on either side of where he focused his gaze. He looked back at the house. He remembered what she had said in the birthing center, ‘You’ll look after us, right? You always take care of me.’ This was what she meant. He couldn’t waste time arguing with his dad.

“Dad, I’m going for a walk in the woods.”

Ellis wasn’t impulsive, he was advanced at making judgement calls. Not in the sense that he had a greater moral capacity for weighing right and wrong, instead he had a different mechanism for doing it. The pathway through which he processed decision making, when under a little stress, would cross over into his sense of color and focus. Signals normally housed in the front of his brain traveled all the way to the back, to the vision center. Already colorful objects would appear brighter, crisper and more defined. His ability to observe would be overlain with the feedback of processing a decision to highlight what his brain thought was right. The same thought processes that have most people stunned while engaging in internal dialogue for Ellis are calculated, borne out and reported through his visual nervous system. Later in life he would identify with artists, writers or musicians who perceived color in sound called synesthesia, for now he appreciated that the bright choice was the right choice.

“Okay, I think Mom went out, too. Be back for lunch, and be safe,” Bruce called back.

Ellis got down on all fours and found a small hole through the thorny brush that let him through. Once on the other side he started up into the woods, then picked up a rabbit trail and didn’t look back.


When there is plenty, it is easy to get along. Titmice, nuthatches and chickadees will frequent the same birdfeeder, and goldfinches may come along as well. These birds may even be found in different niches of the same tree. They have learned different methods of coexisting, either by engaging in mixed-species foraging or through niche differentiation. Over time, these different species will breed and brood at different times of the spring and summer, allowing them the ability to rely on the same resource even during the times that they will rely on it most heavily. Evolution discovered that coexistence is possible, and even preferable to outcompeting a species to extinction. Not all species of songbirds are as altruistic. The redwing blackbird, with his bold horseman’s epaulette on each shoulder, will engage in foraging in a field with sometimes thousands of other black birds, grackles, crows, and ravens. Once the redwing blackbird starts to nest and mate, however, crows are chased away by a darting pecking vicious little commander protecting his mate’s eggs. The house wren, another nasty bird, though more honest in his presentation, will find another’s nest, especially if it is in a birdhouse, and destroy it and its eggs. Upon hearing this, it is hard not to assign the wren human characteristics, like petty and jealous for destroying another bird’s nest, or vile and selfish or murderous for going after the eggs. The house wren isn’t willing to compromise, even in the halcyon days of plenty, like the redwing blackbird.  There are only so many homes it can wreck, though, before it has to work on building its own. How does nature decide who’s going to get along? Can an entire species be vile and deceitful or kind and sharing? Is it their fault?  When the crow is cawing out for relief from the pestering attacks of the redwing blackbird, does she try to remind him of that time when they did get along, out in the field, foraging side by side.

“Remember those days when we used to get along?” as she dodges attacks while trying to stay aloft.

“That was before I had my family to watch out for. Now git before I peck your eye out,” the flitting pest persists about the hulking crow like a carrion fly.

“Okay, okay, I’m going! Your eggs smell rotten anyway,” caws the annoyed crow across the sunset’s pale orange backdrop.


© 2010 Tonks

Author's Note

I copied and pasted from word, and apparently the formatting is a little different, sorry. I'll work to sort that out. I hope you enjoy it, let me know. It's a fun little story that I hope will have some use for every reader in a new family.

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Added on March 14, 2010
Last Updated on March 14, 2010
Tags: Randolph, Vermont, Childbirth, PTSD, Mother, fairies, forest, superstition



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