Island of Monkeys

“There weren’t always monkeys on that island,” the old man said to no one in particular. “It used to be one of them family resorts took up most of the land. They say you can still see the ruins of the big lobby they had there.” He took of his battered hat and wiped at invisible sweat on his brow before replacing it on his head.

“Yes, sir,” He continued, his eyes far away. “It’s been many a year now. They say, long ago, before you, before me, there was a map. A very old, very hard to read map it was. But one thing it did show clearly on that old map, was that it showed the way to a treasure. A great treasure, if rumors be right. Which they often are not. But I’m getting a head of myself.” The old man scooched a bit down on his chair, settling in to tell his tale.

“This map was found one day by a young girl that just happened upon it, almost as though that map wanted to be found and wanted to be found by that little girl, in fact. She was a sweet, pretty little girl, she was. But that aunt of hers was something else—a real witch, that one. Had a whole coven and everything. And that’s exactly where that little girl took that map. Straight to her aunt. Come to think of it,” the old man took off his hat again, this time to scratch his wispy hair before cramming it back on his head. “I’m wondering if that map wasn’t really trying to get to those witches and just using that little girl as a means to an end. Hmmph.” The old man paused, contemplating this new idea, “well, neither here nor there” he said, slapping his knee.

“Well, them witches, they looked at that map, looked at it hard, and greed filled their hearts. They were ugly as witches are, but they were still women weren’t they? Still liked the idea of having fine things, wearing sparkly jewels, as women are wont to do.” He looked around to see if anyone would share a smile with him, and finding none, abruptly continued his story. “So, them witches, they got to hmming and hawing, and having decided they would make a spell that would take them to the spot the map showed. So, they pulled out their cauldron, dusted it off, as it hadn’t been used in some time, and got to making a spell. They hooted and hollered, threw things into the cauldron, consulted old musty books on spells, danced around the fire, and wouldn’t you just know it? A spell, a ghastly green potion it was, it started brewing right there in that cauldron. So, them witches, they went and poured that potion in the engine of their submarine. Where did they get a submarine, you ask? Well, they were witches, weren’t they? They just conjured it right up.” He laughed in a wheezy, breathy way. “After all, how else are ya gonna sneak up on an island?” His laughing wheeze dissolved into a cough. When he was done, he politely spit the phlegm he had coughed up into a crusty handkerchief and waded it back up into his shirt pocket.

“So, off them witches all go, piled into their little submarine—and no it tweren’t  yellow, so don’t even be asking,” He glared around, fiercely. “And off they be sailing to the island, all lost in their own thoughts of how they were each going to use their part of the treasure. So days, weeks even, passed, all the while them witches were getting greedier and greedier, and that treasure grew and multiplied in their minds to such huge proportions, they wouldn’t be able to spend all that treasure in a million lifetimes.”

“So, the day finally came and they arrived at the island. Excited and happy as can be, those witches burst out of the submarine, shovels in hand ready to dig up that treasure, and wouldn’t you just know it? They were smack dab in the middle of that fancy hotel’s lagoon. All them fancy tourist, eating their lunches, staring at these witches in their submarine.” The man let out a noise that sounded very much like a hysterical owl. “Those foolish witches,” he gasped between hoots, “they were so excited to find that treasure map, that they didn’t notice it was a tourist map. It was an activity set up to amuse the tourist for a day, digging around in the sand to find some trinket or souvenir.” The old man was just about falling out of his chair with laughter at this point, tears streaming down his face. “It was a joke! A prank! Just something fun for the tourists to do.” He gasped, wiping his eyes with that same crusty handkerchief from his shirt pocket.

“Well, don’t you just know it,” he resumed, when he had recovered himself, “them witches got mad, real mad, when they realized what fools they’d been made into. And they started plotting their revenge. So back to that cauldron they went, hooting and hollering and throwing stuff in, dancing around, and lo and behold, wouldn’t you just know it? They brewed up a potion, black as black could be. Now I hear tell it had an awful odor that accompanied it, so bad even the witches couldn’t stand it. So what did that old aunt witch do? She ran and grabbed that little girl and threw her in the pot. Because, you see,” the old man leaned forward on his knees, lowering his voice conspiratorially, “she figured anyone so good and sweet must be able to sweeten up just about anything.” He leaned back, feeling he had made his point. “And wouldn’t you just know it? She was right. That nasty old potion took on a lovely shade of lavender and smelled just as sweet as could be. So now they had a lovely smelling, pretty potion to be used.”

“Those old witches, they snuck up to that hotel and put the old potion in everything—the water, the food, even the pool, and before anyone knew what was happening, all those tourist started sprouting tails. Fur started springing out all over their bodies, and when they tried to talk, all that came out were squeaks and yips.  Soon, all them tourist had turned into monkeys, every last one of them. The witches were very impressed with themselves and they decided to have themselves a celebratory drink, toasting their cleverness. But those foolish witches,” the old man obviously delighted with his tale, smiled widely showing a mouth gaping wide with missing teeth, “they forgot they had put the potion in everything—everything!” he reiterated. “It twern’t long before them witches started sprouting tails and fur too!” He closed his eyes, relishing in delight. “And those old witches, they got theirs good! They couldn’t do nothing about it because whenever they tried to say the words of the spell that would turn them back, all that would come out were squeaks and yips! So, to this day, no one will go near the island for fear they will be turned into a monkey too!”

The old man finished his tale, his laughter abruptly stopping as he glared around, daring anyone to challenge his story. Getting no takers, he made a shrugging motion with his left shoulder. “Tours to the Island of Monkey leave every hour on the hour. Get your tickets in there.” He glared at each tourist as they obediently marched into the souvenir shop. He sighed as the last one went by, straightened his name tag and took a deep breath.

“There weren’t always monkeys on that island,” he said to no one in particular…..

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No Good Deed

A young woman walking in the mountains one day, taking photos with her vintage camera of whatever caught her fancy, came across the ghost of a knight sitting glumly by a river. When she asked the ghost what the matter was, he told her that he had died in the cave just beyond the river many many years ago and that he was unable to move on into the afterlife because he had tripped in the darkness of the cave and lost his shield in there somewhere. And since it was the place that he died, he could not enter it, and therefore could not retrieve his shield and so was doomed to be a ghost until he could be reunited with his shield.

Being a kind girl and feeling bad for the ghostly knight’s plight, she offered to retrieve his shield from the cave and return it to him, thus allowing the knight to sally forth to whatever the future might hold for him. The knight thanked the girl profusely, and eagerly watched her enter the cave just beyond the river. But in her rush to help the knight, she tripped over some rocks in the entrance of the cave and fell to the cold wet ground. As she did so, her camera strap that held the camera in place around her neck snapped and her camera went skittering across the floor of the cave, coming to rest with a gentle thunk against the old metal shield of the ghostly knight. She reached for the shield, thinking to herself how very easy this all was to help someone in need, but as she had made such a racket coming into the cave and reached so very suddenly for the shield, it was so much more than the anxious snake that lived in that cave could take and he lashed out the only way he knew how, biting the girl hard on her wrist as she reached across him for the shield. It only took a moment for the rapidly spreading poison to stop her heart, and she perished, arm outstretched, almost, but not quite, touching the knight’s shield, and her camera beside it.

Back outside, the ghost of the girl sat down next to the ghost of the knight with a heavy sigh, and they both glumly stared in to the water of the river, hoping it wouldn’t be too many more years before someone else happened by.

The Cactus

One day the king, feeling bored and tired of his servant’s company, came up with a preposterous request in order to make the servant go away for a long time and leave the king in peace.

“Go and find me a cactus, cut it down, bring it back to me and I shall be most pleased with you.” The king told the servant. “But, if you cannot find a cactus to bring back to me, don’t bother coming back at all.” The king added, meanly.

Feeling honored that the king had trusted him with such a request, the servant set off immediately, determined to make the king proud. But the servant couldn’t help feeling a bit sad too, because he was very fond of his king and enjoyed being in his company. Nevertheless, he was determined to bring back the biggest, most prickly cactus he could and make his king very happy.

Now, this was no easy task as the kingdom that they lived in, in fact, had no cactus in it at all. The servant walked far and wide across mountains and valleys, even across an entire ocean (please don’t ask how he walked across the ocean for that is a different story). He walked in all sorts of weather, hunger, and dangers. At times, he despaired that he would ever be able to find a cactus for his beloved king.

One day, just as he was about to give up, the servant, who by now was very weary from his journey, looked up and there was a huge cactus, green and strong and even taller than the servant was. His heart filled with joy. He could finally return home to his king and kingdom and with the most beautiful cactus as a prize. The servant pulled out the axe he had carried with him all this time, and just as he was about to swing the first blow to the base of the cactus, a small window high up in one of the arms of the cactus opened and a little man looked out at the servant. Seeing what he was about to do, the tiny man let out a squeak of alarm.

“Oh, no please!” cried the tiny man. “Please do not do that! If you chop down our home, where will we go? How will we live?”

“I beg your pardon, “said the startled servant. “I had no idea that anyone lived inside this cactus.”

“Oh yes! There are two of us, at present. Myself, that lives in this arm, and my friend that lives in that arm over there.” The tiny man leaned out the window and pointed to the other arm of the cactus.

The servant studied the cactus for a moment, taking this in. “And the middle?” He inquired.

“Oh, that is unoccupied at the moment,” Said the tiny man. “In fact, if you are looking for a place to stay….” The tiny man trailed off, giving the servant a meaningful look.

“Oh,” laughed the servant. “I am much too big. I would never fit.”

“Not true,” answered the tiny man. “We have a potion that makes you just the right size to live here. There is just enough left for one person, and you may have it if you wish.”

The servant thought about it for a few moments. It had been so very long since he had had a home and he was very weary, and he hadn’t seen his king or his own home in so long that the once warm memories had faded and started to turn cold for him. “Is living in a cactus very comfortable?” asked the servant.

“Oh, so very!” Answered the tiny man with great enthusiasm. It is cool in the warm sun, warm in the cool evenings, and smells so very lovely all the time. Only the outside is prickly. Inside is soft and wonderful!”

“Well, all right. If it wouldn’t be too much trouble. It has been a very long time since I had a home or saw a friendly face.” The servant took the bottle that the tiny man offered him and the moment he drank the dark liquid he found himself to have shrunk quite small. “Oh!” Exclaimed the servant. “That was very easy!”

“Yes,” agreed the tiny man. “And I think that you will find that life is much easier for you now, as well. Come, let me show you your new home.”

And so, the two tiny men went into the cactus and the servant climbed into his new middle arm of the cactus, that was very much like a townhouse within the cactus. He had multiple floors all with windows he could open or close at his pleasure. The cactus did indeed smell lovely inside, and provided him with food and drink as well, and since he was so small, he didn’t need much to satisfy him. And so, the time passed pleasurably, the servant taking to his new life with relish, and was very happy.

One day, it happened that they were walking outside the cactus when they heard a faint yelling. Turing around, they saw the other tiny man running across the sand toward them, waving his arms.

“Oh! Here he is! My friend that lives in the other arm of our cactus, he’s been away on vacation. Now what is he about, I wonder?” The tiny friend was yelling something they couldn’t quite hear and waiving frantically, pointing at the sky behind them.

“Oh!” Cried the tiny man, glancing over his shoulder at the sky, and then suddenly whirling around and started quickly moving back to the cactus. “Run!” He called to the servant.

“But whatever for?” Asked the servant alarmed, looking around but not seeing any source for panic.

“Rain! It’s going to rain!” The tiny man cried as he reached the cactus and scurried inside.

“Hurry! Hurry!” Shouted the tiny friend as he ran by him, also frantically running for the cactus.

“But whatever for? I’ve always enjoyed a good rain shower. Very cleansing, you know.” Said the servant, looking up at the building clouds. He was rather pleased at this turn of events as he hadn’t felt the rain on his face in a long time.

“No! You don’t understand!” Cried the two tiny men from the safety of their cactus home. “You’ll….” But what they had to say was drowned out by a large crack of thunder overhead.

Thinking the two tiny men to be very silly indeed in their fear of a little shower, the servant decided to humor them and started walking back toward his home just as the first drops began to fall. But as each raindrop hit him, he noticed that the ground seemed to be just a little further away.

“What’s this?” He wondered, confused until suddenly he found himself wet to the bone and restored to his old height as a regular man. “What’s this?” He cried again, much more alarmed.  “What has happened?”

A small window opened high up in the cactus above him. “We tried to warn you” said the two tiny men, peering out at him from the safety of their window. “The rain washes away the potion. That’s why we live in the dessert in a cactus where it hardly ever rains.” They told him sadly.

“Oh!” Said the servant, rather miffed that this important information hadn’t been conveyed earlier. “Well, give me another dose and I will know for the next time.” He held his hand out for the potion.

“We can’t” said the tiny men, sadly. “We used the last of it to make you small. There isn’t anymore.”

“Well, can’t you get more?” spluttered the servant.

The two little men shook their heads. “I’m sorry, dear friend. It was lovely while it lasted. Goodbye.” They said as they slowly shut the window, looking at him regretfully.

“What!” shouted the servant, rage building in him as he thought of the wonderful little life he had found, and now had lost, through no fault of his own he felt.

In a blind rage, he picked up the axe he found lying nearby and started to hack at the cactus home savagely until the whole thing toppled over in a loud crash. He grabbed the ravaged end and started dragging it behind him, cursing and muttering angrily at his misfortune and feeling very badly used. He dragged the cactus though mountains and valleys, even across an ocean, through all kinds of weather and hunger and dangers, and just as he was about to give up with despair, he saw the flags of the castle and very soon the whole castle came into view. Out came the king to greet his old servant heartily, for the king had missed his loyal servant very much and felt bad for sending him away in the first place. The king, seeing the bedraggled cactus that the servant pulled behind him was shocked at the condition the poor cactus was in, having been dragged over mountains and valleys, and even an ocean, through all kinds of weather, but being so pleased to see his faithful servant and determined to make amends for making him go away in the first place, the king pretended to be pleased with the cactus anyway, and made a big fanfare of his servant and ordered the servant receive his own little cottage for his trouble.

So, the servant wearily settled down in his very own little cottage, next to his very own cozy fire, and never thought about the two tiny men or what became of them ever again.

The Old Man and the Crab

An old man sat in his boat one day, feeling very sorry for himself indeed. He was feeling very old, tired, and haggard. His bones ached, his skin sagged with wrinkles, and his hands were gnarled and knotted from arthritis. He could barely steer the rudder on his boat anymore, much less pull in the nets he used to catch his fish. He feared he might starve to death soon.

He looked forlornly over the side of the boat at his reflection in the water, contemplating what had brought him to this point in his life, wondering if there were anything he could have done differently, and remembering the good old days as old men are prone to do. Gradually, he realized that his reflection had been replaced by a crab that was bobbing on the surface of the water, peering at the old man intently.

“You look very sad,” observed the crab.

The old man was surprised. “Do I?” He asked. “I think I look the way I always do.”

“Are you always sad then?” the crab asked.

The old man considered for a moment. “Well, yes, I suppose that I am. “

“That’s no good.” Scoffed the crab. “What do you have to be sad about all the time?

The old man told the crab all about his age and how tired he felt and how his hands no longer worked very well.  “I’m afraid I shall starve soon.” The old man concluded glumly.

“Well,” the crab said, appearing to be thinking hard. “I may know a way to help you.”

“How can it be?” the old man wondered.

“Just because I am a small creature does not mean I am a dumb creature.” The crab told him tartly.

“No, I guess not.” The old man agreed, uncertainly.

“I know something that not only will keep you from starving but it will make you feel young and energetic again.”

“What?” The old man gasped. “How can it be? That would be so wonderful!”

“But, if I tell you this secret,” the crab waved a warning claw at the old man, “you must make a promise to me.”

“If it is as you say it is, I would be so grateful, I would promise you just about anything!” The old man leaned closer to the crab eagerly.

“If I tell you, you must promise me to never fish again. You must leave all the sea creatures, crabs, fish and the like in peace and never again cast your net into the water.”

The old man considered for a moment starring down at his gnarled hands. “Yes, I think that’s fair.” The old man agreed. “I promise that if you tell me the secret, and it is as you say, that it makes me feel young again, I will hang up my fishing nets for good.”

“Very well,” said the crab, regarding him steadily. “I will tell you. But beware if you should ever break your promise.”

So, the crab told the man of a hidden spot, tucked out of sight of men, where rice grew wild and unhindered. But this was no ordinary rice. This rice would always make you full of energy and life as long as you ate it. You would never be hungry, old, or sick again.

The old man was amazed, right from the very first bite of his very first bowl. He instantly felt younger. The wrinkles on his face tightened, his eyes brightened, the stoop in his back started to straighten and best of all, his fingers straightened and moved easily again as they hadn’t for years. The man was overjoyed. In his joy, he immediately forgot all about the crab. His first thought was to go and tell all the other villagers about the wonderful rice he had found, but on the walk back to the village, he decided he’d better not tell anyone. After all, there were many people in the village and they might eat all the rice up, and then the man wouldn’t have any and might get old again.  So, he decided it would be his rice, and his alone.

During the weeks that followed, all the village notice how changed the man was, but he never said a word about the rice to anyone, not even to his closest friends. As more time passed, the man would even scoff and be disgusted by his former friends. They were so old, and their hands were bent and gnarled. The man had completely forgotten how, not very long ago, he was just like these old men. By now, the man felt so good, and never felt the tiredness or the hunger that plagued him before, that his mind turned to making his fortune.

“The fish are very plentiful” His new young friends told him. “Come and share the sea’s bounty.”

“Yes! That’s a wonderful idea!” thought the man, “I could make a lot of money” So into his boat he jumped, and out to sea he went.

He stopped at a spot he was familiar with and was overjoyed to see hundreds of fish jumping and playing in the warm sea. The man spread his nets and immediately they were filled. As he started pulling the nets, full to splitting, with the fish he noticed the crab holding on to the net.

“What are you doing?” cried the crab.

“What does it look like? I am fishing.” He replied, busily pulling in the net.

“Are you hungry?” asked the crab.

“Of course not.” The man scoffed.

“Then why are you breaking your promise?” asked the crab.

“Because I want to make my fortune.” Answered the man.

“But we had a deal.” The crab said, sadly.

“That was then, this is now.” Retorted the man, and then he cried out in pain, dropping the net. He looked at his hands in confusion as the once strong fingers crumpled and twisted before his eyes. His strong back weakened and curved. A glance at his reflection in the water confirmed what the old man feared—he was once again old.

“What!” he cried. “Why? How?”

“You went back on your promise,” the crab answered matter-of-factly.

The old man felt a rage like he had never felt before rise up within him. He grabbed the crab and crushed its claws so it could not pinch him and threw it in a bucket.

“I’ll show you!” he screamed at the crab. “you shall be my dinner tonight and then tomorrow, I shall go back to the secret spot and eat more rice and be young again!”

Once back on shore, the man grabbed the bucket, swinging it savagely as he marched back to his home. He threw the crab into a boiling pot of water and watched, laughing gleefully as the crab turned a bright red, boiling to its death. When the crab was cooked to the old man’s satisfaction, the man laid it on a plate with fresh melted butter on the side and sat down to his feast, still muttering angrily to himself. He pulled off the first claw viciously, pulling the meat out and popped a large portion into his mouth, already preparing to shove another piece in his mouth before he had even swallowed.

In his hast and anger, the old man hadn’t been very careful. He failed to see the piece of shell that was still attached to the meat, but he felt it when it became lodged in his throat. He gasped out what little air could get around the crab meat that was now firmly lodged in his throat, panicking when he realized he would not be able to remove it himself. He looked around frantically for someone to help him, but there was no one. He was all alone, just him and what was left of the crab. After struggling a bit, his head fell to the table, where he gasped like a dying fish until he could gasp no more. And that’s where he was found, days later, when his landlady came to fetch her rent. His dead eyes reflecting the dead crab starring back.