The Story and Its Teller

Desert landscape with stormy sky

I made it! 12 short stories in a year. For June’s story, I tried playing around with magic realism. The magic realism genre blends fantasy and reality, where things tend to be “normal”, but with just a few spots of magic.

I was inspired by this Town of Birds by Heather Monley, a text we discussed in the Deadlines for Writers 12 Short Stories Course.

Enjoy!


In a town on the border of nowhere and the desert, we counted rocks and stepped on bugs until a story-teller would stumble into our midst. Story-tellers always stumbled, because like any visitor, they were always lost.

We knew when a teller was coming, because their stories rolled along the desert wind ahead of them like a tumbleweed scout.  We chased the rolling stories, trying to grasp them in our too small fingers, begging it to stay. When we didn’t have enough food, which was always, we feasted on stories. Twice, I even caught a whole story, but had to give it back to the teller when they arrived.

Once, during the season of long days and short nights, a story and its teller walked into town at the sun’s peak. The woman didn’t stumble and her story didn’t roll ahead with the impatience of a child. From the determination in her sharp jaw line, to the way the story clung to the tattered edges of her skirt, we knew it would be true.

Whispers rose through town, “It’s a true story. Hurry, come look.”

True stories were as rare and delicious as pineapples. Instead of teasing and chasing her little story, we tiptoed behind the teller until she stopped in the town square. Here, the woman turned and raised her arms.

She opened her mouth, “Come, children. Listen and be fed.” The timber of her voice echoed off the walls of cabins slouching around the square.

She coaxed the story out from under her skirts, she swirled her hands in the details and brought it high for us to see.

The story hovered above her head and had transformed into wisps of a beautiful city. This was a place with more food than we’d ever seen in our lifetimes. The buildings stood tall and proud, with gleaming glass windows. Clothes fit and flattered the curves of every body, not one shirt had a hole. Matching shoes pitter pattered in the feet of every child.

She began, “For centuries, in the glorious city of Diona, the rain fell on time and the sun shone with gentle delight. Bellies were full, city folk were busy, and children played with happiness.”

Our mouths fell open, we’d never heard a story about far-off lands with enough food and rain for everyone to thrive.

“But,” the teller continued and the story darkened, “the people became selfish. They did not help their neighbors. They did not discipline their children. They ate all the food and roots as well. They captured rain for themselves and refused to share.”

She looked deep into our eyes, “Then, the rains stopped falling. The food stopped growing. The people became hungry. Angry, they shouted through the streets, ‘Find the witch! Where’s the witch who stopped our rain?’”

A witch? We’d never heard a true story with a witch before. We leaned forward to drink every word.

“The witch they searched for wasn’t a witch at all. She was a story-teller.”

We nodded and murmured, “Mmhmm. Yep. That’s right.”

Every story-teller who ever stumbled into our lost village, had a gift. If you didn’t have a gift, you couldn’t be a story-teller. We once met a teller who smelled emotions. We played with him for hours, forcing our little hearts into sadness, joy, jealousy, or anger. We met a teller who recalled dreams as if they were his own. “What did I dream last night?” we had chanted in chorus each morning of his visit.

A young boy, too young to know you never ask a teller questions during her telling, shouted at the woman, “What was her gift?”

His question silenced the rest of us. Would he be kicked out of the square?

But, she didn’t frown or pull the story down from above her head.

She smiled. “Ah, my boy. Your village knows the secrets of story tellers. Your people have welcomed my kind for many years. Perhaps I cannot surprise you?”

Her question encouraged the rest of us to cheer, “Yes, you can!”

“This was her gift. Wherever she went in the world the rain only fell when she cried. Her tears of joy wouldn’t moisten her cheeks, but came from the sky as a refreshing mist of rain. In her sadness, clouds blackened and poured her tears all across the land. When she saw wickedness in the hearts of the people in Diona, her anger banished the clouds away.” In the image above her head, the sun brightened, windows cracked, pretty colors blanched, and the once prideful people hunched under oppressive heat.”

“The city begged her for help. ‘Please, witch! We’re starving! Our babies are hungry!’”

I felt a trickle on my arm.

“She waited as they begged for mercy. She waited as children starved. The people of Diona broke under heat and hunger. They held each other with tenderness. They forgot their selfish ways and showed compassion to strangers. That’s when the story-teller took her gift to the barren fields on the edge of the city.”

Her eyes watered and I felt a second splash on my shoulder.

“She knelt in dirt, and raised her arms to the sky,” both the woman before us and the one inside the story fell to her knees. “She opened her mouth and let a scream call out in mourning for the babes of Diona. The sky rumbled. She pulled her hair and fell to the ground, heaving with dry sobs.”

An echoing boom from the horizon startled us. The teller’s voice rose above the rolling thunder, “A crack in the sky nearly deafened the onlookers. They ran for cover, craning their necks to watch the woman. The clouds opened up with her tears and poured out the water so desperately needed. For days, she mourned in the fields. The wells and pools refilled, the people who had wilted under the sun stood tall, the babes drank. For months, she cried and rested, then cried and rested until crops grew and every mouth had food.”

Rain drops plonked on the ground.

“The city of Diona had learned to be kind to each other again. But, they feared the story-teller, whom they still believed to be a witch. They cast her out of their city and still today she roams, bringing the rain and her broken heart with her wherever she goes.”

The woman pulled the story out of the sky, tucking it near her feet. Still on her knees, she brought her hands to her face as the rain poured.

We huddled closer to each other in the downpour, wondering what she would do next. Then, the same young boy who had shouted at the story-teller stood to his feet. He shielded his eyes from the rain, leaned into the wind, stepped toward her, and patted her shoulder.

We held our breath.

She pulled him into a hug and the rain eased into mist.

Week, months, then years passed. She never left and we never asked her to go. Her pain fed our grounds until our village became a town nestled between orchards and an oasis.

Our town always on the verge of famine was rescued by a story. The end.

What’s my gift, you ask? That’s a story for another day.

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