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Our Tea Circle (Original Short Stories)


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Here's something I wrote recently.

 

Just... um... just give it the benefit of the doubt and read all the way to the end please. That's all I ask.

 

The only thing I'm going to say up-front is that all the characters in this story look something like:

 

top_image.jpg

Again, just, trust me here. Benefit of the doubt.

 

Our Tea Circle and the Strange Lights

 

“I, I`m telling you it was crazy!” Damascus yipped. His fur was up, his tail was stiff, and his eyes were wide. He was frizzled. Damascus was always frazzling over the most frivolous things.

 

“Have some tea, Damascus. It'll make you feel better,” I said, trying to soothe him. He had been ignoring his teacup ever since we had all sat down, and nothing good can ever come of that. To show him a good example, I took a small sip from my own teacup. At first Damascus looked like he was just going to continue ranting away, but under the combined stares from me, Marigold on his left, and Persimmon on his right, he finally settled down and drank his tea like a good boy. The rest of us shared a smile and helped ourselves to some more tea, and once the air between us had settled down a little more, the three of us turned our attention to Damascus again. His trembling had mostly stopped and he let out a small sigh as he relaxed. Then he shyly met our eyes and started again, much more calmly this time:

 

“Last night I noticed that one of the books I had from the school library was going to be overdue if I waited `til today to bring it back, so I came to the school to drop it off in the drop-box,” he said.

 

“What time was it?” Persimmon asked, always concerned with the details.

 

“It must have been after 9-o'clock,” Damascus said.

 

Persimmon and Marigold both gave little gasps and I couldn't keep the surprise from my own face either. Oh Damascus, it's because you do things like this that your nerves are always nattering. By that hour any good child would be properly tucked into bed and reading a nice bedtime story with their mama or papa.

 

“Have you ever had an overdue book?” Damascus said defensively.

 

“It's alright Damascus. Please continue,” I said, after a sip of tea. Persimmon and Marigold followed my lead, and after a moment when we had all settled down again, Damascus continued:

 

“Anyway, when I got to the school I could see a kind of light in one of the windows on the second floor. It wasn't a normal light, like it wasn't yellow or white like the lights at school should be, but I didn't think about that when I first saw it. I was afraid of going into the dark school alone at night, so I thought it was a teacher or Papa Marigold and I was happy I wouldn't have to be here alone,”

 

“Papa was at home reading a bedtime story with me last night at 9,” Marigold interrupted. Her papa is the Principal, though he also acts as the groundskeeper because he loves the school so much.

 

“Right, I know,” Damascus plowed ahead “because it wasn't him up on the second floor. It wasn't anyone. I passed right by the library and went up the stairs. I saw the light coming from one of the 5th grade classrooms so I went in and there it was!”

 

Persimmon and Marigold were caught up in the melodrama, and both of them were leaning forward, hanging on Damascus's every word. I just took another sip of tea, letting my tail twitch a little tsk tsk. Nothing good would ever come of getting caught up in Damascus's excitement.

 

“What was it?” the other two asked in unison.

 

“It was… it was like someone had taken a rainbow, turned it into yarn, ran the yarn through some muddy water and then left it all tangled, floating in the air. Only it wasn't just like yarn, it didn't just sit there. It was moving. Twisting and creeping and spinning and changing. And shining in all those weird colors. They were like real colors, only different!”

 

Here Persimmon gave a small sniff and settled back, taking a sip of tea with her brows drawn down. She always lost interest as soon as things got vague or wild. She loved learning new things, but only about things that were worth learning about.

 

“What do you mean by any of that? They were different from `real` colors? There's no such thing as fake colors, Damascus. Just because you haven’t seen them before, or don't know what they're called, doesn't mean you can say they `aren't real`,” she said, lecturing. I nodded in support. Things Persimmon said always made sense.

 

“Perhaps it's something Papa is planning, like a light show for a party! Wouldn't that just be lovely?” Marigold added excitedly. I nodded for her too.

 

“Oh a light show? That would be wonderful! I wonder what we'll be celebrating!” I said, mirroring Marigold's excitement. Papa Marigold always thought of the most amazing events for the school.

 

“It talked to me!” Damascus exclaimed. The three of us quieted down and turned our attention back to Damascus. My spirits fell a little at that. I doubt even Papa Marigold could prepare a talking tangle of light for a party. “It wasn't like a normal person talking either. Each time it talked this white mist would fly out from the lights. It was super cold, too. It was like when your breath turns white when it's cold in the winter.”

 

“What did it say?” Persimmon asked.

 

“`What are you?`” Damascus said, making his voice as breathy as possible. “It was just like that, like it was breathing out the words `What are you?``

 

“And what did you say?” I asked.

 

“I didn't say anything! I turned around and ran all the way home!” Damascus said, getting frazzled again. The three of us looked at him calmly until he remembered to calm down himself and drink some tea.

 

“And you didn't return your book after all?” Persimmon asked.

 

“My book? No of course I didn't! I was too scared to stay in the school another second.”

 

“Wait, so you have an overdue book now? Oh Damascus, that's not good at all. You have to take care of things you borrow and give them back when you promise to.” I said it as gently as I could. I didn't want Damascus to feel like we were always lecturing him. As his friends, we just wished he wouldn't get caught up in so many stressful things.

 

“That's the part you're worried about?” Damascus asked, with a disbelieving tone. As if keeping a book past its due date was some small thing that should be overlooked.

 

“Mama is very strict about her books,” Marigold said gently. Then she put a paw on Damascus's shoulder “Don't worry, I'll go with you to return the book and apologize to mama. Just make sure not to do it again.” Mama Marigold was the school librarian and the school nurse. She was very kind to all the students but she could also be very firm when she needed to be. She would always scold children who did things they shouldn't, but it was only because she was worried for them and wanted them to be happy and healthy and stress-free.

 

“But what about the talking light?” Damascus asked, looking at all three of us with eyes that were begging for help.

 

“I'd like to meet it, but do you think it will come out before 9-o'clock? I really don't want to miss bedtime,” Persimmon said. I nodded. It sounded interesting, but nothing good would ever come of getting to bed late and missing your bedtime story.

 

“I'll tell Papa and Mama and see if they'll come with us to the school tonight. If we come at 8-o'clock we should still be able to make it back for bedtime,” Marigold said.

 

“Well it's decided then, we'll all meet up here at 8-o'clock,” I said, when everyone looked to me for a decision. I'm not really the leader of our little group, but I do bring the tea-set and make the tea, plus I'm the most level-headed of us, so usually everyone leaves it up to me to decide things in the end. I don't usually propose any of the ideas, though. I'm much happier going along with my friends` adventures than worrying about making up my own.

 

“Tonight!” the other three said in unison, Damascus with a little hesitation. We then gently clinked our teacups together to seal the deal, and the matter was decided.

 

~ ~ ~

 

While cleaning up after dinner I told Mama and Papa about my plans for the night.

 

“A glowing color that talks, huh?” Papa said, handing me a plate to dry, “Me, I'd like to find a way to make bread that glows. Wouldn't that be something?”

 

“Oh dear, and what good would glowing bread be once it's in your tummy?” Mama said, poking Papa's stomach.

 

“I suppose that's so, but wouldn't it be nice to take along stargazing? Nice glowing bread to eat at in the dark under the stars?” Papa said.

 

“I think that sounds wonderful Papa,” I said, and he ruffled my ears with a paw wet from dish-washing.

 

Papa and Mama run the bakery in town, and Papa is always thinking up new ideas for bread. Once he has an idea, Mama does her best to make a new recipe for bread like what Papa is imagining. Sometimes it's not quite as grand or strange as the things Papa thinks of, but the bread always turns out delicious so all's well that ends well. Papa handles the cakes and pastries, and is always busy during the day making cakes for parties around the town.

 

After dinner was all cleaned up I went upstairs to get a flashlight and pack my tea set. On the way to my room I knocked on Brother's door and poked my head into his room. As usual he was lying on his bed reading a big, thick book. His room was like a library; full of big, thick books that were sent to him from other places. When he wasn't reading, he was writing letters to people in other places who read books like he did. When he wasn't doing that he was delivering cakes and bread around town for Mama and Papa.

 

“Brother, I'm going with the others to the school in a bit. We're going to go see a bunch of talking colored lights,” I said. It was always nice to make sure everyone in the family knew what I was up to.

 

Without looking up from his book, Brother said:

 

“Do things cease to exist simply because we have no names for them? Is the world a void or meaningless chaos when we are too small to know the names for the things we see? By assigning a name, do we make the thing we are seeing, the thing we are experiencing, `real`? Is it not possible for us to experience things beyond our ability to solidify with verbal descriptions?”

 

I clasped my paws behind my back and waited patiently for a moment until he added:

 

“Don't stay out past your bedtime.”

 

“I'll be back before 9,” I said. Then I pulled his door shut and went on to my room to prepare everything necessary for our little adventure.

 

~ ~ ~

 

We all met up on the path to the school, the same as we would when walking to school during the day. The only difference was that Mama and Papa Marigold came along with us. Normally they were always at school before we got there. When they left in the morning Marigold would wait by the gate in front of her house for the rest of us to come by and then walk along with us to school.

 

Damascus's sister, Damson, also skipped along beside us, just like she did every morning. She hadn't been part of our tea party, but she often accompanies us on adventures. She is a great deal more level-headed than her older brother, and I think in a few years she may even start up a tea circle of her own, though for the time being she tags along as an extra member of ours.

 

When we neared the school building it was clear that Damascus's light was already present. It was dark enough outside that we could all clearly see strange-colored lights shining from one of the windows on the second floor of the school building.

 

“My my, I wonder what it could be?” Papa Marigold said, moving his bowler cap so he could scratch at his head.

 

“Most peculiar,” Mama Marigold agreed.

 

“Well, I'll leave the investigation to you children. I need to check on some of the sprinklers on the grounds,” Papa Marigold said.

 

“And I'm going to head to the library to file away some late returns,” Mama Marigold said, reaching over to flick Damascus's ear lightly.

 

“You don't want to come up with us?” Damascus said, touching his tweaked ear. There was a hint of fear in his voice.

 

“Well it doesn't seem to be wrecking things or making a mess up there, the room seemed fine this morning after it was there last night as you said, so I don't think there's anything for me to do. Just so long as it doesn't pop in during the day and interrupt classes,” Papa Marigold said.

 

“Yes you kids run along and tell us what you find,” Mama Marigold said.

 

Damascus wilted like a flower when Mama and Papa Marigold went their separate ways and left us to climb the stairs to the second floor by ourselves. I gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder.

 

“Don't worry Damascus. We're all here with you,” I said. He gave me a weak smile in return. Well, it couldn't be helped. Damascus would probably stay this way until he got some tea. It would be nice having a tea party under the brilliant, dancing lights.

 

We went to the end of the hallway and I opened the door of the fifth-year classroom. Then we all went inside, though Damascus hang back and Damson practically had to drag him in after us.

 

I had an image in my head of what the lights were going to look like from what Damascus had said about a dirty rainbow, but even that hadn't been quite enough to really describe what was floating in the classroom. None of the lights were simple, solid colors, but instead looked more like patterns or swirls or mixtures of colors. Also, rather than yarn, the lights were more like glowing lines. I couldn't focus on them for too long, though, since they moved in very strange ways. Straight lines would suddenly curve, and curved lines would suddenly straighten in ways that were impossible to follow with my eyes. Aside from that there seemed to be strange, invisible connections between segments of the lights that pulled and pushed each other, as if there were more lines tying everything together that we just couldn't see.

 

Then white mist flowed quickly out of the lights, along with words. They weren't as clearly spoken as Damascus had made them out to be. It did sound breathy, but it also sounded like someone trying to pronounce things without using their tongue or teeth. Rather than what are you it sounded more like:

 

“Whaa haa yuu?”

 

Before I could think of answering I sneezed, and rubbed my nose, then shook my head a little to clear it. The white mist, aside from being frigid, tickled my nose. It smelled like concrete dust, oil, metal and mildew. I didn't want to be rude, but I wouldn't be able to talk very well if I kept sneezing, so I pulled out my handkerchief and held it to my nose. The other girls all did the same. Damascus was huddled back near the door, and he just held his arm up in front of his nose.

 

When I had got my breath back and cleared my head of the strange smell, I responded to the question by introducing myself and then my friends.

 

“... and 'what' might you be?” I asked in return. It would have been more polite to ask 'who', but under the circumstances I decided to mimic the strange question of the lights.

 

“A hooouuuu,” it said. 'Alone' perhaps?

 

“You're alone? Oh that's just terrible. Here let's get you some tea and you can tell us all about it,” I said, already pulling one of my travel tablecloths out of my pocket. The other girls quickly got to work pushing a few desks together so I could spread out the cloth. I then carefully took out my tea set and set to pouring the tea.

 

“Heeeeeiii heeee mmmmaaaaddddddde mmmmeeeeee” it said, while I was making preparations. The 'm' and 'd' sounds were strange, the one sounded like a high-pitched whine, and the other like a kind of grinding or rumbling. I paused in the act of filling one of the teacups to consider.

 

“They 'remade' me? I think?” Persimmon said, touching a paw to her chin thoughtfully.

 

“Essssss” the lights made a long hissing sound, which must have been a 'yes'.

 

“Iiiiii aasssssss ooooooodddddd aaaadddd Iiiiiii abbbbbe beeooomm”

 

“I was odd...” Damson began, but Persimmon shook her head.

 

“No the 'd' sounded like it was trying to make a harder sound, like a 't'. 'I was not...' Oh I know, if you follow from what it said before, I bet it's: 'I was not what I have become'!”

 

Marigold and I clapped our paws in delight.

 

You're so good with puzzles!” Marigold said, and Persimmon blushed to her eartips at the compliment.

 

“What does it mean by that?” Damascus asked, eyes wide.

 

“Well, I imagine it's like my Brother,” I explained, as I finished up the preparations for our tea party. “Mama and Papa are bakers, but Brother likes reading books. If Mama and Papa forced Brother to stop reading his books and become a baker instead... well nothing good would come of that. It would be all kinds of stress for poor Brother. Someone has made our colorful friend into something they didn't want to be.”

 

“e... ssssss” the lights again gave a 'yes', though this time seemed more hesitant than the last.

 

“Well you just forget all that stress and have a nice cup of tea,” I said, pushing forward a saucer and teacup to rest on the table underneath where the lights were floating. The rest of us all raised the teacups to our lips and took a nice long sip.

 

The teacup I had offered floated awkwardly into the air, shaking at some points, tilting at others. Finally it rested more or less steadily in the air near the middle of the tangle of lights.

 

Then there was a long pause.

 

“Emmmmmmm ddddiiiiiiii”

 

'Empty'?

 

All five of us fixed the lights with steady stares. After a few moments it seemed to take the hint, and the cup tilted back toward the lights in a pantomime of drinking.

 

A kind of slow wiggle spread out through the glowing lines, starting from near where the cup was floating. The patterns seemed to steady out into more normal straights and squiggles so at least it wasn't hard to look at anymore.

 

“There, feeling better?” I asked, as the lights floated lazily in simple, easy-to-follow patterns.

 

The air bulged in the middle of the lights. It looked like the air was a sheet of cloth with someone pushing on the other side. It bent inward and where it bent the lights left bright trails that remained after the bulge moved on. At first it just traced a few random lines. Then, after the trails from that had cleared, a narrow bulge, like someone just poking a single finger into the cloth, appeared and began tracing letters we could all read.

 

The cup is empty

 

Well that was a silly thing to say.

 

“I've never met a talking light before. What were you before you became... colorful, like this?” I asked, changing the subject. The voice in the lights had mentioned being changed.

 

What you are seeing is not my physical form. As when the solar winds cause auroras when they touch the atmosphere of a planet, so do you see these auras when I reach across the gulf and touch the walls that separate us. Almost I feel that I can reach the other side. Almost I feel that I could be free from this existence. Almost I feel

 

We waited for a continuation but none came for several moments. It seemed whoever had been writing had stepped away for a moment or been distracted. I took a sip of tea, cleared my throat and attempted to revive the conversation.

 

“Well, I don't know how difficult it is to get from there to here, but we'd love to have you come visit anytime. Our doors are always welcome to new friends.” I gave the lights a bright smile, and the others did as well, though Damascus's smile was a little wan. Someday he was really going to offend someone, always spooking at every little thing.

 

However, in the next moment we were all a little surprised as the lights were suddenly caught up in a flurry of activity. Rather than one poking finger it suddenly seemed there were at least a dozen, if not more, all bending the air and trailing lights at the same time. They traced words quickly, leaving thin, spidery words glowing in the air, repeated so many times that they nearly became unreadable with all the crisscrossing trails floating in the air. They all said the same thing, though:

 

Then, by your leave, we shall come

 

Oh. Well. Good. The more the merrier.

 

With that the lights winked out, leaving us in sudden darkness. The floating teacup fell and only a quick diving catch by Damson saved it from being dashed on the floor of the classroom. Good girl, Damson!

 

I went and turned on the lights to the classroom. Since it seemed our adventure for the night was at an end we all set about clearing up the tea settings and putting back the desks. All of us, that is, except Damascus.

 

“W-what if more of those lights come now? Where will they show up next?” he asked, rubbing his hands together nervously. Oh Damascus, you really must stop being so frightened of meeting new friends. Nothing good will ever come of all this shyness.

 

“Those are worries for another day, Damascus,” I said. “It's almost 9-o'clock and we'd all best be home and getting ready for bed. We met the lights, had a nice cup of tea, and now it's time to put a bookmark in our little adventures.”

 

And so we did.

 

What new adventures await our friends next time? Take a drink of tea and prepare your minds for next time!

 

Good children should not question too many things about the preceding story. We remind you that nothing good can ever come of worrying about such things.

 

 

 

Epilogue

 

That same night I got up to get a glass of water well after bedtime, and saw strange lights shining from under Brother's door. Without knocking I opened the door to find Brother, in his pajamas, sitting up and looking at the dancing, strange-colored lights from earlier, which were hanging in the air in the middle of Brother's bedroom.

 

I rubbed my eyes. The lights were back to their impossible-to-follow movements again and I was far too sleepy to try to look at them.

 

Brother saw me in the doorway and smiled gently.

 

“Oh Sister, they have shown me such wonders,” he said.

 

The lights slowed in their motions, and when I focused on them again I saw that they had spelled out

 

He has shown us such wonders

 

in their glowing trails.

 

Brother, you really should be asleep. Nothing good will ever come of staying up so late,” I said, before closing his door and getting my drink from the kitchen.

 

Then I went back to bed.

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