The Red-Tail and the Raven

It’s been a couple of weeks. Don’t ask. Everything’s fine, just too much stuff all at once. To atone somewhat for last week’s absence, today’s post will be a flash in the Master and Apprentice series. I really should give them their own book one of these days.

The Red-Tail and the Raven

Picking blackberries was a tricky business.

Master, as expected, was in a more supervisory role rather than an active participant. He lay on his back on a little hillock near the center of the meadow, idly chewing a bit of straw.

“Come here,” he said. “Put down your bucket and look up.”

I did. It was a nearly cloudless sky, blue, stretching from horizon to horizon.

“It’s lovely. Was that it?”

Master had his expression of exaggerated patience.  “Look closer.”

After a moment or two I noticed what I’d missed the first time. It was a hawk, lazily circling high overhead.

“That’s a red-tail,” Master said. “What’s it doing?”

I shrugged. “Hunting?”

“Possibly, but I suspect it’s just looking over its territory.”

One might wonder why Master interrupted berry picking to give me a lecture on the habits of red-tailed hawks. There had been a time I might have wondered, also, but Master never did anything without at least two reasons and one wild notion. I waited.

“Why would a creature that can fly so far stay in one area?”

Of course, I didn’t know the answer. Which, I suspected, was the point.  “Because it has everything it needs here? Why should it leave?”

I was distracted for a moment by a raven landing in a treetop nearby.

“Indeed,” Master said. “Yet the common raven up there also has a home territory where it has everything it needs. And yet, now and again, it will simply pick a direction and go. Why is that?”

“Because…it believes there’s something beyond ‘everything it needs’?”

“Perhaps. Let’s find out.”

If I didn’t know better, I’d swear Master and the raven had worked this out in advance. The raven took flight, not rising in a leisurely circle like the hawk, but rather setting out straight into the woods, and Master and I followed.

“Do you really think we can keep up with it?”

“Depends on how certain it is of its destination,” Master said.

Indeed, it was clear after a bit that the raven wasn’t sure where it was going. While it did not stray very much from its original direction, it did pause often, making croaking sounds to itself before it set off again. We soon came to another clearing, and there, sitting on a dull gray boulder, was something small and shiny, probably a stray bit of rock crystal. The raven flitted down, snatched it up, and went back the way it had come.

“All this way for something shiny?” I asked.

“All this way for something it didn’t have before, something its home did not provide. We admire the hawk for its grace and beauty, and we’re right to do so. But if you want to see something you’ve never seen before? if you want to go somewhere you’ve never been? Look to the raven.”

I made a note to myself to watch the ravens, but Master seemed to read my thought.

“From the meadow, please. Those berries won’t pick themselves.”

©2022 Richard Parks

To Dine, Perchance to Scream

Fairy Tale Flash: Fractured Fables Old and New

This might go in the eventual Master & Apprentice flash series. For right now, I’ll put it here.

To Dine, Perchance to Scream

Master was already awake and up. This wasn’t unusual. Try as I might, I could never quite manage to rise before he did. That wasn’t the odd part.

Master simply sat at the table, smoking his ancient pipe and blowing smoke rings. Even then I wasn’t especially concerned, that is until I realized he was deep in thought.

That was never a good sign.

He finally looked at me. “We have a problem. Morea is hungry.”

“The dryad? I thought she didn’t need to eat.”

“Technically she is a maliades, not a dryad, since her tree is a mulberry, not an oak…I wouldn’t mention that to her if I were you.”

“Believe me, I won’t.”

“We’re having a dry spell. Now it’s come to my attention Morea is refusing to feed so that her tree can take in what water there is. Sunshine alone isn’t enough, and we can’t have the poor lass starving.”

I was beginning to see the issue. “Well, she can eat human food, right? The problem would be getting her to accept it.”


Morea, as I well knew, was a prickly and prideful creature. She would not accept charity from a human. Now I knew the reason for Master’s deep contemplation. Yet I’d had several run-ins with the nymph which Master had been wise enough to avoid. It wasn’t anything like a relationship, but it was something approaching an understanding. That is, I thought I understood her. Now was my chance to see if I was right.

“Master, I have an idea.”

“Pleased to hear it. Frankly, I’m at a loss.”


By noon I had reached the meadow carrying a heavy basket and doing my best to appear nonchalant. It was sunny and warm, though the trees ringing the meadow were resting in shadow.

“Lovely day for a picnic,” I said aloud, and to no one in particular.

I judged the distance and placed my basket just inside the shade of Morea’s mulberry tree. “I do need some wild onion. I saw some growing near the brook.”

Of course, no sooner had I taken a few steps I heard Morea’s laughter. I turned, and of course she had the basket.

“That’s mine,” I said.

“Anything in the shadow of my mulberry belongs to me, and don’t think I’ve forgotten the time you put your filthy hands on my tree. I think I still owe you something for that. Now watch.”

And I did, looking sullen, as she ate everything in the basket and drank the small jug of cider besides. I had wondered about the cider, but considering it was mostly water, I didn’t think it would hurt her. It did bring a bit of a blush to her already rosy cheeks.

“May I at least have the basket back?”

“Sure,” she said, and threw it at me. “One more thing…”

“Yes?” I asked.

“You’re a terrible actor. Thank you,” she said, and disappeared.

Maybe I didn’t know her as well as I thought.

©2021 Richard Parks

The Earworm

Been a crazy couple of days. So rather than get into that, here’s a piece of flash-mostly-fiction.

The Earworm

He groaned. “I can’t get it out.”

She frowned. “Get what out?”

“The earworm. Been in my head for the last three days.”

“It’ll go away eventually. They all do.”

“Tell that to the earworm.”

She considered. “What is it?”

He shook his head. “If I tell you that, you might catch it.”

“Doesn’t work that way. Besides, you know our tastes are different. Now, say, if you were to tell me the earworm involved early T-Rex or Rod Stewart, I might worry. Otherwise? No.”

“No T-Rex. No Rod.  It’s Al Stewart.”

She looked thoughtful. “Well, there’s some overlap there. It’s not ‘The Eyes of Nostradamus’ is it?”

“No. It’s ‘The Roads to Moscow.’”

She looked at him. “You’re kidding. Besides being ancient, that thing is eight minutes long! You’re telling me you’ve got an earworm that lasts eight consecutive minutes at a time?”

“No, and that’s the whole problem.”

“Once again, in English this time?”

“Think about it. An eight-minute song with complex and often subtle lyrics. I can’t get it straight!”

She put her hands on her hips. “You’re telling me you’ve got an earworm that never gets finished because you can’t remember the lyrics?”

“In a nutshell, yes. It should take eight minutes, but I keep misremembering the lyrics so I can’t get through the whole thing. And I have to get through the whole thing or it doesn’t count!  I keep making corrections, starting over, messing up, starting again. It never ends!”

“Doesn’t count? With whom?”

“With me. You know I’ve got a touch of OCD.”

“More than a touch, I’d say. In my less charitable moments, I’d even say you were the one who was touched. In the head.”

“Not helping.”

“You didn’t ask for help. Are you?”

He sighed. “Yes. Take pity on me.”

“Fine. Go online and do either one or both of the following: Memorize the lyrics properly or just listen to the song over and over until either you can’t get it wrong, or your brain rebels, crawls out your nose, and strangles you.”

“I knew there was a reason I married you. But why did you marry me?”

She shrugged. “Pity…and it’s nice to be needed.”

©2021 Richard Parks

Royal Dilemma

Once upon a time there was a rich and powerful kingdom which no one remembers.

One might ask “If they’re totally forgotten, how can you tell us a story about them?” Simple—the kingdom may be forgotten but its stories are not. Kingdoms eventually fall, cultures collapse, but all stories need to continue is someone to tell them, and someone to hear. That’s me and you.

Now the monarch of this kingdom had a dilemma. His ancestors had long since realized automatically handing the crown to their eldest child made no sense. Maybe one accident of birth made those children royalty, but it was asking far too much of providence to grant that any one of them could be suited for the crown.

No, anyone wishing to inherit the throne had to show they had the right qualities. In a family with a lot of offspring, this was no easy feat, and often involved poison, sharp implements, and long falls from high towers. The current monarch had been relatively lucky; he only had one sister and had tricked her into joining a convent. Now he could feel his time growing short and he needed to choose an heir.

He didn’t have one.

Oh, he’d had children, right enough. His late Queen had been safely delivered of five of them: two girls, three boys. The girls were too much alike and thus managed to poison each other at the same tea party. One truly promising lad eliminated both of his older brothers in one epic but completely fake hunting accident, only to die himself one year later in a real one.

His Majesty was certainly not oblivious to the irony of the situation, but the problem remained.

“The system usually works but does not take the whims of fate into account.”

His Majesty’s only option was to send out a call to the other kingdoms in the realm, offering the throne to second and third sons and daughters of their ruling houses, since most royalty of the area was either closely or distantly related. Unfortunately, the other kingdoms were quite aware of the conditions in place to win that particular throne, and on the day set for the arrival of the candidates, only one young man appeared.

He was hardy-looking fellow dressed in forest green and carried a longbow in his hand and arrows in his belt. The king looked him up and down and pointed out the obvious.

“You do not look like a prince,” he said.

“I am the only son of a princess, and thus a prince,” the young man said.

“Who then is your mother? Do I know her?”

“You should. You once tricked her into a nunnery. She escaped. You won’t.”

With that the young man drew his bow and loosed an arrow so quickly that no guard had time to react. Even after the arrow struck him, the king could not stop smiling.

“My heir,” he said, as the light faded, “The system still works.”

©2021 Richard Parks

Lapis Philosophorum

As I’ve stated before (probably ad nauseum), I used to have a dim view of flash fiction. I’ve since learned better. For one thing, it’s the perfect medium for little offhand notions that are fun to play with, but probably not substantive enough to support longer work. Sort of like a feghoot, but without the pun. So here’s a new one, because it’s fun to play.

Lapis Philosophorum

“The problem with immortality,” Daniel said, “is it doesn’t last long enough.”

Daniel was my oldest friend, but he was prone to gnomic utterances. One simply had to play along or ignore him. I had learned that it was ultimately more fun and even occasionally enlightening to play along, which is why we’re still friends. It also likely explains his three divorces.

“You do realize what you’ve said is a total contradiction in terms? Immortality does not end. That’s why they call it immortality.”

“Oh, but it does. Mine ended about three weeks ago, when I had my first heart scare.”

The pacemaker was still a source of some discomfort to him, both physically and mentally. Maybe there was something at the heart—so to speak—of his nonsense aphorism.

“So you were immortal…and now you’re not?”

“How could I be otherwise? All the death in the history of the human race was an abstraction to me and therefore it did not and would not apply to me in any real way.  I was special…in the sense that I was just like everyone else who also believed themselves immortal.”

“Humans aren’t immortal.”

Daniel was in his element. “Ultimately? No. My point is the belief is almost always there. Death is something that happens to other people. So, if death is not real to you then, logically, you’re immortal.”

“The premise is flawed, ergo so is the logic. Death is absolutely real.”

“No doubt. But you must admit the belief in one is dictated by disbelief of the first. I knew I was mortal, but I didn’t believe it. Now I do. My immortality is at an end.”


He glanced at me. “Are you going to tell me that you never felt as if you’d never die? Seriously?”

I sighed. “As you say. I knew it, didn’t believe it. So I guess I was once immortal too. Is there a point to this?”

“I was thinking of the origins and practice of alchemy.”

This, too, was typical Daniel. “Are you changing the subject, or is there a connection I’m not seeing?” From my experience the odds were roughly fifty-fifty, so it was always best to ask.

“I think there is. Consider the Philosopher’s Stone, the ultimate goal of every alchemist worth his alembic. They believed it existed. Ergo they tried everything to find it. They failed. Why?”

“Because a substance that can transmute lead into gold and confer immortality does not exist, Nicolas Flamel notwithstanding, and all the futile mixing of tinctures and heating of mercury was never going to find it.”

“True. Yet in the pursuit of the Stone they collectively discovered the reactive properties of thousands of substances and laid the foundation for the very real science of chemistry. Their life’s goal was an delusion, but the result was not.”

“So you’re saying our delusions of immortality may serve a practical purpose? Such as?”

He smiled. “If I knew that, I really would be immortal.”

©2021 Richard Parks