A young woman lived alone on the high plains between the sawtoothed peaks of indelible mountains. To pass the time, she collected sacred footprints, old wooden wheels that could fit into her palms, golden tape measures, brass coins with holes in their centers, silver tweezers, and the odd gear or screwdriver. One day, she encountered a fox, the most beautiful fox she had ever seen. It could teleport from one place to another. One moment it was on the horizon, and a moment later it was resting under a dried-up tree close by. The longer she gazed at it, the more she wanted it to keep her company, but she remembered that foxes are dangerous beings; their presence only leads to trouble. She walked on, scouring the land for stone beads, rare things, and sacred footprints, when the fox began to speak to the wind, telling it the story of the enchanted wooden horse. The woman had never found one of those before. Curious, she stopped to listen as the fox related all of the misadventures and mysterious exploits of the wooden horse. The shadows shifted on the rocks, sand and golden grass. Clouds raced back and forth across the high blue sky. Night began to fall when a cluster of stars formed themselves into a galloping, white horse. It must have been the enchanted wooden horse itself, descending from the sky in a light, quiet snowfall. The white horse neighed and trotted up to her, bringing its soft muzzle down to her cheek. Then the young woman gasped. The fox was nowhere in sight, and all of her screwdrivers, stone beads, wooden wheels, brass coins, silver tweezers, golden tape measures, rusted gears and sacred footprints had vanished. It has long been said in legends and in lectures that the words of a fox remain in the air for a long time after he has gone. In the great night of the mountains, the young woman rode the white horse through the endless desolation.
The white stone was ordinary, almost oval, and beautiful to look at. The pilgrim allowed the other travellers to take turns holding it, but nobody could see what was so special. They returned the stone to him, and went their way. The pilgrim walked the great road past monuments, famous views, venerated boulders or trees, and ancient bridges without seeming to notice anything. Several carriages almost ran over him and a donkey had to gently nudge him out of the way at one point, since he was so lost in the radiance of the stone. A sentry at a gatehouse watched him, and decided to ask what the stone was all about. The pilgrim took him down to the river. This stone is like a library or a gallery, said the pilgrim. When I wash the stone, I see a line of boats along the shallows where I grew up. Or a little army of frogs racing over black rain drops on white water! The sentry smiled at the thought. The pilgrim led him by the arm back up to the roadway, and held the stone out in the sun, drying it in his palm. Now, I see the great plain where they hunt stones; it is covered in snow! The distant mountains are a pale but bold shade of blue. The cranes have already departed. The houses scattered across the fields look like hayricks. Sometimes at night, when it is quite warm, I see the steam rising from a volcanic lake or the nape or throat of a beautiful girl. The sentry laughed, not sure if the pilgrim were the wisest or maddest person he had ever met. Where can one find such enchanted stones? the sentry asked. I found mine when I was a child. I found it at the back of an old stone warehouse where my grandfather stored his rusting farm implements. There were all kinds of tools! Rakes, scythes, shears, plows, hoes, saws, and other things I can no longer name! Do not worry, you will find your stone! The sentry thanked the pilgrim, and invited him to tea in the gatehouse before sending him along. On the roadway at twilight, he found a black stone, dusted but ink-dark once he polished it. The nights of long ago wafted out of the hard mineral surface, and he could see the rooftops, a rusted sea of tiles, and the moon and stars far above.
A lost oarman drifted with his oar over the wine-dark sea, his galley having been wrecked not long after it had departed from a burning city in the east. The wind and the waves drove the poor sailor to an almost uninhabited land that had fallen under a terrible curse. On the shores, he met three gray sisters who begged him to slay the monster in the west who had cursed their realm. This monster was said to have wings, tentacles, and strong legs. They gave him a glowing, living glass eye with a dark pupil at its center. It was soft and cool in his palm. That night he traveled safely by its light. In the morning he met an orphan girl who also begged him to slay the great monster. She said it was not the hippogriff, not the chimaera, not like the hydra nor one of the gorgons, nor was it a sphinx. It was more like a person with the head of a calamarius and the wings of a phoenix. It lived at the end of the world. She gave the oarman a mechanical pegasus of wood and silver. Mounting this, he could travel faster, and throughout the next night he traveled closer and closer to the end of the world. The next day, he found a colony of horrified sleepwalkers who gave him magic scrolls with enchanted words, an adamant sword that shimmered like lightning, and the head of a statue that could turn whatever it gazed upon into ice. Armed with these wonders, the lost oarman flew further west. After crossing snowy mountains that came down to the shore, he followed the rugged coastline again, searching and searching for the abomination. The mechanical winged horse suddenly began to smoke and wheeze, and tumbled to the earth, breaking into a hundred pieces. The oarman was lucky to be alive. Night had fallen, so he took out the magic eye. It glowed for a time, during which he discovered that the enchanted scrolls had either faded or turned to dust and the adamant sword was quickly melting into water. He unhooded the magic statue to turn some dirt into ice so he could have water to drink, but it stared mutely into space, and nothing happened. He kicked it over the edge of a cliff. Distressed but undaunted, the lost oarman ventured further west along the coast, holding the dimly glowing eye. Just before dawn, the eye began to whisper frantically, but he could not understand what it wanted to say. It flickered and then went out, turning hard as a stone. It did not matter. The stars indicated that this was indeed the end of the world. He had reached the final great cliff. Below him stretched a glittering beach, and beyond stretched the great empty sea sparkling by the light of the moon and stars. The monster would be nearby. The oarman slept. In the early morning, before it was morning, he saw a shadowy figure on the beach below. It had the body of a man, the wings of a giant bird, and the head of a black octopus. The monster strolled up and down the beach, cursing softly to itself. Its wings were in tatters. At long last, it took off its octopus mask and wings, sat down on some driftwood, built a campfire and began to mend the wings with a needle and thread. For hours it sewed and sewed, only stopping now and then to drink from a carafe of wine or water and stretch its muscular arms. When the rosy dawn broke through the darkness, the man dressed in his wings again and put the octopus head back on his own head. In the half-light of the end of the world, the shadow
was truly terrible to behold.
The city was a large oasis, renowned for its bathing pools, lush trees and wide avenues. A woman with child was traveling, and came to bathe her tired feet and rest. The turquoise water felt so good, she drifted off into sleep. The sound of weeping and frantic speech awoke her, but she saw nothing unusual. Young maidens in soaked gowns cooled their thighs, philosophers in immaculate loin cloths walked slowly, holding their bright umbrellas, and youths swam and splashed. She got up and walked the shaded streets, following the mournful sound, until she came to a dark and deserted pool, where a skeleton sat on the stone edge, dangling its legs in the water just as she had done moments ago. In between fits of weeping, the weathered and cracked skeleton praised her own beauty, spread her femora wide open, and promised infinite pleasure to whoever would caress her and praise her beauty. The mother stared in disbelief until a passerby explained that it was the enchanted skeleton of a once wealthy princess who had practiced starvation and meditation in order to become the most beautiful woman in the world. Cursed for her arrogance, she was doomed to live without peace and weep as a skeleton, mocked by all who passed by, unless someone slept with her. Lay with me, lay with me, the skeleton whispered and sobbed, her phalanges stretching out in a seductive gesture, as she overheard the exchange of words. Almost in tears herself, the mother went over, picked up the skeleton, and cradled it in her arms, carrying it and walking the broad streets leading out of the city, while the skeleton hissed and hissed. Beyond the gates, where the oasis faded into stones and pebbles and mountains of rust and snow, the mother kissed the forehead of the skeleton. She asked it to sing. The skeleton sang an old air beautifully in a distant and soft voice. Laying the skeleton down, and holding it like an infant, pressing its skull to her breast, the mother said that she was indeed very beautiful, and they would sleep together for awhile. The mother sang a lullaby as the bones broke into dust, and the sobbing and whispering returned to the peaceful rustle of sand and gentle sough of wind.
Once upon a time, there was a wooden bear. At midnight, he would transform into a real bear, and go walking through the snow, smoking cigarettes, drinking cider, eating small creatures and philosophizing to the stars. After three or four hours of such nonsense, he would return to his place before an old shop, and sleep as a wooden statue once again. There was a slightly mad cellist who was wealthy, lonely, cruel and mad. One night, she saw the bear wake up and walk in the wet snow. She had to have the wooden bear as her own possession, and hurried home to make her plans. Within a few days, she had paid off the shopkeeper and some brawny fellows to haul the wooden bear to her home. That very afternoon, she made coffee and pastries, and invited all of her rich friends over to brag about her acquisition. They fawned on her and praised her. She was so pleased, she forgot about the enchantment of the carved statue and her devious, secret plans for it. She went straight to bed and slept well. On the stroke of midnight, the wooden bear came alive and went into a temper when he realized he was not at his home on the street. First, he raided her cellar and drank her cider and ate all of her salmon, whether canned, dried, or frozen. Then he left claw marks and tears on her furniture and her curtains. Lastly, he began to play her cello, and he played it very beautifully, far more beautifully than she or anyone in the town could ever hope to play. Hearing the music and waking from her sleep, the woman went downstairs to investigate. Storming into the parlour and seeing the chaos, the woman screamed in rage at the bear. Had she not paid good money for him? Was this her reward? The bear cited the law, and had her know that he had not been paid a cent to be kidnapped and to become her prisoner, but he would gladly keep her cello if she wished to avoid arrest and a long trial. Then, the wooden bear left and walked home, stopping now and then to play something beautiful to accompany the white snowflakes gently falling in the brilliance of the lampposts on the deserted streets.