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The Tale of Sam Short
Once, there was a little boy. His name was Sam, and he was short, so his parents named him Sam Short, throwing off the shackle that was his actual last name, and instead giving him a completely redundant one, since anyone who could see Sam could tell that he was short. Regardless, his parents were not as intelligent as the narrator, a very, very intelligent man.
Sam grew up a boy--not an exceptional boy, merely a boy. Since Sam had no magical powers, nor any great intellect, nor anything truly special, this story will also be rather ordinary. A story for a bored narrator to tell until he thinks of a better one.
The Johnson family and their short son lived in a small cottage in the woods, because that’s where fairy-tale-types tend to live. Of course, something rather insignificant decided to go wrong. Sam was busy working on his math problems, getting six out of ten right, just like he always did, when his mother cried out to him with a voice that had all the beauty of a banshee and all the elegance of a recently deceased epileptic bird in midflight.
“Samuel Short! Get down here!”
This confused Sam. They lived in a one-story house. Then Sam remembered he was sitting on the roof. Silly Sam. You can’t do math problems on a roof. Everyone knows that.
Sam hopped off the roof, going two-brown-shoe-clad-feet-first onto a little wooden grate which gave ever so wonderfully under his weight, which was small, because he was short. He ran around the house, feet plodding along like happy rabbit feet before some corporate maniac slices them off and sells them as good luck charms at a Native American casino somewhere in Connecticut.
To clarify, this story does not take place in Connecticut.
Sam pushed open the door to see his mother sitting in the kitchen, surrounded by three severed heads, a pot of boiling water, thyme, and an empty space where the rosemary ought to have been.
That was odd, thought Sam. Mother never forgot the rosemary. And indeed Sam was right. Rosemary Mary Johnson never did forget her rosemary.
“Sam,” said Rosemary Mary Johnson with a voice not unlike a drunk demon whose vocal chords had been cut out and replaced with a voice box, because she hadn’t heeded the warnings on those adorable cigarette boxes. “I need you to buy me rosemary.”
“But mother, you are Rosemary. I can’t buy you.”
“Lower-case ‘r’, Sam.”
“Wait! I have a rhyme for you,” said his mother.
“This is a fairy tale. It is obligatory. And it must be indented and italicized. That is also obligatory.
“Out to the clearing you must go,
And with you bring the herbs in tow.
If you should fail, you know the cost;
Your sorry butt I must accost.”
Sam ran out the house. He knew what his mother wanted now. He needed to find rosemary. There was usually rosemary in the forest. Unless the big, bad, certainly-evil-and-by-no-means-a-caricature-intended-to-teach-young-Sam-a-lesson villain had already stolen all the rosemary. What if the villain couldn’t spell this time, and accidentally stole Sam’s mother?
These were thoughts the narrator had that Sam evidently did not share, for Sam wandered ever so strikingly off into the dark reaches of the forest, so long as he could still see his house. Sam was not quite that adventurous. Then, all of a sudden, Sam scratched his arm on a rosethorn.
That means Sam is menstruating, even though he is a man. Spooky.
Sam suddenly didn’t feel worried about being away from his home, or even seeing his home. He had the confidence that he could find his way back, even though he was short. Weird, how liminal moments work like that.
Suddenly, Sam burst upon a conveniently placed patch of rosemary, devoid of any trees, and just a step beyond the sight range of his house.
“Sam,” whispered a voice at the edge of the rosemary patch. The voice sounded like an avocado. Crinkly on the outside, buttery luscious heaven on the inside. “I’ve stolen all of your rosemary.”
“No, you haven’t,” replied Sam. “I can see it. It’s right there.” Sam grabbed a sprig of Rosemary and held it up to show the villain. “See?”
“Sam, that’s your mother,” said the villain, very confused. “This isn’t how the story is supposed to go.”
Oh, sorry, that one was my bad. Let’s try that again.
Sam grabbed a sprig of rosemary and held it up to show the villain. “See?”
“Smell it, Sam. I don’t think you’ll find what you believe you will find.”
Sam followed the villain’s orders, because no villain could ever actually trick a hero with a gimmick like that. No, certainly not. Sam’s intuition was correct. It did absolutely nothing to him. The rosemary sprig did not, however, smell like rosemary. It smelled like nothing.
“This isn’t rosemary,” said Sam, confirming to my ever so intelligent audience a painfully obvious truth.
“No, no it is not,” said the villain, further confirming this all too obvious reality.
“If you want the rosemary, then you will have to--”
“No, that’s okay.”
The villain materialized. He looked just like Sam, sounded just like Sam, even though actual Sam couldn’t have known that, because Villain-Sam hadn’t yet spoken. “What do you mean, that’s okay?”
“I don’t really care about the rosemary. My mom is just going to use it to make a potion out of some severed heads, and if we’re being really honest, I’m not sure if she should be doing that in the first place.”
“You should obey Rosemary, Sam,” said Villain-Sam. “She is your mother. When has she led you astray?”
“Plenty of times. Whenever we go on walks in the forest, she hits me over the head with a rock and leaves me to find my way back without any supplies. She says it builds character, but I think she’s just trying to kill me so she can make a potion out of my severed head.”
“You should still obey your mother, Sam.”
“Even when she’s making potions out of severed heads?”
“Especially when she’s making potions out of severed heads.”
Sam looked at Villain-Sam, who had begun frothing at the mouth like a rabid bunny who’d just overdosed on God-knows-what. “No,” said Sam. “I don’t think so. I think making potions out of severed heads is wrong.”
“Are you certain?”
Sam thought hard for a moment. “I think so. I’m 70% sure.”
“Well, seven out of ten is good enough for me. All right. Pack it up boys! It’s been a great show.”
Sam looked around. Villain-Sam had taken his mask off--he wasn’t a villain. Just someone paid to do a job. The trees weren’t real either, just cardboard cutouts that crumpled and fell when the stage crew pushed them aside. The actress playing Rosemary pulled off her mask and sat beside Sam--this was his mother, a person like him, not whatever beautiful, infallible witch there was before. All around him, the facade faded, the set struck itself, and eventually, the bright colors that would have put a circus to shame gave way to concrete gray and yellow backlit windows. For the first time in his life, Sam felt all but alone.
He turned in his seat--there was a folding chair beneath him, he now realized. His mother sat in the chair beside him, arm draped around him. The lights faded, then shuttered into blackness. Sam whimpered in the cold and lonely darkness.
“It’s okay, Sam,” said his mother. “Someday, you’ll sit where I am, your arm around your son.”
Sam didn’t reply. He and his mother sat there, staring into the darkness, holding each other, until the lights began to flicker back to life.