Tangled Tale of a Walk in the Woods
By Kevin Callahan
I went for a walk in the woods.
A visitor to this locality, I found myself with a day to explore. Informed of a vast expanse of woods close by, complete with walking trails, I set off on my lone adventure. The path into the woods is broad and well-trodden. At the entrance to the park, I stop to study a large poster that maps the trails. A box holds smaller printed maps for hikers like me. After a few minutes studying the map to determine a good way in and out, I set off at a nice pace. I have energy snack food, and two bottles of water, the weather is just about perfect. What a glorious day for a stroll.
As I walk, I take in flora and fauna, keeping an eye out for the unusual, animal or mineral. A short way into my journey I spied an old tree limb lying perpendicular to the trail. I stoop to retrieve the branch, thinking it is a nice length for a walking stick, knobby on one end it resembles a sorcerer’s staff. Curiously it seems very ancient and well worn, out of place. I like the heft of the stick, so my new companion and I set off together, down the path.
As I make my way deeper into the forest, I pass several branching trails. I'm not sure at what point it happened, but gradually it seems as if my new staff is taking me, not the other way. Coming abreast of a brushy nearly indiscernible path, and not wanting to get lost in an unfamiliar place off the map, I make to continue, but the stick has other ideas. Oddly, the rod begins pulling me back. The staff becomes heavier in my hand, but when I try to drop it, I am unable to let go. What is this I wonder? Not understanding why, I decide to follow the untrodden pathway. My new friend settles lightly and softly into my hand.
Within a short distance, the path again becomes well-worn and visible. Curious, I stop for a water break and a consult with my map. Hmmm, no reference point can I discern. Turning back, I discover that the path behind is no longer perceptible. What? I turn, again, and resume trekking the only way open to me.
Rounding a slight curve and topping a rise I pause for a rest, that's when I spy the cottage. There is an ancient looking house sitting right in the middle of the path. Oddly out of place, the dwelling looks like a drawing in a Medieval storybook, thatched roof, strange round windows, the entry a massive wooden door. Having no other recourse, I step up and rap soundly on the door with my new-found staff. The door swings ajar, seemingly of its own accord. From inside a disembodied voice bade me enter. Not sure what to expect, I gingerly step across the threshold.
The tiny cottage, which from the outside appeared to block the narrow path, once inside is a vast great room, many sizes larger than the narrow pathway on which it sits. My gaze travels around the space, but I cannot take it all in, antique wooden furniture, tables covered in, well, things. There are stuffed animals of all descriptions, vessels, and objects too numerous to name. Tables strewn with papers, filled with writing in a language I cannot read. There are pens and Chinese brushes near jars of inks of many colors. Standing next to a table is a little man. He is old to be sure, bald on top with a fringe of snowy white hair, full white beard, white eyebrows like two caterpillars. The man wears what might be white pajamas, the cloth covered in strange symbols. He speaks to me in a cheerful, high voice, "Welcome, my name is Marvin, Marvin T. Mac Clain. You can call me Marv or Mac as you prefer. And you are?"
"I, I, I'm John, John Morgan. Where am I?"
"Well, John, you are in MY forest. I don't get many visitors here." Mac smiled, and I swear his eyes twinkled. Clapping his hands in a child-like manner, Mac exclaimed, "You brought my friend back. Just put him over there," indicating a container along the wall, which held several other odd-looking walking sticks. I did as instructed. When I place the staff in the bucket, I’m sure I heard a sigh of contentment. Perplexed, I turn back to my host.
I began, "Uh Mac if you don't mind me asking, how did I get here? What am I doing here? And where the heck is here?" I wait for a response.
Chuckling to himself, Marvin at first seems to ignore me, then, "My friends over there sometimes go out on their own and return with someone they feel might like a visit with me. Apparently, you are one of those people. I was preparing to eat. Why don't you sit and we'll have a meal while we talk?"
Having no other recourse and realizing that my stomach is growling, I take a seat at the table. As we eat and talk, I look around me. "How long have you been here?”
Mac smiled, "Oh, a very long time. Perhaps you are wondering at a strange little house in the middle of a public park? The easy answer is, no one knows it is here. Unless I invite them."
"But, but,” I stammer, “How is that even possible?"
Mac smiles an enigmatic smile and drinks from his cup.
Looking around, I remark on his extensive collection of wooden spoons, which are myriad. There are short warty looking ones, large elegantly curved ones, long thin spoons with various sized bowls, like measuring instruments.
"Ah, my tools? Yes, each of those spoons has a purpose, used for measuring the exact amount needed for my recipes. Each is made of woods from an ancient forest long since gone from this world. These utensils are old beyond measure. My father and his father and many others before have used these spoons."
"Um, uh," I continued, "Used you say? For cooking?"
"In a way," Mac mused, "Used in making potions. You see John I am a necromancer."
Stunned, I pause to collect my thoughts. "You mean like a magician? Spells and incantations? That sort of thing?"
"Exactly that sort of thing John. You see my grandfather was the one the world knows as Merlin in the court of King Arthur. Merlin’s knowledge was passed down to my father, and he to me."
"No, no, no, IF Merlin lived, it would have been centuries ago," I stutter.
"Oh, indeed he did, John. And it was quite a long time ago."
"Mac, you seem rather kindly, but, really aren't these practices you speak of called the Black Arts?"
This time, Mac laughed out loud. "Virtually every story told about my grandfather is wrong. Also, about those of us of his caste. We magicians have powers, yes, but we try not to interfere with the world as such. At any rate, I suspect you think I am just a crazy old crank you stumbled upon during your walk. Isn’t that accurate John?"
"Well, to tell the truth, Mac, I don't know what to think about you, or any of, of... this." I gesture around me. "It IS your life, and you seem to be doing harm to no one. I hardly think I need to judge you. My problem is I am lost and need to find my way back."
Mac once again gave me that grandfatherly look, "Oh pish posh; I'll have you back on your path in no time. But first, won't you join me in a nice cup of tea? Then I’ll send you on your way."
"Well, I really should be... Okay, one cup, then please put me back on my path."
Clapping his hands, Mac bustled over to his stove and placed a large kettle on the fire. He selected a container stenciled with the word TEA in block letters, then looking thoughtfully at his spoons, he chose a tiny thin one and scooped a portion into the teapot. The kettle seemed to go on the boil unusually fast. Soon, I am sipping a cup of strong black tea. Tea unlike any I have ever tasted, robust and dark, but not bitter. Most soothing.
Mac smiles a knowing smile. "You know John you are not here by accident, don't you?" He went on, "Morgan, that's not your original family name." It was not a question, but a statement.
"Why no, our original name was Morgana I believe." I stopped dead in my tracks, realizing what that name might mean.
Mac pressed on, "Yes you see John, Morgan le Fay, Morgana was my grandmother. Yes, that Morgana, but she was no evil witch, that is just something people invented to spice up their stories. Grandma Morgana and Grandfather Merlin married and produced my father. Morgana had a brother, my uncle. He was not involved in the Dark Arts, as you call them. My uncle is your grandfather, many times removed. You see John, you and I are cousins."
I tried to answer but found my mouth would not work properly. It seemed to me to be getting dimmer inside the cottage, the light was fading. That is the last I remember of Marvin T. Mac Clain, AKA, Marvin The Magician.
"Sir? SIR! Do you want another cup of coffee? Or shall I bring the check?"
Suddenly, I awaken from a fog of confusion. Was this merely a day dream? "Wha, what? Oh, no, no more coffee." I peer around at my surroundings and find myself sitting at a lunch counter in a small diner. The entrance to the forested park is visible across the parking lot.
"Are you okay sir?" The waitress hands me my check.
"Why yes, yes I am. I was lost in a dream; that's all." I reach into my pocket for money and grasp something that feels like a pencil. I withdraw a small, ancient carved spoon. With it a piece of parchment with this written on it: John, when you lose your way off the path, prepare a cup of tea, using this spoon. It will bring you peace, and you will have a wonderful life.
This tangled tale is the story of my walk in the woods. I understand it's a wondrous yarn to believe, but if you are ever in my neck of the woods, stop in. I'll fix you a nice cup of tea. Trust me; you'll feel better.