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Masks and Magic


Masks and Magic

Mother and I watched as the small raccoon waddled up to us and dipped his head slightly in greeting. He carried something in his mouth.

“Good morning, Masker,” said my mother gravely. Raccoons are notoriously vain. He swelled up in size a little bit, straightening his shoulders as he swallowed whatever small wriggling thing he carried in his mouth so it couldn’t escape while we carried on our conversation.

“Good morning,” he trilled, somehow maintaining his dignity. Their language is related to that of bears but it’s pitched so high and so spoken so quickly that I can only catch a word here and there beyond social pleasantries. Mother listened carefully, and after a few seconds she began to nod.

“Ah,” she said cheerfully, “I thank you,” and the raccoon smiled with a slight bow and sauntered off, looking for more squirming things moving in and upon the expanse of nearby green lawns where the sprinklers had just shut down. Mother pointed ahead of us and to one side, and we began walking towards the creek bed that twisted in the bottom of the nearby ravine. We moved as silently as possible on the rocky little trail that led us down to the water’s edge.

We could see the Naiad. She sat upright, half in, half out of the water on a pile of rocks. Her rough green hair was as damp as a clump of algae, and her eyes shone silver, reflecting what light came from the sky. She had a carved pumpkin in the crook of one blue arm, and as we watched she reached into the pumpkin and handed a large crayfish to a vibrant red fox that stood at the head of a line of woodland creatures. The vixen gave a short bark of thanks from her clenched jaws and trotted gracefully down the creekbed until she was out of sight. The Naiad reached into the pumpkin again and produced a small flapping minnow for the chubby young raccoon that took the vixen’s place.

Halloween is a magical time, an acknowledgement of the power of autumn and the changing season, and it’s celebration is something all of us take seriously. Mother and I regarded the little scene before us for a few minutes, watching as an opossum received a small mossy container that appeared to contain a bevy of bloated ticks, and a brace of squirrels were handed a cluster of wild water chestnuts. Dawn began to lighten the sky as the line of animals came to an end.

“Perfect,” Mother said smiling. We watched an owl flap down and receive the final gift of the evening, a sizable carp that the Naiad tossed skyward with a casual flip of her wrist. The owl gripped the squirming fish in its talons as it soared towards a tall oak tree, flying carefully. The Naiad looked up at us and smiled for a moment, shark-like teeth glinting as she slid back into the water and was gone. I watched the ripple dissipate in the dark water as I mused.

“Do you think it sad,” I asked, “that it requires magic to ensure each of these little ones got what they wanted?”

The surface of the creek had smoothed out, but suddenly the Naiad’s head broke the surface, and I took an involuntary half-step back in surprise as she looked up and spoke to us. There was a quality in her voice that made it as clear and harsh as the sound of the rush of the unseen rapids one hears when taking a bend in the river, just before the rocks loom up from below.

“What is sad,” she said, “is that most beings in the world never let themselves see the magic that could grant joy to their lives.” Mother chuckled and touched my shoulder lightly as the creature’s wet head slipped below the surface and was gone.

“She’s right,” I said, and it caught in my throat as I realized the truth of what the Naiad had spoken.

“Yes, she is,” Mother agreed quietly. “But- what is good,” she said into the quiet as the first light of the sun began to dance on the top of the water, sending a sparkling glow onto the colorful autumn leaves around the creek bed, “is that even now, there is still some magic to be found.”

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© 2023 by Alan Allinger