The Jar of Dirt


The Jar of Dirt

                There once was a boy who was very kind. He was so kind that all the mystical creatures couldn’t help but love him. He easily befriended them as he played in the forest beyond his home. This is how he met his best friend, the fire bird. The most beautiful of all the forest creatures.

This bird was the color of the flames that warmed his home those cool spring mornings, all red and orange and gold, shimmering in the morning sun. The bird was young and playful and the two would run through the woods, like a boy trying to catch a fireball in the trees.

As summer came, the bird had grown. He had gone from a chicken sized bundle of fiery feathers, to a proud four-feet-tall, sporting long plumage that streaked behind him like streamers. The boy was delighted at his friend’s new height, they could do a lot more with the bird being more his size.

In the fall, the boy’s delight became fear, the bird was growing so fast. He now towered over the boy like his father did. He was also older in his ways, slowing the boy down with words of caution and preferring to build a giant nest amongst the trees, rather than play.

The boy treasured his friendship with the bird though, so he helped as much as he could. As the leaves on the trees transformed from their glossy greens and yellows to brilliant golds and red, the bird grew older and older. When the last leaf fell from the trees and the winter settled over the land the bird had settled into his nest, like an old man waiting for his path to heaven.

The boy was sad about his friend’s new ways, but the bird was filled with wonderful stories, and in the winter air there was no place warmer in the forest than by the bird’s side. All the small animals of the forest agreed, and the boy was often accompanied in the nest by lots of little mice, squirrels and rabbits. All seeking the warmth and protection the bird offered freely.

One brisk morning the boy came to the nest, only to find none of the animals were there. Just the bird snuggled down in the nest, his dark red feathers shimmering in the morning sun. He looked like a pile of sleeping coals, his breath rumbling out in a low, deep snore. The boy climbed into the nest with the bird, and was immediately pulled in close by a soft wing.

“Welcome, small friend,” the bird whispered to him.

“Hello, big friend,” the boy whispered back. “Where has everyone gone?”

“They left early this morning. It is time for me to go, and it is not safe for them to be here,” the bird sighed, laying his long neck over the edge of the nest. He looked forlornly out over the quiet trees.

“But why must you leave?” the boy asked, now sitting up in the nest.

“Because it is my time my young friend,” the bird said standing in the nest. His feathers ruffled and he stretched his wings high above him. “I cannot tell you more than that.”

The boy stood quickly and hopped out of the nest. The bird was suddenly very hot, the air around him shimmered from it. His feathers seemed to glow before the boy’s eyes and he felt scared, but also reassured at the same time. The feelings confused him, his friend was about to leave but he felt as though it would be okay.

The bird chuckled as if he knew what the boy was feeling, he shook his feathers again and the heat increased.

“I cannot tell you what to do, but I leave you with this advice my little friend,” the bird was now towering above him, almost as tall as the trees, his feathers gleaming like the sun. “Always follow your heart little one, always listen to how you feel. Do not allow others to sway you with their own beliefs, fears or greed. Protect what you know is right and you will be rewarded and we shall meet again.”

The boy threw up his arm as the bird burst into flames above him, the flash was silent but spectacular. When he finally pulled his hands away from his face, he was staring at an empty nest.

“Big friend!” he cried. “Where did you go?! What did you mean follow my heart?”

“Be still and listen,” a quiet voice whispered through the trees. It was the maiden of the woods, Queen Morgana. She was watching, even she could not resist the kindness radiating from the boy.

The boy calmed himself and crawled over into the nest. There sat a small pile of many colored ashes and on top a small round rock. He pulled out a jar from his bag. He carried it to catch small bugs or even fairies from time to time, whenever they would end up in places of the forest that were dangerous for them. He scooped the ashes into the jar and gently placed the rock on top.

He put the jar in his bag. Bidding a sad goodbye to his friends in the forest, he made his way home. The snow was coming soon and without the bird to keep him warm he would not be able to come out to play.

The boy thought about the jar, as he made his way down the path to his house. The little houses along the lane had their doors shut, except for one. The old man from the old monastery. He always had his door open, and he always sat on a short stool just outside the door. No matter the weather, there he sat, watching all who came by and preaching God’s word to anyone who would listen.

He was a good man, but he had not taken the closing of the old monastery very well. Though the walls had started to cave around him, he still had wanted to stay. The villagers had built him this tiny house and moved him there against his will. The boy felt sorry for him, so he always stopped to visit him.

“Well hallo boy, why do you look so sad in the face and spirit today?” the old man said very quietly. Although he was not within hallowed walls anymore, the old man did not get out of the habit of hushed words, so any who wanted to speak with him had to lean in very close to hear him.

As the boy leaned in to hear the man, the jar slipped from his bag. He gasped as the jar plummeted to the cobblestone path, but immediately sighed in relief as the quick hands of the old man reached out to grab it. He hefted the jar in his hand a moment, settling the rock back in its center, before handing it back to the boy.

“Now, where did that jar of dirt come from?” the old man asked, turning his clouded blue eyes up at the boy.

“Well, it is a pile of ashes from my dear friend the bird. You see, this very morning, he grew as tall as the trees and burst into flames!” the boy threw his arms into the air to demonstrate the enormity of the situation.

“Well now, that is preposterous! You know that lying is a sin boy,” the old man said.

“But that’s how it happened…” the boy said, dropping his head. The story did sound unbelievable.

The old man squinted at the boy in disbelief. He shook his head very slowly and tipped himself back on the stool. Digging around in his grand, thick robes, he pulled out a bible, and flipped it open to a section on lying. The boy sighed, and sat down on the porch step to listen to the old man’s admonishments.

Much later, the boy was on his way again. Now that half the day was gone, he had to head towards the other side of the village to meet his older brothers coming from school. They would pick up the bread for supper together. He was disappointed that he had gotten in trouble for his story about the bird and the old man had him convinced that, maybe, he really had made the whole thing up in his head.

He had the jar in his hands, studying it closely, when he passed the old woman’s house. He would have sped up to pass her by, but she was standing on her porch and saw him as he approached.

“Hey boy, what do you have there?” she called, setting her broom to the side.

The boy sighed and made his way to the porch. He was quickly formulating a story in his mind about the jar and where it had come from, he didn’t want to be accused of lying again. He didn’t have time for any more lectures.

The woman took the warm jar from him and peered at it curiously. She looked at him over her small round glasses and then back at the jar again.

“So?” she said.

“Well, I was playing in the woods and I found this pile of dirt. It was pretty, so I gathered it up. Then, I found this pretty, little rock and thought it would look good in the jar with it. I am just taking it home to put it in my collection.”

He peered up at the old woman, his heart hurting now, from what he knew was an actual lie. But, if the old man didn’t believe him, how could this old woman.

The woman harrumphed, and shoved the jar back into his hands. She glared at him through her spectacles and snatched up her broom again.

“You know, you ought to leave things where they belong!” she said to him, haughtily as she began to sweep furiously, a cloud of dust making him cough. “You take that jar of dirt,” she spat that word out like dust in her mouth, “and put it back where you found it.”

The old woman’s anger frightened him. All the other children said she was a witch, and by the way her eyes flashed now, he quite believed them. He leapt from her porch, clutching the jar to him and ran as fast as he could to where he would meet his brothers coming from the schoolhouse.

They weren’t there when he arrived, so he settled himself in on the bench and pulled his smashed lunch from his bag. He placed the jar next to him and began to unwrap the paper from his sandwich, which was more of a ball of bread, meat and cheese now. A business man, from the upper part of their village, came to sit beside him. The tall well-dressed man gave the little dirty boy a long sideways glance.

When his eyes caught the gleaming jar of ashes, nestled in beside the boy, he gasped and snatched it up. He turned the jar from side to side, marveling at the many colors inside the glass.

“Now, where did you get this?” the businessman asked, still staring at the jar.

The boy was so confused about what to do, but he knew he needed to get the jar away from that man. He dropped his sandwich, as he reached up to snatch the jar back. The businessman was taken aback and glared down at the boy, his dapper hat sitting over his eyes, making his glower even scarier.

“I found it in the woods,” was all the boy said.

“Well where boy? I could make a lot of money from something as beautiful as that!”

The boy pressed his lips tight and clutched the jar to his chest. This angered the businessman, and he reached down and grabbed the boy by his arm. The boy felt fear, but deep in his heart bravery surged, he knew he must protect his jar, he knew he must follow his heart.

“Well if you won’t tell me, then I will have the judge make you tell me!” the businessman began to haul the boy roughly back down the path to the courthouse.

The old woman came out of her home, and followed the two down the lane. As they passed the old man, he hefted himself up off his stool and wandered after them. They entered the courthouse, where the judge sat in his office, looking very important and stern. The little boy shook with fear, but his heart whispered inside to be brave.

“What is this?” the judge said, rising from his desk.

“This boy, has stolen this jar of dirt from me, and will not tell me where he has hidden the rest!” the businessman cried, shaking the poor boy until his teeth rattled.

“That is not true!” the old man said coming forward. “That boy came from the forest carrying that jar of dirt, and a preposterous story about a great fiery bird as his friend. Those woods are not your land, your land is on the other side of the village. So, there is no way he could have gotten it from you!”

The businessman smiled suddenly. Now he knew where the special dirt had come from. Now all he needed to find out was how the boy had gotten it.

“Well then, I will burn the forest to get to it! It is most precious and will make this village loads of money!”

“No!!” cried the old woman. She knew of all the mystical animals in the forest and to burn it down would kill them all. “Those are the ashes of the great phoenix! If you burn the forest you will kill them all! You will never find any more like what is in that jar!”

“Then we will hunt them down! All the phoenixes will be brought to me! This is too profitable to pass up!”

“Stop!” the boy cried, tears streaming down his face. “You are all wrong! This is no special jar of dirt. There is nothing extraordinary about it!”

The adults all turned to the shaking boy. The businessman let go of his arm and stepped back. The boy held the jar tight and closed his eyes. His heart whispered to him, and he knew just what to say to save his precious jar and his friends in the woods.

“This jar of dirt came from all over,” he said opening his shiny eyes again. “I gathered a little from here and there and then found a lovely round little rock to put in it. I lied to the old man about where it had come from, and then again to the old woman. I just want to take my jar of dirt home to keep it in my collection!”

The three adults felt ashamed of the fuss they were making out of a simple jar of dirt. The boy was obviously just a child, and his imagination had gotten their feathers ruffled. The disappointed businessman grumbled and stalked out of the courthouse.

“You should still put things back where you got them from,” the old lady whispered as she shuffled past him.

“Remember this, next time you feel the need to tell a lie,” the old man said patting the boy’s shoulder, as he too walked out into the afternoon air.

The judge put his hand on the boy’s back and patted him softly. He smiled, and handed the boy his handkerchief to dry his face and blow his nose.

“Sometimes we just need to listen to our heart young man,” the judge said. “Now you hurry on home. Your brothers are waiting for you.”

With that, the boy took off across the village to where his brothers waited at the bench. Neither of the older boys asked him about the jar of dirt he still clutched to his chest. They merely fussed at him for being late, as they all walked home together.

The boy kept the jar of dirt on his shelf all winter. It glowed from time to time, and the boy’s family felt like their home was warm all the time with the jar inside. This was good for them, as wood was hard to come by, for a family as poor as they were. None of his family questioned the jar of dirt and the boy never had to explain it. They just knew that he loved it, and so they loved it as well.

Finally, spring poked its lovely head through the snow of winter and the air began to warm for the new flowers being born. The jar was unbearably hot now, and the boy’s mother had to ask the boy to take it out of the house.

“You should put things back where you found them,” the old woman’s words rang through his memory, as he carried the jar out of their home.

So, he made his way back to the forest. The mystical creatures were so happy to see him. Flitting from tree to tree and watching as he carried the jar to the bird’s old nest. It was filled with snow, but as the boy got closer it melted away. He opened the lid and gently poured the ashes out in the middle, the rock landing with a soft plop on top. It had grown over the last few cold months, he had been afraid it wouldn’t come out.

But there it lay, the size of big goose egg, glowing very softly in the morning light.

A tremble rustled beneath his feet and a bright light slowly came from the woods. The boy was suddenly faced with the beautiful face of the Queen of the forest, Morgana.

“Thank you for taking such good care of our friend,” she said, her voice sounding like the wind through the trees.

The rock started to wobble and crack. It rolled around the nest wildly and the boy gasped.

“What’s going on?” he cried at the woman floating around the trees.

“Watch, listen, be brave,” she whispered, before leaving him all alone with the trembling ground.

Just when he thought the ground would open beneath him, the rock burst into flames. He cried out and fell back from the blast of heat. Then, in the calm that followed, he crawled up into the nest. Amongst the pile of multicolored ashes, lay a tiny little red bird. It lifted its fiery, tufted head and squawked at him. The boy laughed and realized what the bird had been saying.

           He had followed his heart and had not let anything take the jar away from him. He had protected it and it had kept his family warm during the winter in return. And now after all that time, the bird had been reborn and his friend was with him once again.

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