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This month’s question questions beginnings.

A bolt of lightning had zapped the electrical circuits, plunging the Fairy Tale Lobby into darkness.

Sagacia, busy plucking Murzik’s claws from the bib of her pinafore told Simplia where she could find a stash of candles. Simplia groped her way to the cupboard under the espresso machine and rummaged around, praying the barista had set no mousetraps. In less time than it takes to tell, she had retrieved a double fistful of votive candles and tiny glass saucers and had distributed them amongst her Magical Friends.

What a lovely scenario: The Fairy Tale Lobby providing refuge for a band of storytellers. There was only one thing missing. No one could lay their hands on a match. Or a flint. Or a Zippo lighter. Simplia was hit with the realization that all of her Magical Friends had quit smoking. Probably about the same time she had. And there they sat. In darkness. On a stormy night.

Simplia said, “Somebody tell us a story to pass the time.”

Silence ensued. Nobody rose to the task.

“What’s with you all?” she demanded. “Usually it’s hard to get a word in edgewise, and now suddenly you’re all tongue-tied?”

“My mind went blank when the lights went off,” came a voice from the darkness.

“Yeah, same here. I just can’t get revved up to tell a story into pitch darkness.”

“Me, too. For me, eye contact is absolutely essential.”

At that moment, as if on cue, the postmistress appeared in their midst, illuminated by the beam of her Army surplus flashlight.

“Special Delivery for Vasilisa the Wise,” she announced.

Sagacia reached out to receive the letter.

“I’ll sign for it,” she said. “And before you go, could you shine your light this way so I can read who it’s from?”

The postmistress obligingly trained her beam on the envelope’s upper left-hand corner. The return address read, “Stymied in Steilacoom.”

“Open it!” everybody urged. Including the postmistress.

Sagacia obliged. Aloud, she read:

“Dear Vasilisa the Wise — I’m stuck. Over the course of my life I have read many wonderful fairy tales, from all four corners of the world. They live in my heart. They play in my imagination. But I have never heard them spoken. I am unable to tell them. My fairy godmother was in cahoots with my nursemaid, and at my christening she decreed that whenever I heard the words “once upon a time,” I would slip into a sound, restful sleep. While I slept, godmother and nurse indulged in endless games of pinochle. I am now a grown man. Granted, I have never suffered from insomnia or sleep deprivation. But neither have I experienced the joy of recounting a fairy tale to a companion, because as soon as the first phrase — “Once upon a time” — leaves my mouth, I’m zonked! Can you advise me? Stymied in Steilacoom”

Simplia said, “I’d call him Stupid in Steilacoom, myself.”

“Simplia!” Sagacia was shocked. “Your tactlessness is going to get you in trouble one day.”

But all the Magical Friends agreed.

“Really!” they said. “As if ‘once upon a time’ were the only way to launch a fairy tale. Why, there are dozens and dozens and dozens of ways to wind them up and set them in motion.”

“All right,” said Sagacia. “Rather than criticize the poor fellow, let’s put our heads together and create a list for him of some of our favorite fairy tale openings.”

Suddenly, the Fairy Tale Lobby was humming with conversation, and soon the conversation gave way to full-bore stories. Nobody seemed to notice when the postmistress slipped out, taking her Army surplus flashlight with her.

The lights never came back on that night. But the rain had softened to a gentle mist by the time the Simplia and Sagacia headed for home.

“I just hope our Magical Friends remember to write down all those wonderful opening lines so we can send them on to Stymied in Steilacoom,” Sagacia said.

Simplia didn’t respond. Her head was somewhere else.

“What if Homer had let the absence of eye contact shut him up?” she wondered.

(illustration by Walter Appleton Clark, The Canterbury Tales)