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…a dozen or so storytellers sat in the dark.

“Puss in Boots” by Gustave Dore

Some draped themselves along the davenport, six legs originating from three different chairs rested on the ottoman, a couple of folks had large armchairs to themselves, and a few more were seated at the table, nursing their cooled-down tea.

But, who’d know? It was dark! The lights were still out! Not that that would ever stop a storyteller!

Fado, fado, long, long ago, is the abbreviated traditional Irish beginning,” Yvonne Healy was saying. “It evokes a strong response in people who grew up with it.”

“I use a version of that for my oldest Irish stories,” added Cathy Jo Smith.Fado fado in Eireann, long, long ago in Ireland, and sometimes..”When the red deer and gray wolf still roamed the land, and the hills were still covered with trees…”

“I like that!” said Mary Grace Ketner“I think beginning the story with a traditional opening from the culture it came from honors the story and the culture. Sometimes you don’t even have to translate! People just get it.”

“My personal favorite folktale opening does not work with just any tale, but it still amuses me,” said Csenge Zalka. “The Devil… sat in Hell… and he was ***** bored.” In the darkened room, no one could see her smile, of course, and she couldn’t see a few lifted eyebrows. (Just a couple, though.) “Heard it from a Norwegian storyteller,” she added.

“Well, in that case,” said Mary Grace. “It must be an authentic Norwegian ‘Once upon a time!’”

Csenge continued. “On a more serious note, I really like the ‘There was, and there wasn’t’ kind of openings. That’s the type that’s most common in Hungary.”

The gathered yarnspinners in the Fairy Tale Lobby were momentarily distracted by the scoot of a chair being pushed back and the sigh of a relieved seat cushion. A familiar throat cleared from a slightly higher altitude. Simon Brooks it was.

“Stymied in Steilacoom,” he said, calling upon the plaintiff. “Here are some suggestions…

“It was so long ago that no one is really sure what happened, but this is how I think it occurred.”

He changed to a lower pitch: “Back before my Great, Great Grandmother was a baby, in a country far from there…

And, more softly, more slowly, “When time was just starting to wake up and the world was new…”

Then “Once, so long ago that even the sage is uncertain when it happened…”

Murzik turned over, blinked his eyes and began to listen, now wide awake. But, alas! Murzik waking up is not to suggest that Stymied might do the same! In fact, it’s not to suggest anything at all.

Simon continued eerily: “The moon once told me this story, so it must be old…” 

And, changing key: “My mother told me, so it must be true…”

Then, turning: “Once, when the animals and plants and people all spoke the same language…”

And bowing, “Before man got greedy…”

And standing straight again, “A long, time ago, I can still remember…”

(Of course, no one saw the posturing except the cat.)

Julie Moss Herrera jumped up, suddenly excited.  She had been thinking about poor Stymied in Stielacoom’s problem, too: falling asleep the moment he pronounced the ritual beginning of a fairy tale. This collection of story openers was all well and good, but something had to be done for him, she thought!

“I wonder if you shortened the ‘Once upon a time…’ to just ‘Once…’” she said. “I wonder if that would break the curse. Try it!” she insisted, as though addressing Stymied directly. “What have you got to lose?”

No one answered right away, but it was quiet for just a moment; then the lights came back on revealing some surprised and thoughtful expressions on the faces around the Fairy Tale Lobby.

“If it doesn’t work, then you’ve got a nap,” Julie smiled at the guests on her left, blinking from the sudden brightness.  “If it works,” she continued, turning to those on her right, “You’ve got a story!”

And that is, after all, what Stymied had asked for.

Murzik yawned, stretched, inhaled deeply, sighed, closed his eyes and was soon sound asleep. Which is not to suggest what Stymied in Stielacoom might do.  In fact, it is not to suggest anything at all.