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Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc.
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Many thoughts went through Rabbi Moishe Kessler's mind as he stood hidden in a copse of firs not far from Abram Weisel's cabbage field. The night was cold and windy, and he thought about a crackling fire and a warm bed. The moon was high and bright, and he thought about all the responsibilities he was neglecting for this mad errand. Most of all he thought about Abram Weisel and Serah Leban, and wondered what he could do to bring some small amount of joy to them.

Things could be much worse. The shtetl of Stowica was a bit more prosperous than its neighbors in the Pale of Settlement. Although they were far from wealthy, the inhabitants rarely starved. By the will of Providence, they had not been the victims of pogroms for many years. The people were grateful for their small blessings. But Serah and Abram did not share their content.

Rabbi Kessler shivered and wondered why this sort of thing had to happen to him. He was perfectly willing to devote his time to mundane matters, such as leading the local yeshiva. Although it was true that he had once freed an unlucky fellow from a malevolent dybbuk, and that he had journeyed to Prague and seen the remains of Rabbi Loew's golem with his own eyes, he was not one to seek out the uncanny. Perhaps it would be best to go home, and tell Abram that he had failed in his mission. But he thought about the two young people who depended on him, and he remained.

Serah was a young woman of uncommon beauty and virtue, and she had been engaged to Abram for many months. It was a match made by love alone, for neither the Labans nor the Weisels had much in the way of material goods. Abram was an honest and hardworking young man, Serah was skilled in the ways of making a home, and the match was generally thought to be a good one. It was with great astonishment, therefore, that Serah's parents saw her rush into their home wailing, her pretty face red and wet with tears.

"Abram cannot marry me," she said, sobbing.

"What nonsense is this?" Her father tried to wipe away her tears, and Serah buried her face in his shirt. "Abram is a fine boy, and he adores you."

"Let the child speak." Serah's mother folded her arms and waited in judgement.

Serah pulled away from her father and wiped her nose. "Abram has lost all of his cabbages, and he shall have no money. He says he will not allow his wife to live as a beggar."

"Such a fuss over a few cabbages," her father said gently. "There will be other years, and other crops."

"Hush," his wife said. "Having nothing to take to market is no joke, and marriages cannot survive on honeyed words alone. What has happened to the cabbages, Serah?"

"I don't know, Mama. They're just gone, and now Abram is talking about going to America!" Serah began to weep again.

This was a very serious matter indeed, for only the most desperate of people were willing to make such a long and hazardous journey. Serah's parents were able to convince their daughter to wash her face, sit down, and even to eat one of her favorite poppyseed cakes. Soon she was calm enough to be able to explain everything that had happened.

Although Abram had experimented with many crops, he had achieved great success only with his cabbages. They were imposing monarchs of the vegetable kingdom, arrayed in emerald robes. A strong man could hardly carry more than three or four. More impressive than their size and weight, however, was their exquisite flavor.

Sliced raw into sauerkraut, the cabbages were crisp and tangy. Cooked, they were sweet and delicate. Boiled with beets and potatoes, they produced a borscht that might have graced the table of the Tsar.

Abram was understandably proud of his cabbages, and careful of their welfare. Although he was a gentle man, and did not mind the fact that hares took a few leaves for themselves. Hardly an hour went by during the day when he did not inspect the cabbage field to make sure nothing threatened it. All the more was his dismay when he awoke one fine day to discover that his entire crop had vanished, leaving only bare earth behind.

If his barley had been devastated by blight, or his turnip patch ruined by molehills, Abram might have sighed and gone on. But the loss of his beloved cabbages left him a broken man, ready to abandon his beloved and his native land.

When they heard the whole story, Serah's parents knew there was only one course of action.

"Rabbi Kessler must speak to Abram," her mother declared. "Perhaps he can stop all this foolishness about America."

Serah's father went to speak to Rabbi Kessler, and Rabbi Kessler went to speak to Abram. He praised Serah as a rare treasure; he noted the dangers inherent to emigration; he chastised Abram for breaking the hearts of his family and his betrothed; but to no avail. Yet perhaps there was something in Rabbi Kessler's eloquence which sparked a tiny flame of hope within Abram's soul.

"You have seen that nothing remains of my cabbages," Abram said. "This was not done by animal or insect. Find me the thief, and bring him to justice, and I will remain in Stowica and marry Serah."

 
So it was that Rabbi Kessler found himself in the unlikely position of a detective. He spoke to all of Abram's neighbors, but none of them could tell him anything useful. He examined the field for himself, even going so far as to crawl on his hands and knees, but he found no clues. The soil was undisturbed, save for the footprints of Abram himself. It was as if the cabbages had vanished by magic. He decided to investigate the matter by offering the unknown thief more of what it desired.

By visiting various homes in Stowica, and explaining his plan, Rabbi Kessler was able to gather a modest number of small cabbages from their gardens. To be sure, these were mere peasants compared to Abram's aristocrats; but perhaps the cabbage thief would not be so fussy. Rabbi Kessler placed the cabbages in Abram's field just before sunset, and waited.

Now it was the middle of the night, and Rabbi Kessler had done nothing but chill his bones. He tried to pass the time by admiring the beauty of the stars, and praising their Creator. He fell into a kind of half-sleep, gazing at the glory of the heavens.

The stars seemed to blur and waver, and Rabbi Kessler forced himself awake, but the stars still shimmered. Something nearly invisible seemed to be passing in front of them. He could almost make out the shape of the thing. He seemed to see vast wings outlined by the stars. Was that the reason the wind grew louder and stronger, as if a monstrous bird of prey were about to claim its victim?

Suddenly a pair of the cabbages rose into the air, apparently gripped by unseen hands. More and more of them ascended, as if the thing could grow as many limbs as it desired. Rabbi Kessler could no longer deny the supernatural nature of the being he faced. Invisibility and flight. The ability to change its shape at will. The cabbage thief could be nothing other than a mazikeen.

The mazikeen had been created with great powers, but they were as mortal as human beings. They married and bore children, aged and died, breathed and drank and ate. Apparently at least one ate cabbages. Rabbi Kessler knew that the mazikeen were as unpredictable as people, and wondered if this one would be willing to listen to reason.

"Cease your plundering!" Rabbi Kessler marched out of the firs, hoping that the element of surprise would be on his side. "You bring great harm to those who bear you no ill will."

"Who defies me?" The mazikeen's voice was loud and high, shrieking like a blizzard. "Do you not know that I could destroy you like a worm?"

"Do so! You have already sinned against the commandments with your thievery. Why not add murder to your list of crimes?" Rabbi Kessler hoped that there was less fear in his voice than there was in his heart.

The mazikeen chose to make itself visible, and appeared in the form of a young woman in shining robes. Did it think to disguise itself as an angel? But no angel needed to steal vegetables!

"May not one who is starving take what is needed for survival?" The mazikeen now spoke with a voice that was soft and gentle. Clearly it was not eager to make use of violence.

"That is so," Rabbi Kessler replied. "But surely there is some other way. You have no idea of the sorrow you are creating." He told the mazikeen the story of Serah and Abram, hoping to appeal to its better nature.

The mazikeen transformed itself into a stallion, a sleek and muscular creature blacker than the night. "Climb upon my back, and I will take you to my people." Its voice was now that of a man of mature years. "Perhaps there is some way you can help us."

Rabbi Kessler was no horseman, and meeting one mazikeen was enough of an experience to last a lifetime. Reluctantly, he seated himself upon the creature and wrapped his arms around its neck.

The mazikeen ran more swiftly than any bird, its hooves striking the ground so lightly that Rabbi Kessler felt as if he were flying. It raced past the outskirts of Stowica in the time it takes for a single breath. Fields and forests flashed by like dreams. The mazikeen leapt over wide rivers in single bounds, and climbed great mountains as if they were woodpiles. Soon they had reached the mazikeen's native land.

It was a barren place, with skeletal trees brooding over muddy fields. A few scrawny beasts, something between goats and cattle, grazed on wisps of brown grass. There were strange huts built from stone and clay, but no inhabitants to be seen.

"My people choose to remain invisible to you," the mazikeen explained. "Ever since the time of King Solomon, who made slaves of so many of us, we have been fearful of humans. Centuries ago we fled to this remote land, and we have barely survived. We have been reduced to stealing food wherever we can."

Rabbi Kessler dismounted and pondered. "How foolish is the fear that divides two peoples! We both honor the Creator; should we not be comrades?"

The mazikeen changed into a small fox, and eyed the rabbi curiously. "How so?"

"To be a slave is shameful," Rabbi Kessler explained. "But to be an honest worker, worthy of good wages, is honorable."

The next day, after many words with the mazikeen and a dizzying journey back to Stowica on its back (this time in the form of an enormous eagle,) Rabbi Kessler presented his plan to the people of the shtetl. They were amazed, and many were those who condemned the mazikeen as the agents of evil. Yet at last the rabbi was able to convince enough of them with his eloquence.

Serah and Abram were married, and raised three girls in a home full of love and happiness. His cabbages were finer than ever, and drew buyers from many places. Even the goyim praised them, and paid well. Stowica developed a reputation as a pleasant place, blessed by the Creator. It was true that there were some who shunned it, swearing that they had seen a servant suddenly disappear into thin air, or a drover change shape into one of his beasts; but this was thought to be mere superstition, brought on by an excessive love of wine.

As for Rabbi Kessler, he never again had an experience outside the ordinary, for which he was thankful. He married a woman of extraordinary grace who came from some distant and unfamiliar land. If no two people described the woman in exactly the same way, and if she sometimes seemed to appear from nowhere, this was thought to be part of her feminine charm.


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2011-07-03 01:24:56
excellant story telling - a new twist to an old tale.

2011-05-01 23:01:42
Awesome, and comforting, Thank you!

2011-05-01 05:16:34
A beautiful fairy tale-- I loved it!




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