Curious Emma by Liz Bragdon
"Don't stir the pot, child. How many times do I have to remind you?"
Emma rolled her eyes, "But why?" And she wasn't stirring - she was swishing.
"You know the rule, Emma," her mother sighed and gestured for the spoon.
In a reluctant sing-song, Emma recited the words every villager knew by heart:
"Don't stir the pot, child, don't coax the wind or tempt the rain. While the weather is fine, we work and play and peace reigns over us night and day."
"And there's your answer," her mother said. "Now run and play, if you like."
But Emma didn't like - she felt restless as a squirrel before Friday Rain. There was an itch in her soul that demanded to be scratched. That itch was a sound and that sound was a word - her favorite word. Sometimes the word howled like a wolf, sometimes it squeaked like a mouse. That word was, "Why?"
She ran out the door, grabbing the blackberry bucket on her way, and headed for the forest.
The forest was a neat puzzle of trees and meadows, flowers and bushes. The contours never changed. Nothing in the village changed. Seasons looped in precise cycles of sun and cloud, rain and snow, stillness and wind - predictable down to the day, hour, and minute. Daily life followed suit.
"Why can't it be different?!" Emma demanded aloud. She dropped the overflowing bucket and settled into a hollow under the grandmother oak.
"For it to be different, you have to do something differently," said a voice.
Emma was alone except for a crow sitting on a nearby root.
"Can I have a blackberry?" it said.
Other children might have run away in fright, but Emma was more interested in asking questions than running. She tipped the bucket, so the crow could eat his fill. Most especially she wanted to know - why could the crow speak?
"Well", the crow replied, "they say somewhere somebody stirred a pot full of many different things. Or maybe one thing. Maybe magical things...maybe everyday things."
Emma thanked the crow and ran all the way home. If she stirred the pot, what would happen? Would cows speak? Would flowers walk? Would it rain on a Sunday?
Her mother was at market and the dinner pot was still simmering over the fire. Emma dipped the spoon in and began to stir.
Slowly at first, around and around. A spiral formed. Vegetables bobbed like toy boats. Emma stirred faster. Stew slopped the sides of the pot as it rocked on its hook. Some splashed onto the coals below and sizzled and popped. The dizzily spinning liquid sucked the spoon from Emma's hand, sinking it with a glug. An impressive bubble rose to the surface and collapsed. Then, stillness.
Emma's mother walked in to find her daughter staring into the pot, stew on her dress, and the spoon missing. Emma explained about the crow, talking cows and rain on Sundays, but her mother just shook her head. She had no choice, she told Emma sternly, but to tell the Village Council.
Why? asked Emma.
With a howl of exasperation her mother threw up her hands and departed.
As it turned out, no one had ever stirred the pot before and therefore, the Village Council had never considered consequences. For now, Emma was confined to her room with a pile of mending.
Emma sat by the window as she sewed, keeping eyes and ears open for walking flowers and talking cows.
By the third day, she began to lose hope - until she heard raised voices from the street and saw Georgina Potter's mother hurrying Georgina towards the Village Square, scolding her the whole way. Georgina had been stirring the pot!
And so it went all day long - parents hurrying their children up and down the street for stirring pots. The rhythmic passage of agitated feet churning up the packed dirt, generating dust-choked gusts that tumbled unlucky ants, confused bees, and unwary butterflies hither and fro, up chaotic currents and down unintended paths.
Then it rained on a Saturday. Unheard of!
And again on Sunday. And Monday. Ponds overflowed. The croaking of the frogs was deafening. Mosquitos swarmed, chased by zig-zagging battalions of dragonflies forcing pedestrians to duck and dodge to avoid collision. A bumper crop of fireflies lit the village bright enough to mistake night for day. Flowers never seen before grew. Cows did not speak, but mooed more frequently which was useful as the pasture grass grew so high they could only be located by keen ears.
"Excuse me," said a small voice. Emma looked down. Clinging to her bundle of straw was a mouse in a black velvet waistcoat carrying a tiny book with a gold clasp.
"Can you help me? I didn't expect all of this weather and got blown off course into a hay bale."
Emma smiled. Maybe leaky roofs were a good thing, after all. She offered the mouse her palm. He nodded his thanks and leapt onto her hand.
"Where would you like to go?" she asked.
"Grandmother oak. I must arrive by midnight or I won't be able to find the secret door."
Emma's eyes widened. She had lots of questions, beginning with, "Why?"
"That, young lady, is a long story. But I'll tell you all about it if you take me there."
And off they went. On their way, they were joined by the other village children, each carrying something different and unusual- a rabbit in trousers, a frog with a crown, a bag of magic beans, a glass shoe, a red-orange bird with a fiery tail - all conjured by questions and spoons, by magical things and everyday things and with stories to tell.
What will happen next? Emma wondered
And right then she discovered her new favorite words.
Liz is a movement educator, storyteller, and writer. In her Louisiana studio, she helps folks create healthier movement stories to live by. Beyond the studio, she reimagines folk and fairy tales, mixes in creative movement, and shares them with children through her “Tales with a Twist: Stories That Move!” programs.