Sweetly Sour

by Sara Junkins '23 on December 8, 2022
Portfolio Staff


gingerbread men!
photo creds: pexels

Joyful carols carried by wind, crazed shoppers hunting for bargains, and cookies cut into cute snowmen, sprinkled with crushed candy cane. Christmas time again. But it wasn’t always so merry. Not for my village.

They still talk about the mysteries of Mistletoe Wood today, which looms outside our village.

The legend starts with gingerbread.

It was a crisp December afternoon, and two girls were skipping home from school. All bundled up with rosy cheeks, they looked like little dolls. They carried baskets of goodies from the bakery that bounced with each step and were about to take the shortcut, which happened to lead directly through the Mistletoe Wood.

All of a sudden, a gaunt girl, Bertha, stepped out in front of them, dressed in rags and tatters. She wore a crown made of mistletoe. She begged for food.

“All we have is gingerbread cookies,” Gertrude offered, and the girl received them with gratitude.

Millicent, being proud as ever, declared, “We paid good shillings for those. Now we need something in return.”

“I don’t have anything,” Bertha frowned.

“I see you do,” Millicent’s eyes glimmered cruelly. “That crown is beautiful. Give it to me.”

Bertha took a step back in defiance.

“Milicent, stop being so wicked. Let’s go,” Gertrude interjected and took her friend by the arm.

With fiery eyes, Milicent snatched the crown off Bertha’s head.

Bertha tried to retrieve it, but Milicent was a good foot taller and held it way above her head.

Gertrude, being small herself, couldn’t recover it either as she pleaded with her friend to give it back.

“Okay, I’ll give it back,” Milicent finally acquiesced, and added slyly, “but only if you win. I challenge you to a bake-off. Whoever makes the best gingerbread wins. Tomorrow.”

Bertha agreed and stormed away.

Gertrude once more reprimanded Milicent, who shushed her.

A roaring sound rang through the forest, as if a grumpy bear had been awakened from a deep slumber, and the girls scurried off.

Gertrude and Milicent awoke the next day to a commotion outside. Shouts of amazement. Right outside of town, stood a huge gingerbread house with candied windows, icing and gumdrops. Beside it was Bertha, eyes twinkling.

The townsfolk stared in awe.

“It’s mistletoe magic,” Bertha said coolly. “The forest heard how rude Milicent was and for the first time ever, it uprooted itself. It helped me build this just to make a point. These trees labored over this thing all night. They assembled the roof, carefully passing pieces from fellow branch to branch. And voilà. I won.”

“Not so fast.” Milicent said, refusing to lose. “It could be a trick.”

“By all means, come inside and see,” Bertha beckoned. “It’s real and fully furnished.”

Milicent trooped forward, but Gertrude whispered at her not to go.

As soon as she stepped inside, the door slammed behind her.

Milicent whirled around and tried the door, but it was sealed shut by magic.

“Hello, Milicent,” a chorus sang. The oven popped open and a band of gingerbread people hopped out. “We’d like our crown.”

At that, Milicent screamed and the door swung open. The crazed cookies chased her outside.

“Run, run, as fast as you can, you can’t outrun us, we’re the gingerbread men,” they chanted in unison.

Milicent stumbled, falling into the cool forest dirt, sullied dress. She scowled as she threw the crown down.

The cookies, who were decorated as little knights, picked it up gingerly and handed it back to Bertha, their rightful queen.

The girls eventually apologized to each other, and all was well again. Milicent learned her lesson and the gingerbread knights became small but mighty protectors. They even accompanied the girls to school.

However, the forest never quite calmed. Its anger and unrest lasted despite the amends that were made. The forest held a grudge against the humans and odd things had been happening ever since it was awakened, always around the time Bertha called it to help. Always around Christmas. We thought it was also because the forest didn’t like how its brethren evergreens were kidnapped and decorated during Christmas time. But a lot of things went missing as the forest played its tricks.

Once we got rid of the gingerbread house, which stood for years and years, Mistletoe Wood finally became still and quiet once more.

Besides, it was not good to leave an abandoned gingerbread house around. That kind of thing attracts unwanted attention. One day, a witch came across it and decided it would be a nice upgrade from the cave she’d been living in for centuries. After the witch was defeated by Hansel and Gretel, we knocked it down to prevent others from inhabiting it.

We still bake gingerbread around Christmas time years later, but we never forget the house and forest. We’re thankful now that Christmas can truly be merry and bright.


by Sara Junkins '23 on December 6, 2022
Portfolio Staff


photo creds: pixabay

Most of the statues in Riz’s Museum were everyday folk. Artwork unknown to the world, with titles substituted for numbers on the description plaques, but I knew them all, and so did my father.

Ruth the Beggar on her knees looking up with imploring eyes. The emaciated children in tattered vestments. Marcus the Musician who plays on street corners with an open violin case full of passersby’s pennies. All of them homeless sojourners we took in. All with stories that must not be forgotten.

But they are not always in this timeless stance. They are just as animated as you and I, but only at night, after all the visitors are gone, after they have given all that they can.

All elements, statues, sculptures, and paintings function as one system, one forest interconnected by the roots.

The museum sustains. Fulfills souls with spiritual oxygen. So in exchange for participating in gifting life, life is given.

Transformed to stone through cloudy mist by morning light and back to flesh in a billow of fire by night.

My father, the caretaker, brought them here. To this magical place. In exchange for home. It’s much easier to paint a picture of a house than to construct one…

At twilight, the sunset’s flames illuminate through stained glass and set aglow the fire of life in the midst of darkness’s onslaught. Doors open. Paintings become transparent. A world awaits within the walls, beyond the frames. True home, only once accessible through imagination, becomes manifest.

Basically, we ran a mystical form of Habitat for Humanity. I was given the task of painting some of the houses. Not because I’m the best artist, but because I wanted to help. I wanted these people to have exactly what they wanted after a life of hardship. This was my service work.

I was tasked with creating Ruth’s house. She was the newest addition to our collection, our family. I was nearly done with all the rooms, but the garden was taking some time. She requested a swing and an array of flowers, some of which I had never heard of before. It still astounded me that blotches of blue I called primroses and dabs of pink that would be dahlias would soon be someone’s reality.

My brother was working on a playground for the children, but this one had slides made of rainbows and clouds instead of sandboxes.

Everything was well, until one day it was not. A new group came in with my father. He always saw the potential, saw the goodness in people, but something felt off to me. A gaggle of guys from the city sauntered around as he explained the magic of this mountain museum. They paid him no attention, and never met his gaze.

“Troublemakers,” I thought, but my conscience instantly rebuked me. Of course, it’s not wise to judge a book by its cover.

Yet the following evenings, my initial instincts proved right. Fight after fight with the other inhabitants. Disturbance after disturbance. Disruption of our peaceful haven.

A bug in the system, toxin in the roots, a poison in the museum. The museum’s pure balance did not react well with incendiary hearts.

As the orange flames streamed in through the stained glass, they missed the marks, everywhere catching fire.

Hearts ablaze with fright, the protocol seared into our minds…one minute before all oxygen is cut off…

Breathless, we scramble to the closest exit and watch our precious mountain museum alight with unwanted luminescence. Then, the light dies and the silent night overtakes us. A death and sudden revival. All will be preserved and intact.

Ruth and the children shake, and the band of villains disappear into the mountain mist. The museum would spit them out again if they dared to come back, unless they had a change of heart, of course.

Tonight, we decide to sleep beneath the caress of starlight, on our Hushabye Mountain as our haven restores itself. The ballad resonates in the whispers of the trees, “the winds of night so softly are sighing, soon they will fly your troubles to sea.”

We slept with hope in our hearts.

“Tea Time”

by Sara Junkins '23 on October 6, 2022
Portfolio Staff


photo creds: pixabay

Step right up.

Which hat will you put on today?

All are made in the old-fashioned way,

An eternal quality each does hold,

Passed down from times of old.

Those who wore them

Were no different from

You or I,

So what do you say,

Do you dare try—

To don or not,

That is the question.

Ribbons of mercury dance

As imperceptible perfume

Seeping into the bonnets,

Snaking between the vibrant rows

Of peacock plumes and glitzy gauze,

Lavish lace et cher chiffon…



Glorious to behold

Through the hypnotic haze.

Nothing new under the moon,

Hats that will make you swoon,

Yet you should think twice,

Beware the real price…

Sold in the style of slander,

Accessorized with accusation,

Gossip guised

Behind jaw-dropping gems.

Spinning silk stories

Of artifice

Yet speaker nor subject

Receive any glory.

Destructive diadems

Demolishing identities,

Intoxicating us

With words of death.

Mad as hatters,

We pour poison

Into the porcelain

Placed around the table.

As host,

We implore

“Drink and see,”

When one inquires

“What’s the tea?”