Once upon a time, there was a walled city. Within the city were merchants and craftsmen and people of importance, while outside there were goats.

Underneath the castle proper, there is a dungeon, and in that dungeon will always be the Beast.

Recently the cat informed me that she needed to hold an important conversation. Accordingly I booked some time and we talked it over. After about ten minutes of negotiation and mutual assurance, she announced that she was fine with being picked up and carried around, within limits, and I proceeded to test this assertion.

She rested comfortably for a bit, indicating that ear scritching and petting were in order, and upon receiving such for another ten minutes, contentedly departed for remote locations unknown to humankind. However, given that her auditory homing device - which tells us her location at any time of day or night, from any distance - had ceased broadcasting, I assumed that all was well and gave the matter no further thought.

I since received a telegram from Burma, in which the cat informed me that further lifting and carrying would be handled on an ad hoc basis but that a framework for such activities was now in place.

On the River Arno, in the region of Tuscany, are a people called “the Contrary” in English. They enjoy a quiet and unhindered existence. Among themselves they may be freely understood, but to outsiders their speech is confusing. For whatever one of the Contrary say will be heard as its opposite by a foreigner. As one truth may play host to many lies, a single idea can have many opposites.

In the castle there is a fireplace.

Once it was warm and bright, and the inhabitants of the castle circled around it and held out their hands and received Prometheus’ gift to mortals. The fire would be lit, and stay lit for a time.

Careless, reckless children managed to burn themselves on the flame. They laughed and giggled at each other and reached out at the urging of Pandora. And when the gods’ toy seared their hands, they shrieked and ran and cried, and grown-ups were called for. And the grown-ups grew vexed at the willfulness of childhood but they could not make the children wise without ushering them to adulthood. And so the fire was extinguished.

It lay cold and dark for many years. But no foolish child was harmed.

Fresh kindling has been added to the fireplace. Perhaps it will burn brightly again. And perhaps the children of the castle have attained wisdom enough to let it burn without meddling.

Once upon a time, there was a city. And in that city were the rich, and the poor. Among the rich were the people who worked the market, wherein could be found the innumerable marvels and mysterious odds and ends that accumulated in the city from the ends of the earth. Among the poor were those who visited the market, but could not afford its greatest treasures.

Darkness and light meet at the walls of the city. Behind them are neon and fluorescence. Beyond them a curtain of night hung in the vault of the sky. At the limits of vision is the thin line of light as the sun bids farewell.

The Magician sometimes visits the City. He needs ingredients for his laboratory, or experimental materials for his research, or simply some occult knickknack for professional reasons.

Every year the inhabitants of the castle gather for the prognostication. The oracles consult the signs and read the omens. The culmination of their esoteric practice is reserved for the last day of the year: New Year’s Eve.

“A day is as a year,” they will tell you if asked. “As above, so below,” some will intone. The message is the same: whatever happens on that day, be it good or ill, heralds the condition of the coming year.

Man has always been fascinated with destiny. On some New Years Eves, madmen or the desperate would attempt to change this fate: hurling themselves in the way of boulders or floods to bring about an ill fate, or doing great deeds in the hope that their heroism would resonate through the oncoming annum. To date, nothing definite can be said about their success.

Around the castle, at the base of the tree, is a river. Sometimes the river overflows its banks; other times it’s a tranquil flow of pure water. The stones of the castle were carried on its currents.

Once upon a time, an explorer decided to find what lay at the head of the river - after all, water comes from somewhere. In his journal he reports that he found a natural spring. Later generations treasured it. A few unwise industrialists have tried to excavate it to discover the secret. But the river never stopped flowing.