Every Saturday afternoon in the park, the ritual begins anew. The children encircle him, leaning on elbows or hugging knees, an orderly scattering much like a cluster of ancient standing stones. He’s aged, his skin the color of old parchment, with gnarled hands that quiver as he speaks, an unkempt beard somewhere between the color of car exhaust and dirty dishwater, and eyes that sparkle in the craggy hollows of his wind leathered face. The smell of cheap pipe tobacco and dog kibble clings to his wrinkled overcoat and baggy drawstring pants and the parks resident pigeons and crows seek out the breadcrumbs that fill his pockets.
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He starts each story the same way, tapping out the bowl of his briarwood pipe only to refill it, and then sending lazy rings of smoke skyward to the continued delight of the assembled children. The ritual thus begun, he begins to speak into the unnatural hush of this gathering of ensorcelled children.
“Once upon a time…”
Smile if you're stupid,
laugh if you understand.