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Thank you for reading me.
It was once that a man led a simple life. He worked hard in his fields. He cut his own wood and cooked his own meals for he was a single man. He wanted nothing more than to be married and have someone to look after him that he could cherish.
He was good to his neighbours and to strangers. He helped them in their fields, gave poor families eggs and fowl whether he could spare it or not, and everyone knew if they needed help they could count on Lonely Peter.
He knew they called him that behind his back, but he did not care for it was the truth. He was lonely.
One day he was hewing wood and talking to himself, as he often did. "I don't want to be alone."
He raised the axe high above his head. "I don't care who I marry."
The words were barely out of his mouth when an old woman appeared in front of him.
She said in a thin, crackly voice, "If you give me your firewood I'll will let you marry me."
She was bent over. He thin gnarled fingers clasped the crook end of a staff she held for support. Most of her teeth were missing and what hair she had stuck out at odd angles from her head.
"I will give you some of my wood, old woman. But I have no interest in marrying you."
"Didn't I just hear you say you didn't care? Who else have you got, young one? You're shy. You keep to yourself. If you don't marry me, you'll be alone."
Despite being close to past the age when most young men married he also wanted a family. The old woman offered companionship, but she was past the age of bearing him children. If he couldn't have children, he may as well remain alone.
"You are too old to be my wife. You may take this cord of wood I've split, but I won't marry you."
"You would rather stay alone than marry one such as me?"
He leaned on his axe for a moment, thinking. For as lonely as he was he was not desperate. He did not wish to appear rude, but neither did he want any misunderstandings between them.
"Yes," he answered staring at the ground.
"So it shall be," she said.
The next minute he was standing in the middle of a shallow stream flowing from a small lake. Last year's bulrushes crowded the shores. New growth struggled beside them.
His body felt different. Thin legs ended in clawed feet. Wings and feathers grew on his body. When he bent down he saw a beak protruding from his face.
A shiver coursed through his body. Muscles moved from a directive beyond his thoughts. His beak pointed upward and his wings opened and closed as his legs moved underneath him in a rhythm both familiar and strange.
The dance took him down the stream and back up again. As his mind grew more used to the sensations he understood: it was the spring and he danced to attract a mate.
But he danced only for himself.
Light dimmed as the sun lowered in the west. Frogs chirruped near him, birds flew above the trees calling to one another, and the occasional small fish or freshwater shrimp caught his attention.
He grew tired yet continued his dance. As dusk deepened he heard a soft trill. Another crane landed beside him.
A voice said, "Hello. You are new here and I see you have no one. Will you dance for me?"
Energy surged through him at her request. He raised his bill to the skies and jumped and twirled, beating his wings in rhythm.
But it was to no avail. The crane shook her head and flew away.
He stood in the middle of the stream. The water rushing over the rocks at his feet seemed to laugh at him, but it didn't stop him. After a short rest the compelling rhythm inside him made him begin his lonely dance again.
Soon another crane approached him, but she was not impressed by his dance and flew on leaving him alone.
The sun was almost gone. The other birds had taken a sleeping perch. Night insects were waking up and announcing themselves.
A shuffling noise in the grass behind him caught his attention. Another crane stood in profile behind some of the dead bulrushes at the edge of the stream.
"Hello," he said. He was tired and his heart ached with disappointment but still he asked , "May I dance for you?"
"It doesn't matter. You won't want me anyway."
"I fear it's you who won't want me," he said. "None of the others did. Please will you give me a chance?"
He jumped and beat his wings again in the strange rhythm as she watched him.
Dimness intensified around them.
"Stop," she said. "I've seen enough."
"You'll be flying away now like the others," he said.
"No. But it's not fair of me to make you continue." As she said it she slowly turned around and stepped out from behind the bulrushes.
She had hair on one side of her head, and an arm and a leg.
"I can't marry anyone, human or crane."
But he didn't care. "I was human until today. I refused a bent old woman. She turned me into this. Please do me the honour of being my wife."
The moon rose above the trees throwing more light over them. She turned her crane side toward him and stepped beside him in the stream.
"I, too, was cursed. An old woman asked for my help, but I refused. She made me only half crane so I would know what it was like to need. The curse can only be broken by someone who still wishes to be my husband after seeing me."
He rested his bill against hers. He was about to speak when a light flashed beside them. It dissipated leaving an old bent woman standing at the edge of the stream.
"Well, isn't this lucky?" she said. "Your curse can be broken, dearie. But what about this fellow? I don't recall giving him any options."
"It doesn't matter. I'm happy as I am and we have each other," he said.
"You've only got half of her, sonny. What'll you do when it's time to fly from winter?"
"I'll do whatever she does," he said.
"She'll be human soon. No place for you then."
"He can stay in my house," she said.
"And your family will taunt you for marrying a bird," cackled the old woman.
The moon rose higher in the sky until the three figures stood out against the night.
"I don't care."
"And you," she said to the crane once known as Peter. "You've got a woman, but you're stuck as a scrawny-legged bird."
"I'm happy. I won't be lonely."
As he spoke the half-crane, half-woman began to change. Her hair shrank into her head. Her arm turned to a wing, feathers sprouted from the human half, and she had changed to a crane completely.
The two cranes stood side by side with their bills touching.
"Bah. Love," said the old woman, and disappeared.
"Darling," said Peter, "May I get you a frog?"