Sunday, April 01, 2007

Deepest Darkest

Once upon a time there was a little girl with blonde hair and big eyes that always looked like they had just seen something scary hiding in the wardrobe.

This little girl lived with her mother and father and her younger sister in a little wooden house high on a hill. To get to the house the little girl had to walk up a long, narrow path through the forest. If she was late coming home from school the path would be very dark, and she would have to run the whole way to escape the strange noises in the trees.

Her mother and father always tried to tell her that there was nothing to be afraid of, and that noone was going to hurt her, but the little girl still felt afraid, even though she didn't know why. So she didn't play on the merry-go-round with the other children, because she was afraid she would get hurt, and she didn't follow her sister when she went off exploring in the forest, because she was afraid she would get lost. Instead she stayed at home, sitting on the sofa in the corner, reading her books. After a while her father realised that she was afraid of everything, so he did his best to protect her the world.

One day her parents got a phonecall telling them that her grandmother was very ill. They sat her and her sister down and told them that they were to be good girls and to stay at home. Their neighbour would be over to get them before it got dark. Then the girl's parents walked down the long path to the road, got in their car and drove away.

The little girl and her sister waited and waited, but nobody came. It got dark and the wind started to blow. The little girl was cold and hungry, but there was no one there to turn on the heater, and she was too afraid of the stove to cook dinner herself.

Finally the girls' sister got tired of waiting and decided to walk over to their neighbour's house on her own. The girl tried to tell her to stay home, but she wouldn't listen and disappeared off into the dark forest. The little girl turned to go back to the house, but just as she did there was a huge gust of wind and the front door slammed closed.

The little girl was very afraid. The door was locked and she was stuck outside in the dark. She didn't want to go into the forest, because she had been told that all kinds of mean creatures lived there - creatures that liked to chase little girls. The boys and girls at school also said that there was a wicked witch living in the forest, who liked to lock children up in cages until they grew fat and tasty. But the little girl did not want to stay sitting outside her house, and she didn't know when her parents would come back.

So the little girl summonsed up what little courage she thought she had, and began to walk through the dark forest on her own. As she walked the light of the moon lit the ground enough for her to see that there was a kind of path, lit by tiny glowing mushrooms. The path seemed to head towards her neighbour's house, so she started following it.

After a while the little girl came across a small stream. The stream bubbled and gurgled down a small waterfall and down into a clear pool. The pool seemed very deep and still, and when the girl looked she could see the stars reflected in its surface. The little girl realised that it had been a long time since she had drunk any water or eaten any food. Forgetting to be afraid, she knelt down and took some long deep gulps from the stream. She then turned around and started eating some of the shining mushrooms. It seemed to her that she had never tasted water so sweet, or food so satisfying. She forgot that she was supposed to be walking to her neighbour's house, and continued eating and drinking instead.

The little girl ate and drank and ate and drank, until suddenly she started to feel very sleepy. She lay down on the soft ground, and when she looked up she could see the stars spinning around above her. She was able to stay awake just long enough to see a furry face with big teeth appear silhouetted above her, then she fell into a deep slumber.

When the girl awoke she was lying on a small hard bed in the corner of a strange room. There was a light coming through a small window high on the wall, and she realised that it must be morning. When she sat up she saw that there was an old woman dressed all in black sitting on a stool by the door. She had skin that was covered in deep wrinkles, and her eyes were such a pale blue that they were almost white.

The little girl was very afraid, but she summonsed up her courage again and asked the old woman where she was. The old woman laughed, and, in a voice that contained all the ice of the long-past iceage told her that she was both everywhere and nowhere, and that where she was was not the question, and was in any case not important.

The little girl heard the pattering of claws on wooden floor, and she turned as a wolf entered the room. The wolf had a long shaggy silver coat, and was bigger than she was. The little girl looked for somewhere to hide, but there was nowhere to go. The old woman saw that she was afraid and laughed. "You can't be afraid if you ever want to leave here", she said, and with that she turned and left the room.

The little girl sat very still and watched the wolf with huge, frightened eyes. The wolf sat watching her, occasionally moving its tail from side to side or scratching at its ears. They stayed there together for the day. Finally the old woman entered the room again. "Are you hungry?" she asked, and the little girl realised that she was. "Well, you will have to fetch some potatoes from my garden", the old woman said.

The little girl walked out of the little room and into the kitchen of the house. From the kitchen door she could see that it was still very dark outside, and that it was now raining. The wolf walked up and stood behind her, turning its head to look deep into her eyes. The old woman pointed to a path that led back into the forest. "The garden is down there." she said, "Be quick".

The little girl was very afraid, but she was more frightened of the old woman and the wolf than she was of the dark, so she did what she was told and walked out into the rain. This time when she followed the mushrooms and passed the stream she did not stop to drink. The wind blew and the rain dripped down the back of her neck, but she did not turn back. She ran and she ran until finally she came across a scarecrow guarding the old woman's garden. The little girl quickly dug up some potatoes and raced back to the house. The old woman made the little girl put on dry clothes, then she cooked the potatoes over a fire that burned with a strange blue flame. Once she had eaten the old woman told the girl to go back to bed. The little girl lay still in the night, watching the wolf's still gold eyes glowing in the corner by the door.

The next morning the girl woke up to find that sun was streaming in through the small window. The wolf was lying asleep in the corner, its nose twitching gently as it slept. The little girl crept out of bed, past the wolf and into the kitchen. The old woman was sitting at a table weaving deep green moss into a long cloak. The old woman looked up and, seeing the little girl standing next to her, sighed deeply and blinked her old pale eyes. "Do you see that tree out there?" the woman said. The little girl looked out and saw a huge oak tree, with branches that reached all the way into the clouds. "Well", said the old woman, "I want you to climb it and fetch the eggs from the nest at the top".

The little girl swallowed hard and her hands began to shake. In her mind she could see herself falling from the tree and falling all the way to the ground. But the wolf came to stand next to her, and she was more afraid of the wolf and the old lady, so she did what she was told. She climbed the tree all the way into the clouds, then tucked the eggs into the pockets of her skirt and made her way back down again.

The old lady did not seem happy, even though the little girl managed to not break a single egg on her way back to the ground. Instead she looked at the little girl with a deep frown and pointed at the fireplace, where the fire that had burned the night before was now dead. The old woman ordered the girl to light the fire and cook the eggs.

The little girl was very afraid. She had never lit a fire before, and she was afraid she might burn herself. She was also scared that she would burn the eggs, and that the old lady might make her climb back up the tree again. However she was so hungry by now that she decided she should try her best. She stacked up the branches in the fireplace, just like she had seen her father do before. When the fire was burning she picked up the heavy frying pan from the bench and prepared the eggs.

The old woman put the eggs onto three plates, then put one on the floor so that the wolf could eat as well. When they were all finished she sat back in her chair and looked straight at the little girl. "So, what is your deepest, darkest fear?" she asked. The little girl went pale and shook. "Well, I guess I am afraid of the dark", she answered.

"Not good enough," replied the old woman, "I think there is something that scares you more than that".

"Well," said the little girl, "I am afraid of the spiders that weave their webs in my bedroom at night".

"No," said the old woman, "that's not it".

"I'm afraid of the storms that blow around our house at winter" the little girl said.

"That's still not it," said the old woman, and with that she walked outside and disappeared into thin air. The little girl was very shocked. She thought about running away, but she realised that she did not know what direction to run in, and the wolf was still standing there watching her. So, without knowing what else to do, the little girl picked up a broom and began to tidy the little house.

The little girl worked all day, and finally it began to get dark again. Just as the little girl was thinking that maybe she should go to sleep, the old woman appeared in the doorway, as suddenly as she had appeared. The little girl was not as surprised this time. The constant fear of the last few days was taking its toll, and she only wanted to rest. However the old woman had other plans.

"Tonight I want you to sleep with the wolf" the old woman said. The little girl started to protest, but then realised that the old woman would not change her mind. The little girl turned to look at the wolf, larger than she was, and blinking slowly in front of the fire. The little girl was suddenly afraid again, more afraid than she had ever been before. She thought that the wolf might try to eat her, so huge did its sharp teeth seem.

The little girl walked slowly into her room, followed closely by the wolf. The old woman shut the door tightly behind them. The little girl curled up on her hard bed, and watched the wolf as it sat silently beside her, resting its head on the mattress. It was a cold night, and the little girl had only one thin blanket. She shivered and shook, trying to keep as still as possible in the hope that the wolf might forget about her and go to sleep itself.

Finally the wolf raised its large head and, whining softly, jumped up on the bed next to her. The little girl found herself pinned against the wall, unable to move. The wolf pawed at the bed beneath it, licked at its shoulder, and then placed its head on the girl's stomach. The girl was now looking straight into the wolf's eyes, its big teeth resting against her skin and its breath warm on her face. The little girl stayed very still, almost too afraid to breath. However the wolf did nothing more than close its eyes, its breathing becoming slowly deeper. The little girl reached out one cautious hand, and discovered that the wolf's thick coat was incredibly soft and its body warm. The wolf's heat spread slowly through her, and to her own surprise, she found herself falling into a deep, sweet sleep.

The next morning the girl found that the wolf was gone, and that she was on her own. The old woman was not in her kitchen and the house was empty. The little girl decided to walk down to the old woman's garden, where she found some ripe red tomatoes growing. She climbed back up the tall oak tree to get some more eggs, and then she cooked the eggs with the tomatoes.

When it started to get dark again the old woman and the wolf reappeared. The old woman took a look at the little girl, who was sitting at the table trying to weave. She sighed deeply and asked the little girl again what her deepest darkest fear was. The little girl told her three of her fears, but the old woman again was not happy with the girl's reply.

Suddenly the wolf whined from its place in the corner of the room. The wolf pawed at the ground and waved its tail, and the old woman's face curved into a sad smile. She turned to the little girl and asked her if she had been afraid sleeping with the wolf. The little girl answered that the wolf had been very polite and had kept her warm so that she could sleep. The old woman nodded, and seemed to think hard for a long time, before slowly lifting her head again to look into the little girl's eyes. "Tonight you will ride the wolf," she said.

The little girl gulped as she looked at the huge wolf, with its big teeth and yellow eyes. She imagined the wolf running fast through that dark forest until it reached its lair, then tossing her to the ground and swallowing her in one gulp. However she knew that the old woman would not change her mind, and so she walked to the wolf, her hands shaking.

The wolf lay down on the floor so that the little girl could climb on. She wrapped her legs around the wolf's sides, and buried her hands deeply in the fur on the wolf's shoulders. The wolf padded softly out of the door and into the night.

At first the wolf walked slowly through the trees. The little girl was too scared to do anything other than hold on, and she kept her face pressed against the wolf's coat. After a little while the wolf broke into a gentle trot. The little girl gasped and held on more tightly, raising her face ever so slightly to see where they were going.

The wolf continued on every more deeply into the forest. At one point the wolf's path was blocked by the trunk of a large tree that had fallen over in a storm. The little girl could see what was going to happen, but had no time to do anything more than cry out and wrap her legs more tightly against the wolf's sides. Suddenly they were flying through the air, and the girl was looking up at the stars in the sky, shining through the branches of the trees high above her.

The wolf landed on the ground again with a soft thud, and began to break into an even canter. The little girl was amazed that she was still on the wolf's back, and her attention was caught by the beauty of the stars shining above her. She felt the wolf's back warm and strong below her, and she remembered that she had slept against its huge body all night and had come to no harm.

The girl looked up at the stars again. The wind blew through her hair as the wolf increased its pace. She started to unbalance, but the wolf shifted beneath her to keep her upright. Suddenly she felt full of a new and strange sensation. Exhileration hit her for the first time in her life like a thunderbolt, shining brighter than anything else in the sky. She leaned forward and whispered in the wolf's ear, and the words that came from her mouth were brave and true. "Faster," she cried, "faster"!

The wolf broke into an agile gallop. The little girl breathed in the night air. They broke through the forest and ran up to the crest of a high hill. The entire world was spread out below them, a moon shone bright and full in the sky. The little girl found herself laughing, louder and louder, peals of mirth rippling through her body, till even the wolf shook with joy beneath her. They reached the top of the hill, and only then did the wolf stop, tipping her carefully into a thick tussock of grass. The girl lay there, still laughing, while the wolf rolled on its back with its feet in the air, scratching its back on the grass and growling in pleasure.

At last the girl and the wolf grew tired. The little girl climbed onto the wolf's back again, and the wolf carried her slowly back home. She feel asleep to the sound of the wolf's breathing, of its paws padding along the path leading to the old woman's house.

The next morning the old woman called the little girl into the kitchen. The little girl fetched and prepared food for breakfast, feeding some to the wolf in front of the fire. The old woman turned to her with her pale old eyes, and asked her again what her deepest darkest fear was.

The little girl thought hard. She thought about the oak tree, the wolf, the dark forest. She thought about the stream and the mushrooms and her sister and parents. She thought about the children at school and everything that she had been too afraid to do in the past.

The little girl turned to the old woman and looked her straight in the eye. "My deepest darkest fear is that I am braver than I will ever know" she replied. The old woman nodded, the wolf thumped its tail, and the room went dark.

When the little girl woke she was curled up asleep against the front door of her parents' house. Her parents were walking up the path towards her, and her father was carrying her sister. He explained that the girl's neighbour had gotten confused and thought that she was supposed to be looking after the girl and her sister tomorrow. Her sister had made it to the neighbour's house, but noone had been home and she had waited there for several hours before anyone arrived.

The girl's parents were tired, but they told her that her grandmother was feeling much better, and they were very sorry that things had gone wrong. The little girl just smiled at them. She realised that there was no point in trying to explain what had happened while they were gone. Instead she followed them inside, where she drank some warm milk and let them put her to bed. And when she woke in the morning there was the indent of a wolf's body, and tufts of thick wolf hair, on the bed beside her.

And she was not afraid.

More deepest darkest scribblings here

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For me the wolf was the neighbor's wolfhound. And I met the old woman in the street when I was seven. She told me I would change things.

Thank you.