Tale #36: The Old Woman’s Tale

I tell you this tale not because I expect you to believe it but because it is true.

I was born in this house and, God-willing, I shall die in this house. And when I die I hope you shall bury me here under the kitchen table so the devil won’t get me.

I am an old woman now but of course I was not always so. When I was young girl I was beautiful, no matter what you might think to look at me now. Nor no matter how often I was told back then I wasn’t, either. For the proof of your beauty lies in your belly, the old mothers round here used to say, and no sooner had I left the woods and gone to town for the first time my belly began to swell and before I knew it I was as pregnant as could be.

When it came time to give birth I hauled myself into the kitchen and laid myself down on the table there, because my bed was full of my sisters and I did not want to wake them.

And as I was lying there the devil walked in through the front door. He placed his hands on my belly and a chill went through me and when my baby was born it was as cold and dead as a plucked pigeon. And the devil was nowhere to be seen, because he had already taken what he wanted.

I buried that child under the front door step to keep the devil from coming back in and then I went back to bed with my sisters and slept all through the day.

Now in good time I went to town again, and soon enough for sure my belly was bearing the fruits of my beauty once more. And when it came time to give birth I hauled myself into the kitchen and laid myself down on the table again, for my bed was still full of my sisters and I did not wish to wake them.

And as I was lying there the devil came to the front door, but he couldn’t come in. I thought then he was gone but soon enough I heard him up on the roof, and down the chimney he came and he walked over to me with not a touch of soot on him, and he pressed his bony hands against my belly and a chill went through me. When those twins were finally born they were as cold and dead as plucked hens, and the devil was nowhere to be seen, because he had already taken what he wanted.

I buried those children under the fireplace to keep the devil from coming back in, and then I went back to bed with my sisters and slept all through the week.

Now, by and by, I got pregnant a third time. And once again when the day came I sneaked out of my bed so as not to wake my sisters and climbed up onto the kitchen table and laid myself down upon it.

I saw the devil at the front door, but he couldn’t come in. And then I heard the devil on the roof, but he could not come down the chimney. And then I saw the devil at the kitchen window, and he smiled at me. Smiled that smile of his I always saw in the city, the smile that made you know that he was going to get what he wanted come what may, and there was nothing you nor your hope could do about.

He was just about to climb through the window when I felt my children stir inside of me, and all of a sudden out from between my legs burst three hawks, their feathers as white as snow and their wings as loud as the wind, and not a single speck of blood upon them. And they flew round and round the room for what seemed like a lifetime and I looked at them in wonder and I looked at them with love.

And just as the devil was about to get in through the window the first one flew at the devil and scratched at his face and pecked out his eyes. The devil stumbled back, and he swept his arms around in a blind rage, and one of his hands touched the hawk and the hawk fell down dead upon the windowsill. And the devil in his pain and his frustration shrank back from the window and howled away into the woods and into the night, and I never saw him again in all my life.

The other two birds still flew around the kitchen table, and one swooped down and pulled the hair from my head and flew out the front door with it hanging from its claws like rat’s tails. And the other settled down beside me and plucked the teeth from my mouth, one by one, before flying up the chimney with them all held in its beak like a row of tiny white berries.

And I never saw them again, either, not in all my life.

I buried the dead bird beneath the window and I went back to bed with my sisters and they hugged me tight and I slept all through the year.

My sisters grew up and I grew old and in all the times my sisters gave birth (and there were many times, because my sisters were much more beautiful than I, as their bellies proudly showed) not once did we see the devil at the door, and not once did we hear the devil on the roof, and not once did the devil climb in through the window.

And not once did my sisters give birth to birds, nor ever did they have to.

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Notes:

1. Written August 2016

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Tale #21: The Wolves In The Woods

In the woods a night of snow and howling winds and wolves at the wheels. Mother said, “They are getting too near,” and Father said, “Then throw them our youngest son, so we may escape.” Said Mother, “But he is our child,” and to that Father said, “We have two more.” So Mother threw her youngest son over the side of the cart, and the wolves circled around the boy and in the darkness they consumed him.

But soon the wolves were back at their wheels. Mother said, “They are getting too near,” and Father said, “Then throw them our daughter, so we may escape.” Said Mother, “But she is our child,” and to that Father said, “We have one more.” So Mother threw her daughter over the side of the cart, and the wolves circled round the girl and in the darkness they consumed her.

But soon the wolves were back at their wheels. Mother said, “They are getting too near,” and Father said, “Then throw them our eldest son, so we may escape.” Said Mother, “But he is our child,” and to that Father said, “We can always make more.” So Mother threw the eldest son over the side of the cart, and the wolves circled round the boy and in the darkness consumed him.

But soon the wolves were back at their wheels. Mother said, “They are getting too near,” and Father said, “Then throw them yourself, so that I may escape.” Said Mother, “But I am your wife,” and to that Father said, “I can always marry another.” So Mother threw herself over the side of the cart, and the wolves circled round the woman and in the darkness consumed her.

But soon the wolves were back at his wheels. Father said, “They are getting too near,” but there was no-one left to throw, and soon the wolves had surrounded him, and Father was forced to stop. The wolves circled the man, round and round in the darkness. They began to shiver and cough and choke and one by one they spat out his children and finally his wife.

And his family circled round and in the darkness they consumed him.

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Notes:

1. Written on July 21st, 2014
2. Illustrated by Holly English
3. The last line is an echo of the last line in The Three Wishes

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Tale #8: The Three Wishes

In the country hereabouts there lived a poor farmer with twelve children and a loving wife. The children ate so much that the farmer always went to bed hungry and one day he said to his wife, “I wish, just once, that I could have a whole meal to myself.”

That week a sudden snow fell, and all of his children were overcome by illness and died. On Sunday, his wife roasted a turkey but in her grief she could not eat, and the farmer had it all to himself. He packed it in a basket and took it out into the woods with him for lunch.

Under a willow tree he sat down, and remembering his ill-spoken wish, wept with guilt and said, “I wish my children were here with me now to share this meal.”

The basket by his side began then to shake and looking inside he saw the turkey begin to judder and dance, and then, one by one, all twelve of his children emerged from the turkey’s ragged carcass.

They stood around him in a circle and he fed each one in turn until there was no more meat left. Seeing them all before him again, the farmer was overcome with joy and said, “I wish that all of you will always have enough to eat, no matter how little is left for me.” At this, the children grabbed hold of their father and pulled him deep beneath the ground and in the dark places there fed forever upon his soul.

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Notes:

1. Written on October 9th, 2013
2. The premise of this is taken from (I’m probably supposed to say inspired by) the short story Macario, by B. Traven, published in 1953.
3. There’s also clearly an element of The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs (first published in 1902)
4. And also of course Charles Perrault’s The Ridiculous Wishes (from 1697), and all other fairy tale variants thereof.

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