Tale #58: The Tree

In the mountains, a few days walk from here, there’s a valley, barely known to the world. It’s cut off by snow and ice for most of the year, and by the rushing meltwaters of its river for much of the rest.

But if you somehow find your way to it, there grows a tree in the clearing there, all crooked and cold and bare. It will listen to your whispers, take them into its heart, and turn, by some dark magic, your lies to truth, or your truth to lies.

Once you’ve said your piece you turn and walk away, back to the world that has changed around you. Only you remember how things were before. Only you remember when your newly borne truth was a lie, when your new lie was true.

Slowly you are driven mad.

While the trees roots grow ever deeper.

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Notes:

1. Written in October 2017

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Tale #57: The Thaw

Every March, after the thaw, the river that runs through the valley bursts its banks.

And in the fields to the north the dead bodies emerge from beneath the snow: rodents, rabbits, hares; pigeons, sparrows, starlings, crows; a fox, a cat, a dog; a drunk, a suicide; an unidentified child.

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Notes:

1. Written on February 15th, 2018
2. I should have timed this better so it was published in March rather than in June
3. But I did not
4. And it’s too late now

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Tale #56: In the woods in the winter

In the woods. In the winter.

Snow on the bridge. The river frozen below. Wind in the trees.

All beneath a birdless sky.

The wolf limped forward, one footprint in four as red as the moon. In her jaws, a child.

She held the child delicately between her teeth, kept her warm with her tongue, with her breath.

Silence at the camp. The sound of sleep, of the watch going unwatched.

The wolf placed the child by the fire. Licked the blood from her face. Then retreated to the shadows, made enough noise to raise the dead.

She watched as they came. As they shouted, as they panicked. As took the child delicately in their arms, took her back inside to keep her warm by the fire.

The child’s cries were carried on the wind, through the trees, over the bridge, across the river, through the dark and on and on through the night.

Back to where I fell, to where she was found. Back to where I died, where she was born.

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Notes:

1. Written on September 25th, 2017

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Tale #55: The Forgetful Prince And The Regretful Bride

A prince chose a peasant to be his wife, for she was the most beautiful woman in the land, and he desired her very much.

At the wedding, an old woman approached them at the altar and placed a curse upon them.

“The first year of this marriage the prince will forget and the second the bride will forget. Only then shall you know the truth of your love and the truth of each other. And whether there is regret or not is up to you.”

The prince laughed at the old woman’s superstitious ways and had his guards throw her out of the castle and into the woods. But the bride worried in her heart that the old lady’s words were true. Yet still agreed to the marriage, for she was newly in love, and she believed that love would never change, that the truth of love is there for all to see. That the truth of love is pure.

So for the first year of their marriage she did everything she could to make their love as perfect as possible, for if her husband was fated to forget it at least their happiness could live on in her memories. And afterwards, forever afterwards, she could share with him the great tales of their romance and their joy, and in this way give back to him the time they had lost. She believed that, through her telling, and the strength of her heart, their love could be regained, become stronger and deeper, sweeter and more sincere.

In this way the first year went by, in love and happiness, and with no small amount of joy. On the night before the first anniversary of their wedding, they lay together in bed, and between them lay their daughter, born earlier that day. They named her Anniversary Eve, and held her close all night. And as they slept they dreamt of the years to come.

***

The prince awoke the next morning to the realisation he was a father now, and over the coming days discovered he had new responsibilities and obligations which could not be avoided nor delegated away. In the tired days that followed sleepless nights, he often wondered where the reckless days of his youth had gone.

Even his wife’s love for him had changed. Where once there was an eagerness within her when they met, now there was little more than an acceptance, indeed an expectation, of his presence. He had moved from the foreground to the periphery, and the clear focus of her love was now not him but Eve.

His wife was older, too, he noticed. Less radiant, less joyous, less carefree, less, less, less. And every night the child would keep him awake and every day he would find himself feeling slightly unhappier than the day before.

He remembered one day the words of the woman at their wedding, and knew suddenly they were true. For it felt like only yesterday that his romance was in full bloom, when he and his bride-to-be were together endlessly, devoted to nothing but each other, lost in love, and lost together. Now, when his wife talked of those days, he found he did not recognise her memories, nor himself in them.

A great anger grew him in when she spoke of their past. Where now was his freedom to do as he wished, to go where he may, to be alone when he wanted, together when they needed.

So his bitterness grew. And if he was rude to his wife, what would it matter, for did not the old crone say that his wife would remember nothing of it? And if he felt pity for himself, what could his wife expect, for while he had lost the good years of his life, she had taken them as her own.

The second year of their life together passed with increasing rancour. They did not celebrate the anniversary of their wedding, nor even the birthday of their daughter. And if truth be told, they did not even remember they had forgotten.

***

She woke suddenly to the sound of her husband berating her. His unkind words escalated throughout the day, and that night sleep came to her as a relief. But the next day was the same, and the next day, and the next, and she wondered how it had ever come to this. The only joy in her days was the time she spent with Eve, who had grown so fast she felt a sensation akin to vertigo when she held her, so huge did the child seem now compared to the tiny newborn she still imagined her to be.

She thought one day of the old woman’s words, and a moment’s clearness came over her, and she saw, for the first time, as plain as can be, the truth of her and her husband’s love, and the truth of each other, and the differences in their hearts. And she did indeed feel regret.

***

She took Eve in her arms and together they left the castle and went out into the woods and were not seen again. Where it was they went from there the prince never did know, and together his bride and his daughter lived happily ever after.

The prince, alone, did not.

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Notes:

1. Written in May, 2016

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Tale #54: The Search For Lost Things

A couple lived together for many years, and many things went unspoken of between them. Eventually what was left unsaid was left forgotten.

At first this loss seemed inconsequential to them both and they carried on together as if nothing was any different. In this way even more years passed, and although something between them had changed they could not say what.

One day the thought of it returned, as if a fish had risen out of the murk and broken the serene surface for a much needed gulp of air. It did not surface for long enough to allow them to see its true shape, yet the ripples spread out across the lake of their minds and could not be denied.

The desire to reclaim what had been long forgotten, and longer lost, eventually consumed them. In their frenzied search they tore the house apart. They tore their friends apart, and their family too. They tore apart their past and their future, their happiness, their hope.

And there it was at last, in amongst the rubble and the blood of their shredded hearts. A crystal barb glinting in the firelight. Tiny and fragile. Huge, all encompassing.

One of them looked at it and turned away. He said, “Is that all it was? That tiny sliver of a thing? No wonder we let it go and left it where it lay.

“And now we’ve found it, what good will it do us? What benefit will it bring? We should have left it where it was. And we should bury it now, as deep as we can, and carry on again as if it had never been found.”

But the other kept her eyes upon it and did not look away. Could not look away.

Would not look away.

He saw the tears in her eyes Trying not to see what those tears reflected back at him, he said, “Was it worth it, all this destruction, all this fury and despair? Was it worth it, for something so small, from so long ago?”

“The truth is worth whatever it costs,” she said, and reached down and picked the bones out of the ruins of her old heart.

“But we were happy,” he said.

“Yet all of it was a lie,” she said.

And she put the forgotten things back where they belonged and made herself whole again.

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Notes:

1. Written in June 2016

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