Friday, 15 May 2009

Short Story Written for Merry Sisters of Fate Contest

Originally posted on my Live Journal

Entry for the Merry Sisters of Fate Watcher Prompt Contest


I was stuck at first with this prompt so I did a little research and made a Squidoo lens about the illustrator John Bauer: http://www.squidoo.com/JohnBauer


The Birth of the Moon

Come closer and let me tell you a story within a story, my child. Let me tell
you of how the moon came to be sitting in the night sky.

A long time ago there was a tiny shining girl named Cotton who would often say
to her Mama:




“Mama, tell me where I came from.”

Mama’s hands dropped the rolling pin onto the worn oak table and her
flour-dusted arms scooped me up and held me in her ample and comfortable lap.

The fire licked at my skin, reflecting silver and gold sparkles over Mama’s
fraying apron and making the spilt egg and flour look like encrusted jewels.

“My little Princess, your father brought you home to me after he found
you at the edge of the pool of the night forest, where the cotton grass grows.”
She settled back in the rocking chair and eased her tired legs forward, underneath
me.

“No Mama! The longer story!”

A sea of siblings and miscellaneous children skipped around the ocean of Mama’s
linen skirts, tripping over the cats and disturbing their squinting reverence
of the burning coals.

“Papa found you growing in the forest!”

“The faeries left you!”

“Your Mama was the dirt and your Papa was a bog!”

“Mama!” I complained.

“Now, now!” she warned, waving one thick finger at my ruddy-faced
brothers and sisters and cousins and playmates.

They giggled and then sat amongst the snoozing dogs and cats, looking up at
Mama and me with big eyes and snotty noses.

This was their favourite story too.

My silver eyes found Goldheart’s cornflower eyes and I felt pink, the
colour of a salmon’s belly, flood my cheeks.

“A long time ago when the oldest of you were naught but tiny babes,
summer lasted for nine months. The Sun stayed up all night and grew bigger
and bigger until we thought the whole world would burn to a crisp.”

Large eyes grew even larger.

“People would forget when they were supposed to sleep and when they
were supposed to work.”

“Like Papa?” Little Hans asked, wriggling one of his feet out
from under him before it went to sleep. The buckle on his shoe had fallen
off again, lost forever in the mire of the pig pen.

“Yes, like Papa,” Mama continued, running one hand through my
curls. They flowed over her fingers like molten white gold. “In those
days you could walk anywhere and be safe. No trolls could come out in the
sunshine without being turned to stone and so even the Night Forest was as
safe as safe can be.”

We loved to hear about the Night Forest, as all children thrilled to hear
about anything dangerous. Twenty-seven pairs of eyes turned to the window,
to the black line of pine trees skirting the edge of the meadow.

“The Night Forest was the only place that anyone could get any kind
of relief from the hot sun. Many of us built homes on the outskirts of the
trees and in amongst the branches.”

One of the tree houses still stood at the edge of the forest. The men took
it in turns to keep a lookout for trolls.

“Papa was returning home one day when the sun suddenly grew frightening
large. He rushed into the forest, hoping that the trees would save him from
being burnt to death.”

The children gasped, all except Goldheart.

Goldheart’s eyes shone with interest and he sat ramrod straight. If
he had been one of the dogs his ears would have stuck straight forward, swivelling
to catch Mama’s voice.

“The sun grew larger and larger, and we all thought the world would
end, when a tiny piece of the sun broke off and fell to earth, like a tiny
shooting star.”

Twenty-seven pairs of eyes fell heavy on my face and I hid in Mama’s
bosom to get away from them.

“Just as that little piece of sun broke off the sky went dark and so
Papa found himself in the middle of the Night Forest, in the pitch black.”

“With the trolls!” Karina cried out, yanking on her pigtails like
they were ropes that could pull her to safety.

“Yes, with the trolls and the hobgoblins.”

“And the faeries!” Ester piped up, always ready to see the good
in everything.

Mama squeezed me in a little cuddle. “The night was so dark and no one
carried torches with them or their kindling boxes because the sun had shone
for months and months. Papa could do nothing but stand completely still.”

“What happened then, Mama?” I asked, because we were getting to
my favourite part.

She stroked my hair away from my forehead and caressed my cheek with her thumb.
“Then Papa saw the tiny piece of sun fall through the canopy of leaves
and land in the heart of the forest. It was the only light anywhere so he
ran towards it, knowing that the glow would frighten away wild and wicked
creatures.”

“And what did he find, Mama?” Matteus asked. Sometimes I wondered
if he hoped Mama might change the story and have Papa gobbled up by a big
ugly troll.

“He found the Kelpie’s pool.”

We all gasped. This was something new.

“Mama, what’s a kelpie?” several voices asked at once.

“I know,” Goldheart said and all eyes turned to him. He ran one
hand through hair like waves of barley. “It’s a horse that lives
in the water and eats people.”

“Mama, did the kelpie try to eat Papa?” Lars asked, popping up
onto his knees like a curious gander.

“No,” she said, “When he got to the pool it was empty.”

Matteus clasped his hand over his mouth before the disappointed groan could
escape.

“But what about the glow?” I asked, bunching her skirt up in my
fists and tugging at it.

“When Papa got to the pool he found a tiny babe half-hidden amongst
the tree roots and the cotton grass.” She scooped me up. “Her
tiny little body glowed like a hot flame but when Papa reached for her, for
you, your skin dulled to a pale gold glow. He tried to pick you up but your
skin was white hot and burnt him so he covered your body with mud and cotton
and carried you home and by the time you’d both arrived your skin had
cooked the mud into hard clay.”

“I remember when your Papa brought you home,” Goldheart said.

“Child, you weren’t more than a month or two old,” Mama
told him. His freckles disappeared into a sea of red at her scolding.

“What then, Mama?”

“Well then, Janna, you had a new sister and we had a new mouth to feed.”

“She doesn’t burn now,” Otto said, reaching out to clasp
my foot. I hid it under my skirt before he could touch me.




*




Goldheart winced, like he always did, when he took my hand in his. Whether
my skin was too hot or too cold he didn’t tell. “You didn’t
used to burn.”

“You didn’t used to touch me. Where are we going?” I asked,
giggling as we ran through the meadow, our clothes catching on long grasses
and orange poppies.

He turned. His mouth still glowed where my lips had left some of their sunshine
and darkened the copper freckles across the top of his cheeks. “You
said you wanted to find out where you came from, Cotton.”

I stopped, almost falling forward into the grass. “I think that’s
something I have to do for myself.”

“I won’t let you go into the Night Forest on your own.”
He scooped up my heavy curls and tossed them over my shoulder, lifting my
chin so he could look at me properly. “Are you afraid?”

“Not for me.”

He grinned but I couldn’t return it. The oil-coloured horse watched
us from the tree line, like an ugly carving.

“I don’t like this, Goldheart,” I whispered, my hand clutching
his wrist, trying to wrap around the circumference.

“We meet again, Goldheart,” the horse said, the words rumbling
up his neck and through his peach-coloured teeth.

“Sir.” Goldheart bowed his head in respect, the waves of his hair
dipping into his eyes, catching on his lashes.

“Is this the girl?” the horse asked. His gargantuan head turned
to me. “Are you the Sun’s daughter?”

A festering smell drifted up from his belly where his skin had bleached and
burnt.

When I didn’t reply Goldheart unlocked his hand from mine and held it
out to the beast, showing the foul creature where the palm of his hand blistered
and burned.

“You must be a very strong young man to withstand such pain.”

“I would withstand any pain for my love.”

“What a brave young man.” The horse snorted a huff of air through
its nostrils, like laughter. “Tell me, what would you do for the girl’s
hand in marriage?”

“Anything,” Goldheart said, his chin high in the air and his chest
sticking out.

“If you can stay on my back all the way to the pool in the centre of
the Night Forest I will permit the union of our two families.”

I took Goldheart’s elbow, not budging even when he hissed at the seared
flesh on the inside of his elbow. “You already have my heart, you do
not need my hand.”

“Let me do this one thing for you, Cotton.”

He hopped onto that deadly shard of night before I could stop him and kicked
his heels into the Kelpie’s flank.

“Race you to the pool, whoever’s first keeps the boy, daughter
of mine.” Its breath roiled around me, choking me, scented with death
and then they were gone.

“Goldheart!”

I ran forward, my body burning brambles and branches alike as they tried to
snatch me and hold me back. My heat seared through my dress, paring the fabric
from my skin as I burnt my way through the forest.

“Gold!” The word flew out of my lungs, hot with flame, as I chased
a creature much older and wiser than myself, a creature that knew young men’s
hearts better than I ever would.

Trolls, faeries and rabbits alike skittered out of my way as I pushed faster,
as I reached forward at the pool and caught the Kelpie’s hoof, still
sticking up from the water. I held tight to the promise of Goldheart.

The smell of burning flesh filled the air and one gigantic hoof came free
in my hand as I fell backwards into the cotton grass.

“No...”

The pool in front of me lay still and empty as if Goldheart and the Kelpie
had never been.

I crept forward and looked into the place where they’d disappeared.
My gold fear and anger dulled to mourning silver.



Many years later all of the creatures of the forest decided something had to
be done about the little shining girl. She still sat by the pool and would not
look away from the water, whether dragonfly landed on her nose, or frogspawn
hatched under her, or hart drank over her shoulder.

“She must be moved.”

“Can’t leave her here, making the forest untidy.”

“It’s been years now, quite ridiculous.”

The two little birds, nesting in the branches above her head, finally decided
what had to be done with the girl.

They plaited her long golden hair into two ropes and each bird took a plait
in its mouth.

They flew her far up into the night’s sky and set her there amongst the
stars.

And there she stays, still looking at her reflection in all the pools of the
earth, waiting for her Goldheart to appear again.


The End

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