May 15, 2014

Once upon a bleak midwinter

Once upon a bleak midwinter, driven by hunger and her dwindling stores, a young woman fetched up her bow and went out a hunting. Braving wind, frost, and snow she traveled far by vale and by wood in search of game.

Alas, skilled though she was, neither quarry nor spoor did she espy. After many long hours she found that she could go no further, for her travails had worked with the cold and hunger to rob her of her strength.

Knowing full well the risk that she took, she settled against the trunk of a welcoming pine whose snowy boughs sheltered her from the worst of the chill wind. Wondering if ever again she would awaken, she resignedly succumbed to slumber.

Sometime later, and somewhat to her surprise, she opened her eyes. Night had fallen and with it, a heavy blanket of snow and stillness. The young moon shed a weak light that seemed only to emphasize the darkness and the shadows of the trees, familiar by day suddenly made strange and uncanny.

There was an utter and unnatural lack of sound. An eerie silence that weighed heavily upon her, she felt as if it might steal her breath away. Then, without her noticing the precise moment it occurred, the silence was gone. In its stead, growing from barely audible to increasingly loud, a thrumming sound or perhaps some sort of vibration.
She grasped for something to liken the sound to, the only thing that came to mind was a hundred hives of harassed hornets. In truth, she had to admit to herself that it was unlike anything she had ever heard before.

She shivered when she saw the light flittering through the trunks of the trees. Half-forgotten stories her grandmother would try to scare her with so very long ago resurfaced. The mercurial and terrible Pouhkas with their ghostly lanterns, the malevolent flying spirit flames called Onibis, the endless and destructive despair of the lost souls called Feu-follets… But as the sound got louder and the light approached, what she saw was unlike any of the creatures she had ever heard of.

It looked like a flying sunflower whose bloom was made of bizarre green light.

It grew nearer and nearer and finally alighted in front of her. The stem unfolded in some manner that defied her comprehension and became something like a twiggy torso and a pair of legs. Finally the intense thrumming sound was quelled, and she realized that what she had mistaken for a flower was the creature’s three shining arms spinning repeatedly around its neck under its head like some kind of wheel around an axle. The creature staring at her was about two-thirds as tall as she. While the proportions of its face were a bit strange, the expression there was definitely and most irritatingly human: the creature looked both smug and pleased with itself.

Finally it spoke: “Heya dollface! I know I’m beautiful, but if ya keep staring like that ya gonna wear out mah good looks.”
She couldn’t put her finger on it exactly, but something in the creature’s tone and attitude irritated her so much that she quite forgot about being frightened. Instead she looked at the creature levelly and said: “I was just wondering whether yea be beast or plant…”
“Yeah, dat’s right! And youse can take dat to da bank.” it said, not answering the question.
“…to decide if I should roast you or boil you.” She said grinning toothily and pointedly fingering the hilt of her hunting knife.
“’Ay now, ‘ay now, doncha be talkin’ lahk that sweetie. Everyt’ing be irie doncha know?”
The creature’s voice changed every time it spoke, but somehow that only contributed to its aggravating nature… She finally decided that whatever it was, it was going to be neither help nor hindrance, and that, jest set aside, it was inedible. “Ignore it and head home.” She told herself.
“Hey lady, are yah gonna help me or what?” it said impatiently.
“I don’t think so, I have to get home before I freeze to death.”
“Thy mortal concerns are none of mine, know thee not that my kith reward well those who render us service?”
She frowned, “Your kith? I still don’t know what you are… Tell you what, if you take me back to my Hogan, I’ll try to help you.”
A Navajo hogan

The creature twirled its arms noisily and expectorated: “Yo yo yo, I’m an effing fairy yo, and I’ll ball wit’ you. Ain’t never turned down a chance to take a skirt back to her crib yo.”
She thought to herself about how meaningless a sentence with two negatives was and followed the creature as it noisily took flight. The loud humming noise of its spinning arms precluded communication and so there was no asking it how it knew where to go. “Besides,” she thought to herself, “…it probably wouldn’t answer me.”

Shortly afterwards they were on her doorstep and she released a sigh of relief. The creature had been true to its word. But before she could enquire as to how she was to repay it, it belligerently said: “Now you lissen heah’ lil’ lady. I reckon’ it’s time you pay up cuz I’m plumb tired a waitin’.”
“Alright, alright. What is it you want?” she sighed.
“Well, mate. It be right obvious, innit? Oi’m a genius, ahn’t I? But I cahn hahdly hea’ ma’self think while ah’m flying.”
For such a strange creature, it has a remarkably mundane problem, she mused. She pushed past her door and returned but a moment later holding a small flask.
“Hold still while I put this on your neck, it should solve your problem.”
The creature reluctantly complied and took the flask from her when she was done.
“Hide not thy poison with such sugar’d words. Thy unction smells to the heavens and shall surely make me the friend of maggots.” And having said that, it gave its arms a tentative spin and was astounded by the quietness of its flight. “Oh true apothecary! Thy drugs are quick, thus with a daub I fly! Though thou hast served me well, glad am I to be shut of you. Before I take my leave, take thee this egg of mine and plant it within the earth before dawn. In two days’ time thy reward will be beyond measure.”
And so it quietly flew away into the forest, taking with it her flask of olive oil.

Following the creature’s instructions she buried its egg, and two days later a giant thing had grown up, towering over her home. And so she set about discovering how to use it, but that is another story.