Friday, May 21, 2010

The first day of spring by Erin Hinkes

runner-up in the Not Blessed A Little Story Contest


“I’m going outside, Nana,” he called as he jumped down the stairs, still pulling a worn red shirt over his large ears.

His grandmother grabbed hold of his arm, “Not so fast, young man. You aren’t going out without your breakfast.” She escorted him to the table, “have a seat, I’m frying up some potatoes right this minute.” She returned to her work and picked up her humming exactly where she’d paused.

“But Nan--” he was stopped short by a look.

“You’ve lived in this house your entire life and you haven’t once left without your breakfast, that tradition isn’t about to be broken today,” his grandmother said firmly. “There now, eat up,” she said dishing a mound of potatoes onto his plate. She poured him a glass of orange juice as well.

Immediately he began shoveling the potatoes into his mouth, burning his tongue, he swallowed quickly, hardly chewing. The potatoes were delicious, his grandmother was a fine cook, when it came to breakfast. He had no time to savor the food that morning; he was in a hurry to get outside, something that didn’t escape his grandmother’s attention.

“What on earth, child, you’re going to make yourself sick. Now you chew, have some decency, I know you were raised better than that,” she shook her spoon at him with an hand on her hip. “What is your hurry?”

“I want to go out,” he replied taking a gulp of orange juice to help force the half chewed potatoes down his throat. “It’s such a beautiful day, it’s the first day of spring,” he smiled.

“Indeed it is, and you have every right to enjoy it, but honestly it’s not like spring only lasts for a day. And besides, it’s plenty early in the morning; you have a whole day ahead of you. What’s a beautiful day worth if you just hurry through it?”

Swallowing the last bit of his breakfast he quickly jumped up and hurried to the door, “Okay, I’m done. Can I go out now?”

“Yes, you can go out now,” his grandmother laughed at his impatience. She followed him out onto the porch. A long road laid in front of the small cottage, in one direction it lead to the village, in the other a forest. “Now, you behave yourself and don’t get into any trouble.”

“Yes, Nana,” he sighed.

“You stay close to the path and don’t go into that forest alone, you understand.”

“Why can’t I go into the forest?” the boy protested.

“Because there are goblins in that forest that would eat you up.”

“I’m not afraid of goblins.”

“And there are fairies that tempt children to follow them into the wood and they never find their way back out.”

“Nana,” he sighed with a smile. “I can take care of myself; I’m not a little kid anymore. I’m going to be ten next month.”

“So you shall, but you’ll find even at ten you have a lot of growing up left to do. You go out and enjoy the spring, now. And stay out of that forest,” her voice was gentle but her eyes held a severe warning in them.

“Alright,” he promised reluctantly. And off he went, leaving his grandmother alone on the worn wooden porch.

-

The boy started down the path toward the village. Large fields lay on either side of the path, some with flowers blooming in them; some with lambs skipping about. A few had cattle and there was a horse or two to be seen. The boy wandered off the road as he usually did, keeping it in sight as he always did. He walked through a meadow with tall grass, maybe he would see a rabbit today, he always liked rabbits because when they saw a person they often froze and it became a game to see how close he could get to one before it bolted off through the thick grass. Once he came so close he nearly touched a rabbit, he’d felt his heart leap when the rabbit suddenly took off, taking him completely by surprise.

He found a rabbit in the tall grass before long and he dropped to his belly. The rabbit was a dark brown color; clumps of fur were left behind as she made her way through the thick grass. She had yet to shed her winter coat entirely as it was hardly a day into spring. The day was promising to be very warm, however, and by the end of it she would probably have lost a bit of her coat. The boy crept very slowly and quietly toward her, she stopped suddenly and sniffed the air. The wind was in his favor and though she paused for several moments, she decided there wasn’t any danger and continued to hop about. He’d frozen in sync with her and now began to creep toward her again.

Suddenly as quick as lightning there was a flash of red fur in his face, a bush tail whipped the tall grass across his eyes and a horrid sound pierced his ears and shook him. When he recovered from his temporary confusion he saw a fox, who hadn’t noticed him, had pounced over him and slain the rabbit in the blink of an eye. The murderer was now slinking off through the think grass with the rabbit in his mouth. The boy was stunned by the quickness of the event; he shook his head and pushed himself up to his knees. He’d never seen a fox as close as that before and decided he was going to follow it, he’d found a new prey and a new game. How close could he get to a fox and where was this one going?

-

He chased that fox through the long grass meadow, across a field with scattered wild flowers and under a wooden fence that kept the lambs from roaming. The fox either didn’t notice he was following, or didn’t care. Never slacking his pace, nor looking back over his shoulder, the fox pressed onward with his kill. All the way to the stream that separated the world the boy knew and explored all his life from the forest, strictly forbidden by his grandmother. He stopped as the fox leapt over the shallow stream and looked up in awe at the grand forest. It was more intimidating today than it had ever been on any other day.

It wasn’t that he’d never been in the forest, just never alone; he’d gone with some of the villagers before. Every summer his grandmother would take him berry picking in the woods. And in the winter he often found himself with a job among the townsmen gathering wood for the anticipated storms. Today, however, the forest was different, it was foreboding and he nearly believed that his grandmother had been telling the truth about the goblins and fairies that lurked in the dark wood. He looked across the stream and saw the fox, which had stopped and put down his kill. The fox looked back and nearly smiled, taunting the boy and his fear to follow.

Clenching his fits and holding his breath the boy leapt across the short stream to the forest. The fox still seemed to laugh as he watched the dead rabbit at his feet. The boy scowled at the fox and took a step into the forest. Somehow he was filled with an exhilarating fear that he’d never before had when he’d gone into this forest. “I’m not afraid of you,” he said, defiantly. The fox panted, his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth. The boy took several steps closer. The black eyes of the fox met the green ones of the boy.

A few moments of stillness past. The boy felt confident and smiled, this forest wasn’t scary. The fox picked up the rabbit and wandered on his way, still unconcerned about the boy. No longer did the boy have a desire to chase after the fox, he was in the forest and it was beautiful. The smell of all the types of trees mingling and the blooming of everything because it was spring overwhelmed him. He spent the day in the wood, exploring things he’d never seen and marching familiar paths he’d walked with his grandmother and the townsmen.

The sun began rise to it’s peak in the sky and the boy was growing hungry. He was grateful his grandmother had forced breakfast upon him as he wasn’t sure where he was or how far he’d wandered. He turned and began back in the direction he’d come, hoping if he’d walked far enough he would reach the edge of the forest, from there he would see the familiar path that led to the village past his grandmother’s house. His feet grew tired as he continued to walk, the forest was growing darker and the fear he’d had earlier came across him again. He thought he could hear the fairies and goblins whispering among the trees and quickened his pace. The sun was beginning to sink in the afternoon sky when he finally found his way out.

The instant he heard the water of the stream he found his energy renewed and he sprinted to the edge of the forest. He cleared the water in one bound and cheered out in his victory of having spent the day alone in the forest and having no consequence to deal with, provided of course, that his grandmother didn’t learn of his disobedience. He took a deep breath and looked around to see how far from the path he’d ended up in his return. Looking to his right he saw the path and began toward it, laughing to himself.

Casting a glance at the forest over his shoulder he noticed there was another path behind him. One that was parallel to the path before him, a road that he had never noticed before, though he’d lived there his entire life. Which path was the one to his home, he wondered. He decided he would walk toward the one that he saw first and if he couldn’t see his grandmother’s cottage than he should turn back toward the road behind him. When he got to the path and looked up the road he didn’t see the cottage so he turned back toward the other path. All the while he continued to cast a glance at the road behind him; it hadn’t been there before he was certain. He had a strong urge to explore this path, but he suppressed it telling himself he could return the next morning and see where this second path went. His feet were tired and he was hungry having missed his lunch. Surely his grandmother would begin to wonder where he’d gone, if she wasn’t already worrying.

-

When he reached the second path and looked up the road he saw nothing, just as he had with the first path. Where was his grandmother’s cottage? Panic set in and he began to walk up the road, perhaps there was a slant to the path that made a subtle hill that blocked his grandmother’s cottage. He walked at a vigorous pace, part from fear of being lost and part from fear of being late. Still there was no sign of the cottage. Perhaps he had taken the wrong path, he thought. He’d gone too far to turn back to the forest and find the other path again, they seemed parallel roads so he should have been able to cut across the field and get to the other path. This he tried and for a long while he walked never seeing the other path. He began to run, his heart pounding, he wanted to go home and he would do anything to find the path. He was sorry he’d disobeyed his grandmother, he wouldn’t do it again, he pleaded in his head to anyone who may answer him. “I’m sorry,” he said aloud.

Running, he tripped and fell. He was not hurt, but he did not get up for a few moments. “Where am I?” he demanded of no one. Picking himself up he saw a hallowed log near by and decided he needed a moment to rest, to think, to figure out what to do. He looked as far as he could before him and did not see the path he sought, he looked as far as he could behind him and did not see the road from whence he’d come. When he was at the forest he could easily see both paths, but when he looked in the direction he supposed the forest to be, even that was no longer visible. He buried his face in his hands, how had this happened? How had he become so lost? What if he’d walked clear through the forest and he was now on the other side?

Whistling interrupted his thoughts; he looked up and saw a man dressed in hunting garb approaching him. He was glad he had not begun to cry, he’d wanted to, but he hadn’t allowed himself to. “Hello, young fellow,” the hunter greeted him. “And what are you doing here all alone so late?”

He opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted as the hunter continued.

“What’s your name, boy? Where are you from? Where do you live? You seem a bit lost.”

The boy studied the man for a moment; he was not someone the boy recognized even though he felt he should have. He was relieved to see the hunter and began explaining that he lived with his grandmother on the path between the forest and the village. As he explained he felt an anger sweep over him, his grandmother was a very well respected and well known woman, who had single-handedly raised him and everyone knew them. “Who are you,” the boy demanded, interrupting his own story.

“I’m just a policeman, coming home from a hunt,” the man explained. He lowered his gun from his shoulder and put down his sack with his kill inside. The boy felt his heart stop when he saw the bushy black tipped tail of a fox sticking out from the mouth of the bag. “Now, I’ve not heard of this grandmother of yours, but I think I may know of this village. You’re heading the wrong way; you need to go back this way. See you keep going this way and you’ll see a road, at the end of that road there’s a village, I think its village you want. I can take you there,” he offered, putting a hand on the boy’s back.

The boy felt more afraid than he’d ever felt, even when he went into the forest. This man was a policeman; his grandmother had always told him if he ever got lost that policemen could help him. But the man didn’t look like any policeman the boy had ever seen. He didn’t trust him; in the pit of his stomach he had a feeling that this man was going to lead him astray. He should have asked for his badge, if he was a policeman he would have a badge, something to say he was to be trusted, to prove he was official. But the boy’s tongue was caught in his throat and rather than demanding to see a badge or refusing the man’s offer, he looked him in the eye and nodded.

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