This story was one of the rare stories that just came to me. I read the prompt, the setting appeared before me, and then it wasn’t that hard to imagine the girl and her friend the bird. Concerning the plot, I had been cringing at the thought of writing a complete story within 1500 words; however, once begun, the whole thing seemed to flow like water (or any other substance in a liquid state).
Now, believe me when I tell you, this is very unnatural for yours truly. Upon discussing possible future writing prompts with my co-authors, my mind has drawn several blanks and most stubbornly refused on giving any leeway whatsoever. That being said, however, I am happy to present this story which has allowed me to put it, without inordinate struggle, upon paper for your enjoyment.
The Hole in the Ground
Once upon a time, there was a forest. This forest was made of tall, old trees and shrouded itself in a cloak of golden mist. The trees stretched on and on as far as the eye could see, and looked almost like green hair on the head of the world. Amongst the tall, red, spear like trunks, the pink sunlight shot its shafts through the saturated atmosphere to warm the faces of the ferns on the forest floor. It was an enchanting place to be sure, and it constantly chimed and rang with the music of bird-speech.
In the very centre of the forest there rose, tall and narrow, a single spire of red stone. Its peak was higher than the highest trees (which were very tall I assure you) and on its very tip grew a single tree, so bent and snake like that it looked like it was trying to keep its balance. It was strong, to be sure, and very secure on its perch yet, nevertheless, it possessed an air of precariousness that caused one’s hair to rise.
In the midst of its branches lived a single occupant. Not a monkey or an orangutan, a bird or a flying squirrel, but a girl whose long, red hair was so used to rising that it was stuck that way: shooting straight up from her head like a copper flame. “Why would a girl live in such a perilous place?” one might rightly ask. The answer is that she was brave, and that is all the reason that is needed.
Every morning when the sun came up, she would stand out on the farthest bow of her tree and wave good morning to that kindly king of fire. In return, he would shoot out his beams and transform the mist, which had turned silver during the night, back into warm gold again. She would curtsey and thank him for the lovely morning because she knew it made the sun happy when his work was appreciated. Then breathing deep through her upturned freckled nose she would feel quite alive and, of course, very brave.
Again one might ask, “Wouldn’t a little girl get lonely up there?” To that, the answer would be “yes,” that is if she was alone. You see, even though there was no civilization for miles, this does not mean that she was lacking company.
Every day, after the sun had risen, a single bird would flutter out of the forest canopy and wing his way to the tree of the brave girl. This bird was her closest friend and some time ago she had christened him, “Mr. Finch,” seeing as his given bird name was too difficult to pronounce. He called her “Miss. Ears,” partially on account of the way her little ears stuck out in the most elfin way, and partially because if she did have a name, she had long since forgotten it.
Mr. Finch being much larger than the usual archetypes of his species was, in fact, very large, making it possible for the daring Miss Ears to climb on his back. So situated, they would often go for a flight into the cool forest below. There they would pick luminescent moon flowers amongst the branches and catch giant butterflies the size of one’s face in large glass jars (of which she had an inexplicable supply). They would then shoot down to the moist forest floor where Finch would eat worms for breakfast and she would stuff her pockets with lightning toads which she would later bring back with her to her tree (lightning toads in conjunction with moon flowers provide excellent illumination in the nighttime hours.)
Now, I must tell you at this juncture, that birds have no need to be brave. They merely sore over it all: fear, peril, problems, and so they really haven’t the slightest clue about the subject. This difference between them was quite intriguing to the friends and both were full of questions about the other. The girl would tell the bird all about what it was like being brave: the fear, the excitement and the wonderful feeling of just getting out of something you were sure wouldn’t end well. In turn, the bird would tell the girl about what it was like not to have to be brave: the boringness, the peace, the happy tranquility. They where each quite content with their own situations; however, it was nice to hear about another one from time to time.
It was one day, however, that something out of the ordinary, even for the little girl, happened. It was later in the morning, and they were just about to return to the tree for a cup of silver bark tea when they found something. There on the forest floor, like a great open mouth upturned towards the sky, was a hole, wider than two Mr. Finches placed wingtip to wingtip. It was very deep and dark, so dark that you could not see the bottom.
Miss Ears thought this was marvelous and thought they should fly in, but Mr. Finch, for the first time in his life, felt uneasy. She said that it was good to be uneasy, for how can you be brave without being uneasy first? But still he resisted and said they should go get their tea. However, the little girl’s will proved stronger and he, trusting her knowledge in the field of bravery, dove down the hole with Miss Ears on his back.
They dove and dove, and the light of the opening above them slowly grew smaller. They went an hour or two, and then perhaps a day or maybe two weeks, neither she nor Finch could tell in that black place. The rustle of his feathers melded into a delirious absence of time or context and it seemed that she slept for an age.
Somewhere in that emptiness it seemed that instead of gliding down they were flying up. It was true, for in two weeks, or maybe a day and then an hour or two they saw a little dot of pale sunlight slowly growing above them. Finally, they must have turned about unwittingly in that labyrinth of emptiness and would soon be back in their beloved forest. But when they reached the opening, it was not their home. They were in a forest, but it was rather grey and foggy and the trees were rough and skinny with prickly needles.
They looked at each other in shock, and Finch almost jumped out of his feathers. My goodness what had happened to her? What did he mean, good Finch? Why, it was almost as if she had... well.... grown up.
It was true! Somewhere in the time between going in one end and coming out the other the little girl had become no longer little. This came as quite a shock and upon looking at her reflection in a pond the fact was confirmed. Her hair was the same, but the face had been molded and chiseled in those unmistakably grown-up ways. She cried for a little, something she had never really done before, but with the support of Mr. Finch she was soon consoled. There were worse things that could happen, he told her, at least they weren’t lost down there anymore. She would have to be brave now, he said, be brave and find out what all this grown up busyness was about. The girl was brave, she could not help but be that way, so she took Finch’s advice and trudged into the new unknown. She shared her stories with all that she met, and some would listen while others wouldn’t, but she was never dissuaded, and her tales left quite a wake wherever she went.
It was in following this wake that I happened to find her. I had been trolling about the English countryside, a young writer seeking out good stories, when I stumbled across a small town on a large moor. Upon entering the local pub, I began to inquire upon my purpose. They hadn’t got many storytellers about there, the old bartender said, but there was an old woman in the east of town, she had appeared out of nowhere sixty years ago and she had stayed ever since and she was always known to tell a story to whomever would listen. It being a promising prospect, I sought her abode, which was not hard to find. She was pleasant and kind, offering me some tea, which was nothing compared to the silver bark stuff she said. Her hair had never fully stopped rising, and so her white waves created a snowy frame to her smiling, wrinkled face. Her story was regarded by most, including myself, as purely fanciful; however, upon a table amidst pictures of her husband and children, there was one image that puzzled me greatly. Tucked into a large frame, sat a single, tattered sepia photograph of a very, large, finch.