This is another of my older texts. I wrote it back in 2007, and I think it was the first semi-long text I ever wrote in English. It inspired me to continue working on a short story collection on the same theme, and to be honest I’m still working on that project. I still like it, and I hope you will as well. Feel free to comment!
He could not tell from where the light really came; was it from the starry sky, barely visible through the semi transparent veil of clouds? Was it from the wet rocks, ever glittering by the force of the recently fallen rain? Or was it, by some ancient magic, the silvery autumn branches high above, with their last stubbornly clinging silver leafs, that cast off the fairy illumination? He could not tell, and he guessed that it was just as good he didn’t, as the question, unimportant as it might be, helped him greatly by keeping his thoughts off more important and frightening matters.
He struggled to stay in line; it was hard as the others, his captors, were so much smaller than he ever was, and saw a grave trespassing in every small inch he happened to move outside the given route. The dark forest was full of eyes watching, but it was the wrong kind of eyes; nowhere did he ever glimpse the lilac radiant glimmer in the night that he so wished to see, and thus he understood that he should harbor no hopes of rescue from these fierce monsters that kept him stumbling down the narrow trail in the middle of this godforsaken night.
He understood, as he had done from the beginning, that the puny magic of his people, wonderful though it was, could put up no threat to these villains. He had beheld his family getting brought down on the cold forest floor with blows of ugly dark weapons and spells of a kind he never saw before, when they refused to give him up without a fight. He had no idea of their fate now – if they were still alive and if the village had survived the fire that he had seen licking at it when he was carried away, half conscious, into the unknown darkness.
He had been very much beautiful to them, his people, in the same way that they were beautiful to him. He could vaguely remember a time in his life, distant from now in the past, when he had not been so much bigger than them as he was now. His memory did not, however, cover any time at all when he had been just as small as them.
But he was well aware that memory could be a tricky thing (he even had, laughably enough, some silly imaginary memories from long ago when the world around him had not been only trees and trees), so he understood clearly that he must have forgotten about the time when he, also, had been small and feline. Just like he had forgotten totally about the incident which his people had been so reluctant to tell him about until this very night; the incident (or accident, for that matter) that had in some magical way caused him to start growing in size to such a degree that he was now some kind of giant of the woods.
He wondered now whether he would grow even more, maybe to the tallness of the trees, so that he in time would be able to look down from the drifting clouds and see all the forest of the wide world. He hoped not, because then he might accidentally happen to step on some animal or friend of his, and that wouldn’t be very nice, would it now? Anyway, he thought, his people had accepted, loved and adored him (even though they had had to fly up to the first branches of the leaf carrying trees to look him in the eye) and they had thought him beautiful.
These misshaped creatures, on the other hand, did not love him and to them he was most certainly not beautiful. This they let him know through kicks and blows whenever they got the chance, and through yelling at him in a language that was not of the forest and which he did not understand. Every now and then, though, they assured him of their standpoint towards him by throwing into their hysterical shouting some occasional word in his own language, the language of his people, with the general meaning of “ugly” or “giant”. So if he in the past had been a creature of wonder and beauty, that was no longer the case. In this twilight world which he had now been robbed into, he was no more than a freak show, and to his captors he was no more than an ugly giant.
They kept their pace for all of the night, never stopping to let him catch his breath or offering him to drink from their bottles. When they stopped to rest every morning, just before the hour when the horizon would turn red had they been able to see it through the trees, he was tied to the ground by the use of some evil magic, and forced into an uneasy sleep by some strong liquid they made him drink against his will. He never woke before the twilight hour, and thus his world became one of night. He did not see the sun for many days.
In his restless sleep, forced upon him by the witchcraft of these fiends, he again and again relived the night when he had been snatched from his peaceful life among his people. The colors of the dream were always distorted, as is the case when you sleep with a heavy fever upon you, and the voices of everyone, friend and monster, were warped and twisted and he was always afraid during those dreams.
He again and again experienced the hour just before twilight, the night of the autumn feast in the village. He again and again looked out through the little window in the small cottage they had built for him (which was just big enough for him but already starting to feel a bit narrow as he continued to grow with the changing of each season), to see his pretty little family and his friends hurrying this way and that, trying to get the banquet ready before sundown when the festivity would begin. They called to him and smiled, and asked him to put the decorations on the taller branches which they themselves could not reach easily. He smiled back at them and climbed out of his little house, ready to assist. His little sister was on his shoulder now, and whispering told him a secret he had now forgotten; something about the way the birds fly when the winter is nearing, and why they do that. He walked up to one of the trees surrounding their glade village, about to braid into its lowest branches a garland of tiny, glittering sparks made by his cousin.
Now time slowed down and the fever dream made him relive these last moments of sense in some kind of slow moving pace, at the same time as reality shifted colors and every sound was stretched, as if to mimic some infernal singing of the fish in the brook.
From every direction now, surrounding the glade, crawled dark shapes out of the descending twilight. The creatures had teeth just like the predatory, four legged animals of the woods that his people so shunned and feared, and dark red, cunning eyes.
They carried iron rods, sharpened and darkened by night, and chanted in low voices an evil rhyme the words of which he had never heard before. His people started in horror at this sudden attack, and gathered around him in the middle of the glade, fearfully gazing in each direction and singing protective spell songs to ward off the approaching demons (if this was to protect him or seek shelter in his presence, he could not know).
But the fiends had stronger magic, even though they were no larger in size than the forest people, and continued to approach until they had closed in and surrounded the circle.
One of them started to speak to the forest people in his strange language, and the chanting grew louder. This part was always cloudy in the dream, and he had a hard time remembering what happened afterwards. Through a dreamy haze he could see his people trying to fight back the intruders, using sticks and magic. He felt himself starting to fall, as if some evil spell of sleep had been cast upon him, and as he lay there on the ground he could do nothing but hope that he had not fallen on some of his friends. He could not move anymore, and his vision grew blurrier every split second.
The last thing he saw though the descending fog was fire; fire everywhere. And his brothers and sisters, all his people, fighting the demons and failing. He could not help them, he could not protect them. And so utter darkness engulfed him, and he knew nothing.
He could not remember awaking from that darkness. The only thing he could recall was that suddenly he was striding along this row of foes, the dark forest the only thing around and no familiar stone or landmark anywhere. Thus he had no idea how long had passed since this terrible incident that was maybe the end of his village, and fierce beating was the only answer he got, did he dare to ask his captors.
Every night when he awoke from his spellbound sleep he cried bitterly. At first he had refused to stand up and obey when they beckoned him to rise each night. This had resulted in a lot of pain, both from their weapons and from their spells. They had shouted at him and beat him until he was covered in blood and he could take it no more. Then he must struggle on through the night with aching limbs and bleeding scars all over, until next morning when he was finally allowed to lie down again. When again he woke, some magic had always caused his wounds to heal – uselessly, since his refusal to cooperate at once made them bear down on him again as soon as he started to strain.
After a while, though, he grew numb.He no longer fought them and no longer cared. His soul he hid deep within his weary body, and he no longer thought of anything but where he put his feet. They still beat him all the time (even more and even harder when they, to their frustration, noticed his lack of concern), but he didn’t notice it much. He felt the pain in his body, but his soul was out of reach.
Many, many nights after this they wandered. The landscape grew sparse of vegetation and finally no moss or twigs longer covered the ground. They passed over a fence made out of silver thread, and after walking some distance everything was changed. The rocks that he knew to always be round and uneven now spread out before him in a strange flat kind of way; the ground was covered with them, and they were no longer round or raw but square and very much flat under his sore feet. Wherever he looked were strange, heaven high buildings with sharp corners made out of both wood and stone, and they had glittering squares of light fastened to their every side.
He was totally unprepared of this powerful vision of strange wonders, and his wall of protection crumbled to nothing; he let out a gasp of awe, and stood as bewitched gazing up towards the towers of light that stretched endlessly before him.
The demons that held him captive glared at him and dragged him down on the ground so that he was at their level. Evil eyes were fixed at him from all directions, and then they spoke. He was amazed beyond words as they did so, for suddenly and without any further explanation, he understood them!
“Don’t try to find your way back over the silvery fence”, they growled hatefully. “You will never find it again from this side of the world. And even if you did you would not be able to find the trail we walked. You are changed now. Changed back, from what you should never have been in the first place.”
And with those last words they turned their backs on him and started back the way that they had come. He rose to his feet to hurry after them before his road was closed forever, but lots of new noises surrounded him and he was no longer sure of what it was that he had to return to so much. He stood a second in confusion, and when he again came to his senses, they were gone without a trace. It was as if they were never there in the first place, and surely they did not fit into this gleaming world of fast passing, bright colored vehicles and burning sunset towers of the whitest marble. After a while he was not even sure that they had really been there.
Then he saw the creatures of this magical city of light, and he almost fainted from the realization; they were like him! He was not taller than most of them, and they were of all kinds. Some where smooth and vigorous, while others had skin like crumbled fruit in the autumn and walked leaning on sticks or other strange apparatuses. No one looked twice upon him.
He was totally at loss with this situation. His memory of where he had come from was slipping from his grasp even now, and he was surprised that he understood everything these creatures, so alike him it was almost frightening, said to each other. He looked around for somewhere to go, somewhere to hide – and his gaze fell upon a lightning square, a window, where he suddenly laid eyes upon the most wondrous and beautiful sight he had ever beheld in his whole life. More beautiful was it than the golden leafs of autumn, or the gentle crystals in the air at winter. More wonderful a sight than the wild and musical swirling of the brook at spring, or the flight of the most daring of blue birds in the time of summer was it. Much more than all of that.
It was a girl. She was slowly and carefully combing out her golden hair, sitting at the window but not looking out. Her curls gleamed beautifully in the last light of the dying sun, and she was dressed for the night in the whitest silk, decorated only at the edges with purple lace ribbons. Her skin was white and smooth, and he in some strange way knew that she was very much like him. Her window was far above him, and even then he could behold all this.
After that he knew nothing before he stood in front of her door, in an echoing stairwell, reading the small letters printed at a pretty, decorated sign in the level of his eyes (and yes, he really could read them). She had such a wonderful name!
He carefully pushed the white little button next to the door, and a melodious ringing sprang forth inside the closed door. Footsteps fell on some soft surface inside, and soon she stood there, right in front of him, and looked into his eyes. She truly was beautiful, more beautiful than he had thought when he stood in the darkening street gazing up at her.
He thought for a second of how her eyes had something slightly familiar about them; something in their color reminded him of birds and magic. They twinkled like radiantly lilac little stars, and for a moment he was utterly confused and taken aback.
She smiled in a way that somehow indicated recognition, and then a name came to him. His name. And it was not a fairy name or a giant name, but a human name. The name of one of these creatures that were his size. His kind. He spoke his newfound and newly re-remembered name out loud, and she smiled again and thought that it was the most wonderful name.
He still stands in front of that door now and then, but now he has the key and does not have to press the doorbell, and the decorative sight in level with his eyes contains now not only her beautiful name, but his as well.
He is happy together with the girl with the radiant eyes, who knows not more than him about the forest and small villages with tiny people, or dark demons from the night.
But sometimes, at the end of summer when twilight comes earlier with each passing day and the shadows grow longer, he finds himself waking screaming and crying from a restless, sweat drenched dream where small, pretty figures stand around him in a darkening glade, speaking words of strangeness to menacing creatures with dark red eyes,
who answer them in a language that he can now understand clearly.
He always stays in the dream just long enough to hear one of the demons speak to the pretty people: “We are here on behalf of the Agency of Switch-cases. Hand us the changeling! He is not of yours; he is to be taken back to where he came from! Give in freely or we shall take him by force, with no concern of the consequences!”
And as the devilish voice of the imp-creature dies away, leaving not complete silence but the din of battle and death in its wake, the dream vision fades away and he feels himself falling down, down into a deep foggy darkness.
It is after such autumn dreams of another world that he wakes crying and twisting in his bed, without knowing where he is or why, half expecting the agony of sharpened iron rods brought down on him any second. But then her hand is on him, reassuring him and loving him, and he is again who he is; a human creature just like her, completely safe in her embrace from all the horrors of the dark.
They are very happy together, and soon she is to tell him that they are expecting a little one of their own into the world, and he will be so filled with joy. And as time goes by, as it inevitable does, memory of past lives grow bleacher and bleacher, until nothing remains but now and then a dream about a clear autumn evening ending in tragedy. Just a dream.
But once a year, on the day that he eventually guessed to be the day of his birth or the day of some other important event in his life, he finds on the hallway carpet, infallibly, a card decorated with golden leafs and strangely twinkling sparks, covered with words written in a language he can no longer understand.
But he nevertheless keeps them close at heart and stores them carefully in a beautifully decorated wooden box that he has made himself, and takes them out every now and then to look at them and try to remember.
And even though he forever fails to do that, he is very, very happy.