She tripped lightly down the pine needle-strewn path, her footsteps swallowed by the silence of the forest. She stopped here and there to pick the ripe blackberries growing along the path and dropped them into the battered pail she’d brought with her for just such a purpose. Tonight there would be pie, but she would have to stop her one-for-me, one-for-the-pail approach to berry-picking if she were ever to gather enough.
Passing though bright motes of dapple painted by sunlight through leafy boughs of green canopy, deeper and deeper into wood she traveled. Then far ahead in a small clearing, nearly swallowed by foliage, a wee cottage appeared, spot-lit by sun but all darkness within. To many, it might be forbidding, but not to a young girl who had lived in fairy tales all her life. She had outwitted wolves and wicked stepmothers. She had vanquished many an evil gnome, troll and elf. She’d laughed at orcs, goblins and gollums, and had escaped towers, hot ovens and never-ending sleep. And through it all, she’d always believed in good witches and handsome princes, though she’d never actually met one herself.
Nay, a wee cottage in the wood was no match for this girl. And so she skipped up to the cottage, climbed the steps to the its porch, and gave a small knock on the door. When there was no answer, she gently pushed the door open on its squeaky hinges and stepped inside. As the sun followed her in, she saw an old bird cage standing in the corner. She walked over, and as she approached, a very bedraggled bird lifted its head and looked at her forlornly.
“Hello,” she said brightly. “I’m Lucinda. What’s your name? What are you doing here all alone?”
The bird said not a word. Not too many birds can talk, after all. He just continued to gaze at her. Now, probably birds can’t get expressions on their faces, but she saw great sadness in this bird’s eyes. Her own eyes filling with tears, she pried open the rusty latch on the cage and opened the door.
“Come out,” she cried. “I’ve set you free!”
The bird just pulled its pale blue feathers tighter against its thin body and backed into the far corner of the cage, its expression changing from sad to wary. She stood and talked gently to the frightened bird, but nothing she said could lure it from the cage.
Finally, she realized it was hopeless and besides, the sun was going down and soon it would be dark in the forest.
“I must go if I’m to find my way home," she told the bird. “”But I will leave the door open so that you may leave too if you want. Goodbye!”
She turned and started moving toward the door of the cottage, but half-way there she stopped and turned.
“There are plenty of berries outside and I can tell you, they are very good. But you look hungry now and my waistline doesn’t need pie anyway.”
She returned to the cage, and put all of the berries from her pail just inside the door of the cage. Then she ran from the cottage and made her way quickly out of the forest and home, arriving just before the sun dropped below the horizon.
That night, she was barely able to sleep, worrying about the poor bird cowering alone in the cottage in the wood. Her concern stayed with her the next day, causing her boss to chastise her for daydreaming instead of attending to her filing. As she tried to focus on her work, she vowed to return to the cottage that evening and make sure the poor bird was okay.
Right after work, she rushed home and changed her clothes. Taking no time to trip lightly through the wood or pause to enjoy the succulent blackberries growing beside the pine needle-strewn path, she hurried toward the cottage. When the wee cottage came into view in the small clearing ahead, she saw the door was standing open as she left it. But instead of darkness inside, the cottage seemed filled with sunlight.
She ran to the door and stepped inside, anxiously looking at the old cage standing in the corner. To her surprise, it was empty! She went over to it, and confirmed that the bird and all of the berries were gone.
As she was standing looking at the cage, her emotions swinging between joy that the bird had flown free and disappointment at not seeing him again, she heard a footstep on the tiny porch out front. Turning, she saw a handsome young man in a pale blue sweater framed in the doorway.
“Hello,” he said. “I’m Marcus. What’s your name? What are you doing here all alone?”
See? she thought. I knew fairy tales really can come true!
This was written for Magpie Tales.