"We Revolve Around You"

The Dakota Planet

"We Revolve Around You"

The Dakota Planet

"We Revolve Around You"

The Dakota Planet

Once Upon a Wintry Night (part 2)

Once Upon a Wintry Night (part 2)

for part one, click here

 

“A long, long time ago, beyond the seven mountains, and beyond the seven rivers –” I smile as I utter the words that begin every legend, fairytale, and bedtime story in my country “– there lived a girl who dreamed of adventure.”

 

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The woods were dense, even with their leaves all gone, and the girl knew them better than anyone. Better than the woodsmen. Better than the huntsmen. It helped that her house was practically in the woods, while they all lived in the village.

But winters were a lonely existence. Even with her three sisters and grandmother. Things lurked out in the woods among the snow. The girl had never seen them but heard talk of it enough. It was the usual explanation of why even the most careful people went missing in the winter. Grandmother always cautioned her about the things.

The winter in which our story takes place was particularly cold, and grandmother wouldn’t let the girl go out on her own. She’d sit at the window and watch Jack Frost paint intricate designs and flowers and scenery on the windowpanes. Sometimes she tried to pick out what story he was telling her. Perhaps it was that a particular pattern resembled a fox hunt. Another had a dragon with flames billowing out of its mouth. Or perhaps not flames but the churning sea with all kinds of creatures in it. A sea that then dissolved into a sky full of stars.

Then grandmother would call her away from the window, saying she’d catch cold. When that happened, and the girl glanced back at the window one more time, the stories would be nothing more than frost on the glass.

Such was the day when the stranger came. The girl had fancied she saw a rider upon a horse in the glass. Then she blinked, realizing it was real.

She called her sisters, announcing the visitor. A moment later came a knock on the door.

Grandmother answered. She ushered the snow-covered figure inside. A place was given to him by the fire. He said he had nothing to offer in return for hospitality. Grandmother said she asked for nothing.

Thus the evening passed on.

It was late at night when the girl awoke. Or perhaps very early in the morning. Either way, the fire had died down to glowing red coals. She went to the window. Had it been summer, she would have gone outside. The woods felt more like her home than any other place did. But again, she thought of what might be lurking there.

A cough in the darkness. The girl froze. Turned. Saw it was only the stranger as he lay by the dying fire. He sat up. Waved to her.

The girl came over.

Terrible night out there, isn’t it? he nodded towards the door.

The girl shrugged, and asked, What were you doing out there?

Looking for a star.

The girl stared at him.

Shooting stars land on earth every so often. I need to find one.

Why?

A wish can solve a lot of problems.

The girl sat back and thought about that. Yes, the stranger was right. Her own family could do a lot with a single wish. Getting through the winter would be easier. Her sisters wouldn’t have to work so hard the rest of the year to keep putting food on the table. The village could be saved from whatever lurked in the woods.

Maybe, just maybe, she’d even be able to find the adventure she so longed for.

Yes, a wish could go a long way, she said.

The door rattled with the force of the wind in that moment.

But that’s a problem for tomorrow, when the starfall happens.

Silence returned to the house. The girl had gone back to bed, but sleep refused to come. From where she lay, she had a narrow view of the nearest window. White snow mingled with inky darkness of night. Tree branches scraped against the walls.

And out of the darkness came specs of light.

The girl got up to investigate. There it was again – a spark of light in the darkness, racing towards the earth. And another. Was this the starfall the stranger talked about?

A wish could grant a lot, she thought.

Should she risk it?

Grandmother would be furious if she found out. But the girl knew she couldn’t stay sheltered forever. And there was just something about the starfall that called to her specifically. The woods called her too. she tried not to be frightened of that.

So on she went, a walking stick with a lantern affixed to the top, and her cloak held tight around her. If she got back before dawn, no one would be the wiser of her absence. But it was dangerous. She would have to be careful.

Her lantern lit a soft golden circle around her. Almost like a bubble of safety in the snowy night. Trees loomed out of the darkness on either side of her, sentries along her path. Things watched her but didn’t approach, for they were afraid of the light.

The girl continued on the winding path. She didn’t quite know where she was going, but snow covered path seemed to lead her on despite that. And, she thought she knew where the fallen stars might land.

The long road was almost at an end when something stepped out and blocked her path.

A frightened step back. Almost slipped on the ice. Almost lost hold of her walking stick. She hated to think what would happen if her light went out.

What brings you here, traveler? A voice came from the direction of the dark figure. It had no mouth, as far as she could see. No features on its thin face, only darkness that rose up on long legs and spindly arms. Almost twice her height.

I asked, what brings you here, child?

The girl found her voice again. I don’t know. I heard a call from the woods. I went to go answer it.

Many dangerous things call form the woods.

Not this.

It tilted its head to the side as if considering her.

Many go to these woods and do not return.

I know. Your kind steals them away.

A rush of anger radiated off the creature. It is not my people. We are guardians. It is something else.

I – I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend, the girl stammered.

We grant passage only to the worthy. What makes you think you are?

The girl didn’t answer. What was she supposed to say? Was it perhaps about bravery? Or goodness? She tried, she really did, to be good. But she could think of many instances where she failed at that.

What was she doing out here, anyway? The winter night was dangerous. She could be another permanent wanderer of the woods, frozen and lost and never to be seen my mortal eyes.

The thought of the starfall. The promise of a wish that could change so much.

Even the way something called to her through the trees.

I don’t know, she said.  I don’t know what I’m doing. I want to help my family. My village. I don’t see any other hope.

You wish for something else. A statement. Not a question.

Her lantern light flickered, dying low for a moment.

The creature spoke again. You care about your family, but you need to get away, don’t you. you wish for more than what this life has to offer.

My grandmother tells stories. I sometimes fancy I am the one on those adventures. The girl didn’t know why she was telling that to the creature. To probably already knew.

Do you have payment for passage?

I thought you said I had to be worthy.

The creature shifted where it stood. I grant you passage, but under the condition that you return to me a favor. Beware what you find. It will change your life forever. Do you agree to this.

The girl thought for a moment. No doubt, it wasn’t wise to make a deal with any creature of the forest. And yet…

What kind of favor?

A small one.

The girl held her hand out as if the shake on the deal. The creature didn’t meet hers. I agree.

It moved aside and melted into the dark trees. It’s last words echoed around her as she followed the path. Beware of what you find.

The path led out to a small hill. She’d visited it a few times before, mainly in the summer. She and her sisters spent hours playing there when they were children.

Now it was being showered by the sparks that falling stars cast off. It wasn’t just gold and white, but green and blue too that lit up the snow like fireworks. Most stars disappeared completely before they even hit the snow.

So what now? The girl wandered to the top of the hill. Was she supposed to catch one? Or would it find her?

Sparks landed at her feet. Showered her cloak. Her lantern blazed with new colors, reflecting that of the stars.

A single star now caught her attention, smaller than the rest of them and not as burnt up. It swirled on the air currents. She reached out a hand. Caught it. a silent wish formed in her mind.

It was lighter than she expected, and cooler too.

Her lantern blazed once more and went out completely. All at once, the whispering of the woods was also gone.

Had it not been for the stars, darkness would have covered her. That, and the real (but fading) stars in the sky. Dawn was approaching. She had to hurry home.

The girl stashed the star in her lantern. With the flame gone, it acted well as her light source.

The journey home was faster than she anticipated. There was the house. Her footprints leading away were already gone thanks to the new layer of snow. At least that was clearing up.

Everyone still slept while she slipped inside. Put away her things. Put the star in her apron pocket. The stranger lying by the fireplace hadn’t moved much since she left. With a few hours until dawn, the girl went back to the bed she shared with her third sister. Sleep didn’t find her easily. She kept thinking of the creature in that blocked her path. What danger could it have been talking about?

The was the last to wake the next morning. It was just as the stranger was preparing to leave. Grandmother insisted he shouldn’t go out into the cold. He went anyway. But he caught the girl’s eye as the door swung shut. There was something odd in his look. As if he knew her secret. And a kind but sad smile. Like he knew about the danger.

She reached a hand into her pocket. The star was not there.

Instead she pulled out a handful of glittering dust, and a matchbox. Somehow, she knew those came from the star.

The girl took her usual place at the window. The man’s footprints were the only ones visible now. No one knew about her adventure last night. No one, perhaps, but him.

She tried looking for the stories in the patterns on the window. They didn’t form like they usually did. There were stars. There were dark figures. And there was a lone figure traveling in a wide open space.

They all looked familiar, and some she knew to be the very recent past.

The calling from the woods returned. It started up slowly so that she didn’t notice it until now. except, it wasn’t really from the woods. It was more like… from inside her. The call of adventure. The storyteller’s call, grandmother had once called it (years ago.)

The girl couldn’t stay here at home. It wasn’t really her home anymore. It was out there, discovering. Telling stories like the ones Jack Frost told her.

And there was still the dept with the creature that needed to be paid. It would return, and she would be ready for what ever it asked.

 

 

Thus my story was complete. The children were silent a moment. Then they started whispering amongst themselves.

I turned my attention to the fireplace. Pulled out something like dust and scattered the smallest amount in it. The flames blazed blue and green and red. Delight was on their eyes. I smiled. That was the good part of being a wandering storyteller.

But there were dangers too.

My eyes went to the window. Yes, there were dangers out there too. That’s why we needed stories, I learned, to remember there was some good left. Some adventure. Even if it ended with questions.

Yes, stories were a good thing.

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About the Contributor
Daria Okruta, writer
Daria Okruta is currently a senior. This is her first year working at Dakota Planet and she hopes to make it a good one. In her spare time she likes to read and write. In the near future she hopes to publish some of her novels.
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