Crawling out from a hollowed-out cavern at the base of an ancient tree, the small child stretches her pudgy arms up toward the warm rays of vertical light peeking through the wide yellow leaves. Two tiny birds peck the ground and hop around her, pulling at piles of dead leaves looking for something to eat. Her belly growls.
“Hi birdies,” she says.
Startled by her small voice, the birds jump and take flight, landing on the thick branches above her. They squawk and she mimics the sound. Her head hurts and she stumbles in a circle. Mother isn’t coming back. She’s a bad girl.
Beside a fallen log in a shadowy space between two trees, a scruffy rabbit appears. It sits on its hind legs with its front paws held daintily in the air as if waiting to catch something. The sunlight peeks through its long upright ears revealing snaking purple lines streaked through light pink ovals.
“Hello rabbit,” she says.
Its nose twitches, but it doesn’t move, so she takes a step toward it. The rabbit spins and hops into a moss-covered log, a movement so fast the girl barely sees it. She runs after it, peering into the log just as it hops out the other side and disappears into a tangle of thick bushes.
“Wait,” she says. “Come back!”
She scurries after it in dirty, pale pink converse. Both the off-white shoelaces and the turn-downed lace of her socks are covered in round grey burrs. Her ankles are red and itchy. She catches a glimpse of a furry brown tail jumping from one bush to another and follows it through thick vines, climbing over several fallen tree branches.
She loses sight of the rabbit in a field of yellow and purple flowers, wispy weedy things which stand as tall as she does. The brightness of the morning sun without the trees to dilute it makes her eyes burn and something causes her to sneeze. She stops.
“Rabbit!” she calls.
Several blackbirds take flight around her, but there’s no sign of the furry friend with the big ears. She picks a yellow flower and holds it out in front of her watching how the sun seems to be inside it when a fuzzy bee lands on the soft petals. She remembers sharp stabbing pains on her arms and face, and the burning red welts her mother had to cover in pink medicine. No, she wants no part of bees. They hurt.
“Leave me alone,” she cries.
She throws the yellow flower, covers her face with her small hands, and runs through the field of wildflowers. The loud sound of the buzzing bees surrounds her, but the tiny insects don’t land on her or sting. The ground slopes and she tumbles several feet before landing on her butt at the base of a tall pine tree. She cries.
It’s darker and colder here. Her thin purple leggings and soft pink princess t-shirt, dirty from sleeping on the decomposed leaves under the tree and now ripped from the fall, are thin and damp. Shivers travel through her like convulsions and the cries turn to sobs.
“Mommy,” she whispers, knowing there’s no use in calling for her anymore.
She wipes her wet nose with the sleeve of her shirt and sniffs loudly. The brown rabbit hops out from behind one of the squat trees and stares at her. He twitches his ears and she laughs.
“Oh,” she says. “Hi!”
Its deep black eyes look watery and she wonders if its mother left it in the woods too. It turns and begins hopping slowly down a small, dirt path. The girl follows although it’s becoming harder and harder for her to walk. Her legs don’t seem to want to move and there’s a strange pounding sound making her head feel as if it’s blowing up like a balloon.
The path ends at a beautiful cottage of reds, greens, and blues. Its sloping roof looks made of cookies, the windows of spun sugar, and the air smells of carnivals and bakeries. The girl giggles.
The red door sits partly open and the rabbit hops inside. The girl follows. It’s a small cluttered room filled with colorful items, none of them as interesting as the steaming wooden bowl of porridge sitting in the center of a round, blue table. She takes another step inside, looking for any place someone could be hiding.
“Hello?” she calls.
There’s no sound except for the rabbit munching loudly on a carrot it found on the floor. Her stomach growls and she crawls onto a large wooden chair and puts her finger into the warm porridge. It’s just right. With dirty hands she scoops it into her mouth, eating and eating until it’s gone.
There’s a bed along the far wall covered in colorful pillows and soft blankets. She takes off her shoes and sets them carefully on a rainbow rug beside a pile of books. Climbing under the warm blankets, she curls into a ball and falls asleep.
Alita carries a wicker basket in the crook of her left arm filled with the treasures of a morning spent forging; ginkgo biloba seeds, blackberries, mugwort, and aloe. She’s taken to wearing long dresses of faded blue, soft brown moccasins and braiding her long hair into two thick braids. Today her hair is bright red, warring with the cardinals for the brightest in the woods.
She’s humming a song and when she realizes it’s “Singin’ in the Rain,” she smiles. Her last daughter was an avid moviegoer, a regular cinephile who could tell you the makeup Vivian Blaine wore in “State Fair” and the plot of “Superman and the Mole Men” with George Reeves. She’d stay up late at night, clicker in hand, eating popcorn and watching everything she could. Alita misses her.
After three hundred years, Alita has given up on the world of people. She’s had all the humanity she can stand. Her Fortress of Solitude suits her well, a tiny home in the middle of a temperate forest she can change at will. Maybe she’ll bring back snow tonight and turn her home into a log cabin, she misses the fields of white and a crackling fire sounds nice.
One of her rabbits hops out of the open door of her candy house to greet her, a brownish thing with comically large ears. There’s a bit of orange around his mouth. She sets down her basket beside the door and sits on the ground.
“Hello Ralph,” she says. “You are early today.”
The rabbit hops into her lap, but before she can pet its soft fur, he hops out of her arms and back into the cabin. He stops on the threshold and looks at her with twitching ears. She’s not seen him do this before, and the odd behavior puts her on alert. She heightens her senses, seeking out what might be different, and finds it. There’s someone in her cabin.
The impossibility of this knowledge brings Alita to the brink of fury within moments. She’s not ready to interact with humans again. Her barriers have worked for decades; a field of stinging bees to the West, rushing rivers to the North and South, and an unclimbable rock field to the East. What could make them falter now? Whoever it is, they might be dangerous.
Alita shrinks herself, gaining wrinkles and grey hair, before entering her cabin with the use of an old yardstick turned walking stick. A small child lays on her bed, curled up beneath the quilt she made herself over 50 years ago. Thumb in mouth, the child looks no older than 4 or 5. It’s impossible, yet there she is.
The rabbit has curled into the space between the child’s feet and knees. Alita takes in the fresh cuts on the child’s cheeks, the empty bowl of porridge on the table, and the careful placement of the dirty shoes beside the bed. She backs out of the cabin.
Throwing aside the staff, she transforms into a snowy white owl and flies into the cool morning air. Following the trail of the child, she traces her journey back through the field of bees, inside the hollow of an old tree, and to a dirt road on the edge of the woods. There, Alita finds the tire tracks of the mother’s car. She circles the scene three times before landing.
In the bright light of the empty road, she retakes human form, giving herself a sweeping robe of bright purple and long ringlets of hair as golden as the sun. A young ground squirrel scampers to her, his tail twitching up and down.
“What did you see and hear little one?” Alita asks.
“She, she put girl here,” he says. “She, she says nothing.”
He runs across the tire tracks and back.
“She, she cries,” he says. “Cries and cries.”
Alita touches the tire tracks with human fingers and a jolt of icy pain stabs through her. A universal story, one which mirrors her own, sings out through the faint connection left behind. The mother left her child to protect her from someone who would kill them both. Desperation skews logic, transforming the impossible into hope. She had no other choice.
Alita stares at her human hands; long, thin fingers covered in silver rings. She presses them together in prayer as the mother did.
“Save my child.”
Did her own mother say this prayer when she left Alita? Her early memories are foggy and unclear. She can recall a mother with greying hair who seemed frightened all the time. There are flashes of angry men and terrible fires, but none of these images hold still long enough for Alita to examine them closely. Her first clear memory is of crows circling her in a field and Alita discovering she could become one of them.
It was a decision she found wild and exciting. She tried out all the creatures of the Earth, moving from place to place to experience the richness of the world through the form of any creature she liked. Dainty butterflies fluttering from flower to flower, sleek lions stalking prey, eagles with giant wingspans who can soar high above the clouds, enormous blue whales gliding through deep cool waters, and humans.
She learned to conform to the seasons, to the limits placed on what humans could be and understand and lived among people for decades. Her many lives and loves took her around the globe. She’s been married, a doctor, a performer, archeologist, teacher, soldier, sailor, and mother. Everything always ends in heartache. Everyone she’s ever loved has died.
In all her travels and experiences, she’s found nobody who can transform like she can, and she quickly learned most can’t handle the information. It would inevitably become about morality or spirituality—both things Alita has no use for. She’s connected to everything and yet they see her as connected to nothing.
Although she feels most comfortable in human form, her inability to experience time and death makes her feel like something else entirely—a creature seperate from everyone and everything else. Alone.
She likes living in these woods and caring for the creatures who live within them. The space allows her to transform her environment to match her mood and to play games to amuse herself. She loves being a witch or a wizard, playing with wands or flying broomsticks. It’s the way she’s found happiness, but this child changes everything. She can’t let her stay. It will only end badly.
Alita decides to walk back to her cabin on the same path the small child walked. A family of mice tells her of the child sobbing all night beneath the tree and the bees tell her they couldn’t sting her because she wasn’t a threat. The journey takes her several hours, a meandering path leading her straight to her own candy front door. She peels off a piece of licorice around the doorknob and takes a bite.
“Hello,” the little girl says.
She’s sitting at the round table with a paintbrush in her hand and a small uneven piece of paper before her. The rabbit sits beside her on the big chair, snuggled beside her legs. She dips the brush into the blue paint and continues.
“You found my paints,” Alita says.
“Ralph showed me,” she says.
“Indeed he is. Can you talk to him?”
“When I’m a rabbit.”
Alita sits on the edge of her bed and watches the small child paint. She could have sworn the child had blonde hair before, but now it’s the same shade as Ralph. The color in her cheeks has changed too.
“Did you say you could become a rabbit?” Alita asks.
The child sets down her brush and frowns.
“Mommy gets mad…” she says. “She says I’m bad.”
Alita sits down on the edge of her bed across from the child and takes a calming breath. She’s playing a game. Children make up stories all the time. There’s no way, after all this time, she’d find someone like her. The hopefulness comes without permission though and it takes Alita a moment to be able to speak.
“Can you show me how you become a rabbit?”
The child frowns and looks at the floor. Ralph presses his nose into her hand and tickles her with his whiskers. Alita runs her hand through her hair changing it from loose golden ringlets to tight red curls. The child’s eyes widen and she giggles.
“I like red hair too,” she says.
She pulls at a matted curl beside her ear and turns her hair the same shade.
They both smile.
Author’s note: This story began with the idea of a child lost in the woods who stumbles upon a witch. As I started writing, little fairytale elements began to emerge and I decided to go with them and even embellish them a bit on the rewrite. It wasn’t until I began to tell Alita’s story I realized she wasn’t simply a witch. I loved the imagery of her being able to transform into all the creatures of the Earth, yet she wasn’t like any of them. It might be an “X-Men” situation or perhaps she’s from some deeper part of the world connected to it in ways humans have lost. I’ll leave that up to you to decide. When I wrote the words “Ralph showed me”—I realized I’d found my ending. I love giving both Alita and the child this connection and I hope you did too. Please let me know what you think in the comments.
I’d also like to introduce you to a new writer of our weekly challenges, Angelica. I’ve known her since her birth and I’ve watched her grow into an incredible human capable of creating amazing stories. I know you will fall in love with her words as much as I have. Check out her version of the week’s prompt and give her some love.
Short Story Challenge | Week 20
Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story about a young child making a discovery. We had to include Superman, ginkgo Biloba, cavern, clicker, aloe, moviegoer, stretch, fury, yardstick, and makeup.
Write With Us
Prompt: High school hierarchy
Include pyramid, cowboy hat, amateurish, angle, ripple, cheese, jersey, blister, odyssey, reorder
My 52 Week Challenge Journey
- What is the 52-week challenge?
- Week 1: The Heart and the Stone
- Week 2: The Biggest Little Gift
- Week 3: It Bearly Fits
- Week 4: The Claire in Clarity
- Week 5: The Family Tree
- Week 6: Through the Glass Windshield
- Week 7: The Final Goodbye
- Week 8: Sunset, Sunrise
- Week 9: Returning Home
- Week 10: The Water
- Week 11: Aw, Phooey!
- Week 12: Meeting Time
- Week 13: The Old Man
- Week 14: Dani and the Queen
- Week 15: The Golden Muse
- Week 16: Honeymoon Treasure Hunt
- Week 17: The Red-Haired Beauty
- Week 18: Playing Games
- Week 19: One Thing