Hans and the Scary Fairy Tales

 

He was a weaver of tales who brought us The Little Mermaid, The Wild Swans, The Emperor’s New Clothes and the Ugly Duckling.  In the course of his lifetime he wrote novels, travelogues, and over three thousand fairy tales which have been translated into 125 languages. His stories have universal appeal, transcending age and nationality. He created a unique mythology which continues to  haunt us and remains part of our collective consciousness.

Hans Christian Andersen was born on this day, April 2, 1805 in Odense, Denmark. His own life story is a classic rags to riches that could have been one of his fairy tales.

His father, also named Hans, was a struggling tradesman and his mother Anne Marie a washerwoman.  Hans Sr. died in 1816. Two years later Anne Marie remarried. It was then decided that  Hans Jr. should no longer remain in the house. At the tender age of eleven, Hans was sent away to a boarding school. (Evil stepfather, banishment. Do you see a pattern here?)  Although the family was poor, Hans was somehow allowed to study and receive a good education. (Fairy godmother perhaps?)

At boarding school Hans was expected to fend for himself and he earned money as a tailor’s apprentice. He showed a natural talent for singing and at age fourteen, he was accepted into the Royal Danish Theater.  However, as luck would have it, Hans hit puberty that year, experienced the voice change, and could no longer sing the soprano part he has been assigned.  But all was not lost — Jonas Colins, the theater director, saw something special in Hans and made arrangements that he could  attend prestigious schools in Slagalse and Elsinore. (Another fairy godmother?)

Young Hans might have been considered privileged, but his story goes a bit dark here. He was sent to live with a school master who routinely abused and bullied him and discouraged him from writing. Hans went into a deep depression. He later wrote that his days at Elsinore were the darkest of his life.

The story, however, has a happy ending. Hans graduated school in 1827 and almost immediately became successful writing short stories, plays and poetry. King Christian VIII of Denmark was so impressed with his work that he gave Andersen a grant to travel around Europe. Hans felt most comfortable on the road and later wrote, “To travel is to live.”

All these fairy godmothers may not have been an accident. There was a rumor that Hans was actually the illegitimate son of King Christian. This rumor, however, has not been substantiated by any reliable source. (If true it would make a great story!)

It was during his travels across Europe that Andersen began writing fairy tales. While his early stories were not greatly received, he continued. In 1838 he wrote Fairy Tales Told for Children. New Collection. First Booklet. This book earned him immense popularity when, in 1845 it was translated to English and other languages. It became a best seller.

Andersen’s tales were often dark and creepy. His heroes and heroines often go through enormous difficulties. Although the endings are usually happy, they pay great prices for that happiness, often undergoing physical, mental and spiritual changes. For example:

— Karen, the protagonist in The Red Shoes, loves to dance and wear her beautiful shoes. However, it gets to the point where she cannot stop dancing and eventually her feet must be cut off!

 

 

— The Little Mermaid trades her fish tail for human legs. In the process she undergoes excruciating physical pain,  is betrayed by  a handsome prince, and even commits suicide before she is freed to the Daughters of the Air.

 

— In The Wild Swans,  Eliza wants to free her brothers from a terrible curse, but to do so she must knit sweaters made of poisonous nettles that cause her fingers to bleed. During this time she is arrested for witchcraft and thrown in the dungeon.

And the list goes on. These stories remain popular because they entertain in a way that enables problem solving — while giving kids the scare of their lives! 🙂 The message is always that virtue will be rewarded.

Andersen never married, although he courted several women and wrote a few love letters to men as well. Some historians believe he was bisexual. He seems to have harbored terribly romantic ideas about love and often chose partners that were either unavailable or inappropriate.  At one point he proposed marriage to the Swedish singer Jenny Lind.

She turned him down, but this did not stop Hans from writing a fairy tale which was inspired by her. It was called The Nightingale, about (you guessed it) a precious and beautiful bird that serenades the emperor.  After that, Jenny Lind was given the nickname “The Swedish Nightingale.”

Andersen had a long and prosperous life. He died in Copenhagen on August 4, 1875,  His death is thought to be caused by complications of liver cancer and other injuries.

Andersen’s stories are still widely read. Many have been adapted as Disney features, including The Ugly Duckling, The Little Mermaid and Frozen — adapted from The Snow Queen. In the original story the Snow Queen was an evil kidnapper, nowhere near as kind as Elsa!

Tribute statues to Andersen have been built all over the world, including New York’s Central Park, Solvang, California, Sydney, Australia and Rosenborg Castle Gardens in Copenhagen.

And of course, if you ever happen to be at the Langelinie promenade in Copenhagen, you can say hello to The Little Mermaid herself!

Happy Birthday Hans!

 

 

 

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Bruno and the Dark Fairy Tales

 

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Fairy tales were meant to be dark. Dark and sinister, full of evil stepmothers, vengeful ogres, big bad wolves and seemingly unsolvable problems. Fairy tales take us into hidden realms of the psyche, thus giving an opportunity to explore, provoke, and discover new power.

No one understood this better than 20th century child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim. Today I pay homage to this man, born on August 28, 1903, in Vienna, Austria.

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Having spent the greater part of his professional career involved with emotionally disturbed children, in 1976 Bettelheim published his masterpiece The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.   In this book, Bettelheim explained how fairy tales are symbolic of healthy human development. He advocated fairy tales as necessary for children to make the process of ‘growing up’ easier.  A good dark fairy tale gives the child a chance to stimulate his/her imagination and think up creative solutions to problems.

While Disney was busy sanitizing Cinderella, and while the censorship dogs fanned the flames of banned books, Bettelheim became an advocate for exploration of the scary monsters, the bloodthirsty giants, the magic mirrors.

Bettelheim himself was no stranger to the Dark Side. His life was a series of unfortunate incidences, but it was also full of unprecedented victories.

Born just after the turn of the 20th century, Bruno was the son of a wood merchant. His family was Jewish and middle class.  In his early twenties he began study at the University of Vienna but when his father became ill he quit school to take over his family’s lumber business. Dark strike number one.

As it turned out – the illness Bruno’s dad was suffering from happened to be syphilis. This reportedly brought a slow and painful death, not to mention irrevocable shame and stress upon his family. Dark strike number two.

In 1930 Bettelheim married his first wife Gina. Eventually he returned to the university, earning a Ph.D in philosophy. In 1938 he became an accredited psychiatrist and was one of the last Jews in Europe to be awarded a Doctorate degree before the Holocaust.

Enter the Nazis. In 1939 Bruno was arrested by the Gestapo. He was imprisoned in Dachau and Buchenwald. Dark strike number three.

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Luckily, he was released through payment (Nazi officials not being beyond bribery.) Upon returning to a blighted Vienna, Bruno found that his wife had left him, his home and business were devastated, and he had lost virtually everything. Dark strike number four.

In 1941 he married his second wife Gertrude Weinfeld. They emigrated to the United States in 1943 and became citizens.  Bettelheim published his experiences from the concentration camps in his 1943 work:  Individual and Mass Behavior in Extreme Situations.  He eventually became a professor of psychology, teaching at the University of Chicago from 1944 until his retirement in 1973.

Bettelheim also served as director of the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School at the University of Chicago, a home for emotionally disturbed children. His work there was world famous.  The Uses of Enchantment became a best seller. It was awarded the U.S. Critic’s Choice Prize for criticism in 1976 and the National Book Award in the category of Contemporary Thought in 1977.

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To be fair, it should be noted that Bettelheim was also considered controversial. He has been called “inspiring, aggressive, irascible, dismissive of fools, and capable of both great kindness and great unkindness.”

Perhaps he had to be. He was up against academia and a culture that, for the most part, does not like to examine its own flaws.

The need to sanitize fairy tales was no doubt well intended. Walt Disney himself was also no stranger to the Dark Side.  His remedy was to create likable dwarfs that whistled while they worked and a sweet as pie Cinderella that never did harm to anyone.

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Never mind that the original Cinderella sent her birds to pluck out the eyes of her stepsisters. Never mind that the stepsisters literally mutilated their own feet with knives in a effort to fit the slipper. Never mind that the dwarfs had prurient intentions toward the nubile Snow White — who might be considered a prototype for Nabokov’s Lolita.  Some things are simply not for children’s eyes and ears.

However, Bettelheim argued that an attempt to hide hard and sinister truths from children would only hinder their development, making them less able to cope as adults. (Besides that, it would cut out a good deal of the fun!) Most children are very interested in the Dark Side. It has a magnetic quality.  They love to hate the villains and identify with the heroes.

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As our society becomes more self conscious and politically correct, we are more in danger of sanitizing reading material. This trend could greatly damage young people.

I once read an internet review of Alice in Wonderland in which the adult reader claimed this story was ‘way too scary for children.’

Consider the so called scary parts of Alice: Tumbling down a big rabbit hole and then having no control over your own growth. Facing a queen who threatens to behead the entire world.

alice mushroom

Bettelheim argues that this type of scary story is good for kids because it allows them a chance to face terrible circumstances in their imagination, and follow the hero to a creative solution. Thus when kids are with a real life problem, it will not be so overwhelming.

 

Bruno Bettelheim and Albert Einstein both knew this. Einstein, a great fan of fairy tales, often advocated for the use of them in education. Magic hits us in the quantum heart.

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If we want our children to be free thinkers, problem solvers and imaginative  individuals, we would do well to let them to explore the dark side of fairy tales.

Happy Birthday Bruno!

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Gone With Fairies

 

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There is an incline in the forest where bluebells blossom, dense as grapes, heady as lilac. I stretch out on my back. Green stems, like octopus tendrils, tangle my hair. The land shifts perpendicular.  Down, down I slide, damp earth brushing my elbows. I land with a soft jolt onto ripe grass. The smell is beetroot, radish and earthworm.

Consider magic.

Underground rogues, fey and trolls

guard hidden treasure

beneath marbled walls. They keep

secrets, bargain dark wishes.

 

blue fairy

From a fog, metallic as pyrite, they emerge.  Blue skin, sapphire eyes that stare still as stone. One of them hands me a violin.  Aged from wear and tear,  its wood is warped, strings stretched.  With a rickety bow, I play.  Joyful noise spills from my fingers.

And yet.  I do not know a single note.

fairy violin

 

**NOTE: This poem is in response to Colleen’s Poetry Challenge/ Fairy Magic.  It is my first attempt at Haibun.  (Not sure I did it right, but hope you like 🙂  )

Happy Summer Solstice! “Always go with fairies.”

 

 

 

 

Walpurgisnacht (fiction)

 

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“The gift of flight will come at Walpurgisnacht,” Granny Magda tells me.  “We will  travel airborne upon our besoms to the Brocken.  You will then learn of your blessings, all the goddess has deemed to give you.”

“What will they be, my blessings?” I ask impatiently.  I have waited all of my sixteen years for this nacht, for the firefest of summer. It will be the first time I go to the mountaintop. The first time I, as a daughter of Hekate will become a coven member and know my true and unique power.

“Hush child,” Magda orders. “Speak of them no more! What is yours is already yours.”  She puts a hand to my cheek and smiles through crinkled eyes. “Trust me. The gifts will come.”

The month of April rolls by with its rain and wind, daffodils and tulips blooming in our meadow. On my calendar parchment I count the days, marking them off with a charcoal crayon. The time cannot go quick enough.

Two days before Walpurgis,  Peter the goat boy appears at our door. He brings me a bouquet of wildflowers, colored blooms that float like a sparkled rainbow from his hands. “For you Kathe,” he says, “In honor of your special nacht which is soon to come.”

Peter! He is an annoyance, always milling around me, nosing in my business, cheating me at games and sport!  He has been my chief nemesis for years. And now he brings flowers? An offering of peace, just as I am soon to come into my powers?  Reluctantly I accept, but only out of politeness. “What do you know of it?” I snap.

“Peter knows plenty,” Granny Magda shouts from the kitchen. “You’d be wise to listen to him.”

Never do I have a moment’s privacy in this cottage! Granny Magda is always hovering over me, like a bee to a honeyflower. She now takes Peter’s flowers and places them in a vase.

“Have a seat boy,” she nods to Peter. “I trust you will stay for supper?”

Peter shakes his head. “The invitation is most kind Frau Magda, but I cannot. I am just returning from the mountain, my goat herd outside. I fear they are most cumbersome, and I only stopped to give Kathe the flowers and wish her well.”

“Nonsense!” Magda has already placed a root stew on the table and set a trencher for him.  She glances out the window, waves a hand at the goats who then stand still as statues.

goats

“The animals will keep,” she says. “Kathe, fetch the ale for our guest.”

Taking a ladle to the pail I serve up three helpings of ale. Peter nods. “Most gracious.”

We bless our food, toast good health and begin eating. I sit next to Peter. His clothes are soiled and he smells of his goats. He also smells of the meadow, of earth and something more. What is it?  A sly masculinity, a scent lacking in Magda and myself. Despite my annoyance I scoot closer to him.

“Your comment, Granny,” I say later as we eat dessert, a cake with fresh berries I gathered from our orchard. “You say I must listen to Peter. Why is this?” Peter stops mid bite, red berries making a stain on his lips. His eyes, blue as the river, pop wide.

“Do not ask foolish questions, child.” Magda says. “Now Peter,” she looks out the window and waves her hands at the goats who instantly begin bleating. “I wager your goats need milking. Be off with you afore the late sun sinks on its horizon! Auf Wiedersehen.”

Peter stands and bows before us. “I thank you for the victuals, my lady.” He takes Magda’s old withered hand and kisses it. He then turns to me. “And you Kathe, I trust I will see more of you in the near future.” With awkwardness he grabs my hand and kisses it as well. I catch his eye, nod and curtsey before he exits.

I have known Peter all my life, since I came to live with Granny Magda as a two year old orphan.  We played together, leap frogging in the meadow, tumbling down the rolling hills. It was he who taught me to catch fish in the river, he who taught me to shoot a crossbow. He who, in his boyhood always shot more bullseyes than I.  But Peter is no longer a boy.

Through the window I watch as he rounds his goats, whistles to his collie dog. He has grown tall, his shoulders broad. His lanky frame casts a long shadow across the cobbled road.  As he walks away I notice his swaggering hips, his bowed legs.

“How old do you suppose Peter now is?” I ask.

“Two winters past you child.” Granny Magda puts a hand to my head and unwinds my tight braids.  “Come the Yule last he reached his eighteenth name day.”

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“He has quick grown to a man.” I glance one last time before he turns into the forest, his goats following in a gray blur.

Ja child, that he has.” She tilts her head.  “And your thoughts of this?”

“I have no thoughts, it is mere curiosity!” I hiss. Granny smiles.

Finally Walpurgisnacht arrives. I stand naked in the meadow with the other women. Magda rubs my body with unctions, a rich combination of oils and nectars that will, coupled with my own magic, give me the ability to fly.

When the sun sets we mount our besoms. Soon the wind begins to blow and we rise, steady in the air, a team of thirteen, Hekate’s witches, gliding through the sky with the skill of crows.  Higher and higher we rise. Soon we are bobbing amongst stars, drifting under the light of the moon.

On the mountaintop we land near the Bergwasser, a crystal stream that flows, now icebroken with the onset of summer.

“Your baptism will be tonight, Kathe,” Granny Magda tells me.

I have never before met the high priestess who now stands before me, clad in robes of black. “I am Lucinda,” she says.  Taking my hand she guides me down the stone steps into the water. She lifts her wand, a branch of heavy oak inlaid with rich jewels, rubies and sapphires.

“Kathe,”  Lucinda begins. “I baptize thee, in the name of the Mother, the Crone and the Holy Maiden. You, a daughter of the line of Hekate, now come full of age,  are on this evening of Walpurgisnacht to enter into our coven.”

The Walpurgis Night Alexandra Nedzvetskaya

With that she pushes me underwater. The stream is cool on my head. Opening my eyes I see an array of fish before me, yellow as lemons in the blue water. I watch as they dart and bolt, thinking of this baptism, this instant I have waited for my whole life. What is to happen? The water is a silent chamber around me.

When I can hold my breath no longer I ascend. Gasping, I lie in the grass. Magda clothes me in a white robe.

“The ability to breathe underwater,” Madga smiles, “was not your gift.”

What will it be? What will it be?

“Time will tell, my girl,” Lucinda says.  “Before rise of the May day sun you shall know it.” Lucinda’s gift is surely the reading of minds. Granny Magda’s is the taming of animals. And mine? The suspense haunts me.

Lucinda reads from the Book of Freya. She lights a great bonfire. Together we chant and dance around it. Holding hands we skip in unison.  Even Granny Magda, now well beyond her dancing years, kicks her heels like a young maiden.

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In the distance I hear a drumbeat. Approaching over the hills I see them, the tribe of Pan. They are thirteen men, goatskins over their thighs, naked from the waist up. On their heads they wear crowns of horns and masks of feathers and fur.

The balefire rages and the drums beat.  Magda leans and whispers in my ear, “Granddaughter. You are ready. You will bleed to bless the earth which has blessed you. Only through this can you find your womanhood.”

One of the thirteen men then approaches me, takes my hand and joins in the dance. All is a blur of color and sound, the dance faster and faster. Soon I am on the grass, flat on my back, the tribesman atop me.

I am not the only one. Other women have been taken as well. All around me the couples are a whirl of flesh, thighs upon thighs, breath heavy, hair streaming. Wails, screams and moans fill the night air,  voices desperate and satisfied.

Magda had said I am ready, but am I? My heart pounds, my whole body pulsed to the music. I am frightened but then the tribesman pulls me closer, his face next to mine.  His scent is of goats but also of the earth and our meadow, a musk that lures me like subtle perfume, releasing a passion I did not know I possessed.  Although he wears a mask I recognize his eyes, blue as the river.  His look is the question and I nod my answer: Yes.

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His mouth is firm on my lips, his tongue sweet, his thighs braced against me. My secrets are wet as the mountain stream that baptized me and in an instant he is inside me. It hurts but only for a moment until my hips synch in rhythm with his. My body quivers and I hear him breathe my name, feel his spill within me.

Before rise of the sun we anoint ourselves with unction again, then mount our besoms. The men disappear into the mountains as we fly away.

It is finished.

Walpurgisnacht

In the weeks after Walpurgisnacht we live quietly. I am changed but still the same, although Magda no longer hovers over me, no longer calls me ‘child’. All is well until the day the constables come, riding up our path upon their sleek stallions. They dismount and look suspiciously about the cottage.  One knocks on our door, holding a warrant for our arrest.

“Which warrant and how so?” I demand. “Arrested for what?”

“For witchcraft Fraulien,” the constable says. His face is like a hard brick, impenetrable, a moving mouth with two tiny slits of eyes.

“We have done nothing wrong!” I shout.

“You both have been seen cavorting in the meadow, spreading yourselves with evil unctions and potions, then taking flight to the sky on your brooms.”

“And who has been harmed by it?” I scream.  My head is burning.

“All are harmed by it! All good honest folk. You women, by your madness and your lasciviousness, violate the very decency of mankind!”

I attempt to protest but a hand slaps my mouth. Just then another constable grabs Magda and binds her wrists. I charge at him, but the next constable overpowers me, this one tall as a tower and twice as strong. He pulls me away, knotting my arms.

“My Granny is frail,” I scream again. “She does you no harm! What satisfaction do you get to badger an old woman?”

“Hold your tongue Fraulien, lest I gag your foul mouth,” the third constable orders. I fight with all my strength but in the end they win. Granny Magda and I are put onto a rickety old cart and brought south to the village of Stuttgart.

We are thrown in a slimy, rat infested dungeon where we live in squalor for weeks. Our food is gruel and brackish water, the meals so meager I fear Granny Magda will perish.  Others join us, country women and bumpkins, some midwives, some herbalists, all innocent of the crimes they are accused. Yet when we are taken to trial the jury declares us guilty before we are given a chance to speak.

We are sentenced to be burned at the stake. “Consumed by the hell fire from whence ye came,” the judge declares.

Like cattle we are led to the pyres. A hooded executioner binds our bodies to the stakes and the fires are lit.   I hear the crowd around us yell, “Brennen die Hexen! Burn the witches!”

baptism 9

Granny Magda gives me a look, hopeful in her sunken eyes. I nod. Just as the flames begin to creep around us I shout:

 “As the powers within me rise, so this man-made fire now dies!”

The flames sputter and vanish as if drenched by a thousand buckets. I watch as the crowd of people turn pale with horror.  “Relight the flame!” someone yells. “They must be burned! These witches must die!”

“Brennen die Hexen!” the crowd chants again. “Burn the witches!”

The executioner moves to relight the flames, but the embers are cold. He tries again and again, adding more wood, more torches, but the fire only sparkles and dies.  He then stares at me, eyes wide. He crosses himself and moves away as if I am carrying the plague. “Hexe!” he whispers.

“You can relight the flames all you want and they will never grow,” I say calmly.  I then begin to laugh, loud and haughty, my voice echoing on the wind. The crowd stares at me as if I were a madwoman.

“There will be no burnings today,” I say richly.

One by one they turn away in fear. Women lift their skirts, scurrying away and men run fast as their boots will carry them.

Just then I see his body in the crowd, the lanky frame and broad shoulders. Peter approaches, pulls a knife from his pocket and slices the ropes that bind me. He then rescues Magda and the other women.

“You should not have allowed it to go so far,” he says quietly.

“O, but it was well worth it!  Just to see the looks on their faces,” I answer brightly. “You must admit it was a picture.” I run a finger across his cheek.

“That it was, wife.” He smiles.  “As long as no harm comes to the child.” He lays a hand on my belly.

“The child is fine,” I assure my husband.  “Her gift from Hekate will be the same as mine. She too will have the ability to control fire, and she too will never be burned at the stake.”

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** NOTE: The real witch persecutions and Burning Times occurred in Europe during  1450-1700.  Historians estimate that over 100,000 accused witches, both men and women were killed during this time. The majority of burnings took place in Germany, in some cases wiping out entire populations of women in small Medieval towns.

The real Brocken is the highest point of the Harz Mountain range in northern Germany. The Brothers Grimm spent a good deal of time in the small villages at the foothills of the mountains collecting tales of local folklore.  From these tales came stories such as Rapunzel,  Hansel and Gretel and Rumpelstiltskin.

Walpurgisnacht (pronounced :Vol-POOR- gus-nokt)  is celebrated on April 30. Witches then gather in the Brocken and other sacred places to conduct rituals of spring.

 

 

 

Ryder and the Wolf

 

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As I stepped to the forest path the moon was platinum full, bathing its pale light over the changing leaves of October. The Native tribes called this moon Hunter, and sure as I gazed at it, I knew Diana’s strength embraced me.

In my basket I carried victuals, all manner of  which would aid my ailing Granny. There were sweet cakes spilling with honey. Wine pressed from dandelion and elderberry. Ginger root to be brewed in a strong tea and garlic bulbs to be steeped in milk. All of it was surely enough to cure any grippe or fever. My poor Granny suffered. Her health and well being were the most important things to me in all the world.

The night was gray, a thick fog rising, air soft as early autumn’s gauze.  There was a stillness to the wind, an eeriness like the calm before a storm.  This night was odd, I felt it in my bones. Strange things were portended, and if it weren’t for my ailing Granny I would scarce have left from my cottage.

Yet the Hunter moon beckoned.

Halfway through the lupine pass I spotted the wolf. A coat black as ebony and blue eyes that gleamed bright as sapphire.

 

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No doubt the animal had sniffed out my victuals, or even, I daresay, my own blood. I was not a-feared. Humankind surely has dominion over the beasts of this planet. Still, I knew I’d best keep my distance.  I made myself scarce among the heather and pine. I even scattered a few cake crumbs so as to throw the beast off my trail. I then proceeded in another direction entirely, forgoing the shortcut yet proceeding to Granny’s cottage all the same.

My dodging was to no avail, for some three leagues down the road I encountered the wolf again. This time the most wondrous of things happened, so much so that you gentle reader, may doubt my words. I assure you it all is true, sure as my name is Ryder Redd and I dwell in the forest of Galbraithe.

The wolf spoke to me, in a voice clear and stern as any man. “Ryder Redd,”  quothe he. “What brings thee to the forest?”   I was, of course, taken aback.  And yet, in the pale light of the moon, where all manner of wondrous things  happened, and in the still of the fog where metamorphosis morphed, a talking wolf seemed, in that instant, not so very strange at all.

“I bring remedies to my Granny, black wolf,” said I. “For she ails in fever and such victuals are sure to cure it.”

The wolf then sniffed, stuck his snout in the flannel napkin of my sack.  “Have you no meat, woman?” he asked, a rise of tension in his voice.

“Nay sir,” said I. “So sorry to disappoint, but it is medicine I bring. Honey cakes, ginger, strong wine, and garlic, noxious enough to clear any head.”

“Bah, what good are you?” said the wolf. With that he bounded up the path. I silently thanked Diana, for she had no doubt protected me. As the Huntress keeps her animals at bay, so humans are free to wander the earth.

By and by I came to Granny’s cottage. I knocked upon the door. No answer. The house was still as rock, no sign of stirring within.   Granny was, no doubt, in slumber.  I opened the door. The house was dark and I fumbled for some candles.  Having lit them I checked the bedroom, looked beneath the sheets, lifted the dust ruffle and even peeked under the bed. “Granny?”  I called. She was nowhere to be found.

Just then through the window I heard an earth shattering howl. Then more howls joined in unison. My heart quickened, for, confronted with one wolf I was able and competent, but this – a whole pack outside my Gran’s door? For this I was not equipped.

Still, curiosity got the better of me and I went to the window.  What I viewed, gentle reader, you will surely not believe. Yet I saw it with the eyes in my head, a steady gaze not tempered by imagination nor spirits. I even pinched myself to make sure it was so.

There, under the light of the moon I saw the pack of black wolves.  Nay wolves!  I say wolves – but not these! These were some strange form of animal, heads and bodies like wolves but with spans of feathered wings that fluttered from their backs.  They were like Pegasus, if such a creature existed.  Like Gryphon, were such a creature true!

 

wing-wolf

 

By my wits and my troth I should have been frightened. Frightened white as Diana’s moon. But no.  The winged wolves stared at me with eyes of interest. Something was so enticing, so inviting about them.  And so I opened the door, left the safety of the cottage and joined them in the field.

The one whom I had seen in the woods came forward. He  now had sprouted wings but when he spoke, the voice was exactly the same as I had heard it before. “Ryder Red,” quothe he, “we are pleased to see you.”

The wolves then swarmed in their circle. I moved closer.  And then! Such a hideous sight I have never before beheld.  Between them they shared a large carcass of meat, marbled  with gristle and tendon.  Upon closer look I recognized it as the torso of a human chest. The flesh was bloody, severed at the waist, spiky bones of a rib cage protruding. The air smelled of iron and meat.

I watched mesmerized as the gryphon-wolves, with dagger sharp teeth, ripped at their prey.  They growled and squabbled, slithered their tongues to lap up the pouring red blood. Finally one beast, the leader of the pack, dug his snout deep into the torso, gnawing until he pulled out a heart. Greedily  he chewed at it, a stew of scarlet veins, aorta bursting and even more blood that splattered on his fur like liquid roses.  The others consumed all  the leftover bits, licking remnants from the grass. I took a step back.

Pleased to see me? My ears burned.  Had the wolf  actually said ‘pleased to see you’?  And where o where was my Granny?

The wolf I’d made acquaintance with moved away for the circle and approached me.  He studied me and inasmuch as an animal can smile, he smiled at me.

“What name sir?” I asked nervously, for it seemed the beast must have a name and I should use that name to address him. “And what know you of my Granny?” I added. She was the most important!

“I am called Lycan,” he answered. “As for your Granny, she is changed. Never to be the same again.”

“Changed how?”

“She ails not.”

“Not how so?”

“She is well.”

“Well how so?”

“She is different.”

“Different how?”

“She is changed.”

“Aye sir!” I screeched. “Bring an end to this riddle! I am to tend to my Granny.”

“She needs not tending,” quothe he.

Then, with all the grace and ease of the moon and all the obscurity and blur of the fog, one magnificent gryphon-wolf flew forward. “I am she,” said the voice and I knew it was the voice of my Granny.

“To what form have they brought you?” I gasped. Yet as I watched her I was not frightened nor disgusted. Inasmuch as an animal can smile, she smiled at me.

 

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“My eyes child,” she said, “are all the better to see with. And my teeth all the better to eat with. My ears hear as never before. Sharp as an animal’s.”

In that moment I heard a scurry of feathers, the loud beating of wings.  A glitter of silver like so many falling stars scattered across the sky. All the gryphon-wolves, save for Lycan, disappeared quick as cats, vanishing into the fog.

“My Granny is no more?” I cried desperately.

“She is no more for you to see as such,” answered Lycan.

My heart fell although Lycan assured me it was for the best. He then guided me back to the cottage. Once inside, he bid me open my basket. “The honey cakes need not go to waste,” he insisted.

By then I had grown quite hungry, and so I devoured the cakes.  I had also grown quite thirsty and so I drank the wine. I felt my head go light. I became very sleepy and stupid, still unable to grasp what had happened. My world was a prism, a split of fog and moon, a mixture of fear and compassion. The fire blazed in its hearth, surreal in its ever changing facets.

 

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“Time for bed Ryder Redd,” said Lycan. With that he pressed his paws to my chest and unbuttoned the stays of my red cloak. Yet in that unbuttoning, his hands somehow changed. They were no longer the paws of a beast. The fingers that pulled at my stays were graceful fingers, with well manicured nails. The hands of a human and a wealthy one at that, the hands of fine breeding.

He pulled the cloak from my shoulders and pressed his face close to mine. It was not the face of a wolf, but a man with a mane of black hair, a face chiseled, cheekbones that glowed bronze and healthy.  His sapphire eyes glided over me. His touch was gentle upon my shoulder, gentle upon my waist.  He unlaced my camisole, slid my pantaloons off my buttocks and I, docile and sleepy with elderberry, complied to him.  I fell into the sheets of Granny’s bed and Lycan climbed beside me.

“You have not eaten, my lord,”  I said, for in that moment it occurred to me; I had been most inhospitable, gobbling all the tarts and chugging all the wine. “Of the honey cakes, I fear none are left,” I added sleepily.

“Ryder,” said he, “I am a carnivore, consuming only blood and meat.” His kiss was warm on my breast.

 

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Needless to say, he did not devour me, for if so I would not live to tell this tale. Yet suffice it to say he did not go hungry. That night, and every night thereafter I spent with my wolf- man.  He was an agreeable sort and a perfect gentleman toward me, save for once a month at Diana’s full moon when he transformed.

It was then that a pack of black wings fluttered over the forest. It was then that the gryphon-wolves feasted, the poor body of some disease-ridden human finally rescued from its illness. It was then that the flesh became silver stardust, spread across the sky like a flurry of crystalline diamonds.

The saved one would speak of new eyes, all the better to see with. And new ears, all the better to hear with. And of course, new teeth. All the better to bite with.

 

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