Original public sharing of this story was on deviantArt on November 17, 2014. This story is © Sequoia Campbell/Sequoia the Storyteller; All rights reserved.
~Narrated by Mask Face~
The other morning I awoke to something as unusual and unexpected as could be. As I came to life I was slow to register it, but there it was… a little bundle of garishly-coloured fur, curled up closely at my chest. A little Acrobat kitten… how in the eleven bells had he gotten to be there?
It had been a very cold night… winter tends to do that. The little fellow must have gotten lost out in the moor, looking for a warm place to sleep. His kind being limber by nature and seeing as this specimen was less than half the size of a full-grown Acrobat, I can easily see how he might have crawled under the door, or through some other of the many cracks and crevices in my house’s decrepit walls.
Poor thing… looking for an escape from the cold, and my house was the best he could find? True, it’s better than outside, but as I said, the walls are decrepit, and the elements meet little resistance on their way through. And I, with my bones too close to the surface as usual, had to dig around for thicker bedding materials than I am used to just to sleep past the shivers. This, combined with what warmth resides naturally under my ghostly hide, would have made me easily the warmest thing in the room. And the little Acrobat took the opportunity.
I never cease to marvel at the wonderful simplicity of animals… simplicity, not meaning stupidity. Simple, if you ask me, is often much smarter than complex. It allows one to see past all the convoluted nonsense that ‘societies’ put in one’s face, and look at what’s really important. This little creature could not have cared less that I am deformed, or that I and my house are the target of endless dark and delusional rumors. He had not a thought in his little head about the fact that Cybellinians consider the very sight of me a nightmare, or about the hearsay that my house is haunted or strewn with skeletons or torture devices (all the above, if you ask most people in that kingdom). All he saw was a shelter. My house was a space without snow, and the inherent temperature of my own body kept him from the cold. That was all that mattered to him. That was all it took for him to see me as ‘good’.
He stirred soon after I did, and almost immediately began to purr as loud as you please… loud enough that I could nearly feel the murmuring racket in my own chest hollow. Honestly… this tiny fellow had a purr ten times his size. He certainly didn’t show any intentions of leaving… with that beautiful simplicity of animals that often does away with things like personal space, he crawled all over me and pawed at my face and played with my hair as though he owned me, the nuisance. But my, he was a cute little nuisance… I admit he was hard to resist, even for a cantankerous cuss like me.
As I puzzled and puzzled some more over the very presence of him in my sleeping space, I noticed he had a tag round his neck. He was some Cybellinian’s wayward pet, without a doubt. How he had gotten lost so far outside the kingdom I don’t know, but it was in his lucky stars to find my house because otherwise he certainly would have frozen stiff out in the wintery night. I studied his tag and recognized the street on it… a street in Cybelline, alright. The name on the tag read ‘Scatterflakes’. Cute. The kitten’s bright and speckled fur-patterns did rightly resemble coloured bits of paper to be thrown into the air on festive days.
Soon I stepped outside, carrying a still-purring Scatterflakes the Acrobat in a cradling arm. The cold cut me to the quick, and I pulled my jacket about me as close as I could. My breath and the kitten’s were both easily visible in the first rays of the rising sun. I set him down on the ice-caked ground and told him to be off… it was time for him to go home. But the stubborn ninny huddled at my feet and entwined himself with my ankles, as if to firmly state he was not going anywhere. Again, he wiggled his way under my shell… I couldn’t just leave him to find his own way home. Even if the cold didn’t get him on his way, some swooping talon or slithering coil might pick him off out in the hills. So, I sighed resignedly and picked him up again, tucking him under my jacket to keep his precious little ears and toes from freezing off. I’d take him back to the street on his tag eventually… but not in daylight. The darkening hours are the only time of day I could even consider entering the kingdom where the very mention of me can be said to curse (not that I ever like visiting Cybelline, during any hour).
So, I kept Scatterflakes with me all that day… or rather, he kept me. He followed wherever I went, neither needing nor looking for any invitation. As far as he was concerned, I was his until he found himself home again.
I eventually took him down to the Dragginwood, which in winter is still cold, but somehow more sheltering and nurturing than the open moor. Here, the little fellow didn’t stick to me quite as gluesomely, but he’d still trot along wherever I walked, bright-eyed with the mirth of the youthful and perpetually purring that din-like purr of his (did his purr ever let up??). He’d scamper about the forest, munching berries and bugs and leaping around from bough to bough, like the agile creature he was. He was nowhere near full-grown, and yet already becoming so adept at what gives his species its name. One of his most remarkable stunts would be to often leap right up onto my shoulder from the ground, landing gracefully as all get out after a flourishy flip at the peak of his jump. Seeing as I’m not exactly short, hopping up onto my particular shoulder was quite the feat for a tiny thing like him. And he must have realized this too… he just looked so content and pleased with himself on his perch that I couldn’t bring myself to remove him, even though this little trick of his startled me every time.
When night finally began to fall, I consented to enter Cybelline, but only as long as it took to see little Scatterflakes home. I made my way along the painted streets I hold in ill favour, slinking around in the mercifully deepening shadows and hoping with my heartiest heart that the miniscule Acrobat under my coat didn’t do anything to draw attention. Thankfully we made it to his street without incident, and when we arrived, we were met with the sight of a little girl standing outside the house at the corner, fretfully calling out the kitten’s name into the darkening alleys. Her parents, from somewhere inside the house, beckoned her in, telling her she’d catch her death if she waited out in the cold for her pet all night. But she kept calling him… she wasn’t about to give up.
Scatterflakes wriggled and mewed under my jacket, recognizing his girl’s call and eager to answer it. I let him out, and he sped like lightworks toward the child, flipping and tumbling ecstatically several times along the way. When the girl saw him, she squealed with jubilation and ran toward him as well, scooping him up and gushing with adoration. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the whole of Cybelline heard the kitten’s clamouring purr this time.
I turned to go, satisfied with the outcome and eager to leave that scornful kingdom. But Scatterflakes, the little dollop, sped over to me again for a fare-thee-well, leading the girl’s gaze right to me. I looked for an escape, but she had already seen me. Carefully, she approached, and I pressed as far into the shadows as I could. As she came near, I dropped my gaze and covered my unfortunate face with as much hair as possible. But I was made to look up again, when I felt the little girl take my hand. The words we exchanged were so powerful to me they are etched clearly in my memory:
‘You brought Scatterflakes back to me,’ she said… ‘didn’t you? You took care of him while he was lost.’
I couldn’t even look her in the eye, let alone think of a response.
Then she said, sweetly and straight from the core… ‘Thank you.’
Now I did look her in the eye, and her face was filled with such pure and heartfelt appreciation that my heart right about broke, right then and there. But I naturally showed as little of this as possible… all I replied with was nearly-inaudible ‘hrm’ and a slight tightening of the mouth that could have been a smile, had I allowed it. I bluntly and pointedly took my hand from hers.
‘I think I know who you are,’ she told me. ‘You’re the Gray Witch… aren’t you?’
I grumbled. ‘The Gray Witch’… the title I’d inherited from my grandmother after she was gone. She hadn’t chosen it, and neither had I. But I couldn’t expect this child to know me by anything other, given where she’d been born and raised.
‘Everyone’s afraid of you,’ she went on. ‘But if Scatterflakes likes you… then so do I.’
I could feel myself starting to give. Unbelievable… she really meant that.
‘You kept Scatterflakes safe from the cold. He would have died out there if it weren’t for you. Maybe if I tell my parents you saved him, they will like you, too… and then maybe they’ll tell others and no one will be afraid of you anymore.’
I finally wavered, and took a deep, emotional breath. If only it worked like that… if only Cybelline was that simple.
‘Don’t,’ I told the girl. ‘They shouldn’t know I was anywhere near or that I had anything to do with you.’
‘But,’ persisted the child, ‘If people know you saved my kitten, maybe they will see that you are good.’
This time I did smile, though with a stinging, tragic irony. I sank under the weight of the truth she couldn’t see, and told her, ‘It’s for the best.’
A bit of the hopeful brightness left her eyes, and she said, ‘…Okay.’ Then she added, ‘But I’ll never forget you.’
As I took my leave of the girl, the kitten, and the kingdom, I could no longer hold back the tears. I know I have never heard such things from a Cybellinian before and I don’t expect I ever will again. I wept for not only being touched by the child’s glowing heart, but for the knowledge that that glowing heart is terminal. In a few years, that girl will not be the same person… she will have her kindness, her openness, her beautiful simplicity, stolen away from her. When she comes of age, Cybelline will crush her in the mold that shapes every one of its grown citizens, the mold that dictates the way of life and way of thinking for all who dwell there. And then, she will forget… not only me, but herself, and all the most important things in life. Another one… lost. And that’s all it takes for me to understand why my grandmother died standing up against this foul kingdom’s practices of conformity. One can pray that the girl will have the strength to resist when her time comes… but it’s doubtful. The children of Cybelline don’t even know the truth of what runs their kingdom… not until it’s too late. And by then, they’re already gone.
The girl and the Acrobat, both such small things, could teach so much to their biggers if only those biggers turned to listen. They are wise in ways most of the grown and civilized do not see. The kitten befriended me merely for the fact that I kept him warm on a cold night. The girl saw me for my deeds, and not my deformities. The ‘cultured’ will teach that bigger is grander and that complex is sophisticated. But simple is really quite sophisticated, and small things are really very grand indeed.