A dire warning. A cursed cloak. A wolf that steals one’s soul. What’s more fitting for Halloween? If you like Little Red and Werewolves, you’ll enjoy this! I’d give it a PG 13 rating for some darker themes and a little blood.
All my life I have been warned. Mother had a list. Don’t
play in the river, you’ll catch a cold. Don’t pet stray dogs, they carry
disease. Don’t scowl so much, your face will stick. The boys will break you. The
woods will kill you. And the wolves will steal your soul. But there is one
warning that stands out from the rest.
“Listen well, Little Rose,” Granny said on my birthday, handing
me a package. Inside was a fur cloak dyed a deep red. I brushed my hand across
the soft pelt and gasped at an odd tingling in my fingers. Granny pulled my
hand back and held my gaze. “This cloak holds a great power, one that can
protect but may just as often destroy. You will learn to use it properly in
time. Till then you must never put it on if I am not there.” This is the only
warning she has ever given, and the only promise she has ever asked of me.
I trudge, grumbling, through the whirlwind of snow. Where
has that girl gotten to? She was right beside me not five minutes ago.
Honestly, how many times must I remind her to stay within shouting distance? I
stop again to peer about me. With hair that dark, my wayward sister should be a
beacon in this pale storm. But I can’t see far through the thick, soft white. I
will have to rely on my ears.
“Lilly!” As soon as the cry leaves my throat, I know she will never hear it. The howling wind yanks fiercely at my braid and claws through my threadbare skirt. I hug the basket to me in an effort to keep both the fresh bread and myself warm. I have the cloak with me, of course. I carry it always, hoping Granny will give me another lesson. But no matter how the cold bites, I will not put it on alone. I made a promise.
I stumble on. Every moment the storm grows more frantic and I with it. How could I have lost her again? If mother were here … but no, don’t even think that far. Mother is gone and never coming back. This bundle of raven haired, bright eyed curiosity is all I’ve got left, and if I don’t find her soon…. But not to worry! Not to worry, we are well overdue at Granny’s by now. Surely, she will have sent someone to fetch us. Perhaps Lilly’s there now. That’s when I hear the scream.
Running blind, I head in the direction of the marrow-freezing
sound. “Lilly! Lilly!” Another scream, much closer now. Then silence. A few
more feet and I stumble over something in my path. Sprawled upon the snow, I
take little notice of my scattered belongings. What draws my attention instead
is the nightmarish form I fell over. My sister, bloodless pale, lies contorted
under me. A dark shadow lurks behind.
Watching her dark blood pool against the blinding snow, something
snaps within me. Warnings and promises alike dissolve in the heat of my fury
and fear. Snatching up my death-red cloak, I throw it on, staggering at the
power coursing through me. I’ve had very little training yet; instinct will
have to do. The shadow leaps forward and a viselike grip encompasses my chest. My
nails elongate just in time, sharpening as I shove back hard. A loud crack. Moans
fill the air. I’m now snarling above a cowering huntsman.
“Please,” he begs, “I didn’t realize! It’s so hard to see.” But there is no feeling left in me. I lunge.
It’s over quickly and I stand panting in the cold; even this
pelt is not enough to block the chill residing within me. I have never before felt
this emptiness from the cloak. I want to take it off, shove it away, but find
that I can’t. No matter how hard I try to stand, how viciously I tug at the red
fur, it will not be moved. And that is when I finally understand. My howl cuts
straight through the sharpest wind and echoes across the woods.
I should have heeded the warnings. I should have kept my
promise. For the Wolf has stolen my soul.
Like most girls, I was a bit obsessed with dance as a kid. I would have birthday parties at the theater and took ballet till I was twelve. I wasn’t very good. I still can’t do a split or even touch my toes. But I loved getting to perform with my friends! I very rarely get to see a ballet now, but when I do I always come away wishing I hadn’t given it up. It’s this wish that inspired today’s story.
It can happen faster than thought: this loss of breath.
Not twenty-four hours before, the slippers had been breathing deep under the
spotlight. The dancer leaped skillfully across the stage. Now, the battered
apparel lay in a small box, staring breathlessly up into the young woman’s
tearstained face. Slowly, the lid closes.
The darkness is immediate, pressing surprisingly heavy against the delicate satin. A musky smell, like old fur coats and mothballs, wafts through cracks in the box. They hear the creaking of the wheeled chair moving in the distance. Abandoned to this silent, stifling, dark, they wait for the time they might breath. Breath again in the spotlight.
It’s not till a year later that the dark lifts. The suffocating slippers gasp in a desperate breath. The face above them is no longer tearstained. Instead, the dancer stares hollowly at the ragged mementos for several minutes, then sighs and closes the lid once more. Another year passes before the light shines in. The slippers find their breath hard to draw and the dark quick to return.
This ritual is repeated another year, and another, and again, until the slippers can no longer find the strength to breathe. They try to wait patiently. But after so long hiding in the dark, they begin to forget what life in the spotlight was like.
After nearly a decade, resignation settles so deep within the shriveled hearts of satin that they no longer try to breath. It takes a beat too long to notice the light’s return. Two beats too long, staring morosely up at watery brown eyes, to see the slight glimmer of hope within. But they notice immediately when long fingers gently lift them out of their dark prison. For the first time in a long time, their gasp is not born of desperation.
Resting comfortably on
the soft cotton of their dancer’s dress, the astonished slippers look eagerly
forward as she carefully wheels her way to a new room. There, a strange man lifts
them up to hang high on a pink wall, just above a crib. Staring down at the sleeping
baby, the slippers begin, very slowly, to find the strength to breathe.
The years pass. With each one, they breathe more freely as they watch the young girl grow. They watch and remember what the spotlight was like. Yet they are content to live out their days here, watching over this beautiful charge now grown into a strong young lady. They no longer wait in vain, longing for the bright lights and hard stage.
And so, they are startled by a sudden gust of wind as they are pulled down. The woman looks lovingly at them lying in her daughter’s hands and nods. The slippers hold their breath as smooth young feet slip into them once again. As the cool floor slips away under their quick movements, they finally breathe deeply. They breathe and live again in the spotlight.
It’s not “Happily Ever After,” but they live until new slippers can be bought to take their place. For them, it is enough. And the woman smiles.
I don’t talk about it that often. Partly because I was raised not to be too open and partly because it feels a bit like showing off. But I grew up on the mission field and spent the majority of my life moving around Central Asia. One of the places I remember best is Istanbul, Turkey. I loved my time there and the culture! I often wish I could go back for a visit. So, when I was given a non-fic assignment in college, I decided to do a travel piece.
A wail pierced the night and soon became a chant. I was ripped from the thin veil of sleep I had just managed to pull over my eyes. Within seconds, the chant was taken up in all directions. With the wailing came the howling of the stray dog packs that took possession of the vacant lot next door. “Ughh! How will I ever sleep here?” Mosques weren’t exactly a new thing for me, but I had never been near ones fully equipped with very capable loudspeakers. At least three within hearing range, and none of them quite in sync.
By the time I moved, nearly five years later, I had gotten used to it. There came a point when I would sit near the window through the whole call to prayer and not realize I had heard it until it was over. Nevertheless, those first few nights were rough. Battling jet lag at the same time wasn’t much of an advantage either. It was better during the day. Not that the call was any less earsplitting or disruptive, but it was tempered with the noise of the busy city. I had to listen for it over the rumble of buses and cars as I made my way to church on Sunday mornings with my family.
Boarding the bus, I would scan my akbil to pay for the ride and try to find a seat. There often wasn’t one. I soon mastered the art of staying upright on a crowded bus that was constantly lurching forward and stopping abruptly. I distracted myself in these less than ideal situations by watching out the window. As I passed the crowds of people and cramped buildings, I realized how lucky we were to have found such a great place to live.
In Istanbul, a city housing 15 million and spanning two continents, there is not much room for any one person. However, we were blessed with a standalone apartment building containing a small, nicely tended, garden. There was a scrap yard across the street, but at least no windows looking in on us. And though the empty lot next door provided the dogs with a congregating spot (and the stench from the animals housed there at Ramadan was certainly not pleasant) we were far better off than many others.
As the bus crested one of the many hills it traversed every day, I was given a glimpse of the wonder of this city. The buildings, that up close looked dirty with dust and chipping paint, here became a vibrant mosaic: white, yellow, orange, and pink, and brown, all with red tile roofs running down to meet the glistening curve of the Bosphorus. Which I would then cross by boat.
Another scan of the akbil, a helping hand to board, and a short swaying walk past the enclosed seating of the first level, where one could buy snacks and tea, and up to the top for a clear view and delicious breeze. That is one of the things I miss most about Turkey. The boat ride, but also the food. Toast (more like an English toastie or a grilled cheese than the American breakfast food); pide and lahmacun (the conquerors of all pizza); iskender, döner, and köfte (savory meat dishes); kebaps; and for special occasions, baklava and sütlaç! But I digress.
Once docked, the ripe smell of the fish market met my nose. From there it was just a short walk to the metro and then onto Istiklal Caddesi (or Independence Avenue). “Now, I heard there was supposed to be another demonstration today,” my mother would say, “so we have to be careful.” Right, because Istiklal wouldn’t be Istiklal without some form of protest. But the protests were generally peaceful, not much more than a small group holding signs and some riot police standing by just in case. More importantly, they generally took place at the opposite end of the street from us. Although, Istiklal has won itself international fame for the demonstrations that became rather violent a couple years back.
Despite this, I always liked Istiklal. A long, cobbled street, displaying some gorgeous architecture. With quaint red and white trams running through its middle, it is home to some superb restaurants and splendid shops. Most tourists like to visit the grand Hagia Sophia and the fragrant Spice Bazzar. I thoroughly enjoyed my bit of this typical experience; however, I found a shop I much preferred to visit. I only went in a few times and was never able to buy anything, but it was more astounding to me than any amount of refurbished paintings or tasteful cooking supplies. Somewhere in the press of buildings on Istiklal Caddesi is a small second-hand shop most wouldn’t see unless they knew it was there. Inside is a treasure house. A labyrinth of cultural artifacts, lightly coated with dust under dim lighting, and exuding a musty sent. Faded fezzes, rusting swords, tapestries woven in rugs, furs, pipes, and elaborate dresses fit for a sultana. Many of the objects came from the sets of old films, or so I was told.
Emerging from the magical closet, my path led back to the teeming dock, over the rippling river, onto the bus stocked with a myriad of people, and into the apartment with a yard and empty lot. There to have dinner and listen to the symphony on the loudspeakers once again. And so I adapted to much more than a call from a mosque. I imbibed the sights, smells, tastes, and feelings of this vibrant culture and found my home, my place among 15 million.