I'm about five or six thousand words into the new Titan story and I'm going to have to shelve it for a while, if not forever. As it is now, there's not a sympathetic character in the piece--one megalomanic, three snivelling lackies and two decent people with huge tragic flaws. Just not suitable material--it might be saved by a complete rewrite, but I don't have the patience right now to do that. And, on top of that, it's boooooring.
However, fear not. I had a suddent burst of inspiration last night while sitting in the car waiting for Marcey, came home, sat down and wrote the following short-short in 80 minutes. It's a Valentine's Day card for the wives (and they loved it.)
The Very Lonely Girl
Once upon a time, in a village far away, there lived a very lonely girl. She would lean her chin on her hands in the evening and watch the young lovers of the village pass through her garden hand-in-hand. She would wave to the young men as they passed by on their way to study or war, but few would wave back, and even those did so half-heartedly. Finally, in a cloud of despair, she asked the Turtledove what she should do, figuring that the bird knew much of love.
“Why don’t you climb the path up the mountainside and ask the women who live there? It is said that they have all of the knowledge of the world.”
The girl decided to do just that, so the next morning she put on her travelling clothes. She tied a red scarf to the end of a stick to make a bindle which would hold all that she’d need for the journey, threw the stick over her shoulder and headed out of her door.
The path out of the village sloped gently up the hills heading to the mountains. After she had travelled all morning, she came to a lovely house of polished wood.
She knocked on the door and a woman answered. The woman didn’t look very much older than the lonely girl, to tell the truth, but her blue eyes hinted at more than one lifetime. She led the lonely girl into the inside of the house and sat down at her desk, which had several scrolls next to an inkwell with a goose feather pen in it.
“Why did you knock on my door?” the blonde scribe said.
“I am a very lonely girl and I do not know what to do.”
“There are many things written about love and loneliness.” The scribe opened a door to a room that led off beneath the mountainside. “Everything you see here in the library speaks of such things.”
The lonely girl stared. There must have been thousands, perhaps millions of scrolls carefully wrapped with ribbon and placed, each in its own cubbyhole. The far side of the room vanished in the distance, too far to see.
The blonde scribe walked to a cubbyhole, checked the number at the top and handed it to the lonely girl. “You can borrow this. Use it as needed, but make sure you return it.” She gave the lonely girl honeyed milk and little sandwiches and sent her on her way.
It got very hot in the afternoon, so the lonely girl took off her wrap and put it in her bindle. The path was getting steeper and she was both tired and thirsty when she came to a cottage set on a flat spot on the mountainside. A fresh mountain stream bounced down from the top of the mountain, crossed the path beneath a stone bridge and tumbled down toward the village. The lonely girl could see the streets and pathways of her village far below like lines on a map.
She knocked on the door and a woman answered. A plump woman with rosy cheeks and long brown hair stood in the doorway and blinked at her. Within the cottage, a cooking fire burned in the fireplace with a stewpot bubbling above it. The strange woman motioned her to come in, then sat down at her loom and began to move the shuttle.
“Why did you knock on my door?” the housewife asked.
“I am a very lonely girl and I do not know what to do.”
“I remember being lonely once. Then I had my children and I no longer had time to be lonely.”
“How many children did you have?”
The round woman stopped for a moment and sat completely still, counting in her head. The lonely girl waited several minutes and, just as she thought that the woman had fallen asleep, the woman answered her, “All of them,” and began working the treadle and shuttle once more.
The lonely girl’s eyes filled with tears at the thought of that much love. The weaving woman noticed and nodded her head slowly. “Behind my house is a garden. Take that pouch on the table and fill it with the herbs that smell like mint. Put it in your bindle and take it with you.”
The lonely girl walked out of the door and looked behind the house. It seemed as if there was one of every kind of herb that she had ever seen and many, many more that she had not. The garden stretched off into the distance, filling a mountain valley that faded into mists. Once she had the pouch filled, she returned to the cottage to thank the woman. The weaver was just sitting down to supper, so she filled the lonely girl with savory hot stew and warm bread and butter and sent her on her way.
The sun set and there was more than a little chill in the air. The full moon rose, giving just enough light to keep the lonely girl from tripping on the nearly vertical pathway. It was fortunate that it was wide, for the drop over the side would surely have killed her.
At the top of the mountain, there was a hut made of rough logs. Had there not been a light visible through the window, she would have thought that it was abandoned. Ravens circled far above the house and owls hooted from the bare trees in the yard.
She knocked on the door and a woman answered. She was gray-haired and her face had lines, but she was smiling up at the lonely girl. An inviting hearth had logs burning on it and the woman had a cup and saucer of fine china sitting on her table. A Tarot deck was next to the saucer, and four cards had already been drawn.
“Why did you knock on my door?” the wise woman asked.
“I am a very lonely girl and I don’t know what to do.”
“You know, granddaughter, I live here on the mountaintop and young people come to see me. They want me to make magic potions so that their beaux will not wander or philters to place beneath their pillows so that they can dream about their true loves. I do as they bid, and then they leave, without asking for the wisdom to use what they have bought from me. Would you like to draw a card?”
The lonely girl nodded and reached for the deck. The wise woman stopped her hand for a moment and looked directly into her eyes. “You know, granddaughter, that this is not a game.” The lonely girl nodded again after a moment’s hesitation and pulled the top card from the deck and turned it over on the table.
“Number 8—Strength.” On the front of the card, a woman with a garland of flowers was holding the mouth of a lion. “It’s also called Fortitude, and in some decks, it’s called Lust. This is a very auspicious night for you.”
The wise woman stepped to the cabinets lining her wall. She opened a dusty one and removed arcane instruments, creams, and lotions and felt around at its very back. She pulled out a key on a ribbon and blew the dust from it.
“You’ll need this, I daresay,” and handed it to the lonely girl. The lonely girl put the ribbon around her neck and tucked the key into her bosom. She yawned, for it had been a long journey.
The wise woman made up a feather bed for the lonely girl and not long after her head hit the pillow, the lonely girl was dreaming a deep, dreamless sleep. The next morning, as the sun rose over the peaks of the mountains, the wise woman waved at the lonely girl and sent her on her way.
Going down the mountain was much easier than climbing it. She pondered the events of the day before, but thought it best that she go straight home without stopping at the other cottages again. By the time she got back to the village, it was late afternoon.
There was no one on the streets, no one in the shops, and no one in their gardens. It was as if the entire village had stolen away during the night. She searched up and down and could not find anyone stirring at all. Finally, as she passed the fishmonger’s, he opened his shutters a crack and said, “Hsst. Over here.”
“Where has everyone gone?” said the lonely girl.
“A huge lion has come to the village and has driven us all to find shelter. The last I heard, it was pacing back and forth in the town square roaring and beating the air with its paws.”
The lonely girl thought back to the card drawn last night and said, “I’ll go see if I can do anything.”
She carefully approached the town square. Even before she arrived, she could hear the lion’s roars echoing from the stone walls of the houses and shops. She stood at the mouth of an alley and watched the lion walk around the fountain in the center of the square. It would pace for a while, then stop and roar a challenge at the buildings surrounding it. “Whatever can I do?” she thought to herself.
“Maybe the scroll has something to say.” She reached into her bindle and pulled out the scroll. The ribbon was tied in a complicated knot, so she held it in her teeth and pulled until it came apart. She held the scroll in front of her and unrolled it.
GIVE THE LION WHAT IT NEEDS was written on it.
She re-rolled the scroll and carefully put it back in her bindle. Very slowly, step by step, she crept into the center of the town square, looking like a mouse approaching the milkmaid’s cat. About half-way there, she realized that the herb in her pouch smelled a lot like catnip. She pulled the pouch from her bindle, opened it and tossed it next to the lion where it spilled out a pile of fragrant leaves.
The lion sniffed at the leaves, then stopped pacing and roaring. The lonely girl stepped into the square and asked, “Why are you roaring and pacing in the town square?”
“I am angry and don’t know what to do. I am going to eat the people of the village unless they give me what I want.”
“And what is that, o lion?”
“I want a human heart. It is said that within it dwell the secrets of the world and they must be mine. Perhaps then I can find what I need to know to settle my mind.”
The lonely girl pulled the key from her bosom and looked it over in her hand. Then, she placed the key within the keyhole on her chest and turned it halfway. She reached inside, pulled out her heart and offered it to the lion.
As she fell to her knees, her breath stopped short in her throat, she saw the lion transform. Now a handsome man, he reached for the heart and took it from her weakening hand. Her head nodded onto her chest.
The lion-man looked at the heart for a second, but realized that there was no time to spare. He pulled the key from the dying lonely girl’s hand and opened his chest as well. He pulled his racing heart from his chest, put it in the lonely girl’s and closed it up quickly. He placed hers in his chest and did the same. He knelt on the cobblestones of the village square and lifted her chin. The color rose in her cheeks as she stared into his eyes, lonely no more.