Spirited #2 [Archive: Cloak and Dagger]
Fiction by Miriam Moser
It so happened that on the first chill day of autumn, as wool clouds cast a pall on the land, a girl wandered through the woods foraging for the final berries of the year. She saw a flash of orange beneath the foliage, and swept away the leaves, only to find the coils of a very long snake. The snake was very old and with great effort raised its head to look at the girl.
“My lady,” it spoke with a raspy, dry voice, “I am an old, cold snake, and I cannot make it through this chill on my own. Might I wind myself about you for warmth?”
The girl knew the snake was too frail to hurt her, it clearly needed aid, but she did not fancy the feeling of leathery skin against hers, and so gave an insincere excuse
“Snake, I do not trust you.”
The snakes eyes bore into hers, “In the name of the Great Mountain,” replied the snake, “I will die if you do not help me.”
But the girl hardened her heart and walked away.
She had not gone two steps before she heard a large crack, and turning around she saw the snake shedding its skin, but there was another more brilliant layer beneath. Then this second layer, too was shed, and more layers until the leaves were covered with shining skins all the colors of the rainbow, and the snake grew smaller and smaller until at the very center there emerged a shining bright light. The girl stared at the light as all around her the night set in. She was too frightened to move closer and too frightened to leave, but as she was pondering what to do, a figure in a gray cloak appeared on the other side of the light. The figure bent down and picked up the shining light and then hid it in the folds of the cloak. And it was then the girl saw it was an old woman. She was not frail at all, but strong and noble. As was her voice.
“My child,” she said firmly, “You have showed no compassion to Snake, the great healer. Without her, wounds will continue bleeding and hearts will remain broken.”
The girl had never been wounded or had her heart broken, but she dutifully listened. Compassion may have evaded her, but duty had not. Thus she answered, “What can I do?”
The woman replied, “You must journey to the top of the great mountain.” And that was all the instruction she gave before disappearing into the woods.
As it was night, the girl buried herself in leaves and slept until the gray dawn woke her up. She returned to the path and headed north, higher and higher into the altitudes were the wind was strong, yet breath hard to catch. The way was rocky, and she fortified herself with a few tenuously clinging blueberries and water from the icy mountain springs. Her legs felt heavy, and her bones were sore from sleeping on the ground, so she was happy to see a cabin in the distance as sun began to recede. She knocked on the door without hesitation.
A tired and teary-eyed woman opened the door to reveal a house full of children, all bruised and bleeding. The woman was so distraught she did not even think to question why a young girl would be travelling alone on the mountain pass.
“What happened to these children?” asked the girl.
“My dear, I’m sure I don’t know. God help us, I wish I did. They always play out in the brambles and arrive home with scrapes, but today none of the cuts will stop bleeding and they begin to grow weaker and weaker from loss of blood.” And the woman began to cry.
Then the lady in gray entered without knocking. She nodded to the woman, who did not pay any notice to her, and then wordlessly approached the children, picking up the first one and singing a weird atonal tune in an strange language that made the girl think of howling wind, and twilight, and loneliness. When the song had finished, she gently put down the first child and picked up the second and began to sing once again, until she had held all of the children. And she left as silently as she had come, but the girl noticed blood trickling from beneath the shroud, and it was then she saw the children had been healed.
The girl suddenly realized the urgency of her mission. She had no time for sleeping. The mother, relieved that her children’s wounds had disappeared, gave the girl a large loaf of bread and piece of cheese for her journey, before bidding her goodbye. The girl walked through the cold night until the dawn broke, cheerless and calm. In the dim morning light, she saw a doe limping across the path.
“Dear doe,” the girl asked, her heart flooded with compassion, “Why do you limp?”
The doe replied in the soft, whispery voice which all deer have, “I stumbled on a rock and the bruise has not healed.” Then, from the woods, the woman in gray walked out and placed her hand on the doe’s knee and sang to her. And the doe stood up straight, and bowed in deference to the woman, then galloped freely away. The woman limped back into the woods before the girl could approach her.
The girl was so exhausted from walking through the night, that she sat down to rest and accidentally fell asleep, only to wake to the last glow of the sun’s rays before it passed behind the mountain. She walked higher until the trees disappeared and clouds were below her. The moon lit her rocky path. Boulders reared up in front of her, and she picked her way as quickly as she good. Near the top the air grew warmer and her body ached for rest. She could see the top, as began to climb as fast as she could. But a few paces away, she stumbled and broke her leg. She tried pulling herself along, but the rock was rough and her pain was great. And then, once again appeared the lady in gray, limping towards her, leaving a trail of blood as far as the girl could see. She touched the girl’s leg and began to sing to her a song which pulled all the pain from the girl, and opened her heart so wide she had enough love to share with the world. But as she grew better the gray lady grew more frail until she collapsed in pain.
“Continue on,” her strained voice instructed, “Just a few more steps.”
The girl did so. At the very peak of the mountain, smoke poured forth and it was quite warm. From the smoke came the voice of the snake. “Girl, you have shown yourself tireless in making amends. My body is no more, but the world needs healers. The gray lady can take the pain of others, but someone must abolish the hurt from her body.
“And how can I do this?” asked the girl
“You must be willing to become a snake, most despised and feared of creatures. You must give up your own body and desires, and spend your life travelling with the gray lady as she seeks out those in pain.
“I am willing,” said the girl. And she transformed into a common garden snake. The smoke blew away and the cold began to creep back as she slithered to the gray lady and wrapped herself around the lady’s body until the blood stopped flowing and her bones had become straight and strong again. The gray lady stood up and sang again, but this time it was a song of joy, and the girl snake found she could understand the ancient words of love.
The gray lady smiled at her, “From now on we shall be companions. For I have held your blood and you have saved mine. We shall travel the world and bring the invisible healing of bodies which the world finds natural.”
The snake had much love in her heart and followed the gray lady down the mountain.