Thursday, February 25, 2016

A Harvest Tale -- Part 4 (New Short Story)

Here is Part 4 (and the conclusion!) of my fairy tale, A Harvest Tale. The story had grown a little too long to be a regular blog post, so I've posted it in four parts. If you haven't read Part 1 yet, you can find it here. And Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here.
For those who are all caught up, Part 4 starts now…
A Harvest Tale
By Catherine Mesick
Marta walked slowly to one end of the chamber and found herself facing a great wall of dirt that stretched up so high she couldn’t see the end of it. She turned then and walked the other way through the darkness. Eventually, she came to a narrow tunnel of earth, and she followed the tunnel upward until it came to another dead end. Marta held her lantern up. In front of her was a deeply knotted tangle of tree roots.
She feared it would take her a very long time to cut through the roots—even if she’d had a cutting tool, which she did not. Marta wondered then if she might be able to pull the roots out of the way, though she feared they were too tough and too thick to be moved.
She reached out a tentative hand. “I will find my way,” Marta whispered.
To her surprise, the roots sprang out of the way at her touch. Marta continued up the tunnel, touching the roots and watching them move swiftly out of her way. Before long, she felt a cold wind on her face, and soon after she broke out into open air.
Marta was free of the lair of the fair folk.
Behind her was a great dark tree, twisting and spiraling up into the air. In front of her was a vast forest with smaller but equally twisting trees.
The Lady was right—Marta didn’t know where she was.
But following an instinct a sudden impulse, Marta reached out and touched the nearest tree.
Nothing happened.
Marta turned then and walked the opposite way. She reached out to touch another tree. Once again, nothing happened.
Marta turned yet another way and extended her hand again toward the nearest tree.
Suddenly, one of the branches shot out and slapped her across the fingers. Marta drew her hand back quickly.
“Just as I thought,” she whispered to herself. “I am human, so this fairy place is rejecting me. That’s how I got out of the underground chamber—the tree roots wanted me to leave. Now all I have to do to escape this place is follow the peaceful trees and avoid the angry ones.”
Marta moved through the twisting forest trees, following her own advice, and at long last she made her way out of the forest.
In front of her was a haze of white fog, and she quickly passed through it. Once on the other side, Marta found to her great relief that she was back in the ordinary, everyday woods from which she had been abducted. She glanced behind her quickly to see that the fog she had walked through had vanished. So, too, had the fairy woods—by the light of her lantern, all Marta could see were ordinary trees with ordinary branches. The dark, twisting trees were nowhere to be seen.
Marta moved quickly through the trees until she was back on the old, familiar path. Then she hurried on through the forest holding her lantern high. When she finally reached home, her mother was waiting for her at the door.
“Where have you been, Marta?” she cried. “You should have been home hours ago! Peter and I have been worried nearly to death.”
“I’m sorry, Mother,” Marta replied. “I’ve had a very strange night in the forest.”
“Why, what do you mean, my daughter? Come and sit and tell me all about it.”
Marta and her mother sat down by the kitchen fire, and Peter soon joined them. Marta told her mother and brother of everything that had transpired. They had lived for a long time on the far side of the woods, and all three of them had heard of things that no one in the town would have believed.
Marta knew her family would believe her. Her story was unusual, but Marta was always very truthful.
When Marta had finished her tale, Peter stared at the basket.
“Are the apples in there now?”
“Yes,” Marta said.
She pulled off the cover to reveal three apples—each one half red, half green.
“The housewife in town said you would know what to do with them,” Marta said to her mother.
Marta’s mother looked the apples over. “I know nothing about apples that would tempt the fair folk. But I know what to do with ordinary apples. I have a little flour and sugar. I’ll make a little pie like I used to at harvest time when your father was with us.”
“Are you sure that is the right thing to do?” asked Peter.
“It is the best thing I know to do,” his mother replied.
So Marta’s mother rolled out some dough and sliced up the apples, and she cooked up a little pie right over the fire.
Marta’s mother, Marta, and Peter all ate a third of it while it was still hot. And it was just as good as the pies Marta’s mother used to make a long time ago.
“Now it’s off to bed for all of us,” Marta’s mother said. “We’ve all stayed up much later than our usual time. We’ll put the apple cores out in the garden tonight. Who knows but that maybe we’ll have some apple trees come spring.”
Peter went off to bed, and as Marta turned toward her bed also, her mother stopped her.
“You’ve had a difficult night, my dear,” Marta’s mother said. “But you are safe now. The fair folk cannot enter a human habitation. You need have no fear tonight. And I am proud of you. You outwitted them and came home to me.”
Marta’s mother kissed her on the forehead. “My brave girl.”
Marta went to her bed and went to sleep.
In the morning, Marta awoke and went outside to feed the family’s few chickens. The sight she beheld when she opened the back door startled her.
“Mother, Peter, come look!” Marta cried.
Her mother and brother hurried to the door.
In the little back yard, over by the garden, were three fully gown trees.
The little family stepped outside and inspected them.
“I do believe they’re apple trees,” Marta’s mother said.
The trees had no leaves, and all through the winter they bore no fruit. But they remained fresh and healthy all through the snows, and the little family marveled at them every day.
One morning, shortly after the arrival of spring—when there was still just a bit of snow on the ground—Marta was again startled when she went out to look after the chickens.
“Mother, Peter, come quickly!” she cried.
This time, the three of them saw that the trees were covered with apples—each one half red, half green. All of them were fully ripe.
“Dare we touch them?” Marta asked.
“You and Peter stay here,” Marta’s mother said. “I will test them myself.”
Marta’s mother walked up to the middle tree and plucked an apple from the nearest branch. She held it in her hand for a moment and then took a bite.
She walked back to her children.
“The apple is perfect,” she said. “We can eat these as they are or bake them in a pie.”
Marta and Peter quickly fetched baskets and picked all the apples they could reach. Then they took them into the house.
They ate several of the apples that day, and Marta was surprised to see the next morning that all of the apples that had been picked the day before had grown back.
Marta called again for her mother and brother to come see the sight.
“It is miraculous,” Marta’s mother said when she saw the new apples. “But I suppose we should not be surprised by now—these trees have done so many miraculous things already.”
“And the apples taste good,” Peter said. “Better than any apples I have ever tasted.”
“When the snow clears the road,” Marta’s mother said, “I believe we can sell them in town.”
Before many days had passed, the spring sun melted the last of the snow, and on a March morning with a sharp wind, Marta ventured into the village with a basket full of apples. She sold them all quickly, and she returned to the village the next day and then every day for the rest of the week. Each day that Marta went to the village she sold all her apples, and soon Peter began to accompany her with a wheelbarrow full of them. Eventually, they bought a cart that they could fill with baskets full of apples, and soon after that they bought a table and set up at a regular spot in the village market. They sold so many apples that Marta didn’t have to look for odd jobs, and her mother didn’t have to take in sewing. Instead, Marta’s mother began baking during the day, so that Marta could sell her pies, too.
One very fine morning at the start of May, Marta was standing at her table in the village when a shadow fell across it. She looked up to see a beautiful woman with shining dark hair dressed in a rich green gown—it was the housewife Marta had worked for the year before. Though she could not have said why, Marta was suddenly glad that Peter had been ill and had stayed home that morning. She had a vague feeling that he was safer there.
“Good morning, Marta,” the housewife said.
“Good morning, ma’am,” Marta replied.
“Do you remember me, Marta?”
“Of course, ma’am.”
The housewife looked around the table. “You seem to be doing quite well now.”
“Thanks to you, ma’am.”
“And how have you yourself been?” the housewife asked.
“Very well, ma’am.”
“And how was your winter? Any adventures to report?”
Again, Marta felt uneasy, though she couldn’t have said why.
“It was a winter like any other.”
“How about your fall, then? Did you come into the town for the harvest festival?”
“No, ma’am,” Marta said. “The forest road becomes treacherous when the cold and dark come to the world. We stay on our own side of the forest then.”
The housewife glanced at Marta sharply. “You know, Marta, there are stories about the night I last saw you—stories about strange lights that appeared in the forest that night. Would you happen to know anything about that?”
Marta was silent.
“Please tell me, Marta,” the housewife said. “Please tell me what happened that night. I need to know.”
“It will be hard to believe,” Marta said.
“I need to know,” the housewife said.
And somehow Marta found herself telling the housewife the tale of that night from beginning to end—all of it—the three people she passed, her confrontation with Lady Frost, her escape from the forest.
All throughout, the housewife made no comment and simply stared at her steadily—not a flicker of emotion crossed her face as she listened.
When Marta finished her tale, she found that the housewife was staring at her still.
“It’s all very fantastic,” Marta said after a moment of silence. “I dare say you don’t believe me.”
“I believe you,” the housewife said. “I believe you went through quite a lot that night. And I believe you taught a great lady a valuable lesson.”
The housewife stared at Marta for a long moment.
“Have you nothing further to say?”
“No,” Marta said, and she began to fear that she had offended the housewife.
“Nothing at all?”
The housewife smiled ever so slightly. “You don’t blame me?”
“Blame you, ma’am? For what?”
“Are you not angry that I put you in danger?”
“I don’t understand, ma’am.”
“I’m the one who gave you the apples. And that’s what drew the fair folk to you. It would be easy for you to blame me for what happened.”
“But the apples were a gift,” Marta said. “And they helped us a great deal. We have a little business now, thanks to you.”
“But my gift put you in danger.”
“Anything of value will attract those who don’t mean well. That is not your fault.”
“Many would have blamed me anyway. And I knew the fair folk were likely to be out.”
“But they were only apples,” Marta said. “What did the fair folk want with them anyway? Even if they do grow quickly? What need have the fair folk for apples?”
“It was not the apples,” the housewife said, “but the seeds. It was the seeds that were important—as with so many things.”
She was silent for a moment. Then she nodded.
“Yes, Marta. You taught a great lady a valuable lesson.”
“Perhaps,” Marta replied. “I think it will take more than one night to teach Lady Frost what it is to be human.”
“Perhaps so. I must be going now. Enjoy these lovely warm months, and thank you for telling me about what happened that night.”
“Thank you, ma’am, for the apples. They have meant a lot to our small family.”
“Lady Frost has a spring sister, so I hear,” the housewife said. “I believe she has often visited my garden. She is the one you should thank.”
The housewife smiled and turned to go. As she walked away, Marta gazed at the woman’s green gown and hair like dark, rich soil, and she wondered.
**The End**
Thanks very much for reading!
You can check out my books here.
And stop by some time and say hi on FacebookJ

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A Harvest Tale, Part 3 (New Short Story)

Here is Part 3 of my fairy tale, A Harvest Tale. The story had grown a little too long to be a regular blog post, so I've posted it in four parts. If you haven't read Part 1 yet, you can find it here. And Part 2 is here.
For those who are all caught up, Part 3 starts now…
A Harvest Tale
By Catherine Mesick
“Wicked girl!” the woman cried. “You will pay dearly for what you have done!”
“Forgive me, my lady,” Marta said, for a great lady the woman must be. “I humbly beg your pardon if I have offended you.”
Not quite believing her senses, so wondrous was the woman’s beauty, Marta glanced around then to see if the young man could see the woman, too.
But the young man had disappeared.
“How dare you turn away from me!” the woman thundered, and all the trees of the forest seemed to shake with her fury.
“Forgive me, my lady,” Marta said.
“Forgive you?” the woman said, outraged. “There can be no forgiveness for what you have done.”
“I beg of you, my lady, tell me how I have offended you.”
The woman snorted. “Wicked and ignorant. You will come with me now to face judgment.”
“Judgment?” Marta said. “My lady, what could I—”
“You will come with me,” the woman snarled, “or I will curse your family.”
Not doubting the woman’s power, Marta bowed her head. “I will go with you.”
The woman reached out a hand and touched Marta on the shoulder. Marta felt an icy chill run through her, and then she felt herself flying through the forest.
When she came to a stop, Marta found herself standing in a large, dark chamber. She held her lantern high. Many pairs of eyes were staring at her through the gloom.
“Bring the prisoner to me!” cried a ringing voice.
Several pairs of hands clutched her arms, and Marta clung to her lantern and basket tightly. She felt herself being dragged forward, and when the hands released her, she was standing in front of the lady in white, who was seated on a throne. The glow around her illuminated a little more of the chamber, and Marta could see a crowd of strange, pale creatures with unnaturally bright eyes. Though the creatures were human in form, Marta had a strong feeling that they were anything but.
“Where am I?” Marta said.
“Silence!” the woman said from her throne. “You are here to answer for your crimes, girl. You are not to speak unless directed to do so.”
Marta fell silent.
The woman rose. “I am Lady Frost, and these are my people. They all act as witnesses. You, girl, stand accused of cruelty, selfishness, and neglect.”
Lady Frost’s glow suddenly blazed brighter, illuminating the entire chamber.
“I will now name your punishment!”
“My punishment?” Marta said. “But I have done nothing.”
“Silence, girl!” Lady Frost cried.
“My name,” Marta said, “is Marta.”
Lady Frost’s eyes flashed fire. “How dare you correct me, insolent girl? How dare you speak in my presence? I didn’t give you leave to speak!”
“Is this a trial?” Marta said.
“Yes,” Lady Frost replied, “and you have been found guilty.”
“How dare you—”
“If I have been found guilty,” Marta said, her eyes also flashing fire, “then I have a right to know why. But I haven’t heard any evidence. I haven’t even heard what I am supposed to have done.”
Lady Frost’s lips curled into a smile. “You wish for evidence? Very well. I will give you your evidence.”
She cast a glittering eye over the assembled crowd and then seated herself once again upon her throne.
“On this very night,” Lady Frost said, “you met three members of your own kind, and in each case you refused to help them. You met an old man who was dying of thirst and refused to give him so much as a bite from an apple. You met an old woman whose horse was suffering and refused to soothe the poor animal’s pain. And, not content to ignore the humble, you then refused the mighty. You met a great lord who was lost in the woods, and you refused to show him the way. Every single time you were tested you failed. You have no respect for age or station or beauty. No care for animals. No care, even, for love. You are like all others of your kind. When tested by my people, they have all failed.”
“Perhaps they have failed,” Marta said, “because you and your people cheated.”
The glow around Lady Frost suddenly blazed brighter.
“You say I refused to help an old man,” Marta said. “But he was not an old man, and he was not dying of thirst. He was one of your creatures. And you say I refused to help an old woman, but she was not an old woman, and her horse was not truly injured—they were both your creatures. And you say I refused to help a great lord, but he was not a great lord, and he was not lost. You set a trap for me, and now you wish to punish me for the crime of not falling into it.”
Lady Frost rose. “A trap? You dare to accuse me of wrongdoing? It was your hardness of heart that brought you here. You spurned my own son. You should have been allowed to go had you not—”
“I see,” Marta said.
“You see what?” Lady Frost said.
“What this is all about.”
“Oh? Do enlighten us.”
“Pride,” Marta said.
“Pride?” Lady Frost cried, outraged. “Who are you to judge me? I am Lady Frost. I bring an end to the harvest. I stop all growth. I send the earth to sleep. I have true power. And who are you? Nothing. Less than nothing. You haven’t even laid eyes on your own human queen, I’ll wager. You’re a simple, rustic girl, and you know nothing.”
“It is you who know nothing,” Marta said quietly.
“I rule nature itself!” Lady Frost cried. “I am ageless, timeless. I rule over a great people, and I care for them!”
“How do you care for them by deceiving hapless human beings?”
“I will not tolerate your insolence,” Lady Frost cried. “You should be begging me for my forgiveness.”
“I beg your forgiveness, my lady, if I was lacking in courtesy. But I meant what I said. You know nothing. You are powerful, it is true. And you have many great responsibilities. But you don’t know what it is like to fear the cold and the dark.
“You showed me someone who was dying of thirst. You showed me a horse that was suffering. You showed me a man who was lost. But you yourself know nothing of these things. You don’t know what it is to be a lone girl in the forest. This is just a game to you. You don’t know how fragile life is. You know nothing of what it is to be human. And for that I forgive you.”
“You? Forgive me?” Lady Frost said.
“And I see something else.”
“What is that?”
“I can leave here any time I wish.”
Lady Frost laughed, a high, harsh sound.
“You are ridiculous. What are you compared to me?”
“You have great power,” Marta said. “But it has limits.”
“You have no idea what I am capable of, human girl.”
“Yes, but I do know what you aren’t capable of. You want these apples—the ones I have right here in my basket. But you can’t just take them, can you? Otherwise, you would have done so by now. I have to agree to give them to you. That’s why you employed all the trickery—to get me to hand them over to you of my own free will. And that’s why I’m here now—because I agreed to come with you. If I had not agreed, you could not have taken me.”
“Yes, you agreed,” Lady Frost spat. “And now you will remain as my prisoner. You will never leave here, you wicked girl. You will never see the world above again.”
Marta shook her head. “I only agreed to come with you. I didn’t agree to stay. I can leave here right now. And I’m going to.”
“I forbid you to leave!” Lady Frost cried. “You will remain right where you are, or I will curse your family, just like I said I would!”
“I have already defied your orders by speaking,” Marta said. “All you have are tricks and threats. You have no power over me or my family.”
“You don’t know where you are!” Lady Frost screamed. “You are hopelessly lost! You will never see your home again!”
“I will find my way,” Marta said.
“Then you will do so in the dark,” Lady Frost hissed.
Suddenly, Lady Frost’s great glow went out, and Marta was plunged into darkness.
Marta held her little lantern high.
“Lady Frost?”
But as far as Marta could see, Lady Frost and all of her creatures had vanished. She was alone in the great, dark chamber.
**End of Part 3. You can find Part 4 here.**
Thanks very much for reading!
You can check out my books here.
And stop by some time and say hi on Facebook. J

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Harvest Tale, Part 2 (New Short Story)

Here is Part 2 of my fairy tale, A Harvest Tale. The story had grown a little too long to be a regular blog post, so I've posted it in four parts. If you haven't read Part 1 yet, you can find it here.
And if you're ready to go, Part 2 starts now…

A Harvest Tale
By Catherine Mesick
Marta hurried back to the path and paused for a moment looking both behind her and ahead of her in the dark forest. But search as she might, she could find nothing. She decided to continue on her way home.
Marta had walked about halfway through the woods when she saw another traveler coming toward her. Marta squinted at the figure, wondering if it could be the old man, but she saw instead a woman—also of many winters—whose hair was as snowy as the man’s beard had been. Unlike the man, however, the woman appeared to be stout and healthy, and she waved vigorously in the lantern light as Marta drew near.
“Good evening, Grandmother,” Marta said, for a grandmother the woman must be.
“I’ve no time for pleasantries,” the woman said. “You must come and help me at once.”
“Of course, Grandmother,” Marta said.
The woman hurried off into the darkness, and Marta quickly followed.
Soon Marta could hear whinnying cries, and a moment later, Marta and the woman came in sight of an injured horse, thrashing on the dirt path, its eyes rolling wildly.
“It’s my dear girl,” the woman said, rushing to the horse’s side. “She took a terrible fall, and I fear she may have broken her leg.”
Marta set her lantern down and ran a soothing hand along the horse’s neck.
The horse did not seem to notice her and continued in its frenzied cries.
“We must summon help, Grandmother,” Marta said. “The horse is in great pain.”
The woman wrung her hands. “What am I to do? Who will help my poor beauty?”
“We must go back to the village,” Marta said. “We can find help there.”
The woman shook her head in despair. “The village is too far. We will not reach help in time.”
The horse gave a loud whinny.
“Where is your home, my dear?” the woman asked. “Surely, it is not too far. Pray take me to your home, so we can find help.”
“There is only my mother and my young brother at home,” Marta said. “And they cannot help with this. Besides, my home is as far from here as the village is.”
The horse whinnied again.
“Oh, my poor beauty, my poor pretty girl,” the woman cried. “If only I had something to soothe her. Have you, my dear, any water? A draught of water might calm her cries.”
“I’m sorry, Grandmother,” Marta said. “But I have no water.”
“What is in that basket you carry?” the woman asked. “Do you have bread or milk or any sugar? Those would do as well as water.”
“I have only apples, Grandmother.”
“Apples!” the woman cried. “My poor beauty loves apples above all else. Pray give me an apple, my dear. That will ease his suffering.”
Marta reached to uncover her basket and then stopped.
A cold wind swirled around her, and she glanced around at the thick, dark forest.
“How long have you been out here, grandmother?” Marta asked.
“Oh, such a very long time, my dear!”
“And how did you come to be out on such a cold, dark evening?” Marta asked. “Where were you going?”
“I was going to the village,” the woman said. “I was going to visit my son and his family.”
“Surely your son will be missing you by now,” Marta said. “Maybe even searching for you? I will take you to the village and your son. He will know then that you are safe, and he can give you greater help than I can.”
“Oh! But my dear, I fear my horse is beyond all help! Pray give me an apple so I can soothe my poor girl’s current pain.”
Marta stood up. “I cannot give you an apple. The apples are for my mother.”
“Please, my dear! Have pity on my poor girl! Just give me one apple! I don’t need them all!”
Marta picked up her lantern. “I cannot give you even one.”
“Then you will not help me!” the woman cried. “You will leave me here in the dark!”
“I will help you back to the village, Grandmother.”
“Why will you not help me?”
“The apples are for my mother,” Marta said.
She began to walk once again.
The woman gave an agonized cry, and Marta turned quickly back toward her. She raised her lantern high.
Both the woman and the horse had disappeared.
Marta hurried on her way.
She had traveled nearly half the distance remaining to the end of the forest when she heard hoofbeats behind her on the road, and she turned around quickly.
But the road behind her was empty, and Marta realized that she had mistaken the direction of the sound. The hoofbeats were actually coming from in front of her, and she quickly stepped off the path so as to be out of the way. Within moments, a horse and rider galloped down the road and stopped abruptly at the sight of Marta’s lantern.
“Who goes there?” called a stern voice. “Show yourself, if you be not foe.”
Marta stepped onto the path. By the light of the lantern she could see a coal-black horse with black and silver trappings and a rider clad in the same colors. The rider was a young man with golden hair and an aristocratic bearing.
“Who goes there?” the young man repeated.
“My name is Marta, my lord,” Marta said, for a great lord the young man must be.
“Step closer so that I may see you,” the young man said.
Marta took a step forward.
“You have a lovely face, Marta.”
Marta did not reply.
“Marta, I confess that I am currently in need of assistance,” the young man said.
“How can I help, my lord?”
“I am lost, lovely Marta. I was on my way to the castle, but instead of a castle, I seem to have found myself in a dark, lonely wood. Can you show me the way to the castle?”
“If you will only continue on this path, my lord,” Marta said, “you will find your way out of the forest soon enough. As to the castle, I have heard it is on the far side of the village, but I have never seen it myself, and I do not know the way.”
“So then you will not help me, Marta?”
“I cannot, my lord.”
The young man looked around suddenly, as if struck by a thought.
“But where are your companions? Is there no one else?” the young man asked.
“No, my lord,” Marta replied. “It is only me.”
“You are quite alone?”
“Yes, my lord.”
The young man frowned. “Why do you travel alone, Marta? Have you no servants?”
“No, my lord,” Marta said. “I have no servants.”
“But where are you going, Marta?” the young man asked.
“I am going home to my mother and brother.”
“Is your home very far?”
“No, my lord. It is just on the other side of the trees here.”
“Then you are almost out of the woods,” the young man said with a smile.
“Yes, my lord.”
The young man shifted in his saddle. “And it would seem an even shorter distance if you were on horseback.” He held out a hand. “If you will permit me, Marta, I will take you home.”
Marta hesitated.
“Is something troubling you, Marta?” the young man asked.
“Are you after my apples?”
“Your apples?”
“Yes, my lord,” Marta said. “The apples in my basket.”
The young man laughed. “What need have I for apples?”
“I could not say.”
“Then say you’ll come with me.”
“I thank you, my lord, for your courtesy,” Marta said. “But I must go on alone.”
“As you wish,” the young man said. “But will you not leave me with something, lovely Marta? Some token to remember you by?”
“I will tell you what I told the others, my lord,” Marta said. “The apples are for my mother. You cannot have them.”
“Supposing I mean what I say, Marta? Supposing I do find you lovely and only want to help you? Do you still refuse me, then?”
“I do, my lord.”
“Marta, I will tell you plainly that I tire of games and apples. All I look for now is love. Does that not sway you?”
“It does not, my lord.”
With that, Marta began to run for home. She didn’t turn to see if the young man was still behind her.
She had not gone far, however, when an icy wind enveloped her, and a blinding white blaze of light appeared in front of her on the road. Marta stopped and covered her eyes with her arm to shield them from the sudden glare.
**End of Part 2. You can find Part 3 here.**
Thanks very much for reading!
You can check out my books here.
And stop by some time and say hi on FacebookJ

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

New Short Story -- A Harvest Tale (Part 1)

When I first got the idea to write a fairy tale, I was envisioning something short—four or five pages at the most. But when I started writing A Harvest Tale, it just kept growing. So I've posted the story in four parts. Just click on the link at the bottom to get to Part 2. And Part 1 starts right now...

A Harvest Tale

By Catherine Mesick

Young Marta lived in the wilderness on the other side of the forest with her mother and her younger brother. Marta’s father had died several years before in November, just after the harvest, and it was at harvest time that the little family missed him the most.
The family had little money, and the cottage they lived in was small and very far from other houses. To maintain their household, Marta’s mother took in sewing from the village on the more settled side of the forest. And in the summer, Marta had begun to earn a few coins doing odd jobs for the housewives in the more prosperous village.
But even the village began to feel the pinch as the cold of winter approached, and Marta was dismayed to find that that steady stream of coins she had earned had slowed to a trickle. Work became scarcer and scarcer.
One night in late November, the self-same night on which her father had died, Marta was finishing up her work for that evening, and she feared for the rest of the season. Her odd jobs had dried up until there was only this last house left—a big, old house all the way at the edge of the village right next to the forest. The work was tiring—at the moment Marta was scrubbing up the dishes after the evening meal—and the housewife Marta took her orders from was strange. The wife seemed distracted and distant, and she seldom spoke more than a few words to Marta. And Marta had never seen any other member of the household apart from the wife, though there were always sounds of other people, and there was never any shortage of cooking and cleaning to be done. Despite the oddness of the place, Marta was happy to have the work, and she felt a sharp pang of regret when the housewife told her his night would be the last night she was required.
Marta knew she was unlikely to find further work until the spring.
“Are you almost finished, Marta?” The housewife turned her fine head, and her burnished hair shone in the light from the fire in the kitchen.
“Yes, ma’am,” Marta said. “All I have to do is throw the dishwater out and then tidy up a bit.”
“Be quick about it,” the housewife said. “Night is coming fast.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
Marta hurried outside with the basin full of dishwater and threw it into the yard. Then she hurried back in and began to straighten up the kitchen. As Marta placed the dried dishes back in the cupboard, she thought she heard quick footsteps followed by muffled laughter in the room overhead. Though Marta was used to the odd noises in the house, she couldn’t help but stop and glance up involuntarily at the suddenness of the sound. But she caught the eye of the housewife and quickly returned to work.
When Marta had returned the kitchen to its proper gleaming state, she approached the housewife, who was sitting at the long wooden table where Marta did much of her baking. In the center of the table was a covered basket that Marta could have sworn wasn’t there a moment ago.
“I believe I’m finished for the night,” Marta said.
“And for the rest of the year,” the housewife replied. “Thank you, Marta. Though I do not say it often, you have done good work. You have been a great help to me here in this house. And you have some common sense. That is rarer than you might think.”
The housewife rose from the table and came toward Marta with the basket. But first she held out one slender hand.
“Here are your wages for the week, child.”
The housewife pressed a handful of coins into Marta’s palm.
“Thank you, ma’am,” Marta said, slipping the coins into the pocket of her apron.
“I have one further thing for you,” the housewife said. “A gift.”
She lifted the cover on the basket to reveal three apples—each one half red, half green.
“The apples,” the housewife said, “are for your mother. I wish to thank her for sending her daughter to me. And she will know what to do with them.”
The housewife placed the handle of the basket into Marta’s hands.
“Thank you, ma’am.”
“What will you do now?” the housewife asked. “Will you go to a new house to work?”
“I have no more work,” Marta replied. “I will most likely go home until spring.”
“I wish you a pleasant winter, then. Good luck.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
“Be careful how you go on a night like this,” the housewife said. “There are dangers—and not just human ones.”
“Do you mean animals?” Marta asked.
Marta had lived near the woods all of her life, and she had heard stories.
“Do you mean the fair folk?” she asked.
“Yes,” the housewife replied, “and the not-so-fair folk.”
Marta gathered up her things and paused to light her lantern.
The housewife walked Marta to the back door, and as she stepped outside, the housewife called her back.
“The apples are for your mother, Marta. Remember that.”
With that, she closed the door.
Marta hurried across the yard to the back gate and then stepped out into the dusty lane that led to the forest. The day was fading fast, and she would have to move quickly if she wanted to make the other side of the forest before night fell.
Marta plunged into the woods.
It was much darker in amongst the trees than it had been in the open lane, and Marta hurried on with only the well-worn path beneath her feet and her lantern to guide her. She was just beginning to feel swallowed up by the dark forest when she heard a rustling in the trees nearby, and she stopped suddenly and turned toward it.
“Who is it?” Marta said, holding her lantern high. “Who’s there?”
There was no reply, and Marta relaxed—she figured the sound had just been an animal.
But then the rustling came again, and this time there was a voice.
“Help me, my child.”
Marta strained her eyes into the gloom, and at first she saw nothing. Then the rustling grew louder, and she could see a man’s form. He was struggling toward her, crawling on the ground.
Marta quickly set her lantern and basket down and hurried over to the man. She helped him to crawl up onto the path, and he sat down, leaning his back against a tree.
“Are you hurt?” Marta asked, looking the man over. His hair and beard were the color of snow, and he had clearly seen many winters. As he leaned against the tree, he closed his eyes.
“No, my child,” the man said, his voice a hoarse whisper, “I am not hurt. But I have traveled many days on foot, and I am dying of thirst. Give me, I pray you, a drink of water.”
“I’m sorry, Grandfather,” Marta said, for a grandfather the man must be, “but I have no water. But we are not far from the village. I will help you along the path, and we can get water there.”
The man opened his eyes. “You have no water?”
“No, Grandfather.”
“None at all?”
The man’s eyes shifted to the path, and he raised a trembling hand. “What is that over there?”
“That is my lantern and my basket.”
“Pray tell me what is in the basket.”
“Only apples, Grandfather.”
“Then give me an apple. There is water in an apple.”
“I cannot give you an apple, Grandfather,” Marta said. “There is not enough water in an apple to do you any good. There is only a little bit, and you need much more.”
“Give me an apple!” the man cried.
“I cannot,” Marta said.
“You will not give me an apple?” the man said, raising his hands pleadingly.
“No, Grandfather.”
“Why not?” the man cried. “Why will you not give me an apple for my thirst?”
“One apple would not be enough.”
“Then give them all to me!”
“I cannot, Grandfather.”
“The apples are for my mother,” Marta said.
The man closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the tree.
“You will not help me.”
“I didn’t say that, Grandfather,” Marta said. “I will help you to walk to the village where you can get buckets and buckets full of water from the well.”
The man shook his head. “I cannot walk another step.”
Marta stood. “Then I will fetch water and bring it back to you.”
She turned to pick up her lantern and her basket.
“Do not leave me!” the man cried piteously.
“I will only be gone a short while, Grandfather,” Marta said.
She began to hurry back the way she had come, but then a brief cry made her stop and turn around.
She held her lantern high.
The man had disappeared.
Marta took a step forward. “Grandfather?”
But there was no answer, and she hurried back to the spot where he had sat, leaning against the tree. Though Marta searched the trees nearby, she could find no sign of the man or of his passage. The old man had simply vanished.
**End of Part 1. You can find Part 2 here. **
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