Telling Tales 42
The Girl by the Forest
She lived with her mother and her sister at the edge of the oldest forest. Neither she nor her sister were particularly pretty, and no one would have gone so far as to say that they were beautiful. All three of them worked hard to keep their small home running. There was nothing to say from the outside that one sister was better or different than the other. They were different people, yes, of course they were, and everyone that knew them said so. But if you’d asked for a description of one or the other from someone who’d just met them, you’d get the same words. Honest. Hard working. Plain.
And yet, their mother favored the younger sister, for no obvious reason that could be divined. Both sisters worked all day and they both shared in the work, but if there was a worse task to do, it was the older sister who did it. Anything heavier, smellier, or more difficult fell on her shoulders. It wasn’t out of spite. Neither the mother nor the younger sister even noticed what was happening. On the few occasions when the elder sister asked for a respite from one of the worse jobs, the younger had a cough, or the mother told her she should set a better example.
It was, in a word, unfair.
It didn’t weigh on the elder sister as much as you might think. She had grown up this way and she was used to it. She dreamed, though, of escape. She dreamed of the prince that would find her and rescue her from her plight – which was really living with a family that loved her but took advantage of her. Not the worst of plights in a world of things gone bad. But she was allowed to dream.
Dreams are just dreams, and work is work, and so it was that the older sister was dreaming while she should have been paying greater attention, because not all work is safe. She was raising water from the well, bucket by bucket, with the well cover sitting off to the side. If she had been paying attention, she might not have shifted her foot. If she hadn’t shifted her foot, she might not have lost her balance. If she hadn’t lost her balance, she certainly wouldn’t have fallen.
Wells are dangerous places. Narrow and dark, with mud to pull you under and gasses to suffocate you before you can even call twice for help. Both sisters knew this very well. The young woman struck one side wall and scraped along another and fell ever farther and ever faster, much farther than the rope would typically travel to reach the water. If she had had her bearings, she might have thought this was strange, but instead it only served to stoke her fear. She fell and she fell and when she finally struck the bottom, it was not water that she hit, but solid earth. No mud. No gas.
She was lucky to be alive. If she had had her bearings, she might have been grateful. Relieved. If she had been conscious or awake.
But awake she did. She was dead. She must be. Instead of the bottom of a well, she lay in a field of golden wheat, the bright yellow sun shining down on her from a blue sky above. “I am dead and this is what happens next.”