The Unlocked Door

Written for the Thousand Cats LiveJournal community, December 15, 2009.

A long time ago, in a village on the edge of the great Northern woods, there lived a young girl with a fierce and willful temperament, and hair of the brightest gold. She cared little for the rules and strictures placed on young girls, or on anyone at all, by others, and went where she would, and did exactly as she pleased. In fact, it would not be unfair to say she cared little for others at all.

When she had exhausted the village’s meager supply of entertainments, she would go wandering in the great wild forest, gathering nuts and berries, or bright flowers to braid into her hair, or looking for unsuspecting animals to entertain herself with, by watching, tormenting, or trying to make pets of them, as the mood happened to take her.

One day in her wanderings she strayed further from the village than ever before, and came across a small and curious-looking house in the woods. The wood of its walls seemed to grow from the ground, and roots extended from its foundation. Its roof was thatched with living green branches, and its windows seemed cast from some translucent amber resin, like solidified honey. A winding path led up an oddly-shaped door formed of some strange fungus. The door was unlocked, and it opened to her touch.

Never did it occur to her that it might be unwise to enter such a house as this uninvited — she was far more concerned with what she might find inside. When her eyes adjusted to the dim golden light within, she saw upon a table three bowls of nut porridge, and three chairs, and beyond that three beds... I am sure you know the story, or think you do.

But the story most often told is rarely the true one. You know of course, that she thoughtlessly consumed or destroyed all that was to her liking, and eventually fell asleep in the smallest bed, and that much is true. But the girl with the golden locks did not escape when the house’s owners returned home, nor was she set free in return for promising to behave better in the future.

She certainly did offer such promises in hopes of escape, once the terror of waking up surrounded by bears no longer froze her tongue. She wept piteously and insisted she had meant no harm, but the Bear Mother said that it was too late, that her fate had been sealed the moment she ate of their food. And besides, added the Bear Father, to take what you wish without thought was the act of an animal, not a young woman. The youngest bear said nothing, he merely watched her with the same rapt attention she had once directed to that which amused her.

The girl was never again seen in the village, or so said most who dwelt there. But there were a few who might tell you, late in the evening over a cup of ale, that they had glimpsed her once or twice in the woods, over the years that had passed since her disappearance. Some said she wept silent tears, but seemed unable to approach the village that had once been her home, or to speak any human tongue. Others said she showed no recognition of them, and seemed a mad thing, her clothing torn and ruined, her golden hair in wild tangles, and her face streaked with dirt, blood and berry juice. And still others said she appeared more content than they had ever seen her, gazing down with love at a newborn baby bear that she held in her arms, suckling it at her breast.

But perhaps such sightings are only the work of imagination, of shadows and dreams, for none of them, when they searched the places they thought she had stood, ever found a trace of human footprints, but only the half-faded tracks of a bear.

Based on a piece of random text drawn from a spam e-mail: “The door was unlocked.”

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