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A fairy tale I wrote, from a decade ago. Dubious.

A Mound of White Bones

Over the purple mountains to the east lies a forest where nobody ever goes. Nobody goes to the forest not because of wild creatures or monsters, but simply because no one knows that it is there. Except for an old, eccentric man and his young son, and even he found it by accident.

The old man travelled to the forest many years ago, when his son was just a babe. He built a fine cabin from solid timber, grew wild vegetables and herbs, and kept wild chickens and wild goats for eggs and milk.

The old man taught his son how to milk the goats, collect the eggs and repair the house. He taught him which mushrooms were good, which berries to avoid and how to make his clothes from the forest plants (which is as hard as it sounds). He taught him how to make fire and how to respect it.

He taught him how to whistle like a bird, and that was about all.

The old man thought that if no one ever came here (and no one ever had) then there was no point in filling the boy's head with anything else.

One day the old man died, as everybody does, but not before he explained death to his son. He told him that death was just something that happened one day and was the next part of life. He told his son to bury him in the ground and think of him sometimes.

So, the young man buried his father and thought of him sometimes and when he did, he felt something move his mind and body, which he thought was his father thinking of him. We call the feeling sadness, but the old man had never told his son this.

A long time after this (but how long we don't know because the young man never counted the seasons) a strange thing happened.

The young man had five chickens, two goats and two cats. He had never counted them though; he just knew how many there were. Well, on this morning he got up (as usual), said hello to his cats (as usual), and went outside to feed his chickens (like he always did). On this morning though, his chickens didn't look quite right.

He looked at them from the left and the right, but they didn't look the same somehow. Eventually he realised that they looked smaller! So, for the first time he counted them, and sure enough, there were only four!

He counted them again, just to make sure, and he still got smaller than he should. He checked the fence that surrounded the coup (a chicken had once escaped for a while through a hole in the fence), but that seemed fine.

Odd, the young man thought to himself, chickens had never vanished before, but he reflected that perhaps chickens do just disappear from time to time. Just because it hadn't happened up until now didn't mean that it didn't happen, just perhaps that it didn't happen very frequently.

Hoping that it wouldn't happen again for a long time, the young man walked off down the path to the river, past the old oak tree that he always said hello to and then down the bank, following the gurgling, clear water until he came to a clearing on his left. He climbed the bank and walked for a while through long grass until he came to the area where he collected mushrooms.

After about five minutes of walking around with his head pointing downwards, his hands behind his back, he came across small white mound. This was no mushroom. He examined the mound carefully and on the top was a small yellow object, about the size of his little finger. The main body of the mound was made up of small white objects, long and thin, ranging in size from nail size to hand size.

They were chicken bones, and the yellow object on the top was a beak.

The man sat down and reflected. The bones were laid out very neatly, and were all very clean. He thought that maybe a wild chicken had been killed by a wild fox, but he had seen killed-by-fox chickens before, and they were always scattered around, full of blood and feathers. There were no feathers here and no blood either. So, probably not a fox, unless the fox had eaten the chicken in a different way this time. It was possible he reasoned. Just because he had never seen a fox eat a chicken in such a clean and delicate way, didn't mean they didn't. He also wondered if the chicken was his missing chicken. He decided not to jump to conclusions, it may be just a coincidence, he told himself, and went back to collecting mushrooms.

When he had enough mushrooms he walked back through the long grass, climbed down the bank and followed the gurgling clear river until he came to a path, which he followed, passing the old oak tree (which he said hello to) and walked up to his little cabin.

He went inside and washed his mushrooms and put them in a large pot that hung over the fireplace with some water, vegetables, beans and herbs. He stroked his cats and then went outside to feed his goats, looking at the chickens on the way. He stopped and looked at the chickens again more closely, now there were only three!

Once again he checked the fence around the coup, but it seemed fine. Odd, he thought, another chicken vanishing like that, and went to feed his goats.

Later, after his supper and the sun was going down, he went outside to count his chickens again. One, two, three. Still three left. He sighed and went inside, stroked his cats and went to bed.

The next morning the young man got up (as usual), said hello to his cats (as usual), and went outside to feed his chickens (like he did the day before). This morning there were still three chickens; no more had vanished during the evening. After he had finished feeding them, the young man walked off down the path to the river, past the old oak tree (which he said hello to) and then down the river bank, following the gurgling, clear water until he came to the clearing on his left. He climbed the bank and walked for a while through the long grass until he came to the area where he collected mushrooms.

After about five minutes of walking around with his head pointing downwards, his hands behind his back, he came to the small white mound from yesterday. Only this time, there was another mound, exactly the same, next to it. And, next to that mound was another, this one much larger, and instead of a little yellow beak on the top of it, it had a pair of horns.

Odd, thought the man. Another chicken vanishes, and another mound of bones appears here. Then he thought about the other pile of clean, white bones. Those horns look a lot like goats' horns, he thought. Then he remembered that he hadn't checked on his goats this morning.

The young man ran back through the long grass, jumped down the bank and followed the gurgling clear river until he came to the path, which he ran up, passing the old oak tree (which he shouted hello to) and arrived at his little cabin.

And sure enough, a goat was missing. And another chicken.

Now the young man looked worried. Only two chickens and one goat left. He was worried that if he left his goats and chickens alone again, more would vanish and appear as piles of bones at the spot where he picked his mushrooms. So he sat down and thought until he came up with a plan.

He took his two remaining chickens and one goat and led them into the cabin, then he closed the door behind him and walked off down the path to the river, past the old oak tree (which he again said hello to) and then down the river bank, following the gurgling, clear water until he came to the clearing. He climbed the bank and walked through the grass until he came to the area where he collected mushrooms.

This time he didn't look for mushrooms though, he hid behind a large rock and waited.

The sun went down and the young man felt very sleepy behind his rock, nothing had happened and he had an ache in his back and in his legs from crouching behind the rock. Still he waited and waited and waited until the sun came up and nothing had happened. There were still the three white mounds, but no more.

Disappointed, he walked back through the long grass, climbed down the bank and followed the gurgling clear river until he came to his path, which he followed, passing the old oak tree (which he waved at) and walked up to his little cabin.

On the little door step at the front of the cabin was a little mound of white bones with a little yellow beak on top.

The man sighed and entered the cabin, finding one chicken and one cat dead and the cabin in ruins. It seemed that during the night the cats had chased the chickens, knocking over tables and chairs, which had disturbed the goat which had killed a cat which had just killed a chicken which made the other cat hide for the rest of the evening.

The young man sighed and felt a little like when he thought of his father. Now he had only one chicken, one cat and one goat left. He decided to be very careful with them.

Later, after his supper and while the sun was still high in the sky, he went outside to count his chicken and goat. Still one of each. He sighed and went inside, stroked his cat and went to bed.

He was awakened late at night by a loud banging on the door of the cabin. He had meant only to sleep until the sun went down and then bring the chicken and goat inside for the night, but he had been so tired that he had slept without waking until now.

Now, no one had ever knocked on the door of the cabin before, and the young man wondered what it could mean. He had seen no other person except for his father in the world and had no reason to suspect that there might me others in it.

He opened the door and there was indeed another person standing on the other side. He was a tall, thin, pale fellow in a dark leather boots, dark green trousers, a brown, thick shirt, a long black cloak and a pointy green felt hat topped with a long red feather. He smiled and introduced himself: 'Good evening sir, I am sorry to knock at your door at so late an hour, but I am a traveller, lost in the forest and would ask you for warmth by your fire for the night.'

The young man stood aside and invited the tall stranger in, he sat down by the fire on a stool and took off his black cloak, placing it on a hook in the wall, then took off his hat with the long red feather and placed it on top. He asked the man many questions about his life and the little cabin, and all of these questions the young man answered honestly and readily. The tall stranger listened and listened and listened, seeming very interested in the story of the mounds of white bones.

When the young man had no more to say, the stranger began to tell him about the world outside of the forest. He told him of towns and of money, of jobs and of shops, of taxes and of kings, of women and of love. The young man's head swam with it all. They talked all through the night and when the sun came up the young man remembered his chicken and goat and ran outside to check them.

The tall stranger pulled on his black cloak and put on his green hat with the long red feather and followed slowly after.

The goat had vanished during the night. The last chicken walked sorrowfully around the coup, pecking at the ground occasionally.

'I know,' said the tall, thin, pale stranger, 'why don't you go and check at the mushroom patch for the mound of white bones, and I'll stay here and look after your last chicken.'

The young man thanked the tall stranger and ran off down the path to the river, past the old oak tree (which he barely waved at) and then down the river bank, following the gurgling, clear water until he came to the clearing. He jumped up the bank and ran through the grass until he came to the area where he collected mushrooms.

Sure enough, a new white mound had appeared next to the others, topped with a little pair of horns. The man sat down and reflected. His life had changed and things that never normally happened had begun to. There were the disappearing chickens and goats and the appearing white mounds of bones. Every time he had left his goats and chickens alone, one had vanished except for when he had kept them inside. Now his final chicken was in the care of the tall stranger. The tall stranger was also new in the young man's world and the young man wondered if he could be connected with the disappearing animals. The stranger had not knocked on the cabin door until late in the night, and the young man had not checked his chicken and goat at the time, the stranger, he thought, could have taken the goat and done this before returning to the cabin last night. And now, he had left his last chicken with the stranger!

He ran back through the long grass, jumped down the bank and rushed up the gurgling clear river until he came to the path, which he sprinted up, passing the old oak tree (which he forgot) and arrived at his little cabin, puffing and panting.

Sue enough, on the little doorstep at the front of the cabin was another little mound of white bones with a little yellow beak on top.

The man felt tears run down his cheeks. There didn't seem to be any sign of the tall, thin, pale stranger anywhere. The young man's last cat came and rubbed up against him in the way that cats do when they know you are sad.

After some time had passed, the young man got up heavily and went into the cabin to fix himself some supper and there, in the middle of the cabin floor was a mound of clean white bones, very large this time, and with a long, red feather balanced on the top.