Well, I say "escapee"; I started my professional life as a writer at Future Publishing, but went on to get far too involved in the internet. Though I've always dabbled with words on the side during many years of working as a software developer, I've ended up going back to writing in my down-time as a way to do something that I can retain a feeling of complete creative control over.
I'm slowly working on my novel, Vanilla, though after a flying start, real life got in the way again and my output's definitely dropped in recent times. I'm stumbling into the occasional enjoyable writing gig again, though, which I'll be chronicling here.
A good friend of a good friend approached me recently, and asked me if I'd be interested in writing an alternative fairy tale for their anthology. With great trepidation, I said yes, and promptly spent a month panicking because I couldn't think of a single idea for one. Then, one Thursday afternoon when I was heading out to meet friends for their regular writing session (it's in a pub, after all), it hit me, and I nailed the first half that day:
A long, long time ago, in a land far, far away, lived a little boy who wasn't symbolic of anything. He lived with his mother, who split her time equally between making jam and representing his fears and doubts. They lived in a little cottage that was a brilliant white against the dark, dark wood that surrounded it on all sides. The cottage looked like a bright smile in the darkness.
The little boy was never allowed to go into the forest alone, as his mother feared that the little, white, rose-tangled picket fence that surrounded the cottage, and the narrow path that wound off into the trees, could be a metaphor for the loss of the little boy's innocence.
"Don't go into the woods alone," she would scold, "and especially not at night; you could die, or worse, become a simile for a character from a religious text."
But the little boy, as little boys are wont to do, would spend hours each night staring out of his window at the impenetrable blackness of the trees, dreaming wild dreams about what strange things lurked beyond. Night after night, his mother would tuck him in, and as he heard the rattling of her jam pans resume in the kitchen below, he'd creep back out of bed, open his window, and lean further out for a closer look, daring himself to lean too far and fall.
Each morning, as the sun broke over the treetops, the little boy would rush down the rickety stairs, following the sweet scent of porridge topped with the jam his mother had made the night before, in the hope of being in time to see the woodcutter who took the rest of the jam through the woods to the market. At best he'd see woodcutter leaving, his towering figure silhouetted against the sunlight streaming in through the wooden cottage door.
The little boy's life continued in this way for many years, spending his nights dreaming window-side and his days eating porridge and tending to the strawberry plants that covered the cottage garden like a brightly-spotted blanket. As he grew taller, his mother grew shorter, his back becoming broader, hers more bent.
One morning, as he ran into the kitchen, he saw his mother's face crossed with lines of worry.
"Mama? What's wrong?" The little boy asked.
"The woodcutter hasn't been here today," she replied, "and I fear something may be wrong. If anything has happened to him, you may learn of harsh economic reality, and possibly lose the closest thing you have to a paternal role model."
His mother paused. The little boy's heart raced, in anticipation of the task he was soon to be set in such an obviously-constructed scenario.
"I'm too frail and old to venture off into the woods," his mother started, "and so you must go instead to see what's become of the woodcutter. But you must promise to stick to the path, or the things that live in the wood may catch you and turn you into an allegory. They'll try and try to tempt you, but you must resist with all your might. And hurry, my boy; you must be back before nightfall, or I can't imagine what level of symbolism could ensue."
And so the door closed behind the little boy and he set off through the cottage gate, laden with a large sack full of his mother's trust, and the previous night's batch of preserve. His heart fluttering in his chest, he followed the path into the wood, not looking back for fear that he'd lose his nerve and run back to his mother. After a few minutes he risked a glance over his shoulder, in time to see the last of the cottage's brilliant white smile vanish in the thick mass of trees.
"I suppose, in a way, this path represents a story," he mused, and quickened his pace.
As the little boy walked, he'd see glimpses of faces, eyes, ears, from the corner of his eye – flashes of fur, tails and paws that, when he turned to look, scurried off into bright green glades, beams of dappled sunlight swirling thick with suggestive pollen. He remembered his mother's warning, and resisted as best he could the urge to abandon the path and explore the woods.
Just as he was about to give in to the urge to wander from the path, he saw a dot of bright red, too far ahead to properly make out. He hoped that it was the woodcutter, and that he wasn't walking away from the boy. Sure enough, as he kept walking, the dot grew larger, and the little boy began to make out the shape of a person. As he got closer, he realised it was a girl, and closer still, a girl in a bright red dress, spinning on the spot, giggling.
"That's a very red dress," said the little boy.
"Do you like it? I got it on account of my impending womanhood," her bright red hair falling over bare shoulders as she swayed dizzily in the path, red shoes in hand.
She put her hand on the little boy's shoulder to steady herself as she put her shoes back on, and the little boy blushed; the girl was only the third person he'd ever met, and he worried that she was just the sort of person his mother had warned him about.
"So what brings you to be walking through this big forest?" asked the girl.
"I'm following the path to the woodcutter's house – my mother is worried about him because he wasn't at our cottage this morning. So I'm taking our jam to the market, and calling on the woodcutter on the way," the boy explained.
"How exciting! I'll come with you," said the girl, taking hold of the little boy's hand as she did so, and setting off down the path a little quicker than he'd have liked to have walked.
And so they walked, and they talked, the sun climbing ever-higher into the sky.
And that, annoyingly, is as far as I managed to get. I've got an ending in mind, and I'll be posting the finished version up with the publishing tool (when it's been finished!)
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