There’s a reason I always say things aren't fair. Life happens to you when you’re eleven. How is it fair when your world’s turned upside down and you’re powerless to do anything about it?
That’s what happened to me - I’m Naomi.
I’m stuck here all alone with my Mom’s weird friend Helen. She’s nice and everything, but she’s not like my Mom and Dad. I miss them so much.
Before I came here, my Dad used to tell me stories every night. There was always a princess named Naomi, and there was always a happy ending. I’m old enough to know that there’s not always a happy ending, but I never told my Dad.
Mom taught me about the stars and constellations. We would just sit on the porch for hours while she moved her telescope across the night sky, gently holding me and telling me about the wonders of the universe while I gazed through the eyepiece.
It’s not fair that I have to be here. Helen says I can’t play in the woods today. I really don’t like her very much.
I can see the forest through the frosty windows. It looks so fresh and clean with it’s white blanket of snow. I imagine myself running until my breath leaves me in heavy clouds of steam and I collapse.
“Please!” I say as I stomp my foot.
“You can’t go out today. Why don‘t you explore the house? You haven't been in the attic yet.”
“That’s great. Your idea is to play in a dull old attic. I hate it here!” Crying, I throw myself down on the couch.
Ever since I was left here, my feelings have been like a rollercoaster. Whenever I get even a little happy, I crash back down. Mostly I’m just angry. I take it out on Helen. I take it out on myself.
“It’s that or a nap young lady. I don’t like it when people talk to me that way.”
“Fine,” I yell as I storm out of the room and run, my feet pounding flat, up the stairs. The tears keep coming as I collapse on the top landing. I don’t sleep very well anymore and I can’t stop myself from crying. After awhile, I raise my head.
creak. Something living inside the walls creaks too. Or is it a croak? I try not to think about it.
I climb to the attic. It’s a long room with windows at either end. The cold light filters through the dust. Tarps cover furniture. Chests and boxes are scattered about. How am I supposed to have fun in a storage room?
As I look around, I spot an old chest covered in leather. The lid groans as I lift it. A large walnut box, engraved with an image of a bear, catches my attention. When I open it, I find a tea set depicting colorful bears eating from honey jars, fishing in streams, and having picnics. Why would someone want to draw a bear having a picnic? Bears rip the meat off living animals and eat them while they die.
A wooden box, with a brass latch, is built into the lid. I open it and find a book inside, sealed in a plastic bag. On the cover, two young men with hairy legs and hooves are leaning against trees that arch over two children riding a lion. “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe,” I say aloud. I make a nest out of some blankets and carefully open the cover. The words melt the world away…As Lucy is having tea with Tumnus, my eyelids begin to droop…
* * *
She turns, seeking the concealing safety of the woods. In her path, a black bear, seedling in its jaws. It sways back and forth and, as it eyes Naomi, puts the tree on the fire. Smoke rises.
Naomi’s feet are glued to the ground. She tries to will her legs to move. Paralyzed. When will it charge, pull her apart? She is screaming without noise. Her lips move helplessly for a rescue that isn’t going to come. The bear in front; the cave behind.
Naomi and the bear watch each other for a few moments before the bear rears up on two legs.
“Shoo!” Naomi yells, her voice finally released, trying to make herself seem bigger than she is.
The bear simply stands there looking at her with a puzzled expression on its face. “Shoo yourself,” it says with a chuckle, “I live here.” Dropping on all fours it walks toward Naomi.
Shock and fear grip Naomi as she pulls her arms over her face.
“What are you freaking out about?” the bear says, ‘I don’t eat humans. Especially stringy little girls like you. There’s not enough meat there to make it worth my time.”
“You can talk!” Naomi gasps.
“So you’re smart and stringy. No need to run off. My name’s Furcad, what’s yours?”
Naomi, still fearful, gives Furcad her name.
“It’s nice to meet you Naomi. What brings you to Arcadia?” the bear asks as she sits on her rump.
“Your house here, is this Arcadia?” Naomi asks warily.
“No silly, this place his Arcadia. The forests, the meadows, the steams, the lakes, the mountains…everything. Arcadia stretches as far as anyone has gone.”
“That’s just great. How am I supposed to get home?” Naomi cries in desperation.
“I don’t know Naomi,” the bear says sadly, “I’ve got problems of my own.”
Naomi sits quietly for awhile. “I might as well help. I‘m not going to find my way home sitting here.”
Furcad stares at her with doleful eyes.
“Okay. Okay. You don’t have to tell me about your problems,” Naomi says, “Sorry I offered.”
“No,” the bear finally says, “I’m sorry. It’s hard to talk about. There hasn’t been much food here lately. The green lands are dying and the Dark Woods are growing. Three days ago, my parents went into the Dark Woods to try to find us something to eat. They haven’t come back. The smoke’s to help them find their way.”
The smoke rises and blinds Naomi.
* * *
“The Dark Woods,” Furcad whispers, “Those black trees only grow here.” The trunks are twisted and gnarled, tangling together, like they are all trying to pull each other away from the light.
Despite the dark all around, there is a glow in this clearing. A garden grows lively and green. There is a hut is in the distance that looks like a hill made of earth and branches, smoke puffing from the summit.
Naomi finds herself walking toward the hut. Furcad is following carefully.
Before they arrive, a woman walks through a round doorway in the den.
“Welcome. You are safe here for awhile. My name‘s Grezelda.” The woman’s long graying hair is pulled away from her face. Her simple blue dress is covered with the dirt of the garden.
“How did we get here?” Naomi asks, “We were just at Furcad’s house and then we were here.”
“Ahh. Arcadia is a strange place,” is all the old woman says.
Furcad speaks up, “We’re looking for my parents. They left me to hunt in the Dark Woods three days ago. Have you seen them?”
“No. No other bears have come this way. These woods are dangerous. There are dark forces here.”
Furcad hangs her head in sadness as she looks into the gloomy woods.
“Do not worry. Where this is hope and love, anything is possible,” Grezelda says, “If I’m to help you, though, I need to speak to Naomi alone.”
Naomi nods her agreement as Grezelda takes her by the hand and leads her into the hut. Inside the door, Naomi sees a hallway like a tunnel leading to a surprisingly large room. There is a boiling pot on a deep red fire.
“You are on a quest for Furcad’s parents. I didn’t want to alarm her, but I sense that they are in grave danger.”
“What can we do?”
“Come here,” Grezelda says as she walks toward the pot. When Naomi arrives, Grezelda quickly pulls some hairs from Naomi’s head and drops them in.
“Ouch! What are you doing?”
“Silence, you need to concentrate on the brew while the door is still open.”
Naomi walks over and looks into the cauldron that is bubbling slime, green and grimy. As Naomi stares, the surface turns oily and a dark image appears. There are two bears in a stone building with iron bars, a jail. The scene blurs and Naomi feels that she is flying above…higher…higher. She looks back to see the jail in a great clearing full of stone buildings. As her head swings forward she swoops over a river and returns to Grezelda’s hut. Naomi knows the way.
“You will have to lead her there,” Grezelda says. “There is great danger that you will lose your way on the journey. The danger, however, comes from within. You are Polaris, Naomi. Your mother taught you about the stars, didn’t she?”
“Yes, Polaris is the North Star. You can always find north if you can see it, but I’m not a star.”
“I know you’re not a star, but you are Polaris.”
“Why do you have to talk in riddles? Can’t you just tell me what to do?”
“I‘m sorry,” Grezelda says sadly, “No one can help you. If I try to guide you any more, this will become my dream. I‘ll leave you with this,” Grezelda says as she reaches out and touches the back of Naomi’s hand, leaving burning skin.
The room swirls black and white until it spins so fast it seems to stop moving. Colors appear out of the blurry image and a new scene comes into focus.
* * *
Naomi is on a wooden raft, floating down a river. Furcad is asleep beside her. The Dark Forest drifts by. The river is wide and running slow. She hears the dying scream of an animal in the distance. It is a scream of pain and rage. The branches and trees on the shore shake and rustle as the raft drifts by. The fear grips Naomi again and she sees a crystal like a huge diamond on the back of her hand. It is darkening. “What has that witch done to me?” Naomi yells.
As her anger mounts, the crystal turns red and then flashes like a bursting light bulb. Naomi is blinded. When she can see again, the river has changed.
Waves of water are running down the stream from above. The river around the little raft is tossing and turning like the inside of a washing machine.
“What happened?” Furcad yells over the rush of the water.
“I don’t know…I…I…I got mad.” The crystal on her hand is still glowing hot red, like a coal on a fire.
“Whatever happened, we’re in trouble,” Furcad says.
“The flood of water is crashing into massive boulders ahead. Trees, bobbing down the river before them, are being reduced to splinters on the rocks.
Naomi doesn’t have any way to steer the raft. The nearest shore is at least ten feet away. There is no escape. Naomi and Furcad are going to drown. Naomi begins to despair.
Without a word, Furcad backs up to the side of the raft furthest from the shore, plants her legs, and bounds across the raft. She leaps gracefully, lands partly in the water, and pulls herself onto dry land with her long claws.
At least she got free, Naomi thinks. I hope she finds her parents and they’re happy together again. As she thinks these thoughts the crystal turns from red to deep blue. The roar of the river ceases, but not in time to save the raft.
Furcad, Naomi sees, has not given up on her. She is bounding alongside the raft, with great strides of powerful legs, at top speed. Without slowing down, she pulls a young sapling from the soil with her powerful jaws and continues running. The sapling in her mouth crashes through the undergrowth as she struggles to overtake the raft.
With a final leap Furcad lands on a rock on the bank of the stream and extends the branch toward Naomi. Naomi grabs it as she passes and jumps from the raft just seconds before it lands on the boulders. The young bear pulls her from the dark waters.
“Thank you for saving me,” Naomi says after she catches her breath, “You were amazing back there. I'd hate to be a deer trying to get away from you.”
“Thanks,” Furcad says shyly, “I just knew I could save you. I need you, don’t I?”
“That’s what Grezelda said. She said I was Polaris and that I was your guide. She was just talking nonsense. Look what she did to me,” Naomi says as she extends her hand with the crystal toward Furcad.
“I saw it glowing red. It’s clear now. Tell me what happened on the raft.”
“I was scared because there were things in the woods and the crystal turned black. Then I got angry. The angrier I got the darker red the crystal became. All at once, it flashed and the river went wild. When you jumped off the raft, I was glad because you were going to be safe. The crystal became blue and the river slowed down.”
“Black for fear; Red for anger. What is blue?”
“Blue is love,” Naomi says, blushing.
Furcad is smiling. “Don’t you see, your emotions change things here. Try love again.”
Naomi shuts her eyes. In her mind she is back home with her Mom and Dad. He is holding her in his arms and smiling. When Naomi opens her eyes the crystal is deep blue and the dark clouds are opening to reveal a sunny sky through the trees.
As the feeling of her father’s arms fades, the crystal transforms to pale blue and then becomes clear. The grey skies that cover the Dark Woods consume the tiny blue patch of sky.
Suddenly a voice speaks in Naomi’s mind. “You are in my woods. I’m going to have to teach you a lesson.” The crystal on Naomi’s hand turns black. It isn’t her fear. It is a fear from outside being forced into her mind, like the mad screaming of a hundred tortured souls.
* * *
A metal door has bars over it, and a face peering through, smiling the smile of a boy burning ants with a magnifying glass.
“What have I caught here in my woods?" says the voice that just spoke in Naomi’s head. She feels him putting blackness in her heart.
“My…my…my name is Naomi. Please, I was just trying to help my friend.”
“I know all about you. The old bears are criminals, hunting in my woods. You and the little bear are going to need to be punished too.” Naomi glances over at them. They are not moving.
“What did we do?”
“You used magic in my woods. I felt it. Don’t try to lie to me.”
“It was me. Furcad is innocent.” Naomi says, moving to stand between this man and her friend.
“I know it was you, but I’m sure she’s guilty of something. The two old bears have already been convicted. They’re going to meet the axe-man shortly. You and your little friend will get a trial soon enough.”
“Why are you doing this? We meant no harm!” Naomi yells at him, her crystal still as dark as night.
The man just smiles that cold smile.
I’ll beat him. Naomi concentrates on the crystal, trying to change it to blue again. As she feels her love, for the briefest moment, the crystal swirls blue and black. In that instant, scenes flash before her:
A young boy, hiding in a cupboard, his parents being dragged out the front door. The face of a wolf, jaws dripping with blood, hunting for survivors. The same young boy wandering through the woods, furtively eating the things that crawl on the ground and slither under rocks. Hiding in the darkness, he measures each breath. A young man, hard and violent, his stone fortress covered with wolf skulls. Lost souls bow before him, worshiping him, begging for his protection. Stone houses grow all around his fortress like mushrooms in the night.
As the spell is broken, her crystal returns to black and Naomi’s eyes open wide. Her mouth is full of unspoken words.
“You will learn not to defy me! I am Kochab! I was thinking about letting you keep your little friend. Tell them all to despair.”
Naomi hears the bears rustle. Furcad speaks first, “We heard his words. There was nothing to be gained by speaking. Come over here. My parents know you’re my friend."
Naomi rushes to her friend. As she nears, a massive hairy arm reaches over her shoulder and pulls her in, it's claws touching her back lightly. A kind voice says, "Call me Mama Bear."
Naomi melts into the comforting warmth in her bosom and begins to sob uncontrollably. It is a cry of loss, a cry of fear, and a cry of gratitude for Mama bear's kindness. She feels like she cries for hours.
After awhile the crying slows and another voice, deep and full, speaks, "This is Papa Bear. What made Kochab so mad?"
"I...I...I tried to fight the fear that he was putting in my mind. I saw his parents being killed by wolves. He has been alone ever since. I saw his fear, anger, and revenge. He felt me in his mind. I've doomed you all,” Naomi says as she begins crying anew.
"Nonsense," Mama Bear says, "We all have two choices with Kochab. We either oppose him or join his nightmare."
"Grezelda said something like that. She told me that she couldn't tell me what to do or I would begin dreaming her dream. Am I dreaming?" Naomi asks.
"I can't answer that for you either," Mama Bear says, “What else did Grezelda tell you?"
"She said I was Polaris. It’s used as a guide. Who am I supposed to guide?"
Before anyone can answer, the door is thrown open and the gray light of dusk floods the room. It’s Kochab and tan leather-clad men with night black eyes. The fear has consumed them. The men enter the cell, weapons drawn. They emerge with Mama and Papa bear tied and hanging beneath logs, four men per bear.
“Do not fear, little one. It’s never fair but everyone dies,” Papa Bear says.
Kochab lashes a whip at Papa Bear. “I’ll shut you up soon enough, old man. Move out boys.”
The somber procession winds it’s way through the stone houses. A platform comes into view with a man holding a huge axe, arms crossed. A quiet crowd has gathered.
Naomi begins to panic. This is a dream. This is my dream, my nightmare. I’m Polaris. Who am I supposed to guide? I brought Furcad here and things have gotten worse. How do I end this? She looks at her crystal, deathly black.
Furcad helped her before. Use love! Naomi thinks of her parents and can only feel loss, fear, and anger. She tries to think of Furcad and her parents, safe in their cave, but cannot. She tries, through sheer strength of will, to turn her crystal blue. It doesn’t even flicker.
She wants to kill him with her bare hands. Her crystal throbs black and red.
“That’s it Naomi,” Kochab says with excitement and encouragement in his voice, “You can join me. No one will ever hurt us again. Let the anger through. Kill those old bears before they kill you.”
Kochab’s hate breaks her spell of anger. She doesn’t fear these bears like he does, she loves them. She won’t let her anger destroy them.
“You don’t rule everything in these woods,” Naomi says defiantly, “Grezelda doesn’t fear you.”
“That crazy old woman means nothing! I could destroy her any time. She thinks that love is all powerful. Ha! You and I know that love just rips you apart and leaves you alone. Anger makes you strong.”
Kochab quickens the pace toward the executioner’s platform. The men climb the stairs and Mama bear is dropped in position below the axe.
Who do I guide? Naomi knows the answer, has always known the answer.
No, not him. I can’t guide him. He’s too ugly.
She finally accepts it. She needs to release Kochab from his fear. She needs to help the little boy, lost in the woods.
Naomi thinks about how he feels, all alone in the world. Scared. She accepts his fear and anger as her own. She reaches out to Kochab’s mind.
What are you doing? You can’t defeat me.
“I don’t want to defeat you. I understand your pain. It’s okay to be afraid, but you don’t have to be.”
I don’t fear anything. I am the master here.
“You are a master of fear. Your fear has left you alone. So alone. You’ve always been alone. I love you.”
What are you doing? You need me. I keep you safe.
“No. You have kept me away from love. It’s time for you to go. I don’t need you anymore. You need to stop this. I love you.”
Stop saying that! I don’t need to be loved. I need to be feared.
“It’s okay, let me show you the way.”
With her mind she reaches out into the fear. She sees it as an inky darkness within herself. It is hard and encrusted with rage. She breaks through with all of the love in her heart and it cracks open.
Her crystal burns blue and she rises, the forest falling away below her and bathed in her light. Grezelda’s circle grows until it turns the Dark Woods, and all of Arcadia, as green as spring. The Earth sinks into the distance and Naomi takes her rightful place, in the North, beaming out her message of love and hope for all to see.
* * *
I remember my mother saying, “Look to the north. You will see Polaris, the North Star. Do you see it, just there?” she asks as she points.
“That star is used to guide sailors, anyone who is lost can find north with that star. You are my north star, Naomi. I always know my way when I look at you.”
Tears run down my face, but it’s okay.
I love you Mom. I love you Dad. Goodbye.
I look to the north, toward the little dipper, Ursa Minor. The bowl of the dipper has four stars. Kochab is there, glowing red. Furcad and her parents are there too. Mom, Dad, and I make up the handle. I claim these stars as my own.
© 2010 Jeffrey J. Carey. All rights reserved.