Hester's Adventure [Updated 4th October]
Hester is somewhere between seven and twelve years old. She does not know. Her parents do not remember. Her caretaker does not care.
She is human; disappointing as that is to her. She sometimes thinks that if she were another creature; even a lowly mutant with a disfigured and unlovable face, life would somehow be greatly improved. She likes the poetic melancholy that she thinks would come with being a vampire; and imagines she would be able to overcome the revulsion of blood-drinking. Since she cannot even overcome her revulsion of carrots this is extremely unlikely.
She lives in a little, grey stone, semi-detached house, next door to another identical house, and another, and another. Only hers is occupied.
Hester, when she is not too bored to do anything other than complain, likes to carve shapes into the floorboards and draw in the dust on the window sill. She also likes to take short trips into the woods, to find flowers or frolic accordingly, but she uses this joy sparingly; lest it become as boring as everything else.
One day while taking her stroll, her basket filled with flowers, interesting twigs and pebbles, Hester looked up and realised, with a small thrill, that she was lost. An ominous, rather malevolent and somewhat sentient tree was in front of her. While considering what to do, Hester was astonished to hear a strange, not wholly pleasant, voice drifting through the trees, from no particular direction. It seemed absurd to Hester that there should be a potentially interesting person so near home about whom she had no mere inkling of their existence. Steeling herself for the likely disappointment, Hester set off in search of the source of the song, dimly aware that whatever way she took, she would undoubtedly find its owner.
After some time...
Peering through the trees, Hester spied a dim, greenish glow and perceived the figure of a witch hunched over the bubbling cauldron, throwing in handfuls of strange and unspeakable ingredients. Hester, her heart pounding, advanced closer. The witch looked up and saw her. Slowly she raised a thin, bony finger and beckoned Hester closer. The little girl, thrilled and utterly unperturbed despite of the usual fate of small children encountering witches, beamed and bounded forward. Seeing this, the witch seemed to frown. "Child, do you know what I am?" She asked. Hester nodded eagerly. The witch looked at her for a few moments more before coming to her decision. "Well, if you would be so kind as to aid me, I may be able to do you some favour in return. Go inside," she gestured to her little house, "where you shall a mop, and a stain that needs scrubbing. You have one hour." With that she turned back to her cauldron, and spoke no more.
Hester scrubbed and scrubbed and mopped, until the floor was gleaming. The witch had some rather curious items in her home, but Hester refused to let herself become distracted. Soon the stain was gone and Hester stood before the witch and asked for her reward.
Hester leant against the mop, exhausted and aching all over. She was finally finished. Anxiously she went to find the witch and gain her prize.
The witch looked at her and pressed something into her hand. Hester looked down and saw a bright plastic hairclip, in the shape of a cat. She frowned.
"What's this?" She asked.
"It's your reward, dear girl. Clip it on now, and you shall see. It will take somewhere new; somewhere I think you will like, though for how long I do wonder..."
Hester swiftly clipped the cat into her hair. Something sparkling swirled around her."And when you want to come back-" The witch began, but the girl had already vanished. She shrugged, and went inside to her newly cleaned floor.
The Adventure begins...
Hester could not quite believe her eyes. She rubbed them, and felt her skin come in contact with the fluffy collar of the cloak she was now wearing. She looked down at herself. The colour was a little dull, but Hester could live with it. She was no longer standing in the witch's cottage, but in a sloping field of tall grass. Hester almost thought her little, excitement-starved heart would give in there and then, or that the scene would fade and she would find herself lying on the scrubbed floorboards of the witch's home with her cackling filling her ears. She pinched her arm hard. It hurt. Hester let out a small squeal of joy, throwing her arms in the air, before she realised she was not alone. Looking down to the foot of the hill, where a wood seemed to start, she spotted a dark shape, a figure. They seemed to be facing her, but she couldn't be sure. Still riding high on the cloud of new experiences so long sought for, Hester decided to go down and say hello.
Bounding through the grass Hester almost tripped over her own feet in their unfamiliar boots. The figure seemed to raise a hand and waved. She saw now they were dressed in garments almost uniformly brown. It seemed to be a young man in his mid twenties; though Hester was no good judge of age.
"Hello!" She called, bouncing steadily to a halt in front of the man. When she stopped and looked up she froze. On his head were a pair of soft, brown animal ears. As she looked they twitched slightly. They were real. The man's face was marked with scars; though most were old ones. He blinked and looked oddly at the child in front of him.
"Hello." He answered, somewhat shyly.
"My name's Hester. It's very nice to meet you." Hester said enthusiastically.
"Well it's nice to meet you too Hester. I'm called Hyde." He extended a hand; like Hester's father did when he encountered someone he knew, so she grasped it and shook it as she had seen him do. She felt something like hair or fur on Hyde's palm.
"So, where did you spring from? I don't see many people round here, 'specially not little girls in fancy clothes. I suppose you must be lost?" Hyde asked, frowning slightly.
Hester shook her head. "Oh no, I'm not lost. I'm exploring; or adventuring, I've not quite decided yet. I only just got here."
"Well, in that case, I suppose you'll be wanting somewhere to stay, won't you?" Hyde mumbled, scratching the back of his head and looking thoughtful. "You could stay at my house if you'd like. It's not much I'm afraid, but it's warm and it keeps the rain and the wind out."
Hester said that sounded wonderful. As they walked through the trees, Hester kept her eye on the furry tail which poked out from underneath Hyde's cloak and swayed to and fro as he walked. She was really starting to enjoy this adventure.
Hyde's house was much as he had said. It was built somewhat lopsidedly of dark wood, tinged green with moss and seemed dismally small, even from the outside. Hyde shrugged, scratching one of his ears, "It's not much, but I had to build it myself. I've been working on it for the last couple of years though." The door opened after a brief tussle, and a small kick, and Hester got a strong whiff of mildew and a few other scents she did not care to consider too closely. Hyde gestured to the nicest of the roughly crafted chairs. "You can sit there...if you want."
Hester would rather have stood, but she sat just to be polite. There was a pot bubbling in the middle of the room with smells almost pleasant wafting out of it. Hyde went to stir it.
"How did you get those ears? And the tail?" Hester asked. Hyde looked up. His hand drifted up to his ears and pulled gently at them.
"Well," he said after a moment of hesitation, during which Hester was starting to regret asking, "if you want to, you can hear the story?"
Hester's small, pink, concealed ears perked up.
After Hyde finished his tale they ate. The stew was coarse and not especially good, rather bland and the meat was chewy. Hester ate about half and then left it.
"So, where are you going to go? You know which direction?"
Hester shook her head. "I need a map."
"That's not the least of the things you need. Those clothes won't last you long. Mark my words, they'll be black with grime in a day." Hyde chuckled. "I've got some things I could lend you; some things I could stitch up if you'd like. I'm handy with a needle and thread these days."
Hester looked at Hyde distastefully, She liked her new clothes, but she could see what a problem they would be. She agreed. Hyde smiled. "I'll see what i can do for tomorrow then."
The next day…
Hester gave a little twirl, her new skirt, sewn together from layers of old shirts, billowed out. She grinned, liking it more than she had when she had woken up, after an uncomfortable night’s sleep, and seen it in Hyde’s hands.
“What do you think?” Hyde asked gingerly, sucking on his pricked fingertips. He had been rushing, eager to finish before morning came.
“I like it.” Hester announced, looking down at the dress and missing Hyde’s expression. He suppressed a smile, and his face and neck went a shade of crimson of a most painful intensity. Hester remembered her manners, as if her caretaker were at her shoulder whispering in her hollow sepulchral voice to remind her.
“Thank you very much. I wonder if there is anything I can do to repay your geneross-, generosee…Is there anything I can do?” She smiled and stood with her hands pressed behind her back, watching Hyde’s ears as they twitched.
The unfortunate man, unused to hearing kind words, was rather flustered and had more trouble than Hester getting words out.
“T-there is one thing…” He mumbled, as if embarrassed. He got up and went to a small chest, opened it, and delved about inside for several minutes. Hester watched his tail; still jealous despite the story she had heard.
A letter was handed to her, tied together with a thin, tired piece of ribbon. Hester could just about read what was written on the front, in writing which reminded her of her own years ago. Her caretaker, who also acted as governess, would surely give the ruler to the writer if she saw such a scrawl. Hester could make out the name ‘Lilly’.
“Since you’re going travelling, I thought you might be going in the direction of my old home…and if it’s not too much for me to ask, could you deliver that for me.” He looked bashful and anxious. His tail was moving in a most nervous manner. Hester nodded.
“Where do I go?”
Hyde beamed with happiness and ushered Hester to the door. “I’ll show you back to the road, the one that’ll take you in the right direction.”
They walked through the wood, and Hyde explained the directions to her.
“It’ll take a while, a couple of weeks for sure, and I suspect you’ll be curious to explore. I’m in no rush, since I’ve waited this long. Just don’t lose the letter.”
Hester promised she wouldn’t.
“Right, so when we get to the road, you just head straight on. You’ll pass through a little town before long, but you don’t need to stop there, unless for food. You go on until you get to a bigger town, the market town, and you can stop there for the night. You can get a map, and it might be an idea for you to get a guide as well…”
He went on in this vein for most of the journey, handing out numerous helpful tips which Hester was sure to forget. “…don’t trust anyone with a beard longer than this. Chances are he’s a wizard. And don’t eat anything that looks like it has a face; it’s bound to be cursed.”
Hester couldn’t wait to meet wizards and smiling food.
“Keep your eyes on your bag at all times. Town folk are light fingered. Don’t talk to strangers, and beware of windows…”
“Because folk are always throwing stuff out of them. Stuff you don’t want to land on you. Oh, and keep out of the middle of the street. A cart won’t stop for anything less than a lord. They have bets as to who can run over the most children…”
“How do you know?”
Hyde shrugged. “It’s what people say."
Finally they reached the road.
“Well, this is where I leave you. Good luck miss.” Hyde said, looking up and down the road nervously.
Hester didn’t quite want to leave him.
“You could come with me?” She asked.
“No, no, no.” Hyde shook his head. “Not while I’ve got these. I don’t want to be presenting a target for any young swordsman to swing at. No, you’ll get on fine without me. I’m sure of it.” He smiled warmly down at Hester. “You can always come back here. On your way home? Just be careful what night you pick…”
Hester didn’t want to go home, but she wouldn’t mind coming back to Hyde’s wood. “It was nice to meet you. Thank you for the dress.”
Hyde blushed and picked at his ears. And that was goodbye.
When Hester looked back, not many minutes later, there was no sign of him in the trees.
End of Part 1