“I hope you’re careful out there, Sholto,” the old butcher said, handing the boy scraps from the shop. “There’s talk of the Elder Folk wandering around lately and you live on the forest’s edge.” Sholto nodded, only half hearing the butcher’s words. He didn’t concern himself with rumours of creatures from the Old World as the butcher did. His concern for his sister was much more real to him.Lisez l’histoire de Erin Selleck-Chocolate
This story is a mixture of my own love for fantasy, traditional storytelling and a response to the condition of the many First Nations children and families who suffer from a violent family member or peer. These kinds of stories are far too common in our communities and they remind me of how lucky I am to have been brought up in a safe household. I also see this story as my own exploration of understanding where I come from and how to move forward with all of this history that is behind me.
I just recently noted a quote from a Lee Maracle text that said, “in our own cultural sensibility there is no choice…We must say goodbye” (Goodbye, Snauq). I believe this to be tragically true for First Nations people; many of their children have been taken from their families by social services (which in some cases may not be any better) because their parents are deemed unfit to care for them. Yet even if they stayed in a violent household it would equally tragic. These children have no choice. The residential school survivors had no choice. First Nations people had no choice but to encourage their children to practice the white, western way lest they completely die out. Just as so many First Nations children have had to grow up saying goodbye, the characters in my story are forced to find the hope in that goodbye.
I chose this story because it was a beginning of a grander story that I have since started. These stories centre around these two characters and their world. But this is one of the few that I have written down; most of them I have committed to memory and only share orally – as per tradition. So I offer this story as my own beginning to something much larger to come, just as First Nations people are beginning to take the power that has been granted to them by their ancestors and are beginning to make a positive change in this post-colonial culture.
To meet the requirements of this competition I have shortened this story considerably. I didn’t want to offer a segment of the story as I felt that each part was essential. I tried to keep the feel of the story as true as I could.
“I hope you’re careful out there, Sholto,” the old butcher said, handing the boy scraps from the shop. “There’s talk of the Elder Folk wandering around lately and you live on the forest’s edge.”
Sholto nodded, only half hearing the butcher’s words. He didn’t concern himself with rumours of creatures from the Old World as the butcher did. His concern for his sister was much more prominent and real to him.
“You look distracted Sholto; is anything the matter?”
The butcher had seen Sholto grow beyond his years and commonly saw the look of a man on the twelve-year-old boy, but now his expression reminded him how young Sholto was.
“Camilla is still having those dreams. She insists they were too real to be dreams. She wakes shaking and sometimes doesn’t know if she’s dreaming or not. She says she senses things and is afraid to move in case they sense her and see her. Then she stays up all night, like last night. She couldn’t sleep until late this morning.”
The old man wondered if the Elder Folk were connected to Camilla but did mention it. This was the first time the boy had opened up. The butcher had heard of people with waking dreams, or visions – but that had been long ago when people still believed in the magic.
The butcher’s first thought was, he should see Lady Mathalga. But Sholto was of the same mind as many people in the town and didn’t like her. So he said, “Well, I don’t know about dreams but I know there are herbs that help with sleeping. If you like, I can pick up some from the doctor. You can pick them up later.”
Sholto agreed. He would bring pick spices from the forest in payment. At the mention of the forest, the butcher cautioned him about the Elder Folk.
“We still live well inside the grazing fields, we’ll be all right with the animals to let us know when something’s coming.”
“Take care; there are still some beasts that the animals do not sense. Take heed.”
There was probably no one in town more careful than Sholto; he had run from a violent father. Many children had those nowadays; Sholto was the one of the few with the strength to run away.
The butcher sighed and went inside. He sighed for the state of things that had left children like Sholto and his sister to fend for themselves on the streets, and wondered how things could have become so bad. He wondered that a boy already carried the hardships of a man; he wondered how a once-happy town had been quickly swallowed by sorrow, and how the magic that had inspired his childhood had disappeared among people who had once told those stories as tradition.
He wished he could do more for the boy. He wished that magic was still alive for boys like him. He desperately wished that there was more hope in his fellow townspeople.
The old man looked into the mirror. His expression was similar to Sholto’s, shaped by sorrow, fear and pain. Hopelessness blanked his eyes and dimmed their color. The creases in his face were as many and long as his wishes.
No one ever saw Lady Mathalga arrive in town. She just appeared. She was always the same: a haggard, decrepit old woman with tattered black robes and shawls. Some people thought she was a ghost – someone who should be dead and everyone would rather forget about. After an extended absence you’d begin to hope she was finally gone. Then she would reappear as if she’d never left. No one could remember her age, or when her visits began.
Though her mystifying ways made her unwelcome, her tales of the Old World made her more so. Everyone had heard of the Old World, if only that it didn’t exist. She told the tales and its history to the only people who would listen: the children. They spent afternoons hearing stories of heroes and wizards and magical things. Their imaginations fed, they created new heroes and deadly enemies for their own playtime adventures.
Sholto was never satisfied with Lady Mathalga’s stories. Perhaps it was that he was a very practical boy who had never had time to play. Perhaps he simply couldn’t believe magic had existed in a world he saw as void of good. Or perhaps he didn’t like thinking about his mother, a reason he might’ve recognized if he’d thought about it; she used to tell him those kinds of stories regularly.
“Lady Mathalga told such a sad story today, Sholto,” Camilla said after greeting him. “There was a girl who turned into a banshee. There used to be women whose sadness drove them to spread their sorrow to the rest of the world with their screams.”
“They sound terrible.”
“It was so sad. The woman was forced to marry a terrible man when she was in love with someone else. He treated her so badly and then had the other man killed once he learned that she loved him. Then she lost all hope and was taken over by sorrow.” Camilla chewed slowly, her expression reflecting the sadness of it.
Sholto secretly hated Mathalga for telling that story. He could tell from Camilla’s look that she was thinking of their mother.
“Mother never told such sad stories,” she said.
“Mother didn’t like sad stories.” Sholto tried to distract her from memories of their mother’s sadness. “The story about the horse boy, wasn’t that your favourite?”
It did the trick: Camilla’s face lit up. “Yeah! The one she got your name from! Can you tell it to me Sholto? Please?”
He would tell her the story to make her happy, though it did the opposite for Sholto. Memories of his mother often did. But Camilla’s cheerfulness put him at ease as their mother had never been able to by herself. The stories she’d told were the only comfort she was able to give Sholto. She would tell stories to quiet his fear and help him sleep after his father had gone on one of his drunken tirades. It was the only time she had looked happy and hopeful. Now Sholto felt more at home and content providing for Camila than he ever had in his father’s house.
Sholto didn’t know whether it was the sound of the wind, the raven that cawed in the banisters, or his sister’s crying that woke him in the middle of the night.
He crawled to her and lay beside her. He tried to soothe her, and finally, she told him. “I-it was mother. She t-turned into a banshee, Sholto! After she ran away from f-father! She heard a banshee’s scream. I saw her, Sholto!”
She cried out in despair. Sholto held her, trying to secure the fragile hope in her heart. “It was just a dream, Camilla. You heard a story about banshees today, and we were talking about mother; it was just a dream.”
“No,” she had seen many other women like her mother fall into despair every day. She saw the fear and pain people suffered in the eyes and faces of her town and she saw it in Sholto. She knew his hope had long since gone, he only hoped for her. It had always been that way since their mother left.
“It wasn’t a dream; she didn’t have you or anybody to look after her. Father destroyed her. She didn’t have anybody. I hate this town, Sholto.”
Sholto felt his world slowly crumbling. He almost sensed something else in the barn with them, like the shadows Camilla had felt watching them. If he moved, they would see his sister falling apart, see his strength waning.
After what felt like ages, his sister finally exhausted her crying. The raven cawed one last time, sending an image of Lady Mathalga into his mind. His anger flared. If she hadn’t told Camilla that story; or insisted that magic was real, none of this would have happened. Sholto would go to Mathalga. He would tell her to keep her fantasies to herself.
Lady Mathalga had always been curious about Camilla’s brother. She had never seen any boy so conflicted. He looked like a man driven by something but she felt that without it, he would just be a boy.
Her beady eyes fell on him but he did not flinch as many a greater man had done before.
“Why do you tell stories about the Old World?” he began, his tone calm, but stern.
“Because they need to be told, for people like your sister.”
“Camila does not need your stories; you have brought nothing but harm to her.”
“Shows how little you know of her then.”
“I know more than you,” his voice daring her to challenge him. “You delude her with your stories, making her believe they’re real.”
“She believes because she wants to.”
“Magic does not exist! If it did, it doesn’t anymore! Not for Camilla or this town, and you bring false hope to the children who listen to you!” Mathalga knew he needed to say this, and be contradicted.
“Exist?! Who are you, who knows nothing of life beyond this town, to say that magic doesn’t exist! It exists, my boy; you simply refuse to see it.” She would be brutal if need be, but he needed strength to do what was necessary for Camilla.
“I see what’s there, and what’s not; magic isn’t here and can do nothing for my sister.”
“She has already immersed herself in it without even knowing. You cannot believe her visions are just dreams? If you don’t accept that, then Camilla will be the one to pay.”
“She is already paying for it! She believes the terrible things she sees are real! Why would she want to see that?! She would not see if you hadn’t encouraged her to believe. She sees more terrible things at night than during the day!”
“She needs to learn to control those visions and accept them. If she stays here that will never happen.”
“They need to go away!”
“They will not, just as sorrow and unhappiness will not leave here if people do not decide to move forward. You must change, Sholto. You found the strength to leave your father, but you need more still if you don’t want your sister to fall as your mother fell.”
Sholto’s temper broke at the mention of his mother: he was still just a boy after all. “What do you know?! You know nothing about our mother, you know nothing but stories! Stories can’t come true! They don’t save people! They didn’t save our mother! They only gave her false hope!”
“And is Camilla’s hope false? The happiness you protect so painstakingly – that drives everything that you do. Is it false?”
“Mother was driven mad!”
“By your father, not by hope. He and this town drove her down. Would you have that for Camilla? Would you lead her into a life that destroys her as it did your mother, as it destroys you?”
Sholto shook. He couldn’t speak or think. He internally denied Mathalga’s words. Mathalga still sat on her bench as if telling a story. Her gaze was cold as stone, but Sholto refused to quail, though her words pierced him. “Do not expect the world to change for you, because it won’t.”
Sholto’s day passed in a haze. His anger bubbled in his gut. He was restless.
“I was thinking, Camilla, that we might go for a picnic in the forest tomorrow. Just to get away for a while, we still need to get the spices I promised the butcher.”
The first hint of a smile graced Camilla’s face – she loved the forest. “I would like that.”
Sholto tried to relax as Camilla ran ahead, her hair shining in the sun leaking through the trees. He feared he could not protect her. With every vision that plagued her dreams, her hope was eroding.
But what could he do?
A raven cawed high in the branches of a tree, making him glance up. Seeing nothing, he kept walking.
What could he do to protect her? For the first time, Sholto wished there was someone he could go to, someone to take care of them, someone like –
Memories of his mother flooded in: every time he had felt safe and comforted, when she told him the stories, every time she’d shielded him from his rampaging father – he remembered all.
He suddenly was afraid. Camilla might see him. He could feel himself breaking. He wanted to cry, curl up and wait for someone to make everything okay. But he knew they were alone. There was nothing he could do about it.
He heard the raven a little further off and followed the sound. He made sure not to go far; he would still hear Camilla if she called. The raven gave him something to follow; he didn’t know which way to turn anymore.
Suddenly, the woods were gone. He stood at the edge of a small clearing. He looked up at the treetops swaying in the wind – the raven nowhere in sight.
The movement of a dark silhouette caught Sholto’s attention. He turned to face the last thing he expected to see.
It was a man. Or, the torso and face of a man, but what stared back at him was very much not human.
A deep, sleek mahogany coat gleamed in the sunlight. Powerful muscles rippled beneath the skin. His hooves shifted as the centaur turned to face the small boy, whose eyes widened like a baby’s in innocent wonder.
There was only silence between them as the pale, scrawny boy stared at the tall dark-skinned horse-man. Behind locks of dark hair, Sholto saw the deep grey eyes of the centaur; and in them, reflections not of trees but clouds and stars. He felt something stir in his chest and his heart thumped against his ribs.
Sholto had never seen anything so beautiful, so powerful. He sensed the ground shuddering beneath the centaur’s steps, as if the very earth was as captivated by his movement as Sholto. He could only stand in awe, even after the centaur left. A sparkle had come into Sholto’s blue eyes, and it never left after the encounter. As the reflection of skies had stretched on in the deep grey eyes, the possibilities and newfound aspiration stretched to the very stars themselves.