A Tale by A.L. Maher
I was just a child. A small and insignificant little spec wandering through the mist. Lost and alone clutching my blanket in one hand and teddy in the other.
The shapes loomed into view. They were monsters that called out my name through the white murk as I took each hesitant step forward. They promised me sanctuary. Fame. Fortune. They called my name again and again. Rising and falling. Smashing into the earth each time I turned my back. These giant worms lied. I knew they could do me no favours. They would swallow me whole and spit out my bones.
Then there was the grinder man. I saw him a few times as I wandered through the white wilderness. He would step towards me, shouting orders. How I must do this or that would happen. Behind him marched a legion of faceless children. They all looked the same marching in identical steps. They were like me once, of that I was sure. I would hide behind my teddy whenever I saw the grinder man. Hide and stay still, ’till he went away. I did not like him at all.
One day, I heard other children. They were laughing and playing. I followed the sounds which echoed through the mist. The shapes tried to stop me. The grinder man reached out his long and skinny arms to grab me. But I ran as fast as my legs would run towards the sound and I laughed at the thought of the happiness I would find.
I saw a classroom. A demountable square with steps leading up to the door. The walls were all painted different colours. Reds. Blues. Greens. And there were paintings. A multitude of papers all with glorious paintings, pegged on a line to dry.
And the children were all dressed in onesies. A Lion. A Monster. A Wolf, and a Spider. A Cowgirl danced between them all as she laughed and frolicked. They all helped each other paint.
I turned my back on the fog and stepped into the classroom. The children all turned to me and waved me on. The Spider painted nightmares. I painted some of my own. He helped paint my horrific masterpiece.
For those few moments we painted together and laughed and played. All while the fog outside raged with jealous hatred of what we were doing.
Then he left. He told me that he had finished with his paints and that was that.
The wise owl settled next to me and raised a wing. “Live long, and prosper,” she said.
She looked at my paintings and prompted me to keep going. The Lion stood next to her. He said my nightmares were powerful and that he wanted more. The Wolf said he was like me and that he had learned lots from this classroom. He showed me his work. It was wonderful.
“He can’t get you here,” said the Lion looking at the grinder man, raging in the mist outside. “You’re safe here.”
The Lion gave me a smile.
“Paint,” he said. “Paint what you feel, and we will help you.”
My nightmares became darker. My monsters became full. The children watched and cheered me on. The Wolf. The Dog. The Cat and The Parrot all helped me. Each painting grew more detailed and soon I found myself helping others. We hung them all on the line and we played and we laughed.
Then. One day our teacher left. He followed the path the Spider had trodden and was gone from our space.
Others stepped in, and they tried but they could not fill his shoes. Arguments started.
The Cowgirl was being pushed. I should have stepped in. I should have said ‘enough’ but I was too wrapped up in my paintings to notice. And when I did… Well, it was too late. I stood back. What was happening to our classroom?
The Wolf was next. He stood at the door one day and then stepped out. The fog enveloped around him and he ventured out to become a memory.
The Lion followed. One by one my friends stepped into the mist. The Cowgirl cried. She stood on the steps, calling their names into the fog. Then she was pushed. I pretended that everything was going to be ok. I was too timid to shout. She fell into the mist and the door slammed shut. She banged and shouted but her voice had been taken. Her silent screams had no meaning to the classroom.
I was alone in a crowded room full of children, all playing and painting together. But they were not my friends. The owl was with me. Watching. I could see the silhouette of the Cowgirl in the fog. I opened the door, but the entrance remained an impasse to the girl with the hat.
I wanted to follow her. Back into the mist where the shapes could get me. Back to the reach of the grinder man and his faceless hordes, ready to shred my paintings, and my soul.
So I stood at the doorway. I wished I was brave like the others. I watched my friends become shrouded in the mist and strike out a new path. I wished I had the courage to follow.
I turned to the owl.
“Should I follow?” I held my teddy, “Am I ready to face the grinder man?”
A.L. Maher dreams about being a writer. When he isn’t putting words on paper, suffering from bad spelling, or having delusions of grandeur, he likes to nerd out with “all the good ones” be it music, movies or books. He writes from his desk in Australia, that is, when he isn’t dodging animals actively trying to kill everything and everyone.