The colossal trees, with trunks nearly as thick as a house, reached their bulky limbs up towards the heavens. The canopy far above blocked out the sky, making the light dim. Ferns and grass as tall as a human, and sapling trees already looming high above, and bushes of all kinds, filled the space between the giant trees. Squirrels and rabbits and wood mice, and the occasional deer, flitted through the undergrowth. The houses on either side of the narrow, pebbled path were spaced far apart, due to the giant trees and the abundance of vegetation. For the town was submerged in a mighty forest.
Bonita skipped merrily along the path. Soon, she arrived at her school. She went into her first classroom of the day. Cephas was already there. She plopped herself down on the seat next to him.
“Hi, lovely.” His deep blue eyes sparkled as he looked at her.
“Oh, shut up. I’m not your lovely.” Bonita pushed him away. But a blush bloomed on her cheeks.
The teacher walked into the classroom. “Today, we will be learning about a type of wildfire called the Ring Fire.
“First, a spark ignites in a place especially choked by lush vegetation.
“Then it spreads into an enclosed ring.
“Then it slowly closes in on the plants inside the ring.
“When everything has been set alight and has burnt for a while, it dies down again. Most of the vegetation inside the circle would be killed, but the strongest survive. The purpose of these fires is to clear the land where it is overloaded with too much vegetation.”
Cephas nudged Bonita. “I would rescue you from a fire,” he whispered. She blushed again.
When school ended, they strolled back to Bonita’s house. They sat in the backyard to do homework. The backyard was a patch of cleared space where only short grass was allowed to grow. Surrounding it on all sides was lush undergrowth; ferns and grass as tall as Bonita and toadstools as high as her knees. On the patch was a bench and a table. Bonita loved to spend time here alone with Cephas. It was very calm and quiet.
After a while, they went back inside to prepare dinner. Then Eliza and Dale, Bonita’s parents, arrived home from work and the four of them sat down together to eat.
“How was your day?” Eliza asked amiably as they munched stir fried carrots and spring onion.
“It was great,” Bonita said eagerly. “In first period, we learnt about wildfires, and – ” She suddenly realised the cause of her enthusiasm and her face turned red.
“Why are you so excited about wildfires?” Eliza creased her brows.
Cephas nudged her and smirked. “Because I told her I’d rescue her if she got in one. And she thinks that’s romantic.”
“Oh, how did you read my mind?” Bonita pinched him in annoyance. Her cheeks bloomed crimson. Eliza and Dale chuckled.
They chatted together long after they finished their meal. The light had begun to fail when Eliza suddenly stood up.
“It’s getting dark,” she said, a hint of what was almost fear showing through her voice. “We shouldn’t have talked for so long. Cephas, you go home now.”
“Oh, ok.” Cephas stood up and retrieved his bag. He gave Bonita a hug. “See you tomorrow, Bonny. I’ll miss you.”
Bonita laughed. “It’s only one night.” Then Cephas opened the door and disappeared into the deepening gloom.
Bonita stood up to clear the table. But Eliza stopped her. “I’ll do it,” she said hurriedly. She pushed Bonita down the hallway to her bedroom. “You go to bed. Quickly.”
Bonita closed the door partway so she could pull on her pyjamas. Her voice revealed her bewilderment. “What’s the hurry?”
“You need to go to sleep before dark.” Eliza stepped in and pushed Bonita into bed. “Goodnight, Bonny. And also – don’t go outside at night. It’s dangerous.”
Bonita laughed uneasily. “You tell me that every night. I won’t forget anytime soon. But what’s up with you today? Why are you so restless and hurried and – ”
“Later. Goodnight.” Eliza stamped a kiss on Bonita’s forehead then sped out the door and closed it. Just in time. Her insides twisted for a moment and she shrank down near to the floor. She shuffled her paws and wagged her long ears. In front of her, towering over her, stood a deer. It was Dale.
He flicked his head to the side. They padded down the hallway silently and out into the backyard. Eliza spoke.
“We should have sent Cephas home earlier.”
“At least his house is only a few houses down. He’ll have gotten home before night fell completely.”
“I hope so.”
“But somehow, I don’t think tonight is the night for Bonny and him.” Eliza looked up at Dale anxiously. “Because they’re still acting pretty normal. Not irritable or grumpy, not extremely craving of each other’s company. What do you think?”
“Same; I don’t think it’s tonight either. They’re still acting normal. But they obviously love each other very much. Maybe tomorrow night.”
“Yeah.” Eliza shuffled her paws fretfully. “I hope it goes ok. Do you know what animal form Cephas morphs into at night?”
“How am I supposed to? You know we rarely visit other people’s houses at night. Especially the ones with children. Because for most children, the curse hasn’t been broken yet. And we don’t talk about the curse in the day.”
Eliza sighed. “I know, I know…”
“Let’s go back inside now. It’s no use worrying. What will happen, will happen.”
They padded back up to the house and let themselves in. They peered into Bonita’s room. Curled up on the bed, with only nose and ears visible from under the bedsheets, was a baby deer. “Sleep well, my darling,” Eliza breathed.
Bonita woke up in a bad mood. She had the intense urge to be with Cephas. She stomped to the kitchen and threw together a breakfast as quickly as she could. She was done and heading out of the door before her parents were even up. Eliza stuck her head out of her and Dale’s room.
“What, off so early?”
“Yeah, I want to be with Cephas.” Bonita slammed the door and stalked off.
She’d gotten all the way to school before she remembered that she didn’t have any classes with Cephas until last period today, after lunch. So she wouldn’t get to see him for four hours yet. She threw herself down with a humph at a random chair.
Finally, lunchtime arrived. The craving to be with Cephas was more irresistible than ever. She couldn’t remember what classroom Cephas had been in last, but the impulse within her carried her feet forward for her.
Then an inexplicable sense of impending danger began to clash with her urge to go to him. It grew stronger and stronger as she marched forward. She started to slow down. It made her stumble sometimes, and tried to force her feet back in the opposite direction. Why did she feel unsafe?
She rounded a corner in the empty hallway. A short way down stood Cephas. He, too, bore the irresistible urge to be with Bonita. But there was also a predator-like instinct that made him feel greedy and cruel, as if, somehow, Bonita was a prey that he wanted to chase down and tear apart. He felt extremely uneasy. And ashamed of himself. Now he was too scared to let himself keep walking towards her.
Bonita shuffled forward slowly. She stretched up and tentatively put her arms around his neck. She swallowed down the uneasy feelings of being unsafe. “Cephas?”
Slowly and hesitantly, he raised his eyes to hers. His hands found her waist. They gazed at each other for a few moments. The heavy waves crashing inside Bonita calmed down a little. She leaned in involuntarily. But then, a strange look flashed across his eyes. Something murderous, that tinted them red for a moment. He jerked backwards in panic and shame. But the calm moment was shattered. Danger, some inner instinct of Bonita roared. She hastily took her arms down from around his neck.
“Bonny, I – ”
“I’m going to go to class. See you.” She hurried away.
They were in the same class for last period, but Bonita sat on the other side of the room. At the end of the day, they walked back to Bonita’s house in silence, and sat down in the backyard to do homework, just like the previous day. But instead of enjoying the silence and solitude of being alone with Cephas, Bonita felt vulnerable and insecure.
After a while, she couldn’t bear it anymore.
“I can’t concentrate,” she said, standing up. “I’m going to go inside and make dinner early.”
“I’ll come too,” Cephas said. “I can’t concentrate either.”
But they had barely started when Eliza and Dale arrived home. Bonita paused in her chopping and looked up in surprise. “Why are you both home so early today? Has something happened?”
Eliza’s face was a curious mixture of trepidation and nervousness and excitement. “No, something is going to happen,” she said. “Something that – ” He mouth shut in a queer way, as if she wanted to keep speaking but a willpower not her own had zipped it up. She sighed and glanced helplessly at Dale. “I wish I could say.”
Bonita woke up in the middle of the night. But the wakefulness was more like a dream. Although she was hyperaware of her surroundings and her senses strangely sharp, her thoughts were clouded and her consciousness fogged over. She couldn’t think properly. But that didn’t matter. She didn’t need to think. She had her instinct to follow. There was the strong impulse to go find something.
She slipped out of bed and flitted out of her bedroom door. All was dark and quiet. She padded down the hallway towards the back door. A rabbit stood next to it. It seemed to be someone she was supposed to know? But her ineffective thought processes couldn’t make anything of it more than that. Dimly, she sensed that something was different about her body too. But what? She couldn’t think properly. But no matter. She slipped out into the night.
She had no idea of what she wanted to find, or where she was going, but she treaded forward with certainty, following her impulse.
A sense of approaching danger clashed with the instinct to keep going, making her footsteps falter and putting her on winding paths. But eventually, she came to a clearing where a wolf stood.
She knew this was who she was looking for. But who was it? She was supposed to know. Already, her thoughts had become sharper and less muffled, but they were still blocked by the suffocating sense of danger. Warily, she padded closer to the wolf, battling with the urge to run. It did the same. Then it made a sudden movement, as if it had wanted to lunge, but had checked itself. But Bonita snapped. She whipped around and bolted. The wolf chased after her. All thoughts of there being answers to be found, realisations to be made, flew out of her mind as screams of danger crowded it. They were nothing more than prey and predator now. Then their surroundings abruptly brightened as the sun floated above the horizon and shot white light through gaps in the canopy above. A strange twisting sensation grappled with Bonita’s insides for a moment. Then she tripped and collapsed onto the ground, Cephas on top of her.
She scrambled up from under him, heart pounding as it does after a nightmare. “What happened? Why am I here?” She didn’t know they turned into animals at night, after all. She was a child still bearing the curse of not knowing, not remembering, at night.
Cephas looked up at her in fear. “I felt so cruel and greedy. Almost like a wolf. But the feelings are dimmer now.”
“What could you possibly mean? But funny; I dreamed I was chased by a wolf.” She glanced around wildly “Wait, where is it now? Where did it go?” Then she put her head in her hands. “But there wouldn’t have been a real wolf if it was just a dream, right? Cephas, what’s happening to us?”
“I honestly don’t know. But let’s get back to town.”
They split off once they got back to the pebbled path. Eliza and Dale were extremely excited when Bonita stepped in the door. They sat her down at the kitchen table solemnly.
“Bonita, what did you learn last night?” Eliza asked.
Bonita twisted her hands. “I’ve learnt that going outside at night is super dangerous. I promise I won’t ever do it again.”
“What – ” Eliza looked exceedingly confused.
“I was chased by a wolf. But the funny thing is, I can’t remember what happened to it in the end, or how I got away. And to top it off, the whole deal seems like it was just a dream. But it was also too real to be a dream. I don’t know what happened.”
“Well… do you know who the wolf was?” Eliza asked tentatively.
“I was asking myself the same thing last night. It seemed like there was something more to the wolf that I should know. But I couldn’t think properly. And I can’t get it back now. And also, when I ‘woke up’” – she did that bunny-ear thing with her fingers – “Cephas was there too. I don’t know how he got there.”
“Oh no – ” Eliza looked to Dale for help, but he only shrugged his shoulders. “Well – well – Bonny, why don’t you get ready for school now.”
When night rolled around again, Eliza made a trip to Cephas’s house. She knocked on the door and a lynx opened it.
“Oh, Eliza! I’d wanted to talk with you too.”
“Hi, Marcella.” Marcella was Cephas’s mother’s name. “Can we talk outside?”
“Yes, of course.” Marcella padded out of the house and closed the door softly behind her. “Good thing you came. I wanted to ask what animal Bonny is by night.”
Eliza hesitated for a moment. “Well, the thing is, she’s a deer.”
Marcella nodded. “I’d guessed so, from what Cephas told me this morning.”
“And Cephas is a wolf?”
“I know right. What a great pair.”
Their tones dripped with sarcasm.
They sat in silence for a while. Then Eliza spoke again. “The curse didn’t break for them last night. Bonita came back not knowing who the wolf she’d seen was. She even said she half believed it had all been a dream.”
“Cephas didn’t know who the deer was either. Will our children be doomed to be dumb animals every night for the rest of their lives?”
Eliza shuddered. “I hope not. But honestly, seeing that Bonny is a deer and Cephas is a wolf, I’m just glad she came back alive.”
“Oh yes. Definitely.” Marcella looked down at Eliza apologetically. “I’m sorry your daughter found love in someone who is a wolf by night.”
Eliza sighed. “It’s not your fault. Nothing will hinder true love.” Then she realised what she’d said. “Nothing will hinder true love… maybe they’ll get a second chance, then? To break the curse?”
“That happens so rarely…”
“But we can hope.”
Bonita slipped out of bed again. Her mind was clearer tonight. She knew she was looking for someone. Who, though? Well, she’d know when she saw. And plus, the sense of danger wasn’t nearly as strong.
She came to the clearing and there stood the wolf. She thought back to the first day, when she had tried to kiss him but the murderous look had flashed across his eyes. And last night, but when they had both been in animal form. She knew who it was. It was Cephas.
He advanced towards her. She didn’t want to run, but her inner flight instinct forced her to. Why was he chasing her? Hadn’t he realised she was Bonita? If only he would stop, then the last milestone to her, the deer, of trusting the wolf, would be conquered. But he kept chasing. In fact, he had realised the deer was Bonita; he just didn’t want to lose her in the forest. Only the faintest hints of feeling greedy for prey stirred in him, which he ignored easily.
Bonita didn’t notice the signs of the wildfire. But Cephas did. Human speech burst from his throat. “Bonita! Stop!” He skidded to a halt and cowered backwards against the wall of heat. After a few more bounds, Bonita stopped too. But it was too late. The ring of fire rapidly closed in on her. Cephas leapt in and hauled her up in his jaws. He bounded over the other side. Tongues of flame licked at them but didn’t manage to catch on. They thumped onto the ground and lay there together.
After a while, Cephas spoke. “Now I finally know why my parents kept telling me not to go outside at night. We didn’t know and didn’t remember. We were nothing but wild animals. We would’ve killed or gotten killed. Geez, I almost killed you last night.”
Bonita laughed merrily. “But the dawn saved me. We turned back into humans at dawn.” She bumped her nose against his wolf snout. “Don’t worry about it, Cephas. You’ve made up for it anyway.”
“So the curse is broken when you find true love at night and realise who they are.”
“I guess that’s it! Well, let’s go back home and tell our parents what we’ve learnt. They must be worried sick.”
The deer and the wolf skirted around the already dying down fire and headed back to town. What an unlikely pair they were. But, as Eliza had said, nothing can hinder true love.