A Tale

Submitted into Contest #16 in response to: Write a rags-to-riches story.... view prompt

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General

Once upon a time, a poor young man lived on a farm by the moor, where the wind blew day and night. He had a small plot of land, and he worked from sunup to sundown until the wind and sun left his skin red and chapped, trying to make his crops grow. He was caring for his elderly mother, but they could barely get by, so the young man and his mother slowly fell into debt as they borrowed more and more money to survive.

The neighbors they borrowed from steadily grew impatient. “I don’t want to do this, kid, but you owe us,” a man said one day. “You better give us something to pay us back, or we’ll take it.”

“We’ll have to sell our farm and become beggars,” the young man’s mother said quietly that evening. “If we borrow any more money, we’ll never be able to pay it back. But either way we starve.”

The young man was desperate. Despite his exhaustion, he lay awake on his cot deep into the night, unable to sleep. His uneasy mind kept him up, going in circles, until it was so late at night that it was morning. It was witching hour, and the wind howled over the moor.

He listened to the wind howling, and slowly, it seemed to turn into something else. The howls became screams, that became shrieks. The young man closed his eyes and listened carefully. The wind sounded strange, but also horribly familiar. It sounded animalistic… it sounded like–

A loud feline yowl came from right outside his house. The young man’s eyes shot open and he jumped, falling out of his cot and landing on the dirt floor beside it. Grumbling to himself, he grabbed a sharp shovel, stumbled out the door, and went around the side to shoo away the yowling creature that had awoken him.

A cat was waiting for him. It was a black tabby with yellow eyes that shone in the moonlight. It was looking at him calmly, no longer yowling, as he came up to it.

“Scram,” he ordered. The wind yowled over the moors. The cat sat down, curled its tail around its feet, and meowed once.

“Go on! Get!” The young man stepped aggressively toward the cat, waving his shovel at it. It didn’t move.

The wind yowled particularly loudly and a force slammed into the man, sending him staggering backwards. He slammed into the side of the house and looked up with bewilderment. The wind on the moor had never been that strong before…

The cat meowed again and stared at him, pointedly, with its yellow eyes. The young man stared back.

Slowly, the cat got to its feet. It turned toward the moor, walked a few deliberate steps, and turned its head back to look at him. The man carefully got to his feet and took one steps toward the cat. The cat blinked slowly, flicked its ear, and began walking out to the moor at a faster pace.

The young man stared at the cat in confusion, then turned to go back inside and try to get some sleep. The moment he turned away, the wind yowled and slammed into from over the moor. The cat turned back around and glared at him.

He took another tentative step closer to the cat. The wind died down to a soft purr, and the cat blinked and meowed. It was waiting.

The young man followed the cat to the moor. The moon was bright overhead, but his sight was limited by the hills and valleys that led confusingly into one another. The moor was misty, covered in scrubby bushes and heather, and windy. But the wind was quieter and gentler now, as the young man kept following the cat.

They came over the top of one hill, and the man looked in shock at the valley below. It was full of cats. Cats of all colors and all sizes lounged and played among the brush. The cat he’d been following led him down among them, then left him to his own devices as it disappeared under a bush.

The young man stood awkwardly among the cats, who all artfully ignored him. “This is stupid,” he said to himself. “I need to head home and get some sleep before sunrise comes and I have to get back to work.”

He turned to go, but a low growl echoed through the small valley and stopped him in his tracks. He slowly turned around to see a massive beast staring at him with glowing green eyes.

It was a cat, but it was larger than any cat he’d ever seen. It stood at more than half his height on all fours, and its body was lengthy and strong. It stared at him with green eyes that looked pupilless in the moonlight, and growled again. Then it turned away, still looking at his over its shoulder, and beckoned him with one ear.

The young man, terrified and confused, swallowed and took a step toward the beast. It flicked its tail and began walking slowly through the small valley.

He followed it among the cats until they came to a plot of scraped land. An entanglement of roots lay exposed, scratched and partially shredded. The beast stopped at the edge of the scrape and sat, curling its tail around its legs and watching the young man expectantly.

The man looked at the scrape, then back at the cat. “I don’t know what you want me to do,” he said.

The beast growled and lifted one paw. It delicately dragged the paw across the roots and glared at the man. He looked at the shovel in his hand.

The man hesitantly began to dig. The roots were strong and hindered his efforts, but he had spent his whole life working a stubborn plot of land. He grit his teeth and redoubled his efforts, hacking at the plant matter and dry dirt with his sharp shovel as the the beast watched on in approval.

After several minutes of progress, his shovel made a hollow thunking sound. Bewildered, the man paused and stared at the hole for a moment. Then, carefully, he began to dig around the area and slowly unearthed the shape of a wooden chest. He heaved it onto the side of the hole and examined it. The chest was small and well made, with a rusted lock on the front. The young man carefully levered his shovel and broke the lock, shattering the frail orange metal and revealing a pile of gold and silver coins.

He stared in amazement. This was perfect. With this, he could pay off his debts and still have money left over. He and his mother would be able to live in comfort. The young man looked up at the beast and the cats that had gathered to watch him dig with a smile. But the beast growled again and made another scraping motion over the hole.

The man’s smile faded, and he returned to digging. A few cats sniffed the chest, but they mostly left it alone. He kept digging into hard dirt and roots until he eventually forced his shovel through the dirt into a hollow of air.

With that, he could push and clear the last of the dirt away, and the beast purred with pleasure. The young man’s efforts had exposed a den of foxes. Tiny cubs nursed at their mother’s side. The father fox leaped to its feet, snarling at the intruders, but the beast reached forward and killed it with one blow of its paw. The man watched, dumbfounded, as the cats converged on the exposed den, killing and starting to eat the animals inside it.

Having done his work, the man got the distinct sense that he was no longer welcome. He dropped his shovel and used both hands to haul the chest full of riches back to his home. He arrived just as the sun was rising, and woke up his mother to tell her his tale.

The young man and his mother paid off their debts, and their neighbors didn’t ask where the money had come from. They spent and bought enough to live comfortably. The man bought a new shovel, and never returned to the valley on the moor where the cats gathered. The money that he didn’t spend, he saved, and buried at the edge of the land he farmed.


November 22, 2019 14:19

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