A young woman named Tessa dreamed of being a princess, not one locked in a tower, or sitting on a throne in a castle, but one who lived in the forest, ruling over a tiny kingdom she called home, where she’d grow vegetables, care for the foliage surrounding her ten-acre property, and raise a beautiful family. Most of all, Tessa wanted babies—lots and lots of babies.
While her head was filled with wishes and dreams, her reality was more of a nightmare. Tessa was known in town as a girl from the ghetto with not a penny to her name or anyone to love. She grew up in abusive foster homes, went to the poorest schools, and wore the most hideous clothes. Everyone in the town poked jokes at her, making fun of the way she looked and behaved.
Despite the young woman’s harsh upbringing, she grew into a caring and confident woman who wanted nothing to do with urban living, but she didn’t know how to drive and people had to have a car to live in the country nowadays. She worked as a cook in the day and studied driving in the evenings. It took two years of scrimping and saving for her to save up for a car and to get her license, but she still didn’t have enough to buy a cabin in the country.
Discouraged, Tessa took on a second job delivering food for different restaurants in the evenings. For years, all she did was work for people who looked down on her, but her kind smile never left her face. She wore her hope like a cloak, protecting her from all the negativity she endured from the townfolk.
One day, while doing deliveries, she met a man named Trevor, who quickly fell for Tessa’s laugh lines and sparkling eyes. He found out her name and asked for her to deliver his food to him every night. He tipped her well and always made it a point of asking her a few questions about herself so he could get to know her better.
The attention delighted Tessa, making her smile even more. Soon enough she was driving by his house just to see if he was outside so she could say hi. She was beside herself when he asked her to supper one warm evening. She agreed immediately and dashed home to get herself ready. She wore her best outfit, painted her face with lipstick and mascara, and twisted her hair into two French braids.
Overwhelmed by how beautiful she looked, he asked her what it would take for him to make her his wife.
“All I want in life are three things,” Tessa said. “I want a love so strong, giants would quiver in our presence; I want a cabin in the woods, far away from any city life; and finally, I want babies. Lots and lots of babies.”
“Is that all you want?” Trevor asked. He got down on one knee and took her hand. “Then will you do me the honours of being my bride?”
Tessa said yes without thinking twice and soon the couple were on their way to the courthouse to be married by a judge. Neither of them had any friends or family so the wedding was a quick affair. They spent their honeymoon looking for a cabin deep in the woods, hours away from any major town or city. It didn’t take them long. They found a quaint large cabin on several acres of land. The land was so secluded, it took over an hour to walk to the closest neighbor’s house.
Tessa quit her jobs and Trevor sold his house before they moved to the cabin in the woods. Tessa worked on making the cabin a home, decorating and cleaning, cooking and washing, while Trevor fixed the outside of the cabin to make it look as welcoming as possible and designed a garden to grow vegetables.
“What will we do for money?” Tessa asked Trevor one day, looking at her drab wardrobe. “I want to dress pretty for you, but all of my clothes are worn and old.”
“With all the animals here, I’ll become a taxidermist and sell the stuffed animals in town.”
“Oh, no! You can’t do that. It’s cruel.”
“I love hunting and we need the meat anyway. Let me worry about financial matters, my love.”
Tessa kept her protests to herself for she didn’t want to anger her husband, but each night, she wept for the freshly killed woodland creatures. They ate well and Trevor’s business grew in size. Soon enough, he was hunting as if obsessed, specializing in stuffing cubs of all sorts.
Tessa loved her life, and her husband, but she mourned for the animals. As payment for their sacrifice, Tessa left food and milk each night for the hungry creatures.
One day, while gardening, Tessa noticed some strange mushrooms growing off to the side, under some foliage. She had never tried a wild mushroom and was intrigued by its shape and colour so she gave it a little bite. It tasted awful but something told Tessa to eat it anyway. She ate a few pieces before getting sick to her stomach.
“See, that’s what you get for taking too many,” an unfamiliar voice called out. “You shouldn’t be so greedy.”
Tessa searched all around her but didn’t see anyone.
“You won’t find me down there, young one.”
Tessa looked up in the trees, but still didn’t see anyone. The only creature was an owl who was wide awake, despite it being daylight outside.
“Where are you?” Tessa asked.
“You’re looking right at me,” the owl said, blinking its big eyes and twirling its head.
Tessa gasped and took several steps back.
“Owls can’t talk.”
“Sure we can talk, but usually humans don’t listen.”
“They never listen!” birds tweeted overhead.
“How can I understand you? This isn’t right.”
“You ate the mushrooms. They do strange things, especially when someone is being greedy.”
Tessa took the owl’s words to heart. She continued to eat the mushrooms, but only one mushroom a day. Just enough so she could continue to talk to the animals who she considered her friends. The animals returned her friendship by visiting and protecting her and her home. The only thing they asked of Tessa was for her to stop her husband from killing their young. Tessa did try. She cried every night, begging Trevor to stop the killings, but he wouldn’t listen.
To the couple’s delight, Tessa became pregnant. She explained to the animals that she had to stop talking with them while she carried the baby but that she would continue to leave them out food and that she hoped they would continue to visit.
It was a boring nine months for Tessa with no one to talk to. Her husband worked twice as hard now that he knew he was going to be a father and she couldn’t understand her woodland friends anymore.
The baby was born one snowy day, when the sun was high. Tessa and Trevor couldn’t have been happier with thier new daughter. She had her mother’s eyes and her father’s nose. She barely ever cried and her laugh sounded like a bell chimed by angels. Tessa’s heart overflowed.
Spring came and passed. Tessa couldn’t have been happier. She forgot all about the mushrooms and put all of her attention on her daughter. Trevor increased his hunting again, informing Tessa that they had enough money to build a pool if she wanted. She agreed. Trevor cleared some of the woods to make a big enough clearing to dig out a pool. He ignored the animals' cries as he worked.
A few days after the pool was completed, Tessa heard a loud commotion outside. She ran outside with the baby and cried out as she watched a bear tear Trevor apart. A pack of wolves were waiting and attacked Tessa and the baby. Tessa lived, with hardly any injuries, but the baby didn’t survive.
Devastated, Tessa ate some mushrooms and sought out the owl.
“Why? Why did they do this?” she asked.
“Why? The bears and wolves were tired of having their cubs killed and watching so many animals die at that human’s hands. Destroying our houses was the last straw. How many more lives was he going to destroy? He had to be stopped. I warned you about being greedy.”
“But my baby, what did my baby do?”
“What did you do when our babies were being slaughtered by your man? All you did was cry. Did you not hear our voices cry out for you? We are sad for you, we will cry, and then we will forget, just like you did. We will let you stay here on the condition you never kill and you never eat another mushroom again.”
Tessa spent the rest of her days alone in the cabin. She never remarried and never had anymore babies. She lived out her days alone with a frown, a queen of an empty kingdom.