Winter Child (488 Words)
There was a man who walked this road a very long time ago, when the ground here was all shrubs and long gray grass. Every morning, from early dawn to evening, he walked this way to work. And some time in his walking, he noticed a young girl.
She was a shabby little creature. She sat in her dirty brown dress with her knees pulled to her chin, watching the passersby. The first time he saw her, the man imagined her parents had told her to wait. The second time he knew she must be lost.
“Where are your parents?” he asked her.
The little girl stared at him. She had enormous eyes.
“You shouldn’t be alone,” said the man. “Are your parents in town? You’re not hurt?”
Still the girl didn’t answer him.
The man was a little afraid. There was something unusual in the girl’s quiet face. But she was only a child.
“Your foot is bleeding,” he said. “Here. Let me bind it.”
He wrapped her ankle with his handkerchief. The girl continued to watch him in silence.
“Where is your home?” asked the man. “Tell me, little one, and I’ll take you there.”
For the first time she spoke. She sat down suddenly under a weak sapling oak. “My home is here,” she said.
The next day, the man saw her again. She was huddled against the sapling and looked very small. It was a freezing, biting day. But the man took off his coat and went to her.
“Aren’t you freezing?” he chided. “Come with me. Wouldn’t you like something hot to eat?”
“My home is here,” she said.
“Well then,” said the man, “let me give you my sweater, too.”
The child looked at him curiously but didn’t say anything or stop him. So he gave her the coat and sweater and went his way.
He was trembling and sniffing with cold when he passed her on his way home. He hugged himself against the bitter weather. The child saw and called to him. She offered him his sweater back and the coat, too.
“No, no, keep them,” said the man.
She took his hand and closed her eyes. He was startled when the chill in him eased.
She opened her eyes. “Now you won’t ever be cold again.”
“What did you do?” The man was still trembling. “Am I dead?”
The girl laughed. She sat down again, cuddled up against the little leafless sapling. “Go home,” she said. “You are kind to me. But this is my home.”
The man knew, then, that she was not human. He looked at the sapling with new eyes, seeing the scratches near its base where a cat had sharpened its claws. The wound on the girl’s ankle was exactly the same.
“Are you the tree’s angel?” he asked.
The girl’s large eyes studied him. “I am the tree,” she said.
Written in response to today’s Daily Prompt, “Inkling.”