by Patrick Coughlin
A Shim Shoy Folktale
In another time, at a different place, there was this great little farm on the edge of a vast forest. Little Alice lived there. There weren’t any other little girls around to play with, so she often went off exploring the woods alone. One day out there in the woods she crossed paths with another little girl. Her name was Annie, and she had been lost in the woods for days.
Alice took her back home with her, where Maw fed her, while Alice heated water for a bath. Annie then slept in a nice soft bed for three days and nights.
While she slept, Paw and Alice’s brothers asked all around, but no one knew anything about a little girl named Annie that had gone missing. So Paw said,
-Well, her people will come for her, if she’s got any. In the meantime, if she ever wakes up, and she can do her bit around the farm, we’ll keep her ’round here as one of our own.
When Annie did wake up she showed herself to be a fine and pleasant worker, and she and Alice became close fast friends.
But Annie did not like to go play in the woods, and she would never say why.
So Alice stopped exploring the woods, always her favorite thing to do, and it remained so, even though she didn’t do it anymore.
By the time the girls grew into young ladies, Alice had forgotten how she used to love the woods, and Annie had forgotten how she feared it. All there was now for them was a vague curiosity, and so of course they started taking longer and longer walks into the woods.
On one such walk they came across such vast and sprawling ruins that the sun set long before any thought of heading home could infiltrate their bristling, buzzing minds.
They slept there under a great fallen stone arch, and as they slept, a witch riding the air on a flying broom circled around them, lower and lower, and hovering close over them, said,
-So you’ve forgotten me at last, little Annie, and returned to me, as I knew you would. And you’ve brought a friend, as I hoped you might.
And she threw witches powder over the girls, so they wouldn’t wake up, and summoned her creatures, who carried them through night and forest to the Witches house.
When Alice awoke, she was tied to the post of a small wooden pen, which was inside of a larger pen, with nine horny goats milling about inside of it. There was a wooden bucket in the little pen with her.
She looked up, and saw that she was in a deep ravine somewhere in the forest, on the grounds of a great house of ramshackle stone and wood, built, grown into the side of the ravine. She looked across, and saw her dear friend Annie, her arms outstretched, tied by ropes to two trees, her head hanging limply.
Alice called out to her, and Annie woke up, and as she looked around, a great remembering came over her, and then a great fear.
The witch came out of her house then, floating out the top floor window upon her flying broom and plummeting to the ground with a nerve tweaking mastery of quickness and power, slowing to a silent hover just above the ground and then back up a bit, to better take in the setting, and laughing, a long cackling howl, the joy of a witch in the attainment of her goals.
Hovering over Alice in the pen within a pen, she said,
-You’ll fill that bucket with tears, or you’ll be sorry!
Then the witch rang a little bell, and the goats in the pen started going real crazy, and they tried to get at Alice, ramming her little pen, smashing in the wood with their horns. But the wooden rails of her pen were enchanted by the witch, and they repaired them selves instantly, though this did not deter the goats. Every time a goat rammed into the little pen, fresh tears
welled in Alice’s eyes. The witch cried out,
-In the bucket! The bucket!
One of the goats started gnawing on the rope that bound Alice to the little fence, but it was enchanted, and it sprouted sharp thorns, not only at that end, but at the ends around Alice’s wrists, and as she was pierced by the thorns, fresh tears flowed, and she hung her head over the bucket and cried and cried. The witch cackled,
-Yes, yes! That’s it! Ahahahahahaaaaaaa!
As the goats went on ramming the little pen with ear splitting cracks, the witch flew over by Annie, whose eyes were filled with compassion for her friend, though dry. Not one tear flowed from Annie’s eyes. The witch said,
-No tears for your friend, eh? You might, I suppose, but I took them all from you years ago, when you were just a little girl!
The witch hovered in close, right up in her face. She said,
-You forgot about me. I made you forget. Everything but your fear. Fear takes the longest, and so I let you forget it on your own. And when that final forgetting was complete, you came back to me, exactly as my spell was constructed! It makes me… So happy! And you’ve brought a friend! I knew you would be drawn to another with the inner fires burning bright. And such fires in her! She could have been a great magician, but instead she will fill my bucket, and you will help her, little Annie.
-I won’t help you hurt her!
-You will, you will.
And she flew up on her broom, up out of the ravine and into the trees of the forest.
As the sun was setting, the witch returned. She rang her little bell, and the goats all calmed down again, and they all collapsed in exhaustion, their long weird tongues lolling out of their mouths, frothy and bloody. She said,
-I see you have filled the bucket.
She floated down and grabbed up the bucket, and dropped a jug in the pen. She held the bucket close and inhaled deeply the salty metallic smell. Then she looked back at Alice and said,
-Drink it all, or you’ll be sorry!
The Witch flew around over the goat pen. She pointed at one of the goats and shouted,
-This goat is dead! A fine feast he will make for me!
She floated down and picked up the dead goat by one of its horns, and hurled it to the middle of the yard. She rang her little bell, this time with a different rhythm than she rang at the goats, and her slave creatures emerged from hiding. One of them skinned the goat expertly while the others built a great fire and a spit for roasting upon it.
The Witch sat upon her floating broom, chomping and chewing and slurping and sucking the meat and bones of the goat, washing it all down with great swallows of Alice’s tears, which she scooped from the bucket with a golden chalice. Hers was a sorcery of sorrow, and the liquid misery of a young magician was the greatest of all possible consumptions.
In the dark of night the firelight gleamed in the eyes of the Witches prisoners, Annie, Alice, the goats, the slave creatures. They all looked upon the gruesome scene unfolding in silence, until sleep overtook them all.
The second morning, the Witch descended to inspect the jug. Alice had drunk it all. She nodded and swapped the bucket for the jug. Then she rang her little bell, and flew off, and the goats went crazy again, this time kicking at the little pen with their hind legs, and sticking their heads in to get at her skirt and sleeves, so she had to stay exactly in the middle of the pen. However, she did not cry any tears. She had hardened herself to the fear of the goats.
When the Witch returned and saw the bucket was empty, she said,
-So you think you’re tough, eh? Not even one tear in the bucket for me! We’ll see about that before the sun goes down!
The Witch flew around, hovering behind the trees that Annie was tied to. She muttered a spell, and a long nasty whip appeared in her hand. She whipped Annie mercilessly, who still shed no tears, though Alice soon filled the bucket again with tears for her friend.
The Witch rang her little bell and the goats settled down, and another one fell down dead. She swapped the bucket for the jug, both full once again, and feasted as she had the night before, and the next night and the next.
Whenever Alice’s tears dried up, the Witch used some new method to provoke her. She looked in Alice’s mind, and created illusions of her parents. These phantoms tricked Alice into believing they had come to rescue her, only to be captured by the Witch, who imprisoned, tortured and killed them over the course of the days. Every night a goat died, and every night she ate the goat and drank Alice’s tears, and each day her body grew younger, and the bone pile got higher.
On the ninth day, the last goat could hardly stand, Annie was a covered in long wealing scars, and Alice was deep, deep, and deep inside herself. When the Witch descended from above and surveyed the pathetic scene, she said,
-There’s only certain, special tears left in you, my dear. That is why when I return tonight, I am going to kill Annie. And once I’ve drunk those tears, I’m going to untie you, and let you go.
And she flew off, as she always did, except that this time she did not ring her little bell, and so the last goat was spared the madness. The goat went slowly over to Alice, who was slumped agains the walls of her little pen, and licked gently at her hands, which were dirty and cut up and bloody, and licked them clean. Alice did not even react.
Annie, however, was moved. She had been biding her time these nine days, exploring her regained memory. The Witch thought she had drained all of Annie’s magic out of her those years ago, but where there is life, there the inner fires burn, and the love of Alice and her family fed Annie’s own inner fires back to their full strength, although she didn’t even recognize it until now, because of the amnesia spell.
But magic requires mastery or quiet. Here in this first quiet moment in nine days, Annie cast her first spell. She said,
-Bucket, Bucket, your well is dry, come to me, and I will try.
And the bucket floated up into the air and over to Annie, who turned her head and cried tears of joy into it. She said,
-Tears of joy do not fall slow, make a river of your flow.
And a river of tears filled the bucket, and when it was full, she said,
-Bucket, bucket, back with you, be as if you never flew.
And it did, and Alice looked at it blankly. The goat reached in a hoof and splashed Alice’s face with the tears in the bucket. That woke her up a little bit. She tasted the happy tears. Then she started drinking the tears from the bucket. Annie called out to her,
-No, Alice! The bucket has to be full!
Alice stopped drinking, and very simply nodded.
When the sun began to set the Witch returned to find Alice with her head hung over a bucket full of tears. She hovered grimly over her. She did a spell, and the thorny rope fell away from Alice and pen alike. She leaned in and scooped her chalice full of the tears within the bucket and said,
-These then be the tears of quiet surrender, the sweetest to me. Here is to the ninth straight night of tears, youth and power for nine more years!
She drank it down in a gulp. Her eyes grew wide, and she made a great gasping sound. She started to choke and gag, and lose her balance on her broom.
Alice jumped up and grabbed the Witch by her cloak, and pulled her off of her broom and onto the ground, where she howled in piercing agony. She tried to get up, but the goat rammed into her and sent her sprawling, and she dropped her little bell.
Alice picked up the bell and rang it that certain way, and the slave creatures emerged to do her bidding. Alice called to them,
-Build the fire for a feast of your own, and be forever free!
And they did, and they were.
Alice, Annie, and the Goat all went together from that hidden place, back to the family farm.
There was no going back to the way things used to be. After the defeat of the Witch, Alice retreated back to a deep place inside, and never came out. She never spoke, and required constant care. Annie devoted herself to this care of her friend.
Though her body was covered in scars, Annie had a pretty face, and she only got prettier as time went by. She had many suitors from town and country, but she refused them all, as she was committed to the care of her friend. Even a dashing young prince sought her for his bride. He promised that Alice could come live with them at his castle and she would have the best of care.
Annie said to him,
-But it is here that she must recover. With me. With the family. This place is our home. No other care will do.
And so the years passed, and little bit by little bit Alice came back to herself. One night, as she was heating a bath as a surprise for Annie, she remembered that long ago day when she did the same for the little girl she found lost in the woods. As she tested the water with her fingers, she cried some happy tears into the bath.
And when Annie got in that hot bath, the long painful pinching scars that crisscrossed her poor body for so long softened and fell away and she was made fresh and clean and soft.
Thank You For Reading Shim Shoy