All grown up and nowhere to go

the 7 cottages

Posted on: July 26, 2009

There was once a lady in white. Her long silken gown would trail behind her, making ripples like the ocean, as she walked barefooted. Her hair, as white and as long as her gown, glinted in the sun like silver strands; but it was by the moonlight that it glowed so she was bathed in a halo.

The lady in white was searching for something. She felt she had been searching for it her whole life, but that should not be the case. For she had lived a long, long life. She was older than the forests, as old as the sky. But you would not know it looking at her face. Fair, flushed with pink, she had been twenty-six years for as many centuries.

She came to a winding road lined with cottages, one night. The first was mahogany brown, with a tiny chimney. Smoke puffed out in wispy streams. A man was raking the field. One glance at her and he paused for a long second.

“I am searching for something,” she said, in a voice so whispery it kissed his ears.

The man, as if magicked, replied dazedly, “Could it be the feel of a home, comfort, and stability?”

She tilted her head. “No,” she said, and then, “I’m sorry.” She raised her hand slightly and made a tugging motion. The man’s eyes could still register the shock, but only for a half of a half of a second. For his heart had been ripped clean off him, and she was holding it in her hand.

Nobody knew what she did with the heart. Maybe she ate it, or buried it, or made it disappear the way she made the faeries disappear five centuries ago. All we knew was that she walked on to the second cottage.

This cottage was yellow with a cheerful green roof. A man was tapping his feet as he played his drums.

“I am searching for something,” she said, and gave a little smile, and the man stopped his tapping.

“Well,” he cocked his head, “Could it be merriment, wine, and laughter?”

She sighed. “No,” she said, and then, “It wouldn’t hurt.” The man still had a tiny little smile on his face, as if he thought she was teasing him, but his heart was in her hand.

The third cottage was deep blue, and the man on its porch sat gloomily.

“I am searching for something,” she called out to him, hauntingly. The man looked up.

“Could it be a soulful union, a serenade, a piece of my heart?” he said this earnestly, clutching his chest from the outburst of emotions that she brought forth from somewhere inside of him. He felt that finally, somebody understood the internal struggle he was going through. Finally, he can find release.

The lady in white looked into his heart and said, “Maybe.” As he fell to the ground with a hole where his heart used to be, she continued, “But no, not this time, not in your life time.”

She gave out a sigh. She had walked so so far, from the end of the world (or maybe the beginning) to the beginning (or maybe the end), and still she searched in vain.

The fourth cottage was made of burnt orange straw. A man sat smoking pipe and staring into space.

“I am searching for something,” the lady in white told the man, matter-of-factly.

He looked her up and down and you can read, from his face, what he was thinking of: long limbs connected together in repeat motion in his bed with the sheets mussed and then beads of sweat rolling down pearly skin like morning dew…

“In your search, won’t you stay awhile?” he asked.

So she did, and they did, and her skin was cold as marble and his, warm with lustful heat. When it was over, they slept like babes until he felt her get up. “Where are you going?” He said.

“Nowhere,” she answered, and kissed his forehead.

“Won’t you stay a while more?” he tugged her hand.

“No, not this time,” she said, and in his vision she floated away, although in truth she had to shrug on her gown as she walked on his coarse floor, step by step. Why she did not take his heart we will never know, maybe he had none.

The fifth cottage was red, embellished with rubies. The man in front of it was only half-clothed. His chest muscles rippled and he had the face of Adonis. The lady in white said nothing. She made to walk on, when the man it seemed finally took notice of her and called, “Wait! Are you not going to stop by?”

She paused, looked back with sad eyes.

“Will you spend a moment with me?” He asked, puzzled as to why he was doing the asking. Normally rubies attract the poor girls, and himself, the women with rubies.

The lady in white turned away, the sixth cottage already in sight – a sturdy brick one which looked like it could withstand a sandstorm.

Ever after, the man in the red cottage would receive ladies of states and village girls. But where he had found satisfaction before, he could find no more. Maybe, in a roundabout way, the lady in white had taken his heart in hand, too.

She who now stood in front of the sixth cottage made of brick. The man looking back at her had a peaceful kind of face, the lute he was playing just a minute ago held in his hands while he observed her quizzically.

“I am searching for something,” she told him.

“Could it be the warmth of my hearth, as warm as music; the joy of my companion, as light as songbirds; the depth of my faith, so deep and true?”

She said nothing more, neither did he utter a sound. They came together like long-lost souls and he thought her skin was smooth and velvety, and she thought – well, no one knew what she thought about, most times.

They were together for seven days and seven nights. Sometimes, the man thought it was as long as eternity, that he had finally reached eternal bliss. But at other times, he thought the days passed in mere seconds, and he could never ever get enough. On the eighth day, he busied himself creating music for her with his lute, while she slumbered. When he finally finished, it was sunset. It was then that he saw her fully-clothed for the first time in so many days, awaken and out of the cottage.

“Where are you going?” He asked, already fearing what she was not saying.

“Nowhere,” she said, and hugged him so briefly, it might have been a light breeze.

“I wrote a song for you,” he said, but his lute hung by his side. He dared not play.

“Play it when the days are short and the nights are long, when you feel cold and without hope,” She spared him a smile before, in one emotionless turn, left him behind.

Eventually, the man in the sixth cottage found himself a sweet village girl whom he proposed to. They were very loving and lived long good respectable lives, but sometimes he will ask her to don a long nightgown, too long for her height, and he will ask her to dance in front of him as he played his lute. His wife obliged him, it was a quirk she accepted as part of their vows.

But that story was the future, and the lady in white walked on to the seventh cottage. It was black as night and oddly-shaped, like a child’s distorted drawing. There was a man in a dark cloak, doing tricks with a silver coin which shone brighter in the moonlight glint than her hair ever shone.

“I am searching for something,” she said, intrigued.

He smiled at her, such a curious mysterious smile it was, “Could it be that you are searching for me?”

The lady in white was surprised. “Yes.”

What he did next could have been another of his tricks, but she felt it rip nevertheless. He had taken her heart, and as it was her life force, she quickly shrunk into a dry husk. She tore apart in half, starting from the tip of her head. The inside of her was a gaping hole, out of which a little girl, frightened, stepped out.

The man in the dark cloak listened to the beating of the heart of the lady in white, such strong beats, such hopeful beats. He waited for a while before crushing it with his bare hands.

The little girl stared.

“Will you take me home?” She asked the man in the dark cloak, innocent, not knowing.

He barely gave her a glance. When she walked towards him, he swiped her away so that she fell on the ground, buttocks bruised. “You are not wanted here, little child.” He said in a voice so cold it was like a knife piercing through. “Go away and never come back. You will walk the earth and never find what you are searching for. It is your cursed destiny.”

The little girl, shell-shocked from the physical pain and the emotional anguish, lost all colour in her face. Soon the colour drained from her hair, too, and it turned all-white at the roots.

So the little girl did walk, and in a few weeks her bare feet were numb to the cold of the ground, numb to the edges of rocks. In a few months, her body became numb to the spiteful wind, numb to the rainwater and the heat. In a few years, her heart became numb to the stares that she received for her all-white hair and her unworldly poise, numb to the obvious wants of men and the disgust of women.

Indeed she searched the earth for what she was searching for, and yet it was impossible to find what she did not know she sought.

The day she turned twenty six, she stepped into a faerie ring. It buzzed into life with noises, aggressive ones, the moment she was in it.

“You killed our brothers,” voices buzzed in her ears. “You killed our sisters.” They sounded like lizards, invisible, rattling and buzzing. “You killed them for life, power, magick. You killed them for nothing.”

The little girl, now a lady dressed in effervescent white, whispered in monotone, “And now, I shall kill you.”

She obtained her moonlit glow from them, besides the life, the power, and the magick.

Beyond the dead faerie ring was an opening which led to a winding road lined with cottages. She stepped into the opening and felt a strange, familiar sense that she had been near here, before. In a previous life.

The first cottage was a brown wreck. She walked over a skeleton and it cracked beneath her feet.

The second cottage was cheerful yellow with a splash of dried blood. She kicked a skull by accident.

The third cottage had collapsed with its chimney upright, resembling a blue tombstone. She did not see any corpse, but she suspected a murder here, too.

The fourth cottage was still standing, and she thought she recognized the colour of burnt orange straw. A man sat smoking pipe, admiring the moon. She thought she had met him, before, but it was impossible. The other man, whom she had shared a bed with, would have become an old man by now; wrinkled, shrunken, or even dead.

“I am searching for something,” she began, a rehearsed line before things usually go wrong.

The man looked at her, threw away his pipe, ran at her, then hugged her.

 “Do not search anymore,” he said, with sad sad eyes. “Do not search for my heart, it is lost forever. You shall not leave me, yet again, to look for it.”

And, in that instant, the lady in white remembered.

The burnt orange straw man was a mere child. They were playing in a lush dandelion field when he accidentally crushed a faerie. As revenge, it hid his heart away, hid it so well that it did not even know where to look for it.

And so, shaken by the experience, they parted ways, each finding peace in finding faeries to hunt, but faeries give the gift of lives upon their deaths, and with the curse of eternal life upon him, he set out to wait for nothing.

“I have waited here,” he said, “And you have come here more than once, but your eyes betray no memory and I only have you for one night, once in every twenty six centuries.”

“It is my curse,” she said, “I could not remember that I return here every twenty six centuries.”

“Something is different this time,” he said, “You came back so soon, so fresh still, so young. I tire of waiting – let me have you to hold, to fill this empty space.”

The lady in white doubted. “You have no heart.” She said.

“We’ll create one, from a piece of your heart, from dust, from leaves, skywater and my tears, and gold,” he said, pointing first at the dust, the leaves, the morning dew, and then his cottage. What she had taken for burnt orange straw were slivers of gold.

“You need a piece of my heart,” she said, wanting to pull away, to not remember, to walk on.

“It will not hurt,” he said, with pleading eyes. “Not this time, not in your life time.” He said, pulling her back into his embrace. “You will never hurt again,” He said, taking a piece of her heart with a kiss.

It did not hurt this time, at least.


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