When I was a little boy, something happened to me that I would never forget. I was only six years old, I think. My behavior was typical for a child of that age. I liked to run, scream, play, and get into all kinds of trouble.
I remember one particular day in autumn when I took my little box of crayons and colored. The trouble was, I had chosen the front door of our house as my canvas. My mother came home to find me sitting on the front porch, a rainbow-colored dinosaur roaring at her from the glass and wood. Needless to say, I was sent to bed early, without dinner.
I was understandably angry about my punishment. However, being only six years old, I let my anger get the better of me. I decided that I was going to run away from home. I opened my closet, got out a little blanket, and spread it out on the floor. I opened my toy chest and picked out some of my favorites and laid them in the middle. Then, I picked some extra clothes – underwear, socks, and a few superhero-themed shirt – and threw them on top of the toys. Satisfied, I picked up a baseball bat and tied the blanket around the handle. After this was done, I popped the window open and slipped out into the backyard.
I walked and walked for hours and hours, at least to my young mind. It might have only been thirty minutes. To this day, I’m still not sure. What I do know is that I went deeper and deeper into the forest as it started to get dark. The temperature started to drop, and I wished I had grabbed a jacket to wear.
The cold wasn’t the only thing I regretted. As the sun sank further and further, eerie shadows began to lengthen. Crickets and cicadas began to chirp and buzz, and sinister-sounding bird songs filled the air. Soon, the sun was gone entirely. The moon stared down at me like a massive eyeball, watching me closely.
Then the rain started. I was cold, I was tired, I was scared, and now I was wet. I didn’t want to go any further, so I sat down under the branches of a tall pine tree and cried. For a moment, I missed my momma. I imagined myself warm and dry in her lap, embraced and content. I forced those thoughts from my head. I was mad at her. She had been so mean. I would much rather spend the night here in the soaking wet cold than let her hug me.
Something, a canine howl, cut through the sound of the pouring rain. Was that a wolf? I started to cry even harder, and then another howl cut through the night. I started to frantically scan the area around me by moonlight, hoping to spit a stick or something to defend myself. There was a big rock about the size of a baseball close by. I grabbed it with both hands and pressed my back further into the tree trunk. I held the rock close, ready to throw it.
Soon, I saw them moving. Sleek bodies slick with rainwater skulked in the darkness, reflective eyes gazing hungrily at me. There were six of them in all. They didn’t look like wolves, though. They were smaller, and their ears were bigger. I now know that they were coyotes.
“Go away!” I screamed, trying my best to sound intimidating. The coyotes looked confused, and started to nudge closer. I waved my rock around menacingly, but not menacingly enough. Their heads crouched low to the ground. They bared their teeth and snarled. They were going to attack. I shut my eyes and prepared to bash the first one that came at me.
There was a rumble in the ground. It was faint at first, but the one that followed was more noticeable. The coyotes noticed it, too. They looked down at their feet, ignoring me. Another rumble followed. It was even bigger than the others. I could feel it in my legs. I remembered the cup of water from the dinosaur movie Dad had let me watch. I remembered the ripples it made when the T. Rex was coming. That was when I knew that something big was coming this way.
The coyotes knew it, too. They scattered, deciding that making a meal out of me wouldn’t be worth sticking around and facing whatever was coming. I was tempted to follow them, but I was exhausted. The rock fell out of my hands and bounced off my shin, leaving a big scrape. I was too tired to do anything about it. All I could do was cry. The rumbles got bigger and bigger as the thing came closer and closer. Soon, I could hear its footsteps. They were big and heavy, but not very loud. Another moment passed, and something huge came into the clearing.
It was a giant. The face was the most hideous thing I had ever seen. The thing’s eyes were different sizes, one huge and wide open, the other smaller and squinty. A big bulbous nose poked out from the center of a hairy face. It had a protruding underbite, with misshapen teeth and thick flabby lips. Its skin was a black that was almost purple, covered in calluses and lumps. It wore a gigantic fur cloak that hung down to his titanic knees.
The giant studied me with its huge yellow eyes. I shrank down against the tree, hoping that it couldn’t actually see me. I was only the size of one of its hands, after all. Its head turned to the side, like it wasn’t quite sure what to make of me. The tree-like legs took three steps forward, and suddenly the giant stood over me, peering down. My hands were shaking. My knees trembled. Tears streamed down my face and mixed with the rain. The blood on my leg from the rock did the same. The giant’s nose twitched. Then it reached down with its meaty hand and scooped me up.
I was petrified, too frightened to move to resist or call for help. The first would have been useless anyway, and the second might have gotten someone else hurt. I was certain that I was going to die. Here I was, being carried along by a giant monster in the middle of a dark forest. This was right out of one of my momma’s bedtime stories. The kids in those stories misbehaved and then got eaten by monsters. I guessed that it was my turn now.
The giant held me in one enormous hand as it took long strides through the forest, pushing treetops out of its way with the other hand. It wasn’t holding me very tightly. I guessed that it wasn’t worried that I would try to escape. I peered over the edge of the monster’s hand. A fall from this height would splatter me like a gusher.
Before long, we arrived at the mouth of a large cave. Warm orange light shone from deeper inside. As the giant stepped in, I saw that it was a huge firepit. I imagined that I would be very familiar with that firepit very soon. The giant was going to cook me and eat me, and no one would ever see me again.
My entire body shivered in terror as the giant walked towards the fire. As I looked up, I saw that the giant’s eyes were studying me again. Its hands drew closer and closer to the fire. I could feel the heat on my face and neck. I squeezed my eyes shut. I didn’t want that ugly face to be the last thing I saw. I felt myself drop, and braced myself for the burning sensation that I knew was coming, that would be my very last sensation.
It never came. My feet hit the floor of a cave with a thud, The giant’s hand was still at my back, easing me onto the floor.
“Warm yourself,” said the giant in a deep, scratchy voice. I was now certain it was a boy giant. “I’ll get something for your wound.” With that, he lumbered off further into the cave and disappeared.
I sat in shock by the fire, still frightened, and a little confused, but grateful the giant hadn’t eaten me. Or maybe it was still going to, but was waiting until I was dry. I wasn’t sure.
The giant came back with a long strip of leather in one hand and a huge clay bottle in the other. He sat down next to me by the fire, still towering over me, and uncorked the bottle.
“Put out your leg,” the deep voice commanded. I obeyed. The giant tilted the bottle slightly downwards, and a drop of clear liquid spilled out and hit my scrape. I grit my teeth. It stung a little, but I didn’t want the giant to know that it hurt. What would it do if it thought I was weak? I wasn’t taking any chances.
The giant began to tear the huge piece of leather into strips with his massive sausage-like fingers. He then began to wind the strips around my leg, surprisingly gently, until the bleeding scrape was all covered up. I was shocked at how dexterously the work was done. To top it all off, he slipped off his giant fur cloak and wrapped me up in it.
“There you go,” boomed the giant. “Now then, I’m hungry.” He looked at me curiously. I gulped. “Are you hungry?” he asked. I’d been sent to bed without dinner, and my stomach had been growling for the past hour or so. I nodded cautiously.
The giant got up. He stomped – I guess it was just regular walking for him – over to a big round stone on one of the cave walls. The giant rolled the stone away with ease. Inside, I could see carved stone shelves lined with all kinds of food: raw meat hanging from the ceiling, dried meats and fruits, cheeses, bread and crackers, large pots containing liquids I couldn’t identify. The giant emerged from the pantry with a huge slab of meat hanging over his shoulder. He set to work seasoning it with strong-smelling herbs from a clay vessel, then skewered the slab and began to roast it over the bonfire. The cooking meat smelled delicious, and my stomach rumbled in anticipation. When it was finally ready, the giant removed it from the fire to cool. He tore off a hunk and passed that to me.
“Eat,” he commanded. “Careful, it’s still hot.”
I blew on the hunk of meat a few times before taking a generous bite. It was the best thing I could remember eating. The texture was like pork, and it was sweet and savory like honey and garlic. I ate it faster than I should have, and held my hands out for another piece. The giant obliged, with a look I guessed was an amused grin on his broad face. I ate the second piece much more slowly, savoring the sweet-savory meat.
“Good, isn’t it?” asked the giant, stuffing a piece of the meat into his own mouth. “Plenty of boar to hunt in these woods.” The giant narrowed his smaller eye and peered at me.
“Speaking of the woods, why were you wandering in them so late, and in the middle of a storm to boot?”
I didn’t answer right away. For one, my mouth was full, but I was also nervous. I didn’t really want to tell the giant anything myself, no matter how much I appreciated his hospitality. I still wasn’t quite certain that I was safe.
The giant scratched his bearded chin knowingly and shifted his sitting position.
“There is a town not far from here. Is that where you’ve come from?”
I didn’t answer, but I didn’t have to. My eyes widened when he asked, and his eyes fixed on the baseball bat on the floor next to me, the one with the blanket full of clothes and toys wrapped around it. I thought I had dropped that back in the rain, which still raged on just outside the mouth of the cave. It was coming down much harder now, and I was grateful to be inside.
“I see,” said the giant. “So, you’ve run away from home.”
“H-how d-do y-ou kn-know that?” I asked, my voice shaking horribly as I did. I told myself it was because I was still cold, but my clothes were long since dry. The giant took a meaty finger and poked it against the side of his head.
“I know many things,” he said. “Unfortunately for me, not one of them is your name.” The giant patted his chest. “I will start the introductions. I am Fomorian, and this cave has been my home for the past five hundred years. What about you?”
I nibbled timidly at my second piece of meat. With some effort, I found my voice.
“You’re not going to hurt me, are you?”
Fomorian gave a great booming laugh in reply. “Hurt you? I took great effort not to you just bringing you here. You are about as fragile as an eggshell, and I,” Fomorian flexed his massive arms, “am as big and strong as. . . well, as a giant!”
His laugh was contagious, and I couldn’t help but grin back.
“I’m. . . I’m River. River Joyce. I’m from the town.”
“River,” repeated Fomorian. “That’s a very nice name. Now tell me, River, why are you winding through my forest? Why have you left home?”
I hesitated, still not too keen to share too much information with the giant. I’d already told my name, though, so in the end I answered him.
“I colored on the front door,” I answered. “My mom got real mad at me. She sent me to bed for the night. So I ran away.”
Fomorian looked at me expectantly, as if waiting for me to say more.
“That’s all,” I told him, and he raised a bushy eyebrow. The giant nodded his head first to one side, then the other, as if deep in thought. After some time of nodding in this way, he cleared his throat quite forcefully and folded his hands.
“Would you like to hear a story, River?”
I had just eaten a very nice meal, and the warmth of the fire was making me drowsy, so a story sounded great. I opened my mouth and yawned loudly, then nodded my head. The giant squared his shoulders, placed his hands on his splayed knees, and began.
“Before the first tree in this forest was a sapling, I lived with my brothers across the vast ocean. There were many of us, the mighty giants, in those days. We lived in peace with your kind, though we kept our distance from them, and they from us. However, this did not last forever. From beyond the moon, a danger came to this world. This danger descended upon us all in fire from the skies, burning town and home of giant and man alike. There were so many of them, too many to be counted. They did not always take physical form; however, when they did, the forms they chose were horrifying. They beat massive wings spanning longer than a giant is tall, they gnashed mouths full of teeth sharper than wind, and great tails like whips that ripped through houses like an avalanche.” The giant paused, fixing his oversized right eye on me. “Can you guess what they were?”
I found that my voice was gone, driven from me by the frightening images my mind had conjured up from Fomorian’s description. I shook my head.
“Dragons,” whispered Fomorian, and I shivered. “One moment, a wisping, slithering cloud of vapor. The next, an armored, airborne beast with acid breath
and talons at your throat.” Fomorian clapped his giant hands together, and I jumped in fright. It was something my dad might have done as a joke, but Fomorian didn’t laugh. “Many men died. Many giants died, too. It seemed there was no hope for us against the war with the giants.
“Most of us knew this. Despite the heroic actions of many famed men and giants, our destruction would come for us sooner or later. We were afraid.
“One giant in particular was especially afraid. He had watched many of his brothers die. He had seen many noble men, who he had come to respect, torn apart by the monsters. It was more than he could take. Can you guess what he did?” Fomorian leaned in a little closer. The firelight reflected off his eyes and face, giving him a ghostly appearance. I shook my head.
“He betrayed his brethren,” whispered Fomorian. “He went to the dragons and pleaded for his life. In exchange, he sold out his brothers and the armors of men by showing the dragons where they were camped. By dawn, the traitorous giant was still alive, but not a single one of the camped soldiers of either army still drew breath. It had been a slaughter.
I sat there with my mouth agape as I listened to Fomorian’s story. All those giants and people had died, just because one giant was scared. I was furious.
“That’s mean,” I said aloud. Fomorian nodded solemnly.
“Indeed, it was,” he agreed. “And the traitor didn’t go without punishment. For betraying his brothers, the last of the giants, the one giant was cursed with a curse from heaven. His body was twisted and mangled to reflect the ugliness of his actions, and he was banished from the land that had been his home. He was thrown across the vast ocean to a place that would be his eternal prison, a great forest he could never leave. There he would remain, alone, until the Allfather redeems His creation at the end of days.”
Fomorian leaned even closer, so that he glowered down at me from barely an arm’s reach away. He held out his hands.
“My punishment is eternal, River Joyce. I can never leave these woods. Yet you, whose punishment was merely for a night, have fled to them in self-pity?”
I gulped. His voice never rose. It stayed low and even, but his eyes were much louder. I could see the disappointment in them. This friendly giant who had taken me in and fed me was disappointed in me. He spoke three more words just then, and their weight nearly made me burst into tears. “Shame on you.”
I knew Fomorian was right. I had felt so sorry for myself that I had run away from home. Mom and Dad had probably checked my room before they went to bed. They were probably worried sick. In that moment, I decided that I was going home right away, and that I would face whatever waited for me bravely. I think Fomorian knew what I was thinking, because he got this big smile on his face.
“Before you go,” said Fomorian, standing to his full towering height, “accept a gift from me.”
Fomorian disappeared into the back of the cave once more. When he returned, he held something in his right hand. He knelt and held it out to me. There in his hand was a small fur coat. It was white like brand new socks, and it felt like the fluffiest cat you could ever pet.
“Put this on, said Fomorian. “It’s a magical coat. It will keep you safe from the elements, and from anything else that may wish to do you harm.”
I thanked Fomorian and slipped the coat around my shoulders. It fit perfectly, and was very warm and comfortable. I took one last look around the cave, one last look at Fomorian, and turned to leave.
“One more thing, River,” said Fomorian. I turned to look at him.
“Don’t listen to him.”
I furrowed my brow in confusion.
“Don’t listen to who?” I called, but Fomorian had already started walking towards the back room of the cave. I was left alone.
The rain didn’t bother me as I made my way home. Fomorian’s coat kept me nice and dry. A few times I thought I saw the coyotes watching me from the trees, but they never came close. The moon was very high up now, and it seemed to get higher and higher as I walked. I couldn’t stop wondering who Fomorian was talking about. Who was I not supposed to listen to? There was no one else here.
The rain stopped after a while. I let my hood down. A silver mist rose up through the woods. It wasn’t very thick, so I could still see just fine.
It was when the mist started hissing at me that I became uneasy. The mist began to swirl and waver around me. I could feel something rhythmic, like a heartbeat, pulsing through the air. A pair of eyes seemed to watch me from the vaporous mass, milky orbs with reptilian slits. I quickened my pace.
All at once the swirling mass took on a physical shape. Whipping tendrils condensed to huge batlike wings. Columns transformed into four trunklike legs, and the reaching expanses of the mist hardened into a snakelike head and neck and a long, whiplike tail. The dragon watched me from the trunk of the tree it was wrapped around, its tongue flicking out like a snake’s.
“Hello, child,” whispered the dragon. “Are you lost?”
I blinked, unsure if what I was seeing was real. It was, though. There was a dragon wrapped around the tall pine, peering at me with its snakish face.
“Don’t listen to him,” I remembered. I pulled my coat tighter around myself and kept walking.
“Where are you going?” rattled the dragon in its throaty voice. “Little boys shouldn’t be alone at night.”
The fur from the coat began to reflect the moonlight.
“I see,” said the dragon as it slithered through the treetops, following me. “You met with Fomorian. Is that old coward a friend of yours?”
I kept walking. The fur coat started to glow brighter. I could feel something welling up inside me, something powerful. I turned my head, and the frosty-skinned dragon was peering at me with its pale eyes. It sneered, and I could see that its mouth was full of teeth like knitting needles. I gulped, but I kept walking.
“I can smell their blood in you, River Joyce,” said the dragon. It licked its lips viciously. “The men of old, the ones who are no more. We’re going to come back one day. This time, we will finish what we started.”
I froze. My face was pale. The dragon’s voice prickled my spine like sharp nails.
“Perhaps you could escape that fate,” hissed the dragon. “Perhaps you could live to be my pet.” The dragon grinned wickedly. I wanted to run, but couldn’t. It held out a talon, long and sharp, covered with scratches and pockmarks from battles long ago.
“Come with me,” hissed the dragon. “Why go back to your mother? She is mean, but I am gracious. Take my claw.”
I stared at the old claw, shivering. The dragon’s words had a smooth edge to them. It sounded inviting, and I was tempted. My mom had been mean, right? Why go back?
I saw the glint in the reptilian monster’s face, the slight curl of its upper lip. My trance was broken. “Shame on you,” I heard Fomorian’s voice in my head. The coat was glowing very brightly now, as bright as the full moon overhead. I planted my feet and shouted at the dragon.
“Leave me alone!”
It opened its mouth and roared, like a dinosaur in a movie. I closer my eyes, sure that I was done for. Nothing happened. I cautiously opened one eye. The dragon was nowhere in sight.
When I got home, I climbed in through the window, expected to find my mom and dad and maybe a few policemen waiting. There was no one, though. I went to bed, and I slept like a log. The next day I got a little bucket of water and a sponge, and I cleaned up the front door.
I still have the fur coat. How it works, I’m still not sure. What I do know is that, whenever I wear it, I feel safe. It still fits me perfectly, even after all this time. It’s a magical coat, after all.
Credit : M. R. Ewoldsen
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