Editor’s Note: Our latest installment in our Children’s Literature Issue is a short story about a girl who uses her burden help a new friend escape danger. Illustrations by Jennifer Bolten McDonough.
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Mercy, a thin girl with long dark hair climbed out of bed. Her mirrored body reflected the grey, stormy clouds from outside the window onto the gloomy bedroom walls. Mercy’s entire body was covered with sharp pieces of mirror, glued to her like shards of armor. Only her head, soft and pink, bobbed out from the glass. From a distance, she looked like a walking Christmas ornament.
Today, like every day, she would spend the day reading at home, alone. She flinched as she walked towards the library, the pieces of glass digging into her flesh. She opened the shiny silver doorknob to the library, her eyes traveling around the high ceiling and crimson curtained windows. Books lined every free inch. She headed over to the plump velvet chair and resumed reading, “Lucy’s Magic Carpet.”
“Woof, woof!”, barked a golden retriever in the garden below, beckoning her to come play with the wave of his tail. She waved back cautiously with a blink of her eyes and a half smile. The dog licked the window and barked louder, insisting she join him. She hesitated but then got off her chair and walked downstairs and out through the garden, leaving a trail of shredded grass in her wake. She bent down and petted the dog on its head, and it nodded its head enthusiastically. She smiled back, sun beams dancing across her body. She threw the ball for the dog to catch it and it dutifully retrieved it. They played for a while until the ball got caught into a brushy thicket. The dog trotted over to the thicket, but couldn’t get it loose, so she went to bush to retrieve it. As she pulled the ball out, the dog jumped up eagerly to get it back in his possession, pressing its front paws on her stomach.
A mournful howl let loose from his mouth. Mercy looked down and saw blood on his paws. They had been slashed by her mirrored belly. He barked at her furiously, and ran out of the garden wincing, leaving a bloody trail.
“I know, I’m just no good!”, blurted Mercy, as she ran to the garden pond, and stood on its edge, ready to dive in forever. Her tears softly pitter-pattered into the pool and onto a lily frond, making the grasshopper perched upon it rock back and forth.
“Why are you crying?” said the grasshopper.
“Because I hate myself. Everything I touch gets hurt. I shouldn’t be alive.”
“Why do you say that?”
“It’s these stupid mirrors, they hurt everyone they come into contact with. I don’t know how to get rid of them.”
“How did you get them?”
“When my parents left me to go work overseas in the city, they sprouted up all over my body, like a case of the measles. They did keep the mean kids from the streets away though, since they knew they would get hurt if they touched me.”
The grasshopper chirped, “I have a brilliant plan for how you can help someone, say, like myself and my friends. Would you help us scare away some mean foxes?”
Mercy’s tears had stopped flowing down her face but her eyes were still a little moist. “I don’t know. What would I have to do?”
“My friends and I would hop on top of you and make you look like a giant grasshopper.”
“But I’m not a grasshopper, I’m a girl!”
“But by being a giant grasshopper, you will frighten away the foxes that are trying to gobble us up. Do you want to help us?”
“I guess I can try.”, said Mercy, and as she nodded, the mirrors pinched her neck.
“Excellent. I’ll go get my friends.”
And so the grasshopper and hundreds of his friends covered the girl from head to toe, so only her eyes, nose and mouth were free so she could breathe. She looked fierce as she crawled forward on her pointy, light-green covered limbs, with two long antennae made out of pussy willows.
A crafty fox, however, was watching from afar, and saw Mercy get covered in grasshoppers. I’m going to catch all of those grasshoppers at one go, he thought to himself. What a wonderful meal that will be! He knew that he would have to trick the girl so that he could catch her and slowly pick off and eat the grasshoppers one by one.
He waited behind a shady maple tree and pretended to be walking across her path, focused on some berries in the hedge. But as he turned and saw her, he flattened his body to the ground, and eyes peeled wide open said, “Oh no, big grasshopper, please don’t hurt me.”
“Just promise me you won’t eat another grasshopper ever again! And then I will spare you. Or else, I’ll have you for lunch right now.”, snarled Mercy.
“I promise, I promise, just please let me go free. All of my brothers are feasting on the rabbits in the neighbor’s garden, so I suggest you come and tell them too, since they won’t believe me.”
“Alright, let’s go to the garden.”, said Mercy, in her meanest voice.
Mercy tottered over to the neighborhood’s garden on all four legs. She looked over the garden wall, and saw lettuces, basil and berries, and three foxes trying to chase a poor little rabbit.
Mercy opened the wooden gate and let herself in.
“Please don’t hurt us, big grasshopper.”, cried the brother’s three foxes in unison.
“I will spare you only if you promise to leave these gardens forever, and never eat another grasshopper.”
“We promise, we do, we do, big grasshopper.”, answered the three foxes.
They all ran out of the garden, and while Mercy turned her back on foxes to pick a strawberry, one of them locked the garden gate behind them. Mercy whispered, “Alright, grasshoppers, I helped scare away the foxes, now time to get off.”
“Let’s just wait until we get back to the other garden,”, said the lead grasshopper, “we’ll travel faster if you walk for us.”
“Yeah, I like the view from here.”, said another grasshopper, “I’m getting a whole new perspective on the world.”
“Okay, I guess a few more minutes doesn’t make a difference.”
As Mercy walked to the garden gate and wrestled to open it, the foxes had hidden themselves in the tree above and threw a net made out of dead spider webs over her head. She fell onto her back, and all the grasshoppers scrambled to jump off and escape, but were held in by the webs.
“Time for a grasshopper feast, brothers.”, said the head fox, dancing around Mercy and the hundreds of grasshoppers. The foxes yipped in unison, saliva drooling from their mouths.
“Quick”, whispered Mercy to the grasshoppers, “jump into my hair so that I can protect you.” And the grasshoppers hid among her long, thick dark hair.
Mercy stood up on her two feet and used the mirrored edges on her arms to cut the spider webs. The foxes tried to pounce on Mercy, but they got their paws torn up. They weren’t tall enough to reach Mercy’s hair to get any of the grasshoppers. The foxes ran away, terrified for real this time.
“Yay! You saved us!”, sang the grasshoppers.
Mercy walked back to the pond and all the grasshoppers jumped off and clapped and cheered for her. “You are our hero! Hooray for Mercy!”, they sang.
Mercy smiled at them and looked into the pond and was surprised to see her sparkling black eyes, rosy cheeks and radiant black hair reflected back to her in the water. Rose and white hues danced on her body, as the pink magnolia trees lining the pond swayed. She smiled.
As her loving smile was reflected back at her and her body felt its warmth, all the pieces of glass from around her body lifted and fused together into a tiny pair of glasses. She gasped as she touched her arms, felt their softness, then wrapped her arms around herself and gave herself a big hug. She felt a million pounds lighter.
“I’m glad I could help you, grasshoppers. You helped me too.”, she said. She got up and walked back to her house, wearing a very sunny smile, the tiny glasses now folded up and stored in her pocket.
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Allison Quaid discovered her passion for writing once she realized she could no longer sweep her creativity underneath a corporate rug. In front of a keyboard, short stories flow easily from her fingertips. Writing workshops and salons have shaped her style. Her writing is also informed by life her as a global nomad, with a professional background in environmental science, behaviour change, marketing and the arts.
Jennifer Bolten-McDonough is a mixed media artist inspired by all things living, dead, and everything in between. She is currently exploring a wide range of themes from dark, Gothic, steam punk motifs that juxtapose animals, bones and insects with romantic, folklore-based images of women, as well as lighthearted flora and fauna fairytale depictions of children.Jennifer lives in San Francisco with her husband, James, her daughter, Quinn and their 2 German short hair pointers, Vinnie and Ginger.