Not long ago – it may be yesterday – there were two children called Alice and Bran. Now Alice and Bran lived in the last house at the end of the estate on the outskirts of a large town. You won’t have heard of this town, so it probably doesn’t matter what it’s called. Every day, Alice and Bran’s parents drove to work in the town and Alice and Bran caught to bus to school. At the end of the day they all came back home, did what they had to do and then went to bed.
On the other side of their house was a wood. Alice and Bran were told never to go into the wood because it was dangerous and you could lose yourself, so they never did. Instead, if ever they went for a walk they took their dog Cerberus around the estate and then came straight back home. And so it went on for some time.
One day, Alice said to her mam and dad, “It’s a small wood, you could never get lost in there, and it doesn’t look dangerous. Why can’t we go in there?” But her parents said, “No, Alice! You must never go there, nothing good will come of it!” Though she asked more than once they would never give her any reason why they couldn’t go into the wood.
There came a day when it was the school holidays and her parents drove to work as usual and Alice and Bran were at home all on their own. “Shall we go for a walk round the estate with Cerberus?” suggested Bran, but Alice said, “Maybe later.” Well, later came, and Bran called to Alice and said, “Shall we go for that walk with Cerberus now?” But there was no answer. Bran knew then that Alice had gone into the wood.
There was only one thing to do, though Bran was frightened. He called Cerberus and put him on his lead. Then he put on his own duffel coat. “Find Alice!” he told Cerberus and off the dog went, leading Bran into the wood. Inside it was darker than he thought it would be. The tops of branches looked as though they had been shaved straight by a giant’s razor, and shadows made the trees seem as though they had surprised faces. But Cerberus kept on sniffing out Alice’s path, and Bran kept hanging on to Cerberus’ lead.
Finally Bran and Cerberus came to the heart of the wood. Here Bran saw a most curious thing. It was a little man, as brown as tree bark, his limbs as twisted as twigs and covered in ivy. “What have you learned coming here?” he asked Bran, and his voice was like branches rubbing together in the wind. Before Bran could answer he said, “I’ll tell you what you’ve learned. If you do what you always do, then you will always do what you always do.”
Bran must have looked puzzled for the little man took pity on him. “We learn by taking risks, even by making mistakes. Your parents, your teachers, they never told you that. But Alice knew that, and now you know that too. So now you also have a choice to make, just like Alice has made her choice.” He asked Bran again, “What have you learnt, and what are you going to do?”
Bran thought for a bit about what the little man had told him. He considered what he’d learnt – that living was dangerous and that sometimes, even often, you would lose yourself. And then he decided what he was going to do, and then he did it.
Short fiction written for a creative writing course on Children’s Fiction