The Ishi and the Witch: A Fantasy Short Story by Cam 1 of 3
The day before the events of this story took place, and it was many years ago, there was not a cobblestone cart path winding through the woods that separated my house from my twelve year old friend Billy's house. The following day there was such a pathway and a gate as well that stood in a gap of the fence that bordered the woods.
Billy and I, my name is Stuart or Stu, as Billy calls me, alternated days walking through the woods to each others house, and on this particular day it was Billy's turn. Just one day either way and this would have been a story about me. As it is, the story is about Billy, but it is mine to tell for Billy has recently passed through another gate on his way to a new adventure. I believe most of you will take my meaning.
I was on my porch that morning at eight o'clock waiting for Billy to arrive. We had made plans to build a shelter in the woods and a corral for our ponies. I waited until about ten o'clock and then set out through the woods for Billy's house. That's where we will leave me for now.
Billy had actually left his house that morning and had taken his normal route across the alfalfa field to where our little footpath entered the woods. Maybe it had been a deer path once upon a time, but now it was ours. The six foot gate, in the style of a common garden gate, was the first abnormality of the morning for my friend. As he opened the gate, he was rationalizing that it might have been put up by the farmer the night before. But he had trouble applying that same solution to the cobblestone two track that wound away across an open meadow where a woods and a dirt footpath were supposed to have been.
Billy was no longer interested in where the gate and pathway had come from, but where the path led to. He was far along the path before he even considered the wisdom of his choice. He was clearly not on the pathway to my house.
At first the birds were singing and small animals were running back and forth across the trail in search of food. But the singing and the hurrying about stopped seconds before a loud bang shattered the silence as though serenity were made of a fragile pane of glass.
Moments crept by and it seemed that not even a leaf moved. A man stepped off a side trail onto the cobblestones with a rifle in one hand and the reins of a horse in the other. The man glanced at Billy, then headed off in the opposite direction with the horse following him and a two wheeled cart following the horse.
In the wagon was the body of a deer with a large rack of antlers. Blood ran off the back of the cart in a crimson stream onto the stones. Billy waited until the hunter was out of sight, then proceeded on to where he had exited the tree line. He followed a footpath until it was blocked by the fresh, steaming guts of the deer. The sight made Billy sad. He dropped to his knees and began scooping the soft humus of the forest floor.
"You can leave that to us young sir," said a voice from in front of him that sounded like that of a very young child. Billy looked up into the eyes of a rabbit. "And thank you for being so thoughtful."
Billy hopped to his feet and backed away until he ran into a tree. Other animals crept out of the shadows and a few took over digging the hole that Billy had been working on. When the hole was about two feet deep, the animals pushed the intestines and other internal organs of the deer into it and covered them with with the pile of humus. It was, for all practical purposes, a funeral, because following the burial, all the animals stood around the mound of humus, bowed their heads and closed their eyes. The rabbit spoke about their friend whom he referred to as deerish.
When this was done, the attention of all the animals turned to Billy. Why was he concerned about the remains of their dead friend? What human village had he come from? Billy told them his name and about finding the gate and the cobblestone cart path that led into a meadow instead of the woods he was accustomed to. At that point, all the animals became very excited.
"The doorway between the worlds has opened again." A large elk, who had not arrived in time for the ceremony, approached Billy. "It is good to meet a traveler from the other side, but I'm afraid you should not remain here long. The door might stay open for a very long time, and then again, it might have already closed."
Billy was still in shock from having met animals who could speak, and the thought of not being able to return home added to the anxiety. "Yes, I suppose I should hurry along now, but it seems a shame to be saying goodbye when I have only met such an interesting group of...."
"Ishi," said the rabbit, finishing Billy's sentence. "You are human, we are all ishi. Individually we are rabbitish, raccoonish, Elkish and so on. Our unfortunate friend was deerish.
"I see," said Billy. "So all of the animals of this world can speak?"
The creatures, large, small and numerous by this time, laughed as much as the solemn occasion would permit.
"First of all," said the elkish, we are not animals. As rabbitish has explained, we are Ishi. But you refer to those creatures which resemble us. We call them, The Others. But come now, Billy, it is time to go. I will tell you more as we walk back to the gate."
The elkish and the boy walked back to the cobblestone cart path. A small female elkish fell in behind.
"This is my daughter, Mist," said the elkish. "By the way, my name is Orin." They walked back through the woods and across the meadow until they could see the gate in the distance. "Very good," said Orin, the doorway between the worlds remains open."
Billy noticed that the gate stood alone in the middle of the meadow, with no sign of the fence and forest of his world. But he knew that as soon as he passed through the gate, he would be back home.
A flash of light, like lightning, burst forth. Between them and the gate now stood a beautiful woman clothed in a black dress that covered her shoes, and whose long black hair fell over her shoulders and down her back.
"How marvelous," said the woman. "My kingdom has received a visitor. I hope you aren't planning to leave so soon."
"Ishland is not your kingdom," said Orin, and yes, he must go now while the door remains open."
"My dear friend, elk." The woman smiled at the insult. "There is nothing you can do to stop me from accomplishing anything I please. I am the daughter of the great Witch-Queen and am therefore the Witch-Queen of the realm now."
"You are a shadow of your mother's greatness as either witch or queen, but sadly, you are her rival when it comes to evil. Now out of our way, witch. The boy must go. Move aside or be prepared to be tangled and torn in my antlers."
The witch laughed. "Oh, have it your way then. But first ––." There was another flash of light, this time behind Orin. Then she was gone.
"Quickly now, Billy, pass through the gate while you still have time."
I would pass through the gate," said Billy, "but I don't know how I would explain this to my parents."
Orin turned his massive neck, head and antlers to look back. What he saw was not his daughter and a human boy but Mist and a young antlerless elkish named Billy.