the ballad of the red panda

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
a boy has his heart broken, and is transformed into something new by the goddess of love.

Submitted: June 14, 2016

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Submitted: June 14, 2016

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The ballad of the red panda

A very long time ago, when there were many more trees in the world and far fewer people, there lived a boy. The boy lived in a small village next to a great forest. This boy was always sad, because he was not loved.

It wasn't that he couldn't feel love, or that he was unlovable, but when he loved someone he could not let them know. His greatest fear was to love someone and then lose them, and so to protect himself he always kept his feelings to himself.

Then one day a girl came to his village, she had sailed across the great ocean with her family. She was small and thin, with pale skin and the prettiest green eyes the boy had ever seen. Her eyes were beautiful, but they were also sad. The boy fell in love right away, and this time he could not keep it inside.

The boy was kind to the girl, kinder than anyone had ever been to her. She liked being with him, and soon they were together constantly. He knew he made her happy when they were together, but still there darkness always seemed to follow her. Someone had wounded her, and though she would not speak of it he knew the darkness would never go away, and would always threaten to consume her.

And so he spoke sweet words to her, brought her gifts, told her stories, and stayed by her side as long as she would allow him to be there. He knew he could not cure her sadness, but he was content to spend the rest of his life giving her a reason to smile, every day, if he could.

But one day, she was gone. No one knew where she had gone to - she merely slipped away in the night. The boy searched for her all through the next day, and the next night, and the day after. Exhausted, he then sat and waited, hoping she would return. But days passed, then weeks, then months, and he knew she was never coming back.

The boy could not stand to be in the village a moment longer, everything he saw and every place he went brought back memories of their time together. So he walked into the forest, with no destination in mind.

After walking aimlessly for some time he came to a clearing. He was weary so he sat down. Suddenly his grief caught up with him and he began to weep. The sound of his misery echoed through the forest.

Suddenly the clearing filled with a bright light. The boy looked up toward the light and beheld a woman, the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She was tall, hair golden blond, skin that seemed purely radiant, clothed in shimmering white robes that clung to her perfect figure. He did not know that someone could be beautiful enough to be terrifying, but this strange woman was.

"Do not be afraid, boy," the woman said in a lilting, musical voice, "I will not hurt you."

"Who are you, Mistress?" the boy asked in a trembling voice that was hoarse from crying.

"I have been called many names," the woman replied. "Venus, Aphrodite - I am the goddess of love. I heard your cry, the sound of true love shattered by grief, and it has brought me to you."

"Why are you here, my lady?"

"You want to ask me something, boy. Be bold now, and ask what you will."

The boy stared at her for a moment, then said "Why, my lady? Why did she leave me? I loved her as best as I could, as best any man could. Why was it not enough to make her happy, and keep her by my side?"

The goddess regarded him sadly, and spoke softly. "Her heart was broken long before she met you. Sometimes things get broken so badly that they cannot be put back together, not even by the purest love from the purest heart."

The boy's face fell. Very quietly he said, "And now my heart is broken too. I will never love again as I loved her."

The goddess did not speak, but she reached out a hand and touched his cheek. The boy began to cry again.

"Please, please goddess - take away my pain! Take my life from me, or at least take away my heart!"

"It is beyond my power to take from you what I did not give. There is something I can do to take away your pain, but there will be a cost."

"Do what you can for me please, Mistress. I cannot bear the weight of my grief any longer!"

"Very well, boy," the goddess whispered.

The boy felt warm and tingly all over. And he felt himself begin to change. Suddenly he felt...smaller. And he no longer walked on two legs - he crawled on all fours. He realized he was now covered in fur, and had a tail! He was also aware of one more thing - he longer grieved for his lost love. His pain was gone, and in fact he could already feel the memory of her fading as well.

The goddess had transformed the boy into a red panda. Now the red panda is a solitary creature. It lives alone and is content with its own company. It comes together with its own kind only during the mating season, and once mating has been accomplished it returns to its solitude without a second thought.

And so the boy was at peace at last and wanted for nothing, knew no sorrow. He ate and drank and slept. Sometimes he would watch other animals - and even humans - from a distance. But he was careful to never get too close. He had no want or need for closeness now.

Some nights, though, he would dream of a human girl with green eyes. He did not know her now, but she came back to him again and again. This did not trouble him now, but it seemed curious.

A season passed, then another, and another. Summer and winter came and went ten times, and the red panda knew he would not see many more seasons. One day he felt drawn to venture back towards the village he had lived in long ago, a place where the strange, lonely boy he had once been had been forgotten now.

He found himself back in that same clearing the goddess of love had appeared to him. He did not know why he was there, or what he should do. So he climbed on the trunk of a fallen tree, and sat and waited.

Soon he heard footsteps coming from the direction of his old home. He waited. The footsteps grew close and then a woman broke through the tree line and entered the clearing. The woman had the lovely green eyes he saw in his dreams, but they were red from crying.

She stopped with a start when she saw the red panda calmly looking back at her. She stopped crying and approached the log where he sat. For a time they regarded one another, neither seeming sure what to do.

Finally the woman said "Hello, little one. Are you not afraid of me?" Red panda stared calmly back at the woman.

"No I do not think you are afraid," she said. "Would you mind if I pet you?"

Red panda did not respond, but he did not move when she reached out and stroked his fur. Her hand was warm and damp from her tears.

"You are a sweet thing," she said. "I want to hold you. May I hold you, little panda?"

Red panda just gazed back at the woman. He let her pick him up and hold him against her chest. The woman sat down and held him tight. She began to cry again.

She cried very hard, and he could feel her warm tears fall on his back. He did not mind. She cried for a long time. She cried until she was exhausted. Then the crying stopped.

She was breathing more slowly, and her arms loosened a bit. He realized the woman had fallen into a deep sleep. He felt her chest rise and fall, he could hear her heart beat. She held him so close in fact that he could feel both of their hearts beating, and as he began to drift off to sleep himself he mused "it is almost as if we share one heart."

Sometime later the girl stirred, yawned and stretched, and looked down at red panda.

"You stayed with me. Thank you, my little friend. You have shown me kindness when I needed it most." She kissed him on top of his head, and set him back on the fallen tree where she had found him.
"I must go now, little one. It grows dark, and I will be missed. Thank you again."

The woman turned and walked away, but stopped halfway to the edge of the clearing and turned around. Red panda still sat on the tree, patiently watching her.

"I would take you with me...but you see, I can't take care of you. I can't take care of anyone, not even myself. Goodbye sweet one."

She turned and walked from the clearing. Red panda watched her until she was out of sight, then strained to listen to her footsteps for as long as he could, he did not know why. When all trace of here was gone, he left the clearing and went back to his peaceful, solitary life.

But after that day, his dreams of the green-eyed girl were different. When he dreamed of her now, the girl was always crying, and she always held him to her chest like the woman in the forest had. She always cried until she fell asleep with him in her arms, and this always pleased red panda, but he did not know why.

"I wonder," he mused to himself, "if the girl with the green eyes holds me in her dreams. And I wonder, if she does, if it helps her stop crying."

He liked to think that it did.


© Copyright 2017 Steven Paine. All rights reserved.