The small town of Springmoor was as quaint as the shores of the sea beside which it stood. The town had derived its name from the blues of the water, crystal-clear and pristine, which washed up tiny seashells that kids would gleefully collect. The small mountain in which the tiny houses were nestled comfortably, overlooked the giant expanse of the water that could be seen up to the lengths of earth itself.

The town was not densely populated, housing only about five thousand people, who called Springmoor their home. And the mayor of the town, Charlie Campbell, wanted to keep it that way. He lived in the town with his wife Martha. His granddaughter, Jessie, would come to visit him during the school holidays. Charlie was a slender man who always wore crisp and ironed clothes. He would make sure he appeared well groomed. He was also known to strictly abide by and enforce the rules.

The mayor would usually put Jessie to sleep with her favorite bedtime story. The story was a fable told by most parents and grandparents of Springmoor, to make sure their children were good to others.

It was another such night. Charlie made his little princess comfortable in the bed and tucked her under her favorite blanket. And he started narrating the story. It was fresh in his mind as if the incident had happened only yesterday.

‘Legends have it that our town was once a thriving center of trade with people flocking to purchase the best quality fruits and spices the world had ever sees. Merchants made a lot of money selling crops peculiar to the town’s cultivable land. Seeing the merchants bringing home the bacon, many people switched their professions to farming and started selling their produce. One such person was Alexander, whose father had been a healer. Alexander did not want to touch the ailing and the deceased, so he never took any real interest in learning medicine. Seeing the farmers and merchants making a fortune, he also started practicing farming.

Soon he too started earning well. However, he squandered his earnings on leading a lavish life. He even priced his farm produce at exorbitant rates. As a result, his earnings soon started to fall short of his requirements. Then greed overcame him and he started indulging in adulteration. He lied about the quality of his commodities while blatantly declaring that his was the best supply in town. The rich produce of the land was spoiled by a greedy mind’s corruption.’

‘Bad man’, mouthed little Jessie.

Charlie nodded and continued, ‘As fate shall have it, people soon started noticing that Alexander was pulling a fast one on them and was selling them bad or rotting fruits mixed with a few good ones. He also used lots of chemicals to artificially ripen the fruits at a faster, unhealthier rate. An importer named Nakir, who was a regular buyer at Alexander’s farm, had gifted a box of fruits bought from Alexander to his brother. However, the brother had soon died after consuming the fruit.

Nakir reached at Alexander’s farm and an argument ensued between the two. Alexander, however, simply refused to acknowledge his wrongdoing. Nakir prayed to the Goddess of Earth, who had blessed the land with excellent produce, demanding justice. Hearing Nakir’s pleas, the Goddess emerged from the depths of the land. The land trembled as though a huge avalanche had erupted from the very core of the planet.

The Goddess appeared from below, spewing molten lava as she stepped on the land, her eyes raging with anger. She was furious. She was enraged when she came to know about Alexander’s crimes. Her voice thundered over the town. She cursed, ‘You have disrespected my blessing. I curse you to lie.’

Jessie sprang up from her bed. ‘Oh, but he is already a liar! How does that qualify as a curse?’

Charlie flashed a sad smile and continued, ‘it is because the Goddess wanted him to understand how his lies affected others.’

The Goddess further added, ‘as you have single-handedly brought this curse upon your land, you shall suffer the most. You shall gain notoriety as a thief for generations to come. You shall feel pain to a greater extent than others, absorbing the sadness and hurt of those around you. And that’s not all. You shall pay the price for your deeds, which will come back to haunt you. You shall have to do penance for your unforgivable sins.’ With this the Goddess disappeared into the depths of the earth.

Alexander stood cowering under her blazing rage as she delivered her curse. Soon, the word got out about the incident. He was banished from the society and was forced to live alone.

‘Where is he now?’ asked Jessie.

Charlie replied, ‘as he was a dishonest person, no one would trade with him and people shunned him. Many believe that he still lives in the forest. That’s why you do not cross the town border and go into the woods. Promise?’

‘I promise,’ said Jessie.

With that, the little girl fell asleep. However, Charlie kept tossing and turning all night. He struggled to reconcile sleep and tried in vain to forget the fate of the man.

The following day, Charlie Campbell was getting ready for his long walk by the shore, inspecting the trade activities and making sure that people did not engage in any unlawful business.

As he reached for his walking stick tucked beneath the folds of the curtains, his granddaughter hugged his knees to stop him in his tracks.

‘No, Jessie. I’ve got to rush. The sun’s already up’.

Jessie pushed her golden wavy hair out of her face, and fake-stomped on her grandpa’s feet. She was an adventurous eight-year-old kid, who loved to explore the mountains and the forest.

‘Promise me first, you will get the strawberries from Alyson.’

‘Only if you promise to be a good girl while I’m gone.’

She knew what it meant. He was asking her to stay away from the border separating Springmoor from the forest. The outcast supposedly stayed in his small and broken hut in the forest and was off-limits to everyone in the city.

Jessie’s eyes brightened at the thought of savoring the juicy strawberries. ‘Yes, I promise to stay indoors till you’re back,’ she chirped.

‘That’s my girl.’ Charlie lifted little Jessie in the air and kissed her cheek.

‘Now look after grandma while I’m away.’

Martha smiled at her husband and took Jessie to bathe.

This had almost become a ritual for Jessie. She would get excited about one thing or the other and pester her grandparents till they got her a gift. More often than not, she would have it her way. Today was the day.

Charlie rushed out of the door and shut the door firmly behind him. He went about his usual routine chatting with the sellers, talking about the weather.

Back home, Jessie had breakfast and decided to play with the many pets they had, which included rabbits, dogs and hens. She particularly loved a puppy that was abandoned by his mother due to the whelp’s deformed legs. Jessie had taken it upon her to look after the poor creature and had nursed him back to health. She had named him Fluffy, as he reminded her of a giant cloud. Fluffy had a favorite ball and Jessie would spend hours playing fetch with her favorite pet.

One day, while she was playing with Fluffy, he jumped through a crack in the wooden fence and trotted into the forest, chasing the ball that had accidentally slipped through the gap. Terrified that he might get dangerously close to the forest border, Jessie followed Fluffy.

She called after her puppy. However, Fluffy seemed too  obsessed with grabbing the ball and did not stop for anything as the ball spiraled downward, into the forest. Terror took hold of Jessie’s heart and she ran with all her might. She stumbled over a small rock and fell down. When she rose up, she could neither see the ball nor Fluffy.

The Penance, a short story on Books Ameya

She stood debating with herself as her grandparents warnings flooded over her, but she could not imagine a life without Fluffy. With a deep breath, she ventured into the woods. She had expected the woodland to be sickly and eerie, but she let out a sigh when the forest appeared normal to her. In fact, it was beautiful. She was spellbound by the various shades of green that surrounded her and wandered around till she heard a sound.

Alarmed, she turned to spot the source of the noise but was unable to locate it. Then she saw a deer, which appeared to be limping. On a closer look, she realized that it was limping because of a bandage around its torso. She was curious to know who was bandaging wounded wild animals. Far across, she could now see a silhouette of a rusty and a moldy hut far from her. She gulped and carefully made her way toward the hut.

Nervously she called out for Fluffy. The dog let out a whimper from inside the house. Jessie’s nerves jangled and she could feel tears stinging her eyes. She was getting worried for Fluffy. Fearing the worst, she walked inside the dimly lit hut. Fluffy lay in the middle of candles arranged in a circle-like formation. She also noticed a hooded figure leaning over her dog. Fluffy was bleeding and one of its legs was severely injured.

To be continued…

…now that you’re here

As you might know, Ameya runs on a purely non-profit basis. With no tangible products on offer, advertisements and donations are our only two sources of keeping this blog up and running. You could convey your support to us with something as little as $5 - that's less than what an average Starbucks would cost!

Anagha Aglawe, English poetry writer at Ameya
Anagha Aglawe

Anagha likes to make the most of her creativity to come up with intriguing stories. To know more about her, feel free to get in touch with her over her Upwork profile here.