Reki and the Great Carrot Monster
(Reki to Dekai Ninjin-Obake)
a short story by murphy the crow
Once upon a time On a bright Sunday Two young haibane girls rested On the edge between blue and green
"That one looks like a crow, see? Over there..." Youkou pointed at a small gray cloud that was hanging high in the sky.
"You're right...and this one, to the left...it looks like a haibane swinging a broom," Hana answered. "Must be Kana." The two haibane kids giggled.
The clouds floated over them, wandering quietly through the sky above. They lay next to each other on the Hill of Winds in the shadow of a windmill's shaft. A slight breeze made its blades turn, slowly and constantly...the deep humming of the rotor complemented the monotone chirping of the crickets around them.
Hana looked over at Youkou's dark eyes, which mirrored the bright azure. She was so happy. Summer had always been her favorite season. Closing her eyes, she dozed off for a moment.
She awoke from the snooze, but the meadow she had dreamed of was the one they were resting on. So Hana wasn't sure if she really had been asleep.
"Mmh?" The girl sat upright and followed Youkou's trembling index finger up to the big white cloud that had been Kana. It had eaten up the gray crow cloud to resemble a strange figure...
"An elephant?" Hana guessed.
Youkou shook her head. She seemed to be afraid of it, her voice was urgent. "It looks like the Great Carrot Monster..."
An image blinked up in Hana's mind: Reki was leaning over her chair from behind, her face upside down, her long black hair falling over the halo, giving her stare a frightening appearance. Hana looked at the cloud again. All she could see was a nice, fluffy elephant. But Reki's stories of the Carrot Monster had been really frightening. Hana felt the slight whisper of panic in her heart when she looked into Youkou's fearful eyes.
Then she remembered that Youkou never had the chance to meet Reki. She and her twin sister Harou had only arrived shortly after Reki...went over the wall. Involuntary, Hana turned her head towards the Western Woods. Rakka had explained to the Young Feathers that Reki was really happy when she left into the woods to fly into distant lands. Hana had cried a lot for some days. When the twins arrived, she finally calmed down...but she was still missing Reki. And she could see that the Old Feathers missed her, too.
So, where did Youkou pick up that story? Hana turned back to her: "You know about the Great Carrot Monster?"
Youkou nodded, hugging herself as if she was cold. "Dai told me."
Hana put a hand on her friend's shoulder. Dai surely had come up with his own, much more menacing version.
"Is it...true?" Youkou whispered.
"Maybe not," Hana answered. "I've never seen it."
According to Reki, the monster was huge and very evil: "It haunts naughty children in their sleep," Reki had told the Young feathers one night. "If you don't finish your lunch, it might even hurt you. And if lunch includes carrots, and you don't eat all of them, you are in serious danger: The monster will eat you instead. And, after that, the rest of your carrots."
Hana had always eaten her carrots. Maybe the monster was still out there...she looked again at the forrest, and felt a cold shiver. The wind turned, making the windmill moan, and the dark shadow of the long rotating blades fell onto the two little haibane. Youkou was shaking. They hugged each other and looked up to the big cloud, which was slowly mutating into a gigantic carrot.
Suddenly, a voice called from below, and the two girls gave a start. "Hey! Youkou! Hana!"
They turned their heads to see Harou sprinting up the hill from behind, chased by Hikari. She resembled her sister, only her skin was pale, while Youkou's was slightly tanned. Both had black hair and the same pair of black, astute eyes. Hikari was laughing and breathless.
Harou sat down next to her sister. "What's up?" she asked, still panting. Youkou whispered in her ear, and Harou's eyes grew wide. Hikari approached them, totally out of breath. She let her left hand fall gently on Harou's halo, which made a soft jingle: "Got you! Phew!" Then she let herself fall flat on the grass and closed her blue eyes, panting, but smiling.
Soon, Hikari noticed that the kids were unusually quiet, so she sat up and saw into the pleading eyes of three trembling haibane sitting close together. Hana was in the middle, adapting to the shivers of the twins.
The older haibane looked at them, puzzled. "Are you freezing?" she asked, and the trio shook their heads.
"It's...we're afraid of the Carrot Monster," Hana said.
Hikari gasped, then closed her mouth and nodded sympathetically.
"Is there really such a big monster?" asked Harou.
"With giant ears?" whispered Youkou.
Hikari kept silent a while, then giggled, and finally broke out into a loud, high laughter. The girls watched her, completely horrified. Youkou started to cry.
Holding her belly with one hand, Hikari wiped the tears from her eyes with the other. "I'm sorry, but I think your image of the Carrot Monster is completely wrong." She smiled and looked at the kids.
Hana couldn't find that funny: "You speak as if you've seen it for yourself!" Youkou sobbed and looked up to Hikari, anger and fear in her eyes.
Hikari made a surprised face. "Of course I have seen it, Hana. That's why I am so sure that it is not dangerous at all. Actually, the monster is quite nice."
"No way..." Harou shook her head in disbelief. Youkou sniffed and blinked with her wet eyes.
Hikari folded her legs and turned to them. "It was Reki who met the Carrot Monster first. I can tell you the story if you want." The three little haibane changed puzzled looks.
"Please, go ahead," Hana nodded, still not sure if Hikari was making fun of them. Real or not, the Great Carrot Monster was serious stuff, and no subject for jokes.
Hikari studied the ground, picking up some blades of grass, and began to twist them. She took a deep breath, and started: "You know, Reki was still a young girl when it happened. She was about the same age as you are, Youkou. She had two long, black pigtails..."
"I also want pigtails!" interrupted Harou.
"Hey, do you want me to tell the story or not?" warned Hikari. Harou blushed and closed her mouth.
Hikari plucked a daisy and started to weave it into the grass plait. "As I was saying, Reki was a Young Feather, just like you. And she hated carrots. The house mother was not very pleased. Each time carrots where on the table, Reki made a fuss and no one was able to persuade her. She was quiet a pighead...
"One day, the battle was so hard that Reki finally ran away. She ran through the hole in the north wall, right into the Western Wood."
Harou gulped. Hikari looked up and said to them in a serious tone: "You know that you must never go in there, do you?"
The kids nodded like good haibane, and Hikari went back to her floristic craftwork.
"So, Reki ran deep into the forrest, and it was already evening when she realized that she had no idea how to find back. She walked and walked. But the night came fast, and she couldn't even see the stars, because the sky was hidden by the trees."
Hana didn't know why, but she was hypnotized by the movement of Hikari's fingers, creating what looked like a green snake with white dots. She reached at some blades of grass before her and tried to copy the movements while Hikari continued.
"Reki sat down and cried, but she was alone. She hadn't lost all her hope, so she stood up again and stepped through the black forrest, stumbling over roots, and hearing strange sounds from everywhere. Sometimes she heard loud thuds from behind, as if a large animal was following her.
"Reki stopped, trying not to move, not even breathe, and listened into the night. Only the wind was howling through the upper branches of the trees...and then, a loud crack made her jump and duck quickly behind a big root. She gazed into the direction it had come from, but could only see two very dim lights in the dark. She stared at them for a while, and suddenly she realized that they were two eyes, staring back at her!"
If the crickets on the meadow had ears to follow Hikari's story, they surely would have fallen silent now. Youkou, Hana and Harou could hear their hearts pounding, but Hana continued to twist another daisy blossom in her plait of grass.
"Reki was too terrified to even move. The two eyes flew higher and draw nearer to her. She could feel heavy footsteps shaking the ground. Someone, or better, something was breathing, deeply and ominously.
"Unexpectantly, a torch was lit, and she could see it: A giant black furry creature with very short legs, very long arms, and tiny head with only small, blue eyes on it. It was holding the torch with its right hand, looking at Reki...somehow, the gaze was not really frightening...but rather anxious.
"At first, Reki did not realize where the soft, high voice came from. But then, she discovered a small gap beyond the two blue eyes, like a mouth, although she couldn't see teeth.
"'Are you all right?' piped the monster. Reki was so taken aback that she only managed to whisper a 'Yes'.
"The mouth of the giant monster seemed to bow into a smile, and its eyes changed from a dim blue into a friendly orange.
"'Oh, that's good. You're lost, aren't you? If you come with me, I can show you the way out of the forest.'
"Slowly, it reached out its left paw to Reki, and waited. Reki looked at the paw, than back into the glowing orange eyes. Somehow, this creature seemed to emanate warmth and friendliness...Reki carefully stood up behind her hideout and responded to the gesture of the Monster to follow."
The wind turned again and the windmills moaned as they simultaneously adapted to the new direction. The shadows stretched as the sun went down, announcing the evening. The crickets didn't mind any of this.
"Reki and the Monster had wandered silently through the woods for some time when a question came to Reki's mind.
"'What is your name?' she asked.
"The monster stopped, and the color of its eyes changed into crimson. It looked down, as if ashamed of the question. 'I...don't have a name. I'm sorry.' The monster stepped self-consciously from one foot to another. 'You are the first person I meet, so I didn't need a name until now...well, actually I have met other people before, but they just called me "Monster", and I ran away.'
"It seemed to Reki that this strange creature probably needed more help that herself. Monster obviously wanted to change the subject, and continued to walk.
"'Why are you here in this forest?' it asked. 'It is dangerous here, you know, for you birds.'
"Reki felt that Monster didn't really know much about what was going on outside the forest. But she could live with being mistaken for a bird.
"'I...I fled. From the others. They wanted me to eat carrots, but I don't like carrots. So I ran away.'
"Monster's eyes turned yellow: 'But, carrots are very healthy! They make your eyes sharp, and your wings strong. I have a big garden myself, full of carrots, and I eat them every day.' Its eyes became deep red again. 'In fact, carrots are the only thing I eat.'
"Reki stared. That was the strangest thing she ever heard of: A giant monster with claws like a bear, only eating vegetables?"
Hikari's plait was now about as long as her arm, and she bent it into a circle.
"The thought made Reki laugh. The monster stared at her, surprised, but then joined in with a strange high-pitched chuckle.
"'You know what?' said Reki. 'I have a name for you. Look, you are a monster, you can't do anything about it. You should be proud of being big! I wish I was as big as you.' Monster blinked, and didn't know what to say.
"Reki cleared her throat: 'I hereby name you Great Carrot Monster.'
"They stepped out of the forest onto a large field, and Reki could see Hill of Winds again.
"Monster stared at Reki with green eyes, then it said: 'Thank you! I really like my name. Thank you. You are a very kind bird.'
"Reki blushed. 'You're welcome...in fact, I have to thank you for saving me.
"The eyes of the Great Carrot Monster dimmed into red again. 'Oh, never mind,' it said and ran back into the forest."
Hikari finished the green blossom ring, stood up, and sat down behind Youkou, who was not crying anymore. She carefully pulled the girl's halo aback, and placed the grassy circlet onto her head.
Youkou reached up to touch her precious crown. "So, there you go. Feeling better?" Hikari asked. The girl nodded, and finally reminded to close her mouth, which had been open for quite a while since she was absorbed by the story.
Hana noticed Harou's disappointment, and held up the ring she had made herself. The two girls smiled at each other, and Harou turned around to be crowned, too.
The four haibane stood up, yawning and stretching their arms and legs. Hikari said that it was time for dinner now, and they slowly walked back to Old Home.
Youkou and Harou walked hand in hand, and their gray wings shone golden in the evening sun. Hikari and Hana walked a little slower and fell behind. They looked at the evening sky, shielding their eyes from the blending red sunset. "The clouds are all gone now...tomorrow will be sunny, I'm sure," said Hikari.
"Hikari...can we go visit the Carrot Monster?" asked Hana and looked into the west, where the trees of the forest waved slowly in the wind.
"I'm not sure...it is very shy, you know...and it probably doesn't live in the Western Woods any more," Hikari answered.
"Then we should go and check if it is still there," Hana insisted. "It can show us the carrot garden!"
"Where did it move to?" Hana looked very earnestly up to Hikari. She wouldn't let go of the topic, that was sure.
"I don't know..." Hikari started to feel uncomfortable. "Maybe it went into the clock tower in the city..."
Hana was surprised: "Really?" She stared down at her feet as she walked, thinking intensely. After a while, she looked up and beamed.
"I'll go and ask Kana then!"
After that, Hana ran down the hill, outrunning the twins, and sprinting right through the hole in the northern wall.
Hikari chuckled nervously and mumbled: "Oh no. What have I done? Poor Kana..."
But the recently crowned Youkou-hime was pulling on her brown skirt: "Hikari?"
"We want pigtails!"
"Like Reki!" said Harou. The twins nodded in unison.
"Erm...sure..." answered Hikari, a bit puzzled by the question.
She folded her arms, and shook her head. "You didn't really listen to the story, did you?" The twins looked at each other in confusion.
Hikari shrugged. "Whatever. I'll show you how to do it, but tomorrow. Can you two princesses help me to set the table for dinner?"
The girls beamed. "Sure!" Youkou said, and Harou nodded.
As they entered the courtyard, they saw three Haibane standing beyond the balcony. Hana was nudging Kana, who held her ears pretending to be deaf, and chanted: "Ba ba ba, I can't hear you, what do you say? Ba ba, no, I can't understand, must be the wind, ba ba ba ba ba..." Rakka stood behind them, covering her mouth and snorting with laughter.
"You're so mean!" shouted Hana angrily.
"Hikari, you have to tell us that story some day!" said Rakka, putting her hand on Hana's head, who was clearly fuming.
Hikari blushed, and Kana threw an exhausted look at her: "Please tell her that there are no Carrot Monsters hiding in the clock tower!"
"I am sure Oyakata would have noticed if there was a bugbear in the basement..." said Nemu, who had come from the eastern wing to join the others.
Hikari pushed Hana and the twins to the tower, where the house mother was already waiting for the kids to help in the kitchen.
"What is this all about?" Nemu asked.
"Hikari told her that the Great Carrot Monster hides in the clock tower," said Rakka, still laughing.
"Oh no! How could she!" Nemu covered her mouth and looked at Kana, pretending heavy concern. "She didn't think of the consequences..."
Kana frowned and threw an angry look after Hikari. "Well, obviously not."
Rakka winked: "I guess Reki's legend lives on." Then she whispered: "But you wouldn't want to put an end on it, would you?"
Kana stared at Rakka and Nemu for a few moments, who just grinned back at her. Then she hung her head in defeat.
"I will make pasta today. Can you help me with the sauce, Nemu?" Rakka asked, and Nemu nodded. "Sumika gave me a recipe for excellent Carbonara...I hope we have enough Parmesan left. Did you know that the name 'Carbonara' comes from 'charcoal'? I've read about it in a book I recently..."
The two haibane left into the house, and Kana stood alone on the yard. The Young Feathers were yelling to her left, and behind her she could hear the crows having another party with the trash incinerator.
"Oh, you will get your story," Kana said to herself with an evil grin. "I'll make sure they won't forget!"
She started to laugh wickedly and stepped into the house.