A Short Short Story — A Fairy Tale

‘A Short Short Story’ gives you your daily dose of fiction in a thousand words or less.
midway through life's journey
U.S. National Archives
A Fairy Tale

…And so the good boy and the bad boy went into the forest. Immediately they ran into difficulties. Difficulties beyond the dark trees and the omnipresent possibility of witches, or also of wolves. For there in the forest, they were confronted with the knowledge of all that they knew of forests. Forests: places of darkness, places of wilderness, places of wandering, but above all, places where you will be tested. Midway through life’s journey, Dante found himself in a dark wood from which the straight path had been lost. What a terrible place that forest was; so savage, stark, and drear. The very thought renews the fear.

Dante was tested in a forest. Hansel and Gretel were tested in a forest, with that house made of candy. Little Red Riding Hood was tested. Snow White was tested. Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, to a greater and lesser extent, were tested. Forests: places of testing.

But knowing this, the two boys could not help but be on the lookout for the test, and this, like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, altered the very nature of the test; the observers changing the test by observing it. …Was this the test? Was that the test? Was that bush the test? That tree? That wandering old crone? That beetle? That wolf? Wherein was the test and could the test truly be a test if you were prepared for it, like cramming for the SATs.

The good boy wore a blue hat and the bad boy wore a red hat. This was all that differentiated them. But then again, what made the good boy good and the bad boy bad? For the bad boy was not “bad” in any traditional sense. Certainly he did not smoke cigarettes and wear leather jackets and hang out with motorcycle gangs. Sure, he had his character flaws; he swore too much, and stole money from his mother’s purse, and tried to catch glimpses of the panties of the village girls, as they were changing, before and after gym class. …But did this make him essentially “bad”? Wasn’t that a little overly dramatic? And what was so great about the good boy anyway? The “good” boy often yawned during church; and sure, he got straight ‘A’s; but he was a grind, a bore, and in concentrating so hard on his studies, wasn’t he ignoring other, equally crucial things, such as art, and life?

“Where is this bullshit test anyway?” said the bad boy.

“Don’t swear so much,” said the good boy.

“…Swear as much as I fucking want,” muttered the bad boy, “and anyway,” he said, raising his voice, “what makes you so great? Switch our caps and I may as well be the goddamn good one.”

The afternoon sun was falling.

“We’re not here to bicker,” said the good boy. “We’re here to be tested.”

“Well where is it?”

“…Maybe it was that old crone,” said the good boy. “The one carrying the bundle of sticks on her back? Maybe we were meant to help her.”

“…Or maybe she was a witch. She looked scary as fuck.” The bad boy spat, and lit up a cigarette. (Okay, he did smoke sometimes.)

“Or maybe she was like God or Jesus or Zeus, like, disguised as an old woman,” opined the good boy. “That sort of thing happens all the time. And in failing to help her–”

“What bullshit.”

“–And in failing to help her, in failing to overcome our fear, we also failed the test. That sort of thing also happens all the time.”

“…You heard me.”


“What… bullshit.”

“Fuck you,” said the good boy suddenly.

“Ah ha! Not so ‘good’ after all.”

“I say what I please.”

“Whatever. And fuck you.” The bad boy stomped out his cigarette.

“No, fuck you.”

“Fuck. You.”

…And thus engaged, they continued to argue, the two boys did; as afternoon darkened into actual darkness, and then night, the argument roamed and roamed — covering the nature of good, evil, God, chaos, trees, wolves, beetles, the Devil — the debate roamed and roamed, as the two boys roamed, wandering miles through the forest as they bickered and yelled; until darkness descended into deepest pitch-black night, and they were stranded in the void-like center of the forest. And the next morning, they could not find their way back out into the village again. Nor during the next day, nor the day after that. And so the two boys forever remained in the forest, the puzzle of it, the mirror of it, the forever yawning immensity of it, which was a part of the whole goddamn test all along. TC Mark

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