Once upon a time, there was a fiery-haired woman named Ariel. Ariel would walk alone through the woods everyday collecting small treasures. One night, when she had traveled deep into the woods, the sky darkened early and the wind seemed to be trying to blow the world apart. Ariel sat in the midst of the storm letting the breeze whip her clothes and free her red-locks of hair from their confinement. From the darkness, she heard a sound, the howling of an animal in horrid pain. Shivers raced up her spine as the eerie sound continued. Terror replaced curiosity as she heard footsteps approaching. Thud. Thud. Thud. Ariel sat frozen, unable to move. She tried to run, but her legs wouldn’t move. She tried to call out, but her lungs wouldn’t draw air enough to breath, let alone scream. A dark silhouette of a monstrous canine appeared in front of her. The wind blew stronger and whistled “Ariel, Ariel, Ariel,” over and over again. The black silhouette came closer and closer, then suddenly in the blink of an eye, the wind stopped and the silhouette disappeared swallowed by darkness.
Ariel sat shaking, unable to find a logical explanation for what she had just experienced. She stood, took a few steps forward and stopped. Thud. Thud. Thud. Ariel spun around and searched the darkness. There was nothing. She took a few more steps forward. Thud. Thud. Thud. “Who’s there?” she called out into the blackness. The only answer was the caw of a raven. “I’m being foolish, this is nothing but my imagination,” Ariel whispered to herself. She walked forward ignoring the thud, thud, thud that followed her.
Through the black of the night, a bridge appeared in the darkness. Ariel froze, looking at the unfamiliar structure before her. Hadn’t she walked through these woods numerous times and never before seen this bridge? “I just forgot,” Ariel assured herself, “I only wonder because I am scared.” She walked towards the bridge. An owl hooted a warning and dove low grazing her head. A scream escaped her lips before she could cut it off, and scold herself for such foolishness.
The bridge groaned under her as she walked on. The clouds overhead broke enough for the silver of the moon to light the way ahead. The wind brushed past Ariel, and she heard it murmur, “Ariel, Ariel, Ariel.” She spun around and again searched the night, but could see nothing that should not be. Looking before her, Ariel was startled to see a lone dog sitting in the middle of the path. “Are you the one that has been following me?” Ariel asked the dog. The dog didn’t budge from its position. Ariel walked cautiously up to the dog and looked into its sad beseeching eyes. The sadness of the poor animal went straight to her heart and before she could stop herself she hugged the pitiful creature. The dog lifted its head and licked her cheek.
Ariel looked around her bewildered. Her arms which had only a moment before had been filled with the soft fur of the dog, were empty. She lifted her hand and felt her cheek, it was still wet from the dog’s kiss, but the dog was nowhere to be seen.
Frowning, Ariel continued on. Her steps were still followed by the faint thud, thud, thud. She walked for what seemed like hours, looking for her way out. She was completely lost, with no idea where she was and where to go. “How could I get lost?” She asked herself, “I never thought these woods were this big!” She was answered by the meowing of a cat. Startled, Ariel again searched the darkness. The cat rubbed against her leg. She reached down and felt nothing, but there was still a pressure against her leg. She shivered. It wasn’t possible.
“I’m losing my mind!” Ariel called out into the darkness. The rustling of the wind answered, “Listen, listen, listen.” Ariel couldn’t help herself she crumbled into a heap and cried. She cried all her worries and fears out. She cried, and cried, and cried, until she no longer had any tears left. She sat on the soft ground of leaves and dirt and listened. At first she heard only the regular sounds of the night, the rustling of the leaves and the chirp of the bugs. The more Ariel listened the more she heard. As she sat in the leaves she made out the voices of the woods, calling to her. She stood up abruptly and started forward again. The noises around her seemed to cheer. They excitedly pushed her forward. Ariel stumbled on listening to their encouragement as they guided her through the woods. Every once in awhile she would turn the wrong way, and the voices of the night would coax her back on the right trail. When Ariel was finally at her limit and ready to let exhaustion overtake her, the woods ended abruptly before her. She looked at her familiar house in front of her and almost collapsed with relief. She was home.
Later on in life, Ariel would lie in bed and remember wandering through the night. She would make up excuses for the voices she had heard and the things she had seen. They weren’t logical. But she would always remember the sadness and longing in the eyes of the dog that she had left behind so many years ago, and seen again that night. She couldn’t explain the familiar pressure against her leg of the cat that she had loved for so many years and had passed away. The animals that she had lost and that had returned to her in her need, they couldn’t be explained, but she knew they had been there beside her.