“Stomp. Twig turned his head. He knew that sound. It was the sound of violence, the sound of gunshots, the sound of fear and misunderstanding. It was the sound of humans.”
Crunch. Twig winced at the sound of his footsteps. He was used to being silent, and the distinct crackle of the leaves beneath his foot was a new sound. This was because he was walking. Twig usually ran, and when Twig ran, he flew. This came in handy for hunting, a skill required for living in the forest. Although Twig did not especially enjoy killing his brothers for food, it was necessary to survive.
At the sound of a rustle, Twig crouched, ears perked up and eyes searching. He hid behind a bush, watching carefully. There it was again. Twig craned his neck and saw the rabbit. He slowly stood, placing one lanky leg in front of the other. Suddenly, he pounced, and the rabbit lay lifelessly on the ground.
Twig had a way of doing things, a way of getting things done. He smiled to himself, comforted by the thought, and slung the dead rabbit over his shoulder. He then took two rocks, violently struck them together, and happily watched the sparks appear. Eventually, a fire billowed up from a pile of branches and dead leaves, and Twig threw the rabbit in, watching the flames lick its fur and roast it.
Stomp. Twig turned his head. He knew that sound. It was the sound of violence, the sound of gunshots, the sound of fear and misunderstanding. It was the sound of humans. He bolted, not bothering to put out the fire and take the rabbit. As Twig sprinted, he heard the gruff voices of hunters echoing in the distance.
“A fire!” one shouted. “Someone was here.”
“Nevermind, just continue. We aren’t detectives. We’re hunters. Now let’s get a move on.”
Twig stopped. Hunter, he thought. He didn’t have the word for what he felt, but the image of the fire he had roasted the rabbit in flared up in his mind. He stowed “hunter” away with “human” in the back of his brain. Twig had been collecting words over the years, and his vocabulary was growing. He had gathered words like “gun,” “kill,” “stag,” “dinner,” “idiot,” and “twig,” the name he had picked for himself without knowledge of its meaning. Twig didn’t know what idiot meant either, but he liked the sound of it.
Twig knew he was somewhat human, but he didn’t like to think of himself that way. Afterall, humans did terrible things like abandon their children in the woods with nothing but a small parcel of food and a threadbare blanket and kill animals for entertainment. He did not know much, but he did know that he would never ever go back to his life with his parents, where he would surely live in a dismal grey box with a little clear square as his only way to see the outside world. No, Twig was perfectly fine here in the forest, with rabbits and deer and owls for company. He wanted to stay, and if he could outrun a bear, he could certainly outrun a human.
In the distance, the sun was setting and casting a fiery glow. Twig used the sun and sky as a clock. He knew that even if he had a real one, he wouldn’t be able to understand the confusing numbers he often heard hunters shouting back and forth to their companions.
Twig lay out a heap of dead leaves on the forest floor and settled into the pile under the protection of a large tree. His dinner was gone, and most of the forest creatures were nestled into their hideaways by now, so Twig reluctantly accepted his grumbling stomach and fell asleep under the pale light of the stars.
Twig was awake at the crack of dawn the next morning to find breakfast. Although he did not have a mirror, he knew he was getting thinner, because his ribs were visible through his stomach. He scampered up the tree he had slept under and crouched at the top, turning in a circle slowly and scanning the scene below.
Empty again, but wait… there it was! A streak of white against the greens and browns of the forest floor. It was running fast, and in a flash, Twig was out of the tree and chasing the rabbit. Leaping over logs, splashing through ponds, swinging on low branches, the young boy was only human in appearance. But the rabbit was like lightning, for he had animal blood. The wild chase abruptly ended when Twig realized that he would not catch the rabbit, and he sat back in defeat. Suddenly, he realized why everything was so difficult. He was a boy, not an animal, a boy with no place to go. He felt his eyes grow wet, and a single tear rolled down his cheek.
Why, he thought miserably, doesn’t anybody want me? My parents don’t want me, the forest doesn’t want me. My whole life I’ve wanted to belong, but I don’t seem to anywhere. I’m a fake– a boy pretending to be an animal to fit in. That’s what I am, a fake! A lonely fake. Of course, Twig thought all of this with his emotions, instead of the correct words.
Suddenly, he stood, fists clenched and palms sweaty. Twig began to walk swiftly, and his brusque pace gradually turned into a run. Hot tears streamed down his face, and the wind whipped his long, ungroomed hair around, but Twig didn’t care. He ran and ran until his feet were sore and his back ached, but still he didn’t stop. Twig ran until the sun had melted into the horizon, and stars began to peek through the black blanket of sky. As a cloud drifted across the sliver of moon, Twig finally stopped. It was too dark to see anything, so he lay beneath the endless sky and cried himself to sleep.
When Twig woke the next morning, he heard voices chattering and laughing. Something growled like a starved bear, and someone else yelled out a word angrily that cracked like a falling branch. Ladies shrieked, dogs barked, and wheels crunched on a gravel road. Twig curiously peeked around a tree, and almost toppled over in surprise.
Before him, was a long road, with buildings and carriages and people. So many humans! Twig had never seen so many in one place before. He longed to touch the colorful hats that delicately perched on the ladies’ heads, and the gleaming gold watches clasped around the men’s wrists. The road was half carriages, half automobiles, and Twig jumped back in surprise at the loud angry sound they made. Was there a hungry bear hidden inside?
This place is strange, thought Twig, but he stopped all questioning when a delicious scent wafted through the air. He turned towards a stand full of rainbow scoops on brown triangles.
“Ice cream, ice cream,” a man was calling out. “Cold fresh ice cream!”
Twig didn’t know what ice or cream was, but the colors were so vivid and appealing that he was up and running in seconds flat. Twig sprinted towards the stand and right into the middle of the street. A horse whinnied and a shining black automobile screeched to a halt. Another horse with a coat of caramel began to act up, and soon he was galloping down the street and neighing noisily.
“Hey, come back here you lousy beast!” screamed a man, shaking his fist furiously. He turned to Twig. “You vile, disgusting little child. How dare you scare my horse! You just wait till your mother finds out about this!”
Twig stared at the man blankly. Then, he lifted a finger to point at the man and said weakly, “idiot.”
There was a moment of tense silence as the man’s sweaty face grew a deep shade of purple. “What did you just call me?” he roared.
“Idiot,” he repeated, this time with more confidence. Twig did not know why the man was so angry, but he decided it was not worth losing time and ice cream over, so he walked away, leaving the man sputtering behind him.
The refined ladies and gentleman looked down in horror at the small, dirty, half naked boy walking confidently through the streets. On the outside, Twig remained calm, but on the inside, he was petrified. The truth was, Twig would’ve given anything to return to his home in the forest, but he knew he didn’t belong there. Although it was painful to think about, Twig wondered if he could fit in here, in the big city full of ice cream and horses and screaming men. It would have seemed completely out of the question just two days ago, but Twig was changing, and so were the possibilities.
“Excuse me little boy, are you lost?” asked a lady. She was short and round, with a feathered hat and a skirt so enormous Twig wondered what she was hiding in it. “Are you lost?” she repeated.
“Lost,” said Twig flatly. “I am lost.”
The lady looked oddly at Twig. “Well uh… my name is Ms. Thompson. What is your name, little boy?”
“And what on earth are you doing here without a guardian and dressed in nothing but an animal skin loincloth?
Twig looked down at the cloth tied around his waist. He hesitated, but remembered that Ms. Thompson was the only person who had shown him kindness. So he told her everything, from his abandonment to his arriving in the city. Surprisingly, there was not much to tell, but nonetheless, Ms. Thompson stood there gaping and wide-eyed.
Finally she said, “Well… Twig, why don’t you come with me to my house and we can get you all cleaned up. And for goodness sakes, when did you last take a bath?”
Twig just shook his head.
Ms. Thompson copied the gesture, this time in exasperation. And mumbling to herself about how unhygienic children were, she rushed ahead, Twig following close behind.
When they arrived at Ms. Thompson’s house, Twig gasped. It was very different from his pile of leaves at home. The house was bright white and guarded by sturdy pillars. A staircase lead to the ornately carved entrance, and Twig found himself eagerly running up the marble steps. Inside, the mansion was even more breathtaking. The carpet was plush, the curtains were scarlet, vases of exquisite flowers were placed on every surface, and a glittering chandelier hung from the vaulted ceiling. It sparkled and glistened, and Twig couldn’t tear his eyes away.
“Stars,” he said softly, remembering how brightly the stars had shone in the forest.
Ms. Thompson smiled. “Now then, let’s get you into the bathtub. You’re stinking up the place.”
Twig didn’t like the sound of bathtub, so he decided to show Ms. Thompson he was perfectly capable of cleaning himself. He lifted his arm to his mouth and began licking the grime and dirt away.
Ms. Thompson shrieked. “Stop doing that at once! If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were an animal!”
I thought I was one too, thought Twig as he let his arm drop to his side. Although he was surprised by Ms. Thompson’s sudden outburst, her tone softened when she said, “My daughter will see to it that you are clean and well fed.”
Suddenly, she yelled, “My darling little girl!” in a tone so squeaky and high-pitched Twig fought the urge to cover his ears.
When he looked up, a lovely woman was gliding down the tall, winding staircase. Her skin was so translucent, it looked as if it was made of starlight, and Twig wanted to leap into her arms and be buried in the folds of her satin skirts. She smiled warmly at him and spoke in a gentle voice, lightly laced with an English accent.
After Ms. Thompson told her Twig’s story, a look of worry came over her face. “And you haven’t offered him anything to eat, Mother? It’s as if you’ve never had guests before! You poor thing, you must be starved. Here, try this.” The beautiful woman handed Twig a little pink circle with a strawberry in the middle. Twig bit into it, and was flooded with its sweetness. He immediately scarfed down the rest.
The woman smiled again and held out her dainty hand. “Come along now, you must be washed and groomed.”
Twig obligingly followed her up the staircase and to a white tiled room. In the middle of the room, was a polished white tub, with little silver bars and various bottles of pastel, good smelling stuff.
“You may call me Ms. Lily. What is your name?” asked the woman.
Twig looked down at his feet, ashamed of his dirty face and odd name. “Twig,” he said softly.
To his surprise, Ms. Lily giggled gleefully. “What a wonderful name!” she said. “And what a wonderful little boy you are!” Twig felt his cheeks grow hot and he kept his eyes glued to the ground. This perfect woman had called him wonderful.
Ms. Lily turned one of the bars, and at once a waterfall gushed out. Twig jumped back, then cautiously peeked over the side of the tub, expecting to see little red fish darting around in the clear water. But instead, all he saw was the bottom of the tub. What was this magical place, where fresh water appeared every time you turned a handle?
Ms. Lily interrupted his thoughts by ordering him to undress and step into the bathtub. Twig did this too with much caution, but when the warm water pooled around him, and the lavender scented shampoo bubbled and frothed, Twig closed his eyes and melted into the water. He was instructed to wash himself with the soap, (the little white square) and scrub his hair with shampoo and conditioner, (the bottles of pale yellow and green). Twig took the soap and breathed in its scent. It smelled like the wild berries he had eaten in the forest. He longed to taste their tangy sweetness again, so he took a big bite of the soap. He immediately spit it out, disgusted. It did not taste like berries. Why was everything so confusing here?
When Twig finished bathing and was dried, Ms. Lily ducked into something called a closet, and Twig began to worry when she didn’t reappear. Finally, she came out, holding a pair of navy pants and a matching blazer.
“We’ll need to buy you a bow tie for this,” she said matter of factly, and Twig nodded along although he had no idea what a bow tie was. He took the clothing, and following Ms. Lily’s directions, tugged on the pants, fumbled with the buttons on the shirt, and slipped on the blazer. The clothes felt itchy and stiff against his skin, but even worse were the black shoes. They were tight and squeezed his toes all together. How would he run in these?
But he was rewarded for all of his discomfort when he stepped out and saw Ms. Lily. Tears came into her eyes as she said, “Oh my, you look just like him. Both so handsome…”
Twig tilted his head in confusion.
“Oh, he was my brother. He died of pneumonia three years ago. It’s nothing really. You mustn’t concern yourself with it.” But despite her comforting words, Ms. Lily continued her weeping.
Twig walked to her, and slowly put his arms around her. For a moment, there was a break in her tears as she rested her hand on his cheek. Twig closed his eyes and felt her cool skin. Tears trickled down his cheeks as he remembered all he had lost. But then he remembered all he had gained, and he wrapped himself tighter around Ms. Lily. She stroked his cheek lovingly.
“My beautiful boy,” she said softly. “My beautiful, beautiful boy…”
Finally. Twig was needed. He was loved. He belonged. He really, truly, belonged. It had been almost a year since he had first arrived in the city, and already Twig was adapting to its strange ways. True, he started out eating meals by putting his face into the plate and eating the food like an animal. But eventually, he learned to use silverware. He learned to do all kinds of wonderful things, like cook and dance and sing and play baseball. He even started attending school and talking in full sentences. But perhaps the most wonderful thing of all, was when he learned to read and write.
Twig loved books. He gobbled them up for hours at a time, and he learned from them too. In time, he became intelligent and witty and quick-minded, and when he learned the alphabet, he wrote. He wrote stories of far off lands with witches and dragons and imprisoned princesses and knights in shining armor.
He wrote stories of little boys who were abandoned and lonely, but they were always found and welcomed with open arms in the end. Twig wrote and wrote, and people read his stories. They read them, and they sent in letters, and Twig kept writing, and he knew that one day, he would share his stories with the whole world.
Now, he lived with Ms. Lily and Ms. Thompson in their grand mansion, and he never asked for a single thing. That was, until one day, when he awoke with the feeling that something was missing. Twig went downstairs, and found Ms. Lily and Ms. Thompson chatting. Ms. Lily held a cup of steaming tea, and slowly sipped it as Ms. Thompson talked.
“Twig!” she said with a start. “You’re up early.”
He nodded. “I… I want to go back to the forest.”
Ms. Lily felt her eyes well up with tears, dreading the worst. “What?”
Twig realized his mistake. “Just for a visit,” he added hastily.
Ms. Lily wiped her tears away. “Of course. We leave this afternoon.”
And they did. Twig clutched a trunk and watched the bustling people and buildings fly by as they rode to the edge of the city.
When they arrived, Twig slowly stepped out of the carriage. He watched a rabbit scamper by, and remembered the day, now so long ago that he had realized he was human, not animal. He took in the sturdy tree trunks dappled by the late afternoon sun, and how the scent of maple seemed to linger everywhere. He breathed in the fresh, pure scent of pine needles, and looked up at the clear blue sky peeking through the tops of the trees.
“Hello again,” said Twig.