An Aunt Truly tale: Little Crimson

by | Jun 14, 2020 | Aunt Truly's Tales, Fiction, Storytelling, The Kiminee Dream | 0 comments

I’ve been working on this story on and off for a while. I expect when it’s done I’ll include it in Aunt Truly’s Tales, a book of stories I imagine one of the characters in my novel, The Kiminee Dream, would tell. Some of the stories in the collection are my versions of traditional folk tales; some are original stories. This one is an original. I posted a draft here a few days ago, and I’ve kept working on it. I’m going to post the latest version while keeping the former version directly below it for those who are interested in the revision process. I’m much happier with the new version. I think I have the gist of the story now, and the next phase will be copyediting.

Little Crimson

Long ago, but not too far away, a family of cardinals lived in a verdant forest. The mother sported light brown plumage with reddish crest, wings and tail. The father was brilliant red. Both had black masks. Two brown babies, a boy and a girl, peeped in triumph after pecking out of their shells. A third had yet to hatch. Hovering over their nest high up in a dogwood tree, the parents listened for tapping sounds, not knowing if the slow one was alive or dead. They named their male heir Carnelian and the female Caramel. Then they waited—and waited—and waited.

After a week went by, the father said, “We have a fine family now. Let’s worry no further over this last one.”

The mother wouldn’t have it. “I cannot let our little one go. I simply can’t.”

Carnelian and Caramel wished the egg would just disappear, because every moment their parents spent worrying about the one who refused to emerge, was time they weren’t gathering food.

The days wore on. The father grew restless, the youngsters resentful, the mother resolute. Finally, the teeny, tiniest baby poked through his shell.

The mother puffed up with pride. “Ah, a boy. Let’s call him Little Crimson.”

The father agreed, patting the fuzzy brown tyke with his coral-colored beak. However, he and his mate worried because the final offspring was way too small and far too thin. To help him bulk up, they gave him extra bits of food, often the very best parts of the bugs and such they brought to the nest.

This did not sit well with Carnelian and Caramel. So they came up with a plan.

One day, both parents went hunting after a light rain. Carnelian maneuvered to the edge of the nest and looked toward the horizon. “Wow. A rainbow. What a glorious sight!”

“Lemme see, lemme see.” Caramel wiggled over by her big brother, craned her neck toward the horizon and exclaimed, “Oh, my, it is a rainbow! What a glorious sight!”

Little Crimson wanted to see, too, so he squeezed in next to his siblings, stretched his neck as far as he could, but saw only the side of the nest and a few branches directly above. “Phooey,” he said. “I guess I’ll have to miss it. What does it look like? Is it big? Is it wide as the sky? Can you tell me?”

“I’ll do better than that,” Carnelian said. “I’ll lift you up here, and you’ll see for yourself.”

Envisioning brilliant colors in the sky, Little Crimson agreed. His brother perched him on the edge of the nest, but he saw only trees, blue sky and a few fluffy white clouds. “I don’t see a rainbow,” he said.

“Lean out farther, and you will,” Caramel said.

Little Crimson stretched and stretched, but he saw no rainbow.

“Farther,” the brother cried out. 

Little Crimson balanced himself precariously on the edge. “Where is it?” he asked.

Instead of answering, the brother and sister both gave him a big shove, and over the edge he tumbled down, down, down. Not yet able to fly, he was about to smash into the ground when a strong gust of wind swept through the forest and carried him off. He was too stunned to make a peep.

Carnelian and Caramel were pleased with themselves, that is, until their providers returned to find Little Crimson missing. Aghast, they asked what had happened. Brother and sister insisted he’d fallen out by accident. The mom and dad searched the underbrush, along hidden forest paths, on low-hanging branches and even in mud puddles and ponds for their third child, but it was no use. They returned to the nest resigned that their youngest offspring was lost. Seeing the sorrow on their parents’ faces made the two tricksters regret their treachery, but, alas, they could not undo their deed.

Meanwhile, Little Crimson came to a stop in a land he didn’t recognize. It was dark and freezing cold. Terrified and feeling sorry for himself, he wept. The sound carried to a fox, who perked up her ears and padded toward the snuffles and peeps of distress.

“What is your trouble, little one?” the predator asked as she drew close.

“I’m lost and don’t know how to get home,” Little Crimson blubbered.

“Oh, I can take you there.” The fox pointed her nose toward the river. “You live just on the other side. Hop on my back, and you’ll be home in a jiffy.”

So, Little Crimson hopped on the fox’s back, and into the river they went. But when they reached the other side, the fox said, “I hope you don’t mind. I have to feed my children before I take you home.”

Without waiting for an answer, the fox dashed to her den. Little Crimson held tightly to her fur with his tiny talons. When they arrived she told Little Crimson to hop off and wait by the door while she woke up her kits. It was windy by the door, though, so Little Crimson followed instead of doing what he was told. It was a good thing, too, because he overheard her whispering to her young. “I have a wee and wonderful morsel for you, waiting at the door,” she said. “He thinks I’m taking him home. Ha!”

Hearing this, Little Crimson hustled out of the den and into the cold, cold wood. He found an itty bitty hole in a boulder and squeezed inside. The fox and her kits surrounded the hole, but gave up on capturing him after a couple of hours and went in search of more promising prey..

Little Crimson’s trembled all through the night. When the morning sun blazed through the hole, he woke up consumed by hunger. He stuck his eye to the hole and saw an enormous feathered being. Terrified, he pulled back, drawing a deep breath.

“Hello in there. What brings you here?” the beast called.

“I’m hiding from the fox who promised to take me home but wanted to feed me to her kits instead.”

“How terrible! I would never dream of doing something like that.”

“How can I be sure?”

“I’m a majestic eagle. The bravest of the brave, best of the best. Are you yourself not a bird?”

“Yes, I’m Little Crimson, a cardinal.”

“Ah, cardinals, yes. Beautiful birds. I would never wish to harm someone like you. Come closer, have a good look at me, see how friendly I am.”

Trembling, the hungry fledgling poked his head out just as the eagle spied a worm in the black earth, grabbed it and offered it to him. Little Crimson gobbled it up.

“Why not come out here so I can get a good look at you?” the eagle asked.

“But your claws are so big and sharp.”

“The better to carry you back to your family, my dear.”

“You know where I live?”

“It’s not that far. Let me take you home.”

Wary, Little Crimson demurred and withdrew into his shelter. 

“Suit yourself. My babies have just hatched, and I must take care of them. You’ll wither away in that rock, poor thing.” She stretched out her massive wings. 

Thoughts of starvation filled Little Crimson with dread, so he hopped out of his shelter and cried out, “Wait! Wait! I’m coming!” 

 The eagle grabbed him in her claws, and up, up they flew.

But instead of taking him home as promised, the eagle spirited Little Crimson to her own nest. “Look, my babies, food for you,” the eagle crowed as she hovered over her newborn brood and let go of her prey.

As he plummeted, Little Crimson decided the only thing he could do was leap right out once he landed though the nest was high, high up an outcropping of rock jutting skyward. So the moment his feet touched the squalling eaglets, he jumped with all his might, and sprang up to the edge of the nest. There, with the babies lurching for him, he propelled himself out of the nest. Down, down he plunged, along with one of the eaglets that had given chase. The mother eagle didn’t go after him. She was too busy catching her own child. And just as she carried her frightened offspring back in the nest, Little Crimson fell smack into the net of a boy who’d been on the hunt for butterflies.

“Whoa! What have we here?” the boy exclaimed.

Winded, Little Crimson managed to eek out a few words, “Can you help me get home?”

Thrilled with his catch, the boy said, “Oh, I’ll get you home all right.” And ran straight to his mother and father. “Can we keep him? Can we keep him?” he begged.

“Please let me go,” Little Crimson cried out.

Seeing the sparkle in their son’s eyes, the parents ignored the cardinal. They found an old birdcage in their attic and cleaned it up. They knew Little Crimson would grow to be a brilliant red bird and expected he’d be the talk of all their friends and family.

But Little Crimson was miserable behind bars. His captors fed him well, and he grew into a strong bird that was brilliant red just as the family had expected. They showed him off to anyone and everyone who came to visit. He was poked, prodded and insulted for being unfriendly. He remained silent and sullen at they peered into his cage.

The months wore on. Fearing he’d never get home, he thought, “It’s time for me to do a little scheming of my own. He began dancing in his cage when the boy came into the room. He greeted the boy warmly, asked questions about his day, even laughed at the boy’s terrible jokes. It wasn’t long before the boy was taking him out of the cage and letting Little Crimson perch on his shoulder for a little while every afternoon.

Then one fine day when the mom was doing spring cleaning and all the windows were open to air our the home, the boy entered the room.

“You are the best boy ever,” Little Crimson said. “I don’t know why I ever feared you,” Crimson said.

“Why thank you,” the boy replied. “It’s about time you appreciated all that we’ve done for you.”

The boy opened Little Crimson’s cage to add some fresh seed.

Little Crimson hopped on his hand, hoping the boy would take him out to perch on his shoulder, but the boy shook him off.

“Not today, the windows are all open. You might fly away,” the boy said.

“I would never ever do that. I know I could never make it on my own in the wild.”

“You’re right about that,” the boy said.

“The fresh air smell so beautiful, though. I really would like to peek outside.”

“Oh, yes it is beautiful outside. Trees are budding and flowers are blooming. It’s quite a sight.”

“Could you show me?” Little Crimson asked.

“I probably shouldn’t,” the boy said. 

“Oh but it sounds so enticing. I really would like to see just for a moment.”

“Well, OK.” The boy held his hand for Little Crimson to hop on. And as soon as the boy pulled his arm from the cage, Little Crimson skittered across the room and hopped onto the window sill.

“Come back here!” The boy rushed toward the bird.

Little Crimson didn’t look back or even pause. Just as the boy was about to grab him, he lept out the window. Heart thumping, he flapped his wings, fearing he’d fall straight to the ground, but he was amazed as his wings took him higher and higher.

The boy called out as the bird flew up and away. “You’ll never survive. Come to your senses, you ungrateful bird!” 

Little Crimson gave the words no thought as he dipped and twirled and spun in the air. Higher, higher he soared over field and meadow, forest and glade until he smelled something familiar. The scent of the forest he once called home. He looked for signs of his family but found none. He felt lonesome and despondent. But then on the wind, came the most glorious song the young cardinal had ever heard. Swiftly, the sound filled him, flushing out all of his despair. 

Little Crimson raced toward the sound. Then, on a blooming dogwood branch, he saw a lovely bird, not part of his lost family, but still very much the same. Her warm brown feathers with red tinges in her wings, tail and crest were divine. Her red beak magnificent, black face a thing of beauty. He landed a couple feet away from her and sang to her, a song he didn’t know was inside of him. And their duet soared as they inched toward each other.

And so it was. They lived long and raised many young, none of whom was ever pushed out of the nest.

The end

Stop here unless you’re interested in comparing versions. I hope you’ll leave a comment and let me know what you think of this story.

Little Crimson (prior draft)
By Laura McHale Holland

Long ago, but not too far away, a family of cardinals lived in a verdant forest. The mother sported light brown plumage with reddish crest, wings and tail. The father was brilliant red. Both had black masks. Two brown babies, a boy and a girl, peeped in triumph after pecking out of their shells. A third had yet to hatch. The parents listened for tapping sounds, not knowing if the slow one was alive or dead. They named their male heir Carnelian and the female Caramel. Then they waited—and waited—and waited.

After a week went by, the father said, “We have a fine family now. Let’s worry no further over this last one.”

The mother wouldn’t have it. “I cannot let our little one go. I simply can’t.”

Carnelian and Caramel wished the egg would just disappear, because every moment their parents spent worrying about the one who refused to emerge, was time they weren’t gathering food.

The days wore on. The father grew restless, the youngsters resentful, the mother resolute. Finally, the teeny, tiniest baby poked through his shell.

The mother puffed up with pride. “Ah, a boy. Let’s call him Little Crimson.”

The father agreed, patting the fuzzy brown tyke with his coral-colored beak. However, he and his mate worried because the final offspring was way too small and far too thin. To help him bulk up, they gave him extra bits of food, often the very best parts of the bugs and such they brought to the nest.

This did not sit well with Carnelian and Caramel. So they came up with a plan.

One day, both parents went hunting after a light rain. Carnelian maneuvered to the edge of the nest and looked toward the horizon. “Wow. A rainbow. What a glorious sight!”

“Lemme see, lemme see.” Caramel wiggled over by her big brother, craned her neck toward the horizon and exclaimed, “Oh, my, it is a rainbow! What a glorious sight!”

Little Crimson wanted to see, too, so he squeezed in next to his siblings, stretched his neck as far as he could, but saw only the side of the nest and a few branches directly above. “Phooey,” he said. “I guess I’ll have to miss it. What does it look like? Is it big? Is it wide as the sky? Can you tell me?”

“I’ll do better than that,” Carnelian said. “I’ll lift you up here, and you’ll see for yourself.”

Envisioning brilliant colors in the sky, Little Crimson agreed. His brother perched him on the edge of the nest, but he saw only trees, blue sky and a few fluffy white clouds. “I don’t see a rainbow,” he said.

“Lean out farther, and you will,” Caramel said.

Little Crimson stretched and stretched, but he saw no rainbow.

“Farther,” the brother cried out. 

Little Crimson balanced himself precariously on the edge. “Where is it?” he asked.

Instead of answering, the brother and sister both gave him a big shove, and over the edge he tumbled down, down, down. Not yet able to fly, he was about to smash into the ground when a strong gust of wind swept through the forest and carried him off. He was too stunned to make a peep.

Carnelian and Caramel were pleased with themselves, that is, until their providers returned to find Little Crimson missing. Aghast, they asked what had happened. Brother and sister insisted he’d fallen out by accident. The mom and dad searched the underbrush, along hidden forest paths, on low-hanging branches and even in mud puddles and ponds for their third child, but it was no use. They returned to the nest resigned that their youngest offspring was lost. Seeing the sorrow on their parents’ faces made the two tricksters regret their treachery, but, alas, they could not undo their deed.

Meanwhile, Little Crimson came to a stop in a land he didn’t recognize. It was dark and freezing cold. Terrified and feeling sorry for himself, he wept. The sound carried to a fox, who perked up her ears and padded toward the snuffles and peeps of distress.

“What is your trouble, little one?” the predator asked as she drew close.

“I’m lost and don’t know how to get home,” Little Crimson blubbered.

“Oh, I can take you there.” The fox pointed her nose toward the river. “You live just on the other side. Hop on my back, and you’ll be home in a jiffy.”

So, Little Crimson hopped on the fox’s back, and into the river they went. But when they reached the other side, the fox said, “I hope you don’t mind. I have to feed my children before I take you home.”

Without waiting for an answer, the fox dashed to her den. Little Crimson held tightly to her fur with his tiny talons. When they arrived she told Little Crimson to hop off and wait by the door while she woke up her kits. It was windy by the door, though, so Little Crimson followed instead of doing what he was told. It was a good thing, too, because he overheard her whispering to her young. “I have a wee and wonderful morsel for you, waiting at the door,” she said. “He thinks I’m taking him home. Ha!”

Hearing this, Little Crimson hustled out of the den and into the cold, cold wood. He found an itty bitty hole in a boulder and squeezed inside. The fox and her kits surrounded the hole, but gave up on capturing him after a couple of hours and went in search of more promising prey..

Little Crimson’s trembled all through the night. When the morning sun blazed through the hole, he woke up consumed by hunger. He stuck his eye to the hole and saw an enormous feathered being. Terrified, he pulled back, drawing a deep breath.

“Hello in there. What brings you here?” the beast called.

“I’m hiding from the fox who promised to take me home but wanted to feed me to her kits instead.”

“How terrible! I would never dream of doing something like that.”

“How can I be sure?”

“I’m a majestic eagle. The bravest of the brave, best of the best. Are you yourself not a bird?”

“Yes, I’m Little Crimson, a cardinal.”

“Ah, cardinals, yes. Beautiful birds. I would never wish to harm someone like you. Come closer, have a good look at me, see how friendly I am.”

Trembling, the hungry fledgling poked his head out just as the eagle spied a worm in the black earth, grabbed it and offered it to him. Little Crimson gobbled it up.

“Why not come out here so I can get a good look at you?” the eagle asked.

“But your claws are so big and sharp.”

“The better to carry you back to your family, my dear.”

“You know where I live?”

“It’s not that far. Let me take you home.”

Wary, Little Crimson demurred and withdrew into his shelter. 

“Suit yourself. My babies have just hatched, and I must take care of them. You’ll wither away in that rock, poor thing.” She stretched out her massive wings. 

Thoughts of starvation filled Little Crimson with dread, so he hopped out of his shelter and cried out, “Wait! Wait! I’m coming!” 

 The eagle grabbed him in her claws, and up, up they flew.

But instead of taking him home as promised, the eagle spirited Little Crimson to her own nest. “Look, my babies, food for you,” the eagle crowed as she hovered over her newborn brood and let go of her prey.

As he plummeted, Little Crimson decided the only thing he could do was leap right out once he landed even though the nest was high up an outcropping of rock jutting skyward. So the moment his feet touched the squalling eaglets, he jumped with all his might, and sprang up to the edge of the nest. There, with the babies lurching for him, he propelled himself out of the nest. Down, down he plunged, along with one of the eaglets that had given chase. The mother eagle didn’t go after him. She was too busy catching her own child. By the time she had carried her frightened offspring back in the nest, Little Crimson was about to hit the ground. Instead, however, he fell smack into the net of a boy who’d been on the hunt for butterflies when he saw the bird falling.

And all too soon, in the midst of an impressive spin, he propelled himself right into the net of a boy who was on the hunt for butterflies.

Winded, Little Crimson managed to eek out a few words, “Can you help me get home?”

Thrilled with his catch, the boy said, “Oh, I’ll get you home all right.” And ran straight to his mother and father. “Can we keep him? Can we keep him?” he begged.

“Please let me go,” Little Crimson cried out.

Seeing the sparkle in their son’s eyes, the parents ignored the cardinal. They found an old birdcage in their attic and cleaned it up. They knew Little Crimson would grow to be a brilliant red bird and expected he’d be the talk of all their friends and family.

But Little Crimson was miserable behind bars. Over time, he became so despondent that his feathers turned a putrid shade of chartreuse instead of red. His beak became bright orange, his black mask turned white, and his eyes constantly spilled purple tears. Everyone who saw him immediately looked away, unable to stand such a miserable sight.

“That abominable creature has to go,” the father said at last. “He will bring misery upon our home if we don’t dispose of him soon.”

The boy argued hard for keeping the bird, but the father would be not give in. The mother went along with her husband, fearing Little Crimson really would bring them bad luck. So after the boy went to bed one night, they threw the ailing bird into the trash.

When the boy awoke and discovered the bird was gone, he was inconsolable. Not wanting to see him suffer, the parents walked with him to the trashcan and said he could take the bird back to the cage. But when they removed the lid and peered inside, they saw Little Crimson was gone. The boy ran to his room and slammed the door. His parents followed, promising to buy the boy a parakeet or canary. The boy just flopped on his bed, covered his head with his pillow and told them to go away.

Meanwhile, Little Crimson quivered under a pine bough right beside the garbage can, his heart beating furiously. Too weak and struggling for each breath, he dragged himself off, and soon found brambles loaded with blackberries. There he nibbled and quivered and nibbled some more and fell into a deep sleep.

Hours later, he was jolted from a dream by a rustling sound. He opened his eyes and saw a mouse staring at him.

“You don’t look so hot,” the mouse said.

Little Crimson didn’t answer. 

“Are you hungry?”

Little Crimson didn’t answer.

“You look like you need a friend,” the mouse said.

Finally, Little Crimson said, “I don’t need any friends. Friends just betray you. Go away.”

The little mouse left, but not for long. He brought cracked corn, peanut pieces and shred of suet for the bird at death’s door.  The mouse sang songs to him, told him jokes and told him stories about all the creatures in the forest. Gradually, Little Crimson’s feathers changed to a glorious red, except for the black mask around his eyes. He shook himself, stretched his legs and spread his wings. 

“Looks like you’re about ready to fly away,” the little mouse said.

Little Crimson wasn’t sure. “You think so?”

“Give it a try.”

So the cardinal hopped up, up to the highest branches of a pawpaw tree, spread his wings and leapt off. First he coasted coasted, the he soared and somersaulted and dove and twirled through the sky. He went low and high and high and low. Then he returned to the mouse.

“Looks like it’s time for you to go,” the mouse said.

“But where? I don’t know where my home is,” Little Crimson said.

But then on the wind, came the most glorious song the young cardinal had ever heard. Swiftly, the sound filled him, flushing out his loneliness, despondence and despair. He looked down at the mouse, with a questioning face. “Could it be? Someone for me?” he asked.

“Go find out, Little Crimson,” the mouse urged.

Little Crimson raced toward the sound. Then, on a blooming dogwood branch, he found a lovely bird. Her warm brown feathers with red tinges in her wings, tail and crest were divine. Her red beak magnificent, black face a thing of beauty. He landed a couple feet away from her and sang to her, a song he didn’t know was inside of him. And with his song he gave her all that was in his heart. Their duet continued as they inched toward each other.

When they were side by side, she whispered into his ear, “Do you want to be my mate?”

And so it was. They lived long and raised many young, none of whom was ever pushed out of the nest.

The end

If you read both versions, what do you think about the differences between the two? I’ll welcome your comments.

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