a fairy tale
Winner of the President's Competition 2021
For seven nights, the young man dreamt of lying in a moonlit field surrounded by wooded hills. Thousands of stars lit the sky and the trees glowed red.
Each night the field grew smaller, the coloured trees and steep hills nearing, until on the seventh night he found himself deep in the wood, choking on falling pine needles—sharp and hot. And when the brightest star lowered from the sky and shone painfully into his terrified eyes, he woke in his bed as a Pidu.
White hair, itchy and hot, grew from his head to his feet, and he rubbed his sore head where two curved horns had sprouted. His face had grown long, and he gazed along his snout to a black nose. When he cried, realising what he had become, he bleated.
Rising from bed, he trotted downstairs. His housemate screamed, spilt his coffee, and fled from the house. The Pidu chased after him into the street, shouting for his friend’s help, but the housemate didn’t look back.
Neighbours peered out from behind their curtains and came out onto the street, gawping. A child, holding his toy sword tight, sang to the Pidu.
‘You have a terrible secret. Your insides are rotten and black. Tell your loved ones the secret, or you’ll die today and never turn back.’
Everyone nodded, knowing very well the old stories of the Pidus.
'A secret?' the Pidu thought.
He did have a secret.
A secret that no matter how hard he tried to hide and forget, was always there, making him tired and heavy.
The little boy was joined by his friends, and they surrounded the Pidu. A girl gently poked the Pidu in his side with a stick, and when he flinched, another girl poked him harder. And as the Pidu turned from the group, trotting down the street, they followed him, prodding. When he broke into a run, feet clattering on the cobbles, they chased him, squealing with delight.
He reached his mother’s house, and without knocking, burst through the door, and locked it behind him.
His mother was at the stove boiling jam, and when she saw the Pidu, she dropped her wooden spoon into the pan of bubbling berries and screamed.
‘It’s me!’ he cried. ‘Your son.’
When she looked closely, she knew it was true. Her son had turned into a Pidu.
She recovered herself, walked over to him, and slapped his long face.
‘What secret are you keeping?’ she snapped. ‘Only the worst secrets turn you into a beast.’
‘I’ll tell you, if you let me,’ he said, and leant to whisper in her ear. But as he tried to say the secret, to turn him back into a man, he found he couldn’t. He remembered how terribly she’d beat him as a child for his secrets and fibs, so when he spoke, he found he could only tell half the secret, not all, but enough that he hoped the white hair would fall from his body and he’d return to being a man.
When his mother heard his half-secret, she backed away, picked up a sharp knife covered with the red juice of berries and pointed it at him, chasing him out of the house. For although he’d only told half of the secret, what he’d said was so terrible his mother would never forgive him.
The children were waiting for him on the street, and they chased after him, whipping his back with their sticks, and calling him beastly names, until exhausted and bruised, he reached the house of his sister.
Again, he entered the house without knocking, frightening his sister whilst she was mending a dress, dropping her needle and thread.
‘It’s me,’ he cried. ‘Your brother.’
When she looked closely, she knew it was true. Her brother had turned into a Pidu.
‘What evil thing have you kept secret?’ she asked.
He trotted over to whisper in her ear, but as he went to say the secret, he realised he couldn’t. He remembered how as children his sister would betray his secrets to their mother, so when he spoke, he only told three-quarters of the secret, not all, but enough that he hoped the horns would fall from his head and he’d return to being a man.
When his sister heard his three-quarters-secret, she backed away, picked up her gleaming dressmaker’s scissors and chased him out of the house with them. For although he’d only told part of the secret, it was so terrible his sister would never forgive him.
The children outside chased him down the street, throwing stones at his head, until, bleeding and sore, he reached the house of his sweetheart.
Without knocking, he burst through the door, and frightened her as she stacked firewood by the hearth, dropping a log onto her foot.
Terrified by his appearance, she turned white with shock. She grabbed an axe lying by the firewood and swung it at him.
‘It’s me!’ he cried, jumping back. ‘Your sweetheart.’
When she looked closely, she knew it was true. Her sweetheart had turned into a Pidu.
She lowered the axe and came near him, soothing his white hair and stroking his soft snout.
‘You have a terrible secret,’ she said.
The Pidu nodded.
‘You can tell me if you want to.’
As he went to whisper the secret in her beautiful ear, he realised he couldn’t, for telling his sweetheart was the hardest of all. He’d rather die that day as a Pidu than hurt her and lose her for eternity. But as he turned away, she kissed him on the cheek, and suddenly the whole, true secret tumbled out of his mouth.
He stood back, lowering his head in shame. But she told him to look her in the eyes.
‘Everyone makes mistakes,’ she said. And the white hair shed from his body, the horns fell from his head, and his trotters dropped from his feet, and he hugged her tight and promised never to keep a secret again.