The four of them huddled together in the tent. “When is this rain going to let up?” Andrew asked for the fifth time. No one bothered to answer – they were far too cold and miserable. “Guys, seriously. We need to lighten the mood in here.” Andrew tried, “It's not like we're going to die out here – it's going to suck for a bit, but then we'll head back to camp, take a hot shower, eat some hot food, then sleep in our regular beds.” “Easy for you to say,” Julia piped up, “You're the one who led us out here.”“Ugh, yes, I know. I said I'm sorry. It still doesn't matter how we got here – we should do something to kill the time.”
“Fine,” Julia said acidly. “What do you propose we do? Play chess?”
“We could tell stories,” Andrew suggested.
“Once upon a time, there were four campers stuck in a stupid tent in the stupid rain in the stupid woods with no cell reception and it sucked. The end.”
The rain beat down on the tent's canvas. No one spoke for a few minutes. Finally, Jeff broke the silence.
“Drew's right guys – we need to do something to kill time while we wait for the weather to clear.”
Julia huffed her displeasure. Lydia found her voice.
“Does anybody else have a story? I suppose I have one.”
“Sure Lyds – what's your story?” Jeff asked.
“Well, it's not very good...”
“Better than sitting here in silence,” Andrew pointed out.
“I suppose you're right. Once upon a time, there was a little village. And in this village there was a poor girl, whose mother had died and whose father was too busy for her. Well, one day, a young handsome prince arrived as part of a tour of his future kingdom...”
“Wait, wait, wait. Lydia, are you telling us Cinderella?” Jeff asked.
“No! Well, not really. I mean, there are similarities, but it's not the same. I mean... ugh. Do you want to hear it or not?”
“Sorry, sorry. Go on. Anything beats this rain.”
“Okay, so this prince arrives and he tells all the craftsmen and merchants and everybody to bring their best things to the center square in three days so they can be inspected. Everybody rushed around – if they had something they were proud of, they cleaned it, fixed it, whatever. If they didn't have anything, they set about making, borrowing, or begging so that the prince didn't look down on them.
“The girl's father – oh, the girl's name is, uh, Alice, by the way. Alice's father came home and told Alice what was happening and despaired, as they were but poor farm hands. The next day, Alice went about her work, crying as she thought of her father's bad fortune.
"'How sad it is,' she said, 'he lost my mother, he only has one girl child to help him with his work, and he has no dowry so that I might marry someone with the money to support him.'
"'That is pretty sad,' said the cow Alice was milking. Alice nearly kicked over the bucket as she jumped up in surprise.
"'You can talk!?'
"'Why haven't you said anything before?'
"'Well, there wasn't much to say before.'” Lydia did her best to do the voices while talking over the rain as it smacked down on the tent's canvas. She continued, "'Can... can you help us?' Alice asked, 'it would make my father very happy to have something to show the prince.'
"'Sure,' said the cow. 'Finish your chores and go home. Come back at midnight and I'll have something for you.'
"So Alice finished up with her chores and went home. She made dinner for her father, but didn’t say anything about the cow. That night she snuck out to the farm and saw the cow.’
“‘Mother Cow - I’ve come back as you asked.’ ‘Well Alice, you’ve always treated me well. I want you to do one last thing for me.” Anything’ Alice replied. ‘I want you to kill me and bury me.’ ‘But...’ ’No, no, it’s time for me to go. Now, bring a knife and a shovel.’ Alice kept her word, and took the cow out to the pasture. She dug a hole while the cow observed. When the hole was to the cow’s satisfaction, she got in and laid down. ‘Okay, Alice, it’s time,’ said the cow. Alice, weeping, sliced into the cow’s neck, and hugged her as the life left her. When the cow was dead, Alice buried her in the small grave.
“Alice went home and fell asleep, exhausted from the effort. The next morning, she awoke to shouts of excitement. Curious, she went to see the commotion. She opened her door to find a small crowd of friends and neighbors looking up to a small golden cow above her door frame.”
“A golden calf?!” sputtered Julia “what, did they all start to worship it?”
“No - shut up” Lydia responded.
“Yeah, chill out Jules,” Jeff added “let her tell the story.” After a moment of relative silence, Lydia continued.
“So, yeah, now there was a golden cow above Alice and her dad’s doorway. People were amazed. You get the idea. Alice’s dad then tried to take the cow down, so he could take it to show the prince, but it wouldn’t budge. He tried everything, but the cow stayed put. Finally, exasperated he gave up and headed to the square, leaving Alice to take care of the house.
“On his way there, he encountered a crowd headed the opposite direction. Seeing a friend among them, he asked the friend why they were going the wrong way. It turned out that his golden cow was the talk of the town - so much so that even the prince was coming to see it. The father rushed home to make his house ready for the prince.
“Long story short, the prince arrived and was amazed at the workmanship of the cow. He first had his servants, then he personally tried to take it down so that he could better inspect it, but to no avail. Finally, exasperated (?) he offered to grant one favor to the person who could remove the cow from the doorframe. A dozen of the village’s strongest men tried and failed before the crowd began to give up on the spectacle. ‘Excuse me, your majesty’ Alice started ‘I think you’re going about it wrong.’ ‘What? What do you mean?’ asked the prince. ‘Well, the cow was a gift to me and my family, and I think it needs to stay a gift.’ Alice took a deep breath, ‘therefore, I would like to present it to you as a gift, on behalf of my father, myself, and our village.’ Alice reached up and with a light touch, took the cow down. Kneeling, she presented the totem to the prince.
“Amazed by the development, it took the prince a moment to recover. ‘My dear,’ he started,’ I am touched by your gift. While I know it was given freely, I would like to bestow upon you a favor. What would you ask of me.’”
“Alice took only a moment before asking for a place in the prince’s court for her and her father. Laughing, the prince responded ‘this girl, who gives me a magical totem of a symbol of maternity and fertility would ask to be my cup-bearer? How modest! My dear, if you would accept, I would be pleased to have you as my wife.’
“So the prince and the farmer’s daughter got married and lived happily ever after.” Lydia finished up.
The boys expressed their thanks for the story. Julia, however, was less than pleased.
“That’s it? That’s your story?”
“Yes...is there something wrong with it?” Lydia asked, genuinely concerned.
“Yeah, it sucked. How fucking girly.”
To be continued in Part 2, on May 1st.