Pennsylvania Jack

Emralda and the Beast

a story by Pennsylvania Jack

(C) Jack Graham, 1996

Once upon a tyme, in the long long long ago, (and that was long before now), there lived a wee beastie. There also lived the young maiden who dared to call the beastie her friend. Not that she needed to be the beastie's friend. Oh no. She was a most popular young lady, and had many friends. There were many also who would call her friend if they could, but they were timid and meek, and so only waved at her as she passed by and imagined that they were her friends. Emralda was her name, and her popularity was exceeded only by her beauty.

Everyone else, even Emralda's friends, were terribly afraid of the beastie, which accounted for much of the awe in which they held the young lady. How, they wondered, could anyone bear to even look upon the creature, much less call it a friend? You too, dear reader, might be wondering the same thing about now. Sit back, relax, and let me tell you this tale.

Emralda lived, not in a castle as you no doubt expected, but in a small simple house by the sea. From the bluff not far from her door, she could watch the waves pounding ceaselessly on the rocky shore below, and watch and listen to the sea birds soaring and whirling above the water. Her father was a mason, building walls and houses of the hard gray stone that lay everywhere about. Her mother grew the most beautiful flowers, almost all of the year, and folks from the nearby towns beat a steady path to her gardens. But Emralda had no brothers or sisters, and so in spite of her many friends, she was often lonely.

She had frequently wished for a sister, not as often for a brother. Many times she made her wish as she threw a penny, or one of the luckystones that were sometimes found among the rocks, off the bluff into the ocean below. She had wished upon the Evening Star countless times. Eventually Emralda began to realize that she would remain her parents' only child.

It was shortly after that when she discovered the beastie. When Emralda first saw the wee tiny creature, it was floundering in the surf beneath the cliff. She didn't know what it was, only that it was in danger of drowning if someone didn't help, and there was no one else about. Running down the switchback path from the edge, Emralda could hear the gasping cries coming from the waves. Caring not for her own safety, she ran right into the sea, seized the furry object before her, and held it tight as she struggled to escape the fury of the waves.

Regaining the shore, Emralda collapsed onto the little strand of sand that ran along the rocks. Beside her lay the beastie, both of them now gasping for the breath that gradually returned. The beast's cries had turned to a purr-like whimper. Emralda's blind urge to save the creature was turning to a wonder of what it was she had rescued. Never in her entire life had she ever seen anything so, so . . . ugly! She tried to think of another word, but there were none more correct. Two reddish-yellow eyes looked up at her, a pointed and twisted nose sticking out between them. It had long, curving claws on short legs that barely protruded beyond its long and soggy fur. It was about the size of a large cat, but squatter.

"Well, I don't know how you came to be in the water," Emralda said out loud, "but you should certainly be glad that I happened to look over the cliff. I've got work to do, so you just go on home, wherever it is you're from."

"I certainly am glad you came along," the beast spoke back, scaring Emralda almost to death.

"You can talk?" gasped Emralda.

"Apparently so!" replied the creature. "I always could, but I swallowed so much water, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to again."

"Who are you, or rather what are you? Where did you come from?" The questions were just streaming from Emralda.

"My goodness you are a curious young lady, but I will try to answer. I'm a beastie. Beasties don't need names, but you can give me one if you like, since Ill have to stay with you for seven years in return for rescuing me. So you see, there will be lots of time for you to learn all you wantto know. I've lived near by for years and years, sometimes in the caves under the big rocks, sometimes in the hollows of the trees in the forest."

Emralda was hardly listening to the answers she was so busy thinking of more questions. "Are there more beasties about? Why have I never seen you before? Has my father ever seen you?"

"No, there are no more, only me. My father always told me that I was the last one. Nine thousand years of beasties, and I'm all that is left. We learned long ago that your people are afraid of us. You call us ugly. So were very careful to stay away and out of your sight. I often visit your house and barn though. There are always good things to eat there."

"Did you eat Jinx, my black cat? He disappeared last summer."

"No, no, no," the beastie replied. "I am strictly vegetarian, in spite of these big teeth." He grinned.

Emralda felt bad. She hadn't called the beastie "ugly", but she had thought the word to herself, and she was just sure that he had known. But the truth was, he wasn't pleasant to look at. "You seem very nice," she told him, trying very hard to make herself feel better too.

"I am really, and I thank you for saying so," the beastie replied. "If more people would just get to know me, they would agree. Can we be friends?"

Emralda didn't know what to say. She liked this little fluffball, now that he was dry, in spite of his looks. But she wasn't sure if she really wanted to commit to being his friend. That involved some obligations. "Maybe someday," she finally replied, "but first I think we need to get to know each other better."

At first the beastie looked hurt, and Emralda almost changed her mind." That's fair," he told her. "One should pick one's friends carefully."

They agreed to meet right there, along the seaside, once each week until the summer was gone. The beastie taught Emralda how to find the tastiest seaweeds, and the most flavorful of the mosses that grew on the rocks of the cliff, and to enjoy the succulent ferns of the woodlands. In return, Emralda introduced the beastie to things he hadn't found when he had visited before, like the radishes and rutabagas and lettuce in the garden. She took him for boat rides in the early mornings when the sea was calm. She sang songs for him, and was delighted when he not only sang along, in a rich tenor voice, but sang to her a beastie song his own mother had taught him long ago.

By summer's end, they had become friends, and Emralda decided it was time he met her parents, and some of her other friends too. They all were hesitant at first, but the beastie won them over, in spite of his terrible looks, just as he had won over Emralda. That's not to say everyone liked him. There were still those who were afraid, and couldn't believe there was anything good about something that looked so, so... unpleasant. Too bad they didn't know better. For the next seven years, Emralda and the wee beastie remained the best of friends.