The Most Fearsome Thing – Joanna Rafael Goldberg

The women at camp looked like cannibals. Their teeth and lips stained from the woodland berries they had found. “May I have some?” I asked, polite and hungry. No one shared. They were rationing their fruits, saving some for their partners and children. In need of the calories and vitamins, I went out to find some for myself. 

        I wandered in the thick until it should have been dark, but it was the longest day and the sun stayed lit high above the treetops. Hours and hours of hunting for wild strawberries and I found nothing save for pinecones and poisonous mushrooms. The branches on even the steepest trees were barren; so were the hard to reach bushes hanging over the ravine. I anchored my feet on what I had thought was a sturdy rock. It ended up being slippery with moss—I nearly fell down down down to my death, but caught myself. I always catch myself in time.

        I seethed as I foraged. “Be careful” they said, and “stay safe.” If they wanted what was best for me, they could have given me a little bit of their food. After that close call over the crevasse, I heeded their warnings. Keeping my wits about me, I stayed quiet and watched my step, avoiding dangerous falls and that what might prey on me. I was being oh so prudent, until I realized I didn’t have to be. 

        If those slavering beasts I had been warned about existed at all, they had made themselves scarce. Perhaps the monsters feared me. If the boogie man was real, he was in hiding. No shadow monster lurked in wait for me. “Maybe I’m the big bad wolf.” I thought. If I was not, I could have been. With a little change of attitude, I could be the most fearsome thing in the woods. I slowed my gait and licked my teeth, stopped stooping low to scour for red berries to gather. My eyes narrowed as I set my appetite on hot blooded delights with a new mantra on repeat in my head. Hunt or don’t eat. Hunt or be meat.

        I stalked through the woods and out onto the glens, building traps for rabbits and whacking nests out of trees for their eggs with a long stick I used like a bat. When I came upon three sheep in a clearing, I approached with unnecessary caution, having forgotten I still looked gentle as though I might feed and protect them in the same sort of way as their kindly shepherdess. They didn’t run away—I held out my fists full of imaginary cookies and those idiots approached. They won’t have time to learn to fear humans. They won’t be able to warn their kin. I’m the most fearsome thing in the land and the wiliest too. 

        We marched back to camp, me, the ewe, the ram, and their little lamb behind me on leashes I fashioned from the shredded sacks I had initially intended to fill with plants. Everyone turned their heads to watch as my little flock and I promenaded toward them. I stopped about two yards away, then shot each animal in the head one-two-three. Roast meat and fresh wools for all. My treat. I am the the most fearsome thing, the wiliest, and the most magnanimous thing too. Now greedy for my haul or afraid for their lives, all indulged me with shares of their wine and sweets that night. After we ate, I generously doled out chunks of wool I had sheared off the corpses, but the animals’ skins I kept for myself to make a cloak of shearling to drape over my shoulders. 

        Now, I am the Queen of the campfire. Blanketed, I admire myself in the reflecting pond—my what big eyes I have! I am the fanciest, the toastiest, the most magnanimous, the wiliest, and the most fearsome thing under the moon.