The red one, unarguably so, was nicer. The color reflected untouched roses that were as bright as blood, unlike the mossy green shimmer of the new one. The red one was also perfectly round — which, the green one most certainly was not. Rather than a flawless, symmetrical circle, the new cuff is a lazy, asymmetrical oval that barely brushes against the knuckle without causing some sort of temporary inflammation, minor bleeding, or inevitable discomfort (side effects commonly disclosed). But it’s necessary, the women exclaim whenever some little girl has the absolute audacity to complain, and it’s not a debate. Rather, it’s a symbol, no, a blessing. A curse, some of the children whisper behind their all-knowing mothers backs. A curse that, with little room to discuss or argue the matter at all, condemns at least six (but as many as eight, annually, depending on the harvest, rainfall, or other circumstantially flawed environmental difficulties) curious little girls to an undisputed sacrificial ceremony in which the little, precious cherubs are taken to the western edge of the village and fed to the ambitiously blood-thirsty Bengals of the White Wood.
Bengals, classically defined under the scientific diction of Panthera Tigris Tigris, or Big Kitty Kitty, as the little girls usually label them, rule the Wood. A simple memento of thanks or gratitude, the girls are offered as a token of appreciation for not devouring the entirety of the settlement throughout the year. It is an unspoken agreement of sorts, although some unexpected, violent loses have been recorded. Thus each small girl, between the ages of five and seven, are selected and branded with a small jade cuff that require the utmost effort to remove. The girls are not selected for any particular reason, how can a human tell how delicious another looks? Simply hysterical! They are usually chosen based on the circumference of the thigh, or plumpness of belly. It was undoubtedly a surprise when little Lily was selected, for her small stature and slim waistline was hardly meal enough for large feline (based on unbiased observation).
And she broke her cuff.
When the little girl returned home one day from an odyssey of berry picking and make-believe, her mother found that she was without the little red cuff that had been ungracefully shoved onto her wrist. When Lily removed the broken but once perfect, circular symbol from her dainty dress pocket, her mother erupted into a violent fit of tears. The elders were called to council immediately. What did it mean? The breaking of jade was almost unheard of, so of course it was a sign. But a sign of what?
Lily was taken back to the village jeweler, and another cuff was forced onto her wrist. It was green, not nearly as pretty as the first — and itchy. That was all she could think about while the council lectured her on the mannerisms of little girls and questioned her about the how it had even broke in the first place.
It wasn’t that difficult, she supposed. She had been playing near the streams edge and tripped. The cuff must have hit against a rock and the thing simply broke clean in half. There wasn’t much explanation beyond that, it was an accident, but the elders supposed otherwise. There must have been, must have been undoubtedly, without argument some higher, more immaculate reason for the breaking of little Lily’s cuff. So they branded her again and sent her on her way.
On the day of the ceremony, which wasn’t too many days after the “Lily accident,” as the town referred to it as, all of the girls were dressed in the prettiest of dresses (expertly made with the cheapest fabrics that the seamstress could find — they didn’t want to waste good material only to have it chewed up and spit out). They were arranged from largest to smallest in a perfectly straight line, and directed to the edge of the village, at the boarder of the Wood, where they would meet their unfortunate, but absolutely necessary death.
In that line, little Lily picked at the cuff on her wrist. It wasn’t all that bad, minus the color, shape, and poor side effects, it just wasn’t the red one. She had complained about this to her mother all morning before they made their way to the ceremony — her mother didn’t seem too horribly moved by the sacrifice — and regardless of the gasps of the audience members at her back, or the slight shrieks of the girls at her right, she couldn’t seem to focus on anything else. As she picked at the little circlet, pinching at it’s curved edges, she couldn’t help but pout. She did notice, however, when the gasps and shrill little shrieks had paused, and she looked up only to notice that right in front of her was the great face of a particularly large tigress, whose face was smeared with a fresh paste of little girl blood.
Lily looked up at the cat, pouted, and looked back at the cuff. The audience grunted, and the tiger growled them silent. Little Lily held up her wrist to the cat’s nose, who gave it a generous sniff. “It isn’t even the right one,” she made an impressive snarl that amused even her counterpart, “it isn’t even red.” The cat made a playful noise and shook out her fur, from which fell another little cuff that was almost identical to the first that Lily had broken.
Lily let out a little scream and grabbed it (all the while various inaudible noises erupted from the audience). The tiger kneeled just enough, and gestured for her to climb. Little Lily accepted the offer, and the two strode off into the Wood with her new little cuff, leaving the chaotic mess of mutilated, almost entirely eaten children, and an appalled collection of onlookers behind.
When the elders were called the council, no one knew what to say.
For Lily Hoang, who told me that fairy tales don’t need to make sense.