“Thank you very much, Aunt Patricia, it’s lovely,” the little girl repeated dutifully.
She stared down at the book that lay on her knee, the pretty flowered wrapping paper slipping to the floor. The book was called “Magical Animals” and the little girl ran her fingers across the plain white cover.
It had a pleasing gloss to it and the words “Magical Animals” were imprinted in gold. Her aunt – well, her mother’s friend from University, actually – winked slyly at her.
“Wait till you’re by yourself and then try it.”
The little girl smiled politely, never quite sure what to make of this large lady, with her flowing scarves and velvet dresses, rather dashing high heels and striking makeup.
The party took over and it wasn’t until several days later that the little girl remembered the book. She retreated to her bedroom and shut the door, reaching for her better quality colouring pencils… somehow she felt that this mysterious book would be contemptuous of her supermarket pencils.
She opened the book to select a picture and was at once swept away by the possibilities as the wonderfully detailed line drawings flooded her vision, just waiting for her to bring life and warmth with her pencils…
A unicorn! That would just have to be silver and pink – a little frog, she had several shades of green that would work for him… The animals got larger and more menacing as she turned the pages – a tiger, ready to spring from the book alive in orange and pitch black … an alligator, swamp green and brown; and then a creature she didn’t recognise, with deceptively soft drawn fur and claws like knives…
There was a little paragraph of writing underneath the drawing:
“All animals, no matter how soft or tame they seem, have hidden wildness. Your pet cat can be a tiger, your dog, a wolf. This drawing is to show this wildness in every beast, to remind us to treat our animals, Mother Earth’s children with respect or -”
The little girl slammed the book shut, unnerved by the way the crouching, snarling monster had seemed to loom out of the pages towards her.
She opened the book again, careful to stay in the foremost pages and selected a picture of a rabbit. She worked hard on her colouring, wanting to bring warmth and a sense of life, of “fluffiness” to the picture – she’d had a pet rabbit when she was a very little girl and remembered with pleasure the soft warm fur.
She used a russet and a chestnut brown, colouring carefully the curved back, shading gently over the delicate ears and choosing a lighter brown for the large, round eyes. She sat back, and looked, pleased with her colouring, vivid and detailed, the little rabbit really seemed –
She laughed delightedly as he shook himself awake from the paper and leapt from her desk to the floor. He shook coloured pencil dust from his fur and sat back on his haunches as if to greet the little girl.
Shocked yet thoroughly pleased, she reached out a hand and gently touched the rabbit on the head, feeling soft warm fur and a living warmth. The rabbit hopped carefully around her bedroom, pausing every so often to examine a book, a discarded shoe.
“Darling? Are you busy? Dinner’s ready!”
Her mother’s voice startled both her and the rabbit and quick as a flash he bounded from the floor to her chair to the desk and straight back into the pages of the colouring book.
“Coming, Mummy!” the little girl called back, stopping momentarily to check the pages of her book. Yes, the rabbit was there again, captured in paper, the colouring exactly as she remembered doing … She touched the book wonderingly and smiled, a secret smile to herself, as she left her bedroom.
That night, before she went to sleep, she slipped the magical book under her pillow.
“Tomorrow,” she thought, “tomorrow, I could try the unicorn!”
With images of wonderful silver horses dancing in her imagination, the little girl fell asleep, smiling to herself …
Only to awaken, later, heart thudding in fright and panic.
She could hear footsteps. They didn’t belong. These weren’t the careful, light steps of her mother, or the firm tread of her father … these were… creeping. She felt a wriggle from under her pillow and remembered her book. She pulled it out and dropped it frightened, to the floor, as the creeping footsteps crept and paused. Outside her door.
The pages of her colouring book stirred … and her coloured rabbit sprang from the pages of the book, followed by something much wilder and darker that slipped through the edges between reality and dreamtime … and between the hinges of her bedroom door and onto the landing.
A startled gasp – and then a scream of pain, followed by pounding footsteps that fled downstairs with her father’s voice roaring in anger…
Later, much later, after her mother had comforted her, and explained that a bad man had got into the house, but it wouldn’t happen again because he – well, it just wouldn’t happen again … the little girl looked for her colouring book.
She turned, cautiously to the page where she knew the rabbit lived. Yes! He was still there! But what was that trace of red on his whiskers and about his claws? The slight dark shadow behind…
Thoughtfully, she closed the book and laid it carefully back on her desk.
She hasn’t used it again – yet.