Category Archives: Hero’s Journey

Little One and the Field of Power

Following is the eleventh story in a series that tells the tale of the first hero to go on a journey to discover his calling.

To read the first story in the series, click here.

To read the previous installment, click here.

Even thinking back on it afterwards, Little One had no idea how he survived the fall.

He plunged through the abyss for what felt like days. Of course he had no way of knowing how long it actually was. All he knew was that despite his fervent hope that something—anything—would begin to take shape beneath him, he kept falling through the endless void.

It was so dark that he couldn’t see anything, not even the rest of his body as it fell. With nothing but unknown blackness surrounding him, his mind began to seek solid ground at least internally by imagining what lay below him.

At first he pictured beautiful landscapes filled with rushing water, lush forests, and mountaintop vistas that extended as far as the eye could see. But as the fall continued with no ground in sight, the images began to turn darker. He couldn’t stop himself from imagining scorched sands, burned tree trunks, and threatening figures moving under an endless night.

At one point his visualizations grew so terrifying that the blackness surrounding him felt almost comforting in comparison. At least he seemed to be alone here, with nothing around to attack. He could even feel the warm air supporting him from below so he didn’t fall too fast, and the emptiness surrounded him with such softness that it almost felt like an embrace.

Little One lost himself in these sensations and nearly forgot that there was supposed to be anything more in the world than this. It was a pleasant, almost entirely unfamiliar feeling.

Eventually—hours, days, or weeks later—Little One was never quite sure—the blackness began to lighten. He was startled when he made out something moving about just in front of him; he was even more surprised to realize that it was his own foot.

As the air about him lightened, he began to be able to discern something green far below. Suddenly fear returned sharp as a knife in his belly as Little One realized the very real danger of what he had been hoping for all this time. He didn’t have a good sense of how fast he was falling, but his speed appeared to be increasing; wind was starting to whip about his head, blowing his hair in his face and tugging his clothes away from him.

The green below him was beginning to look more and more like rolling hills covered in grass. Though it looked softer than rock, it was likely dense enough to easily smash a skull at any significant speed.

He tried to think of a way to break his fall on something softer, but there was nothing below him but undulating grasslands, and nothing with him that he could use to slow himself down.

As the ground hurtled towards him, he made an effort to focus on the air beneath him, feeling its embrace again as he had in the abyss. As soon as he did, the wind whipped less wildly and he felt himself slowing down. The more he focused on the sensation of being held up, the more slowly he went.

He descended the last bit of sky in this way, gradual for a moment like a feather as he felt the air beneath him, then quickly like a rock as his fear took over and the ground rushed up to meet him. Then he would relax into the air’s embrace and become a feather once again.

The last bit he approached like a rock until, just before he landed, he felt a gust of air rushing upward from beneath him; it picked him up as gently as a mother would her child, then deposited him with somewhat less tenderness face-first into the moist ground beneath the grass.

Little One wiggled his fingers and toes. No pain. He lifted one leg, then another, then his arms. Nothing hurt; he seemed to be all in one piece.

His mind struggled to make sense of what had just happened but ultimately failed. He shook his head, pushed himself up off the dirt, and looked around.

Grass surrounded him, waving slightly in the breeze. The gentle hills extended in all directions beneath a blue, sunny sky.

Little One took a deep breath. He decided that this was a beautiful place—the soft green grass as it rippled like giant waves in the wind, the stark blue of the sky, and the light that shimmered in the distance. This was good land, he thought, a kind place, and he felt grateful as he began to walk directly towards the sun in search of the kidnapped Serpent God.

Walking felt extraordinarily good. He enjoyed the sensation of movement in his legs, and he felt free, purposeful, fulfilled. He wasn’t sure at first which direction to go in, but he felt confident that if he just kept walking with open eyes and ears, he couldn’t help but find clues that would help him locate his father.

After some time he passed a stream. Its water was so clear and it made such a delightful noise as it spilled over pebbles and around boulders that he considered changing course and following it downstream. In the end, however, he decided to stick to the direction he had already chosen, having come this far. He drank his fill of the sweet, cool water and filled up his flask, but then continued on his way.

A few hours later, he began to regret his decision. The sun was beginning its descent towards the horizon, and he hadn’t seen any more streams. He’d assumed there would be many out here, given the lushness of the landscape, but he’d seen nothing—no water, no animals, not even a single, solitary bush—that would suggest there was anything out here other than infinite fields of grass.

It occurred to him that this place might not be as kind as he’d thought. It began to feel more desolate. He felt a tightening in his chest as he realized that though beautiful, this land wasn’t very hospitable, and that food and water were scarce.

He decided to return to the stream.

When he turned around, he noticed something strange. The grass—which moments before had a rich, bright sheen—no longer looked quite so robust. Little One wasn’t sure if it was the change in the sun’s angle or something else, but it now appeared yellowish, parched, and almost brittle.

He began to walk and continued for what felt like an interminably long time, but nothing in the landscape changed except the rustling of the dry grass. He was sure he had walked at least as far as he had come, but there was no water in sight. He considered whether he could have gotten turned around, but the sun was directly in front of him and the stream had been perpendicular to his path; he should have come across it regardless.

Little One’s legs suddenly felt tired, and he realized that his foot was starting to ache. He could feel frustration rising within him.

“This place isn’t just desolate—it’s dangerous,” he muttered to himself. “It’s actively trying to deceive me.”

Just then his foot caught the edge of a rock hidden by the grass and he fell, barely managing to get a hand in front of himself to avoid falling again face first into the dirt.

“Oh, you think that’s funny, do you?” he cried aloud. He slammed his fist into the earth. “I don’t think it’s funny at all.” He felt something heavy and malevolent in the air around him, the way electricity charges the air just before lightning strikes.

When he stood up again, the landscape around him had changed. There were jagged cliffs rising in the distance now, fissures were opening up in the earth around him, and the air was darkening even as the sun was still visible above the horizon. A cold wind brushed against his arm, raising goosebumps.

Little One shuddered. This place is turning against me, he thought to himself. I’ve angered it, and it wants me gone.

He began to walk more slowly now, careful where he put his feet. The air got quieter and more threatening with each step. The fissures around him grew bigger, gaping like mouths that wanted to swallow him whole.

This is bad, Little One thought. I need to get out of here, and fast.

Just then Little One heard crackling and felt a searing heat on the back of his legs. Even before he turned, he knew what he would find. The entire field of grass behind him had burst into bright flames of red and orange. He had no idea how it had started, let alone spread so quickly, but he didn’t have time to wonder; the fire was flying towards him with the speed and resolve of a dragon hunting prey.

Little One ran, cursing his luck at having landed in such an evil place.

That’s when another strange thing happened. Where a moment before there had been solid ground beneath his feet, now there was nothing. Little One saw it happen, saw the earth in front of his extended foot disappear in an instant and become a void, nothing more than shadow.

Before he had time to register this fact, he was falling into an abyss for the second time that day.

This one, fortunately, was shorter than the last. And that, perhaps as much as anything else, is what calmed him down. By the time he tumbled to a stop at the bottom of the pit, he was almost laughing at the absurdity of what was happening.

He felt surprisingly clear-headed and calm. “Another chasm,” he said to himself, laughing. “Okay, well, at least I’m getting pretty good at these.”

He heard a buzzing sound but couldn’t find its source. The fissure he found himself in wasn’t large at all—he could touch the walls all around him, but he was a good ways from the top. He figured it wouldn’t take too long to climb out, but when he tried, the earth crumbled; he couldn’t get purchase for a hand or foot, and he sensed that if he tried too hard, he might end up burying himself alive.

The buzzing seemed to be coming from behind him, but when he turned, there was nothing there. It continued, sometimes behind his left ear and sometimes behind his right, as he thought about the first chasm he had fallen into and the snake that had helped him find his way out after he had nearly given up. He hadn’t seen the snake since revisiting that chasm and seeing the whole episode replayed in front of him. He had realized then that the snake wasn’t separate from him; its wisdom was really his own. Recalling that, he suddenly felt stronger. If he could make it out of that pit of darkness, surely he could make it out of this one.

Still, he wished the snake would come and tell him exactly what to do. That would certainly make things easier.

It occurred to Little One that someone or something had helped him overcome nearly every challenge he’d successfully faced on this journey so far. He felt embarrassed by that for a moment until he realized that it meant that there was help available every time he’d gotten stuck. Which meant that there was help available somewhere around here now.

Little One looked around. He said a silent prayer—he wasn’t sure whether it was to the Serpent God, this strange land he now found himself in, or something else—but he asked whatever might be listening for help and guidance.

Nothing appeared. Little One repeated his prayer and waited. These things probably took time, he figured.

As he sat there waiting, the buzzing sound grew louder. A fly appeared from behind his head and hovered close to his eyes. Annoyed, Little One swatted it away with his hands. It immediately came back.

He swatted again, and again the fly returned. This happened twice more until the last time the fly didn’t come back. Little One breathed a sigh of relief.

“You were the one who asked for help,” a deep voice said from behind his head.

Little One whipped around but didn’t see anyone. He began to turn back around when he saw the fly hovering behind him at eye level.

“Don’t swat me again, please,” it said in a voice that was impossibly loud for its size. “I hate that. You have no idea how it messes with my navigational equipment. I’ll fly crooked for days now.”

Little One looked at the fly. “Um, I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t realize…”

“Didn’t realize that something with a mass hundreds of times my own would cause damage when slammed at high speeds against my delicate body? Yes, well, nobody could have seen that coming.”

Little One wasn’t sure what to say. He’d never talked to a sarcastic fly before. “I’m sorry,” he said again.

“Then I forgive you,” said the fly lightly. “Now, I believe you were looking for some help?”

Little One nodded. “How do I get out of here?”

“To get out,” the fly began sagaciously, “you need to first understand how you got in.”

Little One was tired of riddles. “Okay, how did I get in here then?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” asked the fly.

“Um, no,” said Little One, unable to keep the frustration from his voice. “If it were I wouldn’t have asked. The only thing that’s obvious to me is that this place is trying to kill me.”

Little One couldn’t be sure, but he thought the fly was shaking its head in disappointment. “A fundamental misunderstanding. Common, but erroneous. Tell me then,” he asked, “did it feel that way when you first got here?”

“Well, no,” Little One had to admit. “At first I thought it was great.”

“So what happened?”

“I realized that the grass just went on forever and that there was hardly any food or water.”

“And do you know those things for certain?”

Little One considered this. “Well, no, I guess not.”

The fly continued with its deep, commanding voice. “Exactly. So you told yourself a story about the nature of this place.” It paused, apparently waiting for something. “And…”

“And it turned out I was right?” Little One really was tired of riddles.

The fly’s two front legs crossed over its abdomen. “Exactly,” he said with satisfaction.

“Wait, what?” Little One asked.

He saw tiny flashes of white in the fly’s face and realized that it had rolled its eyes.  “You told yourself a story about how great this world was, and you were right. Then you told yourself a story about how horrible it was, and—guess what?—turns out you were right again,” the fly said impatiently. “That’s generally how the stories we tell ourselves work, is it not?”

Little One was confused. “What do you mean?”

“Stories are powerful,” explained the fly, uncrossing its legs. “You tell one, and that’s what’s true. Tell another, and that’s what’s true. The world conforms itself to your expectations. All worlds do, really. This one is just particularly responsive.”

Little One shook his head. “You mean I make things happen with the stories that I tell myself? I can change the physical world with my thoughts?”

The fly laughed. “I’m just a fly. I don’t pretend to understand everything that makes the world the way it is. What I’m saying is that your stories determine your reality. Regardless of what’s actually going on, they create how your world looks, sounds, and feels to you. They define your experience and, even more, what’s possible for you.”

Little One took this in. “So to get out of here, I just need to tell a better story.”

“Well done, Grasshopper!” said the fly, laughing at his own joke.

Little One thought he heard an edge of mockery in the fly’s laughter. It rubbed him the wrong way. He was already feeling stupid for having gotten himself stuck, once again, in a bad situation that was entirely of his own making.

“That’s just another story,” the fly said, as if reading his mind. “Are you sure it’s the one you really want to tell?”

Little One shook his head as if to break free of something. “I suppose not,” he said. “How about this one: I just learned another good lesson rather quickly. And there was really no way to learn it without making that mistake.”

The fly clapped its two front legs together enthusiastically. “And so the student becomes the master. I believe my work here is done.” It put one arm in front of its abdomen and flew down quickly and back up again in what Little One understood to be a mock bow before it started flying away.

Little One had an idea. “Hey, hold on a second,” he said. “Did you see the Serpent God pass this way? I have reason to believe he was abducted against his will, and I’m trying to find him.”

The fly looked at him, all laughter gone from its face. “No,” he said seriously. “I am, once again, just a humble fly. But if what you say is true, that is serious.” He paused for a moment, as if making a decision, before finally nodding his head and continuing. “There is, however, a creature not far from here who can give you what you’re looking for.”

Little One’s heart started to beat faster, and he felt excitement rise within him. “Really? Where can I find this creature?”

“When you get to the surface, you will see the stream you missed from behind the illusion of your story. Follow it downstream and you will find this beast.”

Something in the fly’s manner dampened Little One’s excitement. “You’re sure it can give me what I seek?”

“Of that I am sure,” said the fly. “But it may not be what you think it is.”

“It’s the only lead I’ve got,” said Little One. “That’s good enough. Thank you so much!”

“Best hold your gratitude,” said the fly. “When all is said and done, you may not thank me after all.” And with that it buzzed off.

Little One watched it until it disappeared above him.

He wasn’t sure what the fly meant, but he wouldn’t figure it out by staying in this pit. He took a deep breath, preparing himself. Then he began to tell his story.

This is a good land, he thought to himself. Kind and generous and abundant.

As if in answer, he heard a bird singing, the first animal he’d heard since arriving.

I have everything I need. Assistance is always available to me.

A ray of sunlight appeared on the wall in front of him. He put his hand into its light and enjoyed the warmth.

I can find my way out of here. There are probably lots of ways to climb out; all I need is one.

Just then he felt a drop of rain fall on his face. It was cold and unpleasant.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” he said out loud. “I’m trying, here, okay?”

He took anther deep breath. “Okay, it’s just rain,” he said, trying again. “It can’t hurt. Plants need rain to grow. Animals need water too. It’s nourishing. Maybe it’s here to help me.”

And suddenly Little One understood. He laughed when he realized what was happening.

He put his backpack on and waited. The rain hit his face over and over, but the sensation felt enjoyable now, not unlike falling through the abyss.

In a short time water puddled in the bottom of the pit. Little One didn’t move. The rain continued, and the puddle turned into a pond. The rain got harder, and soon the pond turned into a lake.

Before long, Little One found himself treading water, buoyed up by the lake towards the opening of the pit.

When he reached the top, he pulled himself up onto solid land and rolled onto his back, where he could see the first stars of the evening that were beginning to emerge from behind the clouds as the sun went down.

That couldn’t have gone any better, he thought, and just then he was flooded with a sense of gratitude, contentment, and a strong desire to find his father.

Photo credit: Randen Pederson // CC


Little One and the Big Misunderstanding (Or, the Trouble With Finding Answers)


Following is the tenth story in a series that tells the tale of the first hero to go on a journey to discover his calling.

To read the first story in the series, click here.

To read the previous installment, click here.

Little One’s smile faded quickly as he glanced around his father’s palace.

The walls looked like they may have at one time in the distant past shared the same iridescent sheen of the palace’s exterior, but they were now coated in what appeared to be a layer of slime covered by a film of dirt.

When Little One looked up at the low ceiling not far above his head, he saw that there were black circles running in a straight row above him. Or rather, most of them were black circles. Every ninth or tenth circle wasn’t black at all and allowed a solitary ray of light to stream through.

Little One guessed that the circles were intended to be lights, but grime was preventing most of them from functioning as such. The result was that the space was dark and grim, with the occasional light serving only to highlight the gloominess.

Beneath the filth, curved columns hugged the walls at regular intervals down the length of the room, which was so long and dismal that he couldn’t even see the far wall.

It occurred to Little One that this is exactly what it might look and feel like if he were to be swallowed by a giant snake.

He wondered if perhaps this was another attempt by his father to assess his worthiness. It hadn’t been easy to find his way into the Serpent God’s palace in the first place. Maybe this was another test to see how he would respond when faced with such unexpected disorder.

In fact, nothing about his father’s palace so far had been close to what he’d expected. He hadn’t even realized he’d had any expectations, but he couldn’t deny that he did when they were systematically shattered one by one.

It started when, rather than being welcomed and congratulated on their cleverness and perseverance when they finally discovered the location of the palace, he and his sister were simply met with impenetrable walls.

It continued when his father had been too deaf or callous to care to respond when they’d screamed and knocked and searched for days looking for a way in, growing hoarse and blistered in the process.

And now that he finally had figured out the riddle and made his way inside, he was greeted not by a spectacular home worthy of the most powerful god in existence, but by a ruined hovel that appeared silent and abandoned.

Well, not entirely silent, Little One realized as he took in his disappointing surroundings. He found that he could now make out a low thrumming coming from beyond the gloom. It came and went, rising and falling in intensity and at times subsiding entirely.

Little One found himself moving down the long, dim corridor towards the source of the sound. He wondered briefly about Ginger as he went, and whether she’d find her own way in. He didn’t think she’d mind that he didn’t wait. They’d come all this way, after all, for a reason, and he figured she’d catch up soon regardless. She might even be ahead of him now, knowing her. He could imagine her taking a look at these filthy walls and saying there’s no way they’d stop her—she’d traveled beside her brother for a long time now, so had clearly seen much worse.

And then his thoughts returned to his questions. They burned within him with a fierce intensity that only grew stronger as his frustration mounted. He wanted to know why he had been called to leave his home and embark on an adventure with no clear purpose or destination, and what exactly it was that he was supposed to do or accomplish on this very ill-defined quest.

He wanted to know whether the call came from his father or someone else, and either way, why his father hadn’t contacted him before, and how it could be, anyway, that he was the son of a god when he felt so humdrum and had two perfectly ordinary parents back home in his village.

For all his irritation, Little One was excited to finally find answers to his questions. Even if the Serpent God wasn’t what he expected, surely he would still be able to provide his son with some wisdom. Little One had worked so hard to find him, after all, and had passed all the requisite tests.

As he traveled farther down the corridor, his unease grew. The sound was getting louder, and he was starting to be able to feel its vibration in his belly. The sensation wasn’t reassuring, though; in fact, there was something intensely disturbing about it.

After what felt like a very long time, Little One finally saw the space before him open up into a large, round room. As he stepped over the threshold, the vibrations suddenly stopped and the noise disappeared.

He looked up and saw a perfect dome above him. Though some light was coming through, it was gray and streaked with grease. Directly beneath the center of the dome was some sort of machine with a black box in the middle and large cylinders extending outward from all sides. He saw a hint of red out of the corner of his eye and had a thought.

Climbing up one of the curving columns in the wall, he managed to reach the dome. Taking a corner of his shirt in his fist, he rubbed it across the grime. It came off easily and revealed a patch of flickering stars in a black sky.

Little One smiled. The dome, it seemed, was made of a substance that was even clearer than the waters of a young mountain stream. Clear, that was, when not covered by a thick layer of grease.

Little One walked around the cylinders next and noted 6 other colors. As he did, he felt a wave of satisfaction expand in his chest. His thought had been a good one, and he knew what this machine was for.

He recalled the first time he had entered the mountains that housed the Serpent God’s palace and the multi-colored lightning he had seen at night. This was the machine that produced that lightning. It clearly hadn’t been used for quite some time, but it would be capable of making colored light that could be seen for miles if the dome were clean and clear.

Little One felt more than a little pleased with himself. Though it didn’t win him anything, he felt like he had passed another test by having pieced this little mystery together. It felt like he had discovered another one of his father’s secrets.

And then something happened that drove the smile from his face and made him realize how much he really didn’t understand at all.

In that moment the machine jumped to life, whirring, moving, and noisily rearranging itself. The cylinders swung from the outside in until they were all pointing up in the same direction towards the center of the dome.

Then all at once the lights came on. At first all Little One could see were the individual columns of light shooting up towards the ceiling. Realizing that what they were forming was happening above the dome itself, he quickly climbed back up the column and used his shirt to clear off as much of the dome as he could reach. He was so shocked at what he saw when he looked through it that he froze there, unable to move up or down from his perch at the top of the column.

Through the clear spot he’d just created in the dome, he witnessed the biggest pair of human feet he’d ever seen in his life. They were attached to legs that were scaly, dark brown and green, and equally large.

The legs extended up from the dome so far that Little One could barely see what was sitting on top of them. He was able to make out a human waist and chest, and arms on either side. They seemed tiny in comparison to the feet.

What wasn’t tiny, he realized as he continued to look at the figure, was its tail. He had almost missed it at first as it rested behind the figure, but it was moving slowly now—slithering slowly, Little One corrected himself—like a snake winding its way between the legs. The top of the figure was almost too far away to see, but Little One made out what looked like a serpent’s head with two glowing, red circles that he took to be eyes.

Just then Little One felt the vibration begin again in his belly, followed quickly by the booming noise in his ears. The red eyes far above him swirled around and then settled, as best he could tell, in an angry glare at the tiny human form attached to a dirty column an incalculable distance below.

It was then that he realized that the booming noise that had been ebbing and flowing was a voice, and it was saying something, to him. He strained to make out its thunderous tones.

“Congratulations,” cracked the voice as the snake-like tail sidled back and forth. “You achieved everything you set out to do.”

Little One wasn’t sure what to make of this. He felt a warmth expand in his chest at the words, but there was something in the tone that belied the commendation. “Thank you, Father, I mean Sir, I mean Mighty One. I’m so grateful to be here.”

The Serpent God ignored him.

“You started with nothing. But you worked hard. Figured things out. Used your god-given gifts. You overcame the challenges, excelled at everything you attempted.” The tail stopped slithering and began thrashing. “And now you have what you’ve always dreamed of. So much so that others are jealous of your success.”

The booming voice fell into silence. It lasted so long that Little One felt he needed to respond.

“Yes, um, thank you again…I think…” he started to say.

The red eyes flashed suddenly and the tail whipped around.

“But for the sake of what?” the God boomed. “What did you really gain?”

The warmth turned icy. Little One shrank back. His throat was dry as he looked up at the giant feet and the swishing tail and swallowed.

“Um, I’m not sure, to be honest.” His voice sounded frail and anemic in comparison to the God’s sonorous voice.

“You have no idea. You. You,” he spat the words. “The one they all come to for help. The one they think has it all. Oh yes, sure, you have plenty of answers for everyone else, but absolutely none for yourself.”

Again the silence and the thrashing tail. Little One swallowed hard again. But before he could speak, the God continued, this time in a tone that Little One couldn’t place.

“And now in your quest for recognition,” he rumbled softly, “in your insatiable hunger for success, you have lost the one thing that you actually cared for.”

There was a pause in which Little One could feel his own heartbeat in his throat. “What do you—” he began, only to be interrupted by a low growling sound, followed by what could only be described as a snarl.

“You stupid, ignorant, earthbound fool!” the God roared. “I can’t believe I ever thought you were anything more than that.” The words crackled and hissed with venom.

Little One felt a lump rise in his throat. His body suddenly felt terribly heavy. He wanted to say something to defend himself, but no words came and his tongue felt like it was made of stone.

And then the tone changed inexplicably once again. “Well, I can’t do it anymore,” the voice said with a hollowness that reverberated off the walls of the palace. “I can’t keep sacrificing myself in order to give you what you want.”

As he watched, the image began to flicker. It went completely black for a moment and then returned. When the God spoke again, there was something familiar in his manner that Little One couldn’t quite place.

“You are not who I thought you were,” said the all-powerful Serpent God, shaking his massive head. “I give up. You win. You are free to do what you will.”

There was a clanking sound just then and the cylinders beneath Little One went black, one by one. Within just a few moments the God had disappeared completely.

Little One waited at the top of the column for what felt like an eternity to see if the voice would resume. It didn’t. Eventually he made his way down to the floor again and sat with his back against the wall.

Tears gathered at the corners of his eyes, which made feel even more humiliated. There was much he didn’t understand, but he did apprehend this: Apparently he had passed all his tests, only to fail the most important one of all. He had no idea what he’d done to disappoint his father so badly, but clearly he had done something unforgivably wrong. He felt nauseated.

He felt the edges of shame, sadness, and confusion threatening to spill over him. He tried to push them away. He focused instead on poring over every part of his journey, seeing possible missteps and failings at every turn.

As he did so, the ache in his belly grew so strong he didn’t think he could take it anymore. It felt like it was going to annihilate him and everything good in the world.

Suddenly he realized that this was a familiar feeling. He had felt it before, back in the forest at the base of a giant tree. He recalled how the excruciating ghosts had passed through him one by one, filling him with jealousy, guilt, rage, despair and every other emotion he’d ever felt. He remembered how he’d thought he was going to die, but how he was actually left with an incredible sense of serenity and peace. And a clear sense of what needed to be done.

Little One made a fast decision. He turned to the shame, sadness, and confusion and welcomed them in. He felt them pass through him like ghosts, one by one. He felt the immutable heaviness, the twisting anxiety, the sense of neverending suffocation. Once again he worried that they would never pass, but one by one they did.

When they were finished, all was quiet and still. Little One felt his mind start to race once again, trying to find his failure. He asked it to be silent for a little bit longer, and surprisingly it obeyed.

He breathed in the stillness. And from the heart of the silence he heard a voice echoing once again: “You are not who I thought you were,” it said. “I give up. You win.”

Something in the words felt important, if confusing. There was something utterly familiar about them, but he couldn’t place what it was.

He closed his eyes, waited for the stillness to return. And then, in a sudden flash of understanding, he knew what it was he had recognized in his father’s speech. He should have seen it at once, he realized, but he’d been distracted by the loudness of the anger and his confusion about the meaning of the words.

It was, as it turned out, more familiar to him than almost anything else in the world. And, like everything else on this journey, it also wasn’t anything he’d expected.

The most powerful god in his world was terrified. And also a little bit sad.

Little One wondered for a while about why that was. He couldn’t come up with anything that made sense. Painfully aware of the paradox, Little One wished he could ask the Serpent God for guidance. His attempts to find answers seemed only to be generating more questions. The irony of it made him smile.

And that’s when, with that same bright flash of understanding, he suddenly understood exactly what was going on.

Little One jumped up from the floor and grabbed his pack. He began running down the corridor in the opposite direction from which he had come. Eventually he came to the end of the hall, which was also the end of the palace.

In front of him was nothing—not even a door. It was complete darkness. He didn’t see any stars in front of him. He didn’t see anything at all. It was a yawning, black abyss that quickly devoured even the faint bits of light that emerged from the corridor behind him.

Little One swallowed hard. His throat was dry. He wondered if he really needed to do what he believed he did.

Maybe he was wrong. Maybe the dirty and abandoned palace didn’t mean what he thought. Maybe the image he’d seen of his father was some sort of security apparatus, or even more likely, another test, and not what he was thinking all.

His gaze drifted down. There, written in the grime on the floor, was his answer. He saw a path through the dirt where something quite large had been dragged over the ground, exposing the iridescent white of the original floor beneath.

Little One’s stomach dropped. He realized he was right. His father hadn’t been talking to him. In fact, it wasn’t his father he had seen at all. It was a memory, some sort of recording of him from before. He had been talking with someone else in the palace. Speaking to his attacker.

Little One had no idea how or by whom, but the Serpent God had been kidnapped by someone he used to trust.

“You are free to do what you will,” his father had said, fear and sadness in his voice.

Little One looked back at the darkness. He really didn’t want to do what he was about to do. It was a good thing, he thought with a short-lived laugh, that he had so much practice entering chasms.

He took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and then filled his lungs once again. Working hard to keep his eyes open, he grabbed the straps of his bag and jumped, following his father into the abyss.

He was going to find the Serpent God and bring him back. Or die trying.

Click here to read the next story in the series.

Photo credit: Randen Pederson // CC

Little One and the Palace of the Serpent God (Or, How to Find the Light Within)


Following is the ninth story in a series that tells the tale of the first hero to go on a journey to discover his calling.

To read the first story in the series, click here.

To read the previous installment, click here.

As he stared up at it, Little One reflected that the Serpent God’s palace was as beautiful as it was frustrating.

Its outer walls rose up from the earth white and iridescent, smooth and pearly like the belly of some enormous snake. There were no bricks visible, nor scales either for that matter; the wall extended perfectly smoothly all the way up to the sky as far as the eye could see.

When the sun hit it, colors flashed momentarily, as if all the hues of the rainbow were somehow contained in those white walls. He and Ginger had stood transfixed for a long time when it finally came into view, both of them barely breathing.

And yet their appreciation of its beauty had faded quickly as they tried to find a way inside.

At first they tried looking for a door, but there was none. They traveled around the entire enclosure, touching the smooth material and seeking any sign of crack or crevice as they went, but they found nothing. That had taken the entire first day, despite an early start, and despite the fact that they had gotten back well past dark.

The second day they tried knocking forcefully and calling out their father’s name. Either he couldn’t hear them from his seat in the sky or he couldn’t be bothered to care that two of his children were screaming his name outside his pearly walls.

When they were hoarse and sore from blisters that covered the ends of their hands, they decided to be a bit more strategic.

It was as they were eating dinner that night that Ginger had her epiphany.

“Do you remember why the legend says our father built his palace in the first place?” she asked him.

Little One nodded, and she continued. “He was tired of the other gods always coming to ask him for favors, right? So of course he isn’t going to build any doors or gates that we can see. In fact, I think we could search the walls for years and we wouldn’t find a way in.”

“You think we need magic to enter?” Little One wondered.

“No, because of the other part of that legend. You saw the colored lightning when you were near here before, right? Only his children can see that. But why would he make the lightning if he didn’t want his children to find him?” She didn’t wait for Little One to answer. “He wouldn’t,” she said. “So there must be a way get in.”

She was quiet for a moment and the only noise was the wind blowing through the leaves and the crackle of the fire in front of them.

Finally she continued: “I think there’s an entrance, but I don’t think it’s anywhere near here. I think it’s far away, and he’s waiting for us to figure out where it is.”

Little One let her words settle in. “So how do we find it?”

“To be honest, I’m not sure,” Ginger sighed.

That’s when Little One had his epiphany. “But he is the God of Serpents, so maybe we should start thinking more like a snake would. Maybe we look all around the surrounding forest for holes in the ground and signs of giant serpents.”

Ginger hadn’t been excited by the idea—she didn’t think a god would go around leaving signs of himself if he didn’t want folks to find him—but she couldn’t think of a better plan, so she agreed to try it out.

Three days later they were no closer to entering the palace. By the time the sun was starting to set on the third day, Little One’s excitement had begun to turn to frustration.

In all the trouble he had run into while he was trying to find this palace, it had never occurred to him that he would have such a hard time getting in. He had always imagined that the gates would be opened at the first sign of his approach and that he would walk through in triumph to find his father eager to greet him with open arms.

His fantasy had come crashing back down to earth sometime between the fifth and sixth hour he’d spent yelling outside the walls.

Ginger still believed that their father wanted them to find him, but Little One couldn’t help but feel that even if that was the case, the Serpent God had an infuriating way of showing his welcome.

Just as he had this thought the sun came out from behind a cloud. Something on the ground caught the light and flashed in the corner of his eye. When he went to investigate, he saw a stone that was almost as white and iridescent as the palace walls themselves.

There was a funny mark on the top of the rock. As Little One brushed the earth away, he realized it was a word carved into the white surface.

He called Ginger over and picked up the stone, brushing away the crusted dirt with his hand. When Ginger arrived, they read the words together.

“To find the God, you must enter the Palace,” it said. “To enter the Palace, you must find the God.

Little One threw down the rock in disgust. “Pointless!” he said. “What kind of worthless God is our father anyway? Why give a clue if it’s going to be totally useless?”

“Wait, Little One,” Ginger said. She walked over to where the rock had fallen. “It says something on the other side as well.

She brushed off the dirt. “Go to the place you least want to visit,” she read. She looked up at him. “Where do you least want to visit?”

“I don’t know,” Little One admitted. He considered it for a moment. “Those dark woods we just walked through to get here were pretty terrible,” he offered. “We didn’t see any sunlight for weeks.”

“Is it really the place you’d least like to visit?”

“No, I suppose not. Hmmm….let’s see. There was a place near the river where I grew up where the water would puddle and it was filled with the biggest, hungriest mosquitos you’ve ever seen. I used to hate to go there as a kid. Maybe that’s what he was talking about?” he asked uncertainly.

Ginger shook her head. “I doubt it.” She thought for a moment and then Little One saw something darken across her face. “I think I know what it is for me,” she said. “The Tree of Life. That was probably the worst night of my life.”

Little One nodded. It had been pretty awful to be attacked by emotional ghosts all night long. It felt closer to what they were looking for than the forest or the river, but it still felt a little…light.

And then suddenly he remembered the Chamber of Doom.

He could feel the black darkness all around him, see the malicious shifting of the shadows, feel the desperate fear he had felt when he’d seen what he thought was a pool giving off poisonous gas and lined with more bones than he could count. He remembered how his heart had pounded and how the rock had cut into his hands and knees as he scrambled with blind terror in an attempt to get away from the pool.

And then he recalled that the cave hadn’t been dangerous at all. The pool wasn’t poisonous and there weren’t any bones; he had made it all up in his fear and cowardice. Remembering how scared he had been of a bit of darkness and a few shadows brought a rush of heat into his cheeks and a twisting tension to his belly.

As he continued to consider it, he began to feel so ashamed that he felt like crawling out of his skin and getting as far away from himself as possible.

And that’s when he realized that that was the place he least wanted to go.

He explained it to Ginger, and she nodded calmly. “Then that’s where you’ll go,” she said. “And I’ll head to the Tree of Life.”

*   *   *

The journey back took less time than Little One expected. He hadn’t thought he even remembered where the Chamber was, but somehow his feet seemed to know where to take him.

He was nervous about what he’d find there. His father seemed to want him to prove something before granting him entry to his palace, and from the clues he’d found so far, Little One figured it must be something big.

Remembering how poorly he’d handled the shadows of a cave, he wasn’t sure he was up to the challenge.

By the time he found the entrance to the Chamber, his stomach was filled with butterflies. He climbed down into the hole in the earth and began carefully making his way down the vertical shaft on a series of ridges and protruding rock. It took him a while—the ascent up had felt like it took forever—but eventually he felt a small ledge open up beneath him and a cool breeze blew across his face from the tunnel that led off of it.

There was no light coming from the hole above him at that point; he was enveloped in total blackness.

“Okay,” he said out loud to no one and everyone. “I’m here.”

Silence returned his greeting.

Using his hands, he felt his way into the tunnel and sat with his back against the wall. He remembered sitting this way the first time he was here, after he had explored to find what he thought was the poisonous lake on one end of the tunnel and an endless abyss on the other. His heart had been pounding, and he had been so scared that he hadn’t been thinking—or, apparently, seeing—straight. He cringed at the memory.

And then he remembered how amidst his distress he had felt something slide over his feet. He realized that it was here that the snake had first visited him outside of his dreams in order to show him that his fearful visions weren’t anything more than his imagination.

And suddenly he knew why he was here. He needed to find the snake again so he could tell him how to get into his father’s palace. His father was the Serpent God, after all, and the snake was nothing if not a serpent, so he must be some sort of emissary or messenger or perhaps even a form of the god himself.

But the snake was nowhere to be found.

Little One waited for a time in the tunnel, calling out to it, and then walked into various different chambers trying to find it. He found only darkness.

When he came back into the tunnel, he heard a soft hissing noise start and then stop. Thinking it was the snake, he followed the sound, only to discover a young man sitting on the ground in front of him with his knees pulled into his chest.

Little One was shocked that someone else had found this same cave in this same moment until he looked closer and realized what was really going on.

The person he saw in front of him was his former self, the one that fell into this cave accidentally so many moons ago, in all his cowardly glory.

This man, who seemed barely more than a boy, didn’t appear to be able to see him or hear him now. As he watched with a mix of fascination and embarrassment, the noise started up again and Little One realized that his former self was crying. He was hugging his knees with a desperate strength, as if trying to make himself as small as possible.

It reminded Little One of his sister, who used to hug herself in the same way when she was upset about something, like having a bad nightmare or seeing a dead deer.

The young man in front of him looked so small, so lost and alone, that Little One’s heart moved. He remembered the feeling of cold fear in his chest. He recalled how alone he had felt, surrounded by darkness and the unknown with nobody around to help him.

He wanted to comfort his former self, to let him know it was all going to be alright. Then he remembered that the snake should be coming along any moment to do just that.

Perfect, he thought, then I can talk to him afterwards.

But the snake didn’t come. Tears came and went and nothing appeared.

Finally his former self looked up, startled. “Am I imagining things?” he asked softly. “Snake, is that you?”

Little One looked all around, but he couldn’t see any snake. His former self kept talking and then pausing to listen as if something were answering him, but Little One heard nothing respond.

The edges of understanding began to appear like the first hint of light at dawn.

He could see his former self relaxing as the tears stopped and he hugged his knees less tightly. Eventually he stopped talking and took a deep, shuddering breath before grabbing his pack.

Little One knew what would happen next. He would make his way back through the tunnel to the endless abyss. Then, despite his smallness, despite his screaming fear, he would find the handholds and footholds along the precipitous wall and make his way back up to the light.

The thought made Little One realize something. When he was here before, the tunnel had been completely black. There was no light at all. And yet he had just seen himself in great detail, down to the tears on his cheeks.

He moved quickly to follow his former self towards the abyss. By then he had already started making his way up the wall.

Little One saw this small, fragile thing that looked tiny in comparison to the vastness of the wall he was climbing nevertheless make his way upward, little by little. He knew exactly how frightened this young man was, knowing that the smallest misstep could cause him to fall into an abyss of darkness. And yet he kept going, stubbornly refusing to look down, taking one small step after another.

He couldn’t help but be impressed by this little person’s courage and strength.

And as he watched himself climb, he realized that he was right about the source of the light he’d seen by in the tunnel. It was coming from the young man on the wall. Starting in his core, it radiated outward to the tips of his fingers and toes, pulsating with a golden light.

Suddenly Little One knew what he had to do.

He looked down at his chest in the darkness and reached out for it, seeking, searching. It was hard to find at first, until he remembered the sense of strength and power he’d felt in his body as he climbed the wall. A faint light began to pulse within his chest.

He kept searching. He reached through his darkest moments to the light beneath—to the love and compassion he’d felt for the ogre he was supposed to kill, the strength and trust he’d tapped into as the eagle in the quicksand, and the joy he felt with Ginger when he finally stopped comparing himself to her.

Then he stretched towards the inexplicable wisdom of the snake, which he now realized had always been within him.

The golden glow grew brighter. He encouraged it with kindness and love and warmth, and soon it was roaring and crackling like a bonfire.

The darkness of the abyss in front of him began to shift and move. Finally, with a great hissing noise, it gave way and a pearly white doorway appeared in the midst of the blackness.

To find the God, you must enter the Palace,” Little One said out loud to everyone and no one. “To enter the Palace, you must find the God.” A laugh escaped his lungs.

“True enough, Dad” he said, enjoying the warmth of the light within. “But it’s a little cliché, don’t you think? I mean, you could have just said to look within me. Just because you’re a God doesn’t mean you have to be so obscure.”

So it was that Little One was smiling as he stepped into the palace of the Serpent God for the very first time.

To read the next story in the series, click here.

Photo credit: Randen Pederson // CC

Little One and the Web of Lies (Or, What to Do When Your Inner Critic Attacks)


Following is the eighth story in a series that tells the tale of the first hero to go on a journey to discover his calling.

To read the first story in the series, click here.

To read the previous installment, click here.

In retrospect, Little One realized that he had made a terrible mistake.

The thought occurred to him as he and Ginger walked through a stretch of woods so dense that no sunlight filtered down to touch the path beneath their feet.

They had been walking through this same seemingly endless forest for the past two weeks. Little One was the one who had suggested they enter the woods in the first place.

He had sensed that they weren’t far from the Serpent God’s palace, and their only options had been to cross a giant river filled with raging rapids, try to ascend what looked like an incredibly steep and slippery cliff face, or try their luck in a forest that looked completely devoid of light even on a sunny and cloudless afternoon. Even Ginger had agreed that the forest was the best option until they heard the voice.

They had just stepped into the shadow of the first densely packed trees when they heard it, deep and booming above them. “Warning!” it said. “Go no further!”

They looked all around them but couldn’t see anybody or anything other than gnarled tree trunks, twisting limbs, and fallen leaves. They started to walk again.

“I said: beware!” came the booming voice again. It was so loud it made Little One’s heart pound. He stopped, looking at Ginger. She shrugged her shoulders.

They started walking again.

GO NO FURTHER!” The words echoed around them, reverberating off the trees. “You will not escape unscathed!”

Little One’s stomach leapt into his throat, but this time he had a sense of where the voice was coming from. He cocked his head, looked to his left, and thought he saw something swaying between the limbs of a tree just in front of him.

“No!” said the voice, its pitch a bit higher now. “Do not look for who says this! I am the earth, the trees, the sky itself! I am the power and the will of all the gods who have ever ruled! All you need to know is that what I say is absolutely, unquestionably true!”

That’s when Little One saw it: the tendrils of a web shifting in the breeze between two mighty branches, and in the middle of the weaving was a tiny black dot with wildly crooked legs.

“You’re a spider!” Little One called out, pointing so Ginger could see. “Why are you trying to scare us?”

“I am not trying to scare you!” said the spider, his voice breaking. “I am simply telling you the truth!”

Little One and Ginger walked towards the web. As they approached, they saw a small spider with an absurdly wide abdomen that was white with black spots and lined with large, sharp points that looked like giant thorns.

“Why don’t you want us to go further?” asked Ginger. She sounded like she almost felt sorry for the spider, and in fact Little One’s own heartbeat had slowed considerably since he spotted the awkward-looking creature.

“These woods are cursed!” the spider yelled, his voice booming once again. “Long ago a hunter wandered into this forest and came across an evil monster more terrible than any he’d ever seen before. It was stronger than a minotaur, faster than an arrow, and more relentless than a harpy. After a great battle it defeated the huntsman. Ever since, all the men and women who have dared to enter these woods have lost their minds. When they wander back to their villages years later, they cannot even recall their own names.”

Little One wasn’t sure what to believe.

“Do not doubt!” screamed the spider. “I speak the truth!”

In the end, Little One decided not to heed the spider’s warning. He had a strong sense that their father’s palace lay just on the other side of the woods, and losing his mind seemed both less likely and less risky than losing his life in the river or on the cliff faces they’d seen.

Ginger wasn’t convinced. She wanted to go back the way they’d come and try to find a better path downriver.

After an impassioned argument, Ginger gave in to Little One’s wishes.

“I trust you when you say the Serpent God’s palace is just past these woods,” she said. “You have a good sense of these things. Let’s go on.”

They’d continued down the path into the darkening woods to a loud series of progressively dire warnings from the spider, whose efforts didn’t wane until sometime after they were well out of earshot.

That had been two weeks ago. Since then it had become abundantly clear to Little One that he had made not just the wrong decision, but possibly a disastrous one. He could see how after wandering these dark woods for a little while longer he might really lose his mind.

He was thinking about this, considering what he might have done differently, when he first heard the voice in his head.

It was a deep growl, harsh, and blunt.

“You’re an idiot,” it said. “It’s bad enough that you deluded yourself into thinking that you actually know something about where the Serpent God lives, but to convince Ginger to override her good sense was stupid and selfish. Bad enough that you’re blind, but to be a bully too? Unforgivable.”

Little One’s shoulders sank as he followed Ginger on the trail.

“You realize that this is all your fault, right?” the voice continued. “Any normal person would have found the Serpent God’s palace by now. It’s really not that hard. Nobody else would have struggled so much or worked so hard to be as lost and confused as you currently are. It’s pathetic.”

Just then Ginger turned around to look at him. He thought he saw a flash of anger in her eyes.

“Can we take a break?” she asked. “I’m getting tired.”

“Tired of wandering pointlessly through a cursed forest?” said Little One. “Sure, no problem.”

“What’s wrong with you?” Ginger asked as she slipped off her pack and pulled out some jerky. He heard more anger in her voice.

“What’s wrong with me? Nothing, Ginger. But if you’re not happy about coming this way, you can say it to me directly. You don’t have to pout and try to make me feel guilty for getting us lost.”

“I’m not trying to make you feel guilty,” she answered. “If you do, that’s your problem.”

She stared him in the eyes.

“Oh, that’s just great. So that’s my fault too.” Little One felt the heat rising within him. “This is the last thing I want to deal with right now,” he said. He looked away. “I’m going to go look for water.”

He walked so long he couldn’t see Ginger anymore and then walked a few more minutes just to be sure. He heard what sounded like a stream in front of him and decided to go check it out.

The noise got louder and soon he saw that it wasn’t a stream but a spring making the gurgling sound. And then he saw something that made his heart beat faster: a point of light dancing on the pool’s surface. He followed the point up and saw a few solid rays of sunlight reaching down between the branches.

It was the first sunlight he’d seen in weeks, and he could almost imagine how warm and delicious it would feel on his skin. He walked faster towards the spring, then broke into a run.

And that’s exactly when his foot hit something and he tripped, tumbling to the ground. By the time he stopped moving, he realized he was hopelessly entwined in tendrils of something both sticky and surprisingly strong.

He heard the deep, harsh growl again. “Seriously? Do I even need to point out how idiotic that was?”

Only this time it sounded different. Little One realized abruptly that it wasn’t coming from inside his head anymore.

He managed to whirl his head around. There behind him was the biggest monster he’d ever seen in his life.

It looked…well, it looked almost exactly like the spider they had seen at the entrance to the woods. Only this one was huge, twice the height of an average man. It was so large that he could see its huge pincers this time, along with eight giant black eyes. Its legs were bent at grotesque angles, and the spikes on its back were each the size of a small bear.

“Oh, dear,” the spider growled. “You chose not to listen to me. And so we meet again.”

Little One swallowed. His mouth was achingly dry. “So…so you’re the evil monster you told us about? You’re the reason everyone who comes here goes insane?”

“Well, yes,” said the spider. “But evil? That’s just a matter of perspective. The way I see it, I’m just trying to keep people safe.”

“By tying them up in your giant web?” asked Little One.

“Well, I have lots of ways of doing it. But, yes,” spat the spider. “For the stupid ones I find that binding them is the only way to get them to listen. You were going to get yourself in trouble, my dear boy. This was the only way to protect you from yourself.”

“What are you talking about? Protect me from what?”

“Oh, I know where you’re headed, Little One” said the spider. “Yes, I know who you are. I know you believe you’re the son of the Serpent God, and that you hope to enter his palace. And I know that no matter what happens, you must not be allowed to attempt it!”

Little One just stared at him. His mouth was terribly dry. He licked his lips. “And why not?” he finally managed.

“Because you’re an idiot!” the spider growled. “Because you’re going to ruin everything! Don’t you see? You thought it was a good idea to come into these god-forsaken woods, and look what happened! You waste two weeks wandering around and getting nowhere, you pick a fight and hurt Ginger, the one person who truly understands you in this world, and then you get yourself caught in a giant spider’s web.”

Little One’s stomach felt hollow. He felt a familiar sinking feeling in his gut.

“You know, anybody who was halfway capable would have found the Serpent God’s palace by now. But not you! The harder you try, the more lost you get!”

Little One felt a burning sensation all over his face. He wanted to crawl into a hole in the ground and stay there.

“You overestimate your talents over and over again, and it’s getting dangerous!” the spider screamed. “You should realize by now that you’re not good enough to do this! You need to turn around and go home right now, before you destroy everything we hold dear!”

The word we surprised Little One. A vague realization began to stir at the edges of his mind.

“You left to come on this insane adventure because you thought something was calling you, that you were meant to do something more. Not three days later you got lost and couldn’t find your way. When you finally did manage to get untangled from that, you managed to get trapped underground, scared yourself nearly half to death, and very nearly became nothing more than a pile of bones in a forgotten cavern.”

The smoky thought in Little One’s mind consolidated as the spider continued.

“As if that wasn’t bad enough, you immediately ran into a malevolent sorceress, failed to defeat an ogre, and then had to start all over again. At which point you discovered the City of the Children of the Serpent God, got promptly humiliated by every brother and sister you have, and realized that you have absolutely no significant talents at all.

The thought became clear to Little One. It made him angry, but he let the spider go on.

“Let’s see…what’s left. You blindly fell into a pit due to being a coward and very nearly drowned. Then you wasted the wish you got beneath the Tree of Life because you’re an overly sensitive crybaby. And finally, you decide to enter a haunted forest to start the next foolish phase of an increasingly shortsighted and futile quest born primarily out of your greed and arrogance.”

“Wow!” Little One whistled and clapped his hands in mock admiration. “That’s quite a summary. I’m really impressed.”

The spider seemed taken aback. “Well, you know, I do my best.”

“So where does that leave us?” Little One asked. “After we decided to enter these woods? Let’s see, we were walking into a forest that you say is cursed. But I think it’s not cursed at all. I think you knew that we were close to the Serpent God’s palace and you didn’t want us to actually find it. So you made up a story about a battle between a huntsman and a monster to scare us away and to keep us from finding what we’re looking for.” He watched the expression in the spider’s four sets of eyes, focusing on the largest pair in the middle as he continued.

“And when I ignored your warning, you whispered in my ear to get me angry with myself so I would fight with Ginger and come out here by myself.”

The spider lowered its head in acknowledgement.  “Pretty much,” he said in a low growl. “You listen to me better when you’re by yourself.”

Little One wasn’t sure what the spider meant, but he was more concerned about a different question. “What I don’t understand is why,” he said. “Why don’t you want me to find the Serpent God’s palace?”

The spider looked up. Its eyes had softened. “You really don’t know?”

“No!” said Little One. “I mean, I see now that you’ve been with me this entire time, since I left my village.”

“Well, yes,” said the spider. “I go everywhere with you. It’s just what I do.”

“So you know that this is important to me.”

“Yes,” answered the spider. “I know exactly how important this is.”

“So why would you try to stop me from finding what I want most?”

The spider’s eyes were sad. “Because I want it too, Little One. More than you’ll ever know. But I have a job to do. Something more important even that that.”

The spider didn’t say anything else, so Little One prompted him. “And that is?”

“To keep you safe, Little One. I can’t stand it when you’re in pain. It hurts me more than it hurts you. So I protect you.”

In that moment the world seemed very still to Little One. He felt a slight breeze on his cheek. The earth was warm beneath him. He saw the spider’s eyes in front of him, large, dark, and nearly liquid in their sadness. He realized something.

“You’re afraid?” he said. “That’s why you tried to stop me?”

The eyes trembled. “Yes,” said the spider. “I’m terrified. Please don’t be mad. I only want what’s best for you.”

Little One didn’t know what to say. He weighed the words. He considered whether he believed them. Then he looked at the giant spider, its huge pincers, sharp spikes, and tender eyes, and he knew that he did. Something within him melted.

“I understand,” he said. “You’re doing your best to protect me, even if it is in kind of a backwards way. I mean, I get it. Things have been a little crazy, huh? It’s not easy, all this adventure into the unknown. But do you think I did all those things without realizing how dangerous they were?” He shook his head. “Believe me, I didn’t. I get scared too. But I’m looking out for us. I’m being careful. And I know that we’re capable of doing this. I know deep down that we are. Can’t you feel it too?”

The spider’s eyes trembled. Then he nodded his head. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I can.”

“Great,” said Little One. “Can we keep going towards the palace then, if I promise to be careful and listen when you have a real concern?”

The spider nodded vigorously and opened its mouth to say something.

“A real concern, my friend,” said Little One. “Not an invented story.”

There was a noise then, of air escaping a small space. Little One wondered if it was the sound of a giant spider laughing or sighing. He couldn’t tell which.

“Great. Help me up then, and we’ll be on our way.”

The spider just stood there. “I can’t help you,” he said solemnly. “But you don’t need it anyway. Just stand up.”

“I can’t,” Little One insisted. “I’m covered in sticky spider spit.”

The spider just shook his head. “Just stand up,” he said again.

Little One could have sworn he’d attempted that before, but he gave it one more try. To his surprise, he was able to move. He put his feet beneath him and pushed up off the ground. He moved upward with such force that the trees seemed to swirl around him and he almost lost his balance.

He looked around to try to find the spider. He didn’t see anything. He was starting to worry that he’d made the whole thing up and was losing his mind after all when he felt something soft and tickly on his foot. He looked down.

There, crawling up over the top of the arch of his foot, was the spider. It was about the size of his thumbnail again.

He picked it up and smiled at it, then put it on his shoulder.

It was amazing how small it was in comparison to him when he was standing on his own two feet, especially since it had felt so much more powerful just a few moments before.

They made their way back to Ginger, and Little One told her what had happened. Then all three of them began to walk together through the dark woods towards the Serpent God’s palace.

Little One knew that the spider was a part of him and would never leave, but he didn’t mind so much; the little guy felt kind of like a guileless friend, and he knew that he could stand up again if he ever felt trapped in its web.

Click here to read the next story in the series.

Photo credit: Randen Pederson // CC

Little One and the Tree of Life (Or, the Trick to Dealing with Difficult Emotions)


Following is the seventh story in a series that tells the tale of the first hero to go on a journey to discover his calling.

To read the first story in the series, click here.

To read the previous installment, click here.

Little One had no idea who the woman yelling at him was. She seemed to know him pretty well, though.

“It’s their fault!” she screamed. “Your family is the reason this happened! If they hadn’t rejected you and tried to make you more like them, you wouldn’t have been so unhappy there. Remember how your mean-hearted brothers used to make fun of you? And your parents were almost as bad. It’s their fault you left on this ridiculous journey, their fault you’re going to die in a strange land!”

Her face was round and red and only a few inches from his own, but try as he might, he couldn’t remember ever having seen it before.

As the words poured out of her mouth, he felt them enter his windpipe, burning the sides of his throat as they went down. Flames of anger were soon licking the insides of his lungs. He turned his face away from her, tried to focus on the rocks around him. He didn’t want to deal with this, the implications of her words. Not now. Not when he was about to lose everything.

The day had started off so differently.

The sun had risen in a clear, blue sky, warming his face as he awoke slowly from a deep and relaxing sleep.

He and Ginger had a delicious breakfast of fruit and nuts and the rest of a fish they had caught the evening before. They had both been in a good mood, laughing and teasing one another as they broke camp and put on their packs to begin the day’s walk.

They were climbing higher on the mountain now, the trees and animals they saw were getting larger in size, and Little One sensed that they weren’t far from where he’d been when he saw the rainbow-colored lightning that marked the entrance to their father’s palace.

And then they had stumbled upon something even more promising.

They were making their way through alpine forests, slowly traversing the slope of a giant mountain, when the trees gave way to huge rocks and wildflowers as a meadow opened up before them.

Ginger recognized it first and gasped, but he didn’t see anything out of the ordinary at first, and she wouldn’t tell him what she saw.

She stayed silent but walked faster, scrambling over boulders with an excitement so infectious that Little One found his heart beating faster even though he had no idea what they were pursuing.

And then after a few minutes Ginger slowed and he looked up from the rocks long enough to see it: the biggest tree he’d ever witnessed in his life.

It hadn’t seemed so big from a distance, and there was nothing close enough to it to give it proper scale. Now that they were within a stone’s throw of it, however, Little One could see that 30 people could hold hands around the base of the tree and still not fully encircle it. Its limbs were larger than the trunks of most trees. And most strangely of all, its roots appeared to continue above ground, hundreds of them emerging from the earth like serpents and wrapping themselves around each other to form the trunk, eventually stretching themselves out to form the canopy and limbs.

“What is it?” Little One asked, knowing this was not just any tree.

Ginger didn’t stop staring at the giant in front of them. “It’s the Tree of Life,” she whispered, awe in her voice.

Little One remembered hearing stories about the Tree of Life when he was a child, but he couldn’t remember anything about them.

Ginger was still looking at the tree, but he could feel her register his confusion. “In the village where I grew up, they say that it’s the home of everything living,” she explained. “Its roots extend in every direction. They say they go all the way to the four corners of the world, ending only where the world itself ends, silently supporting every living thing that’s born and dies above them.”

Little One’s breath caught in his throat. He realized how beautiful this tree was, how profoundly peaceful he felt just looking upon it.

“Little One,” Ginger whispered breathlessly a few minutes later. “There’s something else. They say that the Tree grants all those who find it and spend a night by its base eternal freedom and a single wish.” She turned to look at him. “It could take us to the Serpent God.”

Butterflies lifted off in Little One’s stomach. As excited as he was to meet his father, the Serpent God, there was something even more alluring about the thought of spending the afternoon and evening gazing at the serene beauty of the tree. He nodded his head eagerly.

They made camp by the base of the tree then, careful not to disturb any of its enormous roots. All had gone well until the sun began to set and the first star had appeared in the sky.

They had both been watching the tree as its colors shifted in the changing light. And then Little One heard Ginger make a noise. He glanced over and saw that she was looking at him, though her eyes seemed far off and distant, as if she were staring through him more than at him.

“It doesn’t matter if we find him,” she said softly. Her eyes were bright. “I’ve already failed. He’s gone forever, and nothing will bring him back.” Tears began to fill the corners of her eyes and spill down her cheeks.

Little One spoke to her, asked her what she meant, tried to reassure her, but it was as if she couldn’t hear him. She was silent, looking at him as if listening, but when she responded, her answers made no sense to him.

And then the wind shifted, began to blow more insistently, and Ginger’s expression changed. Her features contorted together and her face became red. “You shouldn’t have done it!” she yelled. “It’s all your fault!”

She got up and ran away from him into the falling darkness.

Little One’s stomach knotted. He didn’t know what was going on and was worried about Ginger, but he didn’t want to leave the tree. Darkness was falling, and he understood they had to spend the entire night by its base in order to get their wish. Still, he got up and was moving after her when he heard a voice behind him.

He wondered how Ginger had moved to that side so quickly. But when he turned, he realized that it wasn’t her at all. It was a red-faced woman with dark brown hair whom he’d never seen before in his life.

Before he knew what was happening, she had put her face right next to his and was yelling at him about his family and how everything was their fault. As her words hit his face, he felt the anger rising in himself. He tried to stop it, tried to think of something else, tried to push down the force that was threatening to erupt within him.

Then suddenly it was too strong to stop and the heat exploded in his chest. Only it wasn’t his family that was feeding the flames; it was this woman. She was the one who was making him feel this way; she was keeping him from finding Ginger and threatening his ability to win his wish.

He took a step back from her, gave her an icy look, and said, “You’re the one who’s mean-hearted. I don’t know who you are, but you’d better leave here right now.”

The woman smiled. “If you want me to go, you’ll have to do something to make me.”

In that moment her smile was so smug, so self-satisfied, as if she were pleased by the distress she was causing him, that he couldn’t help himself. He reached forward with both hands and pushed her to the ground.

He heard her laughing on the way down, and then she disappeared.

Or didn’t disappear, exactly, but rather changed. Because from where her form had fallen on the earth rose up a new one, a man this time, who looked a lot like his father but who had hair the color of the sun.

“Little One,” he said. “You shouldn’t have done that. How could you strike a helpless woman? I know your father taught you better than that.”

Little One felt the truth of the words like a sinking ship in his gut.

“I guess it’s not a surprise, really, though,” the man continued. “Since you’ve always only really cared about yourself. You never wanted to work on your family’s farm, always wanted to do your own thing. And you didn’t care that your family loved you and wanted you to stay when you left for this journey, did you?”

Little One almost argued, felt a spark of something unfair in the man’s words. But the sinking feeling was so strong within him, weighing him down. He must be right, this man, or he wouldn’t feel this way.

“That’s right,” the man said, stroking his beard. “I know you can feel the guilt for the pain you’ve caused. So much unnecessary pain for those who loved and supported you,” he said, shaking his head. “You are a terrible son and brother.”

The sinking feeling became not just heavy but hollow. It felt as if there was nothing within him but a giant void, a black hole sucking the light out of his being. There was no ground under his feet, no warmth in his soul, no solidness within him on which to rest. He was floating in an abyss of blackness, hollow, empty, cold.

He began to fear being lost in the void forever. “It’s not my fault,” he said. “I tried to do things their way, but I couldn’t. They were cruel to me. They forced me to leave.”

The man laughed. “Even now you throw stones at them with your words. Too bad they can’t be here now to hear them, to see you as you really are.”

The ache in Little One’s belly grew so strong he didn’t think he could take it anymore. It felt like it was going to annihilate him and everything good in the world. “Oh my god,” he said. “You’re right. I can’t believe I’m so selfish, so hateful.” He doubled over. When he looked back up, the man was gone.

Another woman, smaller than the other and with curly hair, stood in his place.

“I can’t believe you haven’t gone after Ginger yet,” she said. “She could be ill, dying, or dead by now! What would you do without her? You can’t find your father’s palace by yourself. You’re wasting precious time! You should go after her now!”

Little One felt a snake of fear begin to crawl in his belly.

“I know what’s going to happen if you stay here,” the woman continued, her voice growing shriller. “Ginger will get lost, she’ll get eaten by an animal. You’ll realize that this isn’t the Tree of Life after all, that you wasted your time beneath it. You’ll spend the rest of your days tortured by guilt, wandering these mountains by yourself until you too meet your death. You’ll never meet the Serpent God, you’ll never find what you’re looking for, and you’ll never see your family again!”

Little One’s heart began racing. He felt panic rise within him. His blood ran cold in his veins.

“You need to go find her!” the woman shrieked. “Or all is lost!”

He felt like he was going to explode if he didn’t do something, run somewhere, take some sort of action. It was unbearable. He turned from her, saw his feet begin to carry him away from the tree, heard her laughter loud and shrill behind him.

And then he stepped on something soft and squishy. He heard a hissing noise.

Are you trying to kill me again?” he heard. He looked around, but he didn’t see either of the women or the man.

“Hs-ss-ss-ss-ss,” he heard. “Down here, child.”

Little One looked down. His heart lifted in his chest when he saw a brown snake staring up at him.

“It’s good to see you, Snake,” he said. “But I don’t have time to talk. I have to go find Ginger.”

“Do you, now?” the snake asked. “I thought you were trying to stay the night by the tree.”

“I was,” Little One admitted. “But something weird is going on here. I don’t have time to explain. But I can’t just sit here anymore.”

“You can’t?” echoed the snake. His slowness was starting to irritate Little One.

“No, I can’t. Like I said, I can’t explain it right now. I have to go.” He turned towards the direction Ginger had gone in.

“You don’t have to run from them, you know,” he heard from behind him. “It just strengthens them.”

Little One turned. “I wasn’t,” he said, feeling like a child as he said it.

“You were literally running away when you stepped on me,” the snake replied.

“I wasn’t running away,” Little One insisted. “I was going to go find Ginger.”

“Because of what she said,” said the snake. “And the others too. You don’t have to run from them,” he repeated.

“I didn’t!” yelled Little One. He was started to get angry.

“Ignoring it, blaming others, blaming yourself, jumping into action—it’s all running away in the end.”

Little One just stared at him. “Running away from what?” he asked.

“The ghosts,” said the snake. “What you carry in your heart.”

Little One tried not to let his irritation show. “So what would you have me do?”

“Running, you grow tired. Ignoring, they grow louder. Arguing with them, they get stronger. You cannot escape them. To free yourself, you welcome them.”

“What does that mean?” Little One was tired of trying to understand riddles.

“Sit with them. Befriend them. Ask them about their days. Or don’t. Just let them pass through you. But first you have to open the gatessssssss.”

This wasn’t helping Little One understand anything any better, but he knew the snake was trying to help. “Anything else?” he asked.

“When in doubt, be still.”

Little One heard a slithering sound. He realized the snake was moving away from him. “Wait, I don’t understand!” he said more loudly than he’d intended.

“You will,” said the snake. And then he heard hs-ss-ss-ss-ss again, and then nothing.

He walked back over to the tree. Standing next to it was the woman with the curly hair.

“What are you doing?” she asked. “You’re losing your chance to save Ginger, to get back your wish and find the Serpent God!”

He felt the stirrings of fear in his belly once again. But instead of running he went to the base of the tree and sat down.

He looked at the woman in front of him, who was getting more and more agitated. She began pacing back and forth, wringing her hands, and making dire predictions. The more upset she became, the more the panic rose within him. He tried to push it down, but it only grew stronger.

He remembered the snake’s words and had an idea.

“I welcome you,” he muttered to her. She looked at him, overwrought.

“What?” she said.

“I welcome you.” The woman looked at him a moment longer and then faster than he could follow with his eyes, she dove straight into his abdomen. He felt her enter like an icy gust of wind that exploded into his veins and ran all the way down his arms and legs and out to his fingers and toes. He felt like he was falling through an endless, freezing night.

For a few, long moments as the coldness took hold of his heart, he thought he was going to die. But then, just as he had the thought, the icy blast subsided. He felt the warmth return to his fingers and toes, felt the ground, reassuring, beneath him again.

When he looked up, the woman was gone.

One by one he invited the ghosts to enter him. He felt the suffocating weight of shame flooding over him, making it difficult to breathe. He experienced the all-consuming fire of anger that burned and roared and crackled until there was nothing left. He felt disappointment, jealousy, guilt, rage, and despair, and each time he thought he was surely going to die.

But he didn’t. He invited each of them in. When they entered him, they exploded with a fury that he thought he couldn’t stand. And then they left.

By the time the stars began to fade and light touched the farthest corners of the eastern sky, he could barely move his limbs and his eyes were heavy with exhaustion. Wearily he welcomed the next ghost. This time, however, nothing came.

He sat there for a long moment, remembering the snake’s words about staying still. And then, after an impossibly long time he became aware of something new within him. It felt like calm waters after a storm, beautiful and undisturbed. It expanded within him, empty and yet filling every corner of his body with warmth, limitless and still and impossibly light.

He felt exquisitely alive, connected to something powerful and enormous that he couldn’t explain. All his previous thoughts and worries seemed impossibly trivial, unimportant. He had the sense that the largest storm in the world wasn’t powerful enough to disturb this enormous stillness and peace.

Just then he heard a noise and saw Ginger walking up from the other side of the tree. Her head was low.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I’ve ruined everything. I don’t even know what happened, I just suddenly felt so…so…”

“I know,” Little One said. “I did too. And it’s okay. You didn’t ruin anything.”

But Ginger wouldn’t look up. “No, we were supposed to pass the night by the tree together so we could both wish to go to our father’s palace. Now I’ve ruined it. I’ve ruined it,” she said again, and he saw that her eyes were filled with tears.

“You haven’t ruined anything,” Little One found himself repeating, but he realized it wasn’t doing any good.

He walked over to her, put his arms around her as she buried her face in his chest.

“You don’t understand,” she said. “This isn’t the first time I’ve failed. This isn’t the first time I’ve let down someone important to me. He’s gone, Little One, for good. Because of me.”

Standing there, holding her, feeling her body move up and down as she sobbed, Little One suddenly realized that the wish to go to the Serpent God’s palace wasn’t the right one to make. He made a different one instead.

Ginger kept sobbing for a little while longer, her body shaking between his arms. Then finally, finally the shaking stopped and she settled into a silent stillness.

Little One looked at her. When she glanced up to meet his gaze, he recognized something familiar in her eyes.

Freedom. Forgiveness. Peace. An expansive ocean of stillness.

He smiled. His wish had worked.

Click here to read the next story in the series.

Photo credit: Randen Pederson // CC

Little One and the Eagle (Or, What Really Keeps Us Safe)


Following is the sixth story in a series that tells the tale of the first hero to go on a journey to discover his calling.

To read the first story in the series, click here.

To read the previous installment, click here.

Little One was worried.

It had started to rain a lot. He was afraid that their supplies would be ruined if the rain got in, so he spent hours covering their packs with resin from pine trees.

The storms had brought lots of lightening as well. He was concerned a fire would start if a tree was hit, so he packed up all their things at night and put them under his head. That way if there was a fire, he could grab them quickly before they ran.

He heard noises in the trees at dusk and feared there were wild animals nearby getting hungry. He started to wake himself up in the middle of the night to keep watch with a knife so that nothing could attack them once the fire got low.

He was worried they weren’t making good time. Though they walked from sunup until sundown, often at a tiring pace, Little One could sense the summer getting ready to turn into fall. He knew that once the snows came, they could trap them in these mountains where they would starve without food and water.

So many things could go wrong.

Working so hard to keep them safe and on track was exhausting.  Just this morning he had fallen asleep as he was checking (and re-checking) the map he found at the City of the Children of the Serpent God. He was trying to decide whether to go high on the mountain and risk lightening or stay low by the river and risk flooding when all of a sudden he heard Ginger call his name gently.

“What?” he asked, irritated at the interruption.

“You fell asleep again,” she said. “Why don’t you take some time to lie down and rest?”

“No,” he said, standing up and folding the map. “We need to get going before the sun gets too hot. We don’t want anybody fainting from heatstroke.”

Ginger nodded her head. “Okay. But I really don’t think you need to keep watch tonight, Little One. The animals here aren’t the kind that attack humans.”

“I was almost killed once by a wild creature that surprised me in the night,” Little One said. “I’d really rather be safe than sorry.”

Ginger smiled. “Okay. Then let me do it. Let me keep watch tonight so you can sleep.”

Little One shook his head. “I appreciate it, but no thanks. I’d rather do it myself.”

Ginger shook her head. “Alright,” she said sadly. “Can I at least carry some of the supplies in your pack?” She gestured towards his bag, which was stuffed full of food, water, blankets, and firewood in case they couldn’t find any at their campsite tonight. Then she swept her hand towards her own, which was half empty on the ground.

“No, thanks,” Little One said grimly. “I’ve got it.”

They walked for a long time in silence.

Little One knew that Ginger was worried about him, and he sensed that she had a point. He was feeling more exhausted than he’d ever been in his life. Every time he sat down, he thought of something else he should be doing. When he got up to do it, he immediately felt guilty as he thought of three other things that were equally if not more important that he should have done already.

Even when he did lie down, it took him a long time to fall asleep because he was thinking through everything he needed to do the next day. His mind raced, his stomach tightened, and his breath got faster and faster as he lay there and realized he wasn’t going to have enough time to do everything he should.

No matter how much he did, there was always so much more to do.

He hadn’t always felt this way. It had started on their second day on the road together when Ginger was telling him stories she’d heard about their father, the Serpent God.

“The elders in my village told a story of how he came to live in a palace at the very top of the highest peak,” she said.

“In the beginning, the Serpent God lived in the mountains with all the other gods.  But after a while, he grew so tired of them coming to him to ask for favors that he built a separate palace for himself.  He hung it above the mountains and made it invisible to everyone, even the other gods.

“They say he guards his gates with fierce storms and lightning that incinerate anyone who tries to knock at his door,” Ginger said breathlessly. “The storms, like the palace, are invisible to most.  But one type of person can see the lightning, which the elders say is lit with all the colors of the rainbow.

“Because the Serpent God wanted one type of person to find him, he made his rainbow lightning visible only to a special group—his children.  They say he waits in his palace day after day waiting for one of them to find him.”

Little One was quiet as he considered this. They walked in silence around a bend in the path and then came upon a fork in the road. One branch led up a steep ravine while the other followed a creek around the base of a large mountain.

A spark lit in Little One’s chest as he realized which path he wanted to take. “I want to find his palace,” he told Ginger. “Let’s take the one that goes up.”

“I was hoping you’d say that,” Ginger said and smiled.

Little One was excited. He had so many questions he wanted answers to, about how he had been conceived, why he had been called to this journey, and what his secret gifts and talents were. He knew his father could give him the answers. Maybe he could even tell him what he was supposed to be doing on this journey to make it all worthwhile. Little One wanted to know so badly that his stomach ached when he thought of it.

Ever since that moment, images of things going wrong came unbidden to his mind: of him and Ginger getting lost and wandering the mountains for years without ever finding their father’s home; of one of them falling off the side of the path where it got steep and dropped off; of getting drowned, eaten, or burned alive and never crossing the threshold of their father’s house.

He hadn’t really had a destination in mind previously, so he hadn’t worried about getting there. Now that he knew where he was going, it became abundantly clear to him how very many things could prevent him from arriving.

They walked for a long time without talking. Then, as they were cresting a hill, Ginger suddenly stopped. She was looking up towards the sky.

“What is it?” Little One asked. He followed her gaze upwards and saw it: a giant eagle circling up above them.

“It’s beautiful,” Ginger said. “I used to study them, you know, back at the City. I was designing wings for those of us who don’t yet know how to fly. I wanted to learn from the best, so I started to study eagles. They’re incredibly strong and powerful, but they hardly exert themselves at all when they’re circling like that. They don’t flap, they don’t beat, they don’t effort. They just hang there. They let the air hold them up. It’s amazing.”

Little One lowered his gaze. “Yea, must be great to have hollow bones and lots of feathers,” he said. He stepped around Ginger and started walking along the path again. “Too bad we’re stuck with heavy skeletons and flesh and fat.”

“What do you mean?” Ginger called from behind as she tried to catch up.

“I mean it’s great for something like an eagle to not effort, but air alone isn’t exactly going to keep me from falling to my death, is it?”

“No, but it seems to me the earth is doing a pretty good job of that,” said Ginger wryly.

Just then a root caught Little One’s foot and he fell to his knees. Before he could catch himself, the weight of his heavy pack threw him face first towards the earth. His forehead hit the ground with a smack.

And then it kept going. Suddenly Little One found himself falling headlong into what looked like earth but felt like a pool of thick water. It gave way beneath him as he fell deeper and deeper into its blackness. He couldn’t breathe.

He felt the first stirrings of panic in his belly. He tried desperately to pull himself upright with his arms, but his backpack was too heavy and kept pushing him down.

He kicked his legs out to the sides and reached out with his arms, trying to find something solid to hold onto. It was useless. There was nothing but watery sand all around him. The panic extended from his belly into his chest and throat.

He tried twisting, flapping his arms, and curling himself into a ball, but the more he struggled, the faster he fell.

This was exactly the type of thing he had worried would happen. He almost smiled with bitterness as he realized that there was nothing in his heavy, thoroughly-prepared pack that could help him in this particular situation.

He felt the darkness getting deeper as his lungs screamed for oxygen. Knowing it would do no good, he still kicked his feet a few more times and reached to find something solid with his hands.

He couldn’t. He was falling fast now. Soon the blackness became all encompassing and he felt himself drifting to sleep.

*   *   *

He was floating above a mountain peak, deep blue sky embracing him from all sides.

He saw a valley far below him. He could make out small trees, boulders, and a river glinting in the sun.

The wind was cool on his skin and he felt the infinity of space extending all around him. The view was beautiful from up here. He felt light, relaxed and free.

Just as he began to enjoy himself, the wind slowed and he felt himself fall. His heart jumped into his throat and his muscles tensed.

But then, after a moment of freefall, he felt something sweep beneath him, pushing him higher again. It held him there, solid and unmoving.

This happened a few more times. Slowly understanding dawned on Little One. Soon it felt so obvious and clear to him that he couldn’t believe he hadn’t seen it before.

His body relaxed. All tension faded from his muscles. He stopped trying completely. He felt himself melt into the air beneath him, his mind as empty as the sky above him.

*   *   *

The light dimmed, the expansiveness shrunk, and his lungs were screaming once again. He was back in the watery pit.

Keeping his muscles relaxed, he stayed still. He was no longer falling. Barely moving, he easily slid his arms from his backpack. He felt light as a feather.

Just then he felt something tap his head. He reached up and grabbed hold of what felt like a thick rope with something tied to the end. With the last of his strength, he pulled himself up the rope enough to put the weight between his legs. Then he let go and all was black.

When he woke up, he was on his back and Ginger’s face was above his, her brows furrowed with concern.

“Why the long face, friend?” he croaked.

Ginger’s face broke into a smile and she clapped her hands. “You’re alright! Wait, you are alright, right?”

“Yes, I think I finally am,” Little One said. “Though I managed to lose my backpack down there.”

“Oh, that’s okay,” sighed Ginger. “You don’t need it.” Suddenly she looked away shyly. “I guess you did a pretty good job of proving me wrong, though, didn’t you?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean literally the moment I told you that the earth was doing a good job of holding you up, you fell right through it.” She turned back to meet his eyes. “I’m so sorry, Little One. I feel like this is my fault for not taking your concerns seriously.”

Little One laughed. “Actually, I realized something down there, Ginger. I can’t believe I didn’t see it before. I almost killed myself trying to keep us safe from everything that could go wrong. But you know what I learned from all this?” Ginger shook her head.

“Well, first of all, I think it’s pretty clear I can’t keep us safe from anything.” Little One shook his head and smiled.

“And I also realized that that’s okay. Because when I blacked out, I dreamt I was an eagle. And every time I fell, I was carried back up again. It’s like there was something rock-solid supporting me. At first I couldn’t figure out what it was, but then I understood.”

Ginger looked at him. Her expression was thoughtful, her eyebrows arched. “What was it, Little One?”

“I was being held up by…me. Not by what I do, but by who I am. My safety doesn’t come from what’s happening outside of me. All my efforts to control the external world are pointless. What keeps me secure is what happens inside of me. It’s the strength in my soul, the peace in my heart, and my intrinsic ability to respond to whatever’s happening in the world with kindness, compassion, and love that keep me safe.  That keeps my internal experience secure regardless of what’s happening outside.”

Ginger’s eyebrows arched curiously. “And I realized something else,” he continued. “When I saw how supported I am by who I am, I realized how supported I am by everything else.”

“Like what?” Ginger asked.

“The wind. You. My family. The serpent. The world. Everything, I think. There’s so much support available to us all the time that we don’t even see.  I mean, think about the people who love us, the plants that feed us, the rain that nourishes us, and the sun that warms us. Lots of bad stuff can happen. But the whole world is always holding us up.”

Ginger’s laughter was like bells filling his ears. He looked over and met her eyes. “And now,” he said, smiling, “speaking of food and nourishment, I’m starving. Would you mind making me something to eat?”

Ginger giggled. “I’d love to!” she said. “I’ll just need to go collect some food. Somebody got so excited by how supported he is that he threw all of ours away.”

Little One laughed. He had no food, no supplies, no map, and no plan, and yet he’d never felt more confident and secure. Everything he needed was already within him. He folded his arms behind his head and laid back on the earth, enjoying the sensation of the entire world holding him up.

Click here to read the next story in the series.

Find your own strength

If you’re not sure that everything you need is already within you, sign up in the gray box below to receive biweekly reminders of just how amazing you really are, along with tips, ideas, and strategies for discovering your own calling and finding work you love.

Photo credit: Randen Pederson // CC


Little One and The Gift of the Serpent God (Or, What It Takes to Be Extraordinary)


Following is the fifth story in a series that tells the tale of the first hero to go on a journey to discover his calling.

To read the first story in the series, click here.

To read the previous installment, click here.

It was strange—the teleportation, the writhing gate, his unfailing good mood—all of it.

First an evil sorceress had taken him from the mountaintops back to his village—a distance that had taken him over a week to cross on foot—in the blink of an eye.  (He felt as if he had perhaps left his stomach back on the peak, but other than that he seemed quite fine.)

And then he had come across the gate—clearly made of metal, it was nevertheless writhing and hissing and apparently eager to eat him for breakfast—and yet it didn’t phase him in the slightest.

Nothing, in fact, seemed to bother him right now.  And that was the third odd thing about this day—his infallibly cheery disposition.

He couldn’t stop thinking about what he had discovered in the mountains—that his ability to see the multicolored lightning marked him as a child of the Serpent God.  And every time he did, he was filled with what felt like liquid sunlight from his core all the way out through his fingers and toes.

He couldn’t deny it.  Knowing he was the son of a god felt good.

It made retracing his steps from just outside his village back towards the looming mountains not just bearable but enjoyable; he didn’t mind going over the same old ground so much because the new knowledge made the path seem different somehow, more exciting and purposeful.  And it gave him time to savor the implications of his discovery.

He’d never liked serpents, ever since he was a boy and his brothers had tormented him by throwing ropes on him, yelling “Snake!” and then laughing hysterically as he screamed and put as much distance between himself and the rope as he could, which too often involved climbing a tree or scaling the side of a building.

But it had been a snake—albeit a dead one—that had helped him realize that something was calling him to do more than farm alongside his family.  The snake had helped him realize that he wasn’t happy in the life he had, and that he could perhaps help himself—and his village—by admitting this and following the call he felt to find out what else was out there.  It was this call that had led him to the mountains in the first place.

He didn’t know who the Serpent God was, or if it was the same as the snake he sometimes saw in times of need.  He did have a sense that his relationship to the Serpent God could explain a lot, if only he knew more, and perhaps even clarify why he alone was dissatisfied with farming in his village, and why nobody else seemed to feel the call that he did.

And he couldn’t help but dream that perhaps it meant something even more.  With more than a little excitement he envisioned himself going through a number of trials and tribulations that he alone could overcome due to the superpowers he possessed as the son of a god.  He imagined himself traveling to distant lands and conquering evil spirits so that he could return to his village in triumph, having saved them from a malevolent force they hadn’t even known existed.

He could almost taste the admiration, the gratitude, the reverence he would feel when he returned and shared his story of how he alone had saved the world and everyone in it.

It was this, in fact, that he was thinking about when he stumbled upon the gate.

He was entering the forest at the base of the mountains for a second time on what he thought was the same path he had traveled before.  But the last time around he hadn’t seen this gate, and he was pretty sure he couldn’t have missed it.

It was huge, almost as tall as the largest tree.  It was black and dark brown and looked like it was made of various metals.

After staring at it for a few moments, however, Little One saw that it was moving.  It appeared to be writhing and shifting, as if hundreds of snakes were sliding over and under each other along the length of the post.

And there was hissing.  It grew louder the closer he got to the gate.

Little One sensed that the snakes were perhaps angry, or hungry, or maybe both.  And yet it didn’t break his mood.  In fact, he remained cheerful and confident and was even smiling a bit as he stepped through the gate’s threshold.

It was what he found on the other side that finally destroyed his good humor.

As soon as he stepped through the gate a man appeared in front of him.  One moment there were only shadows and the next the man had taken shape.  The man was tall, dark, and well-built—well-defined muscles were showing at the edge of his clothes.

“Well-met, brother!” he called in a deep voice.

“Hello,” Little One said, his voice sounding unusually high.

“We weren’t expecting anyone else for a good while, but you’re quite welcome,” said the muscular man.

“Thank you,” said Little One.  The man kept looking at him, as if waiting for something, but he couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“Well,” the man finally said, “would you like to see the city?”

Little One looked all around him.  He didn’t see anything except trees and earth.  “Um, what city is that?” he finally asked.

“Why, the city of the children of the Serpent God,” said the man, his white teeth showing through his smile.  “That is why you came, isn’t it?  Come, brother, and meet all your siblings!”

*   *   *

The man—whose name was Sebastian Little One later learned—had walked to the nearest large tree and pressed a hand against its trunk, at which point the earth moved aside with a humph and a stairway opened up at its roots.

Little One followed Sebastian down the steps into an underground tunnel.  The sides of the tunnel glowed slightly and the ground turned different colors as their feet moved across it.

Sebastian had turned to him and laughed at the expression on his face.   “It’s pretty cool, I know,” he said.  “That was one of your sisters’ inventions.  We’re so lucky to have such creative powers.  Have you invented anything, Little One?”

Little One felt something uncomfortable rise in his chest.  “Um, no, not yet,” he mumbled.

Sebastian looked at him for a moment and then turned and kept walking.  Before long they had arrived in a giant, well-lit chamber.  The walls glowed with scenes of trees, mountains, and rivers laid over the stone.  Little One looked up and saw that the top of the chamber was blue and infinite, like the sky, and there were what appeared to be clouds hovering below it.

“Well, this is the workshop,” Sebastian said.  “This is where it all starts, the plans for all the tunnels and canals, the magical gardens, the instruments of justice.  All of the inventors work here.”

Little One just stared at him.

“Of course, the questers have a different headquarters.”

“The questers?”

“Yes, those of us who prefer to put the inventions to use.  We travel about looking for corrupt rulers, malevolent spirits, evil sorcerers, that kind of thing.  So we can quell them and bring them to justice,” he added.

“I met an evil sorceress the other day who definitely needed some quelling,” Little One said.

“Nice!  How did you vanquish her?” Sebastian asked.

“I, um, didn’t do what she told me to,” said Little One.  He had a hard time getting out the last words.

“Well,” said Sebastian, “I’m sure she had it coming.”  He turned around to fully face Little One.  “You know, I’m glad I stuck around to see you come through the gate.  I saw you staring at it and thought you were just a regular human.  I almost stayed invisible and came straight in.  But then something told me to wait, and I saw you step through without getting bitten by one of the snakes.  So I knew you were one of us.”

Little One felt like his brain was made of molasses.  He was having a hard time processing everything Sebastian said, but one word stuck out in his mind.  “Invisible?” he asked.

“Oh, yeah.  You know how it is, you get lazy and don’t want to reappear unless you have to.  Of course it’s not as tiring as flying, but it still takes an effort, am I right?”

Little One nodded.

“Still, I can’t complain.  I mean, we can fly, right?!  Being the child of a god is awesome, even if it takes a lot of work.”

Little One’s stomach dropped.  He couldn’t fly.  He had no idea how to become invisible.  He’d never invented anything in his life, nor beaten anyone at anything, let alone vanquished them.

Just then a girl looked up from what she was working on, noticed them, and walked over.

“Sebastian, you’re not overwhelming our new guest, are you?” she asked.

Sebastian shook his head.  “Nope, just showing him the ropes.”

The girl held out her hand to Little One.  “I’m Ginger,” she said.  “This is Sebastian.  And you are…?”

“Little One,” he said, the words barely audible.

“Nice to meet you, Little One,” Ginger said, smiling wide.  “Hey, I’m working on a problem that has me stumped.  Would you be willing to help me try to figure it out?”

Little One nodded and followed her into the workshop.

*   *   *

It was hard to tell how much time had passed.  All the rooms were underground, and the scenes on the walls pretty much always showed daylight—only at what seemed like random intervals did the sun on the wall go down and a moon rise on the other side.

Still, Little One fell into a rhythm that felt almost natural.  He ate and slept and helped Ginger on her project.  He wasn’t sure what she was building, but helping her with whatever she needed was the only way he avoided feeling the increasingly uncomfortable pressure building in his chest.

It had started the moment he’d met Sebastian in the woods.  It had continued to build, almost daily, as he learned more about the city of the children of the Serpent God.

He hadn’t stopped to think about it much.  Whenever he felt it building he simply went to look for Ginger to see if he could help her with anything else.  If she didn’t need help, one of the other inventors almost always did.

Days passed this way, or perhaps weeks or months.  Little One didn’t care.  It had occurred to him at some point that maybe this was what he was meant to do.  He was, after all, exactly where he belonged, alongside his true brothers and sisters.  Perhaps this city had been what was calling him all along.

Then one day he woke up and the pressure was more intense than it had ever been before. H went to look for Ginger.  But this time as he approached her, she didn’t greet him with a smile.  Instead, she looked at him with a thoughtful frown on her face.

“Little One, what on earth are you still doing here?” she asked.

He wasn’t sure what she meant.  “You don’t want me to help you on your project?  I can go see if someone else wants help.”  He tried to sound casual.

“No,” Ginger shook her head sadly.  “Sorry, that’s not what I meant.  Of course I want your help.  I never would have gotten this far without you.”  She offered him a small smile.  “What I mean is, why are you still here in the city?  Why are you ignoring your call?”

Little One just looked at her.  “I don’t know what you mean.”

“You’re not happy here, I can see it.”

“But I am.  Of course I am!  I mean, everyone here is so incredible.  I’m working on something exciting.  I have good food, a place to sleep, and plenty of time to relax.  Of course I’m happy!”

“Yes, but you’re not.  There’s no joy in your work, no love, no passion.  You haven’t yet found your unique gift.”

Little One winced.  “I can’t turn invisible,” he said softly.  “I don’t think I’ll ever learn to fly.  I’m not an inventor, or a warrior.  I’m not anything.  Maybe I don’t have a gift, Ginger.  Maybe what I’m supposed to do is just help you with this—whatever it is that we’re building.”  His stomach sank as he finished.

“Look,” Ginger said.  “I know it’s hard when you first get here and see how talented everyone is.  And it’s true, those are all gifts of the Serpent God.  But they’re not the only ones.  There’s also love, harmony, beauty, and many more.  And one of his most sacred gifts is that of perception.”


“Yes, perception.  Discernment.  Vision.  Ability to discover the truth.”

Little One laughed.  “And how is that helpful?  Who wants to have vision?  What great inventions have been built with discernment?  What famous villain has ever fallen to the sword of truth?”

He was being sarcastic, but Ginger just nodded her head.  “All of them, Little One,” she said.  Then she looked up at him, meeting his eyes. “But let me ask you this: Why does it only count for you when it’s big?  Tell me, is there nothing to be said for depth?”

Little One’s throat tightened.  “The world needs big accomplishments, Ginger.  I thought for a moment that I might create one of them.  But I see now that I’m not as special as I once thought.”

Ginger looked down at the tool in her hands.  “Perhaps,” she said softly, “it is not for you to know the size of your accomplishments.  Perhaps what’s important is not to be big, or special, or accomplished.  Perhaps what is needed is to play your part, whatever that part is, to the best of your ability.  Perhaps that is enough.”

Little One wasn’t sure what to say.  “I don’t know.  It doesn’t feel like enough.”

“I know,” Ginger said.  “I know.  But let me tell you something.  My father—the one who raised me, not the Serpent God—was a good man, but he was crippled as a child in an accident.  Other people in the village dismissed him because he couldn’t work.  His family gave him food, but they scorned him, believing he was worthless and had nothing to contribute.”

Tears began to well in the corner of Ginger’s eyes.  “But my experience of my father was completely different.  I was considered a strange girl in my village.  People didn’t understand why, but they sensed that I wasn’t entirely like them.  They didn’t include me in their games, and some of them made fun of me.  Most never really understood me.

“My father did, though.  He saw me—the real me—and he never let me think for a second that just because I was different I wasn’t okay.  He loved me in the purest, most unconditional way any person can love another human being.  And I honestly think if it hadn’t been for him, I would never have survived childhood, would never have heard my call, would never have had the courage to leave my village and come find my destiny here.”

She looked him in the eyes again.  “And isn’t that enough, Little One?  Will you tell me that that isn’t enough?”

Little One shook his head.  “It is,” he said.  “It absolutely is.”

*   *   *

Three days later, Ginger’s invention was ready.  Little One still didn’t know what it was, but Ginger had promised he would find out when it was time.

They were standing next to the gate with their bags packed and filled with food.  Everyone from the city had come above ground to wish them farewell.

There were lots of hugs and well-wishes and even some tears.  Little One realized how well-liked Ginger was among their siblings, and it made him appreciate her courage all the more that she was willing to leave the security of her home yet again to step into the unknown.

She had shared with him after their conversation the other day that it was slowly becoming clear to her that it was time to move on—again.  She loved the city of the children of the Serpent God, but she felt in her bones that she was being pulled onward.

She had asked Little One if he felt the same way.  “I do,” he’d said, and was surprised to find how clearly he knew it to be true.

He was even more surprised that he was also clear that he was meant to do so with Ginger.  She had simply nodded when he’d told her this, as if she already knew.

As they said goodbye to everyone—muscular Sebastian included—Little One realized that the uncomfortable pressure in his chest was gone.  His voice was loud and clear when he said his good-byes, and he wasn’t troubled by the accomplishments of his siblings, or the fact that he couldn’t fly.

He felt glad that somebody could.  And he was hopeful that someday he might learn.  But most of all he felt curious to find out what his gift from the Serpent God would be, and eager to use it however he could.

Click here to read the next story in the series.

Be Extraordinary

If doubts are holding you back from taking your next step, sign up in the gray box below to receive biweekly reminders of just how amazing you really are, along with tips, ideas, and strategies for discovering your own calling and finding work you love.

Photo credit: Randen Pederson // CC

Little One and the Test of the Sorceress (Or, Why You Should Want to Fail)


Following is the fourth story in a series that tells the tale of the first hero to go on a journey to discover his calling.

I believe that all of us who are attempting to uncover what the world is asking for from us are on our own hero’s quest.

It takes tremendous courage to step out of the mainstream and into the unknown. And as any hero will undoubtedly encounter numerous obstacles along the way, so will we. In overcoming these challenges, we discover the truth about ourselves and all that we have to offer the world. And for this reason as well our quest to answer the call is heroic, as it will no doubt benefit the world at least as much as it benefits us.

To read the first story in the series, click here.

To read the last installment, click here.

Little One regretted his decision the second he felt the monster’s teeth clamp down around his neck.

In the past, he had been pretty good at decision-making.  He knew how to weigh the various possible outcomes, and he usually had a good sense of which option would turn out best.  But the decision he had made this morning was of a different type entirely than any he had faced before.

Nothing about these mountains, in fact, was anything like he’d experienced before.

For one thing, they were huge.  He’d never in his life been so near to anything so large, so implacable, so steadfast in their stillness.  He had the sense that even the most violent tempest would be like a passing summer’s breeze to these giants, not even scratching the surface of their profound serenity.

And it wasn’t just the mountains that were big.  The rivers here cascaded into waterfalls the size of five trees stacked on top of each other.  The trees were so huge that thirty men could have held hands and still not fully encompassed their base.  The wildflowers were taller than he was, and the animals—some familiar, some not—were so large that he could have walked under their bellies with room to spare.

But the strangest thing of all, the thing that disturbed him most, was what he saw after darkness fell.

It happened every night: just as the first stars were beginning to show, clouds would form around the peaks and begin to churn and swirl.  Before long the thunder would start, booming down the valleys and reverberating between the peaks.

Finally came the thing that scared him most—multicolored lightning, huge bolts of it arcing from cloud to earth in blue and gold, red and purple, green and orange.  Each ray reflected its colors off the clouds behind it and sizzled and cracked and scorched the earth where it landed.

In the morning, Little One could still see giant, black marks scarring the ground where the lightning had landed.  He was so alarmed that he was careful to stay below the tree line, far from the peaks and their soot-filled wounds.

It was on the morning of his third day in the mountains, just as he had begun to wonder what he should be looking for in this strange, oversized world, that he met the sorceress.

He had been making his way across a field of giant boulders when he suddenly felt as if someone was watching him.  He paused and turned to look behind him.

There, in the shadow of the boulder he had just passed, stood a woman.  She was tall, slender, and beautiful, and she wore a dress the color of blood.

“Hello, Little One,” she said.  “Are you finding what you’re looking for?”

Little One took a step back.  “Not exactly,” he said.  “And you are…”

“A sorceress who wants to help,” the woman said, staring at him with large, brown eyes.

Little One eyed the wand she held in her hand.  “Help with what?” he asked.

“Why, help you to find what you’re looking for.  Though you still don’t know what that is, do you, poor dear?”  He didn’t respond, and after a moment she went on.  “Well, no matter.  I can assist with that.  And you can help me with a small problem that I have.”

“What problem do you have?” asked Little One, his brows furrowed.

“Even sorceresses have problems,” she laughed, showing perfectly straight, white teeth.  “Things don’t always go according to our plans.”

“I see,” said Little One, chewing his bottom lip.  “So how can I help?”

“Oh my, chivalry isn’t dead, is it?” she said, the corners of her mouth turning up into a smile.  “Well then, here’s the opportunity I can offer.  You take care of one little thing that’s troubling me, and I’ll show you my gratitude by taking you straight to—er—that thing it is you’re looking for.”

She paused, her eyes locked onto his.  After a moment, she continued, “And if you fail, well then, I’m afraid I’ll have to send you back to where you started.”

Little One wasn’t sure what to do.  After considering it for a moment, he answered carefully: “Ms. Sorceress, I’m very sorry, but I think I’m going to have to pass.  I’ve come a long way and can’t afford to go back to where I came from.”

Laughter suddenly reverberated like thunder among the rocks.  “But Little One, I haven’t even told you what the task is yet.”

“Okay,” Little One said.  “Then tell me.”

“At the edge of this boulder field you’ll find a grove of trees, and at the center of this grove lives a terrible monster.  He waits for innocent travelers to pass, then pretends to be a helpless creature in distress.  When the person tries to assist him, he takes his true, terrifying form and demands that they hand over all their possessions.   If they don’t, or if they don’t have enough on them to satisfy him, he eats them for dinner.”

Little One felt his stomach turn in a direction he didn’t like.  It was the same feeling he got when the fire at home had burned through all the logs long before dawn’s gray light; the last thing he wanted was to go out into the cold night to collect more firewood, but he also knew that nobody else was going to do it and if he didn’t, his sister would shiver all night without saying a word.

“If you kill this monster, I’ll take you directly to what you’re looking for.  I can’t tell you what it is—that would ruin the surprise—but I can tell you that it’s very real, and it’s even better than you imagine.”
Little One frowned.  “And if I fail, you’ll take me back to where I started.”

“Well, yes,” said the sorceress, her mouth puckering into a sympathetic pout.  “It wouldn’t be an adventure without some sort of risk, now would it?”

Little One wanted to say “No, thank you” and continue on his way.  It felt too dangerous, too risky.  But he recognized this rise in his belly, and he understood that it wouldn’t go away until he had done what he could to help.

“Very well, I accept your offer,” he said.

He didn’t wait for her response.  Quickly, his stomach rising into his throat, he turned his back on the sorceress and walked towards the edge of the boulders.

Her laughter, which had followed him all the way to the grove, awoke the first inkling of  doubt that perhaps he had made the wrong decision.

The grove had been exactly as the sorceress described.  In the middle of the grove was a rabbit with its leg caught in a hunting trap.  Little One knew that the trap was for him and not the rabbit, but he still wasn’t sure what to do.

“I know you’re not a rabbit,” he said a little awkwardly.  “I know what you’re trying to do.”

“Thank goodness,” said the rabbit, its voice startlingly rough and deep for such a small creature.  “That saves me some effort and a good bit of time.”

As Little One watched, the bunny transformed into an ogre-like creature with legs as big as tree trunks, massive, tattooed arms, and razor-sharp teeth the size of small boulders.

“Give me your possessions,” grumbled the ogre.  “All of them.  Or I will eat you for dinner.”
Little One hesitated.  He didn’t know what to do.  “Okay,” he said haltingly, beginning to take his pack off his back.  Trying to disguise the movement, he reached for his knife, which was tied to the top of his bag.

He was stopped by a guttural scream of fury.  Little One fumbled uselessly with the strings around his knife as the ogre lunged towards him and clamped his teeth around his neck.

Little One felt a sharp pain where the ogre’s teeth broke his skin.  A heavy wave of regret washed over him as he realized that his decision in the boulder field had almost certainly been the wrong one.

And yet, aside from this, Little One was surprised to realize that the situation wasn’t as terrible as he might have expected.  His whole life, he had always feared being powerless in the face of a cruel and malevolent foe.  He had spent hours and hours, in fact, thinking of ways to avoid situations exactly such as this.

But now, with his soft skin and arteries caught between the pointed teeth of a merciless monster, Little One wasn’t panicking, and for some reason he actually felt quite calm and even peaceful.

Little One waited while the ogre breathed heavily.  The teeth remained around his neck, but they didn’t move further.  Then Little One noticed that the ogre had a gash just over its right knee.  He reached out and kicked the wound with his foot.

The ogre howled and let go of his neck.  “Owwwww!” he screamed.  “Why do you have to make this harder than it already is?”

Little One wasn’t sure he had heard correctly.  “Harder than it is…for you?” he asked.

“Yes!” wailed the ogre.  “You think this is easy for me?  Demanding things I don’t even want?  And then killing innocent people if they don’t comply?”

Little One considered this.  “Well, I guess I’m not sure.  It’s not easy for you then?”

“No!” cried the ogre.  “This isn’t my dream job.  I never said, “Hey, I want to be a greedy, flesh-eating ogre when I grow up.  I’m not fighting bad guys.  I’m not exacting vengeance for some great wrong.  It’s meaningless!  I have no purpose!”

“I suppose not,” said Little One.  “So why do you do it?”

“I have no choice!” he wailed.  “She tricked me into making a promise!”

Understanding dawned on Little One.  He could feel the blood rushing through his veins, rising to his heart.  “What happened?”  he asked.  “Why did you promise?”

“I left my village,” the ogre said, his eyes becoming soft.  “I left my family behind.  I began to feel like something more was possible, and I felt this pull, this—this call to find out what else was out there—and I couldn’t ignore it.  They all thought I was crazy.  They told me to stay.  But I had to find out.  I had to know.  So I left them all behind and came up here, to the mountains.”

The ogre looked at him, a question in his eyes.  Little One’s heart moved in his chest.  He nodded.

“I searched for days, weeks, months, but I found nothing.  I wandered all over these mountains and the hills and valleys around them.  I didn’t know where else to go.  I couldn’t figure out what was calling me, and I began to think that maybe I really was crazy after all.”

The ogre was staring at the ground, his voice soft.  “That’s when I met her, the sorceress.  She told me that she could help me find what I was looking for, but I had to help her first.  I was so desperate I agreed before I even knew what she was asking.  I gave her my word.  When she told me what it was, I was shocked.

“She said that it would cost her a lot to help me, and that I had to pay her up front.  She confined me to this grove and told me I had to amass a certain amount of treasure before she could take me to what I was looking for.  She said the only way to do it was to take it from those who passed by, and the only way to do that was to kill those who didn’t comply.

“I didn’t like the idea of it, but what could I do?  I couldn’t return to my village in disgrace and let everyone see that I was wrong all along.”

The ogre’s voice was barely more than a whisper.  “It’s terrible.  I hate it.  But you know what the worst part is?  Every time I steal or kill, the pull gets weaker and weaker.  Last month I woke up and realized I couldn’t even feel it anymore.  That’s when I saw that I couldn’t do this anymore.  I went straight to the sorceress and told her I had given her enough treasure.  I told her I would kill her if she didn’t take me to what I was looking for.”

“What did she do?” asked Little One, his eyes wide.

“She laughed.  She reminded me I had given my word and told me I was close to getting what I wanted.  She told me not to give up, that it would be a pity to fail after how much I’ve sacrificed.

“I felt I had no choice but to come back to the grove.  But ever since then, I haven’t been able to kill anything.  And the people who come by, they sense it.  They’ve started fighting back.  Look at this gash I got just the other day.”

The ogre looked into Little One’s eyes.  “But the truth is, it doesn’t even matter anymore.  The calling is gone now.  I’ve sacrificed everything to answer it, but I’m afraid now I’ve lost it forever.”

The ogre buried his face in his hands as tears streamed down his cheeks.  Little One was suddenly aware that he could kill the ogre right now if he wanted to.  He fingered the knife on his pack and walked quietly towards the monster.

He put his arm around his shoulder.

“I’m so sorry,” he said.  “I know the pull of the call.  I too left my home to find out what it is.  And I can only imagine how painful it must be to know it’s out there but no longer feel its guiding pulse.”

The ogre looked up.  As he studied Little One’s face, an understanding seemed to dawn on him.  “She found you too, didn’t she?  She told you she would help you if you killed me?”

Little One nodded, a vice around his heart.

“You should do it then,” murmured the ogre.  “It would be better for us both.”

Little One shook his head.  “No,” he said gently.  “You have helped me realize that this is not my path.  It would not lead me closer to what I’m looking for.  I don’t think there are any shortcuts to where I am going.  No, I will not kill you and you will not kill me.  We will both continue to look for what it is that is calling us.”

A slow smile stretched across the ogre’s lips.  “Hearing you now, I almost believe that is possible,” he said gruffly.

“I am sure that it is,” Little One said.  He smiled.  “And now that your bond to the sorceress is broken, where will you go?”

“Home,” said the ogre without pause.  “I can’t explain it, but now that I’ve talked about it with you, it’s clear to me that that’s where I’m being led.  I miss them so much.”

“That’s wonderful,” said Little One.

“And what about you?  Where will you go?”

“Back to the beginning, I suppose.  That was the deal I made with the sorceress.”  Little One saw such concern in the ogre’s eyes that he quickly added, “But that’s just fine.  The multicolored lightning here scares me anyway.”  He tried for a smile.

The ogre jumped up.  “You see the colors?” he asked.  “In the lightning?”

“Yes,” answered Little One.  “Don’t you?”

“No!” exclaimed the ogre.  “That’s just it.  I came to these mountains because my people tell a legend about rainbow lightning that guards the gate.  I came here to search for it, but couldn’t find it anywhere.”

“Why, I have seen it the last three nights.  From what I can tell, it’s pretty hard to miss.”

“For you, perhaps,” said the ogre.  “But as I learned, not for me.”

Something occurred to Little One.  After a pause, he said, “You know why that is, don’t you?”

“Yes,” admitted the ogre, nodding.  His voice grew hushed.  “It’s because of what lies on the other side of the gate.”

Little One felt the blood tingle all over his body.  “And what is that?” he asked, sensing that the answer would change his life forever.

“Why, the home of the serpent god,” said the ogre softly.  Little One looked up and saw that his eyes were shining brightly.  “And only the children of the god can see it.”

*   *   *

Little One had bid goodbye to the ogre, who wouldn’t let him leave without giving him a nearly rib-crushing hug.  Despite the monster’s force, there was a lightness to his movements, a barely contained joy.  And there was triumph in his eyes to be free to return home in failure.

Little One walked to the edge of the grove.  There in front of him appeared the sorceress.

“I am disappointed,” she said to him, shaking her head.  “I expected better things from you.”

Little One was aware that it was unusual for him not to care that he had disappointed someone.  But somehow her words didn’t break through the mixture of excitement and determination he was feeling.  Neither did the knowledge that he was about to have to start over.

“You know I have no choice but to take you back to the beginning, right?”

Little One smiled.  “I know that you will take me back to where I started.  But you cannot take me back to the beginning.  For I have learned something today that has taken me far closer to what I seek than you ever could have.  And nothing you do can take that away.”

As he said this, Little One remembered something.  “When you are seeking truth, all roads are good ones,” he said.

The smile faded from the sorceress’ mouth.  Her eyes narrowed.  She raised her wand.

Now Little One laughed.  “Let’s go,” he said.  “What are you waiting for?”

And with that, Little One went back to where he started, smiling the entire way.

To read the next story in the series, click here.

Don’t Let Failure Stop You

When the next step feels too dangerous to take, sometimes all we need is a little help remembering that we’re strong, we’re not alone, and what we long for is possible.

Sign up in the gray box below to get just such a reminder emailed to you twice a month, along with tips, ideas, and strategies for discovering your own calling and finding work you love.

Photo credit: Randen Pederson // CC

Little One and the Chamber of Doom (A Tale of the First Hero to Answer the Call)


Following is the third story in a series that tells the tale of the first hero to go on a journey to discover his calling.

I believe that all of us who are attempting to uncover what the world is asking for from us are on our own hero’s quest.

It takes tremendous courage to step out of the mainstream and into the unknown. And as any hero will undoubtedly encounter numerous obstacles along the way, so will we. In overcoming these challenges, we discover the truth about ourselves and all that we have to offer the world. And for this reason as well our quest to answer the call is heroic, as it will no doubt benefit the world at least as much as it benefits us.

To read the first story in the series, click here.

To read the last installment, click here.

Little One woke up in darkness.

As his mind slowly came to, he was startled to realize that he had no idea where he was or how he had gotten there.

He sat up, blood rushing to his head, and looked around.  He couldn’t see anything.

Butterflies took off in his belly.

His eyes strained harder to see through the darkness, but it was impenetrable; just when he thought he could make out a shape, the darkness would thicken and shift and he couldn’t be sure it wasn’t his imagination.

His heart began to beat faster.  His mind was slow and obstinate, like a horse that didn’t want to leave the stable.  He willed himself to focus and looked for the most recent memory he could find.

It came to him suddenly, in a flash: He was running for his life.  His feet pounded the earth.  Trees flew by in the darkness.  He heard nothing except the ragged rhythm of his breathing, felt nothing except his lungs nearly exploding in his chest.

Only he couldn’t remember what he was running from.

Little One rubbed his scalp gently, as if trying to read the memories with the tips of his fingers.  Aside from a tender spot on the side of his skull, he found nothing.

He looked around him again.  He still couldn’t see anything, but he noticed that the air was humid and smelled of earth.  He extended his arms and found rock all around him.  He realized suddenly that he was in some sort of underground cavern or cave.

Using his hands as feelers, he found an opening in the wall to his left.  Feeling his way on his hands and knees, he made his way through into even deeper darkness.

The tunnel sloped down sharply, getting narrower and narrower.  Before long, he was on his belly, slithering like a snake to make his way forward.  He tried not to think about getting stuck or what might be waiting for him at the end of the tunnel.

The passageway continued sloping down more and more steeply.  Then suddenly the earth disappeared and there was nothing supporting him—only a slight breeze and a drop in temperature and a sense of infinite empty space.

Little One felt dizzy as his torso swung over nothingness and his stomach dropped into his feet.  He couldn’t see anything at all.  He yelled, but heard no echo.  He dropped a rock into the empty chamber in front of him but couldn’t hear it land.

Anxiety rose into his throat and threatened to choke him.  He took a breath and shuffled backwards onto solid ground, slowly making his way back to the original chamber.

He decided to continue exploring.

Using his hands, Little One searched the rock again.  When he reached the wall directly opposite the first tunnel he had been down, he found another opening.  Carefully this time, he made his way through.

After a few minutes he saw a faint light up ahead.  As he got closer, a cavern the size of several houses opened up in front of him.  Small points of bluish light glowed all over the ceiling, illuminating moist stalactites and a shallow lake beneath.

At first Little One was breathless from the beauty of the starry blue light and its reflection on the water.  But then his blood began to run cold as he realized that there was something sinister about this cavern, something evil.

Smoke rose from the surface of the water.  The water itself was moving, shadows rising to the surface and rippling outward as if in a slow boil.  Suddenly Little One felt the heat emanating from the depths and noticed a strange smell that was sickly sweet and burned the back of his throat.

He stood up.  The air became thicker and the smell worse.  He began to cough.  Then, looking out upon the water from his higher vantage point, he saw them.

There, just in front of him, just beneath the water’s surface, were bones upon bones upon bones.

Little One screamed and dove into the tunnel he had just come out of.  Scrambling, trying not to breathe in the poison, he made his way back to the chamber he came from as fast as he could.

Once he was back to safety, he leaned against the wall while blood pounded through his temples and his stomach exploded with terror and dread.  He tried desperately to remember how he had gotten here—and how he might leave.

The last thing he could recall before running for his life was deciding to sleep at the base of a hollowed-out tree.  He had wanted to keep walking on the path that he’d worked so hard to find, but the night had grown darker and darker until he could no longer see the path at all.  So he’d decided to stop for the night and had curled up between the tree’s roots and laid his head on the top of his pack.  That was the last thing he could remember.

Almost instinctively Little One’s fingers returned to the tender spot he’d found on his skull.  The pain made him realize something, and an idea materialized.

Feeling his way along the rock, he stood up and found an opening at the apex of the cave.  It was the passage he realized he must have fallen down to arrive in this chamber of horrors.

The hole was about three times the width of his body.  He made his way up by wedging his arms and legs all along the sides.  As he approached the top, the darkness didn’t get any lighter, but the air did, and the tunnel around him began to feel less subterranean.

Hope began to build in his chest as fresh air entered his lungs.  And then, when he was about a head’s length from the top of the hole, he heard a noise that froze him in place.

It wasn’t loud—just a low growl—but suddenly he couldn’t breathe as he realized that he had heard it before.  The memory came flooding back to him.

He had awoken to that same noise impossibly close to his ear in the base of the hollowed-out tree.  When he turned his head slightly, he was staring into the largest, reddest, angriest eyes he had ever seen in his life.  They looked demonic, and they were a finger’s width from his face.  Beneath them were white, glistening teeth dripping with saliva.

He had grabbed his pack and begun to run.  The beast, whatever it was, had followed.

After some time he began to tire.  His legs grew heavy and his chest felt like it would explode.  He couldn’t keep running forever, but he passed no trees with branches low enough to climb and saw no other shelter or protection anywhere.

Then, just as he was beginning to despair, his foot hit a black shadow that wasn’t a shadow at all and he was sliding, falling, tumbling downward.  He didn’t remember hitting the bottom.  The earth had swallowed him whole.

The memory made his stomach drop into an abyss of darkness as he realized he was stuck.  He had three escape routes only, and three forms of imminent death awaiting him.  He felt his heart beat wildly in his chest.

He couldn’t stay where he was, and yet every route available to him led to certain death and destruction.  Poison, carnivorous beast, or deathly drop-off—all seemed dangerous, painful, impossible.

He put his hands over his face as the fear turned to despair.  Images of home fluttered into his mind.  His heart sank further as he realized he would never see his family again, never make his sister laugh.

He would never get to climb the mountain.  He would never see what lay beyond.

He would never find out who or what was calling him, or why.

He sat in darkness for a long time.

Eventually he felt something move over his feet.  It was soft and smooth.  Then all of a sudden it disappeared.  “Am I imagining things?” he asked aloud.

“It is hard to tell imagination from reality, is it not?” said a familiar voice.

Little One’s heart stirred.  “Snake?” he asked.  “Is that you?”

He heard the movement this time a little to his left.  Two dark eyes sparkled in the shadows like glittering, black diamonds.

“Yessssss,” hissed the snake.  “I am me.”

Little One heard a funny noise he hadn’t heard before.

“Are you laughing?” he asked, disbelieving.

All he heard was hs-ss-ss-ss-ss.

“What’s so funny?” he demanded, but there was no answer.  Suddenly Little One was angry.  “I’m stuck in a cave of horrors with only death and destruction in my future, and you’re laughing about that?  What could possibly be so funny?”

The snake’s dark eyes bored into him.

“You have a good imagination.”

“A good—what?  What are you talking about?”

“You are not stuck, Little One.  You are afraid.”

Heat rushed to Little One’s cheeks.  “I am not!” he said quickly, though the words sounded hollow as they reverberated off the walls.

“It’s okay,” said the snake.  “Fear is not the problem.  You are a human being.  You are programmed to feel this way.”

“So what is the problem then?”

“Fear is simply a symptom.  Your real problem is with your vision.”

He waited for more, but there was only silence.  “What do you mean?”

“If you saw things clearly, you wouldn’t be afraid.”  Little One scowled.  “You don’t believe me.  Go see for yourself.  Go back and look at the lake again.  Look with your eyes this time, not with your fear.”

Little One didn’t want to, but he had no other ideas.  He took a deep breath.  Climbing into the tunnel to his right, he retraced his steps.

When he got to the lake, he saw the same glowing lights, the same stalactites, the same shallow water beneath.  But he saw no moving shadows, no ripples of movement, and when he knelt on the shore, he saw no bones beneath the surface.  The air remained clear and cool.

He went back to the snake.  “Okay,” Little One said.  “You were right.  It was my imagination I suppose.  But there’s still no passageway out.”

“Yes,” said the snake.  “You’re beginning to see.  What you’re most afraid of doesn’t exist.”

“It doesn’t exist?”  Little One asked.  “What do you mean?”  Then understanding dawned and hope lit like a spark in his chest.  He gestured towards the opening above him.  “So if I climb this shaft and continue past the growling, I’ll find there’s no beast and I can continue on my way?”

“Oh, no,” came the voice from the darkness, and then: hs-ss-ss-ss-ss.  The black eyes sparkled.  “You will get eaten alive if you do that.  The beast is hungry and quite determined.”

The spark died in Little One’s chest and his stomach sank.  “I don’t understand,” he said softly.

“Why does the beast make you afraid?”

“Because if he catches me, he’ll kill me and eat me, and then I won’t be able to continue on my quest.”

“And why does the bottomless pit you found make you afraid?”

“Because I can’t escape through a bottomless pit!  And I’ll never find what I’m looking for if I’m unable to leave this cave.”

“So in the chamber of the lake you encountered the unknown.  And you were afraid because you thought you saw something terrible in the darkness.”

“I suppose so, yes.”

“But it didn’t exist.  You were only afraid of your own imagination.”

Little One was silent.

“And then in the passageway to the surface you encountered a threat that did exist, something quite dangerous and also quite real.  And you were afraid because it threatened something you want very much.”


“But again this is a problem with vision.  You fail to see that what you want may not be what is best.  You think you know what is good and what is bad.  But the beast has done you a great favor.  You will see this once you have walked a little bit farther along your path.”

Little One considered this.   “And the bottomless pit?” he asked.

“In the bottomless pit you encountered an obstacle and thought you saw failure.”

“Yes,” Little One said.  “If I am unable to leave this cave, then I have failed.”

“So what did failure look like?  What did it sound like or smell like?  Tell me so I know how to recognize this failure in the future.”

Little One thought hard.  “I suppose I can’t say I found failure in the pit.  I suppose that was my imagination as well.”

“Yessssss,” said the snake.  “You encountered an obstacle and were afraid because you saw only impossibility.  What you failed to see were your own strength and power.”

“Fear is a lack of vision,” Little One repeated.

“Exactly.  Because what you are most afraid of does not exist.”

“And if I do fail, if I get permanently lost or starve to death or fall over a cliff and never make it beyond the mountains?  Are those not real possibilities?”

The snake’s eyes glittered in the darkness.  “Yes, of course they are.  But if you fail, Little One, then perhaps you will find that what you were looking for was within you all along.  Success is not something out there.  It can be discovered only in the truth that is already within you.”

Little One became aware of the ground under his feet, the cool rock all around him.  “So if what I’m looking for is within me, what should I do?  Am I to be happy rotting in this cave forever?”

The snake just laughed.  “That would not be the worst thing, Little One.  But no.  Your call is leading you elsewhere.  Though what you are looking for is within you, it is your journey that will help you discover it.  All you need to remember is that when you are seeking truth, all roads are good ones.”  Little One could swear he saw a smile in the darkness and then the glittering black eyes blinked and disappeared.

And then, as soon as they were gone, Little One knew what to do.  He grabbed his pack and pushed it into the tunnel that led to the bottomless pit.  He made his way on his belly until the ground disappeared in front of him again.

He stood up on the ledge.  Using his hands as feelers, he explored the rock above him.  It was filled with protrusions and ridges.

Strength flooded his core as he saw the possibility in front of him.  Somehow he knew that the protrusions would go all the way up the cavern wall.  He could picture his body propelling him upwards step-by-step towards the surface.  He could imagine what relief he would feel upon breathing fresh air again and finding once more the path that would lead him to the mountains.

When he did reach the top after a long period of careful climbing, it was even more beautiful than he had imagined.  The air was crisp, filling his lungs with life.  The sun’s light was warm, golden, and promising in the east.  The birds sang loudly, as if to celebrate his achievement.

But the best part by far were the mountains, which were no longer mysterious shapes on the horizon.  They were immediately in front of him now, enormous in their majesty and breathtaking in their splendor.

The snake had been right, and Little One thanked the beast for its immeasurable help.

For the mountains’ green slopes beckoned him, inviting him to set foot upon them.  And looking up at their unfathomable heights, breathing in their infinite beauty, Little One became aware of something else.

The mountains had been waiting for him, perhaps for a very long time.  They were waiting for him to climb them.  Waiting for him to discover their many hidden secrets.

To read the next story in the series, click here.

Don’t Let Fear Stop You

When the next step feels too dangerous to take, sometimes all we need is a little help remembering that we’re strong, we’re not alone, and what we long for is possible.

Sign up in the gray box below to get just such a reminder emailed to you twice a month, along with tips, ideas, and strategies for discovering your own calling and finding work you love.

Photo credit: Randen Pederson // CC

Little One and the Hidden Path (A Tale of the First Hero to Answer the Call)


Following is the second story in a series that tells the tale of the first hero to go on a journey to discover his calling.

I believe that all of us who are attempting to uncover what the world is asking for from us are on our own hero’s quest.

It takes tremendous courage to step out of the mainstream and into the unknown. And as any hero will undoubtedly encounter numerous obstacles along the way, so will we. In overcoming these challenges, we discover the truth about ourselves and all that we have to offer the world. And for this reason as well our quest to answer the call is heroic, as it will no doubt benefit the world at least as much as it benefits us.

To read the first story in the series, click here.

It disappeared.

Just like that, with no warning.

Little One had paused for only a moment.  A bird’s call had caught his attention, reminding him of a song his sister used to sing.  He had stopped walking to look for the bird, but though he was at the edge of a dark green forest, he saw no birds anywhere.  Disappointed, he lowered his gaze back to the ground to continue on his path.

That’s when he realized that the path had disappeared.

It had been there a moment before, he was sure of it.  And it continued to extend behind him as far as the eye could see.  But in front of him, now, there was nothing: no path, no marking, no footprints—entirely no suggestion of where to go.

His heart began to flutter in his chest.  The forest in front of him was dark and foreboding.  There was no sign of life anywhere around him.  He suddenly felt very far away from home.

Without the path, he had no idea where to go, or even what to do.  He was lost.

“You can only be lost if you don’t know the way home,” said a voice.

Little One spun around.  There, just a few feet behind him on the path he had traveled, was an old woman with white hair, long fingernails, and a dark shawl the color of the shadows on the forest floor.

“You know the way home, Little One.  I suggest you go back there now,” she cackled.

Little One wondered how she knew his name, but he just shook his head.  “No,” he said.  “I am looking for something, and I can’t turn back now, not after how far I’ve come.”

She laughed at this.  “You wouldn’t speak that way if you knew how far you have yet to go.  Turn back, Little One.  I am only concerned for you.  You will get lost, and you will not find what it is you are looking for.”

Little One’s heart sank.  “If you could just point me towards the path.  I know I saw it here a moment ago…”

“There is no path in these woods.  You will lose your way and you will never emerge.  You should turn back and go home to your family now.”  A light glowed green in her eyes.

Little One could feel his heart beating in the back of his throat.  He imagined his family eating together; he could see his home in the morning light, could feel the warmth of his bed.  He longed to be there.

“Thank you,” he said to the woman.  “I appreciate your help.”  And with that he turned back around and began to walk into the woods.

When he looked back over his shoulder a few moments later, the old woman was no longer there.

The forest was dark and very little light made it through the thick canopy overhead.  Little One could see only a short way in front of him.  He reasoned that the mountains had been straight ahead of him when he had entered the wood, so he made his way as straight as he could by choosing a tree directly in front of him and walking towards it, then picking another and repeating the process.

At first he enjoyed the walk and felt energy in his legs.  Every once in a while a bit of sun would penetrate the canopy and create dancing patterns of light on the dark skin of the trees.  The leaves underfoot were soft and absorbed the sound of his footsteps.  The entire forest was silent, in fact, except for periodic bursts of song from the bird he had heard before.

Soon, however, Little One realized something that made his legs feel heavy and limp.

After walking for about an hour, he passed a large tree with a double-trunk and an opening at its base that looked almost identical to one he had passed shortly after entering the woods.

Thinking it odd that two such trees should be so close together, he kept walking straight towards the base of the mountains.  An hour later, he saw the same tree again.

Slowly it dawned on Little One that he was walking in circles.

“What a fool!” he said to himself.  “I’ve been choosing trees that are slightly to the left.  Of course this would take me in circles over time.”

He made a concerted effort to pick trees that were actually straight in front of him.  An hour later his heart sank as he came upon the same double-breasted tree.

He began to pick trees that seemed to be a bit to the right in order to compensate for the apparent bias in his vision.  An hour later, he passed the tree again.

Discouraged, Little One considered his options.  “Since I cannot seem to walk in a straight line, perhaps I can find a river to follow.  Rivers lead to higher elevations, and should take me towards the mountains.”

He started off 90 degrees to his right in an abrupt change of direction and looked all around him for signs of water.  He saw none.

And then, about an hour later, he came upon the same twin tree.

He let out a heavy sigh, turned 90 degrees to his right again, and started off.

It was starting to get even darker in the woods when, four hours later, after four more tries, Little One passed the same double-breasted tree.

Little One had only a little water left and not much food.  He remembered the words of the old woman: “You will get lost and you will not find what it is you are looking for.”

A raging fire flooded his limbs.  “You did this, old woman!  You removed my path so you could trap me here!”  And then a darker kind of heat came for himself for having fallen prey to such a simple stratagem.

After a few moments the fire subsided.  He heard the bird call again and felt an old, familiar pain in his chest.

“Please,” he said to nobody in particular.  “Please show me the path so that I might find what it is that is calling me.”

He heard a rustling next to him.  Thinking it was the bird, he moved towards it.  As he peered at the roots of a tree, a snake’s head appeared.

“Snake!” Little One yelled.  “Snake, help me find the path!”

The snake’s black eyes stared at him, unmoved.  “There isss no path for you,” he said calmly.  “Only other people’s pathsss.  You have to follow the path within.”

“What path within?  Just tell me where to go!”

“The path within you, Little One.  Stop worrying so much about finding a path.  You already know where to go.  You just don’t know that you know.”

“That’s not helpful,” said Little One, the fire flaring again.  “How am I supposed to know which direction to go in?  If you’re not going to help me, you can leave me alone.”

“I already told you how to find your way.  You will remember.”  Snake looked calmly at him.  “And when you find the path within, remember that the only ssstep you need to sssee is the next one.  The path will appear as you walk it.”

Snake looked up at him for a moment, then slid over a root and into a hole in the ground.

Little One was confused.  How he could know where to go when he had never been here before and there was no path?  Without a path, how could he be sure he was heading in the right direction, and not just wasting his time?

He longed to know where he was headed, like when he followed the well-worn trail from the fields to his house back home.

He sat in silence for a long time.  Then the bird called again.  Again he tried to catch a glimpse of it, but again he saw nothing.

“You know the way home,” the old woman had said.  “You already know where to go,” said the snake.  Little One wanted to find their confidence reassuring, but he thought it more likely they were wrong about him.

He considered how he had gotten this far.  After talking to Snake the first time, he had begun to feel a small tug within his chest, as if the mountains were pulling him towards them.  “Lissssten,” Snake had said.  And he had known then to start down the path that led over the plain to base of the mountains.

Now he felt no such tug.

In the deepening shade of the trees the bird called again, sounding even closer now.  Little One finally placed the song.  It was one his sister used to hum as she helped their mother cut vegetables for dinner.

“Lisssten,” he heard Snake say in his mind.

He felt something stir within.  Remembering his sister’s toothless smile, how she literally jumped up and down when she had an idea, how completely and unhesitatingly she hugged him when she saw him, he felt not exactly the tug he had felt before, but a movement throughout his entire body that lifted him upward.

“Lisssten,” Snake said again.

Little One stood up.  As soon as he did, the bird called.  It was coming from just to his left.  He took a step towards it.

More birdsong.  And with it, a stronger movement within him.

He took another step, and then another.  The song grew louder but never closer with each step.  It continued to lead him deeper into the forest.

Then, after a time of walking, just as it was getting dark, he saw it.

There was a path in front of him, leading into a stand of trees so black he could barely see their outlines.  He heard the bird call once more, behind him now, and then all was silent.

“You will lose your way,” he heard the old woman say in his head.  “You will never emerge.”  A tightness rose in his throat.

And then, remembering his sister, remembering the laughter and light in her eyes, he made a decision.

He approached the trees and began walking down the dark path.

To read the next story in the series, click here.

Find Your Own Path

If, like Little One, you’re having a hard time seeing your own next steps, join us next month for Pathfinders, a group hike and discussion to help you discover your calling.

You’ll go on a beautiful walk through the woods.  You’ll have meaningful conversations with others who, like you, are trying to discover what they’re meant to do in this world.  And you’ll receive loads of support for listening in so you can identify and take steps towards work you love.

To find out more and to register for Pathfinders, click here.

If you liked this post, you can share it with others using the buttons below and sign up for my newsletter in the gray box.  I’ll send you tips, ideas, and resources for answering your calling every other week.

Photo credit: Randen Pederson // CC