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The Willow Prince

Cindy Sun-Young Kim

 
     "Mom! Tell me about the Willow Prince again." Julie badgered her mom to tell her a bedtime story.

     "Okay, but only if you promise to go to bed after this story."

     "I promise Mom." Julie nodded her head with a serious attitude.

     "Close your eyes, and imagine what they all look like. The Willow Prince is almost the same age as you, Julie. He has dark black curly hair which matches with his deep black glittering eyes. I do not know where he got his clothes, but he is covered with green willow leaves. He lives on top of a huge willow tree in a cave filled with beautiful flowers and delicious fruits. Birds, deer, lions and all sorts of animals are playing together with him in the flower garden. They are all his friends. His best friend is the lion, named Sisi, that carries him around every place he wants to go. If anything happens to the Willow Prince, Sisi is there to help him."

     Julie turned to her mom with her eyes still closed and asked, "Mom, how come he can become friends with the animals? Can he talk with them? They cannot talk like we do, right?"

     "Sweetie, he can talk with anything or anyone if he wants. Not only the animals, but also the flowers and trees in his cave are his friends. Sometimes, he does not have to say a word because he understands what they want to say or how they feel by looking at their eyes or touching them. He might be looking for a friend, who is nice and sweet, just like you, Julie."

     This time she opened her eyes, and asked, "Do you really think he would like to be my friend? Then, how can I meet him? Where is the cave?"

     "Can you see the mountain over there?" She pointed at a mountain in the distance that they could see through their window. The mountain was covered by the snow all through the season. She continued, "The inside of the cave is warm like spring all year. You can see your favorite flowers all the time, and you can eat your favorite fruits any time of the year. Isn't that wonderful?"

     "But Mom, look at the mountain. There is snow on top of the mountain all the time. How can it be so warm?" she doubted.

     "The Willow Prince makes the cave warm all the time with his warm heart," Julie's mom answered with a little smile on her face.

     "I knew something was out there; the mountain looked very mysterious to me." Julie said with a strong confidence.

     " I heard he only appears to a person, who is kindhearted, and helps the person if she or he is in trouble. So be nice to other people, especially, be nice to the people near you. He also likes a person who keeps a promise with other people. So, you promised to go to bed when the story ends, right?"

     " Yes, Mom. Good night!"

     Julie's mom kissed her and said, "Good night, my dear."
 

     Looking at the empty chair standing next to her bed, Julie looked back to her past when her mom was still alive, telling her bedtime stories every night. She still remembered the warmth she felt from her mom which was gone after her mom's death. She felt empty without her, and the house seemed to be bigger than ever. Whenever Julie felt lonely, she believed that the Willow Prince would be there in his cave waiting for her to come and be a friend with him and his friends.
 

     Her father also got very depressed during the years without his wife, and Julie often saw him looking at the mom's pictures and crying. He would never show his gloomy face to Julie, and tried to cheer her up all the time. He was still keeping his wife's belongings in his room, but he realized that looking at them made him more depressed. He decided to move on with his new life and tried to forget his wife. Just then he met a woman, named Rachel, at his work, and he fell in love with her. One day, he brought this lady, asked Julie to call her, 'Mom'. At the beginning, it was hard for Julie to have two mothers in her life, but soon she accepted her as a new mother. Julie was happy for her father to have someone next to him. Her father was also happy to see his new wife being nice to Julie.

     "Julie, my sweet girl! You look very tired, are you okay?" Rachel stole a glance at her husband, and went on. "You must be hungry. Tell me what you want to eat for dinner. Spaghetti? Pizza? Your Mommy will cook whatever you want," Rachel spoke to Julie kindly not the same way she talked when her husband was not around. Julie's father did not know what was going on between Julie and Rachel while he was gone. Actually he did not even care since she was so nice to Julie in front of him all the time.
 

     Right after Julie's father left for work, the considerate Rachel turned evil and treated Julie like a servant. Rachel did not like how her husband treated Julie. He was a very generous person, but he was even nicer to his daughter. Rachel regarded Julie with jealousy, and she always thought, without Julie, her life would have been much better than it was now.

     "Julie! Get yourself down here right away!" As soon as she heard her stepmother calling her, in haste she ran down the stairs. Another tough day started for Julie.

     "Yes, Mom! What can I do for you?" Julie asked obediently.

     "Are you still asking me? You should know by now. You are the one who does all the house work. How the hell would I know what you have to do for today? By the way, look at this skirt! It was one of my favorites, but it does not fit me anymore. What did you do to my skirt?" Looking at a tight flower print skirt, Rachel accused Julie of making her skirt shrink. It had been three years since she came into Julie's family. Rachel had put on more than 50 pounds after her marriage. No wonder why! Julie was there to serve her all the time. All she had to do was eat, and sleep. In fact, Julie had never seen the skirt before.

     "I am really sorry about your skirt, but I don't think I have ever seen it before. Are you sure that you ever wore that skirt recently?" Moving her head slantwise again and again, Julie doubted. Maybe it was from her youth or even before she got married into Julie's family. By then she might have been smaller than now.

     "Are you saying I am fat?" Rachel's scowl face frightened Julie.

     "No, I mean . . . "

     "Shut up, Girl! You've got extra work to do for today. After cleaning the inside of the house and doing dishes, go and wash the windows from outside." It was too cold for that, but Julie did not complain and said with a small voice, "Yes, Mom!" Blowing her little hands to keep them warm, she finished washing all the windows. Sitting down in front of her house, she thought of the Willow Prince. She believed he would come to help her someday. At that very moment, Julie saw her father coming back from his work.

     "Julie! Julie!" Julie heard Rachel calling her again.

     "Julie, your father is here. Go change your dirty clothes, and make sure you do not say a word to your father about me, Okay?"

     "I promise, Mom." As she answered, she went upstairs to her room. Julie never broke the promise with Rachel, so Julie's father never knew she was having a hard time with Rachel.
 

     Around two years later, Julie's father had a vervous breakdown from overworking which put him in bed for a while and Julie took special care of him. Her father held Julie's little hands after a long time while she was serving him, but he got surprised,

     "What happened to your hands? They are too rough for a kid like you, Julie. They do not look like a 13-year-old girl's hands. You also look emaciated, what's wrong? Do you have any problems that you cannot tell anybody? What's wrong? Tell me if you have any. You know I worry about you all the time, don't you?" He asked Julie with worries.

     "I am just fine. Don't worry!" Julie tried hard to keep back her tears and answered with a smile on her little face.

     "I wish I could make some time for you and go somewhere together, but . . . " He knew he would not be able to live any longer, so he could not go on. Several days later, he passed away leaving Julie with Rachel.
 

     The sorrow Julie had in her mind was too deep for anyone to understand; however, she did not have time to be sad. The situation with Rachel got worse and worse after his death and wearisome days continued. She asked Julie for things beyond human control. If Julie could not make it, Rachel would beat her up or would not give her any food for several days. Julie got scared of her, but she never felt any hatred toward her. She tried to understand that Rachel must have been lonely after her father's death, too. One day, Rachel again asked Julie for something impossible.

     " Julie! Today I feel like eating peaches. Go and get some in the mountain. I will not let you in unless you bring me some peaches, okay?"

     " Mom, but it is in the middle of winter, how can I get them on this cold day? Look at the snow outside. I cannot even walk . . . "

     " Just do as I say! Move! Move!" Rachel yelled at her meanly.

     " Yes, Mom." As usual, Julie answered even though she knew it was impossible.

     Julie knew it was impossible to find peaches in the middle of winter, but she went out to look for them anyway because she was afraid that her stepmother would hit her again. The mountain was not so far away from her house, but for a little kid like Julie, it took quite a long time to get there. Moreover, the deep snow made it even harder to walk through. She left her house around noon, but when she reached the mountain, it had become dark already. Since she could not find the peaches yet, she could not go back home. She climbed up the mountain, but soon she lost her way in the dark. She had come to this mountain with her real mother several times, but it was the first time for her to come by herself. She became extremely hungry and exhausted walking all day long, and she fell down to the ground covered with snow. She lost consciousness, and fell asleep in the cold. She was not sure how much time had passed. She tried to wake up, but she could not move her body or open her eyes. She could only hear the noise around her, the sound of a water fall, birds singing, and a little boy's laughter.

     "Where am I? I must be in heaven. I must have died in the middle of the mountain last night. Oh, God! What should I do?"

     When she opened her eyes, it was too dazzling that she could not see anything for a while. Rubbing her eyes, she finally looked around the place. Julie felt very familiar with the place as if she had been here before, but she knew it was not the place where she fell asleep last night. She saw huge elephants, giraffes, monkeys, and so on playing all together in a lovely flower garden. The place was bright and warm like spring. Her glittering blue eyes suddenly became big when she spotted a bright green colored willow tree. She could tell it was not a normal willow tree. It was the willow tree where the Willow Prince lived.

     "You finally woke up? We have been waiting for you to wake up for a long time. Don't you want to play with us?" It was the Willow Prince riding on the back of a lion. The Willow Prince on the back of Sisi. Julie became pop-eyed. "Did I or my friend, Sisi scare you, Julie? If I did or he did, I apologize. I knew you would come here any time soon, but I just could not wait to see you. I want to welcome you to my cave. I am so glad you are here." Julie now opened her mouth, but the words did not come out.

     'You are the Willow Prince I have been waiting for, right?' Her mouth was moving, but she was struck dumb.

          The Willow Prince showed Julie around his place, and he introduced his friends to her. Julie saw him talking to the birds, trees, and flowers. Julie could talk to them through the Willow Prince. She could not believe the Willow Prince she was waiting for was right next to her, holding her hands and playing with her. She never had such a good time after her mom died. She felt so glad that her eyes became full of tears.
 

     "Aren't you hungry, Julie? I am. Let's go and get something to eat!" The Willow Prince held Julie's hand, and led her to the orchard which was filled with numerous fruits hanging on the tree. Just looking at apples, melons, pineapples and mangos made Julie's mouth water. At that moment, she found peaches on the tree. Peach!! It reminded Julie of her mom waiting for the peaches at home. When the Willow Prince knew that it was time for Julie to leave, his face became gloomy. He gave her two giant pinkish peaches and promised to send her home safely and asked her to come back and play with him and his friends again. But she did not know how to get to this cave.

     "Whenever you want to come, I will send Sisi to guard you here. Just remember when you arrive in front of this cave, you must say, 'A WILLOW PRINCE, A WILLOW PRINCE!' Then the door will open. You are welcome anytime."

     "Thank you for your kindness and also for these peaches. My Mom will be happy to see them. I promise that I will come back and play with you. I had a great time with you and your friends. Please say 'Thanks' to your friends for me."
 

     Julie returned home with the two huge peaches which shocked Rachel. The next day and days after that, Rachel asked for other fruits that were normally impossible to find in this cold season, but Julie brought back whatever she asked for.

          One day when Julie went to see the Willow Prince, he gave her a special present which was in a small box. He explained, "This is very special medicine. If you give it to a person who just died, you would be able to save the person's life. It would be nice if you carry it with you all the time." She thought she might be able to bring her parents back to the life, so Julie's eyes glittered with joy.

     "I am sorry, but you can't do that." Willow Prince knew what she was thinking even though Julie had not said a word yet. The bright smile she had on her face was already gone when the Willow Prince looked at her.

     "I understand how you feel, though, I can't bring your parents back since they passed away long time ago. I can talk with the animals and the trees, and keep this place warm even in winter. I can rescue people from danger, but once they die for a while, their souls are not here in this world anymore. They belong to God. I just can't. It is beyond my power."

     He went on, "It is very important, so you have to listen very carefully. You can use this medicine on only one person whom you care for most in this world. You have to use it right after the person dies, so please don't forget that." Julie thanked the boy, and left for home with the present. Although, it was the first present she had gotten in a long time, it made her feel more blue because she realized that even the Willow Prince could not bring her parents back.
 

     The next day, Rachel asked Julie to get some narcissus to make their house more animated, but this time she decided to shadow her stealthily. When Rachel saw Sisi picking up Julie, she was once scared, but followed them. When Julie made the incantation, "A WILLOW PRINCE, A WILLOW PRINCE," the giant rock door was opened. Rachel could not believe what she just had seen, but snuck stole into the cave after Julie. The place looked like a paradise to the mother, so she became covetous of the place. She noticed that there was nobody else except the Willow Prince who was as big as Julie.

     "Without him, I can be the Queen of this paradise. I just have to get rid of him." Her eyes were burning with her greed. She was waiting for a good time to kill the boy in order to snatch the paradise from him.
 

     While Julie and the Willow Boy were playing near a waterfall, the evil Rachel first pushed Julie out of her way. Stepping up to the Willow Prince, she strangled him to death, and pushed the dead body into the fall. Julie could not do anything since it happened too suddenly and quickly. Julie for a while could not even cry. Once she started crying, tears streamed down her face and never stopped.

     "Mom! Why did you do that to him? What did he do to you?" Julie did not understand why her mom was there, or why she had killed him. The only thing she could do was cry.
 

     As the Willow Prince died, Julie felt the place was getting colder, and she noticed it gradually started freezing. His animal friends and flowers were in danger, too. They started falling down to the ground one by one. Sisi, next to the Willow Prince, fell down on the ground and started freezing. At that time what came to her mind was the medicine which she got from the Prince. Julie took out the medicine from the box and gave it to him. It was like magic. Instantly, he was brought back to life and the place became warm like it was before. Opening his eyes, "You saved my life, Julie. Look at my friends. You also save their lives, too. But you used the medicine I gave you on me? I am sorry!" The Willow Prince felt bad for her using the medicine on him.

     " Don't worry! Anyway I am glad that you are back." Julie cried with joy. As he woke up, she started feeling the warmth again. It was similar to the warmth she used to feel from her real mom.

     "Thank you so much for saving our lives." As he bended his knee and thanked her, all his friends bended their knees and bowed to Julie. "I promise that I will comply with two of your wishes. Let me know whatever you wish for." He told her in a gentle way.
 

     At that very moment, Sisi's kind face was gone and he became a fierce beast. He started howling at Rachel and threw himself upon her, then scratched her face with his fingernails. The blood came out from her forehead. Just looking at the incident, the Willow Prince did not say a word. But Julie started begging him for mercy,

     "Willow Prince! Please stop Sisi. If you don't stop him, he will kill my mom." Julie now bended her knees and begged him, "You promised to comply with my wish, right? This is one of my wishes."

     "Are you sure you don't want her to die? If you are afraid of her harming you, don't worry. I will protect you from her." He said ardently.

     "No, I am not afraid of her. She is not going to hurt me. She is my Mom no matter what." Her voice was very touching.

     "If that is what you want, okay. Sisi, come back here. Didn't you hear what she said?" As soon as he said, this Sisi came back to him. Julie ran to her mother to wipe the blood on the forehead, but to her surprise all traces were gone. Looking at Julie, Rachel became too embarrassed by what she had done and said,

     "Why did you save me, Julie? Don't you hate me after going through all hardship I gave you? Are you sure you don't want me to die?" Rachel asked with tears in her eyes.

     "How can I hate you? You are my mom. All I have in this world is you. How can I ever hate you." Julie smiled at her mom.

     The Willow Prince asked, "Then, what is your next wish, Julie?"

     "How about we all live together? Yes, that's what I want. I would like to live with you, your friends and my Mom all together."
 

     Everybody in the cave was so touched by her wishes, and happy to have a kindhearted girl like Julie living with them. Especially, Rachel was moved to tears, and decided to change the way she used to live, and promised that she would be a better person. After all, they lived together in paradise happily ever after.
 

Acknowledgments

I have many people to thank: Joo-Young for telling me many different stories which helped me to come up with the story like this; Kenichiro Akita, Delzie Leigh, Michelle Heller, Corey Morris, Selena Reilly, Lonni Evans, Christopher Brasel, Michelle Steele, Glenda Gaynor for being patient to read my long story and giving me good comments on the drafts; and Terry Heller for helping me to improve my story.



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