By Audrey Kosla, TIWP student
Margaret had had enough. She lived an unlucky life, plain and simple. The day she planned to swim in the lake, the sky disappointed her with rain. When she finally put on rainboots and grabbed an umbrella, suddenly the sun decided to make an appearance. Margaret tripped over roots that appeared out of nowhere, walking through mud puddles was an everyday occurrence, and her shoelaces became untied at the worst possible moments. Black cats and broken mirrors played cat and mouse with her, and the more she attempted to avoid them, the quicker they chased.
One day, fed up with being last in line, forgetting due dates, and washing clothes with money in the pockets, Margaret declared the universe was against her, and she needed to win it back. She packed a bag, kissed her village goodbye, and set off in search of luck.
She walked along hills and mountains until her old life was entirely out of view, and she reached a dense forest packed with trees that reached the sky. Looking at the woodlands, Margaret took a deep breath and waded into the green, which she soon learned was not as innocent as it appeared.
Packed with branches of all shapes and sizes, they seemed to be reaching toward her, grabbing onto her clothes and yanking at her hair. Margaret ducked under a low hanging branch and was straightening up when she heard a ripping sound and the thuds of objects tumbling to the ground. She cursed the trees and the unlucky universe, before looking down, and grimacing at the bag now torn in two and hanging on the branch. Her meager belongings were scattered amongst the dirt and pine needles. She glared at the branch, before breaking it from the tree that held it and throwing it to the ground with the rest of her unlucky life.
The inanimate object sat there unscathed, which just exasperated Margaret more. She gave it a fierce kick, but the branch seemed to be tougher than it looked, and kicked back, leaving her with a stubbed toe and a deeper scowl. Margret gave up attacking the branch and picked up her wrecked bag to assess the damage. It was completely torn in half, save for a measly scrap of fabric holding the two sides together. Looking around the forest floor, the only thing Margaret could carry were the few coins she had brought with her, and she stuffed them into her pocket. After gathering her other belongings and arranging them into a neat pile that she vowed to come back for, Margaret grabbed her ruined bag and decided a broken one was better than no bag at all; she would mend it if she ever returned home.
The forest eventually thinned out, the trees miles apart compared to its earlier stages. There was no one else on her path, and Margaret still saw no signs of luck.
Though her stomach grumbled and her mouth became parched, she trudged on, still insistent upon discovering why the universe hated her so.
When her exhaustion became too much to bear, Margaret sat down upon a log and put her head in her hands. She had no food, no water, and hope was dwindling with her growing fatigue. She closed her eyes and imagined luck finding her when a voice startled her out of her wishful thinking. “Miss, are you all right?” the voice asked, which she discovered was attached to an old man with a brown bag strapped to his back.
“Yes sir, I am just quite thirsty and my stomach is growling, but I haven’t got anything to feed it with,” she replied honestly, and her stomach groaned to prove her point.
“Why, I have some water here if you would like it, and I haven’t got any food but this fortune cookie I was given,” the man replied kindly, offering her the canteen and cookie he now held.
Margaret knew that she shouldn’t accept anything from a lonely man on a deserted road, but she was so very thirsty, so she nodded and brought the canteen to her chapped lips, savoring the cold water.
“Thank you, sir, this is a kindness I shall never forget,” Margaret said, handing him back the canteen and accepting the cookie.
“It’s no problem, I certainly don’t need it.”
“Nevertheless,” she said, and broke the fortune cookie in half, eating it quickly, and looking at the folded paper she held in her hand.
“Go on now, what does it say?” the man questioned, gesturing to the fortune.
“Ah, I’m not sure I want to know. The universe has it out for me, you see. That’s why I’m on this path, I’m trying to find a way for it to forgive me.”
“Well, it can’t hurt,” the man shrugged, and Margaret opened the paper slowly, not wanting to see what was written inside.
She shouldn’t have bothered. The paper was blank. No fortune was written on the white surface.
“Just my luck,” Margaret sighed. “I shouldn’t have expected anything.”
“Why is a blank fortune unlucky?” the man asked, a puzzled expression on his wrinkly face.
“Because it’s blank, I don’t get a fortune at all,” she explained solemnly.
“No,” the man stated. “It means you get to write your own.”
“How am I supposed to do that?” she asked.
“Well, all you need is a pen,” he said, like it was the obvious answer to writing your fortune.
Margaret looked at the man sadly. “I suppose, though whatever fortune I am given will always be unlucky,” she sighed, and tried to hand the empty paper back to him.
“No, no, you have to keep it. It’s bad luck not to accept a fortune, besides, how bad can your luck be?” He waved her hand away.
“Luck and I are two sides of the same magnet; it is always avoiding me! My bag ripped while I was in the forest, and I stubbed my toe on a branch that I threw on the ground.”
“I have a needle and thread if you would like to stitch back up your bag, and Margaret, who knows, maybe all the unluckiness that you have been faced with, will turn into luck.”
“Maybe,” Margaret replied doubtfully, as she wasn’t quite sure what the old man meant. “I would love that needle and thread, thank you.”
The man handed her a silver needle and white thread, and she started to mend her bag (after of course, stabbing her finger with the needle). When she was finished sewing, she looked up to thank the old man once again, but he was gone.
How strange, she thought. What a peculiar little man.
Shaking off the strange feeling he had left her with, Margaret continued on her journey, her thirst now quenched, hunger less bothering, and bag fixed.
While walking along the road now barren save for the tumbleweed that blew in the wind, she saw a figure ahead. It was a man, though this one looked nothing like the short old one she had encountered earlier in the day. No, this man was tall, broad-shouldered, and a scar ran across his frowning face.
“Hey, girl!” the man called to her, in a threatening voice that made her pause her walking.
“Uh yes?” she asked warily. This man did not seem the type to offer her water or food, rather the opposite.
“Why are you walking on this road?” he questioned.
“I’m just from the village on the other side of the forest,” Margaret replied carefully.
“You’re not supposed to be on this road, girl. This is not one owned by the village on the other side of the forest,” he replied, taking a step toward her that made her take one back, frightened by his behavior.
“I’m sorry sir, I did not know, it won’t happen again. I’ll just be on my way then,” she took another step back, as he advanced yet again.
“I don’t think so. Payment comes with walking on a road you don’t belong on.”
“I don’t have any coins. All I have is this bag,” Margaret lied, the money she carried in her pocket safely hidden away.
“I will take that if you promise to turn around and not come back,” the man said angrily, grabbing the bag off her shoulder. “Go on now, go home.”
Margaret turned around and started walking away slowly. Unfortunately for her, as I have stated, the universe was against her, and she walked into a bush, which tore her pocket open, the coins spilling out onto the ground.
The man turned around, hearing the gold. “You lied to me! You will pay for this girl!”
Margaret snatched up the coins, and shoved them into her other pocket, and ran for her life. In her panic to get away, she didn’t grab the piece of blank paper that had spilled out with the coins. It lay there on the ground, forgotten, as she ran as fast as her legs could carry her.
Margaret didn’t stop to hear his roar of anger at her running away, or his shout of, “Stop and give me those coins!”
She didn’t pause when she heard a new set of steps pounding on the dirt behind her. She just ran. Back to the forest, back to her old life.
The pounding of his steps grew closer, so she ran faster. Faster than Margaret had ever run in her life. The wind blew her hair behind her, her eyes watered, her heartbeat in her ears, but she didn’t stop. Lungs burning and legs weakening, Margaret wished the universe could grant her just the tiniest bit of luck, anything to help her get away from the man growing closer with every pound of her heart. She wished on all the unlucky days, all the untied shoelaces and missed buses. She closed her eyes, still sprinting, and begged the universe for something it had never granted her, just a little bit of luck. She opened them again, and almost ran straight into a tree that appeared out of nowhere. The universe, it seemed, was laughing at her attempts, and had simply brought the horrid forest closer, along with the man, who was now practically right behind her. She veered away from the trunk and into the forest, not caring where she was going, as long as it was away. She ignored the branches that tore at her clothes, and the sting of scrapes and cuts they left, only hoping that the man behind her received just as many.
After a while of sprinting and flying through trees, Margaret looked around and realized she was lost. Not only was she back in the forest, but she couldn’t tell if she was going in circles, or running back to her village. Margaret started panicking more than she already was, and an out-of-breath hyperventilating person with a man trying to capture her is not a good combination. She slowed her run to a jog, once she realized that she could no longer hear his footsteps, and then stopped behind a tall tree to assess her surroundings. Looking around, still panicked, she strained to see her old path, which would lead her back to the safety of her village, if she could only find it.
A branch cracked to her left, startling her out of her desperation. It was the man, who hadn’t seen her yet but appeared to be trying to sneak through the forest. Unfortunately for him, but lucky for Margaret, he had the grace of, well, Margaret. She dared not breathe, still having not been spotted. She slowly inched away from his back, until of course, a branch cracked under her feet too. The man turned and spotted her, and they both stared at each other wide-eyed for half a second, before he came barreling towards her yet again.
Still lost, Margaret turned and ran in the opposite direction. Having that second to breathe, Margaret could think rationally now. She had to find a way to get to her village; there would be enough people around to handle him, and she could get the rest and water she needed, soon. Margaret could already feel her head getting light, and her mouth dry, the old man’s water long since forgotten.
Margaret looked around, hoping to see an arrow pointing her in the right direction, or a yellow brick road to follow. Of course, there was no path or signs, but she did see a pile of brightly colored objects, stacked on top of each other neatly. She let loose a gasp, and immediately regretted it when it cost her a crippling side stitch, but she ignored the pain, and ran straight to the objects, knowing that they were on her original path.
She could hear the man getting closer and closer until she was within arm’s reach. He reached out at the precise moment she came to the pile of objects she had left behind next to a branch stretching across the path. So focused on grabbing her, the man didn’t look down and see the branch near his feet, he didn’t notice that he was running right into it. Margaret jumped over it, but as the man reached out in one last attempt to capture her, his foot snagged on the piece of wood that had been thrown to the ground mere days ago in a fit of rage, and fell to the ground, knocking his head on the tree next to it.
Margaret couldn’t believe her luck. Not trusting it to last her much longer, she continued to run on the newfound path, determined to put as much space as possible between her and the man. In the distance, she could see the shape of her village forming again, growing larger and larger, until suddenly, she was inside of it, collapsing on the cobblestone square and panting for breath she could not find.
“Margaret, Margaret!” villagers ran out to her gasping like a fish on the pavement.
“What happened, are you alright,” one of them asked, concern knitting her eyebrows together.
Unable to speak, Margaret panted “water, please, water” before passing out on the ground.
She awoke to a night sky. She was in a bed, with a small girl sitting next to her.
“Oh you’re awake, I’m sorry, mama told me to stay with you in case you needed anything,” the girl said shyly, getting up from her seat.
“No, no, it’s okay, please stay. What’s your name? What happened?” Margaret asked the girl.
With newfound confidence, the girl replied, “my name’s Lily, and you came running into the streets, out of breath with scratches all over you. You passed out and we brought you here, and just a few hours ago an old man came by with a bag and said it was yours.” Lily held up Margaret’s bag, filled with all of the tokens she had left behind in the forest.
Margaret stared at the bag. “Is he still here?” she asked, already knowing the answer.
“No, he vanished when mama was coming back to thank him. He was very strange. But oh, I forgot, he also left you this letter!” Lily said, handing her a simple note written on cardstock.
“Dearest Margaret,” Margaret read out loud. “As I said before, the most peculiar luckiness can come from your past misfortunes. I hope you have returned safely, dear girl, with an idea for a fortune and something in your pocket?”
Margaret wondered what he meant.
“Lily,” she started, talking more to herself. “If the bag hadn’t broken, my tokens would have not fallen out. I would have had to give the man a bag full of coins and items, instead of just a roughly mended one. If the items hadn’t fallen out, I would still be in the forest, I likely wouldn’t have made it home at all. And the man, the man, he tripped over the branch, Lily, don’t you see the old man was right!” Margaret finished with a shout, eyes widening with her discovery.
“Margaret, are you sure you’re okay? Maybe I should call mama,” Lily said, backing away from the bed.
“No no, I’m perfectly all right, don’t you see, I have figured it out!”
Margaret remembered back to the old man and realized that she had never given him her name or where she lived, yet he seemed to know her. Maybe luck had found her after all.
“I wonder,” she murmured and reached down to feel her torn pocket.
The problem was, the pocket wasn’t torn at all, just as the letter had said. Margaret reached inside and pulled out the little scrap of a blank fortune that had found its way back to her.
She held it in her hands and smiled.
“Lily,” Margaret started. “Do you happen to have a pen?”
By Audrey Kosla, TIWP student