One warm summer afternoon, Astrid took a walk in the fields. She was a petite girl of nine and could easily sneak through hedges and broken fences. She roamed everywhere. Most of all, she liked the wild meadows and the strips of untended vegetation that separated the fields of crops because they harbored a miniature world that didn’t exist in her parents’ cultivated garden.
That afternoon, she headed over an overgrown path to the abandoned fields south of her house. Astrid heard steps ahead. Nobody ever used this path. so she froze. The steps drew closer until from around the bend emerged a short, squat girl with a round belly and a mane of flaming red hair. The girl was not much older than Astrid.
“Hello there!” a relieved Astrid said when the girl came close enough.
The girl didn’t reply.
“Are you lost?”
The red-haired girl said nothing.
Astrid attempted to approach the girl, but for each step forward that Astrid took, the girl retreated by two. Astrid’s relief grew into alarm. In the end, she turned around and walked quickly home checking if the girl was following. She wasn’t.
From then on, whenever Astrid took a walk, the red-haired girl appeared and watched her silently from a small distance. She never approached, nor spoke, and always wore the same clothes.
One evening, Astrid told her parents about the girl and asked if they might know where she lived. Her parents didn’t know, and when Astrid described the girl’s strange behavior, her mother said that perhaps the girl was only shy. Astrid didn’t think so but said nothing more.
“Who are you?” yelled Astrid to the girl one afternoon as she once again appeared out of nowhere. “What do you want? You’re scaring me!”
The red-haired girl began to retreat with a pained expression.
“I’m sorry!” Astrid said and ran after her. “I didn’t mean to be rude. Come back!”
But the other girl continued to back away. She hardly took any steps, yet she retreated so fast that Astrid had to break into a run. Astrid followed the strange girl path after path and field after field until they reached the edge of the forest.
“Stop! I’m not allowed to go in there!” Astrid yelled. She halted, unwilling to disobey her parents.
The other girl entered the first row of trees and stopped.
“You shouldn’t go in there either,” Astrid said. “It’s easy to get lost in the woods. I’m going home now.”
The girl shook her head vigorously. Uncertain, Astrid took a few steps forward. The girl backed away. When Astrid went a few steps back, the girl protested silently. In the end, Astrid sat down bewildered. The red-haired girl remained motionless and upright as if waiting for something.
Bright afternoon turned into purple dusk. Behind the red-haired girl, the shadows gathered thick and deep among the trees. Each time Astrid tried to go home, the girl shook her head in a commanding manner that suffered no refusal. As the sun was setting, Astrid hugged her knees and watched the tiny hairs covering her skin rise in the cooler air.
A faint glow attracted Astrid’s attention. Amidst the gathering gloom, the red-haired girl had begun to emanate a soft, yellow light. Some of it came from her face and limbs, but most of it from her round belly. It grew stronger and stronger the fainter the sunlight.
Astrid watched enraptured. The glowing girl smiled and opened her mouth, but instead of words, a soft, persistent hum carried in the air all around. One by one, tiny blinking lights lit up everywhere. A cloud of glowing fireflies swarmed toward Astrid from all directions, answering the light and hum of their queen. Some landed on Astrid’s body and covered her in light, but most buzzed about, blinking on and off and creating a mosaic of yellow light and hum.
Astrid watched the moving lights with wonder until they all blended in one glorious wave of luminescence that enveloped her whole and cut her off from the rest of the world. All about her, darkness might have fallen inevitable and still, but that night, Astrid lived in the light.
The next morning, a policeman found Astrid fast asleep by the edge of the forest. She was covered in dry leaves that had protected her from the cool of night. When the policeman asked Astrid what had happened, she found it easier to say that she had gotten lost. She didn’t know how to explain to him, or later to her parents, that a swarm of beautiful light had whispered all around her in a collective humming voice,
“For you who loves all things small.”