‘Susanna,’ thought Susanna, ‘is a small worm compared to me.’
‘So,’ thought Susanna, ‘you think you are something? You think you can insult me willy-nilly, and that I will do nothing?’
‘Oh,’ thought Susanna, ‘I wish you would do something, so that I’d have the chance to crush you into the nothing you are.’
And so Susanna was, in a word, conflicted. Over what? The sky had been blue all day, the stream had been bubbling playfully, and her stomach was pleasantly full of chocolates. There was, in a phrase, nothing wrong.
But sometimes it’s just this kind of carefreeness that causes people to struggle. And so it was today: Susanna sat on the small wooden bridge in our garden, her legs dangling out over the water as she muttered cruel slanders to herself.
Now, on a sunny day like that one, dark thoughts show up quite clearly, and so when I looked out the kitchen window into the garden I could see that something was wrong by the sort of shadowy halo that had formed around her. So I sent Toby, our youngest, to see what was the matter. He was only seven years old, not much younger than Susanna, and they had always gotten along.
I watched from the window as he walked carefully up to her and stood a moment by her on the bridge. She didn’t seem to notice. He tapped her on the shoulder. Still she did nothing. He tapped her again.
This time it must have done the trick because Susanna snapped, lashing her head around and glaring at him so fiercely that he ran straight back to me in the kitchen and hugged me close for comfort.
I calmed Toby down; the brave boy barely held back his tears. Oh those dark thoughts must have gotten a real hold of her! Something would have to be done. I knew Susanna was only indulging a whim, passing the time with evil, so to speak, but it had gone far enough. And anyway, it’s an ugly habit – we all know that an appetite, once indulged, only grows.
So I went out there myself to put an end to all this. Striding out into the garden, I had the distinct sense that there was a real black spot on that bridge. The garden is more of a field really, surrounded by a sort of horseshoe of trees which form the edge of the forest beyond. The little stream we have runs out of the woods and into a little gulley by the side of the house. On spring days the field fills with flowers and is really quite beautiful. Today was such a day, but something was sucking the joy out of everything, and that something was Susanna’s foul temper.
I went up to the bridge and stood a few feet away, looking straight at her. Her twisting face made cruel shapes as she whispered words to herself, her body tense and her eyes fixed on nothing.
“Susanna,” I said firmly, “you had better stop this nonsense right now and come apologize to your brother.”
She seemed to laugh a bit, and, holding the rest of her body perfectly still, she turned her head to look at me. Once I saw her eyes, I knew what had happened. Her mouth opened, and I saw her teeth were sharp, her tongue long and black as it flopped out of her jaws.
Then all at once, she was on her feet and running toward me. In a snap I shot my knee out and caught her square on the head as she rushed for me, breaking her nose. She wailed and stepped back, her hands on her nose and blood dripping through them. Then she gave me one last vicious glare, as if to say she would not forget the insult, and ran off into the woods.