The creature had been a Tick demon - a person drained of blood and cursed to wander the land for the rest of days (unless it was set on fire or decapitated), feeling no hunger for solid food but thirsting for blood. Diango was drained himself and left to undergo the transformation from man to monster alone in the cold darkness of the Forest - a metamorphosis for which he was blissfully unconscious as his muscles hardened while his canines sharpened and lengthened to become fangs and he lost all sensation of heat. But perhaps becoming this new creature was a reward for Diango’s thoughtless self-sacrifice from some slightly twisted higher power - the boy, after his first, rather involuntary feed on a red squirrel, found that his body was no longer weak, that he no longer suffered any debilitating health problems (or any health problems at all, for that matter), and that he wasn’t agonisingly hungry anymore. For a day he wandered the woods in a daze of perfect health and enhanced senses, feeling safe amongst the trees and serene whenever he heard strands of beautiful birdsong or scented the flowers that grew about the Forest. It was a paradise. But his happiness was disturbed on the night following his transformation when he remembered with horror and guilt his poor parents who must be terrified for his wellbeing. Hurriedly gathering fungi, berries and a rabbit which he was not fast enough to catch, he found his way out of the forest and to the cottage where the Stonnergs lived. He knocked on the door so as not to alarm his parents with a sudden entrance.
The door was opened by his distraught-looking mother. When she saw her son her eyes grew wide with shock.
“Diango! Where have you been?”
Diango smiled, feeling triumphant.
“In the Forest, Ma. These are for you and Pa.” He held out the dead rabbit, the fungi and the branches of berries.
“The Forest?” exclaimed his mother. “But you could have been killed.”
“But I wasn’t. And you and Pa won’t starve.”
Sara looked troubled.
“My son, your face is different. You’re pale and you seem to have fangs. You’re also so much stronger than you were before. How has it come to be this way?”
“I suppose... I’ve been Enchanted. I was attacked by something I didn’t see and I think that it bled me. This morning I drank the blood of a squirrel. I don’t think I need fungi or berries anymore.”
Diango’s mother looked very pale.
“Diango, you shouldn’t have gone.”
“But you can eat now,” Diango pointed out. “Take this food. Please.”
His mother took the proffered items hesitantly.
“Diango, now that you are Enchanted, you will not be able to enter this cottage - or any other house where non-magical folk reside.”
“What?” Diango asked, puzzled by his mother’s words.
His mother stepped back from the door.
“Try to enter.”
Diango, thinking that his mother was mistaken, attempted to step into the building. It was like walking into a solid wall, though there was no visible barrier. He jumped back, astonished.
“What... What is this?”
“Oh, Diango,” Sara whispered. She hurried inside to put the food down and then ran to her son, joining him outside where she threw her arms around him.
“My brave, selfless boy!” she cried, and then she was weeping, burying her head in his shoulder.
“Oh, Ma,” Diango murmured, returning her embrace, feeling lost and like a stranger in his new body which couldn’t cross the threshold of his own home. “I’m so sorry.”
Sara shivered in her son’s warmthless hold.
“Where will you live now?” she asked him.
Diango reflected and then decided “The Forest. I will have all I need there; I don’t even seem to feel fatigue, Ma! And I can bring you and Pa food - every day! - so that you’ll never starve again.”
Diango’s mother stepped away, wiping her eyes.
“Oh, you don’t have to worry yourself about us, dear. We’ll make do.”
Diango chuckled, intoxicated with joy by the idea of finally providing the solutions to all of his family’s problems, after fifteen years of uselessness.
“Don’t be silly - it’ s no trouble, no trouble at all.”
Her mother grew tearful again.
“Oh, you’re such a good boy. Wait here - I’ll bring your other clothes and your childhood blanket - so you won’t forget your life here.”
Sara walked back into the house, calling “Tyndal, dear! Go see who’s at the door!”
She disappeared from view but a few minutes later, Diango’s father appeared, looking like he had just got out of bed. Seeing his son, he strode out of the door and hugged him as tightly as Sara had. The hug was brief, though, and Tyndal withdrew with a questioning look in his eyes.
“Now, my son, tell me just what happened.”
So Diango told him. His father was staggered. He expressed strong disappointment that Diango would no longer be able to stay in the family home but was otherwise extremely grateful for what his son had done.
“You’re a hero, my boy. I’m so proud of you.”
Diango smiled. His father’s words meant a lot to him.
Soon, Sara reappeared with a bundle wrapped in Diango’s blanket and tied with thick string.
“Keep yourself safe, dear,” she said to him, kissing each of his cheeks. “And don’t get into trouble for bringing us food. We’d rather have a son than a meal on the table.”
“Who would object?” Diango asked, confused.
His mother looked sad.
“Perhaps the other creatures might, dear.”
But the first other creature that Diango met was entirely benevolent. He had just re-entered the Forest when she appeared before him: a small, winged person like a butterfly, hovering at the level of his eyes. She was dressed in lilac-coloured petals and there was an aura of sparkling rainbow light around her.
“You have a heart of gold,” she told him admiringly. “I’ve been watching since you metamorphosed, and you are so selfless. May we be friends? My name is Tallulah Twink.”
Diango, charmed by the fairy’s flattery, answered, “Of course. I’m Diango - Diango Stonnerg. Do you know what creature I am?”
Her laughter tinkled like little bells.
“Why, you are a Tick, silly! A very good Tick.”
“Tick,” repeated Diango, trying out the word himself.
“A Tick who needs somewhere to live,” Tallulah observed, pointing at his bundle. “You can have my safe haven - you certainly deserve it! Follow me.”
And off she flitted, explaining along the way that each fairy had one of these so-called safe havens where they allowed one Enchanted creature to stay at a time, where they would enjoy a fairy’s Protection. It was a rare privilege, Tallulah told Diango, and he thanked her feeling honoured and a little giddy at how fast he had found somewhere to live. He couldn’t express the extent of his gratitude, he told Tallulah, and said how lucky it was that she had seen him.
“I see how your family has suffered, but not all life is bad,” she told him. “You have to live through the bad moments to get to see the good ones.”
And that, reflected Diango, was what the struggle into the Forest had been all about.