Searching for FearSearching for Fear

adapted from Andrew Lang's The Boy Who Found Fear At Last,
(The Olive Fairy Book, 1890)

Long ago, on a cool autumn night, very near Halloween, a mother raccoon sat by a fire telling scary tales to her three children.

In the middle of one story, one of the children cried out, "Mother, stop! You're frightening us," and his older sister said, "I'm terrified."

But the youngest raccoon whose name was Gregory opened his eyes wide with surprise and looked at his brother and sister. "I don't understand," he said. "What you mean you're afraid?" 

"I'm scared," said his sister, Sarah.

But Gregory didn't understand. "What does that feel like? Being afraid?"

"You fear something," said their mother wisely.

Gregory thought about for a moment as he stared into the fire trying to remember if he had ever felt such a thing.

"You have goosebumps," Sarah said boldly.

"Your heart races," added his brother, Sam.

"You want to close your eyes," Sarah said.

"Or run away," Sam added.

Gregory stared into the fire, trying to remember if he had ever felt such a thing. "I've never feared something," Gregory said.

"Impossible," Sam spat. "You're not telling the truth."

But Gregory was. "I've never felt that way," he said sadly. "Perhaps I'd better go into the world to see if I can find fear."
And though his mother felt terribly sad sending her son into the world, she agreed it would be well if Gregory found fear, and the very next day he set off on his journey.

Gregory walked all day long, and when night fell and the air turned bitter cold, he reached a hill where he found a pack of coyotes sitting around a fire.

The fire looked so inviting, Gregory ran towards them, but when he was very near, one of the coyotes growled, "How dare you come near our pack!" He looked the little raccoon up and down. "What makes you so bold, little fellow?"

Gregory cocked his head. He wasn't sure he knew the answer to that. "I left home to search for fear," he said. "I've been walking all day, and I thought perhaps you could tell me where to find it."

The coyotes bared their fangs, raised their heads and howled at the moon, and in the moonlight Gregory saw how very bright their eyes looked, and how very long their fangs were, and how very loudly they howled. He listened happily to their song, and the melody soon made him sleepy, so he crept close to the fire to warm his toes.

Startled by his fearlessness, the coyotes stopped singing and looked at him. "Little fellow," said the chief coyote, "I'll help you find fear."

"How kind!" Gregory said, sitting up straight.

"You see that graveyard on the far side of the hill," the wily coyote said. "Go there and at the first grave you come to you'll find a bone buried deep in the dirt. Dig up that bone and bring it to us, we'll show you fear!"

The other coyotes howled with laughter.

"Thank you," Gregory said, sad to leave the fire but pleased to know he'd soon find fear. He leaped up and raced to the graveyard.

He arrived and found the grave, and began to claw in the dirt until he found the buried bone. This he clutched between his paws, but just as he was ready to run back to the hilltop, a long, pale hand with bony fingers stretched up out of the grave.

"Gregory," said a ghostly voice, "is that bone for me?"           

Gregory clutched the bone more tightly. "No!" he said angrily, "why would I give a perfectly good bone to the dead?"

"Then I'll take it!" said the hand, but as the hand came near him, Gregory scratched it with his claws.

The voice wailed in pain.

"That will teach you not to steal!" Gregory said, and putting the bone between his teeth, he raced back to the fire.

He reached the coyotes and held the bone up in the air. "Here it is!" he said.
They stared at him, amazed. "And did you find fear?" the wily coyote asked.

Gregory shook his head. "I saw nothing but a hand from the grave, and it wanted your bone. I said no," of course." And once again he crept close to the fire to warm his toes.
It was a very cold night.

The coyotes began to whisper among themselves. "How will we teach this lad? He fears no ghosts or beasts, what shall we do?"

And at long last, just as Gregory was drifting to sleep, one of the coyotes said, "I think we can help you, but you'll have to go to the lake on the far side of the hill."

"Point me there," Gregory said.

"The lake is very deep and very dark," the coyote said. "There you'll find fear."

"I do hope so," Gregory said, and off he ran.

Before long he saw the lake ahead, and he noticed a tiny golden kitten sitting on a branch overhanging the lake. The poor creature was meowing piteously, and his sad song hurt Gregory's heart. "Kitten," he said as he approached, "what makes you so sad?"

"My brother is drowning in that lake," the kitten wept, "and I can't swim."

"I can," said Gregory, and he leaped into the water, but as he did the kitten turned into a ferocious lion, and that lion leaped upon Gregory's shoulders and pushed him underwater. The poor raccoon would drown, or so it seemed.

But Gregory would have none of this nonsense! He was on a vital mission, after all. So he gathered all his strength, and he kicked and pushed and twisted and turned, and he managed to throw that lion backwards, right onto the bank.
As the lion landed with a terrible thud, a gold chain dropped from its neck. "Ooph," the lion moaned, and passed out.
Now Gregory saw the gold glittering in the moonlight and he thought it looked so beautiful, he picked it up and placed it around his own neck.

"This is my reward for my efforts to save the kitten's brother," Gregory said, and with that he dashed back toward the hill.

On his way back to the coyotes, Gregory had to pass an ocean shore, and there, out on the ocean, he saw a boat sinking beneath the waves. The crew was waving their arms and shrieking, "Help! Help save us! We're afraid."

"Afraid!" Gregory said, and he dived into the water. Now, surely, he would find fear. Fueled by this thought, he swam so fast he had nearly reached the boat when suddenly he saw a maiden beneath the waves. She was tugging at an enormous chain that was fastened to the bow of the boat, and each time she tugged, she pulled the boat deeper under the water.

"Don't do that!" Gregory called, and he dived down and swam toward the maiden. When he reached her, he bit down, hard, on the arm that tugged that chain.

"Owwww," the maiden screamed, though her screams sounded like gurgles, but she let go of the chain, and instantly the boat righted itself.

Screaming in pain, she let go of the chain, and the boat instantly righted itself.

"Hooray!" the sailors shouted as Gregory swam to the surface. "Hooray for the brave raccoon who rescued us from certain death."

Gregory waved, "Thank you," he called, and then he swam to shore, but when he looked back at the ocean he saw three doves plunge into the waves.

For one moment he thought he must save them too, but then they rose out of water he saw they had turned into three beautiful raccoons. Each one held a drinking cup made out of luminous shells.

"Wow," Gregory said, and he stood very still watching the three raccoons swim toward the shore.

When they reached shore they raised their cups in the air and shouted, "Here! Here! Here's to Gregory!"

Gregory blushed. "What have I done?" he asked.

The first raccoon bowed down to him. "You are the young raccoon who scratched my hand when I stretched it out of the grave," she said. "Your fearlessness released me from my spell. I owe you my life!"

Then the second raccoon raised her cup and said, "You jumped into the deep, dark lake to save a kitten, and I was that lion. You broke me from my spell as well. You've saved my life!"

"You are the lad who bit my hand and saved a sinking ship. Fear did not stop you from releasing me from my spell. I bow to you."

"How ever did you become so brave?" the first raccoon asked.

"Brave?" Gregory asked. "I'm not brave. I'm just searching for fear, and I will not rest until I find it, so I must be off." And with that he ran into the forest, on his way to the hill.

But before he reached the hillside, Gregory came to a clearing, and there he saw a gathering of animals. Deer and elk, wolves and worms, boars and bears, squirrels and owls, and dozens of other beasts and birds turned when they saw the raccoon.

The fox reached out to touch the chain around Gregory's neck. Then the biggest, brownest bear cried, "It is he! This is our king!"

Everyone began to cheer. "Our king! Here here! Our king!"

Gregory looked around at all the creatures applauding and whistling and bellowing. "Wait," he said. "Stop this. I'm not your king."

The big bear smiled. "Oh yes, you are, Gregory. You're the bravest among us, and so you will forever rule us all!"            

And now Gregory stood very still. "But what does this mean?" he asked in a tiny voice.

"You'll take care of us," the squirrel said.

"You'll give us rules," the owl hooted

"You'll protect us," whispered the deer.

And Gregory began to imagine his life as the king. He pictured himself trying to bring wealth to the poor, and joy to the unhappy. He imagined trying to make the littlest creatures feel safe. He imagined telling the other what to do and what not to do. He pictured everyone bowing down and counting on him forever.

"No!" he cried, "I cannot be your king," but the crowd wasn't listening. They were applauding and cheering still.

And suddenly Gregory heard a voice from nowhere whispering in his ear. It sounded awfully like his mother. "This is your destiny," said the voice. "The others need you."  

Gregory bowed his head as his vision of his future unfolded. King. Ruler of the beasts and birds. He must accept this job. He would serve all the creatures on this earth, and now he felt goose bumps running up his spine, and he felt heart pounding in his ears. A little part of him still wanted to run away. And then he understood. He had, at last, found fear.