Hoopla and the Three Beasts

When 3200 years old, and thus midway through life’s journey, Hoopla woke in the midst of a dark wood. Full of wonder was Hoopla, and unsure of the tangled and vanished way that had led from the straight, broad, and well-trodden path into the murksome woods. Drear was the wood, and rank, and noisome, and never before had Hoopla seen its like; to behold it stirred terror and fear of uncertain things. The fear of death moved in Hoopla, and fear of something more than death; some chord within hummed in nebulous anticipation that drove Hoopla like some rough farrier’s cart through the mazed valley.

Throughout a long night Hoopla walked, thick and heavy with weariness, until, as the stars of evening faded away, a small hill rose before stumbling feet. Hoopla raised half-lidded eyes to find lounging there upon the crest the stately circle of the sun, the stars of the Ram still faintly dancing around her. Then did Hoopla rejoice, for here indeed was salvation and deliverance from the tulgey wood! But, being weary, and ill-disposed to begin so soon a climb — even one that promised so fair a result — Hoopla turned and studied long the tangled pathless woods that stood to the west, as though to burn upon memory their rare horror. Hoopla had, while a sailor, been tossed overboard, and long struggled with the wracking sea before coming improbably to land; in just such a way had the sea then held the gaze and the mind of Hoopla.

In time did breath and calm come again to Hoopla, and then — how joyously! — did those feet which so slowly and so painfully had dragged over roots and rocks race up the beacon hill; each foot climbed higher than the one before, and no sooner was one fixed than the other had surpassed it. There Hoopla found the way blocked, for at the top of the first rise slinked a bristling leopard, who, although reluctant to advance or retreat, wound itself back and forth in such wise that in no manner could Hoopla pass. But bright was the sun upon the crest of the hill, and dark was the noisome wood behind! Hoopla determined to meet the beast in hope of sun-victory, and win to the day or to death, when from canyons unmarked burst a raging lion and a gaunt and ravening bitch-wolf.

In confusion and despond Hoopla withdrew, and thought to rest and plan upon the slighter swell of the hill, but this the bitch-wolf would not abide, and pursued and drove until Hoopla was once again forced within the sunless and muted woods.