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Dapple's Terror

Children's Story
Dapple the fawn was terrified. For fully two hours he lay shivering where he was, hidden by the undergrowth. He felt sick and ill, and he couldn't think straight. He kept hearing over and over again the shot which had killed his mother, and he kept seeing her body dragged out of the woods by the hunters.

It didn't seem possible that only a short time earlier, he had been frisking and playing in the sunlight. His mother had called to him to hide, but he'd taken no notice. His mother was always calling to him to hide, and Dapple never took any notice. His mother was always so over-anxious, so over-protective. She'd be nuzzling him, and even playing with him, when suddenly she'd stop stock still, ears quivering, alert for the slightest sound.

Nothing had ever come of her fears, until now. This time, she really had sensed danger. Dapple wished he could have his time over again. If only he had responded immediately, if only he had leapt into the undergrowth the moment she had called him. Then perhaps, she would still be alive now. It was all his fault! Dapple curled his front hooves under him, lay his head down, and shivered from top to toe.

He must have fallen asleep from sheer exhaustion, for after a while he felt himself being nudged by a snuffling snout. Dapple leaped to his feet and lashed out with his back hoof. There was a cry of pain, and a disgruntled voice said, "Hey there, little fawn, what d'you want to do that for? I was only nudging you to see whether you were still alive!"

Dapple kept his distance, and looked suspiciously at a bundle of spikes which seemed to be rolling in his direction. "Keep away, keep away," he cried.

"Hey there, little fawn," repeated the hedgehog. "Why so frightened? I won't hurt you. Why, I'm here to help, if you should need help."

Dapple stared at the strange, spiky creature, and two fat tears rolled slowly down his soft face. At last he said falteringly, "I'm sick. I think I must be really ill, for my legs feel like jelly and I can't stop trembling. And I don't know what to do, for I'm all alone in the world."

"Oh," said the hedgehog, in a considering sort of voice. Then he added, "I can help you get better. I know a place where there's a healing waterfall. All you have to do is to stand under the waterfall and let the waters pour over you. Then you'll be better."

For the first time, a ray of hope entered Dapple's mind. "Will you take me there?" he asked tremulously.

"Come on," said the hedgehog, and set off.

It was a long and slow and arduous journey, for the hedgehog could only move very slowly. Normally Dapple would have delighted in darting about, exploring the new scenery, but he felt so ill that he was very subdued and he walked slowly beside his new friend.

At least it gave them time to talk, and Dapple found himself pouring out all the events of the last few hours to his new friend. The hedgehog listened silently, responding only with the occasional grunt. But somehow or other, this encouraged Dapple to share even more, and before he knew quite what he was doing, he discovered he was telling the hedgehog all about his own part in his mother's death.

The hedgehog merely nodded wisely and remarked, "It will all be washed away in the fountain, you know."

It took them three days to reach the waterfall, for the closer they got the worse Dapple felt and thus the slower they went. But they made it in the end, and a wonderful sight met their eyes.

The waterfall was cascading over a cliff at the far end of a cool, tranquil pool. Sunlight sparkled and glistened on the surface of the pool, which was surrounded by soft, green grass and trees and flowers. Dapple stood still and gazed in wonder. He had never seen a waterfall before, and the only water he had seen had been in puddles in the woods. He hadn't realised water could be so beautiful. And it seemed to be so welcoming. Dapple felt an urge to jump into the water and swim towards the waterfall, but he hesitated on the brink.

"What's the matter?" asked the hedgehog. "Go on. You'll feel better, I promise."

Dapple turned an anxious face towards his friend. "Suppose I'm not good enough?" he muttered. "I'm so bad. Perhaps I won't be healed. Perhaps I'm too sick, perhaps I can't be healed."

"Do you know what I think?" said the hedgehog. "I think you're feeling terrible guilt because of your mother's death. And it may not have been your fault at all, you don't really know. You're also feeling terrible grief over your mother's death, and both of those things together have made you feel so ill. But the water will wash all that away, so you can make a new, fresh, clean start. And then you really will be healed, from deep inside. But you have to take the first step. I can't push you into the water, you must step in yourself."

Tentatively, Dapple placed his first hoof into the water. It felt delicious, so he followed it with his second hoof, then his third and then his fourth. Before he knew it, he was swimming in the pond and it felt wonderful. He was still a little afraid of the waterfall, for he feared he might be swamped by the gallons of water thundering over the cliff into the pond. But he really did want to get better, so he turned his face resolutely towards the waterfall and swam forward.

As the water cascaded over him, he felt quite different. He began to feel very much alive, and he felt almost at as though it was love pouring over him. His mother's face swam before him, and as he looked into her soft, gentle eyes, he somehow knew that he was forgiven. It felt as though a huge weight had been lifted from him, and he swam out from the waterfall, climbed onto the bank and began to gambol in the green grass while the hedgehog laughed with delight to see his new friend so fit and well again.

Later, Dapple asked the hedgehog, "Does everyone who enters the water get better?"

"You need a lot of prayer," answered the hedgehog.

And as Dapple contemplated how he would use his new start, he marvelled that such a spiky, insignificant little creature could be so full of love and so full of prayer. And he thanked his new friend from the bottom of his heart.
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