Ella has now watched Flicka 127 times in the past week.

It’s a pretty scary movie, as she’s pointed out. Rocket the loco horse dies when it rears up wildly in the  back of a truck and hits the ranch sign. The dad and Gus find a colt a mountain lion has killed, and the lion’s still at large. Flicka, crazed, crashes through a window and into a barbed wire fence, then almost dies lying in a creek. Finally, the dad kills the cat before it eats him and Flicka alive.

But Ella keeps watching. She gets engrossed in the drama — will Ken become a good boy? will he get a colt? will the colt be loco? — and I think she’s trying to work through the fear and danger. Either that or she’s emerging as a daredevil and rebel, bound to be expelled from third grade for experimenting with fire, wanted by the state police by ninth grade for Dukes of Hazard-like driving exploits (on Sunday I turned into a large shopping area parking lot and Ella piped up from the carseat, “faster, faster!” — just the excuse I needed), a Navy pilot at 22 and, hey, maybe the first woman to occupy Mars in 40 years! I can dig it. If I only had my Evil Knievel lunch box to hand down to her.

Flicka’s not the only story introducing evil into her psyche, and recently a cadre of animalistic antagonists have started congregating in her bedroom.

On Monday night we discovered an old Uncle Remus book and she wanted me to read stories. I didn’t realize how violent they are, Brer Fox and Brer Bear pitched in constant boughts with Brer Rabbit. There’s talk of punching and kicking and skinning alive, drowning and hanging and stewing. One story had a wolf. The wolf didn’t play a big part in the story, he was just hanging around, telling tales, cooking a big pot of taffy with the others.

Last night the wolf — the first wolf she’s ever heard of because she hasn’t read Little Red Riding Hood — kept her awake. Ella wouldn’t stay in her bedroom to go to sleep, I had to stay with her. I fell asleep and woke up at almost 11 and finally made my way to bed. Not five minutes later, here comes Ella, trying to escape the wolf. Trish put her back to bed. At 4 the wolf was back, and so was Ella. And I think she said something about mutant child-eating sheep, but maybe that was my dream.

The mama lion has been spotted under the bed, the bear’s been by and a  giant snake was trying to eat her.

Ella doesn’t cry about these horrors. I’m not sure why. I try to convince her that she can stand up for herself and tell the animals to go away, that she doesn’t like them and they should leave. “No, I want you to do it,” she says. “I’m not big like you.”

I don’t think this is something we need to be overly concerned about. We do censor out movies with gratuitous violence — not the Road Runner and Bugs Bunny brand of hyperbole, but the stuff that pits nasty minded, nasty-mouthed kids against each other, and there’s plenty of it. We skipped over or make up alternatives for violence in books we read to her.

I’m sure this is just a phase. I really think she’s trying to process the concept of devilment.

Anyway, I’m not too worried about her. Tonight we’ll confront the biggest terror of my childhood, my step-mom.

Maybe it’s childish naivete, or those big blue eyes and ready hugs, but so far, Ella handles her like putty.

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