Under the Sign | A Short Story

My feet won’t stop moving under the hard, wooden desk. It’s as if they have come alive and are set on getting me in trouble. I look at my brown spoonwood shoes in irritation and hiss at them as quietly as I can.

“Cut it out.”

Several students turn to look at me and I stare straight ahead, ignoring them. My feet stop moving but the jitters move up my legs and I know it will have to come out somewhere. I try hard to focus on the Old One in charge today, Mr. Hawthorne.

“Dandelion. Taraxacum officinale. Irish daisy. Monk’s-head. These bright yellow flowers can be used for many things, including immunity boosting and reducing inflammation. They are hardy regardless of the conditions you submit them to unless, of course…”

Mr. Hawthorne’s voice sounds rumbly and low, reminding me of the tired lion I saw on the class field trip to London last year. He’s reading from a dark brown leather book with thin yellow pages and his wire-rimmed glasses keep slipping to the tip of his pointy nose. My fingers have turned fidgety and I sit on them.

To distract myself, I count the hairs on Mr. Hawthorne’s big toes and wonder for the hundredth time why none of the Old Ones have to wear shoes. It seems wildly unfair. I’ve been to Headmaster Buckthorne’s office to discuss my objections to all the dress codes so many times the school secretary, Mrs. Yarrow, calls me a thistle in her side. I can’t help it.

I don’t like being in trouble, but it seems every school rule was designed to squash me and me alone. None of the other students seem to have as much difficulty doing what’s expected of them. My fingers wiggle loose from under me and find a home in my tangled, violet hair.

I wind a messy curl around my index finger until a hangnail on my thumb gets stuck and I’m forced to yank it out. It hurts and I hide the torn strands of hair inside my desk before anyone notices. It’s a good thing I have a lot of hair.

The jitters have exploded through me now and I can’t stop them. Slipping under the desk, I crawl across the floor of the library and sit crossed-legged under the farthest back table. Nobody seems to notice, or if they do, they don’t say anything.

My wings are bound inside the pale yellow uniform all fifth-year fairies must wear to prevent us from flying or doing magic. It’s not the best color to go with my dark violet hair, but far better than the ugly brown uniforms of fourth-year. The color I’m most excited to wear is the dark green of the eighth year because they get to have their wings out.

I discovered last year a way to still wiggle my wings a tiny bit under the bindings of the uniform. It’s not much movement, but it creates enough magic to amuse myself. Setting my pencil on the floor, I make it perform a complicated twirling dance number. I hum a song about three blind mice.

“Piper,” Mr. Hawthorne calls.

His voice is sharp and I snap to attention. Grabbing the dancing pencil, I slide out from under the table and run back to my desk. Mr. Hawthorne’s dark grey eyes watch me the entire time. He might be smiling, but it could also be a grimace. I’m not so good at reading faces. Tucking my pencil into my desk, I fold my hands and answer with my formal classroom voice.

“Yes, sir.”

His glasses have slipped again and his eyes are sort of crossed. I know better than to laugh, but a giggle brews dangerously in my stomach. I dig my nails into the tops of my hands to stop it.

“Can you answer the question?”

All the eyes in the room are on me. I swallow hard and speak as clearly and confidently as I can.

“23, sir.”

His eyes widen and he’s definitely smiling now. Pride surges through me although I know it shouldn’t because I didn’t know the answer. He rubs his hands together.

“Well…yes, actually. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, sir.”

I purposely avoid looking at my best friend Rosemary, but I know she’s smiling too. She quickly scrawled the answer on her palm in bright red ink and flashed it to me as I passed her desk. Saved again.

Rosemary and I met when the school year started and Headmaster Buckthorne says we are “thick as thieves.” I know this is a dig at me, but I don’t care. Rosemary is the best thing ever to happen at Hollyhock’s Fairy School for the Highly Gifted. The best thing in all my years here.

Rosemary keeps her long black hair in two braids, tied with blue ribbons the same shade as her eyes. When she laughs she throws back her head and sticks out her round belly. She holds my hand and saves me when the jitters get too big. I’m not sure how I survived before Rosemary.

Mr. Hawthorne dismisses the class for lunch and Rosemary and I walk to the furthest part of the field behind the school to eat together. She’s got a large sandwich of honey and hazelnut, decorated with a tiny sprig of lavender. She cuts it in half and hands me the biggest piece.

“I’m not going back to class,” I say with my mouth full.

Rosemary laughs. It’s my favorite sound in the world.

“You always say that.”

I try to give her a serious look, but I don’t have one.

“I mean it today. I can’t take another minute. I’m going crazy.”

Rosemary takes a sip of hot tea from a thermos with tiny pink tulips painted on the side. The minty smell makes me a bit sad. It smells like mothers. I look at the ground until Rosemary speaks again.

“Where will you go?”

Jumping to my feet, I do a dramatic twirl before answering.

“Don’t you mean, where will we go?”

Rosemary’s face changes to a frown, but I pretend to not see it. Instead, I watch two butterflies chase each other across the field. My wings twitch wildly in their bindings.

“Oh, no, not today. My mom was upset last time. She cried and cried and made me promise never to go off without telling her again. She thought I died! I had to sleep in her bed for a week!!”

Short of sticking my fingers in my ears, I do everything I can to block this out. With a huge leap, I chase the butterflies across the field. I do a somersault followed by a cartwheel. A few of the smaller kids applaud and I bow. Rosemary can’t understand how much her words hurt. How could she? It’s not like she knows.

When I was 4 years old my mother had an accident. She came out of the bedroom of our small cabin in the woods and her bright green eyes had turned milky white. Her curly strawberry-blonde hair had turned grey and her peachy smooth skin had become bumpy and pale as snow. She was cold to the touch and unresponsive. I didn’t know what to do.

For two days I watched this chilly version of my mother wander from room to room, unblinking and silent. A neighbor finally stopped by for a visit and found me crying alone in a closet. It wasn’t until years later, Headmaster Buckthorne told me the truth about what happened.

My mother had been trying to complete a complex and illegal magical spell to locate my father, a soldier in the Fairy Force. He disappeared during an intense battle in the Sage Mountains a week before I was born. She used old and unstable magic. It changed my mother permanently, leaving me an orphan.

With no family to take me in, Headmaster Buckthorne brought me to Hollyhock’s Fairy School for the Highly Gifted a few weeks after my mother’s accident. He studies “magical amnesia” and is fascinated by my mother’s case. While he studies her and tries to look for a cure, I live in a room above the library and I’m allowed to attend this prestigious school.

I don’t care about grades or how great this school looks for future magical employers. I don’t think about my future at all. I do think about mothers. I think about them a lot.

Rosemary’s mother has beautiful red hair and bright pink cheeks. She puts notes in her lunchbox and makes sure she has a thick enough jacket when it’s cold out. I wish I had been enough for my mother, but I wasn’t. She wanted my father more than me. 

Sometimes I pretend she’s not locked up in the Hospital for the Incurable, but rather living with my father in a magical glen deep within the Blackwood Forest. I see them with a new daughter, one who sits still and follows the rules. They want nothing else than to be with her because she’s loveable and sweet. She’s nothing like me.

Rosemary’s smiling at me and I’m ashamed of my jealousy of her mother. I wish I could tell her about mine, but the words are locked inside me. They are stones buried far too deep to unearth. I touch her soft hair and dance around her.

“Well, I’m going with or without you…and it’s going to be amazing.”

I drag out the last word and I can tell this interests her. She sets the sandwich on her lap and stares at me with wide eyes.

“What is?”

Spinning, I wink and grin as wide as I can.

“You have to come with me to see.”

Rosemary frowns, but it’s not a real one. I can see a smile hidden beneath it waiting to come out.

“Oh, Piper, don’t do that to me. My mother will kill me!”

Fluttering my wings under my uniform I use a little magic to make a leaf jump into the air and land on her nose. She giggles.

“It’s going to be amazing.”

I sing the words and I know I’ve hooked her. She likes adventure as much as I do, maybe even more, and her mother forgives her every time.

Headmaster Buckthorne isn’t as forgiving and I’ll pay for my disobedience by losing my weekend flying privileges for several weeks and maybe I’ll have to clean the school bathrooms too. I don’t care. An adventure with my best friend is worth any cost.

Sitting on the itchy grass beside her, she leans close enough that our shoulders touch. Whispering our plans is part of the fun. Her breath tickles my ear.

“How are we going to get off school grounds this time?” 

It’s becoming a lot harder to escape as each time we do Headmaster Buckthorne blocks us, but last time he couldn’t figure out how we did it. I plan to use the same route.

“We’re going under the sign again.”

Rosemary sighs and crosses her arms over her chest. She doesn’t like this plan and I don’t blame her. The school sign sits on the edge of a steep cliff. Last time we removed our school uniforms and slipped through a small hole, but I didn’t realize how cold and fast the falling would be. It took a few minutes for our wings to open. Instead of fun and exciting, it was more like dangerous and scary.

“I don’t like the sensation of falling. It makes me dizzy and I don’t want to be in my underwear again. What if someone sees us this time? It was so cold!”

She’s right, but I’ve thought of all this already. I pull my leather school bag onto my lap and open it wide enough to show her what’s inside.

“What if we don’t fall, but fly instead?”

I’ve stolen two light blue tunics from the laundry room before my breakfast—the uniforms of the fairy garden workers. Our wings will be free for flying and we will be able to roam the grounds around the school without drawing too much attention to ourselves. Rosemary claps.

“You are amazing!”

“I know.”

I try not to look too pleased by the compliment, but my cheeks burn hot. It’s good to hear her say it. She grabs my hand and whispers as close to my ear as she can.

“Even in the tunics, how can we get out the front door of the school? Last time you got Basil to free a bunch of beetles from the garden and the chaos provided our distraction. We can’t do the same thing…it would be too obvious.”

Several second-year students in pale pink wander by us and I make sure my bag is shut tight. The bell rings and without another word, we pack our things and walk arm and arm back toward the main school building. I whisper as low as I can as we walk.

“Don’t worry about a thing. It’s all arranged. Luckily, Basil still likes me and he’s working on a very good distraction. Let’s hurry though, I don’t want to miss it.”

We walk through the large wooden double doors and into the main entryway, a cavernous room with a vast grey stone floor and a giant golden chandelier burning bright with hundreds of tiny candles. The two main staircases wind off to the left and right, along with several dark hallways. We see Basil waiting near the golden statue of the founders, Claude Mugwort and Bella Vervain. He’s not wearing his uniform.

Freckle-faced with bright blue hair, poor Basil has the unfortunate fate of being in love with me. He’s followed me around since year two and I’m afraid I’ve abused his kindness. When he sees me he blushes and gives me two thumbs up. I mouth “thank you” and the redness of his face seems to darken—is it vermillion or beet? My face reddens too, but mostly out of guilt.

Taking Rosemary by the hand, I lead her into a little alcove near the stairs where a picture of a bowl of lemons sits hidden from view. I press the third lemon with my pointer finger and a secret door opens revealing a closet filled with cleaning supplies. Rosemary gasps.

Growing up in a school that is empty part of the year, I’m probably the only student to know some of its secrets. It has many. A tiny magical blue light shines above us.

“Change, quick! We haven’t much time. We can store our clothes and my bag here.”

Rosemary and I untie our identical school uniforms and change into light blue tunics. They are a bit big for us, but we tie a few extra knots so they won’t fall off when we fly. Rosemary’s bouncing on the balls of her feet like me. We are ready. The sound of raised voices and the shuffling of feet fills the main hall outside.

“Not yet,” I whisper. “Basil will signal us with a whistle.”

The sound of voices grows louder, accompanied by the most lovely and intoxicating sugary smell. My mouth waters and Rosemary giggles beside me. A few seconds later we hear a short burst of sound, like a train whistle. It’s the signal.

We open the door slowly and walk out from the alcove. The scene before us makes us both double over in laughter. Basil is brilliant! 

The main entryway has been transformed into an oversized and elaborate butcher shop. Sausages, whole chickens, ducks, and pigs hanging from strings in every direction. Only, these aren’t dead animals. No, they are all made of candy. Chocolate turkey legs and cream-filled pork chops. Gummy hamburgers and malted meatballs.

Basil sits at a large wooden table in the center, eating a platter with a huge candy pot roast complete with fake glazed carrots and roasted red potatoes. He’s throwing bits of food at the gathering crowd who are stuffing their faces and screaming. We lock eyes for a minute and I mouth “I owe you.” He laughs and throws a peppermint onion at the approaching Headmaster Buckthorne. 

It’s almost too much fun to leave, but I don’t want Basil to have gotten into trouble for nothing. I pull Rosemary by the arm, through the screaming crowd and out the front door. It’s silent as we cross the lawn with our wings flapping awake behind us.

“Basil’s the best,” Rosemary says.

“What I have to show you is even better.”

I’m lying. The truth is, I have no idea where we are going or what we are looking for. I only know I have to get away from this place—both my home and my prison. A place so close to my mother, yet I’m not allowed to see her. A place I only get to escape when Rosemary comes with me.

The truth is, I don’t have the courage to go alone. I grab her hand and squeeze it. Guilt tears at my stomach. She’s got a mother who loves her. So does Basil. I’m going to get them both hurt.

Holding hands, we squeeze through the small hole, spread our wings and fly off together to find adventure.

Author’s note:  I know with confidence I’ll be writing a middle-grade fairy book at some point and perhaps the seeds for it are right here. I hope you enjoyed meeting Piper, Rosemary, and Basil. Thanks as always for your likes and comments—you have no idea how much they mean to me.


Short Story Challenge | Week 48

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story about a day in the life. We had to include the words identical, pot roast, decorate, sign, abuse, library, amnesia, butcher, submit and sensation.


Write With Us

Prompt: A family-run farm
Include: temporary, invent, trust, horse, burst, pulley, dam, punch, and checker


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

30 thoughts on “Under the Sign | A Short Story

  1. Lovely charming story, Bridgette! 🙂 Really makes us empathise with her restlessness and yearning to find her own freedom – the magical setting was icing on the cake. Beautifully written! ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Yes!!! Now! I want the fairy school novel immediately.
    There is so much magic and mischief already packed into this short story. I am jittery with anticipation.
    All of the main characters were adorable. I love thé color coding of the uniforms and Pipers rebellion. It was such a fun and smooth read! Love love loved it!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I really, really, really, really, really want more of their story! I can’t wait to see where their adventure takes them….and would love to see Piper find a magical cure for her uncurable mother 💞💞💞

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I loved meeting these characters. Your description of Piper’s discomfort feels so much like the ADHD so many struggle with, the sweetness of the friendship and loyalty of Rosemary and Basil is a delight and most of all the mommy feels both of a child that has it and one who longs for it feels spot on. I look forward to hearing about these characters again.
    xo ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Penny. I’m definitely thinking Piper is neurodivergent. I’m so glad you found the emotions resonated so well. I appreciate your thoughtful comment and I might have to write more of this world and characters soon.

      Like

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