52 Weeks – Week 2 – Gifts

Prompt: Anonymous gifts start arriving at the doorstep

Include: teenager, camouflage, birch, harmony, rifle, screen door, wrinkle, dive, pick-up, sticker

What is 52 weeks?

Read Anna’s Week 2 (my writing partner and collaborator on this project)

Photo/Bridgette White

The Biggest Little Gift

Ellyse wants to check the doorstep for a gift the second she wakes up, but she restrains herself. Yesterday when she rushed outside her grouchy neighbor, Old Bobsy the Gnome, saw her in her rose petal nightgown and shook his watering can at her and scowled. She should have punched his wrinkled old face and pulled his filthy white beard, but she’s not that kind of elf. Not anymore, anyway.

She changes into a maple leaf dress topped with her favorite cotton fluff sweater and takes a quick peeks out the screen door. Sure enough, there stands Old Bobsy wearing his stupid red pointed hat and doing his daily snooping under the guise of watering his vast mushroom patch. If Ellyse wants to avoid conversation, which she most certainly does, she better wait until after her morning cup of chicory root tea. She’ll wait for the sound of Old Bobsy snoring in his hammock and then do a proper check.

After heating the water on the stove, she settles into a place in the backyard where she can drink her tea and watch the birds dive and play in the birdbath. A pair of doves, the same ones she can hear cooing down her fireplace most afternoons, wash and splash until an enormous Blue Jay chases them away. If her knees weren’t hurting her, Ellyse would do something about it, but instead, she turns her attention to the treasures set on her table.

The gifts started arriving three days ago, all wrapped in bright green leaves and tied with a thin strand of white wool. She’d found them on her doorstep with no note, and not even snoopy Old Bobsy saw who left them. It’s a mystery, something she hasn’t had much of since her son Farryn headed out on his own last spring. She lays them out in a row, touching each one.

At first, she thought the gifts were from the pack of grubby goblin kids who live down the street. They are always running through her yard trampling her garden or knocking over the flowerpots. However, she can’t imagine those wild things sitting still enough to wrap something so carefully.

Her second thought was her friend Arylea, but she’s on a trip with her teenage son to visit some distant relatives across the ocean and won’t be back for another month. They had invited Ellyse to come with them, but she couldn’t stand to leave her garden and her animals.

When she was young, caring for a garden would have felt like a punishment worse than death. Back then, she was filled with energy and a restless spirit, adventure luring her with a song so clear and strong she could hear nothing else. Her parents tried to stop her, but when war broke out, she ran away to fight. 

The Great Fairy War, pitting the creatures of light against the forces of darkness, lasted decades and Ellyse grew up slinging arrows and fighting with short swords. She can remember the horrible blasts of the human rifles, the roar of the hideous snarling beasts, and the sting of magical rain. It still clings to some part of her and, although Farryn wishes he could experience it, Ellyse is happy he won’t have to. Peace and harmony have filled the land for decades now, and she does her best to keep it so.

The chickens squawk from their coop, and Ellyse slips on her rubber boots and lets them out. She sprinkles feed across the yard, lets the rabbits out, and gathers eggs in a wool-lined basket. The carrot patch needs weeding, and it’s time to prune some of the rose bushes. Her body aches, but it’s a good feeling, and Ellyse surrenders to the work.

Her stomach begins to growl around noon and she realizes she’s forgotten to check for another gift. She rushes to the front door and there it sits, another beautiful leaf package wrapped with a thin thread of white wool. She bends over to pick up the treasure and cradles it in her arms. 

She unwraps it carefully and finds a bundle of dried lavender, brown twine woven intricately around the stems. Breathing in the sweet herbal smell, she’s filled with memory. When Farryn was a small boy she taught him how to gather the lavender without stripping the flowers off, and how to tie them into bundles exactly like this one. They would hang the bundles from every beam in the house, letting them dry, and then give them as gifts to all their friends and family at Winter Solstice.

Ellyse begins to laugh as she adds the bundle to the row of gifts. Each one of these items is connected to a memory of Farryn, her only son. She can’t believe she didn’t see it before. The realization makes her heart sing with joy, and she touches each one again, feeling the energy and love of each.

The first gift was a fat dark brown acorn with a wide textured hat. Each fall, she and Farryn would travel two hours on foot to harvest acorns from the large oak trees near the fairyland border. They would carry home one bucket each to make acorn flour, but leave the rest of the acorns for the squirrels to hide. She taught him a little song. She can still hear his golden, high voice singing as they walked home swinging their full buckets:

Squirrel Nutkin has a coat of brown, 
quite the loveliest in woodland town;
two bright eyes look round to see where the sweetest nuts may be.

Squirrel Nutkin in his coat of brown scampers up the trees and down;
dashing here and swinging there, leaping lightly through the air.
All the livelong day he plays in the leafy woodland ways
but stop at night when squirrels rest in their cosy treetop nest.

The second gift was a dried seedpod from a white birch tree, the kind found in the backyard of Ellyse’s family home. When they’d visit for the Summer Solstice, they would collect the pods, dry them in the sun, and snap them open to release the seeds. The dried petal-shaped pieces would be made into jewelry or saved to make sweet, sticky syrup. She can still see Farryn balanced on a chair stirring a huge wooden spoon through the thick, rich liquid, making the house smell like caramel and honey.

The third gift was a greenish willow tree stick, the kind she’d cut from the trees lining the slow-flowing creek at the far back of their property. They’d stand at the top of the rocky bridge and throw the sticks in the water, rush to the other side to see whose stick emerged first. Farryn would then scramble through weeds to the water’s edge, balance on the slick rocks, and retrieve their sticks so they could play again and again. It took forever to pull all the stickers and burrs out of his socks afterward.

Ellyse looks up and sees the moon has risen high in the sky, and she’s amazed at how time can slip by so fast these days. Lost in her memories, she wonders how her son has been managing to leave her these gifts, and why he hasn’t shown himself. She devises a plan to catch him, and giggles at the silliness of it.

Dressing all in greens and purples, Ellyse hides behind the giant lilac bush beside her front door. She waits and waits, enjoying the deep, rich smell and watching the stars twinkle across the sky until she sees a familiar shape sneaking on silent steps. Just the way she taught him, dressed in dark colors to camouflage in the night. She watches him place another gift on her doorstep with an enormous smile on his youthful face. Her heart feels something she’d tried not to feel since he left, a sort of longing mixed with pride, and she elicits a loud sobbing giggle.

Farryn jumps and pulls aside the branches to see his mother’s face peering out at him.  

“What are you doing mother?” he asks.

“Catching you,” she says.

He lifts her to her feet and hugs her to him.

“What took you so long?” he says. “I thought you’d figure me out the first day.”

“Getting old, I guess.”

“Never.”

“Never.”

They hug and laugh so loud they wake Old Man Bobsy who emerges from his house wearing quite scandalously short red shorts, his wrinkled chest as white and hairy as his beard. He holds a stick in his hands and begins yelling a string of threats and curses at the mother and son. They duck inside, giggling madly.

Once they are sipping hot cups of mint tea by the fireplace, Ellyse opens the final gift, a large heart-shaped river rock. She glances over to a shelf covered in seashells, rocks, and bark, all heart-shaped items found by her boy. She holds his hands in hers and smiles.

“I’d have definitely known from this one,” she says.

“I’d hope so,” Farryn says.

“I love you, mom.”

“I know. I love you too.”

Author’s note: When I first read the prompt I had the idea of a time travel story where the items are left to help prevent something terrible from happening. However, when I sat down to write, my mind kept wandering back to stories involving a mother and son. I suppose I wasn’t done feeling all my feelings yet about my son turning 17. My first draft was a very sad piece about a mother and son not talking to each other, and he leaves little gifts out for her so she will know he remembers the fun they’ve had over the years. It was fine, but it felt too sad and too raw. So, I took another crack at it, and this silly little elf story took shape. I think it captures some of the same feelings, but it’s not nearly as heavy. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it!


Next week’s prompt: Week 3

Mash up two classic fairy tales into one story

Include: fireplace, sword, grove, stroke, underbrush, mourn, seven, friendship, cardboard, giver

Just write already!

A friend of mine started a blog where she is challenging herself to write a short story from a prompt each week. I LOVE this idea and have decided to play along. This will give me some deadlines and flex my writing muscles with different types of stories.

You can find her blog here: https://reecewriting.wordpress.com

Here’s my attempt at the first prompt.

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It’s taken Piper five days to reach the meadow, much longer than if she’d flown. She stretches away the stiffness of sleep and waves hello to a yellow dragonfly waking from his perch above her. He is flicking his two sets of wings, drying off the moisture of the night. The sunlight makes them shimmer with tiny rainbows, like Clea’s wings. Her nose burns and she rubs her eyes.

“No,” she says to herself. “You will not be weak.”

She puts her hands on her hips and squares her shoulders. The sun, round and golden, peaks through the clustered needles of the towering pines, spreading spotlights across the ground, promising to bring warmth with it soon. The forest is quiet and still. She can make out the shapes of the predatory birds of night, full and resting, in the highest branches.

Pulling her mossy cloak tight around her shoulders, she is grateful for its warmth. She smooths her green pants and shirt best she can, but they remain damp and dirty from the nights of sleeping in gnarled masses of tree roots. Her braid has loosened under her acorn cap, and she tucks the wisps of auburn curls back into place. Her boots, the ones she spent weeks crafting from a young white birch tree, are starting to wear thin, sores forming on her pinky toes.

She would have arrived yesterday, if not for a grumpy, and quite angry, little chipmunk. His hole was covered with dried leaves and she fell right through it, landing on his soft back and waking him from his hibernation. She tried to apologize, but he chased her around the forest screeching insults at her for several hours. He was certain she was after his stockpile of hazelnuts. Piper doesn’t even like hazelnuts.

A pair of goldfinch sing above her and she takes a small bite of an almond cake from her bag, it tastes bland and stale. One last climb over an ancient rotting log and she will be among sweet smelling lavender, delicious clover, five different shades of poppies, goldenrods, and daises. She will drink from the creek, the water sweet and ice cold, and feast on wild carrots and miner’s lettuce. Her stomach rumbles, sick of the almond cakes of Fall and Winter, ready for the bounty and joy of her Spring and Summer home.

“You are right tummy, let’s go.”

Securing her pack onto her back, she adjusts her cobweb hand wraps. She used to race Clea here, weaving back and forth, bursting with eagerness to return to the bounty of the meadow. The winner got the first drink of Spring. She smiles at the memory. Clea’s eyes were the color of the sky at dusk, purple with a hint of pink. Were.

Piper shakes her head. She has to concentrate on the climb. The bark is loose in spots, dropping off in sheets without warning, so she must test each handhold and foothold. It’s slow going. She cuts her knee, tearing a large hole in her pants, but she presses on. Hours pass, the rhythm of climb replacing all other thoughts until she reaches the top. With a final burst of strength, she pulls herself over the crumbling ledge.

Gasping, she rolls onto her side, expecting the familiar buzzing of bees to greet her. Instead, she hears nothing and finds the smell is wrong. Scanning the sky, she pulls herself into a sitting position and opens her mouth in a silent scream. The meadow is dead. She rubs her eyes and cries, tears turning into uncontrollable sobs until she faints from exhaustion.

“Hi, yes, yes. Hallo. Good morning. Greetings and such. Yes, yes.”

Piper darts to her feet, sweating and panting, her hands balled into tight fists in front of her. A brown furry creature, with translucent veiny ears, watery black eyes, pointy pink nose and a mass of long whiskers, squeaks, and darts a few inches away from her. It curls a worm-like tail around its plump body and trembles.

“Eich sorry,” it squeaks and hiccups. “Eich is friend. Buddy. Pal. Mate. Yes, yes?”

Piper lowers her fists and sits. It’s a field mouse, one of the many who live here. These are her friends, and she is angry at herself for being so rude. She is about to say so when it inches back toward her holding a small crumbled clover in its pink hand.

“Eich sorry,” it squeaks and hiccups again. “Eich happy to see you. Glad. Pleased. Cheered. Yes, yes.”

“Your name is Eich?”

“Yes, yes. Eich, son of Misha and Titus, brother and sister to many and now friend of you.”

He hands her the clover.

“For you, yes, yes.”

He bows low, his nose touching the ground. When he stands, his whiskers twitching, he smiles at Piper, exposing his two yellow front teeth for a brief moment, before lowering his head into another bow.

“Well, Eich, I’m pleased to meet you. I’m Piper. I do believe we will be friends.”

Eich inches closer, grabbing both of her hands in his and blows warm breath onto her freezing fingers. He smells of fresh mint and spring, and she smiles at him.

“Thank you for your kindness, Eich.”

“Eich has been alone since they left. One. Single. Solo. Yes, yes.”

Piper looks past Eich and sees the meadow. In the center is a hole, not much bigger than the rabbits make, but the ground around it is scorched black in an eight-foot circle. The remainder of the meadow grass has been trampled flat, turning brown and dying. There are no flowers, rabbits, mice or bees.

“Do you know what happened Eich?”

“Fire-breath, yes, yes. Stinky. Filthy. Foul-breath. Yes. His fault. Gone. Departed. Left.”

He shivers and pulls his tail around his body again, glancing toward the meadow.

“You mean something did this to the meadow? A creature?”

Eich squeaks and points to the hole as a ring of smoke drifts out. A sharp acid smell follows. It makes her eyes sting and her head fuzzy. Piper feels fear ripple through her body.

“Eich,” she says. “We have to get out of here. Now.”

“Eich help. Yes, yes. Climb on quick. Rapid. Swift. We go.”

A sound erupts from the hole, a sparking sound, like when lightning hits the ground during a large storm. Piper’s skin bursts into goosebumps as Eich squeaks and jumps. She climbs onto his back, gripping the soft fur around his neck with both hands, and he scampers down the log, along the edge of the meadow and into a bramble bush. It’s dark inside but smells of lavender.

Eich pushes his way through a maze of brambles until they reach a small clearing. He sets Piper into a nest of fur and milkweed pods. She can see little piles of dried flowers, berries, and nuts, and the air is warm. Eich is watching her, flashing his yellow tooth smile again in the dim light.

“Eich’s home, yes, yes.”

“It’s nice Eich. Thank you.”

“Rest now little one. Sleep. Dream. Safe. Yes, yes.”

Piper climbs out of the nest, looking toward the direction of the meadow.

“The thing out there…is it Fire-breath?” asks Piper.

Eich nods, shifting his weight.

“Did it destroy the meadow?”

Eich nods again.

“I need to see what it is. I need to see what destroyed my Spring, stole my Summer and drove away my friends. I have to see it.”

“Eich brave mouse, but Eich no go. Piper stay, too. Yes, yes.”

“You are brave Eich, but I have to see it. I’ll be careful. You rest. OK?”

She strokes the mouse’s head and he snuffles her with his nose. She can hear he is crying now, and his body is trembling.

“Come back, Piper. Yes, yes. Please.”

She wipes his eyes and hugs him around his neck.

“I will Eich. I promise.”

He helps her through the maze of brambles to the opening, and they hug one more time before he scampers back inside. Piper puts her hands on her hips and focuses on the hole about 10 feet away from her. The smell is terrible. She looks in her bag and pulls out a dried rose petal. She folds it until it fits over her mouth and nose, using her cobweb hand wrap, she secures the petal to her face.

She creeps toward the smoking hole, aware she doesn’t have much of a plan. Clea would know what to do. She’d march right over and yell at the thing to go. It would listen too, or Clea would make it. She misses her friend’s fierceness. She misses everything about her best friend.

“Go away!”

A raspy voice calls from inside the hole and Piper stops. She can see a wide green nose poking over the ridge, sniffing from crescent-shaped nostrils.

“Who are you?” Piper calls.

The thing snorts, smoke filling the space between them, but doesn’t answer. Piper takes another step forward.

“Go away!”

“No,” Piper says.

She is surprised by her boldness, but anger makes her heart pound and her body vibrate with energy. She takes another step forward and the thing crawls out of the hole. It’s about the same size as Eich, but nothing like him.

It’s covered in bright green scales in a tight woven pattern from head to tail. Along it’s back is a ridge of spikes, which are golden and cast rainbow patterns on the ground where the sun hits them. It has a pair of tiny wings, similar to Piper’s own, tucked along the side of its body. It blinks it’s large, round eyes at Piper. The eyes are the deep amber color of fresh honey.

“Go away!”

It’s standing on the ridge of the hole and Piper can see it has something under it, gleaming bright in the sunlight, a single golden coin resting between its feet. Piper imagines it must have been hard to pull from the hole.

“I want to talk,” she says.

The thing shifts, trying to cover more of the coin, and blows fire in Piper’s direction. It’s a small flame and she sidesteps it without much effort. The rose mask is working to cover the smell, so she takes another step forward.

“Stop moving!”

It tries to blow another flame in Piper’s direction, but only smoke comes out. It coughs, wheezing and shaking. Piper covers her ears against the sound, until the thing stops, eyes wide in fear, collapsing on the ground. Its body covers the gold coin and it snores, the sound like a swarm of angry bees. Piper laughs. This is what scared everyone away? It’s nothing but a baby dragon, barely able to blow fire, the poor thing.

She walks over to the dragon and touches one of the golden spikes on its back. It’s freezing. She takes her moss cloak off and puts it around the dragon’s neck, covering as much of him as she can. She sits. It would be amazing to tell Clea about this. Her friend would throw her head back and laugh until tears streaked her soft face. This is the second Spring without her, since the accident. She wonders if she’ll ever meet another fairy again. Her nose burns and the tears come.

“Why are you crying?”

The dragon’s voice is softer now, not as raspy. Piper finds his eyes enchanting.

“I miss my friend,” she says. “I’m the only fairy left now…”

“I’m alone too. I fell out of my mother’s bag while we were flying over this meadow. I was supposed to be home, but I snuck in the bag because of the coin. I wanted my own hoard. I’m old enough! I bet she doesn’t even know I’m missing, yet. She’ll never find me.”

He sniffs, smoke rings escaping from his nostrils.

“Why did you destroy the meadow?”

“I didn’t mean to. I was scared and there were so many creatures and they were so loud and…I panicked.”

Piper stands and faces the dragon.

“I’m Piper,” she says extending her hand. “I am pleased to meet you.”

“I’m Snap.”

He shifts so he can shake her hand with his scaly one, trying hard to not expose the gold coin beneath him.

Eich bursts from his bramble bush, squeaking and holding a broken twig in his mouth as he runs. He stops a few feet from them, gasping, and takes the stick into his left hand. He tries to growl, but it sounds strange and not at all scary.

“You better not hurt Eich’s friend. No, no.”

With this, he steps forward and hits the dragon on the nose with the stick. Snap bursts into tears, sneezing smoke and making a moaning sound. Eich looks from Piper to the dragon, shakes his head and lowers his stick.

Piper laughs. At first, it’s a giggle behind her hands with a small shaking of the shoulders. Growing, it bubbles and bursts until she throws her head back, howling and roaring uncontrollable, tears streaking her face.

Eich and Snap stare at her.

Little Peppermint, the house fairy

You might be shocked to hear I don’t like Elf on the Shelf.

I know it is weeks past Christmas, but stay with me. It is relevant.

I don’t like the elf for lots of reasons, enough to fill an entire book and then some. I’ll spare you the long rant. Basically, I find an elf moving around the house at night creepy and I hate the pressure it puts on kids to be “good” and on parents to remember to move the damn thing.

There.

I know. Geez mom. Way to make it all about you.

According to my 8-year-old daughter, we are the ONLY family in the world to not have a spying elf and it isn’t fair. We had no less than 20 conversations revolving around the injustice of it all.

“Mom, you just don’t understand.”

Nope. I don’t.

“I will make it clothes.”

No.

“It will be fun.”

No.

“It is a good lesson to kids on being good.”

No.

She finally realized there was no budging on the issue and made her own. Only this little one isn’t an elf. She is a fairy, she is named Peppermint and she moves around the house the entire year.

THE ENTIRE YEAR.

Bam. Got you mom. Now you have to move the fairy around the house every day or I will lose faith in magic and shit like that.

At first, I played along and moved dear Peppermint all over the house. It was actually fun to pose her in the bowl of oranges on the counter, or hide her in the Christmas tree or have her hanging with baby Jesus in the nativity.

But I got busy.

And forgetful.

And tired.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a fun mom. I swear I am. I play dolls and games and tell stories.

I’m awesome.

But come on.

I have to remember to move the fairy every night.

Every. Single. Night.

It is too much.

Yesterday at breakfast, my girl tells me Peppermint hasn’t moved since a few days after Christmas.

“Mom,” she says. “Do you think Peppermint will ever move?”

I think I see tears in her eyes. Real tears, folks.

“I don’t know love,” I say and silently promise myself to move the damn fairy every day for the rest of my life. “I think she was just really tired from the holidays. I’m sure she will move soon.”

“I hope so,” she says.

Well-played daughter.

The second she is out the door, I take Peppermint out of the doll house bed and put her on the mantle holding a few candy canes.

Nailed it.

She comes home and notices right away.

“She moved!” she says.

“Yep.”

“Can’t wait to see what she will do tomorrow.”

Yep.

We leave the house an hour later for her keyboard lesson. My boy decides to stay home to work on his homework.

When we come back, Peppermint has moved again.

This time she is sitting with a doll playing a game my girl created the day before.

“Wow!” she says. “I can’t believe it.”

My boy comes over all smiles and snuggles up close to me.

“I will move Peppermint mom,” he whispers in my ear. “Just look how happy she is.”

And then my heart exploded.

peppermint