Playing Games | A Short Story

The Shadow can hear the wet sound of a tongue licking a dry lip or the tiny flick of an index finger scrapping the cuticle of a thumb. With no eyes and no nose, it relies on its heightened hearing to track its prey. It flows like liquid smoke back and forth in front of a small rocky waterfall, its arms and legs are sweeping willow branches made of darkness.

Faven’s knees and thighs ache from sitting cross-legged on the cold, wet stone floor. It’s been hours since she’d run into this cramped spot, hiding within the sound of the rushing water. She can see the Shadow moving through the blurry wall, its distorted blackness plunging her from light to dark as it paces. It knows she’s nearby.

Soaked from the icy mist, Faven knows she can’t stay here much longer. She presses her translucent wings, tied close to her body with a piece of soft white rope, hard into the jagged rocks behind her to stop them from quivering and giving her away. She shouldn’t have come here.

A loud ripping blast, the sound of wood being shattered, roars through the night. The Shadow’s inky black shape stops moving and its elongated body stands silhouetted by hundreds of dancing red sparks. The fragrant sugary smell of burning petals floats into the cave, the smell of the pink lyndol tree, and Faven covers her mouth to prevent herself from coughing.

The Shadow presses its hands onto the place hips might be, a stance Faven would find comical if she wasn’t so terrified. Two more explosions echo around her, followed by a blast of hot wind which roars through the cave and singes her eyebrows. She needs to cough but swallows it back. Her throat burns.

The Shadow slinks toward the fire, roaring in all directions. Faven watches it swallow up the smoke as it goes, sucking it up with big gulping sounds, the hungry eye of a tornado. She crawls on hands and knees keeping her eyes on its black shape until she can push her hot face into the cold water. Pulling back, she catches the icy liquid into her cupped hands and takes several long gulps.

Faven removes a three-inch green knife the shape of an elongated leaf from her leather belt and swipes up to cut the rope. Her wings spring out and flap back and forth swirling the pink vapor until it forms a whirlpool around her. She presses through the smoke and the water, out the entrance of the cave, and straight up into the still night sky. Stars shine above and around her, wishes made into balls of brilliance to twinkle for all time as beacons of hope.

Savoring the feeling of the wind pressing into the curves along the thin membranes of her wings, Faven circles above the burning trees. Her long brown braid has come loose and thick strands of hair whip at her cheeks and eyes. She searches the forest for her friends.

Apollo, dressed in his favorite green argyle suit, presses through the forest blasting trees with a long, twisting staff made of dark redwood. It looks too big for his small hands and Faven wonders where it came from. He’s pale and chanting something under his breath. His short black hair, wet with sweat, sticks to his head.

Luz runs beside him holding a small hand mirror of tarnished gold, an object Faven has never seen before. Streaks of yellow light flow from its shimmery surface to create a crisscrossing web around the two of them. She’s wearing a pinafore of pale pink and her curly blonde hair has been pulled up into two puffs at the top of her head.

Both of their wings are tied back with a white rope to conserve energy. They are moving further into the woods, away from the Fae towns to the West and East. Faven can’t see the Shadow but knows it’s not far behind.

“Up here!” She calls to them, but they don’t hear her.

With a burst of energy, she flies ahead, landing in a field of weeds and wildflowers just a moment before her friends appear through the tree line. They smile as she tucks in between them, running in a line together across the field and down a small hill toward the foul-smelling waters of the brine lake.

“I told you to go home,” Faven says.

“You’re welcome,” Apollo says.

“Hi!” Luz says.

“Where did you get those?” Faven says.

She points at the items her friends clutch in their hands, the gnarled staff, and the antique mirror. Although all three of them have portfolios of skills far greater than most 10-year-olds, nobody would trust them with such powerful magical artifacts. They are the orphans of the temple, the forgotten children of the Fae, and nobody gives them such expensive gifts. Apollo laughs.

“Stole them,” he says.

“Borrowed them,” Luz says. “From the Fae High School.”

“Nobody saw us,” Apollo says. “We were stealthy little rats.”

“I’m no rat,” Luz says. “More like a colorful chameleon or a snowy owl.”

A sudden sharp crunching sound causes them to spin around. The Shadow, free from the smoke and fire, moves toward them with impossibly long strides. Streaking, sneaking, sliding across the ground, closing the gap between them within moments with slick untiring movement. The clicking sound of its gnashing teeth comes from the center of its black body, making all three of them shiver.

“Go!” Faven says. “It only wants me.”

“There’s no time to argue this again,” Apollo says. “We aren’t leaving you.”

“We fight together,” Luz says.

Faven appreciates their loyalty but wishes they’d simply go home. She’s the one who woke up the creature and she’s the one it wants. It was her stupid idea to draw the pentagram in the forbidden woods and call forth the Shadow. They were simply witnesses to her incredible foolishness.

She grew up hearing the bards sing of her mother—a raven-haired beauty who fought with twin golden blades while her baby suckled at her breasts. She defeated packs of horned drooling beasts from the center of the Earth with a fierceness said to have been forged by her years of solitude within the forbidden forest. She died when Faven was two-years-old, poisoned by a former lover.

Faven wants a chance to do something brave, to be something more than the orphaned trouble-maker the Elders make scrub the stone temples with wire brushes to keep her small hands busy. Everyone expects more of her, yet no matter how hard she tries, she’s the one who ruins everything.

She tried to create a fantastic dessert made of strubel berries harvested under the full moon for the summer feast but ended up setting fire to the kitchen when her cooking spell backfired. She collected an assortment of exotic and strange-looking flowers for her crown at the spring dance, but a seed pod exploded a few minutes after the music began and the smell made everyone sick. Last week she’d been showing off her flying skills in the garden and thought it would be impressive to fly through a large open window into the great hall, spin around, and come back out. She accidentally knocked over a magical corked vase. It broke and filled the hall with rainbow-colored rain. They still haven’t been able to stop it.

Faven didn’t think the stories of the Shadow were real. She’d heard them for years but believed they were told by the Elders as another way to control her and keep her grounded. Her mother lived in the forbidden forest alone for over a decade, so the story goes, and she thought maybe the Shadow would know her. Really, if she’s being honest with herself, she thought the Shadow might be her. It’s why she took the risk and performed the summoning spell, but now she’s ruined everything. Her friends might die because of her. The thought instantly fills her with dread.

“What do we do?” Luz says.

Without slowing, Faven removes her knife and carefully slashes the ropes holding back their wings. She grabs their hands and as they reach the edge of the lake and all three of them rise into the night sky as one. Apollo blasts the ground below them and Luz holds the mirror out to cast the net of protective light.

The Shadow, confused, circles below them making its horrible clicking sound. It won’t hesitate for long and it can fly. Faven has seen it spiral around the forest, swirling like an autumn leaf, sniffing for her. It won’t give up and it’s faster and stronger than all of them.

Apollo and Luz are red-faced and sweaty. Faven can feel them trembling and she tightens her grip on their free hands. They are getting tired, the magical weapons are draining them of all their energy. They are running out of time.

“Where do we go?” Luz says.

“We can’t go home or to the villages,” Faven says. “It will follow me wherever I go and put everyone in danger.”

“I know a place,” Apollo says. “But I don’t know if I can make it.”

“Show me,” she says.

On Faven’s 9th birthday, after blowing out the candle the Elders put in her morning bowl of oatmeal, she reached out and touched Luz’s hand. An image of a package wrapped in pink cotton flashed into her mind. It was sitting under the sink in the kitchen beside the big blue bottle of cleaner. She jumped from her chair and ran into the kitchen and pulled it out.

“Hey,” Luz said. “That was supposed to be a surprise for tonight!”

“But you wanted me to have it now,” Faven said.

“I did!” Luz said.

A feeling, like a blush, rushed through her body—she could read minds! After experimenting with her friends, she discovered it wasn’t mind-control or a way to captivate the mind of others, but rather a one-way guidance system allowing her to retrieve information given freely by someone she trusts. So far, she’s mostly used it to gossip and pass math tests. However, right now, she hopes it will allow her to lead her friends to safety.

Apollo nods and presses an image through their connected hands—an abandoned Eagle nest perched high in one of the ancient rendel trees. It’s covered with fertile tangry mushrooms, strong and pungent. If they can make it there, the scents will protect them for the night.

“I’ll get us there,” Faven says.

Flapping her wings as hard as she can, Faven pulls her friends away from the lake and back into the dense trees of the forbidden forest. There’s a sweeping sound behind her and she’s certain the Shadow has taken flight. She dips and dives, pulling her friends with her, using all of her strength and skill to swerve up, down, and around. 

The nest sits exactly where Apollo showed her and she swoops down into it landing on a smelly pile of discarded eggshells, layers of white bird poop, and hundreds of the fat dark brown tangry mushrooms. The fetid stench makes all three of them gag as they lay on their sides catching their breath. The Shadow swoops past them and disappears into the forest.

“You saved us,” Luz says after a few minutes of silence.

“For now,” Faven says. “He won’t give up. Go home! Please. I can’t be responsible for your deaths. I won’t be able to live with myself.”

“This again?” Apollo says. “We aren’t discussing it. There’s no home without you and we stick together. There’s no other way. We are one.”

“We won’t leave you,” Luz agrees. “You can’t get rid of us.”

Faven nods but doesn’t agree. Her friends curl up beside her, three tiny children folding into one another as they do every night in their tiny bed at the top of the temple. Fatigue overpowers the smell and the fear, allowing the warmth of their bodies to melt into the oblivion of dreamless sleep. The rendel tree, the oldest of the trees in the woods, rocks them gently as the night wind sweeps across the fairylands.

Dreams swirl in and out of focus for Faven, gentle sweet images of honey, flowers, and tiny butterflies dancing between her fingertips. Her mother’s face appears above her, bronze-skinned with wide eyes the color of the deepest part of the sea. She hovers with thin milky white wings, flapping them slowly, creating a sweet-smelling breeze Faven feels like kisses upon her cheek. She wants to cry out to her mother, to speak to her, but she’s unable to do anything but look at her. Her deep black hair flows around her face, waves of dark strands flowing nearly vertical from her now unsmiling face. Inky blackness swirls into her hair, mixing with it.

With a flash of panic, Faven opens her eyes and finds it’s still night. She’s not too late. Peeling herself from her friends, she moves to the edge of the nest, hangs her legs over, and tries to remember the story of the Shadow. 

Birthed at the dawn of time, it is made out of the hallowed madness left in the wake of its mother—death. A cousin of torment, it was captured by the ancient forest and allowed to dwell below the roots of rotten trees. It can be woken, brought to the surface, by those knowing the ancient ritual and calling its name. Once called forth, however, it won’t return to the soil until it kills the soul of its summoner.

Faven must die. There’s no loophole and until she dies her friends are in terrible danger. She stretches her wings out behind her, flapping them three times to allow blood to flow into the soft folds before falling out of the nest head first. Swooping over the trees, she calls the Shadow forth using its sacred name. It appears within moments and she swoops to the forest floor to greet it.

“No!” Apollo screams.

She sees Apollo spiraling down behind her and watches as the Shadow twists and changes directions in mid-air. Within seconds, hardly a breath, it reaches Apollo and dives through his small body. The color instantly drains from his face and Favin screams. She takes flight and catches his falling figure, the impact causing them both to crash land into a pile of soft brown bark.

Luz lands without a sound on a low tree branch near the sobbing Favin. She hangs upside down by her knees, a silent bat in a cave. Teary-eyed Favin runs her hand through Apollo’s black hair and kisses his soft cheeks.

“It’s all a game,” she says. “Just a game.”

The Shadow lands beside her and when she turns to face it the long, low sound of a bell rings through the air. It lasts several moments, and as it vibrates through the forest, the trees disappear leaf by leaf. Luz jumps down from the green metal bar and lands beside her.

“The bell rang,” she says.

Apollo stands and laughs. He grabs Favin by the hand and pulls her from the bark. She blinks, tears still in her eyes.

“I didn’t really die,” he says. “Because I’m not done playing the game. It’s not fair.”

“We can figure it out next recess,” Luz says. “Maybe we find a rejuvenation spell or something.”

“Yeah.”

Favin stops and looks at the two kids in front of her. Apollo’s wearing faded blue pants and a green shirt with some kind of creature on the front with big teeth and tiny arms. Luz wears a dress of bright yellow with rainbows covering her legs. Both are wearing shoes with metal circles and crisscrossing white strings.

“Are you okay?” Luz says.

“I don’t know,” Favin says.

“I’m not dead,” Apollo says again. “Okay, guys? It’s not fair.”

“Okay,” Luz says. “We heard you the first time! We wouldn’t kill you off, right Favin?”

“Right,” she says.

The three of them hook arms and walk across the hard, cracked grey earth toward short buildings painted blue and white. Kids stand in lines talking, pushing, and laughing. Favin doesn’t mind this new game at all.

After School | A Triolet

she’s waiting for me when the bell rings
faded yellow sweater smelling of home
unknown to me except in dreams, no wings
she’s waiting for me when the bell rings
my name upon her lips she does sing
with bluest eyes framed by glasses of chrome
she’s waiting for me when the bell rings
faded yellow sweater smelling of home

Mother’s Love | A Nonet

my mother knows every inch of me
her child from any time or place
we fold into each other
her arms a warm blanket
of protection from
the bad dreams of
shadowy
death
my mother heals every inch of me

Author’s note: If you’ve been around this blog for some time you’ve probably realized my love of fairies and fantasy. This week, my story was inspired by the elaborate games I watched my daughter play with her friends at school. They had one storyline they played for over a year, adding more and more backstory and adventure. I thought, what if the game was real and the main character wished it to not be and was instead transported to a playground. It’s a bit of a twist on the “it was all a dream” plot, and one I hope you enjoyed. Thanks for reading, and as always, I’d love to know what you think in the comments below.


Short Story Challenge | Week 18

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 where a child’s dream literally becomes true. We had to include the high school, captivate, portfolio, argyle, witness, fertile, eyebrow, pentagram, thirsty, and guidance.


Write With Us

Next week’s prompt: An alien in disguise among humans

Include: Aurora Borealis, paintbrush, cornfield, cluster, lineup, overlook, suspect, bridge, dome, dash


My 52 Week Challenge Journey

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.

img_2675

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