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.”
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!
Short Story Challenge | Week 2
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 anonymous gifts that start arriving at the doorstep. We had to include the word teenager, camouflage, birch, harmony, rifle, screen door, wrinkle, dive, pick-up, and sticker.
Write With Us
Prompt: Mash up two classic fairy tales into one story
Include: fireplace, sword, grove, stroke, underbrush, mourn, seven, friendship, cardboard, giver