Children's Fiction, Middle Grade Fiction, Short Story Middle Grade

SHORT FICTION: The Fairy Forest at Sunset by Cassie Parkes

Ada arrived with a box full of magic, but no-one seemed to care.

The staff had positioned her and her stage in a shaded part of the West Lawn, which was bordered by a small forest of tall pine trees that loomed over her as she set up her small stage, unpacking her magical possessions from her wooden trunk. She hadn’t really known what to bring for a performance at the young Lady Morwoode’s birthday party, so Ada had brought only her most delightful and rare treasures along with her, ready to excitedly show them off to the gathered nobility. Accompanying her, as always, was her rabbit, Daisy. Daisy possessed no magical qualities, apart from that of being a gentle and loving companion who would jump neatly into secret trapdoors and hide behind hatches in return for a handful of chopped carrots. Though Ada had travelled far and wide in her youth to collect magical treasures and gifts from other kingdoms, she had always had a penchant for stage illusions, and so her performances were usually a combination of real magic and stage trickery.

They asked Ada to be ready by five o’clock, but by the time the distant church bells struck eight, not one party-goer had passed her by. They were all too busy mingling up by the manor: she could hear their distant laughter ringing across the lawns. Eventually, a weary-looking footman came by her way and explained that there had been a surprise last-minute appearance from the dashing Baron Marius Morwoode, who had just returned from a mighty duel with the villainous Lord Farmount. The blood of his foe was, apparently, still upon the blade of his golden rapier, and he was very happy to show it off to anyone who asked to see it (and doubly so to those who did not.)

The footman gently sighed and told Ada she could pack up early, there was no point in her loitering around the gardens when everyone was up by the manor, fawning over the fencer. Ada put on her brightest smile and thanked the man for his help. He bowed his head to her.

As he walked away, Ada’s forced smile soon faded, and she bent down to begin to dismantle the stage, wondering if she would get paid less now. Or, in fact, if she would get paid at all.

As she crouched down, she saw a pair of bright hazel eyes staring curiously at her. Ada looked up to see a young girl–no older than six–stood watching her, wearing a pastel pink dress, and clutching a toy rabbit in her right hand. It was a well-loved thing, tattered and worn, with one of its long ears dragging on the grass as she clutched it in her tiny hand.

“Hello!” Ada said, smiling at her. She had always liked children but never spent time with them outside of her performances, and she hoped her wide smile did not look too awkward.

The young girl said nothing, but stepped cautiously forward, peering behind the stage. Ada smiled when she realised what she wanted to see. The child was, of course, infatuated with Daisy. Ada chuckled and moved to open the cage.

“Would you like to meet her? She’s very gentle. Her name is Daisy.”

She opened the cage door and gently lifted the rabbit out, placing her down upon the ground. Daisy was content enough to gently nibble on the grass, a lot calmer and subdued than most rabbits, and Ada began to gently stroke her, using two fingers to rub along her twitching nose, up to the top of her head, between her long, floppy ears. The small child walked over and plopped herself down on the ground. Ada lifted her hand to let the girl pet the rabbit, and the girl began to clumsily copy Ada’s movements, ecstatic as she ran her tiny fingers through that dappled fur. Daisy paid them both no mind, nibbling away at the grass, occasionally hopping gently forward to get to the next tasty patch of green. The young girl giggled and gently petted the creature, and Ada took the opportunity to load a few more things into her trunk. That, of course, instantly grabbed the girl’s attention, and she stood, wandering over towards the trunk, dropping her toy rabbit in the grass as she curled her tiny fingers over one side of the box. Ada chuckled and–after making sure Daisy was back in her cage, and not nibbling at the hem of anyone’s dress–she began to explain what all of the things inside the box were.

Ada opened a small drawstring pouch and pulled out a handful of runic sparking stones, which crackled and fizzed harmlessly in the palm of her hand. These, she explained to the young girl, as she let her touch their polished glass surfaces, were a gift from the Fae-Prince Mianna, who had given them to Ada after she’d helped him negotiate a Peace Treaty with the Briarmount satyrs. Next, of course, was the small oak box that she’d bought at a Goblin Night-Market. The goblins had told her that whatever you placed inside would turn to pure silver. This turned out to be a bit of a ruse, but whatever you placed inside did become magically dusted with silver glitter, so that was something at least. Finally, she showed the young girl one of her most prized possessions, a magical sketchbook that Queen Lyani of the Sky-Dancers had given her as a present for her thirtieth birthday. Ada picked up a pencil from the bottom of the trunk, and hastily drew a tree upon the white-cream paper. Within seconds, her graphite strokes began to move upon the pages, and a breeze came across the paper, shaking the branches of the pencil-tree, and causing its leaves to flutter gently to the ground. The young girl’s eyes widened, and Ada chuckled. She had forgotten what it was like to be among people who were not used to magic. The young girl slowly reached her hand towards the pencil, and wrapped her fingers around it, scrawling upon the page. She drew a lion with a huge mane, and laughed so loudly as it began to dance and play on the paper. Ada smiled and took the opportunity to pack the rest of her things up and make sure Daisy’s water bottle was full, while the young girl scribbled away, drawing happily lopsided elephants and monkeys for her paper circus.

The young girl was content for fifteen minutes, until she finally grew bored of playing ringmaster, and put the sketchbook down upon the grass, yawning. Ada complimented her on her lovely drawings and then packed the book away inside the trunk. She then realised that the girl had been away long enough that she was almost certainly being missed by whomever had brought her here.

“Did you come here with your mother and father?” Ada asked, “Or maybe grandma and grandpa, mm? Do you know where they are? Are they nearby?”

The young girl shook her head, and then pointed towards the trees. On the other side of the small patch of woodland was the huge lawn which led up towards the manor home. That’s where most of the guests were, stood enjoying cocktails and conversation around tall, pegasus-sculpted water fountains.

“Are they back through there? By the big house?”

The little girl nodded.

“Okay, let’s go and find them.”

Ada stood and held her hand out for the young girl to take, which she did, with her free hand that was not clutching her toy rabbit. But as they drew closer to the trees, the girl stopped, and refused to go any further. She shook her head and her eyes filled with tears as Ada tried to gently lead her towards the trees, and Ada soon realised she was terribly frightened of this place.

“What’s the matter, darling? You don’t want to go in there?”

The young girl shook her head vehemently.

“It’s okay! It’ll be alright, I promise, I’m here. Nothing bad will happen.”

Ada realised then that the young girl might have wandered off and become lost in the woods before, separating her from the rest of the party-goers. It would have made sense, seeing as how that was the only real way she could have ended up by Ada’s stage, alone. The dark, tall trees must have been terribly frightening for a young, lost child who had no idea where they were.

“Here,” Ada said, crouching down to meet the girl’s eyes, “I have a very special job for you to do for me, when we walk past all the big trees.”

Ada reached past the lace collar of her dress and pulled out the crystal necklace which she wore every day. The light-pink quartz sat at the end of a tight leather string, and it dangled gently in front of the young girl’s eyes, all but hypnotising her as Ada spoke.

“Now this,” she said, “is not a mere necklace. This is a fairy compass. I want you to wear it and watch it to see if it starts glowing. The brighter it glows, the closer we are to fairies. Can you do that for me?”

The young girl nodded eagerly, and Ada gently looped the necklace around her neck.

“It’ll be a fun adventure,” Ada promised, smiling, as the young girl reached up with her hand. Ada gently took her hand again, and they walked into the dark woods together, on the hunt for fairies.

At first, the young girl was visibly afraid, trying to hide in Ada’s skirts as the setting sun faded against the dark canopy, but the glowing quartz around her neck soon distracted her. What should have been a straight line through the trees became a wandering and meandering beeline as the young girl giggled and followed the light of the crystal, finding such delight in how it lit up and faded depending on which way she ran.

Eventually, they came to a tall tree, the trunk of which was hollowed out. Ada smiled: she’d seen hundreds of trees like this one before. She encouraged the young girl to crouch down with her, and peer inside the hollowed-out bark. Inside the tree, there was magic.

Small fairies, no bigger than Ada’s palm, were flitting about inside, their translucent wings lit up like stars as they danced through the tree. They paid the humans no mind–they never did–and were not afraid of these large people peering into their home, content to simply go about their fairy business as if they were not being watched at all. They made use of much of what the forest gave them, with furniture made from pinecones and acorns that they had taken from the forest floor, and carved clean with their tiny knives.

They watched the fairies dancing for twenty minutes or so, until the young girl became distracted by the pretty flowers that were growing in the near distance. Tall white lilies and gathered clumps of pink puffkin flowers bordered the wide stream which was roaring past them; its clear, bubbling water flowing quickly over slick, mossy rocks.

“O-Oh, do be careful!” Ada said, quickly scrambling up to chase after the young girl, “Don’t get too close to the water!”

Suddenly, the young girl let out a scream.

She had dropped her toy rabbit into the fast-swirling waters, and the bunny was being swiftly carried downstream by the stream’s quick current. The young girl burst into tears as she realised her friend was lost, but Ada leapt to skid down the steep bank, muddying her skirts and boots as she went. She dove into the water–gasping at its cold temperature–and began to swim with the current, damning her large dress for its weight as she moved. Ada was a fast swimmer, well-taught by the Water-Nymphs of the Redcrest River, and she managed to catch up to the rabbit, grabbing it and clutching it against her chest as she swam back to the bank. As she waded out of the wide stream and awkwardly climbed up the muddy bank, she was sodden and cold and utterly dishevelled. Her make-up streaked against her face, and her skirts stuck to her legs as she walked. There were damp leaves and twigs tangled in her hair, and her stockings squelched inside her boots with each step. But as she walked towards the young girl, the toy rabbit in hand, she looked to her like an angel.

“You saved Bunty!” the girl said, running towards her.

“Bunty?!” Ada said, smiling, overjoyed to hear the girl speak for the first time, “is that his name?”

“Yes!” she beamed, gently taking her rabbit and squeezing him tight against her chest as she hugged him. He was, of course, soaking wet, but she didn’t mind one bit, wiping the tears from her cheeks with his long wet ears.

“And what’s your name, may I ask?” Ada said, unbuttoning her boots so that she could pour the water from them.

“Tabitha,” the girl said, still hugging her rabbit, “some people call me Tabby.”

“Which do you prefer?” Ada asked, wringing out her skirts.

“Tabitha sounds much more grown-up.”

Ada laughed.

“Alright, Tabitha,” she said.

Once Tabitha began to speak, she did not stop. She had so much to tell Ada, all about how she lived back in the village with her mother and their three cats, named Cookie, Rainbow and Pudge. She told Ada all about her favourite kinds of stew, and all about the huge pigeons which lived inside her grandpa’s roof, nesting up in the high beams. Ada nodded and smiled and laughed as she wrung out her clothes, delighted to learn all about Tabitha’s life in the village. And when they began to walk again, Tabitha was still talking, fixated on the idea that cake for breakfast was a very good thing, and that she couldn’t understand why her mother would never allow it.

They only had a short walk before they had cleared the woods, and they found themselves back on the main lawn with the rest of the party-goers, most of whom were still gathered around the famous duelist, sighing dreamily as he thrust his blade into the sky, telling the tale of how he slayed his terrible foe.

“Mama!” Tabitha called out, pointing towards a tall Lady, dressed in beautiful midnight blue, who was speaking to one of the waiters, looking terribly distraught–presumably at the loss of her daughter.

“Well, thank you for helping me find fairies,” Ada said, smiling, “you were very good at it.”

“Thank you,” Tabitha said, giggling.

Tabitha reached to pull the necklace off of her neck, but Ada shook her head, smiling.

“No, no, you keep that,” she said, “and when you find more fairies, you tell them I say hello. And who knows? Maybe one day, we might both be looking for fairies, and we might find each other again.”

Tabitha smiled a bright, wide smile and hugged Ada’s legs, before running off towards her mother, who looked so desperately relieved as her daughter barrelled into her legs, exclaiming loudly about all the adventures she’d had. The crystal necklace bouncing against her dress and Bunty’s still-wet ears were all the proof that Tabitha needed for her tale of the fairy adventure, and her mother listened intently after they were reunited, impressed by her daughter’s imagination as Tabitha rattled off the different colours of all the fairy’s wings.

Slowly, party-goers began to peel away from Baron Marius, as they overheard Tabitha’s fairy tales, and within ten minutes, the duelist found that he was alone, his once-intrigued crowd now gathered around Tabitha as she spoke.

Ada smiled, and turned back towards the trees to say goodnight to the fairies.

__________________________

Cassie Parkes

Cassie Parkes is a writer and social media specialist who currently lives in Ireland. She works in the games industry by day, and writes stories by night. When she’s not scribbling away on something, she likes to bake banana bread and fuss other people’s pets. You can find out more over at cassieparks.com 

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