A faerie tale (November prompt for The Theme Contest - 1362 words)
|To the Rescue
"Bye, Gran!" the boy's voice called, accompanied by the squeak of the front door being opened. "I'm going down to the pond!"
"Just a minute, Jimmy," came the reply from the kitchen, "let me see, what you're taking with you."
"It's just an old mayonnaise jar, Gran," said the boy. "I got it out of the trash and rinsed it out a bit."
"So I see," replied the kindly, gray-haired old lady, approaching him. "And why, may I ask, are there holes in the lid, hmm?"
"They're air holes, Gran," answered Jimmy. "I'm gonna catch some lightning bugs," he declared, "but I don't want 'em to suffocate."
"Well," began his grandmother, "that's very thoughtful of you, and..." She stopped in mid-sentence, her face suddenly becoming very serious. "Did you say, you were going to try to catch lightning bugs?" she asked.
"Yeah, Gran," the boy replied. "It's springtime, and that's the best time, 'cuz there's millions of 'em down there."
"Well, not 'millions', certainly, but there surely are quite a few more at this time of year, than at any other," she agreed. She paused a moment, then asked, "Did you ever wonder why?"
After a moment's thought, the boy said, "Because, that's when eggs start to hatch, and baby animals are born, and all that, right?"
"You're a very smart little boy, Jimmy," the grandmother said, stroking his cheek lovingly, "and you're exactly right. But," she said, "there's even more to it than that. Here, sit down next to me. I want to tell you a story about baby animals - and faeries, and..."
"Faeries!" the boy exclaimed, interrupting her in his excitement.
"Yes, faeries. And please," she reproved gently, "don't interrupt; it's not polite."
"A very, very long time ago," she began, "people and faeries lived peacefully together. Now, that's not to say that everyone saw faeries every day or had them as friends, but it wasn't uncommon for folks to see a small cluster of lights dancing in the air in the cool of the evening. Usually, it was in meadows or forest glades, where travelers glimpsed them as they passed by on their way somewhere. In the springtime, though, your best chance to see a faerie was near a pond or lake."
"Why then, and why there, Gran?" the lad asked.
"Because that's when all the baby ducks and geese were learning to swim. You see, the ducks and the geese were special friends to the faeries, because none of them ever mistook a faerie for a tasty insect and tried to eat it. Most of the other birds weren't so picky," she said, disapproval in her voice. "Anyway, the little ducks and geese were always in danger of being caught and eaten - by big fish in the ponds and lakes and, on land, by animals such as foxes. So whenever the babies were out and about, as many faeries as were available would be nearby, standing guard. They couldn't do too much about the fish but, if they spotted a fox approaching, they would swoop down and dash to and fro in front of its eyes, startling and confusing it, until the mother duck or goose could get her babies to safety."
"You mean, they showed up in the nick of time, just like the cavalry in a Western?" Jimmy asked, wonder in his voice.
"Yes," his grandmother agreed, "I suppose it was just about like that. Eventually, word spread about the faeries' encounters with the foxes and a few very mean-spirited people, who were suspicious about anything they didn't understand, started saying how it was only a matter of time, before the faeries started attacking little children."
"But that's silly, Gran," the boy declared. "Why would they attack kids, if they've been protecting baby ducks and geese?"
"Yes, sweetheart, it is silly," the old lady said, nodding her head in agreement, "but it was said anyway, and more and more began to believe the lie. Before long, people were lurking near the ponds with nets, trying to catch the faeries - they couldn't, of course; the faeries were far too quick - but it made the faeries more and more wary of people. They had a problem, though; they still wanted to protect the baby ducks and geese. So, they decided to disguise themselves, a simple matter for a magical creature, and the form they chose was that of a lightning bug. It made the most sense, really: it's small and it glows, almost like they do. As time went on, they only appeared in their natural form to people they trusted. They learned to communicate with those few lucky souls, and made them promise to remember the story and to pass it on only to someone who would help protect the faeries, someone they were certain could be trusted. Someone like you, Jimmy," she concluded quietly.
"You - you mean, the story's true?" Jimmy asked, his voice hushed in awe.
"As true as anything I ever told you, my sweet," his grandmother confirmed. "That's why you must leave the lightning bugs alone, and try to keep others from harming them; some of them may be faeries. But," she admonished sternly, "you must never tell anyone about the faeries, unless you are absolutely certain they are trustworthy. Knowing the children in this village, it is likely to be many years, before you'll even have a chance to consider telling some special person. Do you understand, Jimmy?" she asked, looking closely at him.
"I do, Gran," he affirmed. "I promise, I won't tell a soul."
"I know you won't, dear. Now," she said after a moment, "why don't you go out and play. Be sure to come back, before it gets too dark, though."
"I will, Gran," Jimmy promised. "Well, since I can't catch lightning bugs, maybe I'll go down to the meadow and see if I can catch a Will-o-the-wisp. Bobby said he thought he saw one last week!" He dashed out the door and ran down the path.
Just as the boy disappeared around a bend in the path, a bright little light appeared from behind a bookcase and quickly came to a stop in mid-air, just in front of the wrinkled face.
"Did I - did I tell it right?" she asked softly. "It's been so long, since I heard the story, and I've had almost no one to tell it to. Did I get it right?"
A soft, tinkling sound came from the little being, and the old lady smiled.
"That's good," she said, relief evident in her voice. "I wasn't sure I had remembered it all."
More tinkling came from the faerie, the rising end-tone indicating a question.
"Oh, no," the old lady replied, "I'm sure he'll leave them alone; he's a good little boy. He said he was going to look for a Will-o-the-wisp. Such an imagination he has..."
The faerie's tinkling immediately came quick and loud, interrupting the old woman, and the little light began to dart back and forth in obvious agitation between her and the front door.
"What's that?" the old woman asked. "Please, slow down - I can hardly understand you." Another burst of tinkling came from the small, dancing light.
"That's right!" she exclaimed. "I nearly forgot – they're baby faeries. It's their lack of coordination, that makes them bounce around in the air like that."
The tinkling became insistent, almost frantic; the little light was a blur of motion.
"Oh... oh, my," she cried, dismay all too visible on her face. The old woman quickly rose to her feet and hurried out the door and across the lawn, calling "Jimmy! Jimmy Reardon! You come back here this instant!"
Fortunately for everyone, Jimmy heard his grandmother calling and returned to the little cottage. When she finished telling him about the baby faeries, he promised to look after them, too, and then went back out to play. His grandmother was right about two things that day - Jimmy was the perfect choice to hear the story of the faeries, and it was many, many years, before he found someone special, with whom he could share that most wondrous tale – someone like… you.