The wood cutter and the fairy tree
Susan, Brad and the two officers got out of the car. Susan walked up to the front door and knocked.
After a couple of minutes, the door opened and they could all see the elderly woman framed in the porch light. She was wearing a long red dress and a pair of reading glasses around her neck. “Why, if it isn’t Susan and Brad. But that’s not your father with you.” She squinted her eyes and looked at the two men.
“Sorry to bother you, madam.” John removed his hat and put it under his arm. “I’m afraid there has been some trouble at the Maxwell’s place and neither of the children’s parents can be located. I wonder if you can take the children in for tonight. We’ll contact you tomorrow when we know more.”
“Oh, dear! I’ll be glad to look after the children, but what happened to my daughter and son-in-law?” The woman backed up so that Brad and Susan could get through the doorway.
“We can’t say for sure. We’ll let you know if we find out anything.” John put his hat back on and headed back to the car.
“Nice meeting you,” said Frank, and he headed toward the car as well.
“Well, come inside.” The children’s grandmother picked up the overnight bags and took their coats. “Come in and sit by the fire. I’ll get you some hot chocolate as soon as I put your things away.”
Hot chocolate and a roaring fire, thought Susan. Things were looking up. Maybe this terrible day will end on a happy note after all. She went into the living room and saw her grandfather warming himself by the fire. “Hi, Gramps,” she said as she sat down next to him.
“Well, if it isn’t little Susie.” He gave her a hug. “And there’s Brad, grumpy as ever.”
Brad plopped into a chair far from the fireplace. “Hi,” he said with a nod, and then he looked away and stared at the floor.
“Never mind him,” Susan said. “Can you tell me a story? I’ve had a really bad day and could use some cheering up.”
“Why don’t you tell me about your day first. Where are your parents, and why are you visiting in the middle of the week? Don’t you have school tomorrow?”
“Yes, Grandpa.” Susan tried to get comfortable in her seat. “I guess I should start by saying that my parents are both missing.”
“What's that? What do you mean they're missing? Tell me what happened." Grandpa turned his chair to face her.
Susan explained about her missing mother and father and about the strange man she had seen at school. She went on to talk about her encounter with Fiona and was just getting to the part where she saw that her favorite tree had been knocked down when Grandma came in with four cups of hot chocolate.
“My, what a day you’ve had.” Grandma handed Susan a mug. “Here, drink up. It will help to relax you.”
“Thanks, Grandma.” Susan took a drink of the smooth, chocolaty drink. “You make the best hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted.”
“Thank you, dear.” Grandma gave a mug to Grandpa and Brad and then took one herself. She then pulled another chair up to the fire and sat down. “What are you thinking about, Henry dear?”
“That story of the old oak tree being knocked down reminds me of another story about a construction crew and an old tree.” Grandpa put down his mug and sat back in his chair.
“Please tell me the story, Grandpa.” Susan set down her own mug and sat up in her chair. “I love to listen to your stories.”
“Let me just put a few more logs on the fire first.” Grandpa opened the grill in front of the fireplace, took a couple of logs from the wood box nearby, and threw the logs on the fire. He then took a poker and stirred up the embers.
“Hurry up, Grandpa.” Susan knew that he was just trying to keep her in suspense.
“Okay, okay,” he said, moving back into his chair. “Now where was I? Oh yes.
“Many years ago,” he began, “in Cape Breton, where I grew up, there was a road crew building a new road through the highlands. Now, they wanted to build the road as straight as they could, so they went through an old field. In the middle of the field was a grove of alder trees.
“An old farmer warned the crew that the grove was growing over a fairy mound. Terrible things would happen to anyone who set foot on fairy land or cut down a fairy tree.
“Most of the men were afraid of the fairy folk and started talking about building the road around the grove. However, the foreman of the crew was a city man and didn't believe in fairytales. He ordered the men to cut down the grove, but they refused. Some of the other men didn't believe in fairies either, but they were not willing to risk their lives to prove it.
“After yelling at the men, the foreman tried to bribe them. Some of the less superstitious men were tempted, but the others stopped them by saying, ‘If you're wrong, you won't be around to enjoy the money.'
“The foreman threatened to fire them all if someone didn't cut down the grove soon. Some of the men were nervous, but one of the smarter ones pointed out that it would be easier to just go around the grove. Road building would be delayed for weeks if a new crew had to be hired, and there was no guarantee that the new crew would be any more willing to cut down the grove then they were.
“‘Fine,' said the foreman, ‘I'll just do it myself.'
“The foreman took an axe and marched up to the closest alder tree. With several quick strokes the tree came tumbling down. ‘See, nothing bad happened to me.' As he was talking, several small sparks of light jumped out of the fallen tree, circled the foreman a couple of times, and disappeared into the grove.
“All the men quickly moved several yards away from the grove and kept their distance from the foreman when he tried to move toward them.
“‘What are you afraid of?' said the foreman. ‘Those were just fireflies or something like them. They sure weren't fairies. See, nothing bad has happened to me.'
“Nothing the foreman said did any good however, and the road crew made the road go around the grove anyway.
“The next day, the foreman didn't come to work. Nor did he come the next day. Later it was found out that he had come down with pneumonia during the night and was sick in bed. The doctor tried everything he could to cure him but he died a few days later.
“The story of the foreman cutting down the alder tree spread all over, and soon everyone knew the dangers of touching the fairies' grove. As far as I know, that grove is still there today.”
Grandpa finished the last of his hot chocolate. “Well, you better get to bed. You’ve had a long, hard day, Susie. You better get to bed as well, Brad.”
“Thanks for the story, Grandpa.” Susan gave him a kiss on the forehead. “Good night, Grandma.” She gave her grandmother a hug and went up stairs to brush her teeth.
“Yea, good night.” Brad went upstairs after her.
Grandma had made up Susan’s mother’s old room for her, and she tried to imagine what it must have been like for her mother to live here. Brad was in their aunt’s old room. When they were younger, they both shared the same room, while their parents used the other room. This was the first time she had her mother’s room all to herself.
I wonder where Mom is right now, Susan thought. I hope she’s okay. She crawled into bed and tried to go to sleep. I hope tomorrow is a better day than today was.
Susan dreamed about a large man who grabbed her and threw her into a grove of trees where a group of fairies tortured her all night.
Continued in "The Tree on the Dike - chapter 6"