“Parisa!” Jimmy yelled, running up the hill. The woman who had his attention was sitting at the top of a tree stump. She was wearing a light green shirt made from what appeared to be grass stalks but were probably just fabric, and blue pants more vibrant than the sky. Her arms and legs were crossed, and her face was turned up toward the sun. Once he reached her, panting, she cracked one eye open and looked at him with curiosity.
“Yes?” She asked. He sat down in front of her and looked up with eagerness.
“The others are coming. We’re ready for the story!” He said eagerly. She sighed and uncrossed her arms and legs, stretching them out in anticipation for a long wait.
“Which one was it today?” She asked, pushing her hair as yellow as corn out of her face. His youthful face glowed with excitement.
“The one about the Fairy.” He whispered reverently. She sighed.
“Ah, that one.” She said. She dug into her memories. Jimmy heard a noise and turned to see his three other friends running up the hill, panting. June had curly brown hair in a ring around her head, and warm mocha skin. Luc had freckles and hair as red as the leaves in the fall. He pushed his horn-rimmed glasses further up his nose as he sat down. And Adam had straight brown hair and warm caramel skin from their days in the sun. The four of them formed a half-circle around Parisa.
“Which one is it today, Jimmy?” June asked. His eyes lit up as he turned to her.
“The Fairy one.” He responded. They straightened excitedly and looked at her. Parisa smiled to herself. They were all around the same age. Eight to nine years old, and they all had the imagination of children. Not yet broken by the hardships of adulthood. Parisa herself was of no particular age. She looked around twenty, but nobody in the village knew for sure. They certainly never asked, for they were too polite to do so.
All they knew about the woman who lived with her head in the woods was that her parents had died in a tragic fire years ago, leaving their meager possessions to her. Out of respect, they never bothered Parisa.
“When you four woke up this morning, did you hear the birds chirping?” She started in a voice as clear as a mountain spring. The four nodded. "Well, did you know what they were saying?” She asked. They looked at each other and smirked a little.
“We can’t understand animals, Parisa,” Adam said, a little sarcastically. The three others giggled, but Parisa was undeterred.
“That’s what you think. You see, they chirp about all sorts of things. The sunlight falling onto their feathers, the quality of the worms, the baker who allows them to eat the stale bread at the end of the day. Really, they chirp about everything. And once, we could all understand them too. And not just the birds, but the squirrels, and raccoons, and the beavers, and the deer, and even the great bears.” Parisa said. She closed her eyes, giving herself fully into the story-telling mode. The four kids didn’t move a muscle. They didn’t want to break the spell Parisa had put them under.
“What happened?” Adam breathed, his earlier comment long forgotten. Parisa cracked an eye open and peered at him.
“What do you think?” She countered. He scowled. He hated it when his parents answered his questions with questions, and liked it even less when Parisa did it to him. Luckily she spared him a response. “The villagers soon grew suspicious as to where the power was coming from, and they sent a young man into the woods to investigate.” She said. She spread her arms and stood up.
The four children gaped at her. This was why they loved hearing these tales from her mouth. Because she didn’t just tell the stories, she lived them, and she breathed them, and she experienced them. It was all in her mind, and more than anything, the four wished to have an imagination as wild and as free as hers.
June opened her mouth to ask what happened next, but Luc elbowed her, not wanting them to make a sound.
“The young man traveled deep within the woods, far deeper than any villager had gone before. He traveled for three long days and three long nights and soon began to despair that there was nothing but the woods in all directions. But on the midnight of his third night, he happened to come across a small lake. And in that lake, there was an island. It wasn’t an unusual island, per se, but what caught the young man’s attention was that the island was floating.” Parisa continued. The gasps of the four children made her smile and open her eyes.
“You’re jesting,” Adam said, open-mouthed. He was a very practical boy and sought an explanation for everything. “Islands can’t just float. It goes against everything we’ve been taught.” Parisa’s smile grew wider and she knelt on her stump, staring into Adam’s eyes. He took in her hazel eyes, flecked with green the color of fresh moss.
“Then it’s a good thing this is a Fairy tale, huh?” She asked. He gulped and nodded.
“You don’t need to explain those.” He agreed. Parisa rose again and closed her eyes. The sun formed a halo behind her head, making her look like an angel. The children were awestruck.
“The young man felt invigorated. At last, the destination of his seemingly impossible journey. He rolled up his pant legs and put his pack to the side. He was about to step into the water when he noticed that there were cotton-mouth snakes swimming around. One bite would break down his blood cells, rendering him most certainly to a watery death.” She said, pausing dramatically. The four kids gasped. Until June closed her mouth.
“Wait, can’t he talk to them?” She demanded. Parisa winked.
“The animals don’t understand them. The villagers understand the animals.” She gently reminded. June blinked.
“There’s a difference?” She asked. Parisa nodded seriously.
“There is.” She said but didn’t elaborate. Instead, she closed her eyes again, and the children were struck with the feeling that she wasn’t just telling a story, she was recounting a memory. But of course, that idea was nonsense, and they quickly shrugged it off. “The young man listened to the cotton-mouth snakes and made them a deal. If he was allowed to pass through the waters, he would make sure that no other person ever did. And so the snakes parted around him as he waded farther into the lake. When he reached the shadow of the island, he noticed that there were vines hanging from the willow trees. They were dangling from the low-hanging trees and provided the perfect rope to climb onto the island.” She said.
“But how could a tree hold his weight?” Luc asked wonderingly. Jimmy elbowed him.
“It’s a Fairy tale.” He hissed. Luc stuck his tongue out at his friend. Parisa smiled even though her eyes were closed.
“Hand over hand, the young man climbed the tree vines until his feet touched the ground once more. The island was not a big one, it was only a little bigger than the top of this hill here.” She said, spreading her arms to show the kids. “But instead of traveling around the entire island, he followed the footsteps. For this island was the home of the Fairy who had given the villagers the gift to understand animals.” The kids gasped. Even though they knew that it was only natural, given the nature of this story.
“The footsteps led him to the heart of the island, and he pushed through the final bushes to see a young woman sitting on a rock. He was struck with her beauty. She was wearing clothes of leaves, and she had gossamer wings that had all the colors one could imagine, and it looked like stained glass. The Fairy had hair the color of the sweetest yellow corn, and eyes as hazel as the bush.” Parisa said.
“Like you!” Adam exclaimed. Parisa smiled wider.
“Like me.” She said. The four kids shifted excitedly.
“The young man dropped to his knees and the Fairy startled. She asked who he was and he told her. She smiled and asked him if he liked her humble home. The young man agreed that it was the most stunning place he had ever seen. But then the Fairy asked why he was here. The young man told her that the villagers had sent him to investigate the source of their ability to understand animals, and to bring it back.” Parisa said. She opened her eyes and looked down at the four kids.
“He told her that she needed to come with him.” She whispered. June blinked in anger.
“He told her what?” She demanded. Parisa nodded somberly.
“His words angered the Fairy and in a rage, she stood up. The young man backed up a few steps. The Fairy told him that the villagers did not deserve their gift, and she would take it back from them. And she did. Every single villager that day found themselves unable to understand any animal, be it woodland or domestic. Even from the young man.” She said. Her tone grew somber as she looked down at the kids who were watching her with rapt attention, hanging on to her every word.
“She took the man’s hand and told him to go. She told him to never come back, for the memory of this place would be erased from his mind. He had no other choice. He had to go back. But as he turned, head hanging low, he saw the single teardrop that fell from the Fairy’s eyes and onto his hand. A warmth infused his entire body and he blinked. She dropped his hand and told him that she had given his only daughter the gift to understand animals. For only he had ventured into the woods. Only he had braved his village for her. He turned to go, confused but grateful all the same.” Parisa said. The children looked at each other. They were almost too afraid to ask. But Jimmy did it all the same.
“And then what happened?” He whispered. Parisa closed her eyes and a single tear ran down her cheek.
“The young man walked across the island and climbed down the vines. The cotton-mouths swirled around him as he waded away from the island. But he had forgotten that he no longer had the ability to understand them. And they no longer remembered the deal they had made with him. They converged upon him, biting his legs over and over again, the water frothing as they dragged him down, down, down. And as he drowned beneath the shadow of the island, the Fairy closed her eyes and cried.” Parisa said. She opened her eyes and took a deep breath.
“The villagers never knew why they had suddenly lost the ability to understand the animals around them. They never knew why the birds were only chirping and not talking. They never knew why the cows were mooing and not talking. Nor did they know why the young man never came back. They assumed he had died in the woods, and they were correct. They moved on with their lives, and the young man’s daughter was the last girl in the village to ever understand animals. And when she disappeared into the woods, the villagers never saw her again. They say that the Fairy took her back. They say a lot of things, don’t they? But my personal favorite is that they think that the Fairy walks among them to this day, mourning the days where the villagers were grateful for her gift and were rewarded for doing do.” Parisa finished. The children blinked, not wanting the story to have ended.
“That’s it?” June asked. Parisa winked.
“That’s it.” She confirmed. They all sighed, the magical afternoon broken.
“But-” Luc started. Parisa shushed him.
“That’s a story for another day, children. Run along now, I’ve kept you for too long.” She said, stretching. They got up, grumbling, but came and hugged her each.
“Thank you for the story!” June called as they walked down the hill, waving at her. She smiled and waved back. And as the four children walked down the hill, a small squirrel crept out of the bushes behind them. And then two birds landed on Parisa’s shoulder. A raccoon, chipmunk, and badger came out after them, padding out of the woods.
They surrounded the woman, twittering and tweeting in all their unique languages. She laughed, a high clear sound that rang around the valley and infused the hearts of the villagers with joy even though they didn’t know from what.
“You think they believed me, Phelo?” She asked the raccoon, scratching him under the chin. He chirped at her in response. She smiled and stood up, unfolding her gossamer wings from where they were hidden behind her. She spread them wide, inhaling the sweet forest air. “No, I don’t think they did.”