Fantasy Fiction Happy

“But why?!”

Mom rolled her eyes as she turned on the turn signal, “because Rietta, you are not responsible enough to be left alone yet!”

“I’m eleven! I’m plenty responsible enough to be alone!” I scoffed, crossing my arms and stomping the dirt-matted car floor. “Kathy McDermon is allowed to be home alone!”

The car coasted the curved road wide and slow, earning an annoyed honk from the people behind us. I couldn’t help but smirk as Mom raised her middle finger out the window in answer.

“That’s not very nice…”

“Oh, you know what, little miss Perfect,” Mom hissed, “you’re not allowed to be home alone because you almost tried to burn the house down!”

“Did not!” I yelled, “I just forgot the spoon was there…”

“Who the hell forgets a metal spoon in a bowl while putting it in the microwave?!”

Tears threaten to spill as my arms tighten around me and I slump deeper into the seat. We sat in silence for another 8 minutes.

“Where are we going?” I ask as Mom turns the car toward the woods. Is she really going to try and drive through the trees? Suddenly, as if she had said the magic words Open Sesame, a thin dirt road appeared. The old Panda’s tires scratched and grabbed at the loose pebbles, quickly giving way to hard-packed earth. The car slowed to a crawl as we descended deeper and deeper into the greenery. Shadows danced with the light that came sprinkling down through the canopy, slowly and more surely growing in presence.

“I told you,” She sighs, the Panda swaying side to side on the uneven dirt road, “I’m dropping you off at your grandparents’ house while I work.”

“Can’t Kerri take me?” My voice wavers. I liked Kerri, my normal babysitter. She always had games to play and let me read all the Harry Potter and other fantasy books I wanted. Sometimes she would even sneak in a book about mermaids and dragons under my mattress when Mom wasn’t looking.

“No. She’s busy.” Mom slows the car to a crawl. “Everyone’s busy. They’re the only ones who can take you right now.”

 I’ve only met them a couple times here and there – Christmases with the family, the occasional gathering – but mom always seemed to say a quick ‘hello’, ‘how are you’, and ‘goodbye’. She always told me that it was better to not interact with them if I could help it. In fact, she told me to be like that with all her family members. ‘Not a single one of them have their feet on the ground!’ she’d tell me, wooden spoon waving in the air like a sword swatting at invisible flying imps buzzing around her head. ‘You’re better off living in the real world, with real problems like money and jobs!’

We came to a stop in front of a tall house at the edge of a small clearing. A couple pines stood their ground in the middle of a turn-around dirt driveway, dropping pinecones on unsuspecting victims. Or visitors.

In one swift jerk, Mom turned off the car and kicked her way out of the driver’s seat. Easing my door open I step out and gaze to the house roof. Bits of green and brown moss cling to the old shingles, dressing them in sporadic designs. The wooden walls matched the bark colors, melding cut boards and growing wood into one single entity.

“Mom!” My Mom yelled, “WE’RE HERE!”

The front door, complete with peeling azure blue paint, swings open to reveal an old woman with greying hair tied up in a thick bun, bright purple glasses, and a white apron dappled with daisies, lilacs, and rose petals.

“Goodness child, no need to yell so loudly,” the old woman clucked her tongue, “do you want to wake up the entire neighborhood?”

Mom rolled her eyes. “What neighborhood? You live in the middle of the woods!”

The old woman sighed and shook her head. “There are other neighbors…”

Uugh, Mom please. Spare me the details.” Mom grumbled as she stepped up the front steps. Each board groaned in protest. “You’re taking care of Rietta while I’m at work, remember?”

“Yes, I remember.” Grandma leaned to the side and smiled at me. “Why don’t you go take a look around, dear? There’s a pond in the back I think you would like.”

I shrugged and shuffled my feet in the dirt. When I saw Grandma jerk her head, I took the hint and dashed around the house toward the back.

It was as if I had entered a whole new world! Weak sunshine filtered through the green canopy as thin glittering rays blinking like twinkle lights. More birds than I could ever count were twittering and calling above my head. Right where Grandma said it would be, the pond dug into the ground around ten to fifteen feet away from the house. Looking around, I tiptoed toward the still water and leaned forward. Just below the surface, I could see tiny tadpoles wiggling around, moving from cattail reed to reed.

I knelt to the ground and leaned further over the water, hoping to see if there was something more beneath the surface. Suddenly, one of the rocks lining the pond jerked forward. My face was inches away from the water when something caught the back of my shirt and yanked back. I fell on my butt and looked up to find an old man with thick lensed glasses and […] standing over me. Even through the coke-bottle glasses, I could see his brown eyes squint down at me.

“Hi…Grandpa,” I fidget in the dirt.

“Humph.” Grandpa shuffled away from me and the pond toward a large wooden circle table. His hand curled around an old cane, as gnarled and seemingly crinkled as his own speckled skin.

“I-It’s nice to see you.” I call after him, jumping up from the ground and dusting myself off.

He waved his hand above his head in response. His footsteps were short and abrupt, yet somehow, he was quick to his seat. I watched in awe as he moved a thick stump closer to a stocky round table and sat down with a determined thmp. As he rearranged himself, he crooked a finger toward me, then pointed to another stump on the other side of the table.

Oh, I guess I’m meant to sit there.

“Where’s Grandma?” I asked as I scrambled onto my own stump.

“Right here, sweetheart.” A voice like soft moss and honey responded.

“Have a seat dear and have a cookie.” Grandma set a tray with a pile of chocolate chip cookies and three clean bright mugs on the table and fluffs up her seat cushion. Gingerly, she eases herself down onto her stump.   “I also made some tea. I hope you like it.”

I reached for one of the mugs, but stopped short.

“Wait, where’s Mom?” I looked around, but didn’t see any sign of her.

Grandma sighed and shook her head. “She left for work just before the tea was ready. I asked her to stay a little bit…”

“But she said she needed to go.” I finished. “Yeah, Mom usually leaves for work a lot.”

Grandma patted my head and smoothed my hair behind my ear. Her eyes sparkled like the early morning sky, but with a touch of sadness.

“Where’d Mira go?” Grandpa asked while reaching for a cookie.

“We just… MARVIN! Put your ear in!”

Grandpa waved his hand dismissively and shoved the treat into his mouth. I couldn’t help but smile as Grandma continued to yell at Grandpa about his hearing aids. Every time I had met them before, something like this always seemed to come up in conversation. But now, it seemed different than before.

“Grandpa?” My voice barely above a whisper.

Grandma smacked him on the hand as he reached for another cookie and motioned toward me. Glaring at his wife, Grandpa shoved a hand into his pocket and pulled out a strange looking skin-colored piece of plastic and gently fit it into his ear.

“Yes Kitten?” Grandpa turned toward me.

“How come Mom always wants to work?”

My grandparents exchanged glances. “Your Mom was never one for stories and fantasy,” Grandpa reached for another cookie. “She always believed that money was the key to one’s happiness.”

“What is the key to happiness?”

“Believing, of course.” Grandma smiled.

“Believeing in what?” I tilted my head.

“You’ll see in just a moment.” Grandpa nodded.

In one swift motion, he lifted his cane and yanked on a small wooden circle attached to a rope. Above my head, a thick canvas unfurled itself from one corner and covered the three of us like a giant umbrella.

“What’s that for?” I asked, absentmindedly reaching for a cookie.

“You’ll see soon enough.” Grandpa replied.

And like Grandpa said, it happened. Only a few moments later, I could see the skies grow dark with grey clouds. Then, I heard it: tiny taps of water hitting each leaf in the trees like a thousand keys being struck on a piano at the same time. I marveled at how it didn’t sound like harsh notes. Instead, it sounded as though a symphony was beginning.

That’s when something magical happened. I felt a small tap on my shoulder and saw Grandma point toward the pond. At first, I thought she was trying to show me how the smooth surface had turned into unending ripples. However, as I continued to watch, I saw the ripples grow in girth and size, morphing into tiny bodies adorned with shimmering wings.

I gasped as I saw bark from the nearby trees pull away from their trunks and transformed into brittle arms and legs, hopping from one stone to another. Frogs I didn’t see earlier emerged from the water, taking up instruments hidden from previous sight.

The more I watched, the more fairies I saw coming out of the woods to join the party. I felt something bump my elbow and almost shrieked when a doe nudged me again. Words stuck in my throat, but Grandpa only took a cookie and silently handed it to the creature’s waiting mouth. With his encouraging nod, I reached out and stroked the deer’s pelt, somehow both soft and straw-like at the same time.

Grandma clapped in time with the frog band, a smile growing wider and wider with each musical turn. A few fairies broke from the growing dancing circle and swayed around us, their laugh sounding like tinkling bells in a blustering wind. I tried to say no thanks when they asked me to dance, but Grandpa motioned for me to get up. Suddenly feeling uncomfortable in my own skin, I stumbled to the small clearing next to the pond and waited for some kind of sign to let me sit back down. But the fairies had other plans. They danced and twirled around me, faster and faster, until I found myself twirling with them. My own laughter bubbled in my chest until it burst out in fits of happiness.

When the rain eventually ended, the sun was well on its way to set. We thanked the fairies and the woodland animals for the party and went inside to dry off. Grandma, humming the frog band’s songs, went to the kitchen to wash the mugs and long empty plate.

“Well?” Grandpa asked me as he handed me a towel. “What did you think?”

“That was more fun than I would ever have with Kerri!” I exclaimed, jumping up and down and spraying nearby furniture with water. “Don’t tell her I said that.”

Grandpa laughed and patted me on the head. “If you think that was fun, just wait to see what they do on a clear full moon night.” 

September 24, 2021 21:33

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