Today, we continue down the frightening path first traveled by our intrepid Creature Feature Writer of the Stoughton Press.
Doing my due diligence for our readers, this reporter attempted to trace the relationship between fairies and the autumnal equinox, but nothing seemed to fit. Fairies are simply not regarded as creatures of the autumn. Some claimed they migrated south for the winter, but others were certain they hibernated nearby. I knew better. They were out there, waiting for me. Looking back, I now realize they were never far. With frayed nerves, I donned comfortable boots and a leather coat in an absurd attempt to keep malicious spells at bay.
I endeavored to retrace the tangled path laid down by Leaf all those weeks ago, but I quickly lost my way, and I suspected I wasn’t alone. A mushroom winked on to my right. Then another a few yards up the path. I did my best to ignore the fairies rising like fireflies from the forest floor, but it wasn’t easy. Afraid to look back, I sensed mischief as the fairies continued to swarm, pushing me forward, silent but for the buzz of their wings.
Leaf stepped from behind a maple, its leaves ignited by the multi-hued swarm behind me. “There are many sides to a legend, human,” she said. “Blaze insists you know hers.” A tiny sun lifted from an oddly pungent wild rose. Behind the white fairy, the portal tree pierced the quarter moon, a tree so massive it would have taken a dozen men to encircle its base.
I moved closer as the swarm settled in the shrubbery, their tiny wings humming with distrust. “The trolls are children, fools living in ignorance and denial, and the dragons are little more than animals.” Blaze lifted her chin, and I noticed Leaf stiffen.
“Careful, Blaze. You had need of the dragons once, and you may again.” The fairy snorted, but Leaf continued. “You didn’t sniff at the dragons when you needed their help.”
Blaze crossed her arms and looked away.
I heard a snap followed by crashing through the canopy of the towering tree, and I stepped back, raising my arm against whatever had grown tired of the pompous fairy as an object slammed into the ground at my feet.
Leaf approached it and looked up. “The tree has chosen you. I knew it would, although I must admit, I hesitate to believe it.”
I tapped the glistening plum with my boot. “Chosen—for what?” Blaze flared, shining her light on the base of the tree. It didn’t look like any plum tree I had ever seen, but it all made sense now. Slowly, my eyes adjusted to the fairy’s intense flare and a shape began to appear in the deep moss shrouding the bark. Indistinct at first, an iron ring, like that on a medieval castle protruded from an orange door that glowed like a sunset even as Blaze dimmed her internal fire.
“The tree chose you for this journey.” Leaf smiled up at me as the door began to open. Under the golden light streaming through her auburn hair, Leaf looked every bit a fairy, but she bore no wings.
The reporter in me clawed to the surface, smothering my instincts to run. “Is it dangerous?”
Leaf beckoned me to my knees before the squat door. “All journeys worth taking are dangerous, human.”
The harsh squawk of bickering gulls echoed down the portal as I crawled forward to peer down the passage.
Suddenly, a scream—part panther, part something—other, curled my toes. “Dragons?” I prayed I was wrong, but Leaf brushed a bead of perspiration from my cheek.
“Oh, yes. One very special dragon.”
Fear seeped in at the edges of my adventurous spirit. “I—I have a deadline. People are waiting for this story.”
Blaze buzzed closer as the moon dove under a blanket of clouds. “The signs are fading, human. We must hurry.”
I looked over my shoulder at the black night, and made up my mind. Pulling a pad from my pocket, I scribbled this report. I now leave it the clutches of the swarm, but I have no way of knowing if it will be delivered. If I don’t return, know that I chose to go, but if I do, imagine the story I’ll come back with for I am Rebecca Porter, Creature Feature Writer.
Originally published in the Stoughton Press Autumn 2015