Excerpt from "Once Upon a Wish" by Lisa Anne Nichols, copyright 2011 Lisa Anne Nichols, published by Tate Publishing.
The sun had already dipped down behind the tree-clad hills that sheltered the little cottage in the valley. Cold crept in with the shadows, blowing its chilly breath on the tall grasses along the ground and through the leafy limbs of the trees. From a distance came the lonely, eerie call of a coyote that echoed along the floor of the narrow valley and swept up to the very windows of the cottage. With the howl came a burst of wind that sent the curtains across the open window fluttering and blew Ellie’s hair back from her face. She inhaled the fresh night air and continued peering out.
As dusk settled in, little dots of various colors appeared within the wood, blinking on and off as they weaved in and out from behind trees.
Some were blue, and some purple while others were yellow or pink or green. Ellie watched with fascination. These were the same blinking lights she had seen the first night with Morgan. They were larger and brighter than firefly bulbs, and at times the color seemed to streak slightly with sudden movement. It was as though the heavens had tossed down their own stars, which had gained color upon entering the universe and had found habitation in the forest, coming out at night as stars do to dance and twinkle with merriment.
“What is it out in the forest, my dear, that so fascinates you?” asked Isa. Ellie turned to look at the woman, who sat rocking near the fireside with a pile of cloth in her lap and a sewing needle in her hand.
“The colored lights,” Ellie replied. “What are they? Fireflies?”
“Fireflies? Of course not, silly girl! Do you not know a simple firefly when you see one? Those are the fairies, dear.”
“Fairies?” Ellie repeated, her eyes shining with delight. “Are there really fairies here?”
“Well, of course there are. I suppose you two really are not from Coralind.”
Isa looked from one to the other in disbelief. “Coralind is the name of this country. How is it that you are here but do not know this?”
Evan and Ellie exchanged glances and just shrugged. Isa pursed her lips and shook her head, resuming her work.
“I will not pry as to your comings and goings. Anyway, those are the forest fairies. Their home is just to the north of this place, in Copperwood. They often travel about, however, and it is not uncommon to see them in other woods, like here in Silverwood.”
“Are they nice?” Ellie asked, again poking her face through the open window to catch a better glimpse. The dark was so deep it was black. The silhouette of the forest was barely visible except high up where the treetops touched the inky sky. The fairies seemed to be traveling deep into the wood, for their lights grew smaller and the blinking less frequent.
“Nice? Well, I am sure I do not know, Ellie.” Isa chuckled slightly. “I have never spoken to one. Fairies rarely interact with humans.”
Ellie watched until the lights ceased altogether and the only sight was pure blackness. She pulled the shutters closed and turned away, walking idly across the room. She sat on the floor next to Evan’s chair and watched him whittling away on a piece of wood. He neither looked nor spoke to her. She sighed.
“I’d like to meet a fairy,” she said.
“Perhaps you will one day, if you wish for it,” Isa answered. She then gestured for Ellie to sit by her side. “Come, child. I will teach you to sew, and then you can make as many dresses as you wish.”
Ellie scooted across the floor toward Isa, kneeling at her chair to see how Isa was working. Isa gave her a quick demonstration of the process and then got Ellie started on her own project to practice. Ellie sat cross-legged on the floor by the fireside and worked quietly. From next to her came the crackle of flames with an occasional pop; from Evan came the steady scrape of blade against wood; and from Isa a low, melancholy humming—a tune beautiful and haunting. Ellie turned up her face periodically to look at her companions, both deeply involved in their work and paying her little heed. She was both comforted and disturbed by their silence. It was the silence of trust and of old friends, like being tucked into bed at night and kissed as a child, feeling that all is well with the world, and then drifting into the comfort and warm oblivion of sleep. It felt nice, and Ellie joined in the silence, working attentively until all thoughts of fairies vanished from her mind.
Outside, another pair of yellow dots reflected off the moonlight and blinked in the darkness. The lights moved in unison, drawing closer to the cottage but staying beyond the shadows from the light that spilled out the window. Against that light the two yellow eyes blazed brighter, slinking around the cottage and keeping watch, making note of each movement and each word of the inhabitants.
Ellie waited until she heard the click of the latch to Isa’s door before speaking. Even then she waited, sitting straight up in bed, holding her breath, ears attuned to any outside noises. All that came to her was the crackle of the flames from the fireplace. She turned her gaze toward Evan across the room. He had just stoked the fire and was stretching out on his makeshift bed on the floor. Sighing, he lay down on his back and reached his arms over his head, remaining fixed like that, staring into the fire, his breathing loud and steady. He hadn’t spoken to her all night. Even now Ellie waited for him to turn to her, to acknowledge her, to say goodnight at the very least, but several minutes passed and he remained unchanged. If it wasn’t for his wide-open eyes, Ellie would have guessed that he had already fallen asleep.
She fought within herself as to whether she should interrupt his thoughts or not, and she was just about to give up and settle in for sleep when his face finally turned and his eyes met hers.
“Not sleeping yet?”
Ellie shook her head.
“Yeah, me either. I’ve been thinking about today. It’s been really nice here, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, Isa’s been very generous.”
“Yeah,” Evan said, his gaze boring into the rafters overhead. “She’s a sweet lady.”
Ellie’s eyes darted toward the passageway to Isa’s room before speaking again. “So, what do you say to us taking off tomorrow?”
Evan’s head popped up off the floor. “Tomorrow? Why? Is there somewhere we need to be?”
“Evan, we talked about this last night. I don’t think—”
“I know how you feel, El, and I agree,” Evan said, pulling himself onto an elbow. “I don’t think we need to stay for too long. But a couple extra days won’t hurt. Besides, I’ve promised Isa to help her with some repairs around the cottage. She’s got an old wooden cart in the backyard that’s been outta commission for a while too.”
“You’re gonna fix her cart?”
“What, you don’t think I know how?”
“You work in landscaping. How is that gonna help you fix a cart?”
“Did you forget that I worked construction during college?”
“That’s construction, not carpentry.”
“There’s a lot of carpentry involved in construction.”
“Well, there’re no modern tools here, Evan. How are you gonna get along without your electric drill?”
Evan shot Ellie a look of reproach. “Oh, you of little faith. Trust me, okay? We’ll be outta here soon. Let’s just relax and hang out a bit. There’s no hurry.”
Ellie shook her head, holding back hot and angry words, somehow knowing they would only return to her empty. “Fine, but can we at least plan for being gone by the day or two after tomorrow?”
Evan lay back down with his hands behind his head and let his eyelids slowly close. “Yeah, El. That’s fine.”
Ellie settled into bed reluctantly, frustrated and hurt by Evan’s cool brush-off. She watched the interplay of shadow and light on the inside of her eyelids as she waited in the still cottage for sleep to find her. When it did, she became restless and anxious, for in her dream the shadow became real, and it chased her, reaching out its black arms to stifle her. She saw the crackling glow of a fire up ahead, as a pinpoint at the end of a long tunnel. She sprinted toward it, panting and crying as she got closer. She could see the still, peaceful image of Evan lying by the fire’s side. She ran toward him, screaming his name, but then a cold hand clasped her wrist and the shadow had her and pulled her back. She turned toward the shadow to see its face, but there was only blackness surrounding her. She turned wildly in one last desperate attempt to get to the fire’s light and saw, to her surprise, that Evan and the fire were right there, before her eyes, across the room, and that she was sitting up in bed inside the cottage. She didn’t remember waking up; it was like she jumped out of the dream instead of waking from it.
Ellie’s heart thumped madly inside her chest as she glanced around. It was the middle of the night, and Evan was sprawled across the floor in sleep, his breath coming out in wheezes. The fire had died down to a few glowing embers, and all else was dim and still. No sounds or movement came from Isa’s room.
The bed sheets were tangled and soaking in perspiration and tears. Ellie sat for several minutes, trying to slow her breathing, desperate to wake up Evan and seek comfort, but uncertain as to whether it was appropriate for her to do so or not. Watching him as he lay on the floor, undisturbed by dreams, he seemed several worlds away, and Ellie knew then that she wouldn’t find the comfort she needed from him. She finally sighed and lay down again, her nerves still taut, unable to quell the warning in her heart. Her eyes and ears remained alert to the slightest disturbance, and as she lay curled up in the vise of fear, she gave way to warm, silent tears.
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