The mythozoologist stomped into his laboratory. “Have you heard?” he asked his apprentice, waving a sheaf of papers at her.
“They’ve discovered that narwhals use their elongated tooth for sonar, it improves echolocation! Do you know what this means for our study of unicorns? This is a major breakthrough!”
The apprentice looked over the journal article he handed to her while he paced across the room and back, muttering to himself. “Echolocation, of course. Why hadn’t I thought of it before? Of course unicorns use their alicorns for echolocation! It’s not just for magical vibrations and random stabbings after all. I knew it!”
The boy crossed his arms and walked away from his mother. His fury burned inside him. He did not want to wear his jacket. Jackets get in the way, sweaters are silly, and layers made him feel all squished. He missed the t-shirts of summer, he hated his jacket, and resented his mom for making him wear it.
A breeze blew past and he shivered. He glanced at his mom to make sure she didn’t notice. She was busy inspecting a half-rotten leaf.
The boy sat down on a log and noticed some mushrooms growing along its edge. No. It couldn’t be. He looked closer. It was. Even the mushrooms were wearing an extra, fuzzy layer! Were their mothers mean too?
He reached out to poke one, right in the fuzz. His fingers felt like ice, reddened from the cold. How could it be mitten season already? There wasn’t even any snow yet! The thought didn’t warm up his fingers at all. He brought them up to his mouth and breathed on them. That sometimes worked.
“Want your mittens after all?” asked his mom, holding out his blue mittens.
He shrugged. Of course not, but he put them on anyway. He didn’t want to hurt her feelings.
“There’s a wasps’ nest over here, come on!” said the boy.
“Are you sure?” asked the first girl.
“Yeah, it’s right over here – oh. Oh no.”
“What happened?” asked the second girl.
“Something got to it.” The boy poked at the broken chunk of nest with a stick.
“Something must have broken it open to eat the wasps,” suggested the first girl.
The second girl’s eyes grew wide. “What kind of a monster eats wasps?”
“One with an armored mouth?” the boy suggested.
The first girl nodded her head in agreement. “And thick, tough skin that a stinger can’t break through.”
The boy gasped. “It’s a T-Rex!” he wailed.
That was all it took. They all ran home in a dreadful fright, certain a tyrannosaurus rex lurked somewhere close.
A raccoon, munching on wasp larva high in the tree, watched them go, wondering what all the fuss was about.
No one likes to see a fairy cry, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need to sometimes.
Everyone has a spot, a place they can go to be alone and think things through. Some spots are more elaborate than others, some are places found on foot or through meditation, and some of them have to be flown to.
Hers was a balcony of shelf mushrooms, hidden high on a sapling in a thicket of shadows.
Here she flew to hide her tears, frustrations, and her silly, secret hurts. Here was where she made her plans and thought her fairy thoughts. Here was where she grew, where she became, and where she conquered all her fears.
The beast looked out from within his cave, watching, waiting. He didn’t feel sociable today, but visitors were rare and they might be delicious. He licked his lips and found his voice. “Would you like to come inside for dinner?” he asked the children, smiling his ghastliest grin. His fangs glistened in the afternoon light.
The first boy stepped back. “I warn you, I eat a lot of brussel sprouts. I’ll taste bitter and terrible.”
“I’ve never been to Brussels,” said the beast. “But I’ll try anything once.”
“Not me, you won’t,” said a second boy. “I bathed in hot tamales just this morning.”
The beast shrugged. “So I’ll eat you with a glass of milk to cut the spice.”
“I taste delicious!” said the third child, the little sister who’d tagged along. “I eat apples every day and sweets like pie and cake and cookies…”
The beast retched and backed away. “Disgusting!” He dry-heaved his retreat into his cave.
The little girl’s jaw dropped and she burst into disappointed tears as her brothers dragged her away. “I could’ve been eaten by a beastie!” she wailed, and they shook their heads in wonder at her.
“Looks like a map to me,” said the boy.
The old man stuck his bottom lip out and squinted. “It’s a pirate map, indeed, matey.”
The boy leaned in for a better look. “How can you tell?”
The old man lifted a dirty, bony finger and traced the curves. “Arrr, I’d know it anywhere. It’s useless, boy, let it go. We’ll never find treasure with a map like that.”
“But grandpa, why not?”
“Well, you see where things get all squiggly here, that’s where the rum kicked in. Pirates are famous for drinking all the rum they can find. I stuck to tea meself in me pirate days. Called me a teetotaler, but here’s the thing: being sober, I was the only one who could draw a line to save me life. This here map’s been drawn by a drunk, look how it meanders about. I tell you the treasure’s lost as can be. Best forget about it.”
“Okay grandpa,” said the boy, and pretended not to notice as his grandpa cut down the bit of branch with the map and shoved it into his pocket.
The tree appeared to be as pregnant as she. The woman reached out and traced the cracks of its bark with her finger. They felt like the cracks in her composure.
The tree listed a little in the wind. She touched her belly, then the tree’s, half-expecting to feel a kick and see a shadow of movement on the bark.
In a few months, she would have a baby in her arms. She wondered what the tree would have.
The lichens bloomed in the unlikeliest of moments, when the days were dark, the nights cold, and a killing frost returned morning after morning. But perhaps that’s when we needed them the most.
“Just think, when we wake up tomorrow it could be a whole new world.”
“Will it be a good one, Daddy?”
“I hope so, kiddo. I hope so.”
She grumbled and grumped her way back inside her winter den. It happened every year, why should she be surprised? No matter how neat she left it in spring, the courtyard was always littered with leaves and bit of moss come late fall. At least there weren’t any mushrooms this time. A dark thought seized and she shuddered. What if – what if there were salamanders living in the walls again? The mouse swallowed, clutching her broom tighter. Nothing scared her quite like salamanders. Except for dragons. Dragons would be worse.
A wind blew past and rustled the leaves in the courtyard, making her jump. Last week she’d been bragging about her den in the country, but her summer city apartment didn’t seem so bad now. At least in the city the human screams would warn a mouse if there were dragons or lizards. Even another mouse. Here she was on her own. Vulnerable, and probably delicious.
She took a deep breath. She could do this. Her country mouse had simply grown dull over the her summer in the city. Dragons weren’t common, after all. She’d be alright as long as she didn’t let her imagination get the better of her.
“Oh, hi!” came a sudden, booming voice.
A great green dragon stood before her, smiling and waving over a batch of fresh-baked cookies. “I’m your new neighbor! Moved into yonder cave a week or so ago. It’s wonderful to finally meet you!”