The Fairy Finders Chapters 3 and 4

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The Fairy Finder by Melanie McDowell

 3. Bittersweet

It was a white day, a blank canvas, it could go any way.

We set to work gathering supplies for our camouflage.  Fern picked blackberries, Freddie and I fetched bracken and fallen leaves, and Isla returned as an enormous, walking, talking bundle of sticky weed.

We could just about make out her muffled cries of: “Help, get me untangled!” as we all roared with laughter.

“You’re all set, that’s a serious bit of camouflage,” Freddie joked with her as Isla’s sticky weed monster arms flapped about in frustration which set us all off into another fit of giggles.

“Mmmmmm, these blackberries are delicious,” Fern goaded.

Isla launched herself in Fern’s direction with more muffled cries of: “Please, get me unstuck, please!”

We untangled Isla and sat back on the ground with sore tummies from laughing so hard.  Isla acted annoyed, to begin with, but once we gave her her fair share of blackberries, a smirk appeared at the corner of her mouth, and she started to chuckle along with us.

We got one another camouflaged up by attaching sticky weed to our arms, legs and bodies and then attaching leaves and bracken to the sticky weed.  Fern then smeared our faces with blackberry juice and mud.  We gorged on blackberries and burst into more fits of giggles as each of us transformed into camouflaged woodland monsters.  We then rustled off our separate ways, each to take on our own patch of Strawberry Trees in search of the Pipps.

Fern returned to camp with no sightings of the Pipps but with a beautiful purple flower.  She headed up to the reading corner to look it up in our Wild Flowers of Ireland book and found to her utter horror, the reading corner destroyed.  The books had all been ransacked off the shelves and lay strewn all over the floor with broken spines, ripped pages, and fairy looking muddy footprints across the pages.

Freddie was the next back to camp famished and fuming after an unpleasant encounter with the Pimplesticks.  He heard Fern’s wracking sobs from the reading corner and headed up to find her sitting amidst the destruction of books with her head in her hands sobbing uncontrollably.  Freddie tentatively put his hand on Fern’s shoulder, and she turned around in fright.

“Oh Freddie, look, how could they do this to us, to our beautiful books, our library?” She sobbed noisily between gulps, wiping her nose and teary eyes across her embroidered sleeve.  Freddie sat silently beside her with his arm gently around her.

This is how I found them when I returned to camp.  I was tired and dejected having crossed off twelve Strawberry Trees with not so much as a hint of a Pipps fairy.

“What on earth happened here?” I asked, clearing a spot amongst the mess of books opposite Fern and Freddie.

“The Pooottttsss, ruuuinned everything,” Fern spluttered out between sobs.  I went to take Fern’s hand, and as I lifted it, a beautiful purple flower fell to the ground.  I picked it up, commenting on its beauty whilst tucking it into Fern’s curly blonde hair.

“I just came up here to look it up in the Wild Flowers of Ireland book and found… thhiiis,” she cast her hands around furiously at the mess and broke down into tears again.

I frantically searched for the Wild Flowers of Ireland book to try and distract her from her misery.  I wiped the muddy footprints off it as best as I could whilst trying to identify Fern’s flower.  I found the likeness and scanned the description which was hard to make out behind the muddy footprints:

Bittersweet: Also known as Woody Nightshade, this scrambling plant trails itself through hedgerows and scrub. It has very pretty little purple flowers in loose clusters.  All parts of the plant are poisonous and can cause death in children.  

“Quick Fern!” I gasped, pulling her up to standing. “Your flower is poisonous! We have to hurry, down to the river!”  We ran down to the river and vigorously scrubbed our selves in the water, casting the poisonous flower down with the rushing current.

Fern was a sad sight with her dripping curls and tear-stained cheeks. I gave her a hug, and we stood there soggily clinging to each other before I said: “Come on then Ferny, let’s head back to the others.”

I left Fern bundled in a blanket down in the bunker with candles lit.  Freddie appeared carrying his fishing rods and our cooking pans, saying: “I think we should bring our stuff down here.”

I nodded in silent agreement and made my way back up to gather the rest of our belongings to bring down to the safety of our bunker. After the library ransack, we felt too violated to stay above ground.

Freddie followed me up gathering buckets, slingshots, knives,  and cooking equipment as I gathered up the mess of broken books and cushions from the reading corner. We brought them down in shifts, stashing everything down in the bunker.  We huddled together sadly eating emergency rations of raisins and cookies.  I remembered our telescope and star constellation maps and headed up to bundle those up too.

The sun was starting to set, and I realised there had been no sign of Isla. I alternated calling out her name with our Indian call with more and more urgency as I listened to the silence.  Worried, I had to go and find her, I headed down to the bunker first to let the others know.

Freddie stood up saying: “I’ll come with you.”

I looked at Fern, a shivering ball and said: “No, you stay here and keep Ferny company, I’ll go.”

I made my way East towards Jersey fields calling and calling, and listening intently between calls.  As the light faded, the scents of the forest came to life.  There was wild garlic, and moss, and the smell of earth and life.  I could hear small animals rustling in the leaves, but no sound of Isla, only my own heart beating.  I was starting to get really scared when I heard a muffled crying sound. I listened harder to try and follow the sound whilst calling Isla with greater urgency.  I heard Isla before I saw her as she was still well camouflaged, she had her arms and legs wrapped around a young elm tree, and her wrists and ankles were tied tightly with twine.  Her face was squashed up against the trunk of the tree so she could barely get her cries out.  I quickly set to work untying her wrists and ankles.  She collapsed backwards once I had her untied and gasped greedily for air between sobs.  I pulled her up to sitting and wrapped her in my arms.

“Oh Isla, you poor thing, how long have you been tied up like this?”

“I don’t know, it feels like years!” she cried.

“Quick, let’s get you back to camp before it gets completely dark.”  We trudged back through the trees thick with darkness. I took the lead, holding Isla’s hand tightly, trying to give off more confidence than I felt in the stumbling blackness.  Finally, Isla’s strained eyes made out the familiar shape of our camp ahead.

“Come, Otto, follow me,” she urged, switching hands to lead me back to camp and the relief of safety in our bunker. We found the others waiting anxiously for us.  Everyone started talking in a rush so we couldn’t make out any of it.

“Right, we all have a lot to say, but we need to go one at a time,” I demanded.

“Let’s go alphabetically,” Freddie suggested.

Fern started singing the alphabet, a,b,c,d,e,f. F, it’s me first!

“And me!” Freddie shouted back.  They looked over at me.

“Well, what is the second letter of your name?” I responded.

“r,” said Freddie.

“And you Fern? “

“e”. “Ok, so Fern goes first because e is before r.”

Fern explained how she had got fed up, having not come across a single fairy, but she had discovered a beautiful purple flower that she had never seen before.  She returned to camp to look it up in our Wild Flowers of Ireland book and discovered the reading corner completely destroyed.

‘Look!’ she said, indicating the pile of ripped and broken books on the ground.  ‘It was obviously those Potts. There were muddy fairy footprints all over the place!  And as if that wasn’t bad enough, I nearly got poisoned to death by a deadly flower!”

“What!?” gasped Isla.

‘It’s true’ I said. “I found Isla and Freddie up in the reading…”

“Excuse me. I thought we were going in alphabetical order.” Freddie interrupted.

“Yes, sorry, you are quite right, go on ahead Fred.”

“Well, I didn’t come across any Pipps, but I know where those Pimplesticks hang out,” began Freddie.

‘Where?” we asked eagerly, settling ourselves in to take in all of this new information.

“Beneath the Trip Trappy bridge over at Salmon Leap.  I sat to take my lunch break there and was just biting into my sandwich when a big splat of muddy goo landed in my face and all over my sandwich.  I saw the water beneath me move, and I thought it was fish, but then I saw these mud-covered miniature monsters lounging on beds of frogspawn throwing sludge at me.  I threw my sludgy sandwich back at them, and they hopped on the backs of some pond skaters and skated off downstream cackling with evil laughter and turning around to make faces at me.  I came back starving and found poor Fern up in the reading corner, crying.  Otto then came back and looked up her flower in the book only to discover it is deadly poisonous, so they ran down to the river. We then packed up all our belongings to bring them to safety down here away from those evil Potts.  What about you Isla, we were worried about you, where were you?” Freddie asked, looking over at Isla who was sitting in a tight ball with her arms wrapped around her knees.

“I was making my way out East to Jersey Fields as planned, marking off any Strawberry Trees when I heard a lot of scurrying so I hid behind an Elm tree and wrapped my arms around for support, peering around to see what I could see.  I was disappointed to see it was the Potts, not the Pipps, and something yellow caught my eye. I looked closer to make out my boots, the ones they stole from me!  And do you know what they were doing with them? Mud bathing!  They had them filled up with squelchy mud, and they were all just lounging out in them as if they were in a jacuzzi.  I could not believe it.  I was getting ready to charge over to reclaim them.  The next thing I felt a tickle on my arms but couldn’t see around the tree to make out what it was, when I tried to pull my arms back they would n’t budge, and then I saw armies of those ugly Potts coming around the tree and taking each one of my legs.  I heard one of them shout. “Tie her up nice and tight,” laughing nastily. With this, Fern went and wrapped her arms protectively around her.

Isla continued: “I tried to wriggle and writhe and shout, but it was no use, they had me completely tied up around the tree and the closer they pulled, the closer my face became squashed against the trunk so I couldn’t even see or shout properly.  I honestly thought I would die there. I have never been more relieved to hear our Indian call but then quickly realised that I couldn’t return the call.  Thank goodness Otto found me.”

“Well I think you all have the main picture of events,” I said. “I also grew fed up without seeing a single fairy so came back and found Freddie and Fern in the destroyed reading corner.  I looked up the flower and then rushed Ferny down to the river when I read how poisonous it was.  Freddie and I packed up all our belongings to store safely down here.  I remembered the stargazing telescope, and constellation maps so went back for them and realised it was getting dark and there was still no sign of Isla, so I went looking for her and luckily heard her muffled cries and found her tied up around the tree.  Those Potts are really going too far now, a bit of meddling here and there we can put up with, but full-blown vandalism and violence has got to stop.  It has been a busy and emotional day, and everyone must be tired and hungry.  Let’s get a pick and mix sandwich station laid out and fix ourselves some sambos.”

We set to work, each making up our perfect sandwich: sliced pan, cheese, ham, Tayto crisps, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, Ballymaloe relish and mayonnaise.  We sat around hungrily chomping into our sandwiches.  Feeling a bit revived after our sandwiches, Fern called for a group hug, and we held each other tightly after the emotion of the day.

“Now”, said Fern, “Let’s try and fix our library.”

We rallied around to patch up the books with sticky tape and scissors from our mending box.  We got nostalgic reading out titles and quotes from our favourite books: The Faraway Tree, The Famous Five, Winnie the Pooh, The Borrowers, The Never Ending Journey, and The Wind and the Willows.

I have to agree with this one Freddie laughed reading from The Wind & the Willows:

‘Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.’

And guys, listen to this,  he read passionately:

‘Then some day, some day long hence, jog home here if you will, when the cup has been drained, and the play has been played, and sit down by your quiet river with a store of goodly memories for company.’

“Amazing! I didn’t even know you could read Fred,” Isla teased.

“Only Wind & the Willows,” he laughed back “About one hundred and forty-five times!”

“Listen to this one from Winnie the Pooh,” Fern read:

‘A friend is someone who helps you up when you’re down, and if they can’t, they lay down beside you and listen.”

We all lay down and started to laugh.

I read the next one:

‘We didn’t realise we were making memories. We just knew we were having fun.’

“I hate what these Potts are doing to our fun,” Isla complained. “Look at us all hidden away down here.  We used to have so much fun and freedom now we are in constant fear of what those Potts are going to do next.  We have to find these Pipps fast!”

We worked away companionably patching up the books as best we could whilst reading out snippets to each other.

4. The Picnic

The next day the sun was out, it was a beautiful day, and our moods felt positive to match it.  We headed our separate ways, determined we were going to turn our luck around.

As I marched through the wood, I heard a distant whistling. I stopped to hear where it was coming from.  I saw a glint of red berries on a tree through the shards of light.  I stepped as carefully and as noiselessly as I could hiding behind trees as I approached closer and closer.  I could see there were hundreds of miniature doors opening out from the trunk of the Strawberry Tree and red berries were being passed down from fairy to fairy from the top of the trees’ branches down to the lowest door.  They wore red hats and were rosy-cheeked and whistling happily.  As I took another step forward a twig cracked underfoot, the whistling stopped abruptly, and I heard snap, snap snap, snap as all the miniature doors of the tree closed tight.

I exhaled noisily, not realising that I had been holding my breath in eager anticipation. I took a mental map of where I was and then sat tight with my eyes glued to the tree, barely daring to blink.  I approached the tree and knocked on a few of the miniature doors gently. I said in my kindest, quietest voice: “I am Otto, I come in peace,” silence.  Eventually, I grew tired and decided to head back to camp to let the others know of my sightings.

Back at camp, the questions came at me in a rush.  “And, what were they like, did you speak with them?” “Where are they?” “What did they look like?”

“I only got a glimpse, and as soon as they heard the twig snap, they all hid away shutting the doors behind them.  I tried knocking gently and told them I came in peace but nothing.  They must be rather shy, but they seemed jolly too, whistling away and much friendlier looking than those grouchy Potts.  I’ve pinpointed the tree’s location on our map anyway, so hopefully, we’ll have better luck next time.”

“We need a plan to try and coax them out to talk to us,” said Freddie.

“Well, what knowledge do we have of these Pipps, what did they seem like?  They were whistling, and they wore jaunty hats, and they were gathering berries,” recounted Fern.

“I bet they would like picnics,” suggested Isla.

“Picnics!?” Freddie scoffed.

“Yes, they like gathering food, and they are jolly, and they came out when it was sunny,” retorted Isla succinctly.

“Good points Isla but so what if they do like picnics, where do we go with that?” Asked Freddie.

“Well, we could invite them on a picnic?” I suggested.

“Yes, yes, let’s please do that!” Isla said excitedly.  Isla loved picnics.

“So what food are we thinking?” Freddie asked eagerly. “Definitely mackerel pate.”

We all started to warm to the idea buoyed by the good weather and at last a sighting of the Pipps. We all listed off our picnic choices: sourdough bread, chocolate, cheese and ham, and grapes. “Mmmm”, we all agreed.

“And lemonade,” added Isla.

“And sausage rolls!” I exclaimed excitedly.

“Can we have scotch eggs too?” Isla pleaded.

“Oh yes, goodie, goodie, a picnic is a great idea,” Fern said jumping to her feet, “I’ll design some invitations,”

As the rest of our tummies rumbled planning a picnic to beat all picnics, Fern got to work on the invitations, carefully cutting miniature squares of our special paper card and delicately painting Fuschia flowers on each one with her watercolours.  She then got out her fine calligraphy pen to write on the other side:

Dearest Pipps, You are cordiously invited to a picnic with the children of Oak & Elm corner. We will pick you up at lunchtime/12 pm on Saturday of this week.  Please spread the word among your folk and bring anything you would like to add to a picnic feast. Graciously, The Kids

We all passed the invitations around, amazed at how well they looked, Fern was absolutely brilliant at making things beautiful.  She brushed our compliments aside and headed off with me to the Pipps’ Strawberry Tree to leave the invites scattered around the base of their trunk and resting on the branches beside the miniature little doors into the tree. There was no sign or sound of them, but we felt proud of her work and optimistic that they would find the invitations and appreciate them.

We woke up early on Saturday full of nerves having frantically been checking clues for the weather forecast.  Thankfully, as predicted, it was clear, bright and sunny.  The day felt hot, sizzling with anticipation. We were full of busy nerves as we gathered up our picnic rugs, and picnic baskets and set to work preparing a picnic to beat all picnics.  Isla was cutting up colourful carrot, cucumber and pepper sticks whilst Freddie expertly prepared his famous mackerel pate.  I filled up bottles with our homemade lemonade and elderflower cordial.  Fern stuffed beautiful rugs and cushions into baskets, and eventually, our feast was packed, and we were ready to go.

We loaded up Freddie’s raft wobbling precariously as we each hopped on with a basket.

“Even if they don’t come, we’ll still have a lovely day,” I said, mentally preparing in case they didn’t show.

“They’ll come,” Isla said with cherry confidence as she lay back resting her head against the rugs sunbathing.

I instructed Freddie where to pull in to find our way back to the Pipps’ Strawberry Tree.  Everyone remained on the raft as I hopped off, dragging it to the river bank.

“Come on, guys. I’m not going on my own.  What if they’re as grouchy as the Potts, or as gruesome as the Pimplesticks, I need back up.”

Isla jumped off with a splash not giving a hoot about half soaking herself up to the waist.  Fern and Freddie looked at each other cautiously.

“Fine, you two stay here to mind the raft,” I said, slightly annoyed.

Isla and I headed up to the Strawberry Tree and to our surprise found a team of eight Pipps fairies waiting with bundles of cloth tied to sticks over their shoulders.

“Fine day for a  picnic,” said the guy at the front holding out his hand to shake.  “Burly Pipp, pleased to meet you.  This is ‘Jolly’ ‘Beamy’ and ‘Squeak.’  We shook each of their teeny hands as gently as we could.

“Bit of an accident,” Jolly said indicating Isla’s sodden bottom.  With this, we all hooted with laughter.

“Come on, this way to our raft,” I said as we lead the way through the trees to the river.  We proudly introduced the Pipps to Fern and Freddie, who could not stop beaming at them as they welcomed them aboard the raft as they commented to Freddie’s delight on how well the raft was made.

We headed up the windy river and out onto the mirror glazed lake perfectly reflecting the impressive Macadilly reeks.  We chatted amicably and gushed about the glorious day and our beautiful surroundings, as Freddie and I pulled the oars forwards and backwards in an easy rhythm with our miniature Pipps crew enjoying the ride on the oars and laughing as they sang:

“Heave ho, it’s off to eat we go!”.

We pulled up to a grassy field with some willow trees and black and white cows contentedly chewing the lush grass.  Freddie and I hopped out to pull the raft ashore and start unloading the picnic.  As the raft lightened, the balance tipped, and Isla and Fern along with the Pipps’ fairies were all capsized into the lake.  We stood in stunned anticipation before their happy heads all bobbed up laughing hysterically and yelping with adrenaline.  The lake, normally a black void was glistening and inviting and as the girls and Pipps’ splashed us, laughing, we jumped in too.

We then sprawled out in the glorious sunshine to dry off before feasting on our delicious picnic.  We laid out our spread to impressed whistles and exclamations from our Pipps friends who added blackberries, wild strawberries, strawberry jam, and bilberry muffins.  We feasted on homemade sourdough bread, salmon with sorrel, mackerel pate with rainbow salad sticks washed down with homemade lemonade, elderflower cordial, and the Pipps’ special strawberry juice.

We basked in sunshine and the warm-hearted, friendly company of the Pipps.  We giddily made daisy chains, searched for four-leaf clover,  blew dandelions, and held buttercups beneath our chins looking for the yellow reflection to indicate we like butter. The Pipps taught us how to suck the nectar from Fuschia and honeysuckle, and we giggled with the sweetness, feeling recklessly happy.  The cows circled us and stared at us like we were completely mad, ruminating and chewing with their dark soulful eyes. We got fits of giddy giggles, and still, the cows just stood and stared.

After all of our giddy games with bellies full of our delicious feast, we lay out on rugs in the sunshine, completely content. Fern’s hushed quote whispered through our easy silence:

“There is a garden where our hearts converse at ease beside clear water, dreaming a whole and perfect future….”

I sat up suddenly, “That’s it, Fern!”

“What?” She asked, surprised.

“Whole, we need to feel whole again. This afternoon has been so lovely, so freeing and easy, I nearly forgot about all the trauma we have been through with those mean old Potts who have us half broken.  We need your help, dear Pipps, how can we make our precious  wood whole again?” I said.

“Those Potts been causing you bother, hey?” Jolly asked knowingly.

“They stole my boots, they tied me to a tree, I hate them!” Isla declared angrily.

“They threw our well-intentioned olive branch back in our faces, along with our hot chocolate, and they destroyed our library,” Fern added.

“We live in fear of what they will do next we and can no longer enjoy the wood free and easy.” Fred summarised.

“To be honest, we don’t really know why the Potts are so grouchy,”   Jolly explained kindly “I guess in life some people look at the world as out to get them and others look at it as something to go out and get.”

“I don’t know what the Pimplesticks problem is either, but we just steer clear and keep ourselves to our selves.” Burly added.

“And what about us? Do you lllike us?” I asked tentatively. We saw the Pipps looking cautiously at one another and then Squeak blurted out:

“Well, you don’t have the best reputation.”

“What do you mean?” I asked defensively.

“Not you, specifically, but humans in general,” Jolly explained “Have a reputation for wood wrecking,”

“Wood wrecking!” Isla shouted.

“Calm down,” Burly said. “It’s just that us fairy folk have become less and less you see. The less trees, the less fairies. You people seem to prefer wrecking woods and making houses, that’s all.”

“But this wood is our home too, we cherish it,” Fern said passionately.

“We see that now,” Jolly said kindly.

“Is there any way we can try and bring everyone together harmoniously?” Fern asked.

“We tried to invite the Potts for hot chocolate, but they were so rude and unreasonable and said they would stop at nothing to get rid of us,”  I explained.

“We long to go back to enjoying the wood freely, is there anything we can we do?” Pleaded Fern.

“There is one thing you could try,” Burly suggested.

“What?” we all asked eagerly.

“We could ask Wise Old Witch Hare what she thinks.”

“Witch?” we gasped startled.

“Oh no,” Burly laughed. “For goodness sake, you probably have some misconception about witches too?  Fairies are all fluttery and sparkly and what witches are all..?”

“Black and evil,” Freddie replied.

“Not a bit, Wise Old Witch Hare is a rock of sense, she always knows what to do. Great thinking Burly,” said Jolly.

“We never went to her about the Potts and Pimplesticks as they tend to leave us alone.” Explained Bumble.

“How do we go about meeting this wise hare?” Asked Fern,

“Squeak will bring you,” Said Jolly pushing Squeak up by the bottom. “We’ll guard the picnic,” he said munching into another bilberry muffin with a big swig of strawberry juice.

***

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