The Fairy Finders

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The Fairy Finder by Melanie McDowell

1. Mud

This is a land of legend where the houses are few, and the mountains are many. A land of mysterious lakes, fantastical forests, and fairies.

Not the prissy, sissy sparkly fairies you might be thinking of. Oh no, those do not exist, they are made up fluff. These fairies are the real deal, not dainty and fanciful at all.  In actual fact, they can be pretty mean, and seriously meddlesome.

I was a Fairy Finder you see.  Finding fairies is a special gift that only children have.  Not all children have the gift, but if you really know how to look, you can spot those who have it.  Fairy Finder children are wild-haired and spirited, and quite often muddy.  We were certainly all of that, our pack.  That is Fern, Freddie, Isla and me.

Lichen Wood was our second home back then; we lived there day in day out. We loved to play with sticks and build dens. We built the most fabulous den at Oak & Elm corner with a reading corner, a stargazing deck, and a secret bunker.

It was Isla who spotted our first fairy.  She was splashing around in puddles, her favourite thing to do when all of a sudden, her legs became stuck and SHHHLOOOP, one foot out but no boot, and then SHHLOOOOOP, second foot, no boot, and SPLASH! Back onto her bottom into the muddy puddle.  She went to brush the curls out of her eyes and wiped mud all over her face.  She blinked and blinked again as she saw two muddy yellow wellington boots marching off out of the puddle.  She got onto all fours and crawled after her boots that were marching off at quite a pace.  As she got closer, she saw that they were held up by a miniature army of… What on earth were they?  These dreadlocked, bearded, stumpy creatures.

“Oy, who are you?” Isla cried.

The boots stopped marching for a minute, and one of the little creatures barked:

“We are the Potts fairies, and this is our wood so bog off!”

“Well those are my boots, and I want them back!” Isla shouted back at her marching boots as she tried to grab at them.

Just then, I came through the hedgerow carrying armfuls of elm branches that would make a perfect canopy for our star gazing platform.

“Oh Isla, not again!” I exclaimed seeing her crawling around head to toe in mud.  Her eyes wide as saucers through her muddy face made her look like a startled owl. She jumped to her feet spluttering and pointing frantically, but I couldn’t make out what it was all about

“Quick, quick, we have to go and rescue my boots, my favourite boots!” She grabbed me by the hand, I dropped my branch bundle and off we ran.  I had no idea what was going on until with my very own eyes I saw the marching boots.  Quite astonishing, two boots marching purposefully away, quite independently. We hunkered down, hiding amongst the bracken and watched.

“Those pesky Potts fairies have my boots, we have to get them back,” Isla hissed.

I took a closer look and saw the hairy little creatures beneath Isla’s boots.  They’re not fairies,” I whispered, “they’re too ugly.”

Well, the fat grouchy one at the back told me they are the Potts fairies, and it is their wood, and he told me to bog off!”

As Isla’s boots disappeared from sight, we ran as fast as we could back to the den to call an urgent meeting with the rest of the gang.  We arrived back breathless, and Isla scampered up to the watchtower, putting her hand to her mouth and bellowing out our Indian call to beckon the others.  Freddie emerged through the clearing with a wooden staff in one hand and a bucket in the other filled with tiny silvery sardines. Fern was the next to appear from the reading corner crowned with a daisy chain.

“So tell me what will we do with our one wild and precious life my friends?” she quoted in her philosophically dreamy way.

We have urgent business, I’m calling a meeting right now, in the bunker,” I said

“The bunker!” Freddie gasped, “but that is only for emergencies.”

“This is an emergency!” said Isla stomping off towards the bunker.

She swung back the leafed lid, and lowered herself oak branch rung by rung into our dugout, underground bunker.  It was cool and damp with gnarly oak roots forming nooks and crannies.  We had never used the bunker but had spent many hours planning and building it, burrowing into the earth deep beneath our favourite oak tree. As we all scampered down after her, a grey, mud-caked Isla stood up on the platform in her stockinged feet with her hands on her hips.

“I am calling this emergency meeting due to an occurrence involving a fairy encounter and my favourite yellow boots earlier this day. I now call to the stand my witness, Mr Otto.”

I climbed up beside her and nodded sagely, adding. “I testify to witnessing said encounter earlier this day.”

“Can somebody please speak in plain language and tell us what on earth is going on,” piped up Freddie.

“There is no such thing as plain language,” said Fern wistfully. “Language, by virtue, is varied and rich, and beautiful, and…”

“Ahem,” I coughed to interrupt Fern’s dreamlike meanderings.

“The Potts fairies stole my boots and told me this is their wood, and we should bog off,” shouted Isla.

“I know it sounds strange guys, but I saw them with my own eyes,” I said, “these.. ssstumpy creatures, not fairy-like at all.”

“And foul-mouthed,” added Isla.

“They were about this high, and there must have been ten of them in total, they were carrying Isla’s boots away.”

“Yes, the Potts are bothersome pests,” said Fern.

We all turned to look at her.  “What!  You knew about them!?” I cried.  “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I thought you all knew?” Fern questioned, looking genuinely shocked.

“No, we certainly did not know,” said Isla. “When did you see them?“

“I was crossing Birchwood Bridge with an enormous bunch of yellow irises earlier in the summer, I was composing poetry as I went ‘Golden Iris queens, so stately and serene…’ when I heard evil chuckles coming from below.  I looked down and saw three hairy little men clinging onto the stalks.  I asked them who they were and what they were laughing at, and one of them replied: ‘We’re The Potts Fairies, and we’re laughing at you ‘stately queen. Wordsworth eat your heart out!’ They all then chuckled. They were mocking me! And with that, they hopped onto the rail of the birchwood bridge and parachuted off with my iris petals, floating down the stream on them, quite ruining my bouquet. Rude twits!”

“Now I come to think of it,” said Freddie, “remember the time I fell in the river when I was fishing? I don’t think I fell at all. I think I was pulled in! I remember distinctly it not feeling like falling at all, but more like being pulled. I thought at the time it was the force of the water current, but I knew there was something odd about it.”

“And what about the mystery missing planks from the trip trappy bridge?” I added.

“And that time we slip slided all the way down the sorrel patch on our bottoms Ferny?” Isla recalled

“Yes! That was weird! And remember that time we got completely tied up in sticky weed, and you guys had to rescue us?” Fern said.

“I think we are being messed with and it is time to get our wood back,” Freddie said as he drummed his staff defiantly into the ground.

“Well, what are we going to do about these meddlesome fairies? We need a plan,” I said, pulling out the parchment map of Lichen Wood and the inkpot and feather pen. We sat in a circle to draw up our plan.

“Well first we need a name,” I began.

“The Invincible Warriors,” proffered Freddie.

“Too violent,” said Fern. “What about the Poetic Ponderers?”

“Too flaky,” said Isla, “What about the Fairy Finders?”

And there and then our pack was formed, and our adventures began.

2. Hot Chocolate

Our strategy meeting was interrupted with Freddie’s tummy rumbling and grumbling.  We all knew not to ignore the rumble of Freddie’s tummy. We needed to move quickly before ‘hangry’ Freddie kicked in. I passed Freddie some raisins from my pocket stash to keep the wolf from the door, and we headed back out to camp to sort our dinner.

Myself and Isla went off to collect firewood, Fern gathered the cushions from the reading corner, and Freddie got busy with salting the fish.  We each set to task quietly working away, each of us deep in thought about these fairies.

That night we had a delicious sardine bonfire dinner and chatted excitedly about our tactics.  Isla had great camouflage ideas using sticky weed, bracken, and blackberries and mud as stains for our faces.  Freddie was all about building a double-decker river raft, and I was very keen to build an elaborate rope network within the trees to act as a spying vantage point.  It was Fern who sat silently throughout, looking at her interlaced fingers.  I turned to her to ask her thoughts.

“We need to meet with their leader and find out how we can share this wood harmoniously,” she said.

The others started to moan and groan, but I asked Fern to elaborate.  “Your ideas are all great, but how would we feel if the fairies ambushed us? We are already feeling put out by them, and they obviously aren’t too keen on us. “If we can understand their motivation for wanting to get rid of us, we can hopefully meet them to the point of understanding.”

Fern was a thinker and was often way wiser than her years. After much discussion, we finally all agreed that it was the way to go.

“But how?” asked Isla.

“Well, what would entice them?” I replied.

“Hot chocolate!” shouted Freddie decisively.

“Great idea, everyone loves hot chocolate,” Isla agreed

“Great, it’s decided, we will invite them to a meeting with hot chocolate,” I said. “Now, speaking of hot chocolate, who is making it?”

After several rounds of rock, paper, scissors, Freddie reluctantly made us all steaming cups of hot chocolate. We then sat in easy silence listening to the snap, crackle, and pop of the fire.

The next morning was a smudgy grey day, and we set to creating signs which read:

‘Calling all Potts Fairies. You are invited for a meeting at Oak & Elm corner. Free hot chocolate provided.’

Freddie and I started to nail them to trees, but then Isla pointed out that she could hardly read them and she was at least ten times taller than the Potts. We began again, this time putting them nearly at ground level.

We found acorn cups to put the hot chocolate into, and we waited, and we waited. Just as we were starting to lose hope, we heard a thundering stomping noise and hundreds of them started to file in. Grumpy faced and filthy looking, they rudely grabbed the hot chocolates, spilling them over and downing them messily, burping grotesquely. Isla curled her nose up at them whilst trying to mop up the mess of spilt hot chocolate around them.

We gathered upon the step, and I cleared my throat to try and get their attention. Looming over them, I decided to sit cross-legged on the floor and indicated for the others to too. I waited for their attention, but as they were still being as rowdy as ever, I put my two fingers in my mouth to let out my loudest whistle.

They all clamped their hands over their ears and shouted: “Ow, ow my ears!” Some of them even fell backwards in surprise toppling one another over.

“Thank you for joining us today, we wanted to welcome you to our camp to request your friendship,” I began.

“Your camp, friendship!  You must be joking!” they roared at us.  “We are as old as the trees above your heads, we are the oldest fairies in Lichen wood, and we don’t need no friendship with hideous, childish children.”

“We are not childish or hideous!” Isla shouted. “And I demand my boots back!”

“You are even worse than the Pimplesticks,” the commanding Potts fairy shouted back.

“Who on earth are the Pimplesticks?” Freddie enquired.

“They are the lowest of the low fairies. They don’t even dwell in trees. They are idle swamp dwellers, disgusting and lazy!”

“Hang on a minute. You aren’t the only fairies around here?” I questioned.

“There is a hierarchy, and you childish folk are right at the very bottom, even lower than the lowest of the low Pimplesticks. We are the oldest fairy folk and the most feared and respected. We are housed in yew, solid and ancient and gnarly too. The Pipps, Jolly, Burly, Squeak and the rest of that chirpy lot are a sickeningly jolly new age crew. They are Strawberry Tree dwellers all giggles and mirth and how do you dos. The Pimplesticks, Grot, Grim, Sludge and Co. don’t deserve to be called fairies, lazy scumbags that they are. But you, grotesque children, we will not rest until you child folk have disappeared!” he said menacingly. And with that, they turned on their heel crashing out through the mess of spilt hot chocolate and acorn cups.

For once, we were speechless. Finally, Fern said:

“Well, that wasn’t quite as successful as I had hoped. At least we can fall back on our original ideas, and at least we now have more to go on.”

“Come on, let’s head up to the stargazing platform to try and make a plan,” I suggested.  All together up on our deck, we huddled around rolling out the parchment paper to draw up our plan.

The Fairy Finders

The Potts = mean and meddlesome. Yew dwellers

The Pipps (Jolly, Burly, Squeak) = friendlier? Strawberry trees

The Pimpleticks (Grot, Grim, Sludge) = lazy swamp dwellers

We hear the clip-clop of a pony and trap in the distance, and the light flecked dust starts to sprinkle through the sun-dappled ferns like magic dust. There are Woodland deer in the distance and so many greens from lush lime to deep emerald. I suddenly felt overwhelmingly protective of the wood.

“Look at this wood, it is amazing!” The others all hummed in agreement.

“We will not be ousted!” Freddie shouted, standing to his feet and pulling us up to join him. We stood holding hands looking out at our spectacular wood squeezing one another’s hands tightly

“What on earth are we going to do?” Isla asked earnestly.

“I think you were onto something with forming an alliance in a respectable manner Fern,” I said “But those Potts are just impossible to deal with. The Pipps sound like friendlier folk though, let’s try to find them.”

“Well, he said they live in Strawberry trees,” Freddie interjected.

Fern ran down to the reading corner and came back with our ‘Big Book of Trees’. She scanned the index and then opened up the page of the Strawberry Tree.

Strawberry Tree (Caithne): It is mainly found in the wild in Co. Kerry.  A small to medium-sized, slow-growing evergreen tree or large shrub, it takes its common name from the fruit, which is rather like a strawberry to look at, edible and sweet, but unexciting. Glossy, dark green leaves with serrated edges. Bark an attractive cinnamon brown, peeling in older specimens. Useful nectar source for bees.

We gathered around to take a closer look at the picture, and our hearts sank as we realised there were hundreds of Strawberry Trees in the wood.

“Let’s not lose heart,” I said. “Even if there are one hundred Strawberry Trees, there are four of us so that only makes…” I tried to do the sum in my head.

“Twenty-five each,” said Isla, saving me. I’m not the best at sums.”

“We just need to divide and conquer and mark each tree we have spied thoroughly on with a chalk X. Let’s head down to the bunker to divide out the wood between us,” I suggested.

“Freddie, you can travel downstream and cover all the trees along the banks of the river and beside all the bridges. Isla, you’re a good climber, you can cover the high ground leading up to the Macadilly Mountains. Fern, you can cover from our camp at Oak & Elm corner West as far as Jersey fields. I will cover East up to Murky Bog, here is a piece of chalk each. Let’s all get some rest. We will make a start early tomorrow morning.”

***

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