“Her garden, the Garden of Willows, was an enchanted garden. Everything gleamed in the daylight, but midnight bore something much more miraculous — faeries.”
The Garden of Willows was a verdant, abundant garden. Colorful, glistening fruits grew from the swaying trees. Willow trees shedded their mint-green leaves, speckling the grassy ground. You could smell the scent of lavender, rosemary, and marigold, all leaving their sweet traces in the spring air. You could hear robins chirping, bees buzzing, lily pads creating ripples in the crystal clear waters of the tiny pond.
You could taste the humid air melting onto your tongue like a ray of golden sunshine. When you touched the plants, you would feel a tingle in your fingertips, almost like you were floating on thin air. The luscious, yellow honey that dripped from the beehives gave you a certain hunger as if you had to taste it at that very moment. If you pricked your finger against the thorns of a rose, a sudden pain would be inflicted on your body like a nail digging into your flesh. The sun bestowed warmth upon everything below it, warming your body like wildfire as it spread across your heart in the Garden of Willows.
Grace, flimsily, timidly ensconced herself on the colossal, charcoal gray stone, glaring towards the hazy, tangerine-orange horizon as she waited for her grandma.
The Garden of Willows lurched in the honeyed spring breeze, frolicking as if to whisper peaceful words into Grace’s ears. The ferns glimmered with a juniper green sheen.
Grace’s grandma was the finest gardener in all of Everspring. Everyday, villagers would line the timeworn picket fence, woven baskets clasped in their clammy palms, anticipating to clog their baskets ample with the ripest fruits, freshest leaves, tangiest stalks of wheat, most sugared jams, jellies, preserves, and honeys.
Grandma produced medicines, too. She could cure any cough with the blossom of a cucumber plant, fix any rash with a sprinkle of marigold. Her garden, the Garden of Willows, was an enchanted garden. Everything gleamed in the daylight, but midnight bore something much more miraculous — faeries.
The garden faeries crept out of their petals at nighttime when they were sure that no humans were around to frighten them. The garden faeries would sprinkle pixie dust on every crop, and soon all of the wilting plants would rejuvenate. Grace liked to watch the faeries in the happening, from her bedroom window, secretly wishing that she could be like them, with their glimmering wings and ability to flutter across the luminous breeze.
Grandma welcomed Grace to her cottage after Grace’s parents died. Life almost seemed better living with Grandma. Fresh breakfast every morning; homemade orange juice with marmalade and stacks of buttery toast.
Grace couldn’t help but wonder if Grandma knew about the garden faeries. Perhaps not. After all, Grandma went to bed quite early every evening due to her hard work during the daytime.
When Grandma finally hobbled over to Grace on the commodious stone, she beamed and settled beside her but didn’t utter a single word.
“How are you feeling this morning, Grandma?” Grace inquired compassionately, collapsing her delicate hand onto the merlot red hem of her Grandma’s frock.
“As tired as the wings of a bird,” Grandma wheezed drowsily, slumping her head down low. “Grace, you know, there will come a time when I am no longer around. You will have to tend to my garden on your own, my dear.”
“Grandma, I’m afraid that I just don’t know how.” Grace gazed up at her grandmother with weary, caramel-brown eyes. “I’m not roughly as skilled as you are with your garden.”
Grandma chuckled, affectionately lifting up her granddaughter’s chin. “Nobody lives forever, sweetheart. You’ll always be in my heart on heaven and earth. But you don’t worry about that now.”
Grace pondered her grandmother’s words for a moment. She was now certain that Grandma was unaware of the garden faeries. If Grace took over the garden, she would only have to let the faeries do the gardening. But she couldn’t help but worry about her grandmother.
“What about your remedies, Grandma? Can’t you use them to heal yourself?” Grace pleaded apprehensively.
“I wish I could,” Grandma croaked in a melancholy voice, almost as faint and sorrowful as the sound of the wind. “But I don’t have the answers to everything.”
Grandma let out a cough, her voice raspy and tired.
“Grandma, you’ll only get worse staying out here in the cold. Go to bed, okay? I’ll bring up some warm broth and tea,” Grace calmed, tenderly placing her hand on her grandmother’s back to help her rise to her feet.
“Thank you, Grace.” Grandma smiled at her granddaughter with loving eyes. “I know that you’ll make a lovely gardener one day if you care about the plants as much as you care about me.”
Grace observed as her grandmother stumbled inside and couldn’t help but let out a couple of sobs in utter fear. She couldn’t let her grandmother down.
On the opposite side of the garden, Grace traipsed towards the marketplace where several villagers were lined up for their goods.
“I don’t have all day,” one woman was grumbling, miffed, to another man and shaking her head. “I wonder if that old woman is too elderly to garden anymore.”
Grace grinded her teeth, fingers trembling, resisting her sudden urge to scream. Grandma wasn’t too old to garden. She was the best gardener in Everspring.
“How can I help you?” Grace greeted the woman using a synthetically pleasant voice.
The woman sat her basket on the booth table, reciting the goods.
“Certainly,” replied Grace in the same voice. “Grandma is always so delighted when people purchase her strawberry jam,” she continued, tallying up the goods.
“How heartbreaking,” the woman whispered, turning to the man behind her again. “Ethel is hardly nimble enough to sell her own goods anymore. Her poor granddaughter has to do it all.”
Grace pretended not to hear the woman’s hurtful words. It wasn’t Grandma’s fault that she was sick. Couldn’t the woman realize that this transition, from a spirited Grandma to an ill and weary one, was even harder for Grace?
Grace strolled to the storeroom, peeling the door ajar. She clasped a stalk of the earliest harvested celery and planted a bundle of lengthy carrots into her arms. Gazing towards the usually ample crate of eggplants, she scooped up a couple and tossed them into her pile.
The strawberry jams, preserves, jellies, and marmalades were positioned on the second shelf, last row. Grace slid three jams into her skirt, using the fabric as a carrier. Following this action, Grace grasped a bottle of cough elixir, making sure to differentiate it from the rash remedy. She had made that mistake countless times.
“Here you are,” chirped Grace, emptying the woman’s goods into her basket. “Will that be all for today?”
The woman grudgingly and reluctantly placed three silver coins on the counter, locking her basket’s handle beneath her arm, then strutted away.
“Have a nice afternoon,” Grace offered, but didn’t receive an answer in return.
She placed each coin into Grandma’s jar, which sat alone on the verge of the booth. The man standing behind the previous customer had fled home due to the long wait, so Grace miserably headed to the garden to begin her chores.
Grandma’s hickory brown shovel was perched sluggishly against the fence of the beautiful garden. Grace clasped it and dug it into a dry patch of the ground.
Grace hoisted her arms upwards to clasp the branches of the eldest willow tree and then swung down to her feet, unaware of the struggles yet to come.
Grace peeped through a miniature crevice in Grandma’s decrepit limestone bookcase, extending her arms to slither some trivial books away. The scent of cinders wafted through her nose as the hearth blazed little ways farther. With torrents of care, Grace hoisted the misplaced book over her shoulder, holding her breath.
The rain was trickling relentlessly outside, promptly speckling each window with a balanced amount of raindrops. Grace remembered the days when she and Grandma would spurt outside in their galoshes when it rained, splashing in puddles like volcanoes beginning to erupt.
How the two of them would splash until their galoshes were ample with muddy water, and then they would strip off their galoshes and splash in their lukewarm socks instead. And when their socks grew wet, they would peel them off and splash with their bare feet. Then, the two of them would gather their belongings and ramble inside for fresh cookies and sweet milk.
How Grace missed those jubilant days. Lost in her thoughts, she delicately planted the book on the old birch table, prodding open the cover.
“Ethel Camelia,” the spine of the book read in inky pen that bled through the unwrinkled fabric. Grace’s grandmother’s name. Grace liked the way it sounded on her tongue.
As Grace flitted through the never-ending pages, she detected a subtitle that caught her eye. “Garden Faeries,” read the page. “Spirits of the deceased. Prone to congregate in gardens and rural areas. Carry magical dust used to revive old plants/dry areas.”
Grace scrutinized the illustration of the garden faeries, enthrallingly analyzing their every detail.
Eyes as fern-green as the meadows encircling mountains. Barefoot, but gentle feet, padding onto petals speckled with dew. Their frocks consisted of silky, pale flower blossoms. Flawless skin was dotted with freckles and fresh morning dewdrops. Transparent wings as graceful as a thousand clouds beckoned you to caress them.
Grace advanced in reading the passage, hunting for a cure for Grandma.
“Immortal. Seasonal appearances, seemingly kind and gentle,” the passage continued on. “Can create healings, remedies, and such. Unable to breathe underwater. If a child becomes a garden faerie, the effect will be temporary and the child will become a human again within a day.”
Grace thought for a moment, gnawing on her tongue. But then it came to her. What if Grace became a garden faerie? She would find a cure for Grandma if she asked the other faeries. She was a child and would become a human again after a day or so, she thought. But if garden faeries were the spirits of the deceased, wouldn’t death be the only way to become a garden faerie?
Grace continued to read until her eyes broadened. “It is possible for creatures in a garden to take on new forms and even to transform into other creatures. If a human wishes to become a garden faerie, these magical abilities may be activated through this chant, ‘to be a faerie is what I desire, so gardening abilities I may acquire. I say these words to be set free, and serve the garden, I shall not flee.’ Once these words have been uttered a single time, the human shall be transformed.”
Grace exhaled, placing her hand on her heart. It was indeed a risk that must be cautiously taken. But she had to save her grandmother, her sun when it rained. The pencil to her paper. Her nutrient and blanket of hope. Grandma was sick and slowly dying.
“To be a faerie is what I desire,” began Grace, stifling sobs. She began to choke up, but wiped her eyes before Grandma heard her. “So gardening abilities I may acquire…”
Grace read the remainder of the chant, murmuring, “I say these words to be set free, and serve the garden, I shall not flee.”
Grace’s perception was comprehensively black — obsidian. She could sense sunlight bleaching her complexion, sprinkling her face with rays of happiness. Adapting to the temperature, Grace languidly sprang up, kneading her cedar brown eyes.
Everything was colossal, substantial. The shovel that Grace used for her duties was now hundreds of times larger than she was. Grace thrusted her arm into the breeze, aware of its puny size. Grace couldn’t help but gasp in bewilderment. So this was what it was like to be small.
“Flora!” cried a voice, evolving into a blaring, shrill sound as the garden faerie grew closer to Grace. “Flora!”
Grace found herself unanticipatedly face-to-face with an alluring, aesthetic garden faerie that bore a gingerbread-tan complexion, with coiled cider tresses and a radiant beam, parallel to her wispy, orange wings and gleaming pearls.
“My name is not Flora,” Grace informed the garden faerie of her name. “My name is Grace.”
The opposing garden faerie giggled breezily, her chuckles like windchimes. “Of course your name is Flora. That’s your name now.”
Before Grace could bafflingly oppose, the vivacious, lively garden faerie clasped her by the palm of her puny hand.
“My name is Maple,” the garden faerie yawped enthusiastically to Grace, dragging her through the leafy, mossy canopy. “Lord Wren commanded me to welcome you to the Garden of Willows.”
“Actually, I’ve lived here all of my life,” Grace replied, a sort of sadness in her voice. “My grandmother owns the Garden of Willows. And she is very, very sick. I transformed into a garden faerie so that you could help me.”
Maple swayed her arm around Grace. “Flora, us garden faeries have remedies for a multitude of illnesses. I’m not sure that we can cure your grandmother, but we can try our best.”
Grace beamed at her new cohort, traipsing behind Maple.
Maple fluttered in advancement towards the overhanging trail of intertwined vines. She angled her knees as she drifted through the woodland.
Garden faeries, male and female, flittered around vigorously, lilting from elongated vines, garnering twigs and such that they identified strewn on the terrain. There had to be thousands.
“Maple,” began Grace graciously, acknowledging her friend, “Would you teach me to fly?”
Before Maple could react, a male garden faerie with lustrous eyes fluttered by Maple, whispering words into her ears.
“What did he say?” Grace inquired, unable to flutter like Maple.
“That was Foxtail,” Maple familiarized the faerie. “He’s very concerned. Your grandmother has not watered the garden for days. The water is the way that we grow. We aren’t very lively these days.”
“This is all my fault.” Grace hung her head remorsefully. “I’ve been so centered on Grandma that I have neglected the garden.”
“Now, now,” soothed Maple, jerking her head blissfully to twist herself downwards. “It isn’t your fault. Why don’t we go train you to use those pretty wings of yours?”
This was the moment when Grace considered her appearance. Boysenberry violet frock with a paisley pattern. A mulberry flower tiara encircling her honey gold locks. Her wings had a glossy, mauve sheen.
“I’d love to,” Grace crooned, following at Maple’s heels.
“Maple, are you certain? This seems to be quite an elevated hill.”
What had used to be an anthole now seemed like the rim of a bluff.
“Of course. This is where every faerie determines the use of their wings. Now, I will be right here in case of any crisis, Flora.”
Grace dipped her head in approval, taking a deep breath in apprehension. “I’m ready.”
“Alright. Now, straighten your posture, but bend your knees to an angle perpendicular to that vine,” Maple gestured towards a vine nearby, “and feel free.”
Grace tried her very best to do what she was told. She smiled when Maple told her that she was doing the action well.
“Now, we’ll try a flutter,” Maple tranquilly advised, circling around Grace watchfully. “Would you be able to shift your wings?”
“Perhaps,” Grace returned, attempting to maneuver her wings, orbiting the meager vine.
Unhurriedly, her dainty sandals began to hover above the rich, lukewarm soil.
“You’re doing it!” cried Maple, lingering on her minuscule feet. “You’re fluttering.”
Maple’s tangerine irises twinkled in elation. Grace had never felt so unwithdrawn to the nature surrounding her. She could journey anywhere. Oh, how she wished that Grandma could see her at the very moment, applauding her with jubilation and optimism. This gave her strong reminiscence of what she was supposed to be doing — discovering a cure for Grandma.
“Maple, I’m afraid we must cut this lesson short. I didn’t realize the time. We must find a cure for my grandmother.”
Maple sighed in sorrow, mumbling, “I’m sorry. It was all my fault; I got distracted. Let’s go and find that cure.”
Maple twisted around, thrashing her wings against each other to flutter over a small pond. As the two friends tore through the faerie centre, Maple hesitated when she reached a small cottage.
The classic roof consisted of a fawn-brown acorn, smooth and gentle, atop a lovely door adorned with unfamiliar carvings. Maple leaves dotted the dewed, emerald grass.
“This is my cottage,” Maple whispered sheepishly, shrugging her arms. “It isn’t much, but my task in our land is to find remedies for illnesses. I have many cures.”
“It’s perfect, Maple.” Grace felt a parade of warmth cheering towards her as she ambled inside. “Where shall we begin?”
“Hmm. Is your grandmother ill from weather? Labor?”
Grace pondered this for a moment. “Everyday, she has to garden outside to please the people of the village. It is so tiring for her, I can tell. Through rain, storm, snow, and drought, she has to tend to her garden. Lately, though, I believe that these conditions have been taking negative effect on her.”
Maple nodded, ensconcing herself on a hassock that was placed behind her cluttered desk. “Would you pass me the fern leaves?”
Grace examined the chaotic desk until she found a flask of fern leaves, presenting it to Maple. “Here you go.”
Maple, engrossed in her task, snatched the flask and sprinkled some blossoms into a wooden vial. “Tree sap, please.”
Grace clasped a bottle of syrupy tree sap, placing it beside Maple on her desk. Maple poured a quarter of the bottle into the mixture, stirring it with a twig. This time, she reached for a wisp of squirrel fur herself, plunking it in with the rest of the ingredients.
Grace tossed a cluster of tomato seeds into Maple’s palm. “Is that all?”
“Final ingredient,” gritted Maple, feeling everything cluttering her desk to search for pixie dust. She used tweezers to gather one particle.
“One particle?” Grace cried in wonder. “You only need one?”
“Pixie dust is quite valuable in our land, as it is very limited. Some years, we receive three bundles of pixie dust, and on others, we receive none. The amount is spontaneous.”
Grace bowed her head in understanding and awareness. “So that is all? If I give the vial to my grandmother to drink, she will be cured?”
“No,” Maple warned her. “You have to sneak it into her tea or coffee. Otherwise, she will know that you’ve obtained the cure from supernaturals like us; the garden faeries will be revealed.”
“Why are the faeries so secretive? Why are you so frightened of us humans?”
Before Maple could reply, she keeled over, plunging to the wooden floors, letting out a groan in agony and irritation.
“Maple!” Grace wailed, rushing to the floor to haul her friend upwards. “What happened? What’s wrong?”
Fear and angst spread over her body like wildfire.
“Water,” gasped Maple, her voice dry, her mind almost unconscious. “I need water. . .”
Petrified, Grace lugged Maple outdoors, wondering how she hadn’t noticed before. All of the faeries seemed sluggish, due to the lack of water. How could Grace be so careless?
“Faeries!” Grace shrieked in agony. “Maple has collapsed. We have to find water. For her and for the rest of you!”
Faeries began to whisper to one another, voices abuzz in the outdoors. Lord Wren stepped up to a large rock, seeming almost like a podium. “Of my days in the garden, I have seen a human gardening outside. I’ve seen the human curving a faucet from the side of her house. Water cascaded from the faucet, and she used it to fill her watering can. If all of us work together to curve the faucet, we can fill up a container and absorb the water.”
“Good idea!” a faerie named Lilac exclaimed, whispering the plan to her fellow friends.
Grace’s hazel brown eyes hardened with determination. Maple had helped her to save her grandmother. Now Grace had to save Maple.
“Quickly, quickly!” Foxtail screeched, flailing his arms to guide the faeries towards the faucet. “Humans could come out any time now. Come on!”
Grace, still cradling Maple in her arms, zipped towards the faucet, following the other garden faeries.
She grasped hold of the metal faucet, the hotness irritating her fingertips. She now had to hold Maple on her back. Maple’s arms laced around the nape of her neck.
Lord Wren urged the garden faeries, “Pull harder!”
Grace, feeling strangled from the pressure of Maple’s arms around her neck, took a deep breath and pulled harder, hands slightly trembling. As the faucet began to turn to the right, Grace had to try harder not to fall into the grass. Her wings fluttered more laborious than ever before.
All of the garden faeries gasped as a trickle of water poured from the spout. Lord Wren commanded, “Keep going, my faeries. The task is soon to be done!”
More water trickled from the spout. Soon, torrents of water filled the container than Foxtail, Sunlight, and Moonbeam had placed beneath.
“Hooray!” chorused the garden faeries, loosening their cling on the faucet to keel into the water.
Radiant beams of what seemed like happiness glowed from all of the faeries. Grace instantly but calmly placed Maple into the water, allowing her to absorb the freshness.
Maple’s eyes slowly opened, a smile painting itself on her bright face. “Thank you, Grace.”
Grace smiled, suddenly thinking about her grandmother. “Maple, thank you for everything. I’ve never had a best friend before, and,” Grace began to sob, “you’ve been amazing to me. I wouldn’t be able to save Grandma if it weren’t for you.”
Grace unclipped the violet flower from her hair, releasing her tresses to her shoulders. She placed it in Maple’s hand. “To remember me.”
Maple smiled. She pulled a bundle a pixie dust from her pocket. “I grabbed this before I fell. It’s for you. To remember me and your ability to fly.”
“Thank you,” Grace mouthed to her friend, throwing her arms around her for a quick embrace. “I will miss you so much.”
Then, Grace wiped away her tears and began to fly away.
Grace had flown through the wind to the spot where Maple had found her, to the very place where she had left her book.
Flipping through the pages, she once again found the page about garden faeries. Although she knew that her time as a faerie would only last a day, she also knew that she wouldn’t be able to wait so incredibly long.
“Garden Faerie Reverting Spell,” the page read. “To become human once again, one must chant these very words, ‘To be a garden faerie I no longer desire, for I was before in moments prior. Now I wish to be rid of my wings and to see what being human again will bring.”
Grace opened her mouth to speak, but before she could, she heard a voice that sounded quite familiar to her.
“What are you doing, dear?”
Grace whipped around, spotting a faerie that she vaguely recognized. She looked a lot like Grandma, but so much younger. This is crazy, Grace thought to herself. Was she imagining things?
“I’m becoming a human once again,” Grace replied, squinting her eyes to look deeply at the woman. Could it be?
“Grandma, is that you?” Grace asked, placing her hand on the female faerie’s face.
“I’ll be whatever you want me to be,” the garden faerie said soothingly.
Could Grandma have died and become a garden faerie while Grace was away?
“Grandma, please. Is that you?” Grace smiled at the garden faerie, recognizing her.
Grace clasped the garden faerie’s lukewarm hand, their touch seeming to revive every wilting plant in Grandma’s garden.