by Meg Grimm, the Story Spinner
“You are who you are, Nerys,” he continued, drawling each word. “You have not imagined me.”
She swallowed hard and dared to speak aloud. “If this was all real, how could I have forgotten you?”
He blinked lazily, looking as melancholy as ever. His brow was knit and seemed a sagging thing held up only by mossy, arching eyebrows.
“To see me,” he said, “you must believe I am real. I have always been here. You have always believed, but you have not always wanted to. You went away for a while, but I knew you would come back. You are afraid, but you need not be. If you did not want to believe, you would not have come.”
She accepted that. Sort of. At least, no one was going to believe her about Ned anyway. She thought of the ladies at the bank office where she worked. None of them ever invited her out with them. If she was going to be even more isolated from the land of the living because of her strange imagination, she might as well have someone she could to talk to.
“Alright then,” she said, feeling more assured. “I supposed I do want to believe. I would rather go back to talking with trees and chasing faeries than being so lonely.” The truth of her confession surprised her.
“Hmm. Mmm. Mmm.” It was a sort of guttural chuckle. Maybe it was all he could manage with his face stuck like that.
“Can I ask you something?” she asked.
He exhaled. “I am older than this forest. You can ask me anything you wish to know, and I will give you the answer.”
She glanced around and spoke in a low voice. “Are the faeries real, too? Did I really go inside their homes when I was a little girl?”
She thought again about the dark halls. They had opened into large rooms underground. Some were even burial chambers. She remembered long stone coffins and earthen vessels full of gold. Some were dwellings, or so she thought. They had no furniture. They were just dark and damp, but the fires warmed them. The fires were always just put out by the time she came upon them.
There was something else, too. Another detail found its way into her consciousness. The smoke holes. There was always a smoke hole in the ceiling, where the vapors from the embers escaped out of the chambers. One thin ray of white light would stab down into the dark holes like a laser beam. Is that how the faeries escaped so quickly? Up through makeshift chimneys?
“Of course the faeries are real,” the tree said. “You already know that.”
“But I never saw one,” she said.
He closed his eyes and opened them slowly. “You did not want to.”
“Yes, I did! I–”
She stopped herself. He gazed at her knowingly.
“The faeries were always there,” he said, “You always believed…”
“But I did not always want to,” she finished, nodding.
“I was afraid they might be evil,” she admitted. “Rip Van Winkle, changelings, people disappearing into the faery realm and never coming back. I wanted to see them. I just didn’t know what it would mean.”
A slight gust of wind sailed through the trees. Ned’s braches quivered with the others.
“Belief comes gradually,” he said. “It must be practiced. Once you have it, belief becomes a great power. You will always see the faeries then, if you like. You will always hear me, too, if you like.”
Her face scrunched. “Hear you?” What had he said before? Something about whispers?
“Yes. I have been talking to you all along, Nerys.” This sent a chill up her spine. “You did not recognize my voice.”
She took a step back. It was strange enough that Ned existed and she was here talking to him. Talking to him at home was another story.
“What do you mean?” she asked. She felt she may not like the answer.
He made the deep chortling sound again. “I send you story sprites.”
Did he mean ideas?
“Yes, that is what I mean.”
Her breath caught. She peered at him. His eyes were darker than she remembered. She shivered and looked away.
She was crazy after all. Ned was her imagination. How else could he read her mind?
“If you would only listen carefully and learn to move in stride with my voice, you would understand,” he said, almost impatiently.
“I am very confused,” she said slowly. “I don’t understand, but I think I would rather you not talk to me anywhere but here.”
If he was a fabrication, maybe she could put him in his place.
“Tsk tsk,” he said languidly. “Do you believe that you dream up your novels on your own? I send you those thoughts.”
She wavered. “But how? Why?”
He groaned. “Because we are friends. I want to help you. You remember that sweet little girl. So do I.”
For a moment, she wondered if it could be true. She thought about the snowflakes tinking on the window glass and how she had imagined them to be story ideas trying to get to her. In the summer, they were fireflies. Captivating, flickering, gone. Sometimes she would catch one. Or, it would catch her. She would write a great story with little effort.
But most times, the ideas would not come. She wished writing was not so hard. She wanted to be a published author more than anything in the world.
“Why should I believe any of this?” she asked, but in her heart she knew she wanted to, and she almost did.
“To believe is a powerful thing,” he replied. “Do you want to write a successful novel?”
She nodded emphatically. “Yes.”
He sighed heavily, and she thought she felt his breath pass over her feet.
“If you open yourself to me, you will,” he said. “Learn to recognize my voice when I speak to you. I can put the oldest of stories into your mind. I can show you what has been and even what will be. I can tell you secrets that only the trees know. If you trust me, I will help you become the greatest writer of your time. We will pierce men’s hearts with your words. You and I.”
She thought of the things she had written so far. Dark things. Had these ideas been from Ned? Would he send more of the same?
She was open to that possibility. The writing was always best when she wrote dark things. She wondered what it might be like to hear Ned’s voice coming to her from all the way in this wood. Would it float on the breeze passing from tree to tree?
As if reading her mind again, he said, “Sometimes you will hear me. Sometimes you will only sense me. But I am always there. Over time, it will become easier to recognize me.”
If Ned had already been whispering to her anyway, or whatever he did, perhaps she would give it a try. It would be wonderful to write with ease. Even more wonderful to write something people wanted to read.
“Okay,” she finally said. “How do I do it?”
He chuckled. “Hmm. Mmm. Mmm.” She hoped it was chuckling. “You go to see the faeries.”
Her jaw dropped.
“You will learn how to believe,” he said. “I will guide you, and as you listen to me, you will see the faery realm open before you. Once you have completed this, the connection between us will be full. Trust me.”
Icy fear sliced into her heart. “I don’t know,” she said, shaking her head. “You’re much scarier now than you were when I was a kid. I don’t think the faeries will be much better.”
“Nerys,” he crooned. “You already know this works. You just have to hone the skill. If you trust me, it will be alright.”
She thought of the latest rejection letter from a publisher sitting on her desk at home. What was one brush with faeries if it meant a lifetime of success with her writing? Besides, she had never seen faeries any of the times before. Maybe they would elude her again.
“That’s right,” said Ned. “Trust me.”
She set her shoulders. “Okay, fine. Mr. All-Knowing Tree, where are the faeries?”
The edges of his mouth twitched almost as if he was trying to smile. “You know where to find the hollow hills.”
Her heart sank. She hoped this adventure could be above ground, but of course it would be somewhere dark.
“And I just…listen? I’ll hear you?” she asked skeptically.
“Mmhmm,” he agreed. “You will understand. And one more thing. When you’re in the hollow hills, you must stay out of the light. It’s much harder to talk to you if you are in daylight. It can be impossible.”
She glanced around. “I’m standing in daylight now.”
If it was possible for Ned to look more irritated, he did.
“My dear, I am a part of the faery realm myself. My power is limited in daylight, but it grows in darkness. Just as the faeries dwell in darkness and flourish. The deeper into the dark you go, the more my power will become a part of you. When you emerge from the hollow hills, everything will be different. Tonight, you will write as you never have before. You will see.”
She sighed. “Okay, to the hollow hills then. Good thing I brought a flashlight.”
To be continued....
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Copyright by the author Meg Grimm.