River Mist Tales: The Rose Invitation

Don’t be shy. Come in, the mist is settling over the river, the dark will be upon the forest any time now.

Here you’ll find some small comforts, a pot of tea, some spice cookies, a soft pillowed chair tucked between the window and the fire.

Ignore the cats, gossip mongers all of them.

I’ll be working at the desk tucked into the far corner if your any needs or she knocks upon the door.

Enjoy her photographs and her 12-line tales. She’s a bit loose with the truth, a bit too revealing with her magic.

Until you come again, may your wonderings be bold and your imaginings be wise.

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The Rose Invitation

Glancing out her office window towards the older campus buildings, the older paths overgrown and shadowed, Evelyn paused, looked back towards her desk, then shaking her head she retraced her steps, reaching down into the trash retrieving the silver linen envelope.

This is crazy she thought, an invite to join the legendary Society of Fey at a moonlight party with a rose for entry.

But the envelope was not in the trash basket, puzzled Evelyn stood up, reassuring herself she had crumpled up the unsigned invitation and tossed it away.

Then she saw it, only it wasn’t the same envelope, it was larger, longer, her name, written out in an enviable cursive hand with more flourish, more urgency, more beauty.

This envelope was propped up against her computer, not a crease or a crumple, sitting tall in perfect condition, luminous as a full moon on a cloudless night.

Hesitating Evelyn stared at the envelope, finally reaching out, picking it up, turning it over.

The seal, round, pale as starlight, imprinted with a three phase moon surrounded by intricate knotwork was unbroken.

It lay heavy in her hand, this new invitation, not so easy to ignore, nor crumple, nor toss.

She slowly slid her fingers under the seal dislodging it from the envelope, not wanting to destroy the waxy bit of bas relief.

The card inside was a deep midnight blue paling in hue as Evelyn drew it out, letters rising upon it, as if someone was writing the words as she watched.

The request for attendance was kinder, less formal, full of hope and compassion even as the requirement of a single rose was made explicit and nonnegotiable.

At midnight with the invitation in her pocket, a rose in her hand picked from her neighbor’s garden, Evelyn knocked upon the arching door flanked by silvered birch trees, a door with phases of the moon carved upon it, intricate knotwork flowing around it, a door she had never seen before though she had passed through these older paths of the campus almost daily, watching, waiting from her office window.

River Mist Tales: A young dragon

Welcome traveler, no need for names here. River folk have a way of knowing what needs to be known. And soon you will too.

There’s tea in the pot, slices of spice cake, fresh apples and cheddar.

Don’t open the window when the crow taps, nor let the cats out, no matter what they tell you.

I’ll be working in the far alcove if you have any needs or she knocks upon the door with her basket of tales.

Enjoy her photographs and her 12-line tales, though she’s a bit loose with her truths.

Please come again. Here, you’ll always find comfort, refreshment and a bit of magic.

Until next time, may your wonderings be bold and your imaginings be wise.

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 A young dragon

“You can wait in here for Lady Morgan, but don’t touch anything. Do you hear?” commanded Mrs. McCurdle wagging a short sausage like finger.

“Yes, ma’am,” said Lauren sitting down on the hard couch pushing aside several layers of coverlets, the ivy and leaf designs fading, some threadbare, barely more than a collection of strings themselves, lowering her eyes until she heard the click of the door latch, certain the scowling Mrs. McCurdle has stormed into another part of the house.

Standing, Lauren turned slowly around in a full circle, taking a memorizing glance at the layout of the room, before deciding the small desk at the far end would be as good a place as any to begin her search.

Remember she told herself, it’s a notebook or a bundle of stationery, or loose papers in a file folder, not a book, not a book.

Usually Lauren ignored dares but this particular dare could not be ignored, besides, she convinced herself, knowledge should be shared, and she was only taking a peek.

The desk was a clutter of odd wooden animal figures, ancient leather covered books, stacks of loose sheets of sketch paper, vases of dried flowers, half folded maps, small travel guides for places Lauren had never studied in school, candles, stones, shells knotted onto braided ropes, a crystal ball atop dolphin fins, and one oversized blue glazed ceramic mug.

She picked up the empty mug, turned it around, taking a closer look at the brown raised design when a sudden flutter of wings startled her and something flew close, wing tips brushing her cheek.

Dropping the mug onto the unstable pile of notebooks, Lauren turned away from the chaos of papers, pens, small books and maps sliding from the desk unto the carpet below, instead she looked for the small winged creature flying about the room, landing here, landing there.

Entranced, Lauren gave no heed to lamps falling over, pillows being knocked onto the floor, paintings tilting on the wall, her eyes were on the petite creature soaring around the room.

Following first with eyes only, Lauren found her courage and began scrambling, awkward and stuttering like a baby’s first steps, stumbling over fallen objects, bumping into chairs, eager for a glimpse, a touch, of the creature that had been hidden on the desk, wondering how it could be.

With her attention flying about the room, Lauren did not hear the carved oak door open, nor the demanding quick steps, nor, at first, the commanding voice speaking words unfamiliar and unknown, as a glinting blue and brown winged beast flew over her head returning to his home aside the oversized ceramic mug.

As Lauren spun around once more, her gaze following the rush of blue and brown, she faced a tall plain woman, who was smiling, holding the ceramic mug and speaking, “After you straighten this mess, you can explain to me why you were chasing a very young Welsh dragon around my library.”

River Mist Tales: Jack in the Green

Hurry, this way, before the river mist settles upon the dooryard. It may be a while before your path home is revealed.

The seat by the window is most comfortable and there’s tea in the pot, if you haven’t brought a wee dram of your own. And please, ignore the cats, don’t open the window when the crows come calling.

I’ll be working in the darkened alcove across the room if you have any needs or she knocks upon the door.

She doesn’t like to be kept waiting. Enjoy her photographs and her 12-line tales. Though she is a bit loose with the truth and a bit too revealing with magic, as your kind calls it.

Until your next visit, may your wonderings be bold and your imaginings be wise.

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 Jack in the Green

Come, come out of your houses

Come, come out into the green wood

Come, tis time for Jack in the Green

The voices flowed along the cobbled streets, perching upon door steps, tapping on windows, moving above the reach of passersby.

Snuggling in blankets, knees pulled up tight, Sophia sat alone, tucked into the curving window seat of her second floor bedroom.

Disobeying her mother, Sophia had opened the window, allowing the gathering voices entry, as well as the rush of cool May air.

Spring was taking her time coming to the northern woods, but Jack in the Green would lure her, dancing her into the fields and meadows, along the streams, and across the lake, or so the village children had told Sophia.

“And if Jack stops at your house, smiles upon your garden, a small gift must be offered or he will curse your home and all you grow,” said the village children.

Nonsense, Sophia’s father had said when she told him about the celebrations, about the village traditions, about the visiting forest sprite Jack in the Green.

The old ways were of no importance to our modern lives, Sophia was told, and having a cold, she was ordered to stay in bed away from the cool May air and the raucous wanderings of Jack in the Green.

Tall, a walking collection of green leaves resembling a tree often seen on the north side of the village green, Jack was surrounded by dancing children and vibrantly dressed adults brandishing flowering branches of apple and pear, voices rising and falling as the ever growing parade moved closer and closer, finally stopping below Sophia’s high stone-framed window.

Turning a leaf clad, green face skyward, smiling, Jack gathered the braided ribbons tethered to a single silver oak leaf Sophia lowered from her towered perch, allowing a silent exchange of gift and blessing.

River Mist Tales: Tree Face

Come in, come in, the mist is rising from the river, but here you’ll find some warmth, some tales, so make yourself comfortable. There’s tea in the pot, or perchance, you brought some wee dram of your own.

The chairs by the window give the best view, allow the best hearing. Ignore the cats, no matter what they say, and don’t open the window for the tapping crows.

I’ll be working at the table in the corner, if you have any need, or she knocks upon the door. And until you stop by again, may your wonderings be bold and your imaginings be wise.

Until your next visit, until the next photograph, the next 12-line story, good fortune and safe wanderings.

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Tree Face

“Where are you taking those?”

The voice was deep, resin filled, slow, full of the east wind and short sunlit days.

Connra placed her willow basket on the ground, stood tall and looked around.

She saw no one, only the pine, spruce, and western hemlock, her gaze moving along a patch of cedars leading toward the river.

Shrugging her shoulders, taking one more glance around her, Connra bent over and resumed picking up the fallen cones scattered about the ground.

“Where are you taking those which are not yours?” came the resonant voice, again slow, filled with patience and understanding.

Connra stood, again looked around, moved so she could see along the narrow woods path before saying, “Home, taking them home. Who’s there?”

“What will you do with them?” asked the voice speaking with rooted strength.

With a slow turn Connra answered, “I use them in the hearth, and for the arrangements we sell at the next Yule markets.”

“I would like to see those arrangements, can you bring one to me?”

Bewildered, Connra stared at a tall pine a few feet away, stared at the barked face returning her gaze.

She had heard many old tales about the creatures who live in the forests, in the trees, creatures who can bless and curse, creatures who can teach and destroy, now, finally, Connra had met just such a creature, and she was eager to befriend the inquisitive tree spirit.

River Mist Tales: The Unicorn Trophy

Come in, come in, the river mist will be gone soon enough, but here you’ll find some tales, some warmth so make yourself comfortable. There’s tea in the pot, or perchance, you brought some wee dram of your own.

Please sit by the window, you’ll have the best view, and easy hearing. Ignore the cats, no matter what they say, and don’t open the window for the tapping crows.

I’ll be working at the table in the corner, if you have any need, or she knocks upon the door. And until you stop by again, may your wonderings be bold and your imaginings be wise.

Until your next visit, until the next photograph, the next 12-line story, good fortune and safe wanderings.

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The Unicorn Trophy

It wasn’t Miss Plumworth’s first visit to Maine, but this was the first time an object was being offered, and only her second visit in her own time.

Before her, centered upon a slight rise, stood a plan rectangular, white clapboard farmhouse, extending out back towards the barn, until house and barn merged into a single structure.

Small single-step porches held court outside both the front and side doors, both looked unused, lonely without any bush or flower, the side door catching a small bit of shade from the single elm which stood in the side yard just beyond the end of the dirt driveway.

Before Miss Plumworth stepped into the kitchen dooryard, the creaking wooden kitchen door opened wide revealing a petite fair haired girl who couldn’t be more than ten years old, hesitating, keeping her eyes toward the ground.

Miss Plumworth smiled, raised her face sniffing the air, a jumble of lavender, lilac and rose, and fresh baked rhubarb cake full of cinnamon and, surprisingly, cardamon.

A few quick steps and she was in the kitchen, the wide wooden planks scrubbed smooth, and the petite fair haired girl said, “This way please, miss.”

Settling into the living room whose only visual reprieve from a vast collection of objects, were two sets of windows, one pair looking out towards the street which ran parallel to the short end of the house, the other pair looking out toward the dirt driveway, the solitary elm tree, across spotty grass towards the neighbors fenced garden, Miss Plumworth wondered how any object, magical or otherwise, once brought into this overflowing house would be noticed at all.

The answer arrived when Tilda Miller sauntered into the room, wearing a bright floral dress, a plaid scarf wrapped around her shoulders, purple shoes matched by large purple and silver earrings, her curly hair a rising mass around her angular, eager face.

The gregarious woman answered another question as well, why her daughter chose simple, plain and quiet.

As Tilda raised eyebrows, inclined her head, visually instructing her daughter, the girl sat down beside Miss Plumworth on the couch, pulling a small silver unicorn from her pocket, offering it on her upraised palm.

“I found it, hidden in a tree out back, in a small broken box, well, the lady showed me where to look, told me she couldn’t touch it, told me I needed to give it to you, so you could return it, and then she could go home too,” said the fair haired daughter, all in one breath.

“Jilly is it, why don’t you hold the unicorn while you describe the lady to me,” said Miss Plumworth, slow and calm, replacing her notebook into her bag, pulling out an scarred black leather bound book with a tiny silver unicorn embossed in the lower front corner.

River Mist Tales: Tree Shade

Come in, come in, the river mist will be gone soon enough, but here you’ll find some tales, some warmth so make yourself comfortable. There’s tea in the pot, or perchance, you brought some wee dram of your own.

Please sit by the window, you’ll have the best view, and easy hearing. Ignore the cats, no matter what they say, and don’t open the window for the tapping crows.

I’ll be working at the table in the corner, if you have any need, or she knocks upon the door. And until you stop by again, may your wonderings be bold and your imaginings be wise.

Until your next visit, until the next photograph, the next 12-line story, good fortune and safe wanderings.

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Tree Shade

Not very long ago, before the time of your grandmother, lived two sisters.

The sisters, one with hair as red as the flame of burning oak, the other with hair as the shimmering silver of twinkling stars, lived in a cottage at the meeting place of a sunlit plain and a darkening forest, a few steps beyond the reach of the shade cast by the guardian trees of the forest.

Living with a woman they called grandmother, the sisters learned spinning and weaving, their threads as gossamer and as strong as a spider’s web filled with longing, filled with dream.

The sisters learned songs calling the sweet rains which rode with the west wind, and the sisters learned to be wary of the deep knowledge hidden within the shade of trees.

Blessed with even temperaments, happy and hard working, the sisters learned all the grandmother could teach them, never challenging nor causing worry or concern.

When the grandmother heard the time song, she sent the sisters into the forest, telling them they must learn from those who wear feathers, learn from those who wear fur.

During the day the sisters ventured into the forest returning to the small cottage each night, sharing their conversations, their adventures among furred and feathered friends with the grandmother as she sat by the hearth listening, never speaking a word.

Eager and enthusiastic, the sisters asked many questions of the creatures living in the forest, but the sisters never asked the questions which the two spoke when they thought no one could hear.

The questions the sisters hid from the grandmother, from the feathered and furred, were few: where is our mother, why must we protect ourselves from the shade at the edge of the forest?

What the sisters had not learned, could not ask, was how deep into a heart a forest can penetrate, how dark the shade can truly be, how far from home curiosity can lead.

The long shadows of early morning began calling the sisters, soon the growing afternoon shadows of the forest edge also began whispering as the sisters passed, tempting their untempered hearts, telling where the woman with red flame hair streaked with silver starlight was living, was waiting for her daughters.

Then the day came, lit by a bright clear sun, long shadows almost touching the cottage door, the grandmother inviting a young woman, her belly swollen, into the cottage, smiling with a kindness the young woman had never known, all the while beyond the dooryard as the tree shade deepened, two sisters hearing a sonorous voice calling, calling, calling, stepped into the shade of the trees and disappeared.

River Mist Tales: The Butterflies

Come in, come in, the river mist will be gone soon enough, but here you’ll find some tales, some warmth so make yourself comfortable. There’s tea in the pot, or perchance, you brought some wee dram of your own.

Please sit by the window, you’ll have the best view, and easy hearing. Ignore the cats, no matter what they say, and don’t open the window for the tapping crows.

I’ll be working at the table in the corner, if you have any need, or she knocks upon the door. And until you stop by again, may your wonderings be bold and your imaginings be wise.

Until your next visit, until the next photograph, the next 12-line story, good fortune and safe wanderings.

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 The Butterflies

“Your aunt is touched, or maybe I am,” said Sorcha.

“She’s different, and yeah, she’s visited with the other crowd,” said Devan ignoring the heavy sighs billowing around Sorcha’s head. “Besides she’s not really my aunt, as you well know.”

“Right, I thought she said a short walk in the woods. It’s been two hours, my feet hurt and these shoes are ruined,” said Sorcha.

“Come on, we can rest for a few,” said Devan moving off the dusty woods road toward a fallen tree trunk.

Dropping her knapsack onto the ground, placing one leg on either side of the massive trunk so her feet dangled, Sorcha said, “Maybe we misunderstood the directions, I’ve never heard of a kaleidoscope of butterflies, never seen more than one at a time, well close together anyway.”

Devan smiled as he sat beside his girlfriend, a born and bred urbanite who was proving more country girl, more of a believer, than he had hoped for.

“You’re loving all this, aren’t you?”

“Yes I am, all those stories your aunt tells, all these trees, the birds, the unknown, so much unknown, so much space, and, I guess, I really want to believe in magic and more,” said Sorcha, “except these shoes, shouldn’t have listened to your sister.”

“Look,” said Devan pointing back towards the road, “look, there’s your kaleidoscope of butterflies.”

Jumping down from her resting place, grabbing her knapsack at she stepped, Sorcha said, “Let’s go, don’t want to lose those guides.”

 

 

©2017 Catherine W McKinney

 

River Mist Tales: The Beach Hut

Come in, come in, the river mist will be gone soon enough, but here you’ll find some tales, some warmth so make yourself comfortable. There’s tea in the pot, or perchance, you brought some wee dram of your own.

Please sit by the window, you’ll have the best view, and easy hearing. Ignore the cats, no matter what they say, and don’t open the window for the tapping crows.

I’ll be working at the table in the corner, if you have any need, or she knocks upon the door. And until you stop by again, may your wonderings be bold and your imaginings be wise.

Until your next visit, until the next photograph, the next 12-line story, good fortune and safe wanderings.

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The Beach Hut

“Are you sure we shouldn’t be bringing some gift or offering or something?”

“No, no it’s a game isn’t it, just tea on the beach by that old driftwood hut, besides she said just bring a friend, and you’re the friend,” said Bryony rushing through the deep sand.

Candace picked up her pace staying close behind her friend, wondering this time if Byrony’s imagination had finally left all realms of accessibility.

The beach was empty except for the hut, a cobbled collection of smooth driftwood stacked and leaning, piece upon piece, strange shaped, all bony looking.

“She’ll be here,” said Bryony anticipating the question forming upon the lips of the nervous Candace.

“Hello Bryony, welcome Candace, shall we go,” said a voice as melodious and sweet as bird song, coming from a fair haired wisp of a girl awash in flowing watercolor blues, walking with ease and grace across the shale, deep sand, and into the hut.

With eagerness Bryony followed her new friend pulling her old friend whose hesitation brought a pleading exchange of glances between the two girls.

Candace, wondering how anyone could walk into that dark pick-up stick opening, allowed her curiosity, and loyalty, full reign, taking a deep breath and boldly following Bryony.

One shuffling step, stooping, almost crouching upon the sand, and Bryony and Candace emerged onto another beach, in one direction caressing white sands flowed into a calm blue green sea, in another direction a vast stretch of green lawn swept away until it reached a brooding dense tree line of pine and spruce.

Their hostess was already seated at a table covered with a mint green cloth embroidered with falling red rose petals and curving vines with sharp thorns around the hem, a table whose surface was covered with ivory plates so thin you could almost see through them, with matching tea cups and saucers also decorated with roses, delicate petals and pointed thorns, and there were all sorts of tiny sandwiches filled with cucumber, pickles and cheese, smoked salmon, and tiny cakes frosted with smooth pale pink and yellow topped with sparkling roses and pansies, there were scones, fruited cake slices, sausage rolls, tiny curd tarts all sitting like jewels upon tiered and pedestaled serving dishes.

Sitting down Byrony’s thoughts turned upon warnings her mother had given, warnings following the faery tales her mother always read a bedtime, warnings about eating or drinking, something about names, well it was too late about that warning, Bryony had already revealed her name.

And it was too late for the warning about eating, for Candace was reaching for a second cucumber sandwich, smiling, speaking, but all Bryony heard was the thunderous sound of sun bleached, water smoothed logs falling, tumbling away.

River Mist Tales: Red Ribbons

Come in, come in, the river mist will be gone soon enough, but here you’ll find some tales, some warmth so make yourself comfortable. There’s tea in the pot, or perchance, you brought some wee dram of your own.

Please sit by the window, you’ll have the best view, and easy hearing. Ignore the cats, no matter what they say, and don’t open the window for the tapping crows.

I’ll be working at the table in the corner, if you have any need, or she knocks upon the door. And until you stop by again, may your wonderings be bold and your imaginings be wise.

Until your next visit, until the next photograph, the next 12-line story, good fortune and safe wanderings.

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Red Ribbons

Maggie O’Brien sat on the edge of her bed swinging her legs back and forth, her hands resting upon the quilted covering, her fingers tracing the hand-stitched lines between the kaleidoscopic misshapen pieces of fabric.

The house and every other creature inside it were still asleep, slumbering in the early morning twilight more dark than bright dawn.

Beside Maggie, laid out in straight lines, were two pale red ribbons, tightly woven, strong and sure, edges untattered, their satin finish catching the rising light.

It had been exactly three hundred and sixty-two days since Maggie had asked her aunt Rita if she too, could knot ribbons onto the hawthorn tree on May Day, giving both petition and thanks with the weaving of branch and ribbon.

For years Maggie had watched her older cousins, the aunts, their friends, gather in the back meadow in the dew kissed dawn on the first day of May, cheerful, sharing very particular gifts received from the wild wood.

She spied as the women, dressed in vibrant hues of yellow, blues, greens and purples, gather the low growing violets, the trailing ivy, the tiny wild daisies and blossoming thyme, weaving flower and leaf into circlets for hair and neck.

She spied, moving with soft footstep and quiet breath, amidst the dark blue shade of the yellow green leaves, the pink and white petals of the spring dressed cherry and apple trees, the woody thickset hedges forming the border between sunny meadow and shadowed wood.

From her green haven, Maggie never heard complete the chants whispered, the petitions given, until the women’s melodic voices joined together into a raucous chorus of joyful thanksgiving.

And she never saw the annual celebration in its entirety, for Maggie always crept back to the house, arriving in the warm kitchen long before her mother, who was wary and critical of the old ways practiced by her sisters and nieces, could discover her daughter’s interest, her daughter’s desire, her daughter’s yearning for the mysterious fellowship of ribbon and blooming hawthorn.

The bedroom door, which Maggie had left unlatched and just opened enough for a mouse to slip through, was pushed with a strong and sure hand as an invitation to join the revelry.

Maggie, finishing her silent invocation, her memorizing of petition and thanksgiving as instructed by her cousin a mere one year older, smiled at her retreating aunt, grabbed the ribbons, jumped down from the bed and ran with lilting footsteps down the front stairs and through the opened front door.

Falling into step behind her youngest cousin, Maggie walked solemnly even as her heart was skipping, her mind joyous, her face beaming with anticipation, giving thanks with each step, and wondering where her place would be in the circle around the hawthorn, wondering how the celebrations end, wondering if she too, on the next May Day morn, would hold dear a gift from the wild wood.

River Mist Tales: The Wheelbarrow

Come in, come in, the river mist will be gone soon enough, but here you’ll find some tales, some warmth so make yourself comfortable. There’s tea in the pot, or perchance, you brought some wee dram of your own.

Please sit by the window, you’ll have the best view, and easy hearing. Ignore the cats, no matter what they say, and don’t open the window for the tapping crows.

I’ll be working at the table in the corner, if you have any need, or she knocks upon the door. And until you stop by again, may your wonderings be bold and your imaginings be wise.

Until your next visit, until the next photograph, the next 12-line story, good fortune and safe wanderings.

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The Wheelbarrow

“Is that your wheelbarrow young man?”

Her voice was as aged and full of living as her crinkled face and bent, broad body.

“No ma’am, its not,” said Branden McFarland, wondering how such an ancient creature, unknown to him, would be walking about the countryside, far from village or neighbor.

“What ya gonna do with it?” she asked, her gray eyes watching his posture become first defensive, then relaxed, before turning impatient.

“Use it, after I fix it, fix this broken front brace,” said Branden gesturing toward the front of the old wheelbarrow.

“Don’t ya think you should fix it, and return it,” said the old woman.

“Return it, who to?” asked Branden, shaking his head.

“The woods wife, boy, the woods wife. She’d be grateful for the fixin, not for the keepin.”

Branden smiled at the woman, he had heard the tales, the faery stories of good fortune and ill, from folks who lived within the forest, but he knew the stories were just silly tales told to scare children.

Those gray eyes continued staring out of her crinkled face, she saw Branden’s expression, watched his disbelief growing with each breath he took, and as she turned to leave, she said, “You believe or not boy, the choice be yours, and so the consequences of your choosing.”

The next morning was almost spent before Branden, legs cramping from crouching, saw a young woman, dressed in moss green from head to toe, step beyond the forest edge, glance about, push the wheelbarrow, being satisfied with the workmanship, smile and return to the forest pushing the wheelbarrow before her.

Branden McFarland never saw either the young or old women again, he did see the wheelbarrow from time to time, sometimes broken, sometimes filled with seeds, or mushrooms, or wild herbs and other woodland treasures, prospering from the gifts which he gratefully accepted, never revealing their source to a living soul, and always choosing to repair the wheelbarrow and return it.