Short Story: Twixt Tween and Twilight


The soft light of morning gave way to the day, sure to be warm, bright, and pleasant. Small puffs of dust exploded from under Ooley’s feet as he trod the familiar path to The Great Rock. The brightly colored school pack rode heavily against the boy’s spine, weighted with frozen bottled water, a plastic bottle of soda, a bag of raw veggies, and a peanut butter sandwich that was already flattened and deformed by the heavier objects.
Turning thirteen the day before, the gangly youngster was slender to the point that people questioned if he was getting enough to eat. He was, and his high metabolism fed both his high energy and kept him looking emaciated although he was perfectly healthy. The shock of dark, straw hair and the deep green eyes beneath complemented his round and mischievous face. Ooley’s grandfather gazed at him often, sideways, and wondered if the boy was as much an imp as he seemed.
The Great Rock loomed as the boy broke from the undergrowth, and he immediately made ready to climb. After several attempts, the hook on the end of his rope found purchase, and he tested it with his full weight. Then, hand over hand he ascended.
A dream the night before, or more properly in the wee hours of the morning, had prompted Ooley to be here today. He didn’t remember the particulars, as most dreams fade on awakening, but he vaguely seemed to remember that the rock had some kind of importance in his life. Now his curiosity was aroused, and finding an unknown reason for urgency, he felt that today was the day to climb the rock… and become a spy.
Only a very few children knew that the rock was hiding a secret. The tall walls rose a good ten or twelve feet from the ground, not just straight up, but slightly overhanging. A formidable obstacle for a grown man, they were topped by another ten feet of steep slopes, lichen encrusted granite with little to hold onto until the top was reached, a jagged edge that looked uninviting and precarious. From any side, the top looked to be sharp, affording no place to rest or sit and contemplate the view. Certainly there was no reason to climb, unless you knew the rock was hiding a deep hollowed out valley down its length. A place of green lushness, with ferns and mosses providing a carpet, vines clinging to the walls within, and a virtual forest of stunted and twisted trees. The green was fed by a tiny rivulet of water that emerged from a ledge at the high end of the cleft, cascading off to form a misty waterfall and trickling happily over stones and pebbles into a tiny pool at the opposite end. All told, the rift in The Great Rock was no more than twelve feet wide and sixty feet long, with a gently sloping, almost flat bottom and a flowered miniature meadow of soft grasses and moss at the widest spot above the pool.
The ledge where the water emerged from the rock was well hidden from not only the ground outside, but from the little valley below, and this was Ooley’s ambition, a place to observe without being observed. Soon he was ensconced comfortably beneath the lone tree that shaded the nook, also providing gnarled roots that molded a comfortable seat for a small boy’s derriere. He peeked carefully over the lip, down into the shadows and sunlit wildflowers, and smiled. This was the perfect spot to see anything below. Now all he had to do was wait, because he knew somehow that something was poised to happen. How did he know? Well, he didn’t know.
The woods surrounding The Great Rock were busy. Cicadas clattered and buzzed as the day heated up, and squirrels and birds and small things among the leaves went about their business as they saw fit. The dust of the path that approached the rock was disturbed by the occasional stink bug crossing or a small bird taking a dust bath, and eventually small feet of the human sort.
Two children, one ten years old and a boy, led another child by the hand, a little girl of eight years and a lyrical nature. Jenett, Jeejee to those who loved her, was unfamiliar with the woods this far away from her back yard, but she had been invited to discover the deeper forest in her dreams last night and she had accepted. Her memories of the invitation were clear, and the involved and detailed instructions that followed had been impressed on her young brain. Besides, if she had trepidations or any hesitation, the boy who held her hand was an old hand and could inform her in anything she might question. She hummed a happy tune as she enjoyed the new experience and looked forward to the day.
Remembering his own first day, Korbin thought about how he had followed Ooley down this very same path. They hadn’t held hands, being boys and all, but Korbin had no problem holding hands with the little girl who had appeared to take Ooley’s place now that he had timed out. The ten year old, dark with flashing black eyes and close cropped knappy hair, looked back occasionally at the girl with the bright red hair and prominent freckles. Someday she might be a beauty, but right now her two adult front teeth were too large and bucked out enough that she looked ever so slightly like a hamster. The song was pleasant and Korbin had a good ear, so he appreciated that she was hitting all the notes properly.
Less than a half mile from their back yards, the trees broke about The Great Rock and they emerged into the sunlight. A little to the right and behind a bush with long thorns, a small opening looking like the den of a groundhog intruded into the bottom of the stone looming above them. Korbin didn’t hesitate and dove in, scrambling and kicking his legs as he wormed his way inside. Jeejee heard him calling, “C’mon, it’s not far an it ain’t as tight as it looks!”
Looking around one last time, Jeejee bent down and looked inside. There was nothing to see but blackness, so she took a deep breath as though she were going to swim underwater and belly flopped into the dark. The tight entrance expanded inside slightly so that she could rise to her knees and crawl, and she followed a series of switchbacks that eventually led to a taller opening into sunlight. By this time Jeejee was on her feet but bent over so she could only look at the ground, and as she emerged from the rock, she rose to find what her dream had only been a pale imitation of.
The Faerie Counsel was gathered, and she and Korbin would represent humanity.
Sitting on a soft hummock of moss, Korbin motioned to Jeejee to join him. He patted the moss next to him, indicating that she should sit there.
The air was full of flying creatures. Hummingbirds arrived, carrying gnomes in tiny red, pointy hats and Sunday best bib overalls. A contingent of pixies flew in on dragonflies, and several dryads and sprites hovered and dove through the trees and over the water of the pond. A few pixies wrestled in the grass, and several of the sprites skated across the pond in furious circles. Under the shadow of the lowest trees, a child of the trolls sucked its fingers after picking at its toes.
Reaching into her pocket, Jeejee pulled out some pieces of brightly colored thread. Each no more than an inch long, the little girl had picked as many shades as she could find in her mother’s sewing box. The pixies swarmed her in their tattered cloths, dancing about barefoot and begging for a strand. She held out one at a time, and as each was accepted the pixie would bow deep in gratitude. Soon they were all belted or necklaced or head banded by a bright addition to their wardrobe, and they danced about in delight to display their new acquisition. A group formed, and there was some high pitched and stringent discussion. The group split apart, and working quickly harvested armfuls of the tiniest flowers to be strung into a wristband, which they presented to Jeejee. After she received it, plaited about her wrist in a never ending circle, she stood, startling the pixies. They backed away, suddenly afraid. But when Jeejee bowed in a grand imitation of their own thank you, they laughed until they rolled on the ground.
Other of the fay presented gifts to each other, even a gnome pulling an old chicken bone from a leather backpack and throwing it toward the troll. Slobbering, the troll grabbed it up quickly as though he expected others to covet his present. Retreating into the shady recesses, sounds of wet sucking emanated from the dark.
Gradually the throng quieted, seeming to be a natural affect of strenuous activity, but they all knew that it was time to begin. Each creature settled in a comfortable place and whispered quietly if they made any noise at all.
A small door opened between the roots of a small gnarled oak, and a dryad of immense presence strode forth. She hesitated for effect, and the quiet became infinite.
“I… am the Queen… of the Boo Ga Loo.” She stated in a slow, husky, and surprisingly low voice. “We are here this day to decide the fates. For the next cycle and beyond.” Extending her arm and turning, she embraced the entire theater. “Today we must make what efforts we can to ensure life and well-being to the earth.”
The two human children were mesmerized. The words flooded into their being, not just into their ears, and they were granted a temporary wisdom that transcended any that humans had ever been blessed with before. The spell cast over the gathering permeated each creature, and tendrils of feeling and cognizance from the far reaches of the world invaded their bodies so that they could experience the earth and all of its creatures. Suddenly… they were the earth.
Each in the gathering spoke in their turn, voicing those things that concerned them the most, issues that touched their hearts. The gardeners of the earth, the gnomes spoke of green grass and rich soil being paved over or washed away. The sprites explained how water was becoming cloudy, or warm, or was changing so that life inhabiting it was changing. One of the most eloquent speeches came from the mouth of the troll as he wept over the way rock and stone was being tortured to bring water, tarry fluids, and odiferous gasses to the surface, to be replaced with salt water or not at all, and how the deep reservoirs were collapsing and the land subsiding.
Hours passed. In a human forum the discussion would have taken years, decades, or even centuries. The group here gathered had a purpose in common, knowledge and ideas flowed, and what solutions there were became easily accepted by way of reason.
The last item of the agenda was a serious one, and it had been a long time coming. Not taken lightly, and discussed for centuries, it involved taking away the viability of a species. A protein in the DNA of the species could be switched to enhance the opposite allele, and the species would lose something and return to a form long forgotten and now extinct. A drastic measure to be sure, but earned.
The debate began, and clearly there was more contention than in any other. The sides locked, and discussion resumed. First one side and then the other seemed to control the decision. They needed a tie breaker. Calling a halt, a recess to gather their thoughts, the Queen of the Boo Ga Loo stated that she would cast the deciding vote if the assemblage could not come to agreement. Not unheard of, this method to come to a decision was rarely used as most were unanimous.
The groups fell apart, some walking or flying away to be alone, and others looking to speak with others.
Awakening from a light sleep, Ooley thought about what he had observed so far. He had watched the little glade inside of The Great Rock, seen Korbin and Jeejee crawl out of the hole he could no longer fit through, and had watched as they played with the grass and flowers, knitting bands for their wrists and placing flowers in their hair. The butterflies and lacewings and water skeeters had seemed more plentiful than in most places. Pretty boring stuff. The warm day and the peanut butter sandwich had made Ooley drowsy, and he nodded off. Now he looked down on the two kids, and his nature to cause trouble got the better of him. He picked up a rock and bounced it off the side wall to land in the pond, making a splash that surprised the younger children.
“What was that?!?” Korbin asked.
Jeejee had seen the rock, noticing it because of the noise when it clattered off the stone wall above them. “It was a rock, Korbin. Somebody threw a rock! It came from that-a-way.” She indicated the opposite end of the valley. She stood up, looking fiercely toward the source of their interruption. Both she and Korbin assumed the rock came from the outside and over the top of the jagged lip surrounding the meeting place.
She yelled, “Cut it out you meany-head! That could have hit us!”
Grabbing her arm and pulling her down, Korbin shushed her. “Quiet! You don’t want people to know we’re in here, do you? Ya gotta be quiet!”
Knowing he was right and that she had forgotten herself in the moment of being threatened, Jeejee zipped her lip and hoped there would be no more rocks. She looked back at the pond where the rock had landed and noticed a casualty. Just below the surface, a dragonfly was struggling to break the surface tension to get to air.
Ashamed suddenly, Ooley came to the sudden conclusion that he was too old to do something that stupid. He ducked as the girl stood to look up toward the ledge, and sorry for what he had done, he heard her words. She was right. Throwing rocks was for little kids.
“Oh, look,” Jeejee exclaimed in alarm, “we have to rescue it. It can’t get out by itself.”
Korbin looked where Jeejee was pointing, and jumped to aid the struggling insect. He lifted it from the water gently, and held it out for inspection. The rock had done damage. One of the wings was broken.
While the two kids were concentrating on the bug, Ooley decided to leave. He slipped up and over the lip above the ledge, and down the slope, jumping when it became vertical. Then he ran all the way home, wondering the whole way why he had wanted to spy on the kids inside The Great Rock. Within a week he had forgotten The Great Rock existed, and he never returned.
The gathering was agitated. The rock was bad enough, but to have an injury, even to a dragonfly, was a terrible blow. The mood of the assemblage started to turn dark.
“We can fix it, maybe.” Offered Korbin.
“How? How do we do it? We need something to hold it together.”
Jeejee reached and took the insect from Korbin, holding it as gently as she could, being sure it couldn’t flail about and injure itself further.
“I know, I know,“ said Korbin excitedly, “I have some glue at home. I can get it. Just hold it until I get back.”
Without waiting for a reply, Korbin ducked into the hole in the rock and disappeared. He wondered about the dust in the air as he ran toward home, not realizing that another boy was running just ahead of him but far enough to be out of sight. Back in less than fifteen minutes, he produced a small tube of super glue.
The two children labored over the broken wing while one of the pixies used a gentle hand to comfort the bug. At first the repair wouldn’t hold, with only the two ends glued together. But Jeejee had an idea. She asked the pixie for the piece of thread that held his hair back, the one that she had given him. Dabbing the thread with glue and wiping it off quickly, the thread became a stiff, straight, and very fine splint. The splint glued to the top edge of the wing gave it rigidity, and after asking for another and doing the same on the bottom of the wing, the dragonfly was ready to fly in minutes.
The pixie comforting the insect bowed deeply, thanking the two children in a small but strong voice. All of the pixies behind him, all gathered and watching intently, bowed as well. Then the troll followed suit, and the rest did as well.
The day was waning, and it would be dinner time soon. No one mentioned the vote, as all present had decided to be charitable in the wake of the children’s efforts. Goodbyes were said, finger tips touching in acknowledgement, and the party broke up as each of the fay left to return to their home.
Korbin and Jeejee smiled as they held hands and walked the path back to their subdivision. All was right with the world, at least for now.

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