Around the old Hawthorn Tree

Short Story: Around the old Hawthorn Tree

Addison found the box one Sunday afternoon when her mom asked her to clean out the closet in the guest bedroom. It was a dusty old cardboard thing, and inside, she found a few notebooks with her late grandma’s name on the front and a beautiful silver necklace with a jeweled rose pendant.

“Look what I found,” she said, bringing the box to her mom.

Her mom turned from her computer, and her eyes widened. “I remember that. I kept it just in case…”

“In case what?”

“Nothing.”

Addison pestered (She was good at pestering) until her mom heaved a sigh and sat her down for a Serious Talk.

“I guess you’re old enough now to know that your grandma… She just disappeared one day. I always hoped she’d come back, but… We never found out what happened.”

Addison’s stomach rocked nauseatingly, and her shock must have shown on her face, because her mom hugged her awkwardly. “I know. It’s awful, but I’m sure she’s in a better place now.”

Addison mumbled something in response and went to her room, taking the box with her. Sitting on the edge of her bed, she felt dizzy. She had vague memories of her grandma’s funeral, the church being hot and stuffy and her dress itching. So everyone had just assumed she was dead? Addison pulled out the first notebook from the box, suddenly starved for information about the woman she realized she didn’t know much about.

Opening it, Addison found gorgeous sketches of fairies inside. No one had ever told her that Grandma was an artist! She flipped through the pages faster, but gradually, her hands slowed, and her face scrunched up. The drawings were…pretty creepy, actually.

The fairies had beady eyes and sinister smirks, crouching on rooftops and outside a window that looked like the one in their living room. (Mom had inherited the house in Grandma’s will.) A few looked more like goblins, and they had long, thin fingers and mouths of sharp teeth. The worst was a figure Grandma had titled “The Prince.” With long hair and a broad chest, he looked drool-worthy, but Grandma had imbued every pencil line of his handsome face with cruelty and malice.

He was wearing the rose necklace Addison had found in the box.

She shivered—then shook her head. They were just drawings. Grandma’s imagination had been spooky and awesome.

Addison picked up the second notebook, and a photograph fell out of it, fluttering to the floor like an autumn leaf. Addison reached down and picked it up—then dropped it like it was on fire.

She froze, breathing heavily, and after several seconds, she reached a shaky hand down and picked it up again. The blurry photo showed some of the fairies from Grandma’s sketches flying through her garden.

Calm down, Addison, she told herself. It’s obviously faked.

But it wasn’t a digital photo. It was one of those old ones that were printed from film. Could you even use special effects on those? There must be a way, but why would Grandma do that?

Addison looked through the second notebook, finding a sketch of fairies tall and small dancing in the woods, and one of the prince lounging on their front porch. Another showed an old hawthorn tree Addison recognized from near the back of their property. Grandma had scribbled something next to it.

“Widdershins seven times to get to Faerie Realm.”

Addison had to Google “widdershins.” (It meant “counter-clockwise.”) From there, she fell down an internet rabbit hole of fairy folklore. They were a lot more dangerous than Addison would have guessed from seeing them pictured in cartoons or as little garden statues. They kidnapped babies and left evil fairy changelings in their place. They stole things, tricked travelers into getting lost, and made people dance until they died of exhaustion. They had magic powers and could make prophecies, and sometimes, they spirited people away to their own realm.

Vintage Fairy Art

Her mom had said Grandma had just disappeared one day…

Addison put the notebooks, necklace, and photograph back in the box and shoved it all under her bed. Then she turned on the TV, desperate to think of something—anything else. Of course her grandma hadn’t been kidnapped by fairies. That was ridiculous, and Addison was silly for believing it. The shock from learning her grandma had disappeared had put her on edge. That’s all. She could glance nervously out the living room window as many times as she wanted; she wasn’t going to see any tiny, otherworldly faces looking back at her.

Days passed, and Addison tried to forget about it but couldn’t. She kept staring into the woods as she walked home from the bus stop, thinking she saw flashes of movement. She did more research online and poured through books from the library. She looked through her grandma’s notebooks again, staring at the sketch of the hawthorn tree.

“Widdershins seven times to get to Faerie Realm,” she’d written. Addison had read all about walking widdershins around churches and other buildings to enter fairyland. In all the tales and folklore, it was something people tried to avoid, but if that’s where her grandma was trapped…

Addison lay on her bed, staring up at the ceiling. She’d been about eight or nine when her grandma had vanished, so she didn’t have many clear memories of her. Addison remembered working with her in her garden, going on camping trips to the mountains, and one particular Halloween when her grandma had taken her trick or treating. An older kid dressed as a killer clown had jumped out from behind some bushes and scared Addison, and her grandma had shouted at him so fiercely that she’d chased him clear down the street. Seeing the tiny old woman send the scary clown running had turned Addison’s tears to laughter.

Most of all, Addison remembered feeling loved.

Addison couldn’t forget that—she didn’t want to. So she went through her books again and started getting ready.

Iron could hurt fairies, so Addison smuggled a cast iron cooking pot out of the kitchen. Milk, honey, and bread were said to be the best bribes, so she made sure they ended up on the grocery list. Church bells and a rooster’s crow could drive fairies off, so Addison downloaded audio files of the sounds to her phone. An herb called St. John’s wort was supposed to be powerful against them. Addison was stumped on how to get it until she realized the yellow flowers growing in her grandma’s old garden were exactly what she was looking for.

St. John's Wort

Addison mashed up the herb, mixed it with water, and poured it into an old plastic water gun. Then, one Saturday when her Mom went out to visit a friend, Addison put all her tools into a backpack, turned her clothes inside out (another protective charm), and ate a big lunch, because all the sources agreed it was bad to accept food while in fairyland. Then she marched out to the old hawthorn tree.

She stared at it for a while, her stomach quivering. Had she really thought this through? What could she possibly do against magical, immortal beings? This was crazy.

Then she took a deep breath and began walking widdershins around the tree.

One… Two… Three…

If nothing happened, she was going to feel epically stupid.

Four… Five… Six…

But if it worked, she might not be able to get back.

Seven…

A chill went down her spine. The straggly woods around her house vanished, replaced by a rich, misty forest of monumental trees. Lights glimmered between the thick trunks, pale blue and floating like fireflies, and in the distance, she heard faint, melancholy singing. A tiny green fairy flitted by, wings like a dragonfly’s, and it stopped to stare at her before zipping away.

Addison squeezed shut her eyes, and a shudder of fear went through her. This wasn’t a dream or a silly delusion she’d made up in her head. She could feel the cool, moist air against her skin and smell the moss and mist. She opened her eyes, swallowed, and strode off in the direction of the singing.

Fairyland was real.

And Addison was going to rescue her grandma from it.

Published by

Kristen Brand

Kristen Brand writes speculative fiction with lots of action, witty banter, and a bit of romance. She loves comic books and all kinds of superhero media, and she's probably drinking tea right now.

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