This story is by Catharina Hof and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Ewan pointed to the bark of a dead pine tree covered in round, puffy scales.
‘Are you sure that’s what you’re looking for?’ Peter questioned.
‘Look at the yellow caps, just like custard.’ Ewan was excited and felt like jumping up and down.
Peter had a sceptical look on his face and stood with his arms crossed as he said, ‘Doesn’t look very appetizing to me. I was hoping we’d see a red squirrel.’
Ewan ignored him, he’d seen something interesting.
‘Are these birch trees?’ Peter asked.
‘Yes,’ Ewan mused as they walked under an arch formed by the two birches. ‘Don’t see these much in pine forest.’
They knelt down by a red-capped mushroom with a white stem when they heard a crunch behind them. They each looked over their shoulder but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.
When turned their attention back to the mushroom, they heard leaves rustling and felt something rush past.
Ewan froze, ‘Wind?’
‘There’s no wind today,’ Peter answered.
A gust of wind blew the red, orange, brown and yellow leaves up in the air. It was almost as if someone was ziplining between the trees near them, close to the ground.
Ewan shivered all over his body as the leaves flurried back to the ground.
‘She’s left again already,’ they heard a creaky voice behind them. Both boys turned to see who had spoken, but couldn’t see anything.
‘Down here,’ the voice said, ‘on the mushroom you were admiring so much.’
They looked down to the red-capped mushroom. Ewan thought there was a twig on the mushroom, there hadn’t been one before. He reached to pluck the twig off the mushroom.
‘Not so fast,’ the creaky voice said as the twig moved two branches as if it were moving its arms.
‘Are you the twig?’ he asked. He felt strange talking to a twig.
‘Twig?’ the creaky voice squealed, ‘I never heard something so outrageous.’ The twigs arms moved in to cover the top end, as if it was covering its eyes.
‘Well, what are you then?’ Ewan asked, feeling uncomfortable.
‘A faerie, of course.’ The faerie lifted its twiggy arms in a triumphant way.
Peter sniggered. ‘You don’t look anything like a fairy.’
‘What were you expecting, wings and a tutu?’ The faerie scathed at Peter.
‘Well,’ Peter started with a shocked look on his face, ‘yes, actually.’
Ewan felt that Peter had a point. The faerie had brown skin, and his face his face was wrinkled, making him look old. He had long, spindly arms and legs that did look like branches coming off a bigger twig, and then he wore a leaf-shaped tunic.
It was far removed from the fairies in Disney films.
‘I can’t believe it,’ the faerie muttered. ‘You humans just make up all sorts of stuff and let it get so far away from the truth, that you can’t recognise a faerie when you meet one.’
Ewan listened to the faerie ranting and got an idea.
‘How come we can see and hear you now, when we haven’t been able to see you other times we’ve been here?’ he interrupted the faerie.
‘You know how you humans celebrate All Hallow’s Eve?’
Ewan and Peter shrugged their shoulders, they had never heard of it.
‘The veil between the world of the dead and your world thins, allowing some of you access to the Otherworld.’
‘Are you talking about Halloween?’ Peter asked.
The faerie nodded.
‘That was last night though.’
‘Yes, the veil thinned and when you passed through the birch door, you entered the Otherworld.’
‘But it looks the same as our world,’ Ewan said.
‘Except you’re talking to me,’ the spindly, twig-like faerie said.
‘And why are we talking to you?’ Peter asked.
‘The ghost of the witch,’ the faerie’s creaky voice took on hushed tones.
‘Mum says ghosts aren’t real,’ Peter said.
‘In your world, you normally can’t see or hear them. But you entered Otherworld.’
Ewan felt a shiver again.
‘Does it even matter?’ Peter asked. ‘I mean, she’s a ghost, right. So she can’t harm us, because we’re alive.’
‘Otherworld rules apply here.’
‘What would she want from us anyway?’ Peter asked.
‘Power.’ The twig-like faerie sat down on the red cap as if it was a cushion.
Ewan thought he looked a little regal sitting there. There was something cute about him once you got past his harsh exterior and demeanour.
‘What kind of power could the ghost of a witch want from two boys? Peter asked.
‘Life force, open imagination. You name it. Children tend to have both in abundance, although some more than others,’ the faerie said as his eyes moved from Ewan to Peter.
Ewan shivered again and felt uncomfortable.
‘If you say so,’ Peter said. ‘I want to see a red squirrel.’ He started to move away from the mushroom and the faerie. ‘Come on, Ewan.’
Ewan’s eye lingered at the faerie, before he followed Peter further into the forest.
‘I wonder why faeries are in this Otherworld,’ Ewan mused out loud. ‘It’s not like they’re dead.’
‘He seemed rather grumpy and mean,’ Peter said. ‘It’s like he wanted to scare us.’
‘Maybe he was trying to warn us.’
‘Halloween was last night. We got our sweets from trick ‘r treating. If something bad was going to happen, it would’ve been then,’ Peter said with confidence in his tone.
Ewan didn’t say anything.
Another rush of wind went past them, blowing leaves up in a flurry and a tall lady in a long old-fashioned dress appeared, the kind that he’d seen the mum wear in the black and white version of Dennis the Menace.
She was kind of see-through with black hair pulled back tight and a purple dress on.
‘Who are you?’ Peter said.
Ewan felt surprised at how confident and brazen Peter sounded.
‘Rhona,’ the lady said in a deep, melodic voice. ‘And you have something I need.’
‘We’re not supposed to talk to strangers,’ Peter said as he tried to walk away from the lady, pulling Ewan along.
Ewan was transfixed though. ‘Rhona,’ he said in a slow, drawn-out tone.
‘Yes. Good boy,’ the lady said as if she were talking to a dog.
What do you need? Ewan asked.
‘The power to get the locket from my sister. It was supposed to be mine.’ Rhona had a look of surprise on her face at telling him that much.
‘We don’t have any power,’ Ewan said.
‘Actually, you do,’ the witch said in a harsh tone as she stretched her arms out and started chanting in a strange language.
Ewan felt something pulling on his heart and felt himself grow weaker. He felt Peter pulling his arm, but Peter couldn’t hold him.
Next thing he knew, he was floating above his body somewhere halfway between his body and the chanting witch. He knew that he was going to die if she got hold of him.
He thought of his Mum and Dad and how much he would miss them. He regretted not saying goodbye to them properly. He thought of his warm, cuddly Nan who was always ready with a laugh. How they laughed together.
He noticed he was closer to his own body again.
‘Nooo,’ Rhona screamed.
That was it, he had to think of Mum, Dad and Nan. And that’s when he remembered his brother, and he was overwhelmed by sadness. He remembered how he went from a happy, bouncy boy to a bald, tired boy that slipped away from life.
He couldn’t do that to Mum and Dad. They couldn’t lose him too. He thought about how much he loved them until he slipped back into his body again.
He could feel Peter still pulling him, and as the pull from the witch released, they both fell back into a pile of crispy leaves.
‘Never mind,’ Rhona said. ‘I would have liked more power, but I got enough.’ And with a rush of wind, leaving a trail of leaves flurrying up and down, she disappeared.
‘You okay?’ Peter asked.
‘Yes,’ Ewan replied. ‘I think so.’
‘What did she get enough of do you think?’
‘I don’t know.’ Ewan shrugged his shoulders, not understanding Peter.
‘Let’s get out of this Otherworld.’
‘What Otherworld?’ Ewan asked.
‘Where we met this weird fairy and you fought the scary witch ghost.’
‘Don’t be so gullible,’ Ewan said. ‘There’s no such thing as fairies and witches.’ He started walking in the direction of home.
‘What do you think just happened?’ Peter asked as he followed Ewan.
‘We found some rare mushrooms. Shame we didn’t see the red squirrel though.’
‘Is that all?’ Peter had a note of disappointment in his voice.
‘The custard mushrooms were particularly cool.’
‘What about the twig on the red mushroom?’
‘I didn’t see a twig on the red mushroom.’ Ewan looked confused.