It appeared normal when one first saw it. Well, normal insofar as darky, creepy woods generally were. But, if one were to look closely enough, as only elves and wood sprites normally did, one might notice the small doors faintly outlined on the tree trunks and, even more intriguing, the occasional movement of a tree trunk itself.
It so happened one day, that a human chanced upon this place and took more time than the average human to focus on the nature of these woods. Whether or not he was specifically looking for this forest or just happened upon it, we do not know to this day, but so it was. He was meandering through some invisible path of his own, examining every flower he came across, occasionally bursting forth into random song, and in general, seemed quite unconscious of just how deep in the woods he was.
We watched him as he went past, and, whereas we normally resented the intrusion of a human, jointly agreed that he was appreciative enough of beauty that we would leave him be. Shorter than the average human, at least the few that we had seen in our day, his hair was about the same brown as our bark and his eyes the color of the bluebells that grew outside the almost invisible doors in our trunks.
He splashed through the stream that feeds us, laughing as though the dampness delighted him rather than upset him, and smelled the clumps of flowers without disturbing them.
At last, he settled against one of us and pulled a book from his bag, which he proceeded to read in peace. He remained that way all the afternoon and toward the magic hour. We began rustling a little, nervous that he would remain and see all that there was to see, which was more than any human before had done.
As though sensing our sudden unrest, he pulled himself out of the reverie into which he had sunk and looked about with renewed interest. At last! Surely now he would leave us be. Though the least disturbing of all humans we had yet encountered, we had no wish that he would see and bother the sprites that entrusted us with their homes. But rather than getting up and leaving, as he should if only due to the time of day, he stood up and looked about, appearing to seek the meaning of our noise beyond the normal rustling of treetops.
He stepped about us, looking here and there, searching—for what, we weren’t sure, nor did we really want to know. And then he stopped, staring closely at one of our trunks. Feeling rather violated for the consistent gaze, the tree let a couple of acorns fall atop the human’s head. Startled, he looked up, but it did not stave his curiosity. He reached out a finger and began sliding it down the trunk, and, with alarm, we realized he was tracing the outline of one of the doors for the sprites. We sought the wind’s assistance with distraction, and she came down with a vengeance, threatening to rip the very pages from the book the human held, and tipping over the bag he had brought with him that was still leaning up against one of our brethren.
The human himself stumbled backwards, and fell with a loud thump. Rather than being annoyed, however, he laughed and jumped up again, lifting his face to the wind. The wind was so surprised, it calmed to a softer breeze and the human offered a wink as though he knew we were watching. Then he moved forward to continue his examination. But it turned out not to be necessary. At that very moment, as the last of the sun began dipping beneath the line of the trees, the door opened, and out walked one of our sweet sprites.
Rather like the human’s perception of a troll, it was short and squatty, with a tuft of hair on top of the head, but a face as smooth and innocent as a babe’s, rather than wrinkly and mischievous. He and the human stared at one another and, filled with sorrow and some anger that we had been unable to protect him from the sight of the human, we rustled our leaves and branches with apology. The young master of his clan smiled and placed a hand on the trunk of his tree to denote his forgiveness and then turned his attention back to the intruder once we settled down.
The human stared at him. But not with the amount of amazement we would have expected. Rather, with interest and delight. Then, moving slowly, the human knelt to the ground in front of the sprite and reached toward his bag against the tree. Afraid that he planned to kidnap our small charge, we rustled our branches angrily and the forest grew darker than was natural as our anger and warning exuded into the air. The human paused and looked about him at all of us.
Then he silently, but pleasantly, extended a hand to the sprite. Sprites may not like being seen by humans, but they are not rude creatures, nor adverse to a bit of friendship. The sprite accepted his hand and, after solemnly shaking it as though to assure him of his good intentions, the human nodded toward the bag, silently asking permission. Our sprite signaled his approval and the human once again reached toward the bag, looking up at us a tad warily. He pulled the bag near him and took out a pad of paper and pencil. He drew something quickly and showed it to the sprite. The sprite looked at a vague outline of himself and smiled. He nodded his permission for the human to continue, and plopped himself on the ground. The human sketched quickly, but thoroughly and despite ourselves, we found ourselves leaning in to watch with interest. He paused as we leaned forward a bit and smiled before motioning to the sky, indicating he needed the brightening moonlight by which to sketch.
We backed off a bit to give him light, but continued to watch with curiosity. As he drew, he did not seem to notice as doors silently opened all about him and one by one sprites ventured forth, pausing momentarily at the strange sight before them and gathering in close as they perceived there could be no danger. He continued sketching as if his life depended upon it, finishing in about 20 minutes. By this time, it was becoming quite dark, but for the light of the moon, as we made an effort to ensure it shone brightly in our little part of the woods, since the sprites were apparently too distracted to do their normal duties.
When he finally looked up as if emerging from a daydream, he appeared startled for the first time and looked about him at the numerous faces that were watching him and his paper with quiet respect and curiosity. Uncertain what to do, he smiled a bit cautiously and they all broke out in smiles in return, always pleased to see a friendly face. Then they looked expectantly at his paper and the leader of the sprite clan reached out his hand for it. He tore the paper off his pad and handed it over and we looked over his shoulder.
It was impressively accurate, and showed the young sprite, sitting there with a smile, his house framed in the background, surrounded by the now sleeping bluebells, and even some of us were in the picture, with fanciful, barely visible faces on our trunks to denote our life.
The sprite broke out in a delighted laugh and the paper was passed about, meeting with just as pleasant a reception with the rest of the clan. The human appeared to be pleased with the joy his paper produced and once it was passed back to him, he looked down at it and then, with a slight bow, presented it as a gift to our sprite, who accepted it graciously.
In exchange, the young master made a motion with his hands and the sprites jumped to life, remembering their customary nightly duty and now aware that they were to be performed even in front of this stranger. They dashed about as the stranger watched with wonderment. They climbed us, with some assistance from our branches, and touched individual pre-selected leaves, which then glowed to life. Once each of us had our leaves touched, the entire wooded area glowed with a soft luminescent light, showing lightly green due to the color of our leaves. Now that he had proven no danger to us or our little charges, we allowed the light to shine benevolently upon the human, enjoying the incredulity on his face as he watched the small glade transform to a magical place. Where the bluebells had been open during the day, now night flowers appeared from among the blades of grass, coming out of the dirt as though called up and opening their own petals to show a soft light, each reflecting their individual colors.
Then, some of the sprites hurried about, pulling up tree branches and large rocks into formation while others dashed back into their houses and emerged only moments later with food prepared. Wild mushrooms, berries prepared in several variations, roasted nuts and acorns and a variety of herbs or green things that we cannot name but the sprites certainly seem to enjoy. In a matter of what seemed seconds to us but was likely half an hour to the human, the glade had a feast laid out, the musicians had struck up a song with homemade instruments, and the sprite leader was guiding the stranger to the honored seat he usually occupied.
Once seated, all the sprites, as was tradition, stilled as one to offer up a moment of thanks to their Maker before continuing with the festivities.
We always looked forward to this time of night and, to our surprise, tonight was especially enjoyable as we watched the interactions of the human with the sprites as they invited him into their world for a single night.
The feasting and singing went all night long, until the first touches of dawn began to touch the edge of the forest. At that, we signaled a warning with a slight rustle and the gaiety immediately dissipated as the sprites rushed around to put the forest back to rights. The branches and rocks were returned to their customary spots, leftover food was quickly put away, and as the night flowers faded back into the ground, the sprites disappeared into their homes as fast as though as if they simply disappeared. The human was left, standing in the middle of the glade, looking about as though wondering if he had dreamt it all.
We could not help feeling just a little sorry for him. But glad too – it was better if he should consider it a figment of his imagination. Much less danger to us. But the sprites must not have agreed.
Even though the sun was just appearing above the tree tops, one of the doors opened slightly, and a small hand slipped through and set something on the ground. We allowed an acorn to fall from a branch to capture the human’s attention and his eyes instantly focused on the paper, so out of place now.
He walked over, picked it up, and looked at his sketch of the sprite. He smiled softly, picked up his bag, and waved to us as he walked away.
About “Magic Hour”
Once of my favorite things to do is pull out cards from the board game “Dixit” and write stories based on them. This is one such story. Just a little fairy tale, but without an particular point outside of fun, so rather unpublishable. Enjoy!