What Lies Beneath

By Nicole DiIorio (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

They were the broken remnants of a childhood memory. They were a secret, kept for nearly a decade by the best of friends. They were ancient, powerful and great. Monica gazed up through the trees, wishing she could find them again.

The fairy houses.

The magical maze of twists, turns, and wonder, suspended high above the forest path. Connected by rope bridges, the fairy houses had seemed to stretch for miles through the trees. But now, Monica couldn’t find them anywhere. She sighed as she continued to search the treetops.

They have to be here somewhere…She thought. They couldn’t have just disappeared.

The memories were flooding her mind… 

*** 

She and Emma had been seven, maybe eight years old. Emma’s older sister Kristine, who’d been about eleven at the time, had led them into the forest to play a game. She had called it “Hansel and Gretel”.

“What are the rules?” Emma had asked.

“Well,” started Kristine, “I’ll lead you into the woods, towards the middle. Then I’m gonna spin you around with your eyes closed. When I leave, you guys start counting to 100, and try to find your way out.”

“Like hide-and-seek!” Monica exclaimed excitedly.

“Yeah, sort of,” nodded Kristine.

The three girls walked into the woods for about ten minutes. Emma and Monica had chatted excitedly to each other the whole way. Finally, Kristine told them to stop in a small clearing.

“This is where you’re gonna start counting.”

Kristine repeated the rules and promptly spun each girl around. Then, she ran off back the way she’d come.

Emma and Monica had fallen to the ground laughing. They started counting; shrieking and laughing with every number, as little girls are wont to do. As they approached sixty, however, they got quieter and quieter.

“I’m tired,” sighed Emma as she flopped down onto her back. “Too tired to go find Kristine.”

Monica nodded. “Me too. I don’t wanna go anywhere.”

“Let’s just stay here forever and ever and ever and ever!” smiled Emma.

“We won’t go anywhere ever again!” Monica shouted up to the trees.

The girls continued to laugh, the game forgotten, Kristine forgotten, just the dreams of two seven-year-olds and an afternoon of endless impossibilities. 

***

Monica smiled as she recalled the beginnings of their first forest feat. She sat down in the soft grass and looked around. There was a stone wall covered with ivy, a few tree stumps, and the endless forest. But nothing seemed especially familiar. She was struggling with her memory. She could remember the game, and the fairy houses themselves, but she couldn’t remember how they had actually gotten there.

“Emma,” she whispered to the sky, “how did we get there? What happened?”

Monica shivered as a cool breeze rustled through the trees. The wind knocked down a few strands of ivy across the stone wall. Monica did a double-take. Where cold gray stone should have been, there was rough, brown wood.

Monica rose to her feet and stared at the wall. She took a few cautious steps forward and shook her head. There was another gust of wind and, as if to reassure her that it was true, it blew more ivy down. Now she could see more of the wood, and the onslaught of memories began. 

***

It was during their first visit to the woods, after Kristine had left them in the middle. The girls had spent a good hour happily prancing around in the small clearing. Out of breath, Monica plopped down with her back against a stone wall. Emma sat down a few feet away, facing her. Monica absentmindedly raised her hand and began twirling strands of ivy through her fingers.

“Whaddya wanna do now?” she asked, her cheeks red with the November cold.

Emma shrugged her shoulders. “I dunno. I guess…maybe we should find Kristine.”

Monica nodded in reluctant agreement. “Yeah, I guess.”

Emma nodded silently, staring at something over Monica’s shoulder. Monica looked up, but saw only the ivy covered wall. She let her hand fall to her lap and looked questioningly at Emma.

“Em? What’s the matter?” she asked.

Emma stood up and walked over to the wall. Monica rose up beside her. Emma moved some ivy away from the wall. Both girls gasped. There was a wood door in the stone wall.

The girls looked at each other.

“Should we open it?” breathed Emma.

“I…I don’t know. Should we get Kristine to open it? She might know what to do.”

Emma shook her head. “No, Kristine doesn’t know much. She’ll just boss us around and be mean. Let’s just open it.”

“Okay.” Monica nodded.

The girls brushed some more ivy down. The door was rather large. It was rough and crude, most likely made by hand. The insipidness of it was unpleasant. There was a heavy black latch holding it shut. It took both girls’ strength to lift it up. Emma reached for the handle and pulled it open with all her might. 

***

Monica brushed away the rest of the ivy. There was the door. As solid and uninviting as ever. Her breath caught in her throat. She was remembering it all clearly now. The whole day came back to her, and all the days after that. Monica’s head was starting to hurt. She was supposed to be resting, but she wasn’t able to. Not with all that had happened.

As she began to recall the happy memories of her forest adventures, she remembered all the painful things that had happened in the past few days. Her eyes stung with salty tears, but she wiped them away.

“I found it, Em. I’m going back to them.” 

***

Emma pulled open the door. The girls peered inside. It was dark and musty, and it smelled like burning leaves. Monica took a cautious step inside and realized that there was a dirt hallway connected to the door. She took a few more steps and began to feel that the hallway was turning a corner. She could feel Emma breathing behind her.

As they turned the corner, Monica saw a shaft of light casting shadows within the hallway. It was at the end of the tunnel.

“Emma, do you see that light?” she asked.

“Yeah, I wonder what it is.”

The girls continued on until they reached the light. There was a rope ladder that led up to a hole in the roof of the hallway. Without question, Monica began to climb up. Emma followed close behind.

After a moment, Monica emerged into what she thought was a different part of the forest. She gazed around at the trees and flowers. Everything was bathed in a golden light. Emma popped up behind her, slightly disappointed.

“It’s just a shortcut or something through the forest,” she pouted.

“Shush,” Monica told her, listening to her surroundings. “Do you hear that…that bell noise?”

Emma paused, straining to hear the bells. She heard them faintly, tinkling throughout the November air. “Yeah, they’re really quiet though.”

Monica nodded and took a few steps closer to the base of a tall tree. The bells, although they were still quiet, grew a bit louder. Monica looked up at the tree and saw another rope ladder, similar to the one she had just climbed up.

“Em…I think the bells are coming from up in the tree,” said Monica, gazing up into the foliage.

“Wanna climb up and see what it is?” asked Emma, who, without waiting for an answer, began to climb up.

Monica followed. It was a long climb, but easy. After a moment, Emma reached the top. She crawled into a wooden tree house, the size of a small bedroom, high above the forest floor. It was actually quite warm inside. There was a table with two plush chairs around it, and piles of books everywhere.

“Whoa,” whispered Emma as she stood up and looked around.

Monica hoisted herself up into the tree house and looked around. Her long dark hair blew out behind her as she rushed to the stacks of books around the room. Although she wasn’t old enough to read most of them, the numbers of them fascinated her. As Monica looked through the piles, Emma approached the table.

There was a piece of paper on the center. She picked it up and read it. Shock and disbelief washed over her for the first time that day. She reread the paper and turned to Monica.

“Monica, listen to this: 

Welcome to the fairy houses! We are very pleased to allow you boarding in our rooms. You’ve been chosen to “see,” if you will, our very special existence. You believe in us, in magic, in everything fantastic. We are but a small part of a very large, very wonderful world. These houses are open to you whenever you wish, as long as you always believe. You may not always see us, but we can always see you! There are few rules, but you must follow the ones we have set forth. Please do not share this secret with anyone. Do not bring anyone to this place, or to any other magical place you may discover. Do not try to harm us or any other creature (though we doubt you will). Please be very careful, we don’t want to endanger you, only to enlighten you. Have fun in our houses!

–The Fairies”

Monica and Emma looked at each other, fascinated.

“Real fairies,” sighed Monica dreamily.

“And we get to come here whenever we want!” smiled Emma.

The girls raced each other to the other end of the room, where there was another door. A bridge, made of wood and rope, connected it to another room. Spread out all over the tree tops were more bridges and rooms. Interspersed throughout were signs and directions, pointing here and there. The girls’ smiles grew even wider as they drank in the impossible images before them. 

*** 

Monica pulled open the door. It was even darker and mustier than the first time they had found it. She coughed and took a step inside, but there was something blocking her way. Where the dirt hallway should have been was a wooden wall, running the entire length of the entrance.

Monica touched it with her fingertips, her eyes watering.

“No…no it has to be here! It has to be here!” she broke down into sobs, leaning against the wall.

All those days Emma and her had snuck off to the forest to visit the fairy houses hadn’t been imagined. She knew they had been real. There was nothing that could explain them away; the fairy houses had been real. All of their adventures, climbing through the trees, laughing and playing in the golden sunlight, those things had been real, as real as the wooden wall before her.

There was another soft breeze, carrying Monica’s cries throughout the forest. A moment later, a scrap of paper fell from the sky and landed on the ground by Monica’s feet. She sniffled and choked back the sobs as she bent to pick it up. It was a note, in Emma’s handwriting.

“That’s impossible,” murmured Monica as she began to read. “She’s…she can’t…”

Monica,

This is very hard for me to do. I know you’re looking for the fairy houses. I know you want them to be there. I wish you could come see them one last time, but you can’t. The magic passed over us, Monica. All those years in middle school, and then in high school, corrupted us. We forgot to believe. They disappeared for us.

I know you think this must be impossible, me writing to you. And in a way, it is. But then again, wasn’t our whole childhood rather impossible? After the accident, I remember few things. I remember the ambulance, and being rushed to the hospital. I remember my parents and Kristine holding my hand. I could hear your mom’s voice across the room, talking to you. The doctor’s rushed them out, I know, because it was quiet for a few minutes. I think I told you that I saw the light, the light that brought us out of the tunnel. I said something about the fairy houses, didn’t I? Yes, I believe I did. You answered, I think, but I couldn’t hear you. The bells were getting really loud. That’s when my memories stop. I suppose that’s when I died.

But guess what, Monica? I’m living in the fairy houses now. I got invited to come back. I remembered to believe when it was the right time. I get to live with them, exist with them, learn with them. One of the things I learned first was “We find them, they don’t find us.” Don’t try to find the fairy houses anymore. They won’t appear again to you for a very long time. Just promise to remember them again when it’s your turn. Don’t do it sooner, do it at the right time. Please be safe, Monica. Be safe and be happy.

Love Always, Emma Rose

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