Authors: Charles de Lint
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction / Fantasy & Magic, #Juvenile Fiction / Fairy Tales & Folklore - General, #Juvenile Fiction / Animals - Cats
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For my two best gals:
MaryAnn and Clare
—Charles de Lint
For Miso (I miss you, buddy) and June,
who peeked through the trees and saw
the very first circle of cats
And for Joe Monti,
who thought a longer story was a good idea
nce there was a forest of hickory and beech, sprucy-pine, birch and oak. It was called the Tanglewood Forest. Starting at the edge of a farmer’s pasture, it seemed to go on forever, uphill and down. There were a few abandoned homesteads to be found in its reaches, overgrown and uninhabitable now, and deep in a hidden clearing there was a beech tree so old that only the hills themselves remembered the days when it was a sapling.
Above that grandfather tree, the forest marched up to the hilltops in ever-denser thickets of rhododendrons
and brush until nothing stood between the trees and stars. Below it, a creek ran along the bottom of a dark narrow valley, no more than a trickle in some places, wider in others. Occasionally the water tumbled down rough staircases of stone and rounded rocks.
On a quiet day, when the wind was still, the creek could be heard all the way up to where the old beech stood. Under its branches cats would come to dream and be dreamed. Black cats and calicos, white cats and marmalade ones, too. Sometimes they exchanged gossip or told stories about L’il Pater, the trickster cat. More often they lay in a drowsy circle around the fat trunk of the ancient beech that spread its boughs above them. Then one of them might tell a story of the old and powerful Father of Cats, and though the sun might still be high and the day warm, they would shiver and groom themselves with nervous tongues.
But they hadn’t yet gathered the day the orphan girl fell asleep among the beech’s roots, nestling in the weeds and long grass like the gangly, tousle-haired girl she was.
Her name was Lillian Kindred.
She hadn’t meant to fall asleep, but she was a bit like a cat herself, forever wandering in the woods, chasing after squirrels and rabbits as fast as her skinny legs could take her when the fancy struck, climbing trees like a possum, able to doze in the sun at a moment’s notice. And sometimes with no notice at all.
This morning she’d been hunting fairies down by the creek, where it pooled wide for a spell. The only way you could cross it here was by the stepping-stones laid out in an irregular pattern from one bank to the other.
“Fairies won’t go across the water,” the midwife Harlene Welch told her, “but they do like to gather on the stones. Creep up on them all quiet-like and you can catch them sunning there like dragonflies.”
The trouble was, dragonflies were all she ever found by the creek. She never found fairies anywhere, no matter how hard she looked, though some days she could feel them in the air around her, tiny invisible presences as quick as honeybees. The air would hum with the rapid beat of their wings, but no matter how
quickly she turned and spun, they were never there when she looked.
She and Aunt lived miles from anyone, deep in the hills, halfway down the slope between their apple orchard and the creek. It seemed the perfect place to find fairies if ever there was one, and if the stories the old folks told were true. But no matter how quietly Lillian prowled through the woods, no matter how often she crept up on a mushroom fairy ring, the little people were never there.
“Don’t you go troubling the spirits,” Aunt told her on more than one occasion. “They were here before us, and they’ll still be here when we’re gone. Best you just leave them be.”
“Because they’re not partial to being bothered by some little red-haired girl who’s got nothing better to do than stick her nose in other folks’ business. When it comes to spirits, it’s best not to draw their attention. Elsewise you never know what you might be calling down on yourself.”
That was hard advice for a young girl.
“I’m not troubling anyone,” she would tell the oldest apple tree in the orchard as she lay on the ground, looking up into its leaves. “I just want to say hello hello.”
But it was hard to say hello to fairies she couldn’t find.