1 The Painting
She was lying in bed, waiting for the Sandman to do his job and make her go to sleep. While her mind was going over all the things she had done today, her eyes moved around her room. It wasn’t fully dark as there was a street light near her window and with the little bit of light seeping through the curtains she could make out the things in her room. Her little desk with the books on it, the teddy bear she got for her 4th birthday in the corner, the stack of toys behind the chair. Then her eyes moved over the walls and stopped at the painting that hung on one of them.
She didn’t know who painted it, but it had been a gift for Christmas. She smiled as she looked at the two mushrooms standing in a field on a starry night. Her imagination was triggered by this painting. The mushrooms, the flowers, the trees in the distance. So intriguing! Wouldn’t it be nice to roam around amongst them? And then, of course, that hill. That mysterious light shining from its opening. What would be inside? Was it a pile of gems? A horde of fireflies? Or possibly…fairies?! She grinned. That would be wonderful. Of course, it could be a group of grumpy gnomes for all she knew, sitting around a fire.
As sleep started to fall upon her, her mind was seeing all kinds of creatures she might come across if she would be roaming around in the painting. And butterflies, she just loved butterflies….. The little girl fell asleep.
2 The Mushrooms
In her dream she opened her eyes again, then blinked a few times. She was staring at a huge mushroom. Two mushrooms! Oh! Mushrooms from the painting! She jumped up and down excitedly. “Hello, hello! So nice to meet you.” She called out to them. The large purple headed mushroom smiled at her. “Hello Elle, nice to finally meet you too.”
She chatted for a while with the Mushrooms, asking them about the world she was in now, but they said she’d better find out for herself. “I love adventures!” she had called out, clapping her hands excitedly. “We heard of you from Pinkie Papillion, the butterfly”, the red Mushroom said. She told us of your other adventures. If you look well enough, you should find her home, somewhere in this forest.” Elle beamed happily. “It would be wonderful to see Pinkie again. I can’t wait, I’m going to explore these woods. See you when I get back!” With an energetic wave she was off, on her way to new adventures. The Mushrooms smiled as they watched her go, glad the girl had finally made her way into their world.
3 Nosie The Pixie
Elle set out straight for the intriguing light that shone from the big hill. Happy that her curiosity about what would be inside would be satisfied at last! “Ouch!” she called out after something hit her head. She looked around, it was a pine cone. She looked up at the trees around her and then another cone hit her head. “Ouch, stop it!” she called out again, frowning angrily. She saw the tip of a red hat between the pines. “You! Come out, show yourself!” trying to sound as stern as her mother when she called out to Elle when she was caught doing something bad. Slowly the hat moved up and a face could be seen. A creature with a barky looking skin, a tiny pointed nose and purple pants, reluctantly emerged from the trees.
He looked down at his big feet, one of them sweeping the floor before him. “Didn’t mean to get you all boooo” he said with a raspy, throaty voice. “Was just playing with you.” Elle crossed her arms, imitating her mother still, and looked at him. “Well, you should ask me if I wanted to play first, shouldn’t you?!” The creature bit his lip and nodded remorsefully. “ Are you the sleeping girl?” he asked softly. “You look like her.” That was when Elle realized that as much as she had looked at the painting, the painting and everything in it had been looking at her as well! “Oh! Er…yes, I think I am. My name’s Elle, who are you?” Sensing she wasn’t really angry any more, the creature looked up at her and showed a big smile. “I’m the pixie they call Nosie.” Tapping his nose as he spoke. “It may be small, but I can smell better than any of them!” pointing to somewhere behind him. She glanced around him but saw only trees and the hill with the bright light. She pointed towards it. “What is that, Nosie?” He turned around to see what she was pointing at. “Oh, the hill! That’s where the fairies live.” He tilted his head looking at her. “You want to see? They won’t mind, they like visitors.” She nodded eagerly. “Oh, yes I would love to meet fairies!” Nosie started to walk towards the hill. “Be careful when you enter, they don’t always watch where they’re going.”
4 The Fairy Hill
They walked to the hill, the light shining brighter with each step closer. Nosie nudged her forward. “In you go, sleepy.” She smiled and walked into the opening, the light so bright it blinded her for a moment. When she opened her eyes again she cried out in disbelief. “Oh, how beautiful!” There were creatures flying everywhere, there were ant hill like houses with little windows in them, strange flowers and everything was glowing. The inside of the hill looked like a night sky, she felt like she was among the stars. The creatures flew right past her, some even went through her! They appeared and disappeared, making it hard for her to see them properly. “Hello!” she tried to say to a creature that was gone the next moment. “Excuse me, hello!” she tried again to another creature. The creatures made all kinds of sounds, but they didn’t acknowledge her at all.
Nosie had followed her in and grinned. “Flighty creatures they are, haha!” He pointed at one of the bigger creatures. “That’s Luna, she’s head of all fairies. But she seems to be too busy…” He tilted his head, took a deep breath, seemingly sniffing for something. Then he nodded. “Yes, something’s wrong.” Elle looked at Nosie. “What do you mean?” He pointed at the creatures. “They’re upset, that’s why they’re flying so fast and wild and why they won’t talk to you. “ He looked at them again, sniffing deeply, pointing his ears upwards. “It’s the Gardener!” His face looked shocked. “The Gardener…he’s ill! Oh that is bad news, bad news!” Elle didn’t understand. “The gardener? Who’s the gardener?” Now it was Nosie’s turn to look surprised. “You don’t know?! The Gardener! He’s the one who keeps the forest alive! Every creature, every tree and flower. And he’s ill. He has to get better! Or our forest will die with him!” The pixie was crying now. “We have to help him, we have to!” Elle bit her lip and nodded. “Yes, we have to…but how?” She didn’t know what was wrong with the Gardener. Nosie gathered himself, wiped his face and started to walk outside. “We’ll ask the bird.”
5 The Owl
Elle followed him out of the hill, unto a path on the right. They walked among the trees until he stopped and pointed up. “This one knows all.” She looked up and saw an owl resting on a branch. “Hello owl!” she waved.
“Do you know how we can help the Gardener?” The owl looked at them both and shook its head. “Not me, no, but I know what you have to do. Find the Bare Trees.” Elle blinked. “Bear…trees?” Nosie laughed. “No, he said Bare, as in …no leaves or needles. Like the one inside the hill, behind the hillhouses, The Spirit Tree.” He pointed to the hollow hill. “ I know where another one is! The Old Man. It’s not far from here at all!” He waved at the owl and rushed off. Elle followed quickly, shouting a goodbye to the owl as she sped after the pixie.
6 The Old Man (Bare Tree)
And after just a few corners on the path they stood eye to eye with a huge tree, bare trunks, and an old man’s leafy face looking back at them. “Hello Old Man. Have you heard of the Gardener?” Nosie asked him soon as he arrived at the tree.
The tree seemed to shake its branches for a moment and a deep voice answered. “Nosie and Elle, you will be the keepers of the keeper? I think you will, mhm.” The tree bowed a little towards the path that was ahead. “You’ll need to find the Bare Tree with the fruits. The fruits will heal the Gardener.” The kids nodded solemnly, though neither had ever heard of that particular tree. “It is well hidden.” The Old Man said. “You’ll need all the help you can get. Look around for any of the creatures in the forest. Some are bound to know where to go.” The two thanked him and were on their way again. Walking along the path among the pines.
7 The Butterfly Tree (Bare Tree)
They walked further along the path until they reached a grove. “Oh look!” Elle clapped her hands happily. “Butterflies!” They were everywhere, flying around them. And then she saw the tree. Another Bare Tree, completely covered in butterflies. “We found another one!” she called out to Nosie.
And then she noticed the pink butterfly flying towards her. “Pinkie!” “Hello Elle! You are here! Pinkie is happy to see you here!” the butterfly chirped happily. The girl smiled and nudged Nosie as he walked up to them. “I know her!” she said, pointing at the butterfly, which was now flying around their heads. The pixie sniffed and shrugged. “Pinkie Pester is how I call her…” grumbling softly. Elle raised her eyebrows. The butterfly laughed in her tiny highpitched voice. “Nosie is a little jealous of Pinkie. Pinkie knows more than he…” Nosie glared at the butterfly and swiped his hand towards her. Pinkie just flew a little higher. “Pinkie knows you are looking for the Bare Trees, trees like my home tree here.” She fluttered around the Butterfly Tree for a moment. “We butterflies know all, we just forget we do sometimes.” Another highpitched laugh. For a moment the butterflies which covered the tree were moving their wings all at once and a little faster than before. It made the tree look like it moved, swaying in the wind. “Walk among the flowers, they say. Listen to Pinkie now, walk among the flowers!”
And with that cryptic message, the pink butterfly was off again, fluttering away on the wind. The butterflies on the tree seemed to calm down again and Nosie and Elle walked out of the grove, in search of flowers.
8 The Hedgehog
The path took them to a small hill. As they climbed on top they saw a meadow full with flowers in front of them. “Beautiful!” Elle exclaimed again. “Yes, but so big…and not a Bare Tree in sight!” Nosie grumbled. “How will we find that blasted tree now!!!” looking all over the meadow for a clue. “Excuse me”, a tiny voice said below them. Elle and Nosie looked to their right and saw a hedgehog.
“Oh hello there” Elle smiled. “We are looking for a tree.” The hedgehog nodded. “Many trees here, but you are looking for special one, right? You are going to help the Gardener?” its voice hopeful as it looked between them. The girl and the pixie both nodded. “yes, we are. We are looking for the Bare Tree with fruit.” The hedgehog moved towards the flowers. “The Headfruit Tree, yes. You have to walk among the flowers. Take the easiest path, where flowers grow low.” Its nose pointed towards a place where the flowers grew so low it looked like a carpet. “Thank you, hedgehog! We will go and find the tree!” she called happily. This time Nosie was the one rushing after her, after tipping his hat to the hedgehog.
9 The Headfruit Tree (Bare Tree)
And then as the path ended into another grove, she saw the Bare Tree. Elle couldn’t believe her eyes. When she got closer she saw actual heads growing on the tree. They looked a bit like strawberries, but they had faces! And ears too! She was gawking at them with her mouth wide open. Nosie bumped into her as he finally caught up with her. “Wow, I never saw this tree before! Look!” he walked up to one of the fruits to poke at it. “Watch it!” a low, angry voice shouted at him. “You want to lose your finger, hm?!”, making biting motions with its teethless mouth. Nosie quickly stepped away from the tree. “They speak!” He seemed to be as surprised as Elle was. They started to talk at the same time. “How can we possibly…..” “We can’t just grab…” They looked at each other and then back at the tree again, sighing deeply. “How can we pick one of them and return to the Gardener… I don’t see how…” Elle mumbled softly, sounding a little defeated. She couldn’t possibly kill a creature, not even to save the lives of many. It was unfair. She sat on the ground, Nosie sat with her and they both stared at the tree, confused and feeling intense sadness washing over them.
“Oi! Just cause ye can’t poke at us, don’t mean we won’t help ye!” One of the other fruits shouted at them. “Ye speak of the Gardener, what of him?” Elle and Nosie looked up. Nosie started talking. “We were told to find the Bare Tree with fruit. We need to bring the fruit to the Gardener. He’s dying and only the fruit can save him.” He stared at his feet. “But we can’t pick you from the tree and let you die….we just can’t…” going to Elle and wrapping his arms around her. Elle had started to sob softly. She didn’t know what to do and couldn’t stand for this world to end. But she couldn’t see how to help the Gardener without hurting the fruit creatures. The fruits suddenly seemed to all talk at once, hushing voices, a murmur on the wind. They couldn’t hear what was being said. Then a soft cough to ask their attention was made and they both turned to look at the tree again. One of the fruits spoke. “We have heard of the Gardener’s sadness and pain. It is said the world is withering as he can’t keep up with all the work. So many things to look after, so many trees infected with diseases that need healing, so many creatures needing his attention… We are prepared to meet our fate if we can help save the Gardener and this world. We will die for it.” A shiver went through the tree, as well as through the girl and the pixie. Nosie was grimacing, happy the fruits would make such a sacrifice, but still unhappy about having to be the one to pick the fruits off the tree.
Elle seemed to stare in front of her for a while. She didn’t say anything in response. Nosie frowned and nudged her. “Elle, you have to say something!” Elle shook out of her reverie and looked at him bright eyed. Then at the tree. “I may know how to do this.” she said with a hopeful voice. “You are called headfruit, is that only because of your shape?” she asked the tree. “Not only because of how we look”, said the same fruit who spoke before. “We have special powers, we are good with heads.” Nosie looked confused, not understanding what they meant, but Elle’s face starting to brighten and a smile appeared on her face. “I know what we need to do! We need to find the Gardener and bring him here! It’s his head that needs fixing!” She grabbed Nosie’s arm and tried to tug him with her. “Come on, let’s find the Gardener!” Nosie still didn’t understand but scrambled after her anyways, not sure they’d know where to find the Gardener at all.
10 The Gardener
The flowers gave way to grass again and shortly after they reached a stretch of water with a bridge over it. On the other side they saw a group of fireflies moving over a bare stretch of land. There were a few rocks and there was a bench. When they came closer they suddenly saw a man sitting on the bench. He had a rake in his hand. He had a sad , worn look on his face. Nosie nudged Elle in her side. ‘That’s the Gardener”, he whispered to her. Elle sat down on the bench, next to the Gardener. “Hello, my name’s Elle.” She said with soft voice. The Gardener looked at her with a gentle smile. His face had dark shades here and there. “Hello Elle. How nice of you to visit here.” He sighed deeply, looking back in front of him, staring at nothing. “You will have seen it at least once before….” His voice broke. He shook his head, deep sadness pulling his shoulders down. He seemed a defeated man.
“I’m sorry to hear you are not feeling well.” Nosie said, moving forward, wanting to place a hand on the Gardener’s shoulder, but hesitating, unsure if he could approach or not. The Gardener was unaware, staring at the ground now. “It’s just…too much…I can’t work it all out anymore. So many dangers, from so many sides. There’s sickness and disease spreading and I can’t stop it all.” Overwhelmed with emotion, his eyes starting to water. Elle bit her lip and then patted the Gardener’s knee. “We are here to help you. We are going to take you to the Headfruit Tree and if we are lucky, they’ll help you heal”, she told him with a face that showed worry.
The Gardener looked up in surprise. “The Headfruit Tree? The lovely little red fruits?” He scratched between the few hairs on his head and leaned heavily on the rake to get up from the bench. He had been sitting there for quite some time. “I do not know what they can do, but it will be nice to see the little ones again. It has been a while.” Elle and Nosie supported him on either side as they slowly made their way back to Bare Tree.
When they arrived the girl and the pixie directed the Gardener towards the tree, taking his rake away so he could touch it with both hands. Then they moved away a bit and sat down on the ground, staring hopefully at the scene before them. Soon as the Gardener put his hands on the tree all the fruits started to murmur again. He rested his hand against the bark and a low murmer was heard in reply. This went on for quite a while. During this time Elle and Nosie saw the Gardener straightening up a little, shoulders moving upwards, arms holding the tree tighter.
Then suddenly he let go and turned around, a big smile on his face. His eyes shining with hope and determination. “It will be alright! We will be saved!” He danced around the tree, happy and energetically. “I couldn’t see it because I was so wrapped up in seeing troubles ahead. But the solution is simple. I don’t have to do it alone. I need to work on getting everyone to help. Each little creature and each tree in this world can do something that will keep the diseases from spreading. Together we can save our forest!” Elle and Nosie jumped up and ran towards him, dancing around the tree as well, yelling loudly that all would be well. The creatures of the forest started to gather around them, hearing the joyful shouting from afar. The butterflies, the fireflies, the critters, the fairies, the spirits. They all gathered at the grove and joined in with the happy dancing and shouting. After a long time and lots of plans made and tasks distributed, Nosie and Elle fell down to the ground, exhausted but oh so very happy.
The Gardener looked at them with a big smile on his face. “Thank you Elle and Nosie. You have been and always will be the true Keepers of the Forest. Now go back and get some sleep.” He picked up the rake from the ground and guided her back to the big mushrooms. “There you are again, little girl!” The biggest mushroom smiled at her. “Time for you to go back to your room, isn’t it?” She nodded and felt her eyes grow so heavy she couldn’t keep them open again. She knew what was happening and that she’d fall asleep and wake up in her bedroom, outside the painting again. “I love the forest beyond.” She murmured as she drifted away into the darkness again.
11 Your Story!!
Not all the creatures and trees or scenes have been included in the story of the Little Girl and the Forest Beyond. The ones that have are certain to have unmentioned stories to their lives yet!
If you like writing stories yourself, you are hereby invited to use the installation for inspiration!
Write a story, a poem, a song about any of the things in the Forest Beyond and send them to Ceakay Ballyhoo,
either by notecard or through mail (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The best story will be worth 500 Lindens! Final date for submitting will be 12 February 2017