THE AUTUMN FAIRY AND SHADOW TAIL
by Judy Lunsford
Once upon a time…or should it be always upon a time? For as long as there has been an always, there have been fairies.
Legend has it that a fairy is born every time a baby laughs for the first time. But what they don’t tell you is that the baby doesn’t have to be human. So the world is full of fairies. And each fairy has a special job.
This is a story about one particular fairy and her one particular job. Her name is Autumn. And her job is to oversee autumn, of course.
All summer long, Autumn readies herself for her moment. As each summer day passes, she gets more and more excited because her special day is coming.
Now Autumn works more than just one day a year. She has lots to do in preparation for the fall season. One of her many preparations is to prepare all of the fairies who are in charge of doing autumn things. There is a whole army of fairies whose sole job it is to turn the leaves different colors. It’s a big job, so they have a lot of fairies for that.
The autumn leaf fairies are always ready to go. They practice their colors every day, twice a day in preparation for autumn. You may have seen their work. It’s in the sunrise and sunset each and every day. All of the beautiful colors that streak the sky and scatter the clouds, shading them in hues of orange and red and yellow belong to the autumn leaf fairies. They take their job very seriously and practice year round.
Autumn is also in charge of the pumpkin fairies. The pumpkin fairies aren’t quite as dedicated in their work. They are slower to get started, and are just a little bit lazy. Autumn has to round them up and get them ready every year. You can smell when they start working as the cinnamon and nutmeg fairies assist Autumn in rounding up the pumpkin fairies. But once the pumpkin fairies get going, they get very excited and it’s hard to make them stop. Pumpkins of all shapes and sizes can be found once they get to work, and they are very proud of their creations.
Autumn has many other things to keep her busy year round, but September is her favorite and busiest time of year.
One day, late in August, Autumn discovered something that nearly stopped her heart. All of the autumn leaf fairies had been kidnapped!
Autumn new exactly who the culprits were.
For as long as Autumn could remember, the pesky squirrels tried everything in their power to delay autumn.
The squirrels loved summer. They had time to frolic and play. But when autumn comes, they have to prepare for winter, and the squirrels were notorious for trying to do anything they could to delay the coming of autumn and winter.
So Autumn did what she could to try to rescue the autumn leaf fairies.
Autumn asked the pumpkin fairies to help, but they hadn’t started working yet, so they were of no help. They just lounged in the pumpkin patch, drawing pictures of pumpkins with sticks in the dirt, waiting for autumn to start.
Autumn asked the summer fairies to help, but they were tired. Their work was coming to an end, and they didn’t have much energy left to help Autumn. But they did tell Autumn where they had seen the squirrels recently.
It had been a dreary, cloudy morning. The sunrise had been dull and lifeless without the autumn leaf fairies and their artful daily practice. So Autumn went to the hill that the summer fairies had directed her to so that she could find her friends.
Pockmarked along the side of the hill were many many squirrel holes. They led deep into the earth, where Autumn knew the squirrels had taken her friends.
Autumn crept to the main entrance near the bottom of the hill and quietly peeked into the darkness.
“You’ll never find them in there,” a voice said behind her.
Autumn turned to see a boy fairy, with red scruffy hair and he was dressed in furry pants and boots. He had a thick furry red tail with black stripes running the length of it that curled up his back and behind his head. He had a stick in his hand that had a single green leaf growing from a stem near the top, and he held it upright, leaning on it as he watched Autumn.
“Find who?” Autumn asked, suspicious of this stranger.
“The fairies that the squirrels kidnapped.”
“How do you know about that?” she asked. “And who are you??”
“I know because I am the squirrel fairy,” he said proudly. “My name is Shadow Tail.”
“If you’re the squirrel fairy, then make them give my friends back!” Autumn demanded.
“No,” he said simply.
“Why not?” she asked.
“Because if the squirrels give them back, then autumn will start and all of the fun ends!”
“But you can’t stop autumn, it has to happen!”
“Says who?” Shadow Tail asked.
“If autumn doesn’t go as planned, your squirrels will starve,” Autumn explained. “The summer fairies are tired and soon they will stop working so they can sleep. Then your squirrels won’t have any food because they will have eaten it all and they won’t have anything stored to be ready for winter.”
Shadow Tail’s face changed as he realized that Autumn was right. He was friends with the summer fairies, and he knew they were winding down to prepare to hibernate for the winter.
“I don’t know what we can do to get them back,” he said.
“Tell the squirrels to let them go,” Autumn said.
“It won’t be that easy,” Shadow Tail said. “They are mischievous and I don’t control them. I am just a shepherd.”
“You’re a what?” Autumn asked.
“I’m a shepherd,” he said. “I round up the squirrels and make sure they collect enough food for the winter, and then I make sure they are all safe and below ground before the snow fairies come and freeze everything in sight.”
“You’re not doing your job very well, are you?” she raised an eyebrow at him and crossed her arms in front of her chest.
“Criticising me isn’t going to encourage me to help,” he said.
“I’m sorry,” Autumn said. “But what will happen to the squirrels if they have no food stored for the winter? They may be able to stop the autumn fairies from doing their job, but that will only make autumn dreary, not stop it altogether.”
“I didn’t think about that,” he said. “And they supply me with my food for the winter too.”
Autumn thought for a moment. “You said you were a shepherd? Can you shepherd them back out so I can go in and free my friends?”
“I can try,” Shadow Tail said.
Autumn watched as Shadow Tail walked over to an entrance at the bottom of the hill. He pulled a whistle made of an acorn and a blade of grass out of his pocket and put it to his lips. He blew into it and it made an eerie whistling sound that drifted into the hole and echoed its way through the tunnels.
“That should do it,” Shadow Tail said, as he lowered the acorn whistle and put it back into this pocket.
A few moments later, the ground started to tremble. Just slightly, but enough that Autumn and Shadow Tail could feel it.
“You might want to stand back a little bit,” Shadow Tail warned.
Autumn stepped back from the hill just in time to get out of the way of a stampede of squirrels.
The squirrels were grumpy and agitated and covered with wet smudged hues of yellows and orange.
“Help us!” the squirrels yelled as they ran past. “Get them out! Get them out!!!”
Autumn watched as the squirrels, dripping with paint, ran into the forest and towards the river.
Once the last one had run past, Shadow Tail gestured for her to take the lead into the dark tunnels. “After you.”
Autumn tentatively looked into the darkness and took a few steps into the blackness. Shadow Tail followed close behind her.
“What do you think happened?” Autumn asked.
“I don’t know,” Shadow Tail shrugged. “Go straight ahead, maybe we’ll find out.”
Autumn followed the tunnel, using her hands along the soft dirt walls to guide her. After a few twists and turns in the darkness, she could see an orange glow in the distance. As she got closer, she could hear the echoes of her autumn friends squealing with delight.
The orange glow grew brighter until Autumn found herself in a large underground cavern. All of the autumn fairies were painting the walls of the cavern in bright oranges and yellows and deep reds. The walls, the ceiling, and all of the little squirrel furniture and beds were all glowing with warm autumn colors.
“Well that explains the painted squirrels,” Shadow Tail laughed, as he stood beside Autumn.
Autumn smiled as she saw that her friends were still faithfully practicing their colors.
“Girls,” Autumn yelled above the din. “Girls, we have work to do!”
The autumn leaf fairies looked up and saw Autumn standing in the doorway. They immediately flew into a line in front of Autumn, ready to go back out to the light of day.
Autumn turned to Shadow Tail, “Thank you for your help,” she said to him.
“No, thank you for taking them out of here,” Shadow Tail laughed. “I’m sure the squirrels will be glad to see autumn outside again.”
Autumn ushered the autumn leaf fairies out of the cavern and down the tunnel. As the last one flew out behind the rest, Autumn looked at the glowing cavern her friends had left behind.
“Do you need some help cleaning this up?” she asked Shadow Tail.
“No, it will fade by morning,” he said. “Maybe it will teach them a lesson.”
Autumn giggled. “Well it was nice to meet you, Shadow Tail.”
It was nice to meet you too,” he said.
Autumn made her way down the tunnel after her friends. Shadow Tail followed behind her.
Once they were outside, Autumn and Shadow Tail looked up at the sky at the autumn leaf fairies and their latest masterpiece already forming in the evening sky.
“They do beautiful work,” he said.
“Yes, they do,” Autumn smiled. “They love to practice.”
“Will I see you again?” Shadow Tail asked.
“I’m sure you will,” Autumn said. “Every year, when the squirrels are gathering their food for the winter, watch for me.”
“Watch for you where?” he asked.
“This tree,” Autumn pointed to the largest tree in front of the squirrel’s hill. “I will make sure this tree is the biggest and fullest tree in the forest every autumn. It will have the most nuts for your friends and will be the last tree to drop its leaves every year. When the last leaf drops, I will be here. Just to say hello.”
“I want you to have this, “ he reached into his pocket and withdrew the acorn whistle.
“Should you ever need me,” Shadow Tail said, “Just blow this.”
“But won’t you need it?” she asked.
“I can make another,” Shadow Tail smiled.
“Thank you,” she said as she took the acorn from him.
“Goodbye, Autumn,” Shadow Tail said.
“Goodbye,” Autumn said. “And thank you.”
Shadow Tail nodded and watched as Autumn disappeared into the forest.
The Autumn Fairy and Shadow Tail
Copyright © 2021 by Judy Lunsford
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