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Fairy Tracks



Tessa found the first signs the morning after Yule: a green trail of sweet-smelling slime underneath the biggest pine tree in the back yard.

She had a nail in the pocket of her coat. Her father had been hanging garlands outside, and Tessa had been in charge of passing him nails as he needed them. Christmas was always a time for hiding in plain sight. Tessa could decorate her house with garlands and stars, and no one ever guessed that it wasn’t Christmas she celebrated. Her mother said that when she was older, it might be more difficult, but for now, she enjoyed getting two weeks off school after her holiday.

When she saw the slime, her hand was in her pocket before she had time to think about it. She could barely feel the nail through her mittens, but the shapeless lump made her feel better. Still, she didn’t stay outside very long. She wasn’t sure she wanted to play with fairies.

**

On the day before Christmas Eve, the world seemed to buzz.

Tessa was in the yard again, nail in her pocket and a cup of milk in her hands. There hadn’t been any new snow, so it was easy to see that there was more slime under the pine trees. Tess set the cup down as close as she dared, then retreated to the swing set. The back yard was quiet, but as Tessa listened, she could hear the faraway noises that went on away from her house.

This year, she had been lucky and Yule was on a Saturday. Most years, she had to go to school, had to face all her friends’ excitement at a holiday she didn’t share and her parents had to schedule their rituals around work. Tessa wondered if it was the whole day of uninterrupted celebration that had caught the fairies’ attention. Maybe they listened hard too, looking for any of the old traditions still practiced without being co-opted by the church or Coca-Cola. Tessa was sad that it would be five years before Yule would be a Saturday again.

**

On Christmas Eve, the world holds its breath and Tessa always felt like she was breathing too loudly in the darkness.

Yule was Tessa’s favourite holiday because she got to stay up until midnight and light the candle on the turning of the world. This year, she finally realized that staying up until midnight is not the most important part. She lights the candle: she is the light in the dark part of her parents’ year. For the first time, she knows how important that is.

Outside, it’s dark. But it’s darker for less time than it was last night, and tomorrow the sun will stay a little longer. Tessa understands why this time of year is important in nearly all religions, why everyone seems to have a celebration of the returning of the light. It makes it a little bit easier, this shared reverence, to have a holiday that none of her friends observe.

**

It started to snow early on Christmas morning, and Tessa knew she didn’t have much time.

She left her mittens off entirely, because she knew she wasn’t going to be outside for very long. She held the nail instead. The edges of yesterday’s footprints have started to cave in, and even today’s boot prints are already obscured. She thought for a few seconds that she might already have been too late.

It’s quiet outside. Everyone else in the world is inside with stockings and trees. Tessa did all that three days ago, but for once the feeling of disconnect doesn’t make her feel sad. She stooped under the pine boughs and saw that the snow and the wind had only just begun to reach the green trailing footmarks the fairies left when they stood beneath the tree in the dark. There’s a little bump of snow, to the fairies it must have seemed a fair-sized hummock, and on top of it sat Tessa’s gift.

**

Tessa only ever got one present on Christmas Day.

It’s out of place, but no more so than the tiny green foot prints that surround it. The fairies trusted her family enough to land in their yard and dance. Tessa wondered what they looked like, and at the same time shivered at the idea of being witness to a fairy dance.

The sun broke gently through the pine boughs, and Tessa could almost hear the branches creak as they prepared for spring growth. She knew better than to linger, so she stretched out her hand, and picked up the gift the fairies had left for her. She whispered her thanks, and went back inside, content to wait for the return of the light.

**

On the way back to the house, Tessa tucked an acorn into her pocket. One day, she will be witness to an oak.
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October 2011

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