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Moleskin Cap

- M.R. Williamson

Helen is trying to get over the recent loss of her mother. Seeing the struggle, her father sends her to live with her grandparents.

Now among the forests her mother loved, Helen connects with her mother's hobby, photography. With her mother's first camera, an old Nikon, she snaps a shadowy figure in the early-morning shade of a fir tree.

The resulting friendship not only pulls her from the destructive depression she was sinking into, but leads Helen into a world of magic and adventure and gives her a new purpose in life and a new reason to live.

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Part One

The Moleskin Cap

Helen Durkin sat quietly on the back porch of her grandparent’s home in Wendover Woods of Mid-Southern England. Twisting her long, blonde hair around her right index finger, she watched the forests around their old home. The majority of her eighteen years had been spent in London with her parent’s. But after her mother died of cancer two years ago, the woods and its wild things around the little cottage had become a calming balm to her soul no medicine could ever match.

“Don’t wander off now.” Her grandmother looked from the partially open kitchen window. “I just put the rolls in and when they brown we’ll have supper.”

“Yes, Grandma.”

Helen’s smile widened as she looked through the open window at her grandmother’s expression. It was one of those don’t get into anything looks.

Narbie Tucker had always been there for Helen, especially during the last two years. Now, the forests of Waltham and her mother’s parents were all she ever thought of—that is except her mother’s SLR Nikon camera. She always had it with her. Now, with the scent of fresh-cut hay in the air, she closed her eyes and leaned back in the old rocker. As she was about to doze off, the sharp chatter of a bird broke the silence.

Goshawk? Strange to see one in this part of the wood.

She eased her hand to the camera sitting on the little table next to her chair. Raising it up, she focused the zoom in on a high, jiggling limb at the lower edge of the back yard. Spotting the brown and white bandit was no problem. His bright flashing, grey banded tail was like a beacon in the shadows. One snap and she had him.

Haven’t seen one of you in a while. But what are you fussing at?

Lowering the zoom to just beneath the hawk, she used it to search through the goldenrods and thistles.

“There you are,” she said softly, noting the flash of dark brown fur in the scrub.

With at least forty yards between them, she knew this shot wasn’t going to be as easy as the little weasel-like bandit. Giving up on the distance, she crept from the east side of the porch.

Let’s see how shy you are.

Slipping from the yard and into the woods, she brought the camera up again and checked the goldenrods. They were still moving back and forth, but she still couldn’t see the creature.

I’ll flank him.

With the chatter of the finches and the still fussing goshawk in the background, she hoped her target would be none the wiser to her presence. A warm, September breeze wisped about her face as she crept to a weak stone’s throw from the goldenrods. But now, there was nothing to be seen on the ground. Even the hawk had grown silent.

Strange.

She knelt next to a little spruce and watched patiently. After about ten minutes or so, she had just about given up when someone from behind her spoke.

“Human girls are easy.”

The voice was soft a quiet. Whoever it was sounded as old as her Grandfather Martin.

Helen spun around so fast she all but dropped the camera. “Who are you?” she blurted out.

Silence

Helen slowly stood, but the extra height did nothing to help her put a face to the voice.

“Hello,” she said timidly again. “I heard you…I know I did.”

Still, there came no reply.

“Helen,” called Narbie from the back porch. “Helen!” The cry louder this time.

“That certainly wasn’t who I heard,” grumbled Helen.

She carefully backed out of the goldenrods and into the lower edge of the back yard. As she did, something moved not far in front of her and it wasn’t a shadow.

“No-it’s-not,” she said, letting her chin drop slightly.

There, in the shadows next to a spruce sapling, stood a little silhouette all of three feet tall. It tipped its floppy cap, turned, and then walked toward the darker shadows just passed the spruce. Helen stood there as still as a stump, completely ignorant of the Nikon in her left hand. Then, finally she raised the camera, focused the zoom, and then snapped the shutter as fast as she could work the thumb crank. With her target finally gone, she lowered the camera, backed up a bit, and then trotted toward the cabin.

“I wish you wouldn’t ignore me, Helen,” complained Narbie.

Helen turned to see her holding the back door open with a disgruntled look.

“Martin’s already at the table and laughing at your antics. What has captivated your attention now?” Her grandmother waited patiently for an answer as she dried her hands on her apron and straightened the snood holding the little salt and pepper colored bun on the back of her head.

“Grandmother…” Helen hesitated, wondering what to say to keep from sounding foolish.

“Yes, dear,” prompted Narbie as she held the door open.

Helen slowed just inside the doorway, stepped into the kitchen, and then looked at Narbie. “Grandfather knows just about everything that breathes or grows in these woods, doesn’t he?” she finally asked.

“Yes, dear. He’s been a botanist and a naturalist for as long as I’ve known him. Just what did you find this time?”

“I think this thing found me,” Helen all but whispered. “Does Grandfather still use his dark room?”

“From time to time,” replied her grandfather as they stepped into the kitchen.

Martin resembled Mr. McGoo, complete with the required squint, but that and his wire-rimmed glasses didn’t fool the people who lived in and around Waltham Forest. Even though his hair was thin as corn silk and he walked with a bit of a wobble, he was still considered one of their sharpest minds.

Helen turned to her grandfather, “I’ve got a picture of something, grandfather and…and…it spoke to me just before I took it.”

Martin’s eyebrows raised as he looked at her over his glasses. “Spoke to you did it?” he echoed with a bit of a chuckle. “What did it say?”

“I’d rather not say.” Helen lowered her head.

“Helen,” Narbie explained with a slight smile, “these old woods will work their magic on a young mind like yours just like alcohol on an old fool.”

Martin rolled his eyes and then looked back at the still warm rolls in the basket on the dinner table.

“Maybe so.” Helen held up the Nikon. “But this young mind has pictures.”

“After supper,” said Narbie. “Those pork chops and chips are best when they’re hot.”

~ * ~

After supper Martin and Helen stood over the developing pans, moving the prints pack and forth in the solution.

“The butterfly is nice,” replied Martin as he handed the picture to Helen for the drying line. “Good. You’ve got a prize here in this hawk moth.” Helen pinned the picture on the line as her grandfather fiddled with the goshawk. “This fellow seems to fuss at me at least once a week,” he added with a smile. “I think he’s drumming up the courage to try one of Narbie’s smaller hens.”

She moved closer to her grandfather’s side. “What about the last four?”

“Can’t figure them out,” responded Martin as he pushed them under the solution again. “I don’t think that zoom helped you at all in the shadows of the forest. But, all in all, I do think you’ve got something here even if it is just a hint in a shadow.”

Martin then picked one out and pinned it on the line.

“Spoke to you he did?” he asked.

“He?” Helen opened the door a little to better see her Grandfather’s expression. His eyebrows were raised and he wouldn’t make eye contact. That wasn’t at all like him. “You know what, or who, this is don’t you?”

“Uhhh…” Martin slowly turned back to the solution pan. “It’s just not easy making sense of these shadows, Pumpkin.”

Helen cocked her head sideways and studied his answer. She knew a battle of wits with him would often leave her in second place, but what to do?

“I won’t use the zoom tomorrow. Perhaps I can get another shot at him if I can get close enough.”

Martin paused, removed his glasses, and then looked back at her. After a deep sigh, he pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and started wiping them. “Perhaps you should give the woods a rest for a while, Pumpkin. You can happen upon the wrong sort there at times—both two-legged and four-legged. That’s not to mention that we have the occasional poacher prowling about. I’ve got a new book on old cameras; I’ll lay it out for you. I’m sure you can find something in it to hold your interest for a while.”

~ * ~

The next morning, the thought of Martin’s old, field glasses tempting her, Helen rose almost as early as Narbie. Easing the bedroom door open, she peeped down the hall. The glasses were still in their place on the back of the door, and her grandmother beyond them in the kitchen. The light aroma of fresh-perked coffee tweaked her curiosity.

“Didn’t think you and Grandfather liked coffee, Grandmother,” Helen quickly donned her trousers and pullover shirt.

“One of Martin’s American friends got him started on the stuff. Actually, it goes pretty well with breakfast.”

Helen pulled her hair back in a ponytail, fastened it with a black hair band as she eyed the binoculars. She then noticed her grandmother had the back door open to let a bit of cool air in the kitchen.

“Would you mind if I eat my breakfast on the back porch?” asked Helen. “It’s so lovely out there and I wouldn’t want to miss an early riser.”

“I’ve already nibbled my way through breakfast, child.” Narbie glanced at her. “Your grandfather has already finished his. He’s off to pick up a few things at the grocery and the meat market for me. After that, I’m sure he’ll make his stop at the Boar’s Head Inn, if it’s not too early for his daily ‘nip’. It’ll likely be past noon before he gets back.”

Helen slipped on her loafers, picked up her camera, and then walked briskly to the kitchen.

“Tea?” asked her grandmother as she held up a hot kettle from the stove.

“Please. I’m not much on coffee.” Helen glanced back at her grandmother, grabbed a sausage, stuffed it into a roll, and then asked, “Would it disappoint you if I took my breakfast to the table on the back porch? I would like to look for that goshawk again.”

Slowly shaking her head, Narbie made another and placed it upon a cloth napkin. Laying it on the counter by the teacup in front of Helen, she said, “You’re just like your grandfather. You had rather chase after something in the woods than eat or sleep.” She then placed a gentle hand on her granddaughter’s left forearm. “Don’t wander off too far away from the cabin, Helen. You don’t know these woods like Martin does and I wouldn’t want to have to call for Dempsey’s hounds to come and find you.”

“Yes, Grandmother.”

Helen took the napkin and cup of tea, kissed her grandmother, and then headed for the back door. In doing so, she snagged the strap on the field glasses with one finger. A cool, morning breeze greeted her face as she stepped onto the porch. October had already started turning the leaves and some of them looked as if they were fresh from the painter’s palate. Helen sat her breakfast on a little, round table near the steps and then sat down in one of the old, metal chairs beside it.

Where are you now? She raised the binoculars.

The wet grass glistened on the lower end of the yard, taunting the sun’s coming. It was peeking through the trees signaling the end of the slight fog that now lay close to the grass near the woods. Helen was about to finish her first roll and sausage when something caused a commotion in the chicken coop about forty paces northwest of the porch.

Hearing her grandmother walking across the wooden floor, Helen turned to see her push the back, screen door open.

“Open the door to the coop, please child,” said her grandmother. “That young cock Martin bought the other day is having at my old Rhode Island Red again. Be quick, while he still has feathers.”

Helen dropped her roll and sausage to the napkin and ran for the coop. The commotion in it sounded again as she approached the old shed-like building. Dust drifted from the partially open windows and through the planks on the door as Helen slowed just steps from the building. Now, with the sound of things falling to the dirt floor, she could wait no longer.

We don’t want to get flogged, Helen, and she reached for the wooden latch. Slowly lifting it, she backed up behind the door and pulled it opened. The chickens came running, flying, and jumping through the doorway and into the open yard. When it looked as if the last one was out, she noticed the huge Red wasn’t among them. Martin’s young roster was there, but he was so nervous he could hardly be quiet or stand still. Helen eased around the door and peeped inside the dark coop, waving the dust and down away from her face. Then, noticing a ray of light coming from close to the floor on the far right side of the little building, she crept toward it.

“In the way! In the Way!” shouted someone behind her as something brushed past her right leg. The voice sounded both excited and irritated.

Helen screamed and fell against the left wall next to one of the dirty windows. She flung open the window as wide as it would go. With the extra light she could now see the far side of the room clearly. But, what she was now looking at was every bit as puzzling as what she had just heard. The old Red was there all right, but he was wedged, tail first, in the hole where the light had been coming from. She could see the chicken’s head and about half of his body.

“Are you coming or going?” quipped Helen as she eased toward the chicken.

Then, with a scraping bump, the rooster left the coop altogether.

“What?”

Helen spun around and ran out of the coop. When she reached the back of the building, she stopped and quickly searched through the woods for some sound or movement. The Rhode Island started fussing again not more that fifteen paces out in the scrub in front of her.

She was about to step in that direction when the same irritated voice from the coop spoke again. “Go back! Go back!” it shouted as the rooster sprang from the scrub and ran past her. “Take the chicken. She’s in the woods! You must go back!”

“She?” Helen looked back at her Nikon still setting on the little table with her breakfast. No time to get the camera, she thought as she pushed forward through the waist-high weeds.

Just as soon as she started, something burst from the scrub, running away from her.

“Wait,” she called to the little red-haired man, but he didn’t slow up. “No you don’t,” she stepped forward, but as she did, she spotted a little, creature lying directly in front of her. “Shoo!” she half-heartedly kicking up the leaves at it, but the furry, football sized thing didn’t move a muscle.

She leaned closer, extended one finger, and nudged it.

“A cap?” Helen quickly picked up the garments and waved it at the mysterious fellow. “You’ve lost your cap!” She ran after him but he was fast on his feet and now a considerable distance ahead of her. I should be able to catch one so small.

Racing forward, Helen ran downhill after the little fellow. Low-hanging branches brushed her face, wild berry vines pulled at her trousers. She continued west toward and then past next hill. Finally, her hopes of at least gaining on him had all but vanished. With her heart pounding in her chest and her second breath just a memory, she stopped.

“Geeze! He’s just testing my resolve.”

She stopped, hands on her knees and gasped for breath as she watched the little fellow from the top of the hill. He had just jumped a five-foot creek like a teenager and was now heading toward an open field.

“How can one three times my age do that?” grumbled Helen. She looked back at the woods behind her. Is this the third hill?

Did I turn west after the first or second hill?

Her grandfather had taught her about the importance of a compass, or at least paying attention to landmarks. But the only landmark she had noted when she left the chicken coop was the little figure now disappearing in the field in front of her. Tiptoeing, she checked him once more, but as she did, she lost her footing on something in the grass and fell backwards.

Her world went black with sparkling stars as her head struck something hard in the grass.

“Oh Lord,” she groaned as she grabbed her head. A searing pain in the back of her head seemed to explode just behind her eyes. She rolled back and forth until the pain subsided. Eventually, she managed to sit up, and then stand

Grandmother is not going to like this, she thought as she rubbed the egg-sized bump on the back of her head. It seemed as if it had its own heartbeat. She slowly looked back at the creek the little man had just crossed.

“Just great,” she groaned, slapping the furry cap against her right thigh. “Grandmother will never let me out of the house again without Grandfather.”

But just as she started to guess which way was toward the cottage, she noticed a slow and steady movement about half way down the hill she had just crossed. The gray, furry object moved through the scrub seemed to be following the same trail she had made in the weeds and grass.

Helen knelt in the grass. “A wolf, and a big one at that,” she grumbled. Her voice was every bit as weak as she felt. “I can’t stay here. It’s tracking me. Besides, Grandfather said there were no wolves in England.”

Helen moved quickly to the far side of the hill until she was out of sight of the wolf and then started to run east as fast as the scrub and brambles would allow. Ignoring the woodbines and briars pulling at her clothes and tearing at her skin, the fear of such a creature drove her on.

This has to be east, she turned right and faced the edge of the hill she had just left the wolf on. If that was east, then the cabin is a bit past this and the next hill or so to the south.

Watching ever so carefully, she ran until she was in sight of the southern edge of the hill she was just on. She paused to check for the wolf. She knew if it saw or heard her, it would hunt by sight, leaving her little or no chance to make it back to her grandparent’s cabin.

“There you are,” she whispered and watched the huge animal sniff its way up the hill she had just left. Two hundred yards from me, she thought, and then spun around to look toward where she believed the cabin was located.

Just as she was about to start again, an elm sapling about thirty paces away and a bit to her right shook violently.

“And there you are again,” The little man standing next to it waved for her to come toward him. “Works for me.”

Helen ran toward him but by the time she got there, the little fellow was nowhere to be found.

“Ohhh, I’ve no time for games,” she glanced back to check for the wolf.

Checking once again for her newfound friend, she noticed a young spruce in the distance. It was moving the same way the elm sapling had done. She ran, fighting her way through the scrub to the young tree. This time, little fellow was there, picking some kind of small, purplish-black berries from a vine that had entwined itself around the little spruce.

“Step on ‘em,” he said, pointing to a little pile of what looked to be blueberries in front of her. “Do it quickly now. If the animal sees us, this won’t do us much good.”

“What are they?” asked Helen as she mashed the berries beneath her feet.

“Berries from a pepper vine.” He smiled as he added, “but this might not throw her off.”

“Her... Who are you?”

She handed him the moleskin cap she had found.

He brushed his long, red hair back behind his head. “Thanks,” he finally said. Quickly taking the hat, he pulled it down firmly in place. His black eyes sparkled at her as his smile widened. “I’m Bumpas,” he added, stroking his long red beard, “Billy Bo Bumpas. I guess you can call me Bo.” Then, wiping his face with his hands, he began stomping a little pile of his own as he nervously watched for the wolf. “Come, we must go before she sees us. We wouldn’t want her to have the advantage.”

“She? Her?” Helen sputtered as the little man grabbed her hand, spun her around, and started running.

“Ethrel Ibenus,” he said without missing a step.

“Sounds like a poisonous flower, not a wolf,” replied Helen, struggling to keep up with the little man.

“Both, I fear,” Bo picked up the pace. “She’s a long vanquished witch, but she lingered in her dyin’ just long enough to cast her spirit in what we now have trackin’ us. It’s her familiar. Some misguided soul brought her the damned thing from the Canada’s when it were no bigger than a badger.”

“Familiar? Witches?” Helen asked weakly as she stumbled through the scrub after the little man.

He neither tired nor slowed. The dagger he carried on his belt appeared to be silver and intricately tooled with oak leaves as was its sheath.

“Holy mackerel,” she finally said. “You’re a dwarf. I don’t believe it.”

Bo glanced back at her and scowled. “Would you have me leave you again? We’ll see just how fast Old Ibenus brings the believability back to you.”

“No, please don’t.”

Stumbling into the tall grass, Helen ended up on her back, looking up at the little man.

Bo quickly stopped and walked back to where she was sitting. “That’s the trouble with most of you human folk. You have to first see to believe.”

For the first time, Helen could see he also was beginning to tire. His long, deep breaths slowed as he watched the woods behind them.

“I’m tired of running’, but don’t feel good about facin’ her here. This place is much too open. Let’s go up the hill a ways. I know of a big, old white oak near its top. Maybe Mrs. Goody-Two-Shoes is close by. I’d hate to be in her debt, but I’d sacrifice that for a little comp’ny right now.”

“Who are you speaking of now?” Helen stood and began pulling the grass from her hair.

“I’ll tell ya if she comes,” he replied as he grabbed her hand again and started up the hill at a brisk clip.

“I see it,” said Helen, noting the huge tree up ahead of them. “Its lower limbs nearly touch the ground.” Helen checked behind them as they neared the great oak. “Maybe we’ve lost it.”

“That’s no ‘It’ lass,” corrected Bo. “That beast she calls Seleene, carries the last remnant of the most evil bein’ I’ve ever come to know. Come. Let’s get a little closer to the tree. Her influence will be a bit diluted under this old friend.”

The two climbed on top of one of the tree’s huge, water barrel-sized roots and walked along it to the trunk. Bo then sat down and pulled his dagger from its sheath. Carefully shaving the dark brown bark off, he soon came to the moist, live underwood. Placing his right palm on the bare spot he paused.

“What are you doing?” asked Helen.

“Shhh,” hissed the dwarf. “Be quiet, lass, and watch for Ethrel. She is near.”

Helen watched down the hill toward the valley, but listened closely as the dwarf spoke a poem to the tree.

“By faith I place my hand on thee to call the one we cannot see.

For now we are in trouble dread, from one who has cheated the world of the dead.”

He removed his hand, stared at Helen for a moment, and then whispered, “Do you see her?”

“Yes Sir. She’s just entered the valley, but she’s acting a bit queer.”

“Queer?” Bo he scrambled to his feet.

“Yes sir. It’s like the wolf wants to track us, but it’s having trouble doing it—just like its fighting an invisible foe.”

“It’s the salt,” said the dwarf with a giggle.

“Salt?” Helen looked back at the dwarf. He was bouncing a small, leather pouch in the palm of his right hand. “The wolf will want it, but the witch in him will have to forbid it. Just wondered whose will would be the strongest. We had to have a plan if the pepper berries didn’t work.” The dwarf then stood and took Helen by the hand. “Lift me up, lass, I would like to see also.”

Helen lifted him as best she could until he was sitting upon her shoulders. “Yes, yes,” he whispered, shaking both fists in front of him. “If this works, the wolf will have his salt and the witch will be driven out to cross the River Styx, without a coin I pray.”

“Is it working?” asked Helen as she struggled to hold the dwarf.

“Let me down. We’re not stickin’ around to find out.” Stepping from her shoulders he added, “Are you rested enough to go again?”

“Guess so, but where? Which way?”

“Come, and follow closely. There’s a dwar…game trail at the bottom of this hill. It will take us to within a weak stone’s throw of the Professor’s place.”

“Professor? Do you know—”

“Come, child,” interrupted Bo as he wheeled and started running down the hill. “No time for questions. I am guessing we’ll have no help from the oak. We must go.”

When they came to the trail, Bo paused to catch his breath. He then grabbed a small, oak sapling and began hacking at its base with his dagger.

“What are you doing?” she asked, watching him clean the smaller limbs from the six-foot staff.

“If she gets past me…” His face grew sullen with worry as he glanced back toward where the wolf was last seen, “and she probably will, you’ll need this to fend off the wolf. When she hits this trail, she can track at a run. We’ll likely not make it to the cabin.” Bo then handed her his salt bag. “If she gets too close, throw a little of this on her and then run like the Devil himself were after you.”

The two proceeded to run up the path while Bo continued to clean the staff. Constantly checking the path behind her, Helen gasped, grabbing the back of Bo’s jacket.

“Ohhh Bo,” she said weakly. “I think I see her.”

“That’s it.” The dwarf shoved the staff into her hands, pulled his dagger, and then pushed Helen behind him. “She’ll have to get by me first. You keep runnin’ until you see a field on your right. Once there, you’ll have a clear view through the woods beyond of the Professor’s Cabin.”

Before Helen could turn, she saw a blinding flash in the path directly between them and the wolf. “What was that, Bo?”

“Bless my soul!” exclaimed the dwarf as he began to jump up and down. “My prayer’s been heard. The old oak didn’t fail me.”

The sun was now well up to the tops of the trees, making the path and the wolf plainly visible. Only fifty yards separated them now, but the wolf was completely distracted by something and it certainly wasn’t salt this time.

“Shhh,” hissed Helen. ‘Should we hide? She’s sure to see us now.”

“Matters little now, lass. “We have help, and it comes on the wings of a dragonfly.”

“Dragonfly?” Noticing the dwarf was still very much excited, Helen asked, “What’s happening? It’s looking from one side of the path to the other. Does it not know where we are? Surely Seleene can smell us, maybe see us. Why did it stop?”

“Pure light, yearling. Pure light.”

Bo calmed quickly. Slowly dragging his cap from his head, he held it crumpled to his chest. Then, the flash of light came again, and this time it was close to the beast’s muzzle.

“Nooo!” screamed Bo, watching the wolf lunge into it.

“There it is again,” Helen gripped the back of the dwarf’s jacket.

“Yes, but he didn’t get her…He couldn’t have got her.”

Bo was no longer excited. His tone was laced with fear and a bit of regret.

“Her? Her who?”

Helen’s tone was raised, but not with excitement this time. She gripped the back of his jacket. Bo put his hat back on to watch the wolf advance once again.

“It’s fool’s play to stay here, lass! Run for your grandfather’s home!”

Helen, noting the sharp end on the foot of the staff, raised it toward the wolf. Gripping it tightly, she shouted, “I’m not leaving you here with that!”

Bo laughed loudly. “You should’ve been a dwarf, lass. You’re as foolhardy as you are brave.”

The wolf, now only fifteen paces from them, lowered his head, raised his hackles, and then started a low, guttural growl. For the first time, Helen got a good look at his eyes. Even at that distance she could tell their orange glow didn’t come from any animal she knew.

“Vile creature of darkness!” shouted the dwarf, “You have defiled the beautiful animal that now hosts you, but you’ll not have this child! I’ll take you to the River Styx myself, and steal the coins on your eyes.”

Then, as the beast started snapping its huge, white teeth, there came a wind. It took the leaves and pine needles from the ground and swirled them all about the two, the wolf, and the woods. Shielding her eyes, Helen tried to keep Seleene in sight, but looked upon the form of a young girl instead. All of four feet tall she walked toward them through the wind. Not a long, brown hair on her head was moving. Her green eyes sparkled as she glanced at the dwarf, and then looked at Helen.

Realizing neither of them was going to speak, she said, “Do not run. Do not fear,” her voice calm. “I cannot defeat this evil, but I can take it far from here.”

She moved with such speed Helen struggled to follow her. The girl’s bright green dress quickly became one, long green streak as it circled within the wind and rose above them. Leaves, pine needles, and grass quickly gave body to a huge cyclone as it moved toward the wolf. Bo buried his face inside his hat, but Helen could not look away. Shielding her eyes with her hands from time to time, she tried to keep her attention on the beast.

“Hold to me!” exclaimed Bo as he reached back and tried to steady them both.

With the wolf plainly whimpering, Helen closed her eyes and settled to the grass with the dwarf until the wind subsided.

~ * ~

“Helen,” the voice sounded like it came from up the trail a ways. “Helen.” This time it was closer, and unmistakable.

“Grandfather!” she exclaimed loudly as she tried to get up, but something was pushing her back down into the grass. “Grandfather!” she screamed as she shut her eyes.

“Wake up, child,” came the voice again. “You’re scaring us half to death.”

Little by little, Helen opened her eyes. The forest was gone and so was the scent of the grass. What she was now lying on was certainly much too soft for the ground.

“Hold still, Helen.” Another voice this time. It wasn’t Bo, nor her Grandfather.

As a bright light flashed back and forth, the form of a dark-haired, young man slowly came into focus.

“I see no outward sign of a concussion,” said the man. He patted her hand and adjusted something wet on her forehead. “Keep a cold compress on her forehead and that bump. Watch those scratches, especially the deep ones. Keep plenty of salve on them,” he looked at her Grandmother. “If she gets dizzy, or sick at her stomach, bring her to my home immediately.”

“Thanks, Doctor Ray,” said Narbie. “When that goose egg goes down, we’ll call you again, because I’m going to give her another one.”

“Now, now,” Martin placed another cool towel on Helen’s head. “I’m just glad I found her.”

“How did I get here?” asked Helen as she tried to sit up.

“Back down, young lady,” Martin gently pushed her back to the pillows on the couch arm. “I found you on a path just south-west of here. You had evidently stumbled and struck the back of your head on a stone in the grass.”

Narbie stepped closer and peeped around Martin. “Who is this Bumpas fellow? You were calling for him before you came to.”

Helen glanced at the young doctor and then looked back at her grandmother. “I…met someone who helped me when I became lost,” she answered, raising her eyebrows to better see how the half-truth was setting in.

“Well,” grumbled Narbie as she placed her hands on her hips. “I don’t think he helped you at all. You were all alone when Martin found you. I don’t know of anyone named Bumpas living around here.”

“Neither do I,” added the doctor. “What did he look like?”

Helen smiled and slowly sat up, “If I told you what he looked like, and what I think happened to me, the good doctor here would surely put me in the hospital.”

“I see,” replied the doctor with a slight grin. “A person’s imagination is oft times tweaked when they’re out with a mild concussion. You know, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Just watch her like I said. She should be back in the pink in no time.”

Narbie walked Dr. Ray to the door as Helen watched her Grandfather pick up something from the coffee table and place it on the couch beside her.

“You almost lost your hat, Pumpkin. It was lying in the grass by your right hand,” he added as he turned to join the two at the front door.

Helen froze with her eyes fixed upon the little, dark brown, and moleskin cap lying next to her. If the little chicken thief was real, then what of the faerie, and of the wolf…and the witch?

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