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The Fox and the Faebloom

The Wistwood Chronicles - Book 1

Chapter 1— A Summer Visit

Alia had been watching the endless greenery outside the windows of her mom's car for what felt like forever. Thick forests full of tall trees stretched from the road, up into the hills and mountains on both sides. Finally, the car turned onto a bumpy, gravel path, with tall grass growing down the middle where the car tires didn’t touch. Alia leaned forward. She recognized this road! This was it, they were finally here! Up ahead was a little, two-story house with dull, yellow paint and a reddish-brown roof, sitting in the only clearing Alia had seen for miles.

As they got closer, Alia rolled down the window and stuck her hand out to wave at her grandma. Grandma must have seen their car coming up the long driveway, because she stood on the front porch, patiently waiting with her light-golden hair blowing in the early evening air. Dozens of huge, vibrant sunflowers peeked out from the side of the house, almost like they were curious to see the visitors, too.

Mom waved at Grandma as she slowed the car to park in front of the old house. “Are you sure six weeks isn’t too long?” asked Mom. “You’ve never been away from home for so long before.”

“Yes, yes, I’m sure,” Alia nodded, grabbing the door handle.

Alia hadn’t hugged her grandma since she was seven and couldn’t wait any longer. As soon as the car came to a stop, Alia was out the door, dashing up the front steps. “Grandma!” Alia shouted, throwing her arms around her grandmother and hugging her tight. “I missed you!” 

When Grandma hugged her back it felt warm, like summer sun. 

“I missed you, too,” Grandma laughed. “Two years is way too long. I don’t ever want to go that long without a visit from you again!”

“Never!” Alia promised. “I’m never leaving!”

Grandma stepped back to get a better look at Alia. She brushed one hand over Alia's long, brown hair. “You are so tall now, and your hair is beautiful—look at these curls! I can even see a bit of red in it. You got the red from your mom, but I don't know where those lovely curls came from.”

Mom walked up with Alia’s suitcase in one hand and Alia’s backpack on her shoulder. “Alia, I don’t know if Grandma really wants a nine-year-old to keep her company all summer. How about two weeks instead of six.”

“Shush,” Grandma said, scooting Alia closer to the house. “She is staying with me!”

“I'm kidding.” Mom laughed and followed them to the door.

“You planted sunflowers,” Alia said, eyeing the yard. She remembered Grandma always had a garden before, but never sunflowers. 

“They are out of control,” Grandma said. “I didn’t even plant any this year. They popped up all on their own. What am I going to do with this many sunflower seeds?”

Mom shrugged. “It could be worse. At least it’s a pretty problem.”

“That's true,” Grandma said, turning to Alia. “Why don’t you go see if you can find some tomatoes and squash out there while we take your stuff inside? Then, I’ll cook us up a good dinner.”

“Okay,” Alia said. She bounced off the porch and began to follow a path of large, flat, white stones, but stopped at the corner of the house to look at Grandma's yard. Alia didn’t think she had ever actually seen a sunflower in real life before, and this was like standing in a sunflower forest. Fat bees floated high above, landing on the giant sunflower heads. She hadn’t even gone inside yet, and Grandma’s house was already better than she remembered.

Some of the sunflowers grew crooked, leaning over the path and making it feel like she was walking through a tunnel. One of the bigger flowers was bent low. Alia reached out, gently touching the bumpy, greenish-yellow center, but the bumps looked more like a hundred tiny flowers all clustered together, not seeds. “So weird,” she whispered. Where were the black, stripy sunflower seeds? She looked on the ground, but didn't see any. Maybe the seed parts hadn't grown yet.

In the shade of the sunflowers, sat a little gnome statue wearing a blue coat, black boots, and a tall, pointy, blue hat. “Oh, that's very cute,” said Alia. Even with his hat, he was barely more than a foot tall.

The path of white stones wrapped around to the backyard and pointed toward the woods, but Alia wasn’t going that way. As soon as she spotted the garden, she left the path. Finding a bunch of big, red tomatoes on the vine, she picked one and began looking for the squash Grandma wanted. She saw green carrot tops, and two rows of peas climbing up a white, wooden trellis. She snapped a few pods off the vine and stuffed them in the pocket of her skirt before she spotted the yellow squash hiding under big, dark-green leaves.

Alia reached for the bright-yellow squash before she realized that the vegetable would never leave the plant just from tugging it like she had the tomato. She needed something to cut the stem. She took the tomato and pea-pods, and went inside to find a pair of scissors.

The back door of the house was closest, and it opened straight into Grandma’s kitchen. When Alia stepped inside, her stomach growled. Grandma stood at the stove cooking something and it smelled amazing!

“Is it chicken?” Alia asked, crossing her fingers. The only thing she loved more than her Grandma's chicken was the gravy she made to go with it. 

“It's chicken,” Grandma said, smiling. 

“And gravy?” Alia asked.

Grandma nodded. “And gravy.”

Tomato still in hand, Alia danced around the kitchen. She bumped into the brown dining table where mom was chopping an onion.

“Nice moves, Alia,” Mom said. “But did you get the squash like you were supposed to?”

Alia stopped dancing and went to the drawer where the scissors were kept. “Sorry, I forgot.”

Mom raised her eyebrow. “You went all the way to the garden, got the tomato, and forgot the squash?”

Alia wiggled the scissors as she set the tomato on the table. “I need to snip the stem!” she said, dashing back to the door.

“You have scissors,” Mom called. “No running!”

“Sorry!” Alia said again. She opened the back door, but stopped. Sitting on the doormat outside was a yellow squash, just like the one she tried to pick earlier. She picked it up and looked around the backyard, but nobody was out there. “That's weird.”

“Honey, I need that squash,” Mom reminded her.

“Yeah,” Alia said, slowly, looking around the yard again before closing the door. “Here, is this one okay?”

After dinner that night, Mom and Grandma sat on the wooden porch swing, talking. Lightning-bugs floated around the yard, drifting between the stalks and leaves of the sunflower forest. Alia stayed near the house, chasing another lightning-bug down the stone path. Dark shadows seemed to sneak around the garden here and there, but whenever she looked, Alia didn’t see anything moving in the yard. 

“What are you looking for?” Mom asked from the porch steps.

“Nothing,” Alia said, still scanning the shadows. The darkness was a bit creepy. She decided she would stick close to Mom and Grandma for tonight. There was plenty of time for adventuring tomorrow, after the sun came up. 

“Did you see all the lightning-bugs on the other side of the garden?” asked Grandma.

Alia nodded. “Yeah, but…”

“But Alia is still afraid of the dark,” said Mom. 

“No, I'm not!” Alia said, quickly. Maybe she was, but so what? She didn't need to tell Grandma about it!

Mom's eyebrows went up in surprise. “My mistake,” she said. “Alia isn't afraid of anything. Especially not being alone in the dark.”

Grandma just chuckled. “It's okay. All kids are afraid of the dark. She'll grow out of it.”

Alia rolled her eyes. Great, now Grandma was going to think she was a baby. 

Something moved to her left. Alia quickly turned to face that direction, but the only thing she saw was the garden gnome with the blue hat. She walked over and crouched down to get a better look. Alia smiled at his fat, white mustache and big nose. But wasn’t this gnome on the other side of the path earlier? She could have sworn it was standing with the sunflowers a couple of hours ago. 

A lightning-bug glowed right in front of her face and Alia caught it, adding it to the others crawling around in her small, glass jar. 

“Alia,” Mom called. “It’s getting late. Time to brush your teeth and get ready for bed.”

Alia groaned and twisted the lid back onto her jar. Mom would be gone tomorrow and then Grandma would let her stay up late every night. She would be able to do whatever she wanted for weeks!

Alia came up to the porch with her jar behind her back. “Ready?” 

Grandma nodded. 

“Yes, let's see how you did,” Mom said.

Alia held the jar out between them, and seven lightning-bugs lit up inside. Most of them clung to the jar, blinking, but some crawled around the apple slice at the bottom. 

“Grandma, I love the gnome in your garden,” Alia said. “It’s so cute.”

“Which gnome?” Grandma asked. “I have three.”

“The one with the blue hat,” Alia said.

Grandma frowned. “I have two little ones with green and yellow hats, and I have one with a tall orange hat, but I don’t have a gnome with a blue hat.”

“Yes you do,” Alia argued. “I'll show you.” 

She set her jar on the porch and dashed back toward the garden, but when she reached for the gnome, it was gone. Alia turned in a circle, searching the shadows, but she didn’t see it anywhere. “Wasn’t it just right here?” Alia muttered to herself. She was sure this was where she saw it. Maybe the darkness was playing tricks on her. She stepped closer to the sunflowers, checking all around. She huffed and turned back to the porch. “I can’t find it.”

“Alia, go brush your teeth,” Mom said. “You can show her the gnome tomorrow.”

 

“I'll take her to bed,” Grandma said as she stepped inside. “Say goodnight to your mom, sweetpea, and I’ll meet you upstairs.”

Alia hugged her mom and kissed her cheek. “Goodnight,” she said. 

“I have to leave really early in the morning, so I probably won't see you before I go,” Mom explained. “Pay attention to what Grandma says, do what she tells you to do, and don’t make a big mess.”

“I will—I mean, I won't. I mean, I will listen, and I won't make a mess,” Alia sighed. Did her mom think she was going to turn into a wild animal or something?

“And do what she says the first time she tells you,” said Mom.

“I will, Mom.”

“I want you to be a big help this summer. Grandma is getting older. You need to take care of her, not make more work for her,” Mom said.

“I will,” Alia said again. “I’ll be good. I promise.”

Mom hugged her again. “I know you will. You'll have a great summer, and I am really gonna miss you.”

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