On a quiet suburban street, lined with perky modern homes and plastic mailbox sentinels at the end of each smooth blacktop drive, there is a mysterious dead end. The dead end is marked by a rickety wooden mailbox, a roughly worn gravel drive, and a thin tree-line that conceals an old wooden shack. In the shack lives an old crone. No one could say for certain how long the old woman had lived at the end of the street, but she seemed to have always been there.
Children imagined she was a witch, adults assumed she was nothing more than a hermit. A well-known fact about the woman was her remarkable talent with wildlife. The townspeople would brave muddying up their sharp new SUV’s, to take a drive down the gravel pathway whenever a stranded animal blemished their immaculate lawns. As they passed through the tree-line, the townspeople would tisk and click their tongues at the tangle of vegetation overflowing throughout the yard. There was no green velvety grass, like that which carpeted all of the other lawns. Insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, and fairy folk all knew about the crone too. They knew, because the strange tangle of vegetation that humans considered off-putting was actually expertly designed for an abundance of life.
Every inch of the yard was full of fruits, berries, vegetables, medicinal and culinary herbs, tubers, flowers, nuts, and every possible species of foliage one could imagine. The old woman still practiced the One-third Rule, a very ancient rule that was once common knowledge. Long ago, in a time when households relied on independent food production, it was the practice. The rule goes as follows: One third of a harvest is collected to reseed the following years’ crop, one third is used for the sustainability of the old woman, and one third is given as offering to the wildlife and the fairies that ensure a bountiful harvest year after year.
The old yard was lavish and alive, unlike the artificial picturesque lawns, where life cannot survive. Behind the shack, in the far back of the yard is a shallow pond. The pond has a stepped-terraced drop, covered in smooth river stones, and a waterfall that trickled down the step-terrace into the pond. Huge stacked stones covered in plush moss and forest succulents bordered the pond, and wrapped around the backyard in a wall that separated the upper and lower terraces. The stone wall created cave palaces where the Salamander’s lived. The Salamanders have been here since the Earth first cooled. They are the Chiefs of all the fairies, and are responsible for ensuring that seedlings emerge come spring.
The Salamanders do this by taking a pilgrimage around the yard each year, one full moon cycle before the Spring Solstice. The eldest and wisest of the Salamander Chiefs plays his magic nose flute, which wakes up the seedlings from their earthen slumber. The vibrations encourage them to crack open their seed casings, and creep out from the dark depths of the soil. The pilgrimage takes an entire week to complete, and all of the fairy families celebrate and provide hospitality when the Salamander convoy passes through their gardens. The nose flute that the Salamander Chief plays has a legend of its own.
The legend says that the instrument is carved out of an egg-tooth, shed from a baby owl. The tooth was both a symbol of the innocence of birth and the wisdom of the owl. Once upon a time, a carpenter ant was farming her enormous herd of aphids. She grazed her flock on a juicy mugwort shrub that grew next to a blackberry bush. She had grown bored with her monotonous life of collecting syrup from the aphids and carrying it to the nurse ants. That is when she stumbled over the egg-tooth on the ground. She picked up the tooth and turned it over to inspect it. She broke-off a thorn from the blackberry bush, and used the pointed end to whittle the tooth into the magical flute. The ant often dreamed about what it would be like to be any of the other inhabitants of the property. She dreamed of being a cricket, or a snail, or a butterfly, or anything nobler than a farming carpenter ant.
As she carved into the dark of night she imagined the other life in the wilderness. Her thoughts were incorporated into the intricate designs that enchanted the nose flute. When she put the flute to her nose and breathed into it, the music that flowed out vibrated her all of the way into her very soul. Other insects began to show up. A cricket leaped and danced in front of her. “That is the sweetest sound of cricket playing I have ever heard!” he exclaimed. A beetle showed up and rubbed his wings together. “That music, it is like the honey of a beetle’s song!” The beetle danced and swirled. Each insect that was drawn to the music of the flute, heard their own songs playing out of it. No two species heard the same song; instead it was the sweetest version of their own sound.
The performance of the flute even caught the attention of the royal Salamanders. The young ant was offered to live in the palace caves, to be the musician to the Salamanders, and to accompany them with the bringing of spring as they made their annual journey. She accepted and lived happily with Salamanders for the rest of her life. Before she died, she passed-on the magical nose flute to the young son of the Salamander Chief. She predicted he would be the greatest of all of the Chiefs, and taught him how to play. He fulfilled his destiny and the flute has been passed from Chief to Chief with each succession ever since.
In the front of the old property is a raised bed full of nectar dripping flowers for the butterflies and bees. This garden box is the home of a young moth fairy named Una. Una is camouflaged with the identical transparent green wings as a Luna moth. Her best friends are Symin and Trim, brother beetle fairies that fly with the lightening bugs, and resemble their anatomical structure.
Una’s job is the well-being of the butterfly garden. She listens to the plants and moves insects from one to another when a plant has been munched on enough. She also helps with pollination and spreading water evenly. She is nocturnal, working throughout the night and resting by day. Una loves her garden spot, and loves her work.
High above Una’s garden on a knotty branch from a towering pine tree, cradled the nest of a raven family. Inside trembled a lonely chick named Raymond. Raymond is cold, hungry, tired, and frightened. His parents never returned from their foraging, and darkness had set over the yard. For hours before the sun had set, Raymond had chirped as loud as he could for his parents. His stomach growled and his throat was sore from crying out. He would surely freeze or starve to death during the night if they did not return. He shivered in his fluffy down, for he hadn’t grown feathers to keep him warm yet. He had barely opened his eyes, and could not see well, especially into the night.
The walls of the nest were too high for him to see over. Out of desperation, Raymond began to move closer to the edge, to peer into the night for help. He clambered up the walls until he could look out over the twig barrier. He couldn’t see very far. He looked from left to right. He looked up above him. He tried to look down, but needed to get closer to the edge to see over. He carefully made his way toward the lip of the nest. He stretched his neck out as far as it would go and looked down. The ground was very far away. He thought he saw something flittering far below him. “Momma, is that you?” He thought to himself.
He inched closer to the edge to get a better look. His foot became tangled in a braid of grass. He kicked and yanked to get it free. The grass let go of his foot, but it sent him sailing over the edge. Raymond squawked as loud as he could. He flapped his wings but to no avail. He was slapped and battered by the tall flower stalks as he plummeted, and landed with a soft thump on the ground in a spray of pollen. Raymond tried to stand but a pain shot throughout his body, telling him that his left leg had been injured during this ordeal.
In his defeat Raymond began to sob. He would surely die now. He wanted his nest, he wanted his warm parents, and he wanted something to put in his aching belly. Una saw something crash through her garden. She heard cries that would certainly bring stray cats, and stray cats were not good for the garden. She flew as fast as she could and found the fat little raven chick. She zipped down to him and slapped his beak shut, holding him silent with her arms.
“What are doing? Stop that! You’re telling every cat in a mile where we are!” She yelled at the fuzzy sobbing chick. Suddenly she felt pity for him. He stifled his sobs to a small whimper and she let go of his beak.
Una looked up the tree and saw the nest high above. “Where are your parents? Shouldn’t they be looking for you by now?”
“Th-they d-d-didn’t come back,” stammered the raven baby.
Una tapped her chin as she thought about what to do. She could try to get him back in his nest and hope his parent’s come back, but he wouldn’t survive on his own yet. He sat, helpless as an egg while she inspected him. He was dehydrated, so Una picked an English bluebell and filled it with the sweet nectar of the torch lilies. She brought the liquid to him and he drank thirstily.
“Thank you.” The raven said after licking out every drop. The sugary water made him feel a little bit better. “I’m Raymond. What’s your name?”
“My name is Una. We’ve got to get you some help Raymond. You won’t make it out here on the ground alone.”
“I know, but I’ve hurt my leg. I can’t even move to hide.” He looked so pathetic.
Una wanted to help him. She knew about the old crone and had even seen her on occasion tending the yard at dusk. Una recalled her long waves of hair. Much like a choppy ocean covered in silver moonlight, which flowed down to her old ankles, just above bare feet. Her fingers were long and knobby, but her touch was said to be so gentle it could unharmingly caress the powdery scales of a butterfly wing. To humans the old woman was an outcast, but to the fairies she was a powerful Magi. Una knew she had to get Raymond to the old woman, but a fairy interacting with a human is strongly forbidden.
“Hello…Una, are you there?” It was Symin and Trim. Una flew out to meet them. “What is it? You look worried, Una.”
“Just follow me,” she instructed and took them to Raymond. “He fell out of his nest, and he’s injured.”
“We could try to get him back inside of it” offered Trim.
“Yes, but how? He’s much too heavy for the three of us to lift up.” Una reasoned. Raymond just sat listening, trying not to cry.
“What if we tied him to a few hummingbird moths? They are much bigger and stronger than us.” Symin reasoned.
“We could try.” Una flew off to ask the moths for help. She returned with four huge hummingbird moths, and Symin and trim had made ropes out of morning glory vines. They tied two moths to each of Raymond’s stubby wings. They tied a third rope to the unbroken leg and the three of them grabbed hold. On the count of three, the bulky moths and the small fairies flew as hard as they could. Raymond rolled over onto his belly while his wings and leg stretched out in three different directions, as if to pull him apart limb for limb.
“Stop! It’s not working!” Yelled Raymond, his throat scratchy and rough. He was right; they never even got him off of the ground. They returned and decided to try one more time, but it too was unsuccessful. Tired and tattered they took the ropes off and thanked the moths for their efforts.
“Now what do we do?” asked Symin. “We need someone bigger than a moth.
“You mean, like a bat?” Una asked back.
“Haha, yeah right, Una…you know bats eat insects, and they can’t tell us from them. How would we get a bat to help us?” Trim nervously replied.
“We could catch one. And then ask him to help us.” Una wrapped her fingers around her fist and thought out loud.
“Catch a bat! How would we do that?” Trim gasped. Una tapped her chin as she pondered.
“There is netting by the pea shoots, for them to climb as they grow. We could lure a bat into the netting and capture him. Then ask him to take Raymond back to his nest, maybe he won’t eat us.” She shrugged at the last part.
“That is a crazy idea.” Trim stated.
“He’s right Una, we can’t catch a bat.” Symin agreed.
“If we don’t help him, he’s not going to make it through the night, look at him!” Raymond was losing color inside of his mouth and his eyes began glossing over. He would not make it, that much was clear.
“We can’t catch a bat, Una. It’s just too dangerous, I’m sorry.” Symin tried to comfort her, but Una wasn’t asking for permission. She glared into Symin’s eyes and blew her bangs out of her face.
“Then stay here and protect him until I get back.” She took off into the night.
“Una, wait!” Symin yelled out as he and Trim went after her. When they caught up to her, she had already waved down a bat, and was flying at full speed towards the pea netting. They quickly joined her side.
“I can’t believe that we are doing this!” Symin called to the others.
He couldn’t hide the smile of excitement on his face. They synced up, and dove down towards the vegetable garden in unison. The bat was right at their heels as they positioned themselves to duck through the half inch square openings in the pea net. Just as they had hoped for, the bat didn’t sense the netting in time, and slammed head first into it. He flapped and tangled himself violently. His crashing about made it impossible to get close enough to capture him. The bat ripped and thrashed itself free, leaving the three fairies behind with nothing but a torn net. Una sighed loudly.
“What in nature is going on over here?” They had drawn the attention of the vegetable garden fairies. They are wingless and round, with short arms and long skinny legs. They wear the skin of a toad as a uniform, and it fits their rotund figure perfectly. From above they look like a toad, but from down here they are clearly a fairy in a toad coat. They tend to vegetables and roots mainly. They are the masters of root knowledge, and are often employed by other fairies when they experience root damage in their own gardens.
“Who is causing all of this damage to the vegetable garden, huh? Answer me!” bellowed Tageris, patriarch of the garden fairies.
“I’m so sorry,” Una pleaded, “we were trying to catch a bat…I mean, help a raven, I…mean…” She trailed off unable to find the right words.
“Fairy folk shouldn’t be catching bats! And ravens don’t fly at night! What’s going on girl?” he demanded. Una, Symin, and Trim explained to Tageris about the raven chick, injured in the butterfly garden. Since ravens have little to do with roots, Tageris was unmoved to help the youths.
“You could always take him to the Salamander Chief. His word is the final law of the land. He would know what to do.” He suggested, as a way to rid himself of the conversation. “If it were up to me though, an orphaned and injured chick is hard work, best to let nature take its course, I say.”
“I’m not going to let Raymond die in my garden,” Una said sharply. “Come on guys, we need to get back to him, he’s all alone and hurt.” She sneered behind a furrowed brow at Tageris as she stamped off and took flight back to her garden. When Una returned, Raymond’s head was flopped over to the side. His breath was so shallow she had to press an ear to him to hear it.
“U-U-Una…is that you?” he mumbled to her, weak and limp. Symin and Trim landed on the ground and looked miserably at the poor chick.
“We have to get him to the Salamander Chief,” Una looked at Symin with tears welling in her eyes.
“How Una? It takes a week for the Salamanders to loop the property, and the pond is in the far back, it would take us two days at least to drag him back there. That’s assuming we could find a way to drag him there ourselves.” Symin wasn’t being helpful, Una thought.
“Then I will bring the Salamanders to him.” Una said flatly.
“You know the Salamanders only leave the cave palace once a year. It’s mid-summer; they have eggs or young now. I want to help you Una, and Raymond, just tell me what to do.” Symin said taking her hands in his. Her eyes sparked with an idea.
“We need beetles, lots of beetles. We will make a sled, and we will pull Raymond to the pond with a team of beetles. Trim and I will cut an iris leaf, and make a harness to tie them together. You go get as many June bugs as you can find!” Una directed Symin and he flew off to find them.
Trim made a strong harness with morning glory vines, while Una used a sharp stone flake to cut the large curtain of iris leaf. The fibers were thick and vibrant, making much work for Una to cut across. Finally the leaf severed and fell to the ground in a spiral freefall. Una and Trim dragged the heavy leaf cutting into position beside the poor raven. They pushed and rolled the lethargic bird onto the leaf. By this time, Symin had returned with sixty June beetles. They quickly strapped the beetles into the harness, in two rows, and they began to pull in accord.
The strong legs of the beetles and the smooth leaf moved easily across the worn footpaths. Una offered another bluebell of nectar to Raymond, but he was far too weak to finish it this time. Inch by inch the sled team carried Raymond through the vegetable garden, past the medicinal herb garden, around the strawberry vine tangles, into the culinary herb gardens, and over towards the dark corner of the back yard, where the waterfall and stone terraced wall stood like monoliths.
At the top edge of the pond, enormous tunneled spider webs covered the mouth to the rocky waterfall. Una and her friends were terrified. The spiders came out of the tunnels and watched them pass, hoping to snare one of them in her web. Centipedes and other scary things creeped around in the damp ground cover surrounding the pond. Una listened as the grass rustled and moved around them. A green snake slithered up and flicked its tongue at them.
“What are you planning on doing with that s-s-sumptuous dead chick?” asked the snake menacingly.
“He’s not dead. We are taking him to the Salamander Chief.” Una informed the snake. Had she not mentioned the Salamander Chief, Raymond was as good as snakes’ meat. But the Salamanders were the rulers, and all of the lifeforms obeyed them.
“Well, let me lead you to him.” hissed the snake.
“We can’t trust him,” said Symin. “He will lead us to his den and eat us.”
“I would do no s-s-such thing. Tell me children, what do you believe the S-S-Salamander Chief will do with an almost-dead raven chick?”
“That is for him to decide,” Una replied briskly.
“Hmmm, I s-s-see…” hissed the snake. “The Salamander Chief lives under the fourth s-s-stone from the pond, at the bottom of the wall. I could take you there, if you wish. It’s not s-s-safe for moth fairies and beetle fairies to be out wandering with s-s-such a moist and meaty hunk of raven, wafting around.”
“And what would you ask for in return?” questioned Symin.
“From you three? Nothing. But should the S-S-Salamander Chief not be able to help the raven, perhaps helping remove the carcass would be reward enough.”
“You are a monster, he is my friend!” Una shouted at the snake.
“What would you do with a dead raven chick, girl? Be intelligent about it” challenged the snake.
“Take us to the Salamander Chief,” cut in Trim.
“It would be my pleasssure.” The snake slithered through the grass and smoothed a trail for the team of beetles to travel. Una wrapped her arms and wings around the chick to try to warm him. His heart beat was growing fainter.
The sandy beach before the pond was teaming with life. Congregated there were frogs and toads, salamanders, crickets, spiders, snakes, dragonflies, wasps, mosquitoes, snails, and dozens of night lovers. There was a hum of activity at the water’s edge. But all that chatter slowed to a hushed silence when the beetle pulled sled with the three fairies and one slumped over raven chick arrived. Thousands of blinking eyes stared at them in silent astonishment.
Una could feel the stares and was quite uncomfortable. Out of the corner of her eye she saw something in the dark. A black shape moved in the shadows towards them. It was tall and the outline of it was undeterminable, Una shuttered. When it stepped into the clearing of the beach, she saw it was the Salamander Chief.
With his long slender body, short arms and legs, and red paint covering his flesh, he hovered over them like a bent Kokopelli. Unlike the garden fairy that wears a toad skin like a Halloween costume, the Salamanders actually wear a live hypnotized salamander on their backs. They paint their skin with red ochre to camouflage with the red bellies of the salamander, and when they close their eyes, you cannot detect them. The black backside of the salamander keeps the Salamander Chief well concealed, and many fairies have never seen the face of one, up close in person. Salamander Chiefs are the most ancient bloodline of fairy.
“You have travelled far to get here, moth and beetle fairies. How did you acquire this raven’s chick?” His voice was thick like old leather and mud. He picked up Raymond’s head in his hands, and blew into his nostrils. Raymond awoke and cringed in fear at the large crowd gathered around them. Una climbed off the sled and stood before the Salamander Chief.
“He fell into the butterfly garden tonight. He is injured, cold, and starved. His name is Raymond, he is an orphan, and he is my friend.” She smiled at Raymond and he attempted a smile back through his fear.
“That’s enough blood to live a month on!” shouted a spider.
“Casualties of nature, I say feed him to the snakes!” prompted the green snake that lead them here.
“No,” shouted Una, “we have to help him!”
“Can’t help him, he’s already half dead. He’ll be worm food by morning!” shouted another bystander.
“Hey, that’s enough!” yelled Symin, trying to hide his insecurity.
The Salamander Chief listened to each remark carefully. “What would you suggest we do with him?” he asked Una.
“We can wake up the crone. She knows how to help animals, she can save him.” Una suggested to the wise Salamander Chief.
“We can’t wake up a human!” screeched a cricket. The whole crowd erupted with commotion over the idea.
“She can’t be serious. If we made a bunch of distress noise, the stray cats would be the first to arrive. Then the snakes and spiders would be out one fat raven chick,” snarled a frog.
Una had tears running down her cheeks now. “What is wrong with you? I told you he is my friend! I love him, and I don’t want him to die!” She flew up to Raymond and hugged him tightly. He was crying too, for he did not want to be eaten by spiders and snakes. Symin and Trim joined her in a protective stance around Raymond.
“Those fairies are senseless! Ravens grow up and eat insects. She will probably be eaten by her friend if he lives.” The spider yelled out. “Best he goes first, instead of us!” A cheer came from the crowd followed by a second eruption of chatter.
The Salamander Chief raised his hand and everyone went silent. “The spider speaks truly; the raven very well could grow up and eat the young moth fairy.” He smiled at Una, “and yet she still pleads for his life.”
“We live in a world where it is easy for us to see others outside of ourselves as an enemy, as a threat to our very existence. But this is not our only endangerment. The water has become unsafe to drink. The land is covered with toxins. Our forest has been reduced to one property. Our families were once many, and now we are but a few who seek refuge on the only land that remains untainted to us.”
“The weather has become fierce and unpredictable. Seed and fruit bearing plants have been cleared away for lawns that are saturated with poisons regularly. If you were a young raven mother with a child to raise, which yard would you nest in?” He questioned the crowd that stood frozen, hanging on his every word.
“This land is sacred not only to our people, but to all life on Earth. It is a sanctuary for the few who remain. The pond runs with cold sweet water and the plants grow heavy with seed. Life outside of this land is unforgiving. Fortunately here, the old woman has provided us with bounty so that our kind may survive. She does this for all of Earth’s creatures, without discrimination.”
“Should a life find itself in this sacred place, it should be nurtured for the betterment of the planet. It is our duty to ensure all who come here are welcome and cared for equally. This place has been provided for us, and protected for us by the old woman. And she would not allow the raven to perish, so we will not allow the raven to perish either.”
The Salamander Chief walked to the edge of the water and he raised his short arms into the sky. Turtles bubbled up from the murky pond floor and with their shovel like heads, scooped up the raven and put him on the shell of one of them. The Salamander Chief climbed onto the shell of a different turtle and led the way towards the old shack.
The turtles cautiously crept out onto the back brick patio. This place was wide open and quite dangerous at night. Using their heads, they removed the chick and placed him on the bricks. They quickly retreated to the grass line where they could hide in the thick blades. Una stayed behind, holding her cataleptic friend.
The Salamander Chief slid from his turtle and placed both hands around the nose flute, which was hanging from a vine around his neck. He brought the flute to his nostrils and breathed a slow steady breath. The music that poured out was sweet and thick like pine sap. The tune carried up in the night sky, and through an open window near the sleeping old lady.
The old lady dreamed of a raven chick out in the yard, squawking and calling for help. The nightmare was so intense that it woke her. She sat up in bed and listened to the sound of the chick, echoing in her ears. Although she knew it was a dream, the urgency made her uneasy. She felt compelled to put on her slippers and have a peek outside. She opened the door and peered into the darkness.
A Luna moth fluttered about in a strange and frantic manner near the ground. The old woman strained her eyes and looked harder. A slumped over black lump was just below the moth. The old lady walked outside and lifted the small frail ball of down. “Oh my, how did you get out here?” She took Raymond inside and warmed him.
Over the next several weeks she nursed Raymond into adulthood. He was never caged, he came and went at will, and so it was the raven and old lady remained life-long friends. He visited her every day and they chatted while she fed him treats. He raised chicks of his own too. He made sure that they knew to never eat insects from the yard. His young were raised on a strict diet of fruits, nuts, seeds, spiders, and snakes.