Monday, July 6, 2015

Into the Land of the Elves: In Katie's Bad Company

The Diary of Miss Aidyn Hall, elf friend and storyteller
August 10
8:10 AM

In Katie’s Bad Company

            We searched the fairy tale room for Newt and found him in a little box under one of the tables, lying underneath a pile of other figures. There he was—a gangly-limbed tree elf with a greenish tinge to his skin and streaks of green in his hazel hair. His arms were outstretched toward his lost lover, his eyes full of passion. Apple Blossom placed Chokana beside him and they fit perfectly into eachother’s embrace.
            So Chokana and Newt were the connection that I had been searching for. The Jadeites are the product of the forbidden love between a human and a tree elf, imbued with the magic that their parent had passed along to them. And it wasn’t a sense of tradition and exclusivity that rendered me unable to learn how to harness the jade essences, it was a genuine inability. A human just does not possess the resources to work the magic in the way that a Jadeite or a tree elf does, in the same way that a human does not possess the resources to fly like a bird or digest eucalyptus leaves like a koala. I wonder why Apple Blossom didn’t just tell me this instead of going into that spiel about respecting traditions. I guess that she didn’t actually know.
            What gets me the most is that this means that the Jadeites, in a way, are humans. I suppose a few centuries’ worth of breeding was enough to biologically cancel out their human side, but it most certainly did not cancel out the unmistakable sense of humanity that I observed from the get-go. Jadeites are humans just as much as Jadeites are elves, and yet they will only acknowledge the latter. The tree elves had their own reasons for their animosity towards humans, but shouldn’t it be different for the Jadeites? Was it animosity that drove them to hide the involvement of humans in their origin, or were most unaware that there was any human involvement at all? Was the animosity towards humans simply passed down from the tree elves like an ancestral heirloom, or was there so much more to it than that? There are still so many questions that remain unanswered. I know that Apple Blossom can’t answer them all, and I won’t make her try. This answer—the essential answer—had come to use by chance, and I am going to let the others do the same. What matters is that I was right, and that there is a connection after all!
            After we reunited Chokana and Newt, I showed Apple Blossom the pictures I’d taken in my yard. “These are photographs,” I explained. “A photograph is a direct copy of an image, taken with a camera. What you see in these photographs is exactly what you would see if you were in my yard and looking at these things.”
            “They’re wonderful,” she said. “I wish I could make photographs.”
            “I’ll show you my camera the next time I come over,” I told her.
            We had lunch in the garden again after that, and then I read her my diary entries from the day of her birthday party, ending with my unexpected audience with the queen. She listened just as quietly and attentively as she had the day before, but when I finished, she said, “When you went home that day, everybody was mad at me.”
            “What do you mean?” I asked. “Who was mad at you, your friends and your parents?”
            “Everybody,” said Apple Blossom. “My friends, my parents, the servants, all of the people at the palace, even the citizens. My parents got yelled at because the citizens were mad at me. They said that I was careless, that I was foolish, and that what I had done might bring down the Greenwood…” She was beginning to tear up. “My mother and father yelled at me and asked what in the world I was thinking, and did I have any sense at all, and didn’t I know that I might have put everyone in danger, and lots of other things I don’t even want to say. And my friends…” By now her shoulders were beginning to tremble, so I had to stop her. “It’s okay, Apple Blossom, you don’t have to say anything else about it,” I said. “I can tell it’s a painful thing to remember.”
            “It is,” she said, wiping her eye with the back of her hand. “Nobody has ever, ever been that mad at me before.”
            “But why were they mad at you?” I asked. “I remember that day. Your mother approved of me, even then. She’s the one who said that I could come back! You even heard her say that—I remember you were eavesdropping from under the table. What made her blow up?”
            “She didn’t blow up!” Apple Blossom said with a gasp. I had forgotten that Jadeites weren’t too hip to figures of speech. “It means, what made her get so angry,” I clarified.
            “It was what the citizens were saying,” Apple Blossom told me. “It was what my friends and their mothers and fathers told them. They had spent the whole next day getting yelled at, being accused of this and that, having rumors spread, being blamed and shamed and having their competence as royalty called into question. My friends’ parents threatened to cut off all association with them, and they threatened to spread it around the Greenwood that my mother and father had connections to humans—such a thing could have branded them as traitors! It was all just too much for them to bear, and so they were angry. Now that I think about it, I think they were angrier with themselves for allowing it to happen than they were with me. But they couldn’t yell at themselves, so they yelled at me.”
            “Well, that wasn’t right,” I told her. “They shouldn’t have taken it out on you. But it’s over now, and nobody’s mad at you anymore.” I patted her shoulder and swallowed the guilt that had welled up inside me for my own contribution to the fury, as indirect as it may have been.
            My phone’s ringing. I think it might be Katie calling to tell me she’s on her way to the café. I need to take this.

11:42 AM

            Apple Blossom is better company than Katie ever was.
            Before we met at the café, I mentally sifted through a list of answers I could give when she inevitably asked where I’d been all of that time. I didn’t want to outright lie to her, but at the same time I wasn’t entirely sure that the truth would be in the Jadeites’ best interests. But then I figured that Katie is my best human friend, and that in all of the years I’d known her I had trusted her with everything. I never made anything up or fabricated anything to her, to the point where she could probably tell if I ever tried to. It would take a lot of lengthy explanation, convincing, and likely multiple repeats to get her to believe a word of it (she had already made it clear the last time I saw her that she couldn’t just believe something like that). But after she understood that I was serious, I was sure that she would at least try to accept it. It wouldn’t be the first time she had to accept my weirdness. There was no need to worry about the Jadeites; Katie wouldn’t try to go after them. She had no reason to, and even so, she would likely be too stunned to even try. Besides, I wouldn’t show her my diary or tell her how to get to the magnolia archway.
            We literally ran into eachother outside of the café and hugged. “Where have you been, you elusive lady?” Katie asked. “I was almost forced to drop in and check up on you!”
            “Oh, you know, I’ve been living my exciting writer’s life,” I said. “You know how that is. But I must say that I’ve found some real adventure this summer. And, well…let’s grab a seat and I’ll tell you everything.”
            “Of course you’ve found adventure,” Katie said with what I like to consider affectionate exasperation. “You’re always finding adventure. You’re always going off to this place and that, sampling foreign cuisine or jet-skiing through the open sea and leaving poor little Katie home alone and bored!” I know that she was ribbing, but I felt sorry for her either way. Katie, a sewing shop worker five days a week, had often complained of being unable to keep up with my adventurous lifestyle.
            “I’m really sorry, chick,” I said, patting her hand. “I feel like crap for making you feel that way. You know that I don’t mean to.” We eased our way into a booth. “Before I tell you anything,” I said, “you have to promise that you’ll believe me, no matter how absolutely absurd it sounds.”
            “It’s you, Aidyn!” Katie said with a chuckle. “I can believe anything that comes out of you!”
            We ordered our coffees before I said, “What if I told you that I’ve had a few dealings with the fair folk—fairies and elves and things like that?”
            “Somehow I’m not surprised,” Katie said with a playful roll of her eyes.
            “All right, so about a month ago,” I began, “I discovered a sort of gateway. You know those woods behind my house, right? Well, I was exploring around back there and I found a gateway. And I met this little elf girl named Apple Blossom. She’s the princess of a land deep within the woods called the Greenwood. It’s a lush and beautiful land where all of these elves live.” Katie was listening intently, as if I was reciting one of my stories. “I’m the first human who has ever been granted admission to the Greenwood,” I continued. “I met the other elves, the king and queen, Apple Blossom’s friends…and we’re all friends now. We have so many wonderful adventures together!” I had been speaking quickly, and I paused to take a breath. Our coffees had arrived, and we ordered our breakfast before I continued.
            “On my first day in the Greenwood,” I went on, taking occasional sips of my coffee, “I had the honor of attending Apple Blossom’s birthday party. Let me remind you that she is a princess! Can you imagine that? Me, of all people, a guest at a royal celebration! And then I went sailing across a brook that rings like a bell, and I’ve gone wading through bogs to pick bushels of cranberry greens. I’ve even gone swimming with mermaids!” Katie wasn’t looking at me then, but at her coffee. “I know you don’t believe me, Katie,” I said. “But think about it, have I ever lied to you before?”
            “It’s not that I think you’re lying,” Katie said, still not looking at me. “I just think that you might be doing a bit of embellishing. I mean, I understand it; you’re taking the ordinary and turning it into the extraordinary, into something worth telling a story about. That’s what a writer does, isn’t it?”
            “Yes, that’s exactly what a writer does,” I said. “But right now, I am honestly not embellishing anything.” I raised my right hand. “I swear on our friendship, Katie,” I said, “I have been having real adventures in a real land of elves.”
            Katie gave me an icy look. “Why would you swear anything on our friendship, especially a story as crazy as that? Aidyn, I know I’ve heard some pretty wild stories from you, but there’s a fine line between wild and outright crazy, and that story rests firmly in the latter category! I can believe wild, but I can’t believe crazy!”
            “Fine, then don’t believe it!” I said. “You asked what I’ve been up to, and I told you.”
            “Yeah, but you didn’t tell me the truth,” she muttered the moment our food arrived. I shot her a glare, she glared right back, we both thanked the waitress, and we ate silently. It was the first time we ever sat down for a meal together without nearly choking to death trying to talk and laugh with food in our mouths. The silence was unnatural, and I knew that it was up to me to be the one to break it. Katie’s stubbornness knew no bounds. “So,” I said after swallowing a bite of pancake, “what have you been up to lately?”
            Katie rolled her eyes. “Oh, I’ve been having the most wonderful adventures in Candy Land with my new pet unicorn, Sprinkles!” she said. “The other day we played together in the enchanted meadow while flower fairies danced all around us! It was just something else, I tell you!”
            I slammed my fork down. “That’s real mature, Katie!” 
            “If you’re going to be immature,” she said, “then so am I.”
            “You asked me where I’ve been,” I said, “and I told you…”
            “…an absolutely ridiculous story that, to any sane person, shows that you’ve got something to hide!” Katie snapped. “Obviously you’ve got this whole secret life now that you have to cover up with childish fairy tales, even to your best friend!” 
            “Katie,” I said, employing my stern school principal expression, “if you’re going to talk to me like that, then maybe we should just go back to being quiet.”
            “You would say that after shutting me and everybody else out for the entire summer!” Katie retorted. “Fine, we’ll be quiet. You’ve been doing such a good job of it after all.”
            I found it hard to swallow my anger with my pancakes. I understood that she was hurt, and I still felt rotten for ever making her feel that way, but did she really need to act like a bratty child about it? Of course I couldn’t have expected her to believe me, but I just assumed that the adult thing to do when you don’t believe someone is to let the matter drop. Silly me for ever thinking that way, I suppose.
            We finished our breakfast in our first dismal silence. I was beginning to wish that I had just lied, made something up on the spot that would be more believable than the truth. I was beginning to understand the meaning of “truth is stranger than fiction,” and now I knew that fiction would have been much more comfortable for Katie. But I’m a bad enough liar as it is, and when it came to lying to a friend, I had no ability. It went against my moral integrity. It was better to tell the unbelievable truth and be accused of lying than to outright lie for real.
            We were still quiet when the waitress came around and the two of us paid our separate checks. I decided that I would not attempt to be the bigger person this time; she could start speaking to me again whenever she felt the need, but I wouldn’t help her along. As she was gathering up her things and adjusting the red hipster beret on her head, she finally said, “Aidyn, if you want me to be honest, we’ve all been very worried about you. And now that you’ve told me that crazy story, I’m even more worried about you!”
            “Well, there’s nothing to worry about,” I said.
            “Maybe I need to drop by and check up on you more often,” she said, and her concern was genuine, which stung me. “If you feel the need to do that,” I told her, “then go right ahead. Just be aware that I’m not likely to be home when you do. And Katie…” I gripped her shoulder tightly then, and I looked her right in the eyes. “…if I’m not home, then please do not come looking for me. Please, for the love of god, do not come looking for me. You’re not very likely to find me, and you’re extremely likely to get lost if you try. If you must, wait at the house for me to come back. But do not come looking for me! Do you understand me, Katie?”
              She nodded and left it at that. But looking back now, I wonder why in the world I had been stupid enough to say something like that. The look on her face is going to haunt me for a good, long while. After the disgraceful way that she treated me today, I could really do without seeing Katie again. But somehow, I have a feeling that I’m going to be forced to see a lot more of her. I am going to go into the Greenwood now, to spend the rest of the day with Apple Blossom and try to get my mind off of Katie.     

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