In a Time Far Away

She almost passed through without recognizing it. Only a few birch trees remained; pines and oaks had taken over. Oak trees took ages to grow to this height. It looked as if elves had not lived here in a long time, not for hundreds of years.

Joan fell to the ground, heaving sobs into the earth. Everything she knew had disappeared. Her family would all be dead now, and they had passed away thinking she had abandoned them. Joan felt utterly alone.

“Aren’t you looking for your family?” asked Tim, gazing curiously upon her. “Why are we here?”

“You’re not helping!” screamed Joan.

She jumped to her feet and ran blindly through the forest. Joan could not stand to look upon her deserted home a moment longer. Maybe there was another elf colony elsewhere, descended from her own family. As soon as this desperate hope formed, she dismissed it as rubbish. Joan felt in her heart there were no others like her anywhere. She eventually exhausted herself and slumped forlornly upon a creek bank. Tim landed gently beside her.

“But I can help,” he said.

His confident tone renewed her hope. “You know where they are?”

“Yes,” he reassured her.

Heartened, Joan allowed him to lead this time, but she balked when he turned back the way they had just come. She was in no mood for nonsense.

“What game are you playing? The birch grove isn’t there,” insisted Joan.

“Not the way you’re looking.”

Doubt seeped into Joan thoughts. Had she been mistaken? Never in her life had she gotten lost in the woods, but with all the strangeness lately, maybe her mind was rattled. Maybe somehow she was still stuck in the bizarre dream.

“Okay,” she relented. “We’ll try it your way.”

Joan knew exactly where they were going—to the grove that didn’t exist anymore. Her heart sank further with each useless step. Tim clearly wanted to help, so Joan would let him try, but he seemed so easily confused.

Joan trudged behind Tim, watching the ground pass beneath her feet, when a familiar sound tickled her ear. Music. Joan ran in front of him, the flutes and harps getting louder and drawing her home.  When she burst into the birch grove, there stood the familiar tables and benches. High overhead the tall birch branches intertwined into a roof. Woven arbors of the lower shrubs sheltered seats or moss bedding. The musicians sat in the center of the grove. Around them bustled the daily activity of elfish life: children running amok, cooks fussing over a pot of stew, the carpenter shaving a stick of wood into shape, the metal smith hammering sparks out of hot iron—just as if she had left only a moment ago.

“Hey, Joan,” said a familiar voice. “You’re back early.”

“What?” Joan was surprised to be addressed so casually by her Uncle Ned. He spoke as if everything was normal, as if life had continued without incident. “Where did I go?”

He laughed. “Does anyone ever know where you go?”

It struck her as odd he would be so completely unaware of any strangeness. “When did you last see me?”

“This morning, of course,” he replied. “It’s not near dinner time. We don’t usually see you for hours yet.”

Joan smiled. It seemed as if nothing unusual had happened. She felt as if she were now truly awake from her strange dream. A dream? Was Tim still behind her? As she turned, Tim stepped from the brush into to grove. Joan rushed to him.

“How?” she asked him. “When I looked earlier, my family was nowhere. They were long gone, hundreds of years gone.”

“Maybe you just aren’t very good at finding your way around,” Tim replied.

The inkling of a crazy thought began to form in her mind. It made only the beginning of sense—something about time, or the lack of time. A curious smile broke on her lips as she looked at Tim, but she had no further opportunity to think about it.

“Who’s your friend?” interrupted Uncle Ned.

Non-elfish strangers in camp were rare, so­ dozens of curious elves gathered. Joan introduced Tim the wood sprite. Astonished conversations immediately buzzed through the small gathering. Seeing sprites happened occasionally, but nobody had ever survived an encounter with one.

“Joan,” said her uncle. “I’m not sure your father will be happy about this. Sprites are unpredictable. They have dangerous magic.”

They looked over at Tim who seemed fascinated with the camp. Joan didn’t think him dangerous at all, but her experience with Tim could have gone very badly; it had almost turned into a disaster. Could having him in camp be a mistake? But she wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for Tim.

“Show us some magic,” said one of the elves to the wood spite. Joan and Uncle Ned held their breaths. Would this be the moment Uncle Ned’s fears came true? Other elves added their voices in support of seeing a magical display.

Tim looked around at them. “That looks like magic right there,” he said, pointing at the wood carver. He hurried over for a closer look. “What are you doing?” Tim asked him.

“I’m making a spoon,” the wood smith replied.

“But how?”

Suspecting a trick question or a riddle, the elf answered carefully. “Out of wood.”

“Wow,” Tim uttered in astonishment. “You can turn wood into a spoon. That’s like magic.”