The Woodland Express

On Christmas Eve, many years ago, I lay quietly in my bed.  I did not rustle the covers.  I breathed slowly and silently.  I was watching my window for a glow – a glow a friend had told me I’d never see – the shimmering lights of fairies.

     “There are no fairies,” my friend had insisted, but I knew he was wrong.

Late that night I did see a glow, though not of shimmering fairies.  From outside came the sounds of clopping hooves and squeaking wheels.  I looked through my window and saw a dim lantern hung perfectly still above a horse-drawn carriage.

It was wrapped in an apron of moonlight.  Snowflakes fell lightly around it.  A coachman stood at the back and opened one of the doors.  He took a large pocket watch from his vest, then looked up at my window.  I put on my slippers and robe.  I tiptoed downstairs and out the door.

     “All aboard,” the coachman cried out.  I ran up to him. 

     “Well, he said, “are you coming?”

     “Where?” I asked.

     “Why to Fairy Glen of course,” was his answer.  “This is the Woodland Express.”  I took his outstretched hand and he pulled me aboard.

The carriage was filled with other villagers, all in their pajamas and nightgowns.  We sang Christmas carols and ate candies with nougat centers as white as snow.  We drank hot cocoa as thick and rich as melted chocolate bars.  Outside, the lights of cottages and homes flickered in the distance as the Woodland Express raced northward.

Soon there were no more lights to be seen.  We traveled through cold, dark forests, where lean wolves roamed and white-tailed rabbits hid from our carriage as it wound through the quiet wilderness.

We climbed mountains so high it seemed as if we would scrape the moon.  But the Woodland Express never slowed down.  Faster and faster we sped along, rolling over peaks and through valleys like a leaf in a stream.

The mountains turned into hills, the hills to snow-covered plains.  We crossed a barren field of snow, undisturbed and perfect.  Lights appeared in the distance.  They looked like the lights of a clear evening sky, with thousands of twinkling stars.  “There,” said the conductor, “is Fairy Glen.”

Fairy Glen.  It was a huge clearing surrounded by trees that touched the moon, filled with colorful glows and the sound of winter wind.

At first we saw no fairies.

     “They are gathering at the center of the glen,” the conductor told us.  “That is where Titania will give the first gift of Christmas.”

     “Who receives the first gift?” we all asked.

     “She will choose one of you.”

     “Look,” shouted one of the villagers, “the fairies.”  Outside we saw hundreds of fairies.  As our carriage drew closer to the center of Fairy Glen, we slowed to a trot, so crowded were the paths with Titania’s hosts.  When the Woodland Express could go no further, we stopped and the coachman led us outside.

We pressed through the crowd to the edge of a large, open circle.  In front of us stood Titania’s floral throne.  The trees were excited.  They swayed and danced, rustling the silver leaves of their branches.  It was a magical sight, like nothing I’d ever seen.  Across the circle, the fairies moved apart and Titania appeared.  The fae cheered gleefully.

She floated over to us and, pointing to me, said, “Let’s have this youngling here.”  She returned to her throne, and the coachman ushered me up.  I knelt beside Titania and she asked, “Now, what would you like for Christmas?”

I knew that I could have any gift I could imagine.  But the thing I wanted most for Christmas was not inside a Christmas box.  What I wanted more than anything was one silver leaf from Titania’s trees.  When I asked, Titania smiled.  Then she gave me a kiss and told a fairy to pluck a leaf from the tallest tree.  The fairy returned it to Titania. She rose, holding the leaf high above her, and called out, “the first gift of Christmas!”

A clock struck midnight as the fairies sang their approval.  Titania handed the leaf to me, and I put it in my pocket.  The coachmen helped me back to the group.  Titania called out for the festivities to begin.  Her wards snapped their dainty fingers. The music grew louder, and the silver leaves twinkled vibrantly reflecting thousands of glowing fairies.

As soon as we were back inside the Woodland Express, the other villagers asked to see the leaf.  I reached into my pocket, but the only thing I felt was a hole.  I had lost the silver leaf from Titania’s tallest tree.  “Let’s hurry outside and look for it,” one of the others said.  But the carriage gave a sudden lurch and started moving.  We were on our way home.

It broke my heart to lose the leaf.  When the carriage reached my house, I sadly left the other villagers.  I stood at my doorway and waved good-bye.  The coachman said something from the moving carriage, but I couldn’t hear him. “What?” I yelled out.

He cupped his hands around his mouth.  “MERRY CHRISTMAS, “he shouted.  The coachman gave a loud crack of his whip, and the Woodland Express faded away.

On Christmas morning my little sister and I opened our presents.  When it looked as if everything had been unwrapped, She found one last small box behind the tree.  It had my name on it.  Inside was the silver leaf!  There was a note:  “Found this on the seat of my throne.  Fix that hole in your pocket.”  Signed, “Titania”

I looked at the leaf.  It shimmered and shone the most beautiful silver glow my sister and I had ever seen.

     But my mother said, “Oh, that’s too bad.”

     “Yes,” said my father, “it’s just a leaf.”

When I’d presented the leaf, my parents had not seen the glow.

At one time most of my friends could see the leaf shine, but as years passed, it darkened for all of them. Even my sister found one Christmas that she could no longer see its sweet light. Though I’ve grown old, the leaf still shines for me as it does for all who truly believe.

If you liked this year’s story, check out last years, How The Demon Haute Stole Christmas.