Who would’ve thought it? On the old wooden noticeboard, behind mouldy glass, it said that the poet Tennyson used to sit under the tree, reading his immortal words to the, doubtless bemused, villagers.
What tree? I wondered. Then I noticed that the verdant mass of foliage and ivy behind the notice board hid an ancient hollow trunk, all that remained of a no doubt impressive oak, that could indeed have housed Tennyson and not a few peasants below its enormous branches and splendid canopy, albeit two hundred years earlier. It lay on a grassy triangle where a narrow road joined a marginally less narrow one.
I noticed a fissure in the trunk, perhaps four feet high and camouflaged by ivy. I pushed through and found myself surrounded by the hollow tree. A hare appeared at my feet, looking up at me with huge black eyes. “Good day to you, sir.”
“Good heavens, a talking hare!” I said, taken by surprise.
“Good heavens, a talking man!” mimicked the hare.
I felt indignant. “Well, men – and women – normally talk. Hares don’t!”
The hare rubbed its face with a paw. “Who says we don’t? Anyway, my name is Maurice, and you are to come with me.” He opened a small trapdoor, and I could see steps going down, down into the earth.
“I’ll never fit in there!” I exclaimed.
Suddenly, there was a whooshing, tinkling sound and I found myself shrunken down and looking into the eyes of a fairy no taller than eight inches high. She wore a crimson dress to match her crimson wings. She laughed. “You will now!” Like most fairies, she was beautiful and had cascading brunette locks. “I am Mirabella.”
Maurice led us down the steps and into the earth. The passageway was lit by glowing stones in the soil and seemed to go on forever. Finally, we came to a clearing where there was a small stream with a bridge; on the far side lay the entrance to a cave.
“Come on,” said the hare, scampering over the bridge and into the cave.
We followed. It reminded me of a cave at Buxton, with great stalactites and stalagmites. Inside, sat a bearded man with huge antlers and pointed ears. “Greetings, I am Cernunnos,” he said in a rumbling voice. “I am from a time long before your Christ. Please sit.”
Maurice and Mirabella bowed deeply, then sat cross-legged on the ground. I followed suit, in awe of the supernatural figure.
“There is a plan afoot, a devious and divisive plan,” Cernunnos began in a rumbling voice. “The green above us, where lies the poet’s tree is under threat!”
“What!” I exclaimed.
“Yes, the man who lives in the big house, Dalefern Manor, has instructed men to chop down the trees on the green triangle, and to put up a statue of Tennyson and a souvenir shop.”
Maurice’s whiskers quivered and Mirabella wiped his eyes with a crimson handkerchief.
“Well, what can I do about it?” I ventured.
Cernunnos smiled and brought out a small statue of the great poet. Upon it were carved the immortal words, Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all. “I gave those words to Alfred, when he sat beneath this tree long, long ago, though of course he never knew it. He thought he invented them.”
Maurice and Mirabella clapped enthusiastically.
Cernunnos held out the statue. “This is enchanted and very valuable. Take it to Dalefern Manor, give it to the man, and he will forget all about his plans. I bid you goodbye and good luck!”
Mirabella stood up and threw her arms around me. “Oh, thank you!”
Cernunnos muttered some strange words whilst making a series of gestures, and instantly I found myself standing before the ivy-covered tree stump again, holding a beautiful ivory statue of Tennyson. Well, full marks to Cernunnos! Down the road was the huge house in question. I wished I could have stayed in the fairy world, my lips still tingled from Mirabella’s kiss.
As I made my way towards the house, feeling determined, something crimson fluttered in the air, maybe a leaf, or a butterfly, or perhaps even the beautiful fairy who had stolen my heart.
Taken from the book, The Window Crack’d and Other Stories: 40 Little Tales of Horror and the Supranatural
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