By Harriet Darling


Gazing across the still, blue pond toward the bright green leaves of the woods, Erin Hopkins gradually felt herself relaxing. The leaden feeling in her chest slowly eased. As she watched, sunlight glinted off the fluorescent body of a dragonfly dive-bombing the water, and a pale yellow butterfly lit for a moment on one of the wildflowers that grew between the white rocks surrounding the pond. It was so peaceful here, she thought; maybe this was just what she needed. She and her new foster family had arrived just a half hour before, and the familiarity and pleasure the others showed with the little chalet had deepened the heaviness in her chest.

She recalled the scene she had just left.

In the living room, Patty Reed had called, “Irwin, where did we put the dishwashing liquid? And I can’t find the blue teakettle.”

Irwin had called back from the kitchen, “I think the teakettle is in the box marked Kitchen. And you packed the cleaning stuff, so I don’t know where the dishwashing soap is.”

A moment later, Mrs. Reed had said briskly, “Erin, don’t just stand there; make yourself useful. Help Penny make the beds, would you?”

“I have dibs on the lower bunk!” cried six-year-old Penny as they dashed into the small bedroom off the kitchen. That left the upper bunk for Erin, and she shuddered. Sleeping way up there near the rafters, she would be at the mercy of the spiders and the cobwebs.

At first, when they’d arrived at the cabin and her foster family immediately began unpacking and setting it up, she had felt anxious and left out; she had never been to the vacation cabin before and didn’t know where anything was. But now she began to grow resentful and a little angry.

When both bunks had been made up, she wandered back to the living room where Mrs. Reed was busy vacuuming and Penny had found some old comics and was engrossed on the sofa. When she asked, Patty told Erin that Mr. Reed was in the work shed in the back yard, setting up his tools.

They don’t need me at all, Erin told herself. I wonder why they want to adopt me. Her anxiety level rose and, fearing that she might give in to her angry impulses, she decided to leave the cabin for a while. She walked out the door and down the path to the little pond, and sank down on a flat white rock.

She couldn’t help thinking about her unhappy, violent past. She was a 14-year-old foster child whose father, in a drunken rage four years ago, had stabbed her mother and then shot himself. Since then, she had sunk into a depression, fearing that she had inherited her father’s violent nature. Rather than chance expressing this violence, Erin usually avoided any occasion when she might become angry.

She had lived with Erwin and Patty Reed and their daughter for six months now, and they had recently asked how she would feel about their adopting her. But she wasn’t quite ready to trust them yet, or herself.

After a few moments, she decided that a little walk into the forest might help calm her further. She stood and ambled idly toward the path that led into the fragrant, welcoming woods. She had only gone a few steps when a small figure suddenly materialized out of the air in front of her. Startled, she stumbled and turned; ready to run back to the house. But she caught a more complete glimpse of the figure and stopped.

She saw a tiny, slender female, dressed in a pale green, gauzy dress with a ragged hemline, her legs and feet bare. As they stood staring at one another, Erin was the first to speak.

“Oh, good grief! You startled me!” When the girl didn’t respond, she went on. “Do you live around here?”

The girl shook her head, but still didn’t speak. She advanced a few steps and Erin could see now that she wasn’t as young as she looked; although small, she seemed a full-grown adult.

Erin continued to look at the stranger and couldn’t contain her curiosity, finally venturing cautiously, “What do you want? Who are you?”

“I am a wood nymph, and my name is Silvia,” replied the girl, her voice like a dainty flute.

Erin snorted and tilted her head. “Oh, really!” she said. “And I’m a fairy.”

Silvia chuckled. “Are you, indeed? But it is true, you see. I really am a wood nymph. My home is in a tree back there in the woods. Have you heard of a nymph?”

“Certainly,” Erin exclaimed. “But there is no such thing. You can’t be a nymph if they don’t exist.” She grinned in triumph. “I think you’re just some stranger who thought she would play a trick on me.”

“Well,” Silvia said, moving closer to Erin. “What might convince you that I am a wood nymph?”

Shrugging, Erin said, “Ummm, I don’t know. Fairies can fly, what can wood nymphs do?”

Silvia had closed the distance between them, and Erin now looked directly down into the laughing eyes – deep brown eyes, set in a pixyish face, surrounded by bark-brown shoulder-length hair.

“Wood nymphs do not fly,” Silvia said. “But we can turn into trees.”

Suddenly, right in the middle of the path, a slender ash tree stood where Silvia had been. It swayed as if in a strong breeze, and then Silvia reappeared and the tree had vanished.

“Huh!” was all Erin could manage, blinking furiously. Obviously, no trick-playing stranger could have accomplished that feat.

Silvia grinned at her, and reached out to shake Erin’s hand. “I am Silvia,” she repeated. “And who are you?”

“I’m Erin Hopkins,” she answered. She could feel her heart pounding, and went on. “We’re staying in that house across the pond. Do you have a house in the woods? I haven’t been in the woods yet, but I’d love to see where you live.” Erin thought she must be rambling; she was puzzled and fascinated by this encounter and, she thought, strangely calm.

There was a soft tinkling of music, and it was a moment before Erin realized that she was hearing the nymph’s laughter. Still more than a little suspicious, she asked, “Are you really a wood nymph? I’ve never seen one before. I’ve read about wood nymphs and other mythological creatures. Are there fairies and elves in the forest?”

“I would love to tell you all about my friends, but you will have to wait a while. I will visit you again in three days.” Suddenly Erin was alone on the path, but now she didn’t feel quite so lonely or depressed. She walked back to the cabin to help her new family with lunch, feeling excited; she had a new friend.


Three days later, awaiting the promised visit, Erin perched on a flat white rock beside the little pond. She watched the path from the woods expectantly until suddenly the quiet of the isolated glade was broken by a bellowed neigh. A huge white horse galloped out of the oak trees, followed by a young man racing after it, waving a whip and shouting curses.

“Here, you galumpin’ divil of a horse! Stop, or I’ll grind you up for dog meat!”

Frightened, Erin jumped aside as the horse came to a sudden halt at the edge of the pond. It snorted throatily, its sides heaving as if it had run a long way. The young man racing after it, really a boy of about sixteen, Erin saw, tried to dodge the suddenly immobile horse and overbalanced, falling right into the pond. He splashed mightily, and quickly scrambled back to his feet.

“What the . . . !” he exclaimed, glaring all around the pond and finally fixing his gaze on Erin, as if she were somehow at fault for his predicament. But then he grinned and grudgingly shrugged. “Hi,” he said with a dimpled smile. “My name is Derek Rivers. What’s yours?”

Keeping watchful eyes on the huge beast beside her, she said, “Umm, I’m Erin?” She backed away, uncertain about this strange situation. The young man was very good-looking and polite, she thought, but what was that horse going to do?

“Do you live around here?” he asked, tying the horse securely to a nearby tree, allowing Erin to relax a little. He wore dark jeans and a blue tee-shirt that Erin noted was the same color as his eyes.

“Y-y-yes, I do. We-we’re on vacation,” she answered, keeping an eye on the horse, “and we’re staying over there, in that chalet. I’m waiting for my sister, Penny, to join me.” She didn’t want to admit that she awaited a wood nymph; he might think she was nuts.

Derek sat down on the rock and gestured to Erin to sit beside him. She shook her head and backed up, but then stood still, staring at him. He glanced around at the woods, the pond, and the clear sky above and, as if trying to put her at ease, smiled. “This is a beautiful spot, isn’t it? It seems almost magical.” He grinned pleasantly, and Erin studied him; had he read her mind?

“Almost as if,” she ventured, “a wood nymph might step out of the trees any moment.”

The boy nodded solemnly and gazed into the woods, for all the world as if he actually anticipated such an event. Then he grinned and turned to Erin. “Wouldn’t that be something?”

“So, you would be surprised if a nymph appeared?” Erin asked, holding her breath for his answer.

“Wouldn’t you?” he asked, his blue eyes gazing directly into her brown ones for a long moment.

Just then, their gazes were drawn away from one another and toward a movement at the forest’s edge. A small creature stepped out between two trees and Derek leaped to his feet.

“Hey!” he exclaimed. “Who . . . what are you?” he asked, his voice trembled, but his shoulders set back, as if facing a powerful enemy.

“It’s okay, Derek,” Erin said, tugging at his sleeve. “She’s my friend. Silvia, this is Derek.”

“Hello, Derek,” Silvia replied, and Erin noted with surprise that her hair was mussed and her dress was torn; she seemed more anxious than before.

“You look upset,” Erin said. “Has something happened?”

“Yes, Erin, my friend,” Silvia said, her voice like a breeze soughing through the trees. She said, “A friend of mine, a witch, sent me here to bring you back to my world. We fear our home may be lost to us. My friend tells me that you have something that can help us expel the evil troll who threatens our world.”

Erin was confused; she carried nothing with her. “I have something to expel a troll? What is it?” She was quite prepared to run into the cabin to get whatever Silvia needed.

“I am not certain,” the nymph said. She turned to Derek, who stood gaping at them. “I am a wood nymph,” she explained gently. “Erin and I met three days ago, right here. I am in grave need of her help. Perhaps you might help as well.”

“I? What could I do? And besides,” the young man said, shaking his head, “I don’t believe in wood nymphs, or witches, or trolls. This isn’t really happening, you know; I’m apparently hallucinating.”

“Oh, Derek,” the tiny creature assured him with a smile, “I am very real. See?”  She held a hand out to him. He took it, and shrugged.

“Well, if I’m not crazy and hallucinating, I suppose I could try and help you. But what do you need from us? Why did you come to us?”

Silvia said, “Erin has a necklace her grandmother gave her when she was seven, before she was orphaned.” Derek turned to look at Erin who nodded; she was indeed wearing the necklace her Grandma Rose had given her. She fingered it, wondering how the nymph had known about it, and then turned to Derek.

“My grandmother was a gypsy,” she said, “and a fortune-teller. She told me she used the necklace as her focus for trances. She said I have the spirit of the romani—that’s the gypsies’ name for their people. When she gave me the pendant, she told me it was a symbol of our strength and goodness.” She laughed, as if she doubted the statement.

She went on. “A few weeks after Grandma Rose gave it to me, Mom said that she had gone away. I never did find out where she’d gone, but we never saw her again.”

“Well,” Derek said, turning back to the small creature, “whatever I can do, I’ll be happy to help.”


“Me, too,” Erin said.  She had never expected to go on a magical adventure, but she was eager to meet a witch and an evil troll.


The three walked together in silence into the forest until they came to a sunny clearing and a very large oak tree.

“This is my tree,” Silvia told them, pride and affection clear in her voice. The tree must have been forty feet tall, and it had been burned at some point in the past. At the base of the tree, Erin saw a fairy circle, a rounded patch of bright green grass, surrounded by tiny mushrooms. Silvia led them into it, and put her arms around the tree trunk. Leaning her head against it, she intoned, “My lord Acorna, I bring thee friends. May we pass?”

Suddenly, they found themselves in the midst of a forest of recently burned tree stumps. The sky had turned overcast and Erin couldn’t see the sun; she caught the acrid scent of burned wood and ash. Silvia’s arms now encircled the short stump of a burned-out tree; she stood back and turned to the others.

Erin took a moment to look around, mesmerized by the horrid black and grey landscape, desolate and lonely as only a burnt-out forest can be. The nymph took a few steps away and looked back, gesturing for them to follow her. Erin drew a deep breath and started after Silvia.

“This is awful!” Erin exclaimed. “What on earth happened here?”

“This land used to look exactly like it does in your world,” Silvia replied, “with lovely wildflowers and leaf-covered paths. The good Witch Pleasia was our mayor, and it was a wonderful place to live. But then Groul came. Most of the beauty of our world is now like this. Groul is an evil troll who corrupted the goblins and gnomes guarding the mayor’s mansion. After they brutally beat her household staff, they forced the witch into exile and trashed the mansion.

“We’re going to the troll’s house now, where the Witch Pleasia believes you may be able to defeat the evil troll, Groul.”

“We’re supposed to fight this troll?” Derek asked, frowning. “With what?”

Erin scowled and nodded her head in agreement. “I have nothing to fight with,” she said, “and neither does Derek. How are we supposed to defeat such a creature without weapons?”

The nymph nodded humbly and said, “Your pendant, Erin, can help you to defeat him. That is all I know.”

Erin pondered this for a moment, then asked, “But what if we can’t defeat him? What if he captures us?  Will he beat us, too?”

Silvia sighed. “If he captures you, you will have only one option. You must agree now on a magic word that will allow you to free yourselves. But you will need to be shoulder-to-shoulder when you say it, and you will have to say it together.”

“What’s the magic word?” Erin asked. She couldn’t help wondering what would happen if the troll left only one of them alive.

“It is something you and Derek must decide upon,” Silvia said, and started walking again.

They agreed to use the word “pajamas” as their magic word; when they proposed this to Silvia, she merely nodded.


As they walked, Erin asked Derek to tell her about himself.

Si, Señorita,” he said with a grin that seemed to light up the colorless and lifeless forest they walked through. “I’m 16, and I live with my parents. My dad is a forest ranger and my mom teaches Spanish in a high school across town. My four older brothers live in nearby cities. Now, how about you?”

Erin said, “My foster family came here for a vacation. My foster parents and my little sister Penny are really great,” she went on. “I feel very lucky to be living with them.”

Silvia led them a little way further to a small copse of still living birch trees that seemed to have escaped the conflagration that decimated the oak tree forest. It contrasted so starkly with the burnt-out woods they’d just walked through that Erin gasped. Emerging from this little copse, they encountered a rusty, gnarled wrought-iron gate, set into a crumbling stone wall. The nymph looked sad as she reached out to open the gate.

“Just a few days ago,” she said gravely, “this was a lovely white stone wall, and the gate was clean and golden.” She shuddered and opened the gate, and Derek took Erin’s hand as she smiled at him. The two of them followed Silvia through the gate, Erin feeling quite happy, despite the gloom around them.

Beyond the gate was what Erin thought must once have been a wide meadow of golden wildflowers, and now looked like the front yard of an abandoned, probably haunted, house. Drab, bedraggled weeds and dead flowers on either side of the path made her think of movies about the end of the world. She drew a deep breath and clasped Derek’s hand more tightly, and the two of them walked on, keeping their eyes on the nymph who led them.

After they’d walked a little further, the trio was shocked when something huge and shadowy jumped out from behind the dead trunk of a large tree on their path, and loosed a bellowing roar.

“Whooooo goes there!” it shouted, its creaky voice echoing back eerily from the trees. “Halt and be skewered!”

Terrified, Erin jumped behind Derek and cringed. The thing was a huge manlike creature that must have stood seven feet tall and weighed over 500 pounds. Its face was craggy and lumpy, with a fierce scowl and what Erin thought of as crazy eyes. Hunching its shoulders, its ears stuck out from its head and made Erin think of a huge, hideous ex-boxer with cauliflower ears.

Grimacing fiercely, the creature—an ogre, Erin thought—yanked a foot long, razor-sharp dagger from its belt and waved it in the air.

“Have at ye!” the creature bellowed, darting forward and poking challengingly at Derek with his knife. Dodging skillfully, Derek reached to his side for a non-existent sword or gun. Finding nothing there, he dropped to his knees and threw the hardest punch he most likely could manage, which landed between the giant’s legs. Nothing happened except that the ogre bellowed louder than ever, and reached out to grasp Erin in its huge, ham-like hand.

“Hellllp!  Der…” she shouted as the ogre squeezed, cutting off her wind. Derek leaped to his feet again and, even though he only stood as tall as the giant’s chest, he wound up and, as if he were pitching a ball, threw his fist upward at its jaw. The ogre staggered back a few steps, but held onto Erin and shook its head groggily, then came roaring back, dagger outstretched. Out of the corner of her eyes, Erin saw that Silvia had backed up to the tree and now clung to it, doing nothing at all to help them. It was up to Derek to save them; but, looking at this huge, menacing creature, she couldn’t help wondering if they were all destined to die right there.

Though brutal and menacing, the ogre seemed to be untrained in knife-fighting; but, without a weapon of his own, Derek appeared to have no chance against the might of this creature. But he suddenly whirled around and slammed one leg into the ogre’s ribs. He danced backwards, raised his fists and yelled, “Okay, you lily-livered moron, you slimy excuse for a giant, what else have you got?!”

Meanwhile, Erin attempted to bite the ogre’s hand, or scratch him with her fingernails, but nothing seemed to faze him. She kicked and squirmed, without result, and then saw that the ogre had raised his hand, and her in it, near his ear. Opening her mouth as wide as she could, Erin sank her teeth powerfully into the soft tissue of the ear. She closed her mouth and ground her teeth together, and the ogre let out a loud squawk, opening his hand and bringing it to his ear.

Erin dropped out of the giant’s hand to land in a squat beside Derek, spitting out the giant’s earlobe. She yanked her necklace from under her shirt and tossed it quickly to Derek, who lifted it high in his fist. As if suddenly entranced by the sight of the necklace, the ogre was seemingly struck dumb. He got a puzzled look on his face, and then stumbled and dropped the knife to the ground, right beside Derek. The young man grabbed it up and stabbed out blindly, sinking the sharp blade into the ogre’s pendulous belly. There was a shrill, deafening scream, and the ogre collapsed to its knees. In slow motion, it fell forward onto its face, and was still.

Derek and Erin stood blinking at one another, amazement on both their faces, and then the nymph was beside them. “Come,” she exclaimed, holding out her hand. “We do not have far to go now.”

Erin took her hand and they set off quickly. Derek tucked the ogre’s knife into his belt, and Erin found herself grinning at him as they walked; he smiled back, and then reached for her hand and they kept walking.

They soon came to a tiny weathered, brittle-looking bridge over a narrow, sluggishly moving stream. They slowly and cautiously crossed it and, as they reached the other side, were confronted with a second huge, ugly monster.

Unlike the first villain, this creature was not an ogre but stood at least eight feet tall. It had the head of a vulture on wide, hairy shoulders; its broad mouth gaped open, showing serrated knife-like teeth and a swollen, black tongue. Great bat-like wings sprouted from its shoulders, and it seemed to have four or maybe even six arms, all brandishing weapons—a huge wooden club, a thick, jagged tree branch, a wicked-looking five-foot long sword. It made a noise like a pack of screeching eagles as it charged them, and all three were paralyzed, as if frozen in their tracks.

Before the creature reached them, though, Derek found enough strength to pull the ogre’s knife from his belt. Holding it up in front of him in the vain hope of stopping the monster, he was confounded when the creature casually brushed the knife aside. The monster’s arms, with all its weapons, began weaving and clashing, and it screeched again as it bore down on Derek. He ducked, and dove through the creature’s legs, jumping to his feet behind it. But the monster was astoundingly fast, and whirled rapidly to face Derek again.

This time it roared like a wounded bear and changed into a Yeti, one of those mythological creatures that stalk the north woods. It was still eight feet tall, but now it was covered in dirty white fur and its human-like hands were larger than Derek’s head. It advanced on him again and Erin, arms entwined with Silvia’s, feared that Derek was too weary to resist its attack.

But Derek was not finished. He danced away from the monster’s assault and then darted forward, which confused the creature for a moment. But it quickly recovered, and kicked out with one monstrous foot, sending Derek rolling toward a burned-out tree.

The monster surged forward and grabbed Derek in its huge, bearlike paws, tossing him over its shoulder. Then it turned menacingly toward Erin. She grabbed for her pendant and waved it wildly in front of the monster, but the previously helpful necklace now seemed not to phase it at all. A gigantic paw crashed down on her head, and the next thing she knew she was bouncing along, upside down beside Derek, hanging from the monster’s shoulder.

She looked over at Derek and saw that his eyes were closed. He was unconscious. She saw no trace of the nymph, and was certain that this was the end of them all. Why hadn’t the pendant worked, she wondered. This was surely the evil troll, Groul, and the pendant should have stopped him.

As soon as she could see that Derek was conscious again, she hissed, “Where’s Silvia?” He made an attempt to shrug, and then they were both sailing over the monster’s head and crashing to the ground.


When they awoke some time later, locked into cages on either side of a drab, dusty and untidy room, they were confronted with the huge, ugly monster who had overcome them. Both shrank back, terrified that those great hands would gather them up and stuff them into its maw. But as they watched, the monster began to shrink in size and girth, turning into nothing but an ugly troll with a bulbous nose and huge pendulous ears. He grimaced – Erin thought it was meant to be a smirk – and picked up a huge tankard, taking a great gulp from it.

“Oh, my god!” Erin told herself. “It’s the evil troll! He’s got us!” She looked around for Silvia, and finally saw her suspended, seemingly frozen, in a large bell jar. It stood on a pedestal beside the door, and Erin was certain that all was now lost. Feeling sick to her stomach, she tried to catch Derek’s eye, but he was staring fixedly at the troll.

As the ugly creature danced around the room, sniggering and chuckling, Erin could make out a few of the words he was cackling. “Now I got her,” she translated; “that witch mayor will never defeat me! These three were her great warriors! Hah!”

He celebrated his triumph by drinking deeply of his brew and cavorting around his house, from cages to pedestal and back. As Erin watched, he kept this up for some time, paying no attention to them, and she took the opportunity to look around at her surroundings.

There were no windows, and the only light was from a single candle.  The ceiling of the small dark house was rounded, and there was no color at all in the room, other than what she and Derek wore. Everything was brown or gray, and the heavy air smelled mossy and like burnt wood.

As the repulsive troll frolicked to and fro, Erin felt very ill. For the first time in her life, she was aware of being in terrible danger. All the troll would have to do would be to turn back into that horrible creature and take his time killing them – there was no escape.

Her breathing grew quicker, and she looked around her at the bars of her cage. She couldn’t see a door of any kind; either the door wasn’t visible for some reason, or she and Derek had been magically transported into these cages and there was no escape. She tried to call out to Derek across the room, or to Silvia, suspended in the glass jar, but her voice seemed to fade away into the dense air, and neither her friends nor the troll appeared to hear her.

She sighed, sinking to the floor of the cage. What was going to happen to her now? Her foster family would surely believe she had run away. She knew they loved her, and they would be very sad, thinking she didn’t love them. And she had just found a new friend in Derek; the two of them could have been very happy together.

Something else occurred to her. Silvia had said that she, Erin, was her world’s only hope to defeat the troll. What would happen to her world now? Silvia would never be able to live in that burnt-out oak tree. What a dreadful situation!

As the troll continued to be preoccupied with his brew and his dancing, Erin kept trying to catch Derek’s eyes. When she finally did, they held out their hands toward one another, attempting to communicate silently. Erin fingered her pendant and tried to focus her thoughts. Then she noticed something odd: were there small wheels under Derek’s cage? She checked her own cage to find that it, too, had wheels. She put her hand out between the bars and pushed against the wall, resulting in a small movement. She quickly glanced over at the troll, but he had not noticed.

Derek watched her and then copied her movement, and the cages began to progress very slowly toward one another. Keeping a sharp eye on the troll, they both cautiously maneuvered their cages closer together and, in just a few moments, they were side by side.

Erin thought about what they had to do now; did she have enough of her father’s violence in her to hurt or kill the troll? She whispered, “Do you remember the magic word?”

Derek nodded grimly. Erin glanced at the troll; he still had noticed nothing. They moved slowly in their cages to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, and together they shouted, “Pajamas!”

Suddenly, there was a door in each cage, and the doors were open. They both rushed out and swarmed over the drunken troll, who was astonished. He sank down to the floor, his eyes wide, while Derek grabbed the dagger from him. Before he could transform, Erin punched him on the side of his face, but the troll recovered much more quickly than she expected and backhanded her. She fell onto the muddy-looking carpet, dazed for a moment, but then she scrambled up and returned to the fray.

Meanwhile, Derek was being tossed around the room like a rag doll. The troll had the dagger now, and stabbed out at Derek, who was still able to dodge. Erin saw that the troll intently watched his foe, and not her, and she kicked him as hard as she could in the knee. When he fell to the floor, she kicked him in the head, and then sat on him. She waved the pendant in his face and he froze and seemed paralyzed for a moment. Then he passed out—whether from the ale he’d been imbibing or from the fight, Erin couldn’t be sure.

Derek grinned at her, and then leaned over the troll to make sure he was unconscious. Then he turned to the bell jar and smashed it, releasing Silvia. She grabbed the dagger from him and rushed to the troll, kneeling beside him and stabbing him ferociously again and again. Erin was amazed to see that no blood spurted from the wounds. She told herself that it seemed unnatural because the troll wasn’t human, he wasn’t natural, and of course he wouldn’t bleed.

She stood and watched as Silvia stopped stabbing and checked to make sure the creature was dead. “This is what the Witch Pleasia told me to do, if I got the chance,” she told them triumphantly.

As the life drained from him, color slowly came back into the little house which, Silvia told them, had belonged to a widow evicted by the troll–the walls became peach-colored, the sofa was now a bright sunshiny yellow, and the carpet had turned its normal pale green. Even the musty smell and the dust vanished from the little house. All the evil that had been done by the troll was now dissolving with his death, and the wood nymph’s world was returning to normal.

“You see! You have saved us, Erin!” Silvia exclaimed. “Now we have our peaceful world back once again!”

Grabbing the humans’ hands, she twirled them around in the little house. Then they all raced out and back through the woods the way they had come. They ran across the pristine, white-painted wooden bridge that now stretched over a clean, gaily tumbling stream. They came to the gate in the stone wall that had been rusty wrought iron; it was now gilded and clean, and the wall was whole again.

They passed the wide meadow, now brilliant with waving poppies. At the fairy circle beside the now restored tall oak tree, Silvia stood between Erin and Derek and kissed their cheeks. “On behalf of my world and our mayor, the Witch Pleasia,” she said, “I am most grateful for your help. Erin, I will come and visit you again, and Derek, I hope to see you soon.”

They couldn’t help grinning at one another as Silvia gestured to them to move forward.The two young humans, holding hands, moved forward through the fog and along the path toward the pond and the little chalet.

“We did it!” Erin squealed happily. “Did you ever think you would have a chance to fight an evil troll? I didn’t! I can’t wait to tell Patty, Irwin and Penny!”

“They’ll certainly be proud of you,” Derek said. “You were unbelievable back there! You can tell them I said that.”

“I will. And I think I’ll accept their offer to adopt me.”

“Will we see each other again?” Derek asked. “I have another horse, and we can go riding.”

“I’d love to!” Erin said, grinning happily.

She skipped eagerly through the quiet, peaceful forest toward the vacation cabin, eagerly anticipating her new family’s surprise and pleasure that she had not, in fact, run away.

When they reached the pond again, Derek’s horse was still tied to the tree, patiently awaiting its master’s return.