“I can’t believe I got a B!” Alvina says squeezing the pages of her test a little tighter in her hand crumpling it. The B stares at her, taunting her, with its curved letter. It’s an insulting reminder she’s not quite smart enough.
Her right foot swings out as she kicks at the ground. Surprisingly, her boot whips up a pile of dirt and it is tossed further down the trail. Alvina’s feet stomp at the ground. But because its spring, she sinks into the moist soil. If it were summer, the path would be dry and her feet pounding on the trail would be louder and would be a clear expression of her anger. Instead what she hears is muffled. The sound of slurping muck under her boots seems to suggest the springtime goo can pull her down below the surface like quicksand – never to be seen again!
Alvina’s face scrunches like twisted metal at the demolition yard when she thinks about the B versus an A; wanting to stomp loudly and only hearing the softness of earth beneath her feet; at wanting to be smart, and maybe, only being average. With this thought, anger blisters throughout her body. It pops and explodes pulsing with fire through her veins. Alvina kicks at the ground again, and another huge chunk of mud lifts up and spreads out across the air before it crashes into trees, ferns, and other plants that are in the way.
“What’s the matter?” Alvina hears from behind her. It’s a curious tone mixed with concern.
Alvina glances over her shoulder. Standing on the path is a woman with long black hair, wearing a multi-coloured wool hat on top of her head, a plaid shirt, and blue jeans. The woman’s face is punchy white against her black hair and it reminds Alvina of how white the moon looks on a clear night against the background of a black sky.
“Nothing,” Alvina mutters to the tall woman who is still standing further down the path.
“Nothing?” The woman says. “Surely, it must be something. You wouldn’t redecorate the woods for no reason.”
Alvina quietly laughs at the woman’s joke. Then Alvina huffs, glances up at the woman, before her eyes skim the woods. She doesn’t really want to answer the question. Alvina glances at green ferns, maple trees, balsam firs, and the dangerous wild parsnip that Mom warned her about when she said, Alvina, don’t get too close to the wild parsnip. That stuff will burn you.
“I got a B on a test,” Alvina blurts out to the stranger.
“You should be proud: a B is a good mark!” The woman says the words in an authoritative tone and with a nod of her head. To Alvina, it seems like the women has placed too much energy in the statement as if she’s trying to convince her it’s true.
Alvina’s eyes glare at the woman dressed as a lumberjack. She says, “I wanted an A.”
The woman folds her arms in front of her chest, tilts her head, and asks, “Why?”
“Because,” Alvina hesitates as if she were a train climbing up a monster of a hill with a heavy load. With her next words, it’s as if the train has reached the top, and now with the downhill momentum it blasts straight down and Alvina’s words rush out of her with the same speed when she finishes her because statement with, “I want to be smart.”
“You think a grade, an A, is a reflection of how smart you are?” The woman says folding her arms in front of her while her eyebrows pull together.
“Yes,” Alvina answers with zero hesitation in her voice.
“So, if you don’t get an A, you don’t know anything?” The woman asks the child as new lines crinkle together showing the woman’s confusion.
“No, I’m not saying that,”Alvina answers with annoyance. She knows the woman is challenging her, just like her parents, when she gets mad about getting a different mark than an A. But it frustrates her. No one seems to understand the importance of it. After a few moments, Alvina gathers her thoughts and says, “It means I don’t know as much as the other kids who got A’s on that history test.”
“Oh, history!” The slender woman says excitedly. “You know, history is constantly being written, right?” Then there’s a pause in her voice as she walks past Alvina towards the largest tree Alvina has ever seen. The tree isn’t a maple, or a balsam fir – as a matter of fact, Alvina doesn’t remember the tree being there before. The woman glances up at the tree, spins around to face Alvina with her black hair twirling, and says, “And history, is also being rewritten.”
“I know,” Alvina says as her eyes shift back and forth to the woman and to the large red tree in the middle of the woods. “But history is important,” Alvina says defensively.
“Absolutely!” The woman acknowledges without hesitation. “But it’s impossible to know everything, about everything; particularly, something like history.” With that the dark-haired woman places her left hand on the tree, and uses her right hand to remove her hat. As her palm touches the tree, Alvina hears a creaking sound as two pieces of bark separate. This goes on for several minutes until the tree is split in two pieces. From the opening in the tree, a light blue light pours from the doorway of the tree.
Alvina’s mouth is open. She’s so surprised! Never in her life has she seen a tree do that! Alvina cautiously takes a step back with fear. It’s not a planned move, but rather an instinctive one to get away from something that you’re not familiar with.
Just then a rainbow coloured bird bursts from the entrance of the tree fluttering, and chirping, singing his song to everyone. It’s hard to resist music no matter who, or what, is singing. Alvina finds she is no longer afraid but smiling. The bird bounces onto Alvina’s shoulder and continues to chirp into her ear.
With hesitation, Alvina asks, “How did you do that?” Realizing she has more questions she shoots out one more with, “And where did the bird come from?”
“My name is Gudrun,” the woman smiles at the child and says, “And this is the path to my world. That bird is Patnik, and he’s a friend of mine.” During this whole time, Gudrun keeps the palm of her hand on the tree.
Alvina hesitates. She’s not quite certain of this woman, or this opening to another world. Turning her head she stares at the bird, and when she does this, the bird places his beak against nine-year-old Alvina’s nose. Then as quickly as Patnik flew out from the tree and landed on Alvina’s shoulder, it rushes back into the opening of the tree, and disappears into it.
“Would you like to come see my world?” Gudrun says raising her eyebrows at Alvina.
Alvina stares at the woman. Then she notices it – or rather, them.
“Your ears!” Alvina shouts at Gudrun while stretching her finger out at the woman. Realizing almost instantly that she’s being rude, she quickly drops her finger, and her eyes stare at the muddy ground.
Gudrun shouts, “Oh my! Have I lost them?” Gudrun says with surprise as she places both her hands on her ears. When the woman’s hand is removed from the tree, there’s another creaking sound and the two piece of bark that were separated pull together, closing the door to Gudrun’s world.
The sound causes Alvina to glance up. She’s giggling at the woman and she says, “No.”
“Then – what?” Gudrun asks still holding her ears.
“Their pointy, like Spock’s from Star Trek.”
Gudrun places her hands on her hips, huffs, and says, “Or – LIKE ELVES!” She finishes the last part with exasperation in her voice. “That show. What was it called, Star Trek?”
Alvina chuckles to herself and says, “Yeah, I guess so. And yeah, it’s Star Trek. How did you know that?”
“You’re not the first child I’ve encountered that said my ears looked like Spock’s. A long time ago, kids would always say elves. Now we’re in competition with Mr. Spock.”
Alvina laughs. Then she hesitates, points at the tree, and says, “The door closed.”
“Ah yes, it has.” Gudrun says matter-of-factly. Then she places her hand on the tree again, it splits in two, the door opens, and light blue light pours from the opening again.
Slowly Alvina walks to the entrance of the tree that leads to Gudrun’s world. She peers through the doorway and holds her breath when she views the landscape before her: a mix of green and red fields. In the background are what look like crystal mountains, and they are surrounded with purple water.
From behind Alvina she turns when there’s a small breeze that hovers above her. She notices that Gudrun has poked her head around the corner. She smiles at her, stands still mostly in Alvina’s world with just her head that’s poking around the corner. Smiling, she asks Alvina, “Would you like to come for a visit? I want to show you some things that may help in your quest for knowledge.”
Alvina hesitates glancing at the view of Gudrun’s world and before she turns back to the woman in the plaid shirt she says, “I need to be home for dinner.”
“I’ll make sure you’re back,” Gudrun says with the same amount of confidence in her voice as Alvina’s teachers do when they are explaining something in class. Then Gudrun says, “Me and the other elves have lived a long time. I want to show you what we’re learning.”
Patnik whips out of the open tree door again, singing, and squeaking with happiness. When it sees Alvina it hovers in front of her, and then waves its right wing at her as if it’s a hand in a motion of, come!
Unable to resist the wing of her feathered friend as if it were an outstretched hand, Alvina touches the wing. In that moment when her fingers touch the bird’s wing, Alvina rises up gently at first, and then as the bird spins and twirls, so does Alvina. Giggling, Alvina does somersaults in the air.
When Alvina stops, she notices she is now past the tree and below her feet are the red-green fields. Gudrun is now beside her and the tree-door has closed to Alvina’s world. Gudrun’s feet slowly rise up and she hovers beside Alvina, still holding her hat in her right hand. Then she stretches out horizontally, turns back briefly to face Alvina, and says, “Come, let’s follow Patnik! He’ll lead us to my castle!”
As if Patnik understood everything that was said, he beats his wings quickly, and flies happily towards a yellow-gold castle nestled in front of the mountains. Not far behind Patnik, are Alvina and Gudrun. They hold hands as the air rushes across their eyelashes, nose, mouth and the breeze pushes their hair this way and that way, and their shirts and pants flutter from the speed their travelling across the white pillow clouds around them.
Their destination is Gudrun’s castle: for she is the Queen of the Elves.