Our tale begins one crisp October day when a young boy awakens early in the morning on a small farm in a small village. He dresses himself and goes out to feed the pigs squealing in their pens. This is his duty every morning: rain or shine. Then he eats his breakfast and walks down the path that leads to his school. He travels through the woods, because no one else travels to school this way and he is a solitary boy who likes to travel alone. He always goes to school every morning and he always travels through the woods, so thus far, his day has begun as always. But what is about to happen next is not what happens every morning; indeed, it had never happened before and it has never happened since.
As he walks through the woods, the boy finds a small trail that leads off from the main path. Being a curious lad, the boy decides to follow the path and see to where, or whom, it leads. Perhaps he is disobedient by not going straight to school; perhaps he is adventurous by walking down an untrod path; but as he is young, innocent, and curious, and it never occurs to him that he is disobedient or adventurous, we must forgive his fault and merely follow him into the unknown.
He walks long and far for two hours when he begins to feel the gnawing rumbles of hunger tickling his stomach. Just as he thinks he should stop and eat his lunch, the little boy catches sight of a draping, drooping apple tree. A lone, solitary deciduous tree in the midst of a pine forest strikes us as odd, but the boy is not surprised; to him, it is quite natural that just as he grows hungry, he finds a lovely gift. He reaches up, picks the ripe fruit, and walks on, enjoying the satisfying roundness in his hand, the sweet crunch between his teeth, and the full feeling of his stomach.
He walks till the sun shines her rays on the top of his curly head and the warmth that floods down to his whole frame makes him sleepy and hungry. He eats his lunch on a fallen, mossy log, and then curling up, drowses away for a short hour. When he stretches and rouses and resumes his journey, he is thoroughly refreshed, and runs about, pulling at low-hanging leaves, leaping up to catch overhead branches, and bounding down from rocks and logs.
The path is not a difficult one. It does not have any sharp twists or turns but instead meanders about as if it does not know where it is going and is in no hurry to get there.
Just as we begin to wonder how far he intends to go, he suddenly comes upon a semi-circle of berry bushes. We are watching his face; his curious, roving, sparkling blue eyes that have darted about all day, now rivet firm and bright upon the ground before him. His mouth hangs open a moment, and then slowly lifts into a wondering smile of pure joy. Little rainbows of color reflect across his dark skin. We follow his gaze and see what holds him so fascinated. Within the semi-circle of blue and black bushes shines a tiny, crystal castle. It is magnificent: standing only three feet tall, it is made completely of glass or perhaps diamonds; it has numerous stories and many sharp spires jutting up from the main part. Perhaps it is a doll house for some very tiny dolls. The boy’s movement catches our attention again, and we see him stoop down beside the castle, wrap his small arms around it, and, putting all his muscles into the effort, try to lift. It is a funny image; his face is puckered in the effort but the palace does not budge an inch. A shiny, miniscule something darts out from one of the windows and lands on his arm. We look down, expecting to see a small insect, but instead, behold a tiny person about four inches tall.
The boy holds his arm very still to inspect the little person. She is a very pretty little thing, and looks to be eleven or twelve years old. She has long, golden hair and is dressed in lush green clothing woven from leaves; what is most amazing are her wings. They are shaped like a dragon-fly’s and made of a spider-web material; if she were not lighter than a feather, they would not hold her up.
The tiny girl inspects him. She never speaks, just looks at him from the top of his black head to the bottom of his sandaled toes. Finally, she smiles and her body shakes as if she is laughing, yet still no sound comes forth. She spread her wings and flies down to the crystal palace. Cupping her hands around her mouth, the leaves in front of her sway a little as if from a breath of air, and immediately, all about us, hundreds of tiny creatures flit about. They cascade from the palace and surround the boy, marveling at his size and strangeness.
He is careful not to move a muscle for fear of hurting the tiny people; nor does he speak a word for fear of frightening them away. He only stands and watches as they move about in their myriad, beautiful patterns of synchronized flight. Their wings are magnificent, airily catching at invisible beams of iridescent, shining sunlight and sending them dancing in little rainbows all over the castle, the bushes, and the boy.
After what seems like an eternity of bliss and beauty, his first friend flies down to the castle and plucks a small, glass flower from one of the tall spires; she flutters before the boy and holds it out to him.
The flower is twice the size of the tiny person and quit heavy; the boy does not expect the weight and nearly drops it when the tiny creature effortlessly hands it over.
Then, as instantly as they appeared, all the little creatures vanish. All, that is, except the first. She still flutters near, reluctant to go.
After a moment she darts over, kisses his cheek, and then shyly disappears into the castle. His round, innocent face crinkles in a smile of pleasure, and a small dimple, which we know was not there before, graces his cheek where she touched him.
The boy turns and walks back down the trail. We are tempted to stay in the clearing: to learn more about this little castle, perhaps to document our find and map a path to it. We would not have to sell or exhibit it – we could leave the little creatures strictly alone – but perhaps we could zone the area and turn it into a natural park. But when we look down – well, did we really expect it to remain for us? We are reminded of what the boy already knew: the sight is not a burden, but a gift, and our responsibility is not to protect, but to respect it.
We follow him back the way he came. When he leaves the forest, he heads straight for school, where the bell for first period is just ringing and all the children are filing to their classes. So the little boy has not missed his school day despite his long adventure.
But in his small, baby hand he still holds the crystal flower, and in the curve of his little cheek, he keeps a dimple.