Gooseberries

Gooseberries

A Kingdom Come Short Story

By Jim Doran

Planet Constellation stormed into her home and threw a rock at the wall, missing her mother’s right wing by inches. Her own wings flashed and her blue aura faded in the growing dusk. Flushed, she clenched her fists and sat down on a nearby chair.

“Goodness, Planet,” her mother said. “What is this all about?”

“I did not get it, Ma. The diplomacy council rejected me. The only ones who will take me are the gooseberry bunch.”

Her mother pointed to a chair and it moved on its own to her. She sat down. “Looking for gooseberries is an honorable job for a pixie, Planet.”

Planet looked at her mother through her bangs. “You do not need magic for diplomacy. I am good with people. I have elven friends. Why did they turn me down?”

Her mother put her hand on the side of her face. “You do not need magic unless the negotiations do not go well. When this happens, pixies often resort to magic to escape…or defend.”

“I can defend myself. My fizz spell improves every day. And I will not need to escape or fight. I am exceptional in conversation. Ask any of my teachers!”

“They did not mean it as a compliment,” said her mother. “Negotiations are not always successful. Think of the way humans treat us.”

The young pixie shivered but didn’t respond.

“Planet, gooseberry expeditions are fun.  You will travel all over the Faerie Forest looking for the one ingredient that enhances all magic, the gooseberry. Finding a gooseberry will make you the envy of the forest.”

“It should, considering no one has ever found one.”

“Not true. Do not forget Trillum. He searched the Forest of Death and found a living gooseberry bush. His honorable name is known throughout all of Kingdom.”

“Trillum, Trillum, Trillum. We have all heard of him. He lived ages ago. Who has found a gooseberry bush in your lifetime? Do you know of anyone?”

“I know if you find one our family will be the pride of Faerie Forest.”

Planet looked sideways at her mother. “We would, would we not?”

Her mother nodded.

“Was not Uncle Orion also a gooseberry explorer?” asked Planet.

“No. Your uncle was a prospector. He should have never gone to the Den of Scorpus.”

“Has there ever been a gooseberry explorer in the Constellation family as far as you can remember?”

Her mother frowned. “I do not recall anyone.”

Planet sighed. “Ma, we both know those of us not at the top of our class in magic become gooseberry explorers. It is often reserved for those at the bottom…like me.”

Her mother put her hand on Planet’s. “Work hard, my daughter, and find a gooseberry. I know how you feel about Celeste. Your sister has many accolades.”

“I think she stole all the magic when she was born, leaving me with nothing.”

“What a silly thought, dear one,” replied her mother. “We all have different gifts we bring to the forest. For example, you are exuberant and daring, Celeste is more reserved and cautious. Celeste could never be a gooseberry explorer.”

Planet lifted her chin. “True. I suppose she could not.”

“You are uniquely fitted to this role. Do not undermine its importance to the pixies…or Kingdom.”

With her mother’s words, Planet glowed a brighter blue.

 

Planet scoured the floor of the forest, allowing her aura to light the nooks and crannies hidden by the trees. The patrol searched in an uninhabited section of the woods where there were no pixie houses tucked, like nests, in the tree limbs. The fairies floated through the woods like will-o-the-wisps with a purpose. Planet glowed a pale blue as she flew along. She spotted a wayward berry and her light turned a deeper shade, but when she identified it as a boysenberry, she tossed it away. Her supervisor called for a thirty-minute break and she sat on the path with a sigh.

Planet spotted a murky green pixie floating to her and she recognized his aura. He landed as she greeted him. “Hi, Compactor.”

“Aye, Planet. Hunting the gooseberries?”

“I am going to be the first to find one.”

“Why you?”

“Because that is my destiny,” she said.

“Last week, you told me you would run away if the only choice offered was gooseberry explorer.”

Planet put her hands behind her head. “I thought it was a low job. Remember how we used to shine lights on the faces of people in gooseberry patrol? We were wrong. I used to think damaged pixies or pixies with no skill at all were explorers, but they are not. I have skill, and I am an explorer. I am proud to be one.”

Compactor said, “You think you are going to be the first one to find a gooseberry?”

“After Trillum, yes. I have a wonderful idea. Why not join us?”

Compactor stretched his wings. “My job is Faerie Forest’s groundskeeper.”

“Let the ground take care of itself, as it has for eons. Let us hunt gooseberries together.”

Compactor frowned. “I am not interested in searching for something no one has ever seen.”

“And why not?”

“I had an aunt once on gooseberry patrol. She spent her whole life scouring the forest up and down, covering every path, every tree, but never found a gooseberry. At the end of her life, she accomplished nothing.”

“You are so negative. I do not know why we are friends.”

“As light attracts darkness, and warm attracts cold, so does positive attract negative. This is why we shall always be friends.”

“You are as big a fool as Chideron the human. There is my signal. I am off to find the gooseberry. Remember, when I find it, you can say you knew me when. When I live in the Grand Oak, I shall wave to you.”

Compactor smiled as Planet flew away and started her journey along the path.

 

Planet came home as her mother looked up from painting a picture. “You were out late, Planet.”

“What is father cooking tonight?”

“Celeste is cooking,” replied her mother. “She has a new spell to try out.”

“She is not a good cook.”

“Top of her class.”

The young pixie snorted. To Planet, Celeste’s fairy mush tasted like the bottom of a boot.

She flew to her square bedroom and threw herself on her bed, exhausted. Her mother fluttered in after her.

“Why were you out late, Planet?”
“After everyone went home, I put in extra hours looking for gooseberries.”

Her mother looked concerned. “Maybe you should come home on time.”

“Why? If I am going to be the person to find it, I had better give it my all.”

“Planet, you should temper your enthusiasm with relaxation. Pixie magic works fine without gooseberries as you well know.”

“Ma, I believe what you told me. I will be the first to find one in ages. Nothing will stop me.”

Her mother left the room, wringing her hands.

 

Planet left home for long stretches, spending nights in Faerie Forest’s trees and ditches, searching for the elusive gooseberry. Her family grew used to her absences. Her extraordinary sister had to do more chores around the house while she worked, improving Planet’s mood. When they were in school, their parents assigned Planet the chores to leave Celeste more time for studying. Planet never practiced her magic. “It comes naturally to me,” she had always claimed. Her parents listened and, while Celeste rehearsed spell after spell, Planet drew water, washed dishes, or prepared dinner.

Now they were doing their part in the Faerie Forest, and the burden fell on Celeste to do more around the house as Planet traveled for her job. Planet thought her elder sister would be more resentful, but she wasn’t. Celeste was surprisingly domestic, and talked down to Planet, treating her like a little girl.

This went on for months until one day when Planet sat down next to an old pixie man named Bali. He rubbed his wings to strengthen them as they rested. Planet liked Bali and talked to him non-stop when they worked together. Bali, hard of hearing, would smile at her and nod as she rambled. With her loquacity and his deafness, they made good companions.

His hearing was better today as he greeted Planet. “Have you found any gooseberries, young lady?”

“No, but I will,” said Planet.

“That’s the spirit. This is my last day as an explorer. My wife Wilifred and I have grand plans.”

Planet nodded sorrowfully. Bali had spent all of his life looking for a gooseberry but had never found one. Planet said, “I will miss your old way of speaking, running words together. For example, no one says it’s. They say it is.”

“You should try it. You’ll love it.”

Planet smiled. His attempt to get her to speak the old way was as hopeless as his attempts to find gooseberries.

Bali tilted his head. “You think it’s sad I’ve spent my entire life looking for a gooseberry but never found one? Don’t you?”

“I never said so.”

Bali sighed and looked at her patiently. “Is there nothing else you can do but look for gooseberries?”
Planet’s blue aura faded a little. “This is the only job that remained for me.”

Bali nodded. “I see you’ve been spending extra time, time not required, looking for them?”

Planet nodded enthusiastically. “I thought I found one once, but it was a Yowler’s pupa. I was quite embarrassed. I shall not make that mistake—”

“Planet,” said Bali. “Please listen to me, my dear. I like you so I will tell you something you don’t want to hear, but it’s best you know. Your parents should tell you this, but if they won’t, then I will.”

“What is it?”

“There’s no such thing as a gooseberry.”

Planet blinked. “What?”

“It’s a fabrication.”

“You are wrong. That makes no sense.”

“It does. There are some pixies who aren’t as gifted as others. In fact, they are hardly magical at all. They struggle with spell wielding and most other things. They cannot do the work of the pixies. Yet they must busy themselves with something. So, the elders created the gooseberry legend to give them something to do while other pixies do the real work.”

“But…you have spent your entire life looking for gooseberries!”

“I’ve spent my entire life keeping out of the way of the rest of the fairies while they have protected, nourished, and entertained me. From that perspective, it’s not a bad career. I have no pretensions I do anything useful.”

Planet stood. “Bali, there must be gooseberries. There must be!”

“I’m sorry to tell you. Most pixies know this. As they grow up and become productive members of society, they learn the gooseberry is a tale we tell to encourage children to persevere.”

Planet shook her head. “It cannot be.”

And yet, Planet knew it was the truth.

 

“Planet?”

“Go away.”

“Planet, I am your best friend.”

“You are a liar. Why did you not tell me?”

Compactor flew closer to her. She huddled in a secret grove the two of them shared, arms wrapped around her legs. She had been crying.

“You found out about the gooseberries.”

“I suppose it was your little joke on me. You and all the rest. Poor, stupid Planet. Let us send her on a wild gooseberry chase.”

“You have it wrong, Planet. Whoever told you will be in trouble if the Faerie Council finds out. There are penalties for telling.”

Planet stared at him, tears falling from her face. “There are penalties for not knowing. I worked extra hours looking for something that does not exist!”

“You were excited. You were going to change the world.”

Planet buried her face in her hands. “The world is better without me.”

“Come with me. Perhaps I can get you a job as a groundskeeper.”

“I do not need your help. I may continue to look for gooseberries. After all, are we sure they do not exist?”

“Planet, think of the name. Who would name a berry after a goose?”

Planet sighed, seeing the logic in his statement.

Compactor said, “Perhaps you can quit and take care of your parents? The Faerie Council will not force you to remain on gooseberry patrol. Your job will be to stay out of the way.”

“You mean, stay out of the way of the more important pixies, like yourself?”

Compactor grimaced. “You have twisted my meaning. You are my best friend.”

“I cannot face them and I will not continue doing this.”

“They may banish you if you do not comply.”

Planet stood and wiped her eyes. She squared her shoulders and looked hard at Compactor. “I will not let them banish me. I have another plan.”

“Groundskeeper, with me?”

Planet shook her head. “They will not let me, Compactor, and you know it. No, I will leave Faerie Forest. I will run away.”

“Mingle with the humans? Are you mad?”

Planet shrugged. “At first, my family will not notice. When they do I will be on my way. I will have adventures, Compactor. Adventures no other fairy ever had.”

“You will be killed.”

Planet lifted her chin. “I can take care of myself.”

“Planet, do not do this.”

Planet looked south where Faeries Forest ended and the woods of Kingdom began. “I must, Compactor. You know I must. This is the end of my life here. I will not be renowned like Trillum, but I will make my way in the world.”

“Planet…”

She took his hands. “Goodbye, Compactor. You have been a good friend.”

He opened his mouth to try to stop her but she zipped away. She flew like a blue streak zig-zagging through the forest, became a blue dot, and then was gone.