Readers, beware: what you hold in your hands is a dreadful fairy book.
I wish I were narrating almost any other fairy story, but alas, this is my lot. Whatever expectations you have of delightful and whimsical fairies are sure to be disappointed. There are certainly fairies, but most are not proper fairies. Some who are supposed to be nasty are disappointingly nice, while some who should be kind and helpful are disconcertingly surly, dishonest, and generally unpleasant company.
Our heroine is, perhaps, the worst offendera sprite more interested in books than carefree games, who insists on being called Shade. She is on a quest, albeit with rather questionable companions, to find a place her outré self can call home. A place of companionship, comfort, and, most importantly, positively filled with books.
About the Author
The author of this dreadful tale, one Mr. Jon Etter, grew up in his local library in Forrest, Illinois (Population 1200 and some dogs) and eventually migrated north to Wisconsin, where he has taught high school English for the past twenty years.
When not teaching or attempting to domesticate his two children, Jon has written a number of proper tales—mostly fantasy—for The London Journal of Fiction, The Singularity, The Great Tome of Forgotten Relics and Artifacts, and other venues. A Dreadful Fairy Book is his first novel for kids and he’s loved every minute of working on it that wasn’t spent with Quentin Q. Quacksworth, whom Jon describes as “the opposite of fun,” although he does enjoy how annoyed Quacksworth gets when referred to as “Triple Q” or “Q Cubed.”
In his storied, 43-year career as a professional narrator, Quentin Quigley Quacksworth has worked on many wonderful, proper pieces of literature. His greatest regret, professional or personal, is his involvement with Jon Etter, whom he describes as “a pugnacious purveyor of puerile prose,” and A Dreadful Fairy Book, which he strongly urges publishers, parents, teachers, and librarians to keep out of the hands of children.
Read an Excerpt
In which a sprite's home is burned, fairies are yelled at, and rude language is used ...
Tears rolled down Shade's chubby, chestnut-brown cheeks as she watched the sprites of Pleasant Hollow, their butterfly wings all the colors of the rainbow, fly back and forth between the crystal blue spring that supplied their tiny village with water and the hollow tree that was her home. Her neighbors tried valiantly, but futilely, to put out the raging flames that consumed her little home. Bucket after bucket of water they splashed onto the tree but to little effect — the wood was too dry, too dead, and the flames too hot, too fierce for them to do more than contain the fire to that one single tree. When they were done, all that was left was smoldering rubble, which Shade poked at miserably with a stick, hoping that something she loved might've survived the flames.
Amidst the black and gray ruins of her home, she spied a small patch of red. Her heart quickened. My book! she thought, quickly clearing ash to reveal a charred but mostly intact rectangle of red leather. Snatching up the book cover, Shade's heart sank when she discovered that was all it was: just a cover, the pages within having burned up in the fire. Shade turned it over. On the scorched inside cover, Shade could only read a few words of the inscription she had long ago memorized after reading it every day of her life since she first learned how to read:
Our Dear Little Shade,
While all the books of this house belong to all of us, as most books should, this one will be yours and yours alone because everyone should have one book that especially belongs to them. Keep it and cherish it and always remember: No matter how alone you may feel, books will always be your friends.
Love always and forever, Mom and Dad
Shade wiped away her tears and began to frantically sift through the rest of the nearby rubble, hoping desperately that some other book from her collection had survived. Eventually she found one, charred and soggy but intact. Written in gold leaf on its blue cover were the words Traveling in the Greater Kingdom: A Guide to the Wonders and Dangers of the Fairy World by Stinkletoe Radishbottom.
Shade hugged it to her chest and wept, thinking of all that she had lost: her mother, lost when she went off to fight in a war that everyone in Pleasant Hollow said was none of their concern; her father, lost to the blight that ravaged the hollow some seventeen seasons ago; and now her books — The Adventures of Hagan Finnegan, Gigglings and Titterings, Good Governess Jane, and all the rest, including her book — to a stupid, stupid fire.
With a fluttering of vibrant orange and yellow wings, Pleasant Hollow's chieftainess, Sungleam Flutterglide, alighted gracefully next to Shade and placed her hand on Shade's shoulder. "I'm sorry," she declared loud enough for all to hear. "We did what we could."
As she said this, the other fairies of the hollow alighted and crowded around, doing their best to look sympathetic and kind, as they waited for Shade to say something. The red, orange, and yellow autumn leaves above their heads rustled in the breeze as Shade stared at the ground, silent. The silence grew increasingly awkward, and the assembled sprites exchanged uneasy glances until Shade said in a choked whisper, "Did what you could ..."
"Yes, Lillyshadow Glitterdemalion, we did," Chieftainess Flutterglide replied. She then smiled a smile filled with optimism and good cheer and very white teeth. "And now we will do all we can. We, all of us, will build you a new and better home!"
A cheer went up amongst all the sprites. Yes! they all agreed. We will indeed make her a better home, and all will be right with the world! It will be a Grand Project! They all dearly loved Grand Projects. As the sprites congratulated themselves on their kindness and helpfulness and ingenuity, Shade wiped the tears from her eyes and gazed at the crowd.
Now, if this were a proper fairy book, this is the point where Shade would be overcome with gratitude and realize what wonderful friends and neighbors she had and how, in spite of losing her home and almost all of her worldly belongings, she was truly fortunate indeed. But, as I warned you in the preface, this is not a proper fairy book but a dreadful one.
"You ... You ... utter rockheads!" Shade bellowed. "You grub-sucking, slime-licking mudbrains!"
Chieftainess Flutterglide looked confused. "Um, Lillyshadow, I —"
"It's 'Shade,' you termite-kisser. Shade! How many times do I have to tell you slack-jawed halfwits?"
Flutterglide held up her hands as if to ward off Shade's anger. "Look, Lillyshadow, I know you're upset but —"
"Shade. It's Shade. And you're dingle-dangle right I'm upset."
A few of the sprites gasped, and parents in the crowd clapped their hands over the ears of their children. "Language!" one of them gasped.
"She said the D word," a young sprite giggled. "And the other D word!" "You burned down my house!" Shade shouted.
The chieftainess frowned. "Now, that was an accident, Lillyshadow. How could any of us know that something like this would happen?"
Shade took a step forward, the hand not clutching Radishbottom's book balled up into a fist, and glared up at Chieftainess Flutterglide, who was a full head taller than her. "How could you know, you clod? How could you know that setting off fireworks — which, when lit, spew fire — in the middle of a forest, which is made of wood, which burns when set on fire, could cause a fire?"
Flutterglide nodded. "Exactly. The two traveling fairies we bought them from said they were perfectly safe. How could we know —?"
"Maybe if a single one of you had ever read a single page in a single book in your entire dingle-dangle lives, you'd have the single ounce of sense it takes not to set off jets of flame near your wooden homes. Especially in autumn!"
The sprites all gave each other knowing glances and shook their heads. Books! Shade's father, Fernshadow Featherfall, had spent his entire life trying to convince the residents of Pleasant Hollow that they ought to waste precious time that could be spent merrymaking or playing acorn-toss or working on Grand Projects and instead spend their time reading from musty collections of paper moldering away in their rotting old tree, just as his father had done before him, and his father before him. The chieftainess smiled a patient smile. "But it's all right, Lillyshadow. We'll make you a new house. A better one!"
"A better one?" She thought of the home that she had just lost. Yes, the wood was gray and rotted in places, and, yes, it got damp when it rained — and, she had to admit, a little stinky — and, yes, it was drafty and cold in the winter, but it was where she had grown up. It had held all of her family keepsakes, and, most importantly, it had housed the books that her family had cared for for many generations. She snorted and spat at the ground in front of Flutterglide. "That's what I think of your new house and this whole dingle-dangle village. I'm taking my book and I'm leaving!"
As she stormed off, Flutterglide called after her, "But where will you go?"
Without turning, Shade shouted, "Anywhere that's away from you sap-headed termite-kissers. Get donkled!"
"She just said the other, other D word!" the same little sprite as before giggled. "The worst one!"
The sprites of Pleasant Hollow stared as Shade stomped off into the Merry Forest. While they all felt a little bit bad about burning down Shade's house and parting on such poor terms with her, they also felt a great deal of relief — Shade and her family's bookish ways and tendency to ask questions and "know things" and generally ruin their fun had always been such a nuisance. And none of them especially cared for being called "termite-kissers" or "mud-brains."
"So," the chieftainess piped up cheerily once Shade was gone, "Shall we build a house?"
"Oh, yes!" the sprites cried and fluttered off, happily throwing themselves into a Grand Project, unconcerned in the least where Shade might be going or what she might encounter along the way.CHAPTER 2
In which Shade meets an Anthony o' the Wisp and settles on a vague course of action ...
In a blind rage over losing her house because of the stupid and reckless actions of the rather empty-headed residents of the village where she had spent her entire life, Shade crunched through the dry autumn leaves of the forest for hours before realizing that she didn't know where she was headed.
Now, kind Reader, you are probably wondering, "Why is Shade walking? She's a sprite — a winged species of fairy — so shouldn't she be flying?" My answer to that very astute question, which, I must say, does a wonderful job of displaying your vast knowledge of fairies and their tales, is this: Shade, being a fairly dreadful fairy, didn't like to fly. She wasn't very good at it (mostly due to lack of practice, energy, and interest, although she usually blamed it on being a good deal shorter and chubbier, and therefore less aerodynamic, than the vast majority of sprites — a fact that was regularly and cruelly pointed out to her growing up), plus it made her tummy feel wobbly, so she walked whenever she could.
Eventually Shade stopped and looked around. She didn't recognize anything in this part of the woods. She, like most Pleasant Hollow sprites, rarely left the village, and when she did, rarely went far. The village had everything the sprites needed to be content — nuts and berries to eat, water to drink, trees to live in, acorns to toss, etc. — and that was good enough for them. Pleasant Hollow sprites rarely felt the need to seek out anything outside the hollow.
Spying a comfortable-looking log, Shade took a seat and had a think. She looked up at the red and gold leaves and the purple clouds floating in the orange sky. It would be night soon. Now what do I do? She wondered. I have no food, no water, no clothes except the ones on my back, no bed to sleep in — nothing except this book in my hands.
Shade looked back and realized that if she flew, she could probably make it back to Pleasant Hollow before nightfall. Sure, she had no house to go back to, but someone would doubtless let her stay with them until they had built her a new tree house, which would probably only take them a few days. But why? she wondered. Why go back to a place full of dimwits who've never liked me? No, I'll never go back.
Shade resolutely nodded her head. She was certain. And then she was uncertain. If I don't go home, she wondered, then where do I go? She put her hands over her eyes and groaned, "Oh, where the dingle-dangle am I going?" "That is an excellent question," she heard a voice squeak, "and one that I might be able to help with."
Shade uncovered her eyes to find a tiny little man with the eyes and wings of a fly who glowed like a firefly smiling at her. Now, when I say "tiny," I do mean tiny. While your average sprite — like most small varieties of fairies, such as pixies and brownies — is from head to toe about the size of one of your cats if he stood on his hind legs — let's say your tabby, Major Tom, since your calico, Mr. Wellington, is still a kitten — this fellow was no bigger than the tip of a sprite's pinky. In his hand, he held a lantern three times his size that shone with brilliant white light.
"You can, eh?" Shade asked, an eyebrow cocked with suspicion.
"Oh, yes," the little fellow said as he buzzed in a figure-eight pattern. "I know these woods inside and out! Just tell me where you're headed, and I'll make sure you get there."
"Like fun you will! You're a Will o' the Wisp!" Shade pointed an accusatory finger at him.
"What? No! I'm not —" the wisp began, but Shade shushed him, opened her book, and jabbed a page near the back with her finger.
"Right here," she declared. "And I quote: 'The Will o' the Wisp is a very small variety of imp found in woods and swamps who uses its lamp to trick travelers into losing their way, often to a bloody demise.'"
"Well, that's very true of Will o' the Wisps," the tiny man agreed, nodding his head. "But I'm an Anthony o' the Wisp. I do the opposite of Will o' the Wisps and help travelers find their way as safely as possible."
Shade frowned and held the page of Radishbottom's book up for him to see. "You look just like the drawing of a Will o' the Wisp."
Anthony o' the Wisp looked down and cleared his throat. "Well, um, that's because I was born a Will o' the Wisp ... but I changed my name to Anthony. I'd rather not be associated with Will o' the Wisps. Or they'd rather not be associated with me, as the case may be."
Shade's frown softened. "Why not?"
"Because I want to help travelers, not trick them," he said, giving her a little smile. "Since I know these woods so well, it's easy for me to help people find places in it. It's lots more work to get them lost or hurt. Why work so hard to be mean when it's so much easier to be nice?"
It was a question that Shade had often wondered herself.
"So where do you want to go?" Anthony asked.
Home, Shade thought sadly. Home with my mother and father. She looked down at the book in her lap and wiped a tear from her eye. Home with Mom and Dad and all of our lovely books. But they're all gone now. But ... Shades eyes widened. "Books," she said. "Someplace with books. Lots of books. Maybe even ... a library? I've read about them, and my father said there used to be a few, but he thought they were probably all gone now."
"Libraries?" Anthony's forehead wrinkled. "Never heard of them. And there aren't many readers in this forest that I've heard of ... I could take you to the edge of the forest. There must be someplace out there that has books."
Shade shrugged. "Sounds like as good of a plan as any. If I decide to follow you."
"Well," Anthony said, "it seems to me that if you don't know where you're going, then I can't really get you lost, so you have nothing to lose in following me. This way!"
Anthony buzzed off into the trees as Shade got up and began walking after him. Anthony buzzed back after a moment. "Aren't you going to fly?"
"I don't fly." Shade crossed her arms.
Anthony smiled. "Then I suppose I'll just have to fly slower so you can keep up."CHAPTER 3
In which Shade meets a Gentletroll of Refinement and receives an invitation to tea ...
That night, Shade slept in a clearing next to a cozy fire that Anthony made for her, her gray, black, white, and brown wings wrapped about her for warmth. When fully extended, her wings looked rather like the face of a ferocious owl about to attack — and owls occasionally did attack sprites foolish enough to be out at night. When they hung lax, they appeared rather drab. Neither look had been terribly popular back in Pleasant Hollow. In fact, she had often been teased about them when she was little.
When she awoke the next morning, Anthony presented her with a brown leather backpack that nicely coordinated with her brown skin and her tan silk tunic — the bright colors most sprites dyed their clothes didn't fit her more modest tastes. "Here," he said as he dragged it to her. "It's a bit big, but that might help you fit it around your wings. I filled it with nuts and berries for your journey to wherever you may be going. And there's also a notebook, pen, and ink in there. Maybe you can make a note about Anthony o' the Wisps and anything else you find that's not in your book."
"Thanks," Shade said as she inspected the backpack. "Where did you get it, and what's this reddish-brown stain?"
Anthony's glowing skin, already quite pale, grew even paler. "Let's just say that what your book said about Will o' the Wisps answers both of those questions and not go into any gruesome details, shall we?"
"Let's," Shade agreed as she put Radishbottom's book into the bag and fitted it around her wings, trying to touch the stains as little as possible. Once she had it on, she extended her wings and gave them a couple short flaps.
Shade walked briskly behind Anthony as he led her to the forest's edge. Anthony stopped and landed on a sizable stump and pointed through the trees. "I can't say for certain since I've never left the forest, but I believe there's a town in that direction. I've also heard rumors of a vicious troll who preys on travelers somewhere hereabouts. Even if there isn't one, do be careful. I've heard things are more dangerous out there since the last war."
Shade had heard similar things here and there from the rare travelers passing through Pleasant Hollow over the years. Apparently the war her mother had fought in, the latest between the Seelie Court (the good fairies who had ruled for centuries) and the Sluagh Horde (the evil fairies who had tried to overthrow them for just as long), had ended in an uneasy truce brokered after the deaths of the rulers of both sides. The new Seelie king, Julius, and the new ruler of the Sluagh,
Queen Modthryth, had agreed to an ill-defined joint dominion over Elfame, the realm of the fairies, with the result being that people were so unclear as to what laws were in effect where that, essentially, there were no laws or clear authority in most places. Aside from Shade and her father, the sprites of Pleasant Hollow, being mostly isolated from the rest of the world, had little interest in who won the war and what laws might exist outside the village.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Dreadful Fairy Book"
Copyright © 2018 Jon Etter.
Excerpted by permission of Amberjack Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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