The Trick by Joseph K
Illustrated by Margaret Dyer
“Shining, burning sun so hot,” Hibbletree said, shading himself from the sun and squinting, “makes pansies wither, elvsies rot.” Odlimarta laughed at the rhyme. The two ran under the shady porch of a cottage. Odlimarta dropped her parasol and collapsed on the ground, panting. Hibbletree walked up to the window beside the front door.
“You’ve gotten tall,” Odlimarta said, getting up from the ground. “I’m glad. It makes spying so much easier.”
Hibbletree stood on tip-toe, put his long, pointy nose upon the sill, and peeped in. He saw Odlimarta looking up at him, waiting for him to tell her what he could see. He didn’t know why he’d had such a growth spurt lately; maybe those mushroom caps he’d had for breakfast were bad. Wasn’t he normal size just this morning? And why did they come to this cottage today? Weren’t they going to town to play tricks? He couldn’t remember.
Hibbletree described the room to Odlimarta: all the shelves dusted, a tile floor neatly swept, and a few stuffed chairs and couches covered in fine, soft cloth. In a sunny corner near a wood-burning stove and a water basin stood a plaster cast of a child, eyes closed as if sleeping. A woman touched the cast reverently as she passed.
“She’s just put some bread in the oven,” Hibbletree whispered to Odlimarta, “and now she’s cleaning her dishes. She’s too tidy. And she’s proud of it, too.” His long elf ears pointed past the brim of his hunter’s cap, and his matching green jerkin and hose were trimmed with black, to match his black shoes. “The Fey Spirit sends us to set the proud aright,” he sang, “to help the broken-hearted, and to balance meek and might.”
“And when the proud are boastful,” Odlimarta sang in return, “or the beaten become blue, the elf arrives to play the trick and keep the balance true.” Odlimarta giggled. She was dressed in clothes similar to his, but hers were sunflower yellow, trimmed with poinsettia red. She started to do a glamour-dance, and sing.
Odlimarta always has a plan, Hibbletree thought. She is the very best, most perfect elf--just the right size and just the right self. She always knows what to do. She knows what to do every time they come to a cottage with a tidy woman, or find a lazy child ignoring his chores and sleeping in a barn.
“She’s so very tidy,” Odlimarta sang, “She’s so very neat. But I’ve the very trick to knock her off her feet!” Odlimarta squealed again, and Hibbletree saw the woman slip a moment, but then catch her balance. The woman looked at the floor for a wet spot, but didn’t find one.
Hibbletree looked puzzled for a moment. “Have we tricked her before?” he asked, peering in the window.
Odlimarta stopped her glamour-dance and crinkled her nose. “Before? Before what?” Odlimarta started to dance again. “Who cares about remembering,” she sang, “Or what happens day to day—it’s people care to ‘member—elves just care to play!” She laughed then, tilting her head back and falling over into a shady spot in the grass. “Let the Fey Spirit keep the tally, Hib—we just play the tricks!” She struck a dandelion, and its seeds rose into the wind and floated away. She watched them until they were out of sight. “I’m bored and feeling blue, Hib-whatever shall we do?”
“You were playing a trick on the lady, but it didn’t work. She didn’t fall.”
“You’re so good at remembering,” she said, springing up from the grass. She put one hand on her hip and wagged her finger, mock-scolding, “But not much good at rhymes. That’s not fun.” She walked over to him. “What do you mean it didn’t work? Get me on your back so I can see,” she said.
He got down on all fours, and she jumped up, peering in. “A twinkle of the nose and a knock upon the door,” Odlimarta knocked very quietly on the door, “and the glass she cleans so slip’ry goes a-crashing to the floor!” Hibbletree didn’t hear anything, and then Odlimarta gasped. “The glass slipped, but she caught it!”
“Caught it? The Fey Spirit . . .” he whispered reverently. “I think we’re at the wrong place,” Hibbletree said, still on all fours. “Maybe she’s not that proud. Maybe she doesn’t deserve it. Maybe the balance is already in her favor. Let’s go.”
“Then why’d the Spirit lead us here?”
“The Spirit plays tricks, too, Dilbie,” Hibbletree said.
“I know that,” Odlimarta replied, and paused a moment, thinking. “But no. No, No,” she said, dancing on his back. “The fun’s not done.” He could hear the faint scrape of a straw broom across the floor as the woman swept. Odlimarta warmed up for another glamour.
“Don’t try another trick,” Hibbletree said.
But Odlimarta paid no attention. “Broom and pan to sweep to, put it in the trash, and while you are a-sweeping, something else goes crash!” Hibbletree heard a heavy crash and the woman crying out. Odlimarta tinkled with laughter.
“Ok, that’s enough,” Hibbletree said.
“No,” Odlimarta said. “That one worked. She needs another one, I think.”
“One is enough,” Hibbletree said, but Odlimarta didn’t leave his back. Hibbletree waited for Odlimarta to start up again, and then, quick as a rabbit, he rolled to one side. Odlimarta crashed into the grass.
“Oh rude and fickle!” she shouted. “Oh inconstant and cruel!” She jumped up, her fists clenched, and stomped over to Hibbletree. She tried to put her nose up to his, but even with her head cocked back and standing on tip-toe in order to reach, she came up only to the middle of his chest. She scowled at him, fuming with rage, then suddenly she then burst out in another peal of laughter. “Oh, that was a good one, Hibbletree!” she said, falling to the ground, laughing.
“Yes,” Hibbletree said. “You deserved it!”
“I did, I did!” Odlimarta squealed, still rolling and laughing in the grass. She jumped up and placed her hands on her hips, thrusting out her chin, mocking a champion standing in triumph. “I was too proud of my mischief,” she said, smiling, then collapsing in a swoon, “and you brought my humble back.”
Hibbletree smiled at her, but soon turned back to the window. He put his face against the glass and looked through. The woman was collapsed on the floor of her home, crying over the shards. He saw that the cast of the child was gone, now broken on the ground. The plaster cast seemed familiar to him, but he couldn’t remember why.
“Hey! Your nose is gone!” Odlimarta shouted. “And your ears!”
Hibbletree pulled away from the glass, realizing he could never have put his face that close with his long nose. He crossed his eyes and looked at his nose while he put his hands up to feel his ears. His nose, once jutting from his face the length of his index finger, had now shrunk. He could hardly see it at all. And his ears were rounded off and barely touched the brim of his cap.
Odlimarta began laughing, “Stop it,” she said, “Stop! Crossed eyes and hands on ears!” Odlimarta mimicked him, still laughing, putting her hands on her ears, crossing her eyes, and dancing about, flapping her elbows. She laughed some more, and spun around in glee. She stopped then, and looked around as if she were lost for a second. Then she looked up at the window like she had found herself again and began dancing as she sang another song. “Sweeping, wiping, dusting, sweep another turn, and while you are a-cleaning, the loaves of bread will burn!”
“Stop it!” Hibbletree said. “Leave her alone!” But it was too late. Hibbletree smelled the bread burning.
“Mischievous little elves!” he heard the woman cry. “Haven’t you done enough to me?” He looked back into the window and saw her sobbing on the floor of her home as black smoke rose from her oven.
And Hibbletree remembered. There had been a fire. No—that wasn’t it, he thought to himself. He had started a fire. In the woman’s barn. It was very funny. She had been so proud of her neat and tidy barn. It was even funnier when the lady was chasing her cows and horses out of the barn but didn’t know the boy was in there. He had fallen asleep on the hay in the warm sun. Hibbletree had thought if the boy liked warm sun, he would sure like a fire. And if a bright and cheery day didn’t get him up to do his chores, then a little fire surely would! It was Hibbletree’s great work! Two humans taught a lesson in one trick! He had been so proud of that trick. He remembered how funny he had thought it was when he did that. It didn’t seem very funny now at all.
Odlimarta danced a moment in glee over her trick, then stepped out upon the grass to follow the path to town. “Oh, the sun!” she said. She opened her parasol and started to walk away. “I want to have some fun,” she said over her shoulder. Hibbletree watched her a moment, then looked back through the window. “I’m hungry,” Odlimarta said. “My shoes are wet—did it rain today? Let’s go to the town!” Odlimarta started to skip away, but then stopped.
Hibbletree stood where she had left him, still looking at the woman, listening to the faint crying. “I’ll go later,” he said, turning to look at Odlimarta.
“I’ve never mentioned it,” Odlimarta said, grinning, “but you are the ugliest elf I know,” and laughed aloud. “You’re ears and nose are tiny and you’re entirely too tall.” Odlimarta laughed again, ready for Hibbletree to chase her, but Hibbletree stood still and said nothing. He watched as a butterfly caught her attention. She followed it a moment, then looked back at him. Still he watched her, unmoving. She shrugged, then skipped away, singing to herself.
Hibbletree watched her go and thought how very small she looked, and how very strange. Hibbletree stepped to the window and rested his elbows upon the sill. He watched in silence as the woman tried to put the pieces of the cast back together, still sobbing.
He tried the knob of the door, and finding it open, walked in and stood by her.
She looked up, startled a moment, then began arranging herself, wiping her tears. “Oh, oh,” she said, “I’m just a bit out of sorts.”
“I can fix it for you,” he said, indicating the broken plaster. “I am very good at fixing things.” He reached to remove his cap, but found it was gone. He noticed then that his clothes were changed, too—now an off-white homespun tunic and brown trews.
“Thank you, but—” she said, “But who are you? Why did you come here?”
“I came here to—help clean up,” he said, not really sure why he had come in the door like that.
The woman stared at him a moment in wonder. She took him gently by the shoulder and brought him into the sunlight streaming in from the window. She turned his face up into the light. “David,” she said breathlessly. “Why, you look just like him. Ears, eyes, nose, just like my boy, just the same size he was when—” her voice trailed off.
“My name’s not David,” he said. “My name is—” But then he found that he could not remember. Nor could he explain why sunlight felt so good upon his face.
Author Bio: Joseph K wrote his first story at the age of 5 as a submission for a children’s writing contest. He has been reading, watching, and telling stories ever since. He is very proud that this, his first story accepted for publication, is appearing in Kids'Magination. Joseph lives, works, writes, and raises a new generation of story readers and writers in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas.
Illustrator Bio: Margaret Dyer is a fine-artist, having made her living for over 20 years selling her pastel paintings and teaching. She is a Master Pastelist with the Pastel Society of America and an award-winning member of the American Impressionist Society.Since childhood, however, illustrating for children has been one of her goals.
The Pastel Journal (Feb. 2011, Dec. 2005, Mar. 2002, Mar. 2001, Mar. 2000, May 1999)
American Artist Magazine (2010 Cover Competition, Jun. 2001)
International Artist Magazine (Jun. 2005, Aug. 2003, Sep. 2002)
The Artist’s Magazine (June 2002)
Pastel Artist International (Jan. 2001)
“How Did You Paint That? 100 Ways to Paint Figures” (2005 and 2004)
“Pastel Highlights 2” (2004)
“Pure Color: The Best of Pastels,” (2006).