It was the height of a summer drought. The grass in my neighbors' yards was brown, and the grass in my own yard wasn't. Not "wasn't brown" but "did not exist". Over the years, most of the grass had been choked out by weeds, and now even the weeds were gone, destroyed beneath the wheels of CAT construction vehicles when my old septic tank was excavated and the new one installed at a different location. Most of the remaining greenery in my yard was black locust trees and poison ivy.
So you can imagine my astonishment when I saw the garden faerie surveying my yard from the giant lopsided oak tree whose surviving branches create a canopy over half my house. She was about as long as my hand, with bark-brown skin and curly black hair held back from her face by a wide headband. She wore denim coveralls, gardening gloves and laced-up workboots. Dragonfly wings flickered at her back, and she carried a carved wand a little larger than a toothpick. A riding hawk in harness waited beside her on the branch. When she saw me staring at her, she flew near and landed on the clothesline by my head. "You're not very good with nature, are you?" she said.
"Well." I considered my blighted yard. "I didn't do this on purpose."
"I'm not sure how you could have." She gave the yard another look, then held out her hand. "Name's Gentle. I like a challenge, so I'm going to help you out here."
I gave her my index finger to shake. "I'm Ashley. That's awfully kind of you, ma'am."
Gentle eyed my yard again. "Yes. It certainly is."
After that, Gentle asked me to bring this and that for her work, which I thought fair. If a garden faerie is willing to use her magic wand to eradicate the poison ivy climbing up the walls of one's house, it seems the least one can do in return is bring her seeds and mulch when she wants them. Granted, some of the requests were a little odder than that; however little I may know about plants, I don't think hedges actually feed on fresh snickerdoodles, and even if they did it probably wouldn't be necessary to feed them at three in the morning. Nor am I convinced that there has ever been such a thing as a "compost emergency". But I wasn't the one prying the thorny limbs of black locust trees out of the wire mesh of the fence, or removing the six-foot tall pile of dead leaves and brush from between the shed and the garage, so I did not regard myself as ill-used.
One day, I returned home to find a faerie ripping vines from the top of my fence. "Aww, I kind of liked those vines, Gentle."
The faerie emerged from the cluster of vines to stare at me, and I realized she wasn't Gentle: her hair was straight and pulled back in a single braid, and her skin a lighter shade of brown. "You liked these vines?" she said incredulously. "Do you know what they are?"
"Not poison ivy? And less ugly than the fence."
She shook a fistful of green leaves and white flowers at me. "This is Japanese honeysuckle!"
"No! Not okay! This stuff is a pernicious killer! It'll take over your whole neighborhood if you don't stop it, and choke out all the native vegetation. Next you'll be wanting to plant kudzu!"
Gentle flew over to join us, landing her riding hawk on a fence post. "Hey Ashley. I see you've met Temperance."
Temperance rounded on Gentle. "Who is this nutjob mortal? Did you know she likes Japanese honeysuckle?" she said, in the same tone one might say 'she approves of genocide' or 'she murders kittens for sport.'
"She doesn't even know what Japanese honeysuckle is. Go on inside, Ashley. We've got this."
I quit the field while the opportunity was available, without even asking where Temperance had come from, or why.
A week later, there were two male faeries, one bright green and the other nearly white, weeding what had once been the daffodil beds around the back patio. Temperance was with them. I waved to them and went looking for Gentle. She was by the oak tree, talking to a different green faerie, this one female with red hair. I called out, "Hey, Gentle?"
"Hey, Ashley. This is Tranquility, and that pale one is Hope, and the green boy is Surety."
"Great, nice to meet you all. Say, what happened to my fence?"
"It's in the garage."
"Yeah, you should call someone to get rid of it. We can't dispose of metal."
"So ... is there any particular reason it's not, y'know, surrounding my property instead?"
I allowed this to be true. "It's not exactly a weed, though. Or an invasive non-native species."
Temperance grumbled something under her breath about all human handiwork being the product of an invasive non-native species. Gentle waved off my complaint. "You don't need a fence, Ashley. It'll be much easier to take care of the garden without it. No more weeds growing through it!"
"Well, yes, but you could've asked me first."
Gentle looked surprised. "But you told me I could take care of the yard."
"Yes, but I thought that meant weeding and planting and stuff."
"Exactly! Removing the hideous fence is part of 'stuff'. Go on inside, Ashley, it's all under control."
A week later, I awoke to fireworks over the daffodil bed. I peered out my window to see Temperance, Hope and Surety dueling with wands. Sparks flew. Perenials perished in a hail of magic, while Hope and Surety struggled to shield them. "Daffodils are not an invasive species!" Hope shouted.
Temperance shrieked, "They're not natives either!"
"These daffodils have been here for fifty years! How much more native do you want?" Surety yelled.
"I don't know, howabout, oh, prairie?" Temperance said, aiming a defoliating blast at another dormant daffodil plant.
"Faeries, faeries, please." Gentle flew into view from around the side of the house. "Calm down. I thought we agreed the daffodils were staying?"
"You agreed." Temperance folded her arms, hovering in the air with a grim expression.
"We're not recreating the prairie here," Surety said.
"Why not?" Tranquility piped up.
"On a quarter-acre of yard?" Hope was incredulous.
"Gotta start somewhere."
I cleared my throat. "Do you think you could start some other time? Like in the morning?"
"Sorry, Ashley!" Gentle looked embarrassed. The other faeries were annoyed by the interruption.
"And maybe let the daffodils live? I like the daffodils." That made Hope and Surety happy, if not Tranquility or Temperance. I went back to bed.
Within a month, my yard had been divided into five separate quadrants. Temperance had planted one slope with native prairie grasses and flowers. Tranquility had done the same, but apparently they hadn't been able to agree on which plants were most native, or most in need of cultivation, or something that kept them from agreeing on the same plot of land. Hope was cultivating a flower garden with tulips and peonies around the daffodils by the back patio. Gentle had replaced the fence with hedges and berry bushes. Surety had a vegetable garden. It looked -- well, less bizarre than my dusty plantless yard had. But still pretty weird. At least the hedges screened it from casual view.
I thought that would be the end of it, until war started at dawn one day.
Afterwards, I found out it started over a tulip. One had taken root in Temperance's prairie. Temperance had come to Hope's flowerbed to insist that tulips were invasive: "They're invading right now!"
"So weed it! One tulip! Are you afraid it'll ruin the immaculate ugliness of that scrub you're cultivating?" Hope sneered.
"I'll show you ugly!" Temperance started blasting tulips in the flower garden. Hope tried to shield them. Surety counterattacked against the prairie to draw Temperance back, but he misaimed and hit some of Tranquility's plants instead, drawing her into the fight. Gentle came out from the hedge to try to restore peace, deflecting wand-bolts of vegetative death into the sky. That prompted the enraged combatants to use stronger bolts to avoid deflection and pierce shields.
No one was exactly aiming at the giant oak tree, but some of the deflected bolts hit it, and then some mis-aimed bolts struck it, and, well, it had been laboring under a blanket of poison ivy for years, as well as losing half its branches to an ice storm two years ago. It was a great sturdy monster, but the faerie war was too much for it.
On top of my house.
That's when I woke up.
The house was not, technically, destroyed. Granted, I climbed out of my bedroom by going through one of the smashed holes in the roof, which was near ground level and had a large section of flattened wall underneath it. But most of the basement was intact, and there were a couple of walls still standing.
The faerie war had stopped by then. Even Temperance was taken aback. Hope and Tranquility were crying, over the dead oak, I think. Surety was stunned.
Gentle had dived into the wreckage to help me get out. "I ... um ... I'm really sorry about your house, Ashley."
I stood in the patch of prairie, looking at what was left of my house. And the poor old oak tree.
"We'll go now," Gentle was saying. The chastened faeries gathered around my feet.
I shook my head, slowly. "You know what ... no. You stay. I'll go."
"My insurance covers fallen trees and Acts of Fae. And ... I think some people just weren't meant to own houses. Keep the yard." With that, I waved and walked away.
It's for the best, really. I never could take care of it on my own.
[Prompt by ankewehner. Tarot cards drawn were: Three of Coins, Five of Wands, and Death. I don't have the cards with me, so I'll add a photo of them when I get home.]