Below is my third entry in the 2022 Short Story Challenge, started by A Virginia Writer’s Diary. See the original post here. The theme this year is folklore, and I’m very excited about that! My husband Doug is writing with me, so together our name is Bonnie Douglas. We’re concentrating on Appalachian Folklore for this challenge. We are a little behind. Our March entry was delayed by illness and we just missed the end of April, but here is our third entry, with two more to come later in May. This story is a combination of the vast folklore out there about a race of magical people, smaller than us but having powers that we do not. It is called The People of the Moon.
The People of the Moon
By Bonnie Douglas
My family has lived in these Western North Carolina hills and hollers for as long as anyone can remember. Before that, our tight-knit clans roamed the dales and glens of Ireland, England and Wales, as well as the highlands of Scotland, with some stray Germans from the Schwartzwald thrown in for good measure.
Seems like everyone from the same regions ended up here in the wild mountains, looking for shelter in familiar climes, no doubt. Along with their language, work ethic, and hospitable stoicism, they brought their legends as well.
My family was no stranger to the myths and legends of the hills. My uncles delighted in telling scary tales of the Wampus Cat, the Will O’the Wisps, and Booger Bear to give all of us kids a good reason to mind our P’s and Q’s and pay attention to what was going on all around us. Although they were fit to keep a child in line, the older I grew the less I believed in these tall tales.
Long before my people moved into the hills, the Cherokee roamed them. There was an old war trail that crossed through the holler that generations of Williams’ had called home. The Cherokee brought their own legends of course, and they inevitably intermingled with ours. The legends of the rock people, laurel people and dogwood people combined with our stories of pixies and brownies as easily as the smoke drifting from the chimneys of the cabins.
Now that I was grown, I could afford to scoff at the tall tales and legends, although I still loved to hear my grandmother and my aunts and uncles tell the old stories with their strong mountain drawls. I knew there was nothing to them. They were just old tales.
Trying to clear my mind, I stared back across the years and returned to the kitchen, helping Granny snap beans to be canned and holding back some for tonight’s dinner. “Granny, why do you have that small bowl? You don’t need to save any of those beans. We’ll use them all up tonight, no problem”
“That’s not for canning or for us. That’s for my help.” Granny answered. “I know I’ve told you before how many helping hands I’ve got around here”
“Stop hurting my leg!” I snickered, an old expression I’d used since I was a kid who got it mixed up with “pulling my leg.”
“Tim, I know you don’t remember about my helpers, but they remember you.” Granny answered solemnly. “It’s always harder to remember once you’ve grown up. You grow up and away from the old ways, and then you call things you were familiar with a ‘tall tale’ or whatever helps it all make sense to you.”
I smiled. “I’m grown up enough to know a tale from reality.”
She shook her head. “Why, you were practically one of them until you were old enough to go school. Your Grandpa had to drag you out of laurels and that old silica mine on a regular basis.”
I eyed my Granny suspiciously. I had no recollections of any of that. I knew she was growing older, but she hadn’t seemed to be losing her faculties at all. This was getting out of hand.
“Granny, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t remember ever seeing or hearing any of your so-called helpers. Even if they WERE real, why would you let me run around in the woods with some wild creatures?”
“They are my friends and we help each other,” said Granny, continuing to break beans. “Why don’t you take these to them?” She handed me the smaller bowl of beans, a small covered basket, which I saw contained mini blueberry muffins, and a metal tea tin.
“They’re going to make tea out there?” I asked with a sardonic grin.
“Just go out to the meadow and leave it beneath the apple trees.”
I shrugged, picked up the goodies, and headed out of the house and up to the hill to the meadow. Our property spanned 20 acres and was full of hills and valleys, but the meadow was my favorite place to play as a kid. It was at least two acres wide, and the apple trees offered both a great place to hide and a snack.
When I reached the meadow, I put the treats underneath one of the trees and walked off towards the creek, another one of my favorite places to play as a boy. I decided I’d come back tomorrow and get the basket and whatever was left of the food after the animals got it. The creek was running fairly slowly today, although sometimes it was so fast when I was a kid that I could race down in an inner tube, hanging on for dear life.
“Some things never change,” I said, as I looked at the beauty around me.
I hopped nimbly from rock to rock, just as I had done in my childhood. My reminiscing over, I climbed up the creek bank and headed towards home. As I glanced at the apple trees, I saw that the basket and other items were gone. I saw no signs of animals. Instead of being plundered, all the items had simply vanished.
I walked towards the tree line and into the woods, searching for any clue of the treats I had brought, but saw nothing. As I turned to go, I heard a giggle. Turning in the direction of the sound, I saw a blonde braid disappearing into the trees.
I headed towards the trees, intrigued, but saw no sign of anyone.
“Granny, I think one of the neighbor kids took the treats,” I said when I returned.
“A neighbor of sorts,” she replied, “but probably not a kid.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, shaking my head and sitting down at the table.
“Tim!” she said, sharply, “Think…remember!”
I searched my mind, but there was nothing. “I don’t know what you think I should remember,” I said, shaking my head.
“Come outside with me, Tim,” she said, heading out the back door.
We headed towards the back of the house, where all of the wood was waiting for me to chop and stack. But it wasn’t. Stack after neat stack of perfectly chopped wood was sitting in the wood bin, although they had been unchopped logs two hours ago.
I gaped at the wood bin. “How…what…”
“My helpers,” she said. “In return for the goodies you brought them.”
I shook my head. “I just dropped those off a half hour ago. It’s impossible.” Then I grinned. “This is a joke, isn’t it? You must have had Uncle Stan and his boys come up while I was gone.”
“It’s no joke, and there’s more I need to tell you since you obviously don’t remember,” Granny said, turning to walk back towards the house. “After all, we made an agreement.”
I caught up with her. “Who made an agreement?”
“So many people. I’m not getting any younger and certain things need to be done.”
Confusion overtook me, as well as doubts about her sanity. Was it dementia? But dementia doesn’t chop a day’s worth of wood in less than an hour.
“Granny,” I began, but she held up her hand.
“Enough for now. I’m calling a meeting. Meet me at the kitchen table at 2 a.m.” She walked briskly towards the porch.
“2….” I replied weakly, but then threw up my hands. If this was dementia, we’d face it together.
Later that night, I heard Granny calling my name. Stumbling into some sweatpants, I went to my bedroom door. She was standing there wearing a terrycloth robe and holding a cup of coffee.
“Time for our meeting,” she said as she handed me the cup.
I yawned and stretched, bewildered. “Was that for real? Are we really having a 2 a.m. meeting?” Why can’t we just talk at breakfast?”
“Come on out to the kitchen,” she replied.
When I reached the kitchen, I stopped in surprise. Sitting at our oak table was a young woman with red hair. She was wearing a green tunic which shone strangely in the lamplight. Although sitting, she appeared to be much shorter than Granny and I. She gestured for me to sit down, which I thought was big of her, since this wasn’t her kitchen. But I sat.
“Hello, Tim.” Her voice was rich and musical. “It’s good to see you again.”
I was bewildered. “I’ve never seen you before.”
“When you were a boy of seven, you played in the woods with my children, and we all visited you many times here in your Granny’s house.
It was impossible to believe that this young girl had children that were my age. I snorted. She just smiled.
“I am Doralinda Casey. You always called me Dora, and I’d like that to continue.”
“How could that be? I’ve never met you before.”
She looked at me a moment and then nodded her head. Her blue eyes became stormy gray and then began to glow. They had the appearance of full moons. And my memories began to return.
“Dora, Dora!” I had yelled into the woods. Can Juney come out and play?” And eventually a little boy much smaller than me would run out, smiling.
“Juney!” I exclaimed. “He must be grown now.”
“Well, not as grown as I am,” Dora replied, laughing. He will still look like a little boy to you.”
My smile faded. “I remember taking treats to the woods now and playing with your son and daughter, but where did you come from?”
She smiled. “Where do you come from? Our people, The People of the Moon, have always been on this Earth. Our family, the Caseys, traveled with your family, the Williams, from England to the new world. She laughed. “Or I should say your grandmother’s great grandfather smuggled us in by counting us among his children. When we arrived, we found our own spaces, inhabited by our own people, as we always do. Like your people, our people are everywhere. They go by different names in different countries. Brownies, Sprites and Elves are some the names. In Norway we’re called the Nisse and in Sweden the Tomte. The Cherokee called us the Moon Eyed People, because of the magic in our eyes. So after living here a while, we started calling ourselves the People of the Moon.”
“You mean when my memory came back just now, that was magic?”
“Yes. I hid your memories as you began to grow up. It was important to see who you would become. But now your Granny wants you to take her place, so you need those memories.
“Take her place?
“Your Granny doesn’t just bring us treats. She does a great service for us. We sometimes bring her gold from our land and she exchanges it for us, so we have some money in your land.”
“Wait!” I said. “You’re from a different world?”
“It’s the same world, but we can get into spaces that you cannot, and it has nothing to do with size. You need magic to enter our world.”
“So you don’t live in the woods!”
She laughed, rocking back in her chair. “No, Tim. We have our own village in a place that would be nearly impossible for you to get to.”
I missed pretty much everything after the mention of gold. It certainly explained a lot. Every couple of years we’d have a visit from some geologist or prospector who was certain they would strike “the mother-lode” somewhere or other in our mountain hollow. Inevitably, they would spend a lot of time and money and go back home shaking their heads without even a speck of gold to show for their efforts. Now I knew the gold was there, but it was somewhere that was going to take a special effort to get my hands on it.
“Nearly impossible isn’t quite the same as completely impossible though, is it?” I asked, I thought quite innocently, but I saw a hardening glint in Dora’s eyes as she looked back at me across the table.
“So, with Granny moving to town, you’re going to need help, and I’m sure to need an assist getting used to life here in the holler. What do you expect from me in exchange?”
“We expect nothing, Timothy Williams. What we do have is a neighborly arrangement,” Doralinda said sternly from across the table. “An arrangement that is beneficial to all of us in more ways than you can imagine.”
I realized quickly that I was in danger of offending not only people who possessed gifts beyond my imagination, but my own grandmother. Quickly I shifted my avaricious thoughts away from the gold nuggets and back onto a generations-long family association.
Gulping dryly I stammered “N-n-no offense intended, Dora. “You’ll have whatever you need to continue our families’ long friendship.”
I shifted a glance towards Granny, catching the slight frown and worriedly drawn brows. I knew she trusted me, but taking over the little family farm in the hollow was really my last chance. I’d burned a lot of bridges, both personally and financially, with wild “get-rich” schemes. I had finally fallen for one that put me in a place financially that I didn’t think I could get out of.
If Granny hadn’t reached out to me with the offer to take care of the farm, I would have been in serious trouble. The last thing I wanted was to let her down. This was a chance to regain not only some stability but actually do something worthwhile. How many chances to work with people possessed of magical abilities can you really expect after all?
“Well, Dora, of the People of the Moon,” I said with what I hoped was a friendly smile, “You’ve got yourself a deal.” We shook on it.
I spent the next few days wandering through the hollow, revisiting places and events that I could suddenly remember with crystal clarity. The mountain spring that fed our babbling branch was surrounded by colored plants and twinkling lights that were never as clear. The shaded thickets of laurels were filled with the rustling of busy hands and the subtle racket of mysterious labors.
I became familiar again with a routine of daily chores assisted by nearly invisible helpers. Every labor was made easier by unseen hands, and often I could barely hear subtle sounds of singing and music bouncing around among the rocky, tree-covered hillsides.
Eventually, the day came for Granny to take a ride from the homestead and check out a more easily managed rental in town. As she traveled down the gravel road, I thought I glimpsed a few wide eyes peeking from the back of Granny’s trusty pickup.
Heaving a sigh, I climbed the wide stairs back into the little mountain house. “Dora! Let’s talk some more about what your people need.” I called out into the sudden silence.
“Dora isn’t here. She’s with your grandmother.”
Turning, I saw a shimmer, and a sturdy young child seemed to appear as if a door had opened and closed quickly.
“Greetings, Timothy Williams. Do you remember me?” asked the child.
“Juney? Is that you? You don’t seem to have aged a day since I was a boy!” I gasped in astonishment.
“Yes, it’s me.” He smiled. “Hello, Tim. My mother decided it was time for me to take a more active role while she oversees your grandmother’s move away from the hollow. Although it may not seem so, I have aged and grown. Time works differently for us than it does for you.”
“Can you explain more about what you need me to do?”
“One of the things your grandmother does for us is exchange small amounts of gold for cash.” We don’t need cash in our world, but we do need it in yours. In return, we make life easier for her, as I’m sure you’re beginning to notice.
“Why don’t you just exchange the cash yourself and then remove the gold dealer’s memory of it?” I asked. “Just like you did with me.”
Juney hesitated. “Memory changes are not something we take lightly, and we do it only when absolutely necessary. This is not necessary. Our families help each other instead. It works well.”
On the outside I smiled, but inside I was absolutely beaming. Gold was within my grasp!
Juney handed me a container, which looked like the tea canister I had dropped off earlier. He nodded at me and I opened it up. I could see tiny gold nuggets and flakes inside.
“Take this canister to Asheville. There is a dealer there who will exchange this for cash. Your grandmother knows him well. All he knows is that she sometimes finds gold in the mountains.”
“They never ask any questions?”
“No, not so far. She has a few different dealers she can go to, so we spread it around.”
“Ok,” I replied.” “What do I do with the money after I return?”
“Place it in this canister and put it under the apple trees in the meadow. We will pick it up.“
I was giddy. Money, free and clear, with no questions asked! “Ok, Juney,” I smiled. “How do I get the address of the dealer?”
“Your grandmother left it on the kitchen table,” he replied, handing it to me.
Suddenly, with visions of gold in my head, I had no time to catch up with old friends and was soon on the way to Asheville.
The exchange was fairly easy. I mentioned my grandmother and it went off without a hitch. The container held 4 ounces of gold. At $1900 per ounce. I walked out of there $6,500 richer, after paying the exchange fee. I headed toward home, but as I glided past the exit, I realized I was never going there. There was a casino a few short miles away in Cherokee. And that’s where I was headed. I’d make a nice profit and then return the $6500 to Dora and Juney. What an easy life I was going to have!
The light coming through the cabin windows was murky when I jolted awake. Something did not feel right, but I couldn’t place it. “Where are my glasses?” I mumbled as I stood up and fumbled for the bedroom light. Suddenly the mountain noises did not seem welcoming, and as I walked out of the bedroom, the house seemed very small.
ADDENDUM – Granny
Granny sat across the table from Dora, disappointment etched into her face “He lost it all?”
Dora nodded. “He headed straight to the casino and lost it in a flash.”
“What will happen to him?” Granny asked, wiping away a tear.
“His memories of my people are gone. He won’t remember the gold or anything about our agreement. He will suddenly feel an urge to get a fresh start in a new city.”
Granny sighed. “I’m so disappointed. I really wanted him to be the one. If only he knew the treasures he just gave up in exchange for a few thousand dollars.”
Dora reached across and gripped Granny’s hand briefly. “We are not angry at him. That’s why we do this test. He just isn’t the right person to continue the covenant between our families. Of course, if he had proved trustworthy, he would have found riches beyond anything he ever dreamed. ”
She smiled reassuringly. “I’m sending Juney along with him to the city for a while, but Tim won’t ever see him. Juney will nudge Tim in the right direction, without his knowing it. Tim will have a nice life, but not a magical one.” She nodded firmly and patted Granny’s hand. “We will find the right person, I promise. Our families have always supported each other, and one of your grandchildren will be the one.”
“I have a lot of grandchildren,” Granny replied. “Looks like my move is delayed for a little while.” She pushed aside her disappointment and took a sip of coffee. “Who should we invite next?”
AUTHORS’ NOTE: This folklore is based on many legends from across the world about magical little people. It also is combined with the Cherokee legend of the Moon Eyed People, who were rumored to have been small, nocturnal people with white faces and round eyes who lived underground and couldn’t come out in sunlight. In Cherokee legend, the Cherokee drove them out. In our version, they were never driven out. They are magical beings who go places on this Earth that regular humans beings cannot go, and they use their magic to travel back and forth from their home to ours. In our version, the term “Moon-eyed people” refers to their magic, which comes from their eyes, and they are not nocturnal. The 2 a.m. meeting was a nod to the nocturnal legend, however.
Many thanks to Gail Meath, who has edited all three of our stories!
© Bonnie DeMoss