Summary: Ava's been exploring Firefly forest since she was a child. This is why, when she finds out her father is sick and the cure is hidden in the woods, she's sure she can help. There's only one problem; it's forbidden to venture into the forest. Will she keep quiet and save herself or confess to breaking the rules and save her father?

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Ava floated along the ill-defined dirt path. A light breeze rustled leaves overhead and filled the air with their earthy aroma. This was her favourite place to be. Her sanctuary.

To the village, the forest was a resource. Its wood warmed their homes at night. Its sweet berries filled the bellies of their children. Yet that was all it was something to be plundered. Nobody in her community would venture this far into the woods, nor this late in the day. They’d say it wasn’t safe. The risk of getting lost was too high. Or worse, coming face to face with a pack of hungry wolves. Anyway, why risk it? When everything they needed was provided less than a mile into the forest.

Ava had never shared the villagers fear. Even as a small child, she ventured further than the others. She discovered kingdoms lost in time with princesses in need of rescue, beautiful mazes guarding a vast treasure at their centre; and gained friends, so many furry, feathered, and fearless friends. None of this was real, but the wild magic of the place made the perfect surroundings for a lonely little girl’s imagination to thrive.

She swept her dress to the side and sat on a fallen tree. She couldn’t have asked for a more perfect spot. Fireflies fluttered amongst the bushes, providing more light to draw by than the cloud-covered stars. Her subjects this evening were a family of rabbits, three youngsters, chasing each other around the broad trunk of an ancient tree. They bounded, hopped, and skipped as the tree twisted and creaked. Trying to find the creatures tickling at its roots. Ava tucked her finished drawing into a crack in the tree’s bark. A simple thank you for the paper and charcoal that allowed her this artist’s escape. She headed back towards the village, hoping her father had worked hard today and retired early without checking for her presence. As she left, the tree bent around a thin branch to pluck the paper from its body.

Ava needn’t have worried about her father’s punishment. Upon arriving home, she discovered he was the latest victim of the sickness ravaging her community. He was no more capable of scolding her than he was lifting his head. She gently dabbed the sweat from his face before crawling into her cot where her younger sister already lay sleeping. A lazy eye opened halfway.

“Ava?”

“Shh, it’s me,” she pulled the blanket, so it cocooned them both.

“Papa, he’s sick.” Tears filled eyes far too big for her young face as she wrapped her arms around Ava’s waist.

“I know baby girl, he’ll be ok. Just close your eyes.”

The next morning Ava wandered towards the trees, intending to get in a little sketching while collecting berries for lunch. She wondered if her father would feel better if he had some nettle tea and was so lost in her thoughts that she didn’t notice the group of men at the border until she was close enough to hear them.

“It’s not possible.”

“We’ll all be goners anyway if this sickness keeps spreading.”

They spoke in hushed whispers, but the tone was urgent, desperate even.

“Nobody’s ever gone beyond the gorge. The minister will never approve it.”

“He doesn’t have a… what are you looking at girl?”

Ava stood rooted to the spot. Standing in the open and gawking was not her smartest moment. She lowered her head and strode quickly for the cover of the trees. She collected enough berries and nettles to last them a couple of days. She even found a little elderflower to add to the tea. She was running late though. It was past lunchtime when she finally emerged from the bush. What she found was a village void of the usual hustle and bustle. Instead, it seemed everyone was gathered in the square. Waves of quiet murmurings spread through the crowd as the village minister took his place behind a makeshift podium and cleared his throat.

“As we all know, there is a sickness spreading through our village. Measures to slow the plague have failed and now our only option is to seek out a cure.”

He coughed a little and dabbed his sweating forehead with a handkerchief.

“After consulting with our healers and after great consideration, it has been decided that a team will be sent into the forest to search…”

The crowd erupted with gasps and cries. One lady even fainted at the prospect.

“Ahem. As I was saying, a team will be sent to search for the feverfew leaf,” he glanced down at shaking hands, “and it will be a perilous journey. We all know the woods to be a dangerous place. This is why I’m asking for volunteers. Anyone wishing to put themselves forward should present themselves to the minister’s quarters at sundown tonight. Thank you.”

He scurried quickly from the podium with his head bowed and the crowd dispersed, still muttering amongst themselves. Ava was left, alone, in the square, considering the consequences of her next decision. She could do nothing. Allow the team to venture into the woods alone and likely never return. Dooming her village and everyone in it. Or she could volunteer to guide them. Having her there would surely improve their chances. It would, however, mean confessing to her unlawful wanderings and accepting the punishment. That’s all assuming she wasn’t laughed out of the room.

Hours later, as the sun dipped below the horizon and the sky turned from peach to crimson, Ava stood by the door of the minister’s house. She was accompanied by a surly, giant of a man she recognised as head of enforcement. Cowering beside him was a boy, not much older than herself. He wore a white apron stained green and yellow. His eyes darted around as though looking for an exit. He jumped as the door in front of them creaked open.

“Come in, come in,” the minister waved them through the doorway, pausing as Ava stepped over the threshold, “Ava? What are you doing here?”

She ignored his confusion and joined the others as they were directed into an elaborate office. The minister sat behind a beautifully-carved mahogany desk. Ava and the boy took their seats opposite. The burly man chose to stand behind them. The minister shuffled papers to the side and placed his elbows on the desk. Intertwining his fingers, he surveyed the trio.

“Well, I must say, I’m disappointed in the turnout, but you’re here now, so let’s get started with some introductions. Just your name – and why you volunteered – will do.”

He gestured first to the figure standing behind them.

“Stevenson, sir. I put myself forward because as head of security it’s my duty to keep this group safe while they complete the mission, sir.”

He didn’t move a muscle. Rigid with his hands firmly at his side, he spoke clearly and without emotion.

“I thank you for your service, Stevenson.” The minister turned his attention to the boy, “and you?”

The boy shifted uncomfortably under the attention. He stared only at his own hands, twisting in his lap.

“Umm… Rodger, sir– Rodger Palmetto. My father thought… well, he thought my knowledge of edible and medicinal plants may be of use to the team.”

He glanced up as he finished speaking. He hoped the minister would tell him that his skills would be of no use at all and release him. The minister simply nodded. Luck was not in his favour today.

“And?”

“Ava, sir. I’m, well… you see … ” She studied the hole starting to appear at the toe of her leather shoe. What if he didn’t think her useful? What if he just punished her for breaking the rules?

“Spit it out, girl.”

She raised her head to look him in the eye. It wasn’t clear what would anger him more at this point; her rule-breaking or her indecision on speaking about it. “Well, you’ve heard what they say about me?”

The minister nodded. “Yes, of course, it’s a cruel thing to spread rumours about someone. If we find who’s responsible, rest assured.”

“They’re true.”

There was a sharp intake of breath from her right and the floor creaked as Stevenson shifted his weight behind her.

“I’m sorry, true?”

“Yes sir. I go into the forest to draw. Deeper in than anyone else goes. Past the gorge. I know the land, and I can help…”

“Nonsense. Nobody goes past the gorge. It’s very admirable that you want to help, your father would be proud, but I’m afraid I can’t just let some young girl…”

Ava stood so quickly her chair was thrown backward.

“But sir, it’s true, I…”

“Sir, if I may?”

The deep, authoritative tone of Stevenson’s voice halted the arguing.

“I lost something in the George once. It would be the only man-made thing down there. If Ava knew what it was, that would be proof.”

“A water sack!”

She just about jumped as she answered. Stevenson raised an eyebrow and addressed the minister, “she’s sight, sir. It unclipped from my belt when I sat at the edge.”

The minister looked between them, unable to accept what was being said.

“Sir?” Ava questioned meekly, hoping he wouldn’t explode.

“Yes,” he shook his head, “yes, I suppose now we have someone who knows the forest, and we would be silly not to use them.” He bent low over his desk and lowered his tone as he spoke Ava directly, “we will discuss what we are going to do with you when you return.”

Ava swallowed and studied her shoes again. She had been prepared for receiving punishment, but not knowing what would happen when she got back, was worse than being banished there and then.

“Well,” the minister pulled a tightly-rolled scroll from a drawer and unravelled it across the desk. A crude map, not showing much more than the size of the forest and its position next to the village. “Here,” he prodded a plump finger at a point in the heart of the woods. “This is where you’ll find feverfew. You’ll leave at first light tomorrow. Supplies will be waiting for you at the east entrance to the forest.” He rolled up the map and waved them out of the door. “Good luck.”

Not much of a plan, thought Ava.

The sun was barely peeking over the fields when Ava met Stevenson and Rodger at the entrance to the forest. Rodger was visibly shaking. Whether that was due to nerves or the weight of the gigantic pack hanging from his back was unclear. The gentle morning chorus was broken by a gruff voice coming from the trees.

“You’re late.”

Hardly – thought Ava, though she hid her attitude with a painted-on smile.

Stevenson emerged from the bushes, carrying his pack with much more ease than Rodger.

“Shall we?”

She attempted to heave her enormous pack onto her back. After the third attempt her arms ached and she was struggling for breath.

“Oh, this is ridiculous.” She began pulling items from the pack, throwing them in a pile on the grass. The only things she kept were her water, sleeping bag, and her notebook and charcoal, which she stuffed into her pocket. “Now it’s better. Off we go!”

She led the way along a familiar path. The forest was beautiful at dawn. A morning dew filled the air with a crisp, fresh note. Butterflies fluttered in clusters around their heads, and birds sang good morning. Rodger was keeping close to her heels and Stevenson was gripping his bow and arrows so hard his knuckles turned white.

Ava came to a stop at the edge of a huge cliff. Rodger, following far too close behind, was unable to stop in time and crashed into her. Loose dirt rained down into the abyss and Ava was nudged a little closer to the edge than she’d have liked.

“Hey, watch it!”

Stevenson appeared in the clearing moments later, still glancing over his shoulder every few feet. He gave Ava a sharp nod. A clear signal to proceed. She tightened the straps on her pack and gingerly lowered herself off the edge. It was a while since she had descended into the gorge, but the footholds she remembered were still there.

“You’re kidding.”

Ava looked up. Rodger was peering over the edge; all colour vanishing from his face.

“We’re not seriously just going to climb down, are we? It must be fifty feet to the bottom.”

“You can climb, or we can leave you here. Your choice,” said Stevenson as he lowered his legs over the side. Ava kept climbing while Rodger disappeared from sight. Moments later, they were showered in loose dirt and leaves as Rodger lowered himself, very shakily over the side. Both Ava and Stevenson were only a few feet from the bottom by the time Rodger was fully over the ledge.

“Just relax. Find your footing!” shouted Ava at the top of her lungs.

“Use your legs!” boomed Stevenson.

It was midday by the time Rodger had made it halfway, and he was exhausted. The two explorers waiting at the bottom were losing patience.

“Hurry up. I don’t want to be here at nightfall.”

Stevenson got to his feet, “I’m going to go and get him.”

No sooner had he uttered the words than Rodger lost his footing. He plummeted to the ground in a hail of rocks, landing right on top of Stevenson. He pushed Rodger off and both men groaned. Rodger clutched his chest, struggling for air as his lungs came to terms with the shock. Stevenson gripped his ankle.

“Are you ok?” Ava crouched carefully next to Stevenson, “let me see.”

He pulled up his trouser leg to reveal one already swollen and purple ankle.

“That doesn’t look good,” she turned to Rodger who was still on his hands and knees, clutching at his chest. “Hey, get over here. Is there anything you can do for him?”

Rodgers didn’t look up.

“Hey, kid! Get over here. Now.”

Rodger crawled through the dirt to examine Stevenson’s injury, “hmm, probably some bee bush. It’s a small blue flower shaped like a star. They’re fairly common, you should find some easy.”

“Me?” Ava raised her eyebrows.

“Well yea, I can’t go. I’m hurt too.”

Ava thought there wasn’t much truth to that, but decided it was in Stevenson’s best interest if she went anyway. Rodger was right, within minutes she had found a good handful of brilliant blue, pointed flowers, and brought them back to her injured teammate. Rodger crushed the flowers between two stones, adding a little water from his sack to make a paste. He lathered the paste over Stevenson’s injured ankle and pulled his woolly sock back up over it. Stevenson breathed a sigh of relief but still needed help to stand. With the support of a sturdy fallen branch, they continued. Slowly following the winding path to where the gorge opened back up into the moonlit forest. After helping Stevenson roll out his bed, Ava lit a fire and settled herself for the night. Her eyes grew heavier, the twinkling stars faded as she melted to the comfort of the warm fire.

Ava woke to a strange sensation. Something rough, but somehow also slimy was being dragged across her cheek. She opened her eyes but still took a second to register the wolf pup who was licking her face and pawing at her playfully. He wasn’t yet fully grown but was already bigger than most dogs. She smiled and sat up, only to find she was the only one of her party to find the situation amusing. Rodger was staring, wide-eyed, and attempting to make himself as small as possible. Stevenson stood; albeit unsteadily, as he was holding out his support branch like a spear.

“Oh, calm down, she’s just a baby.” Ava shook her head as she began packing away her bed, “I mean, really?”

“Its mothers somewhere,” grunted Stevenson, his eyes darting around, as though expecting her to pounce at any moment.

“I’m sure she is. I’m also sure she’ll be perfectly friendly if you stop brandishing that thing at her child.”

Stevenson reluctantly lowered the stick, but didn’t relax until they were on their way and well away from the pup.

Rodger dragged his feet at the back of the convoy, “how much further is it?”

Ava didn’t answer. She was too busy looking for any signs of the path.

“What are you doing? I thought you knew the way?”

“I do. I mean, it’s not that simple. The forest moves a lot.”

“What do you mean moves a lot?” Asked Rodger, a note of panic in his voice.

“Well, the trees, they like to wander. I can’t say I blame them; it must get boring being rooted to the same spot, but sometimes they do make it a little more difficult to find… oh, here, this is what we’re looking for.”

Ava pushed her way through shrubs. The others followed and found themselves at the edge of a great lake. The surface rippled, dazzling them with reflected sunlight. The pebbled shore crunched under her feet as they walked along the shore, eventually coming to a hollowed-out tree trunk that had been carved into the shape of a canoe. Inside, two oars rested.

“Here, help me with this will you?”

Rodger helped her push the boat into the lake and once they’d hoisted a limping Stevenson aboard, they began rowing towards the lake’s black centre.

“There’s an island in the middle of this lake. That’s the heart of the forest and where we’ll find feverfew. We should be there soon.”

Sure enough, soon a small island was visible on the horizon. At its centre sat the tallest tree any of them had ever seen. Even though it was daylight, fireflies were visible dancing around its branches. Stevenson dangled his hand, lazily, over the side of the boat as they floated along. He jumped as the canoe ran aground at the island shore with a clunk. They were amazed to find fields full of wildflowers surrounding the historic tree, including the very feverfew flowers they needed. Rodger bent low and reached to pluck one from the ground.

“Wait!” He froze as Ava ran forward, “we have to ask for the forest’s blessing.”

Rodger gawped at her as she placed a hand on the huge tree’s trunk and closed her eyes.

“Oh, what rubbish,” grumbled Stevenson. He swung a massive arm through the flower meadow and grabbed a handful of flowers, dragging them from the earth. Immediately a heavy branch swooped down and sent him soaring to the edge of the meadow. Another branch raised high, ready to throw itself at Rodger.

“Run!”

Ava grabbed handfuls of feverfew as she sprinted towards the boat. The fireflies’ golden glow had turned red, their anger reflected in the choppy waters of the lake. Stevenson threw himself headfirst into the boat, with Rodger not far behind. A branch caught Rodgers oar, snapping it in two. Ava rowed feverishly to the outer bank and the two men sprinted off into the bushes, leaving her to drag the boat ashore. When she finally caught up with them at the base of the canyon they were arguing.

“You’re not climbing out and leaving me for those crazy trees. It’s your fault I can’t climb in the first place,” boomed Stevenson.

Surprisingly, Rodger was not backing down. He was still insisting he should climb out and get help. Ava placed herself between the two men.

“Stop it,” she threw a palm out towards each of them. “If you’d listened,” she looked at Stevenson, “we wouldn’t be in such danger, or in such a hurry.”

“But,” he began. However, Ava cut him off.

“And you,” she said, turning her attention to Rodger, “if you didn’t want to come on this mission you shouldn’t have volunteered.”

Rodger hung his head.

“Now here’s what we’re going to do…”

By the time the sun was setting, they had hauled Stevenson out of the gorge using vines and pullies. They emerged from the forest with a hand full of feverfew, just enough to treat the people already sick. They all knew that they would need to collect more. Ava turned to face both the men.

“Next time, I’m going alone,” she placed her palm against a young tree growing at the forests edge, “I’m sorry.”

The young tree creaked as its trunk bent forward. Ava took a deep breath and closed her eyes as the sapling placed a comforting branch on her shoulder. The trees had grown to love the little girl who had played among its roots. She stood before them, grown, and asking forgiveness. They would give it willingly, because even humans deserved a second chance.

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UmmAhmad
UmmAhmad
Member
9 months ago

This is an amazing story! I am eager to read more children’s stories from this website. Kids Moral Tales is surely a wonderful website.  “One sure window into a person’s soul… Read more »

Hayden
Hayden
Guest
10 months ago

My daughter loved it!

trackback
9 months ago

[…] can read The Firefly Forest, (a short story written by her on Kids Moral Tales), which is about Ava. Here is a short summary of […]

Stacey Potter

Stacey Potter is a freelance writer, author, and short story enthusiast based in Western Australia. Between raising her two daughters and completing freelance projects, she is working on her first novel. Hobbies include peeling unicorn stickers off everything in her house, playing video games and drinking far too much coffee. You can find examples of Stacey’s work on her website as well as right here on KidsMoralTales.

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