The boy whirled around at the woman, pointing his finger at her.
“What have you done?” he demanded. “Where have you taken me?”
“We have not taken you anywhere, my dear boy,” the woman said. “We are in the same place we have always been in.”
“No, we are not,” he said. “We were in the woods a moment ago, and now we are somewhere where there is only grass everywhere. I have never been in a place like this before. You did something to bring me here.”
“We have always been in the grasslands,” she said, but there was a strange expression on her face, and he was sure that she was telling him a lie. “You were just in that clump of grass over there.” She pointed to where she had seen him. “I don’t know anything about being in any woods.”
“How am I supposed to get back home?” he said, fighting the urge to cry. “My mother . . .” He gulped. “My mother will be worried about me. I need to get back before she thinks something bad has happened to me.”
“Of course nothing bad has happened to you,” the woman said. “You are among friends, and we will get you back home as soon as we can. Now, why don’t you come over here and have some of this delicious stew?”
She extended her arm to him, motioning for him to come to her. She gave him a broad smile, but he didn’t trust that smile; it made him think far too much of a fox trying to convince a chicken that everything was alright.
He thought that if he turned and ran back in the direction he had come from, he might find himself back in the woods where he had started, but he wasn’t sure he would make it beyond whatever border he had crossed before she caught up with him. If he did manage it, she might still catch him and bring him back to this strange place.
But he was sure that if he went with her, he would never make it away from them ever again; he was sure that he would be stuck with them for the rest of his life.
One of the girls that he had been watching play came over to him and grabbed his hand, smiling at him prettily.
“You don’t need to be afraid,” she said kindly. “Everything is going to be alright. You can trust us.”
“That’s the sort of thing that liars say,” he mumbled, “because they know they can’t be trusted, and they want to sound like they aren’t snakes.”
“Do I look like a snake to you?” she said as she tilted her head and giggled. “I don’t have any reason to lie. I am safe here, and so are you. Come have something to eat. You must be hungry.”
His stomach growled like a traitor, and she laughed.
“You see,” she said, “you are hungry. You don’t have to stay out here if you are. We will share whatever we have with you.”
He turned and looked back toward the direction that he had come, hoping to suddenly see the trees that should have been there, but it was still only the grass.
Then, he turned and looked at the girl again, tears filling his eyes as she put her arms around him and gave him a hug, whispering comforting words to him that he still did not trust.
When she pulled away, she took his hand again and started to pull him gently toward where the stew was cooking, and he allowed himself to be pulled further into the encampment.
Getting to the place where the stew had been cooking, he was guided to a place where he could sit down, and the girl filled up a wooden bowl and brought it to him. He looked at the contents of the bowl as he took it from her, and she went to get a spoon, unsure if he should eat any of it. It wasn’t so much that he was afraid of being poisoned, it was more that he kept thinking of all the stories he had heard of fairyland, and how people had been trapped there after eating the food.
What if something similar to that was happening to him now?
What if the reason he had suddenly found himself somewhere else was that he had stumbled into fairyland, and these people were really fairies pretending to be humans?
If that was what was going on, getting away from them was going to be much harder than he had initially thought. He wasn’t sure how he was going to manage it; he couldn’t remember any story saying how someone had managed to get away.
The girl came back with a wooden spoon and handed it to him with a smile as she sat down next to him and watched him intently.
He was sure that she was going to keep sitting there, watching him, until he started to eat; and she may keep watching him until he finished. And having her eyes on him made him even more reluctant to accept the food.
He wanted to go home and climb into his mother’s lap, wanted her to wrap her arms around him and tell him that everything was going to be alright. It might be nice if she sang that lullaby that he liked, the one that she had sung to him when he had been small and woken in the night.
“You don’t have to be afraid to eat it,” the girl said. “It’s really good. My mother made it. She is the oen you were speaking to earlier.”
He looked at her and gulped audibly, blinking back tears as the desire for his mother became stronger.
The girl put her arm around him and gave him a compassionate look.
“It’s going to be alright,” she said. “We are going to get you home. You don’t need to worry about that. It won’t be long before you are where you belong.”
Her words made him feel odd, and he found himself nodding, almost sure now that he was going to make it back home; sure that he was going to see his mother again in no time.
And when he looked back down at the bowl in his hands, he was sure that what she had said was completely true. Everything was going to work out the way that it should.
He dipped the spoon into the stew and took a bite.