“I think it’s bedtime, Janet.” Mom closed the book. “Hop to it. Santa knows when you’re sleeping.”
Janet sighed. “Okay. If I go to bed, will he bring me those pretty fairies we saw at the mall last week?”
“Janet,” Mom said sternly. “Bed.”
“Okay.” She shuffled off to bed, trying not to be frustrated. Money’s tight this year, her parents told her. And Christmas is about more than presents.
Every year, grown-ups tried to pound the same lessons into kids’ heads: Christmas is about more than presents, and family and love are more precious than anything you’ll ever get in a box. Janet had to roll her eyes. Like she didn’t know that already. Of course you can’t pack up the most important things in life in a box.
She thought of how she felt when Mom read to her, and she was on a magical adventure in a faraway place. She’d tried to re-create this feeling, playing by herself, or with a few close friends, but though the games were fun, they weren’t enough. She wanted real magic.
A week ago, Mom took her wish list shopping, which they still did even though “money’s tight this year.” Janet didn’t know if it was torture, or it the tradition was important enough to do it anyway. She found a store full of beautiful little figurines, and among them was a family of fairies. Mom said maybe Santa would bring her one, if she was good. She didn’t know if she wanted to take one away from the family. They should all live together. In her bedroom.
The next day, Janet went with Dad to pick out a tree. They bought one that was a little smaller than usual, but Dad reassured her it was the smell that mattered. Janet took a big whiff. He was right, it still smelled exactly the way Christmas should.
“Mom’s gonna take you to pick out a new ornament, too,” Dad said, on the drive home.
“Really? I thought…”
“It’s tradition, kiddo. We’re still going to have all the most important parts of Christmas, just... Just a bit smaller this year.”
Janet wondered if that meant she’d have to pick out a smaller ornament, but didn’t ask. She’d see what Mom let her get away with when they got to the store. Every year, her parents let her pick out one new, special ornament. So every year, she tried to find the biggest and brightest. One day, she imagined she’d collect enough of them to decorate an entire tree. After all, just because presents and pretty things weren’t the most important part of Christmas, didn’t mean they weren’t important at all. Janet still dreamed of piles of presents, under a tree decked out in sparkling, fancy ornaments. Maybe someday.
But this year, ornament shopping was different, and for once, it wasn’t because “money’s tight.”
Before heading to the store, Mom wanted to stop at a thrift shop, to drop off a bag of donations. Janet didn’t mind. She might see Gabe, who worked there, and always told her extravagant stories about where certain items came from. She was never sure if he made them up or not, but he was always fun.
While Mom made her donation, Janet went to look at all the Christmas things. Even here, plenty of ornaments were dazzling. She touched a few of them absentmindedly, until her hands found a plain, painted star. Once she found it, she couldn’t stop staring at it. It wasn’t the kind of star you put on top of your tree, just a small one to hang with the other ornaments. She couldn’t put it down, and kept running her fingers over the wood. It was still pretty, though it wasn’t extravagant. Its yellow paint was smooth, and had a little bit of a shine to it.
A voice behind her made her jump.
“Is that you, Janet? Nah, it can’t be, you’re far too tall! Little Janet I knew was about up to here,” Gabe held his hand up to her shoulder.
“Hi Gabe!” she said.
Mom appeared behind him a moment later, and noticed the star in her hand. “Sweetie, you don’t have to buy one here, we can afford a new one.”
“I like this one, though,” she said.
“Of course you do,” Gabe said. “That’s a Wishing Star. Not too many genuine ones left out there. Make a wish, and it’ll come true, guaranteed.”
Mom rolled her eyes, but Janet wanted to hear more. “Really? Did you ever try it?”
“Oh, I sure did,” Gabe said. “Said I wanted Christmas to be the day I found love. Woke up Christmas morning in a whole other world, and met the woman of my dreams.”
“Did you marry her?”
“Alas, I limited the wish when I said ‘Christmas Day.’ The star only gave me one day in the other land. I reckon she’s still there, and maybe one day I’ll see her again.”
“Alright, great story, Gabe, but we’ve got to be going,” Mom said. “Janet, are you sure that’s the one you want?”
“Oh, definitely,” Janet smiled.
Gabe checked them out, and carefully packaged up the little star for Janet. “Merry Christmas to both of you,” he said. “Wish wisely, Janet.”
“Merry Christmas, Gabe,” she said.
It was Christmas Eve, and Janet couldn’t sleep. Well, it wasn’t so much that she couldn’t sleep, but she was resisting going to bed. She kept looking out the window, listening for sleigh bells, and turning her little “Wishing Star” over in her hands.
For some reason, she felt compelled to have her star with her tonight. She'd removed it from the tree, and couldn’t stop staring at it. Make a wish, she thought, just try it! Maybe it was a silly idea, but if the Wishing Star worked at all, it had to work on Christmas Eve.
“I wish I could go on a real magical adventure, and be a hero like the people in my books,” she whispered. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, but when she opened them again nothing had changed. She shrugged, and put the star down on her bedside table, deciding it was time to settle down at last. Tomorrow morning, she’d wake to the smells of pancakes and bacon, with Christmas music playing softly, a full stocking and presents to open…
Early in the morning, Janet opened her eyes. “Merry Christmas!” she whispered, getting out of bed. Then, louder, “Merry Christmas!”
She opened her bedroom door to… Silence. “Mom?” she called, “Dad?” No voice answered. There was no music playing, no smell of anything.
She knocked on her parent’s bedroom door before pushing it slowly open. The bed was empty. “Hello?”
Out in the living room, there were no presents under the tree, and the stockings were still empty. Yet it was fully daylight, and the calendar on the wall still read “December.”
After searching the house for her parents, Janet returned to her room to bundle up before venturing into the backyard. The sun was shining, but there was a fresh blanket of snow on the ground. “Mom? Dad?” She ran toward the garden, thinking she heard a voice. Nothing. She turned, thinking to go back to the house, and gasped at the sight behind her.
The house was gone. In its place was a forest, a real, enchanted forest, she thought. Yet she had very little desire to go exploring. She realized she still held the Wishing Star in her hand.
“I wish to go home now,” she said. “I wish it was Christmas morning, and I was home with Mom and Dad.”
Nothing happened. Gabe said his magic lasted for a day, but only because he limited it. Did she limit her wish? She didn't think she had. Maybe, she thought, maybe I have to lie down and sleep for the magic to work. That wasn’t such a terrible thought. But where could she sleep, out here?
Or maybe she had to fulfill her first wish, see it through in it’s entirety, in order to be granted a second one. That wasn’t a bad price to pay either, though it would be a great deal more difficult than simply lying down somewhere and trying to fall asleep…
Or maybe… Maybe the Wishing Star only had one wish inside it, and she’d used its magic all up. That was a scary thought. Even if it was only one wish every Christmas, when did Christmas come in this world?
Before she could ponder any further, she thought she heard a small voice. Well, we’ll see where adventure takes us, she thought, and set off toward the sound, into the forest.
The forest was thick, but not scary. All the trees were enchanting and beautiful, and seemed to beckon her forward, welcoming her. There wasn't as much snow here, and the temperature was slowly climbing. There were bright little toadstools along the narrow path, and the sound of a creek not far away. It felt like a fairyland.
“Help me!” cried a small voice, much closer this time. A tiny figure was tangled up in a vine. Janet hurried to free the creature, letting out a small yelp when she realized what it was.
A fairy! A real, live, tiny girl with wings was trapped. Janet stared in wonder.
“Are you going to help or just look?” the fairy shouted.
“Oh! Sorry, I’ve never seen a real fairy before,” Janet said, and hurried to untangle the vine, letting the girl free.
“Thank you,” she sighed. Janet opened her hand, and the fairly settled there. “What’s your name, human?”
“I’m Janet. You?”
“Carla,” said the fairy, “I got lost out here. Do you think you could help me get home?”
“I’m new to this forest,” Janet said. “But of course I’ll try. Which way is your home?”
“Just follow the sound of the creek.”
“Okay.” Janet followed the path toward the sound of water. “Um, Carla? Where are we?”
“In the Mushroom Forest, of course! My family lives in the Water Circle. You must be from the Human Village.”
“No, I haven’t heard of any of that. I’m from… somewhere else.”
“Across the portal? Did you wish on a star?”
“Yes! How did you know?”
“The last little girl who came here!” Carla said. “She’d never seen a fairy either! Said she wished upon a star and… Oh, Janet, you must be careful. Sierra was murdered by an evil witch!”
Janet sighed. Of course she was. Of course the stupid Wishing Star couldn’t give her an adventure without someone evil to defeat.
“Where does this evil witch live?”
“Not far past the human village. Hm… I think it’s too dangerous for you to go near her. You’ll just have to stay with us in the Water Circle!”
“But I have to get back home!”
Carla flew up to her shoulder, patting her cheek. “No, no, dear. Sierra tried getting home and look what happened to her! You’ll just have to stay with us! Look, we’re almost there!”
They had reached the creek, and a little ways up, Janet could see where it broke around an island before continuing straight ahead. A large circle of land, and fairies all about. A group of them buzzed toward Janet and Carla.
“Carla! Oh, Carla, dear, we’ve been so worried!”
Carla leapt gleefully of Janet’s shoulder and greeted her family. Janet tried not to picture a similar reunion with her own parents, who felt further away than ever.
“This is Janet! She rescued me!” Carla said, and before she knew it, Janet was receiving a hundred tiny hugs as the fairies thanked her.
“She came here like Sierra,” Carla explained. “I think she should just stay here with us! It’s too dangerous, right?”
“Well, I think that’s up to Janet to decide,” one of the older fairies said.
“What do you mean?” Janet asked. “What’s too dangerous?”
“We’ve been working on portal magic since Sierra’s time,” she said. “Here, look. A portal stone!”
She pointed at a perfectly round, black rock twice the size of any fairy, resting on the ground. Janet picked it up. “How does it work?”
“Oh, I’m afraid it’s incomplete as of now,” she said. “In order to make it work, you’ll need something to tie it to your own kind. Our fairy water gave it magic, but it would need a human element to connect back to your world. Water from the Human Village should work.”
“But the witch!” Carla said.
“I don’t care,” Janet said. “I have to get home! I can hide from the witch if I need to, I’ll be fine!”
“Ah, but the water alone won’t be enough,” said the fairy, “It will need an enchanted flame to activate, and only the witch possesses such magic. But once activated, the portal stone can get you back home, to the exact time of your choosing. You’ll even be back to the same age as the day you left, no matter how long you spend here.”
“So you could stay for years, if you want,” Carla said.
“Hm… When is Christmas, here?”
“Yeah, I think I want to go home.”
“Carla can guide you as far as the Human Village, and they’ll help you the rest of the way. But it will be dangerous. Take the stone, and take this, too.”
Several fairies flew around her head, lowering a necklace with a tiny vile around her neck. She carefully picked it up. It was full of something dazzling, and Janet could only stare.
“Fairy dust!” Carla said.
“Wow,” Janet whispered. “I didn’t know this was real… Any of it.”
“Well, you learn something new every day,” Carla said. “Keep it close. You’ll know when to use it.”