"The Errand" (Joan Charles )
Late one afternoon a young girl with a large basket was seen hurrying along a dirt road toward a distant forest. Suddenly from out of the bushes jumped an impish man dressed in a red velvet vest and leather breeches. The girl came to a startled halt.
"What do you have in that basket?" the man demanded to know.
"Pies and goodies for a sick lady," the girl replied fearlessly.
The mischievous man grinned. Then he began to whirl in a frantic circle. His shirt billowed out like sails in a wind and fine powdery dust rose in the air as his turned-up shoes shuffled faster and faster.
Then he came to a sudden stop and peered at her, licking his lips. "I like pies and goodies. Give me the basket."
"Never," said the girl, fanning away the dust and clutching the basket closer. "And please move aside so I may be on my way."
"Courageous little thing, aren't you?" said he, staring at her suspiciously. "You're not by any chance a fairy, are you?"
"A fairy? Why?"
"Fairies are tricky and sneaky, but if I catch one, she has to serve me dinner for three months."
"I'm sorry you feel that way about fairies," the girl sighed, "but please let me go. I'm late."
The man stared crossly. "If you don't give me your basket, you'll have to pay a toll."
"A toll? But, I don't have any money."
The peculiar man gave a sly smile and pointed in the distance.
"Then you'll just have to cross my bridge now, won't you?"
"I don't need to cross your bridge," the girl protested. "It is not on my way."
The man prodded her forward.
"Fairies hate walking on bridges, and I'm not going to let you go until you prove you're not one."
The girl reluctantly followed the odd man down the road. When they came to the bridge, she turned to find he had disappeared.
In his place there now arose a nasty, stinky, wet earthy smell. The young girl wrinkled her nose in disgust.
"Go on! Go on!" Two beady eyes gleamed up at her through the cracks in the wooden planks.
The girl stepped forward, but her legs buckled and she grabbed onto the railing to steady herself.
"I knew it!" screamed the little man racing out from under the bridge.
Dressed in a tattered shirt, dirty pants and muddy brown shoes, he was no longer in disguise.
"We trolls can always figure you fairies out," he gloated, then stopped short in surprise.
The little girl was changing into a beautiful green fairy. Gossamer wings rose high above her head and long golden hair tumbled to her shoulders.
The troll backed away, clenching his jaw in fury. "Just my luck. You had to be a green fairy."
"Yes, and you know the rules, Mr. Troll. If a green fairy catches you in disguise, then you must perform kind deeds with her for one year."
"Yeah, I know the rules," he snarled, reaching to carry her basket.
The fairy continued toward the forest, then looked back with a smile. "I was not out to trick you, you know, Mr. Troll. I was simply on an errand. If you had been nice and let me pass, you wouldn't be in this situation now."
Frustrated at being caught in his own web of deceit, the troll trudged behind her, grumbling and groaning at the thought of having to do kind deeds for a whole year with a nauseatingly sweet green fairy.
Anne Loader McGee is the author of the upcoming children's novel "The Mystery at Marlatt Manor." To find out more about the author, visit annemcgee.com.
Special thanks to Joan Charles for her illustration. To see more of her work, visit joancharles.com.
For more Kids' Reading Room, visit latimes.com/kids. Be sure and check out Activity Center. There are crossword puzzles, comics, short stories, jokes and book reviews from past editions.
NEXT WEEK: The story of Lucille Mulhall, America's first cowgirl.