The Last Fairy Tale by Jenna Hanan Moore

Sofia was a storyteller. She lived in a hut at the edge of the forest, where she spun strands of words from the air and wove them into stories. Storytelling was a dying art, but Sofia kept it alive by sharing her tales with the local children at the public library—until the day she found that stories no longer mattered.

 Before that day, the children never missed a session. Each week, Sofia transported them to magical faraway places and brought to life their favorite characters—a kindly veterinarian with magical powers, a wise old owl wearing spectacles, talking animals of all shapes and sizes, and a mischievous young dragon whose curiosity was always getting him into trouble.

 One Saturday, Sofia told them of a lonely elephant who found happiness when the veterinarian introduced her to an equally lonely stray kitten. 

  “Then Elsie lifted little Simon onto her back with her trunk. He mewed with delight as they walked through the village holding their heads high.” Raising her voice to a high-pitched squeal, Sofia continued as the kitten. “You will never be lonely, for I will always go on adventures with you!” In her usual voice, she said, “And that’s just what he did.”

A young boy in the front asked, “Will you tell us about their adventures next week?”

Sofia shook her head and brushed a strand of gray hair from her forehead. “That’s the last story for quite some time, I’m afraid. Tomorrow, I shall take a journey, and I may not return for a long time.”

 The children groaned, but Sofia’s mind was made up. War had broken out far away across the sea in Luvisania, where she’d once found refuge from a different war, long ago. She still recalled the kindness of the Luvisanians who had sheltered her and her brother and helped them find safe passage across the sea. Now, she could repay that kindness.

 Sofia returned to the land of her birth, determined to offer aid and comfort to the Luvisanian refugees pouring across the border to escape the war. She arrived at a place near the village where she was born, at the base of the mountains forming the border.

 Memories of her childhood flooded her dreams. It was here that she learned to tell stories. Back then, before the war of her childhood, the forest and the foothills were alive with magic.

  Now, everything felt different. Whether the magic was shattered forever by the earlier war or merely pushed aside, frivolous in the face of the tragedy now unfolding, Sofia did not know. She knew only that innocent people were suffering. Restoring the magic would have to wait—if indeed it could be restored.

 And so, Sofia turned to more practical tasks. She served meals to new arrivals, doled out packages of donated supplies, helped prepare new tents. She spoke to the refugees in their own language, something most volunteers could not do.

 She recognized the haunted look in the sunken eyes of the refugees, carrying all the possessions they’d managed to bring with them. Children clutched stuffed animals, hugging them tightly as if they were real pets. In these children, Sofia saw herself and her brother all those years ago.

  She was grateful for the opportunity to be useful. She saw no relief in the eyes of the people she tried to help, but she knew all too well that healing would take time.

  Soon, Sofia found herself spinning strands of words from the air. She couldn’t help it. Someday, she would return to her hut at the edge of the forest, where these new strands would become stories for the children. For now, there was more important work to be done. Sofia pushed the words to the back of her mind, where they wouldn’t distract her.

 The war escalated, with no relief in sight. At night, Sofia wept for the lost and displaced. By day, she threw herself into her work, trying ever harder to ignore the words and phrases that somehow continued to spring into being.

  As the weeks passed, Sofia lost hope that the darkness would ever end. New strings of words and phrases came to her less frequently. While she continued to ignore those that did, she held them in her memory for the day she could once again turn them into stories.

  But the words did not want to remain silent, locked away for a day that might never come. They begged to be woven into stories here and now.

   One day, as Sofia was bringing fresh linen to a row of tents, she passed two small girls sitting together on a bench. Tears ran down the face of the smaller child, who held a stuffed cat on her lap, stroking its fur. The older girl tried to comfort her.

  “Don’t worry,” she implored. “Kosi’s a smart cat. He’ll catch mice to eat, and he’ll find his way home. He’ll be waiting for you when we can finally go back.”

 “But I miss him, Alexandra!”

  Alexandra put her arm around the younger child, fighting back tears of her own.

  Sofia approached the girls. The strands of words refused to be silenced any longer.

   “Shall I tell you about a cat who was lost in the forest and the birds who helped him get home?” she asked. Alexandra nodded.

 “Pierre was a curious kitten who loved to explore. One day, he went too far into the woods, and he couldn’t find his way home. As it got dark, Pierre began to cry.” Sofia paused. Two little faces were looking at her with wide eyes. The younger girl clutched her stuffed cat tightly.

 Sofia told the tale as it came to her. In it, Oliver, the bespectacled owl, and a flock of magical sparrows helped Pierre find his way home. Using her high-pitched kitten voice, Sofia said, “Thank you, Oliver Owl. But how can I ever repay you?” She switched to the owl’s voice. “There’s no need. Just be kind to others, and perhaps one day you can help someone.” Returning to her usual voice, Sofia concluded, “And that’s what Pierre did.” The smaller child had stopped sobbing.

 The next day, Alexandra ran to Sofia. “Will you tell us another story?” she asked. “Please?”

  Sofia sighed. “Yes. I will tell you one story. Then I must get back to my work.” The child’s face lit up with joy. She reached for Sofia’s hand and led her to a small group of children sitting in front of one of the tents.

Sofia sat before the children and told them a tale of a curious puppy who befriended a dragon. The children smiled. The next day, she came back and told another story to a slightly larger group of children. Then another. Then another.

 Each day, the group of children who came to listen to her stories grew larger. After a week, the children began playing. When they saw Sofia approaching, they dropped their games and ran to sit near the bench in front of her tent.

 One morning, Alexandra approached Sofia and asked, “Is it okay to tell them about flying rabbits even though everyone knows bunny rabbits can’t fly?”

Sofia smiled. “Of course! In stories, magic is not only possible, it’s essential.”

 The next day, a circle of smaller children sat around Alexandra, gazing up at her intently as she told them a story. Although Sofia was too far away to hear Alexandra’s words, she saw the flying rabbit in her mind’s eye. She smiled. “I’m no longer needed here.”

 She returned home to her hut at the edge of the forest to share her new stories with the local children. After all, she realized, everyone needs stories.

  Jenna Hanan Moore loves to travel, take pictures, drink coffee, sing along with the radio when no one is listening, and immerse herself in nature or a good story. She lives with her husband and dog, currently in southern Illinois, but she left her heart in the Pacific Northwest. Her stories can be found in places like Luna Station Quarterly, The Lorelei Signal, Land Beyond the World Magazine, and 365 Tomorrows.