Ivy crept up the ancient and massive stone wall. Bridget stood on tiptoe and stretched her neck, hoping to see beyond the wall, but the tangle of leaves and branches obscured all glimpses of what lay beyond it.
She had inherited this vast property from a distant, unknown relative, with no other explanation than a map to its location and the old, leaf-shaped iron key. Now, Bridget had a choice: to sell it for a song, or to repair it.
But the ivy and honeysuckle and bougainvilleas crawled and climbed and slithered in a mess of thorns and leaves, and Bridget saw no hope of gaining access to the ramshackle structure.
“It’s like The Secret Garden,” Bridget mumbled, and pondered whether to climb a tree.
She jangled the key in her hand; the gate was so rusty and overgrown with vine she doubted the lock would work. She tried anyway; she had not come all this way just to peek over the wall. With great effort, the key turned, and the door creaked open. It swung with the high-pitched squeak of rusty hinges, but snagged on the overgrown weeds that spidered over the ground.
Bridget squeezed through the gate; the sight beyond it caught her breath. She had entered a world of green. Every branch and leaf glowed with a thousand shades of green. Green, up and down and left and right. She rubbed her eyes, and little green sparks flashed under her eyelids.
Yards ahead, she spotted a stone building covered with moss and crawling with bindweed. It was a short one-story home with a series of stocky arches lining a desolate veranda over which twining plants hung like blooming tendrils. Three turrets stood at three corners and jutted out like three swords ensnared in the vines. The fourth turret had crumbled long ago.
As her eyes adjusted to the blinding green light, she noted pinpricks of reds, yellows, whites, purples and blues, and realized the entire property was in full bloom, in October!
A small twitching under an arch caught her sight. A tiny light seemed to wink at her. Something rustled in the trees, and out of the corner of her eye, Bridget saw movement.
She turned in time to glimpse a figure disappear into the matted forest behind the house.
“Wait!” She called and hurried after it.
It dashed and darted between the trees and ivy, and Bridget had difficulty following it. She stopped at the end of the wall. The figure had disappeared, and she strained her eyes, scanning the thick, overgrown orchard for it.
“You are not like the others,” a voice whispered in her ear.
She whipped around, but glimpsed only a green shadow glide behind a flourishing tree.
“What do you mean? Who are you?”
“I am your most ancient ancestor. Your forefathers hated their people, but you respect us. You respect all living things.”
“Who is us? I don’t understand.”
“You come from a long line of sprites — people of nature, beings of light. Some humans call us fairies, others leprechauns, some know us as nymphs, others as devas. We are wood people, forest people. Your human forebears hated us, hunted us, felled our homes. They turned away from us, except for one. This home is our last sanctuary.”
As the voice spoke, Bridget noticed watchful eyes on her peering out from among the branches and leaves and multicolored blossoms.
“How came you here, child?” Another voice spoke from a sprawling rosebush.
“I-I inherited this property from a distant relative when she died. I never knew her.”
“Ah, so the age of Ostara has ended. The age of Brighid begins.”
“You are welcome here… You need not join us, but please do not take our home,” someone whispered from behind an oak.
“Yes, let us be,” a fourth voice spoke from the jasmine creeping up the turret, “if you wish to leave.”
Bridget glanced at the old building, and for the first time realized the roof had caved in, and all that remained were the arches, the veranda, and the three stone turrets.
Hundreds of expectant eyes held her in place, and through the flora, Bridget almost glimpsed the creatures’ various shapes, all so elusive they might have been shadows. She sensed their pleas, their dread, and the hope their idyll might last a while longer.
Bridget said nothing, but made her way back to the half-opened the gate. All the while, a shadowy, tall, man-like figure followed beside her, hidden among the brambles.
She passed through the gate and shut it behind her. A man came into full view between the wrought-iron bars and bindweed. He had long, green, straw-like hair and a long copious green beard. His eyes shone green and his skin was rugged, like bark. His expression showed hope and fear.
Bridget whispered, “There’s nothing of monetary value here.”
She winked, and The Green Man’s rough lips broke into a wide smile, revealing birch-white teeth.