Hidden deep, deep within The Enchanted Wood, half a crow’s flight past Who-Knows-Where and a stone’s throw from the Bubbling Brook, lies a mossy fallen log. Sure, there are plenty of mossy logs in a forest, but this one, upon closer inspection, has tiny windows and a tiny wood stove that puffs smoke out of a tiny chimney when the weather gets cold. This cozy cabin is the home of the Twopaws family, a family of cats that stood on only two paws.
On one particular morning, much like other mornings, the mother of the house, a tabby named Rose, sat knitting in a rocking chair next to the stove, humming a song to the click-clack of the needles and the creak of the chair. Meredith, the elder daughter, snoozed in a sunbeam under a window, fully dressed in her cloak and her hat. The youngest of the family, Edmund, was sneaking out the back door with something on his mind and a net clutched in his paws.
The night before, Meredith had regaled the kitten with tales of dragonflies, fabulous creatures that sparkled in every color of precious stone as they flew through the air. These were the fastest, giantest, most beautiful insects in all the Enchanted Wood.
“They’re faster than deer, faster than foxes!” Meredith had told him, eyes wide and voice whispering.
“Eh,” Edmund had replied, sleep in his voice, “I bet I could catch one of those.”
“But I bet you can’t catch a dragonfly!” Meredith had said. “They don’t like being caught because then they have to grant wishes.”
“That’s what Pa told me.”
“D’you think he caught one? Maybe he wished to never see us again.”
“Nah, don’t be silly.” Meredith had tried to sound blase, but something bothered her. She never liked talking about their father. Still, the two fell asleep shortly after.
Now, with the click of the door behind him, Edmund was on a mission. The Bubbling Brook wasn’t far from him, but he’d never been there. Mom had told him how treacherous it was, how little kittens could get swept away on a wave or dashed to bits on a rock. But Edmund wasn’t a little kitten; he was a big kitten. Big kittens were probably fine.
His ear twitched. This was the sound of gently running water, the sound of the Bubbling Brook. He ran straight in that direction, through a thorny thicket that tore at his fur and left scratches on his boots. He barely noticed as one twisted vine caught the house key around his neck and pulled the string undone.
Many yards away from the fallen key, Edmund pushed aside one final branch to reveal the Brook, bathed in a brilliant late-morning shine. Enormous, colorful creatures dipped and dove and spun in circles over a rushing stream. One landed briefly on a rock that stood triumphantly over the water. The dragonfly was long, shiny, and blunt like a yarn needle, but instead of dull wood or metal, a leaf-green head faded into a body of crystal blue. It took off once again with a twitch, little more than a blur.
Edmund took a deep breath in, overcome by the smell of damp soil, the loud sound of rushing water, the beauty of the bright sun reflecting off the clear water, and the rainbow of swirling dragonflies. He lifted the net above his head.
A stick caught in the netting fell out and hit the kitten in the nose. He frowned. A close look revealed to Edmund that a small hole had been ripped into the net. It didn’t seem like it would be big enough to let a dragonfly out-- maybe something smaller, like a cicada or frog. No worries, right?
A bright pink blur caught his eye. He ran towards it and swung his net, almost stumbling. The white webbing of the net fell empty to the ground. It seemed that Meredith was right-- these guys were fast. A blue dragonfly flew right above his head and landed on a reed behind him. Edmund pivoted towards it and lunged at it with his net. The reeds crunched as the net snapped them in half. The dragonfly flew above his head again, zipping over to the other side of the brook.
Edmund turned back towards the water, struggling to catch his breath. He put aside his net, dropped to his knees next to the edge of the water, and bent down to take a drink. The stream was cool, clear, and refreshing. He stood back up, wiping his face with his arm. With a deep breath, he heaved his net up upon his shoulder.
The blue dragonfly twitched its tail mockingly. It darted back towards Edmund, circling around him before heading back to the safety of the other shore. Edmund ran after it, jumping across open water onto a barely-exposed stone even as he swung his net. He leapt onto the next rock and the next, getting so close to the creature he could almost grab it in his hand--
The gut-wrenching feeling of something slipping when it shouldn’t. For a moment, the world moved so slowly to the kitten as the wind caught his net and the water caught his body. His chin hit the stone, and he tasted blood. The water was cold and fast, and he was in it, underneath it. His instinct was to cry for help, but the water filled his mouth and threatened his lungs.
The water’s currents forced him down and bounced him off the silty bottom of the stream, again and again, making the clear water murky and strange. A small fish nipped at his tail before darting away. His lungs burned. He flailed his arms and legs in an attempt to reach the surface, but he wasn’t sure which direction he was going.
Mercifully, the currents pushed towards a sloping shore. As soon as he got his footing, Edmund stumbled out of the water, collapsing in a coughing heap on dry land. The wind bit at his wet body as he lay there and began to sob. His last chance, gone. Never again would the kitten see his father. It wasn’t a wish for him to have.
Edmund reached under himself to wrap his hand around his key, but it wasn’t there. He patted the back of his neck, but not even the string remained. He sniffled as he inhaled, then let out a mournful wail. His long-gone father stayed far out of reach, and now he no longer had the keys to his own home. Would he even be welcome back? After all, he’d run away from his mother and his sister who loved him, who would do anything for him, who’d told him not to be silly.
And here he was, being silly.
Suddenly, he heard a soft buzz felt a rush of air through the fur on his head. He raised his head to find himself face to face with the blue dragonfly. It was so much bigger than it looked from far away-- almost a quarter of his size. He reached out to grab the dragonfly, but it hopped away from him.
“Why do you seek us so, young master?” the dragonfly asked, its voice buzzing but calm.
“You can talk?” Edmund’s eyes were wide with shock. “I didn’t think bugs could talk!”
“I didn’t think cats could talk,” the dragonfly retorted.
“So why do you chase us with your net?”
“My sister told me that you grant wishes. I… I wanted to see my dad again.” Edmund sniffled.
“I’m afraid we don’t grant wishes. Maybe in some long-forgotten era, but not today.” The dragonfly twitched its tail. “Can I tell you something?”
“I guess so.”
The dragonfly crawled close to Edmund, almost touching his nose. “I never knew my mother or my father.”
“They probably died mere hours after giving me life. That’s just the way of our world.”
“I’m sorry….” Edmund said, in barely a whisper as not to disturb the dragonfly.
“Don’t be sorry!” the dragonfly said. “The life I live is wonderful in spite of my loss. But know that before I glittered and flew, I was dull and brown. I swam in the water and hid under rocks. I thought this a miserable and incomplete life, and I never once thought to be grateful for the rocks. But without the rocks, I would never have flown!”
“I guess Mom and Meredith are my rocks, huh?” Edmund said.
“That’s for you to decide,” said the dragonfly, “But know that it’s okay to feel this way. It’s okay to want what you missed and to question what could have been. You’ll fly soon enough.”
“I don’t quite understand….” Edmund said.
“You’ll figure it out when you’re older,” the dragonfly replied. “Do you know how to get home? Nevermind, you’re a fair way downstream. Follow me.” It took off, leading Edmund up the edge of the Bubbling Brook.
It landed frequently on reeds and cattails to wait as Edmund thrashed and crunched through behind it. As soon as he passed through, the tall grass popped back up behind him. Soon, they came to an unplanted cove protected by a tangled thicket.
“This is where I came from!” Edmund said, pointing to the semi-trail of broken branches and vines that broke through the center.
“Good!” the dragonfly said, flying in a delighted loop. “Now, go tell your big sister that you caught a dragonfly!”
Edmund nodded. He turned and went into the thicket, a waving hand trailing behind him. On the way home, he found his key again-- though the string was long gone.