There was a little old woman who had once been a girl. She sat in her rocking chair by the fire, telling stories to the children. (Here's a secret: once she'd met a pirate.) Being over ninety-six—which, in some parts of the world, meant something—she had quite forgotten how to fly. Sometimes she doubted she ever did.

Her daughter was grown and gone now, with a child of her own, who, in turn, had children; it was they who the old woman told fairy tales to, now, when she could. The old woman's husband was dead. She'd gotten married to him in a white dress and a pink sash. For some odd reason, she remembered expecting someone to forbid the banns; although, when she tried to remember who would have done such a thing, she could not

could not remember a lot of things, now.

But she remembered skeleton leaves, and a little light that would alight on the bookshelf—and when it stood still you could just barely see—barely just there—a young woman with fragile wings and jealousy and love. But the beautiful wonderful oddity the old woman remembered—and doubted—the most was a fairy tale. Her daughter had grown up on stories of him, as did her daughter, and her daughter after. The stories grew in the telling of them, and didn't keep to any boundaries or rules. They were a gloriously sprawled map, and through them all ran the bright, shining figure of cloud and sky and bird.

To him a year was but a yesterday.

And a yesterday came one day, in the guise of a boy, just old enough to be considered young. (What adventures they'd had!)

He appeared at her window when the children were all fast asleep in their beds. It was her night to tell the stories to them. (Mother and Father were gathering with other grown-ups somewhere far away on another street.) She tidied up her great-grandchildren's dreams, and laid out the fresh, new thoughts for the morning. And she sat in her rocking chair by the fire, and tried to remember childhood.

There was a small gasp at the window, an expectant pause from the stars, and the Green Wind paused for a moment, watching. The window was never shut, a habit from when she was a girl.

She heard the expectation, looked up. A bit of the night air clung to him still, slipping into his hair and making it appear darker than it really was. His feet were sticky with gold dust and the sap from the leaves.

She stopped. "Hello, boy."

"Hello, lady." He smiled at her. With a pang she remembered that he was just old enough to have all of his first baby teeth still. Then: "I've come. You were too old, the last time, too tied down—but I'll have you now."

She laughed at him. "Is it that time already?"

"Yes." Then the boy held out his hand. She paused, just once, to make sure that all the night-lights were lit.

(Here is a secret: this is a journey the old woman will not be coming back from.)

She took his hand, and the years numerous fled from her like a shift from dark to light

shift, shift

for every grown-up is, at heart, a child.

In the morning, naught would be found but a few skeleton leaves at the foot of the open window.