The Storyteller

Allison Hay © Illustration of a fairytale castle for a fun short story


There was drama at the castle, but could a forest fairytale turn Emma’s fantasy into a reality?

Emma leaned out of her office window and gazed across the lush green valley and glistening river. Below, visitors were rolling through the castle’s ancient iron gates, bumping over the drawbridge by car, coach, and foot excitedly laden with rucksacks and tickets. It was the opening day of the castle’s annual Storytelling Festival.

Emma had been looking forward to this since she’d joined the castle estate’s marketing team six months ago as an assistant. It was her first job since returning to work after having her first child, Benji. She had taken a few years out to look after him before he started primary school.

She loved being a mum, but being out of the workplace for a few years had knocked Emma’s confidence a bit. Landing this part-time creative role set in such beautiful surroundings had definitely been a boost. Emma still felt like something was missing in her work life, though. She hadn’t quite found that thing that made her heart sing yet.

Phones were ringing in the office background; a familiar patter of keypads tapping; the kettle whistling its morning tune as clean coffee mugs clattered in the kitchen; the biscuit tin rattling.

Outside, small bright marquees and colourful costumes dotted and dashed between the dark green forest and sun-drenched riverside. There were face painting stands, refreshment bars, picnic areas, and a market of “ye olde”-style stalls winding down from the castle steps to a vast open green space. Paper lanterns covered in script and bright tassels of ribbon billowed in the breeze, leading the way to the main performance stage. Emma could feel a magic in the air already; that special sort of magic only stories could conjure up.

“This is unbelievable!”

A panicked voice snapped Emma from her daydream. She spun round as her boss, Toni, rushed past knocking a couple of novels off the edge of Emma’s desk; charity shop finds Emma was devouring during lunch breaks.

“Sorry!” Toni picked up the books looking pained.

“What’s wrong?” Emma and her colleague, Jane, followed Toni into the kitchen exchanging worried glances.

Toni waved her mobile phone at them, pinching her temples.

“I’ve just had a call from Erin Carter. Her car’s broken down on the motorway. Two hours away.”

Jane’s lips stretched awkwardly. “Isn’t Erin Carter our only forest trail Storyteller?”

Toni looked liked she was about to self-combust. “Yes! We have the first tour group booked in at ten thirty this morning!”

Jane and Emma exchanged another worried glance.

Jane’s brow crinkled. “Could we ask one of the main stage performers from the theatre group to help us out?”

Toni flopped on to a kitchen chair, her defeated face falling into her hands.

“I already have, and they just can’t spare anyone. Nobody from the agency can get here at such short notice, either.

“In any case, who on earth actually knows the story of Seren and whatever the story’s about anyway? We’ll have to cancel all of today’s Forest Story Trail tours! That’ll be a huge chunk of profit written off.”

“Oh, that’s such a shame,” said Emma, almost to herself. “Seren and the Forest of Hope is such a magical, mythical tale too.”

Toni looked up. “Wait. Emma, you know the story?”

Emma looked at her boss, suddenly embarrassed.

“Um, yeah. It was in a collection of folklore and fairytales I read to Benji last year. I think I enjoyed the story more than he did. Dinosaurs and silly stories are more his thing at the moment.”

Toni’s eyes lit up; an idea glimmering out from her thoughts. “Jane. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

Emma glanced between their plotting grins. “Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no.”

“Oh, please, Emma!” Toni never pleaded with anyone. “We need a Storyteller, and you’ve always got your nose stuck in a book at lunch times.”

Emma’s heart drummed against her rib cage.

I like reading stories, not telling them! I’m not a performer! I got stage fright in my junior school nativity play– and that was only playing the part of ‘sheep in the background’!

“But you just said you tell stories to Benji! What’s the difference with telling a story to a few extra people?” Toni countered impatiently.

“Benji’s five years old! And there’s only one of him!”

“I think you’d be really good as the Storyteller, Emma. You love books and I think the tour groups would really pick up on your passion for it,” said Jane.

Emma bit her lip, considering.

Could she do it? What if she forgot the story half way through, or got everyone lost on the trail? She could totally embarrass herself! People might even ask for a refund – the humiliation!

The Storytelling Festival was in full swing. Voices rang out from the main performance stage, the audience crying with laughter as actors stomped back and forth comically.

In another marquee, a children’s storyteller had a crowd of youngsters silently enthralled with a tale of mystery and danger. The castle and grounds had transformed into a world of other magical worlds.

Emma looked at the colourful map in her hands, tracing her finger along the forest trail. In less than an hour, she would be leading a group of strangers along the paths and through the forest while telling them a story about hope and unrelenting belief.

Ironic, really, considering Emma was currently sweating with unrelenting self-doubt.

As she weaved between couples, singles and families laughing, chatting, pointing and listening, Emma tried to calm her nerves by thinking of her son, Benji. She smiled to herself. His little face always lit up when it was story time.

He only liked funny stories or ones with wild animals painted brightly across the pages at the moment. But every day it was a joy to read aloud to him.

Benji especially like it when Emma gave the animals silly voices, his cute chuckle echoing through the house. Benji loved stories as much as Emma and that made her happy, that they could share something together. Maybe she should apply that thinking with this morning’s Storytelling Tour?

A hand clamped Emma’s shoulder. She spun round to find Jane smiling at her as the crowds milled around them.

“You made me jump!”

“Sorry!” Jane’s smile widened. “But I’ve had an idea – I thought it might help with your nerves.”

“A large whisky, perhaps?” said Emma.

Jane laughed. “I’ve got the next best thing.” She pointed towards a woman waving from one of the distant castle outbuildings. It was the performers’ backstage area. “Gina, the theatre company’s costume and make-up lady, has offered to turn you into a forest fairy. I thought if you had a costume and special FX make-up it might help you get into the part.”

Emma’s face lit up. “Seriously?”

Jane nodded, taking Emma’s arm and leading her to Gina.

“Wait until you see the costume – it really is like something out of a fairytale. And Gina’s an absolute wizard with a make-up brush – you won’t even recognise yourself by the time she’s finished.”

Emma peered through the outbuilding window, her body wrapped in the most ethereal dress of silks and chiffons, her face glittering with sparkly fairy make-up. In the distance she could see a group of people assembling beneath the banner strapped between two pine trees which read: Forest Story Trail.

Nerves bubbled in her tummy, story words jumbling in her head. She spun to Jane. “I’m sorry – I can’t do this.”

Jane’s brow crinkled. “There’s nothing to be scared of, Emma. The group aren’t waiting for you to trip up – they love stories as much as you do.”

“But I can’t even remember Seren’s story now. Everything’s a haze.” Her neck heated. “I… I’ll get it wrong.”

Disappointment weighed down on Emma’s shoulders. Just for a few minutes she’d imagined herself as Seren, the forest fairy, leading a trail of eager listeners back through time, along the winding weaving paths of the estate. For a moment, she’d believed she could do it. She’d felt a feeling of excitement she’d not experienced at work ever before.

Jane walked over to her, standing shoulder to shoulder as they looked out on the colourful hustle and bustle of the Storytelling festival.

“I understand,” said Jane, quietly. “No one wants you to go ahead with it if you don’t want to. But –” Jane’s wise gaze slid to Emma’s anxious eyes.

“I can tell you, there’s only one thing worse than trying for something you really want and failing.”

Jane smiled.

“And that is, never trying at all.”

Emma’s heart buzzed like electricity, sparks filling her with renewed ambition. Jane was right. It would be silly not to try. And if it all went wrong?

Well, that’s what life was about, wasn’t it? Reaching for your dreams, crying and laughing if it failed. And then getting back up, dusting yourself down, and not giving up.

Emma nodded, a smile tickling the corners of her mouth.

Silence fell across the Forest Story Trail group. And then cheers and applause echoed across the castle grounds, tinkling up the river.

Emma blushed. They were at the end of the trail, and Seren’s story, the ancient castle towering over them as the sun glimmered mystically. Emma had loved being the Storyteller! She’d stumbled with a few words at the beginning, nerves getting the better of her.

But a few minutes in, with her mask of special make-up and beautiful flowing costume, Emma lost herself in the story. More magically than that, the group had been swept up and along by Emma’s enthralling re-telling of Seren’s story.

As the happy group dispersed, heading for the next part of their storytelling festival experience, Toni appeared from thin air, clicking her fingers. “Emma, you’re sacked.”

Jane ran up behind her, face serious.

Emma’s chest tightened. “But I… I thought it went OK! Everyone –”

Toni’s face exploded into a grin.

“Everyone loved it! Which is why you’re sacked from your marketing assistant role. I want to make the Storytelling tour a regular event. And I want you to be our resident Storyteller – if you’re up for it?”

Emma’s jaw dropped. “Me?”

“Yes, you. You’re exactly what we didn’t know we needed. Will you do it?”

The biggest smile shone out from Emma’s face. “Yes! Yes, of course I will.”

For the first time in Emma’s career, she felt her heart begin to sing…

Read more fun short stories:

Read Clear Vision, Techno Mum, Kiss And Tell, plus many more in our archives.