Written by Vanessa Grillone
Once upon a time but not that long ago, there was a girl named Mia. Mia was 7 and a half years old (thankyouverymuch). She loved animals, movies, reading, and writing her own stories. Mia was always looking for answers, always asking BUT WHY? Until her parents, teachers, aunt (Tia), uncle (Zio), and grandparents (Nonno and Avó) had no more answers left. Mia was strong and refused to back down for anyone. She was funny, intelligent, and caring, although she did have trouble sharing. Especially with her older sister, Izzy.
Izzy was 9 and a half years old but dreamed of being a teenager. She wanted to wear make-up, be on TikTok, and dye her hair. She wanted to be grown up, no matter how often her Tia told her to stay young as long as possible. Izzy was quieter than Mia and loved her alone time, she was also smart and very empathetic. Her heart was so big that she had to go for a checkup every year just to make sure it wouldn’t pop out of her chest.
Izzy and Mia didn’t agree on everything but one thing they did agree on was how much they loved spending time at Nonno and Avó’s house. They loved the endless snacks, watching movies, playing in the backyard, and having the whole basement to themselves. They loved talking to Nonno and crocheting with Avó but most of all, they loved spending time with the family dog, Waffles. Waffles was small and furry – his hair shedding the moment you touched him. He was fourteen years old so neither Izzy nor Mia knew what life was like without him.
Waffles always greeted them at the door with wet kisses and excitement. He would even do tricks for his favourite bacon treats. Mia liked to take him for walks around the block whenever the weather was nice. Izzy liked to cuddle on the couch with him – close but not too close.
Waffles loved the girls too, even before they were born. When their mother was pregnant with Izzy and then Mia, Waffles would not leave her side. He would nap on her legs, right under her swollen belly.
One day, while they were at Avó and Nonno’s house, Mia noticed a baseball-sized bump on Waffle’s back.
“Avó, what’s wrong with Waffles? Why does he have this bump?” Mia asked as she rubbed his belly.
Avó looked over at Mia from her spot on the couch where she was crocheting, “Meu amor, Waffles isn’t feeling well.”
Mia sat up straight, “Why?”
“He’s just getting old, my sweet pea. It happens,” Avó replied, unable to make eye contact.
“So why don’t you get him medicine?”
“It won’t help.”
Mia was about to ask why but had a feeling that Avó wouldn’t tell her the truth.
“I’m going to go downstairs and play with Izzy,” Mia said as she ran out of the room, Waffles trotting slowly behind her.
Izzy was playing with the Barbies they kept at their grandparents’ house; the one “childish” thing she still liked doing.
“Izzy, Waffles is sick!” Mia screamed.
“Mia, what are you even talking about?” Izzy looked up from her dolls, annoyed at being interrupted.
Mia told Izzy about the bump on Waffles’ back, about what Avó had said, and about how no medicine would help him. Izzy’s eyes filled with tears, she knew what that meant even if Mia wasn’t sure.
Mia sat close to her sister, pulled Waffles into her lap, and lowered her voice, “I think we can save him.”
Izzy was about to call her sister a name that would get her in trouble. Instead, she looked from Waffles to Mia and back again. “Okay, what do we need to do?”
Mia felt the excitement in her bones and tried not to act surprised by Izzy’s reaction, “First, we need to find that book Tia bought us for Christmas. The one about fairy tale animals?”
Izzy rolled her eyes, “I wish Tia would stop buying us books.”
They got up and went through their toy box, searching for a book that neither of them cared much about. It was at the very bottom of the box and had seen better days. It was a hardcover book, meant for children much younger than Izzy and Mia. It had photos of all kinds of creatures that weren’t real – unicorns, dragons, fairies, trolls, Big Foot, witches, the Loch Ness Monster, mermaids, and even vampires.
At the end of the book, it talked about a place where all of these creatures lived in harmony. A place with special potions, plants, and medicines that kept the creatures safe, happy, and hidden. Mia thought that maybe if they could find this place, they could save Waffles.
“Mia, this is a book about FAIRY TALE animals and creatures. They’re not real.” Izzy couldn’t help herself, she didn’t want her sister getting excited over something that wasn’t possible.
“Tia said they are. She said we can get to this place and don’t even have to leave the basement. Not really.”
Mia, “Tia is a writer, she makes up things all the time.”
Now it was Mia’s turn to roll her eyes, “Iz, we need to try something.”
They looked at Waffles, snoring softly between them.
Izzy huffed as she picked up the book and began reading out loud until she got to the part that Mia mentioned;
In the Land of Fairy Tale Creatures grows a field of dandelions used to treat any sort of illness that needs curing. From broken wings to broken hearts, these common weeds can do it all. Readers beware, dandelions in this Land of Fairy Tale Creatures are not like the ones on your lawn. Only the ones from here can save the people you love so dear.
Everyone is welcome, and we love to share.
All you need is the map to get you there.
Izzy flipped the book over, “That’s the last page! There’s no map!”
Mia took the book from her sister’s hands and noticed a tab sticking out of the book’s spine. She popped it open, shook the book upside down, and watched as a tiny scroll fell onto the floor where Waffles was laying. They looked at each other, mouths open.
To find the Land Fairy Tale Creatures, all you need is a pure heart and a bit of bravery.
Any door that makes you fear, is the one that will need to travel through.
Take the hand of a friend and say these words – we love all creatures great and small, tall and short, wide and narrow. We love all creatures good or bad, please allow us on your land – then walk through the door into our world.
“What do we do now?” Mia asked.
Just then, Waffles woke up and trotted over to the cantina. The cantina was a storage room for paper towels, canned food, and whatever else Nonno bought on sale at Costco. It was cold, dark, and damp; filled with spiders, mouse droppings, and big hairy bugs. Izzy and Mia hated going in there.
Waffles sat in front of the door and let out three slow, low, barks.
“I am not going in there,” Izzy scoffed, “No way. Not going to happen.”
Waffles barked again and Izzy obeyed.
In their socks and sweatpants, the girls stood in front of the room they feared most.
Mia grabbed Izzy’s hand as she turned the doorknob and said – we love all creatures great and small, tall and short, wide and narrow. We love all creatures good or bad, please allow us on your land
The door opened, and a bright light cascaded on them, blurring their vision.
They walked forward.
The girls opened their eyes slowly, half convinced they would still be standing in Avó and Nonno’s basement.
“Avó is going to be so mad!” Izzy screamed.
The girls now stood on the greenest grass they had ever seen, in the middle of a lush forest filled with trees. Waffles was already trotting along, as fast as his little legs could carry him.
“Come on Izzy, hurry up!” Mia yelled back as she ran after Waffles. Mia was completely unphased by their sudden transportation. She was on a mission to make Waffles feel better and that’s all that mattered.
Izzy picked up the pace, weary of the bugs, mud, and other animals she could hear far off in the distance. Mia beamed with excitement; she couldn’t wait to see what kind of creatures they would run into.
After what felt like hours, but was only ten minutes worth of walking, Izzy found a rock and sat down, “I am so hungry and tired, can we take a break?”
Mia and Waffles stopped in their tracks.
“If you keep going, you can have my share of snacks when we get back,” Mia stated.
“There’s no way mom would let me have two snacks!” Izzy whined.
Waffles jumped onto Izzy’s lap and licked her cheeks. Normally Izzy would pull away since she thought his breath was gross, but this time she didn’t. She rubbed his ears and looked at the bump on his back.
“It’s okay Mia, let’s just keep going.”
Mia jumped for joy as Waffles barked between his happy sneezes.
Suddenly Waffles stood perfectly still, head tilted and nose to the sky. He caught a whiff of something and ran to find out what it was. Izzy and Mia followed him to the edge of the forest and feasted their eyes on rows and rows of bright dandelions.
“How did he know this is what we needed?” Izzy asked quietly.
“These dandelions are not like the ones where you’re from. The scent becomes whatever the person or creature loves most. That dog there loves bacon treats – so that’s what he smelled and this is where it lead him,” a booming voice said from behind.
The girls turned around slowly. Before them stood a rainbow-coloured unicorn standing taller than Nonno. Waffles wagged his tail while the girls could only muster a stare. The unicorn smiled sweetly and bowed its head, as if to say, there’s no reason to be afraid.
Mia elbowed her sister and whispered, “I told you unicorns were real!”
The unicorn laughed, “Yes, we’re real. Well real to anyone who believes in us. My name is Cotton and I watch over the dandelions. I make sure that no one is taking more than their share and that they’re not being taken into another world. When these dandelions are taken elsewhere, they become poisonous.”
“I’m Isabelle but everyone calls me Izzy. This is my sister Mia and our dog Waffles. Well, he’s not our dog, he’s Nonno and Avó’s dog so maybe that makes him our uncle?” Mia elbowed Izzy again. “Anyways, we’re here because we heard that these weeds can cure Waffles. He has a bump on his back. Avó says he’s sick and there’s nothing she can do.”
Cotton smiled thoughtfully, “So you ended up here in the hope of giving Waffles the Dandelions would make the bump go away?”
Izzy and Mia nodded while Waffles sauntered over to Cotton and sniffed her hind legs.
“That is very brave and thoughtful of you. You must really love Waffles,” Cotton said.
“Well, duh! He’s the best dog, of course, we love him!” Mia exclaimed.
“We all love him. Nonno is going to be so sad if we can’t make Waffles better. They spend lots of time watching T.V. together and he’s always following Avó around the house.” Izzy stated matter-of-factly.
“From what I can tell, Waffles loves all of you too. He wouldn’t have followed you here if he didn’t. Waffles is welcome to have one dandelion but it might not save him. This flower can only fix what can be fixed. They can’t make anyone or any creature live forever.”
Waffles walked into the field of dandelions, the scent of bacon taking over his curiosity once more. Izzy, Mia, and Cotton watched as he ate the biggest dandelion in the area. When he was finished, he lay down and soaked up the warm sun.
The girls walked into the field and sat down on either side of him. Cotton followed. Izzy rubbed his back while Mia scratched his ears. He was breathing heavily as if he’d just run a marathon.
“What if we can’t save him, Izzy?” Mia asked.
“He can always stay here, in The Land of Fairy Tale Creatures. Here he will live forever, eating dandelions that taste like bacon and sitting in the sun,” Cotton said softly.
“If he stays here then we can’t see him anymore?” Izzy asked.
Cotton shook her head, “Once a creature chooses to stay here, it can’t visit your world.”
“So if we take him home, he won’t live forever but if he stays here he will live forever and we’ll never see him again?” Mia said slowly, she could feel tears forming.
Cotton didn’t have to answer, Izzy and Mia understood exactly what was happening.
Izzy, Mia, Waffles, and Cotton sat together until the sun began to set. Izzy stood up, “Okay, we need to go home now, if we don’t go home we’re going to get in so much trouble.”
Mia stayed seated beside Waffles, “I’m not going home without him.”
“Mia, if we take him home, he’s just going to get sicker. Do you want to see him get sicker?” Isabelle asked gently.
Mia started to cry, loudly. Waffles sat up and licked the tears as they fell down her cheeks. Isabelle bent down and wrapped her arms around her sister and Waffles. She tried to hold in her tears but eventually, she couldn’t hold them in anymore. She closed her eyes tightly, “I love you Waffles,” she said.
“I love you Waffles,” Mia said.
Waffles barked and wagged his tail.
When the girls opened their eyes again they were back in the basement, still hugging each other, still crying.
“I miss him already,” Mia wailed.
“Don’t worry Mia, at least we know he’s going to live forever!” Izzy said.
Just then, they heard three low, slow barks.
Reminder: Saving Waffles is a work of fiction written for my nieces, but also for anyone with an aging pet.
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