No one came to see the Guardian anymore.
He sat in the same place he had for centuries, his face set like stone against the elements. If someone was to pass him by, they might mistake him for a statue he was so weathered and overgrown with vines. Yet no one had walked down that wooded path in years.
He quietly hummed to himself, watching the humans walk past his hidden grove on the paved sidewalk. He had seen many such people. So many of them distracted by the noises around them to notice the hidden magic of the gardens.
A pigeon landed on the Guardian’s outstretched hand and pooped. The Guardian didn’t notice. His flinty eyes were focused on the group of school children walking by.
For centuries, children had clambered through the hidden passage between realms under the Guardian’s watchful care. Girls would bring their dolls and tea sets to dance with the fairies under a starlit sky. Boys brought their toy guns and fought pirates and bandits. The Guardian was not permitted to join in their romps, but he was always there.
These children were different. Their heads bent down over their phones, their eyes glassy and unfocused. The woman leading them through the gardens drug her feet and complained loudly. She gestured wildly to the plants and flowers filling the ground with color and life. No one noticed.
The Guardian wished he could speak and tell the woman the “roses” were actually chrysanthemums and the oaks dripping with Spanish moss had really been planted hundreds of years ago. But his oath bound him to silence. Always to watch, never to speak.
The group passed on, not even a single child glancing in his direction.
The Guardian sighed internally. The grove between realms was overgrown. Vines wound their way around the arches and tiny white flowers coated the grass. Moss clung to the Guardian’s gray clothing and lichen ate away at his beard. Soon, there would be no magic left in the gardens. Already the fairies were gone. In a few years, the Guardian himself would turn to stone.
A rustle caught his attention, but it was only the wind in the branches. Or perhaps a squirrel hiding a nut beneath the crumbling stone walls.
The Guardian returned his gaze straight ahead. Before him stood a little boy.
The child’s hair was a pale blond and stuck out in every direction. His freckled forehead was wrinkled as he stared up at the Guardian.
“Who are you?” the boy asked.
The Guardian stood, his body aching and bones leaden. The child’s eyes widened as the Guardian motioned to the abandoned grove. How he wished he could speak and tell the child about the magic of the old days.
The boy stared at him, his mouth open. “Are you a giant?”
The Guardian chuckled to himself. Many a time the little boys of the past had defended the girls from attacking giants. No, he was not a giant. He pointed again to the grove.
After a minute, the child walked slowly into the grove between realms. He picked up a tree limb. It had fallen during a recent storm and the Guardian wished more than ever it was gone.
The boy stripped the limb of its branches and waved the long stick in the Guardian’s direction. “It’s a sword,” he said matter-of-factly.
Ever so slowly, the Guardian sat down to watch. Perhaps not all the magic was gone from these gardens.