Once upon a time, there was a happy picnic table who lived in the shade of a tall oak tree on the bank of a small stream that murmured cheerfully as it flowed over its bed of river rock. The leaves of the tree whispered in reply, and the picnic table was content to listen to the conversation as it waited for happy people to come picnicking. And they did come.
The people brought their baskets and coolers and rested in the shade of the tree and waded in the stream and they were happy. The children shrieked with laughter as they splashed each other with water and hung from branches. Adults smiled and talked quietly and gazed around in wonder, as if they’d forgotten how lovely the world could be.
The picnic table absorbed the happiness around it until it felt like it surely must glow in the dark. Those were the happy times. But the happy times didn’t last.
One summer, the weather grew hotter and hotter. At first, this meant more families came to splash in the stream. But the stream slowly ran dry. There was no more water. The leaves of the tall oak tree turned brown and began to fall early. The people stopped coming.
There was a late summer storm. The wind blew the rain harshly against the table, scouring the paint that had begun to peel in the summer sun. There was a horrible cracking sound, and the oak tree lost several large branches. It didn’t live much longer after that.
The picnic table was all alone. It had no stream, no tree, and no people. Everything was too quiet. But the picnic table had absorbed too much happiness to give up. It knew that life could be better than this. It just needed to find out how to make that happen.
It gathered some acorns and planted them next to the old oak tree. Then it followed the bed of the dry stream back towards its source. If the stream was blocked somewhere, the picnic table would figure out how to fix it.
It waddled along on stumpy legs through briar patches and cockleburs until it came to a small bridge. An even smaller troll was sitting under the bridge, curled up into a ball and radiating misery. As the table shuffled closer, the troll straightened up. “A table?” The troll stood up and shuffled over. “With the stream dried up, I’m all alone. If you are traveling to a better place, please take me with you.”
The table paused and lowered one of its benches and the troll hopped on. The misery had changed to hope. The table felt a little bit stronger. The troll and table followed the stream together, moving at night, and finding shade for the troll during the day. The troll ate roots and bugs when they stopped, and sang odd warbling songs as they traveled. The picnic table almost felt at home.
One night, as they trundled along, they heard a loud cracking sound in the dry river bank. The troll stopped singing, and the table crept closer. A grumpy river fairy looked up at them from a pile of broken river rocks. “What are you doing here?” he asked.
“We’re on a quest,” the troll said.
“You and the table?” The fairy raised an eyebrow.
“We’re going to find a new home or save the river or something. I’m not really sure. But we’re going to do something,” the troll said.
The fairy nodded. “That sounds much better than staying here. I’ll come too.” The fairy jumped on the bench next to the troll. Anger shifted to hope. The table felt happy and strong. And now the fairy sang strange lilting tunes that wove around the troll’s songs on their journey.
And so they traveled on, picking up confused dryads and lonely wood elves and frightened water sprites. The benches were a full chorus of hope and happiness and determination to succeed. And the picnic bench strode forth, strong as a mountain and as bright with happiness as the sun.
And one day, they reached the source of the dried up river that fed the dried up little stream. It was a wide hollow area, with a large, round boulder where it was deepest. “The spring has dried up,” the grumpy fairy said sadly. “There’s nothing we can do.”
“What about the boulder? Maybe it’s blocking the water,” the troll said.
“I can take care of that,” the fairy said. He pointed at the rock and said something low and fierce. Nothing happened. “Why won’t my magic work?”
“Maybe the rock is too big,” the dryad said sadly.
One of the wood elves stood on the table. “Let’s move the boulder together! Together we can save the river.”
And they all jumped from the table and pushed with arms and legs and roots and magic. The picnic table shouldered its way in and pushed too. With a shudder, the boulder started to roll. And then a sound rang out like a clap of thunder, a crack appeared from top to bottom, and the boulder crumbled.
In the middle of the rubble, a baby dragon looked up at them with wide eyes. “Mom?” it asked, looking around. Just then, water gushed from the ground beneath the dragon. Everyone piled onto the table, dragging the dragon along with them. The picnic table waded to shore through the turbulent water of the rapidly filling spring.
The air almost seemed alive with happiness. Only the little dragon wasn’t happy. It was confused and sad and hungry. It cried louder and louder and louder. The dryads and sprites and elves all tried singing to the little dragon. The troll brought it some bugs and roots to eat, but that only helped for a moment or two. The little table, now stronger than a hundred mountains, scooped up the little dragon and flapped its benches.
The dragon egg could only have come from the highest peak, far overhead where the dragons nested during the hot, hot summers. Somewhere, high above them, a mother dragon must have lost an egg. The picnic table flew higher and higher, up through the clouds and higher still, until he reached the peaks where the dragons soared in the blistering sunlight.
The picnic table found a nest where there was only one baby dragon, instead of the usual two or three, and dropped off the little baby. A mother dragon swooped in to snuggle and feed the little dragon. A wave of happiness hit the little table, and it glided back down to the spring, strong enough to carry the earth on its back, bright enough to glow with happiness as long as there were people left to eat picnics.
Everyone climbed back on the table and rode downstream singing with happiness. They quickly returned home, the table last of all. A little sapling was waiting for it. The table had saved its home. And to its great joy, the people came back to picnic the very next day.