|By Edmund Dulac (altered)|
Editor's note: This gorgeous coming-of-age exploration of a young girl's discovery of the fae and herself made this an easy April 2014 winner.
The fae live in my garden. The ones my mother says don’t exist. At first I think I am dreaming but I see them so often, I am soon certain it is not my imagination. They are as tangible as I.
They are beautiful with iridescent wings and high-pitched voices but rather shy. If I stay silent for a long while, they creep out of their hiding places. How I love lying there half hidden in the bushes, grass tickling my skin, watching them as they play games of "flying tag" and "touch the butterfly." All too soon though, a dog barks or someone calls my name, frightening them and they scatter in all directions.
I move my heavy earthbound arms and legs, wishing with all my heart that I possessed their light and graceful limbs. I have seen them alight on a flower and rest, cross-legged on a petal, barely moving it. The wind itself moves those soft petals more than they.
After my discovery, I spend as much time as possible watching them, whenever I might affect an escape from my parents or my tutor. The summer days fly by and autumn is well underway before I begin to understand some small part of their speech. I recognize their names first, such musical sounds! I cannot replicate them with my clumsy tongue but I can taste them on my lips and hear them chiming in my mind.
Oh, and the colors! There are not enough words to describe all the colors they are made of! Purples and pinks, blues and greens, all hues, sparkle from their skin, from their wings, from their hair. They wear no clothing; these are not domesticated fairies. They are the fey, the sidhe—the mischievous and sometimes cruel creatures from legend. They ignore my presence for the most part but I always feel an underlying threat even while they play.
I read everything I find about them. Many of the books have such ridiculous information that I toss them away unfinished. But there are a few tomes which keep me spellbound. I begin a journal of my observations, comparing my fairies to the sidhe in those dusty old books, learning more about them.
Each of them is a distinct individual, with likes and dislikes that are simple to discern. One of my favorites has dusky green skin and a faint pink tinge to her hair. She sits motionless on a leaf or petal and watches the others. She rarely flies in those rough and tumble games, but the others defer to her in subtle ways. I am certain she is the leader, perhaps even their queen.
As she sits so quietly on her leafy throne, I watch her, learning more about her than any of the others who are unable to sit still for more than a moment. I believe she is watching me too while she grants me this opportunity to study her. But for what purpose, I am uncertain.
So I watch them through all the seasons, my large mortal body shivering in the snow and sweating in the heat. I pay little attention to the passage of time but I grow from a pudgy child to a gangly-limbed young lady whilst I watch. I fill my first journal with my observations and begin a new one.
I dream of them every night. Nothing else seems important. Until the day my blood blooms.
Mother comes to me that terrible winter day, my journals in her hand. In her usual no-nonsense voice, she reminds me I am grown now—it is time for me to put away childish things. Then she tosses my journals into the fireplace where a freshly laid fire devours my beloved books. My heart turns to stone, tears streak down my cheeks. I run away from the sight of my dreams turning to ash.
Despite the cramps troubling my stomach, I wrap myself up in my warmest clothes and find a quiet spot in the garden to vent my tears. The moon is full this midwinter night and I creep across a lawn lit up as if the sun still shone. I crouch quietly in my habitual spot and hot tears spill down my icy cheeks. A sparkle of color heralds their arrival. But this day, this day is different. Instead of flying to her usual throne-like leaf, the queen flits to a bare branch beside my face.
I have never seen her so closely before. She looks directly at me. Her tilted eyes are a feral orange and they search my face, finally resting on my own prosaically brown eyes. I feel naked, my dreams exposed. She speaks to me, but so quickly I don’t understand all her words. She repeats them in her high-pitched voice. And this time, I understand.
I glance behind me once, looking at the brightly lit house where I glimpse my mother bustling about her daily tasks, then I turn back to face the tiny creature who waits for me. I reach out my hand in answer and her tiny hand touches my fingertip in a butterfly kiss. Light explodes around me, flickering in the snowflakes that fall.
The air around me comes alive with her subjects, touching me, pulling off my winter cloak, my skirts and petticoats. I gladly shed the bulky garments, hating the way they bind me to the earth.
My exposed skin tingles in the frigid air. The naked branches of the bush loom larger around me. Lightly falling snowflakes grow huge in my vision. The chill in the winter garden disappears, warmth spreads through me. It is a wonderful sensation.
I slip free of the final layer of cloth, shrugging my shoulders against the tingling I sense. My shoulders feel different, strange, and I twist around to look behind me. I laugh at what I see.
I flutter my newly sprouted wings and gladly join my brothers and sisters in a game of "catch a snowflake" under the winter moon as our queen watches over us with a sly smile.
Carolyn Charron has been watching the fae for years and is still waiting to join them. Her works have been published in Mused and Fabula Argentea.