Throwback Thursday: The Weirwood Woman by Matt Decker
Editor’s note: This story’s spare style, as well as the great twist in it, really grabbed my attention. The details are well chosen and there’s a lightness to it that you’ll enjoy.
Young Hannah Fairweather believed in fairies, so much so that she swore someday she would live among them in the fairy realm. Hannah had no idea where the fairy realm was located, nor had she ever actually seen a fairy outside the pages of her storybooks. Neither of these facts bothered her, however. Hannah spent countless hours gazing at pictures of fairies, fascinated by their tiny forms, flawless features, and fluttering wings. Fairies were small and beautiful creatures, just like Hannah herself, and in the best stories, they used their fairy magic to get their way. Hannah liked getting her way. On Hannah's eleventh birthday, two things happened that hastened her determination. First, Hannah's father, the village magistrate, presented her with two silver shillings—no small gift in a land where many a farmer labored nearly a month for such a sum. Secondly, Elizabeth Weirwood came to town. Elizabeth had been around as long as the eldest village elder could recall. Bent with age but razor-sharp in wit, she was only seen in the village once or twice per year. It was well known, especially among the women of the village, that Elizabeth could cure nearly any malady. What was not well known was where the Weirwood woman, as she was sometimes called, came from or how she acquired her miraculous skills. Some said she had learned ancient healing arts in the deserts of the Holy Land, while others claimed she was a doctor's daughter who had studied throughout Europe. Still others—and this was the prevailing theory—said she hailed from a small island off the Irish coast, where the fairy folk taught her all manner of otherworldly things. Hannah, who believed this third theory rather intensely, dashed to the village square the moment she learned Elizabeth had arrived. Catching up with the old woman at the village gate, Hannah, out of breath, held her coins in front of her. The old woman greeted the young girl with a slight, knowing smile. Hannah looked the right age for a blend of herbs Elizabeth made specifically for the newfound pains of emerging womanhood. But her smile transformed into a scowl when the young girl demanded passage to the fairy realm. "Would that I could cure you of your foolishness!" Elizabeth spat. "Do you not know fairies live in their separate realm precisely because they wish to be left alone? Go, and bother me no more!" But Hannah would hear none of it. The next day, the young girl again took her silver shillings in hand and set out for Elizabeth's hut. Following the old woman's footprints over the paths and trails, she easily found her way. She pounded on the Weirwood woman's door, demanding to see the fairies. Elizabeth refused. "Would that I could cure your stubbornness!" Elizabeth said. "Do you not know the fairy folk delight in consuming young mortals who wander into their realm? Do you not know they replace children with changelings who bring doom and despair to their victims' human families? Go, and bother me no more!" But Hannah would hear none of it, and returned the next day, begging to see the fairies. This time, when Elizabeth started to refuse, Hanna threatened to tell her father that Elizabeth had cheated her out of her silver shillings and that he and his constables would burn the poor woman’s hut to the ground. "Would that I could cure your father of his doting ways," Elizabeth said, reluctantly taking the coins. "Come.” The old woman guided Hannah to the back of her hut, where she removed a canvas drape from a full-length standing mirror. Instructing Hannah to stand facing the glass, Elizabeth sang a fairy incantation—a language strange and wonderful to Hannah's ears. Before long, the young girl's reflection was replaced by a swirl of multicolored clouds that parted to reveal a forest of many colors. There, Hannah finally saw what she had longed to see. Fairies! Fairies of all colors! Fairies with all manner of butterfly wings! Fairies beckoning her to join them in their realm, just as the stories had said! Hannah stepped through the glass and laughed merrily as she ran down a misty path filled with welcoming fairy folk. Elizabeth turned away. Having seen such sights before—knowing they always turned out badly—she couldn’t bear to watch. And so, the old woman was neither shocked nor surprised when the young girl's giggles turned to screams. The fairies were feasting, the old woman thought to herself. Nothing to do now but wait for the changeling and send it on its way. However, Hannah's cries became muffled, and a roar shook the hut. An astonished Elizabeth looked up to see the mirror, now filled with sparks and billowing smoke, shaking and rattling, moving itself across the floor. The mirror shattered with the sound of a thundercrack as Hannah flew from the center of the glass to land on the floor with a thud. Bewildered, the old woman found the young girl very much alive, bound and gagged with grapevines thick as sailing ropes, upon which was pinned a note. It read thus: "We return thy childe to thee, for no changeling could e're hope to be as damning to her family as this petulant bit of devilry." While it's true fairies can be cruel, apparently, their cruelty can do some good. For when Hannah returned home, two shillings poorer but none the worse for wear, she found her only desire was to be neither foolish nor stubborn anymore. As she grew, she discovered the joys of giving, sharing, and helping others, which she did for the next ninety-one years. And so, on the day the village laid Old Hannah Fairweather to rest at the age of one hundred and two, few were surprised when Elizabeth Weirwood arrived to pay her respects. After all, Hannah and Elizabeth had been around longer than the eldest village elder could recall.
Matt Decker is a writer and artist from Lebanon, Missouri. He recently completed a five-issue comic-book series, The Paranormal Misadventures of Zombie Dave, which he wrote, drew and published through Stone Pi Media, which he founded in 2009. Image by Arthur Rackham, from “Irish Fairy Tales.”