Fairies in the Glade
By J.D. Blackrose
The child ran through the woods, slightly ahead of her father. She had long, rich chocolate hair that glinted slightly red in the sunshine. Her little legs churned with excitement and she let out a glorious tinkle of laughter as she ran. She brimmed with innocence and joy, and the glade welcomed her without hesitation.
The child stepped into the glade and stopped, staring around her with amazement. Her gorgeous green eyes appeared even greener with the reflection of the grass. She hopped up and down with excitement, ran to the stream and without stopping, jumped into it to splash and try to catch the tiny silver fish that congregated at her feet.
Butterflies circled her head and the trees bent down just a little bit so they could brush her shoulders with their branches. She was exactly who the glade was for.
The glade fairies were fascinated. The child shone like a diamond to anyone who could see. She glowed with an internal light and the fairies watched her from in between the flowers, peeking out from behind the petals.
After splashing in the water, the child seemed tired and the glade soothed her to sleep. She lay curled up on the soft grass with thick moss as a pillow and dreamt of magical trees and tiny little people with wings.
The fairies came out in full force once she was asleep. They circled her, and eventually landed on her, dripping fairy dust as they went. The child’s skin absorbed the dust with ease, marking her forevermore as one fairy-touched. They smelled her, petted her and then, using tiny little swords the size of toothpicks, pricked her cheeks and arms to taste her blood, reveling in it like a fine wine or perhaps, a deep sipping whiskey, such was their intoxication.
The child squirmed a little in her sleep as the fairies took her blood, trying to cry out, but the trees hummed a lullaby, muffled her screams, and led her deeper into slumber.
Her father panicked since he could not find her no matter where he looked or how loudly he called. The day’s picnic was ruined. The beautiful sun seemed dim, as he frantically ran, shouting her name.
He finally took a deep breath and calmed down. There was no one else around. She most likely got tired and took a nap, he thought, which was actually fairly close to the truth. He would look for her in a strategic manner, viewing the wooded area as a clock. He started at twelve o’clock and walked counter-clockwise, making an assumption about how far she may have proceeded ahead, keeping the radius of the circle constant.
Maybe it was walking widdershins that opened the door to the glade, or maybe it was just his genuine fear and love for the girl, but the door did open, and the father slipped into this magical place without even knowing he had done so. All he knew was that his daughter was asleep and safe.
He ran to her and cradled her in his arms, trying to wake her. The trees and the fairies were not quite ready to let the child go yet, and so the girl slept on.
The father became increasingly worried. Maybe, he thought, she ate something that had poisoned her and caused this coma-like state? He had no idea what was wrong, why she wouldn’t wake, or, as he looked around, where he was. The glade was different than the woods. There was a glow in this spot that he had was sure he had never seen before, and yet, was so familiar. There was a luminosity to each leaf and branch, each rock and flower that made this place different than any other he had visited in the past, but still, it plucked at a memory in a way he could not completely ignore.
And just like that, he saw it. A flit in the corner of his eye, there but not there, something he could perceive but not really see. He saw the flash of brightness coming from within a large blueberry bush, and walked over to it to search for the cause, but saw nothing. He saw it again from behind the largest tree next to the stream, and ran over there to find the reason, and once again, found nothing. He chased the flicker everywhere he saw it, always just out of reach, a sparkle in his peripheral vision.
The tricksy fairies thought this was a funny game and drew him into a merry chase. They worked together to pull him from one side of the glade to the other, back and forth like a ping pong ball, all the while his eyes got wilder and his breath shorter. He put his head in his hands and closed his eyes against the flashes that taunted him. He could have sworn he heard giggling but allowed the pull of the glade to rock him to sleep beside his daughter.
Once again the fairies emerged and this time, they tasted the man. His blood was sour, poisoned by the years in the real world. Underneath they could taste a sweetness, similar to the girl’s sweetness, which had once belonged to him when he was young. They tasted yearning for a time lost, innocence forgotten and magic once known, now vanished. They tasted regret.
The tang of regret alarmed the fairies, who buzzed about in a tizzy of concern. Regret was the most dangerous of emotions, for opening the well of regret to the possibility of satisfaction, the possibility of contentedness, could only create more heartbreak. It was like tearing off a scab and forcing it to re-heal. It would always leave a scar.
The fairies’ activity roused the Queen Dryad from her tree. She emerged, yawning, asking what was wrong and what these two humans were doing in the glade. The fairies explained the beauty of the child, and the pull of the father’s love for her, and the regret in his blood. The Dryad ordered their immediate removal and permanent barring from the glade. The fairies did as they were told, but were sad to the child leave so soon. For them, she had the gravitational pull of the sun.
The father and daughter awoke together in the woods. The girl was confused. She had experienced an odd dream that left her both happy and sad. She could not explain it, but she knew that something wonderful had happened, but that it came with a scary part. A part she wanted to forget. She described her memories as bright yellow tinged with red at the edges.
The father knew he had seen something, too. He was a little bit angry, not knowing exactly why, but feeling that he had been manipulated. That he had been toyed with. That something glorious was taken away from him, something he once knew and loved, and now was gone, gone yet again.
He led his unusually solemn daughter out of the woods, picked up their blanket and basket, and drove home. He spent that evening and the next day mulling over this troubling experience. Then he spent the next week. Thoughts of the glade interfered with his work and his sleep. He tried to explain it to his wife and his best friend, but they couldn’t understand his obsession. They urged him to put it behind him.
Instead, he decided to go back.
He packed for a full camping trip this time, not just a little picnic. Backpack, sleeping bag, knife, matches, compass, headlamp, camp stove and pup tent. He wore his hiking pants, a long-sleeved wicking shirt, and well-worn boots. The food supply was simple: granola bars, peanut butter, trail mix, oatmeal packets, and one spoon. Two large water bottles made up the rest of his pack.
He walked much farther than he had intended but that is what his legs wanted to do, so he followed instinct. He made camp in a deserted spot with an old stone circle for a fire, which he promptly put to use. Soon he had a roaring blaze going and a nice set-up for a solo camping trip. What he didn’t have was a plan for how to get into wherever he had been before. He didn’t know where there was and he certainly didn’t know had he gotten into it. He meditated in front of the fire, trying to pull any memories out that he could. Nothing came to him. Sleep came, but it was a restless sleep with images of stars winking in and out, a tall thin lady urging him to go home, and tiny people with tiny knives poking him repeatedly. The pain was like being bitten by a thousand ants. When he woke at three in the morning, he packed his stuff, and sprinted down the hill and drove home.
His wife and best friend teased him about his vision quest and thought he would settle again into a normal routine. The only one who seemed to understand was his daughter, who would hug him and say, “Daddy, it is beautiful there, but something there stings you. It is pretty, but it hurts too. Let’s just forget it, Daddy. Let’s find another place to play.”
Like a rose with a thorn, the beauty and magic attracted him and scared him at the same time. He felt like he was treading water with jellyfish he couldn’t see just below the surface and a rip tide sweeping him along.
And, of course, he went back.
He carried the same equipment as before, stopped at the same campground, and made yet another fire. Over the months, his appearance had changed. His hair was longer. His nails and beard were untrimmed, and his shirt had sweat stains under the arms. His wife was fed up with his obsession and had told him to go out into the woods until he could figure out his problem. She told him not to come back unless he was whole again. There was an itch in his brain that had rubbed raw and he wasn’t sure he could be whole.
He sat in front of the fire watching the perimeter for any signs of a flutter or flicker in the corner of his eye. He meditated, and fasted, sitting there unmoving for the entire night. He didn’t sleep. He just focused inward and then pushed his consciousness outward, listening for any sense of what he had felt before.
He stayed that way for three days. He drank a little water, but ate nothing. He walked the perimeter counter-clockwise as before, calling out to the forest. He knew it was there, just out of reach and the feeling of it bowed his shoulders low and tightened his neck muscles. So close. So close.
By day six, he had forgotten who he was, but not why he was there. The magic, he realized. It was magic, and it was here, there, just within his grasp. If he could not find it again, he would die, such was the pull. He yelled his frustration to the woods, grasped a branch, stuck in in the flames of his campfire, and roared his defiance.
He promised to burn the woods to the ground if the magic did not reveal itself.
The woodland creatures called to the Dryad Queen to intercede on their behalf and on behalf of the woods. She relented, reversing the block on his return to glade. As he cried out and bounced from tree-to-tree, he slipped inside.
All at once, he stopped. A part of his brain cleared. This is what he had been looking for. The magic of the glade poured forth and bathed him in its warmth. He sunk down on the grass, grateful. As he lay down, he whispered his thanks and finally rested.
The glade let him rest, but only because he was now an object of study. The fairies stayed out of sight. The Queen Dryad watched silently, considering her options. The trees neither leaned in nor leaned back. They stood straight, tall and unmoving. The threat of fire had not been received well in the glade. The magic was banked, but roiling underneath the surface.
When the man woke, he smiled in relief at still being there. He leaned into the stream to drink and was surprised to see that no matter how he stretched, he could not reach the water. His thirst grew. He tried to eat berries off of the bushes, but the bushes pulled back and tucked the fruit away, revealing thorns that scratched his hands. The very grass he sat in became irritating and uncomfortable. He had to stand with the frustration of it.
He cried out for relief. He just wanted the magic, he sobbed. The magic tore at him, he explained. He didn’t want to hurt anyone, but he needed the magic.
The Queen listened. She did recall a time when the man was a boy, a sapling, and had been welcomed to the glade, but, as humans do, he aged, and his innocent link to the magic went with it, only to show up again in the form of his daughter. But, the fact remained. What he wished for he could not have.
The man stood silently, waiting for some reply, any reply. He saw the glimmer of wings out of the corner of his eye and smiled. They heard him. They were coming. He tried to look directly at the light but was blinded. He closed his eyes and waited.
He didn’t wait long. The fairies attacked, swords pulled. They jabbed at him with thousands of tiny knives, making cut after cut. His blood poured into the earth, mixing with the magic of the glade, absorbed instantly by the grass and the moss. He wept, but at the same time exulted in the pleasure/pain of this release. He collapsed to the ground, life draining from him.
The Queen stopped the onslaught and stepped out of her tree. She approached the man, feeling an unexpected softness for him, and decided his fate. She reached one arm out, and touched him. He opened his eyes and whispered only one word, “please.” She smiled and granted his wish. His body straightened up, his feet sunk into the ground and in a matter of moments, his skin turned to bark, his arms to branches, and his head disappeared into the body of a newly formed tree. As he grew toward the sky, a newborn Dryad was formed and stepped within him, claiming her home.
He could not have the magic, but he could become it. And the tree stood, waiting for his daughter to find him once again.