Have You Ever Seen A Fairy?
by Amy Sanderson
Molly first encountered the fairies when she was eight years old. She was on holiday with her parents, sitting in a little south coast café, her back to the view of a windswept beach dotted with determined sunbathers. It was the type of café with watercolours of spaniels on the walls and frilly doilies beneath the jar of artificial flowers on every table. Molly was eyeing her scone warily. It had currants in. She didn't like currants.
When she finally looked up to complain about the currants, Molly realised that the world had frozen. A woman on the table to the left was caught pouring a cup of tea, the stream of brown liquid forming an icicle in mid-air. The man opposite her had his mouth gaping open in a fair approximation of a fish. A piece of carrot cake was halfway to his rubbery lips and the crumbs falling from it hovered several inches above the plate. Across the room, a waitress was halfway to bending down to pick up a dropped fork. She had a glass of orange juice in her other hand, precariously close to spilling but prevented from doing so. Only Molly and her parents were still able to move. That wasn't particularly comforting though. After all, her parents didn't seem at all themselves.
Their noses were elongated, as were their now pointed ears. Her mother's smile revealed sharp but delicate pointed teeth whilst her father had turned a funny shade of grey-green. It was their eyes though that Molly found most worrying. They were filled with malicious laughter.
Molly's first thought was to pretend that nothing had changed. Perhaps that would make it all go back. She pointed to her scone. "Mum, I don't want this one. It's got fruit in it."
"Oh ho, so you're a picky one, are you?" her mother said harshly. It sounded as if two people were speaking together, one her mother and one an old, crotchety woman. "We can soon change that."
Now Molly realised that acting normally wasn't going to work. "Who are you?" she asked boldly.
Her father laughed croakily. "She doesn't know. How quaint."
Her mother pointed one long finger in Molly's direction. The fingernail had turned gnarled and green. "We're fairies, Molly my dear."
"Fairies?" Molly said scornfully, though there was a tentative undertone to her words. "You don't look like fairies."
"And how would you know? Have you ever seen a fairy?" her fairy-mother asked. "Only in picture books, I suppose. Well, do you think any of those artists have ever seen fairies either? No, because they're unimportant and we don't want to talk to them. You, on the other hand . . . "
"Are very important indeed," her fairy-father finished, staring at her intently.
"Important?" Molly repeated, unable to keep the quaver from her voice. "No I'm not."
With a laugh, her fairy-mother began to poke at the teapot in front of her. With a flash and a whiff of smoke it changed. Molly stared in surprise at the large green toad which now sat on the table. It croaked and started to waddle off but her fairy-mother caught it and pulled it onto her lap. "Yes Molly, you are very important indeed. You see, we need a certain item for our latest spell and we've picked you to provide it for us."
"An item?" Molly asked.
Her fairy-father abruptly poked her in the chest with a stubby finger. "Yes, an item. A human heart, in fact, nice and fresh."
Molly tried to speak but the words got stuck in her throat. She could only blink repeatedly as the word 'heart' echoed round her head.
Her fairy-mother cleared her throat. "You needn't worry though, taking your heart won't kill you. You'll just have to live in our fairy kingdom for the rest of eternity."
"Are you . . . " Molly struggled to speak, fear pressing down on her chest. One hand edged towards where she thought her heart might be located. "Are you going to take it now?"
"Not immediately. We're going to give you another year." Her fairy-mother grinned, revealing twin rows of shark-like teeth. "Just enough time to say your good-byes."
And then the fairies were gone and the world wasn't frozen any more. The woman continued pouring her tea, the man eating his cake. The waitress picked up the fork and sloshed orange juice on the carpet. And her mother looked down into her lap and picked up the teapot. She stared at it in surprise.
"How on earth did that get there?"
Days passed. Molly told no-one of her meeting with the fairies. She told herself that it was because it hadn't really happened, but some inner part of her knew that the fairies would not like her revealing their secrets to the world. What would everyone do if they knew that fairies were not the cute, benign little things that they were always thought to be? Molly didn't know but she suspected it would involve riots and quite possibly fire, in a revolution of sorts, like the ones she'd seen on TV. After all, how could anything involving fairies not be revolutionary?
More weeks passed and that day in the south coast tea shop began to fade from Molly's mind. She had other to things to think about, other events to occupy her mind. There was school, friends' birthday parties, visiting her grandparents, being made to buy new shoes—a whole cavalcade of occurrences invented for the sole purpose of filling an eight year old's day. For many months she didn't think about the fairies at all, until the day of her own ninth birthday came around. The morning before her party, she went out into the garden with her skipping rope (the least exciting of her new toys but the only one which hadn't needed batteries, which of course were absent from the house).
Molly only managed one skip before the world froze. She jumped and realised that the rope had not passed under her feet and that the wooden handle had not turned in her hand. Instead, it hung above her head, sinuous yet immobile. Tentatively, Molly let go of the skipping rope. It stayed where it was.
She stepped forward, looking round. There was no-one there. Her thoughts leapt back to that day many months ago. Had the fairies returned? Much as she hoped against it, that was exactly what had happened. When she turned back to the house, her grandmother was standing outside the back door. Her wrinkled skin was pulled taut across her cheeks and had become arranged in odd folds around her ears and under her chin. Her kindly blue eyes had a crimson glint and her head seemed to be tilted at an odd angle to one side.
Molly took another step forward. To her horror, her grandmother began to lurch forward as well, limbs stiff and bent like those of a wooden doll. Her body swung from side to side as if she were suspended from the strings of a marionette. With agonising slowness, she moved down the garden path and finally stopped in front of Molly.
"Hello Molly my dear. Do you remember me?" It was the fairy's voice, cold and spiteful.
Molly nodded slowly. "How are you doing that?"
"What, you mean this?" Her grandmother's left arm swung up into the air, still bent, then slapped back against her side. "It's a simple trick really. Fairies need the body of another being to appear in your world. Humans are simply the easiest targets. Have you ever tried to use a cat's vocal cords for human speech? The result is quite unpleasant."
Her fairy-grandmother grinned, pulling the skin on her cheeks even tighter and revealing the bone structure beneath. Molly shuddered and turned away. "Stop doing that," she said softly.
Suddenly her grandmother's face went slack again. Her mouth hung slightly open but at least the odd tightness to her flesh had gone. Still the fairy spoke through her mouth, though her lips did not move. The fairy sounded serious now. "Well Molly, nine of your twelve months have gone by. Have you made ready to join us?"
"No," Molly replied. She tried to sound defiant. "And I don't know why I should. I'm not going with you."
Her fairy-grandmother did not smile, as Molly had expected. Instead, she hesitated. "I am afraid the spell is now too far gone for you to be let free Molly. There is an enchantment on you now. Even if we were not to take your heart, you would die. Besides, I think you should reconsider your stubbornness. Our realm is not so bad. Would you like to see it?"
Molly nodded hesitantly. Her fairy-grandmother raised an arm and drew a square in the air to one side. As Molly watched in astonishment, a piece of the garden seemed to peel away. It was if she was looking through a window only just revealed as the curtains were drawn back. Beyond the window in the air, she could see a vast tree in a forest clearing. Its branches were thick but stunted; long, fibrous growths dangled from them to the ground. Amongst the roots of the tree and peeping out through tiny holes in the trunk, Molly could see a spattering of green lights and yet a dank, purple glow lay over the whole scene, spilling out of the window and onto the lawn in Molly's garden. Looking at the tree made her feel a bit sick. There was an aura of rank overgrowth and disease emanating from it.
Abruptly her fairy-grandmother clicked her fingers and the window vanished. Molly turned her gaze away from the flower bed and back to the fairy. "I don't think I want to live there," she said.
Now her fairy-grandmother did smile, a horribly knowing yet expectant smile. "I'm afraid you don't have a choice, my dear. Just remember: you only have three months left. Make the most of them."
The fairy was gone as quickly as she had appeared. Molly heard her skipping rope thud to the ground behind her. Her grandmother looked round, dazed. "However did I get out here?" she said weakly.
Molly forced a smile as she took her grandmother's hand. "You came out to see me, remember? It doesn't matter now though. Let's go inside."
When the day finally came, Molly was ready for it. She had been subdued for months and her parents had noticed. There was talk of some sort of doctor with a name that she couldn't pronounce but Molly had forced more smiles to put the matter off. Who would believe her if she told them that she was sad because the fairies were going to return and take her heart? Certainly not a doctor. Even her parents would not. She could only wait in ever increasing silence.
It was high summer again, a year after her first meeting with the fairies, when Molly went out into the garden. She hugged her mother before she left the house, not daring to tell her that she wouldn't be coming back. The fairies were standing at the bottom of the garden, in the shade of the old trees there. They were wearing the bodies of strangers but their stretched faces and pointed ears were unmistakable. Molly walked up to them without hesitation.
"Well," she said. "I'm here."
The fairies stared at her, once again one male and one female. The female fairy nodded. "So you are. We had expected you to put up more of a fight."
Molly shrugged. "I didn't see the point," she replied, with a nine year old's candour.
Both the fairies nodded now. The female one held out a hand. "Very wise," she said. "Do you want to know what would have happened if you had?"
A morbid curiosity gripped Molly. She thought she probably didn't want to and yet she nodded anyway. The female fairy gestured expansively towards the garden. "First of all, we would have destroyed all this. It would take only a click of my fingers. I think I would have chosen an inferno on this particular occasion. Your parents would die in the fire, of course. And then I would need something to teach you a lesson. Cutting out your tongue would be quite effective, as would biting off one of your fingers."
The male fairy grinned. His tiny sharp teeth glittered as menacingly as a sword in sunlight might. "None of which would interfere with your heart," he said, with languid malevolence.
Molly didn't want to imagine what it would be like to have one of her fingers bitten off but it was difficult not to. She balled her hands into fists and glanced back at the house. She could just see her mother in the kitchen, pouring hot water into a mug. The first faint traces of flames began to flicker at the edges of her sight. Abruptly, they roared up into the air and everything began to burn. The flowers in the garden curled into sooty lacework patterns, the trees turned to black stumps that glistened as they fried. Molly turned away before the fire reached the house. Tears started in her eyes but when she looked up again, the fire had gone. The garden was as pristine as ever and her mother was still just beyond the back door. Molly swallowed, fighting back despair. Now she knew what was at stake. It seemed her decision had been made for her.
When she turned back to the fairies, they had moved closer. They towered over her now. A faint smell of decay wafted from them.
"Will I ever be able to come back here?" Molly asked.
"Perhaps," the female fairy replied. She took Molly's hand in her own, wrapping long, hoary fingers around it. "But you're going to be away with us fairies for a very long time."
Story Copyright © 2007 by Amy Sanderson. All rights reserved.
About the author
Amy Sanderson grew up in the wilds of North Yorkshire, where she spent most of her childhood engrossed in a book. Surprising everyone she knew (including herself), she left her love of English behind to embark on a degree in Ancient History and Archaeology, which she is now halfway through. She currently lives in Nottingham with her boyfriend, three house-mates and two pet rats.