Out in the country, there is a cycle of respect and caution that must be observed in order to stay safe. My late mother had always taught me that if you respect the forest and didn’t have any ill intent in your heart, you could usually get along peacefully with the woods. The wood was a living entity filled with many like minded creatures. For the most part, they could be placated and respected so no harm would come to you and your kin. However, there were still malevolent spirits deep in the old ancient forest that she was sure to teach me about as soon as I could understand her.
One rule always was to never trust a creature that can talk.
The Second was to never tell anyone you don’t know, your real name.
The third, was to never be in the woods during the witching hour.
Fourth, was to never kill a white animal.
And lastly, was to respect where you are. Littering and tearing up the wood just asking for trouble to befall you. Take only what you need, and nothing more.
I listened and took such rules to heart. My mother was a very wise woman whose ties to the land ran deeper than my father’s line. I suspected that perhaps, she may have even been a witch of the forest, but cancer claimed her life before I could ever learn the source of her wisdom.
Such is life and it continues on.
One day, I was playing in the woods, like I tended to always do when I was young. I had just walked home after finishing my school homework at Old Brown’s house and decided to look for some early wild blackberries in the fine summer afternoon. It had been raining quite often lately, and such rains mean an early bloom in wild berries up along the pathways. I often enjoyed taking a little bucket with me to pick the berries and turn them into jams. It didn’t take long for me to find a nice little patch in the shadows of the trees and I started to fill up my bucket.
But then I heard something, and then, I smelled something.
I smelled a sweet floral scent. It reminded me a lot of the candied flower petals my mother used to make. Pansies, Roses, and Violets, cooked down into honey and left to make a sweet crunchy shell. A rare but wonderful treat, and the memory of it made my mouth water with saliva.
And then, IT stepped out into a shaft of sunlight from the canopy.
It looked to me like a grey fox. Something however, was…off about it. It’s eyes were too wide and big. Little colorful flowers sprouted among its fur and shimmered brightly with yellow pollen. Tiny vines and rootlets sprouted around it’s delicate paws and wound up it’s little legs. It’s muzzle was open in a little foxy ‘grin’ as it looked right at me.
The being ‘spoke’, but I heard no actual words. It was more of a whisper in the back of my mind, clear and full of sugar. I could almost smell it speaking as it ‘smiled’ at me with that wide grin.
I couldn’t quite make out what I was actually seeing and hearing. My silence must have tipped off the creature about my discomfort, because it wagged it’s tail and smiled even wider.
~✿Gosh! A brand new FRIEND! I was feeling quite lonesome until I saw you! What is your name, FRIEND?✿~
I gulped down my shock as I looked the fox over.
“Hello…my name is Sweet Pea.” I answered politely. Of course, Sweet Pea was not my name, but it was a nickname my mother had given me. I was suspicious and there was a note of fear in my shock. I asked the only thing I could think of.
“Are you…a fairy?”
The creature grinned even wider and I could see little bits of leaves and petals poking out of the back of it’s throat.
~✿Hello SWEET PEA!✿~ It stressed my nickname with an odd amount of force and intent behind it. ~✿Indeed I am a fairy! I come from a land of Singing and Sweets! Art and Music! Where the sun is always warm and Winter is a memory!✿~
The creature jerked and jumped in an attempt to ‘dance’, but it looked like a puppet on strings. Perhaps foxes were just not made for dancing. I was ten at the time, and my suspicions were on high alert. The stories my mother told me about faeries were never pleasant. Even when benign they caused more trouble for people than what it was worth.
~✿Would you like to see it, SWEET PEA, my new best friend?✿~ It wiggled and jumped, the little flowers spreading more sweet pollen about. ~✿Surely, you don’t want to be rude! Why, we were about to have a party! A lovely one! Won’t you come and join us?✿~
Mother didn’t raise fools, but I was curious. I nodded to the fox, but said nothing else. If anything, it didn’t know my true name, nor did it have a piece of me. Thus, it had no actual power over me, but the way it said my nickname, it probably thought it did. It would be best for now, to let it think like it was in charge and play along.
~✿WONDERFUL!✿~ It twisted in it’s strange dance. ~✿It’s not too far away, follow me!✿~
The fox turned and began to walk up the path, it’s bushy tail held high in what could be glee. It looked back at me a few times, just to be sure that I was following it, still grinning that grin. I didn’t quite like that grin, it was too fake, and forced. Perhaps it had no choice BUT to smile, it certainly looked uncomfortable on the animal. I committed the area to memory as it took some turns in the wood and through the brambles, until I was lead to a rocky area jutting into the side of the mountain.
I have never really been to this part of the woods, and judging by the lack of human touch, nobody had in a very long time.
It stopped next to what appeared to be a narrow sinkhole made of smooth water hewed rock. Perhaps there was a spring here a long time ago, but at the moment it was bone dry. It was very green however, sweet flowers grew from every available crack. Moss covered the top of the rocks and bloomed with tiny flowers and fungi. The green expanded about five yards in either direction, before it gave way again into normal forest floor. The area was ringed in mushrooms….a fairy ring.
It was almost like a tiny otherworldly oasis in the see of woodland.
The hole was too dark to look into, but warm honeyed air wafted from it in rhythmic spurts. The hole was just big enough for perhaps an older teenager to fit into, but nothing bigger. I reckoned I could fit into there perfectly, should I choose to. The fox stopped just at the edge of the hole and looked at me.
~✿We’re here! The entrance to our kingdom! Nobody ages, nobody is sad, everyone is happy and full forever in our kingdom!✿~
It looked at me with it’s impossibly big eyes.
~✿SWEET PEA, you will come down the hole with me! Be quick, or the feast will get cold, SWEET PEA!✿~
With that, it slipped into the hole.
As soon as the bushy tail vanished into the warm dark, I turn and ran. I left the bucket behind, it would have slowed me down. All I knew was that something was WRONG and STRANGE and I needed help.
I ran through the brambles and grass until I was on my own property. Then I grabbed my bike and pedaled as fast as I could to Old Brown’s house. My father and my uncle were at work, and he was the only person close enough to our farm to get help from.
Old Brown of course, is our town patriarch. The oldest man, and also kind and wise. Both of my parents had always told me to obey him, so I did. He traded homemade lemonade for finished homework and us kids adored him.
He was on his porch like always by the time I got there, just rocking in his old wicker rocking chair. His wife, Miss Brown, was most likely inside cooking dinner, judging by the smell that greeted me. He put down his book when he saw me approach, and was a little surprised to see me again and in such a hurry. He beckoned me to his porch, and in his rasping withered voice, asked me what was the matter.
I told him everything of course. The strange talking fox. The fairy hole in the wood. The over abundance of sweet smells and flowers. The way the fox moved….like it was sick.
He nodded gravely and praised me for my wit and quick thinking. He stood up and went inside, where I could hear him calling a few men. He came out later with another glass of lemonade and we sat together and waited.
It didn’t take too long to get a posse together. There was only about three other men, the patriarch of the local dairy farm and his two grown sons. Two of them were carrying cans of kerosene while the other carried a sturdy shovel. Together, I lead them and Old Brown up through our woods until we arrived at the fairy ring.
“Typical.” Old Brown said when we came before the fairy hole. “This is an old hole, It’ll be good to be rid of it before it spores.”
“Another day of rain like we’ve been getting, and it would have.” One of the men answered. “Damn…has to at least be a 100 year old hole.”
Old Brown nodded, and then took my hand and lead me to the hole. It continued to expel warm air and soft sweet smells, still pitch dark. He knelt down and shown a flashlight down the hole, illuminating the crawlspace.
I looked in, and could see that the sinkhole looked more like…a mouth? Wet slightly undulating plant matter lined walled of the hole. It moved as though there was an internal heartbeat. I looked closer and saw the fox, laying down in what appeared to be a flat surface at the bottom. It wasn’t just the fox, but I could see a raccoon and a rabbit as well, flowers blooming in their fur as they laid still. Little vines moved round them, curling about and causing their little limbs to twitch with the movement. I realized that they were merely puppets. Once alive, but I could see no breath in them. Perhaps the flowers hid the stench of decay?
Scattered among the puppets was scatterings of bones. Mostly small, I could recognize wildlife, and even a cat. But nestled among them, were two small human skulls. Children.
I balked, but the worst was yet to come. The course of the warm air made itself known, as a wall of plant matter writhed within its confines as the very end of the flat tunnel. Rows of sharp, thorny teeth continued to open and close as it breathed, thick brambly vines continued reaching about, searching for food.
Then, it began again.
~✿Wowie look at all our brand new friends!✿~
~✿Won’t you all come down for a party?✿~
Voices mixed about in my head. I had had my fill and I pulled away from the tunnel.
“Now you know what is out there.” Old Brown said. “One of them, at least. Your mamma taught you good, child. Remember your lessons and you’ll always be fine.”
He then nodded to the three men, and they began soaking the area in the kerosene. One full jug was poured down the hole, as the other man dug a small channel surrounding the area. Once everyone was safely away and debris cleared, a match was lit and thrown into the moss and flowers.
A thin scream echoed in my mind as it burned. It tried to beg. It tried to bargain. It tried to threaten. But we all stood and watched it burn until the flowers were ash and the rocks cracked in the heat. The voice died once everything was smoldering embers. The men filled the hole up with more rocks and rolled a heavy stone over top of that.
The infestation was cleared, at least, the one on my property. There could be many more out there. If you do what I did, you’ll be fine.
Don’t trust faeries.