The Fae Sing
Christina watched Belinda for a long while from her own front yard before crossing the street to say hello. Belinda sat with legs tucked under her, drawing with sidewalk chalk. She appeared lost in her slow, deliberate strokes, not seeming to notice Christina as she approached.
“What are you making?” Christina asked. She towered over Belinda with legs apart and arms crossed, the sun behind her, her face in shadow.
Belinda squinted up at Christina, pushed her dark-framed glasses up on her nose. She had a thick piece of pink chalk in her hand. In front of her, a three-by-three piece of sidewalk was laid out in front of her like a canvas. There was a rainbow, a bright orange sun, a blue bird flying, wings unfurled.
Christina knew it was a dumb question. Belinda must have thought so as well. She went back to her artwork without responding.
“My mom said I should come say hi to you. You being new and everything,” Christina continued. The for sale sign reading sold still stood in the front yard of Belinda’s house, a pale green story-and-a-half with white trim. “Not that I need any more friends or anything.”
Christina glanced around; hoping no one from school saw her talking to this new girl who still colored on sidewalks like some kindergartener. When Belinda didn’t answer right away, Christina saw her chance to slip away, go back and tell her mother she had done her neighborly duty. She started to turn when Belinda said, “Ever seen a fairy?” She asked this without looking up, busy using the pink chalk to color a long-eared bunny.
“I’m too old to believe in fairies,” Christina replied. Her mother had spoken with Belinda and her mother the day before, when the family first arrived. She went on about how nice they were. Said Belinda was going into fifth grade, too. They might even have the same teacher next year. Christina thought Belinda was too small to be her age, and if she’s going to go around school talking about fairies, well, the last thing Christina needed was to be associated with something so childish. Not when other girls were already getting cell phones, wearing training bras.
“Do you believe in rabbits?” Belinda said.
Christina didn’t know how to respond. She scratched her head.
Belinda stopped drawing, leaned back, tilted her head as she inspected her work. She pulled her stringy black hair back behind her ear. “You’ve seen rabbits. Petted one, no doubt. Who knows, you might have even eaten one.” She looked at Christina then, squinted again, scrunched up her face. She had a tiny nose, almost like a rabbit’s, Christina thought. “If someone asked if you’ve ever seen one, you wouldn’t say you don’t believe in them. Belief has nothing to do with it. They are, you know they are.”
“But I’ve seen rabbits,” Christina said. “I’ve never seen a fairy.”
Belinda smiled, stood up, brushed the chalk from her hands onto her faded denim shorts. “Would you like to?”
A few minutes later, they were standing in Belinda’s backyard in front of the fence that divided her and Harrison’s house. The fence was easily twice their height, made of wide cedar panels laid close together so that there wasn’t even the smallest gap between them. It stretched all around the backyard, like some medieval fortress wall.
Behind the fence rose several tall trees, oaks and walnuts and maples, their leaves lush and green.
“I was up in my room yesterday,” Belinda said, pointing to the dormer that faced Harrison’s yard, “You can’t see into his yard from there. The tree branches are too thick. But then I noticed the leaves moving back and forth. It didn’t seem natural. It wasn’t the wind. It wasn’t a squirrel or a bird. I have a window seat and a place for books. I sat and watched those trees for an hour or so, then I saw it. It flitted by so fast. It was there and then gone.”
“It was probably a butterfly or moth,” Christina said.
Belinda shook her head. “I know what I saw. This morning, I went and tried the gate to get a closer look, but it was locked.”
“Harrison likes his privacy,” Christina confirmed. Harrison was an older man. He lived in the house alone. He never went to block parties, never showed up at the annual Fourth of July parade. People only saw him for brief moments—getting out of his car after work, taking out the garbage Wednesday evenings, mowing his front lawn every Saturday. Christina wasn’t even sure if Harrison was his first or last name.
Christina wondered at Belinda, willing to go into a stranger’s yard after who knows what. Brave, naïve or stupid, she couldn’t be sure. Already, Christina knew she and
Belinda could never be friends. The other girls would never accept her. She could never fit in. And more than anything, Christina wanted to fit in—wear the same clothes, listen to the same music, feign the same, sudden interest in boys. Still, she couldn’t help but be curious. It wasn’t that long ago that she was still losing teeth, finding a dollar in its place under the pillow the next morning. Even though, towards the end, she knew it was her mother who put it there.
“So how we going to get in?” Christina asked, not wanting to sound less daring than her new neighbor.
Belinda went into her garage. Through the open side door, Christina could see boxes from the move still piled there, waiting to be unpacked. She heard Belinda rummaging around, and when she reemerged, she was holding a jump rope in one hand, a hammer in the other. The jump rope was long, the kind that two people needed to hold while one or more skipped in between. Belinda tied one end around the hammer’s handle in a clumsy knot. Then she threw it up and into Harrison’s trees. It went through the branches that hung over into Belinda’s yard; fell with a thud, almost hitting Christina’s foot. She jumped back, “Hey! You crazy?”
Belinda merely shrugged. She picked up the hammer and threw it again. This time, it caught tight in tree’s boughs. She tugged at it, checking if it would hold her weight.
She handed the other end of the rope to Christina.
Christina took another step back. “You first.”
Belinda started up the rope, bracing her feet against the fence. Hand over hand, she clambered to the top. She struggled to straddle it, her hair hanging over her face.
Belinda let herself drop over the other side. Christina heard a thud. For a moment, she thought Belinda might have fallen on her head, was lying there dead. Finally, she heard Belinda’s voice. “What are you waiting for?” she asked. “Chicken?”
Christina pulled her blond hair back into a ponytail, tied it with a rubber band she kept in her pocket. She’d have to get it cut again before school started. All the girls were wearing their hair short this year. She took the rope in her hands, curled her toes so that her flip, flops wouldn’t fall off her feet, and began to climb.
At the top of the fence, she found a surprise. A netting so thin it was almost invisible ran between the trees, twisted around their branches, forming a mesh roof over the entire yard. It would have kept Christina from getting down on the other side, if Belinda hadn’t opened a narrow gap between it and the fence. Christina squeezed through and let herself drop, hitting her knee as she landed.
“It’s like a forest,” Belinda said.
Christina sat on the ground, rubbing her knee. Slivers of sunlight shined between the trees, filtered green by the leaves. There was no lawn. Instead, woodchips covered the ground. A stone path led from the house’s back deck to the gate. Ivy grew up the inside of the fence. Wildflowers had sprung up here and there, but there were no weeds. Moss clung to the grey bark of the trees. Mushrooms flourished at their roots.
“So where are the fairies?” Christina asked, doubt in her voice.
Belinda walked up to a plant that grew almost as high as she was tall. Blue flowers, like tiny bells, hung from its stem. She bent towards it, breathed deep. “If they were easy to spot, everyone would believe in them.”
“You must not have had many friends where you lived.”
“If you don’t like my apples…”
Christina gave Belinda a quizzical look. Belinda shook her head and laughed. “Mom said there were things people around here wouldn’t understand.”
Christina never liked being laughed at. It reminded her of the girls at school. The ones she wanted to be friends with, always whispering to each other in the hall, giggling as Christina passed.
Christina leaped up, shoved Belinda with both hands. Belinda’s back cracked against a tree. She rushed at Christina, and they both fell over. They rolled around in the woodchips, scratching and clawing at each other. Christina ended up on top of Belinda, her knees pinning the girl down at the shoulders. She paused, unsure of what to do next. Belinda struggled, but was unable to break free.
Belinda stopped struggling. Christina thought she had given up. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she caught the glimpse of something flitting at the side of her head.
Suddenly, it flew in front of her face, its wings blinding her. Christina swatted at it, then fell backwards. Belinda sat up. They both stared for a long while as it flew in circles around them, its wings moving so fast they were almost invisible. It was only about six inches tall, with a round, featureless face and bulbous eyes that seemed to be all pupils, no whites, no irises. It had a fat little belly, chubby arms and legs. It was completely naked and hairless. Still, they could not tell if it was male or female.
“Not what I expected,” Christina said finally.
“Disney had it all wrong,” Belinda agreed.
It flew down, took Christina’s hand, held it out. Then it did the same to Belinda, moving her hand so that the girls’ fingertips almost touched. The girls, bewildered, did not resist. “I think it wants us to shake hands,” Belinda said.
Reluctantly, the girls shook each other’s hands, palms, both soaked in sweat, barely touching.
The fairy landed on the ground. Its wings kept moving. It groaned, loud and low-pitched. A noise made without ever opening its mouth.
“I think it’s coming from its wings,” Belinda said.
Other fairies suddenly began to appear—from tree knolls and flower blossoms and the boughs of the trees. Some seemed to come out of nowhere, appearing suddenly in mid-air. They flew around the two girls like so many fireflies on a mid-summer evening. All looked similar to the first one, but not exactly. Some were thinner, some fatter. A few had hair, long and stringy. A few were only half the size of the others. Whether they were children or not was impossible to tell.
They all hung in mid-air, as if on cue, and began to sing with the flapping of their wings. But they were not singing as one, they were not in harmony. It was hard for the girls to tell whether they were singing the same song at all. Some voices were low, like the fairy who had first appeared, some were high pitched falsettos. As the girls listened, at first it seemed to them to be nothing but noise. But as the singing continued, it seemed that they could pick out individuals. Each one different, each one beautiful in its own way. Together, the girls realized that this singing was language, and they knew what the fairies were trying to say.
They were saying Hello.
After what seemed an endless time, the singing dwindled and stopped. The girls sat on the ground, their hair covered in woodchips, their faces dirty. Christina’s knee didn’t hurt so much anymore. Some of the fairies were sitting on the ground with them, watching them with their round, dark eyes. Others were flitting here and there, seeming to take no notice of them, on some personal business all their own. Belinda tried to count them, but they flew to fast to know whether or not she was counting some twice. She gave up at thirty-three.
“So this is why old Harrison always keeps his gate locked,” Christina said. “Why do you think they’re here?”
Belinda looked up at the trees. “The mesh. They can’t seem to make it through. I think he’s keeping them here.”
Christina remembered visiting the conservatory. It had a butterfly garden beneath a large tent made of mesh. Those butterflies couldn’t get away either.
Belinda spoke again. “The only question is; how do we set them free?”
Christina was about to tell Belinda she was crazy for the second time that day, when they heard a loud, rumbling sound out front. Harrison’s truck was pulling onto the drive. It was then they both realized that their way of getting into the yard didn’t allow them to get out again. They looked at each other with panicked faces. They heard footsteps coming toward the gate. Harrison was undoing the lock. The fairies had scattered. None could be seen. Christina glanced around. The deck. They could hide beneath the deck. Belinda seemed paralyzed with fear. She wouldn’t move. Christina took her hand and practically dragged her along. They scrambled beneath the deck just as Harrison entered the yard.
The deck was only a foot or so off the ground. They had to lie flat between the piers. Christina lifted her head slightly and peered out, but all she could see were
Harrison’s work boots, splattered with dirt and drops of paint. He stood in the middle of the yard, than started to make a noise, as close to the song the fairies made as was possible for a human voice. Christina felt something pulling on the leg of her shorts. It was Belinda. She was nearer to the house, looking through a small window into Harrison’s basement. She had it part way open, was already slipping through. Christina thought this a bad idea, but she didn’t dare say anything for fear Harrison would hear her. Instead, she crawled on her back to the window, just as Belinda had gone all the way in. Being bigger than Belinda, it was a tight fit, but she managed to squeak through.
The basement was unfinished, the cement block walls crammed with shelves. In the far corner stood a washer, a dryer, a utility sink, a pile of dirty clothes. On the wall nearby sat several dozen mason jars. They’re caps were off and scattered about, holes punched into them. In one of the jars, there was came the tiniest sparkle of light.
The two girls approached, peered inside. There was a wing. A fairy wing.
“He locks them up in these jars,” Belinda whispered. “Tortures them, no doubt.”
“I didn’t notice any missing a wing,” Christina replied.
“Probably tortured it to death,” Belinda said. “Ate it, most likely.”
They could still hear Harrison singing through the open window. Christina nodded at the wooden staircase leading up. “Let’s get out of here. We can head through the front door while he’s still out back.”
They hurried up the stairs, running out the front door without looking back.
“We have to help them,” Belinda said, they were in her backyard. They could not hear the fairies singing any longer. Earlier, they had heard the back door shut.
Presumably, Harrison had gone inside.
“How are we going to do that?” Christina asked. They lay on the grass, their hearts beating fast from the fear of almost being caught.
“We could call the police.”
“And tell them what. We saw fairies? I don’t think they have any laws about fairy abuse.”
Above them the sun peaked in and out of passing white clouds. They could feel the warmth on their faces, and then the cold.
“How about cutting the mesh?” Belinda asked after a time.
“How about minding your own business,” a man’s voice said from behind them. Christina and Belinda both turned. Harrison stood a few feet away.
Both girls sat up. They looked at each other, both thinking the same thing, run, he can’t catch us both. But what then? He knew who they were, where they lived. The next step would be to go to their parents. Then they’d be in even more trouble. “You forgot your hammer,” Harrison said, dropping it on the ground.
Christina started to speak. “We were just—”
“You don’t need to apologize,” Belinda interrupted. “He’s the monster.”
Christina was amazed and a bit in awe, of Belinda’s bravery. He could get them in big trouble, and here she was calling him names.
Harrison was a tall, lean man. He had a couple of day’s growth of beard, much grayer than his salt and peppered crew cut hair. He had a puzzled look on his face, as if he didn’t understand what Belinda was talking about.
“You keep them. Like animals,” Belinda said.
Harrison laughed. “I don’t keep them. They can leave any time they want. The netting isn’t that tight, and they aren’t stupid. Even you got through it.”
“But then why is it there?” Christina asked.
Harrison sat down on the ground. “I bought the house five years ago. You weren’t here, and you weren’t old enough to remember,” He nodded at Belinda and Christina in turn. “Old lady used to own it. You think I’m a recluse. No one ever even saw her come or go. Real witch. Died in that house.
“Anyway, I bought the house sight unseen. I was moving in from another town for work. Only saw pictures. Market was hot then. Had to make an offer before anyone even had a chance to take a look. When I moved in, there was some stuff left behind. An old door that used to hang in the kitchen, some paint cans of god-awful pink and baby blue that were used in the bedrooms, and those mason jars you saw. Each one sealed, each one containing a tiny person.”
“Fairy,” Belinda corrected him.
Harrison thought a moment. “Guess they are. Anyway, they looked like fireflies all cooped up like that, so I let them out. Never could stand to see living things suffer. I expected them to fly away, but instead, they made a home out of my yard.”
“But what about the netting?” Christina asked.
“I’m getting to that,” Harrison said impatiently. “I liked watching them from my kitchen. One Saturday afternoon, I’m watching them and what do I see but a hawk come down, snatch one right out of the air.”
“A hawk?” Christina said.
Harrison nodded. “They live along the lake about a mile from here. Hunt fish mostly, but this one found easier pickings, got two more before the rest went into hiding.
All that was left was a single wing. That’s when I put up the netting.”
Belinda smiled. “So the netting’s not to keep them in, it’s to keep predators out?”
Harrison nodded again. “So if you want to tell on me, go ahead. But others will come, scientists, probably. Take them to some University and turn them into lab rats.”
“We won’t tell if you won’t,” Christina said, holding out her hand.
Harrison shook it. “Deal.” He got up, started out, stopped suddenly. “One thing. I hate to admit needing advice from a couple of kids, but I have to know. Did they come to you?”
“Yes,” Belinda said.
“They’ve never come to me,” Harrison said. “Even though I’ve learned their song. They hide whenever they see me, like that one that peaked up over the fence. Just once, I’d wish they’d come to me. Wish they knew I was their friend.”
He left— his head low. After he was gone, the girls sat silently for a while. After a time, they heard him singing again. Finally, Belinda rose. “I think I know why the fairies came to us and not him. Come on.”
The two girls found the gate closed, but Harrison had left his front door open. They ran through it to the backyard. He faced away from him. No fairies could be seen.
They ran at him, grabbing his legs. He shouted in surprise, fell over. They both sat on him, started hitting him. He pushed at them, not as hard as he could, obviously not wanting to hurt them. He asked over and over what was going on.
At least a dozen fairies appeared as if from nowhere. They flew at the girls, getting in their faces, flying between their hands and Harrison’s body to keep them from hitting him again. The girls stopped; got off of Harrison, let him stand. The fairies remained.
“I don’t understand,” Harrison said.
Belinda spoke, “When the first fairy came to us, we were fighting. I figured that’s what must have brought them out. They don’t like violence.”
Harrison chuckled. “And all this time, I thought I needed to be nice.”
The fairies were pushing at the girls’ backs now, shoving them towards Harrison. Both they and the man understood. They gave each other a big hug. The fairies joined hands in a large ring around their heads, began to spin in a circle. Harrison released the girls and tilted his head up, watching, eyes wide.
Belinda motioned to Christina that it was time to go. They went out through the house. They found themselves on the sidewalks again, near where Belinda had been making her chalk drawing. Christina inspected it for a few moments, then said, “I think it’s missing something. She knelt down, picked up one of the pieces of chalk
Belinda had left there, started drawing one of the fairies beneath the rainbow’s arc. It looked similar to the first one they saw, round and winged and not at all fairy-like.
Cars passed. Other kids biked past on the other side of the street. Christina went right on drawing. She didn’t care who saw.
Manfred Gabriel’s work has appeared in numerous publications, most recently Bete Noire, Tryptich Tales and Kasma Magazine.