A short story set in the world of the Favor Faeries
Each week in Story Cauldron I either write about something I’m curious about and how it connects to me and my storytelling, or I share a short story. Today I’m sharing a story I wrote almost two years ago in what would become my Favor Faeries fictional world.
I’d also like to welcome all of my new subscribers that joined thanks to an article I wrote about bagna cauda and Benld, IL. If fiction isn’t your cup of tea, I have more local St. Louis area history planned for the next few weeks, so stay tuned!
Jane wiped her eyes and closed her notebook. She gazed out of the window and blinked before another tear could fall. A couple of weeks ago she had gone shopping for a prom dress, and she looked forward to graduation.
That was all before she had seen them. Now she couldn’t go back to school, and all her efforts to forget them had just made things worse.
“I won’t hurt you.”
The dog had curled up against the wall, wedged behind a dumpster in the high school parking lot. It held its grey mottled body tight, the ears lowered, and stared at her with pale eyes of sea and sky.
“Come on sweetie, you don’t want to be back here by yourself, do you?” Jane pushed up the sleeves of her hoodie and then knelt on the asphalt, the tar sticky in the late afternoon sun.
Rather than growl or show its teeth, the dog lowered its head and rolled slightly, enough to lift a leg and tentatively expose her belly.
“Aww, that’s right, I don’t want to hurt you. I just want to help.” Jane tried to crawl forward on her hands and knees, but there wasn’t much space to squeeze into.
That’s when she fell.
“What are you doing, human, staring at me like that? I thought you were going to help me!” The words were sharp and nasal, and not the voice of a child.
“Are you talking to me?” Jane rubbed her eyes. Somehow she was now in a wide underground chamber, with roots dangling overhead like legs of swimmers in the deep end of a pool. Meanwhile, there was a child in patched clothing curled up a couple of yards away. When the girl lifted her head, Jane saw familiar bright eyes of blue and green ice, just like the dog. “Who are you?”
“Call me Gorm.” The girl scratched at the tuft of silvery hair that peeked out from her blue cap over her forehead, hair that didn’t seem to match her age at all. “Don’t just sit there!” she demanded, and held up her arm, revealing blood staining her torso. “Stupid human drivers. That bus could have killed me.” Then she waved to Jane. “Are you going to help me, or what? We need leave.”
“Why?” Jane’s eyes danced around the cavern. With its dirt floors and walls, it was more like a giant burrow than a proper cave. “Where are we?” she asked, and then, upon further reflection, “and do you even know how to get us out of here?”
“Me, yes. You? Uncertain. But that’s not my concern at the moment.” Gorm flapped her arms like a wounded bird. “Help me up, would you?”
Jane knelt down beside Gorm, who was bleeding again. “Maybe you should stay here while I go find someone who can help.”
“Oh no, no, no. You would likely get yourself killed. Just help me get onto my feet and we’ll be off.”
Although skeptical, Jane did as Gorm directed. Standing, her new acquaintance was only as tall as Jane’s elbows and waddled as she walked. Gorm led her to a tunnel that branched off from the main chamber. The globe lights moved as they did, hovering immediately overhead. Jane stood on her tiptoes to examine one more closely and thought she saw something alive inside. But that seemed impossible—as if being in this root cellar was any more likely. “How did we get here, anyway?”
“You certainly ask a lot of questions, human.”
“Jane. My name is Jane.”
“Good for you. Now, here we go.” Gorm pointed to an area of the wall wet with slime and silvery growths. “That’s what I need.”
Jane made a face of disgust. “You need that for what?”
“For my wound. Have you never been to the barrow?” Gorm shook her head and forcefully pushed past Jane to reach the outcropping of lichens. With one hand clawed like a mole, she dug into the soft earth and scooped out a large clod. Then she rolled it between her hands and applied it to the wound.
Jane cringed. “You’re putting mud on your injury?”
“Has no one taught you anything? There’s nothing better for healing what ails you than what grows in the shadows. Now, come along.” She bustled down the tunnel, leaving Jane to stand with her hands in front of her in a gesture of disbelief. Having nothing better to do, she jogged after Gorm, only to collide into her just around a corner.
And then Jane screamed into her hands.
Three creatures—each about eight feet tall, tall enough to almost touch the ceiling—blocked their way. They were as thin as saplings, with leaves for fingers and hair that resembled turf grass. When Gorm and Jane ran into them, they ceased their conversation and swiveled their heads like praying mantises to inspect the newcomers.
“What is this? A human?” The creature said in a menacing whisper as it leaned in their direction.
“She’s none of your concern,” Gorm said quickly, her voice rising in pitch as if afraid. “We are just seeking the exit.”
“It’s very plump,” another one of the creatures said, displaying teeth the color of yellowed ivory piano keys and as sharp as a cat’s. It reached a long, skeletal hand towards Jane. “It would be a shame for it to escape.”
“What?” Jane cried out, backing up. Her heart was racing, and the hallway seemed like a tomb. “Don’t touch me!” She looked over her shoulder to decide whether running was her best option, but decided against it. These creatures looked like they’d be keen for a chase.
“Stand your ground, girl,” Gorm advised, as if reading her mind. Then she turned to the stick figures. “And to all of you, don’t you dare harm her, or I will make a formal protest.” She wagged her finger at them as if they were infants. “Let us pass.”
“You would deny us our first real meal?” the first creature said, gnashing its teeth. It hooked its claw under Gorm’s cap and sniffed at it. “She would make quite the feast.”
“Not today.” Gorm grabbed her cap from the creature and pulled it back down firmly over her brindle hair. Then she nudged Jane past the saplings. Then, for good measure, she repeated firmly, “not today.”
They backed away from the creatures slowly until they were out of sight. Then Gorm led her swiftly down the corridors, where they encountered no one else. When they reached a stout wooden door reinforced with brass straps, Gorm stopped and allowed Jane to catch her breath.
“What were those things?” Jane finally asked.
“Juvenile oak nymphs. Babes, really. They don’t know their manners.” Jane opened her mouth to ask more questions, but Gorm clapped her hands together and continued. “It’s time to get you back to where you belong.” She pushed open the door, but there was no light, and Jane couldn’t see a thing. Then the odd child-like creature grabbed Jane around the waist and positioned her in front of the door as if posing her for a photograph. “Now you stand right there and be sure to hold your breath. I’m not very good at this.”
Jane stared at her. “Good at what?”
Gorm wriggled her nose and twisted up her mouth as if trying to remember something important. Then she smacked her lips together. “Oh yes, I recall now.” She bent down, wincing as she did so, and then made an upward motion with her hands. “Good to meet you. Perhaps our paths will cross again.”
Before Jane could answer, she was falling for a second time.
She gagged at the unexpected stench. Opening her eyes, she was again beside the dumpster. There was something wet oozing from a corner onto the ground beside her.
“Gross!” She tried to get back to her feet in a hurry, but she was suddenly lightheaded and tumbled backward.
It took her several minutes before she could stand again. Once she had her bearings, she wandered in the direction of the cafeteria.
“Jane?” Rob Felderstein asked. He had been leaning against the building, but when he heard her approach he hurriedly shoved what looked like a bottle into his jacket. Then he did a double-take. “Wait—where did you just come from?”
Disoriented by everything that had just happened, she stumbled over her words. “Oh… I was just talking a walk, and I, um, there was a stray dog, and I fell...” She was still dizzy and knew she wasn’t making any sense. As she stood there feeling awkward and uncertain, she looked down at her hands and elbows, both of which were scuffed up from the asphalt. Then she squeezed her eyes shut and opened them again, but Rob was still there.
Had she passed out and had that strange dream?
Being on the football team, Rob didn’t usually talk to her — despite being in her English and Biology classes. But now he seemed very interested in her well-being. “Wow, I can’t believe you just walked up like that. Are you okay? Where have you been? You know they’ve been looking everywhere for you. Come on, you need to come inside.” He put his arm around her protectively, as if she might blow away if he didn’t hold her close.
Under normal circumstances, Jane would have shrugged off that arm and called him a pig, but these didn’t seem like normal circumstances at all. His gesture felt more reassuring than possessive.
Before Jane knew it, she was in the teacher’s breakroom being asked a million questions. After a quick ride in her gym teacher’s car, she was in the hospital, where she was poked and prodded, physically and psychologically, by both doctors and the police.
Apparently, they were all under the misunderstanding that she had gone missing for three days.
And then her dad was in the opening of the curtain in the emergency room bay. His hair was disheveled and it looked like he hadn’t shaved or showered in days. “Janey!” He rushed over and gave her a hug. “I was so worried about you.” He looked to the doctors conferring to one side. “How is she? Is she hurt?”
A man who looked too young to be a doctor, despite his green scrubs and stethoscope, shook his head. “We’re running a bunch of tests but so far she seems fine, other than some minor abrasions. I think she can go home today, but she’ll need to talk to a social worker before we can release her.”
Jane shucked the hospital gown and put on the clean jeans and t-shirt her dad had brought. She was sitting sideways on the bed, ready to go, when a woman appeared from around the privacy curtain.
“My name is Genevieve Alcott,” she informed Jane as she slapped a business card into her hand. Ms. Alcott was a bird-like woman, with a long nose and little granny glasses, despite seeming to be only about 35 years old. “I hear you went missing for three days and then returned right where you had disappeared. Is this correct?”
Jane shrugged. “Apparently. I thought I was only gone for about half an hour. But they say there’s nothing wrong with me, and I don’t remember anything about being gone.”
Ms. Alcott peered over the gold rims of her glasses and nodded. “It can be like that sometimes.” She scribbled something on a clipboard. “What do you remember?”
“Not much. I found a dog that had been hit by a car, and then…” She had already tried explaining it to her teachers and the police, but they had all cut her off, thinking she had been under the influence of drugs. Then the doctor told her father her tox screen was normal. “It was all very strange, like a nightmare.” She described the sapling people and the child who had been a dog.
But rather than challenge her tale, Ms. Alcott just nodded. “Do you remember if you ate or drank anything while you were gone?”
That was an odd question. “No, it all happened so fast. Honestly, I don’t really know that I even went anywhere. The doctors said it was probably all a hallucination.”
“Perhaps.” The social worker jotted something else on her clipboard. “Do you have any questions?”
“I don’t think so. I mean — what do you think happened to me?”
She tapped her pen on the clipboard. “Hard to say.” She reached into her bag and handed her a small glass bottle. “This is an herbal extract that should help deal with the stress of it all. Adding a dropper-full in a glass of water should do wonders.” She poured a cup of water for Jane from the plastic pitcher beside the bed.
Jane took the brown bottle and examined the label. It looked like the kind of thing you might buy at a natural grocery store. For some reason, she didn’t challenge the fact that a non-medical professional had given her something to drink. If anything, it seemed the most logical thing that had happened to her. “Thanks,” she said, and unscrewed the lid. It smelled like roses. She drizzled some in the water and drank it all. “That’s really good.”
“Of course it is.” She nodded to the business card, which was still in Jane’s other hand. “Be sure to call if you have any flashbacks or other concerns.”
She grabbed her notebook and examined the image she had doodled. Jane’s memories had come and gone like the tides, and she had just been able to capture Gorm’s face in a moment of clarity before it was lost again. With her long, slender nose and the angle of her chin, the little felt cap, and her tiny sharp teeth, Gorm was beautiful and terrible all at once. She believed it to be a good likeness, except those eyes. Pencil alone couldn’t capture the broken kaleidoscope colors.
And then she remembered. The sapling people had those eyes too.
After a couple of weeks, Jane still struggled to know what was real. She feared going outside, worried that the creatures would climb out of the sewers or drop from the treetops. She stared into the eyes of everyone she met, afraid that the monsters had followed her. Jane took more of the extract, which helped for a while, but inevitably the memories returned, as sharp as the creatures’ teeth.
She couldn’t live with the terror of those false memories. She called Ms. Alcott, who told her she could stop by her office to talk. After pacing the length of the living room for an hour, uncertain if she could ride her bike alone, she sent her dad a text letting him know where she was going. Then she grabbed her hoodie out of the closet. When she put her house keys in her pocket she felt something soft—like a tissue, but smaller.
When she pulled it out, she recognized the silvery substance immediately. It was the lichen from the cavern, and she realized Gorm must have put it there before she sent her home.
And without a second thought, she popped it into her mouth.
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