A withered fairy
Dancing in the pale moonlight
Rot and elation
© Shyla Fairfax-Owen
Omens is my Halloween Haikus series – check back soon for more!
Speculative Fiction: Short Stories, Reviews, and Essays
A withered fairy
Dancing in the pale moonlight
Rot and elation
© Shyla Fairfax-Owen
Omens is my Halloween Haikus series – check back soon for more!
It had begun as a typical night. There was a light howl in the wind, whispering desires through the air; a flutter to the crisp leaves that hung from the branches above, plotting their descent; a flap of wings, eager to dance to the sirens’ song.
Percie had just completed a tiresome novel by the fire. The sun had just begun to set and she decided to ease her eyes by letting the night pour in. She smothered the fire and breathed deeply, allowing the scent of char to wash through her. In the kitchen, Percie prepared herself a cup of warm milk on the gas stove. The crickets had begun their annoying symphony, but she knew her songstress’ would put an end to it soon. Anything that bothered Percie was considered a threat in the eyes of her winged protectors.
As she sipped her milk, Percie gazed at the blackness outside of her back window. It was not unusual for her to do this; it calmed her to affix her sights on something non-specific. Otherwise, they grew weary, and she became utterly aware of her aching body. But tonight, something felt different. There was an eeriness about the night that seemed to be staring right back at her. Believing it to mean her subconscious was warning her that she had forgotten to tend to her garden, Percie placed her cup down and reluctantly walked over to the sink. The crickets had hushed and a low rhythmic humming was in the air now. Her songstress’ had fed, but only a little.
Outside, she flitted about the garden, swiping her dainty fingertips against petals to check for dampness. It did seem as though all of her plants had been watered, which all the more confused her. Something was making her uneasy. As her heart rate sped up, the humming grew louder. Her songstress’ could sense her distress and were growing anxious by it. She was happy to have their protection, but also needed to assure them that, for the moment, everything seemed alright. If she did not, they may become undisciplined. Temperamental as they were, she loved them. She offered a reassuring whistle, lacing it with a familiar cadence that they returned before falling back to their quiet, watchful, humming.
Back inside, Percie let the rest of her milk flow down the drain. She watched it spiral away, tickled by the image of disappearance, until she was jarred back to reality by a squawk so violently intrusive that she had to bring both hands to her ears. Losing her balance, she fell over and cried out gently.
It was her songstress’; their worry and tension had suddenly turned to erratic vexation.
Percie scrabbled about until she was on all fours, simultaneously basking in the pain and trying to detach herself from it. That was the thing about sirens, their pain was inviting. Even Percie, a keeper and beloved friend, was not immune.
The squawking continued to rise. The pitch seemed impossible, and yet, there it was forcing its way into her. The songstress’ had found a real threat. Something terrible was out there. Against her better instincts, Percie began the tedious task of crawling out to the garden. For this, she had to rely upon her forearms and fingertips, for, her legs were incapacitated by the invasive song. Her hair was in her eyes now, and she grunted in a high pitch, almost matching her songstress’ emphatic levels.
When she finally made it to the back door the squawking had begun to lull. Sensation tingled a return up Percie’s legs, making their throb more apparent. Every muscle in her body screamed. It was always like this when they fed – always. Percie staggered through the gardens and around to the back of their tree. She knew she would find them there, and she did.
As she came upon her protectors she squinted impotently through the dark, but their shadows were immediately apparent. Three heads bobbed up and down excitedly. Their song was now reduced to a croon, backed by a ruffle as their wings flapped with appeasement.
Although he made no sound, Percie could see their slender arms pulling and tugging at their victim. A man who thought he could creep about, unnoticed – watching, lurking. A man who thought he was a predator when in fact he was merely prey.
One feeder sensed Percie’s presence and rose from the earth, elongating her crouched legs. Percie caught a glimpse of her bouncing breasts in the moonlight as she turned to face her. She smiled graciously, knowing the songstress could see her well. The other two continued to feast, though there could not have been much of the man left. The thrilling obscenity of the picture caused Percie’s heart to pound against her chest.
The standing songstress soon curled herself back to a perched position, guarding the others. She let her wide bronze wings fold over one another so that only one eye would remain exposed. Percie could not see this exactly, but knew the posture well enough to imagine it distinctly. Drained from the ordeal, she let herself drop to the cold ground, and then lied flat against it. All she felt now was an exhaustive satisfaction.
When the songstress’ had had their fill, they took flight over Percie’s amative body, offering a resuscitating breeze. It was as welcomed as the bright moon. Their eyes twinkled until they disappeared again into the treetops, while Percie slept deeply, and fully.
© Shyla Fairfax-Owen
The sun dominated the sky that day. Clouds cowered under its gleaming oppression. Even the birds seemed to fly low. Derek squinted, knowing immediately that he should have stayed home. And he should have. That was the day Derek’s life fell to shit.
He fought the heavy doors of the testing facility open. Their weight surprised him as much as his own weakness did. He told himself it was just early and he was tired, but honestly, lying to himself was getting old. There was nothing salubrious about it.
Inside, Derek was greeted by an older woman dressed in disdain. It was obvious that she hated being there, which struck Derek as odd considering most such facilities ran on volunteers. He’d never been in one, but many anecdotes attested that volunteers were generally people who had lost someone to the merciless disease. People whose grief drove them. Derek supposed it was likely that one day, the grievers might wake up to realize their services hadn’t done a thing to change circumstances. In fact, the numbers grew each week. That could make a person grow bitter – like the woman leading him down the hall.
“You’re running on borrowed time, Mr. Alvarez,” she announced with a tone that denoted lack of surprise.
Positive. He thought the word, but could not get his tongue to pronounce it.
“Positive,” she said for him, avoiding eye contact as she skimmed the test results. “And the gene,” she added without emphasis. Derek could have sworn he saw her shoulders drop an inch or two, though.
Derek watched her silently, choking back anger or hysteric sadness, whichever was threatening to push to the forefront. The bitter lady was now visibly smothering her tired loathing and reaching deep down for something that might mimic patience.
“The gene, as you must know, is a birth defect.” Spiel time. Standard, he imagined. “About 40% of people are born with it these days, and it lies dormant until it comes in contact with the virus. Now that that’s happened, you are V-Positive, and the gene will begin to mutate.”
She handed him two bottles of pills, placing the first in his left hand and the second in his right. Pointing, she continued.
“These ones will suppress the symptoms, and these will slow the change.”
Slow. Not stop. Derek winced. The med-cocktail would only slow the inevitable. Sooner or later, he was going to turn into a monster.
“The virus can be transmitted through any bodily fluid. We ask that you respect the right of others to not be infected by malicious intent.”
She looked away again – seemed to drift off to a place only she could see. When she returned mere seconds later, her eyes had softened.
“Even with the medication, certain circumstances can cause a flare up of symptoms. Among them is increased heart rate and body temperature. The sun and sexual activity are the two leading causes of outbreak. You’d do best to avoid these.”
She reached into her pocket and drew a small syringe, thick enough to insert the microchip.
Without warning she stuck the tip in Derek’s arm and injected.
“This chip will measure body temperature and other symptom levels. It also has GPS tracking. We will receive urgent notification the moment you become at risk.”
“And then what?” It was the only question Derek asked that day, but he already knew the answer.
She sighed and then looked him square in the eyes. Without quiver or hesitation, she said, “And then we put you down.”
Derek held her stare, and as he did so, his heart rate increased.
A special thank you to Three Drops from a Cauldron for including my dark fairytale, The Night of the Moonlit Curse, in their seasonal special (page 31).
A mile later Poppy’s knees grew weak and the insatiable hunger she so feared began to creep up her throat.
Midwinter Special 2015 is currently available as a free e-issue, and a print anthology will be available soon.
Thank you to anyone who takes the time to click the link and have a read! There are some great fairytale shorts and poems collected here… some darker than others.
Lily’s feet slapped hard against the frosted ground but she did not slow her pace. She tried not to think about how cold it was, how dark it was, or how much it hurt to feel the twigs snapping underfoot. In the distance a low and soothing voice whispered her name; the sound tugged at Lily, but she resisted, and kept running. Her body was extra-cooperative, leaping over rocks and squeezing between tree trunks. Lily had always been a clumsy child, but not tonight, not when her life depended on it. Even her heart matched her pace, slamming rapidly against her chest.
The voice was getting louder, and more intrusive. But Lily just ran faster. Overwhelmed by her own determination, she burst out of the forest and onto the highway, where a truck had to skid to a stop to avoid hitting her. Lily stared out at the driver, her eyes surely glowing in his headlights. She watched, paralyzed with shock, as he jumped down from his seat and rushed towards her. He was screaming nonsense. When he got close enough to reach out to her it sent her into frenzied hysterics. Lily screamed herself unconscious, her tiny and exasperated body collapsing onto the street.
“Lily? Lily James?”
This time it was a man’s voice. It had a lot more urgency in it and was lacking the seductive nature of the voice she had been running away from. On the silent count of three, Lily sprung her eyes open, hoping her body would have jolted forward at the same time. She hadn’t moved, but she was staring into Mr. Cole’s eyes. They were scared and confused, much like her own. Recognizing the man, Lily allowed relief to sweep through her as she curled up tighter in his arms.
“Okay, okay,” he whispered affectionately. She must have started crying, but couldn’t quite tell. “Let’s get you home.”
Mr. Cole bundled Lily in a blanket and set her down in his passenger seat. She was quiet now, secretly listening for the voice to call her back.
“What were you doing out in the street Lily?” he asked as they moved calmly down the highway. There were hardly any other vehicles; symptom of a small town.
Lily wanted to respond, but she didn’t know how. Honestly, the whole ordeal was starting to blur over in her mind. She had been trying to get away, but was no longer quite sure what from. When she remained silent, Mr. Cole stopped speaking, and they drove the rest of the way listening only to the hum of the engine.
“Here we are,” he finally said.
The drive had felt long, and Lily was pretty sure she had been dozing for most of it. Her muscles ached and her head throbbed, so she put up no fight at all when Mr. Cole scooped her up and carried her to the front door. The only thing more comforting than being held by her elderly kind neighbor was seeing her front stoop. She wasn’t sure how long it had been, but it felt like ages since she had been home. When the front door swung open, she leapt towards her mother and locked her small arms around the woman’s heavy thighs.
The satin pajamas were familiar and warm; but to Lily’s dismay, her mother did not reciprocate. In fact, she seemed to stiffen uncomfortably. Lily was a perceptive child and could sense her mother’s fear. She threw her head up and stared at her, waiting; tears streaming down her cheeks.
“Impossible,” her mother whispered, a stunned expression worn on her face. “My Lily is asleep in her bed.”
Margaret looked down at the child clinging to her thighs. She looked just like Lillian – and yet. She looked to Ed for an explanation, but the old man just looked at her as though she were an alien herself.
“Perhaps not, Marge. I found her in the street; damn near took her down with my truck out there on the highway.”
Margaret looked down at the little girl. Her eyes were watering, her dress was torn, hair unkempt. And wasn’t that – yes, the blue dress she had bought her for her sixth birthday just a few months back. Deciding instantly that she must be in a sleep daze, Margaret dropped to her knees and stared into Lily’s eyes. She wanted to scold her for running away, but first, a gnawing in her gut told her she had to be sure. Margaret snatched Lily’s hand and flew into the house, up the stairs and down the hall to Lily’s room. She could hear Ed close the door behind them and follow. Inside, the room was dark and still. Margaret flipped the light switch and stood face to face with her Lily, snug in bed.
Frozen, Margaret watched as her daughter gently stirred awake. As her eyes fluttered open, Margaret instinctively pulled the other Lily behind her, blocking her from her daughter’s sight.
“Mama?” she asked groggily, rubbing her eyes with the corner of her blanket.
Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©
There are certain things about human skin that you can only really appreciate after you’ve had to forcibly break free of it. Its strength, for one thing, is incredible. Particularly against tears. Without something sharp to slice through it, skin will stretch with surprising resilience against a literal ton of force. I learned this the first time I shifted. Watching as the bones in my greater extremities began to elongate, I wondered why they didn’t just split through my feet and fingertips. Until they did, of course, and then I blacked out from the pain of it. For mostly obvious reasons that first time was a complete mess. Like a lot of us, I had no clue what was happening to me. I’d contracted it a month or so before, and hadn’t been in contact with the person who gave it to me since (that situation was also a mess, but that probably qualifies as obvious too).
That night I was mercifully alone in my house (my three roommates, all in their early twenties, were away at their respective night gigs). It began as a series of cramps – the kind that double you over and make you wish it was somehow socially acceptable to conduct your life from the comfort of a warm bath. I’d been watching some trash TV show and I remember that despite the blinding pain I’d had the presence of mind to close my laptop (being found as a contorted corpse in the living room is traumatic enough – no need to have your nearest and dearest associate your death forever with a screenshot of RuPaul’s Drag Race). For some reason I truly believed that everything would be ok if I could just make it to the bathroom: In the bathroom I could be as disgusting as was necessary to ride out this sudden sickness (Food poisoning? Appendicitis? Delayed-onset alcohol poisoning?). Moving seemed to make the cramps worse though, and the pain spread like boiling whiskey from my abdomen throughout the rest of my body. I can remember tasting copper as wave after wave of nausea hit me, though I don’t think that I actually vomited. By the time I found the staircase, the skin on my arms and legs had started to burn. I didn’t realize it then, but at this point the epidermis was spontaneously separating from my muscle tissue. By the time I made it to the upstairs bathroom, my upper lips must have split because the face (a generous term) I saw in the mirror looked something like an aborted cat fetus forcing its way out of a sausage. Slick, shiny scales had begun to emerge beneath my scalp.
There’s not a lot I can remember after that. Things went red and the night itself is a blank. I must have run into something pretty foul though, because whatever it was gave me wicked bad indigestion the next morning.
If I’m honest, something had felt off with me for a couple of weeks before the full shift. Flu-like symptoms, lethargy, bumps, itching and unusual discharge – all of the things a Google search will tell you amount to cancer, AIDS, or herpes. In short, the imminent demise of you or your social life. There’s a special kind of dread that comes with the possibility of real illness. All of a sudden you can’t just ignore the timestamp on your body and the puniness of your life. This is the mortal meat that you occupy, and there’s a chance that you fucked it irreparably for a lay, or a hit, or a high. I was worried enough to book a physical (at least I could be retroactively responsible), though I’ve cancelled the appointment since. The dating pool in my town is shallow enough, and for a while there were rumours about something going around, something else – but this isn’t exactly the sort of thing you can campaign about with pamphlets. Or list in your Tinder profile.
Not that I got out that much anyway. There’s really only one person who could have given me this. They’ve probably given it to many others. That thought, for some reason, is one that’s stuck with me. In those moments when I believe that my life might not be over – I fixate on this idea of the bug existing in others. Passing between us, linking us through this strange, unmentionable horror.
It feels as though I’ve been in hiding for months now, beneath my human skin. On most days I could pass for normal, and sometimes I almost forget what’s really there. How many others live this way? Do they worry that the horror might consume them too? Do they care? I spent most of my twenties dodging serious relationships out of a pretty basic fear of emotional fallout. I get that I was lonely then, but that’s nothing to what I feel now. Every day I wake up knowing that, with one touch, I could destroy the people I love. My body is poison, and worse than that; it’s insatiable. Even on my best days, the days I believe that I can control it, or somehow embrace it as part of myself – there’s only so long I can ignore the hunger. It’s been three months now, and my appetites have not waned. Even without the shift I crave meat. Weeks before the change, I can feel the scales beneath the skin, straining it. It will hold, but I never know for how long.
Jenn Huddleston ©
jennhuddleston (at) gmail (dot) com
Johnny entered the pub through the side door and looked around. The atmosphere was exactly what he had been expecting. The room was dimly lit by low hanging chandeliers that were caked with dust, most of the stools at the bar were occupied by middle-aged men sitting in silence and sipping aggressively, and in the back corner a booth was enlivened by two drunkards carrying on a desultory conversation. Johnny took a deep breath and strode over to an empty booth near the back door. He was close enough to the drunkards now to see their spit flying back and forth and wished he could settle in elsewhere. It was too risky though; the instructions for this meeting had specified this booth, and he did not want to get it off to a rough start.
“What’ll it be?” the waitress asked. She was the type of woman who Johnny guessed was much younger than she appeared. Chronic exhaustion seemed to be taking its toll.
“Um, just a water please.” The waitress sighed, dropping her hands to her side, still lazily gripping the pen and pad.
Johnny tried to smile politely but she took off without a glance back. Only a little scathed by her rudeness, Johnny slumped down in his booth and began tapping his fingers impatiently on the poorly wiped down table.
It was nearly an hour after their agreed upon meeting time when Oliver finally entered. Johnny perked up at the sight of him and gulped the remainder of his second coffee. It was tepid and strong; too strong in Johnny’s opinion but he kept ordering them to keep from further upsetting his waitress.
Oliver gracefully took the chair opposite Johnny, and it was not until they were eye level with one another that Johnny saw how much the other man was sweating.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” Oliver whispered. “It’s been a difficult morning.”
Johnny nodded sympathetically, but said nothing.
“Look doc,” Oliver continued, leaning in now, eyes wide. “This needs to happen, and it needs to happen now.”
Stunned, Johnny began to stammer in opposition but was abruptly cut off by more of Oliver’s urgent whispers. Johnny shifted in his seat, discomforted by the intensity.
“I’m not messing around here. It’s serious. You gotta help me.”
Johnny nodded. Panic was obviously taking Oliver over. Johnny had hoped he would be able to convince him to come back to the lab with him for a proper assessment; a night of observation, even. But Oliver was intent on meeting in this very spot, which should have been a red flag that no amount of common sense was going to change his mind.
“I want the cure. I want it now.”
“It’s not like that Oliver. Like I said, we need to evaluate the circumstance surrounding the -”
He raised his voice nearly, leaping out of his seat. Immediately afterwards, he became aware of the attention he had drawn, slunk back down, and glanced around nervously. Lycanthropy in such early stages had many possible symptoms which depended upon the infected person’s own genetic makeup. But no matter how you analyzed the data, aggression and the inability to control oneself were always at the top of the list.
Johnny tensed, trying not to let Oliver sense his building fear. The scent, as far as Johnny’s own studies showed, could enhance the potential for sudden onset rage in the infected.
“Okay,” Johnny whispered. “Order a drink.”
Relief overcame Oliver. It was visible, especially in his demeanor which lightened significantly. Oliver hailed over the waitress and had her bring him a tequila. No salt, no lemon. After a deep breath, and a slight smile, Oliver shot the liquor back and rubbed his eyes as if just waking up. Johnny could see how happy he was in that moment; it was a moment he had dreamt of for weeks on end now. The stress of the change had been an unbearable burden, but it would be over now. Johnny discretely passed him the vial under the table, and as it exchanged hands he felt a thankful squeeze of his own.
With that, Johnny rose from the table and nodded a friendly goodbye. As he made his way back to the side door he could hear Oliver order a second tequila; the one he’d poor the vial contents into. It ached Johnny to know he would not get the chance to study this one. All the same, the fallacy of the so-called antidote would be taken willingly, which was to Johnny’s benefit. Yes, they needed to die; but he always preferred it not be directly by his hand. He slept better that way.
Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©
It was not the first time the cumbersome machine had orbited the sky. Initially, nothing seemed conspicuous; but then the machine began an obvious descent. A shadow cast across his face, the Saturnshine all but disappearing.
He dove off the island; fought his way hurriedly through the icy surface until he was enveloped by the cold salty waters. Deeper and deeper he swam until he could rest his body against the rocky ocean surface. And there he would stay, alone, and afraid. There was something out there – something mysterious.
And somehow he just knew, things might never be the same.
Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©
*This micro fiction is inspired by Nasa’s Cassini Plume Dive Mission.
For more information, visit Cassini Solstice Mission
I stared out at the empty space before me with consternation. It was the first cold day of the year; fall had been slow coming, allowing the remnants of summer to coddle us all. Dusk was still about an hour out, but the chill in the air was a clear indication that the sun had tucked itself in for the night. I stood shivering with my arms interlocked across my chest and the hood of my sweater pulled over my head. Lyle was about a foot ahead of me on the path, staring straight ahead and frozen in excitement.
“This is stupid. I don’t see anything.”
“Shh!” he warned irritably.
I rolled my eyes. This wasn’t the first time I had let him talk me into some ill-advised misadventure. When he got something in his head, it was easier to give in than to argue. Two summers ago we had spent a whole night in a trailer park two towns over looking for what Lyle swore was the dashboard of a crashed UFO he had read about online. I tried to tell him that the story had likely been masterminded by a fourteen year old boy with too much tech, but Lyle was sure. We never found anything. That’s how the story always went; he had the theories, and I had the research. Twins, and counterparts. It was lunacy.
“Are we ghost hunting right now? Because I’m pretty sure you can’t see a ghost in the fog. Or, you know, ever.”
Lyle swung around and cut his eyes at me.
“Sorry,” I whispered, sardonically, in that tone every girl inherits around the age of thirteen (and treasures forever after).
Lyle positioned himself around me so that I was in front, and cupped my shoulders to force my focus straight ahead.
“You can only see it in the fog. And no, it’s not a ghost.”
I sighed, but did not let my focus waver. The last time Lyle had dragged me to a graveyard we were only kids. He had ripped off a Ouija board from the local toy store and truly believed supernatural powers could be harnessed from a piece of plastic worth $11.99. Admittedly, it scared the shit out of me when it started to move, and I had nightmares for weeks thereafter. He swears he never moved it, but I don’t know how else to explain what happened that night. Either way, I’ve mostly crossed the street at the graveyard since then.
“I hate it here,” I whispered back.
“I know. Just wait.”
So we waited. And waited. And then came the peripeteia – it appeared.
At first, it was just a shadow in the fog. Then, slowly, it materialized into the form of a woman. Stunned and silent, I tried to refocus my eyes, convinced they were fabricating images due to the long, cold, interim – but there was no mistaking those eyes. Their white glow pierced through the fog and the darkening sky; my own eyes their target. Her emergence from the fog grew steadier, and her unsettling beauty became more apparent. Her long white hair wrapped itself about her formless body, draped in a white figureless garb. Overtop, a green cloak rested upon her shoulder-less shoulders. She seemed more an apparition than a person – her floating feet did not quite meet the cold ground.
Still processing what was taking shape before me, I let out an almost muted gasp. Lyle’s grip on me tightened reassuringly, and then he stepped out from behind me, and towards her. He moved gently, with the finesse of an apparition himself. But the movement, however slight, was still enough to make the woman evaporate. As she fused into the fog again, she released a sorrowful wail, loud enough to send an otherwise unnoticed flock of perched crows back into the evening sky. The wail echoed, creating a symphony with the flapping wings and distressed squawks of the murder.
Lyle turned back to me, gleeful with his discovery.
“It’s a Banshee. She must be visiting her family.” He nodded towards the tombstones to our left.
Still numb from what I had just experienced, I followed Lyle’s gaze, before correcting him.
“No. Only her family can see her, and hear her cries.” My voice was beginning to quiver with panic. “She warns them of an impending family death.”
Lyle stared at me quizzically.
“Lyle,” I whispered, “she was visiting us.”
Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©