“What is this place?” asked Simeon.
We stood at the front gate of a small cottage. A wild assortment of flowers and herbs took up all of the space that wasn’t used for walking paths in the little yard.
“It’s my home,” answered a scratchy voice behind us.
“It’s a lovely home,” complimented Dev.
The old woman who leaned on her cane behind us eyed Dev with a look meant to discourage further insincerity.
“I’ll put on a kettle,” she announced, pushing past and waddling up her walk. The herbs and flowers released their perfume in the wake of her wide hips, combining into a dreamy scent that bore no name and conjured no image beyond perhaps a smile.
Simeon paused when the rest of us made to follow.
“Is she a good person or a bad one, little Molly?” he asked.
“Good,” answered Molly, and her warm gaze warmed that much more toward Simeon.
Taking his hand, she led Simeon down the path, which touched neither of their slender hips, though they went side by side. Dev and I followed, brushing our palms across the tall blooms to invite an echo of that delightful aroma.
Inside, the cottage was simple. Raw wood made for walls and dirt for floor. An assortment of ornately patterned clay sculptures were scattered throughout the small space. The woman bustled at an open fire, arranging one of many hanging pots and humming tunelessly.
“That isn’t yours to touch,” she called without looking. Simeon replaced the pottery piece back to the table. The woman nodded. She still hadn’t looked. “I need your help,” she said. “My niece, Elia, is in peril. I know where she is, sort of, and what needs to be done, more or less, but I’m grown old and cannot rescue her myself.” She turned an expectant eye toward us.
“Of course,” Dev agreed without hesitation.
“Here,” she said, straightening with effort and shuffling to a rounded clay X hanging on the wall. “This will suit you better.” She lifted it against Simeon’s chest, and the moment it touched him it disappeared.
Simeon blinked at her a few times, and then smiled. “I feel…”
“Strong?” she prompted.
“Yes,” he breathed, and a wide grin spread across his face. Without warning, he hoisted her thick wooden table up onto his shoulder, rattling pottery and all.
“Let’s see,” she said, eyeing me up. “This, I think.” She lifted a clay cone from a shelf and raised it up. She placed the cone on my head and took a step back. I couldn’t feel it there anymore, but my scalp tingled. Nodding in satisfaction, she moved on to Dev.
“Well now,” she said, her gray eyebrows lifting in surprise, “I think you’ll need this.” She pulled a smooth dark stone from a pocket in her skirt. Dev’s eyes glittered when he saw it, and he took the stone from her palm with a respectful bow. “These have a way of finding each other,” she said to him.
“Now then,” she added, clapping her hands together. “Time is short.” She jabbed a finger at Simeon’s thin chest. “You have new strength,” she said. “You,” she added, swinging toward me, “have the gift of memory. And you,” she said, turning to Dev, “may travel on a wish. You have all you need.”
“What about Molly?” asked Simeon.
Molly stood at his side, looking like she was trying her best not to look hurt.
“This child has a better gift of sight than I could bestow,” said the woman. “Now, tea.”
Molly chewed on her lip but said nothing, and I resolved that at the first opportunity I’d find her a pretty gift. She had gifts, as the woman had said, but she was also a little girl who felt the hurt of being left out. The woman ladled tea into bowls while we found places to rest around her small cottage. She eased down onto the single stool.
“Elia’s all I have left,” she said, “and it’s some sort of fairy that has her. I’m too old to fight what faerie beasts wander in from the forest anymore.”
“I thought fairies were nice, with wings,” frowned Molly.
The woman smiled at her with a gleam in her gaze that I couldn’t understand. Molly gazed back steadily.
“Some, not all,” said the woman. “Many are tricksters, and after something. Some just get hungry.”
“Like Mim,” murmured Molly.
The woman nodded grimly.
“You can get close to finding Elia with the stone,” she said to Dev. “With your sight, you can see what I have not,” she said to Molly. “You can remember, even if you come close to Razobog and her waterfall of forgetfulness,” she nodded toward me. “And you can fight,” she added, piercing Simeon with a fierce gaze. “Go on now,” she said, shooing us out the door.
At the threshold, Dev instructed us to hold onto him. Suddenly, the four of us stood in a neighborhood. The houses looked like they had been nice once, if not grand. Now they were run down. Paint peeled and rot showed where wood was exposed. Items lay in lawns as if abandoned mid-use.
“Someone’s coming,” whispered Molly.
We scurried behind what remained of a shed and watched a gaunt man with sallow skin shuffle past. A larger man with a round belly and a pale, jaundiced complexion strode after him.
“Not even a bite?” asked the large man.
“It’s my turn!” snapped the thin one. “You just ate.”
The large man waved his hands at the other in a dismissive gesture and went into one of the houses. The thin man continued his path toward the trees. He waved, though I couldn’t see at whom.
“What are we doing?” Simeon asked.
“Shh!” I hissed, and when I looked back the man was gone. “Where did he go?”
“Who?” asked Molly.
“There was a… never mind.” I sighed. I could remember, but they couldn’t, just as the old woman had said. “Molly, what do you see, right there?” I asked, pointing to where the man had stood.
Molly squinted. “There’s something wrong with the air,” she frowned.
“That’s what I thought. Can you see past it?”
Molly stepped out into the road and the rest of us followed.
“There’s a girl in there,” she said. “And a very big…” her eyes grew wide. “Snake!”
“Seriously, where are we?” scowled Simeon.
“Not important,” I muttered. “Simeon, you need to keep the snake from attacking.”
“I need to what and what now?” gulped Simeon.
“You’re strong enough,” I insisted. “Dev, you have a stone that will get us out of here if you wish it.”
“How did you know?” blinked Dev.
“Not important,” I said again.
I grabbed Simeon and Dev’s hands. “This way?” I asked Molly, taking several steps forward.
“To your right,” she corrected.
There was a funny sensation, like surfacing from being underwater, and then a girl lay bound before us. I rushed to her and worked at her bindings. The moment her hands were free she yanked the cloth away from her mouth and yelled, “snake!”
It was enormous, and yellow, with gray-gold eyes and fangs the size of swords. It shot toward us like a lightning strike.
“Simeon!” I shouted, just rolling out of reach from its snap.
Simeon leapt onto the snake as it coiled for another spring, his thin arms barely reaching around it. The next thing I knew, the snake was hurtling into a wall of trees. Dev helped me untie the rest of Elia’s bindings.
“Um,” said Molly.
She stood in the warbling air, and behind her, we saw the large man emerging from his house. Mid-stride he slithered from his clothes, even larger than the first snake.
“Take my hand!” ordered Dev.
The snakes blurred, and once again we stood before the old woman’s cottage.
“Nama!” cried Elia, running up the walk, though the rest of us had yet to find air for our lungs or command of our trembling legs.
The old woman burst through the door and joy warmed her features. She opened her arms, but instead of wrapping them around the approaching girl, she flapped them like wings. Elia was doing the same. In a blink, two moths lifted away from the small cottage and danced the air into the meadow behind.
“I told you fairies are nice, with wings,” said Molly.Written by W. C. McClure www.wcmcclure.com. This short story may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. Comments are welcome at www.farsideofdreams.com. Oh, and if you want to show your support, tell your friends – and pick up a copy of “The Statues of Azminan” by W. C. McClure. Thanks!