I challenged my friends to “send me a one word or first line prompt and I will write a story about it.” One of my friends, Jensina, suggested a plethora of words: edlritch, shadow, faerie, magic, red, moon, hunt, oak, staff, and wild. These strike me as strictly fantasy which will be interesting considering, I don’t normally write fantasy. So here’s to treading on new territory! Huzzah! I hope you enjoy!
By Joy Bernardo
The door to their home burst open. Her mother quickly motioned for her to hide under the bed and she did; just as they had practiced in the past. She watched in horror as her mother was dragged out the door by her hair, screaming and flailing about. Her gaze followed her mother’s tear stained face as it contorted in anguish as she was pulled through the door. The sudden burst of noise was followed by complete silence. It wasn’t until after the noise has subsided that she realized that she was holding her breath. She slowly exhaled. Her tears fell down her dusty cheeks and onto her tiny, dainty fingers, which clutched her necklace. The necklace that held her mother and father’s wedding ring.
They had led a minimalist existence. They were deprived of the luxuries of life and most necessities as well. She would often go without meals and baths. She watched as her mother would go out and bring the company of men home with her in order to obtain enough money to pay for their survival. She watched as her mother deteriorated from syphilis and although she didn’t know exactly what was happening, she was a smart girl and came to a conclusion on her own, rather quickly. Of all the things that she missed about her mother, she missed her sanity the most. Because when her coherence left like a ship in the night, as did her affection for her child.
In her lucid days her mother would do the motherly things that Ilyra found so lovely - play with her, cook, clean, and even scold her for being disobedient. Her favorite thing, though, was when she would tuck her into bed and tell her stories of the forests just beyond the village. Her stories were filled with the wonderment of life free from poverty.
“As long as you respect the forest,” her mother would say. “As long as you respect the forest, it will provide for you and keep you safe.” Then she would continue on about he faeries that lived in the trees. “If you are standing at the clock tower and walk straight into the woods, you will find a gigantic oak tree with a knothole in it. Inside, it is painted deepest of red. If you are able to climb the tree and crawl into the hole, you will find yourself transported into the world of the faeries,” her mother would tell her.
“Tell me about the land of the faeries,” Ilyra would beg.
“Its a wonderful place filled with magic and everything that you could ever ask for.” Her magical tales would keep Ilyra’s mind reeling until she would eventually fall asleep from the sheer exhaustion of transporting herself to such a miraculous land.
That night, she fell asleep under the bed, dreaming of her mother leading her to the big oak tree. She awoke to the sound of her stomach, begging for attention. She crawled out from under the bed. The moonlight shone through the rotten, wooden planks that made up the walls of her home. She looked out through the window, her eyes just barely reaching the window pane. Ilyra looked up at the largest moon that she ever saw. It nearly filled the entire sky and lit the town like it was daylight. It was then that she heard it. Her mother. Calling to her from the town square.
She dashed out the door, slamming it shut behind her as she left with a cloud of dust in her tracks. When she got to the town square, it was empty. The only living thing besides her were tiny lightening bugs fluttering about the clock tower that stood in the square. She snuck up to them and held her hand out. Their delicate feet tickled the back of her hand.
“Hello,” she whispered to them. They took to the air again, flurrying around and over her head. She followed them as they led her to the woods, in between the trees, and through the dry vegetation on the ground. The ground was hard and dehydrated. The trees around her were nearly bare of leaves. She wandered deeper into the woods, following the tiny flickering lights. Stones poked at her feet and dry vines wrapped in thorns scraped at her legs. Then, like a monolith, the giant oak appeared in the distance. The fireflies disappeared into the tree. At first it looked as if the tree swallowed them whole but as she got closer she realized that they had flown into a knothole, high up amidst the branches. She took to the tree, limb by limb, climbing up until she could reach the hole. Her tiny fingers finally seized the edge of the opening. She slowly pulled herself up and into it, crawling in and falling inside, getting enveloped by the deep red hue of the interior of the tree. The fireflies danced above her head. She smiled as they flounced about in front of her face forming various shapes with their lights. First a star, then a heart, then a smile and a face. She blinked, not believing her eyes. The longer she stared at them, the more prominent the facial features became until…
“Eldritch” a little voice said. Ilyra watched the face form in front of her. It was a beautiful, young woman. “Eldritch, who are you?”
“Eldritch? My name is Ilyra. Who are you?” She looked the woman up and down; at her blond curls, her thin lips, her fair skin, her beautiful clothes, her delicately woven wings… Her delicately woven wings?
“My name is Aevery. What are you doing in my home?” the faerie retorted.
Ilyra looked around at the cramped space. “Oh, I’m sorry. It’s just,” she stopped suddenly, not knowing how to continue. “My mother,” she started but her voice trailed off. “I’m sorry,” she repeated again before crawling back through the hole. She reached for the branch just outside but couldn’t grasp it before gravity led her straight to the ground.
“Watch that first step,” Aevery called. “It’s a doosey!”
Ilyra rolled over onto her back. She pouted at the faerie as she fluttered down beside her.
“Are you okay?” Aevery asked.
“Yes, maam,” Ilyra said. She sat up and dusted herself off. It wasn’t until she was on her feet that she noticed that the ground was no longer covered with sharp stones and dry grass. Instead, soft blades of grass tickled her feet. She looked around. The ground was covered in lush vegetation and ample trees that were lush and robust with the brightest green leaves that she’d ever seen. She looked up at the sky, which was a light, bright blue speckled with fluffy white clouds. She reached up, wanting to grasp the cotton balls in her hands.
Aevery giggled at the little girl. “Haven’t you ever seen clouds before?” she asked.
Ilyra grinned. “Not like these ones,” she replied. Ilyra looked around. This wasn’t the same forest as the one just outside her village. And if this wasn’t the forest, then where was her village? She walked toward the direction she thought was her home, reveling in every step. The young faerie watched her wander off and followed in curious wonderment.
“Where are you from?” she asked, touching the child’s back. “Where are your wings?”
“I don’t have wings,” Ilyra responded. “And I’m from Spain. Where are we?”
“We’re in Olix. Where is Spain?”
Ilyra stopped and looked up at the faerie. “It’s in, um, Spain.” They both stared at each other. Ilyra shrugged and continued to walk. “Are we still in Spain?”
“I don’t know what Spain is, dear child. So I don’t believe so. Is that where you want to go?”
“Yes, I need to get home so that I can save my mommy,” Ilyra explained.
“Well, let’s go ask my dad. He will be able to tell us how you got here and how we can send you home.”
Ilyra stopped and turned toward the tree.
Aevery cocked her head to the side. “Where are you going?” she asked.
“To your house. The big oak tree.”
Aevery laughed. “That’s just my treehouse.” She pointed to a castle on a hill that loomed above the forest. “That’s my home and the home of my father. The King.”
When Aevery presented Ilyra to her father, his eyes began to well with tears.
“Oh, dear child,” he said to the little girl. “You finally came.” He was huge man, with no wings, built like a linebacker on steriods. His muscles were easily the size of the little girl, who cowered in front of him. His beard was white, speckled with gray, and was long enough to tickled the ground. A large, golden crown clung to his head and nearly hid his receding hairline.
“Do I know you?” Ilyra asked.
“No,” he replied. “No, I don’t suppose you do, child. I am King Macias, ruler of Olix. We’ve been waiting for you for a very long time.”
“Waiting for me?” she asked. She looked over at Aevery, who shrugged.
“We’re looking for something that has been taken from us,” said the King. He pointed to an empty stand next to his throne. “My staff.” He got up and made his way down the steps, kneeling before the little girl so that he could look into her eyes. “My staff is very important to me, child. Whoever holds it, has the power of Olix.”
“What’s the power of Olix?”
He smiled at her and lifted her up, setting her on his shoulder. “You see all of that out there?” he asked, pointing to the forest below them. She nodded her head. “That is our land and the staff helps keep in safe. As long as I have the staff, our land won’t succumb to the evils of the Shadowland.” He pointed to the land just beyond theirs, which was covered by the shadow of an ominous cloud that hovered over it. “As long as we have the staff, that cloud doesn’t move and the creatures of the night won’t invade us. But once that staff leaves this land, we will no longer be able to stave off the evils of the Shadowland.”
“How am I supposed to help?” Ilyra asked. “I’m just a little girl.”
“You’re not just any little girl!” the King declared. He picked her up off his shoulder and set him back on the ground. “You’re our savior.” He reached toward her chest and pointed to her heart. “You have a pure heart and it can lead you to the staff. All you have to do is follow your heart.” He looked up at the clouds in the distance. “If we don’t hurry, those shadows will engulf our land and we will be hunted by the evils of the night. You must hurry,” he urged her.
She nodded her head. “I know what must be done,” she said. She bowed deeply to the King.
“Take my daughter with you,” he said. “Only a being with royal faerie blood running through their veins can touch the staff without being turned to stone.”
Aevery led Ilyra out the door. They walked through the halls of the castle; long, lean, and slender like Aevery.
“Do you feel anything?” Aevery asked as they made their way through the forest.
“I don’t feel anything special,” Ilyra said, looking around. The trees towered over her, filled with hues of luscious greens.
The overcast moved across the sky like a huge wall. Ilyra and Aevery could see the shadows move across the land. They felt like they were in the incredibly shrinking room.
“Where is it?” Aevery asked the sky.
“Your dad said that I would feel it when it’s here but I don’t feel it at all. Who took it if it can’t be touched?” Ilyra asked.
It was like the sun was being eclipsed as the darkness grew nearer. All at once they were engulfed in the night. Ilyra looked around but she couldn’t see anything, not even Aevery.
“Averey,” she whispered. But nothing, nothing but silence. “Aevery!” she screamed. She reached all around her but could find no one at her side. Paralyzed by the darkness, she fell to her knees and began to feel around the ground. The lush grass was now dry and brittle, cracking and breaking at her touch.
A low, guttural growling filled the air like a fog, rolling in across the hills and getting louder by the second. She was weak. Too weak to move. She hadn’t eaten in a very long time. She looked up at the blue sky and smiled as she fell to her knees. The growling got louder as the creatures drew near, surrounding her. They towered over her, shielding her view of the sky. Without the sky her world was dark. She scampered between their legs, trying to get away but there was just too many of them. They growled and barked. Their voices booming. She scampered underneath a fallen tree and covered her eyes. Tears overflowed into her hands. When she opened her eyes again she was back home, underneath her bed but the monsters were real and they were still all around her, growling and barking at each other.
“Blasphamy!” they growled.
“Grab the witch’s child!”
The monsters tried to drag her out from under the bed.
“No!” she screamed and dug her fingernails into the wooden floors but what she ended up grasping instead was a large wooden staff. She took it into her hands and looked up at the men, who were uneasy with the glint in her eye.
“Child, don’t even think about it,” one of the men screamed but it was the last thing that he would say as she began to swing wildly, catching him upside the head. The other men backed away, forming a circle around her.
“Just come with us,” one of them said.
Ilyra closed her eyes. “Help me, King,” she said as she swung.
“You shall survive,” echoed the voice of the King in her head. “I shall make sure of it.”
As the sun began to rise in the small town. Ilyra stood, panting heavily, the staff held in tight in her left hand, in the center of a macabre seen. Her gaze dropped to the ground. Blood was smeared on the wooden planks underneath her feet. She looked over at the staff, which was no longer covered in blood. It was etched with hieroglyphics. She held it up to her face. Any other day, she wouldn’t have been able to tell what the intricate designs were that covered the wooden rod.
“To whomever holds this staff, holds the power of Olix. Able to defeat the darkest of evils and keep away the evils of the night. Only the holy and those of royal blood may carry the power, lest they be stricken down with the plague.” She paused. “Only those of royal blood?” she asked, grasping it in her hands. She pondered the unbelievable conclusion in her mind while swatting at the flies which tickled her ears. That’s when she saw them. Fireflies, glowing in the daylight.
“Aevery?” she asked.
Follow me, they seem to say. And she did.