By William Au
There are places in the world that people avoid for no clear reason. These places may be as mundane or commonplace as an empty room or a hallway. The truth is that people instinctively avoid these areas because they house creatures of myth that prey on humans who are naive enough to approach–for example, children.
Laura's mother didn't leave work until late in the evening, so she always ate her supper at a local diner. Sometimes she brought her meals home because she hated to be alone at public places. However, Laura didn't feel like going home tonight. She pressed her back against the main entrance and watched passersby brace the cold to return to their abodes before nightfall. Fall came early this year, bringing gusts of wind that snatched people's breaths and voices.
Laura looked at her watch. Only an hour before Mom calls,
she thought. Since she was eight, she followed a routine of returning from school alone and watching over the house.
I'm already in middle school; she doesn't need to check up on me anymore.
In an effort to improve her mood, Laura took the long way home through the old city core. She found the solitude of the deserted sector calming and loved to gaze at the collection of ramshackle houses, while walking along the uneven, empty streets. She was a regular who knew how to navigate the winding alleys and forgotten streets.
Laura was almost home when she stopped in her tracks. There was a vacant lot, hidden behind a wooden fence, which she'd never seen before. As she drew closer, she heard a melody coming from the other side of the fence. The song was haunting but beautiful, like a lament for the dead, and captivated Laura unlike any song she knew. She circled the perimeter and found a gap among the rotting boards that was large enough for her to squeeze through.
The music died when Laura entered the lot. She saw nothing but a long field overrun by weeds and garbage. She stepped into the tall grass and felt glass crunch beneath her heel. There were broken bottles and rubber tires everywhere and even an old leather couch nearby, once loved but now forgotten. Laura wandered aimlessly around the dumping ground until she spotted a person sprawled in a bed of red spider-lilies. She was concerned but reluctant to approach because a black cloak obscured the stranger's face.
Suddenly, there came a shout from the opposite end of the field. The voice belonged to a boy with fair skin and dimples on his cheeks. He was running towards the wounded person who dangled one arm in the air, in a gesture for help. Laura didn't want to be a part of the ensuing drama, so she slinked away and hid behind the couch. The ground collapsed as soon as the boy stepped inside the field of flowers. He plummeted down the chasm and his echoing voice became the only trace that he was here.
Laura started to tremble when she realized that only the boy fell. Beneath the dirt was a web of thick, transparent thread, which suspended the other person above the hole. As the person rose to their feet, the cloak slipped from their shoulders and revealed an abomination with gangly limbs and a mouth that stretched from one ear to the other. Two segments of differing size formed its torso, which was smooth like porcelain.
“It's pointless to hide, human. I can smell you.”
Laura jumped and turned to run, but the creature spoke again.
"There's no longer an exit."
Laura looked at the fence and saw that the opening she'd come from was now warping and sputtering sparks. Her eyes searched for a means of escape and settled on a long piece of glass by her feet.
"That won't help you."
Laura looked up and found herself staring into a pair of red, sunken eyes. She stepped back.
"What are you?"
“Shouldn’t introductions come before questions?”
Laura said nothing. It flashed a smile that showed off its sharp teeth.
“M-my name is Laura.”
“I am Mesothelae. The pleasure is all mine.”
Laura groped the dirt for the shard of glass.
“There's no reason to fear me. I cannot harm you.”
She gripped the glass with both hands and pointed it at the creature.
“I don’t trust you.”
"You see, the faerie folk and human scum may share a less than amicable history, but I am sworn to an oath that forbids me from harming human or entering their dwellings without permission."
“What about the boy from before?" Laura asked. "You signalled for him!"
The faerie smiled.
“I only recall him approaching me and falling on his own."
"Why are you keeping me here?"
“I need you to get something for me."
"What is it?"
"An apple," the faerie chuckled, pointing at the hole in the ground, "That only grows down there. Also, think before you ask any more silly questions."
"Tell me where this apple is and how to get it."
"That's for you to figure out."
Laura gave the fairy a dirty look and peered down the hole. She couldn't see the bottom.
"What do I get from helping you?"
"I'll let you leave my domain."
"Can I trust you?" Laura asked.
"Of course, I have no reason to deceive you."
"I can't help it; I'm in a fine mood.”
She slipped the piece of glass inside a pocket.
I have to accept this monster's proposal to return home.
Laura begrudgingly shook Mesothelae's hand and leapt down the hole.
The hole was actually a narrow tunnel that tapered off into an expanse of sky. Through the cracks in the clouds, Laura saw a wasteland of sand and dead trees, moments before hitting the desert below. The sand cushioned her fall but didn't stop the pain that knocked her out.
The sound of screaming brought Laura to her senses. She began scanning her surroundings for the source, but then realized that the noise had come from her. After taking a few breaths, she lifted her body off the ground and made sure that nothing was broken. Laura heard traces of melody amidst the howling wind and followed it eastward, in the direction of the sun. She reached a small clearing, where a group of children were singing a song.
Stepping and slipping We fell that day Into a place far from Heaven
If you lose to temptation And satisfy your needs You 'll lose what makes you human
We want to leave But it's an impossible dream Unless we obey the ruler of this domain
There's only one way For us to be saved Someone else must suffer in our place
If we eat skin (that's red) And flesh (that's white) We'll once again walk on the surface
All of the children had eyes that lacked irises and wore rags that were difficult to distinguish from their ashen skin. There was one child who stood out from the rest. He was slumped on the ground and there were bruises all over his body. Laura saw the boy's face when a pair of children dragged him by the hair to a mat laden with jet-black fruits and meats. He was the boy from earlier, who fell down the hole. They shoved food into his mouth and forced him to swallow. The rest of the children ceased their singing and watched with rapt attention. Suddenly, he began to sputter gobs of black blood and heaved until he passed out from the loss of life in his body. A sapling emerged from his spew and aged into a tree bearing blood-red apples.
The children clamoured beneath the tree, but their celebration was short-lived. One of the children pointed at the sky and everyone started to cry from fear. Laura followed their gaze and saw Mesothelae descending from the sky, like a puppet on a string. The faerie swept the children aside with its long arms and scuttled up the tree on all fours. After settling on the highest branch, Mesothelae plucked the nearest apple and devoured everything but the core. It threw the remains of its meal into the crowd. None of the children moved.
"Good!" Mesothelae chuckled. "This time, you all know what you want."
The faerie continued to eat until a single apple remained.
"Here, children. This is for all your hard work."
The creature raised the apple in the air and crushed it with one hand. The children scrambled for every morsel they could salvage.
Laura watched the events unfold with a growing sense of despair – she needed a plan. An errant core bounced off her head, which she scooped off the ground.
Maybe I can use these to grow more apples.
She dug out the seeds and rolled them in her palm until she felt something prick her hand. The seeds were digging into her flesh and drinking from her scratches. She watched the seeds fill with blood and start to pulse, like a beating heart. Laura reconsidered her half-hearted idea from before and pushed her way into the crowd to gather the apple cores that lay in the dirt. Her actions didn't go unnoticed. Mesothelae climbed down from its perch and called out to her.
"Your time is up, Laura. The tree is barren and you have failed to retrieve its bounty. What have you to give me?"
Laura revealed a handful of seeds. Mesothelae laughed in response.
"Your desperation speaks for itself! I asked for fruit, not an empty promise."
The faerie laughed again and encouraged the children to join in. Laura ignored them and pulled out the glass shard in her pocket. She squeezed the jagged edge until a steady stream of blood ran from her palm. She cupped the seeds in her hands and fed them with her blood, letting them become red and plump before scattering them with all of her might. An outbreak of saplings grew from the trees and soon everyone was standing inside an orchard of blood-red apples. The children ran to satisfy their hunger while Mesothelae stood still, numb from shock.
"You lose, Mesothelae. I kept my end of the bargain. Now take me home."
A look of anger spread across the faerie's face and contorted its smile into an ear-splitting hiss.
"You gave me your word!" Laura yelled.
"I haven't forgotten, and I won't forget the shame I feel at this moment. You will regret trifling with me."
"Oh, cry me a river. Stop being a sore loser and get me out of here."
Mesothelae gave one last growl before spitting a thick cord of thread that passed through the clouds and pierced the crust of the ceiling.
Laura grabbed the makeshift rope and climbed until she was high enough to feel the moisture in the clouds. Suddenly, the thread started to sway in a violent manner. Laura looked down and saw a mob of children pushing and shoving each other for a spot on the rope. The closest ones shouted at her.
"Don't leave me here!"
"Take me with you!"
Laura felt the thread stretch and strain against the weight of the procession dangling below.
I have to leave this place.
She wielded the shard of glass again and dragged it across the thread until it split in two. Screams filled the air. The glass slipped from her fingers when she heard the first of the bodies hit the floor. Laura couldn't stop her body from trembling but she trudged onwards, up the remainder of the way to the surface.
When Laura was back in the vacant lot, she immediately ran for exit, which looked normal again. Fear took her exhaustion away and allowed her legs to carry her home. Without taking a break to recuperate her strength, she ran the shortest route to her house, through the streets with the most people and lights.
Laura's mother came home hours ago. She sat in the living room with the low buzz of the TV keeping her company. She heard the front door slam and rose from her seat to meet the approaching footsteps. Her blood turned to ice when she saw her daughter, who was bleeding and wearing clothes torn beyond repair. She staggered forward and hugged her daughter. Tears filled Laura's eyes as she returned the hug.
"I've missed you, Mom."
Suddenly, there was a knock on the front door.
"Is anyone home? I'm looking for Laura."
Laura looked at her mother and raised a finger to her lips.
The visitor laughed.
"Don't be so cold. It's me, Mesothelae."
"Go away!" Laura yelled.
"But I brought some friends who wanted to see you."
A cacophony of children's voices erupted from the other side of the door. Laura fell to her knees and cried. "Please, leave me alone!"
"That is too much to ask, Laura. These children want revenge and you're the one who took away their chance at returning to the surface!"
"But aren't they outside your domain right now?" she asked. "You are all free – you need to realize this and stop following this jerk around!"
The voices of the children faltered and fell silent.
"Do not listen to her!" The faerie roared, "Think of what she did to you during your hour of need!"
"I could say the same about you!"
The children left the entryway in a stampede and drowned out Mesothelae's protests with the sound of their feet. The hazy light of dawn broke into a new day. Laura walked to the window and watched an unhappy faerie chase a group of fleeing children well into the morning. She sat by the windowsill until the familiar commotion of everyday life coaxed her to sleep. Her mother carried her to bed. Safe in her room, Laura dreamed of a desert that was far beneath the earth and empty, save for a disgruntled creature on a tree, in a great big orchard.
Photo Credit: Justin Taylor
William Au is a student in the Professional Writing program with a love for storytelling that spans every medium of expression. His free time is spent sleeping, partaking of new experiences, and indulging in books and films. He helps run the Video Game Club at Algonquin College and collects children's books.