Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Green Fairy

(Well, it's been a while, so here's what I've been up to, writing-wise. I've taken a break from the writing class for a term, to concentrate on some competitions and to also try to get going in the magazine short story market. As a result, I've not really had anything to post here. So to make up for that, here's one of the competition entries, which was for the Winchester Writers Conference back at the end of June. Enjoy!)

Aereal stepped cautiously to the edge of the tree branch, her gaze falling into the drop that appeared before her. She looked down, the world plunging away to the forest floor far below. She fluttered her filmy fairy wings nervously and glanced at the robed, hooded figure who stood watching, leaning on a gnarled, twisted cane.

"Feel the air beneath your wings, Aereal", the figure spoke, the low, soft voice filling her with confidence. "Be the wind, feel yourself become one with it."

Her eyes were drawn back to the drop in front of her, her thoughts churning around and fixating on such things as height, falling and sudden, terminal stops. She began to tremble, glancing back at the figure, but the only reaction was a subtle nod of the cowled head. Aereal took a deep breath, stretched her wings and stepped off the branch...

"And that was class 3A with their rendition of the Courting of Titania", the loudspeakers boomed, underlined with the muffled rumble of applause throughout the arena. Not just applause though; Aereal could hear the undercurrent of laughter and murmuring, her imagination filling with pointing fingers and hands stifling giggles. She slowly clambered to her feet from the bush into which she has so unceremoniously crash-landed, headfirst, and began to trudge the long walk back to the tent. She knew the rest of her classmates would already be there, talking about her, making fun of her and waiting for her, waiting to trample, mash and shred her bruised ego.

She tried to make herself as small and unassuming as possible as she moved through the marquee, not wanting to attract any attention, but the laugher and snide comments rippled out from the gathered children and washed over her.

"Aereal flies like a bow-legged bogie!"

"She's gonna be a tooth-LESS fairy, flying like that!"

Then there was the photo, left on top of her uniform, showing her graceless landing in the shrubbery, wings, legs and arms akimbo, fairy dust raining down around her. She stared at the photo, the taunts and jibes closing in as the heat of embarrassment and humiliation grew within. She resolved to never give them the chance to make her feel that small ever again.

"Hey, Topper!", the customary greeting came as she clumped along the school corridor, her thick black boots thumping on the polished marble floor in marked contrast to the other faerie's satiny slippers. She winced inwardly and turned, her black dyed hair falling across her face, hiding it, more blackness marking out her eyes and lips. She liked to dream the revenge for the person who'd first made the comparison between her and the funny polystyrene balls that the Big People put on their car aerials; after this many years, it had grown quite elaborate and would be entirely satisfying to her. She glared at the giggling gaggle of faeries and turned away.

"We just wanted you to know that the Green Faeries will be coming here next week, not that a ground-hugging gnome like you would be interested", one of the identi-kit faeries said.

Aereal stopped. The Green Faeries. That would mean that Dash would be coming here. Dash Firestar, youngest ever lead flier for the Faeries. Aereal's heartbeat quickened at the thought of him and a rare smile crossed her black lips. That flowing, dirty-blond hair, the sparkling blue eyes, the body that drove the sylphs mad. And now she was going to meet him!

The week passed agonizingly slowly until the day finally came. The whole school was in uproar, but as one of the senior year pupils, Aereal and her classmates were expected to set an example. In this case, however, it was an example of how to scream like a banshee and barge everyone else out of the way with a well-placed elbow to the jaw.

"Go away, Topper", she heard again and again. "They don't want to see a fat, flightless fake fairy like you!"

Aereal trudged away, distraught and in tears, through the empty school, her boots echoing through the empty corridors, the sounds of jubilation and excitement drifting in through the open windows. Only when she had reached the other side of the school did she finally slump against a wall and slide down until she was sitting on the ground, knees pulled up to her chest, tears flowing freely.

The sun was blocked out. She looked up to see a tall, robed figure standing in front of her, silhouetted in the sunlight, the face hidden deep with a hood, gloved hands resting on a twisted cane. She blinked the tears away, wondering if she was seeing things.

"What's the matter, young fairy?", the figure asked, the calm, smooth, soft voice soothing her, wrapping itself around her and bringing a feeling of warmth and comfort to her.

"They tease me because I can't... don't fly", she replied, sniffling through her tears. "Why did I correct myself?", she thought. "I don't usually bother."

"Do you want to fly?", he asked. Her mind filled immediately with thoughts of Dash. She nodded.

"Then you shall, young fairy..."

Aereal stepped off the branch, her fine, flimsy wings fluttering frantically, trying to keep her aloft. Her flight was worryingly vertical and the ground rushed up to meet her at an alarming speed. Her straining wings pulled on her back and it felt as if they were going to rip right off. Her gaze fixed on the large, flat, hard rock that sat on the ground directly under her, her eyes growing wider and wider as it loomed larger and larger. Her wings were hazy with the speed and the sweat poured from her.

She skimmed the rock, feeling the rough texture graze her stomach. She shot over the surface of the rock and up into the air. Looping the loop, she descended again, now joined by the rest of the Green Faeries. She flashed a grin at Dash as he shot by to take his position in the display and her heart fluttered when he smiled back. She saw more faeries come up alongside her in formation, their fairy dust trailing silver, gold and copper rain. The sound of cheering and applause filled the atmosphere of the arena, the crowds roaring with each spectacular stunt they performed. The jubilation didn't stop until long after the Green Faeries had taken their bows and encores.

The other Faeries toasted Aereal afterwards, the newcomer blushing and stammering under the weight of the compliments and congratulations. When she had a moment to herself, she looked around for Dash, but he was nowhere to be seen; his dressing room door shut tight. She made her way over and tapped softly, then a little louder when there was no reply. She jumped back as the door swung open and her heart raced as he smiled broadly at her.

"Come in, Aereal, I've been hoping you'd come to me", he said, motioning her in. She walked in, not able to take her eyes from his handsome features. He lead her to a chair and she sat, finally taking in the laden dressing table, the mirror with the many glowing light bulbs and the rack of costumes. Her eyes wandered along the rack, each costume more lavish and extravagant than the last, except for one. Her heart quickened as she stood and stepped forward, taking hold of the long, thick hooded robe. She turned to Dash, who stood by the dressing table, silent.

"You?", she asked. He nodded and held out a photograph. Aereal took it, curious, but when she looked at it, she felt herself being pulled back all those years to that school flying display. It was the photo of her crash. She looked up, glaring angrily at him.

"Why? Why this?", she screamed at him, the pain of the memory bending her over as the sobbing started. She half-heartedly tried to push him away as he gathered her up in his arms and held her tight.

"This is why I came to find you, Aereal", he said. She looked up at him, confused and tearful.

"You only remember the crash. But I saw how you flew before that and I'd never seen such natural talent in one so young. The others were so jealous of you, I knew they'd never let you get past it. I had to do something."

Aereal gazed into his eyes, blinking through the tears. She laid her head against his chest as he held her. Her forehead furrowed as she saw a photograph stuck to the mirror and peered closer. It looked like another copy of her crash photo, but this one was older, more discoloured, different. The young fairy lying in a crumpled heap looked like her, but it wasn't her. The dirty-blond hair, the blue eyes... then she realised why Dash had saved her from her past.