Kat blinked at the tiny light floating just inside the tree house door. Setting down her book, she rubbed her eyes and the light disappeared. It was probably just a firefly. Late August evenings were full of them.
Even at thirteen, Kat still loved the tree house Da had built for her. When she was little, it was a place to read her fairy tales. Now, it was somewhere to dodge the troubles of a newly teenaged ginger being raised by a single father.
Lost in her reading, she hadn’t noticed just how much the sun had sunk. Normally, Da would call for her, but seeing as she was getting older he had taken to letting her come in on her own.
Stuffing her books into her backpack, she made her way down the rope ladder. When she reached the bottom, she froze—there was that light again. This time, hovering in the thick tangle of woods behind the tree house.
She blinked once. Twice. Three times. Still there. After a few moments, the flickering green light moved toward her, then shot back into the trees as if daring her to follow.
Katherine Delany was no coward, no way, no how. If there’s one thing you learn from being a townie of the Irish countryside, and having a gobshite brother, it was to show no fear. So, despite the hammering in her chest, she walked toward the woods.
The light winked out.
“Well, shite,” cussed Kat. She’d recently started cursing. It made her feel older, more mature. If she was feeling particularly brave, she might even call someone a manky flute.
Bending aside the trunks of a several saplings, she took a step inward, swearing she heard the faint sound of music. Kat followed the shimmering wisp through twisting branches and over fallen trees, listening to the cicadas sing their song in time to panpipes and drums. Keeping sight of the twinkling dot ahead of her, she wound her way deeper into the darkening thick.
When the light stopped in front of a very large and gnarled old tree, Kat wasn’t able to take her eyes off of it. She was so enthralled, in fact, that she barely heard the dry twigs snapping beneath her feet as she made her way forward. Using the trunk for balance, she stood on tiptoe. Her fingertips grazed the warm glow surrounding the light before it suddenly zipped away, leaving an iridescent trail of dust behind it like a miniature comet.
The rough bark bit into her tender flesh. Gritting her teeth, she flung herself around to follow, not anticipating the momentum of her backpack or how it would swing her around faster than her feet could clear the tree’s large, knobby root.
“Feck!” yelled Kat. She was sprawled out on the ground, and if there ever was a situation that called for new, uncharted curse word territory, this was it. Before another expletive could make its way out, a buzzing noise caught her attention, causing her to forget about her sore wrists and scraped knee.
Hanging in mid-air, two feet from her now dirty and sweaty face, were three tiny winged creatures holding hands—one blue, one yellow and the other green.
“Welcome!” squeaked the blue.
“Welcome!” echoed the yellow, unclasping from the others and spinning upward, tiny golden sparks flying every which way.
“Come,” the green held out a perfectly miniature-sized hand, “for I have led you here to dance.”
Kat didn’t know what to think. In fact, she couldn’t seem to think at all. How did she get here again?
“Can you hear the music?” giggled the blue fairy. “Please, oh please, dance with us…”
Delighted, their giggles gave way to tiny peels of laughter and the music grew louder. Their tinkling was infectious, and it wasn’t long before Kat was laughing, too. She watched transfixed as the fairies swirled in unison.
“Okay,” whispered Kat, “just for a little while.”
Sliding off her backpack, Kat began to dance. After some time, Kat noticed the three fairies had grown in size. Or, a foggy thought floated through her mind, have I shrunk?
The sun was shining brightly through the glassless windows of her treehouse when Kat awoke. She must have fallen asleep. Closing her book, she shoved it into her backpack, hurried down the ladder and scrambled home. It wasn’t a very big house, but it was enough.
Kat let the back screen door slam. Looking around, she got the feeling something wasn’t right. In fact, something was very wrong. Even the air seemed different, heavier somehow.
“Da?” Kat called out. She heard shuffling from the living room. Apparently the aul fella had fallen asleep last night, too, and by the sounds of it, on the couch.
“Can I help you, lassie?”
Kat jolted at the sound of an unfamiliar voice, her eyes going wide when an old woman hobbled into the kitchen.
“Where’s my da?” asked Kat, skipping pleasantries.
“I’m afraid there’s no one here but me,” said the old woman, her plump frame resting on a cane. “Are you… well… my dear?”
“Who are ya?” asked Kat, ignoring the woman’s question. “Why are ya in my gaff… where’s my da?”
“I live here, lassie,” replied the woman, knitting her brows together.
“No, ya don’t!” demanded Kat, dropping her backpack and scanning the kitchen. It sort of looked the same, but had the curtains always been that cheerful shade of yellow? She couldn’t remember.
Kat went over to one of the counter drawers and yanked it open, expected to see an array tools, along with a random assortment of pens and spare change. Neatly stacked silverware gleamed up at her instead.
“What’s going on? Da!”
“My dear, I’ve lived here over forty years… the family before us lived here sixty.”
The hair on Kat’s arms stood. She’d heard the old stories, read about them in her books. Unwitting poor souls enchanted by fairies for centuries. Fairies, though beautiful and wondrous to behold, were selfish, and would take what little time humans possessed solely for their amusement.
But wasn’t that just old Gaelic folklore?
Kat watched in horror as the smooth skin on her arms withered. Panic prickled up her spine as her knuckles curled into the useless claws of the ancient. Turning to run, she felt the ache of a hundred years threatening to snap her bones.
“Bloody hell!” She thought, pushing at the screen door, but before it could slam shut for the second time that morning Kat disintegrated into dust, scattering and blowing away in the summer breeze.