Emily opened up her eyes to a ceiling that had a celestial scene painted across it. The planets were all represented by their gods and goddesses, who sat comfortably on their material counterparts. Saturn looked down at her and gave her a wink. For a moment Emily wondered if she’d hit her head after losing consciousness.
“I’m seeing things Miss Emma.” Even as Emily said this she was hoping her aunt was actually in the room. Recent events were starting to come back to her and she remembered her aunt had been away from the boarding house.
“You are certainly seeing some things my little lady. Though be selective about what you’ve really seen.”
Slowly Emily sat up. She was laid out on a couch in a parlor painted in shades of pale rose and wine. She looked over and was relieved to see her aunt sitting in a chair nearby. She had a book in her hands; looking at her niece over the top of her reading glasses. She was smiling though. The old woman looked very bemused.
“I saw a fairy Miss Emma… and Saturn just winked at me.”
Miss Emma nodded her head slowly as she set her glasses to the side and closed her book. She looked up at the ceiling and pretended to scold the painted god of the sea above. This was a sweet gesture though, not a serious one.
“I’m happy to tell you the paintings don’t move in this house -at least all the ones I’m aware of. If you see one that does move please tell me. You’re still a little woozy and I think your dream state was interacting with your waking state a touch.”
“And the fairy?”
Miss Emma’s face became very serious. She was struggling with something. In the end Emily realized she was struggling with what to tell her niece. It seemed the old woman was hoping to make her great niece’s transition into her home much slower and certainly without Saturn’s mythical stamp on things.
“Aw the fairy… that was real. And as wondrous a thing as you’ll come to understand it, I know it was a bit much for your first day here. I sometimes make mistakes in judgment: Like good mother Sonja. Dear Sonja is always so good at keeping her somewhat wild munchkin in check that it never occurred to me that her fact-of-the-matter personality might think nothing about introducing you to the more unique parts of our home right away. I’m of course referring to little Sigrid introducing you to Mab so soon.”
Emily closed her eyes. There were chaotic images there. There was a long drive and her aunt giving up and leaving her among fascinating strangers. She saw thoughtful candles left outside in a beautiful garden for her parents. There were… thoughtful actions she couldn’t blame on anything. The moment in the glass house truly was a moment of too-much-information though that her mind had balked at. As she sat there looking at her great aunt she truly hoped that would be understood.
“Fairies aren’t real Miss Emma.” she quietly replied.
Her aunt didn’t reply to this. Her face was very serious and her eyes scanned the painted ceiling as if she was trying to find the right response up there. The celestial court had no answers to offer her.
“Emily…” she began but stopped. She continued to struggle.
The young woman realized she was making things far more difficult than they needed to be. She smiled at her aunt and nodded her head as if deciding to simply accept something that had no proper explanation. She did this though hoping an explanation would come. “Alright… fairies are real Miss Emma.”
The old woman delicately lifted her worn body from her chair and moved to sit next to her niece. She took the young woman’s hand in her own and smiled. “Do you really want to know?”
“Yes.” Emily wasn’t entirely sure this was true but her mind was beginning to become unclouded and she didn’t want anyone to pussyfoot around her. She wanted to know. “Why are there fairies in the greenhouse?”
“It’s a bit of a story,” Miss Emma cautioned.
Emily shrugged her shoulders and leaned back into the couch. “I’ve got the time.”
Miss Emma nodded and leaned back into the couch beside her niece.
“Well… it started about thirteen years ago. Mab had just lost her husband to lung cancer and she really didn’t have anyone but him. She had no family, no real friends… just a few people she worked with at a florist’s shop. Flowers were her thing you see… besides her beloved husband.
“After a particularly hard day at work she came home to an empty apartment and she felt the weight of her loss quite severely. It’s a wonderful thing to love another person so greatly that you are the only two things that matter in your private universe. The curse of it is we seldom leave this world together and when one of you is gone it’s like half of your universe has been torn apart. That was what Mab was feeling.
“She told me that she went to her kitchen window to lay down birdseed as her husband used to do when he got home from work. A familiar collection of sparrows came to eat and she watched them intently. When the birdseed was gone one by one the little birds extended their wings and flew away. As she watched the sparrows leaving Mab realized that she was able to do the very same thing. She didn’t have to stay in that apartment that was no longer filled with her husband’s presence. She didn’t have to get up at dawn and go back to that florist’s shop and spend another aimless day around co-workers she cared little for. Mab didn’t have to stay there.
“So Mab grabbed some suitcases and filled them up with the things she didn’t want to leave behind. She took a box and filled it with her photo albums and the pictures she had of her husband. She took only the things around her that had real sentimental value and she loaded them into her car. An hour later she was on the highway moving with no direction, no destination in mind and there began her adventure.
“She went everywhere that one. The more nomadic she became the more her senses began to change. In life Mab had been a quite ordinary middle-aged woman with an incredible green-thumb who loved her husband and was reasonably satisfied with her life because she was with him. When he was gone she became a singular creature who wanted to see everything, to know everything she could know. She traveled to Florida to see the coral castle and had lively debates about how old Edward had moved all that rock around. She visited the Winchester house and nearly stepped through one of the doors to nowhere. Though technically it did lead somewhere: Down, at a falling pace. That woman can tell you a story or two about her travels. Believe it.” This caused Miss Emma a thoughtful smile.
“One day Mab was presented with an experience that showed her just how greatly her senses had changed… how she was seeing so much more of the world than the average person.
“She was in a large town sitting on a park bench feeding ducks. One of the ducks became startled and started flapping its wings most violently and quaking at something Mab couldn’t see. Finally the duck darted forward and sitting there was an ugly little creature she described as looking like a very old and angry sweet potato. It had arms and legs and a cruel little face where at that moment had a mouthful of duck feathers in it.
“When the creature realized that Mab could see it, it was just as startled as she was. They stared one another down until finally the creature became spooked and ran away. To this day Mab hasn’t successfully been able to identify the creature and at the time she didn’t want to figure out what it was. She was too busy being perplexed by having seen it. It was the start though. From that point after Mab would see things everywhere. And they were things that everyone could see if they wanted to. She realized people simply did their best to filter those things out.
“Mab began a diary and she recorded any little thing that she saw. She sketched these things and slowly began to accumulate her own little dictionary of strange creatures. Often she would visit a library in whatever place she was staying and look through books to see if she could better identify these creatures. When she discovered what a creature was she added that name and notes to her diary.
“Eventually it became apparent to her that she was mostly seeing some of the more mischief laden and nastier creatures talked about in myths or children stories. She wanted desperately to see the beautiful creatures of their kind but they were elusive. She might catch a colorful shadow but she never laid eyes on the shadow caster properly. But when she finally did, she realized why she wasn’t seeing these creatures. At least not seeing these creatures where she was looking for them.
“One day Mab was outside of a bookstore in their outdoor cafe indulging in a sweet coffee and reading through a book she couldn’t afford to buy. Out of the corner of her eye she saw one of those colorful shadows, only this time when she quickly turned her head she caught sight of an arm… a wing.
“She was up and moving towards the edge of the building where the tiny creature had fled. She was quiet in her pursuit and moved as carefully and gently as possible. She didn’t want to frighten the creature or make it think she was a threat. Mab went so far as to think of good things… warm things. She didn’t know why, but she wanted to give off an aura of being kind and a thoughtful mind. She wanted this creature to sense her good intentions and she was shocked when it worked.
“In the small passage between two buildings she came upon a small cluster of tall grass and wild flowers that had grown up through a large crack in the pavement. In this tiny little cluster of nature was a small creature that almost resembled a miniature person. Its ears were pointed and its eyes were quite large and round compared to the size of the rest of its features. Its hair was more like gathered wisps of silk. Mab realized she was looking at an actual fairy.
“The poor creature had clothed itself in old candy wrappers. Its skin looked like it should be luminous but there was too much dirt causing it to be dim. Its moth-like wings laid flat against its back like they were no longer able to flutter and carry the little creature into the air. Mab had a frightening thought that this incredible little thing was slowly dying.
“Can you imagine how that would feel? To have proof of this fantastical hidden world right there before you and to know it was dying?” Miss Emma’s face became quite solemn. She almost looked like the very thought might make her cry.
“Well, Mab was not going to let such a thing happen. She extended her hand to the tiny creature not knowing if her intentions would be perceived as a threat. Let me help you she whispered to the little thing. The fairy looked weary for a moment but eventually stepped from its little cluster of nature and climbed into Mab’s hand. Very carefully she brought the creature up to her shirt pocket and opened it up for the creature to climb into. Then she was away like a mad woman making her way back to her motel. She stopped long enough to buy fruit from a produce stand and here and there nabbed a flower or sprig of leaves that she added to her bag of fruit.
“When she got to her motel room she went into the bathroom and ran some water. When it was warm she pulled the sink’s plug and let the sink fill half way up with water. She set wash clothes by the sink. Then she knelt down next to the sink and opened her pocket so the creature hiding within could see what she’d been doing.
“Mab described the fairy as being very timid but seeming to be so exhausted that it was past caring. It peaked out of her shirt pocket and very gingerly reached for the edge of the sink and pulled itself onto the porcelain. It went as far as to sit on a washcloth and there it sat. Eventually it looked up at Mab, its little face so weary.
“Once again Mab was up and rushing about. She took one of her floral patterned shirts and cut it up into scrap sized pieces of material. She set these on the bathroom counter. She cut up a nectarine into very small pieces and put these in one of the motel room’s plastic cups. She put those next to the shirt pieces. Then she had a random thought that maybe it would be nice for the sink water to smell pretty so she plucked some of the petals from a rose she’d grabbed along the way and added them to the water. And all the while the fairy just sat there on the washcloth watching Mab doing these things.
“Eventually, she softly told the creature that she was going to leave it alone. So she left it alone in the bathroom and turned her attention to trying to make some sort of nest for it in the room outside. She didn’t really have an idea what a fairy nest would look like in a cheap motel room.
“In the end she took a sheet from the bed and put it over the desk in the room. She was thinking along the lines of a make-shift tent that a child might put together. She put a pillow in this desk tent, along with all the flowers and leaves she’d picked along the way. Then she set the rest of her purchased fruit in there. When she was done and looking over her work she heard water noises from the bathroom.
“Mab didn’t want to intrude upon the creature’s bath time but she was desperate to know if she was being helpful to it. She peaked around the corner of the door and her heart nearly broke as she looked into the bathroom.
“The old candy wrappers that had served as clothes were lying on the bathroom counter. And there in the water the fairy was sitting. It had a small piece of fruit in one hand as its other hand gently moved a rose petal around in the water. This was all Mab needed to see.
“The whole experience had been overwhelming and as the hour passed Mab grew tired and dozed off. When she woke dusk had fallen over the room and everything was silent. At that point she was worried everything she’d just experienced had been little more than a dream. She got up and went to the bathroom and there was no fairy there. So she went to the desk and very gently pulled back the sheet to look beneath it.
“There all comfortably nestled in the middle of the pillow was a sleeping fairy. Its body was wrapped in one of the shirt pieces. One of its arms was holding a sprig of lilac like a child hold’s a teddy bear. Every so often it moved in its sleep and its wings fluttered.
“Mab let the sheet fall back and she found herself falling onto the bed. You can imagine just how overwhelming such a scene might be. After all of the ugly little creatures Mab had seen, she was realizing why she hadn’t seen more creatures like this one: The modern world was becoming too rough a place for them. That woman quietly cried herself to sleep that night. I think I would have too.
“In the morning when she woke she found the fairy sitting on the bed next to her head. It had woven some of the tinier flowers into its hair. Mab reached up and felt the flowers the fairy had tucked into Mab’s own hair while she slept. It made her heart melt. They had no common tongue but they quickly learned how to communicate with one another. This was how Mab met her first sprite, who she came to know as Pearl. Pearl is an air elemental.”
Miss Emma became quiet, with a soft little smile playing at the corner of her lips. She looked over at her niece and was pleased to see how attentive the young woman’s face was. She was urging her aunt to continue the story with her eyes. When this didn’t work she resorted to words.
“And?! What happened to Pearl? And how did Mab get here?”
“Oh nothing happened to Pearl. She’s quite well. Her and Mab are inseparable. If you take tea in the gardens around dawn you’ll be joined by Mab and Pearl will always be sitting on her shoulder. As for how they got here…”
Miss Emma paused a moment and readjusted herself on the couch. This was a touchier part of the story and the old woman wanted to offer it in just the right way. She didn’t think her niece was quite ready to know some things about the lands she now lived on.
“Well… that is a bit of a bigger story. Let’s go with the short version for now.” She smiled and squeezed Emily’s hand affectionately.
“When Mab left her home she was certainly not a rich woman, but she had some savings and a modest life insurance policy left to her by her husband. It afforded her the ability to be that nomad for many years. But by the time she met up with Pearl she was running very close to the bottom of her funds. She was realizing she had to find a place to settle in for a little while and most likely get a job. She didn’t want to do this in the city though. After taking on Pearl she spent less and less time in big cities. She tried to keep the two of them as close to nature as possible. This was, after all, the best way to rehab a little sprite who’d nearly been killed by city life.
“Somewhere along the way Mab found herself on a two lane highway in the middle of nowhere. She was getting low on gas and not seeing too many road signs assuring her there was a place to get more. She ended up deciding to turn off the highway when she saw that old directional sign for Orange Moon Downs. Unfortunately she never made it that far.
“Mab’s car ran out of gas about a mile from the boarding house. She followed the dirt road until she hit our wild flower field. The flowers caused Pearl to urge Mab to keep going. By the time she was at my front door she’d walked a mile in the cold rain and was trying to very nonchalantly act like there wasn’t a fairy hiding underneath her hat trying to braid Queen Ann’s lace into her hair. She was a sight.
“Mab wanted to know how to get to the town but I wouldn’t hear of it in that weather. I brought her in and set her down in the kitchen and got some warm tea and food into her. I pretended not to notice as she sneaked little pieces of fruit under the wet hat she wouldn’t take off. I let her tell me the pedestrian version of her story as she warmed up. When she was done I think she finally realized she had come to an end point in her adventures. This hit her particularly hard. Mab broke down in tears. I let her have a good cry. I pretended to not see the little hand that came down from under the hat that started to softly smooth the woman’s eyebrow in an effort to comfort her.
“I put Mab up in one of my rooms and told her I wouldn’t hear any of her protests until she’d had a chance to take a bath and get a good nights rest. She was grateful, but I think it only added to how miserable she looked in the morning when I found her at the front door about to leave.
“’Walk with me’ I said to her. We walked around the house and through the gardens as I brought her to my greenhouse. Mind you, the greenhouse back then had been neglected for a year. It was just a glass house full of over grown plants and a simple tiled floor. So I made Mab an offer. I said ‘Miss Mab you need a roof over your head and I need my greenhouse brought back to order. You said you were a florist once upon a time with a pretty good green thumb so maybe you could help me out with that. You can stay in the room you spent the night in and I’ll keep your belly full and in return maybe you can work in my greenhouse. I think your little friend would enjoy living here.’”
Miss Emma smiled at the memory. “I remember how shocked she was when I said that. I remember how that little imp peaked out from underneath her hat smiling at me. This is how Mab and Pearl came to live here.”
Emily smiled. This was a nice story and she had seen what the greenhouse had become so she knew there was no bad ending anywhere in there. But she was still curious about one thing.
“Sigrid said Mab heals her peepers in the glass house. And the sign outside mentions the U.F.R.L. is in the greenhouse. What is that?”
“I thought that might be more apparent now?” Miss Emma said as she looked thoughtful. “Mab found Pearl and helped her and she realized that cities are a hard place for the bright fae to live. Only the dark fae seem to thrive there for the most part. Now that she was aware that mythology was not really a bunch of myths, she wanted to help others like Pearl. So she started the U.F.R.L. or the Urban Fairy Rescue League. She began it years ago and created a network all over. When a sick or struggling fae is found they’re brought here and she rehabilitates them in the greenhouse. When they’re whole again she offers them a home in the surrounding forest. We weren’t lying when we said the forest is enchanted. It’s quite like the forests of old… the forests that were written about in fairy tale times.”
This was quite a lot of information to digest, but Emily realized she was okay with it. She found herself giggling and unable to get a handle on them as her aunt looked on quizzically.
“And what is so funny little miss?”
Through the giggles Emily managed to say “Wow… aunt Jen was actually right. My mom’s people really are an odd bunch.”
Even as she said it she realized just how true it was and this made her laugh even harder. It wasn’t a nervous laugh, just a very honest one. She could only imagine what things her very straight laced aunt Jen might have seen or overheard when she was around Emily’s mother. More than that, it made her think of so many of the little things her mother had said to her. Things she hadn’t thought about in years.
Slowly she got her giggles in check and brought them down to a soft gurgle. Her chest was actually sore from the heavy laughing but it was a good sore. When all the laughter was finally out she slumped back into the couch again almost exhausted.
“That made me think of something my mother used to say to me every night when she tucked me into bed.”
“And what’s that?”
“She would tell me that all the legends were true and then she’d kiss my forehead goodnight. And I remember…” her memories stretched as she tried to remember back to those very young years. “I remember she used to whisper into my pillow before I laid down. She said it was so I would have good dreams.”
“And did you?”
“Yes… almost always.” A sad thought came to her. “I didn’t have my first nightmare till after she died.”
Miss Emma squeezed her hand and told her sadly the good thoughts were always coupled with some of the bad ones. Then she gave her niece a warm hug and promised to tell her the secret of pillow whispering one day when she was ready.
– Part I Mab and her Fairies
– Part II Minerva Mox’s Secret
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