Mary stared at the ceiling.
The moon was bright that night; it didn’t take long for her sight to adjust to the gloom. She was unsure why she had woken, but now sleep felt impossible. Instead, she found herself gazing around her room.
Opposite her bed stood a small wooden desk, with an old stool tucked underneath. To the side of the desk was a short, squat cupboard that served as a wardrobe. It was a simple room, almost identical to those of the other girls except for a knitted cushion on the stool, a roughly hewn patchwork rug… and a multitude of drawings covering the walls.
These were her pride and joy, as she loved to draw more than anything. There were sketches of the school and the gardens surrounding it. Detailed paintings of roses, tulips, bees, and squirrels. Portraits of the students and teachers, five of which were of her best friend Lilly.
And, more recently, a few brightly coloured pictures of a fairy.
This fairy was not the child-like being from her mother’s stories, but a skinny, green-skinned creature with long limbs, clothed in a petal dress coloured yellow. Pointed ears sat on an elongated head. Its eyes were large ovals, carefully shaded blue while beneath them rested a small nose curled like a fishhook. And from its back stretched a pair of large, brown butterfly wings.
Lilly had asked why it looked so strange compared to more traditional pictures, and Mary explained that she was simply drawing what the creature looked like in real life.
Of course, Lilly didn’t believe her.
Ever since that first short meeting, when Mary had found the little creature hiding among the flower beds, she’d eagerly told anyone who would listen about its existence. Only the younger girls had shown any interest, and even that was because they liked her pictures. No matter how often she searched she hadn’t spotted it again, and as time passed, she started to believe it had been a dream.
Her eyes lingered on the most recent picture of the fairy, which was lying unfinished atop her desk, fluttering in the wind.
Mary blinked, focusing on the paper again.
She hadn’t imagined it; the picture was bouncing up and down as if it could blow away at any moment. Frowning, she turned to the window to see the curtains also billowing about.
Ever since Mary was little, she had kept her curtains open at night, but still made sure to close the windows; why were they open?
Groaning to herself, she pushed the heavy blanket aside and swung her legs out, gasping as her feet touched the cold wooden floor. Once up she moved between the curtains and grabbed the latch, pulling it hard enough to create a loud thud. For a moment she held her breath, wondering if anyone had heard that, but the only sound was the distant snoring of old Mrs Grilby.
Mary breathed out, shaking her head at being so paranoid. She was about to go back to bed when a loud tap made her jump, eyes fixing on the window. Briefly, she saw something drop down the glass. A fly maybe? Cautiously she kept her eyes on the window, only flinching slightly when it appeared again, this time hitting the glass three times before dropping. By now she realised it wasn’t a fly at all, but a very familiar figure; the same one in her drawings.
A tiny, green fairy.
Upon this realisation Mary desperately fumbled to open the latch, pulling the window back just as the fairy attempted to ram it. It smacked into her chest, and Mary caught the creature in her cupped hands.
It shook and fluttered its wings to help steady itself on her palm. A pair of tiny hands patted down its garment before looking up at her.
It smiled and Mary could not help but smile back.
It was here.
It was real.
The fairy lifted into the air and hovered in front of Mary’s face waving its arms as it said, “Come on, I’ve got something to show you!” in a high voice that tinkled like bells.
The fairy buzzed out of the window, reappearing to wave again before flying down. Mary leaned out to see the tiny ball of colour flitting around the front door of the school.
Without hesitation Mary closed the window and padded over to the cupboard, trying to be quick and quiet. She first pulled out a pair of shoes, her fingers fumbling as they tied the laces together. Then she grabbed her dressing gown and was about to move towards the door when she stopped, turning instead to the desk. Soon her pocket was stuffed with a long, thin pencil and a blank sheet of white paper.
The hallway was silent apart from Mrs Grilby’s deep snoring, so Mary began to creep towards the stairs. Every step sent the floorboards squeaking and she found herself hopping between carpets just to reduce the sound.
No one could leave their room after lights out; if a teacher caught her, she would be scrubbing the floors for a week. And as she slowly tiptoed down the wide staircase, halting at the slightest sound, she wondered if this was worth the risk. After all, she didn’t know anything about this fairy, what if it was a monster in disguise? What if this was a trap or worse, what if she was hallucinating the whole thing as part of her descent into madness?
A light tapping sound jolted her out of her thoughts, dashing down to the front door as silently as she could. Lifting the latch while constantly looking over her shoulder, she pulled the heavy wooden door back just enough to slip through.
The fairy was bobbing around and shrilly crying “Come on! Come on!”, ignoring Mary’s frantic signals to keep quiet. It started flying towards the garden with Mary sprinting behind; the little creature was much faster than herself.
She chased it past the allotments and flower beds, quickly losing her breath as she dodged between plant pots and statues. The fairy continued to fly ahead, its skin seeming to glow brightly in the dark night. It led them alongside Goose Lake, the reflection on the water reminding her of a shooting star dashing across the sky.
Finally, it stopped. Mary stumbled to a halt herself, gasping and clutching her side in pain.
“Here it is! Look look!”
Mary did look.
The fairy was flitting about a large stone wall buried amongst the trees. Some stones looked loose, and there was dark green moss gathering where the wall met the ground. Sound was absent here, even as she approached the grass made no noise beneath her feet. There were several bits of rubbish scattered upon the ground; broken glass, scraps of cloth, and even the door of an old plane. But that was not the most notable thing; what really drew Mary’s attention was the large, gaping hole in the center of the wall. Unevenly round and pitch-black inside, it was this that the fairy eagerly bounced around.
A sense of doubt niggled at the back of her mind.
She and the other girls had been warned to stay away from this area ever since they arrived, and though some came to look as a dare, no one ever got too close. The adults said it was dangerous because of the broken glass, but rumours had quickly spread about children disappearing into that hole, never to be seen again. Mary had always believed in magic, even the bad kind, so this hole held an air of curiosity for her.
But not enough to go inside.
“This is the tunnel between your world and mine.” The fairy continued, oblivious to Mary’s change in demeanor. “We use it to come and visit humans like you, Mary, and through it, you can see my home!”
“Through the tunnel?”
“Uh-huh! I’ve got so much to show you, there are the rose gems and the sugar lake and the horse flies…”
“So… i-it’s safe?”
The fairy finally stopped to look at its companion. It saw how Mary stared at the hole, her brows furrowed and her fingers fumbling nervously with the chord of her dressing gown. With a gentle smile, it flitted over, hovering in front of her face and placing a tiny hand on the tip of her nose.
“I promise you, Mary, it’s safe. We’ve brought many children through here before! Or at least, we have done before…” Its voice trailed away, the blue eyes downcast. “Children don’t believe in us these days… not like they used to…”
A twinge of guilt ran through Mary, quickly forcing her nerves to the back of her mind. After all, this was a fantasy brought to life; she would not forgive herself if she let fear rob her of such an opportunity. Placing her finger on top of the tiny hand, she smiled and said, “Let’s go, I want to see your home.”
The change was instantaneous, the fairy buzzing to life as she grabbed the finger and pulled, leading Mary towards the wall with an excited squeal.
“Yay yay yay! Ok, follow me inside!” The fairy zoomed into the darkness of the hole. Its skin glowed even brighter than before, creating a ring of light around the edge of the hole. The light started to grow smaller, then suddenly it reappeared in front of her face “This is important Mary, I need you to remember; you cannot go back, only forward, and if you reach a turning then always go left. Got it?”
“Forward and left, got it.” Mary responded, her own heart thumping with anticipation as she went up to the hole.
Climbing inside was a little difficult due to the height and the damp, slippery stones, but there were plenty of gaps she could use to help. After a few minutes of struggling she was in, giving the fairy a small grin.
“Ok Mary, this way! Come on!”
The fairy sped ahead, leaving Mary alone at the entrance. She took one final glance behind her… then began to crawl.
The tunnel was bigger than she expected and, despite some of them jutting out at odd angles, the stones inside felt very secure. It was easy for Mary to keep pace with the fairy, even on her hands and knees. The rock was not very comfortable, particularly through the thin material of her night-dress, but she pressed on while imagining what she might see on the other side.
Mary could not wait to see Lilly’s face when she told her about this. Maybe she could bring something back as proof, so the other girls would believe her too. She would have to do some sketches of course; hopefully, some of the other fairies would sit for her, that way she could get the features perfect. Did she bring enough paper? It didn’t matter, after going once she could surely come again. Perhaps Lilly could join them next time. Or she could stay, and the others could come later unless time worked differently in the fairy world. Would it go faster or-
Mary felt her right knee sink down.
The stones had come loose beneath her weight, and the suddenness of the sensation made her stomach drop as she tried to steady herself. She took in a few shuddering breaths, feeling tears prick at her eyes while her heart thumped a thousand beats a second. It was an unpleasant return to reality, but the fear soon lessened as she let herself relax.
“Ok Mary, focus now. Don’t daydream, just focus on following the fairy and be… care… ful…”
Mary could no longer see the fairy.
In fact, she could not see anything. All around her was dark. Endless, empty dark. She looked behind but could still see nothing. Had they already gone so far? She vaguely remembered doing some turns so it wasn’t surprising that she no longer saw the entrance, but for there to be no light at all… How far ahead had the fairy gone?
The sound was faint, but she still heard it, shuffling back to feel the spot where her knee had sunk. Her fingers found the hollow space, and what she had initially thought was just a dip proved far deeper. The loose stones must have fallen all the way through. Bending her head down Mary strained her ears, only just making out the sound of rushing water.
There was a river underneath her.
More importantly, there was nothing between her and the river.
Children disappeared in that hole.
The thought was in her mind before she could stop it, cold fingers of dread pressing against her scalp.
The key was not to panic. If she panicked, then things would only get worse. Maybe the best thing to do was head back and return to school; at least then she would be safe… even if it meant abandoning the fairy. However, the fairy had told her she could only go forward. Was there some magic preventing her from changing direction? She stretched a hand back experimentally and found no resistance, no force to stop her. Perhaps she could go back…
For a few moments, Mary lingered, shivering with the damp sinking into her legs as she tried to reach a decision.
“Huh?” The sound of her own name felt alien in the quiet. She almost didn’t believe it was real. “Who’s there?”
Where are you Mary? Did you get lost? Are you coming?
The voice was distant, a high tinkling voice like bells… Like the fairy! It must have come back for her!
“Here! I’m here!” She cried out, trying to pinpoint where it was coming from.
Come on Mary…
There, it was ahead of her!
Her knee hit the hole again as she began to crawl, prompting her to slow down. She began carefully checking the surface beneath her, making sure the stones were secure before resting her weight on them.
“Forward and left, forward and left, forward and left…”
Mary muttered this over and over, soon moving at a steady pace. The further she went the more turnings she found, always going left as she had been told and occasionally calling out to the fairy. The responses always came but soon grew distant, causing Mary to worry that she had taken a wrong turn at some point. But still, she kept going.
It felt like hours that she crawled in the dark.
The stones suddenly sloped, indicating she had reached another turn. Blindly she stretched her hand forward, sighing in relief as her fingertips grazed the stone. Instinctively she turned left… only for her forehead to smack painfully into another wall.
She stopped, rubbing her forehead and blinking back tears.
Where was the turning? The fairy said always go left, but there was no left! And no forward either! For a horrible moment, she wondered if this was a dead end, but a quick feel of the right revealed more tunnel. She had to decide what to do. It wasn’t worth trying to go back, not with how far she had already travelled. Could she even retrace her steps at this stage? But the fairy had told her to go left, who knew where going right would take her? What could she do?
Mary took a deep breath.
“Fairy? Are you there? I am stuck, there is no left turn and I can’t go forward! I need your help!” Silence. “If you can hear me please say something! Fairy? Fairy?!”
She couldn’t stop the panic now, her voice choked with sobs as she continued calling out. The darkness was too thick to see anything. Her legs and hands were sore from all of the crawling. She was completely alone; lost in a tunnel she had been warned away from time and time again… all to follow a fairy.
Mary pinched herself, hoping this was all a dream.
The tears fell even harder now, Mary pulling her legs close to her chest while she huddled against the left wall. She was so frightened, all she wanted to do was go back to school and away from this nightmare.
The voice was real; she wasn’t imagining it!
“I’m here fairy! I’m here! I thought… I th-thought I was… and you… where are you?!”
I’m coming Mary, stay where you are…
A wave of relief flushed through her, wiping her eyes to dry the tears before shifting onto her knees. As she looked back the way she came, something caught her attention. There was a faint spot of green, no bigger than a pinprick yet it felt like a lighthouse beacon after being in the dark for so long. That had to be the little fairy flying towards her!
“Fairy? Is that you? I think I see you! I’m over here!”
I’m coming Mary…
As she waited, Mary felt an odd chill run down her back. She put a hand under her hair, thinking some water had dripped onto her neck but felt nothing there.
Something was wrong.
And in the distance, she heard… growls?
“F-fairy?” She asked, starting to move backward.
Stay where you are Mary…
The voice was high at first, but with each word, it started to drop. It became layered, hissing with the echo of a growl. And it was growing closer.
Mary’s heart began to thump, her whole body tensing up as she focused on the green shape.
Ignoring the damp and forgetting about care she frantically began to crawl down the right passage, desperate to put distance between her and whatever that light was coming from. The tunnel grew smaller, causing her to bang her head against the ceiling while her nightdress rode up her legs, exposing her knees to be scraped by stone. And those awful growls continued to follow her, seeming to get louder with each passing moment. But still, she pressed on, too scared to even cry as she scrabbled around every corner.
The cramped space and her speed soon took their toll, forcing her to slow down to catch her breath. Pain shot through her sides, her arms shuddering with the effort of supporting her weight. And during this brief respite, her ears strained.
No growls… had it gone? Was she safe?
Something tugged at the hem of her dressing gown.
With a shriek she pushed forward, nearly slipping on the increasingly damp surface while kicking back at her attacker. Her left foot caught something hard and as her knee had done before, she felt herself beginning to sink.
The ground gave way far too quickly for her to react, nails ripping as she tried to get a grip of something; anything! Soon her legs were dangling in mid-air. She heard rushing water beneath her, the splashes now louder as chunks of rock continued to fall. The more she struggled the more they fell, and before long she felt gravity pulling her down with them.
Something grasped her hand, halting her descent. The grip was cold, clammy, and strangely malleable. It felt like soft clay over a wire frame, the bones solid amidst the squishy flesh. Mary dared a glance upwards, seeing several black fingers wrapped around her own. Sharp claws punctured her skin as the grip tightened. She whimpered in pain, looking up further to see one large green eye staring back at her.
The creature began to pull her up.
Mary struggled, casting her gaze downwards for a way to escape.
The cavern beneath was illuminated by thousands of tiny, glowing worms wriggling along the walls, and now she could clearly see the crashing water below. Her eyes flicked back to the eye and, gritting her teeth, she began swinging from side to side. This action loosened the grip, but not enough to dislodge the claws. All the while the monster watched her with that single, horrible eye.
Mary wrenched her arm back with all her strength, forcing the claws to drag bloody trenches into the back of her hand.
They split through the skin… and she plummeted.
It didn’t take long for her to hit the icy water, her back breaking the surface with a violent jolt as she began to sink. The water was deep enough that she didn’t reach the bedrock, but she barely had a chance to catch a breath before her throat was flooded. Instinct kicked in and she swam up to the surface, choking air into her lungs. Her weary limbs fought hard to keep her afloat. The cold water made her shredded hand sting, and her knee caught on a wall as the current dragged her around the corner.
Stonework walls curved everywhere, and soon she saw several chains hanging on either side. She managed to grab one of them, finally bringing herself to a stop while something white floated past her.
Some corner of her mind told her that this was the paper from her pocket, but every other corner was too exhausted to be upset by the loss.
Mary clung to the chain, still coughing up water as she breathed in and out; the oxygen was helping to clear her head. The creature did not appear to have followed her. But if she’d been lost before, there was no way she could find her way now. Mary clutched the chain tighter, trying not to think about the pain in her bleeding hand.
This was a mistake.
She shouldn’t have come. She shouldn’t have trusted the fairy. Maybe it wasn’t even real. Maybe the creature, whatever it was, had deceived her from the start. There couldn’t be a magical world on the other side of this hellhole. All she wanted was to be back in her room, snuggled under her blanket while listening to old Grilby snoring the night away.
Her eyes itched as if ready to cry, but they felt too tired to do even that. In vain she opened them, so desperate for hope she found herself imagining a distant light.
The light stayed.
There ahead of her, against a back wall where the water split in two directions… it was another hole! And there was light inside it!
She was not far from the junction, and the wall had enough crevices to hold onto. Tentatively she lodged her fingers between the stones with one hand, her other hand still grasping the chain for security. When she felt strong enough, she let go of the chain, the current tugging at her legs. If she lost her grip it would not take much to drag her away.
Slowly and carefully Mary shimmied herself towards the hole, trying to remain steady as she edged closer and closer.
It wasn’t that far. If the water were a bit shallower, she could power through the current. But after hesitantly pushing her foot down as far as she could, it became clear that she would be struggling to keep afloat. Mary noticed the bottom of the hole was only just above the water’s surface; that could be all she needed.
Awkwardly she maneuvered around the corner until her arms were stretched behind her, gripping the grooves in the wall with trembling fingers. Taking a deep breath, she began to slide her feet up against the wall, lifting them as high as possible without breaking her grip.
It was like old Grilby said that time they went to the river; even if you cannot swim, a good kick could get you to safety.
Mary took another breath… and let go. Her feet pushed against the wall with all the strength she had, arms stretched forward while her body was forcefully flung across the water.
She hit her ribs hard against the wall, arms shooting out to find something she could hold onto. It was all she could do to keep her grip, the combined force of her launch and the current of the water sending her legs in all directions. Once she felt stable Mary climbed into the hole, scraping her skin as she did so.
This tunnel was much smaller than the previous one; she could not crawl, instead having to drag herself along on her stomach.
But there, right at the end, was the light. It did not disappear; in fact, it only grew as she moved forward. Her body was weary, desperate for rest. But then a faint breeze drifted over her, sending goose-bumps along her skin.
Forward. Always forward.
At last, she wrapped her fingers around the edge of the wall, pulling her face into the open air. She had to blink several times, unable to cope with the sunlight after being stuck in darkness for so long.
Sunlight… she saw sunlight!
Her eyes adjusted to see a forest glade, lit by a sun far brighter than she had ever seen at home.
The sky was a soft violet; there was not a cloud in sight. Trees were laden with what Mary assumed to be fruit in the shape of moons and stars; she could have sworn she saw one that looked like the planet Saturn. The ground was not covered in grass, but a scattering of upright rose petals in all colours of the rainbow. A small stream cascaded into a lake, the water glittering like falling diamonds. There was a faint scent of honey and strawberries in the air, and the breeze wasn’t even cold.
And the fairies… all those fairies!
Countless fairies floated about the glade, all with green skin but clothed in dresses of various hues. Some of them had butterfly wings, some looked more like dragonflies and there were even a few with the thin, membraned wings of a bat. There were also a few other creatures, including what looked like a tiny Pegasus, which Mary could only assume was one of the horse flies her fairy had mentioned before.
Mary watched them, her eyes wide in awe and relief.
Here she was, legs scraped and bruised, hand bleeding, her hair and nightclothes dripping wet and streaked with filth… staring out at a fairy world.
Quietly at first but then louder, her sides and cheeks both aching with the effort, but she didn’t care.
It was real. It was really real.
The laughter caught the attention of the fairies, a few of them cocking their heads in confusion before a familiar figure fluttered forward.
“There you are Mary! I was worried you had gotten lost! What happened? Are you alright?”
“Lost… yes, I got lost…” Mary’s laughter died down, taking a few breaths to regain herself as she smiled. “In the dark… there was… and I… I didn’t mean to…”
“Well come out of there silly, I’ve got so much to show you!”
Mary nodded and started to crawl out of the hole, already trying to decide what she was going to draw first. She had lost her paper though; would the fairies have any?
Something sharp pierced her ankle.
Mary was forcibly dragged back into the tunnel. Her leg kicked out, twisting round as a feral grunt sounded and she slid to a standstill. Fingers began scrabbling at her dressing gown, the fabric starting to tear; she felt claws lightly scrape the skin beneath. Again she kicked and tried to pull back, unable to avoid the eye moving closer and closer. Mary’s cries became a combination of shrieking and sobbing as she wriggled, scratched, and did everything she could to get away. Her strength was starting to give out, feeling the beast use the pockets of her dressing gown to pull her towards it.
A high voice pierced her panic, her eyes briefly flicking to the tunnel exit. She was certain it was this monster who had spoken before in the darkness, but what if it was the fairy this time? Could they help?
Her words were cut off as something long and thin lodged itself deep inside her throat. Warm blood quickly blossomed around the object. Meanwhile, the claws withdrew, and the eye grew still… watching her.
And as her heart began to slow, Mary heard that same, tinkling voice.
Are you coming Mary?
Are you okay?
Please come out…
Also available on itch.io – https://anmanarrative.itch.io/the-fairy-said-to-go-forward-and-left
Out of all the short stories I’ve written, this is my favourite. It was actually inspired by one particularly creepy section of Neil Gaiman’s ‘Coraline’. I’m very proud of how it turned out, though I would still appreciate any feedback.
I should add that I only discovered that section of Coraline thanks to a fantastic video by Dominic Noble, so really he’s the main reason this story exists. Here is the video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ctic_Pj3F8s
Also, I’m not 100% on what counts as mature content on here. When I originally had this on Deviantart I had a content warning on it for violence, but after reading the guidelines here I honestly cannot tell what to do. If anybody who has more experience with this can give me some tips regarding how graphic stories can be here then please let me know.