There is a place, far from here, where a sea of long golden grass sways. It is hemmed on all sides by impossibly tall, bluer than blue mountains that rise shockingly from the otherwise level plains. In between these walls, the grass and winds and swampy waterways whisper only to each other, and not even a forgiving shrub of a tree is there to host a weary traveller. For, out from the fog on a dreary, freezing day a woman did stumble, and nearly fall.
She was a Hunter, a sampler of exotic beasts, who travelled the earth searching for the most intriguing of specimens to catalog. With her tall, black boots she stalked them, and down her long black gun she sighted them. She hid her face under a stiff brimmed tan hat, and from its shaded depth she would study them obsessively. She would write down the mannerisms of her prey, their plumage and their habits, she would sketch their limbs and photograph their faces, giving them colourful names to match their colourful lives.
That is not to say that all creatures took kindly to being studied by a hunter. While many were beautiful and the Hunter filled her books with their lovely details, some were vicious and mean.
A close study of a Vampiress, in fact, had resulted in the Hunter’s current situation. Fleeing the lands of her people with little more than the clothes on her back and her books and learnings packed tightly into her bags, the Hunter had travelled long, hard hours, sparing neither her horse or herself to make long miles between her and her past. Over the weeks her horse had died, her clothes soaked through, and her food run out. And then, she entered the grass valley and despaired of ever leaving it. One day, at dusk and on the edge of starvation, the Hunter happened upon a stream in the center of the golden grasses. She took a long drink and, weary as she was, lay beside it to sleep.
It was fortune indeed that had her at that stream- the Hunter was on the edge of death that night, and only the help of the creature that lived there ensured her life. For a long three days the Hunter slept, and the creature kept watch, dousing the forehead of the woman while a fever raged within her, feeding her soft moss and mushrooms, and helping her drink.
On the third day the Hunter awoke, feeling a thousand years old. She sat and looked around. For the first time the woman noticed a rock bisecting the stream, and perched upon that rock was a plain young girl, barely five foot tall.
At once, the Hunter demanded to know who the girl was. The girl merely smiled, however, and gestured for the Hunter to lay back down. The Hunter, although unused to feeling the ravages of fatigue, ignored the girl.
It was at this point that the Hunter noticed the wings. They were torn and damp, but wings all the same, and the beautiful shimmering hues of a brown speckled moth. The clothes the girl wore, muddy from the corn field, shimmered with the finely spun threads of spider webs, and although the girl herself was drab, her eyes reflected the green of the forest. She had stumbled upon a fairy, it seemed. The Hunter suddenly felt the purpose for which she had been named- a creature stood before her, one that may indeed stand a chance to replace the other she’d just run from. And, although the Hunter regretted to admit it, the weakness she suffered would not allow her to leave any time soon, had she even wanted to.
In the days that the Hunter lay by the stream, safe beneath a canopy of wheat that the Fairy painstakingly wove, and eating the meager foods the grasslands could supply, the Hunter attempted to study the Fairy. The task itself was thwarted by the fact that, although able to communicate perfectly with her hands and gestures, the girl could not talk. The Hunter became obsessed with unlocking the mystery of the Fairy’s vocals- she’d heard rumours that fairies had the sweetest voices imaginable, and the Hunter was desperate to confirm it.
The Fairy, however, would not oblige. She drew in the dirt by the stream, or danced spider legs of words across her hands, but not a sound escaped her lips.
After a week, with the Hunter barely able to move from her shelter, it began to rain. The Hunter, although protected from the rain by fairy magic, nevertheless felt the cold of the weather deep into her bones. The Fairy worried that the Hunter would get sick once more and, desperate, she peeled off her dress and curled up around the Hunter, using her thin velvet wings to protect the both of them from the chill. With the Fairy’s soft, hot skin pressed to her, the Hunter was safe from harm.
Waking in the bright light of morning, the Hunter was able to study the creature that had cared for her before she too woke. The body was plump with the richness of a good harvest, and the skin bronzed from the sun. It was with some surprise, however, that when the Hunter explored one mound of breast there appeared to be a strange device above it. A metal plate, only as long and wide as her thumb, adorned the skin- and, cut into it, the unmistakable shape of a key hole. The woman felt around the plate, pressing the join of skin and metal. Quickly glancing the see if the Fairy was awake, she first tasted the tang of the area and, again after a pause, pressed her eye up to the hole. Deep inside the plate, beneath the surface of the skin, the Hunter saw the ruby-red glowing thump of a heart beat. Thu-dump thump.
Feeling the Fairy stir, the Hunter lay down her head and pretended to doze. The Fairy carefully slid away from the woman, and by the time the Hunter felt brave enough to move, the Fairy was once again dressed with no sign of the key hole ever having existed. The Hunter still felt the tang of copper on her tongue, however, and the heart beat of the Fairy echoed in her memory.
Key holes, as it were, were meant to house keys. And keys unlocked things. The Hunter was sure that the route to making the Fairy talk was to unlock her breast and find out the contents of the cavity. And yet, despite the determination of the Hunter, the location of the key remained a mystery.
The days passed, with vistas of stars across the night sky and a deep, vibrant blue during the daylight hours. The sun beat the wheaty grass to a golden bake, and the Fairy was slowly able to mend the Hunter’s health.
However, the past has a way of creeping up on a person despite their best efforts. Despite immersing herself in her study of the Fairy, the Hunter was nevertheless still being hunted. One evening a long, dark cloud appeared on the horizon, coming towards the Fairy’s field faster than imaginable. The Hunter, although deathly afraid of the cloud, could not move from her shelter to defend herself. The Fairy, sensing danger, stood firm by her little stream. Soon, the Vampiress stood before them, shrouded in darkness.
The Vampiress demanded that the Fairy move, claiming the Hunter as her own, but the Fairy stood firm. The Vampiress began to chant, bringing the wrath of lightning down upon the field, and, although singed, the Fairy stood firm. At last, the Vampiress bared her fangs, preparing to rip the Fairy apart. However, the Fairy merely waved a small, dismissive hand, and the Vampiress lost her thirst. Thwarted, the Vampiress screamed her defiance- but, unable to attack the pair, she was defeated. Then, the Fairy called on the grasses to rise, wrapping the Vampiress in tightly. First her legs, then waist, then arms were encased in rich, grass binds. Unable to move, the Vampiress raged and cursed the Fairy. All through that long night the Hunter hid in her grass shelter and trembled while the Vampiress screamed. And still the Fairy stood firm, until the dawn light struck the Vampiress. Seeing the sun, she cried out in fear. Suddenly, the Vampiress burst into flames, and all of her was consumed until not even ashes remained to fade into the shadows of dawn’s half-light.
The Hunter at once jumped up and stumbled towards the Fairy. She fell into the girl’s arms and kissed the petite creature breathless. The two made love in the tiny fairy glade, under the stars and through the radiant day. Amidst their lovemaking the Hunter once again encountered the locked breast of the Fairy and, pretending to feel surprise, explored it just as avidly as the rest of the Fairy’s body.
However, soon came the moment that both had been dreading. The Hunter, no longer hunted, was well enough to continue her journey. The Hunter packed up her camp and prepared to leave. All this was not enough for the Hunter though. Turning to the Fairy, she asked frankly about both the strange silence of the girl, and of the metal key hole above her heart.
The Fairy looked at the Hunter long and hard, considering the woman. Then, lifting her hands to sign, she offered the woman a choice- her secrets, locked within her mouth, or her heart, locked within her breast.
The Hunter was not an unintelligent woman. She considered the options carefully, weighing the pros and cons of each. In the end the woman, her pen poised avidly over her books, requested to unlock the Fairy’s mouth. The Fairy, accepting the Hunter’s choice, carefully reached into the cave of her mouth and removed- a key. With the obstruction cleared, a rush, a flood, a deluge of words tumbled forth, and it was all the Hunter could do to keep up with the recording of them- she failed to notice the tears falling from the Fairy’s eyes, turning her dress transparent where they landed, or the sweet song of the Fairy’s voice as it spilled from her mouth.
Finally, the last secret of the Fairy came through-
“If you had chosen my heart, my Hunter, you would have had all of me. My secrets, my body, my love- for eternity. Instead you chose just my secrets, and these secrets are all you’ll get.”
With that, the Fairy dropped the key- the key to her heart- into the steam, letting it wash away. The Hunter, realising her mistake, saw clearly the keyhole through the spiderweb dress, even as the Fairy faded away, her tears becoming the rain in the sky, her skin the earth, her hair the wheat- until at last all that remained in the space where the girl once was was a rusted metal plate- and then that too disappeared.
The Hunter, alone in the field, desperately dived into the stream, searching for the key. But no matter how long she looked or how much she called out, she saw neither the key or the Fairy ever again.
By Danielle K. Day
* * *