It was like a post card.
That was really the only—okay, one of the only—positive things she had to say about this stupid, backwoods little village. It looked like a postcard. The kind of picturesque, still, perfect little post cards sold for ridiculous prices at gift shops during the holidays. Rose had never honestly imagined such a place could still exist in today’s modern world, but if anybody would live in a “town” with a population of about two hundred people, it would be her grandmother.
Of course. Of course it was her grandmother.
And of course Rose would be stuck here for two weeks while her parents got to go to the Caribbean for their honeymoon. It didn’t matter that they were planning on coming back and taking her somewhere else after; they still got to go on a cruise, and she still had to be here with the world’s worst Wi-Fi signal and her paranoid granny.
Honestly. What a waste of her summer.
At least there was one thing worth doing here that her hometown couldn’t boast of. Too many city lights. Too much pollution in the sky. But here, everything was pristine and perfect. She could’ve been back in time.
Rose looked up.
The stars were flawless tonight. Not a cloud in sight. She’d never noticed how much natural light the full moon produced when it didn’t have to compete with neon billboards and lamps. A silvery shine reflected off of every blade of grass, illuminated every leaf, turned the forest into something beautiful and mysterious. It was just a bunch of moldy old trees in the daytime, but when night fell…
Rose kept her eyes trained heavenward as she walked. Her phone hung languidly from her fingers. Behind her, down the hill and off a ways, her grandmother’s cottage rested like a plump chicken. A few other houses spangled the Irish countryside. All was quiet.
Leaves and branches crunched underfoot as Rose wandered. A distant airplane blinked amongst an impossible sea of stars.
She felt…She felt, as if…
Rose crashed into something—someone, and she stumbled back in shock, her phone falling from her fingers; the rhinestone case winked at her from beside a fat red mushroom.
“H-Holy crap!” she wheezed, her heart pounding so hard that she could scarcely breathe. The shock pulsed through her body and coiled in her stomach, turning every movement abrupt, and her body jittery. “You nearly gave me a heart attack!”
“Yet you are the one who ran into me,” observed her sudden acquaintance in a mild tone.
“Yeah, well, I didn’t see you,” Rose grumbled, pressing her hands to her chest as she tried to catch her breath. She eventually ducked down to grab her phone, lip curling at the sight of the mushroom beside it. “Gross…always hated those things…”
She looked up. The person she’d bumped into, she was difficult to make out in the patchy moonlight, but one thing was for certain—she was utterly unconcerned. The other’s body language was completely calm. Rose peered at her, trying to make out more than just a slender silhouette, and having no luck whatsoever.
“What are you doing out here so late, anyway?” Rose demanded.
The figure tilted her head, her voice interwoven with that same Irish lilt that the locals had; Rose’s American accent was starting to sound foreign to her own ears, and it’d only been two days.
“Couldn’t I ask you the same?”
“I’m stargazing,” Rose replied flatly, gesturing with her hand. “Since there’s literally nothing else to do here.”
The other girl laughed. It bubbled up out of her from somewhere deep in her chest and then burst out with alarming spontaneity, like birds surging into flight.
…Did I really just think that? Ugh.
“There’s literally nothing else to do,” the girl echoed with just enough of an amused inflection to be mocking. “You did not quite strike me as the stargazing type. Do you know any constellations?”
What was that supposed to mean? Rose shot her a dour look. Now that the surprise was leaving her system, it was starting to be replaced with something much more refreshing; annoyance. She didn’t really sound as if she was much older than her, so what did she have to be afraid of?
“Constellations? Uh…yeah, I know all kinds of constellations.”
“Tell me one.”
She could feel eyes on her, but she couldn’t really make them out. A sliver of moonlight painted the shadowy figure with a strip of pale skin along her jaw, exposing a bit of a smile, otherwise hidden.
“Like…” Rose put her hand on her hip, pointing with her phone. “Th-There! Look! That’s the North Star.”
More laughter. It cracked out of her like a whip. The girl brought a hand up, and as it passed through the moonbeam, Rose spotted slender fingers and a bracelet made of stones. She was covering her mouth. And laughing.
“The North Star, as you call it,” she said, “is not a constellation.”
“Oh, what do you know?” Rose snapped. “Eff off. I’m outta here.”
She was so not in the mood for this prissy little—
She’d only just turned to go, but she had barely moved a step when she felt a cool hand grip her wrist.
For some reason, Rose froze utterly.
Her hold loosened. Her fingers slid up Rose’s arms, settling upon her shoulder, moving from there to play with long strands of her dark hair.
“You’re…interesting,” she murmured, her voice suddenly very near Rose’s ear. “You’re not even afraid…are you?”
Something told her she should be.
Rose tried to answer, but her voice had stopped working.
“Stay with me…? Let’s chat, you and I.”
The girl’s other hand came up to touch Rose’s waist, gently enticing her to step closer, to reclaim that lost step and enter the woods. Deeper. Darker. Whole.
Rose turned her phone on.
The light was abrupt and bright. It struck the girl straight in the face, and for a split second, Rose saw—
Gold eyes. Plaited, auburn hair. Pointed ears.
A swear exploded out of her and Rose jumped back in shock, pulling from the girl’s hold in the process. She fell backwards and collapsed onto the ground, her phone still clutched firmly in her hand. As she scrambled away, still on her back, dead leaves clinging to her favorite, ratty, sweater, she searched frantically for the girl’s silhouette—
And saw nothing.
The forest was empty.
No matter where she shone the light of her phone, nothing revealed itself. Her search turned up tall tree trunks and moon-painted canopies. No girls with pointed ears, or eyes like an animal, or hair like fur.
Groaning, Rose fell onto her back, staring up at the sky.
Irish summers were much cooler than home.
Her grandmother never really seemed to be awake.
Rose watched her, chin on hand, as she sat across from her at the tiny breakfast table. For all of her griping, she didn’t hate her grandmother—only the place she lived in. As she sipped the chocolate milk that was accompanying her chocolate pancakes, Rose watched how her grandmother would close her eyes slowly as she looked out the window, only to quickly snap her attention back to her food. Wait a few seconds. It’d happen again.
It was weird.
Just like the salt on the windowsill and the iron nails jutting from the doorframe. A hazard waiting to happen, but present nonetheless. Kind of like Rose herself.
“Grandma?” Rose asked.
“Grandma?” she repeated, louder.
“Y-Yes? Yes, dear? What is it?”
Her grandmother, with eyes the color of washed-out blue denim, and a conspicuous lack of wrinkles despite her age. She would’ve looked young, but instead, something about her just felt old, old, old…
Old like the village. Old like the forest. Old.
Rose twisted her fork.
“Are you all right, Rosie?”
Ugh. That nickname. She was eighteen for God’s sake, going to college soon on top of that.
But still—who was spacing out now?
“Uh, yeah, I was just…wondering…” It wouldn’t have mattered if she asked her grandmother directly or went about the town inquiring after the girl in the woods. When it came to this place, everyone knew everything, no exceptions. It’d just be a matter of time before her grandmother found out anyway, and not a very long matter at that.
Rose put her fork down, trying for a light and easy tone. “You know those faeries you’re always worried about? I think I saw one last night!”
Her grandmother stiffened. “You saw one last night? When? Where? Didn’t I tell you to stay inside after dark?!”
She’d been expecting disapproval. Not this sudden explosion of anger. Rose’s eyes went wide, her hand raising in a placating gesture.
“Relax, I just thought I glimpsed one in the woods—“
“You went into the woods after dark?! How many times must I tell you, girl? The fae are not to be trifled with!” Her grandmother glowered with enough force to crack cement. Rose didn’t dare reply, staring at her in wounded silence until she saw some of the fury leave her. “I…I’m sorry, Rosie, I…”
“It’s okay…I know you said not to.” Rose put her arms on the table. She honestly hadn’t meant to upset her so badly, but in hindsight, maybe she should’ve expected this from the start. Doing her best to diffuse the tension, she added, “I’m sorry. I was just looking at the stars and wandered off a bit.”
“And the moon is full…It’s quite beautiful, isn’t it…?” Her grandmother twisted a napkin in her hands, lost in thought.
Rose glanced outside. The sun was shining brilliantly.
“…Whether you believe that the faeries are real or not, you are not to enter the forest again. Do you understand?”
“I getcha,” Rose said, hastily amending her statement with, “I understand.”
“Good.” The sigh her grandmother released was ancient. She pinched the bridge of her nose, and then the place between her brows, muttering something beneath her breath. Rose curled her fingers into fists on the table, doing her best to look appropriately resigned to staying within the cottage.
As her grandmother drifted in and out of her odd little trances, Rose rubbed her arms and stood up, flipping her phone open to her current web search results.
She’d left out a lot of things, for fear that her grandmother would literally lock her in the cottage if she knew.
Like how, for instance, mushrooms in a ring—faerie circles—were apparently gateways to the faerie world, and vice versa. It sounded like an utter load of nonsense, but Rose knew what she’d seen.
She’d seen a faerie. And she’d seen a mushroom. Probably one of a dozen.
What she didn’t know, was if she was really going to see her again.
Curiosity and boredom went far too well together, after all.
The choice was ultimately taken from her. Perhaps she’d never had an option to begin with.
Rose woke to the feeling of hands caressing her side, to whispered words in her ear, to the moonlight blinding her eyes.
“Let’s chat, you and I.”
A dream, but one that blurred reality. It could just as easily be real again. Rose reached for her phone, holding it with trembling fingers. She tried to distract herself. Pictures of friends. Ridiculous videos that vanished from memory as soon as she saw them. Humorous posts on her blog. Nothing stuck, dropping uselessly from her thoughts as the feeling grew inside of her, swelling, threatening to take over.
She should speak with her grandmother.
She thought this, but Rose found herself sneaking out the window instead, stepping over the salt and the crosses and the iron stakes scattered around the yard and adorning the walls. Her phone slipped from her grip at some point. She scarcely even noticed.
The forest beckoned.
The moonlight turned the world monochrome. Rose stared at the way the long shadows striped the dirt, interspersed with beams of light. Those fat red mushrooms, speckled with white, peeked out from their hiding spots, loosely curving to form a great ring. She knew exactly who was waiting on the other side—what was waiting.
Rose crossed the threshold.
Two things happened at once.
First, her thoughts snapped back to lucidity with startling clarity.
Then, she heard crackling laughter. Wild with abandon and so sudden that she jumped a foot into the air.
“I had the feeling you would become moon-sick,” said the faerie girl, sitting behind her on a tree stump. Rose was standing in the center of the clearing, and though she was in full view, the girl was, once more, hidden.
“I had the feeling you would become moon-sick,” she repeated, with that same careful precision and amused inflection that made it clear she was mocking her, as before.
Rose would’ve been angry if she wasn’t so shaken.
“Nothing clever to say this time? What about that sharp tongue of yours?”
Wait, scratch that, she was angry. “What are you talking about? What did you do to me?!”
The faerie girl leaned forward, placing her upper body in the moonlight. Her pointed features and yellow eyes reminded Rose sharply of something she couldn’t recall at the present, since she was too busy being furious and all.
“I…did nothing. I only stirred that which you placed upon yourself.” Her golden gaze searched Rose’s own modest amber, and she stared and she peered, and she saw everything, as she had the first time. “You came here seeking something of interest,” she murmured, voice velvet-soft. “You turned your eyes to the stars and opened yourself to this forest…and then you entered this ring. And now that you have known my touch, and heard my voice, you, in your curiosity and desperation for entertainment, will…”
The trailing of the words was beyond suggestive, yet stated as fact; no malice, no malevolence, only an utterance of the truth.
Rose tensed, frustrated. “I won’t do anything—“
“Come here,” said the faerie, that amusement once more sparkling in her voice.
Heat blossomed in her stomach, stuttering her breath. “Wh-What?” she squeaked.
She laughed merrily. “Come here!” she said again, as if they were just playing a game and Rose was being difficult as part of the fun.
“No,” she deadpanned the best she could.
Wh-Why were her cheeks burning…?
Lips twitching with humor, the faerie girl adjusted her position on the tree stump. This time, when their eyes met, the gold shone like the midday sun, though her voice was soft…so soft.
She couldn’t breathe.
“Come here, Rose…”
“H-How do you know my—?”
“Rose.” She opened her arms, smiling to show sharp canines.
She moved forward a step, despite herself.
Another step. And another.
“Come to me.”
The faerie pulled her onto her lap, staring into her eyes, resting their foreheads together. Her arms wove around her waist.
“Why don’t you like ‘Rosie’…?” she murmured. “It’s cute.”
Rose’s heart was hammering. The worst part of this was that she wasn’t in a trance—she was clear. Awake. So, perfectly, lucid. It was just her body was aching for this…the excitement. The thrill of the unknown. She was lost in those eyes, and yet—
“Come on…my grandmother calls me that…don’t say that now. You’ll ruin the mood.”
A flash of a giggle. “Ohhh? The mood…?”
The mention of her grandmother made Rose think—
She pressed her lips against Rose’s ear, stopping that train of thought immediately. “What are you hoping I’ll do to you?”
A shiver slid down her spine. Rose gripped the faerie’s shoulders, gasping as that shiver rolled lazily down her back. “I-I…”
“What would you like…?”
It was becoming hard to think, with the faerie tracing circles and spirals up and down her back, her hands sliding up the back of Rose’s shirt. She hadn’t changed into her pajamas yet; she’d fallen asleep browsing on her phone.
She remembered what had drawn her here to begin with. Soft, cool hands. The stars—no, the moon. The forest. The way it all burned in her blood now, the way it bloomed inside of her…
Pale blue eyes always watching the sky…
“God,” she breathed, trembling with rising need as the faerie began to scratch her nails down her spine. Not painful, but almost, almost, in a way that left her warm and tingling.
“That isn’t my name,” said the faerie with a bark of laughter, “but I understand that is a compliment by human standards?”
A name. A name…
“What is your name…?” Rose blinked at her, tried to focus on those golden eyes.
Instead of answering her, the faerie bit her throat.
Fangs dug into the sensitive skin, nipping and teasing, drawing soft sounds of surprise and pleasure from Rose. She left a mark…and another…and another…creating a path up to Rose’s cheek, which she kissed with surprising gentleness, before she took hold of her face in both hands and brought her ever-grinning lips against Rose’s own. The faerie was never idle—always pulling, whispering, licking her lips and her mouth, pressing her fingers to the marks on her throat just enough to find pleasure in the ache…
She scraped her nails down Rose’s back and she arched into her, eyes shut tight, whimpering as she desperately tried not to sound desperate.
The faerie hummed in delight, apparently enjoying every moment. “What do you feel?” she asked pleasantly, ever amused and not at all winded.
What did she feel…? Rose couldn’t even answer—
She pinned her to the earth, hands on her shoulders, kissing beneath her chin, dragging her tongue to those oft-teased marks and kissing the bruised flesh. Rose bucked beneath her, helpless and gasping, wanting this faerie, needing her.
“What do you feel?”
Rose’s eyes opened and she saw the moon gleaming overhead. She saw the North Star. The forest was beautiful and alive—how had she ever considered it boring? There were squirrels in the trees and owls on the branches and foxes running beneath the night sky—
It clicked for her, then. Rose met that playful yellow gaze and she knew she was with a fox, now, or a faerie that was a fox, or a fox that was a faerie; she didn’t know how any of this was possible, but she knew that it was.
Whatever answer she was looking for, the faerie saw it in her eyes, and was satisfied. She pulled Rose up to her, holding her close, kissing her cheek and nuzzling her with such warm affection, Rose was lost.
She whispered a secret: “Saoirse.”
Rose’s eyes widened. She knew.
“Say my name…declare it into the night…” That hungry mouth moved, fangs scraping her jawline. “Here, in the eternal splendor of the dark and the wild, satisfy yourself…Sate your curiosity…Rose…”
She couldn’t stop the shiver at how lovingly she said her name.
Her lips brushed her shoulder. “Open yourself to me.”
She bit down at the same time Rose cried out for her, frantically pulling her closer, their lips meeting as the forest sang in their blood and the moon blinded their eyes.
They would find her phone, later, on the edge of the forest. Abandoned.