Alana has always seen spirits, but after her parents death they are her only company. Lonely and hungry, she seeks out the spirits on Samhain night – her seventeenth birthday – hoping that on this night they can tell her the purpose her second sight serves.
When Alana went to the ancient hawthorn tree by the river just before midnight on her seventeenth birthday, All Hallows’ Eve, she knew what she was doing. With a whispered prayer for forgiveness, Alana trimmed a lower branch from the tree, and swept the ground beneath the crown of its branches with the severed limb. She went counter clockwise, around and around, saying the nonsensical words the hedge witch had made her memorize. Finally spent, she sank to the earth and rested, her hands palm up on her knees and the river running at her back. No spirits could approach from that direction, and Alana could see the other approaches well.
This is why she had come. To call the spirits and hear what they wanted from her once and for all.
All her life, Alana had heard things, seen things, that others didn’t see. There had to be a purpose to it. But no one would talk to Alana about these things, they never had and they never would. When her parents were still alive, they’d encouraged her silence, but since their death, Alana found she couldn’t keep silent any longer. Her difference kept her apart. She had to know more to understand how she could live with it, and hopefully not be alone her entire life.
Alana shivered in the chill autumn wind, giving thanks it hadn’t rained. Her mother’s old cloak was worn, and she didn’t know where she’d find coin for another one. Her farm income had dried up since her parents’ death. Folk had nearly stopped buying milk, butter, and eggs from her. Now they knew she’d touched the food, where they’d been able to ignore it before if the price was good enough.
Even earlier today she’d been undecided, unsure whether she could carry out the radical plan that had occurred to her a few days ago. She’d checked her assumptions with the local hedge witch, an unfortunate association of her aunt’s who was also the only neighbor still speaking with her anymore. Alana was sure her plan would work – but did she truly want it to?
Yes. She had to change something. Had to do something.
If the people weren’t willing to talk about her second sight, maybe the spirits would have something to tell her. What did she have to lose? She may as well be the witch the townsfolk called her – she had to eat somehow.
A rustling snap drew Alana’s attention. She couldn’t see anything, and silently cursed the dark, and then herself for her silliness. Of course it was dark. She’d come at nearly midnight on All Hallows’ Eve, the night when the veil between worlds parted and the dead came home again. What was she thinking?
Adrenaline surged through her as another footstep – undeniable this time – sounded yet closer. Alana started to inch back, but stopped herself. She’d swept in a circle, as the old hedge witch had told her, and she couldn’t move from her place without undoing the spell.
Alana gathered her nerve. She’d come here for a reason.
“Who are you?” That wasn’t even what she wanted to know, but it was a start. “Why can I see what’s to come? Why are you haunting me?”
A raspy groan emerged from the direction of Alana’s midnight visitor. Despite her intention to sit still, Alana scooted backward in alarm, only remembering the river when she felt the cold water at her fingertips.
A firm border – spirits couldn’t cross running water. Feeling more confident, Alana tried to make out the shape in the shadows. But she could see so little; it had yet to step from beneath the trees.
“What is it, do you think?” The whisper in Alana’s ear made the hair on her neck stand up, and Alana slowly turned to face this new intruder.
A tall, lithe woman with skin so pale it nearly glowed in the moonlight and huge, wide set eyes, met her appraisal. She raised a pale, arched brow and spoke again, louder this time. “What do you think you’ve called, Alana?”
“The water. You shouldn’t be able to cross the water.” It was a stupid thing to say. The creature had crossed the water – was standing ankle deep in it right now – so her brain being stuck on this particular detail wasn’t particularly helpful.
“Nah,” the otherworldly lady said, her tone scolding Alana for such a thought. “Water does not affect me. I play in it; I dance in it and swim, diving to the deepest depths, Alana. I am at home in the water. I am not a ghost or a spirit or a ghoul.”
Alana didn’t ask what she was. She wouldn’t ask.
The strange being turned, her profile lovely in the moon’s soft radiance. Alana gasped. For suddenly she knew whom she addressed.
“Are you the fairy queen?”
She whirled to face Alana. She giggled. A soft sound at first, it grew to a tinkling of a hundred bells, seeming to ring from all around. “You are so sweet, Alana. No, among my kind I possess only an inkling of power. I am no queen.”
Alana inclined her head, unsure what she could say that wouldn’t draw the fairy’s ire. That’s what she was; she hadn’t denied that part.
The fairy said nothing of her name, and Alana would not intrude by asking.
“What are you doing out here tonight, Alana? I do not believe you to be a witch, though you use a hedge witch’s spell. It was something else that called me here tonight.”
Alana’s breath hitched as she considered the fairy with wide eyes. Could her hopes be coming to fruition? Did the fairy understand what she was?
Another groan brought Alana’s attention back to whatever had been about to step from the woods. She still couldn’t see what it was, and she strained to make out the shape from the shadow. The fairy chuckled, and Alana was sure her glee was directed at Alana’s focus on the edge of the trees. But she couldn’t look away from the thing that would step from the woods.
Alana cringed as a foot stepped into a spot of moonlight, splattered with dark matter that was probably mud, but looked more like blood to Alana at the moment. A stained trouser leg followed, and now Alana could tell that the creature moved with jolting, awkward motions. She had the grotesque feeling it was animated, and not alive. Is this what she’d done with her spell? Had the hedge witch known this would happen? Alana couldn’t believe it was the case – the woman had been close to her aunt and Alana doubted she’d betray the family this way.
Maybe this had happened because of who cast the spell. Alana looked down at her hands.
Beside her, the fairy hissed as the creature stepped more fully into the light, displaying gruesomely decayed flesh, with one arm ripped to shreds. It was a corpse, its eyes still dead as the day it was buried. How it moved was beyond Alana.
The fairy woman turned to her, eyes glittering in the deep of night. “Who are you?” The question was part mocking; it was exactly the question she’d asked the corpse when it first shuffled toward her. But it also held a note of true curiosity. Alana shuddered with fear to be the focus of that attention from a fairy. If she hadn’t been doomed before, this night’s events had sealed the deal.
“I’m no one. Just a girl…” Alana drew a deep breath. “Except…I have the sight,” she whispered.
The fairy’s eyes grew wide. “You. You’re Samhain born!”
“I…it’s my birthday, yes.”
“And that’s how you have the sight. And why the ghoul you see before you isn’t approaching any closer. If you were anyone else, he’d be trying to eat your brains right now. Instead, he shuffles as though he cannot see you. Aren’t you lucky.”
Something in her tone told Alana not to count her luck so fast. “I don’t understand. Is that why I can see them?”
“See them? What do you mean?”
“I’ve always seen spirits – ghosts. But not all of them.”
The fairy was silent for a moment, and when Alana looked at her, she found her gaze almost kind. “You could not see your parents?”
Alana gulped in a breath. She didn’t want to talk about this…but who was she kidding? Of course she wanted to talk about it, and who better to talk with than a fairy who would soon disappear, if Alana was lucky, and leave her to her miserable life.
“No, I couldn’t see them. It was the first time I ever tried, but I couldn’t make it happen.”
“That’s a good thing.”
Alana narrowed her eyes at the unnamed fairy. “How can you say that?”
“Well…It means they were happy. Satisfied with life. They left the world in peace. Isn’t that what you would have wanted for them?”
Alana didn’t speak. She couldn’t bring herself to think of wanting anything to do with her parents’ death.
The ghoul was still shuffling around under the hawthorn tree, apparently unaware of their conversation. It wasn’t scary now. It wasn’t a threat at all.
“So the ghosts…I see them because of my birthday?” She tried to wrap her head around this new way of understanding it.
“It’s a gift. You’re lucky. Doubly so since I thought I’d found a new slave.”
“What do you mean?”
The unnamed fairy laughed. “I can’t take you to my world. You’d cause chaos. It is an old, old place, and the spirits are many and strong. Samhain born! I still can’t believe it. My people will be glad to know of you.”
Alana shook her head. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
“You will come to understand. They won’t leave you alone until you do.”
That didn’t make any sense, and Alana turned to tell the fairy so –
To find she’d gone. Vanished. The river swept on by, rippling over its rocky bed…and other than that, the night was silent.
I hope you enjoyed this short story! Have a great Samhain, or Halloween, or Harvest, or whatever you celebrate! 🙂