“Don’t stray from the path, Norm. And whatever you do, don’t stop . . .”
“. . . near the faerie glen,” Norman Tucker mimed, slamming the cottage door behind him. Every time he left his grandfather’s house he heard the same warnings. When would the old man realize that Norm wasn’t a child and stop treating him like one?
Norm started down the path, kicking a small stone out of his way. His grandfather’s yard was quickly overtaken by the forest as ancient trees surrounded him. While many people were afraid of the gloom, Norm felt at home here; he had played in this forest since he was a child and knew it intimately. As soon as the trees swallowed the failing sunlight, Norm was off the path and wandering through all of his familiar haunts. He stopped by the river, looking for crayfish hidden in the rocks. He picked some yellow wildflowers for his mother by the riverbank. The familiar buzzing of the insects meant that all was well as night descended and Norm felt secure in his woods.
He became aware of the music first. It was a haunting melody played by a solitary instrument. But as Norm came closer, other instruments joined in. It wasn’t long before he heard laughter and the unmistakable sounds of clapping. Someone was having a party nearby and Norm was determined to find it. He followed the music to a small clearing in the woods. Someone had built a bonfire in the middle, and there were many people starting to sway to the music. As Norm watched, more people came from the woods and joined those already dancing or playing.
“Why hello there,” a voice said from behind him. Norm turned to see a small girl of about his age standing behind him. She was about his height, but much too slender. Her skin and hair had a greenish tinge to it. “Would you care to dance?”
“I really shouldn’t be here, miss,” Norm said. “I should have been home some time ago.”
“One dance will not make much difference now,” she said. “And besides, that is the price we demand of those who find us.”
Norm looked at the girl, taking in her odd appearance. He glanced back at the figures by the fire, noting how some had animalistic features, such as fur, claws, and in one case, wings. Others were so beautiful that he could not glance at them for long without tears clouding his vision. And none of the dancers looked human. Norm frantically searched his mind through all of his grandfather’s stories for anything that could help him, but drew a blank. So he settled for telling the girl, “If that is the price then I will gladly pay it.”
“Very well,” she said, taking his hand and leading him towards the other dancers.
Norm was hesitant at first, but with the help of his hostess he quickly learned the steps to the dance. As the music and the other laughing faces circled around him, he found that he was truly enjoying himself. One dance became two, which in turn became several as he threw all caution to the wind. The night flew by in a colourful whirling blaze, and in what seemed like no time at all, the sun was rising once again. The dancers slowly left the embers in ones and twos until Norm stood alone in the circle.
“I wonder what my parents will think, staying out all night in the woods! Oh, I know what grandfather will say. ‘You know better than that, Norm. What if the faeries had gotten you?’” Norm stumbled towards the path that led to his cottage, clutching the somewhat wilted wildflowers in his right hand. “Won’t he be surprised when I tell him I ran into them and they were quite lovely creatures! That was the most fun I’ve had in ages!”
Norm’s foot tripped on something and he almost fell. Looking down, he found that the path was covered in some kind of strange black stone. As he bent over to examine it, he heard a noise from behind him. Looking back, he was blinded by twin bright lights. The lights drew closer and as his eyes adjusted he saw that they were attached to some sort of horse-less carriage.
“Get off of the road!” the carriage’s driver yelled at him. Norm stumbled backwards and fell. The carriage continued on towards his cottage. Norm found himself on his feet and running along the strangely transformed path. He felt that something terrible had happened and he had to get home. He rounded the corner and stopped short. There, where his cottage had been, was the largest building he had ever seen, larger even than the manner house of the nearby village. The building towered above the large stone wall that surrounded it. He saw even larger buildings jutting out of the horizon behind this monstrosity that had swallowed his home.
Norm dropped his wildflowers and fell to his knees, weeping. He finally understood why his grandfather had warned him so about the faeries. Only now it was far too late. He was in a strange, frightening new world. And he knew, deep down in his heart, everyone he cared about was long gone.