(December 2022’s short story of the month)
“They’re out there,” he told me. “Fields and fields of them. As far as the eye can see.”
I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. He pointed to the horizon, and I looked, but all I could see was crops and open sky. What the hell was he talking about? I should have been listening, but when you have to sit, watching a field for twelve hours at a time, your mind tends to wander.
Howard and I were the newest members of the security team. Our days consisted of sitting in a tower, watching the crops. Not much ever happened, but in the past, wild creatures had wreaked havoc in this area of the planet Z.
Planet Z was almost entirely crops and farms. There was one small port city connected to the closest space port where the farmers shipped their goods to the planets that people actually lived on. The other planets in this system were so overpopulated that they’d elected to deem one planet set aside for growing food. Over time, the entire planet had been doled out and cut into properties. There were no wild creatures anymore, but on occasion, farmers had a bad year and were known to steal from each other.
Either way, wild creature or farmer-turned-thief, our job was boring.
“What are you talking about?” I asked Howard, though a voice in my head said not to ask. Howard tended to talk about wild conspiracy theories and far-fetched fairy tales.
“Fairies. You know, the fey folk, magical creatures.” There wasn’t a hint of humor in his voice.
“Are you messing with me?” I stared at him without blinking. I shouldn’t have asked.
He shook his head. “No, I’m completely serious. This planet was covered with fey before the farms arrived.” He stared out the window towards the fields.
I couldn’t look away from him. My brow furrowed. I gave up trying to figure out what was wrong with Howard and went back to staring at the fields with him.
The day dragged on and like usual, nothing was happening. Howard had been quiet since earlier, and I don’t know why I decided to engage him. Probably sheer boredom.
“Howard, why do you say there ARE fields and fields of them? I’m looking at the fields. All I see are fields. They aren’t any fairies out there.” I pointed out the window waiting for him to respond.
“They’re still there. They’ve just learned to hide themselves.”
“You’re kidding. You think there is a whole planet of creatures just hiding in plain sight?” I couldn’t hide the disbelief from my voice.
“They had to survive somehow, so they learned to blend. They’re there—if you know how to look.”
I would almost swear I saw a twinkle in his eye. “Okay. I see. Very funny. You’re messing with me. I guess it’s something that passes the time.”
The rest of our shift was uneventful, like always. As we were switching shifts with the next set of guards, Howard kept grinning at me.
I ignored him and made my way to the elevator. As the door was closing, his hand shot in between. He stepped onto the lift with a huge smile on his face.
“Why are you grinning?” I asked.
“Because you’re thinking about it. Aren’t you?” Howard was practically bouncing on his feet with excitement.
“Howard, I am not thinking about fairies. I’m thinking about what I’m going to have for dinner.” I leaned against the elevator trying to will the machine to move faster.
The ding of the elevator felt like the sound of freedom as I made my way towards the path that led to the employee quarters.
“I’ll tell you what,” Howard was keeping pace with me. “I’ll show you some fairies, but only if you don’t tell anyone that I showed you.”
“You’re not funny.” I didn’t break stride and kept trying to out pace him. It wasn’t working.
He ran ahead of me a bit blocking my path. “I’m fully serious. If you want to see something amazing I’ll show you how to find them.”
I stared him up and down trying to figure out if he was messing with me. He didn’t look like he was kidding. In fact, his smile had faded. He looked eager, but not like he was pranking me.
“Fine. Let’s say I agree. What do I need to do?”
“Meet me at the back of the dorm after dinner. As the sun starts to set.” He turned to finish the trek back. He spun around again, “Oh and bring a mirror and some crumbs.”
“Crumbs? Of what?” I asked.
“Doesn’t matter. Bread. Pastry. Whatever you got.”
As I ate, I pocketed a package of crackers with peanut butter. Hopefully they would be good enough for whatever I’d gotten myself into.
As the sun was setting, I followed Howard away from the dorms. We walked for nearly an hour. The sun was barely still above the horizon.
“Quickly now,” he said as he reached in his pocket and spread crumbs in a circle.
I crushed the package of crackers in my hands. “In a circle around me?”
Howard nodded and stepped away from the circle he’d made. He pulled me towards him once my own circle was complete.
“Hurry, sit down over here with me. Turn your back to the circles. Did you bring the mirror?” He was talking so quickly and softly I barely understood him.
“Yeah, right here. I pulled a compact mirror out of my pocket.” I sat next to him on the ground wondering if any second now more of the security team was going to pop out and make fun of me.
“Hold it up so that you can see your circle.”
I held the mirror up until I could see the crumb and peanut butter circle reflected back at me.
Nothing was happening. The sun was still dipping lower and lower. As the sun passed below the horizon, I glanced at my mirror.
Reflected back at me were three sets of purple eyes.