The Wild Hunt roamed the forest outside of Beth-Hill until the Council bound them for a hundred years. Nevertheless, a century of existence has made an indelible mark not easily forgotten for these ghostly myths that are no longer so ghostly or myth-like…
Twelve-year-old Arthur Morgan is small and slight, forced into a life of fairy taxidermy by his father. As a member of the cruel Morgan Household of vampires, Arthur has spent a lifetime being abused by his father and grandmother. In this family, all kowtow to the monstrous duo’s iron will in sheer terror of what will be done to them if they disobey. When Arthur meets Iris, a cousin not highly-placed in the Morgan hierarchy, he sees himself in a light he’s never wanted to before. He’s becoming as cruel as his father, having trapped and killed fairies out in the forest for years.
With Iris’s influence, Arthur decides to free one of them and, in doing so, meets Maya, a water fairy, who shows him just how horrible and twisted the household he’s grown up is–for both the innocent, defenseless fairies and family members that have been unjustly imprisoned by his father and grandmother. Deciding to smuggle those caged out of the household and to safety gives Arthur a sense of power he’s never had before.
But his secret can’t be hidden long. With the help of water fairy and an adult vampire, Arthur and Iris attempt to escape. Even though Arthur is determined not to let his father win this time, he wonders if it’s possible to become something other than what his family has decreed he must be to serve them.
GENRE: Fantasy ISBN: 978-1-925574-62-3 ASIN: B07VX7LR8D Word Count: 80, 442
Arthur met Iris the year they both turned twelve. She was a cousin; a Morgan, yes, but her status in the household would never amount to anything because of her parents, who had left to raise their daughter away from the household, only for her mother to return with her tails tucked between their legs (he didn’t quite understand this analogy, since they were vampires, not werewolves, but his grandmother had said it, so it must be true.) Iris’ father had died in a Hunter attack. Arthur never wondered about the truth of that story, because it seemed to happen quite frequently to vampires who had left the household to live on their own.
Iris was small and dainty and blonde, and when Arthur first met her, wore a frilly pink dress and pigtails, which he pulled. And she’d burst into tears and run away from him, and he’d expected not to see her again, because she was obviously a coward and unsuited for life in the Morgan household. But she had appeared the next day during class time, when the children of the household gathered to learn (certain, specific, approved things) and where Arthur knew he could do whatever he wanted, because he would not get into trouble.
Not by anyone important, at least.
So, the second time he met Iris, he took a pair of scissors from the teacher’s desk and he cut off one of her braids.
She had two of them, after all. And he was honestly quite confused when Iris burst into tears again and when the teacher, who wouldn’t go so far as to actually discipline the son of the head of the household, confiscated the scissors.
Arthur placed the braid in the room his father had given him for his trophies, which was where Iris found him a few hours later, minus the other braid now. Short, her hair curled in ringlets around her elfin face.
No one had ever followed him to the trophy room before. No one important, at least. And Iris was absolutely not supposed to be there, but being so new, Arthur had to wonder if anyone had told her the rules yet.
“I’ve come for my braid,” Iris said, and held out one small hand. “Please.”
Arthur stared at her solemnly. “It’s mine,” he said. “By right of conquest.”
“I would like it back, please,” Iris said, equally solemn, and strangely unafraid.
She should have been afraid.
“Do you know who I am?” Arthur asked haughtily, but she wasn’t listening to him now; she’d seen past him and into his trophy room, and her eyes grew wide.
With awe, Arthur thought at first. He was, after all, very proud of his trophies. And, in turn, his father was very proud of him because of his trophies.
“Would you like to see them?” he asked, and picked up the nearest one; not yet mounted; a tiny fairy no larger than his hand with beautiful butterfly wings he’d been careful not to damage.
Iris gasped. Reached out to touch the fairy; Arthur moved it out of her reach, wary that she would inadvertently destroy it.
“You are Arthur Morgan,” she said, answering his previous question. “Only son of Ichabod Morgan, who is the head of this household.” She paused. “And not a nice person.”
Arthur stared at her. No one had ever said that to him before, and he wasn’t quite certain how to respond. “What is a ‘nice person’?” he asked eventually.
The look she gave him was rather akin to the look his father gave those who’d displeased him, right before their executions.
“A nice person doesn’t cut off other people’s hair, or kill fairies,” Iris said.
Arthur nodded, on firmer ground now. “Then you’re right,” he said. “I’m not a nice person.”
Iris gave him another look, but he couldn’t interpret this one as easily. To cover his ignorance, he said, “You shouldn’t be here.”
“I came for my braid,” Iris reminded him, unconcerned by her trespass. She folded her arms. “And I’m not leaving until you give it back.”
“Then I’ll call the guards,” Arthur told her smugly. “And they’ll drag you away and throw you in a cell, and you will die.” Nearly all of those who argued with his father died in the cells; Arthur had watched the executions. He wasn’t quite certain–exactly–if Iris would be dragged away (probably screaming and crying) if he called for the guards; he’d never actually had to call for the guards before.
Would they even come for him?
“My braid,” Iris said ominously, and stuck out her hand.
“I won’t give it to you,” Arthur decided.
“Then I’ll scream,” Iris threatened. “And if anyone comes, I will say that you tried to kill me for your trophy room.”
“But that would be a lie,” Arthur said, puzzled. “I’m only supposed to trap and kill the small folk for my trophies.”
“Then why won’t you give me back my braid?” Iris asked.
Arthur looked at her curiously. “Because I like it.”
Iris sighed. “Wouldn’t it have looked better still attached?”
“I don’t think so,” Arthur said. “You could have changed it. You cut off the other one–but the one I have will look the same, forever.”
Iris frowned at him. “Nothing is the same forever,” she said.
Arthur showed her the fairy again. “They are,” he said simply.
“What do you do with them?” Iris asked, staring past him at the trophies that hung on the walls.
The only people who had ever shown an interest in Arthur’s trophies were his father and grandmother, the latter who had closely inspected his delicate work at preserving them, and, eventually, had grudgingly declared that Arthur was really doing the household a service by ridding the forest of vermin.
His father had responded by encouraging him with books on taxidermy and bottles of poisons and weapons that were useless against the small folk if he wanted to preserve them. The poisons had come in handy, however, and so had the books, even if they were more on preserving animals and not fairies. He had never accidentally poisoned himself, or anyone else. Arthur was too careful for mistakes.
And he wasn’t about to complain. He’d seen what happened to those who dared complain to his father, and had no doubt he would suffer the same fate if he dared to do so himself.
And no one, until now, had ever asked him to explain himself.
“They’re my trophies,” he said, and wondered if that was enough of an explanation for Iris. He suspected not.
His father had never forbidden him from showing his trophy room to anyone, but Arthur couldn’t imagine that he’d be pleased by Iris’ presence.
Perhaps he didn’t need to know.
“I can show you,” he offered, then immediately wanted to take back his words, because he knew someone would have seen her come here, and he knew he would be punished if his father–or grandmother–found out what he had done.
But no one had ever dared to ask to see his trophies. And Arthur suddenly found that he truly wanted her to say yes.
“Okay,” Iris said uncertainly, as if she sensed some of his unease. And she made a little sound when he grabbed her hand and pulled her inside; only a small sound, but a sound, nonetheless. And Arthur slowly closed the door behind her, tense for the shout of discovery.
He heard nothing beyond the door.
When he turned to face Iris, she stood near his workbench, staring down at his current project, wide-eyed at the tiny pile of bones beside the carefully preserved skin of the fairy he’d been working on. The wings were already completed; they graced the wire armature that would become the basis of the trophy’s skeleton once the skin finished curing.
“Don’t touch anything!” He tried not to shout, but the words came out sharper than he intended.
“I wasn’t,” Iris said. She sounded a bit annoyed that he wouldn’t trust her, although he wouldn’t have put it past her to take something away from him in retaliation for her braid. He wondered if he should just give it to her, then realized she would probably just discard it, because it was of no use to her now.
At least if he kept it, he could keep it safe.
Without speaking, Iris moved away from the workbench to look at the trophies Arthur had hung on the wall. They were more recent; his earlier attempts at preservation had not worked out so well, although his father had never said a word against them, Arthur had been a bit embarrassed to leave them up, now that he knew more about preservation. He’d buried the early mistakes in the forest, with no thought for the creatures he had killed. The trophies were all that mattered, especially since his father approved.
And his father’s approval was–and would remain–a very important thing.
“You’ve killed all of these fairies,” Iris said sadly, and reached up to gently stroke the edge of an iridescent wing.
“Yes,” Arthur said. “What else would I do with them?”
Iris’ frown deepened. “You could let them go,” she said. “Leave them in peace to live out their lives.”
“But then how would I get my trophies?” Arthur asked, because she clearly did not understand. And he didn’t think he would be able to make her do so.
She sniffed, frowned again, then said, “I’m leaving.”
“I won’t stop you,” Arthur said. “But–” he hesitated, then, not wanting to owe her anything for her silence.
“I won’t tell anyone what you do here,” Iris said quickly, then added, “Do you think you could–maybe–let the next one go?”
Arthur didn’t answer. He couldn’t answer, because he knew he couldn’t do that; his father approved of his trophies and expected him to bring at least one back each time. He’d perfected a way to kill the fairies quickly, at least, without harming a hair on their heads. They did not suffer, but he could not let them go.
Perhaps Iris saw some of his thoughts in the expression on his face. Perhaps she’d given up on him as a lost cause. Either way, she nodded and let herself out without another word.
Only later did he realize that she’d taken back her braid when he’d opened the drawer he’d stored it in and found it gone.
He did not pursue her or demand it back. Secretly, he admired her courage, and wished he could be so brave. Secretly, he wondered what would happen if he returned without a trophy, for whatever reason.
His father’s temper was a volatile, unpredictable thing, and something Arthur had–of yet–avoided.
Later, after sunset, he left his workroom and walked down the hall, speaking to no one, although no one ever tried to speak to him at all, except for Iris. And perhaps it was Iris that made him realize how the others fell silent as he approached; how they would not meet his gaze; how they tried their best to pretend he wasn’t among them, as if they thought that Arthur, by extension, would treat them like his father for any imagined–or real–transgression.
He’d set his traps the day before, out in the forest. Arthur did not have to ask permission to leave the house and grounds like everyone else; he did not have to notify his father or grandmother of his whereabouts, or what he intended to do, because he left the house for only one reason: to bring back trophies.
He did stop in the kitchen for a handful of sugar cubes; the fairies could not resist sugar cubes, and the bell jars he used as traps had proved to be quite efficient.
In fact, Arthur had lost all sense of challenge long ago, now that he had perfected both his traps and his method to dispatch his prey. And as he approached his first trap, he saw a small form inside the jar. This was not unexpected. Nor was the fact that the fairy had eaten all the sugar cubes he’d left inside, and now, presumably, had fallen asleep, curled up on its side.
Or dead, Arthur thought, seeing what looked like a smear of blood on the glass.
He crouched down in front of it and gently tapped on the jar. The fairy’s wings were in tatters, and it was much thinner and dirtier than the others he’d caught, although the dirt could have been due to the fact that it apparently had tried to escape by digging a tunnel to freedom. It hadn’t gotten very far since the ground was rocky and hard here, which was one of the reasons why Arthur had set the trap in this spot and not another.
The fairy did not respond to his tap, so he eased up the edge of the jar and slipped a thin mat underneath, gently easing the fairy’s body onto the mat. It would seal once he inverted it, and then his captive would be trapped until he dispatched it with the gas.
But this fairy seemed to be dead already. At least, it made no peep; no move to attempt to fly; its limbs flopped carelessly as Arthur inverted the glass and sealed its fate. Its eyes were open; blankly staring; its mouth hung loose; its tongue stuck out grotesquely.
It wasn’t even worth his time to bother with, considering his other traps were likely occupied.
He unsealed the jar and removed its occupant by dumping it out onto a nearby fallen tree trunk. The fairy lay sprawled every-which-way, unmoving. Not breathing, either, as far as Arthur could tell.
He did not leave it lying there, but took a square of cloth out of his pocket and transferred the fairy’s body onto it. And then, he carefully wrapped the corpse, dug a shallow grave, and laid the fairy to rest. After that, he cleaned off the bell jar, reset the trap, and gathered his supplies to move on to the next trap.
And then, abruptly, he sensed that he was no longer alone.
His first thought was that Iris had followed him somehow; his next that the fairy had returned to life, even though the grave seemed to be undisturbed. And he doubted that Iris could hide from him so thoroughly, which meant it was likely another fairy or one of the small folk.
Unconcerned, he made his way to the second trap, which was empty and untriggered. The sugar cubes had melted into an unpalatable mess, however, so he replaced them and moved on.
The last trap was beside a nearly dry creekbed that tended to flood when it rained. This one was occupied by a specimen with wings flecked with green and gold and purple; a riot of color that managed not to become overwhelming at all, considering its hair was fluffy like a dandelion gone to seed and nearly the same color. It was standing as he approached, its hands pressed against the glass, just staring at him, unafraid.
What if he did let this one go? What if he took Iris’ advice and let it fly free? What if he returned home and informed his father that the traps had been empty? Would his father kill him right away like he had some of the others? Or would he give Arthur a second chance to prove himself?
“I’m sorry,” Arthur said, feeling awkward, because he had no idea if the fairy could understand him, much less sympathize with his plight, especially since he intended to kill it. Still, it was legal prey, despite what Iris believed. And she was just a silly girl anyway, wasn’t she?
He avoided the fairy’s gaze and prepared the mat to slip under it, feeling dull now, hopeless that he could safely attempt Iris’ suggestion that he let one of the fairies go free without losing his life in the process.
What would the rest of his life be like? An endless circle of trophies as he grew older? And perhaps his father would eventually give him orders to kill those who betrayed him; perhaps he would be groomed to become his father’s executioner, destined to have blood on his hands for the rest of his life.
All of a sudden, Arthur realized that he didn’t want to become his father’s executioner. He did not want any more innocent blood on his hands.
He drew in his breath sharply. Knelt there on the ground with his supplies around him; supplies enough to kill a dozen fairies, and likely enough to kill one young vampire as well, or, at the very least, knock him unconscious so that the sun could do its job come dawn.
Or he could slit his wrists and let the blood loss weaken him enough to prevent him from returning home.
He realized his hands were shaking now; he felt a bit dizzy and short of breath. But even then, realizing he was frightened–terrified, really–did not weaken his resolve.
Before he could stop himself, he pushed the bell jar over–the fairy crouched down as if it expected him to try to grab it, but Arthur let the jar roll away, where it shattered against a nearby rock as he turned his back on the fairy.
How should he do it? Would the poisons in his bag even affect a vampire? He had syringes for injection, but would drinking it work better? Or both?
He heard something rustle behind him as he inserted the needle into a bottle of poison and pulled the plunger up to fill the syringe, but he did not look around; the fairies couldn’t stop him, after all, and no one would have followed him out of the house. Perhaps they’d find a pile of ash when they realized he was gone; he doubted anyone would notice his absence before dawn, and he thought he was far away from the house that they would have trouble tracking him down, especially since there weren’t any werewolves to sniff out his trail.
Some of the households hired werewolves, but the Morgans did not.
Keeping his mind carefully blank, Arthur squirted a bit of the poison out of the needle (although it didn’t matter, really, if there was any air trapped inside, since he intended to die from this) and then rolled up his sleeve.
For a moment, he wished Iris was there so that he could tell her that she’d been correct; that he wasn’t a nice person, and likely would never be a nice person, and that was why he’d decided to do this, but he had no way to tell her this, and he didn’t want to leave her a note, so he inserted the needle into a vein in his arm and pressed the plunger down–
It was cold; searingly cold; with numb fingers, he removed the lid from another bottle and drank it down for good measure, and then he realized he’d fallen forward into the dirt and leaves and that his muscles seemed to be moving on their own; jerking his arms and legs as if attempting to throw off the effects of the poison, and there was no pain, at least; just searing cold and numbness, just that, nothing more.
And then, dimly, he heard a voice above him. And the voice asked, “Do you suppose he knows he’s past the Veil?”
And another voice answered with a question, “Why would he do this to himself?”
The second voice was a small voice, soft like he imagined the fairy’s hair would be. Arthur tried to open his eyes to identify the speakers, but he had no control over his body now; no control at all, and he couldn’t do anything but slip further and further into darkness, until there was nothing left of himself at all.
He awoke with the warmth of the sun on his face, but he had no strength for panic because his stomach seemed to be trying to turn itself inside out. Vampires did not get sick unless they were poisoned and Arthur had, very effectively, poisoned himself. He couldn’t open his eyes; couldn’t feel anything except the warmth of sun on his face.
The warmth of the sun–
He heard a noise; a moan, and realized the noise came from his own lips. Feeling slowly returned, not that he particularly wanted it to, considering he hadn’t expected to wake up at all.
He heard something else, then; the faint crackle of flames, but they were off to his left, not the result of his body burning in the sun. And he felt something scratchy on his bare skin–a blanket?
No one from the Morgan household would have given him a blanket. Except maybe Iris, and she wouldn’t have known how to start a fire.
When he tried to open his eyes, the light was so bright; so terrifyingly bright that he heard himself cry out; his body twisted sideways, trying to escape the searing light.
“Does he know?” a voice asked very close to his ear.
“Likely not,” another voice commented; a quietly powerful voice that sent chills up Arthur’s spine. A moment later, something fell across his head; another blanket. Darkness, blessed darkness reigned, but he still couldn’t see; orange and yellow sunbursts dazzled his sight from his brief glimpse of the sun. He drew in a breath. Coughed, then ventured, “I’m not dead.”
“But I bet you wish you were,” the first voice commented.
Arthur couldn’t answer that. “Please let me die.”
“I’m sorry,” the second voice said. Both were female, but this one sounded bossier than the first. “That would entail dragging you past the Veil, because I doubt you can walk right now, and neither of us are inclined to do that.”
“Then I’ll crawl,” Arthur managed to say, but nothing happened when he tried to move. Presently, knowing they were probably laughing at him, even though he heard nothing, he asked, “Why past the Veil?”
“Because the sunlight in Faerie won’t harm you,” the first voice said quietly. “You didn’t know? They didn’t tell you?”
Arthur thought about lying to protect what fragile dignity he had left, but then he remembered that he lay at their mercy, covered with blankets against the sun, but not, apparently, to protect him from its rays. No, they’d given him the blankets for comfort, and word completely alien in the Morgan household.
“I imagine my father knows,” he finally said. “But I also imagine he would never think to share that information with anyone.”
“And who is your father?” the second voice asked.
“His name is Ichabod Morgan,” Arthur murmured, hoping that they’d realize his importance now and kill him; they had to, didn’t they? Especially if they thought his father would care? “The head of the Morgan household,” he added, just in case they didn’t know.
“Ah,” the second voice said in a sort of tone that made Arthur suspect she’d already known this. “Your name is Arthur, then.”
“Yes,” Arthur said, seeing no reason to lie.
“And why do you want to die so badly, Arthur Morgan?” the first voice asked.
Arthur felt something hot and wet slide across his face and dribble down his cheeks. “Will I die?” he asked mournfully.
“From this?” the second voice asked. “No. The poison you took will only make you feel wretched for a little while, and we’ve already explained about the sunlight.”
“I do feel very wretched,” Arthur admitted, which was true, because the pain in his stomach had not subsided, and he felt horribly dizzy and weak.
The first voice, he thought, stifled a laugh. Or, really, more of a giggle, which awoke anger, which pushed away some of the pain. But anger was useless here; he knew that instinctively, because he had no true status outside the household; not one that mattered, anyway. And anyway, a vampire lying on the ground covered with blankets was probably an amusing sight. They would probably laugh at him long after he was gone.
“Blossom,” the second voice said sharply; a rebuke.
“I apologize for laughing at you,” the first voice said quietly.
“I’d probably laugh at me too,” Arthur murmured, and closed his eyes.
“Why do you wish to die so badly?” the second voice asked.
In a monotone, Arthur told them how he had come to his failed decision. He didn’t mention Iris or how he had come to even consider releasing one of the fairies. And he wasn’t entirely certain what would happen to him now; or if he could, perhaps, find another way to end his life. It was, after all, past dawn now. There was a slim possibility that no one would miss him for a little while, at least, so he still had time. Only, he wasn’t certain how long it would take him to crawl to the edge of the Veil.
To be honest, he wasn’t quite sure of anything at all, including which direction to crawl. Or how to crawl, for that matter, since his arms and legs seemed to be on revolt.
“I see,” the second voice said, entirely neutral. “That is quite a dilemma.”
“Not really,” Arthur told her. “The simplest solution is for me to die. Don’t you see?” He managed to raise his head–just a little, and opened his eyes. Light leaked in from under the edge of the blanket now; it made his eyes water even more.
“What if there’s an alternative?” the second voice asked.
“There is no alternative,” Arthur whispered, and lowered his head again. He didn’t want to hear alternatives or platitudes or anything at all, because none of that mattered, since his father would likely kill him if he returned home without a trophy.
And death by his father’s hands would be much more painful than death by his own.
“How old are you?” the second voice asked curiously.
“Why does it matter?” Arthur asked, despondent now; he truly could not see a way out of this, not without more pain, and he was in enough pain as it was. He closed his eyes. Maybe if he stayed silent, they would leave him alone.
Probably not, but he could hope.
“Because you’re awfully young to want to throw away your life,” the second voice said quietly. “And you not wanting to become your father’s executioner tells me that there’s something in that heart of yours worth saving.”
Forgetting he’d decided to ignore them, Arthur said, “My father would not agree.” And then, “Nor would my grandmother.”
“Your grandmother raised your father,” the second voice said. “Remember that.”
Arthur had never thought about it that way before, not that it helped anything at all, of course. Had his grandmother molded his father into what he had become? And, in turn, his father had molded him? Was it too late for Arthur to do anything about it? He’d been killing the small folk for years already; what sort of sacrifice would it take for him to set his sights on larger prey? He remembered what Iris had threatened; to tell the guards that he had intended to kill her for his trophy room. Would they have believed her?
He felt sick at the thought. Small folk were–they were one thing. Easily captured; easily dispatched. But other vampires? Humans, even? Where would it end?
“Your thoughts are very dark,” the first voice–Blossom, he remembered–said, loudly enough for him to think that she crouched right beside his ear, close enough for him to reach out and touch.
He didn’t try to reach out and touch her, though. He’d already decided that she was the fairy he’d released. The other voice, the older one, was more difficult to classify. “You can read my thoughts?” Arthur asked, horrified.
“I can feel them,” Blossom said. “Like a tsunami of despair, enveloping everything else in your mind.”
“What’s a tsunami?” Arthur asked.
“A very big wave that destroys everything in its path,” the second voice said.
That sounded about right. And Arthur was just about to sink back into the tsunami when Blossom asked, “Who is Iris?”
The waves of pain were lessening, but left him weak and dizzy and nauseous. Perhaps he’d said Iris’ name aloud; perhaps Blossom could really read his thoughts. He hadn’t intended to tell them about her, but he found himself telling them about her anyway, and what he had done, and what she had suggested he do.
“I’m surprised you spoke to her at all, considering she had no status in the household,” the second voice said after he was finished.
“She spoke to me,” Arthur whispered. “No one does that.” And then, he realized that if he never returned; if he did manage to die out here in the forest, Iris would be the first one questioned; the first one killed by his father’s wrath. By deciding to commit suicide, he had effectively killed her anyway, because someone would have seen her on her way to Arthur’s trophy room, and that someone would not hesitate to turn her in for a favor from Arthur’s father when he tried to determine what had happened to his son.
That’s how things worked in the Morgan household.
“What do you mean, ‘you’ve become what your father wanted anyway’?” the second voice asked.
Arthur hadn’t realized he’d spoken aloud. “Iris will be killed when my father tries to find out what happened to me,” he said. “And it will be my fault.” From somewhere deep inside, he found the strength to push himself upright, although he did not remove the blankets. Sitting up, however, made the dizziness increase, and the sunlight piercing through the edges of the blanket didn’t help, because it made the nausea increase, and so he huddled there for a moment with his arms wrapped around his stomach, trying desperately not to be sick.
“I have to go back.”
“I don’t think you’re in any condition to go anywhere just yet,” the second voice said. “And anyway, what will your father think if you come crawling back to the household without a trophy?”
“Maybe Iris won’t be blamed, then,” Arthur whispered. “And he’ll just kill me instead.” He shuddered at the thought, because he’d watched the executions; he knew exactly what to expect.
“What if–” the second voice began, and Arthur’s temper exploded.
“There are no ‘what ifs’!” He shouted the words, or, rather, raised his voice as much as he possibly could. “There are no alternatives! There are no other choices!”
And then, he fell over, because that had taken the last of his strength. And he closed his eyes and let himself fall into darkness.