It’s an innocent question, tumbling from the lips of your child.
“Faeries live in a special place called our imagination,” you say, looking over the child’s head so that you aren’t looking into those luminous eyes, the ones as-yet-untainted by harsh reality and hard truths. “You can enter that place whenever you’re playing, or dreaming, and the faeries will sing you their songs and teach you their games.”
“Do you sing with the faeries?” Your child asks this and a thousand other similar questions.
Finally, you provide a half-truth because you can’t bear another lie. “When you grow up, your imagination changes, and faeries don’t visit it anymore.”
“That’s very sad. I’m sorry.”
Your child’s sweet sympathy burns like acid, because you know – you KNOW – that the faeries aren’t gone, they’re imprisoned. They’re stuck in the ground in so many lead-lined cement boxes, boxes with just enough tiny fissures, designed intentionally, to let faerie magic seep into the soil of the old forest.
You remember when you were told that It Was Time and you were Too Old to Believe, and you were forced to stuff your own faerie into one of those prisons (coffins) in a line of so many others, marching down the lane of the forest like stepping stones.
A part of you, the part that feels guilty for what your people have done, wants to end the cycle. Tell your child the truth. Take them to the row of boxes and help them unlock each one.
But you don’t. Because this is how it Is, and this is how it has Always Been. A child’s faerie comes into the world with their first bubble of laughter, and when the child reaches puberty, they make the ultimate betrayal. They stuff their faerie in a box and lose the last of their innocence.
“But why?” your child will ask, as they realize the horror of what they are doing.
“Because it is the Way. Without faerie magic the trees would not grow tall and the river would not run clear and sweet, and the air would taste like ash.”
“Can’t we just ask them to help with those things?” They will press on.
And for a moment you wonder if they would, just as you did when it was your faerie being locked into the darkness.
But you know the truth. It’s been too long. Too many generations. Too many years – decades – centuries – of betrayal.
And you will give the same non-answer your parents gave you: A sad shrug and a shake of your head.
But… those harder questions are years away yet. And you want to ease the trouble in your child’s eyes and smooth the worry from the tender, young brow.
“Sometimes,” you say. “I can almost catch a glimpse of my faerie, in my imagination.”
Your child studies your face, looks deeply into your eyes. You wonder what new old-young words will fall from those lips, still sticky from jam at breakfast.
But there is no response. The child re-focuses on the crayons and tablet on the table between you, and you finish your coffee in silence.
It’s only later that you realize what your child has drawn: The old forest, the lane of cut trees replaced by cubes of cement and lead.
In the back of your head, you hear your faerie laugh, but it’s not the sound of playful joy.
It’s a cackle, full of malice and revenge.