The Fairy Lights of Jaymun
Icy blue, the full moon, though the night was warm and sweet. She was there, and so was the man who had promised to turn her into a fairy if she could find him at the edge of the lake on a night when the moon was full and blue. “Are you a magician?” she’d asked him. “If that’s what you must call me,” he’d replied. He must be a magician, she thought, for she believed everything he said, and it was ridiculous to believe that anyone could turn her into a fairy. A fairy with wings. Gossamer wings shimmering iridescent colors—she’d been very specific about the wings. Her payment wasn’t gold but a thin lock of her hair. The magician took her hair and put it into a small pot. With magic words the pot began to heat and her hair to melt. The liquid hair he poured over a large dried mushroom that smelled of decay. The mushroom sprouted lacy flowers of gold. The man gave her the flowers to eat. She did not think and only ate. The moment the flowers touched her tongue, she fell to the ground in a deep state of sleep.
She woke to what seemed like a thousand moving dots of colored light. The flickering lights were bouncing off wings. Fairy wings. All around her fairies were flying. Am I a fairy too, she wondered. She sat up. She could feel wings. Her wings. Large gossamer wings that she could make flutter, though it hurt to do so. Seeing that she was awake, a dozen or so fairies crowded around her, their wings creating cascading wind tunnels that made her clothes balloon.
“Is this Fairyland?” she asked.
The fairies laughed, though one shed a tear. One by one they flew away without saying a word. The girl looked around. She was in a room unlike any she’d ever seen. Large as a temple, the walls like smoked glass. More than a hundred pairs of fairy wings shimmered in and out of the darkness.
Below her, giants began entering the room. They walked in pairs, long limbed and hairless. Without noses. They seemed surprised by the fairies. A giant reached up and tried to grab one out of the air. Another jumped, arms held high. He hit an invisible net and bounced to the ground. The giants laughed. The fallen one too. All night they feasted, danced. Occasionally, they threw food to the fairies, savory cakes that, to the giants, were like tiny pellets of corn. The giants watched, delighted, as the fairies dove for the cakes. The feast night seemed to last forever.
In the morning, all was quiet. The fairies were sleeping, the giants gone. She decided to test her wings. Slowly, she rose. From the air, she saw that the fairies slept in alcoves like birds. She too had been in an alcove. Circling, she wondered if she could fly to the ceiling. Perhaps there was a door or a window. She flew and flew, but the ceiling was always far away. Fatigued, she glided down, towards the invisible net that made the giant bounce. The net wasn’t invisible at all, but pale gold with large holes. Escape, she thought! Her head and shoulders easily slipped through, but her wings! Caught in the net. She struggled but it was useless. Her wings began to tear.
“Don’t move!” a voice rang out. It was a great bird with sumptuous plumage and a purple beak. The bird knocked her back and out of the net.
“You’re new,” the bird said.
“Yes. Can you tell me where I am?”
The bird grabbed the net with its claws and hung upside down. “You’re in Bowark’s Palace. Bowark collects fairy lights. He’s one of those giant creatures. They’re Volbis. Quite civil and cultured. They love beautiful things that delight. Like fairy lights. But only Bowark is rich enough to collect so many.”
“What is a fairy light?” she asked.
“You are. And all your fellow fairy creatures. To the Volbis, you are magical lights. Lights that only Jaymun knows how to make. He goes in and out of all the different worlds, all the different spheres, collecting creatures that can be turned into whatever is valuable. I know your story. You met a mysterious man who promised to turn you into a fairy or an angel. That man with the promises was Jaymun. Amazing how you creatures never ask how or why or what will happen. You just want to become winged creatures and live a life of magic without understanding what magic is or does. Well, we are all fools in our own way, I suppose.”
“How do I escape?” she asked.
“There’s only one way to escape. Through the net. And you tried that.”
“Isn’t there a way through without my wings getting caught?”
“No. You must cut off your wings if you want to escape. And no fairy has ever done that.”
“Cut off my wings! Even if I did such a horrible thing, I’d fall to my death.”
“Yes. Unless I were to help you. Listen. I too am a prisoner. Once, I was a magician. I knew enough to make a living but I was ambitious and wanted to know all the wondrous secrets of the many worlds. So I went to Jaymun, who is a master of worlds and became his apprentice. I learned much from him. Too much. Afraid that I had learned all his secrets, Jaymun turned me into this bird and sold me to Bowark. Unlike you, I know my way out of this prison. But I can’t leave. You fairies possess the one thing I need to escape this bird form and become my true self. I need your wings. I need to eat your wings.”
“You want to eat us?”
“No. Just the wings. Don’t be frightened. I won’t hurt you. But if you want to escape you must cut off your wings. You can ride my back and I’ll fly us out of this prison. I’ll take you to wherever you wish to go. If you let me eat your wings.”
“If I stay a fairy, what will happen to me?”
“Nothing. You’ll live here until you die, one of the many pets of Bowark. Tell me, why did you wish to become a fairy?”
“Fairies are such beautiful, heavenly creatures. I wanted to be beautiful.”
“Then stay as you are. For some, this life is paradise. You need never worry about anything. A life of ease and comfort. And you’ll be treasured and admired. Isn’t that what beauty wants?”
“To be a trapped animal? I wanted to be free. Free to go where I wanted, when I wanted. That’s why I wanted wings. It was important, the wings. With wings I thought I could be as free as the wind. Leave home forever. Free to find happiness.”
“And here you are, caught. Freedom is an illusion. Stay. At least you’ll have beauty.”
“No. I won’t stay. I won’t wait for them to throw cakes at me. I won’t be their pleasure thing. Will it hurt? Cutting my wings off?”
“Your wings are very new. The bones are soft and not yet set in your shoulders. There will be pain, I imagine, but it should be quick.”
“I don’t think I can cut off my own wings.”
“No. If I were you, I don’t think I could either. Would you like me to do it?”
“Lie back on the net and close your eyes. I’ll be as quick as I can.”
She did as she was told, folding her arms together in terror. The bird poked its beak through the net and bit off one, and then the other wing. Just as she’d feared, she fell through the net, but the bird was there, catching her. As swift as the wind, the bird flew in and out of hundreds of rooms until they were free of the palace. The bird continued to fly, in and out of worlds, so fast night and day danced like sunbeams and shadows. At last, the bird landed just outside the walls of a great city.
“Ah, freedom,” the bird said, her muscles stretching back into her old form. “One good turn deserves another. Where do you wish to go? Name the place and I will do all that I can to find a way to take you there.”
“I can’t tell you where I wish to go because I have never been anywhere but home and I don’t want to go back to the very place I have always longed to escape.”
“Well, then, stay with me and see all the worlds. We’ll start by entering this city. It’s one of the great marvels of the ages, and my home. Come.” She held out her hand. The girl who was no longer a fairy but more than she once was, gladly took her hand and together, they entered the city.
A Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions nominee, J.A. Pak is the author of For Those Who Weep With Me, a short collection of lingering griefs. Her writing has been published in Firmament, Litro, Joyland, etc. More of her work can be seen at Triple Eight Palace of Dreams & Happiness.