Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden
Cheryl Headford © 2017
All Rights Reserved
Keiron hurried home at the end of a very long day, anticipating some peace and quiet. He liked a quiet life, so what had possessed him to take on a boyfriend like Bren Donovan was anyone’s guess. Whatever else it might be, life with Bren was certainly not quiet, and it was slowly wearing Keiron out.
It was almost a relief Bren wouldn’t be staying at the flat that night. Although they were practically living together, Bren had his own place and sometimes felt the need to stay there. This was usually because a member of his family—or particularly flighty friend—was coming to stay. It wasn’t as if his family wasn’t aware of their relationship, but Bren was shy about “rubbing it in their faces”. Keiron didn’t understand because Bren’s mother seemed to like him a great deal and considered him to be a stabilising influence on her son.
Keiron was a conservative person and so different to Bren, they might as well live in different worlds. As for Bren’s friends, they were usually very like him—loud, messy, and irresponsible. Keiron couldn’t stand them. He was lucky if nothing got broken, and they always left the flat in a complete mess. If Bren wanted to live in a pigsty, so be it. He could do it in his own home.
This weekend, with the bank holiday, Bren was getting both. His friends were congregating on Saturday. Then his parents and sister were coming on Sunday, and staying through until Tuesday morning. Keiron had a Bren-free weekend and was looking forward to it.
If it hadn’t been for their differences on this point, they’d have moved in together a long time ago. Bren chafed for it, but Keiron couldn’t handle his flat descending into chaos, and it wasn’t even as if Bren helped tidy up afterwards. Keiron cringed at the thought of having that chaos and therefore stress every day.
Not only that, but Bren was the most jealous person Keiron had ever come across. Keiron was constantly accused of looking at other men, and God forbid he spoke to one. Bren was a firebrand, completely living up to his fiery red-headed Irish-descended promise. Sometimes it was exciting, even invigorating, yet at other times Keiron longed for the peace and stability he used to have before Bren burst in on him. Maybe at twenty-two, he was just getting old.
Keiron ordered takeaway and, while he waited for it to arrive, wandered down to the bottom of the garden, a beer in his hand, his hair damp from the bath. The sun was still high and warm enough for him to be wearing a thin T-shirt and shorts. The smell of a barbecue drifted over from a neighbouring garden and his mouth watered.
Savouring his drink, he sank onto the stone bench under the rose arbour. It afforded a good view of the whole garden. It was a big one. A long lawn stretched ahead of him to the decking immediately outside the house, where a large wooden table, a number of items of garden furniture, and a shiny silver gas barbecue sat.
Sometimes, he had Bren’s friends around for a barbecue. They weren’t so bad out here in the garden, although they made such a mess of the barbecue itself that it took him days to get it properly clean. He smiled to himself. Sometimes, living with Bren was like having a teenage son. Fortunately, Bren was very good at things he’d hate to think any son of his could do.
The lawn was bordered on either side by flower beds and bushes, which hid the wooden fences separating his garden from the ones on either side. To his left, screened from the arbour by a yew hedge, was a garden pool with a rock fountain and fat koi swimming under lily pads. There used to be more fish—before Bren’s friends found the pond. He pursed his lips at the thought.
To the right was a shrubbery. A large variety of plants made up a wild area of about thirty square feet. Bren loved it, of course. He’d burrowed into it and, within a week, had made a green cave right in the middle. He’d floored it with an old piece of carpet he’d found on a skip. It had taken a long time and a lot of carpet-cleaner to persuade Keiron to enter it, but he had to admit, making love outside under the bushes in the darkness was something he’d come to enjoy very much.
Bren had been surprised he had such a wild place in his neat garden, in his neat life. Perhaps it was the thing that sealed the deal with Bren, who’d been reluctant to get involved with someone so unlike himself, and likely to “cramp his style”.
“But why?” he’d asked. “It doesn’t seem like you to have a wild place like this. It’s so out of place—with the garden and with you. Why haven’t you ‘tamed’ it? Everything else in your life is tame. You’re the most vanilla person I know—except for this.”
They were in the “cave” at the time. It was dark but warm, and they were holding each other in the afterglow of amazing sex. Keiron had smiled lazily and sighed.
“My mother used to live out in the country somewhere when she was a child. My grandmother never took to city life. She told me once there was no room in a city for life, real life. Nowhere for roots to reach the earth. No place for the fairies.”
“Oh yes, she was very superstitious about fairies. Never had anything made of iron in the garden. Put out saucers of warm milk if there was a deep frost or snow. And always had a wild place in the garden—for the fairies.”
Bren had smiled at him. “I never thought you had any of that in you, Keiron. I guess there’s hope for you yet.”
Keiron had grinned and held Bren tightly in his arms.
Keiron smiled at the memory and took a drink of his beer. Something caught his eye, and he turned towards the shrubbery. He was sure he’d seen something move, shooting across his vision, behind the trees. He stared hard, but there was nothing there. It must have been a squirrel. He saw them now and again, scrabbling for nuts under the hazel tree or acorns from the enormous oak that overhung the garden from next door.
With a sigh, he settled back and took another drink. His stomach rumbled, and he glanced at his watch, wondering when his pizza would get there. The deliveryman was a regular, and if there was no answer at the door, he’d text to say he’d arrived. So Keiron could relax and not worry about—
There was definitely something there. It moved again. He’d seen it—a flash of white. A cat? Most of the neighbours had cats, and they liked to hang about in the shrubbery, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting birds. It had taken a lot of work to get rid of the smell of cat pee from the carpet.
Ah well. Although…something nagged at the back of his mind. It wasn’t a cat. It couldn’t have been a cat because it hadn’t looked like a cat. It had looked like a person. A small person with a pale pointed face. But it had only been a fraction of a second, a flash, an impression. It was nonsense, of course.
Maybe it was one of the fairies. He smiled.
There was no further movement in the bushes, so when the text came to herald the arrival of his pizza, he wandered back into the house.
He decided to eat his stuffed-crust vegetable supreme at the kitchen table. It was a beautiful night. Other than distant strains of music drifting over from the barbecue, there was the type of silence that magnified the slightest sound. Like the silence that came with snow. It was magical.
Keiron laughed at himself. Magical? That’s what you get for thinking of fairies.
Something flashed at the window and he glanced up sharply. There was nothing there, but there had been. In that fraction of a second between his head beginning to move and his eyes orienting on the window, there had been something or someone peeping in. Someone with a small pointy face. Shit.
Take it easy. If something was there, he didn’t want to frighten it away before he found out what it was.
He took up the uneaten pizza, making a show of putting it onto a plate and into the fridge. The back door was open to let in the summer warmth, and the bin was next to it, out of sight of the window. He folded the pizza box, and headed for the bin—only he wasn’t going to the bin at all. He lifted the lid, so the sound carried out into the garden, but before he let the lid drop, he dived for the back door.
There was nothing there, but there had been. There had been someone crouching under the window, peeping in. It was someone with long white hair, a pointed face, and unnaturally blue eyes. It was all seen in the blink of an eye, and after he’d blinked, there was nothing there and no sign there ever had been.
“I know you’re there. I’ve seen you three times now,” he called into the silence. “I know what you are.” Why had he even said that? It couldn’t have been anything but a figment of his imagination. Human beings couldn’t move that fast, and it was certainly no animal. Then what? A fairy? Hah.
Smiling at his own foolishness, he went back into the house and closed the door.
He was halfway through the remaining pizza, drinking his third bottle of beer and feeling pretty mellow, when there was a soft tapping at the back door. This surprised him very much. No one ever knocked on the back door. Why would they? How could they? They’d have to be in the garden, and there were only two ways into it, the door at which they now tapped or a tiny gate right at the bottom, which would have necessitated them traipsing right through the garden. Who would do that?
With a frown, gripping the bottle in his hand like a weapon, he walked through the kitchen to the door. He could see a vague form through the frosted glass. There was definitely someone there. He wondered if they’d disappear by the time he opened the door.
When the door opened, Keiron froze. He’d never seen anything—or anyone—remotely like the creature who stood on his back doorstep.
Keiron blinked, half expecting the creature to vanish before he opened his eyes. He didn’t. He seemed human enough. A boy of seventeen or eighteen years old, with long silvery-white hair and a pretty elfin face. Long white lashes swept over the downturned eyes and skin so pale it appeared translucent, seeming almost to glow in the gathering dusk. He was slender, willowy, and completely naked.
“Who the hell are you?” Keiron eventually asked. The boy looked up and Keiron recoiled. Nothing with eyes like that could be human. They were blue, but it wasn’t any blue he’d ever seen before. It was a brilliant electric blue with a metallic sheen that marked him as something very different to anyone Keiron had ever encountered.
“Draven,” the boy said automatically in a light singsong voice.
“What do you want?”
“Whatever you want.”
“I…want…I want to know who you are and why you’re standing naked on my back doorstep.”
“I’m…Draven,” he said with an anxious little smile. “I’m yours.”
“Mine?” Keiron shivered when he spoke the word. It seemed to ring in his head, and he rubbed his temple absently. “What the hell are you talking about? What do you mean, mine?”
“I’m your slave,” Draven said matter-of-factly, although there was something in his eyes that seemed to flinch as he spoke.
Keiron took a deep breath and released it slowly. “I don’t know who you are or what the hell you want from me, but I’m not into that stuff—whips and handcuffs and—” He trailed off. Draven seemed stricken.
“You…you’re going to…whip me? Why? What have I done?”
Keiron’s mouth dropped open at the real fear on Draven’s face and in his voice. “I…. Of course I’m not going to whip you. Isn’t that what I said?”
Draven frowned deeply, then smiled. “I could probably get a whip for you, if you wanted. As long as you’re not going to use it on me.” He frowned again. “I suppose I shouldn’t make that a condition. You have the right to whip me if you want to. Of course, I’d much prefer if you didn’t. I could make one out of plaited grass if you’d like. You don’t have the right kind of grass in your garden, but I bet I could find some close by. I wouldn’t run away. I promise.”
Keiron was stunned. Draven spoke so fast, he could barely follow what he was saying. “Wait. Stop. I…I’ve already told you—I don’t want a whip.”
“Oh. But you said…. Oh. What do you want?”
“Nothing. I don’t want anything. I want you to go away and leave me alone.”
Draven blinked at him. “I can’t,” he said sadly. “I can’t leave you. I’m your slave now.”
Keiron raised his hands and took another step back. Draven advanced over the threshold and gazed around curiously.
“Look, I’ve no idea what’s going on, who you are, or what you want, but you are not my slave and you are not coming into my house.”
Draven frowned at him, his head tilted to the side. “But I am your slave, and I am inside your house.”
“I…. Well…. Leave, then.”
“Leave?” Draven gaped in apparent astonishment. “But I can’t leave.”
“Because,” Draven said slowly, as if explaining something obvious to a child, or an idiot, “I’m your slave.”
“Please, I have no idea what game you’re playing, but whatever else you might be, you are not my slave.”
Draven sighed. He gazed at Keiron through his insanely long lashes, flashing his violently blue eyes. From the expression on his face, he seemed to be deep in thought, chewing on his lip and frowning.
Eventually he shrugged, his face clearing to an apologetic smile. “I can’t go away. I have to stay.”
“Why do you have to stay?”
“Because I’m your—”
“Slave. Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Come in. I can’t stand here all night. I’ll get you something to wear, and you can tell me what the hell’s going on. I’m obviously not going to get rid of you any other way.”
Of course, he could have called the police, but the idea repelled him. He was sure the boy wasn’t going to hurt him. Besides, he was intrigued now. He wanted to know who the strange boy was, and more importantly—what he was.
Ten minutes later, Draven was settled on the sofa with his feet tucked under him, wearing Bren’s bathrobe. It was pretty much brand new. Bren hadn’t appreciated it when Keiron bought them matching robes. He’d suggested that he buy Keiron a pipe and slippers to go with them.
Draven was even smaller than Bren, making the robe far too big, but it was the best Keiron could think of. There was no way any of his clothes would fit the boy.
Keiron sat in the chair as Draven explored. It seemed as if he’d never been inside a house before and everything was a wonder to him. The emotions flickered across his face too fast for Keiron to catch. With a little shake of his head, Draven focussed on what was in front of him. He gently stroking the leather of the couch with his fingertips, then rubbed his cheek against the soft towelling of the robe and gave a huge sigh.
Keiron smiled. There was something about Draven that made him feel curiously protective. Draven was soft and sweet and childlike, but there was a hardness underneath that made Keiron a little wary of the hyperactive creature.
Draven glanced up as if surprised there was anyone else in the room. Then he sat up straighter, trying to look contrite and failing. “Oh. I’m sorry. I’m supposed to be your slave. What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to tell me why you’re here—without mentioning the word slave.”
Draven frowned, then shrugged.
“You saw me,” he said.
“In the bushes?”
“Yes, and at the window—twice.”
Draven shook his head. “You’re very slow, aren’t you?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I let you see me three times. That’s a very bad thing. It’s not allowed. You broke the magic. My punishment is that I have to be your slave. Not forever. Just for three months.”
“Just. Three. Months?” Keiron was dumbstruck. His mind couldn’t process what he was hearing. He stared at Draven who seemed uncomfortable at first, then lost interest, seduced by the wonders of the house.
“What’s that?” he asked, pointing to the television. It was a sixty-inch flat-screen, mounted on the wall.
“What?” Keiron blinked, snapping back into action.
“That big black thing.”
“What big black— Oh, that’s the television.”
“What is it? What does it do?”
“It…. Haven’t you ever seen a television?”
Draven shook his head, his eyes still on the screen. “I’ve never been inside a house. I’ve looked through the window, but I’ve never seen one of those.” He got up and drifted across the room, pausing to crouch down and bury his fingers in the soft carpet. When he got to the television, he ran his fingers over it, peering at his reflection in the surface. He was only barely tall enough to do so.
Still in shock, Keiron picked up the remote and switched on the television. Draven screamed and flipped backwards over the sofa. When he didn’t come back out, Keiron went to investigate, worried he might have hurt himself. Draven crouched with his back against the leather. His eyes were darting everywhere.
“What’s wrong? Did you hurt yourself?”
Draven’s strange eyes focussed on him, and the expression made Keiron shiver. He was clearly frightened, but that hardness was more prominent now—a hint of steel.
“Where are your weapons,” he asked in a shaky voice. “I-I don’t think I can fight them all, definitely not if we have no weapons.” He gazed up at Keiron, vulnerability replacing the harder expression. “Can you? Can you fight them? Can you protect me?”
“What are you talking about?”
“The…people. They were…. They had weapons.”
“That was the television, Draven. Remember? You were asking about it. That’s what it does. It shows pictures.”
“Yes. Come and see. Let me show you. Do you trust me?”
Draven stared at him. His strange eyes gave Keiron chills. “Okay,” Draven whispered and held out his hand. Keiron took it and helped him to his feet. When he saw the television, Draven whirled and threw his arms around Keiron, burying his head in his body. Keiron’s first impression was how small and insubstantial Draven felt. His arms barely reached all the way round and the top of his head was level with Keiron’s chest.
“Draven…Draven, look. It’s big and bright, but it’s only pictures. I promise it won’t hurt you.”
Draven raised his eyes. Keiron found he was getting used to them, and they didn’t seem so strange anymore.
Keiron smiled. “Trust me.”
Draven searched his eyes for a moment, then nodded, and holding tight to his hand, turned and stared up at the screen.
Keiron watched Draven watch the television. At first it was with fear, but that gradually changed to curiosity. As if forgetting to be afraid, he let go of Keiron’s hand and drifted across the floor. Keiron stood back and let him do what he wanted, wondering what the hell he’d got himself into. There was no getting around the fact that, alien and strange as he might be, Draven was very beautiful and the thought of him naked under the bathrobe made Keiron’s heart flutter a little. That was one of the many reasons he had to get rid of him as soon as possible.
Draven stared at the screen for a while, then reached out a trembling hand to touch it. He spun, his face split in a grin. “It’s pictures on a wall…moving ones,” he said excitedly.
“Yes, that’s what a television is.”
“They talk,” he said, turning back to the television. “They’re real people, moving and talking and—what are they doing?” He tilted his head to the side, and Keiron concentrated on what was happening on the screen. It was a vampire film. The rampaging mob had gone, and the vampire had gained the bedroom of the vapid heroine. She of the heaving breasts was in full flow, her cotton nightdress straining, while the vampire, mesmerising her with his hypnotic gaze, was about to sink his teeth into her neck.
“He’s a vampire. He’s about to bite her.”
“Why would he do that?”
“Because he’s a vampire. That’s what they do.”
Draven turned to him and frowned. “No, it isn’t,” he stated baldly.
“Know many vampires, do you?” Keiron asked.
“Not many. But I know they don’t do it like that.”
Draven huffed and rounded on him, his hands on his hips. “That,” he said, pointing back at the screen, “is not a vampire. Why is he pretending to be something he isn’t? That is a human.”
Keiron’s eyes widened a little at the word human, but he said nothing. He knew—of course he did. He knew, but he didn’t believe, not yet.
“That’s what television’s all about. It’s about people pretending to be other people or other things.”
“For entertainment. Like…like a moving picture book.”
“Ooh yes, books.” Draven grinned. “I’ve seen them. I’ve seen books. They have pictures in them. They have symbols…words. I can read some of them,” he said proudly. “Fenn taught me. Fenn knows lots of things. I don’t know how she learned to read, though. I mean, we’re not supposed to have those things, human things. And we’re not allowed to talk to humans—not even allowed to show ourselves to them.” He gave a sad little smile and hung his head.
“And you did. You showed yourself to me.”
Draven bit his lip and lowered his eyes, the picture of unrepentant guilt. “I…I let you see me.”
“You let me see you. But you weren’t supposed to, were you?”
Draven shook his head. “No, it’s not allowed.”
“And now you’re being punished?”
He nodded. “Yes. I have to stay here, with you, for three months to pay for what I did.”
“I don’t understand. If you’re not supposed to show yourself to me…us at all, why would you have to stay here, in full view, for three months?”
“Because I’ve been warned before, lots of times. You’ve almost seen me before, lots and lots of times. They said the only way to break the habit was to force me to face it.”
“The Council. They’re in charge—at least here.” He waved his hand vaguely. “There are lots of them, I think. The king and queen live a long way away. I’ve never seen them.”
“Oh. Draven. You know you can’t stay here.”
“This isn’t your home. This isn’t your world and I…I have my life, my boyfriend. He’d freak if he found you here. This just isn’t your place.”
“I know,” he said sadly, “but there’s nothing I can do about it. I have to stay.”
“And if I won’t let you stay here?”
He shrugged. “There’s a place in the bushes. It’s warm and comfortable. I’ve slept there before and—”
“I’m not letting you sleep outside under a bush.”
“Why not? That’s where I usually sleep.”
Keiron shook his head. “What am I going to do with you?”