Across The Border

Entry by: Corone

16th September 2016
Across the Border

One of the things we loved most, as children, about the old house was the large garden. But we soon learned not to run too deeply into it. There was no line to denote the boundary, but you knew when you had crossed it. Something just felt different, even though nothing had changed. It made us all stand and pause for a moment, none of us knowing why.

The first thing you really noticed was the scent, warm and sweet like peaches on a summer day. It was barely noticeable at first, but the further you followed it the stronger it got. You could almost taste it on your tongue, like sugar sweets and strawberries. But after a little while it became too much, the sweetness became sticky and choking. It made you feel light headed, as when we gorged ourselves on too much cake every birthday.

We’d still seen nothing by this time though. Had we known what to look for we might have seen a glimpse here and there. A flutter of shadow or the beat of wings, of tiny eyes that glared at our temerity. The folk do not like to be seen, but they ache to watch. We are so strange to them, so uniform and cumbersome. So they remain content to observe from their nettle bowers as they chew thorns and weave poison with their long fingers.

It is always summer there, but a frozen summer of endless beauty. Roses and flowers of all descriptions were everywhere, wrapped around the trunks of the trees, choking them with colour. They glistened in the sunlight, but they were cold to the touch. A thin layer of ice coated them all, and if we touched them too roughly they crumbled, like flash frozen petals. We should have known something was wrong at the outset, but when the smell in the air changed it was clear to us the place was not as innocent as it seemed. The sweetness gave way to decay. While it remained alluring, there was something rotten underneath it. It was enough for some of us to suggest we turn back, but the mystery had already taken hold. We all felt a need to follow the trail until the finish, but the path has no end. It circles around itself in an eternal spiral, leading ever on as it diminishes.

To walk under the gaze of the folk is to become cruel. We absorbed their manners, or were enchanted with them. Whichever it was, we began to turn on each other. The taunting began, Ellie led it but we all joined in. Billy got the worst of it, with his ill-fitting braces that made him lisp when he spoke. We were magnanimous in our cruelty at first, offering our apologies that he was so ugly or comical in appearance. We offered to help him overcome his clear and noteworthy failings, and listed the many ways he might improve. Then we simply became mean until the tears ran down his face, which made us laugh.

When he ran away we all began to realise what we had done. We called out for him, and the more we were answered in silence the more frightened we became. The sunlight fell behind a cloud and the trees and plants around us began to close in. We heard the echo of our own cruel laughter reflected back at us and fear began to give way to terror.

We were ready to give up on Billy, forget him and leave him to his fate. But once we had silently made that decision between us, in furtive glances and downcast eyes, he was suddenly there. He was taller somehow, his braces were gone, and he silently led us out of the place back to the open lawns of the great old house.

Billy was never the same after that day, neither were any of us. Perhaps we just grew up, grew older and more cynical. But I know I have been made crueller by my time there, just a little, but enough to notice when I make my sister cry once too often. I left a warm part of myself there in the deep of the garden, and it was replaced with ice. The folk charge a fee for their time and their entertainment, it is best to let them claim what you have unwittingly offered than seek to take it back. You only have more to lose.

So now that I am old I offer what advice I can to my grandchildren. I tell them that there are faeries at the bottom of my garden, but they must never cross the border to their places if they cannot afford the price.