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The Good Neighbor – Fantasy Short Story

Deep in a forgotten forest A story plays out about the death of magic cross-cultural friends and the dying of old ways.

It was a peaceful home with brightly painted walls, creaking wooden floors, a warm hearth and an old brick chimney. An old wooden rocking chair stood in the corner. The dark wood stain had begun to fade along the armrests and seat, revealing the layers of old paint beneath: a dull rusty brown, flamboyant red, and finally, the original layer of soft yellow. Generations of humans had practically grown up in that chair: being rocked to sleep as babies, or crooning lullabies to their little ones during the long and restless nights of infancy. Proud grandparents had held their grandchildren for the first time, cradling them gently in loving arms.

Now there was a cat curled up in the chair, long gray fur spreading about the napping animal like a fluffy cloud. The thick and sweet scent of woodsmoke still lingered in the air. Dull embers glowed in the hearth, illuminating the room. On a small wooden stand next to the old chair and its occupant, a cup of chamomile tea released thin ribbons of steam into the air. The cat cracked an eye open as the oaken door across the room creaked on rusty hinges.

Rattling softly, the brass knob turned. The cottage’s front door swung inwards. For a brief moment, the cat could see the sprawling forest just beyond the small cottage porch. Then the view was obstructed by the shadow slipping inside the room. A short and lean figure gently shut the door, shushing the creaking hinges as they gave their final protest.

The cat’s eyes gleamed briefly in the dark as a gentle hand settled on the creature’s silky head, massaging feline ears until its eyelids closed with pleasure, the vibrations of its contented purr filling the room. The small figure, dressed in a plain, brown leggings and a tunic of fine Lincoln green wool, spared a brief moment to kiss the cat’s forehead before scurrying into the kitchen.

Adjacent to the entryway, the kitchen was a small but cheerful and well lived in space. A slowly cooling kettle sat on the stove top. A pink vase full of dried daisies and bright yellow cowslip sat in the center of the small dining table. Like the chair by the hearth, the table was antique. Above the dish filled sink was a large window, veiled by faded floral curtains. Moths had eaten holes through the fabric but that only added to its charm.

Sitting on the windowsill was a small, hand carved bowl filled with a mixture of cream and honey. At the sight of the bowl a smile split the faerie’s face. Nimbly hopping up to sit on the counter top the cottage’s visitor delicately took the bowl from the windowsill. Lifting the vessel to their grinning mouth, they drank deeply. Licking the sweet liquid from rosy lips, the little guest set the bowl in the sink with the other dishes before leaping down from the counter.

Collecting the half empty tea cup from the living room, they began the washing up, humming softly as their eyes wandered now and again to the staircase at the very back of the kitchen. This, they knew, led up to the bedroom of their host. When the dishes were done and neatly put away, the faerie quietly tiptoed up the staircase. Their bare feet made not a whisper of sound as they crept into the human’s bedroom.

Away from the hearth downstairs, the air was cool. Fetching an extra blanket from the linen closet, the faerie smiled fondly at the human lying asleep on the soft goose down mattress. The faerie had known this human a very long time and had watched her grow from infant to adult. The faerie had watched old age settle in and had listened to the creaking of old bones being rocked in the creaking old chair by the crackling fireplace. The faerie had also watched as the children and grandchildren of this particular human had grown up, moved away from the forests and forgotten the old ways, becoming lost in the hustle and bustle of the city.

The thought caused the faerie’s heart to grow heavy. So many young faces now, seldom, if ever seen. Human memories and lifespans were so short, and each generation forgot a little more and lived a little less than the one before. But, this human, now resting peacefully abed, still remembered the fae, and so, likewise, the faerie remembered her. Not a night had gone by in which the faerie had not come to visit the quiet little cottage in the woods. Gently tucking the warm blanket around the human’s frail and shivering shoulders, the faerie watched long enough to ensure that the trembling had stopped. Then, smiling briefly as they brushed the stray locks of pale white hair from the old woman’s face, the faerie whispered a quiet farewell. Disappearing swiftly, they slipped out the way they had come, vanishing into the night.

***

When Elwyn came downstairs she smiled at the empty sink and bowl, the small wooden vessel having been returned to its rightful place on the windowsill. As she set about making her morning tea, the extra blanket was still wrapped around her frail old shoulders. “I have such good neighbors, don’t you think Cait? Looking after an old lady, night after night.” She chuckled at the silky gray cat rubbing against her legs. “Ah yes, such good neighbors.” She smiled wistfully as the kettle came to a boil and she poured herself a cup of piping hot tea.

Kindling the fire back to life, Elwyn sat in her old rocking chair with a groan. Sipping her tea, she smiled as Cait jumped up to sit in her lap, purring loudly in a matter of minutes. Wrinkled old hands picked the telephone off its cradle on the wooden stand next to her chair, Elwyn slowly and carefully dialed her son’s phone number. After several minutes of ringing she was finally greeted by a gruff “Hello?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Nicholas.” She said softly, realizing she must have woken up her son. “I don’t mean to be a bother, but you said yesterday you’d be over for dinner. I was just worried. I wanted to make sure you were okay. You are okay, aren’t you, dearie?”

The voice on the other line heaved a sigh. “I’m fine, Mom. Just busy. Forgot to call. I’ll see you when I see you. Maybe tonight, okay?”

“Alright, dear, I just thought- ” Elwyn was abruptly interrupted.

“I have to go to work. Bye.”

Elwyn put the phone down with a sigh, gently stroking Cait’s silky fur.

“Oh, well. I’m sure that boy of mine has his hands full.” She stared quietly into the fire for a moment. “Well, come on, Cait. Let’s get our breakfasts, hmm?” As if understanding the old woman’s words, the cat darted into the kitchen, hopping up to sit on the window sill, patiently awaiting the promised meal.

As Elwyn puttered about her cottage, she realized she had forgotten her knitting in the bedroom. She had nearly completed a jumper for her youngest grandson, Dylan, and wanted to finish it today, just in case Nicholas actually did decide to drop by at the end of his shift. Once upon a time, he had done that frequently, but, that was before he’d gotten his big promotion. She was proud and happy for him, but, sometimes she wished the position had left him with a bit more time for visiting. She missed her son, and, she wanted to spend more time with her grandchildren.

Rummaging around in the big cedar chest at the foot of the bed, Elwyn chuckled to herself. She knew she’d left it in a bit of a mess last night, but like everything else, when she opened the lid this morning, she found the chest to be impeccably organised. Truly the Good Neighbors were a blessing. The old lady smiled as she picked up her yarn and needles, heading back downstairs and readjusting the blanket around her shoulders.

As she walked down the short flight of steps Elwyn felt the blanket slipping once again. Before she had time to fix it, the blanket had slipped from her bony frame and onto the steps at her feet. Not quite realizing what had happened, Elwyn went to take another step and gasped in surprise as she felt her foot slipping on the wool blanket. With a cry of surprise Elwyn dropped her knitting. Tumbling tail over teakettle, Elwyn felt the back of her skull smack hard on the edge of the bottom step. Sitting up slowly, Elwyn let out a whimper. Her ribs ached and it hurt to move. She could feel the stickiness of blood matting her white hair to the back of her head. With the room spinning around her, she didn’t dare try standing. After a long while, struggling to catch her breath, she slowly and painfully crawled towards the phone. If Nicholas didn’t come, she didn’t know how long it would take for someone to find her.

***

Dusk settled about the woods. The faerie skipped merrily down the forest trail towards Elwyn’s cottage. Upon arriving, they immediately knew something was wrong. The door hung open on its hinges, creaking mournfully in the evening breeze. The silky gray cat was huddled under the porch, looking nervously down the driveway.

As the fairy pushed the door open Cait quietly followed them indoors, rubbing about their ankles and mewling plaintively. The faerie paused long enough to pick up the cat up, whispering words of comfort as they entered the cottage. No embers glowed in the fire place. The little wooden stand had been knocked over. Broken bits of ceramic were scattered about the floor in a puddle of spilled tea, long since gone cold. The faerie bit their lip, holding the cat a little tighter as she cautiously tiptoed into the kitchen. The breakfast dishes sat on the table. There was no offering in the bowl on the windowsill. A frown creased the faerie’s face. Elwyn never forgot. Something was very wrong. Still clutching the cat, the fairy sprinted upstairs, passing by the treacherous blanket that still lay across the narrow steps. There was no one in Elwyn’s bedroom; only the empty bed. The faerie’s eyes were wide with worry as they returned downstairs. Coming to the final step, the faerie paused, noticing something that they had previously missed in their haste: blood. Finally understanding the scene before them the faerie closed their eyes, taking a moment to still their racing thoughts. Looking to the cat in their arms they set the creature down. “You saw what happened. Lead the way.”

Cait mewed once then darted out the door, slipping through the night’s shadows. Coming to a stop in the driveway, the cat slowed and sat, green eyes glimmering as the faerie caught up. Kneeling, they studied the tire tracks left in the dirt. Never before had they left the shelter of the woods, but a friend was in need. Letting the cat lead the way, the faerie followed swiftly.

***

It was a cold room. The eerie silence was interrupted by the beeping of machines. The empty white walls reflected the sinister lights of glowing monitor screens. In a corner of the windowless room was a hospital bed, complete with a plastic guard rail and too-clean white sheets. Beside the bed stood an IV stand, from which hung a bag of fluid and a drip tube. Resting in the bed was an old lady. Her shoulders trembled and her face, half hidden by long locks of white hair, looked troubled. The cat jumped up to lay on the bed beside her, silky grey fur spreading about the animal like a fluffy cloud. Burrowing under the old woman’s arm, the cat butted its head against her chin and began purring.

Following the cat into the room was a figure clad in brown leggings and a tunic of Lincoln green wool. Gently easing the heavy door closed in its wake, the figure approached the bed, sitting delicately on the edge of the thin, plasticky mattress. Slender fingers stroked the cat’s head for a brief moment before adjusting the sheets about the old lady’s frame, tucking her in gently. Finally, the faerie’s fingers slipped into Elwyn’s hand, clasping it tenderly as the other hand soothingly stroked her long white hair, pulling it back from her face.

The faerie sat in silence, listening to the beeping of the monitors, watching their screens quietly. Her gaze fixed on one monitor in particular. A jagged line pulsed across the screen, zigzagging up and down. Up and down, each peak a little lower, a little further from the one that had come before. Then, finally, there were no more zigs and no more zags. The line went flat. The machine began to screech, wailing like a banshee in the night.

“You were a very good friend.” The fairy said softly, bending to place a gentle kiss on the old lady’s cheek. Scooping up the silky gray cat, the fairy slipped out the door as the nurses came rushing into the room.

Alas, human memories and lifespans were so short. Each generation forgot a little more and lived a little less than the one that came before, but, this human had never forgotten.

Therefore, she would always be remembered.

***

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Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best regards,

– A. Redwing

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Fantasy Short Story

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