Fairy Dust: A Fantasy Adventure Short Story

FrostyBranches_webI recently attended the first meeting of a local writers group that is starting up in our area. We spent the first half of the meeting getting to know each other, but we used the second half to do a couple of writing exercises. It was fun to see how differently everyone approached the exercises. I enjoyed the experience and plan to continue going.

Before we adjourned, the group organizer invited us to write a short piece at home based on the work we had done during the session. It was “homework” in a sense, but it was completely optional. I decided to take the challenge because it sounded like fun, and because I’m hoping to create a few new pieces for next year’s edition of Finite Fantasy.

The story I wrote was inspired by a rare winter phenomenon I’ve seen only a few times and always wanted to write about. The floating ice crystals that I call fairy dust are rare because the weather conditions have to be absolutely perfect for them to form. They are caused by sunlight hitting ice crystals (see the image above) while the temperature is in the single digits or low teens. The crystals, which are basically frozen fog, pop free from where they settled and are so light that they float and tumble around in a sparkling rainbow mist. The first time I experienced this wondrous event, I was instantly enchanted. Sights like that help make a cold winter worth enduring.

Of course, being a fantasy writer, I couldn’t write about fairy dust without throwing in a fantastical twist. I hope you enjoy the story.

Fairy Dust

by Daniel R. Marvello (1871 words)

I carried my empty coffee mug upstairs, cursing my self-imposed rule that I could have only one cup a day. Perhaps I would make a pot of decaf, for the warmth if not for the flavor. I was sure my wife would be an easy sell on that plan.

The rising sun topped the pines to the east of our house and sparkled on a crystal my wife had hung in our great room picture windows. Light projecting through the crystal painted curved rainbows upon the high log walls. Setting my mug in the kitchen sink, I ambled into the great room and stood at one of the windows. Sunrise had always been my favorite time of day.

In spite of the double-paned glass, a small current of cold air poured off the windowsill like a waterfall, hinting at the outside temperature. In the depths of the North Idaho winter, sunny days brought welcome light, but also dangerous cold. Our thermometer claimed that the temperature had dropped into the low teens.

My eyes widened with excitement when I noticed blades of frost crystals clinging to the thin branches of a tall, naked serviceberry in the yard below. More of the icy crystals decorated the lumpy expanse of snow that swamped every inch of ground. Overnight, the cold had wrung the last bits of moisture out of the air and deposited it on every available surface. I waited, reminding myself to breathe, and hoping that conditions were as perfect as they seemed. As the sun rose high enough to touch the crystals on the serviceberry, the miracle I hoped for arrived.

Tiny crystals broke free of their moorings, floating and dancing like flakes in a snow globe. They twirled and swirled, refracting the sunlight like a billion infinitesimal renderings of the decoration that hung in the window next to me. It was as if a rainbow had exploded into a cloud of fairy dust.

I stared in wonder, my awe not enough to stop my analytical mind from wondering about the thermal dynamics that allowed the sun to free the crystals, yet not melt them. Had I voiced my thoughts with my wife standing next to me, she would have patted my arm and said, “Just enjoy the show.”

And I did enjoy the show. Moments like that one made me realize what a precious and wondrous world surrounded us. Magic was everywhere, but most times, humanity was too busy to notice. As I had grown older, I’d learned what a balm the magic of the natural would could be for a weary and overburdened soul.

Inexplicably, moisture pooled in my eyes. Had I been the type to pray, I would have thanked whatever force had created such beauty and allowed me to witness it. As I blinked away the tears and swallowed a lump in my throat, my attention was drawn to a flash near a branch of the serviceberry.

The sparkling crystals at that spot whirled as if disturbed. I blinked rapidly in confusion, but what I saw as my vision cleared made less sense than a landscape blurred by tears. At first I thought I was seeing a butterfly, which was impossible at that time of year. And the body attached to the wings was far too long.

My mouth dropped open as my mind connected the patterns of shifting crystals with the presence of fluttering wings. The little creatures were everywhere. One dipped close to a branch, and after a nearly undetectable spark, crystals floated free.

A trio of winged dancers flew past the window, swooping around one another and waving toward the crystals as if herding them. I watched in fascinated astonishment as the trio aborted their play and floated closer to my window. They returned my stare.

The fairies, for that is what I assumed them to be, were barely three inches tall and vaguely human-shaped. Their bodies were covered in silvery scales furred with an iridescent powder, not unlike a moth. Their arms and legs ended in clawed appendages, and their faces were dominated by huge golden eyes. They had no noses or ears to speak of, just slits where those organs would be on a person, and their mouths were lipless slashes above their pointed chins. Their wings, thin frames of gossamer lace seemingly woven of spider web, were as long as the fairies were tall.

I took a deep breath to calm my pounding heart while a tingling sensation tightened the muscles at the back of my neck and trickled down my arms. I half turned and opened my mouth to call out to my wife, but couldn’t pull my gaze away from the fairies and their luminous golden eyes.

And then they beckoned me. They circled each other in playful formation and stopped to beckon again. As their tiny arms reached toward me and their clawed fingers curved in invitation, I felt something lurch in my mind. “Come dance, come play,” they called, using imagery that strobed in my mind like recalled memories. I blinked and shook my head, not knowing how to comply or whether I wanted to do so.

When they beckoned a third time, it seemed as if a trap door dropped open beneath me. I experienced a moment of weightlessness, like when an elevator starts its descent. I gasped and reflexively closed my eyes against the uncomfortable sensation.

* * *

When I opened my eyes again, the fairies were right in front of me and appeared to have grown to human scale. They smiled at me with delight and dashed off in a swirling cascade of wings and crystals. I looked over my shoulder, expecting to see myself standing at the window, but I saw no one through the lace of the delicate wings that now graced my back and slowly moved to hold my position. Somehow, I was here, not there.

I looked for my new compatriots and saw that they had gone back to freeing crystals. I wanted to join them. I sensed that there weren’t enough crystals yet, and time was of the essence. The sun was rising in the sky, and eventually, the magic would be gone. Angling my new wings and increasing their tempo, I inexpertly flitted toward the others.

The crystals, which had been so small to my human eyes were now the size of a nickel. They scattered as I flew through them. It was like I was swimming through a river of sparkling glitter. I waved my hands experimentally, as I’d seen the others do, and the crystals flowed in response to my gestures.

I reached a branch of the serviceberry that was laden with captured crystals and watched one of the other fairies to see how I could free them. The process was simple. With a single touch of my clawed finger at the base of each crystal, they sparked and floated free. Each freed crystal was a small victory that filled me with glee. When I was surrounded by a cloud of them, I knew I needed to guide them out into the dance field.

Waving the crystals along, I herded them out over the yard. Another fairy zoomed by, tumbling me with the wake of its passing. My alarm turned to delight as I righted myself and reached for the hand of the fairy who had returned with a mischievous grin to help me. Hand in hand, we flew upward together and then broke away in opposite directions, drawing a river of crystals behind us and letting them spill out into a sparkling fountain.

I don’t know how long I contributed to the entrancing frolic of the fairies, but it didn’t seem long before the tempo of the dance slowed. The crystals melted into a puff of mist before I could free them, and the ones already aloft began to evaporate as if they’d never been. As one, all of us turned to watch the last sparkling magic of the fairy dust fade from the air.

Their wings fluttering sluggishly with resignation, the fairies gathered and flew in single file toward a hummock of snow. As they neared, a swirling void appeared, and one by one, they were sucked in, vanishing the instant they drew close. The last fairy in line looked over its shoulder at me before it too departed.

My heart ached to follow them, but I feared that if I entered the vortex, I’d leave my humanity behind forever. I floated in indecision, unable to make my wings propel me forward. My head began to pound from a headache that came out of nowhere, and my vision narrowed to a pinpoint with shooting stars around the darkening periphery. I plummeted toward the white blanket of snow below me, losing consciousness just before making contact.

* * *

The warm and familiar voice of my wife was the first thing to push its way back into my awareness. “Honey, please wake up. Come back to me. Don’t leave me here alone.”

I was lying on the floor of the great room, my head raised and cushioned in my wife’s lap. She was gently shaking me with one hand and caressing my face with the other. Her motion stopped when my eyes opened and fixed on her tear-streaked face. “Hi,” I said.

I sat up, slowing as a wave of dizziness passed through me. Twisting around, I sat cross-legged opposite my wife. As soon as my eyes met hers, I smiled, and she leaned forward to embrace me.

“I was so scared,” she whispered into my shoulder. “When I found you lying here, I thought you had a heart attack or something. But when I checked your pulse and your breathing, it was like you were only sleeping. Except I couldn’t wake you up.” She released me, raising one eyebrow as she gave me a sardonic smile. “And you weren’t snoring.”

I laughed and took her hand in mine. “Sorry I frightened you. I don’t know what happened, exactly. One minute I was standing at the window watching the fairy dust, and the next thing I knew I was waking up in your lap. Other than a little dizziness, I feel fine.”

And I did feel fine. My wife had called 911 after trying to rouse me, and when the emergency crew arrived, they checked me over thoroughly. They recommended a ride to the hospital in their ambulance so a doctor could take a closer look, but I politely declined. I could tell by their expressions that they felt the trip had been a waste of time.

After the paramedics left, I hugged my wife and promised her I was okay. She kept a close eye on me for the rest of the day, but of course, nothing else unusual happened. By dinnertime that evening, the incident was behind us and our lives had mostly returned to their normal pattern.

As much as I loved and trusted her, I couldn’t bring myself to reawaken my wife’s concerns for my well being. The sensation of soaring through fairy dust on gossamer wings would have to remain a precious and secret memory that I would cherish forever.


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