A short story by Heather J. Bennett
© Heather J Bennett
Laurel stood at the top of the mountain and closed her eyes to the breeze blowing against her face and through the golden curls of her hair. She listened to the surrounding sounds; birds singing, leaves rustling, and the electricity rising into the air like fragrance from the eucalyptus trees below. They drenched her skin, seeping deep into her bones. It ignited the magic resting inside like candlelight shining through a window on a clear moonless night from one of those dark cabins below, and she knew she was ready.
Her family returned to this canyon time and time again, decade after decade, to this very spot to test the air, sniff at the ripeness of the magic, soak in the way it rose from the earth beneath their feet to signal its ripeness for harvest. As a little girl, she couldn’t wait to be old enough to inherit this task. Her sleepy head would rest on her great grandmother, Mutzie´s, lap as lazy fingers swept over her curls. She´d close her eyes and listen to the tales about magic, bringing music, art, and poetry to the land for attuned mortals to discover. Mutzie described large gatherings of laughter and love, how mortals would claim their fairy power as their own, but release it in song and dance, painting and films, for the world to experience and relish.
All that magic came with a warning: don´t fall in love with them.
Mortals, however attuned, break magic.
Mortals! Laurel laughed when her great grandmother told her. As if mortals held anything interesting? They were silly creatures, so primitive! Not one of them could spark fire with a snap. None of them could conjure a summer storm with a simple breath. They couldn’t feel the earth’s rhythms in their blood, or pluck color from the wind. They dealt with currency. They bonded emotions tight as though they were embarrassed by them. They were unable to use their gifts to connect to the world around them. The ingredients of their food were used for flavor like they didn’t even know of the other properties they possessed. Mortals. They were simply tools that mined for creativity. They held only a fraction of their power and, going by what Laurel had witnessed, weren’t interested in discovering anything more.
“This canyon will draw different kinds of mortals,” Mutzie had told her.But in all of Laurel’s years, she hadn’t seen different kinds. She’d only watched them squander the beauty, draw blood in anger, ignore pain in others, and sometimes inflict it for no reason. They were odd little beings, and she’d done her best to avoid interaction with them. Now that Mutzie had left this realm, Laurel was next in line to inherit and care for the canyon magic. It was calling her now, and she had to answer. The canyon was ripe with creativity. The attuned mortals summoned. It was time to harvest.
Once the sun rose and Laurel manifested into human form, glamouring her fairy wings from the mortals, she strolled along the gravel road as she made her way to the family cabin. Her fingers weaved the air with electricity, forming invisible braids to the earth. The cabin had been closed for years, but ancestors had taken care of it with simple runes on the property line, keeping nature at bay to blend with the other properties nearby. Runes also kept out trespassers. As she approached the front gate, she noticed a mortal across the way unloading his VW van with faded paint panels. His curiosity lured her, visible in his dark, earth-colored eyes. They held a playfulness, as well, and simple childlike kindness. She kept her gaze on him as the gate creaked open, and he placed his hands on his hips, watching with a half-smile.
“So, you´re the one who knows how to open it,” he said.
Stepping through the gate, she turned to face him. “Pardon?”
He motioned with his chin, but she marveled at his long mustache framing his lips. “That gate. No one’s been able to open it since I moved in last year.”
She grinned at him and blinked her hazel eyes as a response.
“Rumor has it that that place is haunted,” he continued with a twinkle in his eye, rubbing the stubble on his chin with the side of a finger.
“Is it?” she asked, glancing over her shoulder. There definitely were other inhabitants on the property, but nothing she would be afraid of seeing. Others had to tend to the magic while it grew, of course.
He chuckled. “If you believe in that stuff.”
“You never know,” she replied.
He smiled in response and dropped his gaze to the gravel on the road. “Are you… sticking around, then?”
“I was planning to, for a little while. I´ve got some work to do.”
“Oh? What kind of work do you do?”
He´s a curious one. She thought about how to answer him. Mutzie had explained mortals didn´t believe in magic and witches so they created stories that would be acceptable. “I´m… an artist, of sorts.”
“Yeah? What kind of art?”
“Bit of this, bit of that.” She figured keeping the story vague would probably be best until she had time to really outline something. While she´d heard of these mortals all her life, she never had to encounter them or live with them for long periods of time. Observing from a distance was much easier than submersing in their world. “What work do you do?” she asked, her gaze steady on his kind face.
“Me? As little as possible.” He laughed. “I´m trying to get into a band. My old one just broke up a few months ago and if I don’t get something soon, I think I´m gonna have to head back home and get a real job.”
“You’re a musician?”
His smile cracked open wide and made his eyes sparkle.
He was a musician. It radiated out to her and made her fingertips tingle. “What do you play?”
“If it has strings, I play it, but I like guitar and banjo the best. I also sing, so if you hear of anyone looking for a guitarist, let me know.”
“Who are you?” she asked, at least, that’s how she thought you were supposed to find out their names.
His laugh trickled into the air like dust floating in sunlight. “Dylan Cahill.” Wiping his hand on his pale denim jeans, he took the few steps across the street and offered it to her. “And you are?”
His hand was warmer than expected, although rougher, and her breath escaped her body with surprise. “Laurel,” she replied.
“Laurel,” he whispered, his gaze holding onto hers. “Nice to meet you.”
She pulled her hand away and her cheeks turned strangely warm. “Have a nice day,” she muttered and headed up the stone path.
She turned, her body charged with pulsing energy.
“Want to hang out tonight?” His hands rested on the iron gate as he smiled through the rungs. “Maybe have dinner or something?”
The grass rustled against her bare feet and tickled her skin, making her smile. When she looked up at him, she found herself nodding with that strange heat on her cheeks again.
Dylan played guitar, sitting around a fire he built in his backyard. Laurel watched ashes dance back to the stars and inhaled the smoky scent lingering in the surrounding air. His voice blended with the night, calm and cool, the notes swirling to create a rope that attached to her heart and gave gentle tugs before lifting away like a breeze. He was tender for a mortal. An energy pulsed around him and he didn’t even notice the way he dipped into it to create laughter and music. She liked the way he spoke and parted the air with his voice.
Mortals were magical. They just didn’t know how to control any of it.
He finished his song and rested his arm on top of his guitar. “Well, that’s one of the songs I wrote, anyway.”
She clapped and brushed her fingers over his knee. “I thought it was beautiful. You´re going to make a lot of music for the world.”
His voice lilted in a sigh. “I hope so.”
“Why what? Do I want to make music?” He continued when she nodded, pressing a hand against his chest. “It’s in here, right? You´re an artist. You know that feeling. There’s something that climbs beneath your skin and fills you up, gives you all these ideas and images… emotions.” He leaned forward, his eyes squinting as he tried to express the urgency. “And if you don’t give it a way to come out, you feel like you´re gonna explode. An´ people need music. Some of them act like they don´t know it, but they do. They look for it even when they don’t know what they’re looking for. But when they find it… they know. Something deep down inside recognizes what they’re looking for. Like love.” His gaze met hers in the firelight and his eyes seemed darker and more honest. “You don’t expect to find it when it happens, but suddenly… it’s right in front of you and you don’t know how you lived without them for so long.”
She experienced something looking at him, but she wasn’t sure what it was. It made her want to keep looking. It spread through her like the very magic she knew pulsed through her veins. She felt soft, vulnerable, and uncomfortable all at once. Afraid, but also curious. Without speaking, Dylan leaned forward and placed his lips on hers. At first, she wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do—but her body did, and she found herself kissing him.
Moments later, car doors slammed, followed by laughter and the clank of bottles. A handful of people came through Dylan’s house to join them around the fire with their own guitars and bongos. They brought beer and someone lit up some of nature’s herb and passed it around. Their music made her dance. As she leapt around the fire, hands waving in the air, she sprinkled her magic to blend with the fire’s ashes and their notes. It lifted into the air and landed around her new friends. The earth replied with a burst of energy, like large fireflies only Laurel could see. Each of them breathed in that light. In a few days, it would come out as a song, or a poem, a painting, or sculpture—and Dylan would find his band.
People came from all over to the growing community up in the hills, drawn by the artistry and creativity. Laurel spent the early mornings in her natural form while the mortals slept, flitting from leaves and flowers, collecting their offerings to mesh with her magic. It’d collect on her fairy wings and dust her hair like pollen. Everywhere she landed, she picked up pieces of sound and color and shape to infuse back into the earth for the mortals to find as inspiration.
Mortals spread it, too. As they discovered new art or a melody, they brought it with them to share around a campfire or by candlelight, under the bright sun, or in their beds. These mortals enjoyed touching one another and fitting their bodies together. She’d heard rumors about that, but when Dylan brought her to his bed, she discovered the pleasure derived from it. She didn’t want to do it with anyone other than Dylan. When someone propositioned her, she drew small circles in the air around her on the sly to lure someone else in who would be more amenable to that particular pleasure. She marveled sometimes at how many answered her spell.
As Dylan’s dream blossomed, though, Laurel found herself more and more alone while his music brought more and more of a crowd around him. His songs were on the radio and they couldn’t play in the small, local bars anymore because too many people came. Then, he was gone for months at a time, bringing his music to other places around the world. Laurel wondered what kind of magic drew him away from the fertile grounds she was tending in the canyon. It must have been strong since Dylan was gone for longer periods of time and drained of any energy by the time he came back.
New mortals came up to the hills and began spreading magic of their own in the form of a white powder that offered false energy and quick tempers. Instead of wanting to share laughter and art, they gave each other suspicious glances, guarding their creativity as though someone might steal it. She was shocked to discover that they believed there wasn’t enough to go around, that mortals felt they deserved more than other mortals in their circle. While this new group moved in, Laurel missed those first inhabitants. She missed Dylan and checked her magic daily in case she was in love. So far, her fingers responded to her spells. Nature and creativity were growing and harvested. But if she wasn’t in love, what were these feelings?
After months of Dylan being away, Laurel couldn’t wait to see him again. On the day he was expected home, she paid particular attention to his yard, encouraging the blooms to be redder and more golden, leaves to grow and provide more shade, and the earth beneath her feet to radiate with her feelings for him. He’d notice it the moment he stepped foot on the property. She’d woven it specifically for him and waited, tucked in her fairy witch form in one of the blossoms to see his reaction and surprise him once he felt it.
But when Dylan got out of his new, shiny car, someone else got out the other side. He stretched his hand out to her—and then he kissed her like he’d kissed Laurel, ignoring the magic left for him. By the time they reached the front door, the smoky scent of burning tinged her nose, but they didn’t notice. The same look Dylan had given to her, he was giving to this mortal. Once Laurel flitted up to the windowsill, she saw their bodies fitting together on his bed.
A new kind of heat washed over Laurel and her fingers began to spark. The ends of her golden hair lifted and crackled with electricity. Her cheeks and chest burned with a feeling she’d never experienced. That’s when the pang in her chest flooded into her eyes to form tears. All her special magic faded around her. Flowers wilted in the sun’s heat. Leaves lost their color and fell to the ground, dried up and rust-colored. Grass lost its color and turned to straw like frost spreading over a window pane. It only took one spark from her fingertip landing in the middle to ignite all of it.
Mortals ran from their homes, bringing out hoses and buckets, but it was no match. All around her, the creativity she´d planted for harvesting burned, scorching the canyon, fueled by the mortal’s lack of compassion and their sinister greed in keeping art as though they created it and owned it. Each place Laurel landed, she ignited tiny little fires fed by lies and deceit and broken hearts. She couldn´t stop it from happening until she´d cried herself out, exhausted by the emotions as though she was mortal herself.
The night sky glowed with what she’d done and roared in her ears with a hot wind. As she sat on the front lawn of her cabin watching the mayhem, her gaze landed on what was left of Dylan´s charred door before resting on the figures standing in the road. He was covered in soot and ash, his arms wrapped around the girl he’d taken home, watching it all burn with a bewildered gaze. Then it landed on Laurel, and he turned around to look at her, his head cocked to the side in confusion.
Laurel sat on lush, green grass. Her yard fresh with blooms, bright and colorful, in flower beds and window planters. Ash from the surrounding fires didn´t ignite when they landed in her yard. Instead, it sprouted tiny white snowdrops or yellow buttercups. Laurel held his gaze and snapped, creating a small fire on her fingertips, letting it dance between her fingers and held it on her palm before she blew it as though it were bubbles in a bath. The fire rose, spreading into the night sky to join it´s brothers and sisters in the flames around them.
Her magic didn’t feel broken, but heart did.