The Bone Fairies
“Wait, what are you doing?” Yvette asked.
The panic in her voice made Rosalind stop halfway to the cottage door. “Taking the scraps outside?” she said, unsure.
“Why?” Yvette demanded, hurrying over to yank the plate of chicken bones from her guest’s unresisting hands.
“For the bone fairies,” she said simply.
“WHY would you — do you FEED the bone fairies back home?? How are you still alive?”
“What?” Rosalind asked in deepening confusion as Yvette dumped the bones into the fireplace. “If you don’t feed them, they start nosing around instead of cleaning the woods of carrion.”
“What?” Yvette echoed, turning from the fire. The two stared at each other for a moment.
“Do we have different types of bone fairies?” Rosalind asked.
“We must. What does your kind look like?”
“Reddish feathers,” Rosalind said, gesturing vaguely. “Like little birds if you don’t look too close. They even have beaks, though otherwise they’re humanoid with feathers. They crack open the bones of carcasses for the marrow, and they can carry really big ones on account of the magic. They drop them on rocks to split them open. We always leave bone scraps out at the end of the fence.”
Yvette was shaking her head, the empty plate forgotten in her hand. “Ours are a terror,” she said flatly. “Like huge bugs, with sawtooth arms and mouths to match. Greenish-gray. They’ll slice open anything that looks like it has tasty marrow in its bones.” She remembered the plate, and moved to place it in the sink. “You do not want to invite them closer.”
Rosalind’s eyes were wide. “I had no idea!”
“I’m glad this came up now,” Yvette said. She waved toward the table. “Welcome to my home! Let’s go over basic woodland safety so you don’t get us killed while you’re here.”
* * * * *
Rosalind took the instructions to heart, staying out of dangerous areas and always bringing with her the small pack of essentials, which included a small bottle of bone fairy repellent.
Even so, she somehow didn’t expect to ever need it. A lifetime free of such nightmares made her feel on some deep level like this must be an exaggeration. She wouldn’t have said so out loud, of course. But she did stay out a little too late into dusk, on a search for firewood she didn’t have to cut.
Her eyes were on the ground, scanning for fallen branches. She didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, and if there was a faint buzzing sound in the air, it didn’t bother her survival instincts in the slightest.
Then she passed a dense patch of bushes, and she saw the bear.
The former bear. It was big, it was dead, and there was blood literally everywhere, even splattered on the trees. Its fur moved.
Ohhhh no no no no, Rosalind thought as she scrambled backwards. Hand-sized insectoids were emerging from that dense fur, spotting her and taking to the air. They may have been green-gray once. They were red now.
Rosalind broke and ran with buzzing loud around her. She fumbled with the pack at her hip, dropping things in the search for that tiny bottle. When she found it, she nearly lost it in a fern, but managed to clutch it tight. The cork was slippery under fingers covered in fear-sweat.
Yvette had said that the repellent could be wafted around if the bone fairies were still a ways away, or poured in a circle on the ground if an area needed to be protected. She hadn’t said what to do when under active pursuit, but Rosalind could figure that out herself.
She wrenched the cork out and dumped it on her head.
Her other hand was already rubbing it into her hair when the smell hit.
Lavender, rosemary, and SKUNK.
Rosalind coughed, her eyes nearly closing as she stumbled forward. She dropped the jar and moved to rub her eyes, but stopped just short. She kept running.
If this is how I die, she thought grimly, Somebody’s getting haunted.
But the buzzing faded slowly, left behind in the deepening shadows of the forest that could keep its darn firewood; they’d burn something else. Maybe Rosalind’s clothes.
She finally stumbled up to the cottage in one piece, with no firewood and many regrets. She didn’t even have to knock. Yvette smelled her coming.
“Undress over there,” she said from the doorway. “I’ll get a bucket of water, then grab every tomato in the garden. And a few scrub cloths I don’t need back. You don’t seem to be missing any bones, so I can only assume it was worth it.”
Rosalind coughed and followed Yvette’s pointed finger. “Worth it,” she agreed. “But barely.”