This is why you believe.
When I met her, I fell in love with her instantly. She had golden, flaxen hair that danced in the sun, skin that glowed with an ethereal light, and eyes that sparkled like blue sapphires. I was certain that when she walked, her feet never touched the ground, but rather, she floated on air, as if the ground beneath her feet would soil her.
But what drew me to her was her smile. Her teeth were tiny white pearls of perfection that would dazzle even the most stoic of men. It exuded warmth and promised happiness, and mere mortal that I was, I had to succomb.
More amazing than her wondrous smile or her marvelous beauty, however, was the fact that she loved me too. She took me into her warm embrace with great fervor and need and we reveled in our passion for one another. My heart was filled with bliss and my thoughts were consumed by her.
And yet, mysteriously, she would impose limits on our love. I would only know her name. Her origins would remain a secret to me, and at night, after we spoke tender words and consummated our desire, she would depart our bed, only to return after dawn.
“Won’t you stay, Lehana?” I would ask, miffed by her impending departure. Or another question: “Where is it that you go every evening, my beloved?”
But my questions were always left unanswered. With a shake of her head and a caress of my cheek, she would wander out of our room and into the night.
Despite the curious nature of our relationship, we would have children, two boys and a girl. Even though they were very young, I raised them in the fashion that most reflected my beliefs and values, with a regard for only practicality and reason both in thought and play. Capriciousness and fantasy were for the children of fools. Lehana granted me free reign of their upbringing and our home was harmonious.
And yet, it was the occasion of my oldest son’s first loose tooth that brought the note of discord into our abode. With the offending tooth pulled from my son’s swollen, bleeding gum, I prepared to discard it when she put a hand to my arm to stop me.
“Give me the tooth,” she said.
I paused, curious. “Why?”
She cocked her head to one side, a frown—so alien to her features—creasing her brow.
“For the Faerie, my dear. He has to place it under the pillow for the Faerie of Tooth and Bone.”
Now I frowned. “Lehana, what imprudence is this? There is no such thing as a Faerie of Tooth and Bone.”
Her eyes narrowed; again, so foreign to her lovely face. “Of course there is. And it would not do to displease her.” She paused and then offered: “Maybe you don’t know the true story?”
I leaned against a wooden pillar in the center of the room. Holding the tooth at bay, I said, “What story? The one where she comes to retrieve the tooth and places a bit of copper underneath the bedstraw? That is foolishness, Lehana.”
“It is not foolishness, and that is only half the story, my love. The Faerie leaves the copper as a token of thanks, but make no mistake, the tooth must be left.” She spoke in an ominous tone, much estranged from her usual, melodic voice.
Puzzled, I asked the obvious question. “For what reason, Lehana? Will something bad happen?”
“The tooth is offered to the Faerie as a protection, my love. You see, the Faerie is a monster, a hideous, ferocious creature that dines on the flesh of children. Children transform her into a beautiful, young maiden. In this way she is able to keep her husband.”
I laughed, but without mirth. “The Faerie eats children to keep a lover?”
“All creatures wish to be loved. Some will do more to secure it.”
I waved my free hand to dismiss her argument. “If that were true, Lehana, children would be missing from our village, would they not? It is a fine story that you are telling, but a story nonetheless.”
“Children are not missing because parents give the offering, my love. They give the teeth.” In her arms, she held our son, who quivered in pain from the wound in his mouth. She rubbed his back gently to console and calm him.
“Look at our three beautiful children here,” she continued. “Is it not but a simple thing to give this woman their teeth if it will protect their lives?”
Lehana’s blue eyes burned with a bright intensity that bespoke the strength of her belief, but her fancy that there lived a monster that ate children in order to be young railed against all my reason and I shook my head.
“I cannot support these notions that you spew, Lehana. Surely you know me better than that.”
“I know that if you love me, you will abide this wish for me,” she countered. She looked at me, her eyes pleading. “Understand: the faerie is a monster, ugly and deformed, but she is not heartless. Her desire to be pretty for her husband is strong and will prevail, but she will show mercy. The Faerie can sustain her youth and beauty on the bones of teeth, but only if it is offered. Give the tooth, and the life of our child will be spared.”
That my lover would believe this story with such earnestness surprised me, but I refused to yield. “This Faerie is nothing more than a myth to ease the child’s growing pains, and anything more will only frighten the child.” Before she could protest further, I tossed the tooth into the hearth, where the flames consumed it.
Abruptly, Lehana stood up, screeching. “NOOO! How could you? You’ve just sacrificed our boy!” She put our son down and with an unbridled fury I had never seen before, she pounded her fists in my chest. “How could you? For something so simple as a tooth?” She wailed and sobbed against me.
“Lehana, stop this folly, I beseech you! No harm shall come to our child!”
As quickly as her anger erupted, she was calm again. She pulled away from me, her eyes a frigid ice blue, and made one last remark: “Your disbelief has brought our demise.”
And before I could say anything else, before I could reach for my love to pull her into my arms, she was gone again into the night.
In the wee hours of the morning, screams thrust me from my slumber. I jerked awake, but harsh light blinded my eyes and I squinted to see. As my eyes adjusted, I detected a figure in the light: a woman suspended in air, with wings of a butterfly that fluttered to keep her poised above the floor. Although her ears curved upward to form form long points and her teeth ended in sharp, ragged points, I would have recognized her anywhere: Lehana. In her arms she held our oldest boy, who struggled against her in terror. Even from my position on the bed, I saw that she held him with a strength that belied her slight figure.
“Momma!” he wailed, petrified. “Momma, please!”
“Lehana! What are you doing?”
“I told you, the Faerie of Tooth and Bone requires a child. You refused to leave the tooth, so now I must take the boy.”
I stared in shock and disbelief. “You are the Faerie of Tooth and Bone?”
Lehana looked at me, and her eyes, which had always shone a brilliant blue, were the color of coal. I could not read the expression there. “No, my love, I am not,” she said.
Just then, the door to our home burst from the frame and another woman entered, followed by rank odor of death. Like Lehana, she had wings and pointed ears, but that was where the similarities ended. She snarled and hissed like a rabid dog, spittle and saliva dripping from a mouth that had rows of fangs for teeth. Her skin was like the bark of an old tree, mottled and gray,with insects scurrying through it. Long gray strings that I took to be hair fell to below her shoulders. It was filthy and tangled, and to my horror, I could see blood, bones, and bits of flesh matted in its tresses. She sniffed the air with the nose of a bloodhound, and I knew she was looking for my son.
And then, too late, I believed. The Faerie of Tooth and Bone was very real, and she would have our son.
I turned to Lehana, to beg her for the life of our son, for the sake of our family, but she bid me silent with a wave of her hand.
Instead, she spoke to me, one final time, finishing the thought that had been interrupted by the entry of this vile creature. “No, I am not the Faerie of Tooth and Bone,” she said, her voice sad and lilting. “But my mother is.”