They'd been warned, but there was no harm in staying at the edge of the trees was there?
On any other day we would not have walked so far. We’d have remembered the warnings and we would have taken notice.
But then this was not any other morning. There had been raised voices, angrily shouting. My mother and my gran were at it again. Why were we staying there when they clearly could not get on with each other? It was a question I knew the answer to, at least in part. My mom and dad were splitting up, and she had nowhere else to take us.
Chloe had snivelled her way into my room and had hidden herself behind my back. I couldn’t blame her for being upset; I didn’t like it either and I was three years older.
“Stop crying, Chloe,” I’d said, mostly because if she didn’t stop I knew I’d be joining in and that would never do. “Come on, we’ll slip out and go for a walk.”
There was one thing about these arguments. They might be frequent but they did not last for long; not like the ones that had between my mom and my dad. They could last for a week or more. If we went for a walk by the time we got back gran and my mom would be chatting together over a pot of tea.
I had put my finger to my lips, warning Chloe to be quiet as we went down the stairs, crept through the hall way and made our way out of the front door. As I pulled it closed behind us the click of the latch made me freeze. In the quiet of the countryside it had seemed as loud as a gunshot; better to wait, just in case.
Chloe stood beside me, trembling, still snivelling. Nothing happened, the door stayed shut. A raised voice was enough to convince me that they were too busy shouting at each other to have heard. I took Chloe’s hand and we headed off towards the fields.
We walked along in silence, occasionally stooping to pick a flower, pluck up a blade of grass to scatter the seeds. The only noise was the chirping of birds, the buzzing of bees.
It was hot going. There was the copse of trees up ahead, promising shade and a chance to cool down. The words were there in the back of my mind; don’t walk through the copse. But we’d not been told not to enter it; if we’d stay by the edge we’d not be going against Gran’s warning would we. That’s what I’d told myself. I’d convince Chloe that it was okay, but there was no need. She’d spotted a squirrel and was heading off after it.
“Don’t go too far,” I called. At least she was no longer crying.
It was beautiful in that copse of trees. Bluebells sprouted around the base of the trees, along with those pretty little toadstools that always seemed to appear in fairy-tales. There were so many little pathways that wound around the trees too; strange in a place that people did not go in to.
And that was my excuse, for all the paths began to look the same. It did not take long for me to lose my way. There was no need to panic though, I’d told myself, we could not have gone far.
“Chloe,” I called, becoming suddenly aware that my sister was no longer in sight. I listened for her reply. Nothing but the bees and the birds.
I picked up my pace, jogging along the path, calling out her name every now and then, becoming more and more afraid with every step that I took.
And then I heard her. “Emma, come and see!”
I should have stayed where I was, called her back to me. It’s so easy to look back and see the mistakes, but instead I let my own curiosity get the better of my judgement and I followed her voice instead.
I found myself in another meadow, and for a moment I thought that we’d made it back, but that thought only lasted until I caught sight of my sister, already making her way across the field towards what I could only describe as a gateway. But where did it lead to?
Even while that question was forming in my mind, I’d felt its draw. No wonder my sister was heading towards it, the attraction was irresistible. It held such promise of better things, of things I could not even imagine, if only I would step through it.
“Look, Emma. Can you see them? Aren’t they beautiful?” Chloe was pointing to two figures that seemed to be making their way out from whatever was on the other side. Two butterflies, but these were big, getting bigger and bigger as they fluttered their way towards us. As much as we were looking at them, they were looking at us too.
The ground in front of us rippled, and there were stones there now, stepping stones that climbed their way up from the grass like a staircase that led directly to that gateway. Chloe was already on the second stone, and those butterflies were heading for her, fluttering in unison to get behind to force her onwards.
They were huge. Bigger than a crow, bigger even than an eagle, I’d imagine. Their red and white wings swept up and down then caught the draught, stayed still to glide. It was hard to tear my eyes away from that entrance, but I did and forced myself to study these insects. Except that was not what they were.
As their wings gently propelled them forwards I saw faces, ones that were similar to our own but were also somehow different. They had legs that were held stretched out behind them and arms that were attached to the underside of their wings. On top of their heads they wore some kind of helmet, clearly designed to give the look of a butterfly to just a quick glance.
It was their expressions though that brought me back to my senses. They looked determined, cruel, totally uncaring. Why would they want us to go through that gateway? Was it a trap? I suddenly found myself remembering a tale, where people went willingly to another land and then could never return. What was it called? Tir na nog! The land of the fairies, where time worked differently and if you returned, you’d be old and all your friends and family would have already been dead and gone.
I pushed myself towards my sister, shouting her name. “Chloe! Chloe!” I had to get her to look at me if I was going to be able to break the spell.
She glanced quickly behind her and I reached out, grabbed her arm and pulled her reluctantly towards me. She pulled against me, but I was bigger, stronger; if only that place was not pulling me forwards towards it too.
If she had kept fighting me I really think that I’d have given in, but those butterfly things were angry now. They flapped their wings down and up with such force, diving at us and hissing. Fear broke through the enchantment and Chloe screamed.
We turned and we ran, trying to keep looking back at the trees. No matter how hard we ran they seemed to stay so far away from us. I couldn’t go on. And then we were there, in the trees, still running but slowing. Those creatures would be too large to follow us. I slowed us down, tried to let go of my sister’s hand but she was trembling and kept her grip.
Once we had a few trees behind us I chanced a backwards glance. It was hard to get a good look with the branches spreading out, but I was sure that there was nothing there. The gateway, the stones, those creatures; all of them had completely disappeared.
“Are they coming after us,” Chloe’s voice was hushed, scared.
“No,” I said, “take a look. See, there’s nothing there, nothing at all.”
“Did we dream it, then?” she asked.
I know we had not dreamed it, but I also knew that if Chloe thought it had been real she would tell my mom, my gran and I’d be in big trouble. It’s not nice to lie, but that’s what I did. “I think we must have done. But it’s gone now, we’re all awake and we can forget about it. Okay?”
She nodded, then added, “It would have been nice to be a fairy though".
The many paths had disappeared leaving just one overgrown track. I picked my sister up and carried her through the worst bits where thorns reached out like barriers. If only they had been there before. Once we were back in the right field and heading for home, I talked and talked about anything and everything. I figured that if I could fill Chloe’s head with enough chatter she’d forget about it all.
When we pushed back through the door we were talking about horses. Chloe loved horses almost as much as she loved fairies. I could hear laughter. My mom and my gran had stopped arguing just as I’d hoped, and there was no lingering resentment.
For a while I was scared that she’d say something, and I had a moment of horror when my sister was drawing and I saw she was drawing butterflies with human faces. I was going to grab it, hide it, but it was too late. Mom was looking and telling Chloe how she was a real budding artist.
“Where did you get the idea?” I could hear a touch of suspicion in my Gran’s voice. Did she know? Had she seen it? Them? I dug my fingernails in to the palms of my hands as I waited for Chloe to reply.
“It was...” she began, and I held my breath. “It was just a dream that we had.”
If they heard the ‘we’ they did not pursue it, but there was no avoiding my gran’s questioning gaze. I shrugged my shoulders as if to say, ‘Kids!’ After all, what else could I have done?