By J. J. Keeling
It was too beautiful a day to stay inside. Deb grabbed a book and some leftovers with the intention of heading toward a park. She was looking forward to a nice relaxing afternoon curled up on the soft grass with a book away from the noises of the city. As she got into her truck, she hummed a tune that didn’t seem to have a melody, making it up as she went along. When the engine turned over, it reminded her of a funny frog she’d seen on the internet that was riding an invisible motorcycle and trying to get away from something. He was making engine noises and looking behind him. She let out a private chuckle as she threw the truck into reverse and backed out of her driveway.
The sun was shining, but diffused through fluffy mountains enough to be palatable. For a late spring Sunday afternoon, traffic was breezy enough to make the drive pleasurable, more of a second nature endeavor than the usual war zone. Deb felt good, humming a tune, making it up as she went along. Absentmindedly, she made some squeaky noises while half-daydreaming. Her thoughts drifted to the book she’d been reading, a novel about space pirates and the marshals that haul them in. The hero, surprisingly, was one of the marshals. The head pirate was especially despicable. He made her quiver with thoughts of being kidnapped or being caught as a stowaway. Then again, she could be rescued by the marshal at the last minute. He was pretty studly, too. Not quite as wicked, but she wouldn’t mind playing damsel in distress, especially with a good low-cut wench’s outfit.
She pulled into the park humming a cheerful tune through a Cheshire grin. After finding a place to park, she pulled out her bag of goodies and a blanket and headed for a nice shady spot. She spread out the blanket and sat down with the book and the food, eagerly looking forward to devouring both. She cracked open the book, reached in the bag and got a piece of popcorn chicken. Captain Svorn was just about to enter the ports of Naril’s outermost moon for some nefarious purpose when Deb heard a quiet humming coming from no discernable source.
Deb scanned around, trying to find the source of the song. It didn’t sound like one of the children who was playing nearby. She didn’t see anyone near the woods. It sounded almost like a woman, an alto, singing a magical song only consisting of a faint “ah.” It stopped suddenly as a large bird landed on a branch above her. The sudden movement must have snapped her out of her dream world. Mildly shaken and disoriented, she looked out to the children who were playing red light green light. That helped her get her focus back on her purpose in being there. Again, she opened the book, this time reaching for a piece of sharp cheddar to nibble on while Captain Svorn stormed the port, laser blades blazing. A drip of slime suddenly landed on one of the pages, causing Deb to recoil with audible disgust. Is this some sort of sap or something? What is this? She grabbed a paper napkin and wiped it off with a “eeeww!”
She looked for a trash can to put the napkin, seeking to put the slime as far from her and her food as possible, considering a new place to sit. As she scanned the area, she heard the song again. It seemed to be coming from the woods to the right. She put the napkin down near the blanket, determined to find out where the music was coming from. As she approached the woods, she could see a trail that looked like it was well worn. Maybe the singer had gone that way when she wasn’t looking. She stared down the path, hoping to catch a glimpse of the body behind the voice. It seemed to be getting farther away, so she took a few steps down the path in an attempt to locate the source. As suddenly as she had noticed it, it stopped again. Maybe she was too far away to hear it. She took a few more steps into the woods, stopping to see if she could hear it above the wind and the children. I know I’m not crazy. Which way was it coming from? She started following the path, going as far in as it would take to find whoever that was.
She got in far enough to not be able to hear anything outside the woods, far enough not to see her blanket or even the tree she had been under. There was a fork in the trail and she stopped, not sure which way to go. There was the humming again. It was like an ethereal songstress lilting an aria to the clouds. Deb still couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. She turned each direction, craning her head to try to hear more accurately the source of the voice. It seemed to be coming from down the left fork, so she started heading in that direction, down a slightly sloping hill.
The shadows of the trees were like an intricate lattice work across the trail. The sun seemed at once to be extraordinarily remote and yet almost breathing down her neck, chasing her through the woods. She could hear the song in the distance, luring her like a siren call. She tried to sing along with it, but the melody didn’t seem to follow a set pattern. The closer she got to it, the farther away it seemed. Finally, she reached a clearing. The humming seemed to dwell there. In the middle of the clearing, there was a large rock that had evidently had some candles burned on it until they were gone. A chalice had fallen off the rock and was lying on the ground nearby. A shadow swept over her briefly, calling her attention upward, blinding her briefly in the sun.
“Was that a bird? Had to be a bird. It just seemed bigger because of the shadow,” Deb reasoned aloud. The humming grew louder as she turned back to the rock. She moved a little closer and saw a book that was fanned slightly, probably by the morning dew. Whoever left this must have done this during the night and run off in a hurry. How to Call a Faery. Summoning spells. How cool is this. What if it worked? If it did, then why would this person have run off so quickly? Maybe they called a bad fairy. If that’s the case, then they were stupid. Lots of stupid people out there. The humming grew louder. She sat on the rock and read the book, humming along with the tune, wondering if there were fairies here. The page that was dog-eared didn’t seem to have anything to do with bad fairies. If done right, it was supposed to conjure up a member of the sidhe, a beautiful fairy princess. Nothing that would make a person run away without gathering up their equipment. She leaned back and her hand fell on something slimy. She turned to look at it, raising her hand. It looked almost like congealed blood. Yuck! But surely it wouldn’t be blood. There was no blood called for in the ritual described in the book.
The shadow crossed over her again, calling her attention upward. She set the book down and looked up, rocking slightly and humming along with the tune as best she could. She saw something going from tree to tree. Is that a bird? She squinted through her glasses, trying to get a good look at the flying thing. She quickly realized that it was not shaped like a bird. She thought she could see flowing hair on it. Could it be a fairy? Maybe the person who did the summoning last night was just so surprised that it worked that they ran away. Maybe they weren’t scared away at all. From here, the fairy looks so pretty. Slightly greenish, probably a tree fairy. How cool is this?
She reached up a hand, singing what she could of the haunting melody, or trying to harmonize if nothing else. In an instant, the fairy came close enough to touch. It surprised Deb so much that she drew her hand back. It didn’t look like any fairy she had imagined. What she had thought was flowing hair was actually prehensile tentacles! They were almost as long as the body of the fairy, about a foot and a half. The humming noise varied along with the wing speed. It wasn’t singing. The wings were making that noise!
It drew closer, within a foot of her face, examining her. She could hear a slight sucking noise, like a kissing sound. She repeated the noise back to the fairy almost as a knee-jerk response. In a flash, the tentacles wrapped around her head spreading a slime trail across her face and into her hair. She clawed at it, trying to get it to let go of her. She stood up and tried to pry the tentacles off. A proboscis protruded from under the tentacles, probing her mouth and nose, settling between her lips and growing impossibly long and thick in comparison to the rest of the body. She couldn’t close her mouth. She tried to scream, but it was so muffled that she knew no one would hear. She could feel it sucking on her and she helplessly began to suck back. It pushed its way past her uvula and into her throat, causing her to have trouble breathing and gag. It was trying to block her airway!
Deb fell to the ground, writhing around in an attempt to find a way to get this grotesque thing off of her so she could get away. Something caught her attention out of the corner of her eye. Feet. Robes. The summoner hadn’t run away. The summoner was still there! She could see the dagger still in his hand. She crawled over to him and tried to pry the dagger loose, barely able to get air in as the sucking proboscis pushed deeper into her throat, the tentacles tightening their grip. She managed to get the fingers loose of the dagger when she got a glimpse of his face. There were sucker marks all over his cheeks and forehead. There was a slime trail coming from his mouth, slime mixed with blood. His tongue was hanging out with parts missing. One of his eyes was gone. It had been in the middle of a path of tentacle suckers. The other eye remained, and it seemed the tentacles hadn’t been across that eye. Chunks of hair were missing, ripped out. Brain matter oozed from a few of the bare patches and a gash in his forehead. There were what looked to be stab wounds around his chest and neck. One in his face as well. He had tried to defend himself against this thing. Tried and lost. Oh, God!
Quickly losing air, she grabbed the dagger with both hands and brought it toward her with all the strength she could muster. The blade breezed through the fairy-thing and straight into her neck. She could see now why the summoner had so many wounds in him. He was trying to stab a thing that was no more substantive than a hologram, and couldn’t figure out that it wasn’t possible to drive a blade into it. It had enough material to suffocate a person, to choke them, but not to be hurt by a physical weapon. Maybe a blade wouldn’t hurt it, but what about blunt force? Maybe that would work! She raised up onto her knees and prepared to slam the fairy into the rock when she saw the red slime she had put her hand in earlier. He must have tried it, too. There was nothing to be done. Nothing could kill this thing. The only solution was to send it back where it came from, and she strongly suspected that it wasn’t summoned by that book.
Deb scurried across the corpse, trying to find something else that could be used against the fairy. She discovered that he was lying on another book. Maybe this was the book with the means to send it away. She hoped it didn’t involve any spoken words. She was getting lightheaded. As she pulled the book out, she recognized the cover as one she’d read about as a legend, a joke, a literary footnote. Necronomicon. The imagined book of the Mad Arab. Oh, shit. Did this idiot combine the two? Did he summon some sort of Cthulhu fairy? It wasn’t the usual paperback version that one finds in the local bookstore. This one was hardback, seemingly leatherbound. The ink was probably once black, but it seemed more of a brown, the pages yellowed by time. Unless this was written in blood. No, it couldn’t be! She gagged. The air was completely cut off now. Her diaphragm convulsed violently trying to extract some measure of oxygen. Her lungs tried to cough, but the proboscis only used that to drive its way farther in.
The fairy began fluttering its wings again, in an alien rhythm with notes that shouldn’t exist. More creatures began to appear from the trees. These didn’t have tentacles, but looked more like hummingbirds with thin, sharp beaks. They plunged their beaks into her arms and legs, sucking on blood, muscle tissue, driving their way deeper to get at the bones. There must have been a few dozen of them sucking at the marrow in her bones, humming in simultaneous rhythm in response to the tentacled fairy, like a call and answer old Negro gospel song. What little air had been left in her lungs was sucked through the proboscis and she could feel a bunch of tiny little bursts in her chest and the urge to cough more. Little rips, blood. Inside out. Dizzy. Twitching. Eyes fluttering. Oh, God!
The sound of her heartbeat had been drumming in her ears to this point, but now it stopped. She knew she only had moments left, for her heart had stopped and it was just a matter of seconds before her brain lost enough oxygen to still have any cognitive function, and death would soon follow. Her eyes closed and she could feel herself going thankfully numb to all of the feeding. It was as if her entire essence was balling up, preparing to leave. She wondered what became of those who died, if there was an afterlife, if it was pleasant. All of her being was curled up within her now desiccated frame. She could feel herself being pulled out of her body, sensing what seemed to be a tunnel, pulling her toward it. Was this the tunnel she heard about so often with those near-death experiences? Then she remembered the proboscis buried deep within her lungs just as the last twenty-one grams was sucked out.