Tag Archives: fairy lore

Friday Fiction

Image: New Old Stock http://nos.twnsnd.co/

Image: New Old Stock
http://nos.twnsnd.co/

The Narrow Path

I should have paid better heed; I know that, now. It’s hard, come harvest, to watch everything – children, livestock, land – and worry about a man, too. A man who should know better. A man who should have understood the danger.

But still. I should have been mindful.

I woke in the night, a cold wind trickling down my back.

‘Ger?’ I whispered, thinking maybe he was relieving himself. Or, I allowed myself to dream, tending to the baby. I rolled my eyes at the prospect. ‘Ger, where are you?’

I sat up. As I had been taught from early girlhood, I checked carefully before I put my feet on the floor. At first glance, nothing seemed wrong; the room was filled with moonlight, and all was quiet, but I blinked, and looked again. The silver glints in every corner told me They were here. Their eyes always gave Them away. Every shadow was a doorway, now. A million worlds overlapped with my tiny room, and I held my breath as I looked around.

‘Don’t touch my children,’ I said, and the only answer was a wave of sniggered laughter like an echoing whisper.

I felt my hair stirred with a breeze that was not there, and they were gone.

I ran to my children, but they slept in their cots and cradle, warm and peaceful and dream-filled, and then I knew.

I went to ask advice of the old women, who had lived many lives. Cross the stream closed-eyed, I was told, then follow the narrow path. Keep between the stones. The eldest of them all advised me to walk the path on my knees, but she knew even as she said it that I would refuse. Be prepared to be asked for more than you can give, daughter, she said. They do not like humans who come on the skin of their feet.

I left my children with my mother and set off. I could see the stream from the end of the village, and the path beyond, but I knew that meant nothing.

I could be gone for a week. A year. More.

I did as I had been told My eyes sealed shut as I stumbled across the stream. I clambered out onto the path, keeping my gaze fixed on the crooked tree. I walked between the stones.

From the fields all around I heard wailing. I heard my mother’s screams, and those of my children. I smelled burning. I did not turn, for They were everywhere, watching. Smiling.

A person stood in the shadows under the crooked tree, and I could not see his face. He had the height of my man, and the shoulder breadth. He had the scar on his left forearm, as like to Ger’s in every respect as to be the same.

‘Wife,’ he called. ‘Bring me home!’ He had Ger’s voice.

‘Tell me the names of our children,’ I called, and he did.

‘Tell me the date of our union,’ I called, and he did.

‘Tell me,’ I called, ‘the colour of my kirtle.’ He did, and it was then I knew my man was dead.

I turned from him and began the journey home, his voice clawing at my heart with every step. His words became screams the further I walked. I reached the stream and ducked my head beneath its waters in order to drown either him or myself; when I surfaced, gasping, all was quiet.

I returned to my squalling children who did not know me, but that would heal in time. I removed the borrowed kirtle and laid it carefully out on my marital bed, the bright red of it a match for my hand-woven blanket, and I recalled my man’s voice. His eyes. His laughter, when I came under his roof as his wife and he saw the gift I had brought him, over which I had laboured long.

‘No point telling me it’s red,’ he told me, kindly. ‘The way my eyes are made, it all looks grey.’ His only flaw, he’d laughed.

I folded my heart up along with the kirtle. I had children crying for their supper, and now I had only myself.

Growing a Story

Image: strawberryindigo.wordpress.com

Image: strawberryindigo.wordpress.com

Ah! *Deep breath* It’s good to be back.

I hope your weekend was full of glitter and cocktails and dancing, and that it’s now a pleasantly fading memory. Mine was wonderful – full of family, great food and lots of laughter – and, as well as that, it was almost entirely computer-free. I think it’s necessary, every once in a while, to step away from the screen.

That doesn’t mean my mind didn’t live in stories, just because I was away from the computer, though. Of course.

Sometimes it seems like your brain works overtime to create story ideas when it knows you have no way of taking note of them. You’re in the middle of a meal, perhaps, or on a long car journey, when the Best Idea Ever whacks you between the eyes. When that happens, you can find yourself repeating the idea over and over to yourself until you manage to find a pen and paper, or your phone, or whatever it is you use to keep track of your ramblings; hopefully, by the time you get to do this, your idea hasn’t lost all semblance of coherence, and still sounds like the Best Idea Ever. Also, hopefully, the people who have been trying to hold a conversation with you while you’ve been trying to hold a whole world inside your head aren’t too peeved at your apparent absent-mindedness.

While we’re on this topic: I think it’s important to stay faithful to these ideas, the ones that come at you out of nowhere. If something strikes you as exciting or interesting, then don’t let your enthusiasm for it fade while you search for something to make a note with. I fear many a wonderful idea has been lost down the dark crevasse of that particular form of self-doubt.

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here... Image: gutenberg.org

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here…
Image: gutenberg.org

It’s funny how the human brain can talk itself into most things, and out of nearly everything. Have you ever had the experience where a word you use all the time suddenly starts to look ‘wrong’ or weird, like you’ve misspelled it or are using it incorrectly? It happens to me all the time. Common words, if repeated often enough, can eventually seem like gibberish, so it stands to reason that the more familiar your brain is with something, the more nonsensical it can seem. If this starts happening with your ideas, and you start to convince yourself that they’re no good just because you’ve been focusing strongly on them for a while, then try to bear in mind that all you’re doing is talking yourself out of your own process of inspiration.

And that, I’m sure we can all agree, is a bit silly.

Sometimes, though, a story can grow in unexpected ways. It can grow slowly, out of a single image or a fleeting impression, and years can pass before anything changes. It’s not a bolt from the blue, leaving you scrambling for a pen; it’s a far longer and more gentle process, like a flower blooming inside your mind. Something like this happened to me at the weekend, and I’m quite pleased about it. It feels like a warm scarf, which I can’t stop tucking gently around myself. I feel like I’ve found the next step in a long-unsolved puzzle, and that a story seed I’ve been nurturing for a long time is a tiny bit closer to coming to fruition.

For years now, I have had a character in my head. He stalks the corners of my consciousness, raising a scornful eyebrow at me every once in a while. ‘I will have a story for you soon, I promise,’ I keep telling him; ‘yeah, right,’ he seems to reply. I can see him, tall and skinny and besuited, his face long and his smile beguiling, darkness flowing off him like radiation. He is a blood-chilling character, and he deserves a story to match.

Well, I think I might have found the first step in the tale of my unsettling man.

It all happened because of something I misread in a book at my in-laws’ house. The book was a compendium of local folklore and mythology, and the words I read were Irish. They were ‘Féar Gorta’, which means something like ‘Hunger Grass,’ or ‘Famine Grass’; to my eye, though, they first appeared as ‘Fear Gorta,’ which means ‘Man of Hunger,’ or ‘Man of Famine.’ The only difference between the word ‘féar’ and the word ‘fear’ (pronounced ‘fair’ and ‘far’ respectively) is the diacritical mark known as a ‘fada’ which appears over the ‘e’ in ‘Féar’; this little mark changes the word completely, though. As I read the words which I thought were ‘fear gorta,’ my slender, dark and smiling man popped into my head, and took a bow. I thought: Wow. So, now I know what he is. He’s a Man of Hunger – or, at least, a version of one.

A Man of Hunger is, apparently, a folkloric figure in Ireland, a wraith who appears at your door seemingly on the point of starving to death; you’re supposed to show him mercy, and give him whatever food you have to spare. If you do, you’ll never know another hungry day, but if you don’t… well. If you don’t, hunger itself will never be far from you. ‘Féar Gorta’, or hunger grass, is a patch of innocent-looking grass which has dried up and died, but if a person walks over it they’re afflicted with dreadful, life-threatening hunger and must be given something to eat immediately or face death; the legends say that patches of hunger grass sprang up at the places where people dying of starvation during the Famine fell and were left unburied, or where the fairies have cursed the ground.

Ireland, eh? Cheery place.

Image: musingthetrauma.blogspot.com

Image: musingthetrauma.blogspot.com

Lots of legends like this sprang up in Ireland after the Gorta Mór, the Great Famine, and even though they’re no longer believed, they still have a powerful cultural resonance. I love stories which take elements of folklore and weave them into new and interesting stories, and which bring ancient ideas back to life, and I’m quite delighted with my little misreading, the one which brought me from Hunger Grass to Man of Hunger. It has given me – ironically, perhaps – a little meat to put on the bones of my mysterious character. I already have a story beginning to weave itself around him, and it’s exciting to watch it grow.

Of course, another thing the mind does is give you a good idea for your next project while you’re still working on your current project. It will be a while before I get to actually write any of this, but until then, my subconscious mind can churn away at it. Hopefully by the time I’m preparing my first draft, the story will flow with ease – but if this sly and smiling man inside my head is anything to go by, nothing will go to plan…