The Last Fairy Door
Amy turned the corner and examined the barn doors, wrinkling her forehead as she considered how she might get through them. One of the doors was held firmly shut with a massive growth of ivy. The other sat crooked, holding on by a single hinge. The gap between the doors wasn't quite wide enough for her to fit through, so she tucked her flashlight under her arm, gripped the wood of the crooked door, and pulled.
The wood creaked. A tiny trickle of dust floated down from somewhere above her.
Amy put the flashlight on the ground so she could get a stronger grip, then heaved with all her might.
The doors creaked again, then groaned and snapped as she widened the gap between them.
Panting and sweating, but pleased with her accomplishment, Amy picked up her flashlight and poked her head through the opening.
The inside of the barn was covered in a thick layer of dust. It smelled musty, like mold and mildew. Old broken furniture lay piled against one wall. Some sort of large farming machine with rows of rusted blades sat under the broken window she’d considered climbing through. Now she was glad she’d decided against it.
Something scurried up among the rafters. Amy pointed her flashlight in the direction of the noise. “Hello. Is anyone in here?" she called.
There was no answer. Then the scurrying came again and she caught a glimpse of a striped tail and a wedge-shaped face poked out from behind a beam of wood, peering at her with shining eyes.
“Oh, it’s just a raccoon.” Amy sighed, relieved.
Feeling more confident and less scared, she tucked her hair behind her ears and squeezed her way in between the doors, getting her nightgown dirty and covered in splinters in the process.
When she finally got through, she stood, brushing her nightgown off and looking around with her flashlight.
“I wonder what the light was, though,” she said to the raccoon. “Have you been trying to build fires?”
The raccoon didn’t answer. It scurried further into the hayloft as though hoping its unwelcome visitor would leave soon.
Then there came another rustle from the far side of the barn, followed by a noise like something banging into metal.
“Ow!" a boy's voice cried. It was definitely a boy, not her imagination.
Amy jumped and backed up a few steps. “Hello?" she called. "Who are you?"
"Go away! I'm nobody. I'm not here. You're dreaming. I don't want to be your friend."
Amy scoffed. "Well, I don't want to be your friend either, Mr. Nobody-Imaginary-Dream-Person, whoever you are! Are you the one who’s been trying to start a fire in here?”
“I wasn't! Ugh! Ow! I wasn't trying to start a fire! Now just go away!" His voice was tight and strained, like he was gritting his teeth in pain.
“What’s wrong with you?”
“None of your business. Why don’t you just go home?”
There was no way Amy was going back to the farmhouse now. Not only was this encounter infinitely more interesting than she’d been expecting, but this strange boy seemed to think he could order her around. She was now obligated to prove that she didn’t have to listen to him.
Amy purposefully walked toward the sound of his voice, smiling at the little growl of anger he made, and leaned against one of the support beams. She pulled one of the apples out of her pocket and started to casually munch on it.
"Why are you sneaking into my grandma's barn? You don’t belong here. Why don’t you go home?” she asked.
“That's none of your business either.”
She took another bite of apple. It was amazing how his refusal to answer her questions was only making her more curious.
“Do you . . . have food?" he asked. There was a rustle of dry dust and dirt. It sounded like he was standing up.
“Yeah, I brought a couple of apples." She heard him take a step closer.
“The lady who lives in the farmhouse . . . she’s supposed to live alone."
Amy frowned, wondering what he was getting at. She pushed away from the support beam and stepped closer. She could just make out his silhouette in the dark horse stall where he was hiding. “Well, she did live alone until yesterday. I just moved here."
The boy groaned and leaned into the wall. “Ow . . ."
“Did you fall when you climbed in here?” She looked back at the rusty metal contraption under the window. She couldn’t imagine the damage that thing would do to someone who landed on it.
The boy didn’t answer.
“What's your name?"
He sighed. “Yeah, I fell, right on that horrible farm equipment. Can I have one of your apples?”
Amy took another step closer, trying to see him. “Yeah, you can have one. Come on out. How badly are you hurt? Maybe my grandma can help. Where did you come from? Where do you live?”
There was a long pause, then the boy sighed. "Fine. If you feed me, I'll answer all your questions. You might not believe them, though."
The boy came out into the light, and Amy’s mouth fell open when she finally saw him properly. He was dirty all over, as she'd expected him to be since he'd been hiding out in a barn, but his face was strangely beautiful, like he came from some other world filled with glorious heroes, marvelous creatures, and bold adventures. His clothes were simple, without any buttons or zippers that she could see. He seemed to have a piece of fabric tied around his waist for a belt, and around his neck was a shiny blue pendant on a woven cord. He grimaced in pain as he walked, but his legs and arms seemed to be working fine. She didn’t see any blood or obvious injury on him.
The boy eyed her like he was waiting for something, and Amy remembered that she’d promised him one of her apples. She pulled the second one out of her pocket and held it out for him. “Here you go.”
He took it gingerly. "Thank you." Then he looked at the apple, and back up at her, like he was deciding whether or not to eat it.
“Aren't you hungry?"
“Yes, I am." Still, he hesitated.
Amy rolled her eyes at him. "I didn't poison it, if that's what you're thinking. I'm not the evil queen from Snow White."
He made a face, like she'd said something that made him uncomfortable, but didn’t comment. Then he held the apple with two hands, bit into it and moaned. He took another bite before he'd even finished chewing the first, greedily chomping down and stuffing as much as he could into his mouth at once. Amy thought he looked almost like a chipmunk eating an acorn.
When he was finished eating the apple, seeds and all, he licked the juices off his fingers and gazed at the floor like he hoped there might be pieces there to pick up and eat as well.
“Wow, I guess you really were hungry."
He nodded and brought his gaze back to her. “I’m Flax.”
"You asked my name. It's Flax."
"Oh . . . that's kind of a weird name."
He pulled himself up indignantly. "No, it isn't. I bet your name's weird."
Amy felt her face heat up. He’d hit closer to home than she wanted to admit. "My name's Amy, since you didn't ask."
"See? I told you so," Flax said, waving his hand like she'd made his point for him.
Amy narrowed her eyes at him suspiciously. She only went by Amy because it was a completely ordinary name that any girl might have. Amaryllis was much more unusual. It was a good thing she hadn’t told him that name.
“Anyway, Flax, what are you doing here in my grandma's barn?"
He sighed. "I came to collect these for my family." He opened a small pouch that was tied to his belt and pulled out a handful of small orange berries.
"You came for the berries from the tree?”
"Yes, they're very important."
He grimaced like he didn't want to answer. "We use them to make a drink that we need to survive."
"Oh . . . well, that’s odd. But I guess you can take them. I didn't know they were any good for eating. Hey, where do you live? Grandma said there weren't any other kids that lived nearby."
Flax rolled his shoulders and winced like his back was aching. "I don't live nearby," he said. "I live about as far away as you can get from here. In Titania.”
Amy wrinkled her brow. "What does that mean? If you live so far away, how did you get here?"
“You really do have a lot of questions, don’t you?" Flax pushed off the wall and walked toward the left side of the barn. Amy followed him until he came to an oddly positioned door that she hadn’t noticed before. It was a sturdy door made of the same aged wood as the rest of the barn, but it was arched, like the entrance to a castle. All around the frame were strange carvings that looked like letters, but Amy couldn’t read them. "I came through there."
Amy looked at the doorway, then looked at Flax, waiting for the punchline of the joke.
"What do you mean you came through there? That just leads to the outside of the barn.”
“It's a fairy door," Flax said, looking her in the eye. "I came through it because I'm a fairy."