Tellest Short Story – The Wailing Fae

A Tale by Valena D’Angelis

 

If only the rain could stop. His clothes were soaked, his body tired, and his eyes needed to close for just one second. Milnor had walked for days in search of shelter. His horse was limping, wounded at the hoof by a thorn Milnor couldn’t remove. He needed help, and he needed it fast. Sarra’s leg would soon fail her if she didn’t get care.

After leaving the last village to go to the next, Milnor had relied on a rough map of the region to guide him. Nobody at the capital knew exactly what this region looked like from up close, so most of it was inaccurate. But that piece of paper, which he’d reworked himself during this journey, had been torn by the force of raindrops and the harsh wind. Now he was completely blind. He knew he needed to go east, so he’d gone east for the past three days. Kalancha should be in sight by now, but with this rain and thick fog, he couldn’t see even thirty feet ahead.

It wasn’t easy being one of the nation’s regional cartographers. Milnor didn’t board royal ships to travel the oceans and record the world’s coasts. He didn’t embark on a months-long journey with a whole caravan to discover new nations. He’d opted for something simple, something that’d keep him on the move. He didn’t like to stay still for too long because staying still would mean getting attached, and Milnor had no time nor interest in that. Regional cartography wasn’t a position most young apprentices strived to achieve, so the competition had been near null.

Milnor had been tasked with mapping the villages at the foot of Kalanch’s Ridge, a mountainous region with terrible weather. It rained almost two-thirds of the year and snowed for the other third. At first, he’d thought he wouldn’t be too bothered by that. Rain wasn’t something elves really cared about. It was part of life, of the balance of nature’s forces. But maybe staying away from his tribe this long had made him cynical, perhaps almost human. Milnor could not wait until he reached Kalancha so he could finally sit down by a fireplace and work on his maps.

Sarra suddenly snorted loudly, and Milnor realized the fog wasn’t so thick anymore. Below the hills and the mist were the contours of tiny houses made of stone and straws. A village at the foot of the Cardinal, one of Kalanch’s Ridge’s lowest mountains. He recognized the mountain because of its distinct triangular shape and silver cliff. He could see the village clearly—it was within an hour’s reach. Sarra’s snort was probably a sign of relief. She was a smart girl, and she’d walked for so long. She needed that shelter and fireplace as much as he did. She even let him ride her one last time so they could reach the village faster. By dusk, they reached Kalancha, but to Milnor’s surprise, the village was as quiet as a stone.

 

Milnor dismounted Sarra and walked on the village’s main road. There couldn’t be more than twenty houses here. The night was falling, and the road was empty. No one in sight, not even a merchant or passerby. There was light in the houses, so he knew the village wasn’t dead. He didn’t know what he’d expected, but it wasn’t this much…emptiness. The weather was already cold, but this felt so much colder.

Milnor spotted a large barn at the end of the road. His elven hearing allowed him to hear the sound of horses up ahead. He could also hear the voice of a man. Finally! A sign of life. Milnor walked faster. Perhaps he could ask this man for help for Sarra, and hopefully for shelter.

The main doors of the barn were ajar. The man’s voice was clear. He was talking to his horses, and he was obviously alone. Milnor first knocked, and the man fell silent.

“Come in,” he finally said with hesitation.

Milnor pulled on the heavy door and entered the stables. The man seemed slightly startled by his appearance. Milnor didn’t look like the usual traveler, even if his soaked cowl covered his long brown hair and ears. His high cheekbones were unmistakably revealing. His bright blue eyes were unnatural, at least for humans, like blue sky reflected in snow. He did the regional greeting before speaking.

“I’m sorry to be a bother, but could I ask for your help?” Milnor asked.

The man needed a second before coming back to his senses.

He was…opulent, for lack of a better word. A large bald man in a long leather coat. He held a grooming brush in his hand. He was definitely the village’s stabler.

“Whatchu need?” the man asked reluctantly.

“My horse is wounded,” Milnor replied, straight to the point. “We’ve been walking for days, and I’m afraid she will give in if we continue further.”

“I…” At first, it seemed like he wanted to deny his request, but the man’s features softened, and he sighed. “Show me your horse.”

Milnor let Sarra enter. She was limping badly.

The man examined her hoof for a few minutes.

“It’s pretty bad. There’s a piece of metal in her foot. The wound’s infected. I can treat her, but she’ll need to rest for a while.”

“How long?” Milnor asked. He needed shelter if he had to stay in Kalancha for a while.

“Can’t really tell.”

“Do you know a place I can stay in the meantime?”

The man frowned and inhaled deeply. There was something unsettling in his gaze as he was looking to the outside. It was already dark, which seemed to trouble the man even more.

“Can I stay here?” Milnor pushed a little.

The man looked at him like he’d just said something outrageous. Milnor had no idea what was going on in that man’s head. Did this village have a problem with elves? It wouldn’t be the first. No, it was something else. The way the man looked at the night was worrisome. Even Milnor could feel the man’s fear. What could it possibly be?

Milnor didn’t really have time for this. He was cold, soaking wet, and he needed to rework his maps. Spending the last decade with humans has its perks: Milnor knew human traits, quirks, and even desires, like the limbs of his bow.

“I can pay,” he said, steady.

He’d dealt with humans so often that he knew this was a convincing argument. He didn’t even expect any resistance, but the man frowned as if he was offended. Milnor had to save this before it was too late. He could try appealing to the man’s feelings.

“Look, I’ll pay you for treating my horse, and I’ll pay you for shelter,” Milnor continued. “It’s almost night, and it’s still raining arrows. Please, talking about money does seem rather vulgar, but how much do you want?”

The man changed his mood. “[INSERT_PRICE] for your horse, and you can stay with us for [INSERT_PRICE] a night. We have a guest room. Just don’t scare the children.”

Children? Humph..

Milnor rejoiced nonetheless. “I wouldn’t dare. They might scare me, though.”

The joke came out rather spontaneously. The man didn’t seem to appreciate it, and he gave Milnor the look.

They stared at each other for a second before the man burst into laughter. He motioned with his hand for Milnor to follow him to the back of the barn. He still laughed as he walked.

“Ha ha! I didn’t know…your kind had that kind of humor!” He uttered between laughs.

Milnor chuckled awkwardly. “Well, you know, I picked a few things along the way.”

“Good, good.” The man paused and held out a hand as an invitation for Milnor to shake it. “The name’s Eric, by the way.”

“Milnor.” They shook hands and continued walking towards a large wooden door.

“What brings you to Kalancha, Milnor?” Eric asked kindly.

“I’m a regional cartographer for Her Majesty [???]. I’m currently working on a few pieces of Kalanch’s Ridge. Anything special I should know about your village?”

Eric opened the door and paused again. He looked at Milnor with that familiar worrisome glow in his eyes, then he shrugged awkwardly and tapped the elf on his shoulder.

“A cartographer, that’s a first!” He smiled, but it was obviously forced.

The door was open and beyond was a corridor with stairs going up at the end. Milnor caught a whiff of something that instantly made his stomach gurgle.

“My wife’s upstairs preparing dinner. Feel free to join us. First, I’ll give you some towels so you can dry yourself.”

Eric started walking up the steps.

“Thank you, Eric,” Milnor said with candor. He was so grateful that he could finally get out of these soaked clothes and get some rest.

“Just get yourself dry. Don’t want mud all over my house.”

Milnor acknowledged and began walking up the stairs.

“Ah! And please lock the door behind you.”

Milnor did so, and they both headed upstairs.

 

The Colemans’ living quarters were above the barn that Milnor learned was the village’s only stables. For the past twenty-six years, Eric Coleman had been the village’s stabler, horse doctor, and blacksmith. He and Maria, his wife, had two little children, twins named Jenny and James.

The large dining table stood in the middle of the living room, right by the warm fireplace. After he’d dried himself and hung his cloak and tunic by the fireplace, Maria had offered Milnor a set of simple clothing of almost his size. Milnor sat by the table, two wide-eyed children staring at him from the other side. He wanted to make a face to tease them but wasn’t sure it’d be appropriate. Maria brought him a plate of roasted chicken and rosemary potatoes. It smelled lovely. The children no longer had his attention.

“Thank you,” Milnor said.

The woman smiled and blushed.

“My wife is a great cook!” Eric exclaimed proudly and began digging at his food. “So, tell me,” he spoke as he chewed, “What’s your plan for after Kalancha?”

Milnor took a bite of his food and instantly melted. He hadn’t tasted something like this in weeks. He needed a moment to formulate an answer.

“Hm, the villages further east. I’ll travel until the end of the ridge and head back to the capital.”

“Do you travel often?” the little girl with golden blond hair asked.

Milnor was caught by surprise. He hadn’t expected the children would talk to him.

“I do,” he eventually replied. “How about you?”

“We don’t get out of Kalancha!” the boy responded, cutting his sister off.

She pouted instantly. “I’m talking to him!”

“He’s talking to me now!”

“James, Jenny,” their mother intervened. “Let our guest have dinner in peace.”

The children were too excited to listen to their mother.

“Are you an elf?” Jenny asked.

“Jenny!” Maria seemed so embarrassed.

Milnor chuckled. He didn’t mind the questions, the weird looks. An elf away from his tribe was undoubtedly strange, but not to him anymore.

“Yes, I am,” he said softly.

The girl inhaled deeply and wiggled like she was about to fly. “Do you have powers?”

That question, he could have expected. The answer was…disappointing at best. He didn’t want to give it.

“You seem to know a lot about elves,” he said instead.

“She doesn’t!” James shouted from across the table, then at his sister. “She knows it from me!”

Maria suddenly seemed to remember something. “Oh, Eric, did you hang the catcher?”

Eric made an “Ah!” face. “Shoot! I forgot. I’ll do it now.”

The rest was a dissonant harmony of “Daddy forgot! Daddy forgot!” and two children going at each other regarding their knowledge of elves. Milnor said no more and ate while observing Eric instead. The man headed to a cupboard in the corner of the hallway, pulled out a large hoop of woven threads and dangling feathers, then headed downstairs.

Milnor was too curious. He had to ask.

“What is Eric doing?”

Maria looked at him hesitantly. “It’s just village tradition, that’s all.”

But that wasn’t all. Milnor’s instinct told him Maria was hiding something.

“Why?” he simply asked.

Maria sighed deeply. She looked at her unfinished plate, and her face changed. She seemed…afraid?

“It’s to keep spirits…evil spirits away from the house. Every night, before the first stars, we hang dreamcatchers on our door fronts.”

Milnor was more confused than anything else.

“Evil spirits? What kind?”

Eric was back. “Well, we might as well tell him.” He sighed like a man giving in. “He’ll hear it sooner or later anyway.” Milnor was all ears, and Eric went on. “Most travelers who come to Kalancha don’t stay for the night. We make sure they don’t. And that is because of her.”

Eric cast a brief glance at the window. He stayed silent, like he was afraid of saying more about her. Maria stood from her chair and came beside her two children. They’d finished eating, and Milnor could see from her body language that it was time to put them to bed. She and Eric wouldn’t continue the story until the children left the room. Reluctantly, they conceded, because Jenny was already yawning, and James, despite going at his sister, followed her to their bedroom. Maria and the two were gone for a few minutes.

The silence in the room was heavy. Eric cleared the table, and Milnor could hear Maria speaking softly while she changed the kids and put them to bed. Her voice was sweet and calm, but there was a slight tremor that did seem habitual. Milnor wondered what caused the distress she tried to hide.

When Maria returned, she was pale.

“She comes at night,” she finally said after one last minute of silence. “She walks the main road until the well, stands there, and sobs. You’ll hear her tonight.”

“She calls for our children,” Eric added, his back towards Milnor as he washed the dirty plates in a large bucket of water. “That’s why the kids are never allowed to play outside. She’s taken some before.”

Milnor remained silent. He wasn’t sure what to make of this. He knew humans believed in all sorts of things, often untrue, but these two were really convinced of the story they were telling.

“If we don’t hang those dreamcatchers, she also comes in our dreams,” Maria said.

Milnor had many questions. He really wasn’t the type to believe in ghost stories, and his skepticism had often alienated him from even the elves of his tribe.

“So…” he began, carefully but not so gently choosing his next words. “She’s a ghost?” He tried to hide his skepticism as best as possible so he wouldn’t offend anyone.

Maria picked up a kitchen towel and began drying plates.

“A ghost, yes,” she said. “The ghost of a woman named Hildra.”

Hildra…that name was elven. That detail got Milnor’s attention, and he was finally interested in hearing more.

“Hildra was welcomed in our village decades ago,” Eric said. “The people of Kalancha gave her shelter, but she hated them. You see, something was wrong with her. She was married to one of ours—they had two children, two half-elven twins. One day, in her madness, she cursed her husband and children, and they died, then she killed herself, jumping in the lake.”

“She was one evil woman,” Maria said. “She had powers, dreamwalking. Even when she was alive, she visited people’s dreams and poisoned their minds.”

“How long has this been going on?” Milnor asked, confused as to why the people of Kalancha still put up with this.

If there was such a ghost haunting this place, something could be done about it. Lifting a curse—wasn’t that a cleric’s job? The village must have a church somewhere!

“It’s been about sixty years,” Eric replied. “When I was a boy, I saw her. I was playing at night, disobeying my parents’ orders. She almost took me…”

“I saw her too, once,” Maria said. “Everybody saw her at least once.”

Milnor had more questions. “If this is happening, why don’t people leave?”

Maria and Eric were done with the dishes. She returned to the table while Eric poured himself a glass of something Milnor could smell from his chair. He put the glass on the table and showed Milnor the bottle.

“Brandy?” Eric offered.

Milnor politely refused. He didn’t drink, and he wouldn’t start now.

“We don’t leave because…well, because this is our home!” Eric finally said. “Some have left, yes. We haven’t heard from them in years. Kalancha is like a family, you know. You don’t leave your family.”

Milnor had many things to say about that last statement, but he’d let it slide. Maybe family was everything to the Colemans, but it didn’t mean much to him.

It didn’t sadden him. Milnor liked to think that it was what made him strong.

Eric finished his brandy quickly. Storytime was over, and it was time for bed. Maria fetched a few blankets for Milnor and showed him to his room. He’d been looking forward to this moment all evening. The ghost story surely wouldn’t bother his sleep at all…or so he thought.

 

Milnor stood by a lake. He was alone, and it was dark. The moonlight was bright enough for him to see the contours of trees surrounding the lake.

Milnor looked at his hand, his feet—everything seemed normal. The voice of a woman in the distance made him raise his head to see the lake again.

There she was, standing on top of the water as if she rose above it. But that wasn’t possible. Was she standing on a stone? Was there an island on the lake Milnor couldn’t see?

She was crying softly at first. He could hear her whispers. Her sobs in the night echoed like the wind. The air was as cold as ice.

Suddenly, after a single blink, she stood right in front of him. Milnor was startled, and he gasped, but no sound came out of his lips. He could see her clearly now. Her skin was cracked, and pus oozed out of her wounds. Fear rose in his bones. It infected his blood, and his heart was now pumping. She smelled of darkness and decay.

Milnor wanted to scream, but he was silenced by his own inability to breathe.

The woman before him smiled, and a tear of blood ran down her cheek. Her eyes were blacker than black, almost hollow. She spoke, but it didn’t make sense. It was erratic, chaotic, drowned in the sounds of other voices woven through her song.

Milnor swore her words were spoken in elven. It wasn’t his dialect, but he could understand pieces of it, despite the cacophony of demonic whispers coming out of her throat.

“Oh, my children, we are going forever,” is the last thing Milnor heard before he awoke, screaming.

 

***

 

A scream pulls him out of his tormented sleep. It wasn’t his this time. Doors were opened in a hurry downstairs. Milnor could hear Eric’s voice outside. Something was going on. There was a lot of distress, and someone was calling for help.

The first thing he felt getting out of bed was shame. He hoped the Colemans hadn’t been witnesses to his hysteria of the night. What in the gods had happened to him? Milnor wasn’t one for having nightmares, and this one was particularly troubling. It was probably because of the Colemans’ ghost story of the previous night and maybe the smell of brandy that had lingered in the air.

Milnor fetched his washed and dried clothing from the wooden chair by the door. Maria must have put them there while he still slept. They smelled of lavender. He washed his face in the large bucket by the mirror and got dressed. There was still commotion outside.

 

Now that it was day, Milnor finally saw what the main road looked like. It wasn’t raining—thank the gods. The sun was shining, and the road that had been muddy the night before was now dry. The air still felt cold, but the smell of wet wood gently awoke his senses.

A crowd of people surrounded the small plaza where the well was. A woman was crying. Milnor could hear her sobs grow louder as he approached the crowd.

Eric stood surrounded by other villages. Mary was by the crying woman, who crouched on the floor, her back against the stones of the well. She was utterly hysterical.

Eric spotted Milnor, and obviously, the rest did as well. He motioned for the others to wait and walked to the elf.

“What happened?” Milnor asked.

All he heard were whispers saying: “The Wailing Fay, she took him.”

Eric took Milnor by the arm away from the crowd.

“It was her,” he said gravely. “The one I told you about yesterday. It was her—she took him alright.”

“Who? She took who?”

Eric pointed at the sobbing woman. “Her son. He was ten. He was playing by the field, didn’t listen to his mother, and he was taken.”

Milnor gazed upon the woman and couldn’t help feeling sad for her.

“He was her only son,” Eric added. “Her husband died—a bad case of flu. She is all alone now.”

Another thing he couldn’t help feeling was skepticism again. He just had so many questions. Sure, Eric and probably most of these people were convinced the village was haunted by a child-hunting ghost. But Milnor didn’t believe in ghosts. Well, at least not this kind. Elves believed in spirits and beings from the other side, but child-hunting ghosts? That went a little too far.

He needed to investigate this.

“Is there evidence it was her?” Milnor asked.

Eric looked at him like he’d said something stupid. “It is her. It’s always her. She takes our children—”

“I know,” Milnor interrupted, attempting not to offend anyone. “I know. But what if something else is happening?”

Another villager, who Milnor only now realized had been listening in, took a step to the two and began speaking.

“We found this in the well.” He handed Milnor a tiny yellow scarf. “It was the boy’s. It’s what she does. She takes them down the well.” Milnor examined the piece of cloth. “Who are you?” the man asked.

Eric replied instead of the elf: “This is Milnor. He’s a traveler from the capital.”

“Y-yes,” Milnor said hesitantly. “I’m here to—”

The man didn’t let him say more. “An elf…in our village.”

Milnor frowned. “Yes? I don’t see how—”

Someone else joined the conversation. A large woman with a corset too tight. “You have nothing to seek here, elf. Kalancha is already in enough misery!”

Were these people just turning on him?

Fortunately, Eric stepped in and defused the situation. In the meantime, Milnor paid his respects to the woman and returned her son’s scarf. She didn’t say much and only gave a muttered “thank you.” She sobbed and buried her face in the yellow wool.

It wasn’t enough for Milnor. A scarf was all they had to prove the little boy was gone. And the rest was the belief in the ghost of a dead woman hungry for children. He needed more, more evidence. Milnor wasn’t a particularly smart elf, but he had a thing for scavenger hunts.

“Excuse me,” Milnor said as he turned back to Maria, who was still by the crying mother. “Where is the field her son was playing in?”

Maria pointed north.

 

Once the crowd had finally dispersed, and the woman was brought home by Eric and Maria, Milnor spent some time inspecting the well. First, he checked for any marks that would stand out. If the Wailing Fay had taken the boy down the well, perhaps he could find hints of a struggle or simply traces in the moss of someone crawling down. He found no such thing.

Now, he could look for prints. That was something he did retain from the teachings of his tribe. Tracking. And he was darn good at it. That’s what made him a good cartographer, always knowing where to go.

Milnor checked for prints in the mud at the foot of the well, preferably ones that came from the north, from the field. If the boy had been brought here, there would be evidence of it on the ground. And since this was an unpaved road, there was plenty of mud to leave tracks in!

Unfortunately, the crowd earlier had really made a mess in the mud. There was no clear, distinguishable set of footprints Milnor could isolate. But then, as he looked outside the apparent circle the crowd had shuffled in, he noticed a set of older footprints, possibly from the night before. He knew that because the mud had dried entirely around it. Those footprints seemed to indeed come from the fields and were heading straight to the well. Even better, now that he’d isolated that particular pattern, he identified the same one a few feet ahead, heading east, towards the woods. That was definitely a trail he’d follow.

The tracks led to the woods surrounding the village. The forest here was made of thick pine trees that formed a dark shadowy mass. Despite his excellent eyesight, Milnor couldn’t see further than a few feet away through the foliage.

It was strange that someone would have gone from the well to here in the middle of the night. Also, Milnor didn’t expect ghosts to leave tracks. Something else must be going on—he was sure of it.

He stepped into the dark woods, following the track as best as possible. It only took a few steps for him to realize how silent the forest was. Not even the sound of birds or wind through the pines. That was unnaturally odd.

Milnor walked further and deeper into the darkness. At some point, he even realized he was walking without looking at the ground, without following the tracks. He searched the ground with his eyes and couldn’t find anything but dead grass. It was so strange.

It was as if Milnor had awoken from a brief daydream guilty of making him lose the trail. He turned around, hoping to see tracks right behind him. Instead, what he saw was something he couldn’t explain.

The pines around him seemed to have drawn closer, their needles almost touching his skin. Milnor was startled by their proximity like the trees were ready to swallow him. He turned back, and the forest was gone. Before his eyes was now only darkness.

It was time to run away.

Milnor didn’t wait, didn’t hesitate twice. He had to get out of there as fast as he could. He spun on his heels and began to run. Fear overtook him and it would soon paralize him if he didn’t act.

It was like the entire forest was closing on him. The trees and branches moved to form two walls coming closer and closer, nearly trapping him. Milnor was fast, but would he be fast enough?

He finally made it out, but not before a thorn scratched his arm open. Blood dripped out of the wound, and Milnor gasped. This made him lose balance, and he fell down, tumbling down the hill he’d found himself on. Once he lost momentum, he landed on his back, eyes closed, his arm hurting.

Kiisa!” Milnor exclaimed out loud. That wasn’t a very nice Elvish word…

He needed a few seconds of shallow pants to regain his senses. He opened his eyes, and to his surprise, it was night.

 

Milnor walked back to the village alone in the dark of the night. He really couldn’t explain what had happened. How could it already be night while he had woken up just a mere hour ago? How long had he spent in that forest without his knowing? There could only be one explanation: there was magic at play.

Milnor didn’t know much about magic, only that he wanted to stay far away from it. If this village was suffering from a magical curse, the ghost story people tell could still, in a way, be true. Just not the truth they’d expected.

The air was cold. Milnor accelerated the pace. Everyone was probably already inside their homes. All the lights in the houses were out. What time was it?

Milnor made it to the square where the well was. That was as close as he got to the stabler’s house.

He stopped when he saw what was standing by the well, or rather who. A woman in white. He could hear her sobbing from where he stood.

Was it the desperate mother from this morning?

No, Milnor knew it wasn’t because he recognized the woman in white. She was the same woman from his dream last night.

This was a trick, a magic trick. That was the only explanation. And yet, despite how much rationality he wanted to give the situation, Milnor couldn’t stop himself from feeling fear. And the fear rose quickly.

The woman was now looking at him. He couldn’t see her eyes, but he could feel them aiming at him. She’d stopped wailing.

“What do you want?” he eventually asked despite the lump in his throat.

The woman didn’t respond, but that didn’t dissuade Milnor from asking more, even if his senses told him to run.

“Who are you?”

She said nothing, but he could hear whispers in the air. The quieter he was, the more he could hear. Milnor didn’t dare close his eyes to focus on the sounds. The woman still stared.

But he had to blink, and as he did, he heard one final whisper.

“Oh, my children, where am I to take you?”

Opening his eyes, he no longer saw the woman. The main door of the Colemans’ home flung open at that moment.

“Milnor!” Eric called to him. “Get in! Quick!”

Milnor made a run for it. He reached Eric, who closed the door behind them. As the door closed, Milnor could swear the woman was standing by the well again.

 

“Where were you all day?” Eric asked, annoyed.

Milnor collapsed on a chair at the dining table. He needed a moment to calm down and to tend to his wounds. He didn’t want to show Eric his distress, but his hands still shook from fright.

“I was in the woods,” the elf eventually replied. “Searching for that boy.”

“That boy is gone, Milnor! You’re not from here. You don’t know this village like the rest of us. The Wailing Fay is the evil here. It’s what she does. Your questions bother the rest of us, and, to be honest, if it weren’t for your horse, I would have kicked you out of Kalancha a long time ago.”

Milnor said nothing else. It was best to let your interlocutor vent and walk away in these situations. Eric wouldn’t be on his side for this, and he knew it.

“Thank you, Eric,” Milnor said with candor. “Thank you for letting me stay.”

The conversation wouldn’t go further than this. Milnor headed to the guest room while Eric stayed in the living room and poured himself a glass of brandy.

 

***

 

Janeen was one of the least appreciated village elders. She lived secluded from the rest of the houses, near the forest to the west. Her backyard consisted of a large field of pumpkins.

Milnor had asked around the following day for where he could find more information on the Wailing Fay. He’d been directed to the elders, but they’d provided him with nothing new. Eric had mentioned an old woman who lived away from the Kalanchans, the village outcast, or so to speak. He said she was a little crazy, and some people even thought she was a bit of a witch. Milnor would find out for himself.

Janeen welcomed him with a cup of mint tea that didn’t really taste like anything but hot water. Her smile was full until her eyes and, even if she lacked teeth, she brought certain joy to the room.

“Haven’t seen an elf in a long time,” she said, full of excitement. “What brings you here to Kalancha?”

Milnor gave her the introduction he’d done at least seven times today.

“Well, if you’re here, it’s because you have nowhere else to go,” Janeen said, sitting down on her creaking chair. “So, tell me, what have you asked the others that they couldn’t give you a satisfying answer to?”

Milnor had figured this old woman was cunning. There was something in her attitude that inspired trust as well. Maybe she was a witch, but Milnor was sure she had nothing to do with whatever was going on in this village.

“I’d like to ask you about the Wailing Fay,” Milnor said.

Unlike the other inhabitants, the woman didn’t seem frightened by his words. Instead, she relaxed in her chair and started her story.

“The Wailing Fay is the spirit of a vengeful ghost who haunts our village,” She began. Milnor wanted to tell her that he knew the story already, but she’d anticipated that. “That’s what the whole village tells itself. But what they don’t say is exactly who the Wailing Fay was.

“Her name was Hildra. I haven’t seen an elf in a long time because she was the last elf I saw in my entire life. I remember her being so beautiful, with long blond hair, always wearing her gracious silk gowns from her village.

“They say she hated the village, but that’s just not true. She loved Kalancha. She grew white roses all along the main road just because of how much she loved this place. And she loved her husband, Peter. A handsome fellow. He was human, and they had two beautiful half-elven children who loved to play in the fields.

“It wasn’t Hildra who hated the village. It was the village that hated her. The men were envious, and the women were jealous. An elf, in Kalancha? I’m even surprised chubby Eric has welcomed you into his home. The real story is that everyone bullied her. They even went at it with her husband too. He ended up leaving her, taking their children with him. She was heartbroken. I saw her grow thinner and thinner with the weeks. I was but a little girl, but I liked Hildra. She gave me some of her roses from time to time.

“A few months later, there was an accident, and Peter and the children died. Bandits on the road to [INSERT_NEARBY_CITY]. Tragic. In sorrow, Hildra walked into the lake and drowned herself.

“The story people tell of Hildra is a way for them to sleep at night. The truth is, it is the village that tormented poor Hildra, and I’m not even surprised she still haunts this place, taking from us what we took from her.”

Milnor sat on a crude wooden chair, staring at the floor, listening to old Janeen. He needed some time to process the story, but that was one long tale. He really just had one question that mattered to him at this point.

“Do you really believe it’s a ghost?” Milnor asked.

Janeen inhaled deeply. “I believe people see a ghost, yes. I believe children go missing, and we don’t exactly know how. This village is cursed and will remain so even after I’m gone.”

“Why don’t you leave? You don’t seem to like this place very much.”

Janeen looked straight into his eyes. “Well, why did you leave your tribe?”

Milnor was taken by surprise. “I… It wasn’t a home for me. I didn’t belong.”

“Well, that’s it. Kalancha is my home. And the ghost isn’t interested in me anyway.”

Something crept in the back of Milnor’s mind. An idea was forming. Old Janeen had just said it—the ghost wasn’t interested in her. So, would it be safe to assume the Wailing Fay wouldn’t be interested in him either? She was after children, not adults. Perhaps he could wait until night and find a way to…to talk to it, do something, start a conversation. Ask her what she was really after. Before he’d set on doing that, Milnor needed to confirm one last detail.

“Did she ever harm anyone? Other than children?”

Janeen shook her head. “Not a single adult villager was ever harmed. I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Live your life as you wish and keep your children inside at night—it’s not complicated. We don’t have to live in fear. Evil spirits win if we do.”

Milnor remembered his dream, how scared he’d been. Janeen was right. He didn’t have much to be afraid of. And with that information, Milnor would head into the woods. He was sure there was something there, an answer. And it was waiting for him.

Milnor thanked Janeen and left her house and pumpkin garden. He had to walk through the village all the way back to the other part of the forest. At this rate, he would reach his destination at dusk. Good. He could have a tete-a-tete with a ‘ghost’ and solve this mystery once and for all.

 

He didn’t see Eric on his way to the other side of the forest, but that was alright. He didn’t have much to say to the guy anymore anyway. Sad, but he’d get over it. Friends weren’t his thing. Eric, at this point, was just a service. The man whom he’d paid to treat his horse. Milnor did get a chance to check up on Sarra in the late afternoon. She was healing fine. She’d be ready to go again soon, hopefully by the next sunrise.

Milnor made it to the edge of the village. He marched into the forest, resolute. He walked further and further into the darkness of pines and cedars. Once more, as expected, the trees closed in on him like moving walls. He didn’t mind. He had to ignore it so he could break through whatever mind game was going on.

He kept on going, despite the illusion that he would suffocate if he continued. He kept walking ahead—the forest now formed a single alley toward total blackness.

But then, as he walked some more, something changed. The darkness was no longer a solid dead end. It transformed into an opening. The trees stopped moving. Milnor was freed from the thousand needles piercing into his skin.

He walked to where the trees stopped, out of the forest. He now stood in a large clearing, one he’d definitely seen before. He could see everything thanks to the moonlight. It was the middle of the night again, but he’d expected as much. A large lake stretched before his eyes, and everything was as still as a stone.

He was back where his dream had taken him two nights ago. The exact same decor, as if he’d actually been there. This was beyond strange. He’d never seen this place, never been here, yet somehow he knew for sure that he’d been here before. Even in this dimly lit darkness, he recognized it all.

It became clear that he’d already been here when Milnor heard a whisper behind him.

We are going forever.

A familiar voice. Her voice.

The Wailing Fay.

Flashbacks to his dream made him wonder, for a second, whether he’d ever awoken.

Milnor checked over his shoulder, and when he turned back, she was standing there, right by the lake. And surrounding her were reclined figures of all sizes scattered on the ground. Milnor couldn’t exactly see what they were, until the smell reached his nostrils.

The scent of rotting flesh.

This place smelled of death now that he could see what it actually was. It wasn’t a lake. The water was thick, black, and oozed like blood. He drew one conclusion: one that mortified him to his bones. The shapes on the ground were too small to be the bodies of men.

They were the corpses of children.

All still wrapped in their clothes, all at different stages of decay. Some were simply bones, and not much of who’d they’d been was left.

Milnor’s stomach churned on itself, and he couldn’t stop himself from vomiting on the cold hard ground.

Once he raised his head again, the woman stood right before him.

The rasp in her voice made her breath sound like wind against a broken glass window. She breathed out but never in. She stared into his eyes, hers white like a cooked fish’s.

That’s when Milnor realized this creature, whatever it was, was not a ghost. It was no spirit or apparition. It was something much, much worse.

The Wailing Fay was made of flesh and bones. She was alive, or perhaps more…not dead.

And then it hit him.

Undead.

An undead creature who fed off children.

Milnor was paralyzed. The stench settled down his throat and pricked at his lunges. He looked around at the carcasses that lay sprawled on the grass. One of those was fresher than the others. A little boy in a brown coat.

A little boy missing a scarf.

Milnor’s heart broke. He wanted to cry but couldn’t. The creature, whatever she was, stared him down, and he could feel nothing but hatred for it.

 

“Why are you doing this?” Milnor asked, his voice breaking.

This time, she inhaled deeply. “Fate,” she simply said. She’d answered in an Elvish dialect.

Fate? What did that mean?

Milnor wanted to fight, and he cursed fate itself for not having taken the sword he’d need for it.

“You lack fate,” she said, and Milnor realized the word meant power. It was confusing when both words resembled each other so much.

“You are not alone,” she said again.

Milnor was torn between his fright and his will to run.

“What are you?” he asked.

“I am everything this place holds. Remorse, regrets…guilt. What you see is what was made.”

“What the kiisa does that mean?”

The woman lay her cold hand on his shoulder, and her touch was like a blade of ice piercing through his skin.

“I am the horror that people built. But now, now that you’re here, I can spread.” She opened her mouth wide and jagged teeth surged from her jaw. “This exchange is over,” she said. Her voice had suddenly taken the darkest of tones. She didn’t sound like herself anymore.

The creature squeezed Milnor’s shoulder until it was so painful that he had to kneel. Her other hand gripped his neck and pressed so hard that Milnor felt his throat crack. He was on his knees, staring into the creature’s eyes because he couldn’t look away.

Her skin began to rip open in various places. Maggots and crawlers slid out of her wounds onto the floor. A black beetle escaped her mouth. Out of her skin grew something else, a shadowy figure that peeled itself off the Wailing Fay’s body, leaving an empty shell behind that collapsed to the floor. The shadow now stood in front of Milnor, holding him, penetrating him with its dark glare.

Whatever it was, Milnor was about to give up. He saw his life flash before his eyes. He felt it, he felt it all. The end.

Oh, how he’d wished he’d written more to his mother. Oh, how he’d wished things had been different. He wasn’t an exemplary son, and he wasn’t a good elf, for that matter.

He was a failure. The village’s laughing stock. A powerless elf who’d run away because that’s what he always did: run.

But he wouldn’t run now. He couldn’t. And that was how his miserable life would end.

Oh, how he’d wished he’d found love.

Those were his last thoughts before he…

The shadow creature entered his eyes and mouth and spread through his body like air. Within seconds, Milnor lost his grip on all reality and sank into a deep pit of darkness, down a never ending well. He was caught in the freefall of his unconscious, never to reach the ground, never to land on his feet, lost forever, drifting endlessly.

 

The night after Milnor’s disappearance, the people of Kalancha slept quietly. For the first time in forever, they didn’t hear the sobs, wails, or gut wrenching screams of a desperate woman who had been wronged. Some wondered what had changed. Others were hopeful. Could this be the end of their horror?

A few weeks later, it was finally confirmed. The Wailing Fay was gone. Not a single soul had seen her, not even in their dreams.

The villagers searched the dark woods that had been her lair for so long. Much to their sorrow, many families were reunited with what they’d lost. Or, at the very least, with answers.

Milnor, as strange as it may seem, had disappeared. His body was never found.

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Michael DeAngelo

Michael is the creator of the Tellest brand of fantasy novels and stories. He is actively seeking to expand the world of Tellest to be accessible to everyone.