Saturday, November 22, 2014

Fairy Sound House

Every evening after ten-o-clock, I heard the sound. It was actually a collection of many sounds playing all at once: metallic clangs like pots and pans rattling in the wind, dissonant jangling like cowbells tied to a post, the gentle tingle of swaying windchimes, and more besides. It all started up at the same time, at exactly ten-o-clock PM, and it diminished to silence at the crack of dawn. At first, it annoyed me. It kept me awake at night and I hated it. I thought it had been the next-door neighbors having a little too much late-night fun, and I was all set to go over there and give them a piece of my mind. But when I left to go confront them, I heard that the sound was coming from the woods behind my house.  
            Those woods were nothing to me but some mildly-interesting background scenery absolutely teeming with bugs. I couldn’t stand anything with more than four legs. The sound of a buzzing bee would have me running for an exit. Butterflies and moths were not quite so pretty to me, and even the sight of a tiny fly would send me into a minor panic. The fact that those woods were filled to the brim with every sort of creepy-crawlie imaginable was enough to make me avoid them at all costs, and no amount of racket could change my mind about that. So the sound played on, every night of the summer, and over time it became more of a comfort than a nuisance. Instead of keeping me awake, it soothed me to sleep, and its presence in a dream indicated that the dream would be a pleasant one.
            I had thought that the sound would end with the summer, like the sound of the crickets and katydids and the smell of burgers from my neighbor’s barbecue grill.  But as the crisp chill of the fall evenings settled in, the sound continued on. By now it had me itching with a curiosity as annoying as the collection of mosquito bites I had added to over the summer, but the ladybugs, dragonflies, and small flies that were still around were enough to keep it suppressed. Every so often, though, I would bring it up to my neighbors when we got a chance to talk—“Have you heard that weird noise that comes out of the woods at night? It sounds like bells ringing, or things clattering, or…something.” The responses were varied: Mr. Joe Roberts told me that there were way too many sounds resonating from the inside of his three-kid house to think about any that came from outside. Joyce Applebee said that she and her husband had heard it, but they didn’t give it too much thought—it was probably a noisy pine hick, or else some teenagers having too much fun. Ralph Wilson said that the racket was becoming insufferable, and if it didn’t stop very soon he would find a way to make it stop. I guess I was the only one who found it to be pleasant.
            Fall turned to winter, the sound played on through the evenings, and the welcome disappearance of the bugs opened up an opportunity. The time had finally come for me to squash my curiosity and discover the source of the sound! Remembering what Ralph Wilson had said, I thought about asking whoever it was to quiet down a bit (but certainly not stop), but I mainly wanted to thank them for the lovely racket that kept me company through so many wonderful nights. So one afternoon after work, I made my way down to the woods. For the most part, the woods were wild. Vines—some covered in thorns—twisted and tangled around the trunks of trees and the branches of shrubs. The brown carpet of fallen leaves was dotted haphazardly with shiny green bushes. Every so often a root, shrub, or wayward branch would trip me up. It was a place with no sense of order or reason, and there was no sound except for the occasional bird call or the rustling of a squirrel searching for remaining acorns. Bugs were no longer an issue, but I worried about snakes. I hoped that the cold had driven them away along with the bugs.  
            After walking in the wilds, I came upon a much more orderly dirt road leading off into the deep woods. My sense of adventure outweighed my unease and I began the trek. The flapping and chirping of the occasional bird, the quiet whispering of the light winter breezes, and my feet crunching through the dead leaves and fallen pine needles made for a beautiful melody against the eerie silence. The haphazard arrangement of trees and shrubs began to morph into neat rows of Christmas cedars and box-shaped bushes. I thought that I must have been entering somebody’s property. My heart fluttered as I wondered if it would be a nice somebody, who would take “Sorry, I got a little lost” for an answer.
            On and on went this clean-cut path, with no further hints of civilization or ownership. I froze up at the sight of a small, winged thing zipping away from one of the boxy bushes. “It’s too cold for bugs, it’s too cold for bugs,” I repeated as I forced myself to continue on in spite of my shaking legs. It was just fine until I caught sight of another one, and another, and another still, and I was forced to admit that it was not my imagination.
            I screamed and swatted aimlessly at the air in front of me, bringing my hand down on a tiny, beating wing. I screamed again, closed my eyes, and took off running without knowing or caring where I was headed. The silence of the woods was broken by tiny, mousy screeches in the air. Oh god, I thought, these bugs can scream! Screeching bugs was where I drew the line. I fell to my knees and curled up with my face buried in my hands. I trembled and I whimpered, and when I felt a wing brush my face I screamed again. But then I was aware that something was softly patting my cheek. I opened my eyes and beheld a bright, fresh, childish little face with rose-petal lips curled up in a decidedly-friendly smile. This girlish face was held in place by a doll-shaped arrangement of bright white light, and the only other discernible features were the iridescent, rapidly-beating wings on its back.
            I, like most people, had heard my fair share of fairy stories. I knew about Tinkerbell and Thumbelina and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I also knew that fairy stories were just that—stories. They are nice to hear, and often very enchanting to read, but you never expect to actually experience one. If you do happen to experience one, no matter how vivid an experience it is, you just can’t bring yourself to believe that it’s really happening. You think you’re dreaming, or your imagination is running wild, or you hit your head just a little too hard after tripping over a root. When I was confronted with this little light creature, smiling prettily at me and patting me on my cheek, I thought of all three of these possibilities. I certainly didn’t think that she was real!
            The little fairy perched on my shoulder like an obedient bird, and said in a high, chirping voice, “All right?” I hesitated for a moment—it was just so strange to be in a dream and know I was in a dream—and then I simply nodded. Others came into view, looking at me the way a parent might look at a child who has fallen over and scraped their knee. There were the angelic faces of men, women, and children, all attached to these winged bodies made of light. “I’m all right,” I told them. “I was just scared.”
            “Scared?” The little fairy tilted her head at me the way that a curious animal might. She didn’t seem to understand the word, or else she didn’t understand what there was to be scared of. Then she smiled again and patted my head. “No scared!” she chirped in a tone that hinted at assurance. “Not scary! Nice!” I didn’t know what to say, so I smiled and nodded.
            “Your name?” she asked me.
            “Molly,” I told her, “and yours?”
            She looked at me quizzically while the others happily chattered and chanted, “Moll-ee, Moll-ee!” like they really enjoyed the sound of it. I’d never thought of my name as anything special, so hearing them make such a big deal out of it would have given me a serious case of the warm-fuzzies if I hadn’t thought it was a dream. The little fairy confusedly responded to my question with, “My what?”
            “Your name,” I elaborated. “What is your name?
            “Oh! Aiki!” she cried cheerfully, clapping her hands. “Aiki, Aiki!” She was so downright adorable that I wished she was big enough for me to pinch her cheeks. “It’s nice to meet you, Aiki,” I told her. She fluttered off of my shoulder then and gestured enthusiastically to me. “Come, come!” she cried, and the others followed suit; they fluttered off ahead of us, crying, “Come, come, come!” They all sounded so urgent about it that I rose to my feet and obeyed, following them farther into the deep woods and away from any hint of civilized society. At any moment, I’ll snap out of it and they’ll all disappear, I thought, so I’d better enjoy my time in a fairy story while I can!
            The path finally ended, and there stood an old, dilapidated Victorian-style house, painted a faded brown that had once been yellow. Ivy vines and stalks of Virginia creepers grew up the walls and along the shutters of the windows, and an overgrown patch of weeds now stood where a garden might have been. Illuminating this house were at least a hundred—but likely more—of the little light fairies. They chattered like birds as they flew in and out of the windows, climbed the sprawling ivy vines, weaved inbetween the weeds in the old garden, and floated happily above the slate-colored rooftop. These were the sort of perpetually happy creatures only encountered in dreams, books, and children’s television.
The exterior decoration of the house was a colorful smorgasbord of objects with no discernible order, reason, or purpose. Pots and pans of all sizes lined the olive-green porch steps. Bells of all shapes hung from bushes and small trees. The garden of weeds was laden with brightly-colored glass globes positioned on short stalks. Jingle-bell shells tied on strings hung from the window shutters. Windchimes hanging from the awning greeted me with their cheery tingle.
            That’s when I realized: noisemakers! The house was filled to the brim with noisemakers of every shape, size, sound, and type, and it was the combination of all of these noisemakers playing in unison that resulted in the mysterious nightly sound that I had come out here to discover. I had discovered it, and at the same time I had come to the understanding that this wasn’t a dream or my imagination. This was all real, and these were real fairies! In that moment, I experienced the unease that anybody would feel when something happens to change their perception of the world. It wasn’t a bad change—in fact, it was a wonderful one! How uplifting it was to know that there really were hidden, out-of-the-way places of the world where fairies really existed! But at the same time, it was a change that would force me to think of the world in a different way from now on. I sat down in my place and allowed myself some time to properly take it all in.
            Little Aiki fluttered over to me then and asked, “All right, Moll-ee?” I nodded and smiled a genuine smile. “I’m all right.”
            “Home!” Aiki chirped, and spread her arms in a wide gesture to the entire house and grounds. “Yes,” I said, “I see. I like your home. Aiki, do you like to make music?”
            “Moo-sic!” Aiki happily clapped her hands. “Yes, moo-sic! Come, come!” She motioned for me to follow her, and I obliged. She led me around to the side of the house, where a little band of fairies was playing a chasing game that looked quite fun. They paused and waved when they saw me, and I waved back.
            Positioned on an old post was a small triangle—small, but certainly not fairy sized. Aiki reached for the stick, held it like a baseball bat in both of her tiny hands, and gave the triangle a whack. Ding! I was able to recognize that sound from the nightly cacophonies. Now I knew the identity of its little player. Ding! Ding! Ding! She giggled like she was being tickled. Other fairies, including the four playing chase, looked on with laughter and chirped merrily like songbirds. They began to hop and sway in time to the melodic little sounds that Aiki called “moo-sic.” Aiki suddenly stopped whacking and held the stick out to me. “Moll-ee, ting-ting-ting!” she cried.
            “Oh? You want me to play it?”
            “Yes! Play ting-ting-ting!” The others assisted her in egging me on; “Ting, ting, ting!” I found myself giggling just like them. “All right,” I said. “I’ll play.” I knelt down and tapped the triangle one, two, three, four times—ding, ding, ding, ding—paused, then a fifth and a sixth. I tried to create a melody of my own that would get them to dance and sway the way that Aiki’s staccato whacking had done.  But as it turned out, they would dance to any sound in any order or rhythm (or lack thereof). The sound itself was music to them. Their joyful steps inspired me to tap faster, louder, then slower and softer, fast, loud, slow, soft, alternating and letting them follow along. One of them added jingle bells to the little song. Another one provided the clinking of glasses. Others, clapped, and others sang in bell-like voices that instantly brought Christmas angels to mind. The joy of leading this merry band set me into laughter, and the perpetual happiness of these childlike fairy creatures spread like fire and was just as warm. My song ended when I ran out of ways to continue it, though if I had my way I would have sat there and played the “ting-ting-ting” forever. I stood up and bowed, and the fairies applauded me so raucously that I felt like the leading lady of a Broadway production. Aiki started up a cry of “Moll-ee, Moll-ee!” and I was cheered and kissed and nuzzled and given holly boughs to weave in my hair. The eventual return to my own world was nothing but an afterthought. All I wanted was to stay, to befriend these creatures and see everything that this wonderful house had to offer.
            As the sun began to set, I was led inside and served a dinner of milk, a strange, gamey meat, and wrinkled orange fruits that tasted like candies. Aiki hadn’t left my side since my little concert. She smiled brightly when I accepted her small shares of her candy-fruits. She was agreeable to being patted on the head with the tips of my fingers as she sheltered herself in my coat pocket. She showed me through the rooms of the house, which were old, dusty, and overgrown with ivy, moss, and even mushrooms in some places. We played hide and seek using the many hidey-holes and crannies that were scattered throughout the house. She trusted me with the location of a secret room that none of the others had found yet. Every so often, she took it upon herself to entertain me with an energetic dance full of leaps and twirls. We sat out on the front porch together to blow dandelions and look up at the starry winter sky. It didn’t take long at all for Aiki to become my friend, and I relished in the form of quiet conversation we had that we could both understand.
            At the fairy sound house, the hours blended into one-another, so there was no way to tell when one ended and the next began. But at one of the darkest hours of the night, every fairy suddenly left the house all at once and began to scamper around outside. I followed them and found that they were positioning themselves at the noisemakers—three or four fairies per noisemaker in most cases. At long last, the time had come for the nightly sound to play! I found a place to sit and waited eagerly for the start of the show. I saw that Aiki had taken her place at the triangle—the “ting-ting-ting”—along with two other girls. A bell sounded off, and then another. The jingle-bells joined in, then a windchime was stirred, then the glass globes were tapped, and then every inch of the house blared with sound. It was not simply background noise, it was a performance. It was music in its simplest and most natural form, without all the fluff of conductors and note-reading. It was a large-scale version of the kind of music that a child produces with his first toy xylophone—no real order, no real reason, but so happy and innocent and pleasant to hear. I had already made up my mind that they were never going to stop, Ralph Wilson be damned. They could play at their house of music any way they wanted to, and they kept themselves so hidden and out of the way of human civilization that no one else would bother to come out here and find them.
            This live performance brought to mind all of the summer nights I had spent lying in bed and listening to the same sound intermingle with the crickets and frogs. I thought of the dreams of fairy parties and singing dryads that the sound had inspired in me throughout those nights. I thought of autumn breezes, early winter winds, and bird songs at the crack of dawn. I felt my eyes growing heavy, and the next thing I knew, my head was resting on the soft grass. As I drifted off, I became aware that the sound of the “ting-ting-ting” was one of the loudest of the whole menagerie.
            I awoke at sunrise, and felt delightfully warm and comfortable in spite of the cold. All of the fairies slept peacefully beside their instruments. Careful not to disturb or step on any of them, I padded over to where Aiki lay with the triangle stick still in her hands. As I approached, she stirred and opened one eye and then the other. She smiled rosily when she saw that it was me.
          “Goodbye, Aiki,” I said, and leaned down to kiss her forehead. She snuggled against my hand and looked up at me like an animal that had suddenly been wounded. “Moll-ee…” I could feel her little body quivering like she was ready to cry. “I’ll come back,” I told her, “I promise. I’ll see you all again very soon.” That satisfied her. She kissed my fingertips and curled up to go back to sleep, and I rose to my feet and headed for the path leading home. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay here and play with the fairies and listen to their nightly songs forever. But I belonged to my world, where I had duties and responsibilities. I had the incredible feeling, however, that I could belong to the fairy sound house as well.