Here there be dragons...

"I'm telling you stories. Trust me." - Winterson

Flash Fiction 25: Night Swimming

I was swimming under the moonlight; not the safest thing to do, perhaps, but sometimes opportunities need to be taken. I lay, floating on my back, watching the stars as my body rose and fell with the swells of the incoming waves. As a shooting star crossed the sky I made a wish, a childish habit never forgotten. I wished that things could stay this way forever.

Just as I was completing the thought, a wave crested slightly too early and crashed down over my face, leaving me treading water sputtering. Don’t want things to stay like THAT forever, I qualified to the long-gone star while thinking ruefully that that’d be just my luck – chaos and destruction when I was aiming for peace and tranquility.

I returned to my floating, but the moment was gone and I was starting to get cold. I rode the next large wave in close enough to the beach that I could stand. A man on the beach held my towel. I hesitated a moment, but he offered it to me so I approached to take it. Wrapping it around me I was surprised at how warm it was – as though it had just come out of the dryer, even though I knew it had not.

“I was worried for you,” the unusually attractive man said while I pondered my towel’s warmth, “it’s not safe to swim alone at night.”

Acknowledging the truth in his words I thanked him for his concern and assured him I had no more such plans. Tonight, I silently amended. The look he gave me suggested he knew about my mental qualification.

“Would you come with me? There’s something I would should you.” The look I gave him made it quite clear I knew his thoughts – and was not impressed. “Not that,” he said with an exasperated sigh and a roll of his eyes, “unless…?” he let the question trail unasked and I didn’t deign to respond, “yeah I didn’t think so,” he acknowledged, “I just though you might like to experience the true magic of the night.”

Thinking this was one of the odder pickup lines I’d heard, I had to admit to being intrigued. I had some consideration of the fact that I was a woman, alone, and far from home, but all my instincts screamed that he could be trusted. Funny, they’d never done that with my ex.

He led me down the beach, the white sand soft under my bare feet. He let the waves do the talking – telling the world their story as they rolled over one another to crash on the beach. It was hypnotic, mysterious, and romantic all at once.

I shivered, whether from cold or anticipation I knew not, and followed my guide as he turned off the beach onto a trail only he could see. “We’re almost there,” he assured me when I hesitated. Shortly, we found ourselves at the mouth of a cave from which a strange green glow radiated.

“This,” he told me, “is where the fairies meet to decide which star wishes to grant.” Ok so evidently my sensors were broken. I was so stunned, I had absolutely no idea how to respond. Fortunately, it seemed I didn’t have to. “Yours is next on the list – do you want to address the council?”

Yeah right, like I was about to go in a strange green cave with some guy talking about fairies. Even if he was insanely good looking. Except… “My wish?”

“The one about being forever choked by a wave,” he reminded.

“But how…?” I let the question trail off, suddenly doubting everything I’d known. “Just in here?” I asked. He nodded and stepped back; apparently I was to go in alone.

I stepped around a rock to enter the cave, and had to blink a few times to allow my eyes to adjust to the ethereal glow. At first I saw nothing but cave walls; then out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement. I turned, but nothing was there. I sensed rather than saw movement behind me and spun around again – and still there was nothing. I rapidly began to feel like a fool, but some part of me was ready to believe. Wanted to believe.

“Relax,” it was my guide appearing behind me, unannounced. “Don’t try so hard; let your eyes soften and open your mind to what’s really there.”

While his instructions were impossible to follow literally, I somehow understood what he was saying. Like looking through the beautiful person’s makeup to see the nightmare living inside, I’d always been good at reading people. Well, until tonight that is – nothing in his countenance had triggered my crazy warning signals. Dismissing that thought I tried to consciously apply an unconscious technique. And gradually the cave came to life.

Soon the buzzing that I had put down to distant cicadas started to make sense; I could make out words here and there. And as their language became recognizable, so too, did they. In a rock I could see a face; in the dust, a wing. Until I was surrounded by dozens of the most stunningly beautiful creatures I had ever seen.

They were tiny – none bigger than my thumb; their wings reflected an ethereal light that bounced off the crystalline cave walls. Their bodies were stunning shades of turquoise, emerald, and blazing sapphire.

A melodic whistle sounded almost and I was amazed to see my guide immediately drop to one knee and bow his head. Unsure, I copied his movements, feeling more than slightly foolish.

I lifted my head enough to see what was going on; my guide had his hand out in front of him, cradling a fairy who wore her elegance as comfortably as old pair of pjs. That degree of grace, beauty and power was enthralling. There was another flute song and then surprisingly, my guide spoke.

“She has the sight and the soul, but no knowledge or imagination. And without those, no matter what she could be, she’d never be complete. Now, she can.” He finished simply. I briefly considered being offended at his words, but given the way the night had gone so far, I was about ready to concede he was right.

When the flute started again I let my mind go blank and then brought the song inside to fill the empty space, hoping it would translate itself in the oral equivalent of what my eyes had revealed earlier.

“You have seen and heard,” the fairy queen started, “what will you do with the knowledge you have now?”

I considered carefully, knowing instinctively that my words were critical. “I’ll look at the world differently,” I said simply. It was in the running for understatement of the year, but it was an honest answer. The only honest answer.

The stunning fairy nodded regally, and I exhaled with a huge feeling of relief. “Tonight, by moonlight, you wished on a shooting star. That wish holds power. Do you still wish it true?” she asked. I had the distinct impression that if I said yes, she could make it happen.

“My lady,” I started, feeling foolish yet again as I had absolutely no idea of the correct address for a fairy queen – for her manner certainly bespoke of royalty, “wishes I’d never even imagined have already come true tonight. If anything, all I would wish now, is to be permitted to keep the memory of this night clearly,” and I bowed my head again, feeling instinctively that was the right thing to do.

“A wise wish indeed,” the elegant fairy pronounced as I dared a glance at her, “and one we’re happy to grant. See that you remember your vow,” she told me in a tone I knew to respect. And with a tilt of her head towards the mouth of the cave, I was dismissed.

My guide returned with me to the beach where we’d met a lifetime ago. I had so many questions, but it seemed inexcusably rude to interrupt the waves, so I held my silence.

“Remember,” he told me when we go to the end of the beach, “it’s not safe to swim alone after dark.” And with that, he was gone.


Cool story!
The second paragraph made me laugh - that's the sort of cruelty of fate I've learned to expect over the years!

The man is an interesting character, I wonder whether he is a man, and how he got to know the fairy world.


Very neat story. I enjoyed the voice in it. Quite imaginative!


I love being transported inside someone else imagination, especially when it shows me a world I can't conceive of by myself. Thank you for such a beautiful place, grounded in places i've been. Maybe, just maybe....


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