So, I had to kill the dog. There was no way around it.
It had bitten a fey and that was that. Already, purple smoke was trailing from its mouth. It wasn’t going to be easy, since Molly, my sister, would be between me and the shotgun. She loved that dog.
I gently dropped Dog in the grass outside our front door, wind chimes and yellow fulu papers flying in the wind. Dog panted, and its muscles roiled under their skin. If it wasn’t quick, Dog would be running with the Wild Hunt before the evening’s end.
Molly looked up from her elaborate calligraphy as I came in. She had learned from our father who had learned from his father – a man dragged from his home by an Indian Tea representative for reason we never learned. We only knew that there was an argument, and then he ran, and ended up in our town. We no longer know what the papers mean, but Molly keeps drawing them anyway.
“Where’s Dog?” Molly asked, not looking up.
I tried to move past her chair without disturbing the delicate ink on the small slips of paper. “There was trouble in the deep woods. He helped out.” I pushed by the dried bundles of herbs and goblin fruit hanging from the ceiling as I searched for our parents’ chest. Silver and iron covered the surface. I put on gloves, not wanting to catch skin on the heavy spikes. Inside, the shotgun was sitting on top of the fragile layers of wax paper, covered in my sister’s calligraphy. I started rummaging for the bullets.
“What were you doing in Dutchman’s Grove?” she asked, tone even but her fingers tightened on her brush. I knew she was upset by her using the proper name of the woods. Dutchman was named after the trees from the woods that were used to build that haunted ship. Molly had always scoffed at that, knocking on the twisted trees and laughing that anyone would go through all the effort of shipping them to the Neverlands. But she had never smelled the sea among the branches, the sailors watching us with empty eyes, willowwisps flirting around. Grove was someone’s idea of a joke.
“Morgan’s boy got out again.” I finally located the bullets, next to a bundle of pixie arrows, and started to load the shotgun. The iron shells felt heavy in my gloved hands.
“I swear that boy is half-fey. He should’ve been thrown in an iron fire after he was born.” Molly laid down her brush, massaging a cramped palm, causing the silver scars on her hand to stand out, scars from the burns from a Jack-o-frost’s ice one winter’s night.
“You shouldn’t say that. You remember when everyone used to say the same about me. I got better.” Hey diddle diddle, hey diddle dee, a man hangs in a tree and the devil’s come for me, hey diddle diddle, hey diddle do, off to the goblin market where no one goes, my mind played to me, a springtrap left in my own mind.
“I’m not so sure about that,” she said with a tense smile, humor breaking through her worn face.
I swallowed the hidden fear under that joke. “When we got there, some redcaps were waiting for us.”
I had been too busy scolding Morgan’s boy, my words washing off of him like water on a duck’s back to see them erupting out of the ground around us. The scent of blood sliced through air, alerting us before we felt their teeth and spears.
No one likes Redcaps. Not even the Fair Folk who call the woods home –- no court will claim them, no stall in the market for them, and the Wild Hunt always comes back with redcaps dangling in their hound jaws. As for us, Redcaps were responsible for the last five dogs that we had lost. They were irresistible to dogs.
“How bad is Dog now?” she asked, even though she knew.
“I’ll be sure to bury him in the hills.” Those hills were full of iron ore and they made living here possible. Many of the new folk, those who stumble in, leaving their sputtering cars to gasp and die on the outskirts of town, ask why we don’t live in the hills proper, why we live in-between. Once we had a priest that thought the same way. He took all the town’s people up and blessed the brown water. But those who tried to drink the water coughed up blood, hacking long into the night, including the priest. That’s why we still live here, drinking the clear water where the silver mist sinks to the bottom. We still thank him when we go up there, handkerchiefs tied around our mouths to bottle the water which we pour around our gardens and farms. Sharif went further, digging a moat around her house for the iron water, making her house the place where we take our ill and dead for safety. We haven’t had a priest for a long time. We keep hoping that one will come to us.
Of course many of those that come in don’t listen to us. They go into the woods and get lost among the trees, or they go into the hills, convinced they can’t last forever, that there was something beyond that barren soil. I don’t know what they find. I only know of the ones that stay with us.
That’s one of the reasons our town doesn’t have a name. Not anymore. Names are dangerous. Nobody uses your real name in public. I’m the only one left who knows that Molly is Molly. Everyone else only knows her as Sandy. That’s why Dog is Dog.
As I left, Molly was staring out into the woods, looking past the rows of horseshoes nailed on the window pane. I wondered what she was looking for, but I decided not to ask.
When I came back, my lungs burning from the iron dust, Molly had covered the windows with a new batch of fulu paper, leaving only the weak lights to see by. It was going to be a bad night –- Molly always knew which night the Goblin Market opened up. Maybe it’s something she felt in her scars.
We ate a wary, silent dinner as evening closed in –- which we only knew from the tolling of the heavy church bell. Its bass tones should scare back any of the Fair Folk that creeped out of their forests, looking for stragglers. Normally, laughter would be surrounding our house right now, but it was still quiet. Maybe they went to bother the houses north of here. That was good -– the food tasted like ashes in my mouth, and the tune was playing in my head again: Hey diddle diddle, hey diddle dee, a man hangs in a tree and the devil’s come for me, hey diddle diddle, hey diddle do, off to the goblin market, where no one goes. I couldn’t put this off. I couldn’t wait for another month.
We settled down around the fireplace, the flames leaping with sparks from wood that was still too green, still too filled with the wood’s magic. Molly with her book, me with my woodblock and knife. I couldn’t concentrate enough to make anything, just focusing on the feel of the knife in wood, the skipping thud of the chips on the floor. The quiet continued, and eventually Molly drifted off, her rocking chair slowing, lulled to sleep by the idea of safety.
I took the chance to leave.
I left the house, making sure not to disturb the fulu papers and chimes. I turned to the trees, walking the paths that few others do, the paths you can only see with your coat on right, when you don’t turn yourself in countercircles, when you don’t carry salt in your pockets. The willowisps darted around, not bothering to lure me, knowing my scent already. I entered a clearing. Morgan’s boy looked up, perched on a log. Here, beneath the moonlight and trees, he no longer looked like the pale boy, too small for his age, big eyes warily watching. Even sitting down, he was taller than I was, stretched out, his gossamer wings still too small to do more than flutter.
“Sorry about your dog,” he said, standing up.
“Why did you go out so early?” I scolded him.
He blinked iridescent eyes at me in mock innocence. “Father was supposed to have stayed in with my Uncle for another night, playing nursemaid. Mother is … mother.”
“You should be more careful. Molly and the others are starting to talk about iron fires. Not to mention that there are worse things here than redcaps. No matter how you feel, that won’t protect you.”
Morgan’s boy shrugged his shoulders, wings caught by wind and motion, and turned away from me. I thought about scolding him some more, but then the music drifted in.
“Hey diddle diddle, hey diddle dee, a man hangs in a tree and the devil’s come for me, hey diddle diddle, diddle doh, off to the goblin market where no one goes.”
There is nothing like Fair Folk music. Chimes on cobwebs, piping in moonbeams, laughter of the brook under ice. All of that and none of that. That haunting sound is the last sign of their coming, the last chance you have to run. I stayed.
In a rush they came, like the storm clouds with the wind. The Fair Folk nobles dressed in their fine jewels and silks, glamoured up to their pointy ears. The King and Queen of this Market rode by, their crowns only lasting the night. I grabbed Morgan’s boy’s shirt, dragging him into a deep enough bow.
As they passed, the goblin market sprung up behind them, like flowers in the path of a unicorn. The trees branches came down, forming stalls. The cleared sky looked down, with starlight highlighting the goods.
I drank wine brewed from the tears of a green linnet, the cool green of jade and true love from the East. Two of the young Fair Folk dueled with mortal puppets, leaving them broken and splintered, as they bowed for applause. Standing as tall as the straight cedars, a blue antler-head man juggled with stolen dreams, purposefully letting one break once in a while and letting it spread into the crowd. Songs were sung from echoes lost beyond the hills years ago, impossibly colored flowers grown in forgotten graves.
What did I pay? Nothing more than the time between markets and knowing that I must go back.
At the edge of this, I glimpsed a familiar figure at the edge of the fair. Molly. As soon as she saw me, she ran. A few of the rougher, bloodier Fair Folk started to follow, their wooden limbs pumping for action. But they stopped when they saw me chasing her. I had beaten them at their own games too many times for them to challenge me.
I wonder which part of me she had seen that caused her to keep running. Was it my too wide mouth, my black gem-like eyes, or something else I never noticed? Whatever it was, it was enough for her to start throwing iron pellets, burrowing themselves in my shoulder.
I stumbled, pushed back by the pain. My sister continued to run away, into woods she didn’t know. I knew them. She had a limp, from an old wound years ago, that never healed. My backwards facing legs were still strong. One of bugbear traps, roots woven into an ankle breaker, meant to cripple you before the hunt even started. She fell, I did not. Caught, her body twisted as the forest sloped down and she crashed through the bush, falling prey to more and more of the bugbear traps on the slope. Her trail of blood glinted in the moonlight, caught on the leaves. I looked down at the shape of her, the counters of brokenness hinting at worst. Her ragged breathing let me know that time was short.
I let out a roar, letting anyone of them who weren’t lost in the Goblin Market know that there wasn’t any prey.
I ran back to the Goblin Market, its bright lights and shapes now sickening to all of me, not just half of me. I snatched one of the wine skins from a laughing faun, pulsating underneath my fingers. I dodged branches and slid down the hill, being careful to not let it rupture, using my body as both shield and club. Fair Folk wine is notoriously fragile when it leaves the market.
Molly’s eyes watched me, brimming with hate and betrayal, more alive than the rest of her. Her expression was softened by confusion, and just maybe, hope, when I cradled her head in my clawed hands and poured the wineskin on her lips. With this, I bound her to the family curse, repeating the actions of my father to mother and me. I followed my father back to the dance. My mother ran away, found later in the stream that followed through our hills, where the rust water and the grove spring water mingle.
I watched as she started to sit up, her features changing, her ears became pointed, and her eyes grew large and deep. Her expression was unreadable as she stood up. I wondered if she would follow me into the forest or flee into the hills.
[Elizabeth Davis is a second generation writer living in Dayton, Ohio. She lives there with her spouse and two cats — neither of which have been lost to ravenous corn mazes or sleeping serpent gods. She can be found at deadfishbooks.com when she isn’t busy creating beautiful nightmares and bizarre adventures. Her work can be found at the NoSleep Podcast, and Bards and sages July 2021, and Universe of Attractions by Dead Fish Books.]