“You mustn’t!” Lox shook his head, covering his mouth with a collection of boney fingers. His voice was infantile in the common way of Moor Folk children who have not yet had their twelfth-year soirée. He crouched low behind a boulder on the flat palm of the Bolivian mesa.
At his back the sun crouched as well, hiding itself behind mountain peaks. The sapphire blue sky around it grew hazy with night mist.
“Come, you need not fear.” Kosa stood tall before Lox and the disappearing solar disk, making his voice low and even in the way of Moor Folk children who have had their twelfth-year soirée only last week. “See how she looks towards us but cannot see the light in your wings?”
“She does!” Lox’s blue wings quivered. “Oh help, I think she does!” He cowered deeper behind his stone.
“No,” said Kosa, his voice lower still. “She is blind as well as deaf. They all are. I will prove it to you.”
“No, don’t. Oh please don’t!”
Kosa’s face rippled into its most mischievous grin. He spun towards the shanty and fixed on the stocky woman hanging out of the window. The woman stared absently over the mesa into the heavy vacancy of southern darkness. She waved a ragged cloth over a piping loaf of mountain berry bread, cooling it and sending tendrils of steam into the twilight and to Kosa’s button nose. He closed his eyes and inhaled the savory tenderness of ground grains and risen yeast, breathing the delicacy of mountain berries tempered sweet by the embers of a stone oven. Kosa opened his shining eyes and winked at Lox.
He leaped forward and flared his wings full, shocking the air around him with charges of electric blue light, flooding the mesa with faerie fire, chasing startled night insects out of clumps of shining desert grasses and frightening hunting mice into those clumps. The insects hugged the ground lower than even the huddled Lox. They silenced their singing legs and readied themselves for flight, while rabbits and kangaroo rats trembled in the achingly beautiful rays of starshine flowing out of the Moor child.
Lox glanced up at Kosa in terror and peered over his barricade to look at the woman. She stood at her window unchanged. He could read nothing on her face but boredom.
Kosa breathed deeply, recoiling the blue fire back into his body and mingling it with the shadows spilling from the mountains. He let out a guttural cry and bellowed the yodelly notes selected from the night song of his Genii tribe that, when combined with the strength of many voices, could pull the sleeping moon from beneath the gray havens and into the misty atmosphere east of Bolivia.
The singing of a tribal cry is not an art that Moor children are born knowing. They must learn it and perform it at their twelfth-year soirée, as each faerie camp boasts its own particular recipe for song. The cry of Kosa’s Genii Cucullati tribe had stolen pieces of coyote howls. These they had strung together with the notes that night hawks sing. And they had finished their piece by raiding the camps of Amazonian Indians where they had drawn no less than three pure strains of music from the pipe of the chief as he had sat bare-bellied and merry by his fire, singing beautifully.
Lox’s laughter made Kosa cut his cry short so that only one poor star popped into the heavens, and this a small one. Lox pointed at the fizzing, barely alive star and laughed even harder, reddening, decomposing beneath the dim glow of its pitiable impotency.
Kosa giggled at it with him and dropped his hands to his sides. He knelt on the dusty earth, folded his wings, and gestured for Lox to follow.
“Why must we creep so, like the creaking crickets?” Lox asked from the pose of a frog. “If she can’t see us, then why don’t we walk upright like bears?”
Kosa spun around and grinned at him, nose to nose. “Because it’s more fun if we creep. Secrecy always makes the bread taste better.”
“Oh,” said Lox, sitting up and rubbing his belly. “Ok.”
They scaled the gentle rise of the sandy mesa, until they reached the tin eves of the shanty. The steam rising from the bread was hanging in a cloud of dewy air around the window, making the pupils in the golden eyes of the Moor children swell. Kosa nodded to Lox, and they set their fingers on the window sill and pulled their small bodies, the same size as human children, up to standing. Their two faces, brown as the bread, peeped over the threshold and looked up at the woman whipping her bounty with a kitchen rag. There she slumped, resting one fatigued hand on the back of her hip, her face glistening with oily sweat drawn by the humidity of the night and the intensity of her day’s labor. She stepped away from the window and bent double to stoke the fire in her hearth.
“Now what do we do?” whispered Lox.
“We steal it, of course,” said Kosa, smiling hungrily at the loaf. He isolated one knobby finger and set it on the hunched back of the bread.
The woman turned around and found the plate empty. “Mercy!”
“What is it, Rosa?” asked a gruff woman’s voice from inside the shanty.
“Cursed faeries!” Rosa cried, turning to the woman and slapping the wood slab table with her rag. “They’ve swiped the bread.”
“You are imagining things. There are no such things as faeries.”
Kosa snickered and lifted his finger from the loaf.
Rosa turned back and cried out in surprise.
“What now?” asked the gruff woman.
“The bread is back!”
“You are a crazy woman, Rosa.”
Rosa put her knuckles on her hips and leaned out the window. Her eyes narrowed to slits as she scanned the horizon from east to west.
Lox ducked away from her, while Kosa, still grinning knavishly, slid his hand between the woman’s bosom and the bread. Giggling, he poked his finger into it.
She looked down, started, and screamed about the missing bread. Her flailing arms set loose her braids and sent the empty plate crashing to the ground.
Kosa gripped the bread and ran, tripping in his laughter. He sprinted down the mesa’s slope with Lox stumbling close behind, both of them heaving peals of merriment. When they neared the lip of the ravine, they kicked their heels at the Earth and together spread their wings and jumped into the abyss, picking up blue wind and soaring into the indigo vacancy of newborn night, circling the round mesa, over its tiny shanties and firelights, then scaling up the sharp line of the high green hill upon which they had both been born.
“Calm yourself, Rosa,” said Marianna. She felt sorry now for making fun of her poor cook who was all but wild with fright.
“Cursed rascal faeries!” Rosa stabbed the bread board into the oven and fished out her second and last loaf. “Damned immortal race!”
“No doubt you have been the victim of a crime tonight, dear Rosa, but the true criminals were more like to be a troop of capuchins than faerie folk.”
Rosa leaned out the window and shook her fist at the blooming stars. “It was those meddling faeries, Marianna. I would swear it to the holy grave.”
“Come now. There are not faeries. Come away from the window and sit with me, and we will have our bread hot.”
Seraphina lay in her dark room upon her straw bed, listening to the argument. Her tiny heart, not ten years wise, was beating very hard, the way it always did, when faerie folk were nigh. She rose on her skinny knees and scooted to her window to peer out from behind the drabbet curtains into the deepening sky. Before her eyes, two darkish shapes streaked vaguely against the glittery backdrop of stars. Any other mortal would have perceived the flight of the Moor children as a passing whisper of cloud or a glistening of a shooting star, especially beautiful. But this mortal saw with open eyes.
Exultant, she looked at her baby brother, who watched her from his bramble crib, blinking large black eyes at her as he suckled the wood cork his mother had given him.
Seraphina’s lips curled into a clever smile, and happiness wrinkled her eyes as she told him, “There are faeries.”
Tricia Wagner is a resident of DeKalb, Illinois. She was recently awarded second place in the 2015 University of Wisconsin Writers’ Institute First Page Contest for Mainstream/Literary Fiction. When she is not writing, Tricia serves as the Director of Adult Education at Kishwaukee College in Malta, Illinois where she provides leadership for academic and support programs that assist adults with literacy, basic, and secondary skill development, and English language acquisition. www.triciawagner.com