By Madison DuBois
The mission of Wild Ozark: To bridge the gap between people and the natural world, to remind readers that we are part of a larger whole, and to celebrate that all we see is not always all there is.
Cover photography © Madison DuBois
© 2015 by Madison DuBois
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages or reproduce illustrations in a review with appropriate credits; nor may any part of this book be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means – electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or other – without written permission from the publisher.
I tripped when I rushed in through the door. The little bloodied tangle of cloth and creature flew out of my hand and skidded to a stop in the center of the table.
“I got one Harry!” I yelled. He’d be in the recliner, as usual, watching television. Bending over with hands on my knees, I breathed deep, trying to slow my beating heart and catch my breath. “I told you they’re real – don’t you wanna see?”
No squeaking indicated that he’d budged from his chair. No clunk of the footrest thunking down. As usual, he wasn’t interested. But this was the first time I’d actually had something to show. He had to want to see this.
“Tell me you didn’t just say what I thought you said,” he said. Nope. Not even an inflection of interest in his voice.
I’d been trying to explain I’d been seeing something … unusual… since we moved here, but he wouldn’t listen. Even now, with proof on the kitchen table, he wouldn’t even come take a look.
“I finally got one, Harry, I swear. Come see!”
So what exactly did I have? Truth be told, I wasn’t sure. It looked like it could be one of those little creatures old man Russell cursed about every time I went down to the garden with him to lend a hand. He’d never seen one either, but he’d described something similar from an old-wives tale he’d once heard. He said they were supposed to be vile and vicious.
A pixie. He blamed them for missing vegetables, broken fences, spikes in the path, most anything vexing that happened. At the time I thought he was crazy and that it was only the deer or woodchucks doing the stealing.
Soon enough, though, I started seeing things I couldn’t explain. Little blurs in the corner of my eye that weren’t there when I looked. Things I thought were small animals on the side of the road but never got close enough to get a good enough look to identify.
It was beginning to make me feel insane. But now I had proof I wasn’t crazy. I had the solid proof in hand and couldn’t even get my lazy jack of a husband to get up and take a look.
I wished I’d done a cleaner job of catching it, though. This one was dead and so badly mangled she didn’t look much like anything at all. It was definitely one, though. I could tell from the hair and the tiny bird-beak upper lip. Would have been a cute little thing, nothing at all like what I’d expect something “vile and vicious” to look.
“Okay, but I found one and you just don’t want to admit it,” I said. When I scooped up the handful of brown cloth and black fuzz, it moved ever so slightly.
A furtive glance toward my husband confirmed that he had not seen the movement. He’d never even bothered to look this way. The wheels in my head started turning. What could I do with a live pixie? They had magical powers, didn’t they?
If Harry had cared enough to look, he definitely would have wanted to keep it dead. Well, you just missed your chance, buddy.
With the pixie tucked back into my pocket, I went outside and quietly closed the screen door behind me. No need to have guilt moving Harry out of his chair now.
Since I was a child, the hay loft had always been a sanctuary of sorts. It’s where I always went with treasures and secrets no one needed to know about; the place of diaries and tears and little quarts of cookies and cream ice cream I didn’t want to share. Now that the place was ours, the loft was still my sanctuary.
He’d know where to find me if he wanted, but I now hoped he wouldn’t bother. I took my bundle from my pocked. When I laid it out on top of one of the bales of alfalfa, it moved again.
She. It was dressed like a girl pixie, if pixies had genders like humans. Now that it wasn’t a dead “thing”, I had to quit thinking of her as an “it”.
I shrugged off my jacket and gently picked her up. Then I laid her on top of the jacket and smoothed out her little skirt.
Her body swelled and deflated with a tiny little sigh. I was glad I hadn’t killed her.
I didn’t know what to do to help something so small and fragile, so I just watched. Just in case she was cold, I covered her with one of my jacket sleeves. Maybe covering her and keeping her warm would be enough.
Earlier today was the first time I’d ever clearly seen the things teasing my peripheral. It had started out as a blur, just like all the others, but this time it didn’t disappear when I got closer.
This time the blur turned into form and I saw her clearly. She stood staring at the underside of an umbel of flowers on the side of the road. When she jumped up toward the flower, I swerved toward her. The car skidded to a sliding stop in the gravel. I didn’t mean to kill her. I just wanted a closer look and did the first thing I could think of.
I did hit her. She got stuck in my car’s grill. When I saw her bloody little body hanging limp, I felt terrible. But then I felt elated, because I could finally prove I wasn’t going crazy.
Another minute passed. The little pixie hadn’t moved. I uncovered her to get a better look. Her dress was mussed again, so I straightened it. This time, I noticed her tiny curled up legs. Gently, I unfurled them and stroked the skirt down to cover them again.
She opened her eyes. The first thing she did was grimace and shut them tight again. I leaned in for a closer look. She popped open wide her eyes and mouth, exposing rows of needle sharp teeth and made an ear-piercing shriek.
I jumped back. She jumped to her feet. We both screamed. She stood on the hay bale with her hands on her hips and glared at me. My heart was still clambering to get out of my throat. The thing was definitely not cute anymore.
Propelled by some unseen force, she slammed into the side of my head and clamped those needle-teeth down onto my earlobe.
I yelled so loud I didn’t hear Harry slam open the door to the barn and run up the ladder.
“What’s wrong? Hornets?” he asked. While looking around cautiously he approached to see what the source of my distress might be.
“Get her off!” I screamed. My hands were wrapped around her but when I tried to pull her off, she didn’t let go. I was afraid of ripping off my earlobe.
I let go turned my head toward him so he could see. She swung with my movement, pointy little shoes brushed against my shoulder. Harry pointed toward my ear and his face wrinkled into a look of disbelief. He grabbed ahold of the pixie and tugged but she wouldn’t let go.
“Stop! You’ll rip my ear off. Jeeze.”
“Hold on,” he said. “I’ll squeeze the jaws and it’ll let go.” By this time he was laughing so hard he could hardly speak.
“It’s not funny. You see it now, though, don’t you?”
He laughed some more and finally disconnected the thing from my ear. He threw it onto my jacket.
What I should have seen was that pixie, but what I saw a blue-belly. It looked at me with a sly eye before it skittered down behind the stack of bales. I looked back at Harry. I knew my mouth was agape but I couldn’t shut it before he started in on me.
“What the heck are you doing up here? A little old for putting lizards on your ears, aren’t you Norma?”
“No way – I swear. It wasn’t a lizard. I’m telling you, it was a pixie and she had a mouthful of teeth like a mole.”
He wasn’t listening anymore. Shaking his head, he walked toward the ladder.
“If you don’t get over this, I’m going to have to call in the white coats, girl. Let it go.”
I followed, still numb from shock.
“Harry – Listen to me.”
“Let it go.”
He started down the ladder and paused once his head cleared the opening in the floor. After exhaling loudly he climbed the rest of the way down.
Once I heard the barn door shut behind him, I turned my attention to finding the pixie.
Where was the little beast?
“I know you’re in here. Come out. Now,” I said. She had to be in the hay stack somewhere.
Just as I was getting ready to move the first bale out of the way, she materialized on the top of my jacket wearing a smug look on her wrinkled little face.
“Why did you do that? He already thinks I’m nuts, but you could have set the record straight,” I said.
She spoke and her voice was squeaky and unpleasant on my ears.
“You saved my life, and for that I’m now indebted to you, but only you can see me for what I am.”
Wait a minute…did she not remember that I was the one who nearly killed her?
“Okay…” I said and eyed her with suspicion. “What does it mean that you’re ‘indebted’ to me? And why the hell won’t you let anyone else see you?”
That was the whole reason I’d taken her in the first place. My ear was throbbing. I wondered if pixies carried diseases of any sort I needed to know about. I rubbed my ear and squinted at her. She squinted back at me.
“You shouldn’t even see me, but for whatever anomaly gave you sight, you can. And now I’m going to have to follow your stinking human ass around until I see a chance to save your life. Don’t think I’m happy about it, either,” she said and flew onto my shoulder. “I’m going to sit right here, if you don’t mind.”
I put my hands back up over my ears, afraid she was going to bite me again.
“Don’t worry. You taste as nasty as you smell.”
“Can’t I just go put you back where I found you?” I asked. She weighed no more than a dried leaf. After some thoughtful head-scratching, she answered.
“Noooooo…. I don’t think you can. But I would like to go outside, if you don’t mind. I need to pull some roots,” she said.
Rather than go back into my pocket, she stayed on my shoulder while I climbed down the ladder.
Once outside she directed me to the back of the barn where more of the Queen Anne’s lace was growing. She hopped down onto the ground and began rustling through the weeds until I heard her make a screeching noise I think was delight.
“Here,” she said from under the weeds. Shortly she backed out to in front of my feet, heaving a root she’d just pulled from the ground.
It was white and looked like a small carrot. She smiled wide, exposing all her rows of teeth. I picked it up and dusted off the clinging dirt. It smelled like a carrot, too.
“What is it?” I asked.
She dusted her hands together and wiped them on her dress.
“Have you ever tried wild carrots?” she asked. I shook my head. “Smells like a carrot, doesn’t it?” She nodded toward the root I held. “Taste it.”
So I did. Her smile broadened the more I chewed, but I couldn’t see what she found so appealing about that root. Finally, I handed it back to her.
“I don’t really like it. Kind of bland and fibrous, to me,” I said. She just smiled and flew back onto my shoulder and sat down, swinging her bare feet in rhythm to my steps.
“How do you feel?” she asked.
Probably only because she’d asked, I did feel something strange. It wasn’t worth mentioning.
My feet were tingling a little bit.
I still had to feed the horses so I started walking toward the stalls. Just then my ankles gave out and I fell to the ground.
She hovered airborne for a second then lighted to stand in front of me. I massaged my feet and tried to figure out what had happened. Usually if I fell, it was because I’d tripped on a rock. There were no rocks back here. I’d never fallen without reason before. Ever.
It was the satisfied smirk on her face that made me suspect her.
“Do you know something I don’t?” I asked her.
She doubled over and laughed hard with her arms wrapped around her stomach. After taking a deep breath she focused a sharp, steely gaze on me.
“I know lots of things you don’t,” she replied. “Why do you ask?”
The tingle turned to numbness in my ankles and then spread to my knees. I was sure I wouldn’t be able to stand at all. My suspicion was turning to dread. Maybe the little demon’s bite was toxic after all.
“What’s wrong with me? Did you poison me?”
“Maybe,” she said. My ear was still throbbing a little. I felt it to see if it was still bleeding or swollen.
“My teeth didn’t poison you, if that’s what you think,” she said. “But that carrot you ate was no carrot.”
My upper thighs turned leaden and the tingle crept to my hips. First an area would tingle, and then turn numb, moving steadily upwards. Sweat beaded on my forehead.
“Harry!” I screamed. Behind the barn where I’d fallen was out of hearing range from the house, though, and I knew he wouldn’t come.
The numbness moved to my waist and I couldn’t make myself lean forward so I could at least use my arms to drag myself toward the house.
“What do you mean – what is going on with me?”
She hopped onto my foot.
“It wasn’t carrot. It was hemlock. And in about two or three minutes, your diaphragm will go numb. Know what that means?”
“Just quit talking and help me. Please!”
She stooped down and eyed me, waggling her head from side to side.
“Yes. I guess if I give you the antidote, it would be considered a life-saving measure. Do you agree? If I do, it’ll release me from my bond to you,” she said. Scratching her head, she talked more or less to herself. “If I let you die, I’d be released from you, but then I’d be indebted to your next-of-kin and I’d still not get to go home. But then again, you did try to kill me. It was only after that when you saved me. Maybe I’m not so indebted to begin with…”
While she paced back and forth I could hear my own heartbeat measuring out the precious few minutes left of my own life.
My heart was beating so hard. It made my voice sound breathless.
“What is your name,” I asked her. She looked at me, surprised.
“Esmeralda, I promise. If you give me the antidote, I’ll never hurt you or your kind again. I’m sorry for hitting you with my car. I didn’t mean to kill you, didn’t mean to hurt you. I just wanted to get a closer look,” I said.
The tingle started above my navel.
She fumbled around in her tiny pocket and brought out a few dirty seeds.
She blew them off and studied them. Another second ticked by.
She crept up my chest and stood on my shoulder. Thud-dump. The next breath was like sucking syrup through a straw. Sweat broke out on my face.
I tried to slow my heart rate. Relax. Breathe. I focused on breathing and ignored her.
Then she flew up to eye level with me. For as long as it took to hover in front of my mouth and place the seeds inside, she lingered.
Then she was gone. I knew there was no remedy for hemlock.
But she knew things I didn’t.
I’m an author, photographer, animal and nature-lover – the wilderness is the perfect environment to satisfy my soul. It gives me inspiration to bring products to life to help others reconnect with Nature, too. I write fantasy and non-fiction and use my writing & photography to create nature-inspired gifts and books.
You can find my other books at Amazon by searching “Madison Woods” or visit my online shop at https://shop.wildozark.com. There are some items available at the shop that aren’t available at Amazon.
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Norma's not a newcomer to the Ozarks but recently became convinced she's seeing pixies - little creatures known only in the local legends. When she captures one it turns out to be a vengeful creature and she soon wishes she'd never have attempted to prove to her husband that she wasn't imagining things. Set in the Ozarks. 2700 word short story.