All material © 2018, Heather Hudson
I was down by the crick with the fox brothers, fishing for crawdads, when we saw the fae. It was skinny like it was real new, so I didn't panic but it was the first one I remembered seeing in a while. Didn't see any at all last year, and the year before that I heard some folks saw one out beyond the Crane farm up north, but I never saw any myself. So this was sort of important, probably. We stopped what we were doing to watch.
The fae was on the woods side of the crick, dithering back and forth on the edge of the bank. It wasn't a very tall bank, maybe as high as my waist, but it wasn't a very big fae either, and the little feller would tilt its head and look down onto the washed-out rocks below, then run back and forth some more.
"Is that a fae?" asked the middle fox brother. "Our mam said if we saw a fae we should scamper. She says fae are bad news."
Sometimes I forget that the fox brothers aren't as old as me. They look about the same age when they shed their pelts and walk on two legs human-like, and they're smart as anything, but they weren't born when the last big fae swarm came through. Miz Fox is right clever but she lives pretty wild out towards the woods. 'Course they wouldn't have seen a fae before. You have to go into town to see folks who keep fairies around on purpose.
"This one's safe," I told them. "See how skinny it is? It's not going to pop any time soon. Maybe not for years."
"But our mam said..." said the littlest fox brother. He was smaller than his brothers even when he took his pelt properly off, but being a terribly scardycat he liked to just walk around with his fur on so he was really tiny, being a fox pup and all. I mean, he was big for a fox, but still that ain't real big. And he'd jump if you said boo to him either way.
"Your mam would agree with me if she were here." I wasn't going to set myself against Miz Fox, she's sharp as a knife and just as pointy. "That's a little baby fae, it ain't gonna do anything to us no how." We watched it run around on the far bank some more.
It had wings but it must not know how to use them yet. It could run around like anything, dragging its little hands on the ground as it ran, but its eyes were stuck in behind its nose, which was humongous, and sometimes it would run into tree roots and grass and things. Once or twice it nearly ran off the bank.
"It don't look like so much," said the biggest fox brother. "Just one crunchy mouthful, and nobody'd ever know it was even here." He did that tooth-gnashy thing the fox kids do when they think extra foxlike.
"But Mam said...!" whined the littlest brother, and on "said" his whine rolled up so high I couldn't even hear it. Biggest turned on him right quick with an exasperated sound and Littlest looked like he wanted to run or cry.
I tried to remember if Pa had ever said anything about fae being unwholesome to eat before they went to spore. I couldn't remember him saying anything either way, probably because nobody ever wanted to eat one.
"Look," I said," you guys don't have to worry about it. It's too little to hurt anybody yet, so I'll grab it and take it home to Pa and he can figure out what to do with it."
The three fox brothers looked at me.
"It could be valuable. There's folks in town who pay good money for fairies when they're young." They looked at me some more. "They keep them as pets, like, and to help around the house."
"Humans keep these things? In the house?" said Middle, real slow like he wasn't quite sure he was using the right words or maybe he was hearing me wrong.
"Not me! Not my family."
The foxes watched as I dumped my crawdads into the crick and waded across to the other bank. Using a branch, I scooted Mr. Nosey off the bank and into the bucket. It was a good, deep bucket, and he wasn't going to run his way out of it. I waded back toward the farm side but the foxes were getting ready to go.
By the time I reach our side of the crick, Biggest and Littlest were just a couple of plumey red tails disappearing in the tall grass. Middle was holding his pelt but I guess he stayed behind to say good bye.
"You guys don't have to go,"I said. "It's just a real little fairy, it ain't going to hurt anybody yet."
"It's okay," he said. "You're okay. You mans are kinda weird sometimes, that's all. We're still good." Then he turned back into a proper fox and was gone.
All material © 2018, Heather Hudson