Winding pathways through lucious ferns as tall as a man eventually opened out onto a clearing bathed in sunlight. A thin stream of water sparkled through the center and a miniature bridge built for fairies arched over the clear boundary. Vivid flowers fought for the attention of bees and beetles, as well as the eyes of any larger visitors.
Visitors such as the lost wanderer who walked wearily through the maze of trails and tracks until he stumbled upon the open area. Plumes of pollen laced the air with a strong sacurin scent that made his eyes droop even more heavily than before. He had been walking for a long time and looked around to find somewhere to rest. Conveniently, there was a wooden bench sat against an old stone wall. On the wall was a plaque surrounded by thick hanging ivy and clinging moss. The wanderer didn’t bother to read the engraved script as he sat down.
For an immeasurable amount of time, the man swayed from side to side and set his mind adrift on the bright colours and smells of the garden. Such pleasant sights lightened his soul with leisure and longing. He only seemed to rouse to full consciousness when a silver-white insect came and perched on his hand, chittering and poking his skin with eager little claws. It’s dragon-fly wings were almost completely translucent with a fine webbing of veins under the delicate mesh. Most mesmerizing of all, however, was the head of the creature; the round face of an infant child with cupid-bow lips, long white hair and old narrow eyes.
It grinned with sharp teeth and pulled from behind its back a small blood-red berry to wave in the face of the lost man. After walking so very far, he was hungry and thirsty. The offer was tempting. Crawling up his arm the tiny being waved the fruit more insistently. Eat it. Eat it. The wanderer tentatively reached out to take the offering and instantly the fae launched away and was gone from sight. Still he remembered how sharp its teeth had been when it smiled.
The berry looked full of succulent, sweet flesh. Surely it couldn’t hurt to taste? As he looked more keenly around, the wanderer could see more trails of silver-white cutting up the air around the vibrant flowers and underneath the trees that lined the margins of this oasis. Said trees were each heavy with fruit he didn’t recognise but the wind gently rocked them where they hung, enticing him. Now that he was aware, even the sound of the water seemed louder.
Everything here was begging to be enjoyed. The man ate the berry half without thinking and found it tasted sweet and wholesome – hardly poisonous. In fact, it seemed to quench all his hunger and thirst in one bite. With his doubts assuaged, he stood and walked to the stream. It was crystal cold to the touch of his fingers; flawless and light as it spread over his tongue and rolled down his throat like silk.
Looking up, the fae were again absent. One moment here, the next not. The lost wanderer moved to one of the trees where a large green fruit was hanging. It looked like an apple but not an apple. It snapped off the branch easily at his pull. The stream was quiet again and a faint crackling behind him drew his attention.
The man turned to see the garden as lucious as ever. The bright blooms swayed in the faint breeze and the ferns as tall as himself were dense and verdant by the path by which he had entered. He began to eat the fruit and found it as delightful as he had hoped, licking the sweet juice from where it dripped in his beard. Content to enjoy this nature’s sanctuary, the lost man walked around the garden and began picking the most enchanting of each of the flowers. Such beauty could not be allowed to fade. The wanderer had already begun to plan how he would use this place: Press the flowers into a book, photograph the endless life, write about the mysterious little creature that had alighted on his hand.
While on the subject of his hand, the man felt his palm itch. The one that held his bunch of gorgeous flowers. It was stained red. Thorns from the stems of the plants pricked his skin. Had there been thorns before? He walked back to his bench and laid down the self-made posie so he could poke at the wounds. The skin was inflamed and a strange pattern spidered across his skin there. Blood poisoning? Rash? The sweet smell in the air was too much again. Maybe he should wash his palm in the stream. Perhaps one of the plants was toxic. Or all of them. His head felt light.
The water was icy cold so as to make his whole arm numb. At least the pain was gone. Across the clearing there was something moving. Green vines swaying in the breeze. A hand? Moss-covered legs. Was he hallucinating?
No. A woman was emerging from behind a cluster of trees and bushes. Her hair was as red as the tulips and her eyes as yellow as the daffodils. Her skin tone had a faint golden sheen except for her arms which faded into a dark, earthy green. Unnatural human yet nature’s representative herself perhaps. Sharp thorny vines wrapped around her arms and leaves grew organically across her skin to barely cover her modesty.
She looked at the lost man with long elfen eyes that matched her long elfen ears. “Oh dear.” she said, “Look at the state you’re in.”
The wanderer swayed woozily. “Could you perhaps… help me, miss?”
“My friend already offered you fruit.” The flighty silver insect with its child face and sharp teeth and old eyes was suddenly hovering in front of his face, “We can’t be held accountable for what happens if you start helping yourself to other things in the garden.”
“Don’t be.” The woman laughed, one sharp tendril from her arm slowly working its way towards him, “By helping yourself to our food, you give us permission to do the same. We appreciate the meal, I assure you.”