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Return

A dystopian fantasy

By Claudia NeavesPublished 3 years ago Updated 3 years ago 7 min read
Return
Photo by veeterzy on Unsplash

In the end, the world returned to the chosen. We emerged from oaken hollows and mossy dells. Sifting through the ash and smog, we coaxed life from the dry, barren ground. We wove gowns from folly and hosted feasts among the hubris. Barefoot, we padded through the irradiated forests, luring three eyed fawns and bloodthirsty rabbits with the song of flutes. Praise to the chosen, we who stand when man has fallen. Praise to the merciful keepers of nature.

“Praise to the chosen,” echoes our motely congregation. Dark hoods shroud heads bowed in solemn prayer. Lips quiver in quiet, privately reciting the rest of the words of the Old Ones.

Praise to the chosen. Praise the nature which hath reclaimed the earth. Praise to—

My chapped lips fumble along with my fading memory. It has been three days since my last sip of water, and longer since I had anything that could be constituted as a meal. A simple demonstration of piety in anticipation for our Queen’s arrival. I glance up through my eyelashes at Yves, who looks closer to sleep than sanctimony. My stomach erupts in a hungry snarl, and I see his lips twitch into a sort of smile. I saw him swallow a handful of gooseberries just yesterday. So much for solidarity.

“Praise to the Queens of the land and those who battle below,” Yves mouths to me as a reminder. Perhaps he wasn’t sleeping after all.

“Who do they battle?” I whisper.

“Hm?”

“The queens below. Who do they battle?”

Yves risks meeting my gaze. His eyes are radioactively blue. He rolls those perfect eyes at me and whispers back:

“Come on, Laurel, you know I don’t believe in this stuff.”

“The words of the Old Ones?”

“Any of it.” He closes his eyes again and hurries through the rest of his prayer. I have forgotten my place again. I mumble a few lines of nonsense before removing my hood. A few frightened butterflies flutter out from my half-braided tangle of hair and my cheeks flush bloody with embarrassment. Yves lets out a low chuckle and squeezes my knee.

“Feeling magical?” he purrs. I swat away his hand but under my cloak I am slick with sweat and something like desire. I roll my head on my neck and shake my hands out before more butterflies fly out or flowers begin to grow under my feet.

The rest of the crowd shed their hoods and begin to chat in eager murmurs. Mothers smooth down the wild tresses of their wayward daughters. Males run their tongues over their sharp teeth. We are all itching to make a good impression on the queen.

“What else don’t you believe in?” Playing with Yves is a distraction from the hunger and the nerves. He thinks for a moment, crosses his arms over his massive chest.

“Cryptozoology,” he decides after a moment.

“I don’t even know what that is,” I confess, stifling a laugh. Of all the ridiculous answers.

“You know, animals that people don’t think are real? Like Bigfoot? Well, I agree. I don’t think they are real.” His tone is very matter of fact, but I can tell he is suppressing a grin. “Or were real,” he amends, and we both cross our fingers in the respectful gesture for those lost to the End Times.

I drop my voice to sound very serious. “And you’re very sure about this? About Bigfoot? How can you be so sure?”

He leans in close. The scent of lemongrass and mint overpower me. He flashes me a nuclear smile. I am frozen in place, and my body reacts—my fingers turn blue, my breath comes out in icy puffs. A smitten glacier.

“Because I tracked every inch of every damned forest in Old North America. And I waded through every creek and river and swamp. And the only big feet I saw clomping around were yours.” He punches me in the arm, hard, and the moment is over. I melt and rub the sore spot on my arm.

“People didn’t think we were real either,” I remind him, eying his pointed ears.

Yves snorts by way of answer. He rakes a hand through his dark hair.

“Well, that’s because people are—"

We are interrupted by a tinkle of bells, faint at first, but growing louder. The room grows silent. And then she appears. Moonlight filtered in through the slats of the dilapidated roof takes shape, translucent, dreamy, mystic, until we are joined by the figure of a statuesque female. Her skin is opalescent. Her lips are rubies, and her hair is spun gold. Obsidian black eyes scan the gathered crowd of her dutiful worshipers, and she graces us with the slight incline of her head.

“All hail Mab,” we chant. “Queen of the Chosen. Mother of the Fae. The Fair Folk. The Hidden.” All eyes are glued to the shimmering figure. Even Yves wears an unfamiliar color of impressed. The chants reverberate even in the half-rotted walls of the old church. It is a strange song of fear and longing. The queen inclines her head a second time and the chants cease. Her own voice fills the small space. It lifts the hair of my neck and makes my heart swell.

“My children.” Her dark eyes make contact with each of us individually and all at once. We pray she sees our devotion, our love for her. “You please me with your presence on this most melancholy day of execution.”

“I thought this was a trial,” I whisper to Yves, and he has the nerve to shush me. I settle back into my seat, but my eyes have narrowed. The shining jewel has moved behind the pulpit where men in black robes used to stand to deliver condemnation on sinners. She grips the sides of the wooden stand and I see that her nails are long, sharp, and as black as her eyes.

“We Fae have made the ultimate sacrifice for this broken world,” she continues. “When the bombs fell, we stood tall while the rest of the world cowered. We watered the earth with our tears. We refilled rivers and oceans with our blood.” There are several nods from the crowd. One girl, a Selkie with thick green hair sitting several rows in front of me, starts humming. Her long reverent tones provide the backdrop to the queen’s rallying speech.

“We reanimated the trees. We spoke into the soil and made it fruitful!” Her voice is shrill. I look to Yves, but he is entirely fixated. Mab bows her head. Now her voice is but a whisper. We all strain to hear her holy words.

“But when our recreation is threatened…when our work is mocked…we take offense to that. Don’t we?”

There is silence save the Selkie’s monotonous hum. I expect the queen to continue her soliloquy but there is movement from the back of the church. A pair of armed guards shove through and between them there is a boy, not much older than I. He is mostly skin stretched tight over bone, stripped down to his piss-soaked skivvies, and shaking in the cool nighttime air. The congregation sucks in a collective breath as the guards march him down the center aisle. The boy stumbles along as best as his frail legs will carry him but when they reach the queen at the pulpit, the guards throw him down before her. He picks himself off the ground but does not stand completely erect. His sunken eyes scan over the crowd like he is looking for someone and he clutches a tarnished trinket at his throat.

It is a silver locket, fastened into the shape of a heart. Before the End Times, it might have been a lover’s memento. Here in this desecrated church, it is his salvation. Long have the people of the world held to this one trivial detail: faeries detest silver. He thumbs the heart shape like he believes it. Like if he seared the locket’s face to the queen’s forehead it would do anything other than blister and itch.

“You boy,” utters the queen pointing one long accusatory finger at the creature. “You stand here accused and convicted of the most despicable crime--” She pauses and the lets us lean in waiting before spitting the final word, “Humanity.”

“He can’t be convicted,” I hiss, pulling on Yves’ sleeve. “There was no trial!” Yves seems not to hear. His eyes are on the shimmering queen juxtaposed against the dismal backdrop and the dirty boy on the floor.

“How do you plead?” she continues, as if she did not just deliver his conviction anyway. But the boy answers in a quivering voice:

“There is no guilt where there is no crime!” He is pawing desperately at the delicate chain at his throat, and I cannot help but wonder if I would be utterly devastated if the chain popped and the little locket rolled down the aisle.

His answer spurs the congregation into a frenzy. There are howls and gnashing of teeth. Yves’ enraged excitement precipitates beside me. Energy crackles in front of his face and there is a rumble of thunder and rain. If he is the storm, then I am the anxious soil awaiting downpour. An earthworm wiggles out of my ear and lands on the floor with a sickening slap. A cockroach scuttles across my ribs.

“You stand convicted,” repeats our Queen of the Chosen, Mother of the Fae, The Fair Folk, The Hidden. Her skin is bone white. Her lips are bloody, and her hair is spun sinew and marrow. The floor of the church trembles. Stamping feet, voices raised to glass shattering pitch, the church delivers its punishment. My stomach twists in uneasy knots but my peers are shouting, feverish with desperation that our second chance on this earth is not spoiled. Yves, level Yves who doesn’t believe in prayer or legend or lore, raises my hands above my head so that I am participating too. This is all too familiar, too rehearsed, as if this church has been home to condemnation for many lifetimes already. I can feel the earth gurgle beneath my feet, joining the cries of my brethren, crying:

“Burn the human.”

Fantasy

About the Creator

Claudia Neaves

Mother, Soldier, Physician, Reader, and Writer

If you like me on the page, you may enjoy a more immersive listening experience. Catch my episodes, Destinations and Beyond a Shadow on Full Body Chillls by Audiochuck

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Comments (1)

  • Donna Fox (HKB)about a year ago

    Your descriptive language is breath taking and inspiring! Your words feel so well chosen and poetic! Absolutely love the way you set the scene in that first paragraph! It feels like a whimsical yet eery sort of setting! Your story is engaging and hypnotic, I found myself hanging off of every word! It felt so intense and thrilling! You did such a fantastic job!! I will definitely be exploring more of your work!

Claudia NeavesWritten by Claudia Neaves

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