The Camas Fairy by Chad Strong [fantasy]

The Camas Fairy by Chad Strong

A chilly mist shrouded the entrance to the pathway at the foot of Bear Hill. The paved corridor of Brookleigh Road was silent this early in the morning. Dale crossed it and stepped into the forest on the other side.

Witch’s hair lichen draped from old maples. A raven called chuk-a-luck, chuk-a-luck as it swooshed through the branches above Dale and settled high in a Douglas fir. Sunlight slipped in thin streams through the mist, illuminating the understory of salal, Oregon grape, and sword ferns. He hoped the Sun would not burn away the otherworldly mist just yet.

A faint breeze fluttered foliage. Insects flittered in his peripheral vision. He breathed the scent of leaf litter decomposing into the damp soil. The trail steepened. Dale’s eyes felt caressed by each familiar tree, rock, and twist in the trail. Higher, the forest changed, and groves of arbutus and Garry oaks thrived. He scowled at the cell tower and the new homes that had crept too high up the hill. Finding his old route, he left the main trail and tread on soft moss and green grass.

Wildflowers greeted him—bright bluebells and nodding pink shooting stars. He crossed the open rocky meadow to gaze south over Elk and Beaver Lakes toward the city of Victoria, BC. Southward beyond the small city rose the Olympic Mountains of Washington State, the Strait of Juan de Fuca shimmering between. To the east, Mount Baker’s ever-snowy peak glowed in the orange sunrise. Dale’s gaze drew back across the islands dotting Haro Strait, along sweeping farmland, and up to his rugged sanctuary. This had always been home. Always would be.

A bald eagle soared along a thermal above him as the Sun burned off the last of the mist. Small birds twittered in the bushes. He crossed the meadow and ventured down the crevice in the rock face on the other side, careful not to disturb the moss and tear it from its purchase.

The patch of camas was exactly where it was each year, its starry blue flowers waving to him in the breeze. The plant had been of great importance to the native peoples in days gone by. They had owned and tended great fields of camas, digging the bulbs and cooking them for days until they were sweet. But only the blue ones. The white-flowered camas they called the Death Camas. They would dig them up and destroy them. There were three white camas plants among the blue. Normally, Dale would never consider disturbing wild plants, especially in a park. He pulled the trowel from his jacket pocket and dug up the three white plants. He’d read that all parts of the plant were poisonous. Leaves, flowers, bulbs. And bitter as they would be, he would eat all three raw.

He carried them to the mossy rock ledge he used to hide out on as a boy. Overhung with cedar bows, it was smaller than he recalled. He crawled beneath the bows and sat cross-legged within their shelter. Laying the plants on the moss before him, he chose one and sunk his teeth into the bulb. Its acrid taste twisted his face in disgust, but he chewed the tough plant until he had eaten the whole thing. He ate the second, all the while fighting the urge to retch. He wasn’t certain from his hasty research how long it would take for the neurotoxins to take effect or how much was enough. He would devour all three. He wasn’t looking forward to the nausea, dizziness, ataxia, and eventual heart failure, but soon there would be coma and death, and that would be appropriate. He picked up the third white camas.

“You’re not going to eat any more, are you?”

Dale dropped the plant and peered around for the tiny familiar voice.

“I’ve been waiting for your return—but not to do something so foolish.”

“My return?” Dale twisted left and right, trying to locate the speaker. “And you don’t know anything about why. Who are you? Where are you?”

“I am Harrier. You used to call me Harry. And I’m over here.”

Dale followed the flicker in the corner of his eye, and there on a leathery salal leaf stood Harrier, shimmering an iridescent dragonfly blue.

“You’re real? I thought I’d imagined you!”

“Most adults convince themselves of that.”

Though childhood memories parted his lips with a smile, Dale’s head slumped to his chest and he sighed from deep in his soul. “It’s been such a long time.” He tipped his face toward Harrier. “I’ve failed, you know. I did as you asked me so long ago. I went to university. I studied botany and forest biology and the Druids and Tree Lore and Fairy Lore and all those other things you said I would need to know so I could help. So others would take me seriously when I tried to help.” Dale shook his head. “But none of it helped. No one really listened. Those that pretended to are all saying I’m a little off. Oh, not to my face, mind you. They’re very kind to my face.” Dale stopped himself and spit out a stray fiber of camas. “The point is that no matter what I do, they won’t stop. They keep destroying the forests, building roads and houses where they don’t belong. They don’t want to know the truth, because then they would have to stop and not make so much of their precious money.” Dale’s head wobbled and his shoulders shook as he began to sob. “I failed. I couldn’t change anything.”

“I know you tried. We all do. The world of men is evolving, but with excruciating slowness. We can only keep trying to reach them. Many are beginning to awaken.”

Dale’s hand reached toward Harrier in a helpless gesture, and then fell to the moss with a gentle thud.

“But for you, it is time to choose. If you choose to live, you must come with me.” Harry’s dragonfly wings quivered.

Dale blinked away his tears, rubbed his blurry eyes with the backs of his hands. “Where?”

Harry took flight from the salal leaf and flitted down the rock ledge. Dale’s eyes followed him, and suddenly, the rock slope revealed itself to be rough-hewn stone steps leading down to a grassy meadow, in the center of which stood an ancient and massive Garry oak tree, its branches twisted in beautiful knurls and covered in moss and lichen. Around the base of the tree was a bright ring of white mushrooms. Dale stumbled down the steps. He was losing motor control. It was hard to breath.

“If I come with you, I can’t ever come back, can I?”

“If you don’t eat or drink anything while you’re with us, you can return.”

Dale smiled and stepped into the fairy ring. “Lead me to the feast, my friend!”

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