“The faeries are coming, the faeries are coming! Mommy, look! The faeries are coming.”
“I know, sweetheart.” Clarice Mayberry smiled sweetly at her daughter before taking a hearty swig from the flask hidden within the depths of her coat. Of course she knew about the faeries. It wasn’t like it had been Jenny’s idea to get up at the ass crack of dawn and take a train all the way to midtown just to see a couple of rubes wearing polyester wings. It had been her idea; she had only planted it in Jenny’s mind and used the poor girl as her excuse for getting up so early.
They’d only been waiting a quarter of an hour, but their fingers and noses had already turned red from the cold. Whoever thought it a good plan to host a parade in the middle of February was clearly a sadist or someone who just hated children. Or, rather, the parents of those children who’d been forced to escort them out to the streets of New York at eight a.m. on a Saturday.
“Mommy, can the faeries see us?” Jenny’s big blue eyes were rounder than usual, threatening to pop from her tiny porcelain face. She could hardly contain her excitement during the train ride. Her six year old mind could barely wrap itself around the fact that the characters from her favorite show were about to collide with her own reality. Clarice didn’t have the heart to tell her that the faeries about to parade down 43rd street weren’t even real.
“Of course they can see us, dear. Why shouldn’t they be able to?” she asked, but by the time the words came out, the girl had fixated her attention elsewhere. After another sip of “mommy juice” and a glance at her watch, Clarice finally relinquished her dignity and plopped down on the curb among the other chattering children.
People were beginning to pack in tightly on the sidewalks. Police and security guards paced back and forth along the street, keeping a close eye on the growing crowd, although none seemed particularly concerned that the group before them was the dangerous type. Clarice sniggered at the thought. Teens wearing brightly colored tutus and matching wigs tossed handfuls of free candy towards the spectators. Finally, at a quarter after nine, a man dressed in head-to-toe in blue came prancing up and down the street with a megaphone, announcing that the show was about to begin.
Clarice stood and took a tight hold of her daughter’s hand. Jenny bounced up and down on the heels of her feet with that crazed look in her eye that only a child intoxicated with copious amounts of sugar could possess. The ground beneath them pulsed with life as music blared from every direction. The children shrieked at the sudden appearance of hundreds of performers in leotards and cheaply made wings. They bounded down the street, waving impossibly long streamers, throwing confetti, and doing back flips over one another. Clarice’s stomach roiled at the sight of it all – at the “faeries” and the obnoxious theatrics. She still couldn’t fathom why the Cirque du Fae was so popular. Even as a television show, it was ghastly. She wished she could find the moron who created it and wrap her pretty little fingers around their neck. Yet, despite her disdain for the popular program, she showed up year after year to observe the annual parade celebrating all things faerie.
A woman with wings painted to look like a monarch butterfly’s came right up to Jenny and handed her a plastic flower from the basket slung over her arm. “Look, Mommy! I got a flower,” she waved the cheap decoration wildly in front of her mother’s face.
But Clarice was hardly paying her any mind. “That’s great, honey,” she muttered, keeping her eyes fixed on the throng around them. She craned her neck to scan the faces behind her, her brow knit in deep concentration. It was impossible to see properly, however, with candy and confetti constantly pelting her in the head. She squeezed herself closer to the barrier blocking the crowd and stared into the faces of every performer that passed, but they were all far too young.
“They have to be here,” she muttered. Forty-five minutes had passed already, meaning she was nearly out of time. “Come on, come on.” Her foot tapped nervously without her realizing. To anyone else, she simply looked like she was moving in time with the music.
“Ladies and gentleman. Children and faeries of all ages.” The echoing voice boomed from the loudspeaker from every direction. Clarice could hardly imagine just how much the tenants of the surrounding buildings must be enjoying the festivities at such an early hour. “Prepare yourselves for the grand finale!”
Within seconds a pink haze was creeping its way towards them, temporarily blocking view of the street and causing everyone’s eyes to water. “Oooh, it’s like the cotton candy clouds on the show!” Jenny declared. Clarice gripped the girl’s hand tighter to prevent her from wandering off and trying to taste the smoke to determine if it did, in fact, taste like cotton candy. Fortunately, the fog faded almost as quickly as it appeared, revealing the parade’s main attraction.
Jenny was rendered speechless as a giant castle rolled towards them, towering several stories high. The bottom portion of the float was designed to look like fluffy white clouds to give the illusion that the castle was flying among them. From each of the windows a faerie or other mythical creature popped its head out and waved. A clear platform jutted out over the crowd from halfway up the castle where a dozen dancers and acrobats performed tricks at once. Even Clarice, who had been doing her best to avoid the entire spectacle paused in her search to gaze up at the nerve wracking display. A female performer, the star of the show, came out and sent the children into a wild frenzy. With a graceful bow she opened her arms wide and revealed the papery wings that attached from her shoulders to her wrist. She looked more like a bat than a faerie, Clarice thought, just as the young woman dove head first from the platform and did a flip in the air.
Suddenly, an ear-piercing scream cut through the air, drowning out the music and laughter surrounding them. Clarice’s head whipped up towards one of the balconies overlooking the parade, where a man and a woman were engaged in a performance of their own. No, not a woman, Clarice observed. A faerie. Not a faerie like the imposters in the parade, but a real faerie. At first glance, she hardly recognized the female up on the balcony. Her appearance had changed a great deal since they’d last seen each other – her hair, once long and lush, had been cut to her chin and had thinned considerably. Everything about her was haggard and covered in filth. Even the large flesh-colored wings that protruded from her back looked like they had seen better days. Clarice’s hand covered her mouth as she watched the dark haired man struggle to restrain the faerie and pull her back through the window from which she came. Even from street level, she could see the fierce blue of the pendant around the man’s neck, bright and mocking her.
The next scream came from Clarice’s own mouth as she let go of Jenny’s hand and pushed her way through the thick crowd, through the candy, glitter, and bullshit. “NOOOOO!” she screeched as the female on the balcony finally freed herself of the man and took a flying leap off the balcony and towards the shocked crowd and the sidewalk below.
“Not again,” Clarice cried. Once again, she was too late.