Tuesday 1 May 2018

The Shadow Man and the Fairy

by Wendy Ogilvie

hot chocolate with mini marshmallows

The fairy, who visited my room when I was five, had pink hair. Not a vibrant pink but a soft baby pink, which seemed to make her all the more magical. She would always appear after the shadow man had been.

The first time she came was during my parents’ separation; the shadow man had been haunting my room every night for weeks. I would lay silent, hunched under the blankets, whilst he filled the room with blackness; crushing me until I couldn’t breathe. I remember trying to scream but he was like waves in a storm, enveloping my innocent heart and dragging me under.
The first time my fairy came to visit, I could feel a weight lift. I knew fairies were good so I hoped she could fight the evil shadow man and make him go away. 

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Safferine Snowbell” she said. “What’s yours?”

“Janet,” I said feeling rather ashamed of such a boring name.
“Well, it’s lovely to meet you, Janet. Shall we play?”
Saffy, as I called her, had green sparkly eyes and smelt of sherbet lemons. She spent hours with me playing in the magical tree my dad built for me in the corner of my room. It looked just like the one on the hill at the end of our village. Next to its gnarly roots sat two small toadstools just big enough to sit on. We would often make glittery ornaments to hang on the branches and have fairy picnics with my dolls. Life was always better when Saffy came to visit.
I remember telling her about the shadow man one time.
“Who’s the shadow man?” she asked
“I don’t know who he is but he’s scary. I can feel his breath sometimes on my face, but I scrunch my eyes ever so tight until he goes away.”
Saffy touched my arm; her hands soft like mine.  “Why don’t you hide under the covers when he comes, he might go away if he can’t see you?”
“He can still get me,” I said. “Sometimes he scratches me.” 
Saffy gently pushed up the sleeve of my pyjama top revealing the red welts on the inside of my arms. She looked sad as she held both of my hands and half smiled. What she said next has stayed with me forever...
“Never fear shadows, Janet, they mean there is a light shining somewhere nearby.”
At the time, I didn’t know what she meant. I remember thinking for a minute.
“But I can’t see the light,” I told her.
“It’s there my sweet; you just need to seek it out.”
“Where shall I look when he comes?”
“He won’t, not tonight, I promise. Come, let’s go and ask the fairy council to help us. Saffy stood by my bed, waved her wand and spoke the magic words:

Fairies of the world unite
Banish the shadow man from the night
To help our Janet find the light
Turn all blackness back to white

She then blew a handful of fairy dust into the air above my bed. We would perform this ritual every time Saffy came and it worked; the shadow man weakened with every passing week until he disappeared completely.
I think the last time I saw Saffy was when I was about nine. I’m now twenty-seven but I wish with all my heart she was here now. I am back in the familiar surroundings of my old bedroom. The tree still resides in the corner and there are traces of magic dust inside the trunk. After six years of being blissfully happy, my husband has confessed to being in love with someone else. The shadow man is back, stronger this time, his magnetism more intoxicating and I’m not sure how I’m going to resist being pulled into the abyss. I need Saffy snowbell to help me find the light.

Mum smiles and hugs me when I finally make it downstairs at 2.30pm, still in my pyjamas.
“Janet, my love, you need to forget about him. You can do better. And you need to get dressed.”
I look at her as she hands me a mug of tea. “What’s the point?”

“The point is you’ll lose your job if you have any more sick days. Don’t let him take your career from you too.”

I nod slowly and sigh. “I wish Saffy was real, I could use some fairy magic about now.”

Mum narrows her eyes at me. “Do you mean the fairy who visited you when you were young?”

I let out a humourless laugh. “Yeah, stupid I know but she always managed to make me feel like everything would be alright.” 

As I take a sip of tea, Mum sits beside me. “You do know she was real don’t you?”

I lean back and look directly at her. “What do you mean? Wasn’t she someone I made up to cope with you and Dad splitting up?”

“No, she was your babysitter. She worked part-time as a fairy at that amusement park and I thought it would cheer you up if she kept her costume on the first time she sat for you. From then on she always wore it when she came. Her pink hair was occasionally purple but she always remained in character. She used to live in the village.”

My mouth feels suddenly dry as I process this information and I’m not quite sure how to deal with it. “So does she still live near here?” I ask after a minute or two.

“Yes, I think so. She bought the old Mason house at the end of the lane. The local children are scared to go up there. I think their parents have scared them off because Safferine is a bit eccentric. Grumpy Mrs Gunderson says she’s seen her dancing in the garden and talking to herself.  Her garden is beautiful though: like a meadow of wildflowers with soft pink roses around the edges. She still had pink hair the last time I saw her; it seems to suit her.”

“Do you think she’s nuts?”

“I don’t know; maybe she’s a little different but that doesn’t make her nuts does it? She always appears to be cheerful so if she is then maybe we could all do with being a bit more ‘nuts’ as you call it.”

I place my mug on the coffee table and begin to make my way upstairs. “I’m going to see her. I want to say thank you.”

“Oh OK love, that’s a good idea. I’m sure she’ll appreciate that.”

As I walk up to the old Mason house, it still looks grand, if a little tatty around the edges. The front garden is filled with delicate wildflowers among the evergreen bushes. I make my way up the steps to the veranda and find a bell on a long rope. I pull it. No answer. I look round the side of the house and make out an ornate metal gate partially covered in various climbing plants. I peer through to the large back garden beyond, which has similar planting to the front with the addition of a few stone benches and some beautiful trees.

 I hear a faint voice and make out a head of pink hair through a laurel bush. I assume she must be talking on her phone or maybe to herself if the local gossip is to be believed. I call out to gain her attention. “Hello, there. Saffy, is that you?”  No reply. My lips twist in thought as I decide whether or not it would be rude to open the gate. 

I decide I need to see her and it’s not like she doesn’t know me, so I gently lift the latch on the gate and push it. It makes a squeaking noise, which stops me midstep, and I look towards the end of the garden but Saffy doesn’t move. I take a deep breath and begin to follow the small path leading to the stone bench where Saffy is still talking. I can see her a little clearer now through the bush. She looks exactly the same; her pink cheeks match her pink hair. The jeans and fluffy pale blue jumper she’s wearing jolt me into the reality that she is, in fact, a normal person and not someone I made up during a time of stress. 

I can’t hear a voice from her phone so I look for an earpiece as she continues to chat quietly but I not wanting to creep up on her, I call out again. “Hello...Saffy, is that you? I’m so sorry to interrupt...” 

Saffy turns her head slowly.

I grin before speaking.  “I don’t know if you remember me but...”

Saffy Snowbell smiles one of her brightest smiles as she sees me but my eyes are drawn to the tiny blue-winged figure sitting on the mushroom sculpture in front of her. 

It stands when it notices me and takes a bow. My jaw drops, my heart quivering like a flight of butterflies in my chest. I manage to tear my eyes away from the creature back to Saffy, who is still smiling. “Hello there Janet, I hear the shadow man is back — want to play?”

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