Friday 5 April 2024

Fireflies by Mike Lee, spring water


Her wings were never clipped, for the Queen forbade it. But Maddolini dared to fly on late afternoons 

when the sun was deceptive in its light, favoring her kind. So she remained undetected except for the

 birds. They cast her a wide berth when she appeared in the skies above the forested mountains, in the 

home where her people lived.

The Queen, as she did to all of her kind, ordered Maddolini to be unseen in her crystalline wings, sharply tailored for speed. As she darted above before dropping to navigate between the forest pines, she traveled with a sense of sheer joy and wonderment.

Searching for a sturdy oak to perch on, she found the most ancient one, with branches she could trust spreading out near a glade in the mountain’s lower reaches below the pines. 

She found a legacy oak that had seen hundreds of years of interaction at its feet. She had witnessed some: a couple romantically sharing their vows, a great battle or two, picnics and parties both mundane and elaborate, rolling history of the existence of human life.

Since she was an Other, she could only witness unseen, a mere spectator self-reporting on the world of her time.

She felt the breeze enveloping her. Finally, Maddolini gave in to it, spreading her arms. Her wings fluttered slightly. When the wind died down, this saddened her. Maddolini wanted to belong in a world that was other than herself. She felt the stillness signified the deadness of her existence. As an Other, she could only be with her own kind; all were few and a solitary lot.

Sometimes, weeks would pass when she would come across one of her own kind. Conversations rarely rose above salutations and gossip.

Remembering brought on her malaise, the sense of being forever, never as she wrote in her journal. Inspired, she reached down to her satchel, pulled out the leather book, and began to write with a silver pen. Thoughts weary, separated into words that chimed like cracked bells.

Maddolini wrote of plunging into the depths of darkness in the deepest caverns and rising to the sky unafraid, even as ice crystals began to form when she reached the highest part of the atmosphere.

While an Other she, mortal she be. She can die just like all the rest of the fauna, only more challenging, longer-lived, and unseen by predators, by choice.

She sat on her perch writing, thin, pale legs winging, her feet ensconced in heavy white socks stuffed inside Mary Janes. They were comfortable and warm, matching her knee-length white dress, favoring her wings.

“I am perplexed,” Maddolini wrote. “Certain of nothing. It is a strange place, although I have come here for decades. I see the passage of time of the animals, which sprout with the trees and flowers and become firm in place before growing old and dying. Even the trees, including this old oak wherein I sit, will eventually wither from disease and age and, too, shall die.”

“I may remain,” Maddolini wrote. “I may not. All I know is agelessness while the wisdom of experience and witness casts an unfavorable burden.”

Maddolini habitually pushed her silver hair back as she wrote. The color matched her complexion. Her onyx eyes were pinpoints that saw everything. The Others have this gift of sight, the pupils widening to fill entirely, spreading their field of vision to encompass everything before them. She could watch the hawks hovering over the river on her far left and, to her right, an aged cougar sunning on a rock outcrop near a mountain summit. Seeing takes no skill. One is only watching, she wrote. The difficulty is in the interpretation and allowing for errors in instinct.

Maddolini stared at the sky. The clouds were forming riotous anarchy of billowing wonder. She began to sketch it on the bottom of the page. In her home, deep in the pines, she had an entire room devoted to her journals; many had drawings like this.

As she began to sketch in the thunderclouds with her pen, she was startled by a voice below.

“I said: How is the air up there?” The young woman was a human, laughing and waving at her from the glade below.

Her mouth dropped open. How does she see me?

She collected her thoughts, wondering how to respond.

She does see me, so answer her.

“The air ’tis fine,” said Maddolini, her cheeks flushed. “I aver this to be the case.”

The woman below shouted back, “Aye, I see you’re one of them. Never seen one before. Must be my lucky day.”

Maddolini was sharp. “I bring you no fortune, for I have none to give.”

“I thought faeries did?” The young woman’s tone was sarcastic and playful.

“We don’t like that word. Don’t call us that,” said Maddolini. “Call me by my name. Maddolini.”

“You don’t look Italian, but that’s all right.”


Maddolini placed the silver pen and journal into her bag and hopped off the branch. After clearing the oak, she spread her wings slightly, enough to balance her drop. Then, as she came close to the ground, she opened her crystalline wings to their furthest width, intending to intimidate this surly woman into fleeing.

She didn’t. Instead, as Maddolini came to rest before her, the woman stood, arms crossed, with a look of appraisement that Maddolini took as bemused curiosity—and somewhat unimpressed.

When she closed her wings, the woman said politely. “Pretty. They match your dress. My name is Claire, by the way.”

“Thank you,” Maddolini said sharply. She had no power to strike back—the Queen dictated never to respond to insults when encountering a human but never forbade exchanges when feeling no threat. Sarcasm is not a threat, though annoying. Also, she instead needed human contact. Conversations are often stilted in the kingdom, and she was taught to keep it simple and friendly when interacting with a human.

She looked at this woman named Claire. It was unlikely she was from the country. Her mauve dress was tailored, and her leather boots were well-made. Her language was from somewhere other than the area, too. Her biting humor was too sophisticated, and she seemed fearless. In encounters with humans in the forests, they often ran away or fell to their knees, believing in a spiritual visitation.

Claire knew better.

She knows all too well who I am.

“Hello, Claire.”


Maddolini and Claire sat talking on the grass in the glade before the forest. Underneath the forwardness of her sensitive nature, Claire expressed some nervousness, rapidly responding early in the conversation before settling down. They shared moments of fragmented, tautological grammar as they related their stories. Some were happily humorous. Others not so much, like Maddolini expressing sometimes feeling alone.

“I get that,” Claire said. “You’re out of place in this world, even though you belong to it. I feel that way sometimes. So do other humans.”

“I think it is one of the bonds we share,” said Maddolini.

“I wonder when our species diverged.”

“That’s a legend. You probably read it. In reality, I think we were always different from the beginning.”

“But we are so much alike—except the wings.”

Claire was from the city, where people did not believe in the existence of the Others. Nevertheless, she had imagined they existed and maybe had been watching over her since early childhood, looking down at her from rooftops above. Maddolini suspected that she had an Other in her ancestry—yes, humans and Others have been known to mate, though this was long ago and since forbidden. 

Maddolini explained that she was several cycles from finding a mate. She blushed again when Claire asked how cycles translated to human years. 

Claire sat wide-eyed when she told her.

“No wonder there are so few of you,” she said.

“No, you are wrong,” Maddolini said calmly. “There are too many of us. You just don’t know how many. This is why it will take a long time for me to be eligible to bear a child. You are also being our only predator. That’s why you don’t see us.”

She added, “I don’t want to go into its ritualistic aspects.”

“Don’t worry. None of my business,” Claire said.

After sunset, the fireflies came out, sparkling the glade around them, their lights flashing in cadence with their speech.

“This is getting too late—and I walked very far from where I parked.”

“No worries,” said Maddolini. “I will take you there.”

“You’re going to fly me over?

“Um, no,” Maddolini said. “I cannot carry you. That’s a myth. Another one of many.”

“Yeah, you’re not an angel.” 

They laughed.

“But we can walk together through the woods. I can see you at night and in the daylight, keeping you from dangerous animals. They know better.”

“I read that you are their protectors.”

“No. Another myth.”

Claire laughed. “Then what is true about the Others?”

“We can talk about that on the way to your car.”

Claire waved her arms above her. “Mysteries unveiled! On the way over, I will share some more of mine.”

They laughed again. Maddolini’s wings quivered.

They rose from the ground and walked to the path before them through the woods as the fireflies buzzed about them, lighting up like chaotic markers to unknowable gateways. Words spoken, lessons learned. Friendship binding.

About the author


Mike Lee is a writer and editor at a trade union in New York City. His work appears in or is forthcoming in Drunk Monkeys, The Opiate, Fictionette, Brilliant Flash Fiction, BULL, and others. His story collection, The Northern Line, is available on Amazon. 
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