So this was a story I came up with last year, reading about something called a fairy dog, and an incident in Ireland 1895, where a husband killed his wife because she was a changeling. Thoughts began to swim in my head, where I thought about what if he knew she was a changeling (A fairy person carved out of living wood) and he killed for her for that reason, sort of her coming out to him.
I also wanted to do something with these fairy dogs, and the idea came together with the Great Hunt, a kind of magical fairy adventure, and I could see these creatures as hunting hounds. I knew I needed a hunter, and as literature and folklore points at the origin of faeries as: Old gods, lost souls not on Noah’s ark, neutral angels, and women in general, I thought that there had to be a feminist warrior who wanted to get back at men for everything they have done to them.
It all came together in my head, and with the rise of radical thinking, and a lot of anger, it isn’t too hard to draw influence from some of the current issues. Issues and rights seems create people who want their rights but go about it in a peaceful manner, and those who fight tooth and claw, breaking the rules in order to prove their point. I wanted a story about that type of person. Someone who wasn’t so much concerned with equality, as with getting even.
By Bradley Heywood
The light was peaking through the tips of the trees, while the hunters, Ebut Slein, and Johnny Snatch, were having a nice spot of trapped hare and a few drinks.
‘You know, it’s days like these that you really pay attention and value the things that you’ve got,’ said Ebut Slein.
‘’S right,’ said Snatch, poking at the soft, wet ground with a large stick.
‘It seems like only yesterday that we were little nippers, running around the glen, tryin’ to wake up the fairies and the old gods. We were right stupid buggers, i’ll tell you that.’
Snatch just grinned, revealing a mouth of crooked, misshapen teeth of varying shades of brown. He took the bung out of his skin, sniffed the contents, and then took a great gulp.
‘Don’t forget to give one to the fairies, Snatch,’ said Ebut Slein, holding up his right index finger, his grimy face serious. ‘You don’t want to be lookin’ over your shoulder for the rest of your life whenever you’ve not got any iron on you, do you?’
‘’ave always got some iron on me,’ said Snatch with a heavy shouldered shrug. ‘’sides I don’t believe in fairies no more. Me older brother Keith told me it’s all a lie. Them coming in the winter to take off all the naughty boys. Keith said Dad use to wait till we was a sleep, then run outside and ring the fairy knell, and sprinkle bits of flour about the house as fairy dust.’
‘Well,’ said Ebut Slein in a cold reproachful tone. ‘that steel is hardly a substitute, and who knows when it might come and bite you on the backside.
‘People like to make sure that kiddies are paying attention to the signs of the fairies, but rest assured that they are real, my dear Snatch. They are as real as the long and crooked nose on that face of yours.’
‘Na,’ said Johnny Snatch. ‘’s rubbish.’
‘Be careful of the things you say down in the glade, Snatch,’ said Ebut Slein with a dark grin. ‘They could be your last.’
‘Even if there were fairies, it doesn’t matter, ’s like you said. We’ve got the iron.’
‘That you’re right, Snatch. That you’re right,’ said Ebut Slein, looking over his shoulder. ‘but there are those of the fey that don’t need to worry about men and their silly iron. Those that use cunning ways of their own to make sure that their intended query find their rest in the ground.’
Johnny Snatch looked at his companion with a serious look. Ebut Slein was known to spin a yarn as well as any man up these parts, but Johnny knew the difference between Ebut’s jokey face, and the serious one that meant business, and Johnny didn’t like it at all.
‘What you on about?’ asked Johnny Snatch, following the shifting eyes of his friend as they darted through the forest as if looking for something.
‘Have you ever heard of the fairy dogs?’
Johnny shook his head, but he could swear that he heard the song of some strange howl, like a bitter wind shifting through the forest, or the groaning talk of old trees. He shivered, and then looking at the grim satisfied look on his friends face, wish that he didn’t.
‘Are you ‘avin’ me on, Slein?’ asked Johnny Snatch, poking a thick grubby finger into the face of his friend. ‘cos if you are, then you can bloody well stop right now, and we won’t
‘ave to see how long it takes for you to pull your ‘ead out of an ‘ollow tree stump.’
‘Take care when talking about hollows in the trees my dear friend, Snatch,’ said Ebut Slein as his fingers knotted together. ‘for they are the resting places of the fairy dogs.’
‘Well I guess I can see ‘em for me self when we bung you down one,’ said Johnny Snatch, standing up, shoulders square, and fists closed.
He heard it then, it was definitely a howl this time, although it didn’t sound like any dog Johnny had ever heard before. He could smell the rich scent of hot rain, grass, and wildflowers, which didn’t make sense as it was late Autumn, and everything was dead.
‘Sit down, Snatch,’ said Ebut Slein in what Johnny realised was a forced effort to seem calm, which only furthered Johnny’s unease. ‘You don’t want their attention if you can help it.’
Johnny brought his great bulk down once more, but he couldn’t stop the acidic feel in his gut from rising. Johnny wasn’t a weak man, not by any stretch of the imagination. He was a odd man, which meant he did odd jobs for people, the kind of people you don’t really want to upset. When people upset these people, they sent for Johnny Snatch, and once Johnny came after you there was no hope. He had rules, not many, but a few. No children. Johnny was once a boy with troubles and a lot of anger once, and before he had mastered his calling, he had been subjected to some rather harsh life lessons. It didn’t make him a better man, just crueler. Johnny believed that the world was cruel enough, without making it worse for kiddies who didn’t know much better. He also didn’t do pets. Every now and then someone would want to make a rather compelling suggestion to someone, and an easy way to do that without attracting any unwanted attention from the watch, was to job someone’s pet. Johnny didn’t like this, it wasn’t right, and just like kiddies, it wasn’t really their fault. Johnny didn’t have a problem with jobbing women though. He had known some particularly bad women in his life, and Johnny believed in the equality of guilt as far as the sexes were concerned, taking it in his stride as one of those funny things.
‘So what’s a fairy dog then?’ asked Johnny Snatch.
‘It is a fairy that looks rather like a dog,’ said Ebut Slein slowly.
‘’s that it?’
‘No it is not dear, Snatch,’ said Ebut Slein with a wide grin. ‘not at all. The fairy dogs are supposed to come for the Great Hunt. Do you know what that is?’
‘No,’ said Johnny Snatch.
‘The Great Hunt is a time of vengeance for the fairy folk. Legend has it that these creatures come far and wide to take the lives of those who harm the fey, tracking them down, and then tearing them apart, just like a hunting pack would do to this nice bit of rabbit here.’
‘’s hare,’ said Johnny absently. ‘not rabbit, ’s hare.’
‘Like a hare then,’ said Ebut Slein with a roll of his shrewd little eyes. ‘the point is my dear, Snatch, that the fairy dogs come to even the score, as they say.’
‘Well i’ve not killed a fairy,’ said Johnny Snatch.
‘Are you sure of that, dear, Snatch?’ said Ebut Slein, his head cocked to one side, his face smug.
‘I’d know wouldn’t I?’
‘Well, that’s something of a interesting topic around these parts at the moment, my dear, Snatch. You do know why you’ve been brought here, far from your humble little city life don’t you?’
‘cos some bloke’s killed ‘is wife,’ said Johnny absently. ‘’appens more that you’d think. There’s always someone not too ‘appy with their wife, so they does away with ‘em.’
‘But have you heard about the nature of the murder?’ asked Ebut Slein. ‘The superstition that surrounded the mystery of the young woman’s death?’
Johnny shook his head. he didn’t listen to talk, it wasn’t useful, and it didn’t help his job. He only listened to Ebut Slein’s stories because they were interesting, not exactly useful, but they had a strange way of getting under Johnny’s skin, making him realise what he was going to do next.
‘Didn’t you think it was strange that you were hired to deal with this incident, instead of the watch just hanging the man for his crime?’ asked Ebut Slein.
‘Wood’s folk got their own way of dealin’ with things.’
‘That they do, my dear, Snatch,’ said Ebut Slein with a slimy smile. ‘they have rules regarding the nature of certain deaths, especially those that are considered not entirely normal.’
‘What you mean?’ asked Johnny Snatch, who stopped himself from rubbing his hands. It was a nervous twitch he didn’t like, especially didn’t like people seeing him doing it. It looked unprofessional, and if there was one thing Johnny didn’t like, it was looking unprofessional. it made him mean.
‘Well the man, a Mr. Clearly, had informed with law that his wife had not been his wife at all, but a changeling. A creature carved from fairy wood, which had taken his wife off, and stolen her life for itself.’
‘That’s daft,’ said Johnny Snatch. ‘So he said he killed her because she was made of wood?’
‘Precisely, my dear, Snatch. Mr. Clearly claimed that he had no choice but to burn the changeling which looked remarkably like his wife, in order to release her from the grips of the foul fey.’
‘And did it?’ asked Johnny casually.
‘Well obviously not,’ said Ebut Slein with a grim smile. ‘It seems that Mr. Clearly’s plan didn’t work as he had apparently hoped.’
‘But he got off with it?’ asked Johnny.
‘Yes he did. It isn’t the first time someone had spoken of a changeling in these old and forgotten woods, but it was the first time someone had spoken of actually harming one. Burning is considered a cleansing ritual, as i’m sure you well know, my dear, Snatch, but I don’t think the fairies would have considered it as such a blessing.’
‘So you think she was a fairy then?’ asked Johnny, now watching his friends face for a sign of wicked glee or humour. He had known Ebut Slein for what seemed like a lifetime, and in all of that time he had never assumed the man had been soft in the head. Fairies, which definitely didn’t exist, and that noise in the wood which sounded like it was getting closer could be explained easily once Johnny was safe indoors, didn’t hurt people. People didn’t kill fairies, not as far as Johnny had seen anyway, no people killed people.
‘What I believe is of no importance, but what is interesting is the town’s response to this news. It would appear to Mr. Clearly, that he had gotten away with it, but only because the town had believed in what he had done.’
‘Well they deserve to get done if their letting people do away with each other, then just blaming it on the bloomin’ fairies.’
‘Perhaps,’ said Slein carefully, his voice distant, as he stared off into the wood. ‘but you should know that round here there are laws, my dear, Snatch. An eye for an eye, and all that kind of stuff. Mr. Clearly had claimed that his wife had been stolen by the fairies, and replaced with a creature of carved wood, that was in almost every way like his wife. If that were true, then Mr. Clearly had a right to do away with the creature, as far as fairy law was concerned, and the town believed this was a fairy matter.’
‘I don’t get what you’re getting at,’ said Johnny Snatch, not liking the look in his friends face, which looked cruel and harsh.
‘Talk around the town was Mr. Clearly’s wife had always been a changeling, giving to blessing those she passed with fortune and growth. They wherever she went it was the season of Summer. Talk about the town suggested that Mr. Clearly knew that the depth of his wife’s beautiful green eyes were not of this world, but the other, and for some reason or another, he had decided to do away with her.’
‘You’re saying she was made of wood?’
‘I’m saying that Mr. Clearly knew she was, or at least found out she was, and then burned her alive for it,’ said Ebut Slein in a cold calm tone. ‘Everyone knew she loved him, but something in the man was cruel and hollow, just like all men I suppose. He knew she didn’t belong to him, so he did what he knew would trap her, and he burned her up.’
‘If that’s the case, then why was I hired?’ asked Johnny Snatch.
‘Well there are always those who do not believe that fairy justice will be as swift as they had hoped, but then again I do not know, my dear, Snatch.’
The light was receding behind the trees now, and Ebut Slein rose to his feet, his face now as jolly and animated as usual.
‘Come on then, my dear, Snatch,’ Ebut Slein said with a shimmy from one foot to the other. ‘Let’s find our dear friend, Mr. Clearly for you.’
‘Before the fairies come and get ‘im you mean?’ asked Johnny Snatch with a sideways smile. His friend’s smile spilled like ink across a page.
‘Exactly,’ said Ebut Slein. ‘before the fairies get him first.’
They finished their hare, dosed the fire, and after packing up their things they walked off through the forest, Ebut leading the way.
‘What I don’t get about this story is all this talk about fairy dogs, and hunts,’ said Johnny as he stepped through the bushy bramble of the forest, his heavy leather boots crunching the ground. Slein made no noise as he casually strolled through the wood, it was something Johnny admired in the man, as well as hate. Johnny didn’t like admitting it, but his friend was much better than Johnny in the wood, he believed it was why they had become friends in the first place. Johnny Snatch had no time for weakness, so naturally he would have to be friends with someone who could do away with him on their own turf. Ebut Slein wasn’t a killer though, or at least as far as Johnny had known. The man was a Finder, a sort of tracker who could read the ways of the trees and the dirt, like a city man a road, or Johnny the feelings in a person’s face when he came for them. Ebut was a man of talents, and no matter how Johnny asked, he couldn’t quite explain them in a way he understood. The man just knew the wood.
‘Well as I said before. The Great Hunt is a way of getting squares even with a person who hurt the fairy kind, and the dogs come along to find their prey, so their masters can hunt.’
‘Fairies have hunters now?’ said Johnny, as his boots squelched in the soft mud.
‘That they do, my dear, Snatch. That they do indeed. Dangerous beyond belief.’
‘What does that mean?’ asked Johnny, as he pulled his legs through the heavy mud.
‘It means that when they hunt you, they don’t care whether you believes in them or not. They just come, from the darkest in the den, armed with their obsidian arrows and spears, sharper than any steel.’
‘You think that’s true?’
‘No, my dear, Snatch,’ said Ebut Slein with a smile. ‘They don’t work that way. They need belief, otherwise they’re just stories.’
‘Where are we?’ said Johnny, not able to see anything that looked like civilisation. ‘It’s all thick and dense wood here, and I think i’m getting stuck in this blood muck.’
Ebut Slein stood there, looking over at Johnny with his soft green eyes. He was smiling now, but not in any way Johnny liked. ‘You wanted to find Mr. Clearly, didn’t you?’
‘Yes, you know that,’ said Johnny slightly louder than he liked as he tried to kick hard at the mud. ‘If this is some kind of joke, then laugh and help pull me out.’
Ebut Slein did not try and help his friend, instead he took a silent step further away, completely unburdened by the heavy mud around them. Something hash pierced the air, and Johnny felt his spine tingle and dance as if it was trying to get away. The sound was close now, and it had a certain quality to it that sounded like a distant memory of something scary. It was like finding a snake or a spider in your bed, your brain told you it was poisonous, and you had to get away from it, or you were going to die.
‘Don’t muck about,’ said Johnny Snatch, holding out his arms, but his friend did not take them, instead he continued walking, which cause Johnny’s blood to boil, and then freeze as he heard another piercing cry, followed by the answer of another.
‘Slein!’ cried Johnny Snatch in a way that he could feel ashamed of later, but right now he knew he had to get out of the mud. ‘Slein come back you bastard, and help me!’
Ebut Slein did not come back, and now Johnny could hear the patter of heavy feet, and guttural breaths of something that sounded far too big to be a dog. He could smell the sweet scent of hot rain, and as he stretched himself around to look over his shoulder at the way they had come, he noticed that the trees were now suddenly blooming once again. He couldn’t see what was making the nosies, but Johnny had the realisation that wherever it tread, life followed it.
He turned back, and almost fell straight into the mud, as he realised that someone had snuck up on him, and was now sat a few feet away from him. It smelt of fresh soil, and it was covered in long leaves that gave it the appearance of a trench-coat of greens, yellows, and browns. Johnny knew it was a woman, which was strange as it’s face was ratlike, with bright green eyes that were far too large. In her hand she was clutching a spear of black stone, covered with brown rust.
‘Who are you?’ Johnny asked, trying to keep the fear from his voice. ‘One of Ebut’s friends?’
She watched him, like a cat who had smacked a spider into the ground, and was now waiting for it to stop playing dead.
‘I’m the hunter,’ said the rat-woman, her green eyes rolling over every part of Johnny Snatch. ‘i’m the one that comes to settle the wrongs done to my kind.’
‘Well, that’s good,’ said Johnny, still trying to move his boots. ‘I’m here for a similar reason. I came to deal with someone who has apparently hurt your kind.’
‘No you’re not,’ said the rat-woman as her piebald head fell to one side as if finding Johnny Snatch the cutest thing she had ever seen. ‘You’ve been brought here for a different reason.’
Someone screamed, it was a man, and Johnny hoped it was Ebut Slein. Something that looked like a heavy mass of vegetation, all flowers and grass ran over to the women. Johnny could see it held something wet in its thorny teeth. It’s eyes were a glowing green, and they left smoke trials in the air as its leafy head shifted from side to side.
‘Drop it,’ said the rat woman, and out popped the torn remains of a hand. The rat woman placed her pale thumb and her brown index finger in her mouth and whistled. Johnny’s heart sank as he heard the creaking barks of several other dogs. He could see them shifting in the distance, causing the ground to erupt with flowers and grass as they ran along on huge paws that ended in barbed bramble thorns that looked like they could tear him open.
Johnny coughed, and his eyes watered, as if he had fell straight into a patch of flowers, which had sent pollen all into his face. He felt itchy, too hot, and he didn’t like how the rat-woman just sat there and watched him.
Two of the larger dogs, who were covered in browns, golds, and orange, dropped the remains of something on the floor, which sloshed down into the mud at Johnny’s feet, causing him to gag.
‘What do you want with me?” Johnny asked, struggling at his boots, then he had a sudden bright idea. ‘I don’t even believe in you.’
‘I don’t believe in you!’ he cried, closing his eyes, hoping that they would go. When he opened them, he saw the rat-woman still sat there, only now she had rested her furry hand of odd colours to her chin, her eyes were bright and happy.
‘You believe in us,’ she said as soft as the wind. ‘You’re here because of your greed, and because of the things you have done to my kind.’
‘I was hired to put someone in the ground,’ said Johnny, still pulling on his boots. ‘I was only here to kill that fella who murdered his wife.’
‘You do not have to worry about that,’ said the rat-woman, looking down at the wet chunk on the ground. ‘He has been punished, as was right.’
‘Then let me go,’ said Johnny, his jaw clenched as he stared at the rat-woman. ‘I haven’t done you no wrong.’
‘Yes you have,’ said the rat-woman, her voice cold and biting. ‘You’ve killed many women in your time, and you don’t even think of it as a bad thing.’
‘Them was just women,’ said Johnny angrily. ‘They weren’t fey kind.’
‘All women are fey kind,’ said the rat-woman. ‘all are cursed by men to be less that they are. All you do is hold them back, put them down, and imprison them, and with a straight face you call it love.’
‘I did what I had to,’ said Johnny, pulling at his legs. ‘i didn’t ‘ave a choice.’
‘There’s always a choice,’ said the rat-woman. ‘and you chose to murder, just as he’ she pointed at the wet mess on the floor. ‘-wanted to. Now you’ve been caught, and now you must be punished.’
‘What makes you any better then!’ cried Johnny Snatch. ‘What makes you any better if you’re gonna kill me, eh?’
‘It’s not about better,’ said the rat-woman, her green eyes bright, her head resting on one side. ‘It’s about the Hunt.’
She lent over, causing Johnny Snatch to recoil as if he would be burnt, and then touched the mud, with the butt of her spear. Johnny realised he was free, and as he looked up at the rat-woman, he knew what he had to do.
‘Run,’ she whispered, almost as a lover would say, and Johnny Snatch ran.
He was a big man, built for lifting things, and twisting necks, but when he had to, Johnny could run, and now seemed like the best time of all. He heard the blare of a horn, and then the harsh call of the dogs, and he knew he didn’t have much of a chance, but if he could make it out of the forest then maybe he could.
Movement out of the corner of his eye, the sight of glowing eyes, shifting from behind old trees, caused Johnny to run harder, even as his muscles began to burn, and his blood boiled, he ran. He could rest later. He could sort out everything later. It didn’t matter that everything was all wrong, and stories were true, Johnny Snatch was a survivor.
Then he say Ebut Slein, sat on a fallen log in front of him, and Johnny knew he wasn’t going to make it, but at least he could kill him before he died. So he took the blade out of his pocket, and as Ebut Slein stood to greet him with open arms, Johnny pushed the blade into his friends throat, forcing both to the ground
Johnny must have thrust the blade in and out several times, before he looked up into his friends face, who was grinning back at him, the hole in his neck like a tear in paper. There wasn’t any blood, just the smell of the mud.
‘You’ve made a big mistake coming here without any iron, my dear, Snatch,’ said Ebut Slein, wagging his finger. ‘trading all your valuable iron for steel. Not a smart move. Not a smart move at all.’
As He tried to stand, Johnny felt the heavy weight on his back, the heavy sent of pollen of rain, and the sharp thorns in his back.