When our cat Muphy died, my daughter Rebecca was inconsolable. She wanted a replacement, but I wanted that fancy set of leather sofas I’d been ogling for years, without the risk of them being torn to shreds by an unruly set of claws. I needed to find a way to distract Rebecca without resorting to buying a Muphy 2.0. It was while watching a home renovation show one afternoon that I came up with the perfect solution: remodelling her room.
“Becca, honey, why don’t we give your bedroom a makeover?”
The instant smile that appeared on her face told me I’d done the right thing. “Yessssss,” she squealed, throwing her arms in the air.
I let her choose the theme and colors. As long as the end result made her happy, it didn’t matter even if it looked ridiculous and lowered my property value. Rooms could always be repainted. Rebecca, having the foresight and attention span of any 8-year-old, picked the flavor of the month: fairies. She’d been watching the same blond-haired, green-dress-wearing fairy movie for weeks. Sometimes, twice in one day. I knew the lyrics and dialog by heart at this point, but I digress. The point is, she wanted her room to become a fairy paradise, and I obliged.
I spent the next few weeks remodelling the bedroom. I painted the ceiling and top half of her walls blue, the bottom half green, and asked a family friend to paint trees, flowers, rocks, bushes — whatever it took to make it look like a forest. A few fairy and sparkly decals later, and it became an enchanted forest. I took Rebecca to a used furniture store and let her pick out a few pieces, then repainted them pink. The transformation was almost complete once I got her a much-needed new bedspread, but something was missing. The room needed one last “wow” factor, I thought.
That weekend, I went to a craft show and found exactly what I needed. At the back of a woodworker’s booth, hidden behind a set of coatracks and umbrella holders, was an ornate wooden door that measured about six inches tall by 3 inches wide. It had adorable little hinges, a tiny handle, and a beautiful Celtic knot decorating its surface.
“What’s that?” I asked an older woman sitting behind the desk.
She turned to me and smiled. “That’s a fairy door, love,” she said with an Irish accent, “You put it in your garden or nail it to a tree to invite the fey folk. They’ll take care of your plants and bring life and beauty to them.”
I took the object excitedly. The fairy door was exactly what was missing from Rebecca’s room. The “wow” factor I’d been looking for. Maybe I’d sneak in one night while she slept and stuff one of her pixie dolls behind it so she’d think it was magic.
“It’s perfect for my daughter’s room,” I said.
The woman made a few tutting sounds with her tongue, and shook her head. “Oh no, love. You wouldn’t want to do that.”
She replied, “Fey folk are fickle little things. They like playing tricks, but they don’t like tricks being played on them. If you invite a fairy into our world, it’s best not to anger it. They need to be outdoors. With the flowers.”
I laughed. “Duly noted. How much?”
She opened a red duo-tang on the desk, and then flipped through the pages until she found a picture of the fairy door. Her finger traced along a list of specs, until she found the price. “Thirty dollars, but if you buy anything else, I’ll give you a discount.”
Thirty dollars seemed a little steep, but it was a nice, handcrafted piece of art. One that I knew my daughter would enjoy. A piece that would really “complete the look”, so to speak.
“Sold,” I said.
I pulled out my wallet and shelled out the money. She took the fairy door, enveloped it securely in a few layers of wrapping paper, dropped it in a bag, and handed it to me.
“Enjoy!” she replied.
As soon as I got home, I grabbed the toolbox and made a beeline for my daughter’s bedroom. After trying out a few spots, I finally settled on nailing the door to the bottom of one of the larger painted trees. Perfect, I thought, as I looked at the finished result. Rebecca’s room was a masterpiece.
Rebecca was elated when she finally saw what had become of her room. She’d been sleeping on the sofa in the basement while I’d been working on making her dream a reality. The excitement of it all kept her up particularly late that night, but when she finally went to bed, she was completely tuckered out.
Everything was normal for a few days, and Muphy became a thing of the past.
One morning, as she was eating her cereal, Rebecca smiled broadly, and said, “I saw a fairy last night!”
I snorted. “Oh, did you?”
“Yeah! She’s not very pretty,” she answered.
“That’s not nice to say, Becca.”
I turned away, rolled my eyes, and poured myself a cup of coffee. “Everyone is beautiful in their own way,” I said.
“I think she’s hungry,” replied Rebecca.
“Well, we should feed her, then.”
Rebecca jumped off her seat. “OK!”
“Woaaah there, kid. Finish your breakfast first. Your fairy friend can wait,” I said, pointing to her bowl.
She wolfed down her meal and threw her arms up. “Done!” she said victoriously.
I put my cup of coffee down and shrugged. I had to think of what to feed her imaginary fairy friend. The last thing I wanted to do was attract bugs, so I steered clear of using anything sweet. Bread would get moldy, salt was too risky – if she knocked it over, it’d make a mess –, water wouldn’t be “special” enough. Then, I remembered I still had a bag of cat food in the cupboard. I poured it into a colorful kiddie bowl, and handed it to Rebecca.
“Ok Becca, give this to your fairy friend. Be careful not to spill.”
Rebecca smiled. “Thank you!”
Her little feet pitter-pattered as she ran to her room, sending pieces of cat food flying out of the bowl. Clean up on aisle everywhere.
I didn’t anticipate what I’d find the next morning when I went to wake my daughter up. The sight of it made my stomach twist in disgust. The bowl of cat food was empty. How was I supposed to know she’d eat it? I flip-flopped between being grossed out that my daughter had eaten a bowl of cat food, and being worried about her eating something that was clearly unfit for human consumption. I shook her awake gently, trying to think of how to convey the message without scolding her.
“Honey, it’s time to wake up.”
She groaned and rubbed her eyes, “Mmhmm.”
I helped her get dressed, while still unsure of what to say. “So, did you see the fairy again?”
“Yes!” she replied.
“You know honey, fairy food is very bad for humans. If she wants to share with you, you have to say no, okay?”
Rebecca giggled. “She’s too hungry to share.”
For some reason, that made my chest tighten. Was I not feeding my daughter enough? Was her imaginary friend hungry because she was starving? Had she resorted to eating cat food out of pure desperation? Just to be on the safe side, I gave her an extra large breakfast, and packed a few more snacks in her lunchbox that morning, before sending her off to school. I spent the rest of the day failing to convince myself I wasn’t a complete failure as a parent.
When Rebecca came home, the extra snacks were still in her lunchbox, unopened.
“Honey, why didn’t you eat your rice treats?” I asked, a bit of parental paranoia looming over me.
“Wasn’t hungry,” she replied casually.
Well, thank goodness for that. At least she knew I wasn’t trying to starve her, and she had access to snacks if she needed them. With my worries alleviated, I set another bowl of cat food in her room for the night.
The next morning, I found the bowl emptier than my self-esteem as a parent. I felt immensely guilty about putting it there in the first place. I should have known Rebecca had a problem. I shouldn’t have exposed her to the cat food a second time. Maybe it was a side effect of losing Muphy. Maybe she wanted to feel closer to her dead pet by eating its food — damned if I know. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake a third time. No more cat food for my daughter. Now, there’s a sentence I never thought I’d have to say in my lifetime.
It was Rebecca who woke me up the next morning. She was crying her eyes out, whining about her arm hurting. Barely conscious, I turned on the light and looked at her forearm. It looked nasty. The skin was irritated, red, and a small chunk near the middle was missing. She’d had a few eczema flair-ups before, but never this bad. I gave her arm a delicate kiss, crawled out of bed, and took her to the washroom so I could clean it up and apply a bit of soothing lotion to her skin.
“Oh, honey, you shouldn’t scratch, it’ll make it worse,” I whispered.
Rebecca mumbled something through her sobs, but all I understood was the word “fairy.”
“What’s that, Becca?” I asked.
“T-the fairy,” she sniffled, “was hungry.”
There she was again, talking about her imaginary friend’s hunger. Her hunger, I thought.
“The fairy food isn’t safe, honey,” I said.
“B-but she’s hungry,” she replied.
“There’s plenty of food in the fridge.”
“She can’t open the door. She got mad. She bit me,” said Rebecca, pointing to her arm.
I looked at it and sighed, “Honey, that’s just a rash. You scratched too hard.”
“It was the fairy lady!” she insisted.
What was I supposed to do? Ruin her fantasy by telling her fairies weren’t real, or try to steer her imagination back on the right track? I chose the latter.
“Fairies don’t bite,” I replied.
“Hungry fairies bite!” she insisted.
I sighed, trying my best to hide my annoyance. She was just a kid, just trying to make sense of the loss of a beloved pet. “Ok, well tonight, if she tries to bite you, hit her with your pillow, ok?”
I thought I’d done the right thing, that I’d said the right things, and that I had heard the last of her fairy friend’s escapades.
I was wrong.
It was the middle of the night – probably around 2 in the morning – when I heard Rebecca howling like a banshee. My instincts were to run out of bed, grab a baseball bat, and protect her from what ever had caused her to scream. By the time I reached her room and flicked the lights on, Rebecca was pushing the closet door shut, her arms tucked behind a pillow.
“I got the fairy! She’s in the closet.”
I was going to schedule an emergency counselling session for her in the morning, knowing it was all in her head, but then I heard something. A loud bang against the other side of the closet door. Goose bumps lined my arms instantly, and my grip tightened around the baseball bat. An animal must have gotten in somehow. Maybe when I opened the windows to air out the room after I painted it? Rebecca must have heard it skittering about at night and thought it was a fairy. After letting it sink in, I hurried to slide a dresser in front of the doors to keep them shut, breathing heavily as I did. Bangs continued to emerge from the other side.
Rebecca was shaking, her hands holding the pillow so tightly that her knuckles had become white. In the commotion, I hadn’t noticed she was bleeding. Another little chunk of flesh was missing, this time from her left shoulder. I took her in my arms and tried to reassure her, all the while trying to reassure myself. I’d been so stupid to think she’d imagined the fairy. I should have known better. As soon as she calmed down enough, I drove her to the emergency room to get a rabies shot. The doctors asked what had bitten her, but all I could tell them was that it was stuck in my closet, and that I’d get an exterminator to take care of it.
By the time we got home, the sun was up. I had had the foresight to shut her bedroom door before we left, so even if the critter got loose, it wouldn’t find its way into the main part of the house. Still, we avoided the corridor leading up to her room. I sat my daughter down in front of the TV, and searched through the digital yellow pages for the number of an animal pest control agent. They sent someone immediately.
Before long, I heard a knock on the door.
“I hear you’ve got yourself a pest,” said the animal control agent, a middle-aged man with a fair share of scratches on his skin.
I nodded. “In my daughter’s room.”
“Let ‘ol Joe take care of that for you,” he said, then looked at Rebecca, “It might be best not to do this in front of the kid. It gets a little messy sometimes. We try to be humane, but when they attack people, well,” he paused, considering his words carefully, “sometimes we have to k-i-l-l them,” he whispered.
“I’ll take her to the movies, is that ok?”
“Perfect. I should be out of here in about an hour. I’ll send the bill in the mail,” he replied.
I bowed my head, “Thank you so much.”
“Don’t worry about it, it’s my job!”
A cheerful and colorful cinematic distraction later, we returned home. To my surprise, the pest controller’s van was still parked in the driveway. Maybe the infestation was worse than I thought? I walked my daughter around back, and told her to play in the yard while I spoke to the “nice man” inside. She smiled and took a seat on the swings, letting herself go like a metronome. I went inside.
“Joe?” I called out.
There was intangible tension in the air. The silence worried me. Nervously, I made my way to Rebecca’s bedroom. The door was half open, but something felt wrong. Every fibre of my body warned me to turn tail and run, but I pushed the door open and stepped inside.
Joe, the animal control officer, was resting in a puddle of blood. His throat had been torn open. Blood vessels and viscera hung from the jagged wound as though they’d been plucked out of him like weeds out of the ground. The shock kept me from screaming. Kept me from moving. I just stood there, stunned, as my heart raced against my chest and my mind went blank. What kind of animal could have done this?
I felt like I was going to pass out, but then I felt something soothing. A breeze. A soothing, humid breeze coming from the other side of the room. I turned my head and saw the fairy door had been left wide open. Had it been open this whole time? I was drawn to it, like a moth to the flame. A man was dead in my daughter’s room, and I was focused on a silly little door. I knelt down in front of it, and peered inside.
I didn’t see the wall.
On the other side was an unearthly landscape that looked somehow both foreign and familiar. A forest of unrecognizable trees, the kind you’d find on the pages of a storybook. They were majestic, tall, full of lush foliage and bloomed flowers as large as cars. Strings of puffy, dandelion-like fuzz swam through the air, breaking apart whenever they made contact with a branch. The sight captivated me.
Then, through the heavy foliage, I heard a devious little giggle that echoed through the forest. Then another giggle, this time from the left. And another. Louder and louder. Closer and closer. They were coming. I jumped back and slammed the door shut, chest thumping hard. The sounds stopped, and I felt a brief moment of relief, until I saw the bloody hand print on the fairy door’s knob. Four fingers, and a thumb. Just like a human’s, only much smaller.
I looked at Joe.
The door shook violently.
In a daze, I pressed my ear to it.
Rustling leaves, the gentle trickle of water, birds chirping, and laugher. That incessant laugher.
I ripped the fairy door from the wall and threw it into my bag. Garden, I thought. I’d been told these doors had to be put in gardens, and that’s where I was going to take it. Before I left, I called 9-1-1 for Joe. They determined that he’d been mauled by the animal he’d been tasked to capture, and took him away while I distracted my daughter.
As soon as the police were done with their report, I buckled my daughter in my car and drove to the botanical garden across town. That’s where the fairy door is now, hidden behind a thorny bush.
I’m praying that whatever came in through the fairy door, also left that way. I’m praying it’s not still in the house.