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Faeries

Author: Jamie Aitken

‘We're going to see if we can see any faeries!’

At the ripe old age of 8 years old, I already had a healthy level of cynicism around this idea when my mum suggested it one summer. However, I still felt a tingle of excitement flutter in my stomach.

We were on the way to Calderglen Country Park in the vast wilderness of East Kilbride, myself, my cousin and my little brother strapped into the back of my auntie's Volkswagen Polo. I remember the overstretched elastic holding the multicoloured seat covers on the seats, the sweet, rancid smell of old cigarettes and my brother and cousin constantly elbowing one another in the ribs. Tears came, inevitably, but my memory hasn't retained which of them it was.

We bundled out of the car and were greeted to the familiar cacophony of sounds that only a car park in East Kilbride on a sunny day during the summer holidays could produce. We stood against the car, caked in a layer of sun cream. I'm pretty sure we all ended up burnt anyway.

After the joy that only seeing a huge, stinking pig rolling about in its own jobby can bring to three young children, we took our lunch to the big open area where there were trees the likes of which I have seen no equal to since. My mum and auntie watched nervously as we three challenged each other to climb higher and higher. Afterward, we wolfed down our lukewarm sandwiches, ravenous after a day already filled with adventure.

That's when my mum made her announcement. She said it with such enthusiasm and the younger ones got so excited, I couldn't help but get swept up in the charade. I gave my mum a knowing look and she winked at me and smiled.

We wandered into the woodlands then, keeping our eyes out for the telltale signs of faerie inhabitancy: gnarly trees with interesting knots, clusters of mushrooms (that you had better not touch!), fallen trees with roots reaching out like a witch's beckoning fingers, and of course tiny little footprints.

'Thanks for taking us here, good to get away from the hospital for a bit.'
'Ach away and don't be daft, you don't need to say thanks.'

I was walking just behind my mum and auntie, double checking behind the line of ferns that there weren't any mushrooms hiding in there.

'I know but it really is appreciated. The boys were quite upset. They still don't really understand what's happening, although I think Jamie's starting to cop on that this is pretty serious,' my mum said in a voice that sounded ready to crack.

'He's no as daft as he looks. He knows his daddy's no well, I heard him telling his brother.'

My auntie lit a cigarette and passed it to my mum, who accepted it gratefully.

'Aye, but how “no well” really? I mean none of us know that. But the look on the doctor's faces this morning. I'm really starting to think he might not ...'

'Listen, we don't need to dwell on that. He's a fighter and he's got these two boys and you to fight for.'

I did understand it was bad with my dad. I hadn't seen him in what felt like months but was more like a couple of weeks, if that. He had been fine, and then he wasn't. He was in a hospital in Edinburgh and we weren't allowed to see him yet, my brother and me. All we knew was that he was a very strange yellow colour, had lots of tubes sticking in him and he couldn’t talk as there was a pipe helping him breathe. He had always been so strong, I couldn't imagine him laid up, not able to get up and hug us, or give me a pretend slap around the head. I could feel the warmth in my face start to creep up and knew the tears were coming. That’s when I saw it.

In the corner of my eye, just as we reached the water's edge: a sparkle. Not a twinkle or a flash or a reflection, but a sparkle. Up a tree, just to the right of the rushing river and the stepping stones to cross it. I gave a huge shout, causing my mum and auntie to leap out of their skin, and raced to the spot, my brother and cousin hot on my heels. I looked up at the tree, searching every nook and cranny, scratching my legs on the undergrowth as I clambered around to the other side.

'Jamie, away from the edge!' my mum shouted, but I had to find it. It had to be there, it just had to!

I was ready to give up, I could feel my mum getting more angry as I refused to come away from the water. Then, just as I was about to stop, I saw them. Two long, silver, silky wings, fluttering into a crack in the tree, high above me. There was no mistaking what I had seen. A faerie. I had seen my first faerie. I could hardly believe it. My jaw dropped open and I felt a tingle all over my body. I had seen it. I ran back around the tree, soaking my velcro trainers and wrapped my arms tightly around my mum.

'I saw one, mum, I saw one for sure!'

The next year we visited that same spot. Unfortunately, I didn't see a faerie that day. It was overcast and had rained, and the river was much higher. However I showed my dad the spot where I had seen my very first faerie. I told him that magic was real, and squeezed his hand tightly. That day was even better than the year before.