Adam looked over his payslips. His job was boring, tedious. In fact, his entire life was monotonous. The ground floor flat he lived in was plain and he didn’t have many photos of loved ones on the walls. It was his day off and he had no idea what he was going to do with his day. He couldn’t afford to go anywhere or go out with his few friends. Another day in front of the television it was.
Just as he was settling into a documentary about big cats, his phone rang. It was his mother. This was odd, she never called, always visited without an invitation, but never called. He answered the phone and placed it to his ear.
“Hello, mum. This is a surprise.”
“Hello darling, I’m afraid this isn’t a pleasant phone call. I’ve just been to visit your grandmother, she’s getting much worse, darling. I think you should come to visit her as soon as you can.”
Adam froze as the blood drained from his head. His grandmother was the best person in his life. His rock. He nodded slowly before whispering, “Okay,” and dropping the phone on his lap. His grandmother had been sick for some time, but they were confident she’d get through it. She was stubborn. A fighter.
His eyes drifted over to the television again, but there was something about watching lions hunt that suddenly made his stomach turn. He turned it off and walked around the living room, his brain racing with thoughts. Was she going to make it? Was there anything that he could do to help her? He didn’t have money, but he could speak to her doctors or he could look for new treatments online. He had to do something.
Adam stopped pacing and he looked at the small bookcase in the corner of the room. He walked over to it and lifted the book his grandmother gave to him when he was a child. She’d read it to him any time he asked. She never turned him away. It was a bit tattered now and the pages were beginning to fall out, but it was still readable, and even if it wasn’t, he would never throw it away.
It was a book about local myths and legends, stories about faeries and gnomes and where they lived. He didn’t believe in any of it now of course, but when he was a child, he would try to find pixies at the bottom of the garden. Adam opened the book and flicked through it, his mind travelling back to those good days. He stopped at a page that caught his attention, it was about a forest that wasn’t too far from his apartment. The myth said that the forest was home to a sacred spring that was guarded by a god of healing.
The corner of his mouth curled into a small smile. What nonsense. But as he thought more about the forest, he remembered hearing rumours about it. Strange things would happen to those who entered. Some people wouldn’t come back, others weren’t the same. Some rumours spoke about seeing supernatural beings, figures that weren’t quite human.
He placed the book down on the coffee table and rubbed the back of his neck as it began to ache with stress. This was ridiculous. But his grandmother was sick. Extremely sick. He bit his lip, was he really considering this? No one knew much about the forest, there weren’t even any rumours about a spring, or even a pond for that matter. There was no reason to go into that forest, other than to chase rumours, but he wanted to go. His heart was begging him to chase stories, but his brain was against it.
Before he realised it, he was lifting his jacket from its hook in the hallway and slipping his trainers on his feet.
“This is stupid,” he muttered to himself as he tied his shoelaces. “But what else can I do? I’ll visit her as soon as I’ve finished in there and I can tell her all about the forest. She’d like that.”
His feet carried him down the street, but he paid little attention to the people around him. He hoped he wouldn’t see anyone he knew on the way to the forest. What would he say to them if they asked where he was going? They’d think he was mad. He shook his head, throwing the negative thoughts to the back of his mind.
The forest loomed over him like a mountain range. The branches creaked and groaned in the wind and the noise of the rustling leaves was deafening. It was dark under the canopy of leaves, he could barely see through the first few rows of trees. He had never really paid any attention to it before, so he never noticed how menacing the forest looked. His trainers squelched in the mud as he shuffled on the spot nervously. The off beaten path had been long and narrow and was overgrown with weeds and stinging nettles.
Adam stepped into the forest, crossing the threshold between concrete slabs and the unknown. As his eyes adjusted to the light and his ears became accustomed to the noise of the trees, he could see and hear things that weren’t obvious from the dirt path he had just come from. Birds chirped merrily, small critters squeaked and rustled bushes. Flowers tried to catch the thin rays of sun that leaked through the canopy above. Large mushrooms surrounded the older, broken trees and cries that he didn’t recognise echoed on the breeze.
This was certainly a world he didn’t know anything about. He was beginning to question if the rumours were true and he was still on the edge of the forest. He moved forward, his eyes flitting from one magnificent sight to another. In his peripheral, he was sure there were faces in the trees, with dark eyes and twisted smiles, but when he looked closely, there was nothing there. There was an uneasiness in the forest, something wasn’t right, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.
He continued, not really knowing if he was going the right way, or if there was even a right way to go. The thought that this was just a faerie tale was niggling in the back of his mind. But he ignored it.
A loud snap of a branch echoed ahead of him and he instinctively ducked behind a nearby bush to hide. Was it a wolf? Were there wolves in Britain? No, of course there weren’t. Perhaps it was just a fox…it must have been a pretty big fox.
The sound of hooves thudded on the hard ground and he froze. So, a horse? Was it wild or was this private property? His eyes widened as the idea of him trespassing swept across his mind. Surely that was impossible. People didn’t own forests, did they?
The thuds of hooves continued, it was heading right towards him. He stayed as still as possible, not wanting to scare whatever it was. He peeked through the leaves of the bush and saw the legs of a black horse standing right in front of him. His heart stopped and he slowly looked at the horse’s form until he saw the rider that was sitting on its back.
A woman, in black robes with silver piping along the edge of her long cape. He tilted his head to see her face and he fell backwards in shock.
She didn’t have a face. She didn’t even have a head. It was just black mist. He looked under her arm when he heard her speak.
“You’ve seen me. What a shame for you.”
A shiver shot down his spine when he realised the voice came from the head tucked under her arm. He knew what this was. His grandmother told him stories about this faerie.
“Dullahan!” he shouted as he scrambled to his feet and ran away from her as quickly as possible. This faerie was like a grim reaper, something you shouldn’t see unless you were ready to leave this world.
“This is crazy, it can’t be real. I’m seeing things, hallucinating. This isn’t possible!” Adam desperately tried to convince himself that he was running away from nothing but his own imagination. But as he glanced over his shoulder, he could see the headless rider chasing him still.
The heavy thuds followed him, he could feel the ground shake with every stride it took. He couldn’t outrun a horse, there was no way. It wasn’t possible. He jumped down into a ditch under a small overhang and placed a hand over his mouth to muffle his heavy breathing. The horse and rider pounded past him and her wicked laugh became distant. He breathed a sigh of relief and began to catch his breath until he felt something strange. It was the uncomfortable feeling that someone was right behind him.
He turned around and saw a small, dirty pond and a little humanoid sitting on a rock with his head in his hands and his elbows on his knees. It was the same colour as mud, with yellow eyes and a couple of hairs on his bald head. He looked lonely and bored.
Adam quietly approached the creature and knelt down next to it. “Hello,” he whispered softly.
The creature looked at him and jumped to his feet. “A human!” he exclaimed excitedly.
“Shhh! There’s a Dullahan chasing me.”
The creature nodded. “Got it.”
“What are you?”
“My name is Yuri and I’m an Yrisk.”
“I’m Adam.” He smiled at the creature. He could relax, this particular faerie haunted ponds, were extremely lonely and loved human company, but many humans would run from them in terror.
“It’s nice to meet you Adam. Why is there a Dullahan chasing you? Did you watch her pass by?”
Adam nodded, his smile fading. This little creature was kind of cute, in a weird way. His voice was high pitched and innocent like a child. “I did. It was an accident.”
“She won’t stop chasing you now. You’re marked,” Yuri said in a matter of fact tone.
“I don’t have time to worry about that now. I’m looking for the sacred spring. Does it exist?”
“Oh yes, it exists.” Yuri rubbed his pointed chin in thought. “I can take you there. On one condition.”
“What’s the condition?” Adam asked. He wondered if this Yrisk was going to ask something impossible of him, or worse, something cruel.
“If you promise to be my friend.”
Adam relaxed once again and nodded with a smile. “Okay, I promise.”
Yuri grinned ear to ear and jumped off his rock. “This way!” He started marching with a spring in his step. He had been waiting many years for a friend to come along.
Adam followed Yuri, shortening his pace so that he wouldn’t overtake the little fellow. He wanted to laugh, Yuri was so small and so slow, it would take an entire day to reach their destination. But he could see that Yuri was enjoying himself, so he kept quiet and followed him patiently.
As they travelled through the forest, Yuri rambled on about everything that lived there, the good and the bad. He spoke of humans, about how they never visited the forest anymore, because they were scared. Yuri was sure it was the Dullahan that the humans were scared of, but she was only doing her job and all you had to do was close your eyes and ears when she walked by. But humans didn’t understand the faeries anymore. They were beginning to forget.
Adam felt guilty, he was one of those humans that had forgotten about the faeries, that stopped believing in their existence. His grandmother never stopped telling him about them though, even now. She spoke fondly of them and claimed she had seen many in her life. But everyone thought she was a little strange, so no one listened to her.
Yuri stopped dead in his tracks and squeaked, “We might have a little problem.”
Adam kicked Yuri by accident and looked down at him. “What is it, Yuri?”
Yuri rubbed his bottom where Adam had kicked him and pointed ahead of them. “She’s there.”
“Who is…” Adam stopped when he saw the ghostly figure of the headless rider. She had found him. He looked around, but there was no where to hide from her. His brow began to sweat and she charged towards him with a sickly grin.
“This way!” Yuri exclaimed as he grabbed Adam’s trouser leg and yanked him through a curtain of ivy.
Adam brushed himself off and looked back at the curtain. “Won’t she just follow us here?”
Yuri shook his head adamantly. “She can’t come through there, silly human.”
Yuri pointed a long finger towards a spring. “Because this is sacred ground.”
“We’re…here…?” Adam breathed, unable to believe the beauty that was in front of him. A small waterfall cascaded down into a circular spring, the water so clear you could see to the bottom. Vibrant grass covered the ground, there were no brown or muddy patches here. The leaves of the tree canopy glowed in the magnificent, mysterious silver light that was emanating from the spring. Adam daren’t move any closer to the spring, the sight was far to beautiful.
“You must ask permission,” Yuri whispered, giving Adam a nudge in the back of the knee.
Adam snapped out of his trance and lowered himself onto his knees. He desperately tried to remember the name of the god that guarded this spring, but he had drawn a blank. He muttered names under his breath, shaking his head at every one of them. The silver light shone upon him and he suddenly remembered.
“Dian Cecht, I am but a humble human, unworthy of your healing power, but I kneel before you today because I need help. My grandmother, Molly, is sick and no medicine can cure her.” Adam closed his eyes, scared to look in front of him. He knew nothing about this god, what he was like and whether he was a kind god or not.
“Adam Walker, this spring is to heal the Celtic gods, not humans,” a deep voice bellowed. “However, I know Molly Walker and I see you have incredible dedication and love for her. For that, you are worthy of approaching this spring and taking a bottle of its healing water, so that your she may live a few years longer.”
Adam opened his eyes and looked towards the spring. Standing before him was a tall man with a brown beard and brown hair. He wore a circular crown of simple gold and next to him stood a blonde woman, who smiled kindly. “You know my grandmother? How?”
Dian Cecht smiled widely but chose to ignore the question. “My daughter, Airmid will collect the water for you.”
The woman moved silently to the spring and scooped up a small vial of clear water. She walked towards Adam and smiled. “Please stand,” she spoke softly.
Adam rose to his feet slowly, unable to take his eyes off the gods that were stood in front of him. He took the vial that Airmid held out to him and he bowed his head. The words of thanks he wanted to say to them escaped him completely. These gods knew his grandmother, but how? He had no choice, he would have to ask her what she was hiding from him.
“You have befriended this lonely Yrisk, I am glad you now believe in the faeries and gods once more, Adam. This new friend will be a great ally to you in the future, keep him close to your heart,” Dian Cecht spoke slowly, his hands moving with every other word.
Adam gulped. “Thank you for giving me this incredible gift. I will not forget it. But…”
“You have a Dullahan chasing you, yes, she is waiting beyond the door for you.” He cleared his throat and shouted towards the door, “This man has an important life to lead, he may have seen you, but you know as well as I, that this is not his time to leave this realm. Leave him be and let him leave this forest and live in peace.”
Adam heard the horse leave and he bowed deeply to the gods. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” No matter how many times he said it his gratitude towards the gods could not be expressed in words. Tears trickled down his cheeks and he clutched the vial to his chest tightly.
“Go to your grandmother now and spend as much time with her as possible.”
“I will. Thank you, a million times.” Adam bowed again and walked through the ivy curtain with Yuri. He couldn’t believe it was real. The faeries, the gods, everything was real and they had been on his doorstep this entire time without him even knowing. He looked down at Yuri and grinned. “Let’s go see grandma.”
“This way!” Yuri exclaimed happily and marched forwards.
“Wrong way,” Adam chuckled.
“This way!” Yuri turned on the spot and walked past Adam, now walking in the right direction.
Adam approached his grandmother’s house. His trainers and jeans were covered in mud and his face had small scratches from running through the trees, but he didn’t care about that. He stepped into the house and slipped his shoes off. Everyone had gone back to work, so it would just be him, his grandmother and Yuri. He entered her bedroom and sat on her bed next to her. Yuri was at his side, fascinated by the house and everything inside it. But he was more fascinated with the elderly woman in the bed.
Adam uncorked the vial and helped his grandmother drink it. “This will make you better grandma. You were right all along.”