Attack of the Mental Fairies by H. Robbins




I sometimes wonder whether, or maybe even hope that everyone knows they are mad and because they know about it they manage to hide it. Then I realise mostly people don’t try to hide it. Instead they openly, almost proudly, display it for all to see. We all do it. Some take pills for insomnia and depression, take weeks off work for stress and exhaustion. Some wake up and hit their boyfriend for what he just said to them in their dream. Scream and yell and cry like a seven-year old because it’s not fair that she did all the washing up this week and he hasn’t told her she doesn’t look fat this morning. Blame your period. Drink twelve beers and piss on your neighbour’s car for a joke. Rip out your own pubic hairs to put them in your friend’s drink. Go to college with your arms bandaged up because you hate yourself so much you want people to see it in your scars. Eat nothing but rice cakes for a week. Eat four pizzas and a litre of ice-cream in an hour then bend over the toilet and heave until your eyeballs bleed. Fall in love. Fall out of love. Wonder whether life is meaningless. Cry.

And this is kind of what I want to talk about now, that whole not-knowing-whether-you’re-mad-or-not feeling. I know that feeling inside out; all because of Them.

The first time I saw one of Them I was sixteen.

I was lying in a rickety wooden bed, in a tiny, damp holiday cottage in Cornwall. In the bed next to mine, my brother was snoring softly. I’d just drifted into conscious from a meaningless dream that was quickly slipping from memory, and I tried to figure out why I was awake. Slowly, I opened my eyes. The room was dark, and my eyesight is poor, but I could make out blurry edges of furniture. I rolled onto my back and at that moment, if my life had been a movie, violins would have screeched shuddering strings. I jumped, took a sharp intake of breath with a whimper, my eyes widened as I strained to see. At the foot of my bed there was a tall figure glowing bright white. There was no sound. It was unclear, like the shapeless lights that roll across your sight after rubbing your eyes too hard. It had no face, no eyes and I could see through it to the wardrobe behind it. Strangely, I then felt no fear, no emotion at all in fact. In fact, feeling sleep wash over me again, I dismissed it as a trick of darkness and dreams, rolled back over and fell asleep again.

The next day, sitting on a bench watching the clouds go past, I remembered that moment, or perhaps was reminded of it, and directly as I thought of it, that silence fell again and my stomach tensed. I didn’t turn around, I never saw it, but I knew it was there. It was like being in the house alone and knowing that there is someone else in there with you. I wasn’t afraid. I was only certain and unquestioning in the fact that it was standing behind me in silence. I remembered once my mother telling me to throw salt over my left shoulder into the devil’s eyes, and I briefly worried that the devil was following me.

But that’s what superstitious people believe, and I am a young, intelligent woman of the 21st century. I don’t believe in demons and I am perfectly aware that these shapes and lights and movements are simply the effects of an overactive imagination, and possibly a detached retina.

Yet from that moment there were creatures everywhere I looked. My world became a hideous animist reality. I never spoke to Them back then, and never heard Them speak. After all, asking Them what they were was the same as admitting that they really existed and I wasn’t prepared for that. I started to suspect that other people around me could see Them too.

Once, taking a late night walk with a friend, ignoring the way my imagination was turning each shrub into a cluster of short, plump, green gnomes, I saw a tall dark hooded cloak floating past us on the right, and my stomach clutched up with panic. I was trying not to let my eyes follow it, trying to dismiss it from my head, when my friend screamed, grabbed my arm roughly and set off at a sprint. We had reached the safe warmth of my kitchen and bolted the door before I asked her, panting, what had frightened her. She shook her head, embarrassed. After a few minutes of coaxing, she eventually admitted that she had just been hit by an inexplicable wave of panic and knew that she had to get as far away as fast as she could. The same wave of panic the hooded cloak had struck me with, though she had seen nothing.

For a few days I believed that this shared moment of panic, although we had had different subjective experiences of it, meant that the shapes were real creatures. I started buying books on fairies and angels, nature sprites and demons. To my alarm, the more I researched, trying to find a marvellous, supernatural miracle behind my silent stalkers, the clearer they became. They changed to conform to what I had read.

I had to change my theory. If They were able to do only what I knew about Them, They must be entirely my own creation. It could be explained by my brain interpreting my feelings as visual forms. Yes, far better to accept that I was affected by some un-named syndrome and probably needed to be kept in some kind of institute to be poked by bearded men with clip-boards, than to consider some parallel reality populated with fairies that only I could see.

One day I read that The Wee Folk pinched people’s belongings, and to get your items back you stand in the middle of the room and ask politely for it to be brought back. Then you leave the room and when you return ‘They’ will have returned it. Of course, later that afternoon I realised my keys had gone missing. Not pausing to consider the consequences, my mind skipped back to the article and I murmured whimsically ‘Have They taken it?’

The air dropped, my ears buzzed. They were here. I stood up slowly, feeling very stupid. I glanced into the hall, hoping my mother wasn’t near enough to hear. “Please can I have my keys back?” I said under my breath. Never call Them ‘the fairies’, the article had said. Never thank them. I turned to leave, feeling that sceptical blankness of doing something you don’t quite believe or understand, like an atheist saying ‘Amen’ after someone else’s grace.

I was stopped by a rustling noise, and turned back, my stomach twisted with fear. I was just in time to see my keys slow to a stop on the carpet a few inches from my slippered feet.

Could I still blame my own imagination? I couldn’t think rationally anymore. A scream was trapped in my throat for the rest of the day. I slept over at a friend’s house, and she worried about why I was so twitchy and kept looking over my shoulders at every sound. I shook my head at her and said nothing.

What follows is my true story. You can either see it either as one woman’s descent into madness or one woman’s proof of another universe. These days I’m no longer sure.


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