by Megan Lee Beals
We are not born. We do not grow. We abide in the somber places of this world, where
time has no meaning and magic may thrive. And there are rules of conduct for these places which
all good fairies know.
I was no good fairy. The rules did not live in my blood, though I did my best to
compensate. I hid in my work, content to let the others enchant the creatures who strayed into our
apple grove, until my place at the edges of our grove was remarked upon, and I became a part of
A human child was toddling through the undergrowth. Its shoes were soiled with apple
mush, and it stank of soap and rot. I was stroking the back of a worker bee and sampling her
pollen, to distract myself from the tittering fairies that swarmed around its head.
"Skin as smooth as mushroom caps!"
"Hair as black as nightshade!"
Nonsense. "Nightshade" comes in a prolific variety of colors from potato to eggplant and
none of it looks like hair. I frowned and hid myself among the coneflowers as the others flitted
about like lightning bugs. My people fancy poetry, but it doesn't fancy them.
They were chanting the first part of the rules, "strayed from the path, strayed from the
path," which brought the child into our jurisdiction, and I could feel their eyes and laughter
pointed at me, right when I was hoping to go unnoticed.
"It's your turn," they said.
"We are immortal and time has no meaning in the apple grove. Do your busy bee work
I raised protest, but their lights blinked away and they were gone, vanished into the bark
of a tree or a wisp of fog, leaving me alone with the bipedal thing that tumbled through the grove.
I crooked my finger and directed a poor little honey bee out from under the creature's foot before
she was crushed, then I took a deep breath and counted my worries down from ten.
Fine. I knew one day I would have to be the ice cold fairy queen and lead astray some
little boy. We all do it eventually, but I'd been hoping to avoid it for another thousand years.
Long enough for the time outside the grove to eat up that highway that appeared three hundred
queen bees ago. My companion under the coneflowers filled her sacks with pollen and buzzed
away, going about her job. I had a job to do, too. And because the rules do not come naturally to
me, I had to find the notes I'd left in the knot of a birch tree.
Traditional Aesthetics re: Fairy Queen
Lots of Angles
Smile full of Knives
Eyes made of Ice
Maybe wear a dress
I looked down at my teensy bare feet, brown skin gone gray at the soles with pollen and
dust, knees shiny with beeswax. Under the word "dress" I had sketched a figure that might have
been myself, covered shoulders to soles in a smudgy charcoal shroud and wearing a crown of
antlers. It looked . . . complicated. I didn't care to waste much energy glamouring up an ice queen
for one little boy. Not with autumn encroaching all around us and the bees woefully understaffed.
I was willing to manage tall. At least taller than the boy in the grove.
As per the notes regarding Entrance, I flitted across his field of vision, let my gold light
catch his eye then wink away, so he knew something magical was about to happen. Just as his
back was turned to the mile marker I stepped into the heart of the grove at a towering four feet
And I forgot what I was meant to say.
Greetings? No, they didn't talk that way anymore. Hello was too informal for a queen.
Hadn't I written down a line somewhere? The child turned around as I fumbled with the pockets
of my tutu.
He stared at me. My tutu felt a little tight, and wrong, and altogether far too orange for
anyone over the height of three inches. I drew my hands slowly from my pockets with the caution
I reserve for angry wasps. Perhaps if I moved slowly enough he'd forget he saw me at all and I
could convince some other fairy to be his queen.
The boy looked me over from heels to head and a grin spread across his face as he
incorrectly assessed my presence as benign. "Hi!" His voice louder than any sound I've heard in
My wings buzzed of their own accord at the bright, sudden noise and the boy's mouth fell
open at the sight of them.
"Fairy . . ." he breathed, dark eyes wide.
"Hi." I straightened my shoulders. He was impressed with my wings, as he should be. I
have forewings and hind. Both sets were opaque white and segmented by sturdy black veins that
keep me steady even when the winds are strong. I flexed them from my lower back and arched
my eyebrows. I did not need an antler crown. "Yes, mortal. I am the Queen of Fairies."
"What's your name?"
It was my turn to look struck. Fairies are a race of yous and heys, and anyone further
outside a shout wasn't worth considering. I know at one point I'd written a list of fairy names to
give to any humans I encountered, but at the moment I couldn't think of a single one. Nor did I
have the time to hunt through my birch-bark papers find one suitable.
I must have hesitated too long, because the boy took a step closer and thrust his grubby
hand at me, nearly mucking up my tutu.
"It's okay, fairy. Don't be scared. My name is Frank! Maybe I could call you
The boy pursed his lips, "Well you don't look like a Titania."
"I would despair to look like something I am not."
"Then what do you like?"
"I like bees."
"My jiji has an apiary."
"It's where he keeps bees."
I nodded to him, keeping my nose up and my eyes staring down like a queen. "Bees keep
themselves. It's why I care for them."
"The queen cares for bees?" His face was all twisted up in ugly confusion and I wasn't
surprised that he did not believe me. Bees are difficult for fairies, all structure and work. Their
beauty is more abstract than that of flowers. But I loved them and so I worked to learn their
language and I made myself useful to them so they would something-like-love me back.
Bees are not difficult for me.
I stuck my hand in the pocket of my tutu and found the hole in its corner. There's always
a hole in fairy pockets, where we can find what we need. I reached through it all the way to the
hive and I broke off a chunk of honeycomb from under the fuzzy buzzing bodies. A worker
kissed the end of my finger and I rubbed against her head.
"What are you smiling at?" asked the boy.
I set my face back to angles and knives and thrust the chunk of wax and honey at him.
"Eat this," I said, allowing some pride to show through my icy mask. The honey was very good,
thanks in part to my work on pollen ratio. Clover for its bright flavor to start, half again
blackberry blossom to give it depth, and just a touch of apple from the trees in our grove to give
it a taste of home. The bees liked blackberry best, but too much blackberry will sour in the
He paled at the golden morsel in front of him, and cautiously took it from my hands.
"Will it trap me here?" he whispered.
Trap. I knew of a precedence for trapping, but my notes made no mention of it, and it had
completely slipped my mind. "It will not." I wasn't sure what magic traps a boy in a grove.
He sniffed at the honeycomb, smiled, then popped it into his mouth.
I collapsed my glamour and flitted away to seek out further instruction.
One fairy and another one were dancing over the lower branches at the northern end of the grove.
Their feet pounded against the wood and rained overripe apples down on the heads of two
"Hey! What do I do with it?" I asked.
"Have you fed it yet?" asked one. She paused her branch shaking and the squirrels darted
"Just some honey."
"Oh no, not honey! Honey is real. You should feed humans fake things."
"Yes! Present them with the most beautiful, delectable fake things, and they will gorge
themselves, savoring every bite, all while they wither away. It's hilarious!"
"Fake things." I don't like fake things. Real things were hard enough, and I couldn't comb
the beehive for parasites while monitoring the slow decay of a child. "Can't one of you do this?"
They tittered at me. "Go away, you! It's your turn!"
So I went, darted round the apples and back to the heart of the grove. The boy was
chewing on the wax, already finished with the honey. It was crumbling around his teeth and
gums, threatening to fall out of his open mouth. The bees, daring things, were coming back to the
flowers near his feet. He wobbled when he saw me, crushed an aster under his toes, and the bee
that had been collecting it zagged around him.
I snapped into my glamour and stood tall above him. The stupid boy fell backward on his
Surprised by the sudden hit to his rear, the boy started to cry. I shivered at the sound, my
wings buzzed, and I searched my tutu for more honeycomb, but when I presented him with
another bite he only screamed harder.
"You didn't fall far enough to be hurt," I said.
He sucked snot back into his nose with a massive sniff and rubbed at his face, winding up
to wail again. "I don't want you to keep me here!"
"I don't want to keep you here!" I shouted, and the tears went out of his eyes.
I frowned, a real one with my real face of arches and curves. "No." It was my turn at
queen. He was mine to do with as I wished and I had no use for a grubby boy too stupid to take a
second bite of honey when it was offered. We were meant to keep humans who came into our
groves and toy with them and turn them out to a world they no longer understood, but I didn't
need a human. I had my bees.
The bees might need him. "What use are you?"
He wiped his tears into tracks of dirt across his face and picked himself up from the
ground. "I can count to one hundred, and I have read three books all on my own." He was a proud
child and probably insulted that I didn't want to glamour up a feast for him to wither away at.
Numbers to one hundred were of some use, but there were far more numbers than that in
the hive. His three books interested me. Books were where humans kept their memories. Humans
were social creatures. Cooperative, but unlike bees and fairies their knowledge was kept outside
themselves. The system lacked elegance, but its opportunity for specialization outmatched the
bees by far. Perhaps the boy could become useful, if given time to grow. But there was no time
inside the grove. "Go away. Come back when you have read one hundred books on honey bees."
His eyes grew wide, his little mouth a hard line. There might not be one hundred books
on bees. There might not be one hundred books. We do not have anything to read but what we
write in the apple grove and I am the only fairy that has found a use for writing.
"I'm lost," said Frank.
"No you're not." I pointed the path out through the nettles to the glinting mile marker that
shone like a beacon for the highway. Someone would surely come along in their truck and rescue
the little boy. I kissed my thumb and poked his forehead with it, unwilling to touch the boy any
more than that. Who knows where it'd been? But that minor blessing would ensure that whoever
came across him would not wish to harm him. I stood to send the boy out of my apple grove.
"Will you come with me?" asked Frank at the birch tree that marked the end of the grove.
I would not. There is too much time outside these trees and it does not care for fairies.
"Did you eat him?" asked a fairy.
"Did you let him rot and make a wind chime of his bones?" asked another.
But I did not need a wind chime and I take my meals with the bees.
"I sent him away," I said around the woven grass twine in my teeth. The hive was in
danger of falling and I was reinforcing its bond to the tree.
"Ah! Advanced work, that. He'll be back and begging for your favor, and that's when the
real games begin."
I grunted and they flew away giggling over the best ways to enchant little boys.
The next day it was summer and he came back to me in big stomping boots and long
black hair that reached his shoulders. I resumed my tall but he had grown so much that I had to
stretch it out by another half to keep towering above him. My glamour was thin and runny at that
height. My head felt squeezed on either side. I wore no tutu, but had a crown of buttercups
wreathing my close-cropped hair, and a yellow feather skirt that reached down to tickle my feet
and cover my dusty soles. He recognized me as surely as I knew him, and he bowed so low that
his hair swept the ground.
"Frank. How many?"
He looked confused for a moment, but I waited. Humans age quickly and their memories
are slow. "Books? Ninety-one. I even wrote one."
"So you've failed."
His lip quivered in an ugly way, but I had touched him once, so I didn't hate his ugliness.
"It's a lot more if I count scientific journals, but you said books and . . ." He rummaged about his
jacket and I saw two little lights flicker above his head. The fairies were investigating my human.
Stupid things didn't remember that I'd enchanted him only yesterday.
"Shoo. Off with you." They'd insisted I be his fairy queen and there's no take backsies
He pulled a book out of his bag and threw it at my feet.
"I'm sorry." There were tears in his eyes. "I wrote that for you. I thought it'd be enough."
I picked his book off the ground. "A gift freely given, and now I am indebted," I said,
more to myself than him. There are so many rules for fairies, but that was the one that lived in
His face was on the back. That long black hair was tied up on top of his head and a smile
tortured out of him and onto the page. I couldn't read it. My own writing was a system invented
for the purpose of tracking bees, but I was impressed as I thumbed through the pages. The
symbols were neat, uniform, and even smaller than my own. I had over a thousand hive cycles
recorded on birch bark and it didn't amount to half this number of squiggles. I would have to
make him read it for me.
"Have you always had antennae?"
I closed his book and glared. "I don't change. You do."
"But you're taller than me now."
"Yes. That is part of the rules." An achingly beautiful part of the rules. Six feet nine
inches was tearing my head away from my feet, and were it not for the skirt of feathers weighing
me down I was certain my body would explode in a puff of pollen.
"I studied bees because of you. It doesn't matter that I'm allergic, I love them anyway."
His voice caught and he stared down at his boots. "I asked your name when I was here last and
that was bad manners. That's a part of the rules, too, right? I am sorry I asked for your name."
I shrugged and felt my height begin to slip, but his head was already bowed and my
dominance here was indisputable. I was tired of keeping my head so far from my feet, so I gave
up slipped down to a comfortable four feet six inches.
He smiled, then giggled, then pointed at me and gleefully swiped his hand over my head.
"I knew it! You do change!"
He was wrong.
"I am always myself!" I shouted, and my wings unfurled from their careful position over
the feather skirt. I hovered over him and the bees picked up around his feet and he looked more
afraid of those little honey bees than he was of me and I wanted badly to hurt him for it.
"Stop! Call them off!"
"What?" I touched back down to earth and motioned the bees away from him with my
antennae. "You think I'd sacrifice their lives just to hurt you?"
He paled and shook his head. "It'd kill me. I carry epinephrine, but it can't save me if an
entire hive attacks."
I had his book in the pocket of my feather skirt and it was heavy when I thought of it; all
those pages dense with squiggles. I knew time from my notes on bees, and I knew the vast
number of dead bees all those squiggles stood for. Time cost so much to mortals and Frank had
spent so much of his on something that could have killed him. It was beautiful.
"Seriously? I don't see you for twenty years and you only smile when you think about my
"You are a good boy, Frank. You have placed your love wisely." In the bees. Where love
belongs. I rummaged through my pockets to reward him with a chunk of honeycomb, but he was
sullen when he took it, and he muttered that he didn't feel very wise.
We worked together that summer. In my smallest self I cleaned and dressed the wounds
the honey bees sustained from parasites and Frank in the only self he had built boxes to
efficiently house the hive. Every day he read to me from his book. Many things I knew, but I did
not know the taste of honey from flowers far away from my grove, nor did I know that a human
could care so much for bees.
"You are keeping him here until his family dies and a hundred years pass and he goes
home to a world not his own, aren't you?" asked a fairy when I was away to gather nettles for his
dinner. I was biggish then, four feet six inches, to be able to carry enough greens to sate his
hunger. I'd been biggish most the summer.
"So you're just going to let him prick himself on a bee and die? That's boring," said
He was at the other end of the grove counting larvae for me, his hands so close to the
most protected members of the hive, but none would sting him. I smiled. "No."
The other fairy flew close to my face, her body so small against my human sized frame,
and she gasped as she realized the meaning of the nettles in my arms.
"You are feeding it real things. Ew, gross! You're in love with a human!"
I was in love with bees. We loved the same things, and he was of more use to me than
fairies. They did not care for anything at all but rules and play. I took a mushroom from the
bundle in my onion flower skirt and bit it clean in half for all the grove to see. The fairies fainted
in the air from disgust, and I left them lying in the nettles.
The leaves were turning. The bees were staying close. Frank finished his book and I told
him to leave. Not for long. Long enough to go back to New Mexico where he had studied and to
procure honey from that place where the flowers were different than the ones near my grove. He
wanted me to come with him. In a little plastic tank as my smallest self, or human shaped and
wearing his biggest jacket to hide my wings. He didn't argue when I said no because he knew I
was a fairy and I could not leave my grove. There are rules.
The other fairies knew that, too. They waited until he was sleeping and I was out of sight
before they stole into the hive and captured my bees in a cage made of woven grass.
They hovered over him and shook the cage, stirring the bees. Then they dropped it onto
his head and it burst.
His screams pierced the quiet of my grove and I didn't understand until I saw the bees
swarming, the dead ones crushed in a woven cage, the rest angry and stinging him because he
was close to their rage. He ran through the grove with his arms flailing about his head, crying,
begging, his words slurred through swollen lips. I found the queen, closed my hands around her
and begged with my antennae for her to quiet the hive, then I flew to where he twitched on the
"Effin- effin-" His hands searched wildly through his jacket while the bees calmed around
us and sunk to the ground in sorrow for what they had done. He pulled a plastic cylinder from his
pocket and pressed it into my hands, miming that I break the end. I pulled the tube apart and
found a stinger underneath. He hit his thigh over and over and I realized the sting was for him.
He yelped as I shoved it into him, but his breathing grew less ragged, his gasps less short. "It's
not enough. I need to get to a hospital."
I pointed. He knew the way out. I never hid it from him, never meant for him to stay and
die here and wither away to nothing. He was too useful to be toyed with and forgotten.
"Too far," he said. "I can't make it alone."
His heart was pounding, his skin pale. I stood him up underneath my shoulders and used
my wings to steady us, and I walked us outside of the grove.
It was cold there. Heavy. The trees were dark and close. His arms hung around me like
dead things and were it not for his heart pounding next to my ear I'd have dropped him like a
corpse. My wings buzzed and then twitched and then stopped around my rose petal skirt that was
dropping its petals as I carried us through the forest. In my ears I heard the buzzing of my bees,
but I could not look away from my task. We moved slowly, the hundred feet to the highway
dragged on and on and my skin was chalky when we reached the road. He was slumped over me,
his arms grasped tight around my neck.
"Your hair," he said as a chunk of it fell down to my feet. There were many years outside
the forest grove that had been waiting for me. My wings were curling away and crumbling, but
he was gasping and his eyes bulged in his face. "Go back."
I shook my head. There was no car here to take him and if I had to fly on failing wings he
would find his hospital. He would survive.
"Please, you can't die. I love you. I love you and I don't even know your name."
"We don't have names, Frank." I growled as a tooth fell out of my mouth. I checked the
rest with my thumb but they weren't loose yet. "There are no fairy queens, and none of us are
special. There's no need for names when we're as much the same as any other."
"No!" he said, his hands on my shoulders, his hair clinging to his head from sweat.
"You're different. In my head I call you Apiary." He was laughing through his swollen face, his
sweat, his tears. "Apiary fairy."
A bee landed on my head. Another on my shoulder. The hive was around us in the forest
and the queen was with them. She crawled into my pocket and the hive became my grove. The
decay stopped in my body. My wings flexed out and away and I tested the air. I was strong
enough to lift him. Strong enough to carry my grove far away from here.
I wore his jacket into the hospital to hide my wings. And then I wore it to meet his jiji
who kept an apiary a few miles down the highway from where I had left a grove of good fairies
to wither and die. And then I wore it to New Mexico where we built bee boxes in the desert and a
life for ourselves and where the honey tastes different because it is made from different flowers.