The day spring turned to summer, Lily wandered, barefoot, to the edge of her father’s property, where the field met the woods. Once there, she heard a chorus of tiny voices calling from the weeds. A woman no taller than a dandelion walked out to greet her, dragonfly wings glinting in the sun. Others hid within the brambles; together, they told Lily of the otherworld, and offered to bring her there to live with them.

A voice from behind her broke the spell. “Lily, come back here!” She whirled around at her mother’s call and ran back towards her house.

Summer dragged on, and Lily was curious. She came back every day to hear the faeries make their case. They begged. They pleaded. They bribed. They told her of the wondrous things that awaited if she would only follow them. But Lily always shook her head, for she knew if she went with them now, she could never come back.

“Don’t make me choose,” she’d say.

And the faeries would always whisper, “But there’s no other way.”

School started, and she was bored. Every morning at the rise of the sun, she was herded inside and drilled under fluorescent lights, to be released only at sunset. She couldn’t visit the faeries as often, and she feared they would tire of waiting for her. But whenever she ventured to the edge of the field, they were there.

“Come with us,” they’d beg. “Just for a little while – if you don’t want to stay, we’ll let you leave.” But she always turned from them, sighing: “I have homework to do.”

The school year ended, and Lily was free. She ran through barren fields as the winds engulfed her, dancing underneath low-hanging clouds and bruised skies. She climbed the trees that lined her gravel driveway, eating sour apples and scraping her legs on rough bark. She swam in the nearby lake, plunging into the depths where the sun didn’t penetrate, her bare feet grazing prickly seaweed and algae-slicked stones.

But though the wonders of the summer distracted her, she still returned to where the fairies waited. There, they continued to make their case. And when she replied, “No, I’m having too much fun,” they were angered.

“You fool!” they hissed, their voices like cicadas. “You’ll regret this—you’ll regret this when these days are gone and done!” After that, Lily stayed away for a long time.

But when the last day of summer came, she was weak. Her looming return to school—to routine and drudgery—left a lump in her stomach. That night, after everyone had fallen asleep, Lily crept out of her bed and walked to the edge of the field. As always, the fairies were waiting; this time, they didn’t need to beg or plead.

A woman no taller than a dandelion walked out from within the weeds, her dragonfly wings glittering in the moonlight. She extended her hand. Lily accepted it, and followed her into the otherworld.

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Madison McSweeney has published horror, science fiction, and fantasy in Rhythm & Bones Lit, Deadman's Tome, Unnerving Magazine, Women in Horror Annual 2, and Dark Horizons: An Anthology of Dark Science Fiction. Her poems have appeared in Cockroach Conservatory Vol. 1, Lonesome October Lit, Bywords, and The Fulcrum. She lives in Ottawa, Canada. Twitter @MMcSW13