Nighttime visits to the forest aren’t expressly forbidden, but it is certainly unusual for a fairy to prefer the dark. By nature, fairies are beings of light. They are the personification of the wide-awake, beating heart of the forest. They are earthly fragments of a loving sun.
Constance loves the night.
She sleeps during the day so she can meet with her nocturnal friends: frogs, snails, and other creatures with globes for eyes and secret errands. She is inspired by the utter transformation of everything; even the wind has a different character at night, as it blows past folded flowers, tucked in their beds, and in and out of all the mossy crevices. Constance is most at peace in the kingdom of crickets and mushrooms.
One night, Constance meets a human in the forest. At least, he seems like a human in shape and scale. His skin is too smooth, like a white river stone, and it reflects the moonlight completely. His eyes glow too, but not warmly. They are like dark gems; sparkling, but hollow.
He comes close and jokes with her about her size, but Constance isn’t afraid. She feels no threat from him, even as he breathes his words onto her. Humans smell like death, like they are rotting on the inside, but this one doesn’t. Constance senses only the faint perfume of fresh blood, like a tiny cut has been opened on his tongue. It smells like life to her, like birth.
They become friends in their mutual appreciation of the woods at night. Each one, in turn, points out a favorite shadow or a crack in the canopy where a star will appear. The forest moans and whispers in the dark and the two of them stay together and listen in thrilled silence. She sits in his hand, sometimes. His skin is cold as ice. She doesn’t care. She lets her body heat bleed out and warm a circle on his palm.
Jack stays as long as he can. When the forest gains an edge of purple in the blue-black corners, he is gone.
Constance looks forward to their meetings. Her anticipation distracts her during the day and makes her blush.
She can’t tell anyone about Jack. It is not merely the rules about fairies and being seen; it is more than that. She is afraid. She suspects that Jack is something more human than a human. More wrong than a human. His wrongness is as extreme as his beauty, though. She finds herself thinking about the arrangement of his body, his eyes, the smoothness of his hands. His jaw is both solid and sharp, like the marble left behind by a sculptor, a lovely mistake in the stone.
She dreams that they are right-sized for each other. Jack holds the entire length of her body in his and she feels surrounded. He kisses her gently on the neck. He moves aside her garment just above her heart and kisses her more insistently there. Constance feels a sudden sharpness, his teeth, followed by the most delicious feeling of being swept away – like being caught in a warm river current and not caring where it takes you, not being afraid to drown, despite how the swiftness steals your breath, makes it falter and fail. She is pulled under. Constance wakes with a gasp. She suddenly understands what Jack is.
Constance never asks for details about where he has been before he settles down near her in the woods, his cheeks still pink with borrowed spirit. She knows how he feeds. She knows that he is a night-stalker, a kind of former human. The other humans call him wretched and cursed. She thinks they are wrong. To her, he is sublime.
One night, Jack lays his head gently on the rock beside her. Her wings tremble in the breath of his sigh. As far as his dead heart can manage, he is sorrowful. He asks if he can feed from her. He promises only the tiniest sip. He loves her and wants to know the inside of her. He wants to taste the thing that makes her alive.
Constance trusts him, but feels hesitant, so Jack relents. Besides, he has never fed from a fairy before. As far as he knows, it will kill her or him or both. He is happy to hold Constance, for now, in his palm. He strokes her back at the base of her wings until she falls asleep. She doesn’t see him lick his fingers afterwards. His teeth pulse with frustrated purpose.
Whenever Constance is not with Jack, she is thinking about him. The thoughts steal the meaning from her daily work. They steal the hunger from her belly. She grows thin and her wings begin to lose their luster. The other fairies steer clear. They don’t know the details, but they recognize a curse when they see one.
Constance makes excuses to sleep, so she can dream about sharing her body and blood with Jack. As ever, Constance only wants the night. Now, Jack is the night.
One day, at dusk, Constance wakes up particularly ragged and desperate with want. She rushes to their meeting place. When Jack finds her, she climbs up into his palm and bears her neck and shoulders. Her intention is unmistakable. Jack is thrilled, but cautious. This is no small gift. No small adventure.
He brushes his lips against the tips of her wings and stoops to the forest floor. He takes up a pine needle and, with extreme care, punctures a tiny hole in Constance’s breast with the sharp end. Trembling, he leans forward and touches a finger to the bead of red that develops.
Jack eats the blood of Constance and both lovers groan – one like an echo in a crypt, one like the murmur of a dove.
Constance lies back on his palm and lets her mind move sideways. Jack lowers his head and touches the tip of his tongue to the wound. The pain is sweet, but something is wrong. Constance is not swept away on a river, like in the dreams. Instead, she feels there is a dark hole at her feet, quickly widening. She feels that she is clawing and fighting for purchase, even as her body goes limp in Jack’s hand.
Jack feels like he is bursting at the seams with light, like his insides are on fire. It is pure heaven. He has to fight some invasive carnivorous urge to swallow Constance whole. Through his haze, he barely notices that Constance has gone slack. Her eyes are closed and there is something unlikely about her pose. She looks dead.
Jack doesn’t know panic. He doesn’t know sadness or grief. He knows hunger and, because of Constance, he knows love. He gathers his senses and works to save her, though he is not sure it will do any good.
Jack’s sole currency is blood. He does the only thing that makes sense. She is fading away. Jack bites his own finger and pushes a blue-green drop to the surface. He gently parts Constance’s lips and deposits the drop inside. It slides over her teeth and disappears.
Jack’s hunger has subsided. The fairy fire, ignited by her blood, is just a smoldering memory. He strokes Constance’s hair and the tips of her wings. He wishes he could cry.
He will take her with him, of course. Jack looks around for leaves or flowers or some other things fit for a shroud for a fairy, for a bride. Jack sighs. A section of Jack’s undead heart gives a dusty cough, loud enough for him to hear, and he pauses.
He feels an insistent wriggle in his palm.
Jack opens his fingers and there is Constance, newly alive. She is thoroughly transformed. Her wings, hair and eyes are all iridescent black, like the feathers of a raven. Her skin glows white. She smiles up at Jack with rows of glittering, pointed teeth and whispers, “My love. I am hungry.” Jack laughs with relief.
Together, they plunge into the dark freedom of the night forest.
Jessica Sarlin is a freelance writer and artist from New Jersey. In her spare time, she tortures plants and makes messes in the kitchen. Her short story, “STATIC,” appears in the Winter 2021 Issue of Door is a Jar Literary Magazine. Her short story, “POISON OAK,” will be featured in an upcoming anthology from Eerie River Publishing. Find her on Twitter (@jesssarlin) and Instagram (@jesssarlin).