You meet all sorts of people when you run a bed and breakfast. I’ve had honeymooning couples, couples on the brink of divorce, lads on stag nights, people who’ve run away to start a new life. All sorts. It just comes with the job, I suppose. You meet all sorts, and they probably won’t remember you when they check out, and most of the time, you won’t remember them either, but every now and again, you get a guest like Nick, and over time, you realise that you’re not going to be able to get them out of your head for as long as you live.
It was a nasty business, what happened to Nick, and to that girl of his. A very nasty business, indeed, but I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself.
I assume you’ll want Nick’s room, right? All the travellers who come here want his room. They come to make their documentaries, their podcasts, their long form journalistic pieces that nobody will read. They all want his room when they come to stay, and they sit up all night, trying to figure out what happened to him, poking around the room for clues. There’s nothing up there that the police haven’t already dusted for prints and photographed, but they insist all the same. They all want his room, and they all want to speak to me about what I saw. I’ve told them, all of them, but none of them can explain it or find the poor man.
I used to think nobody would find him, but I’m beginning to think I’ve solved the mystery of where he was finally laid to rest. Again, I’m getting ahead of myself, so I suppose I’ll start from the beginning. You’ll want to know everything, won’t you?
Nick was a last minute booking. It was a few weeks after the end of the tourist season. Bookings had been slow for most of the summer, and had slowed to a stop during the October half term. We’d had quite a few cancellations, because apparently people don’t realise that rain on Scottish islands in the autumn is a possibility, and by the time Nick arrived, the entire place was empty. I had kept the place open out of habit, but hadn’t really been expecting guests, especially not a guest that hadn’t booked in advance, but after a difficult year, I certainly needed the money, so I was very pleased to see him.
As he checked in, he buzzed about the plants across the island that he’d like to see. It was almost winter, so all the plants would be dead, but I didn’t want to talk myself out of a booking, so I humoured him and made conversation. He told me he wanted to hunt for faeries, and again, I held my tongue. We get quite a few faerie hunters on the island, and they always head back towards the ferries with disappointed faces, but I needed the money, so I humoured him and wished him well.
He seemed a nice enough man, with a kind face and soft, auburn hair. He cut a striking figure on the posters, you know, after… everything. Again, I’m getting ahead of myself
He arrived alone, but after that, I rarely saw him by himself. They were inseparable, him and Debra. She was the daughter of Henry Johnson, one of the farmers on the other side of the island, although, on an island this small, it is a little redundant to clarify on which side of the island somebody lives. Debra was Henry and his wife Joanna’s pride and joy, but between you and me, I’d always had a bit of a weird feeling about her. I know that it seems a little judgemental, but I’m not alone.
Nobody would say, of course, but almost everyone I know had a bit of a weird feeling about Debra. I suppose she’d always been there, growing up with our kids, going to school with them, but something about her always seemed… off. None of the kids wanted to play with her, so she’d wander the hills and valleys as a little girl, and as she grew into a young woman, she kept to herself. The kids grew up, probably matured enough to include her, but she didn’t have an interest. Some people saw her as stuck up, maybe a little bitter, but for me, I’d always seen something a little bit dark in that girl, and I don’t just refer to her gloomy dress sense and long black locks. When Nick came along and she got her claws into him, I felt vindicated in my suspicions.
He met her on his first night on the island. I saw them out of the window. I can see quite a lot of the island from my bedroom window, you know. Sometimes, I let the reporters and so on look through it, to see what I can see, but they waste the view. Everyone that comes here is in a rush, you see, they never take the time to really look, but I do. That’s how I saw them.
He was walking down towards the beach when they crossed paths. He looked up and seemed instantly enchanted. They chatted for a few minutes before walking together into the dark night. The next morning, Debra was all he could talk about. He was spellbound, unable to keep a smile off of his face and before long, she stopped by to collect him. They told me that they were off to look for faeries, and I frowned at Debra, knowing that she knew, as I did, that there was no such thing, but again, for the sake of my fees, I kept my reservations to myself and wished them a good day.
There had always been rumours of faeries from visitors to the island. They were obsessed with the idea, and in a way, it was what we were famous for. None of us had ever seen them, but if people wanted to pay us to make use of our island while hunting for them, we weren’t really in a position to spoil the illusion. Debra seemed to believe though. I couldn’t understand why, but she’d always been strange, so I just attributed it to that.
The day went by, and nothing too interesting happened until I went to change Nick’s sheets. As wrong as it is, I tend to take a little look around the rooms when I change the sheets. It’s an invasion of privacy, and it’s completely unethical, but anyone in my position who says that they don’t is a liar. It was mostly normal. He had the usual things you’d expect for a young man on an exploring holiday, but tucked away in the papers on his desk was a drawing. It was quite intricate, with beautiful shading and detail. It showed the forest, down past the Johnson’s farm, and there was a woman with dark tresses, backing away from the trees, afraid, her face as white as the sheets I held in my hands. Behind the branches of the trees was a strange, silvery light that seemed to have wrapped its way around the night.
He had signed it with his name, and written “She is lost” in the corner. It was unusual, and very pretty, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. I suppose I should have. If I’m going to snoop, I should follow it up, but even when this place is almost empty, running a bed and breakfast is a lot of work, so I got on with fixing dinner and forgot about it.
Debra joined Nick for dinner, and barely said a word to me. Nick explained that they’d yet to spot any faeries, but that Debra was sure they would eventually. I shot her a look of contempt and carried on with dinner. It was wrong to take advantage of his naivety, but at that point, we were both in as deep as each other, so all I could do was glare.
They chatted to each other about the faeries, both of them lost in the idea that the faeries were sweet and benevolent, the protectors of the island. It was nonsense, of course, but they seemed happy enough, so I left them to it.
That night, Nick made use of the sitting room with me, half paying attention to the television as he worked on another drawing. I peered over at it, trying to hide the fact that I already knew he liked to draw.
“What are you drawing?” I asked, trying to be as casual as I could.
He passed me the pad, with a proud smile on his face. He had drawn the beach, with a huge, glowing moon looking down on it. It looked beautiful, until my eyes travelled down and I saw what lay in the sand. There was a woman’s body, half buried, her dark hair fanned across her shoulders, as a pair of spindly, silver claws crept out from behind one of the rocks.
I handed the pad back to Nick, suddenly uncomfortable with his company, but desperate to know why he’d draw such a thing. I asked him, and he told me that he’d seen it in his dreams, for weeks. Apparently, he’d been having these horrible nightmares and all of them seemed to lead him here, to the faeries. He believed, with all sincerity that the faeries could cure his bad dreams. It was hard not to laugh, in the moment. Not so funny now, of course.
The next morning, he went out with Debra, again, hunting for faeries, and I got on with my day. I took another little peek at his drawings and noticed that he’d captioned the drawing from the night before as “She is found.” I felt a shiver through my body as I looked over the image, dropping it back on the desk and walking from the room, trying to push what I’d seen from my mind.
I tried to forget as the day went on, but the latest drawing stuck with me as the hours slipped by. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and I couldn’t help but worry about Nick.
He didn’t arrive home for dinner that night. Time ticked by and I stared from my bedroom window, waiting to see him walking down the path, but he never came. I thought about the drawings again, wondering what they could possibly mean, and in the pit of my stomach was a small but growing drop of dread.
I went looking for him that night, but I didn’t find a trace of him. I walked down to the beach, and the whole place was quiet, with nothing but the soft waves lapping against the sand and rocks to fill the air, until, all of a sudden, a scream burst through the quiet night, capturing my attention. I began running towards the sound, over towards the farm, unsure of what I’d find when I got there, but, for some reason, I knew it would have something to do with Nick.
As I approached the farm, I stared up at the forest ahead, shocked to see it ripped from the darkness of the night and surrounded by a silver light that was weaved around the branches and leaves. As I got closer, I could hear another scream, weaker than before, strangled by sobs as a figure fled the shadows of the trees. I ran towards them, suddenly struck by how similar the image was, as I saw the figure’s dark tresses falling down their back as they backed away from the forest. It was the woman from Nick’s drawing, and she was running from the forest, surrounded by the silver light, just as the picture showed. I took her hand, and she grasped it tightly, weeping hysterically and pulling me away from the forest.
As we ran, I could see it was Debra, and when we reached the edge of her parent’s farm, and she slowed to a stop, I caught my breath and then asked her what was going on.
“It’s Nick.” She said. “They took him.” I took her back to her parents, but she was inconsolable. I didn’t really know what to tell them, and as we all sat down for a cup of tea, staring at her expectantly, it became clear that he wasn’t sure what to say either. After a little coaxing, she began telling us about how the two of them had gone to the forest to look for faeries. I rolled my eyes, again, knowing that everyone around the table knew that such a thing just didn’t exist on the island, or anywhere, but she carried on, seemingly unconcerned by my lack of faith.
“I used to see them in the trees sometimes, so I took him to the spots I’d seen them before…” Her parents looked at me, confused and hoping for some answers from me, but I had nothing but what I’d seen at the edge of the forest. “The faeries are different now…” Debra trailed off, sadness and fear flooding her eyes. “It’s all my fault.” She wailed, running from the room and slamming the door behind her.
I made my excuses shortly after and left. Something didn’t feel right, and I needed to find Nick, but it was far too dark for me to have much success, so I walked home, and decided to get some rest before trying again the next day.
I couldn’t help it, as cruel as it felt, but I knew that Debra had something to do with it. Like I said, there was something off with that girl.
The morning came, and I wandered the island, with the benefit of daylight, but Nick was nowhere to be found. I didn’t want to, but I had no choice but to call the police. Nobody wants to call the police when their business is tourism, because it’s a small island, and everybody talks. Just the smallest hint that the police have been called, for any reason at all sends tourists into a panic. I kept thinking about his family, and how they’d need to know that I did everything that I could, but I had a bad feeling that everything I would do would be for nothing. Of course, I didn’t believe Debra’s silly story about faeries, but I knew that something terrible had happened to Nick. I’m not sure how I knew, but I just had a feeling, a deep, troubling feeling.
It wasn’t just the few tourists we had dotted around the island, the locals were beginning to worry too. Within an hour, I had a crowd of islanders outside my door, ready to pitch in and help me find Nick. A few of us made up posters to hand out as the two police officers that had come over from the mainland began combing the island. As time went on, more of the island joined us, until there was only one, glaring and obvious omission, Debra.
I came across her on my search, stood by the entrance to the forest, looking just as frightened as she had the night before, her eyes following the branches as they swayed gently in the wind.
“He’s not in there anymore.” She whispered, turning away from the trees and looking over my shoulder. “That way.” Debra pushed past me and began walking down towards the beach. “Hurry up, he’s dead.” I followed her, a little uncomfortable with how casually she said such horrifying things. She showed no emotion as she walked. Her face was still covered in tears, but the sadness had left her eyes, and they were empty of anything.
“Debra, do you know what happened to Nick.” I asked her, jogging to keep up as he began to run towards the shore. “Debra?” She ignored me, pushing though a small group of volunteers that was searching by the beach, and running towards the waves.
The rest of the crowd began to gather by the beach, all of us following Debra as she approached the roaring sea.
Rain began to fall as thunder crashed, and Nick’s sketch pad washed up on the shore, dirty and damaged but obviously his.
Debra pointed at it, her finger shaking as I crept closer, lifting it from the bubbling waves. She then pointed behind us, towards the forest, her eyes filling with tears.
“How did you know he was here Debra?” She fell to her knees, weeping as she grasped for the sketch pad. I snatched it away from her reach as the police officers approached. “How did you know Nick was here?” She wailed, thrashing as the police officers began lifted her to her feet and began walking her back towards the farmhouse.
“They’re coming to get me too!” She screamed, as the officers lifted her from the ground and carried her, kicking and shrieking towards her parents home.
Nick was declared dead a few days later. His body was never found, but it was assumed that he’d drowned. I spoke to his mother briefly, and when she asked me what had happened, I almost hung up the phone. I didn’t know what to say to her. Nobody did. We didn’t even know what to say to each other.
After Nick was declared dead, things went downhill for the island. The media coverage began, and tourists were put off. The few bookings I had left before the new year were cancelled, and the cafes, restaurants and shops around the island knew that a lack of tourists would affect them too. It was like a chain reaction. The holiday cottages lost their bookings too, and then the bus company that did day excursions. Soon, none of us had any work for the foreseeable future, and it all seemed to link back to Nick’s death.
The Johnson’s were shunned. Debra was to blame. That’s what everyone thought. They’d never say it, but that’s certainly how they felt. I felt it too, I couldn’t help it. The police said that there was no evidence of foul play, but she takes him into the forest at night and then emerges without him, talking about faeries and such nonsense and the police don’t suspect any foul play? Sounds fishy to me.
She had no answers as to why she took him to the forest at night, when they’d apparently been able to find faeries just fine during the day. She also couldn’t answer how he went from the forest to the sea without her noticing. It became very clear that she’d had something to do with his disappearance, but there was nothing that could be done. The police moved on, and we were expected to as well, but nobody could.
She spread her sickness across the island and soon, we were all pariahs too. We tried to move on, but there was resentment bubbling, and a rage that needed relief.
It had been a few weeks before that relief was found. As I settled into bed, exhausted, my rest was immediately interrupted by the sounds of walking outside. Lazily, I got out of bed, and headed to my window to see what was happening, and was shocked to see several of the islanders walking past the house and up towards the farm. I opened the window, leaning out and seeing more and more pouring down the street behind them.
“What are you doing?” I called down from the window. Nobody answered, so I dressed and ran from the house to follow them. “What’s going on?” I asked, pulling my neighbour Russell to a stop and forcing him to meet my gaze.
“We’re going to make Debra confess.” He snarled, taking my hand and pulling me along with the crowd. We walked down towards the beach, to head up to the farmhouse, and that’s when I saw the silver light.
It shone high above the beach, casting brightness throughout the night’s sky. It lit up the sand and her dark hair seemed to shine as it lay across her shoulders. Submerged in the sand, all I could see of her was her shoulders and her glistening hair.
I pulled Russell towards the beach, the others began breaking away from the crowd and following us, and soon, we gathered on the sand, staring down at Debra’s body. I clasped my hand to my mouth, horrified as I stared around the beach, suddenly aware of how familiar it all was. Behind one of the rocks, I noticed a slender, light fingertip, almost like a claw slip behind the stone, just like Nick’s picture, and my blood ran cold.
Debra had been telling the truth, you see. They’d encountered faeries, but they had no idea what they were getting into.
The faeries are real, but like many things, the reality didn’t quite live up to the fairytale. Debra wanted to see them as kind, loving creatures and Nick saw them as the saviours that would rescue him from his bad dreams, but that was what the faeries wanted them to think.
I know that it sounds ridiculous. You’re looking at me like I’m mad. They all do, when I tell them. They ask me for the truth, but they’re not ready to hear it, or to understand.
We began to understand, but nobody liked to talk about it. The curious journalists began to flood the island after Debra’s body was found. One death on an island is a little strange, but a second, with an actual body drew them to us.
The doctors didn’t know what had happened to her, or how she ended up on the beach, and the police didn’t look into it too much, but people with questions approached the island, pointing cameras and pointing fingers on their quest for the truth.
None of them ever got close, of course. They’d theorise about drugs, or illness, some kind of pact between them, but none of them ever got close to the truth.
We learned to stay in at night, and to keep our guests close when night fell, but every now and again, some well meaning type would see us as paranoid and go out for a late night walk and just… never come back. We stopped calling the police after Debra. They never got to the bottom of it. Someone would wander into the night, and just never return, and we’d all swallow the guilt of it, knowing the truth but knowing that we’d never be believed, just like Debra.
It was a nasty business, you know.
Nobody ever knew what the faeries wanted, or why they took people, so all we could do was try to keep people out of their grasp. It isn’t easy, when nobody believes you, but I do what I can.
As for Nick? I told you, I’m beginning to understand where he ended up. It wasn’t in the sea, not all of him anyway. Bits and pieces, I suppose, his sketch pad, of course, but I saw Nick again just last week.
The faeries are getting bolder. It’s a nasty business, you know. I saw them gathering at the entrance to the forest during daylight. Their spindly claws protruding from their cloaks as the silver light whipped all around them, and tied to a tree, surrounded by chanting faeries that skulked around the trunk with wicked smiles was Nick.
I couldn’t see much under the cloaks, but what I could see looked almost human, almost beautiful even. Not quite, but almost, and it unsettled me. I hid behind some bushes, peeking through and hoping that they didn’t spot me.
Nick didn’t struggle. He leant, lifelessly against the tree, bruised under his bounds with the colour drained from his cheeks. He looked up at me, a solemn sadness in his eyes, and the faeries all turned to me, their gaze piercing. I had been discovered.
I ran. I wish I could tell you that I rescued him, that I burst through the hoards to untie him and carry him to safety, but I ran. I didn’t stop running until I was back inside my house, bolting the door and closing all the curtains.
I’ve seen them a few more times since then, but I just walk past, as quickly as I can. Like I said, they’ve gotten bolder. Sometimes, we see them without their cloaks. They look almost human, like I said. Like pretty, mischievous girls, but there’s something strange about them, something that you don’t quite spot unless you’re looking for it.
I don’t know what they wanted with him, or why they’d kept him alive, but as we’ve all come to understand, you don’t question them.
You don’t question them. You don’t go out when night falls. You don’t bother them. That’s the only way that you live.
I’ve never actually told anyone about Nick, and you’re not going to either. It’s a nasty business, but people off the island mustn’t know. The faeries wouldn’t like it. I’ll tell you what they would like, though. I think they’d like to spend some time with you. In fact, I’ve set up an appointment for you. That’s them at the door. Don’t struggle. Don’t worry. It will be over before you know it.