Once upon a time, a village sat on the edge of a forest and lived in peace with the magical creatures who inhabited it. Villagers never ventured into the forest. Likewise, the creatures never ventured out of the forest. Only one was exempt from this unspoken rule, the Tooth Fairy. The villagers allowed the Tooth Fairies to enter the village at night to exchange children’s lost teeth for tiny trinkets. In return, the creatures of the forest provided the villagers with a small grove in which they were allowed to hunt and to chop wood. Thus the pact formed.
They lived in symbiotic harmony for decades. Generation after generation of children eagerly anticipated losing a tooth. They’d wiggle them, poke and prod them, and enjoy crunchy foods, until the day they ran excitedly into the family room holding their trophy high. With each tooth, parents repeated the instructions: leave the tooth under your pillow, open your bedroom window, and fall sleep. The Tooth Fairy only visits if you’re asleep. The next day they’d wake up with a shiny trinket to show off to all their friends.
Eventually, one of those generations grew up and became parents who began to question the Tooth Fairy’s motives. Why did they want the teeth? What were they doing with them? One-by-one children lost their teeth, and bedroom windows remained shut. Tooth Fairies slowly gave up and stopped visiting the village. The villagers continued to hunt and chop wood in the loaned patch of forest.
Dense fog rolled over the ground as the Council of Elders stood in the cemetery. The sun barely peeked above the horizon, yet the crowd steadily grew. Churned dirt lay haphazardly next to seven rectangular holes. The Elders stared into the holes and scratched their heads. The village doctor and mortician both examined the open graves for any sign of robbery or further foul-play. A line of law enforcement kept the villagers at a safe distance.
The crowd remained hushed due to the morbid nature of the scene; still, many bustled to get a better view and hear the official discussion. With all seven graves inspected, the two professionals huddled with the Elders to report their findings.
“All the coffin lids have been cracked opened, but were carefully replaced,” Dr. Ezra said in a low tone.
“Robbers don’t often exercise caution,” Elder Archibald replied.
Barely audible, Iris the mortician whispered, “Well...that’s the thing, nothing was stolen.”
Archibald, shocked, asked, “But then what was the motive? I dare not believe anyone in this village capable of doing anything so nefarious.”
“The doctor and I do have a theory,” Iris started, “However, it is more morbid than either of us would like to entertain. If you don’t mind, we’d like to look over our respective notes and archives on the deceased before giving credence to such a macabre conjecture.”
Reluctantly, the Elders agreed. The Council of Elders had a policy of being as straightforward as possible with their community. They believed keeping secrets would only sow discord. However, in light of such an unprecedented event, perhaps unprecedented actions were necessary. Elder Archibald addressed the crowd assuring the village they needn’t worry. As far as the officials knew, no one lay in harm’s way.
Elder Archibald addressed the gathering, “While I know you surely have questions, we ask for your patience. Such an unusual event requires a great deal of attention and respect. I assure you, once we have more tangible information, we will share it with you. Right now, I’d like to give the experts time to do what they do best. In the meantime, I ask once more for your patience and understanding.”
Elder Archibald’s longstanding relationship with his community bought him the town’s compliance. He knew it would not last without a timely explanation. But for now, the village seemed satisfied. Wary but content. The crowd dispersed as the sun started to warm the day. With the coffins secured and their inhabitants undisturbed, a few volunteers remained to refill the holes. One child remained behind and watched the people work.
Aurelia’s bedroom window overlooked the cemetery. The gathering had piqued her interest. She sneaked into the crowd around the time the Elders had begun to speak in private. Like the vast majority of the villagers, she had been born in the village and would likely die in the village. And despite her audacious nature, she had no problem with that. She had grown up with the stories of the forest creatures. Those same stories fostered an insatiable curiosity in her. At 15 years of age, Aurelia liked adventure and using her imagination. Both frequently landed her in trouble. More than once she had been caught sneaking into the woods. Regardless, she lived her life happily and everyone seemed to like her. She was always polite and her presence cheered up everyone around her.
As the people finished filling the graves, Aurelia walked closer. She looked for anything suspicious. She knew the adults had already scoured the area, but she didn’t trust them. They weren’t her, and thus, didn’t have her eye for detail.
A soft, deep voice spoke to her, “Come along Aurelia, this is no place to play right now.”
“I’m not playing. I just want to look.”
The large man with a shovel slung over his shoulder stared at her with dubiety.
“I won’t touch anything. I promise,” she raised her thin, sun-kissed right arm to signify her oath.
The man shrugged and walked off. He knew better than to argue with her. But he knew Aurelia’s personality and trusted she meant no harm. Aurelia tied back her white hair and got down to business. She continued her stroll around the freshly covered graves, hands clasped behind her back. Every so often she paused and bent over, straight-legged, to examine the dirt, mindful of her promise not to touch anything. While carefully examining every loose rock and clump of grass on the third mound, a glint caught her eye. She knelt beside the grave and planted her face next to the object. Only a tiny amount stuck out of the dirt; it appeared smooth and shiny black.
She blew on the dirt in an attempt to free the object. She tried from different angles, but it was packed tight. She thought for a moment and took a quick look around. Upon finding herself alone, she rapidly dug it out. She examined the object; it barely stretched the length of her palm. It curved to a razor-sharp point and looked suspiciously like a claw. She’d seen several types of animal claws the hunters had brought back. To Aurelia, it most resembled a bear’s claw. However, the texture was far too glass-like. She pocketed the claw and hurried home.
Aurelia finished her daily chores as fast as possible while maintaining quality. Her mind fixated on the object in her pocket. She needed time to figure out what it was. It had to be related to the dug up graves. After dinner, Aurelia spent the evening in her room examining the claw. No matter how she looked at it, she couldn’t figure out what it was or where it possibly could have come from. Quite a few books lay sprawled out in front of her. She’d collected many books dealing with the strange and unusual, and moved on to searching through them for answers. With daylight dwindling, it became increasingly difficult to study the object, but not impossible to read.
She wished for more information about the forest creatures. Despite her people living side-by-side with them for a century, they lacked any meaningful information on their lives, species, or culture. Though it struck Aurelia as imprecise, her lack of information on the forest coupled with a lack of information on the object, she concluded the two were likely related.
The candle on her desk burnt to its end as Aurelia fell asleep, her face buried in books. The moonlight shone brightly, illuminating the cemetery outside her window. She remained fast asleep as the lanky figure strode past her house, pausing briefly to glance through her window.
She woke early the next morning to the sound of many chattering voices coming through her window. Aurelia snatched her coat and headed out of her room through the kitchen. She reached for the handle on the front door when a strong hand gripped her shoulder.
“Aurelia, I don’t want you going near that graveyard,” the voice belonged to her father, gruff but kind.
She knew arguing would be futile. Edwin supported and frequently encouraged his daughter’s curiosity. But past experiences told her that when he put his foot down, she’d better heed his words.
She turned and lifted her head to face him, “Did it happen again?”
“It did. And I’ll say it one more time, do not go near that graveyard. I’m going to help fill in the graves. Lock the door behind me, then go around and lock all the windows. And they’ll stay that way until I say otherwise.”
Aurelia nodded and took off her coat. She knew when she was defeated.
“Let me know if you see anything weird in the dirt,” she implored.
“Weird how?” he cocked an eyebrow at her, playful, but not without a hint of suspicion.
She thought for a moment, “I don’t know. Just, you know, anything out of place.”
He knew she was scheming something, “Alright, but lock the windows,” he punctuated the last few words and took off. As agreed, Aurelia locked the door behind him and proceeded to do the same to all the windows. His overly protective restrictions weren’t unfamiliar to her. It was just the two of them and she knew she often pushed her boundaries. But she also knew yesterday it took the volunteers about two hours to fill the graves.
She made her way to the side of the house opposite the graveyard. A fireplace sat in the center of the family room wall. Two narrow windows flanked it. She knew one day she’d be too big to slip through them. But, for now, she was the perfect size. She flipped the latch on one and carefully made her way through. With time scarce, she quickly pushed the window back in place and headed for the one person she believed might have valuable information.
Crisp air surrounded Aurelia as she walked home from the library. The vast shelves brimming with books had provided no insight into the forest creatures. However, Ella conveyed a bit of information to Aurelia that her father omitted. Along with seven freshly unearthed graves, one home received a late-night guest who had left all the inhabitants dead. Ella lacked any deeper knowledge. The Council of Elders remained tight-lipped on the topic. Ella wasn’t even supposed to know the deaths were unnatural.
Pondering the new clues, Aurelia quickened her step. As she approached home, she noted the volunteers were wrapping up their work. She hurried to the side window and let herself in. Careful to lock the latch behind her, she continued to her room. Not long after, her father knocked and called from the front door. She scurried to open it. He looked exhausted, and not just from the morning’s work.
“Are all the windows locked?” he asked.
“Good. The Council asks that everyone be inside by sunset. No leaving again until sunrise.”
He sounded worried. Aurelia nodded her head in understanding. She formulated a plan as her father went about the rest of the day’s outside work. She set about her chores as well and even helped her father chop wood to assure they finished everything before sunset. Besides, there wasn’t much she could do to further her quest until her father went to bed.
Once the darkness of had night fully set in, Aurelia silently hopped out of bed. She climbed on top of her desk and carefully unlocked her window. Working meticulously to remain undetected, she lifted the window, slipped outside, and closed it once more. She picked up the wood axe she had earlier leaned against the wall. Heart pounding in her chest, she made her way to the cemetery.
The cemetery backed up against the forest. A small brick wall with an iron archway marked the entrance. Just inside sat a row of bushes. The spot between the wall and bushes would be Aurelia’s hideout. She was confident she could remain unseen while simultaneously gaining a clear view of the entire graveyard. She planned to catch a glimpse of the culprit and report her findings the next day. She prepared to be met with reprimand but was willing to take the punishment. She felt as though no one else was taking action. If whatever dug up the graves moved into the village, she would raise the alarm immediately.
She began the night full of adrenaline and desire to see this through. However, as the moon tracking through the sky neared its end, her eyes grew heavy. She refused to fail and used all available will power to force her eyes open. Suddenly, she felt a new wave of inexplicable exhaustion hit her. She slumped to the ground. Foliage blocked her view. As her eyelids shuttered, movement on the edge of the forest caught her eye. Energy surged through her, imploring her body to wake up. But sleep was coming for her, as was the creature from the forest.
The creature blended perfectly with the night. Her skin stretched taut across bulging bones. She floated softly to the ground and strode toward Aurelia on unguligrade legs. Her limbs flowed lithely like the wind, and gossamer wings glistened in the dying moonlight. As she reached the slumbering child, she knelt next to her. She brushed the child’s hair from her face and covered the girl with the woven shawl wrapped around her shoulders. She leaned close to the girl and whispered into her ear before setting about her night’s work.
“Aurelia!” the call simultaneously sounded far away and near.
She rose from the cold ground and groggily rubbed her eyes. Her father ran at her with the Council of Elders not far behind. She sat confused and pulled the blanket around her tighter. She stared at the cloth realizing it did not belong to her. She concentrated her thoughts on what had happened the previous night, but could not recall a thing. Her father fell to his knees in front of her, wrapped his warm arms around her narrow shoulders, and pulled her close.
Still dazed, she barely registered the questions her father asked her.
“What are you doing out here? Are you hurt? Your window was unlocked!”
She pulled away and looked around. The Council now joined them and seven more graves lay open. She looked her father in the eyes and asked, “Was another house broken into?”
“Another?” Elder Archibald spoke, “How did you know?”
“They’re missing bones, aren’t they? The graves and the people in their homes.”
The entire Council stared at her in astonishment.
“There’s only one way to make it stop,” Aurelia stood up, “Last night she spoke to me. She said I had to tell the village her words. She, and more like her, will visit every night. They will continue to dig up graves and enter homes unless we go back to honoring our pact with their people. We either give up our rights to the patch of forest we work, or we once again allow the Tooth Fairies into our homes.”
“That’s OUR grove!” Elder Thoman chimed angrily.
Remembering the Tooth Fairies of his childhood, Elder Archibald sighed, “No, it’s not.”
He silenced Thoman and knelt in front of Aurelia. Showing remorse he asked, “My child, who told you this?”
“The Bone Fairy.”