Down in Ridley Valley, the fairies aren't gossamer creations or made from ivory and twisted lengths of honey. Instead, they're ugly things that skulk down in the bushes and briars at the edge of the old creek, catching unwary children with spindly fingers and yanking them down into the deep, dark holes beneath the shallow surface, into improbable cenotes filled with row upon row of tiny bones. They're wide, moist-eyed creatures with bodies all slick like seal fur or old fake velvet, and they have sharp, pointy teeth stained with mud and blood.

Charlie goes down every day with a bucket full of old spikes pulled up from the Winston Grade and a hammer, and she pounds a few spikes in at the creek's edge, right where it's been trying to spill out and over into swamp and then more creek. Up and down the creek, each of the settlements of Ridley Valley does the same. It's just tradition at this point, keeping the lot of them from drowning as the fairies edge up and out of their dark places and into the human world.

Rubbing her sweating brow in the sun, Charlie thanks her lucky stars that it's water in the valley and not kudzu vines, like a few pale, sweating survivors had told her about at the last year's Market. Down in the southeast some, they'd said, the fairies were fond of kudzu and hissing things in Creole that curdled the blood and the flesh. They made young men into raving, passionate flames that burnt out into old men that turned into rich topsoil, melting away into the jungle spreading tendrils all over Louisiana and Georgia and all those Southern states.

Here it's just the creek. It's not too bad. Mostly they haven't been able to take any children or unwary dogs for the past few years, though there'd been a goose that had gone missing. Charlie's got iron bells, small ones, girdling her improbably large, steel-toed black boots, so when the little bastards try to grab her and put her in their holes, they go shrieking and gibbering back before she takes a big old swing with her foot.

A few weeks ago one of the fairies had gotten caught on the edge of the boot and gone sailing like a stone, skipping across the creek water with a pained, inhuman howl. The silvery stains still weren't off the toe after repeated scrubbings.

So after the spikes are pounded in and the fairies are done glaring at Charlie from the shadows of the twisting brush, she sits down up on a nice high rock with her empty bucket and her hammer. With a wide grin, she pulls a harmonica out of a pocket in her faded flannel shirt, puts it to her lips.

The fairies cringe.

Charlie plays Sweet Home Alabama on her old Hohner, trying not to grin as the wails of fairies reach her ears. One by one, the little bastards are throwing themselves back into the dark places of the creek as the sun comes high over Ridley Valley, melting all the green into buttery shadows where the fairies can't go for another day.

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