by Meg Murray
The Maker’s hands were steady as he dripped the radioluminescent mixture into the glass scintillation vial resting inside the fairy’s spine of lacy metal wire. Her amber eyes sparked to life. She blinked her gossamer eyelids and looked up at the large face of the Maker. Lifting arms then legs like a marionette, the fairy became aware of the mechanical body of cast brass and small steel parts that she inhabited. The Maker studied her tenuous movements.
She tilted her head like a curious dog. She flexed the exquisite wings on her back, opening and closing them tenderly. She wished to use the wings to flee the giant creature looming over her.
She doesn’t appear very nimble. A whisper entered her head.
She’s beautiful though.
The fairy searched for the intangible voices in the space around her. She stood on a wooden tabletop in a room with glass windows and metal implements strewn about. She spied four creatures watching her from inside a copper cage suspended from the ceiling.
Hush, said a soft voice from the group, I think she heard you.
Already? It usually takes much longer for a new one to learn how to hear our words.
Very impressive, whispered another.
The fairy heard their words behind her eyes. She looked at the Maker, still watching her closely. Trying to repress a quiver of fear that shook through her, she stared into the giant’s eyes and conjured up words in her mind.
What is I? She sent the message through her stare. She saw no reaction in the Maker’s face, but heard a gasp from the distant cage. Looking back toward the group, she refocused and threw the words in their direction.
What is I?
A storm of excited statements came her way.
Remarkable! How did she —
What is she, indeed!
I dare say —
The overlapping voices confused her.
Be quiet now. Everyone! One voice came through clearly. The question, young one, is said ‘What am I’ — and you, dear, are one of us.
What am I? What am you? She sent back impatiently.
Calm yourself, young one, said the voice of authority. When the Maker has finished his inspection, you’ll join us in the cage and we will teach you.
Without warning, the Maker thrust his finger toward her and pushed her off balance. Her wings opened reflexively. She put out her arms to catch herself as she fell. She stood up again, angry from the shock of his action. The fairy looked around for somewhere to hide, but only found a few tools on the table nearby. The Maker placed his hand, palm facing up, in front of her. It was larger than the whole of her lithe figure.
“Climb onto my hand,” he instructed her in an audible voice much different from the caged voices she’d silently understood in her mind. It traveled to her in waves of sound; each syllable a displacement of air that she felt press through her delicate body.
She hesitated, but saw no way to escape. She moved her dainty brass legs forward and stepped up onto the fleshy hand. She lost her balance on the uneven surface, but regained it by flapping the open metalwork wings on her back. A fine piece of silk stretched tightly inside the metal lattice plates of each wing’s intricate design.
“Don’t you worry.” His loud voice declared, “before the sun sets, you’ll learn to fly.”
The Maker brought her close to his face. He cupped his free hand behind her back. She felt breakable inside his grip. An inexplicable fear of his thick red lips caused her to have a vision of him gleefully gobbling her up inside his giant mouth.
“I shall call you Vinnie,” he announced. He carried her across the room to the copper cage. He opened the metal door and set her inside.
The mechanical creatures in the cage waited until the Maker locked the door. Then, while he observed through the bars, they linked their hands, forming a long chain of metal limbs. The arms on each end grasped Vinnie’s hands and created a ring of bodies. The yellow glow inside the glass vial core of every creature brightened when they completed the circle.
Can you perceive our words? She heard them in her mind.
Yes, she replied. Warmth flooded through her slight frame. Ecstasy.
Welcome, the lyrical voices continued in unison. You are a fairy, made by the Maker, to serve in the Garden.
They chanted the speech and Vinnie knew the words before they were spoken.
You are our cousin. We are your teachers. We will show you the ways of the Garden. We will teach you to honor the Maker.
Vinnie, mesmerized by the words as they entered her mind, let the ecstasy wash away her fear. She belonged.
In the dark hours of night, velvet fabric covered the outside of the fairy cage. Five yellow glowing fairies lay on the hard floor of the cage. Vinnie, exhausted from her first day of life, welcomed the rest for her body and her mind. She’d learned that the Maker kept the fairies in his workshop, a space devoted to his profession as a watchmaker. He manipulated metals — as well as the yellow radioactive substance — in order to build luminescent pocket watches.
The Maker’s other passion was orchids. He’d positioned his workshop, a small room with a wall of windows, next to a large conservatory garden. He could view his treasured plants while he worked through the day.
Vinnie heard shuffling noises. Blinding light appeared as the Maker lifted the heavy velvet curtain from over the copper cage.
“Good morning, fairies,” he boomed. “Time to go to work.” He unlocked the cage and one by one, each fairy flew onto the wooden table. Vinnie followed, now a proficient flyer.
“Less clumsy today, Vinnie,” the Maker praised. “You know what to do, Martha. Introduce our newest friend to the duties of the Garden.” Martha was the oldest of the fairies. Tam had been created next. Their round bodies were heavy compared to the later fairies. Martha said they’d discovered their ability for communicating to each other unperceived by the Maker.
Martha nodded to the Maker. She waved her arm to direct the fairy group to come with her as she turned and flew from the worktable. Tam shadowed her in almost perfect synchronization.
Vinnie pumped her wings and hopped into the air as she’d been taught by the fairy called Oona. She pushed the air beneath her as she rose up to the ceiling of the workshop. The other fairies flew calmly to the doorway, but Vinnie took the opportunity to experiment with her new flying ability.
She dipped and surged, adjusting her wing speed slower and faster as needed. The variety of motion sent a thrilling tickle through her core.
Leaving the workshop, the five fairies entered the balmy conservatory. They hovered over rows of tables upon which sat dozens of pots filled with orchid stalks. Fragile flowers bloomed in hues of pink and white. Vinnie felt a flurry of energy emanating off of the plants in the Garden.
The orchids are excited to see you, Vinnie, Tam said with a wink.
They get steamed up over a minor change in weather, Fergus said, in his unkind way. Tall and thin, he was the opposite shape of matronly Martha and stocky Tam. Oona flew close to Fergus. As thin as Fergus, but shorter in height, Oona was the only fairy who’d been given adornments on her head — flimsy metal fibers that looked like antennae.
Glass encased the conservatory garden from floor to ceiling. Cast iron frames around each windowpane webbed upward into the sky. Clouds passed overhead. The height of the ceiling in the new room amazed Vinnie. Without thinking, her wings pulsed quicker. She rose to the top of the glass and iron latticework dome. She turned, falling head first toward the conservatory ground. She felt exhilarated by the speed. She lifted the tip of one wing to slow down, but the asymmetrical motion threw her body into a spiral dive. Before she reached the orchid tables, Vinnie opened her wings and saved herself from a crash. Exhausted from the effort, she landed on a flower filled table.
Once she recovered, the terror left her. The thrill of recalling the action satisfied her more than the ecstasy she’d felt when joined with her fellow fairies. She wished to try the daring acrobatics again. The other fairies flew over to her, shaking their heads in anger.
That’s enough of that foolishness! Tam scolded her.
We have tasks to accomplish, Martha reprimanded just as sternly. We aren’t here for sport. We must do as the Maker wishes.
I’m sorry, Vinnie said, while feeling not at all sorry for the freedom she’d briefly enjoyed.
Pay attention to our lessons, now, Vinnie. We’ll begin with the curtain.
The sun cast a sharp angled ray through the glass building. Vinnie watched as the four older fairies worked together to carry a length of sheer fabric. They set the lightweight material onto hooks attached to the iron frames of the glass walls.
We can’t let too much light shine in from the Outside, explained Martha.
Or not enough, said Tam, from behind the gauzy curtain.
We must carefully watch the leaves for any changes in color. Martha continued the lesson. Too pale, and the plant’s getting too much sun. A nice medium green with a touch of yellow is ideal.
We also don’t want to see the leaves turning dark green, Tam said. If they do, it could mean that the plants aren’t receiving enough light and won’t bloom.
When can we go to the Outside? Vinnie asked, distracted by the blue sky beyond the iron framed windows.
We never go to the Outside, Tam scoffed. It’s impossible. We are here to serve the Maker.
Vinnie noticed that Martha’s luminous spine was losing its brightness. The elder fairy leaned heavily on Tam, suddenly overcome with weariness. Tam ordered Fergus and Oona to begin the morning watering duties, and seemed to forget about Vinnie entirely. He escorted Martha back to the workshop. Vinnie followed them inside, unsure of what to do without instructions. She perched on a shelf to wait.
Tam lowered Martha onto the workshop table. She no longer moved and the glow of her eyes had dimmed. Tam frantically buzzed in front of the Maker’s face until the man swatted him away.
“I’ll take care of it, Tam. Go on. Back to the Garden.” The Maker set a polished box on the table next to the lifeless Martha. Vinnie ducked behind some books on the shelf when Tam flew past her, returning to the conservatory with his head held low.
From the box, the Maker removed a glass pipette of luminescent yellow liquid. He unlatched a piece of metal on Martha’s neck and filled her core until it was bright again. Martha’s arms and wings moved. She lifted her shoulders, reborn. Vinnie watched with a mix of fascination and fear.
“Good as new.” The Maker tightened the metal in Martha’s neck. The fairy flew from the table and fluttered around the room, filled with a youthful energy that she hadn’t exhibited before. Martha spotted Vinnie on the shelf, grabbed her hand, and led her out of the workshop.
Come, young one! You must be introduced to the orchids.
Martha and Vinnie found the other fairies among the potted orchid plants. Tam danced around Martha, delighted to have her back at his side.
Each morning, we have to check the water level of every plant, Martha said cheerily to Vinnie. She made no mention of her reanimation.
We must only water the orchids in need, Tam continued.
Lanky Fergus and elegant Oona worked at a nearby plant.
A very distinguished bloomer this one, Oona said with reverence. Let me show you what we do, Vinnie.
Vinnie flew close to the flower. The stalk stood three times the height of a fairy. Around it, silk ribbons secured the stalk to slender wooden stakes so it wouldn’t bend over and break. At the top, a white orchid bloom spilled from the green cellulose structure.
As Oona performed her duties, Martha narrated for Vinnie: We check the moisture level of each orchid by making a hairline incision at the base of the stem with the sharpest point of our finger. This has to be performed very gently so as not to harm the orchid by causing it stress.
We’ll also remove dying leaves and old flower spikes with our precise appendages, Tam added.
The group traveled to a second plant.
Now you try, Martha said to Vinnie.
I’m sure she’ll slip up, Fergus interjected, his tone dripping with disapproval. She’ll cut the stalk too deep. Maybe make herself a good candidate for salvage.
Fergie, hush and be supportive, please. Oona often reprimanded Fergus for his cruel comments. His jealousy began when Oona applied special attention to teaching Vinnie to fly on the previous day.
Vinnie reluctantly stepped closer to the stalk while the rest of the fairies watched her. The word ‘salvage’ echoed through her mind. She didn’t know this word, but she felt the sinister meaning that Fergus intended. A threat of some sort.
She took her sharpest finger and pushed the metal point into the flesh of the orchid’s stalk, just as Oona had done. Withdrawing the metal tip carefully, Vinnie checked for moisture.
Yes, I see water, Vinnie announced proudly to the group.
Well, bravo. Fergus smirked at her, with his arms crossed and head cocked to one side. We won’t see you salvaged today perhaps. Not like poor old Buzzer.
What does that mean? Who is Buzzer? Vinnie anxiously looked at the other fairies, but Tam and Oona avoided her gaze.
Salvage is nothing you need to worry about, Martha assured Vinnie. Just pay attention to your training so you never cause any harm to the orchids. Do only what you’re told and you’ll learn your place in the Garden.
Vinnie didn’t feel comforted by the words of advice. A fire burned deep in Vinnie’s core until it erupted into her thoughts.
My place? Do what I’m told? You tell me nothing! There are secrets here. There’s danger. And I demand to know what you’re not telling me!
Oona held her arms out to Vinnie.
Take my hands and I’ll show you the answer you seek.
When Vinnie and Oona’s hands joined, the yellow brightness from their backs intensified, and Vinnie felt calmed by a soothing wave. An image arose in her mind of a short and round fairy lying on the Maker’s workbench. The one they’d called Buzzer, she sensed. She watched the Maker’s giant hands approach him with a pair of steel pliers.
The Maker pulled the pair of metalwork wings from Buzzer’s back and set them in a framed shadowbox, securing the wings with tiny pins. The thought of losing the part of her that could provide such exhilaration and freedom terrified Vinnie. She looked at Buzzer writhing on the table and could feel surges of pain emanating from his form and washing over the group of other fairies huddled together nearby. The Maker put the box of preserved wings in a drawer.
Through Oona’s memory, Vinnie saw Martha lift her hands to her head in horror while Tam gave her a comforting hug. The Maker used a syringe tool to extract the radiant yellow liquid from the dismantled fairy’s spine until he lay empty and motionless. Buzzer’s shining eyes went dark.
Fergus broke away from the group. He ran toward Buzzer with outstretched arms, but Martha and Tam dragged him back as the Maker continued deconstructing his creation.
Oona released Vinnie’s hands and looked into her eyes with deep sadness.
Why? Vinnie couldn’t produce more words.
Oona simply shook her head.
Because he made an error and transferred a virus to an orchid, Fergus explained.
And because the rest of us needed to know, Martha said, that the Maker would take life away as easily as he can give it.
That night, the Maker called the fairies to return to their cage where he locked them inside. When the velvet curtain dropped over them, Vinnie imagined the bars squeezing in around her. She flew to the locked door, her wings treading air so she could inspect the locking mechanism with her free hands. She needed to lift and slide the latch — a simple piece of thin metal — to unlock the cage door. She tried to reach the end of the metal piece, and although she could touch it from underneath, she didn’t have the strength to push it upward. She thought of using something to grab the latch from above, but the bare floor of the fairy cage only contained the resting fairies. No scraps of watchmaking material to use.
She needed longer arms, perhaps as long as her legs, to accomplish the task. Feeling confident, Vinnie tinkered with the metal parts of her leg. The tip of her finger loosened the screws that held her lower leg to her body at the hip. She winced at the pain it caused her, but continued.
What are you doing? the other fairy voices inquired. Vinnie ignored them. She removed the entire leg and foot piece with a groan. She lifted the body part over the cage door and hooked her detached foot onto the latch and pulled. The latch moved upward, free of the lock, and Vinnie slid it open.
The other fairies flittered around her, speaking over one another. Vinnie attempted to reattach her metal leg, but she couldn’t manipulate the screws with her long sharp fingers. The Maker built her for a different purpose. The screws slipped from her grasp and clattered to the cage floor. She flew down to retrieve them, but they rolled over the edge, lost to the darkness of the workshop below.
She sat on the floor to rest and contemplate her options. Her hip ached where she’d removed her leg.
What are you thinking? The angry voice of Fergus buzzed around her. You’ll get us all in trouble with the Maker!
I can’t stay here. I’m going to the Outside. Vinnie’s words brought gasps from the others.
You can’t leave us, Martha said. You can’t abandon your duties to the orchids of the Garden.
You’ll be amazed at the joy we fairies feel in serving them, Tam added. But Vinnie found that difficult to imagine. After the long day of work in the conservatory — transporting small rocks into a new planter, washing the panes of glass, and other labors — she felt only a sense of boredom, not joy.
This is where you belong. Oona touched Vinnie’s arm. Everything you need is here.
But what if I want more? Vinnie resisted the pull of kinship she felt with them, especially with Oona.
You have no plan. Fergus shook his head vigorously. You’ve no idea what lies beyond the Garden.
Fergie is right. Oona looked desperately into Vinnie’s eyes. You’ll die in the Outside. Your light will go out and you’ll be no more. We all need the Maker’s yellow magic. If you stay here and obey the Maker, he’ll give you everlasting life.
Maybe I can bring some magic with me.
Vinnie left her leg and foot piece on the floor of the cage. She opened the cage door with a faint creak. She ducked under the curtain. The moon shone through the conservatory ceiling, bathing the workshop in ghostly light. She soared around the workshop, scared of what would happen if the Maker found her trying to escape. She flew down to the polished box in which the Maker kept his divine liquid.
As Vinnie pried the box open, the other four fairies emerged from under the cage curtain and flew to her side. She lifted a glowing yellow vial out of the box.
We can’t let you do this! Fergus yelled. The Maker will punish us for your disobedience. Vinnie saw Martha and Tam nodding in agreement. They tried to grab her arms, but she sprang into the air. Fergus lunged toward her and clasped onto her one remaining leg as she flew away.
Vinnie gripped the glass vial in her hands and had no way to kick at Fergus to release herself from his grasp. She pumped her wings with all her strength.
Fergus held tight, not beating his own wings, forcing Vinnie to carry his whole weight. She struggled to stay on her flight path toward the workshop door. She couldn’t let her freedom slip away. With a burst of energy, Vinnie flexed her wings and began to fly in a spiral. The momentum increased with each spin, and Fergus lost his hold on her leg. Thrown off of her body in mid-air, he slammed into the workshop window. The impact shattered the windowpane and the glass tube of his spine. A small explosion of yellow vapor broke Fergus into many metal pieces.
No! Oona and the other fairies rushed to the workshop floor where parts of Fergus lay scattered.
Vinnie trembled with guilt at what she’d done. I’m sorry! So, so sorry. But she couldn’t return to the fairy group and give up her chance to escape. She sailed through the broken window into the conservatory with the yellow vial still in her hands. She knew what to do when she saw the glass walls separating the conservatory from the Outside.
Vinnie set the yellow liquid on the floor and picked up a rock from an orchid pot. She could feel the tension from the plants of the Garden. Fear and anger filled the room. She flew quickly toward the glass wall and released the rock. It bounced off the window with a clink. Vinnie’s panic increased. The Maker would surely discover her irredeemable actions soon.
With a flash of inspiration and a sigh of determination, Vinnie moved the radioluminescent vial next to the iron framed glass. She picked up another rock and raced toward the window. Aiming the rock at the vial, she let go.
The container exploded with a burst of celestial yellow light. A rush of cool nighttime air entered the conservatory through the shattered window. She’d sacrificed the magical liquid that replenished the fairies. Vinnie realized she wished for something other than everlasting life. She wanted an adventure into the unknown. She chose a mortal life; to live until her radiant essence faded. Without looking back, she stepped through the jagged opening in the glass wall.
The sun was just beginning to spread its warmth on the land. The environment was a hazy expanse that overwhelmed Vinnie when she gazed at the horizon. She flew close to the ground, focusing on what was directly under her. The earth was gray and hard until she reached a green organic area. Millions of closely packed short green stalks grew individually from the dirt. Vinnie landed among the plants to inspect them. No flowers, only stalks.
Oh my! A heavenly voice in her mind surprised her. What kind of butterfly are you? A graceful creature with black and yellow wings hovered nearby.
I am a fairy, Vinnie replied. I come from the Maker’s Garden. What are you?
The butterfly sent a melodious sound of laughter into the air. A monarch, of course. Are you looking for nectar?
I don’t know. Vinnie was mesmerized by the creature’s aerial movements.
Come with me, fairy. I’ll show you the way to the milkweed.
Vinnie followed the butterfly as it flapped and flitted over the green ground, leading her away from her caged existence and into freedom.
Meg Murray (she/her) is a queer writer living in Colorado with her spouse, four children, and rescue dog. She enjoys writing speculative fiction stories about motherhood, personal autonomy, and nature. You can find her work online (megmurraywrites.com) and on Twitter (@megmurraywrites).
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One thought on “Born in the Watchmaker’s Garden”
Thank you for sharing! I love your writing style and always am able to jump into your imaginative world.