Nursery Rhyme—Claire Schultz

Don’t go into the fairy circle late at night, they tell you.

Bad things happen in the fairy circle, they tell you.

In fact, don’t go into the fairy circle at all, not even in the broadest of daylights, they tell you.

If you ask them why, they look at you with tired, sad eyes. You can see it, but they don’t say it: Poor thing. You already know.

The fairy circle doesn’t look menacing; it barely deserves to be called a fairy circle. It’s a tumbled-over ring of stones and bruised mushrooms in a quiet half-clearing in the woods, just a little longer across than you are tall. It is mossy and gray-brown and looks very old, but not in the beautiful ancient sort of way. It just looks like it’s been all used up and forgotten. The grass is at once dead and overgrown with weeds, while the thick of the forest tumbles lushly towards you, the trees’ long, green branches and creeping vines curling around your arms and legs, wrists and ankles, begging come, come, that is a dead place, an emptied place, it has nothing for you, leave it to fade. 

The forest is very compelling.

Children used to play in the fairy circle, gathering hands and spinning in time with their songs. They laughed and twirled and tumbled. They kicked off their shoes and jumped on the stones. They came home with muddy feet and scraped knees. Their parents told them not to play there, but knew they would all the same.

You were one of those children once. The fairy circle was much greener then, and there wasn’t anything else to do except watch the cows grazing out by the river. They say kids don’t play out there anymore. They say the kids finally know what’s good for them, but kids never know what’s good for them.

They only call it a fairy circle because they don’t know what put it there. The stones, though worn and crumbling, were once decently large, and don’t belong to any quarry they recognize. They’ve just been there, in the middle of a clearing in the woods, as long as anyone can remember. None of them have ever seen a fairy in the circle, but some of them insist they’ve seen floating lights or heard voices late at night. They won’t elaborate, because that would mean confessing to having gone out to the fairy circle after dark.

You’re not afraid of the fairy circle at night. It’s just some rocks in the woods. Its power is long gone; what happened here is over now.

They found shoes in the fairy circle. They were a strange old-fashioned kind, a style no one had worn for decades. They were small, child-sized, and a little grass-stained, but otherwise nearly new.

They found a girl’s hair bow in the fairy circle, a long curl of fine blonde hair still clinging to it.

They found a schoolbag in the fairy circle. It was wet with dew and what looked like the stains of river water. The notebooks inside were filled out in a neat, careful hand, and all the letters were backwards.

They found a small pile of milk teeth in the fairy circle. 

They found the mayor’s cat, who had gone missing six years before, in the fairy circle. She was fat and cranky and blind in one eye, but she’d been like that before.

Don’t go into the fairy circle, they tell you, because you might come out sixty years later or six years earlier or not at all. Because it eats things up and swallows them down whole and spits up the detritus whenever it feels like it. Because it is a dying thing, but not yet all the way dead, and it is weak, but it is desperate. Its cries are pitiful now, and they are terrifying.

You don’t go into the fairy circle. You stand there, at the edge of the clearing, the tongue and teeth of the forest wrapped around your forearms, and you watch it. It is silent. Nothing happens. A gentle breeze shakes the leaves above you, but the dry brown grass remains stubbornly still. There are no voices. There are no floating lights. There is no singing or dancing or pile of lost teeth. It is graveyard-still, waiting to be allowed to decompose.

You stand there, and the bower that has ensconced you strokes your hair and cradles your back. There is no other movement.

A little red bird flies from the trees at the other side of the clearing and alights on one of the stones of the fairy circle.

Claire Schultz holds a BA in English Literature & Creative Writing from the University of Chicago and is currently pursuing an MPhil Education (Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature) at the University of Cambridge. Her fiction has been published in Electric Spec and Pigeon Review, among others. You can find her at, or making a fool of herself on Twitter @anotherclaire.

photo by Visually Us (via pexels)