scary stories around the fire

out of tune


A jogger becomes fascinated by a mysterious creature in the park.


told by

written by

Lydia Carr


this story is fully protected by copyright and must not be copied, printed, or shared without explicit permission from the author.


I live in a medium-sized apartment in a medium-sized American city. It doesn’t matter which
one. You saw us in the last national election cycle under a chyron reading “Heartland Debates
Choices”. My roommate moved out at the beginning of the Covid pandemic to bubble with her
boyfriend. Luckily for me my job picked up so I never needed to replace her. When the
company went remote I turned her room into my office.

I started jogging again when I realized I hadn’t been outside for ten days. There’s a park by the

river ten minutes from my place. It’s not big but it’s got decent paved trails. I go down mid-
morning when regular people have to be at their desks or on their phones. Look, I know I’m not

going to enter any marathons, but I need the exercise and I don’t want people watching me. It’s
bad enough I have to watch my jiggle.

Anyway, I listen to podcasts or music or whatever when I jog, though only with one headphone
in because I’m not an idiot, thanks. A few weeks ago I had to go for my run later than usual, in
the early evening. I forget why, there was a deadline or something. It was the beginning of
autumn and the leaves were starting to come down. I was bobbing along to Lizzo when I saw an
eye blinking at me from a log. I figured it was a skunk or a raccoon so I gave it a half wave and
kept bobbing. I do not mess with urban wildlife, I don’t want a rabies shot.

After a few days I had to jog in the evening again and I ran past the log. This time two eyes and
a paw like a hand returned my half wave. That got my attention. I’ve heard of pet raccoons
getting set loose in city parks when they got too big. If one was abandoned here I ought to tell
the ASPCA or someone. It might even be something dangerous. A bunch of soccer players got
surprised by a bear in another park a couple of years ago and the city had to get Wildlife
Control to shoot it with tranquilizer darts.

I stopped to turn off the murder podcast. My fingers were sweaty and by the time I got my
phone unlocked the log was empty. So I turned back on the story of the Boxcar Killer and
jogged on. I had the Boxcar Killer in my left ear and nothing in my right. I’d been into the
podcast before but now I couldn’t concentrate. The host sounded like someone talking on their
phone in front of you in the supermarket line, I mean the way they sounded before masking
came in obviously. You know what I mean. Droning.

I started to notice new sounds with my right ear, the one without a headphone. I’d never paid
attention to noises in the park apart from what I need to avoid other joggers. Leaves shushing
before they fell down, squirrels chirping, birds yelling at each other. I hadn’t heard those
sounds before, no matter how long I spent in the park I always had something on distracting
me. That day I even stopped the Boxcar Killer to listen. My right ear was still stuffed up but
there wasn’t any noise coming in it. I was hearing in mono.

It was pretty great. It felt like I was actually present in the park for the first time. I started
noticing the different browns in the leaves, the way water stained the concrete of the path in

some places but not others, the wet wind off the river. Like I was there with my thoughts and
not just my body.

Then I got bored and turned the podcast back on.

Nothing happened for a few days. I still passed the log but nothing was ever there. I got into a
podcast from two years ago about Bigfoot and once I caught up on that the algorithm linked me
to a British series about cryptids. Really goofy first-hand stories about wailing white ladies and
wild hunts and giant panthers. I guess over there a cougar counts as a cryptid.

One of the episodes was about fairies.

Since I’m not the kind of adult who thinks Tinkerbell looks good on my pajamas, I hadn’t
thought about fairies since I was a kid. I have to say, this dude in Cornwall or wherever hadn’t
seen anything you could market clothes with. According to him, fairies were weird little
animals, not wish-granting ballerinas. What he said he saw playing in a spring of water on his
farm were brown humanoid creatures the size of a cat. They had scrubby iridescent wings they
used to leap up in the air like grasshoppers. They didn’t wear cute green outfits, but they had a
downy covering that might have been clothes or might have been fur.

“Why do you call them fairies?” asked the podcast host in that calm, intimate, you-can-trust-me
voice they use with the genuine crazies.

“That’s what they be,” said the farmer. The host had obviously asked him to bring his best rural
cosplay. “My old dad saw them many a time, and he taught me to know ‘em. Son, he said, don’t
you touch ‘em or listen to their racket and no harm will come.”

“Fairies, as we know, are aural or audio hunters,” said the host. “They attract prey through
subsonic frequencies.”

“Yep. You just keep the radio on in the tractor and they can’t get at you. Radio was broken that

“Old stories say they have a preference for human victims. And have you seen them since, sir?”

“One more time. Day I lost this finger. I was coming through the home copse not thinking of
fairies or much else. Don’t usually go that way at dusk. I was talking a man on my phone about
fixing a mower and as I rang off I saw a little bright eye just peeping at me from the crutch of a
tree. Thought it was a big squirrel. It made a funny sort of sighing singing sound, like a whimper,
and I don’t know why, I went to the tree to make sure it was all right. It was one of those little
fairy creatures.”

“And it bit you.”

“Tore my finger off at the root, sat there sucking the blood like an ice lolly. I had to have six

“And you haven’t seen them since.”

“You’d best believe I haven’t. I got my hand sewn up and now I wear the headphones
everywhere. Listen to the radio like my dad said.”

“And you think the fairy you saw is part of a dying species.”

“Must be dying. Can’t lure us in with sound the way they used to, now we all have these damn
machines in our ears. Audio armor-plating. Stands to reason they’re fading out in these parts. I
haven’t seen one since then.”

“Thank you. That’s our pod for today, Cryptidarians. Tune in next time for—”

“My friend Nige says the machines eat our minds the way the fairies used to eat our flesh, but I
reckon Nige spends too much time on that Reddit.”

“—our in-depth dive into England’s canals and the monsters that may—”

I don’t live in Cornwall. I live in, like I said, a mid-sized American city. The park I jog in is a
regular city park, lots of trees I don’t know the name of, concrete paths, water fountains with
dog bowls chained to the bases. And as I ran past that log, I saw two eyes blinking at me.
So I stopped and went up to it.

That farmer was good at describing things. The creature shivering inside the log was about as
big as a small-ish cat. It had big eyes and a thin coat of downy brown fur. Honestly it reminded
me of a bat more than anything, except its face was well, human. And it had pointy ears. That
was all I saw before it bounded in the air. What I’d thought were spiderwebs were actually
iridescent membranes connecting its wrists to its ankles. It jumped up on the log and towards
the trees. I waited for a while but it didn’t come down.

That night I did some looking around online and the next evening I was ready for my little lost
fairy. I didn’t see it and I couldn’t hear anything even when I took out my earbud. I left the raw
hamburger patty in the log and jogged on.

The hamburger was gone the next day and so was the new one I’d left the day after that. I
started leaving the ground meat a little further outside of the log every day at dusk and after
about a week I hung around waiting to see if I could catch it eating. You have to remember, I
didn’t have anything to go home for. I mean my job, yeah, but as long as I showed up on Slack
at some point during the day and hit my numbers nobody really cared about anything else.

I’d quit using the earbuds at all by this point when I was inside the park. Just jogged into it and
took them out. The weird thing was I kind of noticed less about what was going on around me
than before. I didn’t even do my usual circuit of the paths. I ran to the log and sat on a bench
near it hoping to see the little fairy. Some evenings I’d catch a glimpse of it dragging the
hamburger inside the log, squeaking to itself. After a while it’d stop making sounds and I’d go
straight home.

I know the farmer on the podcast said fairies were dangerous carnivores. So did some people
online, but so what? Any feral animal will bite you if you provoke it. That English podcast made
it sound like any wild creature bigger than a squirrel got treated as a potential murderer over
there. I couldn’t see how one little fairy could hurt me unless I lay down and let it bite me in the
jugular, which I had every intention of not doing.

Anyway that’s about the time I got mugged. Okay, I didn’t get mugged, but it was close. I was
sitting one evening on my bench waiting to see the little fairy. It was darker than usual because
daylight saving time had just ended. The park has streetlamps but they’re not great. I was
watching the meat on the log, thinking of nothing in particular, and a guy sat down next to me.
He had a N95 mask on so I wasn’t worried at first. Then I thought he was kind of close even with
a mask so I moved along the bench. That’s when he lunged at me and I saw a boxcutter in his
hand. He started to say something but do you know what? My little fairy jumped right in his
face! It beat at his eyes with its weak little wings and screamed. Honestly I don’t know who was
more surprised, me or the guy, but he ran away yelling and my fairy and I looked at each other.
It was the closest I’d ever been to it. Its fur, and I was positive by now it was fur, looked brown
from a distance but from a foot away I saw it was brown and gold and grey, like a tortoiseshell
cat. Its eyes were black.

“Hi,” I said. Soothingly, like the host of the cryptid podcast talking to that farmer. “You’re a cute
little thing. Do you like the meat I’ve been leaving?”

Now one thing the Internet cannot agree on about fairies is if they can talk. I wasn’t
disappointed when this one didn’t. It put its head on one side and trilled at me. I chirped back.
It edged a little closer to me, then spread its wings and hopped up into the tree the way it had
when we first met.

The next evening it was waiting for me on the log. It backed away when I flopped the
hamburger patty out but it let me watch it eat, which was a first. It was very dainty in the way it
scooped little handfuls of raw beef up and nibbled them. I sat on the bench watching it,
listening to its happy humming. Its fur was getting thicker and shinier and it was putting on
weight. I think it must have been starving when I first saw it. According to my cryptid podcast,
fairies usually live in groups. This one was all on its own. And it was so gentle. Maybe someone
had brought a tame one over from the UK as an exotic pet and it got loose. It certainly acted
happy to see me after a few more evenings. It even let me crouch nearer to it while it ate. Poor
little creature, part of a dying species. It couldn’t hunt all by itself, it couldn’t sing loud enough
to lure in prey.

I bet you see where this is going. I decided to bring it home. I did all the research. Got a lot of
houseplants and did a Costco run for bulk raw meat. Lined a shoebox with milkweed floss since
I couldn’t get thistledown. And every night it got a little darker a little earlier and I got to sit a
little closer to my sweet little fairy. I had it all planned out. Once it would eat from my hand, I’d
pop it into the shoebox and take it back to the apartment. It was getting colder and I was
worried it would die if it snowed. The first day there was a hard frost I went out with my box
determined to bring it home even if it wasn’t completely tame yet. We could figure that out
later. I knew it liked me and it liked the food I brought.

The streetlights were on along the path again. I hadn’t been bothered by anyone since my little
fairy scared off the mugger. I never saw anyone in the park these days, not that I was looking.
Nearly getting robbed hadn’t made as much of an impression on me as I’d have thought it

My fairy seemed unusually pleased to see me. It fluttered right over to the bench when I sat
down and started trilling away the way it always did, like it was telling me about its day. I talked
back, telling it about mine. It was so cute the way it clapped its little hands and smiled, and it
really did smile, like a person not a dog or a cat. Maybe the trilling was language, I remember
thinking. Maybe it’s trying to communicate.

It was communicating, all right. Just not with me.

First thing I thought when I felt the pain in my neck was the man with the boxcutter had come
back. My fairy wasn’t chittering the way it had when it scared him away, though, so I figured it
was probably something else. I put my hand on the spot and when I looked at it the palm was
red. I was bleeding fast from a deep bite in an artery. My fairy got more and more excited. It
was laughing as the five other fairies swarmed over me and started tearing me up. They had
waited a long time to get me away from my earbuds and off my guard. They were hungry.

That’s the thing about fairies.

They aren’t a dying species.

They’ve evolved a new way to hunt.


Out of Tune © Copyright 2023 Lydia Carr