Keira removed her shoes and stockings and stood up to best feel the leaves between her toes. She smiled as she squished a few of the leaves with her two big toes, leaving big green spots on her feet. Her mother would scold her, but Keira had endured many scoldings, and she wasn’t afraid. She began to walk toward the stream, which lay a short distance ahead.
The day was warm and clear, with bits of sun escaping between the leaves of the overhanging trees, warming Keira’s shoulders. The air carried the woody scent of the trees, shrubs, and leaves, as well as the rumble of the stream and the squawks of a fleeing gaggle of geese in the distance.
Keira stepped cautiously over leaves and pebbles, being careful not to cut her feet on any sharp pieces of rock. She almost lost her balance once but caught herself in time. Mother always told her if you stumbled it was the angels’ way of telling you not to go any farther. How could she not go any farther, though, on such a beautiful day, after she had gone to great lengths to slip out of the house unseen? When she reached the stream, she knelt on the soft bank and looked into the water.
The water was so clean and so clear that Keira could see not only a distorted, comic reflection of herself, but also every colored rock in the stream bed. She giggled at the reflection, then she reached down with both hands, scooped up some water and drank it. The water from the stream was icy cold, and it tasted so much better than the well water they had at home. She took a second scoop and drank it as well.
Keira began to be aware of a strange silence. She could no longer hear the sounds of the geese. She wondered why no birds were singing and calling in the trees. She had been so excited about her clandestine walk to the stream that she had not noticed the absence of birds until now. There was only the sound of the stream, which was becoming louder.
The sun, which had been shining through the trees, slipped behind a cloud, and semi-darkness enveloped the place. Keira shuddered.
She began to feel the presence of something that she knew was watching her. She looked up and saw, across the water and a little way upstream, a tall, auburn-haired woman in a long, white dress. The woman was too far away for Keira to see her features, but she appeared to be beautiful. The woman was standing shin-deep in the water. Keira had heard tales of the Bean-Fionn, who seized children when they went too close to a river or stream and dragged them under the water, to their deaths. She wondered if this was one of those dreaded fairies. She stood up, picked up her shoes and stockings, and backed away, leaving a short distance between herself and the water. She was too curious to leave altogether, but stood and watched the distant figure.
The woman in white began to wade downstream. Her steps were easy as if she were walking on a paved street. The water seemed to move to make way for her. When she was directly across from Keira, she began to cross the stream, disappearing for a moment when she reached the deep part. When she came to the bank, she stopped, as if unable to go any farther. Her flowing white dress was dry, as was her hair. She smiled at Keira.
“Hello,” said the woman. “I have been waiting for you. Welcome.”
“Hello,” said Keira. “Who are you?”
“I am the good spirit of the water,” the fairy answered. “If you come with me, I will bring you into a place of beauty and enchantment, where you will have good things to eat, a wonderful house and plenty of woodlands where you can play forever. The weather is always pleasant there, and there are beautiful flowers and lovely music. You can dance all day long, and you will never have to work.”
Keira stood without moving. She wanted to believe what the fairy was telling her, but something held her back.
“I see that you doubt me,” said the fairy. “Don’t be afraid. I will never hurt you.”
The fairy looked fixedly at Keira, and her eyes began to emit a soft glow, which grew in intensity until Keira’s mind and spirit were pierced and enveloped by it. Keira began to stumble toward the water.
“Come, come,” said the fairy, and her voice was the most beautiful sound Keira had ever heard. The fairy began to sing a lullaby in tones that no human voice could produce, and Keira felt as if she no longer had control of her feet; a power outside of her was moving them. “I am under the power of a Bean-Fionn,” she thought, “I feel no fear because she has me under a spell.”
All of a sudden, another sound broke through the fairy’s song.
“Keira! Where are you? K-E-I-R-A! Dear God, help me find her!”
It was the voice of Keira’s mother.
The Bean-Fionn stopped singing, angry over the interruption.
“Go away! I don’t want you here!” shrieked the fairy. Keira stopped and turned around to see who was calling.
“Keira! Answer me! Keira!”
“Mother!” shouted Keira, as loud as she could. “Help me! A Bean-Fionn has me, and I can’t get away!”
Mother and Keira shouted back and forth until Mother burst through the nearby trees, ran to Keira, and clasped her in a tight embrace.
“Let her go! She’s mine!” shouted the fairy.
“No!” said Mother. “I’d rather have you drown me. Leave her alone!”
Mother began to murmur a desperate Our Father. Keira joined her. As they continued to pray, the fairy morphed into a hideous old hag. She gave a long, loud wail and disappeared.
Keira could move again. She kissed Mother and said, “Oh, Mother! I will never slip away from home again!”
“Well,” said Mother. “I would punish you, but you have had enough. I am going to give you an early supper and put you to bed. You have had a bad fright.”
“Will you keep the spirits away from me?”
“Don’t worry, Baby. I won’t let anything hurt you again.”