“I am more than breath and bones.”
The words are graffitied in bold, colourful letters across the billboard.
A statement of rebellion.
A call to arms.
It’s all that’s left now.
I stare at the words, my face impassive, before I turn and continue marching down the road. I can remember the day Ophelia had spoken those fateful words so clearly.
It was the day she was being sworn in as the new leader of the country. She’d been the first fae to ever go in to politics, and the first fae to succeed in bringing about positive change to the rights of fae, to get them the vote, the right to education, to housing, to get married to each other and to humans. And it had all culminated in her being elected to the head of the country. I’d never been so proud of my wife than I was watching her raise her hand and swear an oath to serve the country and its people as long as she lived. She looked so happy, and then…and then something changed; something dark and primal crossed her features, and suddenly she wasn’t the woman I’d fallen in love with, wasn’t my Ophelia anymore.
I remember watching in horror as she tore off her skin to reveal the truth of herself underneath and roared, “I am more than the skin you force me to wear, more than the jokes and stereotypes you perpetuate about my people, more than magic you fear that courses through my blood, more than the breath you try to choke out of my lungs, more than the bones in my body that will never break under your oppression!”
Every fae in the crowd rose up, roaring and chanting, “More! Than! Breath and bones! More! Than! Breath and bones!” as they tore off the cheap, synthetic skin they’d been required by law to wear, revealing the bright and vivid colours underneath.
And then the attack began.
It was a bloodbath; the fae launched themselves at anyone close to them and started tearing into their skin, ripping it off them in strips and chunks, howling as they were covered in fresh, warm blood. Most people were screaming and scrabbling to escape, others with weapons had pulled them out to hit back. I, meanwhile, went running after Ophelia, screaming her name and begging her to listen to me, but by the time I reached her she’d launched herself into the air. The other fae in the area launched themselves after her and swarmed around her as they flew away.
The subsequent war lasted six months. In that time, the fae poisoned the land, killed thousands of humans, and probably would have won, if it were not for a traitor. If it were not for me. I’m only human, but I’ve been involved with the fae all my life, and married to one for ten years. I hoped that eventually they would stop, that they would see reason, but I soon realised that there was no end in sight unless something changed. And so it was with a heavy heart that I approached the people in charge and told them what I knew.
The iron gas worked exactly as I knew it would; only ten minutes after it was deployed, the battlefield was littered with the bodies of dead fae, the rest thrashing mid-air before they dropped.
It was afterwards, when we realised that it was only the older fae that had gone berserk, when we did autopsy after autopsy, test after test, that it was finally understood that the fae had been poisoned and driven to madness from the synthetic skin they’d been forced to wear.
Although the remaining humans and fae know that what happened was an unfortunate and tragic accident, the fragile peace and trust between them has been irrevocably broken. The fae have agreed to take the land their elders ruined; they tell us that their magic can heal it and given time, it will flourish once again. Their condition is that no human ever sets foot on their land again, a condition that we are all too eager to agree with. And so we march, out of our towns, out of the place that was once our home and country, the madness of the skin the ever-present spectre at our heels.
C. Foley is an avid, reader, writer, and nerd, who loves dabbling with a range of genres, plots, perspectives and characters through the medium of short stories and the occasional piece of microfiction. Her life goals include owning a library and a small army of dogs.