For Happiness's sad story contest. (Yes, I know, that's hilariously ironic.)
Cosette's tiny moccasins scraped along through the mud. Branches swayed, picking at her creamy pale skin. "Hurry up, Cozy!" The voice of Hattie shouted from ahead.
"Slow down!" Cosette's breathing was heavy. She laid a hand across her little chest, feeling her lungs beat out of her body with exhaustion. "Hattie, you're bigger! You have to wait!"
Hattie had begun to forget her younger friend. "I'm here, Cozy!" She screamed in delight. "I'm here! I told you!"
Cosette stumbled on through the heavy thickness of the underbrush, finally breaking out into an open space beneath an oak tree.
Twenty or so birdhouses were haphazardly glued together and attached to the base of the tree. Flitting in and out of the openings were splotches of color, which Cosette soon realized were fairies.
The magical creatures perched on Hattie's skinny arms. "I told you they're real!" Hattie stuck her tongue out at Cosette.
"Mommy told me fairies aren't real." Cosette said matter-of-factly, but she could hardly deny the little creatures darting around her head.
"So did mine," A grin that would have impressed the Cheshire cat crossed Hattie's young face. "They were wrong, Cozy!"
Cosette reached out toward one of the fairies. Its wings were a lovely shade of blue that she had never seen before. Its limbs were only slightly wider than a toothpick, and its small, fragile face was one of terror. "Don't worry, Bluebell," Hattie nodded at the fairy. "This is Cosette. She's a friend,"
The fairy didn't seem to accept this. Bluebell backed away from Cosette, taking refuge inside of the birdhouses. "How did you find them?" Cosette asked in wonder.
"I was in the backyard and saw Rosie." Hattie motioned to the pink fairy positioned on her wrist. "Mommy didn't believe that I really saw her. So I followed Rosie here, where all of the fairies live."
"What else is real?" Cosette's thoughts jumped to stories of dragons and werewolves. "Do scary things exist too? Do they live here?" Goosebumps rose on the little girl's arms.
"Of course not!" Hattie rolled her eyes, as if this were obvious. "Only fairies are real. This isn't a Dr. Seuss book."
Cosette's ruby lips quivered. "But if fairies are real, then doesn't that mean-"
"All the other stories are just in silly books. The only thing I've ever found are fairies, and Rosie says there's nothing else. Except," Hattie's eyes darted side to side.
Cosette leaned forward, her blue eyes wide with fear.
"Vampires!" Hattie tackled Cosette, pretending to bite her neck.
Cosette's screeches filled the forest. Hattie got off of her, laughing hysterically. "Oh, Cozy!" She managed between fits of giggles. "You should have seen your face!"
"Vampires are real?" Cosette's voice quavered.
"No! I told you, those are just stories!" Hattie clutched her stomach, her laughter slowly subsiding.
"It's not funny, Hattie." Cosette crossed her arms, having almost entirely forgotten the magical creatures before her. She returned her attention to the fairies, inspecting the birdhouse construction. "Is this where they live?"
Hattie nodded enthusiastically. "They were leaving in a hole in this tree, but that seemed so sad. I helped them steal the birdhouses and glue them all together." She stuck her hands on her hips proudly.
It wasn't long before Cosette had befriended all of the fairies, including their queen, Marigold. The little girl returned to the fairies daily, the trek through the woods becoming simpler over time.
In the world of the humans, Cosette was considered a mere child at six years old. In stark contrast, the fairies regarded her as an elder. The oldest fairy in their history had lived to be seven, but most never made it past four or five. Queen Marigold was relatively young at a year old, and became the closest of Cosette's otherworldly friends.
When Cosette left the fairies, they never made any attempt to contact her. Until one night when Cosette was curled up in her trundle bed, she felt a soft tingling at the tip of her nose. The little girl's eyes slowly fluttered open, but widened in shock at the sight of a fairy standing on her face.
"Who are you?" Cosette blinked in bewilderment.
"Well, hello to you, too." The fairy rolled her eyes. "The name is Poinsettia."
"What do you want?" Cosette rubbed her eyes tiredly.
Poinsettia's wings began to beat, lifting her from Cosette's nose. "Something is wrong, and I need you to help me fix it."
"Why haven't I seen you with the other fairies? I thought I knew all of you."
Poinsettia waved her hand. "I'm a bit shy. Won't you come with me? The fairies need you."
"Why would they need me?"
"You're going to have to come see for yourself."
Cosette reluctantly climbed out of bed. "My mommy and daddy are going to be upset if they find out that I left."
"It's okay, they won't find out,"
Cosette followed Poinsettia into the depths of the woods. Unable to see in the inky blackness, Cosette had to rely on the fairy's guiding hand.
"We've been walking for a long time." Cosette noted. "It doesn't usually take this long."
"It just seems longer when it's dark. Anyways, I have a story to tell you." There was a darker hint to the fairy's voice. "Did the other fairies tell you about the monsters that live in these woods?"
Cosette froze. "They said there weren't any."
Poinsettia burst out laughing. "What would a forest be worth if it weren't infested with monsters?" Shaking her head, she continued. "Anyway, as I was saying before, monsters do live here. Specifically a pack of ogres only about a mile from the fairies."
"Let's leave then!"
"No, no, there's no reason to leave. The other fairies lied to you, little one. They are the monsters, not the ogres. The ogresare kind, loving folk."
"Why didn't you bring Hattie instead? What's wrong, anyway?"
Poinsettia refused to answer. "We're almost there." She called out in a louder voice not intended for Cosette. "Hey, meat sacks! I brought your dinner, you fat pigs!"
Deep, guttural sounds resounded from not far ahead. Cosette backed away from the noises. "I'll see the fairies tomorrow. I want to go home."
Poinsettia glowered at the little girl. "Human children are such dimwits compared to magical beings. There is no trouble with the fairies."
Cosette blinked innocently. "Then why are we here?"
"Because ogres get hungry too!"
A scream tore itself from Cosette's throat as muddy hands swiped at her. She sprinted back the way she'd come, her small legs already aching. The ogres weren't much faster, so their chase continued for what felt like an eternity.
Cosette happened upon the birdhouse construction where the fairies dwelled. She shook it madly, begging the fairies to come to her aid. What Cosette hadn't seen at first was a body, only a few inches taller than her own, lying beside the fairies' home.
Upon closer inspection, Cosette realized that the young figure belonged to Hattie. Her face was smeared with blood, and her body oddly picked at. The fairies covered her body like a swarm of bees, consuming the girl's body at a vicious rate.
Cosette grabbed her head, squeezing her eyes shut and imagining herself back at home. She sobbed violently, her small body shaking. She wrapped her arms around herself for whatever faint protection they could provide.
The voice belonged to Cosette's mother. Even for her, the little girl refused to open her eyes.
"Mommy, there's monsters! The monsters ate Hattie!" She shrieked. "They're going to eat me too!"
"No, baby girl, there aren't any monsters. It was all just a bad dream. Open your eyes and we'll go downstairs and have a nice breakfast. I'll make you whatever you want."
Believing that her mother was the hero that could protect her from any evil ogre or fairy, Cosette's eyelids slowly lifted.
She should have seen her mother's face smiling back at her. She should have felt her soft bedding pressed against her side, and the curly fur of Mr. Snuggles the bear against her chin. Instead, an ogre'smassive hand was pressed against her side, and Poinsettia's sharp fangs hovered inches from Cosette's eyes.
Screaming hysterically, it wasn't long before Cosette had joined Hattie. However, they weren't the only ones in the woods that soulless night.
Officer Tolbreak's flashlight illuminated the underbrush. "Are you sure the girls would be in the woods?" Tolbreak glanced back at the set of parents behind him.
"Yes." Both Hattie's and Cosette's mothers answered simultaneously. "Hattie was in the woods all the time, and Cosette started going with her. If they're both gone, they must be here. I'd also be willing to bet it's Hattie's fault." Cosette's mother glared spitefully at the woman beside her.
"Hattie would never-"
"Please," Tolbreak interrupted halfheartedly. "Let's worry about motives later. First let's find these little girls and get them somewhere warm."
The pack stopped in their tracks. A screech so full of pain and terror that it would have worried even the most apathetic outcast echoed from not far to their right.
"That's Cosette." Her mother could barely speak. "Cozy!" She trampled through the dense forest, stumbling repeatedly. "Cozy, I'm here!"
Tolbreak managed to catch up to Cosette's mother. "Mrs. Mara, allow me to go first."
"My baby is crying!"
Tolbreak was unable to slow the determined mother, but it wouldn't have mattered. None would have been able to escape the terrible sight before them.
The carnivorous ogres and fairies had made quick work of the young girls. Their bones showed through their tattered nightgowns-the only thing left to identify them.
"Where are they?" Hattie's mother had glimpsed the skeletons, but thought nothing of them. It was a prank by teenagers or something. Her daughter had to be somewhere nearby.
Tolbreak's flashlight shined on the bodies, his jaw gone slack. "Detective!" Hattie's mother shoved his shoulder in outrage. "Find my little girl! She's here somewhere! Isn't your job to get her back?"
"I-I," Tolbreak stammered, unable to avert his gaze from the bodies. The three hadn't even yet noticed the ocean of hot, steaming blood that surrounded them.
Reading Tolbreak's thoughts, Cosette's mother pointed past the skeletons. "This is some practical joke by some sick teenagers. Cozy is somewhere nearby. Don't you bother spending time looking at those fakes."
"I don't think they're fake." Tolbreak choked with emotion. "There's-there's so much blood. I've never seen a crime scene this violent before, or so thorough. There's nothing left, but we heard her scream only a minute ago."
Cosette's mother's breathing turned ragged as tears began to stream down her face. "No, Detective, that's not it. They're still here somewhere. This is all just some stupid prank."
The maternal instinct buried deep inside of them barred the mothers from believing that the two tiny piles of bones could belong to their only daughters. "Oh, god, this can't be," Hattie's mother knelt beside the larger body-that of her child. "Hattie, lovely, that isn't you." Blood soaked her fingers as she gripped the set of children's pajamas. "Hattie," Her voice broke painfully. "Where are you hiding?"
Tolbreak laid a hand on Hattie's mother's shoulder. "I believe you should go. I'll call in a murder investigator, and-"
"Murder!" Cosette's mother repeated, dropping to her knees. "She was six! She was only a little girl! No one murders little girls!"
Tolbreak was relieved from duty once his fellow officers arrived, but his work wasn't complete. The two heartbroken mothers had slowly become insane, and he'd already had to turn them away from the murder scene by force three times. Their neighbors were calling in reports of bouts of hysterical laughter, followed by rapid banging on their doors. The two, the most disturbed being Cosette's mother, rambled on to anyone who would listen about how their daughters were playing in the woods with murderers. Finally, Tolbreak had them committed to an insane asylum in the nearby town of Sunnystone.
After a year of depraved grieving, Hattie's mother was released from Sunnystone Asylum for the Criminally Insane. Hattie had been her only child, and her mother learned that she would never again be able to have another. While Hattie's mother did not live happily ever after, she was still more fortunate than Cosette's mother.
Cosette's mother spent the rest of her life locked in Sunnystone. She began to hallucinate, reliving the horrors of her daughter's lifeless body. Even her dreams were not an escape, for Cosette's corpse would rise and attack her. For Cosette's mother, when the fairies invaded her cell and devoured her, it was a blissful ending. That was all she had wanted-for her insufferable insanity and pain to disappear, and to be able to rejoin her daughter in the gates of heaven.