Cynthia alighted on the highest sarcophagus and gazed out over the wild Cosmos above. She frequently sought out the midnight hour in this graveyard, and it was here the little pixie often dozed off into dreams of the dead, the Opera, and the universe.
She awoke, startled, and with a heavy head. Cynthia lay very still atop the stone coffin and recounted the events of the night. She heard the voices, whispering, and then chanting. She couldn’t hear the footsteps, but she felt them growing closer. Something grabbed at her braids. And then the graveyard had spun and tilted, eroding, dropping off into a billowing abyss. But mostly she remembered the running. She had tip-toed furiously toward the sea, bemoaning that her wings hadn’t grown yet. On an island there would be little chance of escape.
Cynthia massaged her head and considered the penetrating darkness that had lately infiltrated her thoughts. These days she dreamed less of moonlight and the worlds of other planets and more of black holes and emptiness. She looked upward to the Cosmos and began to sing a comforting song.
A fairy’s life is one of whimsy
A fairy’s life is one of dance
Magic and music
Dreams and joy
Rhythm of the wings
The day has come where this lovely life has passed
And may the Passed rest long and sweet
And may the Passed rest long and sweet
“Hello, Cynthia,” said a charming voice behind her. “Your voice is like a Siren.”
She jumped up with a cry. Before her hovered a handsome fairy with midnight blue wings and long dark hair to match. She shivered and the sensations from her premonition came flooding into her toes. He was a gypsy.
“It is the song that celebrates the end of a fairy’s life,” Cynthia explained. “My parents own a funeral–,” her voice trailed off, still awe-struck by the hovering gypsy-fairy.
He nodded and spoke again. “My name is Dusk. Come with us, Cynthia. We have heard you singing in the graveyard and at the funeral garden. We want to offer you something better than singing the same mournful melodies at funerals.”
“How do you know me?” Cynthia flushed pink; mortified, yet mesmerized.
“Rumors of your voice abound far and wide. There is one man who frequents our shows who claims he attends every funeral just to hear your voice.”
“We followed the rumors back to this place,” Dusk continued. “We have heard your petitions to the Cosmos. We know you want to sing in an opera and our troupe could use such captivating talent as yours.”
“Your troupe’s show is certainly marvelous. When my father took me to see it in our town, I was entranced,” Cynthia allowed. “But–but fairy gypsies are known for their nightmares.”
Dusk narrowed his eyes.
“You are attracted to our magic, Cynthia. You seek out shadowy garden corners and you slept atop a sarcophagus last night. We have heard you singing along to our most haunting songs. Our nightmares could become your dreams.” Dusk held out his hand and raised an eyebrow.
Cynthia was disturbed, yet curious. They had been watching her, wanting her. Although she was tired of singing at funerals, being around the dead still pulled her towards the more macabre music. There was something alluring about the darker life of gypsies. She could learn to conjure and concoct and interact with beings that spanned both life and death. Perhaps the troupe could offer her the song her heart desperately longed to sing. A song her beloved Cosmos had not yet bestowed. She dreamed of the Opera, donning extravagant costumes and entertaining lively audiences with musical joy she could not express at funerals.
Cynthia smiled and grasped his hand. He swept her up in a flurry of wings and together they flew toward the troupe’s encampment. Cynthia admired this new perspective; flying seemed so much more beautiful and simpler than tip-toeing. Maybe if she learned enough gypsy magic, she could fly even without wings.
She looked down upon the island and realized how vast and intricate it really was. Why had she spent so many nights fantasizing about the Cosmos? She saw the rivers snaking through the shadowy swampland; she saw her parents’ funeral garden which seemed pitiful and tiny against the backdrop of the whole island. She saw other fairies in the village square and gnomes tending to the tombstones. She even caught a glimpse of a sea monster before it ducked beneath the sea below. The rush of wind in her ears brought many new melodies to her lips. Before she was ready, the ground rose up before her and she landed beside her mysterious fairy in a dense forest in the far corner of the island.
Cynthia looked around; the scent of burned hair and incense from an apothecary’s tent brought a shiver of pleasure to Cynthia’s toes. Dusk sensed her excitement and quickly whisked her around the corner, down narrow stone steps into a cavern lined with theater seats.
“Welcome,” Dusk announced with pride. “This is where you will sing for us tonight, if you choose. We are performing an Opera and I know it will bring joy to your soul.”
“Ghosts have sung here, haven’t they?” Cynthia asked. She could almost hear their voices.
“Yes. You have quite a gift for darkness, Cynthia,” Dusk said.
Cynthia wrapped her arms around herself. The theater was built from stones that once marked graves and she could feel the cold of the dead. She smiled. Perhaps she could really be inspired here.
Dusk pointed to an arch beside the stage. “Come. Meet the cast.”
Cynthia pulled the curtain aside and marveled at the spectacle within. Voluptuous gypsy-fairies and their handsome, flamboyant counterparts reclined on crimson lounges, sipping steaming blue beverages. One female leaned forward and applied green lipstick to match the feathers entwined in her midnight hair. A man practiced his vibrato in front of a mirror in the corner, and Cynthia admired his trembling wings. Two more whispered about their nighttime liaisons following a magical experiment with absinthe. Cynthia’s heart fluttered with wonder.
Dusk stood at her shoulder, which Cynthia found both comforting and unsettling amidst all this enticing newness. She wavered, leaning back on her heels, so he gently pushed her forward. “You’ll find your dressing room and your costume back there,” he said.
“Costume? Dressing room?”
“We knew you would come.” Dusk seemed to look through her and beyond her.
A brassy female gypsy-fairy stepped forward. She had the classic midnight blue locks and Cynthia’s premonition washed over her again. However, when the woman spoke, it was the most beautiful voice Cynthia had ever heard.
“Darling! My name is Wisp. We are delighted that you have come to sing with us tonight because we long to hear your mournful music. Let me show you the way.” She tossed her hair and shot a glance at Dusk who merely smiled.
“I sing in the chorus,” Wisp continued.
“Really? Your voice is so beautiful. Why aren’t you the star?”
“Fairy audiences can be fickle in their tastes, always wanting younger stars. I was usurped by another. And another. And another. And here we are.” Wisp ran her stout fingers along the nameplate on the door. “You are the star tonight, Cynthia.”
Cynthia stepped inside her dressing room. A brilliant red gown lay draped across the couch and a midnight blue mask leaned against the vanity. She picked up the sheet music and immediately recognized the melody, but the lyrics were new. She began to sing the familiar tunes and soon lost herself within the story.
Only a few hours later, Cynthia stood before a spirited audience singing an aria from the depth of her being. Her mask sparkled in the torchlight, and her scarlet gown belied her fairling status. Her heart and soul erupted in ecstasy. The opera fed her dark obsessions like a requiem, but this music fulfilled her more than any dirge.
After the performance, she reveled in accolades never present after a funeral. The audience lingered and hovered about her.
“Cynthia, your voice is like a harp,” said a tall, narrow gypsy-fairy.
“Cynthia, your voice is like a thousand budding roses,” said a squeaky fairy.
“Cynthia, your voice is like a stream in the wilderness,” said a morose fairy.
She felt refreshed, fulfilled, and adored, utterly intoxicated by the attention and praise.
When the praise died down, Dusk said, “Cynthia! Go explore the wonders of gypsy life. Our caravan is filled with all sorts of tricks and treats.”
Obediently, she bounded up the stone steps and out into the starless night. She followed the scent of the apothecary’s tent and discovered that burnt fairy-hair is used for exorcism. The greasy-haired magician explained that the ghastly scent draws out the demons.
At the fortune-teller’s tent, Cynthia stood before the crystal ball and waited for her fortune, arms folded, head cocked, foot tapping. Would she be a famous opera-singer? How many fairies and other creatures would know her name? Would her fame extend beyond the island?
The fortune-teller peered into the crystal, lost in her reverie. “Do not lose yourself to a mere fancy,” she finally muttered. “Your gift will be protected.” Cynthia did not know what to make of this. She wandered away, dazed and full of unanswerable questions.
When she got hungry, Dusk led Cynthia to a candle-lit cart. He ordered wine and dragon-eggs for her. They sat in pensive silence as they waited for their order.
“Dusk, why did you choose me for this Opera?”
“Why Cynthia, isn’t it clear? The story.”
“What exactly is the story? It seems lovely, but also sad. Leaving a first love, chasing a vanishing phantom, ultimate rejection–” Cynthia wavered, unsure.
“Oh dear, is that what you think this Opera is about? It’s such a triumphant story! Rejecting a first love, yes, but to pursue something greater: true self. And life always has obstacles. This Opera celebrates those obstacles and ultimate freedom to embrace opportunity in the wake of release.”
Cynthia sipped her wine thoughtfully. But, the more she sipped, the less she thought. The dragon-eggs contained a potion that kept the fairy’s mind on the here and now. The more she ate, and they were delectable, the more Cynthia could recall nothing of the past and imagine nothing of the future. She laughed carelessly as Dusk took her hand and led her away to sleepiness. She dreamed shapeless, strange, uncomfortable dreams, but in her hazy mindmist, she remembered nothing upon awakening.
In the early morning, she wandered through the city of tents and carts, exploring a community of mesmerizing entertainment. The gypsy-fairy troupe was known far and wide for their talent in the opera and theater. She slowly recalled the thrill at realizing the tales were true and the even greater thrill at being invited to share in the performance. Vague excitement quivered in her belly, the promise of a new day and a new life with the gypsies. This land was real; the Cosmos seemed only a faraway fantasy. The distant songs from the funeral home, the whispers from her nightmares and her worries over a lack of wings faded to black.
Cynthia spent the next week in a blissful blur fueled by sweet foods, strong drinks, and bewitching company. After the performances, Dusk often showed her around and Cynthia soaked up every new experience. She spent more than one night enveloped in the cover of his wings.
Each night’s performance drew crowds larger than the night before as word spread of the new star. But as the star stood high on the stage beneath the tent, glowing in the lights, the lyrical story pouring from her heart sang itself into disturbing clarity. The more Cynthia sang the words, the more they unnerved her. Something in that story touched a chord in her heart.
The following week, as they slept beneath the cover of evergreens, Cynthia was visited again by the premonition from the graveyard. The voices whispered at first. Then they began chanting. She felt the hand reach for her and it gripped fiercely. She struggled in her sleep. The ground opened beneath her and the hand pulled her down off her pedestal. She felt ghostly breath on her cheek as she tumbled. Where were her wings? She woke up shaking.
As she wandered amongst the carts, she caught the shimmer of dragon scales hanging from the butcher’s tent. But as she wandered, everything seemed less alluring and more bizarre, yet she could not remember why. After her fitful sleep, the dragon scales startled Cynthia more than they charmed her. Things here were not always as they seemed. Another cart shimmered citrus in the early morning sunrise, and before her eyes, it dissolved into a cloud of phoenixes, borne away on the breeze, leaving the space empty where the cart stood. Cynthia blinked. She recalled the words of Wisp, the Opera had-been, pushed out of the spotlight by ever-changing youth and beauty. Cynthia might be loved and adored now, but would the gypsy theater always be so welcoming? She could handle haunting, but deception was a different song. She recalled the Cosmos, the stars and planets which greeted her faithfully each night. These friends were seemed absent from the dark gypsy-fairy world; she could no longer feel their harmony or hear their melody. She sighed, uncertainty swirling where her wings should have been.
Dusk met her as she rounded the corner to the theater. He seemed to sense her discontent. “Darling! What avenues have you explored this early morning? Have you had breakfast?”
“What do you know of the Cosmos?” Cynthia asked.
“I do not spend my thoughts on stars. Why dream of the Cosmos, when you here have access to deep-reaching powers and tangible success?” he said.
“I have sought the presence of the Cosmos since I was a child. The Cosmos fills the outer voids and yet I feel it close. But not here. It wants to be here, but…oh, I’m not sure. I feel it’s absence.”
“No fairy has shown the potential that you have, Cynthia. I want to invite you to know more. Let me escort you to the place we keep our most beautiful songs. Songs I would imagine not even your Cosmos can promise.” His eyes twinkled with attractive mystery.
Cynthia sighed. “I would like to see those,” she said.
Together they flew to an edifice on the edge of the gypsy encampment that resembled a cathedral. It was the only other permanent structure besides the theater. As they prepared to enter, Dusk took Cynthia’s hands and looked her clear in the eyes.
“This is a sacred place for gypsy-fairies. Our most treasured, secret music is kept here. And it must never leave our domain. Do you understand?”
She met his eyes, nodded, and Dusk ushered her inside.
Cynthia left Dusk beneath the highest arch and tip-toed between the rows of music and instruments, her movements excited and childlike.
Suddenly, he was at her elbow, holding a collection of sheet music. “This one is my favorite,” he whispered. “Sing it for me.”
More than the world
Hangs at the fingertips
Terra firma never more
Stars and voids and asteroids
Linger open wide before
Cynthia caught a glimpse of movement over her shoulder. She gasped. Wings!
“Dusk…?” Her eyes widened.
“Indeed.” He said. “The music has spoken.”
Cynthia thought she would burst with pride that evening as she took the stage. Periwinkle wings fluttered against her gold gown as she sang the familiar words of the Opera she had come to adore. And this evening, she did not stand beneath the lights. She hovered.
Yet as she sang, the shivers from her nightmares washed over her again. She shuttered. The lyrics flowed forth, but the story again seemed less and less alluring. It must just be fatigue, she thought. Maybe I’ve just sung this one too many times. The Opera approached its finale and Cynthia’s angelic voice rang out:
Things to love
They come and go
But some, once spurned
May never be returned.
Sing on, reach out
But always love what loves you first.
In a flurry of understanding, the words of the fortune-teller came back to her. Do not lose yourself to a mere fancy. The gypsies! Like their tents and tricks, her stardom with the gypsies would crumble like Wisp’s. Fabulous, but fleeting. Cynthia had been right; this was a story about first love lost forever. Oh, dear Cosmos!
Cynthia flung her hand to her mouth and flew from the stage.
Dusk caught her elbow at the backstage curtain. His grasp was firm. “Where are you going, young starlet? Will you forsake the life of fame and darkness that I know beckons your very being?”
Her next words surprised her. “You have misunderstood,” she said to Dusk. “I may have misunderstood myself. I have explored the underground. I have flitted among your tents after dark. You hover around crystal balls and tell stories only the dead would understand. I am indeed comfortable around the dead; I grew up in a funeral home. So I have immersed myself in your culture to see if I could give my life to it. Yet, my heart still yearns for the Cosmos. Despite my presence among the dead in the graveyard that night, I was not singing to the corpses and ghosts; I was singing to the sky.”
“You cannot leave,” Dusk said. “You have seen and sang the sacred melodies of the gypsy-fairies. You have felt the darker magic.”
“The Cosmos is the fuller magic,” she said, confidence renewed. Cynthia spun in the air and left Dusk standing alone on the stone staircase.
However, Dusk was not to be dismissed so curtly. He snapped his fingers. Her wings disintegrated, dissolving into ash around her ankles.
Cynthia paused. Her wings. Her beloved wings. But the music. And the dark magic. It all swirled into clarity. The fortune-teller’s words echoed again: Your gift will be protected. It would be resolved. In that instant, she trusted it all to the Cosmos.
And so she ran. She flickered among gardens and greenery of the island, hoping her aquamarine coloring would mercifully camouflage her from Dusk and his minions. She knew fairy-gypsies were not to be deterred easily from acquiring their prize, especially when their magic tricks were at stake. She knew she had talent and that gypsies desired it. She perched on a lily pad in a shady swamp until nightfall. Then she tiptoed to her quiet place of dreams atop the sarcophagus beneath the universe. Though it might not be safe, she felt protected beneath the wild night sky. She began to sing softly.
Two moons, one billion stars
Planets and voids
Have spoken to my heart
Cosmos, oh Cosmos
Vast and infinite works of art
Hear my heart that sings beneath your stars
Bewitched by Cynthia’s lilting voice, Dusk led the gypsy-men toward the graveyard. Perfect, thought Dusk. She thinks she’s safe in those fantasies of hers. But that voice…irresistible. The gypsy-men moved in slowly, creeping up to Cynthia from behind. They began the gypsy-fairy chant of lust, quietly at first and gaining momentum as they neared the fairy they desired. They approached one step at a time, bent low, nets extended toward Cynthia.
Cynthia stopped singing. The gypsies stopped creeping. All the sensations from her premonition came sweeping over Cynthia. Her long braids quivered. With her face tipped up to the midnight sky and her back to her attackers, she spoke.
“Be gone, you gypsy evildoers,” she hissed. “You distort all that is sacred in fairyland and fairy lore. I found more joy singing at my family’s funeral home than singing for your opera. May the Cosmos see your deceit and deal with you duly.” Her voice did not betray her unease.
The graveyard shook, the ground tilted, and the gypsy-fairies lunged with their nets. Dusk leapt close enough to seize her braids. But Cynthia felt strong beneath the Cosmos, even as her toes trembled in discord. She stood tall upon the sarcophagus, and her wings–her real wings!– suddenly burst forth as if on cue. They spread wide and knocked Dusk to the ground. A chasm opened beneath her and began to swallow up the covetous gypsy-fairies. She raised her voice, singing along with the Cosmos she loved, culminating in a crescendo of sound and song. As the Cosmos answered in duet, Dusk’s midnight blue mane was the last to disappear into the chasm. The Cosmos had answered her cry.
In a torrent of rainbow and starburst, Cynthia surged upward. Her voice rang out in a song to the stars as she soared among the planets. All the years of stifled dirges melted away into arias and vibratos. Her musical joy welled up and overflowed. It was an opera to bring heaven to its knees.