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“Admit it, we’re lost!”

Fiona sat on a boulder and scowled at her husband. “I’m cold and I’m hungry and you haven’t had a clue where we’re going since we left that bloody stone circle!”

Andy sighed, turning the map around and trying to find something familiar. After a moment he gave up. “Look, we just have to follow that stream over there, “he said, pointing optimistically. “Sooner or later it’ll reach the river and then we can follow that to civilisation.”

Shoving the map into his jacket pocket, he set off without waiting for a reply. Fiona stood up with a sigh and followed him sullenly. Just a few minutes later, they came around a thick copse of trees, and saw a building.

“Look Fi, it’s a pub!”

They quickened their pace, the prospect of food, drink and directions breathing new life into their tired limbs. The building ahead of them looked quaint and inviting, black beams against white walls, with ivy creeping up around the doorway and colourful hanging baskets outside. The sign looked as if it had been hand-painted, and a faint wisp of smoke curled out of the chimney above the traditional thatched roof.

“God,” said Fiona, “It’s gorgeous, what a find!”

They hurried in, stopping just across the threshold for their eyes to adjust. It was a lot darker inside, and an open fire to one side cast eerie shadows across the room. They blinked, squinted, and then crossed the room to the bar.

“Well, now, what can I do for you?”

The barkeeper was an old man, wrinkly and wizened but with sparkling lively eyes.

“Well,” said Andy, leaning on the bar, “We were out for a hike and we got a bit lost. We’re after directions back into town.”

“But first we want some food,” interrupted Fiona, elbowing Andy sharply.

“Oh, yeah.” Andy rubbed his ribs absent mindedly. “Do you do food?”

The barkeeper smiled. “We do, in fact. We’ve a good beef stew on special today, you look like you need something warm and hearty.”

Fiona and Andy looked at each other and nodded. “That sounds great,” she said. “Two pints of beer, too, please. We’ll be, uh…” She glanced around the pub. There was one empty table in the corner, not too far from the fire. “We’ll be over there.”

Fiona crossed the room and settled down at the table, leaving Andy to pay the barkeeper, pocket his change and bring across the beers. She looked around the pub. It was a small and cosy place, with about half a dozen other tables and a few chairs along the bar. All of them were occupied, a mix of old and young alike. She looked across at the table in the opposite corner, where a very attractive man was looking back at her and smiling, and blushed.

“Didn’t expect it to be so busy,” she whispered to Andy as he sat down.

He glanced around, shrugged, and took a sip of his beer.

“Ooh,” he said appreciatively. “That’s why. This beer is really good!”

She tasted hers and agreed, sitting back and stretching out her legs under the table. “Hope the food will be as good as this.”

The barkeeper appeared surprisingly quickly with two bowls of stew and a basket of fresh crusty bread, and they both tucked in. It was probably the best stew they’d ever had, and Fiona wondered what the barkeeper would say if she asked for the recipe.

As they ate, she realised that the flickering of the fire was playing strange little tricks on her vision. The attractive man in the opposite corner- out of the corner of her eye it almost looked like he had wings. The three old fellows by the bar loomed larger in the shadows, looking almost like fairytale drawings of trolls. She shook her head and laughed at herself under her breath.

“Something tickle you?” Andy looked up at her as he mopped up the last of his stew with a bit of bread.

She shook her head. “No,” she said, pushing away her empty bowl. “Just, well, the firelight. Don’t you think it makes people look kind of spooky?”

He looked around and laughed. “You’re imagining things. It’s just atmospheric. Now come on, let’s get some directions from the barkeeper and get home.”

They sat there, looking at each other, neither moving.

“Um.” Fiona looked at Andy, worry creasing her face. “I can’t move.”

The barkeeper laughed, wiping his hands with a towel as he crossed the room towards them.

“Neither of you can, unless I will it be so,” he told them. He dropped the towel on the floor. Fiona stared as it fell apart into dry leaves. There was a shimmer in the air as the firelight went out, as the quaint country pub around them vanished to be replaced by a clearing in a wood. The chairs beneath them and the table they sat at were suddenly tree stumps, and she stared at Andy with fear in her eyes.

“You took a wrong turn back at the fairy circle,” said the barkeeper, “And now you’ve eaten our food you’re ours forever.”

© Kari Fay

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