By Eric Picard, Copyright 1997
There was a light fog blowing in across the harbor onto Washington Square as he crossed it on his way to the Wave Cafe. Sometimes in cold weather the warm water and cold air would mix, making the harbor look like it was steaming, just about to boil. The air had a salty, coppery tang. Washington Square was named to commemorate George Washington’s historic meeting with Rochambeau, the French General who helped turn the tide of the Revolutionary war. Jack had passed Washington’s statue earlier where it stood on the grounds of the Redwood Library on Bellevue Avenue, rimed with the first frost of the season. There was a statue of Rochambeau pointing out across the harbor, on the beach at King’s Park. To Jack one of the best things about living in Newport was the sense of being part of history it allowed. The large concentration of colonial buildings sometimes could make it hard to shake the feeling that you might bump into someone leading a horse across the street, especially on a foggy morning.
Jack noticed that the glass doors were already open as he approached the cafe. He steeled himself for a berating from his boss, an ill-tempered woman who disliked anyone better educated than herself. As he walked in, he noticed that she had not yet arrived, and that none of the chairs had been taken down off the tables. Jack let out a sigh of relief. He knew he wasn’t very late, but already there was a line of people at the takeout counter waiting for their morning fix of caffeine.
“Here he comes, the man you’ve all been waiting for, making his third consecutive appearance this week alone, Jack Frost!” said a willowy young woman from behind the counter.
“Hi, Sandra, sorry I’m late,” said Jack.
“That’s OK, I owe you one from last week. Kim isn’t here yet anyway, so you’re square.”
Jack stashed his coat behind the counter and began taking down chairs and setting tables.
“You know, you should have knocked on the door when you came by to paint the roof of my car this morning. That was very rude of you,” Sandra said with a sly grin.
“Oh God, here we go. I’ve been dreading this since I left the house. You know, your parents think they’ll have a little fun when they name you, and you never live it down.”
At one o’clock Jack finished work and headed over to his friend Ryan Waters’ studio. He arrived there just as Ryan pulled up on his bicycle.
“Hey, how’s it going?” said Jack.
“Great, I just got another sign painting job. There’s a new restaurant opening on Thames Street, over by Queen Anne’s Square,” Ryan said, pushing a strand of bushy brown hair out of his eyes with a paint-spattered finger.
“You mean the building that has a new restaurant in it every other year? I see they’re keeping up with the reputation of the place by opening in October when all the tourists are gone,” Jack laughed.
“No shit. I almost feel guilty taking money for the sign. This is the third one I’ve made for that building. Anyway, come on up. I’ll show you the painting I’ve been working on.”
Ryan’s studio was covered with dirty clothes, paint tubes, books, and various objects that he had found on the street. The air in the studio smelled faintly of solvents and oil paint. On the wall hung a large painting done in rich hues of maroon and purple, with deep blacks; a view of the space shuttle in space with a dead astronaut floating next to an angel. Ryan had been working on this series of paintings for a few months.
“Wow, that’s come along since I was here last. Is it done?”
“I’m not sure. I need to live with it like this for a couple of days before I make any changes. It’s at that point when you can’t decide if adding anything else will enhance or ruin the spirit of the piece.” Ryan sighed as he looked at the painting and took off his coat, revealing a faded black turtleneck sweater with tattered cuffs that hung over rumpled black jeans.
“I know what you mean. When you want slides taken, let me know. I just bought some new lights that I want to try out. They should make it much easier than the last time.” Jack paused for a moment, “You’re friends with Chris Robinson, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, we hang out occasionally. What’s up?”
“I’ve heard that he knows a lot about ghosts and… things like that,” said Jack.
“Yeah, he even had cards printed up calling himself a paranormal investigator,” Ryan said sarcastically. “What do you need to see to him about?”
“Oh, I don’t know, I feel sort of silly talking about it. I’m not even sure I haven’t been imagining things,” Jack said sheepishly.
“Fuck that, you might as well spit it out, you’ve got me interested now,” Ryan said.
“It’s just that my apartment has gone crazy. Things keep turning up in strange places when I haven’t touched them. When I woke up this morning all the clothes from my drawers were dumped on the floor. That’s not all either. Sometime during the night Felix got out. I found him on the side of the road. He’d been run over by a car.”
“Oh man, that’s awful. I’m sorry. Any idea how he got out?”
“No. I never leave him out over night. He doesn’t like to be out when I’m at home anyway. You know how he’s always begging for food. Well… how he begged for food.”
Jack walked over to the window and rested his forehead against the glass, savoring the smooth coolness of it. A scruffy Airedale was nosing through an overturned trash-can in front of the house across the street. An old woman opened the front door and yelled at the dog, who looked indifferently in her direction and continued to browse through the trash.
“You know,” said Ryan, “this may sound weird, but the last time I was at your place I had a strange experience. I put a drawing tablet down on the kitchen table, and when I got home there was this strange symbol drawn in it. At first I thought you had done it, but you hadn’t been out of my sight. Then I thought someone at the Wave must have done it when I was there for coffee that afternoon, but now I’m not so sure.”
Jack turned from the window, “That is weird, because I found a strange drawing in one of my notebooks. It was right around the time you were over. Do you still have the drawing from your pad?”
“No, I threw it out, but I can draw another one,” said Ryan.
Ryan began drawing, and Jack sat uncomfortably waiting for him to finish. After a minute Ryan looked up.
“OK, here we go,” he held up a piece of paper.
“It looked something like this,” Ryan said.
“I think you’d better call Chris. It’s the same drawing.”
That night Jack waited at his apartment for Ryan to show up. They had spent the afternoon at the library trying to find books of symbols that might contain an image of their drawing, but hadn’t had any luck. Later they stopped for dinner at The Salvation Cafe. Both of them had contributed artwork to the place, and occasionally got free dinners in return. Ryan had made the sign, and Jack had donated photographs to hang on the walls. When they were done Jack headed home and Ryan went to pick up Chris.
Jack found the notebook that had the strange drawing in it, but couldn’t find the image. He sat on his bed looking through it and felt a shiver run down his spine after he had gone through the notebook five times with no luck. Finally he sighed, threw it on the desk and moved over to the window seat to watch for Ryan’s car. He rubbed his face slowly a few times, cradling his chin in his hands, rubbed the rough beard stubble and moved them up into his closely cropped curly hair. He looked at his dim reflection in the window and changed focus to the street below.
Jack loved the bay window in his bedroom. It faced Southeast, and he would sit and read for hours in the window seat. His ex-girlfriend Kelli had made him a cushion for it, but he threw that away when they broke up. Since then he had gone to the store and bought a bunch of pillows and some brightly colored pillow cases. His apartment was on the second floor of an old Victorian home built in 1872. Jack rented it from one of his former art professors from the Rhode Island School of Design, where he had received his BFA in photography. When his professor left RISD for a better job in New Mexico, she rented the apartment to Jack at a reduced rate. She also let him have use of the darkroom she had built in the basement. In return he collected rent from the other tenants and made sure that everything was in working order. Jack liked to joke that he had gone to one of the most expensive art schools in the country to learn how to pour coffee and serve sandwiches.
As he sat waiting, Jack noticed a woman walking slowly down the street toward his house. Every few feet she would stop and act as if she were listening to something. There was a strange arrhythmic quality to the way she walked. When she got to the front of Jack’s house she stopped completely. He could see her breath billowing out in white clouds of steam. She looked up and down the street, then slowly turned her head, and looked directly at Jack. Her features showed up clearly under the street light as he met her gaze. His head buzzed the way that it had the time he had slipped a screwdriver into an electrical socket as a child. There was something terribly wrong with his equilibrium. She was one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen.
Almost as if some unseen hand guided him, he moved to open the window. As quickly as he lost contact with her eyes, she was gone. She didn’t disappear like a light switch going off, she ran. But he had never seen anybody run the way she did; it was like watching a deer. Within seconds she had turned the corner and left his line of sight. Just then, as he was contemplating going out to find her, Ryan’s car drove into view. Jack walked downstairs and opened the door. The blue Subaru wagon pulled alongside the curb and Ryan and Chris got out. Jack said hello and invited them up. They walked into the living room and Chris sat down on the sofa, laying a green backpack on the floor next to him.
“Chris, thanks for coming over. I’m really glad you came. Something strange just happened,” Jack said, once they all were seated.
“Ryan filled me in on the unusual goings on. What’s happened now?” Chris’s voice was deep and resonant His face was obscured by a dark bushy beard, and framed by long brown hair.
Jack quickly told them about the peculiar woman and her startling disappearance. “It was just so unnatural. I can’t really explain it, but there was a bizarre quality about her. It was like watching a wild animal. It sounds kind of crazy now that I say it out loud.”
“Don’t be so quick to dismiss this. I’m not sure that she wasn’t just a really fast woman, but we should keep open minds,” Chris said.
Jack lay awake. Their meeting had broken up before midnight. They decided to set up a special low light video camera that would be hidden in a box and a high quality sound recorder. This would allow them to document any other disturbances as they took place. Chris would bring those to Jack’s apartment the next night.
According to Chris this could be just about anything. It apparently had some of the elements of a classic poltergeist experience, but the symbol was an enigma. It didn’t resemble anything in his books. Chris decided to bring the drawing with him to work the next day. He was a librarian at one of the Brown University libraries. Chris thought that an anthropology professor he knew might come in, so that he could ask him about it. For now they just had to wait and see if anything else happened.
At One thirty-five Jack woke up. His desk lamp was on. Sitting on the green velvet chair in the corner of his bedroom was the woman he had seen outside his apartment that evening. She was wearing a pair of faded jeans with a hole beginning in one knee, a yellow nylon jacket, and red Converse high top sneakers. Her long black hair was tied back in a pony tail. He let out a partially stifled yell, and climbed backward in bed, pulling the covers with him.
“Who the hell are you?” he asked.
“It’s all right, don’t be scared. I’m not going to hurt you,” she said. Her voice was quiet and soothing. She spoke as if to a frightened child.
“Look,” Jack began, regaining some of his composure, “I saw you outside earlier tonight. I had a feeling that you were involved in the things that’ve been going on. Have I done something to you? Why are you harassing me? Are you a ghost?”
“No,” she laughed, “I’m not a ghost. I’m as real as you. My name is Summer. We need to talk, if you’re willing.”
Jack sat for a few moments and watched her, letting the last bits of sleep leak out of his system. He had caught some hints of a foreign accent in her voice. She was probably close to his own twenty-five years, and very small, about five feet. Her face was finely sculpted with arched eyebrows. He knew he was already infatuated with her. Something about her presence seemed to have a calming affect on him. He felt a little drugged.
“Now that my heart has slowed down, I think we can talk a little. I’ve devoted too much time to this mystery as it is to kick you out without listening to what you have to say. I at least want to know how you got in here.” Jack paused and tried to decide what to say next. “I could use some tea. Would you like some?” Why did I say that?
“Yes, tea would be marvelous. I really am sorry to have frightened you that way. I wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t necessary,” Summer said.
“I have a doorbell, you know, or you could have called me.”
“Jack, please believe me when I say that this was the only way I could get to see you without bringing danger with me. As it is time is short.”
“Well, I’d better put on the water then. I’m not even going to ask how you know my name. Why don’t you come into the kitchen? We can talk in there,” Jack said as he got out of bed. He reached onto the floor, picked up the pants and tee shirt that he had taken off when he went to bed, and put them on. Summer found an interesting spot on the wall to occupy her attention while he got dressed, and then followed him toward the kitchen.
On the walls throughout the apartment were pieces of art, mostly Jack’s. They varied in size and content from framed black and white photographs of landscape and figure, to sculptural wall hangings with photographic elements. These immediately drew the attention of Summer, who didn’t quite make it into the kitchen with Jack.
“These are amazing,” she said in a hushed voice.
“Thank you, I like them a lot too. They took a long time to make,” Jack called from the kitchen.
“You made these?” she asked.
“Yep, that’s what I do when I’m not schlepping coffee and sandwiches. Actually, none of these are very recent. I can’t seem to find the time to make much art lately. It’s nice to hear that you don’t know everything about me.” Jack walked into the living room. “Why didn’t you look at them when you were here before?”
“I’ve never been here before tonight. I’m here about the… people… who were here last night. The more I learn about you, the more I realize why they were here,” she said, turning to meet Jack’s gaze.
“People…” Jack repeated, “What’s going on? If you’re saying that you aren’t the one who’s been going through my stuff, then who has?”
“I’ll get to that in a moment. Why don’t you sit down?”
“I think I’ll do that,” Jack began, in a tight, controlled voice. “It’ll be a few minutes before the water is hot anyway. Why don’t you tell me about these ‘people’ who are capable of coming into my apartment while I’m asleep, and dumping all of my belongings out of my drawers, all without waking me up. Then you can tell me about the drawings that have been left in my notebook, and why my cat is dead. While you’re at it you can explain how the hell you got in here!”
Summer walked slowly over to the kitchen table and sat down in one of the chairs. Jack watched her, and once she was seated he took the chair across from her.
“I’m sorry about your cat Jack,” Summer looked down at the table top and took a deep breath. Then she looked up at Jack and locked her eyes to his. They were violet and seemed to have an inner fire.
“What do you know about mythology? Specifically European mythology.”
“I’m not sure what you mean. Greek Mythology or fantasy, like Tolkien?” Jack asked.
“Tolkien… yes, that would do. Middle Earth is as good a way of explaining all this to you as any, I suppose. You see, there are many worlds that exist layered one on top of the other, like the layers of an onion. This Earth lies very, very close to another Earth. Too close really. These two realities share many of the same things, but for the most part don’t interact. All those old Myths are based on events that took place when the two worlds mixed. Jack… that’s what is happening right now.”
“Ah, I see. That explains everything. So what you’re telling me is that a bunch of Fairies broke into my apartment and went through my things while I slept last night,” said Jack. Summer winced when he said Fairies.
“If you value your life, don’t ever use that word again,” Summer said quietly.
“Is that a threat?” Jack asked.
“Not from me. From beings like the ones who were here last night. You know the phrase ‘out of sight, out of mind’, right? That is literally what we’re discussing here. Certain words contain power. That word is one of them. Using it is like invoking a spell. You don’t want to attract any more attention than you already have. Bad enough that you’re an artist. It’s always been the way, great artists: musicians, painters, poets, sculptors… Their spirit is very strong, bright burning. It’s like holding a candle flame up to a moth. No Jack, you don’t need to call any more attention to yourself than is necessary. You’re already too much of a temptation.”
“Well, thanks so much for your concern, but I have an easier time believing that ghosts did this last night than little creatures with pointed ears and gossamer wings,” said Jack sarcastically.
“If you’ll be patient, I can explain this to you,” Summer said, just as the tea kettle began to whistle.
“Well, you at least have until we finish our tea,” he said, as he got up to make it. “What kind would you like? I have Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Lipton’s and various herbals.”
“I’ll have what you’re drinking. Lots of milk and sugar please,” she said.
“Earl Grey for two then,” Jack said. He poured hot water over the tea bags and brought the mugs over to the table. “Let’s begin with the beginning then. How did you get in here tonight? The door, the window, or did you just clap your hands three times and make a wish?”
“The window,” said Summer.
“The window. You just flew up to the second floor of my building and hovered there until you could get the window open?”
“No, I climbed up a tree to the roof, then down the drain pipe, and in the window. I know this sounds impossible, but I’m a lot lighter than I look, and very agile,” she said.
“Well, you look pretty light to me as it is, and I don’t care how agile you are, you could have gotten yourself killed.” Jack pulled the tea bag from his mug, and took a sip.
“That’s not very likely,” Summer said, arching one eyebrow. “Jack, I am not what I appear. To you I’m a young girl in worn clothes, but you’re wrong. I’m not human.”
“What are you then?” Jack asked slowly.
“That will have to wait. I need to take you somewhere. Are you willing to come?” Summer asked.
“That depends on where you’re taking me.”
“Not too far, just a short walk. You’ll have to trust me.”
Jack looked at her for a moment and decided. “I don’t see how much choice I have. It’s either swim or stay on the dock and wonder how the water is,” he said. They quickly finished their tea. Jack put on his boots and grabbed his coat from the bedroom. As he passed the desk he picked up a small instant camera and stuffed it in his coat pocket.
Jack’s apartment was on Kay Street, a wide, tree-lined road with many large Victorian homes on it. Most of the homes were turned into condominiums, apartments, and Bed and Breakfasts during the 1980’s. Summer led Jack South towards Bellevue Avenue. They walked quickly and Summer grabbed his hand to keep them together. Her hand was dry and warm, and his tingled where it touched hers. Jack was in a daze. He wasn’t sure what to make of this gorgeous woman and her fantastic stories. There was something about her that made him feel very calm, confident that everything would be all right.
They reached Bellevue and crossed the street by the Viking Hotel. The streets were deserted, which was normal for a weeknight in October at two in the morning. The air was crisp and cold, in the high thirties. The moon shone brightly, about three-quarters full in the clear sky. They approached a park on their right, and Summer turned into it. Touro Park was small, one block wide and two blocks long. It was surrounded on three sides by residential homes and on the fourth by Bellevue Avenue. They walked toward the center of the park to the structure known as the Old Stone Mill.
The Stone Mill was actually just the hollow shell of a round tower about twenty feet high and ten feet across. It had window holes piercing it at irregular intervals throughout its height. The first story was made up of arched openings about eight feet tall. A local historian a few years back had done a seminar showing that many of the window openings corresponded to markings on the opposite walls that lined up with various astronomical events, such as the solstices and lunar eclipses. The structure was surrounded by a chest high wrought iron fence. As Jack and Summer approached the Mill, she slowed to a stop. Jack walked right up to the locked gate.
“So this is where you wanted to go. Why here?” he asked.
“This is where I make this all clear to you. What do you know about this place?”
“I know that a lot of people think it was built by the Vikings a thousand years ago or something. Supposedly its a big controversy. I’m sure it was owned by Benedict Arnold in the 1700’s. I know the dating of the thing has to do with his record’s calling it his ‘old stone mill’ when he took possession of the land. Something about an allusion to it being old when he found it,” Jack answered.
Summer looked at him for a moment and asked, “Can you climb over the fence?”
“Sure, that’s no problem, but why? I’ve been in there lots of times. There isn’t much to see, especially this late at night,” he said.
“Just bear with me. You’ll have to pardon me if I don’t touch the metal. I don’t care to touch Iron any more than I have to.” Summer took three long strides and hurdled the four-foot high fence. Jack stared at her with his mouth hanging open.
He grabbed hold of the gate and hopped over it without letting his feet touch the top. Then he walked over to where Summer stood in the center of the tower. “What are we going to do?” he asked.
“We’re going to go through the onion skin,” Summer replied, and with the grace of a ballerina, or a martial artist, she grabbed hold of Jack by the shoulders and gave him a rough shake. A very slight shift in perception became apparent. Jack noticed first that it seemed a lot darker, but that the dark wasn’t so difficult to see in. He looked around and noticed that the fence was gone. The houses were all still there, and the cars were all still parked on the street, but nothing seemed quite the same. Then he realized what it was. The houses were still there, but what was going on in them didn’t seem so private any more. It was as if you could sense what a family was like; if there was love in the house or not. He sat down hard on the ground.
“Jack, we can’t stay here. We have to go, right now!” Summer said.
“OK, I’m sorry, I just wasn’t expecting that,” he said.
“That’s all right, but it’s dangerous here. We have to get to my house.”
“Sure… Sure… Just lead the way. I’ll do my best to keep up,” Jack said.
Summer led Jack off toward the downtown area, and he followed behind, gazing here and there with wonder. He quickly began to notice some things that were not like they usually were, and the most apparent was that there seemed to be more buildings. He mentioned it to Summer. She said, “You’re right. We’re now in the world that your bards and poets have referred to as Faerie. I’ll show you everything you need to know as soon as we’re in a safer place.”
Jack walked behind her, down the hill on Mill Street toward the harbor. He looked at the homes as they walked. He was amazed to see that while all the buildings that he was used to seeing were there, sandwiched between them, every three or four houses, there was one that shouldn’t be there. Not only was the construction of these buildings different, but the street and sidewalk in the area where the aberrant structure stood were made of different materials. It looked almost as if someone had grabbed the sidewalk at that point and torn it like a piece of cloth. The tears were filled in some places with nicely laid cobblestone, in others just gravel or even dirt. This seemed to correspond to the condition of the home in question. The nicer the home, the more likely that the street and sidewalk were stone lined. The buildings themselves were even more astounding. There were beautiful little colonial capes, miniature stone castles and cottages right out of European postcards, thatched roof and all. He also noticed that some of the ‘normal’ homes had strange additions attached to them, like parasitic growths.
As they approached Spring Street Summer slowed to a stop and pulled Jack behind a hedge. She pushed him to the ground, whispered a few syllables, and made a few strange hand motions. Jack was about to protest when he heard someone approaching.
“I thought that you said she was coming back tonight,” said a scrabbly voice.
“I did, I followed her all over town for hours. She went right through the neighborhood, but didn’t stop. I told you all that, didn’t I? It isn’t my fault that she didn’t come back!” replied an equally scrabbly, but more nasal voice. “You should be more patient. At least we know that she hasn’t found anything out yet. She would have made some kind of announcement by now, and we would be running for…”
The voice trailed off as they moved past. Jack had tried to get a glimpse of the people talking, but hadn’t had any luck through the thick foliage of the hedge.
“What was that all about?” Jack asked as they moved back onto the sidewalk.
“That was about keeping you out of the hands of the other side. We really can’t talk right now, Jack. The danger is worse than I had thought. We need to find a place to get off the street, and we can’t go to my house—I’m sure that they left a lookout. We’ll have to go visit a friend,” she replied.
Summer turned left on Spring Street, and they went about three blocks down until they came to a small cottage with a thick, oak door. She knocked three times quickly, then twice more slowly. They waited nervously for a moment. The door opened a crack, then was thrown wide. A small old man with sun-bronzed skin and shaggy gray hair stood silhouetted by a cheery fire in a wide-mouthed fireplace. He smiled a little smile at Summer, nodded quickly to Jack, and ushered them inside.
“Oh my dear, what have you done? Summer, you’ve lost it, you really have,” said the small man.
“Dobbs, I didn’t have any choice. If I hadn’t brought him here, we would have lost our chance. There was nothing else to do,” said Summer.
Dobbs motioned them over to the fire, and sat on a small stool, letting Summer have his more comfortable upholstered chair, and leaving Jack an intricately carved rocking chair that felt about two sizes too small. He kept looking from Summer’s face to Jack’s with wide, slate blue eyes.
“Uh, Summer? I think now that we’re in, what I hope you consider a safe place, you can tell me what the hell is going on,” said Jack.
“Oh Jack, I’m so sorry to drag you into all this, but if I hadn’t, they would have.”
“That is true son, she really didn’t have much of a choice,” said Dobbs wearily.
“Well, that’s fine. I believe you, and all that. Don’t worry about dragging me anywhere. I’m completely intrigued, and very glad of the adventure that you’ve brought me in on. I just want to know what’s going on!” Jack exclaimed. He watched them both carefully as they looked at each other for a few moments. Summer turned to Jack.
“I want you to meet my good friend Gunter Dobbs. He is one of the few people I completely trust,” said Summer.
“Well, at this point I don’t trust anything, especially my senses. But Gunter, It’s nice to meet you,” said Jack.
“It’s nice to meet you as well. I wish that we could have met under better circumstances, but that was not to be. I can only offer you the hospitality of my home, and whatever assistance I can give,” said Dobbs.
“This is the situation, Jack. I took you out of the hands of some very bad people. They wanted to use you to change the balance of power in this area,” began Summer.
“I’m not sure that I understand you. What people, and how would they gain power by using me?” Jack asked.
“I’m sure that you’ve been places that felt uncomfortable to you… or places that just didn’t quite seem alive,” Summer said.
“Sure, everybody’s had that sort of experience.”
“Well, there’s a very good reason for that. There are spirits that watch over certain places. When people in your world lose interest in those places for their intrinsic value, they begin to die. If the beings who have been harassing you have their way, the whole world will be like that. Then there will be nobody left to care for those sacred spots, and they will be ripe for the picking,” Summer said.
“Tell me how much good feeling you get from a shopping strip. If you take a beautiful old country road and turn it into a place full of gasoline stations and fast food restaurants, you are asking for problems,” Dobbs said.
“OK, there are good Fair… um, beings, on this side, and bad beings. Just like there are in my world, right?” Jack asked.
“Yes, but things tend to be very amplified in this world. We are capable of incredible acts of good and incredible acts of destruction. Emotions tend to run wilder here than in your world,” Summer said.
Dobbs said, “When we give our love, it is for life, when we declare vengeance, it is also for life… but we live a lot longer than you do.”
“How much longer?” Jack asked.
“I was born in the Old World, in England. I came to Newport in December, 1780 on a square rigged wooden sailing ship,” Dobbs answered.
“Oh my God,” Jack said.
“I’m afraid that there’s a part of this story that will be difficult for you to hear. Remember how you told me that you can’t seem to find the time to make your art?” Summer asked. “How long would you say it’s been since you created something purely for the sake of creation?”
“Hmm, well, it’s been a long time. I feel like I’m so busy working that I never get the chance to make anything. I know that isn’t true, but it’s like my muse has deserted me. Every time I try to go out and shoot, or even just sit and draw, something else comes up,” said Jack.
“My goodness,” Dobbs broke in, “Jack, you’re the lost artist; the poet who’s squandered his gift. Have you had anything in your possession that was destroyed for no reason lately?”
“What are you talking about, ‘The lost artist?’ Squandered my gift?” Jack asked.
“Oh, no! Jack, you said that your cat had been killed. Where did you find it?” Summer asked.
“Felix? I found him on the side of the road in front of my house. He was hit by a car,” Jack replied guardedly.
“I don’t think he was hit by a car, Jack. I think he was the latest victim in this fiasco,” Dobbs said. “Summer, I’m sorry to have doubted you. He’s definitely the one.”
Broken branches and old leaves scrunched underfoot as Chris ran through the woods of the Norman Bird Sanctuary. What had started out as a late night walk to clear his head before attempting to fall asleep had turned into an all out chase. His breath caught in his chest and sweat poured over his body. I’m not made for this kind of shit, he thought. He couldn’t hear his pursuers behind him, but he knew they were there. Their current silence only accentuated the piercing screams and howls that they had been making only a few moments before. He wondered how long it would be before he was taken down. The advantage of living next to this woodland sanctuary had turned out to be anything but desirable tonight.
As Chris dodged gnarled roots and impassable patches of bramble, he happened upon one of the many groomed paths for the casual hikers who came to the bird sanctuary to enjoy a little bit of tamed wilderness. He turned onto it and stopped running, choosing to make a stand while he had some energy to defend himself. He reached down and grabbed a thick oak branch that was wrapped in a broken strand of green thorn. Standing in the trees just a few feet away were two shadowy figures with gleaming eyes. Chris couldn’t be sure, but they looked distinctly female in silhouette.
“It stands and fights…,” said the figure on the left, a whip lash of a voice.
“Yes, and with the proper tools for the job. I thought you said it was an easy mark,” the right hand figure replied, it’s voice the sputtering of fat in a flame.
“Not me, not me… you know who. Its Bander that’s to blame.”
“We’re to take this one. An easy mark. You said it.”
Chris stood with a heaving chest, barely able to remain standing. He listened incredulously to the grim conversation taking place a few steps away. He dared not move, not even to wipe the trickle of sweat that was streaming into his left eye. He could smell the dry acrid smell of cedar. Somewhere over his right shoulder he heard a faint sound like the hiss of fabric rubbing against itself. Involuntarily he turned to look, and saw nothing. When he turned back, the two shadowy figures were gone. A hand gently touched his right arm, which held the oak branch. He whirled to find a tall blond man dressed in dark clothing, in his late thirties. The man’s hands were held open in a gesture of peace.
“Easy friend, no need to brandish Thorn and Oak against the likes of me,” said the man.
“Who… What… were those… those…”
“No friends of mine, I assure you. My name is Duncan Thrift. I came out here to find out what kind of mischief those two were up to.”
“You knew they were out here?”
“Yes. They must have placed special importance on you to risk crossing my path. That hasn’t happened in years,” replied Duncan.
“Well I’ve been living around here all my life, and I’ve never seen you before,” Chris said.
Duncan studied Chris for a few moments and sighed. “Listen, Umm…”
“Chris. Christopher Robinson.”
“Chris we really should move out of here. Two of your friends I can handle, but they may have gone for reinforcements. You said you live nearby. Perhaps I could escort you home.”
Chris looked warily at this tall man standing before him. He made a judgment call. “Sure, that would be great. I live just a few houses from the sanctuary entrance.”
Jack sat in his too small chair and felt very disoriented. Everything had taken on a sensation of the surreal. He looked around the room at the ordinary nature of the furnishings. Everything was neat and tidy, with an inner glow that spoke of loving care. The wood surfaces in the small home shone with a golden luster. Just that he could sense the inner health of the room made him uneasy.
“There are two groups vying for power in this world, Jack,” Summer began. “They have gone by many names in the past, but mainly by the titles of the Seelie Court and The Host. It doesn’t matter what you call them, but we are all known as the Sidhe. What matters is that the other side is trying to take control, and like it or not, you are involved.”
“The requirements are very clear,” Dobbs said, “they need to find a human who has squandered a great gift. Then this human is given power to use in his world, but that power corrupts. As the power is used more and more in your world, the boundary between the two worlds is weakened. When it is weak enough, the Host will attack the Seelie court. By creating a link to you, they will be able to break their natural revulsion for Cold Iron. That would be disastrous, for if they have a weapon like that, we could not stand against them. If they defeat us, this town will lose all protection from them. Slowly at first, but then more quickly, Newport will just… Die.”
“But why am I so important? I’m sure that there are lots of other artists around here that have wasted their talents more than I have. In fact, I know some of them. Why should they choose me?” Jack asked.
“This may sound silly to you, but it’s because of your name,” Summer replied.
“My name? Why in the world would a stupid name like Jack Frost matter. It’s been nothing but a problem since I was a kid. My parents thought it would be funny to give me a cute name,” Jack said.
“Names have always been more important than people in your world thought. Your name for instance is very important for a number of reasons,” Summer said.
“I don’t get it,” said Jack.
Dobbs broke in, “Have you ever noticed how many legends and stories have heroes named Jack? Jack and the Bean Stalk comes to mind. Your namesake is a Winter hero of sorts. And he’s an artist, painting things with the touch of frost. Jacks are always underdogs who win out by wit, guile, and luck. It is a very lucky name you have.”
“OK, but why is the Frost part important?” Jack asked.
“I’m afraid it’s because of me,” said Summer.
“Summer is the leader of the Seelie Court in Newport. As strange as it may sound to you, someone named Jack Frost would be very powerful against someone named Summer. Your first name is synonymous with wild luck, and your last name gives you wintry magic,” Dobbs said.
“Wintry magic…,” Jack said, “I’ve never noticed any ‘wintry magic’ before.”
“All it requires is a little learning, and lots of guidance,” said Dobbs. He and Summer exchanged knowing glances.
Chris and Duncan Thrift approached Third Beach Road as they walked down the gravel driveway of the bird sanctuary. Duncan had been surprised when Chris seemed to instantly accept what had happened. He was shocked when Chris asked if the creatures that had chased him were Banshees.
“Bean Sidhe,” Duncan replied, “How do you know about Banshees?”
“I’ve been studying your kind since I was a kid,” Chris said.
“My kind… And what exactly would my kind be?”
“Well, Uh, Fair… Fair Folk, right?” Chris asked.
“Hmmm. I think we need to talk, you and I. Where is your house?” Duncan’s voice was getting strained.
“It’s right up ahead. Listen, I don’t want to cause you any problems. I find your people fascinating. I study all sorts of legend and mythology, and to be honest I never expected to have the luck to meet you,” Chris said.
“I don’t think you were so lucky earlier. Those two were a tracking party sent out to hunt you. That was no accident, and it wasn’t arbitrary. They would have killed you.”
“I know. To tell you the truth, I’m scared shitless right now, but I’m also really excited. To actually meet one of the Sidhe. It makes hauntings and astrology seem pretty dull. I wonder if the Bean Sidhe are behind what’s been happening to my friend Jack.”
Duncan stopped walking. “Jack? Tell me about your friend Jack. Quickly!” Duncan’s eyes flashed, and his quiet personable nature had taken on a crackling edge of power.
“Well, um… Let’s see. He’s a friend of mine from high school. His name is Jack Frost. He’s been having some rather strange things happen…”
“That’s enough! We have to get back to your house right away. I think it would be best if we could run,” Duncan said.
“OK. I think I can manage a short sprint if you take it easy on me.”
Jack followed Summer and Dobbs down the cobbled stones of Thames Street. The small specialty shops that catered to tourists were strangely abstracted in the glow of the gas streetlights that the city of Newport had maintained for their charm and historical relevance. Newport was the first gas lit city in the United States. They cut across the parking lot of Leys Department Store and crossed America’s Cup Boulevard at Cardines Baseball Field. They were headed to Ryan’s studio. When they arrived there Jack was amazed to notice that the colonial building that housed the studio had almost doubled in size. Crouched against the North side of the building was a ramshackle old hut, the boards of its roof warped and gapped, the front door awry on its hinges.
“OK, what now?” Jack asked.
“You need to go in alone to make sure that he will allow us to come in,” Summer said.
“What do you mean? You just walked right into my house without question.”
“Yes, but you let your defenses down. You squandered your gifts. Ryan is an active artist. The energy he creates with his art keeps our kind out without an explicit invitation,” Dobbs said.
Jack took the spare key that Ryan had given him out of his wallet and unlocked the door. He quietly crept up the narrow winding staircase, careful not to hit his head on the ceiling of the stairway that was designed when people were a lot shorter. He got to the top of the stairs and called out softly into the dark studio.
“Ryan… Ryan… It’s Jack.”
“Jack? Jack, what the fuck are you doing here? It’s… three in the morning!” Ryan’s disembodied voice floated down from above.
“Ryan, we’ve got a problem. I have a couple of people waiting outside that you really have to meet. That weird shit that’s been going on, well I figured out what it’s all about.”
“Goddamn it Jack. Can’t you just be like the rest of us and do things during the day?” Ryan pulled the cord on the overhead light as he climbed out of his sleeping loft. He sat on the edge, letting his legs dangle from the rafters for a moment before he turned around and began to climb down the ladder. “I never should’ve given you that key.”
“This is serious, I never would have come here if it weren’t,” Jack said apologetically.
“Oh, man… OK, OK, just let me find something to wear.” Ryan stripped off his pajama bottoms.
Fifteen minutes later all four people sat on a hastily cleared section of floor as Summer, Dobbs and Jack filled Ryan in on the situation. Ryan was worried, and very skeptical. He and Jack had been friends since junior-high. This was the first time he had ever really worried about him. It was strange, really. Jack was one of those people that always ended up on top, even when he was on the bottom. He was a naturally talented athlete who had been a star soccer player in high school, and a gifted artist from an early age. That had been shelved for months now, since even before Kelli had dumped him. Ryan had always harbored a slight resentment toward his friend for the ease that things tended to come to him when his own life and artwork were always such a struggle. Ryan often railed against Jack’s hiatus from his art. That was about the only thing he agreed with Dobbs and Summer about, that Jack needed to get back to his art and out from under the coffee mug.
Ryan was confused about what was happening with these strange people and what their effect on Jack was, though he could see the obvious one of Summer’s unusual beauty. Not at all the type that either he or Jack normally fell for, she seemed sort of hard and cold. Her nose and chin were so pointed it looked as if they might cut you. She had a menacing look to her. He warily noticed the glazed look that came into Jack’s eyes whenever he looked at her. It was the same look he had whenever Kelli would come around, but much more pronounced. Ryan had known right from the beginning that Jack and Kelli’s relationship was destined for failure. Jack had gone into a tailspin when he met her. He had been infatuated, and blind to the fact that she had just wanted to use him. She was a sort of ‘Art Groupie’, using Jack’s local popularity to gain entrance to another level of society. When Jack refused to move to San Francisco with her, she left town with an aspiring heavy metal band. Ryan had tried to be supportive, but was so relieved that she was gone that he found it difficult to comfort his friend.
“Jack,” Ryan said, “I don’t know what’s going on, but are you sure you trust these people? No offense, but I’m not sure that I buy all this crap. How do we know they’re telling the truth?”
“I know this sounds weird, but the things I’ve seen tonight… It’s amazing. I’m totally convinced that they’re legit.”
Ryan pulled Jack in close to whisper to him. “What the fuck’s wrong with you? I’ve never seen you so out of it. Did they give you some kind of drug?”
“You’re crazy. They haven’t done anything to me.”
“We’re very pressed for time. I hate to rush you when there’s so much to digest and take at face value, but we need to get going,” Summer said.
They were interrupted by the ringing of the telephone. Ryan jumped up to get it, grumbling that someone else was calling at such a strange hour. He answered the phone and leaned against the wall heavily as he began having a conversation with the person on the other end.
“Yeah, actually he’s here now. How did you know?” Ryan looked from Jack to the two strangers on the floor.
“Who is it?” Jack asked.
“It’s Chris,” he whispered, then returned his attention to the phone, “No, go ahead. Shit. But what about… OK. No, I didn’t believe it. Huh.”
“Who is Chris?” Dobbs asked.
“He’s Jack’s paranormal investigator,” Summer replied with a wry smile.
“No shit,” Ryan said into the phone and straightened up away from the wall, “That’s very, very interesting. You won’t believe who I happen to have sitting on my studio floor. What?! Oh my God. I’ll try to keep him here. OK.” After a moment he put the phone back on the wall and turned around slowly.
“What was that all about?” Jack asked.
“Jack I think you’d better come over here with me,” Ryan said, looking sidelong at Summer and Dobbs.
“What did your friend tell you?” Dobbs asked angrily.
“You just stay where you are. Jack, I want you to come over here,” Ryan said.
“Ryan, what the hell’s going on?” Jack asked as he stood up.
“That was Chris. Apparently your friends are not exactly being truthful with us. It seems that they have a hidden agenda.”
“Come on, how does Chris know what’s going on?” Jack asked.
“Actually, he’s telling you the truth. We haven’t been completely honest and open with you,” Summer said, a dangerous gleam in her eye as she locked her gaze on Ryan.
“What do you mean?” Jack asked.
“They haven’t told you what’s going to happen if you do what they want, Jack. They plan to kill you.”
“What? Give me a break!”
“That is completely absurd!” Dobbs exclaimed.
Jack stumbled back and caught himself against the doorframe going into the kitchen space. He felt an overwhelming sensation of dizziness. Ryan reached over to steady him while keeping his eyes on Summer and Dobbs, who quickly got to their feet.
“Jack, this is ridiculous. If your friend will not help us we must leave right now.”
Ryan tightened his grip on Jack’s arm, keeping him from following Summer’s instructions. “No, I don’t think he will be going anywhere with you. I think that you better be going now.”
“You invited us in. We are your guests, and we are not leaving without Jack.” Summer had a smug look on her face as she began to approach the two friends.
Ryan pushed a now furious Jack behind him and stepped forward. “I don’t know what you did to my friend, but he isn’t going anywhere. I may have invited you in, but I’m telling you right now, get the hell out of my house. You aren’t welcome here anymore, and don’t come back.”
Summer gasped and took an involuntary step back. She got an uncertain look on her face and began to make a quick hand gesture. Dobbs’ hand shot out blindingly fast and knocked her arm down. “Don’t you do that! You heard what he said, Summer. It is time for us to go.”
“He didn’t know what he was saying. He can’t possibly understand the significance,” Summer hissed.
“That doesn’t matter, and you know it.”
“I know exactly what I’m saying, and I’ll tell you again. Your invitation is withdrawn, and I don’t ever want to see you in my house again.” His words had an unexpected affect on the two figures standing before him. They completely vanished from his sight.
Chris hung up the phone. Duncan had explained to him that Summer and Dobbs were leaders of the faction of Sidhe in the Newport area that were currently in power. They were planning to use Jack as a weapon against their political rivals.
“I’m really not sure that I understand what’s going on. What are these political factions all about?” Chris asked.
“Well, the Sidhe are a strange group. There’s the Seelie court and the Host, but they really aren’t so different. The Seelie court has traditionally been what you could call the ‘good guys’. They tell themselves that they stand for all that is precious in the world, but really they aren’t any better than the Host. They use unethical practices in the name of the greater good, thinking that it will have no effect in the long run. Fools.”
“What about you? Which side are you on?” Chris asked.
“Hah! Neither. I’m what is referred to as Fionna. We are the Sidhe that really uphold the good, if that’s what you want to call it. The Seelie and Unseelie courts bluster and scheme against each other, and even have the occasional open war, like what is going on now. But it is the Fionna who keep watch over the wild places that still exist. The two sides try to attract us to them constantly, and sometimes they succeed, but it is really a higher calling that we answer. The others have let your world influence them far too much.”
“Funny how unimpressive this whole thing seems to be. It’s like listening to the news.”
“It really is just politics. It is as much an appearance, or family issue as a personality issue. Most Sidhe are generally good hearted. There are many members of the Host who are better suited for the Seelie court, but they come from the wrong lineage, or their appearance isn’t pleasing enough. And there are a few in the Seelie Court who have no business being there, but have inherited their birthright to the court. Both sides battle each other in mundane wars while the Earth slowly loses all trace of the original magic. It is a shame, but there isn’t much that I can do about it,” Duncan said.
“Well, we really should get over to Ryan’s. They may need our help,” Chris said.
“I’m sorry, but I cannot come. I have done all that I can just by warning you. In a sense I have already taken too much of a side in all this. Your friends should be fine as long as they follow the instructions that you gave them.”
“But we need your help. I don’t even know where to start with this whole thing,” Chris said.
“I have no choice. I am all that protects this place. If I were to go with you, I would be leaving this entire area with no guardian. That cannot happen.”
“Isn’t there someone you could have cover for you? I can’t believe that you never get a break.”
“I have had many apprentices over the years, but unfortunately I am currently alone.”
“I guess that I also need to go it alone then. Do you have any advice about how to handle this situation?” Chris asked.
“I have just the thing,” Duncan replied. He reached into his coat and drew out a handful of objects. There were three acorns, two sprigs of female Holly with bright red berries, and a tiny bundle of twigs tied into an elaborate shape with thread.
“What are these for?” Chris asked.
“I want you to give one acorn to each of your friends, and keep one for yourself. When you hold it in the palm of your hand it will help you to tell when someone is lying, don’t ask me how, it is different for each person. Take one of the sprigs of Holly for yourself and keep it in your pocket. The red berries are great luck, and believe me, you need all you can get. Give the other to Ryan. Jack will have to rely on his name,” Duncan said. He handed them over to Chris. He held the twig shape in his hand for a moment. “This is a little more difficult. I need to sew it into your clothing. Something you won’t be taking off.”
“How about if I wear my vest. That way I can keep it on even if I get a little warm.”
“Excellent. This is a symbol fashioned out of Rowan. It will allow you to see into and interact with my world. It will be very disorienting for you at first,” Duncan said.
Chris ran to his bedroom and grabbed his black canvas vest. He noticed the drawing that Ryan had done earlier, sitting on his bureau. He picked it up and ran back downstairs to the living room.
“Here’s the vest. Duncan, what can you tell me about this symbol?”
“Where did you get that?” Duncan asked.
“It’s a long story, but it came from Jack’s apartment.”
“Well now, isn’t your friend just full of surprises. You may have help coming from unexpected quarters. That symbol is a Brownie mark. It is a mark of protection,” Duncan said.
“I’m not following you. I know that Brownies generally are benevolent creatures who watch over homes and farms, but why would Jack have attracted one?”
“Benevolent creatures… Don’t pay too much attention to what your misguided Human mythology has placed upon the backs of us humble ‘Fair Folk’. We are rarely noble and often treacherous. There are many reasons that a Brownie would attach herself to Jack. Just his name is enough, although his being an artist probably helped. There are usually many reasons. If he is physically attractive, she may just have become infatuated.”
“Don’t be too disappointed. This is a very good thing. Here’s what you should do.”
Chris pulled up to the front of Jack’s house on his motorcycle. He put down the kick stand and lifted his helmet off, shaking his ponytail to straighten it out. His hands were very cold. He flexed his fingers in and out, wishing again that he had worn gloves. He was covered with condensation, his pants and coat uncomfortably wet. He looked warily up at Jack’s apartment. He had almost crashed three times on the drive from his house. The strange visions that afflicted him out of the Faerie world had taken him by surprise. When he was on his motorcycle he was only on the fringes of Faerie. His vision was doubled, and he would see things superimposed over each other. Now that he was stepping away from the motorcycle his vision cleared and settled firmly back into Faerie. Duncan had warned him that certain circumstances would produce this effect, but none more powerfully than a car. That was why Chris had braved the elements and pulled his bike out of storage. The less steel the better. There was something about iron and steel that blocked the Faerie world. That coupled with an internal combustion engine seemed to cause a severe rift.
After a few moments Chris gathered himself together and walked up to the front door. He realized at this point that he had completely overlooked the fact that he didn’t have a key. He chuckled to himself over his stupidity and looked around the doorway for somewhere that a key might be hidden. After checking under the mat and in the bowl of the overhead light he decided to walk around to the back entrance and search there. The grass on the side of the house was wet with dew and dead leaves were piled up against the stone foundation. He walked carefully, trying to keep from making too much noise as he circled the house. All I need is to wake up the first floor tenants. The Cops love so much to find longhaired men wandering around people’s houses trying to find a way to break in at Three Thirty in the morning.
He reached the back door and found it propped open. Sighing with relief he walked quietly up the back stairs and came out in the hallway outside the door to Jack’s apartment. This door was also propped open and a flickering light glowed from within. Cautiously Chris slid through the doorway and peeked his head around the corner. The light came from the bedroom and he could hear the sound of someone mumbling. As he crept to the open bedroom door he pulled out the folded paper that Ryan had drawn the Brownie Symbol on. Chris waved his hand over the symbol and uttered the three syllables that Duncan had made him memorize just as he stepped through the door. What met him in the bedroom froze him in his tracks and nearly made him scream.
Hunched over, nearly double, was the largest man he had ever seen. His body was at least twice the proportions of a normal man. His features were exaggerated, big eyes, a wide but rather well formed mouth, a large shapeless nose, and long shaggy brown hair. His hands were huge, and nestled in the left one were three burning embers. They crackled away merrily resting right against his skin. Lying on the bed was a woman. She appeared to be unconscious.
The large man froze and stared at Chris with frightened eyes. He backed up slightly holding himself in such a way that it was obvious that he was not used to being in such a cramped space. He looked like the proverbial bull in a china shop. His eyes never left Chris’s face. He’s afraid of me, Chris thought. The standoff went on for a few uncomfortable moments until Chris finally got up the courage to speak.
“My name is Chris. I’m a friend of Duncan Thrift. I’m here to help.”
The large man looked at him and began to cry. Large tears ran down his face falling to the floor in loud splots. “I think she is dead. They killed her for not doing her job.”
“No, she isn’t dead. Look at her chest. She’s still breathing. I’m sure she’ll be okay.”
“Are you sure? She isn’t dead? She’ll be… Hey, wait. You are a human. How can you see me?”
“You don’t want to know. What’s your name?” asked Chris.
“I’m not s’posed to tell humans my name. They told me that. They said that you would turn me into stone if you knew my name.”
Chris contemplated his situation for a moment. He had to laugh at himself a little for the way that this was going. The hulking figure seemed to have the intelligence of a small child. He looked around the room trying to find clues as to what was going on. The woman sprawled on the bed was lying on her back. She had dark skin, almost brown… The Brownie? He looked at her face and it was somewhat familiar, certainly attractive with full lips and wide smooth eyelids. Her hair was also brown, and she seemed to have some sort of filmy dress on. It was almost translucent. He could clearly see the shape of her body through it. Her breath was smooth and even.
“Listen, it’s okay if you don’t want to tell me your name, but I need to call you something. How about if I call you Boulder?”
“Boulder… I like that name. You can call me Boulder.”
“OK, Boulder, could you walk very carefully… Um, no on second thought, you stay here and watch your friend for a minute while I get some water to see if I can wake her up.”
“Yes, I will stay and watch Saihra.”
“Saihra. Thanks.” Chris walked into the bathroom, grabbed up some towels, and soaked one with cold water under the faucet. He returned to the bedroom where he took the wet towel and gently wiped it across Saihra’s forehead, squeezing some extra water out and letting it run down her face. Her nose crinkled slightly and she pulled her features into a frown, but didn’t wake up. He tried it again, this time sliding the towel down her face to her neck. Her lips parted slightly and she snarled, snapping her eyes open and grabbing Chris’s wrist in a vice-like grip. He thought she would break his arm if he didn’t do something, so he slapped her across the face. She was so shocked that she dropped his hand and moved her own to her face. Chris noticed that she smelled like cinnamon.
“How dare you touch me?” Saihra snarled. She glared at him, then turned to glare at Boulder standing across the bed.
“Saihra, you are alive!” His face carried so much elation and jubilance that she quickly lost her angry edge.
She smiled at Boulder. “I am fine, you do not have to worry about me so much, Paudandwa. I keep telling you that I can take care of myself.”
Chris watched this exchange with a feeling of awe in his belly. I’ll never get used to this. It’s like hoping to get a new bike for so long, that when you finally get it, you’re not sure whether to ride it or just stare at it, he thought. “Well, I hate to intrude, but I think his concern was warranted this time. That is unless you’re naturally a very heavy sleeper.”
“Who are you?”
“He’s a nice man. He gave me a new name.”
Chris smiled at Boulder. “My name is Chris. I’m a friend of Jack’s, the guy who lives here? It’s a long story but I came here to look for the person who drew this symbol.” He pulled the drawing out from his pocket again, holding it out to Saihra. “You wouldn’t happen to know who that might be, would you?”
“I remember you now. You are the one who thinks of himself as some sort of investigator,” she sneered. “How did you cross over? You shouldn’t be able to see either of us.”
“I don’t know where you know me from, but yeah, I do like to investigate strange events. As far as how I ‘crossed over’, that was a gift from Duncan Thrift.”
“Thrift? So, Bander’s little friends tracked you into the Sanctuary Forest? Foolish of them. More foolish that they let you get away.”
“Who is this Bander guy?” Chris reached into his pocket and grasped one of the acorns that Duncan had given him.
“Not a person you want to meet. What do you want of me? You said that you were searching for the person who made that symbol. Well, here you are.” Saihra straightened up on the bed, glaring a challenge at him.
“I was hoping to get your help. Jack is in great danger, and since you obviously care about him for some reason, I was hoping you might be willing to lend me some support.”
“Jack can rot for all I care about him.” She sat back on her haunches, clutching the comforter into her hands.
“I like Jack. He makes pretty things. They make me feel good,” said Boulder.
“Be quiet Paudandwa. Let me speak to the human.”
“Boulder. My name is Boulder now.”
Saihra turned to Chris, “You presume to give us names?”
“Well, he wouldn’t tell me his real name. He thought I would turn him to stone or something. I couldn’t just call him ‘hey you’.”
“I like my new name, Saihra. It is easy to remember.”
“Fine. Keep your silly human given name. See if I care.”
“So, Saihra. Will you help me? Jack is in trouble. He’s been charmed by someone named Summer, and they want to bind him to the Seelie Court.”
“You want me to help you fight someone as powerful as Summer Goldthwain? I’m just an ordinary Brownie. My magic is great for keeping home and hearth, but it certainly isn’t going to help against her. It wasn’t even strong enough to keep her out of the house I was protecting.” She folded her arms across her chest and pulled her feet up under her.
Chris paused and took a deep breath. “Listen, I don’t know what protocol is in situations like this, I really don’t care. My friends are in trouble and I need your help.”
Saihra sat for a moment with an aching look on her face. Chris thought that she was going to cry at one point. She closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. “If I help you, you will have to help me.”
“Fine. What do I need to do?”
“Do not be so foolish. Never offer to do something without knowing what it is.”
“Fine, tell me what you want. Then I’ll decide.”
“My family has been trapped in the Host for thousands of years. Well, trapped implies that they wanted to leave, which is not true, but I do not want to be part of it anymore. I wanted to join the Seelie court, but it has been made clear to me that I am not acceptable to them. Now I wish to become Fionna Sidhe. I want to be free of this trap.”
“I think that I missed something. Why can’t you just declare yourself Fionna? How can I help you to become something that I don’t even understand?” Chris asked.
“It is not so simple. In order to become Fionna, you must either apprentice to a guardian, or defeat a guardian and take their place. I have applied to every Fionna Sidhe guardian that I have ever heard of, and none will take me. If none will apprentice me, I must find a way to defeat one of them. That is the promise I require. If I help you with your friend, you must help me to become Fionna Sidhe.”
“Listen, I’m sorry, but I really don’t think that I can promise you that. I could promise to help you in any way to become Fionna without actually becoming involved with an out and out battle, but I won’t help you fight a Fionna Guardian. Maybe I could try to have Duncan accept you as an apprentice.” Chris looked over at Boulder, hoping to find some sort of way out of the situation he could sense developing. Boulder had lowered himself to the floor where he sat cross-legged, rolling the now dying coals around in the palm of his hand. Strangely, instead of getting darker, the room seemed to be brighter. Chris noticed that the pillows on the window seat, which had been askew, were now straightened.
Saihra interrupted his observations. “He will not accept me. My father killed Duncan Thrift’s true love. Thrift swore that he would never look upon another member of my family again without striking us dead. Then he left the Seelie court, and apprenticed himself to the Guardian of the Sanctuary Forest. This caused great turmoil in the Seelie court. Duncan was supposed to take over the leadership. Instead it went to his cousin, Summer, who was just a babe at the time. I think he left the court because he regretted his oath and wanted to give my family clear warning of where he would be at all times. Unlike you humans, when we make an oath, it is for life. Besides, he would have had to use the court to keep his oath, causing a huge war. He wouldn’t do that.”
“Hmm. Why can’t you just drop out? I don’t understand why you have to be affiliated with either side. Can’t you just do your own thing?”
“Who would protect me then? It isn’t possible for me to leave. I have created enemies in both courts who would strike out if I weren’t protected. If there was no fear of retribution, who knows what might happen,” Saihra said.
Chris walked over and sat down on the side of the bed, playing with the cotton fabric of the comforter cover, smoothing it down, and folding it over. “Maybe you could explain this to me a little better. How does being a Brownie have anything to do with the Host? I would think that you need to do bad things to keep your status, or something like that.”
“Oh, in the old days maybe. A hundred years ago, two hundred years ago, this never would have been an issue. If you were of the Host, you did things that would make mortal men shudder and scream. You played tricks on them. The world is a different place now.”
Saihra went on to explain the affect that increased use of iron and the internal combustion engine by humans had on the Faerie world. They increased the rift between worlds by keeping Faeries at a distance. Before these changes, many Faerie pranks were related to horses and waylaying travelers on the road. The modern Faerie found themselves unable to touch things made of iron just as their ancestors were unable. This caused a lot of strife for a long time, until they adapted and moved their Unseelie tricks into a more subtle light. Most Sidhe gave up on waylaying the traveler, as they found themselves unable to have any effect on the automobile. It became a much more subtle game. Cause strife in the family. Put a little anger in the heart of a good man, make him lose his temper with his wife. “That is the way of the Host now. It is pathetic,” Saihra said.
“So a Brownie from the Host would use his or her position to break up families, or make people depressed. What have you been doing?”
Saihra closed her eyes and took a deep breath before answering. “I’ve been playing both sides of the fence. For the Host I have been spying on Jack and reporting to Bander. He is making a movement to gather control of the Host, and bring it back to it’s former ‘glory’. I also have been working for the Seelie Court.”
“What do you mean?”
“I approached Summer Goldthwain with the information I had about Jack. I made a deal with her. She would allow me to gain entry into the Seelie Court for my assistance in binding Jack to her cause. I agreed, and she put me up to the idea of masquerading as a human woman and using a love charm to bind him to the Seelie Court. I was doing this, but I actually developed feelings for Jack. I couldn’t continue, so I broke it off. Summer was furious. Then Jack completely stopped making art. I couldn’t figure out how to snap him out of it, so I started to do malicious little things, trying to get his attention. As his reserve of power from art making drained lower and lower, I had to use more and more of my own power to keep his home protected. Last night I was at the end of my limits. Bander and his cronies broke past my defenses and came into the house. They were running through here like a whirlwind. As a last effort I put a short term protective charm on Jack, which kept them from touching his body, but they made a mess of his apartment. Then they took his cat outside and killed it. I saw this from down the road. When I came back last night you and Ryan were with Jack in the apartment. After you left, Summer appeared at the window, and saw me standing inside trying to muster the strength to keep her out. That’s all I remember.” The last words escaped Saihra with a sigh, and she seemed to deflate a little on the bed.
There had been no change in the acorn, except for a brief flare of warmth at the very end of her statement, so Chris assumed that she was basically telling the truth. “That’s why you looked familiar. You’re Kelli. But you had blonde hair. Cute, a Brownie with blonde hair. So, will you help me?”
“I suppose I must.”
“That’s great. Thank you. What do you think we should do next?”
“How should I know? You were the one coming to me for help. You tell me what you want to do.”
“Well, Duncan suggested that I find you, then that we should get in touch with Ryan, and have them meet us. Maybe I should call them.” He got up and walked to the phone.
Ryan stood still for a moment, looking at the spot where Summer and Dobbs had disappeared. Then he turned to Jack who had slumped against the wall.
“Oh man… Ryan, what’s happening to me? I feel so dizzy. Sick.” Jack said.
“It’s gonna be okay. Why don’t you lay down on the floor for a few minutes. I’ll go get you a glass of water.” Ryan helped Jack to the floor, then ran into the kitchen.
The kitchen in Ryan’s apartment was little more than a closet. Ryan ran the faucet for a few seconds, then filled the cleanest looking glass on the counter with water, ignoring the ones filled with diluted paint-water from washing brushes. He returned to Jack who was staring at the ceiling.
“OK, here we go,” Ryan said.
“You know, there’s a fly on the ceiling. He just sits there staring at me. Why’s he doing that?”
“He thinks you’re cute. C’mon, drink your water, asshole. I need you to wake up a bit. We have to figure out what’s going on.” Ryan put the glass to Jack’s mouth and tipped it a little. After the first trickle ran down his chin, Jack began to drink. He seemed to wake up.
“Are we feeling better?” Ryan asked.
“Was there really a fairy in here a few minutes ago, or am I going nuts?”
“You’re already nuts. Yeah, I think there really was. How the hell do you manage to get yourself into these messes?”
Jack sat up against the wall and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He looked at Ryan and smiled. “I only wish I knew. Thanks. You’re a good friend.”
“No problem. So, you going to sit there, or are you going to help me figure out what to do next?”
Jack shook his head slightly. “I’m not even sure about what’s happened so far. How did you figure out what was going on?”
Ryan told Jack about Chris’s phone call, and filled him in on Duncan. He told him about Duncan’s belief that Summer had placed a charm on Jack, and his idea to have Ryan revoke Summer and Dobbs’ invitation to come into the house. “I didn’t think it would work. When I said that I didn’t want to see them in my house again, they disappeared. Shit, I was more surprised than they were.”
Jack shook his head a few times and flexed the muscles in his neck and back, causing a few vertebrae to snap into place. “You know, I’m a little baffled about this whole thing. Summer and Dobbs were telling me about magic and the way that it works. I wonder if they were being completely truthful with me or not. They said again and again that the reason that I was wanted had to do with the fact that I’m an artist who was squandering my gifts. Then they told me that as a working artist, you produced energies that kept them from coming in here without your express permission. And when you told them that you didn’t ever want to see them in your house again, they instantly disappeared. I wonder if the energy that artists produce is the same kind of thing that they use to make magic.”
“That would make sense. When I told them that I didn’t want to see them in here again, I really wanted them to fucking disappear. It was like I grabbed them in my hand and had them in my power. I never felt anything like that before.”
“That must be it. They told me that my name was important. Said it had something to do with Wintry magic. What do you think?”
Ryan leaned back against the wall and ran his fingers through his bushy hair, scratching his scalp vigorously a few times. He sighed. “I dunno. If you had told me any of this earlier today I would have called you crazy. Now… Who knows? Wintry magic huh?”
“That’s what they said. So what do we do know?”
“Chris just said that we should wait here for him to come by. I think that’s a good idea anyway, judging by the way you got sideswiped by that charm. You can fill me in on the rest of the night while we wait,” Ryan said. A half-hour later the telephone rang.
Chris hung up the phone and turned to Saihra. “I didn’t tell them who you were. I think Jack deserves to hear that from you. We’re going to meet them in the Trinity Church cemetery in half an hour. Duncan thought it would be best if we didn’t show up at Ryan’s, since it would probably be watched by now. They’re going to make a run for Ryan’s car.”
Saihra shuddered and made a sign with her hand. Boulder shifted uncomfortably.
“What’s that all about?” Chris asked.
“What is it about cars that bothers you so much, I mean other than them stealing your livelihood as a member of the Host.”
“Paudandwa’s mother was killed by a car. She had gone into the human world to find him some milk. We do not have cows, and the desire for cow’s milk is unquenchable in our young once they have tasted it. He is still very young by our standards, only eighteen years old. Little more than a child. I took care of him after that.” She reached over and patted Boulder on the arm. He looked up at her with beaming eyes.
“Saihra is my mother now,” He said.
Chris paused uncomfortably for a moment. “Well, we should probably get going. We won’t have the luxury of driving.”
They walked out the door and down the front stairs. Chris noticed the faint smell of milk coming from Boulder when they brushed up against each other on the way through the front door. It was still dark outside, but wouldn’t be for more than an hour. He looked longingly at his motorcycle as they left the yard. The birds were cheeping their 4:00 A.M. song in the early Autumn leaves. They made the trip down Kay Street without incident, and crossed Bellevue. But when they reached Church Street, Saihra hissed beneath her breath and pushed them behind the bushes at the Viking Hotel. Across Church street, a tiny creature was holding the base of a tree, shaking it, attempting to dislodge a cat who hung precariously from a limb about half way up. The creature was less than two feet tall, but was vigorously shaking the mature elm tree, causing it to visibly sway. The creature’s face was black with a black beard, not the black of human skin tones, the black of the night sky. There was a wrought iron fence just beyond the tree. Boulder grumbled menacingly beneath his breath, and moved to go stop the thing, but Saihra restrained him with all her might.
“But Saihra,” He whispered, “That stupid Duergar is going to eat the poor kitty.”
“Shhh… Paudandwa, I know, but we don’t want anybody to know we’re here.”
“Maybe I can do something,” Chris whispered. Ignoring Saihra’s warning hiss, he moved back behind the corner of the building and called, “Here kitty! Here Kitty!” The Duergar jumped back behind the tree, and cursed. Chris stepped out from behind the building and walked toward the tree. “Oh, there you are, you silly cat! How did you get up in the tree that way?” Chris walked toward the side of the tree that the Duergar was standing on, acting as if he were looking for a way to climb up after the cat. The Duergar was watching Chris with a truly wicked grin on his face, bright eyes shining a yellow glow in a face with shiny black skin and a curly black beard. The thing was flexing long fingers in and out, a pulsating rhythm. Chris walked up to it, still pretending to keep his attention on the cat. When he was close enough, he spun around as quickly as he could and kicked out with all his might, catching the squat little creature right in the center of its belly, propelling it backward into the wrought iron fence. The creature hit it with incredible force screaming in pain, and much to Chris’s surprise, exploded into pieces, the vertical bars of the fence slicing right through its body. He stood in shock as the Duergar’s remains melted into the ground, leaving a black stain on the grass. He looked down at his foot, seeing a faint wisp of smoke coming from his boot where he had contacted the skin of the thing. He bent down and noticed that where his laces went through the boot, the stainless steel grommets had become discolored.
“You fool! Do you really want to die, or are you just so stupid that you would take on a Duergar all by yourself?” Saihra demanded from him in a whisper that was almost a shriek.
“I’m sorry… I really didn’t mean to kill it. I just wanted to knock him unconscious.”
“It’s a good thing you killed it. It certainly would have killed you if it hadn’t hit that Iron fence. Those evil little things are incredibly strong.” She grabbed Chris by the arm, and pulled him over to the tree. She pointed to deeply etched impressions in the tree’s bark that had been left by the Duergar’s fingers. “I just don’t understand why it didn’t realize that you had crossed over to our world. You obviously don’t realize it, but you are not visible to us on the same plane and spectrum while in our world, that you are visible on when you are in your world. Tomorrow you will see humans that will not be able to see you, much the same way that you couldn’t see us before.”
“I think it was my boots. I guess the steel shanks in my soles are keeping me straddled between worlds,” Chris said.
“Well, that would make sense, I suppose,” She conceded reluctantly. “Move along, now. You said yourself that we don’t have the luxury of being able to drive in one of your precious cars.”
Boulder slipped up to Chris as they walked on. “Good kick,” he said.
Ryan cracked the door slightly and peeked outside. I don’t know what I’m so scared about. The car’s right over there, just a short run. He didn’t see anything, so he turned to Jack and motioned him through. They ran about ten feet toward Ryan’s car when whirring noises began all around them. Ryan turned back toward the house and saw what looked like arrows protruding from the clapboards. He looked around, but didn’t see who was firing them. With a yell, Jack grabbed his coat and hauled him toward the fence on the North side of the house. Ryan was about to protest, when Jack began to glow a brilliant blue, and dissolve before his eyes. Jack’s hand still grasped tightly to his coat, but was barely visible. The nearly transparent hand yanked Ryan toward the fence that surrounded the yard of his building, and continued to pull, going through the tall wooden fence, dragging him right up against it. Ryan’s body was not going through the fence like Jack’s invisible one obviously had. Arrows continued to whir past, and Ryan felt a sharp pain in his left calf. The hand jerked him against the fence three, then four times, bruising his chest. Finally, on the fifth yank, Ryan was overcome with a wave of nausea, and pulled through the fence. As his body traveled through the fence, Ryan felt himself turned inside out, it felt like razors pulling at his insides, as if the fence were dragging against his intestines.
After a moment he found himself kneeling on the floor of an old dilapidated shack with tears streaming down his face, and vomit covering the front of his coat. Jack was standing with his back against the door, holding it shut, and leaning over as far as he could, trying to reach a wooden plank. The door was being pushed from the other side with periodic bursts of force, and Jack would be forced a few inches back before he could snap the door shut again. Ryan ran a hand across his clammy cold face and climbed to his feet unsteadily, ignoring the sharp pains in his foot and calf. He reached over, picked up the plank, and handed it to Jack while lending his clumsy weight to the door. Jack jammed the plank into the dirt floor and propped the other end against the door, abutting a wooden cross brace. Then he grabbed Ryan’s arm and guided him toward the back of the room.
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t know that you would have that kind of reaction to being pulled into Faerie. I should have thought. Summer chose the place to drag me through very carefully. Are you okay?” Jack looked nervously at the door, which was still being battered, but while the plank was bowing, it held.
“I think so. I blacked out for a few minutes. Fuck me!” Ryan spat a bloody bit of phlegm on the floor. “Where are we going? Man my leg hurts.” He reached down and rubbed his left calf.
Jack watched him with growing concern. “I’m not sure where to go. This building uses one side of your house as a wall, so I was hoping to find a way back inside. Isn’t there usually a window right about here?”
“Sorry, what? Where are we?”
Jack ran his hands along the wall looking for some sort of uneven edge. “We’re in a building that leans up against your house, but in the Faerie world. I’m trying to find a way back in.”
“Yeah, OK. Sure.” Ryan closed his eyes and cradled his head in his hands.
“You aren’t all right, are you?” Jack asked, turning to look at his friend. He grabbed for Ryan as he slumped to the floor in a heap. Just then the door blew open, shattering the thick wooden plank. Standing in the doorway was a huge man, at least ten feet tall. He wore a cloak made of some sort of animal fur, and a dark red leather jerkin. He wore no pants, and his huge flaccid penis swung pendulously between his legs. Two small creatures swarmed past him, about three feet tall each. They were completely naked with greenish skin, covered in warts, and their limbs were inappropriately long for their heights. They scurried toward him, spider-like in their motions. Jack stepped over Ryan’s prone form and stood in front of him. The two green creatures tittered to each other uncertainly and stopped moving.
“Get away! Leave us alone,” Jack yelled, wishing he had something to use as a weapon. The two green creatures jabbered excitedly, mimicking the sound of Jack’s voice, but not the words. Their heads were round, and split nearly in two with wide mouths full of needle-sharp teeth, and large protruding gray eyes. While they were small, he could see something of the strength that they carried in their limbs by the way they moved. The large man stooped his head and entered the room. As he stepped closer, Jack saw his face for the first time. He had deeply grooved lines in his skin, and a long chin that jutted far from his face. His nose was also large, but shapeless, and had three nostrils. His hair was coarse and black. He strode forward until he stood no less than four feet in front of Jack, looming over him.
“Hello, little man. I have been waiting for the chance to meet you. Please feel free to struggle all you like.” His voice was the sound of the earth. It creaked and groaned in deep bass resonance. He reached down and grabbed Jack by the neck, squeezing tightly. Jack’s last vision was of the man’s eyes, inches away from his own face, and his last thought was about the incredible malevolence contained in that glare.
“I don’t like this,” Chris said. “They should’ve been here by now.” He turned to Saihra, who was going through Boulder’s hair for snarls. Boulder was, in turn scratching the fur of a huge black dog, the ‘Church Grim’, as Saihra had referred to it. Apparently the Church Grim was a Faerie being of sorts, associated loosely with the Fionna. They protected Churchyards from malevolence, and enforced the Faerie tradition of leaving sacred ground sacred. This meant that no fighting between courts was allowed to take place on hallowed ground. The Grim was the largest dog Chris had ever seen.
Chris reached down and patted the leather sack that was in the front pocket of his vest. He had followed Duncan’s instructions carefully. When they arrived in the cemetery, he had gone around and scraped lichen from the grave stones, and stored it in the leather sack. This substance would provide a strong protection against Faerie glamours. He had been particularly concerned about getting some of this to Jack, who seemed especially susceptible to that sort of thing. They had waited and waited for Jack and Ryan to come, and it was becoming obvious that something had happened to them. The sky was beginning to show the first signs of daylight. A silvery glow starting just at the tree-tops.
Chris stood up and began to pace. “They’re not coming. We should go to Ryan’s and find out what happened.”
“That would be very dangerous. By now, Bander will know that his attempt to kill you has failed. You will be in danger from any of his followers that you run into. We should really find a place to wait until dark. At least then there is a chance to move around unseen,” Saihra said.
“I can’t wait that long. There must be a way to protect myself. What about a disguise? Wouldn’t that keep me from being seen?”
“We might be able to work something like that out.” She turned to the black dog. “What do you think Gabriel? Is there a way to hide his personality in a disguise?”
The black dog stood up and shook himself, moved out of Boulder’s grip and suddenly turned into a man. He was about five feet tall, with black hair, black clothes, and black eyes. His skin was bone white, almost bluish. When he spoke, his accent was English, smooth and cultured. “Yes, I think we could work something like that out.” He turned to Chris and extended a hand. “Hello, I’m Gabriel Ratchets. I know Saihra introduced us earlier, but I somehow don’t think that you took her very seriously.”
Chris was dumbfounded. He reached out his hand and Gabriel shook it vigorously. “I’m sorry, I thought you were actually a dog,” He said.
“That’s quite all right. I am a dog. I certainly don’t take offense at being mistaken for what I am. Stay right here for a moment. I’ll be right back with your disguise.” He bounded away with the same energy he had displayed in his canine form.
Saihra grinned at Chris. It was the first time he had seen her show any sense of humor. She obviously took great pleasure from his discomfiture. A moment later, Gabriel came bounding back to them, carrying a small bundle of clothes. He laid them out on top of a gravestone, and motioned them to come over and look. Saihra pulled the first object off, which turned out to be a powdered wig, like they wore in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. She discarded that, ignoring the crestfallen look on Gabriel’s face. The second was a brilliant blue cummerbund, which she also discarded. The third was a bright red shapeless felt hat.
“This is what we need,” She said. “Put this on, and let us take a look at you.”
Chris put the floppy red felt hat on his head and turned to the group, feeling a little silly. “What do you think?” He asked.
“I like your hat. It is pretty,” Boulder said.
“I think that will do the trick,” Gabriel agreed.
“Perfect,” Saihra joined in.
“How will wearing a red hat keep me from being recognized? I don’t get it.”
“Go take a look at your reflection in the church window,” Saihra said.
Chris walked over to the church, and stood on top of a headstone to bring himself level with the window. When his eyes adjusted to the pre-dawn light, he was amazed to see a reflection of an old man with a floppy red hat. He hopped down and walked back to them. “That’s incredible. How does it work?”
“The reflection you saw was of the former owner of the hat. If someone were to wear something that belonged to you, something that you always wear, like a favorite pair of shoes, or a particular coat, they would take on your appearance,” Saihra said. “You should probably get going. Paudandwa and I will stay here with Gabriel until you come back. We’ll be safe here.”
Chris looked at his watch, which read 6:15, and headed out the gate. He looked back, and saw nobody. Shaking his head, he headed toward downtown, and Ryan’s apartment.
Jack regained consciousness and wished that he hadn’t. His neck felt like it had been used in a taffy-pulling contest. He was lying on his side on a hard surface. His back was very hot, and as he began to pull the threads of his awareness together, he realized that he was on the floor of a cave, and that his back was hot from the heat of a fire. It was dark in the cave, except for the shimmer of firelight, and occasionally the smoke from it would make him gag. He tried to roll over and check his surroundings, but found that his body wouldn’t follow his commands. By straining his eyes as far toward the top of his head as he could, he could barely make out the outline of a black sock with the heel torn out, and a bloody foot beneath it. That could only be Ryan. Where are we? After a few terrifying moments he began to get feeling back in his hips and legs, and was able to turn over. He was about three feet away from the fire, and was being watched by a small ugly man, with thick, rubbery lips, and huge ears. The ugly man’s eyebrows knitted together in the center, making Jack think of a gypsy moth caterpillar. He fixed Jack with a tired glare, and reached behind his back picking up a large wooden club, which he used to lever himself up off the ground. He hummed a tune beneath his breath as he walked toward the campfire. As he approached Jack, he began to speak in a sing-song voice. His voice was gravely and low.
“Loppity lop, hit it on top. Isn’t it dead? Cut off its head. Done all you can? Tear off its hand. Is it too loud? Well, now, let’s just hope that it isn’t too loud now. We wouldn’t want to have to hurt it too much, would we?” With that, the little man swung the club, and smashed it into Jack’s stomach. Jack doubled up in agony, and thought he would die. An echoing laughter began throughout the cave, and when he finally could stand the pain enough to open his eyes again, he saw that there were a handful of the small green creatures he had seen earlier, standing on the other side of the fire. Jack remained as still as he could, trying to get his breathing to come back to a normal rate. He felt an angry rage begin deep in his gut. It encapsulated the pain from the club blow and expanded from there. When it moved up from the depths of his soul and settled at the base of his skull, he thought he would completely lose his mind. It limned the edges of his body with icy blue fire, and jumped from his still form in small blue sparks. The ugly little man turned around in surprise, and his eyes grew wide with fear. Jack looked at him and screamed. It came out as a twisted, fearsome roar, and the cavern seemed to well up around the sound, giving it depth and strength. For a brief instant, the entire cave was blinded in a brilliant flash of blue. The green creatures shrieked and jumped, and the small ugly man froze. His body turned completely white, and toppled over. As it struck the ground, it shattered into a myriad of pieces. Jack dropped back into unconsciousness.
Ryan woke to find himself on the floor of the dilapidated shack that Jack had dragged him into. He had a hollow, empty feeling inside. He sat up and leaned back on his hands, letting them take up his weight for a few moments. He dragged his eyes across his body looking for signs of what had happened to him, and noticed that his right foot was missing its shoe. The heel of his sock had been torn out and dried blood crusted it. After a moment he realized that there was no skin where the fabric of the sock was missing. Ryan tried to stand on his other leg, but realized that the throbbing from his right foot only covered the sharp ache in his left calf. Crap! Now what do I do? He rolled over and crawled over to the door, which hung from one leather hinge. He pulled himself into the doorway and sat in it with his back against the door-frame. He reached down and pulled up the left pant leg of his jeans. There was a small piece of wire protruding from his calf. He gritted his teeth and pulled it out, shuddering when the third inch of metal was extruded. Finally the entire length of metal was out of his leg, and after resting for a few minutes he was able to look at it. It was a thin silver wire about four inches long. It had gone into his leg at an angle. He reached down and wiped the trickle of blood from his calf, and realized now that the wire had been removed, his leg felt fine. It hadn’t the slightest bit of pain, and the hole where the wire had penetrated his calf had already healed. He rolled the flexible silver wire into a coil, slipped it into his pocket, and slid his newly healed leg beneath him, managing to leverage himself into a standing position. An old man with long white hair, a flowing beard, and a floppy red felt hat had managed to come up on him without his notice. Ryan froze for a moment, but realized there was nothing he could do to defend himself anyway in the condition he was in. The old man was staring at him intently, and then moved up close.
“Ryan, it’s me, Chris. I’m wearing a disguise.”
Ryan stared at him for a moment, then said, “Uh huh. Right. Well, Chris, could you give me a hand over to that door? I don’t think I can make it by myself.”
“Sure, lean on my shoulder. I’ll help you inside. It really is me,” said Chris.
“What’s that smell?”
“What do you mean?”
Ryan looked carefully at the old man. “I smell something strange. It’s like, I don’t know, electric or something. It smells like a blown fuse.”
“I don’t smell it.” Chris had helped Ryan to the top of the stairs and managed to get the door open while keeping him from falling over. “What happened to your foot?”
“I’m not sure… Who the hell are you? You really stink.”
“Fine way to speak to an old man,” said Chris. He helped Ryan to the bench at the foot of the stairs and closed the front door. He gave a little bow and pulled off the red hat.
“Holy Shit! It is you! How the fuck does that work?” Ryan exclaimed.
“Its all in the clothes,” Chris said, brandishing the hat like a sword. “It seams that certain pieces of clothing will change the appearance of the person who wears them.”
“Jesus, well good thing it was a hat and not a bra,” said Ryan.
“Ha! Wouldn’t that have been a kick? Where’s Jack?”
“Omigod. Jack. There were arrows flying all over the place. He grabbed my jacket and pulled me into a fence, but he went right through the fence, and I hit it, and then… Chris… he ripped me in half. He ripped me in half…” Ryan dropped his face into his hands and began to sob. Chris hurried over to the bench and grabbed hold of his friend.
“Ryan, it’s okay, you’re fine. See, you’re all here, no missing parts.”
“No, you don’t understand… Oh my God, Chris, how could I have blocked this out… even for a minute. I’m only half here.”
Ryan came to his senses to find himself bound by the wrists to a wooden frame. His left shoulder felt dislocated from supporting most of his weight. He tried to stand up, but realized that his right foot was badly cut. Wincing from the pain he let his other leg take up the whole weight of his body. He also realized uncomfortably that he was completely naked. He looked around the room that he was in, but couldn’t see very much in the deep gloom. The ‘room’ was more like a cavern. It took him a few moments to realize that he was inside the bleachers at Freebody Park. The bleachers were one of those Great Depression era public construction projects, and were actually a monolithic cement structure, which was hollow inside. The City used the bleachers to store infrequently used heavy machinery and sports equipment for the public schools. Ryan hadn’t been inside the bleachers for years, not since he had been suckered into painting a banner for a football game by one of the cheerleaders in high school. The feeling had begun to come back in his arm, which made him realize that every portion of his body was aching. There was a pile of ash and charcoal on the ground in front of him, and some sort of stinking rubbish was giving off steam.
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. As the memories from the previous night began to come back, he started to feel very uneasy. Glancing around the room he spied a tool chest under one of the workbenches. He looked very carefully at the frame that he was tied to. It was a very awkward sort of thing, rough hewn logs attached using pegs. It was fashioned like a giant saw horse, and looked like it was designed for someone much shorter than he was. Ryan steadied himself against the frame until he was balanced on his one good leg. He found that while the frame was heavy, it was just short enough that he could lift it off the ground about a half inch. By lifting the frame and pushing with his good leg he could move it across the floor. After a few minutes of maneuvering his unwieldy burden, Ryan managed to get over to the workbench. By hanging from the frame, he was able to hook the handle of the toolbox with his bad foot, and drag it over. Luckily the tiny padlock stuck through the hasp was not clipped shut, and after a few minutes of fancy footwork, he was able to get the top open and knocked a utility knife to the floor. After a brief rest he was able to rock the wooden frame over until it unbalanced completely and came crashing down on the floor. It was only a few more minutes of work before he was able to get the knife into his hands and cut himself free.
Ryan rubbed his wrists for a while, then began rummaging through the toolbox for something to use as a weapon. He came across a few good steel-tipped tools and a bag full of grape-sized steel ball bearings, which he stuck under his elbow. Finally he settled on an old roofers hammer with a flat wide head and a long straight claw as his main weapon. In a metal cabinet Ryan found a pair of mostly clean brown coveralls and some work boots that were a little too big. He also found a first aid kit, and used this to clean his right foot. Upon closer examination he found that the skin, and some of the deeper flesh, from his heel were ripped off. It was a jagged tear that went nearly half an inch into his foot. Ryan took a wad of cotton and stuck it between his teeth as he began to clean the wound with hydrogen peroxide. After finishing his light cleaning, he covered the wound with a bandage and wrapped it tightly with gauze. He then covered the foot in a clean rag and laced the boot around it tightly.
Hammer in hand, Ryan crept slowly to the large wooden doors that hung slightly ajar. The setting sun shone dimly through the space in the door. He peeked around the edges, and not seeing anyone around, slowly pushed it open. As he limped to the corner of the building he was faced with one of the strangest sights of his life. Toward the center of the park, which was just two baseball fields facing each other across a football field and surrounded by twelve-foot high stone and cement walls, was a huge gathering of creatures. My God, the Unseelie court. They were pushed in a loose circle on the grass where the first base foul line from the West field met the third base foul line from the East field. There were a few small groups of creatures standing by each of the two gates. The large gathering were arguing and shouting loudly until one booming voice drowned out the rest. When another voice dissented, a body was suddenly flung from the crowd, it arced high through the air and landed limply by the pitcher’s mound of the West field. Ryan crouched down and moved up into the bleachers where he hid behind the cement wall. After a few minutes he slowly raised his head over the top of the wall where he gained a slightly improved vantage. Lying in the center of the crowd was a human form that Ryan could only assume was Jack.
The Unseelie Court seemed to be having some kind of meeting, but there was no question that the incredibly huge man standing in the center of the ring was their leader. He looked as if he were straddling Jack, but the shifting of the crowd made it difficult to see. One thing was certain, the other creatures gave him a wide berth. There was a ring about fifteen feet across that left both him and Jack in the center. As the shouting of the throng settled, Ryan began to make out the individual voices floating across the field.
“Who among you says that I don’t make the decisions here, Eh? Anyone want to argue with me?” The big man seemed to want someone to argue with him.
An old thin creature with bristling fur partially covering his naked body was the first to raise his voice. “C’mon now Bander, there ain’t one of us here who wants to fight ya. We all know you is the strongest. And your father left the leadership to you, no question. We just want to be a mite careful after what the sorcerer did to Old Tom. That weren’t no mistake back there.”
“Sorcerer my ass! Look at this pathetic little thing lying at my feet. I would crush its head with my little toe if I didn’t need it for my plans.”
“Then what happened to Tom?” A shrieking voice from the outer edge of the crowd asked.
Bander slowly turned in that direction and the crowd moved apart to reveal a fat little man about three feet tall who looked like he had more pig than human in his ancestry. “Well now, just look at the little piggy, all puffed up with guts when he’s at the back of the crowd. Get over here, porker!”
The pig man slowly screwed up his courage and moved through the crowd. When he was about five feet away Bander reached down and grabbed him by the shoulder, picked him up in the air and swung him around. “Lets just find out what happened to Tom then.”
Bander carried his terrified victim over to where Jack lay on the ground, to the delight of the jeering crowd. The pig started to shake uncontrollably and began to squeal in a piercing voice. Bander reached out with his left leg and nudged Jack’s limp form. When there was no response he yelled to someone in the crowd named Korna to get a bucket of water. A black faced – black bearded little dwarf appeared with a wooden bucket of sloshing water. Bander held Porker in one hand while he grabbed up the bucket in the other, which he unceremoniously dumped on Jack.
Ryan watched as Jack shook himself abruptly awake, and slowly began to take in his situation. Jack began to scramble backwards when Bander threw the pig man on top of him. The crowd cheered and crowed with delight as both he and Jack fumbled frantically to get away from each other. “Look at the great sorcerer!” Bander cried in mock fear, “Oh no, he’s going to turn the porker into a Pigsicle!”
Ryan reached into his pocket and scooped up a handful of ball bearings. He ducked down below the cement facade of the bleachers and threw them with all his might toward the crowd some fifty feet away. The results surprised him. The Host erupted in agony and screaming. The steel balls had scattered through the section of the group closest to Jack. An oily black smoke rose out of the wounds inflicted by the ball bearings, which might as well have been heated to white hot for the affect they were having. The Unseelie court was in shambles, most of the group running in every direction while Bander shouted at them to stop. Ryan hunkered down beneath an aluminum bench and tried to make himself comfortable on the cold hard cement. He gripped the handle of his roofer’s hammer until his knuckles turned white. In the background Bander bellowed at the top of his lungs.
Jack came to his senses in a rush only to wish he had stayed oblivious. The monster who had nearly crushed the life out of him earlier was towering above him and some sort of pig creature was trying to bite him on the face. In the background the crowd was jeering and laughing at him. He was soaked to the bone and thought for sure that he was about to die. Suddenly the jeers and laughter turned into screams of terror and the whole crowd, except for Bander, were running away from him. The pig-thing had stopped struggling and was looking at the mass exodus with as much amazement as he was. Suddenly the creature leaned over and whispered in Jack’s ear to follow him. While Bander ranted and raved at his deserting followers, Jack and the pig were crawling the other way. The pig stuck his arm in some of the mud that Jack had created while he struggled in his wet clothes and wiped it on Jack’s face. Bander howled in rage and Jack knew that the escape was ended. He turned to face his doom, only to find that Bander was looking all over trying to find him. Somehow, the pig had managed to make them invisible. Jack turned to the pig-thing in confusion, but was motioned to silence.
Jack and his new compatriot quickly moved away from where Bander stood, a bewildered look on his face as he attempted to make sense of the events that had just unfolded. While Jack was keen to head right out of the park, the pig creature led him off toward the monolithic cement structure of the bleachers. They moved behind the cement facade and ducked down.
“We needed to get away quick. I didn’t have much mud to work with, and it would have dried out fast,” the pig said.
“Thanks for your help. What’s your name?”
“Arkan. Arkan Sonney.”
“Well, Arkan, thanks. But I don’t understand why you did it. Or how, for that matter,” Jack said.
“Not all that hard to figure out from where I sit,” a voice said from over Jack’s shoulder. Jack spun around to find Ryan hiding beneath the bleacher bench just behind him.
“Ryan! How did you get here?”
“Long story,” Ryan sat up and slowly tossed a ball bearing up into the air a few times. “I’m not sure that I know all of it myself. Nice to meet you Arkan, my name is Ryan.”
Arkan looked at Ryan for a moment and started to laugh, a slight squeal of delight betraying his piggy nature.
“You are a bigger fool than I thought! Imagine the incompetence, letting them both get away. Can you not do anything right?” Summer stormed back and forth across the ornately furnished room, her feet making loud noises on the wide planked wooden floor. She rushed over to Bander and stuck her index finger in his chest. “Have we not gone over this plan a hundred times? Always letting your ego get the better of you.”
“Aw, you wasn’t there. He managed some kind of magic. Some of mine have holes the size of hazelnuts right through their bodies. You’d think they were run through with a steel rod from the look of things.” Bander sunk to the floor where he sat cross-legged, his face level with Summer’s. He tilted his head forward repentantly. “I’m sorry Sweets. I would’ve stopped them if I could.”
“Oh you…” Summer glared furiously into Bander’s face and then seemed to repent. “Fine. I should have expected something like this from a Jack… Especially one with a name like his. That doesn’t mean that I’m not still mad at you though. You need to get focused on our plan. If these fools in the Seelie court find out about our little truce too soon, the entire effort was completely wasted.”
Summer’s manner had changed as she talked, and with this final statement she leant into his chest and curled herself against him. Bander reached down and gave her a squeeze on the behind and a lusty kiss on the lips.
“All I want right now is a bit O’ honey, honey.”
Summer gave a laugh that quickly turned into a feral purr, as she grabbed his leather jerkin with both hands and leant into his body, bringing his face back to hers for a longer, more sensuous kiss. “Mmmm, being bad never has felt quite so good, you monster.”
Summer’s statement was interrupted by a pounding on the door. “Quick, you need to get out of here. Use the back door,” She said, pulling Bander to his feet and pushing him toward the back of the house. Bander looked rebellious for a moment, but followed her instructions docilely at her warning glance. “We will meet at the walk tonight after dark. Don’t be seen leaving here, Bander. That would get us into a situation neither of us want just yet,” Summer hissed.
She walked over to the front door and waited a moment for Bander to escape through the back. Then she opened the door wide to find Dobbs standing there. “Hello Gunter, what seems to be the emergency?”
“Summer, thank Mother Arn that you are all right. Reports had Bander sighted in this area. I thought he might try something foolish.”
“Gunter, you are such the worrier. I can take care of myself, in case you have forgotten. Bander would be quite foolish indeed if he were to try a direct attack on me in my own home. He may be big and strong, but there is more to real power than physicality— you taught me that.” Summer walked away from her mentor and approached a silver mirror that hung on the wall. She looked at her reflection and brushed her eyebrows back with a finger moistened at her lips.
Dobbs watched her carefully and then with deliberate care, spoke in a quiet voice. “Dear child, what has become of you. I have taken the utmost care in your upbringing, especially after Duncan left us for the Sanctuary Forest, but lately I feel a chill upon your heart. Tell me what has happened to you. I can feel the turmoil beneath your chest.”
Summer closed her eyes as he spoke, and shivered ever so slightly. Foolish old one, if only you knew the changes that have taken place in the heart of your sweet little Summer Goldthwain. If only you knew the power I feel when I control that great lump of a monster, the raw sexual sensation that our rutting gives me. Then you might understand why I do what I do. But you have never felt the rush that comes of breaking the taboo, the… She let her thoughts flow away and held her breath for a moment to slow the beating of her heart. After a brief moment to compose herself she turned and answered. “Oh Gunter, you know me too well. I am just so worried about this situation with Jack. I can’t imagine what caused such a violent reaction from his friend.”
Dobbs watched her for a moment. “And you are sure that this Jack situation is all that has you worried. I swear Summer, if I knew you less well I would think that you had lost hold of yourself.”
“Now who sounds paranoid, Dobbs dearest? This whole situation has got us doubting one another, when we should be at our closest unity.”
Dobbs face relaxed and he took on a weary stance. “Pardon the worries of a foolish old Sidhe, my dear. I understand so little of the world these days, such changes have developed. It is enough to drive a Phouka like myself home to the old country.”
Summer approached Dobbs and embraced him, holding him close briefly and giving him a tight hug. Then she felt him stiffen and bound back against the door.
“That SMELL! SUMMER, what have you done?! You are covered with the stink of evil!” Dobbs faced her with rage twisting his features.
“Gunter? What could you possibly be saying?” Summer approached him slowly with her arms wide.
“I should have known something was wrong when you insisted that a glamour was the only way to convince Jack to help us. You stay back now, Summer. I don’t know what is happening here, but I will do my best to understand if you will explain it.”
Suddenly the back door swung open to reveal Bander. Summer whirled to face him. “You fool! I told you to leave. I can handle this old man by myself.”
“No, Sweets. You can’t. You are too soft when it comes to your precious Gunter Dobbs. I knew we should have finished him off months ago.” Bander crossed the room to face Dobbs, and Summer blocked his path, straining against him with her hands pressed on his chest.
“Is this what it has come to Summer? I treat you as my own flesh and blood daughter, I raise you from a babe, and you repay my service like this?” Dobbs asked in a heart-wrenched voice.
“Bander, you stay where you are, I will handle this!” She turned to Dobbs, pleading with him. “Gunter, you don’t understand. I haven’t betrayed anyone. I am doing this to end the war between our courts. This is the only way to stop the fighting.”
“No Summer. The mask has been peeled away. You cannot fool me that way any more. I see now what has been happening over the past two seasons. I understand why you have been searching for this Jack Frost. He is not the weapon of The Host, as you have been saying. He is the only one who has the power to stand up to you. Your worry was that he would be truly the weapon of the Seelie Court. That he might be able to stop you.”
Summer turned quickly from Bander, who suddenly stopped his struggling and stepped back, almost as if he understood the danger that suddenly existed in this room. She swelled up and her hair stood out from her head, crackling with energy. “And what would you know about me and mine, Phouka? You prattle on about what is right, and what is good. Tell me, has your Seelie magik given you such power as mine? It goes far beyond bloodlines now, Dobbs. You have no idea of the powers I hold, the sheer strength of my magiks.”
“Your unsainly power is laughable Summer. You really have missed the point of all my teaching. What wasted years.” Dobbs looked Summer in the eye and spit on the ground, signaling his dismissal of her as his student. He struggled with fear to keep from bolting immediately and thereby sealing his fate.
“The only thing your ‘teaching’ has been good for is as an abject lesson in how to destroy the Seelie Court. I know the Court’s every weakness, Gunter. A pity you will not be there to see it fall.” With that Summer summoned her magiks and focused on the form of Gunter Dobbs. She brought up her hands and a blaze of yellow fire shot forth aimed directly at his head.
When the fire reached the spot that should have signaled the demise of Dobbs, Summer and Bander were suddenly bowled over by a large white shape. The energy dispersed across the wooden door, scorching the surface. Dobbs had switched to the canine form that his Phouka kind were known for, and gone on the offensive. He had caught Summer in the chest, throwing her forcefully against Bander, who flung himself backwards to keep from harming her. Then Dobbs dove through the front window of the house, carrying the drapes with him, and while in midair he shifted to the form of a white horse. Before Summer and Bander recovered, Dobbs was little more than a slowly disappearing white blur clattering through the streets.
“What should we do, Sweets?”
“You go after him, make it look like you are together, rather than embroiled in a chase. I will put out word in the Seelie Court that Gunter Dobbs is a traitor, and that you and he tried to kill me.”
“Ah, you are even more wicked than I thought.” Bander kissed her on the lips and headed for the door.
“And break that door off its hinges on your way out. Make it look like a real struggle.”