Chapter 1 – Lunch
The woman came into the cafe five minutes ahead of schedule. She was short, thin, and reminded me of my kid sister. She had long brown straight hair that hung out of a funny-looking floppy hat and a deep blue jacket that seemed to have seen better days. Patches were poorly sewn to the elbows and at one shoulder. She had on a skirt that probably looked very nice at one time, but the bright colors had long since faded to mostly muddy blues and blacks.
It seemed as though she were trying not to touch anything as she nervously made her way through the tables to the back of the cafe where I sat. She even kept as much of her face covered as possible as others moved passed her. I had no idea what to expect of this woman, except that she said she was desperate, and that I might be able to help her. I’ve dealt with some pretty strange people before, most of whom were complete loonies, yet this woman seemed to have a seriousness about her that bordered on outright panic. Either she was completely paranoid about something, or she had a real emergency on her hands. Whatever the case, she was interesting, and probably worth a few bucks for coffee and lunch.
She stopped in front of my table and stared down at me under the hat. I had the feeling that she was doing some last minute evaluation, and that if she didn’t like me, she would turn and run out the door. Either that or she would pull out a gun and blow me away.
“You’re much prettier than I expected…” she said with a slight frown. I could just see her eyes under her hat. They were so blue that they could have been glowing.
I’m not sure what I was expecting her to say, but that was not it. Her voice was whispery; and yet almost melodic at the same time. “I’m Rachael,” I said holding out my hand. The other hesitated, then slowly reached out. To my surprise however, she did not take my hand in greeting. Instead, she turned my hand palm up and bent closer. I said nothing as she stared at my digits with what seemed to me to be complete concentration. For all I knew she was looking for dirt. Finally, she sighed and let go.
“Please, have a seat.” I indicated the chair across from me. She looked at the chair, then back to me, then back to the chair. All at once, she dropped into the seat in a single motion, as though someone might pull the thing away at the last second.
“Can I get you something? A croissant, or maybe some coffee?”
“Some coffee…” She repeated.
I started to raise my hand to attract the waiter when I realized that her response was a question, not an answer.
“Or something else if you like. Maybe just some water?”
This appeared to please her in some strange way. She lifted her head a bit and I even caught the briefest of smiles.
“Yes… Let’s share some water.”
I pondered her words while I caught the waiter’s eye and pointed to the water pitcher. He nodded.
“You mentioned in your call that you had something urgent you needed to see me about.” It was an icebreaker, but this girl was really in need of some social skills.
“Yes. I…” She stopped, and even jumped a bit as the waiter set a newly filled glass in front of her. She waited until he had served me as well and had gone. “I need your help… We need your help.”
“We?” I asked taking a drink. I noticed that the young woman was eyeing the glass in front of her as if it was some alien artifact. She bent down closer and even touched the side, pulling away quickly as if it would bite her.
“Is it frozen?” She asked, clearly puzzled. Her head unconsciously tilted slightly to one side.
“Uhh.. no. I don’t think so. Just iced.”
“But then how…” She shook her head. “No, I must stay on the matter at hand.”
She sighed again, this time closing her eyes as if in meditation. After a moment, she opened them and stared directly into mine. A small shiver ran down my spine like someone had touched me after scuffling along a static-filled rug.
“What do you know about faeries,” she asked flatly and quietly.
“Faeries?” I repeated, genuinely surprised.
She simply nodded slowly.
“Oh, well… A little I guess. Children’s tales mostly.”
“Umm, sure. I think I might be able to find a few books in my library at home that mention some of the European legends if you’re looking for source material.”
“When you were a child, did you believe in faeries?” She was looking at the water again. Moving from side to side of it.
“Well, yes… I suppose I did.”
“And you don’t now.” This was said as a point of fact.
“No, of course not.”
She looked up again. “Why?”
“Why did you stop believing?”
Her gaze was so intense that it started to make me a little nervous.
“I… I don’t know. Lack of proof I guess.”
“Did you have proof that they didn’t exist?” She glanced down again and put her finger into the water, testingly.
I though about it. “No, I guess I didn’t. Except that everything that I read seemed to indicate that they were made up creations.”
She placed her finger into her mouth and looked over my shoulder. I realized that she was tasting the water the same way that someone might taste wine. A look of mild disappointment came over her for a moment, then she was serious again.
“Suppose I told you that the legends were true… That faeries do exist.”
Now it was my turn to be surprised.
“What? Like little tiny people with wings? I’d say that you need to seek help in a different field than mine…”
“No,” she continued. “Not tiny little people, but beings just as big as you, or nearly so, and without the wings.”
I sat back, smiling. I was right about this woman. She was worth lunch.
“That description would cover everyone in this room. What would make a faerie a faerie then?”
“Outwardly, I guess not much. A few minor differences I suppose. But faeries are very different on the inside. All the forest folk are. After all, we… …they’re based on magic, are they not?”
“Right… I forgot. Look, next you’ll be telling me that YOU are a faerie.”
She was completely silent. Her gaze burned into me and held my attention as firmly as though she were grasping my head in her hands.
“Come on now…” I started. “I…”
Slowly and carefully, the woman reached up and tilted her hat back off her head, watching me the whole time. As she did so, her ears became visible to me and me alone. They were a little larger than normal, but more so, they were pointed.
“Oh my god…” I said in a whisper. I can’t quite explain how I knew, but I was one hundred percent certain that the being in front of me at that moment was not human. It defied my logic and my sense of what was real, but I just knew. I knew that she wasn’t some freak, or that the ears were cosmetically altered in some way. And I knew that my life would never be the same.
She pulled the hat back on.
“I’m sorry I had to open your eyes that way. We don’t normally mingle much with humans, and certainly not enough to need magic. At least not us Seelie faeries…”
“Seelie?” I asked, still trying to grasp the implications of her existence.
“Yes. There are basically two camps of forest folk. Unseelie and Seelie. Seelie like myself are pretty much passive. We stay mostly to the forests and have even been known to help humans on occasion. Unseelie on the other hand are well… not friendly.”
“Ten to fifteen centuries ago, there were a lot more of us around, forest folk I mean, and humans believed in magic. Then, with time, more and more humans populated the planet and in so doing became, shall we say, ‘enlightened.’ Over the years, magic has all but become a myth itself, and as for the forest folk, well… we’re just plain running out of forest.”
“So why me?” I asked the obvious question. “What do you want me for?”
“You are a writer, yes?”
“And you are active in the protection of the environment?”
“Yes, but… oh. I see it. I hate to disappoint you, but it’s not that easy. I can’t just write up an article for the New York Times saying, ‘Please stop destroying the forests of the Earth because the faeries are running out of room.'”
“For the same reason that you had to physically come here to prove to me that you existed. People, humans,… won’t believe it.”
“Oh…” she said looking down at the glass again. The disappointment on her face was quite obvious.
I didn’t know what to say. How do you comfort a being that you didn’t even believe in ten minutes ago?
“There must be a way. The Unseelie side can’t be right…”
“I’m very sorry.” I said with a pain in my heart. “I’m not sure what you mean, but you shouldn’t give up. There’s always something you can try.”
That seemed to perk her up a bit.
“You really mean that, don’t you?”
“You’re right. I shouldn’t give up. But I do need to go… These clothes are really beginning to get uncomfortable.” She was literally squirming. “I hate clothes, I don’t see how you humans wear them all the time.”
“You don’t normally wear clothes?” For the first time I noticed that the jacket seemed to be all she had on. The deep ‘v’ of her collar exposed more than just a little of her cleavage when she leaned forward.
“Oh goodness no!” She seemed so repulsed at the thought that I found myself smiling.
She started to stand.
“Wait! Please, I have so many questions…”
“Next time.” She answered with a slight smile.
“But how will I find you?”
“Don’t worry. We’ll find YOU. Soon. There’s not much time.”
“I don’t even know your name,” I said standing myself.
“I’m known as Keila. Thank you for the water.”
With a final smile, she turned and was gone.