Finding beauty in the dark.
Eric had run away. He was now hiding in one of his favourite spots: under the stairs, of Corridor 4, Subsection b.
This underground maze of shelters and bunkers was a concrete labyrinth of bomb-resistant corridors, access points, storage units and residential quarters that Eric, aged 7, called his home. He couldn’t remember life before the shelter.
“You were only a baby when life went to hell,” his mom would say when she’s giving him another lecture of things he couldn’t comprehend and therefore shouldn’t do.
Like yesterday: “Don’t play with rusty nails!” she shouted suddenly, completely startling him which ironically nearly made him to stab the nail right into his hand. “It’s not like pre-shelter days we don’t have the shots to treat tetanus!”
“Something that can kill you-you wouldn’t understand. You were only a baby when life went to hell!”
So many things he didn’t understand. He had been “sheltered” quite literally from all of it. His mom rarely spoke of those times and if she did, it was to reprimand or on her sad days of just lying in bed when she would, in a trance-like state, reminisce with glazed-eyes and wild hair, about drinking in nightclubs with her friends, family lunches at the pub, going to the beach and making sandcastles.
“What’s a sandcastle?”
“Oh Eric. You wouldn’t understand- you were just a baby when life when to hell.”
But now it was time to go back outside; into the world.
His mom woke him up early yesterday morning, her cheeks flushed with a pink glow, her blonde hair combed and pretty, her blue eyes sparkling with something he hadn’t seen before- sparkling with life.
“We can go out tomorrow!” She exclaimed. “We can go out into the sunshine…the virus has gone. It’s all clear!”
Eric shrugged. “Ok”.
“Honey do you know what this means? You can play outside, in a park or at the beach!”
“I like playing in corridor 4.” He replied blandly and watched the light in his mom’s eyes fade away.
He had seen that reaction before- happy to anger in a flash - and he wished he could have changed his response. She stomped over to a drawer in their small bunkered room, pulled it out of its rickety wooden frame and reached behind it. She had hidden some photographs back there; ones he had never seen before.
“Look.” She said sitting beside him on his bed. “These were too painful for me to look at before. But look how beautiful these places were.”
There were only four faded photographs but they did look beautiful. Blue sea, white sands, kites flying in the sky, children playing in the sand.
“Those are sandcastles.” She pointed out as Eric studied them. His mom was in one picture, with what must have been her family. They were all smiling with huge, goofy smiles, his mom was suspended in a freeze frame whilst jumping in the air, her blonde hair forming a flowing golden halo around her, her face reflecting the sunshine and radiating pure joy.
“You’ve never been outside,” His mom was explaining as Eric remained fixated on the photos. “but it’s bright, the air is fresh and it’s just….beautiful.”
He noticed the tears gathering in her blue eyes and he felt guilty; he just didn’t understand.
“But mom,” he said laying his hand on hers. “The dark can be beautiful too.”
And it was true; he loved his home. He liked the subterranean warmth, the intricate jungle of hiding places he and his friends had discovered. He liked how people all knew who he was and knew he was good at climbing and getting into small spaces. He liked how he could wander around in safety and knew exactly where to go when older ones were constantly getting lost. Whilst his mom mourned her memories of an outside world in the light; he was still creating his memories of a sheltered world in the dark and he wasn’t ready to leave them behind.
So now he was hiding, hoping his mom wouldn’t think to look here.
“Just one more day”, he thought to himself whilst doodling with crayon on a concrete wall. “Just one more day in this underground home and then maybe I’ll be ready to step out and build sandcastles in a bright new world.”
“mom...Mom! MOMM!?!!?!!” My voice breaks as I hear the steady beats become one.
I hear all of the doctors yelling over one another, “we’re losing her! -CLEAR! - hold pressure!” And then everything’s silent. Everything but the slight buzz and excruciating pounding noise in my own head.
I didn’t even get to hold her as she died.
She’s just... gone
My entire body shakes and trembles, but I can’t move, I can’t think.
My mom, the woman who brought me into the fucking shitty world!
She can’t be gone. She can’t be.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -Day 3 after- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
“What do you mean we can’t hold a funeral there?” My dad yells exasperatedly at the phone.
“I’m sorry sir, but with everything that’s going on lately, we are trying to help flatten the curve, you have to understand, with the stay at home order issued by the governor, all venues are closing down to help with social distancing”
“Fuck social distancing!” He shouts, “my wife, the love of my life, my children’s mother, is dead. I have a 17, 12, and 5 year old, and you expect me to explain to them that their mother is just gone?!”
“I am truly sorry, there’s nothing we can do sir”
“Of course not,” he responds rubbing his temples, “I’m sorry, it’s not your fault, thank you for trying.”
“Really, sir, if there is anything else we can do-“
“No, it’s fine, I’m good, thank you, have a good day,” my dad says curtly as he hangs up the phone.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -1 month after- - - - - - - - - - - - -
I close the computer, shoving my math work to the side of the table. I just finished my school work for the day, and it’s just about lunch time. I walk over to the charger in my room to grab my phone, and pull open the news app as I walk to the kitchen.
“President hoping to call off social distancing acts to jumpstart the economy”
I stare at the headline for a second, marveling at the stupidity. I know the entire economy is a total mess right now. Millions are attempting to work at home, and millions of those who can’t have been laid off. But, we don’t even have a vaccine at this point. Hospitals are still lacking necessary materials. My mom died from this, but somehow the best plan of action is to spread it around more and take more children’s parents and grandparents from them.
Great. We have an idiot in office. And the world is going to shreds. Wonderful time to be alive, isn’t it?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -6 months after- - - - - - - - - - - -
I sprint down into the living room after hearing my dad say the magic words we’ve all been hoping for.
“They created a vaccine”
Tears start streaming down my face. We’ve been waiting for this since the day Mom died. If only she’d had access to it, maybe things would’ve turned out different. But, it finally exists now.
The entire economy is a mess now, but this is the road to recovery.
Over the past couple of months, the stay at home mandates have slowly disappeared, as the government tried to encourage people to return to work. But, as I imagined, people are weary of going out. Nobody wants to get infected. However, without the economy moving, we still have huge problems.
Even with the vaccine, life will be different... and I’m worried.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -1 year after- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
I’m applying for colleges right now. Or at least trying to. I’m not a bad student, I have a 3.4 unweighted gpa right now. But that doesn’t tell anything about me as a student... does it? It doesn’t explain my work ethic, my passions, or anything about my intelligence. It’s just a number a group of randomly selected teachers assigned to me. But somehow colleges thought it to be a great plan to not require SATs or ACTs. Where does that leave me?
I don’t have many extracurriculars, jobs, or volunteer work that I did. Not for lack of trying, but after what happened with my mom, my dad has been extra careful about us being in public spaces.
It seems like everybody wants to go in-state now, so I’m just hoping I’ll get in. I’m not even worried about a scholarship at this point. However, college prices are crazy expensive after everything that happened, and I don’t have that kind of money. I can’t afford college without taking out debts that’ll follow me the rest of my life.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -5 years after- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
I haven’t read any of this since I was filling out my college applications. And a lot has happened since then. You’d think everything would be over by now. But no, not yet.
No amount of time will erase the millions of lives that were lost. Nothing will make me forget my mom, or the flatline sound of her heart stopping. But not everything stopped. The cycle of life and death continues. Babies are still being born, completely innocent, and unaware of the complete disaster we went through. And people are still dying of disease, and old age. Everybody knows that war changes people. I’d never planned to go to war though. And its over, everything’s balancing out again. So I should be good. I should be able to move on with my life.
Everything is done and over with. We are all moving on with our life’s. But the small voice in my mind, the image of my dead mother, my rejected college applications, my community college debt, the eviction from my apartment, my declined job applications, all of it tells me, nothing is over, not yet.
Big City Apartment
erratic emotions escaping,
Evidently, everything ended Evan's evening eloquently enough. Even Eve's ecstatically engaged emailing, energetically enhanced Evan's empathetic emotions. Eve's effected endearment enthusiastically enticed euphoria ellegantly. Eventually, eighteen emeralds enriched Eve's enormous excitment. Everlasting endeavors emerged, enravishing eternity.
Don't beat a dead horse after the elephant in the room just let the cat out of the bag.
Too many cooks spoil the idiom
Too many cooks spoil the broth but many hands make light work. So you may end up with horrible soup, but at least you won't be in the dark! :)
A stitch in time saves two in the bush.
Every cloud is a blessing in disguise
And finally, just for the sound of it!
Many a mickle Mott the Hoople
The Cycle Novella (Pt. 1)
I’ve always despised my heritage. It has been the bane of my existence actually, which I know makes me sound entitled and dramatic and probably ungrateful, but I can’t help it. I hate being half-Irish.
Leave it to my mother though, to go off to Dublin on some wild college graduation trip and come back engaged and knocked-up with me a month later. Believe me, I’ve heard it all; That I live a privileged life because I get to be so “cultured” and “well-traveled”, all because I’ve gotten to visit Ireland every few years (forcibly, might I add) to “get in touch with my roots”, as my parents liked to say. Since my dad was orphaned at a young age, “getting in touch with my roots” really only consisted of visiting some wack-job old lady named Dierdre whose bed-and-breakfast my mother stayed at during her college days.
She was definitely the worst thing about Ireland. She had a face like a vulture and the personality to match. My mother had formed some weird bond with her during her visit though, and had since, practically made her into my surrogate grandmother. My mom had even tried to get me to call her as much, but I’d always refused.
I think my hatred of everything Irish really began when I was in kindergarten. Growing up and hearing two different accents teach me English had really done a number on my impressionable young mind, ultimately leaving me with a heinously mish-moshed way of speaking as the result.
When we’d been asked to introduce ourselves in front of the class by saying one thing we liked to do, I had been utterly terrified, as every kindergartener is on their first day. But, I hadn’t yet known that I was different until it was my turn and I said, “I like to garden with my mom” and it came out as “oi loike ta gerden weth me mom”. It received an overall shriek of laughter followed by shouts at our blustering red-faced teacher Mrs. Stonemen, asking why I talked funny.
I thought I had been utterly mortified at the time; it couldn’t get any worse right? Wrong. The others eventually found out my name was spelled Aine, actually pronounced awn-ya, and Brandon Sutherland, a beast of a boy who was shaped like a green pea with one front tooth and a perpetual collection of dried-up snot around his nose, had yelled out, “AINE THE ANUS”. That little one-liner had received vastly more praise than, “why does she talk funny”, and continued to stick with me as a timelessly funny nickname until I was eighteen and finally free of all of my tormentors.
After graduation, I decided to take a year off to “travel the world” in a naive grand scheme I had concocted with my best, and only, friend Jules. Of course, when Jules’ parents found out that she was planning on giving up her scholarship to Wake Forest to travel, she had been immediately grounded with no technology and no way to contact me for the entire summer until she was silently shipped off as school began.
I, on the other hand, had been left high and dry with no plans, no friends, and no money to actually travel with. Jules and I, unfortunately, hadn’t thought the whole money part through yet.
So, when my parents had handed me the big manilla envelope full of travel brochures, cultural magazines, and departure and return tickets to good ol’ Ireland that August (after a long few months spent of me moping behind my black-out window shades and fuzzy blankets) I had known their intentions were probably meant to be good. I had known that, yes, but it still hadn’t stopped me from screaming and crying and pitching a fit like the holy terror I’d felt like being.
“They’re nonrefundable, Aine, you’re going,” my father had said with an unyielding steel edging his usually placid tone.
“It’ll be fun, Aine, you need to get out of this house and you’ll get to travel like you wanted! I know Dierdre will be so excited to see you,” my mother had said in a coaxing tone so sweet it had almost made me want to cry even more.
That’s how I found myself stuck in Kinvarra, Ireland, staring blankly at the churning waters of the Galway Bay through the ancient distorted glass window of my new senile caretaker’s little stone cottage. It was my only entertainment here since she didn’t believe in television and I had absolutely no cell service. Apparently, Dierdre had decided to buy the place because Dublin was getting a bit fast-paced for her aging mind to handle and Kinvarra’s “country” air had been just the tonic she had needed.
I’d arrived a week ago and had barely moved an inch since plopping down on the creaky iron twin bed of the guest room. I absentmindedly fingered the dried up pile of light yellow primrose flowers the ancient little woman insisted on spreading over every window seal of the house. I hated the way they smelled. I’d sometimes wake up in the middle of the night, nauseous from the cloyingly sweet, still-rotting scent that rolled off of them in toxic waves.
“Protection from the Fae”, Dierdre had claimed. The old bat was insane. I wasn’t quite sure if my sanity would remain intact by the time I came home in November, if I had to follow along with one more of her stupid superstitious beliefs.
She had also made me wear an iron chain link necklace threaded through with St. John’s Wort which I hated even more than I hated the primroses. It was big and ugly and heavier than I’d ever thought a necklace could be. I’d tried to take it off, but the house was small and she had incredibly sharp vision for her age. The first time I’d done it, had been the last.
It was late at night and I was ravenous so I’d decided to try my luck and creep down to the kitchen to see what I could find. Dierdre had a strict rule about meal times but I was so sick of her mushy overly-salted food I’d refused dinner that night. The only obstacle in my way was the living room.
As I snuck down the stone spiral staircase along the back hall, I could just make out a dying fire that must’ve been lit hours ago in the massive prehistoric-looking hearth. She had to have been asleep by now. It was gently illuminating the dim rustic space and I could have sworn I’d heard the rhythmic sound of her snoring in the lumpy puke-green armchair she generally tended to fall asleep in. I slyly tip-toed across the uneven stone floor, past the chair, and into the darkened kitchen with no problems. I wasn’t in the clear yet though, and I couldn’t risk turning on the lights so I’d felt my way around the room guided only by the pale watery light of the moon that was just barely coming in through the squat window above the deep farmhouse sink. Just as I’d managed to pull out a hunk of ham from the fridge, the lights had flicked on followed by Dierdre in a deranged tizzy. She’d seen that I, not only had been trying to eat after dinner but, that my necklace was nowhere in sight. The earful I’d gotten during that little conversation had made me decide to just suck it up and wear the stupid thing.
A soft rap on the door snapped me out of my reverie.
“Aine, lass, get dressed. We’re headed to the market,” Dierdre’s wafer-thin voice called out from behind the still-closed door.
“No, thanks,” I muttered silently to myself.
Before she could twist the doorknob and come in though, I assured her that I’d be down in fifteen minutes.
The market was a thirty-minute walk from Dierdre’s cottage to the little bustling village. It might have been quicker, had it not been for Dierdre’s fat ankles which she claimed had swollen up this morning after an attack of gout. I highly doubted it, considering her limited mobility was probably due to the fact that she was about seventy years-old and about seventy pounds overweight, but I mumbled some half-hearted condolences anyway and continued to trek alongside her in slow silence as our rain boots squelched through the muddy trail.
The village was underwhelming, to say the least. Squat stacks of grubby looking homes and businesses sat atop a flat wide peak of the hilly grass-covered countryside overlooking the bay. Everything seemed to be lined up sloppily and hastily on both sides of the worn and nearly-smooth cobblestones of the main road that ran through Kinvarra. Every building was completely covered in mud-brown clapboard shingles that had been half-bleached by the cool salted air drifting in from the sea, making them practically indistinguishable from one another. Well, save for the odd number of chimney’s that belched out thick black smoke on one or the rusted wind vane that was perched crookedly atop the roof of the next.
Stalls with energetic vendors peddling all types of merchandise were touting their wares in both English and Gaelic to the slow stream of browsing villagers who meandered by. According to Dierdre, the market was terribly busy today because some weird boat festival was going on in town, so it would probably be a longer market trip than usual. Perfect, just perfect. I kept the comments to myself though, only sighing in response as I tried to mentally prepare myself for the long road ahead.
Dierdre made me stop at just about every stall, clucking disappointedly at the selection and telling the vendors as much, before eventually moving on to the next. My feet began to ache after what felt like hours trailing Dierdre through the square like a pathetic little lapdog. We’d been here forever and had barely gotten enough to eat for dinner yet, let alone a week’s supply, as she had intended to do.
“Few more stops, lass,” Dierdre called out distractedly.
I nodded despondently and watched as her brittle crop of thinning white hair bobbed and weaved between the pert looking rows of tomatoes she’d been examining for the past fifteen minutes. She finally settled on a pound of them, despite her complaints, along with two hefty burlap sacks of potatoes, some onions, and a bag of dried-out looking carrots.
“This way, lass!” Diedre ordered after loading my arms down with her haul. Who carried all this shit for her when I wasn’t here?
I sighed and reluctantly followed as she moved towards a damp shadowy alleyway between the butcher and the baker’s stalls. The warm scent of baking bread combined with the sharp bloody iron scent of fresh meat made my stomach turn. Dierdre’s plump body forged ahead though, so I was forced to follow suit despite having to choke down the bile that I felt steadily rising in my throat. The alley smelled even worse though, and I suddenly found myself missing the stench of raw bread and uncooked meat.
I struggled not to cough as the smell of rotten sewage and eggs burned through my nose. Ancient-looking drainage pipes hung above us, dripping foul-smelling water that was tinged orange with rust. I’d had to jump out of the way more than once to avoid being completely drenched in the rancid runoff. Ahead, I saw Dierdre, thankfully, slide her plump body through an iron-barred door along the left side of the wall.
The unmarked, tucked-away shop was cramped and smelled strongly of patchouli, no doubt strung up everywhere to keep out the stench of the alleyway. A fat line of coarse-grained salt was spread across the threshold and I nearly had to jump into the damned place to avoid disturbing it. It was packed full from floor-to-ceiling with a vast array of herbs and spices and various charms and pendants and jewelry all proudly standing on display and marked with exorbitant price tags. What was this place? Everything looked like a pile of junk and was most definitely a rip-off. A deep-toned woman around Dierdre’s age with far less wrinkles than she, appeared from some back corner of the shop and greeted Dierdre warmly.
“What will it be today, friend?” the woman asked familiarly as she looked past Dierdre and fixed me with an appraising gray stare that was magnified through the thick lens of her rounded glasses. I smiled weakly and looked away, pretending to peruse.
“The dried primrose, as usual, Saoirse,” Dierdre said pleasantly, before looking back to me, considering a moment, then added, “and maybe something a little stronger than the necklace she’s wearing, we can’t be too careful.”
I looked up, meeting both of the women’s eyes, “Stronger than the necklace? Thanks, Saoirse, but I think I’ll be just fine with this.”
I’d conceded about my issues with the necklace, but I would not back down on this. I wasn’t wearing any more stupid Fae protection charms, one piece of hideous jewelry was quite enough for me, thank you very much.
“Do no’ question me, lass. You’ll wear extra protection if I wish it,” Dierdre scolded, annoyance and frustration deepening the already sunken crevices that sat beside the thin red-painted line of her pursed lips.
Saoirse knelt down behind the counter, unlocking the glass pane and reached in to pull out two massive iron cuffs set with horrid gaudy-looking turquoise colored stones that were centered in the middle.
I gulped, staring at the atrocious things. No way in HELL was I going to walk around looking like some knock-off Irish version of Wonder Woman.
“Like I said, Saoirse. I’m perfectly fine with the necklace, but thanks for your help,” I let sarcasm drip across every word like honey.
Dierdre’s face looked as red as the tomatoes she’d been making me lug about.
“Aine, ye will do what I say. That is the end of it.”
I don’t know why, but hearing her say those words, as if she were my mother or somehow even related to me, made something inside me snap.
“You, Dierdre, can’t tell me what to do!” I shouted, dropping the groceries to the floor like a toddler throwing a tantrum.
I didn’t care how it made me look, though. I actually felt a smug sense of satisfaction as I watched the vegetables bounce across the dirty floor, knocking into precariously piled stacks of overpriced “Fae Protection”. Everything about this was so unfair. How could my parents have ever thought that this could be counted as a vacation when they knew Dierdre ran her house like a prison warden?
I could feel my skin start to itch as I got the sudden urge to run. I needed to get out of here. I needed to get away from Dierdre and Saoirse and the shop and this entire wretched village. Before I could even think, I felt my legs begin to move, pumping through the dank alleyway, past the butcher’s, and the baker’s, and the square, and straight towards Kinvarra’s edge where the ramshackle boat dock was perched.
I stalked down to the half-empty docks in a black fury. So much for Kinvarra’s grand boat festival. It suddenly felt too hot beneath the thin little parka I’d thrown on this morning to keep out the chilled air that always seemed to blow across the bay, despite it being mid-August. I tore it off violently, not bothering to control my recklessly swinging arms or caring to say sorry to the weathered cluster of fisherman I’d accidentally knocked into. Through the roar of boiling blood rushing in my ears, I faintly heard them shouting curses after me in angry-sounding Gaelic.
I didn’t care though. I hated them, and Gaelic, and Kinvarra, and Ireland, and Dierdre, and my parents for sending me here, and most of all I hated my life. I knew I should’ve stayed home! I knew it! I should’ve just pretended to go through security at the airport and turned right back around. I should’ve just gotten an Uber home and said to Hell with the consequences when I showed back up on my parent’s doorstep.
But no, I’d felt guilty that my parents spent so much money on a nonrefundable ticket and gotten on the flight like a good little daughter and now here I was… Half-sprinting down a putrid slimy dock that smelled of rotting fish intestines and disgustingly grimy wind-whipped fishermen who had apparently never heard of a shower, in a tiny backwater village where only half of the people spoke English.
Out of nowhere, I felt the toe of my slick rubber boots catch on a loose half-decaying board and the next thing I knew I was flat on my back, head throbbing and covered in foul squishy bits of fish and algae the exact puke-ish shade of green as Dierdre’s favorite armchair.
Behind me, I heard the men I’d trampled through earlier burst into a fit of deep, mocking, full-bellied laughter. Without thinking, I ripped off that stupid, monstrously heavy “Fae” necklace and threw it at them as hard as I could… And missed. Of course.
The damned thing had sailed right over the men and straight into the massive black hull of one of those traditional hooker boats I’d seen some stray villagers ogling up the dock, like the game-winning shot at a basketball game.
Apparently, I’d even managed to hit someone inside of it because two seconds later I heard a deep, outraged voice howl, “Go dtachtfadh an diabhal thú!”, may the devil take you. The only Gaelic I’d actually been interested in learning before I’d come here were the curses.
Great, this was just great. Not only had I fallen on my ass in front of half of the population of Kinvarra, but I’d also managed to assault someone in the process.
Not just anyone though. Oh God, what had I done? The lithe body of a young man abruptly appeared from beneath the boat’s deck, hoisting himself to his feet with a predatory feline strength that immediately glued my feet to the spot. I felt a cold sweat lick across my back. He was easily the most beautiful man I’d ever seen in my whole life.
“Cé a rinne é seo?” he yelled out, holding my necklace in a gargantuan white-knuckled fist as he stared pointedly at the group of still chuckling men. I was guessing that meant something along the lines of “who threw this damned necklace?”.
“An cailín,” choked out one of the rough ruddy-skinned men through bursts of laughter.
And, that must’ve meant something like “the little blonde girl over there”, because his strong dimpled chin immediately swiveled towards me. Everything became slow-motion.
I felt a little whimper of fear uncontrollably escaping my lips as tense unflinching eyes set beneath dark well-groomed brows locked with mine. They were the color of sea glass and twice as hard. My legs went as limp as the dead fish I was covered in. All I could do was stare as he hopped down to the dock and strode toward me with an easy languid confidence that seemed years beyond his youthful appearance.
My mouth went desert dry as he extended the necklace to me. The freshly dried blood of rope burn from heaving in slippery fishnets stained his knuckles, all of which had been ringed in thick bands of swirling gold. All I could do was stare at it stupidly, bouncing my eyes back and forth between the necklace and his heavy-lidded feline gaze.
“I-I’m sorry,” I finally managed to choke out. He looked so familiar. Something like the ghost of a memory tickled the back of my mind.
A mischievous smile played across his full lips revealing a large set of perfectly straight teeth, “Well then, you’ve got one hell of an arm on ye, lass.” He even seemed to smile like a cat, his incisors were a bit longer and sharper than the rest of his teeth.
“I slipped, and t-then those men and they were l-laughing and, I-I just was so mad and I-,” I stopped, feeling the familiar hot flush of embarrassment creep across my cheeks as the words tumbled out. As much as I hated it, I felt lost in the thick Irish brogue that danced across his tongue like lilting music.
I cleared my throat a bit awkwardly and tried to start again, “Like I said, I’m sorry.” I made to reach for the necklace just as he playfully pulled it back, dangling it above his head. Bastard. He was so tall it was nearly a foot from my reach.
He clucked, teasingly, examining the necklace, “Believe in the Fae, do ye?”
I let out a huff of annoyance, still trying to grab at the blasted thing, “No, I don’t.”
“Now that’s a shame. Don’t ye know it’s Cruinniú na mBád?,” he conspiratorially dropped his voice into a low silky whisper, “Pretty towheaded lass like ye is bound to get snatched up without yer charms.”
Forgetting the necklace, I tightly folded my arms across my chest and snorted, “I thought it was just some silly boat festival.”
“Aye, it is.”
“Well then, why would I get snatched up by the Fae at a boat festival?”
He looked down his strong Grecian nose at me, as if I was a complete airhead, “It’s the only day of the year that the Fae can be seen by people. Legends say that Fae aren’t able to have any babes amongst their kind so they must mate with a human on this night to do so.”
He grabbed my hand, dropping the necklace into it, and wrapped my fingers around it tightly, “Who knows, ye might have a Fae thinking about getting ye already.”
A jolt of pleasure from the touch jumped through my belly like a lightning rod. I looked away, tucking the necklace into the back pocket of my corduroy’s to hide the returning blush.
“So, if they did manage, uh… to conceive, what would happen then?” I asked wistfully, I didn’t really care about the answer but I wasn’t ready to end the conversation quite yet.
He laughed a bit, surprised at my sudden interest, “I dinnae know, some stories say the human is taken to live amongst them, but the Fae world isn’t really known to be welcoming of outsiders, so others say if the couple is truly in love they may sometimes choose to run away and live in secret amongst the humans.”
“And why would a Fae want to live with humans?” I challenged.
He ran his long fingers through his shaggy mop of thick black curls and huffed a laugh, “Again, I dinnae know. ’Spose they gotta protect their sweetheart… plus, they probably wanna see the world outside Fae walls.”
I smiled softly, “Sounds a bit like me, actually.”
“Say, what are ye, doing today, erm-...” he looked at me helplessly, trying to remember if I had told him my name.
“Aine, and … Actually, I should be getting back, Dierdre is probably wondering where I am.”
He chuckled. It was a deep sensuous sound that wrapped around me like my favorite blanket and made me forget why I needed to go back. I suppose Dierdre could wait a little while longer.
“Ach, stop acting the maggot, mo ghrá, I’m no’ trying to kidnap ye. Let me take ye out on the bay. By the way ye were legging it down the dock, it seemed like ye wanted to get out of here anyway.”
I drew in a deep shuddering breath and considered a moment. Ok, Aine, think… should I really go out on a boat with some impossibly tall Irish stranger that just so happens to have flawless, honied skin that glows like the fleeting light of a sunset and a beautiful face that’s carved as sharply as the peaks of some… Oh God! What was wrong with me?
“Tell me your name, and I’m in,” I felt the corners of my mouth tug up so high my cheeks began to throb.
I must have looked like a complete idiot, but… I really found it hard to care about much of anything when I looked at him. He was just so damned handsome, and I’d felt something between us… something real and familiar... like an invisible thread between us that he’d tugged and I’d decided I would tug back.
We spent the entire day on the enormous red-sailed boat, and I could see that the whole village had been notified I’d gone missing by the time we’d pulled back into the harbor at sunset. Torches had been lit along the dock and I could already make out the mass of tense-looking figures who had, no doubt, been waiting there for our return. It was probably the most dramatic thing that had happened in Kinvarra in years. I bet Dierdre was mortified. Still, I was floating on an Irish dream and at least half a bottle of whiskey. I would’ve been happy to let Dierdre yell at me for a thousand hours if it meant I got to spend another day like this with Bres.
He had taught me the basics of sailing across the glassy waters of the bay, how to catch the chilled briny wind beneath the sails, and how to jib and tack as the current changed from east to west. We’d been taking long swigs out of a warm bottle of Midleton, sharing half-soggy clove cigarettes, and laughing about how smelly I was as he picked out thin bits of brittle fish bones still stuck in my blonde hair.
“I dinnae know if I can kiss ye smelling this bad,” Bres laughed into my neck. I was leaning against the side of the boat, trapped between the corded muscles of his arms.
I was trying to think of something else besides how badly I wanted to step into his vanilla, cedarwood, and bonfire scented embrace, and perhaps even coming up with some snarky comeback when suddenly, he pushed me over the bow and straight into the murky brackish water below. By the time I’d resurfaced, I was absolutely steaming and planning on shouting more than a few choice words… until I found him lifting the hem of his gray chunky-knit sweater to jump in after me. After seeing his taut graceful body form a perfect arc as he dove into the water with expert ease, all of those thoughts had drifted away.
We’d dried out side-by-side clad in nothing but our underwear atop the deep-mahogany stained deck as we listened to the gentle billowing sound of the sails flapping above us, moving in perfect harmony with the rippling sea that lapped playfully around the boat.
Bres turned to me with a sudden seriousness edging his light eyes, “I’d really like to kiss ye, Aine.”
I lounged on an elbow, feigning what I only hoped would pass as a nonchalant smile as panic bloomed in my stomach. I’d only kissed one boy before and I didn’t even think it counted as that. It had been in eighth grade with some kid named Josh Anderson in the movie theater during some hilariously awful horror flick we’d managed to sneak into, after getting tickets to something far more age-appropriate. After thirty minutes of a terribly sloppy session with too much tongue, our braces had gotten stuck together and the manager had to call the janitor for pliers to separate us, along with our both of our mother’s who were more than a little embarrassed when they come to pick us up. It had been absolutely traumatizing. I’d been grounded for the rest of the year and terrified of kissing anyone again ever since, even though I’d gotten my braces off the summer before ninth grade.
Bres was a man, though, not a boy. And, he was a handsome one at that. I was sure he’d kissed more girls than he could count, and would think I was some horrible, inexperienced, lousy excuse for a girl. He caught my slightly-wobbling chin in his strong steady hand. I guess my feigned cool girl act had been worse than I thought.
His teal eyes bounced back and forth between my eyes and lips hungrily.
“We’ll take it slow,” he breathed huskily, moving in a bit closer.
We were so close now that our breath began to mingle with shared electric anticipation. I nodded slightly and let my eyelids sink closed as his full lips caught mine in their silky embrace. We didn’t take it slow though. The kiss quickly turned frenzied and demanding, as we both lost ourselves in one another. I couldn’t tell if I had improved since eighth grade or if he was just a very good teacher.
The wind had almost been knocked out of me when his hot tongue finally pushed past my lips greedily seeking mine. He tasted of an intoxicating blend of cinnamon and whiskey and cloves. I found myself arching into the chiseled hard line of his body as his fingers tangled deftly into my still-damp hair. A wildfire of burning desire licked it’s way across my every nerve ending as I fervently snaked my arms around his neck. I needed, more than anything, to feel him, all of him. I felt a primal moan of pleasure escaping my lips just as he pulled back to look at me.
“Ye didn’t tell me ye could kiss like that, mo ghrá,” he chuckled sensuously through rapid shallow breaths.
“Tell me what mo ghrá means,” I said just as breathlessly, placing my forehead on his.
I could tell he wanted to talk for a moment but… God, I didn’t know why we had to.
I just wanted to kiss him, every fiber of my being seemed to ache from the absence of his lips.
His thumb caressed my cheek in slow thoughtful circles, as he smiled distantly, “Mo ghrá, means my love,” His thumb stopped moving as his sea glass eyes turned stormy and serious once more, “Are ye sure ye want to do this, Aine?”
I crushed my lips against his again wildly, unable to control the primal urge any longer. I felt insatiable, the only thing that mattered right now was his touch.
He pulled away again, looking down at the worn boards beneath us.
“Are ye sure you want to do this here, mo ghrá? With me?” he asked shyly, tracing an invisible pattern into the deck with one long finger as he had done to my cheek only moments ago.
I plunged my hands into his blue-black curls and lifted his head up, “I wouldn’t want to be here with anyone else, Bres.”
“Aine…” he breathed into me, my name like a dying man’s prayer on his lips.
I pulled him into me again except this time, he didn’t let go. The kiss deepened and he grabbed my waist roughly, flipping my body on top of his in one swift movement. I clumsily reached to unclasp the hooks of my bra as I felt his hands devouring every inch of my sun-warmed skin. Our bodies became entangled in a writhing mass of slick flesh and I found myself wishing more than anything I could stop time and live in this moment with him forever.
When it was done we laid beneath the streaky lines of the partly-cloudy afternoon sky and I listened as Bres told me of all of the different seabirds that passed us overhead. I was fascinated that he knew all of their migration patterns, and diets, and even their wing structure, by heart. It seemed a funny thing to me, that a man like Bres, so solid and every inch the poised alpha-man and predator, would be interested in something as delicate and seemingly insignificant as birds. We stayed there like that, bodies pressed against each other tightly, until the deep blue of the sky was transformed into the first peachy-colored warning of sunset.
“You’ll not see the boy again,” Dierdre seethed venomously as we made our way across the slim dirt pathway that led home. I hadn’t said one word to her since I’d gotten back. I didn’t care what she had to say, nothing but Bres mattered now.
I held onto the memory of that day for a month, letting it comfort me as I spent each day hopelessly staring out of my window at the depthless churning bay in hopes that I would catch a glimpse of Bres’ boat. I’d even jumped at every opportunity to go into the village with Dierdre, although I truly despised her company. But, every time we would pass along the harbor there had been no sign of Bres or his boat’s beautifully red sails standing proudly alongside the dock. I’d almost began to believe I made up the whole thing until one afternoon a strong swift knock had rapped three times in musical succession on the cottage door.
I didn’t know how, but I felt that it was Bres standing there behind the ancient iron and wood boards before I’d even opened it. I rushed to the door before Dierdre could even react, flinging it open so hard and so fast, the door had slammed against the cottage’s stone wall and violently rattled all of the windows.
I’d forgotten how huge he really was. The cottage seemed dwarfed in comparison to his size, and he had to lean down a few inches to even see me below the threshold.
“Aine,” he breathed through a small yearning smile. The way he said it, in the same way he had before, savoring each syllable, made me momentarily forget about the anger and sadness I’d been carrying around from his month-long absence.
I rushed into his arms, breathing in his distinct scent of vanilla, cedarwood, and bonfire.
“AINE!” Dierdre howled, finally on her feet behind us and absolutely outraged at the sight of the embrace.
Bres gently untangled himself from me, pushing past to step through the door to address her.
“I’m staying, Maimeó. Aine is pregnant, I could feel it through the bond.”
I stepped away from them both, holding out my arms to put distance between us as confusion and shock flooded through my body. Pregnant? I was a few days late but… there was no way he could’ve known that. And what bond?
“Do no’ call me grandmother, swine. I’d known this would happen. I’ve been putting Queen Anne’s lace in everything she eats to prevent it,” she said bitterly, turning two disappointed black and hate-filled eyes on me. I wasn’t even shocked by Dierdre’s confession, poisoning me with some useless herb seemed to be right on point for the old hag.
Bres stepped towards me, cautiously removing the iron and St.John’s Wort necklace Dierdre had insisted I put back on, before he tossed it to her feet. It landed in a clatter across the dusty floor that seemed too-loud in the tense still silence that had settled between us.
Bres eyed the ugly pile of chain haughtily, “An old trick, Maimeó. It is too bad, dear Aine removed it just before we met, or I’d never be here now.”
“Mallacht Dé ort,” Dierdre spat, actually spat, at Bres’ feet. May God curse you. I felt my mouth open and close like a floundering fish that had been tossed ashore. Despite every awful thing that came out of her mouth, it was probably the most foul thing I’d ever heard her say.
Bres reached out a palm to affectionately smooth down my hair but I jumped away from the touch like I’d been afraid of being burned.
“What is going on?” I demanded.
Bres’ sea glass eyes shuddered, looking a bit hurt from the snub, before he huffed a laugh as if I’d just asked the world’s dumbest question, “I’ve already told ye everything, mo ghrá.”
It was my turn to laugh, “No, you haven’t, Bres. You can’t just come in here after disappearing for an entire month, saying that I’m pregnant, and then insult Dierdre in her own home.” I didn’t particularly care for Dierdre’s feelings but I thought it sounded like a good thing to include being angry about. I didn’t want him to know how hurt I’d actually felt this past month.
Bres’ face softened a bit perceptively as if he actually sympathized with how I’d been feeling, “I am so sorry, mo ghrá. It was never my intention to leave ye, but I was no’ able to see ye until I knew for certain ye were pregnant.”
I threw my hands up in frustration and let rage sink into every perfectly punctuated word, “Stop. Saying. That.”
Bres reached out to me as cautiously as if he were approaching some unpredictable wild animal with big nasty teeth that could shred him apart at a moment’s notice, “Aine, ye are pregnant. Ye can only see me now because it is so.”
I slapped his hand away again and stuck a furious finger in his face, “And how would you know that? Huh? I haven’t seen you for an entire month, Bres! You don’t know anything!”
“Aine,” he said, still, frustratingly, trying to coax me into being calm, “I never meant to hurt ye. I’ve missed ye so much, but I truly wasn’t able to see ye until now.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Dierdre had taken a seat on the armchair, slowly rocking her head back in forth between her wrinkled, liver-spotted, palms.
I ignored her, still overwhelmed with a flood of emotions. Anger, confusion, excitement, desire, sadness, everything seemed to be coursing through my veins right now and it was beginning to make my head spin.
“Why do you think I’m pregnant?”
Bres started to choke out a laugh again but was stopped by one look at the steely unrelenting fire that burned behind my eyes.
“I dinnae think you’re pregnant, mo ghrá, I know ye are because we’re bonded. I told ye about the Fae that day we met because... I am one.”
I let out a crazed howl of laughter. Fae? Really? That was his excuse? HA!
“How do you even expect me to believe that? Did you really think that saying you’re Fae and “couldn’t see me”, save for that one day, would make me forgive you for running off somewhere for a whole month without a word?”
Bres opened his mouth but Dierdre cut him off.
“Aine, he is Fae. I’d been afraid of this happening because it happened to yer Ma, too. Yer Da said that it was inevitable because it was fate and you’d be linked to the Fae by blood. I didn’t want to believe it, so I tried to protect ye, but…” she wearily trailed off in a gravely exhausted tone.
Bres nodded in solemn agreement.
“Yer half-Fae already, Aine, ye just didn’t know it yet. It’s that Fae blood in ye that links us together, we call it the bond. It only forms between soulmates, and I have been waiting for ye forever, mo ghrá. I know ye have felt it too.”
I stared at him, utterly dumbfounded as I thought back to that invisible tether I’d felt tugging back and forth between us. I felt it between us even now, but...
“So what now then, Bres? You’re just planning to take me away to live with the Fae forever?”
Bres sighed, running exasperated fingers through his loose midnight curls, “No Aine, it’s yer choice. The same choice yer parents made. They chose to run away together, and... we can do the same if you’d like.”
“What I’d like is a pregnancy test and some actual proof that you are what you say you are,” I snorted, still only half-believing this ridiculous story.
Bres, though, didn’t think I was funny. He pushed past me and strode into the kitchen, returning with a large pock-marked potato in hand.
“Really? And what are you-”
I stopped as he held the potato up to eye level and stared at it intensely. Suddenly, the potato was no longer there. In its place was a massive bouquet of purple-tinged hydrangeas, my favorite flowers, completely covering Bres’ entire upper body. I wasn’t impressed.
“Just because you can do a few magic tricks does not mean-”
“Aine, it’s no’ magic! It’s a glamour, I can make ye see things that are no’ there. I can even make ye hallucinate if ye like, but I thought it would scare ye,” he said sharply. It was the first time he’d shown his frustration with me, and I was a bit shocked at the cruelness that had freshly marred his beautiful features.
I crossed my arms defensively, “Fine, make me hallucinate then, Bres.”
His teal eyes locked with mine and I stared back until everything around me faded into a picturesque scene of my favorite park back home. I was alone in the park. It was Fall, and dried-up orange and brown leaves were rustling around on a cool gentle breeze over the cobblestone pathways.
I screamed, spinning around wildly, arms splayed out and distantly heard something fragile crashing against stone. It wasn’t really scary per se, but damn... He’d really made me hallucinate. Strong hands were wrapped around my shoulders, shaking me, as the threadbare cottage and Bres’ worried handsome face swam into view.
In my panic, I’d managed to knock over a stout vase of fresh yellow primroses on a side table that Dierdre always liked to keep for emergencies if the dried ones on the window seal needed immediate replacing. I gazed flatly at the shards of blue and white porcelain as they swam amongst the awful flowers in the green-tinged water on the uneven stone floor. Good. I was glad I’d knocked them over. They stunk and they’d obviously not done a great job of protecting against Fae if Bres was here, standing in her home, completely unfazed.
“Aine, it was a glamour. It was no’ real I promise ye. I meant to send ye to yer favorite place but-,” his voice broke on the words as his newly wet eyes began to glisten, “I’m so sorry, something must’ve gone wrong. I didn’t mean to scare ye, mo ghrá, only to show ye what I’ve been saying is real. Please forgive me.”
I leaned into his touch, suddenly feeling hot tears begin to well up in my own eyes. He had mistaken me, I wasn’t upset because I was scared, I was upset because I was so damned frustrated. Bres wrapped his arms around me tightly, comfortingly, as I cried into the soft green wool of his sweater. I felt exhausted. So exhausted. All I could think was, “why me?”. The question played on an endless loop in my mind. Why me? Why me? Why me?
“Shhh, mo ghrá, you’re okay. Don’t cry, I hate seein’ yer big brown eyes with tears in ’em. Ye are safe and here with me now.”
His massive hand smoothed over my hair, petting it as soothingly as my mother had done for me so many times when I was feeling sad. My mother. I stepped back, pressing the heels of my palms to my eyes. She was the reason any of this was happening in the first place. I felt like a hypocrite but I couldn’t stop thinking that if she hadn’t stupidly gotten pregnant by some Fae I would’ve never been in this situation in the first place. If I had done the same, well… I wanted to face it. At least my child would get to grow up knowing that they were Fae.
“I don’t want to run away, Bres. I want to come with you. To… wherever the Fae live. I won’t live in fear like my parents,” as I said it I could taste the rightness of the words on my tongue.
I wouldn’t run away from this. I would face it, with Bres and our child. I wasn’t sure how fate worked but if being half-Fae meant I was always supposed to be with a Fae, in the end, my child would probably share the same burden. It would be right to at least let them grow up with others who were similar, because finding out some earth-shattering news like this on a forced vacation to Ireland was definitely not the way to tell your kid, “Oh hey, by the way, your Dad is Fae, making you half-Fae, which also means your soulmate is probably going to be Fae and you’ll be destined to find each other one day!”.
“Ye will NO’ !” Deirdre’s papery voice exploded from the lumpy armchair, shooting to her feet so fast she became a blur of brown and paisley. She had been so quiet, I’d almost forgotten she was still here.
I whirled on her, “You, Dierdre, do not get to decide what I do!”
Her plump alabaster face was painted the fierce deep ruby red of pure rage.
“Ye have no idea what the Fae will do to ye, girl.”
Bres sidled up behind me, protectively wrapping a thick muscular arm around me.
“No harm will come to Aine, I swear it.”
Dierdre continued blustering incoherently as she stepped over the shattered pieces of porcelain to stand so close to us I could feel a cloud of humidity begin to form as it rolled off of her hot rancid breath.
“Aine, ye dinnae know the types of things Fae do to humans there. They’ll wait ’til the babe is born and then make ye a house slave. They’ll starve ye and work ye to death. All the while glamouring yer mind to think yer in some pretty little Fae palace, eating rich foods, drinking fine wines, until yer body collapses from hunger or exhaustion or both.”
I looked up at Bres, uncertainty creasing my brow. A slave? Was that what he was expecting to turn me into? I did feel a bond between us but… I’d only known him for half a day. Maybe I’d been letting his beauty and that stupid bond between us cloud my judgment. How did I know I could truly trust him?
“That will no’ happen to Aine, woman. No’ as long as she is with me.”
I could see a muscle feathering in her fleshy jaw, fists clenched and white-knuckled by her side as if she was trying to decide which of us to pounce on first. She stared at me a moment longer, boring into me with her hard unflinching obsidian eyes before she finally huffed in what sounded like defeat and returned to her chair.
“What happens when yer no’ around, then? Aine, I’m warning ye, the Fae are pure filth with no regard for human life. Ye will get what’s coming to ye, and yer babe, if ye go with him.”
Bres adjusted his arm, tightening it almost imperceptibly as if he could shield me from her hateful words.
“It’s yer choice, mo ghrá,” he breathed softly into the shell of my ear.
“I want to go with you,” I said firmly, and loudly enough for Dierdre to hear.
I just hoped I was making the right choice.
#fantasy #fae #fiction #supernatural #fantasyfiction #fictionfantasy #faerie #fairy #romance #youngadult #youngadultfantasy #love #novella #shortstory
The Journey to Joy
Individuals who experience the greatest sorrow are often the most capable of finding great joy.
My head throbbing, I hear the click of a latch as the trunk pops open.
I open my eyes slowly, as the light is blinding and makes my head pound.
Where the fuck am I?
And how did I get into this trunk?
The last thing I remember was slow dancing with a handsome stranger, who had handed me a drink. Fuck. fuckfuckfuck what was in that drink?
And why did I take a drink from someone I don't know?
Because she was beautiful?
I hear conversations all around me suddenly, in a language I can't quite place, but then recognize all at once. Grateful for that semester of Spanish I recently completed in college so I could grasp words and sometimes phrases, clues to my whereabouts.
Mexico. I have crossed the border while hungover and passed out in the trunk of a car.
How is this happening?
My mind is groggy and snippets from the night before flash through my mind. The night hot, sticky. A pool nearby in the home of a Texas socialite, cocktails and party dresses swishing through the night air, people sweaty with dance and dripping compliments and flirtations.
I had seen her from across the room, glistening in a dress made of gold that looked like it had been poured from a glass of champagne down her body. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. It took me over an hour to get the courage to approach her, and then I did bashfully, a shot of liquid courage beforehand. I had already had too many, my judgment was off, but I had to shoot my shot.
She laughed at my clumsy effort at a hello, then held my hand and guided me through the crowd. We talked and laughed, flirted and began to dance. She left to get me a drink, I don't even remember asking what it was. I was too enamored, to drunk on lust to notice that I was also just drunk.
And now here I am. In Mexico, being pulled forcably out of the back of the trunk of a car. There are men everywhere, and the beautiful stranger is nowhere to be seen. Was she a pawn? A willing participant? What happens now? Where will they take me?
I shake my head and listen for clues of my whereabouts. I can get out of this. I have been here before. Maybe not this country, and not this group of men, but the situation is the same. When will I learn from my mistakes?
When will I stop accepting drinks from strangers and stop mistaking beauty for safety?
Don't roses always cut you with their thorns?