Chapter 1: The Mermaid
The sand hurt, every grain of it sharp, vindictive. It was asking why she would choose to leave; she had given her tongue in exchange for the feet and could not answer. Fair exchange? She supposed the feet were fair enough if somewhat strange, wobbling at the end of her newly split tail. Fair enough to let her seek what she needed. She didn't need speech, just somehow the ability to walk inland, to find him. She would adapt.
"A promises made under duress is no promise at all," he shouted from the safety of the boat.
"A promise is a promise," she screamed back, unsure whether the wind stole her cries.
Perhaps it had been an impossible promise, perhaps she should have saved him without extracting it, perhaps... but breach of contract was a serious thing under the sea.
Would earth hurt, too? She dropped her gauzy silks, emerald against the sand, and wove a cloak of thick weed to warm and cover her.
She had brought nothing except her need, and return might be impossible. But need was need, promises were promises, and here she was, on the beach, sure revenge would be even sweeter than twice-filtered whelks.
Chapter 2: Wolf
I've been watching Grimm and wondered what it would be like if instead of changing from human to wesen, someone changed from animal form.
He woke in the usual way. One moment a happy dream: snow; caribou; chasing; Tail-held-high by his side. The next, a smell of spring, moist earth, rabbits perhaps, Tail-held-high wrapped tightly around him, their limbs and coats seeming to merge. And then...
...he felt grinding in his bones and jarring in his face. He sprang away from Tail-held-high, not wanting him to share the hurt but his packmate woke anyway.
Dark eyes narrowed and a snarl wrinkled the beloved lips. Startled, he looked behind; nothing but a catkinned oak and an early butterfly. His feet felt cold, frosted, and he looked down. They were white, not grey, and lacked hair. All of him lacked hair and he shivered.
Tail-held-high was growling and a soft wuff to calm him would not come. He felt naked in a way he had never imagined. Helpless. The morning smells were fainter, there was a daunting perspective to a world seen from a greater height, and he could not utter.
Tail-held-high was in fight stance opposite him. Sadly, he realised the world had not changed; he had. Speech came at last and he howled, loud enough to wake the entire pack, at the waning moon.
Chapter 3: Zombie dreams
Based very loosely on memories of Castle Roogner (Xanth)
The way bits fell off was a thorough nuisance, he decided. He had been picking the flowers when his left ear dropped and it had taken him an hour to find it in the leaf-mould. Now his right big toe was hanging by a thread and if he lost it his sense of balance would probably be affected. He wondered vaguely about glue but thought it might do more harm than good. He clutched the bouquet, still determined to reach his beloved's house and deliver it before the night ended. He hoped only to leave blooms on the doorstep, not detached fingers, but he knew his limitations and worried. If he was known to be less than firmly cohesive, well, there might never be a chance of a date or anything beyond a date. Although, if things kept coming adrift anything beyond probably didn't bear thinking about. So he wouldn't think about it. He had no idea how to stop the rot. But he did so wish to rise above it and fulfill his dreams.
Chapter 4: The lonely graboid
It was seriously annoying.
Every time he felt the vibrations of their feet and rushed joyously to meet them they fled, or threw rocks, or even nastier things. Things that exploded.
Yes, he had made mistakes. The first few had suffocated. How was he to know they couldn't breathe sand? In his early innocence he had thought all creatures could breathe sand.
He would not make that mistake again.
He longed for a soul-mate, for communication.
Why couldn't they understand he had only their welfare and pleasure in mind?
His pseudo-limbs shivering in frustration, he sighed and the desert rippled.
Chapter 5: Nessie
She had been trying really really hard. She had come to the surface whenever she sensed a strong focus on the water. She had used her sinuous curves to good effect so that she could not, really not, be mistaken for a piece of driftwood. She had posed for what she understood were called 'foatergrafs'. And still they refused to believe in her very existence.
She had hoped to meet a male of her kind, to produce eggs and young, to populate the lochs with their offspring. But no-one came. Perhaps the males were all too big to enter the loch system? Perhaps there were females a-plenty out there in the ocean and nobody was interested in a shy and rather reclusive person living in a backwater?
Being shy didn't preclude wishes and ambitions. Offspring were only part of her dreams. Fame would please her, too, though she would not interact with her fans. She would take her cue from a well-known human. indicating she wanted nothing more than to be alone. Yes, an uncommuncative celebrity was the persona she wanted to project. A silent star. Sighing, she moved into a series of loops to please the boat hovering above her. But the people on board were still saying they lacked evidence. She boomed her disapproval and the sound echoed round the hills. Thunder, they said. despite clear skies.
One day she would swallow a boat, or a walker, cameras and all. That would give them something to believe in.
Chapter 6: The stalker
This could apply to any cop fandom but I thought of Starsky and Hutch while I was writing.
Things had got difficult. He had been so careful but some suspicion seemed to be attaching itself to him anyway. There was a slight movement at the bar, men drawing away from him as if unwilling to share space. Last week he had waved to one of the men he saw frequently at the club and had been answered with a frown instead of a greeting. He looked back over all his actions and came to the conclusion that they didn’t know anything. Not really. He had simply given them grounds to distrust him and that could be a catastrophe. The next time questions were asked he could be uncovered.
The distrust angered him as well as causing dismay, but anger wouldn’t help. He probably couldn’t mend the rip in his social life and wasn’t sure he wanted to spend the time trying. It was easier, perhaps, to move away. To give in to anger might be the last step in revealing himself.
It would be hard work, but would bring rewards. He would have to scout out the new territory, assess the level of safety consciousness in the local gay community, and choose his targets with care. He would enjoy the process. He always did. He remembered his first attempts, in a town small enough to catapult his activities, though not his name, into the headlines. He had loved being there, loved his secret knowledge and the innocence on the shocked faces of his friends as each event was broadcast and each new police enquiry ran its awful but fruitless course.
Since then, he had stuck to cities. They were safer, with all the anonymity and crowds and the possibilities of going to ground. But still, everything came to an end and he had no idea why friendship so often turned to doubt. So, he moved on.
A new city, new contacts, new victims. A new start.
Chapter 7: The Monster under the Bed
This is from a work-in-progress about some fae, descendants of Titania's court, living in modern England. The narrator is one of the older siblings and helps to care for the family.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Peasblossom found the tracks. They were odd. Neither of us knew what had made them and I would have sworn we both knew the footprints of every living thing in the area. Almost birdlike but not quite. A hint of amphibians - toads and such. But too big. We noticed the smell, of course. Well, we would have to have been deprived of our senses not to. Cobweb hadn’t mentioned any smell below his tree but maybe that particular piece of information had slipped his mind. Who knows what teenage boys will consider important? It was a damp smell, with old ditches and rotting tree stumps in it. It oozed into our nostrils and our thoughts. My sister was looking more and more worried and we tried to make haste. When we found him, he was tied inside a hollow stump, all trussed with ivy into which his captor had stuck dried rowan berries. He was soaked from head to foot in a viscous, salty stuff that stung his eyes and gave him the excuse he needed to cry. I spelled the bindings off and they curled away, leaving him lying like a broken thing, Peasblossom gathered him in her arms and hushed his sobbing. Even without the berries, he could not have spelled himself free from all that mess. Spells never work well on the caster, and there was enough ivy for a whole family of fairies. We held him between us and stumbled back to the mill, where we rested and tried to calm him and get him to tell us what had happened. He had seen nothing. One moment he was asleep and the next he was held over a large rough shoulder and bumped at high speed to where we had found him. I praised him for spelling the moss track and he smiled shyly. Maybe I don’t praise him often enough. He’d been dumped roughly in the stump and before he could gather his wits a sack or something similar was thrown over him. While he struggled the ivy was introduced and each attempt to escape wound the stuff more firmly round him. Then the sack was twitched from his head and he heard footsteps retreating. While he waited for them to return he noticed small bones and hair on the floor of the stump. Whilst they might have belonged to a previous inhabitant, he concluded that others had shared his prison and that he was likely to share their fate. It was still daylight and he was alone and terrified. Nothing, not even Peasblossom’s strongest charm, elicited any more clues about his kidnapper, and none of us knew what kind of creature it might have been or what it wanted. Food, company, sex, the pleasures of torture. We considered all of these. Mind you, we set off back for our wood before we considered them aloud. It was after midnight when we reached Peasblossom’s tree. She immediately set about reclaiming Cobweb’s sleeping branch from a disgusted twin and I moved his belongings back ’home’. We would take no more risks. Moth asked if I would be all right. I slept alone while Yarrow was in Ireland. I reassured her as best I could. Older and stronger than Cobweb, I was unlikely to be attractive prey for a predator that skulked under the branches by day. But I promised to stay alert and listen for footsteps around the tree. And next time one of the younger ones tells me about a monster under the bed I shall be likely to believe their story.
The picture is of the land near the mill (which is real) - the stump is in there somewhere.
Chapter 8: Halloween
Another incident in fae life. The story was originally developed in the form of a diary in a muse journal on LiveJournal.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Entry posted 31st October 2007. 11.55.p.m.
We have always vaguely known there were copper mines in the Edge’s past. That’s where the legends about treasure and sleeping knights came from. Didn’t they? And there’s evidence, too, in the scar where no trees grow and in the manmade hollows in the rocks. Fairies haven’t made their mark, but we’re all sure there must have been fairies too.
We celebrate Samhain. Last year Yarrow was in Tara and I went to a party on my own: drank too much; talked too much; danced too much; fucked too much. Nothing odd about that. Yarrow’s pretty reticent about Samhain in Ireland. One day I shall get the tale out of him. This year we decided to have a party out on the old scar. The area has lots of advantages: flat stone outcrops for goblets and bowls; shallow caves for hiding; clear air above for flying. And no unicorns. We love our unicorns dearly but they do tend to kick and are not, somehow, good for goblets. So Yarrow and Toadflax and I went to have a look and decide on the exact place. None of us thought about the veil between the worlds. The one that gets thinner at Samhain. After all, we had about seventy two hours to go. Didn’t we?
Apparently the veil is not rent asunder in one tearing moment. It’s more of a gradual melting and unraveling. The mending takes time, too.
He was standing on one of the rocks at the top of the scar. At first I thought it was a trick of the moonlight through the trees. Then Yarrow grasped me (fairly hard and even if he was worried, he needn’t have bruised my wrist). Toadflax slipped on one of the lower rocks in surprise, and yelped.
We were civil enough to him but he didn’t appear to want to talk. He flew up and hovered over us and the only way I can describe his look is to say that he was leering. By now, Yarrow was gripping my waist rather than my wrist and I was quite glad to be held. I have never been sure about ghosts, but if it looks like a ghost and you can see through it and it’s there in a place that has every right to be haunted, I suppose you can’t argue.
He tried to touch us. I felt a sort of coldness, like a very gentle breeze, and I probably bruised Yarrow. Serve him right. Toadflax was whimpering. Then our ghost, if that is what he was, laughed, and we could hear him, just as if he’d been real. Then he vanished. He didn’t fly away; he just wasn’t there any more and the air was warmer. We heard a commotion in the unicorn meadow and used that as an excuse to leave the scar. Fast.
When we’d calmed the unicorns and ourselves, we told the others we didn’t think the old workings were a good place for a party after all. Nor did we think much of Columbine’s suggestion that we hold it at Devil’s Grave. We don’t for one moment think that was named after Yarrow’s unicorn. He isn’t dead yet and we won’t bury him there when he is. We thought maybe the human copper miners had seen things round about Samhain. And some of the legends had reached us while some hadn’t. Some might have been very garbled.
Yarrow and I went back to our tree, even though it was only the middle of the night, and made love until we felt sane again. That took a satisfyingly long time and I began to forget.
He was strange, you see, our fairy from beyond. Smaller than us, and stockier. Reddish hair and longer horns. Reddish eyes, too, and a tail.
The picture shows Alderley Edge in Cheshire, where my fae have settled.
Chapter 9: Goblin Market
This is the same fae narrator, recalling his childhood.
The first time I saw a goblin market I was entranced. I must have been about five years old and I suppose Flame couldn't find a babysitter or she wouldn't have taken me.
There were golden plums, silver currants, emerald gooseberries, and luscious, bronze grapes, in bunches that hung from gilded stalks. My eyes must have been huge with desire because she snapped at me to forget them, and said goblin fruits weren't good for fairies. But I didn't understand. While she was swapping our winter clothes for summer ones, with a spell to avert lightning to sweeten the transaction, I was free to wander. And I did.
Fairies everywhere were bargaining like my mother but never for food. What goes around comes around, and only things that might be swapped again later were of interest. The goblins would be careful with those.
He seemed such a jolly, kind goblin, and I couldn’t imagine any harm in eating the delicious apricots and blackberries he offered. The juice dribbled down my chin and he wiped it gently with a gossamer cloth. Then, seeing I was full, he chuckled and gave me an apple to keep in my pocket for later.
I didn't want any tea, and Flame just shrugged and put it down to being overtired.
Long before dawn she sent me to my tree and when I groaned and tossed in the day, she assumed I was riding a daymare of excitement.
I woke hungry and miserable, pain cramping my guts, before dusk had even fallen, and went straight to my pocket for the apple to fill my stomach.
But try as I would, all I could find was a clump of moss.
Chapter 10: Planned takeover
Dedicated to all those futuristic horror films that inspired me.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
She had settled happily in the bathroom until some huge human emptied her chosen toothmug out of the window. Gnashing her fangs she re-entered the house via the disused (but still useful) catflap, thinking the kitchen bin would be safe and warm. But it appeared there was a weekly rubbish collection. The towel rail appeared not to provide much help in the way of camouflage and there was even, she thought, a photographic record. She had jumped, but... The pantry, warmer than outdoors, was secure from draughts. She reached her present size due to the summer heat and the specially directed rays; she wanted her offspring to have the same life chances. They were all hatched now, swinging crazily on long gossamer lines, some getting in the way of the door (sad but inevitable and there were plenty of siblings), some creeping into broken pointing in the old brick walls, ready to wax fat. There might not be many flies to eat but there would almost certainly be other spiders and a few silverfish. Maybe some small snails. A mouse or two. A couple of generations down the thread, who knew what worlds could be conquered? She grinned her anticipation.
UK has had an unprecedented number of 'giant' house spiders this year and the one in the photograph had all the experiences described here. The only things I have changed are the possible cause and the future... but then, who knows? I swear when I found her in the bathroom she hissed at me. Biologist daughter says it would be her leg bristles rubbing on the uneven surface of the toothmug. Whatever, it was a hissing sound. She is about the size of the base of a coffee mug. She has been seen waiting outside the back door, and in a neighbour's house.