Chapter 1: Prologue
I sighed softly to myself, while watching the rulers of the Nevernever argue with each other like usual. It was Elysium again and for me the most boring time of the year. My only source of amusement was Titania's face whenever she looked like she wanted to rip Mab's head off.
I'd much rather be hunting in the Woods right now, at least I'd be able to make myself useful there. Instead I had to be here as a symbol of power and to spite the Summer monarchs. Mother wanted to rub the fact that the Summer Court had no heirs to their throne - despite being married - in their faces.
My brother, Sage, was sitting next to me, looking just as bored as I was, his hand stroking the soft fur of his loyal companion. While Rowan was off somewhere, doing who knows what. And to be honest, I really didn't want to know.
Suddenly a bright light erupted in the middle of the room, right above the monarchs and seemingly out of nowhere. The light dissapeared as fast as it came and left something on the table.
Fey frantically reaching for their weapons, pushing each other, yelling questions and-
King Oberon was standing, emitting strong waves of power.
"Everyone quiet down and put your weapons away, it's still Elysium!" he demanded
Everybody reluctantly did what they were told and slowly quieted down, while at the same time Rowan decided to show up and appeared next to Sage. Now that the chaos was dealt with, I was able to see what the mysterious light had left. To my disappointment, it was just a piece of paper and a couple of books. Oberon grabbed the piece of paper first and read it out loud:
Dear monarchs and the rest of Nevernever.
I sent you these books to read about the future. First of all, you are not allowed to kill or harm anyone in this room or you will damage the future and possibly destroy the Nevernever. And then you'll be stuck here forever if you do so. You will not be able to leave this room unless you have read all the books. Time will remain frozen until you finish reading. Read them in this order: The iron king, The iron princess, The iron queen and The iron knight. Have fun and excuse me for interupting your festivities!
There was a short silence. Until chaos erupted for the second time and everyone tried to get out, not believing what some random note said, of course. There was yelling and pushing to get to the exit as fast as possible and more than once some unfortunate fey was trampeled to death. However we soon realised that both our weapons and powers were useless. There was no way out.
Most gave up after a while after this realisation (at least the one's who had enough brains did). The letter wasn't lying. Not even the Summer monarchs were able to find a way out of their own kingdom. I half expected Mab to go crazy on the summer fey and accuse them of this whole thing being an trap, that they've somehow set up. It was a ridiculous idea of course, but I wouldn't put it past Mab to come to such a conclusion. Thankfully she kept her mouth shut, avoiding a bloodbath by doing so and went to sit down.
It was quiet for a while, no one really knew what to do and the ones who did have an idea, didn't dare interupt the silence (most of them at least as we're soon about to learn). "Well...I guess we should start reading, if we want to get out of here someday." commented Rowan, he was sitting down, legs crossed at the ankles and resting on the table, "I dunno about you, but I don't fancy staying here for eternity."
Typical, I thought to myself. I tried not to roll my eyes at him, lest Mother sees it. He'd never had any patience or sense whatsoever. Hopefully this wouldn't start another fight.
"Who will read the first chapter, then?" Oberon quickly intervened in order to avoid any more chaos, while picking the first book up. Goodfellow was the first to volunteer, of course. Surprise, surprise. That airhead clearly didn't care about the fact that we were basically stuck in a prison. Idiot. Oberon wordlessly handed him the book and he opened it to start reading.
Chapter one: The Ghost In The Computer.
Chapter 2: Chapter 1 (part 1)
Ten years ago, on my sixth birthday, my father disappeared.
Goodfellow stopped reading, ignoring the rather annoyed looks he got and exclaimed, "Dissapeared? Like, did he die or something?".
I sighed and shifted in my chair, getting more comfortable. This was going to take forever with Goodfellow reading. One sentence and he had already interupted himself.
"Maybe he left," added Rowan bluntly, "humans leave each other all the time."
"You seem to know an aweful lot about humans, iceling. How come?" asked the trickster innocently. Before my brother could answer and start an argument, Goodfellow decided to have mercy on all of us and continue reading.
No, he didn't leave. Leaving would imply suitcases and empty drawers, and late birthday cards with ten-dollar bills stuffed inside. Leaving would imply he was unhappy with Mom and me, or that he found a new love elsewhere. None of that was true. He also did not die, because we would've heard about it.
"He could've still died without you hearing about it." said Sage, sounding just as tired and annoyed as I felt, the book was clearly not an improvement to the foul mood that this predicament had brought him.
There was no car crash, no body, no police mingling about the scene of a brutal murder. It all happened very quietly.
"Maybe he was kidnapped?" suggested a -to me- unkown winter noble. "Who would want to kidnap him?" responded some other fey, rolling her eyes.
On my sixth birthday, my father took me to the park, one of my favorite places to go at that time. It was a lonely little park in the middle of nowhere, with a running trail and a misty green pond surrounded by pine trees. We were at the edge of the pond, feeding the ducks, when I heard the jingle of an ice cream truck in the parking lot over the hill. When I begged my dad to get me a Creamsicle, he laughed, handed me a few bills, and sent me after the truck.
"Awww!" cooed Goodfellow smiling, but the smile dissappeared as soon as he read the next line.
That was the last time I saw him.
Rowan groaned loudly and put his arms on the table resting his head on top: "Why are we reading about this human?", he complained, "What does she and her father's disappearance have to do with us? I say we just stop this nonsense and get out." See, just as impatient as ever.
"The letter said that it was important, so we will read it." said Mab, giving him a rather sharp look. I grinned inwardly, Mab didn't berate him often and I made sure to enjoy the few moments she did. He was far too much of a spoiled brat.
Later, when the police searched the area, they discovered his shoes at the edge of the water, but nothing else.
"That's it? Where's the rest of him?" And Goodfellow interupted himself again.
They sent divers into the pond, but it was barely ten feet down, and they found nothing but branches and mud at the bottom. My father had disappeared without a trace.
"Well, it's definitely one of the fey who did this." Grimalkin embarked dryly. Nearly giving everyone a heart attack. No-one had noticed him up until now. The cat paid us no heed though and started absentmindedly licking his paw.
For months afterward, I had a recurring nightmare about standing at the top of that hill, looking down and seeing my father walk into the pond. As the water closed over his head, I could hear the ice cream truck singing in the background, a slow, eerie song with words I could almost understand.
Every time I tried to listen to them, however, I'd wake up.
I bit my lip in thought, something was wrong here. How did this person dream of that?
Even the Cait Sith looked up at this. "Interesting." he added, stopping his cleaning ritual momentarily.
Not long after my father's disappearance, Mom moved us far away, to a tiny little hick town in the middle of the Louisiana bayou. Mom said she wanted to "start over," but I always knew, deep down, that she was running from something.
And she was exeptionally observant as well.
It would be another ten years before I discovered what.
"Ooh dramatic foreshadowing." Three guesses who.
My name is Meghan Chase.
In less than twenty-four hours, I’ll be sixteen years old.
"So it's a girl." Titania huffed, crossing her arms and giving King Oberon a look. I wasn't sure I wanted to know what it meant, I'd rather not get caught up in Titania's schemes. Besides this Meghan was higher on my priorities list at the moment.
Sweet sixteen. It has a magical ring to it. Sixteen is supposed to be the age when girls become princesses and fall in love and go to dances and proms and such. Countless stories, songs, and poems have been written about this wonderful age, when a girl finds true love and the stars shine for her and the handsome prince carries her off into the sunset.
Some fae laughed about this misconception, I didn't join them, winter princes didn't laugh.
I didn’t think it would be that way for me.
"It's not that way for anyone." Grimalkin did the cat equivalent of an eye roll.
The morning before my birthday, I woke up, showered, and rummaged through my dresser for something to wear. Normally, I’d just grab whatever clean-ish thing is on the floor, but today was special. Today was the day Scott Waldron would finally notice me. I wanted to look perfect.
"Notice me senpai!" yelled Goodfellow at the top of his lungs, making me jump a little. I was very tempted to throw one of the other books at his face all of a sudden.
Of course, my wardrobe is sadly lacking in the popular-attire department. While other girls spend hours in front of their closets crying, "What should I wear?" my drawers basically hold three things: clothes from Goodwill, hand-me-downs, and overalls. I wish we weren’t so poor. I know pig farming isn’t the most glamorous of jobs, but you’d think Mom could afford to buy me at least one pair of nice jeans.
Titania pulled a face of horror and disgust -that made her look like a pig- at that.
I felt as much sympathy for the girl as a winter prince could possibly muster. Which wasn't much to be honest. I've never had to deal with lack of money or clothing. But I suppose that it was quite pitiful.
I glared at my scanty wardrobe in disgust. Oh, well, I guess Scott will have to be wowed with my natural grace and charm, if I don’t make an idiot of myself in front of him.
I finally slipped into cargo pants, a neutral green T-shirt, and my only pair of ratty sneakers, before dragging a brush through my white-blond hair. My hair is straight and very fine, and was doing that stupid floating thing again, where it looked like I’d jammed my finger up an electrical outlet. Yanking it into a ponytail, I went downstairs.
I noticed that Titania did that look again, but couldn't figure out what it meant. I followed her trail of sight and noticed that she was looking at Oberon's hair.
Was it because Meghan and him had a similar hair colour? That would be ridiculous, Ariella had the same hair colour, but she didn't have anything to do with Oberon now did she?
I shook myself out of my train of thought, I didn't want to think about her. I hadn't thought about my former lover in a long time, but the human girl seemed to have triggered the memory somehow.
Goodfellow payed Titania no mind though and continued reading.
Luke, my stepfather, sat at the table, drinking coffee and leafing through the town’s tiny newspaper, which reads more like our high school gossip column than a real news source. "Five-legged calf born on Patterson’s farm," the front page screamed; you get the idea.
Sage glanced at me and rolled his eyes. My lips twitched slightly in amusement. Humans could be entertaining sometimes, we agreed.
Ethan, my four-year-old half brother, sat on his father’s lap, eating a Pop-Tart and getting crumbs all over Luke’s overalls. He clutched Floppy, his favorite stuffed rabbit, in one arm and occasionally tried to feed it his breakfast; the rabbit’s face was full of crumbs and fruit filling. Ethan is a good kid. He has his father’s curly brown hair, but like me, inherited Mom’s big blue eyes. He’s the type of kid old ladies stop to coo at, and total strangers smile and wave at him from across the street. Mom and Luke dote on their baby, but it doesn’t seem to spoil him, thank goodness.
"How unfortunate that that isn't the case with you, Rowan." I muttered, just loud enough for him to hear me. "The world would be a better place otherwise."
"Jealous that Mother prefers me over you?", he sneered.
"Not at all, it's just that you'd be less of an insufferable brat that way. Perhaps more people would be able to stand your presence then too. I mean being stuck with only Mother for company is quite sad, isn't it?" I snickered at his angry face.
"Oh, shut up, Ash. Quit acting as if you have friends or anything. You go off hunting on your own all day and sleep on the cold hard ground, like a peasant. Ever heard of a bed, brother? At least Sage has his wolf to use as a pillow."
"Can you two keep me out of your quibbles, children?" interrupted Sage, glancing amusedly in our direction. I decided that listening to the story would be the wisest action and kept quiet.
"Where’s Mom?" I asked as I entered the kitchen. Opening the cabinet doors, I scoured the boxes of cereal for the one I liked, wondering if Mom remembered to pick it up. Of course she hadn’t. Nothing but fiber squares and disgusting marshmallow cereals for Ethan. Was it so hard to remember Cheerios?
Luke ignored me and sipped his coffee. Ethan chewed his Pop-Tart and sneezed on his father’s arm. I slammed the cabinet doors with a satisfying bang.
"Where’s Mom?" I asked, a bit louder this time. Luke jerked his head up and finally looked at me. His lazy brown eyes, like those of a cow, registered mild surprise.
"Oh, hello, Meg," he said calmly. "I didn’t hear you come in. What did you say?"
"Didn't hear her after she slammed the cabinet doors? Is he deaf or something?" said Goodfellow incredulously. This just added to the mystery that was Meghan Chase, since I could recognise the behaviour of her stepfather in other humans I'd met.
I sighed and repeated my question for the third time.
"She had a meeting with some of the ladies at church," Luke murmured, turning back to his paper. "She won’t be back for a few hours, so you’ll have to take the bus."
I always took the bus. I just wanted to remind Mom that she was supposed to take me to get a learner’s permit this weekend. With Luke, it was hopeless. I could tell him something fourteen different times, and he’d forget it the moment I left the room. It wasn’t that Luke was mean or malicious, or even stupid. He adored Ethan, and Mom seemed truly happy with him. But, every time I spoke to my stepdad, he would look at me with genuine surprise, as if he’d forgotten I lived here, too.
I was getting more and more suspicious and I wasn't the only one. This Meghan seemed less human the more we read. I leaned forward slightly, concentrating wanting to confirm my suspicions, ignoring the looks my brothers sent me.
I grabbed a bagel from the top of the fridge and chewed it sullenly, keeping an eye on the clock. Beau, our German shepherd, wandered in and put his big head on my knee. I scratched him behind the ears and he groaned. At least the dog appreciated me.
Goodfellow snorted "As if that's a good thing."
Luke stood, gently placing Ethan back in his seat. "All right, big guy," he said, kissing the top of Ethan’s head. "Dad has to fix the bathroom sink, so you sit there and be good. When I’m done, we’ll go feed the pigs, okay?"
"’Kay," Ethan chirped, swinging his chubby legs. "Floppy wants to see if Ms. Daisy had her babies yet."
Luke’s smile was so disgustingly proud, I felt nauseous.
There was some quiet laughter at that. "I can believe that." added Rowan.
"Hey, Luke," I said as he turned to go, "bet you can’t guess what tomorrow is."
"Mmm?" He didn’t even turn around. "I don’t know, Meg. If you have plans for tomorrow, talk to your mother." He snapped his fingers, and Beau immediately left me to follow him. Their footsteps faded up the stairs, and I was alone with my half brother.
Everyone rolled their eyes. This was getting ridiculous and annoying.
Ethan kicked his feet, regarding me in that solemn way of his. "I know," he announced softly, putting his Pop-Tart on the table. "Tomorrow’s your birthday, isn’t it? Floppy told me, and I remembered."
Mab quirked an elegant eyebrow, "The rabbit can talk?". There were a few curious looks exchanged.
"Yeah," I muttered, turning and lobbing the bagel into the trash can. It hit the wall with a thump and dropped inside, leaving a greasy smear on the paint. I smirked and decided to leave it.
"Floppy says to tell you happy early birthday."
"Happy early birthday!" said Airhead cheerfully.
"Tell Floppy thanks." I ruffled Ethan’s hair as I left the kitchen, my mood completely soured. I knew it. Mom and Luke would completely forget my birthday tomorrow. I wouldn’t get a card, or a cake, or even a "happy birthday" from anyone. Except my kid brother’s stupid stuffed rabbit. How pathetic was that?
"Not as pathetic as Ash is." snickered Rowan, giving me sly glance. Goodfellow joined him chuckling.
I was perfectly aware at what he was hinting at. Gritting my teeth at a warning look from Mab, I didn't answer.
Back in my room, I grabbed books, homework, gym clothes, and the iPod I’d spent a year saving for, despite Luke’s disdain of those "useless, brain-numbing gadgets." In true hick fashion, my stepfather dislikes and distrusts anything that could make life easier. Cell phones? No way, we’ve got a perfectly good landline. Video games? They’re the devil’s tools, turning kids into delinquents and serial killers. I’ve begged Mom over and over to buy me a laptop for school, but Luke insists that if his ancient, clunky PC is good enough for him, it’s good enough for the family. Never mind that dial-up takes flipping forever. I mean, who uses dial-up anymore?
Everyone exept for the trickster and a few others looked confused at these unknown terms. What's a laptop? And video games? Dial-up?
I buried a hand in my hair and contemplated joining Rowan in his sleep position on the table, this was giving me a headache.
Just what I needed.
I checked my watch and swore. The bus would arrive shortly, and I had a good ten-minute walk to the main road. Looking out the window, I saw the sky was gray and heavy with rain, so I grabbed a jacket, as well. And, not for the first time, I wished we lived closer to town.
I swear, when I get a license and a car, I am never coming back to this place.
"Who would, it's horrid?" said Titania indignantly.
"Meggie?" Ethan hovered in the doorway, clutching his rabbit under his chin. His blue eyes regarded me somberly. "Can I go with you today?"
"What?" Shrugging into my jacket, I gazed around for my backpack. "No, Ethan. I’m going to school now. Big-kids school, no rug rats allowed."
I turned away, only to feel two small arms wrap around my leg. Putting my hand against the wall to avoid falling, I glared down at my half brother. Ethan clung to me doggedly, his face tilted up to mine, his jaw set. "Please?" he begged. "I’ll be good, I promise. Take me with you? Just for today?"
With a sigh, I bent down and picked him up.
Goodfellow frowned "She's taking him with her?"
"What’s up, squirt?" I asked, brushing his hair out of his eyes. Mom would need to cut it soon; it was starting to look like a bird’s nest. "You’re awfully clingy this morning. What’s going on?"
"Or not." the redhead muttered.
"Scared," Ethan muttered, burying his face in my neck.
He shook his head. "Floppy’s scared."
"What’s Floppy scared of?"
"The man in the closet."
We exchanged glances. This was starting to sound awefully familiar. And that rabbit was definately not a normal plushie.
I felt a small chill slide up my back. Sometimes, Ethan was so quiet and serious, it was hard to remember he was only four. He still had childish fears of monsters under his bed and bogeymen in his closet. In Ethan’s world, stuffed animals spoke to him, invisible men waved to him from the bushes, and scary creatures tapped long nails against his bedroom window. He rarely went to Mom or Luke with stories of monsters and bogeymen; from the time he was old enough to walk, he always came to me.
The room went very quiet.
Those weren't just monsters that the child saw, those were fae. Was this the part where the purpose of us reading this book would be explained?
I sighed, knowing he wanted me to go upstairs and check, to reassure him that nothing lurked in his closet or under his bed. I kept a flashlight on his dresser for that very reason. Outside, lightning flickered, and thunder rumbled in the distance. I winced. My walk to the bus was not going to be pleasant. Dammit, I don’t have time for this. Ethan pulled back and looked at me, eyes pleading. I sighed again. "Fine," I muttered, putting him down. "Let’s go check for monsters."
"I have a bad feeling about this." I didn't notice I'd said it out loud until Sage muttered a quiet agreement next to me.
He followed me silently up the stairs, watching anxiously as I grabbed the flashlight and got down on my knees, shining it under the bed. "No monsters there," I announced, standing up. I walked to the closet door and flung it open as Ethan peeked out from behind my legs. "No monsters here, either. Think you’ll be all right now?"
"I bet something's gonna jump at her now that she's said that." said Goodfellow "Jinxed it, girl!".
He nodded and gave me a faint smile. I started to close the door when I noticed a strange gray hat in the corner. It was domed on top, with a circular rim and a red band around the base: a bowler hat.
There it is.
Chapter 3: Chapter 1 (part 2)
I'm sorry that it took so long, writer's block and school got in the way. Thank you for the wonderful comments, they motivated me to write this chapter! I also edited and added more to the other two chapters, you can reread them if you want. There's only one last chapter to go, I think, to finish "chapter 1". See y'all, hopefully soon!
Weird. Why would that be there?
We were all wondering the same thing.
What was going on in this strange human family?
As I straightened and started to turn around, something moved out of the corner of my eye. I caught a glimpse of a figure hiding behind Ethan’s bedroom door, its pale eyes watching me through the crack. I jerked my head around, but of course there was nothing there.
Jeez, now Ethan’s got me seeing imaginary monsters. I need to stop watching those late-night horror flicks.
"That has nothing to do with your horror flicks. I can assure you of that, human.", the Cait Sith said exasperated, flicking his tail in annoyance, probably because of the aniclimax just now, "Why is it that humans always find some stupid excuse to deny everything that doesn't make sense to them, even when it's right in front of their own eyes?"
A thunderous boom directly overhead made me jump, and fat drops plinked against the windowpanes. Rushing past Ethan, I burst out of the house and sprinted down the driveway.
I was soaked when I reached the bus stop. The late spring rain wasn’t frigid, but it was cold enough to be uncomfortable. I crossed my arms and huddled under a mossy cypress, waiting for the bus to arrive.
Wonder where Robbie is? I mused, gazing down the road. He’s usually here by now. Maybe he didn’t feel like getting drenched and stayed home. I snorted and rolled my eyes. Skipping class again, huh? Slacker. Wish I could do that.
"I'm already liking this Robbie guy." said Goodfellow with a mischievous grin. Figures. That sounded exactly like something he would do. Even Oberon seemed to agree, considering he gave the trickster a pointed look, which of course only made Goodfellow's grin even bigger.
If only I had a car. I knew kids whose parents gave them cars for their sixteenth birthday. Me, I’d be lucky if I got a cake. Most of my classmates already had licenses and could drive themselves to clubs and parties and anywhere they wanted. I was always left behind, the backward hick girl nobody wanted to invite.
"Sad" Rowan felt the need to add.
"She should stop complaining so much, the troubles humans have are honestly ridiculous. There are worse things in the world, plenty of worse things actually." grumbled Grimalkin, quite unkindly in my opinion, the girl was a young human after all, this was to be expected.
Except Robbie, I amended with a small mental shrug. At least Robbie will remember. Wonder what kooky thing he has planned for my birthday tomorrow? I could almost guarantee it would be something strange or crazy. Last year, he snuck me out of the house for a midnight picnic in the woods. It was weird; I remembered the glen and the little pond with the fireflies drifting over it, but though I explored the woods behind my house countless times since then, I never found it again.
I glanced at Goodfellow, a slight suspicion creeping up on me and I didn't think I was the only one. It didn't escape me that "Robbie" sounded awfully similar to "Robin" either. But if this was in fact Goodfellow, why would he waste his time on this human girl? Was this the point of reading these books? Getting to know the summer faery's weird shenanigans outside of the Nevernever?
Something rustled in the bushes behind me. A possum or a deer, or even a fox, seeking shelter from the rain. The wildlife out here was stupidly bold and had little fear of humans. If it wasn’t for Beau, Mom’s vegetable garden would be a buffet for rabbits and deer, and the local raccoon family would help themselves to everything in our cupboards.
A branch snapped in the trees, closer this time. I shifted uncomfortably, determined not to turn around for some stupid squirrel or raccoon. I’m not like “inflate-a-boob” Angie, Ms. Perfect Cheerleader, who’d flip out if she saw a caged gerbil or a speck of dirt on her Hollister jeans.
Goodfellow burst out laughing, barely able to finish the rest of the sentence, "Inflate-a-boob - Angie", he somehow managed to bring out through his giggling, "that's the best name ever!". I didn't think it was all that funny, a bit amusing at best, but apparently plenty of summer fae ,and Rowan of course, disagreed with me, if their laughter was any indication.
"I'd like to see that for myself." commented a grinning satyr, nudging the other satyr next to him. My slight amusement disappeared abruptly and I sent them a disgusted look, effectively shuting them up. I'll never understand why Oberon kept these creatures in his court, they certainly weren't welcome in the Winter Court. Mab would hang them up by their private parts in her garden for sure. Not that they deserved any less.
The laughter from before had stopped by now and the trickster decided to continue reading through the occasional giggle.
I’ve pitched hay and killed rats and driven pigs through knee-deep mud. Wild animals don’t scare me.
"I don't think that's just a wild animal,..." muttered Sage with a frown, I nodded in agreement.
Still, I stared down the road, hoping to see the bus turn the corner. Maybe it was the rain and my own sick imagination, but the woods felt like the set for The Blair Witch Project.
There are no wolves or serial killers out here, I told myself. Stop being paranoid.
"That's what they want you to think." said Rowan with a dangerous grin, he was at full attention now, probably hoping for an explanation or something bad to happen. I suspected the latter.
The forest was suddenly very quiet. I leaned against the tree and shivered, trying to will the bus into appearing. A chill crawled up my back. I wasn’t alone. Cautiously, I craned my neck up, peering through the leaves. An enormous black bird perched on a branch, feathers spiked out against the rain, sitting as motionless as a statue. As I watched, it turned its head and met my gaze, with eyes as green as colored glass.
I stared intently at Goodfellow, wanting him to look at me and confirm my suspicions, Robbie and Robin were one and the same, I was sure of it. There was no other fae I knew who took the form of a big black bird with green eyes. He ignored my gaze though and kept his eyes firmly on the book, already sensing that he was going to be in trouble. Probably because of the way Oberon and a few others were looking at him.
There weren't many in the Nevernever who knew the trickster enough to know which particular form he took, since there were plenty of fae who could turn into birds, but the ones who did know were all staring at him, wanting answers. Of course this mess began with Goodfellow, of course he happened to be in the middle of it. He was always in the middle of things. It would make complete and absolute sense if "Robbie" was indeed "Robin".
And then, something reached around the tree and grabbed me.
No one dared to interupt, now that something was happening.
I screamed and leaped away, my heart hammering in my ears. Whirling around, I tensed to run, my mind filled with rapists and murderers and Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Laughter exploded behind me.
Robbie Goodfell, my closest neighbor—meaning he lived nearly two miles away—slouched against the tree trunk, gasping with mirth. Lanky and tall, in tattered jeans and an old T-shirt, he paused to look at my pale face, before cracking up again. His spiky red hair lay plastered to his forehead and his clothes clung to his skin, emphasizing his lean, bony frame, as though his limbs didn’t fit quite right. Being drenched and covered in twigs, leaves, and mud didn’t seem to bother him. Few things did.
"Goodfellow, it's you!!", "Holy crap, Puck!", "What the hell are you even doing there?!?", were the exclamations that I managed to pick up through all the sudden noise that was caused by the big reveal. I rolled my eyes, while saying, "I knew it. Who else could it be?".
King Oberon had to ask for silence multiple times before the shock and excitement went down again and then before he could say anything, Titania interupted, screaming: "What were you thinking, doing this damned joke?! Locking us all in here to make us look stupid and read a book that's from the future! As if such a thing exists! I've let you off easy last time, but now you're going to get it!! I've had more than enough of you!" she stood up and raised her hand, ready to smite him, fae hurriedly moved out of the way.
Before she could do so however, Oberon stood up as well and yelled, "What in all of Nevernever are you doing, woman?! Have you gone mad?! Stop this nonsense at once and sit down! You're not delivering any punishments without my agreement and anyone with half a brain would know that this isn't what you think it is! Ridiculous!" and then he rounded on Goodfellow, "And you! Explain yourself!".
The trickster answered immediately, knowing for once that this wasn't the time for jokes. "Um, I don't know, this is a book of the future, whether her highness believes it or not, so it hasn't happened yet and I have no idea who this girl is and what's going on."
Oberon sat back down, shooting his wife a dark look and calmly said, "As you can see, Titania, it wasn't what you thought it was. Continue reading."
“Dammit, Robbie!” I raged, stomping up and aiming a kick at him. He dodged and staggered into the road, his face red from laughter. “That wasn’t funny, you idiot. You nearly gave me a heart attack.”
“S-sorry, princess,” Robbie gasped, clutching his heart as he sucked in air. “It was just too perfect.” He gave a final chortle and straightened, holding his ribs. “Man, that was impressive. You must’ve jumped three feet in the air. What, did you think I was, Leatherface or something?”
“Of course not, stupid.” I turned away with a huff to hide my burning face. “And I told you to stop calling me that! I’m not ten anymore.”
“Sure thing, princess.”
I raised an eyebrow and shot Goodfellow a curious look from across the table. Why was he calling her "princess" of all things? Everytime a question was answered, more questions seemed to take its place, how unfortunate.
I rolled my eyes. “Has anyone told you you have the maturity level of a four-year-old?”
There was some quiet chuckling at that. "Accurate." I muttered under my breath, not wanting to break the silence so soon after Titania and Oberon's outburst.
He laughed cheerfully. “Look who’s talking. I’m not the one who stayed up all night with the lights on after watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I tried to warn you.” He made a grotesque face and staggered toward me, arms outstretched. “Ooooh, look out, it’s Leatherface.”
What strange names humans came up with. "Leatherface" really? That sounds so terrifying, wow. I rolled my eyes, I was doing that quite a lot lately.
I scowled and kicked water at him. He kicked some back, laughing. By the time the bus showed up a few minutes later, we were both covered in mud, dripping wet, and the bus driver told us to sit in the back.
Titania wrinkled her noise at that and smoothed down her skirt, as if her extra neatness would compensate the dirt in the book, or something.
“What are you doing after school?” Robbie asked as we huddled in the far backseat. Around us, students talked, joked, laughed, and generally paid us no attention. “Wanna grab a coffee later? Or we could sneak into the theater and see a movie.”
"Not today, Rob,” I replied, trying to wring water from my shirt. Now that it was over, I dearly regretted our little mud battle. I was going to look like the Creature from the Black Lagoon in front of Scott. “You’ll have to do your sneaking without me this time. I’m tutoring someone after class.”
Robbie’s green eyes narrowed. “Tutoring someone? Who?”
My stomach fluttered, and I tried not to grin. “Scott Waldron.”
Mab rolled her eyes. "Human love, how pathetic." commented Rowan, clearly agreeing with her.
"Just because you're heartless and you're gonna end up alone forever, doesn't mean everyone is like you, Rowan." said Goodfellow mischieviously.
“What?” Robbie’s lip curled in a grimace of disgust. “The jockstrap? Why, does he need you to teach him how to read?”
I scowled at him. “Just because he’s captain of the football team doesn’t mean you can be a jerk. Or are you jealous?”
"What did you just say, Goodfellow?" grinned Rowan. The trickster rolled his eyes and didn't answer.
“Oh, of course, that’s it,” Robbie said with a sneer. “I’ve always wanted the IQ of a rock. No, wait. That would be an insult to the rock.” He snorted. “I can’t believe you’re going for the jockstrap. You can do so much better, princess.”
“Don’t call me that.” I turned away to hide my burning face. “And it’s just a tutoring session. He’s not going to ask me to the prom. Jeez.”
“Right.” Robbie sounded unconvinced. “He’s not, but you’re hoping he will. Admit it. You’re drooling over him just like every empty-headed cheerleader on campus.”
“So what if I am?” I snapped, spinning around. “It’s none of your business, Rob. What do you care, anyway?”
"Yeah, what do you care anyway, Goodfellow?" I couldn't help myself, he was never getting out of this one.
"I don't think you need to ask me that princeling, I'm sure you can draw conclusions from your own experiences."
He got very quiet, muttering something unintelligible under his breath. I turned my back on him and stared out the window. I didn’t care what Robbie said. This afternoon, for one glorious hour, Scott Waldron would be mine alone, and no one would distract me from that.
"I bet something bad is gonna happen to the Waldron human." said a Phoeka who was jumping up and down exictedly.
"Oooh, I bet Goodfellow is going to curse him!" added another one.
"That's enough betting for one day. Let us continue, shall we?" interupted Goodfellow and before anyone could comment, he quickly read on.