Short Story: The Plan

The stories of the Fae are not so different from the ones we tell our own children, although the focus can be somewhat odd to our eyes. To them, we are invaders to their lands; an alien and brutish form of life that is utterly inimical to their way of life. They feel that we are disconnected from the web that they feel between all natural things; and it is not entirely impossible that they are correct.

Humanity has its tales of terrors in the night, stolen babies, and the flint arrowheads on the chalk downs that bring disease and misery. The Gentry, or Fair Folk, are titles used to placate and ward off attention. Humans would rather believe that a fancy title or term of flattery will make the fae walk by than accept that to many we are as low as any other beast in the field.

The Fae, for their part, spin stories of their fearless resistance fighters who mounted raids, stole away livestock to feed their families, and drove off the invaders who tortured the land with their harsh iron blades. At least, those are the treasured tales told these days as they live in humanity’s shadows. The concrete overlaying what were green fields, and the metal that binds every building and settlement have sundered the fae from their connections.

It would be a dangerous assumption to think that they are defeated. The war has just evolved. Many of the myriad types of entity that fall under the fae banner are incredibly long-lived, and think nothing of waiting a few centuries for the iron to rust, or to change the battlefield. Many of those entities are close enough in appearance to pass for human too, so infiltration is surprisingly easy.

And so, with arcane sleight of hand, and the complex truths that bind the unwary, some fae have moved beyond simply kidnapping children and replacing them with changelings. They have married, mingled, birthed the half-breeds. And over the generations, those families have then spread, and mingled further, and let the blurring of lines between humanity and fae take hold.

Only a select few of these half-breeds have even been taught their heritage, the better to infiltrate the hated enemy. The minds behind the scheme have no compunction against sacrificing a few generations of mixed blood to get their pieces in place to access the levers of power and influence. Let the humans think themselves enemies of other tribes, they think, and steer the world back from the ruins they leave when they are gone.

Short Story: Boundaries

The mists rolled in, blanketing the town quickly and silently in its valley. Cool and soothing, they deadened sound and reduced visibility to little more than an arms-length. The town’s inhabitants stayed indoors, apart from young Danvers who insisted he needed to get back to the farm

He was filled with the bravado of youth, and the stubbornness that his father had brought to their land when he’d first started wrestling a livelihood from the sparse soil on his property. As a result he waved aside offers of the spare room above the diner. He could take it slow and even, he said, and he knew the local roads like the back of his hand.

His journey was easy enough as he started. Everyone else was off the roads, so he didn’t have to jockey for position to get out of the carpark or into the correct lane to head up into the hills along the old dry stone walls he and his father had built for so many of the properties and field boundaries.

He rounded the corner just before Farthing Street at a careful speed, relieved to see the dark mass of the huge old oak tree they’d had to build around. Then he frowned and brought the car to a stop. Someone had pulled the wall down. In fact, someone was still in the process of pulling the wall down.

He got out and walked quickly towards the slender figure levering stones away from the base of the tree. He recognised the vandal quickly enough: old Mrs Lehman. The old bike she habitually rode was propped up against the wall on the other side of the road, it’s light feebly shining but doing very little to illuminate the scene.

“Hey!” He called to her. “What the hell are you doing? You’re going to cause an accident!” He waved his hands in the air to encompass the stones currently spread over the verge and road.

“Oh! It’s you!” She responded, a note of annoyance audible in her tone. “Make yourself useful – I told you you had to take this wall the other side of the tree.” She waved at a stack of stones nearby.

“Oh not this again! It was quicker to fence it in. We talked about this!” He put his hands on his hips and refused to come any further.

“It’s a boundary marker, didn’t your father teach you anything?” She began to lay stones along the other side of the tree so that nothing lay between it and the junction.

“A what? It’s a tree next to a crossroads, and the walls are there to protect it from drunken louts joyriding in stolen Ford Focuses and losing control of their vehicles. Now, am I going to have to call the police?”

” Is your name Snow? Do you know nothing? The marker’s been here to set the boundaries for generations. You don’t just unilaterally change something like this, the Gentry don’t like it!”

“What? Mister Jabber from The Grange? What’s he got to do with it? The Council signed off on it and everything!”

“Oh if the PCC signed off then that’s everything sorted!”

“Really?”

“Of course not. Listen, can you hear them through the fog?”

“Who?” But he could hear a noise. Several noises in fact. The hoofbeats of several riders approaching. The jangle of harness, laughter on what breeze there was, and suddenly Young Danvers was sure he shouldn’t be here in the mists in the night.

Mrs Lehman nodded and pointed a finger as she saw realisation dawn across his features. That’s it. These old boundaries were negotiated. We can live in the town as long as the boundaries are respected. We don’t go into the Summer Lands and they don’t come down into ours. Now come on!”

Prompted by a growing chill of unease, he joined her in tearing down the drystone wall and clearing the road. They were just closing the gap on the rebuilt wall that this time went behind the oak and it’s grasping branches when the lead rider came into view.

“Don’t look!” Mrs Lehman hissed, and Danvers averted his gaze from the radiant paragon of life and health and dark mirth before him. He put the last stone in place, feeling the dark gravity of the horseman’s regard, and then suddenly it was gone. So too was the mist and the dread.

Mrs Lehmen’s bike had fallen into the road at some point, and seemed unharmed – aside, that is, from the wide scorched mark of a horse’s hoof in its back wheel.

Short Story: Define “Other”

I turned off the television, and flipped closed the laptop, as much in distaste as tiredness. The seemingly constant flow of reports of intolerance and distrust of whoever this year’s “others” are was draining.

“Others” – they didn’t know the half of it. Scared people making so much noise that everyone else jumped on instinct. The problem was that they really were focusing entirely on the wrong definition of “other”.

People have forgotten so many different “others” over the years, decades, centuries that this always seems so senseless. Even in my own, only slight extended, lifetime I’ve seen signs saying “No Irish” replaced with popular theme pubs and rushes to gain dual nationality. I’ve seen three generations of Indian families birth a fourth whose synthesis of cultures is a joy to behold.

That’s just four generations in, so how about those who are so many more generations in? Those others who are so intertwined with humanity as to be able to hide in plain sight. You don’t see them being targeted in the media – at least not openly. Nobody sees them as other.

Take my wife, for example, who looks as normal as most people you might otherwise bump into on the street. She and I would of course both take great offence at such a label, but that’s bye the bye. Her heritage is a proud one, stretching back thousands of years and is carried forth in her genes as proudly as any cultural artifact or practice.

Her diet is very particular, but not so unusual in an era that embraces vegetarian or vegan principles. She can’t really stand salt in her diet, and has great difficulty in properly metabolising iron. Both these of course have caused comment from doctors, but not so much as to warrant the sort of investigation that in centuries past might have involved stakes, firewood, and possibly kindling and pitch.

Indeed, iron has something of a tricky effect on her in general, making her skin burn and throwing her into confusion. As a consequence her otherness is somewhat more obvious than some merely cultural issue. It’s particularly a problem in those old parts of the country where the old conflicts are still remembered.

Our oldest cultural fights with her forebears are remembered in myth and old wives tales. The old stone arrowheads of her relatives still turn up in archaeological digs to this day. The memory of the Lords and Ladies still lives, even if cultural drift has changed the meaning of the words we use to describe them.

So, don’t talk to me about the dangers of those who are other. You really don’t know what you’re talking about…

Short Story: The Waylaid

The pedlar wasn’t going to give up easily. His instinct for a desperate buyer had obviously kicked in by now, and Tomas had very little time to play with.

“So, what you’re saying is that this mirror isn’t worth five pieces of silver? Just look at the finish of it!” His road-worn hands, knotted with early arthritis, still waved an intricate path to show off his wares. Tomas shook his head.

“I’m not paying you five pieces of silver for that mirror, no matter how nice it is.” He continued to stand over the pedlar, refusing to let him pack up his wares in the cart by the roadside.

“You what? But it’s beautiful, look how clear that reflection is! It’s like a still pond on a clear day, not one of your cheap polished bronze efforts!”

“I’m still not paying you for it. Hand it over.”

“This is daylight robbery, get away with you!” The pedlar tried to wave him away, but flinched back as Tomas loomed taller and clenched his fists.

“It would be daylight robbery if it were yours to lose. You found it in that bush over there just five minutes ago.” Tomas had had enough of being patient. The sun was starting to set and he had no more desire to be out in these woods than the pedlar did.

“Eh? How? No! I bought this from a nobleman in Brisingamen last summer. Look at the craftsmanship of this piece young sir, and tell me you wouldn’t see this in a palace.”

“Enough! It’s mine! Give it back!”

“No! I found it, it’s mine, fair and square!”

Behind the trees, the sun dipped below the horizon, breaking Tomas’ glamour. He towered over the pedlar, and growled through his suddenly protruding tusks.

“You- you- you’re a- a-”

“Say it.” Tomas rumbled fiercely.

“A- a- Troll!” The pedlar backed away and fell over a small pile of sacks next to his table. Tomas watched him scramble away into the darkening woods.

Alone, he picked up the mirror, and watched the woods’ reflection dance across the surface. “You’d think he’d never seen a fairy before.” Tomas mused. The mouse in his overstretched shirt’s pocket tutted under his breath in response.

Tomas put the mirror back on the ground, nestled in the embrace of its hawthorn bush, and looked at Archie. “Come on, we’ve a market to get to.”

And with that they stepped back into the Fae Roads through the mirror, which faded with their passing.