The Tidemaster

The waves pounded against the shore and the sounds of laughter echoed from within the rocks. Peony was giggling with two other girls her age as I dropped down between the rocks. The trio looked up, every inch children caught with hands in the proverbial cookie jar.

“Uh…hi, Mouse.”

I just gave them a smile.

“Don’t mind me. I’m here to talk to the Tide Master.”

One of the seal-girls gasped and the other girl’s eyes went huge.

“The Tide Master? Really? Well, he’s in his cave…but…”

I gave the poor girl another smile and tousled her hair.

“Don’t worry, he’s expecting me. And Peony, stay out of trouble and don’t go farther out than you can swim by yourself.”

“Yes, Mouse!”

As I climbed further down into the cliff, following the secret roads, I hoped that Peony really would listen to me. Mistress would be angry if we lost the changeling girl to the Sea Fae. Selkies were notorious for that kind of thing. I could hear the waves still and knew that soon the water outside the rocks would be well over my head. This cave was only intended as a meeting place between those of us from the land and those from the sea. Descending the last few feet, I stepped into the great receiving cavern and found myself gazing at the great bulk of the Tide Master.

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Red Eyes

I held the bag tight against my chest and moved through the forest in silence. Drawing attention to myself at this point would be worse than suicidal. I could hear the movement further out in the darkness, just beyond the light of the path. Most Fae avoided the paths. Paths are bad, dangerous, mortal. As a Changeling, the paths are safety for me…except against one thing. The Red Eyes hunt the paths. I can almost feel them watching me as I move. Lords and Ladies, I hope I get home soon. There were rules for this, of course. Not that the Red Eyes follow rules, but instead Faerie Land would enforce the rules for me. If I didn’t think I could get back to our holding, I could take the next turn and hide in the standing stones. No one could harm another in there. Mistress had said they were dangerous for other reasons though, only to hide there if I had no other choice. Whirling around at the sound of footsteps, I nearly dropped the bag, which would have been a mistake unto itself. A younger Changeling I knew was barreling towards me like a bat out of hell. His eyes were huge and wild and his tail coursed behind him like a pennant in a wind. He was one of the ones who had changed their shape as soon as they could, becoming far more a raccoon than a human.

“Coop?”

“Mouse! Run! Hunters!”

He didn’t have to say it twice. I grabbed his arm as he would have gone past the stones and pulled him down that path instead. As soon as we were a few feet down that path, I moved to let go, confident he would follow. He grabbed at my arm, clinging fiercely. Poor guy must be terrified. I thought, just as I passed through the stones and came to a sudden jerky stop. Turning, I was surprised to see that Coop still held my arm and was on the outside of the stones.

“Come on! What are you waiting for?”

“I can’t. It must be the old magic. Come on, let’s keep running. There must be somewhere else that’s safe.”

I tried to shake off his grip, suddenly wary.

“Coop, come on, don’t be silly. As long as you’re not going to hurt anyone, you can come in here.”

Listening for a moment, I realized I couldn’t hear any other footsteps. Just the sound of our heavy breathing. Then I felt his fingers tighten even more on my arm. That’s when it hit me.

“Oh…oh no. Coop. No…no…no…no…You didn’t. No. There’s no way…”

He let go and flung himself at the space between the standing stones, falling to the ground in a pile of fur and snarls. There it was, on the back of his neck. The Red Eye. There were tears pouring down my face as I curled up in the middle of the circle. Mistress would find me later, I knew. But until then, I could wait here and mourn for my friend.

The Home for Forgotten Monsters

Mrs. Tipton smiled sadly at her newest boarder when she opened the door of the lodging house.
“Oh, my dear, I never thought you’d be joining us.”
The old woman at the door slumped her shoulders and pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders.
“No one lasts for ever. Not anymore.”
Mrs. Tipton nodded slowly, sadly, and stepped aside.
“I’ve set aside a room for you on the top floor. It’s only been Annis up there for years and I think she could use the company.”
Together, they climbed the rickety old stairs through the lodging house. They could hear the sounds of the other boarders in their rooms. Annis was singing, her windows wide and her voice like the wind on the moors. Jenny’s door was thrown open and the smell of a stew simmering wafted into the corridors. One woman stood in her doorway in a gown that had fit once, had been considered elegant once. Now, it was tattered and her looks had long since faded. She smiled distantly at the pair as they passed by.
“I’ve heard, Mrs. Tipton, that there’s to be a play staged in my honor this evening. At the Globe, no less. Another of William’s bits of brilliance, I’m certain.”
Mrs. Tipton returned her smile and patted the woman’s hand reassuringly.
“That’s right, Titania, dear. I’m sure it will be just delightful.”
They left the Faerie Queen humming to herself and dancing through a glade that existed now only in her mind. Soon, they reached the top floor and the vacancy.
“This would be your room. Let me know if you need anything and if you’ve any questions about the rules, I’m sure Annis would be happy to help.”
The old woman looked at the tidy bed with its clean sheets.
“Once, I slept on an oven, you know.”
“I know, dearie.”
Mrs. Tipton watched as the woman went to the window.
“I never thought it would come to this. I thought if I could last through that wretched Stalin, I could last through anything. Even when they were afraid of the atom, they remembered to be afraid of me.”
Black Annis stood in the doorway, a sorrowful expression on her monstrous visage.
“Humans don’t need us monsters anymore, Baba Yaga. They’ve made worse than we could ever be out of themselves.”

Insufferably Perfect

“Brother, I have something of a question for you.”
Cliff looked up, setting aside the leather he was cleaning.
“Is that so?”
The Prince of Knives and Thorns leaned against the wall of the stables tossing one of his many throwing knives lightly in one hand.
“I have noticed, of late, that you spend a great deal of time with my sister. More than I would think to see between friends. And I have seen, once or twice, a form I believe to be hers sneaking out of your chambers of an evening.”
Eyes wide, Cliff could feel his cheeks going hot. Keeping his eyes on that knife, he stood.
“None of that was a question, you know.”
The Prince chuckled, catching his knife by the hilt in a smooth motion.
“Then I will speak plainly. Are you and my sister involved romantically?”
“Yes.”
Lying would be stupid, far more stupid than admitting to what was quite obviously there. Even if it was looking more and more likely he was about to be turned into the Prince’s personal pin cushion. Then, much to Cliff’s surprise, the Prince sheathed the knife completely and stepped in to give him a hug.
“Good! You too are insufferably perfect for each other and I had been bereft thinking neither of you had noticed!”

Little Lion

  Under the screams of his parents arguing, he could still hear something coming from his bedroom closet. Something shattered in the other room and the screaming continued, only broken by periodic sobbing and the sounds of something striking flesh. He wasn’t sure which was worse. Then the closet door opened completely and Lionel pulled the blankets up higher trying to hide. The black eye still dominating his small, pale face told him he couldn’t go run for help.
“Lionel?”
The voice was female, soft and surprisingly gentle. Poking his head out the slightest bit, he saw a beautiful woman with the darkest skin he’d ever seen. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail that seemed to be made of a mass of braids and her eyes were gentle.
“You’re not a monster, right?”
His voice was still quiet, full of fear. But her light laugh and little smile allayed his fears.
“No, little one, I am not one of the monsters.” Her glance strayed towards the door of his room, but then she smiled at him again. “Would you like to go somewhere where you will not be hurt again?”
He started to nod eagerly and then looked down.
“What about Mama?”
Her eyes, nearly black as coals but with just a hint of flame in them, turned away from him.
“She cannot come, dear one. She…would not be welcomed where we would go. Do you deny that she has also turned a hand against you?”
With a little sniffle, he shook his head.
“She only does when Daddy hurts her.”
“My poor little one, that is not for you to bear. Come away with me and be happy. Never again be hurt. Be a child.”
He smiled a gap-tooth grin and nodded.
“Can Teddy come?”
This time, he held up a small bear covered in patches and wearing a small cape.
“Oh yes, Teddy can come.” The woman scooped him up in her arms and strode towards the closet once more. “One last thing, before we go. From this point onwards, tell no one that you are Lionel.”
“Why?”
He had already wrapped his arms around her neck and cuddled against her shoulder like he belonged there.
“Because if anyone knew, they could use your name to hurt you.”
“Oh…so what do I get called?”
She kissed him gently on the forehead, healing the bruises on his face.
“We shall see.”

Delicious

There’s a place out in the hills where there’s a tree bent to form an arch, just by a pond. That was where I met her. She was sitting by the water quietly playing an old acoustic guitar. I had been out for a hike, my pack still on. I was looking at my GPS when I heard the sound. It had started to go on the fritz about five minutes prior and I’d been worried I’d get lost out here without it. When I heard the music, I slipped the device back into a pocket and held my hand up in greeting.
“Hi!”
She turned, startlement clear on her face.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. I just wasn’t expecting to see anyone else out here.”
She stood slowly, setting the guitar on the rock, and stepped towards me. It wasn’t until then that I processed that her ears came to long points and that her eyes were a pure gold.
“Hello, mortal boy.”
I gulped, not sure if maybe I wasn’t more dehydrated than I thought. I could be hallucinating. She reached out to touch my cheek, a smile on her face.
“You seem scared, pretty mortal boy.”
I took a breath, trying to get my racing heart back under control.
“I’m…I’m not a-”
She looked me up and down in a way that was half curious and half flirtatious.
“Not in body, but you are in your mind, are you not?”
I took a step back. How had she known that? I hadn’t told anyone yet. That’s why I was out here alone, trying to figure out how to tell them.
“Stay with me, pretty mortal boy, and I will sing for you and you can be happy with me.”
It was tempting, oh so tempting.
“What about my…family? My friends?”
She shrugged, clearly not caring.
“No doubt they will believe that the girl-you-are-now died in the woods alone. So sad. And you would stay here as my prince.”
I shook my head fiercely.
“I can’t do that to them.”
She laughed coldly.
“Did you not come here to kill the girl you are?”
I clenched my fists.
“Not like that.”
“They will hurt still.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I know mortals, pretty mortal boy. I remember the fires.”
I shoved her back.
“You don’t know anything.” And then I spoke again. “I won’t stay here. I know what I need to do now and I’m doing it.”
I turned on my heel and strode off, half expecting her to stop me. Instead, I heard her speak softly, a smile in her voice.
“Wise choice. Though, I imagine you would have been delicious.”