Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Faerie Hunter - Chapter 3: The World I Thought I Lived in

"What's going on, Brad?" Lizzy asked as I continued to stare at James, just disappearing from sight.

"Um, it's no big deal," I said, unsure of what to tell her.

"Are you sure? Why were you shouting at that guy?"

I finally turned to her. As always, she looked stunning, in her blue bikini top and matching mini skirt, her figure curving gracefully underneath them. Her brown eyes beamed softly at me with a smile, and matching hair fell in locks to just below her shoulders. I smiled, for a moment forgetting about James, or mermaids, or any of the other creatures I had just discovered existed.

"Well?" she asked impatiently.

I sighed as my head returned to reality.

"Well, there was an incident. Kyle nearly drowned."

"Really? I thought he was a pretty good swimmer."

"He is. But, you know, riptides and undertows..."

"Oh, yes," she said seriously. "I've always been afraid of those. They can kill the best swimmers. But Kyle is okay?"

"Yeah, he's a bit shaken up, but he'll be fine."

"And that man saved him? He looked kind of weird. Maybe even a bit creepy."

"No, he's cool. Yeah, he, uh, helped me with Kyle. We, um, both swam out when we saw Kyle go under. I was out there first, and I dove under the water and tried to pull him up, but I, sort of, ran out of—strength—and he came out and pulled us both up. His name is James." I finished lamely.

"Wow. Then it's a good thing he was there, right?"

"Yeah, really good." But I was probably thinking of different reasons than she was.

She put her hand in mine, and we walked toward the beach and along the water, letting the waves lap our feet.

"So this morning I talked to Sally, and she was drawing a picture of Rob, you know, Trisha's brother? I asked her about it, and I think she likes him..."

As Lizzy rambled on, my mind drifted to James and his unusual job of freelance monster assassination. I tried to imagine that sort of life, and wondered what kind of creatures he had come across and what they looked like. Or if they even really existed. I reminded myself that I had only seen a mermaid, nothing else.


Lizzy squeezed my hand and tilted her head as if to ask what I was thinking about. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, trying to keep my mind in the present. I looked back at her and smiled, then splashed some water playfully at her as a wave came in. She squealed and ran away from the water like it was going to melt her.

"Don't do that!" she said indignantly.

I laughed. "Why? You're in a swimsuit!"

"It's cold!" she whined. "And all salty and yucky."

I rolled my eyes as she came back to my side. "You came out to the beach to do what again?"

"To get a tan!" she said, as if I should have known already. "And to listen to the waves. And to swim. I'll swim later, I just want to be salty as little as possible. And I came to be with you!" She squeezed my hand and smiled at me.

I smiled back. My thoughts once again automatically turned to James as we stood in silence staring out at the ocean.

"Brad, what's on your mind? You're not all here."

My smiled faded. "What do you mean?"

"Well, you and Kyle were out all morning. No one even knew where you were. And Kyle nearly drowned, and you don't have much to say about that. And who really was that man who saved him?"

I sighed. "Lizzy, if I told you, you'd think I was crazy."

"No I wouldn't!" Lizzy answered back confidently. I wasn't as sure as she was.

"Look, do you promise not to laugh, and to take me seriously? You have to agree to open your mind a bit."

She smiled. "I'm a very open person! Besides, I can't even imagine what you could say that would make me think you were crazy."

"Okay, well." I swallowed and took a deep breath. "This morning Kyle and I were out looking for—something—in the water. And then we found it. And Kyle swam out to it, but it—" This was harder than I thought. I knew she'd think I had gone insane the moment I said the word "mermaid." Lizzy was looking at me expectantly.

"It pulled him underwater," I continued, "And the man—James—gave me something to help me swim underwater, and I followed Kyle and it to a cave, and I, well, I got rid of it, and then I brought Kyle up out of the cave, but then the thing that James gave me wore off, so I started to run short on breath, and James came down and pulled us out." I stood there staring at Lizzy, feeling sheepish.

She gave me a confused look. "This thing that pulled Kyle underwater, it was, like, a rope or something he got tangled in?"

I shifted on my feet. "No, not really."


I took a deep breath and held it in for a moment. "It was a mermaid," I said quickly, and exhaled, half hoping she hadn't heard me.

"A what? A mermaid? Come on, don't joke around."

"I'm not joking." I said quietly.

She looked at me amazed. "A mermaid? Really? You really think you saw a mermaid?"

"No," I said, confidence building in defense of my own sanity, "I killed a mermaid. A mermaid sang to me, and to Kyle. There was a mermaid lying on a rock in the ocean, luring Kyle to her, and she took Kyle to her lair, and I killed her."

She dropped my hand and began walking along the beach again.

"Lizzy," I said as I ran to catch up to her.

"No, Brad, that's too much," she said. "I promised to take you seriously, and, I'm not sure I can, so let's just not talk about it."

"Okay, fine. I wasn't going to tell you about it anyway." I felt a bit betrayed, but I knew it was just because she couldn't wrap her mind around anything she didn't expect.

"I'm sorry Brad. It's just—let's just think about other things. There's so much more to talk about." She paused for a moment, before adding, "Like—remember when we first met, Brad?"

"Of course I do. It was the audition for the school play, and you sang with the voice of an angel."

She smiled. "And every time you kissed me in practice, I hoped you really meant it."

"I did. I really did."

The rest of the walk to the beach house we reminisced on old memories. As much as I tried to keep my mind focused, I couldn't stop thinking about the mermaid, but for Lizzy's sake I didn't mention it again. As we came to the house, we were met with the smell of food cooking in the kitchen.

"Hey you two," my dad greeted us as we walked into the room. He was cooking stir fry in a wok over the stove. "Brad, you've been gone a while."

"Sorry about that. Kyle forced me to come help him look for something this morning."

"Did you find what you were looking for?" he asked.

Lizzy muttered something about changing out of her swimsuit, and went to her room.

"Yeah, we did," I abridged.

"He seemed kind of upset or something when he came back."

"Um, well, there was an incident. He sorta almost drowned."

My dad looked at me with one eyebrow raised. "Yeah. That's about as much as we got out of him, too."

"Is it dinner time already?" I asked, trying to change the subject.

He raised his eyebrows even higher, but answered my question. "Just about. Usually I figure when I'm getting hungry like this it's time to eat. And you haven't had anything since breakfast, I'll bet, so you're probably twice as starved as me."

Actually, I hadn't eaten since the night before, and suddenly hunger hit me, as if my body knew that I had been too busy for food earlier, but now it was making up for lost time.

"How long till it's ready?" I asked.

"It's almost done. In fact, why don't you go get your sister? I think she's in her room."

"What about Kyle and mom?"

"They went home. Mom got called into work last minute, and Kyle decided to go with her. He seemed pretty shook up."


"Yeah. 'Oh.' They might be back tomorrow, as long as mom doesn't get stuck at work. Go get your sis, and the two of you can set the table."

I went to her room and pushed open the door. She was sitting on her bed, her skinny frame bent over a large sketchpad, drawing. Her long, brown hair was pulled back into pigtails, and she hardly seemed to notice me entering the room.

I walked toward her and peered over her shoulder at her drawing. It was of a small faerie flitting among the leaves of a tree. It was quite good, especially for a ten-year-old.

She cringed as I stood there staring. "Are you just going to keep breathing down my neck," she said, "or do you have something useful to say?"

I smiled. "I thought I'd just stand here watching you draw. It's really good."

"Ugh," she said, and closed the sketchpad, turning to face me with a look of scorn.

I rolled my eyes at her. "Time for dinner. We're supposed to set the table."

She stuck her tongue out at me, but jumped up and helped me with the chore.

Just as we had sat down and taken our first bites of dinner, there was a knock at the door. My dad got up to answer it, and Sally, Lizzy and I sat, listening to the muffled conversation in the hall. Finally, my dad came back in, followed by none other than James.

I stood up quickly. Lizzy looked pale.

My dad cocked his head funny and said, "Brad, this gentleman says he knows you."

"Yes," I stammered. "He saved Kyle. You know, when he almost drowned and all."

"Oh really?" my dad said as he turned back to him. "Well, you should have said something! You said your name was Jim, right?"

"That's right," James said. I noticed he was carrying an army backpack over one shoulder.

"Well, I can't even begin to thank you for looking out for my son." He reached out his hand to shake James'.

"It was nothing, really," said James. "Brad did most of the saving today. I did want to have a short word with him, though, if it's alright. I owe him some thanks too."

"Well, we're having dinner right now, Jim. Why don't you have a bite first? It's the least I can do to thank you, really. Sally, get a plate."

"Thank you, sir. I am a bit hungry."

"Call me Tom. And have a seat."

Sally brought a plate and silverware out, and my dad moved his chair to an empty spot, while getting a folding chair for himself. James sat down, dropped his backpack beside him, and began helping himself to the food.

"Jim, you know Brad, of course, but maybe you haven't met his girlfriend Lizzy, and this is my daughter Sally."

"Pleasure," he said as he nodded his head toward each of them in turn.

"So tell me Jim, how did you happen to be on the beach today at the same time that Kyle was drowning?" my dad asked.

"Oh, well, it was actually part of my job."

He stopped short when he glanced at me and saw my eyes widen in horror.

"Really?" said my oblivious father. "Now what kind of work do you do, then?"

"Oh, odds and ends," he said carefully, glancing toward me. "I work freelance, do things that others don't want to do, or can't do. Mostly it's extermination and pest removal."

"Oh yeah? You an expert with bugs? I gotta nasty termite problem at home. Sometimes if you put your ear up to the wall, you can even hear them gnawing on the studs."

James laughed politely. "Well, I might be able to do something for you. Where do you live?"

"Out in Portland. Far enough from downtown that it's a hassle to get to work, but close enough to smell the pollution."

"He thinks that a mermaid drowned Kyle." Everyone stopped eating, and stared at Lizzy as she said it. There was a long silence.

Finally my dad spoke. "Sorry, Lizzy, did you say mermaid?"

Lizzy's fork clanged loudly against her plate. "It's true! Ask Brad! He thinks he saw it too!"

There was a dead silence, and now everyone was staring at me. I sunk into my chair at a complete loss for words.

My dad broke the silence again. "Brad, did you see a mermaid?"

I took a deep breath, and looked at James, and then at Lizzy. She was more upset than I expected. Apparently her mind simply could not handle anything at all out of the ordinary. I thought that perhaps I could deny that I had ever seen the mermaid, say that I was joking. Or I could plod ahead with the truth. Either way, I knew suddenly that if I wanted to be with her, she and I would have to forever pretend that none of this had happened.

Almost against my will, I started speaking. "Yes, I saw a mermaid today. She lured Kyle out into the water, and then took him to an underwater cavern."

My heart beat faster as I realized what I had said. The words hung in the air, and I began to doubt myself. Maybe I was crazy, and the whole thing had really been a hallucination.

My dad spoke finally. "Well, Brad, you haven't lied to me since you were five. Any time you thought you were in the wrong, you've admitted it. And you've never before seen things that weren't really there. So if you say there was a mermaid that nearly drown Kyle, then there was a mermaid that nearly drown Kyle."

I smiled at my dad, relieved to know that he trusted me so completely.

"So Mr. Jim," Sally piped up, "You go around killing mermaids?"

"Absolutely!" he replied cheerily. "Not just mermaids, either. I deal with all sorts of faerie creatures. I'm a Freelance Monster Assassin, actually."

"Faerie Hunter," I muttered.

Sally leaned forward excitedly. "I stopped believing in magic years ago, but you're saying it's really true? I always hoped the faerie tales were real! Are you magical?"

James laughed. "I'm just human! But I work with magic a lot, yes."

"Can I see some?"

Suddenly Lizzy stood up, throwing her fork loudly onto her plate. "You're all crazy! You really believe there was a mermaid? You think this guy can just walk in and tell you, 'Oh! Magic really does exist!' and you all fall for it, like six-year-olds waiting for the tooth fairy to give them their quarter? What the crap?" she yelled, and before we could say anything else, she ran down the hall and out the front door.

We all stared after her, at a lose for words. James was the only one who didn't look astonished. He simply reached to his backpack and pulled out a lighter. He flicked it, and a small flame appeared, and to our surprise, began to grow in size, as if the fire was a tangible gas that, instead of fading into smoke, simply was pushed upward as more of it appeared. When it was nearly the size of a basketball, James put one hand underneath it, and turned the lighter off. The huge flame sat an inch above his hand writhing in beautiful, glowing yellows and blues. He then blew the flame in deliberate angles, and the fire spread, weaving an extraordinary pattern in the air, floating a few feet above the table. Then suddenly it grew bright white, and I felt the heat from it for a few seconds, and then it all disappeared into smoke.

"Wow." said Sally. "Can I have one of those?"

James smiled. "Sorry, kid. I only own one of these. And it's a bit dangerous for you to use, probably. But there might be something else you'd like in here I could give you. What sort of things do you like doing?"

"I like drawing!"

"Hmm." He rummaged through his pack. "Aha! I thought I still had one of these!" He handed Sally a pen. "It's for drawing temporary tattoos on yourself."

Sally looked questioningly at my dad, who asked James, "Temporary? I'm not gonna be spending hundreds of bucks later to get this scraped off her, right?"

James laughed. "No, it'll wear off in about a week, I promise."

At a nod from my dad, Sally pulled her left sleeve up and immediately began to draw something on her arm.

James leaned in toward me. "Now for business. Brad, today you did something that not even I have managed to do. You killed a mermaid after it sang to you. That shows something about you. You're tough, you've got a strong mind."

I shrugged. "I did it to protect my brother."

"Right. Well, I have an offer for you. It's a once in a lifetime sort of deal. I'd like you to come with me for a while, be my intern, so to speak. You'd help me with all my jobs, I'd teach you about fighting magic with magic."

I sat back, stunned. "What? You want me to do what?"

James leaned back and frowned. "I want you to be my apprentice."

"No, I couldn't do that. I've got a scholarship. I'm going to college."

"I'm not asking you to come with me forever. Just six months, or a year. Then you can decide whether you want to continue, or go to college."

"Six months?" I said incredulously. "I'm supposed to be in college in one!"

"Brad, understand that this really is a once in a lifetime offer. You have no idea how rewarding my work is. And not too many people are cut out for it. But I think you are."

"What I'm cut out for is college!"

"Wait a minute, don't be too quick, Brad" said my dad. "What does he get in return? Is this a paid internship type deal?" he asked James.

"Of course! Food, lodging and transportation will be entirely taken care of, and in addition, he'll get a percentage of whatever I make on a job."

"And how much is that?" I asked.

In answer, James reached into his backpack and pulled out a wad of twenties, pushing it toward me. "This is what I was given today for the mermaid's death, minus transportation and food costs for the trip here, and a few other overheads."

I picked up the cash. It was probably more than a thousand dollars.

James spoke again. "It's yours, Brad."

I looked up at him, surprised.

"You did the work, Brad. You earned it. That's about an average pay for a job. If you come with me, I'll give you twenty percent of the profits for each job, plus bonuses, if I think you bore the brunt of any one job. Consider this a bonus.

"You're just giving this to me?"


"But I don't think I can say yes to you."

"Well that's a shame, Brad," said James as he stood up. "You keep the money no matter what you decide. But don't make a final decision right now. Wait until morning. I'll come and see what you say then. Things are always clearer in the morning."

He made his way toward the hallway. My dad got up and walked with him to the door. I fingered the money I had just unwittingly earned. It was tempting, for sure. Even twenty percent of it would be a large chunk. But I kept thinking about my plans for college, and how they would go to waste if I took his offer.

I looked up at Sally, who was still drawing a faerie on her shoulder. The ink seemed to be glowing softly on her skin, shimmering and slowly changing colors. She looked back at me, and down at the money, her eyebrows raised.

I heard my dad shut the door, and before he came into the room, I ran to the back door, stuffing the money in my pocket, and stood on the porch that looked out over the ocean. I needed to be alone for a while. Too many things had happened in the last twelve hours. Sitting down in a chair, I stared at the sky above the ocean. Slowly, the sun fell toward the water as I sat, unmoving for almost a half hour, just thinking. Finally, the door opened behind me. I turned to see Lizzy closing it.

"Hey there," I said as she sat beside me. The sun touched the horizon and began to sink into the water.

"Hi, Brad. Listen, I'm sorry about running out at dinner."

"It's okay, Lizzy, don't worry about it. It's no big deal."

"No, Brad. I think it is a big deal. I'm sorry I acted so immaturely, but I realized something. I don't think we're meant for each other."

My heart dropped, and I sat up straight as I heard this.

"Brad," she said, her eyes looking sadly into mine. "I didn't get the scholarship to UC. I can't go."

"That's okay," I said quickly, "We can work it out, we can talk on the phone! I'll come back to visit," I said almost desperately as she shook her head.

"No. No, it won't work that way. Brad, you're just different than me. And I'm different than you. We shouldn't tie each other down."

"It's not like that!" I nearly shouted. "I want to be tied down to you! I love you!"

"No you don't, Brad. You're just really, really loyal. And you're an amazing person. But you're just not like me."

Yes I am! I wanted to scream. But words stuck in my throat. I couldn't believe this was happening. My whole life seemed to be crumbling into pieces. I had nothing to live for if Lizzy wasn't a part of my life.

A tear rolled down her cheek, and she got up, kissed me on the forehead, then ran back inside. I sat gaping at her as she left. I heard her car start on the other side of the house, and it hit me that she was really leaving. She wasn't coming back.

The last ray of sunlight disappeared under the water. Numbness overtook me as twilight deepened, until I finally got up and stumbled into my own bed. I found that I was utterly exhausted, and despite all the thoughts racing through my brain, I fell instantly asleep.

Wild dreams haunted me, and the image of the mermaid's bared teeth turned swiftly into the face of first Lizzy, then James, then back into the mermaid. I tossed and turned, but the dreams only got worse and more incongruent. As they went on, I felt something cold tickling my neck, which grew more and more prominent in my dreams, until I finally realized that it wasn't in my dreams at all, and I woke up. I opened my eyes, and right in front of my face were two dim, black eyes peering at me from a drab colored face. The tickle on my neck was a knife.

1 comment:

  1. So is Lizzy one of these magical creatures and that's the reason she got so crazy? Is she the one with the knife, I mean they all know and trust her so they wouldn't think anything if she came back or maybe snick back to protect herself. Is that why she brought back so many of the old memories so he wouldn't ever be able to harm her? Why would the family just automatically be okay with the mermaid episode? I know it says he never lied before but even so wouldn't they freak out even just a little?