fantasy fiction Liam in the World original story short stories spec fic

Liam five: electric boogalive

So soon after “Liam and the Changelings,” I honestly did not intend the next project I worked on, leave alone completed, to be the fifth tale of Liam Shea. I had something else in mind, a story from the very early history of the Kandadal’s world. But my lizard brain has its own priorities, apparently.

Liam #6, which will be titled “Liam and the Pornographer” unless lizard brain changes its mind, is already bubbling away, friskily, in the Cretaceous swamps.

Liam and the Coward

Exhilarated, Liam plunged through the outliers of the oncoming nor’easter, dancing with the gusts and surges. Wind and freezing rain had long since stripped off the last tatters of the glamor he’d worn on the streets of Boston that made him look clothed, human, and older than seventeen and a half. The breath of fairyland, its wild fragrance and flavor, still percolated in his lungs, beat in his blood, helping him forget the manufactured stenches of the city, though once again he had not passed through that door. His dad was expecting him.

He’d been flying high since taking off from the roof deck of Olivia’s building, tracking an uncanny homing beacon. Just because he felt like it, he’d circled the Pru twice, daring early diners at the Top of the Hub to spot the fairy flitting by seven hundred and fifty feet above nearly empty streets—but the restaurant was probably deserted too, the whole city shutting down ahead of the blizzard. Now, two and a half hours later, he was nearly home and the storm was just about on top of him.

The next gust tried to batter him down and he allowed it, diving through wet cloud prickly with ice crystals. Freezing rain and sleet had been left far behind: now it was snow. Heavy, enveloping, hissing snow, veils and whipping curtains like frozen white velvet blown to frenzy. His own body heat and the swift thrashing of his wings prevented it sticking—his inhuman senses made up for snow blindness—he flattened out to a glide ten feet above the obelisk atop the pudding-bowl hill.

For no reason at all, it occurred to Liam he didn’t know the hill’s name. It was just the hill in his hometown park, on the slopes of which, through a magical door, he’d first glimpsed fairyland.

For no good reason, he felt abruptly weary. Battling the storm was no longer thrilling, just a chore he needed to accomplish. The naïve little kid who’d rejected the blandishments of the only other fairy he’d ever met, who’d refused to pass through that door, was nobody to him. An incomprehensible, ignorant, immature stranger. Not that he wouldn’t make the same decision today.

Had made the same decision today. Startling tears froze crystal lenses on his corneas that shattered when he blinked. Olivia’s warning had been oblique, oracular, when she welcomed him again into her cluttered apartment, but when she said, “Remember your promise,” Liam knew what she meant. She said it every time. Before the visit degenerated into sex as it did every time, she taught him a few more cantrips recollected from her long youth in the place he’d never been, told him a few stories. Ugly stories, though she didn’t seem to view them that way. Knowing she’d spent more than a mortal woman’s lifetime traded from one fairy ráth or dún to the next distressed Olivia far less than it did Liam: her worldview was more fairylike than his, who was a fairy.

She’d died pegging him, him with his ass up and five inches of borosilicate glass punching his innards, almost more exquisite in its nerveless rigor than a human cock—uttered a gusty cry as the final orgasm overtook her, then collapsed onto his back, dead weight. Her chin, he thought, had bruised his spine between flailing wings.

Because he was a fairy, after he farted out the dildo and rolled the corpse off his back, he jerked off onto her frozen, startled face, a thing she’d liked him to do. Glistening with lube that didn’t obscure the spiralling cobalt and silver ribbons within the glass, the phallus jutting up from the harness at her crotch appeared incongruous only in the sense that it was shorter and not as thick as the dick in his own hand, and not alive. But neither was Olivia alive. He licked mucilaginous spooge from her face, closing her eyelids with his tongue, and kissed her cooling lips.

Then he spoke the first cantrip Olivia had taught him and opened the door into the unchanging lands. Giving himself no time to think about it, he gathered her corpse into his arms, harness and double-headed dildo and all, and tossed it through, into eternal twilight. Leather, brass hardware, Pyrex vanished in blue flame before the dead woman hit the enchanted ground she’d longed for, and Liam turned away, closed the door before the scavengers of fairyland could gather for the feast.

He spoke another few words of the fairy language to clothe himself in the glamor of Olivia Burgoine’s occasional gentleman caller: a hipster fellow in his mid-twenties with a bushy black beard and ten-gauge jade plugs in both earlobes. In coy acknowledgment of the fairy beneath the glamor, Tinker Bell was inked on his neck in Disney colors, reaching up out of the checked Palestinian kaffiyeh worn as a scarf. He settled the navy-surplus pea coat more comfortably on his shoulders, pulled the knitted watch cap over his ears, peering around the dead woman’s apartment. It struck him there was less stuff than he’d seen on previous visits, as if she’d been getting rid of things in anticipation. Less—still a lot: nothing he’d want for a souvenir even if he were willing to carry it home. When he got home, he’d remember to defriend Olivia’s zombie Facebook profile.

He shrugged—the twenty-something hipster shrugged, pulled on needless imaginary gloves, opened the apartment door. It locked behind him. He passed nobody on his way to the stairwell, nobody on the stairs, jinxed the security on the door to the roof, stepped out into roaring wind and stinging freezing rain. At the roof deck’s edge, he had let his wings break free of the glamor, let the wind take him.

A sudden squall grabbed preoccupied Liam and tossed him against the trunk of a massive sycamore he’d been half aware of swerving to avoid. With a grunted “Shit!” he tumbled and somersaulted into the deep drift at its roots.

Catching his breath, he sprawled in broken snow while more white fluff fell. He heard something, felt something: a groggy sense of something going wrong, swelling concern and alarm—a lightning stab of panic quickly followed by an explosion of blankness. Not his feelings, Liam’s, but somebody’s. Somebody nearby.

Before he knew it, he’d thrashed out of the drift and was fleeting in the direction of somebody, flitting six feet above the snow-obscured path, through the trees, toward the state route that edged one side of the park and led, another half mile on, to his own driveway.

Alighting a few feet from the cockeyed ruby rear lamps of the SUV nose deep in the ditch, he was already muttering cantrips to guard himself against the mechanical behemoth’s steel skin and clothe himself again in glamor. The driver of the ditched vehicle didn’t need to find a wild-eyed naked fairy peering through the window. It was only the driver, Liam already knew, fluttering in and out of consciousness.

Only the driver, strapped into his seat and flattened by the airbag now deflated in his lap, his nose bleeding sluggishly. Liam tapped the glass but there was no response. Jinxing the lock, Liam pulled the door wide and leaned his head in to look. Pulled back right away and slammed the door shut on overheated air reeking of piss and beer and pot.

Harry Hogan. Liam’s ninth-grade nemesis. Harry and his gang of little white boys (token two Cambodians)—they called themselves a posse—who’d chosen the school freak, the fairy, to take out their insecurities on. Liam was never actually afraid of them but it had been politic to permit them to think he was. They’d just find some more defenseless kid to torment. And their jibes did sting, especially when they slagged his ass-munching fudgepacker dad. And their campaign encouraged clueless Joel Berman, already crushing the hell on Liam, in his belief Liam needed protecting, a complication Liam resented. And….

Liam took a breath, held it.

He peered through the glass. The dashboard lights threw distorted illumination. Harry was fully out now. Blood clogged the stubble above his upper lip—the boy was trying to grow a beard. After some prank Liam hadn’t been interested enough to discover the details of, Harry Hogan had been suspended and magically never returned to school. Sent off to boarding school in New Hamster or someplace, somebody said. Without its leader, the posse fell apart and Liam quit paying attention. That was…over two years ago. Somehow Liam had managed never to run into Harry again, though he must come home now and then and the Hogans were the nearest Liam and his dad had to neighbors.

Until now.

Liam told himself some subroutine in the SUV’s silicon brains would have registered the crash and was already broadcasting a mayday. It was probably true: the truck was luxe, looked newer than his dad’s sedan, which had the capability. He told himself that. He told himself he didn’t owe Harry Hogan anything, of all people. He told himself he was cold (he wasn’t, not to notice) and wet and his dad was waiting for him. Harry Hogan could wait for the cops or the fire department. A MassDOT snowplough or some civilian with a phone would have to pass by sooner or later. Harry Hogan could go to hell.

Harry Hogan’s dad would be waiting for his son. By all reports, Mr Hogan was a nastier piece of work than Harry: a Baptist bully who cherry-picked scripture to support loudly proclaimed bigotry—against queers like his neighbor, against uppity women, against science and single mothers and unemployed slackers, against the Muslim socialist in the White House. But a father, who probably—maybe—loved his son, would mourn him if Harry froze to death in a snowdrift off the highway.

Yanking the SUV’s door open again, Liam reached over Harry’s knees to turn off the ignition, hit the hazard-flashers switch, and jerk the shifter into Park. As the dash lights dimmed, he breathed a fairy word into Harry’s blood-rimed nostrils to put him further under and unlatched the belts strapping him down. Harry’s dead weight put up an inert struggle against being wrestled out of the truck but Liam managed it. Surprisingly, Harry seemed to be much shorter than Liam, as though adolescent growth spurts had passed him by.

Now what? The snow had blown up into a proper blizzard. Liam couldn’t see as far as the rear of the SUV. Even with the wind the air wasn’t especially cold, just above freezing probably, but Liam could feel the burden in his embrace chilling fast. Harry wasn’t dressed for the weather and his pants were soaked where he’d pissed himself. Get him out of the storm, into shelter. The Hogans’ house wasn’t much farther away than his own but Liam couldn’t imagine how to explain delivering incapacitated Harry to his family without a car. Home, then.

Tightening his grip around Harry’s back, Liam sliced his wings through illusory shirt, sweater, and pea coat, and took off. Harry’s flopping legs threw off his balance, made him clumsy, but the boy’s unconscious weight wasn’t a problem. He jumped the canted SUV with its vainly blinking flashers and flew into the woods of his dad’s property, gaining height between the trees until he was above them, aiming like a crow toward his own house.

When he reached it, the house was all lit up inside and out, glowing within a dome of blowing snow: worried dad providing a beacon for roaming son no matter how many times Liam told him it wasn’t necessary. He lighted on the front steps—Harry’s feet thumped on the wood in two distinct beats—and used his elbow to ring the bell.

He was trying to hump Harry into a better position when a shadow darkened the front door’s sidelight and Liam remembered he didn’t look like himself. He spoke a syllable as the door began to open.

“Hell—uh…. Liam?” his dad said. The beard must have unravelled then, at least.

“Accident on the road,” Liam said in a rush. “Don’t think he’s injured, just knocked out, but I couldn’t leave him to freeze.”

Throwing the door wide, Bryan barked, “In!” and Liam dragged Harry past him into the warmth and light. “Living room for now, until you get those boots off. What’s that on your neck?”

It took two more steps to shake off the last of the glamor, including offensive boots and that (the Tinker Bell tattoo), another twelve to dump the unconscious lump of Harry on the couch. Liam turned to face his dad.

Bryan’s cheeks went red and he lifted his eyes to the ceiling. “Gah,” he blurted. “Go put some clothes on. I’ve got a—well, a guest. In the kitchen. I’ll check this guy out. Go get dressed.”

“He pissed himself,” Liam said levelly, “just so you know.”

Flying in the house was discouraged but Liam flirted his wings and took off, zooming into the hallway and up the stairs to his bedroom for clothes. It took maybe six minutes but when he pattered downstairs again on his own two feet, decent, it was Harry Hogan who was nude, stretched out full length on the sofa. Full length wasn’t very long: five foot four? five five? A man, a fully dressed stranger, knelt at his side, running his hands over Harry’s arms and torso.

Liam looked for his father. Bryan stood over the pile of Harry’s discarded clothes, an open wallet in his hand. He noticed Liam, said, “Henry Hogan?” in a tone that meant he remembered very well who Harry was, then glanced at the kneeling stranger. “Alasdair’s a nurse. I asked him to look over your stray pup.”

The man had started to turn but Liam bulled in. “Yeah, when I realized who he was I almost left him there. But the road hadn’t been ploughed yet—who knows when anybody would pass by. Alasdair?”

“Alasdair Sterling,” the stranger said, wide eyed, as if he’d never seen a fairy in blue jeans before. “You must be Liam.”

“Pleased to meet you,” said Liam, unsure if he was. “And that’s Harry on the sofa. Old enemy of mine. Find anything broken?”

“Nope.” Alasdair rose to his feet. “Not even his nose.”

“That was the airbag.”

“I’d like a doctor to check him out, of course, but I wouldn’t say it’s urgent. The storm and…maybe give him a chance to, uh, metabolize, uh, illicit substances and take a shower.” Blush mottling fair cheeks, Alasdair looked down at Harry again. “I’m concerned, though, that he didn’t wake while I was handling him.”

“Sorry, that was me.” Liam started toward the sofa and Alasdair moved aside with a jerk—not quite panic: he had a slight limp. “Didn’t want him freaking out in midair. He was awkward enough to carry conked out.” Alasdair’s eyes went wider still, Liam noted with satisfaction. “Something to cover him up? I wouldn’t be too happy waking up completely bareass surrounded by people with clothes on.”

Leaning over Harry, Liam breathed the anticantrip into his nostrils, turned the breath into the boy’s name. A thought that would have been inconceivable in freshman year presented itself: He’s good looking. Fine looking. Trim, tasty little otter. He glanced at Harry’s crotch just before his dad dropped a Hudson’s Bay blanket over his lower half. Promising dick. “Harry. You were in an accident but you’re safe now. Wake up, Harry.”

A flake of dried blood cracked off the rim of one nostril when it flared. Harry clenched his eyelids, didn’t open them, grunted. “Wha’ happened?” His breath was bitter with beer over the sickly sweetness of weed.

Liam perched on the very edge of the sofa cushion. “You were driving—shouldn’t have been driving drunk, you know, especially in a blizzard—and went off the road. I happened by. Didn’t have a phone, couldn’t leave you to freeze, so I brought you home.”

“Oh, god,” Harry moaned, “oh, god. Did I total it? Dad’ll kill me.”

“I was more concerned about you than the car. I didn’t even look at the front. You hit something hard enough to blow the airbag.”

Harry tightened his eyelids. “Oh, god. He’ll kill me.”

“Don’t worry about it right now. How do you feel?”

“Hurty and…and sleepy. Who are you?”

“You remember me, Harry. You used to say horrible things to me in school. Liam Shea.”

Harry’s eyes burst open and a thin, high noise like squealing tires broke through his teeth. Hitting Liam right between the eyes, the blast of his horror dislodged Liam’s own sense of himself so he too felt terror for an instant. Abruptly Harry was blubbering.

“Sssh.” Liam placed his palm on Harry’s chest, feeling the galloping heart before chilled skin and fine, dense hair. “No worries. No plans to beat you up or anything.” Looking into Harry’s frightened eyes, he tried a smile. “It was a long time ago.”

“I’m sorry!” Harry sobbed.

“Sssh.” Calm down, Liam thought so hard Harry had no choice and his sobbing eased. Liam looked over his shoulder.

Bryan and Alasdair had drawn closer together. This wasn’t the moment to wonder when they’d started seeing each other, if they were seeing other, so Liam merely filed a note to pursue later. “Dad,” he said, “looks like Harry and I have some stuff to talk through. In private maybe?”

Bryan glared. “I have to check dinner. There’s enough for Harry if he wants it.” He touched Alasdair’s arm and the two older men stalked out, Alasdair limping.

Harry snuffled. “Your dad? I said horrible things about him, too.”

“You did. I’m thinking he’s not as over it as I…might be. Look, you want to sit up? This isn’t a comfortable position for me. Sorry about your clothes, by the way. Lack of clothes.”

“My—?” Harry discovered the blanket draped over his hips, pulled it higher.

“The ugly truth is you pissed your pants.”

“Oh, god.”

“And Alasdair, Dad’s friend, he’s a nurse, I guess he needed you undressed anyway to check nothing was broken.”

“Better if it was.” Swinging his blanket-shrouded legs out, Harry sat up. “Can’t even run away without fucking it up,” he said distinctly.

Liam scooched back on the cushion warmed by Harry’s body heat. “Run away?”

“Stole my dad’s car. Wrecked it. Fucked everything up again. Didn’t get even a mile.” Crying again, Harry covered his face with his hands.

This was bad. Harry was a smalltime bully, a bigot and a homophobe, a putrid little toad who stank of piss: Harry was a hot little package of ottery hotness Liam could nearly imagine getting down to business with: Harry was suffering a nervous breakdown before his eyes. This was bad, complicated, incomprehensible. Time to rethink the whole Good Samaritan paradigm.

“Should I have left you to freeze in a wrecked car?”

Behind his hands Harry sniffled.

“Except somebody would have come along and it’d be your dad talking to you now.”

“I’m so sorry!” Harry burst out. “The things I said—egging the other guys on—I was stupid and mean and scared.” He lowered his hands and stared at palms glistening with tears and snot. “Sometimes I think about how disgusting I am and I can’t—I don’t know how to make it right.”

“Harry.” Liam put his own hand on Harry’s blanketed knee. “Everybody, every goddamn person in the world, is a petty, vile little monster in their own way. Nobody’s perfect goodness and light. I—my dad wouldn’t know about the names you called him if I hadn’t got some satisfaction out of telling him, painting you as worse than you ever really were.” Taking a breath, he squeezed the knee. “Here, look, you need to blow your nose and, frankly, you stink. Let’s go upstairs. You can take a shower and I’ll find some clothes for you.”

His voice hollow, Harry said, “I’ve got clothes. In the car. I packed everything—I wasn’t gonna go back.”

“Come on. Get up.” Liam stood. “We’ll worry about your stuff later.”

Compliant, Harry rose. The blanket slithered down his knees, bright stripes pleating and folding as it fell. Liam didn’t permit himself to appreciate the charms presented to him. “Come on. Upstairs.”

Halfway up the stairs ahead of Liam, who was looking anywhere except the tight, furry little butt flexing above him, Harry muttered, “I told my dad—” but didn’t complete the thought.

He’s a righteous bastard fuck? Liam wondered. You wished he was dead? You wished you were dead? There was another wonder he didn’t put into words.

He steered Harry into his bathroom, pointed out the clean towel he could use, and left him to it. In his own room, he said aloud, “Fuck. What the fucking fuck?” His dick was half hard in his pants. That was all kinds of wrong.

I told my dad I’m gay.

I told my dad I like to make the sex with other guys.

I told my dad I’d had a letch for you since ninth grade.

I told my dad I want the fairy next door to pop my ass cherry.

“Shit,” said Liam, groping himself through jeans and broadcloth boxers, staring at nothing: staring at the portrait photograph of his dad’s ex on the wall. Ricky, his dad #2. He hadn’t told either dad he was gay because it wasn’t true. But a hot boy was a hot boy and Harry was a hot boy. Depending on accompanying complications, making it with a hot boy—or girl—who wanted it too had to be an absolute good. He believed that.

Here’s the thing, kiddo, Ricky had said one late-night Skype, the crazy mixed-up heartbreaking thing: sometimes sex is the most powerful force in the universe. But mostly it’s simple entertainment. The dangerous part is when the most powerful force in somebody’s universe is just casual entertainment for the other guy. On the computer screen, with his apartment behind him and the lights of San Francisco in his window, Ricky shook his head. Or girl.

Or fairy, said Liam.

Or girl fairy or boy fairy or whatever kind of fairy. And like—here’s your dad talking—from what I saw last time I was out there, I don’t think you could have a casual fuck with your friend Joel ’cause it’d mean too much to him.

That one I already figured out.

Good boy. Good boy. Certain he was the good boy, Ricky’s dog Rufus scampered to the desk barking, and they had to go walkies right away.

And Liam regarded the sweatpants he’d pulled from the bottom bureau drawer because my real pants sure won’t fit Harry. Fine. Boxer shorts and socks from a higher drawer, t-shirt from a third. The last would be tight because Harry wasn’t scrawny like him but cotton knit stretched and dark green would look nice against Harry’s pale skin and sable hair. Anyway, he’s emotionally fragile right now and it wouldn’t be fair to take advantage of it. If he is gay, which he probably isn’t, or…persuadable. And…what about him, Liam? Maybe he was emotionally fragile and fucked up right now without even knowing it. One of the only two people he’d ever had sex with had died today. While she was fucking him. The other was already dead, his corpse long ago digested and shat out by the carrion eaters of fairyland. “Shit,” Liam said. “Shit fuck piss.”

He carried the clothes to the bathroom. Through the door he heard the shower running so he waited, mind whirring. When the water quit, he pushed the door half open, said brightly, “Clothes!” and deposited them by the sink.

“Hey!” The glass enclosure made Harry’s voice hollow, boomy. “You don’t have to— I mean, you’ve already seen it. Me. All of me.”

Liam came all the way in. He grabbed the towel from the bar and handed it to Harry, who was sliding the glass door aside, looking all the more ottery wet.

Stepping out of the tub, looking right at Liam, Harry said, “I don’t understand why you’re being so nice.”

“I don’t either.” Leaning against the wall, Liam looked at handsome, damp little Harry in the mirror instead of full on. “You were a real shit in ninth grade. But I dunno—maybe you’ve changed? Maybe right now what you need’s somebody being nice.”

“I….” Harry paused with the towel over his head. “I do. I’m sorry. Thank you.”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Liam, self conscious. “I kinda think maybe right now I need to be nice. I guess you’re elected.”

Harry tried to smile. Liam felt the effort, the falsity of it, but then the monotonous drippy undertone of Harry’s misery went sideways and lit up for a moment and Harry said, “No, really, I mean it. Thank you.

To cover his confusion, his stupid joy, Liam reached, plucked. “Underpants,” he said, holding out the green-and-black-check flannel boxers.

Harry’s smile went wider, realer, as he hung his towel over the bar. “That’s not the underwear I picture a—an elf wearing.”

Fairy. You can say it, it’s the right word. Elves don’t have wings.”

“You do?”

“How’d you think I got you here?”

“Oh, wow.” The wonder radiating from Harry prickled against Liam’s skin. “Oh, shit, I wish I’d been awake for that.”

Liam looked away while Harry pulled the shorts on. “Anyway, that particular pair I don’t wear. I misread the size buying them—maybe I’ll grow into them one day.”

“They fit me fine.” Harry snapped the elastic to demonstrate.

“We’re not really the same shape, you realize. What kind of underwear does an elf wear?”

Harry’s cheeks flushed. “Oh—like a dance belt, I guess. Because tights. Like a ballet dancer.”

“Not for me, thanks. Here.” Liam handed over the sweatpants.

Just holding them, Harry grinned. “I’ve worn one—it’s not that bad. My school has a dance program. I took a semester to fill the athletic requirement. Intense workout. I was a lousy dancer, though.” His mood darkened again. “Dad was so pissed when he found out.”

“He hit you,” Liam said, his own mood thunderous.

“That’s not why I ran away. Tried to run away. Not the only reason.”

“I don’t like your dad.”

“Funny thing,” said Harry bitterly. “I don’t either.”

The two boys were silent while Harry finished dressing. The green t-shirt was tight and looked good on him, emphasizing trim midsection and round pecs. Perky nipples. Liam swallowed and looked at his feet. “We don’t have to hang out in the bathroom,” he mumbled, turning to the door. “You want dinner?”

“I—I’m not really hungry.”

You don’t want to face probably disapproving adults. “’Sokay, me neither. But I’d better let Dad and Alasdair know. You can wait up here if you want.”

Following Liam into his bedroom, Harry said, “I don’t know what I’m gonna do.”

Liam pivoted and grasped Harry’s shoulders before the other boy could flinch. “You’re going to wait a few minutes while I run downstairs, and then we’ll talk some more and figure something out. I’m sure as hell not planning on sending you back to a bastard who beats his kid. My dad’ll back me up.” He thought Bryan would.

“Oh.” Tears sparkled in the corners of Harry’s eyes.

Holding back his full strength, Liam hugged him. Harry gulped once, twice, and put his own arms around Liam. He felt nice, solid. Not as strong as Liam but strong for a boy his size. His hands felt good on Liam’s back, one under the origami folds of a wing, the other lower. Liam felt his dick acknowledge the good feelings and drew back a little. “Okay?” he asked.

Harry swallowed. “Okay.”

“You wait here.” Liam led him to his reading chair, stood over him as he sat.

“Liam?” It was the first time Harry had spoken the name. “I think I’m still a little high. A cup of coffee would be nice if it isn’t too much trouble.”

“Sure.” Smiling down at him, Liam ruffled his damp hair. “Anything in it?”

Harry smiled tremulously back. “I like it black.”

“I can probably manage that.”

In the hall, out of Harry’s sight, Liam waited a moment. He heard Harry stifle a single sob but his feelings weren’t all misery: Liam sensed relief, comfort, hope, a tickle of potential happiness. Shaking his spinning head, Liam started for the stairs.

Going down, he heard scripted conversation from the living room. Looking in, he saw two nearly movie-star-handsome men all up in each other’s business on the wide TV screen, so close it appeared they were about to kiss. When they did, he snorted in the back of his mind and glanced at the sofa. Bryan and Alasdair weren’t in each other’s business (yet) but they sat side by each, the Hudson’s Bay blanket across both laps, and Alasdair’s arm across the back of the couch was near enough sliding down onto Bryan’s shoulders.

Human senses honed by the contagion of his fairy son’s, maybe, Bryan turned his head. His expression hardly altered when he saw Liam—he licked his lips and returned his attention to the television, leaning forward to snag his wineglass from the coffee table.

So that was how it was. Liam went on to the kitchen. He imagined his dad would follow soon enough.

Two plates covered with cling wrap sat on the counter in the otherwise immaculate kitchen. Liam investigated. Roast chicken—slices of breast and a drumstick each—roasted potatoes and Brussels sprouts, bright green beans, scarlet puddles of some sort of conserve. Breakfast.

After stowing the plates in the fridge, he found his dad standing on the other side of the counter. “Were you going to tell me about your new romance?” Liam asked jovially.

“If it turns into one, you’ll be the third to know.” Bryan placed his hands flat on granite countertop. “We’ve had coffee a couple of times. I ran into him at the market and he mentioned the movie, so I invited him to dinner. I couldn’t let you know—you didn’t take your phone to Boston.”

Liam winced internally. “I won’t be going back.”


“Olivia—well. She’s dead.”

Bryan’s face was blank. He blinked. “I’m sorry.”

“She wasn’t.” Liam took a step, checked. “Dad, I wasn’t in love with her or anything. She taught me things, important things, stuff I needed to know. About myself. Maybe there was more she could have passed on but I’ll deal.”

“Still.” Bryan lowered his eyes. “I mean, I didn’t know her and didn’t much like what I did know.” She turned you into a different person, Liam heard in his mind’s ear. “But still.”


The silence was uncomfortable. Liam gathered breath to tell his dad to go back to Alasdair and the film.

“What about the little turd upstairs?” Bryan said. “I put his clothes in the machine—” he nodded toward the laundry room—“but the shower was going so I didn’t start it.”

“I’ll turn it on. He’s…not a turd. I dunno, maybe boarding school?” Looking away from Bryan’s judgmental gaze, Liam said, “I don’t know the whole story yet but, Dad, his father beats him. Harry was running away.”

Bryan’s hesitation was audible. “I’m sorry to say that doesn’t surprise me, what I know about Sam Hogan. So Harry’s staying?”

“Tonight, for sure.”

“Well, that’s a problem. ’Cause Alasdair’s staying over too. I won’t send him out into a blizzard. We only have one guest room.”

Relieved, Liam smiled to himself. His dad #1—very much unlike #2—was one of those for whom sex was nearly always the most powerful force in the universe. “That’s okay. We’ll deal, Harry and me. It’ll be like a preteen sleepover—I never had one of those.” He raised his eyes. “You two want coffee? I’m making some for Harry. It can be a full pot.”

Bryan’s gaze remained severe. “You make it, we’ll probably drink it. Good night, Liam.”

As he turned, Liam said, “Dad?” and his father paused. “Call me babe like you do.”

Bryan’s sentiment sagged into helpless dad-love but his spine remained straight and he didn’t look back. “G’night, babe.”

“Backatcha, Daddio. Same to Alasdair.”

Coffee didn’t agree with Liam (caffeine, he suspected, hit the fairy metabolism more violently than the human) but he knew how to make it. He ground beans, half decaf, half high-test, and set the machine up, put on the kettle for one of the herb teas his dad thought as flavorful as hot water, went to the laundry room to start the washer. Harry’s insulated duckboots sat on the counter, his wallet sticking out of one.

Back in the kitchen, Liam watched falling, blowing snow form oracular, uninterpretable images beyond the window until the kettle whistled. Passing the living room, a hot mug in either hand, he saw that Alasdair and his dad weren’t romancing each other yet, a hand’s width between them on the sofa, intent on the film.

Upstairs, Harry had fallen asleep in his chair. Liam set the coffee on the table beside it and sat on the edge of the bed with his tea to regard the provoking little fellow. Slack, Harry’s mouth hung half open, making him look stupid but serene. Small as he was, he was grown up, his features strong and distinctive, his beard coming in thick. Liam couldn’t grasp Harry’s dreams: they teased at him from a distance like the voices of faraway childhood.

Like any guy, Harry sprawled with his legs wide. While Liam watched, Harry’s dick firmed up in a somnolent hard-on, stretching grey sweatpants fabric as it rose to vertical and gradually tipped over, pointing toward his open mouth. In an XTube video, Liam would creep between Harry’s thighs to take advantage of it—he felt his own stiffen up a bit—but in his bedroom he just observed, intrigued, until it subsided into an innocuous fold.

“Harry,” Liam said at length, breathing wake up across the space between them.

“Hunh?” Harry’s eyelashes fluttered and he sat up so hard he slipped off the low chair.

Liam was there in an instant to help him up. Like a child, Harry fell against his chest. “Oh, Harry.”

“I thought you were a dream. Did I dream that you don’t hate me?”

“I don’t hate you. Anymore. I made you coffee.”

“You shouldn’t be so nice.”

“I’m going to make you sleep on the sofa downstairs—Alasdair’s taking the guest room. How’s that for not nice?”

Harry rooted his nose into Liam’s chest. “That’s fair,” he said indistinctly. “Liam, I have to tell you things. Things I don’t want to say. Can we turn out the lights?”

Liam could see in the dark, near enough, but Harry didn’t need to know. “Of course we can.”

“Can we sit together? Will—will you hold my hand?”

“Harry, am I your friend?”

“I think so? I hope so.”

“You don’t have to ask. Tell me what you need, I’ll do it.”

“Turn out the lights?”

“Get on the bed, get comfy. I’ll grab your coffee.”

When Harry was settled like a rag doll against the headboard, Liam handed him the mug of coffee. Harry smiled bravely. Liam made sure the door was latched, switched off the overhead lamp, crossed the room for the desk lamp. In the dark, he returned to the bed. “Here I am. Careful while I climb in.” He scooched over until their thighs touched and Harry’s shoulder leaned against his biceps, then groped for Harry’s free hand and squeezed it.

“Don’t say anything, okay? It’s…it’s just hard. Dad—my father, well, you already figured out he hits me. ’Cause I’m little and not manly enough and I don’t always dismiss ideas he disapproves of fast enough or loud enough. I had doubts about scripture for almost ever, also, but I don’t know if he knows that.

“He…interfered with me. As far back as I remember up until I was twelve or so and puberty started happening. Didn’t—didn’t stick his dick in my ass but everything else. My mouth. His mouth. Horrible things I didn’t understand, in the dark, couple times a week. Then I started growing hair around my dick and he stopped. Not the hitting. But I didn’t know any better and I—I missed it.”

Harry took a moment to sip his coffee and tamp down his anguish. Liam was only preventing himself from vibrating with fury and outrage by force of will. He had to keep in the front of his mind how much stronger than Harry he was or he’d crush his friend’s fingers to jelly. Recollecting his own set-aside desire for Harry’s body horrified him.

“Maybe that’s why I was such a shit last years of grade school, first year of high school. ’Cause I needed something I couldn’t have anymore that I hated and that scared me. Anyway, you remember I got suspended halfway through first semester tenth grade? And didn’t come back? The night he told me he was sending me away to boarding school, he came to my room again finally. I was black and blue already from all the hitting since school sent me home but he hit me more, telling me I was evil and sinful and a son who dishonored and shamed his father. That was why I wasn’t getting tall, he said, it was a sign of the devil in me. Then he did stick his dick in my ass.

“I couldn’t fight back. I wanted to but I was so scared and brainwashed and he’s bigger than me. It hurt so bad. I was stupid about what he did before, thinking it was some kind of love I just didn’t understand, but I couldn’t be stupid about this. I knew he hated me, he was raping me because he hated me, because I defied him and offended him just by existing, and I knew I hated him. He owned me, he said, this was a reminder he owned me. Then he said, You ever wonder why you’ve got no brothers or sisters, boy? Because this is how I take your mother. No babies born from anybody’s asshole. And then I knew she knew, which I always thought maybe she did because she’s almost as mean as him.

“He did it again the night before they drove me to my new school in Vermont. So I wouldn’t forget he owned me. And the first night every time I came home, and the last night, and a bunch of nights in between. But—but school was good! He wasn’t there. And I made friends and didn’t get into trouble and my grades weren’t terrible. For a couple of months at a time I could pretend I didn’t have a dad, an evil, hateful dad or any kind of dad at all. And I promised myself, as soon as I turned eighteen and the law wouldn’t agree he owned me, I would run away and never see him, never talk to him, never let him talk to me or touch me ever again.

“Today’s my eighteenth birthday. Yeah, you probably thought I was younger but I got held back in fifth grade. I’ve got some money—my uncle, Mom’s brother, always gave it to me on the sly like he maybe suspected something. Enough for two or three months if I don’t find a job right away. So I knew it was going to be today. Did I look at the weather forecast? No, ’course not.

“This morning, something set him off. I don’t know what, I wasn’t paying attention, some internet article probably. He was stomping around yelling about filthy fags and filthy fag marriage and how they’ve destroyed the moral fiber of this goddamn Christian nation, and I wanted to tell him no gay man or lesbian woman or trans person on earth was as filthy as him. But I didn’t. He yelled about your dad, of course, and his unholy damned freak fairy son, ’cause you’re right nearby and he can’t ever forget it. That’s why I was so freaked when you told me who you were.

“When he calmed down some, he told me happy birthday and gave me my present. Fifty bucks and a six pack of beer. Cheap beer, but I guess it did the job when I drank it later. Then I gave him his present: I stood up and said, Dad, I’ve got something to tell you. I’m gay. And it’s not because of what you did to me, screwing my ass every time you could get your pathetic dick up—or was it Viagra got it up? Always. I’ve always been gay. Since the day I was born. I like guys. For sexytimes. I want to marry a guy someday. A guy. A man. Not a defenseless little boy.

“Which, it’s half true. I’ve never done it with a guy, but I want to, but I’m so screwed up in the head about sex stuff because of him that I know I’m not ready and I’d better not try till I figure things out better. And it’s half true ’cause I like girls, too. I think I do. I mean, some girls make me squirmy the same way some guys do. Maybe I’ll fall in love with a girl and marry her instead of a guy. But I wasn’t going to tell him that part. And by the way, I made sure my mother was there and heard it all.

“He sent me to my room. Like I was a toddler. To wait for my punishment for disrespecting my father and telling unholy lies. So I drank half the six pack and smoked some weed a friend at school gave me until it got dark—storm clouds, dummy!—and then I climbed out the window with the bags I’d already packed and my bank card and his grimy fifty bucks cash and the spare keys to his precious new Lexus. You know what happened after that.”

Harry took two hard swallows of coffee that had to be cold. The second made him choke and cough. Freeing his hand, Liam patted him between the shoulders till the coughing wore the boy out. Then he put all the affection and concern he owned into saying, “Happy eighteenth birthday, Harry. I hope it’s better now than it was this morning.”

“It is! You’re being so kind and you listened to me. I didn’t want to say it but I needed to tell somebody. I needed a friend. I needed somebody to be nice to me, like you said.” Surprising Liam, Harry wasn’t crying. He was manic with relief. “I want to hug you if you wouldn’t mind but there’s this cup in my hand.”

“Give it here,” Liam said, his voice unexpectedly rough. He took the mug and stowed it in the headboard cubby, then sat up and opened his arms wide. “C’mere.”

Harry embraced him so hard it hurt, hands knotted in the small of his back—so hard it was as though Harry possessed a fairy’s strength. “You don’t despise me?” he muttered.

“Despise you? Why?”

“For being weak. For waiting so long. For screwing up my escape.”

“I don’t despise you.”

“You will now.” Without letting go, Harry turned his face away. “Back in ninth grade, one of the reasons I chose you to pick on was I thought you were sexy. Freaky sexy. I wanted to kiss you and—and do other stuff, and that scared me. Bad.”

“No, Harry, that doesn’t make me despise you. It makes me think you were kind of dumb back then, but it makes me like you better now. Because everybody’s kind of dumb in ninth grade but only some people get over it.”

“I still think you’re freaky sexy. Fairy sexy.”

Liam dug his chin into Harry’s shoulder and glowered through the dark at the portrait of Ricky. “I’ll tell you a secret now. Back in ninth grade I didn’t but now, tonight, I think you are just so fucking incredibly hot. Fires of the sun hot.”

Harry reared back. “You like guys too? For sexytimes?”

“Absolutely. I’ve been steaming for you since I saw you laid out unconscious on the couch, all naked and hairy and muscley and so goddamn handsome.”

Harry rolled away. “I’m not handsome.”

“You are. Outside. And inside, I think you’re beautiful. Strong and brave and stubborn and precious.”

“Oh, god. But we’re not going to do anything. Sex, I mean.”


“Good. I mean, bad. I want to. Someday?”

“You tell me when you’re ready, I’ll fly to you.”

“Liam.” Harry rolled back. “Show me your wings?”

“I’ll have to turn a light on.”

“Do it.”

“I’ll have to take my shirt off. I don’t have a studly build like you.”

“Do it. Please.”

Liam did it. He got up from the bed and turned on the desk lamp. He faced Harry on the bed before pulling his t-shirt off: folded up, his wings were the opposite of impressive, resembling huge scaly warts between the shoulder blades. Harry didn’t flinch at his boney chest and skinny arms. Liam let the wings unfold at their own pace. When the upper vanes first peeked above his shoulders, Harry inhaled, but they kept rising, expanding, growing stiffer as blood flooded into the veins. Harry’s wonder was life’s blood to Liam. He opened them to their widest display, upper and lower vanes, then turned to show them from the side, from the back, the front again.

“Liam,” said Harry. “Show me everything. All of you. You’ve seen me.”

Liam hesitated. “I’m…I’m hard down there. It happens sometimes, ’cause it’s the same blood that makes the wings stand up. Also ’cause you and your hotness.”

“Something to see. Show me.”

Shy for a wonder, Liam turned his back again. Let Harry see his scrawny ass first. The jeans went down. His stiffie caught in the fly, the boxers were harder. When he was free of everything, he waited a minute before turning, somehow afraid.

Lying on the bed, Harry grinned with satisfaction when he did. “You’re freaky beautiful and freaky sexy and that’s a very nice dick.”

“I liked yours. Haven’t seen it hard, though.”

“You will. Someday.” Harry sighed. “I am now incredibly frustrated and maybe hornier than I’ve ever been in my life, so you’d better get dressed again. And then tell me again how you like me for me, not just my studly build and my dick.”

Liam turned off the lamp and did as he was told in the dark. His hard-on deflated with the folding wings but remained on call. Clothed again—he left the jeans on the floor—he climbed back on the bed and told Harry for ten extremely serious minutes how very much he liked him, everything about him. At one point, Harry said, “I’m going to cry again now,” and Liam, glowing inside with the sense of Harry’s happiness, permitted it. Nothing was said of Harry moving to the living-room sofa. Harry said, “I’m not gonna be able to sleep.”

“You will,” Liam murmured and breathed sleep into his nostrils.

“I wanna see you fly,” Harry mumbled. Liam held him. Harry slept. The snow fell. Liam slept, the fires of the sun in his arms.

Copyright © 2014 Alex Jeffers. All rights reserved. As a courtesy to the author, please do not reproduce this story without a link back to


fantasy fiction Liam in the World original story short stories spec fic

Liam’s back

First finished story of 2014. So that’s a better start than last year already. Although it’s not precisely new: I had the title nearly four years ago, wrote the first section in early 2011. But, hey, I’ll take it.

“Liam and the Changelings” is the fourth tale of Liam Shea, following “Liam and the Wild Fairy” (first published in Icarus: The Magazine of Gay Speculative Fiction #5, Summer 2010); “Liam and the Ordinary Boy” (Icarus #10, Fall 2011); and “Liam and His Dads” (Icarus #12, Spring 2012). The ultimate plan is for seven total, to make up a small book…or half a book—but it’s probably unwise to count on the timely completion of any of my plans.

Since Icarus, alas, that noble and quixotic time and money sink, fell into the sea and drowned with #18, and since publishers are seldom interested in picking up an orphaned series, well—here ’tis.

 Liam and the Changelings

On the internet, the e-mail’s subject line said, nobody knows you’re a fairy.

Liam’s throat made a strangled noise he hadn’t anticipated and he shot up from his chair. The night-blackened window beyond the monitor offered the startled reflection of a boy any number of people on the internet did know was a fairy, but the message wasn’t from any of them. He sat down again.

The name didn’t mean anything to him. Olivia Burgoine. He knew two Olivias at school but neither was a Burgoinybody and both had to know about him. It was old news all over town. On the internet, Facebook kept suggesting Livvy Black because they had his friend Joel in common, a poor excuse for friendship (virtual or otherwise) to Liam’s thinking. Olivia Martin was merely a face from Calculus.

Because he was a coward, Liam didn’t open the e-mail. He quit right out of Mail and stared for a long moment at the desktop wallpaper—because he was sentimental, it was a photo from his dads’ wedding, both grooms tuxed up and handsome with white rosebuds in their lapels, their hair ruffled by the breeze off the wide blue pond behind them. Dad #1, Bryan, no longer winced when he walked in and saw that image of happier days but he wondered aloud why Liam’s wallpaper wasn’t one of the snapshots that also included Bryan and Ricky’s son.

Because Liam wasn’t sentimental about that naïve little kid who looked like a gangly anime-eyed collectible figurine in his own miniature tux, who didn’t understand yet that he wasn’t human.

Because he was a child of the internet age, Liam hit the Safari icon and waited for the browser to open up, then clicked onto Facebook. He had notifications and messages and a friend request but ignored them, typing Olivia Burgoine into the search box. Apparently it was a more uncommon name than Liam Shea (last time he’d checked, there were seventy-two): the dropdown displayed only one possibility.

Indecisive, Liam rolled the mouse pointer over the profile pic. Embiggened, it was still small but he could tell it didn’t show a high-school girl—this Olivia appeared to be his dad’s age, a pleasant-looking blonde. Not one of Dad’s friends, though, or not one Liam had met, or not one Bryan had ever mentioned. If the photo was even really her. Liam’s own pic was a portrait of Dad #2’s dog, a handsome animal he hadn’t seen for five years and who hadn’t liked him when they lived in the same house. Rufus was a pedigreed Irish terrier. The Irish knew all about fairies.

Although Dad #1, Bryan Shea, was of Irish descent and there was an awful lot he didn’t know.

Liam’s forefinger pressed the mouse button. The page on the screen hesitated, then cleared and rebuilt itself. Olivia Burgoine’s profile was as locked down as Liam’s own. Olivia only shares some information publicly. If you know Olivia, send her a friend request or message her.

Six inches from the keyboard, Liam’s phone began to vibrate, jigging on the desk, and rang. It wasn’t this year’s model (Joel mocked it)—Liam had given the few people who voice-called him their own ringtones but you couldn’t change the noise it made to announce texts. New message from Nathan Smith: a name as unprecedented as Olivia Burgoine. Autodial spam?


Who’s a good fairy then.

Liam shut the phone off.

Now there were two friend requests on Facebook. On the right side of the window above the ads, thumbnail Olivia Burgoine leered pleasantly. Thumbnail Nathan Smith looked younger than her in a b&w headshot, with an engaging crooked grin and hipster spectacles.

Liam shut the computer down.

He managed not to obsess about the messages the next day. He had other things to worry about. For some reason his extra-sensory fairy perceptions went haywire as soon as Dad #1 dropped him off at school. Fumbling through morning classes, he’d catch fractions of thoughts and feels from teachers and other students but couldn’t assign them to appropriate people. They were all mixed up, mixed together. When he tried to get a grip on somebody’s half-articulated notion, it all shut down as if he’d been dunked in ice water. Or it boomed, loud as bombs, an echoey air strike of disgust and fear and…wanting?

Scurrying down an empty corridor, he slammed right into Joel’s best girlfriend when Livvy materialized out of nowhere, no warning at all. “Hey!” Livvy exclaimed, fending him off, not angry but sounding furious, “we walk with our eyes open here,” which didn’t even make sense, and for half a terrifying second Liam wanted to embrace her, kiss her, climb into her skin. Livvy was beautiful! (She wasn’t: tall as a crane and nearly as skinny as Liam, her forehead and button nose festering with acne.) Liam pushed off her and staggered, grunted a lame “Sorry!” and loped away.

He banged into the first boys’ room he saw. Thankfully it was empty. Rushing into a cubicle, he slammed the door behind him, shoved the toilet seat up. He wasn’t convinced he needed to pee but part of the dissociative weirdness had migrated into his boxer shorts. When he fished out his dick, it went stiff.

Liam knew about hard-ons. They had nothing to do with him because his penis had never been anything but an outlet for waste but he knew human boys felt otherwise. Massachusetts wasn’t one of those states that mandated euphemisms and misdirection instead of sex ed so he understood the hydraulics. The human hydraulics, anyway. His untrustworthy sensitivities tended to stab the intensest feelings of other kids into his head—inevitably among teenagers a lot of those had to do with sex, wanting sex, mortification or crowing pride over responding to sexy stimulus. He’d got pretty good at shunting those aside, distracting, meaningless.

When it was him throwing wood it couldn’t be shoved away. It had never happened before. Touching the alien thing (it was bigger, much bigger) pained and thrilled him, scared him to death. What was he supposed to do with it?

He stuffed it back into his pants. It didn’t want to go. Somebody was thinking, really thinking, about things he could do with it, but that wasn’t Liam. Before not-Liam could take over, Liam pulled the cubicle door open.

Mirrors filmed with scum reflected a madman—a mad fairy. His silver and gold eyes were huge, huger than usual, showing only corners of white and the pupils so small they were barely visible: he looked blind but he wasn’t. He could see clearly just how not human he looked. His cheeks and eyelids and forehead had flushed, pale blue-green blood glistening through parchment skin, and the teeth behind thin corpse-blue lips appeared sharper, dangerous. The antennae springing from the inner corners of his eyebrows jiggled with tension. All through his body he felt chancy, too big to fit in skin that seemed to feel rigid, fragile, like overbaked plastic or hard lacquer, as if he could crack it, fracture it, and wriggle out, fresh and new. He felt his wings, tightly packed into his shirt between the shoulder blades, agitating to unfold and open.

Worse was the wanting. He didn’t know what it was he wanted but he wanted it more than anything ever. It thrummed inside him like a violin string stretched taut from breastbone to pelvis, wanting to snap.

He was going to snap.

It was horrible. All kinds of things, human things, injured or distressed him—singed his skin, tortured his lungs, turned his stomach inside out—but he’d never been sick. Was this what illness was like? Did real people, human people, have moments like this? He wanted to rip his face off his skull.

“Liam?” Joel’s voice scraped like a rusty serrated knife, burning and biting, followed by the bang of the door. “Liam? Livvy said— Are you all right?”

“I—” Liam said, hearing his voice veer into the ultrasonic.

“What’s wrong? You look—”

In the grotty mirror, the monstrous image of his friend approached. Gangly, boyishly handsome Joel looked twice as big as life, armor plated like a rhinoceros, shambling like a bear. Liam cringed when a great paw of a hand rose. There was nowhere to flee. He was trapped in the mirror.

“I need—” Now his voice went infrasonic, shaking the floor underfoot, shaking the universe.

But Joel didn’t strike him. Tentative fingers touched his shoulder, light as hummingbirds, hot as pounding blood, searing like cold steel. Quick as lightning, Liam turned and fell against Joel’s chest.

“What? What?”

“I need my—” Liam knew he was clutching too hard. He felt the autonomic protest gathering under Joel’s diaphragm. He knew he’d break his friend’s spine if he didn’t let go. “My dad. I need my dad.”

He was weightless. He was flying.

Not flying. Not weightless, heavy as forged iron. Bent like a paperclip, he hung over Joel’s shoulder, anchored by a sturdy arm behind his knees. Grimy vinyl tiles smacked up against Joel’s heels. Blood pooled behind Liam’s eyes. Before they could pop out, he squeezed them shut. He heard himself whining, too high for dull human ears to perceive.

Then Joel dumped him into a bucket seat. Three-point belts strapped across his chest and hips, pinning him down. He didn’t open his eyes. A door slammed like the end of the world. When Joel thumped into the other seat, rocking the car, he was talking to somebody. Somebody named Bryan.

“Dad,” Liam whined.

Like a lion or a dragon coughing, the engine caught. “Hold on,” said Joel. “I’m taking you home.”

There was nothing to hold on to.

He didn’t remember Joel getting him home. It must have happened but he didn’t remember it. Other things must have happened, too. In his right mind, Liam could have predicted them: his dad’s dismay and fright, Joel yelping incoherent explanations and dancing around to no effect. There must have been frantic calls to Ricky in San Francisco—to Bryan’s friend Prof Garland, his generally useless oracle on fairy biology and the fairy life cycle. Frantic or shocked into steelly competence, Bryan wouldn’t have called his own doctor, but he might have considered for just an instant the nearest ER. An instant. Too much fatal cold steel involved in modern medicine, human drugs meant to be healing that would poison a fairy.

They must have carried him upstairs to his bedroom, Bryan and Joel…or just Bryan if Liam’s dad irrationally blamed everything on hapless Joel. That was plausible. Liam could have imagined that. Although it wouldn’t be Liam unconscious or flailing and gibbering in his dad’s arms on the stairs: some other boy, some human boy, because Liam Shea had never been ill, delirious or comatose: because no fairy belonged in Bryan’s big house in the exurbs of central Massachusetts. No fairy should ever be pent up within human-built walls, exhausted into quiescence on a certified organic-cotton futon in a maple bed frame, wrapped up in a goosedown duvet. That could never happen.

Liam seemed to look down on himself: the fairy youth cocooned in cotton and down, his face emaciated, bones trying to slice through withered skin, jaws gaped in mortal rictus like an insect’s mandibles. He looked down on the fairy’s adoptive father knelt by the bed, clasping one chitinous claw-like hand and babbling in anguish, in horror, in despair. Crying and pleading and praying in nearly convicing imitation of paternal love and care. He seemed to see his best (only, really) friend Joel fluttering vainly about the room like a dazed moth—or lumbering like a crazed gorilla because Joel was big, slapping his hands, hooting, baring his teeth. Liam seemed to see a big, urgent lump in Joel’s jeans—as big as a fairy’s unprecedented erection or bigger—and seemed to see Joel grope it unthinking, stuff his hand down the front of his pants and underpants.

But that was stupid. Nonsense. It could never happen. It was nothing to do with Liam, uncomfortably aware though he was of Joel’s longtime crush. It couldn’t happen and hadn’t happened and wouldn’t happen and he would never remember any of it because he wasn’t even there. He was flying, flying through limitless skies, somewhere…somewhere else.

The overly loud doorbell of Bryan Shea’s house bonged and Liam flitted through a chilly cloud into fairyland. He’d seen those enchanting horizons once, years ago, a fleeting glimpse through a closing door, breathed the thrilling air—rejected all the feral promises in favor of his dad and a domestic life in the real world. But now air that was realer than real filled his lungs like cold water and he embraced it. His wings as rigid as blood could make them, he soared above the twilit lands. Eyes as keen as an owl’s took in everything: everything.

Across the indigo plain below wound the black river mightier than the Amazon, curdled currents glinting crimson in starlight. Untracked forest clothed the land. Liam smelled the fragrances of its fruits and flowers—smelled the blood and breath of its creeping, climbing, fluttering, burrowing inhabitants, creatures whose blood and flesh would nourish him as he had never been nourished. But he wasn’t hungry. Not for food.

Soaring higher, he saw the distant black-glass city, shards and needles spiking up from the marshes where river encountered sea. Like fireflies, prismatic sparks traced crazy paths among the myriad towers. He knew what they were: other fairies, like himself.

Not like him. They were native, endemic. They knew who they were, what they were. What they wanted.

He folded his wings down his back and fell. Wind shrieked past his ears as he plummetted, but the land below, the forest and river and round hills, withdrew from him, ever farther. A tremor in the air caught one outstretched palm and he was tumbling, flailing, still falling. Sickening, forested landscape and starry sky whirled, exchanged places too quickly to make sense of. He felt wayward limbs slap each other and his trunk, bruising. The turbulent air of fairyland was being beaten out his lungs. Any instant he would crash into trees or burst through the dome of the sky.

Somebody caught him. The blow of an arm under his belly arresting the fall made his head spiral off a thousand miles. When he returned to himself after a thousand years’ wandering, he discovered arms like taut leather bands binding him chest to chest against his unsought rescuer. They might be rising. Just beyond his nose, his chin digging into the hollow between the other’s clavicle and trapezius, the fairy’s visible wing beat the air to froth, vibrating as fast as a hummingbird’s, too fast for human eyes to see. Liam wasn’t human but he needed to breathe and the need drew an ultrasonic whine from his desperate lungs.

Chest to chest—hips to hips. Dick to dick. His was hard and so was the other fairy’s, stiff as cold iron but not cold. Not hot like a crippling burn, but hotter than fairy or human flesh. Whining, Liam ground his roaring need against the other’s, pressed together between their bellies. He had no idea—all recollection of sex ed and the illustrations in Straight Talk with Your Kids about Sex and The Joy of Gay Sex he’d leafed through in his dad’s private office, appalled—all the acts Joel imagined and yearned for and leaked out in Liam’s presence—the things Liam’s dads did late at night during Ricky’s biannual visits that Liam couldn’t help but know all about even though he was supposed to be asleep and everybody in the house disapproved—all of it gone of out of his head. Into his dick.

The other fairy pushed him away. Balked, Liam roared as he fell into his pillows. He heard a thump and a grunt as the other, not a fairy, encountered the hardwood floor.

“Liam, what the hell—”

Liam had an instant to trust his dad hadn’t actually been hard, and an unclear, desperate moment of wishing Bryan had been, before he was gone again, fleeting toward glistering pulsars and quasars he would never reach.

When he roused next, a tumbler of out-of-season blood-orange juice stood on the shelf in the headboard of his bed. He smelled it before he knew who he was and went up on his knuckles like a chimpanzee, lowering his face over the yawning glass mouth. His tongue wasn’t long enough to more than dabble at intensely sweet-sour surface tension.


Liam rocketed back into the wall, bruising wings and shoulders. He sensed the tumbler’s momentary wobble but not the person who’d called his name. That was wrong.

Then a waft of sweat as sour as orange juice hit him, and a sweet smell of meat. “Liam,” Joel began, crossing half the room in a single leap, “are you—” He stopped. “Liam?”

Tensing up inside his skin, Liam wanted, needed to spring, to pounce, but nothing inside his skin was working. He knew his throat and tongue and lips wouldn’t form words Joel would understand. He snarled.

Retreating to the open door, Joel yelled, “Bryan!”

Bryan’s bare feet were already slapping up the stairs. In the crevice between mattress and wall, Liam’s arms and legs clenched and seized, bundled him into an agonizing knot. Outspread, his wings vibrated, buzzing like angry bluebottles against a windowpane.

At the door, Bryan panted out, “Babe?” The scent of his anguish and fear was terrible.

“He’s very far gone,” said an impossible voice, a toneless woman’s voice that smelled of nothing at all.

“Babe, these people say they can help you. I don’t—Liam, I don’t know what to do.”

Another voice, a man’s, said, “You can’t do anything, Mr Shea. He’d rape you or your young friend here, and breed you, and kill you.”

“My son is not a monster!”

“He is now.”

“For the moment,” the woman said, calm as death or annihilation. “He’s a fairy. Listen, Mr Shea.” She paused as if for breath. “We know what to do, Nathan and I. We were raised to do it. It was our only purpose.”

“Until they tired of us,” the man said, just as calm, “and threw us out.”

They?” squeaked Joel.

“Fairies. Like him, but not like him. In their own country.”

“It’s your choice, Mr Shea, of course,” the woman said. “But know this: Without our intervention, your…son—” she gave the word a peculiar stress—“will die. The maturation will kill him. Half of every fairy get doesn’t survive it.”

“Or their siblings don’t, or their sire.” Despite the tonelessness of his voice, the man seemed to relish his words.

“He still may not make it through. But unless you happen to have another fairy squirrelled away to guide him through it, we’re his only chance.”

His name is Liam,” Liam’s dad protested.

His name is horror. His names are fear and fury. His name is wanting.


Liam had never heard his dad sound so helpless. But he didn’t remember much of anything.


Dad, he wanted to cry, oh, Dad, please. Help me. Don’t let them have me. All he could do was growl.

“He’s hurting, Bryan!” Joel, false friend—pleading. “You said the professor didn’t have any ideas. You’ve got to give him a chance.”

“Leave him with us,” the man said. “Close the door and go somewhere else—far. Distract yourselves. It will sound like it, but we won’t harm him.”

“Not deliberately.”

“—and he will survive to grow and prosper.”

“Or not. As it happens.”

“Go now.”


The little bit of Bryan’s son that was still Liam wondered if Bryan had come closer, stood bootless by the bed. Dads were meant to solve every problem, make everything better. Dad was meant to know the answer to every question but Bryan could never be that dad. The little bit of Liam wanted his dad’s hug, his dad’s consoling murmur, his dad’s steadfast certainty. The larger part, the fairy, the toxic clouds and raging flames, wanted to throw the man against the wall, batter him, rend him to shreds and gobbets.

“Liam, babe, I— …Do it. Just do it. Save my boy.”

“It might be best,” said the woman, a kind of satisfaction seeping through the bland words, “if the two of you stayed apart, Mr Shea, you and the young man, well apart until it’s over. Of course, I don’t know your relationship.”

Joel squeaked, “What?” and Bryan grunted.

“Now go. Every minute makes the task more chancy.”

“Oh, god,” groaned Liam’s dad. And Liam’s bedroom door slammed shut. And Liam…

…fell back into fairyland. Clumsy as a new-fledged owl, he flopped and tottered through the chilly air, eyes and other senses ranging, seeking, hunting. So hungry. So needy. So desirous.

There. Therethere. Prey. There.

Liam mantled his wings and stooped. Two of them, there, side by side in a clearing among trees bearing ripe fruits like cut jewels and nuts like nuggets of precious unrefined ore—standing close but not touching on a sward of figured velvet embroidered with flowers of gold and silver thread. Lovely wingless creatures, woven figures in a fairy castle’s tapestry, infinitely tearable and fragilely alive, or bloodless sculptures in a fairy’s formal garden, waiting for him. Willing prey but, oh, they’d fight back, they’d struggle so prettily. He hurtled toward them, yelling his hunger.

All along, Liam remained very well aware he remained trapped within the husk of his own withered self, in his own bedroom in his dad’s house, in central Massachusetts. The real world. The sole part of him still alive was his dick.

They manhandled him off the bed, his tormentors. Prepared for the occasion, they had silken nets and cords ready to trap and bind his buzzing wings. Kneeling on the floor either side of him, they straightened his crooked limbs and spine, laid him out spread eagle. Some human shame made him feel he ought to attempt covering his dick but there was no chance of that, they had hold of his useless arms, and it was too big anyway, and he would find it necessary to start tugging if given the opportunity. Instead, one, the man, laid the soft, heavy worm of his own dick across Liam’s palm as he stretched to massage vigor into the upper arm.

It was there. It was interesting. Liam felt its warmth and bulk but his fingers wouldn’t answer to his will, whether or not he knew his will. To caress? Or to tear and rend?

The other arm was in the woman’s kneading hands. “Nathan,” she said when half of time had run out.

“Already? Very well.”

They released him. Seemed to retreat a small distance. In concert and acute disharmony began to chant.

The language wasn’t English. Wasn’t Spanish—after three years’ study, Liam would recognize the phonemes even if the phrases didn’t make sense. Didn’t sound like any language he remembered ever hearing in the backgrounds of TV newscasts or YouTube videos—didn’t sound human, though human larynxes and vocal cords could perform the sounds. Still trapped within his skull and desirous flesh—had they placed a spell on him, his prey? He couldn’t even find the will to open his eyes—Liam knew, knew, it was the language he’d heard before memory, before he was dumped into his unprepared dads’ laps, who believed they were getting a human baby. The language of fairyland, his incomprehensible native tongue.

With a little jerk, his wrists lifted off the floor, then his heels. Moments later it was his shoulder blades and the netted-up wings between them, then his ass. It wasn’t antigravity, he wasn’t floating up so much as being raised. The upward pull fought against the resistance of the floor below that wanted him back so that the higher he rose the heavier he felt. It wasn’t at all like flying, when the bulk of his body fought the lift of buzzing wings. It was horrible—as horrible as the moment in the boys’ restroom at school when he discovered his first ever hard-on in his hand.

He could see!

He hadn’t opened his eyes but he could see, but not through his own two eyes. He peered down at the skinny fairy with his big, hard dick, suspended juddering half a yard above the hardwood floor. He felt the air vibrating through his voice box and the soprano voice echoing in his chest and head, heard the discordant baritone in his ears, and slowly lifted the eyes he looked through.

Standing on the other side of the fairy—himself! Liam!—the man couldn’t be anyone but the unwelcome text-messager. Nathan Smith. He wore the hipster spectacles he’d had in the b&w Facebook profile pic, the stubbly hipster beard—it was ginger, redder than the stubble on his scalp—but not the crooked grin and not any clothes. He appeared to be tall, stupidly tall, wiry and strong. Well hung, although it wasn’t hanging. Liam imagined Joel would find him sexy. Liam didn’t know what sexy meant.

If that was Nathan Smith, this must be Olivia Burgoine. In abrupt confirmation, now Liam gazed down from Nathan Smith’s height, his eyes, through the shivery sharp-eyed distortion of his spectacle lenses. Olivia Burgoine wore no clothes either. Loose, heavy blonde hair tumbled around her shoulders. Her face was mature and…pretty? What did pretty mean to people who found women attractive? She had tits—straight men and lesbians liked tits—hips, curves, substance, and it all seemed to be holding up well, as if she exercised and ate wisely and cared for herself, though there was no doubting she was Liam’s dad’s age or older.

Olivia Burgoine and Nathan Smith ceased chanting. To the echoes of an inaudible clang, Liam found himself back behind his closed eyelids. And the two humans, woman and man, touched his fairy body.

On the spangled turf of the fairy glade, Liam made love to them as if he knew what he was doing, why he was doing it, turn and turn again, regretfully neglecting one for the moments required to tend to the other, then turning back. Both were curiously passive but he was not. Lips, tongues, temples, earlobes. Shoulders, armpits, elbows. Fingertips and palms. The man’s muscular chest with its small upstanding nipples and prickly furze of ginger hair contrasted intriguingly with the bulky, resilient weight of the woman’s breasts, her nipples larger and seemingly more sensitive. If he could judge from the sighs and tremors when he nuzzled them.

Nathan Smith groaned feelingly, trembled, when Liam pointed his tongue into the man’s bitter asshole. Liam tasted his soul, the fury banked but raging within him like a furnace, like the molten core of the world or the surface of the sun.

Olivia Burgoine hissed like a fumarole when, in turn, Liam’s tongue striped the skin between her own asshole and twat, his nose excavating that fragrant fleshy crevice. When his tongue kissed its lips and he tasted the unfamiliar flavors of her depths, she moaned, but the moan was muffled by the man’s mouth on hers, and Liam knew Olivia Burgoine’s anger was deeper and older and fiercer than Nathan Smith’s but checked by resignation. She yelled into Nathan Smith’s mouth when Liam’s tongue found the heated nub the diagram in Straight Talk with Your Kids about Sex labelled clitoris.

But really, if anything was real, it was them making love to him in his own Massachusetts bedroom. Him bound by magic and suspended by magic in midair, watched over by all his everyday furniture and trivial belongings and the unscandalized eyes of two photographic portraits: Dad #2 on one wall, Dad #1 on the opposite.

Olivia Burgoine between his thighs sucked his dick, choking indistinctly when she forced it past her gag reflex into her warm throat. At the other end, his own mouth gaped wide to take in Nathan Smith’s cock. It felt right to have it there, bulky and hot and flavorful, demanding, though his jaws ached and his gorge wanted to rise.

But Liam wasn’t entirely in his own flesh. He knew they were making a lot of noise, the three of them, psychic if not audible. And he knew, knew, his silly, still half-infatuated friend Joel, banished strictly to Bryan’s weight room, heard that noise, felt it. Joel dropped the idle dumbbell with a wicked thump and looked around wildly, blindly. Behind his eyes the old movie started playing. The Liam of his dreams was kissing him. The Liam of his dreams groped him through his nylon shorts and cotton briefs. The Liam of his dreams who was hardly a third Liam Shea, two thirds the more recent of the two boys Joel actually had fumbled at sex with, pulled them down and went to town.

Now, straddling Liam’s suspended hips, Olivia Burgoine was fucking herself with his dick. What Nathan Smith was doing Liam couldn’t quite work out.

Because he was in his dad’s head now, in Bryan’s bedroom, in Bryan’s bed, where Bryan offered himself up to a rampant figure that alternated being his ex, Liam’s dad #2, and any number of handsome gentlemen glimpsed and savored at random in the supermarket or the bank, at the tire shop, on a walk through the park. Whoever he was at any moment mattered little at all for he screwed Bryan more expertly, more callously and exquisitely, than any man before. There was no room in Bryan’s mind for anything but abjection, surrender, tremulous joy. He made Liam wish to be fucked himself.

Nathan Smith obliged.

Unless it was Olivia Burgoine wielding a magical strap-on dildo. Liam couldn’t tell.

He couldn’t tell.

He didn’t want to.

He wrapped his fingers around the throat of the person kissing his lips and surrendered. It took forever.

“Naturally it was Nathan,” the woman said. “He always wanted it more than I did.” The bitterness in her voice was flattened, weary. Liam was no longer clear what all they’d done but felt fairly certain she’d been brought off more times than he or Nathan Smith, if not both added up. He half remembered her supine, shuddering, cackling and grunting in transports for many minutes alone while he screwed Nathan Smith the second or third time.

“You’ll need to do something about him, you know,” she said.

“What?” asked Liam. He felt he probably ought to be spooning her, touching her at least, but he lay on his side on the hardwood floor facing away, half focussed on the dusty fringe of the Persian prayer rug under his desk chair. “Who are you?”

Quite calm, she said, “Excess Irish-American babbies snatched away by fairies before baptism. Not that baptism’s any proof against it. A childish fairy tale, that. Nathan from South Boston about eighty years after me, from Brooklyn. We worked it out—the internet is a marvellous tool. According to folkloric norms you’re the changeling but that’s what we liked to call ourselves. We were changed, when we were snatched and again when they threw us out. You needn’t worry, nobody will come looking for him. In this world we’ve always lived off the grid, under the radar.”

A chill touched Liam’s naked back, running up his spine to make his bound wings rustle. “What—what are you saying?”

“Nathan,” she said. “Is dead. You killed him. It was what he wanted. Nevertheless and all question of morality aside, you need to do something about the body. Relatively soon, I’d say, before your…father or your friend recover from their stupors and come looking.”

“I….” Cringing, Liam pulled his shoulders forward, tucked his head in. “I’m tired.” Without thinking, he tucked one hand between his legs, where his dick had resumed its former unresponsive, negligible state. “I killed him?”

“You. Or the pleasure—it’s an age since his last fairy. Or your pleasure.”

It wasn’t pleasure, Liam thought to say. It wasn’t pleasant.

“Or you. If ordinary people find him, if the police get involved, it’ll be you. They’re your finger marks on his throat.” She paused. “I’ll be long gone, of course, untraceable, as I have to be.” She paused again. “Liam Shea,” she said, her tone attesting it wasn’t his true name. “Get up. Turn around. You’re obliged to my friend. You’re obliged to treat his death and his remains honorably.”

Wanting to curl up into a ball and sleep, Liam attempted to dismiss the word. Honor was an outmoded concept, meaningless. “Why did this happen?” he asked, miserable.

Olivia Burgoine remained silent a moment. “It’s your biology, I suppose you’d call it,” she said eventually, more kindly. “As I told that man. Maturity, sexual maturity—in fairies it comes on fast and violent, like a freight train of desire. You would surely have died without us to ride you through it. Probably you would have…damaged anybody who happened to be around before you managed to burn yourself out. But as I said, that’s why we were stolen. Sex slaves is what we were. Treated well for the most part, pampered, indulged, but slaves in essence. Why fairies find us, human men and women, desirable—well, I have theories. And vice-versa. Liam Shea. Get up.”

“Why did he have to—why did he want to die?”

She sighed, a sound of such resignation Liam felt tears start in his eyes. “Death…is our ticket home. Alive we can never return but they have no objection to corpses. Fertilizer, I suppose.”

Liam rolled onto his back. The floor was cool under his spine. He wasn’t going to look at the corpse. If there was one. If she wasn’t lying. Maybe he’d imagined Nathan Smith. He didn’t think so but maybe. Beads of warm fluid grew fuller in the corners of his eyes.

“Liam Shea. Time is short.”

“How can I—? I’ve never been there.” He knuckled one eyelid. “I saw the door once but it’s not there anymore and I couldn’t carry him that far anyway. Do you want to die?”

“Of course. For thirty-odd years. But not enough, it seems.”

Liam sat up before opening his eyes, trusting to proprioception. He saw Olivia Burgoine first. Nude, she sat leaning against the frame of his bed, knees up and wide. For a long moment he gazed at the temptation between her thighs. He wanted it again, to lick and lap and finger and fuck, but not urgently. His eyes lingered another moment on her creased belly and the breasts above like succulent pears, and then her face. She looked hard, old and young at once, her green eyes bleak. “When I manage it finally,” she said, “if you happen to be nearby, I’ll thank you to take my body back as well.”

“How?” he asked simply, despairing. “The door—”

“Opens wherever you wish it to open. You’re a fairy.” She turned her head and her lips twisted. “The cantrip’s simple enough. A child could do it.” She looked back. “A fairy child. Fairies’ slaves, not so much. I’ll teach you.” Regarding him steadily, she spoke thirteen syllables of the fairy language, spiky phonemes that burned into the auditory centers of Liam’s brain.

When he opened his mouth dumbly to repeat them, she raised a hand, looking alarmed and hungry. “No. No, please. Not till I’ve gone. I couldn’t bear it.” This was a different woman. Clumsy and stiff, she scrambled to her feet. “I must leave. I must leave.”

While Olivia Burgoine scrabbled like an ancient crone among heaps of unfamiliar discarded clothing, Liam turned his eyes at last toward the absence he’d been aware of all along.

Nathan Smith—Nathan Smith’s body—lay outstretched, his head so near the door Olivia Burgoine wouldn’t be able to open it to leave. Liam went up on his knees. The body—Nathan Smith—was beautiful in the way of a long-abandoned ruin. Liam moved closer. Behind the spectacles he’d retained through all their exertions, Nathan Smith’s eyes were shut. His lips had relaxed into a quirk of a smile, teeth just showing. He looked happy, so happy. The livid marks of a fairy’s fingers marred his long throat.

“Liam Shea.” Olivia Burgoine’s voice was jittery. Liam felt the effort she put into not flying into splinters. “I must go.”

Captivated by Nathan Smith’s beauty, Liam didn’t look up. “My dad— Can you get away?”

“Listen. They’re asleep, he and the boy.”

Liam listened: it was true.

“I have a little time. You have a little time, for your task. But I must leave.”

Understanding, Liam nodded. He reached to grasp Nathan Smith’s ankles. The skin was cool, papery somehow, dead—tendons and muscles and bones stiff and fragile. As he dragged the nearly weightless body a foot, two feet, the woman stepped around them to the door.

“You’ll do what I asked? What he wanted?”

Liam caressed one of Nathan Smith’s unresponsive shins, fingertips ruffling through ginger fur along the straight line of the bone.

“Yes. Of course. If the…cantrip works for me.”

“It will.” Her hand touched the doorknob.

“Will I see you again? I—you know more about who I am than I do.”

She pulled the door half open. “Accept my Facebook friend request, Liam Shea,” she said. “We’ll chat.”

The door closed.

The door opened.

Kneeling, Nathan Smith’s cold body in his arms, Liam had spoken the fairy cantrip. Without any real conviction at first, but the syllables rose through his throat like bubbles of molten silver and by the last his voice was loud, ringing. The granite doorsill appeared first, incongruous set into the tongue-and-groove oak floorboards of Liam’s bedroom, then the frame, posts growing up like branchless, barkless saplings from the two squared holes, then the scrolled silver hardware—finally the planks of the door itself, planed from a grainy pale wood. And without a touch to the silver latch, the door began to open. Liam smelled the air of fairyland.

His blood quickening, he twisted to kiss Nathan Smith’s cool brow. Spectacle frames scraped his cheek. He regarded the face from too near, handsome features blurring, and twisted farther to kiss cold, smiling lips. Looking down the long, long, pale, pale torso speckled with pinpoint freckles of auburn among the ginger hair, he saw that Nathan Smith’s lovely dick was still hard, or hard again, hard forever, forever unsatisfied. Regretful, Liam grasped the cold, stiff thing in his hand, tugged once, then lifted the body in his arms, rising to his feet.

The door was wide. The verdant slopes of the ancient mountain fell toward the twilit plain, the forests and river and distant black glass city glittering under the stars of fairyland. Liam stepped onto the sill, inhaled. On his back, still netted and bound, his wings struggled to burst free. He wanted—wanted—wished to carry Nathan Smith’s body through the door, to lay it down on the little space of level sward, and then abandon it for eternal flight.

Wanted. Would not.

The body—it was only a man’s, nothing—was awkward to maneuver, but Liam got it up high and tossed Nathan Smith through the door. His head entered fairyland first. Manufactured spectacle frames and lenses flared into brilliant blue flame and vanished without marring Nathan Smith’s smiling, reposeful face. Without a sound, the body thumped down into the grass. As if by design, it landed in an attitude that allowed Liam to admire it for moments, long wiry limbs and slender torso and upstanding prick—its dead human beauty, but not Nathan Smith’s face, turned at last toward the magic places the dead man had wished to call home.

His hand on the doorpost, yearning. Liam heard a shriek in the sky above fairyland and looked up. Winging through the twilight came some great bird. As distant as it was, its wingspan appeared as wide as Nathan Smith’s corpse was tall. An eagle, an owl—a vulture or oversized carrion crow. It shrieked again. Liam stepped back, back onto solid polished oak and the unreality of his father’s house, turned away. The door would close on its own and vanish, he knew. He knew it was unslammable.

Before he’d collected Nathan Smith’s discarded clothing, the door into fairyland was gone, though a faint wild fragrance remained in the still air of Liam’s room. He folded each item carefully: blue jeans, t-shirt and plaid flannel shirt and hoodie, undershorts, socks. He could take them to Goodwill, he supposed, or throw them in the trash. There was no wallet, but he found six ATM-crisp twenty-dollar bills and a handful of coins in one hiking boot, and set the legacy aside without thinking.

Without thinking, he found clothes for himself, dressed. He’d need his dad’s help to untangle the cords and nets from his wings. He heard, felt, their confused rousing from dreams of doomed passion, his dad and his friend in distant rooms, and Liam sat down on the edge of his bed to wait for them to find him again. Well, that’s over, he wouldn’t say, and I survived puberty.

With belated gratitude and appreciation to Friend of Liam ’Nathan Burgoine. (Reader: I killed him.)

Copyright © 2014 Alex Jeffers. All rights reserved. As a courtesy to the author, please do not reproduce this story without a link back to


fantasy fiction original story short stories spec fic Tales from the Subcontinent

Doğum günün kutlu olsun, sevgili arkadaşım

In honor of my friend Steve Berman’s birthday, today, I thought I would try something I haven’t done before and am unlikely to do again: Post an original, never-before-published story here at Said story happens to be one Steve’s fond of for reasons I can’t imagine, and I am fond of partly (but not solely) because it was the first written of the tales of the subcontinent. Without further ado.

The Other Bridge

Somebody told me about the other bridge. I don’t remember who. It was a party, one of the parties my new friends insisted I attend although they invariably abandoned me without troubling themselves to present me to the host, a count or baron of the ancien régime. Everybody smoked, which I had not since university in a different country. Hired waiters in antique livery bore trays of glistening flutes filled with bitter sparkling wine from the count’s vineyards in the hinterland. In every other chamber stood a buffet of lavish abundance, either so beautiful nobody cared to spoil the arrangement or already wrecked so that the food appeared to be rotting. In one salon, a string quartet could not be heard over the grumble of conversation and disputation. In the grand ballroom, where dark oil portraits of the count’s ancestors glowered from walls festooned with plaster cornucopias spilling plaster fruit, a deejay programmed hit after hit but nobody danced.

I do remember. It does me no credit to feign otherwise. Likewise, it would do me no credit to record her name. She was a minor aristocrat, her rank indecipherable to the foreigner, not landed or landed only meagerly although her ancient jewels were very fine. In daylight hours she pretended to the civil service, a desk job that afforded her handsome clothes, the latest fashionable devices, the drugs her coterie preferred. And gifts, pretty tokens, flowers, chocolates, for the naïve exotic from the far side of the world.


She offered me one of the glasses she had appropriated from a passing waiter, trailing her fingers across my hand as I accepted it. “Tell me,” she said, “tell me again—no, it’s noisy here—come!”

Across the ballroom I followed the artificial but very beautiful flame color of her hair, through an open door, onto a balcony. The smell of the Sja came up, choking—but not, I reflected, as sickening as Father Bodo’s where he flows through the center of my city. “I didn’t realize Count ______’s house was right on top of the river,” I murmured.

She glanced back. Raised eyebrows above her pale, pale eyes told me the count’s name was exceedingly venerable. The surprise would be if his house stood in one of the pleasant, airy, healthful parvenu quarters. They are slaves to tradition, the Sjolussenes, even now.

Disposing herself decoratively against a column of fluted marble to which clung flowering vines not fragrant enough to dispel the river’s odors, she drew a cigarette from her bag, lit it at the candlestick burning on the balustrade, and beckoned.

“I wish to hear again about your…chowas?”

“The chueie?” I made a false little laugh as I approached, not as closely as she desired. “Not mine.”

“Of course. But your country’s. Chueie? Am I saying it right?”

I was not so naïve as she—as her friends and my friends—believed. Exotic? It was half a century since people of her class had any cause besides curiosity to suffer the inconvenience of a sea or air voyage to my homeland. She was not an overly curious woman. Still, immigrants from former dominions outre-mer were scarcely uncommon in this capital of squandered empire. I had no doubt at all she daily purchased trifles and staples from vendors who resembled me as much as she resembled any of her tall, ungainly fellow citizens of the no-longer-new republic.

But the shopkeepers she patronized were common, she might tactlessly protest…if it were an argument ever conducted except in my own head. Whereas I (the image in my mind’s eye of this deliberately useless woman fluttered prettily), I, she was quite sure, outranked her.

It was possibly true. It had suited Sjolussa’s purposes very well not to dismantle the native hierarchies of annexed realms: my titles, such as they were, and my ancestry were legendary where my erstwhile lover’s were merely historical and now, by republican statute, merely decorative. When the sad, imbecile last Empress of Sjolussa, Katothtet, the Nearer Isles, and Outre-Mer was deposed and the new government renounced her dominions overseas, the apparati of state continued running like balky clockwork in Dothe, in Piq, in U, in my Aveng, in all the others. Suitable candidates of the ancient dynasties had always been ready to dispossess the Sjolussene vicereines. My family stood not within four steps of the Jade Stool in Defre, else I should be at grave risk of betrothal, but within five.

“I am quite certain,” I said, “I told you the chueie were a foolish legend, a tale to frighten stupid girls.”

“Yes,” she breathed. “Tell me. Were you frightened?”

“Of course! More frightened than many girls, I suppose.”

Enthralled, she sucked at her cigarette and breathed out smoke scented with Avengi spices, flicked a coal over the rail. I pretended to imagine I heard its hiss when it struck the Sja’s swift waters, and sipped from my glass.

“Tell me.”

I had told her of the chueie on that first occasion to signal I was not averse to her subtle courtship. Sjolussenes regard desire differently than my nation. The story had continued from the entertainment where we met, to her small, not exquisite apartment, into her bed. I had tired of her perfectly adequate lovemaking almost the moment it commenced. Already, although I found her beautiful, I realized she was relentlessly unfascinating. That was six months before, early in my residence in Sjolussa. Until this night she had appeared content with being my first seducer in her city, unjealous of the more interesting women whose affections succeeded hers, undesirous of repeating the feat. Her occasional gifts were mere trifles.

“When Defre-ua-Bodo was still a very small place, capital of nothing,” I commenced, “long before your people came to us, before we were properly a people, there was a small lake that had no name. Now it does: Kittan-e-Chuei. Now it lies within the royal precinct, but then deep in the forbidding forest, half a day’s walk from Mother Flame’s first shrine. Nobody had cause to visit it. Its waters were stagnant, unwholesome—Father Bodo provided all the water anybody needed, fresh and clean in his hurry from the mountains to the sea.

“There was a girl recently become a woman. She was meant to marry a boy, a playmate of her childhood. His family owned a bull buffalo and two cows, a year’s surplus of rice in their granary—oh, it was an advantageous match, and his mothers and fathers were kind, generous, fond of her. But the girl—shall we call her Naï?—Naï had listened too well to the wrong parts of old stories and never looked around herself at real people: she believed the fairy tale that marriage was the reward for passion.

“Naï loved another girl. Passionately. Alas for Naï, her beloved was sensible. She would have accepted her own betrothal without hesitation unless to haggle a better deal, understanding marriage to be a contract between families, corporate entities. In my country,” I said aside, for I knew it not to be true in Sjolussa, “until quite recently, fidelity, as you call it, was seldom a clause in the contract. Nobody would glance askance if Naï kept her lover after marrying the suitable boy. She would be thought peculiar if she didn’t: flighty, perhaps untrustworthy.

“Naï was peculiar. She waxed eloquent, proclaimed her unequalled love, declared she would die rather than share her beloved or be herself shared: they were one soul!

“The other girl first laughed, astonished by Naï’s ludicrous passion, then quieted. You are not sane, she said, turning away. Then, for she did truly love Naï, the sweet careless girl Naï had been, You must marry the boy. Nothing between us will change, my dear, unless it grow richer, deeper. She saw the incomprehensible horror on Naï’s face and said, her heart closing like a fist, If you choose not to marry him, I will not know you. And then she walked away.

“Betrayed, as she saw it, Naï fell weeping to the ground. Her tears made mud of the street, her cries made the air ring. People passing by glanced aside, for madness is a sad and holy thing. Busybodies, of course, ran at once to her betrothed’s mothers, more compassionate persons to Naï’s.

“Peculiar she was, mad she might be, but Naï was not entirely stupid. As she howled and wept, smeared her face with dirt, pounded her fists against unyielding earth, at a certain point she realized she had made herself a scandal that could not be lived down. The most perfect of all girls would shun her. The suitable boy of whom she had always been fond would not marry her. Her mothers and fathers would not be able to—would not care to protect her. She would be a figure of horror or of fun for the rest of her days.

“If she remained in Defre.

“So she rose to her feet and with all dignity she could muster strode away from the town and our Father Bodo, into the forest. When her mothers came to succor or scold her, she was not to be found.”

My throat was dry. Taking an effervescent sip from my flute, I glanced through lowered lashes at my audience: wide eyed, her lips prettily parted, cigarette smoldering forgotten between her fingers. “Do go on,” she pled.

I sipped again. “This was long ago, you understand. Not so long ago one wasn’t aware there were other towns, other nations in the world, but sufficiently so that one didn’t quite believe it. Only the rare, adventurous person would ever leave the place of her birth, seek out the habitations of strangers—know where to go. Naï had never been adventurous. She entered the forest blind. Once she believed herself out of sight of everybody she had ever known, she began to run.

“The dimness of the forest canopy swallowed her up. Large and small creatures that lived on the ground scattered before her noise. From the tall trees, monkeys and parrots mocked her. She felt too desolate for fear to mean much but she became more and more fearful. Was that tall, bulky shadow a bear? Could that be a leopard reclining at ease but alert on that high bough? Did tall grasses conceal a tiger? She feared, too, a great many spirits, hobgoblins, fabulous beasts it would be tedious to list.

“Hours later, when Naï stumbled upon the shore of the lake we now call Kittan-e-Chuei, there was not much left of her but sorrow, fear, exhaustion. The lake’s waters looked bad, filmed with clouds of green, blue, red-brown, and smelled worse, but she was too parched not to drink. Then she fell precipitately into sleep.

“When she woke, she believed her lover had come to comfort her. The night was dark. On the slimy surface of the lake gleamed reflections of stars like indifferent eyes. Something warm and alive was nudging her shoulder in a rude caress. She rolled over, ready to weep, forgive, be forgiven, but her lover did not embrace her. Even in darkness and the confusion of waking, Naï knew to the center of her being it was nothing human that gently pushed her again. She screamed, tried to scramble away. There was nowhere to flee but into the shallows of the lake.

Wait, said the being.

“Naï shrieked again, trapped between unclean waters whose depth she did not know—not unusually, the girl could not swim—and the…beast. Tapirs were not meant to speak.

“Tapirs are shy, unworldly creatures. They would rather flee than attack. Naï knew this, even in her terror. But they are large, bulkier than the fattest wrestler and more agile, brutal when cornered or provoked. Naï knew that as well, and this beast was monstrous, half again the size of any natural tapir. Monstrously huge and uncanny. Wait, it said again. I am your only friend. Its lambent blue eyes glowed through the darkness. Faint light caught the white tips of its ears as they swivelled toward her, gleamed in the wet nostrils of its seeking trunk. Do not fear. I am here. Its regard steady, the animal settled back on its haunches.

“Naï was not comforted. Go away, she said weakly.

You came to me.

“The moon rose above the trees around the lake and, most unnaturally, the monster reared up on its hind legs like a bear, pawing at the air with the blunt toes of its forefeet. Pale moonlight bathed the tapir’s vast black bulk and it changed.

“Flesh melted from its great belly. The bones of its stubby rear legs lengthened. The creature whined in a thin voice as pelvis, spine, shoulders realigned themselves to support upright carriage and its forelimbs became arms. The shape of its skull deformed, fleshy and cartilaginous features migrated and shrank. The dense pelt that had covered it melted away. In the few moments before the moon slipped entirely free of grasping branches, the giant tapir was transformed utterly. A giant man twice the size of Naï’s betrothed stood on the lakeshore.

“He shook his head as if confused, clenched and unclenched his fists, closed and opened clouded blue eyes. His skin gleamed black as coal tar, black as a tapir’s pelt, except on the rims of his slightly over large ears, white as salt. You came to me, he said again, my lovely bride.

“Ah!” sighed my lovely listener with great satisfaction.

“And then the chuei rushed forward, swift and inescapable as a charging tapir. He grabbed cringing Naï around the waist and threw her over his shoulder. Shrieking, she beat with her fists at the saddle of salt-white skin on his back. He took no notice but strode toward the center of the lake. The unhealthy water rose to his knees, his thighs—the chuei neither halted nor slowed.

“In a matter of a few more strides, the lake lapped at his shoulders and all Naï’s effort went into keeping her head above water, flailing and coughing and screaming. The lake continued to deepen, the chuei to proceed. Tapirs, of course, are very fond of water, capable of holding their breath for a goodly period as they wander about beneath the surface, while uncanny beings such as chueie need not breathe at all unless they choose.

“Disobedient or insane girls are not so made. By the time the chuei of the lake reached his subaqueous home, his lovely bride was quite drowned. Her husband was not dismayed. He pampered Naï’s sodden corpse until her flesh dissolved into the lake’s waters. As years passed, now and then he rearranged the bones of her skeleton into newly decorative attitudes. And all along, since her body had been given neither to Mother Flame nor to the swift currents of Father Bodo, Naï’s soul was trapped in the lake: she would never in all of time reach that deep blue sea which is the sky, where the burning spirits of women and men are forever marked by their descendants on earth as stars.

“No, foolish Naï remains eternally with the chuei and all his subsequent brides, yearning always for the lover she abandoned in her pride, regretting always the husband who might have loved her sincerely, gently, instead of rutting on her like a graceless tapir whenever the desire struck.”

My onetime lover clapped with delight when I finished the tale. “Oh!” she exclaimed as I swallowed wine to soothe my throat, “oh! No wonder you were scared! Is it only girls who prefer girls who become the chueie’s brides?”

“Girls who defy their mothers’ sensible wishes. Girls who run away from home.”

As the woman bent her head to light another cigarette, a lamp within doors made her hair flare up brilliantly. Her eyes caught the light when she raised her face again. “We have a similar monster,” she breathed. “Here—in the city!”

“A tapir?” I asked, amused. Such animals are not to be found at Sjolussa’s latitudes except in the great zoological gardens.

“No,” she said, misunderstanding me. “I have never heard of it taking animal form. It preys on lost women and men.” And she began to tell me of the creature that dwells on the far side of the other bridge.

Perhaps she was simply not a storyteller: it was a confused recitation, lacking narrative or character: a haphazard collection of rumor and legend. Many centuries ago when the river was wider and the two banks of the Sja were separate nations speaking separate languages, if both nominally provinces of Katothtet’s patchwork empire, a person was exiled from the capital so far to the south and west. She did not recall his name or crime, whether he came to Góad, the town on the left bank where the Sja makes its great bend, or Pasna, on the right. She did not recall whether he was an engineer—ancient Katothtet still renowned for its engineers—or merely a visionary. He resolved the river must be bridged.

And so it was done. The logistics of such an immense undertaking were of no interest to the teller—how suspicious native governors on either side of the river were persuaded to sponsor it—how, lacking stonecutters and masons, Pasna and Góad contrived to throw a massive, unprecedented span on six arches across the swift, unforgiving Sja. For a thousand years it remained the river’s sole bridge. As Katothtet lost control of its distant provinces, then the nearer ones, finally was sacked, overrun, and reborn, Góad and Pasna prospered. The peoples and languages on either bank mingled. The separate towns became a single hybrid city, a prosperous entrepôt, Queen of the Sja. Sjolussa.

Naturally, Sjolussa fell within the eye of Owe-ejan-akhar when that monstrous conqueror, having overthrown three eastern empires, turned her attention west. Sjolussa was scarcely the Ejan’s target—grand as the town was, it was a hamlet compared to the imperial capitals she already owned—but its bridge offered the most convenient route into the rich, disunited heartlands of the subcontinent.

Refugees announced the imminent arrival of the Ejan’s hordes. Bearing the bread and salt of submission, the city’s co-princes rode half a day’s journey northeast to meet her. Gracious, she accepted their surrender and their invitation to a banquet in the Pasna prince’s palace across the river to negotiate terms: how much real tribute, how many slaves, how many lives.

It was not meant as a trap. If it had been, the Góad and Pasna princes should not have preceded the Ejan onto the bridge. It was afternoon of an uncommonly warm late-spring day. As often occurred on such days, the chill Sja had birthed a thick fog. Afoot, the co-princes of Sjolussa strode under the Góad gate, onto the bridge, and into the pearl-white mist, followed by the mounted Owe-ejan-akhar, her chief heir and commanders and one tenth of her personal guard, the Thousand Tall Riders.

At the Pasna gate waited the princes’ chamberlains and counsellors, the masters of the guilds that would bear the burden of the Ejan’s tribute. They waited, squinting into the fog rolling down the course of the river. They waited. Of the whole grand party, not a single person ever emerged from the mist.

When word of the Ejan’s vanishing reached her people, the undisciplined horde, loyal only to her, superstitious, long away from home, dissolved into tribal bands and turned east. Her minor heirs and the surviving Nine Hundred Tall Riders naturally laid waste to Góad and massacred its inhabitants. They declined to set foot or hoof on the fateful bridge. Terrible revenge taken, they too turned their horses’ heads toward the dawn and set out to carve up the Ejan’s dominions among themselves.

“You mentioned a monster,” I said. “Which preys on lost women and men.”

My flame-haired acquaintance looked up. Her eyes were glassy: the wine, the hashish and other adulterants in her cigarettes. “Come home with me,” she said, “beauty.”

I was perhaps a little drunk myself—I was flattered. But unmoved. “My dear. I must decline. I have an early appointment. It’s the inconvenient time of the month. Another night.” I made my escape.

The second week after I arrived in Sjolussa and settled into my stark but rather lovely apartment on Av. Heras on the right bank, I purchased a fashionable little motorino. The Métro was inconvenient for my purposes and I had never learned to drive an automobile. Automobiles were in any case frowned upon in the center city and prohibitively taxed. My moto had, in fact, been built in an Avengi factory: built for export, so it was slightly more powerful, slightly less noisy than the one I learned to drive on the clogged streets of Defre. Leaving the count’s house, I waited for some minutes under the porte-cochère for an attendant to fetch the moto. It was late for most citizens but not for the count’s guests. Nobody else waited with me, and the attendant appeared mildly shocked I should depart so early. I tipped him well.

Mounted at last, I drove through the count’s night-obscured gardens to the gate, where another liveried attendant bowed me through. On the narrow street overlooked on one hand by the high walls of the count’s estate, on the other by taller tenements, I thumbed the switch to initiate the navigation system. The left bank was not significantly more chaotic than the right but it was not my territory. (It bemused, almost pleased me to realize I considered any part of the imperial city mine.) The translucent display across the top of the moto’s windscreen directed me upstream.

At one time or another I had crossed and recrossed each of the city’s four bridges. The Half-Centennial, which had opened only two years earlier, was the most beautiful, a white cable-stayed harp designed by the Uvian celebrity engineer Suwin, but it was well out of my way downstream, linking the two halves of the purpose-built business district. The Jubilee, a century older, had once been beautiful, though modern eyes found its agglomeration of industrial lattice and faux-antique ornament grotesque. Av. Etz vaulted the Sja supported by an elegant steel through-arch, while Av. Gruth’s span was unremarkable concrete. As blinking dots and arrows led me on, it occurred to me that none of the extant bridges was the ancient six-arched stone span of the legend I had just heard. I had never seen a trace of it.

I was distracted. I remembered coming across a monument once in a small left-bank plaza, a plain, impassive stela inscribed to the memory of the Góad Slaughter. Another monument I had often seen without properly understanding was the Ejan Pillar, fifty meters of etched steel spiring up from an artificial islet in the river upstream of the Half-Centennial. Plaques in the park at the water’s edge called it a gift to Sjolussa from the government and people of Lararniw. Which windswept, mineral-rich, landlocked nation, I tardily recalled, claimed to be the heartland of Owe-ejan-akhar’s empires. The Ejan’s covetous eyes had never looked as far south as Aveng and our neighbors so she did not so much feature in our mythologies. Perhaps her Pillar marked the site of the old bridge from which, I had just been told, she and her Tall Riders vanished.

Perhaps not.

I steered my moto without thought according to the graphic prompts on the windscreen. There was remarkably little other traffic. I was accustomed to the uneven cobbles of Sjolussa’s surface streets, intended to keep drivers slow, cautious, alert. In the latter purpose, in my case that night, they failed. My moto and I had wobbled well across the river, bathed by its cool, odorous breeze, before it struck me none of the four bridges was cobbled. A wall of curdled fog rose before me, disturbed into eddies and whirlpools by the ancient stone bridge’s low parapets and the squat stone bollards that marked the abutments of the six arches upholding it. The motorino’s engine sputtered, failed. Still more distressing, the headlamp yellowed and went out, the navigation display evaporated.

The brakes had failed as well but I was travelling sedately and was not so incompetent I couldn’t plant both feet on the roadbed before the motorino fell over. Climbing off, I hiked up the rear wheel and kicked down the stand. Stupidly irritated, I glared at my pretty little moto. None of the four bridges I knew was within convenient walking distance of Av. Heras.

This was not any of the bridges I knew.

“Beauty,” said the river purling against the bridge’s piers.

“Beauty,” said the breeze.

“Beauty,” said the fog, something within the fog, striving to take form.

“No, really,” I said, “this will not do.”

I was not beautiful, not in Sjolussene eyes, certainly not beauty. Not even terrifically exotic. Even among the circles in which I moved there were several other expatriate Avengi of rank. There were Dothans, Piquers, who resembled me in being small, dark, more plumply voluptuous than the current subcontinental mode. There were exiles of nations I found exotic, Kyrland, Trebt, Lararniw, distant Haisn, still more distant and strange Yf. Diminished as she is, Sjollusa remains a capital of the world. “No,” I said again.

The figure resolving within the fog, about to become my flame-haired quondam seducer, hesitated. When it took another step, it had grown still taller, still more rangy and angular. It did not call me Beauty again. Instead, in a curiously muffled voice it said, “Come. Your…conveyance does not serve. I will bring you home.” Behind it loomed the indistinct silhouette of an enormous stallion.

“Thank you,” I said politely, reaching into my bag, “but I will manage quite well by myself.”

The being hesitated again.

My ’phone could find no signal—hardly surprising, I suppose, in supernatural circumstances—but its other functions appeared to be unaffected. My thumb found the camera icon, the flash illuminated the fog, the spectral horse reared back against its reins and the Tall Rider—perhaps she meant to be Owe-ejan-akhar herself—turned quickly to calm it.

The image within the ’phone’s glass faceplate was no centuries-dead conquering horse warrior of the steppes. Dead, yes.

I was not a disobedient daughter. Stubborn, surely, headstrong—no doubt my indulgent mothers and fathers simply failed ever to ask of me any action I did not care to perform. Nevertheless.

Nor had I fled Defre and Aveng. There was no scandal to be attached to my or my family’s name. Sjolussa had been my goal since childhood—that fabulous city and nation which gave my own nation and city so much yet took more, before retreating into itself like a sulky tortoise.

“This is unreasonable,” I said as Naï stepped out of the fog. “This is unfair and…unseemly.”

“Beloved,” she said, the dead playmate of school days. My first lover. My dearest friend until she chose to bewitch me. That stupid, stupid girl.

She was of Sjolussene extraction: her grandparents had chosen to stay on after divestiture although the restored government nationalized most of their holdings. Naï was raised in near poverty, circumstances made more unpleasant by bias against scions of the former colonial power. Taller than every other child our age, her hair white-gold and her skin pink, she could not disguise her ancestry. A crowd of unruly boys and girls had driven her to tears in the schoolyard with their insults when with unwarranted noblesse oblige I chased them away and dried her eyes.

As we grew up and I continued her protector, she grew beautiful in my eyes. Had she been born in Sjolussa, I expect, she would have dyed that pale hair any number of colors. I never loved her—have I loved any person?—but desire her I did. I desired several other people as well, a few more suitable than Naï, a few less, but she was nearest by.

By the time we completed our schooling, I was…not weary of her, precisely, but weary of lying to her. Like her namesake in my tale of the chuei, she would not countenance sharing me so I had no choice but to lie. There were other girls momentarily more fascinating. There was the now-and-then-delicious novelty of a handsome boy. There were lies, arguments, tears, more lies, refreshingly savage but ultimately unsatisfying lovemaking. I, of course, would matriculate at university—she, of course, would not. I travelled a distance that was short for me, nearly impossible for her, to Folau, Aveng’s second city, where I discovered, in addition to scholarship, more delicious girls, two or three fascinating boys.

In Defre, Naï pined. For myself, when I returned home on holidays, I delighted in her, her familiar ardor, for it was brief, temporary, bittersweet. And of course I lied to her.

She lied to me.

She had taken a position with a bi-national trading concern. I was not curious enough to ask what goods they traded—motorinos, perhaps—nor what her position entailed. It paid well enough, apparently: her wardrobe improved markedly. Occasionally on my visits she insisted on buying the takeaway meal, cigarettes, bottles of beer we would hurry to my private rooms. She gave me, at the terminal as I was about to board a train back to Folau, a bauble I found inexplicably exquisite when she fastened its cheap silver chain around my neck. The little wooden ball, carved and pierced and polished, tapped against my breastbone when she released it, but immediately I lifted it again to breathe in the muddled fragrances of resins, barks, dried leaves and flowers. The whole way to Folau I cradled the pomander between my palms, gazing blindly out the carriage windows past stretches of forest, past rice fields and wheat fields and corn fields, villages and larger towns, shrines, temples, distant monasteries. “Beloved,” I whispered at the countryside, seeing Naï’s blue eyes only.

At the Folau station, my chief amusement of the previous term met me. I did not recognize him when he called after me as I passed in a daze—a ridiculous happenstance for his family stood on the third step below the Jade Stool, everybody recognized him. As I generally preferred other women, he preferred other men, making us nearly a perfect match if only our ranks matched up more neatly. Put out, he called my name again and grabbed my shoulder. My hands fell from Naï’s pomander. “Oh!” I said.

“What is this ugly thing?” he asked, snapping the chain from my neck.

My eyes had turned at once to his pleasant, familiar brown eyes. I did not wish to look again at Naï’s gift now I knew what it was. “A terrible, terrible, disastrous mistake,” I said, slipping the chain from his fingers without touching its vulgar burden, and tossed the whole wicked thing off the platform onto the tracks. “I’m so sorry, I was distracted. How kind of you to meet me. Shall we go?”

He narrowed his eyes. He knew what it was as well as I now did. “Shall I—?”

“No, it’s nothing, it’s over.”

He knew as well as I we were over, as little as there was between us to be over, no tragedy of any degree. I was drowsy in his arms, content, late that night when my kindest, most tactful father ’phoned with news he understood I would find sorrowful: my old schoolmate Naï, the Sjolussene girl, had run mad, murdered the witch to whom she had apprenticed herself a year before, and drowned herself in Kittan-e-Chuei. I wept a little, not entirely for form’s sake, before asking the sweet boy to comfort me.

Now I looked from the image of Naï on my ’phone to the image of Naï which had solidified from the uncanny fog. “You are not that girl,” I said, firmly and reasonably. “She drowned herself in the lake. She chose to become the chuei’s bride. Her soul, if soul she had, cannot leave her husband’s waters.” I erased the photo.

For an instant the figure appeared worried. Then it changed again. The sweet boy I would have married happily enough if his family asked (it could never happen) gazed at me with yearning eyes. I laughed. Our circles still grazed, I had had drinks with him and his boyfriend not long before: he was no longer a boy. Since his marriage he had devoted a good deal of time, effort (and, I suspected, thaumaturgical intervention) to remaking his body in the mold of a mythic hero or mighty wrestler, nearly unrecognizable except for his eyes, very handsome, undesirable.

I laughed and raised my ’phone again as if to preserve this visitation from a pleasant memory. The thing quailed again, but I saw that I had somehow acquired a strong enough signal, so I ran quickly through the directory until I found the name I choose not to record. She chose not to answer. I left a message: “My dear. I was abrupt, I fear. Shall we meet next week? I’ve discovered a delightful Avengi bistro—allow me to buy you dinner.”

Slipping the ’phone back into my bag, I kicked the moto off its stand, grasped the handlebars, and wheeled it into the thinning, empty fog. I was entirely confident the engine would start up again as soon as I reached the far side of the other bridge. I had every intention of standing the ridiculous woman up.

Copyright © 2013 Alex Jeffers. All rights reserved. As a courtesy to the author, please do not reproduce this story without a link back to

 NB: The second-written tale of the subcontinent, “Three Dead Men,” was first published in Icarus #14, Fall 2012, which may be purchased in print and electronic formats via this link. The third, “The Oily Man,” will appear in Handsome Devil: Tales of Sin and Seduction, an anthology edited by Steve Berman, to be published by Prime Books in February 2014. The fourth, fifth, umpth? Well, I haven’t finished writing them yet.