I climbed the back staircase of my grandparent’s old house. The layers upon layers of white paint adorned the railing and casings. They were only slightly dulled by a thin layer of dust that was everywhere. The oil range in the parlor room and the unpaved driveway made the fight against grime a losing battle.
I’d been up and down these stairs countless times. We used to spend summers here back when Gramma and Grampa were alive. I remember the smell of paint and wallpaper paste, mingled with a hint of mold. The aged smells of an elderly home made the air thick with memory.
The oiled wood floor creaked as I padded my way to the master suite. Gramma’s room first, then Grampa’s at the end of the house. His rifle that used to stand in a corner waiting for errant deer to raid the garden, was now stowed in a lockbox downstairs. The view of the garden was still the same even if it was years since a garden was ever planted.
I looked at the building drafts I found. They were from when Grampa’s grandfather built the place. There was supposed to be another room where the garden window was. I didn’t understand, any more than I could figure out what a clutch full of old documents was doing in the back of a trunk, in the garden shed of all places. I was rooting around for some hand tools. Grampa used to make his own custom gardening implements.
The most unfortunate fire that claimed my parents a few months ago put me in a dark frame. Amid the ruin of their lives, I discovered they left me this place. Well, to my sister as well, but she’s been incommunicado for almost two years. God, I was pissed at her. There was no way to let her know about Mom and Dad. Her loss, I guess.
My parents never came here after my grandparents died, and we were almost forbidden to visit. Not outright, of course, just redirected. That was Mom mainly. It was a talent of hers. She always seemed to get her way. You could be adamant in your view, but once she started talking, that was it.
Grampa’s room wasn’t empty. In fact, everything was remarkably preserved. Even the scent of pipe tobacco and Old Spice lingered faintly. His clothes and bedding were still here and even though they felt old, they were undamaged by time and a parade of damp cold winters. It was like he was still here. A shiver danced up my spine as I passed through a cool spot in the otherwise humid room.
There was an odd arrangement that caught my eye. A magnifying glass, old razors and a shaving brush were placed in a circle on the sideboard table. Under it was a yellowed note in my grandfather’s loopy cursive.
“Jamie,” it said. I jumped at the sight of my name. “You have found a secret, haven’t you?”
The conversational tone was strange and I looked around me, spying nothing. My grandfather continued. “Stand at the window and recite the following aloud. Don’t dally, mind you.”
I was certain it was just me, spooked or not, so I took up the note and did just as it instructed.
“Hidden days and secret nights,
Flights of fancy and magic sights.
Time to laugh and dance and play,
Welcome to The Land of Fae.”
The frame of the window shone with a brilliant and comforting warmth that felt like nothing else I could describe. Perhaps it was pure love, both of lustful bent and of familial bond. It was fond memory and kindness all in one.
The window was gone and in its place stood an archway. Gone was the garden that my grandfather guarded. Gone were the dusty roadway and the stubby pines. The brook was still there but it was transformed. Where there had been dust and rock, there was now a verdant wooded glade bisected by a vibrant laughing brook. The sounds of life, barren before, rose in a melodious chorus to Nature’s tribute.
“Welcome to the Greenway Glade, brother. Welcome home.” My sister spoke as she came across a stone bridge over the brook. “It’s time to embrace your true inheritance.”
Speechless at the sights before me and the astonishment of my resplendent sister’s return, I walked through the archway into the glade and my new life.
We strolled hand-in-hand across the stone bridge. Misty spray soaked my jeans, but it didn’t seem to bother Anna. The brook was as swift as spring run-off, even though this was August. At least it was late summer in the real world.
I still couldn’t talk. I was too distracted by the colors and smells of this garden. My grandparents house felt more and more unreal with every step. I was Dorothy upon her arrival to the Land of Oz. My sister remained quiet and just smiled at me, absently swinging our arms as we walked.
I turned round and round once we made it to the other side. I closed my eyes and breathed healthily. When I opened my eyes and looked behind, I was not surprised that the archway was gone. In its place was a thickening wood. This glade must be in the middle of a great forest.
“Anna. What’s going on?”
“Shhh,” she said, placing a slender finger to my lips. “I’ll show you. It’s not far.”
We followed a path through tall grass peppered with wild flowers. It felt like silk. I could hear laughter ahead and looked at Anna for reassurance. We came upon a shaded pool where the running water had turned back on itself. The canopy of the forest shaded this side of the glade with towering firs and pine. There were smooth rocks and mossy carpets, the natural deadfall of a living forest was cleared. This was a tended wood.
Playing in the water and loafing on rocks were about a dozen other people, men and women alike, all splendid and youthful. I could sense about a dozen more milling about the grass and trees. Nothing frantic, just kind happiness. Some turned and greeted me with a wave and smile as we came to a stone table. Fruit and nuts were laid out on large oak leaves.
“You must be hungry, Jamie.”
“Anna, I…” She smiled again, stopping me mid-sentence. I helped myself to some field strawberries and plump blueberries. The sun sweetness exploded in my mouth, electric with tart, but not unnaturally so. They were perfect.
She sat cross-legged on the forest floor and leaned back with her hands behind her. I sat across from her a few feet away and took her in. It was amazing how vibrant and alive she looked. When last I saw her, she was angry and rebellious, barely out of her teens. She was all grown up and sure of herself. I felt like the younger sibling, not longer certain of anything. For some reason, I was never happier.
“What’s the deal with, Grampa?’ The note, this place..?” I couldn’t contain my questions any longer.
“Grampa is here. In the wood. He’s a part of this place now. And so is his Magic. That’s what happens to us when we get older. We join the Forest. Gramma wasn’t one of us. He loved her, but always knew how it’d end.”
It felt sad at that moment, but I couldn’t hold on to the emotion, not in this place. I accepted everything Anna said to be the truth without question. “How’d did you get here? Where were you for the last two years?” As with sadness, I wanted to be angry, but it slipped from me.
“I know about Mom and Dad, Jamie” she said quietly and looked me in the eye. “I was with them. You didn’t know because you weren’t ready. Not then.”
She stood up and walked to a spring, cupped some water and drank. For the first time I saw her peace weaken and shake. I followed her and reached out to embrace her. She let me. I kissed the top of her head. I was still her big brother.
“What happened to them? I thought it was a freak electrical fire. What am I missing, Anna?”
“Hunters.” She broke from me and took a step back. “The Hunters, Jamie. They got to them. That’s what they do to Fae. They hunt us. They burn us.”
My role became suddenly clear. I knew what I was supposed to do.
“Anna.” We started walking back to what I already thought of as our quiet corner of the Greenway Glade of Fae. “What happened to Mom and Dad?”
“It’s all my fault, Jamie. I mean, it was an accident. Maybe it was always supposed to happen this way. I don’t know. The fire. I couldn’t stop them.”
“Let’s sit, sissy.” She was so upset she was trembling. I knew I wouldn’t get anything out of her unless she calmed herself. I couldn’t explain it, but I could sense she’d center herself quickly. There was something about this place. I could feel it ebbing in me like a drug. It softened the edges. It made me uncomfortable to fight it. As I suspected, it didn’t take long at all. The storm passed as quickly as it came.
She punched me in the shoulder. “Don’t call me that.” A half-hearted smile came and went. Weird. “Remember the old clock that was in the hallway?”
I nodded. I was always fascinated by its exposed clockworks, but every time I touched it, it was warm, almost hot. It felt like it was alive. Both my dreams and nightmares were filled with imagery. An army of cogs, gears and springs, hell-bent on conquest. Of what, I never knew. Sometimes I was an ally. Other times, I was fleeing for my life. The dreamy fragments always dissipated upon waking, like smoke in the breeze.
Anna broke my reverie. “That big fight I had with Mom while you were in Afghanistan? The one where I took off? It didn’t quite happen that way. I shoved her in to the clock. It crashed to the ground. All its guts were scattered all over the floor. Mom was insanely mad. She hit me. Hard.”
“You were only sixteen. It’s..”
“You don’t understand, Jamie. She didn’t strike me because I broke the clock. Well, that was part of it. She was more upset because of a crystal urn. Great-Grampa Silas’ ashes were all jumbled up with clock insides and broken glass. In the midst of the mess was an old note from him. It was addressed to Mom, which was weird because she never knew him. Mom said he died in a fire shortly after she was born.”
She noticed the confused look on my face and waved it off saying “I know. Fire features prominently in our family tree. Anyway, I saw it. It was written in some weird language, with funny looking letters. Mom suddenly wasn’t angry anymore. There we were, sitting on the floor with Mom’s grandfather-dust and broken bits of metal all around us. That’s when Mom filled me in on our Faery nature and the threat of the Hunters.”
We were interrupted by a lithe little girl who snuck up on us. “Anna? Is this him. Is he your brother?” I couldn’t help but smirk at child’s conspiratorial whisper. She looked at me with nervous uncertainty, but blushed at my smile.
I laughed and answered her. “Hi. My name is Jamie. What is yours?”
“Kylie, she said. “Are you here to save us?”
I looked at my sister. Her eyes spoke volumes, saying there was far more to the story that had yet to be told. The longer I was here, immersed in this place, the more I understood by instinct. It was like remembering, but a memory of things that were impossible for me to know. Was I going to lose myself to this?
I took the young faerie’s hand and clasped it between both of mine. “Yes, Kylie. I think I am.” Both Kylie and Anna smiled warmly at that. I happily basked in their goodness and was at peace with myself.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Photo by aislinnv