If he’d asked me the question an hour before, I’m pretty sure the answer would’ve been a breathless yes. I had the inhibitions of a hurricane and he was cute, wiry with muscle, smelling of summer night sweat. But now, so close behind him, shivering in the evening cold and staring up at a stone warehouse, my answer to his question was distinctly ambivalent.
“It’s warmer inside,” he promised. Not letting go of my hand, Christian swept open the door. I stared at the threshold; a line of white, grainy powder stretched across it. The powder glowed in contrast to the falling blue dusk around us.
Christian scuffed the grains aside with his boot and gave me an apologetic smile that lifted his nice lips only on one side. I pulled my eyes from his mouth to his eyes as he said, “You’ll forgive my eccentricities, won’t you?”
“That has yet to be seen,” I said, but I followed him anyway.
Inside, it was dim and yellow, the packed dirt beneath our feet rising into the air, where it was transformed into golddust by the light of the lamps on the walls. The whole place smelled old and rocky and barnish. Beneath that, though, there was a peculiar smell, all fields and fresh rain and fruit begging to be picked.
Christian’s hand moved to my arm, my shoulder, my mouth. He touched my lips reverently. “You’re beautiful in this light, did you know?”
“I do know,” I replied. “What is this place?”
I glanced at his body; he was all tense muscle and skin and blonde hair that glowed in this dim world, a present just waiting to be unwrapped. I was a little freaked out by the salt at the door, but I was willing to put up with a small measure of crazy. A small measure.
In the darkness behind us, I heard the sound of movement. A scufflng, stomping, breathing sound with a sort of weight that implied a large animal. I flinched and started to spin away from him; he held my hand and anchored me to the ground like a kite.
Heart pounding in my chest, quick as a bird, I froze where he held me fast to him. “What was that?” I demanded.
Christian breathed into my ear; I half-closed my eyes at the feel of his breath on my neck. “Something amazing. Almost as amazing as you. Would you like to see it?”
I didn’t think I did, but he led me towards the sound anyway. Finding the switch, he flicked on a light. The florescent bulb overhead buzzed to life, illuminating the stall before us. Inside, a massive horse pawed at the floor and bobbed its head. It was a penny-red chestnut, eyes half-hidden beneath a moss-tapestry mane, glowing with fearful beauty. Beneath its skin, I saw music moving, pressing against the translucent skin in a ceaseless escape attempt.
The horse sensed me and raised its head, a single dark eye finding me from beneath its knotted red mane. Its breath smelled of rain.
Christian’s fingers stroked my neck, hot as the memory of the sun. “Is it not fabulous? It’s an each uisge. Water horse.”
I looked at the horse again. It blinked its dark eye, and a single tear ran out.
“I’ve seen better,” I said.
Christian tugged my arm. “I will show you more.”
Leaving the light on in the stall, he pulled me to the next exhibit. In this stall – a cage, really – there was a black calf, coat curly and new looking. It stood, head down, facing away from us, tail tucked between its legs. It looked lonely in the pen, a black smudge in a sea of wood shavings.
I sighed and rested my forehead against the wooden slats.
“No, love,” Christian said lightly. He eased me back just as the calf flew at us, crashing against the slats, teeth gnashing where my face had been seconds before. Its muzzle distorted into a face, eyes red and weeping, and it screamed at me in a language I couldn’t understand. Christian looked at me. “It’s a buggane. Shapeshifter. Strange, isn’t it?”
I shivered and said, “You . . . collected these?” He missed my contemptuous tone.
“Proof the world is something more,” he told me. “Come, let’s see another.”
And so we went to another stall, and in this one, there was a black pillar in the middle. The pillar mumbled to itself and as I looked harder, I realized it was a creature: one legged, covered with dark, leathery skin. One arm grew from its chest, and one unblinking eye observed us from underneath a crown of dark feathers or hair. The black creature garbled at me, and as it did, smoke crept from around its lips. I stared into that mirror-like eye, and in it, I saw six men looking back at me.
Christian drew me away. “A fachan. Don’t look into its eye, it’s not a good idea. Amazing, isn’t it?”
My voice sounded flat to me. “Not really.”
Christian took my hand to lead me farther; when I resisted, he pulled a little harder than before. I tried to remember what his touch had felt like earlier in the afternoon, when it had set my skin on fire and promised the world. “Don’t worry, we’re not looking at the rest.”
That didn’t comfort me. He led me away from the stalls and towards a more civilized looking door. When he pushed it open, I saw a table with six chairs around it. Five of them were occupied with guys, and when they heard the door open, they looked up and stared at me. Their eyes were wide and light in comparison to the each uisge’s, in comparison to mine.
“Gentlemen,” Christian said cheerfully, releasing my hand just long enough to lay a piece of iron rebar across the doorway behind us. The image of the iron pressed against me, a violent symbol of my sudden entrapment. “I present to you the most amazing of things and the crowning piece of our menagerie.”
They gazed at me, amazed, and finally, one said, “Welcome, faerie.”
Author’s Note: I have actually never written any short fiction involving faeries — only novel length. To quote Goldmember from Austin Powers, “isn’t that veird?”
base photo courtesy: sdierdorf