I don’t hunt in quite the same fashion as my Shining brethren. No luring with fancy smells off cliff-sides or dim will-o-the-wisps through swampland. Though an occasional riddle is hard to pass up, I’m not in the business of selling second chances.
No end of the rainbow trickery for me.
I prefer college campuses.
1) They’re filled with kids without a clue.
2) If my benevolent side rears its ugly head and I send them home in the morning, they merely assume
they were rufied and put the entire incident with its strange creatures, dancing, and occasional
blood-letting behind them.
I love extremes. The highest-highs and the lowest-lows follow college students in an elegant pas-de-deux, and once you spy someone lit up with joy or drowning in depression, you get a much better sense of who they are.
And that is important to me. Who you are. Why, if you’ll pardon the rather modern sentiment, victimize someone who has already done it to himself?
But enough about me, why don’t I tell you about Mary Anne.
One of my favorite hunting grounds is the Seminar II building of Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. The industrial building is like a parking garage, with square concrete pillars and yellow lights striping the concrete ceiling. Eerie green exit signs have their own fox-fire, and footsteps echo as if you’re in a vast system of caves.
It’s the alphabet signs, though, that interest me. Rectangular signs with any of the letters of the alphabet A – F. And beside each letter a small arrow pointing up, left, or right to direct students and the unwary on their way.
I take great pleasure in changing one of the arrows every morning. So that on this sign, B is that way, but on the sign just a pillar beyond, B is this way. Most students never glance up to notice. They’re hurrying with earbuds tucked into their ears, backpacks hitched uncomfortably, eyes blank and staring as if they’ve already spent an evening out with me.
The few that do notice merely blink, turn in a circle, and usually keep going along their original path. Occasionally you get one or two that alter course, only to show up again five minutes later, cheeks flushed. Depending on my mood, I’ve changed the arrow again so it points the opposite way and the kid pauses, takes a deep breath and shakes his head, thinking he imagined it and maybe he should have stayed in bed. Or if I haven’t changed it again, one of two things happen: he tries again, marching in the exact same direction he just proved was wrong. Or he gets horribly indignant, hands on hips, wondering who the hell he should tell about the arrows being so wrong.
I just lean against the pillar, invisible, and laugh. When he brings a secretary out, the arrows are exactly as they should be. “You’re crazy,” the secretary says, though sometimes she wonders because this isn’t the first time a student has brought her out. Perhaps she’s the crazy one…
All in a day’s work.
Ah, but let me not forget Mary Anne.
Every day for a week she passed me, her high-heeled boots clicking staccato on the concrete. She’d glance up, swish long dark bangs from her eyes, frown at the arrows, and continue on her way.
Then on Friday she stopped, pulled a cell phone out of her jacket pocket, and snapped a picture of my signs.
Her lips pressed in a satisfied little smile, and off she went. I stared after her, drawing my eyes up her body. She was the one. I clapped my hands together.
Monday dawned behind thick clouds, and I hunched beside my pillar in a tattered rain coat and changed another arrow.
She came, her bright green slicker cinched tightly around her waist and her hair pulled back so that only her bangs stuck wetly to her cheeks. She dropped her backpack and dug out her cell phone. With one arm holding it out, she compared her picture from Friday to the current sign. And she laughed.
I wasn’t prepared for the click of the camera this time.
Her laugh caught in her teeth and she stared at me – or rather, at the pillar where I stood invisible. Her eyes darted down to the camera again, where no doubt she saw a thin man in a torn black rain coat, his hair braided with a dozen colors of ribbons, and eyes as green and eerie as the exit signs. She raised the camera again and I flicked my fingers at her just as she pressed the button.
The phone clattered to the ground, and she bent to pick it up, fingers fumbling. She clutched it, jerked her backpack on, and hurried away.
But I followed.
For days I stalked behind her. Sitting next to her in the auditorium, visible, until she turned her head and I vanished. I whispered rhymes into her ear while she sat in the library until she realized she was writing down my silly songs and not her chemistry notes. I soured her milk and hid her keys (some classics are classics for a reason). I showed myself in the mirror, my smile hidden in her own dark pupils.
She began looking for me constantly. Scanning crowds. Holding out her camera to glance through the view screen instead of trusting her eyes. I was winning. Her sanity dripped out of her head in long, translucent streaks, covering her skin in a shimmer like snail tracks.
And I hadn’t even had to touch her.
Nine days into it, I slipped into her bedroom and saw she’d taped two pictures to her mirror. One: the alphabet sign with the C arrow pointed up. The other: the same alphabet sign with the C arrow pointed left.
Her alarm clock shrilled and she sat up, holding her eyes tightly shut, and felt her way to the little mirror where it hung over her dresser. She counted to three, her lips moving, and opened her eyes so that the first thing she saw were the pictures. “I am not crazy,” she said.
A tiny bit of her sanity fell back into place.
I wanted to grab her – to hug her, to spin her around gleefully. It was oh-so-rare for a little human child to push off my madness.
Of course, while she was in the bathroom, I changed the pictures so that the arrows pointed the same way.
I lay down on her bed, and at the creak of the mattress, she jerked open the bathroom door, toothbrush in her mouth. I did not move. Her eyes darted to the mirror, and there I was, lounging on her bed.
“Who are you?” she asked, tugging out the toothbrush and not glancing away from my reflection in her mirror. She swallowed.
For a moment I was silent, watching her watch the mirror. Usually, when a human asks my name, I say Brian. It’s close – in the family, shall we say – but this girl, my Mary Anne, she was strong. “Amadan,” I said. She twitched, as if she had not truly expected me to respond.
“I’m not crazy. You’re doing this to me.” For a second she glanced at her empty bed, but quickly back to the mirror.
I laugh. “Oh I am doing this to you. And you’re crazy.”
Mary Anne dashed to the mirror and put her hands flat beside either picture. “No – no, you changed them again – that’s not possible.”
Suddenly I was behind her, visible and solid. She jumped away from my reflection, and straight into my chest. With a squeak, she spun. I lifted a finger and held it up to her face, inches from her forehead.
She was trapped between me and the dresser.
Mint floated in the air between us, tickling my nose. One touch, and she was mine. If it had been April, I wouldn’t have hesitated.
“Why haven’t you screamed?” I asked.
“You’ll be gone before anyone comes. Hiding there in the corner, invisible.”
“Brava, little one.”
“What are you, Amadan?”
“I’m not asleep.”
“Are you certain?” I leaned in, so she could see the foxfire in my eyes.
She trembled, but lifted her chin. “Yes.”
“Ah!” I pranced back. “Come with me, Mary Anne. Come with me into the forest and dance and lose yourself – I promise you’ll return again, never the worse for wear. I won’t take your mind. I won’t take your memories, and for the whole of your life you will remember magic.”
My heart broke into a hundred pieces, each pounding its own uneven rhythm. Never had I made such an offer before. Never had I been one to open our world to a girl. Leave that for the Queen and the trolls, the hobgoblins and hinky-punks who collected them like china dolls and spat them back out to live lonely, gray lives.
I reached and caressed my hand an inch from her messy, bed-tangled hair. I imagined the smooth feel of it against my palm. She closed her eyes and leaned toward my hand, listing gently like a tree in the wind. She swayed, and I drew my hand farther away. Her breath sighed out of her, tasting sharply of mint. Her eyes snapped open and with a look of conviction and her hands fisted at her sides, she told me “No.”
All the pieces of my heart slammed back together and I remembered who I was. The Fool. Amadan na Briona, the Mad Maker.
Mary Anne saw the memory fill my eyes and pressed back into the dresser. I grabbed her face in my hands and kissed her.
Her hair was as smooth as glass, her lips warm, and her body went limp in my arms as the last shreds of sanity melted away.
For I’m not in the business of second chances.
prompt image by karenkincy . Thanks, Karen!