King Elliot, The Mad(ish)

King Elliot, The Mad(ish)

by David Henson

The royal dresser places the jeweled crown on His Majesty’s head. “Ah, the pièce de résistance,” King Elliot says. “We shall now comport to our loyal court.”

The King waves aside his dresser and strides into the banquet hall, the lords and ladies parting before him. He squeezes into a large, ornate chair at the head of the room and claps his hands. “Your King wishes to see you dance. Something courtly. A minute.”

After a brief hesitation, music rises, and the nobility begins dancing a minuet. As King Elliot watches, a stream of servants brings him spit-roasted quail, rabbit and boar; blood puddings, fruits, cakes, and goblets of wine. When about to burst, the King pushes himself to his feet, belches loudly, then sits, and motions for more food and drink. “Faster, my subjects,” he says, waving a drumstick.

After much further eating, drinking, and belching, King Elliot claps his hands again. “Enough. Leave me,” he shouts. The crowd quickly bows and curtsies its way out of the hall.

The King turns to his manservant. “Bring my fair young maidens. Now!”

The manservant claps his hands, and a valet enters with five beautiful women. He parades them one at a time before the king. “Her,” the king says. “And her. And her.”

The valet leads the two lucky women back out of the hall. “Assist me,” King Elliot says, raising his arms. Servants rush to His Highness and help him out of the chair. “We shall now comport ourshelves to our Royal Shambers,” he says.

A servant under each shoulder, the king staggers out of the hall, the three chosen ones following powerlessly behind him. “Dresher,” the king bellows. “Come hither and unwrap me.”

* * *

The king awakens chilled to the bone. “So cold,” he murmurs. “Why so cold?”

“You’re body isn’t quite warmed yet, Mr. Elliot,” a voice says. “Mr. Elliot, do you hear me?”

Mr. Elliot slowly opens his eyes and looks around the room. “This is not our royal chambers.” He stares at a man and a woman in white coats.

“Mr. Elliot, I’m Doctor Johnson,” the man says. “And this is Dr. Biessel, our Chief of Technology. Keep calm. You’re simply experiencing some temporary disorientation. It’s normal.”

“Where are my fair young maidens?”

“Listen to me carefully, Mr. Elliot,” Dr. Biessel says. “You were dying. Try to remember. We put your body in cryogenic suspension and streamed your consciousness to MyWorld. Do you understand? You purchased our Royalty Simulation package.”

“Our majestic hunger is afoot,” Mr. Elliot says, turning his head away from the man and woman. “I shall have a goose.”

“Mr. Elliot, a cure for your disease has been found,” Dr. Johnson says. “We just need to discuss some treatment options with you.”

“My goose. Spare not the fat.”

“Uh, he should be coming out of it by now,” Dr. Biessel says to her colleague.

Dr. Johnson studies a screen displaying the patient’s brain waves. “Remember Myrtle, Mr. Elliot? Your wife? She opted for Spousal Hibernation. She’s being warmed in the room next door. You can resume a life together in reality.”

Yes, Dear. No, Dear. Sorry, Dear.

Dr. Biessel begins turning dials on the control panel. “And you can resume a productive life in the workforce, Mr. Elliot.”

When the red light blinks, you push the button on the right. Green light, push the button on the left. Don’t mess up, Elliot.

“You’re back, Mr. Elliot. Do you understand?” Dr. Biessel wipes her brow with her sleeve.

Tensions rising with Martian colonies…Political squabbles paralyze Earth Council… Android rights backers, opponents clash…Levitatron malfunction snarls traffic…

“Guards! To arms!” Mr. Elliot shouts.

Dr. Johnson jumps back. “What’s going on, Biessel? This is your department.”

“Don’t try to tag this on me. He’s been gone a long time, one of the first according to the files. Maybe his real personality just … atrophied. Plus the psych-sim alignment protocols weren’t very refined back then. Your area, Johnson, not mine.”

“OK, OK. This isn’t getting us anywhere. If word gets out about a case like this… I think we should just refreeze the body and stream his mind back to MyWorld. We’ll tell his wife…I don’t know… We’ll think of something.”

“You’re probably right,” Dr. Biessel says. “But let’s give it another minute to see if he improves.”

Mr. Elliot forces back a smile, jumps from bed, and runs stark naked to the middle of the room. “Dresser!” he bellows. “Our royal robes. Now, Dresser!”

◊ ◊ ◊

David Henson
David Henson lives in Peoria, Illinois with his wife and their dog. His work has appeared in two chapbooks, Literally Stories, 365 Tomorrows, Flash Fiction Magazine, The Eunoia Review, and Dime Show Review, among others.  http://writings217.wordpress.com

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Living the Dream

Living the Dream

by Gordon Gregory

It took him some moments to realize it’d been a terrible dream, a nightmare. In it, his life had flashed forward and he was an old, old man: paunchy and stooped low, achy, with a rough cough that was more than a cough. He’d been alone in the dream, and so lonely. His hair was gone, his face no longer recognizable behind the puff and the sag and the shrinkage. His wife was long dead, and his child, his girl, his bundle of magic love, was moved far away and grown and complete in her life without him. Everything he valued was in a package of memories he could stare at but not touch.

But it had only been a dream, and he rolled over to find it wasn’t too late. He felt the thin film of his wife’s nightshirt, the warmth of her body radiating toward him like sunrise to a flower. He breathed in her fragrance, a lovely mixture of citrus and woman. The aroma of her flowed into his nose and through his brain and then seeped like a seasonal spring through his body. She was on her side, her back to him, and he reached forward, rolling his hand down the sweep of her side and up the hill of her rump, then down the ridge of her thigh toward the outcrop of her knee. Such amazing, impossibly wonderful contours.

She moved to his caress, and he reached forward to embrace her middle, to pulled her to him. She turned his way, and he saw the morning smile seep across her mouth, her eyes closed, every movement slow and sleepy and perfect. He lay there, absorbing her presence with his eyes, content to the very cells of his body. He heard a concerto in her breathing. Then she reached around him and tucked her lips into the crook of his neck. How he loved the feel of her lips on his skin.

There were no words between them, their communication coming in tones of intimacy as practiced as they were intense, slight movements so familiar and so particular to them as a couple, even to the match of their respiration and heart beats, each a mirror of contrast to the other: her soft cheek against his bristles; his hands rough, her flesh supple; their mingling of affection and sensation and love.

After, they lay together in a union of life and purpose, two beings without need or want. He rose and stepped to the bathroom, moving without effort or pain, his lungs alive and strong. Standing, emptying his bladder, he remembered the horror of the dream and felt the pound of respite and appreciation beat at his senses and gratitude flood across his fine body. He laughed with the pleasure of his remarkable fortune.

On his way back to the bed, he grabbed his pajama bottoms from the dresser, slipped them on and returned to his wife. “I love you so much,” he said.

Her lips spread in acknowledgement and she closed her eyes and breathed in a sigh, held it and then released the spent air into their bedroom, adding more of herself to the world. They remained in the embrace of their contentment, slowly drifting back toward sleep, almost reaching that realm, when the bedroom door flew open and their six-year-old girl scampered across the carpet and jumped on them.

“It’s morning!” she said, and wedged herself between them under the covers.

They lay for a few minutes, he and his wife on their sides looking to the middle of the bed, their daughter nestled in. “It is,” he said.

Then his wife rose and stretched, lifting her arms and reaching backward, looking to him like a dancer, her spine bending as if she was opening herself to all that was before her. “I’ll let you two play,’ she said, and he watched as she drifted from the room, a cloud flowing over the mountains, evaporating into rather than exiting through the door.

He pulled the covers over them. “Quiet,” he said softly into the ear of his child as they huddled in the darkness. “Hear it?” He had his right leg outside the covers and began tapping his foot against the side of the bed. “It’s awake, and coming.”

She giggled.

“Shush, the giant has very good ears and will hear,” he said.

They tried to control their movements. “Whatever you do, don’t laugh,” he cautioned. “The giant hears laughter better than anything, and he really doesn’t like anyone to have fun.”

For some reason the words hurt him, a quick stab of guilt landing deep in his gut. “Don’t laugh.”

He tapped his foot harder against the bed. “It’s getting closer,” he whispered. Tap, tap, tap. “I think it’s in the room.” TAP, TAP.

His child squirmed and tried to stay quiet. “Where is it?” she asked, her voice so soft it might have been imagined.

“Near, very close. Careful he doesn’t hear.”

He moved his hand slowly toward his little girl, his fingertips skipping atop the bones of her ribs, the quiver of excitement and anticipation running through her. “Whatever you do, don’t laugh.”

Again, a small, piercing guilt reached into him.

Then he strummed his fingers across the tender part of her side, and peals and layers and rolling waves of laughter burst from her in an ocean of joy that tumbled him over and over and over and would have drown him if it hadn’t been made of everything that was good in his life. “Oh no, he’s going to find us now! He’s going to get us! Oh no.” His fingers worked the strings of her joy, and her squeals ran through him and filled his heart.

“Daddy, daddy, daddy …” her voice, the one word, the moment: all a pinnacle—no, the essence, the sustenance of his life. “Daddy.”

They slipped toward sleep, his little girl against his side, her head on his left shoulder, her arm across his chest, which rose and set and rose and set and rose as the air moved so easily into and from him.

They drifted off, together at first, and then apart.

It was the cough that woke him. He felt wonderful, at first, his child’s laughter still in his ears, her small body tight against his side. Until he noticed the cold silence of the room, the emptiness of his bed, and finally, the vacancy of his spent life.

It took him some moments to realize it had been a dream, the best dream he’d ever had.

◊ ◊ ◊

Gordon Gregory
Gordon Gregory is a former newspaper reporter and editor. He’s dabbled in fiction for many years, though been putting a good deal more effort in writing since his daughter moved away to attend Berkeley last year. He and his wife live outside a small town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Northern California and have two horses, two cats, a dog and an empty nest.

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A Quiche for Jennifer

A Quiche for Jennifer

by Aaron Troye-White

Adam does make dinner, despite his wife’s claims to the contrary. Ramen with crudely chopped frankfurters, paninis, both eggs and bacon. And that’s all Quiche Lorraine really is.

Jennifer’s a doctor, who works past nine sometimes, while Adam stays at home. When they’d first moved in together, he was a list of aspiring things. His vlog, where he re-cut blockbuster bonanzas into art-house sleepers, had 100,000 subscribers. He was doing stand-up twice a week, even got paid sometimes. A few humorous essays were finding homes in university presses. One even got a glowing, personalized rejection from Tin House. He wasn’t rich, but made enough to pay rent and electricity, freeing Jennifer to focus on her studies. But mediocrity took its toll, and now he’s just unemployed.

Jennifer has always been the cook. He used to help, but after an incident involving Teflon and a metal whisk, he’s banished from the kitchen. Most nights, she comes home, cooks alone, and they eat in silence. They’ve adopted staggered bedtimes.

Not tonight though.

Tonight, she’ll come home to a fluffy, golden egg pie, then they’ll migrate to the bedroom, crumbs still lining their lips.

Quiche Lorraine is the only recipe from the sticky, flour-dusted tome that doesn’t require mysterious ingredients such as Brunoise, cornichon, tapenade.

He sets the mixer to slow, incrementally adding butter to the flour, amazed as two unlike textures join together in harmony. He mixes in ice water and it spins until it loses it stickiness. He cools it in the fridge, then goes to watch television.

He takes out the dough and rolls it onto the floured counter. Cooking seems easy.

But the crust has holes, sticks to his roller. The edges of the cake ring cut the dough. He folds the crust over the side, but it just reaches the rim. This can’t be disastrous.
Next, he pours in dried beans and bakes it. He laughs—this thing he made is now “full of beans”.

The crust shrinks, leaving just a small lip. He uses leftover dough to extend it, but there’s not enough to patch all the cracks. They are small, insignificant. He knows they won’t matter.

He fries the onions and bacon, shreds the cheese, mixes the custard with the magic whirling wand until frothy. Adams pours in the custard and places his quiche in the oven.

He takes a cloth and wipes random things, searching for invisible entities Jennifer calls “messes”. Five minutes later, he smells burning. But he can do nothing but watch through the grease-grimed oven window as the filling drips out the bottom. He figures it’s best to keep the heat in, let the custard set before he loses everything.

A practical man would collect what he can and pour it back over the top. A poet would recognize the afternoon’s tragic symbolism and mount a transformation of all that’s left. A humble romantic would remember their first date when they were both students, biking around the lakes, the whole open world before them, sharing a perfect Quiche Lorraine at that cute cafe on the shore—and serve what’s left under a candle’s forgiving light. They’d laugh together for the first time in months.
Adam is none of these things.

He watches it all drip away, smashes the crust, and waits for the mess to harden. Then he chokes down a plate of over-salted, black-speckled scrambles eggs, scraped from the bottom of the oven. When Jennifer comes home, he tells her she should just cook for herself tonight.

◊ ◊ ◊

Aaron Troye-White
Aaron Troye-White is a writer, beer sommelier, and restaurant manager. He has traveled the world a couple times and has collected copious images of temples and trees. His fiction has been published in The Tampa Review. Currently, he lives in Hungary with his wife. His seldom-updated, poorly-edited travel blog can be found at  http://aaronaaa.blogspot.no

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Naked Law

Naked Law

by Donald Hubbard

Naked Day originated as a reaction to excessive public nudity and love-making in Hale, Connecticut.

Citizens urinating in public, teenagers mooning the constable, couples copulating behind the Little League dugouts, nudists weeding their tomato gardens, farm animals mating without the slightest nod to propriety.

Rather than endure 365 days each year of the potential of chancing across a bit of flesh or PDAs, the town enacted ordinance 234Sw, commonly known as the ‘Nudie Law’, restricting public nudity and displays of over-affection to one day each year, August 15.

As part of the enabling legislation, money was set aside in the budget to pick up school aged children at 6:00 a.m. on that day and bus them to an auditorium with the windows blacked out to protect their sensibilities, while some of the elderly and easily offended obtained vouchers and bus passes to visit Holy Land in Waterbury.

Freaky people immediately loved the concept, strolling around, enjoying free love on the village green and playing tennis. Bashful folks started off more conservatively, taking showers without wearing a bathing cap or sitting in their rooms au naturel all day solving the New York Times crossword puzzle. Moderates walked to their mailboxes or changed their clothes with their windows open.

Others protested, bundling up in several layers of wool, donning ski caps and galoshes. Though in particularly hot years, they too stripped down.

Traditionally, Catholic children were born nine months after one of their parents’ birth days, when the ‘Rhythm System’ of contraception temporarily was thrown, like caution, to the wind. After Naked Day began, Hale experienced a sharp up-tick in births around February 15.

God finally put a stop to Naked Day, primarily because while many conceptions occurred on that date, so did many traffic accidents as tourists rolled into town to view the nudists, only to drive off the side of the road due to inattention. But mostly God banned Naked Day because frankly too many of the townspeople flattered themselves, out of shape and richly deserving of a new burka to hide their imperfections. Gave Eden a bad name.

The Town Selectmen bristled, citing separation of church and state, so they drafted up a compromise, keeping Naked Day and restricting it to February 28, a day deemed too cold for its citizens to safely walk outside in a state of nature.

Unfortunately, with the elimination of the freedoms enjoyed on Naked Day, incidents of drunkards and non-conformists showing too much skin throughout the year increased.

Folks missed hanging out with their friends on the porch, unfettered by convention, sucking down Miller Lites, or working the outside grill, flipping burgers and dogs while not feeling overheated. So spontaneously one year the townspeople met at the Village Green, removed their clothing, and embarked on a parade around town. Prayerful people prayed for a plague, and God answered their petitions, unleashing a gigantic hail storm upon Hale until people regained their wits.

◊ ◊ ◊

Donald Hubbard
Donald Hubbard has written six books, one profiled on Regis & Kelly and another a Boston Globe bestseller and Amazon category bestseller. His stories published/scheduled for publication include those in Notre Dame Magazine, Funny in 500, Quail Bell, Praxis, 101 Word Story, Flash Fiction Magazine, Crack the Spine, Dime Show Review, The Miscreant (upcoming) and Oddville Press.

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In Clover

In Clover

by Marc Shapiro

Henry rounded the corner and into the tumble down quadplex on the south side of town. He was dragging ass, hot and sweaty. The plastic trash bag, slung high on his back, was beating a numbing tattoo on his shoulder blades. He took the last of the broken stone pathway in a staggering shuffle and finally found the door. Way in the back where the sun don’t shine.

He was home but it was hardly sweet.

It was a shoddy add on by a greedy developer. Barely a studio, it stood a cracked, chipped, crumbling edifice around a door that was peeling paint and a doorknob that was hanging by a thread. The windows were cracked, forming odd surreal landscapes. He had done the best he could on the inside with tarpaper and duct tape to no avail. Henry kicked open the door and shuffled inside…

Where he found June sprawled out on the couch that doubled as a fold out bed. He gave her a dejected humph. June gave him a glazed thousand mile stare and held out her hand, flicking her fingers up into a curled position, the classic shorthand for ‘where’s mine?’ Henry tossed the trash bag into a dark corner and reached into his pants pocket. He pulled out a wad of folded up bills and a handful of change and, with an exaggerated gesture that equated with bored royalty, he dropped the money into June’s hand.

$9.47.

June sniffed at the day’s take. Not bad. It would get them a couple of items off the dollar menu and a couple of bottles of Night Train. They still needed another twenty to cover next week’s rent but this would at least get them through tomorrow.

June stood up. Her body had held together fairly well. Henry saw exactly what had attracted him to June in the first place. She stuffed the money into her tight jeans, stretched and went out the open door, slamming it with an exaggerated crash.

Henry hit the crapper, found a swallow left in last night’s Night Train bottle and downed it. He stared, eyes a glaze at the filth, grime and poverty that seemed to close in further every day. But Henry had seen worse and June was a good sport about it all. At least she had been to this point.

They had met at the all night Bottle Locker around the corner at around 2 a.m. He found her outside the door, panhandling other drunks for enough for a six pack of the cheapest stuff in the place. As fate would have it, so was he. A deal was struck. They would pool their change for a clutch of cans of the cheap stuff and then go back to his place for a nightcap. The booze was just this side of piss. But everything that came after was aces.

By the next morning June had moved in and a division of labor was hammered out. Henry would go out into the world each morning and, figuratively, hunt. Dumpster diving, coin return slots and the occasional found wallets outside of bars were his main trophies. Then he would finish the day at the recycling plant where he would cash out for the day. Then it was home and hand over the day’s take for June to go out and replenish the larder. So far everything was working out. They were living so far from the edge that they were hanging on by a fingernail. But they were living in bliss.

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of June doing her best Henry imitation and kicking open the door and sauntering in with a couple of brown paper bags which she proceeded to lay out between them on the couch. Two Mc somethings on sesame seed buns and a couple of Night Train Lights. They began to munch and drag. After a moment, Henry matter of factly told June that he had something to tell her.

June looked him in his blood shot eyes. She made a joke about packing her bags and catching the midnight train to Georgia. Henry chuckled and belched. No, it was nothing like that. He was quite happy with their situation.

But he had run into somebody on the trail today that had hipped him to a new day labor shack that had opened a few blocks down the road and that they were looking for people who would do shit work for shit pay. June sized him up for a minute and then cut to the chase. Henry smiled a tight smile. $20 a day. Five days guaranteed. Mentally they both knew what it meant. Not much. But at least it would keep this poor excuse of a roof over their heads. And neither was looking forward to going back on the streets.

They talked it out for the rest of the night, unfolded the hide away bed and generated some skin heat. Then they decided to think about it.

Henry awoke first as was his routine. He slipped on his trash picking clothes and turned to look at June who was still sawing wood and had kicked the blankets off. Henry surveyed her long, lean form. He picked up his plastic trash bag and walked out into the early morning haze. Henry had decided as only Henry could. If he made at least $20 today, he would continue on as a man of leisure. If he made less…

…Then he would become a working stiff.

◊ ◊ ◊

Marc Shapiro
Marc Shapiro recently went toe to toe with the notorious Chicago shock jock Man Cow on his radio show to promote his latest book Hey Joe: The Unauthorized Biography Of A Rock Classic (Riverdale Avenue Books) Also an updated version of Trump This! The Life And Times Of Donald Trump (Riverdale Avenue Books) had a simultaneous release in twenty english speaking countries internationally. Marc Shapiro is currently walking his dog.

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The Path

The Path

by  Kaitlynn McShea

My host told me about this path to school yesterday. Aoife, with her blonde bob and heavy eyeliner, drove past her house to the back of the cul de sac. “There’s a path there, so. Take it, it’s a half-mile, like, to your one-mile walk.”

I decided not to take it to school, because what was a mile for someone who has nothing to do in a town that’s in the middle of nowhere?

Today, though, it was pouring as I left school. Rain seeped through my raincoat, and with the wind, my umbrella was completely useless. Short of looking completely daft walking on the main street of the town, I decided to take this path.

I entered, immediately feeling a weight on my chest and a churning in my stomach. The trees bent over, making a quintessential “O” when looking straight down the path. Rain gathered on leaves and fell in massive drops, but otherwise, it was quite dry. Well, as dry as Ireland could be.

Why was this path here? It didn’t seem to go anywhere in particular but was really a trodden dirt alleyway behind the neighborhoods.

I got home in ten minutes instead of twenty. Ten more minutes to find something to do in a town where nothing happens.

But I suppose I got home with no problem.

* * *

The next day, a rare sunny day, I decided to walk the host’s puppy after school.

“Hiya, Emily?” Another blonde woman with heavy eyeliner waved to me with her free hand. Her other hand stayed clasped, belonging to her husband.

“Oh. Hi, Grainne.” She was another interventionist at my school.

“Come on this path often?” Her eyebrows arched, her smile thin.

“I’ve only come on it a few times.”

“It’s nice on a sunny day, now, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Well, now, Emily. I’ll see yerself at school tomorrow.”

“All right, bye!”

I really liked Grainne. She was always friendly and positive. She didn’t seem herself, just now, though. Her words were friendly, but her tone was off.

After taking a moment to consider it, I decided to head back to my host’s house.

* * *

The following day at school, Grainne scampered up to me, wringing her hands. Not her usual laid-back self.

“You don’t walk on that path to school now, Emily?”

“No…Why?”

“Oh, grand. You just never know who’s on it at that time, like. Take care of yerself.”

She hurried away and whispered to Niamh, a teacher for six and seven-year-olds. They peeked at me. Catching my eye, they looked away.

What was going on? And what’s the matter with walking at path? After all, Aoife seemed to think it was okay.

After school, I decided to ask Aoife about it to break up the expanse of the evening.
As she started dinner, I looked up from my laptop and tried to catch her eye. She smiled, but kept busy chopping parsnips and onions.

“Hey, Aoife. Some teachers seemed to not like the path behind the neighborhood. Do kids mess around on the path in the morning or something? Is it not safe?”

She paused and laughed. “Oh, that. Some folk will always be superstitious now, especially in a small town like this. Some say that when the sun’s not fully out, the Fair Folk still walk the path and snatch up lonely walkers to do their bidding.”

“The Fair Folk?”

“Fae. Fairies. Like in fairy tales, but they’re not kind and they don’t have wings.”

“Do you believe in the Fair Folk?”

She laughed again. “Oh, Jaysus, no. But you might consider not walking on the path in the dark, like.”

“Okay…thanks.”

I spent the next three hours after dinner researching the Fair Folk. People actually believed this stuff? So ridiculous. Still, I went to bed dreaming of long canines and sharp nails.

* * *

The next day was Saturday, so I decided to take a hike. Emily was at the market in the town’s square, and having gone two times was two times plenty.

I started off by myself this time, no puppy to accompany me. I saw a few people on the path: it went through a field and past the boy’s and girl’s colleges of the town. At some point, though, I no longer had company. I kept going through a remote path. The grass grew high on both sides, tickling my ankles. If I had been at home, I would’ve called this a deer path. The hair on my arms stood up, and I felt a presence at my back. I kept looking behind me, but no one was there. There were no noises to suggest someone was following me, either.

Despite the creepy vibe, I walked through high grass and thicket. I hiked all the time back home, so no big deal, right?

The path opened up.

Instead of an open field, an abandoned barn rested half-collapsed. Rusted junk surrounded it.

The yard was absent of a rusted car, though…and there was no road.

There was no sign of a soul there, besides me.

My shadowy presence at my back intensified. My head pounded, my vision flashed. The words, ‘YOU SHOULDN’T BE HERE!’ pumped through my brain.

Twenty feet away, the grass parted.

Ten feet away, the grass continued to fold, as if some small animal raced through.

At two feet away, I saw it. A tan and black patterned snake raced for me. I froze.

A foot away from me, it stopped with a jerk. It lifted it head, tongue testing the air. It lunged, fangs bared, and sank into my ankle. It bit through my hiking socks and leggings.

It was gone.

I sank to the earth, fearing to mess with my sock and leggings right now. My stomach rolled, and my ankle already felt swollen and bruised.

I stayed glued for another minute before scrambling back and limping as fast as I could.
About a half-mile later, once the grass became trimmed and green once more, I let myself slow. The pain was excruciating, but I had to get the hell out of there.

Finally, finally, I reached my host’s street. I dragged my right foot, unable to flex my foot now. I reached the doorknob, twisting it.

It was locked.

Where was my key, where the hell was my key? Screw it. I banged on the door, still feeling the presence at my back, still feeling my vision flare.

Aoife swung the door open and stared.

“What in the devil is going on, Emily?”

I fainted.

* * *

A shooting pain awoke me. I blinked my eyes open, seeing white walls and hearing beeping machines.

A hospital.

I glanced down, registering the i.v. and that my foot was propped up on a pillow.

“Oh, grand, yer awake!” Aoife blonde bob shifted as she stood and crept over.

“What happened? Why am I here?”

“Well, I believe you were on a hike. Don’t you remember?”

In flashes, I did. The path, the barn, the snake.

The snake.

“Did you figure out what snake bit me?” I said, too loud.

“Emily…” she paused, smiling halfway.

“What?”

“Well, there are no snakes in Ireland now. You couldn’t’ve been bit by a snake.”

“But I remember it!” I insisted, “It was tan and black. It was patterned! It had a tongue!”

One of the machines started to beep faster.

“Calm down, Emily. I’m sure you thought it was a snake.”

Her pause felt heavier this time, and not because I was ignorant.

“What does that mean?”

“You’re coworkers tried to warn you, Emily…” She paused, mouth moving but no words coming out.

She took a breath and continued. “I didn’t believe…I thought it was just superstition. But, Emily, I was wrong…that path is for the Fair Folk, the Good Folk. That was no snake.”

My vision swam. What the hell kind of place was this?

“Can I speak to the doctor, please?”

“I’ll go find herself. Lie back now, be a good girl.” She exited the room, but not before giving me a pitying smile.

The doctor entered. She paused at the threshold before entering.

“Hiya, Emily. I’m Dr. Ó Murchadha, and I’ve been taking care of you. What can I do for you?”

“What’s wrong with my foot?”

“Emily, I’m afraid it’s very likely you’ll be hiking anytime soon, if at all. There has been some degeneration of the muscles in your ankle.”

“I don’t understand. How did this happen? All I remember is that a snake bit me.”

The doctor and Aoife’s eyes darted towards each other.

“Emily…that was no snake.”

“And I’m sure it was some damn faerie, huh?”

Aoife gasped, and the doctor’s face became grim. She advanced, a crease forming in between her eyes.

“You’re lucky to be alive, Emily. Heed this warning. Do not go on that path again. Do not hike again while you’re in Ireland, do you understand? If you never hike again, even if you never walk again, it’s better than what could’ve happened.”

She stepped back a foot and squared her shoulders.

“I’ll be releasing you shortly. It’s best if you move past this. Don’t talk about, don’t dwell on it. If anyone asks, you were bitten by a mutt. Do you understand?”

I looked from Aoife to Dr. Ó Murchadha and gulped. “Yes.”

Her face brightened. “Grand! Someone will be with you as soon as possible to release you.”

I slumped against the pillows. “Ugh, I wish my foot would just get back to normal,” I groaned.

Aoife turned to me, grinning.

Too weird. I needed to get out of this place.

She stopped, looming over my bed. “A favor requires a favor in return, Emily.”

“What?”

She closed her eyes, nostrils flaring. Her features smoothed. Years of wrinkles disappeared, her eyeliner lessened, her blonde hair turned from brassy to glowing and grew at least a foot. She opened her eyes and winked at me. She grinned again, but this time with long, sharp canines.

“I haven’t been entirely honest with you, Emily.” She swung her hair. “I’m the Queen of the Fair Folk, and I can make your foot back to normal.”

These must have been some good pain meds.

“Okay, I’ll bite.” I paused to giggle at my own pun. “What favor do you require of me?”

Her grin turned feral. “I’m so glad you asked. Welcome to the real Ireland, Emily.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Kaitlynn McShea
Kaitlynn McShea is a fourth-grade teacher by day and a writer and Pilates instructor by night. She specializes in all things fantasy. Discover more at https://www.instagram.com/kaitlynnmcshea/

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