The Faire

Chapter 2

“No means no, Jacob,” Gwen said dryly, sniffing the beer he had offered her in exchange for a dance. She did not give him the dance and chugged the beer instead. The odor was tart and strong and the taste repulsive, so she swallowed the whole thing down quickly before she could taste it.

Today, there was a wedding, and for weddings the cast members were meant to dance and act and play the part of revelers. Weddings were usually scheduled on weekdays, for crowd control purposes. The Faire did stay open to the public, but it was usually less crowded.

Tons of shops would close for the duration so their workers could revel along with the wedding party, but also because weddings tended to have open bars. This one did, and the bartender was wearing an executioner's hood and never IDing anyone.

Gwen hated The Faire weddings to her core. All of it. The black angel wings and elf ears of the bride in her Grecian dress jiggling with her as she danced. The groom was in his fedora and coattails that the tailor had obviously suggested because of his massive height. The groom’s attire did not fit into the Renaissance at all, not that the couple cared. They just wanted to be that weird couple. The one whose wedding would be talked about like a social event instead of a religious ceremony or legal binding.

Most of all, Gwen hated the marriage part. After all, she had very rarely seen one last. Cassidy’s grandparents were her only example of a lasting marriage among her group of acquaintances. Most of her peers hopped between fair life for the summers and living with their other parent for the school year. Gwen and Cassidy were the only permanent residents under the age of twenty.

Jacob took a small sip of his own beer, and asked again. “C’mon, you’re supposed to dance. That’s why your parents told you to come to the wedding, right?”

“No, no, my dad told me they needed a drunkard at this wedding,” she said sardonically. “And, well, you know me.”

Giving him a meaningful look, Gwen one-shotted his entire plastic cup of beer after removing it deftly from his hand.

He scoffed and left her sitting there on the wooden gate. She was grateful for the absence after the fifteen minutes of cajoling he had spent with her. She watched as his shoulders slumped and he asked an elderly woman for her hand to dance. Gwen pulled her chemise higher over her chest and sucked in to stop the corset suffocating her.

Cassidy was in the throng already, dancing a traditional-looking dance with a 40-something-year old lecherous wedding guest. Their two hands held high together, his grip so tight that his knuckles whitened, they span in circles around their joint hands before switching them and raising their free hands out as if ballerinas. The man eyed Cassidy hungrily. Gwen watched him like a hawk, ready to swoop in and kill him if she deemed it appropriate. When the dance was over, the man led Cassidy towards the open bar and offered her a series of drinks that she held but did not drink. She caught sight of Gwen a few meters away, and excused herself from the company of the man.

“What a divine match, dos’t thou think?” Cassidy smiled pleasantly. Clearly, she honestly thought the couple was a good pair. Angel wings and fedoras, together in holy matrimony.

“A match sets fires. This match seems naught,” Gwen said, holding her hand out to remove Cassidy’s clear plastic cup from her grasp. It looked like a glass goblet filled with wine. Cassidy rolled her eyes, then sniffed the air inching closer to Gwen’s mouth. Gwen released a heavy breath, and Cassidy wrinkled her nose in disgust.

“You wench!” She said in fake anger. “Is that mead I smell on your underage breath?”

“On the topic of underage, Dos’t the Lolita find Humbert pleasing?” Gwen quipped, making Cassidy’s eyes follow hers to the man she had just danced with. He was watching them intently, focusing on the way their corsets pressed their breasts skyward. Cassidy turned her back on him, blocking either of their womanly assets from his gaze.

“Men,” Cassidy groaned. "Mr. Patil told me his wife just died. I felt bad, so I offered to dance with him. He then reminded me of how single that made him. My hand is sore from that vice grip."

They both were sweating, but Cassidy was short on breath from the constant movement of dancing. Neither of them usually wore corsets in their roles, but Cassidy’s grandmother insisted it would look better for the wedding to wear formal gowns and corsets. Mrs. Ranklin had them up at 6 a.m. to intricately braid their hair, fit them into gowns at the costumer’s shop, and teach them some traditional dances. Even though it was clear neither of them could properly breathe, Mrs. Ranklin had them practice for two hours.

“Want to get out of here?” Gwen provided. “Gordy at Friar Tucks said he’s going to make Deep-Fried Oreos if it gets slow because of the wedding.”

It was hard not to know everyone at The Faire. It was worse than living in a small town. It was like having an extremely large extended family, all living 5 feet from one another most of the year. No one knew what a classic vacation looked like.

“Can’t,” whispered Cassidy. “Gran’s orders. I’m supposed to do some weird vow reading for them later. I’ll catch up with you.”

“I will try to save you an Oreo, but you know they’re no good un-fresh.”

Gwen and Cassidy bowed their goodbyes, and parted ways. Gwen downed the fruity cocktail and threw the plastic goblet into the bin by the gate.

As she walked down to Friar Tucks, Gwen wondered, as she often did, what it must feel like for this to be all new. To be a visitor to The Faire. What would it be like to smell the incense and sausages, and see the large skirts and giant swings and hear the terrible Old English mimicry? To wonder how it all suddenly appeared as if out of thin air, instead of traveling to and from the grocery store for more flour and sausages and “fresh-squeezed” orange juice anytime they ran out at Madam Mulberry's.

She sighed. She tried to catch her breath and loosen her corset, to no avail.

Not sure if she was feeling social, and suddenly feeling a little sick from the heat and beer, she decided to leave. She headed out of an employee exit behind an abandoned beer stall, and into the wooded area beyond the fences of The Faire.

She had barely reached the edge of the woods when she vomited without warning. The world shifted underneath her and she lost her balance. She was clammy and sweating profusely and the world kept dipping in and out of focus. She held her eyes tightly closed, trying to make the world stop tipping like a boat. As she lay on the ground, she felt a sudden coolness as a shadow passed over her.

She wasn’t sure if it was heat exhaustion, the overly tight corset, or the three cups of alcohol, but the next thing she knew she had passed out cold on the hard, dry dirt.

Gwen awoke slightly to find herself being carried, the arms careful and kind but also hard like stone. The sun was too blinding to open her eyes. She wanted to protest, to make the arms release her, but she fell back into darkness again. She heard a familiar whistle in her ears, ringing like a music box.

When Gwen came to, she felt dazed, but also cool. The music was gone, and there was only a crackling sound and the distant sound of dripping water.
She opened her eyes and it was dark. Beneath her was only dirt covered stone, like sandpaper against her bare arms, and above her more of the same.

There was hardly enough light to see by, but there were small flickers of yellow light dancing around what appeared to be cave walls. Pushing herself up onto her hands, she noticed a cool wet cloth slide from her head to her lap. She picked it up and tried to inspect it with the limited light. It appeared to be made of a fine silk, light in color. Then, she glanced around her.

Across the cave from Gwen, sitting aloof by a small fire was a man in a convincing suit of armor. He could not possibly have been older than twenty, yet he had black hair, longer than even her own, tied in a braid twisted with silver shaped like ivy. The braid fell beside him and on the floor wound into a coil. Strands of hair reflected in the light like carborundum. His features were sharp and well-defined, with a jawline that could cut glass. He had a pale scar running from his left earlobe to just above his brow bone. His black eyes were glittering golden in the fire light like beetles, as he glanced her way.
He adjusted himself to sit taller when he noticed she was awake, but the man did not approach her. Then, she was aware of the pointed ears and wings that appeared to be made of cellophane, and the real way the metal armor that adorned his broad shoulders creaked at his movement.

Oh great, she thought. I’ve been abducted by a fucking try-hard geek.

In her horror, she grabbed the wet cloth in her lap while actually checking that her underwear beneath the skirts were still securely in place. To her relief, she had not yet been taken advantage of. She still cursed herself for ever being convinced into a dress.

“Alright, you fucking nerd, thanks for the wet cloth and all, but where is the exit? I am going home,” she said. When he did not respond, she added “Now!”

He leaned back against the gray stone, armor creaking and clanking against it, and took in the whole of her.

“Such a wretched mouth for one so young,” he smirked. Clearly, he was amused with her anger. His sentence sounded weird to Gwen, with an accent she could not place. His voice seemed oddly smooth, and his gaze on her was disconcertingly familiar-as if he already knew her. She wondered how long he had been watching her-stalking her. They had only been in Colorado for a month and a half.

“I’m nineteen, you fuck. You couldn’t be that much older. Old enough to go to jail for kidnapping, though.”

Gwen knew confrontation was not the smartest choice for an abducted girl to make, but it was simply in her nature. Fear turned into anger, where she was involved. She felt the fury coiling in her, ready to spring and strike like a cobra. The flame danced around, and the twigs cracked in the silence. His face, lit beautifully by the fire, displayed a gaze that was fierce but amused. There was smile playing on his lips, which only irritated Gwen even more. What did he have planned for her here?

“I saw you,” he said evenly, but with an undertone of mocking. His words were as smooth and cool as a stream of water. “A young woman. Alone. In a compromising state. There was an unkind man with eyes seeking recompense looming over you in your stupor. Would you rather I left you to his devices?”

Gwen stood haughtily, and, to spite the man, strode towards the fire. She wanted to display a false sense of bravery but also illusion of trust. If she was going to escape this situation, the man had to believe she would not try to. His face seemed more ferocious up close, with the darkest eyes she had ever seen, and irises wider than was normal. She assumed that he was a fan of circle-lenses, like the k-pop groups she listened to. He followed her with those large irises warily, without moving his head.

“Who is to say that unkind man was not you?” He remained silent, and, when it was clear he would not answer, she sighed. “I was fine. Just a little exhausted from the heat. Maybe the man was trying to help.”

As she moved a step closer to him, she noticed the wings twitching, catching the light like shattered glass. The man must have spent thousands on his costume. If he had that much to spend on frivolous things like costumes, he could probably afford a good enough lawyer to get him off easily, even if he decided to rape and kill her. She suddenly rethought her plan to play the trusting victim, but it seemed too late to run. She was already within reach of his long-fingered, gloved hands.

“There was a toxin in your drink,” he said gravely. “You were drugged. I doubt that man had anything but ill intent.”

No longer was there a pleasure in his speaking. He left his words in the air like a gust of wind before a storm. She fell from her feet, feeling as if the world had been pulled from under her feet. Drugged, the word echoed in her head and she suddenly paid more attention to her vertigo, the way her focus kept drifting in and out, the aching in her skin, and the clamminess she felt. She had only had three drinks, she remembered. Gwen tried and failed to recall who gave them to her, and who they had been intended for. She only remembered a wedding, spinning dances, and loud piping music.
The water drops echoed in the silence. The fire let out a loud snap as it cracked a small twig in its tongue. The sound startled her into realizing she not sat within feet of the stranger.

“How would you know?” she asked, the weakness of her voice declaring her uncertainty.

Gwen was positive he was correct. Surely, three watered-down drinks and a little dry heat would not have put her in that state. She had been to Florida, after all, with humidity you could not breathe in and never suffered such a heat stroke. She recalled how suddenly that she felt ill, and how quickly it was that she passed out after. She knew she should feel denial, like all the lists detailing grief began, but instead there was just a small voice in her head that said: Aha! It fits perfectly.

She couldn’t remember even the smallest fragments after her retching at the edge of the woods, aside from the faintest memory of being carried in someone’s arms. No, he was right. She was certain. However, that did not rule him out as the perpetrator.

“If it wasn’t you, how could you possibly know? I could have just been drunk.”

He stared down into the fire, watching as embers sparked from the wood and died on the hard-stone floor. Crickets singing echoed against the cavern walls. Closer to the fire now, sweet smoke crept into Gwen’s nose, turning her stomach over. Even though his hesitation should indicate his guilt, Gwen saw some unfamiliar expression in his face that suggested otherwise. Was it fear? Surely, if it was he who had drugged her, he would have done something to her when he had the chance. Her head swam with uncertainty and vertigo.

Perhaps, he likes his victims awake, she thought grimly.

“I could smell it on your breath,” he said, sheepishly. His eyes darted to the floor on the opposite side of him from which she sat, and he shifted in place. The armor’s grinding noise echoed in the caverns.

Embarrassment? He really did not seem the type to be embarrassed. He was after all in a full suit of armor and wearing iridescent dragonfly wings. What man would have the balls to wear such an odd outfit, yet shy away when telling an abducted girl that he had smelled her breath?

Gwen rolled her eyes, and scoffed. “Yeah, right, fucking weirdo.”

She placed a hand on the cave wall. There were etchings in the wall she had not noticed before and couldn’t really make out in the dim light. With a shift in the air, smoke from the fire filled her lungs and she coughed. Her lungs were burning and her head was still pounding from the drugs.

“It was not me, Gwen,” he said through clenched teeth. It was strange hearing her name on his tongue, but also rang familiar. “And I will let no one else do you harm, promises be damned.”

He glared at her in his fury, and she flinched. He looked inhuman in anger. Hardly and of his sclera showed, and his eyes were all black like ink and dangerous.

“Do I know you? No. So, if it wasn’t you, why would you care?”

He slid towards her dexterously, even in what looked to be heavy armor. She tilted away from him and lost balance, and nearly fell into the fire. His hand was fast enough to grip her to him. The leather of his gloves radiated with heat, and her nose tickled with the stray hair at his neck where he had placed her head. His arm was solid against her back, and her body shivered at the chill of the metal seeping through her chemise.

“My name is Aylwin. You knew me once, though you would not remember,” he whispered into her burning ears.

His breath caused her skin to bubble with goosebumps where it touched her neck. He smelled like cinnamon and lavender, and the heat of his body caused her own heat to rise. She felt fevered and tried to jerk herself away.

Aylwin steadied her and held her firmly a few inches from his face. His lips were a thin line, his eyes glanced back and forth between hers beseechingly. As if he were trying to bore into her with memories she did not have and bury them in her head. She tried not to catch his eyes. She shivered if fear. If he was the bad guy, she was in a terrible position. Her eyes traced his face from his sharp Greek nose to his scar that formed at his brow and ran to the lobe of his sharply pointed ears. She shrieked.

“Those are real!” She shouted, shoving him away from her. Falling onto his elbows, he looked astounded and crestfallen.

His wings folded in on themselves, making rainbow lights on the wall like a crystal would, before settling on his back. She took in his image in disbelief.

Real. They are real. Even she was not sure whether she was talking about his ears, his wings, or faeries in general. She suddenly knew that was what he was.

A faerie. She also knew, without any explanation, that fairies were terrible, cruel, and spiteful creatures. He had said she knew him, but how could she know a faerie when she didn’t even know they existed until this moment. How was it that her fear was so dominant-as if she had been taught to be afraid of the creatures? She had never believed in such things. Even sitting in a cave with one she still tried to fool herself.

“Gwen,” Aylwin said, in a shaken voice. He started to push himself upright.

“No!” she shouted, and scrambled to her feet, tripping in her skirts. She dashed in a random direction which dragged her into a deeper darkness and colder air.

Gwen just wanted to go back to her RV, jump in her loft bed and forget all that had happened. She convinced herself that she could, if she could just find the exit.

The fairy did not follow her. Did not call after her. She found out why as she hit the cavern wall full force. She smashed her left arm between herself and the jagged rock of the wall. She felt the reverberation in her own head, as she fell to the floor. With a stinging prickle, she knew her arm was bleeding. Her eyes were rimmed with tears.

She would never avoid confrontation, but something about the discovery of faeries caused her panic. Her heart was beating in her throat, her body felt cold and hot all at once, and she let out a shaking sob. She sat there hyperventilating for what felt like both seconds and hours. She tried to puzzle out how discovering that faeries were real unleashed a knowledge of them that only went so deep as to cause her a panic attack. She sat collecting her thoughts and rallying her courage for what must have been an hour.

Still, Aylwin did not approach her, and left her in the depths of the caves. She heard something drip somewhere to her left, but it was too dark to see anything at all. She could not even see the path from which she came. It was a dead-end.

The exit must have been the other way, passed the fire, and passed the faerie.

She leveled her breathing and stood to stare at the blackness around her. She could have fallen into the pit of the faerie's eyes as dark as it was.

Rubbing her scraped arm, she felt the wetness of blood on her palm. She was in the deepest part of the cave, and the night air cooled her to her bones. It smelled like damp rock and earth. The chill allowed her to think level-headedly. Her panic receded. She placed her bloodied hand on the dark wall and felt her way back in the dark.

“He knows my name,” she muttered to herself. What does that mean?

When she came in sight of the light, she also saw Aylwin with a hand clutching his head, wings flat against his back. He looked up when he heard her footfalls. She kept him clearly in her peripheral line of sight.

Aylwin watched her as she returned to the room and paced. He took in her braided and curled hair catching the light, and her brown eyes darting to him and away. He caught sight of her bleeding arm and took a step toward her to offer his aid, but the withering look he received at his movement caused him to stop dead in his tracks. She stopped pacing.

“Okay, talk,” she grumbled. “How do you know me when I know nothing about you or faeries? Are you a stalker?”

“You knew me until your mother begged me away. You knew of the Fae until that time as well.”

Gwen’s stomach began to boil in anxiety, as it always did when her mother was mentioned. Her face simply showed disbelief. The air she sucked down now stank of rot and mold, and the fire, she noticed, had retired from the flaking black log and twigs. The light she had followed here was coming around the bend of rock, alerting them of morning. She glanced towards the exit, and the pale blue light the morning gave. It must be the sunrise. I’ve been gone all night. Dad must be freaking out. Still…

She glanced back at the faerie.

Aylwin watched her with a careful gaze, and Gwen saw it as a hunter ensuring his prey did not flee. This made Gwen incensed. Of course she could not leave. He had already entrapped her with curiosity over the one question that kept her up most nights.

“My mother? She knew about...your kind?” she spat the last words like a slur. She could not bring herself to say the true word. Not yet. "She left us, abandoned us, for them?"

“‘My kind’?”Aylwin sneered, his face contorted into an expression more dangerous. “She knew more about my kind than was safe-than could ever keep a mortal sane. She was addicted to our magic. She would have abandoned much more than betrothed and babe, for just another taste.”

Groggy and unstable, Gwen dropped her weight against the wall, enjoying the feel of the cool stone against her burning skin.

She caught Aylwin flinch as if to catch her, before he realized she was not falling. There was something in his expression melting so quickly from offended to worried. Gwen couldn’t help but bite back furious tears.

It was obvious that this faerie cared about her, in some manner, yet she couldn’t even remember him. She felt guilt, but also anger at the unfairness of it all. Unfairness of a friendship robbed, a world unknown, and a guilt for something she was not at fault for. Guilt was what she felt for the look on Aylwin’s face as she judged him as a stranger. Guilt for her father whom her mother abandoned for the world of the faeries. Guilt for hating a single being, a supposed old friend, and for hating him for things he had nothing to do with, as far as she could tell. What she once thought was just a crooked line of a world, became a knotted mess no one could deign to untangle. Her being drugged seemed to shrink so small in comparison.

“And my father? Did he…” she trailed off. It was just as impossible to make the words leave her lips as it was to imagine her father leaving her for the magic of Fairie.

“Doubtful. Otherwise, he, too, would have starved on the floor of Fairie hoping for just a taste of magic, rather than leave magic behind and remain with you. Your mother...she was an addict. I doubt she would have wished that irreconcilable hunger on those that she loved. In fact, I am sure of it.”

She wished his words would bring comfort, but they instead brought her an active imagination about how her mother spent her days. Destitute, pitiable, and insatiable. Playing beggar to monstrous creatures. Aylwin seemed to have seen her mother that way before. Gwen could not remember her mother high on anything or drunk at all. Had she known her mother at all?

“Is she, my she still there?” She hated to hear the desperate hope there in her voice. Hope for a woman she long said was better off dead. She clenched her fists in preparation for his answer, her fingernails pressing firmly into her palms.

Alwyin’s gaze was careful, but he shook his head. His oil black bangs fell into his eyes as he bowed his head. Like oil, it caught the light with a myriad of rainbow colored reflective light.

“She got herself into some very tight places. Quite famously, she committed treason. The last I heard of her, she was either imprisoned or perished. We Fae have not heard of her for several years, I am afraid.”
Treason. From what Gwen could still recall of her mother, this was a high crime she seemed incapable of committing. What human could scare the royalty of Fairie so badly they would call it treason?

Aylwin stepped towards her, cautiously, and lifted a hand meant for her shoulder. He meant to comfort her, she could see it in his worried gaze. She flinched away, her eyes suddenly ablaze with fury and tears. Her mother was most likely dead, and faeries were the cause. Gwen had always imagined her mother living some grander life, the burden of her family lifted from her shoulders. She had to imagine her mother that way to hate her. So that she would not desperately miss her, or go looking for her. She could either cry or feed her fury, and she chose the latter of the two.

“Don’t,” she hissed through her teeth, unsure whether she meant ‘don’t touch me’ or ‘don’t comfort me.’ Maybe both. Her guilt for punishing him for all faeries' mistakes did not subside, but she did not care.

She heard a distant chirping of birds and the soft clapping of several wings echoing against the cool gray walls. Her eyes darted in the direction of the exit and then to her surroundings. The suns rays were dancing in the dust around the cave walls.

The walls were completely visible now in the daylight, and she was stunned to see images there. What appeared to be children’s etchings in chalk covered the walls, and she recognized her own childish drawings there. Two figures, one winged and always sketched in sharp blue, and the other a bright yellow girl. She recognized the way she used to draw hearts for hands and stars for eyes. It appeared to be recreations of adventures in fields, floral crowns, the elephants, all surrounding her. Memories stolen from her. Memories, most likely created with the faerie in front of her.
She knew that she could stay, reading the walls and relearning everything, but her unforgiving mind dropped the idea immediately.

She looked back at Aylwin, hit beautifully by the bloom of sunlight behind him. Sunbeams catching in his firefly wings like he were a crystalline statue. He was also gazing raptly at the walls, the hint of a despairing smile played on his lips. Guilt, she thought, as she felt it sharply strike her heart. Guilt I can live with.

“I’m leaving,” she said abruptly. “If anything you said was true, thank you for the valiant rescue, but I don’t want anything to do with Fairie.”

He nodded solemnly, as though it came as no surprise to him, and gestured a bow to the exit behind him. He looked up through long fans of eyelashes, eyes black as onyx, and spoke in a gentle plea.
“We could still-”

“No!” Gwen bit off. His face fell. She limped passed him and out the entrance. “That includes you, too.”

Leaving the cave was a struggle only because Gwen couldn’t adjust to the unforgiving summer sun. It was early morning but already the temperature felt higher than 90-degrees fahrenheit. Her head was still suffering the vertigo of the drugs and was swimming in new information. Information she hoped she could forget. When she realized she was at the bottom of a mountainous hill, she balked. She could see the employee lot above, a good three-mile, uphill trek from where she stood, she cursed aloud. She glanced behind her to ensure she was not being followed. Not by Aylwin. Not by anything.

Her bones ached, eyes burned, and arm throbbed for the first two and a half miles. Stubbing her toe on the trunk of a massive pine tree, she collapsed in uncontrollable tears. Probably, the first she had cried so uncontrollably, and childishly, since her mother had left her.

She remained weeping and occasionally thrashing a fist into the trunk of the tree for the better half of an hour before standing. She checked again that Aylwin had not followed, and headed out once again.

Even in daybreak, everything around seemed sinister. She could not help but wonder if the buzzing of flies were actually the chittering laughter of fairies amused by her performance, or if the shuffling of squirrels in the trees overhead were actually fairies following her home.

When she finally arrived at the outskirts of the employee lot, she immediately saw the flashing red and blue lights indicating a heavy police presence. The closer she got to her own RV, the more she heard the dull roar of conversation, panicked whispers, and desperate crying. She paused in her stupor, and listened. She heard her father’s voice, loud above the others.

“My daughter! Gwendolyn’s missing, too! You have to find her! Please!”

Gwen bolted through the throng of people, not even careful to avoid knocking them down, and shouted for her father.

“Dad! Dad!”

“Gwen?!” He cried back.

His voice parted the small remaining crowd, and she rushed towards him. He embraced her so tightly she thought her already aching bones might shatter and her toes would never touch the ground again. A strong musk of cinnamon and elephant dung filled her nost, giving her nausea.
She pulled out of his grasp after a few minutes, but his rough hands remained trapped around her arms like tree roots. She gazed headlong into her father’s crisp brown eyes, trying to read the situation.

“Dad, what’s going on here? This isn’t-”she nodded her head at the police cars beside them since she couldn't gesture with her hands “, because of me, is it?”

However, she knew the answer when she saw the police questioning several other sets of people. Sets of parents, some of which she recognized.

“Not just you. Thank god, not you.” He kissed the top of her forehead. “I am so glad that you’re safe.”

She listened to the desperate voices, the wailing mother she didn’t know six feet away, and the crowd of rubberneckers.

“Now that you’re here, there are seven girls who are missing. And there’s one...well, she’s dead,” her father barely spoke his last words, glancing around to ensure no one had been offended.

Despite the hot sun, Gwen felt as if she had been buried in snow. She couldn’t catch her breath, but her feet moved without her thinking. She winced as she pulled from her father’s tight grip on her.

“Cassidy?!” she called out. She choked the name out again and again, until it was a cough. She sprang through the crowd towards Cassidy’s mobile home. “Cassidy?!”

She saw the darkest blue of two Colorado police uniforms and the distraught face of Cassidy’s grandfather. She froze.

It was by far the most grim she had ever seen him. The lines of his face seemed deeper, particularly around his brown eyes. The same deep brown as Cassidy’s with the same almond shape. The only similar feature the two shared. His were welled up with tears that begged to be shed, but his fists were clenched against any unmanly breakdowns. She watched his mouth moving calmly, but quickly, and tried to make out the words he spoke to the officers in front of him.

All the strength he had was lost in Cassidy’s grandmother. She had her head in her hands and was sitting on the doorframe of their mobile home. Her shoulders shook with sobs, and her long silver braid hung over her left shoulder like a rope. The doorframe held her in a box, that could easily have been an artistic rendition of grief. Both of Cassidy’s grandparents were still in their night clothes. His was a pinstriped pair of night pants and a plain navy t-shirt. Hers was a thick cotton night dress, light blue in color with lace around her neck. She glanced up to add a comment to the officers through heaving sobs.

“She isn’t dead,” a voice said quietly behind Gwen, with huffing breath. Her father had followed her through the crowd. “She’s missing, along with 6 other girls. The police haven’t told anyone about their conclusions, yet.”

He placed one hand on her shoulder, and watched Cassidy’s grandparents from above her head. Gwen spun on her heels to face her father, and to remove the horrible scene from her eyes. When she blinked, she still saw them in their desperation behind her lids.

“Who is it?” Gwen whispered. “Who died?”

Her father stayed silent, still watching the scene behind her. Gwen was about to ask again when she saw the orange cones and violent yellow policw tape. She walked slowly towards them, as if in a trance or a dream, and she heard her father trailing behind with his hand still pressed lightly on her shoulder. It was impossible to tell if it was his heavy footsteps in the gravel or her pounding heartbeat that deafened her. It sounded miles away when she heard police call for evidence bags and people gasping in horror, but she shouldered her way past two burly men who played the bad pair of knights in the lancing show and there she was.

There, lying with a series of white plastic tents with letters and numbers scattered around her was the dead girl. Still, she was wearing the same dress that Gwen had doused with water.
Heather, eyes open, lips pale, neck painted in brown and red blood and purple bruising. Even in death, she looked forever the part of a princess.