The Faire

Chapter 5

Gwen landed feet first on the RV floor as she slid from the loft, quickly tucking the amber charm into her shirt as she approached the door to let her father in. With a quick thanks, he bustled by her, arms full with brown paper bags with yellow arches. The greasy, delectable smell of fries filled Gwen’s nose, and she began to salivate like Pavlov’s dog.

She had not wanted to wake, not wanting to leave such a pleasant and warm memory. The RV was still dark, only lit by her phone charger and the oven clock. Her dad flipped the switch, and Gwen flinched from the light.

“Sorry, I was passed out. Did you call?”

She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and let out a long yawn. Nine hours she had slept, judging by the oven clock. Her joints felt more loose, her head no longer ached, and the pain in her arm was dulled. Sleep had done her a favor.

“Only twice. I come bearing grease,” he mocked. “I borrowed your car. Figured you wouldn’t mind if I bought you some hangover food.”

Gwen embraced him, longer than she ever had done at her age. He chuckled and patted her back. He smelled like sweat from a long days work, musty like the elephants, and sweet like incense. His body was comforting and warm, and she wondered when they had last truly hugged for no other reason to display their familial love. She had expected him to remain angry with her for days, give her the cold shoulder, and lock her inside. Maybe, he would have locked her up if he knew the truth.
He stepped out of her grasp, full hands held up in mock surrender.

“I get it. You’re grateful. Fast food-my daughter’s one weakness. Eat up before it gets cold.”

She opened the fridge door, struggling to make the seal unstick. Their RV wasn’t exactly new. It was the opposite of modern. The floor’s linoleum had a pattern from the seventies, the hot water ran out in ten minutes and took several hours to reheat, the A/C hummed loudly all throughout the night, and the engine rumbled louder that it should have after a couple of hours on the road. It was home, with all of its imperfections. Gwen had known no other home.

Her father gripped the handle above where she held and pulled open the door easily. It was the only home she knew, but he knew it better.

“Thanks,” she said, clicking the tab of a diet coke letting it foam and hiss. “Was it busy?”

Of course it was, she thought while digging the fries out of the bag. Her father was the only person she allowed to have menial and mechanical conversations with her. It was like his parental right to boring small talk.

He plopped down with a loud squelch from the plastic booth.

“Busy is an understatement,” he said gruffly. “Nobody there even really came for The Faire. They came to be sub-par detectives, harassing us all with probing questions about the missing girls. It was a nightmare.”

News sure travels fast in Colorado, Gwen thought.

“How did they know about it? It only just happened.” She tipped the fries container to him and he grabbed three at once, shoving them all into his mouth.

“Someone posted about it on that social media site. It was the trend within hours,” he said, with a mouth full of potato sludge.

“Trending, Dad, trending. What did the post say?”

He shrugged carelessly.

“Couldn’t tell ya. You know I only use that yearbook app. By the way, your grandad says he loves you and that he’s glad you’re okay. You should call him sometime.”

Gwen struggled to imagine her 90-year old grandad leaning over a tablet, individually plucking at letters on a brightly lit screen. She took a bite of Big Mac instead of responding.

She did not feel okay, but she couldn’t tell her dad that without explaining why. How could she explain everything in a way that wouldn’t freak him out? Yeah, Dad, I was drugged. No big deal, I’m over it, because-get this- faeries exist. One trapped me in a cave and apparently I’m missing basically half of my life’s worth of memories. Also, Mom left you for faeries and got heavy into their drugs and is apparently dead.

The last thing she wanted was for her father to get involved in the faerie situation and abandon her, too. Despite her one pleasant dream, she was sure that there was a good reason she had been kept from that world.

It took a moment for Gwen to realize her father had stopped eating and sat staring out the window. She followed his gaze to see that the lights in the Ranklin’s RV were on. They must have arrived home while she slept. She wondered if Mrs. Ranklin had noticed anything amiss, as she tended to be very particular and organized.

“Is it terrible of me?” her father said, too seriously for McDonald’s small talk. “I know Cassidy is your friend, and I shouldn’t think it, but I am so glad it wasn’t you. I cannot imagine what her grandparents are feeling right now.”

Gwen nodded, staring out of the window, not sure how to respond or even if she was meant to. Perhaps, it was a rhetorical question. Sure, it was terrible, but it was human of him to care more about his own family. Especially, when that one person was the only family he had left.

“I’m sorry I overwhelmed you with questions earlier. I just don’t know what I would do if I lost you.”

Gwen felt her face burning, and a sinking in her chest. He shouldn’t be apologizing for anything. Her father deserved to be angry with her, furious even. His sincere expression and red rimmed eyes just made her feel all the more guilty for withholding information, but even more set in her decision to do so.

“Yeah, Dad. Me, too.”

She took another awkward bite of burger, but it slid down her throat like a stone and tasted like dirt. She was definitely not hungry anymore, but she kept eating anyway to give her father one less thing to worry about.

Her father went to bed not much later, but Gwen was far from tired. After the dream she had, she had more questions than answers.

She stayed up in the kitchen booth scrolling through StalkMe for the article her dad had mentioned. When she finally saw it, her stomach dropped. Someone had taken a picture of Heather, splayed out and dried blood covering her neck. There were crowds around her, held back only by yellow caution tape, and the shoulder of a police officer blocked the bottom right corner of the frame. Gwen read the whole article, most of which threw speculation on the employees of The Faire. After all, it claimed, six of the seven girls worked at The Faire, or their family did. Gwen pulled out a notebook, jotting down their names.

Lizzie Durham, Alicia Pinzon-Laughry, Martina Cooper, Danielle Lucas, Patricia Lincoln, Ryann Gold, and

Gwen stopped before writing in Cassidy’s name, as if adding her to the list made her truly missing instead of just hiding somewhere. Then again, Cassidy was not the type to hide away and make her family fear for her life. She hid practically all of herself just to maintain the peace. Gwen felt she knew the most about Cassidy, but only ever felt like she got fifty percent of the whole of her.

Cassidy Forrester.

Then she went down the list, reciting everything she knew about each of them. After all, if they worked at The Faire she was bound to come across them at some point.

Lizzie Durham, fifteen years old, works as Living Statue and at the Living Fountain. Father is Thomas Durham, mother is not part of The Faire and lives in Michigan. No long-term relationships. No spurned lovers. She gave pretty much everyone a chance to kiss her if they had even an ounce of attraction, but if nothing clicked, no one held any ill-will that Gwen knew of. She was a pleasant girl, and tolerated Gwen despite the fact it was Cassidy she was friends with.

Alicia Pinzon-Laughry was the daughter of one of the Tarot Readers, she lived with her father most of the year and only visited in the summer. She was a local to Colorado, which made it easier for her father to come interview with the police the moment he heard something was awry. Alicia was 17-years old and hung out with Jacob and Justin, smoking and drinking behind her mother’s back. Gwen was sure that she had been interested in Justin, but her mother was more overbearing than Heather’s, and Justin preferred them younger.

Martina Cooper, Gwen was not familiar with at all. There were pictures of the girls in the articles, and she was listed as a volunteer for the wedding. Gwen was not surprised that she couldn’t recall much of the wedding, as she had been drugged there, but she wished she could recall the girl. Even if she ended up holding little to no importance in the mystery, it was this girl that was with Cassidy, and Gwen felt a surge of guilt and vexation that she couldn’t even place her face in a crowd.

Danielle Lucas, Gwen had to run her name in her head a few times before looking at the picture and realizing they were talking about Danny. She and Gwen had gotten along quite well, both in the stables for long periods of times together. Then, Danny started hanging out with Alicia’s crew of delinquents, and Gwen punched her in the face when she overheard her badmouthing Cassidy for not “putting out” and saying that it would be Cassidy’s own fault if she got cheated on. She was 17- years old when she got taken. She was younger when Cassidy caught her in the back of Justin’s jeep writhing around with him. Danny’s father found out, via Gwen, and Justin was black and blue for several weeks. It had not stopped him from moving on to Heather, though.

Patricia Lincoln, Gwen recalled with disdain. Never before had she ever wanted to strangle a child so badly. She was pompous, belligerent, and always present. She demanded rides on Gwen’s elephants for free, and complained at the top of her lungs about their odor and how slowly they moved. She had flipped the tables at Cassidy’s shop, then run off blowing raspberries at them. She had startled the horses and caused them to kick her own father in the ribs, causing them to crack. Then, she had the audacity to be sullen when he couldn’t pick her up and carry her on his shoulders during the jousting match. Patricia had made many enemies in just the month that she had been at The Faire, but she was just an 11-year old girl. It was doubtful that she was the cause of everything. Gwen would not put it past her, though.

Ryann Goldstein had been a Faire visitor, and from her picture seemed to be a hipster amongst hipsters. The article wrote the she worked reception at a tattoo parlor in Denver, and was 16-years old. She did not have any living relatives that the article could expose, but there was a comment on the article by a man that claimed to know her.

Terrence: I told her not to go, I warned her that something was wrong with The Faire. God, why did it have to be her? She was like a sister to me. I just want her to come home, but knowing what I know, I’m positive she won’t. Ryann, dear friend, I hope that I protected you well enough to spare you.

The man’s name was Terrence, but StalkMe did not show last names unless you added the person as a friend. Gwen clicked his profile picture, but his profile was set to private. His comment seemed suspicious, almost incriminating. Gwen glanced up around her, as if she would see the man’s face in her window, and then opened the Secret Messages tab.

Gwen: You are friend’s with one of the missing girls? You said in your comment you know something. I am a friend of another missing girl. Anything you know might help me.

She sat waiting, knowing full well that it was 2 a.m. and the man was probably asleep or just unlikely to answer her. Then her heart started pounding as the message showed a check mark. He had read it. The hair on her arm stood on end as she waited. The light from the computer screen was all that lit up the space. The darkness seemed to come creeping in on her, and then she saw the words “typing” at the bottom of the screen. What could he be typing? Was he the killer, and the kidnapper? Was he just involved somehow? She sucked in a breath when his message came in.

Terrence: You wouldn’t understand. This goes way beyond anything you know. There are bad things out there, and your friend probably got involved with it somehow. Trust me, you want nothing to do with this.

Gwen stared at the message as if she could read its meaning if she just bore a hole in her computer with her gaze. Bad things could mean anything, but Gwen could only think of one thing the man could mean.

Gwen: You mean faeries?

She waited, hoping that she did not sound insane to him. She needed this to be the answer, as it was the only thing that made sense to her. Aylwin had shown himself to her after all these years, and it could not be a coincidence that all the girls went missing the same night. The wait for a response was unbearably long.

Terrence: So, you do know. Then, you know to leave it alone. Your friend is gone.

System Message: This user is no longer available. The blocking feature is in use.

Gwen found that she had subconsciously grabbed the necklace from under her shirt and started twirling it. She had been right. Faeries were involved in the kidnapping. But then, where in this plan did Aylwin belong? And why was Justin in Cassidy’s RV? Gwen’s thoughts swirled around but she couldn’t grasp a single one and focus on it.

Knowing full well that it was a horrible idea, and knowing she should be terrified for her life, Gwen threw on her running shoes and left the RV. She took her cell phone, keys, and the keychain full of pepper spray that her father had bought her when she turned fourteen. It had been difficult not to use it on assholes out of spite, but the pepper spray was still unused.

The sky was full of clouds, and the air chilly. Gwen wished she had thought to grab a jacket, but did not bother turning back. If she did, she wasn’t sure she could convince herself to leave again. After walking a few miles between the empty and terrifyingly dark buildings of The Faire, rain began pelting her with dots of icy water. She began running, and found herself soaked with rain when she entered the warmth of the stables. She had not heard anyone follow her, but she knew that someone had.

“You can come out,” she called, marching over to the doors holding the elephants. She hauled herself up onto the wooden gate and stared down the hall of the stable. She could not hear his footsteps or his armor, but she saw a black haired man gliding into view. Reverend’s trunk struck her back, and she nearly lost her balance and fell forward, but gripped the wood of the gate just in time.

“Enough, Reverend,” she whispered in reprimand.

“You heard me trailing you?” the faerie said in disbelief.

“No,” Gwen called to him. “I simply knew you would. You seemed the stalker type.”

His eyes cut into offended slits. “I am trying to keep you protected.”

Gwen brushed her hair from her eyes with one hand, keeping balance with the other. She hoped that she sounded confident enough that she seemed unafraid. “Oh, is that what you’re doing? My sources tell me that a faerie is involved in several girls kidnappings. Possibly even a murder. Tell me, how is it that you choose the one day to reappear that seven girls disappear. Tell me it is just a coincidence. I dare you.”

Aylwin stopped just in front of Gwen, and she enjoyed that she had the ability to look down on him. It made her feel powerful that the faerie had to crane his neck to stare up into her face. His black hair was soaked and sticking to his face in tendrils. It was still braided exactly as it had been before, but he wore cloaks of dark maroon, stained darker by the rain. They appeared to be woolen and heavy. His wings were hidden beneath them, but his ears still stuck out like short pointed knives. His black eyes were locked on hers.

“You must remember something. I see the necklace about your neck. We are friends, Gwendolyn. You must see that, now.”

She looked away from him. “I did not use the necklace,” she lied. “Who says I want to remember? If my mother told you never to see me again, there must have been a reason, right? What was it?”

Aylwin’s gaze fell to his feet. Droplets of water fell around him like tears. “You did not use it? You remember nothing?”

Gwen felt flooded with unease, as she lied to him again. “Nothing. Now answer my question.”

Aylwin took several downtrodden steps backwards and lowered himself into a seat against the stable wall. The stable, lit by large electric bug zappers, became loud with the heavy deluge of hail against the tin roof. Aylwin began to speak, but Gwen could hear nothing.

“Wait,” she said, leaning forward. “I can’t-”

Then lightning struck, the elephant hit the stable door in terror, and Gwen flew forward. She was in the air for what felt like forever, but never hit the ground. Aylwin had her in his arms before she saw him stand, and lowered her to her feet. His body, no longer cold with armor, was burning against her own. His wet cloak was on the floor behind them, and his clothes underneath had not a drop of water on them. He was warm, his hands on her skin felt natural. But the warmth she felt rising from her gut to her chest terrified her more than anything else.

“Gwen,” Aylwin whispered into her hair, tugging her closer to him. Gwen wanted to pull away. She wanted to want that at least, but it had been so long since she felt so at ease. So safe. It was as if every foul thought she had about him had melted away at his touch. She hated that he made her feel so powerless.

“Tell me,” she whispered. If she could not convince herself to leave his warmth, she should at least get the answer. She felt the rise and fall of his chest with a sigh.

“When were were thirteen, you convinced me to take you to the faerie court, in the land of Faerie. Your mother already knew about Faerie, had already begun her addiction to it. A man named Yorick taught her how to get the magic, how to get high on it, and then left her to the devices of the fae of the court, hoping it would buy him a place there. Your mother was gone from your life, when you decided to join me at a revel. We went to the revel. We drank, we ate, we kissed, we danced. It was scary how much you danced, your feet were bleeding. I had never had a mortal friend to a revel before. I did not know what it would do to you. When the fae realized you were a mortal they began demanding many things from you. They knotted your hair, they had you lick their fingers clean of rotted fruit, despite my protests they had you guzzle down vine flower wine from their mouths. I was terrified. My mother caught sight of you, and you were the bane of her amusement that night. She demanded I turn you in to her, so she could play with you, instead. We ran for the trees before anyone could catch us, but your mother was there at the edge of Faerie when we returned you home. She shrieked like a banshee at me. She told me many truths. I nearly got you killed that night. We fae are not kind to mortals. I was already terrified for us both. She demanded that I make you forget, that I stay away from you. It was the only way to keep you safe. I was young, and even as a mortal she was my elder…”

Aylwin stopped talking. Gwen could still feel the rise and fall of his chest. As he had spoken, she imagined the scene playing in her head. How terrified he must have been.

Gwen shook her head, and pulled out of his grasp. Immediately, she felt more in control again. She took a step back from him.

“Are you using magic on me?” she demanded. “Why do I feel like this?”

Aylwin paused. “What is it that you are feeling?”

Gwen bit the inside of her cheek. “So comfortable, when in reality I am terrified of you.”

Aylwin shrugged. “I am doing nothing, I promise this to you. You can take me at my word, as the fae can never lie. Perhaps, subconsciously, you remember that you can trust me, memories or not.”

The hail was letting up, and she and Aylwin stood in silence for a moment longer. A faerie could not lie, but she could. She could wait to trust him until she dreamed up every memory, or she could jump in head first without thinking it through. It was what she would usually do, so why change?

“I lied to you,” she said, quietly, taking a careful step back towards him. “I did use it. I only have one memory to show for it. Is there no way to remember them more quickly?”

His face lifted, childish glee showing on it. His wings shot up and out, and fluttered in what Gwen assumed could only be excitement. “What did you remember?”

His smile was wide, resembling a child even more with such large irises. She took another step to him, allowing him to place a hand on the small of her back, and another to her hair. Familiarity, comfort. The ease in which she trusted him was terrifying, but the safety she felt was natural. As if it had been second nature.

“That you are my princess. I made you a crown. I asked you a question that you didn’t answer,” she found a smirk on her face. She was speaking playfully. It all felt so instinctive.

“Your mother showed up,” he moaned. “As if I could have answered you then.”

Gwen’s smirk stayed on her face. “I got the feeling that it was not the first time I asked, or the first time you avoided an answer.”

He placed a strand of her wet hair behind her ear, feeling the rounded cartilage at the tip of her ears as his fingers passed. She felt a shiver rock her.

“It was not the last time either,” he said, the smile becoming bitter on his face. “I meant to tell you at the revel, but things were not as planned. Then, you never saw me again.”

Gwen caught the way he worded his sentence, and frowned. “But you saw me?”

Aylwin stared at his own hand, as if questioning why he let it touch her. “I did. Every summer. You called me names one year for my elf ears. It seems you came to hate the notion of faeries over time.”

“I thought they were fake,” Gwen said defensively.

Aylwin sighed. “Then, you found out they were real, and how did you respond?”

Gwen groaned. Her arm started throbbing at the recollection. It was not fair to judge her for that. Not after all that she had gone through, and the position she had seemed to be in.

“You’re not being fair. I had been drugged, and you had me in a cave. How was I supposed to react? You have all my memories, after all.”

Aylwin shook his head. The wind threw rain into the stable door and into one of the lamps. It made a zapping noise, and flickered.

“I am not judging you, Gwen.”

“Then give me your answer, now.”

Gwen steeled herself for his response. In her dream, she had felt delight and happiness, but also fear that he would not like her. Now, she felt more afraid at the implications that his liking her would lead to. They were alone in a stable, trapped by the rain, after all.

“You knew back then,” he said in exasperation, eyes closed. “And it seems that you know just as well now. Why must I say anything?”

Gwen leaned forward and whispered in his ear. “Because faeries cannot lie.”

Before she knew it, his mouth was on hers and her back was against the wooden wall. Electricity flew through her, and caused her limbs to shudder. His mouth moved against hers in desperation, as if he were trying to prove something. Lips that tasted like berries, and his soft skin burned against hers. His fingers tangled into her hair, and she felt her hands creep to his neck. She held him there, kissing her, as if it were all she had ever wanted. Gwen felt as though she could not hold him there long enough.

When he pulled back, it felt like she suffered a massive loss. Her whole body went through the process of grieving. She wanted more, and wondered if this was what addiction felt like.
Aylwin had kissed her, yet still would not say that he liked her. She took that as a denial, as a sign he felt nothing but lust for her. She felt it for him, too, but knew that it only got you so far. She did not have time to worry about whether a faerie wanted to sleep with her or had feelings for her. The fury she felt at herself, she redirected at him.

“That’s not an answer,” she realized aloud. “If you can’t even answer that without lying, then give me back my memories and leave me the fuck alone.”

Despair filled his eyes, but he said nothing. He held out a hand to touch her face, but she stepped out of his reach. “I’ll give them to you,” he whispered. “But I cannot give you an answer.”

Gwen watched as he removed his cloak from the ground and dusted it clean. Without looking back over his shoulder to her, Aylwin spoke. “Do you recall the way back to the cavern?”

Gwen nodded, then realized he could not see her. “I do.”

“Tomorrow, then.”

Aylwin leaned against the cavern wall, the apple in his hand half eaten. Gwen bit into her own and smiled at him from her place by the fire. It was still day out, but they had caught a rabbit, and Aylwin was showing Gwen how to cook it. Gwen watched the rabbit in both terror and incredulity. She felt sorry for it, but her curiosity outweighed her guilt.

“Why do they say that mortals should not eat faerie food?” Gwen asked, looking down at the perfectly normal Gala apple in her hand. She had brought them from the bowl of fruit her dad left in the kitchen.

Aylwin shrugged, wings flattened behind him.

“Because they become drunk on it, I suppose. They do all sorts of things. At a revel, I saw a mortal man chop off his own arm because some nymph told him to. She had fed him a single seed from a pomegranate and he was already so drunk on the stuff he did whatever she said.”

Gwen shuddered. “That wasn’t nice of the nymph. Why did she do that to the poor man?”

Aylwin shrugged again, as if it were no strange thing. “That is just the way it is. The fae do not care at all what happens to a mortal. It is all just entertainment.”

Gwen sulked, setting her apple down. Ants took to it immediately. “So, if I were to come to a revel would they do that to me?”

Aylwin’s gaze became fierce. “Of course not. I would protect you.”

He threw the core of his apple into the fire, and slid over to her side. Gwen let him rest his head in her lap. His hair was longer than hers, and far more colorful of a black. Hers was just flat mortal black, her skin just plain white. His was so pale it was nearly translucent. He was much prettier, much stronger, and so much more magical than she could hope to be. She was only mortal, but she wanted to be magical. She wanted to be like him. Maybe, if she were more like him, he would like her too.

“I want to go,” Gwen said, suddenly.

Aylwin peeked up an eye at her, cautiously. “Go where, my dear Gwen? The revel?”

Gwen nodded resolutely. Aylwin hesitated, but smiled weakly at her.

“I will find a way. For you, anything.”