The dream had come again, like the sun after a storm. It was the same dream that had come many times before, battering down the doors of my mind night after night since I was a child. It was the sort of dreams all girls dream, I suppose - a dream of mysterious worlds and hidden doorways, of leaves that breathe and make music when they are rustled in the wind, and rivers that bubble and froth with secrets. Dreams, my mother always told me, represent part of our unconsciousness - the place where we store the true parts of our soul, away from the rest of the world. My mother was an artist; she always thought this way. If it was true, then my true soul was a denizen of this strange and fantastical world. I often felt, in waking hours, that I was in exile, somehow - somehow less myself, less true, than I had been in my enchanted slumber. The real world was only a dream, only an echo, and in silent moments throughout the day it would hit me: I am not at home here.
I would shake the thought off, of course, dismiss it as stupid, try and apply my mother's armchair psychoanalysis to the situation. But then, before bed, the thought would come to me, trickle through the mire of worries (boys, school, whether or not I'd remembered to charge my IPod before getting into bed, whether or not my banner would be torn down yet again from the homeroom message board) - will I have the dream tonight? And then, another thought would come to me alongside it. Will I be going home again?
And the night before my sixteenth birthday, the dream came again - stronger and more vivid than it had ever come before, as if the gauzy wisp of a curtain between reality and dream-land had at last been torn open, and I looked upon my fantasy with new eyes.
I was a fairy princess. (When waking, I would chide myself for this fantasy - sixteen-year-old girls should want to start a fruitful career in environmental activism, not twirl around in silk dresses). But I was a fairy princess, and I was a child. I dreamed myself into a palace - with spires reaching up into the sun, so that the rays seemed to pour gold down onto the turrets. The floors were marble; vines bursting with flowers were wrapped around all the colonnades. The halls were covered in mirrors - gold-framed glass after gold-framed glass - and in these hundred kaleidoscopic images I could see my reflection refracted a hundred times.
I was a toddler - perhaps four, maybe five years old, decked out in elaborate jewels, swaddled in lavender silk, yards and yards of the fabric - the color of my eyes. I hated the color of my eyes in real life - their pale color seemed to make me alien and strange - but here, they were beautiful. Here, I was beautiful. Here, I was home.
The music grew louder, and I could hear its melody. It was not like human music - no, not even the most beautiful concertos, most elaborate sonatas. This was the music that humans try to make and fail - the language of the stars as they twinkle, the rhythm of the human heart as it beats, the glimmering harmony of all the planets and all the moons and all the secret melodies of nature. It was a music that haunted me always, whenever I woke up.
Beside me there was a boy - a few years older than I was. I knew his name; somehow my heart had whispered it to my brain. Kian. All the palace around me was golden - with peach hues and warm, pulsating life - but Kian was pale, pale like snow. His eyes were icy blue, with just a hint of silver flecked around the irises; his hair was so black that ink itself would drown in it. He seemed out of place in the vernal palace that was my home - out of season with the baskets of ripe fruit that hung down from the ceiling, with the sweet, honey-strong smell of the flowers. But he was beautiful, and all the more beautiful for his strangeness.
We were dancing to the music, our bodies echoing the sounds we heard - or perhaps the sounds were echoing us. We were learning the Equinox Dance. It was the dance that we would dance on our wedding day.
It was a custom in this fairy kingdom that royal children would learn this dance - the most complicated and mysterious of all dances - for their wedding days. And so we all practiced, day after day (night after dream-rich night), for the day that we would come of age, and dance the dance truly, our feet moving in smooth unison, echoing the commingling of our souls.
My father was the fairy king of the Summer Kingdom - a place where everything tasted like honey and felt like the morning sun on your forehead. Kian's mother was the Winter Queen of the Winter Kingdom, a place beyond the mountains where cool breezes turned into arctic chill, where a castle made of amethyst stood upon a rocky peak, and evergreens dotted the horizon. And it was only fitting that our two kingdoms should meet, should join together; we were the chosen ones.
"You will be my Queen," the boy whispered to me. His voice was confident, strong.
The dance was still difficult for us. I got tangled in my waves of lavender satin, tripping over his silver shoes. He in turn kept fumbling with his hands, trying to spin me around the waist and instead, elbowing me in the side - but somehow it didn't hurt.
"Silly," cried the other girl watching us. She, like Kian, was stunning - her hair was as long and lustrous as a starless night; her eyes were silver, like the pelt of a wolf. She was called Shasta, I knew. "Silly - that's not how you dance." She giggled, and her eyes glittered with her laugh.
And then everything changed and became chaos - my home was suddenly ripped apart and replaced by a new scene. Something - something - was attacking, something with teeth and horns and claws that ripped, something that made a great and bellowing sound I could hear even when I pressed my hands tightly to my ears. The Minotaur.
The screaming came from all directions; everybody was running - me and Shasta and Kian - and the adults, all of them - away from the Minotaur, into each other. Everyone had gone mad. And then someone - someone - was fighting it, a cavalcade of fairy knights each shining in his golden armor - and some knights from the Winter Kingdom too, in their silver.
The Summer King and Queen were there, and the Winter Queen was there too. She looked like Shasta, but older - and her face was different. There was something hard and glinting in her eyes that I could not see in Shasta's, like the shiny specks in stone. I was afraid.
"This is your fault!" a voice snapped - I could not tell to whom it belonged.
"No - it's yours!" Another voice - equally angry, equally cold.
"If it hadn't been for your kingdom..."
"Don't give me those excuses - the Minotaur is a device of your court!"
The voices grew higher and stranger, angrier, louder, quicker and quicker in their retorts until I felt like I was surrounded in a cacophony of rage, bellowing over and over again until at last all I heard was:
"It's all because of that girl!"
And for a moment, they were all silent, and all of them were staring at me.
I could not understand, but it did not matter. Before I could think, could understand what was going on, what was happening to me, the scene had changed again.
I felt his arms around me. That was the first thing; I felt it before I could see anything, see him. I felt his arms encircle my shoulders, feel him brushing my shoulder blades lightly with his fingertips. I shivered. His hands took mine. I could see him. It was Kian, but he was older, now, and so was I - both a young man and a young woman - staring at each other. Age had only made us more beautiful; his hair was longer, now, and his eyes sharper, with greater depth. I could see my reflection in his eyes; my hair was longer too: a deep, warm brown with flecks of gold studded throughout. And I could see my expression - full of fear, full of joy - as he bent down closer to me, as his lips came ever closer to mine.
"Oh, Breena," he said to me. "My Breena."
His blue eyes took on a look of sharp determination; he stared at me with such intensity that I felt that his eyes had penetrated into the truest part of my true soul, a part hidden even to the rest of this strange and wonderful land.
"I will kill you, Breena. It is what I have to do. It is decreed." He cupped my face with his hands, and I could feel his cool breath whispering upon my cheek. "We are mortal enemies."
Always, every night, that same dream - that same fear, that same joy. When I woke up each morning, I felt a profound sense of loss, a yearning that stretched so deeply it crossed the bounds of reality itself. The alarm clock would ring, and everything would change. I was a nearly-sixteen-year-old girl, with suede boots, with T-shirts bearing sayings I believe in." I had an IPod, a cell phone, my laptop (with pages full of html code for my brainchild, teensforgreatergood.com). I spoke in rushed slang about the latest films and television shows, played video games with Logan, teased him when he won, teased him when he lost. I wore little to no makeup and complained about homework during G-Format. The idea of dating - of fumbling high school boys trying to score in between stolen keg stands, of Facebook relationship statuses and hastily-texted endearments - repulsed me.
But for a few hours each night, I was somebody else. I was a princess in a castle, with a dress made of lavender and besides me there is a prince with arctic-blue eyes, and arms wrapped closely around me, and lips coming nightly ever closer to mine...
I was home.
It was not the best day for a birthday. The sky was misty and full of rain - clouds looked as full and wet and ready to drip as kitchen sponges. I woke up with a headache, in a feverish sweat. The dream again. A prince in disguise. A melodious dance. The Minotaur, all eyes, all teeth. I tried to shake the images out of my brain.
"Mom!" I called out.
There was no answer.
This was strange. There was a tradition in my family - every morning on my birthday, my mother would surprise me with a birthday breakfast in bed: banana pancakes with cinnamon and chocolate powder swirl. It was her way of trying to put some weight on me.
"Mom?" Maybe she had overslept. I briefly considered bringing her breakfast in bed, to tease her. I crept into her room. It was empty.
"Mom?" My calls ricocheted around the rooms of our house, but there was no answer. I was alone. Her coat and hat were missing from the downstairs rack. She had gone out, then. Had she forgotten my birthday?
I didn't have time to think about it. I was late enough for school as it was, and my birthday did not preclude the schoolbus arriving in five minutes down the block. I threw on the cleanest clothes I could find - a soft, silky T-shirt and a slightly battered pair of denim jeans - and dashed out of the house towards the bus stop.
I made it, but only barely. I was winded, breathless; I didn't even have the breath to bid my customary hello to the bus driver. The sky looked more miserable than before. This was not my morning, I concluded; I hoped this was not a sign of things to come.
I pressed my head against the frosty glass of the windowpanes, feeling the cool air blow softly on my cheek. The bus sped on, through our little suburban town - a sea of identical, winking houses, of elegant gardens trimmed perfectly in accordance with the Town Council's meticulous landscaping policies. And then we entered the woods.
The long, winding country road that took us through the woods to Kennedy High was my favorite part of the journey to school. The woodlands were deep and green, the sort of endless forests in which one can imagine all kinds of daydream fantasies. These woodlands, currently under development by the Town Council, and marked for transformation into a Gregory County Buy-B-Mart, were my lunchtime sanctuary, the place I spent my stolen free hours wandering when I could not bear school any longer, could not stand the crowding mean girls and the taunts of the popular crowd and the politics of cafeteria seating; I could not bear the idea that these trees - these rich, green trees - might be torn away, replaced with shiny, glinting asphalt and meticulously arranged parking lots.
"Tree-na," they called me. It was a stupid nickname, the sort of thing probably thought up on a drunken binge through Court Spade's parents' liquor cabinet some Friday night when his family was out of town. It was certainly nicer than the names that they called some of the other nerds. But nevertheless, it stung.
Today, however, the woods seemed unfamiliar to me. The old pathways seemed to curve and wind in strange ways as I passed; the trees seemed like they were whispering to me, their branches contorting in angles I did not recognize. The rustle of the leaves was strong - but there was no wind. Something was different.
And then I saw a satyr on the edge of the road.
It vanished a moment later. Fantastic, I thought to myself. My sleeping patterns had led me to hallucination at last. But the image stayed with me - that little figure, with a man's face and torso and the legs and hind of a goat, with little horns poking through right above his ears. It was not unfamiliar to me. I had read the books of Greek and Roman mythology my mother had bought me for my tenth birthday so many times that the pages were dog-eared and falling out; I knew exactly what a satyr was meant to look like. I also knew that they weren't real.
Just a hallucination, I thought, a trick of the brain. Perhaps I had fallen asleep again, dozed back into my enchanted dream.
That was when I saw the goblin, poised atop the school building. It was blue and hunched over, with tiny bat-wings that didn't look like it could carry its bony body. And then it took flight...
Just a bird, I thought to myself. Just a bird, like any other. I'm the one who's strange today - I haven't gotten enough sleep. (I had seen its eyes, its claws, its eerily pointed chin...)
I did my best to ignore the mysterious sights of the woods. I had enough on my plate as it was.
My day did not improve. Some days before I had hung up a "Save the Woodlands" banner on my homeroom's notice board along with a sign-up sheet, hoping to co-opt some of my classmates into an effort to save my beloved woods from the machinations of the town council. Somebody had torn it down, shredding it into little pieces and leaving it scattered on the homeroom floor. Nobody had bothered even to clean it up. Figures, I thought. The popular kids at school were given tacit approval for their actions by the teachers, who in turn wanted to impress their generally wealthy, influential parents.
This is why I liked the woods, best. There was nothing there but me and my thoughts - no cruelty, no distractions. Only the sound of the whispering stream and the crunch of leaves beneath my feet.
I sighed and began picking up the pieces of my banner.
"Need some help?" Logan came up behind me.
I smiled at him gratefully. "Yeah, sure."
"Happy birthday, Bree."
He'd always been my best friend. He was my age - though much taller (a recent development - I had teased him all through our early adolescence when I towered over him easily). His hair was light, sandy-brown, his eyes hazel with gold specks, and his demeanor warm, even protective. I always felt safer when Logan was around. He smelled like the woods - like wood chips and musk - for, like me, he spent all of his time wandering its hidden pathways. His family were country people - if they didn't live in the woods themselves they lived as near it as possible - not in the whitewashed, sterile houses of the suburban part of Gregory, Oregon.
"Sorry they tore up your sign-up sheet, Bree," he said.
"No worries. We were the only two who signed up. Oh well. Not like anyone at this school cares about anything more significant than who's sleeping with whom in celebrity news. They're probably just excited that we get a Claire's Accessories within walking distance of school - probably think an endangered species is something you have to pick up on the sales rack before it sells out..."
"I wish they were an endangered species, considering how mean they were. Whether they believe in the same things are not, they didn't have to tear up your sheet," said Logan, giving me a great bear hug.
My day did not improve. I suffered through another round of P.E. - a subject at which I was notably terrible - before returning to the sweat of the locker room, ready to face the barrage of mean girls who saw, in that strange way only girls can understand, the locker room as a way to show off their toned, sleek bodies, expensive underwear, and even monogrammed towels to their less affluent peers.
Clariss and Hannah, the heads of this unfortunate cabal, had already selected for themselves the choicest seats in the locker room.
"Really, Hannah," Clariss was saying. "I don't know how you're ever going to get a boyfriend if you don't at least go to third..."
"I don't want to be a slut like Elizabeth Macneal," said Hannah.
"Big Mac's only a slut because she's fat," Clariss decided, as if this logic were entirely sound.
I tried to shut out their voices - squeaky, high-pitched sounds.
And then I saw the goblin again. It was smaller, this time, perched on the edge of Clariss and Hannah's bench, snarling at them like an angry dog. It stuck out a sharp talon and started sniffing.
It was real this time. I blinked - and it was still there, opening its mouth and aiming precisely at Hannah's hand...
"Stop it!" I cried, and tried to swat the goblin away. "Go away!"
Before I could collide with it, the goblin vanished, and my hand instead hit Clariss square in the arm. The bottle of perfume she was holding dropped to the floor and shattered, the sticky-sweet smell of expensive scent flooding the locker room, combining with the smell of shampoo.
"What are you doing?" shrieked Clariss. "Are you crazy?"
"Yeah, what the hell, Tree?" Hannah echoed her.
I felt a pair of hands shove me into the lockers. "That was Chanel No. 5, you dumb bitch!"
"Crazy hippie," said Hannah - as usual, her echoes only a few nanoseconds too late to be anything but pathetic imitation.
I was surrounded by them - like a caged animal. Hannah and Clariss were joined by the rest of their coterie - Ali Walsh, Cassia Barraclough, and Jo Murphy, all of whom had decided that I had stepped out of line, and were to be punished.
"Why don't you go draw some fairies," Jo said, shaking out her auburn hair.
"No wonder she always draws magical creatures," said Cassi. "She doesn't have any real friends of her own."
"Maybe she can put a spell on someone," Ali said, cackling as if she had achieved the height of wit, "make them be her friends."
They all started laughing, pointing, and joshing each other until at last I could stand it no longer. I pushed past them out into the hallway, my eyes stinging with the first hint of tears.
"Enough," I said to Logan at lunchtime. "I can't wait to graduate. If I get into art school, I'll be out of here - making my fortunes in Providence, Rhode Island." My dream was to go to RISD - the Rhode Island School of Design and become an art director like my mother or a famous artist with my own art gallery.
"Only a few more years," said Logan. "Then you're free."
"Being a sophomore sucks," I decided.
"Yeah," he said. "Not as bad as being a junior, though. College applications."
"Don't remind me," I said. Logan was smart. He was already a junior although he was just a few months older than me. I had no doubt he would be accepted into any college he set his sights on.
We caught sight of Clariss, Hannah, and the gang staring at us, passing around their whispers and their giggles.
"What do you think they're saying?" Logan asked me.
"The usual. Probably how hot you are, and wondering why you spend all your time with weirdoes like me instead of dating one of them."
"Don't be stupid," said Logan. "They're probably talking about how gorgeous you are! It seems to me they're just jealous of you." He moved in closer as a student carrying a large tray nearly side-swept us. Our hands brushed. He glanced over at me for a second and said, "Bree, you're perfect."
"Hah, that'd be the day," I said. "Besides, what's this I hear about you asking Clariss?"
"What?" Logan made a face. "Who told you that?"
"I overheard Hannah telling Ali Walsh, Clariss was going with you. Somehow I figured I'd better do my fact-checking before jumping to conclusions."
"Check away," said Logan. "The closest I've come to asking Clariss to the prom was when I was standing in front of her, listening to her talking about how much she wanted to go, but just couldn't find the right guy to go with....so I told her I wished her good luck, and walked away."
"Why didn't you go with her?" I was trying to sound nonchalant, but there was a bit of envy trickling into my voice. Clariss was, after all, the most beautiful girl in school. And Logan was the most gorgeous boy in school, although he was my best friend since whenever.
"Because she didn't ask me," said Logan. "I like a girl who isn't afraid to be herself, and ask me if she wants to go with me, instead of playing games." He saw my face. "Besides, she's not my type."
"What is your type?"
"Natural, down-to-earth," he said, looking at me with a hint of a smile.
THE WOLF FEY
The twilight ebbed like a purple and gold velvet cloak studded by tiny brilliant diamonds. I sat staring at the strange crescent moon, the colors of butterscotch and berries. The other moon, the colors of silver and cream hung to the East, showering moonlight over the Winter Kingdom. After many years of traveling back and forth across the Crystal River from the mortal world of Gregory, Oregon into the mythical world of Feyland, I should have been used to the sight of the two moons brilliant against the clear night.
But I wasn't. It was stunning how beautiful Feyland can be, like the paintings of the most fantastic landscape, coupled with a light that gave off colors that pierced gently through stained glass. As the fragrant wind rustled through the meadow grass and the silvery leaves of glimmering trees, I heard the faint sounds of twinkling chimes, violin strings, and flute play out a melody into the endless night.
That was Feyland.
I had made this trek numerous times before, going back and forth, back and forth at times with my father, but most times alone. This time, it was with trepidation. I sniffed the air and smelled the scent of death and destruction, far bitter than the blackest bile. With it came the taste of change, which was bittersweet as bark root and honey. We had all tasted this change at the tip of our tongues - my father, my grandfather, and the brave men and women of the clan. For thousands of years, we have remained neutral, minded our own ways and lived a simple and peaceful life in Feyland. But with the tides of change, Grandfather would soon have to make a decision...
This decision would affect me in the most profound way for it will either take me away from Feyland or take me away from her. Her, the reason why I travel back to Gregory. Her. The pretty girl with the lavender eyes, creamy skin, and a bright smile. Breena.
I have never known a time when I did not loved her.
I loved her the moment I saw her running scared into the woods at the back of the school near her home in Gregory, Oregon. We were both around five or six at the time. She had been chased by a group of girls, led by a dark-haired girl named Clariss who teased her endlessly for her lavender eyes and thin willowy frame.
"Treena!" They taunted. "Come out and play with us." Then they laughed. "Or you like playing with trees instead? Weirdo." They laughed again before leaving.
I watched from afar behind the silvery trees, timid and nervous at first because I had just shifted back into a boy and was crossing the woods to get home. Timid at first because of her beauty. From the beginning, I sensed she was no ordinary girl. She had an otherworldly beauty unlike the other girls in school. She was human, no doubt, and smelled human, but those lavender blue eyes and creamy white skin and long silky honey brown hair glimmering with copper sunlight, made me think of Feyland. As I stepped out from behind the trees, and she fastened her steady gaze at me with both fear and curiosity, my heart skipped a beat, and I knew I could never stay away from her.
My name is Logan, and I am a wolf. To be precise, I am a werewolf from Feyland. I say it like it's a distinction, a badge of honor, like it's something to be proud of, which I am sure my father and grandfather would agree it is. At the moment I am not. In fact, I am ashamed. I am ashamed of being a werewolf, and I am ashamed of being from Feyland.
Being a werewolf, no matter how touched by magic Feyland wolves are, is something I have to hide in Gregory. My mother would sympathize more with me than my father over this shame for she is human. It is from father's bloodline that I was born a denizen of Feyland, one of the enchanted creatures. Father is the Wolf Prince of Feyland, and Grandfather is the Wolf King. Yet Father lives with my mother and I in quaint Gregory, Oregon like any other family. Only, Father makes his trek across the Crystal River into Feyland every so often to return to the wolf clan. He will be Wolf King one day when my grandfather is gone. We don't know when Grandfather will cross over, but we suspect soon. Because of his human blood, he is more human than fairy, and will not live as long as a fairy. At the moment, Grandfather is nearly two-hundred years old, and Father, who is again from a human mother and a wolf fey father, is fifty years old. Because I have the most human blood in me than wolf fey, I age like a human. I am seventeen years old.
We are like any other family. I attend Gregory High and my parents work. My mother is a counselor, and my father is a lawyer. My parents are constantly working, which suits me fine since I mostly get to do a lot of my own things. Like play music, cook, play sports, write and compose songs, and hang out with Breena.
Breena does not know I am a werewolf or that I am from Feyland. There is so much she does not know about me, so much that I have to keep from her. It drives me crazy. Sometimes I want to tell her, yet I could not. I could not expose my kind to humans or let anyone who is not from Feyland know about this mythical world. It is a solemn rule among all denizens of Feyland that when we cross over the Crystal River to the Land Beyond, we will not let others know about Feyland.
It is a secret I must keep. It is a secret that keeps me from telling Breena I love her.
At the moment, we are sitting in her house all alone. As a wolf, my senses are heightened, and I could smell her. She smells like a bouquet of sweet jasmine, honeysuckle, and orange blossoms. She smells warm and full of life, like the sun. As a warm-blooded wolf, I am drawn towards that heat, especially living in a cold place like Gregory. I am drawn towards Breena in all presence.
Her mother Raine Malloy is an attractive woman in her thirties. She has the same coloring as Breena, except her eyes are blue. Raine is an art director at a children's publishing house, and she's constantly working as well. Years ago, when Breena and I were younger, I had asked Breena about her father. "Where is your father?" I had asked.
"My mother left him years ago even before I was born," she said. "I don't know him."
"Aren't you curious about him...who he can be?" I had asked.
"Of course," Breena had said. "But I have my mother. She's all I know. I mean, I would love to know and meet my father someday. But for now, Mama is doing a pretty good job raising me." She smiled happily. I smiled back. "Don't you think so?"
It occurred to me that I would not know what was normal, being from Feyland and living in both lands. "I guess so."
Breena got in close to me and said confidently for all of her seven years, "I know so, Logan."
I shrugged and nodded. For all that I adore her, she was Breena, and even at seven, she was stubborn when she set her mind on things. But that is one of the things I love about her - her spirit.
... continued ...