Ballad a gathering of f.., p.20

Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie, page 20

 part  #2 of  Books of Faerie Series

 

Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie
 



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Page 20

 

  “Get this. Every night, I hear singing. ”

  My fingers froze. Nuala’s fingers froze. We were both still, mirror images of each other.

  “Every night I hear singing, and it’s like I’m dreaming. It’s like in a dream where, you know, you know it’s in a different language, but you can understand it? Anyway, this song is just a list. It’s a list of names. ” Paul stopped, and I could hear him drink and drink and drink and drink. “And I just know when I hear the names, that it’s a list of dead. People who are going to die. I just know it is, because what he says afterwards, always, is remember us, so sing the dead, lest we remember you. ”

  I started to shiver. I hadn’t realized before then that I hadn’t been.

  My voice sounded normal. “Who’s on it?”

  “Me,” Paul said.

  “You?”

  “Yeah. And a bunch of names I don’t recognize. And Sullivan. And you. And—I didn’t know her name before you told me, but she’s on it. Dee. Deirdre Monaghan, right? Dude, I think we’re all going to die. Soon. ” More drinking. “Do you think I’m crazy now?”

  Nuala’s hand was a fist inside my fingers. “I don’t think you’re crazy. You should’ve told me sooner. I believe you. ”

  “I know you do,” Paul said.

  I shivered, hard.

  “I know you do, because you go running every time he’s about to sing. But if I’d told you, and you told me you heard it too, that’d make it real, you know?”

  Nuala unfisted her fingers and used them to turn my hand slowly until words that I’d written on the back were visible to me: the list.

  Shit, I thought.

  “Yes,” she whispered softly.

  “I thought this crap would stop when I came here. ” Paul’s voice was plaintive.

  “I did too,” I said.

  I left Paul dozing on his bed in an imagined alcohol stupor and retreated to the fourth floor bathroom. I knew it was stupid to call her, because no way was I going to gain any comfort from it, but I felt weirded out by Paul’s revelation. Pushed off-balance. It was one thing for me to be involved in some supernatural plot. It was another thing to hear Dee’s name on a list of dead and think she was somehow up to her neck in something too.

  “Dee?”

  I picked a chip of lime green paint off the brick wall. The night was so black outside the little window beside my head that the glass acted like a mirror, reflecting an image of me with the cell phone pressed up to my ear.

  “James?” Dee’s voice was surprised. “It really is you. ”

  For a moment I didn’t say anything. For a moment, it hurt too badly to know that it was her on the other end of the phone, the memory of her words after the kiss choking me.

  I had to say something. I said, “Yeah. Things wild and crazy over there?”

  I heard a night bird call, loud and clear and very close. I couldn’t tell if it was right outside my window or coming from Dee’s end of the conversation. Her voice was low. “We’re just getting ready to go to sleep. That’s our version of wild and crazy. ”

  “Wow. You animals you. ” I bit my lip. Just ask her. “Dee, do you remember when we first ran into each other here? Do you remember what you first asked me?”

  “You must think I have the brain of an elephant to remember that far back. Oh. Oh. That. ”

  Yeah, that. When you asked me if I’d seen the faeries. “Have you seen any more?”

  A long pause. Then: “What? No. No, definitely not. Why, have you?”

  My skin still smelled like Nuala’s summer rain and woodsmoke scent. I sighed. “No. Is—everything okay with you?”

  She laughed a little, cute, uncertain laugh. “Yeah, of course it is. I mean. Um. Other than me being messed up. Right?”

  “I dunno. I asked you. ”

  “Then yeah. Everything’s okay. ”

  My voice was flat. “No faeries. ”

  “Shhh. ”

  “Why shhh?”

  “Just because they’re not around anymore doesn’t mean I go around shouting the word from the rooftops,” Dee said. “Everything’s fine. ”

  I didn’t say anything for a long moment. I wasn’t sure what I’d expected. At least honesty. What was I going to do, call her out on it? I sighed and rested my head against the dingy wall. “I just wanted to make sure. ”

  “Thanks,” Dee said. “That means a lot to me. ”

  I looked at my reflection in the old, narrow mirrors on the wall across from me. The James-in-the-mirror frowned back at me, the ugly scar as dark as his knitted eyebrows.

  “I better go,” Dee said.

  “Okay. ”

  “Bye. ”

  I hung up. She hadn’t asked me if I was okay.

  Nuala

  A frightening menagerie, my emotions are

  Too many and varied to number

  Like creatures they crawl and they fly above

  Tearing my body asunder.

  —from Golden Tongue: The Poems of Steven Slaughter

  I was watching James sleep when I was summoned. For the moment when I was traveling, all I could think of was the last thing I’d been looking at: James in his own personal battleground that was sleep, arms wrapped tight around a pillow, arms scrawled with our handiwork. He was dreaming of Ballad, all by himself, without any prodding on my part. He was dreaming of the main character, who was really a metaphor for himself, an egotistical magician in a world full of ordinary people. And he dreamt of a building to stage the play in, a low, flat yellow-brick building covered with ivy. And Eric was there, playing guitar, and whatshisface—Roundhead—Paul—was playing one of the characters in the play, his gestures exaggerated and face shocked. Everything was so vividly painted, down to the musty smell of the building, that it was as if I, for once, was dreaming.

  And then

  jerk

  I was gone.

  I materialized in a huff of crackling fall leaves, their edges cold and sharp on my skin, the October night frigid and still. I stood in a stand of night-black trees, but close by, the front lights of the dorms glowed softly.

  Even after I smelled the bitter smell of thyme burning, it took me a moment to realize I’d been summoned. It wasn’t like it was something that happened every day. No one needed to summon me.

  “What are you?” snapped a voice, close by.

  I frowned, turning toward the voice and the scent. A human stood there, an old, ugly one, at least forty. She had a match in one of her hands, the end still smoking, and a still-glowing sprig of thyme in her other. For a moment I couldn’t think of what to say. I hadn’t been summoned by a human in years.

  “Something dangerous,” I told her. She looked at my clothing with a raised eyebrow.

  “You look human,” she said, contemptuously, dropping both the match and the thyme to the ground and stomping them into the crackly leaves of the forest floor with the heel of her leather boot.

  I scowled at her. She had a four-leaf clover hanging at her neck, its stem tied to a string—this was how she could see faeries. I realized suddenly that I had seen her before, in the hallway outside the practice rooms. The sniffing woman. I retorted, “You look human too. Why did you summon me?”

  “I didn’t need you in particular. I did a favor for your queen and I need some help with it now. ”

  She didn’t smell afraid, which irritated me. Humans were supposed to smell afraid. They also weren’t supposed to know that burning thyme summoned us or that four-leaf clovers let them see us. And most of all, they weren’t supposed to be standing there with one hand on their hip looking at me like well, so?

  “I’m not a genie,” I said stiffly.

  The woman shook her head at me. “If you were a genie, I’d be back in my car by now and on my way back to my hotel. Instead, we’re arguing about whether or not you are one. Are you going to help me or not? They said I was supposed to get rid of the mess afterwards. ”

 
I was curious despite myself. Eleanor had humans doing favors for her and whatever the favors were, they left messes behind? I invested my voice, however, with the maximum amount of disinterest that I could muster. “Fine. Whatever. Show me. ”

  The human led me a few feet into the woods, and then she got a little white flashlight out of her purse and shone it at the ground.

  There was a body. Somehow I’d known there was going to be one. I’d seen dead people, of course, but this was different.

  It was a faerie. Not a beautiful one like me—in fact, quite the opposite. She was small and wizened, her white hair spread like straw over her green dress. One foot poked out of the bottom of the dress, toes webbed.

  But she was like me, nonetheless, because she was a bean sidhe—a banshee. A solitary faerie with no one to speak for her, who lived alongside the humans, wailing to warn them of an impending death. And she was dead, flowers spread out all around her from her death throes. I had never seen a dead banshee before.

  I thought of asking who killed her but I knew from a quick glance into the human’s head that it had been her. She was an idiot, like most humans, so it was easy to get to the memory of her tracking the banshee by the sound of her wail. I saw her withdraw an iron bar from her purse, and then just—struggle.

  Eleanor had asked a human to kill one of us?

  “Clean it up yourself,” I snapped. “I’m not a maggot. ”

  She nudged the webbed foot with the square toe of her boots, lip curled distastefully. “I’m not doing it. Can’t you just”—she made a vague hand gesture with a perfectly manicured hand—“magic it away?”

  “I wouldn’t know. I’ve never had to get rid of a faerie body before. ”

  The human winced at the word faerie. “That’s not what the other one said, yesterday. He just said he’d take care of it, and when I looked back, it was gone. ”

  Wariness crept into my voice. “What was gone?”

  “A bauchan. He didn’t have any problems getting rid of it. He just did his … thing. ” Again, the stupid hand gesture. I would’ve done something nasty to her, just for the stupidity of the gesture, but if Eleanor protected her, there’d be hell to pay.

  A bauchan. Another solitary faerie known for human contact. I was starting to get freaked out. It was one thing to burn every sixteen years—when I burned, I came back. I didn’t think I’d come back from an iron bar through my neck.

  “I can’t help you. Summon someone else. ” Before she could say anything else, I rushed away, halfway invisible, reaching out for the current of thoughts I felt coming from the dorms.

  “Well, hell,” I heard her say, surrounded in a swirl of dry leaves at my disappearance. And then I was gone.

  I fled to the warm, moving darkness of the dorm, and perched at the end of James’ bed. Across the room, Roundhead snored softly. I should’ve gone further away, so that I wasn’t the closest faerie if that killing human tried to summon a faerie again, but I didn’t want to be alone. The fact that I knew I didn’t want to be alone scared me more than not wanting to be alone.

 
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