Level: I think anyone can read this
Warnings: none in particular. Caveat lector
Disclaimer: Jim and Blair belong to people who don’t appreciate what they have.
Beta’d: Cindy looked over it first and told me the difference between a baseboard and a skirting board, amongst other things… HMG cast her detailed editing skills over the story after it was submitted to Skeeter Press.
Betas - a valuable resource, I recommend that everyone uses several.
It was all, Sandburg’s fault; that and his powers of suggestion.
“Gee, Jim, he said with his typical bounce, “you can see into the spirit plane. You saw Molly, man – that is so cool.”
Okay, I might be exaggerating the over-enthusiasm there, but you can picture it, can’t you?
So my resident goober and guppy pointed out that I could see ghosts. Fair enough, 'cause despite those idiots on television, ghosts aren’t a dime a dozen. Hey, I reached forty without seeing one. Okay, we’re not going to discuss my imaginary friends when I was little, because I never had imaginary friends, right?
Any rate, I’m digressing. Sandburg pointed out that I could see ghosts to which I retaliated with, “Under the influence of a Peyote-like compound, I’m surprised that’s all that I saw.”
Needless to say, my cutting remark did not quench his bouncing in the slightest. My guide (God, I hate that word) headed off on one of his wild tangents. “You see,” he theorised, “if ghosts exist, why not other stuff?”
“What other stuff?” I asked foolishly, and it began….
Oh, and I should have known that something was seriously wrong when I found the clean bathroom. I mean a clean bathroom: unbelievable.
Fairy Tale Central P.D.
Sandburg was out with his friends from grad school to celebrate the end of term and he was late. I woke when he finally dragged his sorry ass home, some time after three. Smoke wreathed his hair like a noxious cloud. Giggling merrily, and knowing that at best nicotine makes me cough up a storm, he dumped his clothes in plastic bags, then danced naked around the loft.
I watched from the comfort of my bed. Sentinel sight has some benefits.
The kid has no shame when he’s drunk and he’s going to blush bright red when he remembers his display. Despite the "no flushing after ten" rule, he went in the bathroom and pissed for about ten minutes. (No, I’m not exaggerating). Then I heard him fall into the shower. By the time I left my nice warm bed and trooped down the stairs, he had found his feet and the water was splattering.
He kept saying, “Don’t wake up, Jim. Don’t wake up, Jim.” I swear sometimes the kid forgets I’m a sentinel.
Whatever. I stood outside the door, listening, you know, just to make sure he didn’t drown or something. I so did not want a trip to the Emergency Room at four a.m. I heard a curious glugging noise that I couldn’t place. Ah. He was drinking water straight from the shower head.
Realising that he was sober enough to drink (even if it was shower water) I decided to traipse back up to bed. I was halfway up the stairs when something caught my eye. The floor of my bedroom was at eye level and whatever it was, it was small, hairy and about the length of my splayed hand. Some kind of rodent? It stood on two legs. A rat? In my loft? Never. I looked again, blinked and it disappeared. I hadn’t heard the pitter-patter of rat feet nor, after a judicious sniff, did I smell sewage. I had to be dreaming.
I don’t remember going back to bed and falling asleep.
My arm reached out and slapped the alarm off just before the irritating bell went off. I have an acute time sense, something I’ve never told Sandburg about 'cause he’d test me until the end of time. I stumbled down to the shower. Based on the shenanigans of the night before, I expected water on the floor, towels in a heap in the corner, but, no, it was – surprisingly – pristine. Lids were on the shower gel and shampoos. Washcloths neatly folded. Fresh towels ready for use. Not a single puddle anywhere, and believe me I looked. The kid had even polished the tiles.
He should get drunk more often.
I enjoyed a really sensuous shower; the water felt like it was caressing me. Obviously, not using the Lysol before I climbed in the shower made a hell of a difference. In fact the water was so nice that it was easy to picture narrow, soft hands helping… Cold water goosed me.
I spun on my heel and scrutinised the bathroom. A disturbing giggle echoed down the drain.
“Sandburg!” How had he orchestrated that trick?
The water was warm again – a cold region in the pipes? Dismissing it, I deliberately stole Blair’s shampoo to wash my hair.
Sandburg hadn’t been disturbed by my yell when I was in the shower; judging by the snores he would probably sleep until mid-day. Damn, then I’d have to make my own breakfast. It was pretty obvious that I was spoiled.
There was no milk in the refrigerator.
He slept on undisturbed. Looking back at the bare fridge, I tried to remember if I had bought milk. I was sure I had: two cartons. Blair liked milk, but drinking two? My sentinel nose directed me to the garbage can under the sink, but it was empty. Blair had taken the trash out last night? What kind of mad housekeeping binge had he been on? What time had he wandered off to bed? I checked the entire loft: spic and span didn’t even begin to cover it. Amazing. He really should get drunk more often.
I decided to forgive him for drinking all the milk.
I grabbed my coat and went to pull the door open. Stuck. I didn’t need sentinel eyesight to see the nail driven into the lock, jamming the mechanism.
That woke him up. He staggered out of his dark cave sporting a serious case of bed head (he hadn’t combed his curls through after the shower), a dubious pair of grey shorts, an inside out t-shirt (mine) and one sock -- on his foot, thankfully.
“What’s with the door?” I jerked my thumb at it.
“Door?” he asked blearily.
“You nailed it shut, Darwin.”
He’s just so bright and alert in the mornings, it’s scary.
“Where's the claw hammer? How did you nail this shut without waking me?”
“Whhh?” He crab-walked toward the coffee pot, keeping an eye firmly fixed on me. Well, as firmly fixed as an eye that bloodshot could be. He lifted up an empty carton and shook it.
“There’s no milk,” I said with studied niceness.
“Coffee,” he intoned. I’d lost him now; he’d be neither useful nor ornamental until he got his daily fix. Not for the first time, I enjoyed a moment dwelling on Blair as a private and little ol’ moi as a drill sergeant.
“There’s no milk. Why did you drink all the milk?” he complained plaintively.
Shaking my head for what felt like the fifth time, I took the fire escape to get out and get the milk.
By the time I returned, the bathroom was back to its normal state. Blair wandered out, towelling his curls. “Where did you put my hair gel, man?”
“What would I do with your hair gel?” Shaking my head, I dropped my butter croissant in the toaster.
“So where is it then?” He dumped the damp towel over the back of the kitchen chair – the wooden, polished kitchen chair – ignoring my wince, and proceeded to tease out his curls with his fingers. “Damn, it’s going to go super curly.”
“That stuff can’t be good for your hair,” I offered.
Harrumphing, he sat. “Maybe it’s time to cut it off.”
The crash that followed his words made us both jump. The metal runner on top of the giant "4" on the wall had fallen from its hinges.
"Jesus," Blair blasphemed – is it blasphemy if you’re Jewish? "I thought you riveted that on?"
"I did." Crossing over to the sliding door, I planted my hands on either side of the "4", making sure that it didn’t topple while I assessed the situation. Blair joined me. Focussing on the runner and bolts strewn on the floor, I could see that the bolts had been sheared straight off, effectively jamming my emergency exit shut. What was going on here? I sniffed; I couldn’t detect any interlopers in the loft, neither now nor from last night. Why would Blair lock us in the loft? How was I going to free up the
mechanism? Last time I’d had the loft redecorators to help me. Damn, I liked my "4." Blair had speculated long and hard about my choice of loft décor. I didn't have the heart to tell him that Thunderbird "4" had always been my favourite when I was growing up. God knew what spin he would put on it: cartoon heroes and the influence of children’s television on nascent sentinels.
"Is it going to topple?" Blair eyed the television, which was in direct line if it did fall.
"No," I judged after another prudent check and a good push against the sliding door.
"Good." Blair wandered back to the kitchen counter, but paused by the door. "Jim, why’s the front door nailed shut?"
I’d forgotten about that. It was fairly impressive; it had only taken him forty minutes to wake up enough to notice and he’d been pretty blitzed last night.
"I dunno, Darwin, you tell me."
“I didn’t do it.”
“I certainly didn’t.” The claw hammer was jammed up against the "4" plaque. What the hell was going on here?
“I can't find my gel.”
He was certainly in a whiny mood; I diagnosed a hangover.
“I don't have it.”
“I’ve gotta go to school and--” He ducked down and peered into the shiny side of the toaster, “--I look like a poodle.”
Actually, I knew from overhearing his students, the female ones and Ben (the quiet guy in the corner), that they liked Sandburg sans gel. Something about the bouncy curls, go figure.
I was trying to finish a case report for the D.A. at my desk when I saw it. I actually took a second look, letting my vision zoom forward like a camera in a movie. I see some pretty weird things, but this took the cake – there was a little brown man, about six inches high, squeezed in the corner of the bullpen under the radiator. He was naked but covered in coarse black hair, like another hirsute little guy I know. Keeping one eye firmly fixed on him, I picked up my coffee and gave it a judicious sniff. No L.S.D., coke or other hallucinogens. I put the mug back and grabbed my cell phone. Sandburg was on the speed dial after my Swedish masseur (yeah, right).
He answered after the third ring; he must have been in the office. “Lo?”
“Get your ass down here now, Sandburg.” I closed the line on his spluttering.
The hairy thing in the corner grinned at me, all teeth and gums and laughing eyes. Okay, this was beyond strange. The panther is about as much as I can take and now a little naked gnome – yeah, gnome – was laughing at me.
There’s a gnome in the bullpen.
It’s amazing how much it looks like Sandburg with dreadlocks. What kind of spin would Jung put on that?
Like a flash it moved and was across the width of the bullpen in an instant, darting around H’s flat feet and through the gap in Simon’s open door. I was after it just as fast. I vaulted over my desk, knocking H over, and dove into Simon’s office. He almost swallowed his cigar when the door slammed against the wall.
“Did you see it?” I demanded, looking around.
“What?” Simon snapped so loudly that I winced.
“Something ran into your office.” There was a flash of brown and I dropped to the floor so fast it would have made my drill instructor proud. The gnome huddled under Simon’s desk, holding a coffee stirrer like a spear.
“Jim?” Simon said, his tone filled with consternation (also known as placate-the-madman, standard 101 rookie training at Police Academy).
“Simon,” I responded evenly, “look under your desk and tell me what you see.”
“What is it? A rat?” Grumbling, Simon crouched. “What the HELL?!”
Almost faster than the eye could see the gnome darted along the length of the office wall. It swan dived into the space between the bookshelf and the baseboard. I was impressed.
“What was that? A mouse? I’ll call the exterminator.”
I jumped to my feet. “You saw it?”
“Yeah, a brown furry thing.” Simon swished through the pages of the departmental telephone directory.
I crossed the office and bent to peer into the shadowy crack. Darkness lightened as I stared, but the gnome had disappeared. Weird, though: Simon had seen it. He might not have understood, but he had seen it.
“Hey, guys.” Sandburg stood silhouetted in the doorway. “What ya doing?”
“I thought you were at the university?”
“Nah, I was in the Volvo on the way here. What’s the emergency?” Hands in pockets, Sandburg sauntered casually into the office. I could see the rest of the bullpen crew behind him, trying to look like they weren’t watching the entertainment.
“Jim spotted a rat.” Simon had found the number for utilities and was stabbing at the telephone.
“Ewww.” Sandburg shuddered.
“Yeah, help me shift this cabinet,” I directed and started to walk the bookcase inch by inch away from the wall.
Sandburg’s eyes bugged. I followed his line of sight. A family of naked, hairy gnomes, mamma, pappa and three fuzzy balls, crouched between the baseboard and the side of the bookcase.
“Wow.” Mouth open with amazement (never a pretty sight), Blair crouched down. I could hear Simon in the background arguing with Mavis in utilities about when pest control could get to his office. Apparently there had been a veritable plague of infestations in the building.
“My name’s Blair,” the kid was saying.
I plainly heard a high-pitched voice say, “Am very pleased to meet you. I be known as Ffion and this is my family.”
Fuck, they talked too.
Blair grinned at me, absolutely entranced. “Brownies, Jim. I can see brownies. How?” He pinched his thigh and winced. “Did Simon see Ffion?”
“Yeah, he’s calling pest control.”
As fast as a brownie, Blair was by Simon’s side, snatching the phone out of his hand.
“What?” Simon growled.
“It’s okay,” Blair said frantically into the mouthpiece, “it’s a mistake.”
I shook my head and spared a weary prayer for oblivious anthropologists in the face of the seething cloud growing over Simon’s head.
Blair plunked the phone down while Simon spluttered. My captain was about to ream Sandburg a new ass, but Blair was completely oblivious and back beside me, grinning at Ffion and his family.
“Chief?” I tapped him on his shoulder. “Why is this happening?”
“I have no idea.” Blair’s eyes were firmly fixed on Ffion. “But it’s… amazing. Are we dreaming?”
There was no blue-tones jungle world hovering at the edge of this hallucination. I could hear the rapid drumming beat of the brownies’ heartbeats: they were terrified. I immediately squatted beside Blair, even though I still towered over the family like a giant.
“I won’t hurt you. I won’t let anyone hurt you.”
Ffion stood tall (his entire six inches) and bowed deeply. “Thank you, Sentinel of the Great City.”
Aw, fuck. Busted.
Simon yanked down the blinds in his office, shutting out the rest of the bullpen.
“How do we put them back? Other people can see them!” I snapped.
Sandburg shrugged in that irritating way of his. You know, shoulders fully engaged and hands held at chest height. It means whatever I say will be completely ignored and he’ll talk until I agree with him or give in.
The fuzzy baby brownies were hiding behind their mama, peeking out from behind her legs. Damn they were so scared.
“I think… The first thing we have to do… I guess…” Sandburg burbled.
“We have to protect them.” I cut through his rambling.
“Well, yeah, of course.” He looked at me, proudly. What did he expect? That I’d turn them over to an anthropologist for study? His eyes narrowed, and I had the disturbing impression that he’d read my mind.
“We need something to carry them back to the loft in.”
Visualising the noisome depths of that bag, complete with month-old sandwiches, smelly gym clothes and his hairbrush (which I think has a life of its own), I was fairly sure that the Humane Society would protest.
“Simon?” I asked for any suggestion.
“Hey.” Simon had his head stuck in a thick report and was trying to ignore us. “I’m not here.”
“I don’t get why Simon can see them,” I said.
Blair’s eyebrow rose, somehow he was surprised at my words. “I don’t know.” Despite his response, there was a speculative gleam in his eye.
I racked my brains. “There’s got to be a baby carrier in lost-and-found.”
“Way to look obvious,” Sandburg said sardonically. “You go out of here with a baby carrier and the secretaries will be on you like dust on your stereo.”
Yeah, he had a point.
“Go find something,” I directed. The kid was bright – he’d find a suitable box.
I didn’t watch him go. I took the opportunity to look properly at Ffion. I could see the play of muscles across Ffion’s chest as he wielded his coffee stirrer and the individual hairs on his nut-brown skin. His large eyes were out of proportion to his head and the pupils almost eclipsed them. His flat face (which the uncharitable would call moonfaced) was now lit by a sunny smile.
His kids were still scared.
“We’re going to get you home,” I reassured him. “But how the hell did you get here?”
“We’ve always been here,” Mrs. Ffion piped up.
“For a sentinel, you’re rather unobservant,” she said censoriously.
I think I’d just been insulted. “Really?” I said archly.
“Woman!” Ffion scowled. Mrs. Ffion subsided. “We’re very good at not being seen,” he continued placatingly, “Master Ellison. But folk don’t try very hard nowadays to see us. I guess we just become lazy.”
“Sorry?” That did not make sense. His broad accent also got in the way.
Ffion scrunched up his face like he was going to take a dump on the carpet, then he sort of faded until he was like a reflection in a rippling stream. He released his held breath with a sigh.
“Did ah disappear?” he asked hopefully.
“Wey ya bugger.”
I didn’t quite get that, but I decided not to ask.
“You see, Master Ellison, we’d learnt like to disappear completely behind the veil, but now it doesna seem to work.”
“We be your work brownies here in your pigpen,” Mrs. Ffion explained. “But if the big folk can see us we’ll be in trouble. You big folk don’t like anything other than you big people.”
“My work brownies?”
“Yes,” Ffion said proudly, “since yer ancestors came over the water.”
“Although,” Mrs. Ffion leaned forward conspiratorially, “tis hard work with the pigs you share your demesne with.”
“Here.” Sandburg burst into the office. He carried a kid’s lunch box – there was a Teletubbies logo on the side. I didn’t want to ask where he had found it. Actually, I suspected that it was his. I opened the box when he handed it to me; he had padded the inside with wadded up toilet paper. I set it on the floor and the family clambered in without any prompting.
“Are there any others like you here?” Sandburg asked.
“There be the boggle in the basement. But he’s pretty quiet unless you tease him.” Ffion frowned at the ball of fuzz clutching his hand and amazingly it (I had no idea if it was a boy or girl) looked embarrassed.
“Are you going now?” Simon asked, without raising his head from the report.
“Yeah.” I waited until the Family Ffion were nestled in the packing and closed the lid. “Best make sure that nobody goes down to the basement. What’s a boggle, Chief?”
“I have no idea. It doesn’t sound very nice, does it?”
Now that it was safe to look, Simon raised his head. He left a lot of things unspoken before he finally said, “You’re going to sort this out?”
“You know, Simon,” Blair said unwisely, “just because you don’t want to believe doesn’t mean… ugh.”
I dragged him bodily out of the office by the scruff of his neck.
The drive back to the loft was an education. They were everywhere, but striving not to be seen. I spotted a black horse, easily twenty hands at the shoulder, trailing smoke from its hooves as it galloped through the intersection at Steedman and Main. Cars, trucks and buses screeched to a halt, horns wailed and people cursed. Then the demon horse melted away.
We stopped long enough to make sure that no one was hurt. The drivers were already coming up with excuses for what they’d seen, but a little kid asked me, "Where the horsie gone?"
Continuing on to the loft, I saw a sylphlike lady formed of bark and thatch draped in a tree. She nodded at me, acknowledging that I’d seen her.
“Driving, Jim,” Sandburg rebuked.
“Did you see that?”
“Where?” He leaned over me to look into the park.
“How much of this stuff are you seeing?” I asked.
“I saw the shadow horse, but it was like a water colour painted on a cartoon cell.”
“You believed you saw it?”
“Yeah,” he said simply. “Hey, I believe in sentinels.”
“It’s not really the same thing,” I said as I turned the key in the front door.
The apparent non sequitur only threw Blair for a heartbeat. “Sentinels are mythic in proportion, and I’m not just talking about your ass.”
I would have turned and slapped him upside the head, but the living room took precedence.
Chaos. My home had been invaded. All kinds of things, from near human to creatures that looked as if they were formed from tied-up sticks, were crowded in the room. They were sitting on the television, on the coffee table, cross-legged on the floor and hanging on the backs of the armchairs. There were hairy brownies, short dwarfs, and more of the stick things with their hook-noses that reminded me of carrots.
“Sentinel!” they clamoured as we entered. “Sentinel!”
They rushed forward as one and I couldn’t help but take a step backward. There was a crash as the pots and pans hanging over the kitchen island dropped. A guy about two feet high, and as broad as he was tall, swung on the hangers like Tarzan.
“Show some respect.” A soft voice cut through the din. She was near human, apart from her lack of height: the pointy ears were the give-away clue.
A grubby, barrel-chested midget with a cap the colour of fresh blood scowled. “Aye, some sentinel. He doesn’t even accept the responsibilities of his position. Sentinel of the Great City, my arse.”
“Hey.” Blair bounced immediately to my defence. “He is the Sentinel of Cascade and he does a damn good job. He’s honourable and trustworthy and…”
“Chief.” I curved an arm around his shoulders and he subsided. “It’s okay.”
It was more than okay. Even after Alex and the fountain, he still believed in me. Pandemonium reigned in the living room as the various types of things faced off against each other. The woman -- who held court from the sofa -- stood, but they ignored her. A leathery-skinned man, too thin to be even remotely human, dropped from the ceiling on top of the thickset dwarf. Brownie yelled at towering dwarf. It was a picture: tiny spear brandished against double-headed axe.
“Stop,” I bellowed.
And, amazingly, they stopped. The small woman moved regally through the throng. I estimated that she stood at a mere four feet, but she looked taller because she was like a willow – thin and reedy. Her clothes were finely stitched, made of hand-spun material rather than leathers and coarse fabric like the red-capped dwarf. Evidently she had some degree of authority, because the various things fell back.
“Elf,” Blair supplied from behind me, where I had tucked him when the fight began.
“Sentinel.” She bowed her head infinitesimally. “I apologise for invading your home, but we need to speak.”
“Speak then,” I ordered.
Sandburg poked me hard in the middle of my back. “Jim,” he hissed, “be polite.”
“I’ll be polite when you explain what’s happening,” I growled.
The woman had the audacity to fall back and gesture me into my own home.
“Thank you,” I said sarcastically. I made my way slowly to my armchair, staring down the things invading my home. I brushed off my trousers and made great ceremony of taking the best seat in the house. Sandburg took position on my right hand side. He still held the Teletubby lunch box.
“Do you want to let Ffion free?” I muttered under my breath.
“Oooh.” Blair dropped to his haunches and carefully set the box on the floor and opened the lid.
Ffion, Mrs. Ffion and the fuzzy balls tumbled out.
“Marra!” A second family of naked hairy things raced across the floor, another group emerged from under the couch, and a reunion of hairy naked things was enacted on my carpet.
“I guess they’re my house brownies,” I mused.
“Ffion said that they’re my work brownies. Marra--” I pointed at the veritable army of dreadlocked little people hooting and roaring and dancing in circles, “--and his family must be the house… loft brownies.”
“Ah,” was Sandburg’s only comment, but the wheels were turning under that mop of curls. I would have grilled him, but the regal elf came before us.
“Sentinel,” she began, “we have lived aside you and your people for aeons, in sight yet only visible to those who have the gift to see us and the will. Now the veil has been lifted. Only hiding in the darkness will keep us safe, yet to hide in the darkness puts us at risk from those that glorify the darkness.”
She was as garrulous and long-winded as Sandburg. “What's this got to do with me?”
“Marra told us that you saw him and we knew that our protection had been lifted.”
“I repeat: What does this have to do with me? I’m a detective, for crying out loud.”
My guide rolled his eyes heavenward. “Yeah, right,” he whispered under his breath, but he had to know that I could hear him.
“Spill it, Chief.”
Eyes-- cats’ eyes, one-eyes, big eyes and small eyes-- turned to the Shaman of the City.
Blair looked abashed. “Well, you said, ‘I don’t get why Simon can see them.’ And you asked me, ‘How do we put them back?’ Put them back where? You’ve seen them before, Jim. I think you put them away when you put away your gifts after Bud died.”
“So why didn’t they come back when my sentinel abilities did?” I attacked.
Sandburg didn’t bat an eyelid. “You can be pretty stubborn, man. I guess you didn’t want to see them.”
I hate being a sentinel. I think I think that every day. “Why can everyone see them?”
“Everyone can’t.” He drifted over to the balcony and peered out. “Simon sees magic every day and he ignores it.”
Blair’s gaze was abstracted and I followed his line of sight up to the clouds where a dragon the colour of spun glass played in the storm eddies and breathed frost fire.
“Since time immemorial there have been legends about ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties,” he continued
“Time immemorial,” I echoed.
“Yeah,” Blair said eagerly. “You’ve proved pretty conclusively that ghosts exist, so why not other things? Brownies and fairies and kobolds. Less than a hundred years ago people left a bowl of milk out for the brownies who cleaned their houses.”
"But why now?" I looked at the watching court and couldn’t help but flinch at their frank regard.
“The honourable guide speaks true,” the elf said.
“Why me?” I couldn’t help but hear the whine in my voice.
“You are the Sentinel of the Great City,” she said uncompromisingly.
“And?” I demanded and held out my hand in supplication. “It’s ridiculous; this is ridiculous. Why does the fact that I can see you mean that you can be seen?”
“Because you are the Sentinel of the Great City,” she explained blankly.
I sagged back in my armchair. I was pretty sure that I was dreaming this. Blair must have slipped me some cough medicine as an experiment. A clink disturbed my mindless contemplations. Ffion and Marra were dragging a cold bottle of Coors across the floor.
I could learn to like those little guys. I leaned over and snagged the bottle from their grasp. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see that the dwarf with the red cap had appropriated his own bottle.
“The question is, what is our next step?” Blair was speaking. He lowered himself gracefully to the floor and sat cross-legged before the elf woman. “If the world isn’t ready for sentinels, it isn’t ready for the fey folk.”
“Hey, there’s a flaw in your argument.” The first mouthful of clean, crisp beer had lubricated my thought processes. “If I saw these guys when I was a kid, why didn’t everyone else?”
“Because you weren’t as strong as you are now.”
“You’re making this up as you go along,” I protested.
“Okay, you weren’t the Sentinel of the Great City back then; you were the heir apparent.”
The kid can pull answers from the air. It doesn’t mean that they’re right; it just means that he’s fast on his feet.
“Is there anyone we can talk to? A leader?” I can cut the bullshit with the best of people. There had to be someone more knowledgeable out there than this motley crew. The "fey folk" must have been visible before; we just had to figure out why they had become visible now.
“It’s about belief.” Red Cap stood at my elbow.
“Belief?” I shook my head.
“Part of our protection is that no one believes in us anymore. But when a man grounded in the real world who has a foot in the fey sees us, it upsets the balance.” He grinned showing yellowy, tarred teeth. The stench of his breath was unbelievable.
“We could hypnotise him,” my guide and personal bugbear was saying. All kinds of eyes turned to look at me.
One of the Ffion fuzzy balls was climbing up my pants leg; I guessed it was the one that teased the boggle in the basement. It was cute in an unformed sort of way, all stubby legs and big, brown eyes and covered in fur.
“How long have you been my work brownie?” I asked.
“I learn at my daddy’s knee,” it squeaked. “I get to sort your paperclips when I’m good. I don’t get to do it very often.”
A brownie after my own heart. Assuming that I wasn’t dreaming, and these things had been -- as Sandburg said -- "around since time immemorial," the fact that I believed in them was of little or no consequence. Citizens of Cascade and the rest of America had been seeing alien monsters and weird fairy shit, based on the tabloid rags I’d read in the bullpen break room, for just as long.
“Here, Jim.” Sandburg handed me another beer.
“I’ve got one.” I waggled the half-full bottle in his face.
“I’d like you to drink this one.”
“Why?” I asked suspiciously.
“Trust me,” he said as plaintively as Droopy.
I took a swig and it had a strangely sweet aftertaste, one that I would never forget. Children’s Benadryl? “Sandburg?”
“Bear with me, Jim.” Blair looked abashed. “I just want you to relax. I just need to try something.”
“Benadryl doesn’t make me relax, it knocks me out.”
“So what else is new?” Blair blushed. “It’s just a smidgen. We need to put your sentinel abilities out of whack.”
He pulled off his necklace, he was wearing the one with the blue stone, and held the gem before my eyes like some cheesy stage hypnotist. This was never going to work.
So I said it, ”This is never going to work.”
“Listen to my voice. You are feeling sleepy, very sleepy…”
How pathetic does he think I am? I am not that susceptible to…
I awoke to a peaceful, empty loft. Sandburg was lying on his stomach, watching television. He was watching the "X-files" of all things as he munched his way through a bowl of buttery, salty popcorn. One of the fuzzy balls sat on his head, plaiting his hair into a corkscrew of curls.
“Jim.” He twisted onto his side, displacing Tease, who swung on the ringlet to the floor.
“It didn’t work. You didn’t make me forget about the fairies.” I pointed to Ffion, who was picking up the kernels of corn that Sandburg had dropped on the carpet. Mrs. Ffion, who was sitting on the arm of my chair, seemed to be enjoying the "X-files."
“It did work,” Sandburg refuted.
Nope, I could see both clans of brownies – it hadn’t worked. “Nope.”
Sandburg positively exuded self-satisfaction. “I didn’t hypnotise you; I hypnotised our visitors.”
“Well, to be more accurate, I convinced them that the Sentinel of the Great City didn’t believe in them anymore.”
“You sneaky little shit.”
Blair ducked his head in acknowledgement of the compliment. “They seemed convinced that the only reason they were visible was because you believed in them. It was the logical solution.”
“But I can still see the brownies.”
“Yeah, but the other guys don’t believe that you can see them and that seems to be the crux of the situation.”
“So what happened after you put me out and pretended to hypnotise me?”
“It was really cool.” Sandburg proved that he could bounce even when sitting down. “They left through the windows, through the doors and over the balcony. They just faded away like melting ice sculptures into the shadows.”
“What about--?” I pointed at the brownies ranged throughout the loft and counted seven. Four Ffions, and Marra with two others – his family, presumably. The other brownies must have gone to their own homes.
“Oh, well, they didn’t go and I almost stepped on Marra, so it was pretty obvious that I could see them.”
“So why doesn’t it matter if you can see them? That doesn’t make any sense.”
“I’m not the Sentinel of the Great City. And of course I can see them, I believe in them now. It’s about faith, Jim. I don’t think it’s supposed to make sense.”
“So what happens next?”
“Nothing. Marra and Ffion have promised not to rat us out. But the next time you see a fairy, pretend not to see it.”
“Unless it’s committing a crime,” I clarified.
“Well, that goes without saying.” Blair grinned as widely as Ffion.
“What about the brownies?” It occurred to me that unless I spoke fast, I’d probably acquire seven more hairy roommates.
Blair once again read my mind. “They’re your brownies, man. The loft and work brownies of the Ellison Family. What are you going to do, throw them out? Where would they live?”
How could faces covered in hair look so innocent and vulnerable? They were worse than Sandburg.
“And you know,” Sandburg burbled on happily, “they're really good at cleaning the loft."
do you like the drawing? It’s by Lorraine Brevig
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