Escaping into the bathroom, I turned on the light, opened the mirror-cabinet over the sink, and reached for saline and my contact lens case.
After a certain amount of awkwardness with each other, the creature and I had just been about to—finally—get somewhere. It had started to tell me wondrous things about my origin and my birthright. I didn’t understand half of it, but the parts I thought I could make out either sounded far-fetched...or they were literally out of this world. Like the fact that I was really one of them. Not one of Its kind, but Fey kind. I might have peed myself I was getting so excited, but then Its cell phone rang. It had looked apologetic but said It had to take the call, and acting all mysterious and secretive, half-skipped, half-flew into the kitchen to answer it.
I could still hear Its side of the conversation from in here if I focused.
“Why? Because you won’t believe what living here’s done to her.”
Does It mean me?
“Yes, that, and she’s so serious. With that half-dead look in her eyes like she’s become one of them.”
What? A zombie?—oh, no, a human.
“I don’t know why it had to be her...Okay, besides that...I mean, is this really going to rejuvenate the Realm?”
“Well come on, what have humans been up to lately? They embraced the Slug whole-heartedly and what?—have been trying to make things more efficient? That’s why we left—”
“Say again...Yeah, reception’s better now. Go ahead.”
I ran the tap quickly to clean my hands, not wanting to miss anything, but when I could hear again there was only silence. Putting my contacts back in proved to be a real pain because even though I felt pretty numb, my hands shook and I couldn’t stop them.
Ooh, is It off the phone?
A moment later I heard It ask: “How about we say midnight?”
Then, faintly, “Where you wanna meet?”
I get to meet more of Them!
I stared at my reflection, trying to see something I could identify as fey in my features. It wasn’t a pretty sight, so I tried to catch the lighter side of me with a sprightly smile. That wasn’t any better, so I tilted my head forward and examined myself with intense, smoky eyes like I meant serious, otherworldly business.
“There you are.”
I jumped and knocked over the saline bottle from the shock of hearing Its voice right in my ear, and from the embarrassment of having been caught. It pushed right into the tiny bathroom and began poking around.
“I thought so.”
“Huh?” I finally got out.
It pointed at various things in turn saying, “Contacts. Hair dye. Body glitter. Temporary tattoos. Just as I expected.”
“What’re you talk—that’s to cover the gray. I am thirty-six. It’s not that big of a vanity. The fake tattoos are from Halloween and the contacts aren’t even tinted.” If I ever found the right shade of violet I might—
It swished a hand up and down. “I’ve been following you for days. I know about the costumes and your ‘thing’ for rainbows.”
Following me? “You what?”
“All those years, trapped here. You must have known, didn’t you Xiri dear? You must have guessed by now. Surrounded by lackluster sameness till you couldn’t breathe. Don’t worry, Riki, we’ll get you the best therapy that gold can—”
By costumes I assumed It meant my vintage clothing. I was about to ask, but then something else occurred to me. “Hang on a minute...you couldn’t have known about those things just from following me...you must have—”
“Searched your place? Sure, but actually I found most of the best information on the web. From your personal site, your community profiles, chats, postings, blogs—”
You did what? “YOU SEARCHED MY PLACE!”
“I had to make sure you were the right one. There’s more than one Abigail Watson, you know. There are twenty-nine listed at somethingsomething dot com—”
I wasn’t listening at this point. I was fuming. And growing more and more excited by the moment.
This was serious.
This was big.
I knew it, I knew it!
“No one taught you how to ‘work’ your glamour. So you...made your own. I particularly like your extensive collection of hair and body glitter.” It stopped for a second to elbow me over and glance approvingly at Itself in the mirror. “That’s hard-wired into your genes, I bet.”
I sat down on the edge of the bathtub because my legs suddenly went all wobbly.
I live behind a sheet of clear plastic that allows me to see and hear everything, but not be part of anything. One day is just like the next, and suddenly it’s next week already, and before I know it, another year’s gone by, but the same car needs to be washed again and the same dishes are waiting to be done again, and I’m out of the same things I buy every week at the grocery store for the same meals I always make. It’s like I’ve been waiting for something—
It sashayed back out into the hall, calling out: “And your digital manipulation of images and photos, that’s like...virtual glamour.”
Yes, I really had been waiting for this—unconsciously—my whole life.
Disquieting giggles floated into the bathroom.
Uh-oh. I hurried to the source of them.
It had made Its way back into my bedroom, opening drawers and poking around in them, having a good old time. “Poor humans and all that uncomfortable clothing they need—bras, ties, heels, thongs, it’s—well, it’s inhuman. He, he!”
I barely noticed as It stooped down and snatched up my old white plastic laundry hamper. “You better get packing. We only have about an hour.”
I nodded dazedly.
“Take whatever you can’t bear to be parted from, because there’s no coming back. I plan to pick up a few things before we go, too.”
But I sat down on the edge of my futon and continued to think about me. The Changeling.
It had said they switched me with a human baby in order for me to grow up here. My parents never knew. But the creatures had been delayed coming back for me, so I’d been stuck here for much longer than they intended. I was now to be taken back to ‘the Faerie Realm’ to revitalize them or something.
It seemed to reshape the hamper with Its hands, and toss something smaller and shinier down next to me on the bed.
“Now,” It said impishly, “be a good Xiriki and pack like I told you to. Don’t make me geas you!”
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