Fairy Wars: The Dark Ones – Book One
L. L. Bower, PhD
© 2014 Dr. L. L. Bower, Photo above by Steve Bower
Idaho Selway Forest Cover Scene by Dan Pease Photography
Used with Permission
To my mother, Carol Hunt, whose legacy includes a love of the written word, an appreciation for the art of imagination and a belief in my dreams.
This is the Fairyland. O spite of spites,
We talk with goblins, owls, and sprites!
If we obey them not, this will ensue:
They’ll suck our breath, or pinch us black and blue.
(William Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors)
“Humans misrepresent us as tiny, harmless creatures, incapable of defense, nondescript and thoroughly benign, sprinkling dust everywhere like the infamous but uncommunicative Tinkerbell of Neverland, when in actuality we fairies have no dust and are as strong and varied as the universe itself.”
General Warrin, Four-Star General in Fairyland’s 6th Infantry
Chapter 1—Royal Trouble
My name is Calen—with a long A—Bartholomew Ambrose. One day ten years ago, I was fishing at the Sylvia River in the Wardell Mountains with my friend Gambole, who I’ve known since college. During our hike to the river, I cut my ankle on a strange, spiny plant. I cleaned and bandaged the wound, but it swelled, itched, and burned like fire. Anxious to get home to apply anti-bacterial cream, I hastened to help Gambole break down camp. Next, something happened that forever changed my life.
When I’m packing up our gear, I see peripheral movement. Assuming it’s the wind kicking up forest debris, I ignore it and help fold our two-person tent and put out the campfire. The morning has the last chill of winter, and I shiver, my breath visible while I work. As birds twitter in the trees, I traipse down to the river bank, fill a bucket with water and carry it over to our fire pit, a circle of charcoal-stained river rock that smells like burnt pine. I stop in front of the rocks and lift the bucket to douse the remaining embers, when a squeal reaches my ears. I look over at Gambole who’s still bent over the rolled-up tent, tying ropes around it. He’s not the source of the sound and apparently hasn’t heard it.
I look around to determine the squeal’s origin, when I hear a high-pitched voice below me say, “Hey! You! Move your foot. You’re about to break mine.”
To my surprise when I look down, there stands a tiny, pointy-eared creature with translucent rainbow-colored wings, one of which is wedged under my foot along with his arm. I know this sounds strange, but he’s no taller than a pencil and has a tiny crown made from purple flowers and green leaves. His eyes are large and black as night, and he sparkles from head to toe, like someone sprinkled him with gold glitter.
I set the bucket down and raise my foot to let the little creature go. Disturbed about my mental health, I turn away, deciding the cut on my leg is probably infected, causing visions. I’m certainly not gonna converse with an illusion. I squint and look over at Gambole to see if he’s seen or heard anything. He’s still bent over the tent, oblivious to my hallucination.
“Wait,” the creature urges in his high, squeaky voice.
I turn back and say, “Am I dreaming?” I bend down further, coughing a little from campfire smoke. The birds have stopped singing, and I ask, “Who are you?”
“You’re not dreaming. I am Prince Enlil, heir to the fairy throne and son of King Aubrey, owner of these woods. I stopped here to warm myself by your fire, only to be attacked by you. And who, impertinent sir, are you?”
The winged creature rubs his freed arm, and I notice one of his luminous wings is bent.
“My name’s Calen,” I say and, following the fairy’s style of introduction, add, “a clock repairman and son of Mortimer. But these woods are public, not private.”
“I don’t know what you’re jabbering about over there,” Gambole says. I look over my shoulder as he straightens and turns around, the tent on his shoulder. “Of course these woods are public. Now, if you don’t mind, would you help me finish loading up?” My friend has apparently not heard the creature.
The fairy prince flutters his wings a little, ignores Gambole and continues in his squeaky voice, “Well, clockmaker Calen, it’s nice to make your acquaintance, but you are mistaken. You’re trespassing on my family’s land, as it has been for hundreds of years. You can be grateful that we, the fairy race, allow you humans to traverse and even settle in these woods. In older days, fairies cursed those who dared usurp our territory. But we now consider you humans our allies, since many of you are benevolent and sympathetic to our cause.
“Now, Sir Calen.” He peers up at me. “Are you one of those humans? Are you a benevolent and generous man, someone people seek out when they are in trouble? Or are you an angry, selfish man with few friends and few allies?”
I kneel and whisper my reply, not wanting Gambole to think me crazier than he already does. “I don’t know how to answer that.” I shrug. “I was a Boy Scout when I was younger, and part of our motto was ‘Do a Good Turn Daily.’ I suppose I’ve done my share of helping and serving others. But mostly, I’m a simple man, nothing special. I’m not a bad person, but not an angel either. Why do you ask?”
Behind me, I hear the punctuated clangs of metal cookware being violently packed. Gambole apparently hears my whispers and mutters about self-absorbed people who talk to themselves to avoid work.
“Well, let us hope you are good enough, Calen, son of Mortimer. In fact, let us hope there’s something of a hero in you for you’ve been chosen.”
Prince Enlil puts one hand on his waist. “Now, I’m late for an important appointment and must go. I bid you good day, but we will meet again, you can be sure. Oh, and be prepared. Your foot that stepped on me is going to cause discomfort.”
The fairy brandishes a golden wand I hadn’t noticed before and taps the tip of his bent wing with it. The appendage immediately straightens. He flutters the wing a couple of times and then touches his left arm with the wand. “Ah, much better.”
For a moment, he hovers above our dying campfire, as if testing out the newly repaired wing. “Until we meet again.”
“Wait, Your Highness,” I shout, “I have more questions.”
From behind me, Gambole asks, “Your highness? What’s wrong with you, buddy?”
With a frenzied flurry of wings, the fairy prince shoots up and away and is gone almost before I can blink. I pour the water bucket on the fire, which sizzles and pops, sending a plume of musky smoke into the air, and turn to Gambole, who’s staring at me with a concerned look.
Lines form between his rather ample brows as he asks, “Have you lost your mind?”
He leans closer and peers into my eyes. “Or are you trying to get me to do all the work?”
I hold my palms out to him. “Didn’t you see him? Didn’t you hear him?”
“What’re you talking about?”
“The tiny creature with wings.”
“Oh, come now, Calen.” He raises his eyebrows. “Your brain’s been affected by those ghost stories we told around the campfire last night.”
“No, I mean it. His name was Prince Enlil, and he had wings, Gambole, real wings.”
“Very funny.” One corner of his mouth twists in a smirk. “I must say, you have an imagination.”
“I’m serious. I know it sounds crazy, but he was here, and he was real.” I realize my voice has taken on a desperate tone. Gambole continues to stare at me as if I’ve lost my mind, but then he looks around, searching our campsite.
Finally, he shakes his head. “Sorry, dude, I don’t see any flying creatures, except the birds.” He points to a crow cawing from the top of a ponderosa pine. “Okay . . .” Gambole nods, “you could be suffering aftereffects from that cut on your ankle, or maybe those mushrooms we ate last night were bad. They can cause hallucinations, you know.”
I lower my head, rub my eyes, and think maybe the fairy was a vision. “Never mind, I was rehearsing more bedtime fantasies to tell your children.”
He sighs, sounding relieved. “They look forward to your stories. But, if you start having fantasies about beautiful women, be sure to share those with me.”
We hoist up our gear and, in several trips from the campsite to Gambole’s pickup, pack everything in the bed and tie a tarp over it. As I make trips to the pickup, I notice how green the forest looks, almost hurting my eyes with its brilliance, how noisy the birds and rustling leaves are, and how strongly the pungent scents of pine and sweet wildflowers assault my nose. I even smell something musty. Mushrooms? It’s like my senses are being bombarded. I wonder if the cut from that spiny plant gave me more than visions. Maybe it was some kind of super hallucinogen.
After leaving our campsite and with his tongue stuck out of the corner of his mouth, Gambole careens his pickup down the mountain curves he knows so well. He loves the sounds of flailing gravel on his fenders. I also know he’s anxious to return home to his family after a weekend away.
Unlike Gambole, I’m single, preferring my own company to the challenge of living with another. As the only one left in my family, I’m used to being alone, and solitude suits me. I eat when I want, sleep when I want, and work as diligently or as lazily as my mood dictates because I own a home-based clock-repair business. All in all, I live a quiet existence with a place for everything and everything in its place. Some might call my life dull or conventional, but I prefer order to chaos. In my experience, predictable clocks are easier to work with than unpredictable people. I’m able to fix one but not the other.
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Gambole drops me off at home that afternoon, and from the bed of his pickup under the tarp, I grab my backpack, sleeping bag, tackle box and fishing pole. I thank him for the ride and head toward my front door.
My modest clapboard home is fifty years old and consists of two bedrooms, a kitchen, a bath and a small living room. I’ve rented this place for three years from a crusty old gentleman named Hank who now resides in assisted living. Although Hank has offered to sell me the property and I’d buy it in a minute, I can’t afford it. For some reason, clock repair is seasonal, mostly autumn and winter, so I doubt I could secure a mortgage.
Despite the clapboard’s weathered appearance, it’s in fairly good condition, although it has elderly creaks and groans. The floors squeak when I walk, the pipes leak, and the electrical system trips circuit breakers and blows fuses at the most inopportune times, like the time I invited Gambole and his family to dinner.
Until a few years ago when my sister Cassie took pity on me, my home was sparsely furnished with second-hand pieces. Cassie put up curtains, “non-frilly” at my insistence, and hung a decorative mirror and a peaceful forest painting. She also added throw pillows in masculine colors like brown and gray.
I leave my camping gear on the kitchen counter and do my usual walkthrough to make sure no pipes are leaking, nothing’s on fire, and no one’s intruded in my absence. Even though my possessions are well-worn, every object in the old house, from my favorite turquoise recliner to my vintage tube-type radio, seems crystal clear, exhibiting sharp edges, as if I am looking through a magnifying glass, which gives me a slight headache. I smell old garbage in my wastebasket, an odor I hadn’t noticed yesterday morning, as well as the scent of onions from yesterday’s breakfast, as if I’ve just taken the pan off the stove. I swear I can see the fabric’s weave in my favorite chair and each particle of dust on the radio. I’ll be glad when the effects of this crazy scratch on my leg wear off.
My house is situated on two acres at the northern edge of Mansentia forest. The nearest neighbor is a couple of miles away. Our crime rate is very low in Bisha province, so I don’t lock my doors. I’ve considered getting a dog to discourage the occasional nomad, but for now, the quiet is nicer than the responsibility of a pet.
I disinfect and re-bandage the cut on my leg, which has miraculously healed during the day, but my left foot that stepped on the prince still tingles, purely psychological, I’m sure.
To get my mind off silly things like fairy hallucinations, I enter my spare bedroom, which is filled with clock-repair stock, set up on three long tables arranged in a U-shape, including tools like my oiler pen, pivot locator and centering hook, tweezers in various sizes, gear pullers, drill tools, spare chime keys and clock grommets, and a loupe with other jeweler’s magnifiers clamped onto the edges of the tables. I try to keep my worktables clear, except when fixing a particular clock. Plastic storage boxes with numerous cubbyholes hold spare parts, keys, grommets, all sizes of springs, screws, nuts, bolts, and gears, each neatly labeled for ease and speed of use. On the floor, I’ve placed a fan for air circulation, which comes in handy when working with strong-smelling varnishes.
The room is lit by two windows and an overhead fluorescent fixture. A couple of my magnifiers also have built-in lights. This room is my sanctuary, with the satisfyingly minute scope of my work and the calming sound of clocks ticking and chiming in the background. Most people tell me they wouldn’t have the patience to do what I do, but I tell them fixing a clock is no more complicated than balancing a checkbook and a lot more satisfying.
With my inventory of parts, I even participate in horology, building clocks from scratch. Technically, my degree is in mechanical engineering, but, when I graduated, I couldn’t stomach the corporate scene with its politics and unpredictability. Instead I decided to teach myself clock repair, as I’ve always been fascinated by miniature mechanical workings. I wanted to work for myself and couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do to make a living, even if that living is sporadic.
This afternoon, I enter my workshop to finish repairing a clock I received several days ago, a Hubert Herr hand-carved cuckoo clock, with an antlered buck’s head on its pinnacle and circling dancers on its front, crafted somewhere around the turn of the 20th century. Its exterior beauty is only surpassed by its inner workings, a marvel of German engineering and precision. Most of a previous afternoon was required to calibrate and clean this clock.
When my work’s done, I hang the clock up and will periodically observe it over the next twenty-four hours to check its accuracy and make sure the cuckoo has the correct number and cadence on the hour. I’ll also decide if the dancers twirl with the correct speed and configuration. While I was working, the foot that stepped on the prince began throbbing and stinging, but I ignored it, determined to finish before dark.
When I look up from my work, the light from the windows has dimmed. I leave my workbench to fix a dinner of pork, boiled potatoes, and steamed broccoli, which tastes incredibly good due to my new heightened senses. I settle down for a quiet evening of reading, mostly trade journals, like Clock Springs and Movements, and a nationally syndicated evening newspaper, Modern Times. I usually wear reading glasses, which I’ve needed since my senior year of college, but inexplicably I don’t need them tonight. I get up from time to time to check on my newly repaired clock, which seems to be working fine.
The timepieces, including the Herr cuckoo clock, strike six o’clock when I can no longer ignore my throbbing foot, which has nagged me for most of the afternoon and which I attribute to a day of hiking. Since I put my feet up in the turquoise recliner to read, the tingle in that foot has changed to stinging, then to burning, and finally to searing. The pain has reached the point where I don’t want to get up anymore to check on the recently repaired clock.
I take my hiking boot and sock off to discover my foot is now a peculiar shade of green, like mashed peas, and sports oozing yellow welts on top. As soon as I remove my boot, the foot swells. I stare at my distended appendage in disbelief. Surely that tiny fairy prince, who didn’t even touch my bare skin, couldn’t have caused this. Wasn’t he an illusion after all? Yet he warned me to watch out for my foot.
Not sure how to treat this malady, I hobble to the bathroom to find something soothing to spread on my foot. Wind rattles the shutters, which is how I feel, rattled by pain and strange sensations. I hear thunder rumble in the distance.
By the time I reach the bathroom, I can hardly stand. Heightened senses have definite disadvantages, especially when one is in pain. The storm outside crescendos with deafening peals of thunder, which shake the old house windows. The noise clatters through my brain, like a kid playing with metal pots and pans. After applying medicated cream, which doesn’t help, I ingest pain medicine left over from a recent surgery and call my doctor.
Dr. Harold Smithson has been my physician for three years, since I graduated from college. He’s treated me through a broken wrist and several attacks of gallstones, which recently resulted in surgery. Over the phone, his on-call nurse asks me to describe my foot symptoms several times.
She then wants to know if the foot has a fetid odor. I bend down to smell it and tell her my foot smells sweet, like nectar. Strange, I think. It should smell musty at best from a day in my hiking boots. The nurse is stymied. She tells me she’ll call the doctor and have him meet me at nearby St. Mary’s Hospital emergency room in twenty minutes. By the time I hang up, the pain medicine is kicking in, and I’m feeling a bit better.
I wrap my foot in bandages, grab my coat and then settle into my old rusty blue sedan. The storm has abated without rain, but a few threatening clouds still pepper the sky, which is now fully dark. A brilliantly white half-moon is rising in a vast dome, speckled by stars as bright as any diamonds. I must admit, part of me is gonna miss my amplified senses when they wear off.
The fifteen-minute drive to the hospital feels like an eternity, and then I have to sit in the waiting area another twenty minutes, filling out paperwork. My foot has stopped burning, but it still throbs and feels swollen.
I’m ushered into an examination room and told to take off my jeans and wrap thin paper around my lower half. The walls are dotted with posters depicting tropical islands topped with palm trees and white, sandy beaches, perhaps to soothe nervous patients. The room smells like antiseptic, and the only sound is the ticking of a wall clock. I sit on the edge of the examining table.
After a few minutes, gray-bearded and balding Dr. Smithson enters with two other lab-coated men and greets me. He introduces them as Drs. Quentin and Moleman. They peer at me like voracious cats viewing a solitary mouse.
Dr. Smithson asks me to lie down on the table and then tells the other two a little about his patient.
“Calen is six foot six, 24 years old, and of average weight. He claims his foot is strangely infected.”
The doctor unwraps the foot bandages, and I expect expressions of shock and amazement to follow. When the room remains quiet, I look down at my foot. It’s still green with visible yellow welts, although the pain’s lessened, and the swelling’s reduced. My doctor bends down to sniff my foot, then scratches his head.
“I don’t see the problem, Calen. Your foot is slightly pink and a bit swollen. Did you hike today?” Smithson knows I love the out of doors.
“Ah, that explains the swelling. But your foot’s definitely not green, doesn’t have the sweet odor you claim, and there are no yellow welts.” He dons a pair of rubber gloves.
Perturbed, I urge him, “Look closer. I can see the welts, and the foot is the color of a salad.”
With his rubber-gloved fingers, the doctor separates my toes, flexes my ankle to look at the sole, and inspects every square inch. All the while, his two colleagues hover over us both, watching Smithson, watching me. I feel like a guinea pig.
Eventually, all three walk to a far corner and huddle together for a couple of minutes. They whisper and look over at me from time to time. I shiver, suddenly cold but sweaty. When they return, Smithson asks, “How much sun did you get today?”
I shrug. “The same as usual on a camping trip.”
“Did you happen to eat wild berries or mushrooms?”
“No.” I frown at him. What was he getting at? “Why do you ask?”
“Because, my friend,” he pats my shoulder, “you’re hallucinating. There’s nothing wrong with your foot.”
“Funny, ha, ha.” I roll my eyes. “You’ve had your little joke, now treat the foot.” I rap the side of the examine table with my other good foot. “I’ve had a long day, and I’d like to go home.”
Smithson furrows his brow. “There’s nothing to treat. The foot is fine. What you’re seeing, smelling and feeling is all in your head.”
I place my hands on my hips. “Oh, come on now. I bring you possibly the most unusual injury in the history of medicine, and all you can say is the foot looks fine.” Glaring at him, I lean forward and raise my voice, “Maybe what you’re seeing is all in your heads. Did you consider that? Maybe it’s time to look for another doctor.”
Smithson touches my other leg. His tone is much milder than mine. “What’s this bandage for? Is this another hiking injury?”
“Oh, that’s nothing. I just brushed against a weird spiny plant in the woods.”
“Was it purple?”
“A-ha!” My doctor looks like he’s just discovered a cure for cancer. He glances at the other ER docs. One nods, and the other gives him a thumbs-up.
“That plant is the source of your hallucination,” Smithson says. “I’ve had a patient or two in here before with the symptoms you’re experiencing. Each of them had scraped against such a plant.”
I shake my head in disbelief.
“A full night’s sleep is what you need,” my doctor advises. “Don’t do anything strenuous until that hallucinogen is out of your system.” He punches my shoulder. “Enjoy the ride, but call me in the morning if you’re still in pain.”
He winks, and then all three doctors exit the examining room.
I pull on my jeans and rewrap my foot, muttering about the sad state of the medical community. I defiantly limp my way out of the waiting area, out of the emergency entrance and into my truck. I know the abrasion from that purple plant heightened my senses, but hallucinations? No way. My damaged foot is no hallucination. The pain is all too real.
And then a thought wallops my brain like a billy club. What if the doctors were right? I rub the knot between my eyebrows. If so, other visions could’ve resulted from that plant scratch. That odd woodland encounter with a supposed fairy prince could be no more than a figment. The idea shakes me, resulting in my driving home too fast, but thanks to a lack of police in the area, I avoid a ticket.
I take Smithson’s advice and go to bed early. I remove the bandages to find fewer yellow welts. By the time I’ve gone through my nightly bedtime routine, my foot feels better. Things are looking up. Maybe I can put all of this craziness behind me.