The ivory sweater he’d given me was a blend of silk and hand-spun wool, and fell just past midthigh. I rolled up the sleeves four times. The black linen trousers were a joke. I had a twenty-four-inch waist. His was thirty-six and his legs were a good six to eight inches longer than mine. I rolled up the cuffs, tugged my belt from the loops of my jeans, and bunched his pants at my waist. I didn’t care how I looked. I was dry and already starting to warm up.
“So?” He’d removed the damp blanket from the sofa and sponged it dry, and I sank down, cross-legged, on the tufted cushions and resumed our conversation without preamble.
“I told you the other night. You must have grown up in a town so small and uninteresting that it was never visited by any of the Fae. You’ve not traveled much, have you, Ms. Lane?”
I shook my head. Provincial with a capital P, that was me, just like my town.
“Additionally, these monsters, as you call them, are a recent development. Previously, only the Seelie were capable of free passage among the realms. The Unseelie arrived on this planet already trapped in a prison. Those few that enjoyed brief paroles did so only at the Seelie Queen’s or her High Council’s behest.”
I’d gotten stuck on a phrase. “Arrived on this planet?” I echoed. I thought about that a minute. “I see. So these monsters are really traveling space aliens. How silly of me not to have figured that out. Can they travel through time, too, Barrons?”
“You didn’t think they were natives, did you?” He managed to sound a shade dryer than I had, an accomplishment I hadn’t thought possible. “As for the time-traveling aspect, Ms. Lane, that would be a ‘no, not right now.’ But some of the Seelie used to—those of the four royal houses. Things have happened recently. Inexplicable things. No one knows for certain what is going on, nor even who holds power at the moment, but word is the Fae can no longer sift time. That for the first time in eons they are as trapped in the present as you and I.”
I stared at him. It had been a joke, my time-travel crack. A snort of laughter escaped me. “Oh my God, you’re being serious, aren’t you? I mean, you really believe that—”
He was on his feet in one fluid motion. “What did you just see in that pub, Ms. Lane?” he demanded. “Have you forgotten so quickly? Or is this how fast you managed to concoct a pleasant little lie for yourself?”
I rose to my feet, too; my hands at my waist, my chin high. “Maybe it was a hallucination, Barrons. Maybe I really did catch a cold and I have a fever and I’m sick in my hotel room right now, dreaming. Maybe I’ve gone NUTS!” My whole body shook from the vehemence with which I shouted the last word.
He kicked the table between us aside, sending coffee-table books flying, and stepped nose-to-nose with me. “How many of them will you need to see to believe, Ms. Lane? One every day? That could be arranged. Or perhaps you need a reminder right now. Come. Let me take you for a walk.” He grabbed my arm and began dragging me toward the door. I tried to dig in and hold my ground but I’d left my flip-flops in the bathroom and my bare feet skidded across the polished wood floors.
“No! Get off me! I don’t want to go!” I smacked at his arm, his shoulder. I was not going back out there.
“Why not? They’re just shadows, Ms. Lane. Remember? You told me so yourself. Shall I take you down into the abandoned neighborhood and leave you with those shadows for a time? Will you believe me then?”
We were at the door. He’d begun sliding the dead bolts. “Why are you doing this to me?” I cried.
His hand went still on the third bolt. “Because you have one hope of survival, Ms. Lane. You must believe and you must fear, or you’re wasting my time. Fuck you and your ‘Let’s pretend I believe your little story.’ If you can’t give me a ‘Tell me, teach me everything, I want to live,’ then get the bloody hell out of here!”
I felt like crying. I felt like collapsing in a puddle right there at the door and whimpering, Please make it all go away. I want my sister back and I want to go home and forget that I ever came here. I want to never have met you. I want my life back just the way it was.
“Sometimes, Ms. Lane,” he said, “one must break with one’s past to embrace one’s future. It is never an easy thing to do. It is one of the distinguishing characteristics between survivors and victims. Letting go of what was, to survive what is.” He slid the last bolt and yanked open the door.
I closed my eyes. Even though I knew I’d seen what I saw tonight, a part of me was still denying it. The mind works hard to reject that which opposes its essential convictions, and Monster Fairies From Outer Space deeply opposed mine. You grow up thinking everything makes sense—it doesn’t matter that you don’t understand the laws that govern the universe—you know somewhere out there some geeky scientist does, and there’s a degree of comfort in that.