3 AM Eternal part four

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Sleep. Sweet, glorious sleep. For the first time in months, I slept without nightmares. Glow stick dreams took their place, full of swirling rhythms and cotton candy colors and cute guys with pointed ears. Still drowsy and half able to hear the music from my dreams, I felt around the nightstand for the pen and notebook I kept there. I rubbed my eyes and scribbled a few questions for the elf.

That got my brain working. After a shower and a quick bowl of cereal, I took a cup of coffee and my laptop to the couch and got to work. The words flowed like high dollar booze on an expense account, and oh, it was so, so good. The more I wrote, the more I recalled of our wide-ranging conversation. I stopped only to make more coffee and do quick bits of research. I wasn’t exactly sure how I would frame this for my blog. Maybe Interview With The Elf? Right now the important thing to do was start an initial rough draft.

My little blog wasn’t much to look at and barely got any views, but it gave me a place to put the spooky stuff that Turntable wouldn’t touch. Sure, I could have left the stories on my hard drive, but I liked posting them. Otherwise, those stories would have remained fragments scattered across notebooks and Word docs, unfinished and unpolished. Posting them, even just on a barely visible blog, gave me the impetus to finish the stories. Writing was how I figured things out, so I’d pretty much had to write about these few supernatural experiences I’d had so far. And soon I would need to sit down and write about the possibility of seeking out more such experiences, the wisdom and the foolishness of it, my fears and my insatiable curiosity. I knew I would have to make a choice soon: chase the spook, or let it go.

Saturday slipped away as I worked. Soon it was time to leave for my dinner with Larry. I had another notebook with me, this one with coherently written questions. The twin highs of caffeine and creativity tangled together in my system, making me jumpy and excited and a little punch drunk. I was preoccupied, to say the least. So it totally caught me by surprise when somebody grabbed me from behind while I was on the way to my car.

He spun me around, slammed me up against the vehicle, then loomed over me menacingly. “Where is he?”

My heart was pounding so hard, I half expected it to leap out of my chest. He held me pinned to the car with his hands gripping my shoulders, barely an inch of space between our bodies. Oddly, he smelled like flowers. And he was handsome, all sculpted bone structure and lean animal strength and hot sex on a stick and clearly he was the guy searching for Larry.

“He who? Who are you? What is this? I don’t have any money.” Maybe if I babbled long enough, he’d decide I was an idiot and go away.

“Why did you meet with him?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I tried pushing him away. It was about like trying to get a brick wall to move.

He lowered his face to mine, so close our noses almost touched. “I won’t let you take advantage of him.”

That…that didn’t sound like he might be a danger to Larry. “Huh?” Possibly to me, though.

“There will be no deals. No boons granted. You will get nothing from him, and you will not hurt him.” He tightened his grip on my shoulders to punctuate his sentence.

“You’re the one hurting someone.” I kicked him, aiming for his shins with the steel toes of my old Docs. “Me. So stop it.” I kicked him twice more, my version of exclamation points.

My efforts didn’t appear to hurt him but he did release me and move out of my personal space. “I saw you with him. I saw him show you dust. You’re just another mortal leech hoping to steal what should never be yours.”

Fireworks exploded several feet to the left, red and gold and blue. Loud, repetitive pops. No sharp tang of gunpowder, though. Mr. Sex on a Stick half-turned to look. This time I was ready for the diversion, and I unlocked my car and climbed in quickly. Another cluster of color popped and sizzled in the air, emitting a thick cloud of blue smoke. It encircled my assailant rapidly, in a deliberate stack of rings that solidified into a dark column. I couldn’t see him anymore, but faint shouts escaped the column, sounding as if he were far away and muffled by heavy sound baffling.

The passenger door opened. Larry got in, waving his arms. “Go, go! It won’t last long.”

I put the pedal to the metal and got us out of there.

“This is really good queso.” Larry dipped another chip into the bowl then crunched it with far more enthusiasm than I felt the situation warranted.

I sat opposite him, arms crossed on the table and brows drawn together. “I want to know who’s after you.” We were in one of my favorite Mexican restaurants but I had no appetite.

“The chips taste homemade, too.” A glob of cheese dripped from the end of a chip on its way to his mouth.

I stared at the spot on the table. “Because now he’s after me.”

“You should really try these, they’re great.”

“I don’t like having somebody after me. Especially when I don’t even know why.”

Larry used a napkin to clean up the cheese on the table. “He won’t hurt you.”

“He shoved me against my car and threatened me.”

“He’s overprotective. I’ve told him it’s unnecessary, but does he listen to me? Of course not.” He reached for the chips.

I took the basket away. “Who is that guy and why is he trying to find you?”

He made an exasperated noise. “His name is Aodh n. He’s sort of a bodyguard. Definitely a pain in the ass, but mostly harmless.”

“He threatened me.”

“You didn’t seem scared from where I was standing.”

Okay, he had a point. Nervous, sure. Apprehensive. But scared? No. I just couldn’t bring myself to be scared of an elf. I gave him the basket of chips back. “So why’d you ditch your bodyguard?” He wasn’t the first person I’d met who’d done that. Young stars, especially, rankled at the intrusion until the time came when they needed their bodyguard.

“He’s tasked with bringing me home, and I’m not ready to go just yet.”

“So he’s making his way through the L.A. club scene, looking for you?”

“I told him I’ll go back when I’m ready. Not a moment before.”

“Did you hear what he said to me? What was all that about? Is it a big deal to tell mortals?” That part did make me a little afraid. If there were rules about telling elvish secrets, how much trouble might it get me in for knowing one or two?

“He’s not worried about you merely knowing. Sometimes mortals, they ask things of us. I shared a little dust with you of my own free will. If he doesn’t like that, he can go pound sand.” Larry snorted laughter. “I’ll even take him to my favorite beach.”

Our food arrived. Larry and I both discreetly ogled the hot waiter as he set heaping plates in front of us. I got a polite nod for my attention. Larry got an inviting smile.

As soon as we were alone again, I asked another question. “So what sort of boons and favors do people ask for?”

Larry ignored me in favor of his food. I thought about getting out my notebook full of questions but decided against it. Wait for him to talk when he was ready. I took a bite of enchilada. The flavors brought back my appetite and I dug in.

When he finally spoke, what he said startled me. “Did it scare you?”

“I can’t say I liked being shoved up against my car by a stranger, but I figured out he was an elf pretty quick.” I knew that wasn’t an answer to his question, but hoped he wouldn’t notice.

“When you found out about vampires.” The words came out so quietly, I wasn’t sure I’d heard him right at first. “Did that scare you?”

I lowered my fork, letting it hang in the air halfway to the plate. I struggled to finish chewing the bite of food I’d just put in my mouth. The taste of it turned sour and sharp. Spoiled red wine and old green pennies grimy with dirt – that was the taste of fear to me, as near as I could express it. It filled my mouth then and I wanted to vomit but fought the urge. I kept my eyes open, knowing if I closed them even for just a second that I’d see fangs.

“It changed how I see the world.” A place full of monsters – that was the world to me now. I hated to admit it, even to myself. I didn’t want to be scared, but I couldn’t help it. I hated the fear. Hated that I couldn’t control it. Hated that it had robbed me of so much: sleep, easy dreams, the ability to walk alone at night without worrying about potential monsters lurking in every alley and shadow. Mostly I hated that I couldn’t talk about it with anyone. Who would believe me? No one.

Maybe that’s why I blogged into the void. It was a one-sided conversation, but at least it was something.

“Yes,” I said. “It scared me.”

“I’m no fan of vampires, either. Nasty lot.”

“More like murderous, blood-sucking demons.”

“Oh no, they’re not demons. Demons and hellspawn are something else entirely.”

That didn’t make me feel any better about the supernatural world. “Demons are real? Are you serious? And what the hell are hellspawn?”

He chewed thoughtfully for a moment, leaving me waiting. “Sort of like lower demons, kind of.” He waved a hand. “Don’t worry about all that. I mean, stay away from them, definitely. But don’t worry about them, or all the other nasty things out there.”

Other nasty things?”

“You’ve gotten a glimpse at a part of the world few mortals ever see. Most of those few run screaming from it. Don’t be like that, Nikki. Don’t let fear of the unknown keep you from seeing the beauty in the supernatural world.”

I wanted to mock him for sounding like a Very Special Episode, but truthfully, his words hit home. There was so much I wanted to know about this world I’d stumbled into, but fear held me back. And that wasn’t like me. When it came to stories about music, I barreled into the pursuit full speed ahead. Editorial considerations were the only thing that held me back, and then only after the fact. When I went after a story, I studied songs and liner notes, interviewed any and everyone involved who would talk to me. I did everything I could to understand the world and the mindset that created the music I was writing about. My job took me to mansions and dives, backstage corridors full of groupies, parties with serving platters of drugs. I met sinners and saints and everything in between. Criminals who were mostly harmless and abusive producers with squeaky-clean images. I’d outed a couple of abusers, too, one on the down low and one right in the pages of Turntable. I’d made my name in this business by being willing to do the deep dive, down into the grooves and the beating heart and the DNA of the music.

I could feel the same curiosity, the same desire to know, that motivated me when it came to music, getting stronger with every revelation about the supernatural world.

In that moment, it occurred to me that I was already on this path. I just needed to admit it to myself.

“So I was thinking about our deal,” Larry said.

“Yeah?” Even to myself, I sounded far away and distracted.

“There’s a couple of your cover stories that I’d like to know more about. You tell me, and I’ll take you to a faery rave in the desert tonight.”

That broke through my reverie like a shot. “Holy shit.”

He grinned. “Does that mean you’re interested?”

I laughed. “You had me at faery rave in the desert.”

<- Part Three

Part Five ->

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3 AM Eternal part three

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I stopped at an ATM for more cash in case I needed to bribe the motel desk clerk, but it turned out to be unnecessary. As I parked next to one of the palm trees wrapped in twinkling Christmas lights, a cab pulled up and deposited my mystery man. He hurried to his room and I rushed out of my car. “Hey, Vizzini!”

“How did you find me?” His pretty face hardened into a mask of anger and fear.

“I asked around.” Someone else was looking for him, I remembered. Not a friend, was my guess, based on his reaction.

He grabbed my arm and pulled me to his door. “Who do you work for?”

This guy must have been in serious trouble. “Turntable Magazine.”

He drew his brows together, his expression lightening. “For real?”

I nodded. “I write for Turntable.”

“What’s your name?”

“Nikki McGraw.”

“No shit!” A bright smile split his face. “I love your work.”

“Really?” I tried not to let it get to me, but hearing someone compliment my writing both never got old and didn’t happen often enough.

“I’ve been a subscriber for years. You’re one of my favorites. I make it a point to always read anything with your byline.”

“That’s so great! Thank you.”

“That Amy Winehouse profile you did. Great stuff.”

I beamed. “My first cover story.”

“And the Wade Sheppard profile, after his comeback as a songwriter.”

“That one was fun. He’s my favorite country artist.”

“And that last big profile you did, Samira. Love her music.”

“She was so much cooler and more relaxed than I was expecting, considering what a massive star she is.”

“That’s a hell of a job you’ve got there.”

I was afraid if we kept talking about my job, we’d never talk about his sparkling, so I tried to figure out the best way to move forward. Being honest seemed the way to go. “Look, I don’t mean to freak you out. It’s just that I saw you at a club a few nights ago. And then I found your picture in the Turntable archives. I’m slowly working on getting the old issues digitized. So there was this pic of you, from the Nineties. And you look like you haven’t aged. Not that you’ve aged really well, but like you haven’t aged at all.”

He said nothing, but his brows were back together and his mouth was set in a thin, hard line.

“So I thought you were a vampire. But obviously you’re not, what with being out in the sun and all. Plus you sparkle, and vampires, they don’t do that.”

“I’m not a vampire,” he murmured.

“So what are you? Look, it’s not like I’m going to write about you.” Okay, that was a total lie. More like, no reputable publication would touch anything I wrote about the supernatural. “I’ve had a couple of encounters with the supernatural, and I’m really curious about you. That’s all.”

He ducked his head and rubbed the back of his neck. I waited for him to make up his mind. He said, “You mentioned coffee?”

I smiled. My spook meter was off the charts, but I had no sense of danger. Maybe that was because I had no sense, period, but I wanted to see how this played out. And I wanted to know who and what this guy was.

Larry didn’t sparkle under the unflattering light of the coffee shop a block over, which was a relief, but until our order was filled and we could speak in private, it weighed heavily on my thoughts. If he wasn’t a vampire, then what the hell was he? And how did this obviously supernatural being wind up with a name like Larry?

Armed with caffeine, we returned to the relative privacy of the street and headed toward the beach. I examined him carefully but the sparkle still hadn’t returned.

“I’m waiting for you to ask.” He grinned. “That is what you do, isn’t it? Ask questions.”

Maybe he was right – maybe the best thing to do was act like this was a regular interview. “What’s with the sparkling? Why isn’t it visible all the time? You turned it off deliberately, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, well, you caught me by surprise.” He sipped his coffee. “I slipped up because I was tired. Am tired. That’s why you were able to see through the dust to what I really look like.”

“Dust? It looked more like glitter.”

“Would you believe me if I told you it was pixie dust?”

I stopped in the middle of a crosswalk, mouth hanging open. My brain was still trying to catch up to the idea that there was more out there than just vampires. But pixie dust…I mean, really, pixie dust? “So, you’re like, a fairy?”

He gestured at the traffic light. “You might want to get out of the street. And I prefer elf.”

I hustled to keep up with him. “You mean like Legolas?”

He gave me a baleful look. “See a bow and arrow anywhere?”

“Look, I’m playing catch-up here. Give me a break, okay?”

“Frankly, I thought you’d handle this better. You sounded pretty sure about the existence of vampires, so I thought you were, you know, in the know.”

“I know plenty. I know how to kill vampires.”

He raised his arms to indicate the daylight. “As I said, I’m not a vampire.”

“No. You’re an elf.” I tried to wrap my head around this, and the best way to do it was to get into journalist mode and ask questions. “Can you prove it?”

Larry the elf nodded then steered me toward a park bench in a strip of grass at the edge of the beach. We sat on the far side, facing the ocean. Waves lapped gently at the shore. Early morning joggers filled the sidewalk that skirted the sand. I took a sip of my now lukewarm coffee and nearly spit it out when I realized I’d forgotten to put sugar and creamer in it.

“I’m not sure if you’ll accept this as proof, but here you go.” He glanced around then reached for my hand, pausing to ask for permission with a look. I nodded and let him take my hand. He held it palm up in his left hand. With the forefinger of his right hand, he traced the lines on my skin, as if he was going to read my palm. Heat transferred from his skin to mine, along with a faint electric charge. He moved the tip of his finger in spirals and whirls. A glittery blue line appeared on my palm.

I gasped softly. Heat sank into my flesh everywhere the color touched. Circles and zig-zags and curlicues, until my hand glowed a watery blue and tingled with warmth. Sunlight turned my palm into a mini twinkling disco ball. Something underneath the warmth slid into my skin and worked its way deep into my flesh, a sensation strange and otherworldly.

A sensation that made my blood sing.

“What is that?” It came out a whisper.

“Magic,” said the elf. “Pure, undiluted magic.” He grinned. “It’s also pixie dust. Some people call it that, anyway. It’s elvish magic, and I use it to look human.” He shrugged. “No big deal.”

I didn’t even know what questions to ask, so I just stared at my palm. The glittery blue spread through my veins, lighting them up from the inside as the magic traveled up my arm. Soon my whole body felt warmer, oddly lighter, and full of something I didn’t know how to describe.

Larry took his hand away from mine. Gradually the warmth dissipated, but that strange sensation lingered. I flexed my hand, almost disappointed that the blue was now gone. “Tell me about elves,” I said.

“That’s a bit too broad a topic, don’t you think? About like trying to explain all of the mortal race in a few sentences.”

He had a point. “Okay, tell me about yourself. Are you immortal?”

“You ask that in such a matter of fact way.”

“I guess it’s just kind of cool to be around a supernatural person and not be terrified they’re going to kill me.” But then, what did I know about elves? Not a thing. “You’re not going to try to kill me, are you?” I tried to make it sound light-hearted but truthfully, I was nervous.

He ducked his head, and the action seemed designed more to bring attention to his Cheshire Cat smile than hide it. “Don’t worry. I’m a lover, not a killer. I am intrigued by your casual acceptance of things that would send most people running away screaming.”

“I can’t get answers if I run away screaming.”

“Curious one, are you?”

I shrugged. “I’m a writer. Curiosity is my fatal flaw. I want to know things, understand things. Understand people.”

“And elves, too.” It wasn’t a question.

“Absolutely.”

He turned to face the ocean, watching the waves in silence for several minutes. Sometimes waiting patiently was the best way to get an interview subject to talk. I took in the view and the morning air and did my best to relax.

“I love mortal music,” he said. “There’s an immediacy to it, a kind of passion that only manifests in people who know they have a short time to live. Elvish music has its own serene beauty, but it can’t compete with what’s created here, on this side.”

I would have liked three days to unpack that and craft coherent follow-up questions. “Do you visit often?”

“As often as I can, which isn’t nearly often enough.” Melancholy tinged his voice.

“Okay, I.” I tapped my hands on the bench on either side of my lap. “I have so many questions, but I don’t know how much time you’re willing to give me. What you’re willing to talk about. Why you’re willing to speak to me. When I interview music business people, there’s usually some parameters set beforehand. What’s off-limits, what in particular the subject wants to focus on first. I can talk to Grammy winners and roadies, but I still don’t know how to talk to, uh.”

“Supernatural beings?”

“Yeah.” A good question for myself was, did I want to make this a habit, the whole talking to supernaturals thing? It didn’t seem like a smart idea. A safe idea. But then, I’d chosen the life of a writer, of all things, so what did I know about smart or safe or practical or any of those things we’re supposed to grow up to be?

The elf lapsed into a long period of quiet again, while I did my best not to fidget.

“I won’t share secrets about my world, or how to get there,” he said. “I won’t tell you anything that could identify me.” He gave me a significant look. “Like you said, you’re a writer. So let’s not pretend you’re not going to write about this.”

Embarrassment flamed my cheeks. “I can guarantee Turntable won’t touch anything I write about this kind of stuff.” Maybe it was wrong not to mention my little blog that nobody read, but I kept quiet about it anyway. “Is there anything you’re willing to share about elves, in a general sense?”

“We love music. Love to dance.” He cocked an eyebrow. “What can I say? Some stereotypes are true.”

“So you come here for the music? How long have you been doing that?”

“I saw Paganini at La Scala in 1813.”

“Oh, my God. Tell me everything.” I laughed, excitement bubbling in me like I’d drunk too much soda.

“I’ll make you a deal.” He cocked an eyebrow. “I’ll tell you some of my stories if you tell me some of yours.”

“You want to know about working at Turntable?”

“Hey, I’m out in the audience. The dance floor. And that’s great, I love it. But you.” He leveled his forefinger at me. “You’ve got a backstage pass.”

That left me taken aback. It didn’t seem like an adequate trade, my few years of stories versus his two hundred. He seemed genuinely keen to hear about modern music, too. I held out my hand. “You’ve got a deal.” We shook, and then dived right into talking.

Shit. I mean, seriously, shit. Two hundred years. I didn’t know which to be more impressed with, his lifespan or all the music he might have had a front row seat for in that time. Our conversation flowed easily as he told me about his favorite concerts, musicians he’d met, and his more recent affection for the festival circuit. He loved it all: classical, jazz, blues, rock and pop and disco and punk. I took notes as best I could but mostly I just listened.

And yawned. Exhaustion was catching up with me and I needed sleep. We made plans to meet for dinner, where I promised to share behind the scenes details from some of my favorite articles and profiles I’d written. Then I drove home in a bleary haze.

An elf. Elves were real, which was a damn sight better than finding out vampires were real. Even better, he had a two hundred year history of being a music fan, and he was willing to share his stories with me.

<- Part Two

Part Four ->