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.”