Life is sweet when you live in a dream. Life is sweet when you dance every day. But sweetness grows cloying and dancing becomes tiresome. When I was two I lived in a party: puddin’ and Koolade and strawberry jam. When I was three my parents became upwardly-mobile. Clafouti replaced the puddin’, kombucha the Koolade, and then competitive dance lessons began. My first production of The Nutcracker Suite was amazing. I wore a pink confectionary tutu and pliéd my way through the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies. The ecstatic applause was all for me.
That was when I knew I was adopted, or switched at birth. Well, I suppose I was too young to really know about the legal procedures of adoption, but I knew all about changelings. I suspected that I was really a princess. That’s what everyone called me, right? My real parents, I knew, were fairy nobility, living in a pink sugar-glazed castle in a fairy candyland. I knew I had to find them. I had to claim my birthright.
At the tender age of four I ran away from home, dressed the way a fairy princess should. I wore my pink tutu and carried all my earthly belongings in a gauzy rose scarf. My earthly belongings consisted of Grimm’s Fairy Tales (which I could already read some of), my dancing slippers, thirty-five cents, and a big freezer bag full of last year’s hoarded trick-or-treat candy. I was going to thumb my way to Faerie to meet Mommy Titania and Daddy Oberon.
Negotiating the street was tricky without my ersatz parents. I couldn’t cross without someone to walk with me, and I couldn’t start hitchhiking on this side of Michaelmas Avenue–I’d only end up in suburbia with its cloned houses and SUVs. How banal. I knew I must cross the street to follow the whisking flow of traffic to the parkway and out of the city to my real life.
After waiting far too long for someone to escort me across the street, I decided to walk to the parkway on my own. Although I was on the wrong side of the street, I might eventually meet someone who would help me.
It didn’t work out the way I thought it would. Instead of a crossing guard, I found an injured squirrel someone’s cat had left for dead. One of its legs had blood on it and its ribs moved very quickly. It needed help. I bent down to pick it up, but it tried to bite me. I screamed and it screamed too. I sat down and looked at it from a safe distance. It didn’t move, but watched me with huge black eyes. This, I knew, was my fairy test. I had to nurture this nasty wounded creature. If I rescued the squirrel, it would become a mentor and would spirit me off to the land of Faerie. I opened my scarf and pulled a candied peanut from the freezer bag. Holding the peanut in my outstretched hand, I said, “Guide me to Faerie, oh sorely-wounded squirrel.”
It twitched its nose, snatched the peanut, and bompa-lomped away. I gathered my meager belongings and followed. It made its way to a tree and stopped.
“Chi!” it screamed. “Chi-chi-chi-chi-chi!” This couldn’t possibly be Faerie, not a tree a scant five minutes from my prison on Knob Hill. But there was a ladder of sorts nailed onto this great grey oak. I began to climb, stretching my baby-fat legs to their limits.
Forever later, I made it to the apex. This was definitely not Faerie. This was some nasty old treehouse filled with pictures of naked ladies with big boobs. Out of greed, the squirrel had led me astray. It was out of the tree for me and back to the tiring trudge to the parkway.
Luckily, I didn’t fall too far when I slipped on the ladder. And I had something soft to land on: the chi-ing squirrel that stopped chi-ing when I landed on it. You know what? It served the nasty beast right, misleading me like that.
Perhaps I had been going about this all wrong. Maybe I shouldn’t be heading west after all. What way should I go? Surely my innate feyness could tell me. Could I not cast a fairy glamour to lead me to my true home?
“Morgan!” My false mother’s voice shattered my reverie. “Morgan! Princess! Where are you? It’s time for biscuits and Brie.”
Shit. I had to hurry. Gyromancy was exactly the thing. I closed my eyes, counted to five, and spun until I was dizzy and fell down. When I opened my eyes, I was facing due west. Fine. That was exactly the way I had originally been headed anyway. That taught me to doubt myself again. I got up and teetered west along Michaelmas Avenue, running until I came to the bottom of Knob Hill. Mother’s keening voice was much fainter now.
Luck was with me. It was 3:15 and school was out. A crossing guard stood at the corner of Michaelmas and Luxington, spiriting bratty big kids across the street. As inconspicuous as I could make myself in my tutu, I insinuated myself between some elementary school students and made my way across the street to freedom.
At last! Now I was free to hitchhike! Merrily, I sauntered along the sidewalk. Ahead I could hear songbirds trilling the sweet song of liberty. I could also hear the grind and squeals of heavy traffic. The parkway was near.
It wasn’t long before I found myself standing in the grease-stained gravel and crumbs of broken glass that framed the parkway. Eagerly, I assumed the classic hitchhiker position, thumb up, hip cocked. About thirty seconds later a big blue Buick screeched to a stop. An old guy with a beard peered out. “Hey, little girl. Are you ok? You shouldn’t be out here, especially not all by yourself. What’re you doin’ on the side of the road, anyway?”
“I’m going to Faerie.”
“Because that’s where my parents are.” I pulled down at my tutu, making myself more presentable, then pulled myself up to my full impressive height of three feet. I was quite tall for my age. “I’m a princess, you know.”
The man laughed. “I’m sure you are, dear. What’s your name?”
“Morgan. Would you kindly take me to Faerie?”
The bearded man scratched at his chin. “Well, I can’t exactly leave you here on the side of the road.” He scratched his chin again. “All right. Get in.”
In a proper princess fashion I clambered into the car.
He checked his rearview mirror, then pulled back onto the road. “Would you like a ham and cheese sandwich, Morgan?”
“Yes, please,” I said. I was beginning to regret missing my biscuits and Brie. I buckled myself in while the man fumbled inside a greasy brown paper bag.
“Here you go,” he said, and handed me a sad simulacrum of a sandwich.
“The crusts are still on the bread,” I informed him.
“Well, yes, of course they are.” He looked at me. “I can see why they call you Princess,” he said, then switched lanes. “Now, to take you back to your parents. Faerie, you said?”
“Alrighty, then. And away we go.”
I sniffed at the sandwich, then bravely took a bite. It didn’t taste all that bad, but it didn’t taste all that good either. It was mere sustenance. When I looked up, Knob Hill was nowhere in sight. I was well on my way. I smiled. “How much further?”
“About another five, ten minutes, if traffic’s good.”
This was much better than I’d been hoping for. Nowhere in my wildest dreams had I been expecting a ride directly to the land of Faerie. And I certainly hadn’t realized that it could be this close to my surrogate parents’ overpriced McMansion. I closed my eyes and pictured the landscape of my native home. Opalescent-horned unicorns would graze on fields of cobalt blue and butter yellow flowers. Knights would gallop by on brightly decked-out chargers with long flaxen manes. Multicolored butterflies would float on languid breezes, their translucent wings wafting the sweet smells of nectar, ambrosia, and fish.
I opened my eyes and saw that the Buick was driving alongside the harbor. Surely Faerie wasn’t anywhere near a harbor. Then again, the mortally-wounded King Arthur had been taken away on a barge to the land of Faerie. I hadn’t thought the barge could have been a paltry fishing boat. I hazarded another question. “Are we there yet?”
“Almost, Princess. The ferry’s just up ahead, and then you can get back with your folks.” He took his eyes off the road for a moment to look at me. He had crumbs in his beard. “How did you end up all by yourself, sweetie?”
This man was asking the wrong questions. Oh well. It meant I had to give him the wrong answers. “School’s out. I was adopted, you know.” There. That’d throw him for a loop.
“Really?” The Buick pulled to a stop. “We’re here now.”
“Thank you, ” I said. “I’ll never forget you. What’s your name?”
The man laughed. “Terry,” he said. “I’m coming with you to make sure you get home safe.”
“No, that’s all right. I know exactly where I’m going.”
Terry tried to accompany me, but he was no match for my quickness. I jumped out of the car and disappeared into the crowd.
There was a big line of people getting onto the biggest boat in the harbor. I melded my way between a couple of families and what looked like a school field trip. I went up to a boy who looked just a bit older than me. “Are you going to Faerie?”
He looked at me, looked at the boat, and said, “Duh.”
I was a little shaken by his rudeness, but at least I was in the right line. I moved with the queue patiently until I got to a man who appeared to be taking money from everyone. I didn’t think thirty-five cents was enough money, but I tossed it up onto the counter in front of him and ran past before he could catch me. I don’t even think he saw me, because I was shorter than the ledge at his little booth. I darted up the gangplank and onto the boat. It was huge and crowded and seagulls were shrieking everywhere. I saw sailors drawing up the anchor chain with its links the size of Porsche convertibles.
I stood on the edge of the boat and looked out to sea. The horizon was shrouded in mist. That was a good sign. Faerie is a land of the mist. Then a hand with long red fingernails came down onto my shoulder.
“Little girl, why aren’t you with your parents?”
I looked up. The woman had red hair and orange lipstick. Pretty tacky, if you ask me.
“I didn’t come here with my parents.” That much was true. “I’ll be meeting them soon.” That was also true.
“Well, come away from the edge, please. It’s not safe. You’re either going to fall in or give someone a heart attack standing there.” Without taking her hand from my shoulder, she steered me into a big room full of armchairs bolted to the floor. “Now sit down on one of these until we get to our destination.”
I sat down and watched as she strolled away in awkward three-inch heels. Not exactly the best things to wear on a boat, I thought. The unmistakable grind of starting engines vibrated my chair. At last, we were on our way! Settling back in grey tweed upholstery, I closed my eyes again and daydreamed. What would my reception be like as the long-lost prodigal daughter? Perhaps they–they being Oberon and Titania, of course–would erect for me a stately yet modest-sized gingerbread chalet with candy glass windows and licorice shutters. I couldn’t wait to see, though I know better than to ever eat it. That’s why I brought my own food.
A loud horn pulled me from my reverie. No one was looking my way, so I jumped out of my seat and ran back onto the deck. When I looked back at our wake, I saw two dolphins scuttle-hopping across the churning water. This was great! And looking ahead, I saw the beckoning mists of Faerie.
A thick fog rolled in. I was so happy that I needed to dance, so I opened my gauze scarf and took out my dancing slippers. As I put the slippers on, the boat slipped into soft, damp greyness. I stood, and carefully, I wasn’t used to dancing en pointe yet, began to flow to the music in my head. My dancing became faster and faster, and during one fateful leap, the boat lurched, my feet slipped on the wet deck, and amidst a chorus of gasps and screams, I fell between the guardrails.
Someone shouted,“Man overboard!” Ridiculous. I was not a man.
I never knew Faerie was under water.
The dolphins escorted me down, down, down. I sank past mermaids offering pearls to angel fish, past a selkie knitting lace from seaweed, and down past a trident-bearing sea-king berating misbehaving seahorses. A tangle-haired woman with a whale tail and no fingers glared at me, her face marked by strange tattoos. My breath was giving out, but the dolphins pulled me down further.
Finally we came to a little door on the floor of the sea. Sea anemones waved their turgid tentacles as I knocked the lion’s-head knocker. After a long wait (I was sure I was turning blue), the door opened and I was whisked inside by a horde of sugar-winged fairies. Through some magic unknown to me, the water didn’t rush in through the door. I had arrived.
My honor guard led me down a pearly cobbled path. Fantastical trees bearing strange oblong fruit waved their branches at me. A green and gold-scaled chimera flew overhead in a tapestry sky of interwoven hues. This was paradise, and I felt out of place in my soggy tutu.
Up ahead was the palace. The pink castle was far more beautiful than I had ever imagined, constructed of candy floss and iridescent icing piped into rosettes. Mommy Titania was not waiting for me, but Daddy Oberon was. He loomed over me with skin like marble, horns jutting from his forehead like windswept trees from a craggy rockface. It made me dizzy to gaze up at him, so I averted my eyes. “So, little one,” he said in honeybutter tones. “You have returned to Faerie.”
I curtsied. “Yes, Father.” I chanced another peek at his face.
His eyes widened at my words, and then he began to laugh. “Father?” He looked around at his entourage: a bevy of strange and wondrous creatures with and without wings. “She fancies I’m her father!” The shimmering retinue tittered.
This was not right.
Oberon sat back, and a golden and bejeweled throne materialized beneath his derriere. “Tell me, daughter, how did you arrive here?” Sarcasm oozed from him, filling the air with a sweet musk.
“I hitchhiked, Father.” This was definitely not right.
“Really? How utterly quaint. Well, now that you have tired of the so-called real world, what do you want?”
Once again, I pulled myself up to my full three feet and proclaimed, “I have come to claim my birthright. Allow me to prove that I am a worthy heir.” And I danced. Oh, how I danced. I pirouetted and pliéd. I tutted and tapped. I popped and locked and danced so hard that I wept. And when I was through, I made a deep curtsey.
Silence. I lifted my seawater tear-filled eyes, and only Oberon stood before me. His court had vanished.
“You amuse me,” Oberon said. “You may stay.” And with that he spun around and disappeared through a doorway of mist.
So now I live in Faerie. My home is a gingerbread cottage, and it is my duty to dance for Oberon. Every day I dance, and every day that my dance pleases him, he grants me favors. He gives me baubles and trinkets, and little by little every day he alters my appearance. I no longer look four years old. I have the countenance of a young, unworldly woman. Gossamer candy wings adorn my back and rainbowed eyelashes veil my green green eyes.
I have yet to meet Titania, and I have yet to partake of Faerie feasts. I am careful to eat only my carefully hoarded bonbons. Once I have partaken of Faerie food, I shall never be free to leave. I need to keep my options open. I may, after all, tire of Faerie. My sweets are getting cloying, and dance grows ever wearisome.
This story previously appeared in The ShanMonster Page.
Edited by Mitchelle Lumumba.