Welcome to the special Halloween edition of Thursday Thousand! In February, I began a short project where I had to post a short story every week, on Thor’s Day, that had only one parameter: it had to be, had minimum, 1000 words long. It could be any genre, any length beyond that, and could even contain mild cliffhangers!
Why? Because some of those definitely turned into novels, let’s be honest here. It was in an effort to get myself working, and, suffice to say, it worked. Two of my last posts for the project were first chapters of finished novels that Thursday Thousand helped me get back to.
However, with Halloween celebrations in full swing on the blog, I wanted to bring this back for a special four-week look into some of my spooky stories. In the next four weeks, you’ll get a look at two short stories from my Greek mythology retelling, the first chapter of my faery novel, and another edition of planet people!
This week, we’re taking it back to one of my very, very first boys ever. Mason is a character I’ve struggled with a lot, but he was the first story I ever wrote after 12 years with the same novel. He is near and dear to my heart, especially because he’s such a sour, angry little faery.
Four hundred years no longer felt like an eternity to wait. It felt like a deep breath in an unending lifetime, but nothing more. Once, in the beginning, before the wait had truly begun, it seemed to stretch out endlessly before Dhaval, in a way that left him short of breath and almost near that thing humans called panicking. But now—now it was simply another day alone in a long line of days to be spent alone ahead of him. Now it was nothing more than a yesterday, a today, a tomorrow. He wasn’t even sure if he was waiting anymore, or if he was just surviving until the next day alone.
Dhaval kept to the warmer climates, always traveling south of the equator. He did it out of habit now rather than a sense of duty. He had lived for so long in the warmth that the very idea of going north again, to where snow and cold rain was possible, seemed like something foreign, like something that happened to other people.
Four hundred years no longer felt like an eternity once he stopped waiting, once he just started existing in the day to day. He never stayed in one place for long. Sometimes, he followed the rumors of rising fire, of unbearable heat, of ash and brimstone, but sometimes, when he’d been in a place for too long, when the locals started to recognize him or he started to smile at people in the streets, Dhaval moved on. He didn’t want to settle. He didn’t want to have friends. He didn’t want.
He was prepared to spend the rest of his life like this, wandering through lands strewn with sunshine and liquid gold, until the end of his days. He wondered if that moment would come before the end of mankind, or if he would still be here among the flora and fauna when all else had faded. Four hundred years no longer felt like an eternity to wait after he accepted that what he was waiting for would never come.
Dhaval couldn’t have said what day of the week it was when everything changed, but the Sight always worked better on Thursdays, and so later, when he would look back on this day, it would become a Thursday. He was in the cusp of awake but asleep, that floating space where dreams could be controlled, when the dreams stopped listening to him and instead staggered into stillness.
Dhaval stopped breathing.
There was a woman in his dream. She was tall and elegant, her long red curls swept over one bare, freckled shoulder. Her yellow dress fluttered around her, and her green eyes looked like the centers of a sunflower in bloom. She had a startling kind of beauty that was made easier to look at by the smudge of dirt on her nose and forever crested beneath her fingernails.
“Poppy?” Dhaval whispered, and he heard, distantly, the word echo in the real world.
At the sound of his voice, the woman’s gaze shifted to him and a wide, delighted smile unraveled across her mouth. “Oh devils, finally,” she said breathlessly. “We’ve been trying to reach you for days. Aster!” she called over her shoulder, though her green eyes stayed fixed on him.
The wavering, hazy air around her started to ripple, and a moment later, an identical woman appeared next to her. Their faces were the same, the way they held themselves the same, their features the same. Aster had the same red hair, though hers was cut short around her jaw, jagged at the edges in a way that made their high cheekbones look fiercer on her. She was dressed in brown trousers and a loose maroon top that barely skimmed her midriff. Her feet were bare and dusty with old mud.
“It’s about time,” she said. Where Poppy’s voice was sweet like nectar and a little wispy, Aster was coarse and unwavering.
“Where are you?” Dhaval asked.
“Where you need to be,” Poppy said, “It’s time, Dhaval.”
“We don’t have time for riddles and nonsense,” Aster said, “Just outside of Bangor. Maine. Get here as soon as you can.”
Before Dhaval could ask any further questions, before Poppy could scold her sister for being so brusque, Dhaval was awake and the world was sharp in its focus.
Maine. It snowed in Maine. It was cold more than it was warm in Maine. If it had been anyone but Poppy and Aster, he would have ignored them and stayed south. He would have waited for this one to die and the next one to crop up where it was warm, but he hadn’t seen the twins in a little over four hundred years.
Dhaval didn’t linger. He packed what little belongings he had, left the key to his room in the lobby of the apartment building he was staying in, and started walking. The nearest forest wasn’t far, but finding a forest wasn’t hard around here. It was finding a circle that was going to prove difficult. Dhaval had been in Australia for a few decades now, and the circle he’d come through was dilapidated and fading fast. He doubted it was still functional now. Most faeries who came here didn’t seem to leave, or had just been born here and never ventured away. It was a strange experience, not to constantly be in and out of the realm, but it was also soothing, to know that there was permanence in some parts of the world.
High sun had come and gone before Dhaval finally found one—a ring of mushrooms, red caps with little spots of white, dancing together in a circle. It wasn’t quite enough, but it was a sign. He was getting closer.
He kept walking, his pace slow now, as he tried to find something big enough. The afternoon waned on as he walked, the forest drifting into quiet as he went by, the world starting to tune itself to him. Dhaval was one of the oldest creatures in the world, and when he stopped wandering, when he tapped back into his focus, his duty, the world listened.
A frog croaked in the quiet, and Dhaval stopped, leaning toward its noise.
A bird twittered a heartbeat later, and Dhaval started walking, twisting away from the path he’d been making. He went deeper and deeper into the forest, following the occasional forest sound until, finally, he came to the end.
It was another ring of mushrooms, white-spotted red caps again, but with dandelions scattered between them, chips of white stone wove around their stalks, and a small bundle of wood in the middle.
Dhaval inhaled a last breath of Australian air and stepped into the circle. When he exhaled, he was in the faery realm. He didn’t need to walk to another circle. The realm heard in his heart the hope that was starting to gently take root, and it brought a circle to him a few feet away. Maine, he thought again. It made no sense that this would come to fruition in Maine.
Still, Dhaval stepped through the next circle, and when he stepped out, he was in a dense thicket of trees, the canopy so heavy overhead that the sunlight only came through in dappled rays. Poppy was leaning against a tree opposite him, though she looked different than she had in the dream. Her red hair was braided and pinned up in a crown around her head, and she was no longer in the yellow dress. Instead, she was wearing billowing navy pants covered in blooming white flowers with pink centers and a small white shirt that she’d tied off just between her ribs. Her freckled hands were tucked into the pockets of her pants, and her smile was a slow thing when he came out of the realm and back to the human world.
“You came,” was the first thing she said in four hundred years.
“You called,” Dhaval said. It had been hot in Australia, and though Poppy’s arms were bare, Dhaval was underdressed for the weather. It was already September, and in Maine, that meant it was starting to cool. He could feel a chill creeping around his shorts and shirt, and was reminded, again, how ridiculous this was. “Maine,” he said aloud.
“You’ll see,” Poppy said before she leaned away from the tree and started walking away. Dhaval fell in step next to her as Poppy lifted a hand to her ear, pressing against it lightly. When her hand fell away, he could see that there was something green folded up and tucked inside her ear. “Aster’s back at the shop,” she said, “But she’s got eyes on him.”
“Him?” Dhaval asked. They were male and female interchangeably with each incarnation. “How old is he?”
“Nineteen,” Poppy said, “He arrived a week ago.”
“North, if you can believe it.” She didn’t say that maybe being born in the cold, this far north, would make things different this time. She didn’t say that she’d already let hope settle in her heart. She didn’t have to. Dhaval could see it in the way she walked, her steps a little lighter, her smiles easy.
“Poppy,” he sighed.
“Just wait. Wait until you see him,” she said. Dhaval didn’t respond, but he didn’t sigh again, either, though he wanted to. Instead, he followed her through the forest until they came to the edge. Beyond, a city unfolded. It was old, the streets mostly cobblestone, the brick of the buildings weathered, and barely any cars in sight. If there were cars, they were tucked into garages or were dusty with disuse. It was the kind of city that had everything its citizens needed, and so not much travel outside of it was necessary. Dhaval wondered what a stir this one had caused, coming into this quiet city and disrupting their everyday routine.
“What is he doing here?” Dhaval asked.
Poppy hopped a little, spun, and started walking backward. “He bought a shop,” she said as she clapped her hands together, “It’s been abandoned for ages, and he just came in and bought it. He’s visited Hyacinth, said he was going to place a big order once he got the inside all figured out.” Dhaval raised an eyebrow. “Devils, you’ve been away for so long,” Poppy said, spinning back around to walk normally, “Hyacinth is our shop. Mine and Aster’s. It’s got plants. Lots and lots of plants.”
“What’s this shop he’s bought?”
“Oh,” Poppy hummed, flashing a giant grin at him, “You’ll have to ask him yourself. Aster cackled, so it’ll make you sigh.”
They wended their way through the winding streets, Poppy refusing to give anymore hints and Dhaval letting dread tangle with the hope he didn’t want to feel. Four hundred years felt like an eternity when things felt possible again. It felt like four hundred years of endless days of waiting and waiting and waiting now that the future might not be so bleak.
As they left the outer edges of the city, the streets got narrower, the buildings older, the greenery more pronounced. Farther from the forest, the city started to grow its own forest until Dhaval was frowning as he looked around. “Poppy,” he said slowly.
“We are not the only faeries here,” she admitted, “There are many in this city, and they all feel it.” It was a dangerous thing for so many faeries to live near one another, dangerous both for the humans they might encounter and corrupt and for themselves if they were discovered. It was an uneasy balance at best, an outright war at worst. Faeries were openly beaten, arrested, and killed when they didn’t hide their true nature, and so many had simply stayed in the realm, but there was an illness in the realm that was seeping into even the brightest corners, which meant more and more faeries were coming to live in hiding in the human world.
“This could change everything,” Poppy whispered.
Dhaval didn’t respond. Four hundred years was a long time to watch his charges die over and over. Four hundred years was a long time to lose hope that one would ever survive.
When, at last, they came to the center of the city, it was bustling with plant life, flower boxes overflowing in every window and vines creeping up over the brick. Most of the buildings in the center of the city had business on the bottom level and apartments on the top, and Dhaval paused as they took a corner.
He had never been in this city before, but it felt so overwhelmingly like home that he found he couldn’t quite catch his breath.
There was a shop across the way, sitting on the corner, called Haurvatat. Inside, a stooped man with white hair clinked bottles together on a shelf that was only one among many. Different bottles and vials of different sizes and contents were shelved up to the ceiling with baskets of dried herbs tucked beneath them on the floor. A little patisserie that specialized in macarons was nestled beneath an awning of spider plants. Golden lights twinkled in its front window, and a cheerful blonde beamed as she stacked macarons into a long, rectangular box.
Poppy gently threaded her arm through Dhaval’s and led him down the street. A bookstore run by a wife and husband bore an entrance made of books stacked together. Hyacinth was visible even from here, a bright spot of fern green and lilac purple and daisy yellow. A crystal shop boasted a giant, towering piece of selenite right next to the open front door.
And then Poppy was tightening her hold on Dhaval until she’d dragged him to a stop outside of a small coffee shop aptly named Bunbury & Bagels. Inside, a man was olive skin and dark hair was smiling as he took someone’s order, but it was across the street that Poppy directed his attention. “Two doors down,” she whispered, “Watch. And stop waiting.”
It was no more than a handful of minutes, but in those minutes, Dhaval felt every single one of the last four hundred years and wondered if he would survive four hundred more.
The building Poppy had pointed out certainly looked as though it had been abandoned once, but was slowly starting to find life again. The paint was peeling, the huge window was missing its glass, and the front door tucked against the right side of the building was open. Inside, he could just see dusty floors and tarps laid out, and a ladder was propped against the frame where the window glass was missing.
Dhaval opened his mouth to ask where when a boy walked out of the open front door. He had a shaved head, his black hair buzzed down so it was nothing more than shadow against his pale skin. He was in all black, his pants dark and his boots laced over them, a thin, dark shirt sticking to his wide chest. He was shorter than the man walking behind him, but the man was the towering sort. The boy pointed to the gaping front window, his mouth naturally tipping into a frown as the man started talking. They shook hands, and the man went to the ladder while the boy turned, took a single step, and stopped.
Poppy squeezed Dhaval’s arm tightly.
The boy looked over his shoulder at them, his scowl still in place, and stared at them for a single, aching heartbeat before he walked back into the building.
Dhaval tried to say Poppy’s name, but he couldn’t breathe. Even from here, down the street and never having spoken to this boy, Dhaval could feel it. The fire unfurling around them was vibrant and demanding. For four hundred years, Dhaval had watched elemental faeries succumb to the fire and wither away beneath its pressure. His duty as an Undying was to watch after them, to guide them and train them and help them survive, but of the four Undying in the world, Dhaval’s element was the most difficult to withstand. In four hundred years, not a single faery had survived, and the world had been imbalanced since.
He should have known. He should have seen the signs. The earth elemental was safely tucked in the faery realm, where she’d resided for the last century peacefully. But both the water and air elementals had died in the last few decades, furthering the imbalance. It made sense that this was happening now, that the worst of them was coming to light after so long, that would bring them back together. But fire was deadly. It was an element not easily survived, and the weight of the fire in this boy was more than Dhaval had felt in a long, long time. In nearly an eternity.
“Tell me,” he whispered.
Poppy’s inhale was full of hope.
“His name is Mason.”