I take my time getting out of the truck, half-hoping that by the time I get round to Pierre’s side, he’ll have lifted his head off the dashboard and politely asked the young caribou girl to be on her way. Since he’s showing no inclination to do either of those things, I stroll around towards her. She smiles nervously at me and I nod back.
“I must say, this is an unexpected pleasure, Miss.”
She blushes, smiles at me and says nothing in that awkward way that teenagers do when they ring a doorbell and they’re faced with an unwanted conversation with a parent rather than the object of their affections. The girl looks right past me at Pierre, and her face softens as he sits upright. The freckled imprint of the dashboard remains on his face.
I take my hat off and enjoy a lungful of fresh Ontario air. Summer is on its way, and that makes a young mind turn to thoughts of love. Thoughts that I’m gonna have to quash before they take root and cause all manner of difficulties.
“Is there anything that we can do to help you?” As I ask, I notice the girl’s jewellery— plastic cat earrings, and rings on her fingers. I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on Piaffhomme society, but I know that they favour a natural lifestyle. Somehow, I can’t imagine Claude approving of his baby daughter trotting down to Claires for accessories.
She seems surprised that I’m asking. “Me? Oh, well, I just felt really bad about what happened earlier and I figured that maybe I would come by. To, you know, apologise if it seemed that we were rude.”
“Please tell your family not to worry, it was a simple misunderstanding. And give my regards to your father.” I put my hat back on and hope she’ll take the hint.
Instead, the girl trots on the spot and gazes in Pierre’s direction. That boy still hadn’t got as far as rolling down his window.
“Well, you see…” she says, “It’s not that I don’t respect you, monsieur. I realise that you know my papa from way back. It’s just… well, I know that the young gentleman is actually the owner here…”
I raise an eyebrow. She’s a cunning one. “And so, you think it’s only right that you address the apology to him directly.”
“In person.” She smiles, and those soft features swell with colour.
Pierre, with his impeccable sense of timing, chooses that moment to wind his window down and the girl practically stampedes me underfoot, or hoof, or whatever.
“Monsieur! I just wanted to say that I’m sorry if we scared you or distressed you earlier. It wasn’t what we intended.” When Pierre gives her a look like a hungover man offered a tequila slammer, she steps back again and says, “My name is Ros…Rosaline. What’s yours?”
“Pierre.” I must remember to tell that boy that he’s too polite for his own good.
“Pierre… that’s such a nice name. Well, it was awesome to meet you!”
She offers her hand and he shakes it unenthusiastically.
“Miss,” I say when the formalities are conducted, “maybe you should be going now. I think it’s likely that your papa’s going to miss you. You won’t want him coming here and finding you, believe me.”
That’s when the girl looks around all surreptitious-like, as though she’s fixing to share the meaning of life. She stares directly into Pierre’s eyes and says, “Do you have wi-fi at your house?”
* * *
“I don’t know what you’re worrying about. We’ll probably never see her again.”
“Pierre, I wish I had your confidence.”
The boy shrugs. The day is over, night has fallen. He’s laying across the bonnet of his truck, and nursing his third beer of the evening.
“It doesn’t matter, anyway. She might be a pain but she’s harmless.”
“She’s got those big green eyes and a head full of daft ideas based on internet romance stories.”
“So what if she has a Tumblr account?”
“So that makes her different to every other member of her species. She’s straddling the space between their world and ours, and that’s not the sort of behaviour that will end well for her.” I’m sitting in a camp chair on the other side of the fire. We could go indoors at any time, but the weather is warm, and sitting here, we can see the stars. I like being close to nature.
“Let’s move on, shall we? Tell me about the other creatures you know about.”
“I don’t know that that would-”
Pierre isn’t going to be derailed. “Ben, it’s too late. Pandora’s Box is open, and now you need to spill the beans.”
I’m beaten and he knows it. “Fine. What do you want to know?”
“What other creatures are out there that I don’t know about?”
“ Wizards,” I say, “but you already met one of those.”
“Be careful with that word. It’s derogatory in the community. There are female wizards, and there are wiccans. Don’t go confusing the two.”
Pierre sips at his bottle, swallows and belches loudly. “What’s the difference?”
“Wizards are wizards. Wiccans burn incense, buy crystals and post life-affirming pictures to one another on the internet.”
“I feel like you’re taking the piss here.”
“For what it’s worth, Wiccans cause a lot less trouble,” I say.
“What about werewolves?” he asks.
“They’re real. Keep themselves to themselves, mostly. You won’t see them coming close to the farm.”
“I guess humans don’t like them much.”
“I’m told wolves don’t like them much either.”
“That’s fucking sad.”
I shuffle in my seat to keep my ass from going numb. “What do you mean?”
Pierre has one of those third-beer-profound moments. “The poor werewolves. Prejudice is a terrible thing. They must be too much like wolves for humans to accept, and too much like humans for wolves. They probably feel like they don’t fit in anywhere.”
“Don’t know about that,” I say. “All the ones I’ve met are assholes.”
Pierre scowls at me and chugs his beer in silence for a minute. Finally he asks, “What about vampires?”
The kid looks a bit concerned. “Blood drinking and everything?”
“Some people will drink anything you put in front of them.”
“What about… minotaurs?”
“Ain’t never seen one of those.”
Pierre thinks for a moment. “What about nymphs?”
“What are those?”
“Tree spirits,” he says.
“We have plenty of trees, but I don’t know about tree spirits. What do they look like?”
He has the decency to look a bit embarrassed. “Girls… naked ones.”
“I think the internet has a lot to answer for,” I say diplomatically.
Another half-minute passes in silence, and then Pierre sits upright. “Jeez… I still can’t get my head around this. It’s huge, you know?”
“Just goes to show, you’re never too old to learn.”
“There are magical creatures in the world. Actual living, breathing, magical fucking creatures. It’s amazing. Life-changing.”
“Oh, I don’t know that I’d go that far.” I’m seeing the light that’s appeared in his eyes, and I’m keen to clip those wings before he starts trying to use them to fly.
“So… are you like some wise, mystic sage, guardian of centuries of occult knowledge? I bet you know, like, everything. You were probably there when they built the Pyramids.”
In some ways, I find it strangely reassuring that Pierre has moved onto third-beer-nonsense. “I was born in Widdifield in 1954, not ten miles down the road from here. I can assure you that not only did I not see the Pyramids being built, the only thing I’m guardian of is accepted common sense. If you’ll take my advice on that subject, you’ll keep everything you’ve seen and heard about today to yourself.”
Pierre goes pale. “Is there some penalty for telling people about it? Is there some magic council that will hunt me down if I let the secret slip?”
“No. But if you go telling everyone that centaurs are real, they’re going to think that you’re a loony.”
By now, I was hoping I could steer the conversation back onto the farm, or to sports or whatever. I get a very strange feeling all of a sudden, like there’s something— or someone— there outside the farmhouse with us. The feeling is like having an itch in the middle of your shoulder blades, right where you can’t reach it.
“I gotta take a leak,” Pierre says, and disappears behind the corner of the house.
I stare up at the sky for as long as I can bear it, counting the stars and whispering the words to an old rhyme under my breath. “Come out, come out, wherever you are…”
Gradually, the air changes and colour and substance swiftly starts to form where previously there had just been space. One cell, one pixel at a time. This is what happens when invisibility spells wear off.
In a few seconds, enough space has been filled in to get an idea of the size of the figure standing before me. The matter knits together, sinew-by-sinew, and then I’m standing in front of the terrified-looking figure of Fred. He’s still wearing his barista apron.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I didn’t know where else to turn.”
I tip my head back and look up at the stars. Sometimes, you need that sense of scale to put your problems in perspective.
Before me, Fred is wringing his hands and sweating like a man running a marathon in the desert. “I’m sorry,” he repeats.
“So come on,” I say. “What have you done?”
His answer makes me very unhappy indeed.
Photo Credit: Flickr