“PLEASE, Mr. Cypress. I understand it’s your busy season, but if I don’t get these THINGS out of my garden, my crops will be ruined for the Fall harvest! I’ll be plum broke! Please! You have to help!”
Cypress Wormwood set down the phone for a moment and groaned. He hated that phrase. He did not HAVE to help anyone. He chose to if it suited him, but he was under absolutely zero obligation to uphold the family business.
“Sir, I am a monster hunter. Not a charity. Let’s get a few things straight. I have a fee. I have rules. I do not HAVE to do anything. But I am WILLING to help. How many gnomes are there?”
“How could you ask about my gnome collection at a time like this!?” The customer shouted.
Cypress once again pressed his oversized palm to his equally oversized forehead and bit back the urge to swear. How his father had ever dealt with these people was completely beyond him. “The magick folk need to stick together, Cypress. What we do is important.” His father would tell him. “The people need someone who understands, and can keep them safe from the humans.” But right now, he was worried the humans would need protecting from him if they continued to irritate him.
He sighed and went back to the phone. “The creatures in your garden, Mr. Harold. How many are there?”
“Oh! At least a dozen of the bastards. They’re singing this God awful tune. I think they’re trying to curse me or something. Mr. Cypress, you have GOT to…” There he went again, saying that disgusting, demeaning phrase.
Cypress was losing his patients. “Once again, Harold, I don’t have to do shit. And my fee just went up. 200 pounds, and I’ll be there by noon.”
Cypress heard the man on the other end of the phone begin to protest.
“And I do NOT negotiate.” He added quickly.
“Fine. Deal.” Harold begrudgingly agreed.
Cypress hung up the phone without a goodbye. Gnomes were a piece of cake. Happy, docile, little creatures, content on relocating as long as you were patient, and privy to their passion for song and storytelling. He would just have to find them a peaceful, lush spot to make their new home. He grabbed his supply bag, removed the heavy weapons, and put a pot of coffee on for his journey. Living among humans did have its perks, and coffee was definitely one of them.
The farmhouse was old and appeared to be worn down. Cypress felt a flash of guilt for charging the farmer so much, but it passed quickly as he went through all the usual phrases the humans would have upon his arrival to a job site.
“Tall fellow, aren’t you?” 1/4 Giant, and 1/8 werewolf. Yup. I am tall
“You’re not quite what I was expecting.” Were you looking for the Ghostbusters? Winchesters? Buffy? Sorry to disappoint.
“That’s all you brought? Don’t you have…backup?” Contrary to popular belief, I don’t need an army to take down a gnome clan, but thanks for your concern.
And his favorite “I want its head when you’re done.“ That’s considered a biohazardous material and must be disposed of in a way specified by the FDA. In other words, find another way to get your kicks, creep.
The farmer came running out of his house, alerted to the hunter’s arrival by the purr of his Dodge Ram. Harold’s mouth fell open as Cypress stepped out of the truck.
“Yes. Yes, I am. 7’2 if it’s imperative. 23 stones if it piqued your curiosity. Yes, overall, I am a marvel to behold. Now, about the gnomes, if you don’t mind. I require payment upfront. 200 pounds.”
Cypress held out his hand, and the farmer motioned to his wife for the sack she was holding. She struggled to lift it up to Cypress.
“All there, sir. I assure you.” Harold said sheepishly.
Cypress took it from her with ease, and opened the sack, displaying the many coins and bills inside.
“That’ll do.” He nodded. “The gnomes, please.”
Harold led him to a vegetable patch behind the farmhouse. The earth was freshly sown, and the sprouts were already surfacing. There, among the butternut squash seedlings, was a clan of Merdian Sprite Gnomes.
“The heathens! Just look at them! AWAY with you, vile creatures!” Harold shouted, but the gnomes paid him no mind, carrying on with their merriment.
“Best let me handle them. Please, go inside with your wife.” Cypress cajoled. The farmer obliged, and the hunter got to work. He knelt down in the vegetable patch, and politely signaled one of the gnomes.
“Pardon the intrusion, but where is your elder?” He said in his kindest, most gentle voice. The young gnome giggled and waved over a much older, bearded, gray gnome.
“Cypress Wormwood!” The elder gnome greeted. “Of Eldrig Mountain, son of Dalton and Rebecca Wormwood! What say you? Many years it has been.”
“Rupert of Silk Moss, I humbly seek your ear. Why have you moved from the Silk Moss grove? What business do you have here on the mortal side? Surely you must realize the havoc magick kind wreak by piercing the veil.” Cypress tried to sound concerned and kind, but the human world had hardened him, and he was finding compassion, particularly difficult.
“Tell me, Cypress Wormwood. How long have you been on this side of the veil? You know not of the havoc wreaked on US! On our home!” The old gnome became heated with agitation. “There is a beast among us. It is not of human flesh and bone, nor of magick wing and tooth. But something that transcends the veil entirely. Our people were hunted like mice in a field. Slaughtered.
I regret that our presence causes this human grief, but I’m sorry, we will not be leaving here. Not until the beast is taken care of. And I bet my bonnet that you’ll find many magick folks on the mortal side who feel the same. Goodbye, Cypress Wormwood.” The elder gnome began to turn away.
Cypress couldn’t think. But he knew he had to act quickly. Then it came to him. He hummed “The Ballad of the Hero,” which he learned in his time at the Magick School for Gifted Young Men. As Cypress had suspected, the elder could not resist a tune, let alone one from old. He began to hum along. All the gnomes gathered and sang with them, beating on their tiny drums, and ringing their bells. When the tune was over, Cypress turned to the elder with pleading eyes.
“I can offer you sanctuary. My home, in the country. There is much green land there that a gnome could flourish on. And I promise I will take care of the beast so you can all go home. But you have to come with me and leave this farmer alone.” Cypress could feel the anxiety of the gnomes rise and fall as the elder spoke again after pondering the proposal.
“Your father was a good man, Cypress Wormwood. Always did right by us gnomes. I trust that you too, are a good man. A man of your word. We will go with you. We will trust you to keep your promise. But first, I must speak to the farmer.” Before Cypress could stop him, he marched up to the farmer’s door, with the entire clan behind him, carrying their junk. The farmer answered, astounded that the gnomes were still alive. But the elder climbed up on his kitchen table and spoke to him.
“We apologize for the intrusion we’ve caused. We realize it is a great inconvenience to you, and it is not in a gnome’s nature to take without giving.” The elder motioned to the clan, who dropped their tokens in a pile on the table. He clapped his hands, and the gnomes began to sing, turning the rubbish to gold. The farmer’s eyes widened.
“Surely, this will be enough to cover our stay. Thank you again. We must be off now.” The elder turned to Cypress, snapped his fingers, and the clan disappeared, warping to the hunter’s cottage. With the gnomes gone, he nodded and left the farmhouse. He checked his phone. Almost 5pm. Lydia would be starting her show soon, and he needed to talk with her. If anyone knew about a big stir within the veil, it was his favorite brothel Fairy.
Cypress and Lydia had been best friends for years now. He met her on a hunt, when the brothel owner found out she had wings from a dissatisfied client. She refused to leave, but when the word got out that a Fairy was among the working girls, people offered double just to see her naked. Triple to spend the night with her. The manager realized he’d be a fool to chase her out. But Cypress warned her not all clients would be kind. There were plenty who hated magickal beings on this side of the veil. Plenty who would pay just to see her dead. But the stubborn little fairy insisted on staying. Cypress worried about her today more than ever. His visit was short, but he could tell something was off about Lydia. She had clearly been roughed up. She had a deep gouge on her cheek and her back. And a bite mark on her shoulder.
“Those are NOT human, Lydia. Talk to me!” Cypress begged
“Fine! I’ve been doin’ a few nights at the Ruby Slipper, over the veil. I got some really messed up fella a month or so ago. He didn’t look like a werewolf, you know I don’t mess with them, but he got scary. Boss had to throw him out. But I’m FINE, Cy. Honest. I’m no baby! I can handle myself.”
“Lydia, I just don’t want to get a call to come to get your body. That’s actually why I came here. I was on a job today, and they mentioned something about a dangerous beast hurting magick folk. Chasing them out of their homes. I’ve had a crazy amount of calls for removals lately, and this explains it. Lydia, you have to be careful. You have to stay safe.”
“I AM safe, Cy. Please, relax. You got nothin’ to worry about with me. But that guy, I bet ya he’s connected to your beast.”
“WHY is he going after people though? I’m not in the habit of killing Lydia. But I can’t have this guy attacking people. It isn’t safe. I also don’t want to splatter some poor sap’s guts if I don’t have to.” Cypress sat up on the chaise and put his hands in his head. He wondered what his dad would do if he were alive.
Prolong the hunt, try to help the guy, and risk more attacks? What if it’s not even his fault? He could be cursed or poisoned, maybe he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time? On the same page, this guy is seriously hurting people. Frankly, with all these jobs coming in, he’d become a serious annoyance for the hunter.
Lydia tied a long, blue-ribbon around her ankle, and began working it around her body, securing it to the crown of fake flowers she was wearing.
“Alright, Cy, I love you, buddy, but there’s a burlesque show downstairs in a little while, and I gotta get ready. You gotta scoot!”
Cypress nodded. He hugged her goodbye and went home to deal with the gnomes. To his surprise, they had already found a quiet place to settle by the time he got there. Cypress expected to see the elder waiting up for him, wanting to talk, but the gnome was fast asleep in the garden patch. Sleep didn’t sound like a bad idea, and the hunter found himself nodding off.
The following afternoon had been a quiet one. A niffler wreaking havoc at the park, two trolls made camp under a bridge. Easy stuff. No beast sightings. Until the phone rang, around 8pm that evening. Cypress’ gut churned. Something wasn’t right. He answered the phone and rattled off his usual speech about the business, but was interrupted by a familiar voice.
“Cy is Lydia…. Cy, you have to come to the House. It’s bad, real bad. Please hurry. And Cy...bring a shovel.”
“I’m on my way.” He grunted. Cypress was not an emotional being. He’d always had a soft spot for Lydia. But a soft spot in Cypress was like a dent in a steel wall. He swore to never let it become a weakness. But this had him shaken. She told him to bring the shovel. This likely meant that someone had died. A few other fairies had followed her lead in making more money at a human brothel, and if she was calling him and not the morgue, it was fairy folk that died. It could have been her. It could have been his Lydia. Maybe it was a rogue customer, but Cypress knew in his heart, it wasn’t. He loaded up the shovel in the black pickup truck and his most powerful crossbow. This bastard wasn’t getting away.
His truck pulled up to the House, and all the usual flashing lights were dimmed. There would be no show tonight. He was surprised to see it was the owner, not Lydia, who came out to meet him.
“Kind of you to come. I told Liddy, I can’t pay ye. But she insisted on calling anyway. Said you’d get rid of it for free.” The owner assessed Cypress’s face for agreement.
Cypress grimaced. “She. And I will not “get rid” of her. I will find a proper place and bury her. She was a living being. You’ll be taking me to her now, Jim.” The hunter was practically growling through his scowl.
Jim took him in back, where the fairies and a few of the humans were gathered around a petite fairy. She was wrapped in a blanket on the ground. Cypress made a path and reached for the cover. An older fairy stopped his arm mid-reach.
“Son. Send the girls inside first. I’m the one who found her, and what’s under that blanket is a scene straight out of a horror flick. It’ll too much for them.” She pleaded quietly to him.
He nodded. “Ladies, thank you for watching over your friend. I want you to know I’m going to do whatever I can to find the monster responsible for her death. But to do that, I’ll need to examine her body, and the process is less than delicate. I ask that you, please say your goodbyes and follow Madame back into the House.” Cypress watched as the girls all sobbed and filed into the House one by one. He scanned the crowd for Lydia but saw no sign of her. Usually, she’d be at the front of the group, worried sick about something like this. He got the Madame’s attention one more time.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but have you seen Lydia? She’s a friend. She’s the one who called me.” Cypress pleaded with his eyes for answers.
“I’m sorry, but no. Not since dinner at 5. She was acting very oddly, devoured her dinner, and went for seconds. Then she disappeared from the table. I hope you find her. Good luck with that one.” She motioned to the body on the ground. “It couldn’t have been a customer, we don’t open the brothel until 10, and the show tonight was supposed to be at 8.”
Cypress nodded, and Madame went into the House. He hesitated as he pulled the soft blue blanket from the fairy’s cold body. She was naked, except for a pair of fake ballerina slippers and a flower crown, similar to the one Lydia had made on his last visit. She had deep gouges across her body, reaching from her hip to her shoulder. It looked like a bite was taken out of the back of her neck. He gently turned her on her side and saw that one of her wings had been shredded.
He gently wrapped her up again, and carried her easily to his truck bed, covering her with an additional burial cloth. The Madame and Jim came running from the House at the sound of his engine starting.
“Where are you going?” Jim asked, panting for breath.
Cypress let out a deep sigh. “First, I am going to bury the fairy. I have a special, discreet location between the veil where I can mark a headstone and won’t have to worry she’ll be disturbed. Then, I’m finding the beast that did this.”
“We’re coming with you.” The Madame announced.
She saw the protest bubbling in Cypress’ throat, and sternly added: “Fairy last rights must be performed to help her cross.”
“And I have a right to know what’s killing my talent!” The House owner brooded.
They piled into the truck and arrived at the gravesite. The Madame and Cypress began to dig in the moonlight, as Jim lazily watched on. Cypress had just lifted a shovel full of dirt, when he heard a howl.
“It followed us.” He announced. He traded his shovel for a crossbow and told his unwelcome companions to stay put.
They followed in shadow, both hoping to catch a glimpse of the monster. They walked for what seemed like an hour, following what Cypress felt “had to be werewolf scent.” He knew as it was in his blood, and a werewolf could always track part of his pack. Finally, illuminated by the full moon, a figure immerged from the woods. Cypress didn’t hesitate, he quickly aimed his crossbow, until something caught his eye.
“What are you waiting for, shoot it!” Jim cried.
Cypress shook his head. The werewolf looked into his eyes, as the hunter saw the gleam of a bright blue ribbon, wrapped around its torso.
“Lydia.” He cried.