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Fantasy Thriller LGBTQ+

God, Ailsa had wished that getting Poppy back from the fairies would have been the end of the matter. But it was just the beginning.

***

Ailsa had only seen the girl a few times around the department. She was a transfer, Ailsa had been able to pick up from her colleagues’ idle chatter, and showed a lot of promise in her classes, according to Professor Hannock.

Ailsa felt for the girl as she watched the redhead stand awkwardly to the side as the party descended into an avid philosophical debate about the term “Celt”—everyone in there had known each other since orientation, and most had schedules that mirrored each other. The new girl was at least a junior and hadn’t had that luxury, and for whatever reason, was starting anew. Her eyes darted around, and she toyed nervously with her phone.

Mustering the courage, Ailsa finally sided over to the other woman, clearing her throat to get her attention. “So, are you enjoying the debate?”

“I suppose,” she said, blinking back her surprise. Her smile was wide and genuine when she accepted the unopened can of alcoholic seltzer. “Thank you. This isn’t really my area of expertise.”

“Mine neither,” Ailsa agreed, taking a swig from her beer.

“I know.”

Ailsa could see a blush form on the other girl’s cheeks. “I meant, Professor Hannock told me I should talk to you,” she clarified. “I’m interested in folklore and mythology in colonial America.”

Ailsa immediately brightened up. “Really?”

They were an hour into their conversation when Ailsa finally introduced herself, sheepishly realizing that they hadn’t known each other’s names the entire time.

The girl smiled. “I’m Poppy.”

Now, as Ailsa stared down at her bloodied gloves and Poppy’s crumpled body, she wished that she hadn’t ever approached her.

***

“The fairies came with us.”

Oh, this was going to be amazing.

Tell me more,” Ailsa said, shifting excitedly in her seat on the couch.

“What else is there to say?” the old woman grouched back, her sharp blue eyes boring into Ailsa as she sucked on her cigarette before putting it out in the ashtray next to her. “The fairies came with us to America.”

“Well, how did they come with you?”

“Hell if I know, they just did.”

Perhaps labelling the interview as amazing had been a bit too soon, Ailsa thought sourly to herself as she watched Vivienne sprinkle tobacco into the rolling paper, hands deft after a lifetime of rolling cigarettes. She was a crotchety old woman who had been wearing the same formless dress and shawl since they’d met a week prior. Ailsa had no idea what sort of magic Professor Hannock had used to convince the white-haired woman to these interviews, because Vivienne sure as hell didn’t seem happy to be there.

“It’s what my grandma used to tell me, God rest her soul,” Vivienne finally elaborated. “She’d get drunk during dinner some nights and tell me the stories.”

***

“Can’t you see?” Ailsa hissed out, raking her fingers through her hair as she angrily paced the room. “How do you explain all of the mood changes? The personality changes? How she just disappeared into thin air that night?”

Matthew was silent on the other end of the phone. “Ailsa, you’re becoming obsessed. She ate some bad wheat and wandered out of the house. You need to calm down and let this go.”

No, I don’t need to do anything—“

Have you seen the doctor yet?”

Ailsa let out an angry shout and hung up the call, throwing her phone across the rom.

***

“Changelings, will o’ the wisps, everything. It’s all real.”

Ailsa hung onto every word. “Changelings,” she repeated.

Vivienne stared at her and nodded sagely, never breaking eye contact. “Yes,” she said. “Beings that are exchanged for humans. It can happen with anyone, you know. That’s why you need to keep the ones you love close.”

***

As Poppy wandered into the mist, escorted by the mystery woman, Ailsa woke up gasping in a cold sweat. She swung her legs out of bed and practically fell down the stairs, uncaring of the hour nor if she woke anyone as she rushed to Poppy’s room.

Sure enough, the bed was empty, sheets crumpled as if Poppy had just gotten out of bed, and her boots, usually at the foot of the bed, weren’t there.

***

“No one talks about how the journey changed the fae,” Ailsa whispered, head in her hands. “How the long months on the ships scarred them and morphed them into something new, something brand new.”

“Brand New World, brand new fae,” Vivienne agreed. When Ailsa glanced up from under her cascade of blonde hair, she saw that Vivienne was staring hard at her, eyes glinting unnaturally in the firelight and mouth twisted into a grin. “How do you think they felt, after listening to the whispers of the colonists and believing the promises of a better life?”

“Betrayed,” Ailsa responded almost immediately. “Betrayed, vindictive, hurt, so, so hurt.”

“Do you think someone so hurt would make it so easy for you to get back what you so desire, after desecrating one of the few physical things they have left of the Old World?”

No, Ailsa silently realized. No, they wouldn’t.

***

“It was probably ergot poisoning,” Hannock said gently. “Matthew thinks it might’ve been the bread that Vivienne gave you and Poppy. Completely by accident, of course.”

“Ergot poisoning,” Ailsa repeated slowly. 

“I’m giving you the rest of the week off, but let me know if you need longer. Don’t worry about your thesis.”

She’d listened to her tapes obsessively as soon as she’d gotten home. As soon as one ended, she’d start the next one, and as soon as she reached the final tape, she’d restart it all. She had long transcribed it, and would follow word-for-word along with Vivienne’s raspy voice, tracing the words along the screen with her finger.

And each time she listened, the more she became convinced that it wasn’t Poppy that had come through that mist on that fateful night.

It just wouldn’t make sense. Why spirit away a person only to return them within a day? Why go through all that trouble, all that revenge, only to back away as soon as the loot was returned? It didn’t make sense. Fairies weren’t like that. They wanted to have their cake and eat it, too. It had been a total shot in the dark to return the linens and jewelry, and it honestly shouldn’t have worked.

It wasn’t Poppy that had come through the mist that day.

***

The changeling opened the bathroom door, and it took a few moments for the masked Ailsa’s presence to be registered in its mind. The changeling’s eyes widened in surprise, but Ailsa didn’t give it any time to react.

Without a second thought, she plunged the knife into the changeling’s sternum.

***

Something stuck with her about her last visit with Vivienne. She could have sworn that she had seen a flash of too-sharp teeth, a too-large smile affixed on her face, eyes that still blazed even as the old woman shifted so her eyes weren’t reflecting against anything.

***

The pieces fell into place, as if the hazy fog had lifted from Ailsa’s brain. It all became crystal clear, and in the back of her mind she heard Vivienne’s raucous laughter.

It had been a game. Fake. It had all been fake and a game to the fairies, and Ailsa had played her part perfectly ’til the very end. Poppy had been herself the entire time and Ailsa’s paranoia had been played against her, to the point that she’d been convinced it wasn’t her.

She heard someone scream behind her, but Ailsa didn’t react. Her hand fell limply at her side, the knife skittering off to the side as she saw the light leave Poppy’s eyes.

The laughter never stopped as Ailsa was dragged away.

October 27, 2021 14:36

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