I chose the road less traveled, now where the hell am I? - Robert Frost/unknown
The stranger arrived on a sunny day.
Which was weird, as all the other days of the month had been rainy and stormy. But the day the bells rang announcing his arrival, the clouds dissipated and we saw blue sky for the first time in over thirty days.
The small inn at the end of the lane, creeping up over the cliff, was almost full to bursting. Not with visitors, no. Lane’s End didn’t get many visitors in the season-season, let alone in the off-season. Rather, it was filled with the townsfolk who had grown weary of being stuck inside their homes as the rain continued to constantly fall.
So over half the town was there, myself included, when a hush fell over the crowd. The crazy man, Alfred, was babbling at the window, hands wildly flailing as he tried to describe what was happening. Everyone else immediately ignored him and the chatter and bustle resumed. But I stood up, my chair scraping against the hardwood floor, and walked, as if in a daze, to the window where Alfred was all but convulsing. Then again, he might have been dying too, that was always an option.
I peered out the window, my gaze locking on the clear blue sky, and my jaw dropped. My feet rooted to the ground. I couldn’t believe it.
“Oy, Lily, what’s going on out there,” one of my classmates asked, her voice roughened with ale.
“T-th-the-the-the sky’s blue,” I stammered out. Loud raucous laughter burst out from the patrons of the inn behind me. I turned and my white face must have been an inclination of the truth, because as if a gun had shot off in the enclosed space, everybody rushed to the window, nearly trampling Alfred and me. Someone burst into tears. Everybody turned and stared at Alfred.
“Iza viry ekciteng,” he muttered and we all simultaneously rolled our eyes. Then suddenly, the big brass bells on the church spire, only slightly taller than the fir trees surrounding the building, rang. Three times. That meant someone new had entered the village. Everyone looked at each other, then practically ran to the door, streaming out of the inn in a matter of seconds. I was pulled off my feet by the crowd, my weak protests unheard.
Lane’s end didn't look like much. It actually looked exactly like any other seaside town along the coast of Oregon, but it was the last stop on the bus and by the time any visitors get here, they were either drunk, lost, or a combination of the two.
The town square was more of a rectangle than a square, with a row of fir trees marking the end of the road and the beginning of the misty forests that surrounded our town. Nevertheless, everyone crowded near the fountain that our founder Christopher Lane erected in honor of finding this prime piece of land. And it had been, too. Until the erosion of the wind made the cliff face impassable, and the creation of another port town further down the coast that was more accessible.
Lane’s End vanished into the mist and spray of the sea, the only destination for the three hundred odd people who stuck like barnacles to the soil they had been born on. Nobody new had moved into our town in the one hundred and eighty-nine years since Lane’s End had been founded. And our tourist economy hadn’t boomed since the other town had been established.
Everyone had crowded into the town rectangle, even those who weren’t at the inn. They had all heard the three peals of the bell. I spotted my mother in the crowd and pushed my way toward her. She was busy chatting to our neighbor, the baker, about this evening’s freshness capabilities.
“Mom,” I said, sidling up beside her. She nodded at me, then continued arguing with the baker. I rolled my eyes. “Mom,” I insisted. She finished talking to the baker, then turned to me, with the air of someone who just won an argument.
“What?” she asked.
“Did you see who it was?” I asked.
“The visitor?” she checked.
“No, the cat. Yes, the visitor!” I snarked. She shook her head.
“I think that’s why we’re here,” she said. I sighed.
“Yes, mom. That’s why we’re here,” I muttered, turning around and facing the front of our town rectangle.
The stranger arrived with a twinkling sound. It took us all a moment to realize that it was the bells on his weirdly shaped shoes. Everyone watched in silence as he walked down the town rectangle and stopped in front of the podium where the mayor usually gave his speeches.
He looked at everyone. Everyone looked at him.
He had pale, pale skin, freckles stark against the paleness, bright red hair, a green felt cap covering his mop of hair, gray eyes, and he was dressed in the strangest clothes. A bright red vest, a yellow shirt, and red pants that clashed horribly with his hair. He looked like a walking traffic light, except this particular light covered seven tracks and operated with nine trains all narrowly missing each other as they screamed past.
After a long moment, he smiled.
“Hello!” he announced. Everyone shifted. The mayor made his way to the front of the crowd.
“Welcome to Lane’s End,” he said, and as if someone had flipped a switch, everyone crowded around this strange man. The baker offered the freshest bread, the butcher offered the juiciest cuts, the innkeeper offered the best room with the best view, and the cobbler offered a discount on shoe maintenance. The man laughed, a sound as clear as bells, and as if in a trance, everyone stopped talking.
“Thank you for the very warm welcome, but I am looking for someone in particular. Liliana Jourdou, please,” he said, eyes searching the crowd. I wasn’t that hard to spot, given that I had hung back from the crowd surging forward, but still, everyone turned immediately to me. That’s the horrible part of living in a small town. Everyone knows everyone, everyone knows everyone’s business, and if you do something bad, everyone will learn about it over Sunday potluck.
I cleared my throat, stepping forward, and the man’s eyes shot to me. I realized that they weren’t gray as I’d originally thought, but rather a hazelly-blue color, shifting as they caught the light. The man stiffened.
“Liliana?” he asked. I nodded.
“I am her,” I replied.
“Good, good. Now, lead me to your house, please,” he said, all previous animosity gone from his voice. I blinked.
“Lead you to my house? I don’t even know you,” I voiced in a chilly tone, crossing my arms. The man smiled, although this time it didn’t meet his eyes.
“Oh, but I know you.”
Of course with that sort of statement, I had no choice but to lead him to my house. Situated in the middle of town, my great-great-great-grandfather had won this plot of land for thirty-three cents, with the promise of fresh eggs for a month. It looked old from the outside, but I had renovated the two-story house on the inside as much as I could. My mother didn’t object, she helped me remove all the old junk and make the house into one worth living.
The path was laid with stones and my shoes squeaked on them as I led the stranger to my front door.
“You want something to drink?” I asked politely, but he shook his head, making his way to my living room without having ever lived here before. I felt myself growing suspicious, yet something else about this man, made it seem as if I could trust him unquestionably. He sat down, arranging his pack near his feet. He propped his hands on his knees and looked at me with those weird eyes as I settled myself onto the sette across from him.
“So...Lily. You claim you don’t know me, but I know you. Actually, more accurately, I know of you,” he started, his voice soft. I crossed my arms.
“You’ve said that already,” I muttered. The man leaned forward, his eyes locked on mine.
“How familiar are you with the legends claiming parallel worlds exist and contain fantastical creatures as well as demons?” he rapidly said. I blinked.
“Um. My mother read them to me when I was a child, but it’s been over twenty years since I’ve heard them,” I answered slowly. The man grinned and I was disconcerted to see that his teeth were pointed. How on earth did he manage that?
"Ah, that's your mistake. I am not from Earth," he said. I was startled.
"Did you just...?" I asked. He nodded, grinning.
"Read your mind? Yes, all leprechauns can. You see, I'm from Earth. But just not your Earth. I-hmm, here. It's better to see," he said, and then leaped forward and touched my hand. Instantly my living room went black.
“What the hell?” I shouted, snatching my hand away from the man-no, leprechaun-’s hand.
“No, not Hell. Although that’s around the corner. You want to see it?” he asked. I wordlessly shook my head.
“Th-that’s not possible,” I stammered.
“Ah, nothing’s impossible, dear Lily,” he tutted, walking away from me, down the corridor.
We were in a long corridor, doors on every other section of the wall. Every door had a plaque on the top. I read a few as I walked by. I couldn’t read any of their names.
“What are these?” I questioned, jogging a little to catch up with the leprechaun.
"Parallel worlds. Do keep up," he reprimanded. I flushed.
"Where are you taking me?" I asked. He stopped in front of a door that read Nujalim.
"I have something to show you," he said, opening the door. I don't know what I was expecting, but a pitch-black space wasn't it.
"Er...it's not here," I said, leaning into the threshold, or where it was supposed to be. The leprechaun chuckled.
“How about now?” he said with glee as he shoved me forward. I screamed, falling into pitch black nothingness.
“You really need to stop doing that,” I scolded the leprechaun. We had landed on soft soil, everything around us drenched in a pink hue.
“Then stop being so easy to trick!” He told me, laughing. The strange man led me through the forest we had landed in, finally arriving in a small camp on the outskirts of yet a larger forest. The leprechaun whistled, a sharp piercing sound, and people started coming out of the tents.
No, not people. Strange little men in the same kind of costume my leprechaun tormentor was wearing.
"Hurendk jualis akuhn," the leprechaun called, spreading his arms out.
"Huh?" I asked, walking down the slope after him.
"It's faeish," he told me, then proceeded to narrate my entire life's story to the other leprechauns. They oohed and aahed until I thought I was going to start screaming and then he turned to me.
"So, Liliana, still confused as to where you fit in?" he asked and I shook my head. Suddenly, his eyes glowed red and his body shrunk, turning into a smaller version of himself, except it was far uglier than before. Sprouts of thick hair shot out of his ears and nostrils and his mouth gaped in a red grin as his jaw unhinged showing three more rows of sharp jagged teeth. The other leprechauns did the same thing until I was surrounded by these demonic creatures.
"yₒᵤ'ᵣₑ ₒᵤᵣ ₗᵤₙcₕ," he growled, his voice strange and guttural. With a snarl, he leaped onto me, and before I had time to scream, his jaw unhinged and he bit off my head in a spray of blood and gore.
Ja-en Lock licked his lips, feeling the human girl's warm blood soothing his throat. He looked around at his kin and the pale white bones of their victim.
"ᵂʰᵒˢᵉ ᵗᵘʳⁿ ⁱˢ ⁱᵗ ⁿᵒʷ?" He asked.