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Urban Fantasy People of Color

The car lurched to a stop in front of a stone cottage. Ivy crawled up the walls and even the trunks of the sycamore trees in the yard. The ground was a maze of overgrown grass, untrimmed hedges and flowers of all kinds and colors. 


It made my eyes hurt.


“Try not to use magic, alright? For me,” said Dad from the front seat beside me. A hush of choral music murmured from the car speakers.


“Whatever.” I didn’t hide the iciness from my voice as I stared out the window at the cacophony of flora. 


He sighed. “Call me if you need anything. I’m here for you. Always.”


I nodded, softening and turning to shoot him a small smile. He had dark shadows under his eyes.


“Thanks, Dad. I know you mean well.”


“I love you.”


I gave his forearm a squeeze before hauling my backpack from the backseat and jumping outside. The car sped off as I struggled through the miniature jungle toward the front door of the cottage. 


Father lived in a sky-rise apartment in the city. I didn’t know if I liked the wildness of the cottage or the colorlessness of the apartment more.


Maybe I hated both.


The door opened before I could raise my arm and knock.


“Aerith, honey, you’re late! No worries, no worries, no one’s here yet.” 


Mom's long black hair--usually falling below her knees--was wound up in a bushy bun, held together with one of her silvery wands. She looked me over with watery eyes and pursed her lips, stained purple as a plum. 


“You don’t want to--to let your hair down?” she asked carefully, her eyes flitting to my ears.


I blinked and decided to play dumb. “Why would I?”


“No reason, no reason,” she mumbled, shaking her head. She quickly turned around and bounded into the cottage.


It was really one large room, with the kitchen in one corner, a long dining table in another, and her library, which took up half the entire room. She’d squashed a couple of beds in the tiny loft above her library. I don't know why she bothered; I hardly stayed long enough to spend the night, and she usually fell asleep in her reading chair.


Lining the walls were shelves stuffed with singing plants, ticking clocks, broken quills that squealed for more ink, and other odds and ends that squeaked and cawed and chattered. It was like stepping into a symphony where no one followed the same music.


“It’s a bit loud,” I shouted as I made my way into the kitchen. Smoking cauldrons sat on the counter, carefully labeled with small pieces of parchment. I peeked into the one labeled “For Aerith” and inhaled, smiling at the delicious aroma of chicken and beef.


Mom snapped her fingers and the noises ceased, replaced by smooth jazz that appeared to ooze out of an open book lying on a nearby shelf.


“There.” She smiled. “Better?”


I nodded and took a seat at the dining table, looking around. Dad’s apartment was so bare, with only a few photos of his home country covering the gray walls.


“It’s a bit messy in here,” said Mom apologetically.


I waved a hand. “It’s a nice change.” And it was. At least the warm cottage smelled of my favorite foods. At least my baby pictures still hung in every available cranny, just as I remembered from when Dad lived here, too. 


I jumped as the front door banged open.


“Happy Solstice!” said Grandmother in a sharp voice as she barged through the doorway. She was a skinny, tall woman with spiky gray hair. Aunt Cordelia and Uncle Orion followed behind her. 


“Aerith! So happy you joined us,” she barked as she fell into the seat at my right. I gave her a one-armed hug and resisted the urge to choke as I inhaled her beetroot perfume.


“Hi, Grandmother.” I sat straighter before she could comment on my posture.


“What is that smell?” said Aunt Cordelia, wrinkling her tiny nose. She was a petite, pale woman wearing six-inch platform heels and a leather jacket.


“It’s a meat pie. Aerith’s favorite.” Mom pointed at the cauldrons.


Cordelia’s eyes widened in understanding. “Oh. Right.” She turned to me. “It smells divine!”


I struggled not to roll my eyes.


“No, it doesn’t,” said Uncle Orion, chuckling. “But we all have our insane foods, eh?”


I grinned at him. He alone shared my red hair.


“Hmph,” said Grandmother, crossing her arms. “But nothing beats ours, you know.”


“Tree bark, Mother? Really?” he said, raising an eyebrow.


“It’s a delicacy.”


“Dinner’s ready, come grab plates!” said Mother quickly before they could argue further. 


I filled my plate last and sat stiffly at the table, determined to focus all my attention on my meat pie. But before I could dig in, Grandmother’s bony hand wrapped around mine.


“In our Goddess’s name, we pray,” she murmured, bending her head. I gritted my teeth and followed suit. “Goddess of the Moon, we thank you for your blessings and gifts. We ask that you bring us this new season of growth, beauty, and above all, magic.”


The clattering of silverware against plates accompanied the jazz as we began to eat.


“The salad is wonderful, Frewin,” said Grandmother.


“And the pie,” I added quietly. “It’s perfect. All my elf friends are always so jealous of your food.”


Mom smiled, but her eyes flicked to Grandmother in worry. I turned to Grandmother in time just to see her lips pressed together.


“You know, I have a perfect headband that would cover those things,” said Grandmother suddenly, reaching out to touch the tips of my ears.


The room stilled. I jerked my head down and stared at my pie, willing the ringing in my ears to stop.


“Thank you, but I’m fine,” I said finally, still not able to look at her. 


“I really think you should--”


“She doesn’t want to cover them, Mother,” said Orion icily. I shot him a grateful glance. 


Grandmother threw up her hands. “It’s not a want, it’s a need. Why any witch would want to show off an elf feature is beyond me--”


“But I am part-elf, Grandmother,” I said, finally meeting her eyes.


I’ve always seen you as full witch, dear,” said Grandmother proudly, as if that were a compliment.


The table again lapsed into silence, the jazz music speeding up as if the book could feel the awkwardness, too. 


“Wine?” asked Mom suddenly, rising from the table.


“That would be lovely,” said Aunt Cordelia. 


Uncle Orion slammed his fist on the table, making Grandmother shriek.


“Why do you always do that?” he snapped at Mom.


She blinked. “Do what?” 


“Change the subject. Ignore this bullshit. That’s your daughter.”


“I’m not--”


“Excuse me?” interrupted Grandmother. “I only made a simple suggestion--”


“Of covering up something that’s a part of her.”


“No one likes elf ears, not even elves, they’re the ones that cover them up--”


“That’s not true,” I whispered.


My cheeks warmed as the heads turned toward me. Mom’s eyes swam with tears. Aunt Cordelia was as pale as a ghost, and Uncle Orion gave me a nod of encouragement.


I cleared my throat. “I like my ears. My friends like their ears. Dad likes his ears.”


“Oh, don’t get me started on your father, dear,” said Grandmother, rolling her eyes. “The man doesn’t even let you use magic, for goodness sake.”


I shook my head, determined to not let her know how much her words stung. “This isn’t about that. This is about my ears. And I like them.”


“You know, I wish I had ears like that. It’s actually all the rage with the young ones right now,” piped Aunt Cordelia.


“Cordelia,” said Uncle Orion, “shut up.”


She reddened and looked down at her food.


“It’s not a trend for the young or something negative for the...seasoned,” I said, trying to be patient. I gave Grandmother a polite smile that she didn’t return. Looking at Uncle Orion, I continued, “My ears are a part of me and I like them. I like being part-elf.”


“Oh, please,” scoffed Grandmother. “Don’t pretend like it’s a good thing to be an elf. If elves just stayed in their own country and didn’t come here and take our jobs--”


Something imploded, then, in the pit of my stomach. The table rumbled as I gripped the edge, my knuckles white.


“What job did an elf take from you?” I snapped. The shelves shook; several clocks fell off one, breaking open on the floor. “You were a stay-at-home mother your entire life and Grandfather got all his money from his father. You both had help. People like my father started from nothing, came here and worked harder than you have ever worked a day in your life, all for a better life for me. I’m proud to be an elf.”


I directed the last statement to Mom, who opened her mouth and then closed it. The whole cottage started to tremble. Grandmother swore as her plate of salad bounced off the shaking table and onto the floor, spraying her legs with lettuce. Uncle Orion laughed.


“Aerith, calm down!” shouted Mom in alarm as books began to slide off the bookcases. The cauldron holding my meat pies tumbled to the floor and shattered; Aunt Cordelia screamed as shards of cauldron flew across the kitchen floor and over our feet under the dining table.


“I’m sick of this.” I stood up so quickly the chair crashed to the ground. I ignored it and marched toward the front door.


“Happy Solstice,” I snarled as I walked out of the cottage. I inhaled the night air and the cottage immediately stopped shaking.


I whipped out my phone as I struggled through the garden, tripping over roots. Clouds blocked the moon’s light so that I could barely see a foot in front of me. Groaning, I started entering Dad’s number before I abruptly stopped, his voice entering my mind


Witches, he’d say. Ugh. It’s stuff like this why I divorced your mother, Aerith. This is why you don’t need magic.


Magic. I snapped my fingers and a ball of light exploded from the ground, hovering in front of me and illuminating every leaf, every blade of grass. I stared at the light in wonder; it pulsed slightly, beating like a heart.


It had been weeks since I last used magic. My eyes welled with tears as the orb guided me out of the wild yard and into the street. 


Mom’s cottage, where I couldn’t show my ears. Dad’s apartment, where I couldn’t use my magic.


I tilted my head back and gazed at the night sky, wishing I were a full witch. Wishing I were a full elf.


Then I walked aimlessly down the street, wishing I were nothing at all.

April 06, 2021 22:22

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11 comments

Lani Lane
22:24 Apr 06, 2021

This was a personal story based on my experience growing up biracial. Thank you to all who give it a read.

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03:01 Dec 21, 2021

It was lovely, and anyone who uses the word cacophony is a winner in my book

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Emma Louise
03:42 Apr 07, 2021

"'It’s not a trend for the young or something negative for the...seasoned,' I said, trying to be patient. I gave Grandmother a polite smile that she didn’t return. Looking at Uncle Orion, I continued, 'My ears are a part of me and I like them. I like being part-elf.'" Ok, I love the way you're using fantastical metaphors for serious topics. Especially the part about elves stealing witch's jobs. And that the jobs in question were stay-at-home mom and old money. You discuss serious topics of racism, appropriation, and fitting in in a fun and e...

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Lani Lane
23:04 Apr 07, 2021

Thank you so much, Emma!! I really appreciate your comment - it makes me feel like my goal with this story was accomplished. :)

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Claire Lindsey
23:38 Apr 06, 2021

Leilani this is perfect. It’s just removed enough through the lens of fantasy but still so clearly tied to very real struggles against bias and racism. Such a powerful way to show the many layers of complexity in this kind of conflict. And I loved the end—it’s heartbreaking to see how Aerith is impacted by being caught in the middle of it all. One little edit to consider: It was really one large room, with the kitchen in one corner, a long dining table in another and her library taking up an entire half of the room. Consider rewording t...

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Lani Lane
23:05 Apr 07, 2021

Thank you, Claire!!! It always brightens my day to see your comments. :) That is a great edit, thank you!! I so appreciate when you catch things like that!

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Kristin Neubauer
21:34 Apr 14, 2021

What a great story! Using the fantasy elements to relate your own deeply profound experience was brilliant and you did it so well. To read this just on the story level was wonderful - tight, vibrant writing....natural, flowly dialogue. But to read it on the deeper level really drove home the pain and frustrations. And I loved the description of the cottage.....I could see it so clearly. Loved it!

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02:04 Apr 12, 2021

I loved all of the dialogue, it added to the story and expressed your characters wonderfully. I also thought the concept of the story was really interesting! Can’t wait to see what you write next!

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Jaunel Harris
02:41 Nov 25, 2021

Hey. Is this completed, I would love to continue reading.

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S. Closson
01:50 May 08, 2021

That was a very powerful read. Despite the story being told from a fantasy POV, it is filled with a realness that is really impactful. Awesome job.

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E. B. Bullet
20:21 Apr 15, 2021

OooOooOo I totally love what you did with this! It's super clever and felt really genuine. It's also impressive how you managed to give each character its own flair and "screen time" despite so many being in a scene at once. I know I have trouble with that. Your last line is especially great! It wrapped up the premise of your story nicely~ The only thing I noticed was that your story flow was a bit muddied by certain extra words or unnecessary details? Like word padding, I think. I'd say find a balance between short descriptions of scene...

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