Updated: Jul 7, 2019
This is the first piece of a five-part story, written as a series of journal entries. Subsequent entries will be published over the course of the next four weekends. Enjoy!
Saturday, 23 September 2023
You’ll never believe what happened today. If I hadn’t lived through it, I don’t think I’d quite believe it myself, yet there I was, picnicking by my lonesome on the hill and watching the sunrise when all of a sudden the sky opened up, and my entire worldview, everything I thought I understood about the universe, shattered. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I suppose I should start back at the beginning. You always did emphasize the importance of proper chronology.
It started out like any other day, as ordinary as any I’ve had since….well, you know. I rose early with the intention of exercising before breakfast, but on a whim I decided—instead of my usual jog around the grounds—to hike up to the faerie stones and have a wee picnic there. I hadn’t visited the stones in ages, and looking back now, I’ll be damned if it wasn’t some strange, twisted thread of fate that called me up to that misty old hilltop. Feeling nostalgic, I packed a thermos, some crumpets, cheese and dried sausage, then threw a blanket round my shoulders to fend off the worst of the chill. Even though it’d been years since I’d last made the trek, my feet well remembered the way; all the same, I was glad for my torch in the pre-morning gloom. As I ambled through the familiar forest, a lone owl shadowing my steps, I reminisced about all those mornings we spent along the same pathway…Cattie and I racing to the stones, you and Auntie Agnes trailing behind, laughing all the while. And when we’d reach the top, you’d point out the different minerals that flashed in the rocks, catching the sunlight and sparkling as if lit from within. That’s when I first fell in love with stones, I think; your stories inspired me to become a geologist. It wasn’t until I started studying for myself that I realized you’d made most of it up! But then, you were a historian, a storyteller…I was always the stray scientist in the family.
Now I’m the only one of us left, and so the scientist becomes the storyteller.
The stones looked exactly as I remembered: a ring of haphazard monoliths, concealing a rainbow amid the mottled greys, with a battered rowan tree at the heart of the stone circle. Mushrooms still peppered the moss here and there with splashes of white, but the clearing otherwise remained free from the bracken that had littered the path through the wood. The wind was strangely silent this morning, as if the land itself were holding its breath. Perhaps that should have been my first clue what insanity was about to unfold, but I thought nothing of the preternatural stillness at the time beyond marvelling at the tranquillity.
I spread out my blanket just outside of the stone ring and had begun pouring tea from the thermos when all hell broke loose. Out of nowhere the wind returned with a vengeance, howling and swirling, unleashing an army of dry leaves, bitter berries, and thorny twigs. The sky—just now lightening with the pastels of dawn—began to heave and tumble, a maelstrom of spinning air. I thought, surely there are no tornadoes in the highlands! And yet what else could it have been, all that atmospheric havoc? And yet it seemed as if the stones themselves were vibrating, humming, echoing an ancient song I’d listened to all my life and yet never really heard. I dropped the thermos, closed my eyes tight against the turbulence, and huddled close as I could get to the frosted ground.
Then as soon as the cacophony started, it stopped. I dared to open my eyes, and that’s when I really began to doubt my own sanity. For, suspended in a spiral of lavender cloud right above the rowan tree, were five raggedy people: two women and three men, hands clasped together in a ring that echoed the formation of the faerie stones themselves. I blinked, and the people fell to the earth, landing with a shudder and a thud around the roots of the rowan tree. The clouds cleared away, revealing a mundane sunrise, as if nothing at all were amiss but a second prior. The raggedy people stood up, brushed the bracken off their clothes (well, what remained of their clothes), and began looking about their surroundings. They spoke to each other in low voices, so I couldn’t catch the conversation, not that my brain was capable of interpreting human speech at that moment regardless as I was still decidedly in shock.
So as I sat there, tea spilled all over my lap, mouth agape, one of the men finally noticed me. He was thin but wiry, with scraggly black hair and an olive complexion. I wouldn’t exactly call him handsome, but he was striking and possessed a defined jawline; he had a hooked, crooked nose and an even more crooked grin that he flashed shamelessly. He pointed me out to one of the women, who I assumed must be their leader from the way the others watched to see her response. She turned to face me, and once she deemed I was not a threat—such was evident in her calculating expression—the others visibly relaxed and went back to chattering quietly amongst themselves. However, that was about the same time I noticed that the whole lot of them were heavily armed with a variety of archaic weapons—swords, knives, bows; you name it, they had it—so while her companions settled down, I began to hyperventilate. She attempted to speak to me in soothing tones, but I didn’t understand a word of it. I stood up with a jolt and started to back away toward the wood, eyes darting from one person to another. I must have been quite a sight, panicked as a rabbit in a fox den.
In an effort to calm myself, I slowed my retreat. Luckily, that’s when the rational scientist part of my brain kicked into gear. I took note of each of their appearances, realized that they were in no shape to cause me any kind of harm (the man with the crooked grin was leaning on a large staff, and he appeared to be using it more for support than with the intent for combat). Furthermore, with the state of everyone’s shredded clothing, they weren’t exactly dressed to survive a Scottish autumn. Hell, they weren’t even dressed for a Scottish summer! If anything, I posed more of a threat to them than they could possibly pose to me, despite there being five of them and my being quite alone. I’ve always been tough for my size, though, and I’m swift. I gathered that I could probably outrun them all the way to town if need be. Thus, once I could breathe normally again and my curiosity got the better of my caution, I managed to choke out, “Who the hell are ya?”
It was the woman, who I’d pegged rightly as their leader, who answered. She was of average height (making her the shortest of the bunch, but still quite a bit taller than me), and sported an athletic build—she looked like a runner or a fighter, probably both—with tangled, mahogany curls pulled back into a ponytail. She was dressed all in earth-tones: a wide brown belt over a tattered green dress, leggings, and boots. I could tell from her stance that she was used to being in charge, even though she was physically dwarfed by her male companions. She also bore an ornate sword sheathed at her hip and a knife strapped to her thigh, and while she reached for neither, I didn’t doubt that she was adept at using both. She took a few measured steps toward me, her hands held up in a placating gesture. “My name is Mari,” she said, “and I’m hoping you can help us.”
“What?” I asked, stupidly. Really, and I call myself a scientist!
“I’m Mari,” she repeated. “And if you don’t mind, could you tell us where, exactly, we are? And even better, when?”
By this time it occurred to me that the maelstrom of swirling sky through which the five raggedy people fell must have been some type of magic portal. Magic! Can you believe I’m using that word? Me, the geologist, who never believed in anything I couldn’t see, touch, test, measure, and test again…writing about MAGIC! But I don’t know how else to explain it. One moment I was up on the hilltop alone with my breakfast, and the next I was conversing with five strangers bearing swords. Like I said at the very beginning: my worldview has been completely shattered. Shattered, and then reformed by today’s events. Which brings me back to my newest acquaintances.
As best as I can comprehend after only a day of knowing them, the five raggedy people are travellers, of a sort. Apparently there’s this whole other world out there—they told me the name, but it was all a blur, and I can barely remember everything we talked about—and they access it through these circles, and poof! Magic happens, and you wake up elsewhere. And, evidently, else-when, but I’m still wrapping my head around the timeline discrepancies based on what they’ve described. While my brain catalogued all this, I answered Mari’s questions as best I could, and, much to their delight, offered them my breakfast. From the way they gobbled up the meagre rations, I assumed it must have been a while since they’d eaten. There was barely enough tea for everyone to take a few sips, but nonetheless the warm liquid did wonders to lighten the collective mood. We began chatting in earnest, and they told me some about their recent adventures—far too much for me to recount here!—and about themselves.
Mari and one of the men, a pretty-boy type whose name I’ve since learned is Gren, are both Americans, and they’re a few years my junior though they were born over a decade before me. Like I said, there seem to be some timeline discrepancies with inter-dimensional travel. Gren is the tallest of the group and, like Mari, appears to be something of an athlete. He’s all lean muscle, and if it weren’t for his friendly, albeit dark, eyes—his lashes are so long, they’re almost feminine beneath those brooding brows—he’d be intimidating. But once he opens his mouth and starts talking, you realize he’s a big teddy bear. By now I’d be rather enamoured of him, I suspect, if he didn’t look right through me. I got the impression Gren doesn’t see much else whenever Mari’s around, and I can’t say I blame him. Her presence certainly commands attention.
The wiry, scraggly, crooked-nosed man who first noticed me is named Ruv. I couldn’t quite place his accent, but I did learn that he’s originally from somewhere in Eastern Europe, and he’s spent at least a few years wandering about with Mari and Gren, hopping between worlds as if that were a perfectly normal thing to do with one’s time. I’m not sure what to make of Ruv just yet. He appears to have a mischievous streak, but he also strikes me as deeply kind. Like Gren, his attention mostly follows Mari, not that she seems to have noticed (or perhaps she's just pointedly ignoring it, as I am a stranger to them, after all).
The last two—Sam and Sarah—have been aloof, so I still don’t know much about them beyond what I can deduce from my own observations. They’re clearly brother and sister, as they look remarkably alike, all angles and lithe grace, restless despite their obvious injuries; they remind me of caged cats. I get the sense that the other three aren’t sure what to think of them either, although they’re by far in the worst shape of the bunch. Well, worst state, perhaps, I should say—they seem as athletically inclined as their friendlier companions, so I’d wager they’re in very good shape—but their clothes are practically rags at this point, barely covering the important parts. Sarah has magenta highlights in her hair, and her brother’s own black hair is streaked with turquoise. They speak in a pronounced London accent, though there’s something…off, almost like they’re trying too hard, but perhaps that’s just because they’re originally from elsewhere and grew up in London (they look like they might be of Japanese or Korean descent; they haven’t specified, and I haven’t asked).
I hope you wouldn’t mind, uncle…but I’ve invited all five of them back to the manor. You see, I didn’t realize how lonely I’d been until all of a sudden, I wasn’t alone. Once I got over the shock of their falling out of the sky and such, and realized they were really quite normal—well, not normal…extraordinary, rather, but human enough—and we got to talking, it struck me how much of the past six months I’d spent in a fog. I was only supposed to stay for a few weeks while I got everything settled after the incident, and then I was going to go back to Glasgow to finish my doctorate. But a few weeks turned into a few months, and then before I knew it, summer was over, and I was still living at the estate, going through the motions of “settling” your affairs without any intention of ever getting anything settled. Boxes full of dusty books, papers, old lecture notes. Crates of moth-eaten clothes. There’s whole rooms I haven’t even opened, let alone inventoried, since that fateful day that left me stranded as the last of the MacEunrigs.
Yet, while I invited them back, I didn’t exactly reveal the whole story either. I’m still not sure if I can trust all of them—especially those shifty siblings—so I told a wee fib. I said that you were only away on vacation, and would be returning in a few days, and that I was essentially housesitting for you. They don’t need to know that your vacation ended last spring yet here I stay, orphaned all over again, living with hazy memories and writing letters to ghosts. That all changes today, I decided. I’m going to get back out there and live my life, dammit. And after this morning’s events—witnessing magic first hand!—I’ve finally decided what my doctoral thesis will be. I always did love visiting the faerie stones…
So I brought my new acquaintances back to the manor, showed them the kitchen (I’m ashamed to admit it’s not nearly as well stocked as it used to be; I’ve definitely let things go in recent months), and placed each of them into a room. Mari said they didn’t mind sharing a space all together, but there’s so many unused bedrooms upstairs, I insisted they could spread out. I cooked us up some lunch while they got cleaned up. Mari and Sarah are about the same size as Cattie, and I didn’t think she’d mind them borrowing her clothes. Not like she’d have much use for them now anyway, and mine were far too small. As for Ruv and Sam, they both fit your own wardrobe (Ruv seemed particularly delighted by the selection, as you two share a sense of dignified style, evidently), but I’m afraid Gren was too broad in the shoulder and long in the leg. He’ll have to make do with your old dressing robe until their laundry’s clean and dry.
And that about brings us up to where we are now. My new acquaintances are all upstairs, sleeping off the aftereffects of their recent travels, and I’m down in the study, scribbling notes and taking store of my remaining lab ware. Tomorrow I’m hiking back up to the stones with Mari to gather some samples and run some tests. She seems almost as excited by the prospect as I am. Of course there’s a chance when I present my thesis to the board, I’ll be laughed out of the program. But there’s something in those stones, I just know it, and I’m determined to find out how they work.
That's it for the first entry of Faerie Stones! Check back next weekend for the release of part two, and thanks for reading!