Updated: Jul 7, 2019
This is the fourth part in a five-part short story, written as a series of journal entries. You can find the previous entries here, here, and here. The fifth and final entry will be published next weekend. Enjoy!
Wednesday, 27 September 2023
Mari, Gren, and I spent the rest of Monday, all of yesterday, and most of this morning inventorying the whole manor while Ruv scoured the grounds nearby for a trace of where Sam and Sarah had disappeared. Fortunately, the inventory I intended to do for months is now finally complete, and better yet, it looks like the twins didn’t sneak away with anything beyond what they had acquired in town, which raised my opinion of them ever so slightly. They do seem to have a code of ethics, at least.
Unfortunately, while Ruv was able to pick up their trail, it ended at a corner on the outskirts of town where they must have gotten into a vehicle (perhaps a taxi, or else perhaps they’ve added grand theft auto to their list of skills), and he couldn’t find where they went after that. We could probably track them if we really wanted to—it’s not a grand town, and two strangers with brightly dyed hair and a penchant for the gothic would leave an impression—but as far as I’m concerned, they’re free to leave as they please. Maybe our paths will cross again, maybe not. They weren’t exactly helping me in the lab anyway, and in any case I don’t believe the other three intended to hold the twins hostage.
Speaking of the lab, I’m sad to report that I was so exhausted after inventorying the rest of the manor that I haven’t had the energy to pursue further study on the materials that comprise the travelling circle. Instead, I’ve spent the past few evenings listening to Mari and Ruv tell stories of their adventures while Gren quietly plays the guitar in the background. He’s actually quite good, and I’ve no doubt he’ll earn a few pounds if the weather clears enough for him to set up on a street corner.
As for the stories Mari and Ruv have been sharing, let’s just say they haven’t lessened my desire to join them on their next otherworldly venture. They’ve told me more about the shapeshifting they do, and Ruv continues to insist that I have that same power, although he doesn’t think I’m a wolf like he is, or a feline like Gren or the twins. If I hadn’t seen the evidence first hand that such a thing is possible, I’m sure my lingering doubts would be significantly greater. Even so I’ve still got a niggling sense of disquiet: what if none of this is real, what if I’ve finally just snapped after months of loneliness and my subconscious fabricated the entire experience of the past few days, the travelling circle and my new friends included?
But if I really had just gone bonkers, there would be breaks in the logic somewhere, right? Like surely an insane brain couldn’t manufacture an experience so convincingly. Then again, there are the timeline discrepancies. Even Mari and Gren, who seem to be the most modern of the bunch, eyed my mobile with confusion and suspicion at first. I suppose it makes sense; cell phones weren’t a thing yet when they first left Earth, and while they did exist when they returned after that first trip—it was too long of an adventure for me to recount here, and I’ve only heard snippets of it anyway—technology keeps just exponentially progressing, as technology tends to do. Ruv appears to take all the changes in stride, although he’s by far the most displaced from his original time. If he were of a less fluid constitution, I imagine his first sight of my laptop and sundry lab equipment would have given him a panic attack. But in a way, the timeline discrepancies do make an odd sort of sense to me. Of course time wouldn’t travel at the same pace on different worlds in different dimensions; how could it? The passing of time is just a perception, really, and that perception naturally stretches or contracts depending on where you are and what you’re doing.
I mean, theoretical physics was never my best subject among all the sciences, but I still did pretty well in the basic courses. Better than chemistry, anyway. Gravity, time, the components of the fabric of the universe…it’s a lot to wrap your head around for anyone, even those of us who pretend we know how everything works. Throw magic into the equation and it becomes a whole new problem set. Well, perhaps not entirely new; there’s a part of me that believes that what I’m calling “magic” is, in fact, simply science I don’t yet understand. Maybe I’ll find a way to understand it, to find the science hidden within the spell. And on that note, I do believe I’m finally inspired to continue my studies of the travelling circle!
Yet I’m not ready to head to the lab just yet. First off, I’ve got a lot to ponder about still, theories I’m working through and such, before I dive back in to my sample analyses. More importantly, my lab assistant is busy for the time being. Mari went into town this afternoon to drop off the job applications for herself, Gren, and Ruv at the pub. I’m sure at least one of them will get hired. They tend to go through barkeeps, cooks, and wait staff at an alarming rate for being the only such establishment in town. On the other hand, after last night, perhaps not. Which reminds me, I do have a funny bit to recount about that! Well, I found it funny, at least. Karma, as they say, is a…er, you know what I mean.
We went to the pub yesterday evening for dinner, as none of us were quite feeling up to cooking (plus, with so many new mouths to feed—and shapeshifters seem to be hungry all the time—the kitchen’s already running low again). So there we were, the four of us all crowded round a wee corner table in the back. Mari and Ruv both took seats where they could survey the whole room, their backs to the walls, while Gren and I were on the opposite side. Sitting right next to Gren, I was acutely aware of how short I am compared to most people, let alone these hulking Americans (and whatever the hell Ruv is). Anyway, so the waitress on duty for our section of the pub was Francine, if you remember her? She’s the one who used to tease and torment me for being so small, back when I first moved in with you, the first time I became an orphan. She teased me for that, too, but it was the remarks about my size that bothered me more for some reason. I suppose because I never felt like an orphan, not with you and Auntie Agnes ensuring that I had such a loving home, and with Cattie always more like a sister than a cousin. But Cattie was a level above me, and Francine was an expert at catching me alone in the hallways. She knew better than to try anything when Cattie was around.
I hadn’t seen Francine in at least five years, busy as I have been at the university and then turning into a hermit at the manor, and the years between had not been kind to her. It appears she went downhill fast after secondary school, her face sporting far more lines than a woman in her mid-twenties ought to have. It also appears that I’m just petty enough for that observation to have given my own confidence a boost, considering how I still look much the same. I could tell Francine recognized me as well, though she didn’t comment right away as she took our drink order.
When she came back with our pints, she had that too-familiar fake smile plastered across her face, only it wasn’t nearly as effective now as it was when she was younger and ruled the hallways with her army of perfume-drenched, cosmetic-caked clones. She lingered over Gren and Ruv as she handed them their ale, which triggered pursed lips and a quirked eyebrow from Mari, but no verbal response. Either way, neither young man seemed to notice when she shamelessly attempted to flaunt the assets she no longer possessed. What they did notice, however, was when she slipped in a few snide remarks directed at me.
She began the conversation innocuously enough, although she did use the nickname I used to loathe so much: “Wee Wendy, you’ve come down from your castle! And you’ve brought friends. Where on Earth did you find them? Chained up in your rich uncle’s lair all this time, waiting for you to free them now that the old coot is gone? Or did you just buy them off?”
I stiffened, but managed to force a polite smile and keep my voice steady as I introduced them, naturally omitting the details of how we truly met. Instead, I said, “They’re from the university.”
“Wee Wendy with her nose in a book,” Francine cooed. She sidled closer to me, clutching the empty tray against her hip while she dropped her voice to a whisper, but her words were still loud enough for the whole table to hear. “However did you convince these handsome gents to even look at you? Did you beguile them with your tale of misery, the lonely orphan princess, forced to labour among us common folk now that rest of the lofty MacEunrigs are finally dead?” Her smile cracked into a sneer, and she gave a sniff as she added, “You haven’t changed an ounce. Still waiting for puberty to hit, aye?”
Even as much as I’d like to think I’ve grown as a person, that bit still stung. I just kept forcing a smile while I ordered some chips for an appetizer. Francine may be a cow in heels, but I at least know my manners. She turned and walked to the bar, while Mari narrowed her eyes at her retreating back. “If she says one more thing to you like that,” Mari declared, “I’m gonna cut her.”
“Now, now,” Ruv interjected with a lazy grin, “no need for violence just yet. There are other ways we can handle this that will be equally entertaining.”
“I’ve got an idea or two,” Gren offered, sipping his tankard thoughtfully.
But then Mari turned her gaze toward me, and asked softly, “What did she mean, though, about everyone else in your family…?”
I knew, back when I first told the fib about you being on vacation and me just housesitting, that this moment would come eventually. I supposed it was as good a time as any to unleash the whole truth, so that’s what I did. It was difficult for me to talk at first—I haven’t discussed it with anyone, really, not even at the funeral—but once I got started, the words just tumbled out of me in a rush until I’d told my new friends all about the past two decades of my life. I told them how my parents passed away on a mission trip when I was very young, and so I came to Scotland to live with my dad’s estranged half-brother, who took me in and raised me as if I was his very own. I told them about running round the wood with my cousin Cattie, exploring the faerie stones and making up stories about the fae who dwelled there even though I’d never believed in them.
I told them about how you inspired me to become a geologist, to look for deeper stories, deeper patterns, within the bones of the Earth itself. I told them about your work with the historical societies and the UN, fighting to preserve ancient ruins from destruction by civilizations that no longer saw a use for remembering the past. I told them how, nearly six months ago, you and Auntie Agnes and sweet, protective cousin Cattie were vacationing in Greece while I stayed at the university, too busy with a term paper to bother accompanying you. And, finally, I told them how your rental car was targeted by a terrorist group who wanted to make an example of the pale foreigners with diplomatic visas.
By the time I was done spilling my whole life open in the corner of a pub in a quaint highland town, Francine was heading our way with a tray full of supper. I braced myself for whatever new poison she’d throw at me, keeping my fingers crossed that maybe, at least, she hadn’t spit in our food before taking it from the kitchens. I needn’t have worried, though. Before she could start yammering on and making digs about my family history and spoiled rotten life, Gren tugged his chair closer to mine, threw one of his muscled arms round my shoulders, and whispered in my ear, “Just play along. We’ve got this.” His warmth and close proximity were enough of a distraction that I honestly don’t know what Francine was mouthing off about, although I was vaguely aware of hearing her voice. Whatever she was saying, I can only assume, based on the events that followed, that it was more of the same inane, juvenile teasing.
I believe she was making another joke about how short and skinny I am when Mari cut her off with a loud promise that if she didn’t start being nice, she’d go have a chat with the manager. Regrettably that didn’t seem to make much difference in Francine’s general demeanour, as she only shifted to target Mari instead. Big mistake. They went back and forth a few times with barbed remarks, but Francine was no match for Mari’s quick tongue. I’ve never seen someone be so thoroughly eviscerated in so few words before, and the entire time Mari somehow managed to look and sound perfectly polite. Really, it was quite remarkable. Eventually Francine gave up and huffed off, leaving our table in peace for the remainder of the supper.
I’d transcribe the conversation between them, but I’m afraid my memory isn’t enough to do it justice, and Gren’s distractingly warm arm wasn’t helping on that front, either. Suffice it to say that even though we’ve only known each other for a few days, I’m glad I’ve got such fierce friends on my side. Cattie would be proud.
I’m not so sure if Mari will be getting that job at the pub now, though.
(And don’t fret, Uncle; I still left Francine a tip.)
That's it for the fourth entry of "Faerie Stones!" Check back next weekend for the release of the final part, and thanks for reading!