The little man in the green suit sits on my kitchen floor, and all I do is stare at him. When he tips his hat and smiles at me, I blink repeatedly, then my gaze goes to Trinity. I’ve known my sister forever, and I’ve never known her to be speechless. Her gaze is on the man, who just moments ago was playing with a pan lid. I reach over for the flask and take a sniff. It smells of water and aluminium.
‘Trin – did you lace my tea?’
Trinity shakes her head. Her gaze riveted on the little man.
‘You can see him.’
I nod. The beat of my heart drowns out the air in my ears and my stomach gives a little twist.
‘Did Aunt Daff mention him in her letter.’
‘You read the letter, Tilly. You know what it says.’
‘Maybe we missed something.’
I don’t take my eyes of the man as I reach over for my bag and tip the contents onto the table.
‘Ladies. Ladies. Everything is just dandy.’
As my hand shuffles through lipstick tubes, hankies, keys and other bits and bobs I’ve emptied on to the table. The stranger climbs onto a chair.
‘God – I’m going mad.’
I must be I mutter as I watch the man smile at me.
“The name’s Earl. And I’m from across over there.’
He points to the window and all I see is a lake and some fields. One of which has a few cows in it.
The man, Earl turns to Trinity, his left eyebrow hidden behind the lip of his hat as he raises it and glares at Trinity.
‘Of course, I speak. Did you think I was mute?’
Trinity shakes her head.
‘No – More of an illusion.’
‘I’m real, girl. Just like you. Now sit yourself down. You too.’
Earl points at me with his stick and I pull a chair out. It’s safer to sit down than rely on my legs, which I think are about to buckle as they shake beneath me.
‘Oh God. Trin – This place must be infected with some kind of fungi and it’s making me delirious.’
“I’d offer you a whisky Till, but it’s in the other room.’
‘Go fetch it woman. I like a drop or two. Lavender and Mrs Earl don’t keep the stuff. They’re forever plying me with mead.’
‘Mrs Earl.’ I turn to Trin. ‘What has Aunt Daffy done to us?’
‘Trinity get the whiskey, then we’ll talk. You girls know Daffy?’
I nod as I watch Trinity disappear from the room. My gaze searches the kitchen, but there is only the man in green and me present. I wet my lips.
‘There’s a Mrs Earl.’
He nods. ‘Yes, she’d be here now. But has a headache. Too much fancy lemonade yesterday, thanks to Lavender.’
I nod as I accept the large drink Trinity offers me, who has silently re-entered the room.
‘There’s a Mrs Earl and a Lavender.’ I repeat to Trinity, who nods as she tops up my glass. I blink, and the man is still sitting on the chair, drinking his own whiskey. ‘What do you want?’
‘A friendly chat.’ He pushes his empty glass towards Trinity and nods at the bottle by her elbow. ‘You’re related to Daffy. How is the old girl? Haven’t seen her in an age. Not since she left. Must be a year or so. I think.’
I finish my second whisky and glare at the man who has made himself at home.
‘Just who are you?’
‘Who do you think I am?’
‘A bloody hallucination is what you are.’
‘I’m real. Just as real as you.’ Earl takes a hanky from his pocket and blows his nose. ‘Now tell me about Daffy and where she is.’
Trinity looks at me and I look at her, then turn my attention back to Earl.
‘You know Daffy.’ Earl nods as drinks more of his drink. ‘We don’t know how or where Aunt Daffy is. She sent us a letter. Asked us to clean this place for her.’
‘What are her plans?’
‘She never said.’
‘Erm. You must be here for more than a house clean.’
‘No. That’s all it says in the letter. You can read it if you want.’
I reach for the letter which arrived several months ago from an Aunt we haven’t seen since we were children. How she knew our address, we didn’t know. Earl takes the letter and unfolds it, smoothing his hand over the surface as he straightens out the creases. His other hand reaches into the top left pocket of his jacket, and he pulls out a monocle and places it over his right eye. His head bends forward as his fingers trace the words as he reads the letter aloud.
‘Shit, Trinity. Tell me I’m not going mad.’
Trinity lifts her gaze from the stranger. Her green gaze direct at me.
‘If you are, Till. So am I.’ Her nose wrinkles as her eyebrows meet when her forehead creases. ‘Do you remember the stories Aunt Daff used to tell us when we visited as kids.’
I shake my head, and just as I’m about to pour myself a third glass, I push the whiskey bottle to the centre of the table. Trinity finishes her whiskey and her gaze returns to Earl as she pushes her chair back and rises.
‘There’s a book, full of stories. Aunt Daffy used to read to us.’
‘This letter is useless. Find the book, woman.’
‘You’re awfully bossy, Earl. Why don’t you just tell us who you are?’
Earl leans back in his chair. He’s removed his hat and placed it on the chair beside him along with his stick. His bright orange hair stands on end from where he’s run his fingers through the curly strands. From his top pocket, he pulls out a pipe and puffs on it until silver grey smoke swirls from the small clay pot, filling the room with a pungent aroma.
‘I think you know who I am, Trinity. And I’m thinking if Daffy has sent you. Trouble must be coming.’
‘You’re right Earl. Trouble is coming. Go fetch the book Trinity.’
My scream echoes around the room as a woman dressed in purple shimmers into view beside Earl.
‘Are there any more of you?’ My gaze searches the room and sat on the counter, smiling at me, are two more women. ‘Shit. Shit. Shit.’
My gaze flickers between the four strangers. Earl continues to drink his whisky. The two women jump from the counter and sit on the chairs. They pour themselves a drink and sip the whisky. The woman in purple moves towards me. I want to run, yet something keeps my feet in place.
‘Let me introduce myself – I’m Lavender Rose and those two are friends, Ruby and Aurora. You’ve already met Earl.’
Shit, is that my voice? It sounds so high as though I’ve swallowed a mouthful of helium.
‘Friends. We’ve met before.’
‘I think we’d remember if we’d met before.’ This comes from Trinity as she rises from her seat. ‘Now just who are you - And what do you want?’
The woman who calls herself Lavender Rose, smiles and a trickle of goosebumps run down my back and a shiver escapes me.
‘You’ve grown, Trinity. If we had known it was you. We would have brought cake.’
‘Shit, Tilly. What do you think?’
‘That we need to find Aunt Daffy and ask her what’s going.’
‘We don’t have time to find Daffy. Just get the book.’
Lavender Rose scowls at Trinity and then she looks at me. Her left eyebrow rises as she waits. It was then I notice the toe tapping and I bite my lip to stop the laughter growing at the back of my throat. Laughter that I wasn’t sure was real or hysterical.
‘I’ll get it Lavender. The girls won’t know where to find it.’
I turn my gaze to the woman in orange. I wasn’t sure which one she is, Aurora or Ruby.
‘And you do?’
This comes from the woman and I know my smile is for real when the one in orange leaps from her chair and vanishes as her voice lingers in the room.
‘What do you think Daffy and I talked about in the evening.’
‘How does she do that?’ I ask.
‘They’re Fae.’ Pipes up Earl.
‘And are you Fae?’
‘Yep, Part of the leprechaun branch.’
My knees give way and I stumble onto a chair. It’s taken several months for us to make the arrangement to come here this weekend. When Aunt Daffy’s letter arrived, we’d read it, then dropped it in a drawer forgetting about it. It was only when Trin and I started having similar dreams about the cottage, we decided to take another look at the letter and after drinking an extra bottle of wine, we decided to pop down to the cottage. The idea was to clean it and then rent it out. Make some extra cash in Aunt Daffy’s absences. It wasn’t until we walked inside, we realised how much the cottage needs a clean. It also in need of decorating. Now as I stare at Lavender Rose, and the others, my brain is in a whirl.
Life had been simple this morning. I’d woken. The sun was shining. I’ve taken a couple of weeks leave of absence from work. I was looking forward to spending some time in the Dales, away from the city. I breakfasted with girlfriends and did some shopping, collecting some last-minute items. I hadn’t seen Trin for a couple of weeks and I was looking forward to the drive. The drive had been carefree. We’d played our favourite tunes, singing at the top of lungs as we joked. Two weeks peace, relaxation and not a thing to think about. We haven’t been in the cottage ten minutes and I now find myself surrounded by strangers. Strangers who don’t exist in the real world.
I look at Lavender Rose. Her hair, a pale lilac, gathered in a loose bun. She doesn’t look like a fairy. There are no wings sticking out at the back of her. She is as tall as me and reminds me of the last time I saw Aunt Daffy, only Daffy has bright red hair.
‘Trin, are you awake or are we sharing the same dream again?’
‘Shit, Till. I hope it’s dream.’
‘Ladies – It’s time to accept that we’re real and we have a job to do.’ This comes from Earl as he taps his fingers on the table and his gaze is on Lavender Rose. ‘What do you say, Lavender, Old Girl?’
Lavender Rose’s glance shifts from me to Trin, then she sits.
‘Daffy never say why she sent you the letter?’
I shake my head. ‘We haven’t spoken to Aunt Daffy since we were ten.’
‘Put the whisky away, Earl. It’s time to talk and we all need clear heads.’
Earl scowls at Lavender Rose, muttering under his breath as he screws the lid on the half-drunk bottle of whisky. Lavender Rose leans back in her chair, her gaze on me.
‘Time has a cycle. Just like you and me. We age and so is the planet.’ I look at Trin who shrugs her shoulders. An action Lavender Rose ignores as she continues. ‘The earth is entering what I would call its teenage years. Its rebellious years. The years of destruction.’
Her gaze goes to the window and she falls silent. Her foot is tapping. She is a toe tapper. It’s as though by tapping her toe. She gets the messages she needs. A giggle escapes me, maybe it’s Morse Code. Her gaze comes back to Trin and me. Her lips pinch and my giggle fades as I straighten in the kitchen chair.
‘There’s been rumblings. I’ve heard them. When you stop believing. You lose hope.’
‘What kind of rumblings?’
Lavender Rose stands and goes to the kitchen window. Aurora is drawing imaginary circles on the table and Earl is playing with his hat.
‘I don’t know. We need to find Daffy. Find out what she knows.’
‘So where do we look?’
As calm as that, I look at Trinity who rolls her eyes and smiles. Here we are, sat in the kitchen taking orders from a fairy.
‘Should we ring the police?’
‘About what?’ I ask Trin.
‘Aunt Daffy. The woman’s missing. We’ve no idea where to look.’ Her gaze goes to Lavender Rose. ‘Do we?’
‘There’s no need to ring the police, Dear. Daffy’s not missing. She’s just taken herself some place. And we need to find it.’
‘You know Daffy better than us. Where do you think she’s gone?’
Lavender Rose looks at Aurora, who arches her eyebrow. Then she rises and begins to pace the room.
‘I don’t think she’s in this realm.’
If I had been drinking, I’m sure I would have choked, as it is, I just stare at Lavender Rose. Trinity is no help when she begins to giggle, and as I stare at her, she ignores my silent plea.
‘Not of this realm. How old do you think we are?’
Trinity leaves her seat to stand beside Lavender Rose. Who pulls herself away from the window. Her body appearing to fill the room as she breathes in then lets out a deep breath.
‘Not as old as I thought.’ Lavender Rose turns to face us both. ‘You should have continued visiting. Then you would be prepared.’
‘Come on, Trin. Don’t act like that. It’ll be fun.’
‘Fun.’ Lavender Rose’s voice rises a pitch or two and I glance to the kitchen window to either find them cracked, or all the dogs from the village in the garden. ‘Fun. This is not the time for fun. Daffy has gone astray and there’s a rumbling going on.’
We all turn to Earl, who still sits at the table.
‘Tea. Let’s have tea and we can discuss this.’
‘This is not the time for tea. Earl.’
Earl glares at Lavender Rose. His mouth opens, then closes.
‘Yes, let’s have tea.’ Aurora stands as she glares at the other fairy.
‘We’re not sure what’s in the cupboards.’ This comes from me as I rise from the table and go the walk-in pantry.
‘Don’t fuss, Tilly. We’ll get this.’
As I turn back to the kitchen, I don’t know how it happened, but there is food on the table and Earl is reaching over for what looks like a plate of fish.
‘Shit.’ This was Trinity as she reaches out and prods a cream cheese bagel. ‘This stuff is real.’ Then she looks at Lavender Rose. ‘And this other realm is real?’
Lavender Rose nods and I watch Trinity as she takes a bite of the bagel.
‘Damn, Till. Try one. It’s delicious.’
Her tongue snakes out as she licks the excess cream at the corner of her lip. My stomach is twisting and I’m not sure I can eat a thing. In a flash everything has changed. Yesterday I was doing someone’s tax returns. Today I’m expected to go off with a strange fairy - A fairy who is strange in more ways than one and go hunting down strange rumbling and look for an aunt I haven’t seen in fifteen years, and all of this in a realm that’s not mine. And before that happens, I’m expected to eat some kind of food that’s just appeared. I pinch myself hard. If I do it often enough, I’m bound to wake, and I’ll find myself in the car. Trinity will be driving, going on about some awful new fashion trend she’s covering for the magazine she works for. I close my eyes and pinch hard enough to leave a bruise. When I open my eyes, the scene is still the same.
‘How do we get to this realm?’
The sooner this crazy adventure is over. The sooner I can return to a normal life. Just then Ruby reappears, in her hand is an old pale pink bound journal and I reach out for it. The moleskin covering it, is soft as I stroke it. Germaniums. That is what I smell as I take the book from the Fae. A reminder of how Aunt Daffy smells. It’s the scent that reminds me of the summer. There had been adventure then. Boat races and climbing trees.
‘Have we been to this realm before?’
‘Join us, Tilly. We’ll talk as we eat. We always think and plan better when our stomachs are full.’
I smile at Earl as I pull a chair out and reach for a piece of cold fish.