How Milo got his Form Back
The figure crept silently through the door of a small cottage, which, lacking the proper wards against fairies of his kind, was open to him in spite of being bolted shut. His name was Milo, though most called him Phouka; the circles he traveled in were not disposed to treating true names with any sort of reverence and his experience told him it was best to avoid using them if one could help it. It got a little confusing when there was more than one phouka in the room but in those cases ‘hey you’ combined with the appropriate gestures worked perfectly well. Names were a dangerous business.
Case in point: he knew the name of the beautiful woman sleeping peacefully in her cot, and with it he was going to give her nightmares that would leave her shaken for weeks.
It wasn’t, in spite of the very nature of what he was about to do, anything personal. Giving people nightmares was just what he did, the same way bees made honey and vampires drank blood. Even as he observed that she was both lovely and full of sorrow, not at all what he had expected a banshee to look like, he never even considered walking away and taking a night off from terrorizing unsuspecting sleepers.
Instead, he dropped to his knees and leaned forward, his lips so close to her ear that they almost touched, and whispered.
“Clara. I have a dream for you…”
Milo realized he sounded slightly silly when he said that out loud, but that was the protocol – you had to say the words if you wanted to give someone a nightmare. And if you wanted that someone to –remember- the nightmare, you had to whisper, for example, “Clara, wake up” after you left their mind. That was just the rules of the game.
Everything was going beautifully until the finale. Milo had slipped into Clara’s mind as easily as he had entered her home, and had proceeded to wreck havoc in the landscape of her dreams for hour upon hour, twisting the most ordinary of thoughts and images into the most terrifying things imaginable. He realized his time was short and he would have to leave very soon, but he’d never been able to resist a grand exit. His plan was simple – in Clara’s dream, she would run from the animated corpses of those whose death she had keened only to reach a cliff, which she would of course have no choice but to jump off. He would sneak away just as she started her fall, waking her up in the middle of her descent.
It was his own sense of perfectionism and artistry that did him in. Should he add in a rope or a branch to give her some hope of survival, only to have it slip through her fingers? He decided that yes, he should. And clouds, there must be clouds! He was so wrapped up in his vision, though, that he forgot to slip away when Clara jumped off the cliff – he was busy switching all the clouds from cumulus to cirrus and back again, as he could not remember which was appropriate for the altitude. He heard Clara’s scream and, smiling at his own handiwork, realized he really should be leaving. To his surprise, however, he couldn’t get away. He was too late; Clara had woken up.
And was she ever furious.
The sirens were wailing; someone was going to die today.
Milo rolled over, groaning and grumbling, annoyed at being disturbed during the day. He was definitely an evening person, though he could hardly expect Clara to take that into consideration when she started up her banshee howls. Reluctantly, he dragged himself out of bed and wandered toward the window, pulling a pair of jeans and a black tee shirt out of the air as he went. He parted the curtains and looked out at the world in all its glory (incidentally, the world was looking back at him in all of –his- glory, but even if Milo had recognized this, he wouldn’t have cared). After another bleary eyed moment in which he decided everything was as it should be, even if it –was- rather gray and dreary outside and the wailing sirens persisted in their racket, he dressed and trooped down the stairs.
Life was fairly ordinary for Milo. He lived in a loft apartment in a four-story apartment building. Every day he walked to the bodega down the street to buy a piece of fruit (oranges were his favorite) and then went to the park to throw his peels at the squirrels. It was a soothing routine, with both the mundane and the mischievous (after all, who could be sure those squirrels were –really- what they seemed to be?) and generally if not for Strange Occurrences one might think Milo’s life were being lived out in the Real World and not in a mad banshee’s mind.
Case in point – as he made his daily walk down to the bodega, thinking that perhaps this time he’d buy a bag of roasted peanuts to share with the small woodland creatures (a notion he almost instantly rejected; he wasn’t that sort of fairy), he looked casually over his shoulder and saw a flaming, rider-less motorcycle bearing down on him.
It was, Milo reflected as he jumped out of the way, incidentally crashing directly into the fruit stand, a pretty cool looking bike. It was painted flat black, with polished chrome accessories, and had flames licking up and down its sides. Not painted flames, but real, hot, fiery flames that looked like they came straight out of hell itself. In fact, Milo suspected that the entire bike had come from just that place before working its way into Clara’s subconscious, where it served to torment his otherwise quiet days. Where the headlight should have been there was only a red hot fireball. It practically flew over the pavement.
This wasn’t the first time he’d been dogged by some phantom transport or other in his long existence inside someone else’s mind. Milo assumed the apparitions were Clara’s invention, designed to torment him (or merely annoy him – with fairies the line between the two was quite fine). At first it had been a black horse with fire where his eyes should have been. Then, later, it had been a locomotive, steaming toward him on invisible tracks, puffing out a fiery blaze as it moved along. These days, though, it was a motorcycle. He thought it was nice that the banshee was at least making some sort of effort to mix it up a little. He’d be bored otherwise.
As it was, he was sitting on the ground, tomato dripping from his ear, shaking his head and trying to clear away the stars that circled around it. He thought he’d struck it in the course of jumping out of the way, but he was fine now, no real harm done other than the ruined fruit stand. Giving the proprietor (who was, of course, a figment of Clara’s imagination, but no less deserving of courtesy for that) his most sincere apologies, he purchased his orange and went along on his way.
Another day, another orange, another fat, overfed park squirrel. Milo grinned, showing startlingly white, somewhat pointier than normal teeth, and stuck out his tongue, forming a tube which he then used as an organic blowgun to shoot his orange seed right at the unsuspecting critter.
The obviously completely unsuspecting squirrel turned around once, twice, three times before detecting the seed a few feet away. With three short hops he approached the mysterious projectile, then leaned forward and cautiously sniffed. Apparently deeming the seed harmless, he reached out and quickly snatched it in his hands, scurrying up the nearest tree.
Milo chuckled, then looked around for his next target.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
An ordinary person might have been concerned, either for their own mental health or the world at large, if the squirrel he had just been using for target practice suddenly spoke, but Milo was far from ordinary. Instead of jumping back in alarm, he simply looked up and spoke back, rather cheekily at that.
“Oh, and why’s that?”
“Because,” the squirrel warned, “if you do, that flaming motorcycle is going to hit you.”
Ah. That would put a dampener on things.
Milo turned around, needing to see for himself, and sure enough, there was that damned bike from hell again. He watched it approach, headed right for him as always, but he stood his ground until the last possible second, jumping away just in time. When he sat up again his hair was singed, he’d let the motorcycle get that close, but that didn’t trouble him nearly so much as what he had just seen.
Tied to the right handlebar of the bike, streaming along like a crimson banner, was a red knit scarf that he would have sworn was in his wardrobe. He gave his slightly crispy hair a scratch, too befuddled to get back on his feet, and watched the squirrels run unmolested through the park.
Unbeknownst to Milo, an errant leather thong dangled precariously from one wingtip, having been tossed almost, but not quite, over his shoulder in the frantic search for his red scarf. It had begun the moment he arrived home – one by one, every single item of his wardrobe had been pulled carefully out of midair before being tossed aside with increasing annoyance.
It shouldn’t have bothered him so much, he knew, but it was a puzzle and there were quite enough of those in his life already without adding more mismatched pieces to the mix. For example, he couldn’t remember coming home last night. Of course, he –knew- he’d returned home; after all, here he was. He even knew which way he had gone. The trouble was he couldn’t recall the act of getting up after his tumble with the motorcycle. He didn’t remember picking up his orange and throwing the remnants at a nearby chittering squirrel, or dusting himself off, or spreading his wings and giving them a good shake. And then he definitely no longer remembered walking up North Avenue, thumbing his nose at the chapel bells, and then crossing the street that led to his apartment. He knew he had done all of those things, but the essence of the actions had been lost along the way.
It was hard to say how much of that was simply the result of dwelling in someone’s disorganized little mind – perhaps in was natural for a fairy in his position to lose time. Having never met anyone else in a similar predicament, he found it impossible to say for sure what he should expect. But the scarf, the memories, and the biggest mystery of all, his true form, all seemed connected, if only in the sense that they were all strange anomalies in his otherwise almost normal life. He thought perhaps if he could understand one, the others would fall into place.
Unfortunately, all he had now was a mess. He looked around his apartment, which was festively decorated in his clothing, and frowned. Not a red scarf in the bunch. Red shirts, certainly. A red bra that he would rather not explain; Milo was anything but shy, but some things, after all, simply didn’t bear discussion. A pair of red shoes that matched in no other way than their color.
But no red scarf.
Maybe he’d been imagining things. Maybe he’d never had that scarf at all.
Was it time to go buy his orange now? Milo thought it was. Giving up on his search, he picked up a change of clothes off the floor and whisked the rest back into his wardrobe with a wave of his hand.
“You’re early today.”
Milo blinked, his hand outstretched and waiting for his orange. The shopkeeper had never refused him his daily fruit before, but that appeared to be exactly what he was doing; he stood with his arms stubbornly crossed, a stance that seemed so contrary to his typical friendly nature.
The proprietor’s mulish behavior couldn’t be because of the incident with the motorcycle, Milo thought; the fruit stand had, of course, been repaired, probably instantly. That was one advantage of living in someone else’s mind; nothing stayed broken for long. Right about now, however, Milo thought the consequences, namely being subject to an irrational banshee’s fluctuating moods, far outweighed the benefits.
He shrugged, trying not to show how greatly this change in his sacred routine bothered him and wondering just what Clara’s problem was. His voice was forced to carelessness and he waved his hand, airy and dismissive.
He couldn’t have answered his own question. He knew he had been in Clara’s mind for a very long time, but as she controlled the very rising and setting of the sun, he couldn’t possible say –how- long. He was essentially living in a dream, and knew that several years could pass in a single night.
The shopkeeper looked into his eyes, and Milo was surprised to see that they were full of tears.
“Everything, Phouka. Time is everything.”
Milo stepped back, unsettled by the proprietor’s emotional behavior. What was Clara up to, and why was she so upset? Not, of course, that he felt any sort of compassion toward the banshee. It was just that her little mood swing was interrupting his day. He made one last impatient gesture, holding out his hand and looking directly at the shopkeeper with his head lowered, like a bull.
“Oh, you won’t be needing that today. Now go on with you.” When Milo continued to stand there and stare, it was the shopkeeper’s turn to get impatient. “Go! Now! Get on with you, you hear me? Get!”
Sincerely boggled, he decided there was nothing left to do but continue on his way. He let his hand fall and backed away slowly from the tearful, angry man, too confused to bother with stealing or revenge. Then he turned, and hurried down the street to the park.
Nothing could have prepared him for what was waiting there.
He laughed out loud, incredulous, in spite of the fact that there was nothing particularly funny about the rows and rows of squirrels in neat formation on the lawn, all with menacing looks in their eyes. Who knew there were so many in this city? He shook his head, mentally correcting himself – this –mind-, not this city. He needed to remember that he wasn’t any place at all. This wasn’t happening. An army of squirrels was –not- preparing to attack him.
It just really, really seemed that way.
For a moment there was that anticipatory silence that came before a great battle, and in that moment Milo noticed several things. One was that some of the troops were huddled around bright red banners that appeared to be made from the remnants of his scarf. Another was that, in addition to the ground squirrels, there were several little gray blurs moving through the trees.
Another was that, in the distance, he could hear the rumbling growl of an engine.
Milo took a moment to mentally comment on what a lame battle cry the squirrels had before he turned and, quite shamelessly, ran, with a thousand squirrels on his heels, toward the sound of the motor.
This was probably, Milo reflected as he sprinted across the lawn, not one of his brightest ideas. There was an apt saying about necessity that he couldn’t quite remember, but he thought it might have something to do with managing to pull off reckless stunts and getting by on the skin of one’s teeth. Or at least, that was what the more optimistic part of him thought. The rest of him was too set on the ‘necessity’ of getting as far away from the squirrels as possible to think overly much on what he would do next, because what he would do next was insane.
Something, he thought it might have been a pinecone, hit him on the back of the legs. After that he thought even less and ran even more. When the flaming motorcycle came into view, he didn’t slow down a fraction; in fact, he ran faster than ever. The wind whistled in his ears and every muscle strained with effort. He threw back his head and laughed, exhilarated, then lowered his head and charged once more. Why hadn’t he thought to run toward the motorcycle before? All this time, he’d always ran away from it, but something felt right, fateful even, about meeting the bike that had hounded him as long as he had lived in this place head on.
Of course, the fact that there were a bunch of squirrels practically nipping his heels didn’t feel like destiny so much as stupidity, but life couldn’t always be one grand moment after another.
He gave a loud, whooping yell and, with the last of his strength, jumped high into the air, counting on his wings to help him glide neatly over the handlebars of the bike. He made it, but only just, and landed gracelessly on the seat, having flipped almost completely over.
After that, it was a simple matter of holding on for dear life as a rushing sound filled his ears and the world went black.