Elderberries, I write. Warm water perfumed with peppermint and myrrh. Barbs as long as pinky fingers—thorns that grow from west-to-east. Cattails, golden and swishing soft and brushing their flat spikes against pale legs. The bloated bodies of ticks crushed and bloody between two fingers and the thumb.
I pause, holding the pen above the pad, mind whirring with all I need. I’ve tried to summon a fairy two times before. One of the Fey. Faerie. A monster wrapped in the silken skin of a man. A panther carved of flesh. The first time, I was in fifth grade. Alex put me in a headlock in the boy’s bathroom. The teacher never believed me. She wouldn’t look at my reddened throat, the evidence of my bullying, or my tears, the salt flowing free from my eyes. She wouldn’t believe. I wanted to force her to believe.
Verbena. Vanilla. Lemongrass. A clock set purposefully fifteen minutes behind. A carpet of acorns on the back porch. Ash, but no iron. Love, but also ire.
Lies, too, I remember, because even though faeries can’t lie, even though they are bound to tell the truth, however sticky and tricksy that truth may be, a faerie will eat lies like ripened berries from a cupped palm. Like a deer, fragile-footed, one will approach with too-clear eyes and eat the misdirections and the slights straight from the sky. The excuses and justifications one tells oneself at three in the morning when they believe only the dark is listening. Folk of the Air, another name for them, and if you leave your window open even a crack, one could slip in on the stalest of summer breezes.
Sex. Full lips. Smiles tipped with sin. Cups of wine. Cups of flowers, weeds—dandelions with their thick yellow heads, primed for wishing—set out in the sun for seven hours. Offerings, all. An offering of the body, prone and nude and spread on cerulean bedsheets, waiting for the pounce.
Then I was a senior in high-school. Then, Joe, poured glitter on me as I descended the stairs.
“Fairy!” he yelled. “Fag!”
His friends laughed, jeered, and all of their cackles seemed amplified by the closed space. Every taunt made me want to burrow beneath the floor, to travel underneath the ocean to England, Scotland, France—the places of kingdoms below the earth, of wicked revels on high holidays—to dance eternally to snare drums and bagpipes.
The principal never did anything. I had to throw my sweater in the trash; the glitter melded inextricably with the threads.
A turtle flipped over once, legs kicking, and then set upright. Nail clippings burned in a fire. A fire burned in a wood stove, door open to let the smoke suffuse the room. Baby teeth, yellow teeth, crooked teeth—the more like fangs the better—to scatter in a bedside drawer like loose dice.
Art, I write, and then I stand and pace, walking the perimeter of the living room carpet with bare feet. I try to remember the tips and tricks I’ve read on the internet. The witchy blogs. The supernatural websites with articles like “Summoning a Demon in 10 Easy Steps” and “What Crystals Should You Use to Divine The Future?” And I remember art. Painting. Pictures. Pictures of people.
People with open mouths. People killing other people. War scenes. Blood smeared on sabers. Sabers smeared on pant-legs. Washington Crossing the Delaware. Nobility and pride draw the fey like pencils draw lines. Depictions of the seasons, too, how could I forget.
The Unseelie Court, land of the shadows and the ice and trickster gods. Land of autumn and then winter, red and gold and the brightest of tree fires blooming only to become bare-branched and cold. Rest stops for migrating birds. Crows. Ravens with eyes that shine like ground-up glass.
The Seelie Court, land of the lightning bugs and the heat and the bountiful boons. Land of vegetables and fruit, hearty and nourishing and a little too good to be true. Land of patinas, truly, hiding the rotten cores beneath the swole skins. Spring reigns there, and then summer, humidity and animals scratching in the night. Land of births. Of rapid, shivering, morphing life.
I go to the kitchen to get a glass of water, and I process everything on my notepad as the cold water makes my fillings twitch. I am in my twenties now. I am plagued by the past at night. Too much fills my head in the early-morning hours, and how I wish I could pluck each nugget from my mind, each kernel, to plant like corn in the woods to the left of my house. I’d attract a doe and her fawns and the faeries too, and when they peeled back the green, when the yellow-white body was exposed to their teeth, they’d have to decide whether or not to indulge in my suffering. Whether or not a full stomach was worth the sour taste.
Dead moths, I write on the next new page. Light bulbs just about to burn out, still hot to the touch, placed in a plastic bucket next to a fence. Thumbs. All thumbs, held to the sky and pricked and welling with red. Heads-up pennies not yet wished upon—the fey enjoy the magic hum locked behind the copper.
These next ones are questionable, I know—the sources are all twenty years old—but still I scribble.
Unmade decisions. Constant questions. That sweet type of stress that pools behind the temples after a long day of work. Nervous energy. Anxiety. Depression.
There is a theory that faeries like to steal human suffering. That they spin our secrets to make dresses dripping with jewels. That our vulnerabilities become jokes at their parties: better with friends and copious amounts of wine. And that we are then left at the end of their sleight-of-hand cons, their quick thefts, with a drunken euphoria, all too ready to follow them into the copse.
I don’t know how much faith I put into this one—my pen aches to cross the words out—because it all feels too much like a deus ex machina. Faeries, the cure to mental illness? Faeries, the antidote to rage and grief and fear and the pain of never belonging?
But isn’t that what I’m doing? Isn’t that why I’m hoping this third summoning attempt is the charm? To have them ease away my aches? To have them eat from my mind and body until I’m spent and shaking? To have them steal away my pain in their own twisted and turning way, at the very striking of midnight, to get me to willingly kneel at their feet?
Names. Faeries like full names, too. First, Middle, Last, and all and every nickname. Everything that makes you, you. That binds you to the human world. That ties you—inextricably—to every woolen thread of your life.
If they have your name, they’ll have your parents. Your siblings. Every ex and unrequited crush. They’ll have your heart and soul on a silver platter, and they’ll pass the bits of you around, from hand-to-hand, and kiss the quivering things with wine-stained lips until you splinter.
But what choice do I have? I can’t keep living like this. These mountainous fears keep straining my ribcage. The specters of my past, however silly to outsiders, continue to haunt me.
For some, the fey are akin to angels. God. Should I trust those voices? Because then for others, the fey are devils dancing atop crypts; the scuffing of their shoes is the only sound for miles.
I turn back to the first page of my pad. My fingers are sweating and the page slips twice from me before I am successful.
Elderberries, I wrote. Warm water perfumed with peppermint and myrrh. Barbs as long as pinky fingers—thorns that grow from west-to-east. Cattails, golden and swishing soft and brushing their flat spikes against pale legs. The bloated bodies of ticks crushed and bloody between two fingers and the thumb.
The fey love circularity.
I step out onto the porch, the cold air touching my cheeks, all to decide if I am willing to leave myself in the hands of the mythic. If, maybe, some troubles are too big for humans to handle all alone. I stand, hands bracing on the banister—paint rough beneath my palms—and stare at the autumnal trees. The trees, so like the depictions of the Unseelie Court. The branches crack against one another in the breeze. Scratching. Clicking. A bird caws from some impossible distance.
I close my eyes and feel fingers on the back of my neck.
Jared Povanda is a writer, freelance editor, and avid reader from upstate New York. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Silver Needle Press, Sky Island Journal, Vestal Review, the anthology My Body, My Words (Big Table Publishing), and Tiferet Journal, among others. The winner of multiple literary awards, he also holds a B.A. from Ithaca College in Creative Writing.