The wind-chimes of my heart prelude Jerry’s arrival.
“There’s two of you,” the man says over the slinking bassline.
City people don’t believe in fairytales, but they like stating the obvious as long as they can make a pick-up line out of it.
Jerry digs her chin into my glitter-coated shoulder. Her auburn hair has a mind of its own, slithering like electrified dandelion fluff against mine. It’s hard to tell where she ends and I begin under the flashing strobe lights.
“Double trouble,” she says. I don’t need to see Jerry to know her teeth are sharp and pointy when she smiles at the man who’s been chatting me up in her absence.
“Eno, baby, you didn’t tell me you have a twin sister.”
I blame Jerry’s impulsiveness. This random apartment party we stumbled upon looked queerer from the outside.
“Jerry,” she says, “short for Jericho.”
Just like I’m Eno, short for Enoch. We’re not twins, or even siblings. These weren’t always our names, but we reinvented ourselves when we left the village and its forbidding forest. Our first home in the city was a moldy basement; the internet connection so bad, it just barely allowed us to look up baby names. We, the identical abominations, chose for each other, and have worn the names with pride ever since.
“Didn’t come up,” I say.
The man ignores me now that Jerry is here. There’s something ethereal about her, something feral that attracts all gazes. I breathe a sigh of relief. Behind our backs, Jerry squeezes my hand as if to say, don’t worry, I’m here now. I squeeze back. What took you so long?
“How does a guy like me find a pair of girls like you?” flirts the man whose name I don’t remember.
Rather than correct his assumption that I’m a girl, I ponder his question. The city stretches gleaming and grimy underneath the window. Its bent trees and wilted pockets of green are so pitiful, they rarely remind me of the forest where we came from. But rare does not mean never.
Lost in my head, I only catch the tail end of the man’s suggestion. Jerry throws her drink at him, burgundy wine against white cotton shirt. Defending my honor, probably, but most likely reveling in chaos.
“Eno, run,” she giggles.
Swept away by the high tide that is Jerry, we sprint home holding hands. The sky is shrouded in smog, the streets studded with glass like broken stars. People don’t believe in fairytales here, only act as though the world belongs to them. Still, the city is the best place for us. We’re not afraid of anyone, we’ll handle anything, just watch us, speak our loping strides.
“Jerry,” I say, and she laughs a breathless litany of Eno.
We named each other. I always thought our mutual christening made up for trying to kill each other, once upon a time.
Although Jerry and I have separate rooms, we’re always a nightmare or a giggle away from slipping into the other’s bed until morning. I’m usually the first one awake, nursing my coffee by the windowsill. I like to watch the gray city turn pink with stubborn dawn, and I like to remind myself that I’m not in the forest anymore. Jerry has her own rituals. She walks the busiest streets, lost in crowds where nobody knows her and every bump feels like a hug. She’s no longer in the village. If someone stares at her, it’s with envy or admiration, not hatred and revulsion.
I’m getting started on breakfast when my phone buzzes. I open my emails and scan the subject line: Pumpkin Patch Collectiva. Something about the name jolts my brain into action. I read the message, and I bite hard the inside of my cheeks.
“Jerry, wake up.” I shake her gently, so as not to jostle her swollen joints. She’s not supposed to run, but I was too drunk on our freedom last night to stop her.
She grumbles as she showers, and as she swallows whole the eggs I boil for her, and as I bully her into taking her meds. Rheumatoid arthritis, the human doctors call it. Although her illness is of fae origin, the pills work well enough for now.
“So what is it, Eno?” She pouts. “You usually let me sleep in.”
“Does the name Pumpkin Patch Collectiva mean anything to you?”
Canines gnaw on Jerry’s bottom lip. “No, not really. Collectiva. Like–“
“Like the Vineyard, yes.” The magical community we escaped to ten years ago, when we needed a safe place to lick our wounds. “They’re sister organizations, apparently.”
Jerry’s sigh sends her hair flying into a cirrus cloud above her head. “Didn’t take them long, asking us to repay our debt.”
I shake my head. “It’s not like that. They just need our help. Look.”
I hand over my phone and wait. Her hard shell softens as the sun inches across the kitchen floor. Like the Vineyard–that liminal space after the village and the forest but before the city–the Pumpkin Patch Collectiva is a rural garden commune. Its residents still believe in fairytales. However, they’re also familiar with how dark those fairytales can become. How to deal with their fallout.
“Whoever’s causing trouble in the Pumpkin Patch,” Jerry says carefully, “they sound young.”
Young, and scared. We both know what that’s like. And whether the trouble we’ve been asked to investigate comes from an abandoned fairy changeling, or a feral human returned from the forest, we know what to do.
“We can help them,” I say. “The people of the Collectiva want peace restored without scaring the child away or alerting human authorities. With our experience… we can do it, right?”
It will come at a personal cost to us, but then most things do.
Jerry exhales. “I thought the Vineyard would be the last time.”
Yet here I am, suggesting we visit a woodland community where everyone will know who we are. At least in places like the Vineyard–and hopefully the Pumpkin Patch–we can be seen, but not stared at.
Jerry doesn’t agree to anything, but I can see her mind churning. Wordlessly, she brings me her anti-inflammatory gel and settles on the rug. I warm the bottle between my hands as Jerry undresses. She lets me work the gel into her joints, then rubs scar cream across my own back. My forest marks have long healed as much as they were able to, but a ritual is a ritual is a ritual.
“I’ll have to call in sick at the bar,” Jerry says eventually.
I smile, thankful she can’t see the tremor of my lips. “I’ll do it for you after I email my social sciences professors. For a fairy, you’re a shit liar.”
How does one find two creatures such as Jerry and I?
First you have a child stolen, then a different child left behind. One baby replaced by another.
A little human snatched from the cradle by the fair folk, who evade the pure iron obstacles meant to ward them off. A second baby–a sickly, unwanted fairy child–left in its stead to take the first baby’s form, to borrow its human life.
The human parents aren’t supposed to know the difference, except they always do. Something strange about this cuckoo child, something they might call fey or otherworldly. They might try to beat the strangeness out of this fairy changeling, or neglect it as a lost cause.
The fairy parents are supposed to love their new human baby, except they hardly ever do. It’s healthy, yes, and able-bodied. But it reeks of humanity, even among the pine needles and rich soil of the forest. This child is too heavy, too clumsy and magicless. Needy as a baby bird and just as helpless. The fairy parents will sometimes try to mold the child to their liking, with reproving words and hands pulling at pliant bones. If all else fails, they might abandon the child to the mercy of the forest and all its many beasts.
The stolen human child and the fairy changeling–funhouse mirror images of one another–are never supposed to meet. Except, sometimes, they do.
Our train car rattles and rumbles along the rails cutting sinuous ribbons through the countryside. Jerry whined until she got the window seat, but the truth is she did it for meso I wouldn’t have to look at the sparse woodland rushing past us. She doesn’t remember much from the forest, her first home, while I’m still haunted by it. Anyway, this muddy coppice is nothing like the lush, deep jade forest of the fairy world. Less serrated branches here, or roots rising to trip you. Less things with teeth and claws, too.
Jerry sprawls in her seat, occupying more space than her spindly form should allow. Her limbs are either too stiff or too loosely connected to their sockets. Sprawling helps, with the added benefit of insouciance. Her earbuds rage with punk rock. I snatch one and hold it aloft, just out of reach. Jerry paws at it and, when I don’t return it, sinks her canines into my arm. A sharp little graze. She likes to remind me that the human world hasn’t tamed her.
“Do you remember Ismene?” I ask.
She snorts. “Yeah, I remember Ismene. I was twelve, not stupid.”
I mouth, debatable, and earn a second bite. “Do you miss her?”
Jerry settles back in her seat, this time leaning heavily against me. “I thought I wouldn’t. But I dream about her a lot. You?”
We lived with her in the Vineyard. She was one of the elders. So old, and so wild still, that no one could tell whether she was a fairy changeling raised in the human world, or a human child spirited away into the forest. But she was kind to us when we needed it. She let us stay in her cottage within the Collectiva. And then she introduced us to an ID forger when we were sixteen and wanted a fresh start in the city.
“I think I would like to be her,” I say before I can stop myself.
“Eno, you can’t stand the forest.”
“No,” I agree. But I’ve thought about it often. A Collectiva in the city. A safe space I can build once I’ve stopped being afraid of my own shadow.
We fall quiet after that. The number of passengers dwindles the deeper into the countryside we travel. I pretend to sleep, mostly to avoid my reflection in the window. The potential dysphoria. Yet, I can never look away from Jerry. She has her earbuds in again, eyes closed, face slack. She looks like a child, like she did when we first met. Does Jerry worry that being in the Pumpkin Patch–so close to the forest, and perhaps to other changelings–will awake unwanted feelings in us? The only greenness in the city comes from man-made parks. The only fairies, our glittery queer folk.
Personally, I hope it will heal us, but I don’t want to say anything, not even to Jerry, my otherworldly counterpart. Like speaking my wish will jinx it. And what a dreadfully fae thought that is.
Perhaps invoking Ismene’s memory wasn’t our brightest idea. The elderly woman who meets us at the middle-of-nowhere station resembles our former guardian in the magpie glint of her eyes, her tree-resin golden skin.
“Welcome, babies,” she says, arms open like sparrow wings.
Jerry steps in front of me. “They don’t like to be hugged.”
To her credit, the woman stops, apologetic. I let Jerry handle the explanation of our names and our–my–pronouns.
The woman is called Katya. During the brief walk to the Pumpkin Patch, she tells us she’s mostly human with some fairy blood thrown in the mix. I had forgotten how casually people in the Collectivas talk about magic and its creatures. In the city, such things are always fiction. A comforting reality, as much as it feels alienating. My hands shake around the handles of our duffel bags. Jerry squeezes my shoulder while deep in conversation with Katya.
“The train tickets are already paid for, babies, so don’t you worry about a thing. You could freshen up in my cottage before the grand tour.” Katya chuckles at her own joke. The Pumpkin Patch is barely thirty buildings total.
“We’re good to go,” I say.
I’m growing stiff and itchy the longer we stay here, halfway between the treecover and the cluster of short buildings. Although it was my idea to accept the invitation, my body urges me to reconsider. Such a strange feeling, wanting to pull a vanishing act, but also stay and learn how everything works so I can one day make myself a safe haven.
So I can soon help someone in need.
I leave our bags on Katya’s porch, where roses climb the white-washed cottage with wild abandon.
“Well then.” Katya hobbles down the paved path with a warm smile. “Time to see the garden.”
Soon, I realize the error of my earlier assumption. The Pumpkin Patch is far from small. Behind the crescent of buildings, orchards and fields stretch into the distance, at turns neat and chaotic. Cornucopias of fruit and vegetables grow from trees and soil. A handful of people weed the herb patches, greeting us while we weave through meandering paths. Almost everyone here looks human, or human enough. I suppose the magical beings the Collectiva once sheltered have all chosen to move on, which is why we’re needed here. Farther up a stout hill, children sing-song the alphabet with the help of their teacher and a blackboard hung from the oldest tree. Birds carry their tittering laughter across the balmy air.
“The yield must be impressive,” Jerry remarks. She snatches an apple from the nearest bough, takes a bite, then passes it over to me.
“Oh, yes.” Katya beams. “The produce and grains feed every member of the Collectiva, and we trade for everything else. What’s left we donate to nearby villages, and to people who need to start over elsewhere.”
People like us, she means. The Vineyard was like that, too. They gave us the money for our first city dwelling, and we grasped the freedom with greedy glee. We weren’t asked to repay our debt either. This, being here, isn’t an obligation but a choice, despite the fight-or-flight response my body’s currently locked in.
“We have more than enough here, and we don’t turn anyone away. Which is why what happened to the pumpkins was so surprising. Distressing, too. There’s no need to steal anything since people need only ask.”
The story is turning more complicated than I first thought. “You mentioned in your email some strange occurrences several nights in a row.”
“Oh,” Katya says. “It’s better if I show you.”
We cut through a sun-dappled pear grove and move deeper into the forest, under the cool deciduous canopy. My breath catches once more. For the first time, I realize the tight hug of my binder around my ribcage isn’t really helping my panic reaction. I hold onto Jerry, and she holds onto me as the terrain turns rougher, the undergrowth thicker. If she falls, I’ll catch her, short breath or not.
The pumpkin patch that gave the Collectiva its name comes into view. Suddenly, I understand what Katya meant. The large expanse–as lovingly cultivated as everything else seems to be in this place–has been razed to the ground. Stems and vines maniacally torn, decaying guts dotting the churned soil. Deep teeth marks scar the few remaining pumpkins. I peer at the slight scarecrow in the center of the patch, but neither its straw-and-flannel body nor the downturned stitches of its mouth reveal what happened here.
“Are you sure it wasn’t a wild animal?” Jerry asks. I clench every muscle, but her unrelenting grip around my bicep grounds me in the present.
Katya shakes her head. “This area doesn’t have animals big enough for such destruction, or such single-mindedness. Besides, we found footprints small enough to belong to a child.”
My chest is a hunter’s snare, my breath its thrashing captive. A decade later, I still remember stumbling through the forest, then out of it. The blood and dirt caked into every crease and crevasse of my body. The hunger, rooted so deep inside me as to remain insatiable for the longest time. In this clearing and its ravaged pumpkins, the stamp of hunger is impossible to miss.
“And you’re certain that it’s fae-related. A stolen child, or a changeling,” I speak eventually.
“Yes. Which is why I called you two here. To gain the child’s trust, help us help them. Besides, it’s best to nip suspicions in the bud. Our Collectiva’s had no problems with the fair folk for decades. I don’t want people thinking the truce is broken. Such rumors would only hurt the children who come here seeking shelter.”
I understand all too well. Jerry does, too.
There’s an unspoken protocol about dealing with the fair folk. Or rather, with the unwanted, bloodied things that crawl out of the forest. The human authorities can’t do much about something they don’t believe in. In the past, people have dealt with this phenomenon on their own. Iron knives and child-sized, unmarked graves were often involved. These days, there’s a network, an open secret. Places like the Vineyard, the Pumpkin Patch, and other little pockets of the world where children touched by magic can live in peace. Jerry and I are part of that network. Just as the Collectivas are safe places, we’re marked as safe contacts in the Vineyard’s records.
Jerry and I exchange a look. We don’t share a telepathic connection, but we know how to read each other better than tarot cards.
“Alright,” I say. “We’ll help.”
I dream of the forest, its snatching boughs and howling beasts. I dream of being stolen, only to be deemed unworthy. Fairy children’s high-pitched taunts and laughter. Faceless, nameless parents ordering me to make myself useful and pick firewood. I stumble and fall through a ring of toadstools, becoming lost in the deepest, darkest part of the forest.
I dream of unfairness. You took me from the human world to keep as your own, so shouldn’t you like me? Shouldn’t you want me?
I dream of Jerry. We’re not the same person; not bound by blood or magic. She’s mimicked my physical appearance from the cradle, and I have taken her companionship and offered it back when we had nothing. But, sometimes, I swear I can clearly see her life from before. Not in the fairy world, but in my birth parents’ house on the outskirts of the forest. This isn’t our sweet child, they say. Too wild and willful. Too queer, too fey. They beat and belittle her, make her go to sleep hungry and cold, her reserve of magic running dry. If Jerry’s fae parents thought she had a chance at a better life in the human world, with all its doctors and modern medicine, they thought wrong.
If I’d never been taken, I wonder, would my birth parents have loved me? Would they keep a child who was not their daughter, wasn’t anyone’s daughter because they weren’t a daughter at all?
I dream of unfairness, and I dream of pain. The agony of wild animals attacking my defenseless form in the forest. Of unyielding humans trying their best to break Jerry into submission.
I scream when I come to, but there are no wild animals here other than Jerry. My heart chimes in time to hers. We’re not bound by magic, but I always know when she’s near.
“Eno, did you sleep in your binder again?”
“No,” I lie.
“It’s almost dinnertime. Katya’s making stew.”
I take in my surroundings. Katya’s unfamiliar guest bedroom, the ceiling fan whirring overhead, insects chirruping outside the window. Jerry has a room of her own, but she’s here with me where she belongs, for as long as she wants to be. No take-backs, we like to tell each other during spells of insecurity.
Fairies live so much longer than humans. Which–combined with their high child mortality–is why it’s harder for them to let go of dying practices and ancient traditions, like that of the changelings. Sometimes I think about how Jerry will likely outlive me. Sometimes she jokes her body will probably not last long after I’m gone.
Jerry helps me out of the binder. It’s not supposed to be worn for more than eight hours, and I’ve had mine on since before the train ride. My body throbs like a bruise after the trek through the pumpkin patch, and I doubt Jerry’s joints are faring much better.
“Jer, can you check my scars?” I ask. “Make sure they’re not bleeding open?”
She does, no questions asked. Of course, my wounds have long since healed. Bound under magic and medicine in Ismene’s cottage, so alike this one. The scars cut stiff, tight lines into my back, only softened by the regular application of ointment–Jerry made sure of it. Magic couldn’t do much for Jerry’s chronic illness, but I always keep her anti-inflammatory cream at hand.
“No open wounds, no, Mx. Just some marks from your binder’s seams.” She pokes my bare shoulder. “And several emotional scars. But, who doesn’t have those?”
I laugh, shoulders slumped in relief. “Didn’t mean to hurt myself. Promise.”
Jerry hums behind me on the bed. It’s not a punk rock melody. Much too soothing, almost like a lullaby neither of us received in our stolen childhoods.
“You know,” Jerry lilts impishly, “we still have a while until dinner.”
I close the door while Jerry shimmies out of her paisley dress. Soon, we’re only in our skins: marked, bent, and improbable. We stand before the full-length mirror, side by side. Jerry drops a kiss onto the red dent where my binder dug against my back. It’s not sexual, or romantic. Nothing we ever do is.
In the mirror’s polished reflection, I see two bodies: one fae, the other human. Two children that were once forced to change places. Jericho and Enoch. Her neck still carries the burn mark of my iron knife; the indentations of her teeth forever brand my shoulder. Twin reminders of who we were made to be, and who we chose to become.
I close my eyes. Jerry doesn’t nudge me, only lets me meet our mirror selves again when I’m ready. I love Jerry, but I don’t always love that we have the same body, duplicated. Not because I think she stole anything from me, but because dysphoria often catches me unawares. Jerry knows how to make it better. How to compliment me on our differences. My shaved undercut, the pitch of my voice, the way I hold myself with squared jaw and shoulders. In turn, I highlight the dramatic arch of her eyebrows, her many piercings, her nose crooked from getting into fistfights outside gay clubs.
We like to remind each other that, while we look identical, we’re each our own person. Enoch and Jericho.
In the kitchen, Katya has set the table for three. The stew smells rich and herby. I realize I haven’t eaten in a while, too anxious to bother with food on the train.
“Eat up,” Katya urges. “You’ll need your strength.”
I had almost forgotten Jerry and I are playing detectives in the pumpkin patch tonight. The homey smell of the stew and the kitchen’s soothing, purple dusk make it hard to worry about what’s to come.
“Thanks.” Jerry chews, open-mouthed. “This recipe reminds me of a guardian we once had.”
Katya smiles. Crow’s feet frame magpie eyes. “In the Vineyard, right? Did you visit often?”
My fingers tug at the loose threads of my jeans like they’re trying to pluck off my shame. “We decided not to go back. A clean break.”
But now, I’m wondering why we didn’t visit when Ismene was still alive. Did I convince Jerry it was better to keep our distance? Did she? I shake my head, swallow another spoonful, and let the stew warm my cold insides.
Katya hands me a thermos after the dishes are cleared. “This one’s for you. In my experience, home-grown thyme helps with the nightmares.”
I blush. “Did I…”
Katya squeezes my elbow. “We shouldn’t suffer in silence.”
Jerry and I pack egg sandwiches and blankets, borrowing a lantern from Katya’s porch. The child always arrives after nightfall. Jerry told me to keep some iron in my pocket, just in case, but I refused. We know the child is angry, destructive even, but so far all they’ve done is run and hide from people. Scared more than angry, really.
“Here, mousey, mousey,” Jerry sing-songs. I elbow her in the ribcage, so much longer and thinner than mine. Fairies, by nature, are built like wisps or willows.
The path through the forest gleams foreign and ominous, although it’s only a short walk from Katya’s cottage. Our lantern illuminates the dark in strokes of bark and bracken. When an owl hoots overhead, I glue myself to Jerry’s side. My frantic pulse drowns out the rustling of foliage.
“Shh,” Jerry says. “No one will hurt you. I’ll rip their throat out first.”
I touch my shoulder, the ten-year-old teeth marks, and feel at ease.
Someone’s already built a firepit for us in the middle of the pumpkin patch. Jerry and I work together and, soon, a soft orange glow washes over the clearing. It matches the color of the few remaining pumpkins. Hot water bottles and more blankets await us, although it’s not that cold a night. My breath hitches. It’s been a long time since I’ve been looked after by someone other than Jerry.
We sit on logs around the fire and wait.
“Now what?” Jerry asks.
I kick her gently with my boot, but it’s a valid question.
“Now we wait. And perhaps… we talk to them?”
“Hey, little fairy mousey.” Jerry introduces ourselves, our names and pronouns. “It’s not so bad here. We have stew and tea–although my sibling’s is a bit spiked–and candy.”
She produces a packet of gummy worms from her jacket’s pocket, together with several candy bars. Arranges everything on a nearby log right under the crooked little scarecrow.
“Did you bring these from the city?” I coo.
“Shut up! It was totally selfish.”
Nothing happens for a while. I drink my thyme tea, force my muscles loose, and talk. My voice sounds haunted like the wind. “It’s not so bad here. They have all the food you can eat, and a school, and festivals. There’s no need to be afraid. It’s safe here.”
Even as I speak the words, I know them to be false. Not the part about safety, but the one about fear. You can be perfectly cared for and protected and still terrified of your own shadow, your body unwilling to let go of the fear that kept you alive.
“How long did it take us to feel safe in the Vineyard?” I ask Jerry, who startles out of her reverie.
A wry smile, flames reflected off coal-dark eyes. “Did we ever?”
We sip our tea in silence and take turns sleeping. The misshapen scarecrow watches over us all night until Katya arrives at dawn.
“It’s not your fault,” Katya says, watching us devour breakfast in her kitchen. “We didn’t expect you to succeed from the first night. Trust takes time.”
Jerry and I lock gazes. It was different for us, but then most things are.
Katya draws a bath and lets us soak in privacy. Jerry and I sit across from each other, cool porcelain against our backs. The puffy bruising of her joints is starting to ease off. Was it only two days ago that we ran giggling through the city? In the water, everything is warm and soporific. I almost slip under twice, but Jerry is there every time to pinch me awake.
“Don’t you dare die on me,” she warns.
We crawl to bed and drift off curled around each other like embryos in the womb. I sleep and sleep, but at least the nightmares stay away.
“Your tea,” I tell Katya later. We’re chopping salad greens while Jerry sits on the porch, FaceTiming her girlfriend and their boyfriend. “It helped. What was in it?”
“Thyme, with just a bit of fae magic from the garden’s soil.” Katya’s expressive, wrinkled face pinches with worry. “Did I overstep?”
I think about it. It’s not like I couldn’t taste the tinge of magic last night. And I drank it anyway. “No. Can I have some more? The fairy world has taken a lot from me. At least I can benefit from this one thing.”
Katya smiles sadly. She hands me several sachets, and makes me promise to write to her if I need more. Everything, freely given. Jerry comes back inside to help us carry the dishes to the Collectiva’s dining hall.
“Some folks prefer to dine alone or with family,” Katya says as we set our dishes on the buffet already laden with food. “But it’s nice to know you don’t have to be lonely.”
Picnic tables dot the hall, occupied by people caught in easy conversation. On the theater stage erected against the far wall, children run and dance while the adults wave forkfuls of food to coax them into eating.
We choose a random table and immediately more people join us. I tense a little. Jerry does, too. In the city, we’re used to crowds who don’t know us. Who wouldn’t care if we live or die as long as they got to work on time. But these people are all smiles and encouragements. They want us to try their home-cooked dishes. They thank us for our attempt to bring the lost child home, although so far we’ve failed.
The attention is too much. It’s not enough. When the children give us matching wildflower crowns, I close my eyes and let myself become inundated.
“The candy,” Jerry says that night by the fire, our second vigil. “It’s gone.”
Sure enough, only shreds of plastic remain, licked clean. Definitely wild then, although not an animal. I pocket the trash and sit down.
I speak to Jerry, loud enough for the pumpkins, owls, and scarecrow to hear. “It took no time for you and I to trust each other.”
She snorts. “Yeah. Mostly because we didn’t have the luxury of time.” She scoots closer to the fire and massages her thighs. I need to check her pills, see if she’s skipping. I need to let her be her own person with her own responsibilities.
“I took a risk on you, the enemy child who stared at me with my own face.” My own fear, I don’t say. “We needed to escape the forest and the village. So we decided we had a better chance of surviving if we stuck together.”
Jerry smirks. “And look at us now. Like burrs and lace.”
“But we’re not… stuck together, are we?” I ask, the performance momentarily forgotten. “We have a choice.” Despite our codependency, we have a choice.
Jerry stands up so fast, she wobbles to her knees. Before I can help her up, she’s crawling across the grass onto my log, hugging my lap so hard we both tremble. “You fucking idiot. I chose you in the village, and in the Vineyard, and every day I choose you in the city.”
Appeased, I hold her back. The fire crackles hypnotically. Halfway between sleep and awareness, I catch movement out of the corner of my eye. Quick and stuttering, the will-o’-the-wisp motion disappears whenever I try to look at it head-on, like a strange dream. I hold still, clutch Jerry against me, and just breathe through the fear.
In the morning, after naps and breakfast, we take a walk with Katya. We pass the schoolhouse with its colorfully stenciled flowers and animals. Several children squeal greetings from the yard. One has the tell-tale pointy ears of the fae. Giggling, he chases his classmates with his wheelchair during tag. Another child jumps off a swing. Rather than fall, she floats weightless to the ground.
For a wild moment, I get a glimpse of what the fae-run Collectivas must look like. I never found one in the forest–my life in the fairy world would have been much different if I had–but I know they exist, same as they do here.
It’s easy to forget sometimes that the Collectivas’ long-term goal is to bridge the gap between the two worlds, establishing official relations between the fairy and the human communities. It’s a good plan–even I can see that.
Katya says she wants to work on the garden. Jerry declines, all attitude, but I can tell these last couple of days have taken a toll on her. Sleeping in a bed for a few hours will do her body good.
“I can still help, if you want,” I tell a beaming Katya.
I set to work weeding the vegetable patch while she tends the bright-colored flowerbeds. Although quick for her age, Katya can’t kneel in the dirt for long, so I take over. I like growing green, sun-eager things, sweating with my hands in the soil’s warmth, feeling useful. I’d forgotten about that in the city. Or maybe I made myself forget. Even in the fae world, I could soothe myself through nature’s wonders. Can I have a blooming haven of my own one day? Will city regulations allow it? Will my trauma cooperate? Jerry likes flowers that make her look like a savage harvest goddess. I could give them to her one day. Poultices for her aches. Teas for my nightmares. Perhaps Jerry could even re-learn magic one day.
My mind drifts as I work. I’m not wearing my binder, silently daring Katya to remark on it, or misgender me. She doesn’t. Instead, she draws me into conversation until I’m blurting out my half-formed dream of building my own Collectiva. A safe house in the city that will cater to changelings and tithes, humans lost or abandoned in the fae world, and every creature running from something they don’t fully understand. A safe space inspired by the Pumpkin Patch and the Vineyard, as well as all the many queer spaces that have welcomed Jerry and I.
It will be ours.
“We’ll help you,” Katya says. She sounds like Ismene, and for a moment I let myself believe in something bigger than myself or even Jerry. “No matter what happens with the changeling, you have the Pumpkin Patch’s support.”
Teardrops dot and darken the soil. When I bury myself in Katya’s arms, I’m also hugging Ismene. Thanking them both for everything.
I return to the cottage to shower and shake Jerry awake, feeling lighter than I have in years.
“I have an idea,” I say on our way to the clearing that third night.
“Anything,” Jerry replies. Our joined hands swing between us, apples and oranges distending our pockets and tote bags.
This time, we sit farther from the fire, dragging our logs near the scarecrow. Its plaid flannel and torn denim swish with the wind. The eyes and mouth sewn into the cloth head bear an angry, downward tilt, chasing away creatures of sharp beaks and talons, helping the scarecrow protect its soft self. We spread everything on a picnic blanket, but refrain from eating just yet.
I face the crooked scarecrow and squeeze Jerry’s hand. I say, “Her parents abused me for nine years.”
Jerry startles, then squeezes back, feral with affection. “Well, theirs did too.”
“I tried to kill Jerry when we were twelve. Bleeding, half-dead, I stumbled out of the forest, and there she was in my old house. Wearing my face, sleeping in my bed. Like something straight out of a fairytale. So I grabbed an iron kitchen knife and brought it to her throat. Thought it was the only way. Kill the impostor, get my human life back.”
I don’t believe I’ve ever uttered the words aloud. Jerry and I know what we did. I think Ismene suspected as well. But we never spoke of it. Perhaps spitting words into the wind is an exorcism of sorts.
“I’d been expecting them,” Jerry says. She claws at the wetness of her eyes, one-handedly. Never letting go. “Eno had a knife, and I the sharpest teeth. We tussled, silent so as not to wake the people who called themselves parents. But we were both wounded and malnourished. We’d already lost before we began.”
“So we lay in bed, weeping and exhausted, our blood mingling. And we said, ‘What if we ran away together? What if we survived out of spite?'” My voice, pitched lower than Jerry’s, chokes on my own tears. “A little while after that we found the Vineyard. We didn’t know kindness until then. But it exists. In little pockets of the world. Little gardens everywhere.”
“They’re not perfect,” Jerry says, “but they can be stepping-stones to something better. Or they can be home.”
She sniffles with laughter or tears or both. A flask of something sharp and alcoholic makes an appearance from within the many pockets of her dress. Jerry takes a swig before offering it to me.
“Hey, Eno,” she whispers. This isn’t part of the story, the words meant only for me. “Do you remember that pact we made, after the knife and the teeth?”
I drink deep and long. “We promised not to mourn our old lives.”
But did we ever deal with any of it? Our wounds healed into scars after endless applications of ointment, but did we? I thought we were better. But now, between soil and sky, we find ourselves screaming and crying; mourning for our childhoods.
A different wail harmonizes with our own. We look up at the scarecrow in time to watch it transform into a child of no older than ten. Cloth melts into skin, flannel and denim hanging loosely off a thin, willowy frame. The screeching child jumps from the wooden post in a flurry of limbs and tangled hair. Jerry and I open our arms in tandem to catch the feral fairy child safely in our embrace.
“I’m so sorry,” the boy howls. “I was so hungry.”
It sounds like hungry and angry at once. Hunger for more than pumpkin seeds and guts, more than candy and destruction that feels pure and righteous, but leaves you hollowed out afterward. The child clings. Long nails scratch at our backs in his effort to burrow down closer. We hold him tight. Together the three of us rage until the blackbirds take flight and the trees bow their inky heads in deference to our grief.
We are angry, too. We are always hungry.
“You’re safe,” I say between whimpering breaths. “You’re scared, and you’re confused, and you are safe.”
We hold on as dawn lightens the sky into confectionery pastels. We don’t stop until we’ve screamed ourselves raw, Jerry and I and the boy. Eventually, he fills his empty belly with our offerings, apple cores and orange peels cast off like cicada coats around him. Soon he’s falling asleep, mumbling take me home.
My scars throb as if the wounds have reopened, ready to knit themselves together again the proper way. My heart, too, tinkles like broken wind-chimes. We’ll need care, and time to heal. Good thing Jerry and I have plenty of both for each other.
“Enoch,” Jerry says, then stops. Her eyes gleam in the half-light.
“Jericho. I know.”
I swaddle the boy in blankets and carry him in my arms while Jerry steadies us both. Together we set off down the path to Katya’s cottage. The boy shivers but doesn’t awaken. We do not let go.
About the Author
Avra Margariti is a queer author, Greek sea monster, and Rhysling-nominated poet with a fondness for the dark and the darling. Avra’s work haunts publications such as Cast of Wonders, F&SF, The Future Fire, and Daily Science Fiction. You can find Avra on Twitter (@avramargariti).