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The Edge of the World

by DeAnna Knippling

 

There’s not much difference between the real world and the land of fairies. Just take the number of assholes times ten. Bang! You’re in fairyland.

When I said “no,” Felix bound and gagged me, tied me onto the back of a prairie dragon, and flew me back to the Edge of the World anyway.

I watched the Edge coming up to meet me, the cottonwoods rustled louder than the dragon’s feathers in the heavy wind. The dragon landed right on the Edge, about a thousand feet above the prairie below.

About a thousand fairies had come to see Roberto burnt to ashes. Some were dressed in feathers and quills, as if it were a powwow; others wore Air Force uniforms or business suits with bare feet. The only ways to tell that they weren’t human were their ice-blue eyes, and they didn’t scream in terror at the dragon. Only mortals scream in terror. It’s a selfless act, a way of warning people to stay away or get their guns or whatever. Fairies are too self-involved for that.

I was still wearing my football jersey from practice. Felix cut the rope, and I rolled down the dragon’s side and the ground knocked the wind out of me. Felix jumped down and cut my ropes; I had to tear the gag off myself. I couldn’t believe they’d sent Felix. Then again, he’d been able to trick me long enough to cast the knockout spell on me when nobody else could have.

They’d laid Roberto’s body on a platform made of rough, green pine branches they’d dragged in from Hermit Mountain, rising above the last hills of the Edge. Rick Chamberlain held a bough burning with blue fire, which he tossed onto the base of the platform. Yeah, they’d just been waiting for my feet to touch the ground before they torched him, to make it official.

As soon as I could stand up, I ran over to the man who had abducted me, eighteen human years ago, and spit on his face. I screamed obscenities at him, and, “Why did you do it? Why couldn’t you leave me alone?” The man who had abducted me as a baby and held me prisoner in a razor-grass cage when I disobeyed him was dead, and the rest of them wanted me to take over his job.

Stealing kids.

The fire spread quick and hot, until the whole bier was black with smoke and sent sparks over the Edge. My last sight of Roberto was my spit running down his face, like a tear. And turning to steam.

Fucker.

• • •

“I won’t do it,” I said. “I’m a human now. I’m done playing fairy games. I’m done being a changeling. Done.”

But they didn’t understand, of course. Fairies don’t have souls. It was like trying to talk to someone at the DMV.

Chamberlain stood with me beside the fire. Roberto’s body collapsed, tipping and sliding between the larger branches, which fell onto the red-hot bones. Bodies burned quick once the heart was cut out, and they’d cast spells to keep it twice as hot as a glass-blowing oven, so it’d only taken a few hours, and spells to keep the fire from spreading. I couldn’t leave; I wasn’t about to walk back to Oregon, and I didn’t have money or an ID with me.

Chamberlain was a big, dark-skinned guy who passed for as much as of a king out here as the fairies ever had. “A changeling picked you; you pick the next changeling. More than one, if you want. Pick one and we’ll let you go.”

“I won’t,” I said. We both had our arms crossed over our chests. Me, because I was cold, and Chamberlain because he was copying me, trying to make me feel more at ease. I’d heard he was working for a company’s HR department, which, come on. Or maybe he was perfect for the job, I don’t know.

“I know that you had difficulties with Roberto,” Chamberlain said. “But that does not invalidate the tradition.”

“Difficulties?!” I shouted. “Difficulties? The man raped me when I was eleven. As a birthday present. He deserved what he got.”

Chamberlain rolled his long black hair into a knot to keep it out of his face. “He said it was a human custom.”

“I’m not doing shit for you fuckers. You swore you’d leave me alone. Or doesn’t it mean anything to the fairies if they don’t keep their words anymore?”

“You should have died first,” Chamberlain said. “You would have died a mortal death by the time Robert passed out of fairyland, but the girl killed him. I told you, ‘I swear that as long as Roberto lives, you will never return to fairyland.’ Roberto is dead. He picked no more changelings.”

I shoved him. “Fuck Roberto! Let me go!”

Chamberlain stumbled backward toward the Edge of the World. I took another step forward and shoved him again, until he slid off. He stepped into the air, his suit jacket flapping in the breeze and exposing his naked chest.

I shook my fist at him. “Keep away from me!”

From behind me, Felix said, “You shouldn’t get into fights at funerals.”

I nearly jumped out of my skin, but I wasn’t about to let him see that. “Fuck off, Felix,” I said.

“Hey, boss?” Felix asked. He was wearing jeans and the t-shirt of a band that had never existed, chewing on a lollypop stick and peeling off the paper with his teeth. “You know that thing you said I should do if he said no again? I did it.”

“Did what?” I said.

“Killed your parents,” Felix said.

There I was, standing in fairy, where the sound of semis rushing by was replaced by the wails of ground lizards that burst out of the prairie to mate in the long grass. The prairie dragon was digging around, trying to find them. Its head lurched into the dirt, and it pulled a squirming lizard out of its tunnel tail-first.

Maybe it should have hit harder than it did, but I’d never known them. The only parent I’d known was Roberto, and he was one of them.

“I’m sorry,” Chamberlain said. His hair came unbound and blew into his eyes again. “We didn’t want you to come back, either. He died trying to collect another baby, so we’d never have to see you again.”

“How did he even die?” I asked.

“The girl’s family had one of the knives, as a keepsake from the East. She cut him down.”

“And then what?” I said. “Did you have Felix kill her, too?”

Felix squatted down at the Edge and watched his dragon crunch up the last of its meal. “Against the rules,” he said.

I snorted. “What do you even need babies for?”

Felix paced back and forth, flattening the dry grass that stretched between worlds. “To keep the link with the human world open.”

“So, if I don’t do this, you’ll lose contact with the human world, and I’ll never see you again?”

“Nah. There are lots of people like you. Dozens. All over the world. We’d just get someone else to do it.” Felix started kicking the hot ashes over the Edge. He stuck a boot under one of the logs, lifted it, and pitched it over the edge. It scattered sparks on the way down.

I took a running kick at the skull and punted it over the Edge, which was probably the best thing that had happened to me all day. “Then get someone else to do it.”

“It would be embarrassing,” Chamberlain said. Then, to Felix: “Do the next one.”

“Who’s that?” I asked.

“Somebody who’s destined to be your lover in the future,” Felix said. “It’s not hard to find out.”

“So? I’ll find another lover.”

Felix ignored me. “I’m tired of waiting, Chamberlain. You promised.”

“Very well,” Chamberlain said.

Felix whistled, and the prairie dragon jumped up the cliff, spreading its dirty yellow wings for balance.

“Do I have to tie you on again?” Felix asked.

I shrugged. “If I let you kill him in front of me, will you let me go?”

“Sure,” Felix said, too easily. He leaped and landed gracefully. I climbed up the dragon’s ankle and knee and pulled myself up into the saddle behind him. The dragon’s skin was covered with what felt like horsehair, and I couldn’t help petting it a few times after I strapped myself in. It snorted and took off.

• • •

“What’s it like?” I asked Felix. “Being such an asshole? You’re either going to kill somebody, or you’re going to bully me into stealing a kid. And then it’s going to die anyway, as far as its parents are concerned. It’s going to dry up and die after a week or two. Do you know what it’s like being here? As a human?”

He shrugged. “At least it’ll be warm.”

I ignored him. “You promised me. When I was a kid, you promised me that if there was ever a chance for me to get out, you’d help me.”

“I did,” he said.

“And then you brought me back!” I screamed into his ear. We kept flying.

We didn’t have to go too far, only a couple of hours into the prairie. It was full dark by the time we landed, in the middle of nowhere, under a streetlight that didn’t have a street. As we slid off, the dragon nickered and trotted into the dark, folding its wings close to its body so it could creep up quietly on whatever it was hunting. The Wild Women howled on a nearby hill, their silhouettes against the moon, coyote muzzles and naked breasts.

We let ourselves in the old wooden gate as quietly as we could and approached the house. The place looked pretty nice, with vinyl siding and a sidewalk and cut grass inside the gate. As a fairy, I’d crept up on a hundred places like this, pulling pranks on them more out of boredom than anything else. Usually with Felix to help me.

“We been here before?” I asked. “Playing lost boys?”

“Nah.” Felix pointed over the door, where a horseshoe hung, points up, and then to a bottle of beer just outside the doorway. “They keep to the old ways, mostly, so Chamberlain had us leave them alone. They didn’t do the window, though, so we can still get in.”

I bent down to pick up the beer, and Felix stopped me. “One way or another, it’s going to hurt them,” he said. “You can’t come here with me and drink their beer. That’s not how it works.”

“I’m not going to hurt anybody,” I said.

“Then take it on our way out,” he said.

I put the beer down. We circled the house; as we went around the corner, a collie-mix dog ran out of a doghouse and barked at us, sounding tougher than she felt.

Felix squatted in the grass and whistled her over, beckoning with his fingers.

“Leave her alone,” I said.

“I don’t like dogs,” he said.

“You know I always wanted a dog.” An old argument.

Felix stroked the dog’s head, then grabbed her under the chin. He crushed a piece of dried leaf in the dog’s eyes, and she sighed and sank onto her belly. “She’s asleep.” He pointed to a window on the upper floor with a dim glow from behind some thin curtains. He rose halfway, then looked at me. “Aren’t you coming?”

I hissed, “I can’t fly anymore, you dumbass.”

Felix swooped behind me and grabbed me under the arms, which wasn’t fun. He lifted me up to the window ledge and waved the tips of his fingers. The curtain slid sideways, and I looked inside.

It was a kid, of course. A little kid in a crib. I couldn’t tell whether it was a boy or a girl; the room looked kind of yellow and had elephants all over. “Put me down.”

Felix lowered me back on the ground, and I swung my arms around to get the kinks out. “It’s just a baby,” I said.

“Take it, or I’ll kill it,” Felix said.

“I thought we were friends.”

He shook his head. “If we don’t steal another one soon, we’ll lose the connection. And we’ll all die if we’re cut off from the mortals. No mortals, no spirit. You know that.”

“Don’t I get time to decide?”

“If you were one of us, yeah, you could have time to decide. But we don’t have a living changeling anymore, so no. It has to be done by dawn. If you’re not going to do it, then I gotta fly to the Summerlands and find a changeling who will before then.”

Felix reached under his fake-band t-shirt and pulled, hard. There was a tearing and sucking sound, and then he pulled a knife from under his shirt, a knife made out of his own breastbone. Those things are almost impossible to keep from striking true, as long as your heart’s in it. Felix turned the knife back and forth; it glistened clear fairy blood, which he wiped on his pants.

“I thought you were my friend,” I repeated.

“You gotta do what you gotta do.” Felix floated back up to the window, slashed through the screen, and pried at the window with the tip of the knife.

I ran. I ran to the door and tried the handle: we were out in the middle of nowhere, so it wasn’t locked, and I was mortal, so I could pass under the iron. I ran through the house, yelling, “The baby! He’s coming for the baby!” A couple of scared faces looked at me as I spotted the stairs.

I slammed into the railing and pulled myself up four stairs at a time. There were a bunch of doors, but then the baby cried, and I knew which one I wanted.

I threw open the door. Felix had the baby by the scruff of its neck and the breastbone knife at its stomach.

“Put it down,” I said.

He pushed in the knife tip, and blood stained the baby’s white one-piece and ran down its leg. The baby screamed.

“I’ll do it,” I said, offering my hands face-out. “Put it down.”

Felix lowered the knife. The baby screamed. Felix wrinkled his nose and handed it to me. Its diaper felt ice-cold and stank like shit.

I felt the change coming on. It wasn’t much of a change, and I’d felt it before. The baby hadn’t though. It screamed as its heart stopped beating and its blood turned to living ice.

“Who?” Felix said. “You have to name someone.”

I shook my head. “Nobody. Let’s just go.”

The parents had shaken off their shock and were running up the stairs.

Felix grabbed my arm that wasn’t wrapped around the baby and put my hand on his chest. “Me,” he said.

“You?” I asked, but the magic must have taken it for an answer, and Felix started to shrink. His face wrinkled up like a dried apple skin and he collapsed on the floor as his bones shrank. His band t-shirt and jeans turned into rags and a wet, shit-packed diaper.

I ducked out the window and closed it behind me as the parents ran into the room. They pulled back the covers in the crib and shrieked at the empty sheets, but Felix wailed at them from the floor. The mother picked him up and held him tight, then held him away from her chest. She said, “It’s your turn, Jack.” The father made a face and carried the baby to a changing table, where he pulled out a couple of wipes and a diaper.

I knew my hands were cold, but I couldn’t feel them.

The parents would make sure Felix stayed warm, for the little time he had left. It was the food; a fairy could never live on mortal food.

All I had to do was hand the baby over to Chamberlain and be done with it, be human again. I’d get on the dragon, cross the Edge, and fly back to football practice and business calculus and getting ready for my real life.

Then it hit me that I didn’t know anything about the baby, its name, its gender, who its parents were, nothing. I slipped inside the window over the kitchen sink while the parents were fussing around upstairs and found out.

I wrote down their names and the address on the back of an envelope. “But,” I said, “While you’re with me, your name is Felix.”

 

 

DeAnna Knippling is a freelance writer and editor in Colorado but grew up in South Dakota and has seen the Edge in person and listened to the semi trucks scream. Her first book, Choose Your Doom: Zombie Apocalypse, will be released on November 26, 2010 from Doom Press www.doompress.com


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ISSUE #20

October 2010

FICTION

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