Sirens of Eire

A taxi pulled up the long driveway of an old house, and a fair-haired young man stepped out. He looked up curiously at the place he would soon be calling home. It was two stories, but very narrow, with tangles of ivy fighting for dominance across its plastered walls. The opening of the front door caught his attention, bringing a cheerful smile to his face as a familiar form emerged. Waving to the short, red-headed man trotting down the front step, he turned and extricated his luggage from the back seat. He had managed to pay the cabbie before his friend caught up to him, wrapping him in a "manly" hug that seemed designed to break ribs.

"Good to see you, too, Ort." The constricted young man coughed slightly to emphasize his point. His friend let go.

"Hi! Your trip, how was it?" Ort draped a friendly arm over the other man's shoulders and began guiding him toward the door. "And the lady down the street is bringing dinner; hope you don't mind…"

Once inside, the newcomer stared at the strange paintings lining the hallway walls; paintings of dancing fairies, drinking gnomes, and strange marshy areas with peculiar green things sticking up from them.

"Trip, fine; dinner, great," he replied distractedly. "What are these?"

Ort picked up the dropped bags and headed for the staircase. "They're watercolors by the old uncle I got the house from." He shrugged. "Odd things, those, but I can't bring myself to get rid of them… Come on, your room's upstairs."

It was a lovely room, dark green, with wooden furniture and a large window looking out behind the house onto a ragged tree line edging a flat green land.

"It's beautiful out here, Ort."

"Aye, it is. But don't go too far beyond those trees. It's the peat bog. Strange things have gone on there. And I've heard it's not that safe to walk on."

"I see you've acquired a bit of a lilt, my friend." The blond man peered out the window once more, then turned around. "And I see you've been feeding your flair for the dramatic."

Ort shrugged noncommittally. "A few years in Ireland will do that to you if you're not careful."

A knock at the front door broke the conversation. It was followed a moment later by a matronly voice calling out, "Mortimer? You must be here somewhere!"

"Dinner," Ort said, pausing to cringe on his way out of the room.

"She calls you 'Mortimer'?" came the incredulous query.

"Yes, well, she's old enough to be my mother, she's a great neighbor, and her cooking is unrivaled in the entire county."

With a final smirk, but no rebuttal, the taller man followed his indignant friend down to eat. The older woman waiting for them was pleased with a new set of ears to talk off; she also enjoyed chiding him for his shoulder-blade length ponytail (which was, in all fairness, irreproachably clean and neat). He was too good-natured to mind, and mostly just smiled and listened.

"Kid's moving in with me for a while; he wanted to travel and I could use the help with some of the bills," Ort supplied over dinner. "He's got a job lined up to start soon. We were friends in college and kept in touch after I inherited this place and ran off."

'Kid' smiled and rolled his eyes. "I've been out of college almost three years now? You're how much older than I am?" He sighed calmly. "Are you going to call me that for the rest of my life?"

"Till you die, Kid," Ort replied congenially.

Mrs. O'Flannigan stayed until dessert was eaten, then excused herself for home. After cleaning up, Ort showed his friend where the facilities were, then left for his own room. It only took a few minutes for Kid to get used to things, and then get ready for bed; he decided to unpack in the morning. A few more minutes were spent staring silently out the dark window before he slipped under the covers. Sleep came quickly, and he dreamed…

He was standing at the edge of the bog, looking out over its expanse. It seemed exactly as in the painting. Slowly, things began to peek up out of the moss. Strange blue-green things, so light he could almost see through them, were reaching out toward him then drawing back—beckoning. They were hands. He was surrounded by the pull of an insatiable longing barely covering a cool malice. He found himself inexorably drawn toward it, yet dreading it. Suddenly, he was lying on his back on the moss, paralyzed, his arms and legs spread out. Hands began to tug at his body; the ground turned liquid and he sank. The urge to scream was rising, as uninvited touches trailed across his chest and back and limbs, but he knew if he opened his mouth the water would rush in. He heard the rising and bubbling of it in his ears, and with it came an invasive, slippery voice calling to him. "Come to us, stay…forever ours…" And he did scream. "NO!"

And bolted upright in bed. After staring into the darkness for a moment, he recovered his surroundings. "I'm still in bed," he thought, his breathing finally slowing. The covers were tangled around his legs in incomprehensible patterns. "I don't hear Ort coming…guess I wasn't screaming." He leaned over far enough to glance out the window; the scene that greeted him was deceptively serene. Running his fingers through his hair once, he untangled himself from the snarl of sheets. Kid rolled out of bed; standing, he mumbled, "Now would be a great time to unpack."

The next morning, Ort stared at his friend over a cup of coffee. "Sleep well, Kid?" he asked, one eyebrow raised.

"Not so much," the other man muttered, deeply engaged in dubiously eyeing the black ooze his host had dubbed "coffee."

"Thought not. You look lousy." Ort stared at him for a moment. "And your ponytail's crooked. Now drink your coffee."

"No, it's yucky." The blond man stuck his tongue out slightly. He straightened his hair band while Ort took the coffee cup and sipped from it himself.

"Anything in particular keep you up?" Ort inquired, making an odd face and surreptitiously pouring the coffee down the sink.

"Creepy dreams about your bizarre painting," Kid told him after a moment. "And wipe that smirk off your face."

Ort obliged, partially. "What was the painting doing?"

"Not the painting," Kid said, shaking his head, "the hands in the painting. They were trying to drown me or something." He shrugged. "It was just disturbingly vivid." He looked up at Ort.

"What hands?" the older man asked, giving his friend a sidelong glance.

"The thin, blue-green hands sticking up out of the bog," Kid replied innocently.

"They're not hands," Ort declared incredulously. "They're plants."

Standing in front of the painting of the peat bog a few moments later, Kid pointed. "See, hands. They've got fingers."

"They've got branching stalks," the red-head countered.

After staring at it for a while longer with a magnifying glass, they still disagreed; but the subject was abruptly changed when Kid asked if anything was known to live in the bog.

"Bugs and small amphibians," Ort ruled. "Realistically, nothing else."

The question was dropped until after lunch, when Mrs. O'Flannigan popped by to ask if they would watch her dog for a few days while she went to visit her son in another city. When Ort went to find a dish for the puppy's water, Kid sat down next to their visitor and asked about the bogs. She told him what Ort had already about them being dangerous, but then she leaned forward and added, "But they make it dangerous."

"They?" Kid inquired trustingly.

"Aye," she replied. "People say you can drown in the fen bogs, and it's true, but only if they take a fancy to you and draw you down for a visit." She smiled. "All of us who live around the bog steer clear of it. Though few have seen its real inhabitants, most Irishmen know that bits of the old magic linger in areas as old as these."

The young man leaned forward, enthralled by the woman's story. "Have you ever seen them?" he asked, unsure he believed her, but still unstoppably curious.

Mrs. O'Flannigan laughed gently and shook her head. "Never I," she confided, "but the man who lived here before saw them once. I know you've seen his painting." Kid nodded and she continued. "He told me of them, he did; warned me never to set foot past the trees—though I think they only draw men to them, personally. Sadly, old Brody liked to paint pictures of all sorts of fanciful creatures, so very few people would ever take that painting seriously."

"Ort doesn't," Kid added thoughtfully. "I'm not sure I do…"

The older woman smiled knowingly. "They almost look like women, you know, with long hair and slender arms and silky voices; but they're part animal, too, with fins on the bottom and cold hearts. Few stories tell of any who have escaped their grasp."

Kid squirmed, and Mrs. O'Flannigan reached out and patted his cheek. "Don't worry, darling," she cooed. "Just keep from treading on their abode, and they can't touch you."

"Very comforting," the young man murmured; Ort returned then, and the conversation shifted.

The next day or so was spent calmly. A great deal of talking, catching up, and trading stories and such was done. The third night, though, Ort went to bed early with a headache and a weak cough. Kid was mostly ready for bed himself when the dog began whining and scratching at the door, begging to be let out. He followed her amiably and waited outside for her to finish her business. He was yawning softly when the dog suddenly yipped sharply and bolted, heading directly for the tree line. For a moment, he stared after her, dumbfounded, before giving chase in a futile attempt to prevent her from running out over the bog itself. He was forced to chase her past the trees and out onto the fen moss to avoid losing sight of her. Breathing heavily in the cold night air, he had almost caught up when the soft ground caused him to lose his footing; he fell on his stomach, a wrenching pain in his left ankle.

"Ow," Kid moaned softly, still flopped on the cold ground. He called the dog's name and heard her bark somewhere in the darkness ahead of him. "I should not be out here." He groaned slightly as he pushed himself up on his hands and knees. "Ort'll have a fit no matter what."

Abruptly, the ground under his hands moved, as though it were a skin holding in a layer of water; it flexed under his fingertips. Kid stared at it uncertainly; concern crept into his face. Something moved under the surface. The startled young man reeled backward, too late, as a thin, glossy hand shot out of the bog to fasten itself around his wrist. He screamed appropriately and frantically tried to pry it loose; its grip was obscenely strong. Another hand followed, clutching his other arm above the elbow.

"Let go!" Kid cried, slipping into panic.

Something wrapped around his leg and pulled. The ground beneath him gave way and he fell through with a splash. More hands were tugging at him as the rushing water covered him entirely. The last thing he heard before blackness claimed his consciousness was a chorus of triumphant voices, laughing.

Awareness returned slowly. Kid's first thought was that his ankle no longer hurt; this was followed almost instantly by the realization that he had lost all sensation below the knees. Opening his eyes, he choked back a gasp. He was clearly underwater, in a grotto with a ceiling of trailing plants waving in a slight current. Indistinct light of a greenish hue filtered down through the growth and spread shifting shadows over the floor and over the dozens of statues lining the walls.

Despite his shock, reality quickly crept upon his mind. "I'm still breathing," he thought. Staring at the space in front of him, he realized he was encased in a thin pillar of air that ended about eight inches out from his body. Feeling calmer than he figured was probably reasonable, the blond man slowly brought a finger up and pressed it gently through the surface of the water. The water rippled out in circles, but nothing happened, even when he carefully pulled his finger back inside the bubble.

Kid made a frustrated sound. "The air won't stay with me if I leave." He sighed. "Even if I swim off, I could drown before ever finding a way out." He briefly contemplated the ceiling. "I fell through, though, so…"

A startling discovery changed his mind; his feet were rooted to the spot. He looked down and was severely distressed to find them an unnaturally pale grey color. Bending down, he pulled at one of his ankles; it was hard, and stuck firmly to the ground. The panic was rising again as he rubbed at his legs trying to force feeling into them. He could feel them with his hands, but as far as his other nerves were concerned, he had nothing below the knees, and he thought he could feel the numbness slowly creeping upward.

Kid stood upright again and, brushing a stray piece of hair behind his ear, momentarily considered crying for a while. It seemed equally productive, as his current plight fit nowhere into his previous realms of experience. Instead, he stared through the glassy water at the statues with which he shared the cave. The rows continued past what he could see, but all the ones he could make out were male, none old and none in the exact same position, but all the same ghostly shade that his legs were acquiring. With great trepidation he looked at their faces, and immediately wished he had not. All unique, they showed the entire spectrum of fear, pain, and panic that one could ever imagine.

Kid shuddered uncontrollably. "These were people—I'm in a collection," he whispered, horrified. "They want a statue…" A tear trickled, unbidden, down his cheek. "Let me go," he murmured to nothing. "I don't want to die here…"

Then he saw it; a long, sinuous shadow among the macabre statue garden. His eyes would track it for a brief instant, then lose it among the continually shifting patterns from the light above. It was coming closer. He stared down briefly at his feet, uselessly willing them to move; he looked back up and jerked violently away. A face floated silently only a foot from his own. It was delicate and lovely, both, but unnatural. The skin was nearly opaque, like fine alabaster, but tinted with a bluish quality, highlighted with green. Long hair floated and coiled like a living thing around the face; the strands were silky and matched the moss that covered the bog—interweavings of green and brown and grey. The eyes, too, were almost human—an intense cobalt blue—but glassy in a way only water creatures' are. The ears were a familiar shape to start with, but possessed tiny, perfect frills of nearly transparent skin at the top and following down the curve. Suddenly, she smiled at him. It was neither friendly nor comforting, and her small, even teeth were pearly white, startling against the already pale skin. The strange creature brought a slender hand up in front of his face; tiny webbing, delicate as spider silk, hung between her fingers.

"My catch…" the creature said in its satiny voice. Kid heard her perfectly, though how he had he was unsure.

The young man froze as the strange fingers reached through the skin of air and trailed wetly across his cheek. He fought back the urge to brush them quickly away—angering her seemed unwise. The otherworldly woman withdrew her hand and began to swim around him in a leisurely circle, surveying him as one might a new piece of furniture. It was then that he saw her tail. She looked little like a mermaid. Long and sinuous, her tail started at her hips and tapered gradually to the size of her wrist, where attached a wide, tattered fin. Minute scales covered the tail, glinting in the light, making it look more serpentine than anything else. Her only clothing consisted of strips of rough woven cloth intertwined over her chest and occasionally branching out over her stomach; it had fibers and plant tendrils trailing from it, giving it an eerily organic quality. She was, in her entirety, unnerving at best.

Overall, Kid was managing a decent outward calm; panic seemed useless. "Excuse me," he began rather politely, "I would like to leave, please." He figured it was worth a try.

The female came back in front of him and cocked her head to the side, an amused look overtaking her delicate features. "Never," she replied simply. "You are ours till the end of the world. Your only purpose now is to beautify our home."

Surveying the array of statues in his view, Kid noticed for the first time the wide variety of clothing and hair styles displayed, none recent looking. "How long have you…" he started.

"Many generations we have collected," she hissed lowly. "You are nothing special, but you belong to us now. Few lately have been foolish enough to come within our reach…" She left with a few graceful undulations of her tail, leaving him alone with the other unfortunates whose fates he would soon share.

By himself for what felt like several hours, the young man almost wished the strange woman would return, simply to remind him that he was not the only living being in the entire somber, aged hall. The numbness had crept up his legs and was trailing across his stomach when something stirred in the dark waters. For the next half hour at least, many more of the tailed creatures came and went. All were female, but after a while he began to notice distinct individuals—some had different eye colors, their tails were different lengths, and the facial features were dissimilar as well. They almost all wanted to touch him; he could not move far enough away to stop them. Periodically he would notice the thin-faced creature he had encountered first—the others seemed to defer to her in small ways, and he decided she held some position of authority, though what precisely he could not fathom.

Eventually, Kid decided that passivity was getting him precisely nowhere. "Hey!" he called to the next woman to swim up to him. "What did you do to me? What's happening to my body?!" She stared at him, but did not answer. Then she went out. He questioned three more and was likewise ignored. The fourth refused to answer as well, and ignoring caution, he shoved his hand through the barrier and made a grab for her wrist. Hissing angrily, she actually tried to bite his fingers. He retracted his arm quickly, and she retreated sulkily a few feet away before deciding to leave entirely. For a long time, no one else came.

Worry was returning strongly, and Kid wondered if he had been left alone to die, simply out of spite for his being uncooperative. He sighed softly, then stiffened when he felt small fingers lightly trailing through the ends of his ponytail. A generally pleasant sensation, had he not known what the fingers necessarily belonged to. He turned his head and caught a glimpse of her; when he turned back she was floating in front of him. Her face was rounder than the others' and her eyes were a cloudy green. The expression she wore was more curious than condescending; she startled him by speaking first.

"Hello, pretty thing," came her whisper. She made a quick circle around him before returning to where he could see her, part of her tail still trailing out of sight behind his back.

"Hello," he replied cautiously. "Maybe you'll talk to me?"

The creature actually smiled pleasantly at him for a moment. "You are the first moving one I have ever seen." She touched his sleeve.

"How old are you," he inquired softly, not wanting to scare her away.

'Two hundred years…not too old, not very young." Suddenly, she left. Kid called after her, but she did not return until the cold lack of feeling had started in his chest.

He nearly demanded when she returned, "What is happening to me?" It took effort to keep from yelling.

"The outside is hardening; you will stay with us, lovely, forever."

Kid's eyes widened. "I don't want to be lovely," he fairly shouted, "I want to be living!" He realized he sounded slightly petulant, but the fair-skinned lady seemed not to mind, and he found himself not caring.

Gesturing at the other statues, he questioned, "Why are their faces so startled?"

"We breathe water," she said simply, turning slightly so he could see the delicate gill slits that ran along the sides of her lower back. "Only your skin is hard. The insides meet the water at the end, when the air goes away."

He stared at her, mortified. "They drowned?" Panic was setting in. "That…that's horrible!"

"It will not hurt," the creature said reassuringly.

"Yes, it will!" he cried. "A lot!"

She looked confused, and went away again. The slender blond man stared after her for a moment. An unpleasant tingling sensation in his fingers soon consumed his attention. He lifted his hands in front of his body and watched them; his fingers were looking distinctly grey and stiffening. He flipped them over to look at his palms and suddenly realized that he could not turn them back; his wrists and elbows were rebelling likewise. The continued urge to have a good cry was becoming overwhelming. There was no comfort in trying to convince himself he was dreaming—it was too real for that, the threat of imminent death too tangible. He was stiff up to his shoulders by the time his regular visitor came back to him.

"Why do you keep coming back?" he whispered.

She swam in contemplative circles around him, up above his head, then back down to eye level. She replied gently, "You are sad—it is sad…" Kid was unsure whether the second half of the statement was her response to the first, or if she was correcting herself after deciding that he lacked the importance to be referred to as a being. The finned lady continued. "Why do you cry?" She reached forward and brushed a tear off his cheek, leaving an equally wet streak from her fingers.

"Because," he began. He had not even noticed that he had started. "Because I'm terrified! And I'm frustrated…" His watcher sat on the ground in front of him; her tail curled around under her, and she appeared to be considering him deeply. "I don't want to die here," he finished, "not like this."

"Lithis," she said finally.

"Lithis?" Kid repeated questioningly, missing the silky quality from his pronunciation. "What's that?"

Thoughtfully, she replied, "It is me." With a sudden movement, she was gone for the third time.

The distressed young man was greeted shortly by the first water woman he had met. She looked smug, floating just beyond the skin of water, her arms folded across her chest.

"Soon to be finished," she said slowly, almost languorously. Kid's neck could still move, and he entertained the ridiculous desire to bite her. "Just come a tiny bit closer," he thought. It was a futile hope, but he felt a minute bit better—not enough.

Getting desperate, he blurted, "Can't you just let me go? You have dozens of statues already!" There were no signs of sympathy in her face.

"If you wish to leave, do so." She smiled coldly. "I will not stop you if you can." She looked him up and down, gave a short laugh, and swam away.

Looking down at his feet, Kid gave a sharp cry—water was beginning to flow into his bubble of safety. Already it was sloshing around his ankles. He heard a soft noise from the water beyond. Trying to lift his head again proved useless.

"Lithis?" he asked hopefully.

The gentle reply came. "Yes."

"I can't move my neck anymore, and the water's rising…"

"I know." She sounded sad.

"Help me out of here," he pleaded. The water was up to his chest and still flowing.

"We want you to stay with us," she whispered.

"You're killing me!" came his urgent reply. "I'll be very uninteresting dead!" He did his best to lift his eyes to look at her. "Please…" The water covered his head. He knew he could not hold his breath for very long.

Lithis moved. The young man barely saw her swim to him; she leaned forward, and with his last trace of sensation he felt her kiss him softly on the forehead. Almost instantly he went limp, collapsing forward into waiting arms.

A soft voice whispered in his ear, strangely distinct over the sound of rushing water. "Call to me and I will always come to you. Never forget." His breath expired as the world went dark. "Promise to be interesting…"

The voice faded and he felt something cold and solid underneath him. He opened his eyes, coughing reflexively, trying to clear his lungs of water that was not actually there. He was lying on his back at the very edge of the bog, alone. It was still very dark outside, with no traces of an encroaching dawn. Kid sat up slowly, exalting in the simple exquisite delight of being able to feel his toes. Looking out over the fen, its surface glinting softly in the moonlight, he saw no hint of what might inexplicably dwell beneath.

After pausing for a few more moments, the young man was overtaken with weariness. Barely noticing that he was perfectly dry, he hauled himself to his feet and limped slowly toward the house, not looking back. Mrs. O'Flannigan's dog was waiting patiently for him outside the kitchen door. They stared at each other for a brief time.

"A great help to me you are," he told her dryly. She had the decency to look properly contrite. Kid opened the door and stumbled in. His ankle was throbbing; shutting the door, he slumped against it and slid down into a sitting position. The dog rubbed up against his side and he patted her distractedly. "I'll just shut my eyes for a minute," he thought—famous last words.

Fortunately, Kid woke before Ort the next morning, saving him from having to explain why he was sleeping on the kitchen floor with the neighbor's dog. His first words were, "Ugh," followed by, "Get off my legs, doggie, you've made them numb again." The puppy begrudgingly obeyed. Kid rubbed at his legs, then stood up. When Ort came down a couple hours later, Kid was in the kitchen making lunch, the dog trailing around his legs, performing the part of obligatory nuisance. Ort took over for her as soon as he sat down.

"Ung…" He yawned. "You're cooking, Kid?" He paused to sniff the air. "Is that safe?"

"Good morning, Sunshine," Kid replied sarcastically, yet still pleasantly. He looked at the food on the stove, then back at his groggy friend. "I haven't set a kitchen on fire since Junior year," he added calmly. "And that was partly your fault, as I recall."

Setting two plates of food on the table, he joined Ort, trying not to trip over the dog on the way. After a few minutes, the older man admitted that the food actually was good. Kid bowed slightly from the waist and resumed eating.

"So," Ort inquired, "any more dreams about scary hands?" He wriggled his fingers in the air for emphasis, and was amused when his friend produced a rather amazing strangled grunt.

"No," Kid finally managed to gasp, coughing once more afterward. "Of course not." He put down the glass he had been holding and glared at it.

"Most people use water for drinking, not breathing," Ort supplied helpfully.

Kid's left eye twitched. Staring out the window, he mumbled, "I'm quite aware of that, thank you."

Now that it was daytime, and the bog was sitting calmly and unthreateningly outside, he was having trouble believing that the previous night's events were not just some cruel trick his mind was playing on him. It seemed ridiculous. After a few more moments of internal discussion, he decided he would keep permanently away from the bog, as all the neighbors cleverly did, and do his best to forget anything might have happened.

For the next two days, his strategy of complete denial worked quite well. Days were normal; nights were benign. The third night he started dreaming again. These dreams were different though; no pervading sense of malice showed itself. Vague feelings of loss and loneliness were all he discerned. He dreamed he again stood on the edge of the bog, where he had woken after being released. Nothing grabbed at him or beckoned to him. One soft voice in the darkness was all he heard. "Come back?" it asked; and that was all. Kid woke up; he felt perfectly calm, no terror or disorientation, just possibly slightly guilty. After a few moments, he rolled over and went back to sleep.

Kid started work in town the next morning; everything was fine during the day. But every night, for the next three nights, he had the same dream. He knew exactly what it was and it was driving him crazy, but the thought of getting too close to the bog was still extremely stressful. The next night, however, he could take no more. He woke, and sat up immediately. "All right!" he cried. Fortunately Ort, down the hall, was a heavy sleeper. "All right," he repeated, softer. Crawling quietly out of bed, he changed and tiptoed downstairs. He had no flashlight, so he stood outside for a few moments, allowing his eyes to adjust to the inky blackness. There was half a moon to help. Heading for the tree line, he walked slowly, his heart pounding nervously. He stopped as soon as he felt the bog moss squish beneath his shoes; he moved back a few steps to be safe. He could see or hear nothing out of the ordinary.

Taking a deep breath, he called lightly, "Lithis? Are you here?"

He made up his mind to wait five minutes before dashing back to the house. Something moved in the darkness. A solitary hand poked up out of the fen not a hundred feet from where he was standing. Kid stood, unmoving. The hand was not beckoning this time, but was waving; it disappeared again. A few moments later, Lithis' head and shoulders popped up near his feet.

"You came back," she sighed happily, holding her hands out to him. He sat beside her and she patted his face and claimed one of his hands. "I have missed you."

He stared at her, feeling less worried by the moment. "I'm sorry," he told her, only mildly surprised to find that he actually meant it. "Are you in trouble for sparing my life?"

Lithis gave an almost wicked smile. "No…" she replied slyly. "I was careful; no one knows I helped you." She released a tiny, self-satisfied chortle, then confided, "Amaris, the one who dragged you down to us, thinks you got out by yourself. She is terrified of you now."

Kid laughed, infinitely relieved. "That's wonderful!" He smiled at the odd water lady still clinging to his fingers. "Thank you." He paused, watching her for a moment before asking, "Why did you help me?"

Lithis became thoughtful, stroking absently at his palm for a bit before answering. "I did not want to cause you pain to keep you." She stared suddenly into his eyes. "You are lovely living, too, though you can leave. That is still better, I think…"

Kid's eyes widened; he remembered what Mrs. O'Flannigan had told him earlier, and thought silently, "Strange they certainly are, but not all of them have cold hearts…"

He stayed with her almost until the sun came up; fortunately it was a weekend dawning. She had so many questions—about him, about the house (which she could see from the bog), about legs, about the dog and his friend, and the list went on. He answered as many as he could, periodically managing to insert a few questions of his own. When he made to leave finally, Lithis stared up into his face and asked, "Will you ever come back?"

"Oh, yes." He smiled gently at her. "I'll come back often."

Lithis pressed the back of his hand against her cheek. "You must be interesting," she declared impishly.

"I promise," he told her, "but you must be, too."

The fair lady nodded in agreement as he turned to go. "I will tell you many wonderful things…"

She waved once as he trotted back toward the house, then disappeared back to her watery lair. When Kid got home, he went to his room, tossed off his shoes, and flopped unceremoniously on the bed. Within minutes he was sound asleep. He dreamed. It involved a purple squirrel running for President in Belgium, and had absolutely nothing to do with bogs or water-dwelling women.