The Injured Visitor
I was used to my mother having odd guests over for dinner. They would show up without warning and each time my mother would welcome them fondly, fix up a meal, and then banish my brother, Daniel, and I to the game room with instructions to not bother her company. We'd sit on the floor or half-in a chair, playing video games, and listening to the sound of laughter and conversation drift down the hallways. Sometimes our dad would join us, sitting on the couch near the back and watching us play. He said that their accents made it difficult for him to talk to them. That and mother knew them and he well, didn't.
That's the thing. They were mother's guests and we never questioned much about them.
Then one night that all changed and I started to wonder where these people came from, why they had strange accents, and why mother knew so many of them. That was when Elbrane showed up at our front door, late one night when the wind was high and had long ago chased every living thing indoors. I was asleep in my bed but the wild pounding at the door woke me with a start. I could hear my brother asking what it was and my parents getting up and making their way through the hall. I crept out of bed and over to the door. Across the hall my brother looked at me for a moment and then down at my parent's room. He was younger than me, brown-haired and often mistaken for my twin.
"Should we go see?" he asked.
I could hear my parents talking on the stairway.
"If its not one of them I'm calling the police…" my father was saying.
"Shush, I can handle this."
"I'm standing by the phone and calling if anything goes wrong."
"Do no such thing!"
And my mother hurried down the rest of the stairs to the door. Outside, the wind howled and rattled against the windows. I jumped and ran down the hallway to the stairs and clung to my father's hand. He looked down for a moment.
"Go back to bed Bailey," he said.
"What's going on?"
"We'll take care of this. You tell your brother to go back to bed as well."
I let go of his hand and backed up a step, crouching on the stairs. He walked down to the landing and I stayed where I was, peering through the banister and watching as my mother opened the door a crack. A dark figure fell through, banging the door open, and my mother caught him and lay him across her lap. He was covered in a dark jacket that fell all the way to his ankles, as so many of her visitors were, but when he fell the hood fell back and I saw how pale he was, and when my mother pulled her hand away from his side it shone red in the entryway light.
"Elbrane…" she breathed and looked up at my father, "Go get the first aid kit and put on some hot water."
Then her gaze traveled up the stairs to where I was. I gasped and ducked behind the wall but not nearly fast enough.
"Bailey! Go to your room and stay there. Make sure your brother goes back to bed. You shouldn't be up right now."
It was best not to argue with mother when she got that tone of voice. I crept back up, walking slowly to hear what was happening, and just as I reached the top of the stairs I heard the stranger speak.
"That was… the eldest daughter?"
"My only daughter," my mother replied grimly, "Now be quiet. You need to save your strength."
My brother was waiting at the end of the hallway.
"It's one of mom's friends," I told him, "I think he's hurt."
Daniel nodded and chewed on his knuckle. It was a habit he did when he was scared. I took his hand out of his mouth and pulled him towards my room.
"C'mon," I said, "You can sleep in my room. You won't be scared then, right?"
"I'm not afraid," he said, pulling his hand away and backing up, "I'm not."
Ever since he turned twelve Daniel had been trying to prove to his older sister that he was as big and brave as I was. I shrugged.
"Fine. Mom said to get back to bed."
Well, at least she had told him to go back to bed. She'd only told me to go back to my room. So I sat on my bed, trying to hear what was going on downstairs from the faint voices that wafted through the floor vents. The wind drowned most of it out but I managed to make out some snippets.
"…been opened again…"
"…traitor? Makes no sense…"
"…call an ambulance…"
And then a brief period of arguing. Then silence. I drifted off to sleep at that lull, unable to keep my eyes open, and the wind beat at my window until morning.
I woke and dressed for school like any other day. Downstairs my father had put out the cereal and was gathering up his briefcase to leave for work.
"You'll have to walk yourselves to the bus stop today," he said, kissing my forehead as he passed, "Mother is sleeping. She's had a late night."
"Is the person still here?" I asked.
"He's in the guest bedroom, sleeping. Do not go in there, understand? Let him sleep."
And as soon as the door shut behind him I went running on bare feet down to the guest bedroom. It was downstairs on the other end of the house as my parent's so mother would never hear me snooping. I wanted a look at this stranger. At the kitchen table my brother watched me from over his bowel of cereal.
"They'll be mad," he said.
"They won't know," I replied, and eased the door open. It was dark in the room with the light from the windows blocked by heavy curtains. I crept across the carpet to the double bed where the visitor lay under the covers, sound asleep.
I had to stand on tiptoes, balancing with one hand on the bedside table, to see him clearly. He was still pale like the night before, his lips slightly parted and cracked, and curly black hair over his brow. And horns. Two twisted little horns on his brow that curved back over the contour of his skull. And ears like those of a deer. I gasped. How had I not seen those last night?
He opened his eyes. I froze, my breath catching in my throat and my stomach tying into a knot. Now I'd done it. Mother was going to be furious. I'd woken her visitor up.
"Bailey, is it?" he whispered, blinking and not seeming at all surprised to see me standing over him. I nodded. "I've wanted to see you."
He smiled and closed his eyes again.
"I'm Elbrane. Pleasure to meet you. Now go on, you need to get to school."
I fairly fled the room.
Daniel wanted to know what I had seen the entire time we were waiting for the bus. I kept telling him that it was nothing and finally the bus came and I was able to go sit with my friends and avoid him. He kept glancing back at me over the seats.
I was able to lose him when we reached the school building. He was in the 6th grade, which was downstairs, while I was upstairs with the rest of the eighth graders. My friends followed me to our lockers. I was putting my backpack away when Laruen banged into the one next to me, making me jump. She put her head against the door and looked at me.
"Quite a storm yesterday, huh?" she said, "No rain but it knocked a bunch of branches off our trees. Katherine was saying she lost power and almost missed the bus cause her alarm didn't go off."
"Uh-huh," I said and pulled out my math book.
"You're awfully quiet this morning."
"I'm tired. Didn't get much sleep last night. The wind kept me up."
"Ah, well, too bad. I'll see you at lunch!"
I couldn't stop thinking about Elbrane and his strange horns all through school. I could barely concentrate on my friends at lunch and finally I begged off and went up to the library for the rest of the lunch period. There was a class being held in one corner of it but the rest was fairly empty save for a few students from the high school portion of our school. I avoided them usually. They were tall and talked loudly and used bad words. And some of them smoked. I'd see them hiding outside the building, trying not to get caught, and they always smelled bad.
One of the librarian was used to me. Her name was Ms. Pierce and she always helped me find books when I needed them. She was shelving books in one corner and I walked over and said hello.
"Well, Bailey! Been a little bit since I've seen you. Forgotten how to read?"
I scuffed at the floor with my foot and smiled shyly. Ms. Pierce was older than my mother and looked a bit like a grandmother. A very tall and wiry grandmother with a long silver braid and very odd choice in clothing. Today she looked like what my mother always called 'flower children.'
"I need a book to find something," I said, "I think it's like… a fairy."
"Mythical creatures then? Well, what do you know about what you're looking for?"
I gestured to my head.
"He's got horns, that look like this, and ears like… like a deer. Or a goat or something."
I shrugged. Ms. Pierce clicked her tongue and led me over to the reference section. I didn't go there very often.
"Sounds to me like something out of Greek mythology," she said, "Ever heard of Pan? He was a creature with horns, ears, and was a goat from the waist down."
I blinked. I hadn't seen Elbrane's legs due to the jacket, but maybe they were those of a goat. I tried to picture that in my head.
"Here, read this. It should tell you about Pan."
She slipped a rather thick book in my hand. On the cover was a man with a sword and a shield facing a strange creature with hair made of snakes. Statues littered the courtyard around them.
I read all about Pan and his pipes and the nymph he chased when I should have been listening to my teachers. I got in trouble once or twice, but by the time the buses came and the bell rang to let us go I had finished up the story. I said goodbye to my friends, making an effort to appear more in-touch with what was going on around me, and then sat down next to my brother. He eyed me suspiciously. I never sat with him on the bus.
"Read this," I said, "I've bookmarked the chapter you should read. I think mom's visitor is one of those."
Daniel flipped open the book and stared at the illustration of Pan sitting in a tree. Looked up at me like I was crazy.
"Oh, just read it," I snapped. And sulked for the rest of the ride home.
Mom was setting out snacks when I got home. I dropped my backpack in the entryway and sat down; pushing at the apple slices morosely while my brother devoured his in a hurry. Mom was making tea over at the stove. She is a small woman, only reaches my father's shoulder, but is strong, stubborn, and has bright red hair. It curled like copper wires around her neck.
"Mom, can I take some to Elbrane?" I asked.
"Yeah, your visitor."
She turned to the stove and looked at me. I tried to appear innocent.
"How do you know his name is Elbrane?"
"He told me."
She sighed and put her hand to her head.
"You talked to him?" There was a note of resignation in her voice and I pressed on. I wasn't going to get in trouble yet.
"Uh-huh. Is he a satyr? Like Pan?"
"Best ask him that yourself."
And my brother swallowed his piece of apple whole and started coughing. While he was sorting that out I leapt from my chair, taking the plate with me, and ran off towards the guest bedroom.
Elbrane was awake and sitting up when I entered. The lamp was on so there was more light but the room was still quite dark. I walked over and held the plate out to him.
"I brought you a snack."
"Thank you Bailey."
He took it and set it in his lap. I couldn't see his legs as he had the covers pulled up to his waist. So I backed away and sat down in the nearby chair.
"You feeling better?"
"Much, now that your mother has bandaged me up."
He smiled weakly and lifted his arm so I could see the bandages wrapped around his side. I winced.
"What hurt you?"
"Best you not ask right now." He carefully lifted an apple slice and sniffed at it for a moment before biting in.
"Elbrane…" I said the name slowly, trying to get each syllable pronounced correctly, "I have a question."
"I may have an answer."
"Are you a satyr?"
He chuckled and didn't reply immediately. I fidgeted.
"Is it the horns?" he finally asked. I nodded. "Very well. I am like a satyr, as you know them, but no, I'm different. For one thing, I'm not half-goat."
"I'm half-deer. Look." And he shifted, pushing the covers back and pulling one leg up. I gasped. From the waist down he was covered in short brown fur, the leg bending at the knee, then forward again at the ankle to create a third joint that ended in a deer's hoof. Faint white spots showed on his thigh.
"You're a baby deer," I said.
"Well, I wouldn't say baby deer… see, they're going away. I'm what you would call a teenager. So I'm almost an adult."
"But you have horns, not antlers."
"Well, no, but does it matter?" He shrugged and ate another apple slice. I kicked the leg of the chair a couple times. I wondered if there should be something grander than this, that I should be excited and full of mystical awe to know that there was something more than just more humans and the boring world out there. But the room was dark and still and I could hear my mother setting out tea cups in the kitchen and nothing seemed strange or mysterious.
"Where do you come from?" I asked.
"A place called Lastille. My people went there a long time ago when humans started to spread into our territory and no longer cared for things of the other world."
"Is it another world?"
"And is mother from there?"'
He laughed and shook his head.
"No, no. M'lady Julie is from your world. She's been a long-time friend of my people."
I sunk in my chair. It hurt a little, to hear that. I'd heard the stories, heard the legends. And I had been hoping that there would be something special about my family, that we'd have some fairy heritage and I'd be not-quite human as well. Now, it was just my mother knew some strange people. Strange people from another world. A little different than before, but not by much.
"Thank you for the snack," Elbrane said, handing the empty plate back, "Would you tell your mother I feel well enough to speak to her now?"
"Sure. Thanks for talking to me Elbrane."
"A pleasure, young lady Bailey."
And he bowed his head at me. I hesitated, tried to curtsey real fast, and fled the room.
So Elbrane was there to stay. Daniel and I fought about it until finally I jumped him and held him down for calling me crazy. He kicked and screamed and I figured my mother would be there any second to yell at us both for fighting. But a cough from the doorway was what stopped his tantrum and I looked up to see Elbrane standing there, one of my father's t-shirts on and nothing to hide his deer legs.
"Your mother says 'do your homework'," he said, and walked past us to sit down in front of the TV, picking up one of the game controllers as he did.
"You… don't play video games, do you?" Daniel asked, struggling to get out from under me.
"No, but I thought I'd try."
And that was how Daniel and Elbrane became friends. It was a grand time having him around. I couldn't invite any of my friends over but that was okay because as Elbrane recovered from his injury he'd come play with me. We lived in a small town where houses were far and few between and ours was a little more isolated than most. Elbrane would come with me into the backyard and play badminton or tag. One day I tried to get him to come play in the woods with me and he just shook his head and suggested we go play at the swingset instead. That night my mother had a talk with me and asked me to stay out of the forest for a while.
"Is that how Elbrane got hurt?" I asked.
"Bailey, you are too quick for your own good. Yes, the forest might be dangerous right now. Stay away, alright?"
And I couldn't get either of them to say anything more. That was the annoying thing about my mother and Elbrane – neither would tell me anything about Lastille. He was polite, friendly, but anytime I brought it up he'd change the subject. And my mother would just send me to do chores.
"I say we go into the forest," I told Daniel one night, as we sat in his room doing homework. Or rather, I was checking his for mistakes. Mine was already finished.
"Mom told us to stay out."
"Mom tells us to do a lot of things."
"She'll catch us."
"No she won't. See, dad is going on a business trip this weekend and mom is driving him to the airport." I set down his assignment. "Elbrane will be home but he's so polite I bet we can sneak off without him noticing."
Daniel bit his lip. "Fine," he finally said, "but we're going to get in trouble."
"We've been in there plenty of times," I retorted, "nothing is going to go wrong. Besides, we'll go during daylight. Everything will be fine."
So it was decided that on Saturday, while mom was making the long drive to the airport, we'd sneak out and into the woods.