I live alone. That's how it's always been. Just me and Gray in our little inner-city apartment. I don't like people all that much, I guess. And I don't keep any more than one cat at a time. It's a hassle, looking after anyone other than myself. And even that's a pain, sometimes.
So, when the guest showed up on my doorstep, I was surprised. With the exception of the landlord, people don't pay me visits. His visits are brief and angry, and our conversations are usually limited to how much money I owe him for the month. Sometimes I bring his parentage up, but that usually makes him angrier. Maybe it would help if I didn't think he was descended from goats.
This wasn't the landlord, though. In fact, I'd hesitate to describe him as a person. He stood only half a foot tall. And by "stood", I mean he dangled from Gray's mouth, limp and lifeless. Gray's my cat, by the way. He's an orange tom, so his name isn't really a description. It's short for Graymalkin. And it suits him. He's the meanest thing on four legs I've ever met. He'll hunt anything smaller than him, fight with anything bigger than him, and screw every unspayed female in the city. He's also fiercely loyal to me, and to show it, he brings back trophies to leave at my door.
Over the past few months, animals that have shown up battered or dead at my doorstep have included: seven chipmunks, one seriously big rat, three pigeons, and someone's little yap dog (The rat was still alive, which I figured out as soon as it stopped playing dead and made a break between my legs. Eventually I cornered it behind the refrigerator and beat it to death with a broom.) This time, Gray brought back a fairy.
Now, my grandmother was hardcore Irish back when I was a girl. She would be still, if she hadn't passed away while I was going through high school. It's hard to keep your culture when you're dead. But, when she was still kicking, she was a force to be reckoned with. She could argue the knob off a door or drink my step-dad under the table. And she always told the best stories. Stuff about singing ghosts and little men. She told them like she believed them, too. I never did. At least, not until now. It's kind of hard to doubt when there's a dead pixie on your doorstep.
"Gray!" I scolded. He looked startled. I'd never yelled at him for his other presents. I guess I liked hearing the angry mutters of my neighbors when they passed by. Gray bristled, but he was too much of a cat to do anything about it. Instead, he dropped the little man at my feet and sauntered into the apartment, pretending he wasn't interested in me anymore. I reached down and picked up the fairy.
Yeah, he's definitely dead, I thought when the man's head lolled over. The spine had been snapped, probably by a single pounce. Of course, there were scratches down his thighs and teeth marks where he'd been carried. I cupped him in one hand, stepped back into the apartment, and closed the door behind me. No point in letting everyone know my pet had murdered one of the little folk.
Inside the apartment, Gray was nowhere to be found. I guess that was good for him. My temper's a slow-burning thing, but he'd lit it. According to Grandma, the little folk were protectors of people and places. Treat them well and they'd reward you. Treat them poorly, and they might sour all the milk in your fridge out of spite. I was—albeit indirectly—responsible for one of their deaths. I really wasn't thrilled about the prospect of revenge.
See, most months I made just enough to get by. The rent got paid for eventually, after the landlord and I had our little conference. A lot of money went to groceries and takeout food. Every once in a long while I rented a movie, but I usually just stole them over the internet. I did contract work, graphic design, and that paid pretty well. But the contracts weren't always reliable. When things got really bad, I scraped by working tables at a nearby diner. It was called "Frank's". The menu there was just about as imaginative as the name, and the pay was even worse. But I made do, as long as my luck held. Now that I'd gone and pissed off the magical folk, though, I had a problem.
I couldn't really think of what I should do, so I started by doing nothing. I put the dead man (thing) on the kitchen table on top of a couple layers of paper towel. Then I fished a mug out of one of the top cupboards, set it on the counter, and started boiling water. I always think better with a little caffeine in me.
The kettle snapped and hissed, and the fairy lay perfectly still. I stared at him, my chin cupped in my hands. He'd be pretty attractive if he wasn't a) tiny and b) dead, thought a tiny corner of my mind. I told it to shut up. It ignored me. Or maybe I'm just thinking that because I haven't seen a naked man in person for…how long has it been? The little man was naked as a bluebird, but that hardly seemed like it should be a relevant detail to me. I shook my head to clear it. The kettle shrilled. I got up and made hot chocolate. It was powdered stuff from a generic brand, and it tasted slightly better than water, but it kept me occupied for a few minutes.
When I was done, I went back to the table and sat down. I sipped my hot chocolate, not tasting it. Maybe he'll just wake up, I thought. He is magical, after all. He didn't show any signs of it, though. Apart from being unnaturally small, he might've been human. No wings. No goat horns. No antennae. Just a still life in miniature.
I put a finger on his chest, feeling for a pulse. Nothing. I cursed. At Gray. At life in general. At the landlord, projecting my voice in his direction. Then I took anther drink of hot chocolate and went to my computer. Might as well keep busy.
My computer wasn't anything special, but it had all the tools I needed for my work. It also had the internet. I raised my browser and spent a fruitless couple of hours searching for any intelligent information on fairies. What I found was: teen fiction, porn, neo-mysticism, porn, rants about homosexuality, porn, and some flowery artwork. The artwork was pretty. The porn was disturbing. Not once did I find a useful remedy for dead fairies in the apartment. The closest I came to that was an article on placating live fairies. It suggested leaving gifts for them, thanking them for their services, and—most importantly—believing in them.
I didn't think I was going to have a problem with the last part, so I went directly to my refrigerator to see about the first two. Now, the article talked about leaving milk and honey and bread and cheese, so that's what I rummaged for. I wasn't a tea person, so the honey was out from the start. I didn't find much use for cheese in my cooking, but I did have some parmesan. That came out of the fridge and went on the table beside the man. A couple of slices of bread followed suit, but they turned out to be moldy. I chucked them in the garbage. The milk was sour and it followed them.
I looked at the jar of parmesan, half-full, and put my hands on my hips. Then I shut the fridge door, got up on the counter, and fished a bottle of brandy out from one of the top shelves. I placed it next to the cheese. I also ripped a sticky note off the fridge, crossed off the grocery list crawling across its face, and wrote "Thank you for your services" in the narrow margin at the bottom. I stuck it to the brandy bottle, gathered up both offerings and fairy, and set them down by the doorway. Then I waited.
I'm not sure why I expected something to happen right away. It didn't. For a good five minutes, there was nothing. I squatted down and uncapped the brandy, taking a small sip to make sure it was good. It was. Then I pulled the top off the parmesan. After that I stood back up and waited another five minutes. Nothing. Finally, I sighed and walked away, checking behind my back just in case. Unless the little folk were camouflaged, I didn't see anything.
Gray always came back in the evenings, and I'd wasted a few hours searching the internet, so it was pretty late when I left my offering. My month's contract was done, and people weren't exactly lining up to hire me, so I went back to my computer and watched a couple of movies. The first was an indie film I'd been meaning to watch for a while. It was about a man who took care of the octopuses (octapi?) at an inner-city aquarium. I almost fell asleep during it. The second was slightly more exciting. It was a German zombie movie. Halfway through it the subtitles failed, but that didn't bother me much. The plot was predictable enough that I didn't need dialogue to guess how it was going to turn out. In the last five minutes, the zombies ate the hero and his blonde girlfriend. I was briefly glad of my red hair.
When the movies finished, I deleted them and queued up a few new ones. Then I turned off my screen and left the computer to run overnight. I'm not normally a night-owl, and I didn't see the point of sitting watch for the fairies. They'd show up whenever they chose to. I might as well be rested when they arrived.
I left my computer and walked over to my bed. It was messily unmade, but there was no one around to critique it. I stripped off my clothing, pulled on pajama pants and a t-shirt, and flopped onto the mattress. Despite my intentions, it was a long time before I actually got any sleep.