The air was thick with fog when Cale snuck out of his quiet house. He crept through the winding paths of the garden that surrounded his home and reached the curb in a matter of seconds. Earlier that day he had left his bike propped up against the telephone pole and he easily found it again in the dark. It wasn't long before he picked up enough speed that the houses surrounding him became nothing more than blurs.
Slowly, the houses dwindled and the trees became numerous, their leaves thick and full in a way that city trees never are. He slowed down as he began to reach the edge of the forest, and let his bike roll to a stop. Cale abandoned his bicycle and entered the dark woods, stumbling as he tried to find the well-worn path he usually followed to get deeper into the rich foliage.
He walked for the next few minutes in complete silence. There were none of the usual night sounds. No hooting or screeching, no flap of wings, or the scurrying rustle of nocturnal animals. So when footsteps began to make their way towards Cale, they were not hard to hear.
"I know you're out there."
The reply was slow in coming and almost whispered. "Didn't I warn you against arriving after dark?"
"But then I would never see you. You know Maura doesn't let me out of her sight during the day."
"Your mother is doing what she thinks is best."
"She's trying to protect me from a faerie," Cale said with a raised eyebrow. "Of all the mythical creatures, I think everyone would be the least worried about faeries."
"Perhaps you don't know our kind as well as you think. There is plenty to fear from the Fey."
"Yeah, he might bore me to death. Are we going or not? I didn't sneak out and ride all this way just to get lectured."
"Come along then."
"Has the dancing started?"
"It never ends."
After how badly Cale's mother had reacted about Satu, he'd never mentioned him to her again. When she questioned him about it he would give her a quizzical look as if he didn't know who she could possibly be talking about. It didn't really work, but Maura would rather forget anyway.
Once his mother had found out about Satu, they had moved as far away from any type of forest as they could get. It was a beach house that was less than ten minutes away from the coastline. Cale couldn't recall many good memories from their time there, but he did remember the elaborate sandcastles they would make in the cool, early mornings. His mother had seemed truly happy for once. Cale had thought that it might be an even trade. His best friend for his mother's happiness.
It didn't stay that way. After a week, Cale's mom started complaining about headaches. She would clutch at her head like she was in pain while she hid in her bedroom with the lights off and the blinds snapped shut. Cale never liked to go inside her bedroom when she was in one of those moods. It frightened him to see her muttering about forests and evil spirits. He knew his mother wasn't exactly normal, but she had never acted unstable.
By the second week, Cale's mother wouldn't leave her room for any reason. She would stare up at the ceiling with vacant eyes and murmur to herself incessantly, Cale had not known what to do. Sometimes, when the loneliness outweighed his fear of her, he would curl up in a corner of the room and just watch. She never looked back.
Cale finally called the authorities when she started relieving her bowels as she lay in bed. They had been quick to respond. He was allowed to sit inside the little ambulance when they took his mother to the hospital, which he had always thought would be cool. He hadn't liked the loud sirens. The paramedics told him it was okay to hold his mother's hand and he was a brave little boy. He stared at her pale hand, at the blue veins that covered it in a thin webbing. The skin had looked slick with spit or vomit, though Cale had been pretty sure it was vomit. He'd seen a corpse on television before, it didn't look much different. He held on to her clammy hand for the entire seventeen minutes it took to get to the hospital.
Cale could remember the bright lights and the small television that was secured in the top corner of the room. He remembered the sharp, sterile smell of the bed sheets and the sickly sweet scent that clung throughout the halls. At first, there were a lot of doctors who wanted to talk to him. Then the ladies in smartly dressed suits and clacking shoes took him to a room and questioned him for what felt like hours. They wanted to know everything that happened at home. Cale thought it was a better idea to fib just a little.
By the time he finished answering all the questions his mother had woken up and was demanding to see him. Cale hadn't really wanted to go back to the room with its fuzzy television and hard steel chairs. But he thought that if he refused the suit ladies might start scribbling on their notepads again.
The doctors said his mother was doing much better and everything would be fine. Cale had thought she looked worse. The color of her skin had deepened to purple under her eyes and splotched along her arms, like someone had been hitting her. She smiled at him whenever she caught his eyes, but she was too exhausted to talk. She was released from the hospital two days later and by then she looked a little better. The doctor had left them alone after telling his mom that she could sign herself out at the front desk.
Cale could still remember the muggy afternoon heat that leaked into the room and the harsh sounding buzz of the crackling television. He had been standing beside her bed as the door shut behind the doctor. His mother had turned to him and lifted her frail hand to brush his cheek. Cale jerked away so fast that he had stumbled over his own feet, leaving a large gap between the two of them. It was so large that, even nine years later, they still hadn't been able to cross it. His mother hadn't said a word. They went straight to the house and packed their things. It didn't matter where they moved after that. They were never far from the woods again.
Cale's childhood was a blend of little one bedroom apartments and a stream of men with large houses and even larger wallets. His mother flitted from one relationship to the next and kept Cale guarded safely to her. But it didn't matter how careful she was, Satu always found him.
Sometimes, Cale thought that he spent too much time focused on his otherworldly friend. He never had time to make friends in any of his new schools, because he was constantly trying to think of ways to sneak out and see Satu. He always ended up being labeled as the weird kid or the loner. Cale would have given up much more if it meant keeping Satu.
Although, Cale wouldn't mind trading the other boy in for a more laid-back version.
"Satu, come dance," Cale pleaded. "I promise you'll enjoy it."
"I'm fine. Go on, have fun." Satu motioned him on and positioned himself against the wall of bark leading up to the giant tree, which loomed over the twirling faeries.
Cale wanted to spend more time persuading him, but he'd never been able to before and the thrumming beat of music was calling him so sweetly. He had never been nervous about dancing with the faeries. It wasn't like dancing in the human world, where most people were awkward or tried to put too much effort into it. Everything about the faeries made you feel secure and welcome. The way they would immediately drift apart to allow newcomers room to join and the way they smiled so brightly, as if having the chance to dance with you was the only reason they'd begun. His hands were gripped firmly and he was swept away with the rest of them to the swift, plucked tune of a fiddle.
The bobbing lights danced along and they looked like they had formed one bright beam while Cale spun around the enclosure. The world tilted harshly. Someone had grabbed on to him and pulled him to a stop. Cale almost lashed out, not wanting to leave so early, but then realized that the pale skin and dark hair didn't belong to Satu. The girl smiled at him and pulled him close against herself. Cale smiled back and stared into the familiar blue eyes without seeing her at all. She started spinning again and Cale was having trouble keeping up with her fast movements. They were drifting further from the group, but Cale had yet to notice. He was fascinated by the wings that brushed across his fingers with each move she made. They were colored with the soft pink of an open clamshell and shimmered in the swaying lights. Cale watched as his hand caressed the ridged lines that formed the top of her wings. She giggled into his shoulder and pulled him in tighter.
All of a sudden the ground was gone and Cale clung to her in surprise as they started to rise. He could feel the rush of wind against his arms as her wings fluttered hard to keep them both aloft. He had seen other faeries rise above the rest and fly away into the dark. No one had ever done it to him. And why hadn't they done it before? He'd never felt such a rush as he rose above the colorful dancers. He couldn't wait until Satu got his wings, they would have to test them out extensively.
His thoughts were interrupted when he was suddenly jerked back to the ground with a solid grip on his leg. Satu caught him as the other faerie finally let go and he folded Cale into his arms. Satu snarled wordlessly at the girl and she backed away quickly, her head bowed in terror. Cale scrambled to get out of the hard embrace to stop him, but Satu had a firm hold and he dragged him away before Cale could even apologize to the poor girl.
"What are you doing?" Cale demanded. Satu ignored him and waited until they passed back into the human world before he relaxed his grip. Cale jerked away from him as soon as he could.
"What she did was unacceptable." Satu crossed his arms over his chest and glared at the smaller boy.
"We were dancing! We agreed that, as long as you were here, I could join in. Now you're acting like some kind of psycho! What's wrong with you?"
"She didn't want to dance with you." Satu's face hardened into a sneer. "She wanted to fuck you!"
"So what! Who cares if that's what she wanted. I'm seventeen years old. I can make my own decisions on whom to fuck, mom!"
"She wouldn't have given you a choice."
"Well maybe that's not such a bad thing." Cale glared and swiftly turned away. He didn't make it any more than two steps before Satu had a hand on him and yanked him back around.
"You're my friend, not hers, not any of them. I let you dance with them because you want to. But they are not allowed to take you from me." Satu's voice was no longer heated with anger, but the force behind his words was barely restrained.
Cale sighed and looked away from Satu. "No one's going to take me away from you, I promise. You're my best friend and nothing will change that, but you have to give me some room to make new friends."
"Then go make human friends," Satu said. "I will not bend on this. Faeries don't befriend humans, they use them."
"Is that what you're doing? Using me?" Cale pulled away violently.
Satu glared at Cale, his lips pressed tight enough that the edges were white with the pressure.
"I didn't mean it like that," Cale backtracked. "I know you're not using me."
"You're special, Cale," Satu whispered and drew the boy into a loose hug. "I don't want any harm to come to you."
"I know," Cale said quietly and bowed his head against Satu's shoulder.
Cale had never understood how the faerie realm worked. Satu had tried to explain but it never made much sense. All he knew was that there was some kind of portal that could be used and it wasn't based on physical location. He'd tried many times to get into the faerie realm by his own means. Satu would follow behind him without a word, until Cale finally gave up and would throw out his hand for the other boy to grab. It took only seconds for the realms to swiftly change and Satu always had this obnoxious smirk painted on his face, which only infuriated Cale more. Satu said it was possible for a human to get there on his or her own, but refused to go into detail. Cale was determined to figure it out one day.
They didn't go to the faerie realm every day. Most days they would explore the surrounding forest and, on a few rare occasions, Cale had been able to convince Satu to journey out into the human world. They never made it into the actual city, but the suburban sprawl was large enough that there were plenty of choices.
They stuck closer to parks and more wooded areas. Satu was uncomfortable around crowds and liked having the choice to disappear into the forest if the need arose. Cale did manage to drag Satu to the movies one time. He had thought the new Disney movie, Wall-E, would be a safe one to see. When the little robot found the first evidence of a living plant, Satu had tears in his eyes. Later, as the movie ended and people started walking out, Satu had turned to him with a betrayed look and demanded to know if humans would really kill off all plant life. They hadn't seen a movie since.
It was on one of those lazy, do-nothing days when everything changed. Cale's mother had gone out to lunch with one of their new neighbors and her boyfriend was at work. Cale couldn't be bothered to go anywhere and since no one was due home any time soon, he convinced Satu to hangout at the house. Though they never actually strayed any closer than the backyard, Satu had always refused to go inside.
Cale retrieved the sprinkler from the outdoor storage room and hooked it up so that he could lie on one side of it. The spray of water felt wonderful in the stifling heat.
"Come on Satu, you have to get wet at least once. It's too hot to stay dry. You can borrow one of my swimsuits," Cale said as he stared up into the clear sky.
"I'm fine," Satu said. He was hiding beneath the nearest tree, a safe six feet from Cale and the sprinkler.
"You're missing out." Cale grinned as the water hit him once again. "It feels really good."
Satu shook his head and kept his gaze locked on Cale as if the boy would disappear any moment. Cale rolled his eyes. Satu was always overprotective, but this was a little much, even for him. Cale would swear the other boy hadn't taken his eyes off of him once since he'd returned from changing into his swimsuit. They were in Cale's backyard. What could happen?
"What color will your wings be?" Cale propped himself up and looked over at his friend with sudden curiosity.
"White," Satu responded without hesitation.
"That's pretty boring. Everyone else has colored wings. Are you sure yours will be white?"
"Oh," Cale said and dropped back down to lie on the ground. "When will you get them?"
"When I reach maturity," Satu said. He already sounded bored with the conversation.
"You're almost eighteen. Does that mean you'll get them soon?" Cale continued to pester him.
"It doesn't work like that. We don't use age to determine maturity."
"Well, how do you know when you're an adult?"
"It's difficult to explain, Cale. Can we talk about something else?"
Cale rolled his eyes, but kept quite.
"Would it be alright if I never grew my wings?" Satu asked, his voice subdued.
"But you're a faerie. Faeries have wings," Cale said in confusion and turned to look at the other boy.
"Yes, I know. But if I didn't, would it matter?"
"No, I guess not. I really want to see them, but it wouldn't change anything."
Cale lay under the water for another fifteen minutes before he finally got sick of it and wandered off towards the house to grab a towel.
"The flowers are blooming. Aren't they pretty?" Cale said as he stopped beside the large mass of foxgloves that grew around the house.
"They're repulsive," Satu said and looked at them with more than a little disgust on his face.
"I don't see what you have against them, they're just flowers. I thought you loved nature," Cale said and plucked a bell-shaped bloom off the vine.
"They stink and the longer you roll around in them the more foul you smell." Satu watched warily as Cale rolled the yellow flower between his fingers.
"You're such a baby," Cale laughed. "You know, no matter how many times we move, Mom always grows foxgloves around the house. She said they'd keep out all the monsters. They're so pretty that when I was a kid I always wanted to eat them all up. They looked like little candy bells."
"If you eat that thing, don't expect me to go near you anytime soon. You'll have to bleach out your mouth first."
Cale grinned impishly.
"Oh god," Satu groaned just before Cale popped the flower into his mouth.
"Hmm, definitely not candy. Ugh, that really didn't taste good." Cale rubbed his tongue against his sleeve as he tried to get rid of the taste.
"I told you not to eat it, idiot." Satu smirked as Cale continued to make nauseated sounds.
"Oh man, I think I'm actually sick," Cale groaned and held onto his stomach. Satu rolled his eyes, an action he'd seen Cale use numerous times, and sat up as he waited for his friend to stop fooling around.
Cale stared at the other boy in mute fear and his body was suddenly wracked with hacking coughs. He scrabbled at his throat with both hands as he tried to breathe around his quickly swelling throat.
"Cale?" Satu was starting to look nervous. "You okay?"
"Yeah, I just-," Cale choked out and then broke off before he finished. He quickly covered his mouth with a sudden attempt to force something back inside. His body bent at the waist as he leaned over and started heaving violently.
"Cale!" Satu's voice rose franticly. He stared across the short distance that he would never be able to cross. He started pacing the perimeter, like a wild cat ready to pounce as soon as he found a weak spot. "Is there anyway you can get over here? I can't get to you."
Cale didn't even acknowledge that he'd heard the other boy as he continued to vomit. His face was red with strain and the chords of his throat were bulging as he continued to retch. The only thing that broke it up were the violent coughs which wracked his body, leaving him precious little time to breathe.
"Cale, I have to get my mother, she'll fix this. I'll be right back! Just wait, okay. I promise I'll be back soon." Satu stared at the boy a second longer and then let out a dry sob of frustration and took off running.
Cale didn't remember much when he finally woke up. He could vaguely recall his mother's fearful screams when she found him and the gasping breaths, which were so painful he thought they'd be his last, as they waited for help. His mother held on to him when he couldn't keep himself up and he didn't even have the energy to pull away from her frightened embrace. The familiar screaming sirens could be heard long before they arrived. He remembered feeling like his throat was on fire and the pain in his stomach was as if it was being torn out strip by strip then pulled up his throat with jagged blades. Then there was a shock of pain when they punctured his throat, trying to relieve the pressure. His mother said that by the time they reached the hospital he was in convulsions. Though he wouldn't know, he'd blacked out before they even left the house. Most disappointingly, he doesn't remember Satu ever coming back. Cale knew that Satu had started screaming something about getting his mother. He doesn't remember the other boy ever returning.
Cale lets his anger simmer for a couple of days as he recovered in the sterile white room. He was alone most of the time. His mother had tried to stay with him but he'd been as obnoxious as he could to get her to leave. He was back home before the worry started to gnaw at him. Satu never would have left him on purpose. It wasn't his fault that Cale didn't know foxgloves were toxic and, even worse, he was allergic. Although his mother seemed to know, she didn't look surprised when the doctor explained what happened. She kept silent and stared blankly at Cale with empty eyes, like it was his fault he had been poisoned. She had never once told him not to mess with the plants, even when he was a kid.
Cale thought back to Satu's face when he had started getting sick. He'd never seen the other boy look so scared. Cale grinned, he'd be sure to rub it in when Satu finally showed up.
Only, he didn't show up. When Cale finally decided it would be up to him to find Satu, he didn't think about it much. He just left his house and started walking. An hour and forty minutes later, he was still walking. Now he was stranded in the middle of the forest, without a clue which direction his house was in. He thought he'd be able to do it like Satu, just know where the other boy was. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. He kept on through the maze of trees until they started thinning out and found his way back to the main road. When he finally admitted defeat, it was approaching nightfall and the pink hue of the setting sun was already covering the city in a sweet embrace.
Cale walked along the street with his shoulders slumped in failure. He was never going to find Satu this way. He didn't even know where to start. Where did one look for a missing teenage faerie? Cale gave a snort, he could always post fliers. Missing faerie, if found please contact. Yeah, that'd work out great.
He continued on that way for the next couple of days. He wandered around the forest and made sure to stop by their favorite pond at least twice a day, hoping that he would just bump into Satu. When that didn't work he took the next logical step, he searched the Internet.
Apparently, he'd had it wrong all along. He should have been looking under leaves and between forks in the road. Cale rolled his eyes, but what did he expect it's not like you could really find the answer for something like that. He clicked on the next site anyways and sat back in his chair in consideration. He'd never heard of faerie rings before, but it almost sounded plausible. Cale didn't think he'd seen them before, but they couldn't be too hard to find. All he had to do was find a ring of rocks or mushrooms and step in the middle.
Or at least it was easy in theory. Any rocks he found that made a passable circle did nothing and mushrooms grew in clumps, not rings. He was almost out of the woods when he found something that might work. There were only four mushrooms and it looked more like a lopsided square then a circle, but it couldn't hurt to try.
Cale closed his eyes and stepped in the middle of the mushrooms. A gust of wind blew by and he could almost hear the tittering laughter of the faeries. Cale quickly opened his eyes and immediately felt foolish. He stepped away from the little group of mushrooms and tried to bury his disappointment. Cale unconsciously rubbed at the bond mark on his palm.
"God, Satu. Where the hell are you?" He whispered.
He heard the laughter and the fast twang of the fiddle before his eyes could even comprehend what they were seeing. He grinned as he watched the dancing faeries and twisted around looking for the solid wall of the oak tree that would lead to Satu. There was nothing around them and Cale stared in confusion, he was positive that this was the right place he could even recognize a few of the faeries. But his surroundings were completely unrecognizable.
"Lookie, lookie," one of the faeries began to croon as he slowed down and caught sight of Cale. "The Magpie's human has come to play!"
Three more faeries separated from the swirling, dancing mass of bodies. They tittered and giggled as they circled him. Cale couldn't even tell if they were male or female. They were all thin as rails with beautiful, sharp faces. The one closest to Cale pulled at his hair. "What are you doing so far from our little prince, human? Are you lost? Does the little human need help?"
The others giggled in unison and came closer plucking at his clothing and pinching his skin. Dread lay heavy in his stomach as Cale tried to pull away from them only to find himself blocked off from any exit. He stared back in fear at their slanted eyes and the lips which were stretched in such wide smiles that they looked half mad.
"No, I think the Magpie Prince was too boring for our fun, little human." The faerie leered at him and yanked Cale off his feet. "Don't worry we know how to entertain a little human boy."
"Oh, but we shouldn't!" the smallest faerie tittered. "Just think of what the Magpie Prince would do!"
"Have you heard, little human?" Another of the faeries asked. "We adopted one of your poems for our prince. I'm sure you would like to hear it."
"One for sorrow, two for mirth. Three for a wedding, four for a birth," the small faerie sung. "Five for silver, six for gold. Seven for a secret not to be told."
The faerie that still held him aloft interrupted the rhyme. "And our Magpie Prince is only one," the faerie said. "So full of sorrow he is! I wonder… will you be the next to die, little human? Our sweet prince has left more than one cold body in his wake."
"Leave him." Cale jerked his head around in relief and caught sight of the most magnificent faerie he'd ever seen. She stood tall and her long neck looked elegant as she held her head high. There was a soft glow that seemed to emit from every pore of her being. Her pure white wings were laced in a webbed design that covered them fully. They were easily double the size of any other faerie's wingspan, but instead of looking unstable, they looked regal.
The faeries dropped him and backed away in immediate subservience. Cale turned to his savior and smiled at her in gratitude. She stared back at him with cold disdain.
"Why have you come here?"
"I have to find Satu. Have you heard of him? Do you know where he could be?" Cale asked quickly. He didn't want to push his luck, but if she knew anything he had to ask.
"Satu is no concern of yours," she snapped. There was a crack in her still, porcelain mask and her lips twisted into a frown. "I can assure you that you will remain unharmed if you leave now, but I make no promises if you do not."
Cale looked around and found that there was not a single moving body surrounding them. All the faeries stood still as they watched the exchange. He didn't want to be left up to the mercy of the faeries, but he couldn't leave without Satu.
"Can't you just tell him I'm here," Cale pleaded and reached out a hand as if he could persuade her.
"What have you done?" she sounded horrified and Cale didn't understand why. She grabbed his arm and yanked him closer as she stared at his palm.
Cale tried to back away and stumbled when she didn't release him.
"Mother, no!" Cale heaved a sigh of relief, Satu was running towards them. She let Cale go and turned to face her son.
"I told you to stay away from the human world. You went against my direct order and bonded yourself to one!" Her lips pulled away in a snarl as she yelled at Satu. "Make him forget or stand aside and say goodbye. He cannot be allowed to remember, he is a threat to our very way of life."
"Please, give us some time, let us think of a different solution," Satu begged.
"Do this now or I will handle it."
Satu let out another strangled sob and rushed to his friend's side. He wrapped Cale up in his arms and tucked the boy's head under his chin. "I never wanted things to end this way, Cale. I wanted to keep you forever."
"What's going on, Satu?" Cale whispered into the taller boy's shoulder.
"You will not be allowed to retain your memories."
"My memories?" Cale asked, confused.
"You cannot leave here alive with any memory of who I am or our existence."
"Satu?" Cale was frightened he didn't understand what the other boy was saying.
"I love you, Caley," Satu said as he gripped the smaller hands in his own. Satu placed a gentle kiss on the other boy's soft lips and backed away.
The woman's face transformed into a hard smile, satisfied with her son's obedience.
"No! Satu!" Cale said in desperate fear. He sobbed as he franticly tried to follow after the other boy. "Please don't!"
The last thing Cale heard was Satu's own broken sobs as the world spun out of control.
Cale woke the next morning refreshed and ready for school. If he felt a little off, well that wasn't too strange, they'd just moved and it was to be expected. If he went through the day trying to recall the name of a friend, only to forget, it wasn't anything remarkable. He'd met many different people throughout the years and couldn't be expected to remember all of them.
When he began to stroke his palm nervously, as he had done since he was a little boy, he happened to glance down at the unblemished flesh. He stared at his palm as if he'd never seen it before. His chest heaved in pain as a terrible sadness burrowed into his heart. But that wasn't anything new. He had always been alone.