Quentin lives in a world of winding staircases, freshly laundered sheets, and tutors. On Monday through Friday, Miss Jasmine teaches him his letters and numbers, makes them a hot lunch, and then takes him to a playground that was built beside the Dark Glittering Lake. He likes to chase Canadian geese and feed the ducks and watch fat clamoring pigeons fuss amongst themselves, avoiding other children in favor of the swingset and his own company. Sometimes, he pretends he's a bird or an Archangel or something else with wings. He tells Miss Jasmine he wants to fly, and she suggests he be a pilot when he grows up, but that sounds awfully dull. "I want to fly. Of course planes can fly, but I want to fly."
Miss Jasmine chuckles, but Quentin knows there has to be a way. Looking out onto the horizon, he dreams of touching the clouds, plunging through their thick white water and scattering cotton wisps across a neon blue summer. He imagines hovering above a brewing storm, witnessing lightning's formation and trembling with great claps of thunder, feeling like no less than a God and sleeping in the warm rainbow that follows. (For his birthday, Daddy had given him a book about weather and another about Greek mythology, and Quentin confuses fact with fiction until it is inseparable. The day he turns sixteen, he will be convinced he'd owned a book that contained both an explanation of wind currents and stories of Zeus's conception, leading to a contemplation of the idiosyncratic nature of memory when his parents inevitably correct him. For now, he just wants to fly).
Papa stays home all day but runs a business and doesn't have time for Quentin until the evening, when Miss Jasmine kisses his forehead and says goodbye and someone in a shiny silver car picks her up, reflecting sunset down the street and disappearing into the sky. Quentin wipes away the kiss and rushes upstairs to Papa's study, where he sits in front of the flickering-glow machine and melts his brain or becomes a cyborg or slowly sinks into his chair until they are a single bioplastic monstrosity. Quentin giggles at the idea of Papa rolling through the house, earning Papa's eyes. "What are you doing in here, silly?"
He smiles and draws Quentin onto his lap. On the screen, there are lots of numbers on a white spreadsheet separated by wavering black lines. Quentin chirps, "Miss Jasmine just left. When's Daddy getting home?"
"He's giving a lecture, so he isn't going to be home until late, but we can wait up for him, if you want." Papa pats his head and rearranges some of the tiny-tiny numbers before shutting down the computer and letting his hypnotizer go black. His big hands dwarf the mouse and look bright peach on the indigo mousepad, the shadows between his tendons deep and angular. He is a big, handsome man with dark blond hair and eyes the same color as Quentin's and a voice like he's from somewhere else. "Do you want to finish a movie in the den, Quinn?"
Daddy doesn't call him Quinn. Daddy calls him Lee, which is his middle name, and says Quinn is a girls' name. When Papa says Quinn, it doesn't sound like a girls' name. It makes him smile like Papa smiles in the morning before he's made tired by The Tyrant Monitor and The Crunching Numbers and The Informed Consumer, an anonymous and ubiquitous entity who decides their Fate by means of Profit and Squiggly Red Lines. "The... yes, yes. I want to watch the one about uhm... Stitch!"
"Which one? We have two about Stitch." Papa carries him downstairs and says he is too heavy to carry, bounding down each step and making big echoes that bounce off the wood furniture and flirt with the plaster walls and boom like Daddy's bellow. Papa whispers and sounds like a Sealander, though Quentin isn't quite sure of what a Sealander is. "How about the first one?"
The leather couch swallows Quentin's impact with a thud and hiss, accomodating his dropped weight and squealing laughter. Papa doesn't wait for his answer before putting on the movie, and Quentin doesn't care so long as he sits beside him. He holds his sleeve and smells his cologne, which is sharp and bitter like the fireplace and the embers that fly onto the red-green-purple rug and singe the pattern unrecognizable. "Is Daddy going to be home very soon?"
"Very very soon if you watch the movie."
(The relativity of time can summarized as follows: Quentin will stare at the digital clock above the stove waiting for 8:30, the numbers that beckon Daddy's car to the driveway. If Quentin begins to stare at 8:00, it will take weeks, each minute representing a day and each day representing an impatient whine whilst pacing the cold granite tile. However, if Quentin spends each minute searching the backyard for Al Capone's ghost, the minutes become seconds, and Daddy is suddenly upon him with a flashlight and a crooked smile. Were he not so invested in flying, Quentin would consider a career in science). "Okay."
In forty-five seconds, Quentin is heavy-eyed and wishing he had a blue (or maybe silver-sunset) alien pet and playing with a button on Papa's shirt that reminds him of a seashell or a pearl or something else pale and shimmery. The door opens with a warm burst of wind, and Daddy stands on the scratchy mat, loosening his tie and depositing his shoes on the appropriate rack and smiling crookedly at them both. "Hello there. What are you watching?"
"Lilo and Stitch," Papa answers, his tone tinged by something wry and something fond that Quentin will come to understand is parental affection tapered by two weeks straight of watching the same movie.
"Mmm. I think he's ready to go to sleep. Ready for bed, Lee?" Daddy kisses Papa on the mouth and then collects Quentin before he can begin to protest.
Daddy is shorter than Papa but dark and thick. He has black hair and black eyes and black curly chest hair that pokes out of his shirts. Daddy is wrought of iron, holding Quentin more securely than Papa can, too tight but comforting. His chin is rough when he rubs it against Quentin's cheek, coaxing a drowsy-pleased hum from him. "M'not tired."
"You're not? Well, we can go upstairs anyway... and read something out of the book Uncle Mike gave you. How about that?" Daddy crushes him until he is so warm he feels like a pleasant fever or lazy afternoons when the cat naps in slanted sunlight or slippery silt in a shallow pond before August has ended.
In his bedroom, Daddy tucks him under the comforter but not between the sheets. (A Theory: Papa always folds the sheets back, and for a lucid moment, they are cold and Quentin unsettles and winds up for another hour of wakefulness. Daddy pulls the comforter up to his chin, and the effect is instantaneous: Quentin is a caterpillar turned chrysalis waiting for the morning to burst alive and stretch his wings. If he were a butterfly, he could fly, and he thinks Daddy might understand his ambition). "I want to hear... one of your stories. But also the pictures from the book."
Daddy sits on the edge of his bed and turns on the short porcelain lamp that resides on the nightstand. It is dim like a firefly but steadfast and yellow like a dandelion. "Okay. Uhm..." He picks up the heavy leather book Uncle Mike gave Quentin. It is full to the brim with hand-drawn illustrations dripping with flaws and misspelled quotations relating to the supernatural fauna that inhabit all corners of the Earth, a journal kept by Warlocks and Witches and Hunters. Daddy reminds him it's all pretendand begins to weave a tale. "Once upon a time, there was a boy who knew too much..."
Lucas lived in Arkansas with his dad, his older brother Michael, and an old basset hound named Norma Jean. There wasn't a lot to do because they lived in a cabin perched amidst the Ozark Mountains, great red monuments to God's splendor, and even their closest neighbors were miles down a winding dirt road. The day Lucas's dad brought home a VCR was a cause for celebration, and Michael and Lucas spent an entire week indoors, watching movies about mobsters and monsters and beautiful women and men.
Michael and Lucas were not like other children. Their dad had kept them separate from the outside world because they were meant to take over the family business: hunting. Hunting did not, as most would assume, refer to buckshots and duckshots. Hunting was a complex trade that involved knowledge of the world's best kept secret: all those movie monsters were real and more terrifying than any director could portray, though most ordinary people only caught glimpses that science explained away. It was their family's job to stop those monsters from hurting people, and their dad made sure they were prepared, training them for grueling hours and taking them on long road trips to address supernatural disturbances.
The VCR was their reward for an especially difficult month, in which the boys helped their dad track down and slaughter a pack of werewolves who had been stealing women from a small town in Georgia. The werewolves' activity was chalked up to a clever serial killer, but the boys knew better and felt a little pride when the end of the disappearances was announced on the news. It almost made the blood on their hands worth it, but Lucas had nightmares about the screams.
One of the first things the boys' dad taught them was that little details weren't to be ignored, and Lucas started to notice odd things about Michael. He compiled a list, as he was tidy youth who preferred succinct organization to the chaotic methods of his family's deduction system. His list read (with minor corrections):
1. Michael's eyes are sometimes hazel and sometimes gold, depending on the light. The gold is not a natural color; almost reptilian.
2. Michael becomes disoriented at night, which Dad chalks up to his poor sleeping schedule. I think he has the cause and the effect mixed up.
3. Michael is allergic to silver.
4. Michael insatiably craves sweets and anything clinquant is subject to be hoarded, though he keeps the latter more secret than the former. Kind of like a klepto magpie.
5. He does not look like Dad or me and while he sort of looks like Mom did, he also doesn't look like her at all.
There was one young werewolf who had pleaded for his life, and Lucas could clearly picture the bullet going through his head, leaving a gaping red hole where his face had once been. Dad's eyes were cold and unsympathetic, which was why Lucas chose to present his list to Michael while they were watching Scarface for the third time because it was the only new movie in their collection. "I think there might be something wrong with you, and I wanna know so we can hide it."
"You're nuts," Michael told him with the sort of disdain an older brother is warranted. Still, he read the list three times and decided, "We can research a little more, if it'll make you feel better, I guess."
While their dad slept on the couch with his flask beside him, the boys looked through his library for a disease that matched the symptoms. Nothing fit until Lucas found a passage about Changelings."It says that Fae sometimes leave their realm to impregnate human women, so they don't gotta take care of their own babies before they're ready. When the human soul dies, the Changeling is restored to eternal youth and brought back to the Fae kingdom, where they begin childhood anew under the care of their Fae parent. The Fae parent is not allowed to interfere with the child unless it's a life or death situation, though most Fae watch their children or even pose as imaginary friends so they can see them when they're little. But... ew, gross. Both male and female Fae can impregnate human women. So you could be like, a weird lesbian baby."
"Shut up!" Michael snatched the book from Lucas and scanned the page, grimacing. "So... it says the quickest way to test if a child is a Changeling is to see if their blood will grow a mushroom. Any spore will do."
Lucas ran outside to scrape spores from the first fungus he found, and Michael went to the bathroom to locate their dad's razor. The brothers met in the kitchen, where Michael had spread newspaper on the table. Their dad was dead asleep but apt to wake at any moment, so Michael spoke in a hush. "Okay, all we have to do is cut my hand a little, put the spores in the blood, and see if mushrooms grow."
Michael brought the razor to his palm and applied pressure but winced, ceasing before any blood was drawn. He tried two more times, only succeeding in scraping away some of his already thick calluses. "It hurts."
"Well, you gotta do it."
"I know I gotta do it. It just hurts. Shut up, you're throwing off my concentration with your damn yapping."
Another three attempts passed unsuccessfully, and Michael dropped the razor with a frustrated groan. He snatched it up and handed it to Lucas. "It must be dull or something. Try to cut yourself. Maybe we just need another one."
Lucas hesitated but brought the razor to his arm. He drew a thin line across the width of his wrist, drops of blood blooming in the blade's stinging wake. It only hurt a little. "I think you're just being a pussy. Maybe that's another Fae thing."
"Fuck off. You do it, then." Michael held out his hand. "Go on. Do it."
He thought it would be easier to cut someone else but he was wrong. Lucas laid the blade on Michael's palm and could not bring himself to press down, paralyzed and heaving breaths. Michael was paler and shorter and softer than him, with a pretty expressive face and lips like a girl's. The idea of making him bleed turned Lucas's stomach, and he shook his head. "I can't."
"You did it to yourself! Come on. Now you're being a pussy."
"I can't, Michael."
"Do it or I'm gonna show Dad the list." Michael clenched his jaw, which only served to emphasize how narrow it was, ending in a pointed chin. "I don't care what he does to me, I'm gonna show him if you don't just do it."
They met eyes, and Michael's were more serious than his. Nauseous and unable to look away, Lucas cut Michael's palm. He thought of target practice, when their dad made them shoot Norma Jean's puppies while she was locked in the house, how each whimpered and burst with a buckshot. He thought of the red hole where a face once was, and he thought of how much he'd hate to be without Michael, watching his blood drip onto the newspaper until there was an almost circular puddle of it.
"Alright. Put a spore in. Or a couple, in case one of them doesn't work or something."
Three yellowish spores met the blood, and in seconds, three little mushrooms grew on the table. The boys didn't know whether to be relieved or horrified, cleaning up the mess and never speaking of it again. By the time their dad was up, they were watching Scarface again, mouthing their favorite lines.
"I love you," Lucas told Michael, but he never said it back, even if he squeezed his younger brother's hand tight. The blood left between them was thicker than water.
"The End," Lucas murmurs for sleeping ears, brushing Quentin's sweaty hair from his forehead, tiptoeing into the hall and to his quiet bedroom.
There, Viggo sleeps, and he lies beside him, pressing his lips to his ear. "Hey..."
"Mmmm, not right now, I'm tired."
"No just... listen for a second." Lucas squeezes his narrow waist. "Do you think we're doing the right thing?"
"Not telling Lee... anything." Viggo stiffens, and Lucas presses a kiss to his neck, shushing him. "I'm serious. Maybe... maybe he should know. For his safety."
"The safest thing for him... is to not know. We're retired, Lucas. He doesn't need to know."
"You're overthinking it." Viggo twists in his hold. They are facing one another. "We are doing exactly what needs to be done. We're not Michael and Sigge. We're done."
Lucas nods but dreams of red holes and fairytales and spores and flying.