September 24, 1999
Reyna's body trembled endlessly as she huddled at the base of a tree. Her scrawny arms wrapped tight around her knees which pressed into her chest. Hearing an owl hoot softly in the distance caused her to sniffle and she wiped her nose on the shoulder of her shirt. It was sticky and hard from having used it as a tissue for the past several hours. She didn't know how long she'd been in this forest. Her father had brought her here earlier in the evening, just as the sun was setting, and told her they were going to a zoo that was in the center of the park.
They got to the zoo, but it was closed. A sign on the gate said the zoo gates closed at 6:00 P.M. Reyna and her father hadn't arrived until 6:30. Reyna was sad she couldn't see the animals, but thought they'd come back tomorrow, or the next day. Her father told her to wait at the gate though, and said he would find someone to open the gate for them. The sun was still in the sky when he left her, but it had long since set.
She'd waited outside of the zoo for a long time. It felt like forever for the small seven year old. Eventually, though, Reyna realized her father wasn't coming back for her and made her way into the park in hopes of retracing their earlier footsteps and finding her way back home. The task proved to be impossible for Reyna. Her eyes drooped with exhaustion, her feet ached with all the walking, and her muscles started to shiver from the early Fall cold.
Whimpering, Reyna curled farther into herself. If she could just make it until the morning, she was sure she'd find her way out of the park and back to her home. The forest was dark though, and Reyna hated the dark. She could only hear things around her. Things like leaves rustling, owls hooting, the pitter patter of smaller animals, and the groaning of the trees. Reyna didn't know how the trees could groan, only that they could. A fly pricked at the skin on her knee and Reyna's hand lashed out to smack it. The fly was too quick and her knee stung from the impact.
Taking a shuddering breath, Reyna tried to discern the shapes and shadows around her. She could see a few benches and lamps not too far from her, but the lamp wasn't lit and the bench was occupied by a snoring man covered in newspapers. Something deep in Reyna's belly told her the man wouldn't hurt her if she went up to him, but her parents always told her not to talk to strangers and that man was definitely a stranger. Looking in the other direction, Reyna could only make out a few trees before they blended together in the dark. She was about to return to her huddled position when she saw something flash in the corner of her eye.
At first, when she didn't see the flash again right away, Reyna thought it was a trick of what little light the moon gave her. That feeling in her belly flared up again and told her to keep looking in that direction, and this time Reyna listened to it. The silver streak appeared again, closer this time. Reyna stood up, not sure if she should stay and find out what caused the flash, or run for safety. Before she had time to really decide the silver flash stopped and stood a foot away from her.
The silver flash turned out to be a head of messy hair. Attached to that hair was the body of a man. Reyna's breath stopped as she took him in. His skin was dark, almost as dark as the night surrounding him. His eyes seemed almost as silvery as his hair but flashed yellow when they focused on Renya. Her mouth had gone dry a while ago, but she gulped anyway. The sting from the swallow bringing Reyna back into the present. The man stepped closer. His steps were slow and his hands were outstretched, which Reyna took as a sign of peace. Still, her mouth tightened and her brows furrowed with every step he took. The closer he got, the better Reyna could make out more of his features. His ears, which were mostly concealed by his hair, were pointed. Shifting from one foot to the other, Reyna tried to remember what she'd heard about creatures like Fairies and Elves. She'd never met one before, but Reyna would bet that this man was one or the other.
He was less than a foot away when curiosity killed the cat. "Are you an Elf or a Fairy?" She asked, completely forgetting about the stranger rule. The man stopped, eyes widening slightly at her straightforward question. Chuckling deeply, he smiled so wide Reyna could see most of his teeth. His canines were sharp and longer than a humans, but even with that extra hint, she still couldn't be sure what type of creature he was.
"How do you know I'm not a Vampire, little one?" He asked, tilting his head to the side slightly. His voice was smooth and soothed Reyna's mind. It was like listening to rain pouring from a gutter spout and Reyna thought he could probably make it sound like waterfall if he really wanted to. Blinking slowly, Reyna took a second to remember that he'd asked a question.
Returning his smile just as wide, she proudly responded, "Because you have pointed ears! And Vampires don't have pointed ears. Only Fairies and Elves do."
The man chuckled again and bent down so they were at eye level. "You sure are smart aren't you? I bet you read a whole bunch." At this Reyna nodded her head furiously in agreement, thinking of all the times she'd snuck into her parent's room and tried to read the books there. "Why don't you guess then? You tell me whether I'm a Fairy or an Elf."
Reyna hummed with frustration, but decided to play the game anyway. With a now pouting mouth and even more furrowed brow, she clasped her hands together in front of her chest and looked over her new friend again. Reyna had never met a Fairy or an Elf in person before, but she had seen a few on T.V. before. Fairies always seemed so tall and skinny to her, with long, bony fingers and everything about them seemed pointy. Her new friend didn't seem very tall. He was much taller than her, yes, but who wasn't? Nor did he seem skinny like a Fairy. His shoulders were broad and his body reminded her more of one of those football players her father always liked to watch. "Are you an Elf?" She guessed.
Letting out another chuckle, he bopped her nose, "You don't sound very sure, little one. Come on, say it with conviction!"
Brows raised now, Reyna asked, "What's conviction?" She'd never heard that word before, but she liked the sound of it. "Conviction," she said again, sounding out the syllables slowly to let her tongue get the feel of it.
"It means . . . well, tell me what you think I am again, but this time try to make it sound less like a question and more like an answer. Does that make sense?"
Reyna nodded slowly, "I think so." The two stared at each other for a few moments longer before the man raised his brows and Reyna shook her head, realizing he was waiting for her. "Oh, right! Um, you're an elf!" She breathed out hard when she finished and waited on him to tell her if she was correct or not.
Shaking his head in good humor, he smiled again and told her she was right. Reyna's smile was so wide she worried for a second that her cheeks would split open. "So tell me, little one, are you lost?"
Reyna's smile quickly disappeared and melted into a frown. She remembered what her mother said about strangers again, but if he was going to do whatever it was that strangers did, Reyna figured he would have already. So instead she nodded her head and gave him a broken "Yes."
Standing back to his full height, the man held his hand out to her, "If you'd like, I can escort you out of the park."
"What does escort mean?" Reyna asked, again repeating the word after her question and liking the way it felt on her tongue.
"It means lead. Would you like me to lead you out of the park?" Reyna placed her small hand inside his larger one and marveled at the difference in their skin color; her light against his dark. Their clasped hands sent a wave of warmth and security through her body.
"I'd like you to escort me out of the park." She responded, smiling widely up at him again. He let out a small hum and gave her a smile in return. "What's your name anyway?" Reyna asked him as they began to walk down the manmade path. Then, remembering some manners that her mother taught her, "Mine's Reyna!"
Giving her hand a small squeeze, the Elf's smile widened before he responded, "I'm Melchiorn, and it's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Reyna." Reyna squeezed her hand back and repeats the word 'acquaintance' as they make their way through the park.