It wasn’t as if Cary didn’t know that there were strange things in the world.
You saw it on the news sometimes, of course, dragons in the sky or someone really small turning bank thief.
But for the most part, that was an East Coast sort of thing. It didn’t happen out here. It definitely didn’t happen in Cary’s city.
So why was she feeling… wrong? She walked down the street towards what could generously be called her office, but her shoulders were twitching and she kept thinking was just a little wrong. The sort of thing you didn’t quite see, out of the corner of your eye.
City council had passed a ban on all magical creatures within city limits, and four of the suburbs had done the same. For a week, everyone had run around with asbestos hats, thinking that maybe the dragons were going to strafe them, maybe an ogre was going to come stomping through.
Cary’s business had quadrupled for a week. She hadn’t argued, even though nothing she did was going to help against a dragon.
The dragons weren’t coming. If the humans didn’t want them, they didn’t want the humans. Easy enough. Cady knew that in her bone, the way she knew when the weather was shifting, the way she knew that all the wards put up around the city, put into the bricks of the very buildings, drawn into the roads themselves - those were all fading. The people that had lived here two hundred years ago had feared what went bump in the dark, but they had feared it with knowledge and understanding.
Superstitious nonsense, she’d heard people in expensive suits. It’s not like the non-human races are the things out of fairy tales. They’re people, just like you and me.
Cady slowed her walk. It was that word, Fairy. She had been feeling the wards fade for so long that it hadn’t actually clicked when they vanished.
Not vanished, no. She had been seeing the fairy doors pop up for a while - catalogs, online, magazines. People thought they were cute. People forgot what the whole purpose was. People forgot fairies were real.
Cady swore several oaths nobody but her ancient granny would ever have believed she knew and kept walking, a little quicker, a little more intently. Yes, there. There just next to the stoop of that apartment building, a tiny door. That one had been glued to the building a month ago. Now, she could see where it was set expertly into the stone: expertly, or magically.
And there, that one was IN a window, like a cat door, except cat doors were not that small, nor that nicely made of leaded glass. That had to be interesting. Were the fairies using the window as a portal to their own place, or were they moving back and forth in some human living room?
There was one fifty feet up in an office building, a tiny sleek door with its own entrance platform. Now, the question was - well, there were several questions. Cady ducked into an alleyway and pulled out her toolbag.
It’s not the hammer, it’s the guy swinging it. Most of Cady’s tools - at least when she wasn’t working for a high-profile client - were the sort of thing you could pick up at a dollar store or a corner market. She used a kid’s sand shovel to lay a nice thick ring of salt and then the chalk set - also from the kids’ section - to draw her invocations. She had her notes in a 49-cent comp journal she’d covered in fancy duct tape mostly because sometimes, these things… leaked. She tucked it at the top of her rucksack and rattled off her favorite incantation.
Three minutes later, there was a spirit staring at her. It wasn’t angry, it was - oh, dear. It was confused. Cady tasted the magic in the air - old. Dusty. Nobody had pulled this guy out of sleep in a very long time.
So why had it woken up now?
She tasted the magic again: Old, dusty… powerful. Ooh.
“Tell me about the faeries in this area.” She got three orders or questions. The first one would be at least half feeling out this particular spirit.
“They’ve been gone for a long time, since the people stopped putting out milk, stopped putting out bread and cookies. They’ve been off in their own places, where the world is more hospitable. But one of them, oh. One of them got clever. Got clever and tricked the humans. Fairy doors. Fairy gardens. Fairy houses and arr vees and all of that. Interesting. Now, instead of leaving milk out for the fairies, they just invite them right in to their homes. And they are here, oh, they are here en masse. They are here for fun and frolic and trouble and tempests, oh they are. Little tiny tempests in tea pots.”
“Thank you.” She drew a charm of thanks and infused it with a bit of her magic. “What is their goal, the fairies?”
“Well, and they are fairies, aren’t they? What is their goal always? They want to live and to thrive, to tell stories and to soak up energy. They are happy now, and that is good enough for them, being back in the world. Being back in the solid world with all its tasty little treats, with the humans leaving them all these portals and these little furnitures. That will be good enough for a while, won’t it?”
Cary felt her heart in her throat. That was a dangerous answer there. “Thank you,” she said, never mind that her hand shook while she drew the next charm. “What comes after that while?”
The spirit laughed at her. “Oh, you know the answer to that one, truth-seeker. You know what comes next, don’t you? You might want to pretend you don’t. You might want to think about it like some children’s story that doesn’t really come true. But you know, you know what comes next.”
Cary swallowed. “Answer, please.”
“First you invite them in. Then you offer them bread and salt, milk and sugar. And then they grow, don’t they grow? Humans have forgotten why they were afraid of the dark, haven’t they? They have forgotten about the things they aren’t supposed to invite in. They’ll pay the prices, won’t they? And pay and pay and pay…”
Cary banished the spirit with a twist and a whisper, tight and clever magic against old and powerful. She sat down in her circle of salt and put her arms around her legs and stared blankly at the wall, at the tiny door no higher than two courses of brick. The fairies were back. The fairies were back, and she was going to need so much more chalk and salt.