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Gilly Martin was unlike other fey. In terms of power and magic, he was outmatched at every turn. In the Otherworld they could cast circles around him. However, Martin wasn’t concerned with that. After all, it was Tuesday, the weather was divine, and he had gone out to the human realm for a bacon and egg sandwich. The others couldn’t do that, now could they? For all their pity and posturing, Martin would rather have a bacon and egg sandwich than all that silly frippery the High Council cherished so much. He whistled as he walked along the sidewalk towards his favorite diner.
Martin loved humans. He loved that they lived in an unforgiving, unsympathetic, and entirely uncreative world, and yet they still clung to hope and invention as though it were somehow natural. They made so many things! And they survived so much more than his fellow fairies had to deal with. He loved their cars that roared down the highway. He loved that they put mats in front of entryways so that they could protect their floors. He loved that they put little bells over their doors to chime when customers came in so that they could look up from their cashier’s box with a grin and say, “Hi there, be with you in a moment!”
Martin gave the young man a little wave and settled into a plush seat that somebody had made. Actually, it was in fact probably made by things that had been made. Weren’t humans getting just ever so clever?
Too clever by half, he knew the fey would grumble. Martin sighed. He ignored the sudden wave of malaise that threatened to derail his special treat of a day, Instead he swiped a menu to admire all the option and freedom that humans had, even for something as trite as breakfast. The precious little creatures demanded more and more ways to feel powerful in a world that stripped them of everything that resembled true power.
Well, almost everything.
“Excuse me, sir?”
Martin turned in surprise to an embarrassed woman sitting beside him. The smile he gave her seemed to only add color to her flushed cheeks. “Oh, yes?” He chimed.
“I, uh… Could you… stop humming? Please? At least, not quite so loudly?” The baby in her arms was squirming restlessly and making anxious cooing noises.
Martin blinked, and frowned in puzzlement. Had he been humming? Oh, no. “My dear, could you perhaps help me… What exactly was I humming?”
“What?” She seemed alarmed now, but Martin paid her no mind.
“Yes, I just need to know. Could you perhaps recall a few bars? Repeat them to me? It’s quite alright, I promise, I just can’t seem to recall myself how it went.”
The woman stared at him for a moment, and then pointed across the room. Martin glanced over and saw the jukebox, and for the first time became aware that there was music in the air. Dawning broke on Martin’s face, and it was all he could do to keep tears from his eyes.
Here it was, the power that humans still had. No wonder the baby couldn’t sleep. The notes wove together to a near perfect spell, and it contained all the energy and life of a summer storm. Martin took a deep breath, tasting the music. Yet another reason to come here. Humans could put magic into music in a way that those from his world never could. In a million years, a fey could not make a song with this kind of power… at least, not most fey.
Martin turned to the mother and her baby. She was confused, but had not yet fled which was a good sign. “Thank you, my dear. If it weren’t for you, I would’ve never noticed.”
The woman’s brow furrowed with concern but she smiled a little tentatively. “Well, I’m glad I could help…” She was interrupted by the baby pawing at her face. “Excuse me, I’m sorry. Oh, sweetheart, please calm down.” The woman begged as the baby’s unhappy grunting pitched towards a fretful cry.
Without a second though, Martin crouched on the ground so that his face was near the woman’s lap. She flinched back, but before she could pull the baby out of earshot, Martin began to sing.
There were no words, just a tune, and it was so quiet that only the mother and baby could hear it over the lightening summer rock and roll filling the room. The notes swept together. They rolled and tumbled, gently caressing the edges of the mind and erasing the anxious energy that had been so painful mere moments ago. There was nothing to do and nowhere to go. This was a time of peace and calm.
The baby’s contorted face relaxed into sleep, and the mother let out a sigh that she seemed to have been carrying around for months. The little tune finished, and Martin landed back in his seat like a perfect decrescendo.
“How did you… you’re a very good singer.” She said, smiling at him. The woman was pretty when she was calm. The rest of the restaurant buzzed on with the happy, free energy brought in by the jukebox’s music, but she was able to sit outside of it now. Martin’s own magic was stronger than this recording.
He bowed his head to her with a grin. “It’s my gift.” He said, as always taking delight in that phrasing. Humans had adopted it, not knowing what it meant, and now he could speak truth to them without revealing his secrets. The game of talking to humans was another of the many treats of his adventures here. Continuing the sport, he said, “Please, call me Martin. Who are you?”
“My name is Rose, and this little love Deirdre.” The woman brushed a soft wisp of dark hair off of the baby’s forehead. There was so much love in that gesture. If Martin hadn’t come to the human world, he would’ve never known what that looked like.
“Deirdre, huh? That’s an old name.” Martin said, studying the baby. He hesitated. Something snagged in his mind, but he blinked and looked away, only to glance back. There was something going on, certainly.
He tried to ignore it. This was his holiday, after all, and if he didn’t want to work then he wasn’t going to. But this baby… There was a dissonant melody playing in his head. There was something important about the baby. He was here for a reason. It was enough to drive a person mad, being puppeted around like this. How long could he fight it this time?
Martin gritted his teeth under his smile and jerked his eyes up to Rose’s as she talked. Her words floated on the outside of the music in his head, but he made himself nod as though he processed anything she was saying.
“Yes, my mother-in-law’s name. An old family name.” Rose smiled sweetly. “My husband should be here any moment! He was just parking the car. You really should meet him if you’re a musician! Are you a musician?”
“You could say-” Martin began, but was interrupted when a man walked up to them.
In that moment, Martin knew something was wrong, or very nearly wrong. He couldn't say what it was that made him think so. It was made up of the way he walked a little too quickly, fist jammed into his coat pocket, and the eyes that flicked through people as though he were sorting them. The music playing in Martin's ears picked up its tempo, and Martin’s fingers twitched out the warning rhythm on his thigh. Bump bad-a-bap, bump bad-a-bap,bump bad-a-bap; Keep an-eye-out, keep an-eye-out, keep an-eye-out.
Martin clinched his hand. No! He wasn’t ready to listen yet. He could hold out, have his holiday, enjoy his breakfast in peace! The music crescendoed petulantly, trying to drown out the conversation Martin was already straining to hear.
“Hey, sugar!” The man said, kissing the top of Rose’s head. “How’s Deedee?”
He didn’t even look at Martin.
Rose smiled up at the man adoringly. The melody in Martin’s head pitched sharp. “She’s a dream.” Rose all but cooed at her husband, “Baby, let me introduce you to someone... This is Martin.”
In Martin’s opinion the man looked at him all too sharply. Martin had to struggle not to laugh. He looked like a monkey guarding his prized fruit, bristling with a smile intended to show off how sharp his teeth were. “Martin, eh? The name is Charles, Charles Kelly.”
Martin silently wrapped his hand around the man’s proffered palm and let Charles play the game of trying to crush Martin’s fingers in his grip. Anything that Martin could say at this point would’ve probably just made the little chimp hate him more. Twenty minutes ago the fey would’ve found this wildly entertaining, but at this moment the infernal music was blaring so loudly in his head that Martin could only struggle not to wince at the bass notes rattling his teeth. He was afraid if he opened his mouth the song would pipe out from between his lips.
Rose filled the pause. “Martin is a musician, darling. Very talented. He just sang us a little something, and I swear, even you might be impressed.”
“A music man, eh?” Charlie’s smile gritted slightly, but he clapped Martin jovially on the shoulder as though they were old mates. “Well then! We have something in common!”
Martin only just managed a nod.
“Martin, why don’t you join us for breakfast?” Rose said. “I’m sure I don’t mind being bored over a little shop talk while you two chat. I really think you’ll find he’s something special, Charlie.”
Charles frowned. “Now, Rose, I’m sure that the man has-”
“I’d love to!” The words popped out of Martin’s mouth before he could block them, and just like that the music’s vice-grip on his brain released. The silence felt so good that Martin crumpled at the shoulders, air gushing out of him like a floodgate. Well, rats. He hadn’t lasted nearly as long as he’d hoped. At least now it was over. Just like his holiday.
“You alright there, Marty?” Charles said. Funny, Martin thought, that he could hear Charles wishing him to say no. At least it was true that if Martin was going to be working, he had a fun job.
When Martin pushed back his shoulders and lifted his head, his smile was so bright that Charles couldn’t hide his disappointment. “Oh, I’m dandy, Charlie boy! Just dandy! It’s just that I’m practically starving, you see, and boy, what I wouldn’t give for a cup of coffee, am I right?”
Certain that Charles would see, Martin threw a wink to Rose. Charles forced bark of laughter and gave Martin a look that threatened murder. Martin’s smile curled deeper. He couldn’t wait to hear Charlie sing.
“Ma’am? Are you ready?” The polite young man from behind the counter now stood looking at Rose, menu and silverware in hand. Charles stepped up to take the lead, but Martin couldn’t have that, now could he?
“It’s going to be three now, friend.” Martin said, sliding to his feet like a trombone slide. “Can you work some magic and make that happen? It’d mean ever so much.”
Martin followed right behind the waiter, being careful to keep Rose and Dierdre in his gaze as they went. Carles laid a protective arm around his wife’s shoulder, heavy on her slight frame. The music playing in his head had quieted to a background hum, but Martin found himself tapping on his leg again. Keep an eye out, indeed.
Breakfast was every bit as enjoyable as Martin had hoped, even with the additional company. Not even Charles the Grump could ruin the experience of a bacon and egg sandwich. The crisp bacon flaking gloriously in his mouth, the just-runny yolk gooshing over his tongue and between his teeth… for that pleasure, he would’ve dealt with a hundred of Charles.
But as Martin entertained himself with the verbal gymnastics of avoiding those natural questions about where he had come from or what he did with his time, Martin knew that the timer on his freedom was running low. The music was always there, and a few staccato notes let him know that it was growing impatient. There were things that he needed to find out, and only one way to do it. He pushed his empty plate away from him and steepled his fingers on the table. The look that he gave Charles was so serious that even the chimp’s bravado quavered for a moment, uncertain of the new, professional Martin sitting across the booth. It was time for business.
“So you sing?” Martin asked as though reminding him of the fact. “Sing me something.”
Charles’s cocky demeanor was back in a heartbeat. He gave a golden boy chuckle and threw a knowing smile to his wife. He clearly got this all the time. “Ah, sorry pal, it doesn’t work like that. I can’t just break into song like Snow White.”
Martin didn’t bother asking who that was. It didn’t matter. Martin waved away his charming excuses. “Sure you can. You open your mouth and do it, just like everybody else.”
“Now hold on just a second here,” Charles said, face falling. He had not been confronted with this kind of response before. “Just who do you think you are?”
“I think I’m a musician. Who do you think you are?” He said. Martin was perfectly calm, but he could see the flush rising around Charles’s collar, the narrowing of his eyes, and Martin knew that to Charlie boy, these were fighting words. Good. The more the chimp felt, the more Martin would see when the time came. “So sing me something.”
“You get a load of this guy?” Charles said to Rose indignantly, but his wife wasn’t looking at him. She seemed preoccupied with the runny eggs left on her plate.
“Rose?” He pressed.
She put down her fork with an apologetic, pleading look. “Well, he did sing for us earlier, Deedee and me… It only seems fair. Go on, sweetheart, just show him how good you are!”
“Fine.” Charles said, face now bright pink. “Fine! You want me to sing, I’ll sing. So what if I make a commotion in public, disrupt all these fine peoples' breakfast. Is that what you want? Fine.” He took a deep breath, looked squarely at Martin, and started to sing.
Martin saw the music of his soul.
Charlie’s voice was beautiful. It was warm, dusky, earthy… like the look of a horse running through a field. There was something about it that would trample you if you tried to fence it in. He was not somebody to be tied down. He was not somebody to be trifled with. He knew who he was, and if anybody tried to mess with him, they would learn too, and fast. Martin could see it all in the song, the truth of who Charles Kelly was and would be. It would take Charles five years before he would crack from professional and personal disappointments. When it happened, it would be bad, and nobody would see it coming. He seemed so nice, so normal, they would say, but the hole he would fall into would be deeper and darker than anyone would believe looking at him right now. Nobody would believe it then, either... At least, not until it was too late.
Charles finished his song, and the diner filled up with applause. Charles gave the room a little wave. His wife kissed him boldly on the cheek. Martin stared. Visions of the future still susurrated in his mind, making it hard to believe that what would be had not yet happened and that Rose could bare to kiss this man. Martin swigged his coffee, trying to work something around the dry patch in his throat. He could still see the blood, the bruises, the little girl child…
It had not happened yet. He had to remember that. No matter what he felt right now, he knew that it was not yet the truth. There was a very narrow path forward. What could he do?
“So?” Charles asked, smirking. “What do you think of that, eh?”
Martin felt a physical tremor run through his body as he struggled not to lunge across the table and throttle him. His hand clenched so tightly around the mug that he wondered if it would shatter, and if it did shatter he wondered if he could aim it so that the shards flew at Charles.
Keep it together Martin! He snapped at himself, but he did not have time to find whatever ‘it’ was, much less the wherewithal to hold it in place. If he gave into his impulses it would not help Deirdre one bit. Some small, petulant part of him screamed in protest, but he knew what he had to do. The music was always there. Even in his sleep, it never fully left him. It was just a matter of giving it the reigns.
It was like flipping off a switch. He could feel his body, his voice in his throat, his hands relaxing around the coffee mug as he laughed jovially, but his thoughts were only sound. Martin’s voice said, “Oh, Charlie boy, I don’t know what to think. There’s a chance I’m gonna have to find myself a new line of work after hearing that! I mean, really, boy! That was something. Say, do you folks live around here?”
Martin dully watched Charlie’s lips move around words he could not hear, felt his head nod seriously as though the information really meant something to Martin. He was surprised at the feeling of his hand rubbing his chin.
“Listen, I’m not from around these parts, you see, but I’ve got friends who would love to hear what you can do. No promises of course, you know how these things go, but could I have a calling card? Something so that I can send them your way if they’re interested? Really, you’ve got something else.”
Charles looked happy for the first time all breakfast, and the look on Rose’s face, so bright and hopeful, almost shook the grip that the notes held on Martin’s brain. He knew it was hopeless, but he tried to push words out of his mouth anyway, tried to scream Run, run, run! Get away from him! Do you know what he’ll do to you?
But she didn’t. She couldn’t. Because he hadn’t done it yet, and there was no telling that Charles Kelly’s fate was set in stone. Martin knew that, had learned that a long time ago. The music cared for some reason, and Martin would do what it wanted, but sometimes it was hard not to just take the most expedient route to a solution. It would be easy to rid the world of a chimp like Charlie. Why did he have to play these infuriating games?
They were leaving the table now. Martin let the music walk him out the door, let it wave goodbye to Rose and Charlie, and as soon as they were in the car he wrenched back his mind, near bursting with fury.
“You didn’t do anything?” Martin hissed, only barely caring that he was spitting his words to an invisible audience. The music was lilting, playful, mocking. He buried his hands in his curls and pulled, willing the song to come out his head at the roots. “Why? Why did you make me come here and see this if we were just going to walk away? Even you are never as sadistic as all of this, you wretched…”
He froze. There was a weight in his pocket. Hesitant, he slowly reached inside and pulled out a little flute, no bigger than a pencil. For a second he stared at it, and the set off at a dead sprint after the car that was pulling out of the parking lot. He caught it where it had stopped to turn and banged his palm against Rose’s window.
She yelped, nearly jumping out of her skin. Martin gestured for her to roll the window down, and although Charlie looked put out, she did. He was not a runner, and Martin was gasping for breath, but he held up the flute. Rose’s brow furrowed deeply.
“Mister Martin, this is…”
“No, no, this…” He interrupted, waving the flute. He took the flute between his lips and played the simplest melody, six quick notes. “This is for you. If not for you, then for Deedee. Keep it with you, alright?” He played the notes again. He saw Rose’s eyes glaze a little but it wasn’t enough.
“Really, friend, we have to go.” Charles grumbled. He was being pushed to the outer limits of his patience. Martin ignored him. The six notes piped out again, desperate sixteenth notes, and there it was. Rose was looking beyond him, into something else. He had done it. She would never forget those notes. She would carry the flute with her for the rest of her life and when it got bad enough…
Rose hummed the tune back to Martin quietly and took the flute from his hand. “Thank you.” She said. “It’s lovely. And I’ll be sure Deedee gets it when she’s old enough.”
“Well, goodbye then,” Charles said, and without waiting for Martin to step back from the car, he drove off.
Martin watched them go, still breathing heavily but only from the desire to murder that chimp rather than his ill-advised adventures in sprinting. It wouldn’t be fun to wait six years for his visions to come to fruition, but at least this way he wouldn’t be causing any more trouble than there already was. And at least Rose and Deirdre wouldn’t be without protection. The flute had been a godsend. Literally.
“Thank you,” Martin muttered under his breath, glancing upwards to the invisible spot over the top of his head that he liked to imagine the music occupied. It was easier to think of it that way than recognizing it’s home as inside of him. The tune had returned to normal, and by normal he supposed what he really meant was shapeless. There was nothing for him to do again. He was free, at least, until he wasn’t.
He sighed and took the business card from his coat pocket and read the address printed on it. He read it again, and again, and then tore the card in two. He wouldn’t forget where it was he had to go.
Martin began to mosey away from the diner towards the park that bridged the Otherworld. It was time to go wait out the next six years. If he was lucky, time would spin quicker in his world. If he was not, it’d be an even longer wait, but that was alright. When he had something to look forward to, Martin could be an excruciatingly patient fey.