Sunday, November 8, 2015
He was awake long before the alarm on his cellphone blared a rousing version of Mendel's Hallelujah Chorus. Years of early morning Mass had helped to set his inner biological clock, and he found himself fully conscious, every morning, at exactly 5:35. Why he didn't have the confidence to forgo the alarm all together, he never understood. Each night he would set an alarm for 5:45, and each morning he'd beat it by ten minutes. It was a routine that somehow made everything in his world seem like it was in the correct place, even when his cautious brain shouted to him that it wasn't.
Though he had gone to bed the night before in a state of complete agitation, the morning found him completely rested and with a strange sense of well being. There was no denying that the bed was comfortable, much more so than the creaky, stiff mattress at the rectory, but the feeling went well beyond that of a good night's sleep. Fr. Kevin rolled to his right, and shrugged off the summer quilt. It was then he noticed the absence of a familiar weight dragging down his right foot. Pulling the blanket completely off, he stared at his naked foot, noting that the heavy walking cast that had completely covered it when he had gone to bed was nowhere to be found.
He panicked for a moment in both confusion and genuine concern that he might not be able to haul himself out of bed without its support. The thought of yelling for help mortified him, and so he swung his legs to the edge of the bed, and made a careful attempt to stand up. To his utter amazement, there was no pain, no weakening of unused muscles. He stepped out and walked across the floor, pivoting on the once broken foot with ease and grace, letting out a giggle as he did so. Whispering a whole litany of prayerful gratitude, he dressed quickly in the dim light of early morning, and began to prepare for Mass.
Maureen had promised to join him, but after waiting nearly an hour, it was obvious she was a "no show", and so he continued on by himself. When he was finished, he dragged the table that had served as an altar back to its spot against the wall, packed up his sacramentals, and silently made his way downstairs. The cabin was quiet and dark, the bower of trees surrounding it an umbrella of arbor solitude. He found his way to the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee in hopes that the aroma would waken the other guests, and later, feeling closed in by the silence of the house, took his cup out to the front porch and waited.
In the light of day, the over grown foliage looked less threatening, and the wet, rich smell of dark earth and summer flowers was pleasant and somewhat comforting. He'd pulled the wooden bench closer to the door in case the hideous spider might return, not anxious to see what the wretched thing looked like in clearness of daylight. The weirdness of it all should have made his head spin, but for a reason he could not explain, he was instead calm and relaxed, simply enjoying his coffee and the
natural splendor of his surroundings. He sat there for quite some time, sipping and thinking about all the events that had led him to this point.
His reverie was broken by the sound of someone moving around inside, and soon Beckett joined him on the porch, dressed for a morning run. Coffee cup at his lips, he asked, "Everyone else still asleep?"
"Seems so. I thought I'd get a run in before breakfast. Maybe check out the perimeters of the property. Determine if anything else has changed overnight."
"Care for some company?"
"Yeah...no offense, O'Kenney, but I wanted to actually run, not clump along."
Kevin raised his right leg, and wagged the foot in the man's direction. "No clumping anymore. Cast is gone, foot feels great."
Beckett looked at him and frowned. "How? They usually need a saw to take those things off."
"I have no idea how it got this way, though I can't say I'm not thrilled to death. Slept through the whole thing. Woke up and there it was...good as new."
"Can you put weight on it?"
In response, the priest stood up and hopped across the porch. "Seems to be perfectly healed."
"That's odd, though frankly, nothing seems normal here. It's like we're in suspended animation. Completely lost in our own little world. I don't like it. The whole damn thing. I have this overwhelming sense of being manipulated."
"I've given up on trying to make sense of any of it. It makes my head hurt. I'm just going to trust that I'm moving by the will of the Spirit, as crazy as it seems."
Beckett shook his head and snorted. "I don't recall reading anything about giant spiders in the Bible, O'Kenney. But if it makes sense to you, then you go ahead and believe what you want. I plan on getting some solid answers." He bent over and finished stretching. "Well...if you're coming, then lets go."
The two men took off toward the east side of the property, Kevin easily keeping up with Beckett's pace. There was no conversation, just an easy sense of camaraderie that had been absent between them since Maureen's accident. Occasionally, one or the other would point out something truly fantastical; a butterfly the size of a small cat, a 3 foot mushroom with moving gills and a strutting peacock in unusual colors of orange and red. All these things should have stopped them dead in their tracks, a shock to their usual sense of normalcy. But they seemed to be immune to the oddity of it all, accepting each new sight with a nod of their head, something Beckett knew was strange in itself. They should have been running away in crazed horror, looking for a way to explain it all, and the fact that they were not made him suspicious.
As they moved closer to the main gate, they could hear the familiar clicking sound from the night before. They slowed their pace, suddenly not anxious to make contact with the huge arachnid. But the insect paid them no mind, intent instead on spinning a large web from one side of the gate to the other, layering it over the thick layer of leaves and vines. Despite their fear, they stopped to watch it work as it laid a complex pattern of silk thread across the entry way.
Beckett turned to Kevin, finally speaking aloud. "I wonder if it's building that web to keep something out...or keep us in?"
The priest shuddered despite the warm temperatures. "I'm not sure I want to know."
From the trees they heard a familiar feminine laugh. Searching among the tops, they could not locate exactly where the sound was coming from, but they knew the Fairy Queen was in residence. Beckett swore under his breath, then called out. "Good Morning, Your Majesty. So glad we could provide you with some morning entertainment."
The laugh echoed through the clearing, and the spider stopped its spinning, clicking in unison with the Queen's humor. "Good Morning to you, Ridre Dubh. And yes...I do find you a most interesting source of merriment, but me thinks you give that statement with a heavy dose of sarcasm."
"Think what you want, Your Majesty. It doesn't matter to me."
"Tisk, tisk, Sir Knight. We are certainly in a foul mood this morning. Did we not have a pleasant night's rest? We both know that it was quite...invigorating indeed."
"If you know me as well as you think you do, then you are aware that an 'audience' doesn't bother me at all... Lady Maeve. Quite the contrary." Next to him, Kevin blushed, but said nothing, feeling like a third wheel in a private conversation. "We need to talk. You and me. Alone."
The voice lost some of its lightness. "You overstep your boundaries, Knight. Do not forget who rules, and who serves."
"I haven't lost sight of that, but IF I continue to serve, then it must be with clarification."
Behind them, the spider began clicking in earnest. Kevin took a step back, wishing now that he had stayed on the porch was his coffee.
"I owe you no explanation, Mortal, nor or am I required to justify my actions. You signed that contract of your own free will. I should punish you as you stand for your insolence and insubordination." The insect clicking reached a frenzied pitch, but the two men stood their ground, Kevin in sheer terror, Beckett in stubborn defiance.
"Then take your best shot, Madame. I'm done if we don't...'discuss' things."
The spider crawled off the gate, and scuttled toward them, and Beckett's hand moved toward the weapon in his waistband, a cloud of tension settling like a blanket around them. A deep annoyed sigh came from the tree tops. "This conversation grows tedious." She spoke a few strange words, and the beast turned with reluctance towards a grove of trees. "And you...my Second,
return to the house and have your morning fare. This does not concern you."
Kevin hesitated and unseen force gave him a shove in the direction of the cabin. "Go now. Have no fear for his safety. Tell your sister I will speak to her soon."
The priest looked at Beckett, who waved him off without a word. He turned and walked slowly in the direction of the cabin, keeping a watch out for the reappearance of the spider. The Fairy Queen and the Ridre Dubh waited until he was out of sight and ear shot. "Well then, Knight...speak your piece."
"I'd prefer a face to face conversation, if you don't mind. It's awkward to keep shouting at the trees."
There was a rustle and another loud "tisk" above his head. The Fairy Queen floated closer to the ground, resting herself on a low hanging branch. "You try my patience, Mortal, like no one has in nearly two hundred years. It is only because you are her chosen that I agree to your nonsense. Now...what has put you in such a disagreeable state?"
"Simply put, Your Majesty, you set me up. Forced me into signing that contract under false pretenses."
"Be careful what you are accusing me of, Ridre Dubh. You are mine, and you owe me your complete loyalty. What you speak is treason. I did not trick or fool you in any way. You willingly accepted the terms of your contract with no hesitation or misunderstanding. I was open about all that was required."
"Open...yes. Completely honest...no."
Her small heart-shaped face grew angry, and a blush of pink gathered around her pointed ears. "Tread lightly, Mortal. Are you calling me a liar? That is a grave accusation amongst my kind."
"Not a liar. But we both know you left a great deal of information unspoken."
"That entails no falsehood, Knight. You did not ask the correct questions. I felt no responsibility to enlighten your thinking. You asked for the means to rescue your beloved from a time that wasn't your own. I made that happen for you. In return, you offered me your service. I see no reason for your dispute."
"Maureen told me everything. How she and her brother are the last of your line, and how because of Kevin's vocation and vow of celibacy, the fate of your family's genetic future now rests with her."
With bored indifference, the Fairy began to collect the dew drops from the leaves she sat upon, somehow fastening them into a chain to wear around her forehead, giving her an unearthly sense of royalty. He waited patiently for her to speak, and when she did her words were terse and clipped.
"Yes. What you say is true. She is my last heir. That has no bearing on the contract between you and I."
"But it most certainly does. There is no way you would have left her 'lost' in time. You would have seen to her rescue in some other manner. You let me me offer to do it for you, and thus guaranteed my service to you. You planned this all. I wouldn't even doubt you were the one who hid the pocket watch in the first place, meaning it to be found all along."
"Such complaining and whining does not become the Ridre Dubh. It was you who offered to rescue your mate. The hows and whys of the event matter little. She is your destiny and you could have done nothing else. Why do you argue about what has already come to pass?"
"Because the whole damn thing is a sham! We're like puppets to you, we mortals! You pull the strings to make us dance for your own personal enjoyment. I've had just about enough of this shit, and I want it to stop!"
In a flash she was down from the tree and standing directly in front of him, eye to eye. No longer the diminutive wood sprite, she stood the same height as he, her body radiated crackling pulses of blue energy. Her eyes flashed angrily, and she poked him in the chest with one long painted fingernail, a sharp pain running through him with each jab. "How dare you, Mortal! You think I do this as some silly game to make merry? We are on the brink of destruction, and the sanctity of the natural order is facing complete annihilation. For one who deems himself above others, you are as stupid as a common fool! Do you think that your life up until now has been by chance? Some benign luck of the draw? How ridiculously naive you are!"
She raised her arms and mumbled some words and it was as if everything around them came to a complete standstill. Not a leaf moved, and all sound seemed to be sucked into a vacuum.
She Who Was All narrowed her eyes and looked right through him, and for a single second, Theodore Beckett, soldier, husband and assassin, suddenly felt his entire conscience laid bare. When she spoke, the words seemed to reach in and squeeze at his chest. "You are here because destiny has deemed it so, and your ties to that woman began from the second of your creation. This is no game we play, Mortal. If it be your will to walk away, then state so now. I will release you from your binding, and wipe her from your life. Is that what you wish? Decide now...once and for all."
The thought of Maureen gone, the idea of a life without her in it, froze him to the spot. He tried to speak, but his tongue felt as if it had turned to one solid block of ice, and he could not get a single syllable past his lips.
"Speak, Mortal! Make your decision now. I grow impatient with your wavering."
Beckett used every once of conscious strength he had, mentally forming each line of the letters, and visualizing himself pushing them out his mouth. It was brain numbingly exhausting, taking ever bit of energy he possessed, but eventually the word slipped from his tongue. "No. She. Is. Mine."
The Fairy Queen waved her hands, and the woods returned to their natural state. "Then it will be as such. I do not wish to discuss this ever again. You answer to me, Ridre Dubh, with the promise that you will love her until your last breath. Anything else is unacceptable. Have I made myself clear?"
He coughed, normal oxygen filling his lungs. "Perfectly clear, Your Majesty."
"That is good to know, Sir Knight. I suggest you make your way back to the house. The others grow concerned over your absence."
He turned his back on her, and took a few steps in the direction of the cabin, then suddenly turned to face her. "Can I make just one more request?"
She raised one arched eyebrow, but then conceded. "What is it you require, Dark Knight?"
Looking her straight in the eye, he pronounced, "I want you to stay the fuck out of my bedroom...Fairy Godmother."
Her face remained impassive for all of thirty seconds, and then with a grin, both suggestive and sly, she laughed "Why would I ever agree to that, Ridre Dubh, when we both enjoy my presence there." And then with a wink and giggle, she disappeared completely from his sight.
Copyright Victoria T. Rocus
All Rights Reserved