I suspected the children. That’s probably what kept me from seeing the obvious.

Have you ever gotten up in the middle of the night to turn the cover of a book with particularly graphic art away from you? Or surrounded a book with art that was particularly evocative with perhaps, gentler, kinder books? This is paranoia. Mostly.

I’m talking about girlie mags.

I hate to sound like the sexist pig I am, but there’s a definite level of energy and intensity a fellow can focus on a picture he’s particularly fond of…combine that with sex and, well, you’ve got an act of will. For most people, this isn’t actually a problem. (I hate to say it, girls, but most of you don’t fixate the same way.) For someone with just the rawer bit of talent…

Heterae helix. The Lola with the green feathered hat. Not your garden variety nymph, more your bird of paradise, if you catch my meaning.

It was a giggle that tipped me off, actually. After introductions were made and I was brought into the apartment as a contractor, I noticed the bedroom door was closed. I did a quick check of the childrens’ room. Only a bit of potential. I stuck a standard bogeyman ward over the closet and under the bed – they like dark places just like the exterminator’s foes. Make your kids clean their rooms; entropy is one of those things that are inviting.

Ed kept them talking, and I knocked on the bedroom door. I let myself in after the silence continued.

She laughed, and then blinked off the bed. I knew better than to play the chase game. Most nymphs were meant to be chased (and no, never chaste, if you insist on asking.) The best way to trap one is either to sow it yourself, or draw it in. But she wasn’t my problem.

Ah… it was an issue from the 1980s. Too much crazy hair for me. Also, the blue eyeshadow reminds me too much of my mother. I admired the form, though. Not too bad if you didn’t focus on the face. It wouldn’t be until the 90s that there was less sneer and more natural look in the models. Um, not that I knew.

Admittedly, I would have been hard pressed to explain why I was muttering a charm over a smutzine, but I’ve been in stranger situations. I opened and closed drawers and made as if I was inspecting things. Nymphs are fascinated by innocence, which is probably why the kids saw her in the corner of their eye, watching them. They need sunlight, though, being at least part of the plant kingdom. No sour grapes here if I say I like my salads with a little more dressing, eh?

I could feel the door close after a moment. It’s a strange sense of loss, sometimes. When I was younger, I hated it. I hated the feeling that that potential was gone, that some small bit of wonder was trapped and the world a slightly lesser place for it. It’s all stuff and nonsense, really. Magic is all around us. You don’t have to open the door to everything to look outside, or even to appreciate what you have.

I turned around to do my cover-up check of the bathroom, when the nymph bit me, hard. Well, she stuck spines in me, at any rate. They don’t exactly have teeth, you see. That’s when it went dark. At least it wasn’t from the sudden attack of sneezing. I’m allergic to a lot of flowers, after all.

A quick vision. Something hit my system badly at that point. I could have sworn I had seen a collar around her neck, attached to…something. Something I had just cut off and wanted its houseplant back… like a missing piece of furniture. I woke up maybe a minute later, rubbing my stiff neck and hand from where it stopped my fall, muttering aloud, “Just don’t plant her.”

Ed will never stop laughing at me. Fine. I can wait to get even. And I meant it – without being cared for, a nymph fades like cut flowers, turning into dry petals on the wind.

“You went down like you were punched by a girl,” he said. Yeah, that’s what he said. I’m guessing he had sisters, because it isn’t usually how I hear the line, but it was appropos.

“In a way.”

“So, come out to Boulder with me. Have a drink or two. I’ll bill the management company for something sinister and you can recharge or whatever it is you do after a job.”

Second mistake of the night.