I looked at my phone. It was almost out of battery, of course. I didn’t recognize the number, so I rejected the call, only to glance at the time and date.

You know that phrase, “He reeled?” I always took it in context to mean  he felt dizzy, and out of touch with his surroundings. In seeing the date, I reeled. When I had left, it had been a crisp, clean autumn bearing into winter. Now it was the tail end of summer. I found myself leaning against the post for the street sign, trying to get my bearings. Almost a year in what, to me, was merely a day.

I took stock in a few positives: One, all my bills were paid electronically. Unless I had had some wild parties while I was gone, I should see a hefty credit to my utilities. Two, I hadn’t missed the presidential election. Three, I wasn’t really attached to any television series.

The phone was busy updating. I knew I had already had the last year’s model, but it meant I’d have to upgrade before I’d expected. I tried breaking my chain of thought because that just led to the downward path. I told myself to continue to think on the bright side; less mileage on my car, more chances to listen to others, and I had saved all the food budget.

On the other hand, where could I say I was? The dark side of the moon? Self-imposed hermitage? Sanatorium. Sanatoriums were always fun. No one in my family would be surprised.

Ed. I should call Ed.

No, I should find out what’s going on with my stuff, first.

I made my decision based on the fact that my boots were already headed down the block, my feet in them. I was glad that my clothes hadn’t turned out to be woven of spidersilk and shadow, or cleverly pasted flower petals, because I wouldn’t want to be caught by my neighbors in such a costume. The motley I had was bad enough, but I could at least explain it with enough references to Shakespeare. Besides, I was man enough to wear green.

My car’s registration was overdue, but I hadn’t been towed. I’d have to leave a thank you to the guy who owned the lot. My unit was still standing, not burnt down or looking too much different. The door still needed painting.

I didn’t have my keys.

Oh, I know where I left them, in a little octopus cup about three feet to my right, diagonally-speaking. If you speak diagonal.

I thought about calling Maggie, because I bet she still had a copy of the key. Instead, I leaned over and knocked on the door. Couldn’t hurt.

“‘Bout time,” Wrecks said, opening it. “I was getting tired of watching television.”

“You’ve been here the whole time?” I asked.

“Come on in,” he replied, moving aside. “It’s your place, after all. And you’re still asking stupid questions. You think they’re letting you off the hook that easy? If you don’t maintain a hearth, you could just flit off, maybe head to California, or Cuba. I hear Cuba’s nice this time of year.”

I glanced inside. Everything seemed pretty much the way I left it, if you didn’t count the books off the shelves and all over every horizontal surface. Which wasn’t all that unusual. Truth be told, that’s only how it was five days of the week; I’d pick up on weekends.

“Wait. Who sent you?”

“Dragon. Duh,” Wrecks gave me a look.

“I met your sister Snowflake. And the pile of Dragon bones.”

“Yeah, the King’s got no sense of humour when it comes to nicknames or beasties wot interfere with the Kingdom. Did you do the dirty deed?” he leered. “There’s no Small Kingdom channel, and what with them being wrapped up tight no word was getting through.”

“I’ve got a rule,” I said. “It’s not just a guideline, but a hard and fast rule.”

“Women have a way of making you forget your rules,” he said. He hopped up onto the chair and helped himself to something that smelled like and probably was root beer, if the 2-liter bottle next to him had any connection. “Besides, the King’s awfully persuasive.”

I sighed, and took off my jacket. I plugged my phone into the wall and, after pushing the Lord of the Rings trilogy up against the Coldfire trilogy, sat on the futon in front of the television.

“Children’s programming?” I asked.

“We have danced around in the hearts and minds of those who can wonder without limits for years,” he said, looking as if he were embellishing a poem. “And they tell our stories, although some of them get quite odd.”

“So does the Small Kingdom,” I agreed. I watched as a puppet of some sort danced around with wildly flailing arms and a couple of back-up singers. “You know, I’ve had the dreams of that staircase before, but at least this time each step didn’t complain to me outright.” I leaned back and took a deep breath. “What the heck has been happening here?”

In response, he changed the channel. I resolved to take the remote back from him at the first opportunity. That was power I was not willing to share with the little fey.

The fires were on the screen, blazing orange with black smoke. For a moment I felt the terror again, and I was paralyzed. I realized I had been holding my breath, and I let it out slowly. “Where?”

“North, South, and West,” he said. I tried reading the screen but the words weren’t making any sense to me. I’d never heard of Waldo Canyon. It was like a bad, “Where’s Waldo?” joke ready to happen, and yet it died on my lips.


I got up and turned the television off. I walked over to the kitchen, grabbed a clean mug out of the dishwasher where I’d left it, and filled it with ice from the freezer. Apparently Wrecks had a weakness for Ben & Jerry’s. No surprise. I grabbed the 2-liter and poured myself a cup of fizzing soda. I drank it while staring at the wall, a spot that, more than a year ago now, had a picture of Bard the Bowman in the bottom left corner, shooting a black arrow at the underside of Smaug. A blank spot on the wall that could not harm me.

“There’s a lot of questions there,” I said after a moment. “Shall I expect the usual fey mischief in your answers? Or shall you suddenly disappear when I’m close to knowing what’s going on?”

“I am what I am,” Wrecks said, simply.

“Said the Scorpion to the Fox, if I recall. Or Tia Dalma to Davy Jones. But I don’t believe it. You’re the Small Kingdom. You’re abutted right up against us, and you catch a number of my more subtle entertainment cues. Did you read all of these?” I made a gesture encompassing the piles of books cluttering the room.

“Only the ones I had not read before,” he admitted.

I nodded slowly. “What’s the story you’ve given my friends? I know Ed came over.”

“Your friend has found love, or at least lust in the company of a younger man. He’s itching for the chance to bring him over. Your game group has not yet retired your character. Your healer pines for you, and is trying to escape the clutches of her coven. Your Dragon has avowed vengeance on the scaly beast that started this.”

“My Dragon? Which one?” I asked.

“What, you claim more than one? What a puissant wizard you must be. Do you doubt the province of the bones the Seven King offered?”

“I didn’t until you asked,” I said.

“Doubt everything,” Wrecks said. “Save perhaps love. Which is the foulest deceit of them all.”

“I’d fistbump you, but I don’t know if you’d explode or get me sticky or something. I guess what I’m asking is what did you tell them? How did it work?”

“You would unravel the nature of the universe by turning it into an equation, and then forgetting to carry the two.”

“I know that Bloom County cartoon. It’s kind of a favourite.”

“It persists because of its truth. You do not wish to be a wizard, and yet you insist on knowing how it works. The trick is, it works because of will, and because of passion, and it is only when you break the rules that magic happens.”

I leaned back. “I recall saying much of the sort myself. Simulacrum? I’m a trifle jumpy about those these days, but I know Doloise did one. Glamour? Truth?”

“I appreciate that you did not laugh at the suggestion of the last. No, we are perpetually the Hidden Folk. In this, your sister conspired that you had temporary employment in another place.”

I shot right back up. I mean, I literally rose to my feet in alarm. “My sister?”

Wrecks looked amused. “Indeed. She has quite the creative touch and penned the lightning missive.”

“Wait, wait, this is too much.” I was beginning to feel quite dull and tired, not to mention hungry. “What do you have to do with my sister?”

“She keeps secrets, I see.” He looked even more amused, if possible.

“You’ve gone native,” I muttered. I put a hand up to my forehead, because even if it wasn’t a physical headache, I was getting some kind of mental migraine from all the possibilities. He was a lot easier to read than his sister, or he played a different game. My sister? I mean, yes, she was flighty, but that’s an unfair stereotype with which to paint the Small folk.

I changed the subject, sitting back down again. “Know anything of how the witch wars have progressed?”

“Did you kiss the King at least?”

I thought about it. “Is it related?”

“There are connections between anything, and the puppeteers do not know the spiders wait for the pull of the strings,” he said, offhandedly.

I thought that one through. “That is a disturbing image, and I’m not even too much of an arachnophobe. I’m not the kind who kisses and tells.” I paused and let the thought percolate. I swore. “Wait, you’re telling me that the war the King wants is the same war the witches are fighting? What is the relationship between the Gillikins and the Smalls?”

“There are connections between anything,” he repeated. This time he winked.

“Yeah, it’s all fairyland from this point,” I retorted.

Wrecks winced. “You know, we don’t all mince about with pixie wings spreading craft herpes. I don’t care what you call it, just don’t think Tinkerbell so loud, would you? Besides, not all of what’s out there is ours. We’re just the friendliest.” He seemed to consider that. “Well, the leeches are the friendliest, but we’re definitely a close second. Well, unless you consider possession…”

“You’re giving me the heebie-jeebies, man.” I shook my head. “So,  let me see if I get you right. You and my sister told everyone I was on some sort of top-secret mission out of town. Ed, Rohana, and everyone but my Dragon, whoever he, she, or it is. I probably have about sixteen-zillion e-mails, but that’s what Google does. My bills are paid, and you watch too much Sesame Street.”

“Sounds apt,” Wrecks said. “And on your end?”

I figured he’d deserved a little after everything else. “Thomas didn’t hatch, the King is dressed for War, and there’s been no fairy nookie. I am a part of the silver ring club, if that was the King’s bedroom, I didn’t know Martha Stewart did the coliseum look, and I’ve got a song, although I don’t think it’ll be the hit of the year. That about sum it up?”

“Your translations leave something in the murmelthump.”

“Something indeed. Hey, did you sleep in my bed? Do I need to change the sheets or will I get fairy cooties?”

“You turned down the fairy cuties, if I recall.” As I began sighing in response, he continued. “You may sleep without concern of sluagh, piskie, or cootie.”

“I’d like it if that list was a lot longer.”

“Don’t press your luck.”

With that I took myself to bed. I wanted a shower first, but I would have been at risk of a slippery spot. I ignored whatever Wrecks did; as long as he didn’t crawl into the bed with me it was all good.

Or set the place on fire…

Or crease the spines of the Malazan series.

Bed. Bed sounded good. My own bed. To dream, far away from any of the madness.

I hoped.