Serial Story: Fae and Folly Part 12 (finally!)

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When Neo brought us up to a private room at this little upstairs vegan restaurant a few blocks down from the Radisson, I wanted to ask how the southern branch of the IFA could afford to pay their Fae so much. I was back in my capitol hill attire, which was a fairly nice looking gray-and-blue getup, but even in some of my best clothes, Neo outdid me with his sharp, matching suit, tiny cuff links (which probably cost more than the human-sized ones), and his ability to slip the hostess enough money to get us a table wherever we wanted. By the spartan modern furniture and the ultra-hip price-less menu, I would bet that this place – The Grange – was one of the fanciest vegan spots in Austin.

Watching him with all his charm and wit, it occurred to me that Neo’s wealth was likely from the same source as Caleb’s. Neo was still a Muse, even if he wasn’t one the front page of the New York Times. He probably had assets attached to family enterprises throughout the south. It’s not as if the south had a surplus of Muses.

I was wedged in between several huge, plushy pillows in various bright-but-tasteful colors, sitting at the too-cool-for-chairs table which was only inches off the ground. Fortunate for us it was the perfect size. The waitress stepped through the gauzy curtains to take our orders, shutting the door to the private area behind her when she took it back to the kitchen. I chewed on my lip, just praying that whatever I ordered wouldn’t break my own bank account. I was sure that Caleb or Neo would gladly pay for me if I needed it, but I wasn’t about to ask for such a thing. Just because I was a Tree Fae didn’t mean I had no pride.

“So Amelie,” Neo started right in, resting comfortably on his own mound of pillows. “You’re a Northwest original, yeah?”

“I have some roots from the native tribes,” I acknowledged, taking a sip of my water. “More Irish than anything, though. Transplants.”

“So many of us are,” Neo smiled, his teeth starkly white against his dark skin. He nodded towards Caleb. “Especially that one, not even born in his region. How do they let you lead them up there?”

“It’s all in the name,” Caleb shrugged. “You’re doing well for yourself.” The look that Caleb was giving Neo struck me as a little odd – almost suspicious – but I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it. I didn’t know him well enough yet.

“Not bad,” Neo hedged. He winked at me in a very human way, to which I reflexively smiled. If ever there was a male match for Dyana, it was Neo. He had that same overly pleasant quality which would be annoying on anyone else, but was perfect on him. “I keep myself busy, you know. Tell me, Amelie, what did you do before you joined the IFA?”

“Activism, mostly,” I told him, “didn’t pay very well, but it was alright. I felt like I could make more of a difference with the IFA.”

“We need more of that optimism,” he rolled his eyes in Caleb’s direction, “don’t take after this guy. He’s a dark one.”

“I noticed,” I chuckled.

Caleb made a rude gesture at Neo, which drew laughs from all three of us. The two of them together made an odd pair – probably just as odd as me and Dyana. Caleb motioned toward the window, which we couldn’t quite see out of. This restaurant didn’t face the side of the street with the protests we’d passed. “Have you had any trouble from them?”

“I stay out of the city when I can, travel pretty light,” Neo hesitated, “sometimes I do wish you’d let me have my cheerful conversations.”

“This is a business trip,” his ultra-serious, dark eyes held steady on his old friend. “You said you had some important things to talk about, but I don’t think it has to do with anything personal.”

Neo’s eyebrow raised and his wings fluttered indignantly. “Straight to the point, yeah? Does he ever relax anymore?”

“He’s insufferable,” I said.

Caleb, for his part, just made that usual almost-smiling face, half of him wanting to disapprove the other half – the real Fae half – wanting to be playful.

“I didn’t want to come down here to begin with, you understand,” Caleb tossed back a couple of antihistamines with his sip of water. “I don’t know how you can stand it anymore. It’s gotten worse.”

Neo sobered. “Everything has, my friends.”

“That’s to be expected though, isn’t it?” I nodded out towards the window. “The protests? After what happened in Alabama…”

“This isn’t just about Alabama,” Neo shook his head, “we started showing up in their legislature, and they’re not happy about it. A few weeks ago a youngling was killed by a church group outside of Waco. The threats we get at the Granite-”

“A youngling was killed?” Caleb pressed a finger into the table for emphasis, “here in Texas?”

“It’s not something we like to publicize,” Neo said bitterly, “didn’t want to put it on the news and encourage that kind of thing.”

“You should have told the IFA,” said Caleb.

“Don’t you think I did?” Neo chuckled hollowly. “The IFA doesn’t want to hear about what goes on down here. They expect us to disappear given enough time.”

It didn’t seem likely that someone like Cally had heard about this – maybe I was naive, but I expected that she would be honest with her bridgers about it. The waitress stepped in to set down a plate of stuffed mushrooms, which gave me something else to look at while I was thinking. It was just another odd incident to add to the list of things that were starting to concern me about the IFA as a whole.

Caleb pensively cracked his neck, a maneuver I’d seen him do once before. “I’ll have to talk to Cally about that.”

“For all it will do,” said Neo.

“We should have known before we were sent down here. If it’s that unstable…” Caleb glanced at me, then sighed. “There’s no way to disburse the protesters before the summit?”

“It is their right to be there.” Neo gave him a dismissive wave, “security is good. As long as all of us are careful it should be fine.”

“Should?” I shook my head. The Fae weren’t known for their fighting skills. Leprechauns, maybe, but not us. I toyed with the mushroom on my plate.

“We’re… anticipating that the crowd may be trying to make some kind of point,” he pulled out his phone, fiddled with it a moment, and handed it over to me.

The blog post read –

Calling all spiritual warriors: “Climate” meeting in Austin, Texas this weekend. Anti-capitalist sympathizers and Nephilium all going. Are you?

The responses below included everything from climate change deniers to people openly calling for the genocide of the Faerie people. I could hardly stand to read any of it before I turned it over to Caleb in disgust.

“’Nephilium?’” I asked.

“Sons of god, daughters of men,” Neo explained. “Certain people think we are the fallen angels from the bible.”

“I… hadn’t heard that before.”

“It’s the newest thing,” Neo shook his head, “we have Austin PD and a private security company on watch. It’s not as if we’re just standing by waiting, but I thought you two should know. I’m letting everyone of importance in on it.”

“But you haven’t told the media.”

“It’s the same idea as telling them about the youngling,” Caleb spoke up, still thumbing through the phone. “It would only draw more people to their cause.”

“Why not tell homeland security?” I struggled to speak fluidly, and failed. “They… surely… these are still terrorists, here. What they’re talking about is terrorism just as bad as the Elementals.”

“If I could find it, they could find it,” said Neo. “They do have a motive to protect the human representatives, so I am hoping they do something with it. I did let the human reps know.”

Caleb’s sharp, warning look startled me, but didn’t seem to startle Neo, who was taking the brunt of it. “Is there some reason you don’t want to talk to the feds?”

“I am a bridger, Caleb,” Neo’s demeanor turned entirely serious all of a sudden, for the first time since I’d met him. “If I was afraid of the feds I’d be in some other business.”

Caleb closed his eyes for a breath or two, then handed the phone back. “We appreciate the heads up. I don’t know what you think we can do about it.”

“Just be on watch,” Neo sat back on his pillow, “and don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.”

The table sobered. The waitress came back in, bringing a forced light-heartedness to the table. I was still halfway spinning from all that I was hearing and all that had happened since our trip to Eugene. Part of me wanted to know why all of this was happening – another part of me knew all too well. We were on the verge of getting some real rights and recognition, and the people who thought we were demons, or fallen angels, or false gods or whatever… they were afraid.

Those people and the oil companies, to be more accurate – two groups of people known for getting their way. My head was starting to hurt.

“Anything else you wanted to tell us about?” Caleb asked after the waitress had delivered our salads.

Neo’s eyes flitted between the two of us. He made a small humming sound while he thought. “Not if you’re asking that way.” He placed a friendly hand on my shoulder. “You look a little pale, Tree Fae. There’s no reason we can’t enjoy the rest of our meal. They have good food here.”

My sad attempt at a smile faltered. “It’s a lot to take in,” I said feebly.

“You get used to it,” Neo shrugged. “I live with it every day.”

“We’ll stay on top of it,” Caleb tried to reassure me. “It’s going to be okay.”

“You’ll forgive me if I think you’re both full of it,” I said.

“Well,” Neo smirked, “both of those things can be true.”

Caleb managed a real, blossoming smile, and it left me wondering what exactly connected them. I waited.

“You’re making me wonder if you’ve changed at all,” said Caleb. By the sound of it he meant something deeper than I was able to understand. They shared another one of those strange, indecipherable looks.

“Not in the important ways,” Neo replied.

“Excuse me guys,” I interrupted, tucking a lock of hair behind my ear. “Would you kindly include me on your little… secret language?” Among other things.

“Neo and I go back a long ways,” Caleb said quickly, giving me his best earnest look. “I know a few things about him that he wishes I didn’t.”

“As if you would tell this pretty one about the time the two of us had an entire fraternity trying to ride a herd of cattle,” Neo laughed. No hollowness, this time; just mirth. It looked good on him.

Caleb’s cheeks flagged red, and I couldn’t help but giggle. “Sounds like the private and the manhole story,” I snorted.

“Private and the manhole, hm?” Neo waggled his eyebrows, “I hadn’t heard that one.”

“I haven’t heard it either,” I leaned my elbows on the table in the most un-ladylike way that I could. “It sounds like he owes us both a story.”

“I like her,” Neo stuck a thumb out at me, “she’s good for you.”

“She keeps me guessing,” Caleb looked at me from the corner of his eye, sufficiently distracted from the darker side of our conversation.

The rest of the afternoon was filled mostly with silly Muse-stories, enough for me to get a better idea of who Neo (and Caleb) were. The whole time I was listening I was laughing – all while a strange, foreboding feeling was building in my stomach. I couldn’t quite put it into words, but there was something Neo wasn’t saying… something Caleb already understood.

In retrospect I would wish that I had known the right questions to ask, but even then, it probably wouldn’t have changed a thing.


Sorry for the delay! Between working the emergency room and my new rotation I’ve been a little bit scattered. Here’s hoping things are settling down into more of a routine… as routine as intern year gets. Back to the grind, folks.

The Power of Reading: Perspective for a Dime

If my mother had read the contents of Illusions, she never would have handed it to me.

I was twelve years old, relaxing on the bed at my grandmother’s house. Wednesdays were the days that my mother and I visited my grandmother in the mountains to do work for her, and this day my mother and grandmother had gone treasure hunting at the local garage sales. Homeschooled and left to my own devices, I spent a great deal of time doing whatever I wanted – in this case, re-reading one of my very favorite books, Artemis Fowl, for about the thousandth time. I had an early review copy complete with all the pre-publishing grammatical errors and formatting problems (the fact that I enjoyed the flawed copy even more than the polished, retail copy probably should have been a sign to somebody that I would one day toil away as a writer myself).

“I found this for you at the library sale,” my mother said, tossing the slim volume to me.

The cover was simple yet intriguing: a single blue feather, surrounded by stars on a black background. The title was a single word: Illusions, by Richard Bach. I scrutinized the cover and the back matter, which told me little to nothing about the book itself. The sticker price said 10¢. Unsurprising, I thought; the poor thing was all torn up. One corner of the cover was folded over, white showing through the black background, the spine held together with the years’-old glue.

“I thought it might be your kind of thing,” she shrugged. “You’re always reading fantasy stuff.”

“Thanks,” I said, watching her disappear to tend to her much-more-important estate sale finds.

Reading the interior I discovered that the book was written in the 70’s. The first chapter looked as if it had been photocopied from an old notebook; the words were handwritten and at times difficult to read. The voice in the first chapter struck me as odd, with a cheeky bible-like description of a “master” of the world of illusions likened to a river creature. It didn’t make much sense the first time I read it, but I read it anyway. I loved to read, and something about this book was screaming read me, finish me. What I read would change my life quite permanently – much to the chagrin of my mother, whose values so violently clashed with the book that I eventually hid it from her so she wouldn’t discover what was inside.

Many people who know me by my outward behavior or my writing make the assumption that I grew up in a household where values of diversity, equality, and compassion reigned supreme. What always entertains me about this (apparently common) belief is how different my life has actually been. I grew up  being taught that LGBTQ people were horrendous, disgusting sinners who should have gotten over God’s “challenge” of their identities by remaining permanently celibate. Interracial marriages were alright for some people they supposed, except that it was against the natural order of things and “selfish” in the case of producing children from such a marriage (‘who would curse a child by making them mixed-race?’ – their words, not mine). Atheists, well, they could certainly exist in this country, but their values shouldn’t matter, and my goodness, you couldn’t ever trust them. Pagans were witches possessed by the devil – dangerous and evil, naturally. Speaking of possession, most mental illness was viewed as likely possession which could be prayed away.

I could probably go on, but I think you get the idea. Mine was a rather narrow-minded home.

This book, though, Illusions… it was not narrow-minded at all. I remember clearly the surreal experience of reading it for the first time. In the book Bach uses fictional characters to illustrate the ideas that life can be what we make it, that choices are personal and infinite in their iterations, and the concepts of “right” and “wrong” entirely depend on a person’s perspective. The very first chapter contained these words, which have stuck with me to this day –

“And what would you do,” the Master said unto the multitude, “if God spoke directly to your face and said, ‘I COMMAND THAT YOU BE HAPPY IN THE WORLD, AS LONG AS YOU LIVE.’ What would you do then?”

For a girl who had been raised to believe that there was a right way to be and a condemned sinner’s way to be, the ideas in this book were revolutionary. They were also terrifying. I had to google Richard Bach after finishing the book (in tears, I might add) to make sure that god hadn’t struck him down. Imagine my surprise when I learned that he was nearly 70 and still flying airplanes!

I’ve never met Richard Bach, and yet the words he wrote were the first step towards freeing me from a life of bigotry and hate. I don’t know if he ever even imagined that a kid would pick it up – I’m pretty sure he didn’t write it with kids in mind, but for me, it was the most important thing I read in my entire childhood. It was magic.

A book takes on a life of its own when it reaches the hands of a reader, one that the author never could have imagined. They are powerful – ideas in physical form, disseminated to hundreds or thousands of people. How could a person not want to be a part of that experience, as readers? As writers?

What books have influenced you?


Hope you enjoyed that little spiel! It’s back to the grind for me… I think I have (please let this be true!) 1-2,000 words left to write before the Forsaken Lands 2 draft is FINISHED. Seriously. I think I can, I think I can…

My Physician Alter-Ego

We are hardcore.

We don’t like to say it. Doctors, nurses, and other folks in the medical profession known for the long shifts, the 80-hour weeks and the life-and-death scenarios, we like to say “Ah well, it’s just what it is. We signed up for this.”

That may be true, but that doesn’t make it any less ridiculous.

I say this as someone who is on the “softer” side of the medical profession with my choice of specialty; this week I will have only worked 72 hours in six 12-hour increments. I’m in the emergency department as part of my overall intern-year curriculum, though it is not my area of study – it is expected that I be able to manage these patients with the help of my attending physician and make halfway decent decisions if I have an unstable patient while waiting for the real expert to show up. I feel tired probably 70% of the time, and when I look back on my week I wonder how in the world I made it through. It takes a huge amount of energy to go to work every morning and deal with serial emergencies (major props to my friends in emergency med and internal med – I really don’t know how y’all deal with this forever).

I’m not saying this to be all “hey, look at me,” I’m saying hey, look at us. We live weird lives compared to everyone else – that’s why they make television shows about us, along with cops and military folks. Those three groups are the fodder for countless stories because it’s just generally something that most people will not experience in life. We made some of the most critical moments in life our jobs, every single day. The majority of everyday people will not see day after day of psychosis, suicide attempts, and crippling anxiety. They don’t routinely welcome new humans into the world or watch as children die way too young.

Maybe it’s different for people from medical families, but from my perspective, this life is incredible. When I was a kid doctors were somewhat mysterious (perhaps more so for me than other people – my mother didn’t really believe in doctors). They didn’t seem like fully formed people; they were mystical folks who fixed things and knew things. Surely these people were just born this way. No one becomes a doctor, they just are. The universe declared them so.

I was almost old enough to drive when I came to the seemingly obvious realization that doctors were people who went through years of school to learn a profession which is way beyond the realm of normal experience (turns out that the few doctors I met as a kid were the most educated folks I had any contact with – who knew?). It was a shock for me to find out that I could be one – a kid who grew up in a town of 6,000 people, raised by a single mother who cleaned houses and waited tables. They let people like me into school, with the right grades and extracurriculars.

Turns out this doctoring thing really is an acquired skill, or so they tell me. I’ve officially been a doctor for six months and I still have a hard time believing I’m part of this world. “Dr. Cooper, radiology for you on line two,” the department secretary calls over the loudspeaker. Dr. Cooper, who? Why are nurses looking to me for advice and direction? Plenty of them are close to twice my age. Surely not – surely not me.

I believed every day for the four years I spent in med school that I was going to fail out, despite never failing a class. Every board exam was another opportunity to prove that my admission to med school was some kind of mistake. I was not born a doctor; any time now, they’re going to figure out that I’m a fraud dressed in a white coat, trying to pretend I’m one of them.

I passed my third and final licensing exam a couple weeks ago, and now I can’t really make that argument anymore. I didn’t just pass it, either – I did well, so well that you’d almost think I was one of those doctors spontaneously formed from the fabric of the universe.

In six hours I start an overnight emergency shift. I will bike myself up the hill, take off the tie-dye and don hospital-issued scrubs. My nametag says “Physician,” the whitecoat inspires confidence. I’ll hit the floor running in my tennis shoes, ready to take on whatever comes in. I’ve been on the service long enough that the attendings have started to trust me.

I think I’m slowly getting to the point in my life where I’m beginning to trust myself. I’m not sure that the title will ever merge with my identity the way I imagined it as a kid. Healthcare providers are people, some of them people just like me. Tie-dye, fantasy writing, and all.