|© Claudia McKinney and Tiffany Mize-Carter|
"Yes," I replied, shaking faelings from my legs. "And who might you be?" I looked up.
A tall crescent fish with silver scales and purple robes towered over me. "I am Meiser Mipkin, Holloway Spring's dreamweaver extraordinaire. Here, let me introduce you to the rest of the family. This is Kara, Mara, and Sara."
Three beauties stepped forward, draped in rose, peach and violet gowns that curled like petals. "A pleasure," said they, stamping kisses across my brow.
"Triplets?" I said.
"A commonality in the faery lands." Mipkin flapped his fin.
As I wiped the devilish grin from my face, something climbed onto my shoulder.
"And I see you've already met Joomey."
"Na mi na na pu pu," he said once more, and then sprung into the air. Something stank, and it wasn't necessarily my sense of humor.
"And over here-" Mipkin choked.
My jaw nearly cracked the cobblestone. A stunning faery with flowing hair, sparkling wings and a suggestive dress stepped forward. "I'm Keira," she offered, by far the most delicious morsel I'd ever seen.
Before I could press my lips against her outstretched hand, Mipkin pulled me aside. "Keira, don't you have that dreadful flesh-eating fungus growing between your fingers? Or perhaps it was your legs?"
Keira's eyes filled with daggers.
"And look who we have here." Mipkin spun me around, "Why, it's Madame Mipsey."
A plump faery in a mauve dress stared back at me. She was a portly delight for that rare adventurer, but not this one.
"Good evening," I nodded.
Without another word, the ravenous pork chop seized me, and pressed her lips against mine.
"Mipsey, no!" Mipkin cried, but could not pry her loose. Finally I peeled her off, gasping for air. I stumbled into the crowd, wiping away any trace of her. It was a nimble ambush, considering.
"Madame Mipsey, you must behave yourself!" Mipkin snapped.
"My apologies," she licked her chops.
As I collected myself, a little girl tugged my robe. "Sure are small for a human," she said.
"That's not his actual size, Y'lia," said Mipkin. "The dragons shrank him down so he could enjoy the faery kingdoms with his new bride. Right, old man?"
I merely grumbled.
"Still he's a full head taller than the average faery, even without wings." Mipkin leaned in. "Hopefully everything else scaled accordingly." He nudged my arm.
Pain needled through my shoulder. I bit my tongue, trying to hide the obvious discomfort.
"Everything all right in there? Hopefully you're not falling apart already." Mipkin nudged my arm again, just for the hell of it. Behind, a shadow scampered by. "Frollingswyrth?" His voice slowed and deepened.
"I'm fine." I rubbed my temples. "Just a long trip over."
"Great, there's so much more to show you."
Mipsey lingered around the scene of the crime, circling like a shark. When our eyes met, a faery with broken wings and a mangled dress stared back. "Frollingswyrth," she hissed, her colorless eyes piercing my soul.
I shook my head. The real Mipsey stared back and winked.
"Ahh!" I screamed, the pain shooting down the length of my arm. The town rocked back and forth as I tried shaking it off. A pair of mischievous hands snatched my cap from behind, exposing my bald cranium. "Hey!" I barked, my anger sprouting new wings. I gave chase, and tackled the buzzard in midair. Dozens of faelings piled on as well, scrapping for the stolen cap.
It was a nightmare of epic proportions. Faelings clung from every conceivable limb, even yours truly. I waded through the jungle of arms and legs, and seized my prize. "Give me that back," I hollered as another snatched it from me. But it was to no avail; faelings pulled my moustache, and screamed into my ears. Would I be skinned and quartered next? If I only were so lucky.
Then I saw it in all its wicked glory. Withered slats snapped open; its yellow eyes locked with mine, holding me in its gaze. The rotting pile edged closer, flesh falling from bone. I screamed, embracing the fools around me as it reached out. As its cold fingers touched my skin, Holloway Springs spun away. And all was quiet.