Sylvain was five when her mother told her about fairies.
She was seven when she saw one outside the picture books. They were walking along the pier and in the distance was a creature she’d never seen before. As the creature came closer, Sylvain could see its skin was striped milky white and crimson. Its eyes were mostly white. It had tentacles for hands. This day was also the day she learned her mother could see fairies, too.
Through the years, her beautifully strange mother who spent her days reading and who smelled like the ocean told her fantastical tales of those belonging to the two fairy courts. Seelie and Unseelie. The bright court and the night court. These places filled Sylvain’s mind and permeated her dreams at night. Over the years, she’d learned all there was to know about the various creatures in these courts. She knew about the bloodthirsty red cap and the love-addicting Gancanagh. Stories of sylphs delighted her and tales of goblins terrified her.
When she was nine, Sylvain learned only she and her mother could see the fey when a Banshee that had been circling the park began to screech and only Sylvain was affected. She was the only one who fell to the ground with bloody ears, and when asked, blamed the gaunt woman hiding beneath the willow tree. There had been no one under the willow tree when the other parents checked. No one they could see, anyway.
In the 20 years that followed, Sylvain never met anyone else who could see them – not even her little sister. Sylvain never found a way to hide the fact that she could see them, either.
Now she sat on the train, her stomach churning with each stop and start. It was an older train, the seats worn and the cloth cushions dingy. There was graffiti on most of the walls and promotional pictures for technical colleges, medical clinics, and legal aid. There was a seat by a window that was clouded over dirt and dust, but Sylvain took it anyway, as it gave her a view of the coastline. Clouds moved before the sun, casting the world in an odd shade of gray.
She was thankful that there weren’t many people taking the mid-morning train back to Sagecrest. Most of the commuters were already in the comfort of their offices, enjoying central heating while Sylvain did her best to stave off the cold with just a leather jacket she bought at Target. She felt she could have been naked, for all the warmth it provided her.
She took out her phone and sent Lani a text.
“Thanks for the message. I’m alive, fyi. On my way home, sorry for leaving you.” As an afterthought, she added, “I think Molli, the ginger, was great, but I can’t remember all of it.”
After sending the message she scrolled through her Facebook feed. Lani had already posted pictures from the night before. Sylvain winced as she scrolled through the pictures, as she looked progressively drunker in each photo. There was one with her arm draped around Molli, and another of them kissing. There was no point in asking Lani to untag her or take the photos down. She was a fervent believer that one shouldn’t do things in public that they’d be afraid to have captured in a photo. That said, there was very little Lani hasn’t been photographed doing.
Her phone buzzed. Lani’s named popped up on her screen.
“Like I said, you horny cooze. Just glad you’re alright.”
Before Sylvain could respond, the train ground to a halt. She looked up from her phone. Sylvain stood and placed her phone in her back pocket. Two other passengers stood and waited in front of the sliding doors.
“Please exit to the right,” the automated voice said. As the doors opened, a short, squat man with long, shaggy hair stepped into the train. He brushed passed Sylvain, his shoulder bumping into her arm.
“Watch it, asshole.” Sylvain spat.
She turned slightly and regretted the insult. The troll stood before her, his glamor gone. His skin was yellow-pale and covered in black freckles. He had no hair. His ears drooped and came to a sharp point just above his shoulders. His lower teeth were sharp points against his upper lip. His fathomless, black eyes glared at her with recognition. The troll knew he’d been seen as he truly was.
Her heels clicked hard against the tile floor of the train station as she put as much distance between herself and the troll. She fast-walked across the train platform. Once she left the station, she hustled down Dillard Ave and hoped that the iron in the buildings the cars would weaken the troll, as iron often did to the Fair Folk.
She turned left on Hance Ave. She followed the winding street, passed apartments and coffee houses and bars. As she passed an abandoned storefront, she looked in the mirror. The troll was following her. He was several paces back, but he was there. Though he was a fat, toad-like troll, his steps were still light. She hadn’t heard him at all. Sylvain chided herself. She should have known by the smell, a fishy, marina smell that only Unseelie fey had.
Sylvain quickened her pace as her apartment complex came into view. She ran up the slight hill and through the gate just as a car drove out. Surely there was no way he’d make it through the large iron gate?
But she had enough run-ins with the fey to know that if they wanted something, there was very little that could stop them.
Her building was in the back, overlooking a wealthy subdivision. She ran up the stairs to the second floor, all the while searching her large purse for her keys.
The stairs below creaked and sagged under the trolls weight and the smell of fish permeated the air. She clutched onto her key ring and jammed my key into the lock. She burst through the door and slammed it shut behind her. She twisted the lock in place, then the deadbolt.
He was a behemoth of a troll, and it was only a matter of time before he busted down her door. Just as she leaned against it, she felt his fists connect with the door. The troll banged and banged and banged against the door.
To the right of the door was her work desk. She ran behind it and shoved it against the door, digging her heels into the carpet. Once it was in place, Sylvain grabbed the lead pipe she kept by the front door and stepped back.
The banging stopped. Sylvain worked at steadying her breath. Was he lying in wait in the stairwell? Had a neighbor opened their own door, curious because of the noise? She didn’t know what the troll would do if it happened upon a random bystander. Sylvain couldn’t risk someone getting hurt because of her.
She took two deep breaths and pushed the desk out of the way. After that, she slid the deadbolt back. She unlocked the door.
Sylvain turned the handle and stepped outside.