Urban fantasy romance short story. Welcome to part 2 of this three part short story: If you’ve missed Part 1, you can catch up here.
A street he’d never seen before appeared out of the underside of a log that lay on the edge of an alley on the outskirts of town like an engraving sketched into the moss. Geraint followed the instructions Arthur had given in a hurried whisper, one eye on the door in case his wife were to reappear with fresh tea, and found himself here, inside the underside; the unseen part of town.
He headed inside the nearest pub, it was modelled on Scandinavian furniture store chic and most of the patrons looked fairly usual, apart from the centaur he made awkward eye contact with at the bar.
They were friendly enough, to begin with until he brought up Lila – the woman by the lake.
“Don’t want none of that trouble starting again.”
“Haven’t heard that name in years. Don’t much want to either.”
Geraint found himself facing a wall of blank faces and unfriendly stares. His spine had straightened as yet again he wondered what he was getting involved in.
That night there was a faint fog hanging lazily in the air and the night lay thick with atmosphere. Wispy clouds parted to reveal the eerie light of a waning moon and Geraint leant forward in the chair beside the fire inside Lila’s little cottage at the edge of the Wood.
“There’s definitely something going on. They all just closed ranks and refused to speak to me again. I ended up just walking out in the end while they all just stared.”
“Sounds about right. Did they say anything else – anything about me?”
He hesitated and then shook his head. “And is your friend, the one who’s missing, is she… the same as you, er – is she a water nymph too?”
“She’s nothing like me.”
“What’s your friend’s name? It would help if I knew what we’re looking for.”
“And what does she look like?”
She looked at him, eyebrows raised. “Like whatever you need her to at the time. If it’s dark she’s light, if you’re lonely she’ll be a welcome friend, all that stuff. Hope.”
“The friend that’s gone missing… is Hope? You’re serious?” He gave a little laugh. “Bit on-the-nose isn’t it.” He was remembering why he’d thought that she was at least a little bit mad.
“Why would I lie? I don’t care enough about you to lie to you.”
“If something’s happened to her. To Hope. What does that mean? The world becomes hope-less?”
She gave a little grin and Geraint felt a flush run through his body. “Not quite. She’s not the only one.” She fixed her eyes on him. “That doesn’t mean she doesn’t matter though.”
“Would someone want to hurt her? You can’t kill Hope though, right?”
“Pretty big statement they’re making though, taking away Hope from those who need her.”
He looked at her doubtfully. “How long’s it been since you’ve been out of this Wood.”
Seconds ticked by and his head was beginning to swim. He knew it wasn’t just because of their conversation, soon he’d lose all sense of what was going on around him. He shouldn’t be here, he was fast losing focus. It wouldn’t be long before he started to transition.
“I don’t think you should head back tonight, leave it to the morning,’ she said softly.
He didn’t respond. Instead, Geraint could barely raise the energy to lift his eyes and look at her.
“How long have you been like this?”
“Years.” His tongue was heavy and lay thick in his mouth, it was hard to speak, to focus on anything but the overpowering mixture of smells taking over his senses, he was losing control.
“– started just before Sam, he died.”
“I know.” Her voice was different, the sound of it was like a soothing balm to his aching head.
It wouldn’t be long before it appeared and took hold of him entirely. The wolf. It came from out of the darkness, almost translucent blue eyes appearing first and watching everywhere at once. Geraint’s body was cast aside, useless and barely conscious.
“Don’t go.” He fought against the growing fog. “Stay with me. I can’t control him. I dunno what he’ll do.”
Before his eyes glazed over, he watched as she grinned, first at him and then at the wolf. She held out her hand and he felt her run her fingers through his coat. Then she threw open her front door and together they went off, led only by the sounds and scents of the dark night.
A rogue sunbeam broke into the cottage’s deep gloom, waking him from a sleep which had been both tortured and so heavy he could barely fight his way out. Lila sat just inside the entrance, gently dozing with her head against the hard wall. He took in the gentle slope of her chin and nose, the freckles that covered high and mighty cheekbones; she was like nothing else. He moved to sit up and her eyes snapped open, making his chest tighten as she met his gaze.
“Did you… did you find her then?” His voice was husky, his throat dry like he was the one who’d spent the night trekking through freezing air and howling at the moon.
“You don’t know?” She sounded equally hoarse like she’d just returned from a mad night out.
“It all gets jumbled and confused. It’s like it’s nothing to do with me.”
“But it is though, he’s as much ‘you’ as you are. Maybe more. If he couldn’t find his way back to you, you’d shrivel up and die.”
“So, did you find her or not?”
She opened her eyes wide like she couldn’t understand why he was being like this. “Not. But we’re one step closer, I think. You tracked her back into town – we didn’t go any further than that. Don’t want us both getting lynched. But someone in that town’s hiding her, they all know more than they’re letting on, I reckon.”
“I’m glad he could be so useful.” He didn’t want to sound butthurt and petty, but he couldn’t fight it.
“You’re the one who led us there.”
“He did. It’s a shame he won’t be appearing for another month.”
She tried to put her hand on his arm and the feeling merged with that same sense of her fingers running over him from the night before. He quickly shook her off and took a step away.
“You’ve got no control?”
“Right.” Geraint’s nose was wrinkling with disgust. “What’s that smell?”
He sniffed cautiously at the air and his nostrils filled with something. It was sour and not wholly unfamiliar. He began looking around for the source. “It smells like something’s died.”
A panicked look shot across her face and she set off outside, hurrying along like her legs could barely carry her fast enough. He was just catching her up, his breath straining in his chest and found her stopped and staring at the lake. All the blood had drained from her face.
“What is it?”
But he followed her gaze and could see for himself. The bodies of half a dozen young women lay bloated and bloodless, floating face down in the lake.
“No no no no no,” she murmured.
“Can’t you do something? Can’t you turn them into nymphs?”
“It doesn’t work like that.”
“So, you can’t help them, or you won’t?”
She stared at him icily. “I said, it doesn’t work like that. Can’t you see it’s them? They made it so I can never go back. They’ve tainted my name and now my home, my sanctuary. I can’t stay here.”
“Where will you –”
She briefly put a hand over her face, when she looked up again her chin was set in determination. “Away from here, at least for a bit until I can work out how to rescue Hope. I still have some friends left I can count on.’
He had nothing, could offer her nothing. He opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out. She waved a dismissive hand and turned away until he made his way, stumbling, back toward the town. He couldn’t help feeling that somehow, he’d messed up.
A moment of doubt had formed an ice block between them, a chasm that hadn’t been there before. He kicked himself frequently over the weeks that followed, surprising himself with just how much it seemed to matter.
The week following the full moon was always the worst. Geraint felt a hollow dullness deep inside that couldn’t be filled. Normally, this was accompanied by a numbness of all five senses like he had a cold or his head was stuck underwater. This time though, he was filled with a burning fever that made his skin hot to the touch. He could think of little else but her.
Plagued too by daymares and nightmares of a cell-like room where he knew Hope was being held. In the dreams, she was like a moth, but her wings were made of pure light and he could hear the sound of her fluttering against the confines of the glass jar that was her prison.
In other dreams he saw Lila, lying face up and floating on the surface of her lake. To begin with she looked as though she were sleeping.
He found himself in a dark, stone corridor, outside of a heavy wooden door. She was on the other side, waiting for him to release her. If he could just break through the door. He looked down at his hands, but they’d gone all blurry.
“Stop,” a voice rang out from the darkness surrounding him. “It doesn’t belong out there, I can see you’re under her spell, just as I was when I married her until she broke our vows and destroyed everything. Since then she cowers meekly in her self-inflicted isolation, clinging onto Hope to keep her going.
I assure you, it’s entirely for selfish reasons why she chooses to keep it free and available to her, wherever she might need it.”
A dozen little gobliny things appeared out of the shadows and wrapped their gnarled fingers onto his flesh, carrying him full-bodily out of there and dumping him onto the wet pavement outside. At the shock of the landing, Geraint woke with a start.
Without knowing quite how he knew where to find Hope.
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If your boots haven’t quite been filled with short fiction yet, you can check out my urban fantasy flash fiction Widows of Warcraft, or a realistic fiction short The Road I Know. Or if you’re in the mood for a murder at a garden party, there’s A Cold Shiver On A Sunny Day. You can also find some of my bite-sized fiction on Twitter @wildingwriting and Instagram.