INCOMPLETE - INCOMPLETE - INCOMPLETE - INCOMPLETE - INCOMPLETE - INCOMPLETE - INCOMPLETE
This is just the semi-finished first half of what I've got so far. A complete and polished version should (hopefully) be done in time for the scifiquest.
Read only if you don't mind spoilers and/or don't intend to read the other one and/or are a rebel who refuses to listen what a line of text tells you to do.
This is VERY rough with errors a-plenty, and ironically enough, the "missing the point" part of the story happens in the now-absent ending.
You should basically not read this.
I just wanted to participate with the enchiladas ;__;
* * * * * * * * * *
When the strange boy stepped out of the rose bushes by the back fence in the backyard, carrying the soccer ball Cameron had accidentally tossed back there, Cameron did not initially notice the little goat horns on his head, poking up amidst the boy's black hair. He did not notice the thin, whip-like tail sprouting from the boy's behind, nor the tuft of black fur at the tail's end. he did notice the boy's strange clothes-- strange, long green coat with dazzling patters and pictures woven into it, the strange and equally elaborate vest under it, the pants that only went to just above the boy's ankles. But he noticed all that in juxtaposition to the boy's bare feet-- which were completely normal looking, but were standing on some of the fallen rose vines.
Cameron leapt backwards from the bush and said, "Don't your feet hurt?"
The horned boy looked surprised. He glanced down at his feet, then said, "No."
The two stood across from each other, each staring at the other with unabashed curiosity.
"How come you were in there?" Cameron said. He did not ask, how did you get in there? Or who are you?, though those questions were there too, begging to be asked.
"I found your ball," the boy said, dodging the question. He held out the soccer ball, but Cameron didn't move. "It's alright," the boy said. "Come, take it back."
Cameron stayed still. "How come your hair is like that?" he said instead. He'd never seen a boy with a long braid before. "And your clothes. And your--" he faltered.
"You have horns," he said.
"And a tail," said the boy.
Cameron stared. He could feel the gears in his brain trying to figure out what to do with this information.
"Why?" he said eventually.
"I could ask you why your ears are round," the boy said. "The clothes are what is fashionable where I am from, as is my hair. The horns are what I have inherited from my father, and the tail, from my mother."
"You talk funny," Cameron said. He could catch the gist of what the other boy was saying, but it was hard. "Who are you?"
The boy smiled, and suddenly it was like the sun coming out. It was like the whole world had been smokey and dark, and he hadn't even noticed until the air in front of him cleared. It was like he could breathe again, or breath for the first time. He gasped from pure feeling the boy's smile gave him.
The boy didn't seem to notice the effect he'd had. He gave a little bow and said, "I am someone who would like very much to be your friend."
"Oh," said Cameron. He found himself smiling back at the boy and hoping beyond hope that they would be friends, that they would be best friends, forever.
Some part of him knew this wasn't how things were supposed to go; friends didn't just crawl out of your backyard. Friends were people you met in school, or at church, or when your mom was already friends with their moms.
But this town was new. Dad kept saying as much; country folk were different. Maybe this was how things worked in the country.
"Okay. My name's Cameron."
The boy jerked back, his expression shocked.
"What? What's wrong?"
"Nothing," the boy said, quickly regaining composure. "Nothing at all. Cameron. Cameron. Cameron."
Cameron stood there, enraptured, while the horned boy repeated his name again and again, tasting the word and its different variations.
"Cameron, Cameron Cam-- what else?" the boy said suddenly. There was no hiding the eagerness in his voice.
The boy beamed, his eyes bright. Cameron has never seen such shining green eyes before. When the boy spoke next, his voice was like layers of pouring honey. It was still recognizably him speaking, but there was some inescapable quality to it that seemed to weigh in Cameron's head, making him sleepy, and warm, and happy.
"It is a lovely name," the boy said. "I am pleased you've shared it with me. But it isn't your only one, is it? There's more, isn't there?"
Cameron nodded happily. "Yup."
"Tell me," the horned boy said. "What's your entire name?"
"Cameron Asher Galway," Cameron said, amused by how important the boy thought this was. It was just his name.
The boy's face lit up, and it was enough to break Cameron's heart. He looked so happy.
"Tell me, Cameron Asher Galway, can you lie?"
"Speak things that are not true. Can you do it?"
"Yes," Cameron said, giggling a little at the absurdity of the question.
"Lie for me!"
Cameron laughed again. "Why?"
"I want to see! Lie for me! About anything."
"Uh." Cameron tried to think of something to say, his mind suddenly going blank. Panic gripped him; he did not want to disappoint his few friend. "I-- uh. Um. Uh. I have a dog."
The boy frowned. "Do you?"
"No," said Cameron. "That was a lie. I don't have a dog."
The boy's smile returned. "Do it again!"
"The sky is green and made of cheese," he said, suddenly inspired. "I have no arms. Your name is Bill, and the grass is blue!"
The boy laughed, and the beauty of it struck Cameron like a blow. The sound cut through to the core of his being, and there was nothing on Earth that Cameron wanted to do more than to make the boy laugh forever.
"More," the boy said. "Tell me more lies. I've never heard any before!"
Cameron smiled shyly. This was the first time anyone had encouraged him to lie.
"Do you want to play?" he said, gesturing to the ball. "If you kick it over, I'll lie some more."
The horned boy immediately kicked the ball over. Cameron picked it up, then ran away, laughing.
"Hey!" said the horned boy, chasing after him. But he was laughing too, so Cameron didn't think he was mad. The two chased one another around the yard for a time, Cameron shouting more lies as he did-- it's raining right now! There are no trees! Your coat is blue!-- and at some point, Cameron kicked the ball to the horned boy, who kicked it back. Soon, without quite knowing how they'd gotten there, Cameron was teaching the boy the ins and outs of soccer, with the space between two flower pots being one goal and the space beneath the patio chairs another.
While they played, the horned boy asked him questions, and Cameron answered without hesitation. The boy asked him about himself, about his family, about what a 'school' was and why he had to go, about how cars worked and what TVs did, and why humans had round ears and a million other things. Cameron answered every one as best as he could, and the horned boy didn't seem at all upset that he didn't have an answer for most things.
When Cameron asked why the boy had so many questions, the horned boy had said, "I want to know everything, and I like the sound of your voice. This seems like a way to satisfy both. Talk to me."
And so Cameron did. He talked and talked and talked about anything and everything he could think of. He told the horned boy about how his seventh birthday was in a few days, but how his friends couldn't join him because that was at the old town. He told him how his family had moved to the countryside only a week ago, and how he was anxious about starting the second grade soon. About how his mother was a veterinarian and his father was a welder, and how sometimes his mother would tell him stories of the animals she had met.
The boy listened with rapt attention, offering encouraging nods and smiles and questions whenever it seemed he was slowing down. At some point, they had stopped playing with the ball, though Cameron couldn't remember when. They sat in the grass beneath one of the many oak trees, and the horned boy watched him intently. To Cameron, it was as though he boy was pulling the words out of him with his eyes, his eyes that had been green earlier, but now flashed gold in the right light.
"Tell me more," the boy said. "Tell me everything."
An Cameron did. Anything and everything he could think of. A dog who had gotten loose at the school once, over whom all the students had fawned until the yard duty sent them inside. The time he'd been downwind of a squirrel and had managed to touch its tail before it fled up a tree. The time he got an extra chicken nugget in his happy meal. The time he accidentally went into the girls bathroom and a big third grade girl pushed him outside-- random half-stories and flashes of memory attached to nothing that meant nothing.
Then, he started talking about things he would normally never say to anyone, much less a stranger.
How he had cried himself awake the other night because he'd dreamed a giant hammer was chasing him. How he sometimes thought that, if he moved fast enough, he would catch his reflection doing something other than copying him, and how the thought of it terrified him. How when his kindergarten class went to the beach on a field trip, he had taken a seashell, even though his teacher had told them all not to (because taking empty shells was as bad as stealing homes from the hermit crabs and other critters who needed them), and how after he had gotten home, guilt weighing on his heart and the shell weighing in his pocket, he had become so overcome with shame that he'd buried the shell in the garden, and how the shell was still there, back at the old house.
How when he'd been shopping with his mom, he'd hidden in the circular racks of clothes and waited for her to find him, but she hadn't come looking for him, and how he'd gone crying to the first adult he could find for help, and the man had taken his hand and led him to the front, but not to the clerks, to the exit, until a store worker called out to them, and the man let him go and hurried away. How Cameron had been so confused that he started to follow the man outside-- he was helping, after all-- but then his mother and a worker came up behind him.
The horned boy's face, so open and encouraging before, was unreadable at that last story. When Cameron asked, he only said, "The man would have stolen you. I am glad you did not go with him."
"You tell me something now," Cameron croaked. All the speaking and running had taken its toll, and his throat felt raw.
The horned boy grinned, and he leaned back against the tree. "What would you know?" he said.
"What's your name?" Cameron said.
The boy laughed again.
"Good try," he said. "I'm not as careless as you are. But you can call me Halidon."
"Halidon?" Cameron said, trying it out. And then he had to say it a few more times, because Halidon said he liked the way it sounded when Cameron said it.
"Tell me about where you're from," Cameron said eventually. "It's someplace magic, right?"
"Yes," Halidon said. "Very much so."
And now it was Cameron's turn to be enthralled.
The horned boy told him stories of the strange creatures that lurked in the deep forests and the waters, who would eat the arrogant and ill-mannered, of shapeshifting tricksters who would pretend to be horses, then drown any mortal tricked into riding them, of beautiful lights that would lure travelers off the safety of the road and into danger. He told these stories with obvious glee, relishing in Cameron's shocked or horrified reactions.
Then he told him of the grand parties he and his father attended, ones that lasted all night and started with beautiful lords and ladies, all prim dancing and fancy adult drinks, but then at the sundown transformed into mad revels of excitement, pleasure, and horror, and how the next night, they all did it again and again, sometimes for weeks in a row. He told him about the jeweled fruits that grew in Faerie, and how they tasted like candy when eaten fresh off the bough. He told him about the horses with dragonfly wings, and deer made of flowers that were favored by the gentry, and giant frogs and snails that commoners used for travel, and about the women who were trees and the tiny, biting dragons that nested in hives, and a hundred other strange things.
And he told him about how his mother was gone, struck by an assassin's iron arrow when Halidon was a baby. How his father was often too busy to pay him any mind and left him to wander the grounds like a feral cat. How he had servants who fed and clothed him when necessary, but otherwise left him be and made sure the very few children they had steered clear of him as well-- how could they do otherwise, when he had the rank to have them dragged away and beaten if the mood should take him? Why expose anyone to that kind of danger?
After that, the two sat together in silence, watching the sun set through the brambles.
"Today was fun," Halidon eventually said.
"Yeah," said Cameron.
"I cannot recall a time I've better enjoyed myself, nor had better company."
Cameron snickered. "You're talking funny again."
Halidon blinked, his expression blank for a moment, then he smiled. "I beg your pardon."
They sat together for a time longer.
"There are very few children where I live," Halidon said suddenly.
"Oh," said Cameron.
"I have always wanted a sibling," Halidon went on, as though he hadn't spoken. "Sometimes, I watch the fox kits that run through our gardens as they frolic with one another. Sometimes find burrows of young rabbits, all sleeping snugly together. I sometimes see the kittens in the stables, grooming one another, or the pups of my father's hunting hounds playing."
"Aww," said Cameron. "That's cute."
Halidon looked at him, his expression blank. "I would throw rocks at foxes out of envy. I'd frighten the rabbits awake and make them run. I would chase away families of ducklings and quail. Sometimes I separate pups from their litters and listen to them cry for one another."
"Oh," said Cameron, heart sinking. "That's. . . That's--"
"It wasn't fair!" Halidon snarled. His face contorted in rage, and for a moment, the unearthly beauty transformed into a horror that froze Cameron in place. Nothing had truly changed; this was the same Halidon, with the same green eyes, the same face, the same black hair and baby-goat horns. But now the indescribable allure was gone, replaced by a visceral revulsion.
Cameron's breath caught in his throat, and he dared not move.
Halidon went on, apparently oblivious to the change. He turned his attention back to the birds. "Why should they have what I could not? We are the highest order of beings-- my father says so frequently. He says that is why we do not frequently have children. It is the will of the gods, of life itself. One a pairing-- if they are lucky. Two is a blessing often separated by centuries. But many families go without heirs. It isn't fair."
His voice cracked on the word, and Cameron was horrified-- and a little embarrassed-- to see that he had started crying.
The fear was gone. He could move again. Some part of him thought that perhaps he ought to leave, but pity won out.
"I'm sorry," he said, putting his arm around Halidon's shoulders.
Halidon barked out a laugh and wiped his eyes.
"Don't be," he said. "This is the happiest day I've had in memory."
Just then, Cameron heard the back slider-door open at the house.
"Cameron!" his mother called. "Cam, it's time to come in now."
Cameron sighed.It was getting a little cold out, but somehow, being here with Halidon made it not bother him as much.
"Right now?" he yelled, not moving from his spot.
"Right now!" his mom yelled back.
"I gotta go now," Cameron said, getting to his feet.
"Why?" said Halidon.
"That's my mom," Cameron said. "It's time for bed."
"She tells you when to sleep?" Halidon said, confusion plain on his face.
"Yeah. You don't have a bedtime?"
"No," Halidon said."I sleep when I'm tired."
"I suppose." He gave Cameron a long, hard look. "Do you want to see my home?" he said. "I could bring you."
"Yeah!" Cameron said. "You mean like tomorrow?"
Halidon rose to his feet. "I mean right now. Do you want to see? it won't take long."
"I do," Cameron said. "But I can't. My mom said--"
"Crows can take your mother!" Halidon snapped. "if she wanted you so badly, she should be out here with you."
Cameron stepped back, surprised by the venom in the other boy's voice.
"I gotta go," he said again, turning away.
"Cameron Asher Galway," Halidon said, "Stop."
His voice was beguiling and sweet, even as it commanded him, and Cameron stopped.
Halidon crept up from behind and placed a hand on Cameron's shoulder.
"What are you doing?" Cameron said, unable to hide the fear in his voice. "How did you do that?" He tried desperately to make himself move, and could not.
"Cameron," Halidon said, coming around front. He let his hand slide up Cameron's neck, up to his head, and ran his fingers through his hair. "Cameron, Cameron, Cameron. My Cameron."
Cameron tried to shake him off. Halidon chuckled.
"Shh, It's alright," he said. "Don't be afraid."
"Stop," Cameron said.
"Cameron Asher Galway," said Halidon, his voice once more full of heavy sweetness. "Don't be afraid of me."
Cameron stopped struggling. The pounding in his chest slowed, and he relaxed under Halidon's touch.
"What are you doing?" he said again, this time much calmer.
"It isn't fair," Halidon said. "You humans can breed like rabbits. You can have child after child-- sometimes more than one at once. So it isn't fair that they keep you, when I have no one."
"What do you want?" Cameron said.
"I want a brother," Halidon said. He held Cameron's face in his hands. "You're perfect. You're everything I ever wanted. And you wanted to see my home, didn't you?" At the last words, his voice once again took on that strange, honeyed tone. "You said you wanted to come."
"Yeah," said Cameron, suddenly dozy. Halidon was right; he had wanted to go. "That would be fun."
Cameron allowed Halidon to take his hand and guide him towards the back fence, to the rose bushes where the horned boy had popped out from earlier.
"Yes," Halidon said, still in the same voice. He spoke in a low and constant stream of words, as though he were comforting a frightened animal. "There's no need to be afraid. You want to come with me. I know you do. And it will be fun, just like today. I can show you so many things, I can show you the orchards and the moss horses, and the castles. You will have the best of food and drink and clothing, and servants who will do whatever you ask of them, and me. you'll have me, forever. I will take care of you. I promise I will, forever. Forever and ever."
Cameron smiled. All of that sounded very nice, and Halidon was his new best friend. Why should he worry about anything?
He followed him into the rosebush, and out the other side.
* * * * *
Halidon's heart pounded as he led the mortal boy through the rosebush, through the brambles at that threshold between worlds, and into the forest on his father's land.
The boy, Cameron--
Cameron! Cameron, my Cameron! crooned his heart
--was quiet. He was afraid, Halidon suspected. He must be, even through the glamour.
The knowledge pained him. Everything about the boy pained him. The sound of his voice, his laughter, the the way he'd looked when Halidon had told him stories of home, his patience at teaching the ball-chasing game-- a game! A mortal game, with rules and numbers, how strange!-- and the happiness he'd shown when they played, even as he lost point after point. Each moment was a painful new joy, a kind of happiness Halidon had only dreamed of, and anguish of which he would never tire.
His heart felt full to bursting.
He had a brother, he had a friend. Someone to play with on sunny days. Someone to whisper secrets to at night. Someone to read to, to tell stories to and have told in return. Someone to talk to. No more quiet rooms and empty halls when his father was away and all the servants were gone. No more wandering the gardens alone, hating the foxes and birds in envy--
"Ow," said Cameron, knocking him out of his reverie. "You're hurting me," he said.
Halidon gasped and loosened his grip, unaware that he had been squeezing his new brother's hand so hard. But he did not let go, nor allow Cameron pull away from him.
"I'm sorry," he said, heart pounding. "I will be more careful."
His brother was silent, but kept the pace.
That was something he would have to keep track of, Halidon realized. Mortals were delicate. They needed regular food and sleep, warmth in the cold and coolness in the heat, and all kinds of other things. And they were vulnerable. Hadn't Halidon himself magicked the boy several times that day? He would need to teach him ways to protect himself from less benevolent Folk.
His brother's hand-- his brother! -- was warm in his. Halidon found himself absently stroking the outside of the boy's hand with his thumb, as though it were instinct to comfort him.
The walk was slow going. Several times, Cameron tripped, and when Halidon glanced back, he saw the boy looking at the ground with an expression of deep concentration. Halidon grit his teeth and slowed his pace. He was so eager to get home, to show his new brother his new home, but he had to remember that he was still only a mortal, and mortals were not as lightfooted in the wilds as he was.
"You can have one of the empty rooms near mine," Halidon said, mostly to distract himself. "There's one directly across the hall form mine, or the one beside mine. But if you're uncertain, I can have someone bring in a spare bed, and you can stay with me for a time--"
Then, Cameron stopped walking entirely.
"I feel weird," he said faintly.
"That's the air," Halidon said. "Faerie air does odd things to humans. It will wear off in a few days time."
"My head's all swimmy."
"Can you walk?"
Cameron took an unsteady step forward and nearly fell. Halidon was beside him in an instant, holding him steady. Carefully, he guided him forward, through the woods.
"Your mind will clear when the sun is up," he said. "The first night hits humans the hardest, I've been told. You won't be entirely free of it for a week or so, but things will get easier. Do you hear me, Cameron?"
"Yes," his brother said with a soft sigh. He shivered a little, and Halidon felt gooseflesh rise on his brother's bare arms.
Halidon's heart twisted. If he were bigger, he would have scooped the boy up and carried him home. At that moment, he wanted nothing more than for his new brother to be within the safety of his father's hall, sitting beside the fireplace and wrapped in the softest blankets. Safe, and warm, and within reach.
He didn't remember when he first decided he would steal away a mortal child. It had been as though the idea were always there, planted in his mind and growing without his attention.
Of course he knew of clever Folk who had managed to steal away interesting mortals. There were a few humans at the Court his father attended; servants, mostly. Attendants standing behind their lords and ladies, pet artists and musicians doted upon by their patrons-- the occasional consort. One or two wives. Some of the humans, he knew, had been in Faerie for hundreds of years, barely aging a few years past when they were taken. He'd heard stories about how lovely and pleasant some human children could be, and how some of his Folk in other Courts, or the wild, Courtless ones who lived by their own laws, would snatch babes away from their beds in the night, leaving enchanted wood behind for the human parents to coddle.
But the members of the Court of the Bloodied Lilies thought themselves sophisticated. To seduce and entrap an artist was a feat worthy of acclaim and resulted in having a useful creature with talents to flaunt. To somehow gain a claim on a worthy mortal showed some level of skill; how you tricked the would-be hero into becoming your servant, how you turned the tables on a witch who'd thought to ensnare you, how you had come between two desperate lovers and somehow managed to get both under your power. The better the story, the better the trick, the more challenging the task, the more interesting the human-- all things that contributed to the status gained.
Nobody in Halidon's Court had stolen a child in a very long time, or else he might've had someone to play with.
As soon as he was old enough to open a threshold, Halidon had started sneaking away into the mortal realms. There hadn't been much thought in it, at the beginning. He had wanted to leave his father's estate, and he knew that among the mortals he could hide himself indefinitely, even if anyone did think to look for him there. he'd spent his days wandering the streets unseen, stealing what he liked, playing small pranks when the mood took him, and quietly envying the families of humans he saw--families that had mothers, and attentive fathers, and multiple children playing together and teasing one another.
Then he'd found the school. An entire building filled to the brim with other children. Ones older than him, ones smaller, ones who were cruel, ones that were kind, ones that laughed with their friends, or kept to themselves. It was shocking; he'd only ever seen a small handful of other children his entire life, and here humans had so many that they needed to be organized by age and cram thirty of them into a room at a time.
It was there that he had seen Cameron for the first time, though he hadn't known his name then. He'd spied this small, sandy haired boy sitting alone in the grass in the front of the school, waiting for his mother to collect him. While other children stuck together in clusters, he was alone. Small.
It had taken Halidon three days to gather up the courage to speak to the boy. Three days of patiently watching from the shadows, three days of following him through his school day, and during the errands his parents chose to bring him along for. Three days of peering into his windows at night.
And now he'd done it. He had him, and could hardly believe how easy it had been.
Cameron Asher Galway
His brother had a beautiful name.
Clockmaker: TO BE CONCLUDED, GASHOLES