(This snippet of fiction might seem familiar to you. That’s because it’s a rework of the first bit of my Sleepwalkers story. I wasn’t quite satisfied with what I had written before, mostly because I felt like I didn’t know Abigail well enough to tell her story properly. Now I feel like I have a better handle on her nature and her background, and what her experiences before we read about her does to a person. So I’m going to give it another go here.
I’ll at least write up a few parts for this to get us through January, but I’m not sure what’ll happen after that. Probably write other “chapters” as they come to me. I love the idea of the faerie updated for modern times, but I want to find a way to make it distinct from the obvious influences of Changeling: the Dreaming and The Dresden Files.)
It only took twenty minutes or so for the screaming to drive Abigail insane. She knew to lock herself in her bedroom by nine PM, but the thin walls only did so much good. The front door would slam, her father would call for her mother and then there would be nothing but raised voices for hours. She would try to do her homework, but the words would make less and less sense until they were nothing but symbols floating off of a blank page. They would bob in the air, rearrange themselves until they told her “Go into the closet and shut the door.”
Everything after that she would remember as some kind of dream. It felt like her head came away from her body, because she couldn’t feel the shag carpet beneath her feet any more. She would float to the closet, where the door would open once she got near it. Her hair would float around her head like a tangle of snakes. Her pajamas would be become a silk-spun dress, so light it felt like she was wearing nothing at all. She would drift into the closet, which was always deeper than she remembered, and she would sit down in a circle of her own shoes, and a shape would move in the darkness towards her.
She never really saw it, but she called it the Gnome. He was short, she knew — the top of his head matched hers when she was sitting and he was standing. He was shaped like a potato with short, stumpy legs and big bare feet. Sometimes his eyes would flash yellow in the darkness. Maybe he wore glasses, maybe his eyes were just that big. He smelled like a mud pie that had been left in the sun for a day, but she didn’t mind. He was friendly, and he would tell her stories while they played card games she was sure he made up. Sometimes, and this was her favorite, he would tell stories with the cards, always pulling the one he needed from the top of the deck to move the tale along.
The numbers and suits glowed in the dark, and sometimes she would see a flash of his nose, or a mouth filled with sharp teeth. His skin looked like bark, and she wondered more than once what it would be like to touch him. But she never dared. The Gnome could be dangerous, she knew. When his anger flared, he could hurt anyone quicker than either of them could realize.
Once, when her father was really far gone, he came into her room and threw open the closet door. He was huge and terrible, his eyes a void that made her feel small and alone and afraid. The Gnome was there, between her and her father, his shoulders rounded and his back hunched. Mushrooms bristled along his back. They smelled like wet grass, only different, and her stomach turned flips if she breathed in too deeply.
“Leave her alone,” the Gnome said.
“What the fuck–?” her father said, and stumbled out of the door. He looked at her differently then, at least when he was sober, and he talked to her even less. When he was drunk, he stayed out of her room. She was relieved, but it made things even worse for Mom. When Abigail woke up, long after the screaming had stopped, she would find her on the floor in the kitchen or the living room and make her as comfortable as she could. Someone had to. She couldn’t stand the idea that her mother thought no one looked out for her. At least Abigail had the Gnome. Her mother would have her.
It was Tuesday night, and Abigail had trouble focusing on her homework. Distractions had been worse for a couple weeks now. Words would float and glow, shift and change into the marks of languages she had never seen. Shapes flickered just on the edges of her vision, like shadows of creatures she could never catch. Worse, her teacher had called her father at work about how much homework she had been missing, and how many tests she had been failing. She knew that when he came home, it would be bad. Her mother had told her that she was disappointed, had sent her to her room immediately, had told her not to come out until she came up to check on her homework. They looked at each other, and knew they were both in trouble.
But she went, and she tried to focus on her schoolwork, but the words shivered and hid whenever she looked at them. The shadows were more obvious than ever. The creatures were trying to be seen.
It took two hours of mounting dread for the voices to start whispering to her. Now she was worried she was going crazy, that the fear unlocked something in her brain that she couldn’t put back. The Gnome was one thing, it was how she dealt with things, but this was something different. “Run” and “he’s here” tickled the hairs of her ears; the syllables were sharp, and hoarse, stones against windows, or the air being let out of tires.
Abigail had no idea how long she had been staring at the same page of her textbook when she heard the car door slam. Her heart leapt into her brain; all the blood made her dizzy. She smelled something in the air, electricity, rain, honeysuckle. She heard the front door explode open, the slurred roar of her father, the immediate surprise and fear in Mom’s voice. “RUN” a voice hissed in her ear. But where would she run to? How could she slip out of the house and leave her mother alone with a monster?
“Abby.” The voice came from behind her; not a whisper, but clear and heavy. She turned around slowly. Her eyes widened, and the air was gone from her lungs. She couldn’t scream.
Her walls were covered in mouths. They were moving, forming sounds she didn’t recognize, flashing teeth and tongues and darkness. They brushed against her posters, peeled the wallpaper, rustled the things on her dresser and nightstand. Her room was a live thing, a ripple of sound that passed from one end to the other. It was impossible. Impossible.
“Abby, look at me.” The voice again. The mouths were silent but kept speaking. She looked at the figure on her bed. There was a potato there, with large hairy feet and a face that left no room for a forehead. His skin was the color of playground dirt. His irises were the color of dandelion flowers. His eyebrows and hair and beard were all the wisps of the seeds she would blow whenever she could. He was impossible. But he was there. She saw the way he bent the mattress where he stood, heard the springs creak as he stamped nervously. He spoke, and she saw sharp teeth. He turned his head towards the door and saw mushrooms sprout from his head, sink into his shoulders. He was the Gnome. And he was here. He was real.