He sits down next to me, instantly making me feel uncomfortable, wondering how this one is going to oddball out on me. Because, really, they always do. First, it’s “hey there, pretty lady, whatcha reading?” which, honestly? If you’re starting up a conversation with someone, maybe someone who’s engrossed with a book isn’t your best bet. Also? You might want a different opener.
Anyway, after the rather lacking opening, the one-sided “conversation” normally goes to some kind of diatribe – about The System, about children, about how ducks aren’t doing their civic duty as they used to. Oh, sure, you laugh about that one, but when a three hundred pound of solid, unwashed muscle starts ranting at you because you’re feeding ducks and “playing in to their lazy game,” then try laughing about it.
And, that’s how conversations with strangers normally go for me. I stopped going to bars years ago, when I realized the only kind of guy I’d meet was far more likely to make me get a restraining order in six months instead of having them meet the family. And, those were the “sane” ones.
So, forgive me if I made a snap judgment about this old guy who just happened to decide to sit next to me in an otherwise empty sitting area. I can’t even blame being next to a wall charger, as this guy didn’t look like the type to even know what an MP3 player was. Maybe I was just type-casting, but I just couldn’t see beaten up military BDUs as tech cheque. And, honestly, I didn’t really care – I just wanted to spend my insane layover reading the new graphic novel I’d downloaded in peace. Sadly, it didn’t look like I’d be getting my wish.
“Hey, there, pretty lady,” he started. I stifled a sigh and closed my eyes. There was no reason to be rude, after all. “Seems like you could use a spell.” My face wrinkled up. Things didn’t usually get weird quite this quickly.
“A… A spell?” I parroted back. Maybe, I had heard him wrong.
“Sure, a spell. A story. Seems to me like they’re the same thing, if neither are provable. Here, I’ll give you the first one for free.” He took a breath and started looking around the airport, while I wondered what he’d do if I just got up and moved. From the sound of it, this guy was going to start charging me for him wasting my time with stories I didn’t care about. What a deal. But, I was tired after spending three hours in this rainy city, and listening to some old guy natter on at least beat back the boredom. And, he was talking again.
“See that tall guy over there? The red head who’s sitting with the girl who’s really too pretty to waste her time on an ugly spider like him?” I hid a smile – I had watched the couple sit down, and I had to admit, he had reminded me of a Daddy Long Legs spider. But, calling him ugly was a bit over much. He wasn’t really that unattractive, just rumpled, as if uncomfortable in his skin and clothes.
“So, then, that couple are thinking about getting married. She’s insisting that she gets to meet his blood first, though. Not a good move, for her.”
I gave a small snort and said, “usually isn’t a good idea to meet the family. Or to get married, to think of it.” The man just shook his head.
“Nah. Ain’t like that at all. See, he doesn’t have the kind of trouble that you or I do. See, spidery tall boy like that? He’s a faerie. All those tall’uns are. And with his looks, he could only be true unseelie royalty.” At that, I actually looked at the man. Sure, the conversation had started off weird, but to start talking about faeries to a grown woman? I vaguely wondered how soon security would be walking around. The man must have read my face, because he smiled as if he could. Some people can express Shakespearean monologues with an expression, and this man was one of them. “I said it’s a spell. What’s a spell without magic, eh?” I had to smile back, and give a nod of concession. He continued.
“So, then, this boy’s going to take his mortal love to meet his doting mama and papa, and them unseelie don’t care none about us mortals. They’re just as likely to turn her into something to hunt and hurt as say ‘how-do.’ Poor girl.”
“I don’t think it’ll go down like that,” I heard myself say. The man raised an eyebrow, obviously refuting my assertion. “It’s magic, right? Well, in the stories, she’ll be turned into something… A dove, maybe – she looks like a small bird. Anyway, so, they turn her into a dove, but he’s her prince, right? So, he’ll recognize her and save her. Because that’s what your prince does – they save you.” Even if it’s just from yourself, I thought.
“Sounds like you’d know,” the man said quietly. He waited for a moment, but that wasn’t a story I talked about, even to a strange old man in the lonely wee hours at an airport I was starting to feel was abandoned. Instead of me saying anything, he nodded his head in the direction of a janitor.
“‘Course, she might argue with you. See, she thought she needed saving, and she had a Prince too. But, he just up and left her one day. Her and two little’uns. No note, no nothing. Just gone. So, she works here, during the lost hours, and she doesn’t even know what she did.”
“No,” I shook my head, adamantly. “That’s not what happened at all. Well, he did disappear, but that’s only because one of your unseelie stole him away. Airports are magic nexus to the land of Faerie, after all, and the unseelie Queen saw how devoted to his wife he was, and watched him. Being a pilot, she saw him a lot. And, while she watched, she grew jealous. So, she stole him away. But, he’s still devoted to his wife, even while she wonders what happened to him. And, the Queen is considering returning him to her, because even the unseelie have to respect the kind of love they have.”
Again, and again, we went back and forth, discussing one person after another, until the sun rose, and I asked him if he wanted something to eat – my treat. He just smiled and shook his head, and nodded out the windows. “Looks like you don’t have time to eat, girl. Your plane’s docking now.” I looked up at the terminal in surprise, but he was right. The long awaited plane was here. I looked back at the man, but he was gone.
The man – I never did get his name – was right. He’d given me a spell after all.