Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Sleepers' Meadow

Since my first meeting, here with the Greens, D and I have been extended the hospitality of the village, which invited us to stay through Yule. This did somewhat impinge upon our original plans which were to travel by locomotive back east to spend Christmas with the children, and at the Institute. However, when a man purportedly over a hundred years old who doesn't look an hour past his prime asks one to stay and get to know the village in more detail, one can hardly argue. Well, one who catalogs the peculiar can hardly argue. D argued long that it was imprudent to remain beyond our original plans, citing the regions propensity to be blessed with thick snows into the deep of winter which can slow even locomotive travel. Of course, this excursion is not one of mechanical advancement, thus I empathize with his reluctance.

May Green, Everett's wife, whom upon first glance I had taken for a woman somewhat elder than her husband, perhaps by as much as fifteen years, though that is an uncommon practice, invited D and I to stay within their own home, but I did not want to impose. We have, therefore, retained our rooms at the inn.  However, while taking luncheon with May, I learned that indeed, she is a woman of some forty-six years. She is Everett's third wife, the first two long dead. His first wife died when both she and Everett were young, in child bed. Her name was Eliza. She and the child were laid in the Sleepers' Meadow. Here the villagers follow the traditions of the old ones who, while they do practice internment within the folds of the earth, mark the resting places of the departed by planting flowers. There is a book which Green and his father kept in which the names of all children born are written, and the names of the fallen. It is really quite the genealogical work, however, in the Sleepers' Meadow, there are no markers. However, it is said that because of her fae blood, the flowers over Everett and Eliza's daughter, who, like her grandmother, bore no name, those flowers grow taller and brighter than those over the resting places of men.

Though I have walked with May through the Sleepers' Meadow, I can only confirm that indeed, there is a rosebush which still clings somewhat more heartily to it's green than the other plants resting beneath the snow, I can not say for certain that indeed the nameless babe lies beneath. What cause for dissemblance May may have, however, is unclear.

Even in the winter, the Sleepers' Meadow is beautiful. The path from the village is laid in river stone which cuts a narrow line through the copse into a clearing surrounded by dense trees. Much of the wood here consists of the pines and spruces so common to these colder latitudes, and their snow draped greenery abuts and defines the edges of the Meadow. It is a very private place, and before entering May bade me respect the rule of Silence and Song. By May's word, it is a tradition among the Old Ones who dwelt here before that the Sleepers must not be awakened, and thus one only comes to them quietly, or with song, as music soothes the resting of the Sleepers much as it does a child.

Per the local custom, May brought with her a sprig of evergreen to lay at the feet of her father, and she sang a sweet yet wordless tune while clearing away the detritus of the most recent windstorm from both her mother and father's resting places.  When she finished she waved her hand in circles toward me, which first I took for a symbolic gesture relating to the cyclic nature of life and death, as D and I observed in our recent trip into the Smokey Mountains, however, the solicitous look on her face informed me of my mistake. She was inviting me to sing as well. As I did not know any songs for the occasion, I merely offered a Kyrie Eleison, before we left.  We were halfway back to the village when May broke the spell of quiet.

"I'm afraid, you know."


She placed a hand on her abdomen, "I don't want to lay beside Eliza yet."

"Are you ill?"


"Are you certain?"

She smiled darkly. "My age, of course. I hardly believed it myself, after all these years, but yes. I'm certain. I know that Everett was born to one of the Old Ones, and he does have a daughter, by his second wife, Geraldine, may her Sleep be whole, but I'm old to be having my first child."

What does one say to that? Surely she read my mind, for she continued, "I am telling you this because I know what you do. You keep our stories, and I want you to know, should you come back this time next year, perhaps you will find me with a tiny child with wisps of blue light on the brow, or perhaps you will find a new daffodils peeking up in the earliest thaw." She took my hands, "Daffodils, not tulips, not roses. Daffodils. When you return, I feel in my whole self you will, then if you find Daffodils in the Sleepers' Meadow, will you greet me with song?"

"Of course I will. But can I ask, why song? I understand, to help the Sleepers remain asleep, but what if, I mean, could they..." I trailed off. I still struggle, at times, to ask the questions which most ardently pique my curiosity when I know the answers are dear.

"Could they wake?" She asked, her eyes wide.

"Yes, could they wake?"

She laughed. "You needn't look so flustered. I don't think I've ever met a child who doesn't ask it. Could they? Of course I don't know. Everett once told me, I believe it was the first thing he ever told me- my sister had called me a coward and said that if I wanted to prove that I wasn't, that I'd go to the Sleepers' Meadow and shout. Of course, I knew it was wrong, but I didn't want to be a coward, so I went. I snuck out early in the morning, before the light had fully cleared the trees. I must have been eight. I thought I was alone. I wasn't even sure if I could follow through until I got there.  Alone, I strode as bravely as I could feign, in case my sister or one of the other children might have followed, and yelled with a voice much louder than I knew I could, 'WAKE UP!'"

"Well, immediately up stands this blue haired giant in the meadow where surely there'd been no one. Before I could scream, he was moving toward me far too quickly. I ran as fast as my little feet would carry me. Of course, so many plant roses, and my skirt caught on the thorns. I tugged twice then tried to run on, hoping the branch would break. It did, but I fell. I tried to grab the grass to help me pull myself back to my feet faster. I hadn't meant to wake anyone, and then there I was, this little waif of a child; I couldn't have weighed more than fat turkey, and I was being lifted by two cold hands around my waist. I kicked and screamed, wriggling to get away. I managed to turn my head enough to bite the arm that was holding me, and I bit hard, but the grip around me only tightened, so I bit again, and this time the grip loosened. I tried to pull free, but found instead that I couldn't get a foothold before I was being dragged by the shoulder. Where was my help though? Surely they should have heard me in the village. Surely someone would come before whatever I had raised could eat me, or whatever it was dragging me off to do.

"As quickly as the struggle had begun, I found myself being dropped on the path, only a few yards from the mouth of the Meadow. Terrified I looked up to see Everett, he was gripping his left arm tightly with his right, right where I'd bitten him. I could see the gray of his shirt was red. 'What do you think you're doing.' he yelled, pacing back in forth quickly, and squeezing his arm.  I just started crying.  He really is quite a frightening sight when angry, and I'd always been scared of the tall and quiet man who was the mayor. But then he did the strangest thing. He apologized for scaring me, offered to help me up, and walked me back to the village before a soul even awoke.  Later that day he stopped by the house. I was sure he was there to tell on me. I hid in the cellar, but of course, I always hid in the cellar. When I heard the footsteps on the steps, I was certain that it would be my father, switch in  hand, or worse yet, maybe he'd make me pick the switch. It was my father, but instead he was looking for me to let me know that all of the village children were invited to join him for a walk. He wanted to tell us all about the traditions of the Old Ones and the Meadow. Of course I went. So what he told us, but he was talking to me, and it was the first thing he ever truly told me, was that his mother had told him that when we die, our spirits go to sleep, and as long as they slumber, they dream beautiful dreams, but if we rouse them, sometimes they wake up and know they need to be born again somewhere else, and they leave us. So long as they are sleeping, they are here with us still. If we were to wake them, then we'd be alone and we couldn't spend time with their spirits anymore, and that would be even more sad than simply not being able to see them and hold their hand anymore, so it was very important we try not to wake them.

"It was a comforting tale, but of course Everett never leaves well enough alone. He then said, 'though once, a long time ago, my mother told me of a time when a very naughty little boy went into a Sleepers' Meadow and yelled to wake the Sleepers, and indeed, they did wake, and pushed forth from beneath the flowers to take the naughty little boy down with them, and they'd been sleeping a very long time, and were very hungry, so one must be careful not to rouse them, in case their spirits do not wake to find a new life, but claim yours instead.'"

"Was he jesting?"

"I never knew. I'd like to think so, but I've never uttered a word that wasn't song in that place since."

Monday, December 10, 2012

Hidden Most Visably

As previously stated, I met with the Apothecary. Upon our first introduction, he seemed the sort of man much in love with the timbre of his own voice, and from overhearing his conversations with other customers, I admit my first impression of him did not include a great deal of credibility. Rather, he seemed the sort who would weave a tale for amusement rather than convey the facts.

I still maintain that the Apothecary, called "Shorts" by the villagers, but whose Christian name is in fact Herbert, would gladly add details from his imagination for hours rather than allow a conversation to run dry. I suspect his friends call him Shorts, not with reference to his somewhat abrupt stature, but rather in allusion to the liklihood with which one is to be regaled with a shot tale upon entering his storefront. It is, after all, his propensity to tell tales which led the inkeeper to recommend his shop in the furtherance of my research.

When we first spoke, Herbert, rather, Shorts, told me that the family I had come to record were, in fact, not nearly the greatest oddity of the area. In fact, their peculiar troubles, which I shall reconstruct for you in detail as time allows, seemed, to his mind, commonplace.  Per Shorts' account, this village was settled by faeries originally, and when Men came, the fae retreated farther into the wilderness, save one. Shorts said that the faerie queen herself stayed behind to watch over the land and that she infected the blood of the founder's family, that they'd never be accepted elsewhere, and therefore must stay ever in these parts, from which her own kin had been driven. He said she marked them peculiarly, so that all who beheld them would knw they were not entirely of the Christian world.

I must note that the way Shorts savored the word "Christian," his utterance slow yet crisp, led me to the easy discovery that, in fact, the village itself does not have a church building and those who "keep the word" here generally do so by traveling to the next village over. I say it was an easy discovery, as I was surprised that I had not noticed the conspicuous absence of so much as a chapel. the village itself is quite small, and truly, I must be growing dim with the shortening of the days to not have noticed. I have always been one to point out that, in our field, what one does not see or hear is more important than what one does.

It was, however, that discovery which prompted me to keep my appointment with Shorts, who promised that he could supply me with evidence of his tale.  Of course, I am ever leery of any manner of shopkeep who purports to have evidence to show me, as all too often it turns out to be evidence he would like to sell me, and which he, himself has manufactured specifically to take advantage of the trusting stranger, hungry for a taste of the unusual or macabre. How many preserved  locust fitted with leatherwork heads or dragonflies and carved bone skulls have I had offered for sale? I am sure the record would provide an answer, though I do not maintain a count. I do, however, still carry a "preserved faerie," entirely carved of some sort of clay on my person, simply because the artistry of the counterfeit was superb.

I returned to Shorts' shop at the appointed time, just as he was closing for the evening. I was somewhat surprised when he ushered me back into the snow and locked the shop behind us. Typicaly, those looking to make a sale stay near their coffers. Nonetheless, he led me back to the inn, where I'd left D arguing with a smith regarding a new method of maintaining a desirable temparature at the forge.

Before leaving, D had admonished me not to be careless with the Institute's purse, and he gratefully took a seat at the table with Shorts and I, ready to step in and prevent any exchange of merchandise. His fears were unfounded, as Shorts proceeded to treat us to a most enjoyable dinner while he reiterated his tale with very little deviation. As expected, the tale had become somewhat more colorful in the hours since we first met. Now not only were the founder's kin bound to the village, but should they all flee, the village would be swept from the Earth in a great wind, and reclaimed by the trees. Also, he had added that the faerie queen herself still  lived just beyond the village in the woods and that young women went to her when jilted by foolish young men, and that women sometimes went to her in childbed, though both were risky, for of course, the faerie queen was jealous of her privacy and solitude. Her wrath, Shorts said, could be deadly.

Although the amelioration of his tale was expected, the color of it was not. As he was squaring with the innkeep, D pointed out that his tale still did not involve any proof, unless he intended to take us to the faerie queen. Shorts' face whitened at the suggestion. "Not for the world would I brave her doorstep," he said, and gestured as though crossing himself, only instead his hand to make a complicated loop pattern over his chest.

Instead, after the dregs were drained from his cup, he led me back into the snow. D stayed behind, which, in all truth, is usually for the best. People will say things to a woman that they'd never say to a man. I wonder if it is because they fear that when speaking of the fantastical, a man is more apt to ask questions that poke holes in their tales, or if it simply that talking to a woman reminds them of the stories they may have heard at mother's knee. Nevertheless, D remained behind, wrapped in the comfort of the brazer while I we braved the cold wind and went on foot to the home of none other than the mayor himself.

My immediate impression was that the mayor, who Shorts explained had descended from the first cursed founder, was still a humble man, and also a frugal one. The house itself was beside the school house, which doubles as a meeting hall for want of a church. It was a small stone building with a tidy garden, even in winter, but no candle's glow escaped the glazed windows. I would not have supposed any residents to be present if it were not for Shorts' insistence that the family was within.

Indeed, he rapped upon the door thrice and was quickly met with a friendly greeting, "Do come in, the moon is bright." The voice was male and quite cheery. However unorthodox, the greeting was no more peculiar than I have grown accustomed to, and when Shorts held the door I entered as a matter of course.

I have never seen anything like it.

What appeared to be a low stone house of the most ordinary sort, inside, was something entirely different. The ceiling, if one can call it such, was not a ceiling so much as delicate glasswork. The voice which entreated us to enter was right, the moon was bright, a detail which, although I had benefited from on the walk from the inn, I had failed to grasp the significance of. Although the snow was blowing in a strong wind, the clouds themselves were scarce, and a fat full moon hung low in the sky, illuminating the inside of the mayor's home quite remarkably. Many a night have I read by moonlight, but the clarity with which one could see was uncanny.

The similarities with a typical home were truly only in the shape of the structure. What chairs and other furnishings I could see were comprised of living saplings espalliered into the trappings of a home. They erupted from the floor in all their bark and greenery, and this site alone would have lent sufficient credence to the Apothecary's tale, but as is often the case, the truth is always stranger than the contrivance.

Shorts introduced me with full courtesy to the Mayor, one Everett Green, and his wife May. Mayor Green took both of my hands in his in greeting, and I felt the heat of his hands spreading through my arms. At the most cursory of assessments, he seemed a man somewhat unremarkable. His skin seemed pale in the moonlight, but so did Shorts'. He was tall, but not unnaturally tall, but his eyes seemed to take in and cast back more light than they should have, certainly more than May's eyes or those of Shorts. Even in the moonglow I could see that they were the blue of lightning and the most intense summer skies. Truly, I could not even ascertain the color of May's eyes in the available light. His hair seemed a shock of white, and stuck up from his head in wild angles. I did not imagine that he could not fit in well enough elsewhere, though I supposed his look was somewhat unconventional.  His wife May was a slight beauty, with bright hair that absorbed the moons glow. It seemed the color of cornsilk, but did not shine in the moonlight the way her husband's did. No, in the moonlight they seemed a tintype beside a painting, one full of color and the other washed out.

The longer I looked the more I saw the origins of Short's story. The drawn thinness of Mr. Green, the peculiar way the light caught in his eyes. Yes, he'd be noticed wherever he went, and it is, of course, best to stay where people are accustomed to your peculiarity, I suppose. I thanked Mayor Green for meeting with me, and he admonished me to call him Everett. He even thanked me for my assistance with the family who had brought me to the region. It seems that while Shorts found their predicament humdrum, Everett had found it cause for some concern.

I asked Shorts to retell the tale which had brought me to the Greens' doorstep. Interestingly, it was a much shorter tale in the presence of the progeny of the village's founder. In fact, it was quite simply that before Green's ancestor had come to settle here, that faeries had dwelt in these woods, and though they made way for Green and his party, they placed a doom on Green and his offspring that they would be marked apart from the rest of Man, that they may never leave the land graciously gifted them by the Old Ones.  Shorts, at this point, left out any mention of the faerie queen or her purported home in the woods, and eschewed the tale that disaster would befall the village should the Greens leave.

While Shorts told his story, May returned to her knitting, glancing sidelong and silent at Shorts. Everett simply smiled, rocking back on his heels, arms crossed over his chest. When Shorts had finished Everett thanked him for his tale and for bringing me by, and asked him to leave.

There was no anger in his voice, but Shorts immediately took his leave. Everett motioned for me to sit in one of the espalliered seats, which looked delicate but proved quite sturdy.

"Portulaca, my dear, why are you here?"

"The Institute sent me to listen, to watch, and report the stories, both mundane and fantastical, which are worth recording, and any evidence to support their veracity."

"So you are in my home this evening because Shorts told you a story about faeries and my family."


"It isn't true, you know."

I nodded, hesitantly.

"At least, not the way he tells it. Please take out your notebook."

I complied.

"When my father was a young man," Everett began, and I did my best to keep up in short hand, my pen scratching loudly across the paper. I am copying it out in longhand here for the sake of your ease in reading.  "his family lived on the East Coast. My father struggled to maintain a failing shop. He was a shoemaker. Every year the competition grew, and every year he had less. His father had wanted him to take over the shop entirely, but my father was too unsettled making shoes, and didn't believe that the craft would be of serviceable support. He was young and had more energy than wit, and set out to find a piece of land to farm. That adventure led him here. Shorts wasn't entirely wrong. He found a parcel of land which seemed to him perfect. On the river, he'd not have to worry at how to get goods in and out, and the soil was rich. The people with whom he'd traveled in the beginning moved on. They felt like they were being watched here, and they left him alone to clear his land by himself. Not long after he felled the first tree, he felt the eyes in the woods as well. He told me that shortly thereafter they came to him. They were tall and pale, and not at all like the natives he had first feared. Their hair was bright and broke the sunlight into rainbows. They were beautiful and frightening. They wanted him to go, but he would not. They told him that this was their home and that if he stayed, they would offer him no help, no shelter, no food, no comfort, but also, they would offer him no hostility.

My father took that for permission. He was a stubborn man and when his mind had been made up, there was no changing it.  The first winter, of course, was a difficult one. To hear him tell it he starved to death three times over and froze to death a fourth time. Spring came and thawed the land. He planted, crops grew. he worked early in his small field and late on his small home. For the first winter he'd huddled inside a split log cabin, but as he cleared the field, every rock he pulled from the field he used to build this home. It was lonely, and often he felt the bright but cold eyes of the Old Ones watching him. It was late spring when he first realized that there was a familiarity to the eyes he felt watching him, and early Autumn, when the leaves had first started to blaze in reds and golds when he found a garland of leaves strung over his door.

It did not seem like a hostile gesture, so before he tucked in for the night, he left an offering of a biscuit outside his door. That's how he met  her. She was the daughter of one of the Old Ones. She was shy at first, but soon enough they took to walking in the hills by winter and by spring, the fields, and while he would pull up the weeds that threatened to choke off his crops, she would laugh and whisper to the seedlings. He swore they grew faster when they heard her voice, and on days when she did not come to walk barefoot through his fields, it seemed to him that the plants hearts were as heavy as his.

His second summer here, the small party that had gone on without him returned. They had run into trouble with the natives farther west, their numbers were fewer, and their hunger as palpable. Suddenly, the feeling of being watched didn't seem like a good reason to look elsewhere for a home when my father had done so well for himself there.

The Old Ones did not approve of having more Men in their woods, but the daughter who walked with my father argued that they were most surely not a threat to the Old Ones. They again came to my father and told him that his kind were no longer welcome. Of course, my father was a stubborn man, and would not be moved. The Old Ones had ensured my father that he had no need to fear them. They were, for the most part, a peaceful people, but they had made no such promises to the new settlers. They had no use for Mankind, they told him, but it was then that the woman who had walked with my father, again, spoke up. she told her people that she had use for Mankind, and that she would cast her lot with theirs, if my father would take her to wife.

This was an abomination in the eyes of her people, but the Old Ones mated for life and with as much stubbornness as my father took to things, and her declaration was considered binding. Of course, my father had been a lonely man before meeting her, although she'd never spoken her name, he had come to hope that someday they would, indeed, be wed. And so it was that the Old Ones left her there with my father and withdrew into the woods. Out of deference to the Old Ones, we have never spread our village further to the north, and of they who Shorts called 'the Faeries,' only my mother remained.

As a child, I found the idea that they were anything unusual preposterous, but you see, my father tired of the east and began moving west before this country had a name. I was born in 1775 to a young man from the east and a nameless woman who made plants grow by whispering to them, over a hundred years ago."

As I slowly punctuated the last of his tale, I heard him light an oil lamp, and in truth when the yellow glow of the light fell on his hair, it gleamed back, not white at all, but blue.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Written in Black

Please be advised that upon this, the third loss of my journal, I have followed through and acquired from a dry goods and apothecary, a sheet of carbonated paper. It is my intent to faithfully journal in duplicate, and though it may prove an egregious waste of paper, I shall remove the black copy and send it on by post in a reasonable manner.  Although my employ takes me often far from the postman's regular duties, I feel sufficient certainty in my ability to locate the nearest post.

As I have some months afield before I come back in, please consider these updates by post as preliminary reports, with later observations to follow. I shall, herein, do my best to reconstruct the tales, evidence, and impressions I have gathered on my recent journeys, as recollection allows. However, I fear that the loss of detail through the lack of immediacy of recollection shall diminish the value in terms of our research as well as in terms of precision. It is my sincere hope that the use of said carbonated paper shall aid in clearer communication.

I have an appointment soon. The apothecary has piqued my interest with the tale regarding the settling of this village and the fae. It is likely only another story, though stories are my primary vocation, I still intend to investigate as fully as I can.

Let me leave you then with an admonishment to remind any other researchers afield at the moment- should you accidentally copy down any text which proves of the most destructive and indelible sort and should it be suggested that the only means of remedying whatever occult forces have been brought to bear upon you by burning said writing, please do, first, attempt to remove said pages rather than allow the entire tome to be destroyed. It is difficult to consider all outcomes in such a situation, and therefore planning is of the essence.

The black copy should reach you by the Feast Day of Saint Nicholas, may it find you hale.

Mostly unsinged,