Music spilled out into the balmy night from one of the local hole in the wall bars he passed. The foot traffic thickened, and he had to dodge the short-skirted, nightclubbing set who passed on the arms of well dressed men.
Something buzzed his ear and he ducked, nearly colliding with one couple. Another whoosh and this time he waved his arm over his head, garnering a few slurs from his clumsiness. A few more dive-bombs, and Ashton stopped to look into the dark sky where silhouettes swooped and cavorted. A sigh of relief escaped him at the bats’ antics, until one paused to hover in the moonlight. The silver glow shined through the creature’s wings and caused them to iridesce, showing the distinctly non bat shape. Giggling filled the air and Ashton’s back hit the brick wall behind him. He slammed his eyes shut. I’m exhausted. Now I’m turning normal bats into fairy tales. Six more blocks.
He pulled his focus away from the not-bats and started to move home with more speed. They continued to swoop above him, following, but he kept his eyes fixed on the sidewalk. An odd clatter jerked his attention to an alley as he passed. His steps faltered and he peered down it, a flash of white whisked around a corner. A shiver ran down his spine and he exhaled a shaky breath.
Little hands tugging on his hair got his steps moving. Then, in the last block before his apartment, the flock above him dispersed with a squeak and he stumbled to a stop. Staring up into the empty air, the moonlight dimmed and he glanced over his shoulder at the full orb. What looked exactly like a dragon, instead of a cloud, scudded across the surface of the moon. His jaw fell open momentarily before Ashton snapped his eyes away to stare at the other people populating the sidewalk. They don’t see it. Panic bubbled up. A few pedestrians gave him a wide birth as he started to hyperventilate.
Sweat dripped down his back and he broke into a run. He slammed into the door of his apartment complex. Ripping the keys out of his front pocket of his pants, his shaking hands dropped them. When he bent down to get them, the clatter he had heard in the alley sounded from the darkness next to his building. He glanced over the balustrade as he fumbled to get the proper key into the lock. Another flash of white disappeared around the back.
I’m sleep deprived. That’s all it is. He slammed the lobby door shut behind him. The seconds it took to reach his apartment moved in slow motion. It took both hands, but he managed to get his key in and turned. His breath rasping he fell back against the door and blindly twisted the lock, then slid down it in a heap. Rubbing the burn on his chest, his head thumped into the wood. Vodka. I don’t care that I’m out of oj. If I get drunk enough I can’t dream.
A week later, Ashton stepped outside of the lab building, into the brilliant sunshine. He had quickly learned that getting drunk didn’t help keep his strange companions at bay. So he just ignored them. On the positive side of things he no longer had nightmares while he slept. But his waking time had become filled with these strange hallucinations. Frightening in their own right because they caused him to start to question his sanity.
His crown of flutterbys descended. They took up their usual position, swooping and diving over his head. He sighed ignoring them, jiggled his lunch sack, and started his walk to the park. His coworkers all thought he was nuts for wanting to eat his lunch outside. They were perfectly happy to consume the fuel they needed in the break room, then get back to work.
His hair got tugged and he absentmindedly brushed the offender aside. He had a gauntlet of a couple of blocks to reach the park. Hopefully his mind wouldn’t play too many tricks on him. His hand absently brushed the mark on his chest. The pain was long gone but the mark had yet to fade.
He managed a whole block before the first creature made an appearance. A fat leathery-skinned thing, wearing crude dirt colored trousers, hopped over and over at the blue post box on the corner. It seemed like he was trying to reach the door. Ashton took a deep breath and turned away. Determined not to wonder why the thing would want in the mailbox. His attention strayed across the street where he examined the architecture on top of the buildings. That was a mistake. What he had once thought of as just a stone gargoyle decorating the roof cocked its head at him and waved. He snapped his eyes back to his feet. Safer, definitely safer.
I’m going insane. That’s the only explanation for this. Nightmares are one thing. Anyone can have nightmares. But seeing them while I’m awake? And I’m definitely the only one seeing them. Too many other people have walked right by the creatures.
Drugs? Maybe I’m getting dosed? Ashton shook his head, now he was reaching for straws. Don’t be daft, other than seeing things that aren’t really there I feel fine.
He kept his feet moving. The weight of his lunch bag pulled at his wrist and tethered him to the here and now. At the corner he had to wait for the crossing light. Across the busy street the park awaited, and so did more hallucinations. Even from here he could see the not quite human shapes. He looked back at the ground. Every strange creature he could think of seemed to be crawling out of the woodwork today.
The light changed and he started across the street. His eyes rested like a lifeline on the perfectly normal human mother and young daughter crossing towards him.
The woman smiled. “Oh look Rebecca. Look at all the butterflies.”
Ashton’s heart started to pound. They passed each other and the little girl’s peal of laughter rang in his ears. But it was her lisped words that made him trip on the curb and whip to face them.
“Those aren’t butterflies Mommy. They’re faeries.”
Her little hand gripped in her mother’s she walked backwards staring at him, or more accurately the flock buzzing around him.
“Faeries?” He repeated.
Suddenly his private hallucinations were no longer only in his head. The mark on his chest burned and he gasped. The rationalizations that had allowed him to keep the fear at bay fell. Reality spun, and his knees turned to water.
His eyes refocused. The crossing signal had almost counted down to zero, but one of the little winged creatures had landed in the crosswalk and seemed to be studying the ground. Cars revved, and it still didn’t take off and get out of the way of the imminently moving vehicles.
It bent down to pick something up.
“Get out of the road.”
The signal’s hand started to blink.
No. Ashton dashed back out into the road. He scooped it up and ran back to the park side of the street, to the accompaniment of horns honking and irate drivers.
“It’s just a butterfly you moron.”
His hair was tugged by little fists again, and he stopped at the edge of the grass to open his hands. This time he looked, really looked at the creature. The minute perfection of her form engrossed him. Fully human in shape, she wore a gossamer purple gown. The whisper softness of her transparent wings brushed his palms. She stood and he saw her wings had silver and purple veining shot through them.
After brushing her skirts down she looked up into his face and smiled. “Finally. You see me. You actually see me.”
Ashton yelped and jerked his hands apart.
A feminine shriek reached his ears, then swift movement spiraled in front of him. The little Faery hovered at his eye level and glared at him. “You dropped me!”
Ashton ran his hand shakily through his hair. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. You just surprised me.”
She snorted and folded her arms, tapping her foot on thin air. He took the hint and tentatively held out his hand. She beamed at him and dropped down to his palm.
“Hello Ashton. I’m Josephine.” She curtsied.
“Hi.” He whispered.
His head ached and he looked up staring out across the park. He had a sinking feeling that all of the other strange creatures that he saw going about their business were just as real. The quiet giggling that had been teasing his senses for the last week sounded louder as the soft weight of the flock of faeries settled on his head and shoulders. Pressing their surprisingly heavy, warm weight against his skin in reassurance.