New looks, new hair-cuts, new fashion, new experimenting with how we look—can happen in the bedroom. We may not all get our hair cut through a special house-call from Goody Goodknife who insists she can give Yukon the makeover he will Love, but we do try out new versions of ourselves, practicing, experimenting, before we go show them to the public. It’s always good, too, to have a supportive partner who can make us feel like even the mistakes look great—and we can get through them.
(Don’t worry. This isn’t his look for the rest of the series. Just a one time moment.)
The bed seems like a place of total honesty to me. You have the opportunity to see the other person up close, and because you are very close to their body and face, your voice may change its tone, its volume, and things become automatically more intimate, like telling a secret. Words have weight here. Do you talk about everything and anything in bed? Do you feel more intimacy here? Do you feel more honest here? Does the bed feel like a place where you can be yourself in conversation? How does talking in bed change dynamics of a relationship for you, if you are in a relationship?
I took my inspiration for this painting from a drawing on a friend’s Facebook page* of a word cloud above two people’s heads as they met over lunch, and I remembered how much I liked a Thanksgiving cover of the New Yorker where all the words that everyone was saying at Thanksgiving dinner were written out above their heads. I’d been admiring artist Dina Brodsky’s sketchbook techniques with ink washes. So I took my first jump into acrylic inks and a new gouache set and this was scary and fun. I like having words on the page… I have to go lighter with the wash. The words were in pencil and you couldn’t see them after the wash! So I had to redo in pen and then wash over them again. I am satisfied with the outcome of even my mistakes. This gouache felt like acrylic–and it just didn’t do what I thought it would do when I was thinking it was like watercolor. When I switched my brain over to “acrylic” mode–it got easier. Hope you enjoy!
Do you watch movies in the bedroom too? Or series TV? Joey and I got hooked on Severance! And then Resident Alien, then Andor, House of the Dragon, etc. I wonder what you think they might be watching. I love being cozy and watching stories with someone you love. I also love buying a pizza, having choc pudding ready, and watching a show on my own! (I don’t eat pizza in the bed though… not a good place for pizza…. )
This part of “The Further (Queer) Adventures of Yukon Cornelius” is a small series with essays talking about “The Bedroom is our Living Room.” Yukon and Bumble had to swap the bedroom and living room because Bumble needed the extra room, but it got me to thinking about what kinds of “living” we do in our bedrooms. How can our bedrooms be our “living” rooms. What kinds of things besides the obvious do you do in your bedrooms?
If we hadn’t been raising three orphaned chupacabras at our house, I wouldn’t have gotten so involved in the investigations happening in our area regarding cattle deaths and mutilations. I knew though that the authorities would eventually come here, looking around. I sat down with the “kids” and asked them hard questions. “Is everyone here sticking to eating just the magical goats the Babas created for you?” They all nodded. The three of them were about the size of ten- year-old human children, but with fangs and spine ridges and big round eyes on either side of their heads and a forked tongue. Dylan, Aidan and Aerosol (she chose the name, honestly) sat on their handmade stools in front of Bumble and me. Dylan had his goat in his arms, and he was petting it gently. They named their goats too, the ones that could be killed and resurrected easily if I just planted a seed in the ground next to the three holes in the backyard we kept reusing for the nightly carcasses. “Don’t forget to plant the seed. That will bring the goats back to life in the morning,” the Babas told me. I had told them not to let the goats too far out of their sights, or they might go hungry. I didn’t know where the Babas were right now and I couldn’t create a new magical goat. “And the goats are enough for you every day, right? You’re not snacking on something else too?” They shook their heads. Aerosol said, “I love the taste of Angelfire. She’s all I need.” Okay. The other two nodded as well. Aidan called Skippy into the room to show me how much he enjoyed sucking blood from Skippy the resurrectable goat. “No, no, no,” I said, “you don’t have to prove it to me. I believe you.” The blood that the goats produced did not come out of the carpet, so we limited their eating to outside in the yard. Bumble and I had been eating our dinners out there with them as a family. We’d been doing this for about three months, ever since the Babas came back with three chupacabras in their arms, wrapped in blankets and sucking on bottles of goat’s blood, telling us. “We found them near death. So, of course, we brought them here to you.”
We tried to always make sure one of us was here with them, but when we couldn’t the Babas babysat, and the Monster Under the Bed took shifts as well, taking them into his lair under the bed, which was a lot roomier than I imagined and playing Gotcha Games with them.
I went to the local town meetings where folks talked about the cattle mutilations and deaths. I couldn’t make out which were rumors and which were actual sightings, but they included black helicopters, UFOs, chupacabras, and black hooded cult members. Chupas often got blamed for the deaths of cattle and goats. Granted a chupacabra might eat ONE, but they were loners by nature and killing fifteen or fifty cattle at a time—that wasn’t a chupa. I listened for what evidence they had. Frankly, when it was all finished—even after the government sponsored scientists told us what they suspected—natural causes, some sort of disease—I couldn’t tell what was real and what wasn’t. “Surgically removed the testicles of all my bulls? That’s natural causes? Why—it was a clean cut, better than Dr. Homer ever did to my steers,” someone said giving shade to the veterinarian in the room. “You never hold them still enough,” he murmured. I came away from the meeting knowing two things: the whole town, our neighbors, were on alert for weird happenings and watchful on their property, and two, they would believe anything at all—with just a little evidence.
“They have government investigators going farm by farm,” I told Bumble. He said, <We are not a farm.> I knew that, I said, but they were being thorough and would probably want a statement. “I tried to give my statement at the meeting, but they weren’t taking them.” I worried that the investigators would come on a day when the Babas’ house slunk back into the yard, or that the chupas would be playing soccer in the yard. Or that Bumble would be doing anything at all. <People know about me,> he said. “Yes, but these kinds of things have a way of making people change their mind about people they know. Give them enough reason to think you’re responsible for a natural disaster or other unexplained event and they’ll agree you were a shifty critter all along.” I wasn’t even thinking about ANYTHING else coming into the yard or by my house while they were here. That could happen. What if the Boogeyman showed up for tea? Oh god, what if Penny came back now, six years later, flying right over their heads, just to say hello? I can’t turn my inner beacon off.
Bumble put a blanket over my head. I said, “It doesn’t dampen my signal to all the Hiddens, Bumble.” I took the blanket off my head. He said, <No, but it hides you from the investigators and maybe it will comfort you a little. It’s a comforter.>
I laughed, “Who will meet them at the door?” He touched his chest. No, I told him. I couldn’t take the risk that he would be misinterpreted. “I appreciate that, babe. But they might not have an interpreter. We can’t take that chance that they see a ten-foot Yeti waving his arms at them and growling.” He rolled his eyes. He could dress up as Chewbacca. I squinted… hmmm. “Let me think on that.” Meanwhile, the plan was for me to speak to them alone and everyone else hide.
Too often for my liking, Hiddens were blamed for things that humans did or things that naturally occurred. How many times had I heard that Hurricane Elmo, or whatever, was brought on by “the unnatural people living in our midst”? Or some people die mysteriously and no one can come up with a good government conspiracy? They have to start talking about how Mr. or Miss Hidden came into the neighborhood about that time and there went the neighborhood! People will fall back on their prejudices in hard times. It’s one of our worst traits. And dead cattle? That was such a Chupa signature in the mythology they’d created. It’d be like if Harold liked ice cream and someone stole a truckload of ice cream—oh, it must be Harold!
The chupas killed their goats at dinner, Aidan slurping so loudly I thought the farmers hiding in the bushes three miles away could hear him. We always made a fire. We always sang silly songs that we made up. Tonight it was about Santa’s sleigh being led by magical goats. I brought out the guitar and set it to music as we were creating it. I knew that the kids would have to go back out into the world when they were adults—in about five months. I would miss them. I wondered what kind of a world I was sending them out into.
Three inspectors came to the house in a couple of black vans nine days later. I’d told the kids that since the goats made goat sounds we needed them to be easily seen, and we would watch them. The Monster Under the Bed took the chupas down into his place. I met the inspectors in the front yard. I introduced myself. Immediately, I told them, “My partner lives with me and he’s a yeti, and he doesn’t speak, but he does sign.” They stopped talking. “I’m telling you this because my partner is going to come out of the house in a moment. He’s ten feet tall and is not a threat to you.” Bumble and I decided that he was probably known enough in the area for his absence to look suspicious, and we wanted to come out to meet them as a couple. “Mr. Redeker,” the lead inspector looked at me. I said, “Call me Yukon.” He saw the three goats playing in the yard. “Oh they’re adorable. Pets?” I nodded. “I love little goats. Did you name them?” he asked. I introduced him to Angelfire, Skippy, and… Lunch. He didn’t laugh so I tried to laugh a little harder. He asked if we had seen anything suspicious. “What would be suspicious? A group of people in a couple of black vans going from farm to farm stealing vital organs from cattle?” He stared at me. “Or do you mean something else?” We had them out on the back deck. I didn’t want them in the house. “We just waxed the floors.” Bumble had acted out Slippery for them. “Did you see other black vans?” he asked. I shook my head. I said, “I just wanted to know what suspicious would be? I’m very far from anyone’s farm, so I didn’t see what might be happening.” He pointed behind the house. “But the roads all connect. Did you see any suspicious vehicles–?” He placed a pen ready on the notebook he carried, “…people… creatures?” He didn’t have to look at Bumble for me to know he was thinking of looking at Bumble.
“If I had anything I could add to aid your search, I would,” I said. He smiled, “People have stories about you and this area. They say there’s a lot of activity here. You work with Hiddens, don’t you?” I nodded. “Yes, I work with them.” He nodded too. “And have any of them looked suspicious to you?” He really believed someone I knew was involved because… of course. That would be nice and simple for him. Everyone would believe some Monster did it. Did I hear what happened in Russia? With that fire burning a town and then the forest coming back? What if that happened here? “Can we trust them? In your opinion. I mean, you work with them,” he said.
I told him, “I think you should work with them too. I think your suspicions would go away. Yeah, you should have a Hidden on your team. I bet they have ideas you haven’t even considered. Maybe they have some thoughts.” I turned to Bumble and asked, “Do you have any thoughts on what might be happening?” Bumble said, <He is a dickhead.> I said to the inspector, “He doesn’t know, but he hopes that you find out how it is happening.” The inspector looked at Bumble, “You’re a big one. What do you eat, I wonder?” Bumble signed, <Inspectors.> I said, “He is really fond of banana bread, actually.” The inspector looked at me, “Does he like beef?” I said to the inspector, “Tell me, Inspector, did any of those cattle actually have meat taken from them—or was it just balls and intestines and other organs? Did it look like anyone got a good fat juicy steak off them?” He said no. I looked at Bumble, “He likes his steaks grilled and we get them from the grocery store.” Bumble signed, <I could make an exception and eat him now.>
“Tell me, Yukon, have you ever met a bad Hidden? An evil Hidden?” I looked at him, “I’ll tell you if you tell me first if you’ve ever met a bad person or an evil person.” He didn’t answer. “I bet you have. I bet you don’t arrest every person just because you met a bad one once.”
He stood up. His men stood up. “Well it was nice meeting you, Yukon, and Mr. Bumble. If you hear of anything or see anything that seems out of whack–,” he gave me his card, “give us a ring. We want to get to the bottom of this Cattle Mutilation thing. Someone, or something, needs to be brought to justice.” We walked them back to their black vans. I said, “Good luck,” and Bumble signed <I see something out of whack.> The inspector waved back to both of us and they left.
I breathed a sigh of relief until I caught Bumble’s eye. <Where are the goats?> I looked around and realized neither of us had been watching them. It was getting late in the day too. The kids would be hungry. I called out for the goats. Bumble quickly ran around the outside of the house. No goats. I called inside the house. No goats. The kids came out. “You lost the goats?” I told them they wandered off. We needed their help to find them. But don’t go too far. I couldn’t risk a farmer seeing them. They called for their goats. The kids had never been off our property, or even known where the boundaries were. That seemed now like an oversight. What would magical goats do if they were found by other people? Would they just act like regular goats until something killed them? I told Bumble we needed our friends in the forest to help us find the goats, so he went down to the forest. I told the kids that we needed them to stay close to the house and that we would look for the goats.
But the goats would not be found. Not even our friends in the forest could find them. Hours passed. No goats. Kids hungry. Three teenage Chupacabra biting their lips, needing blood to drink, preferably from cattle or goats. “Anywhere we could go buy some small goats?” they asked. I didn’t know. It was getting dark. “Gang,” I said to them, “This is going to be a rough night. But I need you to stay strong and stay in the house.” They got dressed for bed. I tried to give them the blood from some cold pork and a steak… they didn’t like the taste. I wasn’t sure if it was really safe for them to drink anyway. Bumble and I decided not to eat dinner either. We wanted to show them we could get through it together. I told Bumble that if the goats had gotten killed somewhere, then I should plant a seed and maybe they would come back in the morning. <We don’t have their bodies.> I told him we would call out in the morning and see if they answered. I planted the seed. Bumble told me when I came to bed that I was glowing. I looked in the mirror and couldn’t see anything. Bumble said he could see it. And feel it. In fact, it kept him up the whole night. I slept. He didn’t much.
In the morning I found Bumble asleep on the floor with headphones on. <They helped.> We both immediately went outside and called for the goats. Nothing. I told the kids to stay in the house and Bumble and I would go recruit our friends again and call around in the area. I didn’t even have a chance to get very dressed. I knew if they didn’t feed soon, we would have a big problem on our hands. I called for what seemed like hours.
It is such a precarious balance Hiddens have in the world—if things are going well in the place they live, they are fine. But economic downturns, riots, natural disasters, even basic dissatisfaction could bounce back on them. And a death, or an assault from a mysterious source? Hiddens always felt like they were one mistake from being hated again, of people being frightened of them. The Inspector proved that the thought isn’t far from their minds.
I heard a big whoosh above me, and there was a full-grown gold dragon flying above me. It was Penny. She swooped and turned on a dime and landed beside me in a windburst. I laughed—and I needed that laugh—“You are enormous!” I yelled. Her voice boomed back, “Thank you! I feel great!” She brought her head down to my level. With her chin on the ground, I only stood as high as her nose. “What’s up? You are sending out waves of distress.” I was? “Some goats have gone missing,” I said. “We have to find them so that three Hiddens can eat, but–,” I held up my hand, “there’s a catch. Everyone in the neighborhood is freaked out about some cattle killings in the area and so they are looking for a Hidden to blame. If you fly and they see you, they will think it was you who did the killing. So we have to find the goats without attracting any attention.”
She lifted her head, “I think I hear a little chaos.” Oh, that’s awesome! I thought, assuming the chaos was goats. “At your house.” She immediately lifted off. “No, no, Penny. They’ll see you.” She called back, “I hope they do.” I was running just to keep up with her
I came up from the forest to where I could see the house. So many cars and trucks—I could count seven of them. I started running to the house across the meadow. “Wait!” I said.
I was out of breath, and running as fast as I could. I couldn’t yell. I was about fall down when I felt three sets of hands catch me. I looked up and saw my friends, the satyrs. I couldn’t say anything. “We got your signal,” they said. “We knew you were in trouble.” I saw behind me Sabitha, the Baba’s house on cat legs, spring over the edge of the forest and keep running past us to the house. I stood up and started running again.
By the time I got to the house, I recognized faces in the crowd. Oh no. My worst nightmare. An angry crowd of villagers. I think in the back of my mind for years this scene was playing with no sound…just images of villagers with pitchforks advancing on the Frankenstein of the Day to rid themselves of the Strange One in their Midst.
Seeing a house on cat legs, a flying dragon and several satyrs coming at them had sent the townspeople to yelling and backing up. “Wait! Wait!” I called out, huffing and puffing. When I got there, I doubled over. I couldn’t speak. But they quieted down.
“Yukon,” someone said. “We’ve all come to see you.” The townspeople were speaking and oddly everyone was waiting for me to lift my head. I sat down on the grass and looked up. I recognized each family. I knew my neighbors—I had met many of them. I was ready for their Rumors and their Threats. Terry, one of the cattle farmers in the area—the one who had lost the most—came towards me, knelt down. “We wanted to make sure you and yours were okay,” he said.
I was still breathing hard, “What?”
Jeannie, his wife, looking around her at all the Hiddens. “We knew they’d come out here to say something to you and we figured you might be in trouble.” Another man said, “We tried to tell them that we’d never had any trouble with any of your visitors or friends out here and that you were a good family in the area. But I knew they wouldn’t listen.” Terry reached out his hand to help me up and I took it.
“You came out here to check on us?” I asked. They nodded. Terry said, “Now this don’t mean that we haven’t ruled out some creature we don’t know attacking the cattle—but we don’t think it’s associated with you.” I felt like I was in a dream or fantasy. Some of them looked up as Penny landed in the yard. Sabitha curled her feet under her and the house sat down. They were here to help. “I appreciate all of you,” I said, trying to not sound as dumbfounded as I felt.
“We thought maybe you might know what was happening, though.” They nodded again. I shook my head. “I don’t have a clue what may be happening to your cattle, but I know it’s not any of us or anything I’ve ever heard of. Not that many cattle in this short of time.” I remembered the kids. “We are looking for some stray goats though. They won’t hurt you. They are slightly magical but you wouldn’t know it by looking at them.”
“Well, Hell,” someone called from the back. “Three goats?” It was Dan Thomas. He and his family raised goats too. “They tried to get into our pen last night with the other goats and fried themselves on the electric fence. They were dead. But the damnedest thing happened. They came back to life this morning! I said to Margie ‘Those are Demon Goats.’ She said, ‘No, they’re probably from the red-bearded guy up on Alderwood Lane.’ She heard about you from her church group. She said, ‘Demon Goats wouldn’t be that dumb.’ These were just plain old magical goats, she figured. They got right into an old pet carrier we had for Rufus before he passed. We have them in the truck.”
I was elated. Dan and Margie went to go get the goats. Someone asked, hopefully, as if they had done their homework on cryptids just to talk to me, “Do you think it could be a pack of Chupacabras?”
“It most definitely is not the work of a Chupacabra,” I said, and I took this time to educate them on chupas. I told them they don’t hunt in packs. They are loners. And they can only drink the blood of one cow at a time. “That pretty much fills them up. Fifty dead cows would be a waste of food for them… they’d never do it.” Someone started a sentence with, “Well, I heard,” and then recited a fake factoid about chupacabras they found on the internet. I let them say it, let everyone hear it, and then I corrected it. That’s what you have to do about false information. I don’t tell them to shut up, or call them names, or laugh at them, or embarrass them for what they don’t know. “You’ve never met a Chupacabra so you wouldn’t know the difference. They are very nice if you ever get to meet them.”
“I guess this is as good of an introduction as we might ever get,” said a voice behind me. “We are very nice and today you do get to meet chupacabras.” From the Babas’ house two adult chupacabras walked out the door and onto the deck. They wore bright colored shirts and jeans. They looked at me. “Thank you, Yukon, for the kind words you said about us. We came when we heard that you were taking care of three orphans.”
Someone in the crowd said, “Three orphans?” and looked at me with surprise and several others did the same. Their eyes got even softer when they thought of me as a father.
Baba Sola said to me, “That’s what we were doing? Looking for someone for the kids.”
“We hoped they might want to talk about coming back with us,” the chupacabra couple said.
I introduced them (Myrrha and Aliso) to all my neighbors! They all said hello and the conversations started and kept going and all I could do was step back and watch. Dan and Margie came back with the goats, which I gave to Bumble to take into the house. I told him to put down the old plastic swimming pool on the kitchen floor, try to keep the mess contained. He nodded. Terry said, “See it all worked out.” He winked at me. “Did you think we were coming for all the Hiddens you had so we could burn them at the stake?” I laughed, “Of course not. I wouldn’t believe that.” I slapped him on the back and went inside to grab a shirt.
It’s amazing how everyone, even me, can believe what they want to about their own Monsters. I had believed the worst of all of them even from the beginning, and here they were, laughing, talking with chupacabras, magical old ladies, a chatty dragon, and someone was petting the legs of Sabitha—why did I think that just because people in the past had acted out of fear that these people would do that? We may never solve the cattle deaths (though I would ask Penny to go on patrol if she would) but I learned something about my “monsters,” and it was a good lesson. I also had so many friends I could count on—magical Hiddens and friendly neighbors. Just when I needed them, they came.
The Babas had come out of their house with baked goods and drinks and carried them to the deck. I brought out my guitar knowing we could make up some good silly songs tonight. Looking around at all my friends I felt a bit more confident about the world I was sending the young chupacabras into—a world with more friends than I thought. The happy crowd talked so loud that no one heard the happy howls of joy as the kids called out– Angelfire! Skippy! Lunch!—hugged the necks of their three long-lost, beloved, resurrectable goats—we missed you!—and then, with glee, sucked out every drop of life they could, knowing there’d be so much more tomorrow.
Bumble does not live in my time zone even when he is in bed with me. This makes setting times very difficult in our home. Not only can he be as much as three hours different than I am, but he might be exactly in synch with me and I wouldn’t know. His times are fluid, moving with the patterns of sunlight and darkness. I tried to teach him about time zones using a globe pointing out the clever 24 time zones that used longitude to separate them equally. He got that, <very clever,> but he pointed to the North and South ends of the globe and shook his head. He asked, <Why aren’t there latitudinal time zones as well? Far north sunlight doesn’t follow the silly time zones “human society” created. More sun in the north in summer; much less sun in winter—sometimes no sun in the winter.> He tells me I should know that. I grew up there. I say that I am matching the rhythm of the people around me—that’s what time zones are for—to help us stay together. He shakes his head. He believes time zones were created to accommodate people living in temperate zones within one thin band around the world, not even those on either side of those zones. Why should he change his whole life and rhythm to merge in with something humans created—and created badly? It only meets the needs of only a small portion of the humans on the earth. So I keep track of his patterns in a notebook called Bumble Time, like one would watch the weather, noting times and changes, patterns that alter—trying to keep us at least partially in rhythm together. I tell him, “So the days won’t get away from us.” Daylight Savings always throws us out of whack. He signs to me, <You cannot use the daylight you are saving.> He smiles, picks up a cupcake, eats it. <You are saving the wrong things>
At his current work site across the state, he paints a mural in the heart of the older part of a downtown now mostly abandoned during the last big economic slump, they told him. The shops were all boarded up, except for Payday Lending places, phone outlets, and the occasional fast food restaurant. But people were still here. They lived and grew up here. Their homes were in this neighborhood. They no longer had a grocery close by, but they had a lot of old buildings just sitting around unused. The neighborhood hired him, contacting him through his website. Anyone can contact him and propose a place to put a mural—but he doesn’t have to take the work. He can choose. Bumble likes to take places, like this one, that need some bright color, where he can make people happy. His price is always on a sliding scale. This one will not bring in much money. <But the next one will,> he tells me. <It all works out.> It’s true. Some of his murals are inside big office buildings, restaurants, art museums, private homes. He has collectors. He brings in some very big money, most of which he gives away to environmental causes. He takes jobs where he can be himself, and which are safe for him, and where he can stand comfortably. He is close to 10 feet tall now—that limits some indoor spaces. He researches the site, makes sure they are ‘monster-friendly’ and that he can work in peace, and that they have a sign language interpreter on call. When he first started doing them, he drew crowds. “Well,” I told him, “you are–.” He finished, <Different.> “New,” I said. I thought it couldn’t hurt his marketing for people to post pictures of him working or take selfies. <It is difficult to think. I distract them from the Art I’m trying to make.> He didn’t mind drawing crowds in neighborhoods, but he didn’t like being gawked at in offices. <I feel too big—in the way of myself.>
He lets me watch today, as he is finishing up this one. He calls it, “Dreaming of Escape.” Many of his murals have Hiddens in them. <It helps Hiddens if they have good art about them in public spaces.> He said it got people used to them and helped put them in context. In Trenton there is a mural over three stories tall of dancing Jersey Devils and it is warm and inviting and make people smile. He was invited to the Mothman Festival in Point Pleasant WV to create a permanent mural. It was controversial at first. It depicted several Moth Men interacting with townspeople in the downtown area, drinking coffee, walking down the street, real hometown kind of Norman Rockwell stuff, done in a hybrid Rockwell/ Bumble’s ‘Northern style’. It wasn’t the scary Moth Man they wanted. It was friendly. It didn’t match any of their marketing. He told them, <If you want a Moth Man to come live here you need to show him he will be accepted and welcome.> They didn’t know they had that option—to get their own Moth Man again! So they changed every bit of marketing to follow Bumble’s lead. They now have a very active and inquisitive Moth Family living near them.
I see the hot orange sky, the ice breaking up, the black continent Earth from the Northern perspective. <People aren’t watching this clock very well,> he tells me. <The land is telling them that time is running out to change bad habits, but they won’t see the clock.> He shakes his head. <Out of time.> He points to different places of his mural, and tells me about it. <They are escaping the hot land. The Tern drops its eggs when it has to leave. The fox jumps into the water. The Bumble tries to balance on ice flows.> “And these stars that are falling?” I ask. He smiles. <Those are people. They opened a box here. And now they are all falling into the box here.> When I ask him what the box was, he says, <Everything they wanted.> Now the box just collected their bodies, I guessed. <People need a new Climate Time Zone national campaign that has a day that gets smaller every year. Less time to work. Less time to play. Less time to change. No 24 hour day but a 12 hour day, maybe. Short time. Shorter time. Shortest time. Then no time.>
I look around me at the people who are watching. He signs to me, <They get it from the pictures. They know. They have been in Climate Time Zone for awhile. They are part of the clock now. Others with money and power—they don’t know they’ve been in the Climate Time Zone too. The effects don’t reach them for awhile.> He looks at the people, and the neighborhood. <The clock is all around us. The trees are the clock. The ice is the clock. These people are the clock to watch too. No one is watching the clock. This is the time to be saved.> He looked again at the people. <No one is saving this Time.>
Later, as sunset comes, the crowd brings several long tables and chairs and covers the tables in food to share. Everyone sits down together. They come to Bumble and me. “We want to thank you for making our neighborhood more colorful.” Bumble shows his surprise, and then spots a table full of banana bread. He points at it and roars, laughing. He signs <You know me too well. How can I say no?> I tell them what he’s said. They smile and clap and lay a big blanket over the concrete for him to sit on. He signs to me, <Time to eat and play—> sits down and children come to him bearing plates of food. They lay them down around him, almost interconnecting on the blanket. He thanks them, smiles big and stuffs his face. He turns to me, barbecue sauce on the fur under his nose, takes my hand and pulls me to the blanket to sit beside him, and signs <Eat and play, before the day gets away.>
If you want to see fairies, you have to think about fairies. But to think about fairies is to forget what you’ve learned about fairies. They don’t like it if you bring presumptions, or an insensitive amount of education and book reading about them. They don’t come here to affirm your previous beliefs about them. Each group is different, they will tell you. Each culture is different, and by culture I mean the Fairies of the Last Rosebush on the Front Library Lawn are very different from the Edge of the Glade fairies, the Old Tired Oak fairies, and the Dirt Road to the Cemetery fairies. You can’t think they are the same. “We look for an open mind, not a self-assured, have-all-the-answers mind,” they tell me. I have met sixteen different fairy groups who are vastly different from each other like families are different from each other, like twins who are separated at birth and grow up in the country and the city are different from each other. I can’t really generalize about fairies at all except to say I don’t know fairies—I know these specific sixteen groups, but I couldn’t tell you about something definitive about ‘fairy culture’ because to them there is no accepted definition. The good and beautiful Fairy Guidebooks I know are there to show us the diversity of fairies, stories told by one group, but I can’t use them when I go visit a completely different group. “Oh he thought we wore spiderweb dresses!” Heavy is the shade one group would give me for trying to show my knowledge of their group. “There are thousands of ways to be Fairies,” I heard one say. Another chimed in, “A thousand thousand.” But sometimes I also heard kindness for the investigation. “Asking questions is okay. We can tell you what WE do.” But they had little tolerance for anyone who was rude, or who wanted to tell them how they Should Be Acting. “If you can’t take the time to learn about us, we don’t want to meet you,” is something I did hear, though, and this common refrain, of learning about them—without assumptions, without preconceptions—to get closer to knowing them— seemed to be the only thing I’d found in common. And yet, I was open to the possibility of meeting fairies one day who didn’t mind what you thought about them, or a group that might even act like you expect them to act just to make you feel at home. To seek out fairies is to expect anything to happen and nothing to be what you thought it would be. Blank notebook. Bring it. A pencil, bring it. Then—and only then—think about fairies.
The Garden Fairies (their name), chubby, hairy and bearded—all male—gay and polyamorous, live in a place that may not be connected to the outside world. I have slipped through the veil to their garden before, accidentally, and have slipped back out again with no idea about the context of the garden, the place on a map, the relation with any known geographical markers, and none of the fairies have been outside the garden very far, so they too have no idea how they connect to anything else. I visit them because they are fun—they have hundreds of games they invented and play constantly. They are joyous and they make me laugh. They are white, black, and brown fairies with bright butterfly wings and they live in a well-tended garden with no apparent gardener. They make me think that this is what I would look like if I were a fairy, and seeing yourself in others has a way of bonding and reassuring you that you “fit in.”
It’s a strange tension between wanting to be alike and wanting to be unique. When I first met them, I let it slip that I had not seen fairies like them. That rippled through the group in two streams: there are other fairies? And that they were strange or different. I assured them all the groups of fairies—even individual fairies–were strange and different. “I think that’s what it means to be a fairy—to be happy being strange and different.” They wanted to hear about other fairies, and I told them I would share what I knew if they also shared with me their practices, customs, traditions, and thoughts about their own group.
When I told them about the shimmering clothing of other fairies, they said would never wear clothes. “Hot, hot, hot.” They all agreed. I told them that a third of the fairies I had met felt the same way. The other two thirds, I said, had various fashion, either from fabrics they created, or from found objects, or sometimes from fashion they stole and copied from the outside world. I mentioned the Hazelnut Fairies and their dances—and they were fascinated–and they showed me some of their dances. They were astonished at the Galaxy Gazing Fairies at Machu Pichu and their knowledge of planets and stars and the maps they drew. They loved hearing about the marriage ceremonies and dating customs of several groups of fairies. I saw some of them taking notes. I told them I’d met two groups of fairies before that were single gendered—both female presenting, and two other groups that were non-binary. The rest were mixed-gender groups. The more I told them, the more they were delighted and soon became interested in meeting other fairies—exchanging stories and ideas.
But no one knew how to get out of the Garden. They didn’t even know how I got in. I thought about taking one of them with me out of the garden, but they were afraid. They didn’t know if they would be able to get back in. They had oral histories and stories about fairies who left and who never came back. I could tell they were curious about the outside world, but they were nervous too about what they might lose by leaving the garden. I completely understood. “Home,” I said to them, “is a hard place to leave, and you don’t have to leave home to be happy.”
So today, on my seventh visit, I slip into the garden with a gift. I’m met by Everyone. They’ve created a friendship bracelet for me. I know Bumble will want one of his own. I tell them I also brought them something. I open my backpack. “Or I should say, someones…,” I say. Sixteen fairies flew out of my backpack. Representatives from four other groups of fairies agreed to come meet the fairies who were “disconnected” as they put it. When I had told the other groups about the Garden Fairies they were concerned and wanted to make sure that they had contact with others like them. “No group should be completely alone– unless they want to be.” I knew the garden fairies were curious of others, so I figured this might be a good temporary solution.
Four from the Enchanted Peony Bushes, with their beautiful, bejeweled headdresses and silk sheer robes, four (an entire Heavy Metal band) from the Under the Roof of Oddbodies Bar group, four from the Hazelnut fairies, and four far-flung fairies from the Galaxy Gazing Fairies of Machu Pichu. One of the elder women of the Enchanted Peony addressed the Garden Fairies, “We are very happy to meet you, members of the Garden Fairies. We heard you wanted to meet other fairies like yourself. We also heard of the great obstacles that prevented you from meeting us, and the mysterious conditions involved in entering or leaving your garden. We decided that if you couldn’t come to us, we would try to come to you.” They all applauded my backpack.
I stayed there for five nights with them so that I could take the visiting fairies back through the veil that connected worlds. While I was there, the Garden Fairies taught everyone new games, the Hazelnut fairies taught us many dances, the Oddbodies played heavy metal cover songs acoustically without speakers or electricity (which turned out to be a lot of deep growls, roars and shouting accompanied by two melodic guitars and drums) and finally, late at night, the Galaxy Gazers unrolled their maps across the grasses of the garden, and as the others gathered, they pointed out constellations and planets and told stories about the stars above them that “connected all four groups together” for they had discovered that they indeed were the same stars on both sides, and so, even after the other fairies left, the Garden Fairies could be sure that they wouldn’t be too far away, and need only look up, at the constellations that connected stars and fairies together.
They called themselves the Babas and their cottage slunk into our backyard softly on cat paws in the middle of the night. Bumble saw it come in, stepping over the neighbors’ fences, padding through the wavy grass. Then the legs laid themselves down like a cat would, and the house settled lower and steps unfolded over the resting legs until they touched the ground. It did nothing. He fell asleep. It was there when we awoke.
Houses on feet? I’d heard of such a house. The house on chicken legs, a house of a witch with a dangerous reputation in Russia. I’d never met her, and I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to. She made me afraid. But then we knew many who had gotten a bad reputation from encounters with people. We knocked on the door anyway. When the three women answered the door introduced themselves with Baba in their names, I asked if they were related to Baba Yaga. They rolled their eyes. Baba Sola said, “Our Sister of Perpetual Trouble? We know her.” Baba Luna said, “Do we know her! Ha! Do we claim her?” Baba Stella said, “We assure you; we are not going to hurt you. Please don’t be afraid of us. We made breakfast. Would you join us? We came a long way to see you, Yukon and Bumble.” The three of them looked so sincere. In the stories of witches who harmed others, had they ever walked their house over to see you?
Banana Bread was enough to convince Bumble it was safe. He’s easy. Coffee, muffins, pastries and little quiches. We might have been in danger of being fed too much. Bumble and I soon found ourselves stuffed. Baba Stella kept bringing more and more out of the oven till her sisters stopped her, asked her to come join us in the living room. Baba Luna made sure we felt comfortable, offering us different, better pillows, “I think this one will be better for your back,” she said to me. Bumble sat on all the pillows Sola could carry, and he signed, thank you. As the two sisters fussed over our food and comfort, Baba Sola told us, “Sabitha, our house, is mobile and we love to travel! We just never wanted to settle in one place—so many good places, how do you choose one forever? So a moving house seemed like the best idea. This way, Sabitha travels the world and we can still find our favorite teas whether we’re in Belgium or Bangkok, and have our own pillows to sleep on at night.” Luna echoed, “It really is the best of all worlds. Our house is good natured, affectionate travel luggage.” Stella said, “We meet such nice people too. If they aren’t afraid of Sabitha’s legs.” We talked for hours about each other, and I felt they sincerely wanted to get to know us. They had heard of us, through their well-connected network. “You have empathy. You have heart. You solve problems in a way that is beneficial for most of the people involved. We like that.” They nodded and smiled. “It’s not the way things have always been done.” They asked us very detailed questions about how we dealt with certain situations, why we made these decisions. They were very intense questions.
Then, Baba Sola, the eldest of the sisters, folded her hands in her lap, “Why we’ve come.” She paused and took a great breath. “You were right to think of Baba Yaga first. We are here because of our wayward sister. She’s in trouble.” Luna chimed in, “Trouble she caused. Trouble she made.” Stella said, “We think there’s hope though.” Luna did not agree, “I’m afraid she might have gone too far.”
Sola began telling a story, moving her hands now comfortably to the crocheted armchair covers. “Baba Yaga does not like to travel, but her hut does wander the forest where she lives. She’s always trying to get farther away from people, but the encroach of civilization has reduced her forest to not much more than a park. People have built bridges and fountains and trails and families walk through all the time. She could see them, hear them, laughing through her yard. It sapped her very strength.” Luna said, “She’s very much an introvert. She needs her space.” Sola continued, “But there was none. Everywhere the hut looked were apartment complexes and strip malls and endless suburban housing. She wanted her forest back. So our sister—who has rarely encountered a guest she didn’t curse and make miserable, or chase down, or torture—starts a candle-making business—creating hundreds and hundreds of candles in a jars with names like “To rid yourself of bad dreams” and “Cure for an Aching Soul” and “What You Really Need” and “Everyone Else Thinks this Smells like Apples”—and she stood in front of her hut and sold as many candles as she could to everyone.
“They bought them not because they needed them. Who buys candles for that? They bought them because of how they smelled — like—” her hands reached up above her as she looked upwards, “like everything they wanted, everything they dreamed of. She’d made them irresistible.
“Baba Yaga walked her hut to a suburb, set down and sold even more candles. Once she had sold 1000 candles, she and her hut walked back to the most secluded part of the park, within a sacred ring of trees.” Luna interrupted, pointing at me with a brownie, “And then she screwed everyone.” Sola looked over at her, “Luna,” she chided. “A story is like a good tapestry; it must be unraveled slowly.” She turned back to me, “That night she sent a spell out into the city to activate all her candles at once. They burned down every home they were in with inextinguishable fires. No matter the fire trucks and the water and the pink goop. Every home burned to the ground. She knew, though, that even after the charred possessions were removed and the homes torn down that they would rebuild again, because she believed with the deepest part of her being that they were uncontrollable, unstoppable monsters. They would return forever, again and again if she didn’t do something. But Baba Yaga had thought of this ahead of time! Each of those candles housed the seeds of a forest, and as the wax melted and dripped into the soil, a magical forest began growing in suburbia. She combed her hair the whole night long, and as she did, the forest and her hair became thicker and thicker and thicker. In one night, she had regrown two thirds of the original ancient forest that she’d settled into long ago, and her long luscious hair fell in tresses down to her feet. She was happy.”
Sola frowned. “The city was not. They have reacted quite strongly towards Hiddens because of our sister’s actions. She got her privacy, but they—other Hiddens—received the punishment. A great fear of Hiddens has started again and is being stoked by those who have always hated us—anyone different. But they are using Yaga’s drastic measures as reason to make everyone afraid of Hiddens even more.”
Luna said, “I fear it’s partly our fault. We’ve not always been the best sisters at curbing Yaga’s appetites. At compelling her to make decisions that don’t harm others. That is not the way she has done things. For most of our lives, she only harmed those who came to her doorstep. We looked the other way because often—these people thought they could take advantage of an old woman. She fought back. She was justified.” They looked at each other. “This time is different. She has attacked others.”
“Um… so the eating children?” I asked, regretting it as soon as I did.
Luna said, “You of all people, Yukon. You do know that every Hidden gets that reputation. We all eat children. Even Abominable Snowmonsters,” she said looking at Bumble. He nodded, pointed to his mouth, and then rubbed his tummy. I rolled my eyes. She said, “If you can make children frightened of us, they will then grow up as adults afraid of us who tell those stories to their children. Does Yaga have a cruel streak? She does. She likes being seen as powerless so she can flip the tables. She might even be the very definition of ‘entrapment’. We fear this will only get worse.” She leaned towards me, “We can’t think of them as monsters, Yukon—as she does. We can’t think of people who try to harm us as inhuman. We can’t afford to. We just entrench them as a permanent enemy and justify their reactions. We become the monsters they want us to be. We have to live together at some point. We must educate them, illuminate the truth if we can. It doesn’t matter if we feel like we shouldn’t have to–that they should know already. It always benefits us if we can make an ally out of someone who didn’t know. So, in light of our sister’s decisions, we have also made decisions. We have decided to align ourselves with a side that is not fighting fear with fear or violence with violence.” They suddenly all smiled at me.
Sola put her cup on the table, “We’d like to join you. Do the work you’re doing. Help with the load. Our house is your house. Our services are your services. If you want us to go check on anyone, we will go. If you want to come with us, use our house to get there faster, we want you to do that. We don’t want you to be burdened with mundane travel—especially as it has gotten so tedious and sinister. You can’t always jump on the next Gryphon to Egypt. We would also, frankly, enjoy the company and the travel. And the chance to cook for others. Dinners, breakfasts!”
Stella said, “But we also have some ideas on helping out in our own way. We three sisters want to tell stories to children, take Sabitha from neighborhood to neighborhood, and from our porch, tell them about the amazing Hiddens out there who just want to be loved! And who will love them back.”
Sola said, “We’re weary of being hated in every story. We can’t fight it by fighting them. By burning down everyone and making a bigger place to hide. Baba Yaga is going backwards—she is the past. We want to move forward. We believe that’s here. Would you allow us, occasionally, to let Sabitha rest here in your big back yard?” Stella looked at Bumble, “We can bake a lot of banana bread.” He looked at me and nodded. I asked them, “What do you think her response will be when she finds her sisters have abandoned her? Are you afraid of that? Should we all be afraid of that?” Sola sighed. “She has not seen us for a long time. We’ve not spoken in many years. And now that she is sequestered in her forest again, she will have to make a choice first—she would have to leave her hiding places to confront us. And if she came here, she would see a different path opening up. She’s never really seen people getting along with Hiddens. Maybe she would see what we are doing.”
Luna said, “The thing with Yaga—you can’t go to Yaga and win any argument. You have to let Yaga come to you. When she’s ready, she will.”
I was happy to welcome the Babas to the neighborhood. It was nice to have friends so close. All of ours were scattered across the world. Now we had people who cared for us right next door. That’s a special kind of love and I can understand every grandmother who wants to move in to love her family closer. Bumble received so many wrapped loaves of banana bread, I would shake my head at him, playfully accuse him of taking advantage of them. He denied he was using them for sweet breads, signed that they were giving this to him, but crumbs of banana bread would just shake from his fur onto the table. And we’d laugh. This is what is like to be loved by others. I believed this is what we were trying to get Hiddens to feel–to feel loved whether they wanted to stay in their forests or if they wanted to join this chosen family of unique people. Sometimes I would look out and notice the Babas’ home was not there. They were off telling stories, or checking in on one of those we cared for. Then they would creep back in during the night, and in the morning, there was Sabitha exhausted on the lawn. I wanted to get used to having them around, to relax enough to allow myself to be cared for by others. Sometimes, though, I thought about what might happen if Yaga came calling to our home. We would, no doubt, do our best to love her just the same. She’d already made such a journey to find us. We would need to show her who we are when our walls, our forests, are down. That wouldn’t be easy.
I only hoped, if that happened, that two walking houses, a cat and a bird, would get along without kickboxing in the backyard.
Pink and yellow lights synchronized to the beat of the music flashed everywhere. People danced. A thousand people? Yes. And not just people. There were a couple of Jersey Devils spinning across the courtyard. They wouldn’t miss a chance to dance. I spotted a table of swamp crocs. And flying over the crowd I knew I caught a glimpse of some faeries. I moved through the dancers and the lights. If the Boogeyman were in Egypt, he’d be here. I made a note to tell him about it next time I saw him. Finally, I was at the place where you could stare right at the DJ’s Lion Paw toes. He was three stories tall. His lion body swayed to the music and, lit from below, his body cast a dancing shadow, complete with his wings. He held a red set of headphones to the ear of his very human face. I wondered if he would remember me at all. I was going to see. I saw a wheelchair lift and a set of stairs up to a platform where you could request a song, no doubt. I started up the stairs.
A man touched my arm. “Hey, you. Do you have a riddle?” I turned. He wore a black tshirt with white letters that spelled Security. He repeated, “You have to have a riddle ready to suggest a song. See the sign? No riddle, no song request.” I told him, “I don’t have a song request. I’m an old friend. I’m just coming to say hello.” He laughed. “We’re all old friends. You know how many old friends of his I meet here, about two hundred a week.” I laughed, “No really, I’m a friend.”
“You need a riddle, sir. Or you don’t go up. He can’t be bothered by every gawker and he can’t include thousands of songs, so you gotta have a riddle to ask him.” That was strange. I said, “I thought it was the other way around–you had to answer his riddle?” He looked away. “He doesn’t have time for this. Please move away from the stairs.” I put up my hands, “Okay, I’ve got a riddle.” I turned back to the stairs. He crossed his arms, “What is it?” I looked back and said, “It’s for him.” He said, “I have to approve all the riddles.” He touched my arm in a way that said, Come back down the stairs. I’d just walked eight blocks in the summer heat. I wasn’t going to be able to run up the stairs and get to the Sphinx first or wrestle this guard. He was serious. You had to tell him your riddle to make sure you had one. “If I can solve it, it’s not gonna stump him. And let me tell you, I was a star winner on American Jeopardy.”
Alexandria, Egypt, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, is spectacular from the back of a Griffin at night, hundreds of feet in the air. Mela, the Griffin I met at Dragon Con, insisted I come with her a week later to meet the Sphinx. She felt nervous her first time trying to date after realizing that she couldn’t stay single for the rest of her life after her mate died. This was new territory for her. She needed a buddy. I couldn’t let her down now.
“What soars on eagle’s wings, runs with lion’s legs, and crushes with an eagle’s beak?” He shook his head. “No riddles about people you know. That’s not a riddle. A riddle is an answer everyone can recognize but your description has to be slightly misleading, causing most people, not myself, to be unable to recognize the common thing.” I threw up my hands, “I know what a riddle is!” I said. “Then give me a better riddle and you can see ‘your friend,’” he told me, moving between me and the stairs. A woman in a wheelchair came through the crowd. “I have a song request,” she said. He said, “Do you have a riddle?” She nodded, and looked at me, and then motioned for him to come closer. She didn’t want me to hear. He leaned down, and soon came back up. “That’s a good one! He’s gonna love that.” He secured her into the chair lift and she Wooted all the way up. He looked at me, gave me a cocky grin. “Got your riddle?”
“What mixes together to make the darkest midnight, but can also mix together and make the brightest morning?” I said.
He thought about it, his eyes shifting up to the right. “Okay,” he said. “You can go up.” We saw the red light flash beside him and he looked up to see that the young woman was ready to come back down. He lowered the chairlift and waved me onto the stairs. “Don’t take too long with him. Other people have song requests.” I walked up the stairs and saw the young woman coming back on the way down. She beamed. “He’s really dreamy in person!” she said. She slipped a black and white photo, now signed, back into an envelope.
Until the “dreamy” Sphinx, Egypt had a very bad, cruel policy about how they dealt with “monsters.” Any Hidden that came out would be captured, held, tortured, and then released. Eqyptians called this mild, tolerant behavior. At least they didn’t kill them like Russia, they said. Then the Sphinx came along—or should I say, came back home about twelve years ago. The Egyptian government loved him. He was a Monster, but he was their monster, everything they loved about themselves. What a tourism benefit! they must have thought. They used him in all their marketing. This 30-foot god. What do you do when you’ve been hiding in fear of persecution from a place, and then come out and become a god there? The Sphinx immediately proclaimed every Hidden an aspect of Divine Expression—and the people, I guess, listened to the him. They wouldn’t touch him for fear of damning themselves or their city. For the last ten or so years, it had been safe for Hiddens within Alexandria. At night, they danced with everyone here at the palace gardens beside the beach. He protected them. He turned Alexandria into one big safe dance club.
I got to the top of the stairs. There he was: a three-story giant lion with wings and a human face—with his headphones on—rocking out to the music he was blending and creating. He looked up at me, “Yukon! Hey!!” I smiled, “Puddin’!” He laughed, slapped his belly. “They don’t make enough chocolate pudding here.” He leaned in, “What’s your riddle?” I told him.
He nodded, saying, “The color spectrum—the first is when you mix paints, and the second is when you mix light. But it’s a good one! What can I play for you?” I said, “Asim, I have someone I want you to meet.”
Mela the Gryphon from Dragon Con had flown all the way from the US, taking me with her as moral support, only to turn around at the last minute and land about eight blocks away. She was scared. “I don’t know if I can do it.” She needed some time to think. I gave it to her. She said, eventually, “I want you to go up there and reconnect with him first. See if he’s still the kind of person you thought he was. Sometimes you change and you may not be the person you were.” She wasn’t sure even if she was the same person she was, “I was singing mourning songs a month ago. Now I’m breaking all my traditions. People can change in an instant. I don’t want to put myself in a vulnerable position if he is not the same kind of person you said he was.” I agreed. It was important for me to find out.
So here I was doing that. I told Asim, “She really needs a friend.” He smiled, a warm smile, the kind I remembered when Goody and I knew him, when he was wandering in the Mojave, hiding in the Sierra Nevadas, unsure if there was anyone like him at all, or if they would hate him as he believed his home country would. Asim said to bring her up. He would love to meet her. He’d even give her a riddle to get past the guard. I said, “She’s nervous. She’s been through a really hard time in her life. But she really wants to meet you.” He said he was doing autographs in about two hours if I wanted to wait.
“She can’t come up the stairs. But she can fly. She’s as big as you are!” His eyes got wide. “As big as me?” I said, laughing, “That’s what she said when I told her about you!”
I felt a big gust of wind and I thought it was him at first with those wings, but no—it was her with her wings. She had landed directly above us on the roof of the Inn. He looked up, surprised, as I was—could she hear us? I looked at his jaw drop. Had he ever seen a Hidden as big as he was? Had he ever met a Gryphon? Judging from his face, I would say no. I said, “Asim, this is my friend, Mela!”
He was stunned into silence. She also was not talking. The music around them kept the beat going. He awkwardly called up, “What’s your riddle?” Oh, why did he do that? She didn’t have a riddle ready. I looked at him and he seemed to be tongue-tied. She—she was pulling back. I looked at her, trying to tell her not to worry. “Mela, this is my friend, Asim. He’s a sphinx.” I got stuck trying to create conversation, “You both have wings of eagles, or hawks,” I said, punting, “and you both have the bodies of lions.” They both looked at me, insulted. Asim said, “Lions have our bodies.” She said, “Eagles have Gryphon wings.” Asim looked at her, “Exactly.” He lifted a finger for both of us to wait as he switched back to the turntable and programmed something in, listening carefully through his headphones, as he cued up the next song, and then pressed a button, and the music shifted, and a low, steady beat met a progression of chords, and then a man’s voice in Arabic sang. Asim turned around, “Okay, where were we?”
Mela had straightened back, spread out her wings, her claws clinging to the edge of the roof as she looked over the courtyard, and sang—a high lilting descant that matched the melody perfectly. The melody was sad, but powerful. This was a mourning song, I realized. She was singing her mourning song over the dance music, a countermelody—a counter feeling to the joy of the Arabic song he played. Above us, lit by the lamps, she was full and huge and powerful and her wings spread across the rooftops. I looked back at Asim. His eyes had gone soft, watery. He was smiling.
Well, that went better than I thought. Down on the dance floor, some dancers had stopped to look up at her, pointing. Her voice carried across the courtyards, the gardens. I saw people turning as far as the palace. The combination of her mourning and the electric happiness did not clash at all. People started dancing again—but slower. How can these two emotions exist in the same place at the same time? Isn’t that the most human riddle of all? The existence of pain and joy in the same person. Pain and joy in the same moment. Pain and joy in the same face. When she stopped, the crowd of thousands burst into applause and Bravos as if an opera singer had just debuted. She looked down at Asim. I knew then that we would wait two hours or three till Asim was done. That they would talk and I would find a room somewhere in the Paradise Inn and sleep. And they would be together all night, till morning had broken through.
Hiddens and Cryptids and Monsters can all have a spiritual side, if they choose. Some Moth Men believe in an all-compelling Great Light; others believe they are the vessel of warning to those careening into darkness. Chupacabrae and Vampires regard blood as a wellspring of emotions and memories, and drinking others bring them closer to something they think of as Bliss. Many Moon Fairies and Sun Fairies worship their deities in the skies, while other fairies are pure hedonists and affirm their own self-guidance as the best way to live. I’ve seen some Bigfoots revere asceticism until they can disappear into the world they are a part of; hermit sphinxes, searching for The Answers; questing leprechauns, abandoning their gold for something more substantial; daemons who search the minds of sleepers as research to a grand theory of everything. Spirituality seeds every being, grows in many. Our inability to see it in those unlike ourselves speaks more to our own primitive minds than it does to the quality or quantity of others’ mysticism.
Bumble believes in synchronicities. If he hears something three times, or sees it, or reads something that correlates two other things, he stops and listens to the universe for further conversation. He attunes. He will sign to me that the World is Speaking. Does he seem more meditative to me because he doesn’t have much of a vocal language? Because he is quiet? I don’t know, but I do think he has watered and tended his spiritual side more than I have.
My mother was a mystic. She spoke with Bigfoots long before I was aware of her conversations with them. She was chatty outside in the garden, at the clothesline, or picking cranberries, and I thought she was just telling herself about her day. They were invisible. They can do that. Most of her mysticism she picked up from them. They taught her, especially when I was away. They taught her about life, about death, and how to walk away with them into the wild, possibly to never die. That’s where she is now. With them in some nether place. I don’t know if she died. I may never know. I can’t mourn her—she might be alive. I don’t know. I just miss her. We never got to say goodbye. I don’t blame her. I blame them, sometimes, though I know it was her choice, and her health was failing.
I was off on a quest. A quest I was warned about. Told not to go. I wasn’t afraid of something bad happening to me, though. Turns out, it wasn’t me that something happened to. When I came back she was gone. I searched for her. Maybe that warning WAS about something happening to me—pain and loss and regret that I’d never truly released. And some anger. They’re the only cryptid I didn’t go check on. Bigfoots were notoriously self-reliant and more hidden than Hiddens. I didn’t go looking for them. They didn’t come to me. I’ve always thought it was better that way.
But this morning, something happened that I can’t explain. I was drinking coffee on the deck looking out across our country yard. ‘Snow had fallen, snow on snow,’ as the song goes. After the colder weather we’d had lately, this morning was warmer, the snow seeming to usher in a warmth so enticing, half naked men want to come outside and sit on the deck in flannel pajama bottoms and house shoes. I watched jays and sparrows and chickadees at Bumble’s City of Feeders jostling for seeds.
Then, in the distance, across the snow, I saw a white stag standing, looking at me. Many deer species have a white genetic pattern that is rare, but it happens. I thought to myself all the times in mythology and folklore that someone would see a white stag and how it symbolized something different for everyone depending on their belief system. Purity, innocence, some saw it as a sign to convert to a particular faith. It did look otherworldly, standing out there, even with its legs deep in the snow. It kept looking at me. What an incredible moment just to witness, I thought. I continued to drink coffee and look at it. The pursuit of a white stag is a fairly common trope in fairy tales too. You can never catch them—but they lead you to someplace new. A spiritual quest sometimes. Well, as I’d mentioned, I wasn’t the most spiritual person—more in awe of the wonder I saw everyday (and with all the Hiddens I knew existed, there was plenty of wonder in every day!) I thought, Go on, Big Deer, I’m not going to follow you on some spiritual quest.
But it stood there. Looking at me. I got up and walked to the railing at the edge of the deck, hoping I didn’t spook it away. It didn’t move. It looked like a caribou (reindeer to most folks) but I couldn’t be sure at this distance and with the white deer against the white snow, I was lucky to see it at all. As the seconds ticked by, I started to wonder if this were a Hidden. I waited to see if they would come to me. I waved to let them know I saw them. Drank coffee. Waited. They continued to stare at me. If they were a Hidden, perhaps they were fulfilling a role for someone in this community. I did have houses nearby, who could see the deer. I wondered what kind of role it might be playing for someone. I confess we didn’t know our neighbors well because our house is frequently visited by Hiddens in the night. We chose a place where we could keep everything covert for them.
You know, I thought, white stags were also seen as messengers from the Otherworld in some cultures.
The stag never wavered. It simply looked at me across the long yard. Maybe 30-40 yards away. “Why are you here?” I whispered to myself. Who needed a message? If Bumble were here, I’d ask him—is it meaning something to you? But he wasn’t. Just me.
Was I the person the stag was here for? I thought about that. Messages from the otherworld. They weren’t coming to me. Who would send me a message? And then, suddenly, I knew it was about my mom. I was sure. I tried to put the coffee cup down but missed the railing and the cup disappeared into the snow.
“Stay right there,” I called out. “I’ll be right–,” I looked around for snow boots or galoshes. I hopped around tossing my slippers behind me. I found my snow boots, looked over my shoulder. The White Stag was still there. “I’m just putting on some boots!” I didn’t want it to leave, so I skipped the shirt, launched right into the yard. The first few yards were fine, and then the snow got deeper, and deeper. My steps slowed. It started snowing again. Big flakes. Much deeper now than the boots could handle, and I could feel the snow through my PJ pants. I was stepping over hurdles. Lifting my legs high enough for the next step was so slow. I fell several times. I looked up and they were still there, calm, and now only half the distance away. They came up to my waist. Apparently my plan for taking the most direct route to get to them was through a small valley. How much did it snow??
I fell face first into a drift, and looked up, my body covered in snow, and it was still at least 10 yards away, “Do you have a message for me?” Was she alive? Had she died? Is this the way they tell someone that there was a death? Assholes. The Bigfoots could just come find me themselves. I was frustrated, cold, the snow on my skin pierced through. The stag just looked at me. “Did you need my help?” I called, standing up and trying to leap into the air. “I can help—” and fell deeper into the snowdrift. The snow was up to my chest. “Please,” I begged. “Is she okay? Is there a message for me?” The next leap was shallower, and I realized the deer was on a small hill. I climbed, pushing the snow out of my way, till I could almost touch them. “What do you need?” Their eyes were kind. “Bumble can speak some sign—he’s not here—but I can’t speak Hidden or deer or whatever you speak. I hope you understand me.”
I reached out my hand, asking, “Can I touch you?” They lowered their head. I lurched through the drift now at my knees and my hand connected to their body. Warm. I pushed the last few feet, my other hand touching them. They stood steady. “I’m here. I’m here,” I said, out of breath. “Do you—is there a—do you have a message?” They didn’t speak. Nothing. “But I thought you might have a message for me. Are you here because of my mom? Did they send you? Did she send you?” It closed its eyes and touched my head with its warm head. I cried, “Is there—anything?” I just erupted—like a well full of tears was being pulled out of me. I must have cried heavy for more than a few minutes, and the stag kept their head against mine. Maybe there was no message for me at all. I wondered what I was there for. This was all mystery and no answers. I felt just like I did that day discovering she was gone, with her little jaunty note, “It’s okay. I’ve gone to live with the Bigfoots. Don’t worry about me. This is the best way. Love, Mom.” I had no real answers then; of course I worried. I went off into the forest to find her, to find them, for a week. If this is about her, I can’t have the message in front of me and not be able to hear it. No. No. This is my message. This message is for me. “Why won’t you tell me the message?” I asked. They opened their eyes. I thought they would speak, and they didn’t. This made no sense. How can a Messenger from the Otherworld come to you and not have a message?
I said to myself, “Because they don’t have it yet.”
I asked, “Can you take messages?” They blinked slowly. “To my mom?” They blinked again. I laughed, held my hand over my mouth for a minute, fighting back tears again. “Tell her I love her. Tell her I miss her. Ask her if I get to see her again. Ask her to send me something to tell me she’s okay.” I stopped. “Oh. Wait,” I said, realizing. “That’s you. She sent you to tell me she was okay.” They blinked. I held onto the neck of the stag, buried my face in its fur and cried hot tears. In a few minutes, I lifted my head and laughed. “Twenty-five years to tell me she’s okay.” Then I thought, “Hey, she’s made it twenty-five more years! She’s made it a long time.” I wiped my eyes. “I guess it was the right thing,” I said quietly. “Tell the—tell the Bigfoots,” I looked at the snow coming down. “Tell them thank you for taking care of her.” The snow gathered on the deer’s back. “Maybe they can come see me sometime and we can talk. Yeah, I’d like to see them. And her if it’s possible. Can you say all that? Can you tell them everything?” The snow on their eyelids tumbled as they blinked once for me. “Okay. Take those messages with you, please. Thank you for coming.”
The path back to the house was easier because I had shoved all the snow aside with my falling stumbling body. I’d made my own good path to the house, a path only visible on the way back. But it felt like someplace new, or I was new. I don’t know. That was perhaps the most spiritual thing I’d ever experienced—a complete mystery that I attached some meaning to, hoping I was right, hoping the blinks were yes. All I know is that it gave me relief and some peace. I don’t know if she got the message, but I believe she did. I hear my friends who are spiritual talk in this same way. It’s why I think of this as a spiritual experience–so much balances on mystery and belief.
When Bumble comes back from his trip, I will tell him I’ve heard the World Speaking. Maybe he will sit down on the couch and help me understand what I’ve heard.
“The city rained on itself. The thunder clapped back. Lightning shaded everything it couldn’t reach. Floods of water in the street poured into the sewers. What a night. Then She walked in. She was a dame like no other. ‘Goody’ Goodknife. Seven feet tall, prime beef and pearls, and two sparkly ruby earrings that she guarded with her life. ‘Oh Yukon, these old things? They’re only six or seven thousand years old. I didn’t even know I was wearing ‘em.’ She was lying. She always lied about her treasure. She’d told me, ‘If I ever told you the truth about what I guarded, I’d have to take your life with my goodknife.’ She’d pull it out and we’d both admire its shine in the streetlamps of the City Without a Soul. She cooed, ‘It has a sparkle all its own—like a jewel. It finds me the finest rubies in the hearts of men.’ I had no doubt Goody made fast work of anyone who tried to take her treasure.”
“Guard your hearts, ladies,” Goody told her girls tonight at the Home for Queens. “There be thieves afoot.”
I remembered our “Monster Noir” years together. Only a short time ago, it seemed: my life. Now, here visiting Goody at the Home for Queens, it was hard not seeing her as I did twenty years ago, when we were partners in a short-lived detective agency we dubbed ‘Find the Monster’ Noir. We tried to locate pockets of Hiddens and make sure they had what they needed, that they were well and got treatment for injuries, that they survived. It was a tightrope to walk though, finding them but not revealing them to the public. We had to be hidden ourselves. How DO you hide a Sarangay? “Oh, you don’t hide me,” she’d say, “you accessorize me.” Most people called her a minotaur, but she’d correct them. “Honey,” she’d look at them, eyes half-lidded, “it’s a state of mind. Minotaurs are trapped little men raging in their mazes, confused and lost. Sarangays know exactly where they’re going,” and she’d advance on them, casting a shadow, if she could, across their heads, “I’m a saran-Gay, sweetie,” with a sway, “from the House of Sugar Ridge.” She’d pull out that knife, “My horns are longer, my arms are stronger, and I’m here to conquer.” And they’d run, if they knew what was good for them. She’d softly call out to them, “Get back to your mazes. You’re safe there.” I’d warn her about pulling out a knife. She’d say, “I wasn’t gonna cut myself, sweetie. I promise.” She’d slip it back into its sheath under her arm. “Every good queen knows how to work a knife.”
Tonight we were a little older. Around Goody, a dozen young queens were at their make-up mirrors, shaping their noses, dusting their cheeks, savoring their Midnight Passion lipstick. They were all human, teens and young adults. They had a big performance tonight. “Ladies, you have thirty minutes,” she called out. They’d all say, “Thank you, Goody.” I remember her requiring the same response out of the people she allowed to live after catching them harassing Hiddens. After she was through with them, bruised, some broken–but alive–they all said, “Thank you, Goody.”
She looked at me across the table. “When am I gonna meet your beau? You just can’t help yourself but go for the tall ones,” she looked smug. I turned the conversation back to her, again. She said, “Oh, this is my life now, chaperoning the young ones into the fold,” she reached over and took a silk flower off one of their shoulders. “You’re not a garden party,” she told her. She looked at me, “I miss the days of skulking down alleys with you, drumming up informers, solving riddles—who was that young one?” she thought quickly. “Oh yes, a sphinx. He’s doing quite well now. I’m sure you’ve heard.” Some Hiddens made the transition into the public easily. Others struggled. The ones who did well almost always had a skill. “A trick,” she said. “You have to have a trick—something useful. Something entertaining. It distracts them. It offsets the weirdness of you.”
All the queens came to her for a last spot check. She touched up their hair, their corsets, but finally sighing. “Well, that’s what it is! You don’t sparkle enough,” she told them all. “But I know just the thing.” She opened up a box covered in a collage of suns, moons, stars. Inside, exquisite jewelry—earrings, brooches, necklaces—glimmering with an ancient spark. The girls gasped. “Oh Goody, you have the best booty.” She smiled at me. “I do.”
She helped each of them find the perfect touch of elegance and sent them off into the next room with the small stage and the crowd of elderly queens who lived at the Home for Queens. “They usher each other, you know,” she told me. “I don’t do that much at all. The old teach the young. The young revive the old. I’m just encouragement. I just add a little touch of something divine.” I asked her if those were the same jewels— She winked, “They’re doing nothing sitting in piles in a big cave. Here the jewels get more appreciated, meet the light, sparkle, and make someone happy. They never made anyone happy in a cave.” She looked at me. “Oh I still guard them, but I also guard the jewels who are wearing the jewels too. It’s the divine commission I gave myself, Yukon. To guard all the jewels I could.” The room next door erupted in applause. She said, “Make sure they shine.”
She invited me to watch them perform. The older queens in the audience were dressed as fine as the young queens on the stage. They beamed at every dynamic turn of a heel. I didn’t know how many of these nursing homes for queens existed. Perhaps Goody’s was one of the first. “My old queens will give these ingénues a good critique afterwards. I have to stare down some of these biddies, though, when they start ripping into my girls a little too fiercely. Goody has to use the eyes. You remember the eyes, Yukon.” I almost couldn’t look at her. She could stretch her eyes so wide, the pupil quivering inside the whites, she’d scare anyone. “The Sarangay of Sugar Ridge berserks when she’s protective.”
Later, when the mirror lights were off but one set, and nearly all the dresses were back in their wardrobes, and most of the jewels back in their box, we sat down and shared a glass of wine. She took off her necklace and placed it in a black box. “You wore a purple bowler, Yukon. A deep purple felt bowler. I remember it. Don’t deny it. I always remember–,” she paused, “–interesting fashion choices.” She slipped off her rings. Her hands were thick and massive. She picked off the pink nails carefully, placed the bangles and the bracelets on a metal tree. She rubbed off the lipstick. “We were a good pair of detectives, weren’t we?” she asked. I told her we were. “You don’t see a lot of detectives any more…not like us. It’s all police now.” She removed the silk peony from her side, and effortlessly, for a muscled, massive bovine, slipped her sheer gown over her head without catching it on either horn. “I always felt like we were fighting for the Hiddens we found. We were advocates. I don’t see that as much in the rest of the world. I see,” she folded her gown, “law and order and right and wrong, but I don’t see justice and I don’t see understanding or empathy. And I wonder,” she sat in the chair now next to me, looking at the mirror lights, “I wonder if I’m protecting my jewels from them too.” Her face was now without makeup, her body without a dress, or jewelry. She always said she had the body of a wrestler. She was formidable. “I don’t know if there’s enough sarangays in the world to protect all the jewels. If I could foster them like I do queens, I would do it.” She looked at me, as if to say, I think, that she meant it and that she wanted me to know she meant it. She reached up and touched my hair to push it back like she was fixing a queen for the stage, “You make a pretty good Goodknife yourself.” I thanked her. “Keep finding the jewels, Yukon, and do what you can to protect them.” Her eyes met mine, steady, warm from the last mirror lights. “Guard your heart, sweetie. There be thieves afoot.”