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Sadie Spurs’ Hidey Hole for the Wicked & Weary
Episode One: In Which I Stand By and Do Mostly Nothing
SADIE SPURS’ HIDEY HOLE
FOR THE WICKED & WEARY
Read the hand painted sign that hung above the rundown wood paneled bar that crouched, squalid and lurking, off of 68th and Teller Ave in Cranston, Maine.
The place had had neon back in the early 2000s, when Sadie had tumbled into Cranston in a ‘78 Buick that used to be crimson, hacking up tar and holding half a smoldering Marlboro Red in the hand that wasn’t holding the steering wheel and a small silver flask in the hand that was.
Nobody knew what to make of Sadie at first, so, at first, nobody made much of anything of her at all. In true Mainer fashion, the good folk of Cranston (population 2,158) left Sadie well enough alone as she haggled with Sampson Caine over the price of his crumbling piece of real estate that Sadie wanted to turn into a bar. “For those down and out boys and girls who don’t have much of anywhere else to go,” she had said.
A tiny, beak-nosed man (in spite of his namesake), Sampson cut Sadie what he called a deal, although everyone who talked about it said it was a bigger ripoff than when MaryJo Lee sold Tom Downing her old rotten trampoline after her kids moved up to Bangor so Tom could give it to his brother’s grandkids.
Of course, I didn’t remember that because I was only ten when it happened, and my world was small and concerned mostly with things like racing my best friend Jesse to school every school day morning on my bike to see who was fastest, and teasing the girls in my class.
But I was seventeen when Sadie set up shop on what used to be Sampson’s tiny chunk of scorched earth and put up her bold neon sign that said:
SADIE SPURS’ HIDEY HOLE
FOR THE WICKED & WEARY
In bright, saucily looping neon. The “i” in “hidey” had a star for its dot, and the “i” in “wicked” had a heart. The place had blue wooden boards that soon dampened and cracked in the constant Maine fog that thundered slowly through Cranston on a regular basis, and it was about the size of a diner, with dim lighting on the inside and a worn out old jukebox flecked with rust that was shoved against the South wall, over by the strange pattern of sticks and dried flowers that Sadie had arranged on the wall as some sort of decoration.
The juke bled Classic Rock and Oldies to the rhythm of Sadie clanking about the place cleaning glasses and scrubbing the bar with the same dirty rags, and it was only slightly louder on weekend nights.
Speaking of those, at seventeen I was well past old enough to drink. By Cranston standards, anyway. And certainly by unspoken social bylaws of teenagers all across America. And when you’re young and a something of a loner, and a little hot blooded, you can feel in your stomach which bars will let you in and serve you with no questions asked.
There was Louie’s Bar and Grill over near the edge of town, positioned strategically to nab lost tourists looking for some grub before they found their way to Orono or Bar Harbor, and due to these characteristics Louie’s was well-lit and only somewhat patronized by Cranston’s own blue collar workforce.
Then there was The Grubby Duckling, which was nestled squarely toward the edge of Cranston’s tiny Village Square, a halfhearted affair centered around a ratty little patch of park that housed a Gazebo and a ring of knick knack shops and ice cream parlors that staggered around it, like a dull, ratty patchwork blanket with a gaping green hole in its middle.
The Duckling always seemed worth a shot because I had had friends who had gotten drinks there when they were young as thirteen. But most of them were girls, and the boys who had snuck beers and shots there all played football and wore their varsity jackets everywhere. Not like me, with my limbs skinny and white as Aspens, and my gothy, tangly mess of dyed black hair framing eyes too wide and curious to narrow into that aggressive, animal stare so common to the breeding stock of Cranston, with their broad shoulders and arm-swinging gaits.
So my guts always twisted into a queasy knot when the thought of trying to sneak alcohol at the Duckling raced across my mind.
Then one night, I was on a late night stroll with some of my cronies: a girl, also 17: name of Charlotte. Dressed like me, attitude more laconic and detached. Only Mainer I knew who was paler than me. Played violin. And Jesse, two months behind my age, whose bike racing days of boyish enthusiasm had fled into a dash too much of Mary Jane and – Charlotte and I suspected – occasional (but rising) use of her less likeable relative, Cousin Cola. He had on this dark green hoodie that he wore all the time but kept conspicuously spotless and ironed. And some ratty, slashed up jeans.
We were strolling down this backcountry road that ran West of my and Jesse’s neighborhood. We called it the “Crack Road” because it had this crack in it that ran along its right hand side for what must’ve been a mile and a half, pocked on either side by potholes varying in size from baseballs to bathtubs.
I was bringing up the aforementioned problem.
“Come on, man, don’t be – ”
“Don’t be a what, Jesse?” Charlotte said. “What were you going to say, a pussy? When I told you two weeks ago I didn’t fucking like that word, I meant it. You want to get punched, Jesse? And besides -”
I tried limply to jump to Jesse’s defense, but Charlotte stopped me with a curt, nimble sideways swipe of her left hand a millisecond after I opened my mouth.
“ – Jesse, I haven’t seen you just fucking stroll into the Duckling like you owned the place on a given Saturday night. So what the fuck?”
“I tried to, once,” Jesse grumbled, very quietly.
“Yeah, did you?” Charlotte said sharply. “And then what happened, Jesse? And then what – ”
“Woah, woah, guys, guys, Jeezus tits on a hotdog bun,” I said, cutting off their argument while Jesse mumbled “nothing,” sheepishly.
“Chill out, please. Christ,” I continued as they settled into grudging silence, eyeing each other from either side of me.
“Look, regardless of who’s walked into where with what sort of ownership, we still need booze.”
“It’s true,” said Jesse, perking up for once. “We did agree to get drunk together.”
“Yeah,” said Charlotte, “before we blink and we’re twenty-five and working the night shift behind the counter of the 7-11 in downtown Lewiston because we wanted to leave this small town life for the big city.”
I rolled my eyes to hide my despairing swallow, my Adam’s apple bobbing up in down in a jolt of nerves.
Charlotte made me nervous when she said stuff like that, because it was such a real possibility it was terrifying. And like all things scary that people like me like to tuck inside themselves until they get an ulcer, Charlotte had to drag it out into the air in front of all of us, like it was some monster she was trying to force into the open so she could rip its guts out with me and Jesse as her witnesses.
“Right,” I said. “Refocusing now. So. Liquor stores, anyone?”
Charlotte looked like she had something to contribute, and then didn’t. Jesse opened his mouth and something that sounded like the beginning of a sentence started to come out of it when we saw it.
SADIE SPURS’ HIDEY HOLE
FOR THE WICKED & WEARY
With the star over one I and the heart over the other. It was grungy; it was dingy. And the old Juke shoved against the South wall beside Sadie’s strange decor squeezed out tunes like Crest from a crusty tube left in a dirty bathroom for longer than you’d ever dare to imagine, while dim figures moved around inside the place like scraps of shadows recycled into person-shapes.
My heart throbbed the rhythms of high school dreams made material, and my stomach relaxed so much at once that it gurgled like a contented beast. Charlotte sucked in a deep breath.
“Bingo,” said Jesse.
We walked up to the door, the lazy, hot summer air growing tight and charged around us. The neon blinked above us, and Jesse’s unfinished sentence surged out of him in a rush of excited breath:
“Well,” he said. “This is it.”
“This is it, indeed,” Charlotte said, sounding sarcastic and a little on edge at the same time.
Without further ado, she pushed open the door.
The crowd was quiet, for the most part. There was a low murmur of surprisingly friendly chatter, and a tall, elegant-looking man dressed in what looked like a cross between a leather jacket and an fanciful doublet leaned flippantly against the wall where the bar ended, chatting to Sadie in lisping tones as she scrubbed and served drinks. He turned his pale face toward us smoothly, assessing us with a mixture of calm and muted amusement.
To our right, a low, cracked wooden table played host to a poker game that looked like more of a formality for three friends who had been getting together over cards for uncounted years. One was stubby and stocky, with a limp red mohawk and big shoulders. He wore a dark, nearly-threadbare tank top and cargoes.
Next to him was a woman, almost slender, dressed in leather with a fishnetted top and leather bra underneath. She sported a ‘hawk, too, only hers was tall and shining black, with carefully-trimmed black peach fuzz on either side of it. She grinned a black-lined grin, staring smartly across the table at a hippie-ish dude who looked kind of like the slightly better-groomed version of Jesse in some places, and like the much-worse-off version of Jesse in others.
His hair was matty and full of grease, but his facial hair was immaculate, cut short into an impressive beard. He sported a dark green hoodie, like Jesse, but it was patched – albeit very tastefully – in a couple of places. It was rolled up to his elbows, and his forearms were strangely hairy. He looked up as we walked in and nodded.
The rest of the place was an assortment of characters: from bikers to goth types and many things between, but they all had one thing in common: this down-and-out, wary kind of look. And some sort of tangible camaraderie that was palpable but only a little visible; somewhere between something you could notice in how they looked at each other (even if they weren’t sitting at the same table or hanging with the same clump of people), and a feeling in the air. Their split-second nods across the room and quirked eyebrows; they were all caught somewhere between merriment and commiseration.
And there was this eerie quiet about the place; although friendly, the chatter was uncommonly low, and I got the distinct feeling that it had lowered even further when we walked into the room. My stomach clenched and got icy; this may be a place that wouldn’t ID you if you looked 16 and up, but it was also quite clearly a place where we were outsiders.
Jesse looked at me and Charlotte looked at Jesse, then at me. Jesse made his, ‘are we in trouble?’ face, and Charlotte shrugged and strode toward the bar with a confidence that was made of a lack of fucks left to give, instead of a presence of any kind.
“Bourbon,” she said. “For all of us.”
Sadie nodded, not even looking up, her wrinkled skin shifting quickly behind the bar as she pulled a cigarette from an ashtray beneath it and took a quick drag before putting it back.
Jesse and me followed suit, taking up our perches on barstools on either side of her. Sadie put out three glasses of bourbon and Charlotte slapped a twenty on the bar. “Keep the change,” she said curtly.
Jesse looked at me with jumpy eyebrows. I nodded my shared suspicion. Charlotte was from the other side of the tracks, so to speak. I decided I didn’t want to know – for now – where she had gotten the cash and the balls to do something like this. I wrapped my hands around my glass of bourbon and studied it like I could figure out its exact chemical composition if I scrutinized it hard enough.
“So,” Jesse whispered. “What do we do now?”
“I don’t know, Jesse,” Charlotte snapped. “Sit here and look cool. We’re in High School, right? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?”
I chortled into my glass. Sadie looked up cursorily and took another drag. She paused halfway through a scrub.
“…I ain’t seen y’all around here b’fore, if I recall,” she drawled.
“Nope,” said Charlotte, bluntly. Jesse gulped, pretty audibly.
Sadie shrugged. “Welp, ‘s long as you’re payin’ I don’t mind,” she said. Jesse gulped again, but I chuckled, my fears sliding from my gut and dissipating in the whiffs of cigarette smoke churning out the end of Sadie’s Marlboro Red.
Jesse had taken several swallows from his glass already and was licking his lips when the slender guy with the doublet sauntered over, that same look of sly amusement playing across his eyes. “Looks like we’ve got some newbies,” he said and I noticed two or three small gold earrings hanging delicately from his right ear. His lips were unusually colorless, like he had just walked through freezing weather, or he was lethally flawless with a tube of pearl-colored lipstick.
Charlotte chucked a nod in his direction, then took her second gulp of bourbon. “H-Hi,” Jesse said, caught off guard. The slim guy nodded and smiled with that slick amusement, then extended a pale, skinny-fingered hand in my direction.
“Nickel,” he said. “And you are?”
I screwed up my mouth in a half-confused, half intrigued-type expression and said, “Shake.” It wasn’t my real name. More of a nickname I’d acquired early in high school for my nervous demeanor.
“Charmed,” said Nickel. “First time here?”
Charlotte nodded wordlessly.
“Yeah,” Jesse said, seeming somewhat awestruck. I quirked an eyebrow at Nickel; I mean, he was dressed immaculately, and his poise was like something from a Broadway musical about vampire drag queens, but as far as I knew, nothing about him screamed ‘I’m the kind of guy who can make somebody like Jesse look starstruck.’
People that made Jesse starstruck were either girls he was wildly attracted to, or folk rock stars so unknown you had to rifle through dollar racks of used cassettes at music stores for thirty minutes to find any tracks they had even touched.
“Well,” Nickel drawled flamboyantly. “Everyone here is pretty much a regular. We’re an odd crowd, but you’ll get used to us with time.” He winked at Jesse, who wouldn’t stop staring. I wished Charlotte would elbow him, or something. It was getting excessive.
Charlotte took another swallow from her Bourbon.
“Welp, I guess I’ll sidle on back to my corner and try to talk Sadie into having some fun tonight,” he said suggestively, wiggling his eyebrows at Sadie, who had been listening in. She spluttered laughter. “Damnit, Nickel, ah dropped my cig’rit, now.”
I noted that her accent had grown thicker when she dropped her guard to let loose some laughter. I decided I liked Nickel and his antics. He did indeed sidle back to his corner, and Sadie sidled right along with him, shuffling over to stand across from him while they made small talk in that same eerie quiet that pervaded all the conversation here.
“God, that was fucked up,” Jesse muttered. Charlotte whipped her head around to say something nasty to him, but something about the angle of his eyes made her stop. “I mean, it was cool-fucked up. Weird, cool, fucked up, damn, wow. God.”
“Jesse, what?” I spat in a whisper. “What the fuck are you going on about?”
“I saw, like, horns. Or like, some shit,” he finished.
“What?” Charlotte hissed in the same whisper. “Jesse, are you high? Are you high here, right now?!”
“Hey, woah, I’m serious, you guys!” Jesse whispered back. “I’m not high!! He had, like, these…antlers or something! Like…like a deer!”
“Stags have antlers, you moron,” Charlotte shot back. “You are fucking high, Jesse, admit it! What are you fucking on right now?! If you get us in trouble, I swear to f- ”
Charlotte didn’t finish her sentence, because just then, trouble kicked open the door to make a flashy entrance and a ruckus the size of Jesse’s shock and awe shook down Sadie Spurs’ Hidey Hole for the next thirty minutes straight.
Trouble was wearing a black trenchcoat and big, tall boots with metal heels, and the metal was an oddly dark color and a little rusty. Trouble also had a big-ass black cowboy hat and a belt buckle that said, “FUCKING BOSS,” in a big, thick font. He sported a mustache that would’ve looked cool in a 70s cowboy porno.
Nickel stiffened and his eyes shot left and right in rapid jitters like he was seeing something weird but he didn’t know what. His nostrils puffed rapidly like an animal smelling an alarming scent while his eyebrows narrowed downward.
But I sure as hell knew what I was seeing. I was seeing a big, blaring Red Alert sign that said, “GET THE HELL OUT OF THIS PLACE BEFORE EVERYBODY DIES, LIKE, INCLUDING YOU.”
“Fucking – ” I started to say, when Trouble pulled a crossbow from underneath his trenchcoat. I didn’t know what I was going to finish saying (probably an expression of alarm like, “fucking we’re all going to die! Fuck!!” Or, “Fucking take cover before we all die! Fuck!!”), but instead of saying it I dove into Charlotte, who collided with Jesse, and all three of us slammed into the ground with our barstools skittering across the floor as the first crossbow bolt of the night thwacked into the dark wooden wall behind the bar.
I flicked through my the pages of my mind but couldn’t find an instruction manual for whatever the hell this was. Charlotte had either found hers somewhere in her angry brain, or she didn’t need one. With a yell, she stood up and threw a barstool right at Trouble in an insane burst of speed and fury.
Trouble looked surprised, and then this weird thing happened where he wasn’t there. The barstool clacked against the edge of the door he had just kicked open, and then this other weird thing happened where I looked to my right and there was Trouble, holding Jesse by the neck with his left hand and squeezing the trigger on his crossbow with his right. It was aimed right at Nickel.
I somehow shoved myself off the ground enough to make a half-ass prone dive at the backs of Charlotte’s knees and she toppled again while the crossbow bolt stopped in midair because the third weird thing had happened, which was that the bolt had stopped in midair because Nickel was holding it by the shaft and staring straight into Trouble’s eyes.
And whatever Jesse was on, it must have been some real good shit, and he must have dropped some into our Bourbon, because now Nickel did indeed have antlers. Noble, jutting antlers that sprouted from his temples and forked upward, just like a stag. Not a deer, mind you.
For the record.
Anyway, I lost track of the weird things that happened after that because they haven’t stopped coming, one after another, ever since that night. But we’re getting to that.
Meanwhile, Nickel screamed, “fuck!” and dropped the crossbow bolt, grabbing his right wrist because the hand that had been holding the shaft of the bolt was smoking and I smelled something weird, like ash and dried leaves.
“Fuck!” Nickel screamed again, still holding his wrist, and then Trouble slammed against the bar and dropped both Jesse and crossbow.
I looked across the room, to find that the woman with the leather jacket and the stiff black ‘hawk was standing up and her eyes were glowing bright fucking purple.
She also had elongated ears and bright silver tattoos with lots of curls and spirals cresting her cheekbones and coalescing underneath her lower lip. They were giving off their own weird light. She held out her hand, and my ears stung with an intense pressure. The doors Trouble had kicked in were banging spasmodically in fast, thick bursts of wind that had battered them open.
“Nῒ athan Ya amesh ta’ak amorin,” she said, in a silken voice that somehow cut and stung at the same time. I gasped when I heard it, my lungs and eyes stinging with a sudden cold.
“Get out of here or I’ll fucking kill you,” she said. “Plain English, motherfucker. In case you didn’t catch my drift the first time.”
I looked beside her and the broad shouldered guy was at her right, with short tusks sticking out from behind his lower lip and green veins lacing his skin. He was breathing heavily and making guttural, panting noises. His eyes were black with no pupils.
The guy who looked kind of like Jesse stood to the right of Tusk Guy, and his arms were laced with twisted wood that grew out of his skin. His hair was all wood too, dried branches growing upward out of his head. His eyes were glowing a ghastly shade of green, and his feet were roots that were slowly merging with the wooden floors. He opened his mouth and a sound came out that was the sound of wind shuffling through tree branches on a bleak October night.
“Iron!!” Nickel was shouting. “Those bolts are laced with iron!!” He was still clutching his smoking hand, doubled over in pain.
“Thanks for the warning,” said a dim voice from the back of the bar. A jockish dude with a sports jersey over his bare torso and a backwards cap had stood up and was walking toward slowly toward Trouble, who was scrabbling for his crossbow and holding his side, from which a small but steadily growing damp patch had begun to sprout.
“My fucking ribs,” Trouble wheezed in between tight, pain-filled breaths.
As the jock dude approached Trouble, he flickered. Like he was a blurry hologram that was fading in and out as it struggled to project its intended image. On the third or fourth flicker, he disappeared entirely, leaving a small man in his place, about four-and-a-half feet in height. The man had thick goggles on and sported a beard that tumbled to his knees in a wiry mess of tangled grey. He had a little red cap on that looked like it was made to stand up straight and stiff, but it had clearly seen long years of use and was worn and drooping.
He was also wearing a sports jersey over a bare (and hairy) torso, and his small-sized gym shorts came neatly to his ankles, and he was holding a golden cylinder about the length of a beer glass. It was a little thicker than a piece of bamboo, and on it whirred dozens of impossibly small dials, cogs and switches, which he was fiddling with, with fingers that moved so fast they were almost a blur in spite of their sausage-thickness.
“God, I hate that fucking disguise,” he said in a loud mutter as Trouble’s fingers began to curl around the handle of his crossbow. “This fucking thing still won’t make me look like Beyonce,” he said frustratedly, as Trouble began to raise the crossbow.
The little man absentmindedly aimed the tube at Trouble and it emitted a burst of light so bright that I lost vision entirely for about two seconds. My ears were ringing – screeching, more like – when my sight returned, and I blinked away gobs of bright white to find that Trouble had vanished, leaving a pile of smoking ashes scattered inside of a black trenchcoat, ragged pants, black boots, a cowboy hat, and a fat leather belt with its enormous buckle that read, “FUCKING BOSS,” in bright, thick silver.
The small man was inspected the cylinder with an air of decided frustration. He shook it twice and looked inside it, fiddling with one of its knobs.
And pretty much everybody let out a deep sigh of insane relief.
Everybody except Jesse, who chose that exact moment to shout, “Holy fuck, that was cool! I mean, damn! Like, what the hell was that?!”
“A demon?!” Nickel nearly screeched, shaking out his left hand, whose smoke was slowly dissipating. He blew on it and I caught a glimpse of scorched, black flesh.
The woman with the black ‘hawk looked at Sadie, her eyes dimming back to the shade of obsidian that they had been before she went all Arwen from Lord of the Rings.
“Sadie, how did a demon get in here?” She said. “And, more importantly, why?”
Sadie shook her wrinkly head. “Sugar,” she replied in her thick drawl, “he was just bitter from our last…encounter with one another.”
This got more than a few eyebrow raises from Sadie’s crowd of patrons, who were slowly assembling in a loose kind of circle around the pile of ashes that used to be trouble.
All of them had wild features I hadn’t seen when we walked into the bar: antlers, rams’ or goats’ horns, thin, effervescent wings, arms and legs merged with rocks, or wood, or flame. A guy in the corner dressed country Western style had a set of gills and an oddly wide smile behind which a row of noticeably sharp teeth glinted in the dim glow of the bulbs set into Sadie’s flickering hanging lights.
The small man was still grumbling and adjusting some dials on the cylinder. He kicked disdainfully at Trouble’s silver belt buckle before bending over to put it in the pocket of his gym shorts.
“Sadie, you get into the weirdest shit,” he groused. Sadie arched a painted eyebrow at him and stopped mid-polish (she still had beer glass and a dirty rag in hand).
“Well,” she said, “ah guess ah shouldn’t’ve sealed him off from Hell in the first place. That prob’ly pissed him off a mite.”
This drew a rouse of gasps from the crowd, and a couple snickers from an elegant man in a sleeveless 80s band t-shirt who had what looked like hummingbird wings. They began to whir as he chuckled, then subsided as he grew sober.
“Sadie, what the hell?” said ‘Hawk. “You put us all in danger tonight.”
“Yeah,” said the tusked guy that had stood at her left when the shenanigans started. “You can’t just mess around with stuff like that and expect to not put other people in harm’s way.”
“Oh, honey,” said Sadie. “Ah was young and full of vinegar. And angry, too, ah s’pose. We had us a…thing way back in the day. He pissed me off; cheated on me with some floozie. A nymph, ah think. Ah bound him to this plane, sealin’ him off from his home in hell for eternity. Ah hadn’t a clue what would happen b’cuz of all that. Listen,” she said, addressing the crowd. “Let’s get this mess cleaned up, for now, and we can talk about it later. And we can bury ol’ Silver Buckle here out th’ back, in the thicket near th’ dumpster.”
“And bah th’ way,” she said, as everyone nodded in agreement. “His name was Elphahaz. Ever’body that gets buried should have a name.”
She was suddenly stern. “We’ll put him in the ground as proper as we can. A think ah’ve got a spare crucifix and an extra whaht sheet somewhere so’s he can at least have a chance at windin’ up somewhere decent.”
She paused, putting the beer glass back underneath the bar. She slapped the rag on top of the bar and looked me in the eyes. “Elphahaz, not Trouble, darlin’.”
I blanched. Did she just read my fucking mind?
I looked over at Jesse and Charlotte; Jesse was collecting himself and his wits from the barroom floor. Charlotte was on her feet, staring at this newly-assembled crowd (and particularly, I noted, at Nickel, who was still rubbing his burnt hand and muttering about how long it would take him to heal it).
Elphahaz’s ragtag funeral was an oddly classy affair. Sadie found a clean white sheet, swept El’s ashes into a dustpan, and emptied them into the sheet. She folded the sheet up into a neat square and graced the whole affair with a glitzy yellow ribbon she found somewhere in a dusty closet back of the bar. She tied the ribbon around the sheet in a bow.
Tusk Guy, whose name, as it turned out, was Gerold, got a shovel from the dilapidated shed over by the dumpster out back of the bar, and hucked dirt over his right shoulder with alarming strength for ten minutes, until we had a small hole, big enough to fit most of El’s clothing, plus the white sheet and Sadie’s spare crucifix, which was a smallish, silver affair that you could hang comfortably from a thin necklace chain. It had a little blue stone set in its center.
We gathered around the packed earth after Gerold filled in the hole. Sadie had thrown a handful of dirt into it, but nobody else seemed to want to. She also spit into it with a grin that bordered on sadistic.
“Well, here lies whut’s left of Elphahaz,” said Sadie as we gathered around. “Rude sonofabitch that he was, I don’t expect he’ll get a warm welcome when he returns home to Daddy.”
She snorted and spit over one shoulder. We stood there in the strangest silence I have ever experienced.
“Welp,” said Sadie, after a while. “Let’s all go inside. Drinks on me. Even for the yung ‘uns,” she said, winking at our ragtag trio.
“And ah s’pose we all have a little explaining to do tuh them,” Sadie finished before she turned around and disappeared into the dirty, dark backdoor that lead to behind the bar. We all shuffled around to the front door and went in. Gerold had to turn sideways to fit.
“Sugar, do ah really have to go over this for you again?” Said Sadie, a full hour later.
Jesse nodded sheepishly. Charlotte looked annoyed. I thought I saw her sneak another glance in the direction Nickel had left in (he had done so shortly after Sadie launched her explanation of the night’s events, grumbling about having to spend the next two hours in the woods nearby, finding the right herbs for his hand).
“Changelings, huhney,” said Sadie. “Everyone here, except for you all, comes from a magic place. Real magic,” she said, arching her other painted eyebrow.
Jesse nodded, still stupified. I reviewed important details in my head: “Changelings come from the world of Faerie, sug;” “they used t’ be humans, but then the fae got ahold of ‘em. Took ‘em into captivity, lahk servants.”
“That’s where their magical powers come fruhm,” Sadie had said, staring straight ahead through her Marlboro smoke.
“The fae is what gave ‘em that power, so they c’d entertain them with it. Them what’s made out o’ nature, rocks and trees and all that, they was used as dec’rations, if you can b’lieve that. Walkin’ sculptures, dancin’ topiaries, candle flames what could sing and all.”
“Them that’s got the forms of animals, with wolves’ ears or antlers or rams’ horns, they was used for huntin’. The deer and rams and their like, the fae would hunt ‘em down with arrows; it amused ‘em to have prey that was part person part animal; something you could hunt that could move lahk an animal but think real well, lahk people do.”
“Them that look like predators; they was used as huntin’ dogs and the lahk.” (When Sadie said this I had shivered at the thought of the guy dressed all Country with the shark-like face. Those hunts must have been a spectacle, indeed).
“Them that look like gnomes and dwarves, the fae folk granted ‘em magical powers of craftsmanship and invention. Used ‘em to make stuff for ‘em. For entertainment and,” Sadie had paused as her tone became dramatic, “for when the faerie courts went to war. They can make a magic torpedo out of a couple paper clips and some Magnesium. Hah,” Sadie had said. “Just funnin’. Well, mostly,” she mumbled, when the little man with the cylinder shot her a look.
“Ennyhow, these fahn people you see here are Changelings what escaped. Found some way out uh their captivity and ran clean through the Hedge, the border between Faerie and our world. Usually, they fahnd themselves out in some woods or tall grass near where they was taken.”
“Happens all over the world,” she had said. “Partic’larly here in North America, Canada, and Western and Nahthern Europe.”
“Only thing is, when they get back, things’ve changed,” Sadie had continued, smoking what must’ve been her eighth cigarette since we walked back into the bar. “Sometimes it’s been a year since they were captured. Other times ten years. In some cases – like ol’ Halsey there – ” and here Sadie had paused to indicate a man who looked like a chunkier, more human, middle-aged version of the faun from Pan’s Labyrinth (he grunted his agreement and kept chewing down a plastic Dixie cup with grunting, goatish noises) – “folks come back nigh on a century after they were taken.”
“Sometimes the fae put a facsimile of the person you used to be in your place, to allev’iate suspic’n and what. We call it a Haunt. Not a problem if you come back a hunnert years from when you was captured. Biiiig problem if you come up back, say, two or three. Th’ fae have got an enchantment on yah that makes you – how do ah put it – not invisible, but – well, ah guess, hard to notice by most folks if they used to know who you was b’fore you came back.
They maht look at ya and think, ‘now that looks like my ole cousin MaryAnn.’ But no matter how much you’d scream and holler, ‘it’s me, it’s me!’ They wouldn’t hear much but some faint traffic noises and maybe a person hollerin’ in the distance. And the fae’s enchantments keep normal folks from noticin’ anythin’ unusual,” she had said, gesturing pointedly to the odd features of all those left gathered in the Hole.
“The enchanted thing the fae made, the Haunt – well, b’tween that thing and the fae’s magic still throwin’ everybody off yer trail, it’s hard to enter any kahnda normal lahf agin.”
When I had asked her how Changelings deal with this kind of thing, Sadie’s face grew dark. “Welp, hunny, ah wouldn’t say too much about it lest I get ever’one here all worked up. Haunts are a source of much contention here in the Changeling community. See, thing is, Haunts aren’t living things at all. Like ah said…a facsimile. The fae make a doll person outta straw and wood. Then they enchant it to look and walk and talk like you.”
Her face had gotten darker, grimmer in the spare flickering light of the Hidey Hole. “So some folks simply kill theirs and take their place. Or they pay someone to do it for them. Someone who can stomach the saht of a dead human body turning into a damn scarecrow after it coughs up its last.”
My gut squirmed at this. But Sadie had continued: “other folks, it don’t matter to ‘em. Or it stops matterin’ after a while. What difference do it make if a person’s Haunt lives where they used to live, does what they used to do? Marries their hah school sweetheart and gets their dream job? Nobody won’t pay attention to ‘em anyway ‘cuz no one they used to know knows who the hell they are anymore. The fae’s enchantments will drahv all their loved ones away from ‘em ‘till ev’rythin’ drops away an’ they got nobody left but strangers. Most of us simply move on. Skip town, make new friends – shit, if ya can’t keep the old, it’s th’ next best thing.”
“And most Changelings – ” and here Sadie paused, her brow continuing to darken as cigarette smoke wafted up from between her fingers – “look for uthers who’ve been through the same thing. They fahnd each other, move in together. Try to deal with whut they’ve been through. Some try to go on to live normal lives. Others band together and trah to use their powers for somethin’ good. Others, for somethin’ not-so-good. There are rivalries, fahts, all manner of drama and such. And that’s without all kahnds of other magical beins’ showin’ up and trahyin’ to stake their claim.”
“It’s a strange world Changelings live in, hunny,” Sadie had said, clunking another glass of bourbon down onto the bar in front of me. “And whether you lahk it or not, you’ve just stepped into it.”
“Drink up,” she said, she said with a smile that was somewhere between warm Southern sarcasm and total mirthlessness.