Evergreen
by Angela Boord


 

Nick remembers it this way. 

His truck has broken down somewhere in the Coastals.  The map doesn't really say where he is. Tendrils of moss drip from the branches and trunks of gigantic firs like folds of green silk, and a blanket of fog -- so thick it's more like frozen drizzle -- wraps around them, obscuring their tops. 

On the branch of one of these enormous firs, a woman perches like an owl. 

Branches hide most of her body, playing hide and seek with her skin.  Her skin has an odd silver-greenish cast to it, but maybe that's the fog.  Her hair is the color of the wet needles padding the forest floor, and it forms a brown tangle all around her face.

"Hey!" he calls out, when he can find his voice.  "Can I help you?"

He stumbles forward, wondering exactly how you're supposed to approach a naked girl in the woods.  She just watches him, head cocked, less like an owl than a hawk.  She's up pretty high, but he has no idea how she got there.  No ropes or low branches make it obvious. 

"Do you need help?" he asks again.  She shifts on her branch, and the needles reveal a small, round silver-green breast.  He gawks for a moment -- at seventeen he hasn't seen many breasts -- then blushes and turns his head.  "Clothes, maybe?"  He doesn't see any.  He desperately hopes there are some, and then he desperately hopes there aren't.

She laughs at him.  Her laugh is like those icy drops of water that come off the trees.  She unbends and walks down the branch.  Her bare feet grip the bark like a squirrel's.  Then she jumps.

"Hey!" he says.

She lands in front of him, two-footed, hands on her hips. Her chin juts out a little as she looks at him.  Her breasts are small, round, firm, and completely bare, except for the green swirls that wrap around them, down her stomach, over her flank -- swirls the color of fir trees.  She smells like earth.

"I saw you out there," she says.  Her voice carries a hush to it.  "In that machine."

The truck, he reminds himself, but his thoughts are slow and thick.  He is supposed to be looking for help, a cabin he thought he saw in the woods, some place to call a tow truck.  Shitty pickup made it out here all the way from Chicago, and then broke down only fifty miles away from the Pacific, where he'd been aiming it.  The aftertaste of frustration remains in his mouth, but it's harder and harder to remember.

He clears his throat.  "My truck quit.  I'm lost."

She cocks her head.  "I can see that," she says. 

Then, slowly, she lifts her hand.  She touches his forehead.

A wind sweeps through him.  For a moment, it blows all the fog away and leaves him crystal-clear, bright and dry as a summer day.  For a moment, he feels like one of these big trees, roots stretching for the heart of the earth, crown puncturing the sky, free to grow as he pleases, no matter how high or deep.

But the feeling recedes as fast as it comes, in a sucking rush like a retreating tide.  The more he chases it, the faster it flees until finally it's gone and he's back in the real world, on his knees in the dirt, with the water from a season of rain and snow seeping through his jeans. 

Lost. 

Cold.

Alone.

After a long time he pushes himself up.  "She didn't even tell me her name," he mumbles.  But even as he says it, he finds that he knows.  Her name is in him somehow, like a seed splitting, growing.

Her name is Evergreen

He holds onto the word like a gemstone he's found buried in the ground.  He digs it out every night and hangs onto it in his sleep.

Evergreen.

 

*     *     *     *

 

The city where Nick grew up was not evergreen.  It was mostly gray, but not like rocks and branches -- gray like concrete, like the sludgy snow that lined the roadways in the winter.  There were other colors, of course -- billboards and murals painted on stained building walls, dented soda cans, the dirty whites of shredded Styrofoam cups, black asphalt, florescent construction crews.  But mostly Nick remembers all the other colors, the other happenings -- school, home, trips to the Lincoln Park Zoo and the lakeshore -- as just a blur in the grayness. 

Before the grayness, there was a vague green time.  He remembers his parents -- both of them -- taking him down to the ocean, fifty miles from where the truck broke down.  Not that there's anything waiting for him there now except a memory of a time when all the people seemed huge and the rocks in the water were bigger than God -- a memory of grass, a small yard not far from the sea, with parents who weren't divorced . . . before he and his mother moved to Chicago to live with his Aunt Geri in her apartment full of ceramic birds and dingy blue carpet. 

It seemed important, at one time, to find that yard.  Before the memory disappeared altogether. 

But now there's Evergreen.  Now he's in her forest, chopping wood.

He swings his axe into a fat cedar log, and it splits down the middle, pink and brown, filling the damp air with its scent.  He wiggles the axe head, and the log splits into two halves on the chopping block. 

"Getting a lot better at that," a woman says behind him.  She is wearing a mossy green cotton dress and black Wellingtons spattered with mud. Her salty-brown hair coils in a labyrinth at the nape of her neck.  Wrinkles track the corners of her eyes and mouth, but they're kind wrinkles, the sort brought on by smiling. 

Her name is DeAnn.  Her son found him after Evergreen left.

"You work me hard enough," he says over his shoulder.

She laughs.  "You're a growing boy.  The work is good for you."

Nick grunts, but he knows it's true.  She knows he knows it.  It's been a month since Wolf led him back to their homestead, and he's spent it watching for glimpses of a girl in the woods and working that Chicago dream out of his system.

He shivers and it's not because of the rain.  DeAnn's eyes narrow and he knows she knows it's not because of the rain either.  But she never asks what's going on in his head.  She keeps her mouth shut and doesn't try to act like his mother, and that's what he likes about her.  He works for his room and board, and he likes that about her too.

She can watch a person, though, and let him know there are questions he ought to answer.

"No," he says.  "I haven't called my mother yet."

"She's probably worried about you, honey."

Frantic is more like it.  He'd left her a note explaining why and how he was leaving, but not where he was going.  If he'd told her, Geri would have had them on the next plane to meet him.  His mom got frantic about a lot of things.  She always calmed down eventually.

"Nick.  You can let her know you're okay without giving away where you are.  Very few people know we're here anyway."

His shoulders slump.  "I know.  But Geri-"

"No."  DeAnn shakes her head.  "Not Geri.  Your mother."

Nick sets up another log on the stump.  It's a big stump, whorled with year rings so tight he can't begin to count them.  He wonders who cut this fir and why, how big it might have gotten if left to grow.  He centers the log, and then hefts his axe, marking the place he'll strike with the wet steel head.

"Geri, my mother," he says.  "They're one and the same.  I'm staying here for a little while longer."

DeAnn's green eyes -- the same color as the mist-strewn trees -- grow troubled.  "How long?" she asks.  "One day you're going to have to face the world outside, Nick.  Just because you ignore it doesn't mean it will go away."

"So far ignoring it's working just fine."  He checks to make sure she's clear of the axe, then swings it up over his shoulder, down, smack, into the piece of wood.

He's only been here a month, but he's getting pretty good at this.  If you get a rhythm going, you don't have to think of anything at all.  Your head is full of smack and thunk, your muscles burn, you start to sweat, you take off your coat and split wood in your flannel shirt in the rain.  Water steams off your skin, and you don't notice it when DeAnn walks up the path toward the house and leaves you alone, not until you see a head, a back, leaving you.

And then you turn toward the woods and search the mist for a silver-skinned girl with green-brown eyes.  No one sees you do it, so it's okay.  Maybe you think of your mother sometimes, but why should you step back into her nightmare?

You turn back to splitting wood.  As long as you work, you're all right.  As long as you can be close to the trees, searching for Evergreen.

 

*     *     *     *

 

Nights after dinner Wolf lights a couple of kerosene lamps, and they spend some time reading or working by lamplight.

The lamps smoke occasionally, and their pink glow wavers, refracted by the thick glass.  The night Wolf found him, they walked into the house's small kitchen and Wolf clicked off his flashlight, and then there was only the light and smell of kerosene, the red crackle of the fire in the big stone hearth, and Nick was convinced that he had stepped into a faerie netherworld.

He's still not sure he hasn't, but the gas-powered tiller sitting by the barn seems to decide the issue in favor of the real world.  But, still, the small stacked stone and log house with DeAnn's store of dried herbs hanging from the beams, its rock hearth and the big iron kettle that hangs over it, makes him wonder sometimes.

"Why do you live like this?" he asked, the second or third day after Wolf found him.  "Don't you miss TV or electricity or hot showers?"

DeAnn had shrugged.  "Hot showers, maybe.  But do you miss TV?"

He hadn't, after a while.  There was too much work to do.  Too many books to leaf through, crammed on the shelves that lined every available inch of wall space.  If the walls and shelves both hadn't been built of big Douglas fir timbers, they probably would have collapsed long ago.  DeAnn's books didn't look like other people's books, though.  Most of them were old and bound in cracked leather, not cloth. 

DeAnn laughed when he mentioned it to her.  "I'm allowed my eccentricities," she said.

"Why?  Because you're old?"

She'd given him a sour glance, then moved off distractedly toward a shelf on the west wall of the hearth room, where she trailed a finger down a line of books bound in deep forest green.  "Well, witches are, aren't they?"

"Witches?  Like -- you're a pagan?"  He'd known a few pagans in high school.  Mostly they were girls who dyed their hair black and wore T-shirts with pentagrams on them.

DeAnn pulled a book off the shelf and gave him a bemused smile as she opened it.  "Call it what you want," she said, turning back to the book.  She sat down in a rocking chair near the fire, picked up her cup of tea, and didn't speak again all evening.

Faerie is where he feels he's landed, some other world revolving on its own plane far away from the noise and grinding metal of the city, and that is fine with him.  Every time he runs into a machine on the farm it jars him, as if by its very existence it has thrown the whole orbit of this small world out of its regular ellipse.  DeAnn and Wolf don't seem to mind using machinery, but they look out of place doing it.  Especially Wolf.  There's no real reason why he ought to; it's just something about Wolf.  His name, for instance.  Or the way he sits so still sometimes, watching the woods.

"You look like you're waiting for a chance to escape," Nick said once.  Joking.  Sort of.  He'd walked up behind Wolf, but Wolf didn't even flinch.

"Does it look that way?" Wolf said.

Nick cocked his head.  "Sometimes."

Wolf was sitting on a low, flat rock, legs crossed.  He unfolded himself and stood up.  He was tall, taller than Nick, with a long, leggy height and faraway green eyes that girls probably liked.  He dusted off his jeans and looked over at Nick, and Nick suddenly felt awkward -- him with his white-blond spikes and washed-out blue eyes and pale city skin.  He shoved his hands in his pockets, feeling like a kid even though nothing had been said.

Wolf turned back to the woods.  "Sometimes I wonder what's out there," he said.  "In your world."

Nick frowned.  "You must have been off this mountain some time."

"Oh, sure.  I've been to Portland, and we have to go to Tillamook for supplies.  But I don't really know where you come from.  Not anymore."

Was that hostility?  Nick searched Wolf's features for some indication of a fight but saw only curiosity.  "You don't want me here?"

Wolf shook his head.  "DeAnn says you can stay as long as you want.  You know that."

"But you.  You think I ought to leave?"

"I think you ought to do what you think you ought to do.  That's what I mean about your world.  Sometimes I wonder how people live there.  Where you're always wondering what you ought to be doing instead of just doing what you know you need to."  He stepped off the rock and toward the house, put his hands in his pockets.  "You're not the first person from out there who's come this way."

Nick jumped down off the rock.  "Was there a girl --"

Wolf stopped and turned around.  "There's always a girl.  You should stay away from her."

"So it's only okay to do what I think I ought to do when you think I ought to be doing it too?"

He knew his face was flushed.  It always did when he got angry.  Wolf just watched him, which made Nick flush all the more. 

"You think you're so superior, don't you, up here on your ridge without anybody telling you what to do or where to go or how to do it?  You think people have forgotten about you and are always going to leave you alone?  What about the logging companies?  And school?  Why the hell aren't you in school?  You can't tell me your mom homeschools you -- I've never seen you crack a book."

"I read every night," Wolf said.  He looked surprised, like why-are-you-so-stupid.

Nick leaned forward.  "That's not the same!" he yelled.  "It's NOT THE SAME!"

He was breathing hard.  His hands were clenched in fists.  His heart thudded -- hard -- against his ribcage in that weird ka-thunk-thunk-ka-thunk-ka-thunk rhythm he'd developed as a teenager.  Do you think it's the drugs affecting his heart? his mom had asked Geri once.  No, Geri said, that stuff's perfectly safe.  Just think how he'd do in school without it?

Wolf arched an eyebrow.  "Who's trying to forget the world?"

"You can't have it one way and not the other!"

"If somebody warned you to stay away from a poisonous snake, would you yell at him for it?"

OhHe just wants her for himself.

Why else would Wolf be so cagey with him?  Why else would Wolf watch him like a dog watching another dog prowl the boundaries of his territory?

"She's mine," Nick said -- quicker than he meant to.  "She talked to me.  She touched me."

He didn't know why he said it, and once the words were out of his mouth he wished he'd shredded them with his teeth. 

Wolf's eyebrows flew upward.  "She touched you?"

He couldn't unsay the words.  He stuck his hands deeper in his pockets and turned his head.

"And that's why you're staying here," Wolf said slowly, as if everything had suddenly become clear to him too, except that he and Nick were looking at the same thing through different lenses.  "You're not ever going to call your mother, are you?"

"Why should I," he said, and even to his ears he sounded like a jerk.  He tried to soften his next words -- for his mother's sake, not for Wolf's.  "What I told your mom is true.  My Aunt Geri would find me.  And she doesn't belong here.  Not in these woods."

He looked around at the thick trunks of the firs -- old growth and huge -- and waited for Wolf to say something else, to rekindle his anger, but all he could think of was his mother and those damn ceramic cardinals gathering dust in Geri's apartment.  The same way his mom did.     

"My mom's lost" he said.

"There's more than one way to lose yourself," Wolf said.

Nick gritted his teeth.  "Evergreen again."

Wolf shrugged.  "DeAnn would say we all have to find our own paths through the woods.  But you're headed toward a cliff."

"Can't you just say what you mean?"

"Evergreen's world passed by a long time ago.  She's as mad about that as you are about your city.  You think Evergreen's adopting you, but really all she wants is to make you over the same as all those other people you're so angry at.  Unless that's what you want."

"You're just jealous."

"Of who?  You?  Evergreen?"

Nick stood there, mouth clamped shut.  Wolf stared at him a while, then shook his head. 

"DeAnn says you'll sort yourself out.  I guess you just want someone to do it for you."

"Wouldn't it be easier that way?"  It was a joke.  But Wolf took it seriously.

"Yeah," he said as he turned and started walking back to the house.  "But nobody else knows where you buried all your junk."

 

*     *     *     *

 

All that bullshit about witches and books and worlds gone by.  What did either of them know, lost out here in the woods and the mist?  DeAnn had taken herself and her boy out of the world as surely as he'd stumbled out of it when his truck died.

Hypocrites.

He thought about leaving.  Maybe he'd just start walking; he knew the general direction in which he'd left his truck now -- at least he thought he did.  But that would mean leaving Evergreen.  That would mean not finding out who, or what, she was, or why she was here, or why she'd talked to him.  Or if any of that magic shit was true.

Probably it wasn't.  Probably Evergreen was just some weird pagan chick and Wolf and DeAnn were wish-we-were-hippies who bought into all that New Age crap his aunt Geri despised -- crystals and herbs and flute songs.  Probably he should just get out of here before he got in serious trouble or before Geri tracked him down.

But there had been that touch, and the gauzy clear-headedness that followed, and anyway, weren't people always saying he was so impulsive and never followed through on anything, and spent all his time day-dreaming, head in the clouds?

"Dammit, I am not daydreaming!" he said out loud, to nobody but the squirrels and the trees.  And maybe Evergreen, if she could hear him.

I'll find out what's going on, he told himself.  And I won't need any drugs to do it.

 

*     *     *     *

 

At first he felt like he needed the drugs.  He got all jumped up, or he felt like sleeping, or both at the same time, which made no sense.  He stayed up late at night and worried about whether DeAnn would find out he should be taking them, or that, if he somehow managed to find his bottle of pills, that she wouldn't let him take them, and then he wouldn't be able to concentrate, to do anything that needed doing.  Worrying kept him up at night even after he'd stopped hoping that Evergreen would come.

And that would be when he'd see her, a brief glance out the window.  She'd press her face to the glass and wrinkle her nose like a kid.   He slept in Wolf's room, so he had to get up quietly for fear of waking the other boy, and by the time he made it to the window, Evergreen had already laughed and tripped away, into the darkness.  In the morning it always seemed like he'd dreamed her, a female Peter Pan.  But every night it happened, again and again, and Wolf snored on his bunk, and DeAnn slept in the other room.

He started to think of himself as her Lost Boy, and maybe that was why she laughed at him, because it was so corny. 

He became increasingly sure that Evergreen was faery.  The old-fashioned English spelling of the word seemed like the only one to do her justice.  He scoured DeAnn's books, and DeAnn watched him over the top of her half-moon spectacles.  "Found a subject of interest?" she'd say.

"Mmmm."  Anything to put her off.  Wolf watched him like he knew what he was doing, but he never said anything.  So Wolf was that much like any other kid.  Or maybe Wolf just wanted to see him sink himself.  DeAnn's books on the subject -- and she had a lot of books on the subject -- were not flattering, so it was no wonder that Wolf was convinced Evergreen was as dangerous as a snake.  Nick had grown up thinking of fairies in terms of those cutesy butterfly costumes five year old girls wore for Halloween.  But DeAnn's books had chapter titles like:  FAERIES -- To capture them;  FAERIES -- To avoid capture;  How to escape the Otherworld;  Making it Back;  Tricking a Faery Out of Its Gold;  and SPRITES, PIXIES, AND BROWNIES -- Treating Bites, How To.

"So much for fairy tales," he mumbled one night, shutting the book he'd shoved close to the kerosene lamp in order to make out the old-fashioned typeface.  The leather binding creaked, and he tucked a few thin, tattered flakes of page back in under it.  He leaned backward in his chair to find DeAnn standing behind him.

"Taken an interest in folklore, have you?" she said.  She didn't sound impressed.

"It's a wonder these books haven't all disintegrated," he said. 

"Looking for something in particular?  Or has your fire just been ignited?"  Her voice grew a little milder.  She sat down beside him.  Across the room, Wolf sat by the fire, whittling.  Long strips of bark and wood curled to the floor at his feet.  He didn't raise his head, but he glanced at Nick out the corner of his eye.  He looked a little ridiculous sitting in the straight cane-backed chair -- too tall for it, too tall for the house.  Out of place inside, where he wasn't dwarfed by the trees.

"You just assume I don't like to read?"

She shrugged.  "You didn't seem to have any inclination to until now.  I've seen it happen, of course, but your choices . . ."  She flipped open the cover of one of the books he'd been looking at.  "Faeries and Their Kin."  She wrinkled her nose as she leafed through the pages.  "Never cared for this one myself."

"Why not?"

She shut the book.  "For one thing, he's so damned academic about it.  'The Faery and his Habitat.'  Might as well be observing a salamander."

"So you think they're real."

DeAnn took off her glasses.  "Oh, I know they're real."  She looked at him with those hard/soft eyes.  "And so do you."

He flushed and looked away, only to find himself staring at Wolf, who was looking at him now.  Nick turned toward DeAnn again.

"I've heard some stories," he mumbled.

"No," she said.  "You've seen Evergreen."

He stood up, casting a daggered glance at Wolf.  "Wolf told you," he said.  "Wolf wants to keep me away from her, and so do you."

"No.  Wolf never told me.  But the only people who ever find us are always looking for her."  She sighed and stretched out her legs.  "I didn't figure you'd be any different."

Nick crossed his arms over his chest.  "And did you give them the run-around, too?  Let them believe you're letting them stay when really you've got them shut up in a prison?"

He glared at DeAnn.  DeAnn's mouth twitched as if she might smile, but then her expression settled back into careful neutrality.  Another woman -- his Aunt Geri, for instance -- might have laughed.  His mother would have started screaming back at him, or worse, crying.

"No," DeAnn said.  "And I'll give you the choice to leave, too.  You've always had the choice.  You're just not used to thinking in those terms."

"Like I'm supposed to believe you or anybody cares?  I'm seventeen.  I'm still a kid."

DeAnn stood up.  "Sweetie, I'll tell you a secret.  Nobody has to give you your freedom.  It's not a thing to be taken.  It's just something you have."

"When I'm twenty-one."

"You drove your truck all the way here from Chicago and you still believe that?  How did it feel to get behind the wheel that first day?"

Scary as hell.  He'd walked out of school, shaking with the determination to do something, anything, to get himself out of an intolerable situation.  Geri was sitting on him every night, did you do your homework, look at what your grades are doing to your mother, are you in trouble again, it's your father in you, I know it.  He was grounded from going out with his friends -- the few that he had -- and all he did was school and work.  To make up for that old truck he bought with no one's permission, even though it was his own money.  To make up for the pills Geri had found in his dresser drawer.  Not the Ritalin, though he popped that like anything -- lots of kids did, it was like speed when you did enough of it. 

He'd walked out of school and jumped on the El.  Ridden it to a suburban parking lot where his truck was waiting on him.  But once he'd cleared Chicago and made it out onto that straight, flat stretch of interstate that led through all the old cornfields he had never seen, the shaky, scared feeling turned into whoops of joy.

DeAnn's face softened.  "I thought so," she said.  She touched his cheek.

The touch snapped him back to the moment.  He recoiled from her fingers, stepping away.

"So you'll leave the door unlocked tonight?"

DeAnn looked stricken.  "Oh, honey.  That door's never been locked in the first place."

 

*     *     *     *

 

So now he's watching the window, waiting for Evergreen to press her face against it and stick out her tongue like a five year-old.  He's lying on the cot on the floor, fidgeting his fingers the way he used to do in school.  Thumbs rolling over each other, dreaming cat's cradles.             

On the other side of the room, Wolf says, "So you're going tonight."  He sounds dull.  Resigned.

"Your mom said I could leave whenever I wanted."

"You keep calling her that.  But she isn't."

Nick stops his fingers.  "What?"

"She's not my mom.  She's just DeAnn.  I wandered up through the woods the same as you.  Except a long, long time ago."

Everybody who comes here comes looking for Evergreen.  That's what DeAnn said.  Nick rolls over on his side to look at Wolf, but the room is too dark to see.

"It's not worth it, going to find her," Wolf says.

Nick is quiet for a moment more.  "You'd like to have her, wouldn't you."

"No one has Evergreen," Wolf says, disgusted.  "I hope you do find her, just so you'll learn."

Nick rolls on his back again, fidgets his fingers.  "She's probably just some girl."

Wolf snorts.  "You're a moron, Nick.  Go to sleep."

"There can't be any such thing as faeries.  That's just -- head in the clouds stuff."

"Is that what they told you?"  Wolf's bed creaks.  He must have rolled over.

"It's true, isn't it?  I mean, real life true?  There are no faeries in the real world."

Wolf sighs.  "You said something about it when you were a kid, didn't you.  And somebody told you it wasn't true.  Like they said the bogeyman wasn't true, or the monsters under the bed.  So when you told them about the faeries, they said that's not true, and when you kept saying it, they got scared and said why don't we take you to a psychiatrist.  Didn't they."

Nick lies silent for a moment, staring at the ceiling but with an eye to the window, which is still just as full of black as the room.  "Is that what happened to you?"

"They try to convince you that you don't know your own truth.  When they can't convince you, they've got drugs to do it for them."

That-boy's-head-is-always-in-the-clouds.  Had he ever mentioned faeries to Aunt Geri?  He thinks hard for a moment.  But it's been so long, and the drugs and the not-caring, the not-caring as a form of self-defense, have made all those long years into a blur.  Still, there's something inside tugging at him down deep, like a little kid pulling on a grown-up's sleeve.  But he can't identify it in the dark, so he pushes it away.

"I want to see Evergreen," he says.

Wolf sighs.  "Maybe DeAnn is wrong then.  Maybe you've just got to see it to cut through all that junk in your head."

He sounds as if he's talking to himself.  Nick fidgets, checks the window, says, "So she's really a faery?"

"No," Wolf says.  "She's been here too long."

"What is she then?"

"I don't know.  Nobody does."

"She's just Evergreen."

"Yeah."  A pause.  "Evergreen."

Does he sound jealous?  Does he remember her touch on his forehead, or see her face at the window at night?  How old was he when he wandered through the woods to end up at DeAnn's door?

"I'm going tonight," Nick says.  "Nobody's going to stop me."

"Nobody's going to try," Wolf replies.  "Be nice to have my room back."

He rolls over in a rustle and creak of bedding and mattress springs.  Nick stares in his direction, stung a little.

But then there's a tap-tap-tapping at the windowpane.

It's Evergreen, sticking out her tongue at him.

Nick throws off his covers and stumbles out of the room -- moving too fast to accommodate the dark.  Wolf sounds like he might be sitting up, but he doesn't follow him.

The door is unlocked, just like DeAnn said.  Nick glances toward her room, then takes a deep breath and opens the door.

And now he's alone and free in the darkness.  "Evergreen," he whispers.  "Evergreen!"

She appears like a sudden beam of light -- silent and luminous, the same color as moon on fir trees.  "Shh," she giggles, putting a finger on his lips.  "You'll wake the house.  And then that DeAnn will come out, and you'll have to go back."

She doesn't act like anyone who's been here longer than the Indians.  She acts and looks like a sixteen year old.  He wants to bend down and kiss her, but she skips away from him.

"Come on," she says.  "I want to show you something." 

She turns around and all he can focus on are the round curves of her butt.  Then she disappears into the mist.  So he follows her.  He follows her through wet brush, beneath enormous fir boughs laden with sleety pendants of ice, past the woodpile and the tilled-up muck of the garden, out into the woods.  He follows her down skinny hill paths that dip and climb, where she vanishes and reappears like the freezing drizzle that quickly paints its rime on his eyelashes, his eyebrows, the tips of his hair.

"Where are we going?" he calls, shivering in his denim jacket.

"You'll see," she says, but they keep going and he doesn't.

"Evergreen," he says, but she doesn't answer.

He's lost.  "Evergreen!"

Instantly she's beside him.  "Why are you so scared?  It's only the forest.  Look."

She puts her hand on his arm.  Her touch raises goose bumps.

The moon is shining the way it's never done since he's been in Oregon.  Illuminated in its glow is the trunk of the biggest tree he's ever seen.  How many people would have to join hands to circle it? He feels like an ant in front of it.  A termite.  He looks up into its boughs but sees only needles and darkness. 

"They call this a Sitka spruce," she says, trailing her finger down a ridge of its bark the way a human girl might trail her finger across a boy's arm.  "They can't hear what it names itself, and they think they know everything.  People."

He tries to ignore the venom in her voice.  "How long has it been here?"

Evergreen shrugs.  "Longer than you.  Not as long as me.  I remember when it was a sapling."  She gives the trunk a pat and flashes him a grin that fades as she turns back to the tree.  "There aren't so many of them now to keep me company."

"So," he says, trying not to get shaky, "so, it's true?  What Wolf and DeAnn say about you?"

She wrinkles her nose.  "Oh, probably not.  They're not very friendly.  People, through and through.  Even that changeling boy."

"Wolf?"

She cocks her head.  "Does it surprise you?  Do you know anything about us, or are you people, too?"

"I don't know what you mean."

"They tried to pluck your faery eyes out, I know that.  But are your eyes still there, Nick?  Did you hide them for me?"

"I don't know what you mean.  I don't know who they are.  All I have are the eyes I was born with,  Evergreen."

Saying her name is like grabbing onto a rope.  He hopes it can pull him out of this place of not understanding anything, and being cold and a little scared.

No, he isn't scared. This is the girl who touched meThis is that same girl.

She watches him with her head cocked.  Finally, she sighs.  "Silly little one.  I'm not talking about those eyes.  I'm talking about the eyes behind your eyes.  The eyes that led you here."

"I want to ask you so many questions," he says, taking a step toward her, his hands out.  "Like why you called me off that road.  And what happened when you touched me.  And --"

She giggles and puts her hand on his mouth.  "You talk too much."

His face falls.  She takes her hand away, then turns around.  "Come," she says.  "Let me show you the world you've stumbled into.  But if you try to see it with the eyes they made you see with, you won't see anything at all.  Understand?"

He doesn't, but she's already walking, so he hurries after her.  The Sitka spruce towers over them as if watching them go, and Nick can't resist craning his neck back to look up into its darkness.

"You're still not seeing," she says over her shoulder.

"What am I looking for?"

"You're looking for your dreams."

 

*     *     *     *

 

It's been so long he can't remember them, the dreams he used to dream when he stared out the window, after his mother and father had split up and they'd all moved away from Oregon.  And as for that time before, that Oregon-time, he barely has any memory of it at all, aside from the hazy recollection of ocean, rock and wind, and holding the hands of a woman and a man so much bigger than he was.

What he sees when he follows Evergreen into the forest is birds.  Not fragile, fake, ceramic.  No chipped cardinals, no tawdry blue jays stamped Made in China.  No, these birds are real.  They swoop through the dark forest, chittering and calling, a feathered abundance.

And yet . . . .

They're not birds at all.

"Faeries," he breathes.  He stops walking to stare.  "That's what they are -- they're faeries."

Evergreen is suddenly at his shoulder.  Her breath on his neck feels like the damp touch of mist.  "Not faeries, Nick.  Dreams."

One buzzes by his face, like a huge dragonfly with ruby wings.  As it flits in and out of Evergreen's glow, he can see that it has the body of a woman. Its crimson hair streams over golden skin.  It loops up into the trees in a long, lazy spiral, until the night swallows it.

"You could stay here with them," Evergreen says. She holds out her hand for a little emerald boy-fly, and he perches on her open palm and stares at him with yellow eyes.  "Imagine, you could be a dream, too."

He frowns.  "But I want to be with you."

She laughs, and the little green dream leaps from her palm.

But not quick enough.  She catches him by his wings.  Dangles him above the ground. 

"Do you really?" she says.

The way she holds the boy-fly makes him squirm.  But he remembers the way he felt when she touched him.  "There's nothing for me out there," he says.

"This isn't a decision to make lightly, dear Nick."  The dream-fly twists its head to look up at her, pleading.  Something twists inside Nick, too, and he bends closer, pulse quickening, to see the dream-fly's face. 

It's a boy's face.  A boy no older than five or six, frantically trying to pump wings that Evergreen is pinching.  His chest moves in and out with every frightened breath.  He stares up at Nick with those deep amber eyes, black pupils like flies trapped inside them. 

"What are you doing?" he asks Evergreen.

"I'm showing you this dream, Nick."

"But --"

"If you don't trap a dream, you'll never see it.  It will fly away and lose itself in the trees.  Now look, look, at this one."

He hesitates, frowning at the dream that dangles, angry, from Evergreen's thin fingers.  Then he bends down until his face is so close to the little dream that his breath makes its wings shiver.  And in its eyes, a scene begins to take shape.  A long, black street, walled in by buildings that frown down at him like stern and unhappy parents, blocking out all but a sliver of blue sky.  The sidewalks are alive with activity, though -- construction workers popping out of an uncovered manhole; mothers pushing babies in strollers; old men and their wives out for a walk.

Inside one of the buildings, a boy -- blond, spiky-haired -- stares out a filmy window.  Nick remembers staring out the window, too, and then his teacher would call him, and he'd jerk back to the moment without knowing anything that she wanted to know, or remembering what he was looking at.  He remembers only that he was someplace . . . else.

But in the dream's eyes, he can see what the boy is watching.  He's watching a neighborhood full of faeries. 

The faeries skitter and whirl, dodging the big wheels of cars.  They hide in window casements and lounge on the eaves of roofs.  They scurry up and down the rungs of the ladder inside the manhole, sticking out their tongues and making funny faces at the construction workers, who don't notice them at all.  The boy watching them from the window smiles.  The faeries -- some of them winged and some not, a few with tiny horns sprouting out of their foreheads or hooves for feet, and all of them dressed so individually as to defy describing their dress as a group -- these faeries begin to notice him when he smiles.  They drift together and congregate in groups, staring up at the window and pointing at him.  Then they begin to beckon to him, Come out, come out and play with us!

The boy in the classroom doesn't look frightened at all. At the window, his face disappears.  He must be walking through the classroom.  Nick's heart pumps harder.  What is he doing?  Doesn't he know what the teacher will do to him if he gets up and walks around in class?  Doesn't he know that's just one step closer to a trip to the psychiatrist and a pharmacy scrip?

The image shifts, and his stomach lurches.  He blinks, and now he has a more distant perspective.  He can see the front door to the school.  It edges open a little and then a little more, until finally the spiky-haired boy slips out the gap and walks down the steps.  He's a little thin thing, wispy as a sprite himself and with the same glint in his deep blue eyes.  His eyes aren't the color of faded denim.  They're saturated with blueness, like two patches of silk.  He smiles when he sees the little people, and they smile at him. 

Then he joins them in their dance in front of the school window, sticking out his tongue and wiggling his butt at the teacher, and the principal, and all the kids still stuck inside.  They dance around the sidewalk, making farting sounds with their armpits.

The dream winks out.  Nick is left staring at Evergreen, who tosses the dream up into the dark sky like an afterthought.  It looks back over its shoulder and sticks out its tongue at her as it spirals upward, coating them both with a fall of sparkling pixie dust.

Nick wipes the dust from his face, rolling the golden grit between his fingertips.  It looks like quartz sand.  "I never left the school and danced with the faeries.  Was that supposed to be me?"

"Of course it was you," she says.  "Here's another."

Her hand shoots out to grab a different dream.  He barely gets a glimpse of it before Evergreen has it in her fist, but then she opens her hand, and a tiny boy dream hunches inside, hair the color of ripe wheat, wings flickering sapphire against the pale silver-green of Evergreen's skin.  Slowly Evergreen uncurls her fingers, but the dream makes no attempt to escape.

"See this one," she breathes.

A little boy, holding his mother's hand.  A father, licking an ice cream cone, laughing.  The wind tosses the man's golden hair, and the woman's dark curls dance around her face as she smiles.  Waves crash onto the sand, spraying their legs with plumes of white.  The little boy laughs, kicks the foam across the beach, digs his chubby little fingers into the damp sand, spreads it over his legs, his arms, until he is covered in a golden blond the sea laps up, sweeping him clean. 

There are the big rocks, clear and real instead of fuzzy and half-dreamt.  There is the ice cream, cold and sweet and strawberry in his mouth.  There is the touch of a mother and a father who care, and the clear eyes of a boy who is free to run around like crazy, chasing the waves, falling on his back, getting up again to spend a long time looking out over the sea, bucket and shovel forgotten.

What do kids that little think about? 

But it's more than years that separate him from the four year old on the beach.  He swipes the mist from his face only to find that it tastes like salt.

"Why are you showing me this?" he says to Evergreen.  "It's just shit, it's all it is.  Shit."

He turns to stomp away, but there's nowhere to go.  A dream buzzes past his face, and he swats at it with his hand.

"You're just a sapling swaying in the wind, Nick," Evergreen says, "but you came out here for a reason."

"I was just driving," he mumbles.  "Like an idiot."

"You came out here looking for your dreams.  Didn't you."

He whips around.  "Yeah," he says, "and now I've found them, and all they are is tinkerbells!  What use is that?"

Evergreen raises her hand where the sapphire dream crouches.  Hesitantly, it stands, then leaps.  In an instant, the dream is gone, and Nick feels a hole open up inside him.  He hunches his shoulders against the cold and turns so he won't have to look at Evergreen.  She walks up to him anyway.

"It doesn't have to be gone, Nick.  Look at me.  Have I aged even a year over the centuries?"

He glances at her, at her smooth skin and her teen-age face. 

"You're telling me I can be like you?" he says.

She screws up her face.  "Well . . . not exactly."  Then she smiles.  "But, oh Nick, I'm so lonely.  And we can be friends, can't we?  We can live here among the trees and the dreams and you can dance with the faeries.  You can have any dream you dream, Nick, no matter what they say.  Look, Nick, just look!"

Reluctantly, he follows the line her finger makes.  Beneath an overhang of fir boughs shaped like a roof there is the beach again, the mother and father, but no boy.  The mother and father are frozen, as if waiting, but waiting for what? 

The wind blows and he can taste salt.  But he's not crying now, so what is it?  Spray from the ocean, for God's sake? 

A touch on his hand surprises him.  It's Evergreen, twining her fingers with his.  "Come on, Nick," she whispers.  "Let's go."

She pulls him toward the tableau under the firs.

"Come on." 

He drags his feet.  He doesn't know why.  Now she is pulling him through the needle carpet, and his heart is pounding, ka-thunk-thunk, ka-thunk

"Evergreen," he whispers, but she doesn't seem to hear him.  She is surprisingly strong.  The toe of one boot touches the beach sand, then the other.  The sea wind rubs its salty fingers against his mouth, depositing happiness.  Nick runs his tongue over his lips, tasting it. 

It's a breezy happiness.  A delirious, dancing, crazy happiness, caused by nothing more than the feel of wet sand against the bottoms of his feet and the prospect of ice cream -- strawberry, his favorite.

He reaches up to take his mother's hand, but before he can touch those faraway fingers, he hears somebody calling him.

"Nick!  Nick!"

DeAnn.  She followed him anyway.  Just like he knew she would.

Furious, he spins around.  The beach bleeds away, a fairy tale, ending, but without the happily ever after.

DeAnn's robe and nightgown slap her ankles in the wind.  Her hair is down.  Wolf, dressed, stands beside her.

Evergreen rolls her eyes.  "What do they want," she says.

"You said you'd let me go!" Nick yells at them.

DeAnn steps closer, carefully picking her way through the wet needle-trash covering the ground.  "I never said I wouldn't follow you.  That's the problem with free will, Nick; you can't always organize the actions of other people."

He kicks at the needles on the ground.  "You're trying to organize mine."

DeAnn shakes her head.  She has moved entirely into Evergreen's nimbus now, and he can see all the wrinkles that line her face, stamping it with age and mortality.  So different from Evergreen.

"No," she says.  "I'm just trying to show you an alternative."

"To what?  Love and happiness?"  He snorts.  "I've had a whole life full of that alternative."

"So you think going back to some kind of fairy tale past is going to help?"  She swipes at the salted brown strands of hair blowing past her face, pushing them away.  "You think what she offers you is anything more than an illusion?  Past is past, Nick.  Not even her magic can bring it back."

"So what if I want the illusion?  You're trying to tell me the real world has any room in it for me?  Fuck the real world, DeAnn!  You think I got in a truck and drove out here so I could go crawling back to my Aunt Geri?  You think I came out here so I could get a job down in Portland shoveling fries or fish or something?"

"You have a mother, Nick.  You want to see some pretty pictures, go look in a photo album.  Don't let Evergreen add you to them permanently.  It's forever, Nick, and don't think it isn't.  Other people will grow old and die, and you'll watch them do it.  If she ever lets you out of her grasp."

Nick opens his mouth, with it full of feeling and not thought, but before he can get anything out, Evergreen shoves DeAnn away from him.

DeAnn stumbles backwards; Nick blinks in surprise.  "Leave him alone, you old hag!  The world doesn't want him, or me or any of us!  Have you seen the trees around your farmstead?  Saplings, cut down in their prime, murdered.  And you -- have you told him who you are, DeAnn?  Have you told him why you are in these woods?"

Evergreen backs up with her arms crossed over her breasts and a self-satisfied smirk on her face.  For a moment, DeAnn stares back at her, moon-pale, but then she firms her sagging jaw and lifts her head.

"I had the choice, and I made it.  But you're not giving him the choice, are you?  You can't bear the thought of losing anybody else so you've resorted to trickery and lies.  Is that a proper use for your magic, Evergreen?"

"What right have you to speak to me so?" Evergreen shrieks.  "How could you know anything of how alone I really am?"

She breaks down, sobbing, onto her knees.  She presses her cheek against the forest floor, and her hair tumbles forward and hides her face.  Her crying sounds like the keening of birds. 

Nick stares at her.  Then he looks up at DeAnn.  "What does she mean, DeAnn?"

DeAnn sighs.  "Once upon a time, I was like Evergreen, too.  But I gave it up."

She looks old to him, older than before.  He frowns.  "Why?"

A rueful smile touches her mouth.  "Oh, the usual.  I did it for a man."

"And then he left and you were old," Evergreen spat, lifting her head.  "You did it wrong.  You went out into their world instead of taking them to yours."

DeAnn shakes her head, then reaches out to touch Wolf lightly on his sleeve.  "No," she says, her smile growing brighter, "I did it exactly right.  He may be gone, but he left me his son to raise.  Wolf is worth the years."

Wolf catches her eye and smiles, too, a crooked, embarrassed grin that speaks of a love unfettered by resentments.  DeAnn rests her hand on Wolf's arm, squeezes it.

Evergreen spits in the dirt.  "That's what I think of their world," she says.  "Leaving us all alone!"

She starts to cry again.  She looks so small, huddled there in the dirt.  Nick slips out of his jacket and kneels beside her to wrap it around her shoulders.  She looks up at him, startled, the green swirls on her face sparkling with tears.

He gets back to his feet before she can touch him. 

"It's up to me," he says.  Isn't it?"

 

*     *     *     *

 

Nick remembers it this way.

He's building a cabin beneath a giant spruce.  Sometimes Evergreen watches him as he splits the dead, leftover wood to make it into something new, and that's all right.  Sometimes he invites her to sit with him while he drinks hot coffee in a cracked mug DeAnn gave him.  The mug has a picture of a fairy garden on it, and drinking out of it reminds him of the dreams.  Sometimes as he watches the dream-sprites playing in the trees it doesn't seem so impossible, that all those wounds of childhood might heal.  Some day.

And some day maybe he will go back for his mother and serve her coffee out of this chipped fairy cup, too. 

But for now he splits wood in the mist beneath the evergreens.  The logs fall apart, and he stacks the pieces into walls.

The cabin gets a little bigger every day. 

Some day, he'll call it home. 

           

 

About the Author:

Angela Boord recently moved to the frozen wilds of upstate New York, where she lives with her husband and five children in a house the movers called "The Brady Bunch House." Her infant twins provide editorial input and are teaching her how to type in her sleep. Angela's work has also appeared in Strange Horizons, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and Ideomancer.
 


Story 2006 Angela Boord.