The strangest thing about the headless man was, of course, that he was headless. But another strange thing was his clothes―a tawny, loose-fitting shirt with a red waistcoat, and white pants tucked in ankle-length leather boots―a medieval costume? She heard a faint sigh that seemed like frustration. Finley rubbed her eyes and looked again―the headless man was gone.
“Excuse me?” an irritated voice came from behind her. “Are you gonna buy any?”
A stout, middle-aged woman who looked like she was going to shove Finley away if she didn’t move. Grabbing a couple bags and wheeling the cart away, Finley looked back―the woman was piling bags into her cart as if an apocalypse was coming, another man was approaching, and he looked perfectly normal too. No waistcoat or boots.
Was she hallucinating? The wisp of hair she saw earlier could be some piece of fluff from the trees, as she was outdoors at that time, but how could she mistake seeing a full set of medieval clothes in the middle of the aisle?
Finley fled to the car. She drove home, her hands trembling on the wheel, and multiple cars sped by, an indication she was going too slow. Pulling herself together, Finley applied a bit more pressure to the pedal, accelerating to a tolerable speed, and tried to put the headless man out of her mind. Maybe after a while, after she calmed down, she’d come to realize that everything was but a figment of her imagination.
She unloaded her purchases in the kitchen (terminating another cockroach that had the audacity to appear in the sink), putting milk and eggs and chicken in the fridge, and stuffing apples and onions and potatoes into the oven. Finley never used the oven, it used too much energy and besides, who needed a giant oven when you were living alone?
After dinner, Finley again pulled out her laptop. Time to work on college applications. Her odd jobs paid well, but for a decent job she had to think long-term, and most decent jobs required a college degree. Her best bet was to get a full-ride scholarship―one that would cover tuition, living expenses, everything. She had a good shot at it, her grades were stellar, she qualified for financial aid, but nothing was a guarantee.
She was uploading her personal statement when the screen suddenly went black. Everything went black, actually. No, NOT AGAIN. Her laptop’s battery had died long ago, so there was no buffer when a power outage occurred. Finley felt around for her phone and turned on the flashlight function.
And then she screamed.
The headless man, hovering in the middle of the living room. Only he wasn’t headless, and he wasn’t a man.
He had pointy ears jutting from his head, light cinnamon hair tied back in a ponytail, and a face that seemed young enough for a ten-year-old, though he stood as tall as Finley herself, who was five feet three. His skin was as pale as moonlight, his features as fine as a statue, his figure as slender as a sapling.
He looked like an elf.
Finley rubbed her eyes, blinked, she pinched her arm, it hurt, so she rubbed her eyes again.
The elf was still there; he smiled tentatively. “Are you Finley?”
His voice was melodic and sweet, like a violin―he definitely sounded ten years old, but her skin tingled with discomfort.
Lights flickered back, but she barely registered it; there was a weird elf-creature in her house and he knew her name!
Finley sprang up and threw her bag at the elf, who held up a hand and poof! The bag vanished in a shower of golden sparks.
“Stop!” the elf shouted. “I mean no harm—truly—I only wanted to—stop!”
Finley had been sprinting to the kitchen to get a knife, when something firm and unyielding wrapped around her ankles, and she would have fallen had she not grabbed the kitchen counter. A hurried glance revealed a thick golden rope around her ankles, and she tugged, struggled, trying to pry it loose, but of no avail.
“Let me go!”
Surprisingly, he obeyed at once. The rope vanished, she stumbled, then righted herself. “Who are you?” She demanded, staring at the door. The lock was in place. “How did you get in?”
He looked relieved and muttered something like, language charm worked; he crossed to the sofa and perched on one arm, as easily as if he were a bird. “Call me Tavish. I work in the royal stables―I take care of His Highness Casimir’s horses. Sorry I gave you a scare in that big place with a lot of weird colorful stuff. I’ve been having trouble making myself invisible to all other humans except you.”
So it wasn’t her imagination when she saw him in the supermarket. Slowly, Finley moved to the living room, but she remained standing against the wall and crossed her arms.
Tavish cocked his head. “Anyway, I’ve come for you, human. It’s time.”
“You’ve turned eighteen―the age you’re old enough to be called an adult, so the king has sent me to bring you to Elyria.”