Just keep your head in the game, Rem. And stop talking to yourself in your head.
Yeah, it’s time to face the facts. Villia could be lying, but then again, she probably isn’t. There’s a… big percent chance that she isn’t, and it’s getting more and more likely by the thought. So I’m probably a fairy, an elf, a sprite, whatever one wants to call them. But what does that really mean? How do I actually know how this works? How I work?
The books are full of guesswork and legends, but the legends had to come from somewhere, didn’t they? And a lot of it matches. So well it’s… scary. Let’s leave out the obvious things, like the fact that I don’t have wings like many of the stories say I should have. Which kind of sucks because I’d love to fly. Maybe then I could fly out of here and go somewhere where I’m not getting my family in trouble. Then again, Villia could follow me because she’s like me and she would have wings too. Still, we would be somewhere that isn’t here. I love it here too much for her to ruin it. Not that I’m sure if she wants to do that. I don’t really know. She said I could see things, and I do. But why can’t I see the most important things, then? Like… something that would help me figure this out. I don’t know how it works either, or how to pick what I see. Could I? I just. Don’t. Know.
I need to find out more, and sort out my thoughts.
Okay. Just stay calm and happy. Don’t go back into the dark places.
Alright. Here’s the list of Fae-like things about me, as figured out by… well, me:
Usually the fair folk is depicted as mischievous, tiny, and pointy-eared. Uhh… check, except for the mischievous part, I guess. But that’s a generalisation, right? It’s like saying all humans are greedy. Because there’s at least a few non-greedy humans I know. Also, red hair and freckles, but Grandpa Lórccan is Irish, so there’s a bigger chance for me to just have the stereotypical Irish genes.
Fairies can change their appearance, or at least appear to do so. It’s called glamour, and they usually use it to look prettier for people they want to lure into their traps. Villia could do it. I’m sure she used it to lure Laketon in. She has curly hair and freckles, just like mum. Maybe Laketon liked that. Or maybe Villia just likes to look like that and the fact that she and mum have similar features is a coincidence.
I can’t do it. That’s a relief. Because if I could, then my face wouldn’t be my real one.
But maybe I just don’t know how? Or maybe… maybe Villia is wrong after all and I’m just a human with powers. Not sure how that’s any better.
Maybe I’m nothing like I thought I was. Maybe I’m just lying to everyone.
I don’t want to hide anymore.
Speaking of glamour, fairies usually have the power of causing other illusions as well.
That one… definitely check. I feel it all the time. My fingertips tingling. A warm twist in my chest. Sometimes it’s a spike in the back of my head. Sometimes I don’t even know when I’m doing it. I don’t want to lose control.
And the last one that might be true: Fairies are weak to “cold iron”. I’m really not going to test that one… everyone got really scared back when I was sick. I mean, if I bought some iron pills and took them just to see if it killed me, I… I’d make everyone safer, I guess, but I don’t…
I don’t want to die. And I don’t want the others to feel sad because of me. People need to be happy. I need to be happy to keep everything together.
But if I am a fairy, then how? Patrick isn’t. Neither is Merrill, or Grandma and Grandpa. They don’t feel like it. So that leaves only my real mother. Donna. Villia said that she’s dead, but she has lied before. So many times.
There was real sadness in her voice when she said it, though.
I have to know the truth.
I could sense a new shadow over our family. It wasn’t nearly as dark as what Laketon had caused, but it was still noticeable. Mum was worrying a lot more again, and Patrick had slipped back into his overprotective mode especially when it came to Rem. Now it felt even more ridiculous, because Rem was already fourteen and could for the most part take care of himself. Patrick had tried to keep his overprotectiveness subtle, like by casually suggesting we all went home from school together if his classes were over around the same time as ours. I could see through it plain as day, but I was happy that he at least didn’t embarrass us by announcing his undying worry to the world.
To be fair, I worried about Rem a bit too. Sometimes he went out for hours, and even though it was normal for him – he had friends after all – he almost seemed guilty about it after he got home. And he had nightmares. I knew that because sometimes I had his nightmares too. Sometimes the morning would find him on our living room couch, because apparently sleeping farther away from us made it less likely for him to project his dreams into our heads. At least it meant that Merrill didn’t wake up screaming at night because the big brother that slept in the same room had fairy dreams. Rem insisted that he was fine, though, and we really didn’t have much choice but to believe him. Not without keeping a closer eye on him, though.
But I didn’t really have time to watch my family members 24/7. Summer break was only a couple of weeks away, and I was almost shocked to realise how fast it was upon us. We were swamped with schoolwork, and the teachers were dedicated to making sure that we all prepared for the final exams as well as we could. And I also had to shove theory lessons at driving school into my days, which would have been more of an announcement in my life if I hadn’t had more important things to think about than learning how to drive a car. Things like how I’d manage to do my part to keep our family happy. And how to scrape together enough money with just my gardening and babysitting jobs during the summer.
Min, in one of her many brilliant moments, suggested I’d try to submit some of my stories to some writing contests. After some contemplation and being ensured that I wouldn’t have to read my stories out loud to anyone, I got so excited that for a moment I almost forgot that I should be worried about our family possibly leaning towards another crisis. If I wanted to be a writer – which I definitely did – a few writing competitions under my belt wouldn’t hurt. Or then it would at least help me get used to rejection and failure. After years of watching mum’s work I’d learned that it was a part of the job for every writer.
My writing plans and the workload at school usually got me through the school without too many worries. Then I got home, and it all came crashing down on me again when I sensed the slight tension in the mood. I didn’t want to deal with it right after school, so I usually left to Sabine’s place to do some very cathartic weeding. Her flowers were hidden under a huge amount of very stubborn weeds, and I tore them from the ground and wished I could unplug our problems as easily.
At least Sabine was happy after I’d cleaned up a whole patch of ground, and I was pretty proud of my handiwork too. The garden still looked awful, but it was a start towards the right direction. I even chatted a bit with Sabine, and she seemed pleased to have someone to talk with. There was nothing about the letters, but I could worry about that after she’d warmed up to me a bit more. It was going to be a slow process, but I didn’t mind as long as the payoff was good. I’d been sometimes complimented on my patience. This was one of those times I could certainly agree with the compliments.
One evening I got home, especially exhausted after a fierce battle with a very stubborn patch of deep-rooted weeds, and went straight to my room without even grabbing dinner. I ended up on my bed, reading a book and immersing myself into the world of story, telling my mind to stop caring about my almost bleeding fingers and sore arms. Reading almost always worked, and this time was no exception. The book had adventure in exotic locations and a wonderfully snarky main character I could identify with very well. Nothing too deep and philosophical. It was just smart enough for me to not feel dumb for reading it, and brainless enough to help me just relax and forget all my worries. I had almost relaxed completely when a soft knock on my door dragged me back into the more troublesome reality.
I contemplated for a second if I could get away with pretending I wasn’t here and just keep going through the imaginary adventure, but the knocking persisted.
“Come on in,” I said with a sigh after it became clear that whoever was at my door wasn’t going to leave.
A moment later Rem’s sad face looked at me over my book.
“Uh… do you have a moment?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said and frowned a bit, “Is something wrong?”
“No… yeah… maybe. I don’t know.”
“Oo…kay? Shouldn’t you talk to Patrick about it?”
Rem shook his head.
“No. I want to talk to you, if that’s okay.”
Darn. I wasn’t good at this. And he really seemed a bit upset about something. I sat up on my bed to make room for Rem, who sat next to me, and I was reminded of the time we had talked on my bed so many years ago. Just some time before everything in our life had gone wrong.
“So. Are you okay?” I asked awkwardly.
“I… yeah. I think. I’ve been thinking… that party at Carla’s place was… it didn’t go well. Do you think the people are mad at me?”
I raised a brow. This couldn’t be what he really wanted to talk about, right?
“I think they’re either mad at that bitch Vilya or whatever, or just don’t care. You shouldn’t worry about it.”
“I guess…” Rem wrung his hands, “I’ve been wanting to apologise to Carla, but I’m afraid that I’d just start a scene at school. And I don’t want that.”
“That’s probably a good call. She’ll probably just trash you verbally,” I frowned when what Rem had said really sunk in, “But why’d you care too much about her? She seems fine to me.”
Rem looked a bit uncomfortable, as if he was about to say something he wasn’t supposed to. Finally he sighed and spilled the beans:
“Well… It’s because we’re friends.”
I stared at Rem, my artistic, odd, pointy-eared brother, and then thought of our school’s princess Carla. They just didn’t go together in my head.
“Since when have you been friends with her?” I couldn’t help asking. It just didn’t click.
Rem actually chuckled a bit.
“We bumped into each other one day almost… about a year ago. It was at the supermarket. I was buying carrot juice. At first she didn’t really want anything to do with me, but we were in the same line so I talked to her, just to be friendly, and then… I don’t know. I guess she liked how I really wanted to listen to her. Most people actually don’t, even though so many people want to be around her. So… then she wanted to talk some more. But she didn’t want others to know about it.”
“Yeah, I guessed that part.”
“She does annoy me sometimes. I mean, I don’t want to hide being friends with someone,” Rem bit his lip, “But I just don’t want to start conflicts. I have to be nice to everyone so no one gets upset because of me. That’s what I always do.”
He frowned, almost scowled at the air, and I was really starting to suspect that talking about Carla was just an easy way to get to the difficult stuff. I tried to smile comfortingly.
“Rem, you do know that you can’t possibly please everyone, right?”
He nodded slowly with defeat, and we were quiet for a long while.
“I don’t want to go back into the dark,” Rem said suddenly, “I need to be happy, and I can’t do anything to ruin it. To… to ruin it for us all.”
I tried not to stare. I really did. But my brother’s sunny smiles were crumbling in front of me and revealing a scared kid trying to keep up the happy-go-lucky personality he’d had before Laketon and the fire. I’d known he was more shaken about what had happened with Villia and… well, about everything else that had gone wrong than he’d like to admit, but to this degree? And he’d been trying to cover it all up and pretend like he was fine? That was just… not healthy.
“You don’t have to pretend to be happy all the time”, I said, “Eventually it’s just going to come back to bite you.”
“It’s been easy after Merry was born,” Rem said, everything spilling out in halting, quiet sentences, “Because I really was happier again. Out of the dark. Everything was turning around. We’ve all been happier lately. With less… less running… Or hiding. But that’s what we still do, don’t we? A little bit.”
“Yeah,” I managed to say quietly, “But we’re also going towards something now.”
“Right… Just… living.”
“But now it’s happening again. With Villia.”
“Are you scared of her?” I asked as gently as I could, “I mean, I don’t blame you if you are.”
“I guess,” Rem said and took a deep breath, “Well, actually, I know I am. But I’ve also started to think that she doesn’t want to hurt us… not just to be mean, anyway. She… did some really stupid things that got us to this point, but I think she does have a lot of answers. About me. About what I am and why I can do all… this.”
He wiggled his fingers as if to mimic a stage magician casting a spell. Nothing happened, but I got the message.
“When I first saw her, I was too young to understand what she meant. Then I didn’t want to listen because she had ruined our lives. At the party I was ready to let her talk, if just so that she’d leave us alone. But now she’s not here anymore, and the police are looking for her.”
“You said you think she won’t be coming back any time soon,” I said, “You still think that?”
“I do. But… the last time I said no and she came back, she brought in Laketon. Who knows what she’ll do now? Besides, without her, we’re just stuck here fearing and not knowing.”
He seemed to be contemplating something for a long while again. Then a decision was made, and he looked at me with only slightly unsteady confidence.
“So… I was thinking… if you’d like to help me figure this out. You know, to solve a mystery. You like those, right?”
I raised my eyebrows again. Yeah. I did like mysteries. And this was the biggest of our life so far. The mystery that had been a part of our family for more than a decade now. Rem Monsoon. The magic kid. The mystery that we’d maybe thought would eventually stop being a mystery without us ever needing other answers than “we’re family, who cares about the rest.”
“Really?” I said, “You actually want to do this? After we’ve spent such a long time pretending that thinking about normal things will make all the weirdness and traumas go away?”
“It’s not going to go away,” he said, and his voice wavered, “No matter how many times we’d move, or how many happy thoughts we’d think… I’m always going to be this way. And I want to finally know what I am. So I don’t have to be so… defined by this… by being confused and afraid.”
I probably should have been the responsible older sibling at this point and tell him to go talk to our parents about this. Well, actually I really should have. But where was the fun in that?
“Where did you think we’d start?” I just asked.
Rem smiled, and now it didn’t look so sad anymore.
“Thanks, Lynn. You’re awesome.”
“I can’t just leave you alone with this, can I? So, where?”
“Right,” Rem said, his voice a bit stronger again, “Well, I was thinking that we should try to find my mother. Donna. Villia… Villia said that she knew her, and that she was dead. But it might not be true. And even though dad claims that he doesn’t know where Donna is, there has to be something about her around our house, right?”
“Well, there actually might not be,” I said slowly, my mind working furiously to find more ways to solve this, “Buuuut at least we do have a chance to get more info on her than on Villia, unless she shows up again. It’s a start. So… next time mum and dad are not home?”
Rem’s smile widened.
“Let’s do it! Thanks. I really mean it.”
“Yeah. I know.”
We got our chance a few days later, when mum and Patrick had to attend a parent and child -evening at Merrill’s kindergarten. They said goodbyes to us before leaving with Merrill to have fun at the kindergarten and told us to be careful, and I could only barely keep a straight face. We’d be going through mum and Patrick’s papers again. This time it wasn’t just to find some measly birth certificate, but to find out something that Patrick clearly didn’t want us to find out, and I wasn’t sure how to feel about that. Then again, it was something that Rem deserved to know in my opinion. This was his mother we were talking about. And yeah, my curiosity made me biased, I know. As soon as mum, Patrick, and Mer were gone, I shared a look with Rem and we rushed upstairs to dig up mum and Patrick’s official papers.
It was probably not the most exciting way to start solving a magical mystery, but it was the most rational one that we could think of.
“So, all we know is that her name was Donna?” I said after commandeering the computer because I was way better at scrounging up digital files than Rem, “We don’t even have her last name?”
Rem barely looked up from the piles of official-looking files and university yearbooks that we’d managed to find after some thorough digging.
“No. It was Monsoon when I was born, but I doubt it’s that anymore. Dad either doesn’t know or doesn’t want to tell me.”
“Why do you think he’s so adamant about us not knowing?” I wondered.
“I don’t know. Maybe she really hurt him.”
I thought about it, my fingers tapping an irregular rhythm against the edge of the keyboard.
“Patrick’s pretty easy-going. It would take something seriously bad to really get to him.”
I was silent for a while again when a heavy thought sunk in.
“Do you think that mum and Patrick were drawn together because their spouses were screwed up? You know, at first, before they fell in love.”
Now Rem did look up.
“Huh. Maybe they did,” he said, and his forehead creased a little in contemplation, “It’s a bit of a wonder we’re this happy.”
“I’d say we’ve been pretty much in shambles,” I pointed out, “But I’m sure there are a lot of families with way more mismatching pieces than ours.”
“Yeah. That’s true. And we’re holding together.”
We worked together in silence for a good while, then. The clicks of a mouse and the flutter of book pages – both sounds I found very soothing – were the only thing accompanying us. I clicked through what seemed like endless boring files and carefully stayed away from Patrick’s school stuff and mum’s unfinished writings. There were some lines I wouldn’t cross, after all. There wasn’t much on the woman named Donna. There was nothing about her, to be fair. No secret emails – sorry, for going through your mail, Patrick. I didn’t look too closely, I swear. But you know, you should really not have your email programme automatically logging in with just a click – no official child support papers… nothing.
“There’s a picture of her in this yearbook,” Rem spoke up, “I don’t think I’ve seen this one before. Maybe dad forgot about it.”
My mouse clicks faded away. I jumped up from the desk chair and crouched next to Rem.
“Yeah. I think this is the second picture I’ve ever seen of her. Another one was their wedding photo that dad keeps in one of the albums he doesn’t like to look at too much. We can get that too if you want.”
I looked at the picture. A blonde woman was embracing the world, and a younger and even more hippyish-looking Patrick was embracing her. They were both smiling to the camera with what seemed like genuine happiness. There were writings around the picture about how cute a couple they made. A piece of the past between heavy pages. I could see no evidence of any screwed-up-ness that might have been going on in their relationship, but then again, that was hard to tell by just one picture. I brushed my hand along the page as if I could somehow draw answers from it that way, and all I felt were the scratches left by ballpoint pens.
“It isn’t much,” Rem admitted, “How about the computer?”
“Nothing so far.”
“I doubt dad saved much of mum there anyway. It’s probably all here.”
“It was worth a check,” I said and grabbed the nearest book Rem hadn’t yet checked, “Let me help you with these.”
Aside from a couple of pictures, Donna stayed mostly a mystery. I did uncover an old letter from between the pages of one book. It had an address on it, pointing to a town pretty close to Twinbrook, and a lot of crossed out words. We couldn’t make out what it said, but it seemed to be meant for Donna. I wrote the address down and we put the letter back. It felt too wrong to take it. And an address, no matter how old, was a start, anyway.
We searched for as long as we could before it was close to the time when the others came back home. Then it was a blur of frantically trying to get everything back where it belonged. Once the front door clicked open, all evidence that was left of our little search were the guilty feelings we tried our best to hide for the rest of the evening. In the morning it would again be easier, or at least that was what I kept telling myself as I lay awake. I was too full of adrenaline and mild guilt, or just excitement. After all these years we were taking steps towards something in our past instead of away from it. I wouldn’t have thought any of us had the resolve for it.
And maybe we didn’t. Not individually. But together… it seemed like we might. It was either that or just responding to Villia’s reappearance with the same fear as we’d felt before – albeit for justified reasons. This felt much better.
My dreams were restless when I finally got some sleep. This time they at least felt like my own.
It was times like this that I really hated the flood of schoolwork that tried to completely drown our free time. Not that I was too crazy about it in general either. But now I had another quest in my life, that of finding Rem’s mother, and we both had to push it aside for the last days of school. It felt especially frustrating, but at least it was eventually over. Pretty quickly to be honest, but at the time it felt like time was inching its way towards the moment of freedom painfully slowly. I spent the last evenings before summer break finishing up my last assignments and even neglecting Sabine’s garden and the jogs with Min to get things done. In the end it did show on my report card, and mum and Patrick were proud of me. Rem had done well too, and we had dinner in a restaurant to celebrate both our pretty good grades and our well-earned summer break.
And what a summer break it was going to be. I had two mysteries to solve and two jobs to get money from, and mum had promised to teach me how to drive. I could do something fun with Min in-between all the numerous sports camps she would be coaching, and maybe get to play games and hang out with Michel a bit more than I’d had time for lately. Plus if I managed to squeeze in some time, I might be able to visit Twinbrook again to see Bree and Jace. I hadn’t really seen them for… a year now, I think. And the visit I’d managed last summer had been way too brief. It had the makings of a busy, but fun and even exciting time.
After the first few weeks I had to admit that with the excitement also came more frustration. The address we’d found that might have led to Rem’s mum no longer had any Donnas living in it, and we didn’t know how to pick up her trail. Rem had managed to get Patrick to at least mention Donna’s maiden name – Charles – and we had tried looking for her with that. Of course it was just a guess, and she might have never taken her maiden name back like my mum had done with hers, but it was better than nothing. Still, it quickly became evident that finding one person was way harder than we had imagined.
“This is getting us nowhere,” I said one night when we’d gathered together to the park near our house to figure out our next step, “We’re not going to find her when we have this little to go with.”
Rem nodded slowly, the disappointment so evident in his eyes that even the optimistic smile he tried to give did nothing to mask it.
“Well, maybe we’ll just have to find something more to go on.”
“Where? We’ve already checked so many places. We’d need to be actual detectives to really get forward. And we’re not…”
I trailed off when a light bulb went off in my head. Why hadn’t we thought of this sooner?
“Wait, why don’t we get a detective for this case?” I asked.
Rem’s eyes snapped wide.
“What? Really? Because that’s… a great idea! Why didn’t we think of that before?”
He jumped up from the park bench and started pacing with excitement.
“It’s going to be expensive…” Rem muttered more to himself, “But maybe a bit cheaper if we use the Hunter.”
Okay, now I had missed something.
Rem halted and spread his arms.
“You know, the Hunter! Who helped mum and dad find us back at… back when… you know, the… basement.”
It clicked. With a slightly unpleasant click.
“That… detective guy?” I said slowly, “But he was the one who brought Laketon to our doorstep to begin with, right?”
Rem nodded enthusiastically as if there was nothing weird about calling a ghost from our past back in.
“That’s right! He was not a bad guy! He was sorry about what he did, so maybe he’ll help us now!”
Well, yeah. He could. But there were other detectives out there, right? People we didn’t have a past with. Then again, detectives really were expensive from what I knew, so it would probably be smart to at least try to start with someone we could guilt-trip into giving us a discount. That… didn’t sound entirely right. I had to probably question my sanity because I chose to ignore how not right that sounded. I took a deep breath and let it out.
“It wouldn’t hurt to try, I guess,” I said, “Alright. But you’re going to do the talking.”
Author’s Note: Well, this needed a few rewrites before I knew where I was going with this. At one point Rem was actually going to poison himself with the iron, and the whole thing could have gone way differently. But here we are, actually making progress in the story because the mystery can’t stay mystery forever. Not this one, anyway.
The painting in the pic about Rem’s winter illusion is again done by me.
I think I’m going to take a little break from this story now, just to let it rest and let my thoughts about it shape up better. Also I’ve reached the point I reach with everything I create where I think this is absolute crap and should be destroyed with fire. That’s usually a sign for me to step back, reread, rethink, and then decide whether this really is as bad as I feel it is, and possibly do a bit of editing.
I don’t think this will become a proper hiatus, though. I mean, these last few chapters have come out pretty fast compared to my usual updates, so maybe this just means that I’ll go back to my normal schedule Not that I have a schedule, really. I just post when I get things done. Anyway, thanks for sticking with me. Comments, other feedback, and just taking time to read even parts of this are so much loved.
EDIT: MORE REWRITES! At least I’m way happier with this now than I was before. The pacing is better and it’s actually going somewhere instead of a whole lot of nowheres. It is mostly just set up to the next big steps in the plotline, but next time we can actually get to… stuff! Also, I had a lot of fun shooting some of these new pics.