Frank stumbled into the deserted park and sat down on the weathered bench beneath the one streetlight in the area that worked; he leaned forward and covered his face with his trembling hands. He sighed deeply, and his slender body sagged with despair. He was tapped out, done. His fuel tank was empty, and the fires had burned down to embers. Things were bad enough before tonight, but he didn’t think he could find the strength to face going into work tomorrow, not after what happened in the parking lot.
Things had always been difficult for Frank. While his mind was as sharp as a tack, physically he looked like he was constructed out of leftover parts. He had dark, tightly curled hair, thinning on top, and pale skin. He was slender. No, let’s be honest here: he was bony. Awkwardly so. His large ears stuck out, and despite wearing glasses as a child, his right eye was still slightly lazy and tilted out and up. Thankfully, the acne of puberty was gone, but the skin of his face still showed the scars of the ravages of that battle. He had long feet; long, bony fingers; and a long torso, but his legs were a tad on the short side. He was not graceful at all, and moved with the awkwardness of someone who had known for his entire life that he was not looked at because he was poetry in motion, someone who focused on being invisible.
While the other boys had played stickball and basketball and football, and first teased and then dated and married the neighborhood girls, Frank had hidden himself away through his childhood and adolescence, for he didn’t like sports and he didn’t like girls. The football players he liked, but not quite in a way that was acceptable to them. So he remained a painfully shy loner, physically awkward and socially inept, and made it through high school, college, and then four years of employment as a CPA without outwardly acknowledging his sexual preference. The most interaction he had with another human being was with a co-worker, a faded college football jock with a thick neck and uncouth social skills named John, who teased Frank mercilessly at every opportunity as if beating Frank down reminded John of his glory years as a lineman on the football field, beating down the opposing team.
Last week, though, there had been a glimmer of hope. Frank had found a listing online for a local meet-up group, for of all things, social outcasts. “Are you an outcast? We want you!” the ad had read. It had taken days for Frank to talk himself into going, but in the end the loneliness that had been eating away at his soul had overcome his horror of meeting new people. With stomach rolling and hands shaking, Frank had entered the local coffee shop where the meet-up group usually got together; he had expected the worst, but it had been wonderful! Four men and two women were seated at a table in the back of the shop, and they accepted him completely. Adding to his astonishment was the fact that one of the other men, Tim, was an accountant at a large firm in the city, and he was openly gay. Frank had spent time talking to Tim; they had exchanged cell phone numbers and not only had Tim called Frank during the week, but he had assured Frank that he would be at tonight’s meet-up.
Tonight had been like a dream, which was probably why Frank had let his guard down. As the meet-up had concluded, Tim had taken Frank’s hand as they left the coffee shop, and they had both been smiling at each other, eyes glowing, as they walked into the small parking lot next to the shop. Just as things could not have gotten better, Frank heard the last voice in the entire world he wanted to hear at that moment.
“Frrrrrankie Boy! You little devil! Is this your girlfriend?” It was his co-worker, John, a grin of evil delight on his face as he dragged his suddenly uncomfortable date over to where Frank and Tim were standing. “You look pretty normal for a fag,” John continued derisively, after giving Tim a leering once-over. Then John turned back to Frank with a speculative look in his eyes. “What ‘chu got, Frrrrrankie, that’s so special? Huh? You been holding out on us?” To Frank’s horror, his co-worker’s voice seemed to echo and an audience of curious bystanders was beginning to gather.
John’s date tugged on his arm with an apologetic look toward Frank as she unsuccessfully attempted to divert John’s attention, and the entire evening went quickly down the drain after that. John jerked his arm from his girlfriend’s grasp with a nasty comment to her, which she responded to by slapping him. Tim tried to stop John from hitting his date, and John turned abruptly and punched Tim, a roundhouser that sent Tim flying in a graceful arc, to land on his butt in the middle of the parking lot, blood spurting onto his shirt from a broken nose. Several bystanders jumped in and attempted to diffuse the situation; everyone was shouting and arguing. And Frank, panicked beyond reason, turned and ran.
He groaned as he remembered, and felt panic overwhelm him. He would have to move, to run away. He would quit his job, not ever go back to work; he would just pick up and move. Frank’s slender shoulders shuddered and tears of despair leaked between his fingers as he pressed his hands against his face.
He was so immersed in his own misery that he didn’t hear the first polite cough, or the second, slightly louder one. It took an exaggerated hacking to bring Frank even partially back to reality, and his eyes were still blank as he instinctively raised his head in response to the realization that he was not alone. Frank’s eyes cleared, went wide with astonishment, and then sharpened with anger.
There, standing before him was what looked like a midget in an elaborate pink Faery costume, complete with gossamer, sparkling pink wings, a pink ballerina’s tutu, and pink toe shoes with dainty ribbons laced up his hairy legs. The little man had a five o’clock shadow, short buzzed dark hair, and intense, cobalt-blue eyes. Once he was certain he had Frank’s attention, he bowed formally.
For the first time in his life, Frank was filled with anger. “Who the fuck are you?” he roared, not caring that he shouted. “I’ve had enough!” Frank shot up from the bench, and with a grace and precision that any professional kicker would have worshipped, he funneled all of the despair and anger and fear of the last few hours into booting this little pink bastard to the moon.
He connected with air, and like a clumsy cartoon character, ended up flat on his back, the wind knocked out of him. As soon as he hit the ground, all the anger and frustration leaked from his frame, and Frank went limp, his eyes closed.
“Are you okay?” At the question, asked in a gravely voice, Frank opened his eyes. Floating above him, little pink wings flapping, was the midget in the Faery costume. Floating. With flapping wings.
Frank sat up slowly, too drained to even be afraid as he realized this was not some idiot in a child’s costume hired by his cruel co-worker to find him and make his life even more miserable.
“What do you want?” Frank asked with a tired voice. The Faery landed beside Frank, now at eye level with him, and bowed once again.
“You have been chosen.” The Faery paused, and then continued in his gruff, manly voice, so at odds with his appearance. “My name is Abernathy, and I am here to take you to the Lady, because the time of the Shift is almost upon us all.”
“Wwwhat?” Frank shook his head as if to clear his thoughts. “What are you talking about?”
“You have been chosen. You must come with me.”
Frank threw his head back and laughed and laughed, until he could hardly breathe. Abernathy stood patiently, waiting for Frank to calm down. Finally, Frank took a deep breath and glared at Abernathy.
“I must come with you. A pink Faery with a five-o’clock shadow and toe shoes.” Frank sounded incredulous as he got to his feet and sat back down on the old bench. “Yeah, right. Look at you. How can I take you seriously?”
Abernathy frowned. “Do you think I want to look like this?” he asked in his gravelly baritone. “Look at me! Pink fluffy-bunny meets personal sloth!” He snorted, and then continued, “Believe me, I didn’t choose this appearance; it was given to me as a punishment for insolence. This task, to retrieve you, human, is also a punishment, given to me because I do not think highly of either rules or humans!” The pink Faery shook his tiny head, and then continued with some urgency. “But time is running out, and you need to talk to the Lady.” With that, Abernathy reached into a tiny pink pouch hanging from the waist of his tutu, and then threw a handful of pink sparkles right into Frank’s face, just as Frank was drawing in a breath to protest once again. Blinded and choking, Frank sputtered and spit and wiped his eyes for several moments. When he could finally breathe again, he opened his eyes, and immediately went slack-jawed with wonder.
Frank was still sitting on the old park bench, but he wasn’t in the park anymore. Oh, there were trees, beautifully lush trees, some filled with fragrant white blooms as well as green leaves, but they were larger and older than the trees in the park, and they were lit with a sprinkling of tiny sparkling lights. In place of the drinking fountain near the swings, there was a pond with a fountain in the middle and the water splashed merrily; the fish that swam in the pond seemed to glow softly. And there were Faeries, all shapes, all sizes, all colors, everywhere! Every one of them, from the smallest of the winged Fae, the size of jewel-colored butterflies, darting here and there in the trees, to the human-sized Fae, standing in groups or sitting on the grassy lawn, whispering to each other, glowed with a soft silver light. And they were beautiful!! Their features were beautiful, and their clothes, studded with flowers and sparkling jewels, were beautiful, and the soft silver light that surrounded them and emanated from them was beautiful. So beautiful that the sight of them brought tears to Frank’s eyes.
“Come,” Abernathy said softly. “The Lady is waiting.” He pointed to a group of five shining creatures who were seated on what had to be thrones festooned with garlands of leaves and fragrant blossoms, arranged on a slight rise in the grassy ground. Frank stood slowly and then followed Abernathy towards the seated group.
To his horror, the beautiful Faeries noticed him, and whispered and pointed. For a short moment, Frank felt more awkward and ugly than any other time in his entire life. But then he realized that they were smiling at him.
“Look!” Frank heard. “It’s him!!” “Oh, he’s here!!” And, “Look, it’s the Prophet!” Those who were seated stood as he approached, and all of them, each more perfect than the last, smiled with joy and pleasure as he walked by. Even the regal and softly glowing beings seated on the ornate thrones stood as he and Abernathy made their way through the stunning crowd.
Frank saw Abernathy sink to one knee and bow, and Frank hesitantly did the same, awkwardly going down on one knee, bowing his head and closing his eyes, uncertain as to what came next.
“Welcome,” said a soft voice in greeting. Frank raised his head, and looked into the most mesmerizing eyes he had ever seen. This must be Abernathy’s Lady. Frank swallowed, and stared, unable to help himself.
Her lovely features were surrounded by hair that was like spun gold, tipped in white; she was wearing a crown of flowers and leaves. Her skin was porcelain white, her eyes were the most amazing sky blue, her lips softly pink. She was dressed in shades of green, and wore brown, green and yellow gems at her ears, around her neck, across her brow. The Lady was so beautiful that she did not seem real, yet she smiled sweetly at Frank, and motioned for him to stand, and then to come forward and sit next to her.
“Thank you for joining us this evening,” she said.
“You’re welcome.” Frank cleared his throat nervously, and then continued. “But I don’t understand why I’m here.”
The Lady smiled. “You have been chosen as Prophet to your species, to bring a warning to humankind of the Shift that is coming, and to bring an invitation for your kind to join together with us in order to survive the cataclysm.”
“Yes. You see, in a little more than a year’s time, several different ages of existence will end. Now, they all end regularly, it is true. But only one time before in our recorded history have all of the different ages ended on the same day. The same day!” The Lady stopped speaking, looked off into the distance and shook her head. Then she turned her lovely eyes back to Frank and continued.
“I was not alive when the last Shift happened, but I have learned the stories.” She swept her hand out towards the other Faeries present, watching and listening. “We all have. The Shift is chaos and destruction, it is upheaval on all planes of existence. The last Shift almost ended up to be an extinction event for us all. But we survived, your species and my species, because we banded together at the eleventh hour, and through our efforts together, we lived through the Shift.”
The Lady paused and pressed her lips together, and then continued. “It is once again the eleventh hour. It is time for us, for you and your kind, and us and our kind, to join together so that we may once again survive the Shift that is nearly upon us. You have been chosen to bring the news to your species.”
“Me?” gasped Frank; he pressed the heel of his hand into the center of his chest, as if in pain. “Me?” His voice cracked. “You think the world leaders will listen to me? You think they’ll open their doors and invite me in and say, ‘Sit down Frank, and tell me why you’re here’?” He threw back his head and laughed, grimly amused that this delicate creature would have such confidence in him. “Look at me!” Frank held out his bony arms, hands spread wide. “Do I look like someone who world leaders would listen to?”
The Lady’s eyes softened. “We will not send you without tokens of our support.” She motioned to Abernathy, who came forward and held out a small tray on which rested a large golden coin, embossed with an oak leaf and two acorns. The Lady picked up the coin, cupped it in her hands and breathed gently upon it. Then she held the coin out to Frank, and said, “This is a Coin of the Realm. It is charged to give its bearer entry, entry into any place and access to any person. I have added my own blessing to the Coin, no small thing.” She smiled, and then nodded encouragingly as Frank gingerly took the gold coin from her.
The Lady leaned forward, gently cupped Frank’s face with her hands, and pressed her lips to the center of his forehead. For a moment, Frank saw scenes play before his eyes at high speed, as if he was fast forwarding through a DVD; then the Lady leaned back.
“I have given you my own blessing as well, and with it, I have placed in your subconscious the instructions you will need in order to accomplish your task. They will be there when you need them.” Then she smiled wryly, and gestured once again.
“And finally, I give you Abernathy. Do not discount him, for despite his occasional insolence, he is a worthy accomplice.” Abernathy snorted, and then grinned, and bowed to the Lady, and then to Frank, and said, “I will be always near, human; all you need to do is speak my name three times, and I will be by your side.”
The Lady then stood and stepped back, and motioned for the others to do the same. Abernathy came forward and motioned to Frank to stay seated as he reached into his pouch. “The return trip is easier,” he explained reassuringly as Frank began to duck.
Then he tossed the sparkles. Frank saw the scene before him begin to spin rapidly, and closed his eyes as his stomach lurched. His last thought before he passed out was that if this was what Abernathy considered easy, he did not want to experience anything the little Fae considered difficult.
Frank came awake slowly, and found himself curled up on the park bench, the skies already light although the sun had not yet risen high enough to touch the ground at his feet. He hesitantly uncurled his lanky frame and sat up stiffly; he took a deep breath of the cool early morning air.
What a crazy dream!! He must have eaten something really strange last night to bring on such crazy dreams. Suddenly he stiffened, as he remembered the events in the parking lot, but then he took another deep breath and decided that he would survive after all. He had made it this far alone, and would continue on, even if his co-worker continued to be an ass. Frank stood up, deciding to go home to get ready for work, and abruptly realized that he was clenching something in his right hand.
Frank froze, afraid to even consider what he felt in his hand. That stuff . . . all that Shift stuff and Prophet stuff . . . it was a dream. Right? It had to be a dream, because there was no such thing as Faeries, especially pink ones with a five-o’clock shadow. Right? He slowly lifted his arm and looked at his tightly clenched fist, and then opened his fingers, just as the sun rose over the surrounding buildings and shone its golden light upon him. There, in his palm, was a large golden coin, embossed with an oak leaf and two acorns, glistening in the sun’s early morning rays.