[I dreamed this back in June 2013, wrote it down so I could remember it.]
The night was hot. Odd for fall in Seattle, but the weather had been off for the past few years since the war, colder and wetter in the winter, and uncomfortably warm in the summer. Something about the radiation from the Russian nukes, I guess, and whatever chemical agents the aliens released during their invasion. We thought global warming was a problem… now most of Europe was scorched earth, the land blasted in humanity’s attempts to burn out the space fungus. The aliens had a good run, but they made the classic mistake—fighting Russians in the winter. The freezing weather and the rogue Cold War bombs shocked the aliens into submission. Not that they actually surrendered, even now our scientists think they operated mostly on an instinctual level and couldn’t understand the concept, but the cold and radiation damage forced them to become dormant, and then they were pretty easy to kill. The surviving Europeans worry the aliens may have left behind some kind of spores, but that’s over there and I can’t do anything about it.
Despite the heat, the restaurant was hopping. Hot people like to eat and enjoy a cool drink, and this place was known for its finger food and cocktails. Nice view of the Space Nodule (or “the Nodge,” as the kids call it), and some parking spaces, too, for a few tourists who don’t know how to use the light rail. It’s a popular restaurant, but not so popular that I have to turn people away. That’s right, it’s my place, built it up with my own two hands when I retired. I’m John, John Kelly. I have a hand-picked wait staff who’s been working for me for years, a host who’s ex-army and scares off the bums who like to beg for change outside, and capable cooks who can handle ethnic cuisine. Italian? Of course. Mexican? No problemo. Indian? Sure. Ethiopian?
You bet. We even make dark elf food, got a special permit from the health department.
Yeah, dark elves. I don’t know if it was the smell of the alien fungus or the noise of the Russian nukes, but the war woke up the dark elves. There weren’t many of them left, just a few thousand, all of them in some kind of weird sleep for the past thousand years. They say they went into hibernation when the light changed, that it was too much for their sensitive eyes, and humans got to violent and religious to want to barter with them. Violent humans. Vikings, I guess, turning their backs on Odin and Thor and worshiping the god of the cross, a god who didn’t take kindly to underground fairies. And now those fairies are back, living in the north, building homes in cities with underground spaces. Like Seattle, and New York City. They basically bribed their way into refugee status with the government, offering chests of gold coins and lost secrets of metallurgy. So now we have a population of resident immigrants—arrogant, weird, and rich. A dangerous combination, but good for business.
Two of them were in the restaurant that night, both female. Midnight-black skin, blacker than anyone from Africa, no human skin is this color. Lanky hair, like a Swede, but jet black. Eerie yellow eyes. Both of them looked like cougars—not the kind that chase down deer, the kind that chase down younger men. I don’t know what it is about the dark elves, but they all look middle-aged. Well-preserved, but not young. Maybe something went wrong with their long sleep, they don’t talk about it. They don’t have too many males, either. I don’t know if it’s always been that way, or if that’s a recent thing. They don’t talk about that, either. But they definitely have an interest in human men. Not that I know from first-hand experience, I’ve seen too many bite scars to make that mistake. These two were dressed similarly, in the shimmering black ragged garments their kind favored, with arms and legs bare. Both were wearing a lot of gold wire jewelry. They probably made it themselves. The younger one had an elaborate collar connected by a thin chain to the older one’s wrist. Not that uncommon. Maybe the chained one was a sister. Or a lover. Or a slave. No way to tell. Slavery is illegal for humans, but the dark elves never actually explain these situations, and a handful of fairy gold shuts down any official inquiry. Me, I didn’t care unless I was being paid to care, and I don’t do that sort of work anymore.
I was watching everyone in the room, looking for anything unusual. Old habits die hard. Just as a waiter brought the older fairy her meal, she noticed I was watching her. She’s sharp. Most people wouldn’t have caught it. I knew this one. She’s a regular. We call her Vev. Her fairy name is ten syllables and too much work. She unhooked the chain from her wrist, grabbed her plate, and walked over to my table, leaving her drink and friend behind. There was a lot of slink in her walk, but fairies always have that slink. I could see the white painted stripes on her legs, like a tiger in reverse, a fashion thing some of her kind do. With a smooth motion she slid her plate onto my table, its stuffed loaf of oat-bread steaming. With that weird quickness they have, her hands darted forward and broke open the bread, revealing the beetles inside it. Yeah, city health codes, special permit, we keep them sluggish in a special freezer until they’re ready to be baked. But she opened the bread too soon, the beetles were still alive, and the damn things started trying to crawl out. She knew this would happen, it was deliberate. Any of these bugs running loose in my restaurant could get me shut down for weeks. I cursed under my breath.
As I reached out to catch or crush any beetles that escaped the bread, she hopped onto the table with that weird speed the fairies get when they’re afraid. Her yellow eyes glittered. This wasn’t normal, even for a fairy. Even for her. This was trouble.