Content Warning: Implied non-consensual scenarios at a fae revel, assault both implied and explicit.
“New girls get all the fun,” Senna says, tugging at her sequined dress. It’s slinky, like an old river rippled by silt. Hugs every curve she’s got, plus some.
I look at the new girl in question, crushed under a clot of fae boys. They’re like cats to fresh milk, those boys. All elbowing for a lick at the saucer.
“Doesn’t look all that fun to me,” I say. Overhead, frogs dangle from a gem-studded chandelier, playing tiny violins in what might be a waltz and oblivious to the look on the new girl’s face.
Senna rolls her eyes. “So says you.” She gestures at my dress, a simple gold cotton flare with small moons dangling from its hem. “You’re not even trying anymore, are you?”
“So?” I sip my punch. Wrinkle my nose at the cloying scent of elderberries. “Maybe what those fae boys got, I don’t want anymore. Not everything has to be about them, you know.”
Her eyes go tight, but before they can turn harder, I flash her my best smile. I can’t have her know how serious I am, after all. She’s all I’ve got.
Her face doesn’t soften. “I don’t know why I put up with you sometimes,” she finally says.
My free hand’s clutching my dress so hard at the words, gold stains my fingers. But then Senna smiles–because that’s what you do at the party–and with a careless laugh, she marches toward a lone fae boy slow-dancing in the ballroom’s center to see what attention she can glean.
As always, I follow after.
I still remember the gate that brought me here. All sparkles and shine, like a fresh bottle of pop. Fizzy on my skin as I stepped through. The ballroom was silver then. I spilled across that slick glass floor, the air crisp as snow, the chandeliers tatted out in frosty lace, right into the faeryland I never knew how much I wanted till I was here.
And the fae boys. Oh God, those fae boys…
I’ll never forget that first taste of fae boy want, slicing my veins all bright and filling me up like I was never filled before. It’s heady, that mix. Sticks to your ribs like glitter on glue. Cracks you open, wide.
I wanted to come here. Some stranger offered me a one-way ticket to faeryland and no way for anybody to come barging in to drag me back–sounded like the best damn deal in the world to me back then.
I mean, who would want the real world when they could have this?
“Ugh,” Senna says, slumped in a chair at the ballroom’s edge.
“That cheeky bastard–that wasn’t near enough, and he knows it.”
Gray tinges her cheeks beneath the blush. I imagine mine are even grayer.
Our slow-dancer turned out to be a fast little sprat once he got what he wanted, and done with his business, he swaggered off to a fresher girl without sparing us even a bit of a kiss to tide us over. I guess the sweets aren’t so sweet once everybody in the room’s given them a good lick. And God knows our sweets have been licked aplenty, Senna and I.
Time is a fragile thing, here at the party. Hard to tell which way it’s going, or how fast. Whichever way it’s going, though, it doesn’t seem to affect us any. The party likes its girls young, so young we stay.
Still, sometimes I feel old.
Aching, I press my palm against Senna’s cheek. I don’t know what I want, just that I want it.
She catches my wrist. Pulls my hand away.
“You need to change dresses,” she says. “Something less drab. Something that stands out. It’s no good to catch a fae boy if we can’t keep his attention.”
The words sting, but I keep my smile.
“Fine,” I say, “if you really want. But only if you give me a kiss. Maybe finish what that fae boy didn’t.”
She doesn’t, of course, give me that kiss. Or anything else.
But for her, I change my dress.
Same as every time she asks.
Change is too easy here. Just a bit of wanting, and it’s yours…but that wanting costs. Every time Senna insists I ravel my dress into something new, an elsewhere bit of me shrivels up.
It’s cold where those bits are gone. Bitter, bitter cold.
Senna laughs when I complain. Says it’s no big deal. We’re better off without whatever those pieces are, and shouldn’t she know since she’s been here the longer?
And she has been, I think. Much, much longer.
Still, I try not to change my dresses too often.
That doesn’t stop her from asking, though.
My new dress is a muddy bank next to Senna’s silted river. Asps hiss from the reeds unfurling at my waist.
Senna’s annoyed by the asps–I can tell by the way her smile is all twisted up–but she doesn’t say anything. This time.
I want her to say something.
She’s focused on our next fae ride, though, trying to find us some bit of magic that’ll last us long enough to breathe a spell. Maybe undo a bit of the gray. Heedless, she barges through a bunch of full-on gray girls–those forgotten remnants drifting wraith-like across the room. They shred in her wake, their mouths opening and closing like a chorus in one of those old silent flicks.
I don’t know that Senna sees them anymore, the gray girls. Maybe she’s as blind to them now as the fae boys are.
Or maybe she just no longer cares.
But I’ve got no more time to think on it as Senna squeezes my hand.
“There,” she says, targeting two fae boys lounging in a corner, drinking punch and pointing mockingly at various party-goers. “Those’ll do just fine, I think.”
And we’re off again, gray girl pieces screaming silently behind us.
Senna saved me, back then.
Saved me when I couldn’t save myself.
Those first fae boys were fine, nothing but want and need slurping up every aching bite of me. It was so good to be wanted that hard. So good, it hurt.
Which made it all the harder when the next new girl came popping out that one-way gate not long behind, skidding across the now marbled floors like a slab of fresh meat and the butchers all grinning at their saws. I went half-gray, just watching her those first few dances, all the want leaking out of me like blood from a busted nose.
Senna, though, she saw me. Half-gray though I was, she saw me.
She took me in, pressed my head against her chest, and said, “Don’t you worry, you. I’ll take good care of you. You just stay with me, and won’t neither of us go hungry again.”
And so I did.
And though times are harder lately, and the both of us coming up short, she still hasn’t backed out on that promise.
I suspect she never will.
The two fae boys Senna’s found are more than willing. For her, that is.
They’re pawing her up and down, filling her so bright with glow it hurts to look. I look anyway. Memorize the hungry ‘O’ of her face, the curve of her fingers clutching at the air.
One of the fae boys arches back and reaches for me, but an asp’s head pokes from my skirt and hisses him off.
With a shrug, he returns to the feast that is Senna, pausing every now and then to laugh with his friend in that mocking lilt of theirs.
Caught up in her feeding, Senna doesn’t notice the cruel turns of their lips. The way their fingers dance out of tune across her flesh, like they’re playing with an old tin soldier and who cares if it gets banged up a little in the process. She doesn’t notice a lot of things, anymore.
When I finally leave, I’m pretty sure she doesn’t notice that either .
The new girl’s screaming.
Maybe she doesn’t look it yet, but it’s there. Seeping through the edges of her. Bleeding out the cracks.
Why else would anyone choose to come here, after all? Because they think what’s here is a better place. And what’s behind can’t help but be worse.
We all want something. And here, if you want it enough, you think you can make it yours.
But there’s always a price. And pay it enough, there’ll be nothing left of you to care. Like what’s happened to Senna. Like what’s slowly happening to me.
But I want to be better than that.
I will be better than that.
I grit my jaw, and my dress hardens. Metal, sharp and jagged at the edges, heaves across my shoulders. The asps remain–I’ve become fond of them in our short time together. They’re only slightly displeased at their new home.
For what I hope is the last time, a little piece of me goes cold inside.
If you’re not a part of the party, Senna used to tell me, you’re nothing. Just another girl, waiting to disappear.
One of the first lessons she taught.
I think it’s time for a new lesson, though. A change in the rules. I’m not going to be just some easily replaceable part of the fae boys’ endless games, using us up, one after the other.
I’m going to take charge.
And so, girded in my new armor, I march toward the cluster of fae boys all piled atop that poor new girl.
I march to war.
BIO: Michelle Muenzler, also known at local conventions as “The Cookie Lady”, writes fiction both dark and strange to counterbalance the sweetness of her baking. Her fiction and poetry have been published in magazines such as Fireside, Daily Science Fiction, and Apex Magazine, and she takes immense joy in crinkling words like little foil puppets. Check out michellemuenzler.com for links to her work, or if you are feeling especially brave, pick up her squidgy weird novella, The Hills of Meat, the Forest of Bone, on Amazon. She promises it won’t bite…much.
Of the story, Michelle says, “It deals with the mythology of fairyland and those who choose to cross its borders to live…however wise that choice might be.”
The featured clip-art is from a drawing in ‘Charpentier’s Illustrated Guide to Southsea, the Dockyard, Isle of Wight, etc’, 1892, and was accessed via openclipart.org.