Three days before her twenty-fourth birthday, Katherine Gregory receives a letter from her deceased mother. It details a faery curse in which the eldest child in each generation will die in their twenty-fifth year.
Three days before her twenty-fourth birthday, a new love interest comes knocking, and her first love has returned - neither men are what they seem, and Katherine may have to choose between them.
Three days before her twenty-fourth birthday, Katherine must decide if this is all real, or if the strange visions she's been having are just a figment of her imagination.
The race to unravel the mystery begins, and Katherine must solve it - for any day after her birthday could be her last.
A letter came by registered mail.
It was from my mother.
Had she not been dead for three months, it might have seemed less odd.
The return address was care of the lawyer she had chosen to settle her affairs, but there was no mistaking the handwriting. The circular perfection of the “o” in Joan Gregory was unmistakable.
I signed for the letter and thanked the courier, sending him on his way even though he lingered in the doorway. I don’t know if he was looking for a tip or waiting for me to play with his, but either way it wasn’t happening. I closed the door, perhaps a little too eagerly, and jiggled the envelope. Something slid around inside.
It wasn’t like my mother to send something so late. The woman had conducted her affairs like she had everything else in life — calculated, efficient. I wasn’t sure what she could be sending so long after her passing. More than likely it had gotten lost in the lawyer’s office, and they’d just remembered to send it now.
I plunked myself on the futon. The frame moaned a little — its time with me as a university student had not been kind.
As I hacked open the envelope a key dropped to the parquet floor. A crisp letter awaited me, its message blunt.
The key is to open a safety deposit box. The branch address and contact information is attached as well as the necessary legal papers granting you access. You will want to open it before your twenty-fourth birthday.
I tried not to roll my eyes at the fact she had formally signed the letter instead of the usual, ‘Your Mother’.
A sigh escaped my lips. My twenty-fourth birthday was three days away. So it seemed her timing was impeccable.
I sat for a moment, looking over the letter. Dancing around the back of my mind was the thought that this might be karma. Not the good kind either.
The woman had left me nothing. Everything had been bequeathed to my brother, Geoffrey, with the exception of some shack in England. And that was only left to me because it was always handed down to the eldest child.
I wish I could say that Geoff had shared some of his inheritance with me, but he’d kept it all. My mother had managed to successfully drive a wedge between my brother and me growing up — to the point that we rarely spoke now.
I didn’t mourn her passing.
I suppose that’s where the karma was coming back to bite me.
I lay back on the sofa, stuffing a ratty throw pillow under my head.
What the hell would she leave me in a box?
As I pondered what plan the woman could have concocted, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. I whipped my head in its direction. All I saw was the plant — a wilting ficus. The glance was instinctual — like when you think something’s there; like when you feel something is watching you; or worse, like when you’re convinced you saw a figure in the shadows, but you turn and it’s not there.
Most people can brush it off.
I waited. For what exactly, I wasn’t sure, but I suppose I was expecting to catch sight of something that wasn’t really there. The pause had to have been nothing more than half a second, but it’d felt like ten. At the end of that seemingly prolonged moment I made a beeline for the kitchen. I tore through the cupboards searching for where I’d left my meds.
Beside the cans of ravioli, the empty bottle waited.
Trifluoperazine — it was the only thing that helped.
The notion something was always looking over my shoulder had gotten worse lately. Hallucinations, the doctor had said. They’d become more frequent since my roommate’s brother had brought that blasted plant.
It seemed odd I would blame a plant, but leafy greenness and I were not friends. Plants put me on edge. I was trying to let the thing die while Natalie was on vacation. I figured she’d be a little disappointed when she returned, but so be it. I couldn’t have a plant in here.
I had another look at the ficus.
Fortunately, there was nothing there. At its foot lay three dead leaves. I left them.
At that point the phone rang.
Although it startled me, I was relieved to be jerked back to reality. I shook my head, and tried to settle my nerves with a deep breath. Then I grabbed the cordless.
Coincidentally, it was Chris — the guy who’d brought the plant.
I hate coincidences. I almost didn’t answer, but he was a friend. And I tend not to think as clearly as I should around cute men with broad shoulders.
“Hello?” I managed to choke into the receiver.
“Hi, Katherine?” said the voice on the other end of the line. His voice was like warm sugar.
“Oh, hey Chris, Natalie’s not here. She’s on vacation.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Oh, did she call you? Does she need something?”
“No. I was calling for you.”
“Did I miss practice?” We played rugby together and I was pretty good about making practice regularly. But lately, my mind wasn’t where it should be. Again, I blamed the plant.
“No,” he said. There was an awkward silence. “Um, I was just wondering if you wanted to go for coffee or something. With Natalie gone, I thought you might want some company.”
Now, there was a surprise.
It wasn’t the first time Natalie had disappeared for a prolonged period. In fact, she was rarely ever around. When she’d answered the ad for a female roommate, I never thought I’d have it so good. She paid her half of the rent and was almost never here.
I wasn’t sure what her brother's motives were, but something seemed a little odd.
Chris was way out of my league.
And I mean way.
I play rugby and field hockey, so I’m not all that thin. My curly hair makes me look like Medusa on good days, and like I’d stuck my finger in a socket on the rest. I don’t generally wear makeup and I dress in what I like to call comfortable clothing. I don’t do demure and quiet. And I’m pretty sure I reek of man-repellent.
That said, I did need some company.
Besides, getting away from that plant in the corner wouldn’t hurt either.
“Uh, sure,” I said. “When?”
“How about now?” he asked.
There was a knock at the door.
My breath got stuck in my throat.
Please don’t let that be him.
I walked to answer it, curious if it was him, but hoping it wasn’t. It was a bit stalker-ish for my liking, even if he was cute.
As I approached the door the ficus was calling my attention again. Like a magnet, it drew my eyes towards it.
I nearly choked at what was there. I blinked, hoping it was just a reflection or trick of the light. Unfortunately, it was no use.
Standing by the tree was a hairy, little green man with enormously large hands.
I cursed myself for not having refilled my meds.
Not a good time for a mental breakdown, Katherine. Pull it together.
Chris cleared his throat on the other end of the phone, waiting for me to answer his question. The knock on the door got heavier. And the little man was motioning me towards him.
I’m usually pretty good about picking my priorities, even under pressure. The first thing I needed to do was deal with Chris. It was only seconds I’d left him hanging there, but it couldn’t have been making much of an impression.
“Uh, now’s not good,” I managed to say. “Eight o’clock okay?”
I figured I would accomplish two things by putting him off until later. First, it allowed me to deal with whoever was hammering on my door. Second, it bought me some needed time to address the little problem that was perched under the ficus.
There was hesitation on the other end of the phone before Chris finally said, “Yeah, that sounds fine. Casey’s okay?”
The pounding on the door got more insistent.
“No, Woody’s has better pool tables.”
“Sounds good,” he said.
I hung up, a little too quickly.
Next was the door.
I looked through the peephole.
It was my brother, Geoff. I was sort of glad it was him. Surprised, but glad.
“One sec!” I called. “I’m not decent!”
I lied, but the knocking stopped which bought me a moment.
The last problem was a conundrum. My psychiatrist said I shouldn’t entertain whatever fanciful creations my imagination could conjure. He advised me to take my meds and then imagine whatever I was seeing to disappear.
I was operating sans meds here, and I couldn’t just scream at it to go away since Geoff was on the other side of the door. He’d heard enough of my raving lunacy as a kid. He didn’t need to relive that all over. I tried to make shooing motions with my hands, hoping that what I was seeing would take the hint that it wasn’t wanted.
I even shook my head a couple of times as if rattling my brain around in my skull might help.
That didn’t work either.
The little man became more insistent and then pointed to something at the base of the plant with his meaty fingers. I had to step closer to see it. A lot closer.
I was about two feet away when I noticed what was resting there — an earring. An earring with an emerald.
The little man said nothing, but motioned for me to take it.
The earring was my own, one I’d had since I was a teenager. How it got there was a mystery, but I picked it up, avoiding the little man. If I touched him and found he actually had substance, I’d go mental.
He’s just a figment of your imagination, Katherine.
I backed away from the plant and slipped the earring in my pocket.
Then I made for the door.
A quick check in the mirror revealed I was a little paler than usual, but otherwise my appearance was acceptable. I took one last glance at the ficus and sighed. Little, naked green guy was gone.
I yanked open the door.
Geoff stood there with a laundry basket filled with some of my old clothes.
“I thought you weren’t going to let me in,” he said. He ducked to enter, his hair brushing the doorframe. He was a good head taller than me. “Thought maybe you had company.”
I smiled as I closed the door behind him. “Uh, no.”
He dropped the basket on the floor. “I was downtown and thought I’d drop by with some of your things.”
Geoff still lived in our old house on the outskirts of the city.
“And what’s the name of the man that has you downtown on a Saturday morning?” I asked. It was as close to playful banter as I was going to get with him. I chose to ignore the fact he had treated my things so callously.
Geoff tossed his rugby jacket on the futon. “You’ll be surprised when I tell you.”
“Oh god, tell me it’s not some name like Drake or Lance?” From what I understood, Geoff’s life was something of a soap opera.
He made his way to the kitchen, chuckling. “Better,” he said. He paused at the doorway and turned. “It’s Layne.” He slipped out of sight with a flare that was as gay as his coif.
It was interesting he was sharing this with me. Maybe with Mother gone, he felt like he needed family again.
“Not Layne, like Troy’s brother?” I asked, chasing after him. Troy was a previous fling of mine, if he could be called that. He was one of the pool hall regulars. I think he’d been through every woman in the bar before he finally decided to try me. He’s one of those men that wears shitkickers, has a sock stuffed in the front of his jeans, and boasts silver testicles on the back of his truck. It was what I call compensation for what’s lacking between his legs. That relationship lasted all of one date. Okay, maybe two if I count the time I had sex with him in the washroom while under the influence of way too many beers.
When I got around the corner, Geoff was fingering the opened pill bottle on the counter.
His eyes held a hint of concern. “You still taking these?”
I offered an irritated smirk and then took the bottle from his hands, stuffing it back into the cupboard.
I pondered telling him about the plant in the corner. That thought lasted for about a second. Geoff had heard me talk of little people as a child and watched as I went through countless doctors to rid myself of the hallucinations. It hadn’t been easy on any of us. In the end, to my mother’s credit, she’d finally found someone that had been able to find the right med. It had now been seven years since I’d seen the little green man and his friends.
“I got a letter from Mother today,” I said. The change in subject was deliberate, and it seemed to work. Geoff cocked his head just enough to indicate he was intrigued.
I grabbed the note from the coffee table and handed it to him.
His eyes saddened a little. He had wonderful memories of our mother.
I wish I could say the same.
My mother had never been cruel to me. On the contrary, she had been very civil and polite, but her love was never mine to receive. It was a bitter childhood and I’ve often wondered if the hallucinations had stemmed from that lack of affection growing up.
My psychiatrist said I had mother issues.
My psychiatrist also had a way with the obvious.
Geoff read it quickly. “This is my branch.”
“I thought it might be,” I said. He worked as a manager there.
“What could she have left for you so long after her passing?”
I shrugged. I really had no clue.
“Look at the postmark,” he said. “This was sent out yesterday from the lawyer’s office. And the letter is dated for today. She wanted you to get this now.”
I hadn’t really paid attention to those details, but Geoff was right.
“Get your things,” he said. “I’ll take you. It’s still open.”
“Sure,” I said. It was a good reason to get some fresh air and clear my head. “Give me a sec.”
Geoff grabbed his jacket as I slipped into the bedroom. I nudged the door closed behind me. He didn’t need to see the single mattress on the floor I used as a bed or the milk crates I used as a nightstand. I had my pride.
I threw on a ball cap and pulled a team sweater from the clean pile of laundry. I tried to slip my ID into my pocket and realized the earring was still in there.
It was from Aunt Marigold. She had given it to me as a birthday gift long ago — a single, emerald earring. It seemed odd at the time to only receive a single earring, but my aunt was quirky that way. I never really heard much from her after that, with the exception of the customary Yule card and a few letters imploring me to come visit. With no money to make such a trip, I just ignored the latter.
I opened the little wooden box where I kept the trinkets which had some meaning to me and nearly gasped.
Sitting next to a wooden figurine of a fox was the earring I’d had since I was sixteen.
What I held in my hand was its match.
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