NOTE: This is part of the new novel I am writing. I am posting it here as a diversion for readers who may be living under shelter-in-place policies while the world waits for the coronavirus pandemic to pass. For an explanation of this project, please click here. To read the chapters I’ve posted in order, click here.
Tumbleweed Motel ~ Coldwater, N.M.
Holly couldn’t sleep. Something was afoot tonight, and while it didn’t feel dangerous per se, it felt … different. She’d tried adjusting the heat in her room, sleeping with the blankets off, sleeping with the blankets on, meditating, timing her breaths, daydreaming, bundling up, stripping down, and even taking an antihistamine, all to no avail, before she finally gave up, put on her bathrobe, and filled the electric kettle with water. If she wasn’t going to get any rest anyway, she might as well sit outside with a cup of tea and listen to the night.
When the water boiled, Holly poured it over the bag of Earl Grey in her faded Daniel Webster High School travel mug — the one she’d bought from the school store 10 years ago, when she took her first administrative position — and carried it outside.
It was after 11 p.m., and Coldwater was quiet. Waiting, her mind supplied. But waiting for what?
She sat on an old metal chair outside her room and let the tea steep while she listened to the wind and the nothingness.
A 1972 Barracuda pulled into the parking lot, its engine curiously quiet, and a large man with white hair and beard got out. A tingle of hyperawareness fired along Holly’s nerve endings. This new arrival would be important. Why? She forced herself to remain still, but she followed the man with her eyes as he walked past her and around the side of the office, where a familiar figure emerged from the shadows and embraced him like a long-lost son.
Well. If Aunt Shirley was welcoming him, Holly wasn’t worried. She let herself relax as she watched the pair interact. They were too far away for her to hear what they were saying, but Aunt Shirley glanced in her direction and made a small gesture of acknowledgment. Holly would simply have to wait to find out who the man was and what he was doing there.
The man walked back around to the front of the building and rang the night bell. A moment later, a light came on in the lobby, and Morgan opened the front door, admitting him inside.
Holly glance back over toward the spot where she had last seen Aunt Shirley. She was gone.
A half-second later, Holly nearly dropped her tea when the woman appeared in the chair next to her.
“You won’t believe the name he’s using this time,” Aunt Shirley said, her voice amused.
Holly stared at her. “Should I know who he is?”
“Every Irishwoman should know who he is,” Aunt Shirley chided. “He’s calling himself ‘Blake Cole.’”
“Blake Cole.” Holly rifled through her mental Rolodex. Who was Blake Cole?
“Blake means ‘white-haired,’” Aunt Shirley offered, by way of clarification.
Yeah, still not getting it, Holly thought.
“Didn’t you feel it when he pulled up?”
Holly nodded, hesitant. “I felt something. Is he fae?”
Aunt Shirley nodded. “Partly. By way of his mother.” She looked at Holly. “There’s another name that means ‘white-haired’: Fionn.”
“Fionn Co– ohhhhhhh.” Holly chuckled as it clicked. “Clever. Did you send him?”
Aunt Shirley shook her head. “He sensed the shapeshifter gathering strength. He wanted to be close, in case the Tuatha needed him.”
“The Tuatha?” Holly’s eyes widened. “Surely that thing isn’t big enough to threaten the Tuatha from the other side of the world.”
Aunt Shirley just looked at her. “It’s plotting an attack on the Morrígan herself, and you’re surprised the protector of Ireland is getting involved?”
Oh, Holly. Shit just got real.
“Indeed it did,” Aunt Shirley agreed, though Holly was sure she hadn’t spoken the words aloud. “I hope your young friend remembers who she is sooner rather than later. I think that’s the object of tonight’s visit. I’d suggest you spend a little time with our guest and see if he has any ideas to help her.”
With that, Aunt Shirley’s form faded into mist and blew away on the west wind.
The office door opened, and “Blake Cole” walked out, carrying a key and wearing a jovial grin.
“Hello, young lady,” he greeted Holly in Old Irish as he approached. “Looks like we’re going to be neighbors this evening.”
“‘Blake Cole’?” Holly grinned at him.
“I thought it sounded plausible. They’d suspect me of putting them on if I used my real name,” the warrior said.
“They probably would,” Holly agreed. “So you met our young Morrígan?”
“May I?” Cole gestured to the chair Aunt Shirley had recently vacated.
“By all means.”
Holly waited for the big man to settle himself into the chair.
“She’s an impressive lass,” he said at last. “The Morrígan’s power radiates from her, but it’s wild. Uncontrolled. One might even call it sloppy. Quite unlike our Great Queen. Has she any idea how to use it?”
“Some. She knows how to use the ceo druidechta, but she has trouble concentrating long enough to make it do her bidding if she’s not protecting someone she loves. She’s grieving her father. The thing uses that to distract her. And she’s got a familiar now — she calls the raven Lenore, after a character in an American poem she likes — but she still hasn’t remembered how to assume the raven’s form.” Holly gazed into the distance. “Sometimes she doesn’t want to remember. She’s progressing. She’s come to terms with her bean sidhe status. But she doesn’t like to be reminded that being fae means she isn’t human, and the idea of being a goddess is a bridge too far. She doesn’t want to accept it. I just wish I knew how to help her progress faster. There’s got to be a reason she chose this form, in this moment, with this mentor. I just don’t know what it is.”
Her companion was silent, chewing on his thumbnail and staring off into space. Just when Holly thought he’d completely zoned out, he spoke. “Have you taken her to see the dragon?”
Holly frowned. “Dragon?”
“Aye.” The man nodded toward the mesa. “The serpent.”
“I don’t follow.”
“Do you have one of those little devices humans like to carry, with all the information inside?”
Holly reached into the pocket of her robe. It was empty. “Crap. I forgot it on the nightstand. Let me go get it.”
Cole held up his hand. “No need. I’ve said nearly all I planned to say tonight. The smartphone: You can use it to see pictures of the land from above?”
“I suggest you look at that mesa. I expect a visit to the dragon might help the Great Queen remember herself.”
“Go look up that picture.” The man rose. “And spend some time studying the local legends. Ireland isn’t the only place the Tuatha have lived.” He waved to her. “Good night.”
Before Holly could reply, he dissolved into the air as Aunt Shirley had. She knew that when she looked back at the parking lot, the Barracuda would be gone.