Everyone in the neighborhood of Crescent Heights could not
for the life of them understand why old Mrs. DeWinter got up early each morning
to enjoy the sunrise. Luckily for her,
she couldn’t see the silent shrugs and smirks from passing commuters. Mrs. DeWinter couldn’t even see the sunrise
for that matter.
Blind since birth, Eloise had never found her lack of sight to be an obstacle. She had gone to college, worked as a transcriptionist for a number of years, gotten married, raised two children, the whole nine yards. Widowed as of fourteen years ago, Eloise now lived alone in the house she and Mr. DeWinter had occupied since the late 1960s. It was a handsome three-bedroom Queenslander with a white porch and faded blue shutters. A rather unremarkable and slightly run-down looking place compared with the other homes in the area. What made the DeWinter home a catch though was its location; at the end of cull-de-sac backing onto a rural section of private land.
The city had been hounding the late Jack DeWinter for decades to purchase the 640 acres, and now hounded Eloise in her turn. The little old lady stood her ground. Even personal pleas from developers to let them break ground on a new suburb had been politely refused. It was only a matter of time, the neighbors said, until the city really got aggressive with their offers. Mrs. DeWinter was quite old though, and it seemed likely that interested parties had simply decided to wait her out.
Come anxious housing developers or sniggering neighbors, Eloise couldn’t care less. Sitting on her back porch facing the untouched land beyond, she basked in the warmth of the late May sun. The bite of lingering winter had gone out of the air only just weeks ago. Even so, the gentle heat of a teacup was comfortable between her hands. It smelled a tiny bit like rain; that fresh, airy scent that made a person think of sprinklers. Perhaps if it did rain then Eloise wouldn’t have to make the rounds of the flower beds with the watering can later.
There came a clicking of nails over linoleum from inside. Right on cue, a few moment later the sound of paws on glass came to Eloise’s ears. Savoring the feel of sunlight for just one second more, she called over her shoulder.
“I’ll be right there Missy! You just hold your horses.”
A plaintive whine emitted from the other side of the sliding glass door between the porch and the kitchen. The DeWinter’s family pet, a (mostly) Cocker spaniel mutt named Missy didn’t like to be left inside. She had a bad habit of getting out of the yard though, and so normally Eloise only let her out when it was time for a walk. Numerous times the DeWinter’s grown children had tried to convince their mother to be paired with a Seeing Eye dog. Eloise had refused, citing her worries that a strange dog would upset Missy. Besides, with her cane and her excellent memory Eloise was more than comfortable navigating the world of her house and the yard behind it.
Finally the whimpering from Missy became insistent enough to get Mrs. DeWinter on her feet. Unaware of the man with the red hummer next door shaking his head at her over the fence, she smiled to herself. Living alone had quite suited her these past years. Not to say that she didn’t still miss Jack occasionally. Still, there was something about a quiet cup of tea in the morning calm that got the day off on the right foot.
“Calm down, silly thing. You can’t have any more treats until lunchtime.” Said Eloise as she opened the sliding door. She felt Missy nudging at her ankles, trying to sneak past out into the yard. “Oh no you don’t!” she shook her head, deftly shutting the door just an inch ahead of Missy’s reaching nose. “Remember what happened last time you got loose?”
Whether she remembered or not, the cocker spaniel did at least quiet down. More clicking of nails ensued as Missy trotted at her beloved mistress’s heels. Eloise made a mental note to trim the pooch’s nails later that afternoon. Easily finding the counter, she set her teacup down with a soft ‘clink’.
“She really does want to go outside, it’s a lovely morning.”
With a stifled shriek, Mrs. DeWinter turned so suddenly that her elbow caught the teacup. A sharp crash came from near her slippers as it broke on the kitchen tiles. There hadn’t been a man living in the house since her oldest son Trevor had moved out nearly thirty-five years ago. The voice that had spoken from near the table definitely didn’t belong to Trevor though. It was far too deep for that, with a tenor she had never heard before.
“Who is that?!” Eloise demanded, holding her cane out before her like a sword. She cocked her head to listen for the slightest sound.
An answering kerfuffle echoed off the kitchen walls. Someone knocked over a chair, and it hit the floor with a sharp ‘crack’. If her nerves weren’t jangling so loudly, Eloise would have sworn she heard the sound of hooves clopping on her clean linoleum.
“Who are you!?” she called again.
“My apologies!” cried the deep voice from somewhere beside the telephone. So much for calling the police. “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
“I said, who are you?” Eloise tried to firm up her voice, which sounded distinctly thin and elderly all of the sudden.
“Rengis is the name, of the Butterby Meadow. And it’s a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance, even if we did get off on the wrong hoof.”
Still with a death-grip on the handle of her cane, Eloise wondered why Missy wasn’t having a fit at the presence of a stranger in the house. In fact, she was answered by the clicking of nails as her traitorous little pooch crossed the kitchen toward the voice.
“Rengis? And what kind of name is that?” Eloise tried to place the accent she was hearing, but failed miserably. You’d think after nearly eighty years of living it would be easier to recognize such things.
“A good one, my very favorite as a matter of fact!” said the voice, sounding somewhat proud of himself. “I used to like Danamus, but got rather bored of it about a century ago.”
That made approximately less sense to Eloise than most of the stories her children used to make up as toddlers. Either the stranger was one of those poor crazy homeless folks, or they were making fun of her. Clutching the counter, she pointed her cane warningly toward the speaker.
“Well Rengis, or Danamus or whatever you call yourself, I want to know what you’re doing in my kitchen! I don’t have any money if that’s what you’re after, and all my costume jewelry is fake.”
“Money?” The voice who called himself Rengis sounded particularly flummoxed. “Now what could I possibly want with human money? Silly idea if you ask me, when it’s so much easier to just ask when you need something.”
Now Eloise was quite sure some poor deranged fellow had gotten into her house, and mentally kicked herself. Trevor and his wife Marguerite would have a bird if they heard she was still leaving the front door unlocked.
“Then what do you want? Food, clothes...a place to sleep? Come on now, make sense!”
“Food sounds lovely, thank you very muchly!” exclaimed Rengis happily. “How thoughtful! Now I am ever so glad I decided to bring honey with me.”
To Eloise’s shock she heard a chair being pulled out, its feet scraping lightly over the floor. Seconds later there was a creaking as a fairly large someone made themselves comfortable at the kitchen table.
“Erm...” Taken aback, Mrs. DeWinter goggled as she heard Missy’s tail thumping with delight against a table leg. ‘Watchdog my foot’ she thought to herself.
Fumbling as she hadn’t done in her own kitchen since the day she and Jack had moved in, Eloise managed to get a few pieces of bread into the toaster and get them buttered. Behind her she could hear the stranger who called himself Rengis humming a cheerful little ditty as he waited. It wasn’t a tune Eloise was familiar with, but it sounded nice enough. Figuring that if she was going to be robbed and/or murdered by an intruder she may as well enjoy a good breakfast first, Eloise cracked open the fridge and pulled out a bowl of strawberries too.
When the toast and strawberries were ready she balanced the plate on one hand while cautiously holding out her cane with the other. Normally Eloise never needed the silly stick to get around her own kitchen, but she wanted a weapon handy just in case. Slow with caution, she approached the kitchen table where Rengis was still humming.
The closer she got, the more a distinctive scent caught her attention. It certainly wasn’t any of those thick colognes that Jack and other husbands used to be so fond of dousing themselves with. This smelled a bit like damp moss and campfire, with a significant undertone of mulch. Whoever this Rengis was, he had definitely spent last night if not every night sleeping outside.
“Thank you Elle.” Said Rengis in a cheerful rumble. “How much honey do you want on your toast?”
Eloise nearly dropped her cane, and certainly missed the chair she was grabbing for. Rather than sit down she very narrowly avoided stepping on Missy, who was trotting by underfoot.
“How do you know my nickname?!” she exclaimed, backing away a few steps. “No one has called me that in over sixty years!”
“It’s a very good name, and I daresay you should go back to it.” Rengis answered, along with the distinctive scraping of cutlery over toast. “It sounds so much more like you, rather than that stuffy ‘Mrs. DeWinter’. Toast?”
‘They’ve bugged the house. That’s it; maybe he’s a Russian spy or something like that.’ Eloise’s brain was cranking through the possibilities at top speed. ‘He doesn’t sound Russian though, silly’ Another voice in the back of her mind contradicted. ‘Besides, what could spies possibly want with a little old lady like you?’
“I hope you don’t mind, I put a generous bit of honey on it for you already.” Rengis was saying, and Eloise heard the ‘clink’ of a plate on the table. “You can never have too much of the sweet stuff, especially in the morning.”
Calling herself a fool and a ninny every step of the way, Eloise cautiously caught hold of a chair and pulled herself into it. Missy brushed around her ankles like a furry boa and Eloise made a mental note to get her a little brother...preferably of the Rottweiler variety. ‘Thanks for nothing, fur-ball.’ She thought sourly. Her children would have a field day with this if they ever caught wind. They were always trying to tell her that it was dangerous to be living alone with only a cocker spaniel for company.
“I must apologize again for frightening you.” Said Rengis, followed immediately by a loud munch. “You have no idea how many ways I tried to figure how best to introduce myself.”
“Well, you’ve introduced yourself.” Said Eloise rather tartly. “But I still haven’t the faintest idea what it is that you want.”
“To inter’duce myshelf of courph!” The words were thoroughly muffled by a mouthful of toast.
“Right...” This conversation was making about as much sense as her grandchildren’s attempts to show her that Internet thingy.
“It’s ever so hard to find a human who can actually sense us.” Rengis continued, his mouth only marginally less full. “After so many hundreds of years of only talking to the same people, it’s wonderful to meet a new friend.” Again, another pronounced crunch of honeyed toast.
“If you’re not human, then just what do you think you are?” Eloise had heard stories about people gone ‘round the bed who thought they were anything from aliens to lamp-posts. She couldn’t wait to hear this Rengis’s particular delusion. Maybe then she’d finally have some idea what to do.
“Oh right!” A loud exclamation came from the chair across the table. “I forgot, we’re not really known any more by your kind.” Rengis cleared his throat in a very proud sounding way. “We’ve had all sorts of names over time; Fey, Spirits of Place, Tuatha De Dannan, fairies, Little People, ghosts, you name it. We used to be more out in the open you see, when humans’ minds were bigger places. Round these parts though we’ve decided we like to be called ‘Old Folks’, seeing as we are folks, and most definitely old!”
“I see...” Eloise said slowly, wishing she had a little shot of something stronger than tea in her mug on the counter.
A deep, rolling laugh came out of Rengis. “You don’t believe me.”
“Well, no.” Replied Eloise, not wanting to offend her potentially unstable visitor but also never one for sugaring down the truth. “I’ve lived this long and never heard anything to say such things exist before.”
“I can prove it, if you’d like?”
“Like this.” There was a scraping of chairs, and a creaking to suggest that Rengis had stood up. No doubt about it, there was a definite ‘clip-clop’ of hooves echoing slightly in the kitchen. The mossy scent grew stronger. Suddenly a large, warm hand caught hold of her wrist on the table-top. With a surprised hiss, Eloise drew back.
“You wanted me to prove my words?” Rengis was close, only an arm’s length away. At this range Eloise could hear his breathing, even feel the curious sort of warmth radiating through the air in his direction.
“There, I promise I do not bite.” Rengis laughed as he guided Eloise’s arthritic hand to land on what felt like a shoulder. It was bare, and Eloise let out a squeak.
“Aren’t you wearing a shirt?!” she asked.
“Of course not! Keep going.”
The cane was rising in Eloise’s free hand, coming up for a good ‘thwack’ on this delinquent’s head. Before she could swing at him though, Rengis bent low, bringing her hand up onto the side of his face. There she felt something incredibly strange. Amidst a mass of extremely thick, curly hair her finger hit bone. With the deft quickness of a blind person Eloise felt her way along. Up, up and away from Rengis’s head something curled. Abruptly she was reminded of a visit long ago to her sister’s ranch.
“Horns!?” she cried.
Rengig’s head bobbed in what was probably a nod. “Two of them, both the longest and thickest of any satyr in the Butterby Meadow.” He sounded immensely pleased with himself.
On a roll now and not about to be stopped, Eloise realized she had dropped her cane. With both hands she grasped each of the horns, as thick and rounded as any ram. ‘This must be a joke’ she thought, and tugged on them firmly.
“Oi!” A sudden yelp came from the area of her mid-drift where Rengis’s face was. “They don’t come off you know!”
“Ah, sorry...” Eloise said absently, continuing her exploration. With the sensitive pads of her fingers she felt along the horns back to Rengis’s head. ‘Someone is due for a haircut’ she mused, discovering that the curly hair went well down the satyr’s broad shoulders.
Eloise gave a start at the ringing of the doorbell. Missy was off like a shot, nails clicking all the way to the front door. She wasn’t expecting anyone, and now was a rather inconvenient time to have to explain a satyr at her kitchen table.
“Oh dear. Who could that be?” Eloise had withdrawn her hands in surprise. When she reached back out though, she was met with only empty air. “Rengis?”
There was no answer, only another ring from the doorbell. Gathering herself, Eloise had to fish for her cane with her toe. Finding it, she tried one more time.
When silence and the doorbell was the only answer, Eloise had to give up and head for the front hall. ‘Am I going senile?’ she wondered anxiously to herself. Then again, she thought it was memory loss rather than hallucinations that was a sign of senility.
The schoolchildren were collecting bottles again, and Eloise gave them the few she had sitting in the garage. She was sure she must have been frazzled sounding as she sent them off. When finally she and Missy were alone again, she called throughout the whole house before giving up. Had she imagined the whole episode? The memory of those bony horns under her hands didn’t feel like a figment of her imagination.