Ice-Cream in the Dark
Putrid smoke strikes a blow to the Earth. The roar of fires, raging infernos that blacken the valley with a deadly touch, deafen the few left alive to hear it. The foul smell of blood and slaughter remains, even after those flames have eaten far more than their fill. For all but a few this burning world has already been forgotten, and from there is lost to float as dust on the shelves of myth and legend.
But that was a long time ago, and a new adventure is about to begin. You wanted a fairy tale, and that’s what you’ll get.
“There was once a girl, no bigger than you, who could tell the future,” said the man to the girl. “This is all she told.”
It was three o’clock in the morning when a door creaking slowly open disturbed the silence of a sleeping house. A strong man surveyed the kitchen, hand brushing against the gun in his pocket. It was suicidal for his sort to be unarmed, especially now in the twenty-first century when all it took was a single red button to extinguish the lives of thousands.
Fridge, oven, table, beanbags. The kitchen seemed secure. Nothing had been moved and the place was as lonely as ever. Satisfied the area was free from threats, he quietly walked into the run-down old cottage.
The light flickered on.
“Maeve!” he snarled.
“Lorcan! Hellooo! Enjoy your night stroll, did you? You’re a bit late to come a-waltzing home with the groceries,” the girl at the end of the room accused. She must have been hiding in the corridor – he would have seen her otherwise, dark or not. She was a strong thing, and faster than lightning, though her pyjamas hid it well.
As Maeve slipped her hand from the light switch and yawned, Lorcan rolled his eyes. If only he’d saved enough energy to yell.
“It’s a bit late to stand in the doorway for who-knows-how-long waiting to give me a heart-attack! Disturbing, too.” He grunted moodily, pulled a chair from the table and collapsed. From there he glowered from Maeve to the shopping bags he’d dropped, then to Maeve again. “Lend a hand, would you?”
“Gladly, chief. Anything to help an old-timer!” Maeve’s tired smile became a smartly amused grin – one of those ‘I know something you don’t know’ smiles, but Lorcan ignored it. Maeve had been parading those smiles around the place for the past few hundred years. She could’ve been born wearing one, for all he knew.
Barefoot, she sprang across the small room, bundling up the shopping bags he’d dropped and hopping to the fridge. At that moment, jumping from cupboard to cupboard with tins and cartons in hand, it was hard to believe it wasn’t three o’clock in the afternoon.
“Pass me one of those, would you?” he muttered, and a can of beer came sailing at him through the air. He reached up and snatched it effortlessly.
“I was waiting for you to deliver my ice-cream,” Maeve confessed, rifling through a plastic bag. He closed his eyes as she unloaded the haul loudly onto the shelves. “You did get it, didn’t you? I will be very upset and maybe-perhaps run amuck on a murderous rampage if you haven’t. I might even start referring to myself in third person. Like taking monkeys from the bananas, it’ll be like that, you mark my words.”
Lorcan let her rant in one ear and out into the atmosphere. He was tired. It didn’t matter that he didn’t reply – Maeve continued the conversation with herself.
“Where are you, where are you...? I found him!” she announced at last, hugging the tub of ice-cream. “Pop tarts too. Brilliant!” She turned to him with her brown eyes huge. “You... you’re my hero.” She yawned again.
Her tall friend rolled his eyes, used to her exaggerations. Then it hit him that perhaps he should wonder why she was awake, for as erratic as their sleeping patterns were, Maeve had been up since morning, him likewise. Though they both suffered bouts of insomnia every now and then, the escapades she got up to keeping herself occupied late at night could sometimes fall under an unsafe, insane, unsanitary or just plain worrying label.
“What have you been up to, Maeve? You had a nice run around town today – I thought that’d tire you down until at least five in the morning.”
Finished emptying the grocery bags, Maeve pottered over to the cutlery drawer. “Is it a crime to worry about your health?” she asked.
Lorcan almost choked mid-swig. He had an idea of what was going on here, and it had nothing to do with him. “Yes!” he spluttered, slamming the can onto the table. “I wanted to get some air, and you’re the one who’s being – you’re not going to eat that now, are you?”
Maeve waved a spoon around in defence as she sat across from him. She let him take the first spoonful for good luck. “Sugar is nice, yes?”
Lorcan tapped the table with his index finger. “Maeve?”
She tore her eyes away from the ice-cream for a fraction of a second.
“Go to sleep or get out of my earshot.”
Maeve nodded. “Sure.” She blinked. “Wait, why?!”
“Because you’re being annoying and you know it.”
She smirked, finished with their aimless chatter. “That’s your excuse all the time.”
Lorcan smirked back, though there wasn’t much good humour in it. There rarely was. He was the Grumpy One of the two and had to keep up appearances. That was why he was going to take some ice cream when she wasn’t looking. “It’s not an excuse.”
“You hurt my self-esteem.”
“You hurt my head.” He stood to leave, sure that was more than enough of the battle of wits for one night. “’Night, Mocker. See you tomorrow, bright and early.”
He’d reached the door when she spoke again. She kept her jolly grin, but a darker menace underlay as she asked:
“How are our Magic Hunter friends, Lorcan?”
Lorcan stopped in his tracks. What was this? “The usual. Blissfully absent. We’re no threat to them, and I don’t know what reason you’d have for thinking otherwise.” He looked over his shoulder, and his eyes met hers. They were the same as his – eyes adapted to the night. Cat-like. Reflective. They were inhuman. Of course, neither had been human for a long time, so it went without saying. But within those brown pools was something old, perhaps something he only noticed because he’d known her for a thousand years. It had been a long thousand years.
Maeve pursed her lips in thought and the darkness in her vanished. “A ‘potential’ threat, hmm? Looks like I might have to go on that murderous rampage after all!” She smiled lightly, standing, about to make the short journey to her bedroom. Finally.
“You do that,” he agreed, plodding out the door, down the corridor, switching off the light as he went. There was no need for it in the first place. “I’m going to sleep and I don’t want to wake up until –”
Something changed, something imperceptible to an outsider new to this home and the creatures in its hallway, but was a forewarning to those who could feel it.
Lorcan and Maeve both froze abruptly, sleep forgotten. Their eyes widened, their hearts chiselled against their ribcages, and then a new energy surged through them. They had to move now, before the Ministry of Silence got wind of the new changeling. She was close; in the south-east of the country. Not too far away.
He spun around.
“Who took my gun?!” an angry voice yelled from the room Maeve had been about to enter. As he marched into the kitchen, Lorcan’s fingers brushed the gun in his pocket, not-so-guiltily.
Maeve was ecstatic, skipping over the loose floorboards as she zipped through the house. “A Change is afoot! I kid you not! Taha!”
“I want you both ready to go in five minutes!” Lorcan thundered, knowing full-well the other creature in the house could hear him and would likely do her best to ignore him. “And put some clothes on, Maeve.”
As Maeve made a proud remark about her pyjamas from another room, Lorcan ground his teeth. The adrenaline would wear off given its due time, and there was no telling how the next new day would be, but those were small worries compared to what was happening at that moment, somewhere away from the ruined old cottage, away from a world of drawn knives and bullets at-the-ready... and magic.
He took a spoonful of ice cream for good luck.
The Peach House, Willowcrest Road, Lismore, Waterford, Ireland, 30th of April, 3:11am
Our story now moves all the way to Lismore, past the banks of the Blackwater River and over towards the west of town. In another house that wasn’t too big and wasn’t too small, a sixteen year-old girl woke up, struggling to breathe. Aimee Grace, sometimes Aimee Cahill, had been dreaming about something strange. Whatever the something was, she couldn’t remember.
She croaked out a cough, discovering a blocked nose and a headache while she was at it. And it’s Monday too, she thought groggily, checking her alarm clock. I hate Mondays.
Regardless of how much she hated Mondays (and the day would only get worse from there), her eyes shut tightly. Sleep. That was what she needed. Aimee buried herself under her blanket, and within seconds the night was quiet again.