Evelyn's earliest memory was as a babe lying down in her crib: not an event, so much as an image that moved—like a hologram viewed at different angles. An absurdly early memory.
She is looking up, lying flat upon her back, her legs and arms up in the air twitching about, balled up, her view framed by the bars of her crib. Around the bars sit tiny beings, as tall as her open palm, their bodies seemingly made of solid light, with wings growing out of their backs, made out of the glints upon a lens aimed at the sun. Around them dance little pinpoints of light—the kind you might spot out of the corner of your eye—traveling around them in patterns unplottable. Behind them, farther from view, sit larger creatures upon the bookshelves and the dresser, the size of the teddy bears she is not yet old enough to be gifted with, translucent yet opaque, in colors brown, white, and blue, with textures rough, smooth and prickly, in shapes angular, globular, and spiky. Creatures made from wood, cloud and color. The prickly blue one has eyes, which stare down a long nose at her with wild joy. The other two do not have eyes, merely empty sockets carved into slits or round hollows. And before them all, standing at the base of the crib, is a figure that almost isn't there, yet is, with features as defined as any human's, but longer in the nose, chin and ears, and looking down upon her with a smile as loving as any of her mother's, yet tinged with a sense of triumph completely alien to the mundane world.
They had been there, before that, she knew, perhaps had been there to greet her when she entered the world—perhaps they were there to greet everyone as they entered the world—but that early flash was the first she remembered of the spirits. Of the faeries.
Later memories were more distinct.
There they are up upon the kitchen table doing somersaults. She laughs in her highchair as her mom tries to feed her baby food. She grabs it with her hands and throws it playfully about, making her mother mad, and the winged ones dart up around them and make silly faces, stretching out their translucent, silent mouths as if they are made of rubber.
She is outside in the backyard on a pleasant summer day. The grass is a vibrant green, and several of the brown ones are crawling out of the ground, down from the depths of the earth. Their heads rise in points, as if covered in caps, which are balanced on the other end by pointed chins that give the impression of thick, well-groomed beards. Their bodies are suggestive of little men covered in layers of clothes, their feet of pointed boots, and their arms and legs bear no signs of anatomy. They look as made of petrified wood. They jump up or roll out of the ground, run and jump and somersault about, then go back within the ground as easily as they came up. Tiny little winged ones, halfway between insects and humans, fly about the flowers growing among the grass. They sit themselves upon the flowers and pause, and the flowers glow with something that is not light. They do not touch the flowers growing in her mother's prim flower patch, and those ones never seem to have the same vibrancy that the wild ones do. She stands up drunkenly and toddles over towards the nearest set-upon flower; it is the first time she has walked. Her mother is somewhere else, just out of view, perhaps having gone inside for an iced tea. She sits herself down before the flower, and just as she does, the thing upon it takes up into the air, leaving her alone before the yellow petals. One of the brown ones from below walks over to her, and looks at her through the slitted caverns that are his almost-eyes. His almost-mouth parts in a circle of concentration, or perhaps confusion. She looks back and smiles. He reaches down and plucks the flower from the ground. She reaches out and takes it politely, though she does not yet know what politeness is. She reaches out and rubs the cap-like point upon his head. Though he had just passed through the earth with more ease than she has walked, it is as hard and cool as stone. He reminds her of something she had seen once, in the garden of her mother's friend.
“Gnome,” she says.
“Gnome,” replies the little creature, in a voice like far-off echoes in a cave, and he smiles.
As she grew older, she learned words to use for the spirits that she saw, fitting whatever captured them closest, and would try to describe them to the people around her.
“Look, there are some pixies!” she cries, seeing the insect-people flying from flower to flower. In the sunlight they are translucent, and disappear completely as they fly nearer the sun.
“That's nice, dear,” says her mother. She does not look up from her magazine.
“Ooh, do you see, over by the forest edge? There are some dryads!”
She is in the park with some other children playing. The spirits moving through the forest are tall and thin and various dark shades of brown. She thinks they look human-like but she knows that that is just a trick her mind is playing on her. She is very proud of the word she has just found for them, and wants to share it.
“You're weird,” says one of the other children.
“Yeah, Evey,” says another, “You can't make up stuff that we can't all see.”
“Let's play tag!”
As they run off, Evelyn stands there silently, not knowing whether she is allowed to follow, her eyes pulling towards the forest's edge.
By the time she started going to school, she had decided to keep the spirits to herself. She did not mention them to anyone she met at school, nor to her parents, who assumed that she had passed out of the stage where kids make up imaginary friends. But they were still there. They did not enter the school house too often, nor the playground and fields outside where the children went for recess, but occasionally she would see one flitting about in class, perhaps in the shape of an oriental dragon, or as an insect, and it would fly about, occasionally settling around some student, where it would place lucky pencils in the wrong spot or tickle a child just above the ear. Sometimes it would do such things to the teacher, too, like moving items on the desk when no one else was at an angle to see. Evelyn would try not to laugh.
But even if children could not see the things that Evelyn saw, they were observant in their own way, and a girl who giggles at things that aren't there is noticeable even when she tries to hide it. They avoided her, drew together in circles whenever she passed by. Quick, cutting glances darted her way as she went by, and soon she realized that even when in crowds she was alone. She was ostracized. Without her doing anything intentional, she found herself written out of all the social pacts young children make. She was weird.
No matter. After all, she did not lack for friends or playmates, and so did not concern herself much with the other-world of School, but focused on the sprites and gnomes and dryads, the beings that would notice her. She left her house to go on walks in nearby parks and forests, where they played games like Hide-and-Seek and Tag with her. She was content with this.
Now, being a child in middle school without any friends is a hard trick to pull off, and invariably invites problems. Her parents and teachers became weary of her lack of interaction with other children, for no one thinks it healthy for young children to speak with nobody of their own age. And Evelyn quickly learned that she would have to do something to adjust to these concerns, because the last thing she wanted to deal with was being sent to counseling or therapy, where people would constantly be asking her for reasons, reasons she could not give.
Luckily, the world had a way of sorting out such difficulties. As grades passed by, other children joined her in ostracizism. There is never just one child in a grade without friends, and who would be perfectly happy to be friends with anyone, even if anyone is someone who always seems to be looking at and reacting to things that are not there. And so, often at the urging and direction of whatever spirits seemed to be around at the time, she soon began making conversation with, and at lunch sitting next to children who, for whatever reasons, being fat or ugly or poor, or too smart or shy or nervous, were unloved by their fellows. And so, since it was Evelyn, covering her tracks, who initiated these friendships, it was Evelyn who became the leader of her very own clique: a clique of outsiders.
By the end of middle school she had settled into a place for herself. She had a loose cadre of friends, made up of an odd mixture of bookish nerds and aggressive would-be bullies. To augment her interests, she joined the school chorus and band (she played the flute). After school she went for long walks where she met with her real friends and had conversations without words. Then she would go home to her mother and father, where she would respectfully retire after dinner to her room to do her homework. She was responsible, friendly, and seemed completely ordinary, at least as ordinary as any kid in middle school.
In high school, her interests expanded. A girl aware, wherever she looks, of the spirits of the world that are moving about her cannot help but have some dawning interest in what is written about such things, and so, in her own time, she took to studying the Occult.
She read up on tarot and other forms of divination. She read books on folklore, magic, and witchcraft. She had little use for fantasy, or games, but a great appetite for actual information on spells and past beliefs. She wanted the real thing, to find anything that fit with her own experiences—though this meant wading through much dreck and obvious lies. So though she studied the various religious affiliations associated with magic—the Wiccans, the Ritual Magicians, the Theosophical Society, various New Age sects—she joined none of them. The goth kids in school, who included some former friends that, over the years, she had drifted away from, would ask her questions about such things from time to time, seeing her as a source of knowledge that nobody else had or was interested in collecting about topics that they, too, found interesting, but that like most people had not the wherewithal to autodidactically engage in depth, and she would gamefully engage such queries.
Now, Evelyn was not a goth kid herself. As her own personal style developed, she took to wearing longs skirts and dresses, with stockings in a variety of colors, styles and patterns. Sometimes she wore sneakers, sometimes ballarina slippers, sometimes combat boots. Sometimes she wore t-shirts with her skirts, sometimes dress shirts. At the beginning of her junior year, she acquired, as a hand-me-down from family friends, an old bomber jacket, which she took to wearing incessantly until senior year, when she began alternating it with a leather jacket which she had asked for for Christmas. And instead of the Industrial Rock favored by such kids, she listened mostly to old folk songs and ballads, although she did like Led Zeppelin. She put down her flute and learned to play guitar. She would go down to glens and fords along the edges of town, and sit down and play, and sing soft, wistful songs for all the beings nearby to hear. By the time she was done, she had invariably gathered an invisible audience.
At college, she took up study in ancient languages, folklore, comparative literature, and music—which as she saw it, was as necessary as any other language. She took classes on ancient mythologies, mystery religions, superstitions, women's studies courses that concentrated on such matters. She studied Latin, Hebrew, and Greek. After a first year in the dorms, where she had a roommate she barely talked to, she moved into a small studio flat, which she inhabited alone, just her and whatever spirits decided to visit. Once she was at college, she found, there was freedom, and she no longer had to keep up the appearance of reveling in the company of other people. She conversed easily with students and professors in class, and when she started working at a bookstore, she was nice and amiable with her co-workers. But she did not go to parties, or join any clubs, or go to bars. She did not seek out others.
She graduated with a double major in linguistics and comparative literature, with a minor in music. She had no interest in continuing on her studies, nor was she interested in moving home, or going anywhere else in particular, so she filled out the hours she was not working at the bookstore with time as a clerk at an occult shop. On weekends, she would sit in the back and do Tarot readings, which was a fairly easy way to earn some extra pocket money.
And so she came to make a life for herself that way. Living alone in a little apartment, learning lackadaisically about myth and magic, and with her free time, going out to the edge of town, past the farm fields, to the smattering of woods, to meet and play with the fairies.