When you live alone way out in the woods, a knock at the door at eight p.m. is unusual and cause for a wary glance. Rapid pounding and screams for help? I nearly shat myself.
Leaping from my couch, my book dropped, forgotten, I was guided purely by instinct. I grabbed my handgun from its box on my bookshelf before rushing to my front door, flicking on the porch light before unlocking the door and swinging it open. Instinct once again made me take action before I could fully comprehend what I was looking at, my feet stepping back two full paces and raising my gun to aim it unwaveringly in front of me.
“What the f*ck?” I barked.
“Please, help me, madam,” she choked out.
Whatever she was, she wasn’t human. Her lips parted to reveal razor sharp teeth, and blood was spattered down from her jaw across the ragged green dress she wore and across her porcelain-white skin. And yet I couldn’t tear my eyes away from hers. Bright blue and shining with tears, they were wide with a terror I hadn’t seen since my time in the military. It cracked me in the chest like a punch, because it was the look of someone who was convinced they were going to die.
She gripped the doorframe tightly, leaning against it, looking fully exhausted. “Please,” she whimpered again. “Hospitality. I beg for your hospitality.”
Fae. As if there had been any other option.
“You’re covered in blood,” I snapped. “You expect me to believe you’ll abide by-”
“A small animal, I needed to eat,” she said earnestly. “Please, they’re coming, they’re going to kill me.”
My upper lip curled in irritation, but I finally lowered the gun and moved aside. “Hospitality granted,” I said.
Letting out a cry of relief, she stumbled inside my cabin and collapsed against the back of the couch, sliding to the ground. I shut the door and turned to her as she dissolved into quiet tears. She looked younger than me, but that wasn’t saying much, since I knew fae could live ridiculously long lives. Taking her in fully, I realized she was bruised and bleeding, likely from tripping in her frantic sprint through the forest. “You can call me Natasha,” I said.
“Why aren’t you healing?” I asked, crouching beside her. “Fae, you can heal, can’t you?”
“They drained me,” she whispered. “And there’s nothing here to draw from. I need to get back home.”
“Who drained you? Why?”
Alette sniffled, pulling her legs up to her chest as she tried to slow her breathing. “The sidhe fae hunting me,” she said, her voice almost inaudible. “They took me here and let me run. They’re chasing me for sport.”
Narrowing my eyes, my grip tightened on the gun in my hand. “Hold up. You’re telling me this is f*cking Alien Versus Predator?”
Her tired gaze met mine. “It’s…what?”
Shoving myself to my feet, I went over to my front door and flipped the deadbolt. “All right,” I said. “If you can’t heal…” I shook my head, taking in and letting out a deep breath, trying to channel a caring nurse. Or at least someone who had friends. “Let’s get you some first aid.”
“Like what?” Alette murmured.
Double-checking the safety was on before tucking the gun into the back of my pants, I reached down and held out both hands. She took them in hers, letting me help her to her feet. Even standing tall, I was willing to bet she was only about 5’5” or 5’6”, and aside from the teeth, and if you ignored the blood, she looked pretty timid and defenseless.
“Humans don’t heal like fae, so we have all sorts of ways to help the body heal itself,” I told her, wrapping an arm around her shoulder. I guided her into the living room, sitting her down on the couch, and then went to grab the first aid kit from the bathroom. Living out in the sticks on my own, it was top of the line. Then I got a bowl of water and a towel, bringing all of them over to the coffee table.
Opening up the first aid kit on the table as I sat down next to Alette, I looked her over. “Are you bleeding from anywhere? I’m not sure because of…” I gestured to her bloody dress.
“I don’t know,” she said, her eyes slowly looking over herself.
“Do you want a shower first?”
Her face crumpled. “I just want to go home,” she whispered, lifting her gaze to meet mine. “Do you know any witches? I know some human witches can open portals to the Otherworld. If I could just get back there, I’ll be okay.”
“I…barely know anyone anymore,” I confessed. Deciding to just get started on a general goal of cleanliness, I dampened the small towel and gently wiped the dirt from her face. “I live out here in the middle of nowhere. I’m not really fond of people. Prefer to be alone.”
“You’re young, though,” she said, her eyes narrowing. “Aren’t you? For a human.”
I shrugged turning her face carefully to wipe the other side. “I’m thirty-eight. That’s almost middle-aged.”
“Why don’t you like other people?”
Leaning back, I cocked an eyebrow. “You ask a lot of questions.”
Her face went slack, and she averted her gaze. “Apologies. I’ve just never been to Earth. I was…curious, I suppose.”
My concern was that she was ‘pulling a fae’, so to speak, since I knew how they could be tricksters, but reflecting on that made me realize it was unlikely. Besides, I’d already let her into my home. In for a penny. “It’s okay,” I muttered, squeezing out the towel in the bowl and dampening it again. I started wiping down her arms, finding a few cuts along the way, but it seemed they’d scabbed over already. “I spent quite a few years in the military. Saw a lot of pain. Realized that people are just mostly horrible.”
“Really?” Alette asked. “I didn’t know. I thought Earth was… Wait, but you’re helping me.”
“Yeah,” I said, drawing back.
“You’re not horrible, then.”
I blinked and smiled despite myself. “No, I guess not.”
“How long were you a warrior?”
“A warrior?” I chuckled. Shaking my head, I dampened another section of the towel and went to the other side of the couch to start on her other arm. “We don’t have warriors. We have soldiers.”
“What’s the difference?”
I stopped, lowering the towel, struck by the question for some reason. “It’s, ah…” I swallowed. What was the difference? “Warriors are…stronger, I guess,” I said quietly. “They’re dedicated to protecting their people at all costs. They have…honor. Morals. A code.”
“Don’t you have those things?” Alette asked.
Pursing my lips, I shook my head dismissively. “Not as much as I should.” I started cleaning off her left arm and suddenly snorted. “Maybe there never were warriors. Maybe there have always only been soldiers. Just doing what we’re told. Fighting wars that never end for powerful people who don’t care about anything but the money to be made from suffering.”
“The powerful humans in your world take advantage of other humans?”
“Oh yeah,” I muttered. “Just like…whatever this shitstorm is that you find yourself in. I mean, as far as I know, people don’t hunt each other for sport, but some of us don’t fall too short of that.”
Alette’s hair was back in a tight braid and, though it was frizzy, I figured we may as well leave it as it was. It seemed she’d managed to escape any real injury so far, which surprised me considering I’d have guessed she’d at least have a sprained ankle with the shoes that were closer to sandals than sneakers. Or maybe moccasins.
“Will they find you here? I can call in our law enforcement,” I told her, even as I grimaced at the idea of having a horde of strangers descending onto my home. “The Trackers Unit can send someone to send you back home. This isn’t legal, what these sidhe fae are doing.”
“No, it is,” Alette muttered, staring at her hands. “They’re royalty. They have hunts like this all the time. Sometimes they have them on Earth because they want an easier hunt, and they can draw it out.”
“No, Alette, it’s not legal on Earth,” I said, drawing her gaze. “We’ve got treaties, and they’re written in blood. Figuratively,” I clarified quickly. “This isn’t allowed. Period. The rules, as I was taught in the Army, are that they stick to their world, we stick to ours. No visitation arrangements.”
“Oh.” She paused. “What does that mean?”
“Means it’s out of my league, probably,” I replied, pushing myself to my feet. I went over to the drawer next to the couch and took out my phone, turning it on. Dialing 911, I waited as it rang. “Yeah, I need agents from the Trackers Unit sent out to me…”
A few minutes later talking with a rather stunned 911 operator, I hung up. “It’ll take them a while to get here, even the closest cops they’ll send first. We’re seriously out in the sticks.”
“They’ll find me,” she said, shaking her head slowly. “When I go back home, they’ll just find me again. They wouldn’t let me escape.” Alette leaned back into the couch, wrapping her arms around herself. “I should’ve just died out there. At least then it would be over. I just couldn’t help but try to run-”
Three firm knocks sounded on my door, and I was immediately up on my feet, my gun in my hand.
“Is that your law enforcement?” she asked, her gaze worriedly taking in my defensive stance.
“I don’t know how things work on your side of the veil, but we can’t teleport here,” I said tightly. Looking back to her, I met her gaze. “If I killed them, would you be safe?”
Alette’s eyes widened in shock. “What?” she breathed.
“The monsters hunting you down,” I said, motioning with my gun. “Or would that just get you into more trouble?”
Hesitating, she shook her head. “It’s all about power,” she told me. “If I found a way to fight back, especially if you’re right and what they’re doing is against treaties with Earth…it would be a show of strength. I doubt any others would take umbrage at it. Especially when it was clearly self-defense.”
“Gotcha. In that case, I’ve got an idea.”
Walking around the couch and flicking the safety off of my gun, chambering a round, I marched over to my front door. Swinging the door open wide, standing well clear of the threshold, I met the gaze of one of two women standing there, both with light green skin and looking altogether much more put together than any hunting party should, in my opinion. “Hi. I’m guessing you’re here for Alette?”
The woman on the right narrowed her eyes. “Yes. What does it matter to you?”
“What you’re doing is against the law. Are you willing to leave Earth right now?”
Her upper lip curled in a snarl. “I’m willing to slit your throat open too. You humans, you think-”
I lifted my gun, shooting her once in the head. She dropped where she stood and her companion let out a cry, stumbling back a few steps across my patio. I aimed the gun at her next. “You forgot why you guys stay off our planet, did you?”
“You would risk going to war over-”
I shot her in the knee. She collapsed with a shriek of pain. “Don’t feed me that bullshit. And don’t talk to me about war!” I screamed. “You know nothing of war! You drugged a tiger and made it a kitten so you could hunt it down. You’re weaklings. Parasites! No different than any of the powerful people on my planet who believe they can take whatever they want, and value no life other than their own.”
The fae stared daggers at me but didn’t say a word. Sweat beaded on her forehead and I saw her hands shaking, likely from equal parts adrenaline and pain. I didn’t see any steam coming from the wound, but these were iron flecked rounds (and silver flecked, in case I ran into any werewolves) and I knew she must be in agony. Still, I stayed behind my threshold, shaking with fury but rationality clinging to me and knowing it wasn’t worth the risk to get closer. I just shook my head. “Crawl back home,” I growled. “Your hunt is over. You were bested by your prey.”
Taking a few deep breaths, the fae made a gesture with her hand and opened a slit in the air like a curtain. Managing to get to her feet, she spared a glance to her companion before limping through the doorway.
No honor among psychopaths, I guess, I thought, glancing to the corpse, blood spreading rapidly across my porch.
Once the injured fae had gone through the doorway and closed it behind her, I shut the door and turned back to Alette. She was on her feet, looking unsteady and shocked, staring at me. “I figure you’ll want to make another door rather than go through the same one as that bitch,” I told her.
“You…” She swallowed hard. “Are there others like you here on Earth?”
“What do you mean, like me?” I asked, walking over.
Alette looked me over for a long moment before she met my gaze. “You said you were a soldier,” she said.
“I used to be.”
“Right. I don’t think you were. I think you’ve always been a warrior,” she told me. My face went slack and I shifted my gun in my hand. “How long until your police arrive?”
I hesitated, still absorbing her words. “A while.”
“Can I rest until they get here?”
I nodded. “Sure.”
Alette lowered herself back onto the couch, politely taking off her dirt-encrusted shoes, though considering the condition of her dress, it wasn’t something I was much worried about. She put her head down on the small pillow to her left as she stretched out and let out a long breath.
Staring at the back of her head, I went back over to the box on my shelf, putting my gun back inside. And I took out the photo from the sleeve in the top of the lid, gazing at it. A photo with half a dozen people, and I was the only one still alive. That’s what I hadn’t told her. It wasn’t just about a world of horrible people; nothing was ever that simple. No one is ever that simple.
And despite what my newest acquaintance might think, I wasn’t a warrior. Warriors had never existed. But upon reflection, I realized that as much as I valued my peaceful life here, hiding away from the world hadn’t changed me. Because it seemed that at least a small part of me was still a soldier, and I guessed it always would be.
Republished with permission from the author, karenvideoeditor. Image created using Stable Diffusion.