It was near midnight and the three of us began walking into the forest, distant wind chimes ringing, fireflies dancing in the night. Ringo led the way with a kerosene lantern, followed by me, with Tanaquil brooding in the rear.
We passed the Greek columns and arch that seemed so out of place. After a quarter of a mile or so, we came to a small clearing. The same old waterway chuckled to our right. Thunder rumbled in the west.
I was thinking about Dimity. She had left hours ago and apparently walked to Tanaquil’s house. I figured she was going to spend the night there, and for whatever reason, that thought didn’t sit well with me.
In the clearing, Ringo dimmed the lantern. He and Tanaquil didn’t speak, they just made significant eyes at each other, and I stood by quietly, having flashbacks of the night my dad led me into the woods like this looking for snipes. But standing there in the stillness, a transformation began.
The trees started to sway. As if on cue, the lightning bugs multiplied; a little handful became ten thousand, a multitude of green lights materializing out of nowhere.
Their appearance was accompanied by a great chorus of many wind chimes filling the forest. Beyond the fireflies, the very air itself began to shimmer with gold dust, but strangely, it was undisturbed by the strong breeze welling up around us, as if it were not really there in the air. It just drifted around us turning the scene into pure magic with a beauty I could never have imagined. The glowing algae that grew up the sides of the trees pulsated with life. Still no one spoke.
I held up a hand and a lightning bug landed it, followed by a couple more, and still more. As I looked closely my eyes saw what I had previously determined was not possible, what I purposely chose not to believe in, what my aspiring scientific mind had declared nothing more than a childish fantasy: the bugs were not bugs at all, but tiny glowing people with wings. Pixies? Fairies? Brownies? I didn’t have a precise word, but there they were.
I realized the floating lights were organized into groups. In the circles of mushrooms on the forest floor, I now saw the gatherings of glowing lights. Ringo and Tanaquil stood beside me watching my response. Finally, Ringo spoke.
“It’s called Second Sight, Bo. You have it now. There is hardly a more precious and uncommon gift anyone can receive. The draft of that vial you drank allows one to see the invisible.”
“I don’t believe it,” I whispered. “These are…”
“They’re what’s called Middle Folk or subterraneans. Astral bodies of ancient races who live unseen in certain forests and underground. They inhabited the old world before humans began migrating northward and westward.”
“How can I see them?”
“As I said, it’s because of the liquid in the vial you drank.”
“What did I drink?”
Well, that’s a little…prepare yourself. It was faun’s blood. Chrischilde’s, the faun we were talking about earlier. Faun’s blood is known to give humans the power of Second Sight. When Chrischilde was murdered by Lorenzo, Tanaquil collected some of his blood in this vial and sent it here for you. And I’ll just add that because of your petulance and skepticism, you almost lost your chance to receive it.”
Tanaquil was still silent and watching me narrowly.
A new and foreign anxiety swept over me. This new awareness was cloying and heavy like a wet wool coat. I didn’t like it. It was like the culmination of all my fears of being duped again like the snipe hunt. This time, the joke was being forced upon me, like I was being driven against my will to a looming humiliation. My mind rebelled against it as if a deforming spell had been cast on me.
“I don’t think I want this,” I said, so tense that I struggled to speak at all. “No, this is wrong. Why did you make me drink it? These things are not real.”
“He’s having a bad reaction, just as I feared,” said Tanaquil in exasperation. “Bo, try to relax or you could provoke a negative reaction.”
“Yes, my boy. Just hold yourself together.”
“You’re damn right I’m having a negative reaction!”
“We will explain everything to you, answer all of your questions, calm all your fears. We should go back inside.”
And then at that moment, I saw something that was far more disturbing than tiny bugs shaped like flying humans. In the corner of my eye, I caught a movement. At first, I thought it was just a little boy, a toddler—two feet tall standing sheepishly by a tree, apparently unused to being seen by the likes of me. But it wasn’t a child. He wore simple clothes of leather and wool, a little collared shirt and vest, trousers, and no shoes.
Finding a child alone lurking in the forest would not have been any less disturbing. But this was no child; it had the face of a young man, a head of unkempt, rakish hair, and a long, pointed nose. It wore a mournful expression. Its eyelids lolled and its mouth turned downward in a sullen mopey grimace that suggested a kind of sad embarrassment.
At that point, I snapped. In a kind of inward bursting, I panicked as I suppose someone would do who sees a ghost. Because it might as well have been a ghost to my eyes. My heart was suddenly racing. I leaped backward and bolted back down the narrow road toward the house. As I ran, the raincloud burst.
I found the front door standing open and I flew inside. I ran across the room to the hearth where a warm fire burned and a plush sofa and blankets were the closest thing to home. I cowered by the fire in a swirl of emotions.
When they finally returned, I erupted.
“What was that thing! What have you done to me! No, I get it! This is another snipe hunt. It’s all a joke, right? None of it is real. Very clever. But you’re not fooling me. That was Not. Real. None of it was real.”
“Bo, I have the ability to see them too, and of course, so can Tanaquil. We saw all the same things you saw. In fact, I think we probably saw more than you did.”
“There’re no such things as ghosts, or goblins, or fairies! I don’t believe it. You can’t make me believe it!”
“I received Second Sight from Tanaquil years ago when we were together during the war, in Scotland actually, where there are many more Middle Folk.”
“Stop! You’re lying!” Tears were rolling down my face.
“Oh, goodness Ringo,” sighed Tanaquil. “This is hopeless. I knew he wasn’t ready. He’s too old. And now he’ll drive himself mad with what he sees, not believing it is real, believing instead that what he sees is all hallucinations. He’ll presume that he’s crazy rather than accept—.”
“Do you hear what I’m saying, Bo?” She was in a fury, a sorceress, a hellfire and brimstone preacher. “If you go down this path, you will drive yourself to madness! We have let you into a secret world! Do not despise it. Do not deny your own sight.”
“I can’t! I can’t!” I said, feeling cornered and trapped by these two like a panicked beast.
“Perhaps, my darling,” Ringo interjected, “you could show him something else, some other proof. Bo, how is your ear feeling right now?”
My missing ear just happened to be pulsing in agony, making my misery infinitely worse. It had begun to bleed again, and the bandage was soaked with fresh blood.
Tanaquil looked sternly at Ringo for some moments. But finally, wrenching her lips in a frustrated expression, she turned from him and came toward me. I continued to cry softly like a scolded little boy. She approached and stood over me as I sat on the couch. But she softened; the anger melted from her face. Her eyes brightened, and the taut mouth became supple and sincere again.
Somehow I had lost sight of how beautiful she was, how motherly and warm she could be. I needed a mother at that moment. That’s how she suddenly felt. I wanted her to hold me to her bosom, to soothe my fears and make everything alright.
She took me gently and laid her hand on the left side of my head. Her fingers were hot and smelled of the most enchanting perfume like a distillation of oriental fruit. My attitude changed too. I closed my eyes at her touch. I was comforted by the moment of tenderness, thinking of my own mother and finding solace in Tanaquil’s powerful maternal graces.
Something was happening to my wound and my missing left ear. All I knew was that in a matter of a few seconds, the throbbing pain ceased. I looked at her glowing face, My pain and sadness turned into gratitude as strong and as passionate as love. She began to loosen my bandages and lift them off.
“There. Feel it.”
I reached my hand to my head and felt the bleeding stopped, the pain gone, and my ear completely restored, the cartilage flap bending as it always had.
Ringo held up a hand mirror and I saw my new ear. Tanaquil watched me, patient but still solemn. I opened my mouth to gush my thanks and astonishment and she quickly put her fingers over my mouth.
“You’re welcome. Now, listen.” Her voice rang like a bell. “Things are not as you think they are.” She seized me with her eyes.
“I have little time for your…faith in science and reason, your confidence in the powers of the microscope and the telescope, and what I suspect is a growing conviction that there is nothing more in heaven and earth than what is dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio.”
“So certain, are you? So modern, so earthbound? Well, wake up, boy! Here you have been given a gift that many real scientists, many real seekers of truth would give an arm and a leg for, and you…reject it? Want it removed? You’re not an adult, Bo. You’re acting like a bloody child, afraid of anything that falls outside your paradigm! You’re afraid of the truth, wanting only your presuppositions confirmed and reconfirmed. That’s not seeking the truth; it’s not even science!
“You think about the things you have seen tonight. And when you are tempted to think it wasn’t real, that it was a dream, you just feel that left ear of yours. I’ve put a mark on you, a reminder in your very flesh. And it will testify against you if you ever turn from the path. You’ve been given a great gift although you don’t deserve it. Your eyes have been opened against your own will. Return to your blindness at your own peril. That way lies madness.”
She turned to Ringo, closed her eyes and gave a little bow of her tilted head. And, as if stepping through an invisible door, she vanished.
After some moments in silence, Ringo left me on the couch to return to the basement laboratory to see about the new brew we had concocted earlier that evening, forgotten about in all the hubbub. I stayed on the couch in bewilderment of all that had just transpired. In a few minutes, Ringo came running frantically back up the stairs.
“My God,” he gasped. “The new brew! It’s gone!”