I kissed Melinda good night after the bedtime story, and closed the door.
On my way to my own room, I heard her talking. I thought she was talking to herself, but she wasn’t.
I ran back when I heard her cry out. Not a scream exactly, but the sound wasn’t pleasant.
The door was locked; she never did that.
I went to smash it down when the lock clicked, and it opened. I wanted to rush in, but it was quiet now. Perhaps she had a nightmare, but I’d only just finished the story. She couldn’t have gone to sleep that fast.
Her nightlight was on the opposite wall by the door, not by her bedside where it would disturb her sleep.
When I entered the room, I could see eyes glowing in the dark, the green of early spring leaves.
“That was a nice story.” It spoke with Melinda’s voice, but there was a deeper tone that raised the hair on my neck and arms. Fear began to close me in a fist, but I couldn’t afford to let it.
“Who are you?”
It laughed my daughter’s laugh.
“I’m the fairy in the book.”
“What? Look, I don’t know what’s going on…”
It tilted my daughter’s head, regarding me sideways. “You don’t?”
I shook my head, forgetting it was dark, but apparently whatever it was could see.
“She called me.”
It sighed the way she sighed when Melinda grew impatient with me.
“When you were reading, she wished she was a fairy. I answered her wish.”
“All girls wish they were fairies and princesses; nothing happens when the book ends.”
It laughed. “Especially where they live happily ever after. You know about that, don’t you?”
I said nothing.
It sat up.
“Why don’t you leave her alone? She’s just a kid.”
“No, she isn’t.” It turned on the light. The being in the bed was not my daughter, though it was her size. “She never was.”
“Shhh.” It put its fingers to her lips, and I couldn’t speak.
“She is a portal, father. That’s why her mother died; she was the gateway, Melinda was the key.
“Allow me to explain. We ruled these lands before the Age of Men, and we waited and watched, made ourselves no threat to you because we saw the destruction you cause. That it’s of your own choosing means you’re incapable of helping yourselves, so you’re unfit to keep it.”
“You can’t have it back; we’ll fight.”
It laughed again. “You can fight other men. Not this.”
“And what is this?”
“A comeback, of sorts. Portals have been placed throughout the world. Girls and boys.”
“What are you planning to do?”
It smiled. “In time, father. In time.”
“Her name is Shaylee. And as you know, I’m Alysia.”
In the book, fairy names were linked to abilities, locations, and powers; that would be the key to breaking the hold.
“What happens to these children, Alysia? What are you going to do with my child?”
“We use them to make things happen. Things that further our ends.”
It smiled again, shaking a finger at me.
I straightened as best I could. “Stop with the riddles, and let go of my daughter.”
“She’s not your daughter, but my time here is at an end. I’ll return her illusion to you.”
The glow faded, and Melinda sat there, catatonic at first.
I ran to her, put my arms around her, and she snapped out of it.
“Yes, princess. You’re all right.”
“I had a bad dream. Something kept looking at me. It had scary eyes.” She was trembling with fear, and me with suppressed anger at myself for being afraid too.
“Daddy’s here. I’ll stay here with you until you go back to sleep, okay?”
“Okay.” Her voice was muffled by my arms. I let her go, tucked her back in and kissed her cheek again.
“I’ll be right here.” I patted her knee, and left my hand there to anchor both of us back in reality.
“Could you read me another story?”
…the illusion of her…