A Better Word
They say the Fair Folk give journalism majors a lot of grief.
Truths exposed in writing, forms cemented in photographs, stories stripped of flowery prose in favor of concise words. The Fair Folk generally looked down on journalism itself with disdain.
Which made one wonder who would choose to pursue this particular academic career at Elsewhere University.
Some reporters argue learning among the harshest critics on Earth would leave them more than prepared for life beyond the University. Some photographers believe this is the only place on earth to capture something truly extraordinary. Some designers heard even the programs here behave differently, and the words and photos laid out on a screen became something more on paper. Some simply hadn’t known any better.
Bernadette hadn’t known any better.
Elsewhere was affordable, the journalism program seemed decent enough. She liked writing, but did not enjoy chasing
victims of the Fair Folk people down for interviews. She liked photography, but knew her writing skills were stronger. So she fell in an unlikely place, a copy editor for the student newspaper. Well, one of. There were many papers, and she’d nearly joined the most prominent one. But the students who worked for it all shared the same bright green eyes, and the rest of the University seemed to avoid that paper like the plague.
Still, she needed experience to graduate in this field, right? Maybe they got a group discount on colored contacts, who knows. People in college are weird like that.
An upperclassman had saved her from venturing too close to THAT paper. He realized she had no salt, no iron, no idea what she had enrolled into. But, like finding her niche, she adapted. Survived her first year without tragedy. (The same could not be said for Sherry from across the hall. One of the Fair Folk had complimented her eyes, and asked if she could have them. Sherry, who hadn’t known any better, jokingly said sure. It’s been months since anyone’s seen Sherry.)
For the most part, the Fair Folk did not venture close to the newsroom. The room itself had been smartly moved the moment time began to behave differently. It was now just a cramped, previously vacant classroom, but with lots of windows. Access to the outside world seemed to weaken the chance of a space being manipulated by time.
Or maybe that was a comforting lie.
It was a lazy Saturday, salt lines had been neglected and Bernadette was alone when one of the Fair Folk waltzed inside. Silver nitrate burns on her hands betrayed him immediately. His hair was was a dark, voracious black that seemed to leach color from the world around it. His razor-sharp smile held too many teeth. His skin seemed almost translucent.
“What are you working on?”
A voice that seemed to come from everywhere, and nowhere. Bernadette hadn’t given him more than a cursory glance before returning to the story on the screen. If she was afraid, she didn’t show it.
“Editing a story.”
“Chopping up pretty words in favor of boring ones?”
She smirked, adding punctuation to a sentence.
“I like to think of it as finding the best words. No sense in having a bunch of empty, meandering words when you can sum them up with one. For instance, I hate the word ‘very.’ It tells me there’s a better word, but the author hasn’t thought of it.”
The boy hummed at this, an unnerving sound, mulling it over.
“So what if I told you I find this very boring?”
“I’d say I’m sorry you find it dull.”
His head tilted with mild interest. It then turned to sniff at her messenger bag, disgust showing at his inability to open it. She had always been particularly careful about her sigils and rowan. Bernadette hadn’t missed this display, tugging the bag out of arm’s reach before slipping a hand inside. Wordlessly, the boy was handed two sealed pads of butter. It was always good to have butter or cream on hand, in case you were taken. Some Fae found stealing humans more fun than actually keeping them and, in such a case, freedom could be easily bought.
The boy grinned, ripping off the seals and lapping it up like a ravenous dog, teeth razor sharp and dripping. All the while, Bernadette kept editing the story. When every last molecule of butter was gone, he tossed the packs over his shoulder, turning full attention back to her.
“What if I said I’m very tired?”
The boy threw his head back and laughed, sounding like a chorus of the damned, far too many sharpened teeth glinting in the afternoon sun.
“Perhaps this isn’t so dull. What’s your name?”
“Timmy,” Bernadette answered without skipping a beat. His grin widened.
“No, it’s not. I bet Timmy is that reporter you don’t like. You’d be very mean to give me his name.”
She grinned in return, not at all fazed he knew there was someone here she loathed. The Fair Folk always knew something about something.
“I can be devious sometimes.”
He laughed even harder, the room seeming to shake with the thunderous sound.
“What did Timmy do?”
“He’s a narcissist and a douchebag. Timmy encouraged one of our first-year photographers to capture Genevieve on camera for his story, and we haven’t seen the photographer since.”
The boy whistled, every gap of razor teeth producing a different tone. Her days of playing clarinet had long since passed, but she could have sworn every tone was sharp.
“Genevieve does not like cameras. But she loves names. Perhaps a trade…”
Four days later, Timmy vanished, and Bernadette opened her dorm room to find the photographer on her futon, paper white and shoveling ramen noodles like he hadn't eaten for week. Knowing how obscure time can be in Elsewhere, it definitely could have been a week. His hair now turns green on Tuesdays and bank holidays, but he’s otherwise no worse for wear. And his hands are always burned. Always.
Every once in a while, when the salt lines are neglected, the boy with many voices returns. He has new phrases for her to deconstruct every time.