I followed all the rules, when I came here the first time. Listened to all of the stories, the tips, believed all of the warnings and the worries. Watched some classmates disappear, sometimes covered with excuses of transfers, sometimes not, watched suspiciously or with awed eyes to those who were suspected to be other.
But I never saw a single thing. I never saw the creatures late in the library, I never heard things scratching on my windows, and I never felt eyes on the back of my neck walking home in all the dark, clutching iron nails in my jacket pockets.
I’m from the South, you see, and down there we don’t have this Fae nonsense. There’s no flimsy fairy circle to be warned about, no rock in the middle of the road; sure, I’d read the fables, but that’s all they were to me. Fables.
I believed in something different. That’s all it came down to; belief.
So when I brought the shrine with me, and gave it its own shelf, I shouldn’t’ve been surprised that everything left me alone for the first year. I shouldn’t’ve been surprised that, as I was deaf to my gods, so was I blind to the Fae. (You learn to listen in other ways.)
It was only that first summer, when I wore something other than a t-shirt for the first time, and my ankh tattoo finally was blessed by the sun for the first time, and my friend flinched away from me when I turned to talk to someone, it was only then that I started to take note.
I couldn’t see them - of course, this will come as no surprise - I couldn’t see them, I couldn’t hear or touch them, not like some of my friends swore they could, but.
When I was holding that ankh necklace, when I was wearing that tattoo, when I was believing, they could tell. I learned which days to wear the necklace over my shirts, and which days to hide it under the binder.
It wasn’t until two years later, when I painted gold onto my eyelids, that I could see for the first time.
But that’s getting ahead of myself. I had two years of knowing nothing; of seeing friends Taken and gone, of some of them coming back, of wondering what it was that I wasn’t seeing, and wondering when my belief wasn’t going to hold me safe anymore.
I brought my cat up to campus, in one of the apartments nearby (did the campus own these? were they just affiliated with it? I’m still not sure, to this day) and then when I set up my shrine, certain friends stopped coming in without permission. My cat followed me about the small space, over and over again, waited for me by the door every single day, and purred on my lap for hours. (It wasn’t until years later that I would call him a “familiar” for the first time.)
The next year was rough. I still never saw a thing; I made friends, I joined clubs, I branched out to new places and new people and new classes, I drew fantastical things in my sketchbook, I wondered and wondered whether the softest tone of a bell I heard in one class was something Other, I wondered and wondered whether the thunderclap that we all heard one day with clear sky was something Other, and yet I never knew anything for sure.
I stopped carrying iron, stopped wasting my ramen packets (that stuff is so, so bland without it, so I savored every possibly last bite I got) stuffing them in pockets, stopped wondering. I stopped looking at certain students with awe and wonder, stopped darting glances over my shoulder late at night, stopped pretending to have seen something my classmates had. I had followed all the rules; done everything right; and never seen a thing. I had friends who would swear up and down and around the mountain that they were real, that the Gentry (their word, never mine), had done this or that, that they had seen something or other, but never me. It was a quaint university, that was for sure, but was it really magical?
And then I saw her. She was the first person to ever seem More, to me, the first person to shine in my eyes like she had some kind of luck brimming in her smile, the first person to freeze me solid with her laugh (oh, there were others, who sent shivers all up and down my spine in the best ways, but this one, this one was different somehow) and the first person to touch the fox tail I’d worn for years with wonder, and not disgust or barely-hidden half-curiosity half-abhorrence.
I bribed her with gummy sharks, all the while thinking about the fables - for, to me, they were truly only fables - of eating food in the Fae world, of being stuck there forever. All the while wondering breathlessly about the idea that maybe, for the first time, I was Seeing.
I met her again on the lawn, looking for someone else, and I sat and found that she, too, drew fantastical things and creatures without name. I found that she wore no shoes, and when she laughed I wanted to listen to the sound forever. And when her eyes glittered just so, then I wanted to drown in their blue.
I bribed her with gummy sharks, and dances, and honesty; the greatest gift that one could give on this campus, I had learned, and I’d honed mine to a brutal point.
And, eventually, when I tangled my fingers finally in that curly ocean of teal, dyed colors and colors that I did not know could come in a tube or a on a brush, I felt like magic for a moment.
It wasn’t until she flinched at the first mirror that I started to suspect anything, for real. It wasn’t until then that my heart knew, and my mouth started speaking with that brutal honesty it was so good at. It wasn’t until then that something in my gut changed, something in my heart stirred, and something in my hearing clicked.
I heard padding footsteps on the path behind me, that night, felt something curling in the mist around me, that night, as I walked away from her dorm.
I still didn’t believe it. Not really, not truly; but I did clutch to my necklace when I walked away, a little too fast, and I did relax in my car, sheathed in metal, a little too much.
She changed me.
And when I told her my stories, her eyes lit up, and when she told me her worlds, I listened with rapter attention than I had paid anyone here, shivers dancing on my spine and gooseflesh on my arms (no feathers; I was embarrassed to admit even to myself that I had checked, later, in the bathroom, alone with my cat.) and something shivering new in my heart.
And when she looked at me, I felt like I had become the center of every vision on earth; and when she laughed for me, the feelings that swelled in my heart swelled without name; and when I kissed her, I thought that it was nothing more than what it was; smiles and flattery and - daresay - love.
But then the meat in the dining hall tasted a little bit different that night. But then the salt burned my tongue a little more than it should - how should salt burn your tongue, anyways? How do you describe what should and shouldn’t taste, how things changed just enough to notice them but only once, because pineapple and oranges taste so good, how had I never tried those before?
I’m getting away from myself again. It’s easy; easy to get lost. Maybe that’s what they mean by Taken, sometimes. Maybe that’s why english majors and storytellers and musicians are the most oft to come back.
Anyways. It entered my life in bursts, leaps and bounds, fits and starts: the half feral cats purred at my touch, the crows regarded me with careful eyes, the rain kissed my lips and dusted my eyelashes like gems. The music spoke back to me, random patterns finding less random and more sass; the tarot deck she would push into my hands would speak louder, eventually.
She called me beautiful; and I had no words to reply. She called me divine, and my heart sung out in response so loud and so unerringly that I could not say no, and within a month I had inked it into my skin.
The artist gave me rose quartz to hold, told me that there is no divinity without pain, and the sigils on my arms burned like fire the first time I stepped foot back on campus.
But that was alright.
Because I could hear them now, because I met the fox eyes and lightly glowing gazes with my own raised high, with a proudness that had infected me, somewhere, when someone a little less human and a little too magic had told me I’ll have enough confidence for the both of us, and at the end of that winter everything had changed.
I mean that mundanely, of course. I couldn’t See anything yet, but new scars stretched across my chest and suddenly, shirtlessness was possible, and suddenly, my tattoos meant something more, and suddenly, I was myself and there was no other way to be.
I convinced her she was Fae at some point, over that break, too. With whispered words beneath blue fairy lights, and the snow trapping us alone, with my heart beating so much closer to the outside world than it had been, wrapped in a form that wasn’t quite mine, we spun tales at one another until she was half joking to worship me, and I was half joking to change my piercings out for less iron ones.
The joke stopped the day I painted gold onto my eyelids. With her supervision, and my nervousness - just a little bit of makeup - just a little bit of makeup - we surrounded my eyes in gold and she smiled, by my gods did she smile, and my heart felt so radiant I could not want for anything else in that moment.
And then I left her dorm to trek my way home, to my cat, and my lights, and my bed - sorrowfully empty - and when I raised my head to meet the eyes of another student, I had to look twice as high as I ever had before.
As it turns out, the Fae have an agreement - this Court with others, that Court with some, ancient beings with ancient beings, and - for me at least, far be it for me to speak for others - occasionally, the child of the divine.
All it takes is belief - belief in the Fae, belief in the rumors, belief in the iron around your fingers and the salt in your pockets - belief in what will and will not work, belief in the world around you and the one that you cannot see - and belief in your own kind of magic.
I believed hard enough in the divine touching me - and, maybe, roped a child of the Fae into speaking it into truth - that maybe they did.
And now I never leave the house with my eyes unburdened by gold, without my fingers wrapped in a carefully picked pattern of gold and iron rings, without the glitter of divinity speckling my skin, without the pride in myself decorating my features, inspired by someone who won’t use her roommates’ iron cutlery anymore.