So, I love how everyone is getting all into the eldritch horror visibly fae knowingly magical encounters. The descriptions are SO COOL.
But I’ve been thinking about how our understandings of the Fair Folk originated not with people who had these super obvious encounters with this visible magic figure. Instead, they come from people attuned to the ways in which this world as it is, is magical and frightening and overwhelming, and decided that eldritch monsters were the most logical and comforting explanation. So, I’ve been thinking a lot about how so many interactions with the fair folx could happen without the student knowing it….how many of these interactions and deals may have happened already. A few true stories: My roommate joined ROTC her freshman year. Four years of university for free, for five years of military service. Don’t tell me that there is just flesh and bone under the glamour of a military uniform, under the medals worn by those who watched her sign her contract. The Fair Folk have always loved games, and to gamble your life in the future of uncertain war is certainly worth $60,000 tuition per year for four years, plus a monthly stipend. I have a friend whose financial aid is paid by a grant from some folks from New York City. In exchange, once a year she dresses up, takes out her piercings, and goes to dinner with them.
Sit with us, tell us the stories of your studies, sing for us. Oh, you don’t sing anymore? But you sing so lovely. Sing.
At these dinners, she does not let her smile drop. I worked with a senior who would be Successful. They did everything, could not say no, every opportunity bigger than the last and they could Do It All. Directing a musical with a full orchestra in the biggest theater, performing across town themself in a different show each weekend for months on end, five classes and a thesis. One night, drunk and at 2am, a time were the glamour drops and world blurs into honesty, they said “I am so fucking lonely.” That is a powerful trade: love as fair as can be, a beating heart, community. But they wanted to be able To Do It All and they did. A few years ago, the school was raising money for the endowment (the school is always raising money for the endowment). They were holding a fundraising dinner, with Big Important People who must be Inspired by Students Like You in order to donate. They gathered together the most talented performers of the whole university. Dancers whose bodies defied physics, pianists who seemed to play with extra hands, singer whose voices rang inhuman. Maybe there is a reason we already had those skills, it’s hard to know. We’ve all made so many sacrifices already to end up at a school where we can get not a single credit for our talents. Maybe something is already taking its due. Still. They gathered us, and planted us through the field to mime silent excitement as the Big Important People entered the tent in a procession. They had us perform for them – but never in the way we do best. Bottle up your talent, make it look like this. Dressed us all head to toe in white. Gave clear instructions.
Hand them this book. Collect these cards. They will write a wish. If they speak to you, just smile. Do not speak back.
They had us wait behind the kitchen.
Whatever you do, do not eat the food.
The university knows how to make a deal. They know what a little Talent and a little Dignity is worth. And we already owe them so much…why not this too?
In the morning I went back to where the tent had been, only to find an empty football field.
I feel like I have to add that the last story is literally 100% true. The others I have taken small creative liberties with (mostly the ‘lonely’ one cause I don’t want that person to be identifiable). But this one is hundo percent reality. Nothing I could add about it would make it sound less weird. They set up this crazy huge tent for it and thousands of dollars of lights and projection equipment, and the next morning had taken down the entire thing. They had this whole projection thing that took up a side of the stadium with a video about how great the university is, except I’d never even HEARD OF most of the professors or programs they interviewed or discussed in it (like its a big uni but still). Went to go look them up the next day, but couldn’t remember the names. They had us count a specific number of steps from one section to another. They had us do a weird running pattern on the stadium stairs that was supposed to look cool but I think just opened a portal in to my own personal hell. I still have the white sneakers and sweatshirt they gave us but I legit have not worn them since that night; I’m slightly scared to wear them but somehow can’t throw them out. When the donors walked in to the tent, we literally just stood around the field jumping up and down with excitement (silently) and waving flags (silently) and for the first time I understood Artaudian horror. They had cards at their table that they were supposed to write these messages on, and then we would collect them in these books, and honestly the whole night is pretty hazy but it was weird. The whole thing was directed by Tony Award winner Diane Paulus (I swear to you this is true). Guys I’m low key pretty sure I’ve been to a revel and let me tell you, you are not a participant. You are there, but at best you are quaint entertainment, to be hidden in the corner when you’re not amusing them. You will do what they ask you (tell you). And there will be a part of you sitting on your shoulder saying, are you really doing that? And the answer will be yes, and it won’t be until after you leave that the wave will crash over you, nearly drowning you in the question, as you sputter awake asking, WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK JUST HAPPENED?