The months leading up to the change — so demanding on Liza Handley — left her drained. Her sister, Bethany, growing tired of Liza’s dependency, encouraged — in fact, forced — Liza to date. “Something’s gotta get you out of my house,” her sister would blurt out. Bethany, eight months pregnant and nesting, found neither opportunity nor fortitude for Liza’s slow healing process. Although the one to suggest the living arrangement, three years had passed and Bethany wanted Liza to stand on her own. Liza, far from foolish, realized all of this, but wasn’t it Bethany who told her she would never make it on her own? At that stage, Bethany wanted to pawn Liza off on the first unsuspecting man.
The prospect of finding a new man caused Liza’s stomach to boil. She needed to find closure. Everyone talked about it — especially after a death — that phenomenon called “closure,” but Liza never grasped it. Her husband was gone — taken from her by two intoxicated kids racing on a busy highway. Nothing could wrap her current life up in a nice little bow and make the world suitable to move on without him. Standing unclothed, facing the mirror, she saw him behind her, tracing shapes from the freckles on her back — freckles she had always found so unsightly, but he had loved. Now, the sight of them only made her miss him — long for his rough fingers brushing across her naked flesh. His absence left her lost and cold.
Deven Handley, the sole person who made her believe she wouldn’t end up like her mother, was Liza’s rock when her mother passed. Poor Dory Spencer who, when her dementia became advanced, concluded she didn’t want to pass life that way. Dory Spencer who, on a magnificent Sunday in March, donned the dress that she wore to Liza’s wedding and took enough painkillers to take away all the pain. Upon discovering her mother’s body, Liza felt she should have been furious and grief stricken, but she was numb. The mind games of bipolar disorder were hard enough on Dory Spencer. Liza understood her mother could no longer handle the torment of spending her days trying to chase away the people on her ceiling. “They just get so loud,” Dory once told her. Worried that she would end up on the same path, Liza read many studies — dissected every word. The research reiterated her fears that individuals with bipolar disorder have a higher chance of getting dementia. As someone who checked and rechecked her intentions, surrendering all regulation of her mind terrified her. Deven refused to let her dwell on her obsession. Upon catching her poring over the studies, he would close her laptop and whisper, “Enjoy the now.” Liza didn’t know how it worked, but that was all it took to pluck her up from the depths of fear and doubt. Those words, spoken through his lips, pulled her back into a world not as grim. “Enjoy the now.”
As she drew shapes on her right arm, Liza’s fingers moved absently from freckle to freckle. Tears flowed from her large, green eyes. She didn’t even acknowledge the weight of the warm, liquid saline forcing its path down to her chin anymore. It became an unhappy facet of life. Happy memories led to the bitter truth. Deven was gone, and a horror from which she could never wake engulfed her. Liza turned from the mirror and started the shower. When the room became filled with steam, she stepped in and closed the glass door.
Something seemed different. The odd bite between the shoulder blades of Liza’s back tingled, but not in pain. It was like the slightest touch of a childhood crush that set butterflies free. Euphoria and fascination overwhelmed her.
The sting itself bulged red and angry in a cross. A narrow hole in the swelling’s center oozed — the clear, sticky liquid coating her spine. Liza had seen two doctors after discovering the wound, neither of whom could determine the creature that might have created the puncture. The doctors prescribed ointments and sent Liza on her way with the assurance that “it should clear up soon.” Two weeks had gone, and the inflammation continued to thrive.
Liza stepped out of the shower, moving to the vanity. Her towel slipped off to the floor, and she stood with her back to the mirror — craning her neck — marveling at the large “T” on her back. The discharge coated the swollen sore. Having no luck cleaning it off — not even in a scalding shower — she twisted her arm behind her back, scooping up some tacky secretions on her finger. Disgusted, she thought she should appreciate that she was in no rush to love again. How would this gross development meet with a lover’s gaze? The ooze was no longer clear. It was pearlescent and shimmery. Liza stared at it, remembering a putty she made as a child.
“Can you hear me yet?” a faint, exasperated voice called.
A small light darted in her peripheral. She had been seeing the glimmer for a few days. As time passed, she began to fear that it might be some manifestation of a serious ailment, or worse, that she was suffering hallucinations. She ignored the episode, hoping that it was a passing symptom.
“Humans have no true ‘poker face,’ as you would call it. I know you hear me. Listen.”
Liza put her hands over her ears, believing she was going insane. “Hearing voices? That’s the first
“You can’t block out my voice with your hands.”
“That’s right. I’m hearing voices. That’s the point. It’s all in my head.” Tears commenced to pool in her eyes, “… and I’m going crazy… just like mom.” Liza began to resent that her mother’s symptoms had shown themselves much later in life than her own.
“You’re not going crazy… You’re changing.”
“I don’t want to change!” Liza cried out, staring in wonderment as small lights sprang from her fingertips. “Oh, no…” She crumpled to the floor, hugging her legs. “Crazy, crazy, crazy.”
A glowing ball hovered before her eyes. She reached for it. Moving from her grasp, it seemed to expect what her next move would be. Liza started to swat at it — her hands swift and careless — seeing it was part of her downfall, but the glimmer averted each swing. “Go away!” she cried.
“I can’t… You’ve got to listen. You’re changing into a hybrid, forbidden by the council.”
“I don’t understand.” Just as the words poured from her lips, the once blissful sensation in her back became searing pain. She got to her feet, turned, her back facing the mirror, and looked. Horrified, she watched something begin to poke through each shoulder blade. Blood spurted down her back as she saw what looked like bones tearing out of her skin. Agony dropped her to her knees. The protrusions continued to rip through her shoulders. On hands and knees, she looked on in horror as blood began to pool on the floor. “What’s happening to me?” Lights swirled around her and she felt faint.
When she woke, the blood and pain left. Just as she contemplated it all an awful nightmare, the bright orb yielded before her, except not a sphere at all, it looked like a miniature man. Suddenly she noticed something different… something growing from her back. She reached behind her. Were those feathers?
“Will you listen to me now?”
Unsettled, she stared at the tiny man, fashioned of light, as she fingered the fluffy material behind her. In a daze, Liza stood and swung her back to the mirror. There, jutting out of her shoulder blades, she found the most magnificent silvery wings that she had ever seen. Even more impressive than those of the snowy owl she petted at the zoo when she was seven, they ran from her shoulders to mid-calf. She turned to face the mirror, and what greeted her was — no more scattered freckles, no more unsightly stretch marks — nothing less than perfect porcelain skin. “I must still be dreaming.”
“No. You’re not. Listen… we have little time.”
“I’m listening, but first, who… what are you?”
Liza listened as the miniature ball of light revealed that he was an elder Sidhe, “a fairy to most mortals,” and his name was Oisin. This produced nothing to sway Liza’s theories of lunacy being the apparent culprit for all the morning’s chaos. He told her she had been kissed by a Bhampair Sidhe.
“Wait… a what? And who told him he could kiss me?”
“It’s not literally a kiss. It’s more like a bite. Bhampair Sidhe are like…” Oisin turned away, “… like vampire fairies,” he responded.
“Okay… You’re telling me I now have wings because a vampire fairy bit me?” Liza let out a cackle. “I’ve officially gone over the edge. Tell me, will I be a vampire too?” She laughed until she snorted. She felt embarrassed, even if she was speaking with an elder fairy in her bathroom and on the train to Crazytown, USA.
“You will need to pull it together. No. You will not be a vampire, nor are you a human anymore, nor are you a Sidhe. You are a hybrid, and they forbid you to live. They’ll be coming for you.”
“Who are they?” If Liza was going insane, she may as well see how far her mind could take her.
Oisin flew about the room in a fuss as he explained that it’s the Council of the Elder Sidhe that then had a bounty out for Liza with orders to kill upon sight. Hybrids should not exist, and those who survived were in hiding.
“Wait… Aren’t you an elder Sidhe?”
“Yes. An elder, but not part of the council.”
Liza, becoming tired of the hallucination, started stroking her wings. “My mind can make up some crazy shit. Maybe I should have tried those mushrooms that my roommate offered me in college.” A sharp pain radiated from somewhere behind her back. Was that her wings?
“I hear that it hurts,” Oisin said. Liza turned to find him holding one of her feathers. “So, I know little about human hallucinations, but do they hurt like that? Now come on, we have to go.”