HUNTING FOR A GIFT • by S. Cameron David

Finn passed between the rusted doors to enter into a most peculiar kind of pet shop. In one corner of the room sat a collection of lizards, not doing much more than lazing about on the rocks. They weren’t much larger than iguanas, but there were half formed wings growing from their backs and tiny spikes from the tips of their noses, and if you were to touch one of them you would have found scales too warm for a thing cold blooded. Elsewhere, chained up beside the doors, a unicorn lay on a bed of straw, her muzzle pressed on the cold wet floor.

But Finn paid such wonders nary a glance. He strode right past the dragons and the unicorn, the roc eggs sitting in their nest and the selkie sleeping in its tank, only stopping at the far wall, where the cages were lined up one by one. They were of a kind meant for small parrots and parakeets, only these had tiny winged faeries buzzing about inside, each as small as a finger.

“You have an interest in pixies?” rumbled a voice from behind him. Finn turned around. The proprietor loomed before him.

The two made for quite a contrast. The proprietor was a gray-haired giant of a man, with scars that stretched across his face and bandages on his fingers. He looked like the sort of man who might have found light exercise in wrestling bears (or perhaps, given the sort of merchandise he had on hand, an adolescent dragon). Finn, on the other hand, was a much smaller fellow, with shirt and slacks neatly pressed, wearing cufflinks shaped like hounds.

“Perhaps,” said Finn. “And your name is?”

“Mark,” said the shopkeeper.

“I see.” Finn studied the faeries on the wall. There were twelve in total, each in a cage by its lonesome. “You catch them yourself?”

“What’s it to you?”

“Just curious is all. I’ve never seen a shop quite like this one.”

“Most haven’t,” Mark said. “There’s more to this world than most people think. Dragons and Faerie and Old Gods, you know?”

“I’m acquainted well enough. But trafficking in creatures of Faerie — it seems like a risky proposition.”

“I can take care of myself.”

Finn gave the shopkeeper a once-over. He could see that. The man looked like a dangerous sort. As he’d have to be to run this kind of operation. “You trek through Faerie often?”

“Often enough,” said Mark. “I’m careful, though, and Faerie’s vast, you understand. There’s a lot of space for a man to disappear in, assuming he knows his way about him.”

“Certainly,” said Finn. “You must make for quite the hunter. I can respect that.”

“Good.” Mark stepped forward, looming with all his bulk. Finn offered no reaction. He continued to idly watch the pixies.

“So, are you here to buy or not?” the proprietor asked.

“I’m hunting for a gift,” said Finn. “For a lady I’m acquainted with. Real regal sort. Terrifying, though. Terrifying like you couldn’t believe.”

Mark laughed. “Don’t I know the type? You think the pixies might be her thing?”

“I don’t know. You catch them yourself?” Somewhere in the distance, so quiet as to go unheard, there came a sound like barking hounds.

“I did. I went out to Faerie just last week. Managed to spy a whole group of them. It’s not easy though. Pixies bite, you see.” He waved an injured hand. “They’ll take the flesh straight off the bone.”

“They can be like that,” Finn said. He removed one of the cages from the wall, to study the creature trapped inside. And as for the pixie, she stopped zipping about back and forth, froze mid-flight at the edge of the cage, staring back at him. The man opened the cage and stuck his hand inside. The pixie embraced it, pressed her entire body up against one finger, and sounded out a high pitched, triumphant trill. “Feels risky though. Traipsing about like that. The Fae don’t take well to interlopers.”

“Well, I haven’t been caught yet. Besides, the real powers in Faerie — they don’t really care all that much about people like us. Not so long as we keep out of sight.”

The sound of distant barking had gotten louder. Now it came like a gust of wind — detectable, but you’d need to strain to hear it.

“That would be sensible,” Finn said. His eyes remained locked on the creature in the cage. “Yet here I find you, with the Queen of Faerie’s daughter trussed up like some parrot on display.”

And to that the proprietor had no response. Finn smiled the smile of a hunter who’d caught his quarry. “And you know what they say about the Fae. They don’t take transgressions against them easy.”

Mark’s gaze caught the pixie’s. His face went white. “I didn’t — I didn’t know that was what she was.” Mark began looking about himself, as if searching for an exit. Or a weapon.

“Of course you didn’t,” said Finn. The barking had gotten louder still. Now it came rumbling like a fast approaching storm. “But you think they care about that? You think I care about that?”

Quietly, as if he was sharing some deep and terrible secret, just between the two of them, Finn talked on. “The Queen’s been after the one who crossed her something fierce, and she’ll pay quite well for her prize. Being a hunter yourself, I’m sure you’ll understand…”

Then the Hounds pounced from out of that nowhere-place between this world and the next. They fell upon Mark, dragged him backwards kicking and screaming, clear across to the other side. Then the shopkeeper was gone and there was only Finn, along with the rest of the shop.

He opened the cage, setting the princess free to zip around his ears. “You think she’ll like my gift?”

The princess nodded her head and grinned with bloodstained teeth.

S. Cameron David has had a fascination for myth, folklore and fantasy for much longer than he’d care to admit (perhaps as long as he can remember). He loves stories in general, whether they be real (history is another passion of his) or imagined, and has an unfortunate tendency to get lost sometimes in his own head. He lives in New York State, and sometimes wishes it was the city instead.

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