Helven may have been over six hundred years old, but she heard the lads breaking in loud and clear.
She straightened up in the tattered armchair as the door creaked open. Fey never really slept. Not truly. They always had to have one ear open for an assassin hiding in the shadows. One eye open for the blade clasped in an enemy’s hand.
That’s why she migrated to the human realm all those years ago. Even if she did have to pay compensation to the Keepers for staying. It wasn’t cheap, either. Still, life was far simpler this way.
And who were these young rascals, then? She strained her ears, listening to their nervous chatter and frantic heartbeats. Judging by the footsteps, there had to be four or five of them. Helven gripped her cane, knuckles turning a milk-white. She hated this stupid stick, but all old humans used them. She couldn’t very well be sprinting about in public.
The lads stank of cigarette smoke and cheap beer. Helven wrinkled her nose. Pah. Revolting stuff. She snapped her eyes shut as they crept into the living room, stopping dead in their tracks.
“You said she’d be sleeping upstairs!” The voice was juvenile, afraid to be heard.
“Come on, man. Look at her. She’s so old she’s haunted.”
“Yeah, but still—”
“What the hell she gonna do, huh?”
That did it. Her jaw clenched. She might have let them go if they hadn’t ridiculed her, at one point, but they’d crossed the line now. They were going to pay.
Helven leaped to her feet, brought her cane down on the nearest lad’s knee with a loud crack. He went down howling.
A fat boy shaped like a bowling ball waddled forward, trying to tackle her. She twisted around, flipping him over to slam his head on the glass table. The glass shattered and the table collapsed under the heavy weight, billowing clouds of dust. Another boy came charging her way and she lashed out with a fist, knocking him backwards where he slammed into the other boys.
“You young rascals!” Helven shouted, launching a kick at the downed boy’s stomach. “I’ll teach you to break into my house!”
“Stupid hag! Get her!” Three of the lads charged her at once from all directions. Mustering up her strength Helven flipped into the air, her head nearly scraping against the ceiling. She landed back down again, lashing out with her cane. It caught a straw-haired boy on his temples and he spun away, crashing into her dresser. It was an antique, too! She’d have told him off, but he was lying on the floor in a daze, objects clattering on the floor around him.
A sharp jab in her back. She snapped around and tore the stick out of the lad’s hand, eyes blazing. “I’ll get you, you little wanker!”
They dived for her legs, trying to hold her down. She kicked out, muscles expanding with use. The boys went tumbling on the sagging couch, spilling tea over the carpet. She’d have to make another.
But not before she finished with these young bastards.
The fat boy with tousled hair scrambled up, blood dribbling from his nose. “Let’s get out of here, man!”
“Not so fast,” Helven hooked her cane around the boy’s neck, yanking him back with a choking sound. The remaining lad tried to make a desperate scramble for the front door. But Helven was faster. She hurled her cane, scything through the air and cracking on the back of his head to send him sprawling. Now that had to hurt.
Helven straightened up, flexing her swollen knuckles. Ah, she hadn’t had a good fight in ages. The room was a wreck, the floor littered with broken glass, shattered cups and battered books. The boys were sprawled around, limbs tangled, two of them unconscious. They wouldn’t be going anywhere.
A boy to her left groaned. Moonlight eased through the shutters to illuminate his face. It was Trevor, the boy from down the road. He was always a pest, lighting firecrackers at night and making sure she never got a wink of sleep. His aunt popped around on occasion (usually when she wasn’t wanted) to inquire about Helven’s needs. It didn’t take long to get rid of her, but Trevor must have known about her and that she lived alone in the house.
Well, she couldn’t let them go now that they’d seen her. So what to do with them? They’d caused a great deal of trouble. The energy spent fighting them off would take days to replenish. The room would need tidying and she’d have to replace the broken cutlery. Then she’d have to recast her spells, making her body look old and frail like a human. It was a rather annoying process, one that took too much time when she could be doing much better things like spying on the unsuspecting neighbours.
Ah! She could sell them to the Keepers. They were always on the lookout for stray humans to have as pets. Yes, she could very well do that. She’d wash her hands of these boys and pay towards her tax at the same time.
She’d give them a call. But first she’d make another cup of tea.
Born in 1995 with a twisted sense of humour and a taste for craft beers and cold weather, Jeremy Szal’s work has appeared in Nature, Nature: Physics, Abyss & Apex, Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, The Drabblecast and others. His work has appeared in audio and has been translated into Arabic, Polish and Chinese. In 2015 he was a Finalist for Writers of the Future and produced a short film that is currently being screened in film festivals around the world. He is also the fiction editor for Hugo-winning podcast StarShipSofa and holds a a useless BA in Film Studies and Creative Writing. He has plans for world domination but is too busy watching foreign films and traveling to really get the plan in motion. He has written several novels and is currently seeking literary representation. He carves out a living in Sydney, Australia. Peep into his brain via at @jeremyszal or jeremyszal.com