The wind shifted north, and the faintest shriek of metal against metal sounded as the old weathervane turned on top of the barn. Tilly, my grand-niece, shuddered on the porch swing beside me, drawing her sweater tight.
“Winter’s coming,” I said, my voice raspy with age. “Weathercock says so.”
“That thing on top of the barn. Looks like a rooster. It turns with the wind, and that tells you the weather. South means warm and pleasant, east means rain and storms, north means cold.”
“What about west?”
“Don’t think the west wind means anything. But now, if it just spins and spins, that means the fairy winds are blowing.”
“Sure. They come on special nights, when the boundaries of Faerie grow thin. We’ve got fairy blood in us, Tilly.”
She smiled. “You told me that when I was a little girl. I always believed it.”
Just then Tilly’s parents came out from snooping around in the house. “Elliot,” said my niece, Sarah. “Frank and I have something to discuss with you.”
“If it’s more nonsense about that retirement home, I ain’t interested.”
“It’s for the best. You’re eighty-two. We worry about you here all alone, what with that old furnace acting up.”
“You worried I’m gonna burn the place down and screw you out of your inheritance?”
“Oh, Elliot, such talk.”
“Well, don’t worry. I already fixed things in my will.”
“We’re not worried about the farm.”
“Good, cause you’re not getting it. It goes straight to Tilly.”
Sarah grimaced. “That’s ridiculous, she’s only eighteen. What can she do — ”
“Whatever she wants. It’s all settled.”
“Elliot,” said Frank, “we can have you declared mentally incompetent. Don’t think we won’t do it.”
“Do what you think you need to.”
“People in town talk about you,” said Sarah. “Did you know that? They say you make strange potions in the barn.”
“Just a little moonshine.”
“And you don’t have any friends, you never go to church, and recently, some hunters said they found you sleeping in the woods.”
“Maybe I was tired.”
“You’re gonna get yourself hurt… or worse.”
“What I’m getting is tired of all this. I think I’ve had my fill of you two today.”
“Fine, we’re going,” said Sarah. “But we’ll be back tomorrow to start packing the place up. Come on, Tilly.”
“Mom, I think I’m gonna stay the night. That’s what we drove out here for, wasn’t it? To visit Uncle Elliot.”
Sarah and Frank stormed off to their car, and I didn’t know whom they were more frustrated with, me or Tilly.
Later, Tilly made me dinner, then I went to the cellar and got some moonshine whisky. I poured a couple glasses and we went back out and sat on the porch, Tilly with a blanket wrapped around her.
“Tilly, you think I’m a weirdo?”
“Oh, Uncle Elliot.”
“Your mother seems to think so.”
“What does she know? So what if you’re a little eccentric. Makes you more interesting. And who cares if you don’t go to church, or have a lot of friends.”
“I have my own sort of spirituality.”
“Sure you do.”
“And I have friends, too. Lots of ‘em.”
“Would you like to meet them?” I said, and then, as if on cue, the weathercock squeaked a small whine as it shifted slightly, a bantam silhouette against the twilit sky. It rocked from side to side, then it swung around and reversed itself. Soon, ever so slowly, it began to spin.
“Uncle Elliot. The weathercock. It’s spinning.”
“I… I don’t believe it.” She stood and walked down off the porch. The winds whipped around her, billowing her blanket so it looked like she had wings. I stood and walked down beside her.
The sky was deep indigo, and in it a billion stars shone like diamonds. In the distance, beneath this wan, crepuscular glow, little shapes were darting about — the playful, far-flung members of our netherworld family. They made a noise that was at once like laughter and the yowl of cats.
“Who… what are they?”
“My friends. I told you, girl, we’ve got fairy blood in us.”
“I thought that was just some bullshit you used to say when I was a kid. Or, that you were getting senile, or something.”
“I assure you, my mind is quite sharp. Sharp as a pooka, sharp as an elf.”
Tilly looked at me, her eyes full of the same wonder I’d once felt when I realized who and what I was. But also, there were the beginnings of tears. “You’re leaving, aren’t you?”
“It’s for the best,” I said, echoing the words of Tilly’s mother. “We’re only visitors in this world. Smoke and shadows, Tilly.”
“But what will I tell them?”
“Tell ‘em the truth. Crazy old Elliot wandered off into the woods. When they finally declare me dead, the farm’ll be yours.”
“I’m not worried about that.”
“I am. I want you to live here. This is a special place, a gateway to Faerie. I’ve been the gatekeeper for longer than was my due. Time for the next generation to take over.”
“Sure. You’ve got the blood in you, Tilly. I can see it in your eyes. I should have started prepping you years ago, but your mother…”
“What about my mother?”
“Don’t worry about her. She ain’t got the blood. Sometimes it skips a generation, I guess. But she can’t touch this farm. There are wards in place, legal and magical. So you just move on in and take over the farm, and someday, marry yourself a good man and keep the line going.” I turned and started walking toward the trees.
“Wait. There’s so much I don’t know.”
“But you could teach me if you stayed.”
“If I stay any longer, it’s just gonna cause trouble. But don’t worry, I’ll be around from time to time.”
“Ha. On special nights. Just keep a sharp eye on the weathercock.”
Christopher Owen lives in Texas with his wife and two cats. His work has appeared at Daily Science fiction, Mirror Dance, Mystic Signals and other places. He is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing workshop.