Friday, May 29, 2009

Daily Story 44: Cold Iron

Most people still think that iron burns fairy folk, which is almost exactly wrong. The iron sucks the warmth and life out of them, so while the metal itself turns white-hot the fey freezes solid. I pull the bar away as the stick it's tied it to catches fire, and toss it as hard as I can towards the pond. It's a good throw, and there's a hiss of steam as the heavy weight drags the stick under the shallow water.

I look down at the remains of the goblin, so cold that the grass around him has already turned brittle; it radiates off of him in waves, giving me goosebumps. As always, I feel... strange. Not guilty, never that, but somehow awkward. Like when someone tells you that a relative has passed away, but it's one you don't remember. You don't feel sad, but you feel like you should be saying something, thinking something.

I take a Polaroid and walk back to the bus stop, leaving the grotesque ice sculpture where it is. The body will vanish at sunup, no need for me to break my back dealing with it before then. I'm trusted enough to be paid off of the Polaroid alone, unlike the newly-licensed bounty hunters that I see with their dripping bags of souvenirs. Disgusting. I'm glad I'm past that, not the least because now I don't get glares from the ignorant masses.

I remember when I was going to college in Pennsylvania I dated a girl that was part of some animal rights group. They were militant to some extent, breaking into labs that participated in animal testing. I sometimes wonder if she's moved to the Fairy Rights groups these days, and I know that if she has she's probably killed people - those groups make even the most extreme animal lovers look like coma patients. I have trouble picturing the girl who ended our relationship because she caught me eating a hamburger leading a raid on a government building. I hope she just settled down somewhere, opened up a vegan bakery.

I have to hide the fact that I'm a bounty hunter because of these people, who simply remember all the wrong stories. They picture the sugar-coated children's cartoon version, and if they would just read a few stories written when their grandparents were little they would know that these "darling" creatures are bad news. They remember tales of leaving little treats on the doorstep for the fey, but they think it was done as some sort of gift. A gift! In another hundred years, will we look back at the mafia and think that all the money given to them for "protection" was just handed over out of love? People still sometimes hang a horseshoe over their door, but forget that they do it to keep the Fair Folk from entering. Whether a horseshoe over the door or a knife buried under it, the fey sense the iron and keep out - what else would it be for? General good luck? Stupidity.

My bus stops at the central hub and I wander over towards the mall, which has been a hotspot lately. I don't really need to do any more hunting to pay the rent this month but there's nothing good on television and I don't like letting the little monsters feed on teenagers anyway. It's a tough call sometimes, when it's a particularly obnoxious teenager and a relatively harmless fey. One time I caught a leprechaun begging for change - he was offering a fifty dollar bill if anyone could just give him two twenties. I tried to warn the girl he was talking to, but she flipped me off without even listening so I shrugged and watched the deal go down. The leprechaun eyed me warily but went through with it, happily running off with his twenty dollar bills. I just chucked and turned to walk away, and the girl asked me what was so funny. I told her to wait and find out. I would have loved to see the look on her face when she found a worthless scrap of newspaper where her fifty should be.

Those are the hard cases, though, because the government has backed off on Leprechauns, Brownies, and Gnomes - or at least the fey that they have decided to call gnomes. We're still supposed to arrest them, but not kill them. That's a really tough order. I had some shoddy handcuffs made, magnetized iron wrapped in leather. The leather doesn't hurt, but the magnetized iron burns right through with enough power to make them very cooperative and unable to pull any... tricks. Even so, hauling them off to jail is a massive pain, especially since I don't have a car. I'd actually rather go after the more dangerous ones.

I'm almost to the mall when I see a girl, can't be more than fifteen, and she has a pixie on her hand like a butterfly. Shit. I try to get her attention, tell her not to touch it, but her eyes are already glazed over. I don't want the little thing to get away, so I slowly reach into the inside pocket of my jacket for the big gun. In the same way that the homemade handcuffs are weak, there are certain weapons that are more effective than normal iron. Meteoric iron is stronger, having never been smelted, and stronger still is Magnetite. I have some pellets of magnetite and a small but powerful slingshot that I keep with me at all times, though I rarely use it. A cheap bar of iron is nearly always enough if you get the drop on them, and even in this case the magnetite is overkill - but at least I know that even a graze will knock it out.

The pellet is loaded, but I'm moving slowly and I can already see that it's too late. The girl has reached out to pet the pixie, and as I watch it sinks its teeth into the girl's finger, flapping its wings in delight as it digs in. The girl looks concerned, in a distracted way, but isn't fighting it off. Damage already done, I take an extra second to aim carefully and release, catching the pixie in the midsection and knocking it to the ground. The ball of magnetite is lodged in the pixie, and it's exactly like the time we dropped raw sodium into a tub of water in science class - the whole pixie bounces around on the asphalt for a minute blazing like a flare, and then explodes.

The girl is blinking and holding her hand, probably wondering why it's bleeding. I feel bad for her. These stories she's been told, about the magical little people who love sunshine and flowers, will all be ruined for her once she remembers what happened. I'll always believe it's for the best, always favor truth over comfort, but it still pains me every once in a while to see innocence lost in such a violent way. Without saying anything I take her hand and start to wrap a bandage around it, and for the first time she really focuses and looks around, though the last few minutes clearly haven't come back to her yet. Minuscule frozen bits of the butterfly-winged pixie are drifting down around us, even the largest no bigger than a peppercorn, and the girl quietly asks me,

"Is it snowing?"