My parents chose a rather unconventional life - for our kind anyway.
Most of us choose to live in small towns, like Lowell, Oregon, Walton, Kansas, and Granby, Connecticut. Not to live in large metropolitan cities like Chicago, Illinois. Most of us choose quiet, unassuming occupations like librarians or school teachers. Not high-powered, high attention positions like a partner at a law firm or as the curator of the Art Institute of Chicago. Most of us choose to live in modest homes. Not three story apartments in Chicago’s Gold Coast.
Most of us dislike hiding our true nature and pretending to be human, because we aren’t.
We are called by many names, very rarely the correct one. We are commonly called witches, as we can manipulate things like air and water. Faeries are another name we are familiar with, as we often shun places with large populations. But what we really are, very few guess. We are elementals.
An elemental is a mortal being just as a human is. We share many of the same physical traits as human beings, leaving us virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the population. Upon closer examination you might find that our bones are taller, our bodies leaner, and our skin paler. An elemental will never be seen wearing glasses, unless as a fashion statement. Our senses are enhanced, as compared to a human, and never need corrective action.
What distinguishes an elemental from a human being is our innate relationship with an element. We are each able to manipulate one of the four elements: air, water, earth, or fire. I am an air user, sometimes known as a sylph. My father is an undine, or a water user. My mother manipulates earth and is known as a pygmy. There is no discernible trend to predict which element a new elemental will use, the allotment is entirely random.
From birth we are capable of using our elements, although the more years we age, the more ingrained our element becomes. As we age we are able to manipulate our element with greater strength and precision.
Our kind typically chooses to live in greater seclusion than my family for an important reason, to keep our secret. Many often dream of what it would be like if supernatural beings were actually to exist in the open. Comic books write about heroes and villains locked in a constant battle of good versus evil. Television shows illustrate weekly installments of the complications that having abilities imposes on everyday people. Movies portray a romanticized version of life as a supernatural, complete with riches and worldwide celebrity.
We know, from experience, that the revelation of our secret will not result in fame and fortune, but in horror. Several of our kind were captured by the Nazi’s and experimented on near the end of the Second World War. Our abilities were pushed to the brink and tested to learn how they would benefit an army in offensive or defensive action. In our good fortune, and the good fortune of the world at large, the Second World War came to an end before the utilization of our powers could be implemented. All responsible for the testing on our kind were put to death and rumors of our existence were considered to be nothing more than distractions from the massive human rights violations that occurred during the time.
We are all very aware of how valuable a commodity our kind would be if our existence were no longer a secret. Our kind would be manipulated by governments and by power hungry individuals. It is of extreme importance that we maintain our secret.
Most importantly we keep our abilities and our identities a secret for another reason, a more serious reason: pixies.
Pixies were once elementals. There was a time in the history of our kind where some of us became unsatisfied with the limitations of our abilities, specifically the limitation that each of us is only endowed with one element. Elementals have had a relatively peaceful existence because in situations of unrest, our abilities are capable of canceling each other out. We each are able to manipulate our elements, leaving us on an even playing field if we were to battle another elemental. Neither elemental would be in the advantageous position. Pixies learned, over time, how to capture an element from another and ingrain it as their own. This made them infinitesimally more powerful than the rest of us so we have to conceal our ability lest we alert the pixies to our presence. Our very survival depended on it.
Despite my family’s unconventional choice of lifestyle, we maintain an uneventful existence.
Then it all changed.
It was a Friday afternoon and I had just arrived home from school.
I was a senior at St. Benedict Academy, one of the best private schools in the Midwest. My parents, despite being incredibly career focused, were very involved in my education. That is why I was shocked to learn that they would be spending the weekend in New York. My parents rarely left me home without supervision, and never for an entire weekend, so I was reveling in the opportunity. I loved having time alone. I usually spent the time working with my element, air. I would immerse myself in air and discover new ways to work with it. This weekend was slightly different than typical weekends in the Kavanagh household, and it wasn’t because my parents were gone. It was because my boyfriend Finn was coming to stay.
Finn and I had officially been together for two years, although secretly it had been longer. We met during an advanced placement English class our freshman year. My parents had this insanely old fashioned rule that I couldn’t date until I turned sixteen. Most boys would have thought the complication was not worth it and would have moved on, but not Finn. He was so different than any other boy I had met.
Finn was willing to wait for me. We spent time together in school, but outside of school, where parents were present, our interactions were severely limited. The night of my sixteenth birthday was the night of our first date. Finn took me out for ice cream, as my family had a birthday dinner earlier in the evening. It was so simple, walking a few blocks from my building to the ice cream parlor, but I swear it was the best walk of my life.
Butterflies were swarming in my stomach when Finn paid for my ice cream. It was such a traditional thing, having a boy pay for you, but it was so exciting. On the walk home, the far too brief walk home, he held my hand. There was no sweaty awkwardness or hesitation, he just grabbed it. And for the first time in my life I was holding hands with a male that wasn’t my father, and it felt so right. The night ended with a quick kiss on the cheek, which was sweet and innocent. Our first real kiss didn’t happen for another month, and was the best first kiss a girl could ask for. Later that night he called me on my cell phone to wish me sweet dreams, and he asked me to be his girlfriend. I highly doubt there was a better question ever asked between a girl and a boy.
I was practicing my levitation stamina when I heard a soft knock on the door. It was a bit early to expect Finn, as he planned to stop home and pick up his things before he came over. I did not know who to expect. The doorman rarely sent people up without calling us first, not even Finn had earned that privilege. Therefore I had to conclude that whoever knocked on the door either lived in the building or had managed to sneak past our doorman, a feat I had yet to see anyone accomplish.
I floated over to the door and lowered myself before I opened it. A strange girl was standing there on my doorstep. She had the lightest and longest blonde hair I had ever seen. She was wringing her hands, as if she was nervous. Finally she spoke up.
“Maeve Kavanagh?” she asked me in a slight Irish accent.
“Yes,” I replied, unsure of how this girl knew my name.
She inhaled deeply, and then in an eerily beautiful voice started singing. “Oh the Irish Curse affects a man, right to his very root. ‘Tis the only thing in life that can be small but not so cute. Few things in life can be so grim-”
Her voice was very soothing and I felt myself relaxing deeply. An unnatural calm passed through me. I had to shake my head to clear some of the fog that had accumulated before I could speak.
“Is this some sort of sing-o-gram or something?” I interrupted her, confused by her presence.
“What?” She looked at me bewildered. “Oh, shit, I’m doing this all wrong. I’m sorry, this is my first time.”
She was tapping her foot nervously and wouldn’t meet my gaze.
“You’re first time doing what?” I asked her.
“Delivering an omen,” she said in a matter of fact tone. “I told them I wasn’t ready to be on my own, in Chicago of all places. But no, they didn’t listen. And now I’ve screwed everything up-”
“What the hell are you talking about?” I interrupted her once again.
“You are Maeve Kavanagh, right?” she asked me. “Daughter of Rowan and Saoirse Kavanagh? Granddaughter of Liam and Aislin Kavanagh? Great Granddaughter of Torin and Fiona Kavanagh? Great, Great Granddaughter of Alaois and Nuala Kavanagh?”
“Um, yes?” I replied as she somehow recited four generations of my family tree. How this girl knew all of that information, I have no idea.
“Well… you are the right girl,” she said, as if she needed to convince herself.
“I’m sorry, but who are you?” I demanded.
“Noreen,” she smiled. “Banshee in training. Look, maybe you should let me in so I can explain this further.”
Banshee? This girl was a banshee? It was not the fact that she was a supernatural that surprised me. I knew that other supernatural beings existed. I had met several elves on our latest trip home to Ireland to visit extended family. What surprised me was that this girl was a banshee.
“Sure, come on in,” I replied, a bit shocked.
She waltzed into the apartment with a suitcase and headed right towards the kitchen.
“Do you have any hot tea?” she asked, opening random cabinets after she dropped her suitcase in the middle of the room. “The singing is really hard on the throat.”
“Yeah,” I replied.
I turned on the stove, filled the teapot with water, and placed it on the hot burner.
“Do you have anything to eat?” she asked, walking towards the fridge. “I’m famished.”
“Help yourself to anything you want,” I told her. It was a little weird to watch this girl waltz around my home as if she knew the place. She was acting like we had been friends for years, when in fact we met less than five minutes ago.
A few minutes later we were sitting at the kitchen table with two hot cups of tea and a smorgasbord of food. Noreen was attacking the spread as if she hadn’t eaten in days.
“Look, you need to explain yourself a bit more,” I finally said.
“You know what a banshee is, right?” Noreen asked me.
“Um… I guess,” I replied. “Although you aren’t what I picture when I think of a banshee.”
“Yeah, we get that a lot,” Noreen nodded. “A hundred years or so ago a couple of us went a bit off the reservation, if you know what I mean, yet still went on jobs. Ever since then we have been trying to shake the reputation.”
“Let me guess,” she looked up at me from her plate of food. “When you think of a banshee you think of an old, wrinkled woman with crazy messy hair who screeches out her omens to unsuspecting victims?”
I didn’t say anything. Her description was spot on.
“Exactly,” she smirked. “Those of us who go on jobs are quite young, as the older ones retire to work in the compound. We aren’t ugly hags either, we take care of ourselves. We don’t ride broomsticks; we can fly without the help of magical cleaning supplies. And you heard the voice, right? If you had let me finish the song you would have been in a trance for a while. You know, like a side affect. Or if I really poured on the sauce, you’d be, you know, dead.”
It took me a few moments to get over the shock of her words. “So, I’m a job?”
“Yep,” she smiled. “My first solo, so that explains the variations from protocol.”
“Protocol?” I prompted.
“Observe client in natural habitat. Verify client’s identity. Approach only when client is alone. Deliver omen. Return to compound immediately. Write up full report,” Noreen recited from memory.
Noreen had stopped eating and was wringing her hands under the table.
“So the song was the omen?” I deducted.
“Well, what kind of omen is it?” I asked.
“There is only one kind of omen,” she replied, her voice less cheerful than it had been.
“Okay, well the song wasn’t very clear.”
“You did interrupt me,” she defended herself. “But the song is representative of the omen. And the omen is always death.”
Shivers ran down my spine and I stared at her in disbelief. Death? Does this mean I am going to die?
“Who is the omen for?” I asked nervously.
“You,” she whispered as she stood up. “Look, this isn’t exactly how I imagined this would happen or who I imagined it would happen to. I should just go.”
“What?” I screeched at her in desperation as I jumped to my feet. “You can’t just deliver this omen and leave.”
“I have no choice,” she said, although she looked as if she regretted it.
“You have a choice,” I argued. “You can help me.”
“How can I help you?” she asked unemotionally. “There is nothing more that I can do.”
I started pacing around the kitchen table, clenching and unclenching my fists in worry.
“You can give me more information,” I cried. “How does it work? How do you know to deliver an omen to someone?”
“It is an innate ability we have. We are synced with the five original Gaelic families and just know when we must deliver an omen. There are not many of us, so we confer as to who will deliver each omen.”
“And how do you know that I am going to die?”
“You’re face came to us in a vision,” she replied truthfully.
“How long do I have?” I whispered, unable to speak the words louder. That would make it real.
“It varies,” she answered. “Sometimes immediately and sometimes a few days, never more than a week.”
“A week?” I gasped. “Seriously, one week? I am going to die in less than seven days?”
“I get now why we are supposed to deliver the omen and then return to the compound immediately. Why we aren’t supposed to get involved with our clients,” she muttered as if she were talking only to herself.
“Too late for that,” I snapped. “You became involved the second you delivered this omen.”
“I thought we already established that I am very new at this,” Noreen snapped back at me. “I’m a virgin. I’m a virgin banshee and you were my first. No experience here. Got it?”
“You can’t leave,” I pleaded with her. “You can’t just come here and tell me that I am about to die and then leave. I mean, we have to be able to stop this. Don’t you know anything more specific?”
“Look Maeve, I feel for you. I really do. You are far too young to die and I would love to help you in any way that I can, but I have already said way too much. I shouldn’t have revealed the secrets that I have, not to a human,” she said apologetically.
“But I’m not a human,” I cried in desperation, unable to censor myself to keep our secret.
“What?” she looked at me in shock. “Of course you are. Banshee’s only deliver omens to direct decedents of the five original Gaelic families: the O’Gradys, the O’Briens, the O’Conners, the O’Neills, and the Kavanaghs. You are a Kavanagh, and you are human.”
“I’m not,” I insisted. “I’m an elemental.”
I felt like I was a child, having a silly fight over something ridiculous. I wanted to stomp my foot and yell “Am not!”
“What? How do you even-” She looked at me with incredulity. “You can’t be.”
“The fact that I even know what an elemental is should be proof enough for you, but I can illustrate the point further if you’d like,” I replied calmly.
With a flick of my finger, a gust of air swirled around Noreen causing her hair to lift and blow across her face. Noreen just stood there, perfectly still, as her hair twisted and floated around her. I kept up the slight draft of air for a few moments before increasing the intensity of the manipulation of my element. I sucked four cookbooks off of the shelf in the kitchen and pulled them into the dining room. They flew above our heads in a circular motion, moving through my direction. I continued this action, letting the reality sink in. As a supernatural being, specifically one from Ireland where most elementals live, she would be very familiar with our kind.
“Maeve,” my boyfriend’s voice sounded out from the kitchen. “You’re front door was-”
Before I could pull the books out of the air, Finn entered the room. He noticed the books immediately and froze in place. Slowly his eyes moved from the books to me, and I was shocked to see that they were void of color.
“Finn, I can explain…” I finally spat out.
My hands dropped to my sides and the air movement in the room ceased. The books fell, slamming against the hardwood floors.
“Sylph,” a strange, low pitch voice emitted from his mouth.
“What?” I said, horror starting to creep in as I recognized my elemental name.
“You are a sylph,” that unfamiliar voice spoke again.
“Finn?” I asked, desperate for him to show me something familiar.
“A caelo usque ad centrum educo elementum. Adeo mihi. Vinculum volo,” he muttered in that soft, foreign voice. “A caelo usque ad centrum educo elementum. Adeo mihi. Vinculum volo.”
All of the sudden I was hunched over in pain as all of the air flew out of my lungs. A strange feeling encompassed my insides. Slowly I lowered myself to the floor and curled up in agony. My eyes were glued to Finn as he continued to say that strange phrase over and over again.
“Maeve,” Noreen hissed for the first time since Finn interrupted us. “Cover your ears.”
My eyes left Finn and glanced in her direction.
“Do it,” she hissed. “Now!”
I uncurled my arms from my waist and brought my hands up to my head, tightly covering my ears.
Noreen opened her mouth and began singing in her spine-chilling, yet beautiful voice.
“A church it was busy with pew after pew, the faithful in mind to me shriven. Down on their knees doing laps with their beads, that their sins be absolved and forgiven.”
The pain in my body ceased. I kept my hands tightly over my ears to block out as much of the noise from Noreen as possible. She was staring at Finn, singing her sin-song forcefully.
“In the confessional Father O’Rorke, saw humanity stripped to the core. A word with the boss and the sign of the cross, he admonished them to not sin anymore.”
Finn’s eyes were no longer white but again showed the recognizable, crisp blue. Now it was his turn to be doubled over in pain. He kept trying to lift his hands to cover his ears but Noreen only intensified her singing, driving him to the ground.
“Well after an hour of sin upon sin, and dollops of perfect contrition. The door clicked open and an old man walked in, he assumed the confession position.”
Finn was lying on the ground, weak. His eyes had lolled back into his head and his body was twitching. My heart broke to see him suffer this way.
“Stop it!” I cried to Noreen. “Stop! You’re killing him!”
Noreen stopped singing but looked at me in shock. “Do you realize what he was doing to you?” she snapped. “He was taking your element.”
“I know,” I whispered.
“Certainly you must know the outcome if he were to have succeeded,” she insisted.
“Yes, I know,” I spoke, my voice low and breathless.
“Elementals can only die if they are parted from their element. Most commonly this happens naturally, when an element nears their hundredth year. It can also happen unnaturally, by force,” Noreen explained, as if retelling me these lessons that I learned as a child would somehow force me to change my mind.
“He is a pixie,” Noreen said forcefully. “This boy, whoever he is, is a pixie.”
“I know,” I replied, silent tears streaming down my face.
“But you didn’t know before now, did you?” Noreen asked in a kind and gentle tone that had replaced the harsher one she had previously used.
Noreen walked over to me, her arm slipping around my shoulder in a comforting manner. I couldn’t move. I just stood there, frozen, staring at Finn. He was like a crumpled heap on the floor, unmoving.
“No,” I gasped. “I didn’t know.”
“What are we going to do?” Noreen asked me.
“I don’t know,” I replied honestly. “But you can’t kill him.”
Finn groaned and started to stir a bit. My body tensed up and I lifted my hands in defense. I knew that, as an elemental, I was no match for him. I had only air to use in my defense, whereas he must have two or three elements at his disposal.
“Ugh,” Finn said in shock. “What happened?”
He rolled to his side slowly and used his arms to life himself to a standing position. He took a step towards me, before freezing. It was obvious his memory of the past few minutes was returning to him.
“Oh my God,” he said with a horrified expression. “Maeve, I am so sorry.”
“Stay where you are, pixie,” Noreen demanded as she moved into an offensive position.
It horrified me that Noreen had positioned herself between Finn and me. She was acting as a barrier, protecting me from him. Did I need protection from Finn? God, this was the boy that I had fallen in love with over the past three years. This was the boy that would sneak his hand under the desk during history lectures and squeeze my knee, to make sure I stayed awake. This was the boy who pulled me into his chest during the scary parts of movies, so I wouldn’t watch and get nightmares. This was the boy who I laughed with, and loved over the few years, wasn’t it?
“Maeve I swear, I would never intentionally hurt you,” Finn pleaded. “I never knew. I swear I never knew you were a sylph. Instinct took over and I couldn’t stop it.”
“How can I trust you?” I questioned him softly. “How do I know you aren’t just saying this so Noreen will spare your life?”
“Because I love you,” he said fiercely.
“How do I know it wasn’t all a lie?” I asked, the thought of our relationship being all being part of an elaborate ploy horrified me.
“Don’t think that Maeve, please,” Finn begged. “None of it was a lie. Surely you know that.”
“I can’t trust anything anymore,” I whispered, a lone tear trailing down my cheek.
“Then trust this,” Finn said after a few moments of thought. “If my father knew about you, about your family, he wouldn’t have waited three years.”
Finn looked at me with a sorrowful face. I could tell it wasn’t easy for him to speak those words to me. It wasn’t easy for him to allude to his father stealing my element, to allude to his father killing me. Thinking about his words though, they made sense. The knowledge that I had of pixies was severely limited, but I knew enough about them to know they would never wait years before attacking an elemental if they knew their true identity.
“You never knew,” I stated. I needed him to say it one more time. I needed him to confirm that he did not befriend me or love me because I was an elemental.
“I swear Maeve, I never knew,” he whispered with a glimmer of hope in his eye.
He took one, small, hesitant step towards me.
“There was never a choice,” he said regrettably. “I was born this way. My parents were the ones who stole elements, not me. This was never a life I would have chosen for myself.”
He took another step closer, his eyes pleading with me.
My body was humming and I felt as if I was being drawn to him, as my mind still screamed at me to be afraid. I wanted to go to him, to feel his strong embrace around me. Could I trust this boy? I wouldn’t just be trusting him with my heart, I would be trusting him with my life. Could I put that kind of faith in the hands of an eighteen year old boy who just happened to be my mortal enemy?
Love is always a risk. Each person has to take that unique leap of faith that allows them to open up to another person. Finn had been the person that made me want love, and was the person that showed me how wonderful love could be. He wasn’t just my boyfriend, he was my best friend. And I wasn’t ready to lose him from my life.
I took a large step towards Finn. Noreen tensed up and shot me a warning glance. I stared at her, pleading with my eyes, for her to let me pass. A few tension filled moments later she relented. I ran to Finn and threw my arms around him. After a moment of hesitation I felt his arms snake around my waist as he pulled me into his chest. He was much taller than me, so he had to dip his head down to whisper in my ear.
“God Maeve, I am so sorry,” he said, his voice filled with emotion.
There were tears streaming down my face and hearing those words, I just let go. I sobbed loudly into his chest. I wish we could rewind time so we could go back to a time before. Before he was a pixie and before I was an elemental. To a time when he was just a boy and I was just a girl.
“What are we going to do?” I whispered into his chest.
“My parents cannot find out,” he replied intensely. “My father is single minded in his pursuit for air and water. He travels several times a year, following leads of elemental activity. It would drive him mad to know that you have been living in this city, dating me, all this time.”
“My parent’s cannot find out either,” I told him. “If they knew you were pixies, we would be gone within the hour. We would never have the chance to say goodbye; we would just disappear.”
“How will you keep this a secret?” Noreen finally spoke up. “You two are mortal enemies. It will be impossible to keep that fact under wraps?”
Finn and I slowly released our hold on one another and turned to face Noreen. I felt strangely empty without his touch. He must have been feeling the same because moments later his large hand tenderly wrapped around my much smaller one.
“Nothing is impossible,” Finn explained with a fierce determination in his eyes. “My father is many things, but he is a stickler for rules. He would never take action against a being unless he was certain the being was an elemental.”
“There is only one way to prove a being is an elemental beyond a reasonable doubt,” I added. “To witness them using their element.”
“How can you trust that he won’t attack you again?” Noreen asked skeptically.
“I-” Finn started to say.
“I just do,” I interrupted him. “For the past three years I have trusted him with everything and he has never given me a reason to lose faith in that trust. I have to trust him because without that we have nothing.”
“I will never be able to ignore the fact that Maeve is a sylph,” Finn said seriously. “And she will never ignore the fact that I am a pixie. But we are so much more than that. We can be so much more than that.”
“Okay, if you say so,” Noreen responded. “You know each other better than I do. It’s your-”
Noreen froze, in the middle of her sentence. Her entire body went rigid and her chest arched out. She slowly rose and hovered, just barely, off the ground. And then, as soon as it began, it was over. She took a deep breath, lifted her head, and stared at me in horror.
“Maeve,” she whispered. “You aren’t safe.”
Finn looked at her in terror and whispered, “Is it me?”
“No,” Noreen said with certainty, “Your father.”