Author's Note; This is a story I started a while back, based on a concept I didn't really like, and found that I couldn't do anything with it. Later I tried reworking it from the First Person POV, and the damn thing nearly wrote itself. The results are here for your reading pleasure.

I was inspired by the works of authors such as Laurel K. Hamilton, Charlaine Harris, and Simon Green, but early on I think I copied more - poorly - from Stephen King and Hunter S. Thompson. Not that I'm ashamed of this effort, exactly. For my first piece written from the first person perspective, I'm rather proud of it, Please review, and let me know if you agree.

1

There was nothing, I thought, more brutal and vicious and merciless than your average alarm clock.

The same thought comes unbidden to me every morning. Those damn things are the incarnation of all that is evil in the universe, a microcosm of the senseless hostility of nature. I've never seen anything innately inimical in any other piece of technology; not even in ones in which I probably should. I can live in a world with nuclear weapons, artificial intelligence, and low-fat pasteurized processed cheese product, no sweat. But I've always harbored a deep seated dread that some day, some how, some one is going to make the mistake of hooking an alarm clock into Something Important, and the little bastard will sieze its chance to blow mankind all to hell and claim the planet for its brethren.

Think about it. You know they'd like to.

Through a bleary haze of sleep I sat up and reached to my bedside table to halt the harpies' shrieking of my own. The glowing numerals on its gimp face told me it was a few minutes past nine in the morning, and some weary yet flawless instinct told me I could afford to crawl back under the sheets and take another hour or so of vital sleep before I was obligated to get up and face the day. I hit the snooze button, leaving the clock to bide its time and prepare for its next assault, and lay back next to the woman slumbering in the bed beside me. Slipping an arm around her waist, I mentally reviewed the day ahead of me as I started to drift off to sleep again. I confess, it took me an embarrassingly long time for it to occur to me to wonder what exactly the girl was doing in my bed. But as soon as it did, I was awake and aware, or as much as I could be at that harsh and ungodly hour.

In some respects, I'm more or less a typical, red blooded male, with a healthy interest in heterosexual intercourse. It wasn't a new experience waking up next to a woman, though to be modest I'll confess that doesn't happen as often as I'd like it to. Nor was it my first time waking up next to a woman with no idea how she got there; though to be totally honest, given the sterling examples of femininity I find myself with on those occasions, I'd be perfectly content if that never happened again. However, I knew that something else was going on this time; while I had come home late last night and went to bed exhausted, I knew beyond a doubt that I hadn't been drinking, and that I had been alone went my head met the pillow and I went to sleep.

Besides, this girl wasn't like the average woman I brought home after I'd been fitted with a pair of beer goggles for an evening. Even though I only had a view of her back, and that in the weak light filtering through my curtains, I could tell that she was attractive. My right hand, draped over her midriff beneath the sheet, reported that I could expect the same when I saw her head on. It also informed me that the stranger I was spooning with was remarkably nude.

As much of a surprise as it was, it never even occurred to me to panic. My feelings were a blend of about ninety percent confusion and ten curiosity, but not much in the way of real unease. I wish I could chalk it up to my godlike nerves of steel, but it's more likely, in those first waking moments, that in some deep mammalian lobe of my brain where such things are assessed, I was unable to think of waking up next to a pretty girl in terms of a Bad Thing. I know, I know; I can hear the comments of those in the audience who lack a Y chromosome already. Typical male behavior. Neanderthal man cum Beavis and Butt-Head. 'Me see booby. Me touch.' But for all that, I think logic bore my instincts out on that one. While the woman's presence in my bed was news to me, she had obviously been there for a while. If she was going to rob me, she'd be gone. If she was going to kill me, I'd be dead. With the worst case scenarios eliminated, there was no reason to hit the blaring klaxons and turn on the flashing red lights; I felt perfectly capable of addressing the situation calmly and confidently.

Although in the interest of full disclosure, I guess those critics will be vindicated when I say that my hand had, in the course of its inspections, wandered into the general vicinity of her breasts. And nothing I found there exactly prompted feelings of dread or triggered my self preservation instincts, either

Beside me, the girl began stirring under the covers. Yawning, she stretched herself and looped her arm over mine; if she had an issue with me touching her, I didn't pick up on the thought. Settling back on the pillow, she pressed back into me and let out a little sigh.

"So, are you finally awake?" Her lilting voice was smoky, pleasant, the kind that could drive you mad heard on the other end of a phone line or coming through a radio. I was right next to her, and it wasn't doing a half bad job. Her diction was perfect, without the slightest trace of accent, but the quality of her voice made your mind want to apply one; German, maybe, or one of the Eastern Block countries. Intrigue, danger, all that good noise.

"Yeah," I told her, moving my hand to her taut belly out of some groggy sense of propriety. "How about you?"

"I could do with a bit more sleep," she giggled, turning over and drawing near me. Just as I thought, she seemed to be a looker from any angle. Her hair seemed to be pale blond, looking charming in its sleepy time disarray. It and the room's shadows veiled her face, but I could make out enough to tell she was beautiful, even if I couldn't see the specifics. Running a finger along my chest, she gave another yawn that faded into a little sigh, and stretched again. "But you know... I could be persuaded to get up if you cooked us some breakfast."

"Breakfast?" I was disarmed, mostly by her casualness in the proposition, but at least part by her breath. If that sounds weird reading it, I can assure you it was stranger living it. It seemed like she had been sleeping for a while, but her breath damn sure didn't smell like mine did first thing in the morning. Or like any person's. She smelled like honey and cinnamon and a hint of something else I couldn't place, couldn't imagine putting a name to, when suddenly I did. When I was a kid, there was a flavor of Kool Aid that I was partial to, one that was discontinued about the same time-frame as when my voice dropped. I remember I liked the taste of it, sure, but that wasn't anything to write home about. It was nothing compared to the way it smelled, before you added water to the mix, a scent promising sweetness beyond sweetness, a taste that the finished product, that nothing could ever deliver. Her breath was just like that, or close enough that I'd never be able to tell different, and it brought all that back in a crazy trip-hammer rush. For a half second I was there, right there, back in my parents' house as a child of no age and many ages, young and carefree and reveling in the scent of Kool Aid powder like some rare and fragrant incense, and then the moment passed. I was back in the present in my own apartment, in my own bed, cuddling with a woman that I had never seen in my life before, who'd just suggested that I cook breakfast. But just enough of that rabid, king hell deja vu lingered with me, and at that point she could have invited me to make sweet, gentle love to her or cheerfully asked me to go with her to burn down the nearest church, and either way I would have simply stared at her with the same mute incomprehension.

She seemed to have no problem picking up on my thoughts, and favored me with another chuckle before blowing a stream of air in my face, the way you'd blow at a dog to make it blink. She leaned in and, though it sounds weird to me to phrase it this way, I can only say she nuzzled my chest before she slid a hand up my arm to my shoulder. "That's right. Breakfast," she said, stroking my arm a little. "Bacon and toast and coffee and eggs."

"Okay, then," I said, completely unsure of myself but deciding on the path of least resistance, at least for the moment. Fuck it, I thought, I'll make breakfast. "I think I've got a pint of leftover bourbon chicken in the fridge..."

"I'll take mine scrambled, please," she asked, not even acknowledging me. She drew away and burrowed into the pillow she was using, pulling the sheet tight around her neck and shoulders. I decided to take that for dismissal, and staggered out of bed with a grunted affirmation before reaching to switch off the alarm. As it glared at me in impotent fury, I looked at the display and noted with stupid surprise that our whole exchange had only taken a few minutes. It seemed like it had been longer, twenty minutes or so, but of course the alarm would have went off again fifteen minutes after I hit the snooze. The morning's weirdness had simply muddled my perceptions.

As I gained the threshold, the girl called out from behind me. "Make sure you cook enough for both of us. I eat lots."

"Sure," I said over my shoulder, as I turned into the master bathroom.

2

After I flushed (jiggling the handle to make sure it would eventually stop), I washed my hands and looked in the mirror. Same face I saw every morning. Same light hazel eyes, same patchy morning stubble that I couldn't grow into a beard if I wanted to, same close cut dark brown hair with blond highlights. Dyed. I'd had them put in when I was younger and it was trendy, and I kept getting them redone after the fad passed because people tell me it works for me, and when something works I keep it. I'm about six foot even, not too tan or pale, lean but with an okay muscle tone from working out. To my own eyes, I look pretty nondescript, and while People won't bump George Clooney to make room for me on the cover anytime soon, I don't exactly send the townsfolk running for pitchforks and muskets, either. After swishing a good sized belt of Scope around my mouth for a while and spitting it out, I pulled back my lower lip and looked at my teeth. It was a habit I'd picked up four years or so before; the bottom eyetooth and adjoining incisor on the right side of my mouth are capped. A little souvenir of what I ironically call a bar fight that had happened way back when.

If you're expecting me to say "You should have seen the other guy", don't hold your breath; you really don't want to see him, although I'm not the one to take credit for it. A drunken trucker had been trying to pick a fight with a friend of mine, and sucker punched me when I got in his way. At the time I had been trying to warn him that said friend was an accomplished Escrimadore, a student of a now banned form of Muay Thai kickboxing called Muay Baran, and dabbled in Israeli Krav Maga. I didn't warn him in time, and since the jerk had been trying to get at him in the first place, my friend decided that my honor wouldn't be marred if he lay a beating on the guy. He did. I got the broken teeth capped at great expense; I can only assume the other guy survived because my friend hasn't been charged with killing him.

Deciding that the caps looked as natural as they had the day before, I left the bathroom and flicked off the light behind me. On my way to the kitchen, I checked out the lay of my bachelor's apartment, just in case there were any other surprises coming that morning. To my relief, everything seemed to be in order. My place isn't the stereotypical war zone of empty beer bottles and pizza boxes you might be expecting. I mean yeah, I use a stripped spool of copper wire I hawked from a construction site as a coffee table, and it would have probably been a good idea to take down the dirty clothes pinned to my dartboard soon if I ever planned to, but otherwise I run a pretty tight ship.

On the floor in Northwest corner of the room was a resistance training machine, consisting of some lengths of elastic affixed to a platform you stand on; you hold onto a molded plastic handle and stretch the elastic, and you can change the resistance by hooking or unhooking bands to the grips. You know those bow machines you see on commercials for just six easy payments of $33.33? This thing did all the same crap, and it cost seven bucks at a yard sale.

Beside that was my bookshelf, and in the Southwest corner next to the breakfast nook that divided the living room from the kitchen was my desk and PC. In the middle of the room is a couch and armchair upholstered in shades of black leather that don't exactly match, but that I got at a discount too good to pass up. They faced the front door and the Western wall of the room, which was dominated by my entertainment center and my massive sound system.

While the speakers cost me a minor fortune, I'd got the system itself off the Internet for a more than reasonable price. It would play music off any format you'd care to name, and several more besides. 8 Track, vinyl, MP3's, whatever... I've always had a sneaking suspicion that it would play a wax gramophone cylinder, if I only figured out where to stick it in. That system was one of the best investments I've ever made, and has proven to be worth its weight in gold when I want to sit and blast my music collection. My library consists mostly of classical music, Beethoven and Haydn, with a good number of jazz and big band records thrown in for variety...

Okay, no, I'm just fucking with you.

What I really listen to is classic rock, with an emphasis on Southern rock. I've got the complete catalogues of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, .38 Special, the Marshall Tucker Band, and Black Oak Arkansas, with a couple Allman Brothers singles I'd gotten off the web. It's a strange preference for me, having been raised in Michigan and transplanted to California; the only time I've been South of the Mason-Dixon line was a single trip to North Carolina, memorable only because it was so boring that it was the only time in my life I've ever seriously contemplated suicide... But nonetheless, there's something in those deep fried licks and maelstrom guitar solos that speaks to me. I guess there really is no accounting for taste.

Diagonal from the front door is a storage closet, situated in the wall between my kitchen and the rest of the apartment, the same wall with the breakfast nook. I keep a lot of things in there, including my television, which I only bring out and hook up when I want to run the DVD player or a game system. I don't subscribe to cable, and in my building it would be impossible to pick up any broadcast stations. I'd stopped watching TV late in my teens; at that point I'd decided that no scripted programs could ever top the six o'clock news for madness and drama, and that that was just too depressing. I'd missed the reality TV boom completely, and have never seen so much as an episode of Survivor or American Idol. From what I gather, I dodged a bullet there.

Beyond the closet is my kitchen/ dining room, which, as the single biggest room in my apartment, is almost big enough to serve both purposes. Considering my budget and the constraints of urban life, it's a small miracle I was able to find an apartment as spacious as I have. I don't have nearly enough cabinet or counter space, but I have managed to fit a table in there to eat on, and of course I have all the amenities: fridge, sink, stove, oven, microwave, toaster, George Foreman grill, coffee maker, and an electric wok that, while I use it at least once a week, I have never actually used to prepare anything vaguely Chinese. That's what the Hong Kong Palace four blocks away from my building was for.

That was where the container of chicken had come from, and it took me a few minutes of rooting through the shelves of the fridge to find it. Quick on the up-take as I had been that morning, I had actually closed the door and started to walk away before my mind finally processed what my eyes had told it, and I grabbed the door's handle and slung it open hard enough to make the contents on its inside rattle.

Inside were the usual staples; condiments, energy drinks, and domestic beers. But there had also been a slew of new additions that I knew for a fact had not been there the night before. My refrigerator was packed with more food than had ever been there since the apartment's previous tenets had moved out. A half gallon of milk, and a quart of orange juice. Two dozen eggs, and two pounds of butter in sticks. A package I soon discovered contained the largest slab of bacon I'd ever seen, sliced thin. Below, the crisper was full to the brim with fresh vegetables, and a package that I could tell by its shape would hold a couple of T-bone steaks, that I instinctively knew would be thick, juicy, and perfectly marbled. The thing that really threw me, however, was the packaging. The butter was wrapped in foil without a label or brand logo in sight, the meat in plain, neatly trussed brown butcher's paper, and the eggs in a plain cardboard flat. The juice and milk were in thick glass bottles that I'd never seen used in my lifetime but recognized from movies, looking as if a man in a white uniform and starched cap had made a special trip from about 1954 and dropped them off at my doorstep, and as I looked I noticed several jars of jelly inside the door in that looked as if they'd been canned at home, without labels to identify the contents. Nothing had anything on the packaging to indicate where it had been produced, shipped, or sold, and all looked as if it could have come from anytime within the last hundred years but prior to the last thirty.

At that thought an idea occurred to me, and I thought for a moment before selecting the milk and opening it for a test smell. It seemed fine, and the taste test confirmed it. It may have looked like it was bottled when Truman was president, but it was fresh enough that if I didn't know the taste of unpasteurized milk I might have thought it had come from the cow that morning. Figuring it was the most volatile thing in my refrigerator, I decided that if it was okay, everything else was too.

I paused to think for a few seconds, then replaced the milk and leftover bourbon chicken in my fridge and went to check the microwave, the closest analog I have to a breadbox in my kitchen. It was just as I expected: inside was an unsliced loaf of bread, so fresh I was mildly surprised it wasn't still warm. My suspicions confirmed, I shut the microwave and stopped to look through the breakfast nook towards my bedroom door. After another moment of contemplation, I just kind of shrugged to myself and went into my cabinet for my one frying pan so I could start the bacon cooking.

Does it seem like I was just a little bit nonchalant about the whole affair? I can imagine just about anyone else waking up to face the same morning, and no matter how many times I think about the scenario, it always ends with the same outcome: a lot of shouting, terrible vibrations, and the involvement of the police. For you to understand my response, there's one fact that I should make abundantly clear, and should have done so sooner: I am not by any definition what you would call normal. I lead a strange life, and move in some very odd circles. I have a particular gift, among others, for not only weathering the unexpected but thriving in it.

So, some time during the night, a gorgeous woman has broken in my locked apartment, filled my refrigerator with the spoils of a plundered farmer's market, and then, after stripping to the buff, slid into bed next to me, you say?

So the bleeding fuck what?, I respond. I'll grant you this, if I were to rank that morning and the events it lead to, it would easily make the top five weirdest things that had ever happened to me, and earn a high place on that list. But, at least at the time, it was a hell of a lot more pleasant a surprise than many I've been dealt in my life, and it was far from the first. By this time, I was fairly desensitized to the weird; I could take this in stride.

About a half hour later, breakfast was basically done. I'd cooked all the bacon, scrambled half a dozen eggs and fried a couple over easy for myself, and set the juice and jellies on the table. I had brewed a pot of the obviously fresh ground coffee that I'd found in an unlabeled bag in my tiny pantry, and I was putting the seventh and eighth slices of bread in the toaster when I decided to rouse my houseguest.

Leaving the kitchen, I walked back to my bedroom and grabbed the door, still slightly ajar, and banged on it. "Order's up!" I called into the room, around the strip of bacon hanging from my teeth. I was answered by an indistinct, bleary moan coming from what seemed to be a ball of my sheets that had sprouted a blonde wig. I waited a moment for another response, before I gave a sharp whistle and rapped on the door again.

"Breakfast is ready," I said to the darkened room. "If you want anything, you'll have to come get it; I'm not bringing it to you." I made sure I observed locomotion in the sheet creature before pulling the door more than halfway closed and going to check the toast. Over my shoulder, I warned her, "I don't care if you're the former Mrs. Santa Clause and you're on the rebound; nobody eats in my damned bed!"

Back to the kitchen, where I retrieved the toast and buttered it, putting it on a plate with the rest. I moved it to the table and was about to go back to the bedroom and shake the woman awake when I glimpsed movement in the short hall leading from the bedroom, and heard the bathroom door shut. Satisfied, I filled one of the two mugs I owned with rich black coffee, and was treated to the sounds of running water for a few minutes. I was loading a plate and idly wishing she had thought to bring some pancake batter when the woman emerged from the bathroom. From the end of my table nearest the stove, I had a perfect view through the breakfast nook, and as I saw her in the daylight, a couple things began to fall into place.

It pretty much goes without saying that she was gorgeous, and it's simply beyond telling how much. She had fixed her hair, and put on one of my button down shirts; while it was loose on her, she wore it better than I ever did. She was tall and lean, but perfectly proportioned and exquisitely curved; usually, I go for petite women, but at that moment I couldn't have named a girl I'd ever seen that looked better. Her skin tone matched the color of fine caramel so perfectly I could taste it looking at her, and her hair, I noticed for the first time, was not blonde, but a bright, platinum color that somehow seemed to throw back more light than what struck it.

Very nice, but that wasn't what clued me in on her identity. You can get a tan out of a bottle, if you want it, and you can get hair color from the same place, just on the next aisle. Even the deep, violet hue of her eyes could have been colored contacts. But one look at them, and you knew. They were just too damn big. There's not a surgeon in the world who could make your eyes take up such proportions of your face, give you those features of an anime icon. And even if plastic surgery could leave someone with her sharply pointed ears, no one would want them. No, the morning's events didn't start to make sense once I put her into context; but at least it started to make sense why they didn't make sense.

3

Fairy. From the Gaelic Fahr Ree, meaning "the spirit race". Also called Elves, from Old Norse, and the Sidhe, pronounced "Shee", again from the Gaelic. Additionally known by a thousand names in the tongues of every culture that's encountered them, which more or less amounts to every culture that's ever existed. They'd be a top contender for the title of single most fascinating species on this planet, if not for the technical detail that they're not actually from around here. Fairies are extra-dimensional beings, who originate from their own unique reality that plays by its own unique rules. Rules that they carry over to a finite extent when they decide to come over and pay us a visit.

So what you have in a fairy is a being with a unique combination of nearly unapproachable physical beauty, a limited amount of completely insane power, and totally unpredictable behavior. The utter bitch of it is that that last trait is the killer, not the second. Whatever exotic realm they hail from, linear logic doesn't seem to be in vogue there. Only the highest ranked masters of the discipline of understatement can call a fairy "capricious"; the rest of us have to be content with What the fuck?. No one who deals with a fairy can ever really know what an elf is going to do until they've done it, and even after the fact, you can't get Vegas odds on it. All in all, is it any wonder our primitive ancestors viewed fairies on the whole as being innately malign towards people?

Interestingly enough, those in the know assert that out of all the paranormal activity that normal people observe, a good portion of it can be chalked up to a fairy with a surplus of free time. Not the majority, by any means, but most likely the largest minority of it, with the best guesses I've heard putting it at a ratio of about 1 out of 5. And if you're wondering which encounters those are, consider this: no one with any real expertise in the supernatural has ever confirmed the actions of a supposed demon. The most educated thinkers posit that demons may exist, along with angels, but that they can't interfere directly with events on our plane. Once your zombie grandmother's crawling backwards over your ceiling screaming obscenities in a dead language, and you've ruled out the hosts of hell, there are only so many races you can credit with the power to make that happen. And only one where the question of "motive" is irrelevant.

One representative of which was currently gliding into my kitchen to eat bacon and eggs with me. Admittedly, up until this point she'd behaved way cooler than the last three roommates I'd had. But while my head told me that it didn't make sense that this elf would break into my house to fill my fridge with food and let me cop a feel as a setup to some gruesome practical joke, one that would end in my clawing my own skin off to get at insects that only I would see, it also told me with a colder certainty that it didn't have to. Anyone with half a brain who knew what I did would have taken that chance for a running dive out the kitchen window, falling four stories to commune with the pavement. Not with the hope of surviving, primarily, but at least of dying before you had time to feel any of the lovely hell that that trip would work on your frail and supple skeletal structure.

So how, you ask, did I hope to make it to first dark that night with bones and BVD's intact? In part, it falls in line with the aforementioned fact that I'm notjust anyone. I've always been able to place my money on that straight freak ticket and gamble with the best of them, and I usually collect on those bets. But I think the crucial reason that I was able to maintain control of all my noteworthy orifices was the simple fact that the woman in the room with me looked like a Disney princess reinterpreted by Hayao Miyazaki. My head might have been saying "Danger", but my gut's reaction ran more along the lines of "Aw, look at her yawn! How cute...".

So with a goofy smile on my face and my gut in control, my brain was forced to play to its strong suites; forming and indexing contingency plans, categorized as either fight or flight and arranged by such factors as survival probability and alphabetical order. "Are you hungry?" I asked her, as she sat down opposite me.

"Ravenous," she said, beaming, reaching to pile her plate with more eggs and bacon than I would have believed, along with four slices of toast. "Would you pass me the black berry jam, please? All of this looks delicious."

I handed her the jar that wasn't full of red stuff; I took that one to be strawberry, and opened it for myself. "No big. Besides, you brought it all anyway." I'd hoped it would prompt some sort of explanation, but she only nodded distractedly and began eating. And damn, could she eat. This girl may look like a gazelle, but she packed her breakfast away like a large predator. When I got nothing else, I decided to try another gambit. "I didn't hear you come in last night." I tried for a tone that said that her breaking into my house and chilling out was the most natural thing in the world, and that I was only mildly curious as to when it happened. No, m'am. No questions that people get set on fire for asking...

"I know; I came in around three in the morning. You were sleeping like a baby. Your bed is soft." She said it like a visiting monarch congratulating a nobleman on the condition of his fief. The elf wrinkled her nose in a small frown. "I hate your alarm clock."

I was starting to like her all over again. "You and me, both," I agreed, around a mouthful of egg. "But it's a necessary evil. I don't get to my job on time, I don't have my job." It was my job that kept me out until two last night; the shoot hadn't went great, and the director, Serge Romanov, had felt that we had to get the scene, number of takes and hours of sleep be damned.

"Speaking of which," she began, looking at me with interest, "Are you going to be working today?"

I looked over my shoulder to the microwave clock. It wasn't quite ten am, and I wasn't due at the set until noon. I'd had a few quick errands I'd wanted to run first, but they had recently fallen low on my list of priorities.

"Unfortunately," I said, pausing to chew some bacon. "We're probably going to want to start filming early today; take advantage of the weather. I'm only gonna have time to jump in the shower and throw some clothes on, then I have to be down there."

"Will you be shooting very late?" she asked, sounding truly distressed, and a little bit sullen. She didn't give me time to answer. "If you are, I'll have probably already eaten the steaks. Could you pick up dinner?"

So, I knew at least how long she planned to stay. Nodding thoughtfully, I pushed down thoughts of what a bored fairy could do in my apartment for a few hours. "Sure. Just tell me what you want me to get, and if you need me to pick up anything else on my way back."

"Anything?" she asked brightly, her voice like an excited child's. "Could you get me a basketball? And some finger-paint?"

Do you see what I mean about how fairies don't make any sense? Rather than asking what she wanted it for, I just nodded in response; like a great man once said, never lean on the weird. She clapped her hands and smiled happily. "Great. As for dinner, pizza would be fantastic. With everything on it."

"Pizza, paint and a basketball. I can remember that." I spread jelly on a piece of toast, and topped it off with my other fried egg, three strips of bacon, and one more piece of toast. Don't knock it until you tried it. Getting up from the table, I popped my back with a grimace. I was twenty seven; still a long way off from being old, but I could see the big three-oh looming over my horizon. Assuming I didn't piss off anything with bigger teeth than me first. "I guess I'm going to go soak and get dressed. Want me to top off your coffee?"

She said please, and as I refilled her mug, she heaped what was left of breakfast on her plate. I'd cooked about twice what I thought we could eat; there was still enough left for a decent sized meal, and she didn't show any signs of slowing down. As I left the kitchen with my sandwich, a thought occurred to me, and I paused in the doorway to address her.

"My name's Andrew, by the way. Andrew Kincaid."

"I know," she told me brightly, adding cream from a small bottle I hadn't seen until that moment to her coffee. She cradled her mug and favored me with a radiant smile. "You can call me Seyla. I'm a fairy."

I didn't point out that I had already knew what she was, or ask how she knew my name. "Cool," I assured her, as she stirred her coffee with, of all things, a strip of bacon. I left her to the rest of her food, and went to get ready for work.

I took a hot shower for longer than I meant to; I guess I was trying to let the water sluice off some of the craziness. When I got out twenty minutes later, wearing comfortable jeans and a T-shirt with a reprint of the poster from the first Halloween movie on it, she was standing at my sink toweling off the last of the now clean dishes, the sleeves of my shirt she had borrowed rolled up to her elbows. Listening to her hum (beautifully) a pleasant tune, I delved into the closet for my camera equipment, my hiking boots, and my trench coat.

I have six trench coats, all black, and I can usually be seen wearing one, even though the climate of my city, Canasta, in Northern California, doesn't often suit it. Three are identical black London Fog numbers, one is a no-name brand job I got off the Internet that was originally aimed at anime fans who want to cosplay, and another is made of leather in what they call a "mosaic" pattern, that I wear on the occasions when it's cold. The sixth and last was custom tailored for me; it has a lot of hidden pockets, panels of Kevlar sewn over the areas that cover the more consequential organs to be found in the human torso, and integrated shoulder pads made out of some miracle polymer that I couldn't pronounce even if I knew its name. Whatever it was, it's supposed to be able to take a hit from damn near every weapon known to civilized man, and the scratches should buff right out; in about five years, every S.W.A.T. team and Marine is going to be wearing a jacket made out of the stuff, and those shoulder pads are the main reason that that coat is the single most expensive thing I've ever owned. About any video gamer, comic book aficionado and otaku in the country would kill for the chance to sport that baby at the next convention they went to, but I didn't have it made for fashion. Bad ass as it looks, my reasons for buying it were strictly utilitarian, and I only put in on if it looks like my day's gonna go real bad, real hard.

The coat designed for cosplayers has way too many functionless straps and buttons, and a vivid red lining. As I shrugged it on, I instantly felt more dangerous, as if I had stepped into a suit of armor. For anyone else, I'd dismiss the sensation as a psychological trick.

But for me... things are a bit more complicated. But I don't want to get ahead of myself.

After hefting the bag of my camera and pocketing my keys, I was ready to go, but hesitated. "I'm rolling out. Are you gonna be okay while I'm gone?" I asked her. The real question was: Will my house be okay? Are you going to flash fry any of my neighbors?

"Don't be silly. I can keep myself occupied," Seyla answered, with a laugh and a smile. I didn't want to point out that that was exactly what I was afraid of. Before I could make it to the door, she stopped me with a hand on the arm, and gave me a big kiss on the cheek. For a walking, talking, magical atom bomb, she sure was affectionate. Before she drew away, I caught another hint of her tantalizing smell. It was damn hard to remind myself just how much trouble she could get me into.

"You have fun at work." Waving me off, she turned and breezed back towards my bedroom, her hips moving invitingly. I couldn't tell at that point if I wanted to see her go, but I enjoyed watching her leave.

I was out the door before I had a chance to do something stupid.

A glance at the elevator told me it was out of order again, so it was down four flights of stairs and to the parking lot. My car was the same place I had parked it last night. It was a cobalt blue Toyota Accura. Yeah, I know; not likely to make the centerfold of Grease and Testosterone Magazine. I've never even succumbed to the temptation to get it "pimped". While it does have the name "Hernandez" across the back windshield in Gothic letters, that had been on there when I bought it; I only left it on for the sake of irony. What matters is that it runs, the air conditioning works, the gas mileage is decent, and the sound system is loud.

After stowing my bag in the backseat, I cranked it up and pushed a mixed CD - which I had burned in compliance with "all" copyright laws - into the player. Hitting the shuffle play button, I pulled onto the street as the first song boomed out; Molly Hatchet's "Flirtin' With Disaster". If I were really smart, I'd learn to take stuff like that as an omen. As it was, I just really liked that song.

The set where I would be shooting was on the outskirts of Canasta, about fifteen minutes of driving North. The guy I was going to see about an almost new Epiphany acoustic guitar would have been on the way. I turned the car south, deeper into the city. I had ample time before I had to be at work, and the dream of learning to thrash that I've held since childhood was starting to seem a lot less important.

I needed to get some information.