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The Old Family Farm, Part 2: Up on the Farm
"You finally get all of your stuff moved into that farmhouse?" Mary asked without preamble, as she stepped into Clive's office.
"Oh, yes," Clive replied, nodding. "Didn't take long, once the remodeling was completed. And once the moving company located a driver who could find my house. I wasn't sure how the place would turn out but the contractors did a great job. It's become a really nice home."
"So do you think you'll like living out in the middle of nowhere?" she countered, smiling but with a concerned edge.
"I'm only fifteen minutes from the city; twenty from work," said Clive, with a shrug. "I also have Internet access, through both a phone line modem and a dish. No TV, yet, except some broadcasts of varying quality through a set-top antenna."
"Well, the Thursday night group misses you."
"Ah, now I see the motive behind your concern," he laughed. "You miss me picking up the check sometimes!"
"Actually, I'm worried about you being out there, all alone, with no social contact except at work."
"I'm not 'all alone.' I've got new friends in the area, and some old ones who stop buy occasionally." Clive frowned. "I thought I'd told everyone here they were welcome to come visit."
"Well, you did. I guess we just assumed you'd be busy settling in, and that we'd better wait 'til later."
"Okay, formal announcement: I'm all settled in," Clive informed her, grinning. "And, just to make it clear, I'd be glad for you - for any of the regular group - to come out. Saturday or Sunday afternoons are best, but any time after work is okay."
"All right," said Mary, smiling. "I'll be there shortly after lunch tomorrow."
"Why not come out for lunch? I'm hosting a little lunch get-together Saturday and will already have all the food. You can choose from a pretty large menu. And even stay for supper, if you like the people."
Mary wondered a bit at the mystery hinted at by his words, intonation and smile, but smiled back and nodded.
"You win. I'll be there just before Noon. Uh, can you give me directions?"
Clive, with a smug grin, opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out a printed sheet from the top of a stack.
"My, you are well prepared," she snickered.
Mary looked over the list and nodded.
"Seems pretty straightforward. And you've got your new phone number on here, too."
"I can't take all the credit. A friend recommended I do this after looking over my first attempt. That was a map, and it turned out to be pretty confusing."
"Yeah, I've seen a couple of your maps," Mary teased.
She waved and walked out of his office.
* * *
Clive was actually sitting out front, in a porch swing, when Mary pulled into the drive. He smiled and waved, motioning towards where she should park. He met her at the top of the steps.
"Well, you made it!" He joked. "In spite of the savage beasts of the wilderness."
"You were right. It wasn't that hard."
Clive held the screen door for her, then followed her inside.
"This is the living room, or what they used to call the parlor. I do most of my entertaining here. Well, for the ones who are housebroken."
Again, there was something in his tone and choice of phrase implying mysteries. Mary decided that regardless of her friend's playful inscrutability the room was quite nice. The remodelers had left it clean and well-ordered, but still feeling like part of an older building. The furnishings were mostly new, but fit the general style by not being too modern in design.
"This is the dining room," Clive said, continuing the tour. "My Great-Grandfather bought that table over 80 years ago. I had it professionally restored. Solid cherry."
"Wow," was all Mary could manage, as she examined the piece.
"The original chairs, unfortunately, all vanished or were broken over the years. I keep finding bits and pieces of cherry chair used for non-original purposes. For instance, a leg used to replace the handle on a well pump. So, for now, I'm using generic ladder-back pine chairs, stained cherry."
Clive was pointing towards a corner cabinet and about to say something when they heard a bell ring, outside.
"Excuse me; one of my new neighbors wants something. Be back in a minute. The computer room is in there, the kitchen there and the bathroom there."
He dashed off, through the kitchen and out the back door.
Mary noted the order in which he'd given directions and had to grin at his priorities. She decided to make use of the bathroom while Clive was busy. When she returned to the dining room Clive was still nowhere to be seen. Oh, well; Mary idly examined some of the other items in the dining and living rooms, including the hanging artwork. Typical Clive; traditional fantasy stuff. Though well made.
Through one doorway Mary could see part of Clive's computer, on a large, antique desk. Remembering what he had said about his Internet connections Friday, and curious, she stepped into the doorway. The computer was on, the monitor showing a chatroom Web page in a browser. More odd than that, however, was the small statuette sitting by the mouse. It looked like one of those cast vinyl miniatures, this one of a naked fairy, complete with transparent wings. Not the sort of decoration she could imagine Clive having, though the difference between this and the stuff he did like was subtle. Not something which someone who hadn't known... him... Mary gave a little gasp as the statuette moved.
The fairy started, jerked around to stare at Mary and gave a tiny, high-pitched gasp of her own, sitting there in open-mouthed surprise. Both females froze for an astonished moment. Then the fairy leapt into the air and flew quickly out the open window.
Mary stood there, staring alternately between the window and the now-vacant mousepad. That had not been an illusion, or some misperceived insect. There had been a real, live, very naked fairy sitting by the computer, apparently logged on to a chatroom. Even when she heard Clive enter the room behind her she didn't want to turn around, half afraid to move. Finally, he cleared his throat, and she jerked back to reality. Only, when she turned to look at him, she saw the tiny creature perched on his shoulder, holding onto a lock of his hair and looking worried. Reality suddenly felt very distant, and Clive had the strangest smile on his face. Just like the one he'd worn when hinting at mysteries on his farm, only bigger.
"I was going to show you the magic later, but it looks like you found it on your own."
* * *
The fairy's name was Dewberry, and once assured that Mary was "all right" she proved almost annoyingly friendly. Just now she was lying on top of Mary's hair, softly humming to herself. Mary had the impression she would start building a nest soon...
Clive finished telling about how he had first seen a centaur in the old barn out back, his subsequent discovery of the gateway to the realm it came from, and his encounters with some of its other inhabitants. Now he was speculating.
"When I was a child I used to imagine that the old railroad tunnel which goes through the ridge up there was a portal to some other place. Originally, it was the entrance to Jules Verne's underground world from Journey to the Center of the Earth. Then a gateway like the one in Star Trek, where Kirk, Spock and McCoy go back into the past. Then an alien artifact which led to other worlds or alternate timelines. Sometimes it was even a fairy gate to a magical realm."
"Do you think you knew?" asked Mary, startled.
"Could be," said Clive, with a shrug. "The elves who examined me say I'm perceptive, sensitive to magical auras. But I also imagined it to be many other things, so maybe not."
"I can certainly see why you moved out here, then," said Mary. "And why you were careful about who you invited to visit. Uh, what about your human neighbors?"
"People who aren't likely to accept such strange experiences tend to avoid this land, and ignore what happens here," Clive explained. "That's a natural effect, and it's been enhanced by some of the Arcadians. The first furniture van driver couldn't even find my driveway."
He grinned, and Mary actually laughed, almost dislodging her passenger. Dewberry chittered in irritation as she settled back on top of Mary's perm.
"And you can understand what she says," Mary queried, looking upwards at her brow."
"Yeah. That's something else the elves did for me."
"So what did she say just now?"
"You don't want to know," was Clive's solemn reply.
That brought another laugh, though this time Mary was careful not to shake so much.
"Do you think you can stand any more exposure to the fantastic, just now?" Clive asked, laughter still in his voice.
"Well, some," said Mary, after evaluating her mental state. "If you're there to introduce me."
"Okay, let's go outside and see if I have any other guests, yet. I actually had invited some of the Arcadians to lunch before I asked you."
As they stepped out onto the back porch Dewberry flew off with a little cry of joy. She buzzed around them for a bit, then flew away towards the rear of the property on an erratic course. They quickly lost sight of her tiny form. Clive walked Mary around the back yard, pointing things out, then led her towards the barn. On the way he pointed out the old dinner bell, mounted on top of a post and with a pull-cord hanging down. As they approached the weathered structure they heard a bit of muffled noise coming from inside, as if someone were running water. The day was cloudy, and the barn doors all the way open, so the change in illumination was minor. They immediately saw a young centaur, standing near a faucet, gulping water from a bucket.
"You're going to get fat if you keep eating that sweet feed," said Clive, grinning as the mythical creature started so hard he dumped water all over his human chest, "no matter how much water you drink afterwards."
He sputtered, dropping the bucket. After coughing a bit he wiped his mouth and started to walk towards Clive. Then he saw Mary and shied back.
"Yes, I have a guest. I told people about this visit, and asked them to stay hidden for a while." He made introductions, indicating with his hands. "Mary, this is Ixion. Ixion, Mary. It was his uncle who rang the bell, earlier. Wanted to know if I'd seen the colt."
"Dewberry said it was all right to come to the barn," said Ixion, defensively, looking around for the fairy.
He made no move to approach Mary, and she none to approach him. Which for the moment suited everyone present.
"And you believed a pixie," said Clive, smiling a bit.
The young centaur backed away, looking uncomfortable.
"I think I better go home. If people are looking for me."
He turned and trotted off. Clive watched him go and shook his head.
"How old is he?" Mary asked.
"About 14," said Clive. "Oh, and that reminds me... Just because something you see here is friendly, doesn't mean it's harmless. The centaurs are very herd-oriented, and protective of their young. I'm flattered his parents and the other adults in his group trust me enough to let him come here alone. But keep in mind that he is more wild animal than domesticated human or horse. Think of an intelligent wild horse which still has all its instincts acting in full force. And remember the reputation the centaurs had in Greek myth."
"I grew up around horses," said Mary, nodding. "I think I have a pretty good understanding of what you mean."
Clive continued the tour, telling her about the back part of the land, up by the ridge, where the tunnel was, but not offering to take her there. He explained that she wasn't dressed for that sort of rough country and she didn't press the matter. They had were no further supernatural encounters.
"Well, that seems to be it for now," Clive declared, as they headed back into the house. "There will be elves and a satyr and more centaurs here later, plus a few other strange creatures, including a couple of humans from another area like this."
"This - What did you call it? Bastion?"
"Yes. I'm not the only human who has made friendly contact. Some families have been managing - and guarding - one for generations. And that's something I'm looking forward to."
"I think I am, too," said Mary, smiling.
This work is © 2003 Rodford Edmiston Smith, who can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org by those wanting permission to repost or reprint the document.