When Jeremy woke up the next morning, she was gone, nothing but the empty foil condom packets on his bedside indicating she had ever been there.
That, and the fact that his apartment was clean.
But it wasn't, exactly, he realized as he moved about after showering and getting dressed. She had taken all the trash and dirty dishes off the coffee table, had washed the dishes and glasses and cups and put them all away, but the silverware was still sitting there, untouched. The dirty pots and pans in the kitchen hadn't been cleaned, either.
On the other hand, the things she did clean were all put away exactly where they belonged. Even the salt and pepper shakers, which he'd left on the coffee table, weren't on the dining table, where he knew most people kept them, but on the back of the stove, where he kept them because he sometimes used them while cooking. How had she known that?
Silverware. Cooking pots. And she hadn't cleaned the stove, although she'd cleaned most of the kitchen. She seemed to have something against metal. He'd have to remember that.
But wait -- the necklace he'd bought her. It was metal. Silver. She seemed to like that. She'd been wearing it last night, the only thing she wore.
He suddenly realized he hadn't seen her clothes anywhere. They hadn't been on the floor by the bed. Had they been on a chair or dresser? He tried to remember, but couldn't.
Cold iron. He suddenly remembered the phrase from some fantasy novels he'd read. Some of them spoke of "faeries" -- spelled that way to differentiate them from the silly creatures of fairy tales -- mysterious creatures from another world, like a parallel universe, next door to ours, a magical place. Sometimes they were called "the fey" as well, but one thing all the books agreed on: they couldn't abide cold iron.
"That's silly," he told himself. "Liliana isn't a fairy." She didn't have wings, to begin with, and was five and a half feet tall. Of course, the faeries in those books were normal sized and wingless, also.
But those were fantasies, made up stuff. Of course, the books couldn't all agree if they weren't based on something real. Not necessarily that faeries were real, mind you, but there must really be folk tales or the like where such creatures were described in such a way that the characters in stories based on them tended to be similar to each other.
But . . . could there be faeries? Could he have met one? Could he be in love with one? It seemed not only impossible, but ludicrous.
It did explain some things that seemed to defy easy explanation. But he hadn't seen any real "magic," had he? Nothing impossible, or even anything so improbable as to demand such an outrageous explanation. So she talked a bit weird, and acted a bit weird, and there didn't seem to be any record of her existence in the databases that track most people. There were a lot of people who weren't in those databases. Most celebrities and criminals weren't there. You could have yourself removed from them, if you asked persistently enough. Some ordinary folks were paranoid enough to do that, right?
He refused to believe that his lover was a creature from another world. The whole idea was ridiculous.
Having thought about it, however, he couldn't completely shake the idea, either. It kept coming back to him at odd moments. And he kept dismissing it, but kept having this nagging feeling in the back of his skull that there was something . . .
He wouldn't even allow himself to finish the thought. Or rather, he tried not to, but words came unbidden: strange. odd. weird. inhuman.
"Stop it," he told himself. His girlfriend was not a fairy.
But could he really say that she was his girlfriend? He didn't know where she lived or her phone number or how to contact her -- he wasn't even sure of her name. It's true that he had slept with her twice (more in you count acts of lovemaking, possibly less if you took it literally, since he didn't know if she really "slept" either time). But he didn't know right now if he would ever see her again. He thought he would. He certainly hoped he would. But he just didn't know.
Jeremy decided that what he wanted to do was write a sonnet for Liliana. He sat down and thought about it, played around with a couple of rhyme schemes, came up with a couple of ideas for first line and last line, thought about whether he wanted to structure it as a Petrarchan, English or Shakespearean sonnet (he settled on Petrarchan, wrote out a first draft that had some good lines and two he'd definitely need to fix later, all in one long burst of energy. He put it aside, wanting to let it percolate before coming back to give it another go.
Would she like it? Would he even show it to her. Assuming that he ever saw her again, he really had no idea at this point. He just felt suddenly creative. Her wrote another sonnet for Liliana, then another poem, a lyrical place-setting poem about the ruins by the fountain lake. He didn't think he'd written three poems in one day since his college days, at least -- probably not since high school, and that stuff was drivel.
Of course, it was entirely possible that he'd look back on this as drivel a few years hence. He certainly knew that he was in the grip of some unusual emotion right now. He didn't know exactly what was going on, but he decided he should ride it while he could.
He sat down and started a short story. He'd tried writing short stories and novels before. He'd started half a dozen novels -- one of them three times -- but had never gotten very far. Well, once he'd made it about a hundred pages into a novel, but it was just meandering around without direction. He had no clear idea where it was going when it just sort of petered out.
He'd written several short stories, again going back to high school days. He'd sent a couple of them to magazines, but none of them had ever been accepted. One of them made the rounds of four different magazines before he gave up on it. He had just assumed that he didn't have what it takes to be a real writer. Oh, sure, he had had a few things published. Some poetry in his college literary magazine, some book reviews in the local newspaper and in a few small magazines that paid in copies. But he didn't think of that as writing. That was just stringing sentences together coherently, which was a useful skill, especially because it seemed increasingly rare in today's world, but to Jeremy real writing was fiction, or perhaps history or biography. Telling stories.
Jeremy had wanted to be a storyteller since he was a little boy. But his stories had long ago dried up. He didn't know what happened. Once upon a time, he'd been full of imagination, stories seemed to burst out of him. When he was eight years old, he learned in school about the water cycle, and was supposed to turn in a paper showing that he understood how the cycle worked. Instead of a dry recitation of the facts, he turned in "Sammy the Sea Drop," which told the story of how Sammy one day found himself evaporating into water vapor and rising up into the sky to become part of a cloud, and then fell as rain down onto the earth, and made his way into a river and finally out to sea again. In high school, he had written a story a week for nine weeks as part of an experimental English class in science fiction, along with reading stories and novels and writing book reports on them.
What had happened to all that energy and creativity? Somehow over the years it had just dissipated, like the air going slowly out of a balloon. But today, Jeremy felt like it was back.
He opened up his laptop, and instead of turning on the television or firing up his web browser, he just opened up his word processor and started writing. He had no idea where he was going, what he was going to write about. All he had to start with was an opening sentence:
"Alison looked down the long, dark corridor and trembled."
Why was she trembling? Where was the corridor? Who was Alison? He had no idea. All the books about writing that he'd read since his younger days told him that he needed to plan these things out, figuring out where he was going before he took off willy-nilly. But today, he just started typing, not caring whether what he wrote was good or bad, not having any idea of showing it to anyone, much less sending it off to be published. He wanted to find out himself the answer to the questions, and instead of working them out and then writing he decided to answer them by writing about it.