It was strange how quickly June and I became friends. I had never even considered befriending one of the humans, but here I sat at a coffee shop, drinking smoothie (actually not too bad) and chatting away about this or the other. I had quickly come to realize there was a lot to learn about human culture. For example the music, which June was a great fan of. She told me she liked the old rock the most. The Queens, The Beatles, Blondie, The Clash, Sex Pistols and so on. She had so many names in her head I could barely follow her.
Not surprisingly, June knew all about healthy food, which was great. I couldn’t have found a better human friend.
When I got back to my apartment downtown that afternoon, after doing some grocery shopping, I had no idea what was waiting for me there. A letter hung on my door. It was red, with bold black letters, reading; “Hamadryad of the Valley.”
I felt my blood turn to ice in my veins as I realized what this message meant. Someone knew what I was, they knew where I lived, and they knew where I came from. At first I wasn’t sure if I should touch the envelope at all, considering it might be a trap of some sorts. Wondering about this for a few seconds, my good-will got the best of me, and I ripped the envelope down from the door, unlocked my apartment and rushed inside, locking the door again once I had my groceries and school bag inside. I switched on the light and to my delight I felt a rush of warm air, and realized the repairman had been here fixing my heater. He had probably been let in by the landlord.
I remained standing, finding myself unable to sit down while the envelope was still unopened. I glared at it, angry at it for ruining my day. So instead of prolonging it any longer, I ripped up the envelope and unfolded the equally red sheet inside. I read it quickly, before I read it again, slower this time. It stood:
Represant of the dryads of the Valley, your mission here is meaningless. Leave our shores and do not try to contact us again, we will not respond.
Tell your elders you failed, tell them to surrender and give up what is ours. We will be merciless if you won't leave, your time will be up, and you will never see your precious trees again.You have been warned.
Emperor of the Naiads.
I sighed and wrapped the sheet, glaring down at my feet. What to do? I still couldn’t go home, so I would just have to ignore the threat in the letter. They couldn’t possibly harm me while I was on land, could they? I searched my memory for information, but found that as long as I kept away from the salty water I would probably be fine. Probably. It was strange how the naiads had sent me a letter instead of a message through the water, which was their element. I shrugged and brushed the thought off, perhaps my information was wrong.
“I’m home.” June called into the kitchen as she walked in through the door of the large mansion of a family inherited house; she and her elder brother lived in. They had tended for themselves ever since their parents died in a car accident a year previous, and they managed pretty well. Her brother, Darin, was twenty, and had gotten the custody of June, as she was still underage.
Sometimes she wondered who had custody of whom though, as he could barely make a pizza without burning the edges, and setting off the fire alarm… every time. Darin poked his messy black haired head out of the kitchen and grinned, waving a tattooed hand in greeting. June smiled and shook her head as the smell of burnt noodles caught her sensitive nose.
“Dinner ready?” She called. Darin appeared again, looking slightly guilty.
“Well you see…” He started, scratching his neck awkwardly. June laughed and pushed him aside.
“Any wishes?” She asked, looking through the cabinets. Thank God she was the one doing the grocery shopping; she thought and glanced at Darin who looked like a question mark.
“How about steak and vegetables, with whatever sauce we have?” June asked, and Darin’s golden eyes lit up like a five-year-old on Christmas morning. She grinned and started preparing the necessary ingredients, humming on whatever playing on the radio. She heard Darin in the living room with his electric guitar, unplugged at the moment, playing some of his band’s tunes. June thought they were starting to get pretty good, but they still didn’t get any gigs, which was too bad. Their inheritance from their parents wouldn’t keep the two of them floating forever, even though it was a great deal of money still. Their parents had worked as bankers, and their dad had been the director of one of the largest banks in town. It was actually a family business, but the children had sold it when the accident happened, because none of them imagined they would ever get into banking.
June sat beside her brother in the living room, and they ate in silence. Whenever she thought about her parents, she would get closed down and quiet, and Darin would always understand what was on her mind. He knew she didn’t want to talk, they had talked about it all, and they had talked until they both were empty, so there was really nothing left to say.
“We got a new exchange student in our class today.” June said when she finally had gotten her feelings under control. Darin looked surprised at her at first, and then nodded for her to continue. He was all ears.
“She’s really nice, and kind of strange, but it doesn’t matter. I think you would like her, she’s rather pretty.” June said and nudged her brother’s shoulder. He chuckled.
“Are you trying to hook me up with your seventeen year old friend, baby sister?” He asked. June grinned.
“No, I just think you’d take a liking to her, that’s all.” She said and laughed.
I decided to take a stroll through the park nearby where I live, wanting to feel the presence of pure living beings again, meaning the trees. I dressed in a parka I had purchased earlier this week, finding this the winter garment least resembling a cocoon. I realized quickly that I needed a warmer garment during winter, as my human disguise could feel the cold, more so than my dryad form.
It was a lovely night, despite the smog from the metal boxes driving in the streets, and the metal birds in the sky. It was strange how quickly I converted from thinking partly human, into thinking fully dryad. Now that I was amongst dear friends, the trees, my mind was completely dryad. I wanted to shed this human prison, and feel the breeze on my true skin again, it had been too long. It was too risky to do it here, in the middle of the city of course.
Suddenly a slight movement in between the trees caught my eye, and I focused on the spot, but couldn’t see anyone. A cold feeling of being under surveillance crept up on me, and I turned my head in all directions. Suddenly it didn’t feel so safe between the trees anymore. If I’d been in my original form I would have been in a far more powerful position. Everything was silent; it seemed as if the whole world was holding its breath so I could listen for enemies. The letter I had gotten earlier had put me on an edge all day, and now I realized that perhaps I was acting paranoid.
Another movement, slightly closer this time, brought me into defensive position, even though I knew perfectly well it would do me no good to fight in this body. I wondered if I had time to change, before that something in the shadows attacked me. Because I was certain it was hostile, my dryad senses were still working partly, even in this prison.
I stood stock still for several minutes, without anything happening, so I straightened up to my full length and started walking again. My blue eyes were wide, searching the park for anything out of the ordinary. I walked faster, taking long strides through the darkness. The park suddenly seemed too large, even though only a moment ago I had found it too small. I broke into a run when a twig snapped only five meters away from me. The human body was in a bad shape, and my heart was racing already. Breath hitched in my throat as if I couldn’t get enough of the chill air. I ran and ran, my feet hitting the path like a charging bull, sounding like thunder in the silence of the park.
Suddenly my foot slipped on an icy patch and I fell sideway, I crossed my legs and kicked off with the other, landing slightly off the path, but still on my feet. I redirected my direction and was on the path again, running for my life.
And just like that, without warning I was out of the park, and standing on a crowded sidewalk, in the middle of one of the world’s largest cities. I turned to stare into the darkness of the park, nothing. Nothing at all. I felt silly, afraid of the dark, paranoid and stupid. A dryad shouldn’t fear the dark when amongst friends, but I realized it wasn’t the dryad that was afraid. It was the work of the human mind. How easily the human gets brought out in a situation like that, I thought I was in control of my own body and mind, but now I realized that was not the case.
I looked around. Humans passed me at all sides. I tried to orientate, but had never been this far from my apartment, except when I went to school, but I knew that path. This was at the other side of the park, and no way in hell was I going to go back through the park. So I had no choice but to walk around it.
“Oh damn it.” I muttered and started walking. Good thing I had dressed in my parka, or I would’ve frozen my buttocks off.
“Eliza?” Someone suddenly called, I stopped and looked around.
“Over here!” The voice called again, and I spotted June standing just outside a pizza shop across the street. I waved. She smiled and made a sign for me to come over. I nodded, thinking it couldn’t hurt when I already was out here. I crossed the street in between racing cars and grinned at my new friend. She grinned back.
“What are you doing all the way down here?” She asked puzzled.
“I was taking a stroll. What about you?” She laughed.
“We’re having dinner, I messed up the steaks at home, so we figured a pizza would be easier.” She replied. I chuckled.
“Wait, who’re we?” I asked when I realized she’d been addressing herself in plural.
“My brother, Darin and the band. Come on in, we have enough pizza for you as well, and you can meet my family.” She said, and grabbed my hand, dragging me inside before I could protest. I wasn’t going to eat any pizza though. She took me to one of the tables by the window, and I realized how she had spotted me from inside the restaurant. By the table sat three boys, or, young men. They were older than June, by three or four years I reasoned. They all stared at me as if I was an alien. I assumed they were a typical rock band, considering the tattoos, black hair, and band t-shirts. I liked the image though, it was rough. They were all quite handsome considering they were humans.
“Eliza, this is my brother Darin, Darin, this is my friend Eliza.” June said, introducing me to the one with the kindest, golden eyes like his sister, and black hair with bangs falling into his eyes. He was handsome, perhaps more so than his friends, even though they weren’t painful to watch either. Darin rose from his chair, towering over me like a giant, he would have to be around 1.90 meters, above my 1.80. I shook his outstretched hand, still amazed by his height. He smiled charmingly and I caught myself smiling back.
“This is Andrè, he’s from Europe as well. From France.” June continued. The male sitting next to Darin rose, he as well was tall, but not much taller than me. He had a kind of bedroom look going on I noticed, with messy blonde hair and drowsy looking, bright blue eyes. He gave me a lopsided grin and we shook hands.
“And this right here is Chester.” June said and motioned for the last male at the table, he sat by the window, and the seat next to him was open, so June must have been sitting there. The way June addressed him made me think my friend might have a slight crush on this Chester.
He rose elegantly, and I could see why she might like him. With black, short and messy hair, dark blue eyes and olive skin, he was a pleasure to look at. I shook his hand.
A waiter came over to me with a chair, at the end of the four man table, and June slid in beside Chester again, and I sat down.
“So you’re all playing in a band?” I asked, not asking anyone in special, just trying to make conversation. Junes’ brother was the one answering; he was clearly the band leader. I liked him even more.
“Yeah, I play lead guitar and backup vocal, Chester plays bass and lead vocal, and we have André on drums.” I smiled.
“So what do you play? Your own songs or cover songs?” I asked.
“André writes the lyrics, he’s a natural, but we all kind of work out the songs. We play some cover songs, but we haven’t played many gigs yet, so…” Chester said. I looked at him.
“Why?” I asked, Chester looked dumbfound.
“Well, I guess we’re not good enough.” André said, with a slight French accent. It was delightful to listen to.
“I see.” I said and smiled, and leant back looking around the restaurant. It smelled of food, of course, and people’s perfumes. Some random pop-song played on the speakers, and dishes clashing in the kitchen. I picked up on different conversations in the room, and smiled at how simple, and easy human’s lives were.
“So, June tells me you’re from Europe?” Darin asked with his dark voice. I snapped back to reality and nodded.
“I was adopted here from England.” I lied. André looked at me with his drowsy eyes.
“You don’t sound much like an Englishman.” He commented.
“Well that’s because I wasn’t born in England, my family moved there from Egypt when I was nine.” I said, quite convincingly in my own ears, but I could see doubt in the Frenchman’s blue eyes. He didn’t comment any further though.
A brunette arrived a moment later with two large pizzas and placed them on the table, smiling flirtingly at the three boys, before swaying her hips away again. I could see Chester eying her butt with a slight grin. He was the only one though, and I felt sorry for June, who now sat and stared another way.
The band and June ate hungrily while I sipped on a glass of water, wondering what the humans found so delicious with pizza.
After they were done eating, we sat and chatted for a while. And I had soon made up my mind about the three boys in June’s life. Darin was delightfully kind and funny, André was smart, a little strange, but a good kind of strange. Chester on the other hand, wasn’t what I’d want him to be, on behalf of June. He was slightly obnoxious, self-centered and obviously not looking at June as a potential fling. Which I was quite pleased about. She deserved better than him, no matter if I’d known her for a day only, I knew Chester was not the right guy for her. I wondered if her brother or André knew that June had a crush on Chester, and if they did, why they hadn’t done anything about it.
When they had paid their bill, we all headed out into the cold winter night again. I looked towards the park, almost expecting to see a figure waiting for me there, but there was no one. June followed my gaze and shuddered.
“You shouldn’t go through there at this hour. We’ll take you home.” She offered. I looked at her, and then eyed the vehicle she wanted me to get into. It was a black mustang, quite the classical car, but I get extremely nauseated in small vehicles of metal. It’s better to take the bus, crowded with people who drown out the smell of oil, gas and metal. It would have been lethal for me hadn’t I had this human disguise.
“Ah, no, that’s alright. I’ll just walk around.” I said and drew back. June laughed and grabbed my hand.
“Come now, it’s no trouble for us really, right Darin?” She asked her brother. Darin was watching me and seemed to notice the unease June failed to see.
“If she wants to walk, we can’t force her.” He said. June let go of my hand and sighed.
“Alright then. See you tomorrow at school Eliza?” She asked and turned to me. I nodded and smiled.
“Oh, and remember to do the homework for calculus class, Miss. Jonesen is the only teacher who actually check your homework every day.” She added before disappearing inside the car. I nodded and waved. André came over to me, looking worried.
“You know, I don’t live too far away from here, I could walk you home if you’d like?” He said, eyeing the park suspiciously. I was surprised; he actually seemed worried on my behalf. Did he sense the same hostility coming from the park?
“I think I’ll be alright.” I said and smiled. He nodded.
“Just… keep away from the park, okay?” Again he glanced towards the trees. I nodded.
Darin and Chester called goodbye to me and André before getting in the car and driving away. André and I walked in different directions, and so I was on my own again. I was surprised at finding so many… entertaining humans in one day. No, entertaining felt like a cold word, that wasn’t what I thought of them at all. They were… interesting, and I wanted to know more about them all, even Chester. I even smiled to myself as I walked. I had friends, it was a strange, but enjoyable feeling.
When I got home, and put my key in the keyhole, I sensed something was off. Something was really off. Slowly I turned the doorknob and opened the door just a tad. The apartment was pitch black, and I couldn’t see a thing.
Suddenly, out of the darkness, an arm appeared. It grabbed my throat and pulled me roughly inside. A choked sound escaped me as I was pushed up against the wall so that I hit my head. Two glowing eyes glared at me from the darkness. I couldn’t breathe, and pain from the back of my head seared out to blur my vision as tears sprung to my eyes. I tried to claw the fingers away from my throat before the stranger in the dark crushed my trachea. He put such a massive force onto my neck that I feared it would snap and paralyze me.
“Go home.” The voice snarled. My eyes widened and I squirmed to get free, but his hand didn’t budge one inch.
“I… can’t…” I forced out through gritted teeth.
“Doesn’t matter, leave.” The voice said.
Dark dots danced in front of my eyes as I started to slip out of consciousness.
“No…” I forced out. “…nev…er.” And my world went blank.