It takes Ophelia three days to claim vengeance on the snow globe. Three days of sitting alone in a stranger’s cottage on the outskirts of Southside Dublin in a little, antebellum village called Rathmichael. Three days of watching doors open and shut on their own and finding dishes reorganized by an invisible hand. Ophelia wakes with such a violent tremor in the small hours of the third morning that she whacks her head on the bedpost. Something is shrieking in the night; an unrelenting sound somewhere between a mournful wail and the hoot of a barn owl. The window shows only the oppressive darkness of night, nothing visible to her. The wailing continues, broken only by the scratching of branches against the window pane. Ophelia stumbles from her bed and lurches towards the door. It slams shut before her. She startles hard enough to lose her footing. She stumbles forward again and claws at the doorknob, banging on the mantle when it will not budge. As panic wells up in her, adrenaline shaking her limbs, so does rage.
An angry sob breaks loose the first time she puts her shoulder to the door. Ophelia rams it again, then a third time. A fourth; each lunge with less form and more wild desperation. She can hear things scurrying around the cottage beyond the door, dishes breaking, copper pipes groaning, wood beams splintering and a twitter of laughter that is not quite human. The screeching outside the cottage scales to a crescendo. The sound echoes in every room and clamors with the fever pitch of her sobs.
When the ache in her shoulder spikes to real pain, Ophelia musters enough wrath to scream, “You cannot keep me in here!” She bangs on the mantle again. “Let me out!”
The door flies open, slamming against the wall with a crack. Ophelia rushes into the hallway, knocking her knee into a chest of drawers, and bolts down the narrow stairs. The light switch does not work at the bottom of the landing. She forces herself to slow as she makes her way through the thick darkness, terrified beyond reason, towards the front door. The ruckus reaches pandemonium when she trips past the sitting room. Where a window allows the moonlight, she sees the macabre gift of her late, estranged grandfather.
The snow globe.
Leaves and vines wrought in bronze crown the base. Within the sphere of glass, a strange goat-man peers up from beside a fallen hawthorn. The shrieking continues but, suddenly, her heartbeat is louder. It thrums in her ears, wet and erratic like water lapping at a pier. Monsters lurk in the shadows, whispering; she takes a single step into the sitting room. A hush falls, or it seems to, because she can only hear her heart and her breath. The goat-man’s face seems tilted towards her, as if he is also curious what she will do.
A snow globe. She put everything into the flight that brought her here. And all her grandfather left her was this ostentatious, evil little snow globe. She is certain, somehow, that every misfortune since setting foot outside Dublin Airport is the fault of this creature inside the globe. She lunges forward to scoop up the heavy ornament with two hands, raising it above her head.
“Leave me alone,” she whispers, and throws it down. It shatters. It shatters the thrumming in her ears, the wail of the banshees outside, the mayhem within the cottage. It shatters into a thousand glittering shards of glass, water sloshing across the polished floor beams. The bronze base rolls twice and comes to a clunking halt beside a yellow armchair. The darkness deepens. Stretches. Creeps along the floorboard.
A thud precedes a materializing hoof. The moonlight catches a long, curved horn swept back from a smooth forehead. Ophelia inhales, a scream gathering in her belly. The creature materializing in the shadow towers above her, taller than any man, with a pale torso and legs covered in fur. Her scream stutters and chokes on the stink of loam and must. Dizzy and reeling, she hears a guttural moan and something like a snort as another hoof comes into view. She does scream, then, throwing her hands up to ward her face, feeling the flesh of her palms give way beneath something sharp, the agony unutterable. As the pain overpowers her, her knees buckle. The darkness rushes at her. She surrenders to it.
The lamp is on when Ophelia blinks into consciousness. Summer green eyes peer down at her. An expression of amusement creases a handsome face spattered with auburn freckles. The man hovering above her shines within the long shadows of the room, emanating his own faint light. His brassy, overlong curls drape across his forehead, his mouth is like the slash of Cupid’s arrow. His smile, when he offers it, feels as fresh as the first day of Beltane.
“Comes back a little slow,” he says. “I did not mean to frighten you.”
Ophelia groans and struggles upright on the yellow armchair. “What happened? Who the hell are you? What was that thing? I saw a—”
“You fainted,” he says, eyes effervescent. “I was unable to glamour you quickly enough.” He smiles at her. “You freed me from a complicated enchantment and have my gratitude.”
“Glamour,” Ophelia echoes. He exudes a curious, pleasing scent like snow the day before it falls.
“Yes. Humans frighten easily. Your mind seems to like this image.” His brassy brows arch faintly. “I must return to the Otherworld immediately. Can we be on our way?”
“The where? What does that have to do with me?”
Pan crouches beside her and takes her hand, bandaged now in strips of cloth. He examines her fingers. She wonders why he took the time to patch her up. “Ophelia, my enemies are usurpers. They wish to undermine the restrictions that keep our worlds safe from one another. I am weak.” He looks up at her, pinning Ophelia with eyes unlike any she has ever seen. “I must cross over. I may need your help to do so.” He strokes her palm over a rust-colored stain forming where the bleeding is worse than the rest. “I think your blood is special; but I do not know why.” She jerks her fingers from Pan’s grasp.
Ophelia allows herself one single moment of whimsy. Was her bloodline somehow tied to Pan’s fate? “And if I refuse?”
Pan gazes deeply into her. “Why would you?”
“Because this is crazy,” Ophelia says, wanting to shy away from him but unable to muster the strength to do so. “This is a very detailed, very weird nightmare.” She pauses. “Or, I should call the police. I never told you my name.”
Pan laughs and pats her hand. “Ah, humans. I’ll never get done adoring you.” His smile deepens, revealing the tips of his teeth. “Ophelia, Ophelia. Why are you here?”
She opens her mouth, but whatever she meant to say dies behind her tongue. She knows she flew to Ireland for all the wrong reasons. Sophomoric and impulsive, she had hoped her estranged, wealthy relatives might have reserved something for her. Chicago was a dead end job and a mountain of student loans. Dublin was the decadent, aristocratic family she never knew and the possibility of a new future. Her relatives were coolly indifferent until they realized she posed no threat to their fortunes. Only then did her great-aunt offer her a bucolic timeshare she only used in the summer. It was a temporary arrangement, only until she had her affairs in order. She spent every penny to her name to get the flight to Dublin, blundering fool that she was, and her job in Chicago was not a sure thing. She was stuck in the countryside of Rathmichael. It was an area populous only in cattle and, apparently, Machiavellian demon fairies. She says, “Because I have nowhere else to go.”
Pan nods, lifting his hand to cup her cheek. “You claimed Eire as your panacea. Why come across the water looking for adventure only to snub it now?”
“I didn’t come for adventure. I came for money.”
“For a fortune,” Pan presses, his caress moving to her hair.
“For a future,” Ophelia whispers, locked in his gaze, frozen beneath his touch. She feels a shiver of joy climb her spine at the prospect. A future. Entranced, she nods slowly.
“Come chase the future with me,” Pan murmurs. He takes her bandaged hands and drops a kiss on each.
She cedes to her fantasy with a sigh. “What do you need me to do?”
Pan’s gaze sharpens and the intensity of his spell wanes. “Take me into the country, to the wooded areas, away from the sea. My strength will return at dawn. The further we are, the better I can sense a gateway.”
“Oh, is that all?” Ophelia mutters. “Doesn’t have to be the second full moon after the last syzygy?”
Pan’s summer green eyes glance toward the window. “Why? Is it?”
“Nah, it’s waxing.”
Pan laughs and helps her stand, careful to avoid the shards of broken snow globe littering the floor. In the dim lamplight, she observes the complete disarray of the cottage. As a rule, she was not a tidy person, but she had no way to explain this to her aunt.
“What happened here,” she demands, heading to the front door and slipping into a pair of wellies. She shrugs into a jacket and pulls out a map from the end table. She studies it for a moment, aligning herself with the unfamiliar terrain. The bandages catch on the edges of the map and she removes them in annoyance.
“The aes sidhe heralding my return.” Pan grins when Ophelia looks over at him. “Made a bit of a mess, didn’t they?”
“A bit,” Ophelia agrees drily. “Scared the life out of me, too.”
“To get your attention, I imagine.” Pan attempts a look of sheepishness. He wears it strangely. “My sincerest apologies.”
Outside, Ophelia is struck by the stillness, by the quiet, of the night. No sign of shrieking ghouls or lurking demons. Just wet, misty Irish night. She takes Pan down R117 south and east, towards the blue, wooden church at Kilternan, setting a brisk, even pace. He looks increasingly ill beside her, silent and drawn.
“How long were you in the snow globe?” she asks him.
“A very long time.”
The shine on his skin seems faded somehow and Pan’s expression is tired when he glances in her direction. “A moment for me is a lifetime for you. I worry for my people. The aes sidhe have a propensity for devious behavior when left to their own devices; they tend to disagree with human meliorism. As do I, of course, but I care only for my world now. The human infection has spread too far in this one.”
Ophelia glances sidelong at him as he stumbles. The power behind his eyes seems to have diminished as well. “You don’t look well.”
“I will be stronger at dawn.” He stumbles again, and she reaches out to steady him. With her fingers at his elbow, the shine under Pan’s skin suddenly flares. They pause.
Slowly, Ophelia removes her hand, straightening. She watches the ethereal glow subside and the tired lines reform on his face. She considers the flash of intense hunger as he regards her. It gradually fades to resignation. She waits until she is certain Pan will not force it from her. Then, she offers her hand.
“Thank you,” Pan whispers, looking rejuvenated the moment he places his hand in hers. “Dawn approaches; we have a way to go yet.”
Silently, at the blue church, they turn down a winding, narrow road. The sky lightens to a murky grey, webbed by black branches in the canopy above them. The mist swirls around them like liquid silk. In the woods on either side, the brush stirs with movement. Pan’s face splits into an enigmatic grin as he listens to the forest. He halts when the wailing begins, turning Ophelia to face him. She searches the darkness of the woods with wide eyes, fear lancing through her as the shrieks quicken.
“What is that,” she demands in a panic, tugging away from Pan and covering her ears. “Make it stop.”
“Ophelia,” Pan murmurs, gently pulling her hands away from her head. “Ophelia, you must not fear them. The aes sidhe tell us we are close. Come now.”
“Please,” Ophelia whimpers. “Please tell them to stop. I can’t stand it.”
Pan frowns, as if nettled by her request, but the wailing quiets to something softer, like a chorus of mourners at a funeral. The song is desperately melancholy, but bearable, and she allows Pan to lead her to the side of the road. He hoists her over a metal fence and lands neatly beside her. He takes her hand again.
Pan sets a new pace, taking the lead now; urging them into the mist as dawn brightens the sky. Things are moving in the fog, huffing and snorting as they pass. He pays no heed, pressing further into the swirling mist. A stark, stone edifice looms out of the fog. It is square and tall, crumbling and covered in ivy. A massive hawthorn tree marks the entrance, the branches whispering as a slight breeze moves through them. The sound of galloping hooves comes in from the west. Pan suddenly yanks on her hand and pushes her forward.
“Quickly, now,” Pan says.
“What is that?” Ophelia gasps. “Who is coming?”
“A cadre of dullahan usurpers,” Pan responds grimly. “Ophelia, run!”
Terrified, she darts forward into the thick fog. She loses sight of the squat castle. She gropes for, and misses, Pan’s hand. She turns, looking for him, and cries out when she hears the dullahan rear closer to her. Ophelia makes out the sound of metal unsheathed. A sharp whinny pierces the air. An eruption of movement explodes to her left, black hooves darting from the mist to collide with a headless figure in silver armor.
“Run, Ophelia!” The somber song from the trees returns to high-pitched, unnatural wailing. She runs blindly through the mist. The battle seems to surround her. Her outstretched hands swat something hard and brittle; the cool stone of the castle in the mist. The cacophony of whinnying and shrieking aes sidhe intensifies as she lurches inside the structure. Stone dust stings her eyes as reverberations pound the castle walls like heavy flak batteries. The resounding thrum of her racing heart soon overpowers the clamor. The gash on the back of her hand reopens when she slams into the rock face at the bottom of a disintegrating stairwell, warm blood trickling over her knuckles. She lands hard on her knees, gasping, her bleeding hand shoved deep into the cold loam to catch her fall. There is a flash of light and she reels; the sting from her wounded hands flare. Ophelia curls in on herself. She feels the earth shift beneath her—
“Ophelia.” Warm fingers gently pry her hands out of the dirt. She squeezes her eyes tightly shut, no longer enamored with her nightmare, and wills herself to wake up. She shakes her head vehemently. “Ophelia.”
“Ophelia, come now,” Pan admonishes. He pushes her hair away from her face, captures her chin between two fingers. “It is all over now. Look at me, Ophelia. I must go. It is time to bid farewell.”
“I never told you my name,” she says in a small, cracking voice. “How is that possible? Why can’t I wake up from this?”
“Sweet Ophelia who was never sweet,” Pan murmurs, his lips brushing her forehead. “You are delightful, with your extraordinary blood and stubborn spirit. I wish I could take you with me.”
“Why can’t you?” She does open her eyes, then. Pan is nearly fluorescent before her, shimmering and rippling between the ginger-haired man she dreamed up and the satyr from the snow globe. Pan smiles down at her and though it is fond, there is a darkness in it too. A shadow that is old and weary, but agelessly cunning.
“Well, I can,” Pan says, unscrupulous. “But would you come?”
“Is my future there?”
“Mine is,” he says. “And wonders beyond your imagining, and more adventure than you could possibly dream.”
“My future is here,” Ophelia determines, shaking the starlight from her sight and straightening. She would not willingly continue this dream. “I’m staying.”
Pan only smiles at her, stroking her cheek a final time, lines of mirth crinkling the corners of his grass-green eyes. Pan is enveloped by his intrinsic brightness, and vanishes.
After a span of stunned seconds, Ophelia climbs out of the stone structure. She finds the massive hawthorn has disappeared and the fog lifted. Pan is nowhere. Cows are grazing nearby. She looks east at the sound of an approaching pony.
Its rider is a young man with overlong, ginger hair curling beneath a plaid cap. He pulls at the reigns and dismounts quickly, rushing toward her. Ophelia blinks up into his summer green eyes.
“Are you alright, ma’am?” he says breathlessly. “You’re not supposed to be here. These are grazing lands. Got knocked around a bit, didn’t you? Did the bull attack you?”
“The bull?” She laughs, and when she begins it is difficult to stop. “Oh, no. No bull. What bull?”
The man pales, looking past her, and jerks his chin forward. “That bull. Move slowly; get behind me.”
Ophelia turns and, as sure as the sun rose in the east and Pan left when he said he would, sees a twelve-hundred-pound bull. His wooly fur is chocolate brown. His horns are grey and curved forward, his stout legs are disproportionately short for the bulk of his body.
Dazedly unafraid, Ophelia waits as the bull approaches her. She reaches out her hand. Behind her, the man with the familiar green eyes hisses a warning. The bull nuzzles her palm. He snorts and huffs as his cold, wet nose takes in the scent of the blood on her. He tosses his great, horned head. Then, as if her scent was all he needed, the bull continues leisurely on.
A metallic glint catches her eye in a muddy hoof print the bull leaves behind. She stoops to pick up the snow globe. It is intact, identical to the one she smashed only a few hours ago. Except, the hawthorn tree. There is no goat-man beside it. Ophelia shakes it once and watches the glitter float around the hawthorn’s branches.
“Christ, you’re a mad bird. What bloodied you? Why are you even here?” The man appears at her elbow. He slips an arm around her waist and leads her to the pony.
“I’m chasing the future,” Ophelia sighs.
“Well, there’s no future at Puck’s Castle, I can tell you that.” The man hoists her up onto the pony and saddles up behind her. “What’s your name?”
She dissolves under another wave of hysteria, startled by the Shakespearean neologism. “Ophelia,” she gasps. “My name is Ophelia. Thank you for not knowing that.”
“You’re a strange one, Ophelia,” the man replies. “Even for an American. I’m Kiernan. Where can I take you? We should phone an ambulance.”
“Rathmichael,” Ophelia mumbles, resting her head back onto his shoulder, drifting into the deep sleep of the desperately fatigued. “Come chase the future with me, Kiernan.”