The Nixie Revels
by Andrew Kaye
When Mom died, I inherited my childhood home.
I have good memories attached to the place: fairy tales and Saturday morning cartoons, tea parties and lightsaber duels. In those days the house felt like a castle, and I imagined dragons in the cellar and elves in the ceiling and magic hidden in every room. But one room was more magical than the others, a guestroom filled with multicolored cloth and the constant hum of a sewing machine. Inside, Mom would sit like a princess in a storybook, handcrafting tiny eveningwear. I remembered every dress and tuxedo. I remembered Mom's satisfied smile.
She seemed happier with the work than with the finished product. She even gave me dolls wearing dresses of her own design: Octavia in a blue ballroom gown fit for a queen, and Diana in a dress that shimmered with blue-green scales, and Vivian in a white dress too beautiful for any bride. But her hobby was opportunistic. Greedy. When I left for college, her hobby invaded my abandoned bedroom. When I bought a place of my own, her hobby took over the entire house. Dresses and tuxedos occupied shelves, end tables, and display cases in nearly every room.
My childhood home now felt like a museum.
I returned to the house after Mom's funeral.
The sky had been overcast all day, and the first droplets of an autumn shower began pattering against the roof. I lit some kindling in the fireplace, trying to ignore the headless stares of Mom's wireframe mannequins. No sooner had I gotten a fire going than a knock echoed from the back door.
I didn't see anyone when I opened it. Then something--someone--politely cleared their throat.
I looked down. Fought the urge to shriek and slam the door. Standing in the rain was a tiny woman, naked and strangely proportioned. She had skin the color of river mud and hair like ghost-pale flotsam. She held up a webbed hand. "Please do not be frightened, Kimberly. My name is Rosamund. I am an emissary, not an enemy."
I managed to coax my voice from its hiding place. "An emissary from whom?"
"The Queen of the River. She sends her condolences. Your mother was a good friend to the riverfolk."
"You knew my mom?"
"Indeed. She was the Queen's Master of Revels since before you were born." I must have made a face, because Rosamund smiled. "It is only natural to feel shocked. Your mother was not allowed to speak to outsiders about her position in the Queen's court. Not even to you. But now that she is gone, there can be no secrets. In fact, the Queen would like to extend an invitation to you to become her next Master of Revels."
"But I don't even know what that is!"
"Then I will show you," she said, motioning toward the bundle of orange extension cords that snaked into the woods. "We will follow the electric rope."
Rosamund led me to a clearing in the forest. It was free of rocks and debris, and at the edge sat a trio of squat, wooden tables too small for any human. The "electric rope" split into its constituent parts, each cord snaking into the trees and linking up with heavy-looking lights installed among the branches. We were well out of sight of the house and the road, and off in the distance I could see the dull, silver glimmer of the river. The only sounds were of raindrops and the laughter of frogs.
"Your mother organized the revels here," Rosamund said.
"It doesn't look like much."
"Not now, no. Every twelve days your mother would arrange suits and gowns in this clearing, and the riverfolk would materialize into them, and then...." She waved her hand in the air. The rain seemed to slow. Blue-tinged light welled from around Rosamund's body, shuddered, and expanded. The clearing was no longer empty. Dozens of tiny people were dancing together in clothes Mom had made. The tables were full of unusual foods, the lamps blazed brightly, and music drifted down from the treetops.
"What you now stand in is a memory given shape. That is me there in the russet and orange."
"You look happy."