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Faerie Food

Kat Otis lives a peripatetic life with a pair of cats who enjoy riding in the car as long as there's no country music involved. Her fiction has appeared in Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction, and Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword & Sorceress XXVI. She can be found online at katotis.com or on Twitter as @kat_otis.

Everyone knows that humans shouldn't eat or drink when visiting Faerie, but no one's quite sure why.
I searched the internet and found a bunch of different theories. Maybe you'll end up trapped forever, enslaved to whoever fed you. Maybe you'll get transformed into some hideous beast. Maybe you'll starve to death, never able to eat human food again. Or maybe it's some combination of all the above. I pestered my faerie--well, half-faerie--boyfriend for answers while he filled my cracked vinyl lunchbox with human food, but Maelon refused to explain and finally demanded, "Look, do you want to meet my parents or not?"
Since I very much wanted to be the first girl in our high school to visit Faerie, I shut up.
Maelon knew me well enough to be suspicious of my silence--it usually meant I was up to something--but he only finished packing the lunchbox. Then, without any ceremony, he said a few incomprehensible words and opened a portal to Faerie right there, in my parents' grungy little kitchen.
"That is so awesome." I grabbed his hand.
"It's something, anyway." Maelon stepped into the portal, with me only a split-second behind.
We emerged in the ballroom of his parents' palace. The air was filled with savory smells that immediately had my stomach rumbling, while gorgeously dressed faeries danced to the most incredible music I've ever heard in my life. I wore the secondhand dress I'd bought for last year's prom, but I might as well have worn jeans; compared to the faeries I was as shabby as a beggar.
Two people emerged from the crowd. The woman was dazzlingly beautiful--golden hair, emerald eyes, alabaster skin. Her jewel-encrusted gown had me nearly drooling with envy. The man at her side was gawky by comparison, and only humanly handsome, but his cloth-of-gold tailcoat helped camouflage those flaws. He might not be a faerie, but I could tell he still belonged.
"My parents," Maelon said. "Eurolwyn and David."
I curtseyed and made nice with Eurolwyn--it's always the mother you have to win over--but my eyes were all for Maelon's human father. David didn't look like he was trapped or enslaved or under a spell, unless it was a love spell; he wore his heart in his eyes whenever he glanced at Eurolwyn.
Eventually, we migrated to the banqueting hall. I goggled at the diamond chandeliers while Maelon unpacked the lunchbox. My PBJ sandwich and pretzel sticks looked horribly out of place among all the fine china. I cringed when he pulled out the Coke can.
As the feast went on, I got quieter and quieter, watching the faeries. Faerie was everything I had dreamed it would be, which meant it was as far away from the squalor of my life as possible. I'd always known Maelon was too good for me; we'd dated for over six months before I worked up the courage to invite him into my parent's shoebox of an apartment. If I'd seen him in his element like this earlier, I would have never let him through the front door. It was a miracle he hadn't dumped me on the spot.
I studied David, too, watching him eat and drink with no visible side-effects. Whatever faerie food did to humans, it didn't seem to bother him. When he caught me watching him, he gave me a sly, knowing smile, as if he could see how desperately I wanted to belong to their glittering world. Maelon's world. Then David took a sip of wine and deliberately set his glass down mere inches from my hand.
I didn't stop to think, just grabbed the glass and drank.
It was disgusting.
I spat out the rancid wine and grabbed for my Coke, chugging the whole can. I ate a little of my sandwich, too, because there's nothing like PBJ to get a horrible taste out of your mouth. Then I looked up and stared in shock.
Everything had changed.
The banqueting hall was still enormous, but now it was dark, dank, and filthy from neglect. What had appeared to be chandeliers were actually cobwebs and all the furniture was covered with a thin layer of dust. Most of the faeries had vanished, along with their place settings. The few that remained wore clothes that might have been nice once, but were now only rags. Even Maelon's tuxedo had become jeans and a t-shirt.
"I... I'm so sorry--" Maelon whispered as he stared at me with his heart in his eyes.
I struggled to find my voice as shock gave way to disbelief, hurt, anger... and underneath it all, relief. My battered lunchbox and secondhand clothes weren't so out of place in Maelon's world, after all.
"Maelon? Shut up."
Then I kissed him. Yes, in front of his parents--David laughed so hard he fell out of his chair.
Everyone knows that humans shouldn't eat or drink when visiting Faerie, but I've learned you'll never know what you're missing until you do.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, June 18th, 2012

Author Comments

A few years ago, my grandmother moved into a retirement home for military officers and their spouses. Her biggest adjustment was to the dining experience; dinner is a formal affair, with suits and ties and the best dress in your closet. Now, "dinner at grandma's" requires the same sort of advanced outfit-planning as homecoming or prom--though you see more orthopedic shoes than stilettos.

- Kat Otis
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