Jeff Strand

The May Special Writer is Jeff Strand

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jeff strand

by Jeff Strand

I'm on seven different kinds of flu medication right now, but I still know fantasy from reality. That faerie right there, fluttering its wings next to my head? Fantasy. Doesn't exist. Total figment of my imagination. It can do all the loop-de-loops it wants; I'm not going to believe in it.

Things I believe in: Cows. Monkeys. Piranha. Dozens of varieties of beetles. Starfish. Coyotes. Boa constrictors. Gophers. Poodles.

Things I do not believe in: Faeries.

It's just silly. I'm not sure why I even felt the need to bring it up. I could take fourteen different kinds of flu medicine and still not be foolish enough to believe in faeries. I'm not even going to try to brush it away from my face, because to do so would imply some measure of belief, and, as has already been firmly established, I do not believe.

If you believe in faeries, hey, more power to you. Believe away. I'm not here to challenge your perception of reality. I apologize for my use of the word "foolish." I'm not suggesting that it's foolish for you to believe in faeries; I'm just saying that it would be foolish if I did. Does that make sense?

No, I don't have the flu. I understand why you might have thought otherwise.

For something that doesn't exist, this imaginary faerie sure has been lingering around here for a while. Hallucinations usually don't hang out this long. I wonder what it wants?

Ha ha. That was a joke. I know that the faerie can't actually "want" anything. I was kidding. You get that I was kidding, right? I mean, it was obviously a satirical statement. I know that sometimes people read an article in something like The Onion and they think it's a legitimate news story, but I assure you that "I wonder what it wants?" was said with entirely humorous intent. Just adding a tiny chuckle to your day. You're welcome.

Let's quit talking about the faerie for now, okay?

I am so sick of being on this lifeboat.

Three days is just too long. Lifeboats weren't designed to be comfortable for more than that. The first day I got to soothe myself with thoughts of "Woooo! I'm alive, which is more than I can say for most of the other people on the cruise ship!" but now I'm thirsty and hungry and bored.

I did originally have some bottled water and a power bar in my backpack, which was nice, but mostly it was filled with cheap medicine that I was going to sell to my friends when I got back home. It was a fantastic price for cough syrup.

How the other passengers had screamed as they thrashed around in the ice-cold ocean...

You may be asking yourself how I came to be the only person in this particular lifeboat. Or maybe you weren't questioning that at all; I suppose you may just been wondering when somebody else was going to get n chance to talk. Well, yes, I'm the only person on this lifeboat. There's nothing sinister about it.

What I mean by that is, I personally did not do anything sinister. The events leading up to my solo nature were actually pretty horrific. After our big ship struck a little ship, they both sank, and eight of us ended up on this lifeboat. It seated way more than eight, but that's irrelevant.

Trent resorted to cannibalism so quickly that I have to assume he'd been waiting for this opportunity long before the ship sank. He attacked Frank, gnawing on his leg, and I'm kind of ashamed to admit that the other six of us just sort of watched him. It had only been about forty-five minutes, and we were all munching on power bars, so it took us by surprise, and I suppose we all were thinking, "Let's see where this leads."

So, yeah, he ate Frank. In retrospect, yeah, I should have whacked him in the head with my backpack or something, but how often do you get to see one human being eat another? Never, right? It's not like Frank had proven himself to be an indispensible member of our group. To tell the truth, he was kind of whiny, although I'll admit that the vast majority of his whining occurred after Trent began eating him, so I suppose it was justifiable.

In further retrospect, I'm not sure why we all assumed that Trent's homicidal cannibalistic activities would end at Frank. I guess we figured that Frank still had a lot of meat left, and that Trent would finish eating his dead victim before he went to the trouble of claiming a new one. There were six of us, so it really wouldn't have been such a big deal to have one of us stay awake to keep watch, but we'd all had a tiring day, and sometimes people just make silly decisions.

Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for everybody but me, I was sleeping the furthest away from Trent, and he went down the line, biting out throats. I'm not sure how I slept through that, though it must be said that the sounds of the ocean are very soothing.

I opened my eyes, and there he was. He had a tiny bit of meat stuck between his front teeth, but otherwise Trent had disproven the popular myth that cannibals ate in a messy fashion.

I'm a little ashamed to admit this, but, yes, I used physical violence to subdue him instead of trying to talk it out. Then I chucked him over the side of the lifeboat, where he was eaten by a shark.

Okay, I don't know for sure that he was eaten by a shark. He eventually stopped screaming and flailing and went under the ocean surface, so presumably a shark pulled him down into the murky depths, but I didn't see a dorsal fin or anything. He could have just drowned.

I wanted to bring the bodies of my fallen comrades home, so that their families could give them a proper burial and have the necessary closure to help with the grieving process, but would you want to float around the ocean in a lifeboat filled with half-eaten corpses? I bet you wouldn't. Screw that. I gave them all an honorable burial at sea.

Was Daniel completely dead? Not necessarily. But he did have a bite taken out of his neck, and you don't have to be Doctor God, All-Powerful Surgeon to know that seven times out of ten, a neck wound like that is fatal. If I'd kept him on the lifeboat, his moans of agony would eventually have driven me insane, and then perhaps would have turned cannibal. Can you imagine the horror of surviving one cannibal attack, only to succumb to a second? I couldn't let Daniel go through that. I wasn't even positive that his name was Daniel. It might have been Derek. So I pushed him over the side. I didn't laugh or point. It was a very somber moment.

Anyway, what I'm trying to get at here is that I know this faerie isn't real, because faeries don't exist.

Reason #1 I Know This Faerie Isn't Real: They don't make women this small. Even the most petite of little people is, what, three feet tall? I don't have access to research materials right now so I can't say for sure, but I know that the shortest woman on record is way taller than six inches. So this thing can't be real.

Reason #2 I Know This Faerie Isn't Real: People can't fly. This faerie, meanwhile, is flying around like a hummingbird. But it looks like a tiny little woman, not a hummingbird, so it can't be real.

Reason #3 I Know This Faerie Isn't Real: People don't leave trails of golden faerie dust in their path. This thing is leaving trails of golden faerie dust in its path, so it can't be real.

Hmmmm. Now that I've said those three reasons out loud, I realize that all they really do is prove that I'm not seeing a very tiny flying human woman who leaves golden trails in the air. It doesn't make her not a faerie. When you really think about it, my only evidence that she's imaginary is my generic "Faeries don't exist" attitude. It's an attitude that has served me well my entire life, but I'm starting to wonder if I should revise it?

If I take a swipe at her, I'm not necessarily admitting a belief in faeries, am I?

Yes. Yes, I am. Because nobody would take a swipe at a flying faerie next to their head unless they thought it was actually there. You don't swipe at things if you're certain they don't exist.

If it tickles my ear, I'll totally swipe at it. But until then...

Is it gone?

Did it fly away?

Ha. Stupid faerie. Finally admitted that I don't believe it exists. Suck it, faerie!

No, wait, crap, it's just by my other ear.

Don't believe, don't believe, don't believe, don't believe, don't believe, don't believe, don't believe...

I'm going to swipe at it. There's no harm in doing that. If something buzzes by your head, you don't have to do a detailed scientific analysis about the nature of what does and does not exist—you just swing your hand. No big deal. Most people would have succumbed far sooner than me, and I've got the excuse that I'm still traumatized from witnessing the cannibalism.

I wish I'd stopped Trent from eating Frank. Or at least said something. Or given a disapproving nod. Oh, God, I can't believe that I didn't even bother to give a disapproving nod!

Just a quick swipe. Nothing elaborate.

Here I go.

See? It doesn't—aaargh it's biting me it's biting me it's got my index finger right in its mouth and its teeth are—oh sweet Jesus how can something so small and frail cause so much damage there's blood everywhere—well, not everywhere but aaarrrgh there's blood spurting from my half-index finger I do believe in faeries I do believe in faeries make it stop make it stop!!!

I have to believe in faeries now, because its guts are all over my hand. Yeah, there's no mistaking this for a hallucination. Golden ooze is running down my wrist. I guess I shouldn't have been so closed minded all this time.

Now I'm wondering about the leprechaun on that plank of debris. He really wanted me to let him on the boat, but...nah, no need to dwell on that.

Good thing I've got plenty of flu meds. Half a bottle of NyQuil and I won't feel this finger issue at all. Oh, yeah, that's the stuff. My hand sure does feel light all of a sudden. I wonder what's causing that? It kind of feels like it's got a few helium balloons attached to it. Almost as if...

Can I fly?

I think I can fly!

I'll just close my eyes, believe as hard as I can, and...

I'm flying! I'm flying!

I'm actually flying!

I thought I was going to die in that lifeboat, but now I can just fly to land! Look at me! I'm flying higher and higher!

Whoops. Wavering a bit.

Come on, faerie dust! Keep me in the air! I believe in your magic!

This would probably work better if she wasn't dead.

Nope, losing altitude. I hope I don't miss the lifeboat.

I wish I hadn't missed the lifeboat.

Doing a lot of flailing around now. I've pretty much washed all of the faerie guts off my hand, which wasn't the best tactic, but let's see how calmly you behave if you get dumped into the ocean.

I wish I hadn't tried to eat Trent.

No, no—I didn't make up the stuff about Trent eating the others. He totally did. I'd omitted the part where I took a bite before I tossed him overboard. Now that I'm doomed, I don't see any reason not to go with full disclosure.

I believed in the faerie the whole time. I just didn't want you to think I was some kind of lunatic.

Mmmm. Salty water.

Is that a shark...?

Jeff Strand is the four-time Bram Stoker Award-nominated author of 40+ books, including Blister, A Bad Day For Voodoo, and Wolf Hunt. Cemetery Dance magazine said “No author working today comes close to Jeff Strand’s perfect mixture of comedy and terror.” He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

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