THE NEAREST EXIT MAY BE BEHIND YOU

Leah opened one eye and surveyed what she could see in the land beyond her pillow. She had a vague sense of residual hangover, and that something very strange had happened.

 

She swung her legs over the side of the bed, yawning. Suddenly she started. It hadn't been a dream. Everything had really happened. She was a detective now – for the monsters of Glasgow. There weren't a lot of things that could make a difference to her at the moment, but faeries are real has a way of burning through the worst hangover.

 

She made tea, and put bread in the toaster. She thought back on what had happened and smiled. Dorian was something of a showman, she decided; his cryptic behaviour at the train station was unnecessary, but fun. She probably wouldn't have believed him if he'd explained himself first. And Magnus! Well, wow. He was clearly arrogant, but for good reason.

 

Out the window, children were playing, shouting and chasing each other in the rain. Leah went to sit on the sofa, and realised she had been smiling since she woke up. With a sickening crunch, her heart reminded her of her divorce, and of Adam – as if she had cheated by not thinking of him for once upon waking, and now had to do penance.

 

She thought about a conversation they had once had, long ago in Edinburgh, before the world turned upside down. They had been at their favourite cafe, and were having another argument.

 

“Leah, one day you are going to wake up and discover that the only job available to you is working behind the counter at the grocery,” he had said.

 

“You're an actor,” she had reminded him, “that isn't exactly a stable career path.”

 

“I'm also going to school for law,” he said, “because I know that it might not work out. Either way, those are both careers. Studying folklore? For what? Why does Scotland need that?”

 

Leah had stared into her dinner. It seemed, sometimes, that dates with Adam always ended like this.

 

“Scotland's history is all storytelling,” she said, again, although she had repeated it a hundred times, “and there are not many of us left who know the stories. Scotland needs storytellers.”

 

“Then why are there not many of you left?” he asked, “You're sacrificing your financial future in exchange for a few faerie tales.”

 

“The seanachaidh –“ she began.

 

“Yes, the hereditary clan bards,” he said, exasperated, “I know, Leah, I listen to everything you tell me. The seanachaidh are going – and I don't know if you've noticed this, but the clans are gone! This is not that Scotland. The only way you are going to be able to apply these skills is if you travel back in time. It's like you read the university catalogue advertising what you could do with your course afterwards and took it to heart. The truth is that most of the degrees at university don't qualify you for anything more than working behind the counter at the corner shop. They aren't trades, and are just a way for the university to part you with your money and put you into debt you can't pay off.”

 

“And law school is any better?” asked Leah, “Adam, do you even like law?”

 

“Of course not,” he said, “but Leah...I want us to have a future. Together. I want to make sure that we are secure. It's not about having fun, or passion, or any of that Bohemian nonsense. It's about being smart.”

 

Leah had gone quiet then, partly because she was tired of the argument, but also because she sensed that he might be right. The rest of the dinner had gone well, and she remembered being happy that he was concerned about their future – and had forgotten he had completely dismissed everything that made her who she was.

 

She had learned Gaelic at a young age, on her own. She had taught herself the folk songs of every part of Scotland, so that she knew the story of everywhere she stepped. Faeries had fascinated her for years, but more importantly, monsters – the history of the Fae that had nothing to do with flowers or tiny children with wings. She had been impressed and frightened, forever captivated, by the tall stern Elves, by the lonely Urisk, by the nightmare of death that was the Kelpie. She knew them all – the gods, the Fae, the monsters. It was her greatest love, and it should have occurred to her that Adam had completely missed this.

 

She drank down the remains of her tea and set the cup down in the saucer. She returned to the kitchen and set the kettle boiling again. She considered whether it was time to take Adam's advice – after all, she had a good job in Edinburgh, and she had partly become a police officer because of Adam's urging her to accept a job – any job. And here it was – her dream, fully realised, before her. Had she been aware that there was a career path of 'faerie police officer' she was fairly sure she would have signed up years ago. She could think of several others who would have done the same.

 

As she poured her second cup of tea, she wondered: is it time to be smart? She had spent a lifetime following her passions – including Adam. She could turn back. She could leave the city, and never think of the portal to another world where her studies related to creatures that were living, breathing, and very real. She could see two paths before her, one dark and uncertain, and another where she lived a common life, with security and stability, and she got a watch at the end.

 

“No,” she said aloud to herself, “I want more than a watch.”

 

Someone knocked on the door.

 

She went down the hall and opened it. Standing there, in Victorian splendour, was Dorian Grey. He smiled and offered his arm.

 

“Care to join me, Miss Bishop?” he asked, “It's nightfall.”

 

The door closed, and steam rose from a cup of tea abandoned on the countertop.