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by Sanne-Milou Rijnders

While brushing my teeth in the bathroom of my dorm, I looked at myself in the mirror above the sink. Bright green eyes stared back at me. Glowing like little neon lights, the eyes stared smugly at me from a face that seemed covered with tight, dry leather, a sickish green hue with a hint of glitter dust. I swear my heart stopped.

In 1983 my mother ran away from home. She was gone for several months. When she finally came home, she entered my grandparents’ house through the kitchen door. My grandmother was so shocked to see her that she dropped the cast iron pot she li€fted of the stove, and let it shatter on the stone floor. She then dashed towards my mother shouting in Scots and nearly strangled her in a tight hug. When I was seventeen, my mother told me the story anew.

In 1983 my mother did not run away from home. She was lost.

She and my father drove back from college in Edinburgh when they got into a fight – or rather continued a fight that had been going on for the entire week. It got out of hand, my mother forced my father to stop the car and she got out to finish the three hour drive on foot. My father le€ft her, so she walked. For a good half hour nothing happened.

Then there was a small, bright blue light. It looked like a bright fairy light without its string. It hung still in the air for a few seconds and then disappeared with a sigh. My mother continued to walk in the gully beside the road. A moment later the streetlights went out. It was late at night and there was no moon out; she couldn’t even see her own feet. It was too dangerous to keep walking. My mum was stuck there.

With a sigh each, the blue little fairy lights appeared. ‚ They hung in the air about ten inches apart, glowing bright enough to illuminate a path. ‚ They led away from the road into the wilderness. My mum took a few anxious steps; when she got too close to the little lights, they would disappear with that same sound. She followed them. ‚ The undergrowth moved out of the way like electric sliding doors and my mother tumbled into the Other World. It took her months to find her way out of there, possibly longer, as time doesn’t work the same way there as it does here. All the while she couldn’t eat the food or tell anyone her name, or she’d never get home. She met many creatures there.

She regretted meeting one in particular. He was a strange man; incredibly old and timeless the same, with a manner that was in every way calculated and strictly regulated, and eyes that glowed bright green in the dark. His skin – this was most odd – wasn’t fixed. When she first met him it had a normal colour and complexion and was loosely draped over his bones as skin ought to. However, his appearance slowly changed as they dealt with each other. It became a sickish hue with hints of green and a dash of glitter on some places. It became dry and cracked and too tightly caught on his frame. Like old, unkempt crocodile hide. By the time she realised what he was he looked every part, and it was too late for her to get away unscathed. With help of another, she managed to strike a deal; if she could answer his riddle she could go. If she didn’t, he could demand one thing from her. She answered wrong.

He asked for her  rst born child. He asked for me.

However, this second elf or fairy or whatever he was, he was more equipped at dealing with the crocodile. And he bartered a second deal; if and when the crocodile found me, he had to tell me the riddle too. If I answered right, he could not take me. If I answered wrong, the contract my mother had signed would hold.

So when I saw those eyes I cleaned my mouth, put away my tooth brush and turned around. “I know who you are. Give me your riddle.”