When the clock read 4pm in my cubicle, I quickly shut down my laptop, said goodbye to my co-workers, and walked out of my employer's building for the last time. After years of stressful meetings, hovering micromanaging bosses, and a constant feeling of being overwhelmed, I decided to cut myself from the corporate world in search of something else. When I informed my boss that I was leaving, I expected her to yell and scream at me for doing such a thing. Instead, she read my handwritten letter twice, looked up at me from her chrome desk, and began to cry. Not the emotional response I had expected, yet my mind was made up. I got into my car, flung my now invalid badge in the backseat, and drove to the nearest coffee shop. My celebration would begin with a cup of Earl Grey tea, followed by delivered Chinese food and anime. I reached my favourite place, Cafe Noir, and made my way inside. The deep wine coloured drapes and black furniture greeted me as I walked up to the counter and grinned at my friend and cool barista, Lucy.
“Happy Friday,” she said with a black lipstick grin.
“I'm celebrating. Hook me up with an Earl Grey.”
“You got it!” She began making my drink on the side counter then, as she glanced and noticed that no one was behind me, asked, “So, what's with the celebration?”
“I left my job,” I said with a hint of fear in my voice. Did I really do the right thing? I quickly calmed myself down. Of course it was, I reminded myself. Besides, I had a new job as a full time author with a publishing company. A contract that consisted of a five book deal and a $50,000 advance. I could not refuse.
“No shit?” she asked with wide eyes. “Wait . . you got it, didn't you? Holding out on me!” She raced over to me and gave me a high five, of which I accepted with laughter. “Congratulations, Matthew!” I blushed a little as she handed me my cup and quickly turned away. Ever since Cafe Noir opened five years ago, I had a very bad yet consistent crush on Lucy. When I first met her and quickly asked for a coffee, I instantly fell for her Goth style that framed one of the nicest people I'd ever met in my life. Although I was not Goth per se, my life held aspects of the strange and unusual and I did tend to wear a lot of black. Now that I was no longer in the corporate world, I felt as though I could explore more of my creative side rather than just open it for weekends only. I made my way to a table then sat down and pulled out my latest read; soon, I was deep in the shadowy world of a violinist in touch with his Dark Side.
For some reason, I looked up and saw a man standing at the counter, trying to figure out what to order. He wore simple clothing and his thick and deep red hair pulled back into a ponytail hit the middle of his back. Lucy smiled at him as she assisted him with ordering something, yet I could not stop staring at him. At once, he turned and his bright green eyes met mine. For a brief second, we locked gazes and I noticed that his eyes sparkled. They actually fucking sparkled. He grinned at me and I returned one in kind, only to frown then return to my book. Shit, does this guy think I'm gay or something? I hunched down in my seat and reached for my cup of tea that was thankfully still warm. Soon, the guy left my mind and I was back in the disturbing world of the violinist.
“Hey, may I sit with you?” I glanced up from my book to see the guy from the counter now at my table with a black mug. He motioned to the empty chair and I nodded sure, hoping like hell he would not want to have a “conversation” with me. I was straight damn it, I thought to myself as I returned to my book. “Thank you.”
I glanced up again; I couldn't be rude to him. “No problem.”
“I'm Lucius.” He held out his hand.
“Matthew,” I replied as I took it in mine. His hand felt rough yet strong and I felt shame at my soft hands.
He pulled away then said, “Good book?” I glanced down at my read then at him. Small talk, I thought. Okay, here goes.
“Yeah. I picked it up the other day from my publisher.”
“Thanks. Yeah, I signed my contract with him a while ago and he informed me that since I was now part of the family, I could take any of their works for free. I saw this one,” I said as I picked it up and handed it to him, “and I couldn't resist. I'd heard about her before and actually read some of her other works. She's used to live here but just moved to New Orleans.”
“Such an awesome city,” said Lucius as he handed my book back. “I hadn't been there in quite some time.”
“Yeah. So anyway, that's why I'm reading this. It's been really good so far. Right up my alley with its dark fantasy and overall darkness.”
“Most people are afraid of the darkness, for it represents the unknown to them. Yet, the darkness only means the way to understand that which is unknown. To understand that it can't harm you once you have accepted it.”
“Right!” Suddenly, I found myself actually liking this guy. “So, what do you do?”
“Me?” He grinned then long sip from his mug. “I'm the Autumn King.” I stared at him with a blank look on my face then began to laugh. He grinned at me and his damn eyes sparkled again.
“Is that your pen name or something?”
“No.” He took another sip from his mug then set it down. “I am the Autumn King.” I stopped laughing as I searched for some joke, some hint of a prank that would leave me with good spirits. Instead, I stared at a face that betrayed nothing.
“The Autumn . . . King?”
“More like god, but yes.”
“So . . . you represent Autumn? Like, Fall? Halloween and all that shit?” I figured I would play along with him. Harmless crazy guy. Oh well.
“Not really, but I am the season itself. I also go by the name of Mabon.”
“Ah, right. So, you're Pagan, then? That's cool.”
He smiled. “No. I'm much older than that.” I laughed and wondered how I could get away from this guy, when he placed his hand on top of mine. Before I could say anything, I looked into his eyes and soon . . . .
Falling leaves all around me. Colours of gold, red, and orange. Still falling from immense trees that line the pathway deep in the forest. What forest is this?
The Forest of Origin. The One from which all others came from.
Am I dead?
No. Very much alive. Do you see the leaves?
Come with me.
I feel myself walking, am I walking?, through the forest, that forest that the voice said was the Origin. I am not alone. Something is next to me, leading me gently down this path, this path of leaves that never stop falling. I want to cry.
Do not cry. This is a happy time.
I'm . . . afraid.
I am here with you. I want to show you.
I feel a hand on my back gently push me forward. I can no longer feel my feet. The falling leaves all around me. I suddenly hear voices. See figures ahead dressed in reds, golds, and oranges. They see me and smile. I am no longer afraid.
They wanted to meet you. Do not be afraid.
They come closer. Eyes in colours I never knew existed. Their skin glows. I want to live here forever.
What is this place?
They move closer and whisper words to me in a language I don't understand.
They speak the Tongue of the Olde. You have not Awakened yet.
What is this place?
How do I get here?
They soon fade away, the leaves stop falling. I return to being afraid, yet I feel a hand on my back.
“Matthew.” It sounds so far away. “Matthew.” I see black tables and wine coloured drapes and . . . I blink and see Lucius still seated across from me. I blink again.
“Would you like some water?” I shook my head no then glared at him.
“Did you drug me?”
“No. You wanted to know.”
I believed him.
They say that those who feel a pull come here, he told me. Those who have questions that can not be answered in books or learned scholars. He told me of Mabon, a town named after him, and that my questions, whether I wanted to reveal them or not, would be answered.
A year later, I'm sitting on my porch at my new home, watching people walk through my neighbourhood. There are no other seasons here, only Autumn, and that's fine with me. I sold whatever I could, informed my publisher of my new address, and took Lucy out on one date before saying goodbye. I'm waiting for my girlfriend to show up tonight, a wonderful woman who works as a leasing manager of an apartment complex. She's also a mermaid, as she told me on our second date. I laughed at her, only to stop when she dove into the salt water pool behind her home. I watched skin turn to scales and told her that I loved her.
I still see Lucius from time to time and he tells me of his travels over cups of tea. The sparkle in his eyes no longer bothers me and he continues to compliment me on my changes. I smile and offer more tea. He offers me red leaves.