He flickered into existence and the shadows slipped and slithered from the fringe of his shaggy fur and slid from the tips of his horns. He shook off the last traces of the etherworld as a growl thrilled through his lungs and down to the tip of his shivery- shaking long feathery tail. Wings reached from his shoulders and quivered as he stretched far back and felt his muscles unbend. He swung his head from one side to another, chin tracing smooth curves.
He stood there with his square jaw thrust forward, sniffing the air, for a moment, and then he began to walk. His claws clicked against the stone of the road far and long until the pads of his feet began to hurt, and he stopped to sit, twining his limbs together. He leaned back against the rough bark of a tree under the shade and closed his bulbous eyes. The soft swish of the leaves in the wind had nearly lulled him into drowsing when he was startled quite awake by a polite cough. He blinked to see a gray-haired man standing before him, arms crossed. He struggled forward to sit up, still muddled, and the man leaned toward him.
“What are you? I don’t recognize your kind, and you sure are ugly enough I don’t think it can be anything good. You even from here?”
He shook his great shaggy head, bewildered, and the man spat out, “Then you’re from hell. You must be some kind of demon, big ugly creature from hell like you. Get out of my woods, demon!”
The big furred demon scrambled up from his seat at the base of the tree, and sprinted down the rocky path. He ran until he was out of breath and shaking, and the he stopped to put his hands on bony knees and catch his breath. He had just pulled in a huge racking sigh, and pulled himself up to the full height of his frame, when a plump old woman bundled in at least three coats walked up to him. He exhaled gustily, and her chubby wrinkled face crinkled at him and her nose scrunched in distaste, though her eyes were wide and bright and beady with curiosity. She said, in a raspy wheeze, “What are you? There’s stories, you know, stories of the creatures that roam these forests. The eldritch ones, the old ones, the fairy kind. Are you one of them, a fairy? You could be a fairy. Are you from a world of silver shadows and swift arrows and chanting songs?”
He nodded. The tendrils of fur curling down the sides of his faces swayed back and forth. The old woman held up one lined round hand to the level of his chest and held it still in the air. She closed her creased eyes and lifted her chin, and after a moment she turned, still with eyes closed, and started down the path. The fairy watched her departure, curiously, tilting his head after her doddering walk off into the distance. Then, slowly, he began to move again, in the opposite direction.
By the time the sun had vanished into the lacy edges of the trees and the sky was dim, he was hungry. He sat high on the edge of a boulder and ate a sandwich. He finished and licked the crumbs and peanut butter (crunchy, not smooth) from his curved claws. One of them snagged his lip, and in wincing he saw the boy standing on the ground below him. The boy looked up, face smooth and unmarked– fifteen, maybe. He said, “Are you an elf? I’m reading about elves who shoot things and chase people and are friends with dwarves who swing at people with axes and stuff. You look like they look, in my head.”
The elf looking at the teenager in the fading light. He pushed himself off of the boulder, and then he started down the path again, leaving the boy staring after him open mouthed.
The elf was beginning to become disheartened. After nearly two days of walking, he had only seemed to come across more forest. He wasn’t sure exactly what he was looking for, but he was fairly certain it wasn’t trees.
It was somewhat more encouraging when the morning light revealed the lines of a building near the edges of the horizon. He stretched himself out again, from his tail to his wings to his claws to his curved horns, and began to walk again.
The sun shone bright and hard through the pink edges of the clouds shifting shape in the sky. The elf leaned to watch the sunrise dawn. When he tipped his head back, a little girl and boy were holding hands and watching him. The little girl, square-cut bangs dipping over solemn brown eyes, said, “Are you a angel? You look like a angel.” She looked at the unmoving angel seriously, then explained, knowledgeably, “They got wings like that, you know.”
The angel only shrugged, and the sweeping feathered arcs of his wings rustled and glistened in the morning light.
The boy nudged his sister, and said in a whisper—scared or just shy, it was hard to tell, “Don’t be silly. Angels don’t go walking around here. Do you think he’s God?”
She crossed her arms and leveled a gaze at him. “No, that’s silly. Sillier. God doesn’t go walking around neither.” She cocked her head at not-God, considering. “He could be a god, if he’s not the God. Maybe?”
A god’s eyes widened. He coughed, abashed.
The boy frowned. “I bet that means no. I bet he doesn’t want a be a god. Maybe he’s actually an angel like you said.”
The girl had changed her mind, now that her brother agreed. “He is not! He’s definitely something else. I just don’t know what.”
The angel—maybe—listened to them argue for a minute. Then he stepped around them delicately. He patted their heads, gently, with the palms of his clawed hands. They barely noticed, so engrossed were they in contradicting one another. He turned away from them, putting the bulk of his wings between them, and he began to walk again. He walked, claws tapping the stone, until nightfall. His legs were sore and his eyes ached in their sockets and his shoulders hurt from the weight of his wings. He wound his way into the forest he’d reached, which almost looked different from the forests he’d passed through that day. The trees of this one were thicker, darker, and somehow spikier. The angel walked gratefully into the deep dark shade under the tall trees, and found a tree with a conveniently overhanging leafy branch and a trunk that curled in. He folded himself onto the ground and fit himself into the grooves of the tree. He slept, and he dreamed of another world where everybody knew what he was and nobody wanted to know, where he remembered his own name and could say it out loud. Where people knew who he was, and didn’t ask what, and he didn’t inspire curiosity or hatred or disgust or fear or wonder. Where there was no such thing as demon, or fairy, or elf, or angel, or god. There weren’t enough words to bother with naming them all, really. In that world, those he met would eat him much sooner than ask if he was anything edible. He dreamed, wistfully, of home.