Gavin Booker, a school librarian, leads an orderly, normal life. Work, jogging, friends from work, his son every other weekend. Gavin is also a secret. He is a hybrid, or part-fairy. And in the Columbian Empire, hybrids are under an automatic death sentence.
In this alternate version of the USA, magic is illegal. So is loving another man. Fairies are locked away in ghettoes, and magical beasts, such as gryphons, unicorns, and pegasi, are kept in zoos. The others, tree and water spirits, talking beasts, fauns, and the rest, are in hiding.
This is the world in which Gavin grew up. He survived, thanks to his mother. He can never forget he is different: ministers preach against people like him constantly. Hating the other is a part of every school’s curriculum.
But things are changing fast, and seemingly for the worst. Earthquakes, volcanoes, killer storms are frequent occurrences. The medicine Gavin takes to suppress his body’s glow isn’t working. The spells cast by his doctor, a witch, are losing their power. If anyone finds out what Gavin is, he is dead.
The Empire always goes after its marginalized people. Can Gavin survive the coming catastrophe? Will he ever recover from losing the boys he loved earlier in life? Can he find the fairy man who has haunted his dreams before it is too late?
The name on the sign by the empty cage read Equus caballus malum. No government-authorized sign would ever have any reference to human for a centaur. His mother had taught him the other name that morning beneath the Big Trees.
A pair of golden gryphons, also with clipped wings, and as unhappy looking as the pegasi, were in the next cage.
“There are supposed to be two silver gryphons, too,” Gavin said, after he read the sign. “I guess they are hiding in that cave in the back. Maybe the female is sitting on her eggs, or nursing her cubs.”
Latisha just nodded and tightened her grip on his hand. God only knows what her parents told her before this field trip.
The werewolf was next, sitting hunched over a rock in its forest habitat. It was an eastern red werewolf, with intensely blue human-like eyes. Listed on the sign in front of the cage were instructions for identifying werewolves in human form, and ways to protect oneself from such monsters. Canis lupus malum, evil wolf.
The werewolf seemed even sadder than the rest of the Bestiary’s denizens. It hadn’t looked up, no matter how loud the kids ahead of Gavin and Latisha had been, or how many faces they had made. But it did look up just as Gavin got to the cage and stared at him with those very bright blue eyes. Human eyes. Homo sapiens lupus. Gavin froze.
He didn’t answer Latisha at first. Instead, Gavin watched as the werewolf, shaking its big shaggy head, came slowly over to the corner of the cage where they stood. Its eyes were focused intently on Gavin. It jumped on its hind legs, its big paws only separated from Gavin’s face by the glass.
“Help me, please, fairy, help me. They won’t me let change. They make me take drugs,” it said in a rough voice. “I need to change. Get me out of here.”
“I’m not a fairy. Shut up,” Gavin snapped back.
“Mr. Booker? Look, the silver ones came out,” Latisha said. She was staring at the gryphon cage. She turned when the werewolf asked again for the fairy to get him out. “Mr. Booker? What’s it talking about? What fairy?” Latisha asked, looking back and forth between the silver gryphons and the werewolf. The silver gryphons ran back in their cave.
“Not a fairy? Look at your hands, fairy,” the werewolf hissed.
Gavin dropped Latisha’s hand and looked at his own. The tips of all his fingers glowed, a faint, faint yellow glow, as if he had dipped them in fluorescent paint. He quickly slid them into his pockets.
I took the pills this morning. This shouldn’t be happening. Suppress, suppress, suppress.
“I’m not a fucking fairy,” he yelled at the werewolf who only growled and snarled in return. He looked quickly around the Bestiary. Was there anybody who’d hear him yelling? What was he thinking? Thank God nobody but Latisha was anywhere near Gavin and the werewolf.
Latisha stared at Gavin and the werewolf. “You aren’t supposed to say that word; it’s not nice. Mama told me so. What fairy is it talking about?”
Gavin took a deep breath. Seeing the fear in the little girl’s face, he spoke slowly, in as even and as calm a tone as he could muster. “I don’t know what fairy it's talking about. There's just you and me and we're certainly not fairies.” The glowing had stopped, he felt it. He took a deep breath. “I’m sorry I got upset -- that thing upset me. Your mother is absolutely right; you shouldn’t say that.”
"Fairies are bad, too," Latisha said. He could guess what she was thinking. Latisha was remembering what she had been taught in school, the same things he had been taught in kindergarten and first grade, in Sunday school, and all the way through high school and college. Never mind the ads on TV and that radio that played over and over. The government made sure the lesson got through, that it was repeated over and over so no one could ever miss it. Even the youngest knew what the warning signs were, what to look out for. And what to do if they saw glowing people.
For your country and your Emperor, for God, for your family and friends, and because Jesus loves you: call the police. Just hit the big blue star on the nearest Automatic Reporting Machine and start talking. If you don’t know how to use the phone or the ARM, or neither is nearby, find the nearest normal adult and tell them. Normal people, good people, do not glow.
“Fairy, please. Help me.”
Gavin ignored the werewolf. “It’s not supposed to talk to us. Let's go find Mr. Phillips and the rest of the class."
Latisha nodded and reached for his hand. They walked away quickly, not looking back.
The werewolf yelled. “Fairy, help me, please!” Then it howled. They walked faster, Latisha looking over her shoulder.