Get a Sneak Peak into the World of Moss Hill!
Read the first two chapters below.
Morning in Moss Hill
Perched above the pedals of her blue beach cruiser, Carissa Shea navigated the winding paths of the friendly neighborhood of Crescent Circle in the early morning hours. Her light pink blouse flared around her. The locket at her neck pressed against her chest in the wind. The red haired, fair skinned woman with the dark brown eyes and slightly pointed ears was unmistakably human and undeniably fae, depending on one’s knowledge of the otherworldly people.
And no one knew the otherworld better than the residents of Moss Hill. Mossies, as the people of this town on an island west of the UK called themselves, were the most diverse people the countries of the United Kingdom were not completely aware existed. Their modest homes and shops with views of rolling green knolls sat snugly between two mountains. Each was a world of its own in more ways than one.
From the start of her daily routine, in the cozy cul-de-sac on the top of a hill, Carissa had a clear view of the west mountain. It was by far the more interesting of the two. For the forest and trees of Mount Vale were covered not just in moss but in faerie magic. Originating from hidden homes in the Vale woods, elves, sidhe, gnomes, sprites, brownies and a host of other larger faeries, known as fae, were well known to the Mossies. Some even lived within the borders of town as neighbors and friends, as citizens, in fact, of Moss Hill. Even little ones like the tiny winged nature faeries, called sprites, lived in the gardens of their fae and human neighbors. Carissa passed a whole fluttering cloud of them just waking in the community garden as she exited Crescent Circle. This might just have looked like shimmering air to an untrained eye, but Cari waved as she rode by.
The path at this point became one long stretch of pavement, aptly named Greenfield, surrounded by farmer’s fields, blooming in the summer sun. The aroma of sweet corn mixed with the scent of saltwater that permeated the air on windy days like this one. It delighted her nose as she traveled through the quaint countryside.
A few meters down was a place where Greenfield diverged to a dirt path, leading toward Mount Vale, but Carissa wasn’t going to the fae village today. She kept on course. Still, out of habit, she looked at the mountainside, curious whether her parents were home yet from their latest expedition. Her half-elfish eyes spotted the form of a woman coming down from the mountain. She was too far away to tell who or what type of fae, or even human, it was entering Moss Hill. Since it could have been any one of a number of people Carissa knew, she dismissed the sight as unimportant.
Inevitably, the road turned from smooth pavement to cobblestone and Gorse Street came into view. Carissa veered right, stopping abruptly at the corner of Greenfield and Gorse. She hopped off the bicycle and walked alongside a red-brick building with wide windows lining its front and side walls.
Gooseberry Bakery, with its open doors and sweet aroma wafting through the street, welcomed her as it did every other Saturday. The blueberry bagel for herself and lemon Danish for her assistant, as requested, made the perfect start to the last day of her workweek. She set her bicycle by a lamp-post and secured it with a little elfish magic. Then she walked through the glass doors, over the checkered black and white flooring, past the red booths to the row of temptation under glass casing. The cashier, a sociable teen on her summer break, had anticipated her order. With no one in line yet it was only a few minutes from paid to pastries in hand. Carissa thanked the girl and headed to the bright blue doors of the next building over.
The Seelie Tree Apothecary shop open Monday through Saturday from 9am-4pm, with its gray-tinted windows and old-fashioned charm, wasn’t the newest or fanciest building in Moss Hill. Worn but well loved, the building had character. Carissa knew every creaking sound, every item, and every regular customer to walk through its blue doors.
The chime of the large silver bell overhead rang as Carissa passed through the entryway. With her pink tote on one shoulder, purse on the other and juggling the keys with the brown paper bags from Gooseberry Café in her hands, she maneuvered past the door and managed to turn on the lights. As always, the sight of the well-stocked rows of herbal tonics and healing teas welcomed her. She walked to the back counter and put down the items in her hands, then strolled to the short hallway to the right. The one and only room in the back served both as an office and a storeroom for additional stock, even though the space itself was minuscule for such purposes. Carissa placed her purse on the coatrack and heard the backdoor click open. It was followed by the soft footsteps of her assistant, Maren Raines.
“Morning! It’s a beautiful day isn’t it?”said Maren, her wind whisked, ash-brown hair caught the corner of her mouth. She pulled it aside and brushed the strands back with her fingers so that the shoulder length cut fell right into place. Carissa’s long auburn waves never settled as easily. It was one of the many qualities Maren failed to see about herself. Despite her inability to accept praise, Maren’s cheerful attitude wasn’t unusual. Her lips tugged into an ever increasing smile as she entered the room and set down her azure handbag on the stand beside Carissa’s apple-red one.
“Someone is happy,” Carissaobserved. The two ladies exited the storeroom back to the counter, where Maren spotted the Gooseberry Bakery bags. She didn’t wait for her boss to hand it over, immediately scooping it up.
“Mmm,” Maren breathed in deeply, “smells like three hundred calories for a taste of heaven. Completely worth it.”
Carissa shook her head. That was Maren. Her usual was about the same number of calories as Carissa’s, the difference being the wrenching guilt that seemed to come only with Maren’s order, regardless of who’s turn it was to buy on any given Saturday. Carissa tried to reassure Maren that the weekly Danish wasn’t the worst vice in the world, but Maren only ever responded in her sing-song voice, “Not everyone has elven genes to keep them young and fit, Cari.” Never mind that both of them were only thirty.
Today Maren didn’t seem as concerned. She bit happily into the lemon Danish, closing her eyes and giving a soft moan of delight. Setting the treat down on the bag, she smacked her hands together to get the crumbs off and start her work. Carissa resisted the urge to dust off the counter while she was still eating.
“So, are you going to tell me what’s got you in such a good mood?” Carissa said, tipping the cherry blossom tote and gently sliding the packages of herbs across the counter. She and Maren sorted them, some going in the large round herb baskets in the metal stands along the walls at the back of the shop, some in the shelves on the back wall directly behind them, and some would be put in the storeroom fridge for use later.
Maren hesitated, then spoke as she worked. “How would you feel if I maybe was dating someone whom you sort of went on a date with once?”
“Sort of? Oh, yes, the sort of date. I remember that.”
“I’m serious. Would you mind if I were dating John, you know, Goodfellow?”
“I think I know his name. He hangs out around here enough. Come to think of it I was wondering why he’s been coming here everyday. No one needs that many herbal supplements.”
“Cari, will you answer my question, please? ‘Cause I can’t tell what you’re really thinking when you’re dodging like that.”
Carissa gave an elvish smile but her tone was warm. “I’m thinking I’m happy for my friend.”
“Really?” Maren’s lips tugged down and her eyebrows dipped low, like she needed assurance.
Cari set the last of the herbs on a shelf behind her and turned. She put both hands on the counter and gave her most earnest face to her friend. “Maren, I’m not pining after anyone. It was one date and there’s a reason why it ended early.”
“You were attacked by a hoard of pixies,” Maren said bluntly. The tension in her face had eased but the still-furrowed brow told Cari her work reassuring her wasn’t done.
Carissa grabbed the pink tote and dumped the remaining contents while saying as assertively as possible, “The pixies didn’t kill our date, I assure you.” She shrugged picking up the books that had fallen to the counter. “We just weren’t compatible. But I’m glad you are. I wish you luck, really” She locked eyes with Maren and jutted her brows forward to stress her last word.
It seemed to relax Maren back into good spirits. “Thank you. We’ve only been on a few dates so far and I wouldn’t have even mentioned it except I’m starting to think there might be something there. Actually, John and I are going out again today. I wouldn’t say it’s a date this time, it may be a little unconventional.” She rambled until Carissa raised her eyebrows. “Sorry, babbling.”
“That’s OK. Now I’m curious. What’s your big unconventional non-date going to be?”
“An old college friend of John’s decided to take a trip out here and see the sights, so John promised he’d show her around and he’s invited me to come along.”
“Her?” Cari lowered only one brow. She cocked her chin to the side and held out for an explanation.
Maren clucked her tongue in return. “It’s not like that. They knew each other in grade school and met again in his last year of college. He doesn’t know her all that well anymore. He thought her reaching out to him was a little odd, which is maybe part of the reason he wanted me along.”
Carissa reserved her judgment and replied with only a, “Mmhm.”
She grabbed the books and Maren reached for them, opening her mouth as if to make another argument. She quieted before even starting as she looked at the cover of the text in her hands. Tea and Roses, the title read.
“The poetry anthology? The cover came out nice.” Maren’s fingers traced the floral print of the first ever poetry anthology of Moss Hill’s poetry club.
Carissa leaned with her elbows on the counter and one hand on her chin, smiling. “Nan’s proud of it.”
Carissa fully believed her grandmother was prouder of being the society’s president than she was of being the Head Librarian of the Moss Hill Library for the last thirty-odd years. It was a close second, however. Nessa Shea, Nan to Carissa, was semi-retired but still worked at the information desk three days a week, enough to hear young Mossie’s complaints about the library’s outdated stacks and technology. She had taken it upon herself to publish the collection of poems and organize an event for tonight for the release as a fundraising campaign for her beloved workplace.
“It doesn’t really go with the type of books we carry,” Carissa looked past the aisles as if she could see the bookshelves at the windows carrying items on health and healing, “but I thought we could put a few in the front. Nan liked the idea of The Seelie Tree Apothecary being the only place for people to get an advanced copy.”
Worry creased Maren’s forehead as her brows came together. “I know I said I’d go to the poetry signing…”
Carissa waved off her angst. “It’s fine. I completely understand. You go with John and have a good time.” Then she added with faux seriousness, “Just make sure you sit between John and his friend wherever you go.”
Maren rolled her eyes and made her way down the center row. Finished with the herbs, Carissa folded up the canvas bag and placed it on the shelves below the counter. Then she took a bite of the blueberry bagel. Delicious, as expected. The berries were juicy and tart, the bread crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside. She closed her eyes and exhaled, enjoying the flavor.
Her attention turned next to tidying up the shop while she ate her breakfast. She wiped the surface of the tablet that served as their register and dusted the antique wood cashbox secured supernaturally to the counter, courtesy of the very little fae-magic Cari knew. By the time she finished the entire counter space, minus the area where Maren’s half eaten Danish lay, she was on the last bite of blueberry goodness. She moved on to other areas of the shop.
There was that little part of her that was a perfectionist, only about the store, of all things. She wanted every label frontward facing, shelves dusted, floor spic and span, so every part of a customer’s experience was delightful. Even the crumbs of the bagel and the Gooseberry bag were neatly disposed of so that the only evidence of carbs left behind was the sweet aroma left in the air.
True, instead of thinking about work or savoring the scent of blueberry, a normal person might muse about their best friend’s date with an old fling, but John was hardly that. He was new to Moss Hill, didn’t understand the unusual relationship the humans here had with the otherworld and, certainly, didn’t understand her.
It made it awkward seeing him around town, especially since he was an investor who didn’t work a normal day job and seemed to be in every corner of town for her and Maren to bump into all the time. At first when he began stopping by the apothecary shop with increasing frequency, Carissa dreaded the thought he might still be interested in her, but she quickly realized it was Maren who’d caught his eye.
And, why not? She had a girl-next-door quality to her that made her beautiful inside and out. She deserved to be happy.
John Goodfellow did strike Carissa as a bit more charismatic than she found appealing, but he was a tall drink of water, even if he wasn’t Carissa’s cup of tea. And though he wasn’t a born and bred Mossie, he was learning to blend in with Moss Hill culture well enough.
“Hey, Cari?” Maren called from another aisle.
Carissa’s face flushed a little, realizing she was pondering John and Maren’s relationship, despite deciding before that she wouldn’t give it another thought. “Yeah?” Cari replied.
“Could you take the otherworld today? I don’t think I can handle old Miss Morgan.”
“Why, she’s not coming in today, is she?”
“She said, ‘The day after that apothecary mixes her tonics,” so it’s “fresh” and not “musty and old.” She’s just so mean. Are you sure she’s not Unseelie?”
Miss Morgan was rude, curt, constantly made comments about her disproval of most people and often argued about the stock they should keep in the apothecary. While it was annoying, it didn’t make her one of the evil-natured faeries. Plus, Carissa had to admit there had been times when Miss Morgan’s tonic recipes or insight on people’s purchases were spot on. No dark faerie would be helpful like that.
“Maren!” Carissa warned. Unseelie or not, making any faerie mad was a bad decision for a human. “You know they can hear through the veil if they want to. Be careful with your wording! You wouldn’t want to make a brownie mad at you.”
“Alright, sorry,” Maren held her hands up defensively, “but can you please take her order today?”
“Yes, I will. But you owe me. And remember, to owe a human is one thing, to owe a faerie is another.” Carissagave a devious smile.
Maren laughed. With relief in her eyes, the crinkles around her mouth deepened as her lips curled upwards.
Carissa turned to the shelves behind her. “Did I prepare Miss Morgan’s order yet?” she inquired to no one in particular. Maren had gone back to reorganizing the nutrition books at the front of the store as Cari searched. She either didn’t hear her boss or didn’t know whether the apothecary was genuinely asking or talking to herself.
Either way, a minute later Carissa announced, “Ah, here it is.” She tried to prepare orders every Friday, for the next week, just so she could restock on weekends in case she didn’t have the necessary items for the tonics. “I remember now,” she mused loud enough for Maren to hear, “I was distracted by your boyfriend chatting away, keeping you from helping me.”
“I’d apologize, but I don’t control him,” Maren dramatized the words. Cari imagined she was curving her shoulders forward with her hands on her heart for added flair. “It’s not my fault if he can’t resist seeing me.”
Carissa chuckled. Then, she took her locket out from the chain on her neck. Two silver circles were set together, one hollow holding one with glass and herbs in the middle. She spun the inner one, turning it thrice. The world became still. The metaphysical veils parted for her to step into the otherworld. This really looked like nothing more than a woman disappearing. To Cari, it looked like a fog forming and disappearing all around her. The world took on a strange hue, indescribably brighter and dimmer at once, like a dream. A bit unsettling, maybe, but any Mossie who’d seen the otherworld was used to it. She opened the shop by magic, breaking the seal on the front doors and lighting the sign with a flick of her hand.
A few words in old druidic next allowed her to see into both worlds at once. Maren, being only fae-touched, meaning that she had interacted with the fae before but wasn’t genetically related to any of them, couldn’t do what Carissa could as half-fae. Though, with skill, she probably could learn the trick of it. Instead, Carissa saw her walk to the door to unlock it from her world on the human side of things.
“Let me guess,” Maren said, “You came in through the front this morning? You forgot to lock the door.”
Carissa chin swayed in the tiniest display of disapproval. She wasn’t exactly spying on her assistant, since Maren knew she could see her. She was only watching to see if Maren needed any help. But Maren talked to her all the time when they were in opposite sides of reality, knowing full well her boss could hear her. Carissa hated that. She’d told Maren more than once she’d look crazy if anyone heard her rambling to an invisible person.
“They all know we’re talking to each other,” was Maren’s only response.
She failed to consider that not everyone who came into The Seelie Tree was a Mossie. Tourists often found the charm of an old rustic apothecary shop of interest on their excursions around Moss Hill.They didn’t believe in half the items they carried but found them intriguing nonetheless. An assistant conversing with the air, however, went beyond intrigue toward lunacy. If they saw that, they might not care to stay and shop.
The bells chimed above the door frame. The light, airy sound resonated melodiously in the otherworld—as it could only sound in the realm of the fae.
“Good morning,” Carissa called out to the customer. A very short woman with sharp eyes and a cane came hobbling up the center aisle. The faded black dress she wore dragged across the floor and the long sleeves looked odd in the summer. Her countenance was clearly recognizable as a brownie, the small-statured fae who lived with Mossies and helped them with chores, except they were always kind and she was…Miss Morgan.
“What’s good about it?” asked the old woman.
“Miss Morgan, lovely to see you.”
“S’not lovely, you liar. You been arguing with pink-ears about me, I know. I could hear you a mile away.”With her walking stick, which really might just be a stick after all, in her knotty old hand, she took time crossing the floor.
“Now, Miss Morgan. It’s not nice to be listening in on conversations when you’re not in the room.”
The brownie stopped and leaned forward. Her walking stick wobbled. She twitched her ears and pulled her head back with one eye rising considerably higher than the other. If Carissa were full human, she wouldn’t get away with talking to a fae like that, but her half-elf status protected her from Miss Morgan’s wrath. The old brownie finally made her way to the counter.
“I’ll be needing my usual order.” Carissa turned to the shelves and picked out the tonic—a yellowish tincture. A flick of a finger against the glass caused the liquid to swirl to a bright green color with a fine sparkling glow.
“Here you are. That’ll be four coins.”
The customer put a pendant and scarf on the counter. The necklace was beautiful. It had the insignia of a tree delicately carved onto the surface. It was likely expensive but probably stolen from some human neighbor—likely the Everlys, whom Miss Morgan was ‘staying with’ uninvited at the moment. They were rich enough to afford it, but it wasn’t hers to trade.
The bell rang as another customer walked in. Carissa’s eyes darted upward. It was a regular, Sal. The elfkin, a helper to the elves, was upbeat as always, his pointed ears and sharp nose were accentuated by a wide, outgoing smile. He waved from the door. “Hello, Carissa!” Sal called in his usual cheery voice.
According to faerie tradition, it would be equally rude not to finish the conversation with her current customer as it would be to ignore Sal’s greeting. It was a delicate balancing act that Carissa managed quite well on a near daily basis.
“I cannot barter, Miss Morgan. Please look in your purse for coins while I greet Sal,” Carissa said, then she looked up at her next customer and called out with equal cheer. “Good morning, Sal.”
Miss Morgan grumpily rummaged through her purse, looking for payment while Carissa maintained her warm demeanor. The door chimed again. It was the low din of the shop bells in the human world. The sound was accompanied by a greeting from Maren. Out of the corner of her eye, Carissa could see a man she’d never met before. He was hooded. Strangely, he had a presence that felt otherworldly. A druid, perhaps? Fae-touched, possibly? Or was he like her, half-fae?No, that wasn’t it. But what was it, then?
She couldn’t pay it much mind at the moment. Miss Morgan rightfully had her attention. The brownie threw four coins roughly on the table and grabbed the bottle of tonic from her hands. A bit annoyed, but not altogether surprised by her actions, Carissa kept her calm demeanor.
“Thank you and have a good day,” she said.
Miss Morgan made no reply. She simply turned and took a swig of the tonic, then made her way to the other end of the shop.
“Miss Morgan’s in a happy mood today, wouldn’t you say?” Sal bounded over.
Carissa smiled, both because she was glad to see him and because of his lighthearted attitude toward any situation.
“And how are you today, Sal? Are the elf-folk treating you nicely?”
“Can’t complain. Master Rolin did send me with a list,” He handed her a folded parchment with his hurried scrawling barely readable going down it.
She held the note up and squinted. “Bluebell, elderberry, mistletoe, heather…is there a party going on that I don’t know about?”
Sal rested an elbow on the counter, bringing him considerably lower than his tall, lanky height. “The whole of Moss Hill is invited, fae and fae-touched only I mean.”
“What’s it for? It can’t be a solstice celebration. That won’t be for a few more months.”
“No, not that.” His eyes twinkled.
“You want me to guess?” Carissa was used to the fae mind by now. Riddles and games were second nature to many of them. It was like a test one had to continually take to pass muster. Sometimes it could be exhausting.
She started to think of possible events. It was August, past the summer solstice and far too early for winter. Was there a human holiday coming soon? The fae of Moss Hill had taken to celebrating human holidays a century ago, but Carissa could think of none that were approaching soon. Then she realized that in the absence of a holiday, the next celebratory event the fae loved most was love itself: a wedding. Not Sal’s wedding, he was a confirmed bachelor. The elfkin wasn’t here for himself anyway, he’d said his master had sent him today. That must mean one of the Elvin children, an older one at least around a hundred years, might have just gotten engaged.
“Is Hela getting married?” She guessed the eldest daughter to be about the right age.
Sal didn’t have time to respond. A sharp cry came from the front of the store. Carissa froze. Sal turned around.
Both were unprepared for what they saw next.
A Mossie Murdered
Carissa hadn’t noticed Miss Morgan was still in the store. Or rather, maybe she had seen her skimming the bookshelves but let it pass out of her conscious awareness. Whatever the case, she was startled when she heard the strangled outcry coming from the other side of the shop. The sound of distress was followed by a clattering of books and smashing of vials. Sal sprang with quick-footed steps to the front of the store. Carissa had to swerve around the counter, and so she lagged behind. When she passed the end of the center isle’s shelving she saw it. There, in front of the bookcase just to the left of the door, lay Miss Morgan.
She was sprawled out with onehand over her head. Several books from Healing with Herbsto the ironic, Secrets to a Long Life, had fallen from the shelf next to her. The vial of herbal tonic Carissa had given her lay open in her hand. It spilled out onto the floor.
Sal lifted Miss Morgan’s head and put an ear to her mouth to check for respiration. Sal’s words barely registered, something about her breathing being raspy. Miss Morgan was unconscious, but at least still alive.
Carissa’s eyes glided from the emergency unfolding in front of her to the eerie exit of the man leaving the store. The tall, black haired man was in the human world with Maren, so why was he looking at Miss Morgan? His hand was on the door and all the rest of him was poised to leave, except he didn’t. He stared instead at them, then turned his head toward Carissa in an unnatural slow motion. He looked at her for a long second, directly in her eyes.
There was no malice in his expression, but the simple fact he could see them was enough to cause alarm bells in her mind. He opened the door, held it longer than he should have, and left without so much as a backwards glance. Now alone with Sal and Miss Morgan, Carissa raced over to them.
What had she been thinking wasting time like that? Though she wasn’t a doctor she was the apothecary in the shop. That made her the most qualified to help in this situation.
“Is she still breathing?” Carissa asked.
“No, no. I don’t think she is!” Sal looked up with a desperation in his eyes that unnerved her. He didn’t have the skill or magic to heal and his helplessness only add to the weight on her shoulders.
“Stand back,”she said.
Sal gently laid her head to rest on the floor and walked a few paces to watch from the corner.
Carissa wasn’t as good with elf-light as she wished, but she chanted a few words and moved her palms in opposite circles facing each other. Swirling the light in her hands until it brightened, she then knelt over Miss Morgan and centered her hands above her heart. The energy surging through her detected a darkness in the brownie’s lungs—poison. She could see it now with her eyes better than an x-ray.
She had several items in the shop that could work as an antidote, but without knowing exactly which poison it was, she wouldn’t be able to counteract it. She would have to try using the light magic. The problem was, she’d only ever used it for detecting illnesses and creating herbal remedies for them. She knew elves used the light magic to heal, but her training as an apothecary had been learned among humans. Her knowledge of elvish light was limited: another drawback of her parents constant traveling. She wasn’t even sure of her limits and hoped she had enough ability to heal her now.
Carissa closed her eyes and concentrated. She could feel the soft heat of the light at her fingertips expanding. Could it be working? The energy flowed until a tension pushed at her hands. She opened her eyes. The light was turning black, then growing, then nothing. It dissipated. Everything disappeared. She tried again, calling the light out from within her, but there was nothing for it to detect in the body. Miss Morgan, if she had still been alive, was gone now.
Carissa snapped back to her feet. She stared at the brownie’s body in shock. Already the hands and feet were becoming taut like wood. How could this have happened? The bottle of tonic lay open and dripping on the floor. She picked up the container and replaced the cork. As she knelt, she closed Miss Morgan’s eyes in peaceful rest.
“We have to call the sidhe guard,” Sal said softly.Carissa nodded, still too shaken to say anything.
Sal left, presumably to fetch the local faerie authority on duty this morning. A moment passed with the vial in her hands. She gripped it with no awareness of her knuckles turning white. A single phrase repeated in her mind.
How could this have happened?