A month has passed since the events in Dark Love and Max is preparing to deal with the passing of his Aunt Flora May. What he isn’t prepared for is entering the world of faeries and dragons. The Jumble, the ancient wood just beyond the family farm, is in crisis. The fae are missing and the Witch of the Wood is dead. Can the Circle move past their grief and defeat the menace in the depths of the Pit? Will the secret of the Water Stone be revealed? And most importantly, will there be tea?
The Bear, the Witch & the Web is the second book in “The Live Oak Tales,” a contemporary fantasy/paranormal series set in the wider Stories from Bennett Bay collection by Stephen del Mar.
[Max is at his aunt’s memorial service and hiding on the back kitchen stairs, when he hears the following.]
The sound of Innes Callahan’s voice in the kitchen brought Max back to the present. “Have you seen Max?”
Dieter responded, “Not in a while. Are you really looking for him?”
There was a sigh. “Yes and no. I need to chat with you and I don’t want him to over hear us. And it’s going to be sunset in about half an hour. We’ll need to get people outside soon.”
Again there was a pause, then Innes asked in such a hushed voice Max had to move down a step and lean in to hear him. “Did you bring it?”
Dieter whispered back, “All we had. It’s not much. I expected to get more this trip. What the hell’s going on? There’s something wrong with the Faes.”
There was a shuffling sound and then two kitchen chairs scraped across the wooden floor. Max eased down another step. If he went any further, they’d see him.
Innes asked, “What’s happening?”
“I don’t really know or understand. A little over a week ago Bix started acting strange. Then he went into some kind of faerie coma. You know how they’re connected, so Zon is flipping out. He’s wasting away too. I’ve tried to talk to them and all I get is waves of terror. It’s numbing. Boris tried and ended up in a fetal position on the ground sobbing. Yanko and Tucker had to pull him away.”
“What about Tucker?” Innes asked. “He’s always had a bizarrely close rapport with them?”
“I think that makes it worse. He started puking and trembling. Meg freaked out and will not let him anywhere near the water garden now.”
“Shit, so nothing?”
Dieter said, “The only thing we’ve been able to get is something’s happened to the Water Stone Clan. That makes sense right? Bix is a Water Stone Fae, and they’re all connected. The Esperanza Clan is connected to them through Zon and him.” Dieter paused, then said, “But what the hell is it? Where’d they go?”
Innes didn’t say anything for a moment. Max leaned back against the wall of the stairwell. He expected more of this nonsense from Innes, but Dieter? What in the hell were they talking about? There was renewed intensity in Innes’ voice as he asked, “Your farm—have you seen the Reinhold Clan?”
“First thing Yanko and I did. Hell, I drove the Jeep right out to the pond.”
“Nothing. They wouldn’t say anything. Just waves of agitation, but it didn’t have the intensity like with Zon and his bros. And I think the tea’s wearing off so we can’t communicate properly. We haven’t had any since you called. What have you done?”
A chair creaked. “I don’t know what to do. We tried an attracting spell.”
Dieter asked, “What’s that?”
There was a pause, then, Innes said in an even lower whisper, “Starfire, me, and Janos had sex on top of the Water Stone.”
“You did what?”
“Hush,” Innes said.
Dieter whispered, “Will that work if you’ve been off the tea?”
Innes chuckled. “I think even regular folks having sex on that Stone would have drawn every Fae in the Jumble. You know how they are about sex. Like catnip to them. And the tea doesn’t work like that. It helps us see into their world. They have no problem seeing what we’re up to.”
“So none of the little bros showed up?”
“Not even a butterfly.”
“What about the nymphs?”
“We couldn’t see any, at least not in the weed beds where they usually swim and nest. Janos thought he saw something glow down by the boil. Makes sense that if they are frightened they’d go deep with the faelings.”
A hand slammed down on the table. Max jumped. “Damn it!” Dieter said. “What the hell’s happening? I don’t want to lose them. I really think Bix is gone. And I don’t see Zon recovering from that. The light’s gone out of both of them. He just sits on a lily pad and holds Bix in his arms. We were afraid a bird or something would get them. They don’t seem to have any protection anymore. Yanko made a little box for them and they are up in our bedroom. Zon hasn’t said anything. Yanko thinks our energy helps them. He said we should make love as often as possible. I don’t know if it did any good. And it’s not easy getting it up with waves of despair washing over you.”
“Did you bring them with you?”
“No. Didn’t think they’d make the trip. Tucker’s taken over.”
Innes said, “Really? And what did Meg say to that?”
Dieter laughed. “Well, it started out with those things will be in my bedroom over my dead body.”
“I think Tuck explained, in detail, what they’d have to do and how often. She marched right into my bedroom and took the box into hers.”
Dieter chuckled. “Yes, I think she muttered something about Yanko and me taking our time and no need to hurry back.”
There was silence again. Max rubbed the cool beer bottle across his face. Meg, Tucker, Boris, and Dieter were all in on this mad faerie business? Was he the only sane one in that entire house? Megan Bennett believing in faeries. His brain wouldn’t wrap around that one.
Dieter asked, “So what are you going to do? Is there someone we can ask? Someone who knows more about faeries than we do?”
A crack came to Innes’ voice as he said, “The only one that comes to mind is about to have her ashes spread out on that meadow. If that doesn’t bring them out, I don’t know what would. Can you imagine them missing that?”
“But what if they don’t come?”
A chair creaked and scraped across the floor. “Then Janos, Starfire, and I drink the tea and go down the pit. If they won’t come to us, we’ll go to them.”
“And if they aren’t down there?”
“Then they’re gone. I don’t know what else to do.”
Very softly Dieter asked, “Could you ask the dragons?”
“I’m not the one with the dragon fire in me.”
“What in the hell are you talking about?”
“You mean you haven’t figured it out yet? Your Gypsy hasn’t told you?”
“Don’t talk about my lover that way! And what the hell are you talking about?”
“Later. We need to find Max now. It’s time.”
Dieter said. “Yes. We will talk about this. You check the side porch. I’ll look upstairs. I’d be hiding in my room if I was him.”
Max stood up and tip-toed up the stairs. Hiding in his room sounded like a good idea, but it didn’t look like he’d have time.
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Stephen del Mar is a fresh voice in Southern Gay Fiction. His Bennett Bay collection of books and stories explore life in that unique corner of the American South known as Florida. He also writes fantasy and science-fiction. Del Mar lives in the Tampa Bay region of Florida and enjoys Key Lime Pie and mango margaritas, but not at the same time.