By K.M. Wray
(This story was written for a weekly short story contest with Reedsy. The prompt was to create a world where currency wasn’t money. You can check out the post here. This story is told from Jacklyn’s point of view. Jacklyn is a minor character in a not-yet-published series I’ve been working on: The English Teacher’s Diaries.)
The elf, a Lord of the Rings Elrond look-alike, hands over a cup filled with a rose-shaded berry beverage. It’s the closest thing to a fruit smoothie I’ve seen since arriving in the Fae Realm from the Human Realm about two months ago. I take a sip of the sweet beverage and show my id card. I can tap my id card on a scanner and gain entrance to my home, place of work, or make a payment in restaurants and stores.
“That’ll be one hundred grams of sand,” the elf merchant says.
“One hundred what?” I hold up my id card and inwardly growl. Patrick, my co-worker, had suggested visiting this pop-up market on the outskirts of the capital city but had said nothing about alternative currency.
“Sand. Metals, gems, and common sand are the standard currency for elves.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know. Will you accept my id card?”
His cheek muscle twitches. No to the id card.
Patrick steps up next to me. “Is there a problem, Jacklyn?”
“He’s asking for one hundred grams of sand.”
My colleague speaks to Elrond. “Make another for me and I’ll pay you two hundred grams.”
The elf nods and then disappears back into his small shop that reminds me of a food truck.
Patrick pinches a small pouch between his fingers. Clearly prepared. I blow out a breath of air. The doctors who provide our memory therapy say we need these little outings and it has been a few weeks since our last get-together.
“Sand?” I poke at my drink with the straw.
“Sorry. A friend of mine mentioned that currency is different in other parts of the Fae Realm, but this close to the capital city, I assumed the pop-up market would accept id cards.”
I take another sip of the juice letting my irritation cool. “Anything else I should know?”
Patrick nudges my arm. “Come on, Jacklyn. These outings are good for us. The doctors encourage us to live as normal as possible and we need more than our jobs.”
I think back to the day the Fae terror group F.A.L.L. attacked the Transition Centre where we teach English to Fae planning to immigrate to the Human Realm. The terrorists wiped Patrick’s, Elaine’s, and my memories before the police arrived. That was about a month and a half ago. Afterward, we were given the option to return to the Human Realm, but I’d chosen to stay. This job and the little it offers are all I have.
A Fae couple and a small child walk by. Two pixies flutter around a stall across from the elf’s truck. The pixies’ wings move so fast that I can only catch the faintest image of them. One nearly bumps into belts dangling from the tented roof of the stall selling tooled leather. I wonder what one of the journals sitting in a neat stack on a table by the entrance would go for. A handful of dirt?
The market isn’t too crowded. It is late Saturday morning and I only agreed to come with Patrick if we went early in the day since Fae Realm weather tends to run hot and humid.
I savor another sip. Patrick finally receives his order and gulps down a mouthful.
“Good choice!” He waves an arm wide at the market. “Where to first?”
I nod to the aisle. “Tell me a bit more about Fae currency.”
“Our id cards don’t work like debit cards in the Human Realm. Here currency is like trade. Because elves live mostly in the forest, they desire sand, gems, and metals.”
“And other races?”
Patrick shrugs. “Whatever is important to them. I heard Fire Fae like water. And centaurs, who value knowledge and wisdom, like stories.”
Fae meander to the stalls around us, but so far nothing interests me aside from the journals. I’d always loved journals and kept a steady supply of them ready to be filled.
Patrick says something about Sylph elementals that I miss.
“And dwarves like—”
“Oh don’t tell me, pick axes,” I say.
“No actually. Remember, currency is based on what a race doesn’t have a lot of naturally, so for dwarves, who spend so much time in the mountains and dig for gems and ore, they like living things, especially flowers.”
An image of Gimli from Lord of the Rings asking for three strands of Galadriel’s hair suddenly doesn’t seem so strange.
“Anyway, that’s the extent of my knowledge, so how about we explore the acceptable currency of other races.”
His idea sounds a bit entertaining and as much as I want to prepare my classes for the following week, I need this.
“What’s wrong?” Patrick asks.
I normally don’t open up to people, but since Patrick and I attend memory therapy together, I know he can keep secrets.
“I’m just wondering if I’m still in the right profession.”
“A student complained.”
“I’m sorry. Is Tea giving you a hard time?”
Patrick refers to the head teacher at the Transition Centre. I’m not sure why or how she’d been chosen for the job since she is new like the rest of us, but somehow, she’s already wormed her way in with the rest of the Fae staff.
“Not yet. She made a big speech about being on my side, but I still have to go through an in-class observation, and even if Tea supports me, what about Rose or Director Tumnus? It’s been my experience that administration side with students over teachers simply because they want to keep students.”
“True. I’ve seen it happen at every place I’ve worked.”
“I’m so tired of it. Perhaps it’s time for a new career.”
We come to one end of the market and make a turn to head down another aisle. A garbage can sits at the corner, so we toss our empty cups in there.
A leather shop with journals is two stalls down. I nudge Patrick in that direction.
“Something catch your eye?” Patrick asks.
“Just want to look.”
“Leather?” There is a mischievous shift in his grin.
“It’s the journals.”
“Ah, so you share your secrets with a book.”
We reach the front and I finger the smooth leather surface of a large book and flap open the cover. The pages are soft but rough. If we were in the Human Realm, I would assume they were rice paper. The journal is nice but too large. I move down the aisle and further into the interior of the small, tented shop. I’m out of the direct sunlight, so it’s dimmer and a few lamps hanging from the poles that supported the tent’s roof provide lighting. Patrick is at the entrance chatting with the proprietor.
The next set of journals is smaller and there is more tooling worked into the leather. The patterns framing the edges would rival any Celtic design. There are words in Fae lettering of swirls and lines etched on the cover as well. Some coverings have no words, only patterns. They are all beautiful and elegant and the avid journal writer in me wants to buy them all.
Another journal catches my eye. My breath catches and my heart stutters. Slowly, I gently pick up the book. The cover is buttery soft with no tooling. Memories from my first year of teaching surface.
“You should get that?” Patrick says.
I suck in a sharp breath. “You startled me.”
“The lady has found something?” The proprietor ambles over to us. I can’t place his race but given that he is in human form, I assume he’s an elemental Fae.
Though some Fae, like Rose our supervisor—a unicorn shifter—easily use both forms depending on the need. As a unicorn, she is sleek, but as a human, she appears quite large though her two-toned hair of pink and silver remain whichever form she’s in. The proprietor does have a large form, so perhaps he’s a unicorn shifter or a centaur? He gestures to the book clutched in my hands.
“Do you want to make a purchase?” The owner asks.
My lips twist and I run my fingers over the surface as memories, good memories, seep past all the negative ones.
“How much?” I ask.
The vendor crosses his arms over his ample chest his eyes narrow. His dark hair has a mixture of dark blue sprinkled among the black.
“What does this journal mean to you?” The shop owner finally says.
That’s the cost?“Uh… Nothing.”
The vendor plucks the journal out of my hands and puts it back on the table with the others. “Then it’s not for sale.”
“Wait… Why can’t I buy it? I’m an avid journal writer,” I blurt.
The proprietor raises an eyebrow. “It means more to you than that.”
Has he read my mind? My private thoughts?
Patrick lays a hand on my arm. “Remember what I said about currency?”
I fume. Right. Stories! This guy’s a centaur. Stupid currency. I stomp out of the tent into the busy market street muttering, “Forget it.”
“Wait.” Patrick runs after me and snags the sleeve of my shirt.
“Forget it. Let’s just go.”
“I saw your face when you picked up the journal. The proprietor said he could sense your mood shift. He wants to sell you the journal.”
“Not at the price he’s asking.”
“Do you ever tell anyone anything? Or do you just hold it all in and write it in a journal.”
Heat rises to my face and tears sting my eyes. “How dare you. I share plenty in memory therapy.”
“About the attack, the struggle with the memory gaps, and the slow return of memories. But today is the first time you’ve mentioned a struggle in teaching. After two months of working together and memory therapy, I finally learned something about you.”
“What, that I’m a failure?” I spit the words out and a few tears slip past my control.
Patrick pauses. His eyes hold mine. “We all struggle and Tea will help you, defend you even.”
“Doubt it. Administration never cares about their workers. Just performance and happy customers.”
“What happened to make you so bitter?”
A few more tears escape and I open my lips but a sob spills out. I clap my hand over my mouth. Someone bumps into me and I stumble into Patrick. A few Fae glance in my direction. I use my sleeve to quickly wipe away the tears and duck my head down.
Patrick’s hand rests on my shoulder. “Come on, there’s a bench over there that’s out of the way.”
Dumbly I follow him. I should just walk away, leave the market, and go home or to the office. Being here is a waste of time.
We reach the bench and Patrick puts himself between me and the market aisle. I appreciate the modesty he provides.
“No problem. Now, are you ready to talk? I’d really like to hear your story.”
Patrick doesn’t say anything further. Just like memory therapy, he waits.
I sigh and decide that maybe it’d help to tell someone. And I can trust Patrick. “The first year of teaching, my dad bought me a journal almost like the one in the shop. And I treasured it. He knew my passion for writing and said I should keep track of all my teaching adventures so one day, I could write a book.”
“He sounds thoughtful.”
“He was. He died a few years ago.” I take a few deep breaths for courage. “My first year of teaching was probably like most. It was hard starting a new position, but the students were great. One was perfect. She soaked up everything and excelled in her studies. But one day, she handed in an assignment and something wasn’t right. I did some checking and discovered she’d plagiarized her work.
“I had to go back and check her previous assignments as well as document everything and submit it for review for my supervisor.”
“Yeah, it was, but it wasn’t the worst though. Since the student and I got along so well, I thought when I confronted her, she might be repentant.”
“But she wasn’t.”
I shook my head. It felt good to finally tell this story. “She grew angry and told the supervisor that I’d been unfair to her, treated her badly, and asked for a bribe. The girl was rich and was used to getting her way. I don’t know why I hadn’t seen it earlier.”
“And is this where your supervisor took her side over yours?”
“Sort of. He called me into his office and informed me of the accusations, but thankfully he already had copies of my evidence. The girl received discipline and had to redo the term, but I was let go. And so at each place I worked, I’d do my job, follow protocols, but students would escalate and complain, and I’d be let go or receive a reprimand.”
Patrick lets out a slow breath. “I can see why this past week was so upsetting.”
There’s a brief pause and my emotions settle. I dab away the last of the tears.
“Jacklyn, when you saw the journal, your face lit up. What were you thinking about?”
“It reminded me of my father and the dreams I once had to write stories.”
“And what happened to your journal writing over the years?”
“Instead of anecdotes, the journals became a place to vent and let off steam.”
“I think you need to change the narrative.”
“Write your own story. Write about the story from your side and all the good you do. To be honest, if I picked up a book about a teacher and every moment of her teaching was perfect, I’d be bored in a second. People like to read about struggles they can relate to and by the sounds of it, you’ve experienced quite a bit. Write about it only make your teacher someone likable.”
I shuddered. “And I’m not.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You didn’t need to. I know I need to work on my life and attitude.”
“You’re very self-aware and you’re the only one who can make the necessary changes.” Patrick shifts and stretches. “Maybe your time in the Fae Realm will be new fodder for your writing. Are you ready to continue?”
A slow smile grows as an idea forms. “You know what, I’m going to go back and get that journal.”
“That’s great and this time, you can fill it with stories instead of bitter venting.”
“No try, do.”
I squint at Patrick. “Star Wars fan?”
“Love the original three! And Yoda.”
We head back to the tent. I duck in and make a straight line to the journals. Patrick follows, but no other customers are in here. I’m not sure I could do this if there was anyone else in here but the owner.
The proprietor smiles when he sees me. “Ah, you’re back.”
I grab the journal and wrap my hands around it. “I’d like to buy this journal.”
He tilts his head. “The price is still the same.”
I nod and begin my story. The proprietor listens and the air in the tent becomes soothingly warm. As the story pours from me, it hurts less and already I’m able to emotionally distance myself from it. When I finish, the proprietor disappears into the back of his tent.
I glance at Patrick. “Do you think that was enough?”
“I suppose though he didn’t say you could leave.”
There is some shuffling from the back and then the proprietor returns with a small box about the height of a shoe box but the width matches that of the book in my hand. He holds out the box.
“There are five journals just like the one in your hand. They’re yours.”
“Really?” I gingerly take the box and lift the lid. Sure enough five identical journals are nestled inside. “Why?”
“I’m of mixed race, a centaur and a unicorn shifter, and I have the magic of both. As a centaur, I enjoy making the leather pieces you see here and my currency is a story. My people prize knowledge and wisdom above all. But my unicorn side is a healer and a discerner of hearts. Your tale moved me deeply and I hope you don’t mind that I allowed my healing to flow while you told your story.”
“You mean the warmth?”
The proprietor shrugs. “The magic feels different for everyone. Thank you for sharing your story. It will be told again as there is much wisdom in the tale.”
My cheeks grow warm. “Please don’t mention my name?”
“If you wish, though we would see no shame in your experience. It is through the challenges of life we learn the most. You need to write your stories.” He nods toward the box.
“Thank you, and I will.”
Patrick and I leave the tent after promising to return next month when the pop-up market will visit the capital city again. We wander a bit more through the aisles. My step is lighter and my heart beats a little freer.
Patrick nudges my arm.
“I think you’re itching to fill those journals with stories”
I laugh. It feels so natural. “Truth be told my mind’s spinning with ideas.”
“Then consider this a new chapter of your life.”
My heart buoys for a moment then sinks a little. “Patrick, do you think Tea will help me? And that this time won’t be like everything I’ve experienced in the past?”
“I know Tea and she will do what she can. But I can’t promise what Rose or Director Tumnus will decide. But even if all you fear does happen, stay positive.”
He’s right. Something in me had shifted. The centaur- unicorn shifter’s magic and telling my story had healed some of the bitterness. “I’ll try.”
Patrick chuckles. “No try. Do.”