by Nijiiro Sumi (虹色 墨)
illustrated by Ramie
He opened his eyes, flat on his back in a wood. It was too perfect a place, the trees all the same height and color, as if someone had taken a rubber stamp to the world. The smooth, slender trees had no branches anywhere except at the top, so that the effect was of a series of white pillars leading up to a leafy ceiling that waved gently in the breeze, sending golden dappled sunlight down onto the forest floor. The leaves on the ground made a gentle shushing sound as Alec sat up, shielding his face from the glare with one hand. A moment ago he’d been in Baltimore, on his way back from the United Drugs.
About thirty paces away, the elves stood in a half-circle. There were perhaps a dozen of them, all nearly identical in form and face. They all had the same fine, pale features and the same long, fair hair, so that you could hardly tell man from woman, if indeed the elves even bothered with such distinctions. They were all dressed very richly, though strangely. Alec had always imagined, from reading Shakespeare, that they clad themselves in the finery of lords and ladies of ages long past, hose and doublets and robes and the like. Rather, though their clothes were clearly very rich, they were bizarre in shape and color, with some parts resembling the parts of flowers and other flora, and others resembling the parts of animals. The strangest was when the two came together and combined, so that one elf might have the arms of a flower and the antlers of a deer, while another might bear the faint suggestion of a giant cat, but in the pale pastels of a carnation.