“Maybe we should have noticed sooner,” says Elaine Bantam, “but we all go through that phase around here.”
She sits next to her husband, Nat, on the couples’ front porch, facing the cameras.
“Started with small things,” Elaine continues. “Ralph, our oldest, began leaving milk and bread on the back porch every night. Now, I’m all for precautions, but every night’s excessive.”
Nat places his hand on Elaine’s arm and jumps in. “Didn’t mind the milk and bread—worth it to keep things running smoothly. But then Ralph starts wearing crystals, pointy ears—saying he wants to ‘explore the unseen edge of things.’”
Elaine sniffles. “One Saturday, I followed him when he was supposed to be fishing with his friends. Found him dancing in a ring of toadstools, clouds of gold following him like pollen. That’s when I said, ‘Elaine, you got to face the truth. Your son’s addicted to goblin fruit.’”
The office is lined with leather-bound books. A large oak desk features a sleek silver laptop, small potted cactus, and a brass nameplate that reads Dr. Melvin Endler. Behind the desk sits Dr. Endler, facing the camera with a studious expression over steepled fingers.
“We see these cases all the time,” Dr. Endler states. “It’s become a real epidemic. 50 years ago, fairy dust might cause you to see things out of the corner of your eye. Maybe even a little light levitation. The goblin fruit on the street now is far more potent. The three most common variants are known as Tink’s Stink, Lucky’s Stucky, and Yeat’s Yeet. One taste is enough to cause addiction. Once users see the Otherworld, it’s hard for them to come back. Our Mississippi Hills are beautiful, but they’re not the Land of Summer’s Twilight.”
A buzzer sounds. Dr. Endler gets up and opens his office door.
“Ah, Mr. and Mrs. Bantam. Welcome, welcome. Please do sit down.”
The couple shuffles over to the chairs on the other side of the doctor’s desk. They sit, and so does he. “Now,” continues Dr. Endler, “I want you to try to forget the cameras. While you’re here, I’m just a professional who wants to help your son come back to himself.”
Elaine glances over to the camera, looking uncertain.
“Come on, hon,” says Nat. “It’s why we did the show.”
“We’re doing this show because your insurance doesn’t cover counseling!” Elaine hisses before looking away, blushing. Nat’s shoulder slump, and he stares at the floor.
“Yes, well,” says Dr. Endler, clearing his throat. “Intervention Entertainment did agree to pay for free sessions for the duration of the episode’s filming. In any event, I find it best to start with a family history. Have either of you dabbled in fairy substances in the past?”
Nat and Elaine glance at each other uncomfortable.
“Not a kid within ten miles of Ludington hasn’t tried to buy beer with fairy gold at least once,” says Nat. “I might’ve done a little fairy dust myself back in the day. Not now, though.”
“I remember dancing under the midsummer moon…” Elaine smiles, as if lost in memory. “You grow out of that when you have your own babies.”
“I see,” says Dr. Endler, writing in his little book. “Ralph is the oldest of three, correct?”
“Yes, that’s right,” says Nat.
“He was born six months after you married,” notes Dr. Endler. “He is yours?”
Nat growls. “Why you—”
“He’s not a changeling,” Elaine says. “I carried him full term. Shotgun weddings are pretty much a tradition for our people.”
“Damn it, Elaine, don’t—”
“Don’t what, Nat? Tell the truth? That’s gone real well for us so far!”
Nat folds his arms. “Our time courting is none of their business.”
“Ah, but Mr. Bantam,” interjects Dr. Endler, “it is.”
“There is, of course, debate over what started the epidemic,” Dr. Endler says. He’s sitting in the same chair, but the Bantams are no longer present. “Freud’s research into the psychological effects of elf substances in the early 1900s. The US government produced anti-fairy propaganda like Tinker Madness in the ’50s. Leary’s counterculture Sidhe poetry. It really makes no difference. These cases start in the home. Big pitchers, pointed ears. Golden apples not falling far from ivory trees. Children learn about fairies from their parents.”
Nat Bantam’s face looks almost as red as his beard.
“Most teens who cross over to the Summerlands learn by example,” states Dr. Endler. “Not intentionally, of course. You’ve admitted to trying fairy dust in your youth, and your wife attended several traditional dances. I’m assuming all this stopped after Ralph was born?”
“Damn right it did,” says Nat.
Elaine doesn’t answer right away, and both her husband and the doctor look at her.
“I mean, I never tried fairy dust,” Elaine mutters. “And I don’t dance anymore, but sometimes, when the moon’s full, I go outside and…”
“Yes?” Dr. Endler prompts, looking up from his notebook where he’s been writing.
“Fiddle a bit,” admits Elaine. “The music of the Mississippi Hills is hard to stop.”
“In the old days, folks thought Fairyland was harmless fun, romantic even,” says Dr. Endler. “Such views die hard, particularly in rural communities. We now know what a malevolent influence the Otherworld has over the young. Aside from the traditional dangers, exposure to the fairies makes children moody, prone to flights of fancy, and less productive. Which is why we must apply all pressure, social and familial, to those lost in their ivy grip.”
“By itself, music is no danger,” answers Dr. Endler. He sighs. “Proper music, that is. But under moonlight, with a father who’s tried fairy dust and a mother who’s danced with them, in Ludington village. Well… let’s just say I’m surprised this didn’t happen sooner. If we don’t act, things will only get worse. Ralph will start prancing, glowing, quoting literature, even performing spoken-word poetry. He may cross over permanently.”
“It’d be all over town,” whispers Elaine. “Last family to have a kid cross over had to leave Ludington because of the gossip.”
“Indeed,” states Dr. Endler with grim satisfaction. “Rest assured, you’ve come to the right place. With your help, I can get the boy to drop this fairy nonsense.”
“Thank God!” says Nat.
Elaine has tears in her eyes. “Whatever you need, doctor. You can count on us.”
Dr. Endler makes a few notes and then sets down his leather ledger. “Excellent. For the intervention, here’s what I have in mind…”
Late summer light shines through the Bantam’s living room window, causing the dancing dust particles to glitter like gold. Large wooden crosses, landscape paintings, and a giant, hand-sewn quilt hang from the room’s white plaster walls. A portrait of Nat and Elaine Bantam with their three children features prominently above the fireplace mantel, the picture capturing a younger, more innocent time: Nat and Elaine smile proudly. Ralph has his arms wrapped around the shoulders of his younger siblings, Gracie and Ben.
Beneath the portrait, all the Bantams, save Ralph, sit arrayed in a circle around the living room, with Dr. Endler standing in the center facing an empty chair. Gracie and Ben fidget in their seats, confused looks on their faces. When an off-camera voice asks the two children if they know why the family is here, Gracie shakes her head, and Ben shrugs.
“Nowadays, Ralph won’t go in the house because of what he calls ‘poison iron,’” whispers Elaine to the camera. “Only way we could convince him to come inside was by telling him we need his help to figure out how to get rid of our metal tools.”
“Had to be today,” Nat says with a grunt. “This weekend, he wants to camp on Boogum Peak. Claims it’ll make him a poet.”
“The hope is that we can help Ralph see how his actions are hurting his family,” announces Dr. Endler. “We have to be kind, but firm. Honest, but loving. If we—”
The doctor is interrupted by singing. The song grows louder as the singer gets closer; he sings of hills far away, of lands behind moon and sun. Finally, viewers hear steps on the porch, and the song fades to a low hum.
“Now remember,” whispers Dr. Endler. “Everything just as we practiced. For Ralph.”
“For Ralph,” the Bantams say, their eyes on the camera.
The front door opens with a loud creak. Ralph jaunts inside. The boy’s smiling face is gaunt, with deep circles beneath his eyes. His hair, a brown crewcut in the family portrait, has grown long and is dyed purple, with lustrous curls. He stops when he sees his family arrayed around him and frowns when he notices Dr. Endler.
“What is all this, mother and father of mine?” asks Ralph.
“Ralph, we need to talk,” Elaine says, “about the goblin fruit.”
“We found ivory stems and golden seeds in your room,” Nat points out.
Ralph’s eyes grow wide. He turns from his parents to Dr. Endler and proclaims with a sneer, “‘When one side only of a story is heard and often repeated, the human mind becomes impressed with it insensibly.’”
“It was worse than I thought,” says Dr. Endler in a cutaway after the family reacts to Ralph’s words in dismay. “He was in the quoting stage of addiction. Once users start quoting literary passages, it’s difficult to get them to come back. From there, it progresses to poetry recitations: odes, sestinas, even”—he shudders—“sonnets. I knew if I didn’t act right away, he could start a Morris Dance, and we’d all be lost.”
“Ralph, we know you’re trying to figure things out,” says Dr. Endler in the Bantam’s living room. “If you’d sit in this chair here, we’d like to talk to you about it.”
Shoulders hunched, Ralph slouches into the chair, muttering, “‘Maybe you who condemn me are in greater fear than I who am condemned.’”
“Listen here, boy—” Nat says, finger pointed like a gun, but Dr. Endler cuts in.
“Now, now, there’s no need for that. Ralph, I know what you’re feeling. The unearthly delights, the secrets hidden in brambles. I’ve been there. We—your parents—have all been there. You may think it’s harmless—that your actions only affect you, but you’re part of a family. Your actions affect them as well.”
The doctor nods, gesturing at Nat Bantam, who rolls his eyes.
“You never do your chores,” Nat recites. “You keep trying to throw away all our metal.”
“You won’t eat my food,” says Elaine, sounding hurt. “You told me it tastes of ashes.”
“You tried to trade me to the Fairy Queen for safe passage!” Gracie shouts.
“Me too!” cries Ben.
“What!?” their parents exclaim.
Dr. Endler raises his hands to calm everyone down. It’s difficult to tell whether he’s delighted by this unexpected dramatic turn or irritated he hadn’t known about it sooner. “Okay, as you can see, Ralph, your family is upset.”
“I wasn’t going to permanently trade—” Ralph begins.
“Your siblings found your goblin fruit and almost tried it, Ralph,” says Dr. Endler. “What would have happened then?”
Ralph glares at his brother and sister. “You dare to taste my golden apples, fairly won? You dare to steal my—”
“Boy, if you don’t sit down I will knock some sense into you,” Elaine shouts.
“I grew up under my dad’s belt,” says Nat in another cutaway, sitting in the parlor next to a chagrined Elaine. “but times have changed. Nowadays, you talk to your kids; you don’t spank them.”
“My folks used to say ‘Uncle Robin’ would take us to ‘Grampa Aubie’ if we didn’t stop fooling,” says Elaine, looking embarrassed. “Like Nat says, times have changed. You can’t say things like that anymore.” She pauses and then adds, “But I can understand the temptation!”
“Just a moment, Ralph,” says Dr. Endler. “Bear with me. Just picture this. Ben or Gracie have taken a bite from your stash. They see the hidden paths, the Land of Summer’s Twilight. Without knowing better, they go down those paths. And meet an ogre or witch hungry for bones.”
Ralph shudders. “That would never happen,” he stammers. “Those who dwell beneath the hills would never harm mine own blood.”
“It happened to me,” says Dr. Endler quietly.
Ralph’s eyes widen in shock. “Truly?”
“Nothing of the sort ever happened,” says Dr. Endler in his office. “You do whatever’s necessary to establish empathy with a patient. It could have happened—that’s the point.”
Tears run down Ralph’s face. In that moment, as the camera zooms in for a close-up, he looks more like the boy in the family portrait. He lets out a huge sob. Nat and Elaine run forward and wrap him in a fierce hug. After the tender moment—which the episode overlays with a tasteful music overture—Ralph faces Dr. Endler (and the camera behind him).
“I’ve hurt people with my careless actions,” says Ralph, “and I’m ready to change.”
Ralph wipes his mouth, leaving a faint shimmering trail at the corner of his lips.
“‘They are not long, the days of wine and roses,’” he mutters.
The viewers are shown a series of montages: First, we see Ralph’s several escape attempts, sped up to the tune of “Yakety Sax.” Then the music slows as Ralph is handed a Bible, which he begins to read while a pop cover of “Hallelujah” plays in the background. Under Dr. Endler’s supervision, Ralph is made to do his homework. Goes on long runs around an asphalt track. Does push-ups in the hot summer sun in the family driveway. Tentatively touches metal. Sings in a church choir. Helps his parents with chores. Plays checkers with his younger siblings.
“It’s been a month since I’ve begun my stay with the Bantams,” says Dr. Endler, sitting in Nat’s porch chair. “By all signs, after the first six escape attempts, young Ralph is clean. He completes his homework, no longer flinches from iron, and no longer sings improper songs.”
“How did you do it?” an off-camera voice prompts.
“Well, nothing too extreme. Constant surveillance to start. As well as wards of iron around the Bantam property coupled with ample Christian iconography, similar to the crucifix I keep on my person at all times.” The doctor pulls a chain from beneath his shirt collar to reveal a tiny gleaming Jesus on the cross. “We kept security around the property’s perimeter and administered medication to calm Ralph’s nerves during the day and sedate him at night. Just at the start, mind you. Now that the goblin fruit is out of his system, he’s responding to my regimen quite nicely.”
Through the Bantam’s front window, in the living room, the camera finds Ralph reading the Bible alongside his siblings. Seeming to feel the camera’s gaze, Ralph looks up and waves.
“Have to admit,” Nat Bantam says, standing at the kitchen counter alongside his wife. “Wasn’t too keen on having the doc stay with us. We’re private people, and the house feels crowded enough as it is. But, well, you can see the results, can’t you?”
Elaine wraps an arm around her husband and smiles. “We have our son back.”
“The man can stay as long as he likes, of course,” says Nat, as Elaine nudges him. “Though I’m starting to wonder just how long that’ll be.”
From the other room, Ralph can be heard going over arithmetic homework with his siblings. Though their voices are faint, there’s a lyrical quality to their answers.
“Three by three is nine,” they hum. “And four more makes thirteen!”
The lights flicker for a moment, and Elaine says, “Oh, better check the stove. Ralph is helping me bake bread! He found this new yeast which makes the crust positively sparkle!”
The younger Bantam children sit next to each other at the dining room table, playing a rhyming game with nonsense words. Around them, Ralph and his parents set food out. A cooked turkey gleams golden in its crisp skin, surrounded by hot dishes of beans, casserole, and mashed potatoes. Dr. Endler sits at the head of the table, observing it all.
“When I suggested having Thanksgiving also be a two-month sobriety anniversary dinner for Ralph,” Dr. Endler says, “everyone agreed. Ralph said he wanted to learn his way around the kitchen. I’m so impressed with the change in him.”
The two younger children run out of their chairs, their game evidently progressing to tag. Dr. Endler smiles at them and gives an even bigger smile to Elaine as she sets the last of the dishes in front of him, his stare lingering as she retreats to the kitchen.
“Yes indeed,” says the counselor. “This could change everything. Why, I might publish a paper on Ralph’s case. My work with him has been groundbreaking. I don’t think anyone has ever come this far out of the Sidhe grasp.”
“Some mashed potatoes, Dr. Endler?” Ralph asks as everyone comes to the table.
“Thank you, Ralph,” Dr. Endler says, in a pleased tone. He turns to Elaine. “You really have done a lovely job with this spread, Elaine.”
All the Bantams pause. Finally, Elaine smiles shyly while Nat sits down with a thump.
“How about some cranberry sauce?” says Ralph, breaking the silence.
The counselor hesitates. “Well, I’m supposed to be watching my sugar intake…”
His patient smiles. “But Dr. Endler, I made it myself; it’s not sugar from a can.”
“Yes, doctor,” says Gracie. “Come try it!”
“Come try, come try!” echoes Ben, the youngest.
“The show’s crew all had some with their dinner,” Ralph points out.
“Oh, go on then. Why not?” says Dr. Endler, who holds out his plate to a smiling Ralph. Ralph scoops creamy mashed potatoes and bright red cranberry sauce on Dr. Endler’s plate and then proceeds to serve the rest of his family the same.
“Should I say grace?” Dr. Endler asks.
The question is met by another pause. Finally, Elaine says, “It’s customary for Nat to set us on with a word, doctor.”
“Which you’d know if you’d ever sat to table with us,” mutters Nat.
“Right, of course,” Dr. Endler answers, in a tone suggesting he’s elected not to hear anything that might spoil Thanksgiving. “Well, sir, if you’d like to start us off?”
Nat grunts and begins with grace. The two younger children fidget and whisper while their father drones on, but Ralph keeps his eyes shut tight.
“That was wonderful, Father,” says Ralph after Nat finishes. “‘For the Father gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.’”
Dr. Endler looks up sharply. “What did you say, Ralph?”
“It’s from the Bible,” answers Ralph. “The book you’ve had us studying every day. Surely, it’s acceptable to quote from Scripture?”
The counselor appears momentarily at a loss. “Well, if it’s from the Good Book, then I guess there’s no harm.”
As they finish dinner, Ralph stands. “If you don’t mind, Mother, Father, doctor, I’d like to perform a little song I’ve been working on with the children.”
“A song,” Dr. Endler says, his brow mimicking his frown, “I’m not sure that’s entirely appropriate.”
“It’s a traditional song,” says Ralph. “Sung in our church for generations. Besides, we’re on camera, are we not? Best to give the audience a show. To demonstrate the good work you’ve done with our family.”
Once again, the counselor appears at a loss. When he looks at the Bantams, it’s clear he has no allies. Elaine stares at the floor; Nat glares at him; the two younger children seem eager to begin. “I’m not sure…”
“Unless, you don’t think it’s safe?” Ralph says, his teasing now apparent. “If you really doubt your work has been effective, we can just retire for the evening.”
Dr. Endler’s face grows red. “Very well, Ralph. Sing your song. And afterward, we’ll have a talk about your tone. You may have recovered from your addiction, but there’s such a thing as good manners.”
“Oh, I know, Dr. Endler,” says Ralph. “I know all about good manners.”
The Bantam’s eldest takes a deep breath and begins to sing. Viewers outside Ludington, Mississippi, have never heard a song like this.
“How can the doctor make sick men well?
How can the hoodoo man a fortune divine?”
Gracie and Ben stand to either side of their older brother and join in, their children’s voices providing the tune with eerie accompaniment.
“With lily, kudzu, and blood into wine.
With sweet briar, bonfire, and strawberry-wire,
And St. Columbine.”
The Bantams listen to their children as if thunderstruck. The camera and lighting began to bob as if the crew were dancing along. The song even affects Dr. Endler, causing him to clap in time, bouncing so much that his crucifix pops over his shirt collar. When Dr. Endler sees it, he grasps the symbol and shudders.
“This is a church song?” shouts the doctor.
“I’ve heard it before,” says Nat in a wistful voice, head nodding as the children start on the next verse. “Can’t say the last time, though.”
Elaine’s eyes are half closed as she sways back and forth. “They played it at our wedding, Nat. Remember?”
“Within and without, all round the hall,” the children sing, “Whither and hither, straight as a line.”
“Oh yeah!” Nat says. “How could I forget? ‘St. Columbine.’”
“What was in the cranberry sauce?” Dr. Endler wonders aloud.
The lights in the house flicker as the Bantam children sing. Dr. Endler looks on the verge of standing when Ralph prances to a wooden chest against the far wall, opens it, and produces an antique fiddle and bow. He tosses them across the table to his mother, who catches her instrument without thinking.
“Come join us, Mother! Come join us and play your fiddle!”
The camera is jerking back and forth now.
“Enough!” Dr. Endler says. He storms over to Elaine. “I must insist we stop this!”
Elaine draws the bow across her fiddle, and Dr. Endler places his hand upon hers.
“Elaine. My dear, remember our talks.”
“Any chick for a rooster, a fool in green. In hills where sun and moon do not shine.”
“That does it!” Nat Bantam bellows. “Stay away from my wife, Endler!”
The red-bearded man charges around the table and lays out Dr. Endler with one punch. Ralph cheers and claps his father on the back. Camera bobbing in time, the children continue to sing with red, sticky grins, spinning widdershins, dancing and shuffling—an old folk dance. Elaine strings bow to fiddle and accompanies them with a tune as wild and old as the land they live on. The lights flicker even faster. Far off in the shadows outside, whirling will o’ the wisps can be seen prancing in the night air.
“There’s a waterfall of dreams, a coyote in the stars.
And Life is an angel who will never be thine,
With lily, kudzu, and blood into wine.
With sweet briar, bonfire, strawberry-wire,
And St. Columbine.”
Nat laughs and joins in the dance with his children as Elaine plays in their midst. The camera falls to the floor with a bang and manages to catch several pairs of feet—the show’s crew—joining in the merry-making as well. A minute later, the feed cuts to black.
The next scene is a montage of Dr. Endler going for a walk outside his office, reading books from his shelves, and typing on his laptop. Only when he sits at his desk and addresses the camera can viewers see his black eye.
“I still see the treatment as a success,” Dr. Endler says. Despite the layers of concealer, there’s no way to hide the mottled discoloration on his face. “Never have we seen a patient come so far from the evil influences of goblin fruit.”
There’s a question murmured from the crew, but the camera fails to catch it. Dr. Endler hears it, though. “No, there was no point in pressing charges. It was just a… misunderstanding.
“No, I won’t be publishing any papers at present.”
Another question. Dr. Endler’s eyes widen.
“This interview is over. Please leave.”
The camera fades, though not before catching Dr. Endler staring out his window at the hills beyond the office park, a gleam in his eye. As the screen fades to black, the text appears: “Doctor Endler’s current whereabouts are unknown. He was last seen wandering the hills west of Ludington, Mississippi. If anyone has any information, please contact us at…”
Nat and Elaine Bantam sit in the same chairs as the episode’s introduction, each holding glasses of golden cider. They look different now. The circles are gone from their eyes; when they smile, it’s wide and genuine. Around their property, the leaves are brilliant shades of orange and red, some on the ground, some still clinging to their branches.
“We decided to send Ralph off to a special private school,” says Elaine. “A sort of study abroad program for creative types.”
“The boy’s gifted; I’ll give him that,” says Nat. “The school’s free with his scholarship. We’ll miss him around the farm, but he hadn’t been helping much anyway.”
Elaine takes a big gulp of her cider. “We’ll still see him on holidays, and he’s always welcome to come stay with us here if he wants.”
A murmured question comes from off-camera.
“Oh, no, we don’t think the other kids are interested in following in their brother’s footsteps. When I asked Gracie about it, she said Ralph was on a different path.”
Elaine takes another sip. “Sure you don’t want any cider or a slice of pie?”
Another murmur off-camera.
“You’re a different bunch from the first crew who came here, aren’t you?” Nat says with a knowing grin. “Had a feeling none of them would come back after what happened.”
“Where is Dr. Endler now?” the off-camera voice asks, a little more loudly.
The couple stares at each other and smiles. Nat takes Elaine’s hand as she leans toward the camera. “Let’s just say we felt like we didn’t need his help anymore.”