Lichen Hartigan, age 13
In this story, I explore how the myth that faeries steal peoples’ names could work for nonbinary and other genderqueer people.
In the Mirror
I walked up the hill from school, looking for my family’s car. It was near the beginning of October, and the air was a little cold. I loved the fall – the leaves, the air, how it would most likely rain.
I got in the car and said hello to my mom. My sibling, Aspen, got in after me. I stared out the window and zoned out.
But then I saw something weird. My reflection … didn’t look like me. Well, it did, but it had short hair, and I have long hair. It was wearing lots of necklaces, but I didn’t wear much jewelry. It had a pronoun pin; I couldn’t quite make out what it said.
I blinked, and my reflection looked like me again. It was probably a trick of the light.
I got home, set down my backpack and read for the rest of the day.
That night, my family watched a show. There was this character who didn’t use “he” or “she.” They used “they.” My sibling used “they” and “he.” I didn’t know it yet, but something was stirring inside.
After the show ended, I brushed my teeth. My reflection looked different again. I stared at it.
I blinked. It blinked.
I waved. It waved.
Maybe it was another trick of the light. I thought, I should get my eyes checked.
But maybe … maybe it was the fae. They were known for pulling tricks on people and stealing their names. I should be extra careful.
I finished brushing my teeth and went to bed, wondering if it would be back tomorrow. I liked it – it seemed nice. Even if it was one of the fae.
Time passed, and I kept seeing this reflection. This person. This version of me who wasn’t me. Little did I know that this me was more like me than I was.
One day, I was talking with my friends, and I thought … maybe I’m not entirely a girl. Maybe I’m a demigirl. That’s still partially a girl, right? I’m still a girl.
That day, when I looked in the mirror, I could make out some of the pin: “she/they.” But there was more. More that I couldn’t quite see. Oh, well. It still wasn’t me. It was probably some fae, maybe some faeries having a laugh.
I looked away from the mirror and decided not to think about it anymore. I would live my life. I wouldn’t care about fake reflections.
But something happened. Now that I had started trying to figure out my identity, it wouldn’t leave me alone. There was a sadness that started in the pit of my stomach, about the size of a bullet. But that bullet of sadness grew. It grew and grew until it was more like a cannonball.
I decided that this, too, was the fae. I was going to go into the woods and confront them, even if it might get me killed, as the fae were unruly. This was too much.
So on one Wednesday after school, I told my parents I was going to ceramics, but I didn’t. I dropped my backpack off and started walking toward the woods.
I went over all the possibilities in my head. I could ask them politely to stop? No, they wouldn’t listen. Maybe if I threaten them. No, that would be incredibly stupid.
I finally decided on trying to be confident so they wouldn’t think I was weak, but being polite so they didn’t incinerate me where I stood.
I reached the faerie ring and stood just outside it. The fae would be able to sense they had a visitor, and if I stepped into the faerie ring, I could be enchanted. The same would happen if I gave them my name. I would have to be clever.
“Hi!” said a voice from just behind me, making me jump.
I swiftly turned around to see two faeries and a pixie. The first faerie was about a head taller than me, had curly brown hair, a mischievous smile and giant monarch butterfly wings. The second was just a little bit taller than me, had shoulder-length spiky white hair and lycaenidae wings. The pixie was about the size of a bluebird, had long green hair and hummingbird wings.
I gathered my composure. “Oh, hello,” I said.
The first faerie spoke. “I’m Moss.”
Then, the next one spoke. “I’m Snow.”
They pointed to the pixie. “And that’s Lucia.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” I responded warily.
Snow stepped closer and held out a hand. “May we have your name?”
There it was. “No, but I can tell you that my name is Maggie.”
Moss sighed, then said, “Wow, and after we so kindly told you our names. Oh well, it was worth a try. You don’t blame us, right?”
“No, I don’t.”
Snow grinned. “Well, then, tell us your real name.”
I blinked. “Wait, what? I told you my name.”
Moss responded this time. “You told us your given name. But we know that it’s not your name.”
They were right. As this cannonball weight had grown, I had been looking around online, looking for something that fit me – a label, a name. I had researched pronouns, the pin on my reflection-self growing into more focus with every pronoun I had found. And … I also found a name.
Snow clapped. “There it is!”
Moss flapped their wings twice and hovered a few feet off the ground. “Hey, we can take your old name off your hands. The one that doesn’t quite fit anymore. Then you can fully be Lichen.”
“Oh.” I had always thought faeries were evil, but maybe I had judged them too harshly. “You can have my old name. It was Maggie.”
Snow lifted into the air too. “Thanks. Well, see you around, Lichen!”