The children were the first to see Them as They slipped from Whenever to Now. There was barely a ripple in the reality curtain and the visitors were suddenly there, looking as permanent and established as a favourite view of a mountain, or a preloved teddy-bear dozing on a pillow. The children were not alarmed.
Contrary to adult opinion, young children are not easily alarmed. They are born with only two fears; a fear of falling, and a fear of sudden loud noise. All other fears are learned as a result of insatiable curiosity. The visitors made no discordant sounds, a hint of wavelets on a beach, a rustle of young leaves in a soft summer breeze. No, any sound they made was as reassuring as a mothers heartbeat heard in the womb. There were no sudden movements to alarm and disturb. When they moved they did so in a deceptively leisurely fashion, as though they – had all the time in the world, or out of it! They drifted dreamily, enhancing their presence at any point with a feeling of rightness. The children regarded them for a while, and then, reassured, continued their endless games.
The first adult to see them was a poet. Mateus is a brash young man. No swooning romantic, he and his poetry are abrasive, aggressive. He terms himself a Street Poet, and spurns rhyme for reason, feeling himself politically affronted by an imperfect world. But he has an Ear for the music of language; and he has the Eye that sees everything afresh and anew. He saw Them.
In his poem “A Battle of Butterflies” (so dissimilar from his usual style that some critics openly accused him of plagiarising an unknown), he tried to capture that initial encounter. It is performance poetry so I will not attempt to repro- duce it here, but it tells of the curious clash of powers, On the one hand, the strange chameleon ability of the visitors to promote an acceptance too familiar to arouse notice. On the other, the odd talent of the poet to see the world, second by second, as completely fresh, unobscured by habits of memory.
The visitors were winners, if battle it was, to the extent that they conveyed no sense of threat. For Mateus, it was the first time in his life that he had felt truly accepted, a person in his own right. The brittle defences of the poet crumbled and were gone. With his mind’s self-renewing vision he regarded his new friends. What did he see?
Throughout history there have been tales. Elves, gnomes, fairies, leprechauns, sprites, wood nymphs, water nymphs, their numbers are as widespread as the cultures that spawned them. Mateus has a theory that our background determines the form we give to the visitors, That they are so other worldly that our brains construct an acceptable image. Mateus saw humanoid figures, man sized, but initially he found it hard to hold focus. When looked at directly, the image seemed to slide side- ways to the edge of his peripheral vision, causing a stomach wrenching feeling of vertigo. He persisted, and managed to stabilise an image of an old man. The flickering ceased, and the face, until then a still picture, became alive and smiled.

“Can you speak?” asked Mateus.
“Can you Listen?” The old man’s eyes crinkled in good humour, reinforcing his aura of friendship and acceptance.
Mateus looked at the elderly figure, now as solid and familiar as anyone he had ever known, noticing for the first time that he was dressed as a monk and holding a lantern. Mat’s card index memory riffled and came up with a card—a tarot card.
“You are the Hermit!” he exclaimed
“You see me as you see me” said the monk. “I am who you wish me to be. If you can see my friend over there as a sofa, we can sit down and discuss it. These sandals have seen better days, my feet are killing me!” With no apparent passage of time Mat found himself sitting on a comfortable sofa next to a large and solid man. The coarse brown habit had a definite odour. It was not offensive, reassuring really, it was redolent of tobacco, ale and masculine sweat. It is said that odours evoke the strongest memories and suddenly Mateus knew it for his father’s smell.
They spoke long and seriously, but even today Mateus is reticent about their conversation. That is not unexpected. Most of those who know of the presence of the visitors prefer to keep their knowledge to themselves. Fear of ridicule, fear of hostility, play their part in maintaining the secret; that, and the elusive , slippery, talents they employ.
How many of us check the authenticity of the multitude of objects that surround us? How do we know that our favourite chair is not a sentient being? Mateus says that the sofa was indistinguishable from the real thing. Do you ever detect a flicker at the edge of vision? Can you be sure that it is not a momentary opening of the curtain as they slip in to observe us once again?
As far as I can ascertain, their presence is benign, benevolent even. The story of the Cobbler and the Elves, The Fairy Godmother, the leprechaun granting three wishes; all these seem to be acts of helpfulness and goodwill. But there are also the dark stories, the tales of goblins and trolls, the sinister legends of evil.
I prefer to think that these are the projection of man’s imperfection. The monk said “I am as you wish me to be.” But why not ask for yourself? I am sure we have visitors amongst us.

H.St.V.Beechey September 1993.