From "the Essential Bordertown : A Traveller's Guide to the Edge of Faerie" (Borderland Anthology #4), edited by Terri Windling and Delia Sherman, Tor Books/Winter Season 89 - 97 This material is copyright c 1997 by Terri Windling, and may not be reprinted without permission.


From the World to the Border

Alright, here's the deal. You want a map, a timetable and clear directions to get to the city. We're going to give you a history lesson instead. Shut up, pay attention.

Chances are they didn't tell you much about Borderland
during History class. Humans like solid, precise facts-- magic
tends to freak us out. What people fear, we fight or dismiss.
That's what happened when Faerie came back, appearing one
day like an acidhead's dream on the hills surrounding a dull
and perfectly ordinary modern city. First we fought it -- but
that didn't work. Then we isolated and ignored it. The city was
abandoned, then repopulated, this time as a stateless,
frontier town. A frontier between two worlds, faerie and
human, with one long Border Wall between. They say the
Border has cornerstones from the Berlin Wall and the Great
Wall of China...but don't believe everything you hear in this
town, or half of what you see.

Now here's the rub: no human being has ever been behind the
Border. We can only speculate what's in there, largely by
what has come out of it: a silver-haired race of people
straight out of Celtic myths or fairy tales. (Some folks
believe those old tales prove elves lived among us centuries
ago--and the elves themselves refer to their coming to the
World as "the Return".) Now listen up. They call themselves
"True Bloods"; we're the ones who call them "elves" -- or
"fairies", if you're feeling rude don't mind having your face
rearranged. Their own name for their hidden land is
translated as "The True and Only Realm"; it's humans who have
named it Elfland (or Faerie, Tir-na-nog, and Never- neverland.)True Bloods themselves now use these names-- although they do it ironically, laughing at human ignorance while disdaining to alleviate it. All human beings really know for sure is that elvin beings use magic, not science; technology doesn'toperate in the Realm, just as magic doesn't work out in the World. This seems to be the major difference between us--this and the incontrovertible fact that the elves are goddamn beautiful (if your taste runs to tall, slender and pale, with shimmering eyes and the arrogance of lords. And this alone is reason enough for many humans to hate them. Ironically, for the very first time Anglos aren't the "whitest" people around--and for those idiots who care about such things it is truly galling.)

The Realm is ruled by a Queen, or maybe a Prince, or maybe
several of them -- the elves never say, or they contradict
themselves, or they spin us false and fanciful tales then
laugh at our gullibility. There is clearly an established
hierarchy: "highborns" rank over "lowborns" from the Realm;
everyone ranks over the Bordertown - born; halflings are the
lowest of the low -- although not quite so low as humans. Yes,
there are halflings. Elves and humans have mixed and married
and bred in this town -- but not easily. You ain't seen racism, boys and girls, till you've lived on the Border. There's one more thing you've got to know before you contemplate coming here. In the Borderlands, squeezed between two worlds, magic and science bleed into each other; each works only sporadically, to the eternal frustration of folks on both sides. We survive by combinations of the two, with varied and unpredictable results. Only madmen would actually choose to live here, but there's never been any shortage of those. There's money to be made here, after all, in the quasi-legal and deeply illegal trade running between Elfland and the World. (If you think anyone is paying attention to the U.N.'s sanctions on faerie trade, then we've got a nice, wide bridge over the Mad River to sell you.)

There are two other things that draw people here, particularly hoards of malcontent kids: Space. Freedom.
We've plenty of both. Bordertown is underpopulated
compared to the old, ruined human city from which this weird
hybrid town has grown. Parts of the place are still largely
abandoned--most notoriously the section south of Ho Street
surrounded by the old city wall. The Great City Fathers of
Bordertown (a fractious Council of humans and elves) have
entirely given up on Soho; the police largely ignore the place.
In short, Soho belongs to us. It's a neighborhood of derelict
buildings in a maze of asphalt and cobbled streets, taken over
now by kids, gangs, rock-and-roll clubs, "street art" galleries,
esoteric schools of magic (fey and woo-woo), squatter cafes,
elvin tea bars, dust-dives, spell shops, black market trading
posts. Maybe you've heard of Free Market Zones? Down here,
we've got a Free Magic Zone and our own underground,
under-thirty economy. We've got our own laws, lingo, style.
We've got our own time: Soho Unstandard Time on the Mock
Avenue Clock. Kids run here from everywhere--to play
rock-and-roll, to hide from from the law, to look for hobbits
and unicorns...we've probably got more runaways here than
Haight Ashbury in 1969. It ain't easy here--but if you're like
most who find their way through the Never-never, then you're
probably running from a place that wasn't easy either, am I

Okay, you're saying, I know all this; just tell me how to get
there already. You ever seen the Wizard of Oz? Put on those
ruby slippers, man, and click three times, and say out loud: "I
want to go to Bordertown." You think we're joking. We're not.
There is no simple way to find this place. You head out the
door, you hit the road, and then you depend on dreams, desire
or sheer desperation to lead the way. Doesn't matter if you
come from Cleveland, Dallas, Liverpool, Tokyo or Rome...all
roads lead to Bordertown and every journey here is unique. If
the town wants you, you'll find the right road; if it doesn't,
forget it, it doesn't exist. If you understand what we're talking
about, you'll probably find your way in.

Once you reach the Never-never, you're golden. You can hop
aboard the Elflands Express (tickets purchased by Worldly
money, Realm script, chocolate bars or good coffee beans),
catch a ride upriver with the Fisher Folk (chocolate bars go a
long way here), or (if you're feeling brave) hike through the
Never-Never and trust your luck. Your car won't work; your
motorbike will die when you smell that first elvin wind. Use
your feet, your cash, your wits, your charm to cross the
barrens and enter the pearly gates. (Try Hell's Gate in the old
city wall. There's no Customs official there, no hassle and no
passport control--just a couple of gang members on patrol.
Be cool, and they'll leave you alone.)

Alright, now you're here and you're in. Now you have a whole
new set of problems. Nevermind. Head for Carnival Street and the Dancing Ferret, Soho's oldest dive of a music club--not the hippest one, not anymore, but it's still customary to stop there first. Farrel Din is the proprietor's name--one of the few fat elves you'll ever see, one of the few adults you'll spot down here. He's cool, most of the time anyway. Doesn't matter how cool you think you are, he'll mark you for a greenie straight off--and he'll give you an elvin beer on the house.

The first one is always on the house. After that you're on your own.

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This site Copyright 1997 By Christian Colquhoun. The names Borderland, Bordertown, and the names of characters are used with the permission of the authors.

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