I wrote this series for Grace’s writing challenge, TIWC.
“Mae, get up! It’s round-up day!” My little sister stage-whispered into my ear. I groaned and buried further under my covers.
“Go away, Fiona,” I muttered. Why couldn’t she just leave me in peace… *snore*
“AHHHH! FIONAAAAA!” I leaped out of bed and frantically shook off the freezing cold water. Now I was wide awake and not in a good mood.
Fiona giggled and gave me a wicked grin. “Shhh! Don’t wake up Petre,” she whispered loudly.
“Fiona!” I whirled around to give her a good tongue lashing, but stopped when I noticed the calendar hanging on the wall. Today was marked with a big red circle and a conglomeration of smiley faces. “WHAT?! It’s round-up day? Why didn’t you just tell me?”
Fiona sighed and rolled her eyes.
I’d looked forward to round-up day all year. Petre had cried for days when he learned that at 4 years old he was still too young to come along, and Fiona was overjoyed to go on her first round-up trip as an early 10th birthday present.
While I’m introducing my siblings, I’d better introduce myself too. I’m Mae Lyra, and I’m 13 years old. Oh, and one other little thing you should know about me:
I’m a dust pixie.
Dozens of us, sometimes hundreds, live in every house. We live mainly under beds, sofas, and in the jillions of unnoticed crevices around your home. Dust pixies are good at many things, but my family carries on the tradition of one of the dust pixies’ most time-honored occupations: raising dust bunnies.
At the beginning of every spring we release our herds out into the wide world (a.k.a. our humans’ house) to feed upon dirt and grime and to grow bigger and fluffier each month. By wintertime the herds are majorly fluffy and ready to be sheared. There are always a few casualties (and once I saw the mother human wipe out my friend’s whole herd of dust bunnies in one fell swoop when she vacuumed under a bed), but for the most part it’s a profitable business. Dust bunny wool is highly valued in the dust pixie world. It can be spun into thread or yarn, woven to make traditional wool bed covers, and sewn to make the warmest, fluffiest coats and garments available.
Everything in our house is dusty – and that’s just the way we like it. It’s considered unhealthy to wash our natural dust off (that’s why I was so mad at Fiona for dumping water on me). Since we’re pixies, we obviously have wings, but in most other ways we’re like tiny versions of the humans we live with. We build homes and furniture (from the humans’ trash) and eat three meals a day (from the humans’ dropped crumbs). We have jobs, families, and friends. But even though we’re so similar, even though our very lives depend on them, dust pixies are mortally afraid of humans. Who wouldn’t be afraid of huge, lumbering giants that can crush your whole world beneath one foot?
Humans were our main concern as Fiona, my father, and I flew off through the dim light, leaving Mother to fix breakfast for Petre when he awoke. It wasn’t even 5:00 a.m. We still had plenty of time before the humans usually got up, but with humans you could never be sure of anything.
Our first stop was the sofa. Goodness, those dust bunnies had multiplied fast! We herded about 100 bunnies of all sizes into a makeshift corral made from broken popsicle sticks, pencil stubs, and Superglue. One little bunny escaped the herd and hopped off to explore.
“I’ll get it!” I yelled. The baby bunny twitched its dusty nose ferociously as if daring me to catch it, and so the chase began.
“Come back here you little fluffball!” I panted as I flew this way and that. The little rascal had scampered all the way into one of the humans’ bedrooms. Should I go in? The bunny was so close I could practically touch it. Surely I would get it this time! I flew softly over to the bunny, who padded over to the window sill and sat on its haunches, nose quivering, whiskers twitching.
Slowly, gently, I held out my hand for the bunny to sniff, then grabbed it. It was so soft, like a stuffed animal! Petre would have loved it – but he would have had a coughing fit for sure. My brother was one of the very few dust pixies who were actually allergic to dust. Yeah, kind of unfortunate when dust is your life.
I cuddled the ball of fuzz close and prepared to fly back to the corral when I heard a rustling noise coming from the bed.
Oh no. Not now. Please don’t wake up now!
But she did. This human was a quiet, dark haired young woman of about twenty, but that was all I knew about her. We dust pixies didn’t stick around for such juicy facts – it was too dangerous.
The girl sighed and sat up in bed.
No! No, don’t get up!
She got up. And what’s more she came over to the windowsill. The bunny and I dropped low, using our dustiness as a natural camouflage. Unfortunately, the girl was a good housekeeper – the windowsill was spotless. She propped her elbows on the windowsill and stared out at the fading night sky. Perhaps I could have escaped had not the bunny chosen that moment to scramble out of my grasp. She looked down with a dreamy expression on her face when she heard the scuffle. The girl saw the “clump of dust,” and bent down, frowning, to flick it off. Her eyes widened when she saw that we were no mere clump of dust.
We both sat there, staring at each other in fear and surprise. She didn’t speak, she didn’t make a sound, but the wild look in her eyes told me exactly what she was thinking. Am I still dreaming? She bent down even closer and stared at me with huge blue-gray eyes. When she blinked, her eyelashes brushed my face.
“Please,” I whispered, “please don’t hurt me.”
When she heard my voice, the girl jumped back and clapped a hand over her mouth to keep from screaming. Nope, she wasn’t dreaming. She stood there, breathing hard, then answered in a slow whisper.
“I would never hurt you… whatever you are. I’ll just close my eyes and you can go back to wherever you live – I won’t peek, I promise.” The girl squeezed her eyes tightly shut.
I was amazed. This human was actually kind! I whispered a heartfelt “Thank you,” caught up the baby dust bunny, and flew out of the room as fast as I could.
Boy, would I have a story to tell my father.
Father wasn’t exactly pleased to hear that I had met a human. “You did WHAT?! Mae, sweetheart, you know how dangerous that is. If the humans find us they could destroy our whole colony in the flick of a duster!”
“But Father, she was nice! She was like Lyri, like one of us.” Lyri is my best friend. She’s dark haired and quiet, a lot like the human girl – and just the opposite of blond, boisterous me.
“Mae, honey, humans just act friendly way to trick you. They’ll only hurt you if you try to befriend them.” Father firmly latched the corral gate to contain the excited dust bunnies and looked me straight in the eye. “I don’t want you to ever get close to a human again, do you understand? You may think this girl can be trusted, but she can’t. Dust pixie history is filled with massacres and deaths caused by traitorous humans. Don’t let that happen, Mae. Now I mean that. You are not to visit that human ever again.” Father gave me a serious look that told me he meant what he said.
I nodded sadly. “Yes, Father. I understand.”
I glared at the baby dust bunny who had caused all this mess. “You,” I said angrily, “are in big trouble.” The bunny just twitched its nose and peered at me mischievously, its eyes twinkling. My heart melted. “Oh you little rascal!” I squeezed the little fluffball and smiled.
I told Lyri all about it the next day. Her family lived under the piano – in fact, Lyri was an excellent pianist, having taught herself from the piano books the humans left open.
Lyri listened wide-eyed to my harrowing account. “You mean you actually talked to a human?”
I nodded proudly. “I want to go see her again, but Father says absolutely not.” I sighed. “Someday, though, I’ve got to find her again. Someday for sure.”
One year later…
I bounced over to Lyri’s house and rapped on her door. I stared at the “No. 2” imprinted in black upon the yellow pencil-planks, just as I always did while waiting for Lyri to answer. And as always I marveled that the words were nearly erased by dents from human teeth marks long ago. Humans must be strange creatures indeed to chew wood!
Suddenly the No. 2 swung out of sight and I found myself staring instead at Lyri’s excited face. “Are you ready?”
“Nope, are you?”
It took Lyri a moment to realize I was teasing. That was the thing with Lyri – she always took things so literally.
“Ha ha,” she said sarcastically, “very funny.” Lyri and I had both been looking forward to this Collecting since forever. Finally we were old enough to scavenge for string, cracker bits, matchboxes, and the countless other human leftovers we dust pixies used every day. I hitched my dust-bunny-wool collecting sack higher on my shoulders, Lyric gave her lilac wings a quick stretch, and we set off.
We lost no time in slipping into the secret entrance behind the fireplace. Long ago the dust pixies had found that the best way to get from one side of the house to the other was to travel through the walls. The narrow, vaulted stone space between the walls was lit by candle stubs, many of which were nearly burnt down. Lyric and I gathered up the wax drippings to melt down into future candles. At last we came to the end of the tunnel; I peeked cautiously out the peephole in the wall.
“All clear,” I whispered.
Lyri and I stepped out of the dark tunnel and into…
Oh no. Something long and yellow was rolling towards us. It was labeled “No. 2.” And it was dented with human teeth marks. Human.
Lyri clutched my hand and we shrank back against the baseboard. I lifted my trembling face up, up, and saw the same dark hair and wide gray blue eyes of the girl I had met last year on Round-up day. We had to get out of here. Father had warned me.
“Lyri, get back in the tunnel,” I breathed. But already the human had stooped down to get a closer look at us. We cowered together in terror, hearts thumping together. I could hear Lyri gasping for breath.
“You came back,” the human girl whispered with a soft smile on her face. “I knew you would. Please don’t be scared; I won’t hurt you – I promise. I just want to be friends.”
Friends. Father’s voice echoed like an alarm in my head “Humans just act friendly to trick you. They’ll only hurt you if you try to befriend them.”
“No,” I gasped. “We don’t want to be friends with a human. Go away.”
The girl shook her head, gently but firmly. “I won’t go away yet. I have to know who you are. You remind me of something, something familiar, something I can’t quite remember… Who are you? What are you?”
I gulped, but obediently answered the giant’s question. “I’m Mae, and this is my friend Lyri. We’re dust pixies…”
The girl cut me off with a sudden cry. “So that’s what you are,” she whispered in awe. “Dust pixies. Of course! And that little dusty thing that you were carrying when we first met must have been a dust bunny!” The girl was growing more and more excited. “I should have known! It’s really you. Oh, I can’t believe it! I’d almost forgotten about that day!” She took a deep breath and continued in a calmer voice, “I’m sorry. Let me explain…”
“There used to be six of them, but now only he was left. Finn had survived for two years without his family, living all alone in the dusty corner under my dresser.
(From Grace’s prompts. She said character prompt via Pinterest)
One night when I was four years old, Finn peeked out from under the dresser as I was laying in bed. The tiny movement caught my eye. I was extremely paranoid about mice and spiders and other such critters when I was little, and any little movement spooked me, especially at night. I tried to keep calm and summon the courage to go “squash the spider” with my bed slippers, but I was paralyzed with fear. When Finn saw how still I was, he thought I was asleep and decided it was safe to venture out. When the little whatever-it-was flew up in the air, I was so scared I couldn’t help but cry out. Finn immediately tumbled to the ground and scurried under the dresser, just in time to evade my parents who came running at my scream. They patiently searched under my dresser for the offending critter, but found nothing.
I tried to go back to sleep after that, but my pounding heart beat sleep out of my head. Finally I crept up to the dresser, wielding my fluffy slippers, and waited with trembling hands for the villain to appear. I had to wait quite a while, for Finn was very cautious – he had to be. When Finn finally appeared, I squeezed my eyes shut and slapped down the slipper. My eyes popped open when I heard a tiny yelp. This was no spider! I carefully picked up my slipper and peered at what appeared to be a moving blob of dust with wings. The wings were crushed. The dust lifted itself painfully off the ground and raised a terrified, tearstained face to me. I gasped in amazement. The so-called spider was actually a little boy! I clumsily picked him up in my chubby fingers and set him on my bed.
“Are you okay?” I whispered.
The boy with wings sniffled, but nodded his curly head. His dark eyes were wide with terror.
“Please don’t hurt me,” he murmured, “I didn’t do anything wrong…”
“I thought you were a spider,” I told him seriously, “but you’re not, so of course I won’t hurt you. Why, you look just like my brother, only lots and lots smaller. What is your name? My real name’s Rosalind, but it’s Rosie for short.”
“I’m Finn,” said the little boy, wiping the tears from his dusty face with his big jacket.
“Why are you so small?” I asked curiously, “And why do you have wings? Can you tell me how to grow wings? I want to fly too!”
Finn looked mournfully over his shoulder at his tattered wings. “I’m not small – you’re just big. And my wings aren’t really wings anymore. It’s a good thing your shoe wasn’t heavier or you would have squashed me!”
He looked kind of mad, so I said hastily, “Oh I’m truly sorry, Finn-with-wings. I’ll help you make them better. I can be a good nurse! Mama says I can, truly!”
And thus my friendship with Finn began. I smuggled him bits of food and gave him a lovely soft bed and plenty of furniture from my dollhouse. I tried to bandage his wings with a large band-aid, but Finn was firmly opposed that, so I gleefully stuck it on my arm instead.
A few weeks after I had met him, Finn disappeared. I never knew what happened to him, and though I mourned his loss quite lustily for a while (my parents chuckled over my distress about my “imaginary friend”), eventually other things took over my attention. I remembered him from time to time when I was older, but only as a misty destination on my rambling road of dreams. I never truly recalled those days with Finn until I met you, Mae. You set off a little spark in my head that wouldn’t go out.”
“So that’s my story.” Rosalind ended. “I wonder if Finn is still alive. I would love to see him again…” She propped her head in her hands and smiled dreamily.
Lyri, who had been trembling behind me until about halfway through Rosalind’s story, finally spoke up in a quavering voice.
“Excuse me, but maybe we can help. I don’t know of any “Finns” around here, but we can ask around.” I could tell Lyri had been touched by Rosalind’s story. I agreed with her.
“Of course! He could still be living under your dresser, right?”
Rosalind shook her head sadly. “We got rid of that dresser years ago. He could be anywhere… or nowhere.”
I was now firmly resolved to find Finn. “Don’t worry, Rosalind. We’ll hunt him down.” Lyri and I left her with a mission in our heads, a chewed up pencil in our hands, and a new friend named Rosalind in our hearts. Maybe humans weren’t so bad after all.
It was hard work to convince Mother and Father that I truly hadn’t gone looking for Rosalind, but that she had found me by accident. It was even harder to convince them that Lyri and I should go search for Finn. But finally my parents bent to my pleading.
“Yess!” I hugged my parents and flew circles around Lyri in ecstasy. Adventure was my middle name, and this promised to be an epic one. (But seriously, my middle name really is Adventure. Petre’s middle name is Courage, and Fiona’s is Freedom. Dust pixies traditionally have those types of middle names.)
We’d determined the attic would be the best place to start our search. It was rarely frequented by dust pixies, which meant it was ideal for a reclusive orphan like Finn. We flew down the dim corridor in the wall, our excited whispers echoing off the cold stone walls. Suddenly we heard an echoing thud, then a scuttering sound of feet on the passageway.
“What was that?” Lyri hissed.
My heart leapt to my throat. I knew that sound: mouse. Mice are somewhat legendary creatures, for normally they’re even more scared of us than we are of them, but legend has it that when a mouse is trapped in a tight spot (like this corridor), they will fight for their lives. I wanted to keep the one life I had if it was at all possible.
I grabbed Lyri’s hand and raced to the corridor exit. Lyri’s hand was sweaty and trembling in mine.
“It’s okay, it’s going to be okay,” I assured here in a not-very-confident whisper.
We were backed up against the wall when we saw it. Or them. Two shadowy figures were creeping towards us, their eyes gleaming menacingly. Suddenly they stepped into a pool of candlelight and I gasped.
“Fiona and Petre? What are you doing here?” I was so happy that it was my siblings instead of mice I couldn’t even scold them properly.
Fiona said in a small, guilty voice, “We… we wanted to help you find Finn.” Petre sniffled, though in his case it wasn’t from guilt, it was from his unfortunate dust allergy.
I sighed, but Lyri whispered into my ear, “They can come, can’t they? We’ll have more people to help in case… well, in case anything goes wrong.”
I pondered this. Fiona and Petre wouldn’t exactly save us from a band of mice, but Lyri did have a point. “Okay, guys,” I decided at length, “let’s go find Finn.”
“It’s spooky up here,” Fiona shivered. I agreed, but kept my expression as brave as I could.
Petre, on the other hand, was lost in the joys of a boy and his candle – sending flickering light to one side, then the other, then tipping the candle stub up and watching wide-eyed as the weak circle of light cut through the darkness. I couldn’t help but smile at his simple joy. At least he wasn’t scared.
The attic was a mysterious treasure trove, a haven for dust pixies. Cardboard boxes stuffed the place, heaps of magazines lay piled on the floor, pieces of trash and bits of fabric lay everywhere. Swiveling my head from side to side, I inspected what little I could see of the room for any signs of dust pixie habitation. Suddenly I stopped, and Lyri, Fiona, and Petre all crashed into me at the abrupt halt. The candle light snuffed out, and we where left in total darkness… except for the one ray of light that I had stopped for.
It was coming from a little hole in an overturned cardboard box. I motioned everyone to be silent, and we flew up closer to the mysterious beam of light. Now I could see that the light was coming from a keyhole in a tiny wooden door. Lyri caught her breath beside me and squeezed my hand. I squeezed her hand back.
But then Petre just had to sneeze, and the ray of light disappeared. I wanted to scream in frustration, but I didn’t dare. Why did my little brother have to come along, and why did he have to be allergic to dust of all things, and why did he have to sneeze right then?! I clenched my fist and took a few deep breaths. It’s okay, Mae. It’s okay. It’s not Petre’s fault he has dust allergies.
I fluttered over to the rest of the group. “Listen, guys. One of us should go look through that little hole in the door. We have to see what – or who – is in there.”
“I nominate you,” Lyri whispered with a small smile. Fiona and Petre nodded their solemn agreement.
I took a deep breath, hugged them all, and glided silently up to the door. Just as I reached it the light flicked back on. I heard a sound coming from inside the box – the sound of sobbing. I pressed my eye to the keyhole and tried not to gasp out loud.
What was this place? A lady dust pixie sat weeping softly, her head in her hands. Long, dark brown hair flowed down her back, crowned with a glistening headband, and she was cloaked in a beautiful, soft white fur. A luxurious matchbox bed was pushed into one corner. Short but perfectly sharpened pencils held up the large box which overflowed with soft wool quilts topped off with a fluffy cottonball pillow. A matchbox chest of drawers with button handles stood close beside the bed. Many other marvelous pieces of furniture met my eye, but the best thing of all was the walls. The whole room appeared to be inside of a miniature, misty forest of evergreens. My eyes couldn’t open wide enough to take in all of the wonders.
After a few moments the lady dust pixie arose from her seat and fluttered about the house, flying this way and that, still weeping. I had never seen someone look so lost in their own home.
I could barely tear myself away from the keyhole to call the others. They flew up eagerly, questioning me beneath their breath, but only I shook my head and knocked on the door.
We all heard the lady dust pixie cry out eagerly, “Finn, is that you?”
Lyri and I looked at each other in shock and excitement. Was this success so soon?
The door opened and the beautiful dust pixie I had seen inside stood before us.
She was slender but very tall, taller than any dust pixie I had ever seen. And she was also very, very clean. I didn’t see a speck of dust on her. Though her face was crumpled with grief, her eyes were lit by hope… which quickly faded when she saw who it was standing at the door.
“Oh, it’s not Finn…” she whispered, her turquoise-gray eyes downcast. But she quickly regained her composure, ran her fingers through her chocolate curls, and smiled at us – but just with her mouth, not her eyes.
“Hello, there,” she said in a falsely cheerful voice. “We don’t get many visitors in these parts. What can I help you with, children?”
I stepped forward boldly and extended my hand. “Hello, Miss! I’m Mae, and you are…” I cocked my head questioningly.
“My name is Anabelle Rose,” the lady said softly.
“You have a lovely name,” I said politely, and I meant it. “Actually we have come to find the person you were just calling… Finn, I believe?”
Anabelle Rose started. “You came to find Finn? Then they must have sent you after all. Oh, thank you so much, my dear ones! Do come inside and I’ll tell you all I know.” Anabelle Rose ushered us through the door and into the house of a dust pixie’s dream. All our mouths dropped open in unison at the splendor before us. Now that I was inside the house, the forest wall seemed even more surreal. I saw also that a cozy fire was burning in a small stone fireplace and that the whole house was lit by a complicated system of flaming candles.
“Oh, it’s beautiful,” Lyri breathed in awe. We silently nodded our heads.
Petre had flown over to a wall and was trying to enter the forest. He didn’t seem to be making much headway. Fiona flew over to him and tapped the wall. It sounded like cardboard.
“What is this thing?” Fiona asked.
“Oh, yes,” Anabelle Rose sniffed and smiled again – this time for real. “Finn did that for me. Aren’t they beautiful?”
We oohed and ahhed in reply.
“He cut those pictures from a magazine and glued them to the wall because I love the forest. I used to live there, you know.”
And in a split second everything was changed. I gasped. Oh my. Well that explained a lot: it explained why she was so tall, and clean… and beautiful. Anabelle Rose wasn’t a dust pixie at all.
She was a fairy.
And dust pixies hated fairies with all their hearts.
We had been at war as long as anyone could remember. We dust pixies hated the fairies’ wild, forest ways, and they hated our so-called “wimpiness.” Imagine disliking someone just because they had manners enough to live inside, in the dust like decent folk! And now one of these contemptible fairies stood before our very eyes. I’d never thought I’d see the day…
The worst part was, I had actually begun to like Anabelle Rose – to feel sorry for her even! Well that would end now. My eyes became icy and I spoke coldly to my friend and siblings.
“I don’t think this fairy,” I spat out the word, “will be able to help us after all. Let’s go.” Lyri and Fiona’s eyes grew round with the realization of what I had just said. A fairy! Petre was too little to understand, but he whimpered when he saw our expressions.
Anabel Rose caught my arm. “Wait!” she cried out, sobbing, “Wait! Won’t you hear me out? Won’t you help me?” Her voice fell to a whisper. “Please. Please help me,” she pleaded. “Let me explain.” When we didn’t move toward the door, she took a deep, shuddering breath and waved us into luxurious chairs by the fire. “Sit down,” she said, “and listen to my story.”
“I grew up as a fairy, it’s true, but I always wanted to see what the inside of a house looked like. I eagerly gleaned any little scraps of information I could from my elders about humans and houses… and dust pixies. But for the most part they turned away with faces of stone and refused to reply. One day I determined to find out for myself. I crept into a crack at the side of the house and wound my way through the walls. I ended up here, in this attic. I was awestruck by the mysterious human treasures this room held, and by its resounding silence, which was nothing like the constant rustling and bird songs of the forest. I poked around for a bit, but just as I was crawling back into the hole, I heard the sound of footsteps.
“It was a boy of some sort. He was awfully dirty, but I liked him, even then.” Anabelle Rose smiled a little at the remembrance. “I didn’t know that he was a dust pixie until he came closer to the box I was hiding behind. Then I couldn’t help but gasp. Instantly the boy was on the alert. He picked up a broken, pointed thing (a pencil, I later learned) and advanced slowly toward me. I was petrified by fright; I couldn’t move a wing.When the boy reached me he just as surprised to see a fairy as I had been to see a dust pixie. We stared at each other for a long time, unsure and uncertain. Finally the boy held out his hand.
‘My name’s Finn,’ he said. ‘What’s yours?’
“After that I often crept up the attic at nights. Finn would be there waiting for me with a candle stub glowing in his hand. Together we explored every inch of this attic. We learned so much from each other – I, about the ways of dust pixies, and he, about the ways of fairies. Gradually our friendship became stronger and stronger until it ripened into love. We were married one night as the full moon shone through the attic window…” Anabelle Rose paused with a dreamy look on her face. “Of course, my parents didn’t approve of the marriage one bit. They all but cast me from their family in fact. They said I was a traitor. Maybe I am. But I did what I had to do. I married Finn, and I still don’t regret it.
“But now he’s gone,” she said, the tide of tears rising once again in her beautiful eyes. “Gone, and I don’t know if he’ll ever return. Oh please, won’t you help me? I have no one else to turn to!”
I swallowed hard and glanced at Lyri. She nodded her head ever so slightly. I felt as if I were standing on a hill, looking out to sea, and about to set foot in a ship for the very first time. I had a feeling this journey would change my life.
“We’re in,” I said.
Anabelle Rose took a deep breath and gave us the background for the ‘case.’ “I have always dreaded The Collecting. Finn does that once a month, you know. Makes a trip out of it. He travels all over the house and outdoors as well to gather replacements for our clothing, pencil-wood, candles, and such things. I’m so lonely here by myself, but he insists that I stay here, where I’m safe. But that’s what worries me. If I’m not safe, neither is he. Before now he’s always managed to come home safe and sound, but this time… this time he hasn’t.” Anabelle Rose bit her lip, and continued in a quavering voice, “Usually when I wake up in the mornings and see the sun rays dancing through the window, it feels good to be alive. But with Finn gone, all I feel is heartbreak. I keep imagining all the terrible things that could have happened to him, but I can’t do anything about it. I’m only a fairy, after all. I couldn’t do search for him on my own, and no one would dare help me, even if I worked up the courage to go and ask… except you.” Anabelle Rose glanced at us pleadingly.
I took the hint. “We’d be glad to help you find Finn, Mrs….”
“Call me Anabelle,” she said.
“Then we’d be glad to help you, Anabelle. That’s actually why we came to the attic in the first place…” Then I told her about meeting Rosalind, about her story, about our quest. I realized, as I told the story, how far Lyri and I had gone – we had associated with a human and now with a fairy. We had betrayed the dust pixies. We had become traitors. But somehow I couldn’t find it in myself to be guilty. Now that I had met a human and a fairy for real, I liked them. It felt wrong to be against them – they were really just like us.
After discussing the matter with Anabelle, we decided that the most logical place to start was outside, at the willow tree overhanging the brook.
“Finn knows his way around this house so well – I’m sure that wasn’t a problem for him. But he is a dust pixie, and dust pixie’s aren’t raised outdoors. If Finn could get in trouble anywhere at all, that’s where it would be. Outside. And I have a friend who lives at the willow tree. She keeps close track of everything that she can see from her tree – which is a lot, believe me.”
So that’s where we went. Outside. None of us had ever been outside before, and Fiona and Petre especially were awed as we flew out the attic window. We had seen The Outdoors of course, from windows, but the cool, fresh air and the glorious smell of leaves and grass and growing things were new to us. I loved it.
Anabelle confidently alit on one of the top branches of a beautiful, stately willow tree that shaded a whispering brook below. Anabelle knocked on a protruding knothole in the tree trunk. She waited, smiling, watching our amazed faces trying to take everything in. She seemed to feel better now that we had begun our quest.
Suddenly the knothole swung open and a fairy stepped out. Her light brown hair had strands of willow leaves braided into it and her eyes were olive green, just like the leaves. Her elegant, gray-green wings looked delicate yet strong. She looked, in fact, much like her tree: green and brown and graceful.
“Meet my friend Elaena,” Anabelle smiled. We all greeted her shyly and introduced ourselves. Elaena nodded pleasantly at us, but she was reserved and quiet for the most part. She seemed a little shy as well.
“What has brought you here, Anabelle?” Elaena inquired. So Anabelle told the fairy how Finn had gone missing and explained that they had come to her for clues. Elaena stood still thoughtfully for a moment, silently opening and closing her wings.
“Yes, I have a clue,” she said at last, in a soft voice. “But I don’t think it’s a happy one.” Elaena spoke slowly, her eyes downcast. “I saw Finn enter the Inner Forest, but I have not seen him return.”
Anabelle’s pale skin turned even paler. She gasped, and her hands flew to her mouth. She blinked hard against threatening tears. “No,” she whispered. “Please, no.”
Now I understood her reaction.
We had traveled down the brook in Elaena’s bark boat. That was quite an experience for Lyri, my siblings, and I. I nearly lost my balance getting in, and Petre did lose his balance. Twice. Then Lyri and Fiona who were sitting in the back of the boat almost got catapulted into the water when the front end hit a rock. Despite these difficulties, however, I found that I enjoyed boating. I the push of the water against the paddles. I loved the sound of the brook laughing at us and singing to us. I loved the feeling of gliding through the water.
But the brook changed when it reached the Inner Forest. Instead of bubbling with laughter, it flowed sullenly onward, barely making a sound. It was darker here in the Inner Forest too. Lyri’s eyes reflected her worry into mine. I couldn’t help but reflect it back. Mighty trees rose around us, their lush crowns of leaves blocking most of the sunlight. Moss dripped from their arms and ran down their trunks. It felt like the attic, but different. Spookier. Our paddles silently churned the water. No one spoke.
Finally we docked at a small, flat rock to the side of the stream. We hauled the boat ashore, tied it to a nearby sapling, and set off on foot. I carried Petre on my back, and Lyri and Fiona walked close together. Everything was silent, as if waiting with bated breath.
Suddenly Anabelle stopped short and let out a piercing wail.
She had found Finn. He was bound to a tree, eyes closed in despair and exhaustion. He opened them when he heard his wife’s cry, but immediately shook his head and motioned us to stay away.
But he was too late.
The leaves above him came alive. Dozens of grim-faced fairies dropped out of the tree and in a split second we were surrounded. I gulped. Lyri squeezed my hand tightly. One of the fairies stepped towards Anabelle. He looked like the night: black hair, dark skin, snapping chocolate brown eyes, and teeth that sparkled like stars when he spoke.
“Oh goody. Just who we were looking for. My my, you don’t seem to be any the worse for wear from living inside. Just as beautiful as ever, my dear girl. But come now, your father misses you. He hasn’t seen your charming face in far too long because of this – this miserable house-dweller.” His black-velvet eyes narrowed in disgust as he spat the last few words. “You must come with us, back to your rightful place as Princess of the fairies.” He bowed low.
Anabelle’s looked just as frightened as we were. “I can’t go with you, Reuven,” she whispered. “You know that I can’t leave him now. I don’t want to come back… and… and… It’s not true. Father doesn’t miss me. I know he doesn’t.” She hid her face in her hands. “He could never love a traitor.”
Rueven patted Anabelle’s shoulder awkwardly. “Nonsense, my dear. Of course he loves you! Your father will forgive you everything as long as you come with us. But if you don’t… well, if you don’t, your dusty friend here will have to be disposed of.” He sneered at Finn. “So what do you say, Anabelle? The choice is yours.”
Anabelle’s shoulders drooped. She glanced toward Finn who was emphatically shaking his head. He would pay the price, his eyes told her. He would make the sacrifice. But Anabelle smiled sadly and shook her head back. She straightened and spoke firmly. “Let my husband go and I will return with you.”
Reuven nodded his approval. “That’s the spirit. I knew you had a wise mind to go with that lovely face.” He winked at her and broke into a gleaming smile. The other fairies untied Finn in disappointment, muttering insults, and made their way over to Anabelle.
Reuven finally glanced down at us, surprised, as if he noticed our dusty selves before. “And who are these young friends?” He asked in an oily voice. “I see you have followed the path of the traitor like both of these noble heroes?” He laughed. “Ah, well. Scurry on home, kiddies. You wouldn’t want to cause any trouble, now would you?” His mouth smiled but his eyes were menacing.
At this we all quickly stepped back. We watched in shock as they took Anabelle away. But for some reason a few of the party stayed behind, milling around beside Finn. Finally, when Anabelle was out of sight they jumped upon him and tied him up again, laughing and jeering all the time.
My heart stopped. Wait! This wasn’t right! They were supposed to let Finn go! I almost rushed out into the ring, but I decided against it. What good could one lone dust pixie do? As we looked on with sinking hearts, the fairies prodded Finn into the forest, step by painful step. Lyri was in tears beside me.
“We have to do something, Mae,” she whispered fearfully.
“I know. I know.” I stood there quietly, thinking, until I was startled by the sound of footsteps. Were the fairies coming to get us too? But before I had time to run, a face appeared.
It was as black as the night.
For a second I thought Reuven had come back, but I noticed that this was a boy, not a man.
“Hey,” he whispered hoarsely. His eyes were wide and filled with fear. “I’m on your side, okay? They’re takin’ him – Finn, I mean – back to camp. You gotta save him! I don’t know what they’re gonna do to him, but I can tell you sure, it ain’t gonna be good. I don’t dare free him myself – do you have any idea what my Dad would do to me? It’s gotta be you! Please…” The boy’s face was earnest. “I can’t stand to see innocent people get hurt – even if he is a dust pixie. All you have to do is follow the trail of scuffed-up leaves. It’ll lead you right to camp. Come on, guys, whadya say?” His wide eyes gazed at us pleadingly.
“Uh… yeah. We-we were just going to work up a p-plan,” I stammered. “Don’t worry, we’ll do it. Th-thanks for warning us. Yeah, we’ll save him.”
The boy looked relieved. “Oh boy, that’s great. Well, you gotta be quick – they’re gonna do the judgement call tomorrow morning.” He turned to leave, but shouted over his shoulder, “Oh, and my name’s Eli. Bye.”
I heaved a giant sigh. This was bad. This was too big for four dust pixies to handle by themselves. We needed help. We needed Rosalind.
Rosalind perched on the side of her bed, her chin in her hands, her blue-gray eyes opening wider and wider as I told the sad tale.
“And oh, you’ve just got to help us, Rosalind!” I finished. “How are we supposed to save two of our friends from a band of bloodthirsty fairies by ourselves?”
Lyri held up her hands. “Whoa there, Mae. I wouldn’t call them bloodthirsty, exactly. Just a little…”
“Crazy?” Fiona interjected helpfully. She had quickly made friends with Rosalind, but Petre, on the other hand, cowered behind me, his little hand gripping mine for dear life.
Rosalind finally spoke. “So let me get this straight. Finn went out to collect supplies for him and his wife, who apparently is the fairy Princess, but then the Princess’s friends and family KIDNAPPED him because Finn married her and then they kidnapped the Princess too for good measure? Sounds like such a sweet group.”
Fiona rolled her eyes. “They’re crazy, I’m telling you. And they’re fairies. What more could we expect?”
“They’re not all bad,” I said, remembering Eli. “And what about Annabelle Rose? She’s one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met, even if she is a little dramatic.”
Lyri nodded in agreement. “So we all know they need to be rescued, but how?”
We all stared at each other blankly.
Petre sneezed. Twice.
“Sorry,” I apologized to Rosalind, “Petre is allergic to dust. It’s rather unfortunate since he’s a dust pixie and all, but…”
“That’s it!” Rosalind sat up suddenly, sending us all tumbling into the valley she had made in the bedcovers. “Oops, sorry,” she winced. “But I have it! I have a plan!” She grinned mischievously. “But first, you all need a bath.”
It’s a good thing my parents weren’t there to hear us, because judging by the bloodcurdling screams and shouts and yelps, they would have thought we were being mauled by a house cat or something. Okay, so maybe the water wasn’t that bad, but if you’ve never had a bath in your entire life, you’d be terrified too. I couldn’t believe Rosalind had betrayed us like this.
I put on my best angry face as I finally climbed out of the bubbles and put on my clothes. Rosalind had even washed those too! I gave the teacup-bathtub a kick in passing, and yelped when warm water sloshed out onto my foot. Hmph.
I peeked out from behind the makeshift curtain Rosalind had folded from a sheet of notebook paper. Apparently Fiona and Petre hadn’t particularly enjoyed their baths either. They both wore a frown, clean clothes, and soaking wet hair. Lyri, on the other hand, was smiling.
“It actually feels kind of good to be clean, don’t you think, Mae?” she asked brightly.
All I could work up was a “Hmph.”
“So, traitor, are you ready to tell us that marvelous plan of yours now that you’ve finished torturing us?” Fiona poked Rosalind’s arm.
Rosalind laughed. “Oh you babies. The water didn’t hurt you, did it? And besides, you need to be clean in order for my plan to work. You can’t look like a fairy if you’re covered in dust.”
“WHAT?!” we exclaimed. We were going to be disguised as fairies now? Oh boy, why did we have to come to Rosalind in the first place?
I had to admit, Rosalind was a pretty great disguise maker. I twirled and whirled in my new dress made of willow leaves and decorated with tiny white flowers, then caught Fiona’s hand and twirled with her. Her dress was shorter, and made of silky lavender flower petals. Petre was not so impressed with his maple leaf shirt and pinecone hat. His little lips were turned down in a pout. But when Lyri stepped out from behind the paper curtain, we all gasped. She looked like she was made to be a fairy. Her long brown hair tumbled down her shoulders and onto her delicate fern dress. Rosalind had woven her a sparkling headband from something in her room that looked natural but probably wasn’t. You could never tell with humans.
Oddly enough, I felt like crying. Lyri looked so much like a fairy with her clean, beautiful face and new clothes that I felt like I had lost my friend and was seeing someone else. But instead of crying I smiled, and twirled with Lyri too.
Rosalind cleared her throat. “Well, girls, I’m glad you like your dresses and all, but we should probably get started. We want to get there well before dark.” I shivered. Yes, I definitely did not fancy creeping around the Inner Forest at night.
So out we went.
It took us a while to reach the woods, but when we reached them, I wished we hadn’t. It was just as spooky as last time – spookier, maybe, because we knew one of the dangers that lurked inside. And we didn’t only know it, we had come to fight it.
The woods were silent, but somehow it didn’t feel like silence. The lack of sound pounded in our ears until it nearly deafened us, and the heavy air pressed about us as if trying to force us back, back, out of the forest with its secrets and mysteries, out into the light where we belonged.
But we didn’t obey the silence.
Finally we heard something – the faint sounds of arguing voices.
We all halted, and peered through a prickly holly bush at what could only be a fairy camp. The fairies’ tents were set around a tiny fire that sent up a tiny wisp of smoke in the middle of a tiny clearing. The tents were camouflaged; they were made of a light but strong fabric of woven grass and leaves, supported by a frame of slender twigs. Rosalind could crush it all in one step, I realized with a mixture of awe and horror.
Then I saw the fairies.
Three of them had appeared at the entrance of one of the tents, arguing and waving their hands in a frenzy. I instantly recognized the midnight skin of Reuven.
He was shouting at the other fairies in an angry voice. “I say kill the pixie. Kill him! Once he’s done with, Princess Annabelle will have no reason to return to that miserable human dwelling.”
Another, younger fairy whom I didn’t recognize interrupted Reuven in a somewhat calmer voice. “But Reuven, Sir, don’t you think he could be useful to us? He knows the ways of the dust pixie and we can teach him the ways of the fairy. He would be the perfect spy. And Princess Anabelle is here now. We won’t let her go so easily this time.”
“Besides,” the other, taller fairy broke in, “killing the Princess’s husband is not exactly the way to win her over, if you know what I mean.”
Reuven was silent a moment, considering the advice. “Fine,” he said in a low voice. “I agree. Being the man who killed the Princess’s husband is probably not the best tactic. So maybe he’ll just suffer an ‘accident.’ ” He lifted his chin, dark eyes glinting.
Rosalind gasped, then shut her mouth tightly. We all looked at each other with panic in our faces.
It was time to put our plan into action.