And there he stood, straddling his BMX bike on the only road around that would take him anywhere. The bike was black with silver lettering, the thick steel mag wheels painted a deep red. Not a car had passed in the time he had sat there gathering his nerves. As he took several deep breaths, he remembered the joy he had felt when his dad rolled it out of the garage last Christmas morning. His old bike had been for a kid, this one was for adventure.
"I swear, I've never been afraid of heights before..."
"This will not accomplish what you desire," a small voice half-shouted, half-cried over his left shoulder. The navy blue backpack he wore had seen some real abuse over the last couple of school years, one of the zippers had gotten stuck months ago, but he was fine with that. It had to be left open a bit so that his passenger with jade green hair could poke her head through.
"Fairy magic works on desire, right?"
"That is truth..."
"Well, there is nothing that I have ever wanted more than this. It'll work. I saw it in a movie."
"It will NOT!"
"Nick, don' you hurt Milly!" Autumn had followed to see them off. The way Nicolas had explained it had seemed so simple; it was magic. But now her new friend, the one she had found, was balking, and her brother as usual was not listening.
"Just stay inside, hold on, and do your thing." Nicolas pedaled hard westward down Lookout Mountain Road, the wind whipping through his hair and hers, past the green prairie grasses and the pines basking in the summer warmth. "Come on, let's go with the fairy stuff!" he yelled through heavy breath. Militha'onga closed her eyes from the dust in the wind, or from the need to concentrate, of just because of fear. "It's not working. Maybe we need to do it like the movie." Nicolas noticed a tan Chevy Caprice approaching them from the opposite direction, and went to meet it head on.
"I am beginning to agree that you are quite insane," the fairy squealed in panic as she recovered her eyes, regretting immediately that she had dared a peak after feeling the wobble.
"But they flew over the cop cars!"
"All men are mad!"
"I'm sorry!" Nicolas lost his nerve, then his balance as he jerked away from danger. Rubber bike tires hit gravel shoulder, his feet deciding that the pedals weren't helping much and instead mutinied to save themselves. He found himself airborne after all, for a second at least, tumbling over his shoulder in a nasty, dusty crunch down the hilly embankment; his bike kicked the opposite way. Then, everything was wrapped around a light blue canvas as he got used to the idea of not being bug splatter. Bits were still checking in, bug splatter..."Milly!"
"Nicolas! You live?!" There she was near his head in a particularly thick clump of grass, unflatteringly resting on her behind, but little the worse from the incident. He tried to sit up, and found it felt much nicer not to have a jagged rock in his kidney. "You would face down a cold iron beast...you...you...JERK!" Now she was, or they were, standing over him, wagging their tiny fingers in his face again.
"Why didn't it work? Why didn't we fly?"
"Hey! Where did that kid go?" Nicolas tried to find the voice that came back from the road some feet above. It was an older couple from the city, whose Sunday drive had been ruined. Militha'onga half-fell to the earth as she spun to face them as well, landing in front of Nicolas's crossed legs.
"Here's his bike..."
"He must have run off. That punk put a dent in my bumper, and now we'll never find him. Let's just go."
Relieved, Nicolas's head fell back to the dirt, where it stayed. "Man, everything is dizzy. Why didn't they see us?"
"This is how the magic of my kind works. It is illusion, nothing more," Militha'onga spoke quietly over her shoulder to him, to where he barely heard it.
"Oh...you could have just said so."
"And then what would you do with me?" The little fairy waded through grass that grew past he knees, pacing and meandering and always away from him, one hand hooked around the other's elbow, but at least it seemed she stood up a little straighter.
"Wow, where did my backpack go? It must be nice to have wings, they kept you out of that bail. Oh crap, the shell."
How it had managed to scoot so far away was one of those mysteries, but it was not hard to spot. Nicolas wobbled his way over to retrieve it, catching up with a trail of a thousand crunchy fragments of granola that led the way. He took a swipe at the backpack, coming up with only a busted shoulder strap, so he went down on one knee, which was steadier anyways, to check out the damage. Militha'onga fluttered over his shoulder, and not content to wait as he dug though the bag, flew inside herself, emerging bent-over, wings still extended, with the silver snail shell herself. Crumbs of bread stuck to her dress, knees and forearms and even to her wings by jelly and peanut butter, but none of it mattered if the shell had been crushed.
Both sat in the grass silent just staring at the filthy shell between them. "Here, let's clean it off." Nicolas pulled a bottle of water he had meant for the trip, and the sandwich that had sacrificed itself for them. "At least it had been given the best cushion man could make," he spoke in memorial as his finger traced the indention in the wheat bread. The shell was then given a squirt of water to rinse it off as he worked goop out of the ridges with his thumbs.
"Some of this is inside the horn." Militha'onga reached inside up to her shoulder, and pulled out a dollop of jell. She gazed at it, and tempted, took a taste before flicking it off in distaste. "It...seems undamaged."
"It's a good thing after all that it was so strong." Nicolas smirked as he looked at a very disheveled fairy and emptied his backpack. In the tales he had never read anything about a dirty fairy. "Might as well use the bowl, since we've got it." Nicolas filled it with the remaining water. "Clean up." As she dipped herself a limb at a time, careful not to get her wings too wet, Nicolas filled time by picking the bits of gravel out of his knees and shins and listened to a small group of Pinyon Jays conversing in the trees. A Kingbird sung a short tune somewhere nearby as a breeze began to blow, rattling the door to some shed distant in staccato time.
"The cigarette in the airplane wasn't real either, huh?"
"No, I felt it from your sister."
"But what about the snail shell?"
"It is real. It was the hardest thing I have ever tried."
"...You're just a kid, huh?" Nicolas regretted it as soon as he said it. He had not meant it in cruelty, but as he knew, it could easily be taken that way. The fairy fluttered a bit, but did not answer. She just kind of fell over to sit cross legged next to him, her wing tips drug over a layer of dust. Her head was propped up by a palm and curled fingers as she stared at the mountains so terribly far to the west. "It's alright, I have a little sister who tries to be a big girl all the time. This place seems pretty strange to me too, at least sometimes. It's really not your fault; I just wouldn't listen to you either..."
"Man tales...they are told to frighten us, how you would steal us away for food in the night. 'Stay away from the marker stones. You will be lost to man.' The other younglings think it just superstition...nothing ever came from it...and I had just molted my wings...and now my family, my tribe must be desperate for me." She twisted around enough to lunge her little self deep into his lap, where she fell into sobbing. "Something tugged at me, and I plunged into the foulest water that had not been before. My wings became wet. I tired swimming to some reeds to hide. You monsters...you must understand me...were everywhere, and I hid for the night and my wings to dry. Man seemed to be gone...then...you understand, I'm not supposed to be here. I do not want to be here! I want to go home!"
If this was his sister, in one of those moments when she broke down and really needed him, he would have patted her on the back and tried to sooth her. This was not; there were four wings on this little girl's back, wings...and probably a million other differences. But her eyes, so full, and every inch covered in tears again. He took the cleanest corner of his shirt he could find, and tried to wipe them away.
"Wow, tha' was gnarly! ...Whoo..." It was Autumn calling from the roadside, panting and bent over her knees, but still with enough energy to make her presence known.
"You ran all the way here?!"
"Yeah...I was watchin'...how's Milly?" she asked, walking carefully on a diagonal to make her way down the slope. "You hurt her? Wha' did you do to my friend?!"
"She's fine, just a little sad." Militha'onga perked up a little at hearing her name, and looked up at Autumn, who had decided it was just easier to roll sideways down the hill after them. She however found it easier to start than to stop, until Nicolas's knees solved that problem with a duel thud, and she was stopped face down, strands of grass in her braids and stains on her overalls. Finally she pulled her legs in underneath her and somersaulted onto her back.
"Hey, a squirrel!"
"Up there, Milly," Autumn swung the fairy up into her arms lifting her to the sky and pointing to the cloud. Militha'onga caught onto the game quickly, and Autumn and she took turns calling out what they saw.
"That one resembles a forest-tender."
"What is a cro'code'ile?
"Well...they're really long an' scaly...with liddle legs an' a long tail. They eat people."
"No they don't..." Nicolas called from the distance.
"Oh...Look, a wave-rider."
"Eagle! A real one."
"Well, my bike's shot. The front wheel is bent up like it got run over. It was a stupid idea anyways..." Nicolas had climbed back up to the road, and was lifting up his BMX up by the rear wheel like another piece of roadkill.
"I believe...I think that if I must remain, there would be much worse than to be as this."
"Hey, we're not done yet."
"Dude, man you gotta help us. You're the only one I know that can drive."
"No way, you ARE crazy. This is jail time crazy...and who is 'us' anyway...and who told you I could drive?!"
"Com'on, Please? Just hear me out. This is super important. We'll sneak out tonight and be back before our parents even find out."
"Fine then, I'll just take us, see ya."
"Now...wait a minute. Dude, get back here! This is why no one hangs out with you..."
Latrell Reece had a couple of years on Nicolas, and a full head of height. He was looking forward to high school band and history, was generally soft spoken, and always, always played it straight. One day on Lookout Mountain a few years ago, a moving truck dropped a bunch of furniture off (always a rare event) and that was it really. His parents being very successful professionals, Nicolas never understood why they had chosen to move to the armpit of nowhere. Many years later, Latrell would joke that he had been the inspiration for a character on a popular adult cable cartoon.
It is not like you could blame him for blowing off Nicolas. They knew of each other, and had hung out few times, but age among other things had kept them from getting close. Out there in those rural hills, it was generally accepted that if another guy did not want to punch you in the face, he was a friend out of scarcity. This rule held today, even if Nicolas was not sure which way Latrell fell. The last time Nicolas had knocked on his door, the day had ended with them stuck up a tree by a bull elk in heat.
"Man, what's up?" Latrell finally had finally managed this much after a few cycles of closing the gap between them, slowing down he tried to decide what to say, then wondering if he should just forget the whole thing and go home before realizing that Nicolas had gotten away again.
"I don't know. I just have to get somewhere west...tonight...it's important. Just forget it. I'll figure out something."
This was just too much, and Latrell overtook Nicolas to cut him off, exasperated and showing it. "OK...can you at least tell me why?"
"I can't. No, just stay in the backpack...yes I trust him."
"And now you're talking to yourself..."
"Alright! I have a...friend who needs to get home soon. Can you just come to my house and meet her?"
"Her? I don't know...you parents just let you run around doing this kind of thing?"
"She really needs help..."
"Fine, just for a minute." Latrell's arms took a break from their flailing, and he trudged along behind and watched some doll bob along in Nicolas's backpack, thinking little of it in this whole bizarre set-up.
Nicolas finally had a rock to kick, and he made the most of it. It was none the less satisfying, and as he watched it smack and ricochet down yards of asphalt road ahead, he noticed the shadows beginning to lengthen underneath the telephone poles. It would be dark before he knew it, and he was pretty sure that it would be the last night the moon was full. It had to be, it would be Militha'onga's third night here since she fell down the rabbit hole, or whatever. This was it, this was the best he could come up with. At least someone believed in him, even if she had come from another world, and his sister, even though she regularly ate her Cheerios with orange juice. Yup, he was screwed.
"Autumn! Can you take my backpack upstairs and let Milly know that my friend came over to help."
"I never said that!"
"Nhut-it!" Nicolas shoved the backpack into her hands a little too rough, giving a glare and shooting an index finger at the stairs.
"OAK-ey!" Autumn tried skipping up the stairs, but giving up after stumbling over the third and muttering something to the bag.
Perturbed was too delicate, frustrated definitely, certainly ready to walk right out of there, yet something tugged at him to stay; Latrell leafed through the catalog of unflattering things he had heard about the Reuel family. If someone would have told him that they sacrificed cats and ate human hearts, at this moment he would have believed him.
And then he saw her floating, no walking down the stairs and no one else's opinion mattered. Milly stepped down the stairs without a trace of sound in a lavender summer dress, modest and of a floral style that matched well with her dusky skin. Her full black hair flowed down in great curls to touch her back far past her bare shoulders. Her limbs were long and elegant, her feet bare, and she swayed gracefully like grass in the breeze, her face broad, subtle, and youthful, her eyes were immense and understanding; she must have a few years on him, and made him feel small. She made every girl in his school look like...girls.
"You're hanging out with these guys?!" Latrell, normally quite the gentleman, had forgotten to pick up his jaw.
"We met her...at Disneyland...and now she's stuck here and we need to get her home," Nicolas managed to step between the two just enough.
"Yes, and I need to return home soon, before I am missed. Nicolas spoke well of you. Will you help us?" Milly's voice was music made from many pieces, harmonious with itself and life around it.
"Nick, you've been hiding her in your house and you weren't going to tell me until now?"
"Well...I, uh...we just got back last night."
"Dude, what else is going on here?!"
"Hey, can you take us? We'll take my mom's car tonight and be back before anyone notices."
"What did you do to him Milly, he's gone all stupid." Autumn had been left out of the loop, and was thoroughly lost. Nicolas was not far behind.
"Latrell, let's go sit down and get to know Milly better." He shrugged at Autumn, and nudged Latrell along with one hand. Militha'onga had promised to help, and she had put some serious whammy on him, and now seemed to be struggling to maintain both it and flight.
Nicolas was certain when Latrell sat down on the sofa with Militha'onga next to him on top of the back pillows, that one odd word would turn the caper on its head. By its end, he was certain that she could have read him the ingredients to Ho-Ho's and he would not have cared. Before he was ready to go, he had professed several times that he would return before midnight. Nicolas made an oath to himself as he walked Latrell to the door that he would never end up a teen like that.
As Latrel wandered out of his daze he noticed Mr. and Mrs Reuel removing groceries out of their trunk. "Miss, that is one beautiful lady you have there." Herold's eyebrow began to twitch.
The land seemed in quiet interlude, the wind flowed down off the western mountainside, reverberating slowly with an accent enriching the reddening evening sun. Only pinpricks of light pierced the canopy of the narrow forest strip Nicolas hiked through. Militha'onga searched with him from her perch inside his backpack, slung on one shoulder.
"I know I saw them here just last week."
"Oh please, be true..."
"There...I told you."
"Oh, blessed man!" Militha'onga darted straight out and fell on her prey, a patch of wild strawberries. Nicolas could not help but laugh as she gorged herself on the small, lumpy things. He watched them literally disappear as she knelt over them.
"You're going to have a hard time ever flying again after this."
"Hush! Shows what you know about flying, groundling!" she retorted, her lips stained red the midst of sweet berry glee. Nicolas laughed again, impressed that she had managed to work this much out so clearly between bites. The rest of her paid him no attention, until finally she rolled onto her back in the earth and pine needles, still a bit of fruit in each hand and a satisfied grin from one elfish ear to the other. "What does it mean to 'go delouse your room?' "
"My little sister is many things, but clean is not one of them."
"She's not in any real trouble." Nicolas spoke slowly, and listened for the rustle of whatever creature happened by. "She just will charm her way out of it...Everyone loves her..." His butt landed on a convenient boulder. A pair of white-tail deer rustled out of the bushes downslope from them.
"Nicolas, are you well?" Her latest victim was set aside. Militha'onga sat up, propped up by her arms.
"Forgive me. The water skimmer magic is the sensing of emotion, and you are upset."
"Maybe you can't tell with people, or something...It's just life." He drew a single knee to his chest, and rested his head in his forearms, silent in thought. "Milly, what is your world like? You talk about so many creatures, what are they like? Are they all intelligent like you?"
"Perhaps not so different than yours. Many tribes speak with each other. Some are friendly and help each other, others no. Some stay in the plains, others, to the forest, something like those creatures," Militha'onga pointed to the deer. "Those in the mountains, even in the sea, what your sister calls merma'ids, wherever they are meant is where they live."
"I bet nobody cares about looks there. I wish I could see it. Maybe I could go with you..."
"I know...I couldn't do that to my parents, or Autumn."
"No, not this. Understand, man, alone of all with understanding, is separated from harmony. There was jealousy as man found another way, and violence, it is spoken of little. The guardians hid us in the places man dared not go, and protected us. Their lives, their very souls would split the earth, and built mighty barriers between us. Man to us is evil." Militha'onga had sat uncharacteristically still as she spoke, only standing as she finished.
"Milly, am I evil?"
"I do not know...no...I think..."
"Do you think humans are evil?"
"No...they lack understanding...but each, I think, are their own."
"In what, magic? We've gone so far in our knowledge, nobody just believes in anything anymore." A beam of sunlight managed two sneak underneath the canopy, and light the two of them. "Milly, the barriers between us are so strong, how did you come here?"
"I do not know. I fear the answer."
Every so often since they had gotten here, Nicolas would squint at her like he wanted to look through her, or at other moments just stealing a glimpse in those long rays of sunlight that blur and stretch the shape of things. "Milly, what do you really look like?" The quiet ambiance of forest paused with the question. "I couldn't see what you did to Latrell, but he saw a person. Some of the things you've said, and I just don't think you could look like a human after what they did to you. Sometimes, when I see you without looking at you, I see something else."
"You truly are a son of the druids."
"So, what is it you look like?"
"I will be ugly in your eyes."
"To see me as I am, blood must be shared with one of my kind. The magic is inborn to the like of my kind."
"You mean, literally? Like wrist slashing blood brothers or something?"
"You men are so crude, nothing so barbaric. But it is never to be done with man. It will change us both, and cannot be undone." She walked towards him slowly, deliberately, and he felt a twinge of fear.
"I have to know."
"Then sit with me on the stone again, as we did with the shell."
Nicolas sat holding hands with the little fairy. His felt his whole body tingle, from his chest out to his hands and back through everything to the tips of his toes. His eyes were closed, but he could see something else, two bodies that burned with energy, the actual individual rays of the across the night sky, the flowers shining in bloom through darkness, the woven fabric of life.
"You see with my eyes now, we are blood. I do not know what will become of it, but It is done."
"Alright..." Nicolas continued to sit there still, though his eyes did open, and he saw her face, the same eyes that he had known gazing into his with a desperate need for understanding and approval. It was a face familiar in a hundred different ways, not at the movies or amusement parks, but around his home, pollinating the flowers, fluttering around his porch light in the summer, or at the pond among the reeds. He understood now why she called her people Water Skimmers. It was her face he would remember most. Her skin shown a bright turquoise. Her bright green eyes were set apart on a still wide face, shaped much like what he already knew. Huge eyes that faced nearly forward like his own, a single iris in each that he now understood could see much more than he. A small, oval protrusion set between formed the shape of a nose and below a lipless mouth, which seemed could still be rolled up in nervous anticipation. A small pair off antenna sprouted out of her now spiky jade hair, her jawline cut a sharp angle and into the sides of the face just enough. The barest of holes near her eyes to hear.
"I must repulse you!" She shied from him, and stood as her four wings unfurled as if she wanted to fly away and hide, only to hesitate when he held onto her hands. Her skin was not a hard shell, or glossy, but not like skin exactly either, more like firm, thin swede leather. He looked down at where he touched her, and noticed she had four hands in his.
"No, never, it just makes so much more sense." Nicolas let her go gently, and she stood as straight as she could manage, her back legs, with reversed jointed knees, holding her upright in a most 'human' posture. She seemed off-balance or at least uncomfortable, like she would be more comfortable another way, to be flying or at least hanging on to the side of a tree. She was still same size as well, if you ignored the segmented tail that curled out from underneath her dress to a hair's breadth above the ground and back around behind her wings. It extended farther than her body itself, made from long segments with knobby joints, much like her limbs themselves. Really, Nicolas could not even strictly call them 'hands' or 'legs'. All six stretched the same length with three fingers and a 'thumb'. He smiled, and so did she, and she hugged his side as best she could from the stone. This was Militha'onga, a Water Skimmer, what man would call a fairy, a creature of magic, real, alien and altogether human. She needed help from him, and had total faith in him. It was an amazing thing.
"Milly...that must have been hard to do."
"More than you know. In time you will come to understand."
"We have these insects called dragonflies. I want...I think you need to see something, but later...Lets just grab a bunch of strawberries for your trip home tonight.
His head rested against a pillow, but he had not slept, not even a wink. Once, he had been called a night owl by his mother, and took a liking to it. Many nights this summer, he had snuck down to watch the late night horror movie, bright eyes bulging in the darkness, and hooted at the finest examples of bad acting passing through the tube. Tonight, he was learning that getting mad at not falling asleep was doing nothing to help him fall asleep. The breeze, the world of sound through his window did not help, neither did checking the time every five minutes. So, he was not at all surprised when his door creaked open, a small shadow appeared in his doorway by the moonlight, and he heard a tiny, high-pitched voice whisper, "Nicolas, are you still aroused?"
"Yeah, come on in Milly." He was glad for the company. The fairy's tiny head peaked from around the corner post of his bed, and his lips broke into a grin. She was wearing a green, plastic sun bonnet, which actually matched her dress quite well. He reasoned that it must have been a forgotten remnant of the Barbie stuff from Christmas that Autumn had not set to scissors, hammer, or to the flame. "My sister's been dressing you..."
"This is so different from your sister's dwelling..." her thoughts raced at the possibilities as she walked on four limbs among his worldly possessions. "It is the two sides of balance, you and her." Something in particular grabbed her attention, and she fluttered to the top of his dresser for a closer look at his Transformers poster in the moonlight, standing between his Master Merlin game and Rubik's snake twisted into a horse. "...I must ask, why do we wait when time itself is lacking?"
"Because we have to wait until my parents are asleep or we can't go anywhere...and now Latrell is late. I don't know how to drive." Nicolas sighed, and turned off the alarm to his digital clock.
"Drive? He is the master of some swift beast?" Militha'onga flew across to the top of his short bookcase, and landed in the gap between factions of his Transformers collection. "Do these protect you?" She poked one with just the tip of a finger.
"We're going to take my mom's car. You remember? You rode in it home."
"Oh, horrible thing! Not again!" she trembled. Her tail tripped Hound, knocking him into Optimus Prime, who in turn fell off the top in a slow, stiff motion. She cringed at the site with a forehand over her mouth. Two more limbs shrunk away from the chaos as the toy crashed in to the dark carpet. "I am so sorry if I hurt you!" She flew to the floor to help, and set him upright there.
"It's fine, he's not alive, or a golem, or anything. It's just a toy."
Militha'onga left it there alone, just in case Nicolas was wrong, and flew up to a little desk near his bed where his brand new Commodore Amiga 1000 sat, and made faces in the dim reflection of the monitor. "I hid in your sister's satchel of diversions, even before she was swallowed by the beast. I could not endure it so."
"It'll be fine. People use them all the time."
"And how many are consumed by these beasts?"
"OK, you got me, people can get hurt...but cars aren't alive either, look..." He slid off of his bed and onto his knees to open a drawer built into the bed frame. It was his little space of forgotten toys, and from it he pulled a Matchbox car, a 1978 Pontiac Firebird, and set it up on the desk next to her. He watched from his knees as she looked it over, yet afraid to touch even this.
"See, It's like nothing worse than this, except bigger of course, and it looks a lot different, and it has a real combustion engine...and...This really doesn't help at all."
Militha'onga slowly tapped the miniature car, modeled off of a Trans-Am, and finding that it did not bite, picked it up and squinted at its back end. "Younglings play with toys of these beasts?"
"No, not a beast, it's just a machine. It can't think for itself, or move on its own. It would kinda be our magic, I guess."
"No creature I have heard of creates ma'chine's."
"Not even a wheel? Those are the little circles on the side of the car that roll so it can move." Militha'onga touched one of those wheels with her hand and felt it turn. He pulled another Matchbox out, a black van with a red stripe across its side and spoiler, and rolled it across his desk to bump into the wall.
"Those have little use to a winged creature."
"Yeah, I guess you're right. How about tools even? A hammer or an ax? A spear, even a bow or a knife? Any of those are machines too."
"Yes, some of those are known, by my people or others. They are used as you would, for food, and to protect..."
"Yours is not the only world with violence. There are many peoples, not all are kind, and the guardians are few." Her head bowed as she slumped into a sitting posture with her tail curled around the toy car beside her. She refused to speak about it anymore, and left Nicolas to his imagination as ogres, trolls and inhuman monsters invaded an unsuspecting earth.
"Since we're both awake, I want to show you something, wait here." He was gone for less than a minute, reappearing in the doorway with a Little Golden Book in his hand.
"That is the tale that Autumn most enjoys! The one with her Tin'curl'bell, the illusion she desires of me, within and out..." Her voice, which began in excitement, traveled with her mind, and had entered uncertain ground. Only later would Nicolas understand their meaning.
"Wow, you must have some real good eyes to tell that in these shadows." He twisted it around to check out the cover himself as he sat down on the bed cross-legged. "I've read this book a dozen times to her, and mom and dad another dozen more, easy." Militha'onga hopped over the gap between desk and bed to join him, and he passed her the book. She sat down with it in her lap, slowly turning the pages with a pair of limbs while the fingers of another set ran the contours of the pictures. "I wanted to show you what people think of fairies now. We seem to miss magic."
"I am sorry. I know nothing of these runes."
"You can't read? Neither can my sister, not real well anyways. I think it's funny that we are even able to talk to each other, since you never had even seen a human before."
"This is different. I see the speech in your mind, as I do your desires. In your mind is my speech as well."
"That's cool. Here, I'll just read it to you then." She rested on her thorax, her head propped up with her two foremost limbs, the rest folded underneath as her wings above, and studied the pictures much like his little sister would, as he retold the story one more time.
"Perhaps...one day, man and we...will be ready to...rejoin" The little fairy girl slept, and Nicolas pulled the sheet over her and watched her breath until his own slumber was broken along with the very nearly the window as a rock crashed into it.
"No! I see this beast with fire and anger. I cannot face it... " The fairy had tried her best to hold a brave face, right until the back door was opened so she could see the insides, and now she was tripping over herself in terror.
"I'm comin' too, righ' Nick?!" Where Autumn had been hiding, or why she was even awake right now. It was way past HER bedtime.
"Yo, guys, we need to get going here," and now Latrell in hoarse mutiny. The reality of what they were trying to do that night was weighting on him a lot heavier now than it had some hours ago.
That thing that 'happens', well, he was a fan and it all was hitting him now. Nicolas looked up to the bright moon already high in the sky. At least to him, it seemed a little flat already. It was past midnight already, they were supposed to be long down the road by now, and had not even gotten out of the driveway yet.
"Milly, it's safe like I showed you, this car's friendly," Nicolas pleaded.
"Ha! It just sleeps."
"And you, Autumn, you stay here! We don't even know where we are going. It's too dangerous." Great, now he had tied himself in verbal knots. Maybe they would not notice.
"No! This is bogus. I'm goin' and you can't stop me, so there!" She let off a raspberry, really leaning into this one with her hands on her hip. "Milly needs me. I'm her frien', you...you ogre! Right, Milly?"
"She'll be fine, let's go already. I'm going to get into enough trouble as it is."
"Just give me a second, Latrell!"
"I desire her company, in truth." Her four 'arms', those over-sized eyes, every part of her pleaded for mercy as the little fairy stood up straight next to his knee.
"Oh, come ON! Let me come or I'll tell Dad."
"Dude, we need to go...NOW."
"Fine..let's go..." Nicolas threw up his hands with a something between a sigh, a moan, and a grunt. He had time for nothing else as Latrell emphatically motioned him towards the hood of the car.
"Come on, help me get this out of the driveway." Both started to push in earnest, straining for motion, Latrell dividing himself frantically between the steering wheel and the door frame.
"Why...are we doin'...(ugh)...this again? It's like...pushin' an...elephant."
"So we don't...wake your parents."
Rubber crunched every piece of aggregate in that concrete driveway with a noise that sent flares up over the rural darkness. Slowly, and with generous panting, the two of them managed to creep the car up and onto the narrow asphalt road, Latrell turning it into the slight uphill grade.
"When di'yoo...learn to drive...anyways?"
"This isn't really the time...PUSH."
Nicolas was feeling pretty puffed up at his progress, and thought about trying out for football this fall, then his knees began to wobble. "Oh man, I can't hold it. It's too steep!"
"Oh...CRAP!" His foot slipped on a bit of loose rock, and gravity took over. Three-thousand pounds of steel built to move did.
"Wait, don't...you jerk!" Nicolas was not about to become a speed bump, he took another ditch dive. Latrell instinctively dove into the driver's seat, and landed face down, his legs still dangling out the door. It was a slow speed disaster as the car rambled its way down the road as it pleased. Militha'onga and Autumn watched from the driveway with the same look of shock and amusement, one standing, one hovering. Nicolas was just in shock. There went his mom's tan BMW, hitting the asphalt lip, veering onto the gravel shoulder, and look, into the drainage ditch. Its front passenger tire shot the curl, something went crack, and Latrell was jostled into a position where he could witness the splintered remains thump and clatter all over the hood of the car. Everything went silent, and he was quite content in the moment just to listen to it.
"Dude, you just crushed Mr. Smith's mailbox!"
"ME?!" Latrell really wanted to punch this kid in the face.
"I'll just tell him that I saw Tommy do it. He's a dick anyways. Comon', let's get out of here." Autumn and Militha'onga had crept down the road towards the trouble as they dared. Latrell drew a deep breath, Nicolas held his, and the ignition key was turned. The BMW came to life, and as quietly as Latrell could manage, was backed up onto the road. There it sat in the dark, rumbling away.
Autumn tugged the passenger door open with both hands. "See Milly, it's safe. It has sea' belts and EVERYTHING."
A little fairy heart skipped a beat as the interior light flickered on. "You are under a deception more powerful than any I know. Still..." she listened to the car purr contently, and looked at its soft blue interior. Her head cocked at an odd angle. "Still, a beast so simple as to stumble into a ditch hardly can be so dangerous...If this is the only way..."
Autumn flopped onto her usual seat in the back. "See, I'm OK." Militha'onga reluctantly followed her.
"My understanding is that the taste of man is foul." The fairy's head was on a pivot in Autumn's lap, looking for whatever would consume her in the belly of this beast.
"You ready? Man, that must have looked totally like 'Streets of San Francisco'."
Nicolas dropped a stuffed backpack, now with a single shoulder strap, onto the front passenger seat, and something else before jumping in. "Yeah, I just grabbed one of the hubcaps."
Before long, they were riding westward deep into the night. No one felt much like talking after what it took to get them this far, and what still lie ahead. This was not feeling much like a movie anymore to Nicolas, not like what he wanted. It made him wonder, and he turned to the back seat. Militha'onga was content to sit in Autumn's lap and take in the world as it passed by, maybe it was her normal time to be awake, like a cricket; maybe she did not need to sleep at all. Autumn had rolled down the window, and was playing with the summer wind. Nicolas wished that he could slip the fairy into a lap belt, but they weren't designed to handle someone of her size, or shape. A lap seemed to work better; she could curl her tail down between his sister's legs and really stretch out her little body.
"This ride is nice, wood trim, power windows, power seats, even a moon-roof. You can barely hear the engine. It's a ride meant for a princess alright. It's just a shame it's an automatic." Latrell spoke absentmindedly, mostly to himself.
He could have only meant Militha'onga, his Milly, the Milly that he saw. Autumn had acted no different tonight than yesterday, or this morning. But even then, before she had touched him in the strawberry patch, had he seen the same Milly as his sister? Latrell saw something human, most others nothing but a doll. The common thread was that everyone saw what they wanted to, and in truth, it really was not that different than what people did to each other.
The back road funneled into a state route, and that route into an interstate. Still, the traffic remained light as foothills became mountains, which grew and became sharp, bare, and rigid. However, they never quite managed to hide the moon, an observer and timepiece, ticking away.
Latrell had been quiet to Militha'onga, and to everyone mostly, since the trip started. He was focused on ten and two, left mirror, speedometer, rear view, front, right mirror and back again. There was a question, however, that he still could not dismiss, "Dude, you still haven't told me where we are going." It really did seem to matter.
"West, we just need to head west a couple of hours...it's not even a town. Milly will show us when we get closer." Nicolas wished he had a better answer, just for his own piece of mind. "Thanks for driving us."
"No problem. It just seemed like something I had to do, but why didn't your parents just take her back home?"
"Uhm...her parents didn't give her permission to go...and don't know where she had gone...and...well, you know how my mom and dad are. They would have just called the cops."
"Really? You're not making any sense."
"It's just complicated. Milly just isn't from around here."
"You keep saying that like it's good enough. Spill it. How bad can it be? You're a kid."
"So...when did you learn to drive?"
"I said it's not important." Nicolas really did not feel like pushing it, and he caught Latrell mouthing several false starts, but nothing more expressive than a sigh escaped. "...I hope you brought some money for gas. We're getting low."
"We put everything together that we had, me and my sister, $52 and some change. Six months of allowance for vacuuming and babysitting." He pulled out a wad of crumpled bills from his pocket to prove it.
"I witnessed these things, Dol'lores. Why does man desire them?"
"Really?! You found her in Disneyland, and she doesn't know about money? Was she locked in a tower?"
"Well, this is money...Autumn, pass these to her." Militha'onga slid off of her knee onto the vinyl seat as autumn leaned forward sleepily to grab them. "The orangey kind of one is a penny, it's made from copper. One is a nickel, but I'm not sure if that is what metal it's made from. The one made from paper is a dollar."
"Like silver, or iron."
"Ah…" She rolled one of the coins in a pair of hands, observing the portrait stamped inside.
"People mix them together, like copper and tin to make bronze, or use them by themselves..."
"Look," Latrell interrupted Nicolas, "What it's made from isn't important. People want money, they go crazy for it. It can get them anything they desire."
"Desire I understand, but to desire this?"
"Not anything..." Nicolas retorted.
"You try and tell people that. Money is the root of all evil."
"Milly, it's really not that bad. Money is something you get for helping someone else. Then you use it when someone helps you. There's nothing evil about it."
"I feel no curses. These do not seem evil." Each looked like a plate, or saucer, as she held them by four sets of fingers.
"It is like a tool. It depends on what people do with it."
"...I'm going to put some music on, before I pass out." This ended the conversation, but not the rivalry. Latrell really wanted to pull something in on the radio, something besides that lonely country twang, as they rode in the cradle between mountain chains.
Militha'onga perked up after what might have been her dozing off as well. Her eyelids had not closed though, if she even had them. "What is this? It is very lively."
"This is Duke Ellington, and the music is called Jazz. Have you been living under a rock, girl?" Latrell tilted up the rear-view mirror to catch a better look at her dark face.
"No, my home lies at the base of a tree, why?"
"Wait...Nick, I thought you..."
"Ha! Milly, you're so funny...LOOK, a town! Let's fill up. I'm starving...you want something?" Nicolas's voice started to crack. "Dude, this summer heat, I'm sweating like a crazed pig."
A disgruntled Latrell just shook his head as he pulled up to the pump. "Go pay, and get me biggest Pepsi they've got." Hardly a hot spot, the unremarkable service station was the late night Mecca of this sleepy town. Latrell filled the gas tank while watching the vehicles slip both in and away, then stepped away to empty himself.
From out of somewhere popped a trio of buddies to check out this, with one exception, immaculate BMW. They had enjoyed themselves a little too much that night, but we're joking around and generally harmless. They probably did not deserve a pair of viscous rabid Dobermans jumping all over the glass trying to tear their faces off. They split loudly, and in a hurry, with two dogs very much pleased with themselves, grinning from one ear to the other.
"What the heck is going on out there, a robbery?" Nicolas very much worried about the answer. He twisted himself around to see past the posters on the windows, at the same time trying to draw the cashier's attention back and hand him the money. "I should call the cops."
"I was just out there. It's nothing...just those full moon crazies." Nicolas was not getting any better with practice; he could tell that just by looking at the cashier's face as he got his change back and grabbed the sack of goodies. Of course, by the time he made it back outside it was quiet again, that was probably a good thing anyways.
"Milly, can you do the thing with the bowl to see how much farther we need to go?" Nicolas handed the bag off to Autumn and slid back into his seat, not failing to notice that Latrell was missing. "I brought you some Twizzlers, Autumn."
"But mom doesn't let us eat in here."
"Just don't leave a mess..."
Nicolas was interrupted by the driver's door opening. It was Latrell, and he seemed eager to get moving again, already speaking as he jumped into the seat. "Milly, that is one screwball map you have there. Are we ready to roll?"
"Hold up just a moment, where do you take off? The girls told me you left them alone, at this time of night? You didn't even lock it." Nicolas checked his calculator watch for the umpteenth time. It was almost 2 AM.
"Dude, give me a break. Trust me, nobody's going to steal this car, not here anyways...I..." But Latrell clammed up yet again.
Neither girl was even paying attention; both instead watched which way the little silver shell might float. Militha'onga had found a car neck pillow from somewhere, and used it in effect like a booster on the other seat. "We have come much closer and quickly. Perhaps half the distance does remain."
At least this shelved the argument. Latrell drove in silence as they continued on, drowning himself in the music as he tried to forget.
"How is it that music of such variety of sound can be, and such complexity?"
This struck up a conversation of brass trumpets and the double base. The sound of music, beyond forms and customs, revealed two kindred spirits for a fleeting moment. They took simple pleasure in the form, accepting for a given that it was there. Nicolas slumped up against the passenger window, trying to not pay attention to any of it, and was grateful when the music finally faded into static.
"So hey, what's the worst thing you ever did?" Latrell asked, a little distant but at least in a better mood.
"It just might be tonight," replied Nicolas, yawning as he spoke.
"HEH, yeah I hear you. You really want to know how I learned to drive?"
"Sure, if you're OK with it. You seemed...well, like you would have rather...I don't know...get punched in the face by Tyson."
"Driving cars is what had my parents move us here. Back in Richmond, my cousin thought that no one would suspect a nine-year-old kid would be ripping off cars, and he was right. I didn't know any better at the time, or maybe I just didn't care. Then he got caught and my parents knew something was up. They..."
Red and blue beams pierced through the car to impose order. Small beads of sweat immediately formed on Latrell's forehead as he looked behind them. "I knew it! I knew this was just a bad idea. What is he after me for? I was driving fine. What made me think we could get away with this?" One arm still tried to obey the rules of the road, the other wanted to pull on to the shoulder at the demand of the lights and sound. His feet opted to not take sides.
"Get a grip! Just chill out or we're all going to jail, or worse. It must have been that cashier." Nicolas was calmer; it was not his butt in the sling. He had a plan, and one of those things might work today. "Milly will take care of it. Just do what the cop asks."
"I have no understanding of this. What is required of me?"
"Just have the man see what I want him to, Milly. Can you do that?"
"I will do what I am able."
The highway patrolman seemed in no hurry to approach them, and Nicolas fumed over what possible paranoia he was in on. Finally, when he decided to show up, it made things even worse. This guy was no Eric Estrada, he had imposing down. Latrell jumped when the window was knocked on, then he remembered it would behoove him to unroll it.
"License and registration..." Not even a please.
"What?" Latrell squawked.
"Just give him something," Nicolas whispered, hopefully quiet enough that the patrolman would not notice. Latrell fished out his wallet, and with shaky fingers pulled out his Golden High School student ID and handed it over. Nicolas groaned, and tried to hide his face. That was the last thing he wanted. He glanced at Militha'onga sitting next to his sister on the pillow, her huge eyes closed and her turquoise skin wavered like the heat off of asphalt. She sat in something like a lotus position, her thighs running out and behind her body to her knees and then returning to the front of her to just touch at the 'feet', her four 'hands' resting in her lap on those 'feet'. It was all up to her now.
"What?!" There was no misunderstanding who the officer was addressing, it was Latrell.
"Mam? This is your automobile?"
"Mom's a little distraught, dad's in the hospital...he fell off a house...and landed on a bear hive...we're going to the hospital see him." Nicolas just gave up. Lying was not his thing.
"Mam, you seem in no condition to drive, do I need to radio for a pick-up?"
"No, wait...no I'm good. No thanks, ma...sir. No thank you, we're fine..." Latrell nervously tried to shoo the patrolman away. It did not amount to much. Instead, the officer pulled a small flashlight from his belt, and checked the condition of passengers and for whatever empty containers might have been discarded onto the floorboard.
"We received a report of strange activity in the area (I can't imagine why), so we're checking things out. There doesn't seem to be any danger here, at least to others. Just a heads up so you stay out of trouble."
"Yes sir, no problems here." Latrell would be a woman, a cow, a radish if it would get him out of this.
"Alright, mam, drive safe. It's so cute, little lady, to even see your Tinker Bell strapped into her seat, nice and safe. Goodnight." The patrolman left them. No one dared to speak until the officer was well on his way.
"Arrugh!" Latrell was shaking like a leaf. "I don't know, I don' wanna know. I don't freakin' care! Don't tell me how, just let's get this over with and get home so I can never speak to any of you again."
"How does he drive wit' shades on?"
'On the road again, just can't wait to get on the road again...' Latrell almost twisted the radio knob off. It was quiet again, except for the constant trickle of vehicles that kept passing him. He made sure to stick to the speed this time, left mirror, speedometer, rear view, front, right mirror, speedometer.
Nicolas wished a different song would have come on, 'I Can't Drive 55'. It was past three AM now, the grounding that would be waiting for him if they did not make it back in a few hours. He shuddered, and tried not to think about it. He would be an adult before he saw the sunlight again. All they could do was keep going.
Militha'onga was getting antsy as well, and could be heard scuffling around in the back seat. She had managed to find a reader in Autumn's door, along with a couple of National Geographic that had been pocketed for Nicolas. She sat with them in her lap like before, and touched the alphabet animals in order, taking her time. Next was the Titanic, and the peoples of Afghanistan among others, as if with a touch she learned everything she could know.
And maybe she did. Nicolas would probably never know, unless his quest tonight failed. He could keep her here, say the car broke down or something, she would never know. She could go back next time, and share the full beauty and depths of his world with her people, and heal the wounds between the two worlds, and the things he could learn too from her. It would be a whole new science, and he the next Galileo, and it was wrong, really wrong. He would never be able to forgive someone who kidnapped his own sister. A bike ride was not the only thing he picked up from that movie. He knew what the sad truth would be if people found out that fairies and magic were real.
Militha'onga all of a sudden gasped loudly, "I can feel the lines!" A magazine slipped from her lap to fall closed on the floorboard. Nicolas watched her antenna stand straight up for the first time.
"Holy cow, this is Silverthorne, this is where our aunt lives."
"It is close, a short travel. Continue."
Silverthorne was one of a series of small towns that radiated like spokes around an artificial lake. The area was a weekend getaway spot nestled high in the mountains, hiking, boating, and fishing in the summer, skiing, its bread and butter in the winter. The Reuel family used to come here quite often to visit, the first time before Autumn was even born. Nicolas had felt joy, and heard laughter in the woods here. He did not understand why his parents were so furious when they found him that night. Nothing had happened to him. He had only been gone a few hours.
"It is close, so close. It dwells in the mountains above."
"Latrell, take the next exit."
"You got it."
They were three miles past town, almost into the next when they exited the freeway. Their path now ran between the freeway and a green meadow patched with trees, which ran up the slope to the mountainside. The trees swallowed them up, and the road terminated into a dirt parking lot.
"I can hear them. My family, they call for me." She stood on the seat staring into the darkness with her fingers hooked over the glass. In the few hours Nicolas had known her, she had always been animated, but now not a part of her was still.
"Tell them you will be home soon, Milly." Autumn reassured her. When she had awoke no one knew, and she would never tell you.
"You guys, can you at least pretend that this makes any sense." Latrell was close to pleading.
"Autumn, stay in the car."
"No, you can't leave me here Nick. I'll be eaten by aliens."
"You watch too much TV."
"You should talk!"
"Guys, not again…" Latrell cut them both short as he pulled into a space. "We don't have time for the sibling rivalry stuff."
He was right, of course. Nicolas grabbed his backpack to pull a pair of flashlights, one of which he handed to Latrell, before he slung its single strap on his shoulder and climbed out the door. He was going to help the girls, but one was missing already. Militha'onga had shot out the window before the car had even stopped, and was well up a narrow hiking trail and into a grove of tall birch and aspen with little undergrowth.
"Milly, don't just go wandering off into the night, let me go first," Latrell shouted, then ran into the tree line to catch up, leaving Nicolas to lock up the car. He took one final look around, they were the only ones there of course, and he was the last to take to the well-worn path.
The trail split several ways, their path dropping into a small ravine where a tiny creek must have trickled along for millennia. It lapped and gurgled over rock, and more than this Nicolas heard. It was the voices from his childhood, the music from his dreams, it was here, and it was real. He did not know until now how much had missed it, promising himself right there that he would never give it up again.
The going was slow in the dark. Militha'onga darted between moonlight and shadow, flying high and low, but always flat to the ground with her limbs dangling loosely underneath; her wings vibrated almost violently, her long tail much like a rudder. In the indistinctness Nicolas finally understood that for everything else about her, she was not at all human. Soon, she tired, and rested by hanging onto Latrell's hand. Nicolas felt that twinge of jealousy again. To Latrell, were they holding hands?
Up into the foothills they climbed for almost a mile. The trail rose over a short ridge, then back down into a shallow basin. It the distance, crickets could be heard singing a welcoming hymn, a sound on their homemade violins more solemn than any human would believe they could perform. The tall trees opened up around them, becoming the living walls that held up the vault of the starry sky. Stretching in front of them was the impossibly large moon, touching the earth in a crook of the bare rock mountain that rose high enough to cradle it. Its borrowed light reflected onto a glass still pond and lit the trees in a silver-blue glow. No one but Militha'onga dared approach the water's edge in fear of defiling it.
"Why are we even here? There's nothing out here," Latrell whispered, turning his head to look at brother and sister.
"Milly, ther's nothin' here." Autumn had a very much worried look on her face.
"Before the peoples of my world left this one, we marked the conjunctions like this in earth, stone, ancient tree, or water, to keep man away. It is here, over the waters." Militha'onga swooped down to skim the earth, searching.
"What do you need us to do now?" Nicolas asked, slipping off his backpack just in case he had been smart enough to bring something useful.
"Just believe in me...ah, and here." She picked up a small branch of blue spruce, 'Y' shaped with a stubby base, about half the length of one of her limbs. "First, the key must be fashioned."
"Can you do that?"
"No. It is the responsibility of others who know the door."
Behind them away from the pond lie a fallen pine, long and unusually large for the area. The bark of its trunk had been worn both by age and the many people who needed a rest to enjoy this magical place. On top of it the little fairy gently placed this branch, and began to hum in a low tone. The others gathered around her, and something in the log responded. Nicolas shined his flashlight on the stick as this muffled resonance rose in volume. Dozens of termites emerged through their small holes in the wood.
"Ewww...gross," Autumn squealed.
"Knock it off. They're nowhere near you. They're...carving it."
"OK, Milly, this is way beyond strange. What ARE YOU?" Latrell could not deny the truth anymore, no matter what influence lingered on him.
"I am a fairy."
The termites swarmed over the stick, covering it so completely that for the longest time you could not even guess at what they were doing. The humans and the fairy all stood and watched, fascinated anyways, except for Nicolas who kept an eye on the eastern sky. Then the hum came a second time from the insects, and they crawled back into their home.
"Friends, thank you for your urgency and your skill."
What had been left behind was the most delicate wooden flute, a single neck branching out into a double set of eight key holes. Its craftsmanship was unmatched by anything of man, perfectly round and smooth except for underneath the keys and wherever else Milly would grip, the telltale signature of the creators and a flourish in their work. Militha'onga grasped it, and flew without explanation back to the pond's edge, right next to where the creek flowed away from its waters.
"The universe is made from sound. I get it now." He saw the source in his mind. The strings that are everything, the ties that bind them together; their thickness, their tensions, the movements that created the song of life that he heard so well. It was there all around him. For a moment he saw what she saw.
There Militha'onga stood tall, resting much of her weight on her own tail, her rear limbs steadying her. Her huge eyes closed, and she listened to the flow of the water, the tip of her tapping tail soon picking up its subtle rhythm. The wooden flute rose gently to her mouth, her highest limbs gripped its two branches on the outside, complimented by its opposite middle limb on the inside. First she played scales, one side, and then the other. Its notes were of a unique pitch, and so soft that it was a mystery how they carried over the water at all, but they managed and even the crickets had gone silent to listen. Militha'onga paused and took a deep breath. Out of both sides of the flute came the same low pitch, which rose up an octave over time.
"Did you see tha' Nick? The pond was glowin'!" Autumn sat cross-legged on the grass next to where he stood some yards away. He had not wanted to even chance disturbing the fairy.
"Yes..." He had seen even more, a line had flashed across the valley, the lake, and through the pond, if just for an instant, then another that crossed over the mountain in front of them.
"Guys, we're never going to get back in time at this rate." Latrell had been content until now to sit way back on the fallen tree, once he made sure nothing was still crawling on it.
"This is a revered song of thanks and joy for my people. Your people, I saw, sing songs of the same." The flute returned to her mouth, and music in two parts was played to a rhythm set by her tail. It began in a solemn tone, and those who listened to it had their souls embraced, and before they understood it, realized that it had become energized and hopeful. They were not the only ones enraptured, a cricket crawled out of the grass to the water's edge near Militha'onga and joined in the song, and then another, and more all over, ringing the still water in harmonious sound.
What happened next tipped Latrell from his seat, tumbling off of the log backwards in surprise. In the pond lie a glow without a source, which congealed into a reflection of those crossed lines he had recognized before. Those lines flickered again on land and water above, hugging its contours, appearing as bits of distinctly colored static. They drew power from the source where the lines crossed, and faded in proportion to nothingness many yards away.
It continued to rise from the water and earth until several feet high, and finally became opaque. At the crossing the contrasting colors clashed, and similar merged, becoming masses of green, globs of blues at its base with more at its peak, lines of browns branching as they rose, bits of reds and yellows. It was her marshy home, a fantasy, its bright colors had even a texture to them like an oil portrait you could reach out and feel. Another world lay just a transposition away from ours.
"I don't understand any of this." Latrell had righted himself, and stood next to the siblings near water's edge.
"It's magic, you don' need to," Autumn explained.
Nicolas's backpack had rested against his leg, and he pulled a small paper lunch bag from it. "Milly, you don't have much time. Here, take this."
"I cannot possibly carry all of that."
"Oh, it's light. It's just a few things to remember us with, that matchbox car, and a plane, a little Micky, and some of my aunt's granola bar, just in case, and I threw in that money...oh and there's also a photograph of us. Just take it and go, the sun is almost here."
"I have nothing for you." She flew up to Nicolas, regretfully taking the bag and holding it next to her chest.
"You have given us more than you will ever know."
"The hole will hold itself long enough, here, take the key."
"No, give it to Autumn, she deserves it. She believed in you first."
Tears welled up in Autumn's eyes as her young mind began to realize what was really happening here. "Milly, you can't go! You're my friend. I don' wan' your flute...I want you! Don' leave..."
"Autumn, she has to go home now. That's what we came here for."
"NO! She's mine! She's my only FRIEND!" She began to stomp and fume. "I'll have no frien's again...an school...an ev'yone will hate me there...an'...it's YOUR fault. I paid for her!"
Nicolas kneeled, and took one of her hands, Militha'onga the other. "I promise you, we are fiends always. I will keep you in my heart, all of you, and be with you someway. Autumn, there are only endings for something new to begin again."
"O'...OK. Milly don' cry too." Reluctantly, Autumn took the flute as it was pressed into the palm of her hand.
"And you, Latrell, you brought us here under a fallacy. I am sorry." Militha'onga gave him a soft kiss on the cheek.
"Aww, that's alright. I've never met a fairy so tall." He was not going to break down like everyone else. He was a high schooler.
"All of you, farewell. Someday, if possible in a better time, let us all come together again." Militha'onga finally hugged Nicolas around his neck and turned to go, but in the low light, new creatures could be seen flying out from the shadows. About a dozen dragonflies and damselflies had been drawn to her, and together surrounded her. Thousands of new eyes saw her. "Oh...guardians...and who are you people?"
"Those are dragonflies, and I think you have something in common with them."
"But why, and named after the guardians? But why...there are no stories, no place for these on my world. They do not tell me their names. Are they angry? Tell me why they do not speak!" The urgency of the moment was lost to the mystery, and she flew among them as a queen among her subjects.
"Milly...you need to go home. The sky is lightening. Go!" Nicolas pointed to the portal, which seemed to flicker, and the far sky. Time, it seemed, had slipped past without their notice.
"I do not understand this..."
"Neither do they. They are not like you. You HAVE to go!"
The tears had not stopped. They fell in sadness, in joy, for the innocence that soon would be lost and the pain caused. Militha'onga crossed the water followed by these creatures so like her. One time, she turned back to see them, and wave to her humans stranded on the beach, and the boundary was crossed right as it seemed to lose coherence. Light rocketed down the ley line that went to the southeast. The fairy was gone.
The red rays of the sun crept down the hill. They followed a trio who walked in quiet conversation, lighting their path just enough to where the flashlights were not needed anymore. The sun and what it meant did not threaten them anymore, and they had lingered at the pond, just in case it was not over. The creek was the only thing bidding them farewell.
Greeting them was a pair of patrol cars belonging to state troopers, along with a BMW that closely matched the one that they had borrowed. "Nicolas Albert Reuel, what on earth could have possessed you to seal your mother's car and to take out here to the middle of nowhere!"
For a long time he hated that cashier who had tipped off the cops. Through months of intensive therapy the hatred lessened while his every motion was watched and judged. In the years of follow-up, he learned that it was his own fault as any flicker of imagination was quashed. It was absurd, a magical world of fairies and dragons. Every day, Nicolas was marched straight along into adulthood.
When night fell, when no one was watching, he would reach under his mattress for a small blue paper box. Inside was a lot of well used tissue paper, a nest in for a small object of silver shaped like a bell. If he tried really hard, he could still hear something from inside. A little sound, a little resonance from another world.