The Tooth Collector
by Heather and Clarissa
Francesca looked down at the glistening little white tooth nestled in the palm of her hand. It was a pristine little round incisor, unmarred by decay or stain, and the milky white enamel shone in the moonlight. This one would fetch a good price, she knew it.
A slight rustle coming from the mound of blankets caught her attention, making Francesca freeze on the spot. She had never been caught before, but stories of other fairies who had been seen by their benefactor children chilled her to the bone. Contact between the human and fairy world was strictly forbidden, making the job of the tooth fairy one of the most hazardous. If a human spotted a fairy they could broadcast their existence to the world, putting the kingdom of Fae in danger. This was unacceptable. Because of this, certain precautions were taken to prevent the fairies’ existence to be discovered. If a fairy was seen, the elite force of the Dusters would descend on the human, unleashing magic powerful enough to alter their sense of reality. The event would seem as a dream, or they might feel like they had lost a few moments of remembrance. The spotted fairy, however, had a much worse fate. They were cast into what the fairy kingdom loosely called School, but which everyone knew was more like a prison, to relearn the skills necessary to remain hidden and then given new assignments.
Being a tooth fairy was a dangerous profession, with its close contact to the humans themselves. True, they were only human children, and they were supposedly sound asleep, but human children had an uncanny knack of awaking at inopportune times. Despite the dangerous element of the profession, the business itself was going bankrupt. Teeth just weren’t worth as much as they used to be. Most of them were riddled with decay, holes, cavities, grinding marks, and unsightly soda pop stains. Come across a perfect specimen, however, and you were set for at least a month’s quota of Human Artifacts, possibly even two.
Francesca set her wings in motion, heading for the window, wanting to get her prize specimen to the Artifact Bank. Another rustle behind her made her turn around, even though she knew that she shouldn’t look. She should get out of that room as quickly as her silver wings could carry her.
Two enormous brown eyes peered at her from under the pile of pink blankets and stuffed critters. Two chubby fists rubbed the eyes, as though trying to clear their vision. And then there was the unmistakable sound of a gasp, the first sign of a registered recognition.
A tiny chirruping bell erupted from Francesca’s pendant hanging around her neck. The Dusters would be here soon to work their magic and dust Francesca’s existence into the human child’s dreams. And Francesca would be carted off to School.
She couldn’t let them. She loved being a tooth fairy, inherent dangers and all. She couldn’t let them reassign her.
“Hello?” The human child’s voice came from behind a fluffy yellow bunny rabbit. Francesca could see two black pigtails poking out of the top of the child’s head. “Are you the toof fairy?”
Francesca’s bell began to ring again. The child’s voice had triggered the second alarm. She had to make a quick decision. The Dusters would be here any moment.
“Yes,” she said sweetly, drifting over to where the human child was huddled under the blankets. “I am the tooth fairy. How would you like to come with me for an adventure?”
The child’s eyes lit up and she popped her head out from the protection of her covers. The black pigtails bounced as she nodded her head eagerly.
Francesca reached out her hand toward the child, careful to secure the valuable tooth in her belt pouch. “Then come with me, little one,” she cooed, and took the child’s dimpled hand in her own delicate grasp.
The night’s breeze was a cool, balmy one. It softly brushed against Francesca and the human child as they flew outside of nearby house’s second-story windows.
Flying with a fairy is easy enough. All the little girl had to do was hold onto Francesca’s hand, and she’d sail right along with her as if she had wings herself. It was a good thing, too. Francesca’s wings would have strained under their combined weight. Human children could be so heavy.
“Where are we going?” the child asked, sucking her free thumb.
Francesca nearly stopped in midair, but caught herself and kept flying. Where were they going? As they passed a pond she could see their reflections: a delicate, luminescent fairy and a small, chubby child. She wasn’t sure if they looked beautiful or ridiculous. The child’s tooth was still in her palm.
“Do you want to see what we fairies do with teeth?”
The little girl nodded vigorously.
“Good! Then I’ll show you!” Francesca scanned the countryside: beyond the cul-de-sacs and supermarket parking lots were the outskirts of town, followed by forested hills. If her assignment had gone according to plan, she would have flown back to the forest, into underground entrance to the fairy world, gone straight to the Artifact Bank, checked in and collected her money for the tooth. This was no longer an option. They would recognize her at the Bank at once, not to mention how she could never get a human child past the security at the entrance to the fairy world in the first place. Francesca had never been in trouble herself before tonight (apart from the incident with the light bulbs back in her academy days), but she knew there was more than one way to sell a tooth!
It wasn’t supposed to exist. No respectable fairies went there. No one would ever admit to knowing anything about it. It was a despicable scandal at best.
Francesca led her new friend in a gentle but speedy dive, avoiding the tall downtown buildings and powerlines. The little girl shrieked in delight at the roller-coaster effect while her pigtails flew straight back. The two of them zipped past a late-night carnival and a movie theatre. One of the lights around the old sign for the theatre had a flickering bulb that blinked on and off. Blink. Blink-blink. Blinky-blink-blink. Blink.
With a shrinking spell she had to know to do her job, Francesca shrunk them both to the size of bees and hurtled toward the entrance to the fairy world that she shouldn’t have known. They flew toward flickering bulb and just a hint to the left. Zoom! They were inside the hidden doorway.
“Ta-da! Here we are!” Francesca waved her hands. “Welcome to the Fairy World’s Black Market!”
It was a busy night. Goblins, ifrits, pixies, and witches milled around them in a crowd. Stalls of food and wares were on either side of each aisle, some brightly lit with friendly vendors, and others draped in mysterious shadows. It was easy to tell which people didn’t want to be seen. They had hoods pulled down low over their faces. Francesca frowned. She should have brought a hood too, not that it mattered anymore.
“What’s that?” Francesca’s hand was tugged. She looked where the child was pointing.
“That, my dear, is a dwarf-troll. Don’t point. They don’t like it.”
“Ooh! Is that another fairy?” The child bounced with delight as she caught a glimpse of sparkling wings peeking out from a hood and cloak.
“Yes, it is. But don’t point. They don’t like it either.” Francesca made her way through the crowd to the particular booth that she knew (but shouldn’t have known) would give her a fair price for her tooth.
“Good evening, Peregrin,” she called. brushing back an owl windchime hanging from the awning.
“Francesca!” A pointy-eared fairy loomed out from the shadows, a single earring dangling. “How lovely to--” he paused when he saw the human child and looked back up at Francesca with a rather mischievous gleam in his eyes. “Well, well, well.”
“What do we have here?” Peregrin asked, approaching Francesca and the human child, who was attempting to break free of Francesca’s grip to explore the interior of the shop. The girl made a sudden impressive squirming motion and released herself from the fairy’s grasp.
“Oh!” Francesca squeaked. She had never had any interaction with a human child before and was quite surprised at the girl’s strength. She was already extending a pudgy finger toward a row of clear jars holding various items floating in liquid.
“What’s that?” she asked, jabbing her finger at a jar of what looked to be eye balls floating in a swirling yellow-tinged liquid.
Peregrin moved swiftly to his wall of merchandise and pulled the child’s hand away.
“That, my dear,” he said silkily, “is my collection of elf eyes. They contain many magical properties, depending on their color and age.”
“You mean like Santa’s elves?” she asked, her brow furrowed in a look of horror.
“No, no, no child,” Peregrin muttered, shifting her toward where Francesca stood. “Everyone knows that Sinterklaas only employs Frisheid elves. They are much too expensive for a humble shop owner like myself.”
Peregrin guided the child over to where Francesca was hovering anxiously by the door.
“I’m so sorry, Peregrin,” she said, taking the girl’s hand again in hers.
“No worries,” he replied, but he continued to watch the girl warily, as though she may cause a catastrophe in his shop merely by standing there.
“Peregrin, this is…” Francesca stopped in mid-introduction. “Wait, that’s funny. I don’t know your name, child.”
The girl looked up at her with large brown eyes. “My name is Shu-Lin,” she said. “Is this where we sell my tooth?”
“Goodness!” cried Peregrin. “Aren’t you a smart one!” He then appraised the girl with an even brighter gleam in his eyes.
“My friend Nahla says the tooth fairy builds her castle with our teeth, but Bobby says that’s stupid, why would a fairy build a castle out of teeth. And Lilly says the tooth fairy isn’t real ‘cause she saw her mamma putting a quarter under her pillow one night, and I told her that the tooth fairy IS real and I was right!”
“You were right, indeed!” Peregrin exclaimed, placing a withered hand on Shu-Lin’s shoulder. “Now, shall we look at this tooth of yours?”
Francesca pulled the tiny tooth from the pouch on her belt. She held it out to the older fairy to inspect. He pulled a pair of pince-nez from his breast pocket and placed the spectacles onto his nose. Shu-Lin giggled when she saw how enlarged the fairy’s eyes appeared through the lenses.
“A fine specimen, indeed,” he said, turning the tooth over in the palm of his hand. “I will give you three gold pieces for it.”
“Three gold pieces!” Francesca cried. “I can get twice that at the Artifact Bank!”
“Then I suggest you take it to the Bank. I run a business here, you know.”
“I can’t take it to the Bank,” Francesca muttered. “They would cart me off to School before I even made it to the front desk.”
“Ah, I see,” Peregrin said, nodding slightly. “I was wondering how you came to be in company with this stow-away.”
“I just panicked,” Francesca said quickly. ‘I love being a tooth collector. I didn’t want to have to start over again with an assignment that is someone else’s idea of what’s appropriate for me. I want to make my own choices.”
“Well, it appears that you have made your choice. Now you must do something with the girl.” Peregrin looked pointedly at Shu-Lin, who had once again slipped away and was curiously poking at a miniature wart-hog that was snorting in a twisted silver cage. “Careful, child, you don’t want to be bitten by a narflblat. His venom will leave you seeing purple for days.”
“Ooh! I love purple!” Shu-Lin squealed, and continued to poke at the creature.
Peregrin turned back to Francesca. “Dearie, what were you hoping to accomplish? You can’t keep the human child forever, she will need to go back home.”
Francesca’s arms dropped to her sides dejectedly. “I know that. But I don’t know what to do,” she wailed.
Peregrin walked over to Shu-Lin, who had already moved on from the wart-hog to a bowl of green slime that simmered and bubbled on the countertop, her nose pressed up to the edge of the bowl as close as she could get. Taking her chin in his hand, he looked closely at the girl’s face.
“Open your mouth, child,” he commanded and the girl obeyed without even thinking.
“Peregrin, no!” Francesca stuttered, fluttering over to where the two were standing, the old fairy hunched over and looking into the girl’s mouth.
“So, so tempting,” he murmured. “So many artifacts in pristine condition, just sitting here waiting to fall out of her mouth. We could just hurry a few along…”
Francesca grabbed Shu-Lin by the arm and pulled her back toward the door.
“Francesca, have some sense. The child is walking around with a small fortune in her mouth, not to mention those silky locks of hair. You know that I am not the first who will suggest you take advantage of the situation you are in.”
“Shu-Lin is not for sale, and neither are her teeth or hair, as long as they are attached to her.” The fairy stood protectively in front of the girl, shielding her from the older fairy’s reach.
“Oh, have it your way, my dear. You know I can’t resist a little business venture.”
Seeing the look of disgust on Francesca’s face, the old fairy amended his statement. “Very well then, I suggest you take the young lady and her tooth to the Smedge. You have more bartering power with fairy dust itself than in gold pieces.”
“Take the girl to the Smedge? Are you crazy? She could incinerate her on the spot!” Francesca exclaimed.
Peregrin replied thoughtfully. “Other than taking the child immediately home, do you really have any other options?”
Francesca thought about what Peregrin suggested. The Smedge was an ancient giant whom the fairies paid to incinerate human artifacts so as to turn them into magical fairy dust. Fairy dust was the source of all the fairy’s magic. Without it, fairies would be weak. They could still fly, but they would be as fragile as an insect and have a greatly reduced lifespan. There were fairies at the Artifact Bank who acted as the go-between, taking the human artifacts to the Smedge. It was the most dangerous and prestigious position a fairy could hold, for the Smedge often lost her temper and more than a few fairies were thrown into her incineration fire along with the artifacts. To take the child to the Smedge was dangerous, so dangerous. But it was the only way she could get enough value from the child’s tooth to last her until Francesca knew what to do next. It was either that or take the girl home.
But that wasn’t an option. Francesca was not going to be carted off to School.
Shu-Lin tugged on Francesca’s hand. “I’m hungry.”
Francesca shivered and looked back down at the girl. She was still young enough that her cuteness acted as a sort of self-preservation, but how could the Smedge, a giant who incinerates human parts for a living, possibly have a soft corner for a human child?
“I’m hungry. Can we go get ice cream?”
The rogue fairy blinked at the human child and grinned. “Why not?” If she was going to see the Smedge tonight, she’d need all the fortification she could get! They took their leave of Peregrin and his shop, heading toward the carnival outside, back in the human world. Francesca changed them back to their regular sizes before they landed on the ground.
“We should wear costumes before getting ice cream,” Francesca told Shu-Lin, thinking of the Dusters that would be looking for them. “What do you want to dress up as?”
“Batman!” Shu-Lin yelled, brown eyes sparkling with delight.
The girl’s jaw dropped. “You don’t know who Batman is?”
Francesca sighed and put her hand to Shu-Lin’s temple, plucking the image of this Batman from her memories. She was spending a lot of magic tonight. With a few flicks of her hand, Francesca put a shimmer over Shu-Lin and gave her the desired costume. Feeling a bit tired, she just made her wings look fake and her hair a bright lime green. Perfect for a carnival. They would fit right in.
Ten minutes later, the two of them were walking underneath the bright lights and weaving through the crowds, licking two very tall ice cream cones. Shu-Lin kept repeating how hers was “A whole foot long!” in wonder.
“How old are you, Shu-Lin?” Francesca was curious.
“Ten. Just kidding. I’m five.” Shu-Lin grinned, showing her missing tooth.
“Ah, so you’re starting school soon, aren’t you?”
“I can already write my name really well!” She crouched down and starting scratching in the dirt. It looked like a bunch of 8’s and lower-case B’s when she was done.
“You can’t read it because it’s Korean,” Shu-Lin said proudly.
“Are you sure?” Francesca had her doubts.
“Of course! I am very expert in Korean.” She gave her ice cream cone a lick all the way around.
“But you were born here?”
“Yeah, my mommy and daddy like it here. I like it too, because Bobby and Nahla and Suzuna are here.”
“We’re going to ride the bus together soon! And I have a lunchbox already! Oh!” Shu-Lin did a little skip. “Do fairies go to school too?”
Francesca tripped and very nearly dropped the ice cream off of her cone. “Only if we make a really big mistake, Shu-Lin. Our schools aren’t nice like yours will be.”
“You don’t get recess?” Shu-Lin’s eyes went wide in sympathy.
“That’s not what I meant. Let’s finish these and go.”
The girl agreed, and for a few minutes they ate their ice cream in silence. When all that was left was a sticky mess around her companion’s face, Francesca said, “Do you like fireworks, Shu-Lin?”
It was a stretch to call the Smedge’s business fireworks, but Francesca thought it was close enough. She had only been to the Smedge’s once with her mentor, when she was being trained as a tooth collector. She never thought she would return. It was a long flight, up a mountain and down the cavern stairs, into the Smedge’s cave. Once inside that cave, you could see the enormous anvil, a shadow in front of the great furnace that never stopped burning. Then you saw the Smedge’s shadow flung up on the wall and onto the ceiling. Sparks flying as she swung her hammer down. Smedge’s hair, thin and dangling down her neck. Her stooped shoulders, and claw-like hands with long fingers and nails. Her pale gray eyes that squinted and popped in turn. No, Francesca never thought she would be desperate enough to go back.
She still thought it was a bad idea, even as they were climbing down the steps to the cavern. And as she stepped up to the anvil with Shu-Lin’s tooth in one hand and Shu-Lin’s hand in the other, she definitely thought she had gone positively doolally to have come at all.
The Smedge stopped her hammer and turned towards them, sweat dribbling down her sooty chin. She squinted. “Unusual time for a delivery.” Her voice was loud, booming and echoing in the cave.
Francesca squeezed Shu-Lin’s hand. “I have a tooth for you.”
“Not from the bank?” The hammer was put down with a small crash.
“No. I was hoping we could do business more directly.” Francesca tried to speak up and hide the tremor in her voice.
“Let’s see it.” The Smedge bent down to their level, eyes opening wider and wider to see the small, gleaming tooth in the fairy’s hand. “It’s not bad. Five for it.”
“Only five? This- this is a fine tooth here!”
“You want to pay more for it?” The Smedge raised an eyebrow.
“You pay me, I turn the tooth into dust. Don’t tell me you didn’t know.”
Francesca’s mind turned into a blank, white slate, through which panics and worries started swirling about like a snow storm. This detail of the business she had forgotten. She remembered her mentor saying how the price of fairy dust was far more than gold, but having been terrified during the whole lecture that was given at the Smedge’s cave, it hadn’t made much of an impression. She let go of Shu-Lin and dug her hand into her purse. She only had five pieces.
“Or, I can take it and keep the dust,” the Smedge suggested, sounding exasperated. “Stop wasting my time.”
“No! No, I need the dust!” Francesca wasn’t going to last long without the fairy dust, especially with how much she’d been spending with Shu-Lin. She needed the gold too, but the dust was far more important.
“I don’t have all night.” The Smedge’s patience, already thin, was at its limit.
“Five gold pieces, and I keep the dust.” Francesca said, digging out the gold. “It’s fair.” With more dust, she could do odd jobs for whatever money she needed. The Smedge held out her large hand, which was almost as large as Francesca herself. The poor little fairy gulped.
In her scramble to get the gold pieces out of her purse quickly, Francesca fumbled and ended up taking longer than necessary. The Smedge growled. Francesca dropped a gold piece.
And then, she dropped the tooth.
“YOU CLUMSY NITWIT!” the Smedge roared. “I have work to do! Stop wasting my time!” She picked up Francesca and held her upside down, shaking the gold out. Four more gold pieces fell.
“I’m sorry!” Francesca squeaked.
“All this bother over one stupid tooth! Maybe if you’d brought me two or three it’d be worth it,” the Smedge ranted. “But no, you come in here and bother me over one tiny thing! That’s all any of you do! Bother, whine, and nag!”
The light from the furnace flickered on the Smedge’s sweaty face and her dead, gray eyes. “Might as well turn you into dust. One less fairy.”
The Smedge turned her head in surprise toward Shu-Lin, whom she hadn’t really noticed before. The batman costume had worked wonders in the dark cave.
“Don’t be mean to Francesca!” Shu-Lin pulled her cheek to one side with a finger, and wiggled a loose tooth. “You can take this!”
“Don’t! It’s not ready to come out yet!” Francesca struggled in the Smedge’s grip.
“Two for the price of one?” the Smedge asked, eyes narrowing.
“You can keep this one for free!” the little girl promised.
The Smedge nodded. “Agreed.”
Shu-Lin grabbed hold of her loose tooth, and yanked. It didn’t come out. She nursed her jaw. “Ow!”
“Stop, you don’t have to do that!” Francesca begged.
Shu-Lin took a deep breath and yanked again, twisting and wiggling the tooth this time. The tooth came free. Bright drops of red blood dripped onto her little hand.
“Good...” the Smedge took the tooth and dropped Francesca. She picked up her hammer and turned towards the anvil once more.
Francesca fell to the floor and half-hobbled, half-flew back to Shu-Lin, hugging her in a tight squeeze. “Oh, you darling thing! I’m so sorry!”
“Are you okay now?”
“Yes, I’m okay.” Francesca felt like crying. Human children were so surprising. She blinked rapidly and stood up.
The Smedge’s hand swept up the second tooth and Francesca’s last gold pieces. With her hammer, she smashed Shu-Lin’s teeth, one at a time, and dropped the pieces in what looked like a frying pan. She opened the door to her furnace, yellow, white, and blue flames roaring inside, and placed the frying pan in, shutting the door behind it. The Smedge turned a knob on an old fashioned rotating kitchen timer, setting it to thirty seconds. It ticked and rang with a ding.
The Smedge took the pan out, and tipped half of its sparkling contents into a clear little bag. She handed it to Francesca with a grunt and waved her hand in a shooing motion.
Francesca put the bag, nice and plump, in her empty purse and took Shu-Lin’s little hand. “I’ve got to take you home now.”
As Francesca made the journey to the little girl’s house, her plump little hand placed so trustingly in her own, conflicting thoughts and emotions whirled through her head. How could she have taken a human child to see the Smedge, when she knew how dangerous and unpredictable the giantess was? How could she have thought it a good idea to bring the child into the fairy world at all? This was no place for humans. All because Francesca did not want to be caught by the Dusters. How long did she think she could stay on the run? Apparently, not longer than an evening. If it wasn’t for Shu-Lin’s quick thinking and courageous actions Francesca could very well have been a pile of sparkly fairy dust by now. No, she couldn’t keep Shu-Lin from her family and try to stay on the run. She owed the girl more than that. But was she really ready to give everything up and allow herself to be carted off to School? Francesca’s stomach did a quick flip-flop at the thought.
As Francesca drew closer to Shu-Lin’s house her nerves made her more and more anxious. Would the Dusters be waiting there for her? She pressed her nose up against the glass of the girl’s bedroom window, but the room appeared to be empty. No gray-clad fairies were in sight. Francesca gently pushed the window open and drifted into the middle of the room. Although Shu-Lin still had a firm grip of her hand, the little girl was beginning to droop with fatigue. It had been a long night for the child.
“Well, you’re home again!” Francesca said brightly, trying to pretend that she wasn’t actually scanning the room with her eyes for any possible signs of the Dusters.
Shu-Lin gave a great yawn. “I want to stay with you, Francesca,” she said sleepily, her words followed by yet another yawn.
“I think it’s time for little girls to go to bed,” Francesca said, while pulling the girl’s arm toward the inviting fluff of pillows and covers. When Sh-Lin didn’t comply, she added, “Besides, you know that I will visit you again soon, right? You’ve got 18 more teeth in there to go…”
Finally, as her eyes and body drooped, the bed became too enticing and the little girl climbed up into the depth of her covers, nestling down into her pillow.
“Thanks, Francesca,” Shu-Lin said sleepily. “See you soon.”
And with that her heavy eyelids finally gave up their valiant effort to stay open and she closed them, a tiny sigh escaping her lips.
“Good night,” whispered Francesca.
The fairy waited for a few minutes longer, just to be sure the girl was sound asleep. She then pulled her bulging bag of fairy dust from off her belt loop. Was it enough? Could she perform the magic herself?
Francesca started shaking the sparkling dust over the sleeping child. Shu-Lin’s lips curled in a small smile, but she remained asleep. The fairy held her alarm pendent in her hand as she continued to sprinkle the dust, watching it carefully. Although there was no longer any sound coming from the alarm to signal Francesca being spotted, the pendant had remained lit up since Shu-Lin had been awoken, glowing a faint purple color. The light began to fade slightly and Francesca dumped more dust on the little girl. Finally when the last little glittery granules fell onto the sleeping child Francesca’s pendant grew dark. It was done. It had worked! Shu-Lin would not remember Francesca when she awoke in the morning. It would all seem like a fantastic dream.
Francesca turned to leave, but a slight crackling noise stopped her in her tracks. Before she had time to respond there was a puff of gray smoke and a fairy dressed all in dark gray appeared next to her. Another puff and a second fairy appeared by Shu-Lin’s dresser. There was a third, fourth, fifth puff, and then the room seemed overwhelmed with fairies. They looked around the room eagerly as they emerged from the dissipating smoke until finally all eyes were on Francesca.
The gray fairy closest to Francesca seized her arm roughly, turning her about until he could see the pendant resting in the hollow of Francesca’s neck. His eyes squinted into little slits when he saw that it was dark.
“What..? What’s going on?” Francesca squeaked, trying to conceal the mounting anxiety that was threatening to take over her.
“There was an alarm raised in this house,” the dark fairy said, looking Francesca up and down. He then looked over at Shu-Lin sleeping peacefully under her covers. “We responded several hours ago after the alarm went off, but there was no one here. No fairy, no human child, the room was empty.”
The gray fairy released Francesca’s arm and paced slowly around the room. The other fairies were also searching, opening the closet door, sliding out dresser drawers, and peeking under the child’s bed. They each turned to the fairy who appeared to be the senior officer, shaking their heads in turn.
Francesca’s heart was pumping furiously in her chest. She hoped that the Duster fairies would not notice.
“Well, I only just got here,” Francesca said, her voice rising a little at the end. She forced it to go down again. “There was no one else here when I came in.”
The senior officer eyed her suspiciously.
“Then how can you explain,” he said in a sly voice, “the fact that the girl was not in her bed when we responded earlier?”
Francesca’s mind spun, but she answered quickly. “Perhaps she was in the bathroom? Maybe she got frightened in the night and ran to her parents’ room….children are not always in their beds all night, sir…”
The senior officer did not seem convinced.
“We have been responding to alarms and reports of a human child all evening. There have been several witnesses who said they saw a human child in the company of a fairy in the fairy world, of all places. Who do you suppose that could have been?” He looked pointedly at Francesca.
Francesca responded with a shrug. “I can’t say. I have been working all night,” she said.
A gray fairy with a pudgy belly and round wings closed the closet door. “There doesn’t seem to be anything out of sorts here,” he said to the senior officer. “There are no other fairies in the room and the child still sleeps.”
The senior officer shook his head. “No, I know it was this fairy. I can feel it in my wing tips.”
Francesca kept her face neutral.
“Sir,” a tall and slender fairy said from across the room, hovering close to Shu-Lin and passing a small green box in the air above the child’s face. “I’m not getting any readings of recognition from her. The Spotter is reading a negative.”
“Humph,” the senior officer grunted. “It doesn’t matter what the readings are. I know it was her.” He pointed in Francesca’s direction.
A tiny gray fairy slipped out from under the bed. “But sir, she doesn’t fit Peregrin’s description at all. Peregrin stated it was a fairy from the eastern sector. Her wings were pointed and dark.”
“Hang Peregrin!” the senior officer retorted. “I can’t believe him any more than I can believe that the Easter bunny has wings! Peregrin’s been walking the line of the law since before your first set of wings were even dry! No, it was her alright. I just can’t figure out how the child has already been wiped.”
“That’s impossible, sir!” piped in the small fairy from under the bed, who apparently didn’t seem to notice the steam fuming from his superior officer’s ears. “Dusters are the only fairies authorized to use dust strong enough for that!”
“Do you think I’m batty?!” the senior officer barked. “Of course I know that!” At the sound of his voice Shu-Lin repositioned herself under her covers, sighing as she moved. All the fairies froze in place until the girl dropped back off to sleep.
“I think that we had better go, sir,” said the tall fairy who was closest to the girl in the bed. “The child is not registering any recognition readings and we cannot risk waking her by staying longer.”
All the fairies looked to their senior officer who looked like he could blow his top at any moment. Finally he barked in a strained whisper, “Alright! Troops out!”
With that, the room once again crackled with energy and the fairies popped out of sight leaving behind a small puff of smoke.
When they were alone, the senior fairy approached Francesca, leaning his face close to hers.
“I’m still not convinced that you weren’t involved in some mischief tonight,” he said. “Make no doubt about it, my eyes will be on you.”
He poked his stubby finger onto her chest for final emphasis, then with a pop he was gone.
Francesca let out a long, slow breath. She couldn’t believe that she had actually done it! It had been a huge risk, but Francesca had pulled it off in the end.
Normally the magic and fairy dust needed to erase a human’s memory was too powerful for an ordinary fairy to get their hands on it. But the fairy dust that Francesca had bartered from the giantess was different, and Francesca had banked on that bit of knowledge. Since the dust came from Shu-Lin’s own personal artifacts, it was triple the strength of ordinary fairy dust when used directly on herself. The magic had been strong enough to alter her memory and to save Francesca from being sent to School.
Francesca quietly fluttered over to where Shu-Lin was sleeping peacefully. Her chubby arm was giving a strangle hold on a brown teddy bear, its glass eyes staring up at the ceiling. The child suddenly muttered something in her sleep. It sounded a lot like “fairy world” and “Francesca.” Francesca uttered a sigh of relief that the child’s words had not slipped out while the Dusters were in the room.
Francesca pulled two shiny silver dollars, one for each tooth, from her pocket and slid them under Shu-Lin’s pillow. She wished that she had more to leave the girl, but her pocket was now empty.
“I will be back, Shu-Lin. And….thank you,” she whispered, but to the girl it sounded like the tinkling of bells in her dreams.