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.