The next afternoon, I fairly stalked into Snowden House with a clear purpose. By golly, I was going to get myself a fairy if I had to destroy the painting to get it!
I grabbed my gear and entered the Schlimme Exhibit. I had chosen sweeping as my cover. I commenced the construction of small piles of dust, heading all the while in a specific direction.
Closer and closer I waved my broom, trying to look as random as possible as I edged toward a certain display stand. I knew which fairy I wanted, but I had no idea how I was going to get it.
She was the exhibit titled, "Spring Fairy Wakens the Flowers," with her billowing skirts and her little thimble-full of—dust; fairy dust? It was too dull to be glitter, but it still had a bit of luster, which ruled out the possibility of its being normal dust or fine sand. I didn't know what it was, but at any rate, she was my target.
I'd cased her exhibit already, and it turned my stomach to see that Mr. Schlimme had, diabolically concealed behind the model trees and foliage, actually stapled her wings to the paper! I had to rescue her. Maybe if I bumped the partition, her display would fall. Maybe if I did it quick enough, no one would believe it intentional. But then again--
Mr. Schlimme's booming voice coming from behind me almost scared the living daylights out of me! I jumped and whirled around, broom still in hand. As neat as you could wish, the end of my broom caught the corner of the "Spring Fairy" exhibit purely by accident, and the whole thing crashed to the floor.
Instantly, the suave gentleman scrambled to it. "No!" he gasped as I reached out to grab it. He got his hands on it first and turned it over.
"I'm very sorry, sir!" I said, putting all the remorse I could into my voice.
"Idiot!" Mr. Schlimme snapped at me, "This, young man, is what comes of not paying attention!"
"It will not happen again, sir, I promise. But . . . can it be repaired?"
Krasimir Schlimme shook his head. "No, no; more's the pity. Each of these, ah, pieces is as unique as each individual human! That is what makes them so valuable... when they are not broken! Then they are worthless trash!" With no more than a sigh, he tossed the whole display into my trash-cart. Then he pointed a crooked, ringed finger at me and warned, "See that nothing happens to the others!"
I wondered at his tone. Did he know they were alive?
I could feel my pulse increase to a triple-beat cadence as I pushed the cart back to the Janitor's Closet, where I had a little bench to sit on if I needed some privacy... like now. I had the fairy! Carefully, I lifted the paper with its prisoner out of the trash. Now that the "forest" was broken off, I could clearly see the four large, ugly staples pinning her delicate pearlescent wings to the painted sky beneath her. How badly I wanted to free her then and there! I knew that would not be the wisest course of action. I gently laid the paper in my duffel bag, zipped it, and tried to walk casually out of the museum.
Yeah, right; have you ever tried to act casual while you're so high-strung that the slightest noise will send you through the roof?
Anyway, I made it to my dorm room without mishap. Once I had my door closed and locked, I hot-footed it to my desk and laid the paper and the fairy on it, to examine her under the lamp.
In the stillness and the silence, I had to gaze at her. That smile etched on her face, the silky white-gold hair, and delicate, pointed toes. I pulled out a ruler; she was fully six inches from head to toe. My head spun; with this discovery, I could revolutionize the popular conception—now a mis-conception—of fairies being thumb-high creatures!
The next thing I wanted to explore was her thimble of dust. I poured it into a pile on the paper next to her head. Daubing some on my finger, curiosity suddenly blossomed in my brain. What could one do with fairy-dust? It was far too small an amount to sprinkle on oneself for flying, so that ruled out Barrie's fantasy. It almost looked like shiny mustard-powder. I swiped my finger across my tongue.
Searing fire stung my mouth, and I began spitting, yelling, and desperately wiping my tongue. It may look like mustard, but it tasted like powdered habanera! I grabbed my water bottle and took great gulps, trying to cool my mouth down. That's when I heard it.
It was a delicate tinkling sound, like sleigh-bells, but in the definite rhythm of laughter. It seemed to come from the fairy!
I returned to the desk. She was looking right at me, but not a muscle had twitched at all. Only her eyes moved. The jingling stopped. Carefully, I reached out a finger and poked her face. It still felt stiff, but a sharp, high-pitched knell—very loud and insistent, no longer delicate—made me jump.
For the first time, I decided to speak to the fairy.
"Is that... you... making the bell noises?"
She replied with more tinkling.
"Were you ... laughing at me when I ate the fairy-dust?"
Her eyes looked down and I heard the sleigh-bells again. She had been, and now she was again!
"You can... understand me?"
Another tinkling noise like the first, which I took to mean, "yes."
I tried to make my intentions as clear as possible, "I want to free you..."
Her eyes fixed on me, and she made happy jangling noises, giving her approval.
"... But I'm afraid of hurting you. Won't it hurt your wings to take the staples out?"
She made a low, clanging noise, similar to "yes" but less happy.
"It will hurt you?"
The low noise again. Maybe that meant "no," but I wanted to be sure.
"Are you saying 'no'?"
She replied, "Yes."
I took a deep breath and pulled out my pocketknife. This was going to be some delicate business!
"Ok," I told the fairy, "I'm going to try. I'll go slow and be as gentle as I can. Are you ready?"
She jangled so much, I could tell she was too excited about the prospect of freedom to worry about it hurting.
I held up the paper so that I could pry up the staples from the back. I lifted the ends so that I could pull them straight out. Laying the paper down again, I used the tiny pliers to slowly lift the staple.
She jangled so loud I jumped and dropped the knife.
“I'm sorry!" I cried, "I'm trying very hard to be gentle! I'm almost done! Please don't scare me like that!"
She made a quiet jingling that I'm sure meant, "I'm sorry."
She tinkled softly throughout the rest of the operation, but at last it was done. As soon as I got the last staple out, she took off in a flash of light, zipping around the room, jingling and jangling a mile a minute. I laughed.
"Come back, please!" I asked, as she was beginning to snoop in all sorts of places around my room.
She willingly returned to stand on the desk. As soon as she stopped flying, the glow died. I noted: fairies only glow while flying. That was convenient, as I could clearly see her.
Her dress was still ripped, but other than that, she seemed perfectly fine. She was an energetic little thing, constantly moving her hands or her feet as I looked at her. Even though her wings once had staples in them, I could no longer see the holes. A second note: Fairies' wings are possibly made of microscopic follicles like bird's feathers, and respond accordingly to piercing, by separating to allow the object through, but closing up again once the object is removed.
"You can understand me when I speak, right?"
She said, "Yes," and then a bunch of other jingles and tinkles that I didn't understand. She kept pointing to the pile of fairy-dust.
"How can you understand me?"
She "giggled" and went through a hilarious pantomimed re-enactment of my little "taste-test."
It dawned on me, "Because I ate the fairy-dust, you can understand my speech?"
“Yes," she jingled.
"How can I understand you, then?"
She grabbed a handful (a few grains) of the fairy dust and demonstrated putting them in her ears.
"I put the dust in my ears, and I will be able to understand you?"
I daubed the dust onto my fingers a second time, but this time I swiped it into my ears and not my tongue.
Instantly, I could hear words in the bell-noises, which faded to background noise behind the delicate voice.
"The dust in your ears translates my language into yours, just as the dust on your tongue translates your language into mine."
I stared at the little creature on my desk.
"That's what fairy-dust is for?"
She laughed, "Yes; not all fairies speak the same language, so we use the dust as a translator when we want to communicate. What did you think it was for?"
"Well..." I hesitated as I pictured trying to explain popular fantasy literature to the fairy, "I guess... not as a translator, that's for sure."
She laughed again, "But that's not all we use it for. It's good as fertilizer, too, for the ground and the plants, and it makes the animals healthy, too."
Now that I could understand her, there was one last thing I wanted to know. "My name is Casey. What is yours?"
She was evidently comfortable around me now, for she flew up to my shoulder. Her head was as high as my ear.
"My name is Sheerya," she whispered.<<<<<>>>>>