I glanced around the hall. There were a couple people still wandering around, but they looked like they had already been there for a while and were on their way out.
I unobtrusively strolled in and went about my work. The guests finished gazing in wonder at the numerous “sculptures” and “paintings” and took their leave.
“Okay, you can come out now!” I whispered.
Sheerya emerged and flew around the room, gazing closely at every composition. I followed her, curious to know more about these little folk.
“Are these all fairies, Sheerya?” I asked.
She shook her head, “Only the girls are fairies; all the boys are elves.”
I looked at her in surprise, “Every time?”
“Uh-huh,” she responded brightly.
“So there's no such thing as a boy fairy or a girl elf?”
“What? No!” Sheerya’s tone was terrified, and she covered her face with her hands. “That… that’s just wrong! Fairies are always girls and elves are always boys! To be any other way would be impossible!”
I shrugged, “Okay, never mind, then.” I went on with my work.
Less than twenty minutes later, Sheerya was back on my shoulder. “Can we go now?” she asked shortly.
I stopped and turned by head to look at her. “I need to finish first. I’m here for another hour.”
“Well, can’t you finish now?”
I shook my head, “Were you listening? Here, look over there,” I pointed at the clock on the wall. “When the short hand points at the number 5, I can go. I have to work till then.”
Sheerya huffed impatiently. “Why do you have to wait for the short hand?”
“Because the short hand marks off the hour. See, it’s pointing at the 4, and in one more hour, it will point at 5.”
“How do you know it will point at the 5 in one hour?”
For only six inches high, she confused me quite a bit! “I know because that’s how long an hour is. Do you see the little lines? Those mark off the minutes. When the long hand, which points out the minutes, moves in a full circle, the short hand will move too, and change the hour.”
“How do you know that what the clock says is the right time?”
I covered my head with my hand as I considered explaining Greenwich Mean Time and Big Ben and all that to a fairy from a different world.
I was saved from all that when Sheerya clarified herself, “Who decides how long an hour is?”
I sighed and put aside my broom for a moment. “Well, a long time ago, people discovered that the sun moved across the sky at the same rate, and they discovered a way to measure the amount of time it takes the sun to move across the sky, and they called it hours.”
“Well, maybe it was hours to them,” Sheerya countered, “but what does that have to do with you?”
“It’s not just me, though, Sheerya,” I reprimanded her, aware now that perhaps they had no concept of hours or divisions within a day most likely beyond “morning,” “midday,” “evening,” and “night.” “All humans follow the hours of a clock, and Mr. Gilroy expects me to be here at a certain hour and leave at a certain hour. I can’t decide how long I work!” I shoved the dirt into the dustpan and dumped it into my trash-cart. “What’s your problem, anyway?”
I’ll admit I had let my frustration get the better of me, and I could tell my words affected her deeply, on top of her mysterious trouble.
She sighed shakily and settled in the midst of a landscape depicting a fairy-ball.
“It’s…them,” she replied softly, and I detected tears in her voice, even though she was too small for me to see them.
She walked to a particularly over-decorated face, and immediately I could tell that it was an elf with fake wings, when compared to the real ones on Sheerya’s back. She placed her hand in his stiff one.
I hastily leaned the broom against my trash-cart and knelt by the display stand.
“How did he capture you?”
Sheerya shrugged, and I heard her crying silently.
“I…He—It was nothing spectacular, really. He had entered our world, Phantasm, through a portal, and wandered among us, merely observing as we gathered around him. We had never seen a human before, and we wanted to know all about him. He made no sudden movement, no sound, but smiled as we wondered at his strange appearance and towering size. He looked just as excited to see us as we were to meet him.”
Sheerya spread her wings and flew to the first painting I’d really looked closely at, the Audience with the Queen.
“He already had her in captivity, his first fairy,” Sheerya told me. “I don’t know how it happened, but he showed her to us as if it had been an accident. He explained that the jar was his water-jug, and somehow she’d gotten into it and damaged a wing, thus making it impossible for her to fly out.” Sheerya rubbed her eyes as her tiny body shook with sobs, “We should have seen through it, I don’t know how we allowed ourselves to be taken in like we were, but when he asked us for a volunteer to rescue our sister, we couldn’t refuse! The bottle had a long neck, so that, he said, was why he could not help her. One of us had to fly in and help her out.” Sheerya flew to the top of the fame and sat there to finish her story.
“I was the first one to volunteer. I entered the bottle and immediately passed out. When I came to my senses, there were hundreds of us in that bottle, and there was a cork in the top preventing our escape. He passed through the portal and into his workshop, where he disguised us all as the works of art you see here.”
I shook my head, not quite understanding why a gentleman like Krasimir Schlimme would do such a thing. “What is this portal you keep talking about?”
Sheerya kicked her legs nonchalantly, “It’s the passageway between your world and ours.”
“Wait, there’s a passageway between the worlds? That means you can get back, right?”
“Right…” I didn’t understand the hesitation in her voice.
“Do you know where this portal is?”
Sheerya shrugged, “It is my job to know where and when the portals will open—“
“Well, I guess you could get home pretty easily, then.”
“Not as easily as you might think, Casey. To even find the portal, every creature must be awakened at least once. Krasimir has many more creatures in his workshop that he does not have here on display. So even if you rescued all the fairies and elves in this room, there are still more that need to be rescued from Krasimir’s potions that paralyze us and keep us prisoner. Then, once you have freed them all, the portal can be anywhere, at any time; but every creature must be present at the site, and enter the portal voluntarily, or it will not work.”
I gazed around the wide room with slumped shoulders. “Are you serious? I have to rescue all of them?” Where would I put them all? Could I seriously walk out of the museum with the entire contents of an exhibit hall hidden on my person? “Well…” I decided slowly, “I’ll try, Sheerya.”
“Oh, good! One more thing you—“
I froze; had I been discovered? I turned even as I felt Sheerya’s wings flutter against my neck.
It was only Mr. Gilroy. The man looked over-burdened as he approached me, bullied somehow. He laid a hand on my shoulder. “Private tour group,” he explained, “you can leave for today.”
I sighed with relief, “Oh good.”
“Pardon?” the older man asked.
“I mean, um, okay, Mr. Gilroy. See you tomorrow.”
I wheeled the cart back into the Closet.
On my way out, I bumped into a tall person in a dark, pinstripe suit.
“Ach! Pardon me,” said a strong voice in a measured European accent.
It was Krasimir Schlimme. He smiled, and his eyes even sparkled kindly and wisely, but after Sheerya’s tale, I knew I could never look at that man the same way again. Wordlessly, I continued on my way.
When I got to the door, I glanced back over my shoulder at the man—only to find he was watching me, too! A chill went down my spine as I stepped out into the glowing sunset.