The umbrella in our yard was bright pink and had a giant slice torn out of it the morning I went to the porch after the rains had hit our town. I recalled my mother had bought the umbrella at an estate sale for around three dollars; how excited she was to bring it home and plant it on our back porch. Well. Now it was in tatters, not unlike the rest of the yard, which had flooded last night in the storms. I didn’t want to tell my mother her prized umbrella was broken now, but she would notice soon enough. She managed to notice everything. I walked closer to inspect the damage. What caught my eye, though, wasn’t the brightness of the umbrella or the large gash breaking it down the middle, but instead a little green bug wrapped around the base of the pole. It was a caterpillar.
I thought about throwing it off the porch because my parents would be mad if it got to the porch garden and chewed through the leaves, but the thought better of it. What did the caterpillar ever do to us, huh? Instead of flicking the tiny fiend, I let it crawl up my arm.
“I think I can find a jar for you, buddy.” I said as I walked into the kitchen and, as expected, found a jar for the caterpillar. Luckily for me, I had been to kindergarten so I did know how to raise the bug. Give it some sugar water, let it make a cocoon thing, release it when it was a beautiful butterfly. Easy, easy, so easy. Right?
Well, as it turned out, the only easy part of raising this butterfly was getting it off the umbrella pole, because the next morning when I looked at the jar, there wasn’t a caterpillar there at all, but instead a nasty, glinty eyed mini dwarf. It was sitting on a broken stick I put in the jar and staring up at me through deep black eyes. I backed up and hit the back of my shins on the bed behind me.
“Are you a mini dwarf?” I asked it, and then I realized that the lid was still on the jar. I unscrewed the lid and peered in. “Are you a mini dwarf?” I asked it again.
“No, I’m the queen of England.”
“Um, really? The last time I checked she wasn’t two inches tall.”
The mini dwarf leapt off his seat and kicked the glass wall. “Well, the last time I checked, I didn’t ask you for these accommodations, buddy!”
“I’m sorry.” I didn’t know what to say. I thought I was helping, honestly. But this little mini dwarf, this little beady eyed freak, was absolutely livid with me and I knew what guys like him could do to humans. Especially me. “I didn’t mean to capture you. I thought you were a caterpillar.”
“You were wrong.”
“Yeah, I know that now, thanks for the reminder.” I peered deeper into the jar. The mini dwarf had a shock of blue hair and an orange beard. He reminded me of a fruit snack, only harder to get along with. “What’s your name, and then I’ll let you go.”
“What’s your name?”
“Phillop.” It’s a lame variation of the Phillip because my parents tried to be original and just made me sound like a moron every time I said my name. What kind of accent is that, people would ask me, and I’d have to explain that I wasn’t from anywhere exciting, just the small town of Drixmin, and they’d laugh and laugh.
“That’s a stupid name, Phillop. I have a much, much better name than you do.”
“Is it Shrek?”
The mini dwarf didn’t appreciate that comment. “Nooo, Shrek is an ogre and I am a mini dwarf of the blue and orange beard variety and my name is Marmalade.”
Marmalade scoffed. “You don’t like that name? Too bad because now that I know your name, I am your ruler.”
“I don’t think that means you rule me. Maybe I owe you something, like a coupon for three in one shampoo, or my firstborn child…”
Marmalade chucked at this. “You’re never going to have children, Phillop, and if you did, they wouldn’t be very attractive.” That was rude, but probably true. “I don’t want your firstborn child and the only three in one shampoo I can use is available only at the Fae Walmart of Vancouver.”
“What do you want, then, man?”
“Don’t call me man.” Marmalade crossed his arms. “I think that you should have to come with me on my next trip.”
This worried me. What kind of trip would a little bitty mini dwarf have to go on? Was his travel insurance printed out on the backs of fun sized chocolate bars? “I don’t know about this. It was an accident, you know, me capturing you. If you had been a caterpillar I would have let you go as soon as you were a butterfly. Plus, you were disguised as a bug. How was I supposed to know you were a member of the fae?”
“What kind of caterpillar is blue and orange, Phillop?”
“A neat one? I don’t know! But I have school.” I did have school. Not that I liked it all that much, but I’d like summer school even less. “I have a family!” I had a family that was never home, but surely they’d miss me if I was gone. “I have friends.” I had two people I sat at lunch with that would be upset if I wasn’t there to share my egg salad with. “And…” this was my crowning glory, “I have a girlfriend.” That was true. Kind of.
“Sure you do, Phil. I think you should pack up your bag and we can get a move on my nightfall. See, when I said I wanted you to come on a trip with me, I meant my vacation to the leprechaun realm. They’re having a fantastic party that I would hate to miss.”
“Um, what do you need me for, then?”
“Human sacrifices do spectacularly at the buffet table.”
My eyes widened. “Nope.” I swallowed hard and sat back down on the bed. “I really don’t like that plan.”
“I didn’t think you’d be thrilled.” Marmalade ran his hands through his beard. “But it must be done if you want to pay off your debt.”
“Dude, if I am being used as a human sacrifice at a fae buffet table, why does it matter if I pay my debt off or not?”
“You know, there is another option. You won’t like it any better though.”
“No, no. Tell me what it is. It could work. Anything is better than this option, honestly.”
Marmalade nodded smugly. “Alright.” He rubbed his hands together malevolently. “I’ll take your girlfriend instead.”
“Wait, no.” That wouldn’t work either. That definitely, definitely wouldn’t work. Where was the wiggle room with this deal? “It’s either me or her?”
Marmalade picked his teeth with his dirty nails and shrugged. “Yeah, that’s the deal.”
“Well, that is a terrible deal.”
“She’s not really your girlfriend though.”
This was correct. Sabine Monte was not technically my girlfriend. In fact, she was nobody's girlfriend. In fact fact, she wasn’t even alive and had never been alive to begin with. I made her up at a party in eighth grade when I spun the bottle and landed on the unibrowed, tuna breathed Tina Lard. I panicked and said Sabine, my very real, very not imaginary girlfriend, would kill me if I kissed Tina. It got me out of that trouble, but now I was in some more trouble and it involved me being a human sacrifice.
“Yes, she is!” This could maybe work. “Sabine is my girlfriend and she’s real and she would be happy to join you for you leprechaun party but she’s so smart, she would make it out of there alive. I dare you,” I stood up again and pointed at the glass jar, “I dare you to try and keep her for your ridiculous, not to mention inhumane, buffet table.”
“I accept your challenge, young human.”
“Fine. I’ll call her.” I picked up my phone from the bedside table and scrolled through my contact list looking for some girl unfortunate enough to have my number. As I scrolled through the short list, I caught a glimpse of my pasty face in the phone’s backlight. I looked like a toad. A fat, bloated, contaminated by chemicals in the lake toad. Grooossss. I clicked further down my phone list. There was someone I could call… but considering this was the girl who I had refused to kiss in eighth grade, she probably wouldn’t be happy to hear from me. Tina Lard.
I changed her contact name to Sabine Monte (girlfriend) and showed the screen to Marmalade. “Here she is.” Her contact picture was one of Natalie Portman, but chances were Marmalade had no idea who she was, so in his book she could be Sabine Monte. This was my first mistake, because if Tina Lard showed up to the leprechaun party, she would most certainly not look like Natalie Portman, right? Righttt.
I gave the mini dwarf a thumbs up and called Tina. The phone rang twice and then a voice answered. It sounded different, but for sure it was Tina. Maybe she’d had her braces taken off or something. That was another one of the reasons I hadn’t wanted to kiss her; because I had braces too and I had always bought into the myth that if two people with braces kissed, well, they’d be stuck together forever and all of eternity, which didn’t seem like a terrific fate for me. “Who’s this? I don’t have the number saved.”
“Oh, hey, Sabine.”
“Sorry, wrong number, my name’s Tina.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s a great name. This is me, um, your boyfriend, um, Phillop. I know after our last argument we’ve been on the rocks, but I need you. You’re smart, you can get through this. Come over, please?”
“Are you crazy? I haven’t talked to you in like three years! I don’t know you anymore. I’m not coming to your house.”
“Please? I need you.” This was getting awkward… “I need you to come to my house. There’s an issue.”
“What kind of issue?”
“A fae issue!”
“Yeah, oh. So can you help me? You’re the smartest person I know and I think you’re the only one who can help me get out of this. Please?”
“I’m not doing anything else so I guess I’ll be there in five minutes.”
“You live really close by?”
“Nope, I can teleport. Yes, I live close by. See you soon, weirdo.”
Who was she calling a weirdo? Last time I talked to her she was the one who was extraordinarily strange. She cosplayed as a toaster for the fifth grade cosplay ball!
“She’s on her way, Marmalade.”
“Good luck… Phillop.”
I glared at the non caterpillar. “You’re mean.”
“No kidding! I thought I was akin to the Easter Bunny!”
The doorbell rang. Tina Lard had arrived.
“You’d better go get that, stud.” Marmalade grinned from his jar. He picked up the bottle cap of sugar water and threw it back like he was at a little tiny fae frat party. I ran down the stairs and opened the door, but Tina Lard wasn’t there.
Instead she had been replaced by… by someone else who sounded like Tina had on the phone, but had two whole separate eyebrows and, considering she was on my doorstep, she was close enough to me that I could tell her breath didn’t smell like tuna anymore. She looked like a whole different Tina Lard. Was it possible there were two Tina Lard’s in the county? No? Maybe? Or. Was it just true that the ugly duckling made the most beautiful swans?
“What did you get yourself into now?”
“I thought a mini dwarf was a caterpillar and I captured it and now it wants to take me to a leprechaun party as a… as, um, a human sacrifice.”
Tina Lard scowled. “You want me to be the human sacrifice?”
“Not at all! I know you’re smart enough to not be a human sacrifice!”
Tina crossed her arms in front of her chest. “This seems like a trick.”
“It’s not a trick, I promise!” I lowered my voice. “Look, I can show you the mini dwarf, he’s upstairs in a glass drawer.”
Tina resolved to step inside, but as she did she tripped and held out her hand.
I grabbed it to stop her from falling and…
Tina Lard’s wings sprouted from her back, orange and blue as a monarch butterfly.
Seems that now I owed favor’s to two fae, not just one.
A name and a hand had become my chain and ball.