On the day the snow started turning to rivers, Nicki barged into the house at sunset with her hands clamped together, and I knew there was going to be more trouble. I’d been just about to finish my multiplication homework; I was seated at the kitchen table with three problems left. Mother had just gone out the back door to check our basil plants or Nicki would have been seen.
“Dina,” she gasped, stumbling toward me. Her hair was a wild, white-blonde cloud around her head, and her shins were soaked with melted snow. “You need to come upstairs with me, now!”
I gestured to my homework. “I have three more problems. I’ll come up when I’m done.”
“There’s no time for that.” She darted forward and clamped down on my arm with her elbow, pulling me awkwardly from my chair while keeping her hands together. “You need to see what I found!”
“But I -”
Nicki was unstoppable, so it wasn’t worth it to resist. I stumbled after her as she tracked mud through the house in her snow boots. Mother was going to shout at her later for that; she’d already warned us that April snowmelt meant more mud than usual. I shook my hand free of her elbow and followed her up the stairs toward our room.
“I was playing outside when I saw it,” Nicki panted. “We’ve been alive for nine whole years now and we’ve never seen one before, and who knows when we’ll see one again -”
“What are you talking about?”
She dragged me into the room and slammed the door shut behind her. Her eyes glowed as she turned to face me. “It’s a fairy.”
Between her fingers something buzzed. I saw rays of bluish-white light shining out from them, pulsing like a lit-up firefly. I heard indistinct squeaking, a sound almost like a tiny, muffled voice.
“A fairy?” I whispered. “Are you serious?”
“And you - you took it prisoner, or what?”
“It was asleep underneath a snowbank. Right at the edge where the ice had started to melt away. It stayed asleep when I picked it up.”
“Well, it’s awake now.” I eyed her hands. “What are you going to do with it?”
“Who knows?” At last she kicked off her shoes and launched herself onto the bed, gesturing for me to join her.
I weighed the advantages of hanging back. From all I’d ever heard about fairies - granted, it wasn’t much - they were volatile forces, and not particularly to be trusted. But this one couldn’t be much larger than a beetle, to fit between Nicki’s hands. I clambered onto the bed beside her.
“This had better not be like the time you brought home that talking butterfly,” I said. “The one that knew all the swear words.”
Nicki’s eyes grew dreamy. “If only.”
When she opened her hands, for a moment all I could see was the pulsing, buzzing light, and I thought it might just be some sort of glowing orb. But then it took off toward the window, and - yes, it was a tiny, humanoid shape with wide dragonfly wings. It slammed into the glass of the window and then whirled around, alighting on miniscule feet.
“Let me out!” came the squeaky voice again, sharp now that nothing was muffling it.
Nicki and I leaned forward in unison to get a better look. The fairy was a girl with dark hair reaching down to her toes, clad in a robe that looked like it was made of snowflakes. Her wingspan was several inches wider than her height. Her arms were folded, and she looked furious.
“Let me out now,” she snapped, “or I’ll set winter on this whole room!”
Nicki bounded off the bed and over to the window. “Please, please do!”
The fairy squinted at her. I hung back, this time; I wasn’t ready to draw her ire onto me as well as Nicki.
“I bet you could make it snow in here,” said Nicki. “I bet you could cover the whole room and it would be beautiful.”
Her wings fluttered slightly. There was hesitation, before she spoke again. “It would be beautiful.”
“You’re a winter fairy, aren’t you?” Nicki bounced on the balls of her feet. “I’ll bet you were hibernating under that snowbank all winter, weren’t you? Were you? I’ll bet you helped make all the prettiest snow.”
The wings fluttered again, and I wondered if that was a sign of pleasure. “I’m an artist.”
“Oh, you are, I’m sure of it.”
The blue light that surrounded the fairy, which my eyes had only just adjusted to, began now to dim. The hostility was leaving her stance. “Do you really want me to show you some of my work?”
Father had told us once to be wary of anyone who started a conversation that way, but Nicki was already nodding. She was already looking around the room in expectation as the fairy rose from the windowsill, wings buzzing and glowing again.
She’s going to make it snow, Nicki mouthed at me, from where I sat still secure on the bed. I barely looked at her. I couldn’t take my eyes away from the fairy.
Little arrows of blue light shot from her arms when she spread them wide like a conductor, and I watched them arc from the window to the wall. I felt a sudden chill as though the window had been flung open. Frost formed on the walls where the blue arrows touched down, and then the lights swirled together and rose to the ceiling, forming blank, fluffy clouds that hovered over our heads.
I shivered. If Mother or Father came into the room right now, how were we going to explain ourselves?
I could swear the fairy was smirking as the first fat snowflakes began to fall. Nicki squealed and scrambled up onto her nightstand to be higher off the ground, sticking her tongue out to catch the flakes. I stretched out my hands and watched them fall on my long sleeves. They were real, all right.
“They’re pretty, aren’t they?” the fairy preened. “I’m one of the best fairies in the area, for making it snow.”
Nicki had somehow filled her mouth with snowflakes, and her words were jumbled as she replied. “The betht. Abtholutely.”
Snow was beginning to stick to the carpet. I didn’t move from my seat.
But it cut off, abruptly, when the sun moved from behind a cloud outside and a ray beamed into our room. It hit the fairy, lighting her from behind for a moment, and she dropped back down to the sill with a gasp.
“The sun!” she exclaimed, sounding disgusted. “That’s springtime sun!”
“It’th thpring today,” Nicki confirmed, and swallowed her mouthful of snowflakes. “You’ll have to leave soon, won’t you - you and all the other winter fairies?”
The fairy was beginning to glow brighter again. Anger returning to her demeanor. She turned to peer out the window onto the ground. “The snow’s all melted out there! My art, my landscapes - they’re all disappearing!”
Nicki wasn’t even looking. The snow had stopped, and she was reaching up into the clouds now, trying to pull some away into her hands. I leaned forward instead to speak my first words to her.
“Were you supposed to be gone by now?” I asked.
She turned to me. Her whole face, I saw now, was growing red as a strawberry. “If spring’s here, that means the rest of them left without me!”
“Why would they do that?”
She scowled. “I sleep late. I’ll bet they thought it would be funny, leaving me here on my own.”
Angry fairies were the most dangerous kind - except, possibly, the kind that started sentences with you want to see some of my work - but I found my fear was dissipating. She was upset, now, but not at us. I edged off the bed and approached her.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
She turned away to stare out the window again. “It’s Aspen.”
“That’s pretty,” I offered.
“They love doing this to me.” Her arms folded tighter over her chest. “Just because I’m the youngest sister. They ought to be ashamed of themselves. What if I couldn’t find my way back home without them? What if I got lost and had to stay here all summer? Wouldn’t they be sorry.”
“I’m sure they would be.” I glanced at Nicki. “I’ll bet we could help you come up with a way to get back at them.”
Aspen’s eyes widened. “Would you?”
“Nicki,” I said loudly, “if I left you somewhere to get lost, what would you do to get back at me?”
She didn’t even look around from her position, now on my nightstand instead of her own, her hands still buried in the clouds. “I’d find my way home and then I’d fill your pillowcase with ants.”
I blinked. “Aren’t you worried about what would happen to the ants?”
“They can take care of themselves.”
That was true. I grinned. When I turned back to Aspen, she looked confused - and really, how many people could say they had a sister strange enough to confuse a fairy? Whatever Aspen’s siblings were like, they couldn’t hold a candle to mine.
“Nicki’s friends with the ants who live in our garden,” I said. “There’s a big anthill right by the fence in the back. If you go down there, and tell them you’re a friend of Nicki’s, they’d probably be willing to do you a favor.”
“I didn’t know humans made friends with ants,” Aspen said.
“It’s a long story.”
“I saved their queen,” Nicki called over her shoulder. “Another ant put a curse on her and I helped break it.”
Well, yes, that was the story in a nutshell, but she’d neglected to mention how exactly we’d ended up being chased by a swarm of geese across the park, a situation I’d had to get us out of and come up with excuses for. But Aspen wasn’t waiting to get the full narrative. She was already pushing against the window glass again.
“I’ll go see them!” she squeaked. “Open the window and I’ll go see them!”
I cracked the window open a tiny bit and propped it with a pencil, and Aspen wriggled out, descending toward the garden.
The moment she was gone, the clouds sagged, falling to the floor as suddenly-condensed rain and melting all the accumulated snow. Nicki’s hair and shoulders were thoroughly soaked. I giggled at the sight, which prompted a giggle from her in return - though the carpets and sheets were going to need a top-level excuse for Mother and Father.
“She seemed nice,” Nicki remarked, descending from the bed. “Should we ask for a reward when she gets back?”
“Let’s see what she does,” I said. “Maybe she’ll offer us one.”
And sure enough, when she squeezed her way back into the room, beaming at us both, she seemed to be in an excellent mood for gift-giving.
“I’m going to make my siblings wish they were never born,” she said gleefully. “I’ll fly a hundred of those ants up to where the winter-fairies sleep, and they’ll nest in the other fairies’ beds. They’ll hide and scare them when they try to go to sleep. Oh, it’s perfect!” Her eyes glowed. “The ants are excited - they say they’ve always wanted to see what it feels like to fly.”
“That’s them, all right,” I said fondly.
She looked from me to Nicki and back again. “You know, humans aren’t supposed to know what we look like. We’re supposed to hide our existence.”
“We won’t tell anyone,” said Nicki quickly, which was a lie. She would tell this whole story - embellished as far as she could take it - to the other kids at lunch tomorrow. And when they turned to me for confirmation, well, I wouldn’t throw my own sister under the bus.
“It’s dangerous information for humans to have,” Aspen said.
Nicki puffed out her chest. “Danger is my middle name.”
Aspen shrugged. Her arms lifted, once more as if conducting some invisible orchestra, and twin tiny teacups - larger than her head, but still tiny to us - appeared in her hands. They were thin and dainty and made of gold, and filled with a liquid the color of honey.
“This is a thank-you gift,” she said. “It’s fairy tea. It tastes to humans like whatever food you like best.”
Nicki and I exchanged glances, grinning. We took the teacups carefully between thumb and forefinger, and I gulped mine down in a single sip. My eyes closed. It tasted just like steaming-hot apple cider, like the kind Father made in autumn with real fresh-picked apples. For a moment I was transported.
“Mmmm,” Nicki said. “It’s… it’s melted ice cream with strawberry syrup.”
When I opened my eyes, the windowsill was empty. I frowned for a moment, examining it - completely clear, and the window shut tight. The new springtime sun was shining brighter than before into our room.
I turned around at the same moment Nicki did. Our entire bedroom was soaked. It looked as though a rainstorm had whirled through here a moment ago, and I had the feeling I was supposed to know why, that I’d seen what had happened. But for the life of me I couldn’t think what it was.
“How did it get so wet in here?” Nicki asked.
I turned to her, confused. “Don’t… don’t we know?”
She shook her head.
Almost in unison, we looked down at our hands. There were little golden teacups in them, clean and sparkling and strangely cold to the touch. As though they were made of ice, though I could feel the hardness of the metal in my fingers. Where had these come from? And why couldn’t I remember?
“Nicki,” I said slowly, “I have a feeling one of your schemes just went wrong again.”
Nicki smiled. “It’s possible.”
The light outside brightened again. I glanced out the window. It was really a beautiful afternoon. Almost all the snow outside had melted by now, and grass was beginning to show itself to the world again. Soon flowers would be blooming in yards and in trees, and summer would be full of color.
Then there was a knock on our door. My heart dropped as I whipped around again. Mother was outside, or Father, about to walk in and see what we’d done - or what something had done - to our carpets.
“Dina,” Nicki said, “do you have one of your excuses ready?”
I was always the one with the excuses. I squeezed my eyes shut and racked my brains. “Yes. Yes, all right. I’m ready.”
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So good! Um, and what's the excuse? And did mom and dad believe it? I really like your songs, Phoebe! I'm a very BIG fan of yours! my favorite was 'the firebird'! Can you check out my stories? Can you send an email to email@example.com? I'll send you a clip of one of my stories back. Regards, Ivy
I like the allusions to the other ( mis? ) Adventures. Nice!
Interesting story! I like a lot
I always like stories like these. They're very fun and nice. I'm reading this again after a long time, and I have to say, I love Nicki and Dina. Are there more stories? Please let there be!