The last thing I want to do is offend you. Or, worse still, for you to think that I'm ungrateful for the gifts that you leave me - those white soldiers which you stow softly beneath your pillows. I'm immeasurably thankful each time I lift your heads with soothing whispers and take one of them. Such a wonder they are, those tiny sticks of chalk which nestle humbly into the palms of my hands. It's what I was made for.
Yet despite my gratitude I can't help but bring up this one small, recurring issue which has been mithering – a Britishism I’ve learnt meaning ‘bothering,’ 'nagging or ‘distracting,' the way a fly might buzz around your head during a picnic or a ticking clock may keep you up at night - our relationship lately. It's a thing I doubt you understand any more than me but please, please work with me to prevent anything else from coming between us.
You see, the problem is that - no matter what I do - you never see me. Again, I don't want to cause any trouble and if it's too much to ask then feel free to write me back with a resounding 'no' but please, please, I want to be seen.
You look at each other all the time. It's like watching animals in a mating ritual, the way your eyes writhe across each other's skin. You watch trains and gaze at stars, you'll glimpse and gawk at anything-and-everything but never, not once, have you ever looked at me.
Please don't hate me for lying, I never meant to I swear, it was a mistake. Don't be mad.
There was one of you that saw me. Only one, out of the countless billions of your kind that have ever lived. I didn't want to tell you at first because it's a little embarrassing and didn't go perfectly. She wasn't that old, four or five, young even for me.
I had just made my way to sell a sack of fresh teeth to Jonas. He loves to collect them in that place. The place between all places. The place where all lost things end their journey, beneath the subtle waves of a lake where hills meet water as abruptly as a diving hawk, behind the seaweed and grime, past the door of unbreakable glass. The moonlight house.
Endless blue corridors of bending light which capture all misplaced things - strewn with children's shoes, lined with unreadable books and littered with rusting pennies. The seawater fills the air with a damp stink of algae and salt as only the reflected moonlight reaches past the depths of the water into the labyrinth below. None of your kind have ever been there, I think you can't.
I found Jonas atop a particularly large pile of debris, some of his most coveted things; a black, engraved grand-piano with no keys to play, an ivory chair with legs that were twisted disturbingly, old paintings - likely worth a fortune in your world - and a great many other things formed his throne. He perched there, the moonlight man, counting a mountain of plastic beads into a metal bucket, his bony knees pulled up to his chin.
Jonas is not an attractive thing. His long arms would stretch almost to his toes if he ever stood upright - he prefers to slouch. His skin is a yellowed grey, paled through his many years of pruning over his horde in near-darkness. His feet are webbed, elongated, stretched and he never covers them. In fact, he's worn the same clothes every time I've ever come to him; ragged black trousers which make him look like a drowned sailor and a straw hat to cover his bald head. His pot-belly bulges unevenly over a rope belt, filled with the living things which reach him in his moonlight web. But least pleasant of all is his rasping, husk of a voice.
"Three thousand and twenty two..." He threw another bead into the bucket. "Three thousand and twenty three."
I let my wet feet patter down behind him. I'm good at being quiet, despite my tall frame - I think you'd describe me as 'lanky' if you could see me - but he knew I was there, he knows everything that happens in his home. He didn't look up, he never looks at me either. Not because he can’t but because he won’t, like I’m a disgraceful taboo he shouldn't indulge. Nobody ever looks at me. Can you imagine what that's like? Always a spectator, an audience behind a screen. Never able to look people in the eyes, to engage them. You'll look though, won’t you?
"What have you brought me this time, m' sweet little birdie?" He spoke between numbers, dividing up the syllables as if he were distracted. "More things to crunch on? Things I can say-vor?"
"Teeth." I answered with a squeak. I can go years without speaking to anyone, it's easy to forget how.
"Hmmm, anything big? Anythin' breakable?" He asked. He likes big bones, big things to eat, things that will last him years down in the deep.
"Children's teeth, same as every other time." I scurried to drop the burlap sack I'd been carrying over one shoulder beside him. He turned his face away as I approached so that he wouldn't have to look at me.
"Hur. What does it want this time? Another shiny thing to steal away?" He was always bitter that I asked for things in return. "Or does it want something tasty for itself? Somethin' that wriggles an' squirms?"
I knew what I wanted. I'd thought about it long and hard before deciding to come.
"Something to make them look at me." I declared, feeling the fear in my voice - I'd never asked for anything so grand before.
"Them?" He seemed shocked. "Sweet birdie, that is a dangerous to ask for."
"If they can see you then they can know you're there. If they know you're there they can hurt you. If they can hurt you then maybe they can come here and hurt old Jonas?" He waved a hand. "Too dangerous. It should ask for something else."
"I'll be careful. I won’t go showing myself to everyone, I'll limit it. One child a month, or a year! Just so long as they could look at me and see me and laugh with me. We could be friends. I could have friends Jonas." I bit back my excitement, sensing his wavering concentration. He can never fixate upon anything other than his treasures for too long, I think it calls to him. "Please."
"Hawf." He rumbled uneasily. "I suppose I could give you somethin'."
My heart swelled at the thought of speaking to one of you. It was actually going to happen. An eternity of watching you play and talk and share your lives and finally I could be a part of it. Even if only a very small part.
He felt around with a hand near my feet, still unwilling to look at even my bare ankles. At length he pulled out a plain wooden box, a chest no bigger than a clenched fist. His fingers fumbled at the latch. It was all painfully slow.
When at last the box creaked open, I saw that the sole inhabitant was a thin, crystal vial, filled with a red liquid.
"Dragon's blood." He said disdainfully. "One drop on the birdie's tongue and they won't be able to resist looking at it."
"But." He cut me off as I was about to jump and shout with joy, snatching the vial away as I reached towards it. "Jonas doesn't trust it with the whole vial. Jonas knows the sweet birdie, knows that it can't resist things, that it's weak."
"You can trust me, I promise." I felt a wave of anxiety as it looked like he might put the vial away.
He scratched his scaled chin.
"We will see." He said. "Jonas will give sweet birdie a chance. Just one. It can have one drop. Enough to last the night."
I sighed relief as I nodded enthusiastically.
"Oh thank you Jonas! Thank you!" I almost could have hugged him.
"But it should know. If Jonas hears that the sweet birdie has been making too many little friends up there, then Jonas won’t let it have any more. Never again. Not for big bones or juicy flesh. Never." He clattered his fangs against each other, a chorus of cracking animosity.
"I understand." I declared, hungry for the conversation to be over.
"Fine." Jonas rocked back and sighed. "Sweet, sweet birdie. It must cup its hands."
I did so and watched as a droplet of crimson blood was splashed onto my fingers. The red danced with golden strands, interwoven into the liquid. I've never seen a dragon before but they must have been beautiful, even their blood glowed with a warmth which burnt at my fingers as I licked them clean.
There was no burst of power, no rushing sensation. I felt normal and worried that it hadn't worked, that old Jonas was trying to trick me out of a bag of teeth. I know I shouldn't be so suspicious. Don't worry, when you decide to look at me I won’t be suspicious of you, not one bit. We'll be friends forever and I'll trust you no matter what. When you look at me you'll know.
I left Jonas without another word. He was already counting again, as though I'd never been there - aside from the teeth, which he ate in mouthfuls, like chocolate.
I ghosted my way through the eternal corridors of the moonlight house, at first with a forced calm and then a jog. When I reached the lake I was sprinting and by the time the cold air on the surface whipped at my face I couldn't stop myself from shooting into the sky. It felt real, like the stars themselves were watching me as my wings carried me onwards.
The teeth call to me, I always know where to look for them like birds know to fly south for winter. I'm drawn to them, the little delicacies. So I raced towards the loudest, the closest.
As I arrived at a house much like any other - two storeys of brown brick encasing lightless windows - I had to stop for a moment. To think. What was I going to say? What if they didn't like me? What if a thousand other things. Jonas' warning burned in my ears too, but I cast them all aside. I was ready, I'd waited long enough.
I passed through the glass and landed gently. I didn't want to startle her. She was asleep. The cutest little human you've ever seen; long blonde curls against deep freckles, smile-creases in her cheeks from all of the fun she must have had during the day and a tiny button-nose.
Like I said a while ago, she was quite young. Four or five. But that didn't matter, she was old enough to know how to play.
My eyes searched the room. There were dolls and the most cuddlable stuffed animals you've ever seen. Rainbow wallpaper complemented drawings, pinned to a wardrobe. She was an artist too, like me. A mobile spun in an unfelt breeze, sending wooden planes into a slow spiral. It was perfect. She was perfect, my new friend.
The scents of freshly washed bed covers invited me towards her. I was smiling and bristling with excitement as I reached her bedside, crouching down so that the breath from her snores landed pleasantly on my face.
"Hello?" I asked shakily.
"Hello?" I raised my voice just a little.
I was too eager. I can see that with hindsight but I just wanted to speak to her so badly. For her to see me.
I shook her shoulders twice as a final time I said, "Hello!"
Her eyes were open and, for a second, I looked into their deep brown pits. The perfection I saw in them made me want to laugh with euphoria. She saw me! Her pupils fixed on me, adjusted to the light and for that one moment everything was perfect. She looked at me, she knew me. I've never felt so alive. It was the most beautiful moment of my life. I imagined everything we would do together. I wondered if we'd stay friends until she was old and wrinkly. A thousand words filtered through my mind. And then it ended.
She screamed. It was a quiet thing, she was so young and her voice hadn't yet recovered from sleep. I managed to catch it, putting my hand across her mouth and throat in the panic. What if her parents had heard? What if they found me?
I felt stupid, Jonas had been right, it was more dangerous than I'd realised. I didn't know what I was doing. I'd just wanted to be friends.
"Please." I tried to reason with her as she pushed feebly against me. "I just want to be friends."
Why was she screaming? Is that any way to make friends? I know my teeth are long and sharp. I know my fingers are like thin candlesticks. I know my face is thin like I've been starved for weeks and my eyes are pale, ghoulish, but it shouldn't matter should it?
Her eyes began to bulge. Her face went blue. I'd never seen it before but I couldn't take my hand away, I couldn't let her parents see me. Jonas would never let me make another friend ever again.
Eventually she stopped moving altogether. I think she was pretending to be asleep. It was a relief and I slowly let out my breath.
"Let's start again." I offered. "Hello, it's nice to meet you."
She didn't say anything but her bulging eyes stayed open, looking right at me. Her neck was bloated even after I took my hands away, so I assumed she was finding it difficult to speak.
"I think I'll call you Wendy." I decided. "I always liked that name."
"Do you want to play a game? Can I play with your teddy-bear?" I pointed.
I took her continued silence as consent.
We talked all night and, yes, like I said I know it's a little bit embarrassing and it could have gone smoother but still. It was perfect, the night I'd dreamt of for centuries. We played - taking care to be quiet - and we talked - well I did all of the talking but she was a great listener - and then, as the sun began to rise, I promised I'd come and see her again soon.
… And that was it. The only time anyone has ever looked at me. Jonas wouldn't let me have any more of the dragon's blood - he had some absurd notions about what had happened that night - and I'm left with only teeth for company. Teeth and your sleeping snores as I watch you from the shadows, pondering waking you up with a preparatory hand over your mouth - I've learnt from last time's mistake.
So now that you understand how much fun we could have, how important it is to me, won’t you look at me?
Just leave a tooth under your pillow and I'll try to wake you up. I'm sure Jonas will let me have the dragon's blood again sooner or later. I'll steal it from him if I have to. I'm so desperate to meet you, to play with you forever.
Your future best friend