It started that very next morning. It was a weekend; we drove to the local shops and the “adults” flirted and bought groceries. I sat with Toby in the park, thinking about dreams, reality, and the lines between them. Toby made fists in the grass, and found something incredibly hilarious about the universe. I found myself wishing that I'd been the infant wished away; that I'd been able to see all those beautiful colours, hear all those interesting sounds, smell all the awful goblins and the sweet flowers, without knowing what they were; I wished I was able to experience without judging or questioning, or being lost in the Big Picture.
He looked at me, suddenly, solemnly, and I stared back. Did he remember it? Did anything happen at all, or did I fall asleep on my bed? I was beginning to doubt my experience, doubt myself, when I heard another child crying and I felt myself drawn to look.
Yes, over there. Near the fountain. A young woman sat, despondently smoking in dirty clothes, eyes darkened shadows in her skeletal frame. A small ratty pram was rolling back and forth in the wind beside her, and she was paying it no heed. The child was cold, Sarah assumed, or lonely, or had just soiled itself. For whatever reason, the kid just cried and cried, its' poor heart broken by whatever was happening. The mother just smoke, and stared at the pavement dully. I tensed my legs to stand, to go over and help it, pick it up and make sure it wasn't ill.
And then I saw it. Toby exclaimed, and I'm sure he saw it too. We froze silently and watched as a small mote approached the baby. It was fairy sized, but – from what my squint could make out – much more golden and well dressed than the fairies I'd been bitten by. I would have stood, at least I like to think I would, to swat the thing away, but then a young man of about eight or nine years old came tiptoe-ing up. He was wearing ragged old clothes that had been patched by a clumsy hand, and as he moved I could see a light sparkle of glitter in the mess that it was. His hair was sticking up in all directions, but jauntily so. Not forced with gel, this hair. It was simply hair that, like its' owner, defied everything and everyone.
He stared openly, brazenly, into the pram for quite some time, as if he was assessing the child. Then, with a proud grin and an emphatic nod, the boy straightened, and crowed. Nobody else in the park seemed to notice, but I heard it, and saw the golden fairy move inwards. She rained gold dust down all over the child, and then the boy made a silly face. The child giggled, and was lifted up by one hand. Leading it like a dance partner, the boy pulled and whirled around slowly, the baby floating in the air as if it were swimming. They smiled at each other for a few moments in the air, just hanging there, and then the young boy looked over at Toby and me. He laughed, and leant to whisper something to the fairy, and finally took true flight with a smug wink.
Toby stretched his arm out after them, crying out. I held him close, until he calmed down, and whispered to him. I knew where they were going; second star to the left, as it goes.
I didn't see anything for over a week after that. I began to doubt, again, my experience. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I dreamt my conversations with my new friends, because I could only have them at night. So I hummed and hawwed and drifted through school. I babysat Toby, and read books and cleaned up some of the lace from my room.
It was a Thursday, at lunch time. A girl from my class was being bullied by someone or something, and I was drawn to defend her. After all, I've been the brunt of way too many things like that, myself. We sat in a dark corner together, alone. She told me all about her life, but not her name. She said she was going to run away soon, and it'd be better if I didn't know. But she'd been left with her stepmother and two stepsisters when her father died.
It was then that I began to feel a stirring of suspicion within my gut.
They had run out of his money, and the woman had been too proud to try for any benefits, so they'd sat around making the most of things. The electrical bill hadn't been paid, and as they sat there in the dark, staring glumly in the dark, they'd decided to send her, as the youngest, cutest, to try and borrow a candle or something from a neighbour.
She'd tied back her golden hair, and dressed up as warmly as she could, and left the house promising to bring it back.
“They were real bitches, that night,” the girl said, “But they weren't always. We were all just hungry, and tired, and fed up with it all.”
So she'd tried the house next door, with an old woman. She had seemed nice and friendly at first, but when the girl had arrived she'd turned into a real, to quote the girl, “Baba Yaga”. Forced the poor thing into a claw-footed bathtub, scrubbed her raw, and contacted social services.
Then, the old hag had somehow argued her way into fostering the girl. Not for any kindness, but to have another hand around the house, to have a cook, cleaner, tailor.
The girl was frightened, and lonely. All she had left of her family was her doll, which had almost been taken by the boys.
“They saw her talking to me, you see,” the doll explained to me in a very sensical and responsible voice. “And they called her a crazy. I feel very stupid for tripping up like that in public, but we're so tired trying to arrange this escape. We have to time it properly, or we'll just get thrown back in there.”
I just held her close, and told her about my mother, and we cried the two of us. But the doll caught her tears, and swallowed them all up.
It broke my heart to leave them, but I'd read enough to know that things would right themselves.
Poor, poor, Vasilisa.
You can see them everywhere, if you look hard enough. I've learnt to stop training myself to focus inwards, like most good adults. You have to look up, and around, and beyond. You have to listen, and smell, and see, really see.
It's quite obvious, really. Maybe easier for me than for others; all I have to do is call. But you can see them, if you know that you can. That's their trick, how they get away with what they do. I won't let them fool me again, though, oh no. See? Over there, the busker? What do you see, in the man with the pipes?
I'm sure as hell not fooled.