The next morning, I wake up to Ruby crying again. Babies cry – a lot. I don’t remember Dustin crying. Maybe only girl babies cry. Or maybe my new sister just knows that her mother is gone.
Dad appears in the doorway a few moments later. “Get dressed,” He says. “Help your brother to as well. We’re going out.”
“Really?” I say. We haven’t gotten to go anywhere in ages. “Where are we going?”
Dad runs a hand through his hair, hesitating. “It’s a surprise,” He says.
I nod, excited. Maybe things will be okay without Mum. Once, she told me that when we die, our spirit lives on in our families and friends.
Maybe that’s what we’re doing today. Making sure her spirit lives on.
Well, if that’s why, I’m going to make sure that today is a happy one. I don’t think Mum would want her spirit to live in sad, moody pixies.
Gently, I wake Dustin and tell him the news. He jumps out of bed, just as excited as I am.
“Do you think we will go to the beach again?” He asks.
“Or maybe that place where the leaves are all different colours!” I exclaim.
“Or the one where there’s pink flowers on the trees!”
“Or the place with the fireflies!” I say, clapping excitedly. “Or was it firebugs?”
“Let’s ask Dad at breakfast,” Suggests Dustin. I nod.
We dress as quickly as we can, and I put on my shell necklace and tuck the photo of Mum into my pocket. Dustin grabs his leaf cap off the hook on the back of the door and Dr Cuddles – a stuffed teddy Mum and Dad gave him one Christmas. Together, we run down the stairs.
Ruby is still in her cot, and is still crying.
“Is that the baby? Asks Dustin.
I nod. “Meet our new sister, Ruby.” I tell him. Dustin grins. “Can I hold her?”
I scoop Ruby up in my arms and show Dustin the right way to hold her. Then I place him in his arms. Ruby almost immediately stops crying and looks up at Dustin with her big dark eyes.
“I think she likes you,” I say. Dustin giggles.
I run into the kitchen. Dad’s at the table, writing on a piece of paper covered in words. There’s two more sitting on the chair next to him. “What’s that?” I ask him. He looks up, startled.
“It’s nothing,” He says hastily, picking up the papers and folding them into his pocket. “Just things for work.”
I nod, and take the jug of orange juice out of the fridge, talking to Dad about the storm last night and asking him about the fireflies (it is fireflies, not firebugs – Dad says they’re a different animal completely) and how Ruby has dark eyes like I do. Dustin comes in soon after, complaining that Ruby puked all over his shirt. Dad asks if I can go clean him up, so that he can finish filling out the papers he needs for work.
I run a bath for Dustin and fetch him a new shirt from the closet – a green one, which is his favourite colour. Then I throw the dirty one into the washing basket. It smells horrible. We can wash it later. Mum usually does the washing. Who will do it now? I push that thought out of my mind.
Dad’s finishing the last of his papers when Dustin and I bound down the stairs.
“We’re ready!” I announce happily.
Dad puts the papers back in his pocket. “You got your shoes on?”
Both of us nod eagerly.
Dad smiles. “Well then,” He says, “Let’s get going.”
Together, the three of us walk out the door. To have fun.
To let Mum’s spirit live on.
We fly across Sparkling Lake, Dustin and I doing backflips and summersaults in the air. Other than last night, I haven’t flown in ages. It feels nice to stretch my wings again.
Dad leads the way, carrying Ruby with him. It is his surprise, after all. We’re heading towards a meadow with a river and lots of colourful flowers. There’s also a really spooky tree on the other side valley, but fortunately we turn away from it and head towards the sweet shop. Maybe that’s where we’re going! We went there once, and Dad let us choose one cake each. Dad called them ‘silly sweets’, and said they were magic. Dustin ate one that made his wings turn purple, and the one I ate made me invisible!
That was a fun day.
But we pass the sweet shop. I don’t feel too disappointed though. I feel a bit sick. I think I had too much orange juice.
“Are we going to Auntie Bella’s?” I ask Dad. Auntie Bella is – no – was a friend of Mum’s. I have to get used to that now. Bella used to babysit us when both Mum and Dad worked at the same times. That was before Dustin came along, and Mum retired.
Bella wouldn’t know about Mum yet. Maybe we’re going to go tell her. Suddenly I feel very sad again. I try to push it down, remembering my promise to make today a good one.
But Dad shakes his head. “No, we’re going somewhere new.” He says, shifting Ruby’s position in his arms.
I squeal with excitement.
“Where?” Asks Dustin excitedly.
“You’ll see,” Is all he says.
We fly for a little while longer, through a forest filled with shrubs, covered in tiny little pink flowers.
“What type of flowers are these, Dad?” I ask him.
“They’re summersweets. This forest is named after them.”
“Summersweet Forest,” I say, smiling. “What a pretty name.”
“Are we having a picnic?” Dustin guesses.
Dad shakes his head again. “Nope.”
“Dustin!” I exclaim. “Look – houses!”
There’s lots of them, too – all made out of trees and logs.
“Yes,” Says Dad. “Lots of Tinker talent fairies live in this area.”
“Tinkers,” I breathe. I’ve always admired the Tinkers – how they can make something out of just about anything they find. Once, before Dustin was born, Dad took me to a market where a Tinker made a butterfly out of scrap metal in front of our very eyes. The sparrowman gave it to me for free. Later, Mum helped me paint it and Dad hung it from the ceiling of my bedroom. It’s still there now.
We keep flying.
“Da-ad,” I complain. “How much longer? My wings are starting to ache.”
Dad doesn’t slow down. “Just a little further,” He says. “Not far now.”
Finally, we arrive at our destination – a great big house made out of a hollowed out log. There’s an extra floor built on top.
“Wow,” I breathe.
We land on the footpath leading up to the doorway. There’s a sign planted in the ground, but I’m not sure what it says because I can’t read yet. Mum said she’d teach me when I was older. I suppose Dad will now, when he’s not working.
The three of us walk up to the door, and Dad knocks. The door opens, and a young lady steps out to greet us.
The lady is an Animal talent – I can tell because her wings are tinted orange. Mine are tinted sapphire blue, like all Water talent wings are. Dustin’s are too, but they’re a little brighter, like ice. She wears a brown dress and an apron. Her dark hair is pulled back in what Mum always called a pony tail – all neat and tidy, no fuss. She looks down at Dustin and me, smiling sadly. Maybe she already knows about Mum.
“Fly with you,” She says kindly. “I’m Kristina.”
Dustin and I wave shyly. Dad holds out a hand, balancing Ruby in the other. “Lovely to meet you, Kristina. Is Paprika here?”
Kristina nods. “Follow me. I’ll take you to her office.”
“No, it’s ok,” Says Dad. “I remember the way.” He turns to me. “Rose, I need you to look after Ruby and Dustin for me, ok?”
I nod, delighted to have a reason to hold my baby sister again. Dad hands her to me, and turns to Dustin.
“Kristina will look after you for now,” He says, turning to Kristina. A look passes between them.
Now I get it – Kristina is going to keep us busy whilst Dad gets the surprise ready! This Paprika must be helping him.
“Okay Dad,” I say cheerfully.
Dad gives me a hug, then Dustin, then he plants a kiss on Ruby’s forehead. Ruby gargles something in baby. I wonder if you can learn to speak baby. Then I wouldn’t have to wait for Ruby to grow up before we can talk to each other.
Dad brushes the hair out of my face, like he used to when I was little. “Remember I love you.” He says, turning to look at Dustin. “All of you.”
“See you soon!” I say, but Dad doesn’t hear me. He’s already disappeared up a long spiralling staircase inside.
Kristina fusses over Dustin’s untucked shirt, and my messy hair. I must have forgotten to brush it in all the excitement this morning. Oops.
“Come with me to the kitchen – I just took some strawberry muffins out of the oven.” She says, beckoning us inside.
“Yum!” Exclaims Dustin. “I love muffins!” He bounces inside after Kristina.
We walk down the hallway, past lots of doors with numbers on them. Behind one door, I can hear someone shouting.
“Are there any other kids here?” I ask Kristina.
Kristina nods. “Yes, of course. I can introduce you later, if you want.”
“Yes please!” I chime excitedly. I’ve never met any other fairy children before; only Dustin.
Kristina stops and turns to face us. “You two are ok with… All this?”
I frown, then realise she must be talking about Mum. “I am sad about it,” I admit. “But Mum always said that when we die, our spirit lives on in the people we love. I want Mum’s spirit to be happy.”
Dustin nods. “So do I!”
Kristina looks bemused. “Rose, how old are you?”
“Eight,” I say. “Dustin’s six.” Dustin nods.
“Well,” She says, “For eight, you’re very grown up.”
I beam at her, then continue to follow her down the hall.
The kitchen is at the end of the hallway – filled with lots of pots and pans and a great big oven. There’s also a table and a big tub of soapy water, for washing dirty dishes, I expect. Dustin and I used to help Mum wash the dishes each night. Sometimes, when Dad had been able to smuggle some extra pixie dust home for Dustin and I to use, we’d use make shapes and animals with the water. Dustin would make a fairy and I would make a hawk and make it chase the fairy around the kitchen.
Whilst Kristina serves up the warm muffins on pretty china plates, Dustin and I tell her about the beach and how I got my shell necklace. I sit on a stool and cradle Ruby, who’s gurgling away quite happily in my arms.
“And who’s this?” Coos Kristina, setting a muffin down in front of me.
“Ruby,” I tell her. “She was born last night.”
Kristina looks surprised. “Goodness. We’ve never had anyone that young here before. I’ll have to make up some formula for her to drink.”
“So you look after kids often?” I ask her.
“Well, yes,” She says, shrugging. “That’s my job.”
I nod approvingly. “Could you hold Ruby whilst I eat my muffin?”
“Of course,” She says.
I let Kristina take Ruby out of my arms and dig into my muffin. It’s still warm in the centre.
“How long have you known Dad?” Asks Dustin, his mouth full of muffin.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” I scold.
“Sorry.” He swallows, and repeats the question.
“Not long,” Kristina admits. “I only met him last night, when he came to speak with Madame Shadow.”
“Madame Shadow?” I frown, confused. “Who’s that?”
“Madame Paprika Iceshadow, the fairy your father is talking to,” She explains.
“Oh, I see,” I say to her. “So she’s the one helping Dad get the surprise ready?”
Kristina frowns. “What surprise?”
I giggle. “You don’t have to pretend. Dad told us that he had a surprise for us today. That’s why you’re looking after us, so he can get it ready with Madame Paprika.”
Kristina looks horrified, which quickly changes to anger. I dip my head a little. “Sorry,” I mumble. “Did I spoil the surprise?”
Kristina shakes her head. “Oh, Rose, I’m so sorry. I can’t believe – a surprise, really – why would he say such a thing?”
I stare at her. “What are you talking about?”
She looks at me sadly. “There is no surprise, Rose. Your father lied to you.”
I glare at her, angry. “You’re wrong!”
“He’s our dad – why would he lie to us?” Asks Dustin.
Kristina shakes her head. “I don’t know – oh, Rose, I’m so sorry, I assumed he had told you!”
I stop dead. “Told us what?”
Kristina hesitates. Ruby starts crying. Dustin looks scared.
“Rose, where’s Dad?” He asks.
I look at Dustin, and then at Kristina.
“Kristina, where’s our father?”
Kristina shakes her head sadly. “I’m sorry Rose, but he only had to hand in the forms. He would be long gone by now.”
I don’t listen to another word.
Dropping my muffin, I race down the hallway and out the front door. Dustin isn’t far behind me. Because now I know exactly where we are. How many times did Mum and Dad warn us about it?
“Why can’t we go outside, Mum?” I whined.
“Rose, sweetie, listen.” Mum knelt down and placed her hands on my shoulders. “There are bad people out there. People who may try to take you away us, and we’ll never be able to see you again.” She hugged me tight. “I don’t wasn’t to lose you. Promise me you’ll never go outside without me or Dad.”
I closed my eyes tight, hugging her back. “I promise,” I say.
Mum pulled away and smiled. “There’s a good girl. Also, Rose, don’t tell Dustin this. I don’t want to scare him.”
I nodded. “Okay Mum.”
This was no surprise, no picnic, no fun day out to let Mum’s spirit live on. Dad has brought us to the place where all the lost children go, all the ones that are taken away.
I reach the front door, and stop dead.
Dad is already halfway down the footpath.
Time seems to slow down. I break into a run, and all I can think is that this isn’t real, it has to be all a dream.
But it’s not.
A cold pair of hands grab me and I struggle against them. “No!” I scream. “Lemme go! I have to stop him!”
Tears run down my face. “Dad! Dad!” Thunder rumbles overhead. I try to break free, but the hands are too strong. They start to pull me back towards the house, towards the place for lost children.
“No!” I cry. “I’m not going back in there! I don’t want to, I won’t – Daddy!”
“Miss Morningmist, control yourself!” The pair of hands grip me tighter as I continue to struggle. “Your father is gone. This is your home now.”
My body goes limp as I accept defeat and watch our father fly away, out of sight, out of the forest, and out of our lives forever.
He never looks back.