"Robbie, how much further is it to this place?" groused Brinlee, as she swatted at a mosquito that buzzed too near her ear.
"We're almost there," said Robbie, a huge grin splitting his face almost in two, "You're going to love it."
"Oh, I'm sure I will," Brinlee answered back sarcastically, trying her best to walk down the rocky, root strewn path without tripping while watching the text messages she was receiving on her phone rather than where she was going.
Robbie glanced at his friend Skyler, hoping for his approval, but he had his head down, trudging along the path with a look of grim determination on his face. It was okay. Robbie didn't need them to be able to have fun out here.
They came around a bend in the path, and the glade spread out before them. In the center of the clearing was a large, shallow pond. It's edges were draped with willow branches, and hemmed in on all sides with tightly spaced aspens. Moss and leaves floated on the water's surface, glowing like gemstones in the illumination provided by the few thin fingers of sunlight that managed to penetrate the canopy of trees. Tadpoles, some already sporting a pair of back legs, wiggled through the murky depths, mirrored by water striders above. And the air was teeming with flying insects of all sorts, dragonflies, butterflies, moths, flies, mosquitoes, and more. They were the reason Robbie had come. In his hand, Robbie held a well-crafted, wooden butterfly net. He intended to catch himself a dragonfly.
"Here you go," said Robbie, waving his arm as if presenting a new car at an auto show. "What do you think."
Brinlee dropped her purse on large rock at the edge of the clearing, and looked at what Robbie had brought her all this way to see. Her eyes passed over the shining ripples in the pond, the riot of colorful wildflowers that filled every inch of ground, and the drooping willow branches rustling in the slight breeze. "Eh, it's nice," she said, obviously unimpressed, sat down on the rock next to her purse, and went back to staring at her phone. She frowned.
"No bars," she said, and stood back up. She walked about five steps to the left, and smiled. "Ah, here we go." She sat down, and started tapping away at the phone's touchscreen.
Robbie put the bag that he had brought with their lunch on the rock by Brinlee. He turned to ask Skyler what he thought, and found him seated and already concentrating on a video game he was playing on his Nintendo DS.
Robbie sighed and shrugged, turning away from the two of them. Brinlee was his nanny, and was ostensibly supposed to be watching him and keeping him safe, but she rarely did. In fact, she normally didn't come out with him to play outdoors like this. He'd told her that he'd found a new place to play, and she'd come along with him this time so that she knew where to go looking for him if he didn't respond to the texts she sent him telling him to come home.
Skyler had done this before too, coming along with Robbie, acting as though he was interested at first, only to tune everything out while playing a game on his DS once arriving. Skyler's parents put a limit on his video game time, but he found that if he snuck his DS out with him when he went with Robbie, he could extend that time a lot.
Robbie had more interesting things planned than video games. He took net in both hands, and stalked toward the pond.
Robbie knew the tool in his hand was called a butterfly net, but he called it a bug net instead. Butterflies were pretty and all, but they were for girls. What he wanted was a dragonfly. Their name just said it all. Dragonfly! That was a cool bug, a tough bug, an awesome bug. What he wouldn't give to get his hands on one. He was so glad his grandpa had given him this net for his birthday last week.
He saw a dragonfly resting on a lily pad floating on the pond. It was big and bluish-green with those eyes like kaleidoscopes. Its wings buzzed intermittently as it looked down at the water. Robbie stalked to the edge of the pond, and held his net out. He knew it would be very tricky catching this dragonfly. He couldn't bring the net straight down on it, because that would dunk the bug down into the water. He didn't want a drowned dragonfly, all mangled and waterlogged. He wanted one that was still intact. He'd have to swing the net sideways across the top of the water, and hope that the dragonfly flew upward into his net as it passed over. It should work.
But it didn't. The net passed harmlessly above the dragonfly's lily pad, and then, once the net was safely away, the dragonfly lifted into the air, flew upward and out of the glade.
He looked around for another one. There were several out toward the middle of the pond, but out on the edges, where he could get to, there were none. He had to change the game on those dragonflies that thought they were safe out there. He sat down on the edge of the pond, and pulled his shoes and socks off, stuffing the socks inside the shoes, to keep them clean. He placed them several feet away from the edge of the water, just in case, and waded slowly into the pond, startling a big bullfrog off a log.
"What are you doing, Robbie?" Brinlee asked, exasperated.
"Just wading," he replied, "I want to try to catch one of those dragonflies out in the middle."
She sighed in an overly exasperated manner, as if instead he'd said something like, "I want to cover myself in peanut butter, roll around in a pile of hay, then make you clean it all off." She wasn't much of a nanny, and he often wondered how his parents had come to hire her on. But his parents didn't seem to care about much other than their jobs, so as long as there were no big problems, they'd never notice. "Just don't get too dirty, all right?" Brinlee said, and went back to her phone.
Robbie turned back to the pond, and stalked as carefully as he could through knee-deep water toward the dragonflies on the reeds in the middle. His feet squished into the muddy ground with each step, and came out with a pop when the suction of the mud let go. He nearly stumbled with each step. If he fell in, Brinlee would freak, and probably make him go home and take a shower or something, so he concentrated more fully on each step. Making certain that he didn't end up face first in the water.
At last, he came within striking distance of the closest dragonfly. He firmed his feet into the squishy ground, wound up, and swung. The dragonfly avoided the net with what seemed like preternatural grace, flying backwards and up in a way that only the most nimble of insects could manage. Despite ensuring that his feet were well grounded, Robbie still teetered dangerously from the force of his swipe. He nearly fell, which sent his heart racing. He didn't want to go home without having corralled his prize. Next swing, he would have to try something different. Being glued to the ground made him unstable when swinging forcefully with a net.
He waded toward the next dragonfly he could see, and thought of how baseball players swing. His little league coach had tried to teach him the mechanics last year when he was last in the batting order on his team. It was so much harder to hit a baseball than Robbie would have ever imagined, but it must be really similar to catching a dragonfly. He stood in a batter's stance across from the bug, as if it were over home plate. He put the net up over his shoulder, lifted his left leg, stepped forward, and swung, twisting his feet with the stroke so that he didn't topple into the water. His head turned, and he didn't even know whether he'd gotten it or not. Without the ping of the baseball on the aluminum bat, he had no way to know if he'd connected or not.
He returned to a normal stance, and lifted his net to inspect its contents. Only, there were no contents. It was as empty as it had been when he'd unwrapped it on his birthday. He hadn't seen how the dragonfly had escaped, which he realized was probably _how_ it had escaped. One thing his baseball coach had always said was to keep his eye on the ball. He'd snapped his head around with his swing and didn't even know whether he was within a foot of the dragonfly when the net passed by.
Since he wasn't much of a hitter in baseball, Robbie figured he'd better try a different approach. He stabbed, swiped and jabbed the net at all the different dragonflies in the reeds at the center of the pond, until soon enough, they were all gone. Now the dragonflies were congregating around the edge of the water, while he stood knee-deep and all alone in the middle. He was pretty frustrated, so he decided it was time to have his lunch. He waded back to the shore, and sat on the rock with the lunch bag.
A sandwich, some string cheese, a Go-Gurt, and a Coke later, he was ready to try again. He pulled his socks and shoes back on his now mostly dry feet. There were several dragonflies resting on weeds at the shoreline now. So, Robbie crept toward them. He'd been worried about bringing the net down onto the dragonflies up until now, in case it didn't work out right and he crushed the bug instead of catching it, but he decided it was time to take that risk. It should work okay. After all, there was a big round hole at the end of the stick for the dragonflies to be when the net came down on them. They wouldn't get crushed, just caught in the fabric of the net.
Robbie steeled himself for a strike on a beautiful iridescent greenish-blue one. Slowly and silently as a hunting cat, he moved his net over the top of the dragonfly, then all at once he moved his net down over the top of it. The dragonfly was safely secured in his net. He whooped with excitement seeing the bug squirming in the folds of his net. Brinlee looked up from her phone for a moment at the noise, then back down again immediately.
Carefully, Robbie reached his hand in and pulled the net closed so that the bug could not escape when he turned the net over. He held it up to his face so he could look at the beauty he'd acquired. It was amazing. It struggled in the net, buzzing its wide, narrow wings. Not the flamboyant wings of a butterfly, but the sleek, clear wings that made dragonflies so much cooler. The long segmented tail of the bug wiggled up and down. What beauty!
"Hey, guys, I got one. I caught a dragonfly."
"Cool, dude," Skyler said without even looking up.
"Mmm-hmmm," grunted Brinlee, her fingers presently tapping furiously on her phones onscreen keyboard.
_How could they not see how much better this dragonfly was than any game or text message?_ he thought. _They were missing out on life._ But what could he do? He couldn't make them live their life, he could only live his own.
He returned his attention to the insect thrashing in his net. It seemed to Robbie that it was more panicked than an insect usually was when caught. Maybe he had injured it after all, though it looked fine. He slipped his hand carefully into the net, and slid it underneath the dragonfly. It stumbled its way up onto his palm, then turned its head, and bit Robbie's thumb.
"Oww," he exclaimed.
Pain seared through his hand much more intensely than a mere insect bite should have been able to produce. And since when did dragonflies bite? Robbie had never heard of it in his life. He snatched his hand out of the net, and thrust his throbbing thumb into his mouth. But it only got worse. He teetered where he sat, as a wave of dizziness swept over him. His hands, both of them, began to tingle like they had fallen asleep, as did his feet. His vision blurred, yellowed, then blacked out completely. The tingling, pins-and-needles feeling progressed up his limbs and engulfed his torso and head as well.
"Unngghh," he grunted, and laid back on the ground. Luckily, the ground was soft here, with no rocks to crack his head on and make his suffering worse. His breathing came quicker and quicker, and he could feel his heart thudding thunderously in his ribcage. Oddly, he found himself wondering if it was part of the same process, or a result of the fear the process was causing. It kept thumping, despite his strangely detached state of mind, so he guessed it was part of the process after all. He couldn't see a thing through his eyes, but at the same time he felt like he could see himself lying on the ground as if from above.
Suddenly, as if the expanding sensations had become too large and collapsed in on themselves, they all rushed away like the flow of a river. His vision burst back upon him with a brilliant white flash, and then it was over. He felt nothing, no lasting effects from the attack whatsoever. _What had that been?_ he wondered. He'd never experienced anything so strange. He was young, but he had still heard of the effects that drugs had on the human body. What had just happened to him felt as though he'd been bombarded with several high-powered drug trips at once, then had it all whipped out from under him like a sleight-of-hand artist pulling a table cloth from under fancy china.
He sat up slowly, blinked, and realized that the effects weren't gone after all. The glade, which seconds ago had been a riot of flying insects flitting from one perch to the next, was now teeming with colorful, winged fairies. Fairies! Mythical creatures were dancing and swooping in the air before Robbie's eyes. The color of everything seemed to be magnified. Mere butterflies, which had been everywhere moments before, paled in comparison to the wings of these fantastic creatures he was seeing now. There were fairies of every ilk; some with the tiny, buzzing wings of bees; others with long, shining dragonfly wings, some with huge, multicolored butterfly wings, and even some with clumsy beetle wings. Their bodies were graceful and thin, impossibly thin and long, as though a normal human had been pulled out of proportion like taffy. And their skin was colorful, not simply fleshy colored like a person's, but iridescent green, reflective blue, or fiery yellow.
He stared, his mouth agape, gasping at the sight of each new fairy he saw as his eyes roamed around and around the glade. There was a splash, and what he had once thought was a big bullfrog but actually appeared to be a…goblin? Hobgoblin? He didn't know…jumped into the water, and swam with fey grace away and out of sight.
"Wow!" he said, "Look at that, Brinlee." And he pointed to a pair of fairies performing aerial maneuvers hand in hand as though they were one.
Brinlee glanced up to where he was pointing. "Yes, butterflies, very nice, Robbie." Then back down to her phone again. Could she not see them then?
The fairies chirped and sang to each other. Noises that Robbie hadn't perceived seconds before now rang out everywhere. Their song was as beautiful as any bird's, perhaps more so, because the fairies songs seemed to have rhythms, melodies, choruses, and harmonies. The whole glade seemed to be singing together in one ever swirling song. Fairies here sang the melody, as others there provided harmony, and others still provided counterpoint. But it was fluid, soon the fairies that sang the melody, were singing harmony, and those on the counterpoint were the main chorus. It was the most beautiful thing Robbie had ever heard.
Everything looked different, more vibrant. The green of the leaves on the trees seemed to glow and crackle with energy. The grey of the pond shone and shimmered despite the shadows that it lay in. The flowers blazed as bright as if they had electric lights embedded within them. Even the air seemed more atmospheric, like he was looking through a soft cloud of smoke brightened by sunlight.
What had happened to him? Was he hallucinating? He'd definitely had some sort of episode a moment before when the dragonfly had bit him, was--the dragonfly! He looked down at the net in his lap. Wriggling and thrashing in the folds of mesh was a tiny fairy girl. She, like the other fairies, was impossibly thin, like a long blade of grass instead of a woman. Her skin was an opalescent blue-green, her eyes were a brilliant yellow, as was her hair, which was long and wild and shone like the sun. Her wings buzzed franticly as she struggled to free herself from the trap.
Oh no, thought Robbie, what have I done?
"Oh, I'm sorry," he said.
He quickly, but carefully untangled the net, opening it to the sky for her.
Brinlee looked up from her phone for a moment, and said, "It's fine, Robbie, don't worry about it. Then back to whatever she was watching.
The fairy crawled out of the net, chirped at him angrily, and flew into the air. He watched her as she flew high into the air. Up and up she went, until he could no longer see her. She had disappeared in the glare of the sun. He was sad that she had gone, because he wanted to look at longer, closer. Of all the fairies in the glade, she had been the most striking, the most beautiful.
He returned his gaze to the fairies that remained with him. Each one of them looked as soft and colorful as a flower. They all wore garb that appeared to have been woven from from grass and flower petals, using pure light as thread, because it shimmered like water in the sunlight. Most were female, but he also saw some males as well.
He took a step forward, when suddenly, the fairy he had caught in his net was back, hovering before his eyes. He froze and looked at her. She stared intently back as she bobbed in the air in front of his face. The other fairies in the glade completely ignored Robbie, as if he weren't even there, yet this one did not. Maybe she was back to turn him into a troll for catching her in that net.
She flitted around behind him, then returned, and hovered at eye level. She circled him again, then paused in front of him again. Robbie raised a hand, reaching toward her. She buzzed backwards a pace, and floated there, just out of reach. He stepped forward, enraptured with her brilliance and beauty. She moved back away from him again, then paused. He took another step, an reached for her again. All he wanted was for her to land on his fingers. To touch her would certainly be amazing.
He stepped forward again. Suddenly, she stopped hovering and flew around him. He turned to follow her arc. She spun around him again and again. Robbie turned back and forth, trying to watch her as she zipped around him. He stepped and his foot rubbed against a moss covered rock. His footing gave way, and Robbie found himself tumbling headlong into the pond. He hit the water with a resounding splash.
"What the hell?" Brinlee cried, and stood up from the rock she'd been perched on all this time, "Robbie, what are you doing?"
Robbie was on his knees in the water, covered in mud that he'd splashed up from the pond bottom. "I..." he didn't know what to say. Something very strange and amazing had happened, and Brinlee didn't seem to be a part of it. He'd already tried to point out fairies to her, and she'd only seen butterflies, like he had before the fairy he'd caught had bit him. Maybe she'd given him some sort of fairy sight with that bite. "I..." he stammered again. What? I was chasing a fairy? That surely wouldn't work. "I slipped," he finished lamely, but truthfully.
"Oh God, look at you, Robbie! Let's go. You're going to have to take a bath when we get home. And don't walk to close to me. I don't want any of that mud on me!"
Robbie squelched his way to where the lunch bag was and grabbed it. Skyler shook his head, giggling at his friend's soggy state. Brinlee and Skyler walked quickly out of the glade, and Robbie trudged sadly after them.
He didn't want to go. There were fairies here. It was completely astounding, and he didn't know if he would still be able to see them on another day when he came back. How long would the effects of the fairy bite last? But Brinlee was angry, and he knew there was no talking with her when she was like this. He would just have to hope the glade would be like it was now the next time he came. He wanted to see those fairies again.
"Come on, Robbie," shouted Brinlee, voice rough with impatience. Robbie's waterlogged shoes squished noisily, expelling gouts of water with each step, as he ran to catch up with Brinlee and Skyler.
"Hey, don't walk too close," she said as he approached, "I don't want any of that mud on my new jeans."
Robbie let his pace slack, and trudged along, his head hanging low. He cursed that mossy rock that sent him plunging into the pond, and cursed his own lack of coordination that allowed a little slip like that to dunk him so completely. And with each footfall, he wished that he could be back there, looking at those fairies flit around the clearing. He'd never seen anything so beautiful, and he had no idea whether he would ever see it again. He could imagine himself forty years old, nearing the end of his life, and still searching the woods, hoping to see them again. It had been that kind of life changing experience.
The dust of the path was turning the water on his shoes to mud, and thickening the mud that was already there. It fell from his feet in clumps, and splattered in the dirt like some kind of strange animal droppings. He sighed deeply, raised his head, and realized he had fallen behind the others a bit. He quickened his pace until he reached a safe distance, then settled back into his moping trudge.
He was further disheartened when he caught sight of a butterfly perched on a daisy. It wasn't a fairy, it was just a butterfly. Had it worn off already? Had it ever even been real at all? A bitter sadness welled up inside him, threatening to bring out tears, at the idea of never seeing those fairies again. It had filled him with such wonder and joy that the longing was already fierce within him.
He saw another winged bug hovering in the air near the path, and he lashed out at it as he passed. _Stupid not fairy!_ he thought. _Stupid regular old bug._ When he'd been walking this same path in the other direction, those same bugs had filled him with wonder, but now he only wanted to see what was hidden beneath their disguise.
Another bug dove from the sky towards him. Then, his whole demeanor brightened. It wasn't a bug. It was a fairy. A blue-skinned fairy with black flowing hair streaming out behind it as it soared past. Some bugs must be real while others are fairies in disguise, he guessed. He didn't need to detest and resent those regular bugs. They just were what they were. While others had a hidden secret that he could still see through.
Another fairy came down from the skies behind the trees. This one had bluish-green, iridescent skin, and long, flowing golden hair. It buzzed back and forth across the path, coming bit by bit closer to him. He realized with a grin that this was the selfsame fairy that had caused all this to begin with. He liked this one. In his mind, she was the prettiest one. She made the blue-skinned one with the black hair that had just passed a moment earlier look drab and plain. Her skin seemed twice as iridescent, and her hair shone like burnished gold.
She seemed to be curious about Robbie too, coming back to investigate for now the third time. Robbie smiled, and waved at her, which caused her to fly backwards several feet to a safer distance. She didn't seem to understand that his gesture was meant to be friendly. Perhaps fairies didn't make gestures like waves or thumbs up to each other. They didn't seem to talk, either. Just chirp like birds or monkeys or something. He didn't care. He was so happy to see them still that he would keep waving and showing his happiness to be among them.
He smiled bigger, and waved again, but this time, just a finger wave instead of a big swinging arm wave. The fairy chirped like a songbird, and Robbie tried to imitate it with a whistle. He wasn't much of a whistler, however, and it just came out as a breathy almost-tone. It was enough, though, the fairy began chirping a long string of sounds that resembled a songbird calling its mate or protecting its territory.
Robbie waved at the fairy again, finger only.
"What are you doing, dude," asked Skyler, whose attention had been drawn to him by his sad attempt at a whistle, "are you waving to that dragonfly?"
Brinlee was looking at him too, eyebrows bunched up in a half-curious, half-concerned expression. "You're being pretty weird, Robbie. Even for you," she said, "Waving at a dragonfly?"
Robbie didn't know what to say. "I like dragonflies," he protested, hoping it was enough.
"Hurry up," she said, waving her arms at him, "I think I can see the road."
The fairy was spooked again by the arm waving, and flew straight up and over the trees that lined the path, disappearing from view. She didn't return to investigate him any further.
All Robbie could do was hope that she would still be in the glade the next time he came. And that he would still be able to tell that she was a fairy and not a dragonfly. He hoped the spell didn't wear off after the first time that he slept or the first time he…what…ate human food or something. He was almost tempted to skip dinner today, just to make sure, but he realized that he couldn't go without food for long, seeing fairies or not. And, since he had no idea what might break the spell, he couldn't very well avoid it. It would do him no good to skip eating for days, but continue to take showers only to discover that it was the showers that did it.
He just had to hope. He would be back to the glade as soon as possible to see the fairies again.