SINGING SHADOWS, WITH DRAGONFLIES

By Bill the Butcher

We were waiting for the fairies to show themselves.

There were three of us waiting – I, and the two princesses. Well, don’t get me wrong – they weren’t real princesses. It’s just that they were so imperious and so self-assured, yet not old enough to be called queens or empresses. Not yet. They were sisters, of course.

“They’ll come, don’t worry,” Her Highness said.

“I didn’t say anything,” I remonstrated.

“No, but I could see you think it,” she said. “They’ll come.”

“We made all the arrangements,” said Her Majesty. “We already did the rituals. They’ll come.”

“Unless you think they don’t exist.” Her Highness looked me in the eyes. “Tell me the truth. Do you think they don’t exist?”

“I never said that.” I leaned back and my hands sank into the thick grass. Something scratched at a wrist. “I never said they don’t exist.”

It was a lovely day, the sun out but clouds scudding through the sky so that every once in a few minutes there would be shade that would stop you from getting too hot and would make you happy when the sun came out again. The grass was thick and soft in this season and the trees heavy with leaf. We were far from the flower beds, because all three of us united in disapproving of flower beds. They were so artificial, as the princesses said.

A dragonfly flew by on its four gauzy wings. I’ve known dragonflies well since my childhood. This one was large and blue, but they were all beautiful – the smaller, common, yellow ones, these large blue flies, and especially the rare medium-sized blood-red ones. It buzzed around my head, hovered momentarily staring at me with its huge goggle-eyes, and darted away.

“They use them, you know,” said Her Majesty, who had been watching, “like horses.”

“Who use whom?” I was momentarily confused. “You mean the fairies? The dragonflies?”

“Of course, silly.” Her Majesty lay back on the grass and looked skyward with a beatific smile. “They ride them like horses, sitting between the wings.”

“Do you think one of them was sitting between that one’s wings, then?”

“No, or else he would’ve come to us then. They shouldn’t be long.”

“Maybe I scared them off,” I said. “Maybe they’ll come only to you? After all, I’m all grown up.”

“No,” said Her Highness, from my other side. Unlike her sister, she was sitting cross legged, chewing on a grass stem. “You’re an adult, all right, but you’re not like the others. You won’t scare them off.”

“Oh? How am I different from the others, then? From your parents, for instance?”

“Them. Well, they wouldn’t let us be here if they’d known. They’re all Christian. Fairies and all are – you know – superstitions.” She giggled. “They would probably think we’re possessed.”

“And are you?”

“Are we possessed?” Her Highness leaned across my lap and asked Her Majesty. Her hair tickled my nose. “What do you say?”

“Maybe. How should I know? Maybe we are, but we’re here and we’re going to see them,” Her Majesty said, sitting up. “We just have to wait and they’ll appear. And then you,” and she pointed her grass stem at me, “will take photos.”

“You haven’t forgotten the camera, have you?” asked Her Highness anxiously.

“No, I’ve got it.” I took out the small digital camera. “Should I take some photos of you two?”

“Of us? No. That’s so lame.” She gestured dismissively and lay down again. “Look at that cloud. What does it remind you of?”

For some time we played Guess the Cloud.

“I wonder why they haven’t come yet,” I observed when the clouds had disappeared for the moment.

“They’ll come. You believe in them, don’t you?”

“I believe in something,” I said. “Not quite fairies, though. In goblins, maybe.”

“Goblins? Why goblins? What’s to believe in them?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I just think goblins are so much more fitted to the world than fairies are, you know, with their pointy ears and sharp teeth and malevolence.”

“You think they deserve to exist?”

“Why not? I’ve seen a bit more of the world than you have. Goblins would survive more easily than fairies; anyway, you believe in what you want and I’ll believe in what I want.”

“That’s fair,” Her Highness said, and grinned. I wondered if she was laughing at me. “But we aren’t waiting for goblins, are we? We’re waiting for fairies.”

“Yes, and you didn’t answer my question. What makes you think they’ll come at all?”

“We did all the rituals,” Her Highness said eagerly. “We checked it up on the net. There was some kind of child block on the site but,” she shrugged, “we got past that. No trouble at all. We read up on it and this morning we went out before dawn and got the –“She stopped as her sister gestured angrily.

“You can’t say it,” she said. “Don’t you remember? Nobody can be told! Or else they won’t come.”

“No harm done,” I said soothingly. “I did not hear a thing. What were you saying about the child block?”

“She-“ Her Majesty gestured disgustedly at Her Highness “told Mom that we were going to try and summon fairies. And then of course Mom went and blocked the site. But then we both know a bit more about computers than Mom and Dad. It wasn’t hard to break the block, and we put it up again afterwards.”

“I see. You are a couple of dangerous young hooligans. Next I know you’ll be hacking top secret websites…have some chocolate?”

“It’s almond, the bars get kind of hard. Let me feel it.” She made a face. “It’s gone all squooshy and soft. What have you been doing to it?”

“I put it in my pocket,” I said, feeling stupid. “It must have begun to melt from my body heat.” Her Highness sat up and felt the chocolate bar too. “Ewww…”

I put the bar back in my pocket. “We’ll have it later. I’ll put it in the fridge for a while.” I noticed they were no longer listening to me. “Something?”

“Can’t you hear it?” Her Majesty was leaning forward intently. “That noise? They’re coming.”

I listened, sitting up straight like her. But all I could hear were distant voices of children far away over by the flower beds. “No, I can’t hear anything.”

Her Highness sat up too. “There,” she said softly, “I can see them.”

I looked towards where she was staring. I could see nothing except sunlight and dappled shadow. But I had an impression too strong to shake off that she wasn’t fooling – she could see something there, in the dappled shadows, under the trees.

“I can see them too,” said Her Majesty, and there was awe in her voice. I had known these two girls for a long time, and never before had I heard that tone from either. She was not faking. I can swear to it.

“They are singing,” she said, almost whispering. “Can’t you hear them? They’re singing there, and it’s so beautiful.”

“Describe them,” I said. “Describe them for me.” I took out the camera again and turned on the video function (later, on my computer, I saw nothing special in it, but there was something odd about the shadows. Or more likely it was only my imagination). “Describe them,” I repeated, but neither of the girls said anything.

“They’re leaving,” said Her Highness at last. “They’re leaving, and they’re singing. They’re saying goodbye.”

And I swear this – for a moment, thin and far in the infinite distance, I heard a singing in the dappled shadows.

For an instant only I heard it, and then it was gone.