It was in the summer, about a week and a half after our folks split up, that Todd came into my room and said, in all seriousness, "Dad got kidnapped by fairies."
I didn't even look up from the computer screen. "Did not."
"Yeah-huh. You guys just haven't noticed."
I glanced at him. Todd was only five, and he was always complaining about how nobody listened to him. His sullen little face glared at me from under a mop of curly dark hair.
"Nuh-huh." I said.
"Dad got kidnapped by fairies, and you and mom haven't even noticed."
"What makes you say that," I said, scootching the chair around so I could see him better.
"He's been gone for forever and you guys haven't done anything."
I, being the all-knowing big sister I was, felt it was my duty to reveal the harsh truths of the grown up world.
"Dad left 'cause he doesn't love us anymore."
He stamped his foot. "No, he left 'cause they took him and the pointy lady's got a crush on him."
I thought of Miranda, Dad's secretary and the woman mom seemed to blame for the break up. I guess she could be considered pointy. Her face was sort of like that.
"Yeah, pretty much. Dad left 'cause he likes her more than he likes us."
Todd made an angry noise and stomped off into his room, which was perfectly fine with me. I really didn't see what the big deal was; it wasn't like dad was home all that often anyways, even when he did live here.
* * * *
The next day, I found Todd digging a hole in the backyard. He'd somehow managed to get the shovel out of the barrel in the garage- the big, metal shovel, not the little plastic one for sandboxes- and he was carefully digging right in the center of the lawn.
"What're you doin' that for?" I said. "Mom's gonna be mad when she sees."
"I'm looking for dad," he said. "Tammy from school says fairies live in hills under the dirt."
"But we don't have any-"
"I'm making a hill." He pointed to the pile of dirt. "Then I'm gonna dig under."
"I don't think it works that way."
"We I gotta try. You and mom don't even notice. It's ‘cause you're under a spell, only it's just starting to come off of you."
"I don't believe you."
"Look," he said, digging through his pocket. "I got proof."
He held out his hand. In it was penny-sized blue stone. At first, I thought it was one of those glass bead things people put at the bottom of fish tanks for decoration. When I touched it, a very faint, very soft whispering filled my ears.
"Where'd you get that?" I said. "I don't like it. It'll make you crazy."
"Will not. It's from dad."
"Is too! He gave it to me so I could find him!"
"Did he leave one for me?"
Looking properly ashamed, Todd dug another one out of his pocket and tossed one to me.
"Thief," I said, tucking the rock into my pocket.
"I thought it would work better with two," he said.
"I'm telling mom you're crazy."
"Go away. When I find dad, I'll make sure you don't get to see him again."
I sighed and left him to it, absently feeling the rock in my pocket. It wasn't from dad. No way. He never got us presents when he was around, why would he wait 'till he left? And there wasn't any way me and mom were under spells: that would be stupid. Mom would notice.
In fact, I thought, I ought to tell her.
I ran into the kitchen where she was making herself a sandwich. I wanted to shout, but I knew better. If I did, I would probably break all the windows -again- she'd be all over me about it and totally ignore what Todd was doing.
"Mom," I said. "Todd says we're under a spell from fairies that kidnapped dad who gave us rocks to find him."
Gosh, even tattling it sounded stupid.
"Don't be silly, dear," she said. "Your father's in Florida with that dreadful Miranda woman."
"I know. But Todd said-"
She left the room without even looking at me.
* * * *
Todd was still working on the hill after lunchtime had come and gone. That was probably what worried me the most. Normally he was the sort of person who picked up an idea, and then dropped after an hour or two.
"Think of it, Todd," I said, standing while he dug. "If dad was underground, how would he breathe?"
He looked at me as though I were an idiot. "Magic," he said. He turned back to the digging. While mom had put a stop to the shoveling, she had forgotten to hide the little garden trowel.
"What would he eat, then? Roots? Rocks?"
"Oh you'd better hope he didn't! Else he'd be stuck there."
"I think you're going about this the wrong way."
He threw a clump of dirt at me.
"Then you come up with a better idea!"
"Fine then, I will."
I stalked off inside and slammed the screen door behind me, making sure Todd heard. I wanted him to stop being stupid; dad left on purpose, not because he was kidnapped by imaginary things. I went into my room, found a notebook and tried to think. My notes went something along the lines of:
Dad left rocks?
Fairies made of rocks?
Miranda lives in the dirt?
Fairies kidnapped Miranda? Dad went to save her.
Dad eats rocks.
And so on.
It was no use. I tossed then notebook aside and curled up into bed. The rock was still in my pocket. I touched it, and heard the whispering again.
Drowsily, I closed my eyes.
Just a nap, I thought.
* * * *
I woke up in a long hallway. It was all white and made of marble or something like it. It looked, for lack of a better word, frosty. Like there was fogged glass around the edges of the world, though that might've been just because it was a dream. Todd was there with me, looking around and knocking on the roman looking pillars. He was in his Pjs, I was in my normal clothes, the ones I fell asleep in.
"What're you doing?" I said.
"Making sure it's real." He shrugged, embarrassed, and held up his rock. "I guess it only worked with one, after all," he said. "Come on, I bet dad's down this way."
He ran off before I could say a word. I rolled my eyes and followed him, determined that there was no way I was going to lose my brother as well as my father.
We ran down the halls for what seemed like forever. I didn't know what was keeping the place lit up; there weren't any lamps or candles anywhere.
See, I thought. This is just a dream. Todd's gotten to you.
All the same, I followed him. I had to look out for all kinds of Todd, even the ones that didn't really exist.
Finally, just when I was really hoping I'd wake up soon so I could stop running, we found him.
He was in the middle of a very pale room, dancing with a woman in a white dress. There wasn't any music playing, though the whispering in the rocks seemed to get louder. All along the edges of the room, other people in lacy white and silvery clothes were watching us, frowning.
"They look like teachers," whispered Todd. "The mean kind."
I had to agree. They all had the same sour faces as the teachers who got you into trouble for being loud on the playground.
We only watched dad and the lady dance for a minute before Todd couldn't stand it. He ran into the room.
"Dad!" he shouted. "Dad!"
I followed him, muttering bad words that mom would probably slap me for if she heard.
Even in dreams he has to be difficult!
Dad stopped dancing and bent down to give me and Todd hugs. The woman in white stood aside and watched us. She was pointy looking, but she wasn't Miranda. I remember thinking how mom would probably be disappointed since she'd gotten so used to blaming Miranda for everything.
"So," said dad. "Have you guys decided?"
"Decided what?" I said.
"We're here to save you!" Todd said.
Dad smiled and shook his head. "No, Todd. I don't need saving."
"Yes you do."
I got a terrible sinking feeling in my stomach. "Um, Todd. . . "
"No," said dad, looking at Todd. "I like it here. I live here now. You guys haven't met Maeve, have you?" He stood up and took the pointy lady's hand. "Maeve, these are my children. Todd, Kelsey, this is Maeve."
She gave a small nod of her head and smiled. "Charmed."
Todd frowned. "But. . . you needed rescuing. There's a spell on mom-"
"Yes. That's so she wouldn't be a hassle about it all and call the police or the courts. Much better this way, I think." Dad beamed. "I'm proud of you Todd, not many people your age can catch spells like that. I'm impressed." To Maeve, he said. "See? Told you my boy's got talent."
Well, that of course was just designed to tick me off. I knew dad liked sons better than daughters, but he didn't have to be so mean about it. I just was getting ready to start shouting, when I noticed Todd.
He was sort of staring at dad with this horrified look on his face. "But. . . aren't you coming home?" he said.
"This is home now, Todd. Your home too. And Kelsey, if she wants." Dad looked at me for the first time. "Honestly, Kelsey, I didn't think the stone would work for you. You're so much like your mother."
I could tell just by the way he said it that that was a bad thing to his mind.
"Well I'm glad I'm like mom!"
He pretended not to hear me. "So, Todd, how about we go set your new room up? You'll love it. It's got dinosaurs and race car toys and-"
Todd took a step back. "No."
"What?" said dad.
Todd was shaking all over. I reached out and touched his shoulder. He felt warm. Really warm.
"No," he said, a little louder. "I don't want to live here. I don't want to." He stamped his foot. "I don't want to!"
Dad rolled his eyes.
"Come on, Todd. Don't go and throw a tantrum in front of your new family." He reached out for him. Todd froze up. His mouth snapped shut and his arms clamped to his side.
Alright, I thought.
I let go of that big shout I'd been holding onto.
In the real world, if I shouted like that, the windows would fly open, dogs would bark, and I'd get sent to my room. Once, I shouted so loud that I triggered all the car alarms on the next street over.
In there, in the dream place, I shouted. It was loud- louder than I'd ever managed before. Dad fell to the ground, his hands clamped over his ears. I realized that I was only directing the shout to dad, and so I let it loose on everyone in the room who wasn't Todd and me.
Maeve fell down, as did all the silent, pointy people watching us from around the room. I grabbed Todd's hand and pulled him along. Now that dad was distracted, whatever he did was off and Todd could move again.
"The rocks," he panted as we turned down one of the halls. "Throw them away."
We stopped, terribly afraid that the people would be chasing us. Everything was eerily quiet as we each picked up out rocks and hurled them down the hall.
For a second, I was really afraid nothing would happen. Then. . .
I was in bed. It was morning, the very early morning when everything is still tinged blue and the sun isn't all the way up yet.
I sat, staring at the window and wondering if it had been a dream-dream, or the types of dreams that turn out to be real at the end. A second later, Todd ran into my room and leapt onto my bed, answering my question.
"It was dad," he sobbed. I wrapped my arms around him and made little shushing noises like mom did when we cried.
"It was dad and he left."
"I know. I know. It's okay."
"Look, he still loves you, all right?" I bit my tongue before I could add 'I can't even say that.'
"I don't care. He left. You were right."
"You were right about the fairies."
It didn't matter. We sat together like that for ages, rocking back and forth before mom finally came to 'wake' me for church.
"What's wrong?" She said, shocked at our tear streaked faces. She sat down on the bed beside us.
Todd threw himself into her open arms, saying nothing and sniffling a lot.
"Nothing," I said. "We just had a bad dream about dad."
She wrapped an arm around me.
"Yeah," she said. "I get them too."
We sat in my room until Todd stopped crying. She didn't even mind that we were late for church.