The last long rays of light seeped through the bedroom window, which stood open only a couple of inches. As the light began to dissipate, millions of dust motes floating in the sunlight faded from view. Still, their ethereal travel was far from complete. Twilight fell and, to Amy, time appeared to halt, the moments between day and night seeming to pause as if catching their breath.
She sat with her back to the wall, facing the door to her room. The open window lay off to her left, breathing in the final moments of the failing day. Slight of frame and thin for her height, Amy sat with her eyes closed. Her breathing was all but silent in its patience. Eyelids fluttered ever so gently and her breathing quickened at the soft buzzing of tiny wings.
It would have appeared, from a distance, that a dragonfly or night bug had darted through the open window; yet, upon closer inspection, that appearance faded like the rays of the fallen Tennessee sun. The smile found Amy’s eyes as she observed the visitor’s path about the room. Finally, performing a dancing dive, it settled gently upon Amy’s shoulder.
“Is it safe?” The delicate voice—like the distant chink of crystal, high and musical—belonged to a girl of minute size who was nothing short of beautiful, blessed with four thin, multicolored wings that folded delicately to her back.
“Yes, Lizelie. It’s safe,” Amy said, her voice soft and delicate as the fairy’s wings. Lizelie’s ears twitched and she cocked her head to one side as she peered at Amy.
“Is everything all right?” Concern emanated from the fairy, drifting toward the girl as directly as did the fairy herself only moments before.
“Yes,” Amy replied, shifting a little to catch the almost translucent voice of her tiny friend. “He’s still at work.”
“I do so wish you would let us help,” Lizelie stated, plopping down in a squat with her arms crossed and her lips poking out in a sad pout. “You just have to believe we can.”
“But, you can’t,” Amy said, her voice catching slightly on the last word.
Without warning, a tiny streak of baby blue zoomed through the room almost quicker than the eye could follow. It dashed from corner to corner, up to the edge of the door and then back to halt, hovering, less than a foot from Amy and Lizelie.
“What’s up, ladies?” His smile was like a pinpoint of light among the glow of his humming wings.
“Hi, Rusher,” the two replied in unison, giggling as Rusher performed an aerial bow that apparently went awry. He flipped over forward, as if falling, only to pop right back up into a perfect curtsy.
“Is it safe?” he asked, glancing back toward the door. They both nodded affirmatively. “Beautiful!” With that, he shot out the window, barely slowing to slip through the crack between the window and the sill. The girls looked at each other and shook their heads knowingly.
Amy stood and walked to the little table she had set up in the middle of the room, fussing with the tiny teacups now filled with orange juice. Just as she was about to take her seat, Rusher flitted back in. Behind him, a large black crow swooped down toward the window’s ledge and slowed, almost as if floating, just long enough for two small elven-like creatures to jump from its back to the window. The crow disappeared as the two little creatures—each no more than six inches tall—clambered through the open window. The male was the larger of the two and had to take a deep breath in order to get through the opening.
“Oh, for goblins’ sake!” he exclaimed, upon finally entering and standing to look back at the window.
“Can’t you leave that thing a wee bit wider next time?” He picked up his tiny hat which had fallen off when he stood.
“Twerp,” the female remarked, “Perhaps it’s you who’s a wee bit too wide. Maybe you should think about losing an ounce or two?”
“Hah! I think not. The Doward’s are generous with their honey and I’m not one to turn a nose to good fortune.”
“Or, anything edible,” Rusher commented as he flew by Twerp, who shot him an evil glance.
“I will have you know,” Twerp called back, “I am just as nimble as I was twenty years ago.” In evidence, Twerp bolted along the windowsill, leaped the distance between the window and the bed and shimmied down the bedding to the floor, finishing in a deep and elegant bow. His audience clapped approvingly.
“Twila,” Amy said, addressing the female brownie. “Will you follow your brother’s lead or would you care for a lift?”
“I prefer not to lose my composure and am pleased to accept your offer, dear one.” She curtsied and stepped onto Amy’s proffered hand, who strode to the little table and gently set Twila on the tabletop, joined by the others. They each sipped delicately at their juice.
“I don’t know what I’d do without you all,” Amy suddenly remarked, her voice filled with nervous gratitude. She was focused on her juice and failed to notice the look that passed among her friends.
“You know we would do anything for you, dear one,” Twila commented. The others agreed wholeheartedly and then went back to their juice when the silence grew.
“Hey, has anyone seen Popper around?” Rusher asked, changing the subject.”
“Oh, that old goat could be anywhere,” Lizelie stated. “At least we’ll hear him coming if he does decide to join us again. That boy is about as stealthy as Gustus in a bubble wrap factory.” They all laughed and giggled at the imagery and the conversation turned to the mundane happenings and gossip of the woods.
“In just a minute, mom,” Amy replied, beginning the clear the little cups and saucers from the table. Glancing at her beside clock, she saw that it was almost eight o’clock. The tea party had been going for nearly an hour. Now, she needed to get to bed before her father got home.
“Play time is over, sweetie,” her mother said, brushing a stray strand of hair from her face, inadvertently bringing attention to the yellowish discoloration by her left eye. “He’ll be home shortly. Please get to bed.”
“I will, I promise.” Amy’s heart broke every time she looked at her mother’s face. It wasn’t the only evidence of her father’s drunken rages but it was the most obvious.
Without another word, her mother left the room and closed the door behind her. At the clicking of the latch, the little folk came easing out from the shadows, from under the bed and from behind the curtains.
Glancing at each other, it was obvious that they were all fully aware of the situation. Lizelie was the first to address her friend.
“Amy. Please. We can help, if you just believe.” The pain in Lizelie’s tiny voice was as clear as the sadness in Amy’s bright blue eyes. The little girl only shook her head as she finished clearing the table.
“Have a good night, my friends,” she said. They took the cue and slowly made their way to the window. Amy took a few steps and lifted it a little wider for Twerp. He was about to leave, when he turned back to Amy, removing his hat.
“You know,” he said, unable to prevent the rasp in his voice, “sometimes… Sometimes, I wish I was bigger.”
“I know, Twerp. Thank you.” She watched him as he leaped onto the back of the crow that Twila had guided back around to the window and they all disappeared into the night.
Gathered in the highest branches of the tall oak tree they had dubbed Clubfoot, due to the strange abbreviated manner in which the tree’s trunk ended into the earth below, the little folk argued among themselves. Clubfoot served as one of several meeting places aside from Amy’s bedroom. Tonight, the argument was the same as always.
“Why can’t we do something? Anything.” Twerp asked loudly, slamming his little fist into his hand. His naturally tanned face was currently the color of burnt amber, flushed in anger and frustration.
“Because she doesn’t believe we can,” Lizelie stated for the hundredth time.
“If she didn’t believe in us, she couldn’t even see us. This is stupid.” Twerp began pacing, again.
“She believes in us enough that we are visible to her, we can be her friends. But, her fear keeps us from intervening with another human. You know this already, Twerp.” Lizelie was the oldest of them all—except for Gustus, who only showed up when he felt like it—and it usually fell to her to be the voice of reason.
“It’s just horrible, what that little girl has been through.” Twila, although the same age as her brother, was both more sensitive and more mature. Lizelie knew that this situation, their inability to help, was more difficult on her than anyone else. Twila had been the first to be seen by Amy and she held a great affinity for the girl. Lizelie moved over to Twila and brushed away her tears. “I just wish she would trust in us, let us help,” the brownie said.
“Me, too, sweetie. Me, too.”
“Maybe I can whisper some notions into Jet’s ear and set his furry butt on the guy.” Twerp was referring to the Barton family’s cat. For him to suggest anything other than torture with Jet was a sure sign of just how desperate he was to help. Normally, Twerp spent his days thinking of new ways to torment the big tabby.
“That isn’t a solution, Twerp,” Rusher stated, finally piping up. “We need something definitive. Maybe we could hire Gustus?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Lizelie repeated. “If she doesn’t believe, there is little we can do. Besides, she has her own ogre to deal with.”
“He is that,” Twila remarked. “At least Gustus can be reasoned with.”
“Sometimes,” Twerp muttered.
“Oh! Dear one! What happened?” she asked, seeing the bruises on Amy’s arm and the welt across her face.
“It’s not as bad as it looks,” Amy replied, her voice low but steady.
“My Aunt Jezzie’s wings!” Lizelie exclaimed. “You can’t keep letting him do this, Amy! Please! Let us help. Believe we can, and we will!”
“Not now, Lizelie,” she whispered. “Not now.”
Lizelie stayed with her, standing on her shoulder, stroking her hair until she felt Amy drift off to sleep. She then lifted off and quietly left the room through the open window in search of her friends.
“That’s not it!” Lizelie argued. “She’s child. A child who’s been abused, physically and emotionally. She needs help, that’s all.”
“You know we can do nothing, Lizelie,” he replied. “If things were different, I would be first to deal with it. I don’t want to see her hurt, either.”
They were at the edge of a glade a few miles from Clubfoot, since Gustus would never be able to climb the tree. His huge hands and craggy face left his appearance somewhat imposing and every time he spoke it felt as if the very earth was reverberating with his voice. His face scrunched up in irritation at a popping sound approaching from his left.
Lizelie watched as a creature made its way toward them along the edge of the woods that encircled the glade. He appeared to be half boy and half goat, his jaw moving constantly as he chewed on a wad of bubble gum, blowing a bubble and then, POP!
“I thought I recognized that rumble,” the satyr commented, squatting down a few feet from Gustus. He scanned the faces of Gustus, Lizelie and Rusher.
“Hi, Popper.” Lizelie’s greeting was half-hearted at best.
“Wow. Glad to see you, too, Liz.” POP!
“Amy’s been hurt again.”
“Oh, sweet seasons. Why can’t that girl just let us help her out, huh?”
“It’s her fear.” Gustus looked about as thoughtful as he could under his normally grim expression.
“Well, of course she’s afraid,” Popper responded. “That ogre of a father of hers…” He saw the look on Gustus’ face and his voice trailed off upon feeling, more than hearing, the low growl. “Sorry, buddy. But, you know what I mean.”
Gustus stood, the ground shaking with his effort. He looked down at Popper and then to Lizelie and Rusher. He shook his head. “It’s up to her.” He began ambling off into the trees, his voice resounding through the glade. “She must choose to believe.”
The yelling was the hardest part. Amy could take the pain of his iron grip whenever he jerked her around, and the bruises always faded with time. But it was the things he would say. The horrible things he would call her mother. The angry words that he berated her with—those stayed with her, repeated over and over in her mind. She couldn’t count the nights that she had fallen asleep with those words ricocheting around in her brain, tears warming her face.
Her father had never been dad of the year but, things had gotten so much worse when he lost his previous job. It just seemed to set him off and his moods became more and more frequent and vicious. If it were not for the refuge that her little friends provided, Amy was sure she would have gone insane.
She heard a sudden crash and her mother screamed something at her father. Amy stood slowly from the closet. Her mother never fought back, never spoke back. She heard the words. “…rather be dead!” Her father yelled something about fixing that, and then there was another loud crash. Then… silence.
Amy listened for long moments. She glanced over at the window. Dusk had fallen. The silence was frightening and she began to tremble. She tiptoed her way to the door and peeked out the hallway toward the living room.
Her mother lay motionless on the floor, her father standing over her breathing heavily and swaying as if in a stiff wind. He held a bottle in his hand that had been shattered, only the neck of it remaining within his grip. Amy was about to scream out to her mother when she saw him spot her and his face grew red with rage.
“What’re you looking at, you little brat? You’re no better than she was. You both just loved dragging me down, didn’t you?” He took a step across Martha’s body and began stumbling toward Amy. Just before she ducked back into her room, Amy could have sworn she saw her mother move.
“Where’re you going? Get back here!” His words were slurred and shot from his mouth in unadulterated anger. Amy locked her door and lunged for the window.
She struggled to lift the heavy window, got it up enough that she could scramble through. She had gotten half of her body through the window when she heard the door crash off its hinges and her father yelling for her to stop.
Amy took a breath and pushed through the window. She felt herself falling toward the ground just as his hand wrapped around her thin little ankle. She felt the joint crack and screamed out in pain. Her father held her with one hand and shoved at the window with the other, in order to get at his daughter.
“Where do you think you’re going, you little brat?” he spat at her, pulling her back toward the room.
Amy let out her breath, closed her eyes and muttered something just out of his hearing. Her world had shifted and pure instinct drove her realization that this was the end. He was past controlling himself, even a little. The vision of her mom lying on the floor drew Amy’s thoughts to what the world would be without the one person who had made every effort to protect her. The thought, alone, was enough to make her voice a little stronger. She whispered it again.
“What’d you say, you little brat? What’d you say to me?” Her father hadn’t heard her words clearly. Any words from her would surely be antagonistic. He was about to repeat himself when he heard the sound.
Somewhere in the distance, a strange sound, as if a large train rattled along some unseen track, though there were none nearby. Boom. Boom. The deep woods that surrounded the house hid the source. Boom. Boom. It was growing nearer. He stared out into the deepening darkness but could see nothing. He turned his attention back to his daughter, dangling from the window.
“What was that, huh? You got something to say to me you little…” he said. Boom. Boom. Boom.
Amy cried out, cutting him off. “I said,” she shouted, as loud as she could. Boom. Boom. BOOM. “I believe.”