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The Fairy Swarm

Suzanne Selfors

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  For fairies everywhere


  On the first Saturday of every month, Pearl Petal and her great-aunt Gladys ate breakfast together at the Buttonville Diner. It was a tradition of sorts. “A couple of nice gals out on the town,” Gladys always said, though sometimes she couldn’t remember Pearl’s name. Because the elderly woman insisted on bringing her two wiener dogs, it took an extra-long time to walk the half block from their building to the diner, which annoyed Pearl, who liked to walk as fast as possible. But the wieners stopped to piddle on everything, and to smell everything, and to bark at EVERYTHING. Pearl vowed to never, ever own wiener dogs.

  When they finally reached the diner and stepped through the front door, Pearl’s impatience melted away. Her nostrils inhaled the scents of cinnamon rolls warming under the heating lamp and bacon sizzling on the grill. “Yum. Let’s eat!”

  “Come along, Sweetness and Light,” Gladys said as she pulled her dogs inside. The wiener dogs waddled across the checkered linoleum and barked at the waitress. Then they barked at Mr. Bumfrickle, who was sitting at a table by himself, eating a bowl of oatmeal and reading the newspaper with a magnifying glass. They also barked at Ms. Bee, Pearl’s teacher from last year, who sat at the counter, eating a waffle.

  No one told Gladys that her dogs weren’t allowed inside. Buttonville was one of those small towns where everyone knew everyone else. Thus it was well known that wherever Gladys went, so, too, went her annoying little yappers. The waitress, whose name was Lucy, pulled a pair of high chairs over to Gladys’s favorite booth. Pearl strapped each dog into a chair, securing the trays so the dogs could rest their little front paws. The dogs stared at the door and growled softly as if they were expecting an invasion.

  “Will you be having the usual?” Lucy asked as she filled Gladys’s mug with coffee.

  “Usual for me,” Gladys replied.

  “Me too,” Pearl said.

  “Hey, Lionel!” Lucy yelled. “They’re having the usual!”

  “You got it!” Lionel yelled back. He was the fry cook, and his apron was covered in greasy stains.

  As Lucy began clearing another table, Gladys opened her purse and took out her knitting needles. Even though her fingers were knotted with arthritis, she was always working on a project. Almost everything she wore that morning had been knitted by her own two hands—her pink vest, her green skirt, her orange hair bow. She even made stuff for her dogs. “Don’t you love their breakfast hats?” she asked Pearl.

  “Super cute,” Pearl said with a forced smile. The hats were white with yellow blobs on top, just like fried eggs. Because Sweetness and Light were shaped like sausages, the theme kind of made sense.

  Gladys sipped her coffee, then her needles began to click and clack. “How is everything with you, dear?”

  This was a big question because things with Pearl were, well, extraordinary. All summer long, she’d been working as an apprentice to Dr. Emerald Woo, veterinarian for Imaginary creatures. Thus far, she’d met a dragon hatchling, a sasquatch, a lake monster, a leprechaun, a black dragon, a rain dragon, a unicorn king, a unicorn foal, a kelpie, some satyrs, a royal griffin, and a man who was actually a shape-shifting cat.

  But weeks had passed and Pearl hadn’t met any new creatures, nor had her fellow apprentice, Ben Silverstein. And though she hated to admit it, she’d grown a bit bored with scrubbing scales off the floors, dusting fur from the walls, and changing various litter boxes. There’d also been lots of sasquatch grooming. Because the sasquatch’s fur was prone to tangles and mats, it needed brushing almost every day. And it had recently become a fan of yoga, which meant that Pearl had to learn poses such as downward-facing dog and warrior two. But while she and Ben had gone about these mundane tasks, they’d wondered about things. How come no calls had come in from the Imaginary World? Why had no trips been taken? And when would they meet another creature?

  “Everything with me is fine,” Pearl told her great-aunt. “I really like working at Dr. Woo’s Worm Hospital.”

  “Worm hospital,” Mr. Bumfrickle mumbled. “Who ever heard of a worm hospital?” He turned the page of his newspaper. At that sound, the wiener dogs perked up their ears and barked. Mr. Bumfrickle scowled at them. “Can’t a man eat in peace?”

  Gladys soothed her dogs, then took another sip of coffee. “How is that nice friend of yours? Oh dear, I can’t remember his name.”

  “You mean Ben Silverstein? He’s fine.” Pearl tapped her fingers on the table. Where was Ben this morning? She looked out the window. Nothing much was happening on Main Street. Across the way, Mr. Wanamaker, the barber, was sitting outside his shop, waiting for customers. Up the street, her parents were inside the Dollar Store, also hoping for customers. Ever since the old button factory closed, it had been tough to make a living in Buttonville. Even the cinema had trouble staying open and showed movies only on Friday nights and the occasional matinee. The current movie was an old-timey black-and-white thing.

  Pearl wondered if she and Ben should go see the movie. Killer bees could be interesting. And the popcorn was pretty good, even though the cinema used butter flavoring instead of real butter.


  A bug flew around the wiener dogs. They started barking like crazy. Then it flew straight at Pearl. “Go away,” she said, swatting at it with her hand.

  “I hope you’re not talking to me,” Lucy said with a smile as she set two plates on the table. “The usual.”

  “Thanks.” Pearl swatted at the bug one more time before it flew away.

  Pearl’s stomach grumbled with anticipation as she grabbed her fork. She’d ordered the number six on the menu, which was two buttermilk pancakes, two strips of bacon, and two scrambled eggs well done, because runny eggs were disgusting. Her great-aunt Gladys had ordered the number eight, a mound of mushy corned beef hash, from the senior menu, which meant it cost less. Gladys set her knitting needles aside and spooned some hash onto the wiener dogs’ high chair trays. While Sweetness and Light snorted and snuffled the food, Pearl made a sandwich with her pancakes.


  The bug was back. It zipped around the waitress’s head. “Oh, that looks like a nasty hornet,” Lucy said. “I hate those things.”

  It whipped around Ms. Bee’s head. “I don’t think that’s a hornet,” she said as she ducked. “It’s too big.”

  It swooped past Mr. Bumfrickle. “You got bugs in this restaurant,” he complained. “I’m gonna call the health department.”

  “Now, now, don’t be getting upset over one little bug,” Lucy said. “It’ll go away.”

  But the bug didn’t go away. It flew around Pearl’s head, then hovered over the syrup bottle. The dogs kept on barking. Aunt Gladys leaned over and snatched the newspaper from Mr. Bumfrickle, rolled it up, aimed, and—whap!—corned beef hash scattered across the table.

  “You missed,” Pearl reported. “Here, let me try.” She grabbed the newspaper. All it would take was a quick whack and she’d be able to enjoy her breakfast. That pancake sandwich was going to be delicious. The bug flew around Aunt Gladys, then dive-bombed Pearl’s plate, grabbing a little piece of syrup-covered pancake. With its treat in hand, the bug landed on the windowsill. Pearl raised her arm, aimed, an

  The little creature turned its face and looked up at her.

  Pearl gasped and dropped the newspaper. Ms. Bee was right. That thing was not a hornet.


  Pearl scooted out of the corner booth and yanked the magnifying glass from Mr. Bumfrickle’s hand. “I need to borrow this,” she said. There was no time to be polite. This matter had to be dealt with immediately.

  “What’s going on?” Mr. Bumfrickle complained. “Can’t a man enjoy his breakfast in peace?”

  While the dogs barked and Mr. Bumfrickle muttered to himself, Pearl scrambled back into the booth. The creature was still standing on the windowsill, eating its prize. Carefully, so as not to startle it, Pearl lowered the magnifying glass. Then she peered through the lens. “Holy guacamole,” she whispered.

  It was definitely not a hornet. Nor a bee of any kind. Pearl knew this because she’d studied them in biology class last year. Ms. Bee had a special fondness for bees, on account of her name, and she kept a tray of specimens in her desk drawer. Whether a wasp or a nasty hornet, all bees possessed the following things: segmented bodies, little fuzzy insect legs, and furry insect faces. This creature had a tiny human body, two human legs, and a smooth human face. The only things it had in common with a bee were wings and antennae.

  “It’s a fairy,” Pearl said with a delighted squeal. Then she cringed. She shouldn’t have said that out loud. But fortunately the wiener dogs were barking so obnoxiously that no one in the diner had heard Pearl’s declaration.

  “Now, now, Sweetness and Light. Momma won’t let the bad bumblebee hurt you.” Gladys spooned more hash onto their trays. With tails wagging, the dogs slurped up their food.

  Pearl scooted closer to the windowsill, holding the magnifying glass as steady as possible, despite her trembling hand. The fairy looked like a girl, with tangled hair as green as spring leaves and skin as brown as tree bark. Perched upon her head was a little silver crown. A rush of excitement filled Pearl’s entire body. She felt as if she might faint. “It must be a princess. Or a queen,” she said, once again much louder than she’d intended.

  Ms. Bee, who was seated at the counter, pivoted on her stool. “Did you say a queen?” She pointed her fork at Pearl. “Better be careful. If the queen is here, that means she’s looking for a new place to nest. The rest of the hive will follow.”

  “We can’t have a hornet nest in the diner,” Lucy said as she filled a ketchup container. “Hurry up and squish that thing!”

  Kill it? No way! “Don’t worry,” Pearl said. “I’ll take care of it.” She needed a container. After setting the magnifying glass aside, she grabbed a saltshaker, unscrewed its little lid, and emptied the contents into an empty coffee mug. The fairy was busily munching on some pancake, so she didn’t seem to notice the glass container hovering above her head. “Easy,” Pearl whispered. “Easy.” Then, quick as a wink, she set the saltshaker over the fairy.

  “What’s going on?” Mr. Bumfrickle hollered, smacking his hand on the table. “Where’s my newspaper? And my reading glass? Dadburnit.”

  The fairy dropped her piece of pancake and began pounding on the wall of the shaker. It looked as if she was yelling, but the glass muffled the sound. As the fairy flew around the inside, still pounding her fists, Pearl raised the shaker ever so slightly and slid a napkin underneath. Then, with her hand cupped over the napkin, she tipped the saltshaker so it was right side up. As the fairy tumbled to the bottom, Pearl removed the napkin and quickly screwed the top back into place. It was a perfect fairy container because it already had little holes in it for air. “Gotcha,” Pearl said proudly.

  Ms. Bee had been watching with interest. “Let me take a look,” she told Pearl. “If it’s the queen, then I’d love to keep it as a specimen for my class.”

  Pearl pictured the fairy skewered onto Ms. Bee’s velvet display board between a black beetle and a monarch butterfly. “Uh, I was wrong. It’s not a queen.” Holding the shaker in both hands, Pearl slid out of the booth. “Gotta go,” she said as she hurried toward the diner’s door, her blond ponytail swishing. “Thanks for breakfast!” Before her great-aunt could ask any questions, and before Lucy, Ms. Bee, or Mr. Bumfrickle could get a better look at the amazing creature she’d caught, Pearl made her escape.

  “Best get rid of it!” Ms. Bee called. “Or the swarm will follow!”

  Pearl hadn’t taken a single bite of her number six, but she didn’t care. I found a fairy, she sang to herself. A fairy, a fairy, a FAIRY!

  She needed to tell Ben. He’d be so amazed. He might be at his grandfather’s house, or at the Buttonville Senior Center, where he sometimes volunteered. She’d check those places first. She was about to run up Main Street when a flash of red caught her eye. “Drat,” Pearl grumbled. Archenemy alert! Victoria Mulberry, dressed in her usual overalls, was walking straight toward her.

  It was tough being a kid in Buttonville, mostly because there were very few choices for friends. Victoria Mulberry was the only other girl who was Pearl’s age. It would have been nice for both girls if they’d become best friends. They could have worked on school projects together. Spent birthdays together. Gone to the Milkydale County Fair together. Unfortunately, Victoria was not a free-spirited, fun-loving, adventure-seeking sort of girl. Victoria was a persnickety, tattle-telling, whiny, spoiled, mean, unpleasant sort of girl. And while some say that opposites attract, that was far from the truth with Victoria and Pearl.

  The saltshaker vibrated in Pearl’s hands as the fairy flew around. There were no pockets in Pearl’s shiny blue basketball shorts, so she clasped her hands behind her back. “Hey, Victoria,” she said, trying to sound as bored as a brain cell in Victoria’s brain.

  “I’m not talking to you,” Victoria announced as she stopped right in front of Pearl.

  “Fine by me,” Pearl said, which was the truth, because any day spent not talking to Victoria was a good day in her book.

  Victoria’s red hair was so frizzy it looked as if she’d stuck her finger into a light socket. “Don’t you want to know why I’m not talking to you?” She glared through her thick glasses.

  “No, I don’t.” Pearl shuffled in place. The saltshaker tickled her palms. “And by the way, you are talking to me. Just thought I’d point that out.”

  “I’m too busy to talk to you because I’ve got some important reading to do.” Victoria held up a rather thick book. This was not unusual. She almost always carried a book. What was unusual was that she was walking alone, without her mother, and without her red wagon.

  Pearl glanced at the book’s title. History of Dragons by Dr. Emerald Woo. “Where’d you get that?” Pearl asked with a gasp. She’d seen a copy of the book before, but it was owned by Metalmouth, the dragon who lived on the hospital’s roof. How had Victoria found it?

  “Ever since I saw that dragon, I’ve wanted to learn more about them,” Victoria explained. “So I went to the bookstore, and Ms. Nod special-ordered this for me. I didn’t know Dr. Woo was a writer.”

  It was true that Victoria had seen Metalmouth. But Pearl and Ben would never admit to knowing a dragon. Or a sasquatch. Or any of the other creatures they’d met over the summer. They’d each signed a contract of secrecy for Dr. Woo, and they would never break it. “You’re still talking to me,” Pearl said snidely.

  “I saw it,” Victoria said, spit flying off her blue braces. “I’m going to learn all about dragons, and then I’ll know exactly how to find it. And when I do, I’m going to take a picture and send it to the Buttonville Gazette.” She tucked the book under her arm. “What’s that sound?”

  High-pitched buzzing began to stream from Pearl’s clutched hands. It was as if a tiny storm had been unleashed inside the saltshaker, as the fairy continued to fly round and round. Pearl shrugged.

  “Whatcha got behind your back?” Victoria tried to dart around Pearl, but Pearl was quicker on her toes. “What’s in that saltshaker?”

  “I caught a…” Pearl glanced across the stree
t, at the cinema’s marquee. “A killer bee.”

  Victoria recoiled. “Oooh! I’m allergic to bees.”

  That was the best news Pearl had heard all day. “It’s a big queen killer bee,” she announced. “I’m thinking of setting it free.” With a squeal, Victoria hurried away. “Nice talking to ya,” Pearl called.

  Pearl checked the status of her captive. The fairy had stopped flying. She stood on the floor of the saltshaker, folded her arms, and glared at Pearl. “Sorry,” Pearl said, “but I can’t let you go. Not yet.” Then she remembered her mission—to find Ben and share her amazing discovery. She turned up Olive Street, then took a left on Cedar, and spotted him right away.



  Ben and his grandfather Abe Silverstein were walking down the front steps of the Buttonville Synagogue. “Hi, Pearl,” Ben called with a wave. Both he and his grandfather were each wearing a blue yarmulke—a small, flat hat—on the crown of their heads.

  “Hello, Pearl,” Grandpa Abe said. His eyes twinkled beneath his bushy gray eyebrows. Despite the warm summer weather, he’d buttoned his wool cardigan all the way up to his chin. “What a nice Shabbat service. Why don’t you join us next week for kiddush?”

  “For what?” Pearl asked.

  “It’s like snack time, after services, when we say the blessings over the bread and the grape juice,” Ben explained.

  “Sure. That sounds nice.” Pearl held the saltshaker behind her back. “Uh, can I borrow Ben, please?”

  “Off for another adventure?” Grandpa Abe asked. Pearl nodded. “All right, already. You kids go have fun.” Ben took off his yarmulke and handed it to his grandfather. “But remember, boychik, I need your help later at the senior center. We’ve got to set up for pudding day.” He ruffled Ben’s hair. Then, with his cane tapping the sidewalk, Grandpa Abe ambled toward his old Cadillac.