My name is Felix. I want to tell you about the time my brother, my sister, and I came down with the pox. Not just the chicken pox, but the other one too. The one we caught from a runaway sprite. The rose pox.
“Don’t scratch,” Dad said to Annie, “or you’ll scratch away the fairies who are trying to help your body fight the infection.”
Patrick sighed. “It’s not fairies, Dad. It’s the immune system.”
“What’s the Mune system?” Annie asked.
I just smiled at all of them, even though I really, really wanted to scratch. My brother, sister, and I were all laid up at home with the chicken pox for a couple of weeks after spring break that year. These days, they have a vaccine, but when we were kids, there was none. Patrick and I caught it when we went out of town with Dad to visit a cousin who had it. Then we came home and gave it to Annie.
Mom had never had chicken pox and was staying at our Aunt Sally’s until it was over. I didn’t know before that if grown-ups get chicken pox, it could be really dangerous for them.
“Mom says we’re probably going to get shingles now when we get old,” Patrick said.
Annie clapped her hands together. “You mean like scales instead of skin. Cool!”
Dad sighed and I had a feeling that shingles wasn’t as cool as my little sister thought it was.
Instead of sleeping in our rooms, Dad was letting us camp out in the living room and watch television later than we were allowed to, so long as we finished our homework first, and watched at least an hour of educational stuff, or played a board game together. He even said we could eat any dessert that we made ourselves. We had a couple of weeks to figure out how to make some ice cream for Annie without an ice cream maker.
Even with the crazy itching and Annie’s constant threats to pop her lesions because they freaked her out, we had a fun two weeks hanging out at home. Our lesions began to deflate and heal. Dad said he’d talked to Mom about sending us back to school soon. So we were actually starting to feel bummed, even though we all liked school and missed our friends.
We started keeping close track of our lesions and scars. One day we were comparing scars when Annie pulled up her t-shirt and pointed to her belly button. Just to the right of it was a bright purple raised area in the shape of a daisy. She showed it to Dad. He thought the shape was a coincidence and that she had some kind of rash that might or might not be related to the chicken pox. So he called our doctor and asked about it.
Annie said it didn’t hurt or even itch. It was just there. So we let it go and the next morning she had another one on her right shoulder.
Then Patrick got one later that night. But his was shaped like a little rose, and it was orangey-yellow.
Then I got them the next day. Mine were shaped like a flower with five petals. They were blue. Dad said it looked like a flower called a pimpernel. He didn’t seem too worried until the third morning, when all three of us had more. That’s when Dad sat us down and asked us how we were doing it.
He thought we were playing a prank on him. We had been cooking, baking, and doing all these art projects. He thought we were making the flowers at night and sticking them to ourselves in an attempt to stay home longer. But he was impressed and a little distressed by how real they looked. He didn’t want to try prying them off because he was afraid we had ultra-glued them onto our skin.
When we swore we weren’t faking, he said he believed us, but he seemed confused. He went to go call our doctor while we waited in the family room down in the basement.
“What kind of pox is this?” Annie asked gently rubbing the purple daisy shape on the inside of her right forearm.
I shook my head and Patrick bounced a high-bounce ball against the floor like he always did when he was thinking.
We all sat silently for what seemed like a long while, listening to the rhythmic double-thud as Patrick’s ball hit the floor and then the ceiling. I stared at one of my blue flower rashes for a while, and looked up when the thudding stopped.
“Where’s Annie?” Patrick asked.
I glanced around the room, but didn’t see her.
I looked at the far corner and she was standing right there. I frowned.
“Where did you come from?” Patrick asked.
“I was here the whole time,” Annie said. “I was walking and twirling all around and neither of you noticed.”
Usually Patrick didn’t like disruptions when he was thinking. He’d get irritated if Annie started dancing or running around while he was bouncing his ball.
But I couldn’t remember hearing her either. I was so entranced by my strange rash.
“I don’t think Dad believes us,” Patrick said. “I think he’s on the phone with Mom, not the doctor. They’re probably trying to figure out how we’re tricking them.”
“What can we do to prove they’re real?” I asked.
Patrick glanced between Annie and me. “Don’t worry, guys. I’ll do it.” He got up and headed up the stairs.
“Do what?” I asked, rushing after him.
I found him at the foot of the stairs, opening the drawer of the hallway cabinet. He pulled out a container full of paper clips, staples, and other odd supplies. He opened it up and fished out a large safety pin. I realized then that he was planning on jabbing his rash with the pin in front of Dad to prove it was real. He’d have to act fast before Dad could stop him.
I whipped around and saw Annie standing just behind us. “Annie, go back down.”
“It’s okay,” Patrick said, tucking the container under his arm. “It’s not like I’m cutting myself with a knife. It’s just a pin.”
I knew I should haven’t let him do it, but I was curious. “Maybe I should do it,” I said, just as he pierced the deep orange rose on the outside of his left elbow.
He winced and when no blood came, he pushed the pin deeper. We all gazed at the pin, it was all the way into his arm now.
“There should be blood,” Patrick said. He looked up at me. “Right?” He started to pull the pin out, when we heard Dad called out.
Patrick jerked and the container under his arm began to slip and fall open up as it did. I held out my hand and started to crouch to catch it. I knew I was too late, but the container stopped falling, and hovered in he air, still partly open. I grabbed hold of it, closed the lid, and put it away in the cabinet. Patrick had pulled the pin out of his arm, and we all tried to act naturally as Dad came around the corner.
Dad saw us and frowned. “Where’s Annie?”
Patrick didn’t try his plan on Dad. We went on with our day as usual. Dad must have known we weren’t lying. We were kids, but we weren’t dumb. If we were good enough to make fake rashes to get out of going back to school, we wouldn’t have made them look like something no one had ever seen before. We would have made them look like more chicken pox. But I’m pretty sure he thought we were playing some kind of game, so it felt like he had banished us when he told us to spend the day in the family room, where there was no television and no video games.
“You guys see what’s happening, right?” Patrick said after Dad left us. We had just finished our homework.
We weren’t allowed to lock the door, so Patrick went up a few steps to make sure Dad wasn’t listening.
Patrick looked at Annie. “You’ve always been quiet, and you’re very tiny, but don’t you think it’s weird that none of us seem to see you when we’re not looking right at you?”
I sighed. I had noticed it. I had even thought about it. It had started a few days before, not too long after she got that first daisy-shaped rash.
“And I don’t seem to bleed,” Patrick said. He pulled that blasted safety pin from out of his pocket and this time, he jabbed the back of his arm where there was no chicken pox lesion or rose-shaped rash. He even dragged the pin across his skin and it seemed to make a scratch, but the scratch vanished, even as it was forming.
Annie rushed to Patrick’s side and stroked his arm where he had tried to scratch and jab himself.
“I’m okay,” Patrick said, putting the pin down on the nearby coffee table. He mussed Annie’s hair and looked at me. “And what about that thing you just did upstairs?” His eyes widened. “Dude, you’re telekinetic.”
“There has to be some explanation.”
“There is,” Patrick said. “We caught some flower-shaped rash disease and it’s given us magical powers.”
Of all the people I might have expected would believe something like that, Patrick was not one of them. Then again, he had always wanted superhuman abilities. I guessed he was willing to believe in weird things if it meant he could have such abilities.
“It’ll probably go away,” Patrick said. “It doesn’t feel like a disease, but it looks like one, so we’ll probably get better. We should go out and do something while we can.”
“Do something? Like what?” I didn’t like where this was going.
“Help people.” Patrick got hold of his high-bounce ball again. “I’ll have to test my limits first. Burns, cuts, and all that. I wonder if my bones are unbreakable.”
“No way. I’m not letting you.”
“What about you?” Patrick said. “You don’t have to hurt yourself to test your limits?”
I nodded. “Okay, we can do that.” I was ready to do almost anything he wanted so long as it meant he wasn’t going to try to burn himself or jump off the roof. Something was different about us. Maybe Patrick really couldn’t get hurt, but he still seemed to feel pain, and even if he didn’t, it wasn’t worth the risk.
But first, I really wanted to see that safety pin. I believed Patrick, but I also believed it was a trick. I knew then how Dad must have felt. I walked toward the pin and reached my hand out. It jumped from the table and came shooting toward me. I shrank back and the pin hit my elbow.
I looked over at my siblings. Annie was gaping. Patrick was smiling and nodding.
“Awesome,” he said. “See? Let’s go be heroes.”
“You shouldn’t go out there if you intend to do good,” a voice said. “You will only end up doing harm.”
We glanced around the room. Patrick moved closer to Annie and put his hands on her shoulders. Then someone stepped out of a shadow in the corner. He was half Annie’s height and twice as skinny. He was dressed in a satiny dark green suit and coat with steel-gray boots. Around his neck was a tiny bell. His ears came up to a tapered point that poked up from the fluffy mass of hair that was the color of a cinnamon stick. And marking his smooth brown skin were familiar-looking rashes. They were all different colors, and they were all shaped like flowers. He glanced between us all and spoke.
“My name is Oddness, but you may call me Odd.”
Patrick raised his brows. “I’ll say. How did you get in here? Our Dad is upstairs. He’ll mess you up if you’re here to hurt us.”
The odd little man named Odd, who looked like he would be no match for our little sister, much less both Patrick and me together, stretched his hands out further toward us.
“The mirror. I came through the mirror, and I meant no harm.”
“He has them too,” Annie said, pointing to Odd. We all knew she was pointing specifically to Odd’s rashes.
“I can tell you what it is. I can tell you who I am. It’s my fault you caught the pox. I must make amends. And you must not leave your home until you are rid of it, or you may infect others, others whose thoughts may not be as well-meaning as your own. And there is no telling when the pox’s effects will fade.”
No one spoke for a moment.
“We’re listening,” I finally said, watching the little man closely, wondering if I could push him away with my mind, if he made any wrong moves.
Oddness explained to us what the flower-shaped rashes were. It was a fairy disease known as the rose pox.
Human bodies were always changing, but they were relatively stable compared to a fairy’s body, and especially a sprite like Odd. Fairies didn’t catch diseases, or rather diseases couldn’t catch up to them. If a fairy did get a disease like the pox, it was considered fortunate. A fairy was considered “chosen” by the pox. Worthy enough to be pursued and caught. The disease caused a constant ache and strange sensations where the flowery rashes appear. It also focused and concentrated a fairy’s natural attributes and talents, and sometimes helped a fairy to attain new powers. The effects were unpredictable and they typically passed after the pox had passed. Sometimes as the disease was transmitted to another, the powers it inspired could be transferred to that other. When that occurred, the powers would be lost by the one who originally held them.
The rose was the queen of all flowers, so the pox was named the rose pox. Getting a rash that manifested as a rose was especially auspicious for a fairy, though Odd wasn’t sure what it meant for a human.
A dear friend of Odd’s had caught the rose pox, and had suffered the rarest effect of the pox. Only one other case was known where a fairy fell into a deep sleep, suspended between life and death, but slipping closer toward death. While others sought magic and potions, Oddness had an idea, a desperate idea. He would find a way to become infected by the pox. He would hone his abilities and hope for a new power or a way to cure his friend.
But when he was found out, found trying to infect himself with the same disease that had felled his friend, he was driven from the realm where he had hoped to stay and recover from the pox. He had no choice but to take shelter in the human realm.
“So we caught this from you?” Patrick asked.
“Forgive me. I was mistaken. I overheard that the people in this house had the pox and I thought you would be safe from me. I have to be indoors in a protected place, while I recover. Indeed, even if you didn’t have the pox, I was told that the rose pox could not affect humans, save for those who believed.”
“Believed in fairies,” Annie said.
Odd inclined his head in affirmation.
“Well, if we can’t go out and help our people, maybe we can help your friend,” Patrick said.
“I was hoping you would say that. You can transfer your abilities back to me. Then I can transfer them to her. Yours especially will be the key. She will heal and all will be well. Perhaps, even my exile will be lifted.”
“No offense, Odd, but we just met you,” I said, dismayed again at Patrick’s recklessness. “How do we know you’re not some kind of trickster trying to trick us?”
“That’s right!” Annie said.
“Oh, but I am a trickster. We sprites are especially mischievous, save during dire times. I would gladly take you with me, so you could see for yourselves, but you are young ones. And I am a stranger. Would you be allowed to come with me?”
“No, but we can sneak away,” Patrick said.
I gulped. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“If he’s some kind of bad guy, you can blast him away with your mind, Felix. Try it now.”
“We’re not leaving this house,” I said. Patrick was stronger than me, but if I really could control the new power I seemed to have, I might be able to keep him glued to the floor of the family room.
“We would not leave the house,” Odd said. “We would need only go through the mirror.” He waved a hand toward the floor-to-ceiling mirror along one wall that was meant to make the room look bigger.
“There you go,” Patrick said. “If he can take us through a mirror portal, then this guy is a real magical being.”
“That still doesn’t mean he’s trustworthy.”
“We can leave Annie behind.”
“No way!” Annie cried.
“You need not come with me. You can transfer your powers to me. Your rashes will fade. The mirror will be locked to me once your pox is gone.”
I wouldn’t take his word for it. I would look that up. It sounded too convenient.
“How long would we be gone?” Patrick asked, and I realized that if the little man before us really could open a portal to another realm from our family room mirror, I would have little choice but to go on that adventure. I couldn’t let Patrick and Annie go alone.
“It will take many days to reach the queen’s hollow,” Odd said. “That’s where my friend abides. But time passes more quickly in my realm. Days will pass there, but only hours here. If you can spare a few hours, you should not be missed.”
I had a terrible feeling that if Odd were lying and time moved in the opposite direction, it would be very bad for us. For by the time we got back, months may have passed, or years. But I resigned myself. I didn’t have any control of my new power. Until I learned how to control it, or until something went wrong, I would go along with Patrick and Odd.
“What do we tell Dad?” Patrick said looking to me.
“Dad, we’re going into the mirror-world to help save a friend,” I said. “So don’t freak out if you don’t hear anything from us for a few hours. If you do freak out, you can ring this bell and it will call us right back.” I held out the bell, the one that had hung from Odd’s neck. He had left an identical bell by his friend’s bedside. If she had rung it while he was away, he would be summoned back immediately, wherever he was.
“And when we’re done, we’ll probably start losing the rashes,” Patrick added.
Dad looked at us a bit funny. “I see,” he said taking the bell from me. “Well, good luck then. I hope you can save your friend.”
When we stepped through the mirror, it wasn’t like in the movies where there was a watery-looking pool or a portal of energy. It was a mirror, the same as any other. Then Odd drew some kind of character on the mirror’s surface with his finger, then he stepped through and just vanished into his own reflection.
Patrick and I kept Annie between us as we all walked through, one by one. I had hoped I would just bump into the mirror and we would all start laughing about the shared illusion we had just fallen prey to. But I passed right through, and it felt no different from passing through a doorway. There was a slight puff of air.
But once I was on the other side of the mirror, everything was different, if even slightly so. The light was golden yellow with a tinge of green. It filtered down to us from a blue sky that we saw past the giant leaves of a giant tree. We were in a forest and I could see no path. I held on to my little sister’s hand. I saw something slink through the forest and Odd told us not to worry. He said we would be safe enough. If any of their party were to be harmed or attacked, it would be him, for violating the terms of his exile.
I wasn’t sure how he was going to see his friend if she was surrounded by those who knew Odd was forbidden to come near her. We traveled for three days. The strange thing was, we didn’t need to eat, sleep, or even drink during those days. We didn’t get tired. Our feet didn’t hurt. We weren’t sweaty. Our clothes weren’t soiled and tattered.
I thought I saw dragon fly overhead one morning. I saw only a shadow from afar against the bright noon sun. I was eager to explore the place. But at the same time, I longed for home. At last we came to a lush forest with trees I’d never seen before. They had smooth dark purple barks and huge vivid green leaves. There were glowing orbs of powder-blue light set in the branches of the trees.
We walked farther in and someone stopped Odd, but then after a few words, they let him pass.
He turned back to me and whispered. “It’s because I’m not infected anymore.” His rashes had vanished during their journey to the hollow.
“What about us?” I asked. We had worn pants and long sleeves, and I even wore a scarf to hide the rash around my neck. But Patrick had one right in the middle of his left cheek.
Odd hung his head. “They are being less cautious it seems, for they believe she is truly dying now.”
We passed people now who looked much like Odd. The closer we got to the center of the hollow, the more people—the more fairies—there were. We finally reached a shallow dais where lay a lady, not much taller than Odd, lying down with her hands folded atop her belly, dressed in a gown of glittering silver and blue. And on her head, above flowing locks of silvery-blue hair was a diadem of gleaming silver set with moonstones.
Odd approached the dais and bowed deeply. He gestured for us to do the same, so we did. Annie gave a graceful curtsy.
“Behold,” Odd said. “The queen of our realm. I am forbidden to give you her name.”
He then turned to the still figure out of the queen and introduced us not by our names, but by the shapes and colors of our rashes. Then he stepped back and seemed to wait.
“Odd, if she is the queen, does that mean…are you the king?” I asked.
“Me? Oh no, we are distant cousins. We were close when we were young, but after she became queen, I did not see her. But I loved her still, as all do.”
“She’s so strong,” Annie said gazing at the sparkling blue fairy in repose.
I was surprised she didn’t comment on how beautiful the queen was. She seemed to be seeing something that I couldn’t see. When I asked her later, she said she saw waves of energy pulsing from the queen’s still form.
After a few moments, a white-robed figure appeared from the other side of the dais.
“She is near death,” the figure said. He did not look like Odd, like a sprite. His skin was pale white. His eyes were milky white as well. He had no hair. “We are preparing her for the afterlife journey.”
“I would ask for one more chance to help her stay in this life,” Odd said.
“Were you not banished? You risk much by returning. Have you kidnapped these children? Those are not our ways, sprite.”
“They are here willingly. Please just allow us to help her.”
The white-robed figure stepped down from the dais and stopped before us. It was hard to tell if he was looking at us, or if he could see at all. He nodded and stepped away.
Odd waved us forward. “I can never repay you for this,” he said to Patrick.
Patrick stepped up to the dais. Annie stepped up beside him, but Odd and I stayed where we were. Patrick placed his hands on top of the queen’s hands. I saw his shoulders jerk up a little and when I asked him about it later, he said it was because her hands were frozen. They were almost too cold for him to bear touching. He glanced back at Odd. Then he abruptly turned his head back around and down to the figure of the queen. Annie stood beside him, touching neither the queen nor our brother.
I couldn’t tell if anything was happening. Patrick stayed in that position for so long that I thought we would be asked to move along, or that others wanted to say their goodbyes. But no one disturbed him. At last, he raised his hands. He turned around and stepped down from the dais, followed by Annie.
We didn’t need to sleep and whenever I tried, I dreamed strange dreams, so I lay in the bed of moss listening to the night sounds. I knew my brother and sister were awake as well, but none of us felt up to talking.
The next morning, Patrick showed us his cheek and his arm. Where the rose pox rash had been, there was nothing but his cheek, not even a scar. The same was true of all his rashes. He still had scabs and scars to prove he’d had the chicken pox, but the rose pox seemed to have vanished without a trace.
“Then there’s this,” he said, pulling up his pants leg to show us his ankle. There was a red, normal looking rash forming. “Something bit me last night. And scratched me.” He showed us his right hand. The back of his hand had a shallow scratch on it.
Patrick had always been the clumsy daredevil among us. And his power had been to resist all injury. Annie was small and easy to miss sometimes, and her power had seemed to enhance her ability to hide in plain sight. I wondered how my power related to me.
After a breakfast of orange cakes, Odd came to get us and told us that he would take us home.
“How’s the queen?” Patrick asked, pointing out his lack of rashes.
“She has not woken yet, but we can see that she is better. Only time will tell. No one wants to believe that she will heal, because if they do and she doesn’t, their hearts will be broken again.”
“Maybe we should stay,” Annie said. “To make sure she’ll be okay.”
“There is nothing more you can do.”
“What about Annie’s power and mine?” I asked. “If we don’t transfer them, will they be lost once we recover from the pox?”
“Of that I’m not certain.”
“Then we should transfer them,” I said, “to you.”
“It would help to regain my stealth,” Odd said. “Fairies can move faster than the human gaze. So long as I can hide in the corner of you eye, I can live among you, as I will have to do now. But yours, Felix, is a power I did not have before. It must have developed under the influence of the pox. If she were awake, I would ask the queen to take the power. But as she is not, you should give it to someone who is worthy.”
I reached out my hands to him. “That’s just what I’m doing.”
Patrick looked around at us, his expression dazed. We were all standing in the family room, having just stepped through the mirror. “Did that just happen,” Patrick asked, “or did we all just have the same hallucination?”
Annie frowned. “What kind of nation?”
I pulled up my shirt sleeve to look and sure enough, I saw no rashes.
We heard a thud and all our heads whipped toward the sound. My glass ball paper weight with the ankylosaur inside had somehow fallen off the trophy case.
Annie gasped, then looked at me with wide eyes.
“Did you do that?” she whispered.
I winked at her. “Let’s check in with Dad and get some real rest.”
“I wonder if he’s got the bell,” Annie said.
My brother and sister scrambled upstairs, and I put my ankylosaur paperweight back in its place, knowing I hadn’t really moved it. But the paperweight was pretty secure. It couldn’t have just rolled off on its own.
I glanced behind me at the mirror on the wall. I put my hand on it and felt the cool, solid resistance of the mirror surface. I stepped back and gazed at my reflection, and I wondered.
Copyright © 2016 Nila L. Patel