Oddnever adjusted her spectacles, tucked in her wings, rolled open her scroll, and touched the tip of her quill to her tongue. She peered into the mirror that was set in the modest front room of her modest abode within an acorn tree. That mirror had been locked so that she was only able to look through it, not step through it. Oddnever was, after all, different from other sprites. She could be trusted and relied upon. She was capable of focusing for long stretches of time. And she was thought to be too slow to evade the human gaze—likely because she was taller than was typical for her kind. Therefore she was forbidden from visiting the human realm.
While she wasn’t generally mischievous, Oddnever was keenly curious.
And that curiosity, as it turned out, overcame her propensity to follow the rules. Oddnever had found a way to unlock the mirror.
But as it was in her nature to be careful, she had been observing and studying the goings-on of the particular corner of the human realm into which her mirror opened. It seemed to be some sort of apothecary shop. Oddnever observed the patterns of the various humans who minded the shop and the hours of its operation, so that she might visit when she could be alone.
The air in the human realm could be heavy, she was told, and it might take her a moment just to acclimate to breathing it. Gravity was constant, she was told, and did not obey the will of a fairy. So she would feel the weight of her wings always, and maybe even be unable to carry them. That was why so many of the sprites that traveled into the human realm were the wingless—typically the males—of their kind. Her brother had traveled to the human realm, and had even befriended some children, when he himself was barely out of childhood. So Oddnever had thought of asking him for his advice. But she was so afraid of anyone getting in the way of her utmost aspiration that she had decided no one would know of her plans.
So one evening, after the shop had been closed and locked, though the lights kept on—a practice that Oddnever found odd and hoped to understand upon further study—Oddnever drew the proper runes on her mirror.
She passed her least favorite quill partly through the mirror and pulled it back to test. The quill appeared undamaged. So she next passed her least favorite finger through the mirror, gasping at the watery chill that passed through it as it passed through the mirror’s surface.
Her finger too seemed unharmed.
And so, in the most reckless act that she had ever committed in her life thus far, Oddnever stepped through the mirror into the human realm.
She breathed slowly, but the air seemed no different from the air in her own abode. There was a slightly pleasant chemical smell in the air, but after all, she had stepped into an apothecary. Her sight flickered, as her eyes adjusted, by reflex, to the language that was written on the many items in the shop. She discovered with delight that she could read the language quite easily.
“Sour cream and onion!” she exclaimed, as she reverently touched a shiny green sack, which crinkled in response.
She turned and read the sign by the front door, the name of the apothecary shop.
“Sameer’s Express Mart.”
A swell of excitement filled her chest and burst out as a laughing exhalation.
Oddnever, who was a most scholarly fairy, had hoped that she would be able to read the human language. She could not do so through the mirror. But now…
Oddnever flitted about the apothecary shop—the…Express Mart—reading this and that, trying to discern what the functions of all the various potions and poultices were. Upon reading the unexpected words “delicious” and “flavor” upon some of the items, and reading the lists of ingredients, she concluded that most, if not all, such items were not medicines but foods.
She had, of course, witnessed a few customers consume drinks and wafers and tablets on their visits, after making their purchases (or sometimes just before). But she had thought that the edible forms were to make consumption of medicines easier. Oddnever—being a fairy—had little experience with medicine, for she had never—being a fairy—gotten ill.
Oddnever unrolled her scroll so many times in her first few moments of exploring that she soon realized it might be more prudent (and also more enjoyable) for her to put her scroll away and simply observe and study. If all went well, she would be returning the following night.
There were enchanted eyes watching her, she knew, or whatever the human equivalent of enchantment was. If Oddnever moved too slowly, the spell the humans called “surveillance cameras” would see her, and the minders of the store would know of her visit. She would have to find and prepare another mirror, and though she knew how to now, the process was a cumbersome one.
But those who had thought her to be slow were wrong. Oddnever measured the speed of her movements against the values she had been taught, and found that her movements were of average speed, between those of the slowest and the fastest fairies. Thus assured, she was free to explore.
Oddnever marveled at everything she saw. There were many masks for the eyes, which no doubt must have been used to train warriors to fight without their sight. The humans had invented soaps of many forms, from solid bricks to foamy vapors, and in every imaginable scent, including—to her dismay—peach. Why a people of such ingenuity would deem peaches desirable in any way, she could not fathom. But then, every people had some flaw or other.
She found the section of the mart containing the medicines. Medicines there were to ease the pain of aches—aches in joints, aches in the head, aches in muscles, aches in the viscera, aches in bones. Medicines there were to ease fevers brought on by infection, by allergen, or even, sometimes by the body’s very process of healing. Oddnever gaped. Truly, humans were delicate creatures. And yet, that they suffered such debilitations and carried on by patching themselves up until they were healed, spoke of a hardiness that fairies did not possess. Oddnever had never suffered a scrape or a bruise. A cold had never caught her. And even if it had, she would not suffer, and would likely be praised by her fellow fairies for being worthy of being caught.
Needing a respite from such thoughts, she next examined the cold stores, delighting in the mist that formed when she pulled open the glass doors.
She shook her head. “They have contained winter in a box,” she said to herself. She longed to try some of the foods, but for that, she would need to procure human funds. She was not a thief, after all.
That night, though she could have explored for hours, Oddnever stopped herself and stepped back through the mirror into her realm. While the memories and observations were fresh in her mind, she unrolled her scroll and wrote them all down.
Unlike most fairies, Oddnever enjoyed sleeping. But for the rest of that night, she tossed and turned in restless excitement.
On subsequent visits to Sameer’s Express Mart, Oddnever started to become a bit reckless. One time, one of the minders of the store—called “clerks”—turned back after locking up, and did an additional check of the store to make sure no one was hiding in an aisle, because he thought he heard something.
Oddnever easily managed to hide from him. Luckily, he did not report the incident, and did not ask to see the recordings from the surveillance cameras, else he would have seen a shimmering wing knock over a canister of potato crisps. And in the very next second, the canister in its rightful place again. Just like that. In a blink.
Oddnever became more vigilant after that. She even tried to ensure she had another means of hiding from humans in case she ever absently slowed down enough for human sight to perceive her. In the fairy realm, where gravity operated according to the whims of the one who interacted with it, she could easily fly, no matter her size. But in the human realm, where gravity was constant, she was much too heavy to fly. She could only manage it if she were to shrink to the size of a bird. But Oddnever had never quite mastered the trick of shrinking, especially since it required regular visits to the human realm to practice, and she had been mostly denied that liberty.
She had managed to shrink herself to size of a spaniel, but no smaller. Shrinking was a tiresome exercise. She could only manage to practice for so long before she became distracted by stray thoughts.
One of these stray thoughts was an idea that was a bit bold, daring, reckless…mischievous. It was perhaps the most fairy-like notion she had ever had.
Oddnever decided to disguise herself as a human, and roam the store while it was still open for business, but maybe not as busy. Just around closing time was ideal. Then she could hide and wait until the clerks locked up, then continue exploring at her leisure again.
She had studied human garb, and she made herself a suitable pair of trousers, a hooded windbreaker with a zipper—which had been challenging to construct, but delightful to use—and a pair of soundless shoes with matching patches of bright glowing green.
Then, one night, she did it.
Her heartbeat quickening, Oddnever looked all ways—left, right, up, down, diagonally, and askew—before stepping through the mirror. No one saw her.
She heard the shuffle of footsteps in a nearby aisle. She held her breath.
Oddnever had tried to fold her wings and perhaps stuff them into one of those charming carriers simply called a “backpack.” But her wings were too big.
At last, she had decided to construct two zippered openings on the back of her windbreaker, through which she could slip her wings. If she kept them thrumming fast enough, no human would be able to perceive them.
It would require some concentration, but that would not be a challenge. Her original vigilance had returned.
But with it, came a new level of eagerness and curiosity.
And so it was that Oddnever had her scroll unrolled, recording the comments that a young customer had made about his favored flavors of some soft drink. Oddnever had not yet learned why such aggressively bubbling beverages were considered soft.
She was in the midst of writing her observations when she heard a voice behind her.
“Do you need help?”
She recognized the voice. It was one of the clerks who was minding the shop that night, Dominique.
“Is that your list?” Dominique asked. “I can help you find stuff if you want.”
Oddnever snapped her scroll shut and tucked it into an inner pocket.
“Just so you know, there’s some stuff we can’t sell you unless you have an adult present.”
“Okay, no pressure. But I’ll be stocking stuff, so I’ll be around. Find me if you want any help. Or just call out. I’m Dominique.”
Oddnever’s frown vanished. In her surprise at the freely offered name, she spun around and faced the clerk.
Dominique was bent over, with her hands propped on her knees, so that her eyes were level with Oddnever’s eyes.
“Cool hoodie, by the way,” Dominique said, smiling.
Oddnever had never looked into a human’s eyes before. Overwhelmed, she dashed away, trying to run slowly enough for the clerk to see her, but quickly enough that she could not catch her.
Dominique did not give chase.
But still, Oddnever felt her heart pounding, fast and forceful. Some reflex was triggered within her whole body. A reflex that was partly under her control. A power that she could reach for or release at her will. She reached for it, embraced it, because she thought she knew what it was, but couldn’t quite be sure.
Oddnever felt a prickling through her whole body.
She shrunk right down, and her wingbeats slowed till their thrumming produced a low drone. She found herself hovering in the air, puzzled.
Her wings had slowed by reflex, so that they could catch the air instead of slicing through it, as they had been doing at higher speeds. And yet, they would have to beat faster if she were to become invisible to human eyes again.
She landed on a shelf beside some kind of round toy creature with pink and purple fur.
In the fairy realm, with its variable gravity, she had always been a nervous flyer. She’d preferred to remain on the ground, for the ground provided an anchor for all walkers, one that ultimately felt much like gravity in the human realm. That was why humans who found themselves in the fairy realm rarely experienced any disruptions in their sense of gravity.
Oddnever calmed herself until she perceived the reverse of the power she had just flexed. She jumped down to the ground, looked all ways to ensure she was alone, and grew back to her typical size, feeling an intense warmth as she grew, and then a wash of cool as the particles of her body separated.
Part of her wanted to return home, but that part was overwhelmed by her curiosity, about the relative ease with which she had just shrunk, about the clerk and the depth of her eyes.
Humans may have been fragile and slow, but they had within them a force that most fairies feared and respected, even coveted, and with good reason. If ever humans were to learn how to wield the true strength of this force, they would no doubt overcome all their weaknesses and become a truly sovereign and supreme people. Fairies did not possess this force. But every human was born with it.
And Oddnever believed that she had just seen one, or glimpsed one, in all its wild magnificence.
She hid in the shadow of a winter robe that was hung on display close to the payment counter. She listened as Dominique warned the other clerk, Ray, that there may be a child loose in the store.
Oddnever worried that the clerks’ aim was to catch and punish her, until she heard Dominique add that they should help the child if they find her. Dominique described Oddnever to Ray.
“Keep an eye on her if you see her,” Dominique said, her brow creased as she glanced around the store. “I didn’t see anyone with her. If she’s here alone this late, I’m just worried she might be in trouble.”
Ray nodded. “Sure thing. Better safe than sorry. I’ll go look around. Take the register?”
The two switched places, Ray stocking shelves and casually searching for Oddnever, while Dominique helped the last remaining customers.
Oddnever hadn’t wanted to cause any trouble or anxiety in the clerks, particularly these two, who were among the ones she most liked. There were three others who worked other swing shifts, and one of them seemed unpleasant, but the others seemed quite lovely.
She was not sure how to put their minds at ease. They were close to closing, so she decided that she would borrow a sheet of paper from one of the notebooks in her favorite section of the store—the office supplies aisle—and she would leave a note on the counter, addressed specifically to Dominique and Ray.
She would thank them for helping her, and say that her mother had asked her to leave the note, in apology for her rudeness toward Dominique, which she reported to her mother after feeling bad about it. She wrote the note as the clerks locked up the shop and checked all the aisles one last time.
After ensuring that the clerks had left, Oddnever crept toward the counter. She read the note again one last time, and was startled by a voice behind her.
“I knew you were still here,” Dominique said.
Oddnever spun around, just as she had before. As she did, her heart began to pound, just as it had before. She felt the reflex within her grasp, and she grasped it. She shrunk and her wings reacted, slowing until their soundless beating became a droning. She hovered in the air. Dominique’s eyes grew wide.
Oddnever flew off, knowing she was moving too slowly to evade the clerk’s sight. Dominque tried to follow her.
“Ray! Heads up. She’s…she’s flying your way!”
Following the sound of her voice, Ray ran to her.
Oddnever landed again on a shelf and hid behind boxes of corkscrew-shaped pasta, listening to Dominique describe what had just happened.
To Oddnever’s surprise, Ray immediately believed his colleague.
“Sounds like some kind of cryptid,” he said. “Also sounds like she’s not dangerous. Unless…let’s make sure she doesn’t feel cornered or threatened by us. The doors are locked, so she’s in here somewhere. She can’t go anywhere.”
“I don’t know, Ray. I’m kind of tired.” Dominique sighed. “There was a flash. I was probably just blinded by the flashlight on the kid’s phone. Yeah, yeah, that’s it. That was good thinking. My mom taught me to do that too, when she told me about stranger danger.”
“Hey! We know you’re in here,” Ray called out. “We won’t hurt you.”
“That’s perfect, Ray. She will definitely trust us now.”
Both clerks were wearing the soundless sneaker shoes, but Oddnever could still hear them striding through the aisles.
“You’re not in a trouble with us, kid,” Dominique called out. “But we can’t just leave you here in the store all night. So…can you help us figure something out?”
Oddnever had been warned about the tricks that humans tried to play to trap fairies, with whom humans had a fascination, and sometimes a fear, both emotions sometimes being a danger to fairies.
Yet, she did not want to leave her favorite clerks in distress.
Oddnever decided she must show herself, and she must show that she was a fairy, and not a child, in a way that left neither clerk with any doubts about what they were seeing.
“I’m here!” she called out, hearing her voice in her shrunken form, a few octaves higher than was typical. She heard them respond by moving toward the sound of her voice. She called out again and drew them both together to the central aisle of the store.
She hovered before them as they slowly approached.
Oddnever reached for the force of growing. She drew it slowly so that the humans could see her grow. She dropped to the ground.
Oddnever landed kneeling on her left knee, while her other leg was bent before her, right foot firmly on the ground, and her wings outstretched behind her.
“Hero landing,” Ray whispered, gazing at her. “Hell yeah.”
She flicked her wings down and folded them behind her as she rose.
“Thank you for giving me your name,” she said to Dominique. Her voice seemed to surprise both clerks. It had deepened to its typical register.
“I’m Ray,” Ray said, pointing to himself.
Oddnever smiled at him.
She glanced at Dominique and once again, the two were eye to eye. Oddnever felt that swell of excitement, and that anxiety of caution, and above all an intense fascination.
Whatever would happen next, she was certainly unprepared for it. And yet…
“My name,” she said, stopping to take a breath, “is Oddnever.”
Copyright © 2020 Nila L. Patel