I gingerly explored the tackle box, trying not to get poked. A three-pronged fish hook, not too shiny, presented itself. I hefted it and smiled, then tossed the hook and some fishing line out of the tackle box, and jumped out myself.
A chickadee I didn’t recognize sat watching me from a nearby tree. We made eye contact but then he looked away, trying to make a show of not caring what I was doing. You want to help me?, I wanted to say, but he wouldn’t have heard me from way down here.
The family started emerging from the tent. Time to go downstairs.
Grabbing the hook and line, I scurried into a pile of autumn leaves that were just starting to glow yellow in the new dawn’s light. Once in my hole, I tied one end of the line to the hook and bit off the excess, then went to bed and lay listening to the muffled sounds of the humans talking on the surface. Sleep pounced, and I drifted off while plotting ways to eliminate the intruder from the faerie world. I grew up with seven older brothers, – I knew how to scrap.
Instinct woke me at dusk.
I had a few seconds of the innocent pleasure of my life before yesterday, but then I stretched, and my paws touched the hook, reminding me of the dangerous job ahead. I wished briefly that Agatha had wanted to help, but she was long gone. And as my dad said, trying to get a squirrel to help you with anything was like trying to convince a rock to stop being hard.
After a bit of breakfast – not too much, you know, just a crumb or two – I hid in the leaves with my hook and line, watching the family toast hot dogs and marshmallows, noting where bits dropped. At one point the little girl, Marie, picked up the bag of marshmallows and four of them fell in the dirt. Oh, my goodness. I licked my chops.
Human children are clearly a gift from the gods.
My eyes were peeled for the pixie, but it knew better than to come out when the adults were still awake. I could smell that it hadn’t left, though, and after a few turns of the wind I had a pretty good idea where it was hiding.
They went to bed eventually, but it wasn’t easy. Marie complained again of nightmares. Something was going to come get her, she said. Her parents told her that she was perfectly safe, her nightmares couldn’t hurt her, the usual. I shook my head. I know humans’ sense of smell isn’t so hot, but it was still unbelievable to me that they hadn’t noticed that sickly sweet scent of pixie.
As soon as they were behind the tent flap I leapt up onto the picnic table, hiding between the salt and pepper shakers. Standing motionless, one paw gripping the hook, the other holding the end of the fishing line. I watched the pixie in the light of the dying campfire.
Sure enough, the greedy creature stood up on a branch, its camouflage dusting off its skin with the next breeze. It was backlit by the moon, and I could clearly make out its silhouette.
My heart raced, but I stayed still. Nothing to see here, faerie, just a third shaker.
The pixie stretched, then leapt from the branch. Its wings caught the air and it flapped, sailing toward the tent while avoiding the smoke of the campfire.
Right over the picnic table.
When it was above me, I tossed the hook. The hook flew up, arched over the creature, and dropped.
I yanked… hard.
The pixie fell, the hook catching in its side. It shrieked in pain.
The pixie did a barrel roll in the air as it fell, but I kept pulling at the line like I was reeling in a magical fish. It screeched and tried to right itself, but it was spinning, and its wing was tangled. It landed on the picnic table like a cloth napkin.
The creature was beautiful, a tiny elfin human with butterfly wings, clad in a long, gossamer shirt. At this proximity, I could see he was clearly male, with straight black hair and orange skin that matched the orange and black coloration of its monarch wings. But, like all faeries, he was in our world for only one thing: to hurt people.
He looked incapacitated, but as I approached, he flipped over and pointed his wand at me. The bolt missed, barely, as I rolled to the side, losing my grip on the line, sparks singing my grey fur black, and knocking over the salt and pepper shakers. I leapt to my feet and tackled him, the edge of my paw slamming down onto his wrist with as much strength as I could muster.
The wand rolled away, falling between the slats of the wood that made up the surface of the table.
Growling, the pixie pushed me back. It was strong, and a few inches bigger than I was. I stumbled away.
He snarled something at me in the fae tongue and took to the air once again, the curved end of the hook still embedded in its body.
As he flew toward the tent, the end of the line slipping away across the table, resolve hardened inside me again. Oh, no you don’t.
I leapt to grab it.