Lots of people fantasize about having a home in the woods, living off the land, close to nature. I actually get to do it.
I live in a small hole, close to a human campsite, in Gatineau park, a large, mountainous, wooded area outside of Ottawa. I sleep all day, and at night, come out and to gather the food the humans drop. For a mouse, this is about as good as it gets.
The night before everything went pear-shaped, for instance, I woke up at dusk to find a newly-camped human family – husband, wife, little girl – and luckily, for me, the child was messy. I found some sweet carbohydrate rings that I think were Honey Nut Cheerios, if the legends are correct. Their deliciousness certainly was legendary. It was autumn, so I ate until I was full, and even had extra to hole away for the long winter that would start in a few weeks.
As usual, I had to share my haul with the local squirrel, Agatha. She’s a bit of a prickly old buzzard, but we get along just fine – for the most part. At a campsite, there’s usually plenty of food to go around. She gets the nuts, I get the cereal, and we usually just stay out of each other’s way.
One night, though, something went wrong at our happy little paradise. I had a cheerio in my mouth and my hands full of sandwich crumbs when I smelled it. It smelled like faerie.
Yes, something was very, very wrong.
I heard a faint flapping, you know, moth volume, and glanced up from under the picnic table. I looked toward the moon and saw something fly in front of it. I really hoped it was a bat, but I knew better. I know all the bats around here, and they wouldn’t come without announcing their arrival. Bats are polite. Well, my neighbors are, anyway.
It was winged, but I could tell from the smell – and the roughly human shape – that it was a pixie. I stopped chewing and held absolutely still.
Only my eyes moved, trying to track its motion in the darkness. It flew toward, and then into, the tent where the humans were sleeping.
As soon as it was inside, I dropped the crumbs and swallowed my cereal. “Agatha!” I dashed over to the plastic garbage bag. Agatha was waist-deep in a hole she’d made in it.
“Eh? What?” Agatha pulled herself out and wiped coffee grounds off of her face with a few brisk swipes of her front claws.
“There’s a pixie in there!” I pointed to the tent.
Agatha looked at the tent, but the night was still. “Are you sure about that?”
“Don’t you smell it?”
Agatha sniffed. Her eyes widened. Most faeries don’t have much of a scent, but pixies… “Nuts. So much for this campsite,” she brushed grounds off the rest of her grey fur.
Agatha looked down at me (I’m about a third her size). “If a pixie’s decided to haunt this campsite, it will eventually scare off all the people. Then no more food.”
I must have just been staring blackly, because Agatha cocked her head. “Eve?”
“But won’t the pixie… well, you know, hurt the child?”
Agatha rolled her black eyes. “Well yeah, but what are you going to do? Take on the faerie kingdom? You don’t make enemies of those things. And what do we owe humans, anyway? Hoarding all the food like they own the world.” She gestured to a tough plastic bag hanging where the bears couldn’t get it.
We owe them a lot, I wanted to say, but you can’t convince squirrels of that. “I suppose you’re right.”
Agatha nodded, agreeing with herself. “I’ve got a cousin who lives a bit upstream. I think there’s a garbage can, or something, around there. I’ll have to make nice with the raccoons, though.” She twisted her face in contempt. “I’ll fill up here and be gone come morning. If you’re smart, you’ll do the same.” She reached into the garbage bag again and pulled out a piece of popcorn half the size of her head. She stuffed it in a cheek. She said “Niath knowing ya, Eve,” and scampered away
I spent the rest of the night putting food in my hole as though my world weren’t ending.
The family woke when the little girl screamed before dawn.
I turned and saw the pixie fly out of the tent, a little wand in its hand. It alighted on, and embraced, a branch, tapped its wand on its head, and its skin transformed into the color and shape of bark. Couldn’t hide that pixie smell, though, you know what I mean?
I hid under a fallen branch and listened while the kid complained of a nightmare. Then she threw up. That faerie was draining something precious from her. That’s what they do.
My heart went out to the little girl, and every other kid who might camp here until word got around that something was inexplicably wrong. I looked up at the branch, but the pixie was invisible, cloaked in its magic camouflage. I felt resolve stiffen inside me. This was my home. I headed to the dad’s collection of fish hooks, and made a selection.
Wand or no wand, you’re going down, faerie.