I tried to summon them at midnight, then twilight, and finally at dawn. Nothing worked, even though I strung the lights exactly right, just as Paw-Paw showed me the week before he died. Still, the fairies didn’t come. Finally, in a fit of quirk and temper, I threw the switch at 2:13 on a Wednesday afternoon.
At first, I only heard the buzzing. “Crap,” I said, and “damn,” because everybody knew the grasshoppers were coming, a hoard of black-winged clouds set to ruin all the land. Paw-Paw said they devoured plants down to the roots — and then they ate his spelling quiz, geometry, and underwear. “Pish,” my grandma said. “You never did a lick of homework, and those drawers? Better left unspoken.” Paw-Paw winked. Grandma said he was “a lady’s man,” but I think he just had charm.
So when all that buzzing started, I was sure it was the hopper plague. I looked down at my skirt and wished I’d had the sense to dress in pants, to make it harder for the vermin to set upon my panties.
Too late, I thought. Then they dropped down from the sky, bright and colorful and chittering. Fairies. They perched along the lights, tiny little things, near weightless and translucent. I could see the blood, lavender and orange, pulsing through their veins.
I sighed and shook my head. “Fat lot of good you’ll do me. Hoppers will eat you up in two swift bites.” I cocked my head. “Maybe less.” Paw-Paw had misled me. I’d have given him an earful, but there wasn’t any use in scolding ghosts.
I had no better plan, no magic scythe or thunder ring. With slump-shoulder resolution, I set out the customary offerings, bowls of honey-water, lemonade, and rosehip tea, plates of candied orange peel and cherry tarts. I took a goodbye look at all the orchard rows, the peach and plum and apple, the plots of beans, and corn and wheat, and Grandma’s red tomatoes. All my days, ready to be eaten.
At dawn, the hoppers came in such a rush it seemed the air itself was locked inside a seizure. All along the strings of lights, the little fairies grinned with teeth as ragged as a robber’s blade. They unhinged their jaws like mighty serpents, and bit the heads off every bug in under forty minutes.
“Your Paw-Paw,” Grandma told me long ago, while rolling out the dinner bread, “is a Tall Tale man. You’re better off with facts.” So I’ve kept a record, saved the farm, and sent the fairies home. Grandma was right, as usual, but Paw-Paw wasn’t that far wrong. I believe a few hoppers wriggled from the fairy jaws of death, because my algebra just up and disappeared as if it had never been.
And I believe I’ll leave those fairy lights strung up awhile longer. Gnomes are in the garden roses, and I’m not taking any chances.
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