Nine

‘How much of that did you believe?’ asked Mr Fogarty.

Henry blinked. He’d believed it all. ‘Don’t you think he’s telling the truth?’

‘Not much,’ Fogarty said. ‘All that business about shrinking and growing wings…?’

‘But he’s small and he does have wings!’ Henry protested.

‘I know,’ Fogarty said. ‘But that doesn’t mean he’s shrunk or just grown them. He may have always been that way.’

They were together in Mr Fogarty’s cluttered living room, having left the fairy Pyrgus Malvae in the kitchen eating a potato crisp that was nearly as big as he was.

‘Why would he say he did if he didn’t?’

‘To keep us off our guard,’ Fogarty told him soberly. ‘What could be more innocent than a sweet little fairy with butterfly wings… in trouble?’

‘Keep us off guard about what’}’ Henry asked.

Fogarty pursed his lips, leaned forward and dropped his voice. ‘The alien invasion.’

‘Alien invasion?’ Henry echoed. ‘Alien invasion?’

‘Well, you can drop that attitude for a start,’ Fogarty said crossly. ‘You know how many Americans got abducted by aliens last year? Six million!’

‘Mr Fog – ‘

‘And that’s just America. You think what it’s like world-wide. Believe me, there’s something going on and this may be a part of it. He’s already admitted he comes from a parallel universe. What do you think that makes him – a teddy bear? How far do you think you’d trust him if he was green with tentacles? Or that thing that came out of John Hurt’s chest in Alien?’

Henry hadn’t seen Alien, but he imagined what came out of John Hurt’s chest must have been pretty awful. He opened his mouth to say something, but Fogarty was in full flight.

‘You wouldn’t, would you? You’d be on your guard. Think about it. If you looked like hell and dripped slime, wouldn’t it make sense to come on like something a lot more harmless? So you use advanced alien technology to change your shape – molecular adjuster, I’d say. But what do you change it to? Fairy, that’s what! A fairy!’

‘Why?’ asked Henry. He’d seen Mr Fogarty like this before and the only way to stop it was to meet it head on.

‘Why? Why what? Why a fairy? Because a fairy is familiar…’ he narrowed his eyes ‘… yet strangely unfamiliar. Every kid on the planet’s seen fairies in a picture book, but how many’ve seen the real thing? Everybody loves a fairy – tiptoes through the bluebells, butter wouldn’t melt – but at the same time, fairy says Don’t mess with me otherwise you don’t get the gold at the end of the rainbow. You heard that thing talking about gold, didn’t you?’

‘That’s leprechauns,’ Henry said.

It stopped him. ‘What’s leprechauns?’

‘Gold at the end of the rainbow. Irish leprechauns. They promise you gold, but don’t give it to you. Fairies just help plants grow.’ Then, before Mr Fogarty could get his breath back, he went on, ‘Anyway, if he was part of the alien invasion, why would he tell us he’d shrunk?’

‘What?’

‘Why would he tell us? Why wouldn’t he just pretend he was a normal fairy?’

‘To get our sympathy – ‘

‘If we thought he was a real fairy, he wouldn’t need our sympathy,’ Henry said patiently. ‘He’d have it already. Everybody loves fairies – you just said so yourself.’ He waited while Mr Fogarty considered it. The old boy might be batty, but he wasn’t stupid.

Eventually Fogarty said, ‘You think I should trust him?’

‘Yes!’ Henry said emphatically.

‘You think we should help him?’

‘Yes,’ Henry said, but less emphatically this time. It was the ‘we’ that got to him. He wanted to help Pyrgus the fairy. In fact he wanted to help quite badly. But a little voice in his head muttered that maybe he wouldn’t be able to do all that much. Henry had other problems in his life.

Fogarty shrugged. ‘OK,’ he said. ‘Let’s go back in.’

‘We’ve had a discussion,’ Fogarty said briskly, ‘and we’ve decided – ‘

‘What was that thing?’ Pyrgus asked, interrupting.

‘What thing?’

‘That thing you gave me to eat.’

‘Potato crisp,’ Fogarty told him. ‘It wasn’t poisoned, if that’s what you think.’

Pyrgus looked at him in surprise. ‘Didn’t think it was – I just thought it tasted nice.’

‘Potato crisp,’ Fogarty said again. ‘Cheese and onion.’

‘Haven’t you ever eaten one before?’ Henry asked.

Pyrgus shook his head. ‘We don’t have them in my realm.’

‘Don’t you?’ Henry was fascinated. He couldn’t really imagine a world where you couldn’t buy yourself a packet of crisps. ‘What do you do for snacks?’

‘Brindles,’ Pyrgus said. ‘They’d be the most popular. Bubble smoke, I suppose. And nants, if you’ve got a sweet tooth. Slice of ordle. Then there’s chaos horn, but that’s a sex thing. In Cheapside they sell retinduculus from stalls.’

‘This chaos horn – ‘ Henry began.

‘Can you talk about all that some other time?’ Fogarty cut in. He glared at Henry, then at Pyrgus. ‘As I was saying, we’ve had a discussion, young Henry and me, and we’ve decided to give you the benefit of the doubt – ‘

‘What doubt?’ asked Pyrgus.

‘What doubt?’ asked Henry.

Fogarty ignored them. ‘We’ve decided you might just be who you say you are, although you haven’t really said yet, have you? But we need to ask you a few more questions.’ He waited, then when Pyrgus said nothing, went on: ‘This shape you’re in, this fairy business -little, wings, skinny – you say that’s not natural? That’s just what happens to you when you come through a portal?’

‘Unless it’s got a filter,’ Pyrgus said. He scowled. ‘Or the filter doesn’t work.’

‘It’s important how you answer this,’ Fogarty said, ‘so think carefully. Every country in the world – our world – has got folklore about fairies. Little stick-insect people like you with big wings. Every country.’

‘What’s your question?’ Pyrgus asked.

Fogarty’s eyes darkened. ‘No smoke,’ he said. ‘No smoke – that’s what they say, don’t they? Mean to tell me all those stories about fairy folk are just coincidence? Don’t have anything to do with your people?’

Bewildered, Pyrgus said, ‘No, I’m not trying to tell you that.’

‘So an awful lot of your people – your alien not-human-at-all people – must be swarming through the portals. Without filters.’

‘Mr Fogarty – ‘ Henry began. He’d thought they’d cleared up the alien stuff.

But Pyrgus cut him off. ‘I’m not trying to tell you that either. We don’t have very many people using gates to your world. Why would we? It rains a lot here. And who wants to shrink and grow wings? You think it’s fun getting eaten by cats and put in a jamjar? There’s only one filtered gate and it’s expensive to operate. My fa – the people who have it are always complaining about the cost, so it’s only used when you really, really have to. I told you there’s only one other gate that gets you anywhere useful just now. Believe me, nobody’s swarming through it.’

Fogarty had the look Hodge got when he was about to pounce on a mouse. ‘So where do all our fairies come from?’ he asked triumphantly.

‘They’re descendants of Landsman and the shipwrecked seeds people,’ Pyrgus said.

Fogarty’s jaw dropped. ‘Oh.’ But he recovered quickly. ‘All right. Answer me this then. What do you look like when you don’t look like a fairy?’

‘Handsome,’ Pyrgus said and grinned.

It went on like that for a while. Pyrgus answered Mr Fogarty’s questions and gave reasonable explanations. By lunchtime, enough trust had been generated for Mr Fogarty to let Pyrgus out of the kitchen while they all ate lunch in the cluttered living room. Henry made them beans on toast, as he often did for Mr Fogarty and himself. He cut up a baked bean for Pyrgus, who ate each piece in his hands like watermelon. When he’d finished, he wiped his mouth on his sleeve and gave Henry a thumbs up. They tramped back into the kitchen with Pyrgus sitting on Henry’s shoulder. He fluttered down to his microphone as Henry pulled up a chair.

‘That was even better than your potato crisps. What was it?’

‘Baked beans,’ Henry said.

‘You’re a super cook, Henry,’ Pyrgus told him. ‘How did you make that brilliant sauce?’

‘Comes in a tin,’ Henry muttered, embarrassed.

Fogarty said, ‘See if there’s a small box in the drawer, Henry. We need to make the speaker portable.’ He pushed himself to his feet. ‘Never mind, I’ll get it – I want to look for a different mike.’ He rummaged in the drawer and came up with a rusting tin box that had contained tobacco sometime around 1918. ‘This’ll do. Ah – ‘ From the jumble of wiring and components, he picked out a throat mike even smaller than the button mike currently linked to the speaker. ‘Should make things easier.’

While Henry and Pyrgus watched curiously, he packed the various bits of the speaker into the tin box and replaced the button mike with the smaller throat mike, extending the wire as he did so. ‘There,’ he said when he’d finished. ‘Portable. More or less.’ He went back to the drawer and returned with two rubber bands, which he attached to the throat mike. ‘OK, young Pyrgus, think you can carry something this size on your back?’

Pyrgus examined the throat mike. ‘Think so,’ he said cautiously. He folded his wings and slipped his arms through the rubber bands, pulling on the microphone like a knapsack. When he spread his wings again experimentally, it sat comfortably between them.

‘Say something,’ Fogarty instructed.

After a moment, Pyrgus said, ‘What do you want me to say?’ His voice emerged from the tin box, slightly muffled but still perfectly audible.

‘Right,’ Fogarty said briskly, ‘you carry Pyrgus and the box, Henry. We’ve got some investigating to do!’

Henry held out his hand so Pyrgus could climb up his arm on to his shoulder. ‘Where are we going, Mr Fogarty?’

‘Just down to the end of the garden,’ Fogarty said. ‘If we’re to find a way to send this little fella back, I want to see the spot where he arrived.’

Henry smiled to himself. It sounded as though Mr Fogarty had decided Pyrgus wasn’t an alien invasion after all.

They walked together from the house. Pyrgus was seated on Henry’s shoulder, casually holding on to his ear. The wire from his backpack microphone trailed down to the tin box which Henry had strapped to his wrist. ‘Hope that cat’s not still there,’ came Pyrgus’s tinny voice.

‘Kick in the backside’ll soon sort him out,’ said Mr Fogarty, who liked to pretend he didn’t share Henry’s soft spot for animals.

As they reached the shed, Fogarty said, ‘Somewhere round here, was it?’

‘Over by the buddleia, I think,’ Henry said.

‘Actually it was a bit beyond it,’ Pyrgus told them. ‘I’m not exactly sure because I was confused. I mean, I didn’t expect to end up here and I didn’t expect to be a titch with wings, so I staggered around a bit. Then I got drawn towards the bush – ‘

‘The buddleia bush?’ Fogarty asked.

‘If that’s what you call it. That one.’ He pointed.

‘What do you mean, drawn towards it?’

‘It’s just… I don’t know… I sort of liked the feel of it. Or the smell or something. Felt as if I’d be safe there.’

Fogarty shook his head. ‘Weird, that. Buddleias attract butterflies.’

As they moved towards the buddleia, Henry saw there were several butterflies on the bush and examined them carefully in case another one turned out to be a fairy. Pyrgus must have noticed what he was doing because he said quietly, ‘I came through on my own.’

Henry nodded, but checked the rest of the butterflies anyway. He was beginning to realise just how weird this whole business was. Yesterday he hadn’t believed in fairies. Today he actually knew one. And he knew there were others, generations descended from Landsman and his people who’d probably forgotten where they came from in the first place. A thought struck him and he asked Pyrgus, ‘Landsman and Arana and those… where did they come out in our world when they went through the portal on the island?’

‘Don’t know,’ Pyrgus said.

‘It’s just that they spread all over the world,’ Henry said. ‘So it would have to be somewhere they could spread from. I mean, it couldn’t have been another little island, for example – they’d never have got off it.’

‘Don’t know,’ Pyrgus repeated. ‘I got taught this stuff when I was a kid, but I forget half of it. Anyway, nobody’s sure where the first ones came through. Don’t forget, it was hundreds of years before anybody else used a portal and hundreds of years after that before anybody made contact with the descendants of the originals. By then they’d nothing much in common with the people in my world and the stuff about the portal had turned into myths. Maybe it was England.’

‘This is England!’ Henry said excitedly.

‘I know,’ Pyrgus grinned. ‘Mr Fogarty told me.’

‘Just kidding me?’ Henry said. He didn’t mind. He liked Pyrgus.

‘Sort of,’ Pyrgus told him. ‘But I’d actually heard of England. I mean before I came here. So it must have been mentioned in my lessons, although I can’t remember why.’

They moved beyond the buddleia bush into a corner that was all shrub and weeds. Mr Fogarty had abandoned a couple of decaying oil drums and several rusting machine parts, including a car engine sump. They poked up out of the long grass like tombstones.

‘It was here,’ Pyrgus said at once.

‘You sure?’

‘Yes,’ Pyrgus said. ‘I thought I’d gone mad when I saw the junk.’ He looked round at Henry apologetically. ‘You have to remember I wasn’t expecting to shrink. Took me a couple of minutes to figure out what had happened.’

‘Remember exactly where?’ asked Fogarty. He looked around as if expecting to be attacked.

‘Not sure,’ Pyrgus said. ‘I think it might have been over there.’

They walked in the direction he was pointing. Even before they reached the spot, Henry could see a ring of discoloured, flattened grass. ‘Is that a fairy ring?’ he asked Mr Fogarty.

Fogarty was frowning. ‘More like a crop circle. Small one. You also get marks like that in UFO landings.’

‘Is it big enough for a UFO?’ Henry asked. He found he was frowning now too.

‘Naw, too small. Unless aliens drive compacts. But look at the colour of the grass. That’s some sort of radiation.’ To Pyrgus he said, ‘How does this portal of yours work?’

‘I’m not sure,’ Pyrgus said.

‘You’re not sure?’ Fogarty rounded on him. ‘You use the thing to get you from one dimension to another and you don’t even know how it works?”

To make peace, Henry said, ‘Maybe it’s like television, Mr Fogarty. I mean, I know how to switch it on and that, but I don’t know how it works, not really.’

‘I do,’ Fogarty said. ‘I know exactly. Could build one if I had the parts.’

‘Yes, but you know stuff like that,’ Henry said. Not for the first time he wondered what sort of engineer Mr. Fogarty had been before he retired. He seemed to be able to build anything.

On Henry’s shoulder, Pyrgus said, ‘It’s an energy thing. The portal is some sort of energy that goes with volcanic action – ‘ He hesitated. ‘Actually, I’m not sure of that. All the natural portals appear near volcanoes or at least places where there’s volcanic activity – hot springs, that sort of thing. But there hasn’t been a volcano near the one I came through for five hundred years or more. The old one went extinct and they, I don’t know, flattened it or something.’

‘Maybe you just need the volcano to start it off,’ Henry suggested helpfully. ‘Maybe once it starts, it stays on of its own accord.’

They both ignored him. Pyrgus said, ‘The filter works through trapped lightning.’

‘Trapped lightning?’ Fogarty frowned. ‘You mean electricity?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Same stuff that drives your speaker.’

‘I don’t know,’ Pyrgus said again.

‘It has to be electric,’ Fogarty muttered. ‘And the portal must be some sort of field. The flames you see aren’t hot at all, not even warm?’

‘No.’

‘Henry, poke around a bit. See if you notice anything odd. Pyrgus, try to remember anything, anything at all that might be useful.’ He crouched down to examine the circle of discoloured grass more closely.

Henry made his way cautiously into the undergrowth, casting his eyes around for anything that might look unusual. It was tough going. The corner was full of stones as well as the junk Mr Fogarty had abandoned. On his shoulder, Pyrgus said, ‘You’ve no idea how peculiar it is to be this size, Henry. Nothing looks right and you get lost every five yards. I think I came through where there’s that circle on the grass, but I’m not sure.’

‘Don’t worry,’ Henry said. ‘We’ll find some way to get you back.’ He wished he felt as certain as he tried to sound.

They circled back to Mr Fogarty, who was still staring at the grass. Henry opened his mouth to say something when a loud ringing sound made him jump.

‘Careful!’ hissed Pyrgus.

Fogarty dragged a tiny mobile phone from his pocket, switched it on clumsily and placed it to his ear as if it were a bomb. ‘What do you want?’ After a moment he muttered, ‘Right’, and pushed the phone back into his pocket. ‘Brain cancer if you use it too long.’ He looked over at Henry. ‘Your mother,’ he said shortly. ‘She wants you to get home. At once.’

Henry’s heart sank to his boots. In all the excitement, he’d nearly managed to forget what was going on at home.

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