By William J Bowles
That day started out like any other. I woke up, showered, ate breakfast, checked all my social media feeds, etc. Then I went down stairs to check the mail, and that's when it started to get interesting.
I got down to the apartment lobby (though to be fair, calling it a lobby would be a bit generous, but it's fine) just as the mailman dropped a few letters into slot number seven.
Just as he turned away from it, I unlocked the compartment and retrieved its contents.
One of the letters caught my attention, and I knew it was going to be a big deal. Not for me. No, this was for Phoebe, my roommate. And it was not the sort of matter to set aside. She'd want to hear about it immediately.
"Hey Levi. What's up?" Phoebe said when she answered my call. Her voice was calm and cheerful, which was pretty much her emotional resting point.
"Hey. There's a letter here for you," I said. I was sitting in the kitchen, still looking at the letter that was not for me. The writing on the envelop was elegantly written in an iridescent golden ink. It was beautiful-- both the penmanship and the ink itself.
“You called me to tell me I had a letter?” she asked. “Just... set it with the rest of the mail and I'll check it when I get back.” She didn't sound irritated. More confused as to why I'd call her over such a matter. So I told her.
“It's from the House of Eighty Eight.”
“The House of Eighty Eight,” I repeated. “You know, that's the--”
“I know what the House of Eighty Eight is, Levi,” she said. “That was an exclamation, not a question.”
She was quiet for a moment. “Describe the envelop.”
“Normal paper-y color...” I began.
“The ink, wise guy!” she shouted, though more impatient than angry. “What ink did they use? Because if you called me about what you know is just another--”
“It's this trippy golden ink with a sorta rainbow shimmer to it.”
The line was silent for several seconds, and I almost thought we'd gotten disconnected.
“Hey, Pheeb? You there?”
“You're not messing with me, are you?” she asked at last. “Because if you are...”
“I swear to God! Rainbow-y golden ink. Does that mean--?”
I could hear her squeal with delight.
“Oh my god!” she cried out. “Stay right there, Levi! I'm on my way! Don't open it, don't mess with it, don't let anyone into the apartment!”
“I thought you had a thing, or something,” I said, rather lamely.
“Forget about the thing. It's a dumb thing and it doesn't matter anymore. I'm on my way!”
“What?” she said, sounding impatient, as if I were physically barring her from returning.
“Could you stop by the doughnut place and get me an apple fritter?”
“A pox on your apple fritter,” she declared, and hung up.
Don't worry. It's a running joke between us.
The knock came sooner than expected, and I almost thought it was someone else. But I saw her through the window, so I let her in.
Not the front door. Not the one I use. But the door by the kitchen window. (It wasn't easy to find an apartment with one of those.)
As she stepped in, a house fly flew over and landed on the window sill next to her. She swung her little purse at it, and it flew away.
“Sorry, I thought I got rid of them all,” I said. I can can tolerate a fly or two, but I knew they were a huge nuisance to someone who stood just four inches tall.
“Never mind the fly. Let me see the letter!” she said, her dragonfly wings flittering with excitement.
I set the envelop on the window sill for her to see.
She stood over the mark of the House of Eighty Eight and examined it with great care and interest.
Satisfied, she stepped back and looked up at me. “Open it.”
I took the envelop and ever so carefully unsealed it and looked inside. Then I turned it upside down and tapped out its contents for Phoebe.
A tiny, fairy-sized letter floated out.
“What does it say?” I asked, though I already knew at this point. It was only the one thing she obsessed with most in life.
“I've been invited to the Goodweather Ball...” she said in a sort of reverent whisper.
“Awesome. That'll be fun.”
“But Levi... what do I wear?”
“Don't you have like, a dress or something?”
She stared at me, aghast. “Maybe something for a mundane event, like a celebrity funeral or my own wedding. But this is THE Goodweather Ball! Hosted by THE House of Eighty Eight! One does not show up in peasant garb to the Goodweather Ball, Levi! It's a traditional fey event, I have to wear something of traditional fairy-make. There's going to be actual fairy royalty there! I can't go in what I have! What am I going to do?”
“You... didn't plan for this at all?” I asked. “I mean, you were the one who's been trying to get invited all these years.”
“Yeah, but I didn't think it'd actually happen!”
“Okay, don't freak out. We'll get this figured out.”
She ran her fingers through her hair, pulled on her antennae, and groaned out loud.
I thought for a moment. “When is it?”
“'Bout six months from now.”
“See? Plenty of time. We'll figure it out.”
She let out a long sigh. “I know. I know.”
One day, about three months later, I knocked on the door to Phoebe's room. It wasn't so much a room in the same way we humans have rooms. It was only the size of a closet, but it was divided up into numerous smaller rooms. My one room was many times larger than all of hers together, but she effectively had an entire house to herself within the apartment.
I knocked on the tiny fairy door to her bedroom.
“Yes?” she asked.
“Hey, I'm going over to the mall,” I began. “Couple of things I need down there. Wanna come with?”
“Do we get to pester Linus while he's working?”
“Well, yeah. That accounts for at least two of the things on my list.”
“Okay then! Just give me a sec.”
She stepped out a minute later and saw that I was carrying a package under one arm. It was wrapped in brown paper and tied with a string.
“What's with the box?” she asked.
“Oh, this? It's for a friend of mine. Again, one of the things on the list.”
We took the bus that goes to down town. There was another fairy on the bus, in the small, overhead seating area, and the two of them talked for a while.
There was also a brownie seated up there, with a clear orange pill bottle as a backpack. I wondered what chore or errand he was doing, but they rarely talk, preferring to keep to themselves. Some times, I wish I knew what was up with those guys.
At the mall, we strolled about at a leisurely pace. That is to say, I strolled about at a leisurely pace, and she rode on my shoulder. Occasionally she flew here or there, and sometimes had me go one direction or another. But for the most part, she was content to sit or stand on my shoulder and go along where ever I went.
We stopped by the footwear store and made Linus do things for us. “Do you have these in a size eleven?” “No, no. I meant eleven in fairy sizes.” “Okay cool. Now go see if you have it in nine and a half.” “Nine and a half, human size.” “Oh, I don't want those shoes, I was just curious.”
Our teasing may seem mean, but as long as he was taking care of us, he didn't have to do anything else. Plus, whenever we did that, we'd swing by at the end of his shift and treat him to ice cream, a fancy pretzel, or some other mall-based treat. Today, we got a couple of doughnuts. I got an apple fritter and let Pheobe take a tiny piece, as the thing itself was about ten times her size.
We went from shop to shop, mostly just looking around. I did in fact have things to do, which I did. The mall trip wasn't entirely a ruse. Only mostly.
On the way back to the bus stop, we passed by some of the stores in the fancy shopping center. I stopped, and pretended to be surprised by something.
“Oh, look at that,” I said.
“Huh? What?” Phoebe asked.
“It looks like there's something going on at Glasswing's...”
I looked over at her, and she eyed me suspiciously.
“What's going on?” she asked, clearly not buying my weak attempt to feign ignorance.
“Nothing,” I lied. “It's just that you have that ball to go to, and we find ourselves here at Glasswing's-- a high quality fairy clothing shop...”
She stared at me, waiting.
“Why don't we ask if they do traditional style things?”
“You planned this all out, didn't you?” she asked, trying to look offended, though I could see a smile forming from the corners of her mouth.
“I cannot confirm, nor deny that remark.”
“Whatever, let's go look anyway.”
It was a human sized store, but clearly only for the purpose of big dumb chauffeurs like me to bring their fancy fairy employers. Because little more than the front lobby-- and unlike our apartment, this was a legitimate lobby-- was sized for human locomotion. Everything else was an ant farm of tiny rooms full of elegant little clothes, with pretty little fairy folk walking and flying about.
A smartly dressed fairy came down to greet us.
“Hello,” he said. “How might I help you?”
Phoebe didn't really know what to say. She hadn't planned to come here. But I had.
“My friend was invited to the Goodweather Ball, and needs something, like, traditional...?”
The store representative almost gasped, and Phoebe looked a little embarrassed.
“Oh, what I wouldn't do to attend!” he said, a bit dramatically. “But yes, we do. However... because of the aforementioned ball, we find ourselves limited in supplies.”
“That's alright,” I said, before Phoebe could reply. “We'll be supplying the materials. At least most of it. We mostly just need someone to make the dress.”
She turned and stared at me. Up until this point, she thought we were just looking around. Maybe scoping the place out for any possibilities. Or perhaps just to daydream about the fine designer items. She knew I had planned to come by this way, but had no idea how deep my plotting had run.
“Oh?” he said. “Do you have the materials with you?”
I nodded, and placed the package I had been carrying with me on the counter. I untied the string and unfolded the paper wrapping. Inside was a wooden box. I gently removed the lid and withdrew the contents. Inside was a carefully prepared, shiny-winged insect pinned to a small board.
“A... a butterfly?” Phoebe asked.
“That,” I said, “is a sunset moth.”
Both fairies walked around to examine it better. At first, its wings seemed to be black and sky-blue striped, but the iridescent blue turned green, orange, and reddish pink at times, as the viewer looked at it at different angles. The body of the moth was covered in orange fur.
“A fine specimen,” said the employee.
“Levi...” Phoebe said in wonder, her hands to her mouth. “It's beautiful...!”
“Think nothing of it,” I said.
“Well, would you like to have your measurements taken now?” he asked. “I do remind you that we are rather busy, so I can't promise we'll be available to do a custom job later.”
“Um... yeah,” Phoebe said. “I mean...”
“I think that's a 'yes',” I told him.
“Very good,” he said.
He and an older fairy lady escorted Phoebe off to... wherever it is that they do measuring and such. A small battalion, it seemed, came and took the moth-- board and all-- off to... wherever it is that they do the dress-making.
We left them our contact information, and Phoebe was called in a couple of times for adjustments and such. I'm not sure of what part she had in its creation or design, if any. But I wasn't invited. Every few weeks or so, she'd just say “I'm off to Glassing's! Be back later!” and dart out her little door by the window.
The day of the Goodweather Ball, we both went down to Glasswing's together.
I waited in the lobby for a what seemed like too long a time just to put on a dress.
Finally, I heard a voice call out from a small open door a little ways away.
“Levi? Mr. Levi?” asked a well-dressed lady fairy.
“Ah, that's me,” I replied as I approached.
“Miss Phoebe is ready. One moment, please.”
She closed the door. Then, that wall-- door and all-- lifted up like a garage door. In the now opened room were a couple of tailors and assistants whom I hardly noticed. In the middle of the room was Phoebe in her new dress, and she was breathtaking. It was made almost entirely from the moth's wings; black and iridescent blue, that shimmered and changed colors in the light. It was a sleeveless dress with the moth's orange fur as a sort of feathery collar.
She looked up at me, and blushed shyly. “So... what do you think?”
“You... you look great! They really did a good job, didn't they?”
“I know, right?” she agreed. “It's a little weird though. I've never dressed up like this before. I mean... what do I...?”
“You'll do fine,” I interrupted. “Trust me.”
“I can't begin to thank you enough for this!”
“Please, all I did was buy a bug online and trick you into visiting a fancy-pants dress shop. It was nothing.”
She flew up and landed on my shoulder. “It wasn't nothing to me,” she said, and hugged the side of my neck.
“Not to interrupt this touching moment,” said the store representative. “But there is still the matter of payment.”
Phoebe laughed. I did not.