Monday, December 26, 2011

Have a Fairy Merry Christmas!

Have a Fairy Merry Christmas!

Laura and Joey Alvin sat at the kitchen bench, watching their daughter giggle and dance and squeal.

The parents tried really hard not to show their concern, but it wasn’t easy when little Josie was having a particularly bad fit this time. The doctors hadn’t really known what the problem was, but they’d just called it fitting to get the Alvins out of their hair. It was nearly Christmas and the doctors had their own plans—not to be thwarted by irritating parents way too concerned for their children’s health. Laura and Joey weren’t the only pair to have been turned away with flippant diagnoses. Many other local parents had been told ‘they’re just fits…let’s leave it till the new year and see how little Micky’s going, shall we?’ or some variation. Yeah, just leave it till the new year…and who cares if your kid’s seriously ill by then.

Who cares if it’s too late by then.

Fits? Laura thought as Josie was seized by a particularly violent fit of giggling. The little girl leaped into the air and squealed, “Don’t!” though she was talking to no one and, as was usual lately, Laura began second-guessing herself, wondering if the little girl had said something other than Don’t even though that was definitely what it had sounded like. But in truth, the giggling squealing stage was the stage Laura preferred. It was the other stages that freaked her out.

“Three days till Christmas,” Joey murmured, chewing nervously on his lower lip as he followed his daughter’s crazed, jerky movements.

He didn’t even have to finish the statement. Laura knew what he was thinking: Three days till Christmas, and there’s no sign of improvement. In fact, she seems to be getting worse…

“That damn Dr. Verity pissed me off the most,” Laura muttered, tugging uncomfortably at her too-small jumper (how had she forgotten that the extra kilos she was carrying put this jumper off the list of possible wears?). “I mean, he was so condescending.”

Joey nodded, but said nothing, just rubbed at his chest with one hand as if trying to ease some discomfort there. Laura could relate to that. Her own lungs felt under pressure more and more as the hours passed.

You are naughty!” Josie squealed, and suddenly she was on the floor, kicking and screaming and—laughing. She really was laughing. But her face was going all red and her eyes were wide and bright and crazed and she was…fitting.

That was how it looked. But there was nothing wrong with her brain, apparently. How Dr. Carter had known that without even looking at her brain, Laura still hadn’t figured out. But that was yet another thing to be done in the new year.

What if it’s too late by then?

“Emergency?” Laura murmured to Joey. “I mean, they are still open… They have to be, right?”

Joey frowned. “My parents are arriving in like, an hour.”

All the more reason to get out of here… Laura thought guiltily. “Well, I could take her, you stay here.”

The look she got from Joey then told her all she needed to know. She was not escaping this house, he would not let her. Not unless things got really bad with Josie, at least. Looking at Joey’s face, though, Laura didn’t think that point was very far off.

Josie sighed and lay still, grinning up at the ceiling. For a moment she was silent, then a tiny giggle bubbled up and out of her. “Yes,” she said. “Okay.”

And that was the last thing she said for the rest of the day, until it was bed time.

When Laura put her down to sleep, the little girl still wouldn’t focus her eyes on anything in this world. That was the only way Laura could put it. “Honey, are you feeling okay?” she asked her daughter, pushing back silky blonde locks of hair from the little girl’s forehead. “You’re having fun?”

Josie giggled, twitched, buried her head in the pillow then lifted it again. “They tickle.”

“What tickles?”

“The fairies.”

Laura paused, feeling strangely cold inside. She’d believed in fairies when she was a kid, but fairies had never taken over her entire life. Not like they apparently had with Josie.

“Are the fairies your friends, honey?” Laura asked, gripping handfuls of Josie’s bedspread and leaning closer to her daughter.

“No,” Josie said, shaking her head. She was still grinning, shuddering with the occasional giggle, but a strange look had come into her eyes. “They don’t like me. But they tickle.”

“They…don’t like you?”

Josie shook her head, then giggled loudly and burrowed back down into the pillow— “Don’t! Ahhh!

Meanwhile, Laura was frowning. Since when do fairies not like people? I mean, Tinkerbell…

But then there were the old fairies, or maybe they were called faeries or something…the vicious ones from ancient myth. Maybe they didn’t like people. Maybe they tickled people to torment them.

You are insane, Laura told herself, even as she formulated words to say to her daughter.

“You’re talking to the fairies right now?”

“Yes. But they don’t listen.” Giggle. Squeal. Twitch. Gasp.

“What do they say to you?”

For a brief moment, Josie’s eyes seemed to focus. But then she was off in fairyland again, seeing nothing of the real world. Laura was sure she was not going to get an answer to that last question, and was preparing to kiss Josie goodnight. But then words slipped out, so softly spoken they were barely audible. They were words to chill Laura’s blood:

“They say lots of things…

Unbidden, helpless tears sprang into Laura’s eyes and she cursed the doctors who had turned her child away, the doctors who she would not hesitate to sue if anything went wrong.

At the door to the bedroom, Laura and Joely exchanged words. “I’ll sleep in here tonight,” Laura told Joey. “I don’t want to leave her alone.”

“Shall I stay with you?”

“No, honey—you need your rest.”

His eyes accused her. “So do you. You’re not invincible you know.”

“Yes,” Laura said with a quaver in her voice. “I do know.”

They stared at one another. Joey sighed, reached out to touch her cheek. “We’ll be okay. Try not to worry.”

But what a hypocrite he was, when worry practically oozed out of his every pore. Still, Laura loved him for trying to reassure her. At least somebody was trying.

They parted ways and Laura rested in the lounge chair by the old cot Josie had used up until a year ago, before she’d got her first ‘big girl’ bed. Those had been days when Josie was still in this world, still truly engaging with others. Those days were gone now. Josie was in fairyland and Laura had no idea how to get her back.

Laura spent the night in her daughter’s room, and woke to a day of more giggling/squealing/dancing. Two days till Christmas. The day passed much as those before it had. Joey’s parents were in the house, and they reprimanded him and Laura for not getting help for Josie. They wouldn’t listen to any excuses, not even the ones where the doctors had refused to help. Laura longed for the day when Joey’s parents would run off back to their homes. She hated them, more now than she ever had at any other time.

That night, Joey stayed in Josie’s room, and though it was a terrible night’s sleep for Laura, she awoke to find her daughter still present. It was a strangely huge relief, as if she’d expected to find the girl gone.

Gone where? she wondered, but had no answer.

It was Christmas Eve day, and it passed as any other had done lately. “I think she needs a doctor,” Mrs. Geraldine Alvin told Laura for the thousandth time in the last couple of days, as if Laura had never thought of that herself before. “Why don’t you take her to a doctor?”

Laura just gritted her teeth and walked away.

Christmas Eve night, it was Laura’s turn again to stay in Josie’s room. She was tired, she truly was, but she sat in a way that she knew was terribly uncomfortable, just to prevent herself from falling asleep. When even that seemed not to be working, she retrieved a fire engine toy from the bedroom floor and stuffed it behind her back, making sure it dug into her flesh uncomfortably. That ought to be sufficient.

But when Laura woke in the middle of the night, she realised she’d slept for at least two hours. And leaning forward in her chair, she realised her daughter’s bed was empty.

Laura screamed, and Joey came running.

They waited and waited, but Josie didn’t come back. Laura became convinced that the fairies had taken her. They weren’t the only parents in town who had woken up on Christmas Day to find their children’s beds empty. Laura wasn’t the only parent to lose her mind and start mumbling about fairies. Joey wasn’t the only bereft parent who also had to take his spouse to a psychiatrist for evaluation. And the Alvin family wasn’t the only family destroyed by Christmas that year.

But the fairies had a good one, at least.

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