Ernie was crestfallen. He had applied to the Colors Realm, Brilliance division, Backyard Flowers. Not here. All of his credentials as a GreenFaerie pointed to his excellence as a color purveyor for the outdoors. Not some hack for Homes, which is where Energetics in their infinite wisdom had placed him. He was doomed to life as a HomeFaerie now, and he was pissed. All they do is set tones.
He read from the instructions: Night: deep darkness, then subtle colors for night time human leaking events. Dawn: subtle brightblue at the tail end of night, with promise of day singing in the molecules. (Oh, please.) Morning: Loud light — either pink, yellow, gray or white, depending on weather. (Ya think?)
It was all atmospheric stuff. Just the basic ratpassing that anyone can do. Such a waste of his incredible gifts. He was a GreenFaerie! He’d excelled in Growths and Earthsongs, in Flutter Nutrients for Shaping Blossoms, and his feats of collaboration with birds, moths and insects was legendary at the Academy. He simply wasn’t made for something as menial as ‘environmental quality of light.’ This placement was a crime.
But a placement was a placement, so he thumped to work every day just the same. Flipping the lights on in the morning. Flipping them off hard at night. It didn’t matter anymore. It was a paycheck. Who gives a twank. No one in that house would notice. Humans are so dull.
And anyway, Ernie wasn’t even on the rolls yet. His placement was pro tem until Energetics could find his Sidelight. (Homes were tended in pairs, always run by two entities at a time, a HomeFaerie and a Sidelight, and Energetics was still having trouble locating the right fit for this particular commission.)
In the interim, Ernie did his best to lobby for reassessment. He sent his leaves of light to the whole list of Energetics Managers. Articulated his case in clear faeriespeak, hoping his missives would sing up into the hearts of the recipients and cause them to reconsider.
It didn’t work.
Eventually she arrived, though, the Sidelight — wings barely beating, flat face, and no FaerieSong of her own yet. (She must have been plucked from the rejects at the Academy.) He thought, “Perfect. Now I’m stuck with someone who can’t even do the boring stuff.”
They introduced themselves to one another. He kept things monosyllabic, despite her sincere attempts at ease and friendliness. Hours went by in awkward silence.
She was already at work, though, fiddling with some strains of warmth and cool on the afternoon’s exhales floating through the windows. Ernie began to feel a palpable peace in the home. He didn’t care one way or the other. It was fine. Whatever. But. Yeah. It felt quiet in the house, and even in his own heart. He got almost sleepy. Maybe this was what it felt like to be relaxed?
She didn’t even have a name yet, this creature. She was only a beginner Sidelight. But in a surprise moment of generosity, he got her attention and said, “Hey…you. I’ve got a couple extra sunbeams here. You want one?”
His words unlocked something extraordinary, and her face flowered into itself, more stunning than he could ever have imagined. Her wings grew taut with truth, glowed from within, and fluttered. Ernie’s eyes grew. Clearly this was a fledgling, given the premature timing of sharing her InSelf. But she was so gorgeous, he got flustered and spilled the beams. She laughed and retrieved them on her inbreath. Thanked him with a dazzling smile.
Suddenly he felt ashamed of his shoddy workmanship from the days before. He vowed to do a masterful job that night. Make the deepest, most wing-wrought, soft night time darkness that anyone had ever slept in. Call in the coziest subtleties for leaks time too. (Tiny lights for that.) And the morning! He vowed to see his greatest gifts expressed, to see a far-reaching whisper of half-remembered pink become the sun, become now, become time to get up…to personally escort the next prayer of dawn into its own day…
An earsplitting “POP!” rattled his faerie bones all at once. The Sidelight had cracked wide open into the shape of his long ago mentor, Glimella, long gone into the FaerieDepths now, but standing in front of him just the same, gnarled and solid, sober and full of reproach.
“GOOD!” she shouted, having heard his inward vow. “See that you follow through. Did you forget everything I taught you?”
Momentarily he had.
“FaerieLengths are endless, and the heart of wingdom is creativity in service. It wasn’t Energetics wasting your gifts, you shameless half-elf. It was you. Youwho decided to do the least. YOU who disrespected your wings. You who dimmed your own light. Don’t you ever let me catch you wasting your gifts again,” she hissed, “no matter where you’re placed. Do you hear me?”
She sent her FaerieSight all the way into his eyes.
Ernie held her Sight, took a deep breath, and then summoned his InSelf, stretching his wings to their fullest. His palms opened to receive guidance, and his body filled with light.
“I hear and remember,” he said. Then, reciting from his earliest teachings,
“The air, the wings and the going are given for being, not showing. May our lives be sung with strengths that sing into the FaerieLengths.”
A gentle knock on the door. Glimella coughed, shot a wry blessing in Ernie’s direction and disappeared. When Ernie opened it, he saw a humble faerie, dignified in his own way despite his slightly drooped posture. He was from the Browns, no doubt, dressed to the ones with his matted down hair, dull buttons, and mud colored shoes. He stood a little away from the door, as was the custom, with a worn old hat in his hands.
“Hi, Ernie. I’m Ralph, Sidelight Wing 904A.5c, Homes Realm, Residential Interiors Division. At your service.”
A documented HomesFaerie Sidelight. An experienced one, Ernie thought, judging from his frumpy kindness and a certain familiarity with the protocol.
Ernie greeted him with a cordial wing dip as they showed their left sides, then their rights to one another. He was humbled, impatient, resigned, renewed, uncomfortable. His feelings wouldn’t land anywhere. Wrestling down a habitual sense of superiority, he had to admit that Ralph seemed clearly more skilled than he was in this realm.
It was the genesis of a legendary friendship that stretched into the furthest reaches of their FaerieLengths and beyond.
(Ray Bradbury had an idea for how to get your own education in writing. It’s the 1000-day MFA. I learned about this from Shaunta Grimes. Having launched into this project, the idea is to read a poem, an essay and a short story every night before bed for 1000 days. And during this same period, write a short story every week. This is my Friday story of the week.)