Helen enjoyed her adventure with Twizzlepot so much that she didn’t want to forget it. But after a few days her memory of it began to fade like a dream.
She would try to remember what it felt like to fly through the trees as if she were a bird, but she couldn’t. Twizzlepot had cast a spell that made her forget. Fairies don’t like to be talked about. They like to work in secret.
All she knew was that something very strange had happened, and that someone was watching over her.
And then one night she had another visitor, but this time it wasn’t Twizzlepot.
It was midnight. Helen was asleep. But when she heard a knock-knock-knocking at her window she woke up – and Twizzlepot’s spell was broken. Now she remembered everything.
She got out of bed and crept to the window. She drew back the curtain. She expected to see Twizzlepot floating in the air, but instead she saw the most beautiful sight she had even seen – a twinkling, shimmering fairy, complete with wings, wand and a dress that seemed to be made of starlight.
The fairy pointed to the window catch. She smiled and turned a tiny hand as if to say: Open the window and let me in.
But Helen did not let her in. The fairy may have been beautiful, but she was still a stranger.
“If you are really a fairy, you’ll know how to open the window,” she said.
The fairy nodded and again gave her hand a little turn.
The window catch gave a click. The window opened and the fairy floated into Helen’s room.
“Hello,” she said as she drifted down to the floor “I’m Emerald.”
And as she spoke, she changed. Now she didn’t look at all like a fairy. The wand was gone, so were the wings. And she no longer sparkled. She looked quite ordinary. She looked a bit like Helen’s mother but very much smaller.
“Who are you?” said Helen, “and where is Twizzlepot?”
“I’m Emerald, Twizzlepot’s mother, and Twizzlepot is in terrible danger. He needs you.”
“What kind of danger?” Helen said.
“He’s been kidnapped by goblins and they are holding him to ransom.”
“That’s a word I don’t know,” Helen said “What does it mean?”
“It means money that has to be paid to kidnappers. When they get the money, they should send their prisoner home.”
“And do they?”
“What happens to the people they kidnap if they don’t send them home?”
“Sometimes they’re locked up for years.”
When she said this, Emerald looked so sad that Helen wanted to give her a big hug to cheer her up. But she didn’t know if fairies liked being hugged.
Then she remembered her manners and said, “Would you like to sit down?”
Emerald smiled and said, “Thank you.” She sat on Helen’s bedside chair while Helen sat on the bed. Helen didn’t know if fairies really needed to sit down. They could float in the air like balloons for as long as they liked, couldn’t they?
But Emerald looked very tired, so perhaps she did need to sit down after all.
“These goblins who kidnapped Twizzlepot,” Helen said – “Was one of them called Soupy?”
“Yes,” said Emerald. “He’s the worst of them.”
“I’ve seen him. I didn’t like him.”
Helen thought for a moment and then said, “Why is he being nasty to Twizzlepot?”
“Because Twizzlepot is the son of Lefthand Witherwit?”
“Who’s that?” Helen said.
“My husband, Twizzlepot’s father. He’s a wizard. Our family name is Witherwit.”
“Tell me more,” Helen said.
“Long ago,” said Emerald, “there was a magic competition, wizards on one side, goblins on the other. In those days goblins weren’t as bad as they are now. And their magic was as strong as ours.
“The competition went on all day and well into the night. At last there were only two people left competing – Twizzlepot’s grandfather (his name was Langard Witherwit) and Soupy’s grandfather (his name was Grungle Pong).
“Grungle did a wonderful magic trick. He stood on his head, wiggled his feet, clicked his fingers and said a special word.”
“What was the word?” said Helen.
“I can’t tell you that,” Emerald said. “It’s a word known only to magicians and fairies and other magical folk.”
“What happened when he said the word?” Helen said.
“A cloud of steam came out of the ground. It went up and up and then suddenly turned into a great big steam engine, puffing clouds of steam and blowing its whistle.”
“That sounds like very strong magic,” Helen said.
“Ah, yes,” said Emerald, “but it wasn’t Goblin magic. Grungle had stolen his magic from the fairies, and when he tried to use it something went wrong. The steam engine huffed and puffed for a little while, and then there was a loud bang.”
“Did it explode?” Helen said.
“It didn’t explode. It turned itself inside-out.”
Helen tried to imagine what a steam engine would look like inside-out, but she couldn’t.
“Grungle was very angry. He stamped his foot on the ground so hard that the hole he made is still there today. Then it was Langard’s turn. He looked at the steam engine and waved his hands just once over the mass of twisted steel. Slowly the steel changed into gold, and the gold formed itself into a great swan that floated on a deep blue lake.”
“Oh!” said Helen. “Can I see it? Is it still there?”
“No,” said Emerald. “The swan was made of fairy gold. It faded away in the morning as soon as the sun rose.”
“So Langard won the competition,” Helen said.
“Yes, but he soon wished he hadn’t won. The goblins were very angry.”
“Because they had lost,” Helen said.
“Not only that. Because when they stole fairy magic they lost a lot of their own magic. Once you lose your magic, it takes years to come back. And ever since that day the Pong family has not liked the Witherwit family. They will do anything to annoy us – even kidnap our children and hold them to ransom.”
“How do you pay the ransom?” Helen said.
“It’s very difficult. They want three golden goblets of fairy dust. A goblet is a special kind of cup.”
“And what is fairy dust?”
“It’s the perfume that rises in the air whenever a fairy laughs. It falls to the ground as a fine powder. It’s very hard to gather up, even with magic. I can’t get three goblets of it, so I need you.”
“Why? I haven’t got any fairy dust.”
“No, you haven’t, but some of your family lived in the past in the place where the goblins have taken Twizzlepot. To get there I need to go with someone like you. None of my family ever lived there.”
“Where is this place?” Helen said.
“Melbourne,” said Emerald.
“But this is Melbourne.”
“Yes, but I mean Melbourne in nineteen thirty-eight. That is more than sixty years ago.”
“Who do I know that lived in that time and in that place?”
“One of your grandfathers.”
“Oh,” said Helen, “that’s all right then. We’ll tell him. He will think of something.”
“No,” said Emerald. “At that time he was only five years old.”
Helen tried to imagine her grandfather as a five-year-old boy. It wasn’t an easy thing to imagine.
“How could we get there?” Helen said.
“Oh, we can go on the tram.”
“Two trams. We have to change at Bourke Street.”
“I’ll have to get dressed,” Helen said.
“You are dressed.”
Helen looked down and saw that she was indeed dressed, but not in her usual clothes. Her shoes, her dress, her socks and her jumper looked very strange.”
“What clothes are these?” she said.
“They’re the clothes you would have been wearing if you had been seven years old in nineteen thirty-eight.”
Then Helen saw that the clothes Emerald was wearing were like the clothes she had seen in old family photographs. Emerald wore a small hat that looked like a cap. And around her neck was the skin of a fox. It even had a head on it and glass eyes, and it seemed to be biting its tail.
“What is that thing round your neck?” Helen said.
“It’s a silver fox fur stole. They were very popular long ago.”
Helen frowned and said, “What happened to the fox? Did you kill it?”
“Certainly not. Fairies don’t kill anything. It’s not real. It’s a magic trick.”
“And that funny hat you’re wearing,” Helen said – “It looks like a bell.”
“It’s called a cloche,” Emerald said. “And do you know why? Because cloche is the French word for bell.”
“I can spell that,” said Helen – “C-L-O-S-H.”
“It sounds like that,” said Emerald, “but it is spelled C-L-O-C-H-E.”
Helen thought it was strange that Emerald could look like a woman from long ago, and that she could spell – in French! It seemed there was a lot to know about fairies that she didn’t know.
Then Emerald said, “It’s time to go. Would you like to be a bird or a bat?”
“Pardon?” said Helen.
“Well we can’t just walk,” said Emerald. There’s no magic in walking.”
“I’ll be a bat,” Helen said. She didn’t think she was really going to change – but change she did. Suddenly she was a flying fox and she was out of her room and into the night air.
“Follow me,” said a voice in her ear. But it wasn’t really a voice, and it wasn’t in her ear. It was more like a squeak and she felt it in her mind.”
Being a bat wasn’t hard. Flying was as easy as walking. While she flew she went up and down and from side to side, but she didn’t bump into anything. Every time she came close to a wall or a tree she would feel a squeak inside her, and the tree or the wall would show up in her mind like a picture.
While she was being a bat she felt very hungry. She felt like eating fruit – any kind of fruit. She could have spent hours eating every kind of fruit in the world, but there was work to be done.
“Follow me down,” said Emerald’s bat voice. Helen did as she was told. She saw the ground rushing up to meet her. Oh, she thought, this is going to hurt. But when she was just above the ground she changed back into a girl and landed as lightly as . . . as a fairy.
When Emerald rapped on Helen’s window it had been midnight. But after their short flight and their easy landing it was a bright, sunny day.
“How did that happen?” Helen said.
“Magic, of course. You’ll have to get used to it.”
They were at the tram stop that Helen knew so well. It was quite close to home. But when she looked around she didn’t know any of the buildings. Everything looked old. Instead of big office buildings there were houses and gardens.
“This is St Kilda Road in nineteen thirty-eight,” Emerald said. “Look, the tram is coming.”
Helen looked and sure enough a tram was coming. It wasn’t the kind of tram she usually rode in. It seemed bigger, heavier and slower.
“It hasn’t got any doors,” she said as the tram stopped.
“Up you go,” Emerald said, helping Helen into the tram.
Emerald now looked different. By using her magic she had made herself much bigger than a fairy. She and Helen looked just like the other people on the tram.
Helen looked at the seats and said, “They look very hard.”
“They are, but we won’t be sitting on them for long.”
As they sat down, a man wearing a dark uniform and a cap walked up to them. He carried a big leather bag with a strap that went round his neck.
“Fares please,” he said to Emerald. She smiled sweetly and touched the fingers of both hands together.
“Thank you,” he said and he gave her a ticket.
As the man walked away, Helen said, “You didn’t give him any money.”
“Well,” said Emerald, “fairies don’t carry much money, so I had to bewitch him.”
“Who was he anyway?”
“He’s what they used to call a conductor. He collects your money and gives you a ticket.”
“He’s much nicer than a ticket machine,” said Helen.
“Look out of the window and see if you recognise anything,” Emerald said.
Helen had to twist round on the hard seat to see out of the window.
“I see the Shrine,” she said. “And the gardens.”
“Yes, the Shrine, Melbourne’s war memorial. In this time it’s only eleven years old. In your time it’s more than seventy years old.”
She crossed to the other side of the tram and looked out of the windows. She thought the cars and trucks looked very old and strange, and there were even a few wagons pulled by horses. The traffic seemed to move very slowly.
Soon they were passing the Arts Centre . . . or they should have been. It seemed to have gone. All Helen could see was something that looked like a giant shed. A notice outside told her that it was called Wirth’s Olympia. She ran back to Emerald and said, “What have they done with the Arts Centre? And what’s that big shed thing?”
Emerald said, “The Arts Centre hasn’t been built yet. And the big shed thing is a circus.”
“A circus? No. Circuses are in tents.”
“Not this one.”
“I can see everything’s going to be very strange here,” Helen said.
“You think this is strange? Wait till you have your first ride on a cable tram.”
The tram groaned and rumbled as it crossed Prince’s Bridge. The bridge hadn’t changed. The river was the same as the one she knew. But the city was quite different.
“The buildings are all short,” she said, “and a lot of them are old.”
They passed St Paul’s Cathedral and the Town Hall.
“They’re the same,” Helen said.
“Yes,” said Emerald, “but everything else has changed.”
Then she stood up and said, “We get off here.”
It was Bourke Street, the centre of the city. There was a lot of traffic. Helen stared at the cars and trucks. They looked so different from the cars and trucks she knew.
“Everything looks old,” she said. “Even the people look old.”
“No,” said Emerald. “In this time they’re not old. They’re just different.”
They crossed Bourke Street. Helen looked to her right and saw Parliament House at the top of the hill.
She pointed and said, “That’s still there.”
Emerald sighed and said, “Yes, we’ll always have them.”
And then Helen’s mouth fell open as a tram crawled towards them. This was nothing like the trams she knew. It was in two parts, an open part at the front and a closed section at the rear.
“What’s that?” she said.
“That’s a cable tram,” said Emerald.
“Why does it wobble so much?”
“Because that’s what cable trams do. They get pulled along by a steel rope that runs under the street. Come on.”
And she helped Helen up onto the tram. Helen was just a little worried about riding in such a strange, swaying, rattling old thing, but Emerald led her into the closed part at the rear and said, “Sit down quickly. You don’t want to be standing up when it starts.
Helen sat down on a long wooden bench. She faced people who sat on the bench that ran along the other side of the compartment. She could not help staring at their clothes, which were just like the clothes she had seen in old films.
A woman saw her staring and smiled at her. Helen looked down and remembered that it was rude to stare. But she was glad the woman had smiled because the smile had made her a real person.
“This is all real, isn’t it,” Helen said. “It isn’t a dream.”
“No,” said Emerald.
The people facing Helen were swaying from side to side. Helen was swaying too. She tried to sit upright, but she couldn’t do it. The carriage jolted and banged its way up Bourke Street as if it were running over rocks.
“Is something wrong with this tram?” Helen asked.
“No,” said Emerald. “All cable trams used to run like this.”
Then there was an even bigger bang. Helen’s bottom rose up and banged down on the wooden seat. Her teeth snapped shut.
“This is very uncomfortable,” she said.
“Yes,” said Emerald, “and we haven’t even turned a corner yet.”
“Mind the curve!” shouted the man outside, and the tram went round the bend from Bourke Street into Spring Street with a great groaning of wheels. Helen was afraid it might tip over. She asked Emerald why the other passengers didn’t seem to be worried.
“They’re used to it,” Emerald said.
The tram banged and rattled its way along Spring Street and turned at Gertrude Street. Emerald pointed to a brick building on the corner and said, “That’s where the machinery is that drives the cable.”
Along Gertrude Street, into Smith Street and down into Clifton Hill the tram ran. It stopped to pick up people and let them off just like any other tram. By the time they reached Northcote, Helen was riding along, swaying from side to side just like all the other passengers. Just when she was beginning to enjoy herself, Emerald stood up and said, “We get off here.”
They stepped down into a busy street full of people and traffic. Helen was getting used to seeing people who wore old-fashioned clothes. (But she knew that the clothes were not old-fashioned in 1938.)
The cars and trucks that passed by made much louder sounds than she was used to hearing. And every now and then a horse-drawn dray would roll past her, the big draught horses snorting and sweating and the iron-tyred wheels groaning as they rolled over the hard road beneath.
“We have to cross the road,” Emerald said. “Hold my hand.”
“Don’t they have traffic lights?” Helen said.
“Not here. Only in the centre of the city.”
They had to wait until there was a gap in the traffic, and then they quickly crossed the road.
There was a big sign painted on the front of a shop on the corner. It said “ironmongers”.
“What’s an ironmonger?” Helen said.
“That’s the old word for a hardware shop. And you don’t say it the way it is spelt. It’s ironMUNger.”
After they crossed the busy street, they walked along a long, level road that had houses on one side and a high picket fence on the other. They were on the side that had the fence. Helen looked through the pickets and quickly stepped back. There was a hole on the other side, a big hole, big enough to hold a thousand houses. Overlooking the hole were great buildings made of red bricks, and above the buildings huge chimneys reached up into the sky.
“What’s that?” Helen said.
“It’s a brick factory. They dig the clay out of the ground, and then shape it into blocks and then cook it in those big buildings until it goes hard and turns into bricks. The hole is called a quarry.”
“Do they still do that – in my time?”
“Yes, but not here. In your time this is all gone and there’s a shopping centre where that big hole was.”
At the end of the street, they turned and turned again, and turned once more. Now they were in a pleasant, tree-lined street. Helen looked up and saw that it was called Christmas Street. She thought it was a very nice name for a street. Most of the houses in the street looked either very new or very old. They stopped across from one, small timber house with a red-painted iron roof.
“What are we waiting for?” Helen said.
“Watch,” said Emerald.
They seemed to stand there for a long time, watching and waiting. And then the front door opened and a small, black-haired boy stepped out. He was eating a slice of bread spread with butter and raspberry jam. There was jam on his fingers and jam on his face. He looked at Helen and Emerald without interest. And then he turned away and walked back into the house, closing the door behind him.
“Who was that?” Helen said.
“That was your grandfather. In this time he’s only five years old.”
“Then I’m older than he is. I could mind him.”
Emerald laughed, and then she looked sad.
“That’s not why we’re here,” she said. “I just thought you might like to see what someone who is old in your time looked like when he was young. Now we must find Twizzlepot.
When Helen thought of Twizzlepot, who had been kidnapped by goblins and she too felt sad.
“Where is he?” she said.
“You’re not going to like this,” said Emerald. “He’s down in the quarry.”
Helen’s mouth dropped open. She almost stopped breathing.
“I can’t go down there,” she said.
“You can’t walk down there,” Emerald said. “But you can fly.”
Helen could not understand what happened next. One moment she was standing in a street talking to a fairy who looked just like an ordinary person. The next moment she was flying high above the great big hole in the ground that Emerald had called a quarry.
A voice sounded in her mind. It was the voice of Emerald.
“Now you’re a currawong,” the voice said.
Helen wanted to see herself in a mirror, but of course there were no mirrors to be found so high in the air.
“The sun is going down,” said Emerald’s voice. “Before it gets dark we must find Twizzlepot. Now, follow me.”
Helen turned her head, which was the head of a bird, and saw Emerald in the shape of a currawong. Emerald said, “Follow me”, and she flew down into a great yellow hole that was the quarry.
Helen followed, going down and down, watching the muddy bottom of the quarry as it rushed up to meet her. He didn’t know how to land. And yet she did land without having to think about it. She stood bright-eyed and alert on the wet clay. A load rumbling noise startled her. She looked to one side, ready to rise into the air if there was any danger.
“The workers are going home,” said Emerald’s voice.
A big container on wheels was rising up a steep railway track. In it were six men, quarry workers who had come to the end of the working day. It seemed to be very dark down in the quarry. The sun was low in the sky and its light could not reach all the way down to where Helen and Emerald stood.
“Now you have work to do,” said Emerald.
“Why me? said Helen.
“Because you are Twizzlepot’s friend. Once you become a fairy’s friend, you remain a friend – almost like a member of the family. And now you’re my friend. And you are joined to this time because some of your family came from here.”
“Are you going to pay the ransom?” Helen said.
“No. As I told you, I can’t get enough fairy gold. This is what we have to do. First we find Twizzlepot. Then, before the goblins can stop us, we turn back into ourselves. And then comes the hard part.”
“It already sounds hard enough,” Helen said.
“What we have to do is this,” Emerald said. “You and I and Twizzlepot have to join hands and then say a magic word.”
“What’s the word?” Helen said.
“You’ll know it when you hear it, and then you’ll forget it.”
“But where is Twizzlepot?”
“You must find him. Start looking now.”
Without quite knowing what to do next, Helen walked the way currawongs do, as if they owned the ground they walked on. She didn’t know what she was looking for, or listening for.
There was a hut standing on sturdy stumps in one corner of the quarry. Helen quickly flew towards it and landed on its roof. She listened. She cocked her head on one side. There were sounds coming from within the hut. Voices.
There was a gap in the iron roof. Turning her bird head, she looked through it. She had never seen a currawong looked through a crack in this way, but she was not really a bird. She was a girl in the shape of a bird.
What she saw was a group of goblins. She recognised one of them. It was Soupy, the one she had seen in the park the night she first met Twizzlepot. She didn’t like the look of them at all. They weren’t very tall, but they looked very strong. They looked so much like apes that she was surprised to see that they wore clothes, rough looking clothes that didn’t seem to fit very well. And they had big boots that looked dangerous. You would not want a goblin to stand on your foot while he was wearing those boots.
She listened. Soupy spoke.
“Old Missus Emerald hasn’t sent the fairy dust yet. We’ll only wait one more night.”
“Then what will we do with the kid?” said another goblin.
“Tie him up and just leave him here. As long as his hands are tied and he’s got tape over his mouth, he can’t do no magic.”
“What happens to him then?”
“After a long time, he just fades away. Why are you askin’? Do you care?”
“No, just curious.”
“It’s goin’ to be hard getting’ back to our time without the fairy dust,” the third goblin said. “Our magic’s runnin’ out.”
“She’ll come,” Soupy said, “and she’ll bring the dust.”
By now the bird that Emerald had become was perched next to Helen.
“We have to get them out of there,” Emerald said. “I could use magic to destroy the shed, but it might hurt Twizzlepot. I know what to do. Let’s be cockatoos.”
“Why?” said Helen.
“Have you ever heard the noise wild cockatoos can make? It’ll bring them out. Then, when they’re out and the door is open, we fly in. After that, things become tricky. But, one thing at a time.
Emerald raised a claw, cocked her head to one side and gave a tiny squawk. Helen felt herself change. Now she was a much bigger bird, a great, sulphur-crested cockatoo.
“Stand outside the door and screech,” Emerald said.
Helen flew down with Emerald and together they began to screech. The sound was terribly loud and irritating. The screeched for longer and louder than real cockatoos would have done. The noise drove away the few other birds that were in the quarry. Now it was almost dark and real cockatoos would have been heading for their homes. But these two kept on screeching until it seemed the whole world was filled with noise.
They were making so much racket that they di not hear the door of the hut open, but they saw what they needed to see. Soupy and the two other goblins rushed out to see what all the fuss was about.
“Now,” said Emerald, and she flew at the door. Helen followed. Once they were inside, Emerald flipped her claws and twisted her head. Suddenly she was a woman again. She reached for the door, slammed it and bolted it.
Then she remembered Helen and moved her hands over the cockatoo’s head. Helen became once more what she really was, a girl.
“There he is,” Emerald said. Helen looked and saw in the light of an old hurricane lamp, her friend Twizzlepot. His hands were tied and there was a gag across his mouth. But his eyes were bright with happiness. He was being rescued.
Emerald suddenly stopped being an ordinary woman and became – her shimmering, beautiful self, a fairy so bright and glorious that Helen was dazzled by the sight. She even carried a wand that she waved over Twizzlepot. Immediately his gag and the rope that bound his hands fell away.
“Hello Mum” he said. “Hello Helen.”
His voice was as Helen had remembered, full of fun. It seemed impossible for Twizzlepot to be anything but cheerful, no matter what happened to him.
But there was no time to be lost. The goblins were all over the hut, banging at the door, tearing at the roof. They could not have known that Emerald was inside, but they knew something was wrong. Cockatoos might be able to fly into a hut, but no bird can shut and bolt a door.
“Join hands,” Emerald said.
Twizzlepot reached out and the three of them joined hands.
“Now,” said Emerald, “we must all say this word.”
And the words she said was so strange, secret and just plain weird that Helen didn’t believe that she could say it.
But she was wrong. All three of them said the word.
There was a great rush of air, a roaring sound, then something that looked and sounded like a thunderstorm.
And then there was peace and quiet and soft darkness. Helen was surprised to find that she was in her bed, just as she should have been. Had it all been a dream?
But she remembered her last adventure with Twizzlepot. He had left one of the bells on his cap. Had he left anything this time? She switched on the light next to her bed.
On her bedside table was a small piece of paper. It was pink and there were numbers printed on it. She knew what it was. She had seen such a piece of paper before. The conductor had handed her one on the tram. It was a cable tram ticket. Price: one penny.