One night, when she was seven years old, Helen met a fairy.
It wasn’t the Tooth Fairy. It wasn’t a Christmas fairy. It wasn’t even a beautiful fairy.
This fairy’s name was Twizzlepot. It was a boy fairy. It didn’t have any wings. It didn’t have a wand. It didn’t shower her with sparkly stuff.
Twizzlepot wasn’t even a complete fairy. He was an apprentice fairy.
Helen didn’t know what an apprentice was. She had to look the word up in The Shorter Grandpa Dictionary.
Here is what the dictionary said:
Apprentice (uh-PREN-tiss): someone who learns a trade by working at it; an on-the-job learner.
Here is how Helen came to meet the fairy . . .
Every now and then Helen has a bad day. She wakes up in the morning, she gets dressed and goes to school – and from then on nothing goes right. She makes mistakes; she loses things; she trips and falls and bumps her head.
Everybody has days like this. Helen has them too – but not very often.
After one of these bad days, Helen came home, watched some television, did some homework, had a bath and then sat on the side of her bed and frowned.
Her dad came into her room and said: “Do you want a hug, Helen?”
“No,” she said. “I’ve had a bad day.”
“Okay,” said her dad. He knew she’d feel much better after a good night’s sleep.
He went away and did whatever dads do when their little girls won’t talk to them.
Helen sat there thinking: I’m bored. I’m annoyed. I’m not happy.
But she was comfortable. Wearing her pyjamas and still warm from her bath, she sat there trying to keep her eyes open. She thought it might be nice to lie down – not for long, just for a few minutes.
And soon she was fast asleep.
Helen’s mother came into her room and covered her up. Helen didn’t wake up. She slept and dreamed, and so the night went on and on. Soon the house was quiet. Everyone was asleep.
At midnight there was a sound – a most unusual sound. It was a rapping, tapping, knocking sound. It seemed to be coming from Helen’s window.
“I’m dreaming,” she said, “so I won’t take any notice.”
But the noise went on and on. At last Helen realised that she was not dreaming. She was wide awake. She got out of bed and went to the window.
When people asked Helen where she lived, she would say, “In a house.”
It wasn’t really a house. It was a flat on the second floor of a pleasant old building in St Kilda Road. Out in the street traffic roared and moaned and grumbled all day and well into the night, but you couldn’t hear it in Helen’s flat.
At the back of the building, on the other side of the car park, was a park big enough to hold an entire town. Helen knew it was called Fawkner Park. She didn’t know who Mr Fawkner was, but he must have been a very important man to have such a big park named after him.
During the day, Fawkner Park was all trees and grass and people and birds, like any other park. But at night, it changed. Out came the possums – little ringtails and big brushtails. And the bats. These were not nasty bats that bit people. Mainly they ate fruit.
So, thought Helen. There’s a possum or a bat out there. She was still half asleep and not thinking very clearly or she would have realised that although possums and bats are clever creatures, they don’t usually spend much time rapping on windows.
She walked round the end of her bed in the dark. Then, when she was near the window, she reached for the drapes and pulled them aside.
And there in the moonlight floated a little man.
No, she thought, it’s just a boy, a most peculiar boy. He was wearing a silly grin, had a long nose and on his head sat four or five hats, one on top of another.
While she was watching, the boy snapped his fingers and all his clothes changed. Now he wore a funny costume of red and blue striped material. On his head was a pointy hat with a tassel. The hat hung down on one side of his head. He wore white gloves and pointed slippers with little bells on the toes.
“Bopa ba bimbo,” he said, and pointed to the window catch. His voice was silly and squeaky. His words were muffled by the glass. What Helen heard as “bopa ba bimbo” was really “open the window”.
Now Helen knew that it wasn’t right to do some things. She didn’t accept gifts from strangers, she didn’t run across busy roads, she didn’t make loud noises when she ate – and she never opened her window to little people who floated in the air outside.
The little person waited for a few seconds. Then, when he saw that Helen would not open the window, he snapped his fingers. Sparks flew. The window catch turned, and the window slowly and silently opened.
“Hello,” said the little man – or boy, or whatever it was. “I’m Twizzlepot – the apprentice fairy.”
Helen wasn’t at all afraid, but she was annoyed. Nobody should come into her room at night without being asked.
“You are not a fairy,” she said. “I know all about fairies. They’re all beautiful and they have wings and wands and long dresses. Well, some of them do. Others have short dresses like ballet dancers.”
“Oh,” he said, with some disgust “They’re girl fairies. I’m a boy fairy.”
“Where’s your wand,” Helen said.
“Wands are only for show,” Twizzlepot said. “And we don’t need wings to fly.”
Then he told he what an apprentice fairy was – one who learned by doing.
“You mean have to learn to be a fairy?” Helen said.
“No,” said Twizzlepot, “but you have to learn how to do what a fairy does. It’s in the Union rules.”
“What union?” said Helen.
“Every fairy belongs to a union,” said Twizzlepot – “the goblins, the pixies, the elves: we’re all in it.”
“What do you call your union?” Helen said.
“The Royal, Ancient, Honourable, Invisible, Secret, Floating Association of Magical Practitioners. Actually, it’s not a union. It’s a guild.”
“What’s a guild?”
“Ask your dad,” said Twizzlepot.
“That’s a very long name,” Helen said.
“Yes,” said Twizzlepot. “We usually call it RAHISFAMP for short.”
“That’s not a word you can say,” Helen said.
“You can if you’re a fairy.”
By now Helen was sitting on her bed. Twizzlepot still floated in the air.
“Will you sit down,” she said sharply. “You’re making me uncomfortable floating there like a butterfly.”
Twizzlepot nodded his silly head and floated onto the bed next to her.
“I think I’ll call mum and dad,” she said. “They’ll know what to do about you.”
Grown-ups always knew what to do – didn’t they?
Twizzlepot shook his head and said, “They won’t wake up. I put a spell on them. They won’t wake up unless you’re n danger.”
“You mean I’m safe?” Helen said.
“With me? Yes. Everyone’s safe with me. I’m a do-good fairy.”
“Are there other kinds of fairies?” Helen said.
“Yes. There are goblins. They’re a bit nasty. They give people colds and pimples. Then there are elves, who do lots of jobs round the house, like shooing away spiders. And there are brownies, who mend things, and pixies.”
“What do pixies do?” Helen said.
“Nothing much,” Twizzlepot said. “They dance and sing a lot.
“What about ordinary fairies,” Helen said. “What do they do?”
“We’re the hard workers,” Twizzlepot said proudly. “e work to make people happy.”
“Is that hard?” Helen said.
“It’s the hardest work of all,” Twizzlepot said. ”Anyone can make you sad. It’s much harder to make you happy.
“I was unhappy,” Helen said. “I had a bad day.”
“Yes,” said Twizzlepot. “That’s why I’m here.”
“How are you going to make me happy?”
“I’m going to take you for a ride.”
“What? Right now?”
“Yes, right now. Are you ready?”
“It’s cold out there,” Helen said.
“You won’t feel cold while you’re with me,” Twizzlepot said.
“What if my parents wake up and find my bed empty?”
“I told you, they won’t – unless you’re in danger.”
Then he stood up. Now that he wasn’t floating, Helen could see that he was smaller than she was, even though she was only seven.
“Come on,” he said. “It’s time to go.”
“Go where?” Helen said.
“Out into the park.”
“I’m not allowed into the park at night,” Helen said.
“Of course not. Children should never be in parks at night by themselves, but you’ll be all right with me.”
He reached out a little gloved hand and took Helen’s hand. As soon as his hand touched hers, Helen felt a strange, tingling go right through her, as if she’d swallowed a fizzy drink too quickly.
And she rose from the bed. Like a wisp of cobweb she floated.
“All right,” Twizzlepot said “Here we go.”
Together they floated through the window. They didn’t even touch the sides. Outside, high above the ground, they hung between the walls of Helen’s building and the block of offices next door.
She wasn’t at all afraid. She couldn’t fall because she didn’t weigh anything.
“Off to Fawkner Park,” said Twizzlepot. He sounded like a tour guide.
They floated along between the two buildings. Ten over the car park. Then they were into the trees.
“It’s so dark, Helen said. “But I can see everything.”
“That’s because you’re with me,” Twizzlepot said. “Look.”
He pointed to a tree, a huge fichus that must have been a hundred years old. Sitting in a fork of the tree was a grey creature that might have been human – except that its skin seemed to be made of rippled leather. It had no hair on its head but there were two nasty-looking horns.
“I don’t like the look of him,” Helen said.
“Nobody does. That’s Soupy the goblin. He’s going to be horrible to someone.”
“Because . . . well, I don’t really know why. It’s just the way things are. Sometimes bad things happen to good people.”
“What do they do about it?” Helen said.
“They wait and hope. Usually things get better all by themselves . . .look!”
Again he pointed, and now Helen saw a line of bright little creatures on the bough of a tree. They were too small to be human, but they did have arms and legs and heads and funny hats. They danced and sang in tiny voices, and she could hear music faintly playing.
“What’s that song?” Helen said.
“It’s an old song, much older than you are.”
“What’s it called?” Helen said.
“It’s just changed,” the fairy said. “They started with ‘Another Openin’, Another Show’. Now they’re doing ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’. They’re called show tunes.”
“How about the elves and brownies?” Helen said.
“They’re working. You can see some of them down there raking leaves. They’re probably in your room now, tidying up.”
“I don’t think so,” Helen said. “Nobody ever tidies my room u – except my mum.”
“Right,” Twizzlepot said. “Time to visit the possums.”
They floated towards a great oak tree and then up and up until they saw possums. Small ringtails walked with perfect balance along thin branches. But when they strayed onto the heavier branches, they were pushed aside by large brushtails. They didn’t seem to mind.
“That’s not fair,” Helen said.
“Life often isn’t fair,” Twizzlepot said. “Let’s sit on a branch and wait for the bats.”
Helen could hear bats squeaking all around them.
“Do you know what Radar is?” Twizzlepot said.
“Is it like radio?”
“Something like that. Ships and planes use it. Bats use it too.”
“Bats have radio? I don’t think so.”
“It isn’t radio. It’s sound waves. The sound bounces off things. That’s why bats never bump into anything – even in the dark.”
“What never?” Helen said.
“Never . . . Yeeoow!”
Twizzlepot let go of Helen’s hand and rubbed the back of his head. As soon as their hands parted, Helen felt heavy. She wobbled on the branch until the fairy took her hand once more.
“Well,” he said “hardly ever.”
“Is there anything else up here that might hurt you?” Helen said.
“Not you. You’re safe. But I could be bitten.”
“What’s going to bite you?”
“In these trees there are bottom-biting ants. They never bite people. Only fairies . . . yeeeooow!”
Twizzlepot jumped up and rubbed his bottom. Again Helen wobbled on the branch, and again the fairy sat down and held her hand.
“It isn’t always easy being a fairy,” he said.
Helen suddenly thought of something that had puzzled her.
“How old are you?” she said.
“Ah, people always ask that,” Twizzlepot said. “Humans think that’s important. It isn’t. Divide half a lemon by the bloom of a grape. Then add a spoonful of mist and stir it with a dream. Subtract a bucket of moonlight – that’s how old I am. And I‘m only an apprentice.”
“How old are the oldest fairies?” Helen said.
“Well, my dad’s two and a half times as old as time itself.”
“You have a dad?”
“Of course, and a mum. Why, did you think I was hatched out of an egg.”
“It’s all very puzzling,” Helen said, and she yawned.
“Ah, time to go back to bed,” Twizzlepot said.
He waved the hand that wasn’t holding hers, and they rose through the branches and floated towards her home.
They passed over the car park. They passed by windows, some open, some closed, and at last they came to Helen’s window.
Soon they were in her room, and soon she was in her bed.
“I’m going now,” he said. Don’t tell anyone about this or I won’t be able to see you again.”
“I won’t,” Helen said. Here eyes were beginning to close. Soon she was asleep.
In the morning, her mother came in and woke her up. Her mother was wearing thin-soled slippers. He frowned and looked down at the floor.
“What’s that?” she said. She stooped down and picked up a tiny bell.
“Where did this come from,” she said.
“I don’t know,” Helen said. “It isn’t mine.”
“Well you’d better take it to school, see if it belongs to anyone. It looks like something from a jester’s costume.”
“What’s a jester?” Helen said.
“Someone who makes a king laugh.”
“What about queens? Don’t they have jesters?
“Queens don’t need them. Queens have kings to laugh at.”
Helen took the bell to her school, which was on the far side of Fawkner Park. As she walked across the grass, she looked all about her, but she saw none of the creatures she had seen the night before. The bats and the possums were all asleep. She didn’t see any goblins or brownies or elves or pixies, but she thought she heard faint music as she passed under a tree. She recognised the song. It was from a musical called ‘Cats’.
“Ah,” she said, “the pixies.”
Of course, nobody had lost the bell, so she was able to keep it.3
Helen was bursting to speak of her adventure, but she managed to remain silent.
She wanted to see Twizzlepot, the apprentice fairy again.
A time came when she did see him again, and they had another adventure – but that’s another story.