A dark dirty alley smelled of dampness and cat piss. Street lamps in this part of the city were dead. Their light must have gone out back then, when the electricity still had been a part of everybody’s lives and not the privilege of the rich, as it was now. It was mostly silent except for occasional rustle of rats in the dark and snoring of a tramp, who was lying in a nest of dirty rags and old newspapers nearby.
Windows of the house in question were equally dark. If it wasn’t for the scheduled appointment one might have thought that it was abandoned like the majority of the houses in the area. A sharp rap on the door brought no reaction whatsoever. Although an attentive person would have noticed a slight movement in the house through dark glass.
Silence at first. Then the door was opened wide enough to reveal an eye and a crooked nose of its curious owner. A quick glance around was enough to confirm that his visitor had come alone. The door swung open to let the man inside.
Few steps up into the house and the door was quickly shut and bolted.
The owner of this house was as old and shabby looking as its dwelling. Little old man was vastly bold, spotting only one or two flocks of grey hair. His left arm was unnaturally small and withered. He cradled it to his chest with his other hand, taking time to look at his customer.
The visitor was a middle aged moustached man. Looking neither too rich nor too poor, judging from the state of his well tailored, but already showing signs of wear a coat and a hat. This befitted the collector well.
“I believe you came here with a purpose of a certain purchase,” he croaked.
The man shrugged. “You may say so. But it’s too early to say since I’m only about to see what you can offer.”
“True, true. ” The old man nodded his bald head and looked at the customer inquiringly: “You are Mister?..”
The old man bared his yellow teeth. “Right. Then you can call me Mister Jones,” he said.
Mister Smith shrugged again, showing agreement with this.
With a jerky nod the old man led his customer through the dark foyer, past the staircase to the living room. It was not illuminated, which made the customer hover uncertainly at its doorway. The old man took his time shuffling around and cursing, until, finally, an oil lamp on the table blossomed into life. Moving a pile of books to one edge, the collector removed a cloth that covered a small chest.
A key to the chest was safely stored on a string around the collector’s neck. He turned around to look at his customer, who was glancing curiously around the room from where he was standing. Impatient the old man beckoned him closer with a twist of his healthy hand. Smith trod carefully to the table through various pieces of furniture and stocks of books.
“I admit that when I came across such a unique specimen I couldn’t believe my eyes at first!” The collector’s healthy hand rested possessively on the lid. “Not a usual type, you see, but such a rare one!” The old man spoke without looking at his customer. He was obviously waiting for a reaction or a prompt.
“I will believe it when I see it,” said Smith.
Instantly, the lid was lifted and the collector moved sideways to let the buyer a good view of his treasure.
In the old velvet box on the cushion laid a tiny winged creature.
“A moth-girl,” Smith breathed out in awe.
“Indeed it is,” the old man nodded, satisfied with his reaction.
“Not a fairy, which you can get from any market, but a moth!” He leaned closer to the chest and prodded the creature with his fat finger. “Look at its wings! How they glitter in the light! Ordinary fairies don’t have such wings.”
His customer nodded, although inwardly he cringed at the pitiless prodding. Suddenly nervous, Smith licked his lips preparing to ask an incredibly important question.
“Is it…” He trailed off. “Is it alive?”
“Of course!” The old man scoffed. “What do you take me for? I’m a professional! It’s only sleeping. I gave her a drop of brandy.” He giggled unpleasantly.
Smith let out a breath that he was holding and leaned to look at the creature more attentively.
It was a four-inch tall moth-girl with a tiny body and tiny limbs of a human. Greenish skin and a mop of brown hair on its head distinguished it from usual fairies, which had white skin and yellow hair. Its wings, spread out, were narrow and longer than that of its fellow specimen. While fairies looked like tiny people with butterfly wings, the moth-people were different, more insect looking than human.
In this world of darkness, where light was sacred and the mystery of electricity was known only to few dying out rich dynasties and the government, common people discovered the simple and cheap way of lighting their houses – the fairies.
Tiny creatures lived for decades and were as commonplace as once pigeons had been. Beating of their beautiful, butterfly-like wings produced enough light to illuminate a room. Nobody knew where they originated from, but one day they were everywhere, and the world that had once been condemned to darkness and fear saw an unexpected hope.
Moth-people were different. Nobody saw them much, because unlike their shiny relatives, they didn’t produce light, but consumed it. They lived in the darkness and could never be caught since they were also said to possess more brains. Although nobody knew anything for sure, since there was yet a man to capture any of the moth-folk.
And yet this old half-crippled man had managed just that.
Straightening Smith looked at the collector: “I believe there’s quite a story behind this amazing capture.”
“Oh yes,” mumbled the other. Smith raised his eyebrow inquiringly, but the old man didn’t elaborate. He was biting his lips and muttering something under his breath. Finally he snapped: “Are you buying or not?”
“A thousand and a half.”
That made Smith’s eye twitch – the sum was more than he had expected. Not outrageous so, but more than he had on him at the moment.
“That’s a bit extreme,” his words made the old man frown, but he continued. “I understand that you have the exclusive goods, but it’s just too much even for a moth!”
Paper money, or banknotes, was no longer being printed. Most of the deals were paid through cash, various assortments of coins. But the prices for goods weren’t as high as they used to be twenty years ago. Most common folk earned about fifty-sixty a month. Or a hundred at most. A price of fifteen hundred dollars equalled a price for a small house with a patch of land.
The collector snarled: “It’s unique! I’m absolutely sure that I’m the only owner of a real moth-girl!” His eyes were moving from the chest to the customer and back. He looked more nervous by minute and was rubbing his crippled arm constantly.
Black market for fairies was vast and growing. Most people cared for their fairies well, since the fragile creatures could easily die and getting a new one wasn’t easy the legal way. So some people managed to make a fortune on dealing in this business.
“No!” The collector snarled and moved as if to close the lid of the chest. But Smith placed his hand on it to prevent the movement.
“Eleven hundred,” he said with finality in his voice. “That’s all I have got.”
The old man looked as if he was going to object, but then froze with his mouth opened, looking at the insides of the chest.
Inside the moth-girl moved slightly, its wings fluttered once.
Instantly the light from the oil lamp dimmed a visible degree, casting even more shadows to dance about the room.
The reaction from the old man was unexpected – he lurched backwards, almost tumbling over the chair and upsetting a nearby stock of books. A look of deadly fear was on his face.
“Take it!” he shrieked. Waving his healthy hand frantically, as though to ward off a dark force, he looked positively mad.
“Take it away!” he screeched again.
“Meaning, you are selling it after all?” Smith tried to stay calm in the face of this madness.
“So it’s a deal – one thousand and one hundred. Is that right?” He was reaching into his inside pocket for a neat bundle of banknotes.
The old man seemed absolutely uninterested in the fate of its treasure. He shrivelled up into the corner, leaning forward only to grab the money from the outstretched hand, backing away almost instantly. Like a scared wild animal that refuses to come out of its lair.
The customer left the crazy cripple to thumb through the money. Carefully he lifted a cushion with still sleeping creature and put it in a glass box, which was brought for that purpose. Without as much as a nod to his seller, Mister Smith let himself out of the house, carefully cradling his purchase to his chest.
It was a real relief to be outside, even though the air in this part of the city left much to be desired. Wiping sweat of his forehead with one hand, he rounded the corner and quickly moved to the next alley, where he was greeted by the grim faces of his colleagues.
“What took you so long?” Sergeant McDonald hissed, her dark eyes glittering furiously in the light of her small torch.
Taking off his hat, Inspector Davies ignored her. Removing the fake moustache he slightly winced at the burn. “Fucking glue,” he muttered. Another officer, a redheaded Sergeant Collins, who was trying to look around the corner, turned to him:
“How did it go? Did he touch the money?”
“Oh, yes. No worries here. He is probably up to his nose in the fingerprint powder now,” he nodded in the direction of the alley entrance. “You can take him now or later, but I really want to know whom he had to kill to get this treasure.” He looked down at the box in his hands.
“Oh, a murder charge besides smuggling. Sweet!” Collins whistled impressed.
“Yeah, that and the black marketing, which we already knew of”, pointed McDonald. She moved to look at the creature in question.
“So pretty,” she whispered. “And helpless.”
“Yes, but also completely unknown and thus possibly dangerous,” Inspector Davies said looking pointedly at Amanda. He tried to sound stern, but even he was confused by the situation. Fairies may have never been the smartest or the most important creatures to walk this earth, but they gave humans what nothing else except for the sun could – the light.
And this tiny moth-girl could take it away.
“The scientists will have to look at it. It’s none of our business now,” sighed the sergeant moving away.
Davies nodded. The team members around him were moving almost inaudibly, assembling their gear and waiting for an order to take the old criminal. He looked at the creature, trying to comprehend how such a fragile looking body could hold such a power.
A sudden commotion behind them brought his attention. A sudden yelp, then a shriek and the sounds of struggle. A moment later two police officers brought struggling old smuggler around the corner.
“Howard!” snapped Amanda, positively seething now. “What’s this all about?!”
“It’s not my fault, ma’am,” one of the officers protested, his face quite flustered. “He climbed out of the back window and landed right on me!”
The old man was struggling fruitlessly, but the officers held him fast. He was a mess, his face and hands covered in blue fingerprint powder, he was keening and muttering and drooling like a mad man.
“Well, guys, the ball comes to the player, I guess.”
Davies smirked. “Or the smuggler comes to the cop,” he said. “Good job, Howard.”
“Thank you, sir!”
Amanda rolled eyes at him. “Move it,” she snapped. “Since we got our fish in the net already, there is no need to spend the night here. We can ask him all our questions at the station.”
The police officers pushed the captured smuggler forward in the direction of their parked vehicles. Sergeant Collins grabbed the remaining gear and rounded the corner.
It must have been a movement in the corner of this vision that brought Inspector Davies’ attention to his purchase. He looked down only to see the moth-girl looking back at him with its round red eyes.
Standing on the cushion it was almost reaching the glass lid with its head. Its hands were outstretched and pressed to the glass surface. Tiny face was expressionless as that of a fairy, but when the inspector leaned closer to examine it, it was suddenly full of fear.
Davies couldn’t hear the words, but he could surely read the movement of the tiny lips.
“Let me out,” it whispered.
Written: February 28th – March 1st, 2010.
Revised: Sunday, 9 June, 2013
© Copyright 2016 ninavrye. All rights reserved.