Chapter 1: Shiloh
Jennifer marched into the house and slipped her school backpack off, then started to rifle through it. “Daddy, are you terribly busy?” she called loudly. Her father was usually sitting at the kitchen table when she got home from school. Today was no different.
Her father looked up from his newspaper. “Just circling some ads,” he said. “What have you got?” He grabbed his pen from the table, figuring she had something else from school to sign.
“I saw it in the window of the pet shop and I just had to have it,” she said. She produced a bulky paper bag, with twine handles. Daddy could see that it was large and box-like, whatever it was.
“Couldn’t wait until Saturday, could you?” her father smiled. He had been bringing home bits and pieces of hamster habitat for weeks, preparing for her birthday on Saturday when she would be eleven years old and he would bestow upon her the coveted hamster, just as he had given Eric a kitten three years before on his eleventh birthday. Then too, he started with a litter box, then dishes, and food, then finally the coveted kitten.
“Close your eyes, Daddy,” she said. He closed his eyes while she fished out the clear plastic travel container and held it in front of his face. “Now you can open them.”
With a smile on his face at first, her father opened his eyes to see the little creature in the cage, frightened and cowering. “That’s not a hamster,” he said, with a little confusion.
“No, but she can stay in the hamster cage. She’s just the right size.”
“Honey, I’m not sure you can keep a fairy in a hamster cage.”
“Can I keep her? Please?” Jennifer asked. “Oh, pretty, pretty please. I’ll take real good care of her.”
Daddy continued to examine the tiny creature and ponder. “I think you picked up a good one here,” he finally announced, slowly. “She seems young and strong and in real good shape. But I’ve never been convinced that keeping fairies is the right thing to do. They seem so much like people.”
“So do dolls, but you let me have those,” Jennifer batted her eyelashes at him, showing him her big blue eyes that were so much like her mother’s that she knew when she did that, Daddy always had a hard time saying no.
“Honey, dolls aren’t really alive. They are things you play with to make believe. Fairies are living creatures, and they are a big responsibility.
The front door opened and the screen door slammed shut, just a moment before the front door slammed shut. Eric was home.
“Hey, Dad!” he called from the living room. “I got something from school you need to sign!” A moment later he skipped into the dining room with a paper in his hand. As he saw the plastic container with the tiny, quivering fairy inside, he set the paper down on the table and gasped, “Whoa. What have you got there, Jen?”
“A fairy,” Jen said.
“Does it talk?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Jen answered honestly.
“Of course it doesn’t talk,” Daddy said. “Everyone knows that fairies don’t talk, and even if they could their vocal cords would be so tiny it would come out in a register we can’t hear.”
“Do you think they can hear us?” Jen asked.
“I doubt it. There are sounds that are below our hearing range and above it, and I’m sure it’s the same for them. Our voices would be in a much lower register than they can perceive,” Daddy said with finality. “And, there is absolutely no record of a fairy ever having communicated with a human.”
“What should I do with her, Daddy?” Jen asked.
“Well, you can try her in the hamster habitat until we can figure something else out. Maybe this weekend I’ll put a glass wall on your dollhouse and she can stay in that. Above all, make sure that Mr. Tuffy can’t get at her.”
“Mr. Tuffy’s a good boy, he wouldn’t hurt a fly,” Eric said, defensively.
“Mr. Tuffy is a cat,” Daddy explained, with a tone that warned that it was not debatable. He was sharing knowledge, not expressing his opinion. “It’s in a cat’s nature to hunt and to kill small things. It doesn’t matter how nice he is to you, just think of what he’d do to a mouse.”
Eric nodded, humoring the old man. Then he changed the subject. “Dad, can you take me down to the electronics store?”
“Why?” Daddy asked, squinting a little at Eric. “Can it wait until tomorrow?”
“I’ve got an idea, and I’m afraid if I wait I won’t be able to make it work anymore.”
Daddy stood up, a minor groan escaping his lips. He still suffered from aches and pains, and something else that Jen and Eric felt, too. They didn’t have a name for it, and they didn’t talk about it, but they all had it. “Get in the car,” Daddy told Eric, pulling the car keys out of his pocket. “Jen, can you heat up supper for us? We’ll be back shortly.”
So Daddy and Eric went out to the car, and Jen pulled the frozen dinners out of the freezer and set them on the counter so she could heat them in the microwave oven the moment they returned. When the headlights reappeared in the driveway half an hour later, she put the first frozen dinner into the appliance and started heating it. Then she looked at her little fairy and saw her writhing on the bottom of the cage, holding her head as if in pain. She was still watching as the microwave bell announced that the heating cycle was complete, and the little fairy sat up again, rubbing her temples. “Does the microwave hurt you?” Jen asked. She saw no visible signs of response. Daddy and Eric went into Eric’s room, presumably to put the things Eric bought away. Jen pulled the hot dinner out of the appliance and popped in the next one. Before she pressed the ‘on’ button, she turned back around to see if there was a reaction from her tiny pet. Sure enough, the moment the button was pressed, the fairy was on the bottom of the cage, again writhing in the most excruciating agony. She immediately turned the microwave off again.
Daddy and Eric came into the kitchen, and Eric grabbed the roll of paper towels, pealed the few remaining paper towels from the core, and then took the empty core to his bedroom. Daddy looked at the two cold dinners waiting on the counter and frowned. “What’s the matter, sweetheart?” Daddy asked. “I thought you were going to heat dinner for us?”
“Sorry, Daddy,” Jen answered. “The microwave hurts her.”
“You didn’t put her in the microwave, did you?” Daddy asked, puzzled and a little shocked.
“No, Daddy. I just noticed that every time I turned it on she started screaming.”
“Yes, Daddy. She didn’t make any sound, but she was screaming all the same. I could see her doing it.”
“Well, we can always heat this up the old-fashioned way,” Daddy said, picking up one of the frozen dinners.
“In the oven?” Jen asked, a little excited about doing things the old fashioned way.
“No,” Daddy answered. “These plastic trays wouldn’t hold up in the oven, but if we heat pans of water on the stove, we can heat them in there.”
“That seems like a lot of effort for a meal,” Eric interjected.
“Believe me, this is nothing like effort. All we’re doing is heating it up. Someday I’ll teach you how to make a meal from scratch.”
That was one thing they all missed. Mom had been a wonderful cook, and she enjoyed treating them to a variety of meals. Unlike some of the other moms Jen knew, the Andersons never had the same six meals over and over. Their mom had hundreds of recipes and she liked to keep the meals interesting. Daddy said he knew how to cook, but he never did. He didn’t do a lot of anything anymore. He just read the newspaper and circled help wanted ads.
It took a while, but they got their meals heated up, and sat down at the kitchen table to eat. Daddy looked over at the little fairy and asked, “Have you fed her yet?”
“I don’t know what fairies eat,” Jen answered.
“It didn’t come with any kind of instructions?” Eric asked. He was always nerdy that way, reading instructions and schematics and all kinds of things. Jen still liked cartoons and comic books about teenagers, playing with dolls and trying to do as little homework as possible.
“No,” Jen answered. “No instructions. What should I do?”
“I’m surprised the pet store didn’t sell you some fairy cake,” Daddy said, “I can pick some up tomorrow, but we have to do something for her tonight. I don’t think they eat meat, but you can try her on some vegetables from your plate and see if she’ll take that. Have you given her a name yet?”
“I want to call her ‘Shiloh,’” Jen smiled. “Would you like that Shiloh?” she asked the fairy. The fairy just sulked in a corner of the hamster cage.
“Just give her some food and make sure she has some comfortable bedding,” Daddy said. “Her outfit doesn’t appear to be very warm.”
“What’s she wearing, anyway?” Eric asked, peering into the cage.
“Fairy clothes,” Jen answered knowledgably.
“It looks sort of like a leotard and a tutu,” Daddy said. “If you look real close, her shoes look like little ballet slippers. How clever. You may have yourself a little ballerina.”
“What makes good fairy bedding, Daddy?” Jen asked, looking around.
“Well, I picked up wood shavings for the hamster, but she might like a handkerchief or a washcloth; something to wrap herself up in like a blanket,” Daddy answered.
Jen dropped a micro-fiber washcloth in the hamster habitat, because of all the washcloths they had, it felt the softest. The fairy just glowered at her when she opened the lid, and made no move to examine the washcloth after Jen dropped it in. “We have to go to bed now, Shiloh,” Jen told her, carrying the hamster cage upstairs to her room. “You’re going to like it here,” she continued as she set her on the dresser next to her bed. “I think we’re going to have a lot of fun together.” The fairy was still unresponsive, not eating, not sleeping, just curling up in a corner of the cage with her arms around her knees, making herself as small as possible.
She changed into her pajamas, then went into the bathroom down the hall to brush her teeth. When she came back, she found the other stuff that was on top of her dresser; a jewelry box, a picture of her mother, and a hairbrush were all on the floor, in different corners of the room. She sighed and picked everything back up and put them back on the dresser next to the fairy’s cage.
She knelt next to her bed to say her prayers, like her mother taught her, and she prayed. She knew she was supposed to pray to God, but it felt like a good time to talk to her mother. “Mom, help this little fairy understand that I am her friend, not her enemy. Give her peace, so she is not angry all the time. She does not seem happy, and I want to make her happy. I love you, and I miss you. I am always thinking of you, and I try to remember everything you taught me. Give me and Shiloh both pleasant dreams. Amen.”
After she snuggled in under her covers with her head on the pillow, she turned off her bedside lamp, then called out to her fairy in a quiet, bed-time voice, “Good night, Shiloh. Dream nice things.”