GLITTER, THE ADVENTURES
OF A FAIRY
The Fairy Trilogy - Volume I
This story is a work of fiction. Any reference to real facts, characters or events is purely coincidental
I. A GLOBETROTTING FAIRY
"Wake up, sleepyhead! It's time for your astronomy lesson!"
"Mmmmmmh, wait a little longer, Charlie," murmured Glitter "it's so nice lying in the sun...".
"No-no-no-no-no" he sang, shaking his head and waving a stick. "Children learn best when they have a regular study schedule."
"Fine," she grumbled, opening her eyes and standing up straight to her total height of three inches. She spread her blue wings, rose into the air and looked at the young man. "I am ready, teacher."
"First question: shape and diameter of the Earth".
Tsk, thought Glitter, this is easy. "The Earth is a sphere that is squashed at the poles. The length of the diameter, measured on the Paris meridian, is forty million French metres".
"This was easy," replied Charlie, "but how many miles is that?"
"Twenty-four thousand eight hundred and forty!" she chanted.
"Good," he said, patting her little head. "You learn quickly and remember everything, Glitter."
"Who are you?" The sound of his voice had surprised her as she was smelling a beautiful flower. She turned around and saw him leaning over her. He was big, very big - later she would learn that at the time he was just a child. He had looked at her with curious eyes and repeated, "Who are you?"
How can I understand him? "I...I am the Rose Fairy," she whispered.
"You are so beautiful, Rose Fairy!" he exclaimed. And how can he understand me? Then he introduced himself, "My name is Charles... Charles John Huffam Dickens. But you can call me Charlie, if you want."
"I do... Charlie". From that day on, they were friends.
When he went to work at the "factory", he locked her in a box and took her with him, and he did the same when he went back to "school". Charlie had taught her to read, write and count, and had given her lessons in history, geography, astronomy and mathematics. He was the one who called her Glitter, because, he said, "your wings shine with all the colours of the rainbow."
The day he got his first paycheck, they went to celebrate in Portsmouth. "Look, Glitter! That is the sea!"
She had never seen so much water all in one place, stretched out as far as she could see. "It is so beautiful! What are you going to do now?".
"I'll go for a swim" he replied, taking off his jacket and shirt. One minute later he was soaking. "If you want to wash yourself properly, you have to take off your trousers too," she said, "Come on, I'll help you..."
"No, leave it!" Charlie had shouted trying to stop her. She hadn't listened to him, she had pulled them down and... she saw that thing. She touched it and it stiffened ...
"Don't look! Turn around!" he shouted red in the face, covering it with his hands.
"Why are you treating me like this? I didn't do anything wrong."
"B...Because I am a man, and you are a woman! Now turn around!"
He hadn't spoken to her for two days, then he asked her, "Do you want to see what men and women do together?" She nodded enthusiastically; she always liked to see the animals in the forest mate and bring forth their children.
The House of Orchids was one of the many brothels in London, and not even the most infamous. "Hello, boy" he was welcomed by a woman who looked older than she was. "Have you come to enjoy yourself?"
"Yes," he said a little uncertainly, "I have heard good things about a girl named Janine...".
"Ah, I'm sorry," she said, accompanying him into the corridor. "Janine is not available tonight... It's her time of the month... and I certainly don't want you getting her pregnant on me, you know? Here," and she pointed at a raven-haired girl, "this is Claire, she will be great for you... One pound and six pence for half an hour, payment in advance."
Claire took him by the hand and led him into a room dimly lit by a candle. "What do you keep in that box? Your lucky animal?"
"Something like that," Charlie replied, placing it on a small shelf. "Is it bothering you?"
"No... as long as you don't want to play weird games," she answered with a smile and started undressing.
In the beginning, there was light. A blinding light. Then the light became colour, so many colours. Finally the colours became things, colourful things. And so she was born, inside a flower with large red petals. She looked around and saw lots of winged creatures looking at her. One of them stepped forward and spoke to her.
"Welcome to the world, new Rose Fairy. I am the Queen Fairy, the oldest of the community, and these are your sisters." Then she nodded to a creature with large white wings, "Lily Fairy, I entrust her to you."
"I won't let you down, Queen Fairy," the Lily Fairy replied.
She didn't know how much time she had spent in that forest because at the time she didn't know numbers. At first it was all beautiful and interesting. The Lily Fairy had shown her every meadow, fountain and hidden ravine. She had shown her that she could speak the languages of all animals and that she could tame them if they threatened her. Then the days had become boring, each seemed the same as the one before... One day in the middle of the assembly she said "I want to see what's outside of here."
"Outside of here there are humans," the Queen Fairy replied.
"What are humans?" she asked.
"They are the most fascinating and terrible thing that exists."
"I want to meet them," she insisted.
"If you meet them, you will never come back to us."
"Why?" she had challenged her. She smiled sadly.
"Because they will take your heart."
On the 2nd of April 1836, Charlie came home with a woman. This was already an absolute novelty; usually he went to them. Even more surprising was his decision to leave her outside in the garden.
"Why can't I watch?" Glitter asked.
"Because Catherine is my wife," he replied, closing the window and pulling the curtains. That night she fell asleep crying.
The next day he came looking for her, as he always did. "Now that you have a wife, will you cast me out?" she asked.
"Don't talk nonsense" he replied. "Do you know what the great Demosthenes used to say? We need wives to have children, prostitutes for bodily pleasures, and mistresses for spiritual pleasures".
"And I'm your... mistress?"
He cupped his hands and she gently settled into them. "We will continue our lovely conversations," he promised. "Coniunctio animi maxima cognatio: the union of souls is superior to that of bodies, it is the best. Don't you agree?"
"Yes," she murmured, laying her head on his palm. It was nice to hear the beating of his heart, to feel his warmth. Now she was sure of it. The others didn't matter. He would always be "her" Charlie.
1836 was a very intense year. In addition to getting married, Charlie wrote a drama and an opera libretto. He was always intent on writing, and often made her read the drafts or recite large pieces out loud, asking for her opinion ("I trust your taste," he used to say). During that time, Glitter learned two new words: "God" and "Jew".
It happened during the writing of Oliver Twist. "What is a Jew?" she asked.
"Jews are bad people," Charlie replied, darkening. "They are greedy and cruel, because they have rejected Christ, the Son of God," A long silence, and then, "Do you believe in God, Glitter?"
"Who is he, Charlie, that I might believe on him?"
From that day on, a new section was added to the usual lessons, Theology and Catechism. Charlie would take her with him to Sunday Mass - secretly, as usual - and on his way home he would explain the sermons and answer her questions. He wanted her to be at his son’s, Charles Culliford Boz's baptism, and at his young sister-in-law Mary's funeral. Glitter did not like the speeches she heard in church very much; she was afraid of the constant references to the "eternal fire" that awaited sinners after death. "I am a sinner too, because I'm taking you away from your loved ones," she complained once.
"You are not a sinner," he replied, "you're my dear little angel." After that, she didn't have the courage to talk about it again.
"Please don't abandon us," begged the Lily Fairy. "If you mix with humans, you'll become like them, and you'll forget us."
"I will never forget you," said the Rose Fairy, opening her arms, "and nothing can change who I am. But the world is bigger than this forest, and I want to see everything there is."
"You're stubborn... stubborn and mean." The Lily Fairy's sadness had turned into blind rage. "I was wrong to be your friend," she said as she moved away.
She tried to grab her by the arm, but she wiggled away. "I never want to see you again," she hissed, turning her back to her, and flew away.
Glitter woke up with a start, then her breathing went back to normal. It was just a dream, the memory of a distant past.
Twenty-six... no, twenty-seven years had passed since she had met her Charlie. He had been famous for some time, and he had begun to go on longer and longer trips: New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Richmond... and then Genoa, and now Rome... "Tomorrow we're going to Santa Maria del Popolo," he said. "I'll show you a masterpiece by Caravaggio."
This time the container was much smaller than usual. "Halt!" called a guard. "What do you keep in that box?"
"My favourite snuff," joked Charles Dickens. "I never let it out of my sight, you know, it's so hard to find it... Can I come in?"
"Bitte, mein Herr!" exclaimed the policeman. Charlie entered the great penumbra lit by a few candlesticks, took a few dozen steps, stopped and opened the box. "Here, Glitter," he whispered, "the masterpiece I told you about, the Crucifixion of Saint Peter."
The first thing that struck her was the size of the painting, she had never seen one so large! The second was the subject. At the centre of the scene there was an old, practically naked man who lay nailed by his hands and feet on two crossed wooden boards, while three men lifted him to put him on the ground upside down. Suddenly, she felt that human's suffering as if it were her own; she began to breathe frantically, and murmured, "Take me away, Charlie!"
“What?” he asked. “What did you say?”
"Take me away!" she repeated. "Take me outside, to the air, to the sun..."
He ran out into the large square, opened the box and lifted it up. Glitter felt the breeze of the wind on her wings, the golden warmth of the sun, and felt reassured. The fate of that man, who had been dead for some time now, did not concern her. She was alive. She was free to do what she liked, she was with her "boyfriend." She was happy.
"Are you still thinking about that nasty thing that happened?" she asked, seeing him deep in thought. "You shouldn't think about it, it was a long time ago, and anyway, it is not your fault. Forget about it." They were on their way home from France, where he had gone to visit a certain Ellen, when six carriages of the train on which they were travelling had fallen off a bridge.
"I can't," Charlie murmured, "I see them everywhere I go... all that blood... all those dead people..."
"Calm down, please," she said, "it's not good for you to get all worked up... Here, sit on that bench, I'll give you a massage..."
Ever since he had a paralysis attack, Glitter had discovered that she could relieve his suffering with the touch of her hands. Charlie took a few more steps, then dropped the stick and slumped to the ground. "Charlie!" she cried. "Charlieee!!!"
Charles Dickens died at 6.10 pm on the 9th of June 1870. Five days later, he was buried with great honour in Westminster Abbey. When the sacred place was deserted, Glitter rested on the new tomb with a broken heart and cried to heaven and earth with all the voice she had in her body, "I, Glitter of the Fairy People, swear that I will never again shed tears for any other human being! I swear on my life that no other human will make me cry!" Then she whispered, "From now on all my tears are and will be just for you, my beloved Charlie." And finally she was able to release her own pain.
Chapter II: Battle Angel
"Consoling Angel? They should call it the Angel of Death instead!" the big man grumbled. "Whoever sees it is doomed."
"For the French it's the witch of Orleans, and for us it's the cherubs," Colonel McKenzie pontificated philosophically looking out the window. "In war, my dear sergeant, everyone has their own views. If this does not weaken the ardour of the troops, who are we to criticise?" He took a puff on his pipe, exhaled a long breath and sighed. "Tobacco doesn't taste like it used to, do you agree?"
For forty-four long years Glitter had travelled London far and wide. She knew every square, every alley from the suburban taverns to the Stock Exchange, from Buckingham Palace to the British Museum (it was horrifying, there were butterflies nailed to the walls!). She would go into houses and churches without being noticed, she would attend intercourses, births, weddings and funerals. Above all, she liked being seen by babies, going down to their cradles, hearing their cries of wonder and letting them stroke her with their little hands. Every year, on the 9th of June, she returned to Charles Dickens' grave in Westminster with a fresh flower, and every time the wound reopened, causing her to shed rivers of tears.
Every now and then she would go into a library and randomly browse through a forgotten book on a table, or collect a newspaper from a garbage can to devour it with avidity. In this way she stayed informed on the extraordinary scientific, technological and social progress of that time. But when His Majesty's Empire went to war with the "Central Powers", there was no need to read any newspapers, all she needed to do was listen to the cries of the crowd.
"The Germans are really bad," she had thought for days, "they burn libraries, they kill children, and as if that weren't enough they discriminate against Jews" (she had changed her mind about Jews after reading The Merchant of Venice, Shylock's monologue had really moved her). "If he were alive, my Charlie would cross the sea to stop them!" Then a thought had invaded her: I'll go on behalf of him. So she flew to a port, and boarded one of the ships heading for Dunkirk.
The voyage was not pleasant, the constant ups and downs of the boat made her nauseous, and it did not even comfort her to see that the humans shared her discomfort. When she got back on the ground she felt much better, and when the English troops had paraded through the Champs Elysées between two wings of cheering crowds, she really felt like she was in Heaven. That evening she even danced in a large room covered with mirrors that reflected her image infinitely, she danced until she was exhausted...
On the 26th of August 1914, in the Belgian city of Mons, the divisions of the British Expeditionary Corps were overpowered. The Germans had broken through the lines and were outflanking the English with cavalry when Glitter decided to intervene. She picked up a torch, rose into the air and threw it at the enemy, to signify her personal outbreak of hostility. Then, she went down towards them and spoke the horses’ language, filling them with fear, making them crazy, and wreaking havoc in the enemy's ranks. So, the English managed to escape the encirclement to join the French forces and block the German advance on the Marne River. Many of the witnesses of those days claimed to have witnessed the prodigious intervention of a squadron of angels while others attributed the miraculous retreat to the ghosts of the unburied archers in the great battle of Agincourt.
The trenches were Hell on earth. Lice, blood, sweat, a stench of urine and stool, blasphemies, prayers, and assaults... The useless assaults, in which hundreds were mowed down by machine guns, reminded her of the sentiments of an ignorant preacher heard in Hyde Park on the 31st of December 1899, "Behold, the Lord is coming! On his shoulders is the cloak of command, his tongue is a double-edged sword; he will command his angels to wield the scythe, and all the earth will be reaped!" So this is the reaping, she thought. What can I do to help them?
One night she saw two officers bent over a wounded soldier. "Give him some morphine," exclaimed the captain, "can't you see how much he's suffering?"
"I don't have any more morphine," replied the doctor, cold and resigned. "We've had too many injuries today, and I'll still have too many to treat."
"Wait!..." Insisted the other man, and the two officers walked away leaving him completely alone. She approached him cautiously, his wounds were so severe that there was no doubt as to the fate that awaited him. "Calm down," she whispered, touching his wounds, "now I'm going to ease your pain." After a few moments he stopped moaning, opened his eyes and looked at her with great astonishment.
"Sssssh," said Glitter, raising her right hand in a kind of wave. The captain returned at that moment, bent over the young man and took his hand. "Be brave, boy."
"I saw an angel," muttered the soldier, "she was beautiful..." He bowed his head and closed his eyes forever.
From that day on Glitter gave comfort to many dying soldiers, both English and French. She chose the most isolated ones, with no prying eyes around. She would sit on them and use her power to ease their suffering, then she would flee quickly when someone came near. She begged them not to tell anyone about her, but the more she begged them, the more they used their last breath to confide in their comrades. Soon, the whole front believed in a blonde, winged Consoling Angel, who gathered the souls of the fallen to take them to heaven.
Over the years, the battlefield was filled with new protagonists: trucks, armoured vehicles, tanks, and the weapon most feared by soldiers, airplanes... One morning the unit she was with was hit by a shower of bullets. Glitter came out of her hiding place, hearing the atrocious cries of the wounded, and saw it. It had six wings adorned with black crosses, a large machine gun mounted on the fuselage, and was preparing for a second round. She barely had time to take refuge behind a rock while the bullets fell all around and the cries were joined by curses. She felt her anger rising inside her.
"Damn you!" she cried out, as she threw herself at full speed towards that horrid bird made of wood and oilskin. She caught up with it from behind and ripped the helmet and glasses off the pilot's face. "Go to hell!" he exclaimed in German, giving her a backhanded slap. Glitter rolled back to the tail, but managed to grasp the rudder; she attacked again, she wrapped her hands around his forehead and shouted, "Sleep! Sleep!"
The pilot's pupils rolled back and he collapsed. The now uncontrolled aircraft climbed up vertically, then the engine began to spit out smoke and it stopped. The plane fell to the ground crashing into a thousand pieces under the astonished gaze of hundreds of soldiers. Suddenly one of them started shouting "Hip, hip, hurray!" And after him the whole regiment joined together, "Hurray, hurray, hurray!"
Glitter, out of breath and lost in the blue, welcomed those cries of jubilation as a tribute in her honour. She was exhausted, sweaty, bruised, and covered in soot, but she was satisfied with herself. She had fought in defence of "her" people. And she had won.
That day a new legend was born, and the Consoling Angel gave way to the invisible, deadly Angel of Revenge.
"There are Krauts hiding on that farm," whispered the lieutenant to his men, "and it's our job to drive them out."
In the last few months Glitter had had a lot of fun. When the Anglo-French front was preparing an attack, she would go to the enemy lines, find the machine gunners and slip them into a sleep that would soon become eternal. She put anyone who saw her to sleep without so much as a second thought. Sometimes she spied on the Germans, and when she realised that they were preparing a sortie, she would hurry back to her side and make a big noise to warn them (at first she had imitated the howling of wolves, then she had heard a siren and concluded that the sound was much more effective). Doing this made her feel more cheerful than consoling the dying. She was a true patriot.
That night the moon was black, and the four soldiers crawled towards the abandoned farmhouse in complete darkness... except for Glitter's eyes anticipating them. She stealthily approached the German who was standing guard, used the established technique to lay him down on the ground, and went in. Suddenly a light came on and someone shouted: "The English! They're attacking us!" A furious shooting began, two of the attackers died almost immediately together with the German that the fairy had knocked out. Only two more remained.
Glitter plunged from above into the first one and touched his forehead, the human's eyelids became so heavy that he did not even notice the bullets piercing him. Meanwhile the last sniper had killed the third Englishman and had taken refuge inside. She decided to take him on face-to-face. She entered the room shining her wings, and in an icy voice she said, "Now it's your turn."
"You are the Angel of Revenge!" shouted the German in absolute terror. He fired a few shots so randomly that Glitter didn't need to dodge them, then he ran out of ammo. "Why are you after us?"
"Because you're evil," she said, pressing him closely, "because you rape innocent women, slaughter children, treat Jews badly..."
"You're crazy!" he exclaimed, tapping his temple with his finger. "Treat the Jews badly?!? I'm Jewish! We have had equal rights since 1869 and... Look out!" he shouted at her with a big smack that sent her tumbling four metres away, while the last English raider fell on him with his fixed bayonet.
Glitter got up in pain and looked around. The two of them were lying on the floor. They had stabbed each other to death.
He even tried to pass himself off as a Jew to escape, she thought, outraged. A liar to the very end. She began to rummage through his pockets, maybe he was wearing some battle plan that she could foil... Everyone knows that Jews cannot even enlist in the army in Germany, they are not considered loyal enough... She found an identity document folded in two, opened it and read: Surname: Levi - Levi? -; Name: Ernst Joachim; Born in: Cologne; on: 11/24/1898; Religion: Jude...
Jude? Jude??? So he was telling the truth... but how was it possible? It was clearly written in that book, that... Wait! She knew that books had the date of publication written on the cover, the one from which she had heard about the state of discrimination of the Jewish minority in the German territories was dated... 1868!
Glitter fell to her knees, put her head in her hands, and whispered in a broken voice: "B-but then... I fought, I hated, I killed... for what?"
That night, the darkness was filled with harrowing screams. Those who heard them on both sides of the front believed they were souls of the damned.
Disgusting. Simply disgusting. There were no other words to describe how she felt listening to the speech that human was giving.
"Did we surrender because we were defeated? No!" he shouted frantically waving his arms and clenching his fists. "Our army still occupied a considerable portion of French territory; we were superior to the enemy in terms of innovation in weaponry, tactics and strategy. So, why did we surrender? You all know: because of the Jews!" The words shot out of his mouth like bullets: "It was the Jews who provoked the revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks who threatened the soldiers' resistance to the front from within, and led our politicians, the criminals of November, to sign the humiliating Treaty of Versailles!"
Many of those there shouted "It's true, I was there that day!" and "Me too! As soon as the Kaiser abdicated, those bastards went wild!" Adolf Hitler continued with a solemn tone, half-closing his eyes, "When I found myself forced to lie in bed, motionless, squeezing my pillow with anger at the news of the armistice, I was struck by the certainty that I would free Germany and make it great again. I immediately knew that this would be inevitable. For some time now, after all, I had already been certain that I had been chosen by Heaven for that purpose."
How insolent! thought Glitter. The truth is that I'm the one who saved him.
It had happened a few months after the retreat of Mons. She had gone as far as the German lines and had seen a large group of infantrymen intent on eating a miserable dinner. She knew that the British would be throwing grenades very soon, and had tried to get them to move by sneaking closer and whispering "Get up! Get up and get away from here!" Only one of them reacted quickly by walking along the edge of the trench for about twenty metres, carrying his mess tin with him. He had just sat down again when an explosion tore all his comrades in arms to shreds. And now here he was in that Munich brewery, spouting arrogant words - "rearmament", "honour", "purity of blood", "living space" - which in the fairy's ears meant only one thing: this human wants another war.
Glitter could not forgive herself for having based her judgment on outdated information. Most of all, she could not bear the fact that she had become so deeply involved in human affairs, that she had been so infected by their negative and devastating passions. At the same time she could not erase the evil that had been done. By now she was dirty, dirty with the blood of those she had helped to kill. She could not return to England as if nothing had happened. She had to stay in Germany, where she had joined the ranks of the winners. She had to atone for what she had done.
Years of restless wandering went by: Saxony, Rhineland, Baden, Bavaria... She travelled through the countryside and woods, but she never found any signs of the existence of other fairies. Were they avoiding her, or was she the one who unconsciously stayed away from them? She entertained herself with animals but soon grew tired of them. They had simple minds dominated by basic needs: eating, drinking, defending themselves, procreating. She was never hungry or thirsty, she had no idea how she could have an offspring, and yet she was still looking for humans. She admired the molten steel fountains in the Ruhr and the Phlegetons which calloused hands worked with skill; and she loved music, which seemed to have the power to appease her soul (one evening, listening to a choir singing Ode to Joy, she let herself get carried away by enthusiasm, and had almost been discovered). Humans really were the most fascinating creatures in the world.
Every morning she would wake up before dawn - her nights were short, full of nightmares - and she would compulsively wash in a fountain. Then, she would go around the city she was passing through and listen to people's chatter, but usually she would refrain from interfering in their doings. She only used her powers when she came across robberies in dark alleys, or fights between drunks. She would calm down the fighters, or pinch the assailants on the back of the neck or on the backside to make them flee, but only when the darkness protected her, for she was afraid of being discovered.
She secretly read newspapers and books, many books (only the most recent ones) about human and animal physiology, medicine, botany, veterinary, and then ancient and modern history, philosophy, economics... She found the discussion of the "Jewish question" particularly interesting, a subject that was not new to her, and that seemed to stir the minds a lot and inflame dialogues. It was for this reason that in 1923 she had decided to listen to that Hitler's speech. He was the head of a very small association of nationalist and anti-Semitic workers. Many admired him, others called him "devil". The devil? she asked herself sarcastically, that ridiculous operetta character who always wants evil and always produces good? Humans are much more dangerous. Me even more so. In any case, as soon as she saw him, she recognised the soldier from that night in the trenches.
After half an hour, she got tired. He always obsessively repeated the same concepts, attributing the ruin of his country to "socialists, liberals, capitalists, communists" and especially to the Jews. He thought they worked in secret, behind everyone else, from banks to publishing houses, from schools to hospitals. He certainly knows how to convince his fellow men, she thought. But his ideas are all wrong.
It was the Americans who decided the outcome of the war, she was sure of it. She had seen the United States of America for herself, she had travelled it far and wide with her Charlie, had gone down their great river with him. They were thirty times larger than Germany, larger than all the European states put together. They had more citizens, more soldiers, more horses and more weapons. As for the Jews, she could not blame them for their commitment to those who promised them a better life; and in any case they had fought like the other Germans, until the very end (the voice of private Levi still haunted her). The "Stab in the Back" was just a comforting fairytale.
At the end of his monologue, Hitler led a large crowd out of the bar, shouting "Tonight Bavaria, tomorrow Germany!" But the army managed to stop them easily, and he was arrested, tried and sentenced, his group was banned. Problem solved, Glitter thought.
She found him in Berlin six years later. He was wearing better clothes, had abandoned the heavy Bavarian accent and his following was far greater. As people became increasingly poorer and used wheelbarrows of banknotes to buy the most insignificant things, his rise seemed unstoppable. Glitter didn't understand much about politics, but at that time she felt that the whole world around her had gone mad. Over the course of twelve months the Germans gathered in the “ballot boxes” four times, and in the end Hitler was appointed Chancellor of the Reich. That day, hidden in a dark corner, she heard him promise that he would have no mercy on any of his opponents. Then came the Apocalypse.
From the top of a leafy larch, the fairy could hear the rhythmic steps of the SS. Nothing about "Judeo-Masons" et chanteurs! The Führer's personal guard had infiltrated everywhere: he controlled the army, the police, every aspect of life, and anyone who didn't like them was beaten in the street and arrested without anyone moving a finger. She could no longer remain neutral, she had to do something. Yes, but what?
She tried to analyse the situation clearly. The communists were the most powerful group after the Nazis, and they had been very numerous in the capital, but a series of arrests had drastically reduced the ranks. She had to fight fire with fire.
In September 1934, on a moonless night, she took the two Spandau penitentiary sentinels out of action and broke through a window into the wing reserved for political prisoners. Smart as a whip, silent as a mouse. She reached the guard post and introduced herself: "Greetings to you, soldiers. I am the Goodnight Fairy."
"Do you see it?" exclaimed one of the soldiers jumping to their feet. "Yes, and I don't believe it," said another who wore his cap upside down and smelled of alcohol, while the third man grabbed his machine gun and in a shrill voice shouted, "Stop! Who are you?"
"I am the Goodnight Fairy," Glitter repeated, giving off a moist warmth from her raised hands. "It's night-time, don't you see? It's time to sleep and have nice dreams. Sleep, soldiers, sleep..."
In a few seconds the three were snoring loudly on the floor. She took the bunch of keys, opened the first cell and found a man of about thirty lying in bed. His back and shoulders were covered in bruises. As he heard the door open he stood up with a grimace of suffering and cursed, "Damn it! I'm hallucinating..."
"Be quiet," she replied, touching his bristly cheeks. "I exist. I'm real. I'm here to help you."
"Why?" he asked.
"Because you are the good guys, and they are the bad guys. Isn’t that good enough for you?" She touched his wounds and his pain was gone, she handed him the keys and whispered with one finger on her lips, "Free your companions and run away. Do not make any noise. Good luck."
"Thank you." The human grabbed the bundle of keys and began to open the cells. About twenty prisoners came out and headed for the guard post, where in the meantime she had turned off the light. Soon they will be safe, Glitter thought, satisfied. Doing a good deed gives you such a good feeling. A moment later the air was torn apart by three rapid series of gunshots. She flew with her heart in her throat, and saw the soldiers who had fallen asleep dead, riddled with bullets. "No!" she shouted in shock. "That was not the deal!"
The human she had freed turned around abruptly, shooting, the fairy moved too slowly and one shot partially cut through a wing, causing her to fall to the ground with a moan. "What deal? I didn't promise you anything," was his reply.
"What is that?" the others shouted. "Nobody. Let's go!" he answered. They went out into the courtyard, but the sound of gunfire had alerted the whole prison and the scene was soon lit up by the spotlights. In the brief gunfight that followed, the escaped were killed one by one.
Forget about good deeds, Glitter thought, crawling out, in seventeen years I haven't learned anything! Now she was sure that there was something wrong with her, something rotten and corrupt that turned her best intentions into disasters for those around her. She had to leave, get away from that bloody city, away from the humans she couldn't help...
She tried to fly and realised she could still do it, rolling and pitching, but she was flying. She headed east and continued to fly for days and nights, even after losing her bearings and her sense of time, until she had no strength left. She went down into a snowy clearing, entered the hollow of a tree, and there she slipped into a restless sleep.
She was woken up by a distant sound. A whistle, she realised. The whistle of a train.
She came out of her shelter, how long had she been hibernating? Weeks, months? She looked at her wing and it was perfectly healed, as if it had never been injured. She rose up and her gaze swept across the vast plain. The sun was turning red on the western horizon. Judging by the state of the plants, it must be late autumn.
It was a very long train, she had not even seen such a convoy during the war. She counted the carriages: twenty, thirty, thirty-five...forty-nine, fifty. Fifty carriages! Where are so many people going all at once? Once again, curiosity prevailed over scruples. She quickly reached the last carriage and rested on the roof. She still felt very tired, and when darkness fell she slept again.
It was about eleven in the morning when the train began to slow down and passed through a gate. A network of iron wire fraught with spikes stretched as far as the eye could see, enclosing an almost bare ground on which stood hundreds of wooden barracks. In the distance humans wearing white and blue striped uniforms worked in small groups carrying planks, shovels and pickaxes. There was an indefinable smell in the air.
The train stopped between two long wire mesh fences supported by concrete pillars, at the top of a series of turrets she saw soldiers and machine guns pointed downwards. The area was filled with SS with dogs, the doors of the carriages were opened and the soldiers began to shout, "Everybody on the ground! Bring your hand luggage! Leave heavy luggage on the carriages!" Men came down and then helped women, children and the elderly with bags and small suitcases. She watched them and felt sorry for them. They were all dirty and dusty, and they seemed to have been fasting for many days, many collapsed to the ground. Those who could walk were forcibly divided into two rows, males on one side and females and children on the other. She had to cover her ears with her hands so as not to hear that series of "Hannah!", "Jacques... no, no, Jacques!". A three-year-old girl looked up, saw her and said "But-ter-fly." Glitter got scared and quickly left.
She followed a path a few hundred metres long, crossed a courtyard, continued along another path and stopped in front of a concrete staircase that led underground. She turned around - the humans were headed right there. She went down and found herself in an immense and well-lit room, with numbered benches and coat hangers. A sign written in many languages explained that this was a place for bathing and pest control. Thank goodness, she sighed, they are not entirely bad. After a few minutes she heard the humans coming down the stairs. She looked for a place to hide, then she saw a large open door that led to a second room that was equally large but without furniture, surrounded by large columns that had a metal grid at the base. Glitter gathered she was in some kind of sauna.
The soldiers' sharp cries came from the other hall: "Take off your clothes! You have ten minutes! Come on, get undressed!" She flew up to the ceiling and hid between the beams. More than a thousand of them came in, most of them were women and children, then very thin men and some elderly people. The door was closed and they began to wash, while clouds of steam filled the room.
After a few minutes the fairy smelled a strong smell of almonds and felt a metallic taste on her tongue, then she started feeling a strong sense of distress and started breathing heavily. She became dizzy and fell over fluttering while the humans around her wailed loudly. "Help me... help..." she whispered, writhing on the floor, then it was dark and she didn't hear anything anymore.
"Herr Kommandant, a member of the Sonderkommando found it while cleaning the showers," said a lieutenant pointing to the little creature on the oak desk." Of course, I made sure they didn't tell anyone about it. I don't know what it is, but I think it's alive, it's breathing...".
"I'll examine it," said Rudolf Höss, frowning. "You get back to work." He responded by saluting with an extended arm, then, when he was alone, he pulled out a large magnifying glass from a drawer and began looking at her. "Curious, really curious," he whispered to himself. "She has butterfly wings, but also arms and legs like a human." Suddenly he jumped, she was waking up! He had to stop it from flying away; he went through his drawer, pulling out two new pencils and a long string. He broke off a piece of the string with his teeth and used it to tie the pencils in an X. Glitter opened her eyes, blinked twice, and sat up. "Mmm... where am I?" she groaned, then an enormous hand squeezed her violently.
Her greatest fear had become a reality. "Let go of me, you're hurting me! Please, let go!" she shouted with all the breath in her throat, while the human laid her on that improvised scaffold, securing her with the rest of the string. At that moment the door opened and an elderly prisoner came in, escorted by a soldier. "Herr Kommandant, old Nathan is here for the cleaning..." he said before looking stunned.
That human has a gold star on his chest... "Sheriff, help me! Please, sheriff, free me!" begged the fairy.
Nathan was amazed too, "She is... speaking in Yiddish..." he whispered to the SS. "What are you talking about, idiot? Can't you hear that it's German?" he screeched.
Höss had finished the job; he pulled out a gun and fired. The Jew fell, hit in the forehead, and Glitter was left speechless.
"Have my luggage prepared," he ordered the guard while putting the weapon back in the holster. "And if you tell anyone what you saw, I'll send you to the front."
"So this is the Butterfly of Wonders?" Hitler asked. Behind him, a dozen or so high-ranking Nazi Party leaders were present at the scene.
"As far as I know, my Führer, she could come from the Hyperboreans, or be Verdandi or another of the Norns," muttered Rudolf Höss, scratching his skull. "Look at her: blonde hair, green eyes, pearly complexion, and deep blue, iridescent wings... She is a divine creature, Aryan beyond any doubt."
“We'll make sure of that right away." His voice cleared up, he went forward, and asked condescendingly, "You don't know me, do you?"
"Tyrannum licet adulari: the tyrant is to be worshipped" Glitter decided. She softened her gaze, drew out the most melodious and persuasive voice she had, and said, "Oh, I know you well, you are Chancellor Adolf Hitler, the Führer of all Germans, the man chosen by Heaven! I've followed your career from the very beginning, I listened to you in that Munich brewery twenty years ago, and I was even there when you spoke in front of the Reichstag..."
"Th-this voice..." the Führer whispered, covering his mouth. He has recognised me! Now he will free me! The human regained his demeanor, smoothed his moustache and continued, "This just shows... that you've been spying on me for twenty years!" he yelled, beating his fist on the table. "Who do you work for? For Stalin? For Churchill? Or maybe for that lousy cripple Roosevelt?"
"I don't know them... and I'm not a spy". Not anymore, at least, she thought virtuously.
"So then what were you doing in Auschwitz? No one goes to Auschwitz by chance!"
His eyes looked like black bottomless abysses ready to swallow her. "I-I followed a tr-train..." she whispered in a trembling voice "I went into the shower with those people, and...".
"Nein, nein, nein !!!" he shouted, clenching his fists. "The Jews are not people! They are inferior beings, they are parasites that corrupt our people and infect our blood! They are made in a different way!"
"Will you stop it, for once!" snapped Glitter. "You've been talking a lot of nonsense for twenty years. ‘Made in a different way’? I have been watching you for a long time, and I can swear on all the sacred books in this world that you humans are all made in the same way. You are born, grow, mate and give birth in the same way; if you get drunk on whiskey, wine or beer, you babble in the same way; if you get beaten or injured, you bleed and complain in the same way; you laugh, cry, rejoice, suffer, age and die all in the same way! What should the poor Jews have done, die of hunger so as not to do the jobs that you always despised? They are not all evil like Fagin..."
"Shut up, you poisonous snake! Finally you have revealed yourself!" He was blue in the face, and so furious he went back to speaking in dialect. "You can speak German in a very articulate way and know all my speeches by heart, but you're not Aryan!" he squawked, hitting her abdomen with his forefinger and making her flinch several times. "You think like a Jew, you speak like a Jew, therefore you are a Jew!"
A tall, thin human took two steps forward, stumbling, and exclaimed, "My Führer, grant me the privilege of crushing her with my hands!" Another big and fat one intervened by putting his hand on his holster, "No, my Führer, let me take care of her, just one shot will suffice, and..."
"No! No, stop, Joseph, Hermann." Adolf Hitler waved his arm, "You have to take care of the propaganda, and you have to take care of the Luftwaffe." Slowly his breathing returned to normal. "Insects should be left to insect specialists. Vollander," he said to a man in his fifties with iron-grey hair, "today is your birthday. She is my gift to you. Do whatever you want with her."
"Wait!" shouted Glitter, seeing him leave the room. "You can't do this to me! I... I am...", but the memory of Levi, of the prisoners, of all the people in the shower, paralysed her. He had killed them. She had failed to save them. What right did she have to beg for mercy? She only managed to whisper in a tiny voice "I... am... guilty."
Paul Vollander, the director of the Institute for Research in Cell Biology, organised his subordinates' tasks with Teutonic rigour. Helga Müller, the only woman in the group, was commissioned to carry out a "thorough gynaecological-rectal examination" that left her somewhat shocked. The placid and obese Otto Lange put sharp instruments in her mouth, nose and ears, disturbed her with loud lights and noises, and kept her under a glass bell jar for a day and a night.
One morning Helmut Marr jumped up like a cricket screaming, "She has regenerated! She has regenerated!" He couldn't stop, he shouted and jumped from one end of the room to the other, insisting to his colleagues who stared at him, confused. "What has regenerated? Your wart?" the supervisor chuckled.
"Calm down, Helmut," said Nicolai Hartmann, the project coordinator, grabbing him by the arms, "you're stressed, we all are..."
"I'm not crazy! Look for yourselves!" Marr squirmed nervously and pointed to the instrument under which he had placed the fairy. "I took a tissue sample from a wing to examine it under a microscope, then I looked at the scraping, and it had disappeared, as if I had never touched it! The tissue regenerated, and in less than two minutes! Look for yourselves if you don't believe me! Try it!"
"This changes everything," Vollander said with a frightening grin.
In the trenches she believed she learned everything about pain. For two days they had touched her all over her body with hot irons, they had hollowed out her arm, cut off a finger, and she had withstood it. She had clenched her teeth and bitten her lips, she had done everything possible not to give them satisfaction. But when the scalpel cut off her left leg, Glitter suddenly understood the essence of pain: concrete, intolerable, humiliating pain. Suddenly, her defences collapsed. And she screamed.
Hartmann rummaged in a locker, took out a small vial, opened it and drew the contents with a syringe. "What are you doing?" asked Helga.
"I'm trying to ease her suffering," he replied. "You can't," the woman tried to dissuade him, "it's not part of the protocol...".
"I don't care about protocol" he snarled putting the needle in her arm. The fairy felt a wave of heat pervading her as the pain slowly faded and her breathing became less laboured. She opened her eyes and saw him bent over her with a distressed look, she heard him ask, "Is that better now?" "Thanks," she whispered before falling asleep.
It was dark. Where was she? She realised her hands and feet were tied. A figure appeared in front of her. "Lily Fairy, it's you!" she exclaimed with joy. "Free me, please!"
"Who are you?" asked the Lily Fairy.
"What, you don't recognise me?" she asked in turn. "I'm Glitt... I mean, I'm the Rose Fairy, your friend..."
"You're not a fairy!" she said, pointing her finger at her. "You have a human name, you engage in human affairs, so you are human!"
The scene was filled with fairies, all holding burning torches, and shouting, "Death! Death!" She looked around and saw that she was on top of an enormous pile of trunks, branches and straw. "N-no, you can't," she whispered in distress. "I... I am..."
"Burn!" cried the Lily Fairy throwing her torch, immediately copied by the others. "Burn! Burn! Burn! Burn!"
"Help! Somebody help me!" screamed Glitter, looking for a good soul among the crowd that surrounded her. Was it possible that no one had mercy? "Queen Fairy!" she begged. The Queen Fairy looked at her sadly and turned away.
"No! No! Aaaaahhhh!" she shouted as the flames enveloped her.
She found herself awake, sweaty and panting. In front of her Helga was holding a large microphone, while Marr was carefully pulling the film out of a small camera, he was no longer in his skin. "We were right to keep the equipment ready! When the Great Reich dominates the world, we will be raking up Nobel prizes for at least a decade."
"I'm already thinking about your taxonomic classification, kiddo" Helga said, staring at her like a hawk stares at its prey. "How about Fata rosaurea?"
On the morning of the 18th of November 1943, they gathered around a long rectangular table. Glitter, the guest of stone, was resting on a lectern. "Ok, let's begin" began the director in a ceremonial manner. "Ladies first."
"The first exam was completely negative." Helga flipped through a series of notes. "It has no genital organs... nor a digestive system. What's more, the breasts are not very pronounced and have no nipples. Basically, she doesn't eat, drink, mate or breastfeed her offspring."
"She doesn't eat? So how does she survive?" Vollander was amazed.
"For that matter, sir, I leave the floor to my colleague Lange."
"It's autotrophic, Herr Direktor." Lange presented a spectrogram: "By day she absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and emits pure oxygen like plants, while in the dark she consumes oxygen and sleeps."
"A sentient plant? Impossible!" the director snapped.
"Impossible, but real," replied the researcher, "and it explains how she survived Ziklon B. Its main component, hydrocyanic acid, acts by preventing cells from using oxygen; but since she mainly breathes carbon dioxide, the only effect she suffered was a momentary loss of consciousness."
"What about histological exams? Those are your specialty, Marr."
"You're right, sir." Marr moved his thick hair out of his eyes and showed his superior a series of photographic negatives. "Thanks to the samples, we have obtained a complete three-dimensional reconstruction of her body. The skin is covered with a waxy substance with antiseptic, bactericidal and antiparasitic properties, below it there are four types of anatomically and functionally diversified cells, arranged in concentric layers within a cellulosic matrix. The first activates photosynthesis, reducing water vapour to hydrogen and oxygen with the production of ATP, which is then transported throughout the body, thus supporting metabolic activity. In the second, carbon dioxide is transformed into organic carbon and used, if necessary, for cell regeneration."
"For this aim carbon, hydrogen and oxygen are not enough," Vollander reflected. "Where does she get nitrogen if she doesn't eat or drink?"
"From the air she breathes, Herr Direktor." Marr looked particularly proud. "The third layer of cells has many structural similarities with the nitrogen-fixing bacteria of leguminous plants. I assume that tissue regeneration consumes a lot of energy at the expense of sensory-intellectual functions... if I may use such a complex term, sir. This is why, after a trauma or amputation, the respiratory rate and oxygen consumption increase dramatically, and the subject falls into hibernation. She also absorbs the other microelements from the air, precisely from the finest atmospheric dust."
"Have you measured how long the regenerative process takes?" The director was increasingly interested.
"Of course," said Lange, pulling out graphs and tables he had drawn up. "We found a directly proportional relationship between the cell mass involved in the wound/removal and the time interval that elapsed before complete recovery of physical integrity. On the basis of this model, we predicted that the restoration of the lower limb would take about 22 minutes... and it did," he concluded triumphantly.
"Magnificent!" exclaimed Vollander. "Do you understand? The Holy Grail that generations of alchemists have sought in vain is now here, just a step away from us!"
"And that's not all," the other continued, "she detects ultrasounds like dogs and has extremely fine hearing. Her eyes have a structure similar to those of humans, but they are sensitive to wavelengths that we are unable to see, such as thermal infrared, and ultraviolet rays..."
"She sweats opiates," added Helga. "Under stressful conditions her body secretes molecules similar to those contained in the latex of Papaverum somniferum, but a thousand times more powerful. When administered by sprinkling to animal guinea pigs of various species and weights, they caused relaxation of the reflex muscles, respiratory depression, brachycardia, insensitivity to pain, euphoria, blunting of the sensory faculties and narcolepsy." She looked at her with a shudder: "It's lucky for us that she's tied up and in shock."
You can say that again, you witch, Glitter thought sourly.
The director of the institute was recovering from his enthusiasm. "Maybe she doesn't mate because she's immortal, and doesn't need to reproduce," he speculated.
"She is not immortal, sir," the woman snorted, "and anyway, she does reproduce, but by sporulation... The last layer, the innermost one, is made up of very few immature totipotent cells. It is likely that the end of the maturation process coincides temporally with the death of the organism, or even is the cause... after which these ‘embryos’ are released into the natural environment and act as seeds for the birth of the offspring.
So, the fairy thought bitterly, in a week they discovered more about me than I had imagined in a lifetime. It was really true: there was no wonder in the world more disturbing and terrible than humans.
"How old is she? Hartmann, I'm talking to you!"
Ever since he gave her that injection, Hartmann had looked like a beaten dog. "Impossible to establish, Herr Direktor. The germ cells are in an absolutely primitive stage, so she would seem young... but her metabolism, under normal conditions, is a thousand times slower than a Galapagos turtle. She could be a hundred years old, or maybe even older, and still live for as many years... if we allow it to."
Much older than you can imagine, you nasty villains, Glitter thought with satisfaction. Even if I were to stay tied here for eternity, I would see you grow old day by day, year by year, and finally turn to dust. Then she thought about how her Charlie had died and she felt a lump in her throat; she turned her head and noticed that Helga, that evil woman with copper hair, was looking at her inquisitively. She immediately drew back the tears, she shouldn't see her crying.
Vollander was still curious. "Where is she from? What is her habitat?"
"We don't know, sir," the woman replied dryly. "Like the Rose Fairy, her range of origin potentially coincides with that of the symbiotic species, and the same is true for Fata liliata or Lily Fairy, if you prefer. The only way to find out would be to ask her... but apart from the soliloquy we collected with the tape recorder, she hasn't said a word since we received her. Right, Hartmann?" "Y-yes, that's true" nodded the human, with an absent stare.
"There's only one way to get her to talk," concluded the director. "Electroshock."
Hartmann leapt to his feet in shock. "We can't! It would most certainly cause seizures... perhaps even death by electrocution!"
"I strongly advise against this method, Herr Direktor," said Helga, holding the coordinator by the arm. "We cannot risk losing the only specimen at our disposal of a new species... indeed, of an entire new phylogenetic order."
"I am your Führer," Vollander said, rising calmly, "and I will not tolerate any further insubordination. We will wait until dawn tomorrow, then we'll start at a millivolt, and we'll increase the tension until she opens her mouth... or she ends up incinerated.”
That evening no one wanted to go home. "Irrational. Absolutely irrational,” Helga shook her head. "This isn't scientific research anymore, it's a clash of rams."
"I'd hate to lose her now," commented Lange dryly. "There are still so many things to discover, so many questions to answer..."
"She's stupid, stubborn and stupid like all women." Marr jumped up and threw his glass at the floor to smash it. "You know you're going to die, right?" he shouted at Glitter. "I can see it in your face that you know... so then talk! Say something, Christ of God!"
She did not dignify that by even looking at him. Her mind was totally consumed by other concerns. As far as she could tell, there was no other place inhabited by the Fairy People except the Forest of Dean, the place where she was born. If the Germans discovered where she came from, they would launch themselves on England like ravenous wolves in search of the secret of eternal youth... or who knows what else. She couldn't allow it, she had to say nothing, nothing!
Even if I have to burn like paper, I will not betray my sisters.
Humans had taken everything from her: her heart, her freedom, her dignity. They could take her life too.
"Compose yourself, Marr!" cried the indignant human. "Don't be blasphemous!"
"Blasphemy is treating an intelligent being like an object." Hartmann swallowed his last sip of liquor with a grimace and wiped his lips with the sleeve of his shirt.
"Please, Hartmann, at least you stop drinking," pleaded Helga, adopting a distressed demeanor that Glitter had never seen before. "You don't need to get drunk... it's enough to feel sorry for yourself..."
"I feel hate, Helga!" he roared as he stood up. "I'd like to take his head off his neck, I'd like..."
"No! Please, shut up, Nichi, don't let anyone hear you," she whispered, taking his face in her hands and closing his mouth with a kiss. Hartmann bent over, hiding his head in her lap, and began sobbing like a child. She is acting like a bitch in heat, said the fairy, judging her. Maybe she loved him?
"That bastard... threatened to have them deported..." Hartmann's voice was barely audible." Sophie and Heléne... he threatened to deport them if I didn't continue to work on this repulsive project... My wife and daughter are the only thing that matters to me! My Heléne... she's not even eight years old..." he howled as Helga stroked his hair and tried to console him.
So that's how it is, thought Glitter. Now I understand why he became sad. The desperation of that human pervaded her right to the depths of her soul. She would have done anything to ease his suffering... anything... No! Not this! She shook her head vigorously. Her peoples' lives depended on her silence. How could she trade hundreds, thousands of fairies for two humans?
"Humans will take your heart," the Queen Fairy had said.
That is exactly what had happened. Now she knew what to do.
Forgive me, my sisters, she begged. She opened her eyes, took a deep breath, and said, "My name is...".
No one heard her. At that moment - it was 8.11 pm - the sound of a thousand sirens filled the air. Everyone stood up with distorted faces. Vollander appeared in the large hall, "What the hell is going on?"
"The airplane alarm! They're going to bomb us!" shouted Helga. Hartmann got up quickly, grabbed a knife and with a few precise strokes cut her ties. He took her in his hands, raised her up and said, "You are free. Escape! Save yourself!"
Glitter didn't have to be told twice, she spread her wings, slipped forward, and a moment later she was back in her element. All the sufferings, all the torture that she had suffered in those days melted away like snow in the sun. She was full of joy.
That human, Hartmann, had released her! He had compassion for her, for a small creature of another species! So the humans weren't all bad! I have to thank him adequately, before I leave, she decided, yes, I have to thank him...
She stopped in mid-air, turned around... and at that moment the ceiling exploded into a deafening noise. Hartmann's head rolled away, and his torn body fell into a large hole that opened into the floor with Helga, Lange and Marr, as tons of concrete and steel crushed everything and everyone. Glitter closed her eyes in horror, when she opened them again she saw Paul Vollander who was barely holding on to a stub of beams, suspended in the air.
If I don't help him, he will die, Glitter thought. Let him die, suggested a mellifluous voice in her head, let him di...
"Go back, Satan!" cried the fairy. "I will never repay a wrong with a wrong again! Never again!"
She searched through the smoke and flames, found the case where the fire hose was kept, and plunged into a dive. She grabbed a scrap of metal and used it to break through the glass, then unrolled the tube and handed it to the human: "Take it," she begged, "and you will be saved".
"No!" shouted Vollander as his strength left him. "Why? Why?" she screamed.
"Because I don't want to... be indebted... to... you," he said, letting go. Glitter tried to pull him back, but he was too heavy. An instant later he was dead.
I couldn't save any of them, she said, grief-stricken. In her heart she heard Hartmann's voice urging her, "Save yourself!" Yes, she had to at least save herself. That was the only proper way to thank him.
She left the semi-destroyed building and looked up, more than four hundred planes with the Royal Air Force emblems were unloading tons of bombs on Berlin. They carried out three steps: first, some devices threw powerful flares that illuminated the target in daylight, then disruptive devices were dropped that destroyed roofs, doors and windows, and the final attack consisted of a shower of incendiary bombs that caused extensive fires. She also saw some planes with the swastika trying to hit the British bombers with their machine guns, but the bombers had other planes following them like shadows, which in turn shot down the defenders. Below, thousands of buildings were gutted and destroyed, people fled in panic, many died due to being crushed by the rubble or burned.
Faced with that atrocious spectacle, Glitter realised that the fate of the war was now sealed. The German armies could devastate the earth, but the English were the rulers of the sky, and there was no escape from the death that came down from the sky. Germany would be defeated again, and this time all its people would pay for the ambition of its leaders.
She felt pity for those who were in danger down there, but what could she do? She was so small, and there were too many attackers... But as she struggled with these thoughts, she felt she had a strength she had never experienced. She clasped her hands, listened to the sound that was growing inside her, and understood. She was no longer a naive and fragile fairy. She could do something. There, in that moment, she could make a difference.
She opened her arms and looked at the sky darkened by sparse clouds. She had to go one step at a time. She took a deep breath, drew a bow and declared:
"I, Glitter of the Fairy People, command you, winds, to blow! And you, clouds, gather together! Fill the sky, cover the moon! I command you: obey!"
The wind began to blow, weakly at first, then with more and more vigorous gusts, the clouds began to thicken, and within an hour they had covered the city with a heavy grey coat. The British bombers abandoned the operation and set off on their way back together with the escort fighters.
Glitter lowered her arms, exhausted, and silently thanked the Power that had allowed her to cleanse herself of her faults. She knew that there would be more bombings, and that she could not prevent more deaths. She couldn't save everyone. But she could save someone.
Little Sarah was the first to see her, she was standing on a blade of grass. "Look, mommy! An elf!"
"My God, Heinrich, what is that?" Esther Maimann clutched her children close to her. "I don't know," her husband whispered.
"The SS know you are here," the little creature announced. "Follow me, I'll take you to a safe place."
"How can we believe you?" the human asked. "We don't even know your name."
"I am Glitter, the Rose Fairy," she replied. She stretched out her hand and a pool of water gushed out of the ground; she drew it back and the miracle ended. "Now let's hurry, we don't have much more time."
They were in the Voralberg region, where what was once Austria joined Liechtenstein and Switzerland. She led them along a path of about two kilometres to Feldkirch, which the fairy had just crossed before turning east. They crossed the now deserted streets - it was about eight o'clock in the evening - and stopped in front of the parish church. "We can't go in there," Heinrich started, "we are Jews..."
"Don't worry." She opened the door to the rectory and they went in. They found the parish priest busy reading, when he saw them he didn't know whether to be outraged by their impudence, or to marvel at that little winged creature. "Who are you? What do you want?" he whispered.
"They need to hide" said Glitter.
The priest quickly realised who these individuals with worn-out clothes were. "You can't stay here," he stammered, "those who help you... are deported..."
"This morning you commanded a hundred people to love their neighbour as themselves," she replied, "and you told the story of a man wounded by robbers who was helped by a stranger, one who did not belong to his people. Well, they are not part of your people, and their lives are in danger; they are your neighbours, here, now! How can you ask others to do what you don't have the courage to do?"
It was as if the human had been hit by an electric shock. He stood up quickly, dropping the breviary to the ground, and said to them, "Come with me."
They crossed a corridor that led to two deserted and empty rooms. "My housekeeper was evacuated" he explained, "and I don't have seminarians anymore... So, you two can stay here" he said, pointing to the man and his wife, "and the children will sleep in this room. There are two beds..."
At that moment they heard knocking at the door. The Israelites' blood froze in their veins. The priest made a sign to keep quiet and started to open the door, Glitter followed him and hid behind the door, ready to use her powers until her last breath.
There was an officer in black uniform leading a group of thirty militiamen with machine guns ready to fire; on their uniforms the words Gott mit uns stood out. "We're looking for Jews," he began without any pleasantries.
"They're not here," the parish priest said dryly.
"Are you lying to us?" he insisted, trying to get inside. The priest blocked him, "I told you they are not here... How can you doubt my word? The Jews have crucified our Lord, how could I welcome them into His house? Go away, you godless race," he exclaimed angrily.
The captain grumbled, those Jews could be far away by now... "All right, priest, we're leaving," he said, and punched him in the stomach. Glitter jumped, the human bent over clenching his teeth, but did not back down. "A little warning for the future," concluded the Nazi leaving with his entourage. The pastor closed the door.
"How are you?" asked the fairy sorrowfully. "I didn’t want it...".
"I'm fine," the priest smiled, straightening up. "When I was young, I was an amateur boxer... and I still take punches very well."
"You said to call you Glitter... Are you English by any chance?" asked Heinrich Maimann. His wife was putting the kids to bed in the next room.
"I am not English, nor German, nor Jewish," the fairy sighed. "I'm not a human being... even though I received my name from you, and everything that I am now. Tell me rather, where are you from? What is your story?"
"We are from Innsbruck." The human closed his eyes. "During the Great War I fought voluntarily in Slovenia and on the Karst, then I opened a small shop where I made mechanical and lunar watches. We got married, then Jakov and Sarah came along, we were esteemed by our fellow citizens, we lived happily, I considered myself a good patriot, an Austrian plain and simple... Then the threats started, the shop windows were smashed, and then the raids, the deportations... We hid for a while, then we decided to walk to Switzerland, but now..." he trailed off, then covered his face with his hands.
"Now you have found me," Glitter said solemnly, "and even if I am small and weak, I will be your shadow and shield all the way to the border."
"Why are you doing this?” he asked.
"One of you saved my life at the price of his own," she replied, thinking of the young Jewish soldier she had met twenty-seven years earlier. "Even now, remorse haunts me... I will never let innocent blood be shed again."
The man took her small hands in his. "I believe you are more human than all those who slammed the door in our faces."
"The border crossing is about ten kilometres away," said the priest, following a wavy line with his finger. "You'll have to follow the Ill, then go up the watercourse of the Rhine... You should be able to do it in an hour or two."
"Isn't Liechtenstein closer?" ventured Glitter.
"The prince works with the Nazis," explained Maimann. "Swiss people have a long tradition of hospitality." He folded the map and put it in his pocket. "We will leave before dawn."
"Glitter, Glitter, tell us a fairy tale!" shouted Jakov as he burst into the room with his little sister. "Yes, yes, you promised," she said, backing him up.
"I'm sorry," Esther threw her hands up. "I tried to convince them to fall asleep, but there's no way..."
"Don't worry," said the fairy. Then she turned to the two kids: "All right, children, I'll tell you a fairy tale full of adventures... but then it's straight to bed, okay?"
"Yeeeeeeah! Hooray!" the children cried out in chorus, running to get under the covers. "So," began Glitter, "once upon a time there was a child named David, David Copperfield..."
The clock on the chimney rang nine when the priest saw her coming in. "I'd like to ask you a favour, Father."
"What is it, Glitter?" She clasped her hands, "I would like you to examine my soul, so that you can judge if I am suitable."
"Suitable? For what?" asked the priest.
"To be baptised."
The priest was left speechless. "But you... you are not..."
"In your book it is written that God does not distinguish between Jews and Greeks, between males and females or between slaves and free men," Glitter continued with sweet determination, "so he could welcome me too, if I met the requirements... I have been thinking about it for eleven months, and I have been more and more convinced... Test me, I'll answer any questions," she begged.
He remained silent for a moment that seemed like forever to her. "Okay," he said, "but I won't give you any special treatment."
Throughout the night, the fairy detailed every episode of her life, showed her repentance for her sins, and answered questions about theology and catechism. The pastor admired her, not only did she know all of the Scriptures, the works of the Fathers of the Church and various books on theology and morals by heart, but she was also able to cite each passage in an appropriate way and draw lessons from it. "I had a good teacher," she explained with tears in her eyes.
So he finally immersed her in the baptismal font reciting the formula: "Glitter, ego te baptizo in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti." It was about four in the morning.
"May God protect you," said the priest, shaking hands with Heinrich Maimann. While the family was setting off, Glitter also said her goodbyes to him. "Thank you for everything you have done for them... and for me."
"I thank you," the man said in return. "You have given me the courage to be true to my vocation again." She smiled and joined the others.
They walked along the two waterways for an hour and a half, then they saw the opening in the distance. "I'll go ahead," the fairy whispered, gesturing to the four to remain hidden. When she was about ten metres from the barrier, the Nazis came out of the bushes with their rifles pointed. "Stop where you are!" barked the captain. Glitter spread her arms and closed her eyes.
"You have seen neither me nor these people," she commanded, while a mist like dew soaked their bodies. "Sleep, and forget about us."
No-man's land lay less than a hundred metres before them. "Goodbye, Glitter, and thank you for everything you've done for us," said Heinrich Maimann.
"Mr Maimann, I have to tell you something," said Glitter, frightened. "Now, I am..."
"I know," the human reassured her. He placed his right hand on her forehead and gave Aaron's blessing: "May the Lord make His face shine upon you and give you peace."
"Goodbye, Glitter, and thank you for everything," said Esther. "Goodbye, Glitter, and thanks for the beautiful fairy tales!" the children said to her with watering eyes. They started towards the Swiss border checkpoint while the fairy hid in the grass waiting for the agreed signal. The soldiers checked the documents, spoke to each other in depth, then the bar was raised. Mr Maimann turned and nodded.
That night Glitter dreamt of Ernst Joachim Levi smiling at her and heading on a road of light. She stopped having nightmares after that.
"Do not act impulsively, my child," the parish priest advised after giving her absolution. "Confide your pains to the Lord, and He will not fail to help you".
"Thank you, Father... but I believe that the Lord helps those who help themselves," said Anna Bettini before she joined her mother who was waiting for her at the door. As soon as she left the church, she unveiled her black rebel hair. "It's still snowing heavily," she sighed, trying to hide her concern. The sun was setting.
"What's wrong, my child?" the old woman asked, touching her forehead. "Are you cold? You've been worn out for a while now, mommy's little girl..."
"I'm fine, mum," the girl said defensively, "I'm big now, I am seventeen yea..."
"Excuse me, kind ladies," interrupted an unmistakably feminine voice, "could you tell me what this place is? I am lost..."
"Jesus, Mary and Joseph! A soul that wanders without peace!" exclaimed Marta with her heart in her throat. "Th-this is the village of Sant'Antonio al Monte, in Valmalenco," Anna stammered, mentally reciting a short prayer and coming forward. "Who are you? Show yourself!"
"Do you promise... that you won't hurt me?" the voice pleaded.
"We both promise," assured the girl by making the sign of the cross on her chest. "Now show yourself!"
Glitter came out from behind a boulder and walked in small steps towards the two human beings; she clenched in her shoulders and was visibly frozen. "It's... a fairy!" Martha whispered. "Oh, she's so pretty!" exclaimed her daughter. She knelt down and picked her up, "Are you cold, little darling?"
"The soup is ready," Marta announced. "I imagine you're starving, Glitter... that's your name, isn't it?"
"It smells delicious," said the fairy, smelling the pot, "but I don't need to eat or drink. Spending the night in this warm place is more than enough for me."
"Now I'm sure of it," she said, "you really are a fairy."
"What are you talking about, mom? Fairies don't exist..." said Vincenzo Bettini looking at the little creature in disbelief.
"Shut up, you're stubborn as a mule!" the woman said, giving him a clip round the ear. "Your mother may be old, but her head still works. I remember what your grandmother taught me well, God rest her soul, the same thing her grandmother taught her, whose grandmother taught her..." She took a deep breath and continued, "Fairies are supernatural beings, with great powers, who live in forests and mountain caves... When night falls, they show themselves to men to test them; those who show themselves to be benevolent towards them are repaid with great rewards, while the wicked are punished with misfortune and sickness..."
"I don't want to hurt anyone," Glitter assured them, trying to change the subject. "How are things here? Who's in charge? And are the Germans here?"
"Us villagers have been in charge since we kicked out the podest and all his lackeys," replied Vincenzo. "The Germans have come down from Tyrol, but we haven't seen them here... and I hope they won't give us any trouble when they leave either."
"So, is the war about to end?" she asked.
"In three or four months it will all be over," said the man, who worked as a reporter for the town's newspaper and had first-hand information. "So, our young men who went to be partisans will be able to return... even Lorenzo, Annuccia's sweetheart," he concluded with a chuckle, addressing his sister.
"Sweetheart? What does that mean?" asked the curious fairy.
"It means boyfriend," the mother explained. "Lorenzo Moroni is an officer of the Royal Army, after the armistice we hid him in the house because he didn't want to get involved with the fascists, then three months ago he went to the South..."
"Sorry, but I'm tired." Anna stood up with a sense of urgency, then turned to Glitter, "We're poor people... but you're small, so you can sleep on my pillow."
Shortly before dawn, the fairy woke up to find her bed empty and heard muffled noises coming from downstairs. Anna Bettini was sneaking around in the large room that served as a kitchen and dining room. She took a sack and filled it with a map, a loaf of bread and a jackknife. Then, she put on a greatcoat, carefully opened the heavy wooden door, and walked away. She had walked a little over three hundred metres when she heard her voice, "Where are you going, Anna?"
"Glitter!" the damsel exclaimed in surprise. "How did you get out?"
"I've been getting stronger lately," she confessed. "But where are you going at this time, in this snow?"
"It's none of your business," she retorted, continuing to walk. Glitter followed her by flying alongside her. "You welcomed me into your home," she said, "so now your concerns are mine too."
"I'm going to Brindisi," replied Anna, continuing to sink her steps into the deep snow. "I'm going to my Renzo, I'm going to be with him."
"To Brindisi? But... that's more than a thousand kilometres away! And you're going to try to walk there? Plus there's the war... you have to cross the border, it's too dangerous..."
"I love him, and I want to be with him," she proclaimed resolutely.
"But in three or four months the war will be over," Glitter tried to dissuade her. "Can't you wait until then?"
"No I can't!" the girl blurted out. "I can't, because so far I have managed to hide the nausea... but my belly will start to grow soon, so..."
"Stop, stop, stop!" The fairy waved her arms trying to stem that flooding river. "Nausea, belly... You... you are pregnant!" she exclaimed, turning red in the face. "But you're not married!"
"You can make love even if you're not married yet!" Anna shouted, her cheeks flushed with shame. Then she collapsed covering her face, "I want to be with Renzo... with my Renzo..." she sobbed.
"Good, Annuccia, be good, don't cry," whispered Glitter, confused. She wiped her tears and instilled her with calm and courage. "I can't condone what you've done... but if you want to join your boyfriend so badly, I'll go with you."
"Milan is full of fascists and Germans," she explained, pointing to the map. "We will go through the woods and countryside, we will reach the Po and cross it on a boat that you move with the strength of your arms through a system of pulleys... here. Then we will cross the Gothic Line in Bagno di Romagna, there are only fascists there. If we are lucky they will let us through, otherwise I will fight tooth and nail," she concluded, stroking the knife.
They had already been travelling for four days. "I'm cold," whispered Anna, trying to light a fire by rubbing two twigs together for the umpteenth time. "I should have brought some sulphur matches with me..."
Glitter had practiced a lot since saving the Maimann family. "I've got this. Stay back, please." She held out her hand, concentrated, and a very high flame erupted from the ground. Anna fell back in amazement. The fairy moved her fingers and the fire went down to one metre high. "Now you can get warmed up," she said.
Two days later Anna's stomach was grumbling. "I'm hungry," she groaned, "I've run out of supplies..."
"Wait for me here," said Glitter. Half an hour later, she returned dragging a large sleeping quail. "Kill it and eat."
"Kill it? But... the forest animals are your friends..."
"You and your baby are much more important," stated the fairy.
One morning, while she was trying to wade through a small river, the girl slipped and was grabbed by the current. "Help! Help me, Glitter!" she begged while she was being dragged away. Glitter flew towards her full of distress. She had never lifted a human before, but... It is now or never! She grabbed her by the arm, lifted her up in the air, and laid her down on the southern shore. Her clothes were soaked and her teeth were chattering.
I have to get her dry, and quickly, she thought. "Rise, heat of the earth, and you, wet and cold, disappear!" The girl was hit by a very strong hot wind that ruffled her clothes. For a moment she felt as if she were suffocating, then the wind died down and she found herself as dry as a desert.
That evening she caught a fever. Glitter touched her forehead, she was panting and sweating profusely and her milk-coloured skin was as cold as ice. If I can control the fire of the earth, she reflected, I can do the same with bodies. She just had to use the right technique... For two hours she massaged her from head to toe, then she fell asleep exhausted. Anna woke up at dawn with no fever. She saw the little creature snoring peacefully on her chest and decided to let her rest a little longer.
"Keep me company, little virgin," said the fascist, pressing against her breasts and lifting her skirt, "I haven't seen a woman in a long time...".
"Hey, Tibia, don't skoogy her all," his partner sneered, "leave some for me, too."
The small blade drew a vermillion arch on the back of his hand, the republican howled with pain, then licked his wound. "You ugly bitch!" he screamed, grabbing her by the hair.
"Let her go!" Glitter came out of the bag and shoved the human, causing him to roll for a few metres.
"It's a Turane!" the second one shouted in fright, "My mother always told me about them..."
"Don't talk bullshit," mumbled Tibia getting up, when the two found themselves surrounded by a wall of fire. "Aaaahhh! Aaaahhh!" they screamed in terror; Tibia was screaming the loudest. "Have mercy, Turane, spare us," they begged with their faces on the ground, "Turane, Turane - answer those who call you - you are the queen of beauty..."
Suddenly the fire went out and she glared at them. "Go away," she said sternly. One minute later, they were already miles away.
"I have never eaten as much meat as I have on this journey," Anna proclaimed satisfied before reciting the Defende nos. "It's my favourite prayer... It's powerful" she said gratefully. "In fact, when I said it that evening, you appeared to help me."
"I'm not the archangel Michael," the little creature said softly. "I am just Glitter, the Rose Fairy."
"Angels are always hidden in disguise, because they do not seek the glory of them," the human insisted. "But if you want to be called Glitter, I'll call you that."
After a few minutes the fairy approached her. "Can... can I listen to the baby?" she asked hesitantly.
"The baby? Of course!" she nodded, revealing her abdomen. "Can you really hear it?"
"Oh, yes... I hear it. I hear it!" exclaimed Glitter, full of joy. "I can hear it growing inside you! I can sense the sex, it is..."
"Don't tell me, please," she said quietly, "let me enjoy the surprise... Just tell me if it's fine."
"It's fine, Anna... It's healthy and strong. It will have your eyes, its father's strength, and your courage... You will be happy".
"I hope so," sighed the damsel, suddenly afflicted. "Maybe he has forgotten about me... Or he won't want to keep it..."
" It would not be your Renzo " she consoled her. "Have faith".
The next day, Glitter saw a German squad from a distance. "Hide," she whispered to the girl. She listened to their conversation, "There are three of them. One of them wants to go to the toilet in a bush further ahead. Don't go anywhere," she warned. Then one of the soldiers left, the fairy waited a minute, then picked up a stone and threw it in the opposite direction. "Who’s there?" shouted the second soldier going to check.
The crouching soldier fell with his trousers still down, one minute later his comrade joined him in the arms of Morpheus. The third one went back, saw him on the ground, and raised his weapon. Glitter stroked him singing, "Sleep, little baby sleep..." and the human collapsed.
Now the fairy was leading the way. "You know German?" asked Anna in amazement.
"I know all the languages in the world," Glitter responded seraphically. "I am not an ignorant seedling."
"Absolutely not," she smiled. "You are my guardian angel."
Once they had crossed the border, the journey became much easier. Anna managed to get on a bus that took her to Florence with Glitter hidden in the bag, and from there she got to Rome where she found a seat on a train to Brindisi.
On the 10th of March 1945, the damsel leaned against the perimeter wall of the barracks, the entrance was just around the corner. "If he welcomes us... if he takes us with him, promise me you'll go back to my mother and Vincenzo, to tell them I'm okay and that we'll be happy together. Promise," she whispered.
"I promise," she assured her, before flying away.
The American soldier gave back her documents and over the phone he said, "There's a visit for Corporal Moroni." When he saw her, he ran to her and gave her a hug. "I'm expecting a child," she told him. For a moment he was speechless, then he smiled at her. "We are expecting a child," he corrected her, and the two of them kissed.
Glitter took one last look at them and immediately set off again. She didn't just have to keep a promise. For the first time in a long time, she had a place to go back to.
"Work, dogs! Dig!" shouted a soldier, hitting the old man with a whip. Vincenzo Bettini helped him get up. "Why are you treating us like this? Why do we have to dig these holes?"
"We're gonna have a nice bonfire tonight," the guards snickered, "and now back to work!"
"They want to do away with us all," murmured a fellow countryman. "We have to escape, Vincenzo..."
"I won't leave my mother in their hands," he said, interrupting him.
"So what are we waiting for? A miracle?" said another.
In the distance, Wehrmacht Colonel Lothar von Treitschke spoke to his aide-de-camp and adjusted his monocle. "The orders from Berlin are clear. We scorch the earth before we retreat, and nobody is to be left alive!" They did not know that a small creature hidden in the grass was listening to them.
"We can't let them, Pericles! We must lower them down and kill them all, those bastards!" said some partisans. There were about twenty of them gathered in the cave that served as an armoury to decide what to do.
Commander Giuseppe Smeriglio, battle name Pericles, had quickly become a legend for how he knew how to ignite their hearts. "There are twenty times more of them than us," he pointed out, standing up, "but if it is written that our loved ones must die, we will die with them."
Then they saw her. She was still in mid-air, and although the cave was in the shadows, her wings shone with all the colours of the rainbow. "Who are you?" asked Pericles.
"My name is Glitter," declared the fairy, "and I'm tired of death. I will help you save your town, but on my terms."
"Help us? A tiny little thing like you? Don't make us laugh!" the humans muttered. "How can we trust what you say? Give us a sign!" Smeriglio challenged her.
"You want a sign? Here it is!" She raised her arms and a burst of flames flowed from under their feet making them jump, then she moved her hands like a conductor, and a strong wind filled the cave. Rivers of water began to gush from the walls, "The cartridges! Save the cartridges!" shouted the commander, but it was useless. Suddenly a vortex sucked the water into the depths of the earth. The partisans touched the ammunition and they were dry. "What are your terms?" Smeriglio asked her, beside himself with amazement.
"You do not kill anyone in cold blood, whoever surrenders will be given quarter and the opportunity to repatriate. Swear it!" They consulted with each other briefly, then the answer was unanimous: "We swear!"
"Prepare yourselves," said Glitter. "We begin at sunset."
"Stop! Who are you?" screeched the German, pointing the machine gun at the figures dressed in long black coats coming down from the mountains in a long line.
"Can't you see they are mourners?" his fellow soldier said. "You came for the funeral, eh? Come with us, let's go!" and then he whispered to the other: "We'll kill these ones last."
All the inhabitants of Sant'Antonio, old men, women and children, were in front of the open graves with their hands tied behind their backs with the mysterious strangers mixed in with them. The colonel looked at the time, "Let's get going," he ordered.
Suddenly, the soldiers were blinded by a glare. Glitter rose high above them and told each of them in their native language: "I, Glitter, command the water, the fire, the electricity and the wind: unleash now!"
The sky darkened, a heavy rain ensued, and lightning struck the German trucks, tanks, and armoured vehicles, causing them to explode. Flames of fire rose from the ground and chased after the military, while a magnetic force pulled the weapons out of their hands and gathered them at the fairy's feet. At that moment the partisans took off their disguises, freed the villagers, and shouted "Attack!" The terrified Germans, soaking wet, scalding and unarmed, were attacked by an angry crowd that punched, kicked and bit them.
Colonel von Treitschke could not believe his eyes, that little devil had knocked out 550 men, the best unit of the great German army, and was disgracing his name! He drew his saber and turned on her, but Glitter grabbed the blade on its flat with both hands. The two faced each other for a moment, then the sword broke into a thousand pieces. The colonel fell to his knees, bowed his head and whispered, "We surrender."
And so, in Sant'Antonio al Monte, at dawn on the 23rd of April 1945, the Second World War ended.
"We have come to free you," announced the American officer who had just gotten out of the jeep. "Thank you, but we have already freed ourselves," replied Commander Pericles.
The party went on for a week. Glitter, who had rushed to deliver the happy message to Anna's mother, joyfully participated in the songs and dances. For the first time, she was not afraid of showing herself to the humans. One evening, all the villagers gathered together, and Joseph Smeriglio spoke on their behalf. "Glitter, we have discussed it at length and we all agree. We don't know where you are from, or if you have a place to go... but if you wanted to stay and live here, that would make us very happy. We will not tell anyone outside this village about you, and we will not let anyone hurt you. So, what are you going to do?"
The fairy remained silent for several minutes, pondering to herself, while the villagers waited in suspense. Then she said to them: "I have travelled the world far and wide, I have known all the evil and the good that can dwell in a big or small heart, but only in this place, after a long time, I have felt at home... Yes, I will stay here with you."
II. A FAIRY IN THE CITY
Andrea Moroni once again leafed through the Touring Club guide, Sant'Antonio al Monte, a charming town in Valtellina, located between Chiesa in Valmalenco and Chiareggio. The place name originates from a legend, according to which the Paduan saint faced and defeated a fire-breathing dragon there, and then locked it up in the bowels of the earth... The massive glacier, overlooked by the Piz Bernina (4050 m), supplies a large hydroelectric plant built after the war...
"Next stop, Sant'Antonio al Monte!" announced the driver.
...the abundance of low-cost energy has allowed for the establishment of various mechanical industries... The young man gathered his things and prepared to get off.
He had always studied profitably, partly for pleasure and partly to avoid worrying his mother, but after graduating he discovered that he would have had better job prospects in Brindisi as an illiterate worker. "My son," she had said, hugging him, "I suffer every day watching you champ the bit... I wrote to your uncle Vincenzo and he is willing to retire early to give you the position of editor in the village newspaper. Don't worry about me, I'll manage with the pension your father left us... may Saint Michael assist you and help you to achieve your greatest dreams." So he had left, with his good suit in his suitcase and a thousand questions about the future that awaited him.
The "Journal of Saint" editorial office was about half a kilometre from the bus station. He was walking down a narrow road when he heard a series of gunshots coming from the square in front of him. He dropped his luggage and ran in that direction, but a bullet grazed him and he had to take refuge behind a parked car. "What's going on?" he asked a man who was clutching his daughter.
"It's Toni, poor fellow," he replied after looking him up and down. "Ever since his wife died he hasn't been right in the head, and now..." Another series of shots forced him to remain silent, while a rough voice shouted from the first floor of a building. "Now I'll kill all of you, every last one!"
"Where are the police? Why are they not intervening?" Andrea asked nervously.
"Don't be afraid," the girl said to him, she seemed perfectly calm in all the commotion. "Glitter will save us."
"Be quiet, Mariuccia," said her father, glaring at her, "he's an outsider, he does not have to know..."
"Who is Glitter?" he asked curiously, when suddenly the crowd exploded into cries of joy, "Here she is, it's her! Glitter, help us! Glitter, Glitter!"
Andrea stood up and saw a butterfly with large iridescent wings, but with human-like arms and legs, flying at full speed towards the sniper. Toni took aim and fired at the little creature three times, but she deflected the bullets with a wave of her hand. Then she touched the man's rough cheeks, whispering to him, "Good, Toni, be good... Think of your Adele, think of her and go to sleep..." Stunned, he dropped the rifle, and collapsed.
At that moment the police arrived, entered the building, and after a few minutes they dragged the poor man away by the arms, while the square exploded in a chorus, "Hip, hip, hurray for Glitter!" and everyone clapped their hands. Glitter stopped in midair for a few moments, enjoying the cheers. She looked at him curiously, then took off, and in a flash she disappeared from sight.
"So, you are Vincenzo's nephew?" Ghilardi began by shaking his hand. "Welcome to Sant'Antonio! I am Massimo Ghilardi, and this is Paolo Balatti. Have you settled in with your uncle yet?"
"Not really," replied Andrea, still shaken. "I was caught in the middle of the shooting just now... You will never believe what I saw..."
"Forget about it," a man in his fifties with black glasses said in a firm voice. "I'm Giuseppe Smeriglio, the editor-in-chief," he said, introducing himself.
"What will we do with him, Bepi?" Ghilardi asked uneasily. "He's an outsider, he doesn't know anything..."
"Listen to me, boy." Bepi squeezed his shoulder, his hand was like an iron grip. "You won't tell anyone outside this village what you saw today, do you understand? In fact, to be clear, you won't even write a half line about it in tomorrow's edition. If you snitch, we will deny everything – men, women, children – we will all say that you invented it. You will lose your job before you even start, and you will have to go back to the South disappointed. Understood?”
"U-understood," he agreed.
The first few months were very difficult. As a new employee, Andrea had to do all-round jobs: he would collect the messages from the teletypewriters and sort them by subject for his more senior colleagues, push paper, review the drafts before sending them to the press, and sometimes prepare coffee for everyone. In the editorial office, in the streets, at the cafe, everywhere he went people stared at him with suspicion and kept him at a distance; for everyone, he was ‘the stranger’.
He had tried to ask about that amazing winged creature, but the only result was the worsening of his isolation. "Listen to me, boy," his uncle had warned him, "the fewer questions you ask, the better..." but all those reservations, by contrast, only increased his desire to know more. One day, more out of desperation than anything else, he turned to the parish priest.
"What sins have you committed, son?" asked Don Lazzaro putting on his stole.
"Just one, father, I'm curious to know who Glitter is."
He turned white. "Curiosity is the child of the devil," he warned.
"I will not say anything to anyone," Andrea promised raising his right hand.
The priest looked him in the eye and sighed, "Glitter is my best parishioner, the most long-lived... and she's a fairy."
For a moment, Andrea thought he was making fun of him. "What is this, a priest trick?" he asked angrily.
"I don't blame you if you don't believe me," the parish priest replied. "I didn't believe it either when I came to this village... and yet my predecessor, before retiring due to an illness, warned me: ‘You will have a special sheep in your flock,’ he said, ‘take care of her.’"
He closed his eyes, leaning against a temple column, as if the effort to remember weakened him, then he continued to speak. "Five years ago, in the countryside around here, there was a series of fires. It was a young troublemaker with a wealthy family who did it out of boredom... At first he burned the haystacks, then one day he set fire to the forest... one of the volunteers who had rushed over was hit by a branch and died shortly after..." and then he went silent.
"And then what happened? Go on," Andrea urged him.
"I was called to give him the last rites... and then I saw her. She was flying high above the flames, with her wings shining in the sun. She raised her arms and suddenly the sky, as clear as it was, filled with clouds, and it began to rain so heavily that the fire was out in a few minutes. Then she rested on the body, looking at him with infinite pity, and said, ‘He will pay for this,’ and flew away.”
"Don't tell me she found the arsonist!" the young man exclaimed.
"That's right," the priest confirmed. "Three days later he handed himself over to the police in terror. At the trial he told them that Glitter had found him in a hut, and for two days and two nights she had reprimanded him for his crime, scaring him with various powers and urging him to turn himself in... Naturally, the judges did not believe a single word and condemned him to a harsh sentence."
"What kind of powers did he speak about?" Andrea was more and more amazed.
"Water, fire, lightning... She controls the natural elements." The holy man's voice trembled with emotion. "That evening I found her sitting on the altar. ‘I didn't lay a finger on him, father,’ she said, ‘I just scared him.’ I was intrigued, so I asked her lots of questions... so I discovered that she had been baptised by an Austrian priest in 1944.”
The guy stood speechless, but the priest continued. "I too was skeptical, so I asked her about religion. She is a well of wisdom, she knows all the Scriptures by heart, and not like a parrot but like a wise person..."
The whole village was getting ready to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Liberation. "Why two days in advance?" he asked Bepi.
"Because our liberation took place on the 23rd," he explained, offering him a glass of the good stuff. They were alone in the ‘Journal’ editorial office, and Giuseppe Smeriglio had been treating him less coldly for a while now. "In those days I was in the mountains with a group of partisans..."
"I know," Andrea said. "You were their commander, battle name Pericles... You are a living legend, and with good reason, you saved everyone from a Nazi massacre."
"That's the official version." Bepi took another sip. "We were gathered in a cave to decide what to do, with little hope of getting out alive... when she appeared. ‘I am tired of death,’ she told us, ‘I will help you if you accept my terms.’"
"What were the terms?" he asked.
"We had to spare the lives of the Germans who surrendered, and allow them to return home." The editor-in-chief leaned against the backrest and relived the events in his mind. "At first we didn't take her seriously, she was so small and she wanted to face a regiment armed to the teeth, and even give us etiquette lessons? But she replied, ‘Do you want a sign of my powers? Here it is!’ and she created wind, fire, water... We were beside ourselves with astonishment and we immediately agreed to do as she wished. That night we disguised ourselves in women's clothes, entered the village and mingled with our loved ones who were about to be taken out. Glitter stepped in and unleashed the end of the world, we only intervened at the end as a formality, and the next day we escorted the Krauts to the border and let them go in peace.”
"Where did she come from?" Andrea asked. "And why did she stay here?"
"I don't know where she is from... After she saved us, we asked her to stay with us if she didn't have somewhere else to go. She said she felt like she was at home with us, and decided to stay here. So, we agreed to keep the secret of her existence, and protect her from the curiosity of the world; it was the least we could do."
One evening Ghilardi and Balatti invited him to have a drink at the bar. While crossing the street they ran into a girl with carrot-coloured curls who was arguing with a guy the same age as her, "Forget it!" she shouted out. "I'm not going to the movies with you, you're a rough, sexist ape, I'm not interested!"
"You'll be a spinster for life if you keep this up," he chuckled. "When are you going to get it into your head? A beautiful girl like you has to find a husband, stay at home and have lots of children, like all women who came after Eve."
"Oh yeah?" she said with a mocking smile. "So I'd be a weak little lady waiting for a brave knight? How about we bet that mine is longer than yours?"
"What... what the hell are you talking about?" mumbled the embarrassed suitor. "You are always like this!" and he walked away.
"Caveman!" The girl stuck her tongue out at him and walked towards them. "And what are you looking at?" she shouted at Andrea, who was staring at her, astonished. "N-nothing," he murmured, as she walked away grumbling, "What a cold fish."
"Don't mind her," said Ghilardi, "that's typical Saro... well, her name is Sara, but everyone calls her Saro because she acts so masculine... Who knows if anyone will ever be able to tame her!"
Andrea spent the whole evening thinking about her, and then the next day too, and the one after that...
"Sir, sir!" The little girl pulled on his jacket. "You are the stranger who asks lots of questions about Glitter, right?"
Andrea turned around, she had two long blonde braids and was holding a black and white cat in her arms. "Yes, that's me," he admitted.
"My dad says I shouldn't talk to you because you could hurt Glitter... but Sara, Mr Giuseppe's daughter, thinks you're a good person, and Sara is never wrong," she said with conviction.
"I don't want to hurt your fairy," he swore, making a cross on his chest. "What do you want to tell me?"
"Last year, my Pallina was expecting puppies," she went on, "but when she was about to give birth she felt bad... she was rolling on the floor and crying... But then Glitter showed up and said: ‘Good, kitten, it's ok, now I'll help you to bring forth your children.’"
"And what did Pallina say?" asked Andrea.
"I don't know! She was saying ‘miaow, miaow’... Glitter stroked her and she stopped moaning, then she stuck her hands in, and pulled all four of them out, safe and sound!" she concluded cheerfully. "So, now you know who Glitter is. Bye-bye!"
"Wait!" he exclaimed. "Who is Sara's father?"
The little girl stopped with a surprised look on her face. "Mr Giuseppe... Giuseppe Smeriglio," she replied, walking away.
He woke up panting. In his dream, his mother had slipped on a stone as she waded across a river and had been dragged away by the current, he had tried to grab her, but he had failed... It was dawn, and while he was getting dressed he thought about what she had often said to him as a child before a tumour took his father away: "Your father and I could never have gotten married if a guardian angel had not helped me. She was the reason I was able to cross Italy safe and sound." Why was it coming back to him right now?
Andrea Moroni was riding along a path in the woods on his uncle's bicycle, when a large wild boar appeared in front of him. Suddenly a little blue-winged creature stood between them and ordered the animal, "Stop, don't hurt him!" Then she stroked its snout several times, and it went away oinking.
"Are you okay?" she asked the young man. "Well, see you around."
"Wait! Wait, Glitter!" shouted Andrea chasing her. "I just want to talk to you..."
"I don't know you," she said, continuing to fly among the branches.
"Please, wait! I... I am your fellow countryman!" he shouted, then he had to stop to catch his breath.
The fairy stopped and turned back. "Are you telling the truth? You're not lying to me?"
"Cross on my heart," Andrea declared.
"Hmmm," she moaned doubtfully. Then: "The fifth."
"Wh-what...?" he cried out. Then, he thought back to what the parish priest had told him and said confidently, "The fifth, you shall not kill."
"The sixth and seventh..." the fairy quizzed him, waving a finger.
"... lead to hell!" he chanted triumphantly. That was easy, he thought, I spent my teenage years in the oratory. "So, reverend mother, did I pass the exam?"
"I don't know if I can trust you," muttered Glitter, "after all, even the Nazis thought they had God on their side." She stayed silent for a few minutes, then asked, "Who is your neighbour?"
Andrea thought about it for a minute. "A year ago, when I graduated with honours, my mother gave me a thousand lire to buy something I really liked. I was so happy... Along the way I met an old man who was begging, he hadn't eaten in three days, and nobody wanted to give him food because he didn't have a penny... I took out the money and gave it to him. There, at that moment, he was my neighbour."
"Now you've passed the exam," she said, coming closer.
From that moment on, Andrea spent every spare minute with Glitter. He would cycle to her in the forest, then they would lie in the shade of a tree and talk for hours. The first time he offered her a piece of bread, but she politely declined, "You're kind, but I don't eat or drink."
"Where are you from?" he asked her one day.
"From England," she replied. "I was born in the middle of a giant forest... you call it the Forest of Dean. It's a nice place, but one day I got tired of being there. I wanted to see the world, I wanted to meet you humans... at that time I didn't know that I would never go back there again." She covered her face and he thought she was going to cry, but then she jolted, "Come, I want to show you something."
She led him along a path he had never noticed before, and they found themselves in a large meadow full of beautiful flowers. "This is my secret place," she said. "You are the second person I have shown it to."
"Ouch! Look where you're going, idiot..." cried the angry girl, then she recognised him and blushed, "Ah... you're Andrea, the new guy from the newspaper."
They had crashed into each other on the street corner. "Sorry," said Andrea, "are you hurt?"
"No way!" she snorted, "it takes a lot more than that to take me down..."
"I know," the young man smiled, "you're your father's daughter."
Sara's face darkened. "Yeah... the great partisan commander, the village hero."
"What's wrong?" he asked, "you should be proud of your father."
"Oh, I'm more than proud," she replied as they walked down the boulevard. "I would like to be like him, strong and contemptuous of dangers, I would like to do something useful too... so he would be proud to have me as a daughter..." and began to sob.
Andrea offered her his handkerchief. "Thanks," the girl murmured. She wiped her tears, then blew her nose and sighed, "Sorry... I've never told anyone about this stuff before..." He smiled at her. "I think you are a beautiful person, Sara."
"Are you going out tonight too? With who?" asked Bepi, looking at his daughter wearing a sleeveless flowery dress that was not at all like her.
"It's none of your business, Daddy," she smiled, kissing him on the cheek and running out with a spring in her step.
"What do you think, Andrea? Does it seem too... bold?" she asked blushing.
"You look beautiful," he replied.
Spring filled the air while the two youngsters looked out at the view, each licking their ice cream cone. "Look!" Andrea said stretching out a hand. "You have cream on your nose, I'll take it off..." They moved closer, looking into each other's eyes, and forgot about the ice cream and the rest of the world... Suddenly they heard a woman crying "Mario, Mario... Oh God, help him! Something's wrong with him!"
Mr Mario, the oldest man in the village, was laying on the ground blue in the face while his wife held his head in her hands. They both ran, but Sara was quicker to lean over him. He recognised her and murmured in a suffocated voice: "Sara, please... call the priest... and... Glitter..."
"I'm going to call her," promised the guy as he moved to leave. Sara stopped him adamantly, "I'll go, you don't know her like I do..."
"Let's split up," Andrea suggested, "we will find her quicker that way."
He got to his uncle's house, got on his bicycle and raced at breakneck speed along the path that led to the "secret place." When he got there he found the girl who had just told the fairy what was going on.
"What are you doing here? Did you follow me?" she asked suspiciously.
"Glitter showed me this meadow," Andrea explained, leaving her speechless. "Come on, get on with me!"
The parish priest had just finished his job when Mario opened his eyes and saw her, "Glitter... so you came..." he said in a faint voice.
"You knew I'd be with you," the fairy reassured him.
The priest signalled for them to leave, only his wife, children and Glitter remained at his bedside, all the others waited in another room for about twenty minutes. Then the door opened wide and the little creature announced with a sad face and dry eyes, "He is dead."
"He was a very good man," said Sara in tears as Andrea consoled her. "I hope that he has gone to a better place."
The next day, all three of them met in the secret meadow. "Do you never cry?" the young man asked her.
"I swore to devote all my tears to one human, and I will keep my promise," replied Glitter decisively. Then, catching his questioning gaze, she continued, "His name was Charles... Charles Dickens, but to me he was just Charlie... He was my first human friend, my teacher, and my only true love."
"You... you knew Charles Dickens?" Andrea couldn't believe his ears. "But... sorry for asking, but... how old are you?"
"Older than you can count," she replied. "I lived with my fairy sisters and with the animals of the forest for an interminable time, then I decided to explore the world... I was naive and weak, and your human passions engulfed me and dragged me to the abyss."
“Glitter was captured by the Nazis," Sara explained, placing her hand on her small shoulders. "You can't imagine what they did to her... it's a miracle that she got out alive, poor darling."
"Someone took pity on me," Glitter swallowed a sob into her throat, "and since then I've decided to devote my life to repaying this debt. I couldn't save everyone... but I could save someone," she said turning to the wind and the sunset. "Oh yes, I tore so many from the jaws of that infamous monster, the war! A family of Austrian Jews that I accompanied and defended all the way to Switzerland, for example... and then your fellow countrywoman, who wanted to go to Brindisi..."
"What?" Andrea stood up abruptly. "Which fellow countrywoman?"
"I don't know," said the girl, amazed. "She has never told me about her."
"Her name was Anna... Anna Bettini," continued Glitter. "She ran away from home to reunite with her boyfriend who was a soldier in the South with the Americans... She was brave and stubborn, and I escorted her the whole way there. In the end they found each other again... who knows what happened to them."
"Anna Bettini is my mother," the young man said, weeping. "She was already pregnant with me when she left... When I was a child, she would often tell me about the angel who saved her several times and helped her to be reunited with her Renzo... my father. Now that angel is in front of me. I owe you my life, Glitter."
"So you got yourself a girlfriend, huh?" Ghilardi asked, nudging him when he asked him where he could go for a romantic day out. "Take her for a boat ride on the lake, she'll love it... or for a walk in the woods. But please, avoid the Fumone area," he warned, "it's a cursed place, where the earth burns under your feet, the water smells like rotten eggs and there is smoke everywhere."
In addition to feeding a thriving fish farm, the reservoir upstream of the village provided its green shores to hundreds of people in search of sun and fresh air. Andrea was rowing vigorously, when a child hung too far out of a bridge that cut through the body of water and fell among the waves. "Help him, he can't swim! Help him!” cried the terrified mother.
"What are you doing?" Sara asked in a panic.
"I'm going to save him," he replied, throwing himself into the water with all his clothes on. He swam a hundred metres and then saw him flailing and sinking. He dived down, caught up with him, and brought him back up to the surface. He was soaked, scared and crying, but he was okay.
"Thank you, thank you," the woman cried, kissing his hands. A newspaper reporter took the opportunity to take a nice picture and write an article that everyone liked. Everyone except Bepi, that is.
"Sara, I have to tell you something," Andrea whispered, kissing her neck lightly.
"Me too," she replied with her heart in her throat.
"I love you, Sara." He stroked her hair and she puckered her lips. In the distance a car passed by, Balatti saw them in the grass and decided to let someone know.
Andrea took off her blouse and skirt, then she took off his shirt and caressed his chest; they were both panting and sweating. He kissed her breasts, behind her ears, then her mouth...
"Hey, hey, heeey!" The little hands pulled his ear so hard that he screamed. "Leave her alone, you ugly pig!"
The guy stood up quickly, "G-Glitter! What the hell...?" but the fairy didn't deign to look at him. She turned to the girl anxiously asking, "Sara, darling, are you okay?"
"I was better a second ago, that's for sure..." she sighed getting dressed as best she could.
"Listen to me, Don Juan," Glitter said, nervously tapping her little foot. "Sara's mother died giving birth to her. I was her first friend, her playmate, her godmother! I gave her the affection that bear of her father never knew how to offer her, I taught her to defend herself from suitors that were around her... so if you think you can have a good time with her, know that I..."
"That's enough, Glitter!" the girl intervened. "Andrea wasn't taking advantage of me! I... I love him, and he loves me too, I'm sure of it now."
"Sara, my little darling, listen to me," she begged as she stroked her cheeks, "he is only after your body... The union of souls is the best thing in the world, believe me, I've been there... "
"But I love all of her! I love her body and her soul," cried Andrea putting on his shirt, "and I want to be with her for the rest of my life." She took his hand and assured him, "I want that too."
"All right," Glitter sighed, placing her little hand on them, "but you will have to do things properly. So you, my dear Andrea, will wash yourself from head to toe, put on your best suit, go to Saretta's house with a nice bouquet of flowers and you will ask for her hand in marriage. Then you will take her to the altar, you will put the ring on her finger... and then you can do whatever you want."
They had just returned to the village when they were met by Giuseppe Smeriglio. "Bastard!" he shouted, punching Andrea in the face.
"Stop it, Dad!" his daughter cried, but the guy moved her out of the way, saying "Please, Sara, don't get in the way."
They were in a little square and suddenly it was full of people. Bepi hit Andrea in the abdomen and in the face again, then he kicked him in the stomach. "The boy knows how to take a hit..." Balatti exclaimed. "It's not fair," muttered Ghilardi, "he is not defending himself at all."
"The young gentleman comes into someone else's home," the man swore, "and thinks he can do as he pleases..." He kept hitting him until Andrea fell to the ground full of bruises and his face covered in blood, and while he was beating him he screamed "You don't even have a steady job... how are you going to take care of my little girl, huh?"
"Your little girl?" yelled Sara grabbing him by the arm. "So, I'm your little girl now? You have always regretted not having had a son instead!"
"Go home, you shameless girl!" her father ordered. "No, leave me!" she cried.
"Go home, or else..." he threatened by lowering a huge hand to the maiden's face, but Andrea quickly got up and stood in the way: "Don't you dare lay a finger on her," he said, lowering his arm forcefully.
"You no longer work for the ‘Journal of Saint,’" ordered Bepi, red with rage. "You're fired. Get out of here! Get out of this village!"
"I hate you, father!" sobbed Sara, running away.
"This is a very serious situation," the police marshal repeated. He was at Bepi's house with Ghilardi and Balatti, and they were all tremendously worried.
"Are we sure he's not bluffing?" asked Mr Smeriglio.
"Absolutely sure," The officer put on his glasses and read the message written in broken Italian again: "We have taken the hydroelectric plant workers hostage. Tell your fairy to come by midnight, otherwise we'll blow up the dam with 300 kilos of TNT.” "One of the plant workers brought it to us, the others are all locked inside... there are at least two of them, and they are well armed, we tried to get close but they are damn good shooters."
"The reservoir is full almost to the brim," said Bepi. "If the dam collapses the village will be flooded, and we don't have time to evacuate everyone. What are you planning to do?"
"You know Glitter better than anyone," the sergeant sighed. "Find her quickly, for everyone's sake."
Sara had been listening out of sight, she knotted her bed sheets together, and lowered herself out of the window. "Sara Smeriglio, daughter of Commander Pericles, saves the village from another massacre," she murmured to herself, climbing a narrow path leading to the dam. Then he finally wouldn't be ashamed of her anymore...
She went into the plant trying not to make any noise, went into the dark corridors, turned a corner, then she felt the cold of the metal on her temple, "Don't move" said a bearded giant.
"Oooh, I feel faint," she murmured as she slipped to the ground. Then, she leaned on her arms and kicked him, causing him to drop his rifle, she grabbed the weapon and used it as a club, hitting him in the head twice. The man fell unconscious.
Sara didn't turn around in time and a shadow grabbed her by the shoulders and pressed a handkerchief onto her mouth, she inhaled the chloroform and fell asleep.
"So you have decided to leave?" Glitter asked very sadly. "And Sara?"
"I'm not giving up on her," Andrea responded. "I'll find a job in Brindisi, in the factory, or in the foundry, anything at all... and if I don't find work there, I will go to another city. Then, when I'm settled, I'll come back and take her away with me, if she still wants to come with me... whether her father likes it or not."
The sun had long since set. "Well, I'm going. I have to get the coach early tomorrow. Goodbye, Glitter."
He was still talking when Giuseppe Smeriglio showed up out of breath and knelt before them. "They've taken Sara," he begged, "they're holding her captive at the dam... they'll blow it all up if Glitter doesn't go to them... Please, save her!"
"I have to go," said the fairy, "I know how to sort those bad guys out."
"I'll go with you," Andrea declared firmly. "Don't try to talk me out of it or put me to sleep because it won't work."
She stared carefully into his eyes and said, "You really do have your mother's courage."
Andrea carefully slipped into the large hall that housed the turbines. Beside him, the fairy penetrated the darkness with her infrared sensitive gaze and guided him. Suddenly, the lights turned on and they saw a man in his mid-thirties pointing a gun at them. "Don't move, little fairy," he said in an icy voice, "or I'll kill your friend."
"He has nothing to do with this," Glitter cried, "and neither does Sara nor do the others. If you have something against me, let them go and let's fight!"
"I know about your powers," he said, coming closer. "Maybe I can't kill you, but I'll kill everyone you love."
"Why do you hate her so much?" Andrea asked. "What did she do to you? Who are you?"
"My name is Fritz Vollander," he replied.
The fairy went pale, "I met a man, more than twenty years ago... his name was Paul Vollander," she whispered.
"He was my father." He pulled a folded piece of paper out of his breast pocket and threw it to the guy. "Read it," he ordered.
"Berlin, 18th November 1943
Fritz, my beloved son,
It is with immense joy that I write to you about a great discovery. The Führer gave me a gift of a small winged creature, and your father, together with his colleagues in the Institute for Research in Cell Biology, examined it thoroughly for many days. We discovered that it has the power to regenerate its body from the deepest wounds. Very soon, I feel, we will succeed in obtaining the source of immortality, and then the German people will definitively prevail over all other races. I hope that you are proud of me. I wish you a long and happy life.
"Signed: Paul Vollander," Andrea finished.
"My father died that same night," Fritz continued. "They told me he was killed by a bombing... but I know it was you!" he roared at Glitter. "I grew up hating that mysterious ‘creature’... until an old former Wehrmacht colonel was admitted to the hospital where I was working as an internist..."
"Von Treitschke," the fairy confirmed. "He wanted to exterminate this whole village."
"He told me that his regiment had been defeated by a small butterfly with frightening powers," continued the man, "so I finally learned where you were hiding... and now I will have my revenge!”
"If you're looking for revenge, I won't stop you," Glitter sighed, "but let the hostages go."
"First tell me how he died!" he said pointing the weapon at Andrea's head. "You were there, you heard his last words, tell me!"
"The first bomb ravaged the building, digging a crater in the floor," the fairy began to say closing her eyes. "Your father was about to fall into the void... I had been freed shortly before by one of his co-workers. I threw the fire hose at him so he could pull himself up, but he said he didn't want to be indebted to me, and he let go."
"No… that’s not true... You're lying!" shouted Fritz Vollander. Glitter got just a few millimetres away from the barrel of the rifle, "If you don't believe me, then shoot."
The man hesitated, his hands trembled, then he dropped his rifle. He took his head in his hands whispering "Mein Gott... I got it all wrong..." Suddenly he cried out in an inhuman voice: "Gott! The bomb! I activated the timer as soon as I heard you come in... it will explode at midnight on the dot!" He looked at his watch, there were six minutes left.
"Quick, show us where it is!" the fairy cried.
He took them to a room that bordered the wall of the dam. Sara and the workers were there, along with Vollander's accomplice who the girl had knocked out and was still unconscious. They were all tied up and gagged. The bomb was next to them, a heap of explosive casings held together with adhesive tape and connected to a time-triggered detonator.
"I'll take the bomb away," Glitter said to Andrea, "you free them.”
"You'll never be able to do it," he exclaimed. "It's too heavy for you...", but the fairy lifted the deadly load like it was a twig and shot off like a rocket. He saw her disappear into the corridor and set about untying the girl.
"Andrea!" she cried, taking off her gag. "Help me untie the others," he pleaded.
Glitter came out of the hydroelectric plant at full speed rising up, higher and higher... When there was one second left before the explosion, she threw the bomb away but the explosion hit her anyway, wrapping her in a whirlwind of flames.
They found her on the river bed. A large crowd gathered at her bedside in Bepi's house, including the parish priest. The local doctor shook his head, "She won't make it through the night," he announced to the two youngsters.
"But she is able to regenerate herself," Andrea murmured frantically, "can't she recover this time too?"
"The burns are too extensive and too deep," the other one commented. "Only a miracle could save her."
Suddenly a feeble request came from that small wounded body: "I'm thirsty," she said.
Everyone looked at each other in shock, they knew that Glitter had never eaten or drunk in her life. "Does anyone have any water?" the doctor asked.
"I have a bottle," Ghilardi murmured hesitantly, "but..."
"Give it here," the doctor insisted. He opened the flask, sucked up a drop of liquid with a dropper and put it into the fairy's mouth. Glitter drank, her body shuddered, then she lay motionless.
"She's dead!" a child burst into tears. "Glitter is dead!"
Andrew and Sara clutched each other in despair. Everyone, children, women, even men who had been hardened by the years, had watery eyes. One minute later Glitter reopened her eyes, blinked, looked left and right, and sat up.
"Glitter!" Andrea cried, reaching out to her. "Are you okay?"
"Y-yes, I'm okay... I mean, I feel fine," the fairy muttered, getting up. She spread her magnificent blue wings, rose into the air, and the room filled with all the colours of the rainbow. "I'm alive!" she shouted full of joy. "I'm alive! Alive!"
Those who were there exploded in cries of joy, the news spread throughout the village in a flash and everyone sang and danced with happiness in the streets and squares. Lance-corporal Gargiulo from Pozzuoli burst into the barracks shouting, "St. Gennaro has given us grace! The little girl is alive!"
"Mein Gott!" Fritz Vollander exclaimed from his cell. "She’s alive! Freude, o Freude! Freude, schöner Götterfunken, Tochter aus Elysium…"
"Stop, Gargiulo, stop!" shouted the marshal. "Why do you want to beat him?"
"What do you mean, 'why?’" the lance-corporal grumbled in anger. "I rush over here to tell him that Glitter is safe and sound, and he starts singing "it’s a fraud, it’s a fraud"... "Now I'll show you what's the fraud, you deadbeat gravedigger!"
The doctor had quickly regained his Cartesian spirit. "This water tastes like sulphur," he said, smelling it. "Where did you get it?"
"At the source of the Fumone," said a very embarrassed Ghilardi. "We wanted to play a joke on the father here, put this smelly water in the mass wine... just to see what he would do..." he explained while the parish priest shot him a dirty look.
"Yes, you really did play a very good trick on us," the doctor warned him with a stern look, then hugged him leaving him speechless. "The joke of the Saint."
Bepi squeezed the boy's hands warmly, "I behaved so terribly," he said, "but I hope you can forgive me."
"I already have" Andrea assured him.
"I was reckless, Daddy," murmured Sara, "but I just wanted you to be proud of me so badly..."
"I have always been proud of you, my girl." Giuseppe Smeriglio held the girl close to him, then took her hand and joined it with that of the guy. "Be happy."
At the trial, Fritz Vollander did not mention Glitter's role in saving the village, instead, he attributed the credit to the two youngsters. Since he had made a full confession he received a mild condemnation. After his release he became a specialist in biology, and made a significant contribution to the use of stem cells for the repair of diseased organs and tissues.
The village doctor collected many samples from the Fumone area, made them analyse, and his hunch was confirmed. Sant'Antonio stood on the slopes of an ancient extinct volcano whose heart still burned and heated the groundwater. This caused the water to rise to the surface enriched with sulfur compounds deposited millions of years earlier by the eruptions. He tried administering it cautiously to patients suffering from various diseases and found that they benefited greatly from it. In the end he spoke to the mayor, and he was so persuasive that a state-of-the-art spa was built in that area which attracted visitors from all over northern Italy and abroad.
As for Andrea and Sara, they got married - Mrs Anna came to the ceremony too - and they had children and grandchildren, and spent a long and, all things considered, happy life under the protective eyes of their friend Glitter. Because, as they used to say to their big family, “great oaks are born from small acorns.”
III. THE RETURN TO THE FOREST OF DEAN
"It's my turn now!" shouted Paolo grabbing the controller. On the television screen, his Super Baseball 2015 avatar threw a curved ball.
She didn't need to hold that contraption in her hand, it was easier to control the electric charges inside it... "Oof!" he shouted, swinging the controller like a baseball bat. "Strike! Home run!" the artificial voice announced.
"Well done, Glitter! You're always the best!" Saretta and Annuccia cheered in unison, then they heard a voice from the kitchen, "Come to the table, children! It's time for dinner!"
The little twins rushed to the bathroom and locked themselves in. "Let me in!" their little cousin demanded. "Ladies first," they answered. Sara Smeriglio and her sons brought a pan full of lasagne to the table and when all nine were seated, the head of the family said the prayer: "Lord, bless this food, and give each man his daily bread."
"And welcome grandma Anna to heaven, O Lord, together with grandpa Renzo, even though we never knew him. Amen," Paolino added.
It was about half past ten when Glitter turned off the last light in the children's room and flew to the living room of Andrea and Sara's apartment. Before falling asleep the little fairy thought about the events of the last forty years again... She thought about Lorenzo and Anna Bettini's son, Andrea Moroni, arriving at the village, and the friendship he had built with her. She thought about his love for Sara, the daughter of the partisan commander with whom she had saved Sant'Antonio al Monte from a Nazi massacre. She thought about Fritz Vollander who wanted to blow up the dam, the explosion, and the very serious wounds from which she had miraculously recovered... Then Andrea and Sara got married and had two children who in turn got married and had three beautiful and wild little angels... You really never got bored in that big house where they all lived together!
Those were the happiest years of her very long life; the Moronis and their fellow countrymen had created a protective shell of silence around her, making sure that the rest of the world did not find out about her existence. She no longer had to fear being captured and tortured as she had been during the war - a shiver ran down her back -, for the first time since Charlie's death, she felt at home... she felt loved.
For as long as I live, she thought snuggling her pillow, I will never abandon you.
"Help us, Rose Fairy! Only you can save us!" the little creatures shouted as the trees were uprooted by gigantic machines. Glitter looked around terrified, the beautiful forest in which she was born no longer existed, now reduced to a desolate wasteland, the flowering meadows had been destroyed and her sisters lay lifeless on the ground. She was about to burst into tears, but the scene changed: human leaders were arguing among themselves in a building with crenellated walls, when suddenly an invisible poison knocked them down one by one. Wars of nations against nations broke out, and the whole earth was devastated, even her little village...
She woke up covered in sweat and gasping for breath. She tried to calm down, to sedate the distress that had taken hold of her soul. What is happening to me? she asked herself.
She had had nightmares before, a long time ago, but then she had dreamt of events from the past, like the German soldiers she had killed during the Great War and the Jews gassed in that extermination camp... This dream was different, it was about future events, things that were going to happen. Or not going to happen, she realised suddenly. It depended on her.
At three o'clock in the morning Andrea Moroni got up to go to the bathroom and saw her feverishly consulting the notebook. "What's going on, little darling?" he asked.
Glitter looked up and couldn't lie, "I have to go," she said.
"Go? Go where? Why?" asked the man. "Please, explain."
The fairy told him about everything that she had seen in her sleep. "I discovered things that I had never even suspected in your great encyclopedia, the Internet," she concluded. "My dream means that the Fairy People and the Humans are both in danger! And that means that only I can stop the vision from coming true."
The old man stayed silent for a few long minutes, then stroked her little head. "Seventy years ago you saved my mother and me, then you saved this village twice... obviously it is written in your destiny that you now have to save the whole world," he sighed. "When are you going to leave?"
"Before dawn" she replied. "If I saw your wife, your sons, and the little kids again, I'd never be able to leave you. I'm sorry," she whispered stroking his hand, "I really wanted to celebrate your 70th birthday, your golden wedding anniversary..."
"Whatever happens," Andrea asked her, "promise me you'll survive."
"I'll try," Glitter promised. But in her heart she didn't know if she would be able to keep that commitment.
It was twelve forty-five, and Westminster Abbey was deserted. "I couldn't miss this date, my dear Charlie," whispered Glitter, placing a red rose on Charles Dickens' grave. She closed her eyes and let memories flow back into her heart.
He was a six year old boy when she had met him. He had been her first human friend, her teacher. He had chosen her as his confidant, and she had loved him, a platonic love but no less tender or passionate. Of course he had his flaws, he was always with many women, both before getting married and afterwards... but he had taught her the mysterious ways of writing and numbers, he had been her guide in the great world of humans, and he had introduced her to God. "You weren't perfect, but you were good to me. I will never forget you," sobbed the fairy hiding her face in her hands.
"Mom, mom! Look, a fairy!" a child cried out in French. He turned around and Glitter took refuge behind a marble pillar.
"Jean François La Roque! How many times have I told you not to tell lies?" a haughty and bespectacled woman scolded him. "You are eight and a half years old, it's time for you to stop making up stories..."
"But I'm telling the truth, Mom!" the boy protested. "She left a flower on this grave and she started crying..."
"A tribute from some of the great writer's admirers," said his older sister, "the English are so romantic..."
"If you don't stop it, you naughty boy, you'll see the back of mine and your father's hands when we get back to the hotel!" the lady cut off her speech and turned to the girl and took her under her arm. "Come, Stéphanie, let's take advantage of this moment of tranquillity..." she said, walking towards an ancient altarpiece.
"I don't tell lies," murmured Jean, sniffling.
Glitter came out of her hiding place, he rubbed his eyes and looked at his loved ones in the distance. "Please," the fairy pleaded, "promise me that you won't tell anyone about me. It will be our secret, just yours and mine."
He looked at her, looked back at his mother and sister, then adopted a decisive frown, "I promise," he finally said.
"You are a brave little man, Jean. Keep your heart open and clear and maybe one day we will meet again." She planted a kiss on his cheek that made him blush all over, then she flew up and filled the sacred place with iridescent reflections. "Oh, très jolie!" Stéphanie exclaimed.
The human wore a long jacket, black like his wide-brimmed hat, a thick beard framed his face, and long curls hung from his temples. He walked close to the wall, looking around constantly. Suddenly a hand clamped over his mouth while other hands grabbed him, dragging him into a dark alley. Four men hit him with kicks and punches, leaving him breathless on the tarmac. The leader of the pack grabbed him by the hair, "Dirty Jewish pig, how do you feel now that your army is not here to protect you? I could cut your throat right now... but I want to be nice to you. If you say that there is no other god but Allah and that Mohamed is his prophet, we will let you go!"
"Elohim is my shepherd," the man murmured.
"Too bad for you," grinned the Muslim pulling out a long knife and bringing it up to his throat. Suddenly the blade was hit by an electric shock and shattered. The alley lit up with all the colours of the rainbow, and a small creature with big blue wings ordered them, "Let him go! Have you not heard the word of Clement: ‘Let there be no compulsion in matters of faith’?"
"It's a female jinn!" one of them exclaimed. The ringleader let go of the Jew and turned to Glitter. "Our great Prophet taught us how to treat them: ‘Fight those who do not believe in Allah and the Last Day, who do not forbid what Allah and His Messenger have forbidden, and those, among the people of the Scripture, who do not choose the religion of truth, until they humbly pay their tribute, and are subdued,’ and he gave us an example by defeating them and putting them to death."
"When your prophet was cast out of the holy city his heart perverted to evil, and he replaced words of peace with words of war," said the fairy, "but in the beginning it was said: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’”
"Shut up, blasphemer!" shouted another, shooting at her, but Glitter easily avoided the shots. "Because your hearts are corrupt and your minds are blind," she said, "the Most High has placed you in my hands, so that you may receive just punishment for your sins." She drew a wide circle with her arms and tongues of fire flowed out of the ground, hitting the Muslims on their backsides. "It burns! It burns!" they shouted as their weapons flew out of their hands.
"Get out of my sight, you evil and adulterous generation!" cried the fairy. "Get lost before the Lord's wrath destroys you!" They did not need to be told a second time.
"Are you okay?" Glitter asked the human, touching his bruises.
"Y-yes, I'm fine," he murmured, still amazed, "the pain is fading as you touch me... how can I thank you?"
"Mum's the word," she whispered before taking off.
"Ladies and gentlemen, another round of applause for the king of illusions... the great Salamander!" invoked the announcer who got a prompt response from the audience. The magician took off his top hat, took a big bow, then threw a pinch of magnesium dust onto the stage which exploded in a big blaze, and he disappeared. I love the East End, he thought, satisfied.
Two minutes later he went into his dressing room and stiffened. He closed the door behind him and said, "Get out!" Then he turned on the light, looked around and saw her sitting in front of the mirror. She was three inches tall, had blonde hair, white skin, two large butterfly wings, and looked at him with enigmatic green eyes. "I don't want to hurt you, Mr Salamander," she said slowly, "or should I call you Captain Will Sheperd, MI6 Counterterrorism Section?"
Sheperd opened his jacket and pulled out a pistol from his armpit holster but a mysterious force took his weapon away and made it float in mid-air. The little creature moved her fingers gracefully, the magazine came out and the bullets fell one after the other on the floor. Then, invisible hands dismantled the gun, placing the pieces neatly on the ground.
The captain was astounded, then he recomposed himself. "Okay, if you wanted to kill me, you'd have done it by now... So what do you want from me?" he asked.
"Your world is in danger," the mysterious figure said.
"My world is always in danger," the human snorted. "Russians, Chinese, Koreans, Isis... that's why we need people like me. Is that all you've got to tell me, sister?"
"The threat I'm trying to warn you about is much more real," she insisted. "Invisible death will strike all your leaders gathered together on Midsummer's day..."
"The G-20 summit in Clearwell Castle on the June 24th!" exclaimed Sheperd. "How do you know that? That news is not yet in the public domain!"
"I will help you, but I want something in return," she went on. "The place where that building is located, the Forest of Dean, is threatened by deforestation... you must promise me that you will protect it."
The human was silent for several minutes with his eyes half-closed and his arms crossed over his chest. "Three days ago a haredi man survived a lynching thanks to a kind of sprite with great powers. Why did you do that?” he asked.
"I can't let innocent blood be shed," replied the little creature, "and they are like canaries..."
“What do you mean?”.
"One day someone told me that miners carry canaries in a cage inside the coal mines," she recounted. "If the canaries die, it means the tunnel is full of poisonous gas... Well, I believe that the Jews are like sentinels for people: when life gets hard for them, sooner or later everyone is in danger."
"I'll do my best to meet your wishes," promised Captain Sheperd and extended his hand to her. "But I don't make a deal unless I know who my ally is first."
"My name is Glitter," said the fairy.
Sayed Quraish looked down on the visitor. "It is forbidden to bring animals inside," he reminded him, pointing to the small box he held under his arm.
"There's no animal in here," said Sheperd confidently.
The young archivist stared at him doubtfully, looked at his badge one more time, and fixed his shirt on which there were some ketchup stains. "Follow me," he said.
They walked for about a hundred metres through long rows of filing cabinets, then stopped in front of a large armoured cabinet marked ‘F’. "Is that for Fairy?" asked the captain.
"Obviously," retorted Quraish sarcastically. "The residents of Downing Street have always refused to accept the meaning of these artifacts, but they cannot deny the evidence, so they buried it down here pretending that it did not exist."
He pulled out a bunch of keys and opened the door. The cabinet contained neatly stored, numerous biological samples of various nature and size, as well as stacks of typescripts with the Third Reich seal. "I've spent whole nights studying them," he said proudly. "I can quote them from memory."
"What's it about?" asked Sheperd.
"Fata rosaurea, common name Rose Fairy, or so she called herself while talking in her sleep," he said, showing off. "Found unconscious in the Auschwitz gas chamber, she was taken to Berlin and entrusted to the Institute for Cellular Biology Research. Those are the reports found by our troops in the building's basement. The researchers discovered that she had the power to regenerate, which led them to subject her to several rather... invasive experiments," he concluded in a cracked voice.
"Experiments? What kind of experiments?" Sheperd pressed.
"Do you really want to know? Look!" He pulled out a glass jar and showed it to the visitor; inside there was a small left leg immersed in a formalin solution. "Based on their mathematical models they predicted that the complete regrowth of the limb would take 22 minutes and then tested their theories. Sometimes I would like to pretend that it was classic Nazi barbarism... but how many children tear out the wings of butterflies just to see them struggle and die? And how many school children dissect live frogs under a microscope?" His hands were visibly shaking as he put the container back. "The Institute was burned to the ground by the bombing of 18th November 1943... perhaps she died under the rubble..."
"I'm alive," Glitter said, coming out of the box. Sayed Quraish was paralysed with amazement and his naturally olive complexion became as pale as a corpse. He fell to his knees and began to cry like a child, "Forgive us," he repeated several times, "forgive us..."
"I forgave you a long time ago," the fairy consoled him, drying his tears. "Ever since Dr Hartmann freed me that night, I haven't been able to hate you... so you should stop too."
"All that you have seen and heard is top secret," the captain warned him before he left.
"I won't tell anyone. I don't need to," he promised, putting his glasses back on. "Today I received more than I ever dared hope for."
The car stopped at the edge of the forest. "We will have to continue from here on foot," announced Captain Will Sheperd.
"I'm going alone," said Glitter. "You wait here."
She went deep into the woods where even sunlight hardly filters through, then she stopped in mid-air, shone her wings and said in a loud voice, "I am the Rose Fairy, don't you recognise me? Show yourselves, my sisters!"
Half a minute later, little creatures came out from behind the trees and bushes. "Are you really the Rose Fairy?" one of them asked. "The ancient legends speak of you... you are the one who decided to live with the humans..."
"It's me" assured the fairy. "I want to talk to the Queen Fairy."
Her companions' eyes filled with tears. "The Queen Fairy you knew died a long time ago," they replied, "she always hoped you would return, right until the very last day... Now the Lily Fairy is our ruler, and she still hates you."
"Take me to her," she asked determinedly.
"Well, look who it is," the Lily Fairy sneered sitting on a flower with her legs crossed, surrounded by her loyal subjects. "I don't even know what to call you, since you denied your fairy nature..."
"Call me Glitter, or whatever you like," she said shortly. "I'm here to ask for your help, Queen Fairy. Humans are devouring this forest day after day, but I have made a pact with them. If we help them foil the evil plans of their fellow human beings, they will stop felling trees and polluting rivers..."
"What an imagination!" exclaimed the Lily Fairy sarcastically stroking her chin. "I think that actually you are tired of living with humans and you invented this pile of lies thinking that we would welcome you with open arms... but I'm not falling for it! You're just an opportunist, a renegade. There's no room for you here anymore, and if any of you listen to her," she said to the other fairies, "you'll be banished like her!"
"I'm not lying to you! Please believe me!" the fairy begged her. "Don't you care about the fate of your people?"
"Humans are not as omnipotent as you think," said the Queen. "Sooner or later they will stop in front of the inaccessible heart of the great forest... and then we can continue to live undisturbed. Now leave!"
Glitter turned away from her, disconsolate. She had failed across the board... "Wait!" said a little voice: it was a young fairy with amber skin and short green hair. "I am the Oak Fairy," she said, "and I believe what you said. I want to come with you and offer you my help."
"I will come with you too" promised another, stepping forward. "I am the Pine Fairy."
"And I am the Alder Fairy," a third creature introduced herself. "The Queen Fairy... the one before... always said that you showed great courage in leaving the quiet life in this forest to mix with the humans... We want to see what is beyond the last tree too."
"If you come with me, you will never be able to go back. Do you realise that?" asked Glitter.
"We know... but we don't care," the Oak Fairy proclaimed decisively, putting her hand on her shoulder. "If you've managed to survive among humans all this time, we will too."
"Thank you, my friends," exclaimed the fairy, feeling touched. "We have a long journey ahead of us, during which I will have to explain many things to you..."
Agents Danny Josephson, Seira Knightley and Andrew Carter couldn't believe their eyes, "Wh-what are those, boss?" they asked in unison.
"Additional resources," Sheperd said dryly. "Now sit down and get acquainted."
"Hey, are you a new generation robot?" Carter said, settling himself on the chair.
"I'm the most recent to be born, yes," replied the Alder Fairy, "but I don't know what the word ro... bot means. Glitter hasn't taught me everything yet."
"Hello," the woman introduced herself. "My name is Seira, I'm twenty-eight, I'm happily a lesbian and single by choice."
"Nice to meet you," the Pine Fairy said in return. "My name is Pina, I'm over seventy-five years old, I'm happily a fairy and agamic by nature."
"My name is Danny," began agent Josephson, "and my favourite weapons are, Beretta semi-automatic caliber 9 mm Parabellum, and a knife with an ebony handle and ceramic blade, invisible to metal detectors and very sharp," he finished with a very pleased look.
"Oooh, I bet you feel invincible when you hold your toys, don't you?" the Oak Fairy observed nastily. "Let's take a look..." She stretched out her arms, and the gun and knife flew towards her, stopping in mid-air and turning around in a circle like juggling balls.
"Hey, give them back!" the human exclaimed, trying in vain to grab them back.
"Sniff, sniff... so it's not your body that smells so bad, it's this strange dust," she murmured looking inside the barrel. "And what does this little lever underneath do?" she asked, reaching her little hand out to the trigger.
"Be careful!" screamed Danny yanking the weapon away from her. "Are you trying to kill yourself?"
"A moment of your attention, please." Sheperd clapped his hands, pressed a few buttons, and the table lit up. "Our target is a terrorist cell planning a massacre at the G-20 in Clearwell in two days, most likely with a dirty bomb," he informed his men. "We have to search all the villages near the Forest of Dean: inns, bed & breakfasts, abandoned farmhouses, every space in which they can hide a large enough vehicle. Get ready, we're leaving in half an hour!"
"Look, Oaky, this may not be the right time to ask, but... why do you fairies not wear clothes?" asked Danny Josephson.
"And you humans, why do you wear them?" the Oak Fairy rebutted.
"Well, for decency," the confused young man justified himself, "because if we went around naked we would feel like worms..."
"We feel exactly like what we are," the fairy declared.
They were on the top of a small hill, sheltered by a bump. Captain Sheperd looked at his clock, "Are you sure they'll be coming through here?" he asked agent Carter.
"Absolutely sure, boss," he said, scanning the street below with binoculars. "Three Middle Eastern males in a black van do not go unnoticed in Gloucestershire... There they are!" he exclaimed triumphantly, pointing to the vehicle that was travelling at high speed.
"We have to stop it at all costs," Sheperd ordered.
"I've got this!" shouted the Alder Fairy, jumping out of the hiding place.
"Hey, what do you think you're going to do by yourself?" cried Andrew Carter. The fairy glared at him, "Call me Alna, not ‘hey’," she hissed before launching into the attack.
A large boulder lay on the right side of the road. The little creature closed her eyes, took a deep breath - first lesson: one step at a time, she thought. She stretched out her arms and the boulder began to roll faster and faster towards the van that was coming, until the crash was inevitable.
"Let's go get them!" ordered Glitter swooping at her companions' heads. The three humans got out of the vehicle, one of them was hit by a spray of water and dropped his gun. The Pine Fairy grabbed the leg of the second one and rolled him onto the ground. "You were right, Glitter," she exclaimed joyously, "the bigger they are, the easier they are to throw down."
"Die, you shameless unfaithful girl!" shouted the third terrorist, brandishing a dagger. "Shameless how?" the Oak Fairy screamed furiously. She lifted him up, spun him around twice and threw him to the ground. Then, panting, she said, "Are all you humans so fixated on this?"
The first of them got up, ran to the van and opened the rear compartment, which contained a large cylindrical drum connected to an electronic device. "Stop!" Glitter shouted, hurling a thunderbolt at him that caused him to collapse to the ground. That shot marked the end of the fight.
"If that had exploded in your forest, it would have turned it into a desert," Sheperd said satisfied after examining the device. "Really good work, girls!" As the four fairies rejoiced, two other small creatures who had been sent as reconnaissance took flight from a nearby bush to report what they had just seen, heard and understood with terror.
"What's with the getup?" Danny asked.
"I don't like it when you look at me... like that," murmured Oaky with a long strip of toilet paper draped around her body. "You make me feel dirty. No forest animal has ever looked at me like that..."
"I'm sorry," he muttered, blushing. "The fact is that... even though you're small... you're a very beautiful woman."
The fairy was speechless, then she recomposed herself. "You're not bad either... for a human," she smiled.
"It's useless," puffed the captain as he walked out of the interrogation room. "That is one tough guy."
"Leave it to me." Agent Josephson drew his knife. "No!" the Oak Fairy stopped him. "Those who do nasty things become nasty themselves."
"We have to get him to talk at all costs, otherwise the snake will come back to bite," Sheperd warned.
"I can soothe pain and erase memories," Glitter murmured looking at the palms of her hands, "but right now we need much more than that..."
"Let me try," Oaky decided, and before anyone could stop her, she was already in front of the prisoner. "I'm not afraid of you, Satan's servant," he said, spitting on her.
The fairy wiped the spittle off her body, unperturbed. She touched the human's chest and ordered in a calm voice: "Now you will answer all our questions, you will tell the whole truth, and you will not leave out any details... For starters, who is your boss?"
"My boss is the Squinter Sheikh," the terrorist began, his gaze lost in the void. "He was the one who enlisted us, took care of our training, taught us how to assemble the bomb..."
"Well, I'll be damned!" exclaimed the medical officer. He took a syringe, slipped the needle into the prisoner's arm (who did not flinch), took a blood sample and passed it to his assistant, ordering him: "I want a complete spectrogram, faster than light. Identify that substance! Run!"
For three and a half hours Sheperd filled his notebook with notes, then he lifted up the phone and said only two words: "Call Langley."
Abdulaziz Moussaoui, known as the Squinter, dropped his satellite phone and took a long drag from the hookah. Plan A had failed, but all was not yet lost. "Sheikh, it's time for prayer," one of his disciples told him, helping him to stand up. In the grand hall dozens of mujahideen waited patiently, the Koran in their right hand and a Kalashnikov in their left.
"If it is Allah's will, we will sow terror in the English camp at dawn tomorrow," he proclaimed.
"Inshallah! Inshallah!" they shouted in unison.
"And after the English we will strike the French and Germans, and then we will strike the Americans and their Zionist masters! We will strike the Russians and the Chinese, and we will strike until the whole world bows under the thumb of Allah!" he continued in an excited voice.
"Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar!" his followers screamed, raising their guns.
"Death to the infidels!" he shouted waving his fist. "Death to the infid..."
He never finished that sentence. His death descended on him in the form of a Hellfire missile fired by an American drone, and not even the ashes of Squinter Sheikh remained. Immediately afterwards, a battalion of Kurdish guerrillas equipped with IMI rifles and night vision cameras surrounded the compound, machine-gunned the few survivors and entered the burning building. Five minutes later, the message that everyone had anxiously awaited appeared on the screens in the situation rooms in London, Washington and Jerusalem: TARGET TERMINATED.
"Hurraaay!" cried out MI6 technicians and operators patting each other on the back. "Great work," congratulated the Director. Sheperd was about to leave when a communications officer handed him a piece of paper, "Captain, perhaps you'd better read this..." she whispered.
The fairies waited in a private room together with their human partners. "I have two pieces of good and one piece of bad news," the captain announced with a face like thunder. "The first piece of good news is that we have dismantled the top of the organisation. The bad news is that before dying, the Squinter sent an order to a secondary cell; they have another dirty bomb, and they are going to blow it up in eight hours."
Everyone felt their blood run cold. "And what's the second piece of good news, boss?" Carter asked hopefully.
"We know where they're hiding."
The four-story building in the centre of Finsbury Park had seen better days. "There are ten of them," said Glitter confidently after using her overdeveloped senses. Sheperd looked at the Special Forces' wiretap agent, and he nodded.
"Stand by," he said in the communicator. "Oaky and Josephson will enter through the main door; Knightley, you and Pina through the emergency exit; Glitter, Carter and Alna with me on the roof. The rest of you wait twenty minutes, then, if you don’t receive a signal from me, break in and fire at will."
The two Iraqis on watch were stunned to see a small creature flying towards them, but were even more surprised when a mysterious force took away their weapons. They tried to grab her, but she lifted them both up like twigs and knocked their skulls against each other and laid them down on the ground before entering the building.
"Are you okay, Oaky?" Danny asked anxiously.
"Yeah! Now this is living!" exclaimed the fairy. Then she realised she had lost her improvised tunic and covered herself with her hands screaming "Don't look at me, pig! What thoughts are going through your head? I thank my Creator for making me small and impenetrable, otherwise you... Aaaahhh!"
The jihadist's hand squeezed her violently, Josephson hurled himself at him and forced him to let go, and Oaky rolled to the ground losing consciousness. The Muslim unsheathed a dagger and the two humans began fighting for several long minutes. The agent was about to be defeated, when the Oak Fairy flew towards the opponent and touched him on the jugular shouting, "Sleep!" The terrorist collapsed, exanimate.
"You saved my life," Danny said gratefully.
"Then we're even," Oaky agreed.
Meanwhile, the Pine Fairy had gone on ahead. She heard some chatter around the corner, so she flew close to the ceiling - the humans never look above their noses, she thought - and crashed down on the nearest one. She touched his neck and made him feel a very sharp twinge that forced him to crouch down to the ground groaning, then she turned to the other one, but he had already pointed his machine gun at her. He was about to pull the trigger, when there was a small, muffled thud. The human opened his eyes wide and fell dead as a stream of blood came out of his back. Seira moved forward with the flattened gun, approached the wounded terrorist and karate chopped him, causing him to pass out. "Old but always effective methods," she said to her companion.
"There are only five left. Let's go!" ordered the captain activating a large rifle mounted on a tripod. The crampon was wrapped around a chimney pot, Sheperd made sure the rope was tight, then hooked the pulley and slid down towards the building. Andrew Carter followed him a moment later, Glitter and the Alder Fairy had already opened the hatch to go down.
A grenade fell near the fairies and exploded with roar while the terrorists fired madly at the agents while hidden behind a wall. "There are too many for us, boss!" Carter cried. Suddenly a strong wind blew the roof off and hundreds of fairies burst into the attic. Glitter, who had just woken up, immediately recognised that the Lily Fairy was leading them.
"Save our sisters," she ordered, "and protect good humans!" She set an example by hurling herself at one of the jihadists and stunning him with an electric shock. Three others were attacked by swarms of small creatures who put them to sleep with the secretions of their hands. The last one left, the head of the cell, tore his shirt off showing the explosive jacket he was wearing and pulled a detonator out of his pocket.
"Watch out!" shouted the Lily Fairy. She threw herself towards the human being at full speed, pushing him against a window. She fell with him into the void, suffering the full force of the explosion.
"Lily Fairy! Lily Fairy, open your eyes!" Glitter was kneeling on the ground in the midst of shreds of bloody flesh, holding her partner in her arms. Half of her small body had been torn apart by the explosion. Around her, the Fairy People shared in the agony of their queen.
"Please bring some water!" she shouted to those around her, crying. "Give her some thermal water!"
"It's useless..." the Lily Fairy murmured.
"No, it's not useless!" she encouraged her. "Sulphur-enriched water stimulates cell regeneration... it worked for me, it will work for you too..."
"My spores are mature now," the other fairy panted. "It is time for me to give life to a new creature..."
"No! No!" sobbed the fairy, then she calmed down and became silent, not even she could change destiny.
The Lily Fairy was at death's door. "I was a very bad friend... I shouldn't have turned my back on you when you decided to see the world with your own eyes..." The Rose Fairy took her hand, "You have always been... and you will always be... my best friend."
"When you were born, the Fairy Queen entrusted you to my protection..." she asked with the last breath, "now you... take care... of who comes... after... me..."
"I promise you," swore Glitter.
"How are you, Oaky? You're getting along well, I see," said Glitter.
"Oh yes, things are good between us... especially since Seira taught me how to use a needle and thread," exclaimed the Oak Fairy, turning around to show off her new dress of leaves and bark. "By the way, I would like to ask you a favour, Queen Fairy..."
“Go ahead... and call me Glitter," she said. "I'm still not used to that..."
"Please... can I stay with the humans?" the little fairy held her hands together and begged. "I really like being a spy, or a counterspy, in short... arresting the bad guys, making them confess with my drugs... and getting to know Danny better, he's actually not that disgusting..."
"You are free to follow your own path," she reassured her by taking her hands in her hand, "but always remember that it is not enough to have great powers, you must also know when to use them and when not to use them."
"I'll keep that in mind" she promised.
"I kept my promise," Sheperd announced. "The law to declare the Forest of Dean a national monument will be passed tomorrow to the municipalities, and from then on nobody can cut down a tree, open a mine or do anything in your home."
"Thank you, Captain," said Glitter solemnly. "You are a man of your word."
"I did very little... all of mankind is indebted to you," he shrugged off her thanks. "You can ask me anything."
Glitter remained silent for a few minutes, thinking. Then, "Well, maybe you could do me a little favour..."
"Who is it?" Andrea Moroni asked through the intercom. It was about nine o'clock at night. "I'm carrying a message from a mutual friend," replied a man with a British accent on the other end.
When he opened the door, a man with a top hat, tailcoat and cloak stood in front of him and handed him a letter and a bundle of tickets. "My respects, sir," he said with a smile, "I hope you will come to watch with your whole family. Admission is free... for you and the whole village for the whole week." He took deep bow and went away shouting, "Come and see the great spectacle of illusions!"
"And she?" Sara asked anxiously. "Is she okay?"
"We will find out now." Andrea opened the still-damp sheet and began to read:
"Dear Andrea, dear Sara, I hope you are all well.
Many things have changed in my life in the past months: as the oldest member of the Fairy People, my job now is to take care of my sisters. Therefore I believe that we will never see each other again, but you and your family will always be in my heart.
At the bottom of the page I have written a special telephone number, if you or your fellow villagers should find yourselves in danger, Mr Salamander will resolve your problems with all the means at his disposal, and he has many resources... and if necessary, I myself will cross the land and the sea to come to your aid.
I will carry the memory of the years I spent in Sant'Antonio al Monte with all of you with me forever. Please forgive me, I had sworn never to cry again for any human being, but I can't hold back my tears. Please, do not forget your little fairy.
Goodbye and be happy, Glitter"
"Good luck, little darling," the man whispered.
The little creature opened her eyes in the corolla of a pure white flower. At first she only saw light, a dazzling light, then light became colour, and colour became coloured things. She unfolded the large white wings and saw many beings like her around her watching with curiosity. One of them came forward, smiled at her and spoke to her,
"Welcome to the world, new Lily Fairy. These are your sisters, and I am the Queen Fairy... but if you want, you can call me Glitter."