The beginning of “A Friday Fairytale” is a free download at this link:
Nadisda went as still as an ice sculpture, staring into that evil-looking gun. Perhaps Mike hadn’t meant to, but he had programmed fear of death very efficiently into her when he’d given her his memories. She could barely breathe; her thinking cut out altogether, and mindless panic gripped her every muscle in a dread version of rigour mortis. All she could think of was that she didn’t want to die. Behind Connor, black cast-iron roses involuntarily began to crawl up the cupboard.
“I’m asking what you are doing here,” demanded Connor angrily. “You are trespassing!”
Nadisda’s lips parted, but beyond that and a look of utter terror, she couldn’t get anything across. Connor McNaught flipped the light switch on. She saw now that his short-cropped curly hair was light-brown. A vague four-o’clock shadow was apparent on his shaved chin and cheeks. In his rumpled police shirt with his bullet-proof vest and his badges, he looked formidable, an invincible foe – one that the fairy had not expected to be encountering in Mike’s ‘real world’. She had no idea how much genuine damage a superhero like that could wreak in the solid, non-magic heavy gravity environment called Earth; but she knew from her inherited memories that whatever damage was done, would be practically impossible to undo and could swiftly lead to death. And this man, young but fully adult, looked like the kind of merciless character who’d squish a kitten if it bit him on the toe.
She tried again, and this time she managed a squeaky whisper past her uncooperative lips.
“Don’t kill me!”
Connor studied her with intensity; then he gave a despondent huff and lowered his gun. She nearly collapsed from relief.
“Damn, do you delinquent kids always have to be the prettiest of the whole damned generation?” He circled her once, switching the gun for a pair of handcuffs that he clipped around her wrists behind her back. “What the hell are you doing trespassing in my apartment?”
Her eyes flitted all over the room, mainly looking for inspiration. They found none. She was paralysed; she couldn’t even access her magic.
“How the hell did you get in?” he challenged.
Nadisda swallowed a few times, trying to get her voice under control.
“I don’t…” By now she had started to shiver over her whole body.
“Let’s get you sitting down, you look like you’re going to fall over!” Connor grabbed her arm. Something like an electric current zinged between them. He let go of her in shock, recoiling and staring at her. And then he shook his head and took her arm a bit more gently, and led her to the lounge, making her sit down on his deluxe leather settee. “You sit here, understood? I’m making you some… tea, I guess.”
Nadisda nodded mutely. There was nothing else she could do. Connor left the room, to head to his ultra-zen kitchenette.
That had been a spell of some sort! She scowled, and breathed. Connor, a.k.a. Hugo, was as unmagical as they got. Handsome as hell, true, and fearsome and threatening… wait!
With the menacing superhero out of the room, she was beginning to breathe again, and think clearly. A curse for Hero Hugo. Oh blast, what a trap! She found her centre of pure light and tapped into her magic to draw a protective wall around herself. An invisible second skin that made her impervious to enchantments, including her own vile spell. Valentine, I’ll get you for that! She had to find that moonstone, and soon.
She also needed to find her way back to Mike and warn him about the virus. Oh heck, it was too late! The virus had already destroyed the Magic Realms, and was copying the game over onto Connor’s computer right now. She had to stop the process somehow, if she could only figure out how.
The computer in Connor’s study was a desktop. This meant it had no battery, and… she smiled, focused and closed her eyes for a moment. A faint ‘pop’ from the room next door informed her that her ploy had worked. Ha! Take that, Hero Hugo! She leaned back in the settee and drew idle patterns of embossed vines on the ceiling with her eyes – because her hands were chained behind her back.
Connor McNaught’s hands were on autopilot creating a cup of bachelor-style tea. He kept tea in his cupboard for one reason only. Sometimes a visitor preferred it to coffee, whiskey or brandy. His hand closed around that bottle of brandy. Should he lace her tea a little? He opened it and took a swig, then poured some into her cup, over the teabag.
Connor was no less shaken from the encounter. That electric shock… had he imagined it? It had stripped his soul bare to him for a split second. Who was she? How could this be happening to him?
He realized that part of the reason she feared him, was his bullet-proof vest. So he took it off and left it on the floor in the kitchenette. He poured boiling water over the teabag-brandy-mess. His hand shook and he poured too much, spilling. He had to get himself back under control, dammit! He left the mess where it was, defying his own usual neatnick compulsions, and poured off enough of the semi-alcoholic mix into the sink so that there was space for milk. He added a drop of that, and some sugar – he didn’t, frankly, care at this point whether she took sugar or not, sugar was indicated in times of shock – for that matter, he ate a teaspoonful of sugar himself and then swigged the brandy bottle again before neatly restoring it to its usual place – and took a deep breath, found his calm and took the cup of tea (teabag still in it) to the lounge.
She was asleep, curled on his sofa despite her arms being bent behind her back. Pale skin like moonlight, that looked nearly luminous; her black hair wreathing like tendrils around her face and shoulders. Connor stood looking at her for a good minute before shaking himself out of his trance, putting the tea down and fetching a blanket for her.
Those handcuffs looked uncomfortable! He unlocked them, gently, so as not to wake her up, then very carefully brought her arms forward and re-clasped the handcuffs on her wrists in front of her. He didn’t want her to escape! She was still a delinquent who had trespassed into his office. She sighed in her sleep and shifted into a more comfortable position, her lips parting slightly. He stared at them, mesmerized. She was so beautiful!
There was something familiar about her. He couldn’t pinpoint it. He tore himself away and left her sleeping, and moved to his study to see how the download was going.
Nancy waited until she could hear no more sounds coming from the house. Damn, her friends had been arrested again! But the fairy’s fate worried her much worse. If the program had been destroyed by a virus, was Nadisda also dead? She stood clutching the external hard drive in her pocket and listening. Were they gone? She had to resurrect one of the computers – maybe Nadisda’s faulty one, in fact, it might be that it was untouched by the virus – just long enough to make sure the fairy was alive and well in the game.
It was quiet. She stood studying the stars. The sound of the police van leaving had faded minutes back. She crept closer to the house, blessing Nadisda for filling the garden with lush, soft grass that would not rustle or crack under her steps. Through the windows she saw that at least the kitchen was empty and still dark. She cautiously opened the back door, managing without a sound, and sneaked back inside, keeping in the dark, peering into the well-lit central room where all their laptops were still open on the table. The police hadn’t bothered to confiscate anything, but they might come back.
The Dell was safely in its briefcase, stashed against the wall, close to the door to the kitchen. She had to stick her whole head into the room to spot it, ready to bolt; the room was indeed deserted. She reached for the briefcase and left with it, out through the kitchen again, retreating into the little grove Nadisda had created.
They would see the light if she loaded it up. She considered. Was there even one place in the house that didn’t have tell-tale windows?
The garage. That should be fairly sealed. She found the back entrance and pushed the door open, coughing as dust assailed her. She’d need a power point for the laptop, its battery was prehistoric. So the grove wouldn’t have worked anyway. She chuckled at her own lack of logic and picked her way through stored-up old furniture and musty carpets, her small torch lighting the way, finding that power-point. She cleared a space around it, pulled an old garden-cushion closer and sat down on it, on the floor, plugged in the Dell and started it up, hoping the dust wouldn’t finish it off entirely.
The screen flickered to life, then booted up, taking half the eternity they were used to from it. She ran a virus-check that came out clean; then she connected the external drive.
The game loaded up, slowly. It was the reduced version that automatically came up when detecting an elderly computer: Lesser graphics, some options unavailable. It was good enough. It would not crash the computer. She suspected that the real reason for the earlier crash had been an unsound power connection, or possibly Mike forgetting and trying to run the full version on this little-old machine.
“Enter Magic Realms?” came the prompt, and she clicked “yes”. She picked level 6, and waited for it to load. The game opened in the high street of the town, with her avatar, the Princess, being eerily alone. There weren’t even generic ‘citizens’ around.
She picked her way to the Grove, patiently stomping through mud and brambles for several minutes. The Forest Fairy was sleeping in her den. Nancy poked at her until she opened weary and confused eyes.
“Nadisda, it’s me, Nancy!”
“The Realms are still up!” said Nadisda in surprise, sitting up and spreading out her wings. “The Magic Realms survive!”
“Yes. I’m on the old Dell, on a backup. I want you to come to the Real World with me, Nadisda! This is not safe. The Dell could give up its ghost any minute, or… Do you know that Mike and Jen and Ben were arrested?”
Nadisda gasped. Overhead, a vine crawled across the cave ceiling, burst into flower, matured into purple berries, and those exploded into showers of purple droplets. “Blast! So he wasn’t just bragging!”
“That cursed Hero Hugo.” She paused. Cursed indeed! She’d make him feel it! “He said that with his virus, he was hijacking the game and destroying it on Mike’s computers. He wants to steal it and publish it under his own name. He also said the virus had a tracker that would track down Mike’s computer. Nancy, so they found you all? But somehow you got away?”
“I escaped out the back before they came in,” said Nancy. “I had a feeling. We’re not connected to any network, we’re both safe for now. But you must come back to the real world with me, Nadee. You can’t stay here. If I shut the computer down and don’t get it started up again? Or if something happens to the backup drive?”
“I am in the real world,” said Nadisda. “I fell out of the game back into the world – you’ll never guess where.”
Nancy pulled a face. “I’ve an idea I won’t like this.”
“Hero Hugo’s apartment. I’m in the lounge of Connor the cop! I’m sleeping. You must coach me through this, I have no idea how to deal with cops.”
“Shit,” said Nancy. “Can you get away?”
“I can’t fly, he’s got me handcuffed,” said Nadisda. “I can’t use my wings that way, somehow.”
“Do you have magic?” asked Nancy.
“I think so, some of it. Haven’t yet tried how far my magic will reach in the real world. It’s heavy gravity, that inhibits magic quite a bit.”
“I think you still haven’t explored your full powers,” said Nancy.
“I think I managed to disable his computer though,” said Nadisda smugly. “He’s using a desktop. I may have disrupted the download.”
“Nancy,” said the fairy. “Do me a favour. Stay in the game if you can, and find me Faff the dragon. Ask him what we must do. He may be only level six, but he must know something. He’s been my mentor in magic.”
“I’ll do that,” promised Nancy.
“We have a right to a call,” said Jen angrily.
“Whom would you call?” asked Police Chief Henderson with an ironic smile.
“She’s innocent,” Mike pitched in. “She’s a graphic designer, that’s all. She hasn’t done anything illegal. You ought to let her go. This is the second time she’s arrested under false charges!”
The police chief graced Mike with an old stare. “Not speaking for yourself though, are you?”
“I want to file a charge,” said Mike angrily. “Cybertheft and wilful destruction of property.”
“Cybertheft? That is rich, coming from you!” laughed the chief.
“Cybertheft,” repeated Mike. “I’m an American citizen, even when I’m under arrest I have rights. I have the right to press a charge against someone who has done me in.”
“Very well,” said Henderson with a small shrug, fetching a form and a pencil. “So, whom are you accusing of cybertheft?”
“And wilful damage to our computers,” added Mike. “Connor McNaught. He’s in New York. He damaged our systems deliberately over the network and ripped my program. That’s piracy and it’s a criminal act.”
“McNaught tipped us off where to find you,” Henderson pointed out. “That’s pretty serious, pressing charges against a police officer.”
“He’s a bloody hacker in his off-time,” spat Mike. “How do you think he located us? I’m proposing that you guys investigate him for other acts of corruption, too.”
Henderson frowned and wrote down Mike’s charge.
“We’ll investigate,” he promised. “Because you are still young, and you are, as you pointed out, a citizen with rights, but realize this, Nickells. This is not a game of sides. It’s about the law.”
“I was hoping that,” said Mike.
“This doesn’t get you off the hook,” added Henderson. He motioned to the officers who were still holding onto the teenagers’ handcuffed arms. “Get them into the holding cells.”
“Thanks,” said Mike. “And you will let Ben and Jen go if you find nothing on them?”
“It’s about the law,” reiterated Henderson. “We’ll see what we can do, son. They do have a previous jailbreak, but if you say that was on false charges too… it could be that they get away with probation.”
Mike dared to feel relief. Henderson eyed him critically.
“There’s plenty on you, though,” he informed him. “Get prepared for a bit of a sentence. How old are you?”
“Juvenile court then,” said Henderson, almost to himself.
Mike nodded. If they managed to hold him that long! Ha!
Something in him told him that he could like the middle-aged police chief. The man was about law and honesty. Such people tended to be likeable. And a bit predictable.
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