Urgent garden fairy eviction,’ said the email from Stella Raynham, my boss.
A job! Finally!
Excitement raced through me as I scrolled down for the rest of the info. The job was at Cherubs, a children’s nursery school near Hyde Park, which, like a lot of London’s larger green spaces, is an ideal breeding ground for garden fairies. Despite being termed ‘garden fairies’ they need a lot of space. They also love anything sweet and sugary so they’d be like wasps buzzing around a jam jar at a kiddies’ nursery.
And, as Spellcrackers.com – a witch company – was being asked to do the eviction, it was a dead cert that the nursery only employed humans. No witch worth their salt would hire another witch to sort such a minor problem. Way too embarrassing.
Not that I’m a witch, but a sidhe fae. The only one in London. Something the tabloids love to dwell on (whenever they’re short of more interesting news) and, even though London is home to its fair share of lesser fae, vamps, and Others, my minor celebrity status has made me a curiosity to most humans. Still, that doesn’t mean the majority actually want me in their homes, or around their kids. My excitement dimmed.
‘They know I’m coming?’ I emailed back.
‘Yes. Owner wants the fairies gone before parents pick up at 5 p.m. Some are anti-magic.’
I scowled at the email. Well, that explained why the job was urgent and why I was the (un)lucky one. It was past noon now and I was likely the only Spellcrackers employee available— Hell, I was always the only one available. In fact I’d been so available since I’d got the job a couple of months ago that my continued employment was looking decidedly dodgy. I might be sidhe fae but I have less magical ability than a three-year-old witch, so Stella’s main reason for giving me a trial was my dubious celebrity status. I was supposed to bring work in, not scare clients away. And I needed the job, not only to pay the rent but, more vitally, for the protection working for the witches gave me.
‘Crap,’ I muttered, then emailed, ‘On my way.’
Fifty rushed minutes later, during which I’d picked up both the Licence to relocate the fairies – they’re a protected species – and the Honey-trap spell to evict them, I arrived at Cherubs. Given its size and location – a large Edwardian terrace in a quiet tree-lined street – the house had to be worth a small fortune; the private nursery business obviously paid well. No wonder the owner didn’t want her (anti-magic) parents upset.
I hitched my backpack higher, twitched my suit jacket straight and told myself not to screw this up.
I flipped the metaphysical switch inside me, and looked for magic. Nothing. As I’d expected— no wait . . . I squinted at the brass head of the smugly grinning cherub that acted as a door knocker . . . there was a smudge of pink on the cherub’s chin and the scent of strawberries clung to it; the fading traces of some sort of spell.
Before I could investigate further the door swung open and the traces dissipated into the ether. I swallowed back my irritation and gave my best professional smile to a harassed-looking woman of around thirty. Her pastel blue T-shirt was emblazoned with a picture of the cherub’s face and, like it, her plump face was haloed by short brown curls, but unfortunately for me, she wasn’t grinning.
Inwardly I sighed, and offered my card and the usual spiel. ‘Genevieve Taylor from Spellcrackers.com ~ making magic safe ~ Guaranteed. I’m here to relocate some garden fairies at the request of Ms Hyde-Smithe.’
The woman’s hand tightened to a white-knuckled grip on the door as she continued to give me a good look over.
I tried to look harmless. Which isn’t difficult as I look as human as the next twenty-four year old homo sapiens, so long as you ignore my sidhe eyes with their amber-coloured irises and cat-like pupils. They always freak folk out, even when they’re expecting me. I waited, praying she didn’t decide letting me in was a greater evil than leaving the fairies to wreak havoc among her parents.
After a tense few moments, she gingerly took my card. ‘I’m Angela Hyde-Smithe,’ she said, ushering me inside. I almost sagged with reprieve, then my heart stuttered as she held her hand up to stop me. ‘Mrs Raynham assured me that you would solve my problem quickly and with the utmost discretion. I can’t stress that enough, you do understand, Ms Taylor?’ her voice rose in question.
Unease pricked me. She seemed a tad over-the-top for a simple garden fairy problem . . . unless Stella hadn’t given me the whole picture, but why wouldn’t she? Unless she’s setting you up to give you the boot.
I shelved my possibly paranoid thoughts, told Angela Hyde-Smithe I did understand and followed her through the house. Her sandals slapped hurriedly against the black and red tiled floor, framed photos of shiny-faced toddlers laughed down at me from the walls, and the muted sound of children’s voices seeped from behind the closed doors. My nose wrinkled as the smell of boiled cabbage fought with the scent of lavender furniture polish.
At the end of a dim hallway we came to a glazed door. Angela wrenched it open and we exited out into a large garden containing a bark-covered play space, with toddler-sized swings, slides and seesaws, and a well-tended lawn. The lawn was scattered with the abandoned remains of a birthday picnic judging by the melted ice-creams, upturned jellies and a Barbie-pink cake with broken candles. All of it a magnet for the sugar-loving fairies.
I looked, checking again for magic. Unsurprisingly, the garden, and especially the discarded food, was sparkling like sunlight on water with all the fairy glitter. The ruined cake was the worst; it was glowing like a small pink supernova.
The bottom of the garden was wilder, with overgrown bushes and a row of silver birches rustling in the breeze. Faint shrieks drifted from it; pinpointing where the fairies were hiding. I dug in my backpack for the Honey-trap – an actual jar of honey spiked with female fairy pheromones and a spell which, when activated, left a magical contrail the fairies couldn’t help but follow.
‘There they are!’ Angela pointed to the sky.
I looked up, but for a moment the sun blinded me.
Then I saw them.
Two fairies zipped through the air, whistling and hooting, chasing after an iridescent blue dragonfly. Their long translucent wings vibrated in a blur, their mottled green skin glistened, and dirty yellow spikes quivered along their scalps. With their broad faces and elongated limbs, they resembled misshapen frogs capped with mutant dandelions. Except that frogs don’t have sharp-clawed extremities or mouths crammed with needle-sharp teeth.
As they neared, one of the fairies snatched the dragonfly out of the air by its tail and the other grabbed the insect’s head in its claws. I heard Angela gasp as they screeched at each other in triumph, then flew apart, ripping the dragonfly in two. They hovered, legs dangling while they stuffed the dismembered parts into their mouths. Even without the sugar stealing and the anti-magic parents, it wasn’t hard to see why Angela would want them gone.
I unscrewed the Honey-trap jar and put it on the grass.
The garden rang with a child’s laughter.
I jerked my gaze back to the sky. Then I forgot how to breathe.
A little girl of about three swooped through the air like she’d been doing it all her life. She was pretty in pink, from her pigtails and dungarees right down to the pink plastic daisies on her sandals. Her feathered wings – wings which someone had to have stupidly and dangerously conjured – were pink too. I finally gulped in air— and the same strawberry scent I’d caught at the front door choked in my throat.
Crap. Now I knew why Angela had been so OTT about me being discreet. The fairies weren’t her only problem.
‘You didn't mention this when you called Spellcrackers, did you?’ I asked, stuffing my panic away and whipping out my phone to ring Stella.
‘This didn’t happen until after I called,’ Angela snapped. ‘I can pay whatever the fee is, naturally, so long as you can assure me of your, and your company’s complete discretion.’
Well, that explained why Stella hadn’t told me. Or come herself. No way in hell would she leave me to deal with this on my own. And Angela didn’t have to worry about anyone’s discretion. Not when this could spawn headlines like; NURSERY FINED OVER HEALTH AND SAFETY BREACH; PROTECT OUR CHILDREN FROM MAGIC; and BAN SALES OF SPELLS. All of which could lead to lost revenue for the witches, or even riots and witch hunts if things got massively out of hand. But bad as the economic and political situation could get, it couldn’t compare with the one headline I prayed I wasn’t going to end up reading— TRADEGY AS BESPELLED TODDLER PLUNGES TO DEATH.
Which she would do as soon as the spell wore off.
‘What’s her name?’ I asked, my gaze flicking between the flying child and the trashed birthday cake still glowing like a pink supernova.
Stella answered her phone. I filled her in, finishing with, ‘It looks like fairies contaminated the birthday cake with their glitter and the Cake-wish spell in it got a magical boost.’ No way would the Cake-wish spell normally give a kid wings. In fact, the cakes usually came with a list of guaranteed wishes – like talking toys – for parents to prime their kids with so they didn’t end up disappointed. Though what on earth would persuade Anti-magic Angela to buy a birthday cake with a wish in it anyway, was a mystery. One I wasn’t too concerned with right now as the answer wasn’t going to get Gemma down safely. My heart plummeted as Stella told me she was a good forty minutes away, and to do what I could until she got there.
I ended the call.
‘Ms Taylor, now you’ve phoned your boss and appraised her of the situation’ – Angela’s tone told me she’d considered that call unnecessary – ‘can you please retrieve Gemma before she gets hurt. That is what you’re here for.’
I was here to evict garden fairies. An easy job which involved dropping an activation crystal into a jar of spelled honey, turning whoever carried the jar into a garden fairy pied piper for as long as it took to take the fairies back to where they belonged. If the eviction didn’t need a Licence, any Tom, Dick, or Angela Hyde-Smithe could do it themselves, since the magic was pre-prepared and no spell-casting ability was required.
Good thing too, since I literally can’t cast a spell to save my life.
The bad thing was— I couldn’t cast a spell to save Gemma either.
‘How long’s Gemma been flying about?’ I asked.
Angela’s lips thinned. ‘Twenty minutes, give or take.’
The Cake-wish spells usually lasted about an hour. Gemma could, and very probably would, drop out of the air before Stella arrived.
I frantically searched for something I could do. I couldn’t cast spells but I could crack them. But cracking the Cake-wish spell with Gemma still in the air was an obvious non-starter. Not to mention cracking a spell damages whatever the spell’s tagged to – in this case the little girl – so definitely not the happy outcome any of us wanted. The usual, safer (and more time-consuming) way would be to shred the Cake-wish spell, but for that I needed to touch it. And for that I needed Gemma safely down on terra firma. Or I could call the magic and tag it to something else. But that would leave Gemma in the air without wings— Fuck. Didn’t matter what I came up with, I hit a dead end (no pun intended).
Gemma gave a high-pitched scream of delight as another dozen garden fairies, junked up on sugar, appeared and zoomed fast orbits round her like hyperactive Tinkerbelles. A swirling heart of magic spun out from Gemma and the fairies in a kaleidoscope of pinks, like a Catherine-wheel sending streamers of light shooting through the air.
There was one other thing I could do with magic— suck it up like I was a magical vacuum cleaner. Of course that did have its downsides, usually painful . . . An idea hit me.
‘Do the children play It?’ I asked. ‘Or tag?’
‘They play It.’ Angela frowned. ‘Why?’
‘I'm going to try and coax her down,’ I said. ‘You need to keep well back until I’ve got her.’
‘Why?’ Angela asked.
Because what I’m going to do is unpredictable and dangerous, and I don’t know if I can pull it off, I wanted to shout. Instead I kept my tone calm. ‘It’ll be easier and quicker if there are no distractions. Okay?’ I saw the woman nod out the corner of my eye.
I concentrated, spread my arms out and mentally flicked the magic to get its attention. Magic isn’t something you can talk to or reason with, but it does have a sort of sentience. A long pink streamer whipped down, slapped playfully against my hand. I grabbed it, absorbing it into my body, feeling it burn like a ribbon of hot wax as I trapped it inside.
‘Gemma,’ I shouted, waving my arms at the little girl. ‘Hey, Gemma.’
She gazed down at me, a wary expression on her face; she wasn’t about to let me spoil her fun.
I jumped up and down, ‘Want to play, Gemma? Come and plaaaay.’
I tugged at the magic I held. I felt it resist, then give slightly as the little girl flew towards me. Relief trickled through me. I gently pulled the magic again, towing the flapping Gemma closer. I caught another strand and tapped it carefully against her leg, shouting, ‘You're It, Gemma! Bet you can't catch meeeee.’ I jumped behind the swings, crab-walking fast and low past the slide, pretending to run and hide.
Sweat trickled down my back. Would it work?
Gemma’s cry of excitement sliced the air as she shot through the sky, pretty face screwed up with purpose, the fairies in pursuit. I jinked to the left, aiming for the abandoned picnic. I saw Angela, mouth open, arms flung wide, running to intercept Gemma. My pulse sped faster, drumming in my ears. Stupid, stupid woman. What if she caught the child? I couldn't stop the magic now, it was pouring into me like molten lava, no way to slow it down. I had to be holding Gemma when the last of the Cake-wish spell left her or it could rip through her body like a chain saw. Blood pounded in my head. I shouted at Angela, but she ignored me, then, just as her fingers almost grasped Gemma’s leg, the toddler rocketed past.
She sped straight at me, the fairies arcing around her like tracers. I jogged slowly across the grass letting her catch me. The swirl of magic engulfed me, the rank smell of fairy tainting its sweetness. I locked into the heart of the Cake-wish spell, trying to ignore the volcano of magic boiling in my gut. Gemma yelled and swooped down. I ducked and turned, forcing her closer to the ground as she stretched out to smack my shoulder.
‘It,’ she shouted in victory.
Her wings buffeted the air as she struggled to fly back up and away. Breath catching in my throat, I leaped, hands clutching hold of her small body. Yes! My foot landed on something uneven. The ground barrelled up to meet me with the speed of an express train. I twisted as I fell, dropping so my back hit the grass and Gemma’s small body landed safely on top.
I hugged her tightly as she squirmed, and breathed in her little girl smell with a deep feeling of thankfulness . . . The Cake-wish magic settled inside me and the pain muted to a warm current that churned under my skin. Soft feathers fluttered beneath my palms as I absorbed the last of the magic and vanished her wings.
A small sticky fist crammed sweetness into my mouth and up my nose – birthday cake. I snorted and opened my eyes. Gemma's brown ones twinkled mischievously back at me, while above her head flew a corona of garden fairies whooping as they pelted us with more of the smashed sponge cake.
Gemma giggled and patted my cheek. ‘Happy Birthday, lady.’
A glob of strawberry jam smacked against my forehead and I felt it trickle into my hair . . . then I was laughing and giggling along with her.
‘Ms Taylor,’ Angela crouched down, her face slack with fear and relief. ‘Is it safe to take her?’
I nodded. She lifted the little girl, hitching her on her hip. Gemma settled her head on Angela’s shoulder and wrapped her arms around her neck, sleepy.
She wasn’t the only one. I was exhausted. But I'd done it! Gemma was safe. That was worth the tired ache in my bones. Not to mention the seething gutful of magic, a few cake stains and the odd bruise or twenty. I started to push myself up, then I heard Stella’s voice. The cavalry had arrived, just in time to deal with the dreaded paperwork. I flopped back down, thinking I’d get the Honey-trap and sort the garden fairies in a minute . . . or three . . .
‘Well done, Genny!’ Stella’s voice woke me. I squinted guiltily up through my lashes, then opened my eyes fully once I saw she was smiling like the cat that caught the canary.
‘Thanks.’ I said, scrambling to my feet and raking fingers through my sticky hair. ‘I take it Ms Hyde-Smithe paid up without any problem?’
‘She did! We also worked out a nice little retainer to Ward the garden and house, to ensure that she won’t have any more problems like this one.’
No wonder Stella was happy. ‘What about the parents who are anti-magic?’
Stella laughed. “‘What the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve over”, as Ms Hyde-Smithe was quick to inform me.’
‘Fair enough. Though, I still wonder why she bought the cake in the first place.’
‘Ah, she delegated that job to a new member of staff, who apparently wasn’t aware of certain parents’ prejudices on the subject of magic. The girl’s on a job trial but she seems like she understands how things work so I’m sure she won’t suffer for her mistake.’
In other words, Stella thought the girl had enough about her to offer to keep stum so long as she kept her job.
‘So where does that leave me?’ I asked, striking while the proverbial iron was hot.
Stella raised a questioning brow.
‘C’mon, Stella, I know my employment at Spellcrackers hasn’t exactly had clients beating their way to your door, which is what you hoped when you took me on.’
‘True,’ she agreed, ‘and I admit I was disappointed. But I think today has shown that you have other qualities that can benefit Spellcrackers. I got here in time to see you make the magic disappear. That,’ she paused and her canary smile widened, ‘is a very interesting and unique ability.’
I narrowed my gaze. ‘It is?’
‘Yes.’ She linked arms with me. ‘I’ve had my eye on a very lucrative contract for a while and, now I’ve seen what you can do, I think you’re just the one for the job. Think you could clear up magic like that from somewhere as large as Trafalgar Square?’
Trafalgar Square with its bronze lions and guaranteed tourists was pixie heaven, or hell, depending on which way you looked at it. No matter how many times the little monsters were nabbed and sent back to the Cornish sea, like the tide, they just kept coming back. Dealing with them was a never ending job . . . and that was just what I needed!
I grinned at Stella. ‘Trafalgar Square should be a piece of cake.’
That got me an eye roll before she said, ‘Good. So first we relocate these pesky garden fairies, then we’ll get the website updated. How does Pixie Specialist sound?’
Pixie Specialist sounded perfect.