First published in Kazka Press, Evil Girlfriend Media, and in audio at Cast of Wonders.
No one thinks about the empty note casings after the nightly revelry. Someone has to pick them up, right? That I spent four grueling years at the Acoustic Academy at Stormy Point for the privilege is something I try not to think about.
True, it takes only a breath or two to chase the notes into my sack. Still, patrolling the DMZ (Disharmonious Zone) feels anti-climactic. I didn’t sign up for this. But now, with the sun nearly cresting the horizon, I can’t say what I did sign up for.
I holster the piccolo and continue the patrol. When I first enlisted, I wanted something shiny, something big and brassy, a trumpet or a trombone, or—if I dared to dream—the saxophone. (Really, who doesn’t want the sax?) The supply sergeant gave me a once over and puttered around her inventory on grizzled wings.
“Here you go, sweetie,” she said, dropping a piccolo into my outstretched hands.
My own wings sputtered, and I sank to the ground in disbelief.
“None of that,” the supply sergeant barked. “Remember, everyone underestimates the girl with the piccolo. Don’t let them.”
Perhaps I have. Let them, that is. This might explain why that piccolo and I now do border patrol.
Through my viewfinder, I scan the tree line on the other side of the DMZ. I catch sight of my enemy counterpart. She is a brilliant pink, where I am midnight blue. Her wings drip with glitter. Mine spark with stardust. I wonder how she can breathe a single note through her piccolo with all that tinsel in the air.
Through the lens, I see her eyebrows furrow. When her viewfinder is level with mine, I stick out my tongue. This, sadly, is the highlight of my evening.
I near the border, my bag overflowing with spent notes. I swipe the residue from a tuba casing. The tubas are so wasteful. I can fuel my piccolo for a week on what they leave behind. Across the way, the pink fairy dips and swoops; I suspect she’s doing the same thing I am.
A shift in the air makes the fine hairs on my wings stand on end. I shoot skyward just as a full marching band crowds the path alongside the meadow. Stardust fills the air. I could reach out and pluck notes as they float past me. I might. Except. This particular band? Doesn’t include a piccolo player. Underestimated? Try forgotten. Typical. They can play on without me.
I turn to fly away when the stench of rotted nectar hits me. I blink back tears. The aroma clogs the back of my throat. The players are drunk, spoiling for battle, and a wing’s breadth away from the DMZ. From above, I watch the band weave along the path, each rousing measure inching them closer to treaty violation. I cast a look for the security forces. Certainly someone is on the way.
Or not. I blow a few quick notes into my piccolo, an alert that may not reach its intended recipients, at least, not in time. Frantic, I peer through my viewfinder. The stricken face of my counterpart stares back at me, a hand on her own piccolo. A few breaths and she will bring in her own band—and they will not be drunk. They will be deadly, armed with wing-piercing notes. They will tear across the meadow, swoop into the DMZ, reigniting the Fairy Wars.
All on my watch.
I pull out my piccolo. Next, I take a quick peep through my viewfinder to make sure my pink counterpart is watching. She is. I mimic holding a baby, of rocking it to sleep in my arms. Certainly this movement is universal. Pink fairies come from somewhere, yes? I peer through my viewfinder again. Nothing but a pair of pink fuzzy eyebrows, drawn into a frown.
I rock my imaginary baby again, then hold up my piccolo. I run my fingers across it while holding my breath—one false note will bring my plan crumbling down. I check my viewfinder again. One of those pink eyebrows is raised. In question? Understanding? This time, I waltz with my imaginary baby before checking the viewfinder.
I hope her smile means what I think it does. I hope this isn’t a ruse. Without her help, I will be tried for treason, assuming, of course, I survive the ensuing battle.
I hold up a hand for the countdown … three … two … one. Fairies have many lullabies, but only one in three-quarter time. When pitched just right it soothes the most colicky baby, sends mortals into a deep sleep. As for drunken fairies …
Her piccolo plays counterpoint to mine. At first, my comrades show no sign of stopping their rampage. In fact, the tuba player bursts through the ranks, intent for the DMZ and the meadow beyond.
Before he can reach the DMZ, his pace flags. The tuba slips from his grip. His wings falter. By the time both are on the ground, he’s snoring. The rest of the band drops off, in twos and threes, notes scattered everywhere. My own notes, and those of the pink fairy, play in the sky, creating an iridescent lavender that prolongs the night.
At last I need a breath—and so does she. I alight on the tuba. From this vantage point, I can peer across the meadow. Through my viewfinder, I study my enemy counterpart. How many times has she fogged my view with pink glitter? How many times have I stuck out my tongue? This time, before she can look away, I salute. Then, I shoot skyward. Someone else can clean up all these notes. After all this time, I realize what the supply sergeant meant.
Never underestimate the girl with the piccolo.
That goes for both of us.