Mama Nette carefully latched the gate on the white picket fence surrounding her garden. She climbed the wooden back porch steps, entered the kitchen, and was greeted by the sterile silence of the indoors. Rich, brown earth ran into the sink as she rinsed her calloused fingers, fingers that were beginning to twist with her age like the branches of an ancient tree. Most of her day had been spent tidying up after her grandson’s 3rd grade class had toured the garden on a field trip. She cut back broken stems of squash and lavender, remulched a few beds, and cleaned up the pathways between them. After tending to the compost, it was time to call it a day and trust the garden to nature’s care.
Drying her hands on a well-worn apron, Mama Nette gazed out the kitchen window that overlooked her plentiful, one acre garden. There were larger traditional farms around that Newburg relied upon for food. But none of them entertained tours from all over town like Mama Nette’s garden. People flocked to see the old fashioned way of growing plants: in the ground where they were nourished by the rain and warmed by the sun. There was no heavy machinery and no hydroponic systems or artificial growth mediums. No soulless grow lights would shine on Mama Nette’s plants. Yet, per square foot, she still had the highest yield of herbs and vegetables which she sold on to potion and medicine makers. As rambunctious as the touring kids got—and the adults too--Mama Nette welcomed them. She wanted the world to remember how to communicate with and embrace nature.
She scrubbed and began peeling potatoes for the evening’s supper; a curried chicken just the way her daughter, Louisa, liked it. The last potato was almost peel-less when the kitchen door flew open. Her grandson, Armand, breezed in, offered a truncated “hey”, and threw his backpack to the floor on his way to the living room.
“Excuse me! Come back in here, Armand, and talk to me!”
The boy dragged his feet on the way back in muttering, “Sorry.”
“Now, how was your algebra test?”
“Good. Made a 90.” His chestnut eyes sparkled.
“That’s great. Your parents will be very proud. Now go on and get the carrots in for supper. We need six!”
“I’m supposed to get online for a com-game with Mick and Joey!” he pleaded, shoulders slumping dramatically.
“They’ll be there later. Now go and do as I said.”
Armand sighed and mumbled, “Yes Ma’am” as he opened the kitchen door again.
“And don’t forget to-“
“Shut the gate, yeah I know.”
Mama Nette tsked and finished her peeling. Armand was such an intelligent boy. She smiled to herself as she diced the potatoes. He got that from both his parents, but mostly from her daughter. He could be so unfocused, though. So far away. She worried about where that habit would lead him.
Armand returned to the kitchen with a bunch of soil smeared carrots and rinsed them in the sink. Mama Nette peeked out the kitchen window again. “Fool boy! I told you to close the gate now. didn’t I?”
“Sorry! I got it!” He said and jogged out leaving the kitchen door open behind him.
“That boy.” Mama Nette sighed, scraping chunks of potato off a cutting board and into a bowl.
She peeled the carrots one by one, setting the curly orange strips aside in a pile for the compost. Glancing up and out the window, she noticed the garden gate was still open. Anger gripped her heart followed closely by panic.
She hurried outside, wiping her hands on her apron as she went. With a hand to her forehead she gazed around and against the lowering sun, but Armand was nowhere to be seen. “Armand!” she cried into the balmy air. Brow knitted with worry, she walked to the garden and had another look around, though he couldn’t be in there; she’d have seen him from the kitchen. She slowly fastened the gate behind her and called out again for her grandson. There was no reply.
A breeze blew through her long braids and pulled at her apron, and she knew. She knew he was gone.
Louisa crossed her arms over in an attempt to keep out the cold. The sun had nearly set, and the breeze was turning chilly. She sat on the white, wooden bench outside the garden fence and peered up at Sargent Marcus who stood close by and took notes on a small paper note pad. Louisa casually wondered why he didn’t use his com-ring or a digital device for note taking, but it didn’t really matter. Nothing mattered right now except finding her son.
Sargent Marcus continued his questioning. “And Mrs. Henderson what do you do for a living?”
“I work at the Newburg Oceanic and Deep Sea Lab. I study wave patterns for tsunami warnings, and I develop new ways of harnessing wave energy,” Louisa answered, confused.
“I know it doesn’t seem like relevant information, but it could help us down the line. So you work at the NODS Lab. And your husband?”
“Studies ice floes at the pole. He’s there a few weeks at a time.” She looked down at her boots. “How am I going to tell him that our boy is gone?” Louisa said more to herself than to Marcus.
After a moment, Sargent Marcus resumed. “Can you describe what your son was last seen wearing?” he asked, scribbling away on his pad.
“Uhm. Before he left this morning he had on a blue and white striped t-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers. I told him he needed a haircut. I don’t like his hair looking too wild.” She said with a fleeting smile that was quickly replaced by worry.
“I know you called all Armand’s friends already. Is there anywhere he liked to go for fun or to be alone?”
Louisa opened her mouth to speak but was distracted by her mother talking to her plants in the garden. Her son disappears, and all his grandmother can do is wander in her precious plants. Louisa managed to bury her anger with in a deep inhale.
“Armand likes to go to Granny Bones sometimes with his friends. And to Cora’s Confectionary, but we only let him do that on the weekend.” She swallowed a lump in her throat. “He’s not one to seclude himself away from people.”
“And he was last seen here in the backyard,” Marcus asked.
“Yes, Mama said he had just gone out to the garden.” She gave another sidelong glance to the woman pacing the rows. Marcus frowned and tapped his pen on his notepad.
“What is it?” asked Louisa.
“Hmm. It’s just this is the fourth missing child reported in the last two weeks, but this case doesn’t fit the pattern.”
“The fourth? I know I’ve been busy, but I can’t believe I haven’t heard about this before now. Four children?”
“The other three children were last seen in a public place like a park or the museum, and they were witnessed talking to someone whose description the families didn’t recognize. None of them were taken from their homes. To me, this is a good sign for Armand,” he said offering her a sympathetic smile and closing his notepad. “We have officers out looking for hime’ll send a unit to his friend’s homes just in case, and we will have officers around town looking for him.”
“You better cause this is bad,” Mama Nette said, approaching the bench.
“Mrs. Treme, we will do the very best we can to find him,” Sargent Marcus assured her.
“No, he left the garden gate open, too.” Mama Nette gestured to the wooden gate which stood unlatched.
Louisa rose abruptly from the bench. “Mama, my son is missing, and all you can think about is what’s getting into your garden! I trusted you to look after him! Maybe, if you had been paying more attention to him instead of your vegetables, this wouldn’t have happened!”
Mama Nette nodded, looking Louisa in the eye and accepting the emotional blow.
“You don’t understand. It’s not what could get in. It’s what got out. The fence is enchanted; the gate’s what keeps them in. The fairies aren’t there anymore, and they aren’t coming when I call them.”
Sargent Marcus opened his notepad again. Louisa looked her mother up and down in disgust. “Mama I’m not a child anymore and this is a wildly inappropriate time for another one of your ridiculous fairy tales. We have to find Armand!”
“You didn’t believe my stories because you couldn’t see the fairies,” Mama Nette said, looking pained. “But they’re there child. And things are about to really bad.” She wrung her hands. Louisa set her jaw.
Sargent Marcus’ pen hovered above his notepad. “You are being serious? It’s just I’ve lived in Newburg all my life and never heard anyone mention fairies in a factual way.”
“Yes, I am serious! Listen to me. A fairy with a job to do is helpful. Content! A fairy on the loose is a terror! Especially near a city. That’s why I keep the gate closed, I keep them inside the garden and busy with my plants. They can’t help themselves out there, they feel out of place and they get muddled and hostile. The trouble will start small: things like missing keys, and trinkets. Then there will accidents: trips and falls, traffic collisions. Then they’ll start setting things on fire and taking buildings apart stone by stone.” Mama Nette’s eyes blazed, and Louisa tore a hole in the ground with the toe of her boot. Marcus scribbled furiously on his pad and then suddenly stopped.
“Could they have taken Armand?” he asked.
Mama Nette squeezed her lips together in thought. After a pause, she said with certainty, “No. But maybe they know what happened to him, which way he went.”
“Louisa?” Louisa finally met her eyes again, and she could feel her hard anger melting away to fear under the dying daylight. “I can’t know where he went, and I don’t know where to look for him. But I can trace the fairies. If I can catch up with them, maybe they can tell me where he is.” Mama Nette took hold of a tall walking stick whittled from an old cotton tree branch, and started off resolutely toward the road.
“Mrs. Henderson, you should stay at the house in case Armand comes home,” Sargent Marcus said gently. “I’ll be off now to search the school.”
Louisa somberly thanked him and watched as he piloted his hover car away. She sat down on the bench alone. Disenchanted as a child with her mother’s unreliable flights of fancy, she had clung to science to explain the world around her. Science was based on measurable facts, and predictable patterns. It was solid and verifiable. But she couldn’t have predicted this. Armand was supposed to be home when she got in from work. She was supposed to open the door right now, and he was supposed to be avoiding his homework, playing his com-games. She knew if she did open the door, he wouldn’t be there. So she stayed outside on the bench in the rapidly cooling night air. All she could cling to now was a wisp of hope that her mother’s fairy tales were true, and the fairies would bring her son home.