Lucy was bored. It was dark and raining and she had not seen her friends for some time. The children were doing schoolwork on their tablets, so she had nothing much to do.
In truth they were growing older and more independent and spent less time in her company these days. When she conjured up pictures from the air of bunnies and squirrels cavorting in the forest, the children smiled politely and showed her cartoon characters on their phones, bashing each other in a variety of ingenious ways.
Lucy was shocked at how casually violent they were. She watched the children laugh uproariously as a coyote chasing some bird ran straight over the edge of a cliff to fall hundreds of feet into a river, or children with big eyes and grown up bodies fought monsters with teeth and impressive weaponry but apparently no brains, blasting them into gory fragments. She had to admit that the graphics were pretty good, though.
Thinking that soon she would need a new patch she decided to go looking for one. She liked the city well enough, especially the places where the outcasts lived. She fitted in more easily there and the people were generally more interesting than in the richer areas where the humans tried to control everything.
The poor could not control anything at all in their lives, so they frequently had a wildness to them, a couldn’t care less attitude. Some went in the other direction, their behaviour and even thought patterns so rigid it was as though they were hoping to be completely invisible to the normal slings and arrows aimed by Fate. Those were the ones Lucy felt most sorry for as they did not appear to be living at all.
Recently the humans had been hiding in their homes, afraid of an illness which was sweeping the whole world, or at least the world of humankind. The Fairies talked endlessly about how the world had been ruined by humans, how much better it would be if they all disappeared, but Lucy privately thought that life without their inept bungling would be somewhat drab.
The Fae are multi talented and pride themselves on being able to pass as human, but having lived with and without her people, in both the countryside and cities, Lucy realised that for most Fairy folk, being modern meant living as though it was a hundred and fifty years ago.
Considering how best to bring herself up to speed, she decided to go to university and learn the modern magic which seemed centred on the internet. She was fascinated by the human capacity to believe anything if it was written down on an official looking document, or better still if it were narrated by somebody wearing the kind of white coat used by actors to lend an air of gravitas to their pseudo-scientific pronouncements in the human media. She thought that using the same learning process which the humans endured might give her more insight into their thought processes.
Joining a university looked as though it would be easy enough. She had seen posters for the local college in the shopping mall, promising a wealth of opportunity for people who were keen to start in the coming semester. Lucy fancied going further afield and it seemed that all you had to do was to pick one you liked and then provide the correct documentation. And money.
As long as you had sufficient funds, even the documents provided were of secondary importance. All of these necessities of course she could conjure up, ensuring that they would last in the system long enough to gain her a place while disappearing before anybody could check too carefully.
Understanding that she would need a measure of proficiency in computing before heading off to university, Lucy marshalled the children.
“Teach me how to internet” she told them.
The two looked at her, surprised.
“I thought that you weren’t into all that rubbish”.
Alfie spoke carefully, not wanting to upset their friend. “Have you even made a phone call before?”
“Of course not, why would I need to?” Lucy replied. “I use magic if I want to contact my friends.”
Meghan, the younger of the two, giggled. Her brother nudged her.
“What Megsie means is that phones, internet and stuff is magic too,” he told Lucy diplomatically. “It’s different from yours but can be learned easily enough. You’ll need a smartphone though, or a tablet. Probably both would be better.”
He brightened. “Shall we browse for them online?”
“Why not?” said Lucy airily, pretending that she knew what that meant. Alfie went straight to his favourite online marketplace.
“Here we are,” he told her. “We’ll have to open you an account, make you a profile and then we can get shopping.” Looking at her sideways he added, “You’ll need to pay for stuff properly though, not your magic, vanishing money.”
“As though I’d do such a thing” said Lucy, blushing. “In any case it isn’t as though human money is real either; it’s just numbers pretending to be something.”
At one point human money had been tangible, something you could hold in your hand. Now it appeared to be based on imagination; you wrote some numbers down on paper and it existed. Naturally the only humans allowed to imagine and control these numbers were the super rich and nowadays even the paper was surplus. The rich could bestow these numbers at will; they could also deny that you had ever had them with complete disregard for their own laws. This was not unlike the Fae. Anybody who had ever been paid with Fairy gold found this out the very next day.
“Here.” Lucy held out her hand and snapped her fingers. “Credit card?”
“That’ll do nicely,” grinned Alfie.
Lucy had erroneously expected this to be a quick purchase. Alfie had brought up a marketplace with pictures of various laptops which all looked the same to Lucy whose sole experience with information technology had been seeing the children absorbed in the square plastic shapes which they tapped and swiped constantly. They emitted very annoying sounds which could sometimes be called music but nothing that she wanted to listen to.
Lucy’s reaction to the pictures of laptops and tablets therefore had been to poke the first picture to come up intending to say, “Get that one then.”
To her surprise as soon her finger made contact with the screen the picture changed, the photograph of the laptop now filling up most of the screen with some written information underneath.
“What happened there?” she asked Alfie.
“If you tap on it, it takes you to another page” he explained. “Careful,” he cautioned, catching Lucy’s finger before she could prod the screen again, “you might find you’ve bought it if you push the wrong button”.
“What button are you on about? ” It’s just a picture, there aren’t any buttons”.
Alfie sighed, did something which made the screen go grey and boring and started explaining to Lucy, in very basic terms, how smart technology worked.
“After all,” he told her; “if you are going to University then you need to be able to use more than just the basics.”
“Look,” he eventually told her, “probably the best way for you to get a feel for how it works is to play a couple of games on it.”
Two hours later Lucy was playing Angry Birds, grinning madly and ignoring Alfie who was asking for his tablet back.
“Not yet,” she said, and kept on saying; “I’ll be done in a minute, I just have to . . . Damn! Gimme a moment, that didn’t work.” She never lifted her eyes from the action on screen.
Fortunately for Alfie the battery died and the tablet shut down, forcing Lucy to give it back so that he could plug it in to charge it back up. She looked at Megsie who angled her body protectively around her tablet and said, “No. I’m doing schoolwork, you can’t borrow it.”
“I need to do my homework too,” Alfie said as the tablet was charging. “As soon as mine is ready I’ll order you some equipment, I can get next day delivery so it will be here tomorrow. You’ll have to wait until then but I’ll help you set it up and find you some programs to help you learn.”
Lucy wasn’t keen on waiting even until the next day, and Alfie laughed.
“Didn’t take you long to get sucked in” he told her.
“I’m just in a hurry to get started on my University courses” Lucy lied.
“Yeah, right,” muttered Alfie.
The next day Lucy hung around the garden waiting impatiently for parcels which Alfie told her would be delivered before teatime. Eventually the children had to tell her politely to let them get on with what they were doing, they could not make her goods get there any faster. Her parcel came at three o seven in the afternoon, a weird enough time but bang on what the courier service had promised.
“We have to make sure that everything is included and set it up before you can use it,” Alfie explained to the impatient fairy. “Also, we need to charge the batteries up.”
“How long will that take? “
“Probably a couple of hours” Alfie replied.
“Look,” he said eventually, “why don’t you go and terrorise the pensioners down the allotments or something? Come back about four and it should be up and running and I’ll have time to show you how it all works. Then you can go to your privy and play around in peace. You should pick up the wifi there ok. “
“What’s wifi?” Lucy wanted to know, ” and why will I have to pick it up? “
“Stop whingeing and leave me to sort this out or it won’t be ready til tomorrow, ” she was told.
Lucy took the hint and left, heading to the park to see if her friend Cat, the Naiad, was at the pond trying to catch ducks. At least she would have somebody to distract her.
Nobody though was at the park other than elderly people walking small dogs, so she amused herself by conjuring ethereal music from the air then watching them fiddling with their hearing aids while looking around for the source of the music. After a while, feeling guilty, she made the music loud enough for them to hear properly and adjusted the frequency so that they did not get feedback from the aids in their ears; it was not their fault that she was feeling grumpy after all. Mentally filing the episode away she decided that she could list the annoyance at her annual review, without mentioning that she had left her victims with expressions of bliss on their faces.
Hearing sniggering behind her, she turned to see three grey squirrels pointing at her and laughing.
“You haven’t quite got the hang of tormenting humans, have you?” one of them asked her.
“Yes well, I don’t see you causing trouble for them either.” said Lucy.
“What’s that your cheeks and hands are full of? Looks like peanuts to me. I find it hard to believe you dug up roasted peanuts in this park. “
“They think we’re cute” another squirrel told her after quickly swallowing a peanutty mouthful. “It’s not as though we ask them to bring food, is it?”
“I suppose scampering about and doing tricks for the humans is not supposed to please them then?” Lucy retorted . “Short of holding up a little sign saying ‘Please bring peanuts’ . . . ” it was at this point she saw them look guiltily at each other.
She looked at them astonished. Glancing around she saw a sign in front of a tree, it had been placed there by park management and had originally said,
“DON’T! FEED THE SQUIRRELL’S !”
However a row of teeth marks in one corner where the word ‘ DON’T!’ had been, made Lucy burst out laughing.
“You cunning beggars ” she said admiringly. “Since you’re helping them with their sign writing, perhaps you could help them with their grammar?”
Giving herself the form of a squirrel she turned to the trio and said, “Come on then, we might as well redeem ourselves.”
Four squirrels made their way surreptitiously to where a group of elderly folk were sitting and chatting. As they got close enough, Lucy gave a loud, squirrelly gasp to catch their attention and started limping, dragging a back foot as though in intense pain.
In no time at all she heard the humans twittering; “Oh, poor little thing, someone should do something.”
One of the men told them that squirrels were vermin.
“It needs shooting is what it needs,” he answered the others.
At this two of her new friends turned up carrying a very small stretcher onto which they hoisted Lucy. As the humans watched unbelievingly, they carried the whimpering Fairy behind a large sycamore. A loud gunshot rang out, the whimpering stopped.
Complete silence echoed around the park and the humans all stared forwards, carefully looking neither at each other nor at the single remaining squirrel who was searching the grass diligently for any overlooked peanuts. Eventually, without a word they all got up and individually walked home.
Lucy came out from behind the tree in her more familiar form, smirking. Winking at the three squirrels she realised that it was time to go back to see if her new phone and laptop were ready to play with.
Back at the house Alfie and Meghan were arguing with their dad about tidying their bedrooms.
“Can’t we do it tomorrow?” Megsie whined. ” I promised Sally we were going to do our homework together ” she lied. “Mum said it was ok” she lied again.
“Now;” they were told, “and afterwards we are going to the park and we are going to play soccer while we still have some daylight. You spend far too much time indoors as it is.”
“That’s not our fault, you won’t let us go out to play with our friends;” Meghan said sulkily .
“C’mon Megsie.” Alfie, ever the peacemaker told his sister; “The sooner we start, the sooner it will be over and done with.”
“Listen to your brother” her dad told her.
This earned Alfie a hissed, “Smarmy git” and she tried to kick him as they trailed up the stairs to do their chores.
Realising that she had lost the evening that she had planned, Lucy went to the library. She had no library card but that did not matter as neither the librarians nor the other customers could see her unless she wanted them to do so.
Although she had planned to read up on how to be a student, Lucy being a surprisingly avid reader, when she entered the building she realised that there was a bank of computers on a table by the back wall and hatched a new plan. Three of the big clunky machines had people sitting tapping away at them, two were unused. One of these had a sign taped to the top reading: ‘Out of order.’
Lucy stood by the one furthest from the library’s front desk. A young man was sitting in front of it, absorbed by what was on the screen. Lucy, standing behind him was equally absorbed, having not realised how versatile computers could be.
“I like big butts and I cannot lie.”
She spoke directly into his mind, grinning as he froze before looking up and checking guiltily that nobody was behind or nearby. He had closed the page automatically and after looking again to make sure that absolutely nobody was nearby, he erased his browsing history and logged out.
The librarian at the desk smiled at him as he walked to the exit.
“I hope you found what you were looking for, Mr. Robinson,” she told him. “See you tomorrow?”
Without looking at her, he nodded and again heard a voice in his mind.
“My word, I’ll say you did; eh, Mr. Robinson? “
The voice sounded like that of the librarian, but she had already turned away and was talking to an elderly woman enthusiastically about the romantic novels on the desk between the two. Red faced and head down he scurried through the door.
Lucy sat down in front of the computer but to her disappointment was unable to bring it to life. She had not cared what Mr. Robinson had been looking at, it seemed tame enough to her but she had wanted him to leave so that she could have his space.
Drifting behind a well rounded young woman who was sitting at one of the other computers, Lucy watched carefully how she navigated the page. She was a fast learner and soon saw how to change a page or ask the machine to find something. This lady was reading a local newspaper online, moving from one news item to another until she found, as though by accident, the lonely hearts section which she read avidly; hopefully. From watching just these two humans’ browsing habits, Lucy felt a rush of sympathy for humans as a whole. She had quickly caught on to the immense potential that computers held, but found herself wondering if humans primarily used it to connect to each other.
However, as she was unable to switch on a computer for her own use, she left the library and thought of the two people who had been sitting virtually side by side, desperate for contact yet seemingly unable to turn and speak to each other. Humans did not appear to have the sense that every other living thing had built in as standard.
Fairies are born to meddle in human affairs; although they are supposed to cause mischief rather than what Lucy did next. Conjuring his library card from his pocket, Lucy took on the form of the girl on the computer and made herself visible.
“Mr. Robinson, Mr. Robinson;” she called in a girly voice which she hoped aproximated that of the young woman.
He turned and saw the pink cheeked, pretty girl from the library, running with her hand outstretched.
“You dropped your card as you left” Lucy told him, “I was doing jobsearch on the computer down from yours,” she explained, noting how he reddened.
“I’m in most days checking to see if I can find work,” she added.
“Me too, thanks; I’d be in trouble if I lost this.” He held aloft the card that Lucy had handed him. “Thanks again, see you;” he told her as Lucy turned and walked back to the library, giving her bum an extra wiggle. Smiling, the young man continued on his way, this time with a spring in his step.
“That will cancel out this afternoon’s little caper;” a voice spoke from the wall next to Lucy.
“Get lost.” Lucy told the squirrel. “I have pictures of you dancing in front of the humans and making children laugh.”
”I wasn’t going to tell on you” the squirrel said, adding uneasily; “Erm, you don’t really need the pictures, honest.”
“Don’t worry, I wasn’t going to grass you up either,” Lucy told the animal. “I’ll keep the pictures safe from harm, you needn’t be concerned about them,” she added.
Walking back she saw the children and their father heading home. As she followed them down their street, Alfie gave a little wave.
“Who are you waving at?” his dad asked him, unable to see Lucy.
” Nobody” Alfie replied, “the sun was in my eyes.”
After the children had eaten, done their homework and gone upstairs to their newly tidied bedrooms, Lucy turned up in Alfie’s room where he was watching tv.
He produced her laptop, phone, tablet and a small yellow box which he told her was a mi-fi router. Telling her that he would explain what it was later, he showed her how to turn everything on and off, gave her a piece of paper on which he had written down passwords and how to log on and off, pointed out that the batteries would run down and need recharging but should last her until the next day and showed her how to access various games.
“I’m tired now,” he told her, although she was sure that this was not true and that he wanted to spend what was left of the day without her pestering him for information.
“That’s ok,” she replied and vanished with her hoard of new toys.
She spent the rest of the evening and most of the night online; the more that she learned, the more hungry for knowledge she became. By the time she closed the lid on the laptop and shut down the tablet just before dawn, she knew more about computers and artificial intelligence than most.
Getting up just after midday, her brain still buzzing with the world of opportunity which had just opened up for her, Lucy took herself back to the library. Outside of it stood the young woman and Mr. Robinson, they were chatting animatedly together and ignored the tall punk as she pushed past them and through the doors.
Completely visible today she walked up to the front desk. The librarian, wearing a name tag letting Lucy know that her name was Dorothy, asked Lucy pleasantly if she could help. Lucy hesitated before saying that she did not know.
“The thing is” Lucy said, you have all these books here on all kinds of subjects,” she waved her hand vaguely, “but you also have signs up telling people how to get further education outside of all this knowledge, why do you need both?”
“Well now,” Dorothy answered. “It’s a good question. The fact is that learning in a formal setting helps people to know not only how to look for answers, but where to look. It also shows you questions that might not have occurred to you. You can’t look for an answer if you haven’t thought of the question, do you see?”
She looked expectantly at Lucy.
“I see where you are coming from” Lucy replied. “But say you had read everything in here, you would surely then have the questions answered even if you didn’t know what they were.”
“There are always more questions, more answers, more books. Plenty that you don’t know exist, education is about giving you pointers.”
“Listen” Dorothy said, “I have young people come in here saying college is a waste of time as they can find out what they need to know without it. Often it is because they can’t afford to go, don’t want to saddle themselves with debt or even that nobody in their families have had more than the bare minimum of schooling. They feel that it is not for people like them” she said delicately, wondering if Lucy was in just that situation.
“If it’s a matter of funding, there are various ways around that,” she continued, “ I could help you to fill out forms for student loans if necessary.”
“Money isn’t the problem “ Lucy told her. “I was just wondering how you learn more, if it is better to be in a classroom. I’m trying to see the benefits.”
“Well,” she was told, “it is not only about the learning. It is about going into the world, experiencing other lifestyles, meeting new people. Learning can be more fun if you are doing it with friends, if you are there because you want to be; unlike school where you are forced to go day in, day out. Also,” Dorothy added, “I hear that parties are often involved.”
“Look, if you have the opportunity and the funding, just go. You won’t regret it, I promise you.”
Lucy smiled genuinely at Dorothy. “Thanks,” she said, “you’ve been very helpful.”
“I’m really glad” she was told, “Come back in a year or so and let me know how you are getting on.”
“I will” said Lucy. “What would you wish for?”
“Honestly?” asked Dorothy, “I’d like to live in a cottage by the river.”
“Okay” said Lucy, “wish granted.”
Dorothy smiled as the strange young woman walked out, hoping that she would indeed take further education. A week later she would remember Lucy when a letter arrived from a solicitor, informing her that a great aunt who Dorothy had never heard of, had died and left her a riverside cottage in her will. She would tell her closest friends that she had met an angel, which would have amused Lucy immensely had she known.
Back in her privy she booted up her laptop which she had charged surreptitiously in Megan’s bedroom, first throwing a spell on the room to keep Meghan and her parents out.
Confirming her choice of university and courses online, she looked on maps to see places she might want to live nearby. Packing up her equipment ready to travel she had a thought.
Just before she turned off her phone, she texted Alfie;
“Won’t be bothering you or Megs for a while, going to change my courses at uni and look for digs. LL”