By Cathy McCrumb
The beam from my uncle’s flashlight slid like a ghostly finger over the towering piles of antiques, and I shivered. Evidently, the small museum he’d worked at for years didn’t heat their storage room. A collection of Victorian dolls stared balefully at me, so I snatched up an old, canvas tarp and tossed it over their blank faces. Even so, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were being watched.
“This place is a disaster.” I scooted around a leering mask. “No wonder they wanted me to come catalogue it.”
“Keep it down,” he whispered. “We might not be alone.”
“Seriously?” I scowled at him. “You have to say that? Now?”
Uncle Andrew held his finger up to his lips, and over in the corner, the faintest of clicks made the hair on my arms stand on end. I spun around.
Nothing. Only the shadows cast by mannequins and shelves.
“Did you hear anything?” My voice squeaked a little.
He stopped rummaging through a stack of pelts to listen. “No.” He rubbed his throat. “I’m getting old, Red, and I need your help. That book’s in here somewhere, and I’m out of dust.”
“Really?” I fought down a hysterical laugh and arced an eyebrow at a cobweb festooned elk. “No dust?”
“Fairy dust, Red. Pay attention. And I lied. That isn’t why they hired you.”
“Alfreda,” I corrected between clenched teeth, ignoring the shiver traveling down my spine. “Alrighty, then. Why was I hired?”
His gaze flickered over several boxes, then he stopped to peer into the darkness beyond a row of decrepit carousel horses. “Family connections.”
“Family connections? Look, Uncle Andrew, you and Mom might be siblings, but if you are going to spout balderdash about families and fairy tales and fighting darkness again, I’m leaving.” If I had to leave, I’d need my own flashlight. I pulled out my cell phone and turned on the app.
“Truth isn’t balderdash, Red.”
Uncle Andrew froze momentarily as his flashlight’s beam passed over a dusty, stuffed grizzly and a mangy-looking arctic wolf. Their glass eyes and long teeth gleamed. He frowned, shook his head, and continued searching the shadows. “Knew you were like me the first time I saw you. I could sense it. Fairy tales are in the blood. So, which shelf, Red? Just concentrate. If we’re going to stop them, we need the book of dust.”
“That doesn’t even make sense.”
Fairy tales were balderdash, but as we walked between piles of rubbish, an odd, pulsing warmth radiated from a table on my right, pulling me to a book under a smiling Matryoshka doll.
With a triumphant cry, he snatched it up. “I knew you could find it.” He leafed through the pages, and his smile disappeared. He shook it, but only a single page fluttered loose. “Only a book. An empty book.” Tossing it back onto the table, he stomped off, muttering.
Curious, I set down my phone and picked up the book, trailing my fingertips over the golden, foreign letters and fanciful creatures embossed on the cover. The cracked leather heated in my hands, and I carefully opened it. Instead of pages—
A small velvet bag lay in a leather box which had been the book seconds ago. I lifted it and peeked inside. Sparkling silt shimmered, casting a soft glow of its own.
“Uncle Andrew?” I called quietly. “It’s not empty.”
He didn’t answer. I heard him stomp down another aisle.
So much for stealth.
A low laugh, almost too low to hear, oozed from the darkness on my left, and my skin crawled at the sound. Soft steps punctuated by sharp clicks grew louder.
I grabbed at my cell phone, but my fingers shook, and I knocked it onto the floor. The surrounding clutter stretched taller as the flashlight app illuminated the ceiling.
The steps grew louder.
A great, hulking beast padded into the harsh light. It stood for a moment, half in, half out of the darkness, then it straightened onto its hind legs and bared its gleaming teeth.
Its eyes squinted as its muzzle stretched into a lupine smile. “Say it.”
My heart thundered in my chest. I couldn’t breathe—couldn’t call Uncle Andrew.
“Go ahead. You all say it.” A growling chuckle vibrated through its massive barrel of a chest, and its tongue licked the tip of its nose. “Say, ‘What big teeth you have!’”
“Red?” my uncle called. I heard him break into a run.
“Give me the magic, and I’ll let you run first.” It dropped to all fours. “More fun that way.”
My fingers tightened around the velvet bag. I managed to say, “No.”
The wolf crouched, lashing its tail.
Coolness from the bag in my hand spread up my arm, steadying me… like confidence… like ice. And suddenly I understood. Uncle Andrew was right. Fairy dust: cold, freezing fairy dust, kept insulated in the warmth of that book. I glanced over at the rows of mannequins and taxidermied animals. If I was wrong…
Don’t second guess.
I squared my shoulders.
The wolf sprung, jaws gaping, teeth flashing.
When it was only a yard away, I flung a handful of dust—my only defense—in its face.
It froze, hanging in mid-air, its long legs extended. Icy white flickered over its shaggy coat. Its eyes grew frantic before they turned to glass, and the stuffed wolf crashed onto the concrete floor.
“Red!” Uncle Andrew rounded the corner and staggered to a halt, staring at the wolf at my feet. “It— You all right?”
A grin spread over my face. “I’m fine.”
He cleared his throat. “Still want a job?”
“Well,” I said, tucking the velvet bag into my pocket, “someone like me is exactly what this place needs.”
“What this place needs—” a smile brightened his face “—is a little organization.”
I pocketed my phone, shook the fairy dust off my hands, and nodded at the wolf. “Then we have some tidying to do.”