CHAPTER 3 - Heavy Metal

Rose and Clover were really gripped by what Madge was doing with Tony, and started to help her all they could. Ace and Will were interested, but they were far too excited about their rock band to notice very much. They didn’t see her watching Tony proudly showing his mum a merit certificate, the first one he’d ever had. They didn’t see her shadowing him as he bravely plucked up courage to talk to Laura and Gemma, hesitantly trying to find out a bit more about fairies.

They were totally absorbed in making a drumkit for Phil. It was when Phil had stepped on the snare drum and broken it that the elves had realised that the house was too small. They were trying to make a clock, and enough equipment for a rock band, and there wasn’t enough room.

Phil had suggested they build a workshop.
“A great big shed, that’s what we need,” he told them. “With plenty of workbenches, and lots of space to put the finished things before anything else gets broken.”
“That’s brilliant!”
They built it deep in the grasses, next door to the house. Into it they moved all their junk, so they had their materials to hand. They offered to help Phil make a house of his own, but he didn’t want one.
“I was alone at the station and I didn’t like it,” he told them. “I’d rather stay with you.”
He’d built a playpen for the bud in a corner of the shed. It had its own little workbench, full of things to bang and shape, because the elves were spending nearly all their time there just now. Rose and Clover had been very intrigued. But the elves didn’t want anyone laughing at their music before it was ready.

One morning, it was pouring with rain. Every spider’s web became visible, shaking with the weight of shining droplets. Deep puddles formed on the footpath, and thick grasses bent under the downpour. But in the brambles beneath the dog-rose bush, Rose’s house was snug and dry.

It was by far the largest sprite house on Wildside. She’d made it from a doll’s house that had been thrown away because it had cracks in it, and it had two rooms. Upstairs was Rose’s pretty bedroom, and downstairs was a kitchen with a shiny stove, taps that really worked, and a well-scrubbed table big enough for all the sprites to sit round together when they wanted to. Here Madge, Rose and Clover were sheltering from the rain, drinking orange juice and making plans.

“This is gorgeous,” said Clover. “I’ve never tasted anything so good.”
“I never realised Tony was so kind,” agreed Rose. “But Madge, how did he know about leaving drinks for sprites? Did you tell him?”
“No, Laura did. She mentioned that her mum had done it when she was a little girl. But that Tony should think to do it too, and as a thank-you, well, that did impress me. There’s good stuff in that boy.”
“But how did Laura’s mum know?” asked Clover.
“That’s what I’ve been wondering,” said Madge. “It’s hundreds of years since that was a common thing for humans to do. We must find out if she’s ever had dealings with sprites. What’s her name, do you know?”
“Only that she’s Mrs. Grey,” Clover told her.
“We need the name she had when she was a girl,” said Madge. “Then I’ll send a message to a friend of mine, who’ll look back in the records. We need to get into number sixteen. The name will be in there, on something.”
“We’ll have to be careful then,” said Rose. “That’s a house that isn’t often empty.”
“Another thing we need is to find some friendly mice. Are there any living here on Wildside?”
“Yes, but I don’t really know them. Will does, though. They live on the railway embankment. He talks to them when he’s watching the trains.”
“What do you want mice for?” Clover wondered.
“What I want to do next is build up his self-confidence. Everyone laughs at him because his dog is so thick. So we persuade some animals - mice, for instance - to follow him around and act like they think Tony’s wonderful. What will happen then?”
“Mrs. Connolly will go completely bonkers,” said Clover.
“Not in the house, Clover, obviously,” said Madge. “But when they’re all outside, playing?”
“I see!” shouted Rose. “Tony will be so pleased ’cos some animals like him, and the others will think he’s got real skill!”
“Exactly!” beamed Madge. “That’s my plan, anyway. So one of us goes to bribe the mice, and...”

She stopped, because someone was knocking at the door. Rose hurried to open it, and Will ducked in, shaking the rain out of his hair.
“Oh sorry, Rose, I’ve made your floor all wet.”
“No problem, you’re just the person we need. We want those mice you know to help Tony, what can we bribe them with?”
“The mice? That’s an easy one. That crowd would do anything for a cat-proof fence. I did try, but I couldn’t get it right. It needed to be so big, I couldn’t see it all in one go. But for someone who can mend broken windows...”
“They shall have their fence,” said Madge, “whether they want to help or not. As soon as this dratted rain stops, I’ll go and see them.”
“What d’you want, anyway?” said Clover to Will in a huffy voice. “You’re all so busy doing secrets in your secret new shed.”
“Now Clover, you don’t want to spoil the surprise, do you? We’re not being secretive to be mean, we only want to surprise you.”
“The only thing that elves could do to surprise me would be something sensible. Why didn’t you put a leaf over your head? You’re soaking!”
“You should see Ace. He jumped in a puddle by mistake. That’s why I’ve come, I’m on the scrounge. Can you spare us any bits of fabric, Rose?”
Rose laughed. “You hoard so many things, why don’t you hoard anything useful? Hang on a minute, I’ll see what I’ve got.”
She came back with a bundle of scraps, and rooted in a drawer.
“I’ve got a bit of plastic bag somewhere. It’ll keep them dry for you.”
“Here, take some of these bottles, too,” Madge offered. She’d put the orange juice in her own bottles, and left Tony’s empty by the doorstep.
“Hey, thanks! That looks good. Well, better get back to work.”

Will banged the door behind him. Phil looked up from the clock. They had to check the calibration every day, making tiny adjustments until it ran to time, neither too fast nor too slow.
“It’s still too fast, Will,” he told him. “I think we made the wheels too small.”
“Bother, that means starting again,” said Will. “Let’s have a look.”
“Oh, leave the clock and help me,” moaned Ace. “I’m freezing, I need something to wear!”
“There’s the fabric, get on with it, you mutt,” said Will, frowning over the clock’s innards.
“I don’t know where to start,” shivered Ace.
“Let’s have a go,” said Phil. “I meant to try doing jeans and never got round to it. Is this the right cloth, would you say?”
“Yeah, that’s denim,” Ace agreed.
“How d’you want them?”
“Like these, only dry. Nice and tight.”
“Poser,” said Will, to no-one in particular.

Phil frowned with concentration, his tongue sticking out, and the tiny shred of denim shimmered and grew, and shaped itself into a pair of jeans of such perfect cut and finish that Ace could only gape. He tried them on. They were fantastic. Will wasn’t looking, he had his back to them, still fiddling with the clock. Ace put his finger to his lips, and gestured to Phil to try something else.
Delighted with his success, Phil chose a bit of white cotton and produced a perfect shirt, tight to the waist, fashionably collarless, with wide sleeves that looked good rolled up. Ace was speechless. He’d never had anything this good to wear before. He wished there was a mirror. Quietly, Phil looked what else there was, and made a pair of jeans for himself too, then chose a piece of stretchy green cotton and made a t-shirt.

Suddenly, Ace spoke.
“Brilliant, Phil!”
Startled, Will dropped the clock.
“Oh, catastrophe! Hey, it’s still going. Perhaps it’ll work now.”
He set it down on the bench and came over for a closer look.
“I don’t believe it,” he said. “You both look great. Phil, that is some skill.”

Just then, Dan came in, cold and tired from working for the goblins. Will had tried to talk her into defying them, but she wouldn’t hear of it. Deep inside, she knew now that Rose and Clover would never banish her. The real trouble was, she’d got used to living as an elf, and she liked it. She wanted to be in the rock band, more than anything.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said. “What are we doing today?”
“Everything’s done, we can start on the music this morning,” Ace told her. “About time, too. There’s only a fortnight left till Midsummer’s Eve.”

Midsummer’s Eve is a special time for sprites, when they always gather together for music and dancing, and even on Wildside this custom had never died out. This year, the elves had decided, they were going to stun everyone by providing live music. The drumkit was finished, and Phil loved it. It was a million times louder and more exciting than the tabor he’d played in his garden. He was itching to have another go on it.

Dan was going to play lead guitar. That meant she’d get all the best riffs and solos, she couldn’t believe no-one else wanted it, but Will’s guitar was the bass, and they’d soon realised Ace was going to have to do most of the singing. No-one else had a strong enough voice, but he couldn’t be expected to play complicated guitar parts as well, so he was going to keep to the simpler lines and leave the fancy stuff to Dan.
She hugged herself at the thought of it. She couldn’t wait to get started.

When it stopped raining, Madge made her way to the railway embankment to find the mice, while Clover and Rose headed for number sixteen. They flew from window to window, and saw that Mrs. Grey was in the kitchen, ironing.

“There are windows open upstairs,” said Rose. “D’you want to chance it?”
“Why not?” Clover answered. “Come on!”
An open window led them into the smallest bedroom. In this house it was used as a study; there was a desk with a computer on it, and lots of papers. The fairies started looking through these, hoping to find out what Mrs. Grey’s name was. They soon found out that her first name was Sally, but nothing they found had any surname but Grey.
“Let’s try another room,” suggested Rose.
They flew into the next room, which was Rowan and Laura’s. But once they were in here, they forgot what they were supposed to be doing. On Laura’s bed they saw a book which grabbed their attention. It was called Flower Fairies.

They opened it and gazed with horror at the pictures.
“They don’t look like us!” gasped Rose. “Are there fairies that look like that?”
“No, don’t be daft,” said Clover. “This is what humans think we look like. They’ve got the right idea about the plants, but that’s about all. I mean - look at that one! A willow fairy! Can you imagine what Will would say about that? And just look at the clothes. They make Madge look up-to-date. All those pretty little dresses!”
“You don’t think any fairies do dress like that, do you?” asked Rose. “You know, posh ones in gardens?”
“I hope not,” said Clover. “They’d look pretty silly if they did.”

They’d been making too much noise. Mrs. Grey was halfway up the stairs before they heard her coming.
“Help!” hissed Clover. “Quick, move!”
Rose flew straight out of the window and hovered out of sight. Clover lost her head and dived under the bed. She waited quietly in the dark, listening to Mrs. Grey opening cupboards and putting clothes away. Then she heard sounds that made her heart sink. Mrs. Grey was going out for a while, to visit old Mrs. Kowalska. She closed the window, and closed the bedroom door behind her. Clover was trapped.

She wasn’t frightened, only bored at the prospect of a long wait. It had happened to all of them at one time or another. She flew to the window to make sure Rose knew what had happened.
“Don’t worry, you go, I’ll get out when I can,” she shouted, and saw Rose nod, and fly off.
Clover sat on the bed, and looked at the book for a while. But it was so quiet, and she’d been working so hard. That pillow looked like an enormous feather bed. She wouldn’t go to sleep, of course. That would never do. She’d just lie down and rest for a while. The pillow felt lovely and soft as she sank into it.
I must stay awake, Clover told herself. I absolutely must not fall asleep...

The band were pleased with how the music was going, but they were having trouble getting the balance right.
“No-one’s going to hear the words, that’s for sure,” said Ace.
“It’s not your fault,” said Phil. “You’ve got the loudest voice I ever heard. But everything else is amplified, and you’re not.”
Ace looked at Will, hopefully.
“Right, you want a microphone. How am I going to make one of those? I’ve never even seen one!”
“Same way as you worked out how to wire a circuit - work it out from first principles, you said.”
“That was different. But, well, I’ll have a go.”
“You’ll crack it, I know you will. Then we’ll sound right, but I want to be sure we look right. I think I’ll go and watch some human guitarists.”
“How? You don’t know any - hey, just a minute!” said Will, getting between Ace and the door. “Not that! You’ll make yourself really ill. It’s not worth it.”
“What are they on about?” Phil muttered to Dan.
“No idea!”
“Yes, it is worth it. Do I ever stop you doing anything dangerous? Then shift.”
Will gave in. “Dan, go with him,” he sighed. “He’ll need help to get back here.”
He looked at Ace. “Just don’t try to jump when you’ve finished, OK?”
“I’ll be fine, you go and get creative.”
He and Dan went out, and Will turned to Phil.
“Oh well, let’s have a go. Can you find a pencil anywhere?”

Laura had had a bad day at school. She’d got all her fractions wrong, and then she’d fallen over in the playground and cut her knee. Lots of people had laughed at her, and her knee was still sore. When she went into her bedroom, she wasn’t feeling very happy. She threw her bag on the floor, and was going to climb onto her bed when she saw something that made her stop and stare, her heart thudding in her chest. There was a fairy asleep on her pillow.

Eyes wide, Laura crept closer. She’d never seen anything so beautiful in her life. So tiny, and so alive! How delicate those long, slim arms and legs are, she thought, and what a beautiful face! Oh, I hope she wakes up soon!
Clover opened her eyes.
Oh, NO! she thought. I’ve really done it this time! Oh, I am going to get in terrible trouble for this!
She drew back in terror as Laura came nearer. She’d never been this close to a human before. She hadn’t realised how big they were.

“Please don’t be frightened,” said Laura softly. “I would never do anything to hurt you. You are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life.”
Clover rather warmed to this. She tried to find her voice.
“You’re Laura, aren’t you? I didn’t mean to fall asleep on your bed. Sorry about that.”
“How did you know my name?”
“Oh, we hear you all playing, and calling to each other.”
“The sprites who live on Wildside.”
“Who are they, please?” breathed Laura. “And what’s Wildside?”
Help! thought Clover. What shall I do? I’m sure this is against the law. But she’s only seven, goodness, if she were a sprite she’d be fourteen, that’s practically a baby. What harm can it do?
Aloud, she said,
“Wildside is where I live; all the land you can see from your bedroom window. And the other sprites are other fairies, elves and goblins.”

Laura couldn’t believe she was awake. This was too wonderful to be true.
“I’ll never call it the back field again, I promise. Please, what’s your name?”
Of course, Clover, the colours were just right. But it wasn’t the colours of her clothes, like in that book. It was the colours of her skin.
“Please, Clover, can my friend Gemma see you too? Will you stay here while I get her? Oh, please!”
“I don’t know, Laura. It’s against the law to talk to humans - without special permission, that is.”
“But no-one will know! I won’t tell. Who could I tell? Do let me get Gemma!”
“Oh, all right then.”
I’ll probably end up in prison anyway, thought Clover. One child or two, what difference does it make?

Laura practically dragged Gemma out of her house, and bundled her up to her bedroom.
“OH!” shouted Gemma.
Clover gulped. She hadn’t realised how loud they were, either.
Gemma held her hand out, very gently.
“Can I hold you?”
Rather unwillingly, Clover stepped onto her outstretched palm. She spread her wings to help her balance, and both girls sighed with admiration.
“This is the most wonderful thing that’s ever happened,” said Gemma. “I knew there were fairies, I knew there were!”
“So did I,” said Laura. “But I never realised how beautiful they are. This book is all wrong!”

She flicked at it with her hand, and caught the front cover, so that it lay open at the flyleaf. And Clover saw it. Hand-written, on the first page, Sally Cain.
“Oh, it’s not that bad,” said Clover. “I’ve seen worse, much worse. The clothes are awful, of course, but she’s quite right about the flowers. But not the trees. Trees are elves. And elves don’t like being muddled up with fairies. It seems to annoy them, for some reason.”
Gemma and Laura nodded seriously, taking all this in.
“Nice old book,” said Clover casually. “Was it your mother’s, by any chance?”
“Yes, it was! How did you know?”
“Oh, just guessing. It looks old and well-loved. But, you know, my friend Rose will be worrying about me. D’you think you could open a window and let me out?”
“Yes, of course,” said Laura, jumping up. “But you will come and see us again, won’t you?”
“Oh, yes please!” begged Gemma.
“Well, actually, I’d like to,” said Clover. “I hadn’t realised humans could be so nice. But I’d have to get permission. It won’t be easy. But if I can, I will.”
Clover flew to the window, making the girls gasp. She waved to them, then dived out and flew away.
“Goodbye, beautiful Clover,” sighed Laura.

In the evening, when it was beginning to get cooler and more shadowy, they joined Madge in the horse chestnut.
“How did you get on with the mice?” asked Rose eagerly.
“Very well - six of them will come. It’s a good number, and they’re all characters, keen for a laugh. How did you two get on at number sixteen?”
Rose and Clover looked at each other, biting their lips.
“What happened?” asked Madge resignedly.
“Well, the good news is that we found out that Mrs. Grey was called Sally Cain.”
“Splendid. What’s the bad news?”
“Laura saw me.”
“What! How could you be so silly?”

Rose slipped discreetly away. She didn’t want to hear Clover getting told off.
“I know, I’m sorry, I really am.”
“Did you talk to her? Answer any questions?”
Clover nodded, reluctantly.
“And Gemma saw me too,” she added, determined to get the worst over with.
Madge frowned, shaking her head.
“Clover, this is very serious. I hardly know what to say. Sprites have gone to prison for this before now. How did it happen?”
“I got trapped - and then I fell asleep,” Clover admitted.
“I suppose I ought to deal with this,” sighed Madge. “Does Cory ever punish the elves?”
“He used to - until they got bigger than him. Then he gave up trying.”
“I see. Well, you’re certainly not going to prison, Clover, as it wasn’t deliberate. But I’m not sure that you shouldn’t have some punishment.”
“What do you want me to do?” asked Clover sadly.
“Stay awake all night, here in the tree. Perhaps that will help you think where your laziness has led you.”
She spoke very compassionately.
“I’m not ordering you to, but I think you’ll feel better if you do.”
“You won’t tell the elves, will you?”
“No, this has nothing to do with them.”
Rose flew back, looking to see if it was all right to interrupt.
“Can you come?” she called softly. “I think Dan needs some help.”

They flew to the ground and saw Dan struggling to help Ace walk along. She had one of his arms across her shoulders, and one of her arms around his waist, valiantly trying to take his weight. Ace was stumbling as if he couldn’t see, his knees were buckling under him with the effort of trying to walk. As the fairies landed, he collapsed. Dan tried to lift him, but even with Madge’s help it was impossible. Madge turned to Rose.
“Go and get Will,” she said.

In the shed, Will and Phil were still working, by the light of a candle.
Rose banged on the door. “Will, can you come? Ace is ill.”
“Oh, I knew this would happen,” he said, jumping down from his stool. “Hang on, Rose, we’re coming.”
“You go,” said Phil. “I’ll get the bud.”
Will rushed out, to where Ace was lying, with Dan supporting his head on her arm. He spoke to her softly and urgently.
“How long did it take?”
“Six hours.”
“Six! And you’ve got him this far all by yourself? Well done. You must be exhausted, give him to me.”
Will slipped his own arm under Ace’s neck and shook him gently until he came round. Then he held a pencil in front of Ace’s eyes.
“What can you see?” he demanded.
“Six pencils,” said Ace fuzzily.
Will sighed with relief.
“You’re not blind, then. Did you get the information you wanted?”
“Oh yes, everything. Will, d’you know what...”
“That’ll keep till tomorrow, old lad. We’ve got to get you to bed.”
They carried Ace into the house and left him in the dark to recover. When Will came out, the others were all waiting for him.
“What under the canopy has he been doing?” asked Madge. “To get himself in that state?”
Will grinned. “Watching television,” he answered.