A small pack of drunk pixies added salt into Becca's grandmother's bone china sugar pot. The sugar pot was the oldest thing in the house, even older than grandmother herself. There would be hell to pay if it broke, so Becca didn't risk any sudden moves to swat them away. Thirteen and so close to the Shift, she had plenty of practice acting normal when the world was anything but. She'd deal with the pixies later when her parents weren't around. Otherwise, they would probably think she was the one behind the prank when they found salt in their morning tea. Not worth it.
She wasn't sure whether 'pack' was a correct term for a group of pixies. It's not like they covered it in school, but there was just something so animalistic about them. They were like large grey squirrels, albeit completely devoid of any hair or softness, resembling dried-out, gnarly twigs from an old tree. They scratched the delicate china pot with their short but sharp talons, making an awful screeching sound that vibrated in her brain. A part of her was grateful for this nuisance, though. Being able to see the pixies meant that she was still a child and that it wasn't her turn to grow up just yet.
Her younger brother Tom giggled, spurting cereal milk through his nose and interrupting her train of thought. Only five, he was still at an age when children tried to comprehend the wondrous and terrifying world of magic around them that the grown-ups couldn't see. Some days he would pester their parents about the fantastic creatures or physics-defying incidents. This usually ended with tears and frustration, when mum and dad only praised his imagination and creativity but never understood that his stories weren't made up at all.
Becca didn't blame Tom for trying, even though he was doomed to fail. She still remembered when a few years ago, a small golden dragon chased their cat Ginger around the flower beds in the front yard. Dragons were mysterious creatures, with power rooted in times so ancient that even other magic beings forgot all about it. They stayed away from human settlements, and it was unusual to see them up close.
The one in her garden was young and covered in gleaming scales, fitting together so seamlessly that it looked like a pattern on its skin. Wisps of sunlight surrounded the dragon, coming together into an aura-like shape. It would have been a magical moment if it wasn't for the dragon's sharp teeth and Ginger's meows of pure terror. Someone clearly forgot to tell the creature that it was supposed to act majestically and seek solitude in a mountain cave.
She didn't know who was more terrified, her or the cat, but her parents were unfazed. Mum even took a video of Ginger for social media – "looks like our cat has finally lost his marbles," she posted, "too much catnip!". For the first time, Becca truly realised that grown-ups couldn't see magic. Magic that nevertheless was very real, very powerful, and very frightening.
But today was the day she could change that. She could change the world forever and make it possible for grown-ups to see the unseen. Maybe together with other children, they would also figure out how to keep their pre-Shift memories. She smiled, then scolded herself for daydreaming, grabbed her toast and a blue backpack, and headed out.
Adam was already waiting in front of her house. He was a good foot taller than her, even though they were the same age. Her next-door neighbour and closest friend, Adam, was also one of the best agents of their local Fairytale Fellowship – a network of children who helped to maintain a fragile peace between the world of magic and the mundane grown-up reality. Most magical beings kept to themselves, living their own lives in parallel to clueless adults living theirs. Some, however, bore ill intent and wickedness that threatened this delicate co-existence – and that was where the Fellowships stepped in.
Adam was visibly tense, his lips pressed together in a tight line – the same expression he wore in maths classes. They had known each other for so long she could read his face as well as her own feelings. He was probably nervous because this could be one of their last missions before the Shift began to influence them, too, making them grow up and stop seeing the magic around them. And what a mission it was! It offered hope for a new world where people of all ages stood united. For Becca, personally, it was all about her desperate hope. Over the last few months, she kept frantically checking her memory every morning after waking up, terrified of slowly losing parts of herself as she grew older. She stubbornly played with her dolls in the evenings, refusing to admit that the toys didn't bring her the same joy they used to.
"Do you think I could see them? I know we're not supposed to, but this could really change everything, and I just…" he trailed off.
She nodded solemnly.
Becca took out an emerald green glasses case from her backpack. She stepped behind the shrubs in front of her house to hide from the prying eyes and showed him the glasses inside – bright pink, with tiny stars dotted throughout the frame. Ironic how the most potent artefact of their times presented itself as a pair of rose-tinted glasses – it really showed the power that imagination, stories, and art of any kind had on their world. It also showed how dangerous it was for adults to be blind to it all – what if they came up with more tales of monsters and disasters that gained popularity throughout the world? The Fellowships already had their hands full reining in rogue magicians, hiding rings of power, and sealing djinn lamps. Let's not even mention all the mess they had to deal with following the last teenage fashion for vampire novels.
"Huh. They look like a toy. Hopefully, our resident eggheads can multiply the enchantment into something more elegant, or it will be a mission to get our parents to wear something like that. What did the note say?"
"Just that they let grown-ups see magic. I wonder who left it, but we have no leads at all. The best we can do at this point is to drop off the glasses at the base. Ready?"
They set off in a brisk walk, heading towards Jim's house, which was teasingly referred to as Bag End, making fun of Jim's below-average height. Jim himself was often referred to as the Hobbit outside of his hearing, unless someone wanted to be assigned to the worst tasks, like negotiating with goblins or checking supermarket shelves for magic beans. For such a small person, Jim was a power to be reckoned with, which is why he was chosen as the leader of their local Fellowship chapter.
The sun was out in full force, and so were inhabitants of both worlds. As they walked through the park, they saw a group of children feeding bread to unicorns to the shock and dismay of local ducks. One of the swans even walked out of the lake in protest, turning into a beautiful princess to take matters into her own hands. Nearby, an old elvish couple played chess, sitting right next to none the wiser Mr. and Mrs. Wilson, who lived next door.
Also on their path, under a beautiful canopy covered in intertwined roses, was a faun. A pretty standard faun – half goat and half man, little round ears and horns poking out of his mane. It was, however, surprising that the faun was standing still and reading a newspaper with an amused half-smile. Everyone knew that fauns loved fun, music, and dance so much that they could barely focus enough to do anything else. Becca didn't expect a faun to know how to read at all.
Before she even finished her thought, the faun dropped the worn-out paperback, ran up to her, grabbed her hands, and swung her into a dance. Music surrounded her instantly, even though she could see no instruments. It was so joyful and sweet, with soothing piano sounds in the background, accented by sharp violin notes and a chirpy flute melody that made her heart sing. She giggled at the metallic jingle of a tambourine. Becca could have danced like this all day, a week, a year even. She didn't know the steps. In fact, she had two left feet and would normally avoid dancing. But here she was, placing one foot here, the other one there, twisting, twirling, swinging, shuffling, laughing, leaning…
…until suddenly she crashed into the ground, landing straight on her backside with none of the grace and poise that filled her only seconds ago. Adam was standing next to her, holding her shoulder in a grip so tight it might as well have been a tourniquet.
"Give it back!" he shouted.
Becca tried to shake off the confusion and the sticky tendrils of magic that had been wrapped around her and left a copper taste in her mouth. Then she realized her bag was missing.
"Give back what?" the faun said, laughing. "You took back the girl, what else do you want?"
"Her backpack. Give it back right now, and there will be no consequences. We will walk away from here."
"Oh, you'd like that, wouldn't you? To walk away? Very well, have it back then, but I'll keep this as a token for the dance" the faun laughed as he pulled out the pair of magic glasses from Becca's backpack, turning to walk away.
Becca's heart sank. They had little chance of success to wrestle anything out of faun's hands – he was a fully materialised mythical creature shaped by centuries of tales and human beliefs. The older the being, the stronger the magic was one of the first rules of the world that children were taught at their local Fellowships. If they wanted the glasses, they had to outsmart him.
"The glasses too," said Becca as she finally found her voice. She got off the ground and dusted off her dress. "Let's play a game for them – whoever wins gets to keep the glasses."
The faun stopped in his tracks, mesmerised by the offer. He wasn't just a drunken fool in myths and legends, after all, but also a trickster. It wasn't in his nature to pass on a chance to gamble.
"You like to play games, don't you? Or are you afraid you can't outwit two human children?" Becca said.
The faun turned slowly and smiled, showing two sharp canines. His magic saturated the air, making everything darker, more ominous, intensifying the taste of copper. He was a strong creature, and they'd have to be careful, or this encounter could cost them more than the rose-tinted glasses.
"We can play a game," he said in a voice like midnight that echoed through the park like the sound of a bell of a striking clock. "Both of you need to sit down on this bench until the sun is at its highest point in the sky. Talk about your deepest wants and needs, fears and hopes, plans and regrets. You must be honest and speak from your heart. Break the rules, and you will become my servants until the Shift takes you. Do you accept?"
Adam and Becca looked at each other in silence. They knew there was always a catch, but it wasn't obvious to either of them. At the end of the day, it didn't matter if they could tell what traps have been set up for them, they had to accept the challenge. The artefact offered hope to so many children and youth in the world. If they could replicate its spell, they would be able to keep their memories and identities growing up. They would be able to finally open up to their parents and share the marvels and dangers of the world with them. If the adults understood how magic worked, maybe they would stop creating and telling stories that fuelled it. The burden would no longer be theirs alone, and the world would be a safer place.
The children nodded at each other.
"We accept your bargain," Becca said, forcing herself to look the faun in the eye.
"So be it. Goodbye… children." The faun smiled, not even trying to hide his satisfaction, and left them alone.
They sat together on the bench, under the trellis of light purple roses that smelled just like the rose jam that they once tried in a local Eastern European café. It was awkward at first to sit so close and talk about all the feelings and emotions, but they had been friends for so long that they could trust each other with their secrets. Even those of the soul.
"I'll go first," Becca volunteered, taking a deep breath. "I'm scared of the Shift. I can feel it coming for me, and it's terrifying. If I lose the sight, I'll lose a part of myself. I'll be blind to the real wonders of the world. Just another clueless grown-up, walking around like I know everything."
"You'll never be just like anyone else, Becca. Even as an adult, you'll always be you." Adam squeezed her hand reassuringly.
"What about my little brother? What if he doesn't understand what happened and thinks I betrayed him?"
"The Fellowship will look after him. You know that children always have each other's backs."
Becca's voice caught in her throat, so she just nodded in agreement. "What about you?" She asked after a long moment.
"I'm afraid I'll become just like my parents. They were children once, and you know what they're like now. They hate silly games and stay away from anyone with an overly imaginative mind," Adam said in his mother's distinctively high-pitched voice, making both of them laugh. "I'm afraid that I'll study too much and laugh too little, that I'll be lonely."
"You can't be lonely if I'm your best friend." Becca nudged him gently with her elbow. "Besides, we won't be like other adults."
"How do you know that?"
"Because we will still be friends and won't let each other change who we are. We'll find new things to do, even if they're mundane."
"Who knows? Maybe we'll come up with our own magic story? For once, we wouldn't need to deal with the fallout if the story comes to life. The Fellowship would need to sort it out without us."
"Can you imagine how red and puffed-up Jim's face would be once he realised that the chaos was started by two of his own retired agents?" Adam asked, and they both grinned at the thought.
So Becca took out her notepad, and together they started a fear-inducing story about time-travelling pumpkins from outer space who wanted to take over the world. She even drew what the leader of the pumpkins would look like – the biggest and most evil pumpkin the world has ever seen, with teeth of a vampire, claws of a werewolf, and an expression not that different from Jim's. Adam thought that the pumpkin leader looked too scary, so he added a pretty bow on top of its head. It looked ridiculous.
They laughed so hard that their bellies ached. And when the sun was high in the sky, Adam asked if Becca would like to go to the cinema with him and see a real film about time travel. She smiled, blushing slightly, and agreed. She picked up a pair of pink sunglasses which were next to her on the bench and packed them safely into her handbag.
They headed to the nearest cinema, but after only a couple of minutes, Becca stopped abruptly. "Adam, weren't we supposed to do something?"
"Don't think so, why?"
"I have this niggling feeling that I'm forgetting something – something important," she said, chewing her lip.
"Were you supposed to do schoolwork or look after your little brother today?"
Becca shook her head.
"Were you supposed to pick something up, drop something off, buy something, sell something, see someone…" Adam teased, ticking each idea off on his fingers. "If it's important, it will come back to you."
"You're right, I think it's just chores. We had a big family breakfast this morning, and I remember making a mental note to do something later." Becca sighed and started walking slowly again.
The park was beautiful in the summer. The council let the grass and wildflowers grow undisturbed, turning a mundane space into a festival of colour, scents, and urban wildlife. Becca stepped to the side, narrowly avoiding colliding with a clumsy bumblebee, and watched as two squirrels jumped from one tree branch to another.
Squirrels. She stopped abruptly, startling Adam, who nearly tripped over his own feet.
"I was supposed to clean up after pixies in the kitchen."
They looked at each other for a long moment, her heart thumping fast and hard in her chest. And just when she thought it was too late, Adam's eyes widened, and his face turned ghostly pale.
"It's the Shift. We're out of time. We need to call the Fellowship to come and get the glasses from us," she said, rummaging through her backpack. "I can't find my phone."
"Mine is gone too; the faun must have taken it."
"We need to run. We might still make it. Let's go!"
They set off toward Jim's house, squeezing every ounce of energy from their bodies and every bit of oxygen from their lungs. Their eyes played tricks on them. What at first seemed like a Pegasus, with glorious wings of white feathers, looked like a large Labrador when they got closer. Fairies were losing their wings, there were only planes and birds in the sky, and people around them seemed more and more ordinary.
She could see the Bag End at the end of the road when another thought stopped her in her tracks.
"What if the Shift happens for a reason, Adam?"
"What?" Adam stopped, panting.
Becca breathed in deeply to collect her thoughts. "What do you think adults will really do when they learn they can change the world around them?"
"Freak out? Set up a Ministry of Magic Affairs?"
"What if they manipulate magic for war or to get money or power? What if they start plagues, cast curses, or send new monsters into the world?"
"We know that magic is real, and we'd never intentionally use it to hurt someone."
"Because we're children – at least for now," she said quietly.
They looked at each other and stood in silence in the middle of the path, only meters away from their destination. Minutes passed.
"Just promise me, we won't become like these other adults," Adam said.
"Never," Becca promised. "We'll look out for each other."
Adam nodded and held out his hand. "Why don't we see if we can catch that movie?"
The cinema was busy with children running around everywhere. One of them bumped into Becca so hard she dropped her backpack, its contents spilling out on the floor. The wrecking ball turned out to be a little girl in a cute pink dress with bows and ribbons to match. Becca couldn't bring herself to scold her. Together they picked up her belongings and put them back into the backpack. Except for the random pair of pink sunglasses which Becca had picked up in the park – the girl loved the little stars on the frames. Becca had to admit they went perfectly with the girl's pink princess outfit.
So, of course, Becca told the little girl to keep the toy glasses – she wasn't sure why she had them with her in the first place. The girl was delighted! When they waved goodbye to each other, Becca could swear that the girl had slightly pointy ears. Perhaps there was a costume party for children nearby.
The movie was entertaining, even though Adam insisted that their own story about pumpkins was much more original. After the screening, they ended up discussing the mechanics of time travel for hours. On their way back, Becca wondered how even though she knew Adam for years, he seemed somehow different now. A little older or taller maybe? She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but she did notice his sideways glances at her in the cinema. She was grateful for the dimmed lights that hid her blushing.
When Becca finally got home, she was on cloud nine. Everything was great. Well, except for the salt that her silly little brother must have put into her tea.