Pipsqueak

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In the dawning light, Sarah and Stephanie could see below them a path that zigzagged down the hillside. They picked their way to it through the rocks and shrubs. At the foot of the path, they came to a great wall, strengthened with buttresses. It stretched as far as they could see to the left and right.

Doubtfully, the sisters approached the wall, with no idea what they might do when they reached it. As they got closer, a movement just at the base if it caught their eyes. There was a little man. He was taking a wiz in the small pond he was standing in front of. Lovely. Stephanie's face deadpanned, while Sarah wrinkled her nose slightly in disgust.

"Excuse me," Sarah said tentatively.

The little man nearly jumped out of his skin.

"Oh, excuse me," he said, before he had even seen who it was, zipping up his fly in a hurry.

When he did turn, he had his face down so that he regarded them from under his thick, bushy eyebrows.

"Well!" he exclaimed, looking cross and astonished at the same time. "Well!" It seemed he had never before set eyes on people like Sarah and Stephanie. Or perhaps it was that no one like them had ever caught him unawares. Or perhaps it was because there were two of them this time. "Well!" he said again.

'We'll never get anywhere like this,' Stephanie thought.

He was an odd little person. His sprouting eyebrows clearly wanted to be fierce, but his wrinkled face couldn't live up to that ferocity. His expression was wary now, not particularly friendly, but not hostile either. He seemed to be avoiding their eyes, and the girls noticed that whenever they moved their hands his gaze would follow them. On top of his head he wore a skullcap. From the belt that held his breeches up, he had a chain of ornaments dangling, costume jewelry as far as they could tell. Sarah saw his mouth moving to say "Well!" again and interrupted quickly.

"Excuse me, but we have to go through the Labyrinth. Can you show us the way in?"

His mouth frozen in the formation of a W, he blinked at her once or twice. Then his eyes darted to one side. He rushed a few steps toward a bluebell, at the same time pulling a spray can from under his jacket. As he aimed the spray, Sarah and Stephanie saw that a diaphanous little fairy was emerging from the bluebell.

He sprayed it, with a couple of quick bursts. The fairy at once wilted, like a shriveling petal.

"Fifty-seven," he said with some satisfaction.

Stephanie frowned. Sarah was shocked. "Oh, how could you?"

He answered with a grunt.

Sarah ran to where the fairy was lying on the ground, wings quivering and shriveling. Stephanie followed at a more careful pace. "Poor thing!" Sarah exclaimed. She picked it up gently in her fingertips and turned accusingly to the fairy-slayer. "You monster."

She felt a sharp pain, as from broken glass. The fairy had bitten her finger.

"Oh!" Sarah dropped the fairy and stuck her finger in her mouth. Stephanie gave her sister a curious look. "It bit me," Sarah muttered around her finger.

" 'Course she did," the little man chuckled. "What do you expect fairies to do?"

"I..." Sarah was frowning, perplexed. "I thought they did—well, nice things. Like granting wishes."

Stephanie cocked an eyebrow at that. 'Really, Sarah?' she thought. Her sister had been watching too many Disney movies (not that Stephanie truly believed there was such a thing). Actually, fairies were known for being very mischievous and temperamental. In the old folklore and unsanitized fairy tales that Stephanie had read, fairies often did more harm than good, and were famous for playing nasty tricks on the humans who offended them, and even some who hadn't.

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