Once upon a time in the low desert of California, in a deep, cool oasis of palm and fig trees, there lived two rambunctious brownies named Oliver and Fidget, and a crabby fairy who shall not be named very loudly because it scares the pigeons.
Oliver Cotton Midgefield and his companion, Fidget Copperbum, lived with a very old couple named Mr. Ed and Mrs. Sally Belzile in a pueblo-style house whose inner courtyard was draped by bougainvillea and jasmine bushes. When the sun hit the courtyard in the middle of the day, one might think everything was on fire, the sun lit the magenta petals up so. The sweet scent of jasmine hung in the still air, drawing in flitting hummingbirds, and bees from the nearby fields of alfalfa.
Oliver, Fidget, and the scary fairy were all tasked with guarding and serving the couple because they had saved the lives of two royal fairies from a dangerous bad fairy many years ago, and their own lives were thus in danger. The royal couple had gifted Oliver and Fidget with magical powers to aid them in keeping their humans safe, and the scary fairy was there to watch over them all. The couple had magical powers, too, which they used to find lost people in the desert. Every weekend the two of them would load their ATV onto the trailer they had hooked to their Jeep, and they would drive out into the desert with their ham radio and water to sustain them and any people they happened to find lost in the desert. Even if they didn’t find anyone, they enjoyed riding out in the brush. Mrs. Sally always wore a bright yellow baseball cap with a red bandanna covering her neck, and Mr. Ed wore his ranger hat and a bright orange shirt.
Every day Oliver and Fidget helped with kitchen chores, sometimes using magic, but mostly not, because they liked to keep busy. As the couple got older, the brownies saw to it that the rest of the household chores were done, as well, although they really did not like to do laundry, especially after the couple had been out riding in the desert on their ATV. The first time Mr. Ed had peeled off his socks after such a journey, Oliver had gasped at the stinky things and backed away from the stool where Mr. Ed sat. Later he told Fidget that he’d rather clean out someone’s cat box, which, if you know brownies, you know is the last thing any brownie wants to do. So neither of them did laundry.
The two brownies lived in an unused section of the house, which they decorated with items they had found when they traveled from their old home in upstate New York to this new one so many years ago. Sometimes they found treasures when they played in the nearby alfalfa fields and brought them in through the back window so Mrs. Sally would not scold them for hoarding. One item they brought with them from their old home was a very large pitcher plant. It, too, was magical, and it had a voracious appetite that they kept sated with hamburger meat and bugs.
Their favorite treasures were silverware, especially forks, because, as Oliver often said, “They’re perfect diggers.” Our brownies loved to dig in the desert dirt because they often found sea shells from when the desert had once been a sea; they collected these in a can in hopes that they could someday take them back to their magical place in upstate New York.
One day, when Mr. Ed and Mrs. Sally climbed on their ATV to toodle around the desert looking for straggling hikers to rescue and hydrate, Oliver and Fidget ran through the forest of palm trees through the messy, brittle, dead palm branches that crackled beneath their feet out over the steaming hot dirt of the desert, through two fields of fragrant bee-studded alfalfa to a small ranch house that squatted in the middle of a dirt lot. They scurried into the kitchen through a little hole in the side of the house that the lady of the house did not know about, mostly because brownies are very clever.
Most brownies love kitchens. But Oliver Cotton and Fidget especially loved them because of the gadgets:
Whirling twirlers that the humans used to plow through flour and eggs and sugar; flat splatulas that were absolutely not to be used to splat flies; scooping scooples that launched the brothers merrily over the kitchen sink when used as teeter-totters, and, of course, their very, very favorite: spinkly spiky forx.
“Forx,” said Oliver, “are the best for digging up dimes and sparklies.”
“Forx,” whispered Fidget. He liked to whisper. And he loved Oliver’s voice, which rumbled lightly in the air like far-away thunder.
Today they were on a mission: it was windy outside, which was perfect leaf-sailing weather, but they did not have any leaves around that were worthy of such lovely winds. The palm fronds were far too heavy to navigate, and mesquite trees had leaves that were too tiny to float upon.
So that left the brownies with the task of finding a wind-worthy vessel. But first, first they played with the forbidden splatulas because Oliver simply could no longer resist, even though he knew they weren’t supposed to because they had once heard the human woman shriek when she found fly bums smeared all over the metal.
“You’d think she’d know she’d have to wash it,” Oliver had said reasonably from behind the stove. “We left it on the floor. It’s not like we splatted flies and then put it back with the other gadgets.”
Fidget had been afraid the big
human would hear Oliver’s far-away thunder voice, but she was very focused on
being grossed out by fly legs and guts and mushed up faces on her splatula.
“She’s very screamy, ain’t she, Ollie?” Fidget had marveled at the range of her voice.
But the lady had not detected the two brownies then, and now she was not even home, so they were free to find something they could use to fly out in the wind.
Oliver and Fidget usually tried to resist splatting flies when they investigated her kitchen because they really didn’t like upsetting the human lady, but it had been so long since—well, you have to understand. To brownies, flies are like the size of small hummingbirds. And brownies really don’t like flies because they’re relentless and rude, and because they eat poo, obviously. So of course they have to splat them. And flies make a satisfying thwack! sound that Oliver and Fidget love. Win-win, as Oliver always says.
“Except for the shrieking human,” Fidget always reminds him.
Oliver heard him as he always did when he reminded him, but ignored him, as usual, and soon Fidget scampered up the kitchen drawers to the gadget holder and got his own splatula.
“Ollie,” said Fidget. “How come there are so many flies today?” He thwacked a fly and watched it land in the bananas on the kitchen table with a bunch of other flies.
Oliver, taking a break from the game, dragged his splatula under the kitchen table. “There’s a storm coming,” he replied. “I always tell you that, and you never believe me because it usually takes longer than a day to get here.” He raised his eyebrow at Fidget. “You have a very short memory. I bet you’ll ask me again tomorrow.”
Fidget stood straight up. “We’re coming back?” He clambered down the drawers and dragged his splatula under the table, too. “Maybe we should just hide these and come back for them, then.”
idea,” said Oliver. “Pull yours over here.” He jabbed his thumb
over his shoulder at the ironing board the screamy lady kept next to the kitchen
table. Underneath it were dust bolls and old Cheerios and–
“Forx!” Oliver clapped his hands and his splatula clattered to the floor. He trotted over and picked up his treasured tool and hoisted it over his shoulder. “Fidgie,” he said. “We’re digging for treasure today.” Back he trotted to where his splatula lay. The splatula was not as easy to carry on the shoulder, so he and Fidget dragged them over to the ironing board and pushed them up against the wall where they would not be seen.
Oliver stood up straight and eyed the debris on the floor. “That lady needs a maid, Fidgie.” He gave Fidget a sly glance. “Or a couple of house brownies. What say, eh?”
Fidget shook his head. “I dunno, Ollie. Mr. Ed and Mrs. Sally would miss having us around.”
Oliver nodded. “Yes. You’re right. I don’t want to live here, anyway. I just feel sorry for her.”
Fidget said, “Let’s get our wind sailer, Ollie. I wanna sail today.” He cocked his head a little. “Huh,” he said. “I guess a storm must really be coming, since it’s so windy.” Something smacked up against the side of the house, making them both jump.
Oliver squinted his eyes at Fidget. “Told you.” He peered over Fidget’s head and his eyes widened. Something else hit the side of the house, harder this time, and they jumped again. They stood still for a moment, listening, then Oliver’s eyes widened. “Fidge, I found our sailers.”
Fidget turned around and his eyes followed Oliver’s finger. “Bags! How many are there?”
Oliver clambered up a kitchen chair onto the table. He stopped short by the bananas. “Oh, Fidgie. The missus ain’t going to like all these flies. Come up here and see.” While he waited for Fidget to hop up onto the table, Oliver gazed out the window at the building storm. He loved when it got windy and whipped up the dust, even though it meant extra work. The wind carried far-away scents on it, of fish and salt-water and seaweed. Fidget couldn’t smell it, and often told Oliver his nose was just wishful, but Oliver knew that the beach was just on the other side of the mountains.
Something caught his eye outside. A flash of metal, perhaps, out near the road. He stiffened and then grabbed Fidget by his shirt collar.
“We gotta go, Fidge,” he said. “A car just pulled up outside.” They leapt off the table and hurried to their hidey hole to peer out. It wasn’t the lady they knew but another one, and she had two children with her.