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Mud Faeries, the Whisker King, and the Strongest Person in the World
“Oh!” he’d shout, “Look! Look!”
And I’d lean over, my nose inches from the damp earth, trying to see what he was pointing out.
“What? What? What?” I’d gasp, pulling my threadbare pink jacket tighter around my shoulders. He’d lean forward excitedly and point something out—a bright yellow leaf or a print in the ground—and his face would light up.
“This,” he’d say, beaming, “This is a tree-goblin track.” Or a dusk dragon wing, or a chimaera tooth. Sometimes he’d make up creatures, too.
“It is!?” I’d gasp, and he’d point out the sharp, claw-like dent in the ground, “It is! It is!” Though I knew it was only a coon print.
“Yes,” he’d say wisely, “Looks like there’s been a battle or something. See that right there?” I’d follow his gaze to a smashed acorn or a bit of berry juice on the bushes.
“Blood,” I’d whisper.
“Come on!” And we’d both be sprinting through the undergrowth, the spring hanging like magic in the air as dusk swept its wings over our heads. The air was sweet and wet and cool and dew would cling to our raggedy jeans or tangled hair. Then the trees would fade, and we’d be standing at the edge of the Lake.
There was something special about the Lake—we both knew that. At one side there was an old, groaning pier. Water weeds peered up through the smooth, black water. Beneath the starlight, smooth white pebbles gleamed beneath the surface. He’d sometimes point to the reflection of the stars.
“Dusk faeries,” we’d both whisper reverently. Then he’d roll up the legs of his jeans and wade into the icy, still water. A chill would slide through my bones as I’d listen to the croaking of a bull frog.
“The Whisker King,” I’d mouth. “Hurry. Hurry.” Hurry. And he’s stand, still and silent, his legs going numb, until fish flitted past his legs. Watching. Waiting. And then, suddenly, he’d lunge, his fist shattering the surface. Sopping wet and grinning, he’d wiggle something in the air.
“A crawdad,” I’d say every time, but he’d interrupt me.
“A mud faerie.” He’d make a wish and throw it as far as he could to the other side of the lake. “They’re good for wishes—but not as good as dusk faeries. I’d like to catch one of those.” He’d stare at the stars’ icy reflection for a few seconds, and then we’d both sink to our knees and drink in the silence. Eventually I’d fall asleep—I usually did—and he’d lift me in his arms and carry me back home. He was seven years older than me and the strongest person in the world. I wouldn’t mind the smell of muddy pond-water and mud faeries that would cling to him, or the way he’d pant in my ear, because with my brother I was safe.