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Aggie Lichen faces the same dilemmas as any other thirteen year old; what to wear, how to keep out of trouble at school. But while other thirteen year olds are doing their homework or settling down to watch T.V., Aggie flits from house to house in search of prize pilps. That’s where Aggie is a little different. You see, Aggie Lichen is a pilp collector – a tooth fairy!
One nightsgritch - a tooth collecting evening - Aggie is attacked by a bright, mysterious light. Is it just a low flying glow worm or a bad-tempered giant bluebottle? Or, as Aggie and her gang suspect, is it something more sinister?
Unknown to them, Aggie and her gang have just thirty days to solve the mystery and save their kind but time is not on their side … neither are the Sprites or the Grublins …
Aggie Lichen; Pilp Collector
By Debra J Edwards
I quietly slid my body between the wall and the back of my bedroom door. If I was quiet and waited long enough they might think I’d already gone. Perhaps they’d forget about me. But deep down I knew. I had escaped it for too long now. It was bound to happen. Any minute now the kitchen door would swing open and those immortal words would be uttered. All my hopes and dreams of peace and quiet would rapidly fly out of the window like a dragonfly with an express message to deliver.
Another chunk flew out of the wall as the kitchen door hit it with force. I took another deep breath, crossing my fingers and my wings tightly. Not tonight, please, not tonight!
I tried desperately to make myself smaller, sucking in my stomach so that I could hardly be noticed.
‘Aggie, I know you’re in there!’
The footsteps closed in, growing nearer and nearer to the door with each and every second.
Not tonight, please! Not tonight.
The door was pulled open and in an instant my hiding place was revealed.
‘It’s not up for discussion,’ said the mean fairy, looking down at me. ‘You’re to take your sister with you tonight. She needs to learn the ropes.’
‘But Pa, it’s not fair.’ I said, and threw myself on the huge tree bed for added affect.
‘I said it’s not up for discussion, young fairy!’ he said leaving the room, the door slamming behind him.
Just pigging marvellous, I thought, dragging Bugface around all night again. It was so not cool! I wrenched myself from the bed and made towards the door.
I mean how long did it take to learn the ropes? You turned on the detector, waited for the beep sound and followed it until you found the stupid pilp. A gnome could do it with one hand tied behind his head!
‘Oh, Whatever!’ I said, stomping through the hallway. ‘Come on then, Bugface!’
Myrtle, or Bugface as I preferred to call her, was my darling little sister - a nine year old pain in the neck more like. Being the older sister by four years, it was my responsibility to take her out pilp collecting until she was fully qualified. As I looked at her with her wild red hair and her poor taste in colour co-ordination - she took after Ma - I wondered if she would ever pass the test. For a start, she needed to grow a bit more. At fifteen centimetres high she was a little too short and weedy for a pilp collector (we’re known as tooth fairies by humans) and she was unable to carry the weight of a full pilp sack. I, on the other hand, took after Pa; tall and lanky with a mop of straight black hair that defied all efforts - and there had been many - to make it curl in any way. Mind you, a night out collecting with dear little Bugface was enough to make anyfairy’s hair curl!
For me, collecting pilps was a chore, something I had to do, something I was told to do, but for Bugface it was an exciting game. She still had no idea of the dangers involved. I watched her, perhaps a little envious of her naivety, as she left the safety of Ma’s kiss and cuddle and made her way towards the front door. She pushed past, eager to join Bessie and me out collecting. Her pilp sack dragged along the floor behind her.
‘And make sure you brush your wings properly this time. I’m not scraping you off the floor again tonight,’ I shouted after her.
‘You don’t have to keep on about it. It wasn’t my fault,’ she whinged back.
‘How was I supposed to know the pilp donor was still awake?’
‘Err, doh! What d’ya think the pilp detector’s for?’
One previous nightsgritch - a night on which pilps were collected - Bugface had made the big mistake of flapstopping - literally meaning to stop flapping the wings - when faced with a pilp donor. It took all my strength to haul her and the pilps back home to Pilpsville. Ma and Pa still blame me for it, but then I seem to get blamed for most things where my younger sister is involved.
‘Aggie, come on! She’s here,’ shouted Myrtle, disturbing my innermost thoughts yet again.
‘Yeah, and she’s sick of waiting for you …again,’ came the dulcet tones of my best friend, Bessie.
Blimey, why was everyone in such a hurry tonight?
‘AGGIE!’ Bessie shouted again, losing patience now by the sound of it. ‘Come on or we’ll go without you.’
‘Okay, okay, keep your wings on! I just need to get my sack.’ I finished lacing my red boots, grabbed the sack and headed towards the door. ‘You know there’s many a fairy who’d pay to be my best friend.’
‘Yeah, right,’ said Bessie, pulling the thick brown jacket she was wearing around her.
‘Nice jacket,’ I said sarcastically. ‘What’s this one made from, squiggle fur?’
‘Oh, don’t start. You know what my granma’s like with her nittin.’
I sniggered wickedly, ‘Sorry.’
She pulled the jacket in even closer, and turned the collar up.
‘Anyway, I think it goes beautifully with my eyes,’ she giggled, flicking her hair to one side.
‘Yeah, if your eyes were orange!’ I added.
Bessie took a playful swipe at my head. I ducked just in case.
‘So - are we ready now?’ I said.
She nodded and we headed towards the door.
‘Oh, no,’ said Bessie, who’d reached the door before me. ‘Guess who’s here?’
‘Who?’ I said, pushing past her to see for myself.
And there he was - Gilbert, Groaning Gilbert, straining to see what was going on from behind the front gate, his thick black glasses tilted at an awkward angle. Gilbert Trickle, nine years old and already a legend in his own lunchtime. Far and wide, the word had spread of the vast moaning and groaning that left his mouth at regular intervals. The dull colours he wore reflected his constant sombre mood perfectly. He had the trademark Trickle hair; straight and dark with a crown tuft that just wouldn’t lay flat.
‘What the hell’s he doing here? He slows us down, you know he does. Isn’t it enough having to tow Bugface around all night?’
Myrtle gave me one of her pathetic ‘you’ve really hurt my feelings’ looks.
‘Sorry, but he has to come too. Mum said he’s too depressing to have hanging around the house.’ The familiar voice was followed by an all too familiar face.
Enter one fearless Fred, thirteen year old brother of Gilbert, part time trouble shooter and breaker of limbs. The last time he was out with us we were almost caught at the crossing exit and Bessie’s right wing was left in tatters. It took her a week to recover from such a traumatic experience, although saying that, I think she quite enjoyed all the attention Fred paid her as he tried to make up for it.
‘You’ve got a nerve turning up here after your last performance,’ I said.
‘Oh, come on Aggie,’ said Fred, ‘that was an accident. I didn’t know the sun was rising.’
‘Yeah, come on, Aggie, give him another chance,’ Bessie pleaded, ‘After all, I’ve forgiven him.’ She turned and shyly gave Fred a wink. Yuk!
‘Fine, can we just get going, please? We’ll never collect anything if we hang around all night,’ I said, handing out my goodbyes to Ma and Pa as I spoke.
‘Be careful. Look after your sister,’ called Ma, ‘Watch for the sun … hold on, what’s he doing here? He’s a flipping liability. Poor Bessie ...’
‘It’s all sorted, Mrs Lichen, honestly.’ Bessie cut in, ‘It won’t happen again.’ She grabbed Fred by the hand and flew down towards the crossing, dragging him behind her.
‘I was just going to say …’ Ma continued.
‘It’s all okay now, Ma. We’ve really got to get going or our takings will be well down. See you in the morning! Come on, Bugface.’
Nightsgritches often started like that, a ragged assortment of friends and hangers-on going out collecting. Usually Bessie and I would collect together with Fred somewhere nearby, just like in school in actual fact. Being all in the same class, we kind of hung around together which made the whole having-to-go-to-school thing not as bad as it could have been.
‘Hang on, where’s the fire?’ It was Albert. He flew down to join us. ‘Sorry, I was working on something.’
He’s always ‘working on something’ if you know what I mean! What he actually does when he’s ‘working on something’ is anyfairy’s guess.
We flew swiftly downwards towards the crossing and joined Bessie and Fred. Bugface trailed limply behind, choosing to fly and sulk, with Groaning Gilbert.
Looking down I could just make out the other lands that made up the world of Mirvellon. Immediately below us, of course, was Pilpsville, land of the tooth fairies. Ahead was Spercham where the screeching sprites lived deep in the ancient Sporacious Forest, where they were able to practise their blood curdling screams whenever they felt like it. We were separated from them by a thin, but impenetrable, barrier that had been created by the healers to keep them at bay.
‘I wonder how long it will really last?’ said Bessie.
‘It’s impenetrable, Bess! It’s supposed to last forever - isn’t it?’
We looked at each other and shuddered.
Albert flew along side of us. ‘We’d best wait for Gilbert and Myrtle to catch up. We can perch on that tree.’ He pointed to a tall blue shret tree which stood at least fifty metres high.
They were brilliant for climbing and finding your way if you were lost. Bessie and I climbed up a little higher and looked around to see where the two missing fairies were.
‘Look at all that smoke, right over there, in the distance. Where’s it coming from?’ Bessie asked.
‘That’s not smoke, Bess,’ Albert shouted up, ‘That’s smog from Grublin City.’
Bessie’s grip on the branch tightened as she heard those words.
‘But it looks nearer than before, are you sure?’ she said nervously.
‘Use your noculars if you don’t believe me,’ called Albert.
‘You do it, Aggie.’ She thrust the noculars in my hands and clung on to the branch again.
Albert was right. The smog was indeed coming from the dreaded place where the Grublins lived - a walled city that sat on, and in many places sank in, the River Grub, near to the Creaganic Hills, far to the north of Pilpsville. It was the fear of their existence, and that of the sprites, that kept our senses, all six of them, alert each nightsgritch.
‘Aggie!’ screeched Bessie, ‘What’s that coming towards us? Is it a Grublin?’
‘Pigging hell, Bess, you’ve made me drop the noculars. It’s only Gilbert and Bugface. Now let go of the nice branch slowly and let’s join the others.’
We climbed down, Bessie more cautiously than before, and found the others on a side shoot preparing to take off.
‘Right, let’s go,’ shouted Albert.
There was a massive flapping of wings as we tried to make up for lost time.
‘There’s the crossing. We’d best be quick,’ said Fred.
Ahead we could see the dying rays of our two suns which activate the portal known to us as the crossing. It lies between the enormous spreading roots of the sacred oak tree, where the healers live high up in its extensive branches. It was busy now, with fairies gathered in droves, waiting for the suns to set. In that split second as they finally hid behind the Creaganic Hills, the great white light opened to allow just enough time for us to be sucked in and spat out into the world of humans. It was quite a strange experience really. Pa often described it in simple terms as the ‘door to the other side,’ which I suppose was an accurate description. What it failed to say - in simple terms - is that we had only a limited time to collect - until the sun rose on the ‘other side’. If we missed that deadline a cruel fate awaited us - humans call it death. Strangely enough, so do we.
It was a fear we had to face every time we crossed over but we were pilp collectors and pilps had to be collected. Besides, the donors, bless their little rotten teeth, would be expecting us.
All fears of screeching Sprites, gruesome Grublins and possible death were pushed aside as the crossing opened. The nightsgritch lay ahead.
The air on ‘the other side’ was crisp and the night bright and clear. The human’s sun had disappeared from the darkened sky and had been replaced by a silver slither of moon. Perfect for pilp collecting!
The gang split up to collect from the surrounding donor houses while Myrtle and I hung around the immediate area. This was usual for tooth fairies with apprentices, or in my case big sister with Bugface in tow! The houses towered high above us, the numerous window ledges protruded from the walls inviting yet another landing. I looked around and could tell from the dim lights at the windows that some pilp donors were still awake.
We circled around for a while, giving me the opportunity to tease Myrtle by flying away from her, although this only forced her to try and follow me even closer. Then a faint light began to appear on the pilp detector and the faintest hint of a buzz could be heard.
‘Stay close, Bugface. Pilp alert! Bugface! Bugface!’
There was no sign of her, great! Came to see the maestro at work and promptly missed the show. Where the hell was she?
‘Sorry, my wings got caught on that tree,’ she mumbled as she brushed herself down.
‘Never mind that, come here. Look at the light. See how it’s getting brighter and the buzz is getting buzzier.’
Now where’d she gone?
‘Aggie, I’m over here,’ came a shout. ‘Can I go in now?’ Myrtle had preceded the detector and was scrambling onto the pilp donor’s window ledge, her scrawny leg dangling over the edge as she climbed.
‘Not yet, wait for the light to go …’ Too late, impatience had got the better of her. She slid through the gap where the window closed and pressed her nose up to the glass of the inside window. At that same moment the donor’s light went off. Phew!
Now pilp collectors are quite adept at getting through the tiniest of cracks in any window pane, that’s not the difficult part. No, the difficult part is collecting the pilp from under the donor’s pillow, a skill that requires much experience and years of practise if one isn’t to get caught. Looking at the pair of skinny little legs that were sticking out from under this donor’s pillow, I think it was safe to say that Myrtle hadn’t quite understood the concept.
‘I said wait for its head to turn then quickly lift the pillow with the left hand and retrieve the pilp with your right.’
‘You said lift with your right hand retrieve with your left,’ came a muffled reply from beneath the pillow.
A quick tug on the flailing legs and out she popped forcing us both to land noisily on the fluffy ground covering. The pilp donor stirred. We held our breath …the donor turned over.
‘Right, now listen carefully. Lift the pillow, take the pilp and sprinkle the dust. You got that?’
She nodded and flew up onto the bed, stealthily making her way up to the pillow which she lifted with extreme caution. The pilp, wouldn’t you believe, was nowhere to be seen.
‘I thought it was supposed to be here,’ she call-whispered. ‘You said it would be here.’
I gave the pilp detector a shake, the light was still on. There was definitely a pilp to be collected. Myrtle let go of the pillow crossly.
‘It must be under the other part of the pillow. Fly round, fly round!’ I whispered back.
She landed on top of the pillow and looked down.
‘Great, so how am I supposed to get under there with that great big head in the way?’
Hmm, I could see her point. I had to get her under the pillow without disturbing the donor - too much. A gentle shove would do it.
‘Climb down, I’ll give you a boost.’ I called to her.
‘But won’t we wake it up?’
‘Trust me. Just put your hands underneath the pillow, I’ll hold your legs.’
She scrambled under the pillow, hands grappling frantically. Her head popped out again. ‘It’s near the back.’
I gave her a hefty push.
She immediately disappeared again. This time, just her right foot was visible. I gave her a few seconds then pulled her out.
‘What did you go and do that for? I almost had it!’ She shouted.
‘Err, slight correction there, sister dearest. I think you may well have definitely had it!’
A large pair of sleepy eyes blinked furiously at her. The mouth dropped open in pure disbelief. The donor was wide awake! It started grabbing desperately at the covers.
‘Now the important thing here is not to panic,’ I said, perching on the window sill to watch her reactions. Well, she was supposed to be learning the ropes after all!
‘What’ll I do, Aggie?’ cried Myrtle, trying to dodge the grasping hands.
‘Think about your training. What were you told to do?’ I put my hands behind my head and leant further against the window. Myrtle continued to flit and flutter aimlessly around the bed.
‘Err, dunno - I think I fell asleep at that bit.’
‘Oh, for goodness sake! - just head for the window. - go through the gap.’
She flew up sharply. The donor leapt out of bed and started to wander around the room, eyes never straying from its prey.
‘Aaaaaaahhhhhhh.’ It grabbed frantically at Myrtle, missing her wing tips by just a few centimetres. Time to put an end to it. I dug deeply in my pocket and took a handful of magic dust and blew it straight into the donor’s face. It stopped and stared at me, grabbing at the air in a kind of slow motion.
‘Aaaaassshhhoo.’ Wiping its wet nose on a sleeve, it returned quietly to bed. It turned over and went to sleep, blissfully unaware of its encounter with a real life tooth fairy.
‘Phew! Now let that be a lesson to you!’ I said, glad to reach the other side of the window. My relief, however, was not shared by the ever excitable Bugface.
‘Wow! That was brilliant. Did you see its face?’ She flew up and down several times, mimicking the donor’s expressions perfectly. ‘Shall we move on to another one, Aggie? Shall we?’