When he was about seven or eight years old, he started having recurring nightmares.
They would come very late at night, after his mother had fallen asleep down the hall in her room.
The nightmares were about the Bad Fairy coming into his room at night.
At first, the Bad Fairy didn’t say much. She would just watch him while he slept.
He’d wake up just in time to see her smiling at him and then she’d quickly disappear through the window.
At least, he thought she went through the window. It was hard to understand, because their apartment was on the fourteenth floor.
Sometimes, she exited under his bed, or into his closet. Sometimes she would just disappear behind a bed post, or under the rug. One time, she escaped through a drawer in his dresser— again, he wasn’t sure how.
However way she took her leave, it led her to a long and winding stone staircase, that descended far, far below into a dark, drippy underground. She gently tapped a walking stick ahead of her, to scare off the rats and spiders in her path.
And every tap, echoing in the darkness, scared the boy too.
He heard the tapping often, especially at night but sometimes even during the day, when things were too quiet.
The Bad Fairy would tap, tap, TAP all the way down the stairs to a river.
She would follow the river through stone tunnels and caves, and this was where she lived, all alone, in the dank catacombs at the bottom of the staircase.
He didn’t know how he knew all this, but somehow he just did.
In the morning, he would inspect the window, under the bed, behind the drapes, and the drawers, looking for a trap door or porthole or something that would lead to the mysterious staircase.
He had so many unanswered questions. How did she get into his room? And how did she leave?
He visited the thirteenth floor. It was just like the fourteenth.
Where were the stairs, and river, and catacombs? Where were the rainy caves and where did the echoes go?
It made no sense.
One night, when the Bad Fairy was visiting, he dug up the courage to ask her.
“How do you get in my room? Where are the stairs? Why do I know so much about you?”
She smiled. “Come with me, and I will show you everything”.
It was a tempting offer.
He almost agreed but then he suddenly remembered his mother, sleeping alone in her room down the hall.
“We’re coming back, right?”
The Bad Fairy didn’t answer. She just smiled.
He closed his eyes until she went away. He knew she must be angry with him.
He didn’t believe her when she smiled.
He didn’t open his eyes until it was morning, and it was time to visit his father in the new house.
So, it would be a few days of not seeing the Bad Fairy. That was good. But somehow, it was also sad.
His father had just bought the new house and moved in with his new girlfriend. They said they were going to get a dog and fix up the backyard. They said he could spend weekends there more often once his new room was ready.
The night visits from the Bad Fairy became more frequent. He pretended he was asleep until she went away. It went on like this for weeks.
Then finally one night, she asked, “Why don’t you come with me?”
The Bad Fairy was indeed beautiful and had a familiar way about her. He wanted to trust her but he just couldn’t.
“I’m afraid you won’t let me come back,” he managed to say.
She became very angry. This time, she didn’t try to hide it. She had been so patient with him.
She let out a horrible scream that shook all the apartment windows.
His mother woke up with a start in her room. She ran down the hall and tried to come in but the door was locked. Why had he locked the door?
She shook the doorknob until it broke and she burst through frantically. “Why are you screaming?”
And then the boy suddenly realized it was he who was screaming, and the Bad Fairy was gone.
“Can I sleep in your room?” He begged his mom.
He missed sleeping with her in the big room with the big bed. It was like sleeping on an island the Bad Fairy couldn’t get to with her secret stairs.
But his mother said he was too big for that now. He didn’t think he was too big.
“So, what happened? Did you see a monster?” asked the mother, who was already yawning as she crawled into his tiny twin-sized bed with him.
“It was the Bad Fairy coming to take me away,” he tried to explain.
“Bad Fairies aren’t real. You know how you can tell? If you can’t describe exactly what you saw, it was probably just a nightmare. What did she look like?”
“I’m not sure. She’s very beautiful,” he said to his own surprise. But his mom was already asleep.
The next night, he paid extra close attention to what the Bad Fairy looked like.
And it was the strangest thing.
The Bad Fairy looked just like his mother.
They were identical.
That’s why it felt wrong not to trust her.
And why were they never in the same space at the same time?
Was that really his mother making his lunch and walking him to school?
He could no longer tell them apart.
In fact, his mother seemed different lately, come to think of it.
She was always tired and she didn’t surprise him with scavenger hunts or tell him bedtime stories in funny voices like she used to.
Sometimes he could hear her crying in her room or in the shower. But then she’d come out and act like everything was okay.
And when his father picked him up to stay at the new house for a few days, she seemed not happy and not sad, just like it was a perfectly normal thing for him to be living somewhere else for a while, while she stayed behind.
He asked her what was wrong.
She said she was just tired.
It was hard to believe her.
He missed his mother terribly. Even when she was right there in the kitchen beside him, making dinner.
“You don’t belong here,” the Bad Fairy would tell him, night after night.
“Go away,” he’d say, with his eyes squeezed shut, trying to fall asleep.
But she was right, he was beginning to feel like his mother was slipping away. Maybe he should run away with the Bad Fairy.
His heart was breaking.
So one day, while she was folding laundry on the big bed, he told her, “Mom, I was thinking.”
“Thinking of what?” She seemed very distant on the other side of the Island.
“Maybe. I should live with Dad.”
And then his mother looked up at him from her folding. She had the same look the Bad Fairy had just before she screamed at him.
He was positive that was what was coming next — that horrible, piercing scream — and then he’d finally have the evidence he needed to prove what he’d been suspecting…
The Bad Fairy was his mother all along.
But she didn’t scream.
Instead, she got on the big bed and lay down.
She was all alone on the Island and she started to cry.
“I don’t want you to go,” she finally said.
“But when I go, you act like it’s nothing,” now he was crying too.
“It’s not nothing. It’s just that I don’t want you to see me sad. Because that might make you sad as well.”
But it didn’t.
The boy suddenly felt very light.
“I don’t miss you,” he whispered into the air, just in case the Bad Fairy was listening.