Queen Bea by Big Anklevich
Ralph and I stomped our way down the trail into the ravine. Our clubhouse was at the bottom. It was nothing much, a few scraps of wood we’d managed to scrounge up and attach together with some nails, but it was ours, and we loved to play there. We could hear that Arnold and Henry were already down there. They were shouting and carrying on about catching something. This sounded exciting, and we picked up our pace. We sped around a bend in the trail, and then we could see the source of the excitement. Arnold and Henry were kneeling at the base of a tree, looking into the folds of a butterfly net. There was a girl standing behind them looking down at the net as well. Her name was Beatrice, but we all just called her Bea. She didn’t look happy.
“No, no! That’s not a butterfly! Get rid of it, it’s ugly,” Bea said.
Arnold pulled his hands out of the net, and stood, a big grin under his huge nose. “I’m not getting rid of it, Bea. Look at it! It’s swell.” Perched on his knuckles was a large preying mantis.
Ralph and I finally reached the three of them, and we gawked at the large, alien-looking insect. The bug waved its spiny arms in the air, craned its head as if it were peering at each of us individually, then it leaped up, unsheathed its wings, and flew clumsily away.
“Oh nuts, don’t let it get away!” Arnold and Henry dashed off after it.
“That was pretty neato,” I said to Bea. “Did you catch it with that net?”
“Arnold did,” Bea said, “but it was just some ugly bug. I wanted him to catch a butterfly.”
“I want to catch a bug,” I said, and reached to grab the lacquered wooden handle of the butterfly net. Bea snatched it up before I could get it.
“No. It’s my net, and I’m going to catch a butterfly with it.” She stalked off, waving the net about in the air at nothing in particular.
Henry and Arnold returned from their fruitless chase. “What’s with her?” I asked.
“Aw, she’s just mad ’cause we haven’t caught any butterflies. We saw one, but she couldn’t catch it with her net, and it got away. So, she gave it to us, but all we’ve found since is lady bugs and preying mantises and stuff.”
“Well, I think that preying mantis was swell,” said Ralph, his white teeth gleaming.
“Me too,” I said.
“Let’s see what else we can catch,” said Ralph. The rest of us agreed, and we set about beating the bushes and weeds to see what kind of wildlife we might be able to scare up. The best thing I saw was a big black beetle that flew away only seconds after I uncovered it. Henry found a second preying mantis, and we were all staring at it when we heard Bea screaming.
“I got one! I got one!” she shrieked.
Henry jerked at Bea’s scream, which spooked the preying mantis, and it flew away. “Come on, let’s go see,” said Henry. Bea was his twin sister, and he always stuck up for her and protected her. If we didn’t all like Henry so much, Bea might not be welcome at our clubhouse. She was a little bossy after all, and she was a girl, but everyone liked Henry, so there was no discussion.
The four of us tramped through the woods toward where we had heard Bea yelling. Cresting a small hill, we saw her bent over her butterfly net.
“What did you catch, Bea?” Henry asked.
She didn’t answer. Her face looked pale. Henry stepped over to see what she had, and froze. We all crowded in, and that’s when I heard a tiny, flute-like voice.
“Please, release me from this net,” it said, “Release me, and I will pledge my undying loyalty.”
What was that, I wondered. That wasn’t Bea talking. It was something else.
When I finally got close, I was amazed to see a tiny man tangled in the folds of the butterfly net. Bea turned the net inside out, and the man fell out onto the grass. I leaned in to look at him closer. He was the height of one of my fingers, and clothed in leaves woven into a tunic. I could see why Bea would have though him a butterfly as well, because sprouting from his back was a pair of colorful insect-like wings.
He was a fairy, a real live fairy. I couldn’t believe it. I just stared, speechless, as he stepped forward, and bowed to the five of us.
“I thank thee for freeing me. I am in your debt. Which of you is the ruler, that I might swear my allegiance to serve?”
“Who is our ruler?” Henry asked it.
“Yes, who rules among you?”
We all knew who that was, though none of us had ever said it out loud. Henry was the clear leader in our gang. We deferred to him every time there was a decision to be made. He was the smartest of us for sure. All of us had ideas and plans from time to time, but it was Henry who decided whether they were good ones or not, and he had never steered us wrong, which is why none of us had ever complained. Following his leadership, we always had fun.
Ralph, Arnold and I looked at Henry, and he moved forward a half-step. I glanced over at Bea, and shuddered. I saw something vicious and longing flash in her eyes. She glared angrily at the four of us in turn, then pushed her way forward in a rush.
“I am the ruler here,” she said, “besides, I caught you. You have to pledge to me.”
Henry’s forward motion jerked to a halt. The four of us boys all looked startled. We never expected Bea to do something like this. I was already thinking that, Henry or no Henry, she wasn’t going to be welcome back here the next time we came to play.
“Very well, fair maiden” said the tiny man, “I pledge my undying loyalty to thee. What is thy name that I might swear properly?”
“Beatrice,” she said, “but everyone just calls me Bea.”
“Queen Beatrice, Lady of the Net, I; Arthur Snapdragon, denizen of the undying realm of Faerie; pledge my undying, eternal devotion and service to thee. I thank thee for showing mercy unto such as I. What wouldst thou have me do?”
The smug look of satisfaction on Bea’s face made me feel a little ill, but also a lot of foreboding. I knew that Bea in charge of a fairy could not be a good thing. If fairies could do magic like the tales always told, then me and my friends could be in for some trouble.
“I want to catch a butterfly,” Bea said.
“Then let us hunt,” said the fairy.
Bea snatched up the net, and reached down, extending her hand for the fairy to perch on. “Which way should we go?”
Arthur Snapdragon leaped onto her hand, then, flapping his tiny wings to steady himself, climbed to her shoulder. “To the south. I believe I can hear the wings of a butterfly in that direction.”
Bea stalked off to the south, the fairy perched on her shoulder, butterfly net held at the ready. The four of us stared as she went, flummoxed.
“That was weird,” said Ralph, his face screwed up in a grimace.
“Did you ever think that fairies were real?” I asked the others.
“Not really,” said Henry. “I just thought they were fairy tales.” Then he giggled, “Fairy tales.”
“Well,” said Arnold, “What should we do now?” He reached down and grabbed a branch that had fallen from a nearby tree. “En garde! Who wants to swordfight?”
I snatched up my own stick, and we went to it, bark flying as our sticks bashed together. Henry and Ralph grabbed up their own ‘swords’ and in moments we had a full-fledged battle between four noble musketeers. Ralph joined my team and we faced down Henry and Arnold.
“Monty,” whispered Arnold as our sticks clashed, “Come over to my side, and we can get Ralph.”
“Never!” I shouted in my best impression of an English accent, “I’ll never abandon my friends!”
“I will,” said Ralph, and turned from fighting with Henry to advance on me.
“Foul traitor!” I shouted, and lashed out towards Ralph. I meant to miss him by several feet, but he chose the same moment to make a jab towards me.
“Ow!” he shrieked when my stick connected forcefully with his thumb. He dropped his own stick, and put his thumb to his mouth to suck on the spot where blood was seeping out of his chocolate-colored skin.
“I’m sorry, Ralphie,” I said, reaching out a hand to put it on his shoulder. “I didn’t mean it.” This wasn’t the first time a sword fight had ended this way. In fact, pretty much every time we fought with sticks like this it ended the same way, one of us cut and bleeding. It went with the game.
Ralph took his hand from his mouth and looked at the wound. It was red and angry looking.
“I think I better go home and get a Band-Aid from Mama,” he said.
“Alright, see you, Ralphie,” I said.
Ralph turned and started up the path out of the ravine. Then, he suddenly stopped, did an about face, and came back down the trail. This seemed odd to me, but I didn’t get to waste much time wondering about it before my own body did the same. I turned and trudged off into the woods. I didn’t want go, and I tried to stop several times, but my body wouldn’t obey me. I noticed that all four of us were similarly affected. Our eyes were wide with panic, but our bodies kept right on walking.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Why can’t I stop walking?” Henry said.
We crested a hill, and the reason behind things became clear.
“There you are,” said Bea impatiently, sounding like my mom did when I came home late for dinner. “I want a butterfly. So, you have to help me find one.”
“What’s going on, Bea,” said Henry, anger clear in his tone and his face.
“I’m the queen, and you’re my subjects. Arthur Snapdragon says so. So I had him call you here to help me find my butterfly. Now get to it.”
On her shoulder, the fairy waved his arm. Of their own volition, my legs began walking again. It was frightening to be out of control of my own body, as I walked from place to place, shaking branches and kicking weeds, trying to startle a possible butterfly into flight.
There was a scream to my right. I turned my head, the most I could do under this compulsion, and I saw Bea swing her net at an orange monarch butterfly.
“I got it! Good job, Henry, thanks for finding it.”
Bea sat down on the grass, looking into the folds of her net at her quarry. With the task complete, my body suddenly came back into my own control. I turned and headed for home. I didn’t want to be anywhere near Bea if she could do something like this to me.
“I’m going home,” said Arnold, but he was already fifteen steps behind me. I was retreating as fast as I could go. I wanted no part of this. Ralphie was right behind us. The only one staying behind was Henry, after all, Bea was his sister. He couldn’t run home to get away from her, because she’d be there too soon enough.
As I walked past Bea, I swear I could see a look of sinister satisfaction on Arthur Snapdragon’s tiny face.
At school the next day, Henry looked haunted. As soon as the bell rang for the first recess, I ran up to him and asked, “What’s wrong, Henry, you look…”
“It was Bea,” he said, “Bea and that fairy. She brought it home, and put it in her dollhouse, and whenever she wanted something, she had it do magic to make me do it. I played dolls with her, I played stuffed animals with her. I didn’t want to, but I had to.”
“Oh boy, that’s not fair.”
We saw Bea playing on the jungle gym. The fairy wasn’t with her, so we felt safe to do whatever we wanted. Still, we stayed away from her all the same.
After school, we met at our usual place in the ravine. No one was smiling, or playing around. We looked like a bunch of convicted criminals heading to the gallows, and when we discovered that Bea was nowhere to be found, we rejoiced like the governor had sent down pardons. We decided to go down to the stream to see if we could find any crawdads. We went in the clubhouse, and grabbed a bucket from our stores of junk.
Opening the door, we stepped out and found Bea and Arthur Snapdragon outside waiting for us.
“Hi, boys, what are you doing?”
Henry dropped the bucket. I looked at my feet and grumbled. I saw that the other boys were doing the same. It was amazing how that one act of selfishness had ostracized Bea from our gang. None of us wanted anything to do with her, and she had been one of our best friends only yesterday. Henry was the only one who met her eyes.
“We’re going to catch some crawdads, Bea. You want to come along?” asked Henry.
“Ew, crawdads are yucky.”
“Okay,” said Henry, “You don’t have to come.”
“I want to have a tea party,” Bea said.
Our heads snapped up. Tea parties were never even mentioned at our clubhouse before. Bea knew we wouldn’t be interested. Whenever she wanted to play girly things like that, she had to rustle up her girl friends. Did that mean she was leaving, and wouldn’t bother us? Or were we in for another round of forced torture. Being forced to hunt butterflies was one thing, but a tea party?
“Okay,” said Henry, “You have fun at your tea party. We’ll see you later, I guess.” He grabbed up the bucket, and we started away.
“No!” Bea shouted at us. “I want to have a tea party with you.”
Henry stopped, and looked at Bea with frustration. “Come on, Bea. You know we don’t like to play tea party. Go find your girl friends and see if they want to play tea party with you. We don’t like doing that kind of stuff. We’re boys.”
“I always played whatever you boys wanted me to play with you, now it’s time for you to do the same.”
“We never made you, Bea. You played with us because you wanted to. If you didn’t want to, you could have gone home.”
“Arthur,” Bea said, and the fairy sitting on her shoulder jumped to his feet. “Can you get the tea party ready for us?”
Arthur Snapdragon waved an arm, and a toy tea set appeared in the grass in front of the clubhouse laid out on a tray, the cups full of water, crackers and sugar cubes ready for use.
The magic display spooked me, I knew what I was in for momentarily and wanted no part in it. I turned and ran as fast as I could out of there. Grass and trees whizzed past me as I sprinted for the top of the ravine. I reached the lip of the hill, and slowed. Then I turned around, and slowly and deliberately marched back down to the clubhouse. Just as I feared, my body was no longer under my control.
I screamed and raged inside my head, fighting for control, but it was all to no avail. Within moments, Henry, Arnold, Ralph and I were seated around the tea set, pinky fingers extended drinking water and pretending that it was tea.
“This isn’t right, Bea,” said Henry.
“You’re mean, Bea,” said Arnold.
“Stop doing this,” I said.
“I don’t like this, Bea,” said Ralph.
“Arthur,” said Bea, “I want a nice tea party. Make them stop this and talk nice to me.”
Arthur waved his arms, and instantly not only were we pretending to drink tea, we were also pretending to enjoy it. We gabbled like hens, or like fat, English aristocrats, and sipped at our drinks. But behind our eyes was a rage that we’d never felt before in our young lives.
The next day at school, we stayed as far away from Bea as we could without leaving the school grounds. All the while, we talked about what we could do to end the tyranny. Bea didn’t have the fairy at school, so he had to be at home, hidden in her room somewhere. Maybe we could beat her home, and get that stupid Arthur Snapdragon before she could summon him, and then let him loose.
Would that possibly work? How much did the fairy believe in this garbage about Bea being the queen of the gang. The fact that none of us wanted to obey her had to give Arthur Snapdragon a clue, right? He pledged allegiance to Bea in the first place so that she would release him from the butterfly net. Was all he wanted to go free?
When the bell rang, we assembled outside our classroom, dashed to our bikes, and rode to Henry’s house as fast as we could. Ralph almost got hit by a car at one point because he rode right out into the street without looking both ways. The car blared its horn and squealed to a halt inches from Ralph’s tires.
“Sorry,” he shouted, and pedaled on.
We were a whirlwind of panting breath, clicking chains, and skidding tires as the four of us pulled up to the front of Henry’s house. Our bikes clanked to the ground, no one even bothering to extend their kickstands.
We burst through the front door like a stampede of wildebeests, startling Henry’s mother. Not even the smell of freshly baked cookies could stop us in our quest. We trampled up the stairs and threw open the door to Bea’s room. Like mobsters looking for the damning evidence, we tossed her room.
It didn’t take long to find the fairy. He was dozing in the bed that was built for her dolls.
“Welcome, boys, it’s a pleasure to see you again so soon,” said Arthur Snapdragon in his annoying, high-pitched voice.
Henry snatched him up roughly with one hand.
“I must insist that thou unhandest me immediately, Henry,” said the fairy, his voice was the same ridiculous pitch, but now there was real menace behind the words.
“No, you listen here, Arthur Snapdragon. It’s time for you to go away. We’re going to let you go out the window, and we want you to fly away, and never come back, understand?”
“I most certainly could do such a thing, Henry. But I believe that my liege, Madame Bea would be most upset if this were to happen.”
“I don’t care–”
“I’d be upset if what happened?” asked Bea in the doorway. Her eyebrows were knit together in a most unpleasant expression.
“Bea,” said Henry, “We’re setting Arthur Snapdragon free. He needs to go away.”
“I don’t want him to go away, though,” said Bea. “I do want to play dolls though. It’s nice that you’re all here, now we can play together.”
I looked desperately for an escape. The last thing that I wanted was to be driven around like an automobile by Bea and that odious fairy. With Bea blocking the doorway, however, there was nowhere to run.
“Arthur Snapdragon, make my friends play dolls with me.”
Arthur grinned big, and waved his arm. “As you wish, my Queen.”
Stiffly, I walked to the dollhouse, grabbed up some of the doll clothes that we’d dumped out in our search for the fairy, and began dressing one doll in a gingham dress and white apron.
“This isn’t right, Bea,” said Henry.
“Stop, Bea,” said Arnold.
“I hate you, Bea,” I said.
“I hate you too,” echoed Arnold and Ralph.
“I hate you too, Bea,” said Henry. “I don’t care if you’re my sister. I hate you for doing this.”
Bea flew into a rage.
“Stop it, stop it, stop it. You’re ruining it. I just want to play dolls. Why won’t you just do what I want? Why won’t you play with me?”
“I hate you,” the four of us repeated, again and again, even as our fingers dressed dolls and placed them on dining room chairs of their own accord.
“Stop it. Arthur, make them stop.”
Our chant ceased at the wave of Arthur’s arm. We glared on, the hate in our minds communicated through our eyes and our faces.
“I hate you,” the set of our faces said, even if our lips were artificially sealed.
“Arthur,” Bea whined, “I don’t like this. I just want to be queen. I just want everyone to play with me, but now they hate me.”
“My noble sovereign, I know not what to do to make thy subjects obey.”
Tears began to form in Bea’s eyes.
“My only suggestion is for thee to come away to the land of Faerie with me. It is a beautiful place where all wilt love thee and play with thee eternally.” Arthur Snapdragon grinned wickedly, eyes glinting.
Bea, sniffled, wiped the tears from her eyes, and said, “Yes, Arthur Snapdragon, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll go away with you to Fairyland. It sounds so beautiful and bright. Will you take me there right away?”
I could see Henry quiver. Even after all that Bea had done, he was desperately trying to break free from his bonds to protect her from herself. We all saw the evil purpose behind Arthur Snapdragon’s eyes.
“Very well, my Queen. We will hie to the land of Faerie at once.”
The fairy waved his arm, and Bea raised off the ground, floating like a helium balloon. I heard Henry whimper and saw him quiver again. As the four of us watched, spellbound, the window to Bea’s room banged open. From outside, a whirlwind of dust and dirt spun in. It coalesced into a shape. First a simple blob, then it grew arms and legs, a head and neck, until it resolved into a mirror image of Bea, right down to matching clothes and ribbons in her hair.
The copy of Bea settled to the ground, standing in the same place the real Bea had stood seconds before, while the real girl rose higher into the air. Arthur Snapdragon’s insect wings flapped, and he rose into the air next to her. A translucent, golden bubble formed around them as they rose, and the room began to brighten, until it was unbearable to keep my eyes open. I squinted them shut for just a moment, and suddenly, the light was gone.
I opened my eyes, and saw that Bea and the fairy were gone. They must have vanished into thin air somehow. Standing next to us, in the room’s doorway, was the copy of Bea that Arthur Snapdragon had created. It blinked, and breathed, but there was nothing there. It wasn’t Bea; it wasn’t even a good working model of Bea. It was a changeling, a mindless, spirit-less duplicate of Henry’s sister. Left behind to make the absence of the real girl unprovable.
Henry stepped over and shook her shoulder. She looked at him, but made no other response.
“Bea?” said Henry, “Is that you?”
The changeling groaned a mindless grunt in response.
“Mom!” Shouted Henry, “There’s something wrong with Bea!”
He rushed past the changeling, and down the stairs shouting. His mother was upstairs in moments, talking to Bea, trying to get a response other than the groaning grunts.
“Boys,” said his mother, “I think it’s time you best get home.”
And we did.
It’s been a lifetime since that day. Bea never did speak again. Henry’s parents cared for her lovingly for as long as they could, and finally, they put the changeling into a home when they grew too old to help her themselves. Henry’s dad gave him a good thrashing one evening when Henry tried to tell him that the girl they were caring for wasn’t the real Bea, and that she’d actually been carried away by a fairy. Henry never said anything about it again.
Our gang broke up and stopped playing together soon enough as well. We were never really welcome at Henry’s house anymore. His parents, although they couldn’t explain it, seemed to hold us responsible for what happened to Bea. At school, it seemed easier to find other friends. Ones that didn’t remind us of that bad time when we crossed a fairy, and lost a friend forever.
I never saw another fairy in my whole life, and I’m glad of it. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of a butterfly’s wings flapping over a flower, or flitting through the trees, and I shudder. I guess I’m always expecting Arthur Snapdragon to come back for the rest of us.