The first time they came to visit Meggie, she was fast asleep in bed. They hovered outside her window, speaking to each other in low, chattering voices, before sliding their thin spindly fingers under the frame and lifting it open. Meggie awoke to a cool breeze upon her face.
As fresh air began to make her feel a little more awake, she felt a very gentle weight settle on one of her legs; then another and another. She sat upright in surprise. In the darkness she could see three little, glowing figures perched on top of the quilt.
“Who are you?” she asked, frowning, without any real reason to suppose that the creatures should be able to answer. Yet when they did, it seemed to Meggie to be a perfectly logical thing for them to do.
One of the creatures rose up on wings that looked like skeletal, decaying leaves. “We are your friends, Meggie,” said the creature in a light, papery voice. “We have been your friends your whole life. Don’t you remember us?”
Meggie considered this for a moment. She was sure that if she had ever met such unusual creatures before she would have remembered it; and yet now, looking at the strange trio, she felt a sense of familiarity. It was much like when you dream of something, forget the dream, but then have some reminder of it the next day, and the imprint of it drifts through your mind like smoke. Meggie recalled playing in the falling leaves under the big oak tree in the garden the previous autumn and then imagined the creatures dancing in the air around her. She cocked her head to one side and looked at the creature inquisitively. “Yes,” she said slowly. “Yes, I think I do remember you.”
A low chatter of apparent concurrence issued around the creatures. Another of them rose into the air in front of Meggie. She thought perhaps that this one was boy, if such a thing were possible. He came closer to her face than the first, and she saw that his skin was green-brown in colour and the texture like that of moss. His face was quite ugly.
“We have brought you a gift,” he said with a slight bow and swept his hand in the direction of her dressing table, where Meggie now noticed there to be another faint glow.
She pulled back the covers and tiptoed on bare feet over to the table. On it laid a circle of silvery metal with several tiny beads threaded onto it. The light was emanating from the one in the centre.
“It’s beautiful,” gasped Meggie, and suddenly two of the creatures swooped over and picked it up between them, fastening it around her neck.
The boy-fairy, who had remained behind now spoke again. “There are seven beads,” he said in a flippant tone. “The centre one, as you can see, is now filled with starlight. Every night, another of the beads will become infused with it. On the seventh night, the final bead will light up and then we will return bringing an even greater gift.”
The other two creatures hovered by the open window now, and the third swooped over to join them. Meggie thought they were about to leave, when the boy-fairy turned around with a thoughtful expression on his face.
“Of course,” he said offhandedly, “you must take care of it until then. There’s no telling what the Magic might have in store for you if you don’t.”
Before she could ask any questions, they were gone through the window. Meggie felt excited, but had suddenly become very drowsy. She clambered back into bed, and before she even had time to take another look at the necklace, she was fast asleep.
The next time Meggie awoke, daylight was streaming through the window. It took her a few moments to remember the night’s events, but when she did, she quickly felt about her neck to see whether she had just been dreaming. When she felt the metal, she sighed in relief and happiness. It was real! She felt behind her neck to undo the hook. It was very stiff, but eventually she managed it. The whole necklace was a lot lighter than she remembered.
She took it from around her neck, and to her shock saw nothing like what she had expected. Instead of the beautiful silver curved torque with the star-shine glinting in the middle, she had removed from her neck a bent and rusting length of wire, crudely bent to form a hook at each end. Threaded upon it were not beads of metal but seven mangled wine corks. She shook her head in disbelief and disappointment. However, she did not have time to dwell upon the matter, because at that moment she heard her mother’s footsteps coming up the stairs.
Without thinking, Meggie shoved it under her pillow. Her mother came in and tutted at the open window, saying she’d catch her death at this time of year.
Meggie didn’t think about the necklace again until she went to bed that evening. A few minutes after she had settled herself down to sleep, she remembered, and immediately snatched it from underneath her pillow.
To her great amazement, it had transformed again: the rust was gone, and the metal had regained its silvery sheen and elegant curves. Two of the beads now shone with an unnaturally bright light. Meggie smiled gleefully at her good fortune, and for a long while she sat gazing at her treasure, occasionally glancing up at the window, wondering whether the creatures would come back, although they did not. Eventually Meggie placed the necklace back underneath her pillow and went to sleep.
The following four days and nights passed in much the same way. During the day, the necklace would resume a mundane appearance, whilst at night time it would regain its beauty – each time another of the beads becoming lit. By the sixth night, so much light was being emitted by the necklace that Meggie’s bedroom was almost as bright as in daylight. Meggie put on the necklace and sat down at her dressing table admiring herself. The strange light cast a serene glow upon her face, and to Meggie she seemed a lot less plain; perhaps even beautiful. She sat there for some time, before going back to bed.
On the seventh day, she set the necklace beneath her pillow and went off to school as usual. There was a strange knot in her stomach, which Meggie put down to excitement over what the night would bring. She felt nervous with the anticipation of what the “even greater gift” could be.
That night she sat up nervously in bed, waiting for the rest of the house to go to sleep. When everything was eventually silent, Meggie went to extract necklace from beneath her pillow.
It wasn’t there.
Panicked, Meggie searched the room – in the drawers, under the bed – in a vain attempt to locate the necklace. All the time, the parting words of the boy-fairy echoed around inside her head: You must take care of it, he had said. There’s no telling what the Magic might have in store for you if you don’t.
Meggie suddenly wondered if her mother had been into her room during the day. What if she had found the necklace? What if she had mistaken it for a piece of rubbish and thrown it away? Without a second thought, Meggie tiptoed out of the room as quickly and as quietly as she could and headed downstairs to search the bins. She had to find the necklace before the creatures came back!
After no success in the kitchen, she slipped through the back door to search the dustbins outside. It didn’t take long; as soon as she opened the lid she saw the unmistakeable item resting right on top of the rest of the rubbish – a rusting, twisted piece of wire, threaded with battered corks.
Meggie picked it up, feeling helpless. Where had the starlight gone? Where was the silver?
Something changed in the air around her, and she knew she was no longer alone. Twenty or thirty of the creatures hovered, chattering around her, with the boy-fairy (or one very much like him) at the fore. Meggie could see that his face was furrowed and angry.
“I don’t know what happened,” she cried. “Where has the starlight gone? What can I do?”
The papery voice of the boy-fairy sounded very harsh and rasping now. “You have failed, us, Meggie,” he said, darkly. “You would have had so many gifts. So many beautiful things. But you must come with us now.”
Meggie could tell from the tone of his voice that he did not mean for a short stay or a pleasant purpose. “What about my parents?” she protested. “They will miss me. They will look for me.”
Something of a sneer embarked upon the boy-fairy’s lips. “They will not miss you,” he replied. “They will not find you. Not where we are going.”
Meggie saw something move in the shadows. A figure was emerging; a familiar one. The further protest she was about to make died on her lips. The girl was her exact replica in all ways but two – her expression was completely blank, and her eyes distant and otherworldly. A few of the creatures guided the girl towards the open back door, and Meggie’s move to stop her was halted by the rest of the creatures flying around her in a swarm, driving her towards the trees at the bottom of the garden.
The next morning at breakfast, Meggie’s mother vaguely noticed that her daughter was wearing a silvery beaded necklace that she had never seen before. It seem to give off a faint sort of glow, she mused, although of course that was quite impossible. She was about to comment upon it when Meggie smiled, so beautiful and captivating a smile that her mother quite forgot what she was about to say.