Wendy heard the repeated ripping sounds before she reached the classroom where Michael sat at his desk participating in his usual ritual of opening and closing the Velcro on his backpack. Ms. Ellen, the aide, sat in a desk facing him.
“Hi, Wendy.” Ms. Ellen placed her hands over Michael’s for a moment and he started to resist. “You can stop now, Michael. Your sister’s here. Take this with you and we’ll start again tomorrow.” She picked up a few pieces of paper and handed them to Wendy. Finally Michael realized his sister had come to pick him up and he jumped up from his seat.
“Come on, Michael.” Wendy held out her hand to take his.
Ms. Ellen stood. “Wendy, tell your mother that Ms. Duncan wants to have a teacher conference with her soon since she missed the last one.”
“I’ll tell her. She has to work a lot now.”
“I know, sweetie. It’s just that Ms. Duncan has some important information on Michael’s progress.”
“Okay. I’ll tell her.”
“And here’s a note.” Ms. Ellen held out another piece of paper. “Make sure she gets it, okay?”
“Okay. We’ll be back tomorrow.”
“Bye, Michael.” Ms. Ellen waved and Michael moved his hand slightly, his gaze exploring the ceiling above his head even as Wendy guided him into the hallway.
As Wendy and Michael started out the door of the school, Wendy began to feel a little nervous, especially when they reached the exit from the school grounds. Whoever might have taken Lily might be out looking for other girls and boys. Even though the park just ahead was partly hidden by shrubbery, Wendy thought it would be better to cut through it to get home more quickly. Just as she approached the clearing in the middle of the park, a section surrounded by bulky hedges, she heard chattering coming from the bench in its middle.
Wendy first caught sight of the back of the chatterer’s head, covered with wisps of golden hair that fell this way and that. As she walked around the bench, Michael in tow, she found a very willowy girl dressed in bright green tights and a sleeveless dress of lime colored gauzy scales, a girl who, on second look, appeared to be older than a child, yet her voice was quite high pitched.
Seeing Wendy and Michael, the girl abruptly stopped talking.
“Are you okay?” Wendy asked her.
“Yes. Are you okay?”
Was she echoing or mocking Wendy? “Yes,” Wendy answered her.
“Okay, okay, okay,” Michael whispered and he briefly looked over at the girl on the bench.
Wendy didn’t say anything and the girl didn’t say anything. She ignored Michael and glared at Wendy with eyes that were an unusual shade of green.
In a quick motion, the girl folded her legs underneath her on the bench. “Did you come from there?” she whispered, glancing back toward the school.
“Yes. I’m a student.”
The girl’s eyes doubled in size. “So you’ve seen him.” The girl grimaced, closed her eyes tightly before unfolding her legs, sitting down on the bench and resting her hands on her newly made lap.
“Who have I seen?”
Her eyes opened wide again. “Him. You should be careful.”
The little girl’s behavior startled Wendy. “Little girl, do you need some help finding your way home?”
“You are the one who needs help, student! I know where I live. Second star on the right.”
The girl had quite an imagination. “What’s your name, little girl?”
“Bellatresse is my name, little student.”
“And why do I need help?”
“Because he is there.”
Wendy startled. “Who is he?”
The little girl shook her head and refused to say more.
“Are you sure you don’t need some help getting home, Bellatresse?”
Bellatresse’s face screwed into a stern expression. “I know perfectly well how to get home. Now shoo! He will find us if he hears us talking.”
Wendy didn’t want to leave the girl alone but she also didn’t want to spend much more time talking with her. Just as she and Michael started toward home, a loud buzzing noise surrounded her, and she looked back to find an empty bench and the slightest wisp of dust hovering over it.