Nicole entered the clearing and looked around in glee. Stalls were nestled among the trees, where folks dressed in outlandish costumes advertised carnival games and all sorts of unhealthy food. Looking up, she could see a ferris wheel towering over the forest.

Fairyland was back!

“I really don’t get this place,” Louis said.

Nicole glared at her twin brother. “It’s Fairyland. What’s not to get?”

“The part where the can go years between appearances, the fact that they don’t do any kind of advertising, and then there’s how they somehow get permission to set up a carnival in the middle of a forest.”

“That just proves my point,” she said, sticking her tongue out at him.

“Whatever,” he said. “I’m not going to waste my time arguing with you. I don’t need to understand how they stay in business to have fun. Where did you want to go first?”

“Let’s start with the ferris wheel. It’ll give us an idea how this place is set up.”

He smirked. “You realize that any fairies would be way too small to see from up there, right?”

She punched him playfully in the arm. “Thought you weren’t arguing. And I saw what I saw.”

It had been about ten years ago, when Fairyland had shown up at Cliffsdale for the first time. Nicole was only six, and she had gotten lost. Not only had she wandered away from her parents and brother, but when she tried to find them, she managed to leave the fairgrounds completely.

She was completely alone, in the middle of the woods, and on the verge of tears when the fairy had shown up. She was a tiny little woman, dressed in clothing made out of leaves. She didn’t say anything, just tapped Nicole on the nose and giggled. Then she flew away, leaving a trail of glowing dust behind her. Nicole chased after her, but when she burst through some bushes, she was in the middle of Fairyland again. Right where her parents were looking for, no less.

No one believed her, of course, but she knew there were real fairies in Fairyland. And ever since then, Nicole had come back whenever it showed up, hoping to see the fairy again.

The ferris wheel was a rather unique experience. You couldn’t see anything until your carriage rose up above the trees, and then the view was breathtaking. The forest seem to spread out for miles, Cliffsdale a distant blot on the horizon. They peered down a the fairgrounds, watching people bustling from one stand to another like little ants.

After the ferris wheel, they went on the roller coaster. It wound around between the trees, which gave you the terrifying impression you were about to crash at any given moment. Nicole dragged her brother to some of the shows, which were always brilliant, even if Louis claimed they were too old for them. Then, after a lunch of fried foods, they visited the game stalls and the art exhibits and more rides.

The sun was setting when they reached the petting zoo. It was tucked back in the trees, and the noise died down as they made their way down the winding path. It was quickly getting dark, but small jars with candles lined the path, and paper lanterns were strung along the trees.

After a minute or two, they came to another clearing, not nearly as big as the first. It was fenced in with rope, with smaller paddocks set around in a ring. Each one had an attendant standing nearby. Unlike the people running the stalls who dressed in bright, gaudy colors, these men and women wore muted browns and greens, and in the dwindling light they almost seemed to disappear at times.

“This place makes even less sense than the rest of Fairyland,” Louis said, looking around.

Nicole had already crossed to the nearest paddock, where a pair of does were standing. One walked over to her, calm as you please, and Nicole petted the deer’s nose.

“Come on,” she said, “you’ve gone all day without complaining.”

“I’m not complaining, exactly,” he said. “More of… marveling, really.” The other doe was more shy, but Louis stood perfectly still, and after a moment, she approached him, too. “The animals are so docile and trusting, and they even have predators here, too. Look, there’s a wolf and cubs over there. I’m not even sure that’s legal, but regardless, these deer should be freaked out just by the smell.”

“They’re probably just used to each other. I mean, they’ve been running this for ten years now. The deer have had plenty of time to learn that nothing here is actually going to hurt them. Isn’t that right?” she asked the attendant.

“What?” he said. “Oh, yes. Something like that. At hearing him talk, both does trotted over to him. They almost knocked him over as they both nuzzled him at the same time.

But now that he had brought it up, Nicole couldn’t help but notice it. Many of the animals, who by all rights should have been at least a little skittish, were instead eager to come to the fences to be pet, fed, and in the smaller ones’ cases, held. The only one who showed the slightest bit of wariness was the wolf mother. She stayed at the back of her paddock, watching closely as her cubs yapped eagerly for attention.

Still, she thought to herself smugly, that just strengthened her point. If something strange was going on, it could be the work of the fairies. According to some myths, they were guardians of the forest, so the ability to keep animals calm didn’t seem unlikely.

“Hey,” Louis said, nudging her. “Did you hear that?” She paused, straining her ears.

The wolf cub, realizing he had lost her attention, started yapping. Thenone of his sisters tackled him, and a moment later, all eight of the young wolves were wrestling. Whatever Louis had heard, there was certainly no way she was hearing it now.

“This way.” Louis hopped the rope fence and ran into the forest. The attendant was too busy making sure the children gave the rambunctious wolves some distance to pay attention to anything else, so Nicole quickly followed.

Away from the lantern lights the forest was pitch black.

“Louis,” she called out, “where are you?”

“Over here,” he said. A moment later, his face was illuminated by a beam of light. “Flashlight app,” he grinned. She fished out her own phone, and with makeshift lights, they made their way farther into the woods.

“Where exactly are we going?” she asked, but he didn’t have to answer. The sound of a child crying drifted through the trees. It was difficult to make out exactly what direction it came from, but they followed it as best they could.

They had to backtrack once or twice, but it didn’t take them long to find the lost boy. He was maybe four years old. He sat on a stump, a little bit of moonlight illuminating him through the gap in the trees.

Nicole grabbed Louis’s hand, forcing him to lower his phone.

“Shhh!” she said.

“What are you doing?” he hissed back.

“Proving I’m right, once and for all. A fairy helped me when I was lost. I bet one will show up to guide him back any second now.”

She couldn’t see his face now, but she could tell he was glaring at her.

“Listen to yourself,” he said. “Better yet, listen to him. Even if there are fairies out there, I’m not going to leave a terrified little kid alone just to prove it.” He stepped forward into the moonlight. “Hey there. You lost?”

The kid let out a fresh wail and ran at Louis, clinging desperately to his leg. Nicole immediately felt horrible for suggesting they just sit there and wait. Louis made a few attempts to get the boy’s name, but he was crying too hard for them to understand.

“Nevermind,” he said, picking the boy up. “Names can wait. Let’s just get you back to your parents.”

“Um…” Nicole said. “I think we might be lost, too.”

Lous laughed. “Not a problem.” He pointed up above the trees, then spoke to the little boy. “You see how the sky’s lighter there? It’s all the light from the fair. We go that way, and we’ll be back in no time.”

When the fairy had helped Nicole, she had come back right where her parents happened to be. They weren’t so lucky, but they flagged down one of the workers, and after a little running around, the parents were located.

They thanked Nicole and Louis over and over, and the manager gave them free tickets to come back whenever they wanted. All in all, it was an exciting evening, but she she still felt like she had missed her one chance to see the fairy again.

As they were walking back to their car, she heard a familiar giggle. She turned around, and there was the fairy. She was floating at the edge of the forest, just beyond the shadows of the trees. She giggled again, and then she was gone.

“Louis!” she almost shouted, unable to contain her excitement. “Did you see that?”

Louis was staring in disbelief, and for once in his life, was speechless.