Chapter 1

Most people today would say that they don't believe in fairies. If you said you did, you would be called crazy, or at least laughed at behind your back. I know, because I've had both happen to me at different points in my life. I've been called troubled, disturbed, off-balance, and lately it's progressed to cracked and just plain crazy. You'd be a little cracked too, if you knew the things I know. If you'd seen the things I've seen. But I don't believe that fairies exist. I know fairies exist.

I know because I once had my very own Fairy Godparents. And then they were stolen away from me.

My name is Tommy Turner. I'm twenty-four years old, I'm single and I live alone. I get by as an artist, but only barely. But more importantly, I'm the son of Timothy Turner. That's where this story really starts, you see, with my father. Back when he was a boy, when he was young enough that he went by "Timmy", he had Fairy Godparents too. The same Fairies, in fact, that were eventually passed on to me and my sister Tammy when we were about ten years old or so. There was a green one and a pink one, "Cosmo" and "Wanda". One male, one female, a mated pair. I don't remember everything about them nowadays, but that much I know for sure.

As I understand it, the fairies first arrived because Tammy and I were being neglected by our parents. It was their duty to try and help us through our childhood until such a time as we eventually "grew out of them" and stopped believing in fairies and magic. Now, I don't mean to make my parents sound harsh. They are both loving people, and I consider myself lucky to have them. But at the time my father Timothy Turner was rather career oriented and spent a lot of nights working late at the office. All to provide us with a better home and lifestyle of course, but that still kept him away a lot. My mother Tootie Turner was similarly driven. She was so devoted to my dad and her family that she spent all her energy doing "mom stuff", and by that I mean participating in bake sales and PTA meetings, attending cooking classes and engrossed in issues of "Better Housekeeping". Everything except actually spending time with Tammy and I. When we weren't left alone to keep each other company, my sister and I were most often supervised by a hellish babysitting-robot that our mother had purchased, or worse, by Aunt Vicky.

When the fairies arrived, everything seemed to make sense again. The universe wasn't out to make our lives miserable… there were checks and balances in place to ensure that no kid should suffer an entirely unbearable childhood. For a couple of years, our life was a never-ending adventure. Tammy and I still had our problems to face… rotten teachers and school bullies, stuck-up cheerleaders and the occasional anti-fairy or pixie causing trouble. But with the combination of our imaginations and the magic of our Fairy Godparents, we knew things would always turn out alright.

Then one day, things changed. Cosmo and Wanda were absent from their fishbowl home. At first this was not any huge cause for alarm. One or both of the Godparents had left intermittently before, to attend a convention, or visit their parents, or perform some duty for their superior Jorgen von Strangle. Even if they were in some sort of trouble, it was not entirely unusual for the fairies to have their own adventure once in a while that did not directly involve Tammy or me.

But a few days turned into a few weeks. A few weeks turned into a few months, then a year. Our memories of our fairies rapidly began to fade… try as I might, the exact details of our adventures across the world and beyond became indistinct, and soon it was all I could do to remember that we had had the adventures in the first place. This had been explained to us once as a natural consequence of a child losing their fairies for whatever reason, which confirmed that Cosmo and Wanda were really gone for good. Without the fairies' magic spells to defend us, our lives rapidly degenerated to their former state at the mercy of babysitters and bullies. My twin and I went through the typical stages of coping with loss: denial, anger, sadness, bargaining…

I tried my best to keep a cool head during the rather traumatizing experience. But without any explanation for how or why Cosmo and Wanda had disappeared, it wasn't easy. After all, we hadn't just lost their ability to have wishes granted, we had also lost our two closest friends. It would have been more merciful, perhaps, if our memories of the fairies were erased wholesale. I had always expected that to be what would happen if we lost our fairies, retaining the memory of once having them felt like a mistake or unintended oversight somehow. But ironically that became the hardest blow of all, when later my sister Tammy stopped believing in fairies altogether.

It must have just been the easiest way for her mind to deal with the situation. She just mentally corrected the oversight that the magic had made in failing to completely remove our knowledge of fairies. No matter how hard I tried to convince her, Tammy refused to acknowledge that we had once had Fairy Godparents. Or even that she had once believed she had, when she was younger. The most I could get her to admit was that she had at least gone along with my belief in fairies, thinking it was a game we were playing. In time, my frustration turned into anger, and we began having fights over the subject. Mom and Dad weren't around to stop us, and Aunt Vicky would just allow us to scream our lungs out without lifting a finger to settle the dispute. We stopped playing together as we had when we were younger; Tammy immersed herself in schoolwork and attempting to climb the social ladder at school. I, on the other hand, refused to give up on Cosmo and Wanda. I looked for clues to their disappearance amongst the things they had left behind. I would play our old games by myself, surrounded by the toys of my childhood. I found copies of the fairy tales that Wanda used to tell us and reread them, hoping to find some hidden meaning in the stories that might explain their absence. I can understand how it may've looked to someone who didn't know the real truth about fairies. But Tammy knew! She just lied to herself, made herself forget about our loving Godparents. That's why what she did was so inexcusable.

I was 15 when I found out Tammy had voiced her concerns to our parents. I don't know how long she'd been talking to them before that. Cosmo and Wanda had told us that they were once our father's Godparents, but he couldn't remember them because his mind had been erased after he had "grown up". It was standard procedure whenever any kid moved on after having fairy godparents. Tammy knew this, so she must have assumed that mom and dad would think I was disturbed, especially with how much time I devoted to the study of fairies and magic. Until then I had allowed my parents to believe it was just a hobby, a passing interest. But it wasn't very long after Tammy ratted me out that the decision was made to send me to military school. It was intended to shock me out of the childhood that I clung to like a security blanket. "Tough Love", as they say. Tammy once told me that she was sorry for it, but that she really felt it was the best thing for me.

I could not have imagined a worse environment to spend my teen years. I was a boy whose happy childhood had been stolen away, and I was desperately trying to find a way back to what I had lost. Tammy must have seen my research as a threat to the temporary peace she had found in her self-deception. She was happy living the lie she had forged for herself, and if I brought Cosmo and Wanda back she would have to confront reality. Admit that she had given up on them. Admit that she had lost faith in our Godparents. Over the years, I began to wonder if that may've even been the reason why they had not returned to us. They knew somehow that Tammy had abandoned them, and moved on to their next appointed Godchild. If that was the case, then I could never forgive my sister.

Military school was a nightmare. There was no escape from the homework, the chores, and the general drudgery of mundane existence. My schoolmates were mostly bullies, enrolled there in the hopes that they would have no one to pick on in a class filled with others such as themselves. I was an enormous target for them. When my interest in folklore and what serious scholars termed "mythology" was found out, I was picked on even more. But I held fast to my convictions. As long as I stayed faithful to what I knew to be the truth, I would eventually be reunited with my Godparents. And then all of this pain would be erased as though it had never happened.

When I had graduated, I moved back to Dimmsdale and got a day job. The working world was as dreary and cruel as high school. But they were just a few temporary gigs to save up for my own apartment and keep me occupied during the day. As soon as I had a marginal lump of money to my name, I jumped at the first opportunity to move out. Ironically, the opportunity came from one of my childhood tormentors, my dear aunt Vicky.

Vicky had inadvertently become a career landlady while pursuing her many failed get-rich-quick ideas. The building she owned was a low-income tenement, and had a pretty high turnover rate of tenants. This was largely thanks to Vicky's stern presence as landlady, but her abrasive personality was one that I had developed a bit of resiliency to by then. The next time a vacancy opened up she offered it to me at a reduced rent; I was family after all. I soon found out that this was also motivated by a certain sense of loneliness as well. Vicky had never married or had children of her own, and as she got older her boyfriends became less and less frequent. She sometimes joked that it was high time that she bought a bunch of cats to fill her apartment with, except that she hated cats. Instead, I became a frequent visitor to her flat.

It was during one of these semi-regular dinners that I had with my aging aunt Vicky that I received the first major confirmation of my beliefs. I had been living on my own for about four years at this point, working odd jobs during the day and trying to break into a career in art, or music, or poetry in my free time. I still longed to find my fairies, but I had exhausted all the resources within my meager reach. To be honest, I was starting to wonder if perhaps Tammy had been right all along. The last memories I had of Cosmo and Wanda were over a decade old, and were rather faded. Perhaps they were just figments of my imagination, made real by the power of a mild psychosis? I had vowed never to forget my Godparents, but at the time my concerns were largely how to make my rent, and keep myself fed. In fact, I had just finished a modest meal with my aunt on that night. While I sat and watched the television with little interest, Vicky was halfway into her second bottle of wine. Who knows what else she might've downed besides that. I had assumed she had already passed out on the couch when she began mumbling.

"Itsh funny, ain't it? The way nobuddy lishtens to ya. Jus' cause you're tellin' em supthin' kinda weird. It don't matter if you're a little twerp, er'a dopey teen, er'a fully grown woman. I was s'posta be somebody! Shomebody import'nt. I know it in my guts. But they don' care. They say "shut up Vicky! Jus' be good, and follow Da Rules!"

"What was that?" I demanded, some vague childhood memory tugging at the periphery of my mind. I focused my attention fully on my aunt Vicky, though she would have continued blathering whether I was there or not.

"Oh yea, I know. I know what was gonna happen. They wuz all gonna be my shlaves. I was gonna rule th' goddamn world. But I messed wit' yur dad, and ya can't do that. Can't break da rules. Twerp's always gotta have it his way. You mess with 'im, you get royally fucked. Now I'm a lonely old lush instead. Happened ta me, happened ta that Francis twerp, happened ta that Crocker guy…"

That name Crocker rung a bell. Before I was transferred, there was a Principal Crocker at the school I was attending in Dimmsdale. I had thought it was a woman at the time though. But what did these people have to do with aunt Vicky, and my dad? Trying to get Vicky's attention, I grabbed her arm and pressed "What happened to them?"

"The Curse! That's wut happened." Vicky shouted, kicking her legs into the air. "Yer dad sicced his weird twerp magic on 'em. On me. On alla us. It's not fair, it's not."

My eyes must have practically bugged at the word "magic". "You know something, don't you! You've known all along, but you said nothing!" I accused.

"I don't know nothin'!" Vicky snapped. "I just know that I used to be mean to Timmy. Real mean. Nothin' against him, it's jus' who I am. It was fun. We were all jus' havin fun. But then…" she trailed off.

I failed to mention that she had once treated me with the same cruelty. I wanted to know what she had to say. Vicky knew how I had insisted that fairies were real. She had been silent when my parents started to worry about my mental health. She had been silent when I was shipped off to military school. What was she keeping from me? And what reason could she have to keep it from me all this time?

Vicky clutched the half-empty wine bottle to her chest, and looked me in the eye. Her gaze was fierce, she was a fierce woman, but I could see fear there too. The fear seemed to wash the drunkenness away for a brief moment of clarity. "Weird stuff happened back then Tom. Spooky, unnatural stuff. Sometimes I'd lose time. Hours, days even. I wasn't the only one. There were weekends that the entire town forgot ever existed. It happened to people, places and things too. One day they just appear like the universe just coughed them up outta nowhere, then the next day they're gone again, swallowed up forever. And in the middle of the confusion was Timmy, with this big knowing grin."

She took a big swig of wine then, and I feared she might drink herself unconscious before I heard everything she had to say. Thankfully, a minute later she continued only slightly less intelligibly then before.

"You couldn't talk about it though. That one guy did, Crocker, and we all saw how he winded up. Crocker knew what was going on better then anybody, and it cost him. He shoulda done like me, and played dumb. That way you're not a threat. A lot of people were too dumb to realize something wasn't normal anyway. That, or the twerp did somethin' to make 'em that way. I was pretty sure your grandparents were brainwashed. They got dumber and dumber through the years, but they kept paying me well so I didn't say anything. But if you were smart, and you knew Timmy like I did… you could read between the lines. Somethin' was going on."

With the knowledge I had, I could read between the lines. What Vicky was describing fit perfectly with my own experiences with Cosmo and Wanda. When things got a little too out of control, a quick wish was all that was needed to wipe the slate clean. Everyone involved would be momentarily dazed, and then go about their business as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Except, it sounded like my father had not been as careful coving his tracks as me and my sister had been when we were younger.

"I know you're thinking I should've said something back when people were calling you crazy. That if I said something, people would'a believed you." Vicky suddenly grew angry, her dark eyebrows knotting together on her forehead and her long teeth flashing. "Well I was wishing you'd just shut up! Let it go! We're better off without having fairies or whatever fucking things up all the time. My life may suck dirty hobo nuts, but at least it's normal now. At least I don't have to be afraid of waking up as a giant snake or a green moose or some other make-believe bullshit. Do you know what that's like? Not knowing every time you open a door whether the other side will be your bedroom, a volcano, or outer space?!"

After that, Vicky's anger melted back into a confused array of crying and drunken swearing. She was correct though, my first response had been to feel betrayed by my aunt. But looking at her now, broken by what sounded like years of magically-induced torment, I couldn't feel angry at her. Only pity her. Leaving her to her alcohol and clouded memories, I gathered my things and headed back to my apartment. Aunt Vicky would be fine; she was no stranger to a hangover. But her ramblings, if they held any grain of truth, had given me a new avenue of investigation. After years of dead ends, I might have a promising lead; Crocker.

The first thing the next day, I began my work. Investigating the name wasn't hard. An internet connection and a half-decent ability to browse the web was enough to turn up the basic information. Dimmsdale elementary had formerly had a Principal Geraldine Waxeplax-Crocker, who had been close to retirement back when I was attending. By now she was surely well into her old age. Her husband, one Denzel Crocker (deceased) had worked at the same school as a teacher. Before my time, apparently. Mrs. Crocker had retired with full pension according to her bio page on the school's website. Mr. Crocker did not have the same distinction. The obvious conclusion was that he had been fired or quit at some point, or died before he could collect his pension. It was possible this was a completely normal occurrence. Perhaps he was a poor teacher, or couldn't handle being in a subordinate position to his wife. Or, perhaps he had fallen victim to heart failure or some other malady brought on by the stress of his job. Or maybe… it was the curse as Vicky had said.

When she was awake and sobered up, I briefly called on Aunt Vicky in the hopes of questioning her further. Vicky with a hangover is not a pleasant person to be around. Nevertheless, I persisted in knocking on her door until she answered. Seeing her there in a hastily drawn housecoat, her hair a mess of curlers and her eyes ringed with dark circles was almost enough to make me turn and run right then and there. But I had to gather every possible clue. Anything else she might have to say could turn out to be vitally important.

"What do ya want?!" Vicky snarled. Damn, I would've thought the hangover would lower her tolerance for loud noises. I guess Aunt Vicky was just made of sterner stuff.

"I just wanted to ask you if you knew anything else about my dad and…" I lowered my voice, "… and his fairies."

Vicky gave me that look, a look I had received countless times over the years. For my family members it was well practiced at this point, called up at a moments notice whenever I brought up the subject of fairies or magic. Disbelief. Condescension. Sometimes a little sympathy as well. For my family members it also usually had a good dose of annoyance too. And with Vicky, every facial expression always contained a touch of anger. "For like the millionth time Tom, I don't know anything about fairies." She growled, moving to shut the door in my face.

"What about what you told me last night?" I said rapidly, shoving my foot in the door to stop her from closing it. I don't know how I managed to be so bold in the face of Aunt Vicky's legendary temper and alcohol-eroded patience.

"I didn't say anything last night, you understand twerp? Now leave me alone!" she snapped, shooting me a harsh look before stomping on my foot. As soon as I had withdrawn my leg in pain, the door slammed shut again, and I heard the bolt lock. I had no doubt that I would be unable to speak to her again for at least the rest of the day. But I had managed to gather one small piece of information. When I mentioned her drunken ramblings from the night before, underneath the expression of anger she displayed there was a hint of fear in her eyes as well. That same fear from the previous night. If nothing else, it confirmed for me that Vicky had known what she was talking about, even if she regretted saying it. This lead was real.

With a little additional digging I was able to turn up Mrs. Crocker's last known address. I couldn't find any records of other relatives, so talking to Mrs. Crocker was probably my best shot at finding out what connection Mr. Crocker had to my father. There was the possibility that he had been one of my father's schoolteachers. The dates of Crocker's employment overlapped the years my dad was in elementary school. But then, my dad has had plenty of teachers through the years, and none of them experienced anything out of the ordinary. But Vicky had mentioned that Crocker had spoken publicly about something… perhaps he had gathered some information on fairies, and was later silenced? If so, then I desperately wanted that information. I had no idea what it might be, or if it even still existed. If my assumption was even correct in the first place. But just the chance, the possibility, that this could lead me to a way to reclaim the fairies that were rightfully mine… I was champing at the bit to find out.

I did my best to make myself look presentable before going to meet with Mrs. Crocker. She was still able bodied given that she was living alone in a suburban home, and the pension she was drawing should have allowed her to live comfortably through her retirement. I did not expect to find the home she occupied as dilapidated as I did. The lawn was overgrown, the garden choked with weeds. The house was crumbling and the roof was in need of repair. I approached with some degree of apprehension… suppose she was a shut-in, unwilling to speak to anyone? The cover story I had concocted for myself was that I was a graduate student at Dimmsdale teacher's college, collecting anecdotes from retired education professionals for a paper. I needn't have bothered. Crocker's widow was one of the most trusting people I had ever met. In retrospect, she probably would have invited me over for dinner if I had told her I was a stranger with a flat tire.

I began with a handful of typical questions, scribbling down my host's predictable answers on a notepad just to maintain the role I was playing. Why did she go into teaching, what did she enjoy most about teaching, how did she compare the role of a principal to the role of a teacher, that sort of stuff. Mrs. Crocker may have been elderly, but she was certainly full of life. Her peals of delight at each question would seemed more natural coming from a schoolgirl rather then the 70-plus old lady sitting in her rocking chair in front of me. From there I moved the conversation towards the subject of her late husband.

"How would you say being married to another member of the faculty affected your experience of a career in education?" I asked. Mrs. Waxeplax-Crocker stared at me blankly for a moment, blinked once, her vacant smile wavering slightly before returning to its usual prominence.

"Oh, Denzel and I had loads of fun working together. He took such delight in flunking a student; he even added extra quizzes and exams to the curriculum just so he could hand out extra F's. But I didn't mind that he sometimes took his work home with him. It was a nice distraction from his hobby."

"His hobby?" I queried, arching an eyebrow.

Mrs. Crocker looked anxious, her smile fading for a moment. I leaned in a little closer, noticing that my host's eyes were darting around the room now, her expression becoming confused. "My hobby is horticulture!" She chirped out of nowhere. That was not the question I had asked. "Did you notice the garden on your way in? I've won the prize for best garden three times now!" A moment later Mrs. Crocker refocused her sight on me, and pleasantly asked, "What was your next question?"

I made a quick notation about the subject of Mr. Crocker's "hobbies" for later investigation, than pretended as if it had never happened. I decided to ignore the discrepancy between the truth of Mrs. Crocker's garden and the fantasy she had concocted. "I was wondering if you still had any of your husband's things around that were related to his teaching career. Like, maybe old yearbooks, or lesson plans? I'd love to learn a little bit about what he was like as well."

"Oh, well you can poke around his school things if you'd like. But if you want to get to know him you could always just stay for supper. It shouldn't be too long before he returns home."

My eyebrows furrowed, wondering if I had heard her correctly. Was my research wrong, was Denzel Crocker still alive? If so, the reports of his demise had been greatly exaggerated. Either way, I decided I would take Mrs. Crocker's offer to take a look at Mr. Crocker's things. Even if I would get the chance to interview him directly later on, there was no guarantee he would be any more forthcoming then Aunt Vicky had been. A peek into his private records might give me a useful line of questioning to ask him about later.

Mrs. Crocker took me upstairs and pointed out a folding staircase to an attic room. "I don't go up there," she explained, "Denzel gets so cranky when I disturb the system he keeps his office in. But you should be able to find his school mementos without much difficulty. If you need me I'll be downstairs getting dinner ready… we're having peach cobbler!"

As she scuttled off to her cooking duties I cautiously ascended the rickety staircase. As soon as I poked my head into the darkened attic I was struck by the stale, dank air. It was a struggle just to breathe the rotten air at first. Groping along the wall I eventually found a light switch and the room was illuminated by a single bare bulb hanging from the ceiling.

The room was a mess. Not just because of the gross untidiness, but also because of the thick layer of dust that had fallen over everything. The room was like a tomb, so thick was it with age and decay. The walls were streaked with patches of green and black mold. The single window was caked in a layer of grime that allowed only an indistinct glimpse into the outside world. I took a few tentative steps into the room, noting that the only footprints I could see were the ones I was leaving. Clearly, this room had not been so much as stepped into for many years.

I searched the room as efficiently as I could, while trying not to be too intrusive on the off chance that Crocker (if he was still alive) might return to find me rummaging through his things. The floor was covered in piles of thick books and stacks of loosely related papers. I started shuffling through the stacks, finding mostly works on various fringe theories like UFO's and Bigfoot. One pile was a large collection of "Conspiracy!" magazine, many bearing a subscription sticker bearing Denzel Crocker's name. After a while, I noticed that a large fraction of the books were all by a single author, signing the works as "Simon". Most likely a pen-name or alias, given the nature of the books… I knew what it was like to be called "crazy" for speaking one's ideas, and I could understand why the author might wish to remain anonymous. I gathered up "Simon's" books into a pile and flipped through some, noting titles such as Cryptozoology and Fictitious Companion Syndrome in Children subtitled Imaginary Friends or Monsters Under the Bed: A Field Study, and The Anatomy of a Mythical Monster. By this point it was obvious that this represented the "hobby" that Crocker's wife had mentioned. I wasn't quite sure how it related to my father or my fairies yet though. Perhaps Crocker believed that Fairy Godparents were nothing more then a child's "Invisible Friend"? It was conceivable that, as my dad's elementary school teacher, he might have taken it upon himself to "cure" the belief in fairies. I had seen my parents try the same tactic on me when I was younger, almost being sent to a child psychologist at one point. But that theory still left some blanks… what had he done to earn the "Curse" Vicky described? Trying to convince a young Timmy Turner that fairies weren't real might have annoyed him, but it didn't seem worthy of a magical retribution. I needed to find something that would give me insight into Crocker's own frame of thinking, like a journal or dairy or something. That might point me in the same direction that Crocker was looking in. My intention was to repeat his discovery, with the key difference being that my past experience with my Godparents would spare me whatever fate Crocker had met with.

Aside from the piles of books and stationary, the other major feature of the attic room was a desk occupied by a computer that looked about fifteen years out of date. I hesitated to turn it on, once again fearing that Crocker might arrive to find me poking through his personal files, even if he hadn't looked at them in a decade. It was then that I noticed a blinking light on the printer connected to the computer. "Out of paper; job paused" the flashing light indicated. That was an easy enough problem to solve, so I dusted off a nearby stack of blank printer papers and fed them into the back of the machine, then hit "Resume job". The machine took a few moments to respond, but soon enough it was printing out reams of a document that it had held in its temporary memory for what must have been years.

Sheet after sheet slid through the old laser printer and piled up on the opposite side of it. I scanned a few pages; it seemed to be a dialogue of some sort, a log of a conversation between several people. After reading only a few random lines my eyes fell upon the word "fairies" and I took an immediate interest. As soon as it finished printing I picked up the log and began reading.

01:44:23(Agent Mothman): and you're positive that there's sufficient evidence for us to gather after words? If we aren't able to back up our claim, we're going to look like criminals, or at least mentally challenged.

01:46:03(Agent CrownHunter): I'm positive. I used a simple triangulation method with a variation of the tracking technology we discussed earlier. All the results keep pointing to this one address as the epicenter of a major magical incursion into our dimension. There's no doubt in my mind; this can only be evidence of FAIRY GODPARENTS!

01:46:13(Agent CrownHunter): Sorry, my finger slipped on the caps lock.

01:49:30(Agent Bumpinthenight): While I don't necessarily agree that "fairies" (if you insist on calling the reality-editing phenomenon that) are the only possible source of the readings, I do concur that the site is worth investigating. Whatever the source of the signal is, it is certainly something unknown to humankind and therefore is of interest to the Swollen Eyeball.

01:51:28(Agent Mothman): I know I seem cautious, but I just want to be sure we've given this proper thought and preparation. It's not often that the Swollen Eyeball actually converges for a meeting of any kind in person, let alone a joint field mission. I mean, what if this thing is dangerous? What if someone gets hurt?

01:51:46(Agent Ecto16): I can handle combat if things get ugly.

01:53:52(Agent Mothman): Yeah, that sets my mind right at ease. How long has it been since you last leveled a building over in Amity? The last thing we need is for you to go in with your guns blazing, when we're trying to keep a low profile. Have they even rebuilt the Fentonworks yet? Or was that one "the ghosts' fault" too?

01:55:19(Agent Ecto16): I did what I had to do! You have no idea how close it came to the Ghost Zone swallowing up everything, and I mean everything. And all while you stayed home and played your little games chasing space aliens or whatever.

01:56:58 (Agent Ecto16): I lost good friends during that encounter, so don't you preach to me about how we need to be cautious and tip-toe around the unknown. The unknown is out for our blood whether you know it or not, and when the time comes you'll be thanking God for me and my guns.

01:58:47 (Agent Mothman): And how about everyone who doesn't know that the collateral damage was necessary to bag your latest phantom? The site we're talking about setting up an operation on is listed as an orphanage. What are you going to tell the police if a stray shot vaporizes some little kid's head?

02:00:24 (Agent Bumpinthenight): Alright, settle down kids. We've had this debate before, and now is not the time for it to be brought up again.

02:03:33 (Agent CrownHunter): Indeed. As with any paranormal investigation, time is of the essence. We need to secure the site and whatever evidence it holds before the phenomenon dissipates or moves elsewhere. As it is we're somewhat fortunate; this "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends" is a decrepit building that does not see many visitors. I also did some poking around into their electronic financial records and found that they only have two residents listed on their tax return. It should be no problem to subdue a girl and her bedridden grandmother without resorting to violence, and we won't have to worry about running herd on a bunch of insufferable children.

02:05:12 (Agent Bumpinthenight): But she does raise a good point Dib. The supernatural can be dangerous, as you know. Which is all the more reason that we will need you as a member of our strike team. Your father's technology will provide us with a decided advantage, even more then what's in Valerie's armory.

02:06:20 (Agent Ecto16): Damn it Bumpinthenight, I've told you before not to use our real names on the Swollen Eye Network! If any of our enemies were to hack into our electronics it could compromise us.

02:07:54 (Agent Mothman): I hate agreeing with Ecto16, but some of our targets do know their way around computers. It's bad enough if one of us were to be taken out, it'd be disastrous if our whole operation went up in flames. Not all of us can afford to completely abandon our day-to-day civilian lives "Simon", if that is your real name.

02:10:25 (Agent Bumpinthenight): I apologize. Though I hope you realize that all of our secrecy will be gone as soon as our mission succeeds anyway. If Agent CrownHunter is correct in his assessment of the location as a "Fairy Nest" and we are actually able to capture live specimen(s), we will be heralded as heroes by the public. Our identities will become household names, and we will be beyond reproach of anyone hoping to silence us!

02:14:45 (Agent CrownHunter): It would be great if we are so fortunate, but for the time being we should keep our personal identities a closely guarded secret. In the meantime there are more immediate matters at hand.

02:18:13 (Agent CrownHunter): Agent Mothman and Ecto16, you are to rendezvous with the surveillance team I have stationed at the target site. They are identified as Agents Grimm & Eville, and our offsite tech-man is Agent Sassy-Cat. You'll be arriving ahead of Bumpinthenight and me, as the two of us have a stopover flight from Townsville that will delay us about a day. I've already booked the tickets and emailed you the relevant addresses. Mothman, with your expertise with Membrane-tech, we'll be relying on you to set up our equipment in preparation for the strike operation. Ecto16, I want you to go over the data that the surveillance team has collected and prepare a tactical report for the team.

02:19:10 (Agent Bumpinthenight): Good luck everyone. I'll see you in four days.

There the conversation log ended, and I folded it up to take with me. It was clear that this was a serious clue and I would need to reference it later. However, I didn't have a backpack to hide it in and I wanted to avoid arousing suspicion in Mrs. Crocker. Looking about the room, I picked up Crocker's copy of The Anatomy of a Mythical Monster and tucked the printout between its pages.

"Mrs. Crocker, I spotted an old textbook up in the attic that I think would be invaluable for my paper. Do you think it would be ok if I borrowed it for a couple of weeks, until I finish my essay?" I called out as I descended the stairs to the ground floor. I walked into the kitchen to find a rather unusual sight. Mrs. Crocker was busily serving supper, with two places set out at the table. Normal enough at first glance, until I saw that the meal consisted of a mush of cake and… bacon?

Certainly not the peach cobbler my host had promised. The bizarre combination of fried bacon strips and chunks of a birthday cake was something you might expect from the twisted imagination of a ten-year old, not a demure old lady. Turning to me, Mrs. Crocker asked "Would you like me to set a place for you? You can sit next to Denzel there."

"No, thank you, but I really must be going. I have a lot of work still to do." I lied, "So as long as it's alright to borrow this book, I'd better be on my way."

"Well, it's alright with me." Mrs. Crocker said cheerily, "But you'd better ask Denzel. Honey, is it alright if this nice young man borrows your dusty old book for a little while?"

I followed her gaze to the kitchen table, and noticed for the first time that one of the chairs had been pulled out, as if someone was sitting there. Mrs. Crocker waited in silence, looking expectantly at the vacant seat. Oh, Lord. I knew then that Denzel Crocker was dead after all. Probably he had been dead for years now. Or at the very least, missing and presumed dead by the world at large. But only to the world at large; in his wife's mind, he had never left the house.

Breaking the silence, I spoke "Oh, thank you Mr. Crocker. Don't worry, I'll take the utmost care of your book. You'll never know it was missing."

The widow seemed happy enough with that imaginary answer from her deceased spouse, and resumed setting the table for her and her phantasm husband. Given the skewed state of her mind I decided I wouldn't be able to get any meaningful answers out of her regarding how Crocker died. If indeed he had died, and not simply left and never returned. Without further ado I excused myself from the home and headed off back to my apartment.

That night, alone in my apartment, I went over the printout of the conversation again and made some notes. "Agent Mothman" had identified "Agent Bumpinthenight" as "Simon", while also insinuating that this was most likely an alias. Whether or not this was the same "Simon" that had authored the books littering Crocker's attic was unsure, though it seemed a likely supposition to make. Were Simon and Crocker the same person? Possible. Perhaps Crocker had been leading a double life in order to hide his paranormal investigations from the world at large. That might explain his widow's distaste for his "hobby". Though, that theory was at odds with Mothman's statement that Simon had left his civilian identity behind.

Whoever Simon was, he had been careless enough to drop the names of two of the other "agents". The first was Agent Mothman, being referred to as "Dib". Dib was an unusual name, perhaps another alias. The only other information about Mothman was that he had some sort of expertise with Membrane-tech. This was remarkable for a couple of reasons. Membrane-tech was the term coined for the slew of advanced technology and inventions created by the eccentric and genius scientist, Professor Membrane. For years Prof. Membrane had jealously guarded his technological secrets, only sharing the occasional advancement through a public access television show that he hosted. Then, some five years ago, the Professor had died during some experiment involving exploration of the nearby galaxy (in an attempt to contact intelligent life on other planets). His inventions and estate were turned over to his children, who in turn marketed the advanced technology and built a modest financial empire.

The problem this caused was that Membrane-tech had only become available to the public within the past five years, and even then was terribly expensive. Which was out of synch with the dust in Crocker's attic, the date he stopped teaching at school, and even the date that Cosmo and Wanda went missing, which all pointed to some event that occurred a little over a decade ago. It had to be that this "Dib" was somehow intimately familiar with Membrane's technology years ahead of its release into the world. But how could that be...

I ran a simple web-search on the Membrane corp., focusing on any information relating to the company's home office in downtown Endsville. Predictably their corporate website came up, and I gave it a cursory glance, just to get an idea of the company's public image. I did a double-take when I spotted the name of the company's president. Dib Membrane. Was it that easy? It was a little hard to swallow that the neuvau-riche playboy Dib Membrane was involved with shady underground conspiracy-nuts, but the match was pretty well perfect. I would have to pay him a visit in person, and perhaps I could find out.

The next name was a "Valerie", who was associated with the location "Amity" and a business named "Fentonworks". It was an easy guess to say that Amity was probably Amity Park, a small town not far from Endsville. The town's official website proclaimed it as "The home town of Inviso-Bill!" who seemed to be their star attraction. Depending on the source he was a sinister urban legend, a local superhero, or a made-up town mascot used to generate tourism. The name Fentonworks wasn't anywhere to be found… could be that the company had never managed to rebuild after whatever disaster "Valerie" was involved in had struck. Or, perhaps it had never been very successful to begin with.

Not wanting to give up the clue entirely, I did a search for the name "Fenton" and found a few matches. There was a report of a lab accident involving a Jack Fenton in that area back in the 1980's. It seems a fellow student, one Vlad Masters, was injured during a disastrous test run of Fenton's… "Ghost-portal"? That synched up pretty well with what Ecto16 had been ranting about. The rest of the information was pretty mundane, an announcement of his marriage to his wife Madeline a few years later, then two kids some years after that. With nothing else interesting turning up, I refocused on Valerie.

With such a common first name and no last name to narrow it down, I hadn't expected to find much. Imagine my surprise when a very prominent Valerie Gray turned up in the headlines of, once again, Amity Park. This Valerie was some kind of gun for hire. Well, that matched Dib's complaints of Ecto16's trigger-happy tendencies. It seemed she had once worked as a bounty-hunter or something for none other then one-time mayor Vlad Masters. Wow, this must be a really small town… it seems like everyone knew everyone else. After her employment with Masters ended for unspecified reasons, she took a job as a bodyguard for Amity Park's replacement mayor, Tucker Foley. That was some thirty-odd years ago now, but another quick search confirmed that Foley still held the office of Mayor, easily winning every election since he first took the job. I couldn't find any mention of whether or not Valerie was still around as his bodyguard after all this time, but that was at least one more lead I could follow up on.

The last dangling loose end was Crocker himself. If he had a log of that conversation on his computer then odds are he was one of the four names represented within the log. Ecto16 and Mothman were both accounted for. If Crocker was using the alias "Simon" then he was Agent Bumpinthenight. If not, then he was CrownHunter. Either way, the question remained of just what had happened to him? It seemed clear that he was at least aware of fairies, even if he lacked the evidence to prove it at the time the computer conversation had occurred. If he was CrownHunter (and I was leaning more towards that theory then away from it) then he even went so far as to identify this defunct Foster Home as a "nest" of fairies. I had never known Wanda and Cosmo to "nest" before, but perhaps that was just because my fairies had taken the forms of goldfish rather then birds or rats or some other nesting animal. Regardless, my two biggest tasks were set out before me; find this Foster Home, and find out what happened to Crocker. Hopefully I could avoid falling victim to whatever dire fate had taken his life, or his mind, or both. I didn't have a whole lot in my favor, but I did have one thing that Crocker didn't have.

Putting aside my notes and research for the evening, I went to my closet and pulled out a worn, heavy carrying case. Inside was my single most prized possession, the one treasure from my childhood that had preserved my belief in fairies all through the years. I undid the brass latches on the case and open it wide, reaching for my secret. Without this, I would have probably convinced myself that it had all been a delusion, as my sister had. But I knew it was all true. I knew because I held in my hands a copy of Da Rules.