Hallo! I am called Herbert. I have been an agent for The Bureau of Child Protection since both it and I were very young. The BoCP was formed to help perform a very old and honorable service. As long as there have been children, pets, and toys; the loving animals and animates have protected the young ones from the nasty things that come out of the shadows when the adults are not looking. The Bureau does not interfere with how that job should be done. Even the Mooses who formed the BoCP could not improve on the application of love that inspired the traditional pets and toys to become Guardians. The Mooses could and did offer classes and training to help make those Guardians more effective. The trainers would go out to visit while the child slept or spent time in school so the Guardians would not have to spend time away, but I am not a teacher, I am a doer. A teacher would tell a different kind of story.
The main purpose behind the new Bureau, what the Mooses really brought to the table, was their ability to organise temporary protectors for children whose families could not or would not keep pets, or where the original Guardian fell in the defense of their person, and they had yet to find a permanent replacement. Pets and especially toys are seldom really lost: merely forgotten or left behind. It is just that sometimes they stay behind in a defensive action or make the ultimate sacrifice to keep their person safe.
The permanent agents of the Bureau, like myself, have to be skilled at stealth as well as defense. The family with which we stay should not know of our presence. This means that we get no credit for what we do, but it also means that people can serve who might have trouble as a permanent Guardian, like myself. I freely admit that I look more like someone the Bureau would be protecting against than one of the Guardians. I have big sharp teeth that I can not quite cover when I close my mouth. My long, sharp claws do not retract like a cat’s, though I do keep them painted grey-blue to blend in with my fur so they are not quite so obvious. I am neither cute nor reassuring to look at. To put it plainly, I am a monster, from a long line of monsters, and I am okay with that, but it can get in the way when it comes to making new friends.
I grew up on an island where everyone was a monster. Claws and teeth, horns and spines, trouble using forks and a tendency to drool because our mouths could not close all the way were normal features there. None of that made any of us bad people, however. Sometimes, before they moved to the island, some of us might have gotten that reputation, but it is hard to be nice when strangers automatically reach for torches, pitchforks, and other offensive implements when they hear someone who looks like you has moved in nearby. You might snarl and bite a bit, too, when an angry mob comes breaking down your door in a search for your head in the middle of dinner. Most of the monsters had been alone with our own company for a long time. Then came a pair of Walking Mooses and a picnic on the beach which changed the future for most of us.
Of course, I graduated first in the first class of secret guardians. The mooses and their friends taught me about all the different things they knew to look out for, how best to deal with the nasties when they appeared, and a wide range of skills that might come in handy when something new and unexpected came along. I studied especially hard for Alice Class (named after the little girl who got so famous after visiting Wonderland a couple times). Being naturally on the large size, I do not have much need for the growing lessons, but being able to shut up like a telescope is amazingly useful. Not only does it come in particularly handy when sneaking, it is much easier to be not scary when you are small.
A long, long time ago…well maybe not that long, not that it really matters. Anyway, in a time before now, and even before yesterday, I was on guard in my first real human’s house on my first real assignment. The bedroom was dark. In some ways, the faint line of light that leaked under the door, and the soft glow from the kitten nightlight by the small bed in the corner served only to give shape and depth to the shadows, but that was alright. I have never had a problem with shadows.
I had been on that assignment long enough to be comfortable in the room, to know her patterns and what to listen for if her parents were coming to check on her, but so far no one I need worry about had come to call. I sat easily in my favorite bit of shadow, in a, relatively, big, comfy chair in the dollhouse living room. I had a goodview of the room through the open side of the house, a nice place to sit, and though I could see almost the whole room, I sat almost completely out of sight and out of the way if anyone came looking. That night, the night I am telling you about, someone certainly would come looking. My girl had a lost tooth under her pillow, and a fairy was due.
Now, one thing all Bureau personnel had to learn, but most of the traditional Guardians did not need to know, was different worlds have different rules and sometimes things bleed through from one to another. In some worlds, the tooth fairy is just a story used to cover a rather straight forward monetary reward from parent to child on the loss of a tooth as a tangible step towards maturity. In some, the tooth fairies collect the children’s lost teeth to guard them from use in sympathetic magic against the child (it is a long and completely different story, ask me some other time). In other worlds, however, the tooth fairies are evil things to be guarded against.
In that world, in that bedroom, it could go either way. The good tooth fairies far outnumbered the bad, but the number of lost teeth was higher still, so the good fairies were very busy. Sometimes the bad fairies got there first.
I watched and waited. At that age, patience could be very difficult for me, but my teachers always stressed that guarding was very much a waiting game, so I did my best. Luckily, in that case, I knew that the wait should not last more than the one night, and I would know right away if the fairy was good or bad.
In that place, the difference between a good tooth fairy and a bad one all had to do with attitude and intentions, rather than being different types of creatures all together. Both good and bad were pretty, wee, things with delicate human like bodies and wide butterfly wings. The good fairies were rather like us Bureau agents. They tried to help and protect and did not expect to get any recognition or reward. The bad fairies liked to frighten and sometimes they would even steal extra teeth out of the sleeping child’s mouth, just to be mean. The naughty fairies painted their butterfly wings with great, fearsome glowing eyes and augmented their flight with magic so the slow flapping looked like the blinking eyes of a much bigger, scarier looking beasty.
Nothing much happened until the wee hours of the morning. I sat relaxed in the doll-sized chair in a light, half-doze that lets me stay perfectly still for long periods of time but still come fully alert and ready to act at the slightest sound or movement in the room or nearby environs.
The light under the door had long since gone out, but I felt the change in the air when the door silently swung open. I did not stir in my chair except to open my eyes, just a bit, to better track the bit of shadow and silence gliding into the room. Just because I was expecting a visit from the tooth fairy and nothing had come to disturb my girl’s slumber so far, did not mean some other nasty might not pick that night to have a go, and I had been taught tooth fairies usually came in through the window.
To my surprise, instead of making for the bed, the visitor drifted towards the opposite corner, towards the dollhouse, towards me. Now, my nose is not so good as many other monsters, but it is still better than a human’s. Well before the shadow came close enough to see, I caught the distinct scent of a well-kept, well-bred dog, and any hint of growing concern shifted to surprise.
Do not get me wrong. Before I took that assignment I had a very thorough briefing. I knew my girl had an older brother and that the brother’s long standing Guardian was a dog the humans called Yappy, but better known among those who spoke his language as Sir Reginald Yappington the IVth, just one in a long line of distinguished child protectors. The surprise came when he lay down in front of the dollhouse and flicked his ear in the unmistakable sign of greeting from one Guardian to another. I knew all about him. I did not expect him to know about me. The Bureau of Child Protection was new in those days and I was just a temp after all. I did not like to think I had been so clumsy as to alert him to my presence.
The conversation that followed was carried out entirely in the silent, subtle sign language of the Guardians. I translate it here into more ordinary for the sake of brevity. I must admit, though I do not really want to, that any snark or attitude that creeps into the conversation is probably a trick of memory or my attitude from the time coloring my interpretations over the years.
“Hello in there,” Sir Reginald said with that flick of his ear.
“Hello…Sir. How did you get in here? That door was shut. I know it was shut. I checked.”
“Of course it was shut, and a good job of it, too, but I have my ways. Been at this job to long to let a shut or even locked door get in my way.”
“Yes, but how,” I started to ask, because if the dog could open the door that quietly, without the sound of hinge or latch, something else might as well, and I would have to take steps.
Sir Reginald did not let me finish the question, however. “Perhaps I can teach you some other time, if you are here long enough for lessons. The humans have a good line on tracking down Miss Ursa to return her to the young Miss, but that is hardly pertinent at this moment, and I do not want to leave my charge unwatched for long.” The dog paused, watching me until I gave an abbreviated nod to acknowledge his point.
“You are aware that the young Miss has a ‘lost’ tooth under her pillow, are you not?” he asked.
I opened my eyes a little wider, the better to scowl at Sir Yappy. “Of course,” I said. Well, actually, I dropped my chin slightly in another abbreviated nod, but that is what I meant.
“How do you intend to deal with what is coming? Ordinarily I would not intrude, but if you just scare off one of the nasty sort, the tooth fairy is liable to try for one of the other humans rather than leave empty handed, and I have the rest of the family to consider.”
I seriously considered getting offended at that point, though not so much for myself. I was young, new to the job, and working for a new organization, so I had no reputation in those days to defend. However, I could not believe he thought so little of my teachers that they would send anyone out so unprepared. Eventually, I decided those same teachers would not appreciate a display of temper even on their behalf and Sir Yappy probably had not spent enough time in Moose company to know any better.
Okay, so maybe I was still offended, but I did my best not to let it show. “I have a net, and a disposal team is always on standby where they can get here quickly. Anyone who I catch trying to play nasty will go to a special psychiatric clinic to determine why they are so mean and if they can be helped.” I may have said it a little stiffly, but I think I did ok.
“Oh,” the elder Guardian said, pausing to look around the room slowly, as if looking for something to say. “I thought you might just let it go. Someone so small might have trouble eating or disposing of the body.” Sir Reginald paused again, looking for all the world like he had something more to say, but in the end, the dog slipped out of the room as silently as he entered, closing the door behind him. It was probably best that he did not give me the opportunity to explain, or prove, that in my natural state I was big enough to eat him and half the furniture in the room, much less a single tooth fairy, but that I would not eat a sentient creature. I am almost certain that when he left, he let the latch click just for my peace of mind, but I did not give him credit for it at the time.
After Sir Reginald’s visit, I was determined that everything would go perfectly when the tooth fairy came to visit. I no longer even considered that a good fairy might arrive first (and you know I had to be right or I would not dust off this story to tell after so much time). There would be no more dozing for me that night, though I wager an observer could not tell the difference between the drowse and the high alert.
Did I mention that I was very young at the time? I could not handle it for long. It is very difficult to stay completely relaxed while every fibre of your being is primed, ready for action, so I made a tactical decision. Since I absolutely knew that a bad fairy was coming, instead of maintaining my usual guard stance I decided to move into an ambush position, instead.
I slipped out of the tiny living room and into the shadow of the dollhouse closest to the window. I pulled my net out of the small, portable pocket dimension that came as a standard part of my BoCP equipment. I had it all stored properly for a quick draw and deployment in the pocket, just as I was taught, but though I had been thoroughly trained with the use of my ‘Moose Pocket’ and other equipment, it was more…reassuring to have the net where I could see it, touch it, and check the drape and weights while I waited.
The sound of crickets and other night creatures outside suddenly increased in volume even before the window started to rise, and I knew that the latch had opened. Then, I caught the scent of outside air stirring the room, and I wondered for a moment how the fairies dealt with the window screens and if Sir Reginald learned his trick of silently opening locked, squeaky portals from them. Then I caught sight of the small, lithe figure crawling through the gap by the light of the great, glowing eyes painted on his wings and I stopped wondering and started waiting for my moment.
I had a bad moment or two when it looked like the fairy might circle round the edge of the room to get to the bed. It would be much harder to catch and subdue the intruder with my net while simultaneously being careful not to wake my charge or alert the house if the fairy chose to stroll the high toy shelves or dawdle on the dresser. I did well in my classes on noise suppression, even the practical and field training, but the first time doing it on my own in a real world environment was different, and I had to do it right, I just had to justify the faith the Mooses put in me when they set a monster to protect a child.
Fortunately, after knocking over the porcelain doll and throwing a crystal fairy that looked rather a lot like the intruder from the shelf by the window, the intruder lost interest in that sort of mischief at least for the moment, and drifted out into the room where the eyes painted on his wings could trick the eye into forming a much larger menace out of the shadows.
All his attention focused onto the still figure sleeping in the bed, so I slipped out from my hiding place, out towards the middle of the room, where my path would pass just under his. It occurred to me as I did my sneaking to be thankful that my girl kept her room nice and tidy, or I would have had a much more difficult time navigating the distance.
I almost botched the capture all together. The urge to throw my net as soon as I got close enough to reach the fairy nearly overwhelmed me, but the thing about surprise is you only get the one chance with it. I had to wait well past the ‘I can catch him’ point until the fairy flew nearly over my head in the ‘I can’t miss’ position. Luckily, the device I carried to suppress the fairy’s shrill snarls of protest also muted my triumphant cry of “Gotcha!” as my net smoothly brought the fairy to the ground and between the dark and my fur, not even the fairy saw me blush.