Arieth glanced each way up the road to check for cars. All clear. Now or never, she told herself. With a deep breath, she inched her way towards the door of the Fly Catcher’s shop, her small frame shivering in her tightly buttoned peacoat, only partly due to the autumn chill. She blew a rogue strand of her curly red hair from her eyes. Why did she forget her hat again? Can’t remember everything.
The shop was an unobtrusive place, nestled between a barber shop and an art gallery, having no windows, just a single aged sign, made of brass lettering, faded as if the hand of polish had not given it sheen for many a year. Her friends waved her on. She knew she shouldn’t go. Just last week, Missy came screaming from the shop, babbling without sense.
The Fly Catcher might eat flies, but Arieth refused to let that stop her. As best as she could, she read out loud the words on the sign overhanging the door. “M-u-s-i-c S-h-o-p.” Strange. She never thought of the Fly Catcher as a music man. Her father also loved music and was always singing what he called his favorite notes, usually low ones, which reminded her of a train passing by. It made her giggle. She wondered what kind of music the Fly Catcher liked.
She reached the old wooden door, a deep red with floral carvings running along its trim and a mighty brass doorknob faded with age. As she grabbed the knob, it was cold to the touch. She couldn’t contain a squeal, but she twisted it anyways, allowing the door to creak open. She had to step back as a dim orange light flickered from within.
“Hello?” Arieth called. No immediate answer followed and she glanced over her shoulder at her friends who made faces coaxing her on. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and stepped into the shop. Exhaling she opened her eyes, her heart beating with the rhythm of her accomplishment and sudden terror. The Fly Catcher was standing directly in front of her. She didn’t know how he got there, but sure as her grandma liked her tea steeping hot, there he was. His large dusty apron hung loose over a wispy frame, while he chomped on an empty smoke pipe.
“Welcome to my shop, little one.” The Fly Catcher walked behind a counter set against the right side of the shop. “Well, what are you looking for? We have about every kind of instrument you might want.”
Her eyes caught a long slender box on the countertop, the gold lettering glinting in the dim light of a single swinging bulb overhead.
“It’s OK. Indulge yourself.” The Fly Catcher winked and motioned for her to pick up the musical instrument, gesturing with his pipe, clearly more of a chew toy than a fine tobacco reservoir.
Arieth felt a large lump, much like the nasty turnip her mom tried to make her eat yesterday, get stuck in her throat. “What’s indulge?”
“Well, umm, it means feel free to take a look. Open it if you like.”
Arieth tilted her head up so she saw level with the counter and narrowed her eyebrows at the long wooden box. Why couldn’t she just grow up so things weren’t so hard to reach, especially the cookies at her granny’s house. She lifted the lid of the box. Her hands shook. Wait till her friends hear about this. Not only did she see the Fly Catcher, she opened one of his boxes. The place was full of them, propped against walls, stacked on top of each other, in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Inside this one lay a long ivory tube with holes running down its shaft. Arieth never saw anything like it before. “It’s beautiful. What does it do, Mr. Fly Catcher?”
The old man closed the lid. “It tells the songs of the wind, little one.” The Fly Catcher’s pipe bobbed in his mouth as if to emphasize each word. “It catches the air like my hands catch flies.”
Arieth’s worst fears might come true. He mentioned eating flies. She could feel the sweat build in-between her toes and even trickle down her back from the nape of her neck. She was going to die. The sight of the old man eating a fly just might finish her off. Eternal torment, insanity, or simply death by shock, any of these might happen. If she had the choice, she would go with insanity. Insane people might be crazy, but they always appeared happy, at least in the movies. All of a sudden she heard buzzing from behind her. She squealed as panic struck her. Please don’t let it be a fly!
Then Arieth saw it. The tiny black dot spiraled above her towards the Fly Catcher. She wanted to scream. To tell the fly to go away. To try and grab it herself, but her fear kept her in place and just as she was able to start and lift her arm the Fly Catcher sprung. He snatched the tiny black dot out of the air, his long fingers clamping, clasping the fly with speed unbecoming of his age.
Arieth’s eyes fixed on the widening grin of the Fly Catcher and the fear building in her. Without a word, the old man tossed the fly in his mouth with a chomp, the pipe quivering with each crunch.
She squealed, unable to contain herself. “Ewwh.” She stumbled back a few steps, her green eyes stuck open. She heard the tales but never believed them. He really eats flies! In that dreadful moment, more than anything she wanted to vomit, but for some reason, it intrigued her as well even as bile crawled up her throat.
She slapped a hand to her mouth in a useless attempt to stopper the terror rising from her gut.
The Fly Catcher finished chewing and swallowed dramatically.
“Why did you eat it?”
“Why should I tell you?”
“Because I said so.” Arieth saw her mom use this tactic many times before on herself and figured she might as well give it a shot here.
“Fair enough. In truth, hearing you squeal makes you even cuter than you already are. I used to have grandkids, you and your friends remind me of them…but that was a long time ago. Nothing to concern you.”
“My older brother said your family died in a fire.” Silence answers her, and Arieth wondered if she said something she shouldn’t have. Her mom always told her she spoke too soon. “Did I hurt your feelings, Mr. Fly Catcher? Sorry if I did, but you shouldn’t have murdered the fly. It’s mean.”
The old man chuckled, the furrow in his brow softening. “So that’s what you kids call me. Well, it fits I guess. Don’t worry about me. This old man is tough. Besides, I didn’t actually eat the fly.” He holds up a closed fist and opened it. A small black dot leapt into the air and buzzed around them to disappear just as quickly out the front door. “Our little secret. Promise?”
“Promise.” She felt better already.
“Why didn’t you run away like all the other kids when I ate the fly.”
“I couldn’t. Something stuck my feet to the floor. I think it was because I was scared.”
“Of me?” The old man’s smile dimmed as he spoke.
“No, not at all, Mr. Fly Catcher. No, it’s just eating flies…well it’s gross and scary I guess. What if they bit you from the inside or lay eggs! Then you’ll have a full family of flies buzzing around inside you. My granny told me flies lay eggs. I’ve never seen them, but I’ve seen chicken eggs! Blue ones too. You know not all eggs are white.”
“I’m sure they’re not. I can tell you’re a smart little girl.” Fly Catcher chomped on his pipe, staring passed Arieth as if lost in his head. Seeming satisfied after a moment of this, he put his hands on the counter and gave Arieth a hard look. “You know what…for your bravery you I’ll give you one of my instruments or some other gift. It’s not everyday I get such interesting visitors in my shop.” Behind the wrinkled mask of a face, the Fly Catcher squinted, scratching the fresh white stubble of a mid-morning beard. “For this…what did you call me again?”
“Mr. Fly Catcher.”
“Yes, yes, this old fly catcher might have something for such heroism. Hmm, let’s see, what do I have that could fit such an occasion? Love letters written from a rock to a pond? No too solid. A vial of snake hiccups. Too jumpy. Wait! I know. Feathered walrus tooth! Not sure if any of that fits. What do you think little one?”
Arieth’s nose twitched, not really getting what he just said.
“No, I guess not.” Rubbing his scalp, he parsed his lips as if struggling to think. “There was something perfect, but I just don’t seem to remember what it was. Wait! I got it! Do you want something with magic?”
“Magic! Ya, like Harry Potter!” Arieth rose on her tiptoes.
“More or less. I feel like I hit the mark with you then. So you’re a reader. I bit young for those books, aren’t you? You can’t be more than 8.”
“Seven and a quarter actually. Watched the movies, but my brother is halfway through the books and as soon as dad lets me, I’m going to read them too.”
“Well, I hope so. Reading will do good things for you. Now, let’s see what I have here. I believe I owe you something, for courage and all.” Scratching his scalp, the Fly Catcher bent down and rummaged through a hidden shelf behind the counter, out of Arieth’s sight.
She strained to see what he searched for, but all she caught a glimpse of was his balding head. Yet, somehow she was drawn to the first instrument he placed on the counter before her.
The Fly Catcher stood, using the counter to straighten, his back obviously not much help. “I can’t seem to find anything.”
Arieth pointed at the long wooden tube. “What about this one?”
A large grin cracked the Fly Catcher’s wizened features. “And are you sure this is what you want?”
She nodded, her eyes sparkling with expectation.
“Oh, all right. You may have it.”
Arieth grins. Man her friends are going to be sooooo jealous. “I can have it?”
He puts his hand on the slender box. “If you can answer one question for me, it’s all yours.” The old man winked down at her encouragingly.
“But, you said it was mine. Why do I have to answer a stupid question?”
“Good things never come easy. If you got the instrument too easily you wouldn’t like it as much.”
“I don’t believe you.” Arieth put her fists on her hips, ready for a fight.
“You don’t have to. It’s how it is. Both of them that is. The part about getting things easily and the fact you have to answer a question. Ready, to answer up?”
Arieth crunched her nose and parsed her lips, but finally conceded with a disgruntled nod. “OK.” She puts on her best serious expression, stern and powerful like her father while rigid and commanding like her mother or at least she made a great show of it. “If I’m going to answer your question you have to be square with me.”
“What does that mean?”
“Man, you’re so old. It means you have to agree to what I’m about to say. Now, as I was about to explain, if I answer your question I get both the instrument and the magic. My dad always told me ‘make sure you get all that is promised, otherwise, a promise isn’t a promise at all.’ So you better not be messing with me, Mr. Fly Catcher.” She held out her hand, which he accepted. “Agreed?”
“Agreed. Strong girl you are. Good trait. Don’t lose it.” The Fly Catcher chomped on his pipe three times. “Do you know why your father told you that?”
Now Arieth put on her thinking face. She tried to raise her left eyebrow like the Fly Catcher, but only got it to quiver a bit. While trying to put on a believable thinking face, it took so much effort she forgot to think.
“Umm, you OK?”
“Ya, just thinking.”
“You know you don’t have to scrunch up your face like that to think.”
“Really, most interesting. Now, what were we saying?”
“You asked about dad and making promises. This is a tough question.”
“That’s good. Then you’ll like this instrument even better.”
“I still don’t believe you, but I think dad wanted to keep me safe. He meant..in order to trust someone you had to know what they wanted and check to make sure they completed the bargain. Dad’s pretty smart.”
“And right he is. Now for my question.”
“Wait I just answered a question.”
“That wasn’t THE question though. Now stop interrupting. Here it is. Where does the flute get its magic?”
“I don’t know, maybe it was made with phoenix feathers and dragon blood.
“You watch too much Harry Potter. Try again.”
“Well, maybe it just is. The flute says it’s magical and I can read so I would know these things.” Arieth pointed at the elegant gold letters along the dark wood case. “See, m-a-g-i-c f-l-u-t-e. Now can I have it?”
“No, you need to answer the question first.”
“I don’t like this.”
“A lot of things in life you won’t like, but if you want something bad enough it won’t matter. I’ll give you a clue, but only because I like you. Not sure why you’re a bit stubborn and all. Actually, the magic is somewhere else. And you already have it. Mind you, the flute is magical, but only if the person who plays it puts the magic into it.”
“Are you saying I’m the source of the magic?”
“Pretty much.” The Fly Catcher opened the box and tapped his finger against the flute’s polished ivory surface. “We, little one, are the magic, not the flute.”
Not getting what the Fly Catcher says, Arieth clenched her fists into balls, digging into her palms with her nails. She hated being wrong. “Where can I find my magic then? I don’t believe you! I can’t have any magic. I don’t fly and I can’t make things move with my brain and and…I don’t even have a wand.”
“Calm down, it’s all right.” The Fly Catcher nudged the flute towards her. “You answered enough questions. Thank you. Besides, don’t fret. You have magic already. You just have to find it. Cheer up, little one, and don’t you let a single tear fall on my dusty floor or I’ll make you clean it.”
This horrified Arieth. The floor was really dirty and she needed to be home soon. Mom expected her for lunch in probably an hour. She nodded letting the Fly Catcher know she would prevent any tear from hitting his floor.
The old man pointed at her with one of his long wrinkled fingers. “You want to know how to create magic, then you have to ask yourself, are you alive?”
“Of course, what a silly question, Mr. Fly Catcher. I think little Fred is right you are a bit loony.”
The old man gave her a sideways grin. “In that, he’s probably correct. If you’re alive how did that happen?”
“Mommy told me God made me, but dad says him and mommy had a hand in it also.”
“All three correct. So how did God and your parents make you if not by magic?”
“Wait! Mom and dad can do magic?”
“Of a sort. Yup.”
“I’m totally going to talk to dad about this. I can’t believe he never told me.”
“How do I make magic then?” Arieth was even more convinced the old Fly Catcher was a loon, but she also started to like him, even if he was a bit crazy.
“That’s the easy part. All you have to do is create.”
“Create what? I can’t make magic.”
“Don’t fret, you can create. When you blow into the magic flute you create music or if you danced you would create joy and beauty for those who watch. You have the perfect source of magical inspiration all around you. You have creation itself. It’s in the flowers and the wind, in the dust and your skin. Even though you cannot create a flower, you can paint the image of one, the thought, the feel, the touch, the taste of one. The life around us helps to create. You could paint a breathtaking landscape or discover the deepest knowledge of the furthest star. Even to discover how something works is to create. You create the knowledge in your mind when you learn it. Don’t forget that, little one. You must create. And if you do, you’ll see the magic of the world around you as well as in you.” He chomped his pipe a bit more, his face lit with wonder and glee. “You can create magic. All you have to do is live. What you do with your magic is what’s important, not whether or not you have it, because you always will. You don’t have a choice in that. It can never leave you. So now I ask you, little one, do you have eyes?”
Confused Arieth bobs her chin up and down, not sure what the Fly Catcher was asking.
“Do you have a voice, hands, and feet to dance with?”
“Yes, but I can’t dance.”
“That doesn’t matter. You will if you want to. What’s important is that you have the ability to dance! Why you don’t even need feet. I’m sure you would find a way. These things, your eyes, hands, feet, voice, mind, and more are all instruments of magic. They are tools with which you can create magic. Much like the flute here.” The Fly Catcher stared down at her, his bushy brows drawn low over twinkling eyes. “So, what are you going to do?”
Arieth wiped away a tear with the back of her hand and smiled shyly, taking extra care to not let a drop hit the dirty floor. “I-I want to make magic. Bright magic. I don’t like the dark. It scares me.”
“No need to worry. With a bit of practice, you’ll be able to brighten any room with your magic.”
“Thanks, Mr. Fly Catcher.”
“You’re welcome, little one. Now take your magic and your flute and be gone with you before I eat a fly for real this time!” The old man snatched at the air.
Arieth squealed, grabbed her flute, and ran out of the shop, but not before waving at the old man on the way out.
He nibbled on the stem of his pipe. Another one down. He watched her run over to her friends, tell them about her amazing story of the Fly Catcher and how she got the magic flute. From that day on the Fly Catcher became friends of all the kids in town, helping them learn music and even on occasion catching a fly, but never eating one.