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party like it's 1889

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"Well that's tempting and all," Bernard is saying, "but I don't negotiate with hallucinations."

Manny has a couple of abortive tries at inhaling before he realises what the problem is. He's face-down on the couch and the edge of a cushion has jammed itself into his mouth and, impressively, one of his nostrils as well. He lifts his head up, breathes in -- success! -- and then is hit by the smell of his own hair and makes a sound like ghnnphw.

"Go sit on a Christmas tree," Bernard says. The radio must be stuck on one of those weird late-night alternative music stations that it keeps mysteriously tuning itself in to, because Bernard's voice is punctuated by a sound like someone bashing at tinkly bells with a wire toothbrush.

After a lot of careful wriggling and blinking, Manny manages to sit upright on the couch. He remembers now. Sort of. Fran went on a mini-break with her mother and least favourite aunt, and managed to smuggle most of their wine into her car before driving off, so Bernard and Manny spent an hour in the off-license where the alarmingly mohawked young woman behind the counter introduced them to all the weird and lethally alcoholic bollocks that had been invented while normal people were sitting around drinking normal wine and occasionally something normal and mouth-ulcerating like vodka. They'd bought a lot of the most brightly coloured bottles. And drank a lot of the most brightly coloured bottles.

"Bernard," he says.

"Don't come near me, you smell like a bag of wine gums that's had a terrible accident in a cordial factory," Bernard says. "I know this because you tried to hug me before you passed out, like the attention-starved bearded toddler that you are."

Manny goes over to the desk anyway. "I can't believe oh my God what is that."

For the first time, Bernard looks interested enough in Manny's presence to take the cigarette out of his mouth. He uses it to point at the thing on the desk.

"Wait, wait. You can see her too?"

That grinding, tinkling sound happens again, and the tiny person with the green wings spins around and points an even tinier finger at Manny.

"No, he's useless. He just stands around and moults on everything," Bernard says, apparently in reply to this noise.

Manny's had dreams like this before. He picks up the hardback edition of the collected poems of Keats and slams it hard against his own forehead, which does nothing except make his vision black out for a few seconds.

"There, you see?" Bernard says. "Useless."

"Bernard." Manny crouches down so that the thing is at eye level. "Where did it come from?"

"She," Bernard says, "seems to think she popped into being because I drank most of her bottle."

"What bottle?"

Bernard looks shifty. Shiftier than usual, anyway. "You didn't want any, you were asleep."


"The green one."

A memory stirs in Manny's dry, muddled brain. "We did, we did buy absinthe, didn't we?"

"It was at the bottom of the bag!" Bernard says. "I can't be expected to wake you up for every little thing."

Manny is impressed. Bernard usually won't let anything green near his mouth in case it might have once been something that was casually related to a vegetable.

More angry tinkling sounds. The green fairy looks kind of like Fran, if Fran had longer hair and a smaller nose and wore a miniature shimmery thing. Come to think of it, she doesn't look like Fran at all, Manny just thought she did because she's wearing Fran's classic expression of disbelief and annoyance tinged with horror. Fran usually gets it when she's waking up with a hangover, but the fairy seems to think that Bernard and Manny deserve the expression simply for existing.

"I don't understand. Does she speak English? Do you speak fairyese?"

The fairy levels the Fran-look in Manny's direction and goes through some sort of elaborate game of charades that involves pretending to drink.

"Right, right," Manny says. "Bernard, is there any absinthe left?"

"Maybe. I don't know. I threw the bottle at her when I thought she was some sort of mutant emerald mosquito."

The absinthe bottle is eventually located where it has rolled under the shelf labelled 'Maybe Science' (along with two half-smoked cigarettes and most of a sandwich, which appears to be developing its own thriving ecosystem) and despite its lid being nowhere to be seen, there's a mouthful of liquid left. Manny gulps it down and thinks hair of the dog hair of the dog to try and stop himself from throwing it back up again.

"Finally," the green fairy says to him. She doesn't sound like bells, or like Fran. She sounds like Ms Donoghue, Manny's vacuous harpy of a sixth-form teacher. "Can you please get it through this moron's skull that I can't just vanish, or go back to Neverland, or go play in traffic until I get squashed on a windscreen, or any of his other charming suggestions --"

"Sorry," says Manny. He's not sure what he's apologising for. Bernard in general, probably.

"-- because I need help to get home."

Manny feels a surge of excitement that helps him forget the throbbing of his poetry-bashed forehead. This is it, the magical encounter he longed for as a boy, his very own Wizard of Oz, his own Narnia experience! Granted, he'd always expected it to smell a bit better, and maybe not involve his crazed man-child of an employer or traumatic flashbacks to Ms Donoghue's rendition of Lady Macbeth, but one can't be picky.

"Bernard, you hear that? The alcohol fairy needs our help!"

"I thought it was meant to be the other way around," Bernard says. "What good is a fairy that sits around whining that it's lost its return fare? Don't you grant wishes or dispense magical flying dust or anything?"

"No," the fairy says through her teeth. "I am a minding my own damn business sort of fairy, who unfortunately has an inconvenient clause in her contract that causes her to corporalise whenever someone is stupid enough to drink a certain volume of absinthe from a single bottle."

"Why do you need us, then?" asks Manny. "Doesn't your contract have a way you again?"

"I have to do a spell."

"A spell!" Manny echoes, thrilled.

"Well, it's more of a potion. And I don't know anything about this dreadful place your friend's binge drinking habit has summoned me to, so I need you to help me find the ingredients."

"You mean...nose of a toad, soul of a hipster, that sort of thing?" Bernard says. "Not that hipsters have souls. They don't. They have a gaping black chasm which they fill with coffee and irony while they skulk around contaminating innocent bookshops with their existential stink."

Bernard has recently taken to the classification and taxonomy of Youths as a hobby, in the same way that learning to identify the silhouettes and markers of enemy bombers was once considered a hobby.

"Sort of thing," agrees the fairy, giving Bernard a distasteful look.

"Come on, it'll be fun!" Manny says. "An adventure! A scavenger hunt, like in Boy Scouts."

"I hated Boy Scouts," Bernard says. "They tried to make us go hiking -- in nature -- and none of the badges were for anything good. What about my hobbies? What about shoplifting, and throwing stones at ducks? Simple boyhood pleasures!"

"Have you got a pen?" the fairy says. "I'll give you the list."

Half an hour later, Bernard is trying to argue that his a sketch of a chicken riding a bus should count as a white feather, and Manny is trying not to breathe too deeply as he digs through the strange and uncharted territory that is their fridge. It shouldn't be this hard to find something that once lived under the ground, but Bernard's aforementioned vegetable aversion is making things tricky.

"Aha!" Triumphant, Manny emerges with a carrot. The carrot appears to be around two hundred years old and is the same sickly yellow as a denture plate. "How are we doing?"

The green fairy consults the list as Manny, with great difficulty, slices a bit off the tip of the carrot with a letter-opener. He adds it to the red polka-dotted mug of water that is serving as their magical cauldron.

"What sort of wafty ingredients are these, anyway?" Bernard demands. "This would probably be a lot easier if we were starving in a Parisian garret while we painted whimsical portraits of the syphilis-ridden prostitutes who had stolen our hearts."

"We've found almost everything," the fairy says. For the tenth time, she smooths down her hair from where it was mussed by the American Literature section when she was searching for moth corpses or dead flies that could fulfil the 'wings of a flying beast' item. Manny did tell her that some of the books get crabby and territorial when there are intruders on their shelves, but she didn't believe him until a matched set of Steinbecks ganged up and pushed her off.

Red ink is next on the list. They end up performing an autopsy on a dried-up whiteboard marker and snipping bits of the core into the mug.

Manny puts a line through that item. "The hair of a maiden," he says. "That's the last one."

"Go on, Manny," Bernard says. "I assume you're a maiden; nobody would deflower something that looks like a mouldy duvet stuffed with hedgehogs. And you've got more hair than everyone else in the street. Put together."

"I'll go and see if Fran left any of her things in the bathroom from when her flat flooded," Manny says.

Sure enough, a bit of poking around the shelves in the bathroom that Bernard mostly uses to store condiments and empty wine glasses reveals a small purple comb. The hair on it is shortish and dark and could easily be Bernard's, except for the fact that Bernard feels the same way about grooming as he does about vegetables.

"Here," says Manny, heading back into the bookshop. He untangles a single hair and drops it into the mug. "Is that it? Did it work?"

"We'll see." The fairy leans over the edge of the mug and touches the surface of the water with one hand. There's a brief flash of light like a fork stuck in a toaster, and the murky mixture turns a uniform pale pink.

"Off you go then," Bernard says. "Abracadabra. Drink up."

"Me?" For the first time, the fairy smiles. "No, no. You're the one who drank the absinthe and brought me here. You drink the remedy."

"I'm not drinking that!"

The green fairy glares at him. "Do you want me to stay in your stupid bookshop forever? I can be very annoying if I put my mind to it."

"No," says Bernard, glaring back, "can you really?" but he grabs the cup and pours the pink stuff into his mouth.

As soon as he swallows, the green fairy vanishes into the air.

"Ugh!" Bernard says, throwing the mug over his shoulder. "That tasted like cardboard stuffed with olives. Where's the wine?"

"Fran took all the wine," Manny says. "And it's only noon."

"Ha! Ideal drinking time," says Bernard. "Fine, fine, tea will have to do. Two sugars. Four."

"Look at this." Manny picks up a square box, about the size of a golf ball, that he can't remember seeing on the desk before. It feels like it's made of a very light kind of wood, and it's got tiny green stones embedded in the lid.

"What an ugly box," Bernard says. "Banish it, Manny. Banish it to the Classics section."

Manny cracks the lid. "It's full of some sort of -- glittery dust --"

"Tea!" Bernard shouts, bringing the geriatric carrot down against the edge of his desk for emphasis. It bends instead of breaking, and makes a thwang sound as it wobbles back and forth. "I need tea. And then maybe some bacon. What do I pay you for, Manny?"

With a sigh, Manny slides the box onto a shelf -- where it promptly gets shoved out of sight by a rogue copy of Bleak House -- and goes to put the kettle on.