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Shellhead and the Captain

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"Can you think a happy thought, Stevie?" Sarah asked. She spoke in a whisper, which was best for secrets, and Stevie leaned in to hear.

Steviehad to scrunch up his face to think of something happy. He finally remembered a new birthday book, and thought of how it felt to hold it, imagining everything that might be inside before he even opened to the first page. He nodded.

"Well done, my angel," Sarah told him, and he grinned at her, pleased to have finally done something good, something of use to her, and then again when she told him to go quick and fetch the box at the very back of the cupboard, the one that said rat poison on the lid.

He ran quick, and he got the box, and when he put it on Sarah's bed, she told him that it had been her mother's and before that her mother's mother's, and that it was meant to go to a daughter, but Sarah wouldn't have a daughter, so she was giving it to Stevie. "Before it said rat poison," Sarah told him, "it used to say fairy dust."

Stevie thought she was playing a game, like she used to, but when Sarah opened the box a few specks of glittering dust clung to the bottom corners, like ground glass in the sunshine, or diamonds in stories. Sarah smudged them up with her finger and dusted them behind Steve's ears, where he always forgot to wash. Her hands were shaking and she had to close her eyes for a bit when she was done.

When she opened them, she squeezed Stevie's hand as hard as she still could, and said, "Now hold onto that happy thought, and fly, Stevie. Fly for me. Second star to the right, and straight on 'til morning."

Stevie flew.

Stevie flew out through the window, and up through the clouds, which kept trying to knock him down, and so high that he could see the stars even over the city. When he got that high he stopped and considered Sarah's instructions.

There were such a lot of stars, and even a moon, and he wasn't sure what one he was supposed to follow. Morning seemed to him a long way off. Finally he decided to pick the second to the right of the moon, and headed off towards that. The moon was setting, and so he went west.

It took an awfully long time. Stevie crossed the city, and the river, and another city and another river, and after that alternated farms and towns and rivers until the night was pretty well gotten over. The mountains gave him a bit of trouble, but soon he was over the sea again, having flown clean across America in one night.

As Stevie watched the sea turn purple and pink and orange as the sun rose and the morning came, he noticed a boy flying beside him. At least he thought he was a boy. He was wearing a suit of armour, like a knight, and he wasn't flying like Stevie, but had fire coming out of his hands and feet.

"Hello," Stevie said.

"Hello," the boy said back, though he wobbled in the air, as though talking and flying at the same time was not the easiest thing. His mother clearly had not had a box of fairy dust.

"Nice morning, don't you think?" Stevie asked, remembering his manners.

The boy wobbled again, and looked like he might fall down entirely, so Stevie said, "Say, do you want some of my fairy dust? I think it works better than your fire."

"If you like," the boy said, trying to sound indifferent, but starting to spiral slightly.

Quick as a flash, Stevie rubbed some of the dust off his ear and wiped it on the nose of the suit of armour. "Can you think a happy thought?" he asked.

"I can now that I've met you."

Flying was much more fun when one had someone to do it with, and they circled around the sky together until almost dark. The boy, who said he didn't have a name, wanted to know where Stevie had been going, and Stevie, who out of solidarity said he'd forgotten his name entirely, related his mother's instructions.

"I'm waiting for the moon to come up," he reasoned, "so I can find the star I was following."

The boy then explained to him about something called astronomy, and how the moon wouldn't be in the same place, and how if they followed the same star, they'd just go right back to where Stevie came from.

Stevie liked how the boy so easily said they so much that he didn't even punch him for saying his mother was wrong. "Well what did your mother tell you, Shellhead?" he asked, sounding more accusing than he'd meant.

"She just said not to play in Dad's lab any more," the boy said. They were resting now, lying on their back and letting the wind carry them up and along. "And I meant to, I really did, but he kept getting things wrong. I needed to fix them for him, so he'd love me, and I did."

"And did he love you?" Stevie asked, curious about fathers generally.

"I haven't shown him yet," the boy said. "He will when I do." But he didn't move, just stayed floating on the wind, occasionally batting a cloud out of his way, and not going to find his father and show him at all.

"I'm sure my mother would love you, Shellhead," Stevie said, but then thought about how she'd told him to fly away, and how shaky her hands had been as she held onto him. "But I have to follow the star."

The boy tried again to tell him that following a star was against the laws of astronomy, and this time Stevie did push him over, and it served him right that he hit a particularly damp cloud on the way down.

After that, Stevie had to go find the boy something warm and dry to wear over his armour, which he refused to take off, which had meant wrestling a bear, and so it was getting dark by the time they were done, and Stevie decided that he'd just keep heading the same way as he'd being going before the sun rose.

"That's west by southwest," the boy said. "Or it might be southwest by west. I don't remember."

"Straight on," Stevie said, liking the sound of it, and reached out to take the boy by the hand.

"Aye, aye, Captain," said the boy.

They set out together following the sunset, and each other, and their dreams.