The Sugarplum Fairy

By, Clayton Overstreet

There are monsters in the world. When you think of them you usually think of big things. Giants, dragons, trolls, and the like. If you think smaller then maybe you think of vampires, werewolves, and goblins. Around Christmas you may even think of the Krampus, Santa's scary little bogeyman friend who has been regaining some popularity of late. Anything smaller, one would assume, would not be seen as very scary at all.

Mary Lord would disagree. At the moment she was staring at a tiny terror that she was certain would give her nightmares. Roughly a foot tall the beast wore a red robe and seven gold crowns. It had seven heads sprouting from its shoulders and each one snarled, showing rows of sharp fangs behind large protruding rodent teeth surrounded by foam like a rabid animal as blood trickled from all of its mouths. Its eyes were black and beady, reflecting Mary's horrified face back at her. It had all too human pink hands tipped with white claws and similar digits and a long naked tail stuck out under the robe. Worst of all, each of the heads wore a tiny crown, giving Mary the impression of intelligence. This was not just an animal, they implied, but a thinking being that wanted to do her harm.

"Isn't it great?" Said a voice behind her.

Tearing her eyes away from the little horror Mary said, "It gives me the creeps."

She looked up at the man with her. Even at age sixteen her godfather was a tall and imposing figure. When she had first met him as a young girl, his bald head and the eye patch he wore had terrified her, making her think he was some kind of vicious pirate. Since then she had learned that he was a kind man and she loved him like an uncle. Still she also understood why he evoked both fear and respect from those he worked with.

David Mayer was one of the best movie directors in the world and had a well deserved reputation as a harsh taskmaster. Everything on stage had to run like clockwork and despite his love for his dear goddaughter, he had shown her no exception in this. At the moment though, he was happily showing off one of the animatronic puppets they would be using in the movie they were currently working on. A new remake of the classic The Nutcracker, a musical that combined aspects of both the original tale written in 1816 by Ernst Hoffman and the famous ballet by Tchaikovsky.

Mary was the daughter of John Lord the famous movie actor and Anna Ferris, a choreographer. Her parents loved each other dearly, though her mother had kept her own last name when they married for professional reasons. Mary had been raised between them her whole life, so it was almost destiny that she had become a professional dancer. At age seventeen she had been in several minor shows, both as an actor and dancer, and had even spent a summer starring in Swan Lake in an off-Broadway show.

Now, thanks to some strings pulled by her godfather, one of her father's oldest and dearest friends, she was getting her chance to be in an actual movie. Her uncle had decided to produce this one himself, along with a few backers, so he had been able to hire more than a few family members. Dozens of people in multiple roles and jobs would be working together on the movie. David had even hired his old friend Steven Auger, who had retired years before, to write the script. No small feat. He had turned down some of the most influential people in the world before.

Not that Mary was going to be starring in the movie or anything. She had been too old to play Clara, the lead. Gina Vagary had gotten it. She was a famous young actress, who was actually The same age as Mary but looked much younger, was a popular young actress who had also starred in her own series at the age of twelve, had been up for the role and it surprised nobody that she got it.

No, nepotism only got you so far even in Hollywood and Mary was working as a dancer in the background during the musical numbers. It was still a big step and in a way she was relieved that she was not center stage. She knew she was good and would have done her best if her godfather had cast her, something he had considered if he could not have gotten an already famous actress, but she did not want people thinking she got the part because of family ties. Which people might if she got a huge role on her first try. She was young and was in no rush.

"I think your brother did an amazing job on it," David said pointedly.

Mary blushed and glanced over at her younger brother Frank, standing by David's older brother Jeffrey. Uncle Jeff, as the two kids had always called him, looked sort of like his brother. Where Davis was bald he had a fringe of long stringy black hair around the sides of his head making the dome at the top look like an egg in a nest. He had two eyes, but wore glasses. He was one of the best special effects designers in the world and had taken Frank on as an apprentice when he was ten. At fourteen Frank was getting pretty good and given how easy he was to embarrass and his acne, it was clear to everyone that a position on camera was nowhere in the kid's future.

"It's just really scary," Mary said. "Not exactly like the guy in the rat-head I saw in the ballet."

A white glove patted her on the shoulder. "Well we're not doing the ballet exactly and these days you have to go scary with a villain in movies or it doesn't make much of an impression."

Mary smiled at Jim, Uncle Jeff's son. Unlike David and Jeffrey Jim Mayer was as handsome as he was tall. And unlike Mary he was a star. He was playing The Nutcracker, the male lead in the movie. He had been doing roles like that since he was a teenager. Currently he was also working in the kind of prime time television series that had a huge following of teenage girls. Even Mary had a little crush on him, though they were too much like brother and sister to actually date. It was more that she liked the guy he played on television.

"I just never liked rodents much. Rabid mice with extra heads the size of a small dog remind me too much of that old story about the people who bring their kids home a Chihuahua that turns out to be a sewer rat." She shuddered, then frowned when her brother chuckled a bit. He had been the one who told her that story when they were younger. "It looks almost real."

"That's okay Mary, it's supposed to be creepy. We based it on the original story."

Jeff nodded. "Yeah. Historically they think there might have been rats or mice that got their tails twisted together as babies or maybe were born with two heads. It happens and most of them don't live long. The author just exaggerated things."

David nodded. "It's a good puppet and it'll be great for some of the early scenes. We'll have to make bigger versions for later of course." He saw Mary's frown. "Don't worry, you won't be on stage with it. Mostly we'll be using CGI."

"Good," Mary said. "I don't think I could focus with that thing in my face."

Jim laughed. "Count yourself lucky. I have to fight it. While wearing this." He bent down and picked up a plastic head roughly three times bigger than his. A Nutcracker face with a tall black hat and scraggly white hair. The jaw was painted blue, so they could use computers to work the jaw without adding a heavy mechanism. "Though you'll have to do a few scenes with the Rat Queen."

"Mouse Queen," David corrected. "I haven't even cast her yet. But she's going to be kind of cute. Dame Mouserink. She's going to be an actress in prosthetics."

Mary did not say anything. She had not even tried out for that part. Not only did she not want her first role on screen to be as a villain, but her dad had a lot to say about how much "fun" it was to sit still in a makeup chair for five hours each day before filming. She liked to move. The standard makeup was bad enough, plus she had gotten a look at some of the costumes she was going to have to wear. David was a stickler for accuracy and timing and nineteenth century clothes for German women were complicated enough to wear and dance in. Goddaughter or not Mary had to put a lot of work into that or risk losing her place in the movie. David might find her a new place, but she wanted to be on screen for the first time as a dancer, not hidden in the background and possibly removed in the editing process.

Being in a movie, even when you were not the star, was a lot different than being in a play or live show. For one thing it was going to take months of filming. Mary was scheduled to be dance in several costumes in a variety of musical numbers. There was even some singing involved. Something she was a bit worried about. She was practicing and training, but she was going to have to lip sync to match up with a recording and dance at the same time. It took extra concentration.

She could do it, she was certain, but it was definitely going to take practice. It would not make much difference really in her part if she failed to get it right. Her uncle could get someone else to sing the part or she could just keep her mouth shut. Most people probably would not notice. But Mary wanted to live up to her family legacy. Her father, the Academy Award winner, and her mother who was as much a perfectionist as her godfather. They would still love her either way, but she knew that if she could not pull it off she would feel like a failure. She was doing a classic tale that was one of her favorites growing up. With people she loved and respected.

"You okay Mary?" Jim asked.

Shaking her thoughts off she nodded. "Yeah."

David smiled. "How about we go see something that will cheer you up?" He started walking out of his brother's workshop, leading the way across the studio lot to one of the numerous sound stages.

Everyone else followed behind him. Along the way they saw a lot of other people. Caterers, security guards, a few actors, people pushing racks of clothes or moving scenery. They passed the RV lot where most of them had trailers. It was ironic, Mary thought, that even when they were big name stars like her parents that made fortunes in their work and had several fabulous houses ended up spending most of their time living in motor homes in parking lots. She and her brother each had their own and she was having a bit of trouble getting comfortable. Mary often thought back to her room in her parents' Malibu beach house, packed with toys from her childhood. She had brought a few things with her to her New York apartment when she had been on stage, but the cramped trailer was definitely different, even if it was one of the biggest and best on the market.

They stepped inside the sound stage an around a false wall. Mary felt her heart skip a beat and heard Frank say something under his breath. It was like they had walked into Christmas itself. The lights that illuminated the place gave the room a golden glow, thought here were some smaller ones that, despite there being nothing in the fireplace, made the whole place flicker as if lit by flames and candles. A giant evergreen dominated the room, unlit candles on its branches in the place of modern lights. A rainbow of baubles, tinsel, and small toys among the green limbs. At the top was a small angel that almost looked alive.

Under it were presents. Mary knew that most of the brightly wrapped boxes would be empty, but the child inside her imagined them packed with all sorts of gifts. There were many actual toys too, though none of the things a modern kid would expect. Most of them were made of wood or metal. A wooden train set, shepherdesses and lambs, armies of tin soldiers, and of course a dozen or so nutcrackers spread out across the room. A, elaborately carved wooden cuckoo-clock, in the grandfather style with a large pendulum, stood off to one side ticking away the time. Santa's sack was lying there, with more toys spilling out as if he had been caught in the act and dropped it. If there were going to be milk and cookies in the scene, they had yet to be put out, though there were a few candy-canes and other deserts, all fake but looking good enough to eat, peppered around. Including a stack of glittering purple fruit that must have been sugar plumbs.

Mary turned and saw a golden ballerina perched on a music box on the mantle above the fireplace under a large painting. The painting was blank, to be filled in with the image of the as yet unknown parents of the main characters. There was a large cabinet stacked with beautiful china dolls and their accessories in various positions. Mixed in were various fairy tale characters frozen in place.

In the center of it all was a golden castle surrounded by a detailed city and market place. David reached over to flip a switch and with the grinding of gears they saw it come to life. There were people in it. Animals like swans and golden dolphins cavorting in a fake river in which sailed tiny boats. A few of the people were missing, again to be put in once they could be made to resemble some of the actors. Still it was quite impressive by anyone's standards.

"Naturally a lot of this has larger versions, for when the actors are shrunk down and transported to the magical kingdoms," David was saying. He pointed to a spot on the floor. "There's where the rat king will rise up…" He moved his finger. "…and up there we'll have some more decorations added with computers…"

He went on, but Mary did not follow him. If she looked around the illusion would quickly be lost. Breaks between the walls and open spaces for boom microphones and cameras. Chairs where her godfather and the rest of the staff would watch silently as the actors played out their parts.

"It's amazing," Mary said. The others made various agreements, Jeff and Frank looking proud, and her godfather beamed. "Godfather, could I ask a favor? If nobody is going to be in here until shooting, could I… you know… use this room as practice?"

David frowned. "I don't know. It's all very delicate and…"

"Oh not for dancing. I can do that over there where there's bare floor and everything. I meant for singing and practicing my few lines. The acoustics would be great, but mostly I think I'll get a better feel for the whole thing if I can pretend this is all real."

David pursed his lips. "Well I suppose. If you promise not to touch anything or tell anyone. I don't need a bunch of actors running around in here. I can get you a key. If I find one thing out of place though…"

"You won't," she promised. "I'm not a little kid any more. Though this place does make me feel like one."

He laughed. "Me too." He looked at Jeff. "You have a problem with that? You built most of this."

"Hey, it's your movie," he said. Giving Mary a wink he said, "If she breaks anything I'll just charge you more money to fix it." She stuck out her tongue for a moment making them all laugh.

Jim said, "I wish I could join you, but I have a lot more lines and have to read them with other people. It would get pretty crowded."

David looked at Frank. "What about you?"

"Uncle Jeff has me working on animating some toy soldiers for the fight scenes," Frank said. "Like they say, don't mess anything up and I'm okay with it."

Mary smiled and hugged David. "Thanks."

"Thank me by being good when it's time to shoot," he said in mock sternness. "I don't want to have to do fifty takes per scene because you kicked another dancer in the head or something."

She pushed him away. "I'll make you proud,."

"I know you will."

They were a week from shooting when disaster struck. Jim and Gina were practicing their own dance moves in rehearsal when Jim, still unused to working in his giant nutcracker head, took a tumble. Mary and the other dancers had been doing some simple moves behind them and unable to see very well he had turned at just the wrong time and tripped over his own feet. Overbalanced and with limited vision he fell hard, shattering his fake head and from the look of things a couple of bones. He was bleeding from his scalp and mouth.

Mary was at his side in a moment, holding Jim's hand as he moaned on the ground. It was not long before the studio medic arrived. "It looks like he's cracked his jaw and lost… three teeth. I've given him a shot to numb the pain. We need to get him into a bed until the ambulance arrives."

"Your trailer's closest, can we use your bed?" Mary said to Gina. The girl hesitated a moment, obviously grossed out about the idea of getting blood on her sheets. Mary frowned at her and said, "I'll assume you said yes."

"O-of course…" Gina said reluctantly.

Mary and several others picked Jim up, keeping him prone as they carried him to Gina's bed. Jim did bleed on it until he was taken away to the hospital and Gina had the blankets and mattress replaced by the end of the day. In the meantime Jeff went with his son to the hospital and let them know that Jim had gotten out of surgery. He was going to be fine, but to David's despair, along with his agent, his bosses on his television show, and twelve million teenage girls, it would be a long time before he was up for talking, let alone acting. However Jim had written a note, stating that he did not want them to worry about him and that the show must go on.

"I suppose we'll have to delay a few weeks until we can find another actor," David announced. "Everyone else work on your lines. After this I don't want any excuses about not having enough time." Knowing how much her godfather insisted on sticking to a schedule, Mary understood how much that hurt him.

Mary was up late the next night, unable to sleep. She had been shaken by Jim's accident and even though she had visited him in the hospital and knew he was okay, she was still worried about him. It was hard not to be after seeing his jaw wired shut not to mention the casts on his left arm and leg. David had quipped, "You do know that 'break a leg' is supposed to just be a saying, don't you boy?" Mary had burst into tears and he had apologized profusely even though she assured him it was not his fault.

So she had grabbed a pair of dancing shoes and her pink night dress to make use of her time. Practicing the clog dancing scene in the studio with all of the Christmas decorations really helped her get back into her groove for a while. The sound of the wooden shoes echoing rhythmically was soothing, but whenever she caught sight of one of the nutcrackers she found herself shaking a little, wondering what would have happened if he had fallen another way. Would Jim be in a coma or worse? Could the same thing happen to her? She remembered her old ballet instructor, an old woman who walked with a cane. In her head she knew that dancers often got hurt more than football players, but before now it had never happened to anyone she had seen in person. Even more of them missed their chances because of a variety of other reasons and ended up with jobs ranging from regular office workers to using their bodies to polish brass poles.

It was like a grim specter of potential failure or lost chances was hovering over her shoulder. In her mind every step she took was both a reminder of Jim's accident and another potential accident to herself waiting to happen. Despite herself and years of training Mary was hesitating.

Mary finally could not keep on her feet any more and checked her watch. It was nearly midnight. She had worked later, but with the emotional toll she was drained. Mary was sure she would get over it soon enough, but for the moment she was just… tired. Her arms and legs suddenly felt like they were made of wood. Yawning she looked across the expanse of cement floor towards the door, thinking of the long walk back to her trailer. Then she glanced at the set, the soft carpet around the Christmas tree spotted with toys. It was pretty warm in there… She was curled up, away from the props, before she knew it. Mary was sure if she tried walking to her own bed she would fall asleep on her feet before she made it half way. As she drifted off she wondered if she could have done anything to help Jim. If she had missed the moment when she could have caught him before he hit the ground. If someone else would be there when her foot slipped.

Mary awoke in the golden glow of the set to strange sounds. Opening her eyes she saw the strangest thing. A beautiful girl in what looked like a purple prom dress. The kind you saw in Cinderella re-make movies. All layers or taffeta and silk. Her skin was unnaturally pale like she was an old fashioned china doll and was so free of any flaws that it made Mary glance around for the edge of the screen. The girl looked so much like a computer generated image she just assumed she was watching a movie. The light just did not fall on her in a way that seemed natural and she was more beautiful than any human Mary had ever seen, even in fashion and lingerie shows. Her hair was lavender and cut short under a small silver tiara and her eyes were purple too, from one side to the other with no irises or pupil. Two oversized pointed ears stuck up in points that stretched above her head almost like antennas.

Only then did Mary remember that she was still in the sound stage and that the magical world around her was fake. Which made the strange girl even stranger as Mary's brain kicked into gear. For one thing sticking out of the girl's back, which was bare as the dress swooped below her shoulders, were a pair of amethyst wings that looked as if they had been carved from gems. They were attached to her skin, but fluttering like they were real. Also the girl was floating an inch above the floor. Not like she was flying, but more like someone floating in space. A good thing too since what little she knew about how wings worked told Mary that the girl's were far too small to hold her in the air and moving more like fish fins in water than wings. It was more like they were steering her.

Blinking Mary froze as the last impossible thing about the girl. She was only a foot tall. The tiny woman, holding what looked like a long thin wand in her hand, the tip glowing white in contrast to the Christmas lights of the stage, looked perfectly in place among all the toys and decorations. Mary froze, afraid to startle her.

She had just decided that it must be some new effect of her brother's, another animatronic marvel, when the world went even stranger. The sack under the tree twitched and to Mary's horror mice poured out. Dozens… hundreds in various shades of brown and white. Like a river. They knocked aside the toys, shook the tree so that ornaments crashed to the floor, and squeaking together so loudly that it hurt her ears. Mary froze again, this time in pure terror.

The mice did not seem to notice her. Instead they raced towards the tiny girl… fairy? Well it had to be. They jumped at her, but she flew up out of their reach and they started to circle like furry sharks, running around and around until they were a cyclone of beady eyes, fur, and naked tails only three feet in front of Mary's face. They were demolishing the beautiful scene, sending things crashing and falling about. Some jumped up towards the fairy, using each other as ramps, but though she was fluttering slowly, they were too late and she was already up and out of reach.

Realizing that she was probably going to get blamed for the destruction Mary started to move. She did not like mice, but was hardly terrified of the things. Even hundreds of them. If she wanted to prove that she had nothing to do with this, she needed to drive them off and maybe catch a few. Maybe she could find a broom or a fire hose…

Then something else came out of the sack. Something bigger that chilled her to the bone. It was the mouse king. Only it was real and nearly twice the size of her brother's terrifying creation. Two feet long, its tail like a snake with pink scales. Eyes as black as night, two on each of its seven heads which snarled with long sharp rodent teeth followed by pointed yellow molars. Its fur was black and it walked on all fours. The head was the wrong shape for it to be a rat, but mice were not supposed to be that large. It reminded her of the capybara they always had at fairs, billing it as a giant rat, though they always looked like huge hamsters to her.

They also were not supposed to talk, but in a voice all too much like children talking in unison it shouted, "No you fools! Up the walls! Climb the tree!"

Despite herself Mary looked away from the huge horror. The river of mice heard him and ran to the open walls of the set and the Christmas tree. They ran up them and even the large grandfather clock. Hickory, dickory, dock… Mary thought, amazed as the mice raced up as if they were walking on flat ground. A few fell off, but were unharmed and quickly began going up again.

The fairy saw this too and floated away from the walls as far as she could go, trying to rise above the set to the arching roof overhead far from their reach. She almost made it when one of the mice managed to jump from the top of the tree and latch onto her leg. Another two made it to the top of the set and jumped. One missed, but the other landed on the fairy's back, between her wings. Then a third and fourth made it. She was covered and however she was staying in the air it could not handle the extra weight. She began to sink to the floor.

When she hit the carpet the seven headed monster mouse sauntered over on all fours and then snatched the wand from her hand. In its strange voices it said, "You've led us a find chase your majesty, but it has come to an end."

A dozen mice holding her in their little hand-like paws by both her arms and her dress the fairy glared at him defiantly. The other mice were still now, watching. Her voice was even higher and it made Mary's ears tingle when she spoke, like a small bell. "You are a fiend Mouserink! You and your mother will never truly rule my kingdom!"

"I think I shall," he replied. "I have your wand and soon you will be my bride and I will be the king. After that… well you can either submit to be a dutiful wife or you will meet your demise."

"Never!"

It was such stock dialogue that Mary's fear began to drain away. None of this could be real. She closed her eyes and counted to three. When she opened them the mice and the fairy were still there, the white tip of her wand in the mouse's paw leaving trails in her eyes. The rat was leaning in to kiss her, one of its heads actually [puckering its furry lips, the whiskers ticking the fairy as he struggled to pull away, a look of disgust on her pretty face.

Mary acted without thinking, slipping off one of her clogs. She sat up and raised her arm. The mice started squeaking and the big one had only just turned three of its heads toward her when she threw. The wooden shoe flew like a baseball, hitting the little beast in its side before it could dodge. The wand went flying into the scattered presents.

Rising up like a giant lizard rising over Tokyo she moved forward. The mice and even the fairy were terrified at the giant they suddenly noticed in their midst. They panicked, scattering like… well like mice. Mary bent down and grabbed the fairy, lifting her up and swatting at the purple skirts with her free hand, dislodging the few remaining mice. She felt a pang as the gown was shredded by tiny claws.

"Are you okay?" She asked.

"Look out!" the fairy yelled and pointed.

Mary turned and saw some of the mice coming at her, finding courage in numbers. She discouraged them by kicking her remaining clog into the group, throwing them aside easily. "Ha! Take that you little jerks!"

There was a shriek, louder than the rest and she saw that the mouse king was back on his feet. "Humans! Filthy stinking humans! Kill her! Tear the flesh from her bones!"

The mice began to regroup, controlled by their king. They began to form the river again, baring their little mouse teeth. It occurred to Mary that piranhas were small too, but together they could de-bone a cow in seconds. With a girlish shriek she turned and ran, leaving the scene and heading out into the empty part of the stage. It was darker here and looking over her shoulder the mice were like one big dark mass.

There was nothing else in the area… except the ladder up to the catwalk! Up above there was a criss-cross of walkways suspended so that people using microphones, lights, and special effects could work out of the way. There was not much up there, but the ladder was metal with rounded rungs. Far too smooth for mice to climb. She ran for it and made it only seconds before the floor vanished into a moving carpet of rodents. It was not easy climbing with one hand, the fairy still gently gripped in the other, but eventually she reached the top and sat down, her legs handing over the edge.

"Are you okay?" She asked the fairy, setting her gently down.

She nodded. "Yes, thank you!" She threw herself at Mary's side, hugging with her tiny arms. "You saved me!"

"Maybe," the mouse king said from below. They both looked down and saw the mice parting before him, illuminated by the wand that he had managed to retrieve. "But I still have your wand!"

"You don't know how to use it," the fairy said.

"I'll learn," he said. "And with or without you I will claim your kingdom for myself!"

"You'll never succeed!"

Feeling the urge to support the little fairy Mary said, "You'd better back off or I'll jump on you!"

The rat glared up at her with its beady eyes. "I may no have the fairy's wand, but I have powers of my own human! Let me show you what happens to those who dare defy the mouse king!" He extended his front leg and pointed at her.

At first nothing happened, but then it felt to Mary as if the catwalk were sliding out from under her. She lost her balance and fell back, the room spinning. When the feeling stopped she was staring up at the ceiling. She felt someone gripping her hand and turned. The fairy sat next to her, a look of concern on her face. "When did you get to be my size?"

In a much deeper voice that made Mary's heart leap, the fairy shook her head and told her, "I have not."

"What? But—?" She sat up and looked around. She felt normal. She looked normal. But when she glanced to the side she saw that the catwalk they were on was now much bigger. Then she looked down at the mice, which seemed more like large dogs, their squeaks sounding much louder and deeper. "Oh… oh no!"

"Ha!" The mouse king shouted, his voices now booming and deep. "Such is the fate of those who dare cross Lord Mouserink!" Mary took off her extra clog and threw it at him. It was on target, but so small now that the huge mouse barely noticed. He looked at the other mice. "Come my subjects, let us return to our new home! My mother awaits work of our success and these two are now no threat. Should we see them again they will fall by our paws!" With one last look up at the catwalk he turned and ran away, the wand gripped in his fangs. The other mice followed and from up above Mary and the fairy watched them disappear back into the sack, which now seemed to be much, much further away.

"I am so sorry," the fairy said, placing her hand on Mary's shoulder. "I did not intend to involve you in my troubles."

Mary stared at her for a moment. Finally she managed, "What is going on?"

The fairy sighed, her bosom heaving. "That is a bit of a story."

The fairy's name was Sugarplum and she claimed to be the queen of The Land of Sweets, a beautiful country made of candy and sugar in the land of Nod. Mary stared at her blankly as she told the story of a gathering of fairy creatures to celebrate the birthday of a God named Morpheus, lord of dreams and ruler of their whole world. Everyone was invited and all who ruled lands in the world of dreams were responsible for bringing gifts as tribute. She had gone and enjoyed herself, but on returning him she found that her kingdom was overrun with nice who attacked her immediately and the mouse king had led such an assault that she had been unable to do more than run, opening a portal from the dream world into another.

"Ha! I knew this was a dream," Mary said. "Soon I'll wake up back in the real world."

The fairy cocked a perfect eyebrow and pursed her full lips. "That is indeed an interesting theory, my rescuer. Perhaps you would like to test it. You could jump down from here. At you size you may even survive the fall, though I fear that Mouserink and his fellows may yet lurk near enough to return and tear you to shreds. Do you think that then you will awaken in your bed?"

Mary frowned. As strange as everything that had just happened was, it felt like it was really happening. "I don't understand. How can a dream be real? What were you and those mice doing in the sack?"

"Do you know much about the human science of quantum physics?" Mary shook her head. "How about the occult sciences and the laws of similarity?" Again this was a big negative. "Then it is magic."

Mary frowned. "You don't have to dumb it down."

"I apologize, truly," she said. "But it is a complicated question and requires years of lessons to understand the workings. Like your television sets. You can use them to view programs, movies, and the like, but only a handful of humans know their inner workings."

Mary frowned. "How do you know about television?"

She placed a hand on Mary's shoulder. "Understand that dreams and reality are not so different. Are you so certain that the life you think you know is anything but a dream?"

Mary started to protest that she knew what was real, but hesitated. Not least of all because she was having this conversation with a fairy. Mary did not remember many of her dreams in detail, but in those she did she remembered that they had all seemed real at the time. No matter who she was or what was happening, in the dream she had a full back story and did not run around asking questions about how she got there or how they worked. Did that mean this was all real?

"Okay…" she said carefully. "I've seen enough movies to know how this works. If this is a dream, then eventually I'll wake up. If it's not then refusing to believe it's happening will just waste time and make me look stupid. Either way I should probably act as if it's all really happening." The fairy nodded. "What exactly is the situation with the giant mouse? I mean, correct me if I'm wrong but you are the Sugarplum fairy and I find it a strange coincidence that you would show up right where we're shooting a movie about the Nutcracker."

"It is no coincidence at all," she said. "The easiest and quickest way to travel to this world is to find a place where belief is suspended. It is harder for me to go someplace where people disbelieve in fairies. It can be done, but reality shapes itself to what those who view it believe and I was in a hurry. So my powers brought me to a place where what people can believe things more easily and that has a connection to me."

That made sense of a sort. Mary had thought that the fairy looked right in place when she had seen her and her mind had struggled to find an explanation, rather than dismissing her immediately. In another environment it would have been harder to believe a tiny winged woman was there. "So why is he after you?"

"As he said, he wishes to rule my kingdom. It is made of sugar and they are mice. It seemed obvious and many of the other kingdoms are much better protected. The King of Chocolate for example has many warriors and the land of Milk and Honey had guardians galore. My land is mostly my own and borders Toyland on one side and a large river on the other. Normally my greatest enemy is the fly admiral, who is easily deterred from my land. If I had been aware that they were planning an attack I would have been fine. Between my neighboring lands and my powers I am quite safe. But they caught me unawares and truthfully I am still a bit dizzy from drink and tired from dancing."

"Wait, this just happened?"

"Yes, not more than a moment before I appeared in the room below." She sniffled and tears appeared at the corners of her eyes. "And now… now that rodent has taken my wand! A rare and powerful talisman that allows me to perform most of my magic. Despite my bravado I fear that either he or his much more intelligent mother will soon be able to use it." She began to sob and Mary drew her into a hug. She felt for the beautiful fairy, even despite her own situation. "I fear I would have died or worse had you not saved me. Now you are accursed and it is all my fault!"

"I could not just let that furry monster attack you. I heard what he was saying and I don't know what things are like where you are from, but around here forced marriages went out with of style years ago." She pet the crying fairy's head, marveling at how soft the spider web-thin strands of her hair felt. Absently she traced a finger over the huge ears. "How is he still alive? I thought that the mouse king and his mother were killed hundreds of years ago. I mean that's the whole point of The Nutcracker."

"That was another king. Their line has fairy blood, possibly descended from someone who was transformed as punishment or a joke. Every now and again one pops up. Also in dreamland stories repeat themselves, with variation. We're people with free will, but stories have power. Like your urban legends."

Mary had heard different versions of the same sort of story every now and again. Dogs choking on burglar's fingers, babysitters getting harassed by phone callers, poisoned tuxedos… she had thought maybe they happened once and got retold, but who knew?

She continued, "Our lands and people are fluid. Stories and dreams help us keep ourselves and the places we live solid. The more people who share a vision of a place and how it should be the more solid it is. Like your world. The sun here has been a ball of fire circling the flat world, pulled by a chariot, a flying bird, a ball of burning gas, and then a huge ball of plasma that your planet orbits."

"We used to believe all sorts of things… are you saying that the world really was like that until we believed other things?" The fairy laughed. Either because it was a joke or at Mary's naivety. Mary was not sure she wanted to ask which. "Okay so what can you do?"

"I'm not certain," she said. "I must regain my wand. With it and a bit of time I could drive the mice from my kingdom easily. I fear that the mice will be trying to master it constantly, not least of all because it is how I regenerate the candies of my land when they are eaten. The mice may devastate my country, turning it into a desert, but with my wand they could keep re-growing it all to eat again and again. That is why they have coveted my home for many years. The mouse queens and kings often try to sneak in and make overtures. Dame Mouserink has been trying to talk me into marrying her loathsome son for several years now. I suspect she told him that it would be easy."

Mary made gagging sounds. "Yuck! He's… yikes."

Sugarplum shrugged. "Form means little in the lands of my home. However his personality… yes, I must agree. Yuck." She shook her head. "If they can get my wand to work for them they can banish me from my realm forever."

"That's terrible…" She paused. "Wait a minute. Does that mean I'll be stuck like this too? Like that stupid Princess Pirlipat who got turned into a nutcracker in the story?"

"Sorry."

"Sorry? Do you realize what people will do if they find us around here? At best we'll end up in a freak show or being held hostage for gold! At worst they'll dissect us!"

"Oh don't worry about me," she said. "I can still get back to the dream world."

"What about me?"

She said. "I don't have enough power to undo a curse like this without my wand. If I can get it back I'll come right back here and turn you back to normal."

"If? I can't just wait around for you to come back without even knowing if you'll succeed. Besides those mice pretty much kicked your butt once already."

She looked down. "I know."

Mary chewed her lip. "How about I come with you?"

"Oh no, I couldn't ask that. You've helped me so much already and you've suffered terribly. I can't let you follow me into danger."

"Listen… can I call you Sugar?" She nodded. "Thanks. I'm Mary by the way."

"A pleasure."

"Likewise. Listen Sugar, I'm a foot tall. Staying here isn't going to be any safer. At least if I stick with you I won't be alone and I'll have a chance to get back to normal. Or at least I can skin that big rat and make myself a fur coat." She put her arm around the fairy, careful to avoid her wings. "Besides, I can't just let you rush off into danger alone, leaving me here to wonder if you're okay."

"You'd help me again, even after what's happened to you?"

"Sure. I mean, I helped you because it was the right thing to do. If you had asked I'd have done the same thing. Of course it would have been easier when I was full size, but you have to admit, my schedule is wide open." She looked down at the wreck of the room below them. "Besides, when my godfather sees this mess, I'll have plenty more free time."

"You mean, he'll blame you?"

"Yes. I can't show myself like this and if I were full size he won't take 'I was saving a beautiful fairy from a giant talking mouse' as a real excuse. And don't go blaming yourself. You were in a life or death situation."

Nodding Sugar said, "Very well. Even should I fail and am exiled if nothing else I will see if I can find someone else can restore you to your proper size. It is the least I can do for someone who so valiantly saved my life and took on a curse for me."

"Just one question… how do I get down?"

After using the side of the ladder like a fireman's pole Mary and Sugar cautiously made their way back to the Christmas tree. They stopped and stared at the destruction. Sugar floated overhead, but Mary was barefoot so she had to avoid both grass and a huge sea of mouse pellets peppering the area. At least that would be some proof, if she ever got around to telling anyone about this. Fortunately that seemed to be all that was left of the mice and their evil master.

"They're mice. Unless the king is controlling them that's usually all they are," Sugar explained.

Mary nodded. "So how do we do this? Do we have to go through the sack?"

"That might be dangerous," she said. "It's the easy route… but I have time to do a little work so we can take the side route, if you don't mind waiting a few minutes."

"I can be magnanimous," Mary said. "Uh, while you're at it I don't suppose you could magic me up something besides my nightie? I don't need anything as fancy as what you've got but…"

"Sorry, but I can't do the fairy godmother thing without the wand. I could make you think you're wearing whatever I want, but it'd be like fairy gold. Melt's away at sunrise."

"Right… well then I'll just have to improvise!" She looked around the room. "You do what you need to do to get us where we're going and I'll be right back."

A few minutes later Sugar called out. "Mary, I'm ready."

"Me too," she said, stepping from behind a large present. "How do I look?" She had found a nutcracker her side and stripped him. Now she wore black pants, the top, the boots, and a sword at her hip. Reaching up she flipped her hair and then pretended to polish a button. "I left off the hat."

"Very dashing," Sugar said with a smile. "I love a woman in uniform."

"Good to know." She extended her elbow. "So my lady, where do we go from here?"

"Just for a little walk around the Christmas tree," she said, taking Mary's arm. She floated forward and Mary walked with her as they circled the trunk that, to them, dwarfed the largest redwood. They circled it three times before suddenly they vanished.

Mary found herself stepping out of a forest when she stopped dead in her tracks, staring ahead. The large sign said Welcome To Toyland in big letters, but that hardly did it justice. It was nothing like any of the movies she had seen either. Those had been tiny towns with snow and giant candy canes with gingerbread houses. This was a vast metropolis of everything from doll houses to condos that at her current height seemed like they belonged to giants. There were also a lot of businesses.

Among them were toys, each one living and moving like normal people. The arrival of the fairy and her companion had gone mostly unnoticed except by a nearby stuffed monkey running a newspaper stand that was their size. He looked over at Sugar and asked, "Paper?"

"Sure," she said, handing him a gold coin. He tapped it on a small iron plate, making sure it was real, and then handed her a newspaper.

"What is all this?" Mary asked, barely noticing the exchange.

"It's Toyland," Sugar said. Mary raised an eyebrow. "Look you know all of those toys that Santa and other gift giving spirits bring to good children? Each is very special with the soul of the child of a dream, or a god, or a fairy inside it, giving it form so that they can learn to hold themselves together. Otherwise they would just dissipate into the universe like water and most times their immortal parents can't be bothered to keep that from happening.

"So they're put into the toys. Then it's given to the child to learn about life and love and all that other stuff. Like a cuckoo bird. Until one day when the child no longer plays with the toy or loses it, it's collected and brought back here. Patched up if need be and given time to lead a life of its own until they decide what they want to be." She shrugged. "Sort of like with souls and humans without having to deal with having to actually be alive and deal with all of those hardships."

Mary tried to imagine that as she saw the "people" around her. Dolls, stuffed animals, toy robots, and video game characters were just the beginning. Weirdest of all they were acting as if nothing was off. A bear with a heart on its chest was sharing a milkshake with a winged unicorn at a café a few doors away. An army man was driving a cab in which a purple elephant was sitting in the back seat. A plastic tiger was reading a book and sipping a coffee while waiting for a bus… which when it pulled up was also plastic and had a cute smiley face on the front.

Taking a deep breath Mary said, "Okay. I can deal with this." She focused on Sugar. "What do we do next?"

The fairy held up her paper and said, "We read our horoscopes." She began flipping through the pages. "What's your birthday?"

"Uh, June 16th."

"Year? Time?" She told her the year, but couldn't remember the exact time. "Never mind, it's alphabetical. I'll just look for your name…. What's your last name?"

"Lord. Mary Lord." She peered over Sugar's shoulder at the page. It looked more like the stock reports, with tiny letters all bunched together. At the top was a photo of an old man labeled "The Astrologer". "Hey, that's Steven Auger, the guy who wrote the script for the movie we're making!"

"You'll probably see a lot of people here who look like people you know. Some say it's because you people put familiar face on things you don't understand. Or maybe they are those people having dreams and that's who they are here. Or possibly they are who they are here and the ones in your world are who they're dreaming they are." Mary's head was starting to hurt. Sugar's finger poked the newspaper. "Ah, here you are. Mary Lord."

Mary looked and gasped. "That really is my name! How?"

"Naturally the Astrologer knows who is going to read the horoscopes. He puts in one for each person who is going to buy a paper."

A little awed at this show of psychic power, Mary peered at the tiny letters. You will go on a great quest to save yourself and a queen. Fail and you will perish. Succeed and your dreams will come true. Trust in the advise of old friends and believe in yourself. Watch out for ROUSes. "Kind of short, isn't it?"

"There are a lot of people who read their horoscopes. He can't give everyone a play by play on every minute of their day and he isn't allowed to get involved with things like the stock market or sports scores."

"Too bad, sounds like he would be fun to take to Las Vegas. What does yours say?"

"It says 'You should be more careful. Time is of the essence or all will be lost. You cannot do everything alone. Seek out the Toy Maker.'"

"Who is the Toy Maker? Santa Claus?"

Sugar shook her head. "No. I mean he's a toy maker, but the Toy Maker is someone else. Santa can't do everything. He isn't even the only one who delivers toys. There are witches, and mules, and all sorts all over the world. It isn't even all about Christmas and the like."

"Okay so how do we find the Toy Maker?"

"Like this." She whistled and raised her hand. "Taxi!" A carriage drawn by a pink plastic pony pulled up in front of them. The pony looked at them and asked, "Where to?"

On the ride over Mary read the newspaper. "Huh… it says here that Little Red Riding hood's mother has been arrested for attempted murder and insurance fraud. Apparently she sent her elderly mother out into the middle of the woods to live alone in a shack, then sent her own daughter out to wolf infested woods in bright clothes with a heavy basket of food. Her boyfriend a woodsman was going to kill them and blame it on wolves but an insurance investigator names BB Wolf caught them and exposed the whole thing."

"I've heard about him," Sugar said. "Just last month he exposed sloppy work at the Three Little Pigs Construction Company. It turns out that they were seriously cutting corners on materials. Two out of three of their houses just fell over if you so much as breathed on them hard…"

"This is so weird… reading about storybook characters in the newspaper like they were real people…" She paused and looked at Sugar. "Sorry."

The fairy laughed. "Don't worry about it. Just don't go saying that you do not believe in fairies. My HMO doesn't cover clapping."

Mary could not help but laugh along. Then she suddenly got a terrified look on her face. "Oh my god, you won't actually…"

"I'm kidding! Don't worry, I can't be killed by a slip of the tongue." She gave Mary a wink and the girl blushed.

The car pulled to a stop and they got out. "How much do we owe?"

"We don't use cash for services here, just goods," Sugar explained as she gave the cab driver a hearty handshake, careful not to activate his kung-fu grip. He nodded and pulled out into traffic. "Usually we trade favors depending on what we do for one another. If he needs something from me that I can do for him that's about equal to a cab ride then I do it and we're even."

"What if you don't?"

"Then I stop getting cab rides."

That made sense and Mary took a moment to look around. They were outside what at first appeared to be a giant building, huge compared to the others. Then she remembered that she had been shrunk and that the building was normal sized. It was a toy shop and said so in flowing letters across the plate glass window. Looking inside she felt her heart leap. Toys, beautiful and shiny, lined up in the window. Antiques as well as more modern things like robots and computer games. A pink teddybear saw her looking and waved.

Then she saw two people inside and gasped. "That's my godfather's brother, Jeff! He's building the special effects for the movie and that's my brother with him!" They were huge and dressed in leather aprons loaded with all kinds of tools. "Look, that's Frank."

Sugar grabbed her arm. "It may be. And sometimes dreamers can recognize people they know back in your world. But Mary, you should know he probably won't recognize you. He's dreaming."

She bit her lip, horrified at the idea that she was a stranger to her brother, even if he was a giant. "What do I do?"

"Just don't mention it unless he brings it up. Remember, we're not here on a social call."

"But…" She sighed. "I guess you're right."

They walked towards the short staircase. It was too big to climb easily, but fortunately there was a small toy-sized stairway off to the side and when they got to the top there was a string for a bell. Mary had to fight the urge to bolt when she heard the sounds of huge feet stomping towards the door. It opened and the tall figure of The Toy Maker loomed above them, smiling down. "My, it's not often I am greeted by royalty. And who is your handsome escort, your majesty?"

Sugar smiled. "This is my friend Mary, who I am afraid has been the victim of the curse of the Mouse King. Might we come in and speak with you, sir Toy Maker?"

"Sir?" He asked.

"Well, I am seeking aid. A knighthood might not be out of the question."

Laughing the man bent down and extended his hand. "Then enter and be welcome. And I apologize to Miss Mary, for mistaking her for a man."

Sugar sat on his lam and Mary took a seat beside her, grabbing the Toy Maker's fingers to help balance as he raised them up to chest height. "It's okay. I'm really small and I did strip this outfit off of a nutcracker."

"Would you prefer a dress? I am sure I have something around in your size."

"No thanks. I don't mind this outfit even if it's a little tight in the front. Besides as you can tell by my companion's clothing, dresses are not exactly great if you get jumped by a pack of angry mice. I want to be able to run."

The Toy Maker pulled out a pair of wire rimmed glasses and looked through them at Sugar's tattered dress. "Oh, I see. Well how about I repair that and let your top out a bit while you tell me exactly what your dilemma is? From the sound of it you have made an enemy of the furry variety." He turned to the boy who looked like Mary's brother. "Franz, get my sewing tools and some of the fabric from the back… shades of purple please."

"Sir," the boy said, snapping off a mock salute and turned to disappear into the back of the store among dozens of toys stacked everywhere.

"Best assistant I've ever had. Not that he plans to stick around here forever," the man said, setting them down on a messy work table. "I hear that once his apprenticeship with me is done he wants to apply with one of the Christmas witches or even the Easter Bunny."

"Not Santa Claus?" Mary joked nervously.

"No, the man refuses to hire anyone but elves," The Toy Maker said, not noticing Mary's disbelief. "Says that when the dreams of children are being met he refuses to rely on human hands. He recognizes skill and will hire out for special jobs or even accept submissions if they match his exacting standards if you wish to give something special, but for the most part he insists on inhuman precision. Not a surprise when you consider that he was raised by elves. I have customers the same way…" He pulled out a pocket watch. "One of whom will be here shortly to examine something I'm preparing for him. So we had best hurry this up." "Franz" returned with rolls of fabric in several shades of purple.

He sat on a stool and working together with Franz he listened as Sugar explained the situation and everything leading up to them being there. Mary watched them work in amazement. The Toy Maker's hands moved inhumanly fast and with amazing precision. He then handed Sugar a perfectly made multifaceted gown that looked fit for a queen. She took it with a curtsy and went behind a Jack-in-the-box to change. She returned a moment later, her wings flapping as her dress floated around her.

"You look beautiful," Mary told her.

Sugar nodded. "Yes, I do. Thank you Toy Maker, your work is, as always superb."

In exchange for a square of fabric the size of a handkerchief to wrap around herself Mary passed him her shirt and jacket. Looking around the room she said, "You really do amazing work."

"Thank you," he said. "Most of my work involves helping toys that have been damaged or in other ways."

"Oh? Sugar said that all of these… talking magical toys… are just dreams or spirits or something sent to live with children as babies so they could learn to… to live I guess."

"Exactly," he said. "Her majesty the Sugarplum Fairy is correct. I believe that some centuries ago she got her start as a tree topper. But they are still people, of a sort, and need things. Take that Jack-in-the-box for example. Give it a crank."

Mary did, tying the cloth around her chest first. It was hard and Sugar came over to help. They turned it and the tune of "Pop Goes the Weasel" came out. They both jumped when half-way through the lid popped open and a clown jumped out. Not a simple head on a spring, but a real clown in a black and white checkered harlequin outfit, his face a Mardi Gras mask, the white half smiling and the black frowning with painted red lips.

He landed in front of them easily and took a boy. The Toy Maker said, "Jack here is young… about your age I'd guess… and has not quite grasped talking yet. I did however take him from a head on a spring and gave him a body. Still enjoys living in his box though and I let him crash here." Jack stood straight and produced small red balls from his pockets. He juggled them a bit and the girls gave polite applause. Jack bowed again and then jumped back into his box, the lid closing behind him. "He's a sweet kid."

He handed Mary her top back and she changed back. When she came out the nutcracker uniform fit her much better and was less binding. The Toy Maker then held out his hand. "I thought you might he able to use this." He was holding a thin leather belt. Hanging from it was a saber and when Mary pulled it from its sheath, she found it was a real sword made out of metal. Not flimsy either, but solid and quite sharp. "At your side I thought you might need something to hold off attacking mice. Or cherries."

"Thank you but… well I don't know how to use a sword."

"That's not what I remember," a new voice said. Mary turned and saw someone jump from one of the high shelves, landing with a click on the table with them.

She was about eight inches high, which meant that from Mary's perspective the girl was a foot shorter than she was. Still she was a pretty enough doll. Long pink hair flowed under a hat that looked to be half headband and half helmet. She wore a white toga-style dress with gold edges and a red triangle just under her cleavage. Her feet had on calf-high red boots with stiletto heels and a sheathed sword on her back made of plastic.

"Oh my God, it's a Heroic Hannah action figure!"

"Heroic Hannah?" Sugar asked.

"It was this show from years ago… I think it was made during the eighties, but I watched the reruns when I was a kid and had the whole collection. Hannah and her friends, the Bodacious Power Princesses, did it all. They had a secret identity as a band with these really great songs, but she was really a magical alien princess from another planet and her warriors who had crashed on Earth and spent their spare time fighting criminals and an evil space emperor.

"The toys were great. You could dress them up in all kinds of outfits… they were fashion designers too with their own line, plus they were the right size to wear other doll clothes… they had cars, a spaceship that was practically a girl's dream mansion on the inside, plus all their weapons and advanced technology. Each of them had their own super powers and personality." She smiled at the doll. "I used to play with them all of the time even when other girls used other dolls for tea parties and…"

"They'd tell you that I was just a cliché female empowerment cartoon meant to sell toys and that I was a cheap knock off compared to their dolls. I remember."

Mary goggled. "You…" Hannah pulled up her skirt and next to her plastic panties was a faded ML written in permanent marker on her inner thigh. "That was you?!"

Dropping her skirt she nodded. "It was."

"You were real all the time? Oh I wish I'd known that. We could have wiped the smug looks off Tiffany Sheridan's face…"

"Tempting."

Mary sighed. "I remember when you went missing. I was away at ballet camp. Mom and dad went into my room and gathered up my old toys for donation while I was gone. I guess I can't blame them. You were all scraped up from everything we did together and missing a foot. You look good."

"The Toy Maker fixed me up," she said. "He does good work and Toyland is a great place to live."

"I'm happy for you, but I still cried for a week when I got home and found out. They tried to replace you, but the line had been cancelled and I didn't want a new one anyway." She looked pleadingly. "You didn't think I abandoned you? Or gave you away because I didn't want you?"

"Not for a second," she said, her plastic lips smiling. "Some toys have horror stories, but I enjoyed being your best friend while it lasted." She stepped forward and hugged Mary around the waist. It was uncomfortable since she was made of hard plastic, but Mary hugged her back.

"You were saying something about Mary's sword skills?" Sugar said pointedly.

Hannah stepped back and examined the fairy. Then she asked Mary. "New friend?"

"Damsel in distress," Mary said. "I'm kind of on a quest to restore her to the throne and break the curse of the evil Mouse King."

"Nice," she said. "Reminds me of the time your friend Jennifer got stuck up on a tree while trying to get her kitten down and you helped get her down. You always were a hero at heart."

"I had a good role model."

Sugar cleared her throat and Hannah said, "I was just pointing out that Mary used to sword fight as a kid all the time."

Sugar looked at her. "Really?"

Mary blushed. "Just kids games with sticks. It wasn't real sword fighting."

"Bah, you beat them all including Billy Smith," Hannah said. "He always said it didn't count because you were a girl." She straightened up. "Anyway you're a dancer now, That's pretty much the same as sword fighting. Haven't you ever heard of a sword-dance?"

"She has a point," Sugar said. "We're fighting mice, not musketeers. You just poke them with the sharp end."

Mary reluctantly put on the sword belt. "I suppose, but even if it is that easy, there are hundreds of them. I could be an expert swordsman and part time pirate and it still wouldn't be enough."

"That's why I came to you for help," Sugar said, turning to the Toy Maker. "You always have a few boys' toys around the place looking for something to do. I need an army before that dirty rat gets control of my wand." She paused. "Unless you have a spare wand floating around."

"I have a lot," he said. "Except they don't work. Genuine magic wands are hard to come by these days. Only a few toys come with them to begin with and they're hardly made by gods or wizards."

Sugar sighed. "I thought so. I had to earn mine from the Queen of The Elves in a challenge and not only is she still pitching a fit about losing a game of chess a hundred years ago, but considering the sort of demands she makes on losers it's safer to face the Mouse King than her."

"How bad could it be?"

"The last guy she beat in a challenge is still alive," The Toy Maker said. "He really wishes he wasn't. And by everything I know about biology, he shouldn't be. Once the kidneys see daylight I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to still be screaming."

Franz added, "To be fair, the trash talking was probably a bad idea. If he hadn't made that crack about soft royalty she might not have started using his intestines as a jump rope during her weekend workouts."

Mary shuddered, suddenly remembering that with dreams came nightmares. "I get the point. I think we should take our chances with the evil fur ball and his club." She looked at Hannah. "My horoscope did say to listen to old friends' advice." She looked up at the Toy Maker. "I hope you can help us. I was human sized before and they kicked my butt…"

"Well Franz and I aren't fighters," he said. "And I don't think we'd do much better against an army of mice anyway. We may be bigger, but if just one runs up our pants it's over. It would be like fighting a river."

"I have plenty of toy soldiers you can use," Franz said. "I've been working with them on their drills in my spare time. Jack's been helping me."

"I offer my aid as well," Hannah said, drawing her plastic sword. They looked at it. "It's pointy and we're fighting mice. I can handle it."

"I wouldn't feel right putting anyone else in danger," Mary said uncertainly.

"Mary toys versus mice, toys win. There's a reason the Mouse King doesn't rule Toyland," Sugar said.

"Mice can chew plastic, wood, and metal," Mary pointed out.

"Not when it fights back," Hannah said.

"Ah, good point. I guess I was remembering the time that dog got a hold of you."

"I'm fine." She held up a leg, which moved above her head. "Look! New foot!"

Sugar stepped closer to Mary and took her arm. "Showy little thing, isn't she?"

"She gets that from me. I used to do that all the time after I learned how in dance class."

"I can dance too. I have my own solo in the Nutcracker after all."

Mary giggled. "You're cute when you're jealous."

The fairy puffed up her cheeks. "You know I am the queen of a land of sugar and magic."

"And I'm the princess of an entire world of advanced science and magical adventures," Hannah said.

"You're a toy! If your world even exists it's either ruled by the real version of you or more likely a forty year old dreaming man-boy who lives in his mother's basement and has an unhealthy attachment to his own toys!"

"Your kingdom is currently ruled by vermin. Do you really want to go down that road?"

Mary stepped forward between them. "Okay girls. No fighting. Unless gelatin is involved. Since Sugar just got a new dress and it'd probably take the Toy Maker hours to scrape it out of Hannah's joints, let's just all be friends, okay?"

"Okay," they reluctantly chorused.

Hannah said,
"I can get you a little more help." She turned and whistled. Suddenly five more dolls of the same design, only with different neon colored hair, skin color, and outfits jumped down around her. Each one had a different weapon, made of plastic yes, but twirling in their hand with realistic precision.

"Wow, it's the rest of the Bodacious Power Princesses." Mary paused. "Were all of my toys secretly magical?"

"No," Hannah said. "Just me. But we were a pretty popular line. They invited me into their click when I got here."

"The five of us actually made an escape from the collection of a gay guy in Van Nuys before he got his hands on a mint condition Hannah," Destiny the Destroyer said. "It was our last chance. If he'd gotten her he would have stopped spending all his time online trying to out bid other losers and would have just sat there staring at the television her set up so he could watch old episodes of the show next our display case." They all shuddered. "So we busted out, hopped in our space ship and got the heck out of there while he was blogging about 'completing his collection.' Last time I checked he's still offering a reward for information on the perpetrators."

"You could fly the spaceship?" Mary asked. "How?"

"Magic," they all said.

Penelope the Impaler said, "Though we can't use it any more, since someone crashed it into a magical flying unicorn."

"That wasn't my fault," Terrible Tammy said. "She came out of nowhere and her insurance company agreed she was not paying proper attention. I got us here, didn't I?"

"Yes you did," Barbarian Brenda said in a deep rumbling voice. Then she looked at Mary. "When we met we had to invite Hannah to join us. It's what Gary would have waned and he did spend like five thousand dollars for each of us. Besides she knew all kinds of fun games that you don't learn when you're in mint condition."

"You raised her well," Genius Jenny said, adjusting her glasses with her battle staff and pulling a strand of blue hair out of her face. "She's a lot of fun."

Hannah turned towards them, putting her sword away and placing her hands on her hips. "My friend needs our help to fight a battle. Are you with me?"

"Yeah!" They all shouted, raising their weapons.

Suddenly the door opened and a man walked in. Mary looked up and saw her godfather entering the shop just as the watch in the Toy Maker's pocket chimed. He was dressed in an outfit that was either meant to be from the eighteen hundreds or a clown college, all yellow and red lines. On his head was an unrealistic blue wig. Mary glance outside and saw that it was daylight, something she had not noticed before. Then she shrugged it off. She was a foot tall and standing on a table with her favorite childhood toy. "Who is he supposed to be?"

"Clock Maker Drosselmeier," Franz said. "The Toy Maker's brother. We've been building him special parts for a project of his."

Drosselmeier walked forward and said, "Toy Maker, I trust my order is ready?"

"Naturally brother! Have I ever let you down?" He turned to Sugar. "Your majesty, if you will excuse me for a moment?" She nodded and he hurried into the back. A moment later he came out with three golden boxes. "Here you are."

"I trust they will match your standard." He stood there for a moment, suddenly looking guilty.

The Toy Maker sighed. "What?"

"I… well there was… I had an accident. With one of the pieces. The um… the one you made for me last month. I was adjusting the mechanism and one of the springs was loose. It launched the piece from its slot and…"

"I understand. And I told you so. It's too complicated and you should run the whole thing with caution before you put my pieces on one at a time."

"I need to see how they interact." He looked around the room and caught sight of the two girls in the table amongst the toys. Mary recognized what he was doing. When she and her brother argued and one of them thought they might lose the go to move was to grab someone else and talk them into your side of the argument. "You'd understand if you saw it. You two look like you would understand?"

"Saw what?" Sugar asked.

The Toy Maker sighed. "You might as well go see. We'll assemble your army and see if there's anyone else we can conscript as soldiers."

Mary and Sugar shared a shrug and Mary said, "Sure, sounds like fun." She paused. "Um, but first do you have a tiny toilet I can use? I'd ask to borrow yours, but I'm afraid I'd fall in."

"No problem. I have one I use for the dollies who can wet themselves. Third dollhouse on the left." She jumped onto the stool he had been working on and then down to the floor. When she found the one he described she was suitably impressed. The plumbing worked. There was even a real roll of toilet paper, though the outer layer was a bit dusty from lack of use. Toys probably did not worry about that sort of thing.

Drosselmeier let them ride on his shoulders holding on to his cotton candy colored wig while they took the trip four doors down to his own shop. When they arrived they found the place a lot cleaner than the Toy Maker's shop. A dozen clocks hung from the walls, there were three grandfather's clocks, and rows of watches on display. All of them ticked in unison, so precise that eat time it happened they could feel the vibration in the air like a huge heartbeat. It was almost deafening.

On the tables in neat rows were tools, gears, and cases. Everything gleamed like coins from a pirate's chest lined up by size and use. Crystals sparkled like diamonds. There were packages of batteries that did not quite fit with the old world look of the place along with electronics and even digital faces.

The Clock Maker did not seem to notice, walking through his shop to the back room where he closed a door behind him. He stood there in the dark taking a deep breath before he flicked on a switch. Mary and Sugar felt their breath taken away.

It was a golden city, intricately designed and with layers of complexity. Everything was frozen at first and Drosselmeier took a moment to admire it as if he too were seeing it for the first time. "When this is finished I will be known as the greatest Clock Maker who ever lived."

They could not deny it. The room was huge… much bigger than the building looked from the outside. Not quite a stadium, but big enough that the hundreds of figures dotted around it were almost as big as the two girls riding him, all with plenty of room of their own. "Did you build this yourself?"

"Yes, but the design I got from my old friend the Astrologer," Drosselmeier said, suddenly remembering that they were there. "It took me ten years to build the mechanism and like I said to my brother, I had a small flaw, which I am still fixing." He set them on the edge of the raised platform. "Look at it, isn't it beautiful?"

It really was. From where she stood Mary could see a golden lake made of layers of golden saw-like waves. In between them were swans, scaled dolphins, and fish. On a rock was a golden mermaid, frozen in the act of brushing her hair while a man in a gondola who was giving a pair of young lovers a rode stared at her across the "water". Across the lake was a forest with animals like squirrels, rabbits, birds, tigers, and wolves among the trees and a grove where a troop of fairy creatures stood frozen in a dance as if they were a three dimensional picture of a complete ecosystem. A boy on the shore was flying a kite over the lake. Drosselmeier pressed a button and the lake split aside with the sounds of gears to allow him to walk through, towards the distant city. Mary and Sugar saw a bridge and followed along with him.

Here were more things they had missed in the lake. Water weeds. Turtles. Frogs. All made of gold and so detailed that it was as if someone had shrunk a real city and then handed it over to King Midas. Sugar said, "Did your brother make all of these figures?"

As if reluctant to admit anyone else had been involved in his creation Drosselmeier said, "Yes, he did. But I did all of the internal work. You see?" He pointed to where the lake split around him. Inside there were cogs, gears, chains, and other machines so complicated Mary could barely comprehend it all. "It's amazing."

The arrived at the city, which was behind a wall with openings so that you could see inside from all around. People were walking the streets. There was a bustling market where people argued with shopkeepers. Houses with figures on the step, in the windows, or even on the roofs. Some were fairy tale creatures. There was a cat with a fiddle, a little dog laughing at him. In the distance a boy and a girl were climbing a hill, carrying a bucket to a well.

Looming above it all was an equally intricate castle. A beautiful princess peered out of a window at a knight and a minstrel, both below her begging her favor. Inside another a king was eating a plate full of golden bacon while his wife sipped tea. Guards watched from every door. Servants cooked, cleaned, and did laundry. Horses were in the stables and looking through the distance in the background there were farms and fields that were being tended by serfs.

"It would take years to see it all," Mary said.

Drosselmeier nodded. "It has. I know every piece. Every gear and spring." The wall opened for him and he walked towards the castle and then turned away towards another building. The roof opened under his touch They used the door and found themselves in a theater. People in the seats. Ushers in the aisles. Dancers on the stage. "They're performing The Nutcracker, one of my favorites."

Gingerly he set the boxes his brother had given him down on the floor before the stage. Opening them he revealed three new figures. One was a ballerina, who Mary recognized. It was an exact copy of Gina Vagary in her Clara costume. Drosselmeier lifted her out of the box and places one of her feet, with a tiny extension, into a barely visible hole in the stage with a soft click. This was followed by a woman in a swan ballerina outfit and another in a flowing doll outfit.

"Where is the Sugarplum fairy?" Sugar asked, looking up incase she was lowered from above.

"She was added later, so I left her out," he said. Sugar frowned.

Mary looked around. "Where's the nutcracker?"

Drosselmeier frowned and pointed. "Over there." They looked behind the curtain. There was a nutcracker alright. But it was broken. It's head was cracked and tiny gears and springs lay around it as if it were bleeding. "Horrible isn't it?"

"Can't you have another figure fill in on stage?" She asked, trying not to think about Jim too much.

He stared at her in horror. "Absolutely not. A place for everything and everything in its place."

She sighed. "I know a guy like that. So I'm guessing from all of the machinery that this all does something besides shine?"

Drosselmeier nodded and reached over the theater to the castle. He flipped the top off a turret and there was a giant button. When he pushed it there was a grinding of gears at first, until it became the throb of clockwork. Mary did not understand how it all worked, any more than she did a television or a refrigerator, but all around them the glittering golden world came to life. The dancers on the stage started to move, the audience watched them, heads following along except for two in the back who were talking together over a program pamphlet. The tinkling sounds of a music box played from the orchestra pit.

Mary went back to the doorway and looked outside. The people were walking the streets. A sun she had not noticed was above the castle on a stick, moving slowly and ticking with the seconds. She guessed that it would eventually set and be replaced by a moon and stars. It was easy to predict. And while everything moved with amazing realism, just like the toys in the city, it was on a loop.

"Better than the real world, isn't it?" Drosselmeier said.

"Not really," Mary said, heading back inside. The giant man stared down at her dumbfounded. "It's obviously amazing and an astounding achievement, but I have to say that I was way more impressed when I saw Toyland for the first time."

"What do you mean?"

"Nothing's alive," Sugar said. "Nothing changes. Heck you said you have no intention of even swapping around any of the figures." She nodded her head. "Nice music though."

"It'll make a great museum piece one day, I'm sure," Mary said. "People will come to see it and be amazed and then they'll go home and remember that they saw it that one time."

"Thank you for showing it to us," Sugar said as a horse galloped by outside. Obviously miffed Drosselmeier did not reply. "Mary, there's room on the stage. As long as we're here, would you like to dance?"

Smiling Mary nodded. "Sure. We promised to give the Toy Maker some time after all." She looked up at the Clock Maker. "Do you mind?"

"Do what you want," he grumbled. "I knew it wouldn't be very impressive with the Nutcracker piece missing. One mistake, that's all it takes."

Shaking her head Mary went up to the stage. "Clara" was up front, twirling and bowing on her own while other dancers moved around her. There was a gap where presumably the Nutcracker belonged. Mary took that space and Sugar took the area between her and the background dances a few feet… inches… back.

Taking the fairy's hand Mary closed her eyes and swayed for a moment, getting a feel for the music and the clicking of the gears coming from all around, inside the floor, walls, and outside. The only other sound was Drosselmeier breathing as he watched them with his one eye.

Stepping forward Mary place her free hand on Sugar's hip and the fairy put her arms on Mary's shoulders. Opening her eyes she met those violet eyes and smiled as they started to dance to the music. They swayed and moved, sometimes between the golden dancers, barely missing as some of them kicked out. At their size they could hear it as the mechanical feet and hands passed through the air like martial arts moves, wind whistling around them. Precise, beautiful, and predictable.

Mary did not know how much time had passed, but suddenly she looked down and saw that not only Sugar's feet but hers were hovering over the stage. "How am I doing this?"

Sugar smiled and reached up to touch her cheek, bringing their gazes together again. "Happy thoughts and fairy dust."

"Oh."

Finally the gears ground to a halt and the music stopped. Slowly the two sank to the stage. A little self consciously Mary stepped back and looked up at Drosselmeier, blushing a little. He was staring at her, wide eyed. "Sorry. I guess we got carried away."

"That was amazing," he said. "You two… were astounding. I never imagined anything like that."

"That's why people are better than frozen perfection," Sugar said.

Drosselmeier looked like he was going to say something, but a sudden noise from his shop nearly blew down his door. "Oops, it's almost time to open my shop for business. I'll take you back to my brother." He extended his arms and they climbed back onto his shoulders. "You've given me a lot to think about."

When they arrived back at the toy shop their army was ready. Five hundred toy soldiers made of metal plastic, and wood in red British uniforms were lined up in ten rows of ten, one behind each other the other Power Princesses with Hannah at the front on a toy dragon. Dracon Firebreath. In the cartoon he appeared out of a magic amulet. In real life he was about the size of the Mouse King and could not actually breathe fire. Each of the soldiers held a bayonet. They could not shoot, obviously, but the tips were sharp and they moved with the speed of real people.

At the front were a toy horse, white as ivory and with a saddle and reigns. It whinnied and the Toy Maker said, "As the General, you will rise the mighty steed Miss Mary."

"Uh… thanks," she said. She had kind of been hoping to send the army to do all the fighting, but it seemed the idea was that the person with something to lose and gain took the lead. "You know, I was wondering, is there a police station we can check into before we do this?"

"No," Sugar said. "In the Dream World we've always been policed by heroes and villains. Things change too much to really keep a stable government."

"Ah, vigilante justice. I thought so." She hefted herself into the saddle.

"As for you your majesty…" He pointed to a golden carriage which was at the back of the group. It was pulled by two brown horses and driven by a toy coachman. "You should be safe inside the coach."

Watching Sugar step in Mary was briefly angry. All this was mostly for her benefit. Why did she get to hide? Mary could not fly and was made of soft things that mice could bite. Then she realized that she did not want Sugar to be in danger. Also if she got hurt, who would turn Mary back to normal? As for the danger, the Mouse King was the kind who held a grudge, she was sure. If he won he certainly would come looking for little Mary to get even for her hitting him with her shoe and rescuing Sugar in the first place.

Swallowing her fear Mary said, "How far away is your land?"

Inside the coach Sugar said, "Not far, it borders Toyland to the West. We should get there within the hour."

Franz said, "I swing by every now and then to snatch some peppermint bark and fudge rocks. Even a bit of Rock Candy Mountain."

"You're just lucky I run the land instead of the old witch who used to live there," Sugar said pointedly. "She used to use it as bait to fatten up children for her own meal."

"It's just a little snack," he said.

Hannah raised her sword and everyone stood at attention. "Ready when you are."

Mary nodded and swallowed the icy lump in her throat. Drawing her own sword she pretended to be a real soldier and pointed it to the ceiling. "Mister Toy Maker if you'd be so kind as to open the door." He rushed to do so. "Forward ho!"

Jack, she noticed, had joined the crew. As they marched out of the shop and into the street he was playing a marching song on a tiny trumpet that sounded like a flute. They moved to it and as they went down the street people stopped and stared. Mary did not know what was weirder. That she was going off to fight or that she was being waved at by a china shepherdess and a sheep as she rode to do so.

On the way Mary got a description of where they were going.

The Land of Sweets was huge for someone of Sugar's height, though it was obvious that to the average person it was more like a big park. The way Sugar described it, the place was more like art to her than food or even a place to live. The "Rock Candy Mountain" for example was about the size of a climbing wall in a large gym back home… maybe thirty feet tall. It was surrounded by normal trees, but when you reached the huge clearing where it resided they were made of chocolate, peppermint, or were actual candy canes. The ground was covered in a layer of sugar, both powdered and granulated. There were images of people, animals, flowers, and other plants all made out of different candies or baked goods like cookies and cakes. Some looking almost real and others in outlandish colors never seen in nature.

There were houses of gingerbread and other baked goods. One looked like a massive shoe until you realized it was made of chocolate. Sugar said she never learned exactly what went into chocolate so she traded with the King of Chocolate downriver. Said river turned to soda as it passed through her lands, then back to water when it passed through.

The whole place often got washed out in rainstorms and eaten by visitors. Mostly humans. Mice, insects, and general vermin were kept out by magic. Fish swam through quickly so they did not die in the river. Toys did not usually eat so they only came to admire the place. Always changing depending on Sugar's whims. She of course nibbled a bit too, but also went to other nearby places often for real food. Even a fairy could get sick of sugar too much.

When they arrived though, the Land of Sweets had undergone a terrible change. It was swarming with mice. Hundreds… maybe thousands… all chewing on everything in sight. The sound was like a cement mixer. Mary had been up on the catwalk when she had been shrunk and had not realized just how big the mice were compared to her. They seemed the size of dogs now. Before she had considered mice to be creepy and gross. Now they actually seemed dangerous.

At first none of them noticed the army They were still a ways off and the rodents were busy devouring Sugar's kingdom. Then the mouse King, who had been lounging among the sugar and eating the head off of a marzipan bunny rabbit looked up and saw them. He eyed the toys first, then the gold carriage, and finally all fourteen of his eyes focused on Mary.

"You! The filthy human who hit me with that shoe!" His deep voice, coming as it did from seven mouths, carried over the fields of sugar. Around him the mice began to look up, turning towards the invading army as their master's power rushed over them. "You dare invade my lands?"
Fighting the urge to scream Mary raised her sword. Remembering her acting classes and everything she knew about public speaking she called out with a confidence she did not really feel. "This is not your place! Surrender the wand and leave this place or we will be forced to attack!" Behind her the army of toys let out a loud cry of support.

"Die human!" He yelled back and the mice attacked.

"Kill the rodents!" Mary kicked her horse forward and with a cry the toys charged.

The fight looked like an instant loss to Mary at first. The mice worked like a well oiled machine and reminded her of the kind of ants that stripped entire forests bare of all life. They seemed to roll over the toy soldiers and even the warrior women in an avalanche. Their squeaks were much louder at her size and were all she could hear. Only the face that her horse was rather taller than them kept her from being swept up too and thankfully she saw that they could not get into Sugar's carriage either.

Soon enough though, the tide began to turn. Mary swung at mice with her sword and her horse kicked them aside easily with his plastic hooves. They tried to bite, but their teeth were barely able to knick his legs. On the carriage the driver was easily beating the mice that climbed onboard, knocking them out with hard punches that snapped their teeth.

After the initial wave of mice the other toys were rising up too, throwing them aside. Hannah and her friends were using their plastic weapons like the real thing. Plastic points pierced mouse skin and fur easily while their teeth and claws scrabbled on the toy's hard bodies without effect. Even when they caught a grip, they did only minor damage while the toys did very real and often terminal harm to their soft bodies. Mice were after all, on the lower end of the food chain and while one might put up a fight when cornered, for the most part their battle skills revolved around hiding.

Soon the tides of war changed in the toy's favor. The mice were under their king's control, true, but they were flesh and blood. They tired and got hurt and as berserk as the Mouse King was making them, their bodies could only do so much as they ran out of energy. The toys on the other hand were operating under their own intelligent will, outsmarting the mice as well as outfighting them. It reminded Mary of all of the movies where robots came to destroy man kind, crushing them easily. The mice did not even have the benefit of guns to fight back.

The Mouse King saw this too and let out an angry hiss. The mice between him and Mary split like he was Moses parting the red sea, leaving a clear path between her and him. "He's calling us out. You ready for this?"

He horse whinnied and then said, "You bet!"

Mary blinked in surprise. She had not realized he could talk. Still she prepared her sword, stained with the blood of a dozen mice and leaned across the horse's back. As the huge monster mouse charged so did the horse. "Surrender Whiskers!"

"Never human!" He ducked under her sword as they came together, clearly a better fighter than his minions. He rolled into the horse's legs, sending it and her flying. Marry landed in a drift of sugar, spitting it out as she struggled to get out.

Turning around she saw that her horse was pinned, under a dozen mice who were keeping it from getting back up. The other mice were losing, but keeping the rest of her allies busy. The Mouse King, angry and drooling, was moving towards her, first on all fours and then rising to his hind legs, snarling with his huge teeth. "Stay back!"

"Or what? You'll throw sugar on me?" He looked over her, twice her height. His movements were a little awkward, but she was certain that even so he would be more than a match for her. "You have interfered with me far too often! Protecting that fairy! Hitting me with your shoe! Now standing here in my lands, threatening to take them from me and butchering my people!"

"You shouldn't take what isn't yours," she said. The giant mouse grabbed at her and snapped his jaws, but she dodged him, slipping free by a breath. Her dancing skills were good for evading. She was going to make a dash for it, when the mouse unexpectedly hit her with its tail, now practically as thick as a baseball bat to her.

"A human says that to me? Your kind have despoiled entire worlds for your own desires."

"Tell it to Green Peace," she gasped, lying back in the sugar. "I don't take guff from stupid little mice!"

"I'm going to bite your face off!" He roared and moved to do just that.

Mary did something then that no human in history has ever done to a mouse. As a dancer her legs were almost all muscles and she had a kick like a mule. With the Mouse King looming over her she brought her foot, clag in a nutcracker's black boot, up between his hind legs with a satisfying crack. "Seven heads sure, but it looks like you've only got one of those…" Fourteen beady eyes crossed and seven mouths opened and closed, unable to make a sound as an entirely new sensation rocked his body. Two tiny arms reached to cup the area where the pain was, but he could not reach.

As the pain began to fade and the anger returned to the rodent's faces Mary felt something hard in the sugar near her hand and grasped it. In a cloud of sugar she brought her sword out, gleaming in the afternoon sun. The Mouse King's leap to attack her was checked as the metal point connected with his belly and pierced him straight through. He let out a hideous squeak and stumbled back taking the sword with her. Mary scrambled to her feet and backed up, but it was no necessary. Blood flowing from his seven mouths he tumbled to the ground, life fading in his eyes.

With the death of their ruler the spell on the surviving mice broke. Most fled, terrified by the smell of their dead brethren and the attacking toys. Those that stayed to try to feast on the candy or tend their wounds were chased down and killed. Soon the only mice to see were dead, small lumps lying in the sugar/snow. Her horse was on his feet apologizing for not being able to handle a few mice.

Waving it off Mary stood and stretched, her arms tired from gripping reigns and swinging her sword. Neither were very easy and her thighs hurt a bit too from rising the horse in the first place. She was reminded of when she had gone without riding a bike for five years and when she finally did her muscles just were not used to it and throbbed for days.

Now that the fighting was over Sugar got out of her carriage, which had been pretty well impervious against the attacks of the mice. Her horses, Mary noted but did not say, had taken out a dozen mice each and Hannah's dragon was surrounded by a pile of them. As the gorgeous fairy floated towards her she considered what she wanted to do and say. Taking back the Land of Sweets from invaders, she felt, called for a hug at the very least. But she was wondering if the Mouse King's death should have broken his spell and returned her to regular size. Also, what was she supposed to do next? A quick look around showed no sign of the wand.

As she approached Mary saw the smile on Sugar's face and decided that the fairy queen wanted to try the hug option first. It seemed like a plan. They could figure the rest out after that.

"You!" a voice screeched from behind her. His pitched it made her ears buzz. Turning she saw another mouse, this one a more manageable size than the king had been by a large shot. Maybe half of Mary's size she would have thought it was a slightly large ordinary mouse, except that it was talking, it had a tiny gold crown on its head, and it wore a flowing yellow dress. Also in it tiny hands it was wielding Sugar's missing wand, the tip glowing brightly. "You killed my son!"

"Dame Mouserink," Sugar gasped, stopping to float a little way off. "Put down the wand! It's magic wasn't meant for you!"

"Nothing is meant for us," the Mouse Queen shrieked. "Nothing! We're expected to hide in the dark and feast on diseased unwanted garbage! We're food for anything larger than us and that's nearly everything. If we try to achieve anything else we're killed without an ounce of guilt and our bodies tossed in the trash.

"This place… nothing but an art project for that foolish fairy. A pointless dream of human beings. Yet it could feed my people. Serve as a home where we never starve or where predators never came to carry us away in the night. This wand was the key to a place where mice could become more than vermin." Her eyes narrowed. "Now my son is dead, what is left of my people scattered, and I hold no illusions that this wand will shortly be back in the hands of your fairy friend."

Mary said, "I never wanted any of that. I just protected her from your son's attack. To return home in my normal body."

"I know where humans belong," Dame Mouserink said. "I may not get the chance to do much with this magic, but I can strike down the one who killed my son. Enjoy the Pit!"

"No!" Sugar cried.

Mary had no idea what the mouse was talking about, but saw her wave the glowing wand one time, almost completely unbalanced by it. She barely had time to wonder what she intended, when the ground dropped out from under her in a perfect dark circle. A gasp escaped her lips as she tumbled into the bottomless dark, the circle of light above her facing into the distance. Then she started to scream.

Mary stopped screaming eventually. She had been falling for a while. Several minutes at the very least and so far she had yet to hit bottom. Wind whipped around her and she tumbled without end, but no matter which way she ended up turning she did not see any ground she could be heading towards.

She did start seeing other people though. All of them falling around her. Some were screaming. Others were just falling silently. Each was lit as if it were daylight, but there was no sign of a light, a sun, or even stars. Just black and falling people.

"Mary? Is that you?"

Twisting around until she was… well maybe upside down was the wrong word, but the nearby person who spoke looked like he was the wrong way around so one of them was. It took a moment with his hair whipping around and his voice muffled by the wind for her to recognize him. Also the last time she had seen him he had been in traction with his jaw wired shut. "Jim? What are you doing here?" Not that she should be too surprised. Half the people she knew had been appearing around the place.

"I've been having this dream every night since I fell off the stage," he said. "It was pretty awful at first, but I'm getting used to it and I think I'm going to stop soon. I think it's mostly because of the pain drugs they give me. Are you having this dream too?"

"Actually I'm not sure, but I think I'm actually here," she said. "Uh, how deep is this hole?"

"I'm not sure," he said. "I always wake up before I hit the bottom. If you're here though… maybe you won't."

Mary had been thinking the same thing. Even if it was a dream she remembered hearing someplace that sometimes people did die in their dreams if they were real enough and so far this had been a pretty real dream. Worse yet, there might not be a bottom. Given talking toys and giant seven headed monster mice, nothing was impossible. Would she starve or die of thirst still falling? Of if she was asleep might they find her body and be unable to wake her up and she would spend years in a coma falling like this the whole time?

"Who is that?" Jim asked. Mary saw where he was staring and twisted around until she saw Sugar, floating above her, her wings beating fast. She had her hand extended and her dress and hair were flapping everywhere in the wind. Still she was gaining on Mary, one hand outstretched towards her. "Is that a friend of yours? She's cute."

"She's a fairy queen. I just helped rescue her kingdom from a mutant mouse. It's complicated."

"It sounds like it."

Sugar reached her eventually and Mary took her hand, pulling her close so that they could not get separated. "What are you doing here?"

"I jumped in after you," she said.

"Are you crazy? Now we're both stuck in here!"

"I wasn't thinking," Sugar admitted. "Though if I was I think I would have done it anyway."

"Well that's very sweet," Mary said, holding back a smile. "I don't suppose those wings of yours can fly us out of here?"

"No, they don't really work like that," she said. "I can steer us, but I fly by magic." She looked back the way she came. "We haven't fallen that far."

"What?" Mary followed her eyes. The hole was still there, she saw, about thirty feet away and not moving.

"This is the Pit, where humans go when they dream they're falling," Sugar said. "There's really nowhere to go."

"So how do we get back up there? I don't suppose you got the wand?"

"No, the last I saw one of the toy soldiers stabbed Dame Mouserink in the back and it fell on the ground. I was afraid she would close the portal so I didn't stop to worry about it."

"Well as much as I enjoy your company, eternity falling into a bottomless void is not very appealing." She frowned. "What about when we were dancing? I started to fly then."

"True, but we'd have to get in the right mood. Happy thoughts, you know? Also it would be good if we had something to push off of."

"Use me," Jim said. "And the other people falling."

"What? Jim I couldn't just step on you…"

"Don't be silly. I'm falling here, but you've got a chance to get out. If using my situation to your advantage helps you out then that's okay too. You didn't throw me or anyone else down here or anything, so if you take advantage of an opportunity to help yourself there's nothing wrong with that."

"Well if you're sure…"

Mary and Sugar moved around a bit until they were in their dancing positions. This time They put a hand on each other's shoulder and the other on each other's hips. Smiling nervously Sugar flapped her wings and turned them so that their heads pointed to the hole in the sky above them. They took a deep breath and then with a few more flaps of her wings they floated over to Jim and got a foot hold on his arm. Under her breath Mary began to hum a tune from Swan Lake and stared into the fairy queen's eyes, trying not to think too hard about what they were doing.

The dark world around them faded for the two girls. Sugar smiled, her amethyst wings fluttering softly behind her as they lost themselves in the music. Mary kicked off of Jim and the two of them gently began to fly. After a few feet they reached a middle aged woman in a night dress and Sugar pushed off her back, followed by a man in glasses wearing pajamas and a little girl in a nightshirt holding a teddy bear. Mary deeply hoped she had not just doubled their therapy bills.

Mary was so entranced looking at Sugar that they did not even notice when they floated back out of the hole until suddenly a voice said, "Mary!" Looking around she saw Hannah and the others. She started to fall, gravity ripping her out of Sugar's arms, but the Power Princesses caught her and pulled her to the side of the hole. "Are you alright?"

"Fine," Mary said, her throat dry. She reached out and helped Sugar to the ground too. The fairy bent down and picked up her wand from where it lay next to Dame Mouserink's body. "Sorry your kingdom ended up the worse for wear."

"Oh don't worry, I can fix it now that I have my wand back," Sugar said. "Watch." She waved her wand and sparkles flew from the tip. Mary and the toys marveled as the mouse bodies vanished into thin air. Then the candy people, animals, plants, and buildings began to repair themselves, growing back before their eyes until they shimmered in the sunlight like fresh crystals. "Want a taste?"

"Thanks, but I think I'd rather wait until I'm back home where I can get candy from a package and be pretty sure there hasn't been mouse spit all over it. Don't get me wrong, it looks great, but I saw what I saw." Sugar's wings drooped. "What's wrong?"

"I was hoping, now that everything is settled, that maybe we could spend some time together. You know I could show you around let you see how nice this world is."

"I'd love that," Mary said. "If we could arrange for me to come here on a schedule. But right now people are probably wondering where I am. It was great meeting you and getting to see how Hannah ended up. Toyland was amazing. The Toy Maker and the Clock Maker and that clockwork city was fantastic. Really it's a dream come true. But I have a life and a job and people who will worry if I just disappear. I can't just stay here for years.

"If this isn't just a dream though, I'd like to see you again."

Sugar giggled and nodded. "I understand. I guess what Dame Mouserink said was just getting to me. I have friends n Toyland and I like my life in the land of Sweets, but sometimes it is lonely. It was nice having someone care for me like you did. You didn't even know me and you risked your life for me even after the Mouse King shrank you and you got pulled into my world without warning."

"I'd do it again," Mary said earnestly.

"That's because she's a hero," Hannah said boldly. The other dolls clasped hands over her mouth and shushed her.

Trying not to laugh at the sight Mary said, "My life is important to me, but there's nothing more important than saving the life of someone in trouble Sugar. Even with all the danger, this has been the most amazing adventure of my whole life. I wouldn't have given up a moment of it for anything."

"But now the dream is over and it's time to wake up," Sugar said. She was smiling but her eyes were sad. "You know how to break the spell, don't you?" Mary shook her head. "Just close your eyes, pucker your lips, and kiss me. You'll wake up back at home like none of this ever happened."

Mary nodded. "Goodbye all of you." They all wished her goodbye. Mary closed her eyes and waited. A moment later she felt Sugar's breath on her face and soft lips on her mouth. It was a good kiss. Like every kiss she had ever dreamed of. Her heart beat in her chest, her head swam, and once again she felt her feet leave the ground. Finally she opened her eyes and saw Sugar smiling at her. "I thought…"

"Just kidding," Sugar said. "I just wanted a kiss before you left." While Mary stared at her in embarrassed surprise she waved her wand and tapped it on Mary's head. The magical Land of Sweets and the slightly mouse-bitten toys she had fought alongside disappeared in a cloud of magical sparkles.

Mary woke up to see Clock Maker Drosselmeier staring her in the eye. Then she blinked and realized that it was her godfather. "Mary, are you okay?"

"Fine," she said with a yawn. Looking around she saw that she was on the Christmas Tree set. Everything was in place. Nothing broken. No river of mouse poop around the place. She was both relieved and a little disappointed. "What time is it?"

"Almost eight. I've got five minutes to get to the try outs for the new nutcracker, but when your brother said you didn't meet him for breakfast I thought I'd see if you were in here."

"Yeah, sorry. I was having… a really good dream." She got up and stretched. "What are they serving for breakfast?"

"Pancakes," he said as they walked out of the set. "The kind with powdered sugar on them. Your brother looked like he dived face first into a pile of the stuff."

"I think I'll pass."

"Your loss. By the way, why are you wearing that?"

"Wearing what?" Mary looked down at herself. It took a moment for her to realize she was still dressed up in her nutcracker uniform. She was sill gasping when she heard a tiny crack.

"What the… what did I step on? A walnut?" David listed his foot. On the bottom was a crushed bit of wood that, if you put the pieces back together, looked like they would have formed a small wooden clog sized for a large doll. He shrugged and brushed it off. "Whatever, we have to hurry. I hate being late."

Still shocked and off balance Mary followed him. They made it to the crowded theater with time to spare. When they got there Jeff and Frank were there talking with Steven Auger. They needed to see who got hired so they could make adjustments to the effects and script. They were talking to Gina Vagary as she eyed the handsome men lined up to audition as her co-star and love interest.

"Hey sis," Frank said as they walked over. "Nice uniform. Very butch. Are you auditioning for the role too?"

Mary froze. Everyone was looking at her. With the same courage and the kind of spur of the moment thinking that had made her kick the Mouse King in the balls and had Sugar jumping into a bottomless pit after her, Mary said, "Well if David doesn't mind, I'd like to."

"Really?" David said,. Then he pursed his lips as he thought about it. "Sure, you can try. I'll give you the same chance as anyone else. It's a theater tradition. All of Shakespeare's plays were portrayed by men, Peter Pan is traditionally a woman, and I have to say aside from the smile you are rocking the Buckingham Palace guard look. Get on up there!"

"Wow bro, you don't usually take surprises and change that well," Jeff said.

"I like order, but I can be flexible. Where's the fun and wonder in a world where nothing ever changes?" He looked at Mary. "You're the only woman so you can go first."

Gina frowned. "I don't know how I feel about doing a romantic scene with a woman."

Before anyone else could say anything a musical voice said, "I'll do it."

They turned and Mary's eyes almost popped out of her head. It was Sugar, only she was full human sized and her wings were gone along with her pointed ears. Though when she turned Mary saw that she had a tattoo on her back that looked exactly like them. "Oh my god!"

"You've met?" David said. "This is… Sucrose Plumber, right?"

"You can call me Sugar," she said with a teasing tone.

"Cool. Sugar here is going to play the Sugarplum Fairy, as if the dress and wand were not a clue," David went on. "You don't mind helping Mary audition?"

"I would like nothing better," she said and looked at Mary. "If you don't mind."

"I'd be honored, your majesty," Mary said, bowing theatrically and taking her hand for a kiss.

"You don't mind do you Jim?" David said. They looked and saw that Jim, in a cast and still unable to talk, was sitting near the stage. He gave Mary a thumb's up. "Okay then, let's see what you've got kid. Any particular music you'd like?"

"Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy," she said as she and Sugar walked up to the stage, hand in hand. "Naturally."

Steven said, "Normally that's a solo performance, not a duet, but something tells me it's a good choice."

One Year Later

Critics and fans alike are in awe at the new David Mayer production The Sugarplum Fairy. A complete rewrite of the classic tale of The Nutcracker. While all the classic elements appear the more modern version written by Hollywood legend Steven Auger harks back to the original story rather than the famous opera. Teen sensation Gina Vagary was originally supposed to star as the title character Clara, but was replaced with up and comer Mary Lord as the first female to take the roll in a major motion picture and talented unknown Sucrose Plumber as the title character. When asked about the change Gina said, "I can't say I'm not a little disappointed, but after seeing their audition none of us could imagine anyone else in those roles. It was… magical." Everyone else seems to agree and not just because of the amazing special effects.

People have been asking what prompted the sudden changes, including an almost complete rewrite of the script. Part of it was surely the accident that removed Jim Mayer from the lead role, but his uncle told reporters that he was just trying a few things that came to him in a dream.

The movie has broken box office records among adults and children despite some worry about backlash over a major motion picture with two women as each others romantic interests as well as confirmed rumors that the two actresses have been seen on dates in real life too and after the premier left together on a vacation to parts unknown. When they return however, rumor has it that David Meyer plans to do a series of movies starring the two young women based on other famous operas. Will they have the same undeniable magic that has made The Sugarplum Fairy an instant classic? Only time will tell.

Author's Note

This story now appears in the fairy tale collection "The Complete Lesbian Storybook" available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and their associates. If you enjoy this story please feel free to purchase it… maybe with gift cards you got for Christmas.