The latest child in Crosston appeared in the usual way: they found him swaddled in a blue blanket on a park bench. Miss Sally was next on the list for a child so she quickly arrived and happily gathered the bundle up amid the usual well-wishes and new baby gifts.
It was Crosston's apparent fecundity, and the fact that both unmarried women and men were apt to suddenly have babies in their care, that drew the attention of Professor Robert Blair to go study the little village.
He left a week later, much confused, and with a delightful new son.
Professor Jane Smith was not given to confusion. She simply did not allow it in her life. At thirty-seven she had a perfectly ordered life and rather resented when the university sent her to finish Blair's work since he'd taken a sabbatical to spend with his new child. He talked about moving to Crosston.
Jane parked beneath the sign that said No Motorized Vehicles Beyond This Point. She'd never understood the mentality behind Luddites and wondered if this study would bring some aspect of their odd lifestyle into better focus. That might prove more interesting than the obvious answer to why so many babies were born here.
Jane spent one day handing out a list of ten questions. The next day she collected the sheets and tried to tally the results. A simple question like 'How many children are in your household' had answers ranging from 'depends on the time of year' to 'all together, 212.' The next question was simply 'Girls? Boys?' which drew the most common answer of 'Mostly, yes.'
After three days of pure frustration -- though not confusion, oh no, she didn't allow that -- Jane received an invitation to visit the town Mayor, Mrs. Mary Bright. The woman sat behind her desk, looking quite proper and no-nonsense, except for the red-haired child who held a bouquet of dandelions almost as big as her head and waved them at Mrs. Bright.
"Yes, quite lovely. Leave them there on the desk, my sweet and go back outside -- no, no. Not out the window. Go out the door like a proper little lady."
"'Kay," she said with a nod and walked out past Jane.
Jane glanced at the window. They were on the third floor. Could the child have opened the glass and thrown herself out? Was a child of that age -- four or five, at least -- truly that unreasonable?
"Please sit down," the mayor said with a wave to the chair across from her desk. "I know you have questions. I am going to tell you the same things I told Blair, for all the good it does. Even if you wrote the report up, no one would believe you and you'd likely find yourself out of a job."
"Why?" she said. Perhaps the woman was another of the village lunatics.
"Four hundred years ago, the village of Crosston made a pact with the bright ones --"
"Fairies. Fae. No, don't say anything. This was the pact: in exchange for the peace and tranquility for the village -- the 1600's were not a pleasant time -- we would raise fae children. The fae world is so dangerous that many children don't survive so they turn to humans for help. There has been an upturn in the fae birthrate in the last one hundred years, so we're a bit overwhelmed at the moment -- No, sweetheart, I am not done. Thank you for the dandelions."
Another pile of dandelions appeared on the desk as the child appeared by Mrs. Bright. Actually just appeared between one blink and the next. Jane started to speak. Stopped.
Mrs. Bright nodded understanding. "It does take some getting used to. At her age she's just starting to gain a feel for their innate magical powers, but except for the incident with the dinosaur a few years ago --"
"No dinosaur!" the little girl all but shouted.
"No dinosaur," Mrs. Bright agreed with a fond smile.
"Kittens," the child said. "I like kittens!"
And two appeared in her hands. Mrs. Bright gave a slight sigh. "Yes, kittens are nice, but you already have more than you can care for, Buttercup. Take your new friends outside and -- no, not out the window --"
But this time the child didn't listen. She walked up to the glass and through it, and then sailed off toward the village green with two rather startled kittens in her hands.
"Ah --" Jane began. Not confused. No. Dumbfounded. Amazed. Wondering when she took the wrong train on the sanity track --
"She's a handful, but she has a good heart. In another year or so she'll be able to understand that some things are simply not proper. Fae children do seem to comprehend such matters earlier than human children, which is probably why any of them survive at all. Let me get you some tea."
"How long have you been raising fae children?" Jane finally managed to ask. A natural question for a completely unnatural situation.
"Four hundred years," she said and sat the teapot and cups on the desk.
"No, not the village, I mean --" She stopped when she saw Mrs. Bright smile. "Oh."
"It is a gift from the fae, and wise, too. Humans die too quickly, and knowledge of how to deal with fae children would be lost with each generation. We need all the help we can get to stay ahead of them, you know -- oh dear. Buttercup must have mentioned dinosaurs to Graywolf."
Out the window, Jane could see a dozen rather small and startled long-necked dinosaurs floating through the air.
A few days later Jane left town. Her report said only that Crosston was an unusual village gifted with many happy children. She did not leave with a child of her own like Blair, but her friendship with Mrs. Bright and Buttercup resulted in a car filled with dandelions, three kittens, and a lot of confusion.