Monday, September 13, 2010
"The Shake Down"
By Janel Gradowski
Celeste studied the little boy. Blonde hair framed his face in sweaty tendrils. It was the middle of summer and the house had no air conditioning. There wasn’t even a fan in the sweltering room, but he was tangled up in a tattered blue quilt, pulled tight around him like a cocoon. She touched the quilt and sensed that it brought him comfort, reminded him of a different time and place.
She moved closer to the tropical fish nightlight, trying to figure out what the small white chunk she found under his pillow was made of. It wasn’t a tooth, not like the real tooth she found under his pillow last night. Celeste closed her fingers around the jagged nugget and concentrated. It was a piece of grout from between the bathroom tiles. The little guy must have been so happy with the silver dollar she left him that he decided to try for another.
“You’d better pay up, missy, or you’ll be real sorry.”
Celeste spun around. Her wings chattered from fright and magical glitter swirled around the room, turning it into a snow globe. There was a disheveled woman leaning against the door frame. She squinted one eye shut and used the other eye to aim a pistol at Celeste.
The stench of stale cigarette smoke and alcohol filled the room. Celeste was prepared for curious children, trying to catch the Tooth Fairy in action. Although there had been a few close calls with paranoid parents looking for intruders she had never been discovered by an adult, much less one with a gun.
“OK,” Celeste whispered, “I’ll just put the silver dollar under his pillow and be on my way.”
“One dollar isn’t going to do it tonight, honey,” the woman waggled the gun, “Make it ten bucks.”
“Fine, whatever you want. Just don’t hurt me or your son.”
Celeste pulled ten silver dollars out of her pouch and slid them under the boy’s pillow. He wiggled and sighed as the coins jingled, but didn’t wake up.
“There you go.”
“Now get lost,” the woman motioned toward the window with the gun, “And he ain’t my son.”
A smacking sound registered with Celeste as she summoned the magic to transport herself back to the magical realm. The little boy was sucking his thumb, seeking more comfort. She vowed to help him.
The next day Celeste wasn’t surprised to see the little boy’s name on her schedule again. She did some research before starting her rounds. His name was Cody and the surly woman really wasn’t his mother. She was his Aunt Pam. His father died in Iraq and his mother was in Florida looking for a job. She left Cody with her former sister-in-law because she had no other choice. Both sets of grandparents passed away years ago and there were no other relatives in the area.
Celeste shook her head and added an extra handful of coins to her stash. Extorting the Tooth Fairy, taking money that should be going to children, was rotten. She had no respect for the aunt. The gun was another matter. Her magic could save her from a bullet, but she couldn’t protect the little boy.
That night a pebble was under Cody’s pillow. The charade kept up night after night. Celeste found tiny wads of paper, a kernel of popcorn, miniature marshmallows and a chunk of hardened gum to be exchanged for an ever-increasing amount of money.
No matter how many times it happened, the gun nonchalantly pointed at her unnerved Celeste. Instead of sweating, she produced the iridescent glitter. When Pam switched out the pistol for a shotgun the glitter accumulated in the corners of Cody’s room and sparkling drifts formed around the trucks and action figures scattered on the floor.
“I want fifty bucks tonight, you over-sized dragon fly.”
Pam had the shotgun leveled at Celeste’s heart. The unkempt woman burped and wavered back and forth, finally leaning on the door frame for support. The gun barrel dipped toward Cody.
“I am nothing like a common insect!” Celeste’s wings fluttered and continued to pick up speed until they were a blur. The entire room vibrated from the sound. She knew she didn’t have the beautiful butterfly-style wings of some of the other fairies, but she wasn’t a google-eyed dragonfly.
Pam blinked as miniature fireworks filled the room. She had never seen the pint-sized fairy disappear like that. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and counted the money. Enough to buy cigarettes and some top-shelf vodka tomorrow.
The next night there was a little ball of damp toilet paper under Cody’s pillow. Celeste didn’t want to touch it, afraid of what had been used to moisten the paper. She took a deep breath and smiled when she heard the floorboards creak in the hallway.
“Throw another five bucks in. I have a hot date tomorrow.” Pam licked her lips and smiled. “Need to buy a new dress.”
“What was that?” Celeste asked. She took a deep breath, trying to hold back the nausea that was gripping her stomach. Pam’s teeth were a nasty, decayed mess. “Didn’t you hear that?”
“Stop messing around and put the money . . . "
The unmistakable sound of breaking glass came from another room. Pam spun around and brought the shotgun to her shoulder, pointing the barrel down the hallway.
“You had better leave the money or you and Cody will pay.”
She disappeared down the hallway. Celeste hurried to the boy’s bedside. Glowing, blue balls of magic formed on her palms. She gently placed them over Cody’s ears, shielding him from the sounds.
A gunshot, then an anguished moan. Another shotgun blast followed by a thud that shook the walls of the little bedroom. A coloring book page that had been taped on the wall fluttered to the floor. A high-pitched scream that made Celeste, and probably most of the dogs in a half-mile radius, wince. Then silence. An inky shadow passed across the doorway.
Celeste started making the phone calls. First to Cody’s unsuspecting mother, then to the police. The little boy’s nightmare was over and he would soon be reunited with his loving mother. Unfortunately for Pam, her nightmare had just begun. She should have known better. It wasn’t wise to mess with a friend of the Boogey Man.
Janel Gradowski has her own AMAZING blog, Janel's Jumble, where you can read some of her other works. Pop on over and have a look-see!
Thank you to everyone who entered this latest contest at Fiction For Dessert. The stories were all amazing, and I hope writers will keep an eye out for my next Flash Fiction Contest.