Today I bring to you the Third place story.
I kicked a stone off the sidewalk and turned onto Sign Street. The rock skipped across the cement and bounced into the neighbor’s garden. A rabbit rustled out of the nearby shrub and darted up the lawn, but it was just a rabbit, and hardly worth a picture. At least it wasn’t worth my picture, but surely more than one of the class goofballs, who hadn’t any taste, would submit a rabbit picture. I’d be sure to laugh at them personally once I’d won.
“Hey Clyde!” someone called from behind me.
I sighed and my shoulders dropped.
“Wait up buddy!”
I turned to face Thomas, who strode up to me with a duffel bag on his shoulder and a smile on his pudgy face.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“Charity fundraiser.” He pulled a coupon pamphlet from his bag. “I hear this is a nice part of town.” He gestured to one of the grand old houses on the left.
Thomas McKane would be doing a charity fundraiser. I rolled my eyes. “I live here.”
“Oh really? Must be nice. Where you been?”
“Went to the lake; to get a picture.”
“For the contest?”
“Did you get a good one?”
“I didn’t get one at all. I’ve got to get home.”
“Oh, okay. Better luck next time.” Thomas walked passed me and turned up the next driveway, fiddling with the coupons in his hands.
It wouldn’t have bothered me if ol’ two-faced Tommy had said “better luck next time” and meant “My photo’s going to be better, and you know it.” Even I talked like that. But he’d actually wished that I had a good photo, the little moron. He obviously didn’t know that a proficient photographer like me could wreck his little Kodak shot. And I planned on doing that; one-thousand dollars was too much on the line to play nice.
The driveway was full when I reached my house. I sighed and walked through the open driveway gate. Mother must have forgotten to tell me that she was hosting another social event. I stopped and stared at the house. Judging by the number of cars, there must have been at least twenty or more guests. Mother would host them all in the east wing, but I really didn’t want to risk running into anyone who might engage me in conversation. Social interaction was so boring, especially when it was with old ladies who talked about how cute I used to be when I was younger. There was no reason for that. I’d have to just wait outside until the house was cleared. It wouldn’t be a first.
I walked through the front fence garden until I found a spot behind the water feature where I sat down and sighed, setting my camera bag beside me. It would be a while before mother let her guests leave.
I was still sitting there when the street lights came on, flushing the darkness away. Of course, there was always that one light which flickered, even in the good part of town. When it finally died, it caught me in its shadow. In the darkness down the block, I could only see the light reflecting off the Sign Street street sign. I hated that thing.
I jumped to my feet and whirled to face the voice. The porch light flickered on. It cast two shadows: one of me, and one of a smaller man--much smaller man, that is--who dragged an old film camera behind him. I almost laughed, and probably would have, but the sight of a two inch figure dragging an oversized camera behind him was so strange I couldn’t react at all.
The little man smiled, took a couple more steps, and plumped down on the tip of a landscaping rock, apparently content that he’d come far enough. The tails of his untucked shirt wrinkled on the rocks beneath him.
“What are you?”
“Me? I’m a fairy, of course.”
Now I, being well versed in fairy tales, should have known better than to stay another moment. Fairies, as you well know, are never anything but trouble. Whether they bring it themselves or it simply follows them around varies on a case by case basis. But I was, in my wistful mood, hardly aware of the danger I was toying with, and hardly would have cared a thing if I had been.
“My my, you are grumpy for someone on their lucky night.”
“My lucky night?”
“Why of course, not everyone is getting visited by a fairy tonight.”
“No… of course not.”
The porch light went out. I waved my hand to revive it.
“So this is my lucky night?”
“Yes, why else would I be here?”
I’ve heard that fairies are very good at twisting words to get mortals to fall into their traps. I obviously required my guest to exert very little of that skill.
“What makes it so lucky?”
“You get to take a picture.”
My eyes must have grown big as saucers. I choked, and then dove for my camera. “With you?”
“Why else would I be here?”
“Cool!” I flipped my camera on, and quickly adjusted the shutter-speed to adjust for the lack of lighting. I wondered if the porch light would be enough. Nobody would have a picture half as cool as mine.
“Hold on now. We’re going to use my camera.”
“Oh… why can’t we use both?”
“You’ll find mine is more interesting.”
The fairy pulled a small ladder from the back of the camera and climbed up it so that he could look through the viewfinder. Apparently satisfied, he grinned and stepped down. With a wave of his hand, the porch light went out. “Take a look.”
“Don’t touch the camera until I say.”
“Right.” I lowered myself onto my belly and looked through the window.
It was black.
“What am I supposed to be seeing?”
“What do you want to see?” The fairy began to climb onto my back. I was about to shake him off, when suddenly, I saw, through the viewfinder, the very last car leaving the driveway. I wasn’t even facing the driveway. I looked over my shoulder, and all the cars were still there.
“No fool! Use your imagination. What do you want to see?”
I again looked through the peephole, and saw myself at the school banquet, receiving the Schitlen Photographer of the Year award, along with its handsome check. I was dressed in a modest tux, and the media swarmed me, blinding me with flashes of their despicable cameras. Everyone was laughing. Except Thomas McKane, I saw him crying in the corner.
“No! No, no, no. You’re doing it all wrong. You could imagine anything you want to see! Anything! Let me show you.” He crawled down my neck, through my hair, and touched the camera.
“Okay, let me show you how this works.” He sighed. “There’s a dragon’s scale on the lens. Through it, you can see anything you want. Anything!”
“A dragon’s scale?”
“Don’t ask, its fairy magic. And this lucky fairy stumbled on a dead dragon. Free scales!” he shouted.
I rolled my eyes, not that he could see them in the dark.
“Anyway, impatient child, this is how it works.” Keeping a tight grip on my hair, the fairy slid down and touched the camera. Instantly the viewfinder changed, and I saw myself in the woods. Beautiful green woods like I’d never seen. The trees stretched far into the sky, but they made me feel welcome, rather than small. I grinned. For sure a picture of this would win my prize. I reached for the button, but felt my hand swatted away.
“Hey!” I jerked back, scowling.
The fairy stood on the top of his camera. “Listen, if you take the picture you travel there. Now you wouldn’t want to get stuck in Faërie, would you? No mortal can leave that realm. You’d never get your prize money even though you’d have the picture to beat them all.”
“The camera can take me where I want to go?”
“Dragon’s scales are very potent. A dragon crushes so many dreams that his corpse owes a few to any lucky enough to find it.”
“Very well then, I wish to win the competition.”
“No, it only takes you places to do things; it doesn’t do the thing for you.”
“I want to go win the competition.”
“Good. That’ll be a nickel.”
“Even a fairy has got to make his living.”
“I thought you raided a dead dragon’s hall. What about all that gold, huh? Did you take any of that, or just the scale?”
“I’ll admit it wasn’t a very rich dragon.”
I sighed, sat up, and shoved my hand in my pocket. Luckily, I had some change on me. I took a grab at it and threw it on the ground. Laying back into position, I reached for the camera again. My hand was swatted away.
“What?” I shouted.
“Calm down. You simply haven’t paid. Same objection as before.”
“There’s more than five cents there. Keep the change.”
“No, I need a nickel. It has… value to a fairy.”
I dug through my pocket again until I found an old, blackened nickel. It seemed to satisfy the fairy’s requirements.
“Alright then young fella’,” he said, “take your picture.”
The flash blinded me once, then again and again. The camera kept clicking. I stumbled backward, and felt the tight back of a tux stretch from shoulder to shoulder. I caught my balance, and grinned. I was holding the glass plate Schilen award, and the thousand dollar check.
“Yes!” I shouted, shoving the check into the air. Everyone in the room laughed, except Thomas McKane. He sat in his chair, behind all the fanfare. I could see a tear on his cheek, and another brimming in his eyes.
That night--somehow the camera had messed a touch with time in its strictly linear sense--my parents took me out for a steak dinner, which I hurried through so I could cash my check and spend my prize money. One thousand dollars is a lot to spend, but I made short work of it.
It was three weeks later, and I was walking home in my usual sour mood. It turned sourer when Thomas McKane walked up the sidewalk toward me. He was carrying his duffel bag. Confrontation was inevitable.
“Good evening, Clyde.” He nodded to me.
“What are you doing around here?”
“Didn’t you already do that?”
“Yeah but… I thought I was going to be able to donate my winnings check to the charity drive; I had a pretty good picture. Oh, congratulations by the way… I’m sorry I wasn’t more of a sport that night…” He looked down at his feet. “Anyway, I’ve got to sell a lot more of the pamphlets now…”
“Hm.” I nodded. “Well, goodbye.”
He smiled and walked on.
The gate to my house was open, but thankfully the driveway was empty. After dinner, as the sun began to set, I walked out to the water feature and looked around.
The fairy still wasn’t back.
Brandon Miller is a writer although, perhaps, young and inexperienced. He has been writing for some count of years now, but time in the Immortal Woods is so different than it is here that he really isn't quite sure how long his endeavors have been, measured by our silly clocks which must be wound tight often enough lest they stop running. He enjoys writing Sci-fi, but prefers fantasy and, in particular, fairy tales. He has written four novels and is drafting his fifth, Wanderlust. Connect with Brandon on Facebook or check out his blog.