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Card Challenge: Day 6

Card Day 6: A small boy, dressed in a star-covered cape and wizard hat, holds a candle within an incandescent light bulb.

Wonder has always been a child’s greatest asset. Some individuals are particularly suited to kindling that wonder, turning it from a mere child’s fancy into a way of viewing the world as a magical place resting beneath a mundane veil. Charlie’s grandfather had always been that kind of man.

Age had exacted a toll, but had not withered Charlie’s Pappy. The man still stood proud, if slightly shorter and more stooped than before, with the same light sparkling in his blue eyes. Even the newly added bifocals did nothing to hide that glimmer. Charlie followed the man through the narrow hallway stuffed with mementos and memories.

“Your dad keeps telling me to clean this place out,” grumbled the elder as he shuffled along the hallway, “but I keep telling him that I’ve only got a few good years left. And damned if I’m going to spend them doing spring cleaning. When they plant me at the church, they can take a match to the whole place. Until then—” he reached for something half-submerged in a box of tissue paper—”I prefer to enjoy my collections.” In his hand was a cheap magic wand, black rubber with yellowed white tips. “Abracadabra!” he shouted joyfully as a bunch of cramped, smashed, and faded fabric flowers sprung from the end. He laughed, and Charlie smiled.

“I’m not sure that’s one of your best tricks,” Charlie chided jovially. His grandfather shrugged his shoulders and moved along.

“There’s always bound to be some duds. Can’t please everyone all the time. Can’t even please some people any of the time. You just have to worry about yourself, Charlie, and finding what makes you happy.”

Having reached the dusty kitchen, Charlie pulled the metal tin from the top of the refrigerator and pulled out two tea bags. His grandfather had the water already on the stove by the time he found two mugs in the cabinet.  “I’m going to rinse these out. They’ve gotten some dust in them,” he titled the mugs toward his grandfather, as if the man was to inspect and verify his claim. Instead, he waved him towards the sink.

Dusk had fallen quickly, Charlie noted as he stood over the sink. It was in those last blue-grey moments of the day, just before night fully descended. He reached to the wall and flicked the switch to turn on the over-sink light. There was a brief burst of light, then a soft pop and darkness.

At the table behind him, his grandfather snorted. “Darn fairies. Learnin’ too fast these days.” Charlie smiled; he had forgotten the old fairy story. Or, more accurately, he had not remembered it recently.

It started on a rainy day in mid-July. Charlie was over for a week with his grandparents in the summer. He and his grandfather were working on tilling the back garden for the second bean planting, and it had been Charlie’s job to run back to the shed for fertilizer. The shed was a tiny building, crammed full of various tools, as well as other odds and ends Grandmother had banished from the house. It was narrow and long, with no windows and a single creaky door. Charlie did not mind the shed too much, but the knowledge of spiders and possibly snakes lurking in the back often made him pause for the light before entering. Only, this time, it hadn’t come on.

“Light’s out, Pappy,” he called, trying to keep his nerves in check. The fertilizer was all the way in the back, past all the tools and cobwebs. It had seemed smart to store it back there in April, out of the way until time to plant again, and safe from any water that might blow in through the cracks around the door. Now it seemed frightening; a minefield lay between Charlie and his prize.

His grandfather stood from the dirt, brushing his hands onto the chest of his coveralls. He walked over and gave the pull string another tug or two. “Well, so it is. Darn fairies. You just can’t depend on them when you need them.”

Charlie smiled, noticing the glimmer of a smile in his grandfather’s eyes. “Fairies, Pappy?”

“Well, of course! How do you think that there light bulb works?”

“Well, dad says that the ‘lectrici—”

“Oh, your dad would say that. He never believed in fairies, you see. No, no, the truth is much simpler than all that ‘particles’ and ‘resistance’ talk. Ya’ see Chuck, fairies like to use light bulbs to train up their kiddos. All fairies are, of course, magical, but it takes a lot of hard work to learn how to use those powers right.”

Charlie nodded along dutifully. He was at that awkward age where he was old enough to notice the sly smile on his grandfather’s face and recognize the fantasy of the story, but young enough still to hope that is might somehow be true. He hung on every word, building a world where such beautiful fantasies could really exist. “So, how do they use the light bulbs?”

“Good question. You see, fairies used to have to practice out in the middle of everything. For fairy kids, that was especially dangerous. There are all sorts of things out there dangerous to fairies: hawks, snakes, spiders, just to name a few. Then, some folks got to talking with them, and came up with a plan. People would build some little glass homes, and the fairies could pop in and learn their magic anytime they wanted. The fairies thought this was a marvelous idea. Now, of course, people couldn’t have lights flashing on and off all hours of the night, so they agreed to put a switch. When they flipped the switch, it turned on a fairy vacancy sign, and ‘poof’ there came a fairy to get in some good training.”

“Then what happens when the light goes out?” asked Charlie, a tenor of concern in his young voice. His grandfather smiled broadly.

“Well, your fairy has graduated. Learned all he or she can, and is now out to see the big wide world. It’s a bit sad, of course, but you just get a new bulb and a new fairy will find its way to you. Ready to start some training?” His grandfather reached up to one of the talk shelves, pullign down a faded and dusty box. He tugged at the cardboard, revealing a new light for the ceiling. Charlie smiled and nodded, then paused.

“Pappy, if there’s a fairy in there, why can’t I see it?”

His grandfather looked confused for a moment. “What do you mean, kiddo? You see the light, right?” Charlie nodded. “Well, then you see the fairy. What did you think they looked like?” His grandfather gave a strong, barking laugh, and deftly replaced the failed bulb.

“Study hard, but not too hard,” Charlie advised the new light bulb above the sink, tapping it softly with his index finger. “I think I got you a dumber one this time.” He settled back into the present with the whistling kettle and his grandfather’s laugh. Wonder was always a child’s best asset, and some people never outgrew it.

This one is a bit weird, but it was at least fun to write. I’m going to be travelling over the next few days, and so, while I hope to keep up, it may mean I have to use one of my skip days. I’m just not sure I will have time when I’m not driving/interviewing/working over the next couple of days. But, the show will go on, it may just hit a minor snag. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it!

Creative Commons License

This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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