My entry for the second round of the NYC Midnight Short Story challenge. I was given these parameters:
Heat 5 – Fantasy / Dancing / A repossessor.
Feel free to comment.
Synopsis: Eamon is a down-on-his-luck leprechaun working as a repossessor for the Great and Powerful Oz. At the risk of his own life, he must find a way to help the oppressed citizens of the Enchanted Forest.
“You leprechauny bastard, gimme back my shoes.”
With no choice but to comply, or be stomped into a puddle of green mush, Eamon returned the golden slippers to the dwarf.
“Aye lad,” Eamon said as he put them down. “Pay the Wizard his due or I’ll be coming again.”
As he turned to disappear into the cabin’s shadows, away from the flickering orange glow of the fire, he said with a warning, “And tell that pretty lassie you and your half-human brothers perform with, they’re all late too. Pay up or go back to working the mines.”
Eamon returned to the castle to report his failure, even though the Wizard would already know. He was always watching in a crystal ball, magic mirror, or whatever evil thing he had inherited when the Wicked Witch had died.
At first, the citizens of the Enchanted Forest had been over-joyed that she was gone. Eamon himself had sung many a verse, ending with the joyful refrain,
“The witch is dead. Which old Witch? The wicked witch.”
Unfortunately, the Enchanted Forest’s current siege was far worse than anything the late “Wicked” Witch had ever imposed.
Eamon had spent most of his pot of gold on rum to celebrate the Enchanted Forest’s freedom. What he didn’t drink away he’d spent betting on bull-dragon riding. He lost a bundle on a troll named Quod, but that’s a story for another day.
Because of the siege, Eamon was reduced to using his talent for stealth, and overall orneriness, in the employ of the Wizard, the great Oz. Eamon had become the Wizard’s most trusted bagman and repossessor, collecting fees and taking back magical objects that the enchanted kingdom’s inhabitants could no longer afford.
The first job was easy, Eamon snatched two pure white stallions from the Cinder girl after they were transformed back into mice. Although they weren’t all bad. There was a joyful ending when the town of Hamelin’s children suddenly returned after he repossessed a silver flute from their piper. But happy results were very uncommon, rarer than a munchkin getting up on a horse without a ladder.
As the years passed, and the jobs became more personal, he felt his soul slipping away. His tasks grew progressively harder and his skin thickened as his empathy for those he collected from grew. He took the last few coins from people and creatures trying to hold onto their dreams and if they couldn’t pay, he’d take the dreams.
Eamon blamed himself for his predicament. If he didn’t drink and gamble away his gold, he wouldn’t be forced into a life of servitude to the Wizard. Eamon didn’t have any friends or anywhere else to go, but at least at the castle, he was warm, dry, and well fed. And to a lonesome leprechaun who spent his days reclaiming the hopes of the desperate, there’s nothing that could beat passing the evening away in the company of an equally lonely sorcerer with an unlimited supply of booze, and the resolve to try to drink it all in one sitting. Eamon was sad, but content.
He was comfortable in his misery until the morning he was sent by the Wizard to collect the shoes of a family of dwarves.
Their entire lives the seven brothers had spent their days working in the mines. They were happy to sing their song as hi-ho, off-to-work they’d go. Until the day they rescued a young maiden whose skin was rumored to be white as snow.
She told them that they didn’t have to risk their lives underground; they could dance joyously in the sunshine and make their living as a traveling company.
The brothers were not convinced.
Possessing bodies that, at best, could be described as the short, fat, and heavy-of-foot variety, they were easily discouraged.
The Wizard heard of her plan and offered to help. For the “low monthly payment” of twenty pieces of silver, they could wear slippers, made of rare feather-gold, which would make their movements swift and graceful. The maiden convinced the dwarves to sell their tools as a down payment and accept the offer. She didn’t know that by taking his deal, she doomed them to a harsher life than any they’d had in the earth’s dark recesses.
Satisfied customers weren’t what the Wizard wanted. Desperate junkies for more magic were what kept him in power. All of his deals had side-effects. Whatever the ability acquired, it always cost more than was bargained for.
In the case of the dwarves, as long as they wore the slippers, they would lose weight. They were slowly dancing themselves to death unaware that twice the normal calories were required to fuel the magical ability.
Snow and the Seven, as they were called, were very popular. Unfortunately, their fans were even poorer than they were, so the troupe couldn’t make enough money to keep themselves fed, and pay the Wizard.
Eamon knew about the veiled side-effects. When the piper fell behind on his payments, he’d figured it out. Although the flute was originally to help the piper earn a living catching rats, the longer he played, the larger the beings that followed him became. The children’s disappearances were what gave away the hidden costs. Eventually the piper found a way to begin paying on time, but Eamon devised a way to hide this from the Wizard. Eamon would collect the silver and throw it into a deep well that he knew was dark to the sorcerer’s magic eyes. Eventually, Eamon was ordered to take back the flute. Freeing the children was the one good thing he could do. No one would ever know. No one could ever know. That secret happiness kept him alive, and had kept him hoping that one day he’d get another opportunity to make something right.
With Snow and the Seven, Eamon had found that chance. He overheard the townsfolk’s excited talk of when the Seven were scheduled to visit their small villages. Spurned by the public, his ability to hide in the smallest of shadows, even in the bright open air of a town square, allowed him to eavesdrop on many conversations he secretly wished he would be included in. And although he’d never met the girl, nor seen the brothers perform, he knew they brought hope for freedom from the Wiazard’s tyranny to those who watched them dance.
He didn’t know when or how, but he knew he had to find a way to help keep that joy coming to those dark, impoverished communities. He just needed to be patient.
The dancing brothers were uneducated pick swingers; they were followers, not leaders. He was purposely clumsy on his failed attempt to snatch a pair of the shoes from Happy Dwarf–although the name no longer seemed appropriate, as a grumbling stomach and the inability to silence it rarely left someone in a good mood. Eamon had been hoping to meet the girl. She was the key. He needed her so he could help them.
One evening he challenged the Wizard to a drinking game. They drank heavily, playing a game that came as naturally to the wee-folk of the forest as a wood-nymph leaving a trail of glitter behind as she flies through the trees. The next morning the Wizard would be sleeping off a hangover and wouldn’t be watching over his trusted repossessor’s collections. Eamon left early to try to catch Snow before she left. She didn’t need to wear the shoes to float like an angel, that left her with enough energy to work as a cleaning girl to make extra money.
His gamble paid off, she was just leaving when he arrived at her home in the woods.
“Aye lassie, you know who I be?”
Startled, she eyed Eamon suspiciously.
“Yes. I know of you, although I never wished for us to actually meet. What can I do for you?”
Eamon was taken aback. What can she do for me? Nobody had ever asked him that.
“Aye then, if you know of me, you may think you know why I’m here. Believe me or not lass, I’m here to help. Those dwarf dancers bring a lot o’ joy to the people. I don’t want to see that end because those boys waste away to nothing’”
Now it was Snow’s turn to be surprised by what was said.
“You. Want to help. Us?”
“Aye, lass. There’s something you should know about the shoes, a detail that great Wizard left out of your deal. Nobody can ever know how you found out, or I’ll be deader than that old witch who used to rule these lands.”
“Why? What do you want in return?”
“Nothing, lass. Just keep them dancing. They bring happiness to an otherwise miserable place. Now no more questions or the deal’s off and I just go in and take the shoes. Got it?”
“Please, don’t take the shoes. If they have to go back to work in the mines, they’ll die. They don’t have the strength or the tools anymore. Please don’t take them. Whatever you want, I’ll agree to it.” She dropped her bag of rags and soap. Her eyes welled with tears.
“Calm yourself, lassie. I already said I only want one thing. Nobody can know what I tell you. Ever. If he finds out, I’m done for. He’ll get an unthinking ogre to make his collections. Or he’ll bring those monkeys back. Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
He told her what she needed to do. She kept her word.
Seasons came and went. Snow and the Seven became more popular than ever. Because they no longer wore the feather-light shoes, and returned to eating as they had before, they were easily able to pay their due and still have enough left for all their needs.
The Wizard never learned the truth. They paid on time, so he eventually lost interest in them and found other poor souls to torment.
Years after Snow and Eamon had their chat on her doorstep; she received news of the leprechaun’s passing. Her friend, Happy Dwarf, asked her why she wept for the evil repossessor of dreams. She told him of their talk, of how the little man who everyone shunned was really a good man doing a very hard job.
“Happy,“ she said to the dwarf whose name now matched his disposition, “Eamon came to me the day after you caught him taking your shoes.”
“I tried to step on him, but didn’t have the strength to get up,” said Happy.
“That’s right. That was because of the shoes. Once you stopped wearing them, you all got better. We got better.”
“But we still wear them. I have them on right now.” He stood deftly on one foot, holding the other in a perfect arabesque a la seconde stance to show her.
“No, Happy. You don’t. You and your brothers haven’t for years. I made those to look exactly like the Wizard’s shoes. They weren’t magic. They were cursed. I’ll tell you what Eamon said the morning after he let you catch him.” After swearing her friend to secrecy, she told him the leprechaun’s secret.
Eamon had told her about the Wizard’s many drinking games, and of the two things that happen when two lonely drunks drink.
“First, they tell secrets and, second, they forget they tell secrets.”
The human Wizard made the mistake of thinking he could outdrink a leprechaun. Especially a lonely clover looking for redemption.
The Wizard told Eamon the story of Dorothy and her friends. How he was able to grant them their dreams by doing nothing more than showing them their desires were within them all along.
“Take away the magic shoes,” Eamon said, “without anyone knowing you’re taking them and they’ll get better.”
Then he told her the most important thing he’d learned working under the con-man turned Wizard.
“The magic isn’t the magic, it’s the side effect.”