• Nicola Wardley

NYC Midnight Flash Fiction 2017 Challenge 1

My prompts: genre - fairy tale / location - boxing ring / object - plunger




The Favour

by Nicola Wardley

1000 word flash fiction

Result: 3rd in heat


The stones loomed in the almost-dark. From Puck’s viewpoint, high above the A303 motorway, Stonehenge looked like what it was—the jumbled teeth of an extinct giant, killed while trying to bite her way upwards from her earthen prison.


He swooped down, his cape flaring behind him as he rode the wind. Since losing his broomstick in a craps game he’d been flightless. And broke. Pinching the plunger from the loo at the Frog and Newt had been a low moment, and he’d had to sell a favour to the crone in the kitchen to persuade her to enchant it, but it had turned out splendidly—who would have guessed plungers left broomsticks for dead when it came to aerodynamics? He heard the plunger purr, and smiled. Maybe the plunger was becoming as fond of him as he was of it.


The wards were already set; Starla had been busy. They glimmered in the shifting fog. Like star-spangled shoelaces, three strands of wards encircled the giant’s teeth of Stonehenge, turning it into the perfect ring for troll-boxers.


‘You’re late, Puck.’


A flurry of wing and shadow zipped past him. Starla. He felt his heartbeats syncopate into a harmony. His head knew it was pointless; a fairy would never demean herself by becoming entangled with a pixie. But his hearts could dream, couldn’t they?

He parked his plunger, slewing it so he landed in a flurry of exploding dew-spray.


Starla stood, hands on her hips, a quizzical look on her face. ‘Nice ride,’ she said.


He shrugged. Beggars without wings rode what they could. And maybe after tonight he’d have a few coins in his pocket. Maybe enough to invite Starla out for a drink. He gave the plunger a stroke to take the sting out of Starla’s words, and it gave a soft whiffle. It was curious—his broomstick had never communicated with him.

***


It was Puck’s job to clear the boxing ring of splinters between rounds, and the last round had been brutal. The challenger, a young troll-sow from Cardiff, had slammed her club into the kneecap of Brick, and shards of it were everywhere. Puck hustled about collecting splinters into his sack. If Trollop, the troll-sow, won, he’d sell them off as souvenirs. He spotted a six-incher with a gob of Brick’s knee flesh impaled on it, and did a jig. That would fetch a farthing at least. Dwarves believed troll-flesh was an aphrodisiac, and they were always cashed up and looking for love.


He heard the countdown for the next round. The crowd was bolshy, braying for action. The champion Brick was drooling in the corner while a fairy wrapped star-tape around his shattered knee. He looked angry. Puck gulped and scanned the ring. He couldn’t see any more splinters. Trolls were excellent fighters—their bones were like granite, and their organs were protected by thick fat and brawn, but they protected the undersides of their feet as though they were made of the baby-bottom skin of changelings. If they complained of a splinter, he wouldn’t get paid.


Starla was rising from the referee enclosure, her wing tips feathering in the breeze. She was lithe, moon-dappled, lovely. Her voice floated above the crowd’s coarse yammering.


‘Free-folk! The thirteenth and final round is upon us. Place your bets! Will the troll-sow claim victory over our mighty champion Brick? Will this be the biggest upset in troll-boxing history?’ She started a slow clap, and the crowd behind the wards started to chant. ‘Brick. Brick. Brick.’


‘Trollop. Trollop. Trollop,’ came a wave of dissenters.


Beneath the chanting, Puck heard the rattles as the coaches unclamped the trolls from their chains. The fight was back on.


***


The crowd had left, disapparating to London once Brick had been declared dead, and their bets settled. Puck jangled the pouch of coins hidden beneath his shirt. Enough for a mulled wine with Starla. Maybe even enough for a room in an inn for one night.

But not yet. First, he had to clean the ring, and then he had to find the courage to speak to Starla. He eyed his plunger, tucked in a cavity of a giant’s tooth. As excellent a flying machine as it was, it was not going to be as useful as a broomstick at sweeping up broken clubs and troll-drool. He gave it a pat.


‘I know you’d help if you could,’ he said. He knelt to begin cleaning, then turned as something tapped him on the back. Was it Starla? He looked over his shoulder and there was his plunger, jiggling about in a self-satisfied way, a magical net of trash sitting next to it.


‘What the fey?’ he swore, startled. He looked about the ring. It was immaculate—all gore and grunge tidied away, the trampled earth smooth, rake-lines neatly criss-crossing its surface.

‘Did you do this?’ he asked his plunger.


It turned coyly away.


Starla’s voice sounded above him and she pirouetted down to hand him a tallow coin, his pay for the night.


‘Excellent job.’ She hesitated. ‘I don’t suppose you’re free, are you Puck? Do you fancy a curry in town?’


He gaped. What was happening tonight? First the excellent flight out. Then the miraculous clean-up of the ring. And now Starla, the object of all his fantasies, was asking him out? He cast a suspicious look at his plunger, which loitered in a seemingly disinterested fashion in the background, humming tunelessly. He was beginning to think the old crone had enchanted his plunger with more than the rune to fly. He quivered with unease. The favour he owed her would be in direct proportion to the enchantment she had prepared for him. What had he done?


‘Puck? Are you coming?’


Starla’s green eyes beckoned in the moonlight. Of course he was coming. He loved her, didn’t he? If only he didn’t feel like his happily-ever-afters had just been sold to a hatchet-faced crone in the kitchen of the Frog and Newt.


The End

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