A little while ago, I entered a mini-short story competition. The challenge was to write a short story under 2,000 words with a given character, story, and theme. For this short story, I had the character of “a gardener,” the story of “a fairy tale,” and the theme of “spontaneity.” Here’s what I came up with. Hope you enjoy!
Daniel shoved his fist into the soil, submerging it up to the wrist. He wriggled his fingers around in the Earth, feeling for the loose strands of root that kept the chickweed firmly stuck in the ground. Once he grasped the tendrils, he ripped upward, flinging specks of dirt over his clothing and into the air above him. He carefully inspected the gaping hole that remained, ensuring that none of the intruding weed was left behind, before tossing the plant into the growing pile on his right. Sitting back on his haunches, Daniel held up a hand to block the Sun’s sharp rays and raised his eyes to the sky.
The blue of the day was just beginning to bleed into the orange of sunset, which Daniel knew meant it was almost time for dinner. His mother was going to come out soon, telling him to wash up and get ready to eat. In preparation, Daniel went to brush off his hands on his shirt but, upon seeing them stained dark with dirt, he shrugged and instead laid them carefully in his lap. There was no way that color was coming out without a good scrubbing with soap. Daniel’s eyes scanned the sky but found there were no clouds in sight. He frowned, realizing that Mother Nature wasn’t going to provide him with water today to feed his garden. And since his human mother said he couldn’t use the hose by himself until he was six, he would have to wait to do it until after dinner.
But until then, there was still work to be done.
Daniel crouched forward, staring intently at the patch of marigolds he had desperately been attempting to rid of an infestation of weeds. Although he had just about eradicated the dandelions, the chickweed had a habit of sneaking back when Daniel least expected it. Carefully bending each of the flower stems to the side, he continued to inspect the soil.
Some students in kindergarten thought it was weird for a boy to like gardening. They called him names like “Flower-Boy” and “Dirty Dan” whenever the teacher wasn’t around. But the kids in his class were easy enough to avoid. Whenever he saw them coming, he simply slipped around a corner or nabbed the hall pass for the bathroom. During free time, he distanced himself from the rest of the children and sketched out new plans for his garden with crayons and markers. There were a few occasions when the teacher tried to encourage Daniel to play with the others, but he starkly refused. There was nothing that they could do together that Daniel couldn’t do by himself.
When he was at home, Daniel made up for his lack of human friends by talking to his flowers. It didn’t feel strange to him. He would speak to them about anything that normal kindergarteners would discuss: homework, grades, superheroes. Sometimes, it even seemed like they responded. Never full words, only in rustles and whispers. But now and then he would swear he saw shadows moving among the plants.
A twig snapped, and Daniel spun toward the noise. There was a figure there now, twisting and weaving among the marigolds —
“Hey, Daniel! Still talking to your imaginary friends, huh?”
Daniel bit his lip, steadied his shoulders. He knew who that voice belonged to, and he knew it never meant well for him. Standing, he turned to look at his brother. “I’m not talking to imaginary friends. I’m talking to my flowers.”
Connor was eight and stood a full foot and a half above his brother. In elementary school, size is everything, and that meant (to Connor, at least) that he was superior in every way to his smaller, less intimidating sibling.
“You’re so freaking weird.” Connor stepped toward Daniel, narrowed eyes skimming the soil beneath him. “You know, boys don’t garden. Girls like to garden.”
Daniel swallowed. He stared at his sneakers caked in dirt and fertilizer. This wasn’t the first time this point had been brought to his attention. “Not all boys,” he whispered.
“What was that?” Connor asked sharply, taking another step forward. His face was smiling, but his eyes were beady and sharp.
“I said . . .” Daniel’s hands clenched at his sides. “I said not all boys don’t garden.”
Connor moved forward again, this time crushing a marigold beneath his faux-leather boot. “Well, you’re not acting like a boy. You’re acting like a girl.”
“Stop it!” Falling to his knees, Daniel desperately tried to right the trampled flower. “You’re hurting them!”
“They’re stupid plants, Danny.” Connor stomped around his brother, each step forcing another marigold to bow into the soil. “They don’t feel pain.”
Tears flooded Daniel’s eyes as he watched the path of Connor’s destruction. His ears were filled with the snaps of stalks breaking, the gentle crunch of petals tearing. “Stop!” he screamed, scrambling to his feet and racing toward his brother. Daniel reached out, pushing with all his might to get him out of the patch of flowers. “STOP!”
Spinning around, Connor faced his brother. “Get your hands off me,” he growled, shoving back. Daniel fell on his elbows, hard, landing on the remaining row of marigolds. He raised his watery eyes and found his gaze met with bent petals and broken stems. Overwhelmed at the sight, he started to cry.
“Look at you,” Connor scoffed at him from above. “You really are just a girl.”
Daniel heard his brother stomp away, dirt crunching beneath his feet. It took him several minutes to regain the strength to lift his head and wipe away the tears. Upon looking toward what remained of his precious flowers, he knew there was no point in trying to save them. He would have to start over. That realization caused the tears to return in full, blurring his vision and tightening his throat. Daniel placed his head between his knees and wrapped his arms around them, trying to quiet his sniffles.
Daniel’s tears snaked down his dirtied face, leaving clean, unblemished tracks in their wake. When they reached the corner of his chin, they collected there, drop by drop, until there was one large bead clinging onto his face. Suddenly, it fell, splashing onto one of the broken marigolds beside him.
The boy was too distraught to notice the shift in the air. He didn’t hear the birds quiet their singing. He didn’t feel the wind shift direction.
But a few seconds later, he did hear the small, tinny voice clear its throat.
Rubbing at his eyes, Daniel looked up, steeling himself to face his brother again. There was no one there.
“I’m down here, sir,” said the voice. The boy looked down, and there he was.
It was a little bearded man, about the size of Daniel’s palm. He wore a torn brown vest and dark pants. Atop his head was a bright red cap, the tip hanging toward the back of his head.
Daniel knew that he should be surprised to see the small person standing in front of him, but whether he was too upset to think clearly or something else was at play, he found he wasn’t scared. He looked around, making sure his brother wasn’t around, before asking, “Who are you?”
The little person smiled. “I’m a fairy,” he replied, removing his cap and bowing to the boy. “More specifically, a redcap.”
The boy sniffed, giving a small smile in return. “Do they call you a redcap because you wear that red cap?”
There was a pause. The fairy had a peculiar expression on his face. “Yes,” he said after a moment.
Daniel sat forward toward the redcap, oblivious to the tension in the air. “I didn’t know fairies were real.”
“Oh, sure we’re real.” After using a second to take in his surroundings, the redcap found a crushed flower to his liking and sat down among the bent petals. “We just like to keep ourselves hidden. Keeps people from asking too many questions.”
Copying the fairy’s relaxed posture, Daniel crossed his legs and made himself as comfortable as he could in the graveyard of marigolds. “Why are you here, then?”
“Well . . .” The redcap seemed to think for a second, before continuing. “We’ve been spending a lot of time around your garden. We were thinking of moving in soon. You may have seen us, here and there?”
Daniel knew he had seen shadows flitting about and flowers swaying when there was no wind, but his mother chalked it up to mice or his imagination. Now, though, he realized he had just been seeing the fairies moving about. He smiled to himself — he wasn’t imagining things after all. He had been right all along. A swell of pride blooming in his chest, Daniel nodded.
The fairy motioned about the destruction. “Well, I saw what happened here today. It’s a real shame, what your brother did to these beautiful flowers. I figured I’d like to help.”
“I’m not sure there’s much you can do,” David replied sadly, eyes traveling to his trampled work. “I think they’re all dead.”
“No, not about your garden.” The redcap sat forward, motioning for Daniel to lean in. “About your brother.”
“Oh.” Daniel’s brow wrinkled. “What about him?”
“Well . . .” The redcap shrugged, swinging his legs up and down like a child on a swing. “If you’re looking for some sort of revenge, I might be able to help with that.”
Daniel sat up straighter. In that moment, revenge sounded quite sweet. “What can you do?”
“It all depends on what you’re looking for.” The redcap ticked off his fingers as he listed. “I can steal something he owns, I can spread a rumor about him, I can get rid of him permanently –”
“Get rid of him,” Daniel said quickly.
The redcap paused. “You want me to . . . get rid of him?”
“Yes,” he answered without hesitation. In his minds-eye, Daniel could see the countless times that Connor had poked fun at him, called him names, pushed him around. And today, the precious marigolds that Connor had destroyed. He had to be punished for it. If Daniel had the chance to never see his brother again, then he was going to take it. There was no hesitation about it.
Straightening, the fairy looked Daniel directly in the eyes. “Just so you understand,” he said softly, “once you make this choice, there’s no going back. Are you sure you want me to get rid of him?”
Daniel nodded, his expression somber. “I don’t want to ever see him ever again.”
The redcap smiled. To Daniel, his teeth looked sharper, pointier than they had before. “Your wish is my command.” The redcap stood, gave a crisp bow to the boy and began to move away. But after a few steps, he hesitated. “You might want to turn around,” he said to the boy. “And no matter what you hear, don’t look.”
Nodding again, the boy turned toward his ruined flowers. Well, now that his brother had been taken care of, he could begin cleaning up his garden. One by one, he delicately picked up the remains of the marigolds and laid them in the pile with the weeds. They were all going to be thrown out anyway. It was sad to see his beautiful work go to waste, but there would always be more flowers to plant and to care for.
After a few minutes, Daniel heard a scream. He paused for just a moment, before continuing with his work. The redcap had said not to look and he wasn’t planning on it. Besides, the sound had only been for a second. Now, the afternoon air was still again. Not even the birds had taken up their song.
His mother emerged shortly after. “Daniel!” she called, and the boy looked up. “Are you okay?”
“Uh huh,” he answered.
“I heard someone scream. Do you know where your brother is?”
Daniel shook his head. He didn’t know where Connor was now. He was probably far away. When his mother started looking around the backyard, Daniel lowered his head and continued working. There were still many corpses to dispose of.
“Connor!” his mother yelled. Daniel heard her moving about behind him. “Where are you? Connor!”
Daniel smiled to himself, for he knew that no matter how much his mother yelled, his brother wasn’t coming home.