Palo Alto Weekly 18th Annual Short Story
Maxwell and the Faerie
by Daniele Napoli
Maxwell Tucker was no spring bud. True, he was getting on in years,
but he stayed fit and sharp. He hardly ever talked to anybody except
for his landlady, Ilanna Norris. Missy Norris, as most called her,
lived alone with her cats and believed in faeries. She was often
seen sitting outside in her rocking chair, smiling and stroking
her favorite tabby, Ginger.
Maxwell had no pets. He despised cats and fish. He only
liked one species of bird, a species which was illegal to own.
He was allergic to dogs, though if he hadn't started sneezing whenever
in a room with one, he might buy a German Shepard, he thought.
In fact, he wanted a dog as a companion more than anything. He
was lonely without one.
Maxwell didn't share Missy Norris's belief in faeries. The only thing he believed
in was walking the neighborhood with his cane (more for style than anything)
and scowling at any passing teenager who stared at him and whispered. Most teenagers
did this when they saw his ragged old black tailcoat and black silk top hat.
Some adults did as well, but were much more discreet about it.
Maxwell got quite a surprise one day when he was getting ready for one such walk.
The day started normally. Maxwell was awoken by his alarm. This alarm was especially
made for him to be extra durable. So far, it had survived for twenty years, with
only rare visits to the watchmaker. Each day it was thrown across the room when
it woke its owner on time. In Maxwell's eyes, too early.
Today was no different. Maxwell threw it all the way to the opposite
wall, where it hit with a thump and abruptly stopped ringing as
it fell. Maxwell Tucker rolled
out of bed cursing, stretched his old joints, all of which gave satisfying
pops, and stood up. After putting on his tailcoat and top hat,
He made his way out
to the kitchen and was about to step through the open doorway when he noticed
a small, bluish creature sitting on the kitchen table. Maxwell turned on
the light. The creature was humanoid, yet tiny, about the height
of a fork when it was stood
up vertically. However, it was far skinnier and extremely bony. But it
looked healthy. The little thing's blue hair stood up in all directions,
and its skin
had a greenish tinge. It wore fringed leather breeches and a black top
with the sleeves cut off. And, possibly the most astounding bit,
it had wings. Long, sweeping,
graceful dark purple wings that made the creature look like a butterfly.
Maxwell turned the light off again. Then flicked it on once more. The little
man remained visible. There it stood as clear as day, watching Maxwell with huge
Maxwell flicked the light again. Yes, it was real and it looked like a faerie.
Or perhaps he was seeing things. He hadn't had his coffee yet. Then the creature
"Do stop flicking the lights. You're hurting my eyes."
I must be hearing things too, thought Maxwell.
The faerie was not done. "And it's not polite to stare. Didn't
your mother ever teach you any manners? You act as if I'm not here."
Maxwell wondered if he was.
"You should invite me to sit down, have some tea. I'm going to an awful
lot of trouble, you know." And the faerie flapped its wings
and lifted into the air, hovering about three inches from the tabletop.
"I don't know where you would sit," stuttered Maxwell. "You're
The faerie glared. "Call me short will you?"
The creature was hovering a foot from Maxwell's nose now.
"Alright, then! If you don't want to have tea with me, I
have more important things to do!"
"No, wait!" cried Maxwell as the faerie swooped towards
the window. The faerie stopped and landed on the sill and turned
"What I mean to say is," mumbled Maxwell, "I'd
like to have tea with you.What's your name?"
"Zee," he snapped. "We can start over, but if you
insult me it again, I'm not coming back."
Maxwell busied himself with the teakettle and brought out
a pincushion (with no pins in it, of course) for Zee to sit
on. He also took out a raspberry scone
for himself and, at Zee's request, a ripe tomato for his
When he presented it to Zee, the faerie looked at him oddly.
"Is something wrong?" asked Maxwell solicitously. His
customary grumpiness had abandoned him.
"I can't eat it like that," said Zee huffily. "It
needs to be cut up."
Maxwell politely brought down a cutting board and cut the
tomato up as small as he could. The trouble was, if he cut
it too small, the juicy insides would
spill out.When each piece was about the size of a good sized
clay bead, he set everything on a plate and brought it over.
Zee looked at the plate. Then he looked at Maxwell. "I only eat the seeds," he
informed Maxwell. "I need those separated."
"Needy little chap, aren't you," muttered Maxwell under
his breath. As he collected the plate again and separated the seeds.
He threw everything else into the sink.
Zee was satisfied. For the moment, at least. He popped a seed in his mouth,
chewed, and swallowed. Maxwell watched him apprehensively.
"Not bad," Zee said. "I've tasted better. Thanks.
I needed that."
Maxwell sat down and sighed. "So," said Maxwell, relieved that Zee
was busy with his seeds. "Where are you from?"
"I'm from Ilanna's garden. I make sure her roses and poppies bloom and run
errands and that sort of thing and in return she feeds me and lets me play with
her cats." Zee swallowed another seed. "She
asked me to come and see you for tea. Said you were nice,
Maxwell realized it was true. He hadn't had any fun at all
since he was fifty.
One night he woke up alone -- Naomi had gone for a drive
that night, so he was not worried. Peaches had gone with
her. Later that day, he got a phone call from
the hospital. They had found Naomi floating down a river.
Part of a bridge Naomi had taken had given way and her car
had fallen through. Naomi and Peaches were
dead in spite of the efforts of the emergency room staff.
Later, Maxwell's doctor told him he had developed a trauma-induced
allergy. To be precise, an allergy to dogs.
The teakettle whistled. Maxwell hurried to take it off the
burner and set it on a hot plate on the table. Then he ran
upstairs to the attic to get an old
thimble. He found one in a box of rubbish, brushed a few
cobwebs from it, and ran back downstairs before Zee could
complain too much. He washed it off in the
sink before pouring some jasmine tea into it and setting
it down in front of Zee.
Zee drew a hand across his mouth, finished with his tea and
tomato seeds. Maxwell hadn't drunk or eaten anything at all.
"I'm finished!" announced Zee. "Now lets play a
parlor game. Cards or something. Or chess. Let's play chess."
Maxwell thought of his prized antique chessboard, formerly
well used, that had been sitting in his attic for years.
He did want to play, to his own amazement.
Maxwell went back up to the attic and brought down the board.
That he never used anymore. It wasn't that he was afraid
of damaging it. He just never had anyone
to play with.
Zee took white. Maxwell took black. And the game began. Zee,
because of his size, was forced to fly across the board to
the piece he wanted to move, and then fly
to the square he wanted it moved to. Maxwell moved his pieces
After only minutes playing, Zee pointed at a pawn that
Maxwell had his hand on. "I
wouldn't do that," he said. "Play the game
properly. We're only minutes in and I'm already pointing
me you're good
That's why I wanted to play with you."
Maxwell blinked. Zee was right. He had almost made a fatal
move. Maxwell moved a bishop instead. Zee took the pawn.
They played for a few more moments. Zee
moved a few pawns in and Maxwell made an especially daring
move involving a knight. Zee took the knight with a bishop.
Maxwell took the bishop down with his queen.
"Stop being stupid," snapped Zee. "Your queen will
be taken. You shouldn't sacrifice it for a measly bishop."
Maxwell shrugged sheepishly. Zee knocked his queen aside
with a well-concealed rook. "Checkmate," he
Maxwell's eyes drew the line. Rook to king. King trapped.
It was true.
"Well, I expected more than that," he sighed, going from angry to disappointed. "I
thought maybe you would be as good as me. That would
You should make more friends, you know. You're really old.
I've never seen a human as old as you. How old do humans
Maxwell didn't answer. He was too busy packing the chess
"I have to go," said Zee. "I must admit, you're
pretty boring. Perhaps I'll ask Ilanna how big people get to be
Maxwell supposed he ought to be offended, but was preoccupied
with his own thoughts. "I'll
see you to the door," he offered.
"Don't need one," said Zee brightly. "I'll use
Maxwell wrote a thank you note for Zee to take to Missy Norris
I, your private messenger?") and opened the window
for Zee and bid the Faerie goodbye with regrets. Company
leeched the moodiness
to his own amazement, he left the window open, letting
sunlight stream in. Soon all the windows were open and
the house was
look more like
than a crypt.
But Maxwell was stumped. What to do with the rest of his
day? He didn't have any more friends to invite to tea. He
didn't own any interesting books. Still
wondering, he wandered into the kitchen. To his surprise,
he found a note lying on the table, next to Zee's thimble.
Dear Maxwell, it read,
Maxwell didn't see any gift. He decided it was just Zee being mischievous. Thinking about this, he cleared away the table. He was about to put the thimble and pincushion away, but thought better of it. After all, Zee had said he would return.
Zee fluttered to gain enough altitude to clear the top of the
picket fence that encircled Ilanna's house. He had been flying
very close to the ground because of the burden of the thank-you
note that Maxwell had given him to deliver. Zee nearly smacked
into a fence post because he was thinking indignantly that some
people did not understand faeries at all, and that he was the one
who ought to be thanked, not Ilanna. After all, Ilanna had only
suggested that he go, but he was the one who went.
He did a little midair summersault to regain his dignity after the close call
with the fence post and flew on.
Zee flew into Ilanna's kitchen through a half-open window, and dropped the
note in mid-air so that it drifted down to settle into Ilanna's knitting basket.
Spying the soft piles of year in the basket, Zee let himself drift down onto
the year too, and curled up for a nap.
Saturday found Mister Maxwell Tucker in the park. Two young girls walked past.
One hid her face. The other stared at him, with his funny clothing. Maxwell
was about to scowl at them, but thought better of it. Instead, he tipped his
hat with a hint of a smile.
Then Maxwell looked down at the handsome German Shepard at his side, and smiled outright.