Palo Alto Weekly 18th Annual Short Story Contest
Teen Second Place

Maxwell and the Faerie

by Daniele Napoli

About Daniele Napoli

When Daniele Napoli writes fiction, she starts with the characters. The plot comes next. The Jane Lathrop Stanford seventh-grader said all characters are not created equal.

"I have secret favorites of all my characters," she said. In her story "Maxwell and the Faerie," which won second place in the teen category, Napoli said that Zee, the wise-cracking faerie, is by far her favorite character.
This budding author often finds inspiration for her stories in her older sister's drawings of fantasy creatures.

"You wouldn't believe the things she draws. That's kind of inspired me to write fantasy," she said.

When she found out about her win, Napoli said she was surprised and happy. Her dad gave her his cell phone to hear the message from the paper.

"Basically, I just jumped around in circles for a few minutes," she said.

When she's not writing, Napoli is busy reading, hanging out with her friends and two cats, and planning her future. She already knows she wants to study acting, writing, and psychology in college.

"I figure, why not be ambitious," she said. "If I want something I might get it."

Napoli's theory certainly seems to be working.

--Lorraine Sanders

At seventy-eight, 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 green eyes.

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 spoke.

"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 so small."

The faerie glared. "Call me short will you?"

"I-"

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 his nose up.

"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 guest.

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, but that you need to get out more."

Maxwell realized it was true. He hadn't had any fun at all since he was fifty.
Maxwell had been married. He did not have any children, but he and his wife Naomi had been busy raising a different sort of youngster -- his dog, a German Shepard whom they called Peaches. They both loved her as part of the family. Sometimes Naomi, Maxwell's wife, took Peaches with her during midnight drives. Naomi loved moonlight and stars and the silence and beauty of night in general. Maxwell never accompanied her -- he often said that he could not see how anyone could enjoy not getting their sleep.

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 for him.

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 things out. Ilanna told me you're good at this. 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 snapped.

Maxwell's eyes drew the line. Rook to king. King trapped. It was true.
As they reset the pieces, (for Zee, this meant fluttering around the board and pushing something around occasionally) Zee blabbered constantly.

"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 be new."

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 get, anyways?"

Maxwell didn't answer. He was too busy packing the chess set away.

"I have to go," said Zee. "I must admit, you're pretty boring. Perhaps I'll ask Ilanna how big people get to be so boring."

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 a window."

Maxwell wrote a thank you note for Zee to take to Missy Norris ("what am I, your private messenger?") and opened the window for Zee and bid the Faerie goodbye with regrets. Company had leeched the moodiness from him. Once again to his own amazement, he left the window open, letting sunlight stream in. Soon all the windows were open and the house was starting to look more like a house 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,
You sure are boring but I need a chess partner, so I'll be back. Thanks for the tomato. I left you a gift. Don't bother looking. (I know you'll look anyways.)
-Zee

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.