(4 of 4. Originally posted on March 17, 2023 for the prompt “Croissants and second chances.”)
NOTICE – IF YOU HAVEN’T YET, FIRST READ PART 1 HERE. AND PART 2 HERE. PART 3 HERE.
Waves of iron-sickness swirled through Ndrille like ash through a fire tornado. It twisted her spirit, distorting her senses, stretching time so thin she could almost see through it. This confinement started fifty million two hundred and seventy-six thousand nausea waves ago, and the hunger had begun to gnaw at the back of her eyelids.
Ndrille closed her eyes so she could see better. Iron roof, punctured by small holes that only led to more iron. Iron grating as a floor, with iron beams beneath it that twisted like snakes, and yet more iron below that. Three iron walls, and one of burnt glass, so crusted with charred remains that she couldn’t see more than a shifting variation of light and dark through it. Presumably this sheen of filth consisted of previous prisoners, who, overcome by iron-sickness, eventually exploded into crusty ash.
The light shining through the grisly glass brightened, and the sound of voices rang through her prison like whale song through a submarine.
“Aiwon driff thisold theengwerks”
“Aitheenk yahav toopree heedit”
The ironworks inside the prison walls clicked and buzzed. Red heat, invisible fire, permeated the twisted iron beams beneath the floor. Ndrille keened as hot iron burned her hands and feet. Ten nausea waves later, the entire glass wall fell back with a shuddering creak. Fresh air poured in. Ndrille launched herself through the opening.
Monica slid the key into the lock, then hesitated.
“It’s okay to take it slow. We can just take a quick look around, then we’ll have breakfast.” Peter held up the bag of croissants they’d picked up on the way over.
The candy shop had stood abandoned since Nancy disappeared three years earlier.
Monica steeled herself and opened the door. She stopped just inside.
Peter came in behind her. He flipped on the lights, scanned the room, and walked behind the counter.
“I wonder if this old thing works.” He pointed to a dusty toaster oven in the back corner.
Monica shrugged. She’d never used one herself, but she guessed it worked a lot like a regular oven. “I think you have to preheat it.”
Peter twisted the temperature control and flipped the power switch. He stole a couple kisses while he waited for the oven to heat. After a minute he pulled two croissants out of the bag and opened the toaster. Something like an electrical spark shot out of the oven. It flew in circles like a drunken dragonfly, bounced off his chest, and fell onto the counter.
“Life-debt is owed. I cannot leave until it is paid.” A woman the size of Peter’s hand stood on the counter where the spark had landed. “Ask of me a boon.”
“Peter…” Monica’s voice trembled. “Remember what I told you about fairy bargains.”
Peter nodded. He didn’t take his eyes off the miniature woman. “This is the boon I ask. Do not interfere with me, or Monica, or any children we may have in the future. Promise me this, and I consider your debt paid.”
“The life-debt is with you, not with her.” The fairy pointed to Monica. “What know you of the gremlins who bound me in iron? They served your mothers-child.”
Monica shook her head. “I know nothing of gremlins.”
The fairy sniffed the air. “Truth. Very well. Grant me leave to return here with my sisters and hunt the gremlins. Then I will accept your terms.”
Peter and Monica glanced at each other. They both spoke at once. “Agreed.”
“Agreed, and done.” The fairy transformed into a spark and flew out under the door. “Well,” Peter wiped his brow. “Life with your family is never dull.”