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Supply and Demand

by Alison McBain

If the clouds had been the color of steel, they might have cast the appropriate foreboding atmosphere for a clandestine meeting. If the figures had been lurking in a garbage-filled alley, rats fleeing before their footsteps, they might have had the appropriate air. Perhaps only if the two figures themselves had been sinister in appearance, with badly scarred faces or eye patches, it might have implied something more... malevolent.

Instead, the skies were clear and blue, the air smelled sweet, and a cherub-faced fairy with corkscrew curls took a seat on a clean, park bench. The other side of the bench was already occupied by an elderly man who wore the slightly confused expression of a benevolent grandfather.

“You have them?” he muttered to the fairy without glancing at her.

“Yes.” Her voice matched her appearance, like the tinkling of wind chimes. “Unfortunately for you, the price just went up.”

“What the hell!” Then, with a quick glance around, he lowered his voice again. “Why? There are more children than ever now. Your bosses can’t be noticing a shortage in your daily quota unless you’ve grown careless.”

She tapped her fingers on the park bench. “Aside from the fact my bosses are always on my ass about my low tally, they just instituted a new policy. Any fairy involved in... borrowing... the product doesn’t just lose her wings. She is banished to Earth as a mortal. It’s not just my job on the line. If I get the ax, I’ll be getting the ax. Literally.”

The man looked shocked for the first time. “Not a mortal!” Then he seemed to realize his reaction and schooled his features back to blank.

She nodded. “So, as you can see, with the increased risk, the price has gone up.”

He leaned back and crossed his arms. “That’s not my problem. That’s your problem. I’m not paying.”

“Take it or leave it. There are other buyers for the product.”

He turned to face her and raised shaggy white brows over clear eyes. Despite his slightly harmless air, if one looked deep into those eyes, one would not long be fooled by his genial appearance.

“Buyers for baby teeth? Who, may I ask?”

The fairy looked up into the cloudless blue sky rather than meet that probing gaze. The sun was brilliant, and the warm breeze brought the sweet smell of honeysuckle with it. “Tell you what: I’ll give it to you for one and a half gold pieces. A steal.”

“Hah!” The old man leaned back on the bench. “You’re just trying to cheat me. You don’t have anyone else.”

“Shows how little you know, Mr. Sandman. I’m being nice. This is a bargain just for you. I have a soft spot in my heart for my longtime customers.” Her gaze drifted around the peaceful scene and finally settled on her glittery fingernails instead of meeting his eyes.

“Sure you do, like a razorblade is soft. Tell you what. Let’s make a new deal.”

Her blond curls bounced as she looked up with lightning speed. “Our deal is ironclad.”

“Ironclad? From a fairy?” The Sandman snorted. “You know better than that. What if we could help each other out?”

“What do you have in mind?”

“Let’s just say... how about if we worked together? If I paid the babes a visit before you, they wouldn’t wake up. I could still harvest their dreams, and you could take as many teeth as you wanted, with your bosses none the wiser. Just bring a pair of pliers. And if I did this for you, the price would stay the same.”

The fairy’s eyes glittered. She threw back her head and laughed.

“So, what do you say?” He reached into a pocket in his long robe and retrieved something which he slid across the bench, his fingers covering it from sight.

The fairy put her hand over his, palming the gold coin and tucking it into her dress. Then, with a wave of her wand, she pulled a plastic baggie out of the air in a shower of sparkling, shimmering motes, and floated it over to the Sandman. When it landed in his lap, he picked it up and squinted at it.

“Are the teeth ground up? Ready to be infused with Magicus Somnus?”

She nodded. “I’ve tweaked the formula. The teeth dust now has an increased retention value of five percent. Guaranteed to put the kids to sleep in point three seconds. It’ll keep them asleep for a full eight hours, with a minimum of six hours REM sleep for you to steal... ahem, harvest... their dreams.” She held out her hand for him to shake. “Is it a deal?”

His large palm completely enclosed hers, but she didn’t even flinch. “It’s a deal.”

“Great. I’ll make up a list of homes for you to visit. Should we say... same time next week?”

He smiled. His teeth, upon close examination, were really quite sharp. Like a shark’s.

“Of course.”

Copyright © 2016 by Alison McBain

Proceed to Challenge 665...

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