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A Fairy Tale

By Penny FullerPublished 2 years ago 6 min read
Photo by Daryan Shamkhali on Unsplash

She smelled like Christmas. Piercing the late July city stench of sweat and tar, Keith noticed notes of peppermint, cinnamon and clove emanating from the woman pressed at his side as they waited to cross the intersection. As the little white man appeared in his electronic box and the cuckoo that signaled a north to south crossing began to whistle, she pressed something into his hand and whispered in his ear with a faint Germanic accent:

“Don’t worry, you won’t feel a thing.”

When he glanced over to question her, she had disappeared into the throng of pedestrians now stretching across Main. Once he reached the corner, he leaned against a building out of foot traffic in order to examine the unexpected gift.

The box was wooden, circular and a bit bigger than a pocket watch. It was plain with rounded-off edges. It seemed old, timeless. He could still feel her body heat within the wood as he grasped it.

The hinge opened easily and silently. Inside the bottom was a silvery coin embossed with an intricate pattern. He tried to pick it up, but it appeared to be glued to the box. On the top was a brass plate with an etched inscription:

Trace the endless knot.

The first time will return a perfect day.

The second time will fulfill an unspoken wish.

The third time will call a new hero.

Keith was rarely quick to follow an unsolicited instruction. However, he found his thumb was already tracing the raised line by the time his curious mind had agreed to try it. As he completed the pattern, the world broke apart into pieces like sand grains. Bits of color and light swirled as they reassembled around him.


The perfect day was from Before. He knew it would be. Before the blood tests, the hospitals, the beeping machines and the plans nobody wants to make. When he saw Jacob, he was still rosy-cheeked, muscular and pain-free. He still had his generous grin.

It wasn’t a busy day; it was perfect for its lack of things to do. They woke late, curled in one another’s arms. It was longer still before they ventured out of bed. As they walked the nearby river path, conversation was light and hypothetical; problems did not exist to be solved in their bubble. And so went the rest of the day. Dinner was a carpet picnic of takeout from their favorite local restaurant. Keith plated it beautifully onto fine china and filled the room with candlelight.

Jacob fell asleep first; he always did when they had wine with dinner. Keith inhaled the scent of coconut shampoo on the soft curls resting beneath his chin and along his chest. He turned the television on mute with the subtitles activated; he didn’t want Jacob to leave the room and go to bed.

The news featured a home video of a swimming girl in the Philippines. She was pulling four children and a dog, one by one, out of a rip current. The station snipped a pixelated close-up of her face and filled the screen with it. It was the last thing Keith saw before he drifted off to sleep.


When he opened his eyes, Keith was back on the corner, box clenched in his left hand. The crossing direction had switched and much of the crowd from his prior traverse had turned a hard left to continue on their way.

Instead of walking with them, Keith opened the box again. This time, the pattern felt familiar; the raised lines on the coin made it easy to trace without looking. When the world changed, it shifted in horizontal lines like a blind.

Keith was on a swing. His body felt different, smaller. He looked down to find himself dressed in overalls and Velcro shoes with tigers on them. A pair of strong, gentle hands pushed against his back, helping him to rise higher.

They were at Sunshine Park, near the house where he had lived when he was five. The bright red teeter-totter was there, along with the merry-go-round where he’d lost his first tooth and the concrete wall with the world peace mural.

He hadn’t felt those hands since he turned fifteen. Not since the man who belonged to them had disappeared, bit by bit. Not since the day that Keith tried to tell him who he really was.

At first, he flinched. Decades of adult-sized hurt contorted his tiny frame. With each push, though, the feelings subsided. In its place, the childlike love, trust and wonder that once belonged to his five-year-old body returned. He was just a kid playing with his dad.

When they left the swings, the pair walked hand-in-hand to the part of the park where the forest began. Keith used to see how many different colors of ants he could find along this edge. This was the game that he and his dad would play together on Sundays before family dinner.

As he was hunting for the small, sandy hills along the path edge, his father cleared his throat a few times. Finally, he knelt down and placed his hands on Keith’s shoulders.

“Tiger, there are some things you’re gonna need to know. As you get older, I won’t always be able to understand the ways that you’re not like me. I won’t always be able to tell you that I love you, that I’m proud of you. I won’t understand the choices you make or that you were born different than me. But I do love you. You’re perfect how you are. You won’t need to change anything to be that way, not even when I tell you to in a few years. I’ll always be proud of you for exactly who you are.”

Decades of yet-unexperienced feelings welled up in his tiny frame. The sobs came in waves, racking his body into strange contortions. He held onto his dad, basking in the love between parent and innocent child. His father shook, face turned away from his son. Keith felt warm, silent tears splash onto his tiny arms.

That night, they played checkers together and Keith got four double-stacked kings. The radio from the kitchen was interviewing the parents of a young girl in the Philippines who had died while rescuing several children from being pulled out to sea. She had always wanted to be a superhero, they said. The rhythm of moving checkers began to increase in speed until they were as fast as a jackhammer along a city street.


The dog’s nose was wet on the back of Keith’s knee. It shocked him back to the corner of Main. The Saint Bernard pup weighed more than its owner, an elderly woman with a gentle smile. She apologized and coaxed the dog to sit as they awaited the next crosswalk change.

Still under the spell of the box, Keith felt himself opening it one more time. But what did it mean to call a hero? He pondered this as his finger hypnotically traced the knot one more time. Again, the world fell away.

A gentle breeze blew his hair and carried the scent of salt and spice. The words around him were strange, but somehow he understood them. He was himself, though he had no shoes. Tropical foliage surrounded him and shade dappled over his head. The beach stood straight ahead.

Sitting under an umbrella at the edge of the beach was a little girl in a red bathing suit, playing with toy superheroes. Her face, no longer pixelated, was instantly familiar. Her black hair swirled with the sea wind. Tiny grains of sand dusted her lower legs up to her knees.

He walked up to her, handed her the box and said, “Don’t worry, you’re going to be a superhero, too.”


He found himself in the place where it began, before he had ever crossed the street. The world moved slowly now, as if it was stuck at quarter speed. On the crosswalk in front of him, a hand-to-hand chain of preschoolers walked toward the opposite corner. Three boys, dressed in primary colors, broke free to examine a shiny quarter on the road. It glinted in the sunlight a few feet inside of the crosswalk. The truck driver, squinting at his navigation program, couldn’t see the small bodies that stood far below his grille, crouched in front of the painted stop line.

Keith sprung forward, sprinting toward the children. The world became slow and silent, his perception narrowing to only a few feet in front of him. He leapt forward, a creature of only instinct, shoving the children onto the sidewalk and falling stomach-down onto the pavement as he was overtaken by the inertia of the move. He craned his head to see their faces, startled but safe and uninjured, as he landed.

He didn’t feel a thing.


About the Creator

Penny Fuller

(Not my real name)- Other Labels include:

Lover of fiction writing and reading. Aspiring global nomad. Woman in science. Most at home in nature. Working my way to an unconventional life, story by story and poem by poem.

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