User:Posti/Fairytail Picture

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Fairytale Picture

Author: Bob Stein

(A long-overdue story set in the Quechee National Enchanted Forest universe and based on a commission that Bones did for me a couple of years ago –incorporated into the story) The centauress gripped the phone handset so tightly that the plastic started to make cracking sounds. “Gods, that satyr is treading a thin line. You sure he didn’t break any rules? I really need to get him kicked back to the other side of the curtain.”

Cillian grinned to himself. Though he could only hear one side of the conversation, the gnome had no trouble figuring out who the subject was. While the goat-kind were known for being mischievous, Brighthorn was linked to a disproportionate number of incidents involving guests. Not that he had ever been caught directly harming anyone – but a lot of the humans who encountered the satyr ended up as part of the Quechee National Enchanted Forest rather than just visitors.

She snorted. “It doesn’t matter if the guy was a jerk. We’re supposed to be here to prevent accidents, not encourage them. Well, have someone go looking.” She slammed the receiver down and whickered some centaur profanity deep in her throat.

“What did he do this time, Celia?” The gnome rather enjoyed hearing about park incidents, as they usually meant fewer humans to point and gawk at the ‘funny plants and animals.’ Still, despite dire warnings, posted statistics, and liability waivers that all but promised something awful was likely to happen, the stream of visitors from the mundane world never seemed to let up.

“A Freakazoid came in this morning with a camera. He offered Brighthorn an empty soda can as a snack.”

Cillian chuckled. “Oh, I know that went over well.” Freakazoids were humans who gawked and pointed at forest residents and staff as if they were exhibits in a Carnival. This idiot photographer had gone one better, or worse, by treating Brighthorn as if he were a mundane animal. “Goat-foot vine is blooming over in the south quarter. Might have sent him over there so he could eat the can himself.”

“That would be too easy – we could always donate him to a petting zoo.” Celia looked worried. “Last time he was seen, the photographer was heading for the Rings.”

The gnome paled. “Oh, shit.”

Bobby zoomed in on a cluster of brilliant yellow and violet leaves, making sure that the pulsing neon pink flowers were at their brightest. That goat guy had done him a real favor by showing him this unmarked side path. Besides being free of other tourists, he didn’t have to deal with all the warning signs and notices that were posted all over the place. Yeah, yeah, everything was dangerous, deadly, harmful. He got it. Like the goat guy had said, just don’t touch anything. He’d have to save him a soda can for later. Bobby wondered if he could get the guy to take off his uniform for a photo. Not like the Park Ranger shirt was covering any of the important parts. Of course, he’d be even happier to get that horse-woman to take HER shirt off.

Speaking of taking shirts off… Bobby frowned up at the large breaks in the forest’s canopy. As much as he’d like to strip down a bit, there was still a lot of sun coming through the trees. He’d forgotten to bring sunscreen, and along with his distinctive red hair and green eyes, his Scotch-Irish ancestors had passed along pale, freckled skin that burned very easily. He sighed, and decided to leave the T-shirt on for now. Maybe he could find something in the park to protect his skin.

After clicking off a dozen shots from different angles, he looked around as he finished up the last of a Milky Way. Given the cost and red tape it took to get into Quechee, he’d made sure he could make the most of his one-day pass. There were enough memory cards and batteries in his backpack to shoot non-stop for days, and he’d also stocked plenty of snacks and sodas. A friend had already warned him about the park concession – signs said no outside food and drink were allowed so they could sell overpriced ‘healthy’ food and bottled water. It was just like a movie theater, and he snuck his own candy into those, too.

Damn. Another thing he’d forgotten was napkins. The candy bar had partially melted on the wrapper and he wasn’t about to risk getting chocolate and caramel on his equipment. After a quick check to make sure no one else was around, he tossed the wrapper on the ground. Some buzzing rose up from the dense undergrowth – sounded like the local insect population was excited over some real sweets for a change.


So what now? He frowned, looking around the forest. Most of the other plants looked pretty normal, though he’d been warned that a lot of them were very, very dangerous. Especially to anyone who wanted to leave the forest in the same shape they had entered with. Maybe someone with arcane knowledge would be able to tell, but the magazines he generally sold to were looking for dramatic stuff, like those glowing pink things. And where were all the weird creatures? This was supposed to be like a fairytale world, with talking animals, monsters, and all sorts of neat magic stuff.

He caught some movement off to the side. A shadow? Hope rose, and then faded as the dark shape turned out to just be a swarm of bugs. Sighing, he continued along the path, shooting the general locale. It all looked like most any other forest to Bobby, but then, he wasn’t much of an outdoors person anyway. Not that it mattered. This whole Enchanted Forest thing was new enough that he should be able to sell most any photo he could authenticate. No small matter to guy fresh out of college. With some luck, he might be able to turn his freelance gigs into stable employment.

Something glinted on the path just ahead. He approached it carefully, only to stop short and scowl when he got close enough to recognize the crumpled Mountain Dew can. Then annoyance shifted to puzzlement. That looked like the soda he’d finished up a while back. He was about to put it off to coincidence when he spotted a banana peel and a Milky Way wrapper just beyond it. They couldn’t be his. He’d had the drink and banana an hour ago, and the wrapper was just a hundred feet back. It had to be someone else’s trash. Weird, but not all that improbable. It just meant that someone else was too smart to pay park prices and had good taste.

Kicking the can off the trail, Bobby continued on. The path veered sharply around some small trees ahead. They didn’t look like anything special at first, but as he got closer he realized the branches were all swept towards him. He’d seen similar growth on beaches where the wind constantly blew in the same direction, but these were in the middle of a forest. They ranged from small saplings to young trees just a little taller than he was, though all looked to have been planted pretty recently. Except for some sparse weeds and grass around the roots, the ground was clear of the old leaves and small brush present on both sides of the trail.

He moved off to the side for some shots that contrasted the raked trees against the normal-looking forest around them. From this angle they were even odder, with split trunks that merged into one and then divided out into branches again. Something about the formation made him uneasy, but he snapped a couple of pictures before he saw something glinting in one of the branches. He pulled it down for a closer look. A gold wedding band was embedded around one of the smaller branches.

“Shit!” Letting go of the branch, Bobby stepped back on the trail and wiped his hand off on his shorts. The trees had been a group of people. Scared people, all running from something. Once he made the identification, it was easy to fill in the details. The larger ones were adults or older teenagers, and the little saplings had been kids. He shivered, trying to imagine what happened. It was horrible and fantastic at the same time.

He didn’t have to wrestle long with his conscious. Although he felt sorry for the victims, stuff like that was why he was here. Magic was strange and new and scary, and people would pay for pictures that showed it. He might as well get some profit out of it. Anyway, it wasn’t like they were dead. Not exactly. He kept telling himself that as he snapped at least a hundred shots, making sure to get close-ups of the wedding band. One thing for sure – he was going to be doubly careful. Whatever hit those folks had caught them in mid-stride, and he had no desire to join the forest.

A soft blue glow caught his eye just off to the left. Anything glowing was good subject material. After making sure the ground was clear, Bobby decided it would be safe enough to leave the trail. The source turned out to be a bunch of mushrooms that looked pretty normal other than their unusual color and, of course, the glow. As he snapped some images, the steady buzzing of insects began to separate into short bursts. It was almost like they were talking. Maybe they were. Photos of talking bugs would definitely be marketable – Orkin would probably pay a fortune.

He waited a minute or two, but none of the noisemakers appeared. Shrugging to himself, he started back for the trail only to stop and stare down at a crumpled Milky Way wrapper. Squatting down, he picked it up and then stood as he examined it. Melted chocolate and caramel. Oh, duh! The wrapper must have stuck to the bottom of one of his sandals. Chuckling at his own edginess, he tossed the paper over his shoulder and continued towards the path.

The buzzing suddenly swelled into a roar. Before Bobby could react, someone yanked his camera from his hand and shoved his back hard enough to send him sprawling face-first in the dirt. His first reaction was a flash of outrage – he was being robbed in the middle of the forest! However, that thought was lost as his gut wrenched painfully. Had the bastard kicked him? He scrambled up to hands and knees, looking frantically for his attackers – and saw the bugs.

Fairytailed1 5g.jpg

They weren’t insects, of course. He was surrounded by a swarm of two-inch tall glowing blue people with wings. Angry, two-inch tall people who somehow had the strength of giants. His backpack was wrenched brutally away with enough force to break the straps, and it felt like he had a Buick on his back when he tried to stand. Tiny hands tore his clothes and pulled painfully at his ears and hair. Even so, he wasn’t really terrified until one of them yanked his nose out several inches from his face - and it stayed there.

He couldn’t linger on the impossibility of the swelling mass, for other parts of his body were being similarly reshaped. Fingers flowed together and stiffened , elbows and wrists shifting to bend in new directions. The loud buzzing dropped in pitch as his ears were stretched up, and the smell of dirt, grass, and sweat grew stronger in flaring nostrils. One of his sandals floated in front of his face, carried with apparent ease by one of his tormentors. It smiled at him, looking vaguely human while remaining completely alien to anything he had ever seen before.

Other blue figures appeared, drawing the leather out like brown taffy to create a tangle of straps that they yanked over his face. Bobby screamed, but the sound caught in his changing throat and emerged as a strangled wheeze. Each breath was deeper, lungs expanding in a barreling chest. The Mountain Dew drifted lazily through the air, collapsing in on itself as the metal was reshaped into something else. He blinked at it, dimly noting that the colors of both the glowing figures and the can itself were washing out. In seconds, the can had become a silvery horseshoe which dropped down onto the upturned lump that had been his right hand. He felt the cool metal for only a moment before the lump went numb and heavy, sculpted into a perfect hoof to match the shoe that was now permanently attached.


Bobby stared at the equine extremity, his mind overloaded. The changes bombarded his mind in such variety and quantity that he could only let the transformation wash over him. Bones thickened, internal organs altered size and shape, his teeth and tongue enlarged to fill the large protrusion of his muzzle. Muscles pulled and twitched in new places, including his skin. Curiously, the one sensation absent was pain. Though the experience was far from pleasant, being mauled into a new shape should have hurt like Hell.


A sense of urging was conveyed within the rumblings that now filled his elongated ears. They wanted him to get up. Bobby obeyed without thinking, rising awkwardly on what were now four legs. The swarm surrounded him, more gray than blue to his altered eyes, thickening skin into hide covered with shaggy, dark hair. One of the figures flew up with a familiar-looking scrap of paper – the Milky Way wrapper. A moment of confusion turned to resigned understanding. This was his sentence for littering. Harsh, but they’d given him several chances to save himself. He snorted and then gave a wheezing sigh.


Forward. He blinked, flicking ears back and forth a moment before following the unspoken command. They were settling on him, so light he was barely ware of their presence. A few still flew around his head, and he realized they were not quite done. His skull was deflating, the brain within shrinking as it emptied. It was a curiously pleasant sensation, like drifting off to sleep. And then Bobby dreamed he was a donkey.

“At least they didn’t go on a rampage this time.” Celia looked out the window where a group of tourists were posing for pictures. “And he is cute.”

Cillian snorted. “You just like him because he’s related now.”

The centauress wrinkled her nose. “From the back end he’s a dead ringer for a gnome I know.” She grinned at the rude gesture Cillian made in response and looked back at the tourists. The subject of their attention was a shaggy animal surrounded by a glowing blue swarm of the normally reclusive Fae. A crudely lettered sign said ‘PIKTURE WITH HEWMAN DONKEE - $50.’ Pretty steep for the privilege of posing with a green-eyed Jackass and some Fae, but magic was strange and new and scary and people would pay for pictures that showed it. They might as well get some profit out of it.

The End