Howdy again, chums! Today I am glad to present a flash fiction story by my inky cohort Jessica McHugh! The story is called “The First Star I Lose Tonight,” and I think you’re gonna dig it. Give it a read, and then click Jessica’s links at the end. She’s got a ton of wild stuff for readers young and old that you should have on your shelf.
The First Star I Lose Tonight
By Jessica McHugh
The Bellevue home is a monument to victory. Every surface boasts at least one trophy, frequently flanked by certificates of merit in gilded frames. With each burst of air conditioning, the ribbons decorating the wall flutter like tiny blue flags representing a country that refuses to tolerate failure.
As I survey the room, a poster declaring, “Second Place is the First Loser” makes me cringe, but Megan Bellevue beams when she catches me observing it.
“Nice, isn’t it?”
Knowing what I risk to lose by being disagreeable, I force a smile and nod.
“I made it myself,” she says as she dances her fingers over the frame. “Well, my daughter helped with the border.”
Inspecting the poster more closely, I spot a crooked pink border barely visible under the matting.
“It was a little messy, so I had to cover it,” she explains. “You know how it is with kids.”
I do know how it is with kids. I’ve spent enough time skidding around heaps of dirty clothes and toys in the dark to know most kids love the haphazard life. And fortunately for me, I love a challenge.
Steam snakes from the tea she passes over in a mauve “World’s Best Mom” mug. I would pretend to sip, but I don’t want to touch my lips to the thing. I blow away the steam and turn my back to Megan as she busies herself with a smudge on the poster glass. I quietly set the mug on the coffee table, next to a choir competition trophy engraved with the name “Megan Bellevue.” I also find the same distinction on a nearby certificate of merit, and on several—no, all—of the flapping ribbons.
I remove the packet of correspondence from my knapsack and scan the information. “Is your daughter named ‘Megan,’ too?”
The woman chuckles and shakes her head with haughtiness carved into her brow.
“Of course not! That would be a little ridiculous, don’t you think?” She crinkles her nose. “Her name is Willa. I’m pretty sure I told you that.”
My smile is so fake, so tight, I’m certain my lips have disappeared. “Yes, I see that here,” I say, poking one of the printouts. “I just thought…with all these awards…”
Her eyebrows travel upward. “What about them?”
I ponder how to explain myself without insulting her. Honestly, I don’t a give a fuck about insulting her, but I don’t want to miss out on the all-important payoff. I shrug and dive into my knapsack again. When I remove my sparkly pink wings, Megan bounces on her toes and claps like her plan rivals the one I’ve been executing for nearly a decade.
“I’m so excited,” she squeals. “I didn’t even know you could hire Tooth Fairies on Craigslist until yesterday. It was just a shot in the dark.”
I slip on the wings, and tighten the straps on my shoulders. As I clip a matching tiara into my hair, I chuckle. “Welcome to the future, Ms. Bellevue.”
She appears to have been holding her age like breath; wrinkles appear when she sighs, and her skin sags as she says, “It’s certainly here, isn’t it?”
I tighten my shimmery blouse and tie my hair back in a ponytail. “Sure is. Can I get the money now?”
“Oh, of course!” Megan removes a twenty-dollar bill from her wallet. “Are you sure you don’t want more? You came all the way out here.”
I grin as I pocket the money “I do it for the love of the craft, ma’am. That and the look on a child’s face the first time he or she meets the Tooth Fairy.”
Megan tilts her head. “Of course you don’t believe you’re the real Tooth Fairy. There is no real Tooth Fairy.”
“Please, Mrs. Bellevue, I’m trying to get into character.”
“Ahh, I totally understand. I was an actress myself once.”
“Back in college. Maybe that’s how I came up with such an imaginative story when Willa asked what the Tooth Fairy does with all the teeth she—” She pulls a devilish grin. “Sorry. All the teeth you collect.”
“What did you say?”
“I told her you take them home, into the sky, where they become the stars. Willa loves the stars. She makes a wish every single night, and she’s convinced they all come true. So I combined her love of stars with the Tooth Fairy legend. Isn’t that clever?”
“It sure is, ma’am.”
Megan furrows her brow and plucks a piece of fuzz from my wing. “You don’t have to use my idea if you don’t think you can pull it off. You can use a less complex backstory.”
“I’m sure I can handle it.”
I head for Willa’s room, but Megan tugs my wing.
“Wait. I changed my mind. Don’t use my story, okay? I’m worried she won’t believe you, and I don’t want to traumatize her.”
I smile. “Trust me, ma’am. I’ve been dealing with children’s teeth for a long time. I might be an amateur actor, but I’m a professional Tooth Fairy.” I squeeze her arm. “I know how tough this is for parents. From sea to shining sea, I’ve witnessed how painful it is realizing your baby is growing up. Just breathe deep, and trust that little Willa’s teeth are in good hands.”
“Her stars, you mean.”
I give Mrs. Bellevue a tight smile and nod. Pressing my finger to my lips, I say, “Ssh” and disappear into Willa’s room.
Ms. Bellevue is at the door when I exit Willa’s bedroom, her hands clasped under her chin. “How did it go?”
“Extremely well,” I say, patting her shoulder. “And you were right about how much she loves stars. She wished she could give more teeth so she could make more stars.”
Megan chuckles and taps her heart with a look of sheer adoration. “You see? I told you.”
“She’s a little goofball, isn’t she?”
“Simply adorable.” I shake her hand and sling my bag over my shoulder. “It was a pleasure doing business with you, Ms. Bellevue.”
“Thank you. I’ll give a ring when Willa loses her next baby tooth.”
“I appreciate the thought, but I’ll probably have moved on by then. That’s the downside of this gig economy, I’m afraid. It doesn’t pay for performers to stay in the same place.”
“What an interesting lifestyle. I have to admit I’m a little jealous. I don’t suppose you need an assistant, do you?” She giggles, her cheeks bright apple red.
“No, I don’t suppose I do,” I say, removing my wings. “Your little girl needs you anyway. And I need to be on my way.”
I’m halfway out the door when she latches onto my rattling knapsack.
“You forgot the tooth.”
“Willa’s tooth. I’d like to keep it.”
I nod and dig into my bag. “Sorry about that. Most parents forget, or they think it’s too gross to keep.” I drop the small shiny tooth on her palm, and she inspects it with a dubious glare. “Have a nice night, Ms. Bellevue.”
I’m safe in my car, hands on the steering wheel, and body tingling with anticipation. When a scream rockets from the house, I don’t flinch. I close my eyes and let its echo wash over me before gazing up at the illuminated bedroom window. Megan Bellevue fills most of it, staring out, searching the dark parking lot for the $20 an hour Craigslist Tooth Fairy. But Willa is there too, eyes gleaming with celestial hope and bloody gums pointed at a starless sky.
Willa was right. Her wishes do always come true.
With my next gig’s address in the GPS, I peal out of Bellevue’s parking lot, my knapsack rattling on the passenger seat.
LOVE IT! Super thanks for sharing that, Jess!
If you’d like to read more of Jessica’s work (you do), then have a gander at the following:
The Maiden Voyage & Other Departures (Unnerving Magazine):
Starting with the launch of a pollen-powered ship called the RMS Titanic, The Maiden Voyage & Other Departures explores six tales of an alternate history world poisoned by warring industries and populated by spectacular beings. Take jellyglass elevators to secret labs and bondage parlors where assassins and aviators, debutantes and corpse-snatching spiders wait to reap the honey of a dying planet.
Nightly Owl, Fatal Raven (Raw Dog Screaming Press):
Since the rise of The Council, an oligarchy of despots and deviants, the legendary Capesman undertakes daily soul collections from Cartesia’s wasteland cities and battlefields. He also frequents Malay Prison, where a vigilante named Shal plots her escape. Armed with a thirst for vengeance and a sharp Shakespearean tongue, Shal must navigate a maze of trauma to save Cartesia and protect her sister from the brutal machinations of Chancellor Doa. It will require all of Shal’s strength and cunning to resurrect her former army, battle the betrayals of the past, and avenge her father’s death. Will she survive long enough to see the Council fall, or is the Capesman coming for her next?
McHughniverse stories also appear in Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing’s LOST FILMS anthology, as well as the forthcoming ASHES & ENTROPY anthology from Nightscape Press and HELLHOLE from Adrenalin Press.