Most fairy tales begin with “once upon a time.” They begin with a handsome prince or a beautiful princess, with an evil step-parent or a wicked witch, with enchanting magic or a frightful curse.
This story, however, is not like most fairy tales.
This story has no royalty; in fact, our hero lives in a land with a president, not a king or a queen. There are no step-parents, evil or otherwise. And while there is plenty of magic, on most days it leaves our hero alone.
As for the witches...well, we’ll get to them later.
It does have a tragedy, and friendship, and a fairy tale ending, and I promise there will be kisses. (What kind of fairy tale doesn’t have kisses?)
But our story, it begins simply and quietly, with a man, a cup of coffee, and some birds.
Dean wraps his fingers around his mug of coffee, warming them. These late February days are getting warmer, but the mornings are still cold enough that he needs a coat to sit on his deck. He knows he should probably stay inside, but the winter was too long. He’s had glass between him and his birds long enough.
The corner of his mouth turns up at the thought. His birds. They aren’t his, not really. He puts out food for them year round, so they always visit. So, so many of them. Some days he refills the feeders several times because it’s so busy in his backyard. But these birds, they can fly free, here and there and anywhere they choose. He only thinks of them as his because it seems like he’s the only one who ever notices them, their grace and beauty. Everyone else, they are distracted by...other things.
It’s mostly chickadees and sparrows this morning. He’s always liked the many calls of the chickadees, from the trilling “chick-a-dee-dee-dee,” to the songlike gargle, to the sweet lowing “fee-bee”. He often finds himself echoing that one back. It almost feels like they’re having a conversation. And just like that, he hears Sam’s voice in his head. “Dean,” his brother tells him, “stop talking to those birds. Go out and talk to some actual people. Make some friends!”
Dean sighs, sipping his coffee. As if it’s that easy. It’s not like Dean’s shy. He loves being around people. But conversations always turn to…
And no one understands.
Shaking his head, Dean looks back at the birds. Why do his thoughts keep turning downward this morning? It’s the first morning since that week of warm weather in mid-December he’s been able to sit on his deck. Over two months of having his coffee at the kitchen table. Even the floor to ceiling window that stretches nearly the length of the room isn’t the same as sitting outside. The sounds, the smells, even the colors are muted through the glass.
He watches the sparrows and the chickadees at the feeders, letting himself enjoy the hustle and bustle as they compete for their turns, some flitting from feeder to tree branch, some resting on the ground underneath, a few even venturing to peck at the seed and breadcrumbs he’s scattered on the wide rail of the deck. He’s lost in the whirling kaleidoscope of their sober blacks and greys when, from the corner of his eye, he is distracted by a flash of blue.
Odd, he thinks, turning to look. Maybe a blue jay? I haven’t seen one in awhile, but they are surely around. And there haven’t been bluebirds in Kansas for years. Which is too bad…
But there’s nothing there. All he sees is the bare branches of the maple, elm, and ash trees; the green of the towering white pines; the brown leaves littering the forest floor; and the birds dancing at his feeders and among the trees.
Odd, he thinks again. Glancing at his watch, he stands. Time to make his lunch--he baked bread last night, so his sandwich will be excellent--and leave for work.
It’s another day.
Dean pulls up to the garage about an hour later. There is a faint hum in the air; someone must be working on something nearby. Dean looks at the closest buildings--two tall rowhouses, a bakery, and a bookshop--but it’s impossible to tell which issues the hum. He shudders faintly and ducks through the side door into the garage.
Crowley’s Car Clinic. It’s mostly a good job; Dean’s worked here since high school. He likes to work with his hands, he understands engines, and this place is clean. By its very nature there are no contaminations here. He likes that. He doesn’t much like Crowley, but he’s never actually here in person, so it works out okay.
Dean is alone this morning. Ketch took two weeks off, something about his family in England, and Alfie, still in high school, only works weekends. Dean doesn’t mind; in fact, he’s glad for the solitude. When the others are here they nearly always insist on working with at least one of the bay doors open. When they’re gone, Dean can keep the outside world outside.
In the box by the door there is a list of things he’s supposed to do today, hand delivered by one of Crowley’s many messenger kids in the early hours of the morning. Dean shakes his head. He’s never been able to figure out what possesses these kids to get up before dawn to run messages for Crowley before they go to school. It’s not like he pays them much. Do they really do it just to be in the presence of the mighty Crowley? Dean actually laughs at that. His boss has a big head. He probably calls himself “The Mighty Crowley” while looking in the mirror.
He sits at the desk in his small office to go over the list. A Camaro with a broken headlight (honestly, can’t people do anything on their own anymore?), an old Chevy truck that’s leaking oil, and a Volkswagen Jetta that needs a new serpentine belt. The headlight will only take a minute--the paperwork will take longer--but the rest should keep him busy for much of the day. Nothing very challenging, although finding the oil leak may be tricky.
Dean opens the center drawer of his desk and pulls out a heavy black pen and his time card, carefully recording the time he arrived at the garage. Crowley is a stickler for detail. He replaces the pen and card in the drawer and stands, deciding where to begin. He decides to start with the headlight. It’s the easiest, but getting it done means he can almost immediately cross one of the jobs off his list. That’s always a good feeling. He glances at the list again; they have the bulb in their inventory. Dean smiles, relieved that he doesn’t have to go elsewhere to find the part he needs. He exits his office and crosses the garage to the room he jokingly calls their warehouse. It’s about the size of his living room at home and completely crammed full of spare parts, but meticulously organized. Dean did all the organizing and labeling, and he makes sure the rest of the staff follows his lead. This may be Crowley’s garage, but everyone knows Dean’s been running the place for years.
Dean finds the bulb easily, turns out the light, and closes the door behind him, his eyes roving the bay to seek out the Camaro. It’s a dusty red, looks like about an ‘83 if Dean’s guess is right. It usually is. Dean likes it, it’s got character. The driver’s side door is a deep purple; replaced but never repainted. He runs his hand over the hood. Part of him itches to restore her, to bring her to her former glory, and he knows he could. But another part sees the beauty in this patchwork, scratched up car, and knows something would be lost if he were to paint her and shine her up like new. “You have stories to tell, old girl,” he says, admiration in his voice.
He finds the tools he needs and is just about to remove the broken bulb when his peace is shattered, first by a high-pitched whine, getting higher and higher, and then by a boom that nearly knocks Dean off his feet.
Dean instinctively looks at the wardings carved into the large bay doors and above the small side door he used to enter. “I’m safe,” he says to the empty air, his voice shaky. “I’m safe. Magic can’t get in here.”
“I told you Dean, no magic in this house! Not ever again!”
“But Daddy! Mommy made this car! It’s mine! It’s mine and it’s my favorite and you can’t have it!”
Daddy lunged at Dean and tried to grab the car away but Dean was fast, much faster than Daddy. Dean clutched his car to his chest and ran, ran and hid in his secret spot, the secret hiding place Mommy made in Dean’s bedroom wall. The door didn’t look like a door, it was so secret and clever, and Dean was the only one smart enough to be able to find it. He pulled the door closed behind him and he was so quiet, and Daddy couldn’t find him. Daddy called and yelled and he was so so mad, but he couldn’t find Dean. He finally went away.
And then Dean cried. Why did Daddy want to take Dean’s car? He kept taking away all the things Mommy made, the special magic things. Mommy made so many special magic things, better than anyone else. But first Mommy went away, and now Daddy was taking away Mommy’s things. Daddy was so sad, cried and cried, but then he got so mad. He yelled about healers and wizards and magic.
If Dean can’t have Mommy, he at least wants Mommy’s car.