Relighting the Flame
A short story written for the Fictionistas' Great Substack Prompt Celebration
I wrote this short story for this month’s Fictionistas’ Great Substack Prompt Celebration, based on cards pulled from the Storymatic prompt deck. (Click on the link above to see the cards). I had written a story during our writing prompt party, but after last night’s dream, I decided to use it as the basis of what I think is a better story overall. I hope you enjoy it.
Relighting the Flame
“The water’s cold.”
Robin stared up at her wife, who was dressed in sweats with a messy bun. “And?”
“It’s probably the water heater. Someone should go take a look at it.” Marcie replied, flopping down in the recliner.
“You know where it is,” Robin replied, engrossed in her book about a woman who had ventured into a magical forest.
“You know I’m no good at that kind of thing.” Marcie munched potato chips as she surfed shows on TV. “And if we’re going out later, I’ll need to take a shower.”
Robin sighed, wondering what had happened to the alluring woman she married. “It’s probably just the pilot light.”
“See, you know how to deal with those things.”
“Fine.” Robin grabbed the flashlight and stick lighter from the kitchen and headed down the basement steps.
The unfinished basement felt like a cave carved out of the bedrock, with rough walls and a damp concrete floor. Only two naked lightbulbs illuminated the vast space, part of which had been sectioned off for a wood shop by a long-dead owner who likely had also constructed the derelict chicken coop in the backyard.
Robin had inherited the old house from her great-aunt Marguerite, along with two cats, Winifred and Harold, which took their leave of the house with increasing frequency. Robin felt a parental obligation to the cats, and was convinced someone else was feeding them. “It’s almost like someone stole them,” Robin commented, but Marcie said that’s just how cats were. Robin was convinced that because they kept the litter boxes down there, Winnie, a siamese, had decided to seek out better accommodations.
The water heater stood like a mechanical dragon over a hoard of plastic totes filled with knickknacks. Robin crouched down to inspect the pilot light, and sure enough, the flame was out. With a practiced hand, she went through the steps needed to relight the pilot light and was rewarded when it once again breathed blue flames.
In her peripheral vision, she saw movement. Had the truant felines returned? “Winnie? Harry?” she called out. She cast the flashlight into the shadows, but the tiny spotlight revealed nothing.
When she turned to go back upstairs, she saw something the size of a cat dart across the floor. Robin frowned. It wouldn’t be the first time a baby raccoon or a possum had taken advantage of the cat door.
She pursued the creature but found nothing. “Oh, come on, don’t make me go in there,” she muttered, referencing the caged space. Resigned, she stepped inside the creepy woodshop, taking care to not run into the tables or the dusty table saw and lathe.
The flashlight reflected in the creature’s eyes. “Gotcha! Get out of here,” she said, only belatedly realizing the reflection was a bright blue rather than the whitish-yellow she would have expected from a cat or possum. She grabbed a piece of scrap lumber to flush the animal out.
“Please don’t hurt us!”
“Huh?” Robin nearly dropped the flashlight. “Who’s there?”
She scanned the area with the light until she saw them. Two tiny people—no, not people, something else—huddled in the corner. They wore clothing that had been pieced together from rags, as they were scarcely larger than dolls.
“What the hell? Who—what are you, and why are you in my house?”
“Have you never seen one of the fair folk?” one of them asked, indignant.
“We don’t use that word,” the other said, attempting to seem congenial. “We have an agreement to stay here.”
“Not with me, you don’t.” Robin wondered if they, not the cat boxes, were the real reason the cats stayed away. “You need to get out.”
The female, the more friendly of the two, stepped up. “If you allow us to stay, we’ll grant you one wish—a small one, because our magic is small and subtle.”
Robin hesitated for a moment, reflecting on how crazy this was, but ultimately decided to play along. "I wish for my partner Marcie to take more of an interest in our home and its upkeep."
“We can do that,” the male faerie said.
Robin thanked them and hurried back upstairs, trying to shake off the feeling that she had made a dangerous bargain. As goosebumps peppered her arms, she dashed up the stairs. “We should have hot water in a little while,” she announced.
“Cool.” Marcie clicked the TV off. “While you were down there, I was thinking. What if I use my bonus to fix up the basement? We could remodel it and make it into something useful."
Delighted by Marcie’s rapid turnaround, Robin agreed, but she worried it risked the bargain she—and her great-aunt—had made.
As the construction began, the cats did everything possible to hinder the remodeling efforts, throwing up a hairball on the blueprints, weaving in and out of workers’ feet, and generally being a nuisance, to the point where Robin had no choice but to lock them in a spare bedroom.
Marcie, meanwhile, threw herself into the project and wouldn’t talk about anything else until it was done. She purchased a big TV and a sectional she installed right where Robin had encountered the faeries.
After that, Marcie practically lived down there with their two cats, who had decided they preferred the basement to the living room. In fact, she rarely wanted to leave.
“Hey babe, you want to go out for a bike ride?” Robin would ask.
“Nah, I’m good. But how about we invite the crew here for the game on Sunday?”
One evening, after Marcie had gone to bed, Robin went to confront the faeries about her wish—but they were nowhere to be found. Disappointed, she sat down on the sectional, only to have Winnie and Harry jump up and nuzzle her affectionately. It was then that she noticed the peculiar blue gleam in their eyes.