Nichols' Hollow was blessed, some would say cursed (but no one usually listened to them), in that it had a faerie ring. The ring had been there as long as Nichols' Hollow had been, and the little folk who inhabited it brought health, long life and good fortune to all the people of the town for centuries. Even as Nichols' Hollow's farms and fields gave way to highways and strip malls, the woods around the faerie ring stayed. The faerie ring sat in the midst of a large park these days, and was open to all, day or night, provided the price could be paid.
The price was never more than anyone could pay: a flower, some food, an unwanted name... and the magic that was wrought often bordered on miraculous.
Then one day, the faerie ring was gone.
In its place stood a large stone block, the words "Magic Box" written in stylish runes on its sides. When the people of Nichols Hollow approached, they were met by the same gnomes and pixies they always saw, but there was something different about them now. They seemed dejected, listless, and dressed in matching smocks over drab rags.
An old gnome noticed them and said, in a voice desperate for cheer yet unable to find any, "Welcome to Magic Box. We offer all the latest spells, hexes and cures at the most affordable prices around. All major credit cards accepted. How may we be of service today?"
Ogden Wilson, mayor of Nichols Hollow, puffed up his chest and blew out his thick mustache. He began to grow red in the face, and blustered a lot. "Magic Box? Major credit-- well, I never. Affordable prices?!" He paced to and fro before the squat ugly stone block. "My wife made the rapsberry pie you like so much. I was coming to talk to you about the weather for the Founders parade and carnival this Saturday."
A pixie fluttered down from atop the block, so smothered in apathy, her glow had dimmed to a dull shimmer. "The list of items that will not be accepted as currency by any Magic Box store includes, but is not limited to, the following: Food, drink, knick-knacks, gew-gaws, doo-dads or bric-a-brac. Nor will any types of flora, fauna or personal identifiers."
She had more to say, but lacked the will. Another gnome stepped in. "Accepted for payment will be: cash, all major credit cards, in-store financing and checks (with valid identification)."
The mayor sighed, pulling out his wallet. "Fine." He removed one of his credit cards. "How much to insure a nice sunny day for Saturday?"
The gnome glanced at the card, then back up at the mayor, boredom evident on his face. "I don't do weather. I work the cures department. Dave does weather."
"What? Since when do you specialize?"
The gnome shrugged. "Store policy, sir."
The mayor struggled to keep his temper in check. "Okay. Then could you please get me someone who is in charge of the weather?"
"You wanna talk to Dave?"
"Yes! ::ahem:: I mean, yes. Yes, I'd like to talk to Dave. About the weather for Saturday."
"Dave's not in today. But he'll be in tomorrow around five."
The mayor nearly exploded. He was a turning a deep crimson now, blowing furiously through his mustache. "Five TOMORROW?! Five to--" He stopped, shook his head. Then he looked down at the gnome, who looked back up disinterestedly. "I want to talk to a manager."
Just then, a small imp in a tailored suit appeared at Mayor Wilson's elbow. "Yes sir. Is there a problem?"
"Is there a problem?! You're damn right there is! Our faeries have gone surly, one of them is named Dave, he's been put in charge of the weather but won't be here till tomorrow and our bloody faerie ring has been replaced with THIS wretched monstrosity!"
The imp flashed a quick smile. It was flat and mildly patronizing and it died sometime before reaching his eyes. "Ah. Yes. Well sir, while I'm sure you and the other fine folks here in..."
"Right. I'm sure you all loved your faerie ring quite a bit. I know how hard accepting change can be, but that faerie ring was old. Worn-out. Its magic was unregulated, potentially dangerous... well, we at FaerieCo decided that we--"
"Who?" Mayor Wilson felt it was time to try asserting some control over the conversation.
"FaerieCo," the imp said, determined not to let him. "We're a multi-dimensional corporation that has recently acquired all rights, ownership and licenses pertaining to magical structures, devices and creatures living in the... you know what? I'm not going to bore you with a bunch of legal nonsense." The imp patted the mayor on the back. "Just trust me, Magic Box will do way more than that old faerie ring used to. I guarantee you'll love it." And with that, he disappeared.
Life went on in Nichols' Hollow pretty much as it always had after that, except they weren't as healthy, they were dying a bit younger than usual and fortune seemed to have opted to smile on another town for a while. The spells from the Magic Box were sub-par, but it was the only place to get them, and they had come to rely on them over the centuries. Unfortunately, the sub-par spells were costing an awful lot of money, and the people of Nichols' Hollow soon ran up a great deal of debt.
It was then the impish manager came back and offered a new method of payment called the karma card. With it, customers could pay down debts by transferring their good karma to FaerieCo. Those with a great deal of debt could also cash in their souls to wipe their credit clean. There were some who began to protest the Magic Box and FaerieCo then, claiming they would make all the people of Nichols' Hollow bankrupt and soulless. The manager dismissed the protestors as "hippie agitators".
Unfortunately for FaerieCo, a powerful witch was among the protestors, and she uncovered evidence that the Board of Directors knowingly approved the use of black magic in constructing the Magic Boxes. She contacted the proper authorities, and the Board of FaerieCo were arrested. The manager was implicated in a related accounting scam and the Nichols' Hollow Magic Box closed down.
The people of Nichols' Hollow rallied then, and under the witch's direction, carved up the abandoned Magic Box to create a stone circle where the faerie ring once stood. The faeries returned, looking much happier and motivated, and while the magic still wasn't quite what it was from the faerie ring, it was far superior to anything from the Magic Box.
And they've begun accepting names and pie again.