Forever After

“Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful princess who met a handsome prince.”

For Suzie, visiting Gramma’s house is a special treat. Gramma never travels: Daddy says she’s been shut-in since the Reagan administration. But she and Suzie always have a smile for each other.

“One moonlit night, as spring lingered in the air, the princess climbed out her window. Down, down, down the tower she climbed to meet her prince.”

Starry-eyed Suzie listens to Gramma’s fairy tale.

“There, in back of an enchanted bulldozer, the prince and princess expressed their love for one another. But the prince’s foot slipped, releasing the parking brake. Downhill rolled the bulldozer… crash! …into the castle.”

Now Suzie’s eyes are wide.

“The king was livid! Veins bulged in the king’s throat as he shouted at the young princess, pronouncing his royal punishment…”

“And that, dear Suzie, is why to this day, Gramma is not allowed out of her room.”

Written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-42, where the novel prompt (appropriately enough) was The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, written by the late Dentarthurdent Douglas Adams. Prompt topics include a theme of foolishness, and a setting of a house about to be destroyed. (Or having been about to will be destroyed, if I’m using my time travel tenses correctly.) Photo is CC2.0 by Maureen Didde.

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All Rise for the Popular Verdict

“Woe unto Babylon!” The man in black stood atop a fiberglass boulder, pointing an accusatory finger towards the painted horizon. “You have given yourselves to carnal pleasures and bloodlust!”

I ran past a thatch hut. With luck, this clueless preacher would distract the audience just long enough. “Twenty seconds,” the producer announced in my earpiece. Fleeing toward the fake jungle, I counted each footfall. “One… one… thou-sand… Two… one… thou-sand…”

“Revel not in immorality! Reject this Hollywood gaud and gore!” This was criminal reality TV: only one contestant survived each episode. As a murder suspect, I was surely the underdog. If I survived the first commercial break, I could plead innocence and play for audience sympathy. A million dollars could buy a decent attorney.

“Fifteen… one… thou-sand…” Then I crashed into another contestant cowering behind a plywood log prop. She was a woman, just a girl, but eight months pregnant.

Agonizing wails came from the village: the preacher, whatever his crime, had met his fate. Tears filled her eyes when she heard the man’s screams.

I sighed and raised my hands. “Oh, fine. I confess!” As the hidden dartguns targeted me for execution, I wished the woman luck.

Written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-41. The novel prompt was Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, with characters including a young man accused of murder, a pregnant woman, and the setting of a wealthy city in moral decline. Image: View in Village of Adarranu near the Black Volta, 1890s. CC photo. National Archives UK, “Africa Through a Lens” project.

Snow White and Red All Over

Once upon a time, I had it all. My parents were royalty: their kingdom was great, and I was their world. Then an evil witch cursed them, and they died. That alone was insufficient for her, so she cursed me, too. I felt my life spiraling into tragedy, until my Prince Charming found me.

He still calls me “Snow White”. When he found me, he says, he had never seen skin so white, nor lips so red as mine. Not to mention my long, flowing mane of dark hair.

This, our wedding day, is our one-month anniversary. It was a fairy tale wedding. That evil witch stared down from the tower dungeon, powerless. The King and Queen were so happy to see their Prince Charming settle down. His frequent hunting expeditions into the forest delighted the nobles, but terrified his parents.

Now I wait for new husband in our royal bedchamber. As I brush my hair, the mirror catches the reflection of two wolf-pelts hung on the wall. The brilliant light of the full moon shines through the castle window. I hear Prince Charming entering the room.

Part of me knows it wasn’t his fault. He never knew those two wolves were my parents. Another part of me, a snarling canine force within, cries out for vengeance. My prince embraces me. I wrap my arms around him and know what is to come.

My fangs elongate. My fur grows out. I let loose a primal howl at the man who killed my parents while they were under the witch’s curse. Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?

A second story for Flash! Friday vol. 3-40, where the prompt was Grimms’ Fairy Tales. This one was rushed in before the deadline and a little disorganized. (Also, I think I mixed up Snow White and Sleeping Beauty — inexcusable for someone with two young daughters!)

Image is still Three Sisters (Die drei Schwester). Public domain in the U.S.; artwork by Alexander Zick (1845-1907).

The Night Princess

When Minuella was a child, her summer days were spent laboring in the fields and tending livestock. At night she lay upon her straw mattress, with her cat Sareel curled up next to her, as Grandfather told tales of faraway lands and great kingdoms. Grandfather’s stories were the only wealth left to the family: they were Minuella’s inheritance.

One night, as Grandfather slept, Minuella grabbed Sareel and fled the ramshackle cottage. “I’m no peasant,” she proclaimed to the blue-eyed Siamese. “I want to see those great kingdoms. I want to be somebody.” She followed a star northward through the sweltering night, into woodlands that the older villagers said were enchanted.

In a forest clearing, Minuella stood in awe as moonlight trickled through the mighty canopy of leaves, freezing into solid form. Snow whirled through the summer air as the moonlight solidified into a Castle of Ice. Stars clattered to the ground to form a glistening tiara at her feet. Sareel leapt from her arms and transformed into a stately lynx.

A troupe of snow-men emerged from the Castle of Ice and bowed. “Your majesty! Take the starry crown, and claim your title as Princess.” Minuella did so. “Come, Sareel,” she said. “Our kingdom awaits.”

For a thousand nights, Minuella and the handsome lynx ruled from the Castle of Ice. “Oh, Sareel,” she confided to her feline companion one night. “My fairy tale dreams have come true. Why am I not happy?” She removed the starry crown and let it clatter to the frozen ground. Sareel licked her face gently and gave a rumbling purr.

With the first touch of sunlight, the Castle of Ice melted into the dewy ground. Minuella rushed home with Sareel the Siamese in her arms. “Come on! We’re late for breakfast!”

A fairy tale written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-40, where the prompt was Grimms’ Fairy Tales. My chosen prompt was a theme of transformation and a setting of an enchanted forest. Image: Three Sisters (Die drei Schwester). Public domain in the U.S.; artwork by Alexander Zick (1845-1907).

Cassandra Said There’d Be Days Like This

“You never take me anywhere!”

I shudder at the voice that could sink a thousand ships. “Because, dear Helen,” I mutter through gritted teeth, “the city is encircled by my enemies.”

“Excuses, excuses.” Helen primps her silky hair and checks her reflection in a palace mirror. Her handmaid fans her with a palm frond. “My first husband took me places. And our anniversary is coming up.”

I nod grimly. “Ten long years.”

“Ten months, jerk.” She scowls. “When we eloped, you promised you’d show me Paris.”

“Yeah, that was a lame pun.”

My fastest messenger arrives. “I relayed your message to the Spartan king. He said she’s your problem now.”

“Nuts!” I politely decline when the handmaid brings me walnuts. Inside the palace, the most beautiful woman in the world demands my time. Outside, the collected armies of the Greeks demand my head.

“I think I’ll take a little walk.”

This straightforward inversion of The Iliad was written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-39. (Oddly enough, the prompt was The Iliad. Image is a public domain image off Pixabay.

Homo Ultima

One final stroll through the garden. Solomon knew his would be the last footsteps to tread these grounds. And the beauty of this forest merited a last farewell. Once, a billion years ago, there were others. Humankind spread like a weed. Relentless and unstoppable, they subdued the Earth. But time waits not for man.

Solomon followed the time-worn stone footpath along the creek to the clearing. He knew every sparrow, every blade of grass in this hundred acre nature preserve. Since time immemorial, since the Sun was yellow and the days were short, he had tended the plants and cared for the animals.

High overhead, the immense red Sun hovered motionless, as it had for at least forty million years. The blue force barrier held in the atmosphere from the vacuum outside, shielded this Eden from the scorching Sun, and gave the appearance of a cloudless day.

All the others passed beyond the barrier, into the vacuum beyond. Accident and grief claimed a victim every few millennia. Mostly, though, it was the ceaseless boredom of the passing eons that led them to trade the dullness of immortality for the serenity of the grave. Now there were none but he. Homo ultima. The final human.

From bright blue, the barrier faded to dim indigo. No violent gale came: only a controlled release of atmosphere across the long-barren surface of the aged Earth. Birdsong faded away. The leaves of the mighty oak trees began to curl. The grass withered; flowers bowed to the inevitable.

Solomon resolved that his death would not be like the others’. His would not be an act of despair or grief, but love. Not love for any individual, but love for the universe itself. As the barrier faded to black, the grotesque red Sun was joined by countless diamonds in the sky: stars unseen for ages.

“We have been apart too long.”

Written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-38, where the inspiration was J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic Lord of the Rings. This story includes a humble gardener and a beautiful forest. Photo prompt: Mt. Teide: the conic-point that meets the skies. CC2.0 pic by Julie Ann Johnson.

Canterbury Cock-a-Doodle-Doo

In April on that lonesome muddy road, two pilgrims from the farmyard met at dusk. Feather with her plumage prim and bright, and dusty Henny scratching near the side.

“What brings you from the coop?” asked Henny.

“It’s Red,” clucked Feather. “I’m leaving him.”

“Oh, honey,” Henny said. “We’ve all seen how he struts in front of the other chicks. I’m glad you dumped the loser rooster.”

“He thinks he’s cock of the walk,” Feather complained. “In truth he’s barely a bantam. I’m going to town. To the shrine, where chickens like us are worshipped. The building with the chicken on its sign.”

“Indeed, I’ll go with you,” offered Henny. “Since my poor Leghorn is gone, I’m down to scratching in the streets.”

“What happened? Was he antidisestablishmentarian?”

“No, Feather: worse than that. It seems His Majesty decided to throw a grand banquet. The farmer took poor, sainted Leghorn.” Henny hung her head. “By now he’s royally plucked.”

“Why so glum, hens?” came a kind voice. From out of the woods, a sly red fox approached.

“Ba-gawk! What say you, fox? Leave us poor hens alone!”

And so the trio rushed clucking towards town, seeking that fabled shrine of chicken-kind: the building with the chicken on its sign.

This pointless little goof tale was written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-37, where the prompt was inspired by The Canterbury Tales.

Come to Grief

“I love you.”

“You’re only saying that because I almost killed you.” Zara pulled her hand away from the glass panel, and the crimson circle that would terminate his life support.

Paralyzed below the neck, the man in the biomedical bed tilted his head toward Zara. “Please… daughter. By law and custom, as my sole relative, only you may end my suffering.” His raspy voice raked against Zara’s heartstrings.

Zara stared at the husk of a man. Holographic indicators overlaid his medical data. Age: 437. Pulse, blood pressure, brain activity. Diagnosis: Immortality Treatment Rejection Syndrome. Prognosis: progressive paralysis, agonizing pain, death within the year. In his bloodshot eyes, she saw something virtually unknown to modern civilization: real pain. How could she let him suffer in this cold hospital room? She was his daughter: he was her responsibility.

Zara felt the impulse firing through her neurons: the electrochemical command telling her finger to press the button.

“No!” She turned away from him.

“My daughter… Medical science gave me four centuries of life, but has reached its limit. Close the circle. End my suffering.”

“Growing up, I dreamed of a father,” Zara confessed. “Someone to love me unconditionally. But you weren’t there.” She turned to him again. “I made my own way in life — and quite well! Now you send for me, not to make amends, but merely to press a button?”

“Then you hate me. Push the button. Give me what I deserve.”

“I don’t hate you,” Zara said pityingly. “I don’t even know you. You’re a stranger to me.” With one hand, she stroked his brittle hair. With the other, she pressed the button.

“I love you,” he mouthed silently, and then he was gone.

Zara slumped to the marble floor and cried. “I love you, too.”

Written for the Cracked Flash Fiction Competition, Year 1 week 8, where the prompt was the first two lines of dialogue. The judges had some very kind words for this story.

Come Up Roses

Doesn’t the apartment building blush a lovely pink at sunrise? My day’s work is coming to an end as the tenants sleep.

That’s Mrs. Dawson’s apartment. Her husband probably forgot they’ve been married fifteen years today. She and he both will appreciate this bouquet of roses on the doorstep.

Poor old widow Hopkins on the first floor is still recovering from her hip replacement. She’s always loved daylilies, and these are vibrant dreamsicle.

Morning, Suzy! First day of school? The florist didn’t have peonies, but how about this lovely daisy?

The other tenants think of me, if at all, as the old man from upstairs. A minor character in their life story, unnoticed amid the turmoil of modern society. But like these anonymous floral gifts I give whenever my pension income permits, I like to imagine I brighten their lives in my own little way.

Written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-36, but written as a more positive twist on the tales of obsession, jealousy, and new money inspired by the weekly prompt: The Great Gatsby.