Category Archives: Macabre

Jack’s Apocalypse

“Say something, blast you!” Jack yelled at the mannequin. He knew he was losing it, but why should he always be the one to carry the conversation? “You cheap bit of plastic. We’re through.” He pushed her over onto the pile of clothes and walked away.

It hadn’t taken long after the apocalypse had been inconsiderate enough to leave him behind for him to start losing what used to be referred to as sanity. Now that he was the only one left the whole question of what was and wasn’t sane was up for grabs. Jack peeked back at the mannequin but she had her hand up in what clearly meant to be a rude gesture. Let her stew for a while.

Yap trotted after him growling at his ankles. In all the movies he’d watched the lone survivors were accompanied by loyal and intelligent dogs, big ones. Yap was an irascible little mutt who would have a hard time protecting him from a squirrel. The dog stopped and lifted his leg.

“Yap,” Jack said, “how many times have I told you. Don’t pee on the canned goods?” He walked over to the telephone. “Clean up on aisle four. Clean up on aisle four.” He waited but nobody came, so he went to the back of the store for the mop and bucket. He put on the blue vest and mopped up the puddle. Then he carefully hung up the vest and went back to his shopping.

“We don’t have much of a choice today, boy.” Jack pulled his can opener from its leash and opened a couple of tins. He put one on the floor for the dog and spooned the cold beans into his mouth. He hated beans, especially cold, but he hated moving even more. But the shelves were dangerously empty.

“Well, Yap,” he said, “It’s time we found another place to hang out.” The dog barked then trotted over to a shelf and lifted his leg. “OK, OK, I’ll pack the cart.”

Jack put the last of the tins of food in the shopping cart along with a tent and sleeping bag from camping supplies. The final item was the shotgun and box of shells. There were predators out there. This was going to be a big move. He’d cleaned out all the stores in this town. The next town was at least a week’s walk to the south. There would be stores there with shelves full of food. His mouth watered at the thought of eating something other than beans.

They started out in the early morning. Yap trotting along attached to a leash tied to the cart. The dog hated the leash, but it was safer to keep him close. Jack pushed the cart along the road and basked in the warmth of the sun. He let Yap ride in the cart when he got tired.

“Leave the leash alone,” Jack said tapping the dog on the nose. “I don’t want you chewing at it.”

They made good time and he found himself enjoying the walk. Other than the faint squeak of the wheels the only sounds he could hear were the birds and the squirrels.

Then Yap took off after a squirrel that crossed right in front of him and the leash broke.

“Come here you stupid dog! That squirrel will eat you alive.” The dog ignored him and ran around the base of the tree barking. Jack didn’t see the eagle until it swooped down and snatched Yap from the ground. Picking up the shotgun he shot at the eagle but it was long gone.

Jack wiped at the tears that poured down his face. Here he was Jack, Survivor of the Apocalypse, crying over a stupid little dog. He looked at the shotgun in his hand. Maybe it was time to just end it. He was no heroic survivor; he was just a freak. There was no reason he could think of why he was left behind.

He put the gun back in the cart.

“Sorry, Yap, but I’m just not ready to let go.” He untied the end of the leash from the cart; dropped it to the asphalt then started pushing the cart down the road.

Two Creepy Tales

A friend Jason, who runs the Howlarium, asks interesting questions and curates responses from writers out on the net.

This month’s question is:

“The Tibetans don’t encourage meditating right away, actually. They insist that you know something. They say Listen, if you go meditate right away as an ignorant person, you will deepen your ignorance [] a kind of quietism that a lot of […] people get into where—they find the world jangly and bothersome, and then they withdraw into a place where they don’t have to think about it. It’s like a wonderful kind of Prozac. […] there’s no compassion in it. It’s a kind of narcissistic thing, actually. Great danger in meditation. […]
“Your writing is a kind of meditation.”  
Dr. Robert Thurman, first American ordained a Tibetan Buddhist monk

In the West, meditation tends to be thought of as an act of personal wellness, and some of us might view writing the same way.

Q: If you meditate and/or write (either one) to keep yourself well and sane, how can compassion for someone else play a role in that? Does it need to?

If so, how? If not, why not?”

These stories are part of my answer.

Old Hero

Petrov walked into the room and looked around. Well set out if unpretentious. A close inspection showed the beginning of wear on the upholstery. Old photos of peasants in the fields or uninspired watercolours  hung on the walls . The fragrance of baking in another part of the house made him hope his host would see fit to offer something to eat.

The thought of his host made him shiver. The man was a hero of the war. Of several wars if the truth were to be told. Yet he lived alone on this estate far from the city. The mother country had come through some hard times, but now as things began to turn around, they could use someone of Dimishky’s stature to show the Revolution moved forward under the new generation of leaders.

It was a great privilege for Petrov to be here, even if his mission was to beg for the old man to come to Moscow to allow his name to be used in the service of the Soviet.

Petrov examined for perhaps the third time the photos of the peasants. The old men and women posed stiffly and stared at the camera with a fatalism  belying  the idea they formed the foundation of the revolution. How could such a lethargic people have risen to overthrow the Imperialist regime?

The door behind him creaked, and Petrov turned slowly and nodded politely at the old man. One didn’t get as far as he had in the service of the Soviet without learning to school oneself.

The old man led in an equally old woman who carried a tray with the hoped for baking as well as an rough tea service. She placed the tray on the table and left.

“Please sit,”  Dimishkysaid, “I regret keeping you waiting, but I had some business to complete.”

What urgent business urgent could  he find here? It didn’t matter. Petrov sat at the table and waited for Dimishky to join him.

“I suppose you are here to impress on me the need the Soviet has for my face and my name.” Dimishky poured tea into Petrov’s chipped cup.

The astringent odour made Petrov almost wrinkle his nose. He didn’t usually add anything to his tea, but he sweetened this brew and added cream too. He tried to ignore the sneer on the older man’s face. Still, the old man pushed a plate of biscuits over and he helped himself. It melted in his mouth; as sweet as the tea was bitter.

“I’ve no interest in shoring up the political regime,” Dimishky said, “I am content here.” He waved his hand out the window. For all the hand was thin and spotted, Petrov suspected strength still lurked in it.

“The government has need of you.”

“You mean they need of a face and a name.” The old man drank his tea straight. Petrov shuddered. “They wish to hold up a monster from the past and suggest there is still some truth in their threats.”

“They are not to be trifled with,” Petrov said, “The secret police…”

“Oddly, for the secret police to be effective, everyone must know they exist.” Dimishky stood and put his cup down. “Come with me. We will walk. If you still wish me to come to Moscow after, I will give you my word I will go with you. Perhaps it is time.”

They walked out of the house. Though Dimishky hadn’t said anything , the old woman waited with a coat and hat for the old man. She gave Petrov a look of  equal part pity and disdain.

Petrov hadn’t dressed for the weather, but he was used to the cold. They walked out of yard and down the road toward the village.

“The people who live here are the same kind people as the ones in those photos you admired so.” Dimishky’s rasp startled Petrov.

“You mean their descendants?”

“There are no descendants from those in the photographs.”

They reached the village and the people looked up at them, then let their eyes slide past as if Dimishky and Petrov were only visible for the slightest second.

“You see,” Dimishky said, “they are cattle. They know what I am and what I do. They could come to my house and kill me in my sleep. Yet they send their own to cook for me and serve my needs.” He spat on the road. Without breaking step the old man opened a gate and led Petrov to a small house. The yard was sprinkled with with colour, rocks had been painted bright colours and placed in the grey dirt. They walked in through the front door without knocking.

The smell of baking was here too. A young man sat with an older woman, probably his mother. He looked up and seemed to be about to speak, but the woman put her hand on his. She got up and looked at Dimishky with the same eyes as the people in the photographs. Dimishky turned and walked away, the woman following him. The young man’s hands shook, and to Petrov’s horror, tears streaked his face. Petrov left him and hurried after Dimishky.

He stayed back until they came to a black building on the edge of the village. The old woman followed Dimishky inside. Petrov hurried to catch up. The inside of the building was no warmer than the weather outside, yet Dimishky carefully took off his coat and shirt and placed them in a wardrobe. He took out a long black coat, stiff with dirt. The woman simply stood and looked at Petrov with fatalistic eyes.

Dimishky, once satisfied with his coat, pulled wire out of the coat’s pocket and tied it around the woman’s wrists. He looped it over a hook attached to a chain.

“Over there,” Dimishky said, “Ratchet the chain up tighter.” Petrov hesitated. “You can tell your superiors how you failed your assignment, if you wish.” Petrov turned the handle until the old woman’s arms stretched over her head. The woman never looked at him.

“Tell the important visitor what is going to happen.” Dimishky said to the woman.

“You are going to kill me, like you killed the others.”

“Why don’t you stop me?”

“You have guns. You could kill all of us. Maybe you will leave someday.”

“This man thinks I should go to Moscow and be an important person in their government.”

“Then people will die in Moscow like they die here.”

“You see,” Dimishky said, “Cattle. No imagination, no spark.” He pulled a knife from a hook on the wall. “You are fortunate that this important man from Moscow is in a hurry.” He casually reached out and cut the woman’s throat.

The rich smell of blood wasn’t something  he hadn’t encountered before. People died. In his work, rather a lot of them died. Few died to as little purpose as this peasant woman. He bit down on any comment he might have made.

“Many people have died in our history,” Dimishky said, “and there is always a need for those who are willing to kill.” He wiped the knife on the coat and hung it back on its hook. “I confess I used to get more pleasure from it, but I am old and cannot work like I used to.” He went to a corner and broke the ice on a bucket of water to wash his hands.

“Will your superiors will appreciate my work?”

“I don’t think they care,” Petrov said.

“And you?”

Petrov looked at the corpse hanging from the ceiling and shrugged.

“If you don’t hurry, we will be late for the train.”

“The people here will bless you for taking me away.”

“And others will curse me for bringing you to them,” Petrov shrugged again. “Some kill, some die, it is of no matter.”

They walked out of the building and left the door swinging in the cold wind.


My children ran wild with anticipation. There were hordes of them. I stopped trying to count them. The desire to go on this outing would be enough to get even the most obstreperous on the bus. Whoever said children were angels hadn’t met my brood.

The last layer of necessities laid in my case and I closed it up. I didn’t need the bag, other than to set me apart from the others. I climbed the steps of the yellow bus and sat behind the driver. He sweated in the heat, or perhaps from nerves. He rolled his eyes like a steer being lead to slaughter. Whichever, he honked the horn quick enough when I tapped his shoulder.

The children screamed with excitement and ran toward the bus. They pushed and fought to get on, then continued their battle for the best seats. A grossly fat boy deliberately sat on a waif thin girl. His smug grin turned to a pained grimace, then panic. I allowed myself a smile. She must have found a tender part. The boy lumbered away. She sat up and wiped her mouth, then gave me a cheeky grin. Clever girl; I’d need to watch her.

An especially brave imp chose to claim the seat beside me. There was one on every trip who foolishly thought to claim a part of my space. The others watched to see what I’d do, so I smiled and patted him on the head. He made the mistake of looking at me. They all do. His grin faded, then the rest of him until I sat alone again.

The level of chaos on the bus dropped far enough, I tapped the driver on the shoulder again. He closed the door and shifted the bus into gear. The wailing of those left behind came faintly through the glass.

The children always wanted to know how far, though they never dared ask. The truth? I couldn’t answer. Far didn’t have any meaning here, neither did long. The ride felt like an eternity because crossed a piece of eternity.

Yet not quite eternal. I felt the sudden heady pull of time. We’d arrived. The driver lasted long enough to put the bus into park before entropy took over and he fell to pieces. The children poured off the bus into the light of the created world. Some of them couldn’t hold themselves together in the time stream and vanished. Most managed to adapt and spread out into the world to explore and play.

The mortals surrounding us were unaware of our arrival. A couple of the more sensitive wrinkled their nose at what might have been a smell of death. Even if they could see us, they wouldn’t believe. We’ve been relegated to the status of fairy tales and a certain class of fiction. Fights broke out between mortal children who’d been playing peacefully. My children were quick learners.

I looked around the park and spotted the person I wanted. They were always there; torturing themselves with their temptations. His desire oozed from his pores. I sat beside him and soaked it all in. The furtive looks, the aborted searches on the web, the fear someone like him might find his own children, the envy of the ones who dared to act on their desires. I left him staring avidly at a little blond child who played in the sand while two bigger children threw sand and punches at each other.

While the man clenched and unclenched his fists fighting his desire and fear, I sauntered over to a woman eating an ice cream as she watched the children play. I stood beside her and watched too. My children had thinned out. Causing strife was easy, but once done, it was done. No real sustenance to it. A punch, a few tears and it faded away. The ones who didn’t learn quickly faded away and discovered the trip back much shorter than the journey here.

The real food lay in the struggle to choose between desire and restraint. The woman beside me frowned as one child, larger than the others, struggled to keep up. I glimpsed her view of herself in the mirror. She buried deep her loathing for all her perceived imperfections; a wrinkle here, a bulge there. Even the ice cream she ate tasted of both guilt and vanilla. The woman wanted to throw the cone away, but feared wasting food more than eating. The turmoil was delicious.

A disturbance on the other side of the playground caught my attention. A tall thin woman berated the man who’d been watching the little girl. Waves of self-righteousness washed over me from where I stood. The ice cream woman gathered her children and took them away. Her internal struggle over the sweet forgotten in fear for her children.

The waif from the bus stood to the side of the arguing pair. She saw me watching and shrugged, then went back to her feast. More subtle than the others, but still with a lot to learn. The shouting match drew in others and sound of sirens approached. There’d be plenty of drama, but it would vanish as quickly as it built.

I walked away from the park. The tiny blond girl followed me.

“Why do you do it?”

“You know why,” I wanted to be anywhere but here, talking about this. She was new, probably on her first trip.

“I know what they tell us.”

“It sustains us,” I said.

“You don’t need it,” she said, “The light would sustain you.”

“The light!” I choked on the word. For a moment I felt the cloying light which permeated everything, the pull to let it in, and the fear of what it would reveal.

She shook her head sadly.

“It would set you free,” she said. She reached out a hand as if she were going to actually touch me, but stopped. The last thing I saw were the tears running down her face.

The familiar darkness and fire surrounded me. Others surrounded me sensing weakness. I growled and disemboweled one while I tore out the throat of another. The rest backed away, this time.

The girl was right, the light would set me free, after opening all the shadowed depths of my being and cleansing it of the envy and pride. The mortals think hell is fire and brimstone, but is is worse.

Hell is knowing what I could be, and what I have chosen to become.

Expectation and the Flight of Time

The idea of a blog is to update it consistently enough to make the blog useful. I’ve never been very good at that and so I find myself posting photos from another 30 Day Photo Challenge. Before I give the site over to pictures again I wanted to update a little about what I’ve been doing since September. I brought out Sarcasm is my Superpower and survived another NaNoWriMo. I write a sequel to a book that I hope to bring out in the next year. In the meantime I’m continuing with my novellas publishing a collection of horror stories at the end of January or early February.

I’ve been putting a lot of my energy into my editing work and having a blast working with a diverse collection of writers. There are some terrific books that are in the process of being released.

Here is a story that plays with expectations, both the reader’s and the character’s. Enjoy.

The End of Snow White

Snoring filled the cottage. Even with her hands tight against her ears Snow White couldn’t block out the cacophony of wheezes and snorts. Chubby was worst; not because he was loudest, but because he would stop breathing for a while and, counting the seconds, she would wait until he grunted and started breathing once more.

Snow White didn’t know how her grandmother had managed with seven. Maybe they hadn’t snored. Maybe pigs had flown too. The only thing that had changed about the little men was their names. Snow White got up and went downstairs to clean. She might be called Snow White after her grandmother and but she didn’t feel much like Snow White, more like Dingy Grey.

The truth was the little men were slobs. She used a stick to pick up the laundry. They insisted on throwing down their clothes where ever they happened to be standing when the notion took them to change from one horrifically dirty outfit to another. The sight of naked little men stomping through the cottage was seared into Snow White’s mind. Nothing she said would change their behaviour. As they pointed out each time she complained, it was their cottage.

“Hey Snow,” a raspy voice floated down the stairs, “You want some help getting to sleep?”

“You forget, Sleazy,” Snow White said without turning around, “I’ve seen what you’ve got, and it doesn’t give a girl any confidence. There’s a good reason people call you ‘little men’.”

There was a harrumph and the banging of boots as whichever little man it was returned to his bed. None of them were really called Sleazy, but it was the name she used whenever one of them made advances. She had learned not to turn around. She could never keep from laughing and it made them even more cantankerous than usual.

The last bit of clothing went into the huge pot she used for laundry and with a bit of soap it would do until morning. Snow White put on a cloak and went out into the night to breathe. She walked away from the cottage so none of the little men could see her. She was tired of their eyes always following her. It was cold, but the air was fresh. She amused herself by catching some of the snow that fell from the trees and comparing it with her skin. Definitely more grey than white, she thought.

“It’s dangerous for a young girl to be out in the night like this.” Snow White shrugged and turned to where the huntsman was stepping out of the shadows.

“It’s dangerous to be me,” she said, “it doesn’t matter the place or time.”

“Someone might come upon you and ravish you.”

“Right,” Snow White flipped him a hand sign that her dear departed father would have told her no self-respecting princess should know never mind employ. Sorry, Pops, she thought, I’ve got no respect left, for myself or anyone else.

The huntsman frowned and gripped her shoulder.

“I have the power of life and death over you, Princess,” he said.

“Sure,” Snow White said, “You could go running to your Queen and tell her that you accidentally didn’t really kill me, and sort of accidentally brought her a deer heart instead.”

The huntsman growled and gripped her tighter, he put a hand on the collar of her dress and Snow White stopped him.

“Don’t you dare rip my dress.” She pushed him away, “This is the last bit of comfortable clothing I have left.”

“But…” The huntsman pouted.

“Oh, alright,” Snow White said, and let her dress fall to the snow, “Just pretend my cloak is my dress. But can we please at least go somewhere dry? There’s a cave this way.” She picked up the dress and led the Huntsman deeper into the woods.

In the morning Snow White watched the little men stagger off toward the mine that gave them just enough iron ore to eek out a living. Adding her full sized appetite to the mix really stretched their resources. That was why she pretended that she didn’t know that they doubled back to watch her take her bath and wash her clothes. For people who made so much noise the rest of the time, they were remarkably quiet.

As punishment for the come-on the night before, Snow White cut short her washing and wrapped up in a towel that felt like burlap. She boiled some water and tossed in some mint for flavour. She sat in the kitchen and waited for her clothes to dry enough to get dressed. It was a once a week ritual that no one talked about. One of these days they would make the connection between the midnight propositions and the length of her bath. She snorted, probably not. Little they were, but they were still men.

Snow White sipped her mint tea and considered her life. The huntsman was mildly amusing, but his obsession with her was going to cause trouble. It was the same with all of them. They all thought that they were beyond the sight of the Queen. The end was always the same. At least her father had just thrown them in the dungeons. The Queen apparently was infuriated by the ease with which Snow White ensnared the boys and men around her. The men in Snow White’s life tended to die. It was depressing.

The Queen wanted Snow White dead, and Snow White didn’t really blame her. But she wasn’t going to lie down and die for anyone. She wasn’t enjoying her life much, but she wasn’t ready to give it up just yet.

“Are you sure you’ll be alright?” Chubby looked up at Snow White. “I’ll stay here and take care of you while the others go to town.”

“Sure,” said Handy, “and we all know what you’ll be about while we’re gone.” He glowered at the other four little men. “We all go. She’ll be just fine.” He looked up at her through his eyebrows. Snow White nodded and that was that. The little men clambered up on the wagon, and their one wretched mule pulled them away down the trail away from the cottage. Snow White watched long enough to be sure that they were gone. She could count on their jealously to keep them all together to town and back.

Snow White heated the water and luxuriated in the first long, private bath in months. She almost wished the huntsman would come by.

Snow White washed all the linens and scrubbed what she could of the cottage. She hated cleaning, but she hated dirt worse. The days passed and she found herself missing the company. They were pigs and perverts and whatever else, but they surrounded her with life. Snow White wasn’t very good company for herself.

The huntsman never showed and when the little men came home she learned why.

“The Queen had him him tied to a stake and then choked him with his own organ.”

“How could she choke him with his heart?” she said.

“It wasn’t his heart,” Handy said, “It was a different organ.”

“Right,” Snow White said, “so what did you buy for food?”

“The usual,” Chubby said. Snow White rolled her eyes. “If we bought anything different the Queen would suspect something.

“Why would she care about a few grubby miners?”

“She cared about the huntsman sure enough,” Pinky said.

Snow White shrugged.

“You don’t seem too upset that a man who saved your life is dead.” Handy said.

“Every man in my life ends up dead,” Snow White said, “It’s like a curse.” She laughed as the little men all backed away from her. “Dinner isn’t going to cook itself.” She walked into the cottage. “I’ll call you when it’s ready,” she said over her shoulder.

The little men kept their distance for a day or two, but habit and inclination were too strong and soon they were ogling her again and strutting naked through the cottage. Their raspy voices called from the top of the stairs at night. Snow White went from feeling dingy grey to feeling very dark indeed.

Their snores still kept her awake; but something was different tonight. The sound didn’t have its full richness. A small man climbed into her bed and grabbed at her flesh.

“Don’t pretend you don’t like it,” the little man said, “You went off quick enough with your precious huntsman.” Snow White made a noise of disgust and pushed the little man away. She pulled her legs up to her chest. “So now you go all shy and virtuous,” the man sneered and tried to push her legs aside. Snow White kicked out and launched the little man out of the bed. He bounced across the floor and down the stairs.

The snores of the other little men didn’t change. Snow White didn’t feel like going and dealing with whoever was at the bottom of the stairs. With any luck he would just go back to bed and try to forget his humiliation.

When the men got up in the morning, they found Handy lying at the bottom of the stairs with his neck broken. They looked at him, then Snow White who was standing at the top of the stairs.

“Well, damn,” Chubby said, “How are we going to survive with just four of us running the mine?” They all turned and looked at Snow White.

“No,” she said, “no way. I’m no miner.”

“You’re going to earn your keep one way or another,” Chubby said. “You choose.”

“If I bang my head,” she said, “I’m going to burn your supper.”

Pinky went up the stairs and fetched Handy’s work bag. He handed her the dead man’s helmet and pick axe. The four little men picked up their comrade and slung him on the wagon. Snow White followed them to the mine.

They tossed the body into a dead end tunnel and piled some rocks to block it. One of them spat on the rocks then they led Snow White deeper into the mine. She saw a glint in the rock from one of their lamps. She turned her own lamp on the rock.

“Is this gold?” she said.

“Yup,” Chubby said, “Leave it alone.”


“What would happen if someone learned we had gold up here? They’d come and kill us and take our mine, that’s what would happen. Gold is trouble. Stick to the iron ore.”

Snow White shook her head, but the little men didn’t look so ridiculous with their hammers and axes. They led her deep into the mountain. She banged her head several times and muttered curses that bounced off the little men. They were in their element now. The cottage was only where they lived. The mine was where they were alive.

She hated it. Even with the helmet her head ached. Soon, her shoulders and back ached too. The little men cracked the rock with hard, rhythmic strokes. Snow White’s hands vibrated from hitting the rock and she barely scratched the surface.

“OK,” Chubby said after an eternity, “Go and make us supper.”

The walk back to the cottage was long and excruciating. It was worse than the night that she had followed the huntsman into the woods knowing that she would have to seduce him to save her life. She couldn’t face the idea of seducing the little men. The very idea made her ill.

Even the snoring didn’t keep her awake that night or for the rest of the week. She slept exhausted until morning. The men glared at each other jealously. Snow White knew it was only a matter of time before they came up with a solution that would make them happy and complete her fall from being Snow White.

It didn’t take as long as she had hoped.

“I got the short straw,” Pinky said and leered at her.

“Short straw,” said Snow White, “how appropriate.” His leer slipped a little, but only a little. The work day passed as slowly as all the others. Snow White walked back to the cottage as quickly as she could. She could pack up and move on. She didn’t know where, but she would find a place.

The berries were lit by a beam of golden sunlight. The huntsman had pointed them out once.

“Eat one of those and you’ll never wake up,” he’d said.

Snow White looked at them. Here was her solution. She thought of sleeping and never waking up. After picking every berry there she hurried back to the cottage. She crushed the berries and added them to the rough stew that was all they ate. It smelled as vile as it always did. Her cooking was only marginally better than the little men’s.

The little men arrived home. They came to the table with their filthy hands and filthier grins. They were all looking forward to this night. The stew vanished from their plates and Snow White dished out seconds. Finally Pinky sighed and let out a huge belch.

“Well boys,” he said, “I’m for bed.” He winked at them and leered at Snow White. “Don’t keep me waiting.”

“I’ll just clean up some,” Snow White said.

“Don’t keep me waiting,” Pinky said again and let his hand rest on her shoulder possessively. Snow White nodded.

She heard them stomping around upstairs. She took as long as she could clearing up.

“Get up here, girl,” the raspy voice of a little man came down the stairs. Snow White took a deep breath and slowly climbed the stairs. The four men were staring at her.

“Well,” Pinky said as he stood naked and eager, “it’s time.” Then he fell flat on his face and started snoring. The others fell back on their beds and began snoring too.

Snow White stood there and listened to the snores. She listened until one by one the snores stopped.

In the morning she took the wagon and the old mule. She left the bodies in the beds. It took her all day to load the loose gold at the mine into the wagon.

“Let’s go,” she said to the mule. “One last trip and you can retire.” She drove the mule away from the mine and the cottage and the last of the Kingdom that knew her as Princess Snow White.

She looked at her arms that were black with rock dust, maybe some day she would feel clean again.