Category Archives: Fantasy

Gold

Sascha limped into the bar and took a table where she could sit with her back to a wall facing the door. A young girl came and deposited a mug of beer on the table. Sascha used a scrap of sleeve wetted with beer to clean the blood from her face. The girl appeared again and left a cleaner cloth. Shascha smiled thanks and went back to her ablutions. She drank what was left of the beer and settled in for a long wait.

A polished steel shield hung on the wall. From what she could see of the bartender in it he looked more troll than human. Sascha wondered what he thought of her. She knew even with her best efforts, blood caked in her eyebrows and hair, turning fiery-red dark. Fortunately none of the cuts and tears in her clothes were in places which could cause trouble.

Well after moonrise, Jacko slid into the seat across from her. The room had filled up and they were able to talk under the boisterous crowd.

“What happened to you?”

“A couple of bravos thought they needed my purse more than I did.”

Jacko winced, “Did you have to let them bleed all over you?”

“One thought he could hold me while his partner finished me. I had to cut his throat.” She shrugged. “It was messy.

“They must have been desperate.”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“After all that you didn’t even check their purses?”

“Whatever else I might be I am not a thief.”

“You could have taken enough for some new clothes.”

Sascha stared at him until Jacko looked down.

“OK, OK, You’ll do anything for gold but steal it. I don’t get you, Sasch.”

“You don’t need to get me.” She leaned forward across the stained wood of the table. “Did you get the information I asked you about?”

“I did, the old man’s holed up in the old monastery outside the south wall.”

“Thanks” She dropped a handful of coins on the table. “Buy yourself a decent meal.”

Her stained and ragged clothing helped Sascha blend into the shadows well enough the guards didn’t notice her climb over the south wall. The moon shone bright enough to reveal handholds, but not so bright as to make her stand out. She reached the bottom and stretched out the cramps in her hands.

The place was more ruin than monastery. Walls and roofs now jumbles of stone. The only building still standing was the crypt for the monks who never left their retreat even in death. She pushed on the door and found it barred from the inside. She smiled, neither corpses or ghosts had any reason to bar the door. With the blade of her thinnest knife she lifted the bar and eased the door open.

The faint gleam of moonlight didn’t show anything but dust and bones. She entered the crypt and followed the faint scent of cheese. An old man waited for her.

“Robson sent you.”

“He wants the stone.”

“Ah,” the old man nodded. “Want some cheese?”

Sascha shrugged and took the chunk of cheese from his hand. She bit into it and almost cried at its sharp flavour against her tongue.

“There is water if you wish to clean up.” He tossed her a bundle of cloth. “My fellows won’t mind if you borrow a robe. The smell of death disturbs me.”

“You’re afraid of dying?” Sascha asked through the splashes of water on her face.

“No.”

“I was hoping you would be. ”

“So I would just give you the stone?”

“I don’t want to kill you.”

“But you will if you have to.”

“I will do what I need for Gold.”

The old man looked at her sadly.

“I don’t see greed in your eyes.”

“Nonetheless.”

He reached into his robe and puled out a tiny bundle wrapped in silk.

“Silk is the only substance that the stone won’t effect. Be careful.” He handed it to her.

Sascha allowed the silk to move from the stone and touched it against a bone that lay on the floor. It turned into pure yellow gold.

“Why?”

“You are at the very edge of darkness. I didn’t want to push you over.”

“Then you understand.”

“Goodbye Sascha, you’re almost free.”

“Without Gold, I will never be free.”

“Remember the silk.” The crypt went dark.

Sascha found herself outside the crypt. She shook her head and patted the small weight of the stone in her pocket.

######

Robson was waiting for her in the room he called his throne room.

“You have it?”

“Gold first.”

He snapped his fingers and one of the thugs beside him pulled a little girl from behind Robson; her hair the colour fine gold.

“Mommy!” the girl cried.

“Hi Gold.”

Robson took the little girl’s hand and kept her from running to her mother.

“The stone first.”

“This is the last time,” Sascha said holding up the tiny bundle.

“Sascha, Sascha, you can trust me. Let me see the stone, then we’ll talk.” He let go of Gold and the girl ran to her mother.

Sascha tossed the stone to Robson and swept up Gold in her arms. She used the bit of silk to wipe the tears from her daughter’s eyes.

Cindy’s Fella

This isn’t a short short, but it is a favourite of mine. I don’t remember the contest it was written for, but it wasn’t a twisted fairy tale. I have a number of fairy tales twisted in a variety of ways. Some dark enough to make people worry about me.


DSCF1539Cindy dug the shovel into the large pile of manure left behind by Cleopatra. The strong odour of the manure surrounded her and she breathed it in. Her sisters, step-sisters actually, could hardly stand to enter the barn, never mind help to clean it. Cindy loved the barn. It was her refuge from the annoyances of life in the manor house. She dumped the shovel load into the wheelbarrow and dug in for another load. It was truly astonishing how much one rather elderly cow could produce, both milk and manure. To Cindy’s mind they were of equal importance. The milk paid for the day to day expenses of the manor while the manure went to fertilize the garden patch that would feed them through the winter.

It took several trips to the garden to bring Cleopatra’s contribution to the garden and properly dig it in around the vegetables, especially the large pumpkin. She was hoping to enter it in the fair. Cindy could have made just the one trip, but her step-mother didn’t think it proper for her to sling the wheelbarrow around like a common farm hand. Besides it took longer this way.

Yet no matter how much she dawdled over the work, the work got done and she had to put away the tools and go back up to the house.

“Cindy,” Anatolia looked up from where she lounged on the couch. “When’s supper? I am famished.”

“I will start it immediately,” Cindy said.

“Cindy,” Zetta wrinkled her nose, “You stink, I will simply not eat anything you cook before you wash.”

“But I’ll die if I don’t eat soon.” Anatolia rubbed her generous stomach.

“I doubt that very much,” the girls’ mother said, “Cindy go wash. You must learn to be more careful. A lady doesn’t reek of the barn.”

Cindy guessed she wasn’t much of a lady then, since she usually reeked of the barn. She knew better than to say anything. Her step-mother wasn’t too lady-like to wield a rod to chastise Cindy. Not that Cindy liked stinking to high heaven, but she saw it as an inescapable result of her efforts to feed the family.

Her family, such as it was, was otherwise completely incapable of caring for themselves. Her father had been a successful and comfortable farmer. When he died, his second wife and her daughters discovered that it took a great deal of work to be successful farmers. Work that they were completely unwilling to put in. The farm was sold off piece meal until only the large ‘manor’ house and barn remained with just enough land to plant a garden.

She would have liked to have soaked properly, but the threat of Anatolia’s complaints drove her out the water. She dried off quickly and put her cooking dress on. It was an older mode with tighter sleeves unlikely to catch fire from the old stove.

Cindy didn’t like the kitchen as much as the barn. She didn’t mind cooking but there were constant interruptions.

“Is there something I can eat while I wait?” Anatolia asked as she shuffled through the narrow door. Another year and she wouldn’t fit.

“There are some peeled carrots on the table,” Cindy pounded on the tough meat to tenderize it enough to meet her step-mother’s exacting standards.

“I don’t want carrots,” Anatolia whined, “Don’t you have any sweets?”

“No,” Cindy said, “You know your mother has banned sweets.”

“And with good reason,” Zetta walked in a sniffed to check on Cindy’s level of cleanliness., “if you get any bigger you won’t fit your dresses and Mother doesn’t want to take them out again.”

Anatolia picked up a carrot and heaved a great sigh. She sidled back out of the kitchen.

“Make sure you cut all the fat off my meat,” Zetta said. “You missed some last night.” She followed her sister out of the kitchen.

Cindy had no idea what they did with themselves through the day. They never seemed to be very far apart. Her step-mother spent her days plotting how to restore the fallen fortunes of the farm without actually going so far as to do any work. Cindy was content with the way things were. She couldn’t manage a large farm by herself. Right now she was just able to keep the balance between being busy and being able to finish her work.

She supposed some people would be upset by the demands of her step-family. But Cindy would be doing all the work anyway. After changing her dress for dinner and eating with the others she did the dishes. The last thing she did every night was milk Cleopatra.

It was dim in the barn and the old cow mooed a welcome to Cindy. She set the stool beside the cow and set the bucket in place. Cindy marvelled that this last remaining cow continued to give milk in generous amounts. When the milking was done she put the milk in the cool urn, then spent some time brushing Cleopatra. Then put down fresh straw for the cow and fill the manger with hay and the trough with clean water.

Cindy took one last breath of the barn air redolent with smell of everything she loved, then closed up the doors and went off to bed.

***

She woke to the sound of the birds singing outside her window.

“Dratted birds,” she mumbled as she put on her barn clothes and went out to milk Cleopatra. She patted the old cow and went through the chores. After breakfast her step-mother sent her into town to buy a couple of things.

“I have work to do,” Cindy said.

“If I send Zetta, she will complain bitterly,” her step-mother said, “then come back with all the wrong things to punish me. Anatolia would just spend the money on sweets. Get on with you.” She put the few coins into Cindy’s hand. “You will take far too long with all your talking to people, but I know you will buy what I tell you.

So instead of working in the garden, Cindy put on her nice dress and walked into town. She didn’t mind much. She hadn’t seen her friends in a while.

“Morning, John,” she said to the dairyman, “Mother wants a cheese. You can deliver it to the house later.”

“Certainly, Cindy,” John said, “I’ll be going by that way later.”

She wandered through town picking up the few things on the list from the merchants. She greeted each one by name and they treated her well though she was only spending a few pennies. In the centre of town there was a crowd gathered by a poster. Those who could read were standing near the poster and announcing its contents to everyone else.

“Hey Cindy,” called one, “You going to the ball?”

“Do I look like I’m going to a ball?” Cindy said, “I doubt the Prince even knows I exists.”

“Says here that all eligible maids are to attend the ball.”

“Well then,” Cindy looked at herself, “I don’t look much like a maid.”

The crowd laughed and Cindy waved and headed off home.

The exchange unsettled her. She enjoyed the farming, but was it what she wanted for the rest of her life? She imagined herself married to one of Bill’s older brothers. They had a whole herd of milk cows and chickens too. She would be doing chores from dawn to dusk. She didn’t mind the work, but there would be nothing else. She thought of Bill’s mother’s eulogy last year was summed up in five words. “She was a hard worker.” Cindy found herself imagining what she would wear to the ball.

***

The prince stalked through the halls of the palace hoping that some servant would be foolish enough to get in his way; maybe that pert new servant girl from his mother’s wing of the palace. Imagining her heart-shaped face cowed with fear made him smile. He shook his head angrily. No smiles. The prince was a person to be feared today. No one feared someone prancing about with a silly grin on their face.

Reluctantly he pushed the thought of the girl out of his head and reflected on the recent conversation with his father, the King.

“So Father,” the prince had said, “Now that I’m twenty-one, are you going to make me your heir?”

“Humph,” The King glowered at him and tapped his fingers on the arms of his chair. “You’re too wild right now. You need to settle down and start producing heirs.”

“You make me sound like some bull at one of those tiresome fairs.”

The King looked the prince over and grunted, his fingers struck the wood like hammers..

“Those bulls have value,” he said finally, “all you do is cause trouble. I wanted to find you a nice princess, but you’ve scared them all away with your antics. So you will have to find someone from around here.”

“The only women around her are farmers and servants!”

“You don’t seem to find servants unattractive,” the King said, “In fact your constant attraction to them is costing the kingdom a fortune. At least a farmer would be able to explain the finer points of a prize bull.”

The prince swelled up to unleash his rage, but his father raised his hand.

“If you won’t choose a wife, then I will choose one for you. Be sure that I will have the future needs of the kingdom in mind.” The prince imagined the bride his father would select for him, some sturdy woman with a strong constitution and no grace. He shuddered.

“I am throwing a ball,” The King put his hand down and ran his hand across the arm of his chair. “for all the maids in the kingdom. You will choose one to be your wife. When your heir is apparent, I will consider making you my formal heir.”

The prince left the room very carefully not slamming the door. The King was not someone to be trifled with. As soon as he rounded the corner out of King’s quarters he let his boots slam into the stone floor and twisted his face into a scowl. He was no prize bull to be set out to stud! Though to be honest, he had…collected quite a herd. He leaned against the wall and went through their faces in his mind.

*****

Cindy made it back home and took the small bag of purchases into the house. She discovered her step-mother running her hands over two bolts of fine cloth.

“What did you sell this time?” Cindy asked. “I know we didn’t have the money for that.”

“Don’t be impertinent,” her step-mother’s eyes took on the glare which preceded a beating., “Someone must look out for the welfare of this family.”

Cindy went looking through the house trying to think of what was missing that would have paid for that cloth.

“Well, at least she won’t always smell of the barn.” She heard Zetta say.

“But I’ll miss the fresh cream,” Anatolia said.

“Cleopatra!” Cindy ran out to the barn. Sure enough, the old cow’s stall was empty. She stormed back into the house and interrupted her step-mother measuring the cloth against her step-sisters.

“How could you?” Cindy said, “Cleopatra’s milk was the only thing keeping us from starving.”

“With a daughter married to the prince, I won’t have to worry about starving.”

“Every girl in the kingdom will be at that ball!”

“Which is why I had to buy the fabric; I need to give my daughters an edge.”

“You could at least have bought colours that would suit them,” Cindy said and ran up to her room.

She refused to come out to cook or clean. Her step-mother gave up on her and even went as far as to wedge the door closed with a chair. Anatolia came and begged her to cook. Zetta came to sneer and complain. Cindy ignored them all. She pulled out an old dress of her mother’s that had hung in the back of her closet for as long as she could remember. It used to smell of her mother, now it just smelled musty.

Cindy aired the dress out and tried it on. It was loose in some places and tight in others, yet fit surprisingly well. She spent some time altering it as best she could while she tried not to hear the steady tramp of feet in and out of the house. They would never be able to pay for all this fuss. Her step-mother was going to put them out on the street. There wasn’t much left to sell.

The day of the ball came and Cindy carefully rolled the dress up and fit it into a pillow case. She held the case as she climbed down the trellis outside her window. The only place she could think to change was the barn. She put on the dress and tried her best to tidy herself.

“Well it’s good to see that you can make yourself presentable,” her step-mother said as she walked into the barn, “but there’s no need for you to go to the ball. You have a fiancé already.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Farmer Jones needs a new wife. He’s had his eye on this farm for a while. Since you like farming so much, it is a perfect match. He doesn’t care about this ball since he only has sons.”

“Farmer Jones is old enough to be my father! I won’t marry him.”

“You may not like me, but I am your mother and you will do what I say.”

“I won’t,” Cindy tried to run past her step-mother, but the older woman was faster and stronger than the she expected. She caught Cindy’s arm in an iron grip and pulled her close.

“You will do what I say, girl, or some sad accident will befall you. I did it before; I can do it again.” She pushed Cindy back into the barn and slammed the door closed. The bar outside dropped with a bang. All the other doors would be barred too and there was no trellis to climb down.

She felt like she was going to burst. She kicked and pounded on the door, but though it was old it was still all too solid. The sound of horses pulling a carriage came through the door and she collapsed into tears. This really was it. There was no escape from her future life as Bill’s step-mother. She was younger than he was! If it had been someone else it might have been funny.

The barn was very silent without Cleopatra in it. Cindy sighed and leaned against the door. It was going to be a long night.

She wasn’t sure how long she had sat, huddled against the door before she noticed a strange light coming from Cleopatra’s stall. Cindy got up to investigate. She walked to the stall and peeked around the door. Busily cleaning the stall with a tiny broom was a women who didn’t stand as tall as Cindy’s waist.

“Well come in, dear,” the woman said. “It isn’t polite to stare.”

Cindy reluctantly walked into the stall. Somehow as she entered it, the cramped space grew larger and she found herself eyeball to eyeball with the strange woman.

“Don’t fret about it,” the woman said, “It will just give you wrinkles.” She waved her hand and a ball of light floated up above them. “Now, let me get a good look at you.” She made spinning motions with her hand and Cindy slowly turned around.

“I know that dress has sentimental value, but it just won’t do.” She waved her hand again and the sudden weight of a beautiful gown draped from Cindy’s shoulders. She struggled to breathe.

“Small breaths, dear, a corset takes some getting used to, but you’ll be fine.”

She made the spinning motion with her hand again and Cindy turned again.

“Better, better.” She waved her hand and Cindy’s hair crawled and tugged until she thought it would pull right out.

Finally it stopped and she lifted her hand to feel.

“Ah, ah,” the woman said, “don’t fuss.” She led the way out into the barnyard. The moon was just rising and gave the place a magical glow. The woman walked over to the garden and peered at the pumpkin.

“This will do fine.”

“But that’s going to be my prize pumpkin.”

“Listen, Cindy, I promised your mother to look after you, not to rescue you from your own stupidity. You can either go to the ball and marry the prince; or you can stay here, grow prize pumpkins and marry Farmer Jones.”

Cindy shuddered and turned away from the garden. The woman waved her hand and the pumpkin exploded into a fine coach. Two unwary rabbits became horses to draw the coach, another became a driver.

“Here are the rules, child,” the woman was taller than Cindy now, “You have until midnight to capture the prince; no later, not one second after midnight. At the fading of the last stroke of midnight the spell will end. Don’t worry about leaving early; I’ve given you a little advantage. The poor boy won’t be able to resist you. Just leave before the last stroke of midnight and you become the next princess. Stay any later and I won’t be responsible for what happens.” She smiled brightly. “But I know you will follow the rules. Now get your pretty glass slippers into the carriage and go.”

Cindy climbed into the pumpkin carriage and the rabbit horses dashed away. She pulled up to the palace much sooner than she expected. More magic probably. She wondered briefly about how her mother might have met such a strange person, but she didn’t have time to dwell on it. The guards helped her out of the carriage and sent it off.

“I’m supposed to leave at midnight,” she said.

“That’s your driver’s problem,” the guard said and pointed into the palace.

Cindy walked through the hallways in a daze. Torches lit the way and highlight gold framed portraits and marble sculptures. Her glass slippers clinked faintly on the stone. What would it be like to live here? She finally arrived at the doors to the ballroom. Bill stood by the door pulling at the neck of his uniform. His eyes widened when he saw Cindy.

“You look good.”

“And that’s a surprise?”

“No I mean you always look nice, but now you look like a princess.”

“All the better to catch a prince.”

“I’m not sure he’s that much of a catch,” Bill whispered. “Most of the girls here are terrified of him.”

“So what are you doing here?”

“My father is getting married again, probably to some widow who will do nothing but complain about how the place is run. My brothers are farmers, but I want something different. This is the first step.”

“So some glowing lady came and offered you the chance to change your life?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Nothing, never mind.” Cindy took a deep breath. “You’d better open those doors and let me in. By the way, I’m supposed to leave at midnight. Let me know when it gets close.”

“Sure thing, Cindy.” Bill threw the doors open and Cindy walked into the ballroom.

The room looked like something out of a fairy tale. The walls were draped with fine cloth, a long table groaned beneath the weight of more food than Cindy’s farm grew in a year. Musicians on a balcony played a sprightly tune. Though the floor had been polished to a mirror-like shine, the glass slippers gripped it comfortably. In this setting magic was easy to believe in.

Then she noticed the reek of desperation. The huge room was filled with young women who wore grim faces and glared at each other, while they shot fear filled glances at the prince. He was dressed in white and was surrounded by other men in shades of grey and black. They danced with young women while the prince lounged on the throne that had been set at the far end. He was making no attempt to hide his boredom and contempt.

It was shocking how ugly a beautiful room could be made by the presence of the wrong person. The women who should have been laughing and enjoying themselves were dressed more by their fear or avarice than their fine clothes. The men wore their lust like finery. She shuddered. Cindy was almost ready to turn around and take her chances with Farmer Jones, when her eyes met those of the prince.

***

The prince was inescapably bored. The women hovered around him. They giggled nervously or tried to act like they weren’t just farmer’s daughters overdressed for the night. There were two girls who wore hideous dresses, one was stuffing her face at the buffet while the other scowled at everyone who approached her. Another girl curtsied in front of him and he twirled his fingers, she stared at him.

“Turn around,” he said, and rolled his eyes. She gulped and attempted a pirouette slipping and falling to her knees then ran off weeping. The door at the far end opened to let in some cow who couldn’t tell time. He glanced up to see what new torture was to be visited upon him and his eyes met hers.

If you had put a sword to his throat he couldn’t have told you the colour of her dress, but her eyes were the incredible blue of those flowers his horse ate on the side of the rode. He would never let his horse eat them again.

Without thinking about it he got up from his seat and went to greet this vision of loveliness.

Somehow his greeting turned into the first steps of a dance. The orchestra sat up straight and started playing the music for his dance. There was a collective sigh and the other girls started eyeing up his attendants in grey for possible dancing ability. Whatever dance he began she followed, she laughed at his jokes and not just a nervous titter either. He filled her plate with food and her cup with wine. As the evening progressed he paid less and less attention to the other people who inhabited the room.

One of his guards started making odd gestures at them. He glared at the man, someone who had just joined up that day, he’d have him flogged and cast out, but only after he had finished with this most enchanting woman. He led her out to the patio where they were out of view of the crowd.

The music was quieter here, but he was content to just hum along. No conversation was necessary with those extraordinary eyes on his. He heard the clock begin to strike midnight, time to end this farce of a ball. He would marry this woman and they would rule the kingdom as soon as the old man had the decency to die.

For some reason she was trying to pull away from him, but he was used to dealing with reluctant women and he just tightened his grip. The last stroke of midnight was fading when she shrugged and blinked.

****

The whole evening had been very strange, as if riding to a ball in an oversized pumpkin wasn’t strange enough. From the moment their eyes met the prince hadn’t left her side. Cindy had watched as desperation faded to resignation and the other girls started looking for matches not quite as lofty as a prince.

He insisted on feeding her and plying her with wine. It was probably the wine that made her forget about the time. She was feeling quite tipsy by the time he pulled out onto the patio. At least there was a pleasant breeze blowing out here. The prince was humming along to the music with a fatuous grin on his face.

The clock was striking twelve. She had to leave.

Unfortunately the prince was considerably stronger than her, and very determined that she not leave. As the clock hit the final stroke she gave up and shrugged. He would have to see what he was getting sooner or later.

The dress faded away as the sound of the clock vanished. She felt her hair tumble down to its usual tangle about her shoulders.

“What is that smell?” the prince asked.

“That would be the barn,” Cindy said, “I was locked in it before all this started.”

“Oh great,” said the prince, “I suppose it would have been too much trouble to take a bath?”

“My step-mother locked me in the barn.”

“Of course she did,” the prince rolled his eyes. “Well at least let me get a decent look at you. Turn around.” He waved his hand at her.

“You’ve been doing nothing but stare at me all night.”

“But now I want to look at you.”

Just her and the prince out here. The pleasant breeze of a moment ago turned chill and raised goosebumps on her arms. She crossed her arms to warm herself.

“Blast you stupid cow!” the prince shouted, “I will see what you have.” He grabbed her dress and wrenched at it. Cindy heard the fabric of her mother’s dress tear and the chill wind blew across her breasts. He grabbed at her and twisted her flesh.

Cindy didn’t know whether to curse herself or her mother’s friend. She settled on kneeing the prince between the legs. He stopped fumbling with his pants and went a little cross-eyed.

“Guards!” he screamed. “Guards, arrest this woman!” His fists clenched and he looked like he wasn’t going to wait for the guards before doing more damage. Cindy sighed and gave him a proper kick. His eyes rolled up into his head and he fell to the ground. She gathered the remnants of her dress about her and looked for an escape.

Too late. A guard approached her and stepped into the light surrounding her and the prince.

“I tried to warn you about the time,” Bill said, “If I’d known what a dastard he was I would have dragged you off myself.”

“So now I guess you have to arrest me.” Cindy held her hands in front of her. The wind caressed her skin. Bill’s eyes widened and he whipped off his vest and wrapped it around her.

“Come with me,” he said his voice breaking. He put his arm around her and pulled her into the darkness as other guards came running past. None of them paid them any attention.

“Did you think the night would end like this?” Cindy said, “You throwing me into the dungeons?”

“Don’t know where the dungeons are,” Bill said as a familiar smell filled her nose. “I rode Blackie here when I came to work. I expect he’ll be glad to carry me away again.” He held her gently by the shoulders. “I’m no prince. I’m just the youngest son of an old farmer.”

“Youngest sons are supposed to be lucky.” Cindy put her finger on his lips. “And right now I’ve had my fill of princes.” She helped him get Blackie out of his stall. Bill lifted her up, then jumped up behind her. Cindy could hear shouts approaching.

“I think it’s time to go.”

Bill kicked Blackie into a gallop and they rode out the gates. Cindy laughed and kicked the slippers off her feet.

The tinkling sound of breaking glass followed them as they rode away into the night.

Holy Bolts

I can’t remember the nature of this contest, but it must have been a strange one. The combination of Religion and Engineering will produce interesting offspring.


Engineer Third Class Jones looked at the access panel and said a few words that would have earned him penance from the Most Reverend Captain, assuming that said Most Reverend Captain could fit his fat behind through the engineering hatch. Jones gave himself a penance for the disrespectful thinking and looked at the panel again.

No matter how many Notre Maters he said, the bolts were still .675 Specials. As an Engineer Third Class, Jones didn′t have access to the Specials. He looked through his tool pouch anyway in case the Lord Mother had seen fit to put one in his kit. No such luck. Jones wasn′t nearly pious enough to rate the attention of the Lord Mother herself. He glared at the panel and wished it to a bright and fiery place. Since it was only a inanimate panel he didn′t feel guilty about his thoughts. Much

Time was wasting and Deacon Engineer First Class Apollos was expecting him to check the filters on the waste scrubbers before shift end. Those filters stubbornly remained on the other side of the panel. If they weren′t going to come to him; he would have to get to them.

Jones when through his kit again, still no .675 Special, but there was a possibility. It was almost blasphemous, but didn′t Deacon Engineer always say that the Lord Mother helps those who help themselves?

He pulled out the .675 Normal and fit it over the bolt. His needle nosed pliers, opened as far as they would go and one point just fit in the hole in the centre of the bolt.

″If you′re going to strike me dead, Lord Mother″ he said, ″Make a quick job of it. I don′t want to have to listen to Deacon Engineer′s lecture before I die. That and hell would be just too much.″

He twisted the bolt one way while he turned the pliers the other. It always looked so slick when Deacon Engineer used his Special with the gears that formed the words of the Notre Mater so he knew when to stop. Jones just muttered under his breath and guessed. The bolt loosened as easily as a Normal and soon dropped on the floor.

He picked up the bolt and examined it curiously. Other than the hole in the centre there was nothing special about it. He tried the next bolt with just his Normal. The shock ran up his arm and left him lying on the floor twitching. By all Maxwell′s little demons that hurt!

He put the pliers in the hole and once again removed the bolt easily. He didn′t play with the other bolts but quickly took them out and lifted the panel free. He carefully set it to the side and laid the bolts in order beside it. First off, last on; that was first catechism, he followed it religiously.

The light on the other side of the access panel glowed dim and red. He double checked his flash as he put his tools back in his kit. He would only use it in an emergency. It was scripture that things were the way they were for a reason. Introducing a white light into this hellish red glow might have catastrophic consequences. Jones ran through the fourth catechism and decided that he was still safe, but he

wouldn′t waste anytime exploring this new territory.

Jones followed Deacon Engineer′s instructions carefully. Forward six lengths then left two. Pause for two Notre Maters, then forward again to a panel which all glory to the Lord Mother had Normal bolts. He had this panel off in seconds and peered at the filter covers. They were held on by .675 Specials.  The filter cover was directly over a grate on the floor. He cursed a bit, then said his penance. He said a bit extra for later; he was sure he was going to use them up. The first bolt wasn′t too bad or the second. For the third bolt he had to lie on the floor and somehow fit both arms through the small access hatch. The last bolt was impossible. He just couldn′t reach it with both hands. Somehow he would have to hold the pliers and wrench in the same hand and twist them in opposite directions. He lay on his back and looked at the situation. He practised the necessary motion. He might be able to do this.

″Once again, Dear Lord Mother,″ he breathed, ″Instantaneous death is much preferable.″

He was astonished when everything went well; until the bolt almost fell through the grate. Unfortunately in his wildly fortunate catch of the bolt he dropped his pliers. They bounced on the grate  then slipped through the spaces. He heard them clattering down into the Engineering level below him.

He spent several minutes running up his need for penance. He should have known. It was the sixth catechism.. He was a fool, a charlatan. He didn′t have the faith or the knowledge for this job.

Jones calmed himself down enough to pull the panel off and checked the filter. It looked like it needed cleaning. He pried it out and prayerfully fit in the replacement.

System flush of replacement filter in three minutes.

Jones moaned. This was beyond cursing. He had to get that panel back on. Without a Special, without his pliers. He picked up a bolt and looked at it more closely. He fit his wrench on it and gave it a tentative turn. The shock was milder, but it still made him swear. But he learned something. The head of the bolt moved; not much, but enough. He fit his Normal wrench over the bolt, then pushed down with his thumb and turned. No shock.


″Great glorious Lord Mother!″ he shouted. ″I can do this!″

He fit the panel in place and hand tightened the first bolt carefully keeping pressure on the head of the bolt. The other three went on just as easily.

System flush of replacement filter in one minute.


The .675 Normal went over the first bolt with his thumb pushing firmly down. He said a Hail Joseph as he tightened it down. Second one.


System flush of replacement filter in thirty seconds.

Third bolt, then last one. He slapped the access panel on and had the bolts on and tightened in seconds

Stand by for system flush.

A gale rushed by on the other side of the panel, but he didn′t hear any bolts coming loose. He followed the path back to the first access. The white light looked garishly bright. He quickly fit the panel in place and started the bolts.


″It might be easier with this.″  Jones jumped and almost cursed as Deacon Engineer passed him a .675 Special. ″And Engineer Second Class Jones.″ Jones was sure he saw a smile. ″You will need them to recover those pliers you dropped.

The Midnight Clock

“Wake up Maddie, we’re making relish today.”

Maddie groaned and glared at her stepmother. She dragged herself out of bed to begin a long day of chopping, grinding, and stirring, then pouring the mixtures into hot jars. How much relish do we need?  Maddie pushed her long, damp hair out of her face.

Before the relish had been pickles; before that had been jams. Since my father vanished, I’ve become a slave to the mad queen of preserves.

“I think we are done for the day,” her stepmother said, “I would like….” but Maddie had grabbed her cloak; one of the the last things she had of her mother and run from the house before her stepmother could ask yet more work of her.

The sun was out, but the air was cool enough to make her glad of the cloak. She wandered down to the market. She had no money, but liked the busy atmosphere. Then there were the young men standing around as well. She’d got to know them a little. Jonas, a muscular blond, was the obvious leader. He smiled and flattered her. He even bought her a treat when her stomach growled. Over the last few weeks whenever she could escape she had run to the market and to walk with Jonas and the others, wishing she had her own money to spend..

If Mom were alive, if Father hadn’t married a stranger, then left; if life was fair… But life wasn’t fair, She understood that now; life was sharing home and anger with her stepmother, but no understanding

Maddie decided to go to the Midnight Clock with her aching heart. She would wish for Jonas to carry her away from her miserable life. She lit the match with the first strike. The warm glow of her lamp showed the clock peeking through the vines on the wall. It was one minute to midnight on the full moon – magic time. The minute hand moved and she touched the face of the clock to make her wish. But all the carefully prepared words deserted her, leaving an inchoate longing in their place. The hand moved again. It was done. She climbed down the ladder and walked home.

The next day she went to the market and laughed and talked with Jonas. Something was different, she thought, he was paying much more attention to her. She flirted with him, laughing and teasing. They would fall in love, get married and live in a house with no jars to fill. At noon they walked over to the food side of the market to buy a snack. Maddie’s stepmother was there in a tiny booth with jars lining the walls.

“No,” Maddie whispered, “You’re selling them? All that work just so you could make money?”

“Maddie, wait,” her stepmother called, but Maddie had already fled, running through the streets until she was completely lost.

Evening came and the streets had emptied. Tired and hungry, Maddie tried to find her way home. Jonas and his friends leaned against a wall. He’ll save me. Jonas smiled at her and her heart thumped. Not until he pulled her into an alley did she recognize it as fear. The other boys followed licking their lips.

“Just a poor market brat,” Jonas sneered. “There’s only one thing you’re good for. If you behave I may even pay you for it.”

Maddie twisted and pulled, but the heavy cloth of her cloak had become a trap. He pushed her against the wall and fumbled at her dress. In rage and panic Maddie stomped on the top of his foot. Jonas yelled and let go of her to strike her. Maddie stepped close and kneed him. His yell became a gurgle as he fell to the ground.

She glared at the others until they hung their heads and melted into the shadows. Maddie walked out of the alley. She knew  where she was now. Time to visit her mother. The almost full moon lit the graveyard, but Maddie borrowed a small lantern to read the letter that was the only other thing her mother had given her. She read it through as she had so many times – her mother’s promise that all would be well, that her mother would always look after her, that she would always love Maddie.

“You lied to me,” Maddie cried as the clock struck twelve, “There is no love, no hope.”

“She didn’t lie, Maddie.” Her stepmother walked across the grass to kneel beside Maddie.

Maddie turned to look at her stepmother ready to scream her anger, but tears flowed down the woman’s face.

“But promises are like wishes, they change shape as we hold them.” Her step-mother sighed and put her arm around Maddie. “I thought I would find you here.”

“What do you know about it?”

“I married your father so I would have someone to take care of me. Instead I’m alone trying to be a mother to a girl who hates me.”

“I’m scared,”  Maddie admitted as much to herself as her step-mother.

“So am I.”

“What do we do now?”

“I don’t know. We will have to find out together,” her stepmother handed her some coins. “Your share of the sales today.”

“People liked our relish?”

Her stepmother smiled, “It was the best seller.”

Maddie handed the coins back to her stepmother, “Maybe you could hold on to these for me.” She picked up her mother’s letter. “I’ll help you at the booth tomorrow.”

“Let’s go home.” They stood, and Maddie touched her mother’s tombstone.

“She isn’t you,” Maddie said to her mother. “But I think she will be a good friend.”

Vision of the Griffin’s Heart Blog Tour

7bcfc1_8e02b2c450564fbe8c6d2d2c3e279e68JUST RELEASED! Vision of the Griffin’s Heart, Andy Smithson, Book 5

Four years ago, Andy Smithson discovered he is the Chosen one to break a 500-yr-old curse plaguing the land of Oomaldee when he unexpectedly and mysteriously found himself there. To do so, he must collect ingredients for a magical potion. Thus far he has gathered the scale of a red dragon, venom from a giant serpent, a unicorn’s horn, and the tail feather of a phoenix. Now he must ask a griffin for one of its talons. There’s just one problem…humans have poached griffin treasure, causing these mythical creatures to attack on sight. Complicating matters, the evil Abaddon, sovereign of Oomaldee’s northern neighbor, is turning more and more citizens into zolt in his ongoing campaign of terror as he sets in motion the final steps of his plan to conquer the land. Things really start to heat up in book five! If you loved Harry Potter, you’ll love the Andy Smithson series chalk full of mythical creatures, newly invented animals like zolt, herewolves, and therewolves, a complex plot with evolving characters, and positive themes including responsibility, diligence, dignity, friendship and more

 

 

7bcfc1_8a24bc7f0b474b758ec4a0ea0e375d1a (1)L. R. W. Lee credits her love of fantasy with her introduction to C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Later on, she enjoyed the complex world of Middle Earth brought to life by J. R. R. Tolkien in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. The multiple dimensions of the worlds mixed with a layer of meaning, captivated her and made her desire to invent Young Adult Fantasy and Epic Fantasy worlds others could get lost in, but also take meaning away from. More recently, L. R. W. Lee has found inspiration from J. K. Rowling and her Harry Potter series as well as Brandon Mull and his best selling Fablehaven, Beyonders and Five Kingdoms series. L. R. W. Lee writes to teach her readers principles that can transform their lives – overcoming frustration, impatience, fear and more. She also shows why responsibility, diligence and dignity are the keys to true success in life. She lives in scenic Austin, TX with her husband. Their daughter is a Computer Engineer for Microsoft and their son serves in the Air Force.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Email

 

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L.R.W. LEE INTERVIEW

1. How did you come up with your main character, Andy Smithson? Did he just pop into your imagination or did you specifically develop him? Andy is patterned after my son. After our first child who was what I would call compliant and seemed to need little to no correction, our son arrived on the scene. As with most 2nd children, he was polar opposite and provided much fodder for an engaging main character.

2. How did your experience with building a business help with your writing? It has been invaluable for I understand that writing is only 50% of the writer’s success equation. Unlike Field of Dreams, with so many good books available today, just launching it, even on a well trafficked platform like Amazon, does not get recognition. Because of my corporate background, from day one I began working to build a platform – Twitter and Facebook primarily and now also Book Nerd Paradise. As well, I understand the importance of the author community, for no author can succeed these days without the support of fellow authors. My background has also helped in understanding the need to optimize my books to rank well on the variety of sites they are listed on. There’s much more, but those are the biggest helps I would say.

3. Was there any particular book or author whom you feel had the most influence on your work? I have to say JK Rowling. The imagination she revealed, the strength of her characters, the world building, the depth of plot over multiple books…she definitely shaped how I think about writing.

4. What do you love the most about writing for young people? Young people are moldable. My passion for writing is to share with readers principles that from my experience can help them live more peaceful lives. A few of these principles include overcoming fear, frustration and impatience as well as understanding that true success in life is not from riches, fame or power, but rather responsibility, diligence and dignity. If they can finish any of my books closer to understanding these principles, I feel very fulfilled.

5. Which part of the creative process is your favorite? Least favorite? Designing the story arc is my favorite part of the creative process for you can take a story anywhere your imagination can go. My least favorite part is editing/revising. Even though I know the narrative gets much stronger as a result, it’s still my least favorite part.

6. How long does it usually take you to write one of your stories from when you get the idea to when it’s finished? Usually about 6 months.

7. I know that most authors love all their characters but which of your many “children” is your favorite (besides Andy) and why? I have to say Mermin, the kindly old wizard who speaks with a lisp. I love him most after Andy because he’s so warm, humble and approachable. He’s fallible and he knows it, which is why he doesn’t apologize for his mistakes, rather he is comfortable in his own skin.

8. Do you ever plan to branch out into other genres besides middle grade/young adult fantasy? Funny you should ask. Yes, I’m actually noodling with a story arc of a YA Sci Fi story.

9. How do you feel your writing has evolved since your first novel? I can see how much I’ve changed and improved in showing rather than telling my readers what’s happening. I want them to engage and to show – providing sight, sounds, touch, smell, and taste cues is a big part of that. I was particularly thrilled when my editor came back a full week sooner than expected with this current book because I had improved so much between book three and four. My pocketbook also appreciated that.

 

 

The Heron Master and other stories is live!

I’ve released my sixth book, The Heronmaster and other stories with an amazing cover by Wil Oberdier. Check out samples of a couple of the stories on the page link above. If you sign up for my Newsletter, the first twenty people will get a free ebook of the Heronmaster in the format of their choice. The Newsletter will contain a story, a book review and some writing tips and some other goodies. All of this will be exclusive first release to the members of my newsletter list. Sign up by clicking the Newsletter link above.

 

Cover Reveal for The Heronmaster

leaperalex2015leaperstale10My newest book is a collection of stories. The title story follows the life of a frog who must do the impossible to protect his pond. We also follow the adventure of a wolf who is forced to play detective to learn the fate of a bull moose. Two other stories round out the book bringing meteors and red balloons into character’s lives with unexpected results. Look for it Novemember 10th on Amazon and other ebook sellers. The hard copy version will be available by the end of November through Lulu.

Back Cover

Stay in touch and get a chance to download The Heronmaster for free. Sign up for my email newsletter. Just click ‘Newsletter’ in the banner above and fill out the form.

Sigil of the Wyrm Blog Tour

Xchyler Publishing has released Sigil of the Wyrm, the first book of the Into the Weirding series. It is Urban Fantasy in the best kind of way, not just introducing elves and such into the modern world, but creating its own unique universe which is a step sideways from where normal people live.

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Interview with A.J. Campbell

  1. What is your advice to writers?
  2. a) Read, read, read, read, read. Develop your taste. If you don’t have a feel for what makes a good book, how are you going to be able to write one?
  3. b) And write. Write all the time you’re not reading. You wouldn’t expect to sit down at a piano for the first time and play Rachmaninov just like that – so why expect your first scribblings to be your best? Writing is a skill like any other, and you have to practice if you want to get good.
  4. c) And don’t be too precious about your work. Some of the best advice I ever had was that if there is ever a paragraph or a section of your story that you are particularly attached to, cut it. It will start to warp the story around itself like a black hole or a space-time anomaly. Always remember that your prose should be serving the story, not the other way around.
  5. What’s up next for you?

I’ve already started on book 2, which will be the next in the Into the Weirding series. It’ll be drawing a lot on Arthurian legend this time, especially the Excalibur stories. I’m about as far as chapter outlines and a few first-drafts of scenes, so watch this space…!

  1. What is your favorite snack while writing?

Does coffee count as a snack? Tea?

  1. If you had three wishes, what would they be?

I’m far more practical than people think, so I’d probably go for some variation on the standard “Health, Wealth and Happiness”. I’d like to be earning enough from my writing that I’d never have to worry about money again, I’d like 20/20 vision again so I could stop faffing around with glasses and contact lenses, and I’d quite like to play the violin.

  1. Is there anything else you’d like your readers to know about you?

I’ve been listening to the 1812 Overture recently, and I think more pieces of music should be scored for artillery.

Pinterest: Fantasy casting call

https://www.pinterest.com/galacticteabag/fantasy-casting-call/

 

 

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Book Release Blog Tour August 29-September 5

Saturday, Aug. 29

Alex Campbell

Perpetual Chaos of a Wandering Mind

Sunday, Aug. 30

Lurking Musings

Slithers of Thought

Monday, Aug. 31

The Deep, Dark Library

Cobblestone Scribe

Tuesday, Sep. 1

Lucy Ayrton, Performance Poet

T.N. Payne, Author

Wednesday, Sep. 2

Richard A. Usher, Media Creative

Alex McGilvery’s World

Thursday, Sep. 3

Scott E. Tarbet, Author

Are You Afraid of the Dark

Friday, Sep. 4

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Danielle E. Shipley

The Author Visits

Saturday, Sep. 5

R. A. Ridley

Didi Lawson, Author

Musings, Amusings, and Bemusings

 

No blog tour would be complete without a Rafflecopter giveaway

Watch the trailer here: 

or on YouTube

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Buy the book on Amazon

For more information on Sigil of the Wyrm and Xchyler Publishing check out their web page.

Cover Reveal for: The Bookminder

I am fortunate enough to have been pulled into the ‘X Team’ which is the fond term Xchyler has for the authors and contributors of their books. In the hopes of broadening my blog beyond the occasional post about what I’m writing I agreed to take part in several of their exciting cover reveals over the next couple of months. Xchyler is a publishing house currently focused on paranormal, fantasy and steampunk with some fantastic books to check out. Xchyler Publishing.

Here is the cover and blurb for The Bookminder by M.K. Wiseman

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To learn more about the author check out these links:

Website – www.mkwisemanauthor.com

Goodreads – www.goodreads.com/MKWiseman

Twitter – @FaublesFables

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/FaublesFables

Pinterest – https://www.pinterest.com/faublesfables/

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.”

“Why?”

“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.