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.