A through G

Okay, so it looks like maybe I gave up on you again this year, doesn’t it? Well, life is significantly busier than two years ago, that much is obvious. But aside from that, I have not given up. I have some other obligations (work related) that I need to wind up before I can continue down the A to Z trail. And in addition, I’m taking the trail more slowly. I suppose that means I’m not following the A to Z Blog Challenge properly at all, and I’m sorry for that, but it can’t be avoided. I may try to do it properly next year again, but it might just be more my speed to plod along on it. (I do realize had I been planning ahead, I could have pre-written and scheduled all the posts for release in a timely manner, and plodded all I wanted–before the month started. Oops.)

So if you’re here for the A to Z Challenge, I know. It looks like I gave up. But I didn’t. I have H is for House in my head and ready for the page, but it may be Saturday before it sees the light.

I’ll be over here, formatting a worksheet.

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G is for Ghoti

GI almost had him. That spiteful little troll had been stealing pearls from my oysters for years. I watched, and waited patiently. After all, what could I do? I live in the river, and cannot be free from it. I do not have arms, I cannot yell for help, I do not make an awful noise that scares anyone.

My name is Ghoti, and I will tell you my tale.

* * *

It started when I began harvesting my first oyster crop. My father had shown me how to seed them, my mother taught me how to care for them, and I learned to judge for myself the best time to harvest their precious fruit. And I was good at it. I knew when the pearl would be the most beautiful without cracking open the shell prematurely, and I was so sweet with my extraction that the oyster would joyfully take another grain of sand to start another when I removed the finished one.

But the troll came as I gathered my last pearl during my first harvest. I had hidden the first batch, as my father taught me. I could trade with the fishermen for my life, and thus live as long as they both had – nearly 100 years, which is quite a long time for my kind. I could trade with the housewife coming to get water from the spring for her promises to throw me back if I should come home with her husband. There were many reasons I would need them, not the least of which, life in my river was the best life possible.

I would decorate my walls with the pearls, I imagined. I would have enough to make myself a bed of treasures to sleep on every night.

My grand plans were gone when he found me.

“What are you doing there? Give me that!”

I could not stop the troll from picking me up, his hands firm on my scaly skin. The flap of my fins on his rough palms, strong from years of hard work, did not deter him.

He plucked the pearl from my lips, and dropped me back in the water.

“Ah, it’s a fine day for my fortune,” the troll said to himself.

“Give that back.” I was furious, naturally. I splashed and tried to jump from the river to attack him, but what can a fish do against a troll?

He only laughed.

“I think not. What does a little slippery eel like you need with treasure such as this?”

“That treasure keeps me alive,” I said. I think I knew even then that he wasn’t going to give it back. “I keep one with me when I travel, and when the fishermen pull me into their boat, I trade them a pearl for my life.”

The troll shook with mirth, infuriating me only more. “Well, now you will trade with me. I will come by every day and you will give me a pearl, or I will eat you for my supper!”

“But they don’t grow that quickly!”

The troll put the pearl into his sack. “No?”

Thankfully, I have always thought quickly. “It takes 21 days for these pearls to grow,” I managed to lie. “If you come before then, you will only earn a grain of sand.”

To this day, I’m not entirely sure he believed me, but it didn’t matter. He sneered, showing his awful, black teeth. “If you lie to me,” he said, snapping his jaw together like an alligator, “I will cook you for my dinner.”

And he left. I was distressed, of course. And furious. I spun around in the water until I created a little whirlpool that threatened the safety of my oysters, and would not stop until my mother came to me.

“Son, what bothers you so?”

“The troll,” I replied, in too much of a rage to explain. But my mother is a patient fish, and she waited until I had wore myself down, then set my oysters back in their nests while I lay still on the river bed.

“That evil creature, did he bother you?”

“He stole one of my pearls! The last, the best of course!”

My mother merely fussed over my oysters, even though she had her own to tend to. “The troll is mean, but he is not very smart. He can twist a person to do his will with his fancy talk, but he does not think things through like we fish. When is he to return?”

I began then to think to know what she intended. “Twenty-one days. I misled him, but not by a lot.”

“A day or two is all we will need. My oysters will be ready in five days. Reseed yours now, then give all but the worst one to me. I will give you mine save the best one when they have been harvested. Then when the troll comes back, you will only have one pearl for him to take.”

I was not at all sure that it would work as easily as she said, but she has always been wiser than I, so I listened and did as she asked.

When the troll returned, as she predicted, he asked for more than one pearl.

“Give me two! You owe me more for sparing your life twice!”

“There is only one to give,” I told him.

Thankfully, fish can’t smile, because I was thrilled with the deceit.

“What about this one?” And he leaned down to grab one of the oysters from my next.

I slapped his hand with my tail, but I could not stop him. It was his turn to laugh as he easily pried open the oyster with his hands.

Imagine my delight when he was met with a grain of misshapen sand, and the oyster died in his hands from the bruising it took.

The troll roared, and stormed off into the woods with the one pearl.

So it went for an absurdly long time. Every 21 days he would come, take the only pearl that was ready, and rage about the rest. But he didn’t take another from the nest to pry it open, because, as stupid as he was, he did know how to count, and that he would get far more pearls by waiting instead of ruining them in fits of temper.

Yesterday, I finally thought my luck had changed. I had begun to taunt the troll, teasing him so he did not know he had been insulted until after he left the river.

This time when he visited, he went for another oyster.

Now fish aren’t good for much besides nursing oysters and making more fish, but I have always had a particularly strong mouth. And when the troll’s snowy white beard—although a bit shorter than the last time I saw him, I think now—fell into the water, I clamped it in my jaws and swam as quickly as I could.

Oh, he yelled. He yelled furiously, and writhed and flopped about on the shore. While I belonged in the water, he did not, and I knew if I could just pull him in a little further, I could drown him, and save my fortunes for myself instead of handing them all over to him.

But two stupid little girls, one wearing white and the other red, rescued the damn creature! They cut his beard from my mouth, so that he was safe, and I was left one pearl poorer.

Again!

* * *

Someone is calling my name from the shore. He calls, “Ghoti! Ghoti! Where are you?” But he is human, and with those two wicked girls, and I’m only a fish. Because of my fight with the troll, my treasure has been lost now, my oysters all crushed beneath the troll’s feet.

“Ghoti! Ghoti! I have killed the troll! These girls who saved him knew not what he was, but with his death I have been freed from my curse, and now I would free you, brother, from yours!”

I can do nothing but lay on the riverbed, but perhaps…could he really have killed the troll?

Suddenly there is a shower raining down, not of water drops but of pearls.

My pearls!

I don’t resist the urge to swim to the surface, to rise and splash in the cascading drops of good fortune. I jump once, twice, then the third time…

I fall on my arse, which is unusual, because previously I did not have one.

“It’s a man!”

I’m staring at the open mouth, painted red as blood, of a black-haired beauty.

The lady beside her, with white hair and dress, has covered her hands with her eyes.

“Brother!”

I’m enveloped in a great hug, and I don’t know what to do with the arms that now sprout from shoulders, and legs from hips where before there were only fins and a tail.

My eyes remain fixed on the dark beauty, however.

“Don’t you recognize me?”

I look back at him. “I…” And part of me does recognize him, from a dream. “Have I paid you with pearls to not eat me?”

The man who calls me brother laughs, and slaps me on my naked back.

I sputter, and fall in the water.

“Oh, sir,” the dark one says, stepping into the water without a care for her fine dress. She comes to me, and holds out her hand. “We’re so very sorry for saving the troll. You very nearly had him, you know.”

She takes my breath as I take her hand.

“But perhaps now you’d like to put on some trousers?”

Something soft and heavy hits my head, obscuring my vision. It’s a heavy fur cloak, and it falls from my shoulders to my feet, trailing in the water.

“Come, Brother,” the tall man says, pulling the girl in white to his chest so she’s not forced to cover her eyes any longer. “We shall go to our palace and celebrate our new lives by marrying these women. The pearls will stay with the river, with the fish who need them to pay for mercy.”

I go with them willingly, but make sure that the dark girl on my arm does not step on the precious pearls the man calling me brother rained down on me to bring me to the surface. My fish father and mother call from the river, bidding me joy and good luck, and not to forget them.

My name is Ghoti. I will never forget.

—-

This post of fiction is part of the April A to Z Blogging Challenge.  I’m doing short stories of about 1,000 words, based on words I like that start with today’s letter, and twisting each to a Grimm Brother’s fairy tale. Don’t forget to check out the participant list to check out other amazing bloggers blogging about today’s letter!

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F is for fool

FOne thing the Brothers Grimm did not tell us in their story about Briar-Rose is that she was not exactly asleep.

Nor was she saved by a prince.

And she wasn’t even kept isolated by a great hedge of thorns that surrounded her castle and prevented anyone from trying to wake her before her 100 years of sleep were up.

They actually seem to have gotten it all quite wrong, except for the girl, the spell, and the castle.

Well, technically, it was a palace.

* * *

Briar-Rose, Sleeping Beauty, Aurora…of all the names that she was called, she actually preferred Maddie.

Francesca Madeline Aurora Rose, Princess, daughter to Thomas Thorne (which is obviously how the Grimm Brothers were led astray) and Theresa Simmons-Thorne, King and Queen.

Maddie was, as previously mentioned, not exactly asleep when the spell hit. She did fall to the ground, and she did appear asleep, as did every man, woman, child, and beast that was within the walls of the palace at that fateful moment. But their sleep was false. They could still hear, and though their eyes were closed they could still see.

It was as if every eye in every head flew five feet above the ground where the body had fallen, and allowed a view of the entire palace to all within. The victims of the horrible spell, with Maddie herself able to direct the conversation and view from her own spell-sleep, could watch over the palace, the grounds, and any who dared enter.

Or try to enter. Maddie watched more than a few young men—Princes, the horses in the courtyards tried to convince her—come to the palace and immediately be overcome. It wasn’t clear what exactly caused them to turn and run like the devil himself was chasing them, but each and every one of them did so.

Maddie had to laugh. There was nothing there to frighten them. There was nothing there to keep them out. Perhaps there was a nasty layer of dust on the marble steps, and maybe nobody had been around to pull the weeds that surely crept up between the paving stones.

If they couldn’t tolerate those things, that they shouldn’t be trying to visit in the first place.

Maddie and the children, in the 100 years that they slept, made up games to pass the time. They played as if not a day had passed, with joyous laughter ringing through their minds. But never their hearts, because they knew that with each day that passed, even though the spell was strong, that their bodies grew weaker. If the 100 year spell wasn’t broken soon, there would be no way to continue their lives.

Mistress Maddie, I see someone!

A horse neighed its agreement, and spoke in their collected minds as a human might.

(This particular palace would never look at their beasts of burden quite the same way again, by the way.)

It’s not a prince, the horse conveyed, sounding quite disappointed.

Of course it’s a prince, an old maid of Maddie’s replied. They’re always princes.

No, this is not a prince* a dog that lay quite close to the gates replied. It looks much more like…a fool.

A fool? Maddie was curious. What’s that?

It’s like Brian, right? a small voice piped up. One of the youngest children, only five years old and the most hopeful that the spell soon be broken, continued, Because mama always says he’s acting like a fool.

The queen’s laugh was like crystal, cascading throughout the palace. *No, not like Brian.*

We haven’t had a court fool for some time, Maddie’s father said thoughtfully. A fool is someone who makes a dark king light, who brings levity to times when things see the most hopeless.

What’s levity, a young girl asked.

Laughter, Maddie replied, but she did not have the definition of her answer in her voice. Instead, she was concerned. Why was her father giving them hope? They had watched men run from the palace for only a few days short of 100 years. Time was out. Better to prepare them for reality, that this was life now, not true joy and running and playing games with toys instead of thoughts.

She bit back a sob, but the bitterness remained.

Maddie was tired of not having a private thought to herself, and it was harder as time went on to hide it. She was tired of trying to convince the children that things would be okay, and even tired of trying to keep them children, instead of letting them grow up as they yearned to.

It was exhausting.

Is he gone yet? she snapped.

This time it was a guard who answered. He has not. He’s…well, he’s just standing there, Princess.

Her curiosity overtook her, and she watched the strange man approach.

* * *

Jackson was trying very hard to walk away from his problems when he managed to stumble on to someone else’s.

Is he gone yet?

His head jerked up at the voice that was quite loud in his head, as if someone behind him had spoken.

Someone quite beautiful.

And angry.

He looked up from the path he’d been on for some time. He wasn’t even sure how long at this point, only that several days ago he’d walked through a patch where everyone who saw him warned him that if he stayed on the road he was on, he’d better take a wide berth around the palace at the end of it.

He’d apparently not paid too much attention.

Jackson had found the palace.

He’s just standing there, he heard on his other side, and he spun to look in the opposite direction. He actually looks kind of scared.

“Who is that,” Jackson demanded in his court voice, one that rang loud and carried far. “Who are you?”

He did not look scared.

“I demand you show your face!”

Ha! Fat lot of good that’s going to do him.

How long is he going to just writhe around like that?

Does it matter? It’s been so long since anyone’s been by. Maybe he’ll come in!

He’s not coming in, Mother, a sharp young voice snapped that Jackson recognized as the first he had heard. He’s going to run like all the others.

Jackson swatted at the noise that swam around his head, the voices without bodies that he could not control.

But the last…

“I am not a coward,” he growled, this time not imagining that they could hear his reply. He was not a coward! He was many things—unemployed, unloved, and friendless, but never a coward.

He was within ten steps of the palace gates, and they stood open as if they’d been in the middle of a busy day.

So Jackson stormed through them.

And froze as the voices stopped as if startled by his action.

“See? Not as scared as you are now, am I?”

What does he think he’s doing?

“I’m coming in your damned palace, that’s what I’m doing,” he growled.

This time the voice that replied was new, deep, and commanding, even though the words were not a command. He can hear us.

The press of voices now were more than a buzz, they were a roar. A physical weight that pressed down on him and forced him nearly to his knees. Jackson now was scared, as he felt like the life was being squeezed from his body.

His hand touched something warm and soft, and he turned to look at it. It was the body of a small dog that appeared to be dead. It did not move, or take breath, but lay there with eyes closed.

Jackson ignored the voices now and looked around him. The courtyard was filled with animals, not only this dog. Horses lay as if they had folded where they stood, harnesses and saddles still strapped to their bodies. Goats, sheep, and chickens were grouped together in pens, but all were asleep. One rooster still sat on his perch.

He stood—the voices had again gone silent. Walking over to one of the horses, he saw a thick layer of dust and grime staining the saddle on the animal’s back. He knelt again, feeling its head and neck.

The body was as if dead, obviously not moved from its position in years, and yet still warm to the touch, as if alive.

“What the hell is wrong with this place?”

This time, no voices answered.

Well, if they wouldn’t give them to him, he’d find them.

He walked past something coated in dirt and mud, and it wasn’t until he made his way indoors and saw a young maid lying on the ground with her face towards the ceiling. Her clothing was filthy, as was the horse’s saddle, but her face showed no sign of age. It was as clean as if she had washed it, then lay down in the doorway for a nap.

He passed her, and moved quickly down the first hallway he saw.

Jackson’s heart leapt from his chest to his throat when he saw the children lying as if…

He couldn’t even think it.

He kept walking.

He passed a long room, and looked in it only long enough to see that there sat a king and a queen, their crowns long since tarnished, their gems coated with dust.

They had yelled at his back that the young woman had been ensorceled in a deep sleep. It had affected the entire palace, and only she could break it.

He remembered their words now that had previously been lost in the haze of drink. He needed to be looking for a young woman.

“Where the hell do you hide a princess in this damned place?”

Up the stairs, a young voice said, and if he could have seen her, she might have been smiling.

And don’t say ‘damned’, another child reprimanded him.

“You said it,” he replied, actually talking to the voices now. He was talking to voices in his head. He knew it was crazy.

Except these voices sounded like they could have been the group of children he’d passed, the ball on the floor waiting to be picked up so they could resume their game.

I just said it ‘cause you said it, the small voice replied petulantly.

He’s just teasing, an older child soothed.

Fools do that.

“Who told you I’m a fool? I’ll have his head!”

The King told us.

Jackson stopped, and looked around at the empty stairwell. “Well, maybe not his head.”

Down this hall, a woman whispered now.

His assistance was getting older.

Through the third door on your left, another voice instructed.

On your right, not you left, you dolt!

Oh, yeah. Right.

Jackson smiled to himself. He kind of thought he liked these voices.

The instructions were true. He opened the third door on his right, and found a most magnificent room with a very large and elaborate stained glass window. Each framed piece of glass formed to display a magnificent rose on and about the centerpiece of the room, a pedestal with a young woman prone on its surface, her hands folded gently below her chest.

A spinning wheel sat in the corner, as pristine as it was the day it was manufactured.

“I think I found you,” he said to the young woman. She was beautiful, with dark hair and long lashes. Her dress was a little out of fashion, and quite dirty, but again, her hands and face, any part of her that was exposed, was as clean as if it had just been washed.

What took you so long, the first voice from the courtyard snapped.

Jackson just smiled. He had spent his entire life in one court or another, and he held more than a little pride—justly—at his ability to understand royalty.

“What, you missed me?”

How can I miss someone I’ve never met?

“Come on. Admit it. You missed me a little bit.”

And then, Jackson broke the spell.

—-

This post of fiction is part of the April A to Z Blogging Challenge.  I’m doing short stories of about 1,000 words, based on words I like that start with today’s letter, and twisting each to a Grimm Brother’s fairy tale. Don’t forget to check out the participant list to check out other amazing bloggers blogging about today’s letter!

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E is for emphatic

E“But that’s not all! This product is guaranteed to make your life simpler, and save you from your step-mother’s lashings.” laugh track “Just follow the easy instructions as I’ve explained them in this thirty-step instructional video every time, and it’s guaranteed not to fail!

“Are you a young princess who has been declared illegitimate and forced to serve your step-sister hand and foot?” laugh track “Are you a prince that has been sent out into the world to earn your fortune and now find yourself at the mercy of a wicked witch?

“This product is for you! Dial the number on your screen, and if you order in the next fifteen minutes, you’ll receive not one, but two of these life-changing devices for the price of three! It’s a deal you can’t miss. Call now!”

“Cut!”

Cindy collapsed like a punctured balloon. “What? What is it *this* time?”

“Two for the price of three? Cindy, come on.”

She had to think about it for a minute before she deflated even more. “Damn,” she whispered, more to herself than the director. “Sorry,” she added to the room at large. “I don’t know what got over me.”

“You’re exhausted,” her director said plainly, walking out from behind the camera and over to the set. “We’ve been doing this for hours. We’re all exhausted. Why don’t we just call it a day. Come back to this tomorrow fresh.”

Cindy had her hand to her forehead, but with that suggestion, she pulled herself back up.

“No, we need to finish this up today. Everyone has plans for the three-day weekend. I’m not going to ruin that for anyone. Just one more take.”

She could hear groans mixed with a general air of relief, and Cindy knew she’d made the right decision. Her director obviously thought otherwise—his expression was grim, but he resumed his position and gave the cameraman a couple quick instructions.

She was going to nail it this time. She had to.

Cindy unlocked her door that night more exhausted than she could ever remember being. She dropped her bags at the door as if they contained bricks. Her keys missed the bowl on the table, and the mail followed them to the floor. She had taken off her heels on the subway, but now she dropped the expensive shoes in the general direction of the front hall closet.

She hadn’t been this exhausted since her father remarried and she was forced to do whatever work her step-mother could imagine. Scrubbing fireplaces, picking beans from the ashes, managing the family’s farm nearly by herself, and still expected to get dinner on the table at a reasonable hour.

It was a nightmare she didn’t look forward to reliving, and yet here she was. The same feeling of being just completely spent was her constant companion. It didn’t matter that her life was now her own, away from her step-mother, two step-sisters, and father. She had her own apartment, her own things, and she still felt like she did so many years ago—blindsided with the overwhelming urge to just crawl into bed and stay there, no matter the consequences.

And yet…

Cindy knew she would still wake in four hours and get ready for the next day. It didn’t matter that the rest of her staff was taking off for three days to enjoy the holiday. There was still work to be done, and Cindy could not bring herself to put it off any longer.

It was a holdover from her childhood, a habit that had been ingrained so deeply she probably wouldn’t have been able to break even if she wanted to.

Which she hadn’t thought about long enough to realize if she even did.

Her phone rang, and Cindy was forced to divert her path toward her bathroom where she had intended to strip and brush her teeth to the sofa where her house phone sat announcing an incoming headache.

“Hello?”

“Cinder-el-LAH?”

Cindy cringed, and very nearly hung up her phone. But again, years of habit kept her from doing what she may have truly wanted.

“Yes, Step-Mother.”

“Cinderella, what are you doing?”

“I just got home from work. I’m ready to go to bed.”

“No.”

“What?”

“Your sister needs a new dress for tomorrow night’s ball. We need you over here immediately to start work on it.”

Cindy felt her heart stop. It was happening again. She was getting pulled back in, and she didn’t know how to stop it.

She could feel herself transport back into the woman she had been ten years ago, before she had broken free from her father’s chosen wife and the slavery she allowed herself to be put in.

“The subway will stop soon. I won’t be able to make it over tonight.” The excuse sounded weak, even to her, but she had nothing else. Any other possible, legitimate excuse ran as Cindy wished she could do.

“I will send a car.”

And Cindy found herself listening to the click of her step-mother hanging up the phone.

She was slumped on the sofa now, having lost her footing and indeed, all strength in her body. Even as she was weak and helpless, every fiber of her being screamed at her to run away. To escape even further from her father, her step-sisters, and her old life.

She was still in the kingdom, but that could be easily fixed, surely.

Cindy let her mind spin frantically through her options, but the more she thought about it the less progress she made. Her panic took hold and she didn’t fight it. She was helpless to think straight, and she wallowed for a moment in the memories of her misery as a child.

The only thing that brought her out was the sound of her doorbell. It creaked at first, so seldom was it used, but with repeated use it began to sound as annoying as it had been when she first moved in.

It took several moments to lift herself from the sofa and answer the door. She knew who would be there, and was not at all startled to see a uniformed man with a smart black cap on his head. The breast of his jacket displayed her father’s crest.

The memory of how the man who was supposed to love and protect her instead allowed her to be abused by his new life nearly caused Cindy to vomit.

“Miss, I am here to take you to your step-sister’s home.”

Cindy nodded, and gestured for him to come inside. She didn’t offer him drink, or a seat on her sofa. He would stand at attention inside her door, or outside it. Either way, he wasn’t leaving until she left with him.

She did go to her bathroom, intending to change from her suit into clothing more suitable for virtual slavery. She would probably be doing some shopping, then sewing, then likely cleaning, as it seemed her step-sisters avoided the task until Cinderella was kidnapped over to their grand manor home by their mother.

Cindy stood resting her hands on the side of her sink, and stared at her reflection. There was nothing magic about the mirror here, but still, staring at herself, she pulled it together enough to wonder what she was doing to herself. Why couldn’t she escape this eternal punishment she found herself in?

She knew it was dysfunctional. She had gone through quite a bit of therapy—secret therapy, of course—to even leave the household in the first place. Her mind was warped by her experience, and as much as she had managed to hammer it back in shape, it still held crucial creases.

And her step-mother knew exactly how to bend them back into their old forms.

She gave up fighting, and with a sigh, went to her bedroom to change. She reappeared moments later, in front of the chauffeur, and held her arms out in surrender.

“I’m not going.”

Cindy clapped a hand over her mouth. They had come from her, but she did not know where she had pulled them from. Almost as quickly, her hand fell to her side.

“Tell my step-mother that you found me unwilling to accompany you back to her manor. Tell her I wouldn’t let you in. Tell her I threatened to kill her with a rusty spoon if she would not leave me in peace.” Cindy let out a slightly maniacal giggle. “In fact,” she added, “you could probably make up the most outlandish stories possible and line them up with the most reasonable explanations. She would not believe either.”

She turned away from the man standing guard at her door, and put both her hands over her mouth again, and then ran them through her hair. What had she done? What would happen now? Her step-mother would be furious. She would send more people, or worse, come herself. Could she stand up to her now, when this was likely only a moment of insanity?

She heard her step-mother’s man moving toward her sofa, and she turned to watch him jerk the phone cord from the base.

“You’ll want to turn off your cell, too. First thing tomorrow, we should both get temporary phones. Then…she’ll be angry.”

“I know,” Cindy replied, biting off a rather large grin.

“She won’t want to let you go. And she might be pissed about the car.”

This time she let the smile fill her face.

“Bring it on.” Something told her that with a little help, this time she was going to be all right.

—-

This post of fiction is part of the April A to Z Blogging Challenge.  I’m doing short stories of about 1,000 words, based on words I like that start with today’s letter, and twisting each to a Grimm Brother’s fairy tale. Don’t forget to check out the participant list to check out other amazing bloggers blogging about today’s letter!

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D is for doubt

DNo one ever tells the truth. Each and every person has his or her own lie. They may tell it to others, or they may tell it to themselves. The truth is spun in so many different directions that it quickly begins to appear as a tapestry on a far away wall.

Anabelle knew this. She knew that nothing you could not verify on your own was likely to be true. There was a spin on everything. From the data that was passed between left leaning politicians attacking the right, to the data that was passed between the extreme right politicians attacking the left. Every little bit of it.

Lies.

Anabelle learned at a very early age that you had to be smart for yourself. That you had to open your own eyes to see what was really staring you in the face.

When she was very, very young, she had been taken in and fooled, and it had very nearly cost her life.

Now…

“Anabelle?”

“Mmm?”

“Hey, will you look at me?”

Anabelle raised her head, her golden spiral curls bouncing across her shoulder. A red velvet ribbon across her head was the only thing to hold it all back from rioting around her face.

“Yes, Brain?”

Brian smiled. “Why do you call me that?”

Anabelle shrugged and looked back down at her book. “Habit,” she replied. It had been a strange event involving a typo and a conference. She didn’t like to dwell, only to enjoy the mistake.

“Hey, you’re not looking at me.”

“Well I was,” she pointed out, turning a page. “But then you got off track.”

“I’m back on track,” Brian said. “Look at me?”

Anabelle did as she was asked.

“Will you marry me?”

Blinking, she smiled a soft smile. “No, Brain. I won’t marry you.”

She didn’t see his smile fall when she used his nickname, a sign they both knew meant that she wasn’t taking him seriously.

Anabelle turned another page. “What did you want for dinner?”

She didn’t think of the incident again until after Brian had left. The task of washing dishes let her mind wander.

He wanted to marry her. She had managed not to scoff earlier, but now she let the snort fly through her nose and into the empty kitchen. Marriage. A lie if she’d ever heard one. Her eyes were wide open now, as they had not been as a child.

It had only taken one mistake to open them.

She let the water get scalding hot, dancing her fingers between the streams of burning liquid as she rinsed the suds from a plate and then a cup. Silverware was the worst.

But it kept her from the horrible realization that her grandmother was a wolf. The worst deception of her life.

She strove not to let any overtake it.

Brian—she only called him Brain when he was there to hear it and she wasn’t sure why—he was lying to himself. She could see it. He wasn’t really in love with her. She wasn’t even sure he was capable of being in love with anyone. There was something about him. He could be sweet, and kind, and courteous, and he could also be horrid, and sly, and evil.

How could so much be wrapped up in one man? How could so much be wrapped up inside anyone?

But it was there.

She wondered if he would be back, if he would bother calling her again, to ask if he could come over so they could talk things through, or so he could convince her of his feelings.

Sometimes they did that.

Anabelle dropped a glass as the boiling hot water landed for too long on her finger. It shattered into pieces at the bottom of her sink, deep in the water that was still hot enough to burn.

She fished the pieces out, even as she watched the blood turn red from the cuts on her fingers.

“What happened?”

Anabelle smiled when she saw Brian walk into the hospital emergency room. Her hand was bandaged, and a blood-soaked kitchen towel sat on the edge of a half-opened hazardous waste container.

“Just cut myself on a cup.”

“Jeez, why didn’t you call me?”

Anabelle laughed quietly to herself. “Well, emergency services seemed much more reasonable at the time.”

“Yeah, but…”

Brian was cut off by the entrance of Anabelle’s doctor.

“Ah, I see your ride has arrived,” the young woman said, nodding at Brian. “Will you be helping her with her dressings as well?”

“Yes,” Brian said at the same moment Anabelle replied, “No.”

They looked at each other, Brian’s face confused, and Anabelle with a smile.

“He’ll be around to look in on me, I’m sure,” she said, smoothing his feathers. “I have all the instructions.”

The doctor nodded, and pinched a rubber glove to knock the ruined towel completely into the bin. “Well, as long as everything goes well, you’ll just go back to your regular physician to have your stitches removed.”

“Got it,” she nodded.

“Is she going to be okay?”

The doctor smiled a smile for worrying boyfriends and patted Brian on the shoulder. “She’s going to be fine. Just a few stitches. Next time, though,” she directed herself toward Anabelle, “you need to turn down the hot water. You wouldn’t have lost nearly as much blood if you’d had the regulator on the water heater set properly.”

“I’ll make sure to fix it,” Brian rushed to answer before Anabelle could.

“Ah, see?” The doctor smiled. “If only all my patients had such attentive boyfriends.”

“Actually, we just got engaged,” Brian boldly declared. “I just proposed, and she accepted.”

Anabelle smiled through the congratulations, and the cooing over the ring that Brain somehow managed to produce and display to all who were interested.

Except herself. Because he knew she would not be interested.

She was infuriated.

Again with the lies!

There was no chance for her to escape through the crowd of nurses that had suddenly appeared to wish her congratulations and felicitations, and Brain had not left her side at any rate had there been a break in the mob.

He knew her better than she thought.

After several eternally long minutes that felt like hours being raked over coals, the nurses and doctors dispersed. Her paperwork was completed, and she was free to go.

Brain stuck to her side. At what point, by the way, had she begun using the distasteful nickname in her head instead of only teasing him with it?

Oh, yes, when he took it upon himself to force himself upon her where she had previously declined.

She got quietly into his car. Meekly. She smiled softly out the window as they drove in silence, her left hand bandaged and her right hand cradling it.

Brain had wisely pocketed the ring.

“I’m sorry,” he finally said as he turned down her street. “I love you. My heart stopped when I got that phone call. The thought of you hurt, alone, it tore me in two. I thought that perhaps if you just tried it on, being engaged to me, you might find it wasn’t so bad.”

“It’s not distaste toward the thought of being engaged that made me turn you down, Brain,” Anabelle said. “It’s that I don’t think you actually love me.”

It was Brain’s turn to scoff. “That monster really did a number on you, didn’t he?”

She spun her head to face him now as they pulled up in front of Anabelle’s town home. “Excuse me?”

“You couldn’t see the truth, that the person your mother told you was sick in her bed wasn’t the thing you found when you arrived, and now you doubt everything? That’s not my fault, Little Red-Cap.”

Anabelle burned now with anger. She could feel the sting from her hand passing up her arm and throughout her body. She thought for the briefest of moments how she would love to have only a tiny bit of magic so she could burn Brain as severely as she burned right now. To toast him to a crisp.

“Don’t call me that,” she seethed, conscious suddenly of the red velvet headband she wore. “You don’t know me. You know nothing about me, but I know everything about you. I know you are not good like you think you are. Not all the time. I see you aim for the squirrels in the road with your car when you think I’m not looking. I see you laugh when someone trips on the stairs. And I know the hate you feel toward those who have done nothing more than be stupid in your presence.

“That man cannot love me, and I will not marry him.”

She wished at that moment only that he had given her the ring and she had accepted it so she could throw it back into his face and scratch it, so every woman after her would know what kind of man he was.

Breathe.

But he hadn’t, and she wouldn’t have.

Breathe.

The burn fell away from Anabelle as it had come on, from her hand through her body. She put her right hand on the handle of the car.

“Take your ring and find someone like you, who is willing to deal with your lies. That woman is not me.”

Anabelle left Brian behind in a car on a dark street in a small town, and didn’t look back.

—-

This post of fiction is part of the April A to Z Blogging Challenge.  I’m doing short stories of about 1,000 words, based on words I like that start with today’s letter, and twisting each to a Grimm Brother’s fairy tale. Don’t forget to check out the participant list to check out other amazing bloggers blogging about today’s letter!

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C is for cotton candy

CNia sat quietly in her favorite room. She was avoiding her sister, Lia. If she sat quietly enough, and concentrated hard enough, she wouldn’t be found.

She hoped. It hadn’t actually worked before this. But she kept trying.

She didn’t really look at the miniature cities that were set up around her. She didn’t pay attention to the spinning wheel in the corner, which was one of her favorite tools to create with.

She just thought repeatedly, She can’t find me here, she can’t find me here, she can’t find me…

“Nia? I know you’re in here!”

Nia heard her sister’s voice, and she cowered further into her chosen corner. The noise was loud and harsh, and she just wanted to enjoy her quiet.

“Nia!”

But she wasn’t going to be able to. And it would only get worse if she didn’t come out and do whatever Lia wanted her to do.

Slowly she unfolded herself from her hiding spot and tried to arrange her face so it wouldn’t be so obvious that she dreaded seeing her older sister.

“There you are,” Lia said, beaming. “Were you hiding from me?”

Nia shook her head. “Never, Lia. I just didn’t hear you at first.”

“Well I was yelling pretty loudly, but whatever. Can you do me a favor?”

This time Nia nodded. She didn’t want to. She never wanted to do Lia’s favors.

“I’m having a couple of friends over and we’re going to have a picnic outside. Could you spin some cotton candy for us?”

Nia scrunched up her face for a moment in concentration. She’d never spun cotton candy before, but it certainly couldn’t be any more difficult than spinning spider’s silk. That had been particularly tricky, but as a request from her mother for her father’s armor, she hadn’t been able to decline.

“Yes,” she finally answered, her face carefully blank. She didn’t want Lia to feel like she didn’t want to help.

Lia squealed. “Perfect! Oh, thank you! Thank you!”

Nia managed to not cringe away from her sister’s overly enthusiastic hug, but she couldn’t bring herself to return it.

Her sister didn’t notice, of course. She bounded out of the room, likely down the staircase and directly to her bed chambers where she would continue to plan her “perfectly epic party”.

Lia’s words, not Nia’s. Nia wasn’t the type to have “perfect” or “epic” anythings.

After this favor, though, she would be nearly guaranteed a day or two of respite and quiet where she could sit and enjoy her space, spin what she liked, and not be bothered.

Nia walked to her supply cabinet, and looked at what she had available to her. There were baskets full of rabbit hair and wool, a very large supply of straw, but also things that were a bit more exotic. Dried strawberries might be useful. And she had a large stalk of sugar cane that she might be able to use as well.

She didn’t know how cotton candy was properly made, of course, but that was part of the magic. She’d heard her sister describe it from the fair, where she had also never been. It was light, and sweet, and looked like the lightest of spider webs strung around a central stick. And when you tried to bite it, it would nearly melt from your breath alone.

Nia had wished her sister had thought to bring her some back, instead of merely describing it and teasing her with her memories.

But that’s not how Lia worked.

Nia took the strawberries and set them in the basket she’d fashioned to attach to her spinning wheel. Then with a paring knife, she started to strip the sugar cane until she reached the sweetest parts of the plant, and added that to her basket as well. With all her ingredients together, the magic began.

She wouldn’t have dared to guess at what age she had first been able to spin ordinary items into extraordinary things. It possibly was at the point when she started to have dreams about a short yet very charismatic man who told her grand stories of magic and mystery and even a queen or or two. They had been fantastical dreams, but she soon learned to keep them to herself.

Once she had tried to tell her mother about one of the dreams, but she recalled quite vividly her mother’s outraged reaction. And she’d told Lia about the next one, but Lia had gotten the strangest look on her face when she told her the little man’s name in her dream.

“Don’t ever say his name,” Lia warned. “Father would be furious.”

Nia didn’t mention how angry her mother had already been.

And after that, Nia kept rather to herself. She started her lessons on knitting and weaving, languages and music, and had excelled particularly well at spinning. She told her father that she wanted a room of her own for all her handicrafts, and he gave her the one she now occupied for most of her time during the day, and even sometimes at night, when she didn’t hear the summons to dinner.

Her mother had grown distant as she began to make new things from materials that had no reasonable right being able to create them. And Nia ignored the hurt, turning more toward memories of her dreams of a small, amusing man who showed her, of all things, how to spin straw into gold so she would have the necessary funds to purchase more elaborate spinning wheels, or whatever her heart desired.

She worked the basket of strawberries and sugar cane. It took several tries before she reached the super-fine thread that she remembered Lia describing to her. But once she managed that, it went quickly. She spun one, then three, then thirteen spools of cotton candy, each one looking more delicious than the last, until finally she ran out of materials.

Lia appeared in her doorway as if summoned by magic.

“Oh, Nia, thank you!” She gathered up the spools of candy quickly, managing to gather all but one in her two hands. “They look perfect. And they smell perfect! You are the best!”

Nia blushed, then nodded. Would Lia leave now? Would she be allowed to enjoy the rest of her day in peaceful silence?

“Don’t forget to try that one,” Lia said as she nodded to the 13th spool. “I forgot to tell you I only needed a dozen.”

Nia watched her sister leave, a small smile on her face. She was alone, finally. Her spinning basket empty, Nia sat at her spinning wheel and picked up the candy.

What would Rumpelstiltskin say about this in her next dream? Probably accuse her of being manipulated by her sister again, and encourage her to keep spinning gold so she could afford to move out of her father’s house and into a more private location, where her mother wouldn’t gaze at her with fearful eyes, and her sister wouldn’t desire all the things Nia could create for her.

Right now, though, as she enjoyed her first taste of strawberry sweetness, she didn’t care. She liked what she was doing.

A few branches she had collected the day before were within reach, and Nia placed them in her basket and began the process of spinning paper thread so she could weave it into books, where she thought perhaps that next, she might write a story about the funny little man in her dreams.

—-

This post of fiction is part of the April A to Z Blogging Challenge.  I’m doing short stories of about 1,000 words, based on words I like that start with today’s letter, and twisting each to a Grimm Brother’s fairy tale. Don’t forget to check out the participant list to check out other amazing bloggers blogging about today’s letter!

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B is for box

B“I’m worried about Mom.”

Tristan didn’t bother looking up from his tablet. “You made an appointment and came all the way up here to complain about Mom?”

“I’m not complaining,” Kirsten replied with a sigh. Her twin could be so exhausting. “She’s locked herself in that room again.”

“Why does this concern me again? Is she starving herself, or refusing food?”

“No, but…”

“Then I don’t see the problem,” Tristan snapped, closing the cover of his tablet and standing up impatiently. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have appointments with people who have actual problems.”

Kirsten watched her brother’s agitated movements as he left his office, and wondered if he wasn’t more concerned than he let on. Why couldn’t he spare a few moments to care with her, though?

With another sigh, Kirsten let herself out of her brothers office on the 26th floor of the Kingdom Building.

Their building.

Or rather, their father’s building. He had built it when he saved his beloved, Tristan, and herself from the desert where they’d been holed up, alone, and starving. She didn’t remember much of that time—thank goodness. She had a feeling, though, that Tristan might. Even though they were the same age, he was better at retaining things.

Just like their father, the King. Kirsten was more like her mother—flighty and whimsical—and she was happy that way.

Even a fleeting thought of her father caused her pain, and Kirsten leaned against the wall outside her brother’s office to compose herself. She knew it irritated Tristan that two years had passed and she still missed their father terribly, but she couldn’t help it.

He had been everything in her little world.

Pulling herself together, Kirsten knew what she had to do. What she hoped that Tristan would have been willing to do with her, so it wasn’t so hard to face.

It was time to go visit her mother in her tower.

<!— * * * —>

“Mom?”

Kirsten stood in her mother’s living room, directly in front of the enormous fireplace. She had moved out long ago, of course. In fact, she spent most of her time these days in the Kingdom Building. She had a nice suite of offices there where she could do what she liked with the assistance of a secretary Tristan had assigned to her. While she didn’t work for the business like her twin did, she contributed in her own way.

That’s what she kept telling her brother any time he brought it up, anyway.

“Mom, come down, we have to talk!”

She was yelling toward the ceiling even though she knew it was more or less hopeless to get a response from her mother at this point. Kirsten could hear the quiet song her mother used to sing to her two children as a lullaby, the only song her mother admitted to knowing, the one that had attracted their father so many years before.

So she was in there. She hadn’t come out yet.

Kirsten stared at the floor, at the luxurious rugs her father had preferred and her mother hadn’t replaced after his death, and wished she could erase it all. Every last memory of the King should be gone from this house. It wasn’t his anymore, and his memory should not still feel so strong.

It was what was keeping her mother from coming to terms with his death. That nobody was forcing her to face the fact that he’d passed.

Tristan should have done it, and Kirsten resented the fact that he hadn’t. He wasn’t dealing well with it either, she supposed, in his own way. But that didn’t excuse…

Her own behavior, either, if she was going to be honest. She hadn’t tried more than half-heartedly to bring her mother back to reality.

This next part wasn’t going to help, either.

“Mom, if you make me say it, you’re going to be sorry when I get up there!”

The quiet voice merely continued singing.

Kirsten stamped her foot against the hardwood floors, dissatisfied with the lack of a really good audible thump for her pain, and turned her face back to the stone arched window that was in the wall high above her head. She saw the hook, and hated it. She had to swallow twice before she could get the words past her lips.

“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair!”

It was less a request than a curse, but the long braid of silver hair fell to the ground at Kirsten’s feet shortly after nonetheless.

When she had been a child, it was a game. Her mother’s secret room, high above the rest of the house, and only she knew how to access it without climbing the rope of hair that she allowed the King and her twin children to use. Even though it had been so long since she’d bothered to climb up, her hands remembered how tightly they needed to grip, and her feet recalled just how to place themselves to move quickly up the wall.

She was breathing deeply by the time she was able to sit on the small ledge and swing her legs in, bringing in her mother’s hair with her.

“Mom, this is ridiculous.”

But she refused to meet her daughter’s glare. She sat on the small, hard bed she somehow managed to get into the room. It was empty, otherwise. None of the toys or books, or mirrors or game that had occupied the space that Kirsten remembered were still there.

It looked like her heart felt when she thought of her father.

“You can’t stay in here. You’ll starve,” Kirsten pointed out. There still wasn’t any sign of a door, or a ridge in the floor that would indicate a secret passage.

She wondered why, after so many years, she still bothered looking.

Kirsten watched her mother sit on the edge of the bed, petting the long braid that she’d had as long as her daughter could remember. It had turned white long ago, creeping up on them all until they joked that “let down your silver hair” really did have a much better ring to it.

But she wouldn’t lower her hair now unless you got it right.

The way it used to be.

“Mom? Dad’s not going to call for you anymore, you know. Staying up here in this…this glorified box isn’t going to change that.”

Her mother’s voice hitched in her song, but she continued singing anyway.

Kirsten went to sit beside the woman who had done everything she could to keep her twin babies alive when all seemed lost. Rapunzel moved over for her, just a bit, and Kirsten took comfort in that, at least.

Reaching to take her mother’s hand, Kirsten added her voice to her mother’s chorus of sadness.

—-

This post of fiction is part of the April A to Z Blogging Challenge.  I’m doing short stories of about 1,000 words, based on words I like that start with today’s letter, and twisting each to a Grimm Brother’s fairy tale. Don’t forget to check out the participant list to check out other amazing bloggers blogging about today’s letter!

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A is for apples

A“Are you ready?”

Gigi shook her head. “Yes,” she contradicted herself. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”

Hans put his hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay if you aren’t. You don’t have to do this.”

“I do,” Gigi sighed. She straightened up, and looked Hans in the eye. “Let’s get going. The golem aren’t going to be very cooperative.”

He looked at her one last time before he appeared to be satisfied, then he turned and hefted his pack onto his shoulder. “You have everything?”

Standing next to her brother she held up her bag. “All here. Twenty-six genetically altered fruit. We’ll just need to program the processor once we get there and then we should be able to replace the tray contents quickly.”

“I have that,” Hans patted his bag. “We’re off.”

He led, she followed. Their path took them through the forest they now knew very well. Having been abandoned there as children, the first thing they had done when finding their way back home had been to familiarize themselves with the woods. It had been their step-mother’s idea to dump them, but their father had gone along with it, and though they loved him they knew he could not be trusted.

They kept their exploration to themselves, in the dark of night. This time with a more foolproof way back home than breadcrumbs and shiny stones.

They passed the open clearing where their step-mother had first tried to leave them. After returning home, they had gone back and salted the earth so nothing would ever grow there, not even hope.

Hans raced beneath the arched tree roots that had been their shelter once when they had managed to get lost once on their exploration of the forest. It had only been one night, but the storm had been particularly bad, and the event terrifying in her memory. Gigi shuddered as she imagined she felt the woody tendrils reaching out toward her. She was glad of her training, of months spent wearing herself to the bone so now she could run for hours without exhaustion.

They moved quickly but quietly, knowing every blade of grass and every fallen branch. Not even the witches that belonged to these woods could slide through the trees as they did now, revenge and justice on their minds.

Hans didn’t need to signal that they had arrived; Gigi knew. There was a banner across the path, the letters “AWC” emblazoned upon it, the letters dancing with magic.

“‘Annual Witches Convention,’” she heard Hans spit out in quiet tones. “They flaunt themselves like children selling candies. As if they want people to know where they are.”

Gigi ignored his outburst—she was familiar with his rants already. Instead she concentrated on ignoring the stench of evil that overwhelmed whatever good-hearted magic might also be in attendance.

She believed there were witches whose hearts were in the right place, while Hans did not. He viewed all magic as evil, relying only on technology he could himself manufacture and control.

Such as the equipment they had brought with them, and what he had created to alter the fruit she also bore in the pack on her back. Powered with mechanics and steam, they were lumbering objects that moved only as quickly as the operator, but effective.

So very effective.

“There,” Gigi pointed while Hans stood, wallowing in his hatred. She hated as well—she remembered all too well the mental and physical torture she experienced at the hand of a woman who was more monster than human. But she was not going to allow herself to feel it now.

Hans tore himself from his thoughts and looked to where she had pointed, and gave a curt nod.

Now Gigi took the lead. Where Hans was mechanically inclined, she found herself rather empathic. She was able to communicate with creatures many could not.

She had experienced little success with the golem the witches used for their catering services, but then, no one had much luck with the golem. Great, lumbering beasts manifested from rock, wood, mud—nearly any nearby resource, really—they were controlled best with magic.

Gigi did not have magic, but she would use the skills she had.

She shrugged her bag from her shoulders, looking around for any witches that might signal an alarm. Hans stood with his back to hers, holding a small weapon that was able to disable any person from some distance, also searching for someone who might see the pair and realize that they did not belong.

“I’m going in,” she said, leaving her bag at the base of a nearby tree. “Program the processor.”

Hans nodded. She didn’t have to remind him that they had little time. Once the processor was ready, it would only work for a short amount of time. The fuel it needed was plentiful, but the amount needed to run it for any length of time was prohibitive. They could not carry enough, and so they carried only what they needed if everything worked out perfectly.

Gigi walked slowly into the clearing where the tables were set. One golem saw her, then another. They did not speak, only issued quiet groans that were almost too low to hear. They surrounded her, until finally, all she could see was a wall of eyeless mountains of earth pressing in on her.

“I know you are here to do their bidding,” she said in a tone loud enough for them all to hear. At the same time her body posture changed, and had anyone been looking very closely they would have thought they saw her form growing larger. “I know you are under their control. But listen to my voice,” she said in a steady rhythm. “I am your master. You must leave me here to do my business.”

The golem were staring with their sightless sockets not at the small women in the center of their circle but at a spot more their own height, as if they could sense something that wasn’t really there. They groaned again, overlapping each other in their strange, unfathomable communication, their massive heads rotating on shoulders that supported no necks.

“Please, go,” she whispered, nearly praying. This had to work. It had to.

One at a time, the golem in front of her turned and began to lumber off into the wood that Hans and herself had just emerged from. Gigi didn’t realize that she’d been holding her breath until she released it, and then she sucked great gulps of air into her lungs.

She didn’t have time for panic. She staggered back to Hans who was beginning to take the fruit from her bag and load it into the processor.

“If I didn’t know better, sister, I’d say you had some magic in you,” he said. His words were joking, but his tone was not.

Gigi ignored him, and handed him the second apple from her bag which he loaded into his machine.

“I wish we could stay and watch them suffer,” Hans continued, venom now dripping from his voice as he pushed the apples into his machine.

Gigi wanted to put her hand on his arm, to pull him back from this anger he felt, but there was no time for sympathy now. She could only hope that once this mission was done, once she had helped him extract his revenge, that they could go on to live their lives without dreams of death.

“Is it ready,” she asked as she handed him the last fruit, and he nodded. She threw her bag aside—the poison in the fruit would make it useless to use for any other task—and led the way from the relative shelter of the tree line into the clearing.

There were rows upon rows of tables of food, a buffet for the witches to enjoy once their opening ceremony was concluded. It must have been nearing its pitch because the air around them became thicker with magic than either Gigi or Hans had ever experienced before.

They reached the fruit trays.

“Don’t forget your gloves,” Hans warned her as she thoughtlessly reached for a tray without them.

For the first time, she began to sweat. He would find out her secret if she kept being so careless.

The elbow-length leather gloves they had fashioned after those that a blacksmith would have in his arsenal of tools were shoved in a pocket of her pants. She pulled them on quickly, then turned the first platter to the ground.

The moment the fruit hit the ground it hissed and spit, the protective spells that had been cast attacking anything that was not witch or silver tray. Hans hit a button on the processor and it spit a quantity of apples to replace those that were now only charred pieces on the ground. They repeated this process until all of the fruit that they brought with them was used.

Three empty trays remained.

“They’ll think the golem spilled,” Gigi said when she realized they hadn’t brought enough fruit.

“It will have to do.”

She started running for the trees again, but stopped in the shadows when she realized Hans was not following.

“We have to go,” she said as loudly as she dared. Even now she could hear the low growl of the golem returning. They had likely been rounded up and sent back by a witch assigned to guard the ceremony. “They’ll be coming soon,” Gigi repeated, urgency causing her to sweat even more. She removed her gloves and tossed them into the tree she stood beneath and watched the branches burst into flame as a result of the residual magic from the trays.

She could have put the fire out, but its scent drew Hans out of his reverie. He turned and began running toward her.

“I wish I could stay,” he repeated as he ran along beside her. “I wish I could stay and make sure they all die the painful death they deserve.”

Gigi didn’t reply, only ran. Her brother wasn’t going to rest until all witches were dead.

Even, she didn’t doubt, his only sister.

—-

This post of fiction is part of the April A to Z Blogging Challenge.  I’m doing short stories of about 1,000 words, based on words I like that start with today’s letter, and twisting each to a Grimm Brother’s fairy tale. Don’t forget to check out the participant list to check out other amazing bloggers blogging about today’s letter!

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A to Z all over again

 Oh, look at that. I’m doing the challenge again this year! I managed it once in 2012, but not 2013, but I really liked the result that first time, and I’m hoping to have the stories from that go-around published before the event.

If you weren’t around for it, I posted a piece of short fiction every day, each around (or slightly less than) 2,000 words, with a theme and characters that started with the day’s letter. It was a challenge, but fun, and the longer it went, the easier it got.

Last year I attempted to write a novella in 26 parts, but it didn’t happen. I did end up with a great story idea, though, and I’ll be screwing around with that later.

But this year, I think I’m back to short stories. I need to work on the theme a bit, but I’ve got time.

The really nice part of this challenge is that we’re encouraged to work ahead, so in theory I could have all 26 shorts done before April even started. Wish me luck!

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How to Keep a Customer

Keep yourself front of mind.

In 2009 I bought a house and a car. It was a used car with 70,000 miles and a broken bumper the shop replaced before we took possession. I looked at a couple of car lots, but the first time I went somewhere and talked to someone, I got Ruben. He was nice enough, helped me, and was patient while I left to get my husband to check it out and make final decisions.

Y’know, about how it ever goes when you buy a car.

But every year since then, I’ve received either a Christmas card or a phone call on my birthday or the anniversary of the day we bought the car (since it happened late fall, it’s all generally around this time). Guess where I’m going the next time I need to buy a car?

Yup, I’m going to Ruben. Because A) I know he is still in the business of selling cars, and B) I know he’d remember me if I went in and said, “Hey, I’m Nicki, and my husband and I bought a car from you in 2009.”

There are other ways to keep a customer, of course, but this one is kind of simple. Keep track of who you do business with, and remind them every year that you appreciate them. Could be a holiday, could be a birthday, could be an anniversary, but take the time to say, “Hey, I appreciate that you used my services.”

People who I think should do this all the time but don’t? Hairdressers. I get on generic, impersonal mailing lists often, but how hard would it be to send out a birthday card to your clients with a half-off, one-use coupon? I’d keep going back…

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