Category Archives: Fiction
**So, I’ve done it. Sent the first few chapters to a publisher’s open house. EEEEEEEEEE! Hopefully they’ll slash it within an inch of its life, splattering red ink and making me cry. And then, I’ll pick up the pieces, explain to our resident detective that he is not, in fact, looking at blood spatter, and write it even better.**
Continued from Part 2
The doorbell rings three times fast, then twice more. Kevin is outside my door spraying “Ocean Breeze” freshener and I almost tackle him on my way to the stairs. That bell pattern means one thing. Grandpa.
Kevin races after me and we push past each other, slipping on the steps, grabbing at the shiny curved handrail, trying to be first to the door. I elbow his ribs and get ahead, but he snatches a handful of the back of my shirt and hauls me sideways.
We wrestle for the door, shoving each other away, and I hear my grandfather’s voice outside.
“Just open the door. This is heavy!” I yank it open. I know he’s smiling even though I can only see his twinkling blue eyes above the packages. Wrapped in newspaper paper and twine, as always. He says wrapping paper is a waste of money. Something about the Depression and if people would stop spending on frivolous items, we’d all be in a better place financially. I don’t care how he wraps it, honestly. I just want to know what’s inside.
Kevin lugs the hard, mint green suitcase to the spare bedroom as Grandpa and I carry the packages into the dining room. I stop, stunned. The room is exploding with decorations. Streamers, balloons, confetti, paper tablecloths—all in our favorite colors. When did mom have time to do this? Wow.
“Where do you want these?” I stare around the room. Poster boards full of pictures of Kevin and me plaster the walls. She must have been working on this for months.
Grandpa nods to the small table layered in shades of purple, handing me a shoebox-sized package.
“I assume that table is for you.” He deposits the rest of the packages on the blue camouflage tablecloth, a nod to Kevin’s secondary obsession with the Navy. I feel a little twinge, wondering why Kevin has more presents from Grandpa, but then I remember what dad said this Christmas. “When you get older, the gifts get smaller but more expensive.”
My present must be phenomenal.
Emma is the only friend who showed up for my party. Kevin and I were each allowed to invite six friends. Madison’s birthday is the week after mine, but she planned her party the same day. After I sent her my invitation, which I did two months in advance to make sure everyone could come.
We’ve all been in school together since first grade, when we moved here. Emma, Madison, Shamaia, Brooke, Karmin and I eat lunch together every day, even though seats aren’t assigned. I thought they’d all be here. Instead, Madison betrayed me, luring all the others to her house. They only went because she has a pool.
Madison said her mom told her if she wanted a party, she had to do it this weekend because they have too much going on this month. It’s just an excuse. She’s been trying to bait the rest of the girls away for months. She even had a sleepover a few weeks ago and didn’t invite me.
“It was a hard decision, but my mom said I could only have few friends over. I’ll ask you next time,” she promised.
Emma pokes me, harder than necessary. I yelp.
“OW! What was that for?”
“Your mom just called you. Twice. Are you feeling okay? You keep staring off into space, like this.” She tilts her head and crosses her eyes. “And then your face gets all scrunchy and—” she makes a monkey face.
I shove her with my shoulder.
“Whatever.” I grin, trying to make it look real. “I’m fine.”
“Are you mad that everyone else went to Madison’s?” She squints at me. “At least I’m here. I’ll never desert you. Except for chocolate.”
Geez. She’s got her emotional radar cranked to high velocity today.
“Nah. I’m just done with this situation. Do you think I can spend the night at your house? Please, get me out of here.”
She grins, flopping onto the couch pillows with the back of her hand pressed to her forehead.
“Dramatic goofball. Stop making fun of me. Seriously, get us a ride. Call your mom. Or your dad. Or your housekeeper.” Her smile falters and I realize she doesn’t think it’s funny. Before I can apologize, my mom calls again. I push myself off the couch, heading toward the sound of her screeching.
“Colleeeeeeeeeeeeeee—oh, hey.” Mom quirks an eyebrow at me as I slide around the corner. “Can you take these hot dogs to your dad? And also this platter. He’s got almost-burned hamburgers out there, and I can’t get to him fast enough.”
I grab the platter and dogs, then jog out the back door. Dad’s ability to burn meat nears legendary. He calls it “blackened,” but I tell him that’s not a thing unless you’re Jamaican. And he’s not.
We rescue the hamburgers. Most are okay; a couple are still medium-rare. Several are medium-charred. Banjo, our beagle-bassett mutt, will be thrilled. He considers anything less ashen than cinders to be edible.
When I get back to the family room, Emma is chatting up my grandfather. She loves his stories.
“So, after we built the plane, we covered it with fabric and painted it with dope,” he says.
I’ve heard this one. The first time we heard that story, Kevin thought Grandpa covered his plane in drugs. Grandpa laughed, telling us that it might be where the word came from, but the dope he used was more like glue.
Sitting down to listen, I pick up my pencil and start sketching a princess dress. Lacy and jeweled. I wish I could wear it today, instead of my t-shirt and jeans. I suddenly realize I forgot to change for the party. I can’t believe Emma didn’t say anything, since we were planning to match.
“I have to run upstairs. Be right back.”
Emma nods, barely noticing me. She is rapt, listening to my grandfather. I dash up the stairs, slam my bedroom door and drop my clothes on the floor. I grab my cute new sundress and pull it over my head. As I slip back out of my room, Mom waddles down the hall. As she passes, she glances into my room.
“I know you’re not going to leave those clothes on the floor.”
“Seriously? Not only do I have to clean the bathroom, you’re making me clean my room on my birthday, too?” This is too much.
“Call me a horrible momster, but yes.” She shrugs and grins at her own joke. “Get it? Momster?”
I roll my eyes and snatch the clothes off the floor, dropping them in the laundry basket by the door. She smiles.
“Was that so difficult? It took, what, four seconds?”
“My favorite color is teal. Purple was last year.” I don’t know why I feel this need to bring her down off her high, but she’s driving me crazy. Her “happy happy” act is so annoying. No one is that cheerful. No one sane, anyway. I see the hurt flash in her eyes and for a moment, I regret my words.
Then she shrugs again.
“Well, honey, too late to change the decorations now. You’ll just have to enjoy the party anyway.”
I glare at her.
“Party? Party? What party?” I hear the pitch of my voice reaching unreasonable, but I can’t stop. “You made me clean a bathroom on my birthday, Kevin is doing his best to ruin my day, Dad is too tired, Grandpa is all buddy-buddy with Emma. She’s supposed to be my friend, but she’s hardly even talking to me. I might as well not have anyone here. She probably wishes she went to Madison’s party, but she knows we always have better cake. She can sniff out quality sugar anywhere.”
Mom’s eyes focus slightly over my shoulder. She’s not even listening. I try to draw her attention back to my words.
“You know it’s true. I don’t know how she stays so skinny, with the amount of sugar she eats. Your cookies are probably the only reason she comes over here. She didn’t even bring me a present,” I growl.
Her eyes widen slightly.
“What?” I ask, then realize someone is behind me. Emma.
I turn around, almost nose-to-nose with her freckles.
“I came to see if you had any cookies in your room,” she said, tone cool.
Grandpa puffs up the stairs behind her.
“Why are we stopping? I thought you were going to show me the gift.” He looks from Emma to me. “Uh-oh.”
Emma crosses her arms over her chest.
“Well, I was. But I think I’d rather sniff around for quality sugar.”
Grandpa squints at her.
She leans in toward me.
“I don’t know what your problem is. You’ve been crabby for weeks. You snap at me, at Madison, at our whole group. You’re rude to your mom and nasty to your brother. You crab about your life and how things would be better if both your parents worked so you could have more money. And I have to tell you, I just don’t get it. At least you have a sibling. At least your parents are home. Do you know who dropped me off today?”
I back up a step.
“No. The housekeeper drove my mom’s car. My mom is across the country at some big meeting for those stupid scarves she’s selling. They have pep rally meetings and then she comes home all brainwashed and pumped up about how this flowered scarf matches with that houndstooth jacket. It’s unnatural. And she ignores me most of the time, even if she is home. And dad is never around. At least you have a family. You should be thankful. And the reason no one showed up at your party today is because you’ve been such a jerk lately.”
Emma takes a deep breath. She’s not done yelling at me. Super.
“You’re my friend, my best friend, and no matter how you treat me, I’ll always love you. But you aren’t even happy I’m here. All you’ve done since I got here is mope about your life. Well, I’ve had enough for one day. I’m going to walk over to Madison’s. Your present is in your closet under a pile of clothes; I brought it over last week when you were at soccer practice. To surprise you. Happy birthday.”
She turns toward the steps, then walks over to my mom and grandpa, hugging each of them.
“I hope she gets herself together. It was great to see you both.”
And then, she leaves.
Continued from Chapter One.
First part of the second chapter. I’m submitting the book idea at the end of the month, so if you have editorial commentary, now’s your chance.
Summary: Colleen, adopted through foster care with her brother, dreams of finding her birth family and learning they are royalty. She hates chores and feels displaced by her adoptive parents’ pregnancy. She wishes her life were different, the life of a princess. A gift from her grandfather might make her wish reality.
Grandpa is late.
He’s never late.
Did he forget?
How could he forget my birthday?
My grandpa is amazing. We connect. He understands me. He’s always understood me.
In one of my earliest memories, I hold the dash of his beat-up diesel truck as we bounce across the cow pastures to check on new calves. The afternoon wind pushes through the cab, warm and buffeting. I’m small enough that I can just see over the hood as I stand in the cab. Gold streaks the sky, edging the clouds, as we look for new babies.
Soon, in the blue dusk, we find the big girl with her fuzzy little clone tripping along behind. He coaxes her to follow us back to the paddock. I clamber up to watch out the back window as we drive slowly across the field. The calf follows his mother, head bobbing. The vinyl seat pattern creates basket-weave on my bare shins, the rolled seams pressing into my bones. Hours later, in my sleeping bag on the couch, I think I can still feel them.
Now that I’m grown, I realize all those cute little calves ended up as filet mignon on some rich guy’s plate in a fancy restaurant with napkins you can’t blow your nose on. Back then, though, I just knew I was helping Grandpa, and I loved it. His little sidekick.
Mom catches me peeking out the window. “Grandpa’s on his way. He called from a rest stop a few hours out. He had a flat and had to change it.” She sighs. “One of these days, we’ll talk him into getting a cell phone.”
I roll my eyes. This is a conversation Grandpa and I have often. He thinks cell phones are unnecessary. Last week, I said phones attached to a wall are constricting, clunky and old-fashioned. “Constricting” is one of my favorite words. Sounds like a snake, coiled up and squeezing me to death. Sort of like the curly phone cord. I told him we could talk almost face-to-face if he would agree to a phone with a screen.
“What? And then you’ll see how my hair sticks up. I need a haircut. You wouldn’t believe it. And what if I forget to wipe my mouth after dinner? You’ll see the food on my face. No. Besides, I’m almost eighty. This old-fashioned clanky phone is just fine for me.”
I consider correcting him, but he’s probably forgotten to replace his hearing aid battery again. It’s pointless. Mom says he doesn’t forget; he just decides it’s easier to ignore what he doesn’t want to hear if we think the hearing aids aren’t working.
Hovering over the snack table, I inhale the scent of vanilla cupcakes with buttercream icing. My favorite. Cupcakes used to be for little kids, but all my friends like this show about a cupcake shop in the city. The owners come up with unbelievable flavors and even group the cupcakes together to recreate famous paintings. Last week they did Starry Night and something by Monet.
My cupcakes aren’t that fabulous, but my mom did manage to talk the bakery into grouping them to look like a big daisy. It wasn’t that hard. Just put the yellow in the middle and white on the outside. A baby could do it. I talked her into buying some orange sprinkles, then shook them over the yellow cupcakes to make the flower look little more artistic. Kevin wanted a cake shaped like a torpedo, but it would have cost a fortune. Mom talked him into getting an ice cream cake with a picture of the Blue Angels flight squad instead.
Our weird doorbell has been ringing all morning. Kevin’s friends are all showing up early because he sent out a picture of the new prize Fender. If that thing duh-BONG-bongs one more time in the next ten minutes, I swear I’ll go tear it out of the wall. I don’t know why we have to have such a stupid sounding bell. All my friends’ houses have the regular ding-dong style, except Emma’s. Hers plays Bach or Beethoven or something because her dad’s a composer for the movies. It’s actually pretty cool. Not like duh-BONG-bong.
A loud crash sounds from upstairs. Mom heaves herself up to the third step, then stops, hanging on the stair railing and panting. “KEVIN!” she squalls, “GET DOWN HERE!” His face, topped by wild spikes of brown and purple hair, appears at the head of the stairs. She blinks at him.
“First, explain the crash. Second, what in the world did you do to your hair?”
He grins. “Sorry, mom. Robert fell out of the chair.”
She raises an eyebrow. “Fell?”
“Well,” he shrugs, “he was trying to see how many times he could spin in thirty seconds. We were timing him. I guess the centrifugal force knocked him out of the seat.”
“Ah, well, tell him to find some centripetal force or he’s going to find a place to science himself out of a chair outside.” Her foot hovered over the second step, then she turned back to him. “Wait. You didn’t answer my other question. What have you done to your hair? Please tell me it isn’t permanent.”
He grinned, that wide, half-cocked smile he uses on adults. He thinks it’s disarming. Most of the time, it works. “Oh, that. Uh, no, it’s not permanent. It’s going to turn clear pretty soon.”
I can almost see mom’s mental wheels spinning. “Turn clear…is that one of the glue sticks you’re using for the science project presentation?”
She bought him a bunch of different glue sticks that start out purple and turn clear as they dry. He wants to document the color change, drying time and explain the science behind stuff that dries a different color. Sounds stupid to me, but it’s his project.
His grin widens. “Yep. Pretty cool, right? We took it out of the tube and squished it around until we could use it for hair gel. So we can start a rock band in style. Isn’t it amazing? Can I get some real purple hair dye?”
Mom rolls her eyes and slithers back down the railing until she stands on the hardwood floor of
the hall. She sucks in a breath, then hisses. I don’t know how she’s going to survive until her due date. I don’t even know what they were thinking. They already have us.
She looks back up at my brother, still hovering at the top of the steps. “If you pull your Spanish grade up to a B, I’ll consider it.”
Kevin could ace Spanish if he turned in his homework. He actually does it, then leaves it at home. I don’t know what his problem is. I’ve never told mom, though. It’s not my business. And he doesn’t tell her that sometimes I wear eye shadow at school, so. Fair’s fair.
Five minutes later, the doorbell sounds again. Six boys tumble down the staircase, trying to be the first to open it. When Robert pulls the door back and gapes at the front porch, I realize they must have been looking out the upstairs window. I see a sleek white sedan backing out of our driveway. It’s the car Emma’s mom drives. I guess she’s not staying.
Sure enough, my beautiful friend waits on the porch. Empty-handed. I wonder why she didn’t bring me a present. I push Robert out of the way and pull the door wide.
“Finally! I have no one to talk to. You wouldn’t believe the morning I had. Mom made me get up and clean the bathroom. On my birthday,” I emphasize, grabbing her hand and dragging her past the group of ogling trolls.
“Did your mom make cookies? Or put out any pre-birthday cupcakes?” Emma asks, always ready for sugar. Flashing her perfect, pearly teeth, she waves at Robert as we head to my room. I think people expect rich, beautiful Emma to be a snob, but she’s nice to everyone, even nerdy boys.
If only I had her life…
Among all the other ways her life is better than mine, Emma already had her teeth fixed. She said her dad paid “out of pocket” so she could get braces early, and they weren’t the silver metal-mouth things the rest of us have. Or will have. Mom said our insurance won’t pay for the braces yet because I still have baby molars that refuse to fall out. Emma’s parents didn’t wait for insurance. She had extractions and a bunch of stuff done as soon as the orthodontist said it was okay. Then they gave her the braces you could barely see.
My teeth stick out like a donkey’s. Mom says it’s not that bad, but she doesn’t spend hours in the mirror looking at them. And one of my teeth is turned sideways. It’s horrible.
The orthodontist told me it’s no big deal, but he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I know everyone can see it. I don’t smile for pictures anymore unless Mom forces me with threats of dismemberment.
“Is your grandfather here yet?” Emma loves my Grandpa. We all do. He tells amazing stories and always brings interesting gifts. The last time he visited, he gave me a book of princess tales. This might not sound that great to you, but I love to read AND the book was almost a hundred years old. It belonged to my great grandmother, the one who gave me my name. She died a year after Kevin and I arrived.
Inside the front cover, she’d written her name in perfect cursive. My grandmother’s name appears below it. He never gave it to my mother, even after my grandmother died. I’m not exactly sure why, but it makes sense to me. He probably recognized she has no imagination. I wrote my name under their names, and now the cover says, “Colleen Elizabeth” three times, in three different girls’ handwriting, because it was also my grandmother’s name. Three times, like a magic spell.
“Colleen.” Emma is wrinkling her nose. “What is that smell?”
Floating under the surface of my memories, I hadn’t even noticed. Now, a definite odor permeated my room. I narrowed my eyes at the tendrils of smoke reaching under my door. “Hold your breath.” I pull on the handle to find one of my brother’s homemade stink bombs smoldering by my door.
“Mommmmmm!” I can’t believe he did this. Again.
“MOMMMMMMM!” no answer.
Dad pokes his head out of their doorway, blinking. He must have worked late last night. “What are you screaming about, Colleen—” he stops, staring at the stink bomb. “Oh.”
Pulling his old green terrycloth robe on over his t-shirt and plaid pajama pants, he staggers to Kevin’s door. The room is empty.
“I’ll be back,” he says, “with air freshener. Close your door and stuff a towel under the crack. I might also kill your brother. If your mom asks about his body, you know nothing.” He winks and saunters down the hall.
Emma stares at me, wide-eyed. “Plaid. Is your dad okay?”
She’s spent the night enough to know that his pajama pants tend to correspond with his mood. Flannels sporting happy faces, penguins or a square sponge in short pants mean he’s had a really good day. He even has a pair with CELEBRATE! plastered all over them. He saves those for birthdays and work promotions.
“I think he’s just tired. He’s been working a lot lately,” I say, a little annoyed that she noticed before I did. Come to think of it, he’s been wearing plaid a lot lately.
I think I’ll start doing it, too. Then maybe they’ll realize how unhappy I am. I could just get a bunch of black pajamas and wait for mom to ask how I’m feeling. If she even sees them. She’s so obsessed with this new baby growing in her belly, she barely notices me.
I wake, cheek pressed against a cool, smooth surface beneath me. Breathe in, steady and deep. Out. In.
A slight breeze whispers through my hair, just this side of cool. The air brushes my back.
Light filters bright through the haze above and reflects from facets around me. I move my head just a little bit and the sparkling environment spins. I still, before the nausea causes complete surrender.
I don’t know how I got here. Or, for that matter, the definition of “here.”
I hold myself motionless, allowing my mind to focus.
No memory swims to consciousness.
I stare down, tipping my face away from the dazzling light. Attempting to calm the headache. Grasping for any clue about my arrival. Nothing.
I pull my fingers across the glassy floor, smooth and slow. No nicks or scratches. No bumps, no sand, no crumbs. Perfection. I roll over, my back against the hard ground, to see the shining, sharp edge of a cliff inches from my face. A terrified breath jerks in as I imagine slipping over.
Fear pours down my spine like ice water and I slide in the opposite direction. I want to be far away from that vertical drop.
Managing to distance myself from the edge by a few feet, I rest. This will do for now; movement is a struggle. Once I’ve regained strength, assuming I started with some, I’ll remove myself completely from the danger.
Not that the cliff poses a threat as long as I don’t throw myself over—and that’s not happening. I might not remember anything else, but a healthy fear of heights overpowers my memory gaps.
I listen, eyes closed. What is that noise?
There. To the left. Voices approach. Grow louder. I see them, a knot of slender forms. Everyone moves together. A smaller cluster materializes from the right. Each is wearing the same dark tunic. I squint. My eyes refuse to focus.
“Here! Another one! She’s over here, quick!”
Many hands pull and lift and carry. I realize suddenly that I do not have a matching tunic, but am too exhausted to care. Everything spins.
I embrace the dark.
There once was a girl from Nantucket
Who spent half her life in a bucket
When people jeered “why?”
She winked her brown eye
I just realized that almost any other rhyming word I use here will be impolite.
I saw this suit jacket in front of an empty building for lease.
Can’t help wondering how it ended up on the ramp. Where is the owner? How did this happen? Why leave the jacket but not the pants?
It appears to be arranged with some care. Did the jacket have a family? Why was it abandoned? Does the owner plan to retrieve it?
Now, take my challenge. Write the story of this coat.
- You may not read anyone else’s story until you write your own.
- Link to your story in the comments below.
- Make it as short or as long as you like.
- Enjoy writing!
I look forward to seeing your imagination at work.
In response to Writing 101. Today’s Prompt: You stumble upon a random letter on the path.You read it. It affects you deeply, and you wish it could be returned to the person to which it’s addressed. Write a story about this encounter. Today’s twist: Approach this post in as few words as possible.
Please, Maddie, come home.
Everybody wants to be a princess. Well, everyone who isn’t already a princess wants to be one. It’s no picnic, let me tell you. Except for when guards shoo the villagers away and you see thirty beautiful people carrying baskets and blankets into the meadow circle…then, right, it’s a picnic.
Oh, it sounds lovely, I know. All the beautiful gowns and dances past midnight and sweeping bows from everyone you meet. I’ll admit, you can’t beat the food. Mouthwatering herbed meats that fall from the bone, savory vegetables, hot and cold soups, incredible cakes and mousses and chocolates. The petit fours are to die for. Not literally, of course. Unless they’re poisoned petit fours…but you can usually avoid that by paying your cook well.
And there are perks. The music, the grand ballroom, the enormous feather bed, the tapestried walls, the turrets. Let’s see, what else. Ladies to wash and dress me. Boys to carry my things. My horse is made ready to ride anytime I like, the lake is cleared any time I want to swim, flowers and fruit appear at my side. I understand. You want to switch places with me. Who wouldn’t?
If I were you, I wouldn’t.
I’d be happy to just stay you.
Here’s the drawback that nobody discusses during the Princess Interview Process. Okay, okay, there’s no princess interview. How would that go? “Hello, Baby Born to the Queen, would you like to be a princess? No? Well, in that case, let’s switch you for a peasant baby, so everyone will be happy.” Yeah, like that would ever happen.
Someone will probably point out the flaw in my logic—that babies can’t talk or make informed decisions—but I’m sure there’s a fairy godmother somewhere who could help out.
Back to the Princess Problem. It’s not just a problem for princesses. Kings, Queens, Princes, Heads of State of any title…we all have this issue. Most people love us. That’s not really the issue, unless it’s time to choose a partner; that can get a little hairy with all these people vying for affection. Who in their right mind would make someone choose from twenty-four potentials? It sounds like a badly-written play, and it’s not going to end well.
Anyway, as I was saying. The Princess Problem.
And really, it’s not just one problem. All those perks I mentioned earlier? Two sides to every coin, honey. Those huge gowns are heavy. I think the seamstresses must sew stones into the hems. Dancing until after midnight sounds amazing, but think of the last time you stayed up late. Your feet were tired, your back ached, your legs threatened collapse. Now imagine trying to dance through that feeling, smiling at every smelly gentleman doing his best to hold you close.
I don’t care what you say; no one gets fully clean by bathing in the village pond. The princes don’t smell as bad after a true bath and some cologne, but sweat and stink don’t care how rich you are. They arrive late to the ball, but everyone knows when they show up—fashionably late, after the seventh crazy dance. That’s when I’d like to bow out, but my princessly duties require a full dance roster.
As for the rest…I’m no longer seven and would like to bathe in privacy, dress myself, and carry my own bag. The tapestries are pretty, but they’re actually there to fight the cold—a stone castle is freezing most of the time. Imagine living in a cave. Those tapestries don’t help much. Your toasty warm living space sounds perfect to me.
The food is wonderful, but I can’t eat much, because a princess must fit into size skeleton waistcoats. If I eat too much, my chambermaid goes all personal trainer on me. Fifty pushups? You’ve gotta be kidding.
The feather bed would be the one item with no drawbacks…if I weren’t allergic to feathers. I can barely sleep for the sneezing. I keep asking for a regular straw-stuffed tick, but noooooooo, it wouldn’t do for the princess to have a regular bed.
I love riding, but taking four guards everywhere just seems excessive. Clearing the lake? Who wants to swim alone? Not this princess. But gee, if anyone sees my bare shoulder, gasp, they might realize I’m human. I’ll be honest; years ago, it was fun to have adults bow to me. Now, I’d just really like to see the color of people’s eyes. Riding through town with everyone face-down is just plain spooky. Are you getting the picture?
Sorry, I’m a bit distracted. We were talking about the Princess Problem. I have no idea why it’s so common.
Most princesses at least try to be nice. I can’t think of a mean princess, can you? It’s always the horrible stepsisters. By the way, stepsisters get a bad rap. It’s really unfair. Just because a few stepsisters tried to ruin their princess sisters’ lives, everybody blames the stepfamily. I know several stepsisters, and we’re actually good friends. They are rather nice to each other, and sometimes I think I wouldn’t mind having a stepsister. I’m sorry, I’m rambling. I’ll get back to it.
As I said in the beginning: everybody thinks they want to be a princess, and I’ll admit there are many excellent reasons to enjoy princessdom. Princessing? Princesshood? Other than having people sit and listen to you even when you get off track. My apologies.
Everyone wants to be a princess, and it seems logical, until you understand the Princess Problem.
Someone always wants to kill you.
She tripped, then fell, twisting in the air for one last frantic gulp of air before her back hit the water. It enveloped her, cushioning her fall and oozing around her body. She sank into the cool, slippery fluid, a descent slower than she’d expected. As it filled her ears and eyes, she began to struggle, pushing toward the surface. The smooth, heavy liquid held her back, pressing down, filling with bubbles as she moved. The bubbles did not rise.
She froze, conserving the last of her oxygen, considering. She relaxed into the silent, weightless support. She saw shadows above her, blurry figures moving, darting around near the edge. She crawled toward the surface, using the density of the liquid to push. In moments, her face broke into the humid, salty air above. A large, calloused hand reached down and grabbed her collar, hauling her to firm ground.
Her eyes traveled from the hand, up the bulging arm to broad shoulders, then to the sweating, red face of the captain. On a scale of irritation to rage, he teetered between annoyed and angry. She was in trouble, but not too much, since she was alive.
“Princess, how many times must I ask you not to walk beside the moat?” His voice was stiff. Before he could continue, she blurted, “Well, at least we know the new gel works. It’s much better than water. It’s not really scary, though, so you might think about finding some large snakes; I think they could navigate the thicker consistency.” The captain’s eye twitched. She imagined he wished someone would give her a thrashing. “Let’s get you inside.”
She grabbed his offered arm and he pulled her to standing. The gel, with no pressure to thicken it, ran from her clothes in watery rivulets. “I should probably stay out for a bit, drip dry, you know.” She smiled brightly at the captain. He narrowed his eyes at her, but she could see guards behind him turning to hide smiles.
“My job is to keep you alive until your father returns,” he growled, “but if you continue making it more difficult than it should be, I’ll request permission to confine you to quarters. Consider this a warning.” She pressed down a giggle and straightened her shoulders, saluting as they began to walk. “Yes, Sir, I understand. No more throwing incendiary devices back across the moat.”
He stopped short, swinging around to face her. “What?” She grinned up at him. “Pretty sure that’s what it was, but we’re likely to find out in a few minutes. A young woman ran to the edge of the moat, threw something over, then off she went. It rolled to a stop near the wall, almost at my feet, so I thought perhaps I should return it. I lost my balance and fell in the moat right after I threw it back.”
“What did it look like?” He scanned the other side of the moat. She pointed to the top of the mossy green bank. “There. That pile of sticks. It looked innocent enough, which is why I threw it back. Why would anyone break the law to throw a bunch of sticks over here? Pretty sure they wouldn’t.”
Moments later, a spectacular explosion sent rocks and dirt flying into the air. Most of the biggest rocks rained down into the moat, landing with a muted splash, but some soared toward them. The captain tackled the princess, his body shielding her from the debris. His big hands cradled her head as they landed. Sharp pain shot through her wrist.
As earthen shrapnel thudded around them, he shouted in her ear, “That’s twice today you could have been killed. Why didn’t you call a guard?” She shrugged. “No time.” The last of the large flying rocks skidded to a stop nearby, sending spray of dirt across her face. She tried to wipe it off, but her hands were even dirtier. He pulled back, sitting up. “Well. You’re quite a sight. I can guarantee none of my men have ever before seen a muddy princess.” He pulled a small cloth from his pocket. “This might help.”
As she sat amid dirt clods and wiped her face, he shook his head. “It didn’t. You need a full wash; let’s get you back to your ladies.” She rolled her eyes. “I don’t need help.” He finally cracked a grin. “Right. Well, they can at least keep you from falling into the tub.” She stood, ignoring his offered hand, and brushed some of the mud from her pants. The movement sent sharp aches zinging through her wrist. She gritted her teeth, hiding the pain.
Handing the small cloth back with her good hand, she noticed an embroidered pink flower at the corner. She quirked an eyebrow. “Like flowers, do you? I would have never—“ she broke off at the dark look crossing his face. He pressed his lips together in a tight line. She pushed hair out of her face. “So…I should probably get inside and clean up.”
He was once again aloof. “Can you manage the walk? I need to check on my men and send someone to scout our perimeter for any additional threats. This could have easily been one rebel working alone, but I don’t want to assume.”
She nodded, turning. “I think I can manage walking a few yards.” As she started toward the buildings, he muttered, “Just stay away from the moat.” She looked back to retort, but he was already striding toward the guards. She cradled her wrist, now swollen, and pushed the heavy wooden door in with her shoulder.
Once inside the cool, dark room, she sank down against the door. The hard, cold stone floor sapped her warmth, reaching cold fingers through her clothes, but she stayed, propped against the rough-hewn wood. Now that it was over, she thought of dying. If the bomb had exploded when it landed, an entire section of the wall would have been destroyed, and she would have been killed. If she hadn’t thrown it quickly enough, or if she hadn’t remembered to stop struggling in the moat, she might have died. Shaking violently from both the cold floor and fear, she huddled around her wrist, exhausted.
Thanks to my buddy for suggesting I write something for fun. 🙂
I’m a little behind, at 10,000 words. Here’s an excerpt from my work-in-progress. This is first-draft; I haven’t done any proofreading yet (just trying to beat the clock and hit 50.000).
She rolls over to stare at the clock. She stares at bright red numbers, convinced the traitorous clock takes more than sixty seconds between minutes. Tomorrow she will move again. She saw the paperwork. No one thinks she can read, which is handy. “Mouthy, belligerent, oppositional.” She will look up the other two words in the dictionary when she can get to one. She knows what “mouthy” means. Probably the others mean she doesn’t “get on well with others,” which is what the last Foster Ma’am said. A lot of them like to be called Foster Mom, but she had a mom, and that didn’t turn out well. Foster Ma’am works best because most of the time they just think she’s being polite. Only one was smart enough to notice the derision in the word. She got slapped by that one. Fosters aren’t supposed to hit you, but if there’s no bruise and the adult denies it, no one believes a kid. “Everyone knows foster kids are liars and thieves. Why do you think you get moved so much?” She knows why she gets moved so much, and it’s not because she lies or steals. No one wants her because of her behavior. Fine with her. She’d rather kick and scream and find out they don’t want her right away. Better than getting attached, like her first house, and then being kicked out. She thought they were going to adopt her. They already had one adopted kid, and they kept her for a year and a half. Things weren’t perfect, and the boy was downright creepy, but things seemed fine with the parents.
Then the Ms. from Social Services showed up in that silver van and started packing her things into cardboard boxes. The Foster Ma’am helped, and even packed some pictures of their “family” so she could “remember” them. She turned in the van, holding onto the spongy top of the back seat. They smiled, waving as the Ms. drove her away. Were they happy to get rid of her? She thought they would be sad she was leaving, but they smiled. First her real mom, now these people. She would never get attached again. People just leave you.
She thinks of the girl at the playground. Laughing on the swings. Climbing on the monkey bars. Inviting her to play. She wonders if she will be there again. She would like a friend. She looks at the clock again. Three fours. She knows that each hour has triple numbers until the clock gets to six. For some reason, it never changes to three sixes, sevens, eights or nines. She will have to ask about that. She should probably know about time, but moving constantly makes it hard to learn. She stares at the ceiling and waits for the sun.
The girl is back. She feels a little thrill of excitement as she bounds across the playground. “Hi! I’m Megan. Do you want to play with me?” the girl asks. “Yes,” she says. “Want to go on the monkey bars?” The other girl—Megan—glances back at a tall man by the fence. He makes an encouraging motion, universally understood: go play. “Sure! And then maybe we can climb that tree over there. I’ve always wanted to climb a tree. There aren’t many trees where I came from.” “Where did you come from?” Megan tilts her head. “From South Dakota. I had a foster family that didn’t like me, but Roger does. I like Roger. He sorta rescued me.” She looks over at Roger. He looks nice enough. “Is he a foster parent?” Megan shrugs. “Something like that. Anyway he’s nice, so that’s all that matters. And the food is good. We always have great snacks, and sometimes we have ice cream. You should come visit sometime.” She looks at the Megan in awe. ”Like, come to your house to play?” The girl giggles. “Yeah. You can come play anytime. Roger can give you a ride.” She frowns. “I don’t think my Foster Ma’am will let me. She only brings me to the park because all her friends bring their kids here. She says I’m a ‘problem kid’ to her friends and they all feel sorry for her. I don’t think she’d even notice if I fell off the monkey bars.” Megan looks around. “Which one is yours?” “The one walking to the bathrooms. Over there.” Megan says, “Let’s go, then!” “What, now? She’d kill me!” She backs up a step, tripping and landing in the warm brown mulch. “Look,” says Megan, “she didn’t even see you fall. She doesn’t care. Come with me.” Megan reaches down, pulling her up. “Let’s go.” She looks back and sees the truth. The foster lady isn’t watching her at all; the woman has her back to the playground and is laughing with some friends. Probably about me. She decides. “Okay.” She follows Megan out of the playground and through the trees.