Right now, I’m taking a break from writing the second #iHunt full-length novel. I’ve got to work out some ideas I’m playing with in it. In the mean time, I’m working on an #iHunt short story collection. Basically it’s a series of stories which occur between #iHunt and the sequel, tentatively called #iHunt The Magdalene Dawn.
While I was writing one of the stories, a weird take on Sleeping Beauty, I had to work out some of the details of the mythology. The notes sort of mutated into a super short story, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty that aligns with some things I’ve been mulling over lately about modern fairy tales.
So, I want to share it with you.
Only slightly related, here’s a Sleeping Beauty twist from a classic Tales from the Crypt comic from December 1953.
“I’m gonna tell you a story.” This is one of those strange meta things. Because I’m telling a story about a time I told a story. Except my telling a story about telling a story is actually a completely different story. There are entire layers of narrative framing here. This shit’s better than Shakespeare. It’s like if he wrote a play about a play, and the play was a play about… I’ve totally run this gag into the ground, haven’t I?
Anyway, I’m sitting around in a bar. I’m telling a story. Like I announced. I don’t usually hang around other monster hunters. But tonight, I’m doing that. And when monster hunters hang out, they tell stories. Except this one isn’t really a story about a hunt. It’s kind of a prelude to a hunt. It’s the thirty second track full of non-sequitur spoken word before the real song begins.
The other hunters look on. I start.
Once upon a time, there was a king and a queen. They ruled over a vast kingdom of magic and wonder. Or, I guess since it’s called a kingdom, really he just ruled over it. But the way the Victorians romanticized feudalism, we like to pretend she was considered his societal equal and not just a talking piece of property purchased in a political maneuver who really only exists to create heirs. The thing is, one of them couldn’t create heirs. All signs pointed to him, since his concubines weren’t exactly popping out the babies as far as anyone could tell. Even the house fairy couldn’t help them—she said it’d take a circle of fairies to help.
The queen couldn’t let her house fall to nothingness. One night, she snuck out of the castle and made way to a fairy circle, where she stripped down, burned herbs, and begged the fairies to help her conceive a child. Seven fairies appeared and considered her case. The fairies agreed, and she went home.
One day soon thereafter, everything changed. But, I guess technically nobody knew that it changed that day, because it’s not like there’s some sort of weird conception alarm on the queen’s womb. A few weeks later, they had a pretty good idea everything changed. Nine months later, they had a baby they named Talia. The king and queen rested easy knowing that their hereditary dynasty would continue for another generation.
People from all over the land came for the christening. The banquet hall was full of jealous nobles vying for position, the more well-to-do peasants, court magicians, beast people, vampires, and stranger things. The seven fairies the queen met with were given guest of honor seating. They made the house fairy eat in the serving quarters, since she wasn’t able to grant them their child.
At the height of the event, the seven fairies lined up to give gifts to the baby Talia.
The first fairy told the crowd that they’d bless Talia with great beauty, the kind of which would inspire tales for centuries to come.
The second fairy approached and said she’d bless the baby with bountiful wit, so that she could command her court cleverly.
The third fairy offered Talia unparalleled grace, so that she’d be right with god in all her affairs.
The fourth fairy gifted the infant with a talent for dance, so she could expertly perform the ways expected of a lady.
The fifth gave Talia the gift of song, of remarkable skill and a perfect voice that carries across the cold winds.
The sixth fairy gave the princess airs of pure goodness, and a heart that could sooth even the most savage villain.
Before the seventh could take her place before the baby, the house fairy forced her way forward. Thunder clapped, and she said she’d give the child the gift the family most deserves—the gift of death. I’m sure it sounded far better in her head. She said that on the girl’s eighteenth birthday, she’d prick herself while using a spinning wheel, and she’d fall to her death.
The banquet hall’s attendants simultaneously gasped. However, the seventh fairy stepped forward in defiance. She said that while she couldn’t use her gift to remove the house fairy’s curse, she could use her gift to mitigate it somewhat. She said that Talia would still be pricked, but would fall into a deep, deep slumber, and could only be woken by a kiss from the child of a king after one hundred years.
So. What we have so far is a classic fairy tale about a girl who life handed a bunch of bullshit before she could even talk. I can relate to that. Growing up, a few of my friends were told at a very young age that they wouldn’t survive until adulthood. That’s the reality of poverty in America. Hell, I didn’t have a fatal but treatable illness, and I’m shocked I made it through high school alive.
The king wasn’t having the prophecy, even with the other fairy’s little addendum. He ordered every spinning wheel in the kingdom to be destroyed, and banned any new ones coming in. This meant all the clothes had to be imported or made by hand. But as far as he was concerned, that was a small price to pay to protect Talia. And let’s just be honest—to protect his dynasty. He also kept Talia within the castle at all times, just in case she tripped and fell on a wild spinning wheel. Those who dared defy the law, the prohibition against a basic tool of civilization, they were put to death in the public square for their defiance. Talia’s denial became the oppression of a people.
Talia grew up with all the gifts the fairies promised. Beauty, wit, grace, dance, song, and goodness. She was a brilliant girl, obsessed with a world she was never allowed to see. She was perfection in a glass case. She practiced with the masters, of course, all shipped to teach her in the castle confines. She spent countless hours reading every book in the largest library in the known world. She was hungry for more, and her parents struggles to keep up with her voracious desire to understand the outside. No matter how hard they tried, it wasn’t enough for her. She tried escaping many times, sparking massive manhunts and rewards for her capture. Every time, someone caught her or sold her out. When she was twelve, she was captured and held for ransom. The king slaughtered nearly thirty people in his ruthless retrieval.
Early in her teen years, she decided she wanted a spinning wheel. She had little real interest in textiles, but simply wanted the things her parents said she couldn’t have. Just like any teenage girl. She decided she’d have one, no matter what her father said. She learned from books how they worked, and thought that with the right parts, she could build one. And she’d use the fairies’ blessings to get those parts.
The king would not let Talia have money, for fear that she’d be more able to escape with it. After all, who needs money if they live a fully sheltered life inside a castle? There were no shops in her prison. So, Talia used her gifts. Often, young artists would come to the castle for exhibitions. With quiet flirtation, she’d tempt artists to meet her in private, to draw her likeness. In exchange, she’d ask for small amounts of gold so she could afford her project. Other times, when young men and women would try to court her too aggressively, she’d demand payoffs for her silence. Everyone knew that a simple complaint to her father could lead men to the gallows.
To build a spinning wheel, Talia would need supplies. Wood, needles, pulleys, and other components. While she couldn’t order those things directly, the preternaturally witty girl disguised her efforts as parts of home improvement projects. After all, if she was going to care for the house once she was queen, she’d have to understand these things. At times, she’d sneak out of the castle and spend her time at taverns, chatting up the drunk and impoverished about how they care for their homes with insufficient materials. She learned how to improvise—how to make the most with subpar tools.
When she began building prototypes, she found that her lack of privacy was her project’s bane. A few times, serving people caught her and demanded she disassemble her creations before they were forced to tell her father. This wasn’t out of malice—if her father found out they knew what she was doing, they’d be put to death. The graceful girl used her standing in the church to her advantage. She’d volunteer for minor services in the abbey copying documents. This gave her access to small but private quarters where she was free to do as she liked. This office became her workshop. The dark little room wasn’t ideal, but to her, it was paradise. Late at night, she’d build by candlelight. She was always a night person, but she’d stay up until the sun rose, excusing her sleep deprivation as sickness. Her parents ordered the greatest physicians in the land care for her. Some worried she was at risk of possession, since she showed no outward signs of sickness aside from the fatigue.
While she could get many of the supplies she needed, thread was completely out of the question. She needed thread to study, to understand what she was doing with this would-be spinning wheel. Thread merchants were prohibited entirely from the kingdom. She wasn’t allowed modifying her clothing, and her clothing was regularly inspected and inventoried. So the clever girl, a master of dance, would dance with many of the kingdom’s courtiers. In her impressive twirling, she’d unravel and steal pieces of thread from her partners’ clothing. She danced with the best, and stole from the best. She studied all manner of textiles, from cottons to amazing silks alike—she swore she’d become an expert.
Merchants were not allowed coming to her directly. Even though she had money, she was disallowed from the mercantile class. However, the merchants mostly traveled from distant lands and spoke foreign languages. She used this to her advantage. From her window, she’d sing folk songs from these lands afar, but hide messages within the lyrics, telling the merchants when and where it was safe to engage with her. She became friendly with many of these merchants, paying them additional sums to share stories of their travels over exotic drinks and sweets.
All these skills aside, her goodness is what saved her on a few occasions when her family began catching on to her machinations. She’d distract them, endearing herself to them and getting them wrapped up in other affairs.
Over two years, she built, tested, and rebuilt many spinning wheels, until just before her eighteenth birthday, she had a model she believed would truly work.
On her birthday, Talia decided she’d defy her father, her dynasty, the prophecy, and her captivity. She’d do this through the revolutionary act of spinning flax into thread. Even if the prophecy was correct, she told herself, she’d face it head-on. She wouldn’t be a victim of circumstance—she’d meet it on her terms. She covered her spinning wheel and used a food cart to smuggle it up to her tower bedroom, overlooking the kingdom. Her machine’s maiden voyage would be in the heart of Talia’s captivity, and Talia would have it no other way. She paid one of her guards to keep visitors away, claiming that she simply needed some quiet rest and couldn’t face the world while her parents were so stressed over the fated day in the prophecy.
It took her a few tries to get the thing working. She’d experimented before, but never with that level of seriousness. But within the hour, she was spinning like an expert. While she spun, rose vines and brambles slowly crept in her tower window. She noticed them, but was too invested in her act of defiance to think twice about the strangeness of the invading plants. Over the next hour, the vines slinked across her room toward her.
“I know what you are.” She said to the vines. The vines halted their approach. “And I won’t try to stop you.”
She heard a woman’s voice from the vines, which returned to their approach, somewhat faster now but still only barely visible. “Why, dearest Talia? If you know what I am, why are you not running in fear? Why are you not begging your father to save you? To throw his wealth and violence at me? Do you believe in inevitability?”
She chuckled. “I know that the only inevitability in this world is my father’s will and stubbornness. And I’ve just broken that. I don’t believe in inevitability. But I do believe that right now, this is the height of my life. For years, I’ve yearned for this moment. Not this moment with you. But this moment with this wheel. So while I do believe you’re here to fulfill this curse, and I’m sure you have every intention of doing so, I’m going to enjoy my rebellion until the last breath has been squeezed from my chest.”
“But you could run…” The vines said to her in a whisper, beginning to curl up and wrap around her ankles.
“I could run. But this? This is joy. I wasn’t sure until now, but it is. And if I run, I may never experience it again. My father will pursue me to the ends of the earth. Others will assail me. There’s no comfort for me out there. There’s no joy. If you kill me now, I’ll die happy.”
“Do you not know your own story, Talia? It doesn’t end here.” The vines and brambles grew up her leg, roses blossoming all along the way.
“The fairy said I would die. I would prick myself on the spindle, and I would die. The other fairy intervened. She said I wouldn’t die. That I’d simply fall asleep until kissed by a prince.” She looked down to the vines, speaking directly to them now.
“Wrong, Talia. Completely wrong. Humans would be best served to begin paying very close attention. They said you’d be pricked while spinning. They never said it would happen on the spindle.” One of the vines stood up before her, a long thorn thrust toward her.
“The story said I’d prick myself.” She said, and put her thumb to the thorn, touching the sharp tip to her soft flesh.
The vines whispered back. “That is the story as it was told. I’m sure you have to be curious…”
Talia pressed her thumb into the thorn. It penetrated her skin. She gasped at the initial prick, but was quickly awash with pleasure.
“I… don’t understand…” Her heart raced. But she didn’t fight the vines.
““The fairy never said you wouldn’t die—she said you’d fall into a slumber. You’ll die tonight, Talia. But death isn’t the end.” This isn’t an end. This is an escape.” As Talia’s thumb bled, the vines absorbed her blood. With each ounce, another rose blossomed along the plants, which now covered her to her chest.
“An… escape?” She licked her lips, distracted with delight and possibility, lost in trying to fill in the blanks and guess what that could mean for her.
“Your father will live a very long time, Talia. But not one hundred years. Tonight, you’ll die. Then you’ll sleep. You’ll sleep a hundred years or more, only to be woken by a kiss from the child of a king. You’ll awaken. Your father will be dead. He’ll no longer have a hold on you.”
“Why are you doing this? Why would you?”
“I’m beyond reasons, Talia my dear. Now, I hear your voice fading. At any time, you could pull away. You could resist. You could run. You could scream for help. Soon, it’ll be too late to turn back.”
Talia reached out with her other hand, and grabbed a handful of vines with all her strength, thrusting another dozen thorns into her flesh defiantly. Within seconds, her consciousness faded. Moments later, so did her life.
The king and queen panicked. They had guards, sorcerers, and anyone who would dare try attempt to remove Talia from the brambles. By the time they found her body, she was covered except for her lifeless but beautiful face. Not only did every person who tried fail, but every one died, as the brambles animated to defend her. When the soldiers cut the vines, the vines grew back instantly, bigger, harder, and with deadlier thorns. When the sorcerers tried burning their ways through, the vines would condense and shrug off the flames.
Quickly, they resorted to coaxing princes to come to the kingdom and kiss her, in hopes of waking her. The princes were not killed, but she did not awaken. One night after a prince’s entourage traveled from the other side of the world, the words “ONE HUNDRED YEARS” were found scratched into the walls of her chamber.
After years of stubborn tries to do something, anything, the king fell to the futility of the curse. He couldn’t stand to live in a house where his corpse of a daughter was right there, in plain sight. So, he had his craftsmen build a box around her, tightly encasing the brambles. He gave the box to a merchant, telling him to take her far, far away in hopes that she could awaken elsewhere, perhaps by luck. The king and queen lived out the rest of their days in misery and guilt, dying childless. Their kingdom fell apart, becoming a relic of a forgotten time.
The box traveled the world. One hundred years passed. Then two. Then three. Sometimes, a prince would attempt to wake Talia. Every time, the prince would vanish without a trace. The box would move on to its next home. As the world evolved, there got to be fewer and fewer princes, and the ones that remained were simply too high-profile in the modern age to go around kissing magically preserved corpses covered with sentient bushes.
Now, the box has found its way to Southern California. This is where the real story begins.