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Once Upon a Time in Queenstown


"Fairy tales are eternal. They are full of symbolism and commentary on the human condition, embracing the idea that light can triumph over darkness. They are fantasy and escape and wish-fulfilment. And they’re a part of your childhood that stays with you until you’re grown

and you know it’s time to pass them on."

Sara Litchfield

This Friday, to celebrate the launch of the anthology Wish Upon a Southern Star and all things fairy tale, BOUND Books & Records are holding a wee shindig in the store, with nectar to be sipped, gingerbread to be nibbled and stories to be shared, including my contribution to the collection: El Flautista de Hamelin.

The local creative writing group, The Real Alchemists of Queenstown, will be in attendance, telling tales, and there is even a zine to take away. Being small (eight pages folded from one sheet of A4!), the zine only offers snippets of stories - fairy-tale-themed teasers. So I present here the unabridged versions for your enjoyment...

In no particular order, we have:

Childhood Reimagined as Fairy Tale by Adam Blake Wright

The Little Mermaid Grows Up by Rosie Wheat

Welcome to My House by Bethany G Rogers

Princess by Derek Hibberd



Childhood Reimagined as Fairy Tale

by Adam Blake Wright

Once upon a time a little boy lived on an apple orchard surrounded by rolling mountains. The boy had no siblings, no neighbours, and his parents were always busy—his father mowing, his mother cooking—so he only had his dog to keep him company. Day after never-ending day, the boy ran through the orchard and talked with his dog and slapped at honeybees and wondered about life beyond his family’s forty acres. In spring, when the apples began to bloom, the boy’s uncle hired brown-skinned workers to tend the trees. The boy was told to stay far away from the workers, and so he spent more and more time by the creek with his dog. One day a troll with one eye emerged from the water. He wanted a new home and asked the boy to trade his land for gold. “No, please and thank you,” the dog said for the boy, barking and barking until the troll sank to the bottom of the creek. In summer, the workers clipped branches and sprayed magic mist upon the apples as protection. Knowing very well that he shouldn’t, the boy asked if the magic mist would guard against the troll. The workers laughed. With tongues of a strange language, they told the boy how such monsters in their own kingdoms couldn’t be stopped at all. And so once again, as the boy and his dog played by the creek, the one-eyed troll appeared from the water and asked the boy to trade his land for gold. “No, please and thank you,” the dog said for the boy, barking and barking until the troll disappeared. In fall, the trees bore fruit sweeter than honey. Once the workers returned home, townsfolk came to frolic in the orchard with bushel baskets by their sides. While the boy and his dog sold souvenirs to the townsfolk, they were too busy to see the troll rise from the creek and sneak through the orchard. When the troll found the boy’s family, it used all its strength and all its gold and all the magic in its terrible bulging eye to steal the land forever. “Yes, please and thank you,” said the boy’s family, happily receiving more gold than they ever imagined possible. ​The boy often dreamt of a bigger, better orchard—a farm, even—in which to grow beans, squash, cucumbers, peppers, basil, tomatoes, pumpkins the size of hay bales. But those dreams faded as the boy and his parents moved to a neighbouring hillside where they could look out upon their former kingdom. The boy watched as the orchard became a swamp and the swamp became a collection of huts and the huts became homes for other boys with other dogs. ​In the years to come, the boy’s dreams haunted him as nightmares—no more majestic gardens, no more talking dogs, only pumpkins smashed by large, hairy feet. At first he blamed the troll for his nightmares. But as the boy grew older and wiser and visited other far-away lands, he began to blame his uncle’s magic mist. It had been a witch’s potion. The devil’s hex. Power so unknowable that it would last beyond life itself. And there were so many more unspeakable things: the curse of NAFTA, the stealing of corn, the crossing of borders, the Republics of Bananas, the pilgrimage of potatoes, the digging up of too much dirt, the collapse of the Maya, a whole history of theft and consumption and abuse upon the land and its indigenous children. ​The boy grew up to be a brave warrior in the face of other monsters who craved other lands. But no one—not the boy, not the troll, not the trees, not the pumpkins, not the descendants of empires past—lived happily ever after.

The Little Mermaid Grows up

by Rosie Wheat

Ri sucked on her cigarette, savouring every giddy breath. A few seagulls watched her from the railing, unflinching against the breeze.

“I don’t have anything for you,” she said, taking great pleasure in blowing her smoke over them. They should flock to the shingle beach and wait for the fishermen, who threw their catch fresh off the boat into the boxes on the quay. From net to next-day-delivery in no time at all.

Ri couldn’t bear to watch. She might recognise the fish.

She hitched up her sequinned dress to her knees and swung her legs over the pier, teasing her trainers closer to the oily waves. Had they been worth it? Not the Nike Airboosters of course; they were a belated birthday present. The bones and flesh inside the trainers. Had they been worth the trade?

“Ri!”

Her husband hurried down the uneven pier. Tall and well-built, he was as handsome as that first day she’d seen him on the ship, just with a few more shooting greys and a softer belly.

“You know how I hate you sitting out here by yourself.” He caught up with her, nursing a stitch in his side. “Where’s the guard?”

Ri shrugged, turned away, and took another delicious drag.

“Ri, look at me. Ariel, please!”

Ri turned. Her blue eyes grew darker, like a squall rolling in from the horizon.

“Don’t call me that,” she said. She couldn’t bear the look of pity and fear on his face. He was spineless. A jellyfish with no sting. He had been this way ever since their last visit to the doctor.

“When was the last time you had sex?” the doctor had asked.

Ri had tucked a lock of red hair around her ear and turned to Eric, eyebrows raised.

“A few days ago,” Eric had said.

“And everything is normal? Regular periods?”

Ri had smiled. “Not really. I used to be a mermaid. Tail got split into two. Not sure if I can have kids – can you run a test for that or something?”

The doctor had slowly put his pen down and referred them to Psych.

Now she ran away from royal luncheons to smoke ciggies on a pier.

“I knew we should have moved to the country house. Get you away from this… temptation,” Eric muttered.

“Temptation? You mean my home?” Ri spat, stubbing her cigarette on the pier and standing to face him.

“The land is your home now, Ri! How many times-”

“It’s not home. Call a palace a home? Where are the rooms that feels like ours, Eric? Where’s the home we built together? We don’t eat, sleep, talk or even shit without someone watching. And your mum - she’s somehow in every room! Of a palace?! I don’t even know how that’s possible-”

“And what, you’d rather go back to your happy little family where the crabs serenade you and your best friend is a fucking guppy fish? You chose the real world, Ri. It’s time to live in it.”

They’d had the same argument so many times, a well-thumbed script with prompts to pause and places to get angry. There never seemed to be any lines for forgiveness. No one ever said sorry.

“Come on. It’s starting to rain.”

Eric gently pulled her by the elbow. She didn’t fight, so he put his arm around her and kissed the top of her head. She felt her body instantly soften, felt that tingle in her groin, just as thrilling as the first time she’d got a groin, when she thought the tingle was as good as it got. She realised later, when Eric’s mouth moved down to her brand new groin, it got a hell of a lot better. For all the books that had fallen off ships, no one had ever prepared her for that.

They reached the beach. She watched a boy, resembling a well-wrapped beach ball, lob a wodge of cod onto the stones. Within seconds, the gulls had drawn, quartered and gulped it down.

At least the fish was battered. It was easier to forget her family were in those newspaper cones when they were hidden behind deep-fried skins.

Welcome to My House

by Bethany G Rogers

PSWKKKKT! BURRRRRRR! EEEEEEAK!

I'm terrified, obviously. I get freaked out by the noises the heating makes at night, but this is different.

I keep telling them that. They just smile. At first.

PSWKKKKT! BURRRRRRR! EEEEEEAK!

I mean, is it really just me? Are you never scared of the dark occasionally? When you're alone, or somewhere different. I've just got my first mortgage, you see. Yeah! In this day and age! I know, I never thought I'd be able to get one either, but here I am. My first house.

PSWKKKKT! BURRRRRRR! EEEEEEAK!

The area isn't great. That burning mattress wasn't in my garden this morning. But you must agree, the orange flames are an unusual view and they really brighten my front room up. I can't afford to paint right now...this is what the last folk did...but indigo IS one of my top seven favourite colours, and it goes so well with the red and white floral carpet, don't you think?

PSWKKKKT! BURRRRRRR! EEEEEEAK!

Anyway. I just needed my own place so badly. I'm from a big family, you know? It's got an indoor bathroom! I just can't afford to have it plumbed yet. You're gonna have to hold on there, petal. There's ways around it...but I won't subject you to that. Mam's horrified, obviously, but your Mam always wants the best for you, doesn't she? She used to iron my

bedsheets. Bedsheets! Bless her cottons.

PSWKKKKT! BURRRRRRR! EEEEEEAK!

It was quiet at first. Bliss. Nice to have the P n’ Q, you know? But I ended up playing the radio and talking to myself all the time so I wouldn't go crazy. Um, you don't need a TV licence to play the radio do you? Well, keep schtum just in case, eh, petal? Cheers. I leave the landing light on at night, just to feel a bit safer. A bit warmer.

PSWKKKKT! BURRRRRRR! EEEEEEAK!

More tea, petal? Milk's a bit lumpy, but, you know. They say what doesn't stick in your throat won’t stick in your arsehole. Anyway. The noises. Started not long after I moved in. I thought I could hear someone moving downstairs late at night one time. I didn't go and look. Just assumed it was my friendly neighbourhood opportunist (the back door is as thin as paper, it barely stands up in a light breeze, never mind kicking the thing!). I barricaded my room and looked up glaziers in the yellow pages until it went quiet. The more I heard though, the less human it sounded.

PSWKKKKT! BURRRRRRR! EEEEEEAK!

See? Well, I went down in the morning with my Dad's old railway torch (heavy as a big brick, but with a handle. Made out of metal for maximum potential damage. Lush yellow colour)...and? The door wasn't kicked in at all, someTHING had walked clean through it. Well, not clean really, there were wood splinters everywhere (IMPOSSIBLE to get out your feet!) and this viscous-y stuff all over the floor. Like spittle. Or drool. It was all over the place, but I managed to pick out a rough trail to, well, that door.

PSWKKKKT! BURRRRRRR! EEEEEEAK!

It’s the cupboard-under-the-stairs door. Where I keep the hoover. She was in there, in the shadows at the back. She still is. I've never seen her properly. Because the minute I opened that door, she tried to take my arm off. I swung the torch at her, and the blow sent her reeling back into the inkiness. But from what I've seen, she's beautiful. Maybe you'll get a glimpse of her.

She's soft and furry, like all the most playful and dangerous predators are. And black. But the kind of black that absorbs all other colours and all other lights in order to emit its own depth of presence.

PSWKKKKT! BURRRRRRR! EEEEEEAK!

She makes that noise when she's hungry. Like a cat when it meows pathetically the instant you open the fridge door. It didn't take me long to work out that the drool on the floor also lead to the freezer. Which was open, and, yup, you coulda guessed it... she’d ransacked all the meat. Shame. I'd had great plans for that Oops-sticker chicken. The frozen meat made her stomach bad. The house was lifting. It stunk. There’s no amount of Ferbreeze can shift a stench like that, I can tell ya!

PSWKKKKT! BURRRRRRR! EEEEEEAK!

Ahem. So we didn’t get off to the best of starts. It felt like another burden I had to carry. Another goddamn storm to weather. But I soon began to get used to it. It’s the noises that really keep me company. And they have meaning too, she’s trying to tell me something, I’m sure, I just haven’t got all the noises figured out yet...

PSWKKKKT! BURRRRRRR! EEEEEEAK!

Apart from that one, of course. That’s her hungry noise; she sings after she’s eaten and it’s quite beautiful. Just like a baby screeches until it’s fed, I suppose.

I figured out her favourite food by accident.

I never intended to hurt anybody, originally.

PSWKKKKT! BURRRRRRR! EEEEEEAK!

I’d only just got the back door fixed when I was broken into again. This intruder was of the human variety, however. I’d took the big lamp with me again and snuck down the stairs. In the kitchen, a wiry-looking lad was quietly rifling through the cupboards. The cheeky git. I couldn’t decide whether to confront him or hide in my room like last time, but before I could make my mind up, the thieving git thought he’d try his luck in the cupboard-under-the-stairs. Gawd knows why you’d burgle the cupboard-under-the-stairs. Maybe he was expecting Harry blinking Potter or summat, but what he got was-

PSWKKKKT! BURRRRRRR! EEEEEEAK!

Her. Oops-sticker chicken isn’t her favourite meal, and it doesn’t keep her quiet for long. But him, that skinny, thieving bastard, made her purr with pleasure. She sang beautifully for half an hour and slept all afternoon. And that’s when I clicked, you see. I’ve got something between a Little Shop of Horrors flower and a Mogwai LIVING in my CUPBOARD-UNDER-THE-STAIRS!

This isn’t a film though, dearie.

PSWKKKKT! BURRRRRRR! EEEEEEAK!

And I don’t have time to bore you with the full menu of previous weeks; milkmen, door-to-door salespeople, Jehova's Witnesses. Anyone who’d come to the door really.

PSWKKKKT! BURRRRRRR! EEEEEEEEEAAK!

So, it was very sweet of you to pop around, darling, and I hope you can forgive me the duck-tape. But I couldn’t have you legging it out of here as soon as I said the word ‘monster’.

PSWKKKKKKT! BBBUUUURRRRRRRR! EEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAK!

She’s hungry, so I guess this won’t hurt a bit. And when you’re in there, petal, do tell my monster I love her.

Princess

by Derek Hibberd

Doffing the stocking stuffing

Bun in the oven

Need loving?

Put the hands to the grindstone and heave

Miller's daughters and starry-eyed bakery princesses

Like a doll on a cake

A music box bailarina

A ripple on the lake

A glassy, crystalline demeanor

Smiles that form cracks

Needles making tracks

Doves in an incinerator

No. That comes later

No. Crumbs fell for the pigeon with the stump

No. That man in the patched clothes is not in a slump

He just lives in the bottom of a battered lamp

And if you rub him, he'll rub you back for food stamps

A predatory leer, so steer clear

of the growing fear in the pit of your stomach

Your gut aches...

Eating your insides like a rotting pomegranate

Can you decide whether or not you should have it?

It's your ticket to the underworld

Grab your copy of Wish Upon a Southern Star here.

 

Sara Litchfield

©2017 BY SARA LITCHFIELD.