This one didn’t end up being a complete story, instead I think I’ve stumbled into a new universe and this may end up being an entire book. Or, it could go nowhere. I’m not really sure. The characters seem to be driving this one. Also, I took liberties with the challenge requirements. Because I’m like that. So, this may, or may not be Chapter One of (working title) Enchanted.
The Challenge was:
- Your initial setting: A laundromat.
- Must include: (at least) One character from the Tom Gauld print: “Characters for an Epic Tale“
- Bonus words: Dwarf, peanut butter, contretemps, embrocation, and zeitgeist.
I have to wonder, as I lean over this damnable washing board, how different things would have been if I had just gone to my grandmother’s house instead of coming home. I’m almost certain I wouldn’t have ended up in a prison laundry. Vassar girls seldom go to prison. Or do laundry, come to think of it. Yet, here I am, scrubbing dwarf underwear to repay my debt to society. In the name of all that is short, fuzzy, and musical, I do hope that stain is peanut butter.
“Everelda!” A jab from my tubmate Belsante brought me back from my reveries. “The matron is coming, and it looks like she has your crown!”
I looked up to see that Queen Drucilla was indeed coming straight for me. Queen Drucilla was a large woman who moved with great speed once she was launched; but her ability to stop without causing casualties was often the subject of small wagers. Having her bear down upon you was like being charged by a bejeweled rhinoceros.
Today the queen had fairy guards flying in formation behind her holding silken tassels attached to her gown. As she approached us, the fairies did an about-face, and starting flying the other way down the hall, the premise being that their velocity would slow her momentum. It almost worked. She barely tapped the washtub this time and Belsante and I were able to sidestep the sloshing water.
“Everelda!” Queen Drucilla barked. “You have a visitor. Come!” she said as she spun suddenly, whipping the fairies around like very surprised maypole ribbons. There was a brief shuffling sound, and then the queen shot off down the hall. I trotted behind her, wondering who could have come to visit. As we traveled, I waved into the rooms of other princesses and queens. “Hey, Dru has Ever’s crown!” Queen Mindy called as we passed. “Hey Dru! I want my crown!” Calls from up and down the corridor “Oh, me too please!” “Oh yes, and a scepter!” “Ermine cape for me, please!” called another.
“Stop it all of you!” roared Queen Drucilla. “Or there shall be no partridges for supper, and I shall put peas under all your mattresses!”
“Torturer!” the voice cried. “Bully!” cried others. “You’re a meanie-head!” called a tiny voice from the end. I recognized the voice and stopped.
“Gretel?” I asked. “What are you doing here?”
“Probably five hard months.” the little tyke replied. “No sweets, no cavorting, flossing three times a day, vegetables with every meal…it’s horrible.”
“No, I meant, for what reason are you incarcerated in Princess Towers?”
“Oh. I’m sure you saw the news when Hansel and I were held for manslaughter?” I nodded. “Charges were dropped about pushing her in the oven, what with it being self defense and all, but her heirs had us arrested for vandalism. Hansel and I did eat a lot of the gum drop roof, and that let the rain in, and the icing windows dissolved and the gingerbread got all moldy.”
“But,” I started, but then was lifted into the air by a set of the tower guards. “I’ll try to come back later!” I called to Gretel, as the guards flew me down the hall and into Queen Drucilla’s office. My conversation with Gretel had caused me to miss the berthing of the queen at her desk; a site that must be seen to be believed. When I arrived, she was already seated on her throne, an array of minions with trays stacked high with paperwork, buzzed around her like worker bees.
Queen Drucilla watched as the guards deposited me gently upon a velvet tuffet. “You should learn to keep up, girl!” she said. “A woman gets nowhere by slowing down, I can tell you that!”
“Yes, your Majesty.” I replied. “May I ask who my visitor is?”
“We’re not sure who she is.” Drucilla replied. “We have never seen her before, but she swept through the gates as though she owned them, came straight to the Towers, and demanded to see you immediately. Normally We are not prone to giving in to demands, but this woman…to be quite honest with you dear, We think she’s a witch!”
“A witch? What makes you think that?” I asked
“The black dress, purple skin, red eyes, and the pointed hat is a bit of a giveaway.” Drucilla replied.
“But I don’t know any witches!” I said.
“Then, you are about to be introduced to one. Now, put on your crown, straighten up your gown, and I’ll have Geoffrey show you to the antechamber where the lady is waiting for you.”
I was trying to smooth down the steamed-in wrinkles of my dress when the queen’s assistant opened the door, pushed me through, and closed the door quickly behind me. I looked up, not sure what to expect. What I saw was an elegant older woman, gorgeously draped in a black Giorgio Armani suit and a resplendent black asymmetrical Philip Treacy hat.
“Grandmother!” I cried as I ran to her.
“Everelda!” she said, enfolding me in her perfumed arms, then holding me out at arms length to look me up and down. “What have they done to you? What is that horrible thing you’re wearing? It looks like a pastel cake topper. And why are you shimmering?”
I looked down and realized that I had gold dust up to my elbows. “Would you believe my new embrocation ritual involves gold dust?” I asked.
“No. But I can only imagine that the truth is something horrid that you are too traumatized to share.” she replied.
“You have no idea.” I said, thinking of the dwarf underwear. “But why did Drucilla think you were a witch?”
“Everyone sees through their own eyes.” Grandmother said cryptically.
“And what are you doing here? How did you know I was here?” I asked.
“It was in the newspaper.” Grandmother replied.
“The City paper?!” I cried.
“Oh heavens, no. I’ve had a subscription to the Enchanted Times for eons.” she said. “Don’t worry, your secret is still safe outside, should you choose to leave the Forest.”
I looked outside, to the towers soaring into the clouds, the ground a distant memory from where we were kept. Fairy guards were stationed every few hundred feet, to catch the princesses and queens who regularly threw themselves from their windows. Not in fits of ennui, as one might think, fairy jumping had become a competitive sport. A dangerous one, mind you, as it is possible that the fairies might not catch you before you became a splotch on the cobblestones below, but thus far there had only been a few minor mishaps.
“I do not think leaving the Forest is a real possibility, Grandmother.” I said. “To be fair, I did poison Beauregard.”
“Yes, I heard that you admitted it in court, and that you didn’t have an attorney. Two very stupid things, child. But, all is not lost. Come over here, and start at the beginning.”
“Wait. Why do you have a subscription to the ET. How does it even get delivered?” I asked
“That’s not important now. What’s important is not letting my granddaughter become a cupcake-wearing laundry drudge. It’s not as though you killed him. One foppish prince with an upset tummy is hardly a reason for a manicure such as this.” she said, holding my hand up to the light. “So, tell Grandmother what happened.”
“It all started with Once Upon a Time. These sorts of stories always do. It’s the trite and true zeitgeist of the Enchanted Forest.” I started.
“Stop!” Grandmother said. “Let me rephrase. Start at the beginning of how you ended up here.”
“Can I still start with Once Upon A Time?” I asked.
“I’d rather you didn’t.” she answered.
“Fine. You know after I graduated, I wasn’t having any luck finding a job.” I said.
“Yes, although I do recall that I did offer to make a few calls.” Grandmother replied.
“And I almost agreed to it, until I got a letter from Father. He said that the Charmings, whom, you may remember live in the kingdom next to Father, wanted to start a school for girls that would be available for all citizens of the Forest, commoners, royal, and even anthropomorphic animals.”
“How noble.” Grandmother said dryly.
“I thought, and Emily and Jasmine agreed, that it was probably Ella’s idea. She and The Evil’s had been heavily involved in the Mouse Liberation movement, and supported equal rights for Anthros.”
“Who would have thought she’d turn out to be such a firebrand? How are your evil stepsisters, by the way?” Grandmother asked.
“Oh, they aren’t so evil, as sisters go.” I replied. “And they’re fine. Proud wimple-wearers of the Princess Academy. Majored in kingdom management and dispute resolution. Very practical, actually. But to get back to the story, I returned to Father’s kingdom, and the three of us reviewed the Charming School prospectus, and we applied to run the school. Naturally, we were accepted.”
“Naturally.” Grandmother said.
“But not long after the school opened, Prince Charming lost his wife.” I said.
“Being a first wife seems to carry a lot of risk in the Forest.” Grandmother muttered, perhaps thinking of my mother, who also died young of mysterious circumstances.
“Oh, she didn’t die.” I replied. “He actually forgot where he left her. They had a fight, she got out of the carriage and started to walk home, and he drove off without her. She’s never been seen again. Anyway, after Ella disappeared, Charming started acting very strange. One day he called for an assembly of students in the green, and after the girls were assembled, he brought out a unicorn.”
“Nasty vicious beasts, unicorns.” Grandmother said.
“I feel the same way. And so did most of the girls. They were terrified. Anyway, Charming was in a mood, so I appeased him by petting the pointy horse. He smiled and said he had a task for me. He handed me a tiny golden seed, and asked me to plant it. But not out in the fields or gardens where you would expect, but deep, deep underground, in a strange round cellar that was lit by glowing rocks.”
“How very mythic.” Grandmother said. “Do tell me there was a gnome. Those sorts of cellars really need a gnome.”
“No, gnome.” I replied.
“The Charmings have never had any sense of style. Go on.”
“After that, Charming stopped hanging around the school, and I’d pretty much forgotten about the seed, until one day when I was summoned to the throne room, and escorted back down to the grotto, where an enormous tree had grown.”
“Wait a minute!” Grandmother said. “Was it a tree with golden leaves and only produced a single golden apple?”
“Yes.” I said baffled. “How did you know?”
“And when you got down there, you found that no matter what ladder he used, or how many people he sent up the tree, nobody could get the apple?”
“But when you showed up, the apple just dropped into your hand, didn’t it?”
“And then suddenly you found that every single day, you had to make the trip down to the tree and get an apple?”
“Yes! And do you know how many flights of stairs that is? I have thighs like a Clydesdale!” I said. “So one day, I just couldn’t bear the thought of going up and down those stairs again, so I coated a regular apple with honey, and rolled it in some gold dust, and took it to Charming. It never occurred to me that he was eating the golden apples.”
“Well, the one bite it would have taken for him to know the difference couldn’t have hurt him too much.” Grandmother said.
“That’s what I thought too. But he keeps getting worse. I’m afraid he might actually die.”
“Have you been back to the apple grotto since the day he impetuously had you arrested for nefarious apple switching?” she asked.
“No, I’ve been here in Princess Towers for the last week.” I replied.
“Ah.” Grandmother said, standing up and brushing off invisible lint. “Then we have many apples in our bargaining basket, to coin a phrase. I’ll just drop in on the Charmings for a little visit.” She straightened her hat. “But first, I’d like to have a word with Drucilla.”
Grandmother stalked to the door, and pulled it open, dragging Geoffrey across the floor in a sweeping arch, as he held on to the handle. “You!” Grandmother said, plucking Geoffrey off the door by his collar, “escort my granddaughter to her room. I emphasize the MY part of that sentence, you should pay attention to that.”
“Yes, absolutely, as you wish it!” Geoffrey groveled, his feet running in the air as though he were trying to obey before he even reached the floor.
“Good boy.” Grandmother said, putting him down and patting him on the head. “Run along while I speak to the queen.”
Geoffrey was behind me, and pushing me out the door as fast as his little legs could churn. “Goodbye Grandmother!” I called “It was lovely seeing you!”