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Foreward: This is a little different from my normal fare, but I thought I’d give it a try. It’s a classic fairytale twisted and reimagined, and the structure might give you pause occasionally, but try to roll with it. All constructive criticism is welcome. If you read my blog, you’ve probably already seen this (I posted it in pieces earlier this year) but I hope it’s worth a second look. A few things to be wary of along the way: insinuations of underage sex (not shown), casual violence, disturbing imagery, and death. There’s a lot of lighter stuff as well, but consider this fair warning.
And on that cheery note, thank you so much for reading, and happy holidays to everybody:)
PS-I’m wrapping up a sequel to Pandora, which I’ll start posting here soon
Mankind is seeded with storytellers, and storytellers very often don’t know their own strength. Words have power, and to use them is to give them will, and breath, and movement. Stories can take on a life of their own. It’s happened many times, with the epic cycles of history repeating themselves despite our best intentions and traditions becoming warped out of all recognition by circumstance, transforming into something completely new. Stories float through homes, cities, cultures and continents and look for fertile ground, and when they find it, they dig in their roots.
Stories, however they come about their imperative to live, do require actors to play the crucial parts. If you fall into a story, you had better hope it’s one of the more benevolent ones, although without some current of strong emotion or trauma a story isn’t likely to endure. The best characters are the ones who can adapt the story to fit their personal needs, without getting totally swept away by the narrative. If you can’t do that, well, then the story runs roughshod over you and you’ll probably end up dead, cooked in a pot of boiling water at the bottom of a chimney or maybe turned into a deer that is subsequently torn apart by hunting hounds, or some other equally grisly and poetic end.
This particular story decided to settle in a house. It waited patiently for the right person to come by, and when they came…it pounced.
It’s nearly midnight.
It’s nearly midnight, and Asher is walking as fast as he can with only one shoe on. His other foot is bare, no sock, nothing. It irritates the fuck out of him but he doesn’t want to stop, because stopping would be acknowledging it and then he’d have to think about it, and right now all he wants it to move, fast enough that the anger doesn’t have a chance to boil over. This is as fast as he can go without breaking into a run. Not for the first time Asher wishes he’d never sold his motorcycle, because fuck it would feel good to slide onto that smooth seat, feel the engine rumble to life between his legs and go, just go, fast as he could to anywhere else. The bike was easy escape, pure and simple, but now he has to make do with his own two legs or, God forbid, the San Francisco public transportation system, and anyone who’s ridden it knows that it isn’t the way to escape from anything.
His face is still swelling; he can feel the sting and pull of the skin, and it’s getting harder to see out of his right eye. Fucking frat boys and their goddamn inability to lose graciously. Not to mention the undertones of sexual repression, but that’s just to be expected. Asher doesn’t typically hustle pool in college bars, but he needed the money and it was close by. Two hundred and fifty bucks in and the guys didn’t want to play anymore, but they were more than ready to beat the shit out of the pretty fag who was holding their cash. Asher got out, he’s good at getting out, but not before he took a shot to the face with a pool cue that rocked his world.
Stupid fucking college boys, think they’re so smart…and Asher should know, he lives with one. Not that Ty is like those guys, exactly. Asher met Ty when he was sixteen, new to the streets, skinny and shy and so damn green he practically glowed neon. He would have gotten his ass handed to him in under a week if Asher hadn’t shown him how to live, what you had to do to get by if you weren’t gonna get into the system, and nobody wants to be in the system. Asher shared his money and his place, got Ty’s stupid shaggy hair cut, because you never gave a john more to hold onto than you had to. He took Ty out to work with him, helped him stay away from the hard drugs and the guys who wanted more than a blowjob or a quick fuck, because there were always people who wanted more than you should give them. He helped Ty build a fucking life away from his past without asking any questions, and it worked for them, damn it. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked.
Except Ty was greedy, and smarter than was good for himself, and as soon as he hit eighteen he enrolled in community college. He got a job in a library shelving books, and now he spends all his time studying shit poker oyna like Basic Anatomy or American Literature. He’s let his hair grow out again, and after he hit his growth spurt he shot up past Asher, well past six feet, big enough so that even the biggest guy thinks twice before stepping up to him. Now instead of a twink Ty looks like a gangling scarecrow, still skinny, all long limbs and oversized hands and the stupidest big brown puppy dog eyes imaginable, eyes that can make you do things you never had any intention of doing. When he pouts it’s like watching someone poke a baby bunny with a stick, or push a kitten off a countertop. There are whole YouTube channels devoted to this kind of sickly-sweet sadism, and Ty probably subscribes and takes notes.
It would be tolerable if Ty didn’t want Asher to change as well. But he does. And that sucks. Like tonight: he got home okay, he had the money and he hadn’t had to turn any tricks to get it, which was kinda nice. But as soon as he walks in the door, Ty is on him like white on rice.
“Holy shit.” Ty dropped the book he was reading on the couch, his legs folded up beneath him awkwardly, and ran over to the door. “Ash, what the hell?”
“It’s nothing,” Asher replied, giving Ty a half-smile as he kicked off his shoes and slung his leather jacket over the end of their tiny kitchen counter. Their whole place was tiny, basically a living room, a bedroom and a closet of a bathroom. The kitchen is a hot plate, a microwave and a sink. It wasn’t much, but they didn’t need much. “Some assholes in a bar just couldn’t bow out gracefully.”
Ty’s shoulder’s slumped a little, and he dropped his hands off Asher’s shoulders and went to rummage through their mini fridge. “You were hustling pool?” He found the ice pack, actually a bag of corn that had been thawed and refrozen way too many times, and handed it over. It felt like bliss on Asher’s swollen face, and he flopped down onto the couch where Ty had been and stretched his legs out.
“Beer?” he asked hopefully.
“No.” Ty found their latest bottle of generic painkiller and shook out two of the tablets. He brought them over with a glass of water. “Ash, were you hustling pool?”
“Yeah.” Asher grimaced but swallowed the pills, and washed them down with water that tasted slightly like metal. The landlord had warned them when they moved in that they’d probably want to put a filter on the faucet, to take the taste away, but there were so many other things to spend money on besides making water taste the way it should. As long as it didn’t kill them, they were good. “I won a lot of money,” he continued with a grin, and pulled the messy wad of bills out of his pocket. He tossed it in Ty’s direction. “There’s your textbooks, man. Never say I don’t do shit for you.”
Ty stated down at the money, his mouth set in a line of distaste. When he looked up again his eyes were wide open, big and unhappy and Asher had to bite back a moan of frustration. He knew what that look meant. “Ash…I don’t want you to have to hustle pool to make money.”
“Well, it’s better than the alternatives,” Asher replied. “What, you want me fucking crusty middle-aged douchebags if I can avoid it?”
“No!” Ty pushed his sandy hair out of his face, tucked it behind his ears. Stupid long hair, every time he saw it Asher wanted to touch it, to card his fingers through it and play with it and basically act like a five-year old girl. Scary. “No, I want you to not have to do any of it. There are other options, Ash. You’re legally an adult now, you could get a real job.”
“What have you been smoking?” Asher muttered.
“I’m serious! You could work in construction, or in a restaurant or something. There are lots of other possibilities out there. Or you could go to school too—”
“Not that again,” Asher cut Ty off mid-sentence. “No thanks, college boy. In case you’re forgetting, I don’t have a high school diploma or a GED.”
“I got mine,” Ty pointed out reasonably. “It’s not that hard, I would help you.”
“Jesus,” Asher said, dropping the frozen corn and glaring at Ty, “Would you just let this go already?”
Except Ty didn’t let it go, and the argument became a fight and then Asher was out of there, so fast that he didn’t grab his other shoe, fast enough that he wouldn’t be tempted to just fucking punch Ty in the face, because no matter how big Ty got, Asher had the experience, he had been fighting for his place from the moment he could stand. Asher had promised himself when he found Ty that he would never hurt him, and he never had, not even when the little shit drove him fucking insane with his fairy-tale fantasies. What kind of world did he think they were living in, huh? Nothing was ever right, things never worked out. Or maybe for people like Ty they did, people so goddamn adorable that they bent the laws of physics, but for the Ashers of the world it was always a struggle.
Not that he wasn’t gorgeous canlı poker oyna when his face wasn’t black and blue. Asher inherited his mother’s Chinese features, cat-like and seductive, and his father’s Irish skin and physical proportions. All American and yet decidedly exotic, he was gorgeous and he knew it. His hair was spiky and short, bleach-blond, and he used eyeliner to highlight the sharpness of his eyes, which were blue like his father’s. His mouth had been called “perfect for cocksucking” too many times to count by dumbass johns who didn’t realize or didn’t care that that wasn’t exactly a compliment. He wore skintight clothes to accentuate the cut of his muscles, and radiated a bad-boy air that was irresistible to some. It was only once he started talking that Asher’s luck changed, because he couldn’t hold back when someone was being a shithead. He always spoke his mind, and that more often than not got him into trouble.
Like tonight. He’s been walking and cussing and fuming so hard he doesn’t know where he is, and the sky is about to fucking open up and drench him, he can feel it in the air, and now his foot is really starting to hurt. Asher stops and leans against a brick wall, turns the sole over and takes a look. It’s filthy, almost black, and bleeding in a couple different places.
“Fuck,” he mutters, cradling it uselessly in his hands. The rain starts to fall then, soft for the moment but he knows it’s going to get worse, and he’s stuck in the middle of nowhere, a street of ubiquitous row houses and flex-fuel cars, every one of them probably owned by yuppie hipsters who don’t give a guy like him the time of day until they’re drunk and horny, and even then the bastards manage to be condescending. This is not the place he wants to be, but its dark out and there’s no way he going to be walking much further on this foot. Asher pulls his jacket a little tighter and keeps going, looking for anything that might do for a night. He could call a cab but he doesn’t have any money, he left all that with Ty, and anyway his phone is just about dead.
He walks on for a while, limping and feeling pretty miserable, still angry but sort of sick too, sick of himself and sick of Ty, but damn it he wishes he were home right now anyway. He walks, slow and searching for a place, and when he sees it he wonders as first if it’s a mirage. Because this isn’t just another quaint house in the row, all girlied up and painted in pastels. This is a three story stone mansion, or it would be a mansion if it were a little nicer. As it is right now, it’s too gloomy to be considered nice. There’s an iron-wrought fence surrounding the thing, which Asher doesn’t get at all, seeing as it has no yard to speak of, and there isn’t a light on anywhere. It looks totally out of place on this street.
Asher tries the gate, curious but not expecting much, and is surprised when it swings open. Huh. Maybe no one lives here, maybe the house is condemned. And if it is, then maybe he can crash here tonight. Asher hobbles his way to the front door and gives it a try. It sticks at first, almost feels like it’s locked but then it gives out under the weight of his hip banging against it, and he topples inside.
Christ, it’s dark in here. Asher feels around for a light switch but there’s nothing on the wall. The floor is gritty under his toes, like the house has been shedding. He shuts the door behind himself and feels his way along the hallway, past cold, empty room and uninviting corridors. The hall turns and he turns with it, and eventually finds himself in a large room with stone floors and a huge fireplace in the back of it. Against one wall is a grandfather clock, a big old thing that’s pacing out time like a metronome, noisy in the solitude. Someone was here, though, pretty recently too. There are embers glowing faintly in the grate, and laid out on the floor are a few blankets and a musty old pillow.
It’s probably some homeless person’s squat, but Asher doesn’t care right now, all he wants is to lay down and fall asleep and try to forget tonight ever happened, just for a while. God, he hates his life. He sits down, picks at his foot for a second before giving it up as a bad deal. The floor is hard under his ass, cold, but at least he isn’t out in the rain. The pillow feels moldy, but he can’t take his jacket off to cover it or he’ll freeze, even with the blankets. He compromises and lays part of one of the blankets on top of it and scoots the whole getup closer to the fire, close enough that he can smell the cinders and feel the silky ashes against his fingers. Whatever, it’s warmer. Asher settles down onto his side, avoiding the swollen parts of his face. He listens to the ticking of the clock and wonders if he’ll even be able to fall asleep. A few minutes later, he finds out he can.
The clock strikes midnight. The front door locks. And the house…changes.
Molding a proper hero…this is a process that takes internet casino some time.
This particular story’s new protagonist has potential. He couldn’t have walked through the door without it. But there’s an arrogance inside of him that’s hard to reconcile with the archetype needed to reach Happily Ever After, a hardness that just doesn’t mesh with the narrative’s goal. It needs to soften him. It needs to make him feel…suggestible. The new reality must become the only reality, and that transition has driven more than a few potential heroes and heroines mad. The story needs to take him back to a time when he feels more resigned to his fate, when the way forward is the way that was made for him, not the way he forged by himself. A place with no questions, only duties. Possibly it can even blend that with his own preconceptions of what the narrative should be. That sort of symbiosis is always handy when you’re breaking in your hero.
Of course, it just figures that his preconceptions should revolve around the cartoon version of the fairy tale. So many modern protagonists’ do these days.
For the first time in months, Asher dreams of his little sister.
Cassie had a predictable cycle. Every day of the week after school was a different Disney film. She would meet Asher outside; he had to walk to pick her up from the middle school and it took about a half an hour, but she’d just sit and play with her dolls and wait outside if the weather was good. If it was bad she might be anywhere, but usually the library or the gym. They’d walk home together, and she would talk non-stop about her day, what she learned in school and how it all related to her secret identity as a fairy princess. It was stupid, but Asher forgave her. Cassie was only six.
They’d get home and Cassie would dump her backpack by the front door and run into the living room. There were two televisions in the house, one in the living room and one in the rec room. The rec room TV was the one hooked up to the video game system, but usually Howard and Kyle and however many of their friends were with them that day laid claim to that one, and Asher and Cassie would just get kicked off of it if the big kids wanted it when they got home. Sometimes they’d offer to let Asher play with them, but then Cassie would cry. She hated being left alone.
So they took the TV in the living room. It was smaller but it had all the VHS tapes next to it, and Cassie would rummage through the oversize cases until she found the one she was looking for. Monday was The Little Mermaid, Tuesday was Sleeping Beauty, Wednesday was Aladdin, Thursday was Cinderella and Friday was Beauty and the Beast. Every day was a new princess, and each new princess had her own ritual. Mondays they had to bring the fishbowl into the room. Asher would put it down on the coffee table and Cassie would look from their two goldfish to the screen and back again, like she was trying to make it all work together in her head.
For Cinderella, Cassie had to change into a dress she’d made by cutting holes for her head and arms in one of her old pink pillowcases, and she would clutch her stuffed hamster in her hands, which was the closest stuffed animal analog to a mouse that she had. Asher would have to pause the movie when the fairy godmother showed up so Cassie could change into her church dress, which was made of blue velvet and had a white sash around the middle. She did the same thing every week, until Asher knew the movies front to back and could tune them out while he did his homework.
“I want to go to a ball.”
“They don’t have those anymore,” Asher told her.
“They do too! Princes have balls. I bet they have them all the time. How else do they meet princesses?”
“There aren’t any princesses here. We live in Oakland.”
“I bet there are,” she told him, “and you just don’t know ’cause you don’t see them around. Because they’re in disguise.”
“Oh yeah?” Asher looked over at his little sister, five years younger than him and so much more innocent. Their brothers left her alone, mostly, and so did their dad, even when he was drinking. Their mom looked out for Cassie when she was home from work, and Asher looked out for her the rest of the time, because Cassie was special.
“Yeah. And I’m gonna be one.”
The words “that’s stupid” quivered at the tip of his tongue, a sign of his rapidly developing jerkish streak, but instead Asher said, “Okay.” And Cassie smiled and hugged him, and he forgot for a second about how shitty their house was and how lousy dinner was going to be and what assholes his older brothers were, because Cassie was happy.
Everything is cold.
Asher’s hips ache from lying on his side on the stone floor. He blinks muzzily, staring into a pile of gray and black, and tries to push back from it, but his hand just sinks into the stuff. It comes away sooty. Ashes…the house. Right.
Well, there’s daylight coming in now, which means Ty is probably at school which means Asher can go home and clean up without having to deal with the third degree. He sits up and looks around. He freezes in place, dumbfounded, and looks again.
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