February Contest Winner: Beast's Beauty, By Diana Parparita
"There, there, love," the Beast said soothingly, patting her on her shoulder. "It's only a scratch."
"But, Honey-bear, he was going to kill you!" the woman answered, rubbing her eyes. "I know these so-called princes. Always snooping around, trying to slay the Beast. Think you're all mighty strong, don't you, breaking into our home like vandals, all dressed up in your shining armor, swinging those big flashy swords around, hunting innocent people who're minding their own business."
"But you were going to kill him," the woman insisted relentlessly.
Hunter looked away sheepishly. He had certainly planned on killing the Beast. He looked around at the peacefully domestic interior of the small hut, the sparkly clean floorboards, the orderly rows of pottery on the shelves, the gurgling cauldron simmering in the fireplace, the pot of roses on the windowsill. There was no excuse in sight, no trace of the Beast's evildoings that he'd heard of in the village.
"It's because of the Beauty," he said, suddenly remembering why he'd come here in the first place. His eyes glittered with hope, thinking she'd understand and approve.
"The beauty?" the woman said, rolling her eyes. "So you want to kill my Honey-bear because you're jealous of his beauty?!"
"Huh? No!" Hunter protested, trying hard to keep his jaw from dropping at this ridiculous accusation. How could she misinterpret his noble intentions so?
"Of course you're jealous!" the woman insisted. "You're just a little yellow chick that thinks it can call itself a man because it walks on two feet! Think you'll look any better if you kill him? Beauty doesn't rub off, you know? Can't steal it either. He'd still be the most handsome man in the world even if you could kill him, and you'd still be nothing but a little straw man."
Hunter had always thought himself quite handsome, with his blond hair and childlike face that made girls swoon. He wasn't sure he could defend his life against the Beast and that tiny enraged woman, but he would not go down without defending his looks.
"He's not even a man!" he protested, pointing at the Beast with his chin. "He's a monster! All covered in fur like an animal."
"The boy's raving mad!" the woman said in consternation. "A man's supposed to have hair on his chest. And arms, and legs and other parts."
"I think he'd find me more human if I shaved," the Beast answered, scratching the tangled fur on his chin.
"But, Honey-bear, I like your beard just the way it is, all grown and rugged," the woman cooed.
Hunter looked away as the little woman reached on the tip of her toes to give the Beast a kiss.
"Not in front of the guests, love," the Beast remonstrated, turning its head away with a distinctively human blush under the fur on its cheeks.
"He was just leaving," the woman answered, throwing Hunter a menacing look.
"But... but the girl trapped here!" Hunter protested, even though his legs were already sliding towards the door. "The Beauty that the Beast holds prisoner."
"Prisoner?" the Beast asked in genuine surprise. "No one's keeping her prisoner. Why, I wouldn't even let her stay if she weren't such a good cook."
"You big tease!" the woman said, pretending to give the Beast a punch in the ribs.
"But... if I could just see her," Hunter insisted, feeling behind him for the doorknob, "make sure she's happy here."
"She's right here!" the Beast protested, putting his arm around the woman's shoulders. "The most beautiful girl in the world, and every bit as pretty as when I married her twenty years ago."
Hunter's eyes widened. He stumbled backwards out the door, and ran down the hill from the Beast's hut. Behind him, he could hear the woman laughing. When he reached the foot of the hill he thought he heard her say, "You can turn back into your human form now, Honey-bear. Now, where were we when he barged in?"
Diana Părpăriţă lives in Bucharest, Romania.