December 3, 2020

Throwback Thursday: The Three Princesses, By Penny Jo McAllister

Editor's Note: This thoughtful holiday take on "Cinderella" is a great throwback from 2016. Enjoy!

“Remember Cinderella, we need it spotless for the new year so we’ll come home to a lucky house,” said Genevieve tossing her curls and showing off  her new dress to her cousin. The green and silver silk was lovely, and the emerald tiara matched her eyes perfectly.

“A clean house for a new year makes everyone lucky,” said Josephine. She was as vain as her sister but much kinder. She paused to give her cousin a quick hug, pressed her hands and kissed her on the cheek. “I do wish you’d come with us Cindy. It would be so much fun.”

“I hope you both have a wonderful time,” she said and kissed her cousin back.

“Come on Josephine! We don’t want to miss the first dance.”

Josephine hurried out the door after her sister. “Happy New Year!” she called as she was stepping into the carriage.

Cinderella smiled and blew her cousins a kiss.

Cinderella loved her two cousins. They’d grown up almost like sisters after her parents, Thom and Estelle,  died in a carriage accident. After this tragedy, Cindy went to live with her Uncle William and Aunt Camilla and her two cousins. Though they all had their flaws, it was as loving a family as she could wish for--at least in childhood.

Genevieve and Josephine grew into the two most beautiful young maidens in the kingdom, while Cinderella remained plain. They took on different interests as well. While her cousins were obsessed with the latest fashions and luxuries, Cinderella was tidying up and either reading in the library, gazing at the stars, or working on mathematical equations. She had a regular correspondence with Sir Hubbleton about astronomy. Her cousins thought her rather odd. Genevieve felt embarrassed by her and told people that she was their servant rather than their cousin.

Genevieve, her eldest cousin, was so beautiful that the king’s gardener named a rose after her and every artist in the kingdom wanted to paint her portrait. With her flaming auburn hair, flawless skin and emerald eyes, she had her choice of suitors from kingdoms near and far. Though her beauty outshined the stars and her manners were perfect, she was haughty when her parents were away (as they were now). She took every opportunity to remind Cinderella that without the goodness of her parents, she would be a beggar and would convince her that it was their will that she do not only her own chores, but hers and Josephine’s as well to earn her keep.

Josephine was almost as beautiful as her sister with golden hair and grey eyes, but was sweet and kind even when no one was looking. Though she was not as close to Cindy as in childhood, she loved her cousin dearly. Even though she couldn’t cross Genevieve, who could belittle her as well and make up lies to get her in trouble with their parents, she would often help Cindy with the chores when her sister wasn’t looking and would always bring her books from the library when she went out.

The truth was Cinderella liked being alone in the house and didn’t always like balls--the crowds, the endless chatter, always worried someone else would look prettier. Sometimes she didn’t mind cleaning as it gave her time to think, and she’d write out mathematical proofs in the dust. Sometimes, though, she wished Genevieve would clean up after her parties herself.

She’d have the house clean before they came back; they planned to be well after midnight. Then she could walk in the garden--a truly magical place at night.

But as she surveyed the room, her heart sank. It was a mess. She didn’t know where to start, so she opened a window to let the breeze in. A shooting star whizzed by. She  picked up a cloth, and began to polish a mirror.

Not knowing why, she let out a sob. Then another. “Maybe I should have gone tonight.” Then she began to list the reasons why she stayed behind. “I won’t dress right. I always say the wrong things. My mother never came back from the ball.”

She sat down on the floor, hugged her knees to her chest, and wept. She choked on her tears. She couldn’t wipe them fast enough.

Then she heard someone softly say, “My princess.” She stopped crying and looked around, but no one was there. She looked at the mirror. It was twinkling like opalescent diamonds. She went over to it. A familiar face appeared, but it was impossible. Her mother was dead.

“Mother?” she whispered.

“My little princess,” Estelle said and stepped through the looking glass and embraced her daughter. “Let’s get you ready for that ball.”

“But--”

“But, nonsense my dear. You’re going to the ball.” She looked around her, and her gaze fell on a portrait. “Yes, I think that’s the dress--with a few alterations of course. But the color’s perfect for you.”

She took out a wand and waved it around Cinderella’s head. An almost identical fabric now draped over her.

“Let’s see, I’ll take it in here and here. And I’ll bring the hem up just slightly. Lovely! Come look at yourself in the mirror.”

Cinderella gasped. A beautiful princess gazed back at her. She smiled; the princess smiled back. She laughed and twirled around, a whirl of blue gold.

“Is that really me?” she whispered, giggling.

“Of course it’s you. Now let’s get a carriage.” Her mother said.

She studied the Christmas tree, which would be up for a few more days,  for a few moments before picking off a perfect silver globe.

Estelle gave a wistful smile and said, “Come with me outside. But first let’s get you a wrapper.” She waved her wand and wrapped a gold shawl around Cindy’s shoulders. (Cindy thought that was silly as it December was quite warm in this part of the kingdom, but her mother was not one to argue with.)

The December night was cool but clear , and the stars shone like sapphires, the moon was like newly-polished silver.

Her mother laid the ornament gently on the ground. And singing softly over it, she waved her wand. It grew into a beautiful coach, blue and gold to match her dress.

Two brave mice came out of the shadows, and Estelle waved her wand over them, turning them into two magnificent white stallions.

“Now to find you a driver,” said Estelle. She pointed her wand at a small frog, and in a shower of silver dust he became a royal coachman.

Cinderella mused to herself, “Could I really be going to the ball?”

Estelle took the dazed Cinderella by the hand, to the coach. Just then a shooting star went by.

“I don’t want to go,” said Cinderella.

“What?” asked her mother.

“I’m sorry Mother, but the night is so beautiful. Have you ever seen the stars so bright, and the meteor showers are tonight.”

“But--”

“There’s another one!” Cinderella squealed as another star went by. “I don’t understand why anyone would want to spend an evening like this in a crowded ballroom. Have you ever seen such beauty?”

“Hundreds of times. It’s time to find you a prince.”

“Oh, why do I always have to do what people expect me to do? I wish I could stay out here all night, but all that work-- and now I’m expected to go to a ball.”

Her mother sighed. “I see. I was hoping you’d meet your prince tonight so I could have some grandchildren, but you’ve plenty of time for that,' and she pointed her wand at the house, and it began to glow. She pointed it at the stallions, and they turned back into mice. The driver once again became a frog.

Her mother looked sadly at Cinderella and said, “Well I suppose we should give you back your comfortable clothes.”  A wave of her wand had her back in her housedress.

She looked at the carriage and waved her wand over it, and in its place was an enormous telescope, blue and gold like the carriage had been.

Cinderella gasped. “I never imagined such a thing. It’s beautiful!”

She walked around it, studied it from every angle and peered into the eyepiece. She gasped. “There are people on the moon. Who knew?”

Estelle loved seeing her daughter so happy, even if it wasn’t what she had in mind. “If you turn this crank, you can point it anywhere in the sky. And this one makes it zoom in and out.”

“Oh! I love it!” Cinderella hugged her mother. “I just wish Josephine and Genevieve were here like when we were children.”

“But don’t you find Genevieve kind of mean?”

“She wasn’t always mean. When we were children, the three of us would look up at the sky for hours. That constellation over there is the 'Three Princesses.' Genevieve named it after us…”

Estelle spread a blanket on the ground, and the two of them gazed up at the sky watching stars fly by. Just before midnight Estelle said “I have to go now.”

You may be wondering how Genevieve and Josephine are doing at the ball. Genevieve danced almost every dance with the dashing Prince Darien and was picturing the wedding that was sure to be when a mysterious young woman entered the room. She wasn’t exceptionally beautiful, but the prince, ever polite, danced with her as he did all of the guests at some point. As the young stranger spent more time with the prince, Genevieve could see her future slipping away and excused herself to find Josephine.

When Josephine saw the look on her sister’s face, she inquired whether she were ill and escorted her back to the carriage. It wasn’t quite midnight. Genevieve cried all the way home.

Upon entering their own home and seeing how it sparkled, Josephine said to her sister cheerfully, “Look Genny, it’s sure to be a lucky year for all of us. I’ll go make us some tea.”

Just as she passed the window, a shooting star flew by. “Genevieve, come look!”

The sisters stared out the window at their cousin and the enormous telescope.

They went out and joined her on the blanket. After some time Genevieve pointed to the sky, and said “Look, The Three Princesses.”


Bio: Penny Jo McAllister is a US-based writer. She enjoys stargazing, but someone else can do the cleaning.

Vintage Image by Edith Ballinger Price.

November 30, 2020

Krampusnacht is Coming!




Although Krampus is an increasingly popular guy all during December, his official night is Saturday, Dec. 5 A figure that some see as sinister and others as a jovial guy, Krampusnacht is quite the night for adult activity.

Here’s a link to learn more.

As it happens Dec. 5 is the last day to to receive a free Krampus ornament from World Weaver Press when you order any winter titles through their site. Here are the details.

If you’re in the mood for some Krampus fun, here are several stories we’ve published in EC over several years.

“Forest, Snow, Memory,” by Patricia Scott.

“The Clever, Wicked Girl, by Jazz Sexton

“Bratty Tessa,” by Candace L. Barr.

The three Krampus images are all from old greeting cards.








November 29, 2020

Bonus Story: The Singing Wings, by Maxine Churchman


Editor’s note: I love how Maxine used the simple tone of fairy tale writing, while dealing with complex ideas and feelings about motherhood and childhood. And she has a very interesting take on wings! This bonus is an early holiday gift to readers from EC. (KW)

When the king declared his betrothal to the beautiful maiden from over the mountains, some were dubious of the match. However, all who witnessed her radiant smile and silken hair on the day of the wedding fell in love with her. There was much celebration in the land, and everyone eagerly awaited the news of a first-born child. As time went by, and no announcement was made, many spoke out against the queen and her lowly origins. Everywhere she went, she saw unhappy faces and shaking heads.

She took to walking alone in the Great Forest behind the castle grounds. One day she heard someone singing. Their beautiful song brought joy to her heart, so she followed the sound until she came to a shady glade next to a beck. An old woman, surrounded by birds and animals, was seated upon a large moss-covered rock in the centre of the clearing. It was her voice the queen had heard; it soared and fluttered, weaving sunlight and wonder throughout the glade and beyond.


The queen stepped out from the trees. Immediately, the birds and animals scattered and the old woman stopped singing.


“Good morning, grandmother,” she said. “Your song brought great joy to my broken heart.”


The old woman smiled and bade her sit a while to rest her feet.


The queen sat on a flat rock, next to the old woman, and the thick moss moulded itself to her form creating the most comfortable seat imaginable. She ran her hand over the soft cool surface. “I should gather up this moss to make a cushion for my throne.”


“It would soon dry out and crumble; this is where it belongs. Things should stay where they belong if they wish to thrive.”


These words stung the queen and she glared at the old woman. She wished she had stayed on the other side of the mountains and thought her subjects felt the same way, but none had been so bold as to say so. She stood to leave.


“Fear not my queen; you will have a baby soon. A very special baby.”


The queen was greatly troubled by the old woman’s prediction and hurried from the clearing before she could say more. There were old stories of a fairy who had been banished to the forest, many years ago, for trying to steal a royal baby. Could the old woman be that fairy? She told the king about her meeting and vowed never to enter the forest again.


A year later, the queen gave birth to a daughter. Everyone rejoiced and the celebrations went on for a whole month, but the queen worried about the old woman’s words. How would her daughter be special? Would she be safe? She had the princess guarded night and day.


When the princess turned one, the queen noticed strange growths on the child’s back. Each day they became more prominent until it was obvious she was growing wings. The queen called for the royal surgeon to remove them, but even his sharpest blade could not sever them.


The king was perplexed. “Does it really matter? She is still our daughter and we love her just as she is. Isn’t that all that counts?”


But the queen was distraught. “How can we keep our daughter safe if she can just fly away?”


“We could tie a silk string to her wrist so she could not fly far,” he suggested.


“Like a kite?” The Queen was outraged. “She will be called a freak and it will be my fault. Everyone will hate me again.”


The king didn’t like to see his wife so unhappy, so he sent his men to find the old woman. Perhaps she would be able to help. After all, the king was sure she was indeed the fairy of the forest.


The queen kept close to her daughter as the old woman inspected her wings, lest she try to steal her.


“I can remove the wings, if that is what you really want,” the old woman said. “But you must keep the wings safe; the princess will need them one day.  When that day comes, you must allow her to visit me in the forest.”


The queen would never allow her daughter into the forest, but the King accepted the terms and the old woman rubbed a lotion on the wings. After a few moments she plucked them from the child’s back leaving nothing but two small marks. She conjured a large flat box and placed the wings tenderly inside.


“Why is the box so large?” asked the queen.


“So the wings have room to grow. Look after them well and let them out from time to time.”


The queen locked the box and pushed it under the bed. She would like to burn it, but was terrified it would harm her daughter.


As the years passed, the queen thought about the wings less and less. The princess grew to be pretty and adventurous. Although she was not allowed out of the castle grounds, there were still plenty of places to explore and lots of trees to climb. She searched for frogs in the pond but although their raucous noise suggested a large quantity dwelt there, she rarely spotted any.


When the princess turned twelve, she asked her mother if she could explore outside the castle grounds for a change. The queen said no: terrified she would get lost or be stolen. The defiance in her daughter’s eyes did not escape her notice and she doubled the guards protecting her.


To ensure her safety, the queen had a tall tower built in the garden. It had only one small entrance and the first ten floors had no windows, just a spiral staircase winding up the centre. Five sumptuous floors with tiny windows topped the tower and it was in these rooms the queen locked the princess. No one was allowed in except the king and queen. Two soldiers guarded the entrance at all times.


With the princess locked in the tower, the queen relaxed. As the years passed she felt more and more confident the princess would be safe and never leave her.


One day, she became curious about the wings. She had not seen them since they were removed. She secured the door and windows of her room and, for the first time since it was hidden under the bed, she pulled out the large box. The golden key was on a chain around her neck and she slipped it into the lock.  Opening the lid just a crack, she peered inside. It was too dark to see so she put one hand in and felt soft feathers. Pressing firmly down on them, she opened the box fully. The wings filled the box. The feathers looked dull and lifeless but she tied a silk ribbon to the bony extrusion on each wing before letting them go. They didn’t move.


Fearing she had allowed the wings to die, the queen gave the silk ribbons a sharp tug. The wings lifted ponderously into the air and over to the window where the sun was streaming in. They fluttered and stretched as though soaking up the sun’s warmth, and as they did, they began to change colour. The flat brown feathers plumped up and turned golden. The wings flew around the room, flapping ever more strongly until they were causing a powerful wind that took the queen’s breath away and ruffled the soft furnishings. She held the ribbons tightly and feared she would be pulled off her feet. The wings stopped near the window and beat against it until the glass broke. Seeing what was happening, the queen tied the ribbons to a bed post so the wings could not escape. They strained at the end of the silk and began to sing as the breeze from the window caressed their feathers. The song had no words, but the tune held the queen enthralled and made her cry: it was so sad and beautiful.


When she felt she could cry no more, she pulled on the ribbons. The wings came to her without protest and she locked them in the box and pushed it under the bed. Her heart was beating fast and she vowed not to open the box again.


In the tower, the princess had lots of toys and books to amuse her, but she spent most of her time looking out of the windows. From her high vantage point she could see the tops of the trees that made up the forest. They stretched for miles towards the horizon. In the other direction, far across the plains, she could see the pink and purple mountains. 


Just outside, birds soared overhead and flitted in the trees. She envied their freedom and ability to fly. How wonderful it would be to float across the sky and dive through clouds.


Below, she could see people going about their daily business, but she was too high to hear or speak to them. It was a sad and lonely existence. At night she wished on the stars and tried to sing to the moon, although her voice reminded her of the croaking of the frogs in the pond.


The evening before her sixteenth birthday, when she was feeling particularly low, she heard beautiful music. There were no words to the song, but the tune evoked feelings of sun on her face and wind in her hair. That night she dreamt of jumping off the roof of the tower and flying all the way to the mountains.


During that same night, a fire broke out on one of the lower floors. The tower acted like a chimney, drawing the flames up to the living quarters. With no windows in the lower section, no-one saw the fire until it had taken hold and become too fierce for anyone to use the stairs. The princess was trapped.


Loud crashing noises in the tower below woke the princess. She smelt the smoke and felt the heat from the flames. Terrified, she made her way up to the roof. She could see that no rescue was likely. She started crying and praying to the stars above.


The king and queen stood by the tower, wringing their hands and begging someone to rescue their daughter. The townsfolk threw water at the fire, but it was too high and hot for their efforts to be effective. No ladder was long enough to reach the princess. Everyone feared the worst.


On the roof, the smoke billowed making the princess cough and her eyes stream. There was nowhere for her to escape the intense heat of the fire. It would be better to jump and end it all quickly. She closed her eyes and stepped towards the edge.


The fairy from the forest shook the queen’s elbow. “Release the wings,” she shouted above the commotion.


The queen pushed and shoved her way through the crowd and arrived in her chamber out of breath. Tears of frustration streamed down her face and she prayed she would not be too late to save her beloved daughter. With clumsy fingers she put the golden key in the lock. As soon as the lock was released, the wings burst out of the box, knocking the queen over. They flew through the open door, their song dark and haunting.


The princess could hear singing. There were no words to the song, but the tune was urgent and fearful. It sounded so loud and close. She opened her eyes. Through the smoke and her tears she saw a golden bird swooping around the tower. The heat of the flames blackened its feathers, yet still it came and still it sang.


As it flew beneath her, the princess jumped. The ground raced towards her sending her stomach into her throat. She felt the bird touch her shoulders. Pain seared her back as the wings reattached and took her weight. Wonder flooded through her as she felt the strength and power of the wings and realised she could control them. She took several powerful downward sweeps that sent her high into the sky. She kept pumping her wings until the air grew thin and the ground disappeared behind a thin layer of cloud. She swooped and soared, rolled and spun, elating in the freedom and the cool night air on her skin. She sang to the moon of freedom and flying: her voice now was beautiful and clear. At last she flew down to the castle and landed next to her parents. They embraced and shed many tears of joy and relief.


The fairy of the forest spoke. “Princess, the Fae Folk lent you to your parents, now you must learn how to wield the magic you possess. I will teach you if you will come with me into the forest.”


The princess was delighted, she longed to explore beneath the canopy of the vast forest. She looked at the queen expecting her to disapprove.


The queen took her hands. “I nearly lost you tonight because of my foolishness. Go if you wish, but please promise you will return to me often.”


The princess gladly agreed to return, she could not imagine a life without the love of her parents.


“Your first lesson, princess,” said the fairy as she threw back her cloak, will be how to fold your wings so they don’t show.” She unfurled two magnificent purple wings and held her hand out to the princess. “Follow me.”


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Bio: Maxine Churchman is a mother and grandmother from Essex, UK.  Her hobbies include reading, hiking, yoga, and, more recently, writing. So far she has concentrated on short stories, but hopes to make progress on a novel in 2020 and beyond. She has had work published by CafeLit, Black Hare Press, Stormy Island Publishing and Clarendon House Publishing. She blogs at Cccmaxine.blogspot.com


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Image is The Fair Face of a Woman, by Sophie Anderson.


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P.S.: For those of you viewing on full desktop, I’m working on the paragraph spacing. It might take a day or two. Sorry. KW

November 26, 2020

Throwback Thursday: Magic For Unlucky Girls, Book Review


Happy Thanksgiving 🍁🦃🍽 to those of you who are celebrating today! 

Follow the link for Amanda Bergloff’s review of Magic for Unlucky Girls, by A.A. Balaskovits. It’s followed by a mini interview with the author.

The post is from 2017. Enjoy!

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The image is from the back cover of Magic For Unlucky Girls. The front cover is in the post.

November 25, 2020

World Weaver Press Submissions Call, and Krampus!



Editor’s note: My publisher, World Weaver Press, has some exciting things going on these days. And it all starts with a submissions call! The following is from their newsletter. KW


Trenchcoats, Towers, and Trolls:

Cyberpunk Fairy Tales


“For this, the third installment of Punked Up Fairy Tales, we are excited to mash the world of cyberpunk together with fairy tales and see what sort of magic results. Embracing the high-tech/low-life aspect of cyberpunk will give these stories both the sleek coolness of futuristic technology and the grittiness of traditional fairy tales.


Give me a story of Rapunzel trapped in a tower of circuits rather than stones, of trolls who live under bridges as well as those who do their work behind a keyboard — or whatever passes for a keyboard in the future. What if Snow White was a computer and the apple a virus? What if Hansel and Gretel were hackers following digital breadcrumbs? Or Cinderella was a program who must stop running by midnight or else?”


Open for submissions February 1-28, 2021. 

Full guidelines.


There’s More!

 

“Until December 5th, purchase a paperback copy of our bestselling Krampusnacht anthology, plus any of our other winter-themed books, and you'll receive a free handmade Krampus ornament! Wooden ornament has a 3.5 inch diameter, and features decoupaged artwork by Connor Anderson. (Details here.)


What the heck is a Krampus? 


New to the Krampus folklore? Anthologist Kate Wolford gives a brief overview of Santa's darker counterpart on WWP’s blog.”

 

Celebrate our Pushcart Prize nominations! 


“Six stories from our 2020 anthologies have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Visit the WWP blog to see which stories were nominated. Here it is.

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