July 29, 2021

Throwback Thursday: Happily Never After, By Michael M. Jones

 

No one asks what the fairy godmother wants,
what's in it for her...
Editor's Note: Magic can fix everything, right? Well, what about those that are the wish granters...do they have to pay a price? Author, Michael M. Jones, features a different point of view on a classic story in today's Throwback Thursday tale. Enjoy!
A hundred girls. A hundred wishes. A hundred balls.

I'm caught in this endless loop of yearning and fulfillment, desire and reward.

And no one has ever once asked what I want. No one asks what the fairy godmother wants, what's in it for her.

No one even stops to wonder, just once, where wish-granting fairy godmothers even come from or why we only show up for certain kinds of people.

No one ever asks the price... because they don't have to pay it.

And yet magic has a cost. A final bill that must be paid eventually.

Once upon a time...

There was a forbidden room.
A door with a lock.

A curious girl with a stolen key.

A candle in the dark, its flame flickering.

Hot wax, dripping and burning.

A yelp. A sudden gesture. A burned wrist, an uncooperative lock, a lost key.

An angry witch.

A curse.

An eternity of granting wishes and never once mentioning the cost.

A hundred desperate, foolish, ambitious, tormented girls, so eager to escape their terrible lives or wretched families that they never asked why, or how much, or what if.

A hundred grateful, newly-made noble women and princesses and queens, in my debt.

A hundred hearts and souls to be collected someday.

I wish I could tell them. Warn just one.

I wish just one would have the foresight to ask, the wisdom, the skepticism to stop and think about it.

But you whistle up a magic dress, transform some rodents, change fruit into carriages and they're too blinded by the shiny pretty magic to think twice. They go to the ball, they dance with the prince, they lose their shoe...

Happily ever after.

For everyone but me.

And yet all hope is not lost.

All I need is one girl to think about me instead of the prince. To look past the glamour and sparkles and see who I was instead of what I am and what I can do for them.

Every time I respond to another wish, spoken or unspoken, I pray this will be the one. But it's always the same, and I always lose.

I'd love to be free.

To go to the ball.

To dance away the night.

To live without rules.

When I fled at the stroke of midnight, you'd never see me again.
Michael M. Jones lives in southwest Virginia with too many books, just enough cats, and a wife who knows better than to make unwise deals at the crossroads. His word can be found in anthologies such as Clockwork Phoenix 3, E is for Evil, and Dark Luminous Wings. He is the editor of collections such as Scheherazade's Facade and Schoolbooks & Sorcery.
For more, visit him at www.michaelmjones.com.

Cover: Amanda Bergloff

July 27, 2021

The Saint’s Serene Cure, by Debasish Mishra



Editor’s note: The idea that the saint in this poem is probably not that saintly intrigued me, as did the message that people want to believe that someone they revere is good, no matter the cost. It’s a different kind of poem for EC, and I think you’ll find it thought provoking. (Kate)

Patients thronged in long queues

dreaming to defer their death

one by one they took out their shoes

and entered to buy some breath


Some trepidation,some agitation,

and the usual yells of pain

and the wishes made in devotion

maybe not to visit again

“'Why do you need a doctor

when prayers can heal every sore,”

the saint would say like an actor,

“I have with me every cure.”


“Just close your eyes,” he'd tell,

and splash some ash on the brow

or ring his old rusted bell 

to draw milk from a cement cow


He had some sleight of hand

some tricks to gather belief

to make an apple from sand

or find a rose in a leaf 


That was enough for the crowd

to travel miles and come

to the saint and chant aloud

his name like puppets dumb


Even when a patient died

it little affected their clan

“Our saint had truly tried,”

they said, “Twas God's plan.”


***

Bio: Debasish Mishra has co-edited an international anthology of poetry entitled Timeless Love. His recent poems have been published in North Dakota Quarterly, Penumbra, Star*Line, and elsewhere. A former banker, he is currently pursuing his PhD at NISER, India.


***

Image by Ramez E. Nassif.


July 22, 2021

Throwback Thursday: Snow White, By Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm, 1812 Version

Editor's Note: I've taught "Snow White," to college students and read countless submissions to EC updating it, and still, the tale enthralls me. It's been played with in so many ways and forms, for so long, I should be tired of the whole story. But how others see it still often surprises me. What's more, "Snow White," in this variant, is so very different from the pastel cypher of the Disney movie, that I never grow tired of remembering that Snow, in 1812, was a rule-breaking runaway.

As for Disney, while there is much good and bad I could say, and have said, about the 1937 movie classic, I must point this out: Much is written about how the mirror in Snow White" is the voice of male dominance and judgment. Yet, in most of the illustrations of the magic mirror before the movie, the queen's reflection is genderless or a some version of her own reflection. As far as I can tell, it became male with the Disney film. 

And the prince? Dear God! What a creep! In almost every version.

Once upon a time in mid winter, when the snowflakes were falling like feathers from heaven, a beautiful queen sat sewing at her window, which had a frame of black ebony wood. As she sewed, she looked up at the snow and pricked her finger with her needle. Three drops of blood fell into the snow. The red on the white looked so beautiful, that she thought, "If only I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as this frame." Soon afterward she had a little daughter that was as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as ebony wood, and therefore they called her Little Snow-White.

WC Drupsteen

Now the queen was the most beautiful woman in all the land, and very proud of her beauty. She had a mirror, which she stood in front of every morning, and asked:
Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who in this land is fairest of all?
And the mirror always said:
You, my queen, are fairest of all.
And then she knew for certain that no one in the world was more beautiful than she.
Now Snow-White grew up, and when she was seven years old, she was so beautiful, that she surpassed even the queen herself. Now when the queen asked her mirror:
Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who in this land is fairest of all?
The mirror said:
You, my queen, are fair; it is true.
But Little Snow-White is still
A thousand times fairer than you.
When the queen heard the mirror say this, she became pale with envy, and from that hour on, she hated Snow-White. Whenever she looked at her, she thought that Snow-White was to blame that she was no longer the most beautiful woman in the world. This turned her heart around. Her jealousy gave her no peace. Finally she summoned a huntsman and said to him, "Take Snow-White out into the woods to a remote spot, and stab her to death. As proof that she is dead bring her lungs and her liver back to me. I shall cook them with salt and eat them."

Maxfield Parrish
 
The huntsman took Snow-White into the woods. When he took out his hunting knife to stab her, she began to cry, and begged fervently that he might spare her life, promising to run away into the woods and never return. The huntsman took pity on her because she was so beautiful, and he thought, "The wild animals will soon devour her anyway. I'm glad that I don't have to kill her." Just then a young boar came running by. He killed it, cut out its lungs and liver, and took them back to the queen as proof of Snow-White's death. She cooked them with salt and ate them, supposing that she had eaten Snow-White's lungs and liver.

Snow-White was now all alone in the great forest. She was terribly afraid, and began to run. She ran over sharp stones and through thorns the entire day. Finally, just as the sun was about to set, she came to a little house. The house belonged to seven dwarfs. They were working in a mine, and not at home. Snow-White went inside and found everything to be small, but neat and orderly. There was a little table with seven little plates, seven little spoons, seven little knives and forks, seven little mugs, and against the wall there were seven little beds, all freshly made.

Snow-White was hungry and thirsty, so she ate a few vegetables and a little bread from each little plate, and from each little glass she drank a drop of wine. Because she was so tired, she wanted to lie down and go to sleep. She tried each of the seven little beds, one after the other, but none felt right until she came to the seventh one, and she lay down in it and fell asleep.

When night came, the seven dwarfs returned home from the work. They lit their seven little candles, and saw that someone had been in their house.

Artist: ??
 
The first one said, "Who has been sitting in my chair?"

The second one, "Who has been eating from my plate?"

The third one, "Who has been eating my bread?"

The fourth one, "Who has been eating my vegetables?"

The fifth one, "Who has been sticking with my fork?"

The sixth one, "Who has been cutting with my knife?"

The seventh one, "Who has been drinking from my mug?"

Then the first one said, "Who stepped on my bed?"

The second one, "And someone has been lying in my bed."

And so forth until the seventh one, and when he looked at his bed, he found Snow-White lying there, fast asleep. The seven dwarfs all came running, and they cried out with amazement. They fetched their seven candles and looked at Snow-White. "Good heaven! Good heaven!" they cried. "She is so beautiful!" They liked her very much. They did not wake her up, but let her lie there in the bed. The seventh dwarf had to sleep with his companions, one hour with each one, and then the night was done.

When Snow-White woke up, they asked her who she was and how she had found her way to their house. She told them how her mother had tried to kill her, how the huntsman had spared her life, how she had run the entire day, finally coming to their house. The dwarfs pitied her and said, "If you will keep house for us, and cook, sew, make beds, wash, and knit, and keep everything clean and orderly, then you can stay here, and you'll have everything that you want. We come home in the evening, and supper must be ready by then, but we spend the days digging for gold in the mine. You will be alone then. Watch out for the queen, and do not let anyone in."

Kay Nielsen

 The queen thought that she was again the most beautiful woman in the land, and the next morning she stepped before the mirror and asked:
Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who in this land is fairest of all?
The mirror answered once again:
You, my queen, are fair; it is true.
But Little Snow-White beyond the seven mountains
Is a thousand times fairer than you.
It startled the queen to hear this, and she knew that she had been deceived, that the huntsman had not killed Snow-White. Because only the seven dwarfs lived in the seven mountains, she knew at once that they must have rescued her. She began to plan immediately how she might kill her, because she would have no peace until the mirror once again said that she was the most beautiful woman in the land. At last she thought of something to do. She disguised herself as an old peddler woman and colored her face, so that no one would recognize her, and went to the dwarf's house. Knocking on the door she called out, "Open up. Open up. I'm the old peddler woman with good wares for sale."

Warwick Goble

 Snow-White peered out the window, "What do you have?"

"Bodice laces, dear child," said the old woman, and held one up. It was braided from yellow, red, and blue silk. "Would you like this one?"

"Oh, yes," said Snow-White, thinking, "I can let the old woman come in. She means well." She unbolted the door and bargained for the bodice laces.

"You are not laced up properly," said the old woman. "Come here, I'll do it better." Snow-White stood before her, and she took hold of the laces and pulled them so tight that Snow-White could not breathe, and she fell down as if she were dead. Then the old woman was satisfied, and she went away.

Nightfall soon came, and the seven dwarfs returned home. They were horrified to find their dear Snow-White lying on the ground as if she were dead. They lifted her up and saw that she was laced up too tightly. They cut the bodice laces in two, and then she could breathe, and she came back to life. "It must have been the queen who tried to kill you," they said. "Take care and do not let anyone in again."

The queen asked her mirror:
Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who in this land is fairest of all?
The mirror answered once again:
You, my queen, are fair; it is true.
But Little Snow-White with the seven dwarfs
Is a thousand times fairer than you.
She was so horrified that the blood all ran to her heart, because she knew that Snow-White had come back to life. Then for an entire day and a night she planned how she might catch her. She made a poisoned comb, disguised herself differently, and went out again. She knocked on the door, but Snow-White called out, "I am not allowed to let anyone in."

Jennie Harbour
 
Then she pulled out the comb, and when Snow-White saw how it glistened, and noted that the woman was a complete stranger, she opened the door, and bought the comb from her. "Come, let me comb your hair," said the peddler woman. She had barely stuck the comb into Snow-White's hair, before the girl fell down and was dead. "That will keep you lying there," said the queen. And she went home with a light heart.
The dwarfs came home just in time. They saw what had happened and pulled the poisoned comb from her hair. Snow-White opened her eyes and came back to life. She promised the dwarfs not to let anyone in again.

The queen stepped before her mirror:
Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who in this land is fairest of all?
The mirror answered:
You, my queen, are fair; it is true.
But Little Snow-White with the seven dwarfs
Is a thousand times fairer than you.
When the queen heard this, she shook and trembled with anger, "Snow-White will die, if it costs me my life!" Then she went into her most secret room -- no one else was allowed inside -- and she made a poisoned, poisoned apple. From the outside it was red and beautiful, and anyone who saw it would want it. Then she disguised herself as a peasant woman, went to the dwarfs' house and knocked on the door.
Snow-White peeped out and said, "I'm not allowed to let anyone in. The dwarfs have forbidden it most severely."

Jennie Harbour

"If you don't want to, I can't force you," said the peasant woman. "I am selling these apples, and I will give you one to taste."

"No, I can't accept anything. The dwarfs don't want me to."

"If you are afraid, then I will cut the apple in two and eat half of it. Here, you eat the half with the beautiful red cheek!" Now the apple had been so artfully made that only the red half was poisoned. When Snow-White saw that the peasant woman was eating part of the apple, her desire for it grew stronger, so she finally let the woman hand her the other half through the window. She bit into it, but she barely had the bite in her mouth when she fell to the ground dead.

The queen was happy, went home, and asked her mirror:
Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who in this land is fairest of all?
And it answered:
You, my queen, are fairest of all.
"Now I'll have some peace," she said, "because once again I'm the most beautiful woman in the land. Snow-White will remain dead this time."

Marianne Stokes
 
That evening the dwarfs returned home from the mines. Snow-White was lying on the floor, and she was dead. They loosened her laces and looked in her hair for something poisonous, but nothing helped. They could not bring her back to life. They laid her on a bier, and all seven sat next to her and cried and cried for three days. They were going to bury her, but they saw that she remained fresh. She did not look at all like a dead person, and she still had beautiful red cheeks. They had a glass coffin made for her, and laid her inside, so that she could be seen easily. They wrote her name and her ancestry on it in gold letters, and one of them always stayed at home and kept watch over her.

Snow-White lay there in the coffin a long, long time, and she did not decay. She was still as white as snow and as red as blood, and if she had been able to open her eyes, they still would have been as black as ebony wood. She lay there as if she were asleep.

Henry M. Rheam


One day a young prince came to the dwarfs' house and wanted shelter for the night. When he came into their parlor and saw Snow-White lying there in a glass coffin, illuminated so beautifully by seven little candles, he could not get enough of her beauty. He read the golden inscription and saw that she was the daughter of a king. He asked the dwarfs to sell him the coffin with the dead Snow-White, but they would not do this for any amount of gold. Then he asked them to give her to him, for he could not live without being able to see her, and he would keep her, and honor her as his most cherished thing on earth. Then the dwarfs took pity on him and gave him the coffin.

The prince had it carried to his castle, and had it placed in a room where he sat by it the whole day, never taking his eyes from it. Whenever he had to go out and was unable to see Snow-White, he became sad. And he could not eat a bite, unless the coffin was standing next to him. Now the servants who always had to carry the coffin to and fro became angry about this. One time one of them opened the coffin, lifted Snow-White upright, and said, "We are plagued the whole day long, just because of such a dead girl," and he hit her in the back with his hand. Then the terrible piece of apple that she had bitten off came out of her throat, and Snow-White came back to life.

She walked up to the prince, who was beside himself with joy to see his beloved Snow-White alive. They sat down together at the table and ate with joy.

Their wedding was set for the next day, and Snow-White's godless mother was invited as well. 

That morning she stepped before the mirror and said:
Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who in this land is fairest of all?

The mirror answered: 

You, my queen, are fair; it is true.
But the young queen
Is a thousand times fairer than you.
She was horrified to hear this, and so overtaken with fear that she could not say anything. Still, her jealousy drove her to go to the wedding and see the young queen. When she arrived she saw that it was Snow-White. Then they put a pair of iron shoes into the fire until they glowed, and she had to put them on and dance in them. Her feet were terribly burned, and she could not stop until she had danced herself to death.


Creators of images are named directly beneath them.

July 21, 2021

Spells of Cast Iron, By Sara Cleto and Brittany Warman



Editor’s note: Food and spells. Food as spells. Completely irresistible and so we didn’t resist it! Brittany and Sara are scholar poets who are also terrific teachers of folklore and writing. Learn more about their latest writing course here. But before that, enjoy this delightful poem.


There are spells of cast iron we know

with lines that echo, soft and low,

in our minds, in our hearts,

that help us not to fall apart.


The simplest one is easy to make,

soothing to mix, cleansing to bake,

a bit of milk, vanilla flower,

cinnamon for spice and power.


The brightest pumpkin from your path,

a few quick tears and buried wrath,

a circle of protective salt,

the knowledge that it's not your fault.


We sugar the spell a bit too sweet,

get distracted, drag our feet,

But it comes together, nonetheless,

this easeful comfort we possess.


And when the world is just too much,

we let our lips this hearth spell touch -

and in that act of letting go,

our next right steps begin to glow.


***

Bio: Dr. Sara Cleto and Dr. Brittany Warman are award-winning folklorists, teachers, and writers. Together, they founded The Carterhaugh School of Folklore and the Fantastic, teaching creative souls how to re-enchant their lives through folklore and fairy tales. Their fiction and poetry can be found in Enchanted Living, Uncanny Magazine, Apex Magazine, Liminality, and others.


***

Image by Ilze Lucero, from Unsplash. 

July 20, 2021

Come and Shop at The Enchanted Conversation Store





We’re officially announcing today that our Zazzle store is open for business! We’ve got T shirts and totes, notebooks and magnets, posters and mugs—and we plan to add plenty more. Every single penny earned will pay for the upkeep of the site, which is not free. That way, we can spend more on buying stories and poems. Indeed, there’s a new poem running tomorrow, so come back for that.


It’s true that EC gets very little money from each purchase, but as of now, with little promotion, we’ve cleared $10.51. As I’m always telling readers, every penny counts, and it’s the absolute truth.

For reasons unclear, Zazzle will not let us use images of products from the store on this site, so here is the link to The Enchanted Conversation Store. I’ve also got some images up that you’ll find on products. They are all courtesy of the multitalented Amanda Bergloff. There are other designs available as well, including products with EC’s banner at the top of the site.

There’s a sitewide sale today, so hustle on over and buy something, and when you do, please let me know in the comments or at katewolford1@gmail.com.

July 17, 2021

You Really Should Join Carmina


Hi! It’s me, Kate, and I’m having a busy Saturday, but I received an email just now promoting a new writing workshop by the lovely, brilliant scholars at The Carterhaugh School for Folklore and the Fantastic, and I must share the news with you.

Dr. Brittany Warman and Dr. Sara Cleto, two formidable folklore scholars, are the brains behind the Carterhaugh School, and they have dreamed up a dilly of an offering for writers.

It’s called Carmina, and if it’s as great as their other offerings, and it will be, then you will grow your skills as a writer of new fairy tales and poetry about fairy tales if you sign up.

Some of the best new writing we’ve had at EC recently has been from Carterhaugh School students. In fact our very own Kelly Jarvis, special projects writer, is someone I met through a Carterhaugh course! Their courses and workshops work, and they are so much fun.

There’s currently an early bird special for the July 31 event, so hurry, scurry, flurry over here to enroll. There will be plenty of details there.

Gotta dash!

Stay Enchanted!

Kate Wolford 

July 15, 2021

Throwback Thursday: Rumpelstiltskin, Vegas Style, by Robert Allen Lupton


Stage magic is smoke, mirrors, and sleight of hand,
but the little man showed up at 3am and offered his deal-
and I didn’t see any other choice...
Editor's Note: In Vegas, the show must go on, even if it involves gold or making a deal with a certain someone. Today's Throwback Thursday tale, by Robert Allen Lupton, shows that illusion can be as powerful as magic.
“Let’s cut to the chase. You’re in trouble and you need help. I don’t want your necklace or rings. I can make gold, so I don’t need cheap jewelry. I want your firstborn child.”

“You want a baby?”

“Well technically, I don’t want a baby. I don’t do well with the diaper and potty training thing. I want the child on its sixth birthday. Doesn’t actually have to be firstborn, could be the second or the third. I’ll decide as we go. I want the pick of the litter.”

“Sounds like the same deal the miller’s daughter made with the man who spun straw into gold. Are you Rumpelstiltskin? Since I know your name, does that mean you can’t take my child?”

“Correct name, Rumpelstiltskin at your service. Incorrect about contract terms. I don’t care if you know my name, can recite the presidents in order, or spell supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, when I come for payment, I’ll take the child.”

What to do? I couldn’t get out of this mess by myself. I’m the great magician, Madame Zantha. You’ve probably heard of me. Stage magic is smoke, mirrors, and sleight of hand. I was here because of the golden fountain. In the trick, gold coins pour from my hands and mouth and cascade all over the stage. The gold isn’t real and hidden pneumatic tubes provide the fountain.

Unfortunately, three idiots visiting Vegas decided the trick was real, kidnapped me, and locked me in a shipping container with some water, a little food, and four of those plastic five-gallon buckets from a hardware store. “Little Lady, you fill these buckets with gold by morning and you can go home.” The one who did the talking had really bad teeth.

“It’s not real, it’s an illusion. If I could make real gold coins, why in the world would I work as a magician at a casino?”

Bad Teeth said, “Don’t treat us like we’re stupid because we talk with an accent. You’re one of them Midas people. We’re not greedy, we only want four buckets of gold. That’s one for each of us and one for our mama. You ought to make the gold. Fred here takes it downright unkindly when he doesn’t get his way. Gets pretty violent.”

They locked the shipping container. It didn’t take five minutes to realize I couldn’t break out. I did amazing escapes on stage, but all of those involved rigged handcuffs, false bottoms, hidden compartments, or trapdoors.

I turned one of the buckets over and sat down. I couldn’t escape, and I couldn’t make gold coins. I wasn’t looking forward to spending the morning with my new best friend, Fred.

The little man showed up about three in the morning and offered his deal. I didn’t see any other choice. I didn’t believe him, but if he couldn’t make gold, I wouldn’t be any worse off. If he could and I got out of this mess, I decided I wouldn’t have children. “Okay, Rumpelstiltskin, rock and roll. Let’s do this.”

“To be clear, I’ll grant you the power to fill the buckets with gold coins. I’ll come for your child on its sixth birthday, take the child, and never come back. Once I leave, our bargain is complete. We’ll never see each other again.”

“Agreed, but what if the men kill me and take the gold?”

“You’re too smart to let that happen. Your magic fountain trick will be a reality. Until you leave this metal box, gold coins will cascade from your hands and mouth whenever you want.”

Rumpelstiltskin spit on his hands and rubbed his wet hands across my face. He spit again and took my hands. Disgusting. “If you put your finger in my mouth, I’ll bite it off.”

“Concentrate and fill the buckets.”

I pictured gold coins flowing from my hands into the first bucket. It worked. I filled the buckets in minutes. I held a hand over the next two buckets and vomited gold into the last bucket. The gold spewed from my mouth faster than it flowed from my fingers. I used most of a bottle of water to wash the metallic taste out. The buckets were heavy.

Rumpelstiltskin vanished. Bad Teeth, Fred, and their brother opened the box after sunrise.

Bad Teeth said, “I told you she was holding out. I knew her powers were real.”

Fred said, “We gonna let her go?”

“No, we’d best keep her. Tie her up.”

Fred and Bad Teeth grabbed my arms and the other brother took duct tape from his overalls. I spit gold coins at them and knocked out Fred and his brother. Bad Teeth took the coin shower on one shoulder and the side of his head. He staggered away and slipped on the gold coins. He crawled across the floor.

Rumpelstiltskin said that my power would vanish once I left the shipping container. I had to stop Bad Teeth before he made it out the door. I jumped and caught him by one leg. He rolled onto his back and kicked at me. I held him with both hands and rained the golden shower over him until he was completely covered. I buried the other two jerks and walked away. The inside of the shipping container looked like a money bin in Duckberg.

I stepped out the door and turned to lock it. The gold inside had changed to rusted metal and rotted garbage. I guess magic gold is an illusion just like my stage show. I tried to produce more gold coins and nothing happened, Queen Midas was out of the gold making business.

There was no movement under the heaps of trash. They deserved to be dead. It didn’t matter to me. Darwin’s law is a harsh mistress. I locked the door, went home, cleaned up, and did my performance that night. The show must go on.

Two years later, I fell in love with a singer and married him. I didn’t see that coming. Three months later I was pregnant. Really didn’t see that coming. Rumpelstiltskin and the Bad Teeth brothers were a distant memory, but it wouldn’t go away.

Once Sarah was born, I couldn’t quit thinking about him. I had six years to be ready for his visit. He’d show up, take my child, and never come back. I had to be ready. I had to have a plan.

I trained Sarah to work in my magic show when she was three. She loved it. I had a great trick where I threw her above my head and she changed into a dozen doves. Her favorite was when I put her in a box with a glass front, covered the glass with a black panel, and slid the panel up and down a few times to show the audience she was really there. I closed the panel and dumped a glass bowl full of poisonous snakes in the box. The crowd went crazy.

I turned the box a few times and collapsed all four sides with a flourish. Sarah was sitting there in a snake skin robe. She was a natural. The audience loved her.

My husband performed in Cincinnati on Sarah’s sixth birthday. I canceled my show that day and stayed home with her. No party this year.

Rumpelstiltskin appeared at noon. “I’ve come for my payment.”

“Certainly, she’s in her room. I couldn’t stand to say goodbye, so I drugged her. She’s asleep.”

“You aren’t going to try to talk me out of taking your daughter?”

“No, you saved my life, and a deal is a deal.”

We went to Sarah’s room. She was on the bed. The little man could barely restrain himself. He chuckled and rubbed his hands together. “Give her to me. Give her to me.”

I picked her up and put her in the open suitcase on the bed. “Carry her in this. I can’t stand to see you touch her.”

The little man said, “No tricks. I have to know she’s real.” He touched her throat and felt her heartbeat. He put his face close and listened to her breathe.

“Are you satisfied?”

He stepped back, nodded his head, and I closed the suitcase and zipped it up. I locked the zipper and tossed him the key. I deliberately threw it short and it landed on the floor. He looked down, bent over, and picked it. Classic misdirection.

“I’m leaving now. You’ll never see us again.”

He grabbed the suitcase and hefted it. He was satisfied with the weight. He held it with both arms, carried it out of Sarah’s room, and put one finger on his right ear. He smiled evilly and vanished out of my life.

I ran into the bedroom and threw back the hidden flap in the bedspread. Sarah smiled from the hidden compartment and held out both hands. “Did I do good, Mama? I made the switch. The snakes are in the suitcase. Do you think the little man will like them?”

I picked her up and hugged her. “I’m sure he will. Let’s call your father and see if he has time to sing “Happy birthday.”
Robert Allen Lupton is retired and lives in New Mexico where he is a commercial hot air balloon pilot. Robert runs and writes every day, but not necessarily in that order. He has been published in several anthologies and has short stories online at WWW.HORRORTREE.COM and WWW.CRIMSONSTREETS.COM.

Cover: Amanda Bergloff @AmandaBergloff
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