November 30, 2013

Roses and Moonlight, By Marcia Sherman

Editor's note: Once again, Marcia has managed to bring something new to the fairy-tale scene, even though this is a take on "Beauty and the Beast"--"a tale as old as time." It's always intriguing to imagine out what happens after the well-known story!
 
As long as we did not stay in one place too long, we were safe. We moved every six months or so. We stayed at one house for almost a full year. I would have liked to celebrate two Christmases there. His lands are far reaching, even more than I had suspected. I have lost count of all the villages, hamlets, and towns we called our temporary home. But this time, this place, felt different…felt better. Bellevue was peaceful; oh, so peaceful. I deluded myself with hopes we could stay there forever. And of course we had the babe now.

The villa was perfect. Spacious rooms, grandly furnished, and the private wing for him. That all important separate, protected, space for him. The quiet, the tranquility of those first few weeks seduced me, seduced all of us. I know, I am gushing. But really, how lovely was the lake today, and by dusk I could see the night would be equally fine. The moon seemed to slowly lift right out of the water, a perfect and whole circle, as white as snow. Framed by the mountains on one side, it was an enchanting sight. Several artists had set up their easels hoping to capture just such a moment. A light breeze touched the roses climbing along the balustrade. Not unreasonable for me to stay on the balcony longer than usual. 

Less tourists are out after the evening meal. At the entrance to one store the owner handed out balloons to all the children. And so I sat and admired the normality of it all, lost in thought, lost in the rhythm of rocking with a sleeping babe on my shoulder. I must have dozed off, too. All those sleepless nights. I was accustomed to some disrupted sleep during our newly married life. But as anyone with children will tell you it is rather different after a baby is born. The shouts startled me awake, and the babe too. He set to crying, and in my sleepy frame of mind the cry seemed to sound almost like a howl. I looked down to the square, confused to see some people running toward the villa, pointing, calling to me. Others were running away, ducking into the open shops. It was very muddled. 
 
"Weary Moon," by Edward R. Hughes, artmagick.com
Suddenly it all came to one focal point – a sound actually – that baying at the moon. That damned full moon. I came fully awake and realized two things at once – the babe was struggling ferociously to get out of my arms, and his father was on the balcony above mine calling to the moon. I could do nothing for the father – he would bound away soon enough. Come slinking back in the morning. But I could calm my son. My son, who it would appear has come into his legacy. Wild and dilated eyes, scratchy nails, and two lovely fangs. Pearly, pointy little teeth with which he was trying to bite me. I pulled the blanket up and went inside. 

Our most faithful servants – those who know the truth and travel with us always – were at the door calming the townspeople. It was just a great wild dog who had ventured into the courtyard of the villa for a scrap of food and now fled into the woods. Nothing to be frightened of, they had scared it off but good. Everyone is safe here, They assured the crowd. Now is the time, again, for me to pack our personal belongings. We will move on to the next place. Leave them with a great story which will grow into a legend, a myth. There is a castle up in those mountains by the lake. He said it is too secluded. He needs to be closer to people. Twenty-five out of every twenty-eight days he actually enjoys the company of his subjects; and they him. Well, we have a babe now, who will be walking – running - soon. And if I am not mistaken, another on the way. It is time to settle in one place.

You think you know the story. You think – with all the variations – you think you know every possible fairy tale ending. "Belle et la BĂȘte." Her love transformed him. And they lived happily ever after. Until the next full moon. 

Marcia A. Sherman is Mama to one perfect Rose. She writes for Llewellyn Publishing under the name of Emyme, has self-published a children's book "The Splendid, Blended Family," and is writing the Great American Wiccan Novel.  

 

November 29, 2013

Ashes to Ashes, By Shari L. Klase

Editor's note: It's not often that a real new twist is put on "Cinderella," but Shari has done so with this thought-provoking story.

Her name was Ella. These days she was a bag lady, sorting through recyclables for tin cans and glass bottles. Her friend called these items treasures at fifty cents a pound. Some of her friends preferred trash because you could resell trash. One man’s trash was another man’s treasure. But Ella preferred the cut and dry, less complicated recycling bins. She didn’t want to get personally involved in people’s lives, sorting through their identities.

She wasn’t always like this. She had an identity too once. As the mayor’s daughter, she sparkled as a child. She was a spelling bee winner in elementary school. In high school, she was a cheerleader and a member of the homecoming court. She grew up too fast, married too young, divorced too soon. After her marriage tanked, her job fizzled and crumbled into ashes. Now she was a collector of other people’s castaways; she herself being a throwaway of society.

It was this way that Mike Ballast, CEO of Trophy Line, exiting from his taxi, encountered Ella. Mike’s status was prominent in the community. His position was as far above Ella’s as whiskey is from a wine cooler. He was a proud owner of the social graces. But with all his charm and persuasiveness, he had forgotten compassion. He was a self-made man who did not know how he had achieved his true self. His introduction to Ella was a rough one. In his usual hurried gait, he tramped smack into her and would have run over her as if she were litter on the ground if it would not have been for Tipsy.

Ella’s dog, Tipsy, was one that she was never able to disassociate from, despite her circumstances. Tipsy was a feisty little poodle that bit first and determined facts later. When Mike ran into Ella, Tipsy sprang to her rescue, sinking his sharp teeth into Mike’s heels.

“Watch where you’re going!” Ella snarled at Mike.

Mike hardly heard Ella as he was busy dancing around Tipsy, shaking his leg to relieve himself of the vicious little dog.

“Hey, call off your dog,” he snapped at her. Mike was a very snappy person, both in appearance and personality.

Ella turned to face Mike; picked herself up off the ground she had been rudely shoved on and brushed her hair from her face.

“What if I don’t want to?” she answered angrily.

“Suit yourself,” he growled back. “Maybe I’ll just call the police.”

“Police don’t care about little dogs,” Ella said, scooping up Tipsy, who had tired of attacking the kicking man anyway. “Besides, you hit me first. It was self-defense.”

“Do you have any idea who I am?” he boomed arrogantly.

“Of course, I do. I’ve seen you on buses and billboards. Money talks, doesn’t it?”

Mike sighed. He had no time for skirmishes with bag ladies. He would handle this problem the way he tended to all his difficulties. He pulled out his wallet and sorted through his money. He squinted at Ella, sizing up what it would take to shut her up. He sifted through his assortment of bills and tossed a twenty at her feet. Ella looked to him like a girl that would be thankful for anything. She was a $20 impediment in his path. At the same time a rectangular piece of paper floated down to the ground, but Mike was too absorbed in his desire to re-enter his life of office politics to notice. He turned heel and clambered off to the 37th floor of the building he lived and breathed in, leaving Ella like the discarded trash she made a meager life out of sorting through.

The moment he had disappeared Ella’s eyes had shifted from his lofty heights to the ground on which the small rectangular shape had landed. Tipsy was nosing around it unconcerned now about the previous events. Ella swept it up in her hand and peered ominously at it.

Pumpkin Ball
October 23rd
Grand Hall Reception Room
The Merryville

She gasped. It was a ticket to the Pumpkin Ball. It was worth far more than the $20 he had callously tossed her way a few minutes before. Only the socially elite were invited and only those with deep pockets came. Ella narrowed her eyes.

“Thank you for inviting me, Mr. Ballast,” she whispered, “I think I will attend.”

In the local public restroom, she examined her appearance; tangled hair, rumpled sweater, bad fitting slacks. Certainly she was no candidate for the Pumpkin Ball. Once she would have considered herself an applicant for the dance. She had been a princess but now even with her ticket she wouldn’t be allowed to enter in her disheveled state.

The door opened a crack and Ella whirled around. She had to be prepared for anything. Bag ladies and their homeless likes were despised by all. But it was only Lisa, her friend and compatriot. Ella sighed in relief.

“What’s up?” Lisa asked jovially.

“Glad you asked,” Ella responded with a smile. “I’ve been invited to the Pumpkin Ball.”

By Herbert Cole, from artmagick.com

Lisa laughed heartily as Ella told her tale. It was almost too incredible that someone in her or Ella’s position should hold in her hand the key to the inner works of the upper class. She took the ticket from Ella and studied it.

“Well, of course you are going, Ella,” she said in a matter of fact way.

“Look at me. I can’t wear this. Everybody else will be wearing Prada or Dior.”

Lisa’s eyes twinkled. “Come into my larder,” she said, pulling Ella out the door of the restroom. “If you dealt in trash instead of recyclables and visited free clothing bins like I do, you’d have a stash of stuff like me.”

Lisa led Ella down the street to a garage, locked up tight and secure. Tipsy followed eagerly alongside them with his usual gaiety. It was where Lisa conducted her business, at least the storage part of it. On occasion, she even slept there. Homeless people had to make due with whatever accommodations they could scare up. Ella was mesmerized as Lisa started pulling clothing out of boxes and propelling it swiftly to all sides, rifling through, calculating value to each article.

“I’ve made a lot of dough off of collecting some of this stuff. You’d be surprised.”

Then she pulled out a lovely, shimmery, silvery gown. She handed it tenderly to Ella, like it was a new-born baby. It settled softly on her hands like gossamer.

“I was saving this for the right buyer, and now I know who.”

“Lisa, it’s gorgeous. You can’t part with this,” Ella shook her head as she pushed the gown back at her friend.

“Relax,” Lisa said. “It’s on the 24 hour loan system. Just return it by midnight on the 23rd and we’ll be square.” Then she spied Ella’s worn and spackled sneakers. Ella followed her friend’s glance and sighed.

“They don’t exactly go with the dress, do they?”

Lisa smirked. “Only if you need them for a fast getaway.” Then she shoved boxes aside and produced a pair of sparkling heels with a smile. “Keep these. They’ll take you farther. They’re my gift to you.”

Ella gave her a hug. “You’re a saint.” Then she handed Lisa her precious twenty dollar bill. “Rental fee?” she asked.

“Nah,” Lisa dismissed it with a wave, “Use it for a taxi. Every bum needs to be a princess for a day.”

It was then that Ella and Lisa heard the sound of scuffling among the boxes and both remembered Tipsy. He had found a dog’s heaven foraging among the storage in Lisa’s garage. The sound of a contented canine chewing caused Lisa to dive through her inventory and make a wild grab for Ella’s pesky poodle. Tipsy very easily dodged her grip, escaping with a slipper. He sat there, tail wagging, proud of his accomplishment. Lisa frowned at him.

Ella cleared her throat. “Oh, by the way, Lisa, would you mind dogs sitting for me while I’m at the Ball?”

Lisa looked up at her friend from the disarray of boxes. “You know, I never pictured myself as a godmother to a mutt.”

“Well, you certainly qualify as mine,” Ella told her appreciatively. “I’ll never be able to thank you enough.”

“Just have a great time, Ella. And if you run into a prince, be sure to send him my way.”

As Ella stepped lightly from the taxi, she had the air of elegance. She had undergone transformation. She was no longer a miscreant. She fell into her place like a piece of the puzzle. Her gown flowed from her like an extension of herself. Her hair, once disarranged and disorderly now shone sleek like sealskin. Her eyes sparkled almost as luminously as her dress. Completing her classy touch were the translucent heels that clicked out a beat of superior confidence. Ella took the whole scene in her stride.

She melted into the sea of faces at the ball as if she was a pebble on the beach. She washed over them and they meshed into her perfectly. Nobody knew who she was but it didn’t matter. She was just “Ella”; one of their own. She danced and ate the dainty trifles. Was that caviar? Were these truffles? She wasn’t sure. She sampled each one like a kid with a hand in the cookie jar.

“Enjoying yourself, Miss…?”

She whirled around at the familiar voice of Michael Ballast. He was staring at her. Had he recognized her?

“It’s just Ella,” she said simply.

Then she knew that he didn’t know her. What was more; he was running his eyes approvingly over her, like she was expensive merchandise for the buying. Before he considered her a pig in the sty, now he recognized her as a pearl.

“I’m Mike…”

“I know who you are,” she cut in, her words slicing the air.

He smiled at her with all the fawning of a lion cozying up to its prey. “Would you care to dance?”
She nodded curtly and he folded her into his arms. She felt her power over him and it intoxicated her. She smiled deep inside herself because she had the upper hand and it felt good. At the end of the dance, he handed her a drink. He did it proudly as he did everything. She laughed. He looked confused.

“Do I know you?” he asked, his words pouring like olive oil.

Ella winced. “No, I can honestly say, you’ve never known anyone like me before.”

He smiled at her. He found her strangely tantalizing. She was beautiful and mysterious, exactly the kind of woman he had always wanted to meet, but had never found.

“I don’t know why I’ve never seen you before. You are so familiar. Perhaps in Paris? I’m sure I’ve seen you in my travels.”

Ella laughed. “Well, I do get around, and we may have bumped into one another.”

Mike frowned. “Well, I wish I had taken a second look. How could I have stumbled upon you before and not noticed you? You are so beautiful.”

The words cut into Ella’s soul, and she turned away. She knew herself, and she hadn’t felt beautiful for a long time. Hearing the words come from him, though, made her cringe. She suddenly felt her value to be far above the price Mike Ballast placed upon her. She pulled up her chin and stared icily at him.

“I can’t figure out what you are thinking,” he said to her.

“It’s better that way,” she replied.

“I’ve never met anyone like you. Can we get out of here? Will you come with me?”

She couldn’t believe it had been so easy. “NO,” she said flatly. “I’m afraid you’re not my type.”

She turned on her heels and glided from the room. When she reached the doorway, she removed her stilettos and placed them on a table like a calling card.

“Ella was here,” she whispered softly to herself.

She was suddenly glad she was herself and not this new “Ella.” Then she left the building with all the grace and style of a bag lady.

Shari L. Klase spends her days writing and playing with her corgi and her evenings as a custodian, cleaning and devising story lines.





November 26, 2013

Book Review Column: Let It Snow, By Lissa Sloan (Breadcrumbs and The Snow Child)

Editor's note: Lissa kicks off five new posts here at EC, just in time for Thanksgiving. And she's brought us some reading treats!

Let It Snow: In which I review two books full of cold weather and warm hearts.
 
Fifth graders Hazel and Jack are best friends. Together they are knights, dragons, superheroes, or anything else they can read about or dream up. Imaginative Hazel doesn’t fit in well in her new school, and Jack’s friendship is what makes it bearable for her. But one day, Jack gets something in his eye and stops speaking to Hazel. Then he follows a mysterious woman into the woods and disappears. Hazel may be ill-equipped to deal with the everyday world of her broken family, the unkindness of her classmates, and the disapproval of her teacher, but there is no one better prepared to undertake the perilous journey through the woods and the snow to the white witch’s palace to rescue Jack.
 
While Anne Ursu’s Breadcrumbs is a mainly a re-telling of The Snow Queen, she also sprinkles elements of other Hans Christian Andersen tales through her story. When Hazel enters the woods, she discovers not an ordinary wood, but a fairy tale wood which does not wish her well. She encounters red shoes, a match girl, and a crone with a stolen swan skin. Hazel also meets others, ordinary people like her, who have lost things and wandered away from the real world, losing themselves in the process.
 
"Winter," by Margaret MacDonald
Ursu is especially strong at characterization. I felt for Hazel immediately, and rooted for her through the entire story. Her devastation at Jack’s defection is so accurate, so familiar it is almost painful to read. In fact, Hazel’s story seemed so grounded in reality I found it jarring when the elements of fantasy were introduced. However, fairy tales exist to help us meet our real world challenges, and this holds true in Breadcrumbs. Ursu successfully digs deep into her chosen themes. I was intrigued with the way she balanced Hazel’s devotion to Jack with her emerging sense of independence, her motives progressing from selfish to selfless in the course of her quest. While in many ways Breadcrumbs sticks quite closely to The Snow Queen, it effectively stands alone as a touching tale of two friends, struggling to grow older without growing apart.
 
Eowyn Ivey’s debut novel The Snow Child is the story of Mabel and Jack, a middle-aged couple homesteading in Alaska in the 1920s. They have left their home and family on the east coast, but there is one thing they cannot flee—their grief at being childless. One night they build a child out of snow. They give her a face, hair, and a red scarf and mittens. The next morning the snow child is gone, but Jack and Mabel begin seeing a mysterious girl in the woods around their house, a girl who wears a red scarf and mittens. As Mabel and Jack attempt to tame the girl, they find their romance rekindled as they are unexpectedly drawn into the joys and sorrows of parenting.
 
The Snow Child is based on the Russian tale The Snow Maiden. Ivey’s story is a poignant exploration of parenthood, and the ways in which parents should not, perhaps cannot, stifle their children’s true nature. This idea is reinforced by the story’s untamed setting. Ivey’s Alaska is a land of extremes, with midnight sun and cruel dark winter. It is also a land of savage beauty which Mabel comes to love and accept in all its harshness. In addition to being a thought-provoking book, The Snow Child is full of heart, and reading it is a cathartic experience. Ivey’s style, while simple and unsentimental, skillfully draws the reader so deeply into the hearts and minds of her characters it is easy to become immersed. At times their story is heart-rending, but Mabel and Jack are good company on this tender journey of losing and finding, of embracing and letting go.
 
Which fairy tales would you like to see re-told, or do you prefer to stick to the traditional versions? Join the Enchanted Conversation and tell us what you think. Happy reading!

Lissa's avatar, by Lissa Sloan
Lissa Sloan has contributed stories, poems, and guest posts to Enchanted Conversation, but she also writes and illustrates for younger readers. Visit her online at her website, lissasloan.com, or on Twitter, @LissaSloan.
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