July 30, 2018

FAIRY TALE FLASH - Family by T J Barnum

I was hoping she’d exhibit more of
my attributes when she hit adolescence...
“Really Sandy? You expect me to eat that? Without anything to wash it down?”

“Drinking at meals interferes with your digestion,” Sandy said. “You’re not getting up from this table until you eat.”

“But it’s green!” Alice said. She sniffed the offensive brew. “You put peas in it, didn’t you?”

“If you must know, it’s split-pea soup. Full of nutrients.”

“You know I detest vegetables. And besides, it smells funny.”

“Oh! For crying out loud, Alice! Just eat!” Sandy’s eyes gleamed. “Do you want me to call your Father?”

“I’ve always hated your cooking,” Alice said quietly, “Call him, I don’t care anymore.” She flipped the soup bowl upside down and jumped sideways to avoid Sandy’s claws.

“You’ll pay for this, young lady!” Sandy yelled as Alice escaped outside.

The split-pea soup was Sandy’s first attempt to kill her step-daughter. She’d done her best to disguise the poison with enchanted spices and the strong smell of peas. But it looked like Alice’s senses were becoming sharper, as was to be expected. Sandy sighed. She had hoped that years of abuse and intimidation would work to demoralize and control the girl. But she’d overestimated the power of burgeoning adolescence.

That evening, she talked with Jim. “I know you’re fond of your child. But you know what must be done. I’m afraid we’ve waited too long already.”

Jim said not a word. He thought hard, weighing options, possible solutions. “I was hoping she’d exhibit more of my attributes when she hit adolescence,” he growled.

Sandy just stared at him.

“I see more of her mother in her every day.” His face contorted. “I cannot stand her mother!”

“Of course you can’t, darling. When did your two families ever get along? It’s amazing you stayed with the relationship as long as you did.”

“Alice’s mom never really understood who she was,” he mused. “Although, she certainly acted the part from time to time.”

“Alice will discover who she is soon enough, if she doesn’t already know. I’m with her more hours in a day than you. All I’m saying, she isn’t like you!”

“That’s too bad,” Jim said. He shook his monstrously huge head and climbed to his feet. “Well, no point in putting it off. Let’s go eat her.”

The two ogres headed outside, pausing only long enough to grab their heavy axes.

“Alice!” her Father called, as he and his wife began circling the large meadow by their cave.

“Jim!” Sandy yelled. “It’s too late!”

Sandy pointed skyward. Jim looked into bright light, caught a breathtaking view of a golden dragon circling the open field.

“Damn! She’s pretty!” he thought. “Just like her mother!”

The ogres watched as Alice dipped her right wing in salute to her father, then flew out of sight toward the horizon.

T J Barnum's writing has been included in numerous literary magazines such as Rivet: The Journal That Risks, The Moon Magazine, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Better Than Starbucks, Alban Lake, The Dirty Pool and more.
Find out more about T J at tjbarnum.com.

Cover: Amanda Bergloff

Ten Neglected Fairy Tales to Fall in Love With

July 28, 2018

SATURDAY TALE - Hamelintown by Kiyomi Appleton Gaines

He wore a patchwork cape and carried a flute.
He would help us, but his price was high...
“It is 100 years since our children left.”
Hamelin Town Chronicles, 1384

“Where did the children go? Where did he take them?” my great-grandmother asked. She was in one of her fretful moods, and we would try to calm her, but she would work herself up into a state for the lost children. Why did no one go to find them? Where were they taken?

We were all familiar with her queries and the best that could be done was to try to keep her in bed and stroke her hand until she eventually cried herself to sleep. Sometimes she would get up and start for the door, or we’d find her in the kitchen, packing food into a sack already stuffed with a change of clothes, a thin and faded old nightgown, a sharp letter opener. “Gran,” we’d say, “where are you going?” She would start on about the children again, always the children. Why had no one gone to find them? Where had they been taken? An entire village of children did not simply disappear.

Gran’s young brother had been among the lost ones. There were two other brothers and a sister who were lost as well, as I recalled, but this particular brother had been her favorite. She had cared for him as a baby, her mother never fully recovering from this, the last and most difficult of nine births. Or was it seven? It was hard to say, as so many records of that time had been lost, or destroyed. Records of the lives of the lost ones. Gran was young at the time, fourteen or fifteen, and she had a sister just a few years younger, and an older brother who also survived. Had there been another sister? Nobody knew anymore.

They came from a small milling town up in the mountains. The man had come. There was a famine, and the goats were dying. Or maybe it was a drought? They were hungry, she said, when the man came. The village stores were low, and illness was high. The rats were everywhere, in the grain, crawling over the sick, sometimes attacking the very ill before they expired.

“I woke in the night, I couldn’t breathe. There was a heavy weight on my chest, pressing the life out of me, and when I opened my eyes, there was the beast. A rat,” here she would spread her hands wide to the size of a house cat, “standing on my chest, pressing my breath out, staring into my eyes! With no fear! It tried to smother me, that animal. My sister knocked it off of me with a skillet.”

Straw mattresses were dragged outside and burned. Thatching was replaced on roofs. Holes were patched in walls and floorboards. Still the rats came. Still they remained.

“People were dying. People were dying,” she would murmur, almost consoling herself.

The man came to town. He was older than Gran at the time, though not as old as her father. He wore a patchwork cape, and carried a flute; all the accounts agree on these points. “We were desperate,” she’d say, her voice pleading. The man came. He would get rid of the rats. His price was high. More gold than the whole village had. There was the gold in the church, the candlesticks and chalice and plates and censers, the gold flake on the saints, but that was not to be considered.

Where did the man come from? Gran would wave her hand and give no other answer

He set right to his work. The elders told him to get rid of the rats, and he set right to his work. Before long he was strolling down the street with a staff strung with rats, and whatever plague had summoned them seemed to pass; they stopped coming. He sat in the middle of the square, where he made camp each night, refusing the hospitality of any of the villagers, and would flay and spit and roast the rats, and tear the flesh from tiny bones with fingers and teeth. Then he would sit and play his flute into the night, beautiful lilting melodies.

Was he a stranger? Had he come from a far off land? Again, the dismissive wave. As though it hardly mattered.

There was something disturbing and almost sensual in the way he ate the vermin, savoring every bite and licking his fingers when he was through. And, just as terrible, young Gran sometimes felt her stomach rumbling at the scent of the roasting meat. She never ate it! No, she never ate it!

When the rats were gone, eaten or chased off, it came time to render payment. The man, as he told them, was ready to continue on his way, and would have what was owed. The villagers gave him what they had, every scrap of gold, save a wedding band secreted here, or a chain passed down through the family, or perhaps just a few coins pocketed against future calamity. The rats were gone, and the village would give all they could, and that would have to be enough. But it was not the price demanded, nor what was agreed.
“He would give us a week,” Gran whispered, her voice trembling.

The man seemed to disappear then, though no one saw him leave town. Instead, he would be spotted, just in the corner of one’s eye, staring out of the shadows when daily chores were done, or following along on the lane, close enough to hear his steps, too far for any proper greeting.

When the week had passed, he went again to the elders. Again they offered him all the collected wealth of the village, though not the full price set for his services.

“His face went strange like a demon,” she said, “that’s what my father said. A face like a demon. And when he left, the church bell rang once, though there was no one to pull the cord.”

The next day, when the villagers had finished their church services, the children were gone. All of them had disappeared, all of those weaned and walking, and so had the man. There were no signs of struggle, no tiny footprints in the dirt, no dropped toy or scrap of cloth. The village was in the mountains, yet no one saw that lone man leading an army of children down to the valley. The man was never seen again. Nor were the children.  One hundred and thirty children.

“We must find them,” Gran would struggle against our restraining embraces. “Where are the children?”

“Hush now, hush. They’re gone. Best to forget, Gran. They’re gone.”
Kiyomi Appleton Gaines is a contributing editor at Enchanted Conversation Magazine who writes stories and articles inspired by folklore and fairy tales. 
Find more of her writing at A Work of Heart
and follow her on Twitter @ThatKiyomi

Art: 1868 Wood Engraving, "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" by John LaFarge, Wikimedia Commons
Cover Layout: Amanda Bergloff @AmandaBergloff


July 25, 2018

FAIRY TALE FLASH - Happily Never After by Michael M. Jones

No one asks what the fairy godmother wants,
what's in it for her...
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

Thank you for reading today's Fairy Tale Flash story, and please share your thoughts about Michael's tale with him in the comments section below. He'd love to hear from you!

Follow her on Twitter @karenleestreet
Check out Karen's book
Edgar Allan Poe and the Jewel of Peru HERE

July 22, 2018

ON MYTH - Thor Reborn by William Gilmer

Thor is one of the most recognizable mythological figures we have today. The Nordic god of thunder captivates us with a simple mentality and a drive to do what is right. While Thor has never really left our collective consciousness, he has enjoyed a revival thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Since 2011 Thor has appeared in numerous movies which have sold billions of dollars in ticket sales worldwide. It’s safe to say that Thor is enjoying a popularity he hasn’t seen since the days of old.

As a new generation gets introduced to the son of Odin, it may be worthwhile to look at the differences between the classic god and the current movie superstar. My intention is not to show that the Marvel movies “got it wrong”, or isn’t “doing justice” to the traditional myths. All gods and mythologies change and evolve over time as they are exposed to new people and cultures. If the decision had been made to keep Thor mythologically accurate, he would have been denied the opportunity to grow with the times, to be reborn. The only gods that truly die are the ones that are forgotten.

Thor the Red
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor is played by Chris Hemsworth, who sports his trademark long blonde locks and short stubble beard. Blonde is a good look for the god of thunder, but the color was uncommon in Nordic culture, and Thor, believe it or not, was almost exclusively depicted with red hair.

Thor by Max Friedrich Koch
Hair was a big deal in Viking culture. They were meticulous about the cleanliness and appearance of not only their hair, but their beards as well. The popular idea of Vikings is that they were brutish and primitive, the reality is that Vikings were more concerned with personal grooming than most other cultures at the time. Combs and nail care tools were prized personal possessions, and are frequently found buried with the dead.
Hemsworth’s Thor is rarely, if ever, shown on screen looking sloppy or unkempt, but the decision to go with very short facial hair is a change for Thor, who would have classically worn a much longer beard.
Family Issues
Loki Talks to the Rhinemaidens 
by Arthur Rackham

One of the most popular fan favorite characters of the Thor franchise is his “brother” Loki. While the films do mention that Thor and Loki are not true brothers, their relationship is far closer in the movies than what was described in the traditional myths.  Very little is said about Loki’s parentage, but it’s generally accepted that he is the son of Farbauti and Laufey and that he had legitimate siblings (Helbindi and Byleistr). The only relation Loki has to Thor is an oath the god of mischief swore to Odin (Thor’s father) acknowledging him as the ruler of the gods. Loki went on to have many children of his own, the most interesting of which is probably Sleipnir, Odin’s eight-legged horse that Loki gave birth to after shapeshifting into a mare.

Odin Rides Sleipnir - Artist Unknown

Odin is another member of Thor’s family that differs from the original sources. The movies show Odin as a calm pacifist, but when we look at the old stories, we see that Odin was a war mongering madman. Odin traded his eye for more power and used it to dominate other realms on the battlefield. He was the leader of the Wild Hunt (in German versions the prey was often a young woman) and slaughtered the ancient being Ymir (Odin’s father/mother) to create the world from its body.
Jörmungandr & Hel by Gezücht

There are also significant differences with the goddess Hel (Hela in the movies). In Thor: Ragnarok, Thor is introduced to his sister Hela who wants to continue her mission to take over all of the other realms. The movie version of Hel embodies many of the traits we find in the mythological Odin. Hel, the “real” goddess, is very different than her big screen counterpart.
Rather than being a daughter of Odin and sister to Thor (as described in the movies), Hel was one of the three children born from the union of Loki and the giantess Angrboda. Due to the troublesome nature of their parents, the other gods worried about what these children would grow up to be. Because of their fears, Odin ordered all three to be banished. Hel was sent to rule over one of the realms of the afterlife (named Hel in her honor), where she was charged with tending to those who died from old age and disease.
Far from her violent and power hungry movie persona, Hel was usually gloomy and downcast. She was never really considered an enemy of the gods. While she did offer assistance (kind of) in the gods attempt to resurrect Baldr from the dead, she was generally indifferent to their affairs.

Godly Gear
Thor's Fight with the Giants by Mårten Eskil Winge

One of Thor’s most recognizable symbols is his hammer Mjölnir. Mjölnir was more than just a hammer, it was an icon of the people. In Scandinavian and other European cultures, this symbol was as common as the crucifix is today. Small pendants worn around the neck and engravings of Mjölnir above doorways were used to bring good luck and the favor of the divine. Even when Christianity became popular in the region, Mjölnir remained a regular emblem for the people. The two symbols were so widely used that molds have been found that could be used to cast either shape. Mjölnir is still an important symbol used by various Neopagan religions and was recently added to the list of United States Department of Veterans Affairs emblems for headstones and markers.
As far as Mjölnir’s treatment on the big screen, there are some inconsistencies. The movies claim that Mjölnir was forged in space by the heat of a dying star, not exactly how The Prose Edda (a book of Norse mythology dating back to 1220 AD) describes it. Thor’s mighty hammer was, according to the text, made by two dwarfs (Sindri and Brokkr) as part of a bet with Loki. Due to Loki’s interference during the forging, the handle was made too short, causing Mjölnir to only be wielded one-handed. Unlike the movies, Thor never used his hammer to fly, preferring instead a chariot pulled by his two goats Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjostr.
Mjölnir was not Thor’s only piece of equipment; Megingjörð (power belt) and Járngreipr (iron gloves) were used to double his already amazing strength and allowed him to wield Mjölnir.
The cinematic (or comic book) version of Thor is further proof that our gods are beside us, changing as we do. This new iteration of Thor has some definite differences than his predecessor, but those changes have landed him in a position to capture our imaginations all over again, and personally, I couldn’t be happier for it.
William Gilmer is a writer and poet living in Michigan where Fall never lasts long enough. Over two dozen of his pieces have been published both online and in print. Keep an eye out for his monthly articles in Enchanted Conversation Magazine, and if there isn’t enough going on in your feed, follow him on Twitter @willwritethings
Cover: Amanda Bergloff

Thanks for reading! We'd love to hear from you, so share your thoughts with William about his article in the comments section below.
Check out Jude's novelette:

July 18, 2018

DOUBLE FAIRY TALE FLASH - Cold Blooded by Katherine Herron AND The Rose by Donna Kennedy

We've got 2 tales for today's Fairy Tale Flash...
First, they catch her in a net.

She lets them.

Their wide eyes and breathless curses send pools of cool blood writhing towards her cheeks. Humans go warm with embarrassment, she remembers absently. Fish don’t blush at all. Merpeople, with their cold blood, freeze at humiliation.

They keep staring. She’s cold, colder still, an ice sculpture cracking under the pressure of each gaze.

She shatters.

For all their gaping, no one notices.

They spread her out on a metal slab cooler than her cheeks.

She doesn’t struggle.

They poke and prod at the tail she can’t bear to examine for herself. She’s not cold anymore. Her tail is grey now, and her face greyer. She’s a fetus scream and flakes of dry skin. A series of scars and a headful of nightmares.

“Don’t sing for the humans,” her father used to say, several scalpels and too many sunsets ago, gesticulating with his violet tail rather than his webbed hands.

A scalpel gleams above her now, all sharp edges and sterile sliver. Why, she’d choke out if she could, but her doctors decided to 'cut the siren's vocal cords' weeks ago, back when she still thought they might give her legs. One snip, and her world ended.

The scalpel drips towards her pallid skin.

It’s still ending.

Katherine Herron is a long-time fan of all things fairy tale. A current creative writing graduate student, she lives in Edinburgh.

Kylie always puts her pink furry blanket close to Daddy’s drum. She’s so close her heart goes boom bah boom bah boom boom. She likes it when Daddy drums. It’s like he’s trying to make something happen. She closes her eyes and snuggles into the blanket. She’s not very cold in the park. She’s not very afraid of the dark. Even without Mommy. She couldn’t come. She never comes. But it’s okay.

They always go to the big playground first. Kylie sits on Daddy’s lap and they swing so high she can see the big trees and the lake. “Let’s fly into the sky,” he says. “Okay,” she says. Maybe they really can. Maybe Daddy wouldn’t sound so sad if they did. The swing slows to a stop, and Daddy lifts her up for a kiss. His eyes are blurry.

They walk to the lake. She sits on her blanket and eats peanut butter and honey sandwiches. Daddy reads her favorite fairy tale about the little girl who has a doll in her pocket that her mother gave her. The doll tells her what to do when she's scared “I wish I had a doll like that,” she always says. When it gets dark, Kylie snuggles into her favorite blanket.

Daddy goes closer to the lake and puts something red under a tree. She runs over to see. “Why did you stick that rose in the ground, Daddy?” she asks. He doesn’t say anything. Lots of times he doesn’t say anything. He just plays his drum, the long one with beads on it.

Boombah boom … The sound makes Kylie sleepy, so she lies down on her blanket, sucking the satiny edge. The big bright moon wakes her up. Daddy is drumming and smiling. He almost never smiles. Boom bah boom bah boom boom, drums Daddy. She can tell he’s playing “Ring around the Rosie,” so she sings with him.

She looks where he is looking. Over the lake, something is moving. Something white and misty. It comes closer until it seems to spin around the red rose like a see-through dancer.  It brightens and fades to the beat of the drum, swirling around them like a warm wind smelling of roses. Kylie moves her hand through it.

The beat of the drum slows, and the wispy something goes up into the sky. Daddy stops drumming and reaches for Kylie’s hand. When the mist is gone, he picks her up, holding her under one arm and the drum under the other. It’s a long walk to the car, so she closes her eyes a little, pretending to fall asleep. When they come out of the trees, by the car, she looks up and squints through her eyelashes at shadows crossing the moon.

“Look, Daddy,” she says. His shoulders shake, like he’s crying. But he’s not.
Donna Kennedy's library includes fairy tales and myths from all over the world.  She shares them with her twin 10-year-old grandchildren. When they're asleep she writes her own. Her story about them, "Here We Are Again," won second-place in Writer Advice's Flash Memoir Contest last year. Her winning 53-word flash fiction, "The Shed is Best," appears in Prime Number Magazine at https://www.press53.com/issue-127-donna-kennedy.

Covers: Amanda Bergloff

Ten Neglected Fairy Tales to Fall in Love With
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