June 24, 2021

Throwback Thursday: Fanny's Curse, by Heidi Lobecker

Fanny was a proud and stubborn girl.
Herbert was a brown lump of a troll
with a mouse that lived in his hair...
Editor's Note: Today's Throwback Thursday story is author Heidi Lobecker's version of the "Serpents and Toads" fairy tale, and it's also a lovely reminder of how kindness and love can transform anything...
There once was an outcast from Whisperbad who lived in the forest. Fanny's banishment rankled, forced by her mother to engage with a fairy who tricked her. She sought fortune, but fairies are devious. She was cursed by a fairy, and whenever Fanny spoke, toads and serpents spewed forth from her mouth.

Fanny was a proud and stubborn girl. Alone in the forest, she studied the depths of her power. She practiced and learned to love the snakes she made.

One evening, Fanny glared at the sparkling diamond stars. She rubbed the sharp nose inherited from her mother and pulled at her stringy hair. There was the old defensiveness about her squat peasant body, emphasized by her name, curling in her stomach. She clenched her fists full of resentment for her beautiful sister, a Princess in a far away kingdom.

"Where is my beauty, my gems, my prince?" she wailed. A coin snake dropped from her mouth.

She gathered all the resentment for the life she'd been cursed with into a hard knot of anger in her throat.

Fanny decided to make her final snake.

Sitting up straight and true, she concentrated on the base of her spine. She made her neck long. She took a deep breath in. She pulled up her rage.

She screamed and screamed and screamed forth a long green body, a triangle head. She focused her proud and covetous nature into the serpent. She created the most dangerous, most vicious, most unhinged snake in the world.

As the final segments left her mouth, swaying in rhythm to her heartbeats, she took her soul, her essence, her being, and she put herself into the snake.

The wide, dark sky witnessed the birth of the pit viper. She slithered herself around the husk of Fanny's body and said goodbye. Fanny the snake returned to Whisperbad. She watched and waited for fairies by the well. 
All the snakes Fanny had created went into the world. The small garden snakes that squirmed past her lips when she whispered “shh, shhh, shh”; the fierce yellow rat snakes that slithered out of her mouth when she sang bawdy ballads about soldiers marching on the Brandiwyne Road; the toads she summoned by eating stink cabbage and burping.

One of the gold-speckled skins was found by Herbert the troll. He was a great brown lump of a troll, with a ponderous gait and a mouse that lived in his hair.  Herbert found living in the Mountain stifling and jumping out from under bridges to bellow at goats was a waste of time.

Herbert the herpetologist troll loved snakes. He followed the snakeskins like breadcrumbs, eager to see where they would lead.

“Look at this Perri,” said Herbert to Perri, his stubby-tailed albino mouse with the chewed-up ears, “this will go nicely with the spotted swimmer we found this morning. These are the very rarest snakes in the kingdom.”

Warming to his subject, Herbert groused to his mouse about the general population's lack of love for snakes.

"People need to learn to appreciate a good snake," Herbert said. Perri, the mouse, wasn't so sure about that and continued his hunt for nits and bits in Herbert's large noggin.

The tempting trail of snakes led Herbert’s oversized orange and blue covered wagon into the town of Whisperbad. His strong black horses needed a rest, so Herbert stopped at the well. He lifted his large rump up from the wagon-seat. Perri rode on Herbert's shoulder and picked at the treats in his wild hair.

Herbert lowered a bucket to get his horses a drink. When Herbert turned back, a woman with more wrinkles than hair stood between him and his horses.

"Will you draw water for me?" she asked. "For I am feeble and unable to turn the wheel."

Herbert grunted in surprise; most gentle folks didn't approach trolls. As he reached to turn the crank, he saw a large pit viper resting on the rocks by the well.

"Oh, aren't you a lovely thing," said Herbert, his grumbly voice pitched low so as not to startle the slumbering bright-green snake.

"Oh, she's a beauty, Perri," said Herbert, "just look at her shimmering scales, like a lovely emerald jewel, soakin' up the sun. Like it's all just meant for her."

Herbert's hoary hands mimed stroking her back, which he knew would be warm and soft.

"I won't do that if I were you," warned the crone, "The townsfolk call her Fanny, and she's as nasty and proud as her namesake."

Fanny came alert and coiled up, hissing and darting at the woman. The crone drew back in fear and stumbled away.

Herbert was rapt in admiration. He watched Fanny's darting tongue taste the air for prey. She raised her triangle-shaped head level with his shoulder, where Perri the mouse sat. Perri buried himself in the nest of Herbert's hair.

After his horses had their fill, Herbert casually opened the back of his wagon and said, "Well, if I was a lovely snake named Fanny, and I wanted a nice warm bed for the upcoming cold winter, this nest of blankets would be just the thing." He said this to Perri--but really, to Fanny. He left the wagon open. He took a slow walk to find some lunch.

When he returned, the pit viper was gone. Herbert quietly closed the back and went on his way. He picked up the trail of snakes along the Brandiwyne Road.

After a few hours, Fanny came up behind him and curled around his neck. She gave him a gentle squeeze. He reached up a rough finger to scratch under her chin.

"Ahh, there's my pretty," he said.

Perri moved to ride on the head of one of the horses.

One evening, when the moon was large and heavy in the sky, Fanny reached inside herself. She traced her long, sinuous spine with her infrared sense. She recalled Herbert's admiring words, the way he looked at her like she was the most precious gem is all the world.

She began to molt. Her glorious scales shed off her, and a new body emerged. A human body. She kept her a poisoned tongue for protection. Her skin was the iridescent green skin of her recent snake form.

Herbert was enthralled.

"Oh, my splendid jewel," he said, "may I stroke your skin?"

The old troll and the green-skinned woman, hand in hand, scales and warts, sitting on the wagon-seat, were a striking pair. Seekers of serendipity, they rolled along Brandiwyne Road, just to see where it led.

"Keep the change," Fanny would say after someone offered to pay her in coins. "I kept mine.”
Heidi Lobecker is part mermaid, part pirate. She can tie a bowline, tack upwind and has experienced uncontrolled jibes. She takes her time, loves Shakespeare, and needs lots of chocolate. She puts her pants on and hopes they fit, just like everybody else. Ask Heidi to go for a walk, she’ll probably say, “Yes.”  You can read all about these fascinating topics and more at Sailing in Chester

Troll Painting: Theodor Kittelson
Cover Layout: Amanda Bergloff @AmandaBergloff 

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