Once Upon a Time
Surrounded by winter woods, his grandmother’s house was down a hill, blanketed in the dreary afternoon. Aiden Young wondered if the stately, but definitely deteriorating, two-story would’ve looked less spooky if he and his mother, Lucy, were visiting under happier circumstances. He doubted it.
His mom parked the rental car beside a red BMW and cut the motor. “How do I look?” she asked as she examined herself in the rearview mirror.
“The same way you looked the first fifty times you asked.”
She sat back and sighed wearily. “I’m not sure I’ve ever dreaded anything as much as this.”
The trip to Indiana for Aiden had been perfect timing. He was out of school for the winter holiday and, more importantly, he didn’t have to face Summer, his newly ex-girlfriend. But now he was beginning to regret his decision to come with his mom. She was so stressed, they were out in the middle of what his dad would call the boondocks, and his phone service was spotty.
He was, however, looking forward to seeing his grandmother. They hadn’t visited any of his mom’s side of the family in ten years, so he couldn’t recall much about them. The house, however, triggered a memory: he remembered his cousin, Augustus, chasing him around the porch with a dead squirrel.
“Okay,” he said. “Here’s the plan. Let’s just get this over with. In and out in an hour. Boom.” Not that he was ready to go home, but maybe they could drive to town and have dinner and then check into a hotel with WiFi.
“You make it sound so simple.” She opened the car door. “Well, come on, then. Maybe things have changed around here.”
Aiden climbed out of the car and was greeted by the cold and wet December day. The frequent gusts of wind caused the sprinkles to feel more like tiny ice pellets. He covered his head with the hood of his jacket, tucked his hands inside the pockets, and followed his mom to the covered porch.
Lucy knocked, and the door creaked open a moment later.
Aiden recognized his cousin immediately when he greeted them with a, “What?” His dark hair was slicked back, and the way his swollen eyes, one green and one blue, didn’t hide his annoyance, told Aiden he was still a jerk.
“Hi. Remember us? Aunt Lucy and this is Aiden.”
Augustus scoffed. “It’s about damn time.” He walked away, leaving the door wide open. His hair wasn’t short like it had first appeared but was pulled back in a pony-tail.
Lucy glanced at Aiden as if to say, “Here we go,” and then stepped inside.
As Aiden’s eyes adjusted to the dim foyer, he surveyed his surroundings to see if he recognized anything. The floors were scuffed, worn hardwood. Faded, floral sheets covered huge, framed pictures or mirrors on the wall, and a cobweb-covered chandelier hung from the tall ceiling.
On the right-hand side, and through an open double-doorway, was the dining room. To the left, was a dark hallway, and a wide, wooden staircase.
He thought it strange that none of the grand entryway had stuck in his mind, but perhaps seven-year-old Aiden had blocked it out because even now, at seventeen, the musky smell and the gloominess made him wish he was back home in his bright modern house.
They entered a warm living room. Aiden figured the large windows and glass-paned backdoors leading to the spacious back yard brightened the room during the summer. Today, however, the murkiness of the afternoon drifted inside.
A sofa, a recliner, a console television that looked so ancient that he doubted it received cable, and a small end table with a lamp furnished the room. A dozen or so pale pillar candles lined the mantle of a red-bricked fireplace.
“Whoop,” Aiden said as he tripped on a rug he hadn’t noticed.
Augustus turned and pointed at Aiden. “Dude, watch your step.”
Aiden smoothed the rug with his foot in case it was expensive or something. “Sorry, man.”
“The last thing we need around here is more bad luck.” Augustus shook his head and walked to the chair that faced the blazing fireplace. He sat down, leaving Aiden and Lucy standing awkwardly behind the sectional.
“Sit, if you want,” he finally said.
After they made it to the front of the couch, Lucy only sat on the edge. “Augustus,” she said. “I don’t know how to express how sorry we are.”
Slowly, Augustus swiveled around to face them. “Diesel.”
“My name is Diesel.”
“Oh! Your middle name. When did you start going by your middle name?”
“Five years ago.”
“Oh.” She nodded and smoothed her hair. “How are you? Are you doing all right?”
“The funeral was yesterday,” he said without making eye contact.
“Yeah. I know, and I’m so sorry. I hoped we could drive out to the gravesite.”
Diesel leaned forward and glared at her before saying, “You missed your own sister’s funeral.”
“I know. I know. We really tried to get here on time but the airport, you know, with Christmas. It’s insane. Trying to rent a car was murder.”
Diesel shifted, sitting back in his seat.
Lucy cleared her throat. “How’s Mother?”
“She’s sleeping. Do you want to see her?”
“Nah, not if she’s resting.”
“I’ll be right back.”
When Diesel jumped up and walked out of the room, Aiden tried to exhale the tension with a silent whistle.
The fire crackled as they sat waiting.
Aiden turned when he heard a loud knock coming from above. A railing supported by carved wooden balusters edged the open landing.
“Gran,” Diesel said loudly. “Aunt Lucy and Aiden are here. Finally.”
After he heard the door open and shut, Aiden leaned over to his mom and whispered,
“Man, he sure did get weird.”
“Well, he’s been through a lot. He just lost his mom.”
“Sorry.” Aiden felt bad for a second, but his curiosity won. “What was with the rug and bad luck stuff?
She glanced behind her before leaning in closer to Aiden. “Looks like your aunt passed her silly beliefs on to him. Augustus must think you stumbling or touching a certain part of the rug is a bad omen.”
“Diesel,” Aiden corrected with a smirk.
She nodded. “Right, Diesel. Anyway, I knew all the folklore Mother told me and Rose was make-believe, fairy tales. Rose soaked it all in as a child but didn’t go all,” she waved her hands, “you know, until you know.”
Aiden shook his head because he didn’t know. His mom rarely brought up her sister in conversation.
“Well,” she whispered, “when Rose was pregnant, her boyfriend, Harley, left her. I think something completely snapped. Even though I had already moved out by then, I heard Rose took it hard. At least that S.O.B. left money for Diesel when he died.”
They both jumped when Diesel cleared his throat from directly behind them.
“She’s not feeling well,” he said. “She wants to know if you guys can go up there.”
“Sure, sure,” Lucy said, her face bright red.
They stood up and followed Diesel into the foyer and up the stairs. After a few steps up, the stairs turned to the right. Aiden could see over the banister, down into the living room. A chair lift, most likely for Granny, was at the very top of the stairs.
The bedroom door was open, and Granny sat in a recliner covered by a patchwork quilt. Her grey, bushy eyebrows went all the way across and met in the middle of her brow. Her cheekbones sank in, and her long, silver hair draped over her shoulders.
“Lucille, you’re here,” Granny said, her voice ungrateful.
“I’m so sorry about Rose.” Lucy gave Granny a quick, distant hug. “I can’t believe she had a heart attack.”
“I don’t believe it, either. I suspect it was something else. Doctors. All of them, money hungry. Hmph, it doesn’t matter anymore. She’s gone. Rose is gone.”
Aiden heard the door close behind him. Diesel had left the room.
“She was a good daughter,” Granny said. “I could count on her. Always here for me.” She shook her head and then her face softened when she noticed Aiden. “My, my, look at you. You sure do remind me of your granddaddy; those eyes as blue as the sky, and when he was younger he had that dark hair.” Her eyes glassed over for a second as she seemed to reminisce, and then she said, “Come give Granny a hug.”
Aiden accepted Granny’s outstretched arms and hugged her, smelling the scent of grassy earth. When he pulled away, she smiled warmly.
“It’s so good to see you in person,” she said. “I’ve been sent pictures, but it’s not the same.” She looked around Aiden. “Where’s my new grandson? How old is he now, two?”
Lucy cleared her throat. “He’s three, and he has a cough, and I thought it would be best if Mike stayed home with him.”
Granny eased her attention over to Lucy. “I see. Seems a shame, a grandmother never meeting her own grandson. So when you running off again? Soon, I suppose, since you have an excuse.”
Lucy straightened and smiled curtly. “There’s something I need to talk—”
“Granny interrupted: “You can stay in your old room if you want. It’s the same. We haven’t changed a thing in case you ever decided to come home. There’s some clean linens in the hall closet. Aiden, honey, you can take the guest room downstairs. I’m feeling quite weak. Please ask Diesel if there’s some leftovers from Rose’s friends that I can have for my supper tonight. Rose always made supper.”
“I’d be happy to cook,” Lucy said.
Aiden cut her a look. What did she just do? In and out! he wanted to scream.
“I suppose that will do,” Granny said. “Turn the light out when you leave.”
Lucy wrung her hands and then leaned over to the bedside table and snapped off the lamp. The room went dim. She turned abruptly and left the room.
Aiden smiled uneasily at Granny. “See ya,” he said before following his mom’s exit. He shut the door behind him and caught up with his mom on the stairs, mid-ramble.
“She chose to live with Rose, and now she’s saying I abandoned her or something.”
“I didn’t hear her say that, but I did hear you volunteer to cook. We’re never going to get out here?”
“Why don’t we go to the car,” she whispered as they reached the foyer, “and we can talk.”
Once in the car, Lucy placed her hand on her cheek as she stared out the front windshield. “I knew it would be hard, but I can’t believe she’s implying I ran off. I didn’t run off. I got married. I couldn’t bring myself to come back very often because every time I did, Rose acted and looked so strange.”
“Like a witch or gypsy or something. The last time we came here, I swear she was in the kitchen making a potion.”
“No wonder you ran off. Your family is bonkers.”
“Funny,” she said, but didn’t laugh. “I tried to tell Mother that I wasn’t sure Rose should be taking care of anyone and invited Mother to come live with us then. Of course, she wouldn’t hear anything bad about her Rose. Mother chose her over me, so it’s not my fault.” She began to cry softly. “But I really didn’t mean for ten years to go by.”
Aiden searched for a tissue but gave up and pulled a t-shirt out of his duffle bag from the backseat and handed it to her.
Lucy dried her tears. “I know it’s too late to make it up to Rose, but maybe I can help Mother and be there for my nephew. We’ll sit down and have a nice dinner and try to convince them that the best thing to do is for Mother to move in with us. Diesel too, if he wants. I’m sure they’ll see that it’s the best solution. Right?”
He shrugged. After meeting Diesel again, he was pretty sure he’d laugh, or grunt, in their faces. He had money and was old enough to be on his own. Aiden knew what he would choose if given the choice.
“I’m sorry.” She patted Aiden on the leg. “I really didn’t mean to get all into that. Let’s get the luggage and get settled in.”
“Wait a minute. You’re not suggesting we sleep here, are you? I thought we were going to a hotel?”
“It will be late after dinner. There’s no place to stay in town, and I don’t want us to drive real far at night.”
They had driven straight through historic downtown Kingwood, Indiana. And nope, Aiden hadn’t noticed anything that even resembled a Holiday Inn. “Ah, man.”
“It’s only for the one night.” She sighed and stared at the house. “How bad could it be?”
Aiden imagined Diesel looming over his bed with a butcher knife chanting “You are bad luck. I must get rid of all bad luck.” Aiden shuddered. “Right,” he said. “How bad?”
Continue Reading the story here:
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I have used a lot of different methods to write my books over the years. The technique depends on the story and if I already have an idea or not. One tactic is to build inspiration upon inspiration, like a house, from the ground up. Creating a novel in phases not only gives you a jumpstart but also challenges your imagination. It’s an in-depth way to really get to know your story, plot, and characters. The process is slower and more laid-back than others. If NaNoWriMo is a sprint, then the Building Method is a marathon. However, I’ve written four novels this way, so I know it works.
Foundation: Find inspiration. Purposely seek out something that you can use as an initial starting point. This can be a picture, a song, a childhood memory, a dream or a combination of things. Write it down, pin it on a bulletin board, think about it, and do a little research until a story idea begins to form. For me, when I use this method, fairy tales plus a supernatural element are my inspiration.
Framing: Write a short story. To support your idea, expand your inspiration into a short story. The trick is, you must get it out your mind that this will be used for a novel. Just write the best short story you can. Under 3,000 words should be a good word count goal. Then edit and give it to readers to critique. Then sit on it for a week or so.
Exterior: Outline. Use your short story as inspiration to plot your novel. (The short story might only be used for the backstory, plot, setting, moral, etc.) Whatever your outlining style – detailed chapter by chapter, pre-rough draft, one sentence chapter summaries on index cards – by the time you’re finished, you will have a few or a lot of recognizable details from the short story, but it will have developed into its own unique design.
Interior: Write. Fill in your outline with a rough draft. This is your sit-your-butt-at-your-computer-time and write and rewrite. I think having either a word-count or an hours per day goal is essential. Write your first draft using whichever style you prefer: don’t look back or edit and research as you go. And then write your second draft, and your third … until you are sure your story is solid.
Final Walk Through: Editing. Time is one of the best editing tools. Distance will give you a better perspective. Work on something else for a month and then edit. After that, hand it out to your readers and then edit some more.
Closing: Submissions. Find the perfect buyer. And don’t forget, you also have a short story.
Love and Laughter,
by Dorlana Vann
It felt as if the castle walls were closing in on me. With each passing moment, my eyes grew heavier, as did my head, as I struggled to keep watch. But my thoughts must be enough to keep me awake till dawn, for the dragon had escaped its chains and until its capture, I am the princess’s night keeper.
The fair maiden, with her golden hair sprawled upon the pillow, was only beautiful while she slept. Otherwise a creature, one may dare say, more horrifying than the one I stand guard against. However, this minor detail makes no matter, I must protect all the same.
Her, under the deep velvet blankets, snug against the wintry wind which steals in through the cracks. And I, standing with my hands so frozen that they barely hold the weapon I am meant to defend with. However, I can’t let the bitter cold distract me either. I am to be strong and heat myself with my inner strength.
But my legs had forsaken me hours ago and had fallen asleep, and the relentless tickle of tiny thorns haunted my numb feet. But I mustn’t move an inch which may disrupt the princess’s sleep.
Suddenly, the clamor of a thousand drummers with the rumble of a thunderstorm arose in the darkness. I knew my time had come. Adrenalin swept through every inch of my body as I rushed the window and came face to face with the notorious dragon. With one mighty thrust, I lunged my heavy sword into the beast. The heat from his breath knocked me clear and only after I regained my wind, could I look up to see my enemy.
The princess was sitting up now, her screams muffled by the dragon’s wail. With only one eye visible through the window, the dragon searched until he spotted his prey.
In a frantic state, I ran toward the princess’s bedside. However, before I could reach her, the dragon’s sharp talons came through the window and seized the princess with a swift swoosh.
I watched in horror as the dragon brought her up to his mouth and swallowed with one significant gulp.
He then flew away, my sword still in his side like a pesky thorn, his appetite cured for the night.
I fell to the cold stone floor, pounding my fist, hard at first … and then more gently as I gazed up at the warm soft covers. I crawled on my belly, like a failure should, and slowly lifted my weary self upon the bed, near tears, and then sank into the sound sleep of a princess.
The Guard is one of the short stories from my collection: Supernatural Fairy Tales.
When I was writing the rough draft for The Trouble with Scarecrows, I received comments back from a critique partner. It was clear that she hated my main character to the core. Of course, I defended my reasons as to why I had given Brenda a Scrooge personality. For one, she is actually the antagonist in the first book so I had to stay true to her character; and two, I thought I had managed a deep character arc.
Then I received comments from a second critique partner. She didn’t show such disdain, but still she’d marked certain places where the character made her feel uncomfortable and where she’d thought she’d gone too far … pretty much saying the character was mean.
I had spent a year with this character (on just this book) and it was hard to think about making drastic changes. But I had no choice but to really pay attention now. So the first thing I did was just add an extra clear “remorse scene,” one where the MC poured her heart out saying how sorry she was for all her wrong-doings.
I was satisfied with that for a little while, but my nagging brain wouldn’t let it be. I knew it wasn’t enough. *Sigh* The character was the heroine, not the antagonist anymore, and even though she was feisty, tough, and determined, I also had to make her likable. So I went through the novel, softening her up where needed and only having her feistiness appear as reactions to situations.
But I still had this feeling that something was missing. Finally, during the rewrite, a writing concept I had forgotten all about popped into my mind: Save the Cat. If you are a writer, you have probably heard the term. It is a concept and the name of screenwriter’s how-to book by Blake Snyder.
Here is the writing rule from the book Save the Cat: “The hero has to do something when we meet him so that we like him and want him to win. A screenwriter must be mindful of getting the audience ‘in sync’ with the plight of the hero from the very start”
Even though this information is in a screenwriter’s book, I think it applies to novels too. It makes sense and it certainly applied to my story. Even though I was fixing the character in later chapters, I needed that initial scene so that the readers would sympathize with her immediately. It didn’t take me long to find the obvious spot for this in my first chapter. (A shout out to my honest and tough critique partners!)
I wrote down the three little words and posted it to my bulletin board with my other two important writing reminders: “Emotion, Thought, Decision” and “A scene is never about what a scene is about.” It will sure save a lot of grief and time if I remember to “Save the Cat” before I start writing my next rough draft.
Love and Laughter,
A scarecrow is the opposite of a wingman, a dating decoy used to scare away any “crows” who are giving unwanted attention, making it difficult for the right man to have a clear shot.
Thirty-year-old Brenda Fisher believes the best way to get over her ex is to face her past and find a new guy. She knows the type of man she needs in her life … and the type of man she does not, which includes alpha males like Neal Parker.
Neal Parker’s friend and former boss, Larry White, had been gracious enough to let him stay at his old apartment rent-free while Neal pursues his culinary degree. But now the owner of the multiplex–Larry’s high-strung ex-girlfriend, Brenda Fisher–is threatening to sell it out from underneath him. Brenda is possibly the sexiest woman Neal has ever met. Nevertheless, he’s aware of her past destructive relationship with Larry and knows it’s best to stay clear.
When Neal finds out Brenda might be in need of some help in the romance department, he tries to trick her into an exchange: scarecrow services for the apartment. Brenda does not appreciate being manipulated. She ups the stakes, and if Neal wants the future he’d planned, he’ll have to play by her rules.
I’ve been using fairy tales to inspire my paranormal short stories and novels for many years. Instead of a straight retelling of the classic tales, I love using them as a stimulus by borrowing elements, capturing the mood, or using them as a backstory, etc., to write contemporary interpretations. Sometimes I even use a formula: classic fairy tale + paranormal element = supernatural fairy tale. I also often add a fun challenge.
Here is a list of my favorite methods that I have used over the years for you to try:
- Have someone list all the words which they associate with a fairy tale and then write a story, using the fairy tale as your muse, but without using any of the words on the list.
- Add another element: I usually use something supernatural, like werewolves, mermaids, vampires, etc.
- Pick a genre (mystery, romance, sci-fi) before you read…
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by Dorlana Vann
The hillside mansion was huge, old, and cold and spotless. As soon as Riley stepped inside his childhood home, he felt uneasy. Even though he’d visited many times since he had lived there, it seemed different now, even more eerie than when Mother Gothel was alive.
Lola, his ex-wife, walked in behind him, chomping on a piece of gum. “Why didn’t Poppi come to the funeral?” she asked, looking around as if she felt the same strange vibe he did.
“She’s probably just really upset.”
“Or too busy celebrating.”
Riley frowned, but unable to keep his fake grieving demeanor, he chuckled.
“What are you two doing here?”
Riley and Lola looked up to the landing to where Poppi stood. She then made her descent down the grand staircase. Her long golden hair cascaded over her shoulders to her waist, covering most of the front of her pink robe. “Didn’t take you long, did it?” she said after reaching the bottom step.
“Excuse me?” Riley said lowly, trying to decipher the sarcastic tone of her voice.
“The vultures. Mother told me the family would be here to pick her bones clean before she was even in the ground.”
“We’re here to see you,” Lola said. “We have something we need to tell you.”
“Not now,” Riley whispered. He appreciated Lola’s anxiousness, but he didn’t want to frighten Poppi. Even though his mother was not the best human being, she was all Poppi had known. The situation had to be handled delicately.
“It’s okay, Uncle Riley. Or should I say … Dad.” Poppi raised her eyebrows and gave a satisfactory shrug before walking through a doorway and into the dining room.
“But, how?” Lola’s eyes were wide and wild. “Does she know I’m her mother, too? Or did that old bitter leave me out of the picture again? Because obviously, she told Poppi about you.” Her hands shook as she placed an imaginary piece of loose hair over her shoulder and looked to where Poppi had gone.
The way Lola fidgeted reminded Riley of how they ended up here. How they had lost their only daughter. At the time, he’d explained to Lola that the reason Poppi should go live with Mother Gothel was because they just couldn’t manage financially. It was true enough, he was working two jobs and they didn’t even have a baby bed for Poppi.
But they both knew the real reason: Lola was an addict. She had accepted his decision with quiet yet tearful submission; so thankfully, he never had to express his severe anxiety over the thought of leaving his baby alone with Lola when he had to go to work.
As well as raising Poppi, Mother Gothel offered to help with hospital bills and Lola’s rehab – but there had also been an unknown fine print: their silence as to who Poppi’s real parents were.
But now that the situation had changed, Lola had changed, and Riley hoped that someday they could all be a strange new family.
Lola was now saying, “I bet she didn’t. She hated me. Do you think she did?”
Riley put his hands through his hair. “I know as much as you do.”
“Come on,” she said. “It’s time to tell her everything.”
Riley followed, covering his mouth, as he did, to hide the sudden involuntary smile. Poppi knew. After all the years of pretending, after all the years of wanting to hug his daughter and take her home with him, she finally knew the truth.
The dining room didn’t hold fond memories of his childhood. You will not leave this table until every crumb is removed from that plate. Nevertheless, it had been the only place he had been able to visit his daughter over the years. He had been invited to formal dinners with many guests once a month. Guilt swept over him because Lola hadn’t even been given that. Lola had been invited only during holiday parties; given glimpses of their daughter and the occasional “How are you” conversation.
Poppi sat at the end of the grand table—in Mother Gothel’s chair. She had paperwork out in front of her and a pen in her hand. “Sit,” she said without looking up at them.
“Poppi,” Riley began as he took his seat beside Lola. “Are you all right? You’ve just suffered a loss, and I’m sure finding out about me was a shock.”
“I’m fine,” she said and continued to write.
“Tell her,” Lola whispered to Riley. “Tell her about me.”
Riley cleared his throat, thinking it was the least he could do. “I don’t mean to be blunt, but since you already know about me, I thought perhaps you would like to know about your mother.” Gently he said, “Lola is your real mother.”
Poppi raised her head and squinted as if she were staring into a bright light. “Biologically, I guess, but Mother Gothel was my real mother!”
Lola blurted a sob and made a loud exit from the dining room.
Poppi pointed at the doors with her pen. “What’s with her?”
Riley stared at his daughter, unsure of his next move. “You don’t understand what she’s been through. This has really been hard on her. She loves you very much.”
“I find that doubtful,” the young girl said. “She loves drugs and that’s all.”
“I see. I have no way of knowing what Mother told you about any of this. But Lola has come a really long way over the years. For you.”
“And what about you? You sold me.”
Riley sat back in his chair. Tears of horror gathered in his eyes. “I didn’t sell you. I did what I thought was best. I did what I did because … I love you. It was the hardest decision I have ever had to make in my life.”
“Okay, okay,” Poppi said, waving her hands with impatience. “Whatever. I forgive you. Live and let live.”
“Just forget it. I have. Now, we need to go over a few things.”
Riley wondered how he had missed so much. Maybe his mother had treated Poppi differently than she had him. Poppi was not the result of a strict, mind-controlled, cold childhood. She acted … spoiled. He wasn’t sure, yet somewhere in his mind, he was relieved.
“There is the matter of Mother Gothel’s will. I get the house and ninety percent of the money and you get ten. Okay?”
“I’ll have the lawyers send you a check.”
He blinked several times, trying to clear the confusion from his mind. “The lawyers?”
“You can leave,” she said.
“You’re only fourteen.”
“You can’t live here by yourself. There’s the matter of a legal guardian. The courts will never allow it. If you refuse to live with me, they’ll send you somewhere.”
Poppi huffed. “Too young. I’ve never been very patient.”
“You can come home with me, right now.”
Poppi laughed. “Where you can play daddy—No, I don’t think so.”
“What about your … what about Lola?”
“I’d rather hang myself with my beautiful hair,” she said with sweet sarcasm.
“Well.” Riley took a deep breath. He was about to say something that he never imagined he would ever have to say. “I guess I could move in here with you.”
Poppi stood up and adjusted her robe. She seemed to be thinking it all over. Finally, she said, “All right. You can move in, for now. But don’t try and get paternal with me. This is only to keep the hounds away. Understand?”
He nodded, however he didn’t understand. He hadn’t known what to when he arrived to tell her he was her father, but this … it was strange and upsetting. He was sure Poppi would be in shock, maybe even a little frightened, because Mother Gothel had died. But his little girl was so cynical.
“You can stay in your old room,” Poppi continued. “It is the same as when you left. Bring only what you’ll need for a week because that should do.”
A few hours later, Riley climbed out of his car, suitcase in hand, and cringed at the ominous familiarity of the water induced toad assembly. He had forgotten about their overwhelmingly loud rain songs. The frogs used to keep him up all night—his head under his covers—just waiting for them to jump through his window. Mindful of each footstep, he made his way to the front door.
Instead of letting himself in, like he had before, he knocked. He didn’t want Poppi getting agitated for any reason before he had a chance to show her that he wasn’t a threat.
Finally, someone answered the door, but it wasn’t Poppi.
“May I help you?” a woman in a maid’s uniform asked.
“Riley Gothel. I’m expected.”
The maid led Riley upstairs to his former bedroom. Poppi was right. It looked exactly the way it had when he left years back. He’d tried to get his belongings several times, but his mother told him anything she paid for, stayed with her. He wondered now if that was meant to keep him there; he had split days after his eighteenth birthday.
“Can I see Poppi?” he asked.
“She has retired for the evening. She says she will speak to you at breakfast. 8:00 a.m., sharp.”
Riley sat down on the red quilted bed. He relaxed for a moment, finally acknowledging how harsh the day had been on him. Falling backwards, staring at the familiar ceiling, a shiver ran through him, and he felt like a little boy again. He reached over and snapped off the lamp, immediately wishing he hadn’t. The frogs seemed louder in the dark. But his eyes were heavy and soon he slept.
Riley sat straight up in the darkness. “Who’s there?” Remembering where he was, he reached his hand out to snap on the light but stopped short and inhaled a quick breath. There, beside his bed, stood a silhouette highlighted by the moonlight that seeped in through the tiny holes of the worn drapes.
“The tower,” the female voice said.
Before he had a chance to change his mind, he proceeded with his previous action and turned on the light. No one was there. He looked around the room, noting his door was now open.
As far as he knew, there were only two people in the house with him – his daughter and the maid. He went to the doorway and looked in both directions down the hall. Nothing.
The tower. The east end of the house was a full story taller than the rest, a third floor. The only window pointed toward the forest in the back. From the front of the house, the roof just looked a bit taller.
As a child, he had never been allowed to go near “the tower.” He had been so terrified of his mother, he never did. But his mother was no longer alive.
He kept telling himself he was a man, no longer a child, but it didn’t help much as he walked down the dark corridor. The closer he came to the staircase that led up to the third floor, the more his hands trembled. He shivered and thought about going back to get a jacket, and after thinking he saw someone behind him in the shadows, he considered going back to find a flashlight.
He made it, without incident, to the bottom of the staircase. He gazed up the wooden steps. “Not as monstrous as I remember,” he whispered and proceeded to climb. He arrived at the doorway before he was mentally ready, but he turned the knob anyway. Surprisingly, it was unlocked. The door screeched open. He searched the wall to his right and easily found the light switch.
He really didn’t know what he would see in that room, so there was no real prerequisite for decor or content. But the room was rather odd and out of place. Instead of finding a dusty old attic room with cobwebs and forgotten items, it was sterile and bright. The walls were hospital-white and the floors were clean, smooth concrete. Not a dust bunny in sight.
Noting the kitchen-like atmosphere, he frowned as he walked into the room. There was a stove, a refrigerator, and a large table. Obviously, the table was not for dining. It was neatly cluttered with jars, cylinders, measuring devices, and other strange paraphernalia. He picked up an hourglass shaped tube, its contents blue and thick. And then something caught his eye. He almost dropped the container when he realized Poppi stood by the window watching him.
“Oh, Poppi,” he said, like a nervous child who had been caught with his hand in the forbidden cookie jar. “I didn’t see you. Did you just come in, or have you been here the whole time?”
She wore a blue dress, and her hair was pulled back, revealing a soft face that so resembled Lola. The Lola he had fallen in love with; the young woman that time and circumstances hadn’t had a chance to harm.
She didn’t answer. She turned and looked out the window.
He thought he heard her whimper and instinctively went to her. “Are you all right?” he asked. He wanted to comfort his daughter but knew better than to touch her. “What is it? What’s the matter? Was that you earlier in my room?”
Poppi pointed out the window.
Riley stepped up beside her. The window was broken, the glass below glinting in the moonlight. “Oh my. This is where she fell out the window,” he said. “Wait, that’s not right. I thought they found her in front.”
“She moved the body,” Poppi whispered.
“Who moved her? Did that woman, the maid, did she have something to do with this?”
Poppi turned to face him; her eyes were round, unblinking, and impassive. “Mother Gothel,” she said.
“I know,” he said tenderly. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry about everything.” He began to feel rather uncomfortable—off-nerved. “Maybe we should just talk about this in the morning.”
“At first,” she said, “I didn’t know what happened. She drank this stuff, something from over there.” She nodded toward the table. “And then she jumped out the window.”
“Are you saying Mother Gothel killed herself?”
“No,” Poppi whispered. “She killed me.”
“What the hell are you doing in here?”
Riley jerked his head toward the room’s entrance, where the voice had come from.
Poppi stood at the door, her hands on her hips, her hair flowing down the front of her cozy robe.
He looked next to him, where she had stood before. She wasn’t there. “What? You were just here.”
Poppi shouted, “What the hell are you doing in here?”
Riley wasn’t sure where to begin. Perhaps he had dreamed the entire conversation with his daughter, manifesting a child who needed him. That would have been a nice rational explanation; one he could have gone back to sleep with.
But then the second Poppi appeared out of thin air, wearing the blue dress. She stood beside the Poppi in the robe. “It was so strange,” she said, staring at the Poppi at the door. “I was looking out the window at her broken body, and then I felt as if I was being choked.”
Riley’s chin quivered.
“You are not allowed in this room,” the Poppi wearing the robe said.
The first Poppi looked at Riley. “The next thing I knew, I was here, and she in there.”
“You have no business up here. I’ve told you that a thousand times.”
“Don’t you see her?” Riley whispered.
“Who?” she asked, suddenly anxiously peering around the room. “I think this was a bad idea. I’ll take my chance with the state. I think you should leave. Now!”
Riley began to understand. He didn’t want to, it was too chilling, but it was there. “What is all this stuff?” He walked over to the table.
“How should I know? Mother never allowed me in here.”
The day replayed in his mind. Poppi had acted so strange. She had been behaving just like … his mother. “How could you do this?” Riley asked, his nose tingled as his eyes maddened with tears. “She was your granddaughter.”
“You’re insane,” she said. “Get out before I call the police.”
“Oh, I’m insane, Mother. She told me everything. She’s here … my real daughter. You killed her.” Riley put his hand over his mouth, the pure vulgarity of the moment being realized. “How could you do this?” he finally said.
Mother Gothel lips sneered in self-satisfaction. “You gave her to me to do as I wished. This is your fault.”
“She was your granddaughter.”
“That would mean that you are really my son. You’re not. Someone sold you to me, just like you sold Poppi to me. Unfortunately, you left me before my work was complete. So I needed another body.”
“This is not happening. There has to be a way to reverse it.” He began picking up containers from the table, trying to read the labels through his tear-blurred eyes. “I will not sleep until you are stopped.”
Mother Gothel walked over to the other side of the table. “I will be very mournful over my father’s sudden death. He was so grief stricken over Mother Gothel’s death.”
“Father watch out,” Poppi yelled.
But it was too late, Mother Gothel flung liquid into his eyes that instantly blinded him with pain. He covered his face with his hands as he cried out in agony. The fluid ran down his face, and entered his mouth, and he scratched at his tongue and spit, trying to rid himself of the burning, blistering heat. Then he felt himself being pushed and pushed, and then, ultimately, the feeling of flight hit the pit of his stomach as he fell from the tower.
He opened his eyes. Had it all been a dream? He was standing alone in the tower. But then Mother Gothel, the way she had always been, old and hunched back, appeared, and she was screaming and holding her neck. “Nooo! Look what you did! Look what you did! You stole my body!”
“What?” Riley was lightheaded and heavy at the same time. Being pulled down into the floor but his head felt as if it were being stretch toward the sky.
Mother Gothel came at him, and he put his hands up to stop her. He inhaled a “what the hell” as he beheld small delicate fingers, the nails chipped pink.
He pulled his hands back, staring down at them in disbelief. He looked back up to question Mother Gothel, but she had disappeared.
Poppi appeared in front of him. “That was the same potion Mother Gothel drank before. You must have ingested it.
“No!” Mother Gothel voice came from behind Riley.
“Come now Mother Gothel. All has been set right. I can go now. We can go now.”
“All is not set right! That’s my young beautiful body I’ve been working on for fifty years. That’s mine. Mine.” She appeared in front of him again.
Poppi said, “Thank you, father, for helping me.”
“But I didn’t help. This can’t be happening.” But as he said the words, they sounded like sweet and light as air. Poppi’s voice. He covered his mouth with his hand.
“Don’t worry,” the ghost of his daughter said. “Soon your mind and soul will merge with the body and you can have the childhood you always deserved. The life you deserve.”
And with that, Poppi and Mother Gothel vanished, leaving him all alone.
What had Poppi said? His mind would merge with his body? Then he remembered falling from the tower. He ran and looked out and down the tower’s window. His body was all grotesquely contorted on the ground. It was true; he was dead. But he wasn’t. He was here and thinking and breathing.
He ran over to a mirror, a mirror Mother Gothel had probably used for the same reason.
He stared at Poppi’s face, now his face, licking his ruby lips and pulling his long beautiful blonde hair and wiping the tears from his pretty blue eyes. “It’s not me … but it is me in my daughter’s body. What am I going to do?”
No one was going to believe him. No one would believe this story! They would lock him up. He could never tell anyone what really happened.
He walked down the tower stairs and to his boyhood room in a daze. He picked up his phone and easily found the number. It rang on the other end and was answered with a groggy, “Hello.”
“Mom, it’s me Poppi,” he said softly. “Dad is dead, and I need you.”
They could now be a strange new family.
Poppi was inspired by Brothers Grimm’s Rapunzel from Children’s and Household Tales. Germany: 1812. It is one of the stories from my collection: Supernatural Fairy Tales: fairy tale inspired short stories – available on Kindle and paperback now on Amazon.