Rapunzel Inspired Paranormal Short Story
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.