The fairy tale is a timeless tale. But we love to update, rearrange, reconfigure the familiar to make it new and more applicable, but the beautiful sometimes horrifying center still quivers, groans and blushes (albeit what we consider to be the “center” shifts with time). Johanna DeBiase proves this with intelligence, humor and creative insight in her Time Upon Once: 3 Tales.
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Time Upon Once: 3 Tales by Johanna DeBiase
“Let down your hair,” and she let it down, just like that. The trellising weight of it bit by bit let loose along the tower wall. Watching the silken filament, color like copper and gold worn on the hand of a fairy queen, I turned my head away slightly from the glare. It continued to fall until I worried I may be buried alive. Too late. I could not leave her then. I wondered how many donkeys it would take to carry those tresses and when it would stop. It stopped. Aware then of its full volume, I wanted to dive in, swim around in the spool cloud, but I had to save my energy for the long journey still ahead. Shimming up her satin strands, I imagined the way we would leave her hair to hang from the window, so that we may be closer, skin to skin. But at the end of the night, enchanted and full, I rolled us up into it like a scroll and slept there in her nest.
When he took his ax to me and split me open, he was surprised to not only to find no wolf within, but to learn that I was reversible. My body fell open and unraveled, collapsed at his feet until he was able to turn me inside out and put me back together. Of course, I don't remember any of it. I must have fallen into a trance, but when I came to, my skin felt taught, my muscles loose. In the mirror, I was young again. And, dare I say, rather beautiful. My eyes were still big, but my teeth and nose were petite like a child. The poor woodsmen just stared, still woozy from the trauma, not sure if I was recovered. I simply smiled, put on my red hood and went home.
Slumber swaddled her in a heavy quilt, grounding her to the canopy bed. In the first few days, her dreams drew from real life, replaying ordinary events with only slight surreal variations. She ate dinner with her family, but the cooked geese, stood to dance, performing for their carnivores. She suckled her nursemaid's breast, but the face attached shifted from mother to father to wicked fairy and to her own grown self. Months later, she dreamed only of the future, the possible outcomes of her life and each path she might incur if she took subtle steps in this or that direction. In one dream, she was queen, in the next, she harvested fields. After years of sleep, she could perfectly manipulate her dreams so that anything might happen. She no longer bothered with the reality she once knew but instead, slid up moonbeams and swam through nebulae. She shifted into fragrance and followed the breeze.
Then, the destined day arrived when she was awoken by one single kiss. At that moment, she was dreaming of snow, something to do with blowing snowflakes like seeds though a fluffy pink jungle and everything went blank. Suddenly, she could feel her body, the bulbous weight of it. Her lashes crusted over so that she had to tug on her lids. The light burned her and she screamed.
His voice grabbed hold of her tightly, “Calm down, princess. I have broken the spell,” but she knew in the few moments upon awakening, before all dreams disappeared to unreachable caverns of her subconscious, that the curse had only just begun.
Lyle Rosdahl, a writer living in San Antonio, edits the flash fiction blog & best of in print for the Current. He created, facilitates and participates in Postcard Fiction Collaborative, a monthly flash fiction response to a photo. You can see more of his work, including photos, paintings and writing, at lylerosdahl.com.
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