Fantasy Contemporary

“Pic! Pic! Poc!” the water droplets were falling from the leaves of the maple tree. Princess Mylana was sitting at the base of the tree against its rough bark, admiring the sounds of rain. And the smells! They were even more overwhelming.

Probably her father’s minions were looking for her now through the palace and the inner courtyard. But she escaped further than that. She had knowledge of a small door in the inner courtyard's wall that led to a dark forest. That portion of the wall was not so well guarded, and she used to come here in the forest's solitude when the pressure of a princess' life was too great for her young shoulders. Well, not so young after all. She will be 21 soon and to her father's despair, she refused already so many good marital alliances.

“My dear daughter, what are you waiting for?” the king used to ask her with a note of annoyance. “To be so withered that only old, fat and destitute men will seek you?”

“Better never married than tied to someone I don’t like, or even loathe,” she was responding.

“You know it well that’s not an option. You have a duty to our kingdom. I don’t have a son, so you must marry and reign this land alongside a man.”

And her father was unyielding when it was about the kingdom’s future. She was also adamant when was about her future.

The rain had stopped, but the smell of the wet grass remained. And also, a mist with the odor of rotten tree bark and moss was rising from the ground. From that mist came toward Mylana, an older woman wearing a green dress and a worn dark blue cape with a hood over that dress.

Mylana rose to her feet, a bit scared by this sudden apparition.

“Well, don’t be so quick to judge me as a threat, dear princess,” the old woman said with a calm voice.

“Who are you? What do you want?” asked Mylana.

“No, the correct question is what do you want?” came the unexpected answer, or better said, the question.

And the woman's blue eyes mesmerized her.

"I want a different life,“ Mylana said abruptly. “I want to live a life where women are not bound to their husbands and the household. I dream of a world where women can study the mysteries of the universe and be as good as men at that. Where a woman may choose not to be married and not be frown up on. And so many other things we don’t have here in our kingdom.”

“Well, consider this your lucky day, because I can give all that,” came the answer.

“Are you a fairy godmother?" Mylana considered fit to ask.

“You can say that,” the woman avoided a straight answer.

“And what is the catch?” the princess pushed. “Nobody makes such a great gift without getting something in return.”

“Ah, we have a smart one here,” mumbled the old witch more to herself.

“Look, I take you to the desired world and in exchange I will put in your place a simple girl with your appearance, who will continue your life here. I am doing this to spare your family the grief for your disappearance. Think about it."

Yeah, right, the princess thought. Probably you need a puppet in a place of power.

“And more important,“ continued the old woman, ”is for you to understand that in the world where you will be transported, you will not be a princess anymore. Just a commoner. Are you willing to sacrifice your royal standing?”

“If everything is as promised, it will not matter if I am a princess or a commoner,” answered Mylana.

“Very good. Come with me,” was all the witch said.

And she led Mylana deeper into the misty forest. The trees rustled menacingly; birds were jumping from the thicket, letting out sharp cries, startling even more the girl.

Am I doing the right thing following this strange woman? What if this is a trap and I will end up dead and never to be found in this damned forest?

Mylana was now torn apart by second thoughts, but something was pushing her forward. So, she continued on this strange journey. After a while, they arrived at a small clearing where a wood cottage was built. Its walls were green from the moss that was spreading everywhere, on the ground, on the tree’s bark…

But the most amazing thing was the contraption she saw near the cottage. It was made from shiny metal and looked like an enormous ring with strange markings from place to place. The ring was floating in the air, close to the ground, being tied with invisible strings by two tall pillars, also shining in the sun that was now warming up the clearing. They stopped in front of the ring.

“Are you ready?” asked the old witch. “Last chance to change your mind.”

Mylana took a few seconds to answer, but her decision was made.

“We are moving on!” she said.

“Very well, “said the old woman. “But first, go inside and change your clothes. You can’t appear like this in the new world.”

Mylana hesitantly obeyed, went to the cottage, opened the door and entered. Here, another surprise was waiting for her. A girl looking just like her was sitting on a worn-out couch. Same slightly tanned complexion that put value on the bright green eyes.

“Welcome,” she said, and stood up. “I am the new Mylana, and you will be the new Maggie,” she added like it was the most natural thing. “Let’s change clothes.”

And she stripped her pants made of a dark blue fabric and following closely her curves. She removed also the cotton made shirt painted with strange art and remained in some white undergarments who barely covered her breasts and mid-section.

Wow, so few items in their fashion, thought Mylana.

For her, the undressing it was a more complex process and she needed help with the loosening of the laces of her elaborate dress. Her undergarments were fluffier, and she was instructed to lose them.

“You can’t have those where you are going,” said the girl Maggie. “I can give you my bra, but I am keeping my panties. It’s not sanitary to borrow them, anyway…”

So, after removing those and her stockings, Mylana was now standing naked in front of this strange girl, her double. She took the so-called bra and then put on the pants and the shirt.

“You can keep your jewelries,” Maggie continued. “If they are not having a great sentimental value, at least you can make some money on them. Because you will need money, believe me. In this new world where you are going, there are also poor and rich. And my family is kind of poor by our standards.”

“So, I am supposed to pretend I am you and stay with your family?” asked Mylana.

“Yes, but don’t worry, you are attending a college far from home, to learn things, you know, and you will see them rarely. Now let’s exchange as much information about each other’s life so we can make this change believable.”

And for the next half an hour they did just that.

 “Why are you doing this?” was all Mylana had left to ask in the end.

“Because I always wanted to be rich, to be important. You know, in our world princesses are really rare.”

“Oh, do you have princesses and kings and queens, also?” asked Mylana with a shadow of disappointment.

“Yeah, but they are most for show. Have not so much power anymore. Still, they are revered by the masses.”

Mylana said little after that and left the cottage and her doppelganger.

When the old witch saw her coming, she pulled out a round stone from her pocket.

She pressed on the stone, and immediately the ring came to life. It spun with an increasing speed. When the markings disappeared because of the high speed, a bright light filled the inside of the ring.

Moments later the light dissipated, and Mylana could see a waving image of a strange world. Castles high as the sky, carriages without horses and lots of people walking all around, all that painted one uncanny image.

“You have to step into the ring to reach the world where all your wishes are true,” said the woman.

“I will,” said Mylana, but a thought stopped her. “You never told me your name.”

“My name is not important, but if you must know it, well, Operrah is my name. But more important is this.”

And she took a satchel from the base of one pillar and gave it to Mylana.

“Inside you will find useful documents and papers that will tell you more about the world you will live in. Read them carefully.”

“I will do so,” said Mylana, and took the satchel. Next, she stepped into the ring.

Mylana was overwhelmed by the sounds, the smells and the terrible agitation around her once she stepped through the ring. She found herself in the midst of a very busy city. She hadn’t seen so many people, not even during the Autumn festivals in her father’s kingdom. In the back of her mind, a repressed longing for her home and family was trying to surface. But she nipped it in the bud. She had to strengthen herself for a new life.

Walking alongside people of different colors with different clothes and postures, she found herself after some time at the entrance of a park. She knew it couldn’t be a wild forest here in the city; all was so neat and manicured. She looked for a more reclusive spot at the foot of a large tree and sat on the grass.

She dug into the satchel she carried with her and pulled out the instructions printed on multiple papers. She felt touched that the witch went to the trouble to print these for her sake. In her former world, the printing was expensive and only the rich could afford to have books.

Reading the pages again and again, she learned about the paper money used here instead of gold coins, about the ID, driver’s license (she will have to learn how to drive a vehicle without animal traction) and also about the classes she (or better said Maggie) attended at the NYU. The address for her dorm room was also there, so she didn’t have to sleep on a bench in this park overnight. She found also a few hundred of dollars there (enough for her to start, the witch was saying).

The biggest surprise she found in those pages was when she learned that although Maggie was a student, since the money was tight, she also had a part-time waitress job.

Indeed, a big fall from me, Mylana thought. From princess to servant.

But she was determined to embrace all the hardships of this new life.

She learned a lot at the university, but most of all she enjoyed the acting classes. She had a beautiful voice and a native talent of performing in front of large masses. So, naturally, she was good at that and her teachers appreciated her. For the most part, she felt the bargain with the old witch was satisfying for her. She was independent, was able to learn new things, and men were not so oppressive with women. Still, they held too much power...

One day when she was cleaning tables at one coffee shop called “Brew Factory” she had a faithful encounter. A party of three men entered and sat at a table in her section, so she presented herself dutifully to take their order.

Gina, her colleague on that shift, an eternal aspiring actress, pulled her aside and whispered, “Girl, you are in luck! The bald guy sitting at table five is Dean Brackwell, a famous tv producer. The bastard denied me a role in a series because I refused his advances.”

“Good thing I don’t want a role in a series, then,” said Maggie (that was now her name and her old name, Mylana, was dissipating slowly from her mind).

Unaware of her aspirations or the lack of them, the producer grabbed her hand when he paid the bill and said, “Honey, you look like a fine actress to me. If you are interested, call me. We are looking for a cute nurse in our new 'Doctors on the move' series." And he placed a card in her palm.

At first, this crass audacity irritated Maggie. But she took the card, anyway. And not long after that, one day when her boss made her life miserable, and she was sick of waiting tables, she used that card and called the producer for an audition. And she didn’t even have to sleep with the guy. It was maybe her royal posture that stopped the producer to ask for more; she will never know. Fact is, she remained a virgin.

The rest was history. Her role as nurse Mallory in the show made her a star.

Maggie was felling downhearted sometimes. She realized now that in this world celebrity was like her royalty status in the old world. So, she felt a bit betrayed. But it was her doing this new fame. She could not blame the witch for that. So, she moved on, trying to cope with the pressure of the stardom.

The second life-changing event happened because of Gina, who now was her manager and close assistant once she put away her dreams of becoming an actress. Strangely, she was really good at this managing business. So, as usual, Gina was pestering Maggie to go out more.

“Girl, this time you can’t shun me,” she said one day. “I just set you up with a nice guy, go at 7 pm at Riddley’s and meet the guy. I am sure you will have a good time.”

Maggie looked daggers at her friend. She hated blind dates.

“Did I mention he’s from Europe? From Scandinavia or something. His name is Harald, but everyone calls him Harry.”

That was indeed something new for Gina’s strings of arranged dates, so Maggie considered it for a minute and decided to give it a chance.

And later that evening, she was glad about that decision. Harry was handsome, sensible, and had a delightful sense of humor. She discovered he had a big flaw, though.

“I have to tell you something,” said Harry at some point taking her hands into his larger, protective ones. “I am a prince. Not a crown prince, that’s my older brother, but I think you should know that if you are going to date me.”

Maggie withdrew her hands like she was burned, stood up and left in a hurry. That left poor Harry totally flabbergasted.

It took many unanswered calls and messages from Harry for Maggie to finally give him an explanation.

“Harry, you are a wonderful guy, but I want nothing to do with a royal house. And I don’t think you will renounce your royal title for me. So, that’s it.”

But Harry’s heart was already a fallen citadel.

“I will renounce everything for you, my dear Maggie,” he said with true eyes.

Of course, the announcement of this royal separation generated a massive media buzz, but eventually the waters settled and the two lived happily ever after.

April 09, 2021 12:12

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RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

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