Once upon a time…
…there was only war. She leapt up in triumph, blood dripped from her sword as she swung it down on the beast’s neck, hacking in a frenzy. She laughed. The taste of blood and sweet revenge urged her on in her manic slaying of the creature that had…
No, no that wasn’t right.
Once there was a girl who…
…who had a monster in her, clawing at the surface every waking moment she…
No! Not that either.
There was once a little girl who…
Tearing the page away and crumpling it into a ball, he threw it over his shoulder to join its growing mass of brethren on the floor. It was dark in the office, the curtains shut to block out the intrusion of the light. He worked by a single lamp, its artificial brightness casting shadows about the room. Shadows were better than ghosts, he supposed.
He licked his dry lips, ignoring his thirst and the beginnings of a headache. When last had he drunk anything? No, that wasn’t important. This was.
On the book shelf behind him, the row of his best sellers stared down mockingly at him. They were not stories like the one he was trying so desperately to write. These were horror retellings of traditional fairy tales. Stories where the wolf ate the girl, the evil queen became the fairest in the land and giants ruled the world below. There were no good endings there.
‘Why can’t you write a happy story?’ a childish voice whined in his ears.
He turned, almost expecting her to be standing behind him, but there were only the shadows and his books. Those books that had taken so many hours. So much time. Why had he wasted so much time?
“I’m trying,” he whispered, pushing the thoughts of wrath and pain away.
A long time ago, in a kingdom far, far away, there lived a girl who…
He got up, reaching for the first book on the shelf, his first novel. The snarling face of an undead Cinderella stared up at him. What had he missed writing this? Her first birthday? Her first word? He couldn’t remember just now.
Opening it, he peered down at the dedication, the only indication he had remembered her at all. Who dedicates a horror book to a baby? He was such an idiot.
He tore the page out and then the next…and the next….and the next. One by one, they fell to the floor like snow until his movements became erratic, gripping handfuls at a time and ripping them out. He grabbed another book, a cannibalistic Gretel greeted him, her brother’s severed head grinning at the reader. This one too joined the flurry of paper on the ground.
“Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” he chanted to himself, almost screaming the words out.
Book, after book, was torn apart, helping him vent his rage in that dark room. He finally collapsed on the floor, exhausted to his bones. The blank pages of his notebook waited for him. He put his head back and closed his eyes.
The world was bright. Sunlight dabbled down through the leaves of the trees in the forest as he road out on his white horse. It had been a long and treacherous journey. He had faced dragons and monsters. He had climbed mountains and ventured deep underground. His adventures had taken him far and wide; he had seen places he couldn’t have dreamed of, but it was worth it. All to get to this point.
He had finally found her.
The princess had been stolen away from them suddenly by a wicked fairy who cast a terrible curse on her. The cure to this curse was almost impossible to find and many times the brave king had come close to giving up hope.
The path led him deep into the forest, past whispering trees and sweet song birds that heralded his coming.
A gilded, glass coffin lay in the centre of a clearing. As he approached, he could see her sweet face through the opaque glass, gently dreaming. He got off his horse and approached, the cure, a magical flower in hand. He stepped forward, his boots sinking into soft moss as the perfumed scent of the forest hit him.
Lifting the lid, he laid the flower, its golden petals gleaming, onto her little chest and waited.
“Darling,” he whispered, “it’s time to wake up.”
Her angelic face, framed in the golden halo of her hair, remained impassive. He bent down, pressing his lips to her cool forehead and feeling his eyes sting.
“Please princess,” he begged, “Please wake up.”
The gilded coffin faded to crisp white sheets, the forest to the stark walls of the hospital room. The sweet smell was the acrid scent of chemicals used to clean the floors and the gentle bird song became the slow beep of the heart monitor.
He sat crouched over her bedside, holding her cold hand in a death grip, eyes red from crying all night. His little girl lay still on the bed, her usually plump cheek sallow and the glow lost from her skin. Her beautiful, golden hair was all gone now and she wore a cap to keep her head warm. She was connected to more wires and tubes than he thought possible for such a tiny human being.
Her eyes remained closed, trapped in her dream world forever.
“Please,” he cried, “Please wake up!”
‘Why can’t you write a happy story, Daddy?’
“Paul? Paul!” the voice was coming to him from far away, slowly dragging him out of the dream, “Honey, wake up!”
His eyes opened blearily. Someone had opened the curtains and window, letting the sunshine leak in. A mess of paper covered the floor and his wife was peering down at him, her gaze worried.
“You need some water,” she said softly, coaxingly, “And some food. Come on, love.”
She tried to pull him up, but he gripped her by the arm, gaze searching. She looked so much like their little princess, with the same golden hair and sweet face. There were bags under her eyes, betraying how tired and sad she was, a mirror of his own face. His heart clenched painfully.
“I said I’d write it,” he mumbled out, it seemed important she know, “I was trying to write a happy story. I promise.”
She leaned forward, wrapping her arms around him and bringing them close together. He shuddered in her arms, letting himself get pulled in by her warmth. Hot tears found their way down his face as he clutched close to her.
“I know,” she soothed, “She’ll really like that.”
Once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away, there lived a little girl…
…who was loved, very, very much.