Blood pearled in small, bright beads at the base of her lips, dotting the edges of her mouth and staining her teeth the light color of strawberry jam. There was caution tape wrapped around her wrists. The bold black words against the Big Bird yellow background made her dizzy, but it didn’t matter. She was already sitting down. The chair underneath her was made of brittle peanut butter candy, the kind that you would find at any old grandma’s cabinet store. But this was no quaint shop in the woods. This was not the place you’d bring your children, unless, like a certain stepmother or two, you wanted to rid yourself of them and take all the bread for yourself.
The caution tape alone was enough to ward off any innocent wanderer.
Phinny was not lost. She hadn’t wandered into this place. In fact, she hadn’t even walked into this place. She’d been brought here against her will or, as some might say, her decisions led her here, piece by piece, slice by slice, bite by tiny little bite. If only Jean could see her now, sitting here all tied up like a goose and biting her lips so hard- way too hard- just to keep herself from telling the truth. The guard would be back any minute. He’d have food, maybe, and Phinny needed to start deciding whether this time she would eat it or not. The last time he brought food and it was hard, like rock candy, but tasted too smooth and calm to match the consistency. Looking at that food and then eating it was like cutting open your finger just to find a nest of newborn chickens inside. Jean would have eaten the food, Phinny knew that, but she still couldn’t bring herself to swallow it. Somewhere in her head, she had this idea that if she accepted the food the guard gave her, she’d have to accept the facts of her situation, too.
Footsteps clattered down the hall. Phinny looked up, grateful again that they hadn’t blindfolded her. She could still see. She could see the room she was locked up in, all bare bones and bare floor and bare bare walls except for the peanut brittle chair, her caution taped wrists, the big black boots that she’d kicked off into the corner, and a singular spoon. The guard left it here the last time he came.
If Phinny knew better, she would have guessed he left it there on purpose, as some kind of hint as to how she could escape. She would have done everything she could to get that spoon and then to move closer to the walls if this was a regular occurrence, but it wasn’t. Phinny came from a family that was known throughout the town for their reputation. The Salinknowles had been held as the standard for gold for so long that once, when Phinny was till in high school, she’d been crowned every single kind of queen the student body could come up with.
Winter Fest queen.
Fall Ball queen.
Spring Fling queen.
She used to be royalty, and now she sat, tasting cold pennies in an empty room, her mouth dry with sleep and desperation. Phinny wanted to get out. She wanted to move her hands, her lips, her feet. She wanted to run to Jean’s house and jump in her bed and crawl under the covers and squeeze Bonbon the Stuffed Rabbit until his beady black eyes bugged out of his head. How did she fall so far? When did the sky become a warehouse roof? These were questions that she had the answer to, basically, but the thing was, in order to leave, Phinny would have to talk. She’d have to tell them what they wanted to hear. She couldn’t.
She had her loyalties, her promises, her fidelities to protect. If Phinny told the guard she was ready to talk to his boss, she’d take out the last brick in a very precarious Jenga tower. If that tower fell, it would crush her and everyone she loved, smash them into the gritty pavement of the gritty city and everything would turn fuzzy red, a mess of things out of her control. At least now, this way, the others were safe. At least this way, Phinny could buy them a little more time. The last few days had been, naturally, far from easy, but she’d handled them alright, for the first time being captured and dragged to a warehouse in the middle of nowhere. Despite being scared out of her mind, Phinny could see the benefits of the situation. It would, for one, give her plenty of writing material.
That was one of the reasons she was so dang surprised when she woke up in this chair, her eyes still soggy with sleep and her hands aching, wrapped too tight in something bright and plasticy smelling. Phinny was not exactly leading what you call an exciting life. She wrote stories. They weren’t even her own stories, not really. No, Phinny stole stories from the past to make them into her own, more modern, more twisty literature. She’d started with Little Red Riding Hood, the classic fairy tale of small vs. large, soft vs. sharp, teeth vs. knife. The story she wrote was from the huntsman’s point of view. Everyone loved it.
Before Phinny knew what was happening, her book was flying off the shelves, rocketing into the hands of eager people everywhere. Her fan mail began to stack up, the movie proposals racking in through her mail slot, the deals and managers begging her to write more, more, more. So Phinny, seeing that her dreams had come true, decided to keep going. She did Jack and the Beanstalk, and wrote about how, once Jack got to the top of the beanstalk, he found the Old World, a place that used to be inhabited by, well, the people we know now as ourselves. In essence, her book explored life underground, what might happen if our world as we know it suddenly sunk, leaving few people on the surface. The novel was, again, an instant hit. Phinny’s book tour took her all over the world.
She met Jean in Italy, where the two of them were accidentally scheduled to sit at the same booth. Neither of them cared, and they sat together. By the end of the night, they found they had so much more in common than just writing books. Phinny and Jean were roommates the next year, after Jean finished her tour and settled down in San Francisco. The two of them wrote their next book together. It was a brilliant retelling of a classical fairy tale. Hansel and Gretel, but instead of their stepmother and father sending them out into the woods, the children trick the parents, leaving them stranded in the middle of Siberia with their new baby, left to wander around until they stumble upon an eerie witch’s house. They go inside, only to find a house full of mirrors, one for every shape and size and color. There was a lot of made up symbolism in that book, and Phinny loved it best of all her works. Maybe because she wrote it with Jean. Maybe because it made her the most money of all.
Now, Phinny was not happy with that book at all. She wasn’t pleased with any of her writing, considering that’s what landed her in this place anyway. The day of her newest book release, she was kidnapped. Three people in tight green pants and fancy feathered hats jumped out of a horse drawn carriage and snatched her away in broad daylight. Phinny had kicked and screamed, but to no avail. One pinch of that pixie dust and she was out cold, her hair fanning underneath her head as she lolled underneath the seats of the carriage. When she woke up, her brain was buzzing with questions and her phone wasn’t buzzing at all. It had been broken, hammered to pieces by a man wearing a cowboy hat and crocheted suspenders.
“Sir! She’s awake.” He’d turned to her. “You’re awake.”
“That I am, but who are you? And why am I here?”
The anti-phone repair man shrugged. “I can’t tell you that.”
“It’s above my pay grade.” He kicked the shards of shattered phone. “Sorry.”
After he had gone, a tall person had walked into the room, closing the door behind them and pulling up a chair. Phinny spent the next forty five minutes getting briefed on her captivity. Apparently, the fairy tale creatures got fed up with being used for stories, and they wanted to blame it on someone. Out of the thousands of writers who used them for their stories, they chose Phinny because of her success, her drive, her stamina, her lack of intelligence when it came down to not getting kidnapped. They wanted answers about why she used them, how she learned so much, if she planned on ever repaying them, and most importantly, what kind of shampoo did she use for her hair?
Phinny could never tell them the truth.
Even if it killed her, she would rather die than let them know her secrets.