The Final Goodbye | A Short Story

I wasn’t always like this.

To look at me now you might think all kinds of bad things about me, but I can assure you my beginning hinted nothing at what was to come.

Built on a new curved road with fresh brown dirt and bright pine wood, everything about me said potential. My genesis was unremarkably normal as far as these things go, but it was paired with a sort of frenzied hopefulness for the kind of place you can be proud of. 

The suburban dreamscape of middle-class pioneers.

Plans and potential. 

Hopes and fresh starts.

My walls were painted bright colors and covered in wallpaper with large bold flowers. My rooms overflowed with golden light and fresh air. Every inch in pristine condition—new and welcoming, surrounded by tiny baby plants taking root in the soft soil.

It’s unfair to erase it all as if it didn’t happen, but I see you crying and perhaps you can’t remember. The dark cumulous clouds have blocked out all the light and all you can see is the eye of the storm. 

It’s okay.

I’ll remember for you.

There was a swing set, a dollhouse, and a front-yard wedding. Kids ran through my halls, drew on my walls, and hid in my cupboards. There were bubble baths and birthday parties.

A pot-bellied pig rushed through my screens and a dog died on my doorstep. Doves sang caged inside a back room, while a parakeet flew out the front door. There were guinea pigs and kittens and fish. 

I held you all, but you don’t seem to remember. 

You look and see the end of things and it breaks your heart. You see the way the broken things left unfixed became hazardous and ugly. The holes in the ceiling, the torn mashed carpet with exposed sharp nails, the brown-tinged water stains growing larger each day, and the tangles of weeds pushing through the cracks in the walls.

You try to convince yourself it’s all for the best, but you can’t let go. I see it in the way you touch my textured walls and turn the lights on and off. You take photos of my doorknobs, but you don’t recognize me. 

I don’t either.

Time has jumped ahead, and without someone to protect and sustain the old me, I’ve transformed into a living representation of the sadness I’ve held within me for the last decade.

It hurt to watch it happen. I could do nothing to stop it.

Oh, if I could have stopped it.

I want so much for things to be different, but we both know it’s neither of our faults and it can’t be undone.

Things break and things change.

You use a shovel to remove the garbage piled inside me into black shiny bags, an archeological dig of the past. I see you unearth a few treasures I protected for you, loading them into your van before you turn to say goodbye.

There’s so much we want to say to each other, but we don’t have to.

The love and memories we’ve shared are intact and unbroken.

We get to keep them and we don’t have to say anything.

I watch you take a pair of scissors and fight through the weeds to gather up the last of the spring roses, a fragrant bundle of pinks, yellows, and reds. Breathing them in, you trace the gold house numbers with a shaking finger.

You stand in the middle of the driveway and we stare at each other. I watch you fall off your bike and get a black eye, run across the street to play with your best friend, and kiss your boyfriend beside his car. I see the transformation of us both as if it’s happening in a blink before me.

It’s painfully beautiful.

Crossing your arms across your chest and squaring your feet, you seem unable to move.

I want you to go.

You haven’t lived here in a long time and neither of us is the same as we were. We’ve been looking back through a cloud of time, yearning for something long gone, but it must end.

It already has.

Release me and turn from here.

Go, dear child. 

Don’t look back.

I’ll be okay.

There will be a new future for me and there’s nothing left here for you.


It’s time.

Author’s note: When I read this week’s prompt I was flooded with memories of my childhood home. It felt visceral and raw, a wound not quite healed. I wrote about the experience of letting it go a few years ago, but apparently, I wasn’t done processing my feelings about the loss.

My childhood home wasn’t sold but was foreclosed upon. My brother and mother lived there, both suffering from depression. The house had endured a long-drawn-out decay, breaking bit by bit, and by the end, it was a mere shadow of the place I grew up.

It was something about the final goodbye which brought about the contrasts for me between how it was when I was a child compared to what it had become. I wrote this week’s short story in a rush, a blend of reality and fiction that poured out faster than I could type. It felt cathartic and I cried as I typed the final words. Three years later, I think I’m finally ready to let it go.

Related blog: Home, Broken, Home

Short Story Challenge | Week 7

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story about selling a childhood home. We had to include the words dreamscape, convince, pioneer, genesis, cumulous, jump, mash, condition, erase, and gold.

Write With Us

Prompt: A wild animal loose in the house
Include: pregnant, community, logo, statistics, democracy, honesty, criminal, ankle, orange, comment

My 52-Week Challenge Journey

Through the Glass Windshield | A Short Story

Alice can’t remember being this bored in her life. She flops down on her bed, disturbing a pile of textbooks and papers. Her tutors seem intent on overworking her since her sister left for college as if an increased workload could keep her from her feelings. Alice wishes it could.

Bianca, the fluffy white cat her sister left behind, jumps onto Alice’s stomach and begins kneading her belly with its paws. She should shove the cat off because she’ll get white hair all over her nice blue cardigan and white dress but she doesn’t think it’s fair. Bianca is sad too.

Alice reaches her fingers out in front of her toward the peaked ceiling of her attic bedroom. Her nanny Margaret used to say “adventure lies at your fingertips.” Alice can recall all the times she’s tried to see something beyond her fingertips, laying in the grass staring at the cloudless sky or crawling under one of the large hydrangea bushes and pressing her fingers through the mass of green and purple. To her, adventure seemed far beyond the reach of her fingertips, perhaps hidden behind a veil she couldn’t see.

Her parents haven’t been home in months, traveling for this thing or another, and Alice feels their absence mixing with her sister’s to form a sort of melancholy madness within her. Her feelings are like an underwater volcano rumbling and fuming but hidden under the deep dark water. The bubbles of hot steam would take days to reach the surface.

Bianca pounces on a pencil but lands on a pile of slippery paper. She does a sort of ungraceful pawing in an attempt to get her footing but ends up falling onto the floor. Alice rolls onto her stomach and peers at her. She’s shaking her paws and ignoring Alice as if it was her fault. This sort of thing used to make Alice laugh but instead, she just feels sorry for the cat.

Alice rolls out of bed, straightens her dress, pulls up her white tights, and fixes her pearl necklace so the clasp rests at the back of her neck. Standing at her lone triangular window, she watches the gardeners weeding the flowerbeds along the driveway. She can recall waving to the flowers in the mornings as a child, especially the sunflowers and daisies as they moved their heads to follow the sun. She has the urge to do it again.

Pressing her fingertips into the glass she follows the line they make to the light blue VW Beetle her parents bought her for her sixteenth birthday, a car she’s driven only a handful of times. Alice rarely has anywhere to go. Tutors come to her. She has no friends. There are people who cook for her, clean for her, and shop for her. She traces the round curve of the car with her fingers and makes a bold decision.

She slips on her black ballet flats and pats the now-sleeping Bianca on the head before tiptoeing down the wooden stairs. She’s supposed to be studying and the house staff keeps a close eye on her. She can visualize a detailed report of her activity being compiled and sent to her parents daily and it makes her furious. She’s not something to be managed, and without her sister to distract those thoughts away, she lets them rage inside her. The volcano might be close to erupting.

A wooden rack by the tall front door contains a neat row of silver and brass keys of various sizes and shapes all hung on small black hooks. Alice has no idea what all the keys are for despite asking her parents and the staff numerous times. Her keys, the last in the row, are easy to spot thanks to the keychain her sister sent her; a silly grinning pink striped cat with a curling tail and yellow eyes.

Alice peeks through the stained glass of the front door to see where the gardeners are and smiles at the way the colored glass transforms the tidy lawn, flowerbeds, and trees into a kaleidoscope of topsy-turvy colors and shapes. It feels like magic. She opens the door and senses an opening inside herself; a beginning. She runs to the car before someone can stop her.

She imagines people are chasing her, calling her back to her room and her studies, but when she glances in her rearview mirror she sees nothing of the sort. Her quiet street remains neat and orderly with all the hedges clipped into unnatural shapes, not at all the way they grow in nature. Alice realizes she craves wildness, an undisturbed and disorderly place. She turns from the city and presses her fingers out in front of her-letting her fingertips lead the way.

At first, Alice drives with a hyper-focus on the rules of the road making sure to stay three car lengths from the vehicle in front of her and to stop for a full 10 seconds at each stop sign. She plays no music but listens for sirens or signs of someone following her. As the skyline of the city shrinks and disappears behind her, she keeps imagining she’ll be arrested and incarcerated for breaking a rule-the first time in her life.

When nothing happens, Alice begins to relax. She rolls down the window and lets the wind mess up her perfectly styled blonde hair. It occurs to her, in a rush, she’d left her cell phone and purse upstairs in her room. For a moment it feels like a fatal mistake. She imagines a true-crime podcast trying to make sense of her actions, taking her absence of forethought to be some dire clue. The feeling doesn’t take hold though. The further she drives without incident, the more it changes into a sense of giddy freedom. Nobody can track her and she can do what she wants. It makes her laugh.

Alice finds herself leaving the highway and driving on a series of two-lane roads weaving through a part of town she didn’t know existed. There are tall fields of wild grasses dotted by an occasional horse or cow, long driveways disappearing into clumps of tall trees, dusty tractors cutting deep grooves into the soil, and watery rice fields with long-necked white cranes. It feels reckless and Alice enjoys the feeling. Each turn feels like an unwinding or maybe a winding up.

After going across a series of small one-lane bridges she turns onto a dark strip of road filled with things both wonderful and scary; tall unmanaged weeds with giant thorns, rows of scraggly trees leaning across the road as if trying to touch each other, rusted cars stripped and naked without seats or mirrors, and a heaping pile of junk with a faded yellow mattress set on the top like a dirty garbage throne. 

It’s a bumpy road and it occurs to Alice she doesn’t know how to change a tire. She slows to avoid needing to figure it out when she spots a strange short man standing dressed in an expensive and spotlessly clean white linen suit. He holds a large gold pocket watch in his hand attached to his jacket by an extravagant gleaming chain. Her windows are down, and as she nears him, she can hear him exclaiming in a quick agitated voice.

“I’m late! I’m late! Oh, this isn’t good at all. I’m so late and I do have such an important date. Oh me, oh my! I’m late.”

Alice stops the car beside the man, aware this isn’t something she should do. Vaguely she recalls the words “stranger danger,” but dismisses it because he looks familiar. He has small watery eyes and hops from foot to foot.

“Are you alright?” Alice calls.

The man jumps, quite high considering his large belly, and then peers into the passenger window at Alice. She notices this close up he’s got a small thin mustache and rather large ears. The buttons on his jacket are gold faces, all slightly different expressions, but all with large bulbous noses. The man looks at his watch and then back at her several times before speaking.

“I’m so late! I’m so very very late!”

“Would you like a ride?” Alice asks.

She’s shocked at her boldness and marvels at how different being impulsive feels. The man looks from the watch to her and back again. He smiles at Alice and she wishes she could remember where she knows him from, perhaps he’s a friend of her father.

“I’m late! I’m so very late!” he says. “I wouldn’t dream of imposing, but if you really don’t mind…”

He’d given her a chance to change her mind, but Alice unlocks the door and smiles at him. She’s being a good citizen. This man is harmless and…he’s late!

He slides into the passenger seat bringing with him the unmistakable smell of flowers. He opens and shuts his pocket watch several times before erupting into a series of sneezes, each a bit larger than the last. He pulls out a white handkerchief covered in tiny red roses from his jacket pocket and loudly blows his nose.

“Are you okay?” Alice says.

The man sneezes again, and it’s such an exuberant thing it makes Alice giggle. She covers her mouth to stifle the sound, afraid to hurt his feelings. He opens and closes his watch, blows his nose several more times, and then stares at Alice.

“Do you have a cat?” he says.

Alice nods.

“I’m allergic,” he says and sneezes a few more times.

Alice wishes she’d not let Bianca climb all over her, but the man gives her another smile and his cheeks flush a light pink.

“I’m late,” he says, flipping the watch open again.

“Where should I take you?”

“That way,” he says.

He points straight ahead and Alice begins driving slowly on the uneven road, avoiding holes in the ground and the odd pieces of garbage. She wants to speak to the man more, but he seems rather absorbed in looking at his watch, sneezing, and mumbling to himself.

“I’m late. Oh, dear. This will not do. I’m so late.”

“What are you late for?” Alice asks, unable to contain her curiosity.

The man doesn’t respond, and she thinks it would be rude to ask a second time. 

The road takes a sharp turn to the left followed by two more sharp turns to the left. Alice knows, logically, it should lead back to the place they started, but it does not. The road has become wide, smooth, and lined by tall hedges cut the exact same height and width. They drive through a pair of golden gates toward an impressively large mansion surrounded by gigantic rose bushes.

Alice pulls into a valet loop stopping directly in front of the house. Two men rush past her car with buckets of red paint and she swears they look oddly square. Without a word, her passenger jumps from the car, straightens his suit, and runs toward a gathering of people in the gardens to the left of the house. Alice can make out red banners, red carpets, and people dressed in fancy clothes. She calls after the man, but he doesn’t hear her. A long black car appears in her rearview mirror and honks impatiently for her to move.

Alice wonders about the party and why the man was so worried about being late. Perhaps he’s supposed to officiate a wedding or give out an award. Alice doesn’t like not knowing things. She plans to circle back to get some answers, but once she’s pulled away from the house the road narrows and narrows until it’s barely wide enough for her small car to pass. 

Without the ability to turn around, she’s forced to continue as the one-lane road winds around and around and up and up. It’s dizzying how high she climbs and how cold the air becomes. Alice rolls up her windows as patches of snow appear beside the car. Tall pine trees form a barrier along the road and she can’t see anything past them. She fears the twisting road will go on forever, but it doesn’t.

Without warning the road stops at an enormous white wall stretching left and right as far as she can see. Alice rubs her eyes. She climbed a snowy mountain to arrive at the base of a wall with no snow in sight. How curious!

There’s a zapping electrical sound in the air and Alice rolls down her window to search for the source. She’s amazed at how warm the air has become. A tall thin man dressed in colorful clothing, layers, and layers of it, leans against the wall. He has a cloud of smoke in front of him, and as she watches, he breaks into an interpretive dance. The smoke changes color from white to blue as he moves in a fluid circular motion, his long arms and legs making graceful arches around him.

Alice can’t take her eyes off him and, as if she’d willed it to happen, he moves toward her car. He arrives at the driver’s window in a flurry of colorful smoke. He has one green eye and one blue. The smell of patchouli, sage, and clove fills her car and makes her dizzy. He gives her a relaxed smile she recognizes but can’t remember why.

“Who are you, man?” he asks.

He says it slowly, drawing out each word, and it makes Alice giggle. He spins in a circle, and a blur of colorful silks floats around him like smoke. He smiles again, leaning so close his blue stone pendant necklace touches her arm.

“Who are you, man? Like, where did you come from?”

“I’m Alice. I came up the mountain. I mean I came down the mountain. Actually, I’m not sure.”

“Whoa, that’s trippy man. Did you go up or did you go down?”

“I don’t know.”

“Far out, man.”

Alice watches him as he begins to dance again, spinning and spinning until she worries he may fall down. He doesn’t. He pulls out a small wooden pipe and fills her car with green smoke smelling of pine needles. Alice swears it circles around him like a wreath, the old line from “Twas the Night Before Christmas” ringing in her head. He gives her a dimpled smile.

“Where are you going, Alice?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then how can you go there? I mean, how can you go somewhere you don’t know, man?”

“I don’t know.”

Alice feels confused. The man pulls out a dark brown bottle from a hidden pocket in his clothing and dumps two pills onto his dirty palm, one red and one blue. He holds them out for Alice to examine.

“One pill makes you larger. Like, real big, man. The biggest you can imagine being. You might not stop either, getting bigger and bigger and bigger.”

Alice nods but has no idea what he’s talking about.

“One pill makes you smaller. Like tiny, man. Like so small you can hide in plain sight and nobody can touch you. So so small.”

It occurs to Alice he’s some kind of drug addict and maybe these are experimental drugs or pills he created. He holds the pills out to her as an offering, but she shakes her head no. He swallows both pills without water. He giggles and Alice does too. There’s a sort of mania about him, but it doesn’t feel dangerous. It feels electric.

Suddenly, a purple smoke smelling of lavender fills the car and it makes Alice feel a bit sleepy. The man begins dancing again and, as Alice watches, he appears to become bigger and smaller over and over. The wall behind him appears to grow and shrink as well. Alice rubs her eyes and realizes she might be drugged by the smoke. It’s an unsettling feeling, but it has made her too relaxed to fully care.

With a flourish, and returning to his regular size, he climbs into the passenger seat and shuts the door behind him. He points at the wall, a flurry of silver bracelets slipping up and down his arm.

“You want to go through, man? Break on through to the other side?”

Alice nods.

“You need to use the interface, man. You gotta like tell it to let you pass.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He points a long finger at the wall. His nails are painted purple and there’s a large butterfly ring on his thumb.

“Tell it, man. Tell the wall you want to go through.”

Alice leans out her window and faces the wall. She feels foolish.

“Can you let me pass, please?”

The man laughs and touches her hand. A spark of electric energy passes between them; a shock. His eyes blaze brightly.

“No, man. You got to tell it, not ask it. Tell it!”

Alice hasn’t had the occasion to demand anything in her life, so it feels awkward. He squeezes her hand reassuringly, and she feels another shock. She leans out the window toward the looming white wall and shouts with all her might.

“I demand you let me pass! Now!”

It works! The wall opens wide enough for the small blue car to pass through onto a wide-open countryside with rolling green hills in all directions. The sun shines overhead in a clear blue sky, and the man blows out a yellow smoke smelling of honeysuckles and springtime. He looks at Alice through the haze.

“Who are you, man?”

“Alice. I told you, remember?”

“Yeah, but like, what’s an Alice?”

Alice can’t think of what to say. It’s a strange question, one she hasn’t considered before, and she’s about to ask him who he is when he opens the door and rolls out of the car. Alice slams on the brakes, but he’s on his feet skipping up a small hill covered in daisies waving madly in a flurry of color and movement. Alice waves back until he disappears from view.

For a long time, Alice drives in silence pondering the strange man’s question; what’s an Alice? She’s defined herself by the roles she plays; the little sister, the dutiful daughter, and the student. Alice must be more though, right? She can’t simply be a thing to other people.

Last summer her sister took a course in philosophy and she’d become dull and full of unanswerable questions. Alice can recall her talking about reality and consciousness until she’d talked herself into a frenzy and cried herself to sleep. Alice feels close to the same feeling now.

The road takes a sharp right turn, and then another, and then a third. Alice finds she’s left the countryside behind and she’s passing a large hospital with rows of reflective windows reaching high into the sky. Straining to see the top, she doesn’t see a man crossing the road until she’s upon him. She slams on her brakes and stops less than an inch from his legs.

“Sorry!” Alice calls. “Are you okay?”

The man gives her a crooked smile and laughs with a small snort. He’s got a bulging brown leather bag draped across his chest and is carrying a large misshapen birthday cake on a plate with bright pink frosting. He rushes to her car window and leans in.

“Oh, it’s you!” he says.

He’s wearing dark black eyeliner accentuating murky blue eyes with tiny black pupils. Curly reddish hair peeks out from under a large black top hat with colorful patches. Dressed in purple pants with a maroon jacket, he bows slightly and Alice feels the spark of familiarity she’s been feeling all day. Curiouser and curiouser! 

“Do I know you?” she asks.

“Does a butcher know a baker or a candlestick maker? Does a sailor know a ship in the deep blue sea? Does a turtle know the sand it’s hatched into?”

“I suppose.”

“Suppose or supposed?”

“I don’t know.”

The man moves to the passenger side of the car and climbs in, bringing with him the sugary sweet smell of cake and frosting. The familiar pang of worry hits her stomach for a moment. She doesn’t know this man, for sure, but she dismisses it and realizes it has become easier and easier to do so.

The man unstraps the leather bag and lets it fall to the floor with a clattering of glass. He balances the cake on his knees and Alice can see “Very Merry Unbirthday” written in blue frosting across the top.


“Why, yes. Don’t mind if I do.”

While Alice resumes driving, the man retrieves from his bag a beaker of pale pink liquid and a white teacup with a matching saucer covered in tiny red hearts. Holding both above the cake, he pours the liquid from the beaker into his teacup splashing several drops onto the cake. He returns the beaker to his bag and sips his tea loudly.

Alice doesn’t want to make the mistakes she’d made with her other passengers today in her efforts to be polite. She’d like some answers. Perhaps it was yelling at the wall, but she feels braver and begins questioning the smiling man as he sips his pink tea, firing off one question after another.

“What is your name?”

“The Mad Hatter or Matt Hatter, or some call me Simply Mad or Raving Mad. I prefer Hatter or Hattie, but I do answer to all.”

He attempts to tip his hat to Alice and more of the pink tea drips onto the cake.

“Do you know a man who wears a white suit?”

“White suit, White suit, have you any wool? Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.”

“Do you know the colorful man with the smoke?”

“Oh, yes I know the smokey man, the smokey man, the smokey man. Oh, yes, I know the smokey man that lives on Drury Lane.”

The Hatter removes a small brown Dormouse from the front pocket of his jacket and sets it on the tea saucer. The sleeping thing wakes, puts its paws on the lip of the cup, and takes a long drink.

“Who is that?”

“Why he’s the cheese to my sandwich and the peanut butter to my jelly is all.”

The Hatter puts his ear down toward the Dormouse and nods as if the tiny thing is speaking to him.

“The Dormouse would like me to thank you for the ride. He’s quite fond of car rides and its been ever so long since we’ve had one.”

“Tell him he’s welcome.”

“Tell him yourself.”

The Hatter holds the Dormouse up toward Alice’s face and it blinks at her with small black eyes.

“You are welcome,” she says.

The Dormouse curls up into a ball in the palm of the Hatter and falls asleep.

“You must defer to me for all further inquiries,” the Hatter says.

He lurches forward with no warning and points excitedly out the window. The cake slides with him creating a trail of frosting on the door and on the sleeve of his shirt. Alice follows where he’s pointing.

“The hospital?” she asks.

“Yes, yes. I must go there,” the Hatter says. “The very merry unbirthday of my friend must take place today, for he might not have another one for a long time, poor fellow.”

“I’m sorry,” Alice says. “Didn’t we come from there?”

“Who can say where we come from? The land? The sea? The lollipop tree?”

Alice feels exhausted but turns the car around. Within a few minutes, they arrive at the place they started, but when she stops the car the Hatter begins to cry.

“Whatever is the matter?”

“Whatever is the Hatter you mean?”

“Why are you crying?”

“I’ve only just remembered that my friend, the March Hare, isn’t here because it’s April and that’s why you hit me with your car.”

Alice doesn’t know what to say so she drives away from the hospital. The Hatter pulls another beaker from his bag of a brownish liquid, pours it into his teacup, and drinks it down in one gulp.

“There!” he says.

He points to a park with a large pond and Alice pulls over. She recognizes this place and it feels comforting to be somewhere she’s been before. Her nanny Margret took her and her sister to this park each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon for three hours-the happiest times of her childhood. The slides, swings, and sandbox look the same as she remembers. The Hatter jumps out of the car and Alice follows him. He sets down the cake and pulls a patchwork quilt from his bag and spreads it on the ground near a wide Willow tree.

Alice smooths out her dress and straightens her legs in front of her. She’s had quite an adventure! She imagines this must be what it feels like to visit old friends. Perhaps she has! She wants to ask the Hatter about it but is afraid it would break the spell and the happiness she feels.

“It’s time,” the Hatter says.

Sixteen white candles pop and sizzle on the top of the lopsided cake. The Dormouse peers at Alice from the brim of the black top hat and she’s certain he winks at her. Without warning the Hatter sings to Alice with an exuberance she can’t recall anyone ever showing her before. It brings tears to her eyes.

“A very merry unbirthday
To me?
To you
A very merry unbirthday
For me?
For you
Now blow the candle out, my dear
And make your wish come true
A very merry unbirthday to you.”

Alice blows out the candles. The Hatter pulls plates, forks, and a serving knife from his bag and cuts them each a thick slice of the cake. Alice eats it while staring at the ducks in the pond. There are two young girls holding hands by the edge of the water, the smallest leans in and whispers to the larger one. Alice knows this moment, a secret between sisters, and it’s sweeter than the cake.

Alice, the Hatter, and the Dormouse watch the sun change the sky to orange, yellow, and purple before plopping down at the edge of the horizon like a fat orange ball. The Dormouse yawns and the Hatter slips him into his pocket, giving Alice a smile she feels reaches every part of her.

Laying down on the blanket Alice raises her hands toward the sky and watches the faint light as it dims and goes out at her fingertips.

Author’s note: When I read the prompt my first thought was to continue my theme from last week and write about a woman picking up her grandmother as a teenager on the road and hearing her story-a nod to Field of Dreams. This idea felt overdone and I went through a list of other ideas; aliens, angels, demons, ghosts (Large Marge!), killers, and a person from the future. I ticked each off as not feeling right until I came up with the idea of setting the story with characters from one of my favorite childhood books. I’ve always been attracted to the story of Alice in Wonderland and wondered what it might be like for Alice to revisit her friends at a time in her life she might need a little adventure. This was wicked fun to write, and although I’m certain I didn’t get the characters quite right, I hope you enjoyed it. Stay curious!

Short Story Challenge | Week 6

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story about picking up a hitchhiker. We had to include the words hospital, defer, interface, experiment, beaker, visualize, mattress, skyline, interpret, and zap.

Read Anna’s Week 6: The Hitchhiker

Write With Us

Prompt: Selling a childhood home
Include: dreamscape, convince, pioneer, genesis, cumulous, jump, mash, condition, erase, gold

The Mad Hatter by Lola White

My 52-Week Challenge Journey

The Unbirthday Song (Alice in Wonderland) lyrics © Walt Disney Music Co. Ltd., Walt Disney Music Company, Wonderland Music Company Inc.

The Family Tree | A Short Story

Elowen waits for her daughter to return home from school, aware of the absurdity of her life. She deserves none of it, and the fear it will disappear at any moment feels terrifyingly close at all times.

She stares toward her bedroom as if she can see the mirror tucked away in the back of the closet wrapped in layers of thick wool or the book hidden under the floorboards. Her reality and the truth run parallel to each other, but she knows they will intersect. It’s simply a matter of time

Her patient husband, Gabriel, broke through her barriers four years ago when he delivered a crate of canvases to the apartment she hasn’t left in ten years. When she told him her truth, leaking it out bit by bit until it laid before him in a pile, he didn’t run. He stepped into her world, he accepted her, and he made her believe she deserved love.

The early years with her daughter were her favorite because she didn’t leave her side. She was a delightful, sweet-smelling flower of a baby with plump rosy skin and bright curious eyes. She filled the apartment with a kind of frenzied happiness neither she nor Gabriel could have imagined.

As she grew, her curiosity and energy felt too big for the space and Gabriel would take her to the park, the zoo, the library and to see Elowen’s artwork in galleries all over New York. Elowen would pace the floor each time they left, certain they would not return. When they did, she’d scoop her daughter into her arms and kiss her face.

“Tell me everything!” she would say.

Viola became an excellent reporter and storyteller. She’d bring her mother little gifts of snow globes, picked flowers, or pretty rocks. Elowen would put them on the bookshelf and they’d sit as reminders of an outside world she wasn’t a part of and dread the day it might be the same for her daughter.

Finally, the time came for Viola to attend kindergarten. She stood in a yellow-spotted dress, her hair in two long braids tied with yellow ribbons, and her pudgy hands on her hips. She stared at her mother with a mix of curiosity and fear.

“Why do I have to go and you don’t?”

“Because you can.”

“It’s not fair.”

“I know but I need you to go learn things and teach me.”

Viola did. She would come home and curl up in her mother’s lap. Elowen would run her fingers through her daughter’s soft brown hair, and she’d tell her all about her day. Elowen would help her with homework, art projects, and studying for tests. She’d run lines with her for her many theatrical endeavors, and Elowen would do her stage makeup, tell her to break a leg, and then cry when she left. At home, Viola had one life, but in the world, she had another. Elowen wished she could be in both.

The front door opens and Viola comes in with her backpack bulging full of homework. Elowen knows not to run to her anymore, so she sits at the table with a plate of fresh-baked cookies waiting for her daughter to tell her about her day. She looks at her soft freckled skin and the changes in her body, impossible to ignore, and tries not to cry.

The truth casts a shadow across the kitchen and Elowen can feel it pressing around her, growing larger and more terrible each moment. Viola dunks her cookie in a glass of milk, and Elowen prays she will forgive her.


Viola didn’t tell her parents about the party. She feels bad, but they gave her no choice. Since her 13th birthday last week, her mother’s anxiety has become overbearing. She texts Viola constantly, refuses to let her attend the botany class trip, and keeps sniffing her. 

“Your mother does not sniff you,” Elle said.

Her best friend since the first grade, Elle knows about her mother. When they were ten, they found ‘agoraphobic’ in a book at the library, a word Viola overheard a parent calling her mother when she didn’t come to the class play. Her mother said the label didn’t fit and to ignore hurtful people. Viola tries, but her mother always made it difficult.

“She does sniff me!” Viola says. “I swear!”

“Oh, Viola. Really! It’s too much.”

“I know, but it’s true!”

Her father used to balance her mother out, but lately, he’s become just as bad as she is. Elle says it’s because she has boobs now, which Viola finds disgusting and possibly true. She’s caught both her parents staring at her, and they make these annoying sad faces. Viola’s had enough.

“I swear they think I’m going to sprout into a teenage monster any second!”

The entire walk to the party Viola can’t believe she snuck out. She’s never broken a rule before and she feels bad about it, but not attending this party wasn’t an option. Beverley, the coolest girl in school, invited her. It’s a cast party for an off-Broadway play her older brother stars in. There will be all kinds of opportunities for Viola to meet agents, and maybe get discovered. This could be her big social and professional break.

The party’s on the rooftop of the Baldwin Terrace Hotel. Viola walks past the doormen in royal blue suits and through a lobby with the largest flower arrangements she’s ever seen. She takes a gold elevator to the roof and a bald man with bulging arm muscles finds her name on a guest list and lets her in. The roof’s filled with people of all ages dressed in fancy suits and skimpy dresses, and she immediately feels self-conscious in the green dress her mother made her for Christmas and her brown Mary Jane wedges.

It takes several minutes to locate Beverly, but Viola finds her standing in a group of guys near the bar. She’s wearing a black silky dress that shows a lot of skin, fishnet stockings, and red pointed high heels. The boys are looking down at Beverly’s dress, and nobody looks at Viola when she approaches.

“Hi,” Viola says. “Pretty awesome party.”

Beverly smiles but gives her a pained look. She must have said the wrong thing, a breach of party etiquette, and the boys in the circle walk away. For a few minutes, the girls stand side-by-side watching a jazz band dressed in matching burgundy suits play a soft depressing song. Viola doesn’t know what to say, and before she figures it out, a guy slips his arm around Beverly’s waist. He’s dressed all in black with round glasses, puffy black hair, and a neatly trimmed beard.

“You got a battery in that little purse of yours?”

He wiggles his vape pen in front of her and makes a pouty face. She giggles wildly and it makes Viola want to punch her, or him, or both.

“No, but I bet Jon does.”

They walk away and Viola doesn’t follow. A waiter hands her a tall glass of champagne and it smells terrible. She wishes it was soda. She watches people for a long time, tracking Beverly as she and the guy move around the party. He kisses her neck, touches her thigh, and eventually leads her away from the party toward the elevator, his hand slipping from her waist to her butt.

Viola’s seen enough to know this isn’t her kind of party, and she’s not ready for any of this. She weaves past couples making out on grey sofas and around tight groups leaning close together laughing or sucking on colorful vape pens. She gets a whiff of fake strawberries.

Behind the bar, there’s a brick wall with a narrow passage on the right side. Viola scoots through it and finds it opens onto a large garden with tiny white lights strung across on black wires. The sounds of the party are muted here, and Viola decides to walk through the garden to see if there’s another exit on the other side.

A grey paved stone path weaves between large square garden boxes of light wood, each filled with vegetables, fruit trees, or flowers. Viola takes a few steps into the garden and stops at a bush filled with blooming pink camellias, her favorite. She runs her fingers over the soft petals, around and around, and then plunges her finger into the center. The flower jerks to the side, as if hurt, and Viola jumps back, the glass of champagne falling from her hand and shattering against the wooden side of the planter box.

She hears a deep, guttural scream as if someone has been hurt. She scans the building, looking for the source of the sound and sees nothing. She remembers a movie where a shooter was hidden on the roof of a building and she ducks down onto the ground beside a carrot patch until she can be sure she’s safe.

After a few quiet minutes, she assures herself it must have been the wind. The dirt beside her smells so good, and for the first time in her life, she feels the urge to put her hands into the soil. She digs her fingers into the dirt and impulsively pulls up a fat carrot. It dangles in front of her.

“Hi,” it says.

There’s no mouth, but she’s certain the carrot spoke. Shocked, she throws it on the ground and stands up.

“Hello?” she calls.

All around her she hears the sounds of voices, some muffled, but others high and sweet. The voices call greetings or sing songs. She can’t see anyone, and her heart begins to beat wildly. She looks down and finds her hands are covered in a green powder. She tries to brush it off, but it appears to be seeping into her skin.

“It’s okay.”

The voice sounds deep and close by, but there’s nobody around. The green powder has turned her hands and arms the color of kale, a deep rich green color. Her body vibrates; alive, tingly, and bursting with energy. She runs in place, the feeling of power surging from her head to her toes.

“What in the hell?”

This voice sounds different, angry, and fearful. Viola spins around and finds a waiter, a teenager with pimply skin and messy blonde hair, staring at her with wide eyes. He gasps and starts running. She quickly follows him through the garden and hears a chorus of voices calling to her, singing to her, begging her to stay. The plants lean toward her, aching to touch her. The waiter runs through a metal door and it slams shut behind him.

She runs in place again but notices her reflection on the metal door. It’s distorted, but there’s no mistaking the newly deep green color of her face and the tangled mess of thorny vines in her hair. The voices from the garden call to her, she can feel them growing and moving, but she doesn’t want to. She wants to go home.

Throwing open the unlocked stairwell door, she sprints down the forty flights of stairs, through the crowded lobby, and onto the street. Nobody seems to notice her, as she runs all the way to her apartment building, leaping the stairs to the fourteenth floor. She pounds on the apartment door until her father answers. His eyes go wide, but he says nothing. Her mother screams and falls to the floor. Viola stumbles past them and collapses on her bed.


Viola wishes she could be anywhere but here. She’s sitting across from her parents at the kitchen table, all of them staring at the crumbly mess of a half-eaten croissant. Her dad has his arm around her mother and she’s nervously picking at the skin around her left thumb.

“Viola,” her dad says. “You know things are weird right now.”

She does. Something happened to Viola at the party. She remembers bits and pieces, flashes of impossible things, strange voices, and waking to find her sheets covered in dead leaves. Her parents have tip-toed around her, and they stop their whispered conversations when she enters the room. Her father, an engineer with several big projects in the works, took time off and hasn’t left her mother’s side.

Viola wishes she’d get punished for sneaking out, but her parents haven’t mentioned the night at all. Her mother barely leaves her bed, and she won’t look at Viola. She cries easily and hasn’t touched her paints or canvases since the party. It’s a week later, and it occurs to Viola that maybe it’s not about her at all. Maybe her mother is sick.

Her father’s arm around her mother looks protective and the silence in the room feels big. Viola wraps her legs around her chair and rocks it back and forth making a small thumping sound. She doesn’t want to face grown-up things. She has a sudden urge to run into her room and grab her favorite stuffed rabbit, Bun-Bun. Her thumb aches to be sucked, a habit she stopped long ago but never stopped longing for.

“It’s okay,” her father says.

Viola’s not sure if she’s supposed to speak, and looks at her mother. She expects to see tears in her green eyes or for her to look away, but she meets Viola’s gaze without blinking. There’s a fat drop of blood where her mother picked the skin off her thumb and her father covers it with his large tanned hand.

“This isn’t easy for us to tell you,” he says. 

“She’s not ready,” her mother says.

Her father squeezes her mother’s hand in his. There’s a conversation in the looks they exchange, and he kisses her forehead. They return their attention to Viola and her stomach drops. Her mother reaches under the table and pulls out a package wrapped in brown paper and tied with a faded yellow ribbon. She sets it in front of her.

“Open it,” she says.

Viola hesitates for a moment, unsure if she wants to see what’s inside the wrapping. Her parents give her encouraging nods, and she pulls one side of the velvety soft ribbon. The bow unties and falls from the package. She rubs it on her face for a moment. It smells flowery, sweet, and familiar. Her parents watch in silence as she pulls the wrapping off and reveals a thin brown book.

She turns it over and gasps at the cover. It’s a comic book with her face on it. Not the face she’s had her entire life, but the green face she’d glimpsed for a moment in the silver reflection of the door. With a shiver, she remembers the plants calling to her and the thorns in her hair.

“The Family Tree,” it says in curling white letters. It’s her mother’s artwork and her mother’s name on the bottom. She flips it open and begins to read.


“Once upon a time, there was a farm.”

The first pages show overflowing and colorful flower beds, neat rows of vegetables, a leaning red barn, a small yellow house with peeling paint, and a wraparound porch. There are three black-and-white cows, dozens of chickens, and two sheep. 

“A family of three lived on the farm.”

The mother and her two young daughters have matching soft brown hair, green eyes, and an abundance of freckles. They look like Viola. In the pictures, they pull weeds, milk the cows, and drink glasses of tea on the porch. Written in beautiful cursive letters down their legs are their names; Oleander the mother, Jessamine the oldest, and Elowen the youngest.

“One day something strange happened.”

The girls and their mother pull weeds in a large field. They wear matching blue overalls and wide tan sun hats with angelic smiles and round pink cheeks. As they work, a green fog descends from the mountainside and swallows the small family. When the fog lifts, the mother stands transformed with her hands on her hips. The two young girls cry with surprise at her green skin and wild hair of thorny vines. Her legs, arms, and neck have stretched and she looks tall, thin, and wispy.

“What happened to you?” Jessamine says.

“I don’t like it,” Elowen says.

The mother says nothing, and the girls begin to cry. The mother turns and runs. She runs for a long time, frame after frame, the vines trailing behind her. The girls go into the house and hide in the closet holding each other. They sleep on the floor.

The sun rises in the sky and the mother opens the door. She has turned back to normal and the girls rush into her arms. The mother looks surprised.

“What’s this all about?” the mother says.

“You were a monster,” Elowen says.

The mother didn’t remember anything from the night before, but her daughters told her the story. She laughed and called it a bad dream. The girls wanted to believe her.

“But it wasn’t a dream.”

The three are picking apples and the mother changes again. She doesn’t run this time but turns to her girls who cower and hug one another.

“What’s wrong?” the mother says.

“You are a monster!” both girls say.

The mother goes into the house and stands in front of an old-fashioned upright mirror of tarnished silver. Her green reflection substantiates the story her girls told her. As she stares, frame after frame, we see a man appear behind her. He’s wearing a long black jacket and black shoes. He appears to be stretched tall like a fun-house mirror. 

“Who’s there?” the mother says.

She spins around and the man isn’t there, but in the next frame he’s back in the mirror behind her. He’s closer now and we can see he has long black hair, shiny and wet looking. His eyes are green, the color of fresh leaves when the sun hits them.

“Who are you?”

“A friend.”

“What do you want?”


The man puts his hand around her neck, but she lashes out at him with vines from her body and runs from the room. The girls are waiting outside and she smiles at them. 

The mother doesn’t tell the girls about the man. She does tell them not to be scared and they listen.

In the next picture, the girls are working in the garden beside their green mother, who moves faster and can lift things she couldn’t before. The garden and flowers grow tall, and the girls hold giant carrots in their hands with wide proud smiles. 

On the next page, it’s night and the mother wraps the mirror in a thick wool blanket and places it in the back of the barn. She stands in the moonlight with her hands on her hips, her body half green and half pink, mid-transformation.

“Time moved on.”

The mother holds hands with her girls and watches the sunset, the words “wild green mother” are written across her green naked back. 

Frame after frame, the girls get older and older.

The bright yellow kitchen is filled with balloons and streamers of pink and purple. A strawberry cake with 13 written in pink frosting sits on the table with glowing orange candles. Jessamine blows them out, her face less and her body more round.

“Then another strange thing happened on the farm.”

We see the older sister working in the garden, in one frame she’s smiling with freckled pink skin, and in the next she’s transformed. Her body stretched, green, and covered in vines. Her mother holds her hand and they smile together. The younger sister watches, curling up in a ball in one frame and moving to the barn to snuggle beside a sleeping sheep in the next.

“Hello? Hello? Is someone there?”

The little sister hears a voice from the far corner of the barn and follows it. She finds the mirror and unwraps it. The man stands behind her smiling. The girl’s eyes are wide. She turns around and the man isn’t there. She turns back and he’s closer now.

“Who are you?”

“A friend of your mother. Come closer.”

The girl does. He’s behind her, reaching out and touching the mirror, the palm of his large hand pressing into the glass. The girl steps forward and presses her small hand into the glass. 

He grabs her hand.

“Ouch!” she says.


“Why? You are hurting me.”

“I don’t mean to hurt you, but I’m trapped in here. If you free me your mother will be happy and I will be too. You only have to pull. It won’t hurt anymore. I promise.”

The girl does, and the man tumbles from the mirror in a tangle of long arms and legs. In the next frame, he straightens and brushes the dirt from his jacket and pants.

“Thank you,” he says.

He hits the small girl in her head with his fist and she falls to the ground. He kicks hay over her body.

The mother and older daughter are working in the garden smiling, both green and strong. The man stalks them in the shadows of the trees until he reaches them and pounces. There are several pages of the fight, the mother/daughter duo using their vines and long bodies to fight off his attacks, but he has black whips and he strikes them over and over.

He’s able to wrap up the mother and pull her to the ground. The daughter tries to help, and he knocks her in the head with his fist. He drags the two green figures by the vines of their hair across the field and back to the mirror. He’s smiling. The younger sister wakes as he pulls them through the mirror and disappears.

“No!” she screams.

She bangs on the mirror, tears filling her big eyes, but there’s no sign of the man, her mother, or her sister.

On the last page, we see a grown Elowen standing at the window of an apartment building with the New York skyline in front of her. The mirror sits in the corner reflecting the image back to her.


Viola closes the comic book and finds her father smiling at her with tears in his eyes. He grabs her hand and squeezes it. She looks at one of her mother’s paintings on the wall behind him. It’s of a yellow farmhouse kitchen with a wooden bowl of fresh-picked carrots sitting next to a sink of chipped white porcelain. There’s a lot Viola didn’t understand until this moment.

“Where’s mom?” she says.

“In the bedroom,” he says. “She’s waiting for you.”

Viola stands and finds herself a bit wobbly. She wants to ask her mother a lot of questions, but first, she wants to hug her. The years of feeling embarrassed and angry at her mother melt into shame and sadness. She runs down the hallway.

Her mother stands looking out the window, her hands folded behind her back. Viola begins to cry, rushing to her and hugging her tight before she turns around.

“I’m sorry mom,” she says into her back.

“No,” her mom says.

She turns Viola around and puts her hands on her daughter’s shoulders.

“I should have told you years ago. I didn’t know how and I thought maybe it wouldn’t happen to you…but it did and I didn’t prepare you. I can’t tell you how sorry I am. You deserved better.”

They sit on the bed, Viola laying across her mother’s lap. She strokes her hair.

“I stayed on the farm for as long as I could, but eventually someone found me. I lived with an aunt I’d never met and slept with the mirror beside me. I looked into it all the time, waiting for my mother and sister to return, but they didn’t.”

“How awful,” Viola says.

“It was, but it got worse. As I got older I feared the transformation I saw my mother and sister experience would happen to me. I began to wonder if it did, would the man from the mirror come and get me. I started to worry more about him, and forget about them. I wrapped the mirror up and hid it away.”

She takes a deep breath.

“Then I hid away.”

Viola doesn’t know what to say. She looks around the room and spots a bulky item in the corner she’s never seen before.

“Is that it?” she asks.


They walk together and stand in front of the mirror wrapped in wool blankets and layers of shiny silver tape. Neither of them speaks for a long time, Elowen lost in memory, and Viola thinking of the grandmother and aunt she didn’t know existed until today.

“Would you like to see it?” Elowen asks.

“I’m scared,” Viola says.

“Me too.”

“What if the man has returned because I changed? What if he tries to get me?”

“We fight,” her father says from the doorway.

“As a family,” her mother says.

“Could they still be alive?” Viola asks.

“I’ve never stopped believing,” Elowen says. “I let fear stop me from looking, but not anymore. I’m ready.”

“We’re ready,” Viola and Gabriel say at the same time.

The family works together to cut off the tape and remove the dusty layers of blankets. The tarnished silver of the mirror looks as it did in the comic book, and the family holds hands, Viola in the center of her parents, and looks into the mirror.

Author’s note: I’m not sure where this story came from, except I’ve been fascinated for a long time with the idea of generational pain. My grandmother died of Covid at the start of the pandemic. She was a terribly unhappy woman, and the week she died, I was struck with the idea I needed to write her story. I hatched a plan to interview her when she was well, but I didn’t get the chance. 

As weird as it sounds, I’ve felt an internal sadness all my life that I don’t think belongs to me. I see it in my mother, my aunts, and my daughter. I’ve healed some of it by facing forward and talking it out in therapy, but it still lingers like a long-ago curse or a green fog from the mountainside.

I struggled with writing this story. It took far longer than any of the other short stories I’ve written, and I don’t think it’s quite right. I might revisit this story of Oleander, Jessamine, Elowen, and Viola in another format as my skills increase, and perhaps then I can find out why these characters feel so important to me.

Short Story Challenge | Week 5

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story about a teenager whose parents have unwelcome news. We had to include the words comic book, battery, crumbly, apartment, angelic, breach, shooter, soda, engineer, and substantiate.

Read Anna’s Week 5: Drink the Kool-Aid

Write With Us

Prompt: Picking up a hitchhiker
Include: hospital, defer, interface, experiment, beaker, visualize, mattress, skyline, interpret, zap

My 52-Week Challenge Journey

It Bearly Fits | A Short Story

“What a waste of time,” Bruce says to nobody in particular. “I knew it wouldn’t fit any of those twelve silly sisters. I feel bad for their poor father with all of them talking at once and dancing everywhere. Such a nightmare.”

Prince Charming nods but says nothing. He holds his head high, mounts his pure white stallion, and kicks him forward with boots of shiny black leather. Bruce watches him for a moment, taking in his blonde curls, his golden crown of ivy, his white riding pants, and his blue velvet jacket. He looks like a boy playing a game, not a grown man who will be crowned King.

Bruce has been the valet and personal assistant to Prince Charming since he was seven. When he’d met the small, pale boy, his nanny had quit and his father wanted him to have a male attendant. Bruce thought it would be an easy job. He was happy to move out of his rundown shack, wear nice clothes, eat three meals a day, and live in the gleaming white palace.

He had no idea how difficult the job would be. At first, the young boy would run from him and hide all over the palace. He’d jump out and scare the maids, break things and run, or leave the palace grounds and roam the nearby villages. Each time the prince got into trouble, it was Bruce who faced the consequences. He soon learned his real job was covering up the prince’s actions and hiding them from the King. Not an easy job at all.

When he was 8, Prince Charming became obsessed with a white lamb in the stables. He named it Weatherby and spent all his time carrying it around. The King had a strict no-animal policy in the palace, but the prince insisted on sneaking it inside and feeding it the food he swiped from the cook. Each night, Bruce would remove the lamb from the prince’s arms and return it to the stables, and each morning he’d find it curled up sleeping on the prince’s pillow. Bruce would smuggle it back outside in his jacket before it could be discovered, leaving him smelling like an animal for the rest of the day.

When he was 10, Prince Charming decided he wanted to become a knight. Bruce would find him pulling a heavy sword down a hallway or practicing archery by shooting the King’s prized pumpkins. Once he snuck out at night and tried to join the watchmen, wearing one of their uniforms he’d swiped from the laundress. Bruce had to follow him everywhere, making sure he didn’t hurt himself or others.

As the prince grew, he showed less and less interest in playing games or sneaking around. Instead, he grew sullen and serious. He’d walk around the gardens with his head hung low, refusing to do his lessons or practice his swordsmanship. Bruce became more of a friend and mentor, encouraging the young prince to prepare himself for the day he would become King. They’d spend hours together reading, talking and Bruce grew quite fond of the prince.

On the prince’s 16th birthday, a caravan arrived from the Eastern Kingdom bringing with it an auburn-haired girl wearing a flowing dress of bright pink. Her name was Princess Papillon and she was presented to the prince as his betrothed, an arrangement made when he was a baby to brokerage peace. He knew nothing about the deal, and neither did Bruce. It felt like a cruel birthday joke, and the prince was furious. He refused to have anything to do with her, even if she was incredibly beautiful.

“She’s a pink pampered poodle of a person,” he’d screamed loud enough for the entire palace to hear.

Bruce knew the prince’s anger was about being told who he had to marry, rather than towards the girl herself. However, the statement caused a great rift between the two kingdoms. It almost ended in war. Lucky for all involved, the King was a powerful negotiator and, after many days of heated discussion, he was able to negotiate a peace treaty involving trade benefits in the Eastern Kingdom’s favor.

The moment the delegation left, the King rounded on Prince Charming. They had a terrible fight, and the prince said he would rather give up his title than marry any woman his father chose for him. As the prince is the sole heir to the throne, a compromise had to be found. 

The “Who Wants to be the Queen?” ball held last night was the compromise. The King invited every girl in the kingdom, including princesses from far and wide, and the prince agreed to pick one to be his future queen. It was an elaborate evening with the finest of everything; food, clothing, decorations, and musicians. Bruce got quite drunk and figured the evening would end with the prince happy and content, but things got strange.

The mysterious girl the prince spent the evening dancing with, a stunning girl with golden hair and sparkling bright eyes, suddenly dashed out of the palace at midnight leaving behind her glass slipper on the grand staircase. Prince Charming, devastated and heartsick, organized a quest at once. Bruce, as his right-hand man, had spent the last six hours knocking on doors and shoving the slipper on the sweaty foot of more girls than he can count. It’s been exhausting, demeaning, and rather depressing to see the Prince acting so lovesick.

It takes several soldiers to hoist Bruce back on his horse, a brown filly with a gut as round as his own. Both Bruce and the horse grunt, the horse from carrying his weight, and Bruce weary from lack of sleep and a night of excess food and drink, even for Bruce. A soldier hands him the golden basket containing the slipper, and he considers, for about the hundredth time, dropping it on the forest floor and watching it shatter. Instead, he kicks his horse forward until he’s beside Prince Charming.

“Sire,” Bruce tries. “I know I’ve said this already, but I wish you’d reconsider. This girl should be coming to you, not the other way around. You should not have to track her down. You are going to be King. It’s unbecoming.”

Prince Charming’s hand rests on the hilt of his sword, but he says nothing. Bruce pulls on the reins, and his horse slows. They ride in silence, surrounded by a dozen soldiers and pages, toward the next house on the search. Bruce knows when the prince has his mindset and there’s nothing he can say or do to change it.

Everyone at the ball agreed, the girl had the glow of magic about her. Bruce worries she may have been an enchantress who has bewitched the young prince. Her quick disappearance, the one glass slipper, and his complete and utter obsession with her all points to sorcery. He’d tried to get an audience with the King to share this opinion, but he would not grant one. As usual, the King wants results and doesn’t care how they happen. While the King’s focused on securing his legacy by having the prince married, Bruce wants the prince to be happy.

A family of rabbits dart from the underbrush, scaring the horses who whinny and jerk to a stop. Bruce loses his grip on the basket, and it tumbles from his hands. A freckled-faced young page dives off his horse and catches the basket before it hits the ground. He stands, several fresh cuts on his cheek and arm, and bows before Bruce.

“I saved it,” he says.

“So you did,” says Bruce.

Prince Charming gives the young boy a nod, and he beams. He will be telling this story to his family for years to come, the day he saved the glass slipper for the prince. He limps over to his small horse and remounts. The other pages give him encouraging smiles, but Bruce scowls. This was so close to being over.

They’ve been riding in the direct sunlight for an hour and Bruce feels weak and light-headed. He clutches the basket with one hand and wipes sweat from his eyes with the other. He sighs with relief when they turn off the main road and enter a dense grove of tall redwood trees.

The path here’s a bit overgrown, and he considers catching up to Prince Charming to suggest they return to the road when a small two-story cottage comes into view. It’s made of wood and thatch, with a pattern like a stacked deck of cards, and boards of varying dark and white wood. There’s a kind of wildness about the place, and it makes the hairs on Bruce’s arms stand on end.

Prince Charming dismounts and waits with his hands on his hips for Bruce. It’s a bit of a process to get the chubby man off his horse, and it involves several guards and a fair amount of moaning. Stiffly, he carries the basket and meets the prince at the door.

“This could be the place,” the prince says. “I can feel it. We are getting nearer to her.”

“Sure,” Bruce says.

Prince Charming grabs him by his shoulders and spins him so they are facing each other. There’s a look of manic love in those baby blue eyes, a sort of desperate hopefulness Bruce can’t ignore. For a moment he forgets his pains and wishes happiness for the young prince.

“We will find her,” he says.

“Your friendship means the world to me. I can’t imagine doing this without you.”

“There’s no place I’d rather be.”

He’s surprised he means it and hopes the owner of the slipper loves Prince Charming and isn’t an evil enchantress. He gestures for the royal horns to be blown and knocks on the door. It’s a few minutes before a high voice can be heard through the heavy wood.

“Who’s there?”

“Open the door,” Bruce yells. “Prince Charming has arrived and demands an audience with you at once.”

“Seems a bit harsh,” the prince whispers.

Bruce agrees, but it’s the first time he’s had to answer such a question. Each house before had thrown open its doors when they heard the horse hooves on the road. All had laid out elaborate settings of food and wine. Bruce had eaten and drank more than he could handle, but he was taken aback by this house’s lack of pomp.

The door opens with a creak, and they are face to face with a young girl dressed in a strange costume. She’s wearing large round glasses, far too big for her face, making her eyes appear as two giant saucers of blueberry jam. An oversized pink-flowered bonnet covers her hair, ears, and forehead. Wrapped around her body, held closed by a rather dirty hand, is a tattered quilt of brown and green squares with a noticeable amount of brown fur clinging to it.

She blinks and yawns. It’s clear they have woken her up, even though it’s getting close to lunchtime. She shifts and it looks like she might close the door in their faces.

“What’s going on?” she says.

There’s no mistaking the grumpiness in her voice, and the prince takes a step back. She scowls and for a second, Bruce worries she may attack them. Perhaps she’s a wild child living alone in the woods. He takes a protective step in front of the prince.

“Are you the only one home?” Bruce asks.

He tries to peer behind the girl, but she’s blocking the doorway. She lowers the glasses from her nose and gives them a good look, up and down. Her gaze stops on the prince’s crown, and her face transforms. She gives them a huge smile of brilliantly white teeth, and her voice becomes sugary sweet. 

“Wait a second. Did you say he was a prince? Like The Prince Charming?”

“Yes,” Bruce says.

The girl giggles, her cheeks turning instantly pink. She bows, bending her body so her nose touches the floor. The pink bonnet falls from her head revealing an abundance of shiny blonde ringlets. She stands and removes the oversized glasses, but her blue eyes remain large and bright. She throws the quilt to the floor and bounces on her heels.

“A prince has come to see me,” she says. “It’s my lucky day!”

She does a sort of elaborate curtsey, with one knee almost touching the floor and one leg pulled far behind her. Her dress, soft blue checkered with a fluffy white petticoat underneath, has splotches of porridge all down the front. She doesn’t seem to notice though, beaming at the prince.

“Oh, you’ve caught me at a bad time,” she says, grabbing his hand and pulling him forward. “I’m usually much more bubbly. Please, come in and join me by the fireplace.”

The prince doesn’t move, so she yanks his arm. The guards press forward, but he waves them away.

“Come on,” she says.

He allows her to pull him into the dark cottage. Letting go of his hand, she chucks large pieces of wood in the direction of the fireplace but misses terribly. She knocks over a table, and a beautiful yellow-flowered lamp smashes onto the floor.

“Oops!“ she says.

The cottage has the look of a bar after a huge fight. The kitchen table has one empty wooden bowl set in the center, but two others sit on the floor, the sticky contents of uneaten porridge pooling around them. By the fireplace, one large and one medium-sized chair is knocked over and covered with dirty shoe marks. A small wooden chair has been smashed to pieces. The girl picks up a splintered leg, breaking it free with a loud snapping sound, and adds it to the wood she’s stacked in and around the fireplace.

“We don’t need a fire,” Bruce says.

“Oh,” the girl says.

“What’s your name?” the prince says.  

“Oh, silly me. I didn’t tell you! Why I’m Goldilocks! You know, the girl with beautiful hair. Everyone knows me.”

“I don’t know you,” Bruce says.

“Don’t be silly,” the prince says and gives Bruce a reproaching look. “Goldilocks. Of course, we know you. It’s a pleasure to see you again.”

He holds out his hand and she shakes it up and down so vigorously that the crown on his head slips to the side. He removes his hand, wiping the sticky remnants of dried porridge on the back of Bruce’s shirt, and straightens his crown.

“We are sorry to intrude,” Bruce says. “Thanks for letting us in, but we better get moving.”

Bruce thought, for sure, the prince would agree to skip the foot of this very odd child, but the prince scowls at Bruce, and returns his attention to Goldilocks. He gives her a little bow, which causes her to giggle madly and blush.

“We are traveling throughout the kingdom today in search of a girl who was at the ball last night,” the prince says. “She left her glass slipper and we are trying to return it.”

Goldilocks smiles and, for the first time, she notices the basket in Bruce’s hands. She reaches forward to stroke it, but he steps back before she can. Her hands twitch, and for a moment, he can see a bit of anger in her blue eyes. She composes herself and walks into the kitchen.

“There’s a chair in here,” she calls.

Bruce sees her grab an object off the counter and slip it behind her back. He sighs. He didn’t know how many young ladies in this land could be sneaky and dishonest. Many, including this young girl, didn’t even attend the ball. Yet, he knows how important this quest and the ritual have become to the prince.

“I’m waiting,” Goldilocks calls in a sing-song voice.

Bruce and the prince follow Goldilocks to the kitchen. She’s sitting on a large wooden chair, her small bare feet dangling in front of her. Bruce hands the basket to the prince and lowers himself into a kneeling position. His joints creak and he feels a sharp stabbing pain in his lower back. He’s too old and too fat for this nonsense. He clears his throat, and begins the ceremony, exactly as he’s done each time.

“Goldilocks, please present your foot,” he says.

The girl wiggles her toes and giggles. He grabs the foot in his hand, it’s warm, covered in dirt, and smells faintly of bread.

“The glass slipper,” Bruce says.

The prince takes it out with two hands and closes his eyes. 

“Oh, sweet giver of the beautiful slipper, I will find thee,” he thinks. “I won’t rest until you are in my arms again.”

He can feel her energy attached to the glass slipper, and while he knows it’s not the girl before him now, he feels a certain reverence for the process. It’s practice for when he finds her. He wants the moment to be perfect.

“Last night the most…”

Goldilocks doesn’t wait for the prince’s speech, but instead yanks the slipper from his hand and spins around in the large chair with it held to her chest. The prince screams and lunges for her, knocking Bruce from his kneeled position to his butt. Goldilocks hops onto the table, turns her back to them, and slips it onto her left foot.

“It fits!” she yells. “Look at me! I’m the Princess! I’m the Princess!”

She dances across the table, the glass slipper tapping, her barefoot slapping. Tap. Slap. Tap. Slap. The prince feels light-headed and staggers back until he’s leaning against the kitchen sink. Bruce tries to get up but falls onto his back like a turtle. The soldiers look confused, and sort of shuffle around the room.

The front door swings open with a growl, and a family of three bears stomp in; a father bear, a mother bear, and a wee baby bear. They are dressed in fine clothing and holding baskets of fresh-picked blueberries. They scan the room with wide eyes, taking in the terrible mess, the dancing girl, the prince, Bruce, and the soldiers.

They all three growl, a low rumbling sound, and the soldiers move toward the prince.

“My bonnet,” Mother bear says.

“My glasses,” Father bear says.

“My blankie,” Baby bear says.

Goldilocks continues her slap-and-tap dance on the table, oblivious to the scene unfolding around her. The soldiers help Bruce to his feet and form a huddle around him and the prince. They watch as the bears walk around the room, pointing out broken items to each other, and getting more and more upset.

“My chair’s covered in shoe prints,” father bear says.

“My chair’s torn and filthy,” mother bear says.

“My chair’s broken,” baby bear wails.

Father bear growls. Mother bear growls. Baby bear wails. They stalk toward the prince and Bruce, and the soldiers form an even tighter circle around them. The bears look from the group of men to the dancing girl, and back.

“Who did this?” Father bear growls. 

The hair on the back of his neck stands on end as he notices the spilled bowls of porridge on the ground. The prince peeks through the wall of soldiers and points at Goldilocks.

“She stole my glass slipper too,” he says.

Father bear growls. Mother bear growls. Baby bear growls. 

The prince, Bruce, and the soldiers turn away.

Slap. Tap. Slap. Tap.

“I’m the princess!”

There’s a loud roaring, followed by ripping and tearing. The men cover their ears and inch as one group across the room and out the front door. A few moments later the door opens behind them and the three bears emerge. 

Father bear’s mouth drips red.

Mother bear’s mouth drips red. 

Baby bear’s mouth drips red.

“Here,” baby bear says in a wee voice.

He holds the now ruby red glass slipper in his small paws. It’s unbroken, and they can see a large piece of bread shoved in the toe. The prince takes the slipper with shaking hands.

“Thank you,” the prince says.

The bears say nothing, returning to the house and slamming the heavy door behind them. A page removes the bread and uses water and a cloth to clean the glass slipper, polishing it and polishing it until it’s returned to its former beauty. It’s placed back into the golden basket, everyone mounts their horses, and they continue on their quest.

Not one of them, not even the freckled-faced page, pauses to mourn the death of Goldilocks.

Author’s note: My favorite part of motherhood has been reading to my children. I’ve read all the classic fairy tales, as well as hundreds of picture books and chapter books. This prompt had me spinning in lots of directions for several days until I happened to be eating oatmeal for breakfast and the image of Prince Charming and a bloody shoe came to me. I had so much fun writing this short story, and I sure hope you enjoyed reading it.

My little Prince Charming and his butterfly princess sister.

Short Story Challenge | Week 3

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a mash-up of two classic fairy tales into one story. We had to include the words fireplace, sword, grove, stroke, underbrush, mourn, seven, friendship, cardboard, and giver.

Read Anna’s Week 3: The Cardboard Prince

Write With Us

Prompt: A missionary in a remote village
Include: orchestra, finch, aim, development, ex, bold, old-fashioned, gut, brassy, sharp

My 52-Week Challenge Journey