The Bremen Job

~ Linda McMullen

My scarlet cloak—with its mythic riding hood—hung abstractedly on its peg, while I pondered a curious communication deposited beneath the doorframe in the hours between twilight and dawn. The embossed, snow-white envelope bore only my name: Poppy

I heard my mother stirring, chirruping at the birds, just as always. Soon she would stoke the ebon coals and knead her day away, preparing the inevitable loaves that I would take to my grandmother’s table. I stole outside, borrowing the robins’ perch on a stump just outside. I could not bear to break the seal—a crimson tome, with a double-pointed oval superimposed over its pages. I lifted it carefully from the envelope and extracted my letter like a thief, or a magician.

Dear Poppy,

We would like to extend to you an invitation to join our organization, and to obtain the duties and privileges thereof, for our mutual benefit. If you wish to attend today’s gathering, please present yourself at a quarter to ten at the wishing well. Our representative will look for your red cloak.

Sincerely,

The FTH Society

Persuading my mother to allow me to gather wildflowers while she baked and swept and washed required all the childlike charm I could boast—no simple matter for a girl teetering on the precipice of womanhood. Particularly as I had spent much of the previous day lost in my book of wildflowers. But I promised to gather dandelions for a salad too, tipping the balance. “My indulgence will prove your undoing,” she sighed. I kissed her and skipped away.

The village well appeared deserted when I arrived. I had neglected to bring a pail, so the villagers eyed me with the self-congratulating scorn of a priggish priest hearing extravagant confessions. I rinsed the dust from my hands, for the sake of appearing to do something—and then a movement caught my eye.

A slim young woman gestured from the shadow of the church—

But it seemed that only her pale forearm emerged from the darkness . . . 

I followed.

She turned southward without acknowledging my inquisitive footfalls, or even tilting her head—with its heavy crown of auburn hair—toward me. She kept her arms crossed before her as we passed into the forest, and we marched on, on, until she suddenly descended into a cleft in the ground, tracing a gumdrop-mushroom path I had never glimpsed before. The breeze tickled me with hints of cinnamon and clove. The spruce and oaks grew denser; the air grew closer; we came to a cottage half-concealed in the undergrowth—

A magnificent gingerbread structure, next to a tiny, flowing creek.

I followed the girl to the sugar-glass door; she opened it wide but remained on the threshold, barring my entry. She finally turned and I saw, for certain, that she had no hands. “Turn out your cloak and hood, and open your basket.” As I did so, she stood aside, so that the many wide eyes within could see; I could feel their suddenly undammed curiosity flowing over me. 

“You may enter,” called a melodious voice from within. 

I obeyed, only to discover that the sweetly beautiful cottage was thoroughly bewitched: what seemed like a residence for perhaps one sweet-toothed misanthrope magically allowed dozens of damsels to fit comfortably. They reclined on marzipan divans and lemon drop cushions and a sugar plum sofa. I did my best to curtsey.

“Yes,” murmured the ageless sage enthroned on a fairy-food pedestal, “I see it.” Turning to me, she said, “Have a seat, Poppy.”

“I’ll just . . . dust off this stool,” said a young woman I recognized as Cinderella, retrieving one from a closet.

“That one is too hard,” complained a girl with bouncy flaxen curls.

“It’s fine,” I said, thanking Cinderella.

“Excellent,” said the wise woman. “Welcome, ladies, to this meeting of the Fairy Tale Heroines Society.” I could have sworn she vouchsafed me a wink. “Our younger generation has finally come of age, so I am pleased to introduce to you three potential new members: Poppy with her red riding hood”—I waved—“Goldilocks”—my complaining, curly-haired companion smiled—“and Gretel, whom I would like to thank for hosting us all today.” A round-faced, doughty girl bowed her head in acknowledgement. 

“I’m so sorry,” interrupted the young woman with the siren’s voice, as she sank onto the arm of the sofa, accidentally jostling Cinderella. “I feel as though I’ve been walking on knives all day.” (I learned later that walking hurt her greatly; she made herself useful by doing much of the cooking, though she flatly refused to prepare seafood.)

The wise woman arched her brow. “Ladies,” she said, gesturing to Goldilocks, Gretel, and myself, “Joining the society means divorcing yourself from the lives you’ve known, the habits you’ve developed, the stories you’ve told. It means commitment to this group above all, and unswerving obedience to our mission—”

“What’s your mission?” interjected Goldilocks. 

“—which is to address our broken relationships with Grimm, and Perrault, and Hans Christian Andersen.” continued the wise woman, as if there had been no interruption.

“And Robert Southey?” Goldilocks broke in. The wise woman stared at her until Goldilocks flushed and looked down at her shoes, which were undoubtedly too small.

“I suppose,” conceded the wise woman, looking as though she was reconsidering the wisdom of her own invitation decisions. “Well. Girls. Yes or no?”

Gretel waved, which I supposed meant yes. Goldilocks said, “I have too little information—”

“Too bad,” said the wise woman. “Poppy?”

“Wait!” cried Goldilocks. “I . . . didn’t mean . . . that is . . . I . . . I’ll join.”

“Poppy?” the wise woman said again.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

We took our vows of allegiance. The girl with six brothers rose with a swanlike grace to get beverages, while my friend with no hands picked up a massive bowl of pears and offered them around. Then the real meeting began.

“The plan, ladies,” declared the wise woman, “is that we’re going to break into the Repository at Bremen.”

The phlegmatic Gretel didn’t bat an eye, but Goldilocks gasped and I couldn’t help feeling slightly taken aback. The Repository was the archive. The source of the source texts. The Official Tellings of all our tales, sanctified by the authors themselves. 

“You’re mad,” Goldilocks declared. “Those stories are sacred! The authors have placed them under layers of protection to keep anyone—including us—from tampering with them! I’ve heard they’re under incredibly heavy guard!”

“Do you wish to rescind your participation?” the wise woman asked, drawing out her wand and extending it toward Goldilocks’s trademark hair, adding, “I can make it look permanently ratted, you know.”

Goldilocks gulped and muttered a shamefaced apology.

“Now, we exist only as marionettes,” intoned the wise woman. “We follow the pre-trod paths, day in, day out—without ever having lived a day in our lives. Or even seen our own scripts. Well, no more!” she cried. “We are going to reclaim those texts. And we are going to create something better in their wake. We are finished playing the parts that men wrote for us!”

Applause; determined, almost grim, expressions.

“Thanks to our very own goose girl, who has been lingering with her flock outside the Repository for the last several weeks, we have excellent information about external security. The Repository boasts two guards outside its entrance at all times. They work eight-hour shifts. We know that at least five of these guards are susceptible to some kind of temptation, but one of them is extremely brave, absolutely impervious to shivers of any kind. We will therefore schedule our infiltration around his shift.”

Cinderella went about collecting the pear cores. “Sorry. Habit.”

The wise woman sighed and continued. “Allerleirauh will be in charge of disguises,” she began. “Then Inge—” she gestured to my handless guide—“will conduct the team through the forest; she’s spent an extensive amount of time in there, mapping the route. Once you arrive, Plan A is that Eva”—she gestured to a pretty, pouty young woman—“will arrive just before the end of the midnight-to-dawn shift with soup to offer the hungry guards. Obviously, it will contain donkey cabbage, which will literally transform the guards into the braying asses they are. In the unlikely event that they refuse free food, plan B is to have Snow White lure them into the woods. The dwarves have generously rented their cottage to us, and she’s booby-trapped it to a nicety.”

“What if only one of them goes?” I asked.

“Gretel’s more than a match for any one of them,” the wise woman replied. “She took out a witch when she was underfed and terrified, and she’s been in training since then.”

Gretel flexed her biceps.

“Indeed. And we’ll be sending additional support. At any rate, once our team enters the repository, they will have to work through the information warren inside. Goldilocks, I understand, has some experience with housebreaking, so I’ll ask her to take the lead on devising a plan to navigate through the building. Our goal is to reach the safe, which is located on the third floor, in the very center of the building.”

“Of course it is,” Goldilocks muttered, but accepted the blueprint the wise woman handed her.

“We expect that Sleeping Beauty will be able to pick the lock with her spindle—stop playing with that, dear!” cried the wise woman, as the princess let her fingertips dance a hair’s-breadth over its lethal-looking point. “If that doesn’t work, our fisherman’s wife has a range of hooks available.” An ill-at-ease peasant woman nodded from the corner. “Then—”

Beauty waved from the corner.

“That’s right. The strike team will extract the original texts of all our tales, and bring them back here for Beauty to analyze. Then we’ll make decisions about what to do. Cinderella will also remain at headquarters with me; she’ll look after anyone who gets injured. Understood?”

“How can I help?” I asked. My voice sounded very small. I didn’t have any magical powers, or exceptional beauty, or an enigmatic voice, or—

The wise woman smiled. “I daresay we’ll find some use for you.”

 

Day after day I told my mother I was off to visit my grandmother, while I trained with Gretel and the rest of the strike team—those the wise woman had assigned duties, plus Rapunzel, the Snow Queen (recently reclaimed from villainy through a little Disneyesque magic), a kind young woman named Clara who the wise woman explained had come straight from the three little men in the wood, and a bored young princess perpetually toying with a golden ball. We participated in physical training, conducted drills, and ran simulations. “You must be prepared,” said the wise woman. “I can only foresee so much.”

“Aren’t there kind of a lot of us?” asked Goldilocks.

“Redundancy ensures success,” replied the wise woman.

And at last, the great day arrived. The girl with the seven brothers had spun and woven, and made disguises following Allerleirauh’s designs. Allerleirauh disguised Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, the Snow Queen, Golden Ball girl, the kind young woman, Rapunzel, and the fisherman’s wife as security guards, tucking Rapunzel’s hair into a basket on her back, and pulling her hat down as far as possible. The donkey cabbage proprietress was also dressed as a guard, with a blue cloak to conceal it. Snow White, Goldilocks and I alone remained in normal clothing, though she braided our hair and accessorized us with spectacles and satchels (she allowed me to keep my basket). “This way, you’ll look like students,” she said, “and you won’t attract attention if you’re poking around—as if looking for a book.”

We made our way stealthily toward the repository, keeping to the forest as much as possible. But, true to form, I couldn’t help leaving the path for some exquisite, poisonously-blue buds blooming in the glade . . . 

“Really?” demanded Gretel. 

“You were sent to fulfill your mission, I was sent to complete mine,” I muttered, but only after she was striding forward, and well out of earshot.

The donkey cabbage plan worked like a . . . well, it was under a charm, but it’s probably a bit too on-the-nose to say . . . anyway, our plans did not miscarry. Eva-the-donkey-cabbage-proprietress dragged the guards out of sight and secured them with some rope, then abandoned her cloak and returned to the front door with Inge to take their places and deflect the questions of the oncoming crew. The rest of us entered the Repository of Lore, our security “squad” marching in formation as if conducting an extra patrol. And saw, just ahead a pair of guards conducting their real duties . . . 

“Go!” hissed Gretel; Snow White, Goldilocks and I dispersed into the bowels of the labyrinth, while our security team tangled noisily with the guards. I peered out from behind the multicolored array of Lang titles, lightly dusted in their rainbow jackets, anticipating pandemonium . . . 

“Gentlemen!” cried the young woman who had visited the three little men of the woods, “let my colleagues be!”

With this, five gold coins fell out of her mouth. The guards withdrew their molestation-poised hands and dove for the money. A gleam danced behind her eyes; she darted back out the door, singing, dropping coins with every word, the guards in greedy pursuit.

“Two down,” cried Goldilocks, delightedly, from somewhere in the stacks.

“More friends coming to join us,” muttered Gretel, as another pair of guards had become aware of their colleagues’ conspicuous absence. They approached, glowering, until Snow White ran up to one of them and whispered something in his ear. His face flushed, and his eyes glowed like stars. Then she whispered something in his partner’s ear. A moment later she had linked arms with them both and they walked merrily out the front door. I heard her murmur, “My cabin is only a quarter-hour’s walk from here . . . ”

I made my way back to the security team, now smaller by two. “Will she be all right?”

“I wouldn’t worry,” said Gretel. “She designed the set-up, and the wise woman helped her test it. And she has plenty of experience dealing with people targeting her.”

Not altogether reassured, I rejoined the others. Goldilocks navigated us through the library, carefully skirting the witches’ lore section, and reminding us all to jump the enchanted stream flowing through the middle of the Bewitchment section. Universally graceful, we soared over the waters and were proceeding to the rear stairwells to reach the second—and ultimately, third floors—when Gretel held up a silent hand.

A giant stood before us, wielding a club, ready to strike.

“Any ideas?” muttered Goldilocks, out of the corner of her mouth. “Anyone?”

“Scatter!” cried Gretel, as the club came down in our midst. I dove right, landing on top of Gretel, as the giant swung his club wildly about, no doubt hoping to smash us. But we were tiny and moving fast, and in his frustration, he lifted the club and bashed against the nearest objects, which happened to be the wooden staircases. They collapsed into a heap of kindling.

“Oh, no,” someone moaned.

“Help me! What have you got, girl?” cried Gretel, shaking my shoulder. I rummaged in my basket and produced the bottle of wine. She rolled her eyes, but accepted it, and ran out to face the danger. “Oi! You’re nothing but an overgrown troll!” she cried. The giant, caring for neither her remark nor her tone, tried to demolish her with his club; Gretel caught it on the upswing, then leapt from it to his shoulder, whence she smashed the wine bottle over his head. As he staggered forward from the blow, he grabbed Gretel around the waist and flung her against the Anthropomorphic Items collection. She did not stir. 

Goldilocks appeared out of nowhere, staring down the concussed giant and stamping her foot. “Somebody,” she screeched, “has been interfering with my team!

And she screamed aloud, the same shriek that must have given those bears infinite pause, and the giant hove himself forward, trying to smash her, trying to stop the horrible noise—and Goldilocks, displaying an impressive presence of mind, paused only to blow him him a raspberry, then, still screaming, skipped just ahead of him toward the library entrance, drawing him off . . . 

“Not bad for a complaining little housebreaker,” observed Gretel. 

“How’re we going to reach the archive?” Golden Ball girl complained. “The steps are gone, and Goldilocks’s blueprint only showed the one set.”

“Not very prudent of the designers, really,” observed the fisherman’s wife. “If I had that kind of power –”

“Focus, please,” said Gretel. “Ideas, team?”

Rapunzel grinned. “Not to worry,” she said, and looped her hair over the existing bit of bannister, two stories up. She turned to me. “Poppy, you’re lightest, you go first, and we’ll see if this will even work.”

“Great,” said Gretel, standing at attention to keep Rapunzel safe.

I half-clambered up her hair as she and the rest of the team helped hoist me to the next level—then Sleeping Beauty, the fisherman’s wife, Golden Ball girl, and the Snow Queen followed. Gretel and Rapunzel remained below to fend off anyone attempting to reach us from behind—“I’m certain they have enchanted ropes or ladders about for just such an emergency,” she said, grimly.

Up on the third floor now, our remainder stole down a corridor, which ended in a locked door. “I’ve got it,” cried Sleeping Beauty merrily, twirling her spindle around her thumb with an altogether worrying degree of swagger. She used the spindle’s lethal tip to blindly perform the delicate mechanical surgery that would open the lock—

A pop! and the handle turned. Sleeping Beauty looped her prize tool around her thumb in preparation for holstering it, when it caught her on the forefinger and she slumped to the ground, unconscious. 

“I don’t believe this,” cried Golden Ball girl, unfortunately catching the attention of the guard stationed just beyond the door. He seemed to weigh the situation, then took a deep breath, in preparation for issuing a monumental bellow, to let his fellows know he had found us—

But Golden Ball girl lunged forward, looping her arm around his neck, and kissing him full on the mouth. For a moment, I couldn’t distinguish anything through a cloud of acrid green smoke, and then, I saw—

—a frog emerging from the depths of the guard’s crumpled uniform.

That’s your power?” I cried. 

She shrugged. “Supposedly I can also change an upstanding, enchanted frog into a prince, but good luck finding one of those. So far, the magic only cuts this way.”

“Break in now, meta-analysis later!” cried the Snow Queen. “Mathilde”—she gestured to our resident faunamorphosis expert—“You’ve done your bit, look after Sleeping Beauty.” She transformed the corridor behind us into ice, and erected an ice slide down to the lower level.

“You couldn’t have just made us an ice ladder back there?” Mathilde replied, earning her a withering glance from the Snow Queen. Mathilde—I imagined, partly to escape from the remainder of this conversation—asked to borrow my cloak, and I obliged; we helped her place Sleeping Beauty on top of it, and Mathilde dragged our fallen comrade carefully back to the rest of the team on the makeshift stretcher/toboggan. 

And the rest of us crept onward, coming across another locked door. The fisherman’s wife fileted the lock; it clattered onto the floor and I half-imagined smoke and whimpers emerging from it.

“Excellent,” said the Snow Queen. 

Then the lights went out.

The Snow Queen, the fisherman’s wife, and I crept forward, when we heard a short scream suddenly cut off—then silence. 

Our picklock turned tail and ran back toward the rest of the team, and the light . . . 

“Do your ice powers also extend to—”

“No,” she said. “Do you have anything useful in your basket?”

I shook my head, ruefully, painfully conscious of the fact that my sole contribution to that point had been attendance. 

The Snow Queen sighed.

The light flickered on beyond the cracked door.

And then, an inhuman voice:

“Come and play, Red . . . ”

I trembled from my red riding hood to my little boots, a primal, wordless terror surging through me—

The Snow Queen murmured, “I’m right beside you. We’ll go together.”

I nodded, and—with every ounce of my will focused on my leaden feet—stumbled forward through the door, whose plaque read: The Dorothea Viehmann Repository.

We came into the room, the frozen heart of the archive, a dim, windowless, box-shaped room lined with iron caskets, locked drawers and stout safes—

—and before them prowled The Wolf.

I forced the scream fighting for exit back down my constricted throat. He was savage and sensual, with talons that beckoned even as they threatened to rip me apart . . . and what big eyes he had—hypnotic yellow discs . . .

“I hope you’ve come to play,” he said, his eyes flickering from me to the Snow Queen and back again. My fingers snaked into my basket, hoping by some miracle that the wise woman would choose now to work a miracle, to deliver me a weapon that appeared just from wishing—but I found nothing but the bread and the flowers. I offered him the former, gripping the flowers, as if their cheerful color might offer some comfort.

“I’m hungry, all right,” he returned, “but not for bread. Still, I’ll keep it. The better to eat you with.”

And then he lunged at us. The Snow Queen, anticipating his attack, threw up an ice wall between him and us, but he powered through it, sending both of us flying, and dispersing ice shards into every corner of the room . . .  I struggled to right myself, only to find her grappling with him, hand to hand, his torrid breath scorching her face . . . But he was in no hurry, always preferring to play with his food before he finally ate it—

“Poppy!” she gasped, his fangs grazing her throat. 

And time seemed to slow, to lose all meaning, and of all things, my wildflower book seemed to dance before my eyes, and I remembered I had seen a picture of those beautiful blue flowers in my basket, several days before, on the page . . . 

Aconitum, also known as aconite, or monkshood, also possesses the curious nickname of wolf’s bane . . . 

I seized an ice shard from the floor, squeezed a few drops of the flowers’ venomous nectar onto its tip, and plunged it into the wolf’s broad back.

He howled in surprise and misery and pain—and then the tremors began; he rolled off the Snow Queen and onto his side, spewing expletives and curses that ended with: “ . . . Red.”

Then he moved no more.

I rushed to the Snow Queen: “Are you all right?”

“Fine,” she replied, wearily; she had a great lump on her head from where she had hit it in her fall. “Go find which strongbox our files are in, will you?”

I did as she bid, deciphering the faded ink scrawls on tiny labels affixed to the safes and drawers. After examining several—British Nursery Rhymes, Folklore: West Africa, Chivalric Tales, and so on—I came to a pot-bellied safe whose label read: Fairy Tales, Original Versions. I pointed. The Snow Queen propped herself up, and sent a wave of ice and snow around it. Her magic swirled, dropping the temperature of the room so abruptly that my teeth began to chatter . . .  and then—to my astonishment—the safe shattered. 

The Snow Queen tumbled senseless to the floor. 

“No!” I shouted, but a little voice inside reminded me not to allow her to have struggled in vain. I began picking through the silvery slivers of the former safe, extracting sheaves of carefully ribbon-bound, yellowing papers, and storing them in my basket. Footsteps sounded in the hall; I picked up another ice shard that felt friendly in my hand, and waited, crouched defensively—

“Thank God!” exclaimed Gretel, pulling me into an unexpected and slightly bone-crushing hug. “You’re alive! We thought—” She finally spotted the Snow Queen on the floor, bent down over her with careful fingers on her neck. “She’s alive. I’ll carry her. You’ve got the stories?”

I nodded because speech would not come. Gretel threw the meager royal weight across her shoulders, and said, “Let’s get out of here.”

Golden Ball girl—Mathilde, I mean—had clearly reconnected with the rest of the team; leaving Rapunzel to care for Sleeping Beauty, she had gone about kissing all of the remaining guards. The only thing that slowed our exit was trying to avoid stepping on the phalanx of frogs.

 

Back at the little cottage, Cinderella had put most of the injured to rights. The Snow Queen rested on the sofa, lifting a hand to her still-tender head, but smiling. Gretel and the rest of the security crew had suffered numerous contusions, and many of them had ice on their injuries. Poor Rapunzel had an awful headache from everyone pulling on her hair, and she had a blindfold on and an ice pack on her head, but she was humming a merry tune. The kind young woman who produced coins when she spoke had led the guards pursuing her to Snow White’s cottage, where they—like the two invited by Snow White—had gotten snared in the various traps. The two of them were only sore from running, and lounged in adjacent armchairs. 

Goldilocks and I remained well, albeit rattled.

Unfortunately, however, neither Cinderella nor the wise woman had yet discovered a cure for Sleeping Beauty. She had perused the ancient text, of course, and found that the official story prescribed a prince . . . She had nonetheless tried to work other spells. Not one of them had made the least difference, and our companion slumbered on. 

While she did so, the wise woman came to me, and clasped both my hands in hers. “Poppy, we owe you our thanks. You faced a particularly personal battle, and emerged triumphant. I am so appreciative—and, if I may say so, I am very proud of you.”

I blushed as red as my hood. “I—thank you, but I am just so sorry so many of our sisters got injured—”

“They accepted that risk, just as you did,” the wise woman replied. “I just wish I were sagacious enough to—” She frowned at herself, glancing toward Sleeping Beauty.

Shaking her head in bewilderment, the wise woman convened those present, and gave Beauty the floor. Beauty went on at some length, describing the individual stories to gasps and frowns. She had just finished “The Three Little Men in the Wood” and we were enjoying a  break when Mathilde jumped up and cried, “Where’s Clara?”

“Gathering strawberries, why?”

“We need her! Which way did she go?”

The wise woman looked frankly bewildered. “West, I think.”

“Great!” cried Mathilde, over her shoulder, as she bolted out the door. We all stared after her in bewilderment.

Beauty cleared her throat, gently, and resumed her narrations. When she had read all of our stories, she said, “I’ve gone through these tales several times.” She pursed her lips. “Most of them appear to have been written to caution girls –” She glanced toward me—“against straying from the path—or, in my own case, for example, to teach young women to accept their fates with grace . . .  and docility.” She frowned. “But in my view, these lessons belong to another age—”

At that moment, Mathilde and Clara returned with a third, blindfolded young woman, a stranger, and Mathilde’s expression was triumphant. “Sorry to interrupt,” she said, “but I’ve had an idea.”

“Bringing unapproved strangers here?” demanded the wise woman.

“She can’t see anything,” pointed out Mathilde. “But I think we need her . . . ”

“For what?”

“Curing Sleeping Beauty,” continued Mathilde. 

Clara broke in, apologetically. “This is my stepsister. When I went to the house in the wood, the three little men put a charm on me, that makes me drop coins from my mouth when I speak—” By the end of this explanation, she had produced enough gold to fund the Society for a year. “But my stepsister—ah . . . ”

“She was cursed with toads jumping out of her mouth at every word,” Mathilde explained. “So, I thought if I could just get my hands . . . or, rather, my mouth on one magical toad . . . ”

“I thought your magic worked on frogs?” asked the wise woman, sharply.

“I thought it close enough to merit an attempt,” Mathilde retorted. “It can’t hurt. Go on, Bertha.”

Bertha hissed, “No!” but it was enough; a gruesome amphibian sprang from her lips. Mathilde scooped him up and kissed him . . . 

. . . a puff of gold-and-plum smoke—

—and a beautiful, slightly vacant-eyed prince appeared, looking dazed. “My savior!” he cried, lurching amorously toward Mathilde—

“Not me,” she replied, promptly. “I did it on her behalf,” she said, pointing toward Sleeping Beauty. The prince, uncomprehending but amenable, kissed Sleeping Beauty full on the lips. She stirred prettily, blinked, and murmured, “What did I miss?”

The prince cried, “My love!” and Sleeping Beauty wrinkled her forehead and frowned at him, and Mathilde came to the rescue and kissed him so that he turned back into a toad. Then she carried him carefully out to the creek and wished him good luck. Clara sent her stepsister off with some coins.

“There is a certain elegance in the original tales’ simplicity,” Beauty continued, as if there had been no interruption. “But they offer us no agency.” She glanced toward the wise woman, who dipped her chin affirmatively.

“Therefore,” she said, “I propose that we produce our own versions of the tales—where we women act, and choose, and live.”

Mathilde began a slow clap, and then Rapunzel joined, and soon the whole room dissolved in thunderous applause.

“There’s just one . . . small concern, however,” said Beauty. “Once we’ve written our new editions, we’ll need to—somehow—place them inside the archive . . . ”

 

Linda McMullen is a wife, mother, diplomat, and homesick Wisconsinite. Her short stories and the occasional poem have appeared in over ninety literary magazines. She received Pushcart and Best of the Net nominations in 2020.

She may be found on Twitter: @LindaCMcMullen.

 [ issue 2 : spring 2021 ]