Friday, April 1, 2016

"The Last Meal"

I have good news and bad news. 

The good news is Bewildering Stories accepted my short story "Snow Witch." My goal is to have five short stories published in 2016 and I'm already at four. Whoo-hoo! :D

The bad news is this week was midterms, so I had no time to read or watch anything cool, so I don't have a fresh blog post for you. So here's one of the other short stories I've published, called "The Last Meal" (as it first appeared in Quantum Fairy Tales). Rapunzel gets revenge on her "mother"/kidnapper. 

Enjoy! :)

--




There were only two things of which Rapunzel was absolutely certain:
1) She was sitting in an isolated tower with a hundred yards of golden hair hanging from her head.
2) She was going to leave.
Rapunzel finished brushing her hair, a six-hour venture she undertook every week. She pushed the massive bundle of hair out the window, watching it fall down, down, down, until it stopped and the wind caught it. The side of the tower was covered with a wall of flowing gold.
She’d cut her hair for her first escape attempt some years ago. This was the first time since that the edges of her hair brushed against the grass far below. She felt ridiculously proud and disgusted at the accomplishment.
Rapunzel started braiding. That took another three hours. By the time she finished, her arms were leaden, the sun was setting, and a figure was approaching the tower.
The tower was centered in a field, offering no cover to potential intruders. The walls were smooth, incapable of being climbed, with no doors. There was only one window, at the very top, where Rapunzel stood, tying her braid around a hook so her hair wouldn’t be ripped from her head.
“Good evening, Rapunzel dear!” the figure called from below.
Rapunzel didn’t answer, watching Mother (not her mother) take hold of the braid. She pulled the old woman up.
“Good evening, Mother,” Rapunzel greeted, once the old woman had reached the window and climbed in.
Mother brushed herself off with a huff. Her hair was a dark gray that was growing lighter and more silver by the hour. Her cloak hid the wiry muscles she kept strong with her daily walks into town.
Mother set her basket on the table by the window. It was full of herbs and some goods bought from the market. “I’ll have dinner in my study, dear.”
“Of course, Mother.”
Mother went downstairs, to the library that doubled as a study. Rapunzel had read every book at least twice. They were mostly herbal and astrological lore, with a few fictional stories.
Rapunzel unhooked her hair and went into the kitchen, lit by a fire and the fading sunlight.
The meatloaf had just finished cooking with the potatoes and beans. The rich scent was suffocating.
She pulled the chain from beneath her dress and studied the ring it held.
It wasn’t a giant diamond ring like she’d read about in books. It was a thin band of gold with six rubies embedded around it.
“Diamonds are so plain. Boring. Empty,” Harmon had said, sliding the ring on her finger. “You, my dear, burn with a passion like fire.”
Rapunzel caught her tears before they could fall. She shoved the ring beneath her clothes and readied their meals.
Mother was looking through one of the herbal recipes, the pages lit by candles. “The ointment I made for the farmer isn’t working as well as I’d hoped,” she said when Rapunzel set her plate on the table. “I may have to redo it…”
Rapunzel sat and started eating, keeping her eyes on her plate.
Mother slammed the book shut. “Enough!”
Rapunzel set her fork down. “What?”
“You have got to get over this silly little infatuation!”
“You mean my husband?”
Mother waved away the words. “A ring doesn’t make a wife. You need a priest and legal papers for that. If memory serves, I saved you before that happened.”
“Saved me.” Rapunzel’s voice was flat and dead. “You slit his throat.”
Mother wasn’t listening. She never listened. “He ravaged you.”
“He made love to me. I enjoyed every minute of it.”
“And what’s worse, he planted a child in you that had no business being there. Be grateful I got rid of that, too. Children are nasty business.”
So are mothers. Rapunzel nibbled her meatloaf.
Weeks before they had run away together, when Harmon was beginning to understand Rapunzel’s situation, he had suggested that Rapunzel had been kidnapped as an infant. Or perhaps offered to the old woman as a form of payment. It’d happened before, and Mother had never mentioned a father.
“Why would she want a baby that wasn’t hers?” Rapunzel had asked.
Harmon had shrugged. “Even monsters need something to love.”
Mother came around the table and turned Rapunzel’s chin, forcing her to look up. “I know you don’t appreciate it now,” she said. “But one day you’ll see that I saved you. You would have been a slave to that man, in a cruel world.”
“I would trade my entire life in this tower for one more day with him,” Rapunzel said.
She heard the slap before she felt it. She was used to the pain by now. Harmon had both admired and been horrified when he’d put his hands on her face for the first time. He’d said it was like touching two different faces. Her right cheek, soft as a lily pad. Her left, hard as stone.
“I saved you,” Mother hissed. “I took you in and raised you here where it was safe, where you could stay pure and innocent. You have no idea the sacrifices I’ve made to keep you here, knowing you would die within a week outside of this tower.”
Harmon and I would’ve looked after each other, Rapunzel thought.
“Of course, Mother,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
Mother relaxed, and kissed Rapunzel’s forehead. “Eat your dinner.”
Rapunzel continued nibbling her meal. She watched Mother sit and eat while skimming through her books.
She watched Mother’s hands move slower as they turned the pages.
She watched Mother’s eyes droop.
She watched Mother try to stand, then crumble to the floor with a curse.
Rapunzel set her fork down and stood. Mother’s glazed eyes stared at the ceiling as her head lolled back and forth.
“I should wrap my hair around your neck and strangle you with it,” Rapunzel said.
Mother’s eyes widened. She was losing her sight, but not her hearing.
Rapunzel took the knife from her plate and knelt next to Mother. “It’s only fair, isn’t it?” She drew the blade over Mother’s cheek, the cold metal kissing the skin. “You’ve taken two lives from me. Three, if you include my own.”
She pressed the knife into Mother’s skin. A thin line of blood dribbled down her cheek, onto the stone floor.
“In Harmon’s country, murderers are put to death.”
She pressed harder, the knife sliding against Mother’s cheekbone. A thin whine slithered out of her throat.
“They hire a man who’s very good with an axe, and they put him up on a platform with the criminal. This platform is covered in sand, so it absorbs the blood. Apparently, when you cut off someone’s head, you also cut through the jugular, and that’s one of the largest veins in the human body. The blood pours out.”
Rapunzel turned the knife to the side and started sawing the flesh on Mother’s face, right above the bone. “But that’s rather messy. Hanging would be better. We don’t have any rope, but my hair should be long enough. I just finished braiding it.”
Tears were slipping from Mother’s eyes, and she kept doing that high-pitched whine. That was all the drug allowed her to do, else she’d be screaming by now.
“But my favorite method comes from the east.”
Rapunzel cut through the skin and flicked the severed piece of flesh away. “They mark a murderer’s face, and let him go.”
Rapunzel stood and dropped the knife on the table. She turned Mother on her side, in case she vomited while still paralyzed. Wouldn’t want her to suffocate. Then she left her on the floor, bleeding from the gaping hole in her cheek.
Yesterday, Rapunzel had packed a travel bag and hidden it beneath the stairs. She retrieved it now, and her travel cloak. Then she tied her hair around the hook one last time.
The knife was built for filleting meat, but it worked on hair well enough.
Rapunzel wrinkled her nose at the odd feeling of hair ends on her shoulders. She ran her fingers through her hair and remembered when Harmon had done the same.
Speaking of Harmon…
She removed the chain from her neck and yanked the ring off of it. The broken chain clattered to the floor—a little silver heap. She slipped the ring on her finger, admiring the dark rubies against her pale skin.
Something crashed downstairs. Rapunzel stifled a curse. The drug must be wearing off.
She grasped the rope of hair and climbed down the tower. She jumped the last few feet, giggling when her palms hit the prickly grass.
Inside the tower, Mother screamed.
Rapunzel grabbed the matches from her bag.
Within seconds, the rope of golden hair was a pillar of flame.
Rapunzel shouldered her pack and started walking.
Mother’s wails of rage gave her her first smile in years.
--
Thanks for reading! :)
If you have any questions, comments, or concerns and don't feel comfortable using the handy little comment box below, please don't hesitate to contact me directly. 

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