An alternate telling of Sleeping Beauty. 2,500 Words for the Fantasy Unraveled contest.
|When I was small, my parents hid me from the world. They did this to keep me safe and because they had not yet learned that no parent can keep their child safe from everything, no matter how hard they try.
I wanted to go everywhere. I wriggled out of my mother’s arms and across courtyards. Later, I squeezed through narrow passages and out secret tunnels that only led to more rooms and more walls. I wanted to climb onto the roof and swing from the buttresses, to run off the path and into the darkest parts of the forest.
Sometimes I would overhear the servants whispering about a curse, always hushed, always dropping into silence whenever I approached. Through the whispers I learned of a hundred year long sleep. I didn’t believe such a thing was possible so I didn’t let it bother me. I had other things on my mind.
There was a sensation within me, of a swarm of bees buzzing in my chest, an urge to run and run and never stay still. When I was fifteen years old I was suddenly expected to court. To simper and giggle and above all be still. To keep my eyes modestly downcast as I listened to men talk to me as if I were a child when they were meant to be looking for a bride. They hardly seemed real to me, so heavily made up, covering their faces and their thoughts so well that I couldn’t form a picture of who they really were. The buzzing in my chest grew.
Another year passed and still I never left the castle, only watched oceans of other people arrive and recede. So it came to pass that I reached sixteen years of age and the only experiences I had of the world outside these walls were what I could see from the tallest tower.
It was there that I searched most desperately for a glimpse of freedom and it was there that I met my destiny. Perhaps if my father had told me what a spindle was, rather than trying to control the whole world, then I would have known not to take those few steps, known not to reach out. But what happened, happened and cannot be undone.
I don’t remember falling, only waking in my dreams. At first there was only mist and faint rolling hills through thick sheets of fog.
Soon the mist was dissipating, rolling back and back and baring more of this world. The mist coalesced into my castle, my home. The forest grew rapidly, reaching into the sky. Once complete, there was a sound of a deep and resounding gong. All the shreds of mist that remained reformed themselves into the shapes of people. A servant passed by, holding a ghostly serving tray. I reached out to stop him and my hand passed clean through. He was only a dream.
Unless spoken to, no one paid me any mind. They moved like shadows, always silently, from one room to the next.
I realized quickly that no one here was going to stop me from doing whatever I’d like. The tower beckoned. I pulled up my skirts and ran to the top, climbed onto the roof and swung from the buttresses. I spent years doing everything I had ever wanted to do, and more. Whatever took my fancy. I ran into the darkest parts of the forest and, quite by accident, found the edge of my dream.
I placed a hand there, onto the dark edge and felt it start to slip through. I jerked my hand back. It had been so cold.
I went home and sat by the pond for a while. I made a crown of dandelions while I hummed an old tune to fill the silence. From across the meadow I heard a voice shout, “Hello!”
It was the first voice, other than my own, to echo through my dreams since I’d arrived.
He was a fox, slim and red and beautiful. “Who are you?” I asked.
“I am at your service,” he said and bowed.
“That’s not a name,” I said.
“No. It isn’t,” he said and straightened.
“How did you get here?” I asked.
“Please. I am a fox. I can get anywhere.” He stepped closer. “I have come to warn you.”
“The good fairy and the bad, the two that started this curse between them . . . They fight for and against you even now. She will be coming.”
“Who?” I asked. “The good fairy or the bad?”
He shrugged. “Whichever one gets here first.” He bounded off into the undergrowth. I followed. Every now and again I would catch a glimpse of him slipping through the forest ahead of me, a flash of red among the green.
He stopped at the edge of my dream. “You’ve been here before,” he said. It wasn’t a question. He placed his paw on the edge and he pushed. “Follow me.”
I hesitated, remembering the shock of sensation last time but I pushed through. He was the first creature that I’d been able to speak to and I didn’t want to be left behind, alone. I went through and into a void. It was cold, so cold that my bones felt like ice but I didn’t shiver. This was the space between dreams. I floated here, as if underwater, my hair curling around me. All around were shimmering globes floating past. They looked as delicate as bubbles blown upon the air. One passed quite close and I could see an ocean inside of it.
Each of them was a different world, another dreamer’s dream. Fox asked me to choose so we went into the next one to pass by. I spent years going from one dream to the next. I roamed an endless universe of adventure. I was a pirate captain of a ghostly crew in a ship that could sail among the stars. Instead of a parrot by my side, I had Fox. I defeated the kraken by shooting an arrow through her heart.
I explored the darkest caves in the deepest parts of the earth and only narrowly escaped the jaws of a creature that I never saw more of than its shining teeth as they snapped closer and closer.
I grew fairy wings and flew through a forest so large and dark that every shaft of sunlight was blinding. I out flew an army of goblins and all of the spears that they could throw.
Time didn’t mean anything in the dreams. Each year bled into the next and I lost all track of how long I had been here. I adapted to each new place and perhaps became a bit more feral after each one. Always I chose the globes we would go to next, except for one. One of them Fox chose.
It was autumn here, the leaves all colors of fire and earth. A slow, soft breeze shuffled the fallen leaves and they echoed like the churning sea. A stone cottage sat nestled at the edge of a clearing and into the rock face just behind it. Fox looked towards it and then back to me, his nose twitching. “Go ahead,” he said. “Knock.”
I approached slowly, my footfalls heavy on the ground. Apprehension prickled at the back of my neck but rather than turning away from it, I pressed forward.
I rapped my knuckles on the door and waited. A young man answered, fair of hair and eye. No dream mist hung upon him, in fact, he didn’t appear the least bit ghostly. Though I had no idea who he was I had never been happier to see another person in all my life. “Who are you?” he asked.
I smiled, “Who are you?”
He leaned against the door frame with his arms crossed and studied me. “Owen,” he said.
“What is this place?” I asked.
He cleared his throat. “Just somewhere I stayed when I was small. I dream of it often but I’ve never dreamt of you.”
He had a directness of manner, without the court artifices that I had been used to. I was just as disinterested in hiding. “I’m a princess,” I said. He raised his brows at that and waited for me to continue. “I’ve been put to sleep for one hundred years.”
“You know,” he said, “That’s just the sort of thing a beautiful woman would come tell me in a dream.”
“A good dream?” I asked.
“The best,” he said.
From then on I had another companion to adventure with. I discovered that though he looked more solid he was just as ephemeral as the rest of the dream folk. He’d tried to take my hand as we ran from a lizard the size of a mountain and his hand had passed right through mine. He would disappear for pockets of time, the times that he was awake. He’d always return, bashful and apologetic for leaving me here. He had no memory of his waking days while he was in the dreaming. Neither of us minded that.
We climbed the highest mountains then jumped from the tops, turning to eagles and flying through storms. We grew scales and tails and swam the deepest oceans. We trapped a shark so large that if you were near his head you wouldn’t be able to see his tail, it stretched so far.
We played and we fought battles and if it could have gone on forever we would both have been pleased, but even a time as long as one hundred years must someday come to an end.
Owen and I were resting by the lake near my own castle when Fox arrived to give us the news. “She is coming,” he said. “The dark fairy.”
“When?” I asked.
“Not yet. Soon. You have some time still, to wander.”
I turned to Owen. I’d been saving this until close to the end. “Would you like to see my favorite dream?”
He nodded and followed me to the edge of the dream. We floated together until I saw the dream orb that I wanted.
We stepped into a galaxy, someone’s dream of deep space, with the most beautiful colors spearing across the sky. I felt his presence behind me. He stepped close and I knew that if he could touch me he would have wrapped his arms around my waist and placed his chin on my shoulder.
“Who could have dreamed something so beautiful?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I said, arrested by the peace that I always felt here.
“Would you like to dance with me?” he asked.
I turned to face him and we did dance, trying to hold pose but occasionally passing through each other like the ghosts that we were, out of time, with the slow-turning of a galaxy singing around us.
In the end, he faded away, back to his life in the day, and I turned back to my own dream alone.
“Well, Fox. What news?” I asked when I returned.
“She’s nearly here. She’s come to try and trap you here and she is enraged.”
“Because all of her previous attempts have ended in failure.”
“You didn’t think that all dreams were as hazardous as the ones you kept stumbling across, did you?” The kraken, the long tailed shark, the darkness of gnashing teeth. Those, and many more, were all traps set by her.”
Fox stepped aside. Behind him a glow like a candle flame flickered. It grew and grew until the good fairy stood before me. “I have helped where I could,” she said. “I sent Fox and I sent Owen but this last test you must do alone.”
I let these revelations sink in. The dark fairy was indeed very powerful, to be able to insinuate herself into other people’s dreams. She had to have mastered illusion. She would try to trick me.
But it also meant something else. It meant that I’d already beaten her, hundreds of times. I grinned and stood a little straighter.
The fairy spoke again, “Do not be overconfident. Whatever she has planned is what she has saved for last. It won’t be easy.”
As soon as she finished speaking my dream plunged into darkness and I heard a new voice. It was heavy, like grinding stones.
“You have a choice, my dear,” she said.
“Have I? And what kind of choice is that?”
“I will show you,” she said.
The darkness of my dream world swirled into color. She showed me myself, lying in a bed, my hair fanned out across the pillow. An unfamiliar man bent down and kissed me. In the vision I awoke and the two of us headed down to the throne room. We were married and I could see the crowds of the kingdom rejoice but I could also see the despair in my own eyes. I saw an entire life lived devoid of joy. Of adventure. Of love.
“This is one path,” she said. “And here is another.”
The colors swirled again and I saw Owen and I, jumping from cloud to cloud and sliding down rainbows. I saw us dancing madly around a fire to primal drumbeats. I saw all of the life and happiness that had been missing from the first vision. It pulled at my heart but I already knew the answer to this riddle.
“Will you wake or will you sleep?” she asked.
“I will wake,” I said. “That future you showed me will never happen. Did you think that my time here wouldn’t change me? That I’d leave here docile and simpering? I’ve conquered worlds. I’ve conquered you. When that prince wakes me I’ll simply thank him and send him on his way. I’ll find Owen outside of the dreams and I will shake his hand. I know my strength now. And you do not belong here.”
I used my mind to push against her and she shrieked as the world of dreaming melted away.
I blinked awake to see Owen’s face hovering above mine. I felt a tingling in my lips. I realized that the dark fairy’s vision of the future had been a lie.
“I can’t believe that worked,” he said.
“It’s meant to be a prince that wakes me with a kiss.”
He looked bashful again in a way that was achingly familiar. “Turns out I am a prince. It’s just that, in my dreams, I chose not to be.”
He looked down and traced his fingers over my wrist and then lower to lace his fingers with mine. “I can’t tell you how often I wanted to take your hand in the dreams,” he glanced up into my eyes.
He was a prince. No wonder he’d loved the adventures as much as I had. Life had made prisoners of us both but now we had the rest of our lives to help each other feel free.