My Own Hero

*For the Huntsman Writing Competition The princesses have had their princes rescue them, Little Red Riding Hood has returned from the forest. But this is definitely no happily ever after.

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1. In The Abandoned House of the Three Bears

                Red was the first to come in. She was the youngest there, and she knew the others would expect her to be even younger. In the stories, they always showed her as a little girl. Would any parent in their right mind send a child into a forest alone? Then there were the villagers who spoke behind her back, saying that she had ‘seen the wolf’. Like that was such a bad thing, and she hadn’t died in the process. And she hadn’t seen the wolf in that way. Because of the gossip, her mother had made her stop wearing red. She now wore black, as if she was mourning the wolf’s death.

                There were three chairs and three beds. As far as she knew it was an abandoned house. One of the idiot children from the village thought it would be funny to explore the forest alone. She came across the bear’s house, a family of enchanted bears. They were very civilized, and didn’t take kindly to the unwanted intruder who ate their food and broke their furniture.

                Of course, their village being the ignorant place it was, drove the bears out of their house. The blonde girl Bertha, who always insisted on being called ‘Goldilocks’, went unpunished. She was married to the baker now, and utterly unrepentant. The smallest chair was in the corner, broken and abandoned. She was sitting in what must have been the mother’s chair, soft and of a pale pink. By some miracle, the house hadn’t been infested with termites or overtaken by the forest animals.

                She lit a lantern and placed it in the center of the room, hoping that the others would come. She hoped that there were others who felt the way she did. The window shutters flew outward and a cold wind hit her face.

                “I am here, Red,” a voice whispered in her ear. “It was heard on the Northern wind that a lass of red locks was searching for others like herself, other damsels. My sisters thought I should meet you.”

                Two women walked into the room. One was pale and young, her black hair reaching her shoulders, the other blonde. Both of them were beautiful, ridiculously beautiful. They held hands and seemed hesitant, ready to step out any moment.

                “I’m Red,” she said. “I am Red.”

                “The one that, um, saw the wolf?”

                “Not the way you’re thinking, but yes. The one who had a wolf replace her grandmother, and was rescued by the huntsman.”

                “I’m Margaret, the one everyone calls Snow White. Because that is such a wonderful name, apparently,” the pale one said.

                “I’m Ella, Cinderella. It’s ridiculous that I’m a princess and people still insist on calling me that.”

                “I’m Ariel,” the voice in the wind said. “Pleased to meet all of you.”

                “What in God’s name was that?” the pale one asked.

                “Ariel, apparently,” Ella said. “Are we the only ones?”

                “I’m pleasantly surprised that we have even four,” Margaret said, taking a seat on the largest bed. “Wow, this is like twice the size of Bernie’s bed.”

                “I thought your husband’s name was Marcus?” Ella asked.

                “Bernie’s one of the miners,” Margaret answered.

                “One of the dwarves?”

                “One of the miners, Ella. How would you like it if I called you that dumb blonde all the time. My friends are miners, and they’re short. There’s no need to remind people about their height all the time.”

                “Sorry, Margaret,” Ella said. “It’s the stories, you know. I’ve gotten used to thinking of your friends as dwarves. Perhaps that word makes them one-dimensional in my mind. It’s hard to think of them as people, rather than just, well, dwarves.”

                “Can we change the topic?” Red asked. They seemed familiar with each other, and they were similar. They were both dressed richly, and she knew who they were. She heard the fairytales about Cinderella and Snow White, but she had never imagined that they would feel the same way as her.

                “Of course, we’re here for something else. We’re here for ourselves, right?” Ella asked.

                “Yes. But I don’t understand why you two are here. You’ve both found true love, you got rid of your stepmothers.”

                “Not exactly. Her stepmother regularly comes over. Our Ella’s got problems with saying ‘no’. When you hear about it, it all sounds very pitiable. She stayed with her stepmother and basically became a doormat for a decade. Even now, her stepmother trying to set up her stepsister with the prince’s younger brother.”

                “Why are you still letting her near you?” Red asked.

                “She doesn’t ask. She tells me that she’ll come and doesn’t take no for an answer,” Ella answered. “It would be rude to refuse my own family. I know she struggled with money after father died.”

                “No, she had no problem spending all of your father’s hard-earned money. The struggle after that was her own fault. You could have left that house any second. Instead, you worked as the maid, housekeeper, cook and animal handler for ten years. You have serious self-esteem issues, Ella. Hopefully, can work on that here.”

                “Oh, I wish Fairy Godmother was here,” Ella said.

                “You need to stop letting other people fix your problems for you, Ella. You need to make sure your stepmother and her daughters stay far, far away from you and your happiness.”

                Red felt she had been left out. A servant had come in, Margaret’s servants, and they had biscuits and tea in front of them. She could see Ariel now, a slight fog that hung around her right shoulder.

                “So, we all know each other’s stories, don’t we?” Ariel asked. “I mean, I don’t know if many people know mine.”

                “Who are you anyway?” Margaret asked.

                “I’m the Little Mermaid,” Ariel whispered.

                “You’re supposed to be seafoam,” Cinderella said. “My mother told me the story once.”

                “I was turned into a daughter of the air. I regret not killing that man more than anything else in my existence.”

                “Killing?”

                “You know the part of the sea witch and the deal I made, don’t you?”

                “Vaguely,” Red answered.

                If fog could shrink, if fog could fade, Red saw it right then.

                “She offered me another deal. If I killed the man that I loved, I would have been able to go back to my family, like before. I think I should have.”

                “You should have,” Margaret said. “You, Ella, and even Red. You guys are having the same problems. You’re not able to say no to people. Ariel, I don’t know what you can do, but Ella and Red can still do something.”

                “What can I do? People think that I lost my virginity to some guy that lives in the forest.”

                “What?!”

                “That’s what ‘seeing the wolf’ means, apparently. I just literally saw a wolf that tried to eat my grandmother. Why does everything I say sound dirty to me? Is it just me?”

                “It’s just you, I'm afraid. So that’s what seeing the wolf means,” Ella said. “That’s unfortunate, Red. We’ll work together, though.”

                “First, I think we should solve your problem, Ella. We need to get your stepfamily out of your life, permanently,” Red suggested. She didn't know how to solve her own problem, but the only thing separating Ella and her peace of mind was Ella's own passiveness.

                “I can’t just…”

                “They made you empty their chamber pots. I think you can just… tell them to shove it,” Margaret said.

                “Margaret, there’s really no need to publicize such information,” Ella whispered. “That’s not the kind of history a princess should have.”

                “I lived with seven short, hairy men in a secluded house in the forest. That’s definitely not the history of an ideal princess, either.”

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