Status: Updates every Sunday

Twisted Tales

On The Road Again

Erik and Jack had to hold me back from throwing the Book under a passing carriage, and I spent another three or four minutes raving like a lunatic before they could get any explanation out of me.

“Read that,” I snarled, throwing the Book at Erik.

He caught it awkwardly and opened it, flipping through the pages.

“They’re all blank,” he reminded me.

“Towards the beginning, page 76.”

He shuffled through until he hit the right page, and then scanned the story, Jack hovering over his shoulder with interest.

After a minute, Erik handed the Book back to me, his expression flat. “I can’t read half of these words.”

“That’s better than what I got,” Jack complained.

I snatched the book back and read out the last part to them.

Erik groaned. “Oh, Lord, Rikki, what have you done?”

“Lorcastle? Weissland? The Enchanted Forest? Those places are months away on foot!” said Jack, wide eyed. “What do they have to do with Rumpelstiltskin?”

“I don’t know, do I?” I snapped, and then immediately felt a twinge of guilt. I shouldn’t be snapping at the boys, it wasn’t their fault this was happening. “I don’t know. I don’t want another quest, I’m done! I did my duty, I’m going home. Whatever happens, somebody else can deal with it.” I stood up, and leaving Erik and Jack—and the Book—still sitting on the side of the road, I began to storm away down the street. This is a world in which youngest sons of princes, noble tailors, and brave knights are a dime a dozen, lurking around every corner. You couldn’t swing a cat without hitting someone who was prepared to go off on some suicidal adventure. One of the ten thousand other heroes would take care of it. I was just some girl from Montana whose usual daily dose of adventure only extended to going down to the apartment lobby to collect my mail. I didn’t sign up for this. I wasn’t my problem.

Erik and Jack were calling after me, Erik struggling to his feet using the wall of a building for support, but I’d already stopped in my tracks, turned around, and returned before they could start chasing me down.

“What am I supposed to do?” I asked the both of them, throwing my hands up into the air. “I can’t rescue… one, two, three… four princesses! I could barely rescue this one! We screwed it up, we got caught! We almost died! I can’t seriously be expected to put my life on the line just because I have the bad luck to run into Rumpelstiltskin, like, one day too soon. That isn’t fair!”

“I’m not arguing any of that,” Erik replied, looking and the Book, which Jack was now holding. “But I don’t think it cares.”

“What was that last line again?” Jack asked, opening the book back up to the only page with writing.

Erik read it haltingly over his shoulder. “And last of all, to the far north, there lies a grim wood where an ancient evil has remained confined for these last hundred years. But its gwu—gward-eye—”

“Guardian,” I supply.

“…It’s guardian weakens, and terror and suffering shall be…”


“Unleashed again upon the world if it is not stopped in time.”

That doesn’t sound good,” Jack said. “That sounds like the kind of thing that will be everyone’s problem if it isn’t dealt with, Rikki. Including yours.”

“Not mine,” I protest. “I’m going home.”

But I couldn’t. The book had said as much, hadn’t it? Dorothy can’t go home until the Wicked Witch is defeated.

I stood there and clenched my fists tight at my sides, locked in an epic internal struggle.

“Read it again,” I asked Erik. “Out loud.”

“No,” he said, gesturing to Jack to hand it to me. “I told you, I can’t read half of those words.”

“Where did you learn to read so well, Rikki?” Jack asked, his brow furrowing.

I was not about to spend an hour dealing with Jack’s self-crisis about learning that he’s a storybook character, so I ignored him. I’d save that conversation for another day.

“’In the kingdom of Lorcastle’,” I read aloud, “’the step-mother of a girl who sleeps in the ashes has found a magic ring, which gives her far too much power than a woman like her is meant to have.’” I only had to think about it for a second. “That’s Cinderella, it has to be. And she lives in Lorcastle? Where is that?”

“Directly north of here,” Erik replied. “About thirty miles. A couple day’s journey to its border, not too bad. Maybe three on foot to the main city and the castle making good time.”

“’To the western country of Weissland, a wicked queen hides a glass coffin in the dark dungeons of her castle fortress’,” I continued. “Glass coffin… Snow White, then. ‘Deep in the Enchanted Forest, a Prince is waylaid, and a maiden in a tower remains forever isolated from the outside world.’ A maiden in a tower? That could be pretty much anyone. In a forest, isolated… Ah, Rapunzel! Duh. ‘A princess lays sleeping in a forgotten castle, in a forgotten kingdom, waiting for a prince who will never come.’ Sleeping, easy. Sleeping Beauty. ‘And last of all, to the far north, there lies a grim wood where an ancient evil has remained confined for these last hundred years.’ I’ve… never heard of anything like that before.” I frown down at the words on the page, reading and rereading them, but unable to come up with any fairy tale that met that last description.

“A grim wood,” Erik echoed, and his expression grew serious. “Maybe… the Grimm Woods?”

“What is that?” I asked, pretty sure I didn’t really want to know.

“It’s far from here, far to the North-East. A month’s journey on foot, easily. I’ve never been there myself, but I’ve heard stories.”

“Everyone has,” Jack added darkly.

“That’s where some people think all the trouble is coming from. The wolves like the ones that chased you, the trolls and everything else. Those woods are supposed to be cursed.”

I was almost inclined to laugh, but then I remembered that curses were completely real here, and very likely to take your life if you weren’t careful.

I stare down at the book, at the four princesses whose fates, for some strange reason, seemed to be bound with that of Rumpelstiltskin’s, and therefore mine. I guess I didn’t have a choice.

“Okay,” I said, my voice flatter than usual. “Okay, fine. I’ll do it. I have to. If the quest has been given to me, then I doubt if anyone else will show up at zero hour to save the world from this ancient evil, or whatever it is.” I look up at the boys, trying to keep my expression under control, and my voice from quavering. “Thank you so much, both of you. I don’t know how I would have gotten this far if it wasn’t for you guys. I really appreciate what you’ve been through for my sake, especially since you barely know me, and had no obligation to help. Erik, I’m sorry I probably won’t have the chance to finish fixing your roof, but maybe if I somehow end up back in this area in a couple of months, I could help—”

“What are you talking about?” Erik demanded, his eyes narrowing.

“I—I’m saying goodbye,” I said, blinking away a few traitorous tears. “I’m going to go on and continue this quest I’ve been given.”

“Not without me, you’re not,” he replied sharply.

“Without us,” Jack adds, shooting Erik a look. “You two were the ones in real trouble, this whole thing barely counted as an adventure for me.”

“But… but… you both were in danger of losing your lives because I dragged you into this mess in the first place,” I protested.

“Exactly,” said Erik, his tone unyielding. “We almost died, but because there were three of us to watch each other’s backs, we got out alive. What would you have done if you had been alone, and we’d never agreed to come with far with you?”

“I’d… I don’t know,” I admitted.

“I don’t particularly want to go on some cross-country adventure and put my life at risk anymore than I already have, but I’ll feel like a real bastard if I just turn my back now and let you do that exact thing alone.”

“You’re stuck with us,” Jack said, grinning crookedly at me.

I couldn’t stop the tears this time, but now, they were tears of relief.


Erik’s ankle was still and absolute mess, and we were all exhausted after the ordeal of the previous night, so we hunted down the cheapest inn we could find to catch up on some much needed rest. It was the kind of inn that’s found on the very outskirts of a city, the one that’s right next to the brothel. It’s the one where most of the patrons are missing an eye, or a hand, or several of their teeth, and what little features they have left are badly scarred. It’s the kind of inn that makes Erik and Jack take off half of their clothes so I can dress semi-concealed in an alleyway until I’m wearing Erik’s coat, my old t-shirt concealed underneath; my jeans; Jack’s belt, and a hat stolen off some ten year old boy’s head with all of my hair stuffed inside of it.

“That’s horrible,” Erik had said, looking me up and down.

“It’s not… the most convincing disguise,” Jack admitted.

“It’ll be dark in there, though, and as long as you keep your head down, no one will be paying you enough attention to notice you’re a woman.”

Well, I’d kept my head down, but the three of us attracted quite a bit of attention—all of it negative—when we walked into that inn anyways. Even so, we got a room the size of a broom closet for a single copper coin, and we were so packed in like sardines, the guy who came to rob and murder us in our sleep a few hours later couldn’t even get the door open because it kept bumping into our bodies, so he gave up.

Unfortunately, after that, we were seriously out of money.

Erik and I didn’t dare leave the inn to do something about this, since our escape from the dungeons had presumably been discovered by that point. We were on the very outskirts of town, in an area where royal guards were rarely seen except when they were making certain visits to the establishment next door, but it was still risky to linger out on the streets if we didn’t have to.

Jack, however, had never been identified as one of the culprits of the castle break-in, so the next day, he headed out in search of some odds jobs he could do in a couple of hours to make a little money. Over the course of that day and the next, he spent a couple of hours laying brick, a few digging ditches, spent a pleasant afternoon picking fruit from a wealthy man’s orchard, and one particularly unpleasant evening scrubbing blood from a gallows after the rope had been cut too long and a pickpocket’s head had become unexpectedly detached from his body at the end of his not-quite-short-enough drop.

But finally, we had enough cash to get us food and board in slightly better accommodations if we needed them in the next few days. Erik warned Jack and me however that we were to save the money for emergencies, since there was so little of it, and to expect to spend a lot of nights outside, in the cold, under the stars, huddled around a campfire with only wild game roasted on a stick for our meals.

Honestly, by our third day in that sketchy inn, that sounded like a marked improvement to me.

Fortunately, the three days’ uninterrupted rest had given Erik’s ankle and arm both a chance to improve significantly. He was still sore and stiff when we decided it was time to finally get moving, but wit the aid of a stick to walk, he was at least mobile.

We spent a little of that precious money on a few vital supplies; a little food that would keep well, water skeins, a length of rope, and, more importantly, a map.

Cinderella was the next princess listed if we went in order, and Lorcastle was the nearest kingdom to Rothwall, the one we were in now. So it seemed obvious to us that that was our next stop. By midday, with more than a little trepidation about what lay in store for us ahead, we snuck out of Kingsbury on the wide, dusty road that would lead us to the heart of Lorcastle.


The walk out of Kingsbury wasn’t any more enjoyable than the walk into it had been. The city outskirts turned into farmland and wild plains that looked to me as though they might be moors, even though I’d never seen a moor in my life, with the occasional small village scattered here and there along the countryside. We would eventually hit more forest as we went further north, Erik assured us, but it would just be a narrow strip, and extension of the woods we had passed through to get from Erik and Jack’s hometown to Kingsbury.

That didn’t reassure me in the slightest, because I had almost been eaten by a ten foot spider in those woods. I’m much rather take the hot, dusty, shadeless country road than go back into that forest if I had a choice. I’d take my risks with sunstroke. But Erik insisted that there was no avoiding the forest, that it surrounded either side of the river that marked the boundary between the two kingdoms.

Still, I was determined to make the most of the long walk, since it was obvious now that Erik, Jack, and I were going to be stuck with each other for quite a while. It was too hot and dusty to talk, both the boys—Erik especially—were in no mood for conversation, if we even had anything in common to talk about. Which we didn’t.

But singing is another story entirely, and I knew from personal experience hiking in many of Montana’s gorgeous landscapes that a little bit of singing can make a long journey seem to go by a lot quicker. Plus, walking to the beat keeps you moving forward at a steady pace, and helps distract you from your aching feet.

Jack and I had a good time teaching each other songs we knew, while Erik did his best to ignore our entreaties to join in.

I quickly discovered that I don’t actually know that many songs by heart, and after singing a couple of versions that involved only a chorus preceded and followed by awkward mumbling while I stumbled through half-remembered lyrics, I was forced to resort to the only songs that I did know by heart: musical numbers.

We had a great time with that, though Jack kept asking awkward questions after I taught him the lyrics like “What’s a ‘fuel injection cut off, and chrome plated rods’?”. Technically, though I was familiar with cars in a general way, I did not know myself and had no answer for him; but that was my fault for picking “Greased Lightning”. I still avoided songs with too many references to modern amenities after that, though. Once again, not ready for that awkward “you may or may not be real” conversation.

Eventually I talked Erik into at least adding some back up vocals during the choruses, which he did at a very low volume without any inflection of tone what-so-ever. But he started to warm up to it after perhaps an hour, and I finally, with much begging, got him to consent to sing the Phantom’s part of the duet “Music of the Night” with me. I’m a garbage singer—just awful, really and truly terrible—but I also have no shame, so I belted Christine’s lines with all my heart, in a manner that surely made Andrew Lloyd Webber spin in his—well, not grave since he’s not dead yet, but you get the idea.

Again, Erik started off barely mumbling his lines, but as anyone familiar with the musical knows, it’s a passionate song. A little of my enthusiastic energy began to rub off on him, and he actually started to sing with a little bit of gusto. And I’ll be damned if he didn’t have the voice of an angel. He was so good in fact, that I almost became self-conscious about the flaming car wreck that was my own tender rendition of the song. But again, no shame, so I got over it.

After that I tried to get him to sing “I Stand Alone” from A Quest for Camelot, but he knew exactly what I was up to and didn’t open his mouth again for the next couple of hours.

Surprisingly, during that blissfully uneventful time, nothing bad happened at all. I didn't so much as trip over a rock while we experienced our first truly relaxing hours in days.

I should have known it was too good to last.

Kingsbury had long since disappeared from view, and the only signs of Lorcastle ahead of us were a few worn stone markers indicating how many more miles we had to journey. Soon, the farmland melted away into woodland—not quite a proper forest, but the scraggily oaks growing increasingly close together clearly had aspirations. It was an enormous relief at first, as the trees provided a little cover from the baking heat of the afternoon sun; but after a while, I started to feel just a little on edge. Apart from us, there wasn't a soul around. Not so much as a squirrel had crossed our paths in a little over an hour, and even the birds in the trees had seemed to take a vacation.

Jack and I were about eighty bottles into “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” when without warning, Erik abruptly staggered to a halt, throwing one arm out to stop me, and sliding his bow off his shoulder with the other.

“What? What is it?” I asked him, pushing his arm away from my chest.

"Shush..." he hushed, staring intently into the waist high blackberry bushes that lined the left side of the road.

I fell silent at once, and Jack reached for his own little dagger.

Then, just as suddenly, Erik relaxed. "No, never mind,” he said, with obvious relief.

"What was it?" I asked again, nonplussed.

"Nothing." He shook his head. "I just thought I heard—"

At the moment, something large, grey and furry burst from the bushes, rolling in a heap across the road and landing directly in front of us.

Jack cried out, stumbled back, and drew his dagger. Erik grabbed me, yanking me behind him with a snarl and then pulling an arrow out of the quiver on his back. As the thing began pushing itself up off the ground, Erik notched the arrow, and took aim at the creature.

“What are you doing?” I cried, grabbing onto his arm a second before he could let fly the arrow.

“Rikki, get off me!” Erik shouted, trying to shake me off, but I clung to him with all my strength. "Jack!" he shouted, unable to get loose from my death grip, "Don't let it up! Kill it! Now!"

Jack looked at Erik incredulously. “With this?” He brandished the dagger, only five inches long.

“For the love of—” Erik snarled. “Then come over here and get her off me, and I’ll do it myself!”

“You will do no such thing!” I ordered.

“You should know better than anyone that we have to kill that thing now!” he roared.

I glanced at it, and the lashing tail, yellow eyes, and sharp, white teeth jutting out of a black maw gave me very unpleasant memories.

But I grit my teeth, and only held onto his arm tighter than ever. “Look at it!” I demanded.

“Vermin!” he shouted.

“Erik! It’s wearing pants!”
♠ ♠ ♠

Sorry about the singing scene. It's absolutely ridiculous, I know. It was in the original version of this chapter, and I was 100% planning on cutting it, but after reading it over, I just couldn't do it.

I spent such a long time writing the last 20 chapters of this story, which have a much grimmer, down-beat atmosphere that seeing this silly scene seemed like such a sharp contrast to the emotional place the characters are in later on. And then I thought I had to keep it, because of that stark contrast.

So here it is, in all it's silly glory. Enjoy it, because there isn't much frivolity after Cinderella's quest ;)

Anyway, I have a Tumblr now! Check it out, I'll be posting original story prompts, writing quotes from famous authors, short stories and microfiction I've written, and the occasional writing tip and advice I've read elsewhere that I think is useful.

Until next time, dear readers!

-J. Brenton