The Traveller bites their lip and nods their appreciation. After a second’s hesitation, and without another word, they join the Keeper at the line and begin hanging the wash. Their fingers linger on the fabric, so soft and shimmering, woven from starlight and space dust. Her home traps so much light, so she spins it into threads. It’s satisfying for it to go to good use, and the robe looks lovely on the Traveller, their warm brown skin emerging from the amorphous golden-white wraps.
“Thank you,” the Keeper says. The last time anyone volunteered to help was eons ago. Two million, five hundred sixty-three thousand, four hundred and eighty-nine days ago, to be exact.
The Traveller nods again and drapes a sheet with deft, practiced movements. When they speak again, there is a wistful tone in their voice. “I used to help my mother with the laundry. We hung it outside in the summer, and by the fireplace in the winter. Fourteen sets of clothes, every week. I’m sure you can imagine how long it took to match the socks.”
“That’s the benefit of living alone in the bottom of a black hole. No one cares whether you match your socks.” The Keeper gives them with a conspiratorial wink, and hikes up the edge of her skirt just enough to show the different patterned footwear.
Wait, do not walk away! Don’t wander off to play! You think you’ve heard this tale before? You think this rhyme will be a bore? Please give me but a fighting chance. I bet two cents you’ll be entranced.
This poem tells the story of one eccentric fellow who lived a rather eventful life (and afterlife)! Jack of Fables is the name I’ve given to the character behind the stories of Jack in the Beanstalk, Jack the Giant Killer, Jack be Nimble, Stingy Jack, Jack and Jill went up a hill, Jack O’Lantern, and Jack Frost. His story has been sitting in my phone notes since 2015, and I’ve been itching for a chance to tell it ever since. It made the perfect candidate for a newsletter launch giveaway as a short story, but when I put pen to paper, I found that poetry fit better, and had a ton of fun writing this new rhyming version. A special thanks to my good friend Siarven for beta reading this!
I did this illustration as a “cover” and a teaser for the story! Can you find the symbols from each of the fables I mentioned in the last paragraph? If you haven’t signed up for my mailing list yet, here is the link to do so. Once you sign up and confirm subscription, the first email should be sent right away. I hope you enjoy reading!
Runaways is my middle-grade portal fantasy novel, currently in the drafting stage. If you’re unfamiliar with its plot and characters, you can find an introduction to the story and read its first lines on the WIP Page. This scene comes from near the middle of the story, once Hannah has finally reached the faerie realm in search of her younger sister. 1447 Words, CW for glamour/illusions.I hope you enjoy reading!
The guards led Hannah from the cavern through a dark tunnel that twisted one way, then another. She tentatively reached one hand out to follow along the wall, and they didn’t stop her. It didn’t help her sense of direction. The walls of the tunnel occasionally caved out into branching pathways, and they turned so many times, Hannah was sure they must have retraced their path twice or thrice. Seashells in the woods wouldn’t help her find her way home. A spool of golden string did Theseus no good sitting back at home. She doubted there were seashells aplenty or string long enough to find the way through this maze.
Something roared. Distant growling grew louder as her captors forced her ever forward. Hannah didn’t dare slow her steps, even as dread knotted in her stomach. But her fears were unfounded as finally, the earth took a sharp slant upwards, and they emerged out of a cave behind a waterfall. The thunder of water echoed off the rocks, and she let out a sigh of relief as she realized it wasn’t a monster. The mist sprayed in her face as they rounded the barrier and emerged into a forest of blazing red. Autumn leaves graced the branches of trees that towered unbelievably high. She craned her neck, but couldn’t see the end.
A million twinkling stars hung in the dark sky. A galaxy of fireflies lit the clearing with dancing lights. The stone path continued before them, lined by wildflowers that grew as high as her waist. Garlands that held golden lanterns lined the path as well and drew the attention of diaphanous gossamer moths. They flitted about the party, and one even landed on her hair. Hannah couldn’t stifle a laugh of delight as it perched on her head. She caught the lead guard grinning at her out of the corner of her eye, clearly pleased that she enjoyed the spectacle.
In the distance, the sights and sounds of a gathering solidified into the form and sounds of a palace. The guards marched her up the front steps, through the towering columns, and through the throng of gawking fae. Hannah could scarcely watch before they spun away in a mad dance. It felt like Masquerade. Each played the phantom, and she the unwitting attendant. The music soared and twisted, a lively melody that wound around her and pulled her into the intoxicating revelry. She resisted the urge to twirl in time with the tune. If she began, she could not stop, and for the first time, she was thankful for her guards pulling her on ever forward to her destination. She clapped her hands over her ears. What if the piper was here? As part of the band, with his mask of a face, and colorful clothes, he’d fit right into the motley crowd.
As she entered the throne room, she thought maybe she shouldn’t be thankful they brought her to yet another trial. Two thrones stood atop a raised dais in a semi-circular room. Servants hurried to bring trays of food to their monarchs. The queen sat distinguished in a silvery celestial gown and enjoying delicacies, dropping no fruit on her dress. She had a wild look in her large golden eyes, indigo skin that marbled with violet, and black hair that spilled over her shoulders like clouds of ink. Her wings were like Luna moth’s, huge and pale green, and she held a glass of chocolate wine just in danger of tipping over.
If the queen embodied night, the king personified day. He sprawled across her lap, leaning casually sideways in the throne they shared. Dark freckles stood out like sunspots on pale yellow skin. A tousle of golden curls framed his face, crowned with a wreath of ivy. He wore a plum colored robe and sandals that now dangled from his feet. One hand held a glass of sparkling champaign, and the other held a leg of meat. He laughed with an attendant, and his dark eyes flashed with enjoyment.
“Now what do we have here?” Hummed the queen.
The guard that had been leading Hannah stepped up to speak with a sharp salute, lifting the beetle wings high and proud. “We found this one at the northern gate. Fell through fighting one of the Piper’s agents. Said she wasn’t a spy. Looking for a changeling. Told her we’d let you decide.”
“Well done, soldier!” said the king. “What fun, what excitement! A wonderful opportunity!”
Hannah shuddered to wonder what that meant. She took a step back, abruptly sober and wary.
“May we have your name, little one?” The queen crooned. Hannah set her jaw. She prepared for this.
“You may not have my name, but you may call me Maria,” She answered. There were millions of Marias in the world and they bore a good name – a safe, powerful, beautiful one, but not hers.
“Let us offer you these sweet cakes then, Maria,” The king said. A platter materialized out of the air, filled with luscious tarts.
“I humbly decline, for I had my meal at home.”
They grinned, an identical, sharp-toothed grin. “What do you seek from the Seelie Court of Autumn?” The queen asked.
“Which do you want?” the king asked, “For there are many.”
“My dear,” the queen purred, “You’ll have to be more specific than that.”
Yes, she would need to be exacting in her request, lest they pull a horrid trick on her for their amusement. Lest they endanger Cec- her sister. Best to avoid even thinking her name in their presence. Who knew what they could do?
“I believe your people took my sister last night during the thunderstorm, between the hours of midnight and four today. She spoke of the Piper, and his flutes on the wind. I couldn’t hear his music, because he didn’t come for me. She vanished the next morning. I wish for her freedom to return to our home and our parents.”
“You wish, hmmmmmm?” The king mused. “We do not owe you a wish, but yours is a noble plea.”
Her heart leap with hope. Would they consider?
“Why?” the queen asked.
Why? A million reasons, but should she reveal her heart now? Hannah ventured for a safe answer. “Because our mother and father will be cross with us if we return late for dinner,”
“Why?” Insisted the king.
Hannah’s stomach turned as they pressed into her with that driving tone. The facade of indulgent amusement dropped like taking off a mask, leaving behind hard, angry eyes. Why did they toy with her? Was her request so unreasonable?
“Because she left without a word, and I am worried for her.”
“Why?” Hissed the queen.
“Because I miss her. Because I love her.”
They gave her those same, sharp-toothed grins again. Hannah wanted to slap those smiles right off their silly little faces. She held her breath as they waited for an agonizingly long moment before the king spoke.
“How do you know her, when you cannot call her by name?”
Around her appeared a dozen figures–girls that all looked exactly like Hannah’s sister. They all gazed at her with wild, desperate expressions. She shrunk back, but more popped up behind her. Hannah scowled at the ring of possible imposters as she realized the trick. One would be the truth, trapped in the game. The others would be illusions. She had to choose.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath to steady herself.
“I know her by her footsteps when she creeps into my room at night to watch the thunderstorms.” They took a step towards her, menacing. Those three, those were wrong. Hannah snapped open her eyes and banished several of the imposters. With a wave of her hand, they vanished into a puff of smoke.
“I know my sister by her laugh when I tell her a terrible pun,” Hannah said. The girls all laughed, seemingly on command. She couldn’t tell apart individual voices, but there was a silence from one side as one didn’t laugh. She had said nothing funny. Banished. Vanished. Smoke.
“I know her by her kindness when she sneaks our cats extra treats. I know her by her competitiveness when she jumps off the top of a maple tree to beat me in a race.” One flinched at the idea of breaking bones, but her sister never hesitated with heights. Banished. Vanished. Smoke.
One remained. Hannah locked eyes with it through the smoke and her eyes stung with tears. “I know my sister,” she repeated. “And she knows me.”
Cecilia disappeared. She didn’t wander off following fireflies again. She isn’t hiding in the library, and she couldn’t go out into the storm last night. No, Hannah is sure that faeries stole her sister, and she’s taking the search into her own hands. Armed with their father’s green coat, a steel pocket knife, and a red string tied round her ankle, she stomps into the first mushroom ring she finds to demand her best friend back. Soon she finds herself on a dangerous and extraordinary adventure, navigating between the Seelie and Unseelie courts and trying to find her way back home before dinner.
Hannah: 13 years old, totally mundane human, and the oldest in her family. Clever, unconditionally loving, and protective. She’s got Pure Underdog Fairy Tale Protagonist energy with a heaping side of Too Curious For Her Own Good.
Cecilia: Supposedly 10 years old, runs away into the forest one Halloween to find the Seelie court and protect her family from a horrible fate. She’s mischievous and quick witted, but likes nothing more than climbing into bed with her older sister to read stories long after the lights are supposed to be out.
The Taken: A mysterious girl with no name who attacks Hannah when she enters the faerie woods. She looks human, but wields vicious magic and answers to an entity called The Piper.
The Piper: A boogeyman, one of the unseelie court. One of those creatures parents invoke to convince young children to behave.
This takes place in a vaguely modern-day Earth. Hannah and Cecilia live in the countryside in an old farmhouse with their parents. They have a big garden, and woods in the backyard that are also home to a tiny hidden faerie realm. The Seelie and Unseelie courts are (broadly speaking) the benevolent but still dangerous, and actively malicious faeries respectively. They have an uneasy truce, but in the times when they did war with each other for power, the immortals didn’t want to die for the conflict. Instead, they steal changelings to do their dirty work, since it’s so much easier to let the mortals do that sort of unpleasant fighting. The faeries they leave in the child’s place act as spies and keep the humans from getting involved. The practice has fallen out of use for some time, but bold unseelie still steal children occasionally for their own uses. Even though this great cosmic sort of battle is taking place in the backdrop, the story just focuses on the sisters.
Faeries have all the magic powers and wish granting abilities as the old legends and stories. Sometimes they’ll bestow magic unto a particularly exemplary human that finds them, but always beware of a hidden “catch.” These people are known as “powers.” This story takes place at Halloween and so there are cameos from different minor nature spirits and the aesthetic has a lot to do with the weather changing and fog on the fields and red leaves fringed with frost. Some of these background characters include folk heroes, various trickster spirits, and “Jack,” one guy from the the mid 1100s that was clever and unlucky enough to star as protagonist in no less than six faerie tales.
Genre: Portal Fantasy novella, middle grade/YA
Themes: Family, sisterly love and bonds, escaping evil
POV: Third person deep/limited, mostly from Hannah’s POV
Status: Outlined, using a combination of the Hero’s Story and a 3-act-structure
Goal: 35K words, 12 chapters. Hopefully I’ll be finished with drafting by the end of the year! My plan is to try to self-publish this story first, so I can make all my rookie mistakes on a different WIP from Storge. I know there’s a lot to learn about the process and I’d like to grow my author’s platform with a smaller standalone debut novel before releasing The Laoche Chronicles. For comparison, Storge has 7 POVs, 4 suplots, and is 110K+ words long. I now have three original projects going at the same time: drafting this story, editing Storge, and outlining the Laoche Chronicles, so I’m going to do my best to divide my free time between them so that I can get done on time. Wish me luck!