Mirror, Mirror

It’s not till the early morning hours, as I lie alone in my cold bed, that I realize getting rid of her won’t solve the problem. There will always be someone younger and more beautiful, and I can’t kill them all.

This piece of flash fiction tells an alternate version of the classic fairytale, where Snow White isn’t quite as innocent as she seems. Flash fiction is all about writing a compelling story with all the correct elements (conflict, rising action, character development, climax, etc.) in very few words. The League of Utah Writers, the association I’m affiliated with, sets their max at 1,000 words. I’ve written micro fiction as small as 100 words. This one weighs in at 981.

Mirror, Mirror – by Josie Hume

I step from the bath and walk to the ornate mirror, leaving a trail of wet footprints across the marble floor. I wipe a circle clear of steam. “Mirror, mirror, on the wall,” I murmur as I lean close to its reflective surface, “who is the fairest? Me or that bitch, Snow White?”

The mirror doesn’t answer, of course, but I don’t need it to. I already know the answer. Despite all my effort, time has left the footprints of its relentless march across my face.

My breath fogs the glass until I’m only a blurred shape again. Indistinct. Invisible.

“Still as vain as the day I met you.”

The deep voice startles me. I hadn’t heard him come in. I force myself to ignore the instinctive desire to cover up and turn to face my husband. Even after all these years, his handsome face causes my breath to catch and my skin to flush with desire.

“It’s not vanity,” I say. “It’s…survival.” I walk toward him, searching his eyes for the heat that used to burn so brightly in those midnight depths. I yearn for that fire, for those war-rough fingers to trace my body again, for that smoky voice to murmur exciting, explicit words telling me how much he desires me. Back then, we wouldn’t leave the bed for days.

I’d been hated. Called a witch—what else but witchcraft could keep the king from his duties. But I knew the truth. He was too full of passion, of life and ambition to do anything by halves. When he warred, he warred whole-heartedly. When he entertained, he entertained lavishly. And when he loved, he loved to the exclusion of everything else.

I reveled in it—wallowing in hours of bliss. Entire days lost in a sexual haze.

And I feared it, even then. What if someone else caught his eye?

I was right to fear. He watches me now with the impersonal glance of an auditor tabulating nothing more intimate than numbers. Still beautiful. Still thin. No longer young.

I skim my hands up to cup my breasts, eyes on his, desperate to see something—hatred, disgust—anything would be better than the cold dispassion he shows me now.

But he turns from me. “Get dressed. The guests are arriving.”

He walks out.

I call my servants with straight shoulders and dry eyes. Queens don’t cry. An hour later I’m resplendent in a violet dress, its wide sleeves trimmed with black fur. The white collar frames my face before cutting past my jaw in a sharp vee that plunges between my breasts to my navel, displaying a sliver of creamy skin. It’s daring, it’s scandalous. It’s gorgeous.

The noise in the hall falls silent as I make my entrance. All eyes are on me—men with desire, women with judgement and jealousy. But my triumph is short-lived—there is only impatience in my husband’s gaze as I meet it across the sea of bowed heads. Any hope I have left is snuffed by the ebony-haired beauty at his side.

Snow White.

She stares at me as she sinks into the barest curtsy, her hand resting possessively on my husband’s arm.

I wrench my eyes from her blood-red smirk, but my mind won’t stop conjuring pictures of his strong body moving over hers, his tanned skin contrasting with her alabaster hue, hands touching her the way he used to touch me.

Is she the first? Or just the most recent?

The feast passes in a blur. I was born to this, and my mouth is on auto-pilot. I charm, I flirt—a sympathetic hand here, a pointed glance there. But my mind is busy with a thousand different ideas on how to kill Snow White—venomous combs, suffocating corsets, poisoned apples.

It’s not till the early morning hours, as I lie alone in my cold bed, that I realize getting rid of her won’t solve the problem. There will always be someone younger and more beautiful, and I can’t kill them all.

So, what to do with the real problem—my husband.

I throw the covers aside and begin to pace.

I can’t bring him back to my bed. Despite countless beautifying rituals, he’s still taken his lust elsewhere.

I can’t change his mind. I briefly consider blackmail then dismiss it just as quickly. It may stop the infidelity, but it won’t bring him back to me. Bribery, deprivation and fear tactics are useless for the same reason. So, how can I make him need me? How can I stop him from seeing other women?

Then it comes to me. So simple, really. I don’t know why I haven’t thought of it before.

The next night, I hide in his chambers. Through a crack in the wardrobe door, I watch Snow White prepare for my husband, primping in a sheer negligee. My husband enters. I watch him pour his whiskey—such a creature of habit, so easy to drug—and share it with her. I watch him kiss her, strip her, touch her.

I smile as confident hands begin to fumble and forceful movements become sluggish, until heads droop in unconsciousness.

I creep from the wardrobe and stare at their naked bodies still entwined upon the bed. A shadow slips into the room. My huntsman. He gathers Snow White and leaves just as silently. He’ll take her to the forest. The dwarves are always looking for slaves. They’ll pay well for her.

I dismiss her from my mind and examine my husband. It’s a sin to mar such perfection, but it’s the only way.

I pull a small vial from the purse on my belt and uncork it. The smell of the acid inside the flask stings my nose.

It’s true, I can’t kill every beautiful woman, but I can stop him from seeing them.

I pull back his eyelids.

The Cottage

“Oh, you wonderful children,” I murmur. I race back to the cottage and grab my axe, then I follow the trail of breadcrumbs into the forest.

Flash fiction is a fascinating form of writing. The rules are very simple: keep your story short. The length is usually stipulated by the contest–this contest was limited to 1,000 words (I’ve seen as low as 100 words).

If you’re thinking to yourself, “Wouldn’t it be easier to write a shorter story than a longer story?” you’d be wrong. All the elements of a longer story have to be included in a very short time: story arc, character development, conflict, resolution, character arc, suspense, emotion… the list goes on. You find yourself, as a writer, thinking: how can I say this phrase in just one word and have it convey the exact same thing? How can I show what this character is doing or feeling in one sentence instead of four? How can I evoke love, admiration, concern, hate, (insert emotion here) in my reader as my protagonist battles my antagonist in less than 1,000 words!

Here was my attempt to do just that. This was my first and (so far) only attempt at writing flash fiction, but I will definitely be doing more of it! It flexed my writing muscles in ways that no other writing has, and in today’s literature market, where concise is the first and only word in the dictionary, writing flash fiction well is a useful talent to have.

I hope you enjoy.

THE COTTAGE – by Josie Hume

“You what?” My voice is very quiet. My wife knows this is a bad sign.

“I didn’t think you’d notice,” she whines. “You’re never here. You never see them, anyway.”

“They are my children! Of course I’m going to notice when they’re missing!”

“It took you three days.” She says it under her breath, she knows she’s poking a bear.

I grind my teeth. “I’ve been in the forest cutting wood for three days.” I didn’t choose my second wife well. “Get out.”

She sees my face getting red. “I didn’t send them away with nothing,” she snivels. “I gave them our last piece of bread to share.”

“Get out!” I scream now, spit flying from my mouth. “Get out of my house! If I see you again, I swear to God I will chop you up and feed you to the wolves.”

She scrambles around the couch, grabbing up a lamp, a clock. “Fine! I’m tired of living in this hovel! I’m tired of your stupid children. And I’m tired of being groped every night by your rough, clumsy hands! You’re the worst lover I’ve ever had!”

She runs out the door, brown dress flapping around her legs, arms full of knickknacks. She’ll drop everything before before she gets out of the woods. I know how lazy she is.

I don’t even watch her go. I run to the tree house I made three years ago. Empty. I check the children’s regular haunts: the hollow tree, the swimming hole, the toadstool ring where they’ve spent many nights watching for fairies. All empty.

I spin in a circle. Thick forest all around. Where would they go?

I notice a line of ants, all carrying tiny specks of white. I follow the trail and find a bit of bread smashed in the dirt. A little farther, I find another piece nearly hidden by a fallen leaf.

“Oh, you wonderful children,” I murmur. I race back to the cottage and grab my axe, then I follow the trail of breadcrumbs into the forest.

The trees are close, and the underbrush thick. Game trails cross each other or join for a time before veering off through the bracken again. The bread crumbs are hard to find, and I have to backtrack several times. At each intersection, I kneel in the dirt to see the paths from the children’s perspective. If I were a child, which one would I take?

The crumbs get smaller and farther apart. The sun has set, and the forest is dark. The woods are no place to be alone at night, even for a man. I don’t allow myself to think about my children alone in the forest. A wolf howls, and an owl hoots its lonely song. I climb a large tree to wait out the dark.

From this vantage point, I see a light shimmering in the distance. I’ve walked these woods a thousand times. There should be no light.

I climb down and run, keeping my axe ready and my ears tuned to every rustle in the underbrush. It doesn’t take me long to reach a clearing where there never was a clearing. The sickle moon shines, its weak light picking out the details of a strange little cottage.

Lemon drop daisies and lollipop trees fill the clearing. Gumdrops line a brick path. Peppermint sticks frame the doors and windows. Candy discs form shingles, and icing drips a lacy curtain from the eaves. The spicy smell of gingerbread fills the air.

“What kind of magic is this?” I whisper. As I pick my way through the sugar-dusted flowers, a scream rends the silence. I know that scream. Echoes of that scream still wake me in the night when my dreams take me back to the day a rabid wolf attacked my daughter. Gretel! I fear something worse has her now.

I rush to the cottage. My axe cleaves the door in two. A large table set for dinner-one plate, one glass-dominates the room. On the far wall is a large brick oven. Waves of heat rise from the glowing bricks. An old woman is pushing my son into the oven. I can see smoke rising from his kicking shoes. My daughter beats against the old woman’s plump backside. In two strides, I’m across the room. I snatch my son from her. She turns on me, saliva dripping from her snarling mouth. Curses fly at me, but her magic is only strong enough to trick children. It is no match for my rage.

She runs from me. My first blow severs her spinal cord. My second cleaves her head from her body. I turn from her corpse and gather my children into my arms, checking fingers and toes and kissing their dear faces again and again.

At last their tears are dry. “Wait outside, little ones,” I say.

I stoke the oven until sweat pours from my skin. I chop up the old woman and put her into the flames. While she turns to ash, I destroy the cottage. We’re due for a good rain. It will wash this place clean.

By the time I scatter the witch’s ashes, the sun is shining.

Holding two little hands in mine, I listen to my children’s chatter as we begin the journey home. Their story wrings my soul. I’ve been fooling myself for years. The woods aren’t safe for innocent children. I can get a job in town—trade the witches and wolves of the forest for the criminals and crooks of the city.

The trail ends. Our little cottage, snug and sturdy, basks in the bright sunshine. On the other hand, I can teach my children to protect themselves. They may be young, but they’re strong and brave. That flat area there, to the left of the house—that will make an excellent sparring ground.

I breathe in the pungent smell of the forest. This is our home. We’ll stay and fight.

%d bloggers like this: