Lizzie Koch’s Picture Choice: One
Title: Once Upon A Time
The footpath split into two choices; across the meadow or through the woods. Jess, her pale skin already pink from the sun, wanted the cool shade of woodland. Maia with her already golden glow, couldn’t think of anything worse than the cold, damp, miserable woods and already started along the footpath across the meadow with Jess trailing behind.
Maia skipped along, her long blonde hair shimmering in the sun like spun gold as Jess plodded behind, her shoulders reddening with every step. She longed for the shade but the meadow sprawled before them and into the distance with not even a tree to give some respite.
As Jess looked across the meadow, something glinted in the sun. “Can you see that?” she asked.
“Yes, I wonder what it is,” Maia replied. “Come on!” She ran through the grasses towards the glimmer. “It might be treasure,” she laughed as Jess followed, as always.
In the middle of the meadow stood an old, large tree stump and upon the stump sat an ornate glass; intricate patterns carved within the fragile glass making it look like diamonds. Within the glass nestled a posy of white hydrangeas with dried grasses, tied by an ivory ribbon.
“It’s beautiful,” Maia murmured. She was the romantic one, dreaming of the day Mark would propose. Of course, he knew this so everytime they were together, he knew it was in the back of Maia’s mind that this was it, the moment she would say ‘yes’ and often go home disappointed because Mark hadn’t produced a ring. He wasn’t going to rush into anything just because Maia expected it. Or his parents for that matter. He had to make sure, after all he was a prince and one day would be king.
“It’s weird,” was all Jess could manage.
“Oh Jess! It looks like a wedding bouquet. It’s so beautiful!” She reached out her hands.
“Don’t!” Jess warned. “It’s not yours.”
“But what if it is! What if Mark has planned this! He knew we were coming this way. He knows how much I love open spaces and the sun. This is perfect! I know this is him!”
“But what if it isn’t! Just wait.” Jess walked around the large tree stump and leaning up against the stump was a large, plain, cream envelope. She reached down and picked it up.
“So it’s alright for you to touch!” Maia grumbled. Jess ignored her, opening up the envelope. “What is it? What does it say?” Maia asked as Jess pulled out a thick piece of parchment, gently unfolding it.
“It’s a note, doesn’t say much.”
“To whomever wishes to be my bride, take these flowers and I will appear at your side.”
“Give me that!” Maia snatched the parchment, reading the words over and over.
“It’s not Mark’s handwriting,” Jess said. “We should leave it. Come on,” Jess began to walk away but Maia stood by the flowers, mesmerised. “Maia! You’re not thinking of doing it are you? You have no idea what you’re letting yourself in for. It’s not normal for someone to just appear.”
“I don’t believe in that stupid letter. I just love this bouquet and if I take it home, maybe Mark will get the hint!” Her hands, gently but quickly lifted the bouquet from the glass, raising it to her face where she inhaled the sweet scent. A deafening crack shattered the silence and the glass splintered into tiny pieces as the stump split in two. The ground around them trembled as thick plumes of black smoke billowed from the stump. Jess ran to Maia who froze as the bouquet dropped from her clasp.
The smoke dissipated and Maia let out a shrill scream.
The mass standing before them straightened, towering above them. His horns cast a shadow across them. His body was covered in coarse, black hair. A long tale whipped behind him as he smiled baring sharp fangs covered in thick, glue like saliva.
“Which one of you maidens picked up my invitation to be my wife?” he asked in a deep, throaty voice. He waited for one to answer but nothing came. “I understand the fear. I look dreadful today,” he laughed. “But one of you picked up my invite and therefore one of you is to be my wife.”
“H-h-how could anyone possibly want to marry you!” Maia shrieked, startling Jess. If one of them was to speak, Jess thought it would have been her and she knew she wouldn’t have been so rude.
“True. But as I said, it’s been a tough day, an off day. I have a heart of gold and will treat you like a princess.”
“A princess! You!” Maia continued. “You can’t place a vase of flowers and a letter, asking, no sorry, demanding marriage! I am going to marry a prince!”
“OK, so it must be you,” he said to Jess.
Maia turned to Jess, her eyes pleading. “Jess, you can do this for me. I’m going to marry Mark. I can’t marry this hideous creature.”
“But you expect me to?” Jess asked. “Sorry,” she said to the beast, “I didn’t mean to call you hideous. Unlike my sister, I have manners.”
“No offence taken,” he replied. A smile crept across his face and Jess studied him. His eyes appeared soft and warm. And she’d often been told by their mother never to judge by appearances. Jess took this to heart as she was very plain next to Maia and always overlooked despite her warm heart.
“Please!” Maia begged. “I will tell Mark about this beast and he will destroy him and you will be free.”
“Fine.” Jess whispered.
From Maia’s reaction, the beast knew a decision was made. “I’ll go and tell Mark now!” Maia said, running off.
“You’re leaving now!” Jess said in a broken voice. “I need you here with me, you’re my bridesmaid!”
“Too many things to do!”
Jess watched her sister disappear among the tall grasses before turning to face the beast. “Are you the devil?”
“No.” he replied.
“So I won’t have to live underground?”
“No, unless you want to?”
“No. You know, I warned her not to touch the flowers.”
“It’s a very selfless thing you have done,” he said softly.
Jess gaped and then her face broke out into a wide smile. “Oh wait! I know what this is. You’re really a prince and someone has enchanted you and some selfless act will reveal the real you and I’ll live happily ever after!”
The beast’s smile faded and he bowed his large misshapen head as his shoulders hunched even more. “Is that why you’re marrying me?”
“Well, no. I’m marrying you because I have to and for my sister but you mentioned a selfless act and I thought, you know, like in the fairy tales.”
“Alas Jess, this is me. Now are you coming with me or not?”
“You mean I have a choice?”
“You didn’t pick up the bouquet. You have taken the place of your sister. I may look mean but really, I’m not so if you don’t want to then go.”
Jess watched as the beast turned to leave. Overwhelmed in sadness and guilt she ran after him, not believing she was about to say what was on the tip of her tongue. But her mum’s words ran around in her head. Jess couldn’t judge this beast by his appearance, He was fair. He had been honest throughout, kind even and Jess couldn’t bring herself to be like Maia, to be mean and selfish. Jess didn’t have a mean bone in her body. Besides, living with a beast might be fun. He’d like to walk around in the woods she thought and she smiled.
“Wait!” The beast turned, looking down at Jess. “Drop your hand.” He did and she stepped into it. He lifted her up to his face and they stared at each other. “You have nice eyes. I think some toothpaste wouldn’t hurt as your breath smells.”
“Is that a yes?”
“Do you like walking in the woods?”
“Yes. I can show you every single forest in the Kingdom and beyond.”
“What’s the difference between and forest and a wood?” Jess asked. The beast shrugged. “Well maybe beyond would be good as my sister and her prince will come and try to kill you. And yes, that’s a yes.”
The beast roared as he hunched over, trembling. Jess clung on to his finger as he fell to his knees before collapsing fully on the floor, his hands landing with a thud causing Jess to be thrown clear, She lay in the grass. Still. The beast thrashed and rolled, a cloud of dust surrounding him, until he lay still. He climbed to his feet and stumbled over to where Jess lay.
“Jess!” he cried. “Jess! I’m so sorry. Please wake up!”
Slowly, her eyelids fluttered before opening. It took time for her vision to focus and when it did she gasped as Mark stared down at her.
“It’s me!” Mark said. “The beast!”
Jess studied him, staring deep into his eyes. “I know,” she said, before smiling. “But I thought you said you were really a beast.”
“I know. I wanted to give you a chance to leave. And I’m glad you didn’t.”
“Maia is selfish. I’ve always known which is why I did this. I wanted to see her true self and she hasn’t disappointed me which I’m grateful for. I need a queen who is kind and doesn’t judge by appearances.”
He helped Jess up, gently holding her hand. She squeezed his hand tight as they walked back to the village, together.
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I dream of sharing my work with the big wide world one day as a published author. Right now, I share flash fiction with a wonderful community of writers and friends. If you liked this story, then why not visit my blog at http://40somethingundomesticateddevil.blogspot.co.uk/ for more. Thank you. Love Lizzie x