Ahhhhhhhhh, that’s much better. All full of sleep and ready to write a story while I’m still at work (I’m such a rebel). Actually, I should be editing a lecture right now, but anyone who edits – especially stuff for work that you’re not personally invested in – would almost certainly agree that you have to take some mental breathers while doing this or you go out of your mind. Can I get a “hey” from my editors out there?
Anyway, I fell like it’s a good day for a fairytale. Don’t worry about the possible double-entendre that could come with a “fairy tale,” I already did that in the first incarnation of the SotWC fifteen years ago. No, instead, I plan to be inspired by EC comics “Grim Fairytales.” Heh heh heh.
THE PRINCESS AND HER GUEST
Once upon a time, there was a princess named Gertrude who lived in a castle named Hanter. She would often wander the halls of Castle Hanter and ask herself important philosophical and existential questions like, “am I the prettiest princess ever?” and “when will I marry a fabulously wealthy prince?” Unfortunately, no one else lived in the castle, so there was never an answer to her queries.
How did she eat, you may ask, with no one living there to prepare her food? Worry you not, dear readers, her food was prepared daily. How were her fine dresses cleaned and pressed, you may wonder, with no one living there to tend to her clothing? Fret not a moment, children, her every need was met. Why was the stable full of horses if no one lived there to ride them? And who tended the magnificent animals? Ask no more questions now, ponder no riddles. You will discover, as our next character may, that Castle Hanter is full of surprises.
Our next character arrived one sunny and blustery Thursday morning. As she stood on the parapets, Princess Gertrude saw him approaching on horseback, a standard flying from a saddle-bound flagpole. He looked to be a knight, young and strapping and strong. Full of excitement and anticipation, she ran downstairs to meet the approaching stranger. “Raise the portcullis!” she cried, and the portcullis was raised. “Lower the drawbridge!” she cried, and the drawbridge was lowered. With great flair, flapping of flags, and sounding of trumpets, the princess stepped forward into the sunlight to meet her guest.
“Greetings to you, good sir, from Castle Hanter,” she said, curtsying with a royal flourish.
“Castle What?” the stranger said without removing his helmet. Gertrude immediately grew suspicious of him.
“Castle Hanter,” she repeated, and considered giving another royal curtsy. She decided against it, however, and was glad in the next moment.
“What a silly name for a castle,” the strange knight said, still astride his horse, still wearing his helmet.
“Well!” Gertrude exclaimed. “When I spied you from the parapets, sir, I was excited to have a guest. Now, if you insist on being rude, I shall have to ask you to turn your steed about and vacate my considerably large lands post-haste.”
“I mean not to be rude,” he answered. “I only and always speak my mind.”
“Your speech may offend,” she replied, “but your manner makes your matter so much the worse. Had you doffed your helmet as a gentleman may, or removed yourself from your horse, it may have gone some distance to excuse your words. But I see no merit in your manner, nor wisdom in your words.”
The knight said nothing, but quietly began to laugh under his helmet. Gertrude grew more furious by the moment. She had, upon seeing his approach, thought to invite the man not in, but out for a walk about the castle grounds. The angrier she became, the more she resolved to invite him in instead. It would serve him right.
“Your anger doth much excuse your attitude,” the knight said finally, “but your reproach doth entertain more than vex. Is there no king to invite me into this ill-named fortress?”
“I am all who live in this castle,” she replied, not giving a second thought to any danger such an admission might bring upon her.
“Just so?” the knight replied. “Then if you, as lord and lady of this castle, will invite me in, I will promise to remove my helmet and make such an apology as is necessary to secure your favor.”
“You would enter such an ‘ill-named’ fortress?” she teased.
“And so I may,” he responded. “If invited.”
“And so you are,” she replied icily, “with all due thanks and anticipation of an eventful visit.”
With that, the knight dismounted his horse and followed the princess inside. Had he looked back, he may have seen his horse led away in such a manner as to cause him to flee. He did not turn, however, and what happened next is what happened next.
Entering the dark and cavernous main hall, the knight begged the princess to stop and tarry a moment. “We are within, now,” he said, “and my helmet may be removed as requested.” And so he removed his helmet, revealing his pale, white skin, evil red eyes, and glistening fangs.
Gertrude gasped. “Nosferatu,” she said softly.
He laughed again. “I am known by many names.” He stepped closer to her, but she did not flinch. “Ido so enjoy this age of heavy armor,” he continued. “It provides such cover even at mid-day as may befit one of my kind, permitting passage as freely in sunlight as any dark shadow.”
“And so may you fool innocent maidens,” she said and, alarmingly, stepped closer to the creature of the night. “But none such easy prey as a princess with no living relatives in a castle bereft of company, is that not right monsieur vampyre?”
“So you say,” he replied, “and so it is.” He reached out for her, long fingers splayed out to grab a handful of her throat.
“Father!” she called. “Are you going to let this beast have his way with me?”
“Father?” the vampire said, recoiling slightly. “Why do you call someone who is not here? You yourself told me you live here alone. Play no fool’s games with me, girl. I can read your eyes, yet, and see no lie there.”
“You see no lie for no lie exists,” she said, her grin growing wider. “I said that none live here but me, and ’tis truth. I live. Others do not.”
The vampire felt a hand fall upon his armored shoulder. With cat-like reflexes, he spun around, lashing out with his razor-sharp fingernails, sure to spill the blood of anything behind him.
But there was nothing there.
Surrounded by nothing, the vampire felt himself lifted from the ground. “What madness is this?” he cried as the buckles and straps of his armor were sprung.
“My family protects me, though you cannot see them” Gertrude said as she walked slowly around the writhing figure hovering above the floor. “They feed me and tend the horses and see to my every need. And have done so ever since they were all murdered by vampires as I hid in the dungeons. The very night-stalkers who sought to take this castle for their own were the first victims of my family’s wrath. Wrath from beyond the grave.” Stripped of all but the barest underclothes, the vampire hung in the air, staring at his hostess as she stopped and looked him in the eyes. “Ghosts are here, monsieur vampire. They live not, but need not live. Not in a haunted castle.”
The vampire’s screams filled the great hall as he was carried to the front of the castle. “Raise the portcullis!” Gertrude called, and the portcullis was raised. “Lower the drawbridge!” she called, and the drawbridge was lowered. Sunlight streamed in, and her guest was no more.
As she walked outside to visit her new steed in the stables, she asked herself “when shall I marry a fabulously wealthy prince?”
And, as always, the answer returned to her was silence. She smiled.
Interesting. And finished just in time to leave work. Huzzah and good cheer for all. Happy “Thursday.”
See you next week,