Blank. It’s completely empty, washed anew like a white slate of stone. I wonder if stones are even white. I wish I could remember more. I desperately yearn to know the person I used to be.
Everything about my past is forgotten. Every aspect of my future is a misty fog, a place I dare not traverse lest I lose even more than what I have already lost. My fingers reach out, and they find the page of an old, worn-out book. A book of fairytales.
I remember those tales I used to hear in a quiet bedroom, chasing away sleep with the unsatisfiable curiosity of a carefree child. They return. How do these tales always begin? I believe it goes ‘Once upon a time…’
Once upon a time, there was a princess.
(Or was he a prince? I can’t be sure.)
She had lips as red as roses, a face as white as snow. However, she also had the most despicable step-mother who kept a magical mirror in her basement. The mirror constantly fed the vain lady lies, telling her she was the most beautiful in all of the land. One day, the lady went to her mirror, waiting for it to flatter her. Yet, it no longer believed she was the fairest maiden. The mirror preferred her step-daughter, the girl with lips as red as roses and a face as white as snow.
(A mirror having preferences, what an odd sort of thing! Maybe that’s the kind of place I came from? A place where the unbelievable comes to life?)
Jealous of her step-daughter, the vain queen tried to get rid of her. She had two other daughters- cruel, lazy girls, who transformed the girl of roses and snow into a girl of cinders. Once next in line for the throne, the girl of cinders was now made to sweep the grounds and clean up after her family. Where fine garments of silk once flowed around her heels, rags now scratched against her skin. The young girl was dreadfully unhappy.
She decided to take action against her ill treatment. After looking for fairy godmothers on the internet – the place where you can find almost anything – she finally found one. A new gown was created out of a pumpkin, horses became rats to escort her to a faraway place, and she was given a timer too.
(Alas, I begin to forget the rest of this tale. It is a good one, as far as I remember, and there’s still a lot more to be said. My mind is weary but it obeys my call, heading deeper into the fog to retrieve the lost piece of this puzzle. A ball! There must be a ball!)
The princess – for she must be a princess to head to a palace – arrived just in time for the ball. A large basketball arrived seconds after. This meant she was not late for the ball! As people gathered around to play the riveting game in pairs, a handsome man walked up to her. He bent to pick up her hand, kissed it, and dropped it instantly.
(He kisses her hand? Oh, my, he’s even more forgetful than I! Doesn’t he know about the ongoing pandemic?)
These masked people take turns playing basketball. It is a masquerade, after all, and what masquerade can exist without masks? The princess dances with the prince in an athletic waltz of speed and accuracy, never ceasing to keep at one another’s heels, twirling this way and that, satin flying gaily in the air-
(Something interrupted them. I just know it. Oh, the timer!)
The prince took off his mask and leaned in. While the princess was a lot more cautious, she too decided to lift her mask when they were alone. Two pairs of roses, red as blood, reached towards one another.
Then the timer rang.
Its shrill sound caused the princess to run from the castle, fleeing before it could inflict any damage on the poor prince’s ears. She managed to run down the steps. He followed. Knowing the prince would not stop until he had captured her, she rushed out, faster than he could run. She only left behind a single glass slipper on the last step of the staircase.
(Wow, I have to admit, she’s a better criminal than I imagined! The whole ballgame with the prince was probably to wear him down. Once she had more energy than he, she could rush out and get to safety.)
The princess took shelter in the woods. No one saw her despite the stark contrast between her pale face and the darkness of the woods. Light had begun to dim. Slowly, the princess took cautious steps to the large pond in the middle of the woods. Behind her, the prince followed the uneven footprint of a glass slipper.
He saw the clear, reflective lake and sighed. How long had it been since his father pulled a mythical sword out of it? Wondering if he could do the same, he went to the lake and fell in. The poor lad could not swim as he had been trained only in land combat. The sea was an uncharted territory.
When the princess saw him drowning, she tried to rescue him. Unfortunately, she too could not swim, thus her act of courage reflected only the stupid chilvary of a young girl. There they were, on the brink of death, in a completely new world. A sea-witch chose this time to come by.
(Yes, I finally remember! She gets a tail. Isn’t she the tiny mermaid?)
The tiny mermaid – for that surely must be her nickname – gave up her final glass slipper and exchanged it for a tail. She managed to rescue the prince as life crept out of him with every shuddering breath. Wounded and deeply ill, she dragged his half-alive figure through the forest in search of a place to stay.
At long last, they arrived at a tall castle somewhere within the woods. It was rumoured a monster lived there. Nevertheless, the princess entered the castle and placed the prince on a tiny bed. He lay asleep as she prepared a meal for him using the scattered ingredients she could find.
All of the sudden, the doors slammed shut. They were locked in.
Oh, for too long had the princess defied her, so the evil, vain queen was ready to kill the girl. Besides having become so beautiful that the mirror would not stop praising her, the girl also stole the prince the queen had betrothed to her daughter. Blinded by the furious storm of rage, envy and madness, the step-mother captured the prince. Using her newly formed witch powers, she transformed the prince into a wild beast while the princess was locked in the tower. Days turned into years, yet for the life of her, the princess could not find a way to escape. No amount of hitting the doors, carving holes in the walls or letting her tears fall would bring her out of her isolation.
(It is said that time heals all wounds. In this case, time merely provided an answer to a seemingly impossible question.)
The princess’ hair grew longer and longer until it was the length of the entire tower she was locked in. Years of sweeping and carrying heavy tiaras made entirely of gold had strengthened her muscles. The princess climbed to the top of the tower where a tiny window overlooked the forest spread out below.
She climbed down her hair, finally putting that radiant, golden waterfall to good use.
(Ouch, this sounds painful.)
The forest was grimmer than before. Oh, the ominous, dreadful darkness that had taken hold of it was one that only a curse could cause. A curse for better or for worse. For monsters or for men. For life… or for death.
Her beloved – for that was what her overly imaginative mind had come to call the prince in her time of exile – must have been dead. Heart wrenching tears threatened to spill down those pale cheeks. She held them in. Princesses didn’t cry. Dragging her long hair behind her, she searched the forest for her step-mother.
(No. Not again. My memory fails me as if this story isn’t going the right way. I don’t remember it being this long.)
(I’m going to make things up until my imagination is jolted.)
A rustling emerged from a thick and thorny bush.
(Still no recollection.)
The princess stood firm. Everything she lacks in wit, she makes up for in bravery.
(I can’t drag this segment out for too long, can I?)
Something red stained the ground.
(Of course! I’ve got it now!)
A deep red rose petal, as red as her lips. As red as blood. The princess’ dainty fingers reached for it.
Then it came.
Booming, thunderous footsteps, with blood staining the ground. Another prey was dragged behind it. A girl. Skin as white as snow, though her lips weren’t as red as roses.
She was also dead as a corpse.
“Who are you and why are you stealing my roses?” The voice is the embodiment of evil, with an undertone of a melancholy sadness.
“I only took a petal,” the princess said.
“Only a petal? Two petals were stolen from me! The two rose petals that lay untouched on her face, and the rest of her too. I cannot rest until I find her.”
“Maybe I could help you look?”
The monster looked at the princess, shivering in an unnatural, unexplainable fear. “Your skin is as white as snow.”
“Your lips are as red as roses.”
Again, her pretty head bobbed up and down.
“Tell me, do you have a tail?”
“I used to. It disappeared when I came out of the water.”
“And how about a timer? An obnoxiously loud one.”
She drew it out of her pocket. The beast laughed merrily, the tunes of joy rippling throughout the whole forest. Yet he fell, one of the roses pricking him in his heel. Into the thorns the beast plummeted, streaks of crimson and rosy red petals fluttering all about him.
Standing there in shock, the princess knew she had to do something. What was there to be done? The roses whispered, in tunes softer than cotton and sweeter than perfume. “Kiss him.”
It may have been years after the time when two young royals lifted their masks at a masquerade, but the overwhelming sense of excitement was still there. As red met red, monster became man. Death became life.
As if it were some sort of tradition, the princess dragged the half-dead body through the forest again. This time, they headed back to his castle. Unfortunately, the evil stepmother of the princess had made her mirror into a man. He ruled the kingdom. All day and all night, he commanded his soldiers to search for a miniscule, thumb-sized lamp. A lamp that would grant him access to a fairy godmother.
(I wonder, why doesn’t he just use the internet like the princess did? He must be an idiot.)
When sneaking back into the prince’s former palace, they met the man who used to be a talking mirror. His finger reached to tip the princess’ chin up to his eyes.
“My dear, you are indeed the fairest of all the lands.”
She hated him. Due to his preference for her, her step-mother had cast her from her own castle. After casting a meaningful look to the prince, both of them ran off, quicker than the flash of lightning. The power of a beast still lurked in the being of the man. As for the princess, she had been fast ever since the game of basketball, ever since she needed to run from her beloved because she mistook his attraction for enforcement of the law.
(I’d rather not remember now. Oh, I can see it all so vividly! Haven’t they been through so much already? Is it necessary to subject them to this torture? No, no, no! I can see why ignorance is bliss. I will end this tale here.)
(What, you’re still reading? I’ve written ‘The End’!)
(Seriously, turn your eyes away and leave this page at once.)
(Come on, this is getting ridiculous! You really want to finish this story? But it won’t be happy. Fine, then, you annoyingly persistent reader. Let’s get this over and done with.)
The golden river of hair, once the princess’ saviour, was always destined to be her downfall. With a single tug, she fell, dragging the prince down with her. And out of her pockets spilled a number of things, including a thorny rose, a shard of glass, and a timer.
It was the same device given to her by the fairy godmother long ago. She had said that time would solve everything. Some things, however, are better left unsolved.
Shattering to pieces a carcass of hopes and dreams, the timer fell. Time stopped. As the mechanism broke, a part of everyone there broke too. A crack appeared on the face of the mirror-man. The beast-turned-prince’s finger grew a sharp claw. The princess’ legs shimmered indecisively between tail and flesh, leaving her stranded on the ground, unable to stand.
The king, a mirror, saw a glint amidst the brokenness. He reached for the miniscule lamp that hid within the timer from the very first day. Instantly, the prince’s claw embedded itself into the mirror’s back. A sound like glass breaking could be heard.
Cautiously, the princess picked up the lamp. The fairy godmother returned.
“I wish to be fully human,” all three said at the same time.
“Are you sure? To be human is to be flawed. Wild. Unhuman.”
“How can such a paradox be true?” The mirror asked. He amended his wish. “Can I be a fairy godfather then?”
Winking at the princess, she made him a genie. It was exactly what he wanted, except that he could grant no wishes to himself. Angrily, he flew off to find the step-mother queen, hoping her powers would restore him to his full… humanity.
Suddenly, an arrow flew through the window, embedding itself in the fairy godmother’s chest. On its tip was the thorn of a rose.
A note was written in cursive. ‘How do you like my new undead ghoul army? Love, your step-mother.’
(I told you not to read on, but you did so anyway. Bear the consequences of your actions.)
She had never seen death before. Oh, the veil of ignorance was lifted; wisdom descended upon her in that moment of misery. The fairy godmother had been with her all along. That was no sea-witch that granted her a tail. How could hair grow so quickly if it weren’t for magic? And roses whispering? No, it had been her all this time. Guiding the princess through her life, protecting her from the clutches of death.
And now, she had fallen prey to it.
Anguished sobs ripped from the princess’ throat. She was inconsolable. Tears, more abundant than the rain, made her countenance seem like melting snow. What words could describe the agony of losing such a sweet guardian angel? To be seconds too late- to be a powerless human.
(I’m sorry. But I did warn you.)
As for the prince, his transformation was complete. Even the kindest, noblest and most heroic of people would become a monster if a loved one vowed to never laugh again. The step-mother of the princess had turned him into a beast and caused him to hunt down every girl he could find. Desperate, he had taken the life of any with faces as white as snow or lips as red as roses.
His experience murdering people and blocking out the guilt would come in handy.
(If only I have the power of seers, I will skip to the end and find out if this story ends with joy. But alas, I can only tell the story as I remember it, and my memory requires me to recite each word aloud.)
Once her tears became a river as long as her golden hair, the princess decided to stand. Her tail rapidly switched from fins to flesh. It was the prince’s turn to carry her half-human body through the forest.
They returned to her castle many days later.
(This is it. I feel it in my bones. Something’s about to happen, and if I keep reciting these words aloud, the story would weave its loose ends together.)
Seated upon the tall throne, attended to by two very familiar silhouettes, was the princess’ step-mother. One of her daughters stepped forward.
“Mother goes by ‘Evil Queen’ now.”
The prince glared at her, then turned to the princess. “Is she your step-sister?”
Unable to speak without being choked up by emotions, the princess only nodded.
“Oh, look at what the girl of cinders has become!”
Both the step-sisters began mocking the girl in his arms. The prince’s claw emerged from the shadows. His outstretched arm moved towards the one who teased his princess.
(Yes, they belong to one another now. She’s ‘his princess’. Such are the outcomes of a fairytale journey.)
The evil queen imperiously rose from her throne of gold, chanting to the man who now slipped from the shadows.
“Mirror, mirror, on the floor,
Make me immortal forever more!”
The mirror-genie-man snapped his fingers. “Your first wish has been granted.”
Turning towards the prince, she whispered, “Little beast, how would you like your true nature to be known forever?”
“You made me kill those innocent women. Now, I’ll make sure the only blood that will ever stain my hands is yours.”
She maliciously grinned. “You’d rather blame it all on me, but really, I don’t care about being the villain of this story. Not when I’m about to win, and you know what they say: winners write the story.”
“A story of lies?” The princess asked.
“Oh, I forgot you were here, little Ms. Perfect. I shall enjoy dealing with you. Not now. Later, when I am done with your prince.”
The beast charged forward at the evil queen.
“A dream is a wish that hearts make,
But a nightmare is the form that this prince will take.”
“Only one wish remains.”
Tendrils of darkness curled around his princely body, causing his veins to bulge and turn red. If he had been hideous before, he was now hideousness itself. Having no recognition of himself or the world around him, he was blind, deaf and dumb. No longer did he care about his princess. His only focus was feeding on the crimson river that once flowed from his veins. The prince fled the castle.
The princess fell, weakened. Her prince had fought hard for her, but at what cost? Two good people had died. It was time to admit defeat.
She would have surrendered there and then if a sharp ringing didn’t fill her ears. The harsh, high-pitched sound of a timer. The memories came flooding back – running away from her castle, nearly drowning in a lake, being locked up for years, bringing her prince back to life…
Was it a sign from her fairy godmother? It felt cruel that she had used up such powerful magic years ago for a ball gown and a ride to the castle. Still, something inside her snapped.
The queen stood up, alarmed.
“She longs for her fairy godmother, don’t you see?
A part of death’s world she now must be.”
Trying to maintain the wicked grimace on her face, the evil queen spoke again.
“And at last, she’ll see the light,
So kill her now and you’ll rule the night.”
The mirror didn’t respond.
“The curse of eternal sleep
Shall befall this girl and she’ll weep!”
“Mother, that makes no sense. How can she sleep if she’s weeping?”
“Oh, shut up, you insolent brat!”
The queen’s magic lashed out at her daughter, transforming her into a dark crow. The other daughter flinched.
“This is your last chance, mirror.”
The princess watched, amused.
“Based on tales as old as time,
Turn her into a puddle of slime.”
At last, something happened. Slime started to coat the marble floor. However, when the evil queen looked down at her feet, she only had time to utter one last ‘oh!’ before she became, as she had requested, a puddle of slime. An immortal one, too.
“Technicalities. She didn’t say who ‘she’ referred to.” The mirror-man outstretched a hand. “I’ve always had a preference for you. Ever since the very start.”
The princess wasn’t sure whether to thank him or to blame him for what happened to her prince. She decided to ask him to grant her a wish.
“Turn my prince back into a man.”
“No way. Don’t you see? I saved you! He’s gone, having probably killed himself. But you’re here. I’m here. We can be together now that the queen’s dead.”
“Look at me! I’m a man, not a mirror. I’m human.”
“You’re a monster.”
Not believing his ears, the genie shook his head. “Look at him and you’ll see who the true monster is. Or are you too scared of your own reflection?”
“My reflection?” She stepped in front of the mirror. “My step-mother always saw herself as a beauty incarnate. That’s probably why she couldn’t handle losing that integral part of herself. It was her identity. But for me? I’ve been so many things. The girl with skin as white as snow, and lips as red as roses.”
“That’s why I fell for you,” the genie whispered dreamily.
“But I’m more. I’m a girl of cinders.”
“I can make you rich.”
“No, thank you.”
From the floor came a shuffling of little feet, followed by incessant squeaking noises. Rats poked their inquisitive snouts out of every crack in the palace, every hole in the wall. Together, they attacked, distracting the mirror man greatly.
“I’m known as the tiny mermaid too.”
The whole room became flooded, not with water, but with blood. Ceaselessly perpetuating the actions that the curse demanded, the prince had slain many. None of them were human, however, for he could never return to that state of monstrosity. Love broke the curse. It could never control him again. Instead, he killed the already dead ghouls that lingered around the palace, making up the evil queen’s new army.
He killed the ghouls who ended the fairy godmother’s life.
Squawking, the crow that was the princess’ step-sister flew away. The other girl tried to escape but the mirror dragged her down, deep into the ocean of blood, mistaking her for the young princess.
Just as he mother had done, she made a wish,
“Genie in a lamp,
Grant us an… enormous ramp!”
The monster’s eyes glared at the princess. A flicker of recognition passed them before it was gone and he became a monster once again. While the princess swam to safety, he fought his own battle – an epic war between the forces of monstrosity and the morals of man. He wrestled between these two natures that made up his identity.
The war seemed to be won by the forces of good until an enormous ramp sprang into existence with the step-sister and the mirror on top.
“I shall finish what my mother started,” the princess’ step-sister said.
“I won’t kill her. I must have her,” the mirror insisted.
“How about we capture her and make the prince my mindless lover?”
“That could work.”
“Yes! And we’ll both get our happy endings!”
The princess, the one with a face as white as snow, lips as red as roses, the girl of ashes, the tiny mermaid, had almost completely accepted her whole identity. There was still one more thing that had to be said.
“I also happen to be the long, golden haired maiden.”
“Your hair brought you nothing but misfortune. It’s the reason why you fell in the other palace.”
That was true. But why would her fairy godmother give her such a gift if it would only bring sadness?
She stared straight into the mirror, seeing herself clearer than ever. Rats ran up the ramp and covered the mirror-man. His eyes were fixed on her face that was white as snow, her lips that were red as roses. The river of blood rose higher. She flicked her hair and the whole ramp came tumbling down, followed by the shards of the illusion, of a fake reflection of humanity.
The crow flew by to knock her step-sister on one of the remainders of the ramp that floated. They traveled down the river of blood and broken glass, fleeing as they feared that the new rulers would come after them.
As for the princess? She embraced her prince. Yes, his humanity had won over the horrendous beast just in time for him to catch his princess and hold her tight. Gone was the evil that plagued their lands. Only love remained.
They reunited both kingdoms and lived happily ever after.
‘…happily ever after’. The last words to this classic story.
I look up, over the horizon, seeing the sun rise above the lands. The fog has cleared. Vibrant colours of orange streak across the yellow skies, painted in bold, confident strokes. Why, the sky is a canvas, a painter’s piece of paper. It isn’t empty – it’s far from it. It’s rich with colour, with experiences, with adventure.
Best of all, I truly remember who I am.
I am human.
By: Isabel Lee