“They All Got Married, Which Is the Important Bit”
Prompt: “Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.” -Dorothy Parker
Genre: humor, fairy tale
Once there were three sisters: two were ugly and stupid and cruel, but the youngest was pretty, clever, and kind. (For this is a fairy tale, and that’s how these things work.)
There were also three princes, all of them very handsome. We do not know if they are good or smart, but they’re princes, so it doesn’t really matter: they are attractive and rich, and that’s all we really need to know, isn’t it?
It was decided that the three princes should marry the three sisters, for as you know, fairy tale kingdoms are always short on princesses and the numbers matched up so what the hell: three brides for three brothers.
Naturally, they all wanted to marry the pretty one. I mean: who wouldn’t? Not only is she gobsmackingly gorgeous, but she’s also smart and good, and plus her hair smells really, really nice: like apples. (Her sisters’ hair always smells of cabbage, which is strange, because naturally they make their poor pretty sister do all the cooking and they’ve never set foot in the kitchen.)
So there’s a big fight over who gets the hottie and which brothers are going to end up with the ugly ones. Eventually they all agree that they will each spend time with the pretty one and then she will decide which prince she wants to marry.. (Which is big of them, because this is the first time in the history of ever that anyone’s thought to ask a girl what she wants to do with the rest of her life.)
Each of the brothers is completely confident that he will be the chosen bridegroom.
The first brother takes the pretty sister for a walk around his gardens. He returns to his brothers much sooner than the agreed-upon time and magnanimously offers to take himself out of the running, leaving his two brothers with a better shot at getting the girl. They are thrilled at their good fortune. (The story nevers says it, true, but at this point we’re beginning to suspect that perhaps these princes aren’t quite so gifted in the smarts department.)
The second brother takes the pretty sister riding. He, too, returns early and announces that he no longer wishes to compete for her hand, having decided that the happiness of his youngest brother is his true desire.
So, thrilled at his luck, the youngest brother marries the pretty sister, without having ever had so much as a conversation with her.
Predictably, the marriage is miserable. The pretty girl is really smart, but her husband isn’t really interested in her brain, and all that intelligence just makes him feel stupid. (Which, yeah: he totally is.) She’s good and kind, too, but she’s so good and kind it makes him want to slap her. (She cried when he squashed a spider. I mean: who feels bad for spiders??) Her only real virtue is that she’s nice to look at, but considering he can hardly stand to be in the same room with her, he doesn’t spend very much time doing that.
Those who are fairy tale-savvy are probably sensing a moral coming on right now and guessing that the brothers who married the ugly sisters actually ended up being quite happy and compatible with their spouses.
Sorry, but no. They’re not just ugly, but stupid and cruel and smell of cabbage. Remember?
Also, the story doesn’t mention this either, but in hindsight: yeah. The princes weren’t really that handsome after all.
“Price Check: Armageddon”
Prompt: “This is the way the world ends…” (T.S. Eliot)
Genre(s): apocalyptic, comedy
They call it “panic buying”–when people go out and buy mass quantities of food and other items in the face of a looming crisis: canned goods, bottled water, bread, batteries; the sorts of things you might need to survive a few days shut in your home without electricity.
By the time Tricia got around to stopping by the market, all that stuff was gone. Not wanting to go home empty-handed, she decided that she would panic buy lemon-lime drink mix and microwave popcorn.
“How are…eat…opcorn if…an’t use…microwave?” She could barely hear Cal’s voice over the crackle of static, but she could picture the sneering tone. Oh well: if she hung up on him now, she could always blame it on the failing cellular networks.
She snapped her phone shut and threw it into her bag, turning her attention instead to a still mostly-stocked shelf full of pickled ginger and seaweed sushi wrappers. She picked up a can of plum sauce and began to read the label. Before she could find the sodium count, a cart full of canned beef stew and screaming children came careening down the aisle and clipped the back of her heel. She hissed in pain and turned to give the cart’s driver a piece of her mind, but her shout was cut off by a dense, low rumble.
It was getting louder. The shelves around her shook and the lights flickered: she thought she could feel the fillings rattling in her teeth.
It was definitely time to go.
She threw the jar of sauce she was holding into her bag (screw Cal’s low sodium diet!) and made for the checkout line.
It was wrapped around the store.
Tricia took her place at the end of the line, shooting a dirty look at the middle-aged man who tried to dart in in front of her.
The woman before her turned around to complain about the length of the line and the lack of cashiers–most had abandoned their posts hours ago, choosing to go home and make their own preparations and be with their loved ones. One single, solitary cashier remained, doggedly ringing up groceries and bundling them into bags.
Price check…I need a price check…
The price check never came.
The rumble built up again. But this time, instead of cresting and subsiding, it continued to grow until the vibrations were deafening against her eardrums. All at once, the lights shut out with a loud, hissing pop while the boom of transformers exploding sounded off like cannon fire.
Over the great red, swirling, buzzing chaos in her brain, Tricia had one final thought: ‘It just figures I would die standing in line…’
“Adam and Evie”
Genre(s): comedy, romance
“Adam, what is that in your hand?”
She asked the question, but she knew exactly what it was: it was an apple. A perfectly round, perfectly green, perfectly ripe apple: and it had a bite taken out of it. It was a struggle to keep her voice calm and even, as she could feel the panic rising in her throat.
Adam also knew she knew what it was, but he still answered her, hesitantly: “It’s…an apple?” His mouth was still full of the tart, crisp flesh, and he struggled not to spit juice out at her as he spoke.
“Tell me you didn’t get it from the bowl on the table!” Mere seconds was all she needed to jump from measured calm to borderline hysteria. Where else could he have gotten it? He hadn’t brought it with him.
“I didn’t!” he insisted, arms raised in a plea for mercy. Juice from the offending fruit was dripping down his forearm. “I swear, I didn’t!”
Relief was only short-lived.
“Sorchia gave it to me!”
A blood-curdling shriek rent the quiet of the immaculate white and steel kitchen. Adam nearly dropped the apple when he tried to cover his ears.
“Ooh, that little snake! She’s been trying for months to get me fired, and now she’s done it…”
“Evie, baby, calm down! I don’t understand! What’s going on?”
Her answer was muffled by the fingers pinching the bridge of her nose. “That apple belongs to her father–my boss! Everyday after his run he eats an apple and drinks a protein shake, and you’ve just eaten his apple!”
“Can’t you just give him another apple?”
The look she shot back at him spelled out the sheer stupidity of that answer. “I don’t have another apple to give him! He has me buy them fresh everyday, a single apple, straight off the morning truck.”
“I’ll run out and get another one…”
“Eden Market is a 10 minute drive either way, and he’ll be back any minute!”
“There’s a convenience store on the corner…”
“You can’t fool him with a wrinkled old piece of fruit from a convenience store!” The pitch of her voice had grown progressively higher during the course of their conversation, and was now approaching levels only dogs and bats could hear.
As she tried to convince herself that the pounding of her heart was just anxiety and not a massive coronary, she couldn’t help but muse that things had been going so well… She’d gotten a decent review and a modest raise in the last quarter, and he’d even offered her and her boyfriend his guest house while they were looking for a new place! It was a mini-paradise, with marble counters and a working sauna, not to mention the maid service. She’d miss the job, sure, but oh, that house was like living in a five star resort…
Adam was still standing there awkwardly, poised on the balls of his feet: he wanted to reach out and soothe her, but wasn’t sure it would be safe. The apple sat next to him on the counter top, still only one damning bite taken out of it.
Evie looked him over, the man that would be her downfall, and wondered if he was worth it.
Suddenly, her eyes narrowed: “What the hell are you wearing?” He was clad in spandex bike shorts and a tank top. “Would you put some clothes on, please? You look ridiculous…”
“A Fireplace In Every Room”
The fireplace is fake. It’s not just fake, it’s flippin’ fake, with a fan blowing pieces of orange-colored plastic to simulate flames, a heater producing warmth, and speakers that emit a recorded, static-y crackling sound.
“It looks pretty convincing, no?”
Sometimes Angela is so optimistic I could smack her. Instead, I turn my sulk full force in her direction. “You can control the volume of the crackling sound,” I observe dryly.
She just smiles back at me. “Well that’s nice! We can turn it down when we go to bed.”
I raise my eyebrow at her: does she really want to play this game? Today of all days? When the airline has re-directed our baggage and all our gifts to God-knows-where, the hotel has seen fit to provide us with twin beds rather than the double we requested, every single place we could get a decent meal within 10 miles is closed for the night, and we’re stuck here in Dayton, Ohio of all places on some ridiculous last minute business trip her boss sprung on her rather than relaxing in front of a real fire in my parent’s cabin in upstate New York like we should be?
“Oh yeah–an audio-controlled fireplace. This is going to be the best Christmas ever!” Even I can feel my own sarcasm dripping down the fake wood-panelled walls.
If Angela noticed, she’s not giving any indication: she’s busy unpacking both our things into the dresser and pushing the twin beds together. Without looking up from the blanket she’s tucking into the newly-doubled mattress, she finally answers: “I’m just really happy you agreed to come with me, Ems: I was really afraid I was going to be alone on Christmas.”
The quiet honesty in her voice slaps me into silence. When I can finally speak, my answer comes in a stammer. “I…I…well, of course! Of course I came with you! How could I spend Christmas without you?”
She shrugs without looking up at me. “I just know how much Christmas means to you, and how much you like spending it with your family. I’m just really grateful you agreed to give that up and come on this trip with me.”
It’s that shy, uncertain smile of hers that turns my bones to jelly. I forget that I checked my toothbrush in the luggage that was lost and only have one change of underwear in my carry-on, and I forget about the pre-recorded crackle of our unconvincing fireplace. All I can think about is restoring that bright, ridiculous, foolishly-optimistic smile to her face I was so eager to wipe off just moments ago.
“Angela,” I whisper, tilting her face up to mine. “There is nowhere I’d rather be than with you.”