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Heads and Tales: The Other Side of the Story

History is told by the victors.
Stories are told by the heroes.
Until now.
In every tale from myth, legend, or faerie there are the voiceless: those characters who live in the silent, untold spaces, or whose inner worlds are never visited. This collection retells 14 classic stories you may think you already know, from perspectives you never thought to consider.
The unexamined life is not worth living, or so the saying goes. No longer will we let these voices go unheard.
This is Heads and Tales: because like the flip of a coin, the stories can change. Take a shot, and see where it takes you.

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Once Bitten

Thorns tear my flesh. Again and again, they rip into my skin, cruel and unforgiving. A standing ovation to my persistence. The malicious vines wind around my wrists, cutting and rending in silent abuse, but I push on until my clothes are in tatters and covered in blood. 

The forest of thorns shifts and weaves, soundlessly dancing its deadly jig. 

I pause, tearing off the remains of my shirt, waiting for my flesh to mend. Slowly, like a fist closing, the ragged tears of my rough wounds knit back into smooth skin. There are advantages to my condition, though nothing can be done for my clothes. I throw away the useless shirt, the thorns catching it midair, gleefully ripping it to shreds. No mind. My only regret is this is no way to see my beloved for the first time in one hundred years. I smile. Maybe she will not mind my unclothed state. 

That thought gives me strength to push forward once more. 

That witch is a fool if she thinks she can keep me away with something as meaningless as pain. For my beloved, I would swim any ocean, climb any mountain, or brave any forest of thorns enchanted to keep me out. 

Not far now. From here the weather vane on the highest turret is visible. The flags lying motionless. Even the wind does not blow upon these walls. 

Dawn is rising when I force my way through the last vines of the endless thicket. The leaves curl away, black and thick, sated after tasting so much of my blood. Wisps of mist drift around my legs, pooling in my footprints. The brittle grass crackles under my boots. Even the lawn sleeps. The air holds its breath. My footsteps split the heavy silence. 

I must hurry. I don’t have long, yet my feet still upon the path, rooted in memory. These grounds I used to guard remained untouched for a century, but it feels like yesterday. 

I pass by the tree where I waited for her, the night we made a pact to flee together from her father’s home. We were young and naive. All we wanted was to be together forever. Was it too much to ask?

I come upon the first body in the courtyard. A maid, curled up, her head resting on a pile of mildewed laundry. Her eyelids flutter as if in a dream, her pulse beating strong in her neck. 

Tempting, but I don’t have time for a snack. 

My beloved awaits. 

At the entrance to the castle, sentries slump at their posts.  I know them both. Yosef, who initiated me into the guard when I turned fifteen, and Finbar, the happiest man in the king’s guard. He used to sing as we patrolled the grounds. 

“We are the luckiest men alive,” he’d nudge me with his elbow, almost knocking me off my feet, with a wink and a jocular tone, “to witness such beauty.” 

All I could do was smile and nod as the princess passed. Her maids, giggling and whispering behind their palms. Her eyes, blue as the midnight sky, found mine, a shy smile tilting her rosy lips, and I was lost.  From the first time I saw her, I loved her. Not because of her beauty, but because of her kindness. It’s easy to believe a lowly guard fell in love with a princess. Inconceivable for the princess to love him back.  I truly am the luckiest man alive… well, not exactly alive, but... in existence. 

I push open the wide, wooden doors of the palace, their intricate carvings dusty and covered in cobwebs. Turning my back on my old friend and my mentor, I hurry across the courtyard. Stepping over napping dogs and around standing horses, their riders slumbering uncomfortably in the saddle in full armor. That will be a sore awakening. 

The great hall is unchanged. Courtiers sprawl on the dusty carpets, oblivious to the accumulated dirt. Spiders spin webs from nose to chin, the generations of trapped flies a silent testimony to time passing. The king and queen rest side by side on their thrones, her head on his shoulder. They look younger than I remember and peaceful. The last time I saw this room, I was being carried away for my heinous crime. I recall the fury in the king’s eyes as he had me cast into the deepest dungeon in the furthest prison. 

After an unsuccessful attempt to take my life. 

Hanging wasn’t the way to go. 

My crime? Love. If not for the creature waiting in the forest that night I would have paid with my life. Only, by the time the king's men caught us together, I no longer had a life to take. 

My fist clenches. I could take my revenge now, while they lie dormant, but no. I will let my sweet Rose decide their fate. 

My feet move faster now. I push through silent halls and echoing rooms. 

I check her chambers, finding them empty but for the memories. Her silk sheets lie untouched, reminding me of whispered words and sweet kisses. Stolen nights when I was supposed to stand sentry outside her room, protecting the princess from those who would steal her virtue, while she was busy stealing mine. I’ll admit, I didn’t put up much of a fight. How could I refuse lips that tasted like honey and words as soft as love? 

Finding her here would have been too easy. Now I’m close enough to sense her. My Rose calls to me from the tallest tower. The sun shines over the treetops now, casting pools of molten fire through the windows of the lengthy corridor connecting the main hall of the castle to the tower where my lady awaits. 

Impatient now, I break into a run, ignoring the sleeping courtiers in my way, ducking through shadows, and sidestepping the sun’s lethal rays. 

As I approach the tower door, my path is blocked. 

A woman dressed in white, her hair like driven snow, her skin creased and worn as parchment, bars the door. A sole moving soul in the sleeping castle. 

 “Witch…” I hiss. “Was it a long wait?”

“Demon.” Her voice creaks with disuse. “I hoped you were gone for good. My vision predicted a prince.” 

“Will you settle for a prince of darkness?”

Blue fire crackles at her fingertips. 

“Begone.” Her voice rises in fury. “You will not have her.”

“Why do you people keep saying that? Why don’t we wake Rose together and ask her what she wants?”

“Never. Not if she must sleep for a thousand years.” Her voice rattles the walls. Very inconsiderate considering everyone is asleep. 

“Can you wait so long?” I ask, softly. “I can.”

Her stance crumples, an infinitesimal dip. My enemy has a weakness. Doubt. 

“You were wrong about me,” I insist. “Like your misguided prophecy...”

“Was I, demon?” She raises a gnarled claw. 

I’m wary of the blue fire, but I’m too close to my goal. I cannot fail now. 

“Your prophecy was warped. ‘On her sixteenth birthday, she will prick her finger on a needle and die’. How do you confuse a spinning wheel with the needle-sharp teeth of a vampire?”

The witch scowls. “The interpretation of prophecies is not an exact science. But she did die.” 

“Briefly. It didn’t take. She died and rose again, more powerful and more beautiful than ever.” 

“You cannot have her.”

“Ah, once again you are wrong.” 

I take a step forward, my teeth lengthening in anticipation. I don’t have time for snacks, but I’ll make time to take the life of the harpy who kept my beloved from me. 

The witch approaches, her amber eyes never leaving my face. The blue magic crackles as she tosses it, hitting my chest. The charge sizzles, flaring against my bare skin, powerful enough to stop a human heart. A shiver runs through me. The smell of ozone is overpowering.  My muscles twitch and spasm, bringing me to my knees. 

The witch cackles in triumph, moving closer ‘till she stands above me.

 I lift my head to face my nemesis, yet as I face my doom, my eyes are drawn over her shoulder, past her maniacal grin.  

Despite the disrepair of the castle, the tower door doesn’t creak as it opens. 

I still my un-beating heart at the vision of loveliness standing in the doorway. Her midnight eyes are tinged with red, yet she is as beautiful as the day we pledged our lives, and our deaths, to each other. 

Her bare feet make no noise on the carpet. Her lips part, the sharp points of her elongated fangs just visible between her plump red lips. Silently, she slips behind the aged witch, her eyes finding mine as she clutches the witch’s neck with superhuman strength. 

The witch struggles in her grasp as Rose drains her of blood. 

“Why?” The hag gasps, slipping to the ground. “I only wanted to protect you.”

Rose stands over her, hands on her dainty hips, licking a drop of blood from her red lips. "The princess shall not die, but fall into a deep sleep for a hundred years." She taunts. “Do you know how thirsty I am after a century of sleep?”

The witch croaks, yet no words pass her wizened lips. Her body falls limp. Her eyes close for the last time.

Rose reaches out her hand to pull me to my feet. 

"It's you." She flings herself into my arms and I crush her to my breast. If my cold dead heart could beat, it would be hammering out of my chest. "I promised I would wait forever,” she murmurs against me, “but the witch prophesied a prince would save me. I thought I'd never see you again, but you came. My knight in tarnished armor…” she tips her chin up, gazing into my eyes as her fingertips run over my bare shoulders, sending delicious shivers up my spine. ”Or even better. No armor at all.”

I thread my fingers into her golden hair. "No witch, no forest of thorns, could keep me away from you, my love. I’ve waited for this moment for one hundred years." 

She smiles, tilting her head to expose the smooth white skin of her neck.

"From this day on, nothing will part us again. I am forever yours." 

As I kiss her lips, sound fades away. There is nothing but the rasp of her silk gown beneath my hands, the touch of her palm on my neck. Only when we break apart do I hear the sounds of waking courtiers, stirring around us. Dogs bark outside, servants cry out, and birds take to the air once more. 

The spell is broken.  

“Are you hungry, my dear?” I ask, taking her hand in mine.

The joyful cries of the court awakening soon turn to screams, music to my ears. Those who tried to keep us apart pay in flesh and blood, for one hundred years of longing, one hundred years alone. Now hand in hand, my Rose and I feast and celebrate our reunion. 

And we will live happily ever after. 

 

-The end -

​Debbie Iancu Haddad 

Click banner to read more of this anthology by a series of wonderful authors: 

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