Once Upon a Time: New Fairy Tales Paperback (14 page)

BOOK: Once Upon a Time: New Fairy Tales Paperback
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flicked it on, scanning through the bookshelves. They held the books she’d pre-loaded it with, nothing more. Before his four deployments, he’d been an avid reader. These days, he had trouble concentrating

long enough to read a book.

On the ground next to his sleeping bag lay some shreds of dried

vegetation. It looked like seaweed.

Margaret slid the straps of the backpack over her shoulders and

returned to the riverbank. “But you didn’t find a body?”

“Sometimes it takes months for a body to surface, especially this

time of year,” Watson said. “Sometimes they never do.”

• 114 •

• Cinda Williams Chima •

Margaret walked along the rocky beach. “Why would he come

here?” she muttered, kicking driftwood out of the way, shivering in

the November wind.

“Does he have friends in Cleveland?” Watson asked. “Has he ever

been here before?”

Margaret shook her head. “Not that I know of. But, I guess it’s

possible. I haven’t seen much of him since his discharge from the

service.” Looking down the shoreline to the west, she saw a small

flotilla of boats bobbing just inside the breakwall. And more people on the wall itself.

“What’s going on over there?” she said.

Watson rolled her eyes. “This giant fish got caught in the passage

there. The biggest lake sturgeon anyone has ever seen. So there’s a lot of talk about sea monsters and like that.
Weekly World News
has been and gone. If you ask me, it’s a big stinky mess. I’m just glad they didn’t give me the cleanup job.”

Just then, Margaret noticed something caught in the rocks by her

feet. Reaching down, she pulled it free.

It was a necklace made of fresh water mussel shells. Bits of rotting flowers fell away as she lifted it.

“What did you find?”

“Looks like somebody dropped a necklace,” Margaret said. She

sighed, and blotted away tears with the backs of her hand. “I appreciate your bringing me down here and al ,” she said. “It just helps to see where my father died.”

“I’m glad to do it, ma’am. See, I was in the military myself.” She

paused. “They said he won the Silver Star.”

“Yes. He did,” Margaret said, her voice low and bitter. “And the

Distinguished Service Cross.”

“That’s something.”

“Yes,” Margaret said. “That’s something. Being a soldier was

everything to him.”

Pulling out the bag of effects they’d given her at the station house, she surfaced the velvet case that contained her father’s medals.

• 115 •

• Warrior Dreams •

Lifting the Distinguished Service Cross from its nest, she weighed

it on her palm.

“Ma’am?” Watson put her hand on Margaret’s arm. “What are you


“I’m going to give it back to him,” Margaret said. Cocking back her

arm, she threw it. It flew in a high arc over the lake, glittering like a meteor in the sun until it disappeared into the waves.


Cinda Williams Chima
online at cindachima.com; follow her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/CindaWilliamsChima) or on

Twitter @cindachima. She also blogs intermittently at cindachima.


For more information on folkloric monsters, including those

specific to the Lake Erie/Great Lakes region, Chima suggests:

The Storm Hag of Lake Erie:

• americanfolklore.net/folklore/2010/07/the_storm_hag.html

• www.examiner.com/article/the-lake-erie-storm-hag-demonic-


The Wraith of the Creek:

• americanfolklore.net/folklore/2011/08/wraith_in_the_creek.html

The Nain Rouge (Red Dwarf of Detroit):

• www.unknown-creatures.com/nain-rouge.html

The Black Dog of Lake Erie:

• thecabinet.com/darkdestinations/location.php?sub_id=dark_



• 116 •

My favorite fairy tales are the terrifying ones. I first read

Fairy Tales
at the age of five; no adult seemed to realize how many nightmares were in that book. I loved “Bluebeard” more than

anything else, particularly the moment when Bluebeard’s bride

drops the key in the blood. Such a simple accident, yet with great


I based my story, in part, on the Russian fairy tale “Sivka Burka.”

(You can find a version here: www.artrusse.ca/fairytales/sivka-burka.

htm.) This is the premise: The father became ill, and he ordered his sons: “When I am dead, bring me bread to my grave three nights in

succession.” Horrifying! I tried to imagine what sort of a man would demand such a thing, and what sort of bread would be best for a

dead man.

Kaaron Warren

• 119 •

Born and Bread

Kaaron Warren

There was once a baby born so ugly her father packed his bags in

fury when he saw her.

“Who did you lie with, the baker or his dough?” he called over his

shoulder as he left. Already he was planning to surprise his girlfriend who always smiled when she saw him and asked for nothing.

“Only you!” the mother called back. She held her baby in a soft

brown blanket, though she had to lean against the wall for support.

The baby was as heavy as a calf and the size of the award-winning

pumpkin at the fair five years earlier, a pumpkin that had never been matched before or since. Yet the baby had slid out sweetly, like dough through a piping bag.

And yes, she was pale, pasty, and fleshy.

“Don’t leave her in the sun,” Mrs. Crouch, the cruelest woman in

the village said. “Or you’ll have a loaf of bread for a daughter.” (In her defense, her husband spat brown juice wherever he stood, beat her

with a stick when he felt so inclined, terrified the children with ghost tales, and never, ever spent a dollar when a cent would do.)

Still, the mother loved the daughter very much, especially once

she learned how to laugh. Chuckles bubbled out of her like the froth in fermenting yeast, and anybody close by couldn’t help but join in.

She was so gentle and sweet they called her Doe, and that suited the way she had grown to look as well, like well-risen dough waiting to

be baked into bread or sweet rolls.

• 121 •

• Born and Bread •

Children loved to make her laugh, because her whole body

quivered with it and it was beautiful to watch.

Each night she and her mother would sit together and tell stories

and jokes. Sometimes her father would visit. (Always at dinner time.

Her mother was the most marvelous cook. Her pastry was like flakes

of pure heaven.) And he would tell them stories of his journeys. His girlfriend was long-since departed, and he now traveled the world

selling and buying clever items for the kitchen. He bought Doe’s

mother a gadget for lemons and one for eggs, he bought spices and

seasonings that made the whole house smell delicious.

Neither of them hated him for his early desertion; he was, for the

most part, a good man and they loved his stories and gifts.

Each night Doe’s mother would stroke, mold, press, and kneed her

flesh, stretch and smooth it. Sometimes this hurt, but it also always felt good.

By the time Doe was eighteen, she had transformed into a

beautiful, lithe young woman with a sense of humor, an infectious

laugh and a vast storehouse of stories.

In short, she became marriageable.

She had no interest in such a thing, though. She knew she could

not have children because those parts of her were not fully formed,

and she saw no other reason to tie herself to one man.

Like her father, she enjoyed journeys, explorations, and with her

mother’s blessings and warnings, her father’s financial help, she set out for adventure.

She spent ten years exploring the world, tasting, seeing, learning,

becoming, loving. She ate damper, dinkelbrot, pain de mie, bagels,

sangak, roti, and pandesal. She learned how to cook each loaf, loved to watch it brown, hug it to her chest warm from the oven. And like

each loaf, each lover felt different, because she could mold herself around them. Encase them. More than once a man wept after their


“Nothing. Ever. So beautiful.” The words in gasps.

Each encounter left her dented and stretched. She could massage

• 122 •

• Karron Warren •

herself back into shape, but she missed her mother’s gentle touch

and the stories they shared.

One day, her mother contacted her. “Your father is buying me

a wonderful gift. A bakery! I will make cakes people will want to

keep forever and others they will eat while still standing at the shop counter and order another.”

“Will you bake bread?” Doe asked

“If you come back, you can be the bread baker. My dear little Doe.”

But Doe had changed. She felt as if all she’d eaten, smelt, and seen so much; all the men she’d loved, all the women she’d spoken with, all the stories and jokes she’d shared: all of this had altered her. Would her mother still love her?

Her mother sighed as they embraced, but there was no judgment,

no disappointment. “I’ve missed you!” she said, and her fingers

pressed and stroked until Doe felt ordinary again.

And she set to work baking the most wonderful breads for her

mother’s bakery.

All this is to explain how it came to be that Doe helped to fulfill the awful Mr. Crouch’s dying wishes and thus lay his cruel ghost to rest.

As he lay on his deathbed he said to Mrs. Crouch, “You have been

a bad wife. Only this many times have we had relations.” There is

some dissention as to how many fingers he held up. “You owe me

three more. After my death, you will lie with me three nights, or this village will suffer the consequences.”

He lay back, then, and demanded bread. He loved Doe’s tiger

bread and chose that as his last meal.

Doe walked into his sick room. Even though she’d been warned,

the stench was overwhelming. She knew the odor of yeast left to

ferment too long, but that was nothing compared to this. She’d smelt dead animals in the roof drains and the worst toilets any nightmare

could dredge up. She’d smelt a man who hadn’t bathed for twenty


Nothing came close to the stench of this room.

• 123 •

• Born and Bread •

She pinched her nose and squeezed to close her nostrils.

“Here she is, the beautiful baker,” Mr. Crouch said. “Come and

knead me, darling. I am ready for you,” and he weakly tugged away

the covers to reveal his naked body.”

She placed the tray of bread beside him and left the room.

It is said he choked on a crust; that was not Doe’s doing.

They buried him three nights later. Fearful of his curse, the

women of the town went to Mrs. Crouch, to help prepare her to go

to his grave.

She said, “He was repulsive alive. I cannot lie with him dead. And

you know he was a cruel man; he means to damage me. Destroy me.”

She refused to go that first night. The next day ten fields were

found withered.

She refused to go that second night and the next day the clinic for

the unwell was burnt down. Many would have been lost were it not

for the early-rising Doe and her mother, who sounded the alarm.

The villagers went to Mrs. Crouch to beg her to lie with her dead

husband. “He will take the children next. You know he will,” they said.

She refused. “He means to destroy me. Mar me for life, haunt me

into eternity, kill me.”

They turned from her, distraught but not surprised. She was

selfish and cruel and didn’t care about the rest of them.

“I am driven by bad fortune! All my life!” she called after them, as if that made a difference.

Doe had led a blessed life, really. Full of good fortune and windfalls.

She went to Mrs. Crouch, who sneered at her as she always did.

“My deepest sympathies,” Doe said, and she held Mrs. Crouch

close, squeezing until the woman made an imprint in Doe’s soft body.

In the bakery, she mixed dough, let it rise, punched it down,

shaped it, let it rise again.

She baked this bread hard and brown. She baked Mrs. Crouch

with her eyes closed.

As the moon rose high, she carried the bread lady to the cemetery.

It was light, as good bread should be.

• 124 •

• Karron Warren •

She laid it on Mr. Crouch’s grave. “Darling,” she called out. “Darling, I’m here.”

Then she tripped away to hide.

At first, there was stillness, a terrible quiet that made her doubt

BOOK: Once Upon a Time: New Fairy Tales Paperback
6.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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