I entered NPR’s story writing contest. Wish me luck!
Once upon a time a girl woke up a few hours after the sun. She got out of bed and walked across the yard to let the chickens out of their coop. They clucked happily and milled around her feet. She smiled, watching them search the ground for grubs.
Then she heard a strange noise. It was a bird, she saw, in a tree against the newly born sun. It had heard her chicken’s clucking and was attempting to mimic it. It was not a perfect representation of the chicken’s clucking but enough that the girl knew that was the intent. The bird looked at the girl and the girl looked at the bird. The bird was not used to being seen by human eyes.
The bird made a guttural call and she heard a high-low whistle from another tree. She squinted against the light to identify the birds. To her, they simply looked like birds. She approached the tree and another of the birds flew above her head. She watched it and saw the sun shining through the perfect wing feathers.
The curious girl tried to make the guttural noise the bird had made. The two birds made a noise like water that the girl took to be laughter. Pouting, she shook her head, “Well I didn’t make fun of you for not speaking the chicken’s language.”
It had been a very, very long time since the bird had spoken to a human. It had almost forgotten the language of people. But, upon hearing the girl’s speech the bird remembered. The bird examined the girl and looked with its beady black eyes right into her heart and then it spoke:
“You’ll be fine.”
The girl stood, dumbfounded and the birds flew out of the tree and into the sun, circling each other in the air.
Once upon a time there was a young bookseller named Madeleine. Madeleine was a quiet girl surrounded by a well-shaped pile of hair. When her thoughtful face appeared from behind her curls everyone who saw it was taken aback by her careful beauty.
Though quiet and thoughtful, Madeleine was nothing if not determined. One day, the young bookseller got to work and saw, perhaps, the largest pile of books-to-be-shelved she had ever seen. It was a very ambitious mountain to climb but like I said, Madeleine was a very motivated person. Once she set her mind to something she made sure to see it through until the end.
And so she began. She organized the books by section and then by loose alphabetical order. She worked quickly and with precision.Each time a customer interrupted her work Madeleine was both friendly and prompt.
Finally, her task was almost done. She had one book left to shelve and 15 minutes left until the store closed. Madeleine was very pleased. She picked up the hardcover book and weighed it in her hands. It was one of her favorite stories, an antiquarian copy from the mid 1900s in great shape. She traced her fingers along the spine and started to walk over to the shelf only to turn around again when the store phone started to ring. She put the book down on the counter and answered the phone.
“Bookstore, This is Madeleine.”
“Hello is this the Bookstore?”
“Yes, how can I help you?”
“I’m looking for a book I read when I was a little girl” The speaker on the other end of the line was very old. Madeleline looked longingly at the last book to be shelved. “It had a yellow cover, I think, maybe there was some pink in it. It was about a balloon.”
Sighing, Madeleline rubbed her forehead and checked the computer. She successfully accomplished the seemingly impossible task. In 7 minutes the book was identified and placed on order.
8 minutes until closing. Madeleine made her way over to the book but was blocked by a giantess of a woman. The woman had several different colors of fake blonde in her hair and smelled strongly of cigarettes. She was wearing a torn black t-shirt and old boots.
“Hey, lady, I need some help over here.”
“How can I help you?”
“Can you unlock the glass case so I can look at those leather books?”
“Of course,” Madeleine responded professionally, turning quickly away to hide her frustration. She grabbed the key and walked with the customer over to the over-priced books.
The woman flipped page by page through one of the copies. She held it up as if to check it against the light. She put it away. She took out another book and did the same thing. Normally, Madeleine wouldn’t mind standing at the case, even if it were obvious that the customer wasn’t going to buy anything but tonight was different. She had accomplished so much and she only had one book left to shelve.
“Dayyyyum these books are pretty expensive!” The customer had finally looked at the price.
“Yes, I know.” Madeleine looked at the ground hoping the woman would hurry up and make up her mind. There was only 1 minute until closing. The customer tossed the book carelessly back into the case.
“Can’t imagine a book would ever be worth that much, no matter what words were inside it.”
Madeleine stared back at the woman, unsure of what to say. “May I lock the case now? We’re closing up.”
The customer raised her eyebrow, threw up a hand and simply walked away and out of the store without responding. Madeleine rolled her eyes inconspicuously behind her hair and locked the case. The store was officially closed. With no more customers she could finally shelve the last book. She locked the front door with the key and headed back to the counter.
Suddenly, the fire alarm began to scream. Madeleine threw her arms up in the air in exasperation. “Stupid faulty fire alarm!” she thought, slamming the key on the counter. “I’m not going to stand outside and wait for the firemen to tell me it was a false alarm and some idiot in the building next to ours just burned their popcorn. I’m shelving that book.” Madeleine stomped over to the book, grabbed it in her hand and started walking to the shelf.
It was then she smelled the smoke. She turned the corner and saw the flames rising up the wall, devouring the books. Shocked and wide-eyed she ran for the front door but it was locked.
She had left the key behind the counter and there was no other way to open the door. Fighting the smoke, coughing, gasping for air she made her way back to the counter and reached for the key. Her eyes were streaming with tears. She reached out her hand and knocked the key to the floor on the other side of the counter.
Madeline cursed and crawled, bent as low as she could bend and moving as quickly as she could scramble to the other side. She grabbed the key and made her way back toward the door. She could feel the heat on her back and the smoke was so thick she couldn’t breathe.
Somehow, she managed to get the key into the lock and she burst into the street coughing and crying. She managed to regain herself somewhat.
She was ok.
She was breathing fresh air.
She had made it out.
It was then that she realized she was still holding the book in her arm, clutched tight to her chest.
It was her only comfort as she watched the flames rise into the night sky.
Fairy Tales by Zuanna Woodlight
Fairy tales by Zuanna Woodlight ∞
Once upon a time there was a girl who saw evidence of nothing. She saw no evidence of god, purpose, or reason. She saw that the universe and her particular place within it was purely coincidental; purely chaotic.
The girl was clever enough to recognize that eventually she would come to reflect her beliefs. She knew that she would become purposeless, coincidental, and chaotic if she continued to see the world in this way. She knew that no human life could thrive existing in a virtually empty paradigm.
So she invented a purpose for herself. She looked deep inside her heart and searched for meaning in a meaningless universe. The purpose which she ascribed to her life just so happened to be collecting plastic troll toys. So, as the years passed, she did what she had to do to get by and on the side she collected every single plastic troll toy and put them all on display in her apartment.
She was almost unbearably happy when she looked around. She had become absolutely successful at fulfilling her life’s purpose. Unfortunately, she had also missed out on many meaningful relationships and business ventures along the way. She would never know just how much she had missed out on because of the path that she had chosen. Yet, even if she had, she wouldn’t have minded because she whole heartedly believed that collecting all the world’s plastic troll dolls was the ultimate goal of her particular life on planet Earth and to put it simply, she had succeeded.
She lived the rest of her days among the fat little monsters and was grinning a troll-like toothless grin when she died.
Once upon a time a strange phenomenon occurred, that is, every single person in the world woke up in exactly the same mood. It was a Monday in September and every single person on the planet, from the babies to the elders woke up with the same exact terrible, awful feeling in the pit of their stomach.
Every single person was on the verge of tears. Each person lay in bed after their alarm, wondering what their particular purpose was. Everyone felt lost that day. And yet, only a few (in hindsight very smart) people stayed in bed.
The rest got up and went to work. And as they passed each other on the bus or in the parking garage or by the clock-in-machine or at their lockers in the school hallway they all said the same thing they always said to one another:
“How are you”
“I’m fine thank you, and yourself?”
And everyone lied to one another like they had so many times before but without realizing that they were all in the same exact boat.
The day dragged on. People snuck away to cry in the bathroom, some cried right out in the open, while others denied the tears that wanted so badly to come. A few people went home early and work places were understaffed with unmotivated workers. Teachers let their students out early but everyone was so listless no one cheered or met up in the school parking lot. They all went home and got onto their computers or climbed into bed with their pets or significant others, not talking to one another. And finally the day was over and everyone went to sleep and felt much better the next day.
Once upon a time there was a boy who felt more comfortable interacting with the world through a digital filter than in his tactile existence. Because of this he spent most of his time in front of a computer screen completely absorbed in the digital realm known only as his alias “k3yc4rd.”
One day while exploring hidden anonymous chat servers he was privately messaged by another user with the handle ╘╬µ§∞.
╘╬µ§∞: <_< <3 73 39 118 101 32 98 101 101 110 32 119 97 116 99 104 105 110 103 32 121 111 117
Recognizing that it was in ASCII he translated the message. K3yc4rd was a little uncomfortable.
k3yc4rd: Who is this?
k3yc4rd: what do you want?
╘╬µ§∞: 01101001 00100000 01101100 01101111 01110110 01100101 00100000 01111001 01101111 01110101 00001101 00001010
k3yc4rd: love me? You don’t even know me. I’m just a burn out living in my parent’s basement. I don’t work. I just spend all my time on the internet.
This one took k3yc4rd a little bit longer but eventually he figured it was in base64 and translated it.
k3yc4rd: Where are you from?
K3yc4rd realized that he was talking to someone just a few hundred miles away from himself. They chatted for another couple of weeks like this. She never spoke in standard language, always in code, smilies, or l33tsp34k. They fell deeply in love.
K3yc4rd decided it was time to meet her. After a month of conversing they set a place half way between their two homes and met.
She was the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on.
She was instantly drawn to him and knew again what she had always known.
They lived happily ever after.
Fairy Tales by Zuanna Woodlight ∞
Once upon a time there was a girl traveling through a city she had never been through before. She was walking through a questionable neighborhood as night was falling. She turned down a street and saw, under a highway overpass, a neon glowing sign advertising a psychic.
Feeling amused, she went in. The woman inside was very, very old. She was sitting by an ancient television watching a black and white movie. She greeted the girl and turned off the television.
Slowly, she hobbled over to a circular table in the middle of the room. The girl followed her. She gestured to the chair and the girl sat down. The old woman walked around for a few minutes lighting candles and incense. The girl waited, looking around. The walls were covered in shelves and the shelves were filled with books and boxes. Some shelves were empty of books and simply scattered with dusty crystals and another was filled with strange statues of cats. Finally, she sat down on the opposite side of the small table. She was very gentle as she took the girl’s hand in her own. Her skin felt like parched, cold paper.
The old woman stared and stared. The girl thought maybe she was blind. Her eyes were very clouded. Her hair was swept back into a loose bun on the back of her head. She moved her mouth back and forth in a way that seemed to suggest that there were no teeth in her gums.
Finally, the woman put the girls hand down on the table. She brought her own wrinkled hands to her eyes and rubbed them and sighed. She looked up at the young girl and suddenly, her eyes were not cloudy anymore. They were clear and green as peridot.
“You are meant to go on a great journey. You will stay close but will travel far. You will find that in this new place you will be crowned as queen but you will never be able to return to the world you once knew.”
“Uhhhm…. what do you mean?”
“That is all I have to say. Now leave this place or you’ll be late.”
The girl looked down at her watch and realized she was late. Her train was leaving in just a few minutes. She asked the woman how much she owed and the woman waved her off and said, “Go. Go. Just Go.”
The girl grabbed her backpack and ran out into the street. The sun was rising. How long had she been in there? She ran towards the train station and made it just in time.
As she traveled home she thought about what the old woman had said. She hadn’t wanted any money. And her eyes, the way they had cleared up and gone hazy, had she imagined it?
When she got home she was still in deep thought. She put her suitcase and backpack in her room and went for a walk with her dog in the woods.
When suddenly they came upon a strange old metal pipe half buried in the ground.
For some reason the girl felt her heart rate accelerate. She got down on her hands and knees and used her cellphone to light up the inside of the pipe.
The opening was small but the girl was smaller. She squeezed her way into the pipe.
She crawled and crawled and the pipe got larger. Soon the pipe was so large, or she was so small that she was simply walking on the ground, the pipe a giant cavern. Soon she could see some light at the end. When she came to it she saw this message projected.
She realized it was a hollogram. As she pushed her way through it static electricity raised up every hair on her skin. She tasted atmosphere. It was very bright and she had to shut her eyes. She finally came out the other side, enlightened.
~Fairy Tales by Zuanna Woodlight~
Once upon a time there was strange boy who desperately wanted tattoos. Even when he was a young child he would draw on his skin with markers and put stickers up and down his arms. When he finally turned 18 he excitedly drove himself down to the tattoo shop. He made sure the artist was a good one, discussed his idea, and watched it take shape.
The boy had a deep interest in his family’s history. His grandfather had been a blacksmith taught by his father and his father before him. So, the boy got his first tattoo of an anvil on his right arm.
Though it hurt a bit, he gritted his teeth and admired the work once it was finished. He paid the artist and tipped him well and went back home.
The first thing he noticed was that his arm felt very heavy. He assumed that it was just an effect of having a tattoo. He looked it up online and didn’t really find a satisfactory answer. It didn’t hurt though and it looked like it should so he didn’t worry about it. He went to sleep.
The next day his arm was still very heavy. He put his hand up and touched the tattoo and the entire thing was raised up off of the skin. It had a strange, smooth feel to it. As he had never had a tattoo before, he figured it must be his skin reacting to trauma.
As the day went on his arm got heavier and heavier. The tattoo was more and more pronounced. By the time he was headed to bed it was raised a full inch off his skin and actually felt like cold, smooth metal. Deciding he would go to the doctor in the morning, he went to sleep.
In the middle of the night he awoke with an agonizing pain. It felt like his skin was being ripped off, right where he had gotten his new tattoo. He could do nothing but scream and fight to turn on a light. As he stumbled out of bed something heavy fell to the floor.
Suddenly, the pain was gone from his arm and so was the weight. He turned on the light and saw a faint scar where his tattoo had been and on the ground he saw a real anvil, exactly the shape and size of the one that had been tattooed on his arm.
He never told anyone what had happened.
Fairy Tales by Zuanna Woodlight~*
Once upon a time there was a princess who had a heart like glass. She did her very best to be good to everyone because she wanted everyone to be good to her.
But life is not fair and so, time and time again the people she tried so hard to make happy would become hurt or offended by something she did. They would be angry, frustrated, or annoyed with her and so her heart would shatter into a fucktillion pieces.
So, the princess with the heart like glass stopped talking to everyone. She shut herself inside of her room and locked the door and closed the window. At first people were mad and worried. Where had she gone? Why had she stopped speaking to them? But eventually everyone forgot about her and no one was mad. She was excessively lonely but at least no one was angry. She kept her fragile heart with her and it never broke again.