How would you feel if Snow White were a vicious assassin? Or Cinderella were a street-beggar? What if Red Riding Hood were the psychologically traumatized daughter of Sleeping Beauty, who was in a coma from a long-ago incident involving a broken glass slipper and three blind mice? Could you even comprehend the wicked stepmother being the hostage of Rumplestiltzkin? What if everything you thought you knew about fairytales wasn’t so?A dark and gory twist to the fairytale world.
Three figures slunk across the dark courtyard, using the shadows as covers under the crescent moon, which glowed like a pale lantern through the inky clouds. One of the figures lowered the hood of their cloak and turned to face its companions. The woman’s golden hair fluttered around her face in the cool breeze. The other women also lowered their hoods, coming to a halt in the middle of the courtyard.
‘What is it now, Briar Rose?’ The lady who spoke had immensely long hair, which cascaded down her back, wrapping around her arms and falling to her ankles in jet black ringlets. ‘We’re almost there.’
Briar Rose remained silent for a moment, biting her bottom lip as she thought.
‘I have a bad feeling about this,’ she finally replied, gazing into the faces of her two friends. ‘I just feel like we shouldn’t be meddling with things that ought not to be meddled with.’
‘They were the Emperor’s orders,’ the third woman sighed. ‘And it’s our duty to follow those orders, no matter how we feel about them. Take, for example, that time he wanted us to find some special ‘thread’ for his new clothes.’ She raised her hood back over her head, obscuring her face from the sleeping world.
‘You should listen to Belle here,’ the woman with the long hair said distantly. ‘Think not, fret not.’
Briar Rose continued to stare at the others in a pleading manner. ‘But Belle-’
‘No. We are delivering this to the Emperor whether we like it or not. Also, we have codenames for a reason. Right, Rapunzel?’
The dark haired woman rolled her eyes in exasperation. ‘Yes, Beauty. Can we go now, Aurora?’ she asked. Briar Rose nodded slowly, raising her hood, eyes sweeping the surroundings, before continuing with the others.
‘Have you still got it?’ Belle asked in a low hiss as they neared the castle door. Rapunzel pulled out a sealed slip of parchment from her pocket, briefly showing it to her companions before stowing it away again.
‘What is that?’ Briar Rose said softly, peering into the gloom at the foot of the great oaken door before them.
‘What is what?’ As the three women neared the door, a cold shiver crept down Briar Rose’s spine, sending chills through her nerves to the rest of her body. Belle bent to examine the mysterious object.
‘It’s a glass slipper,’ she informed them, holding the object up. Sure enough, glinting in the moonlight, a heeled slipper made entirely of transparent glass rested in the palm of Belle’s hand.
‘Who would wear such a thing?’ Rapunzel inquired quizzically. ‘It looks dreadfully uncomfortable.’
As she spoke, a rustle and a squeak erupted from behind them. The trio spun around in shock, the slipper dropping from Belle’s hand and shattering on the stone floor. The women watched in silence as three small, white mice scuttled across the courtyard, colliding with anything that stood in their way. They were blind.
Briar Rose heard a soft gasp from behind her and turned in time to see Belle collapse to the ground with a thump, blood gurgling from her mouth. The standing two shrieked and bowed to examine her. Belle’s eyes were glossed over, staring blankly into the darkness. The broken glass slipper protruded from the side of her neck, blood pooling around her limp head.
Briar Rose gagged and backed away, shielding her eyes; however, the image had been burned into the backs of her eyelids. She heard a muffled cry and her eyes flew back open. She cried out in horror as she saw a figure in the shadow of the immense doorway strike Rapunzel in the head, sending her flying to the floor, unconscious. Briar Rose screeched and ran to assist Rapunzel, but the attacker beat her. A woman with skin white as snow, hair black as night itself and lips as red as the blood which spurted from Belle’s neck scooped Rapunzel up and flung her over her shoulder.
Briar Rose opened her mouth to cry for help, but the mysterious woman, in one fluid movement, tugged the glass slipper from Belle’s corpse and struck at Briar Rose, slashing open the front of her chest. She gasped, collapsing to her hands and knees, her vision blurring as she felt unpleasantly warm blood gush from her wound. She raised her head to see the murderous woman melting into the darkness, Rapunzel hanging limp over her shoulder.
Looking over to Belle, as her strength faded, Briar Rose felt all her hope and happiness ebb away. The last thought that swept through her mind, as she collapsed into the pool of mingling blood, was how she had failed to follow her Emperor’s orders.
Then the world went dark.
She sat in silence, staring into space as the minutes ticked by. The slow, constant blip, blip, blip of the monitor, measuring her mother’s heart rate, was the only sound in the small hospital room. The walls were whitewashed and the windowsill was covered in wilting plants and flowers. The only furniture was a wooden chair beside the bed, and a bedside cabinet beside it, otherwise the room was bare.
The girl watching her comatose mother sighed heavily. She had been visiting her sleeping mother every day since that unfortunate night seven years ago. She looked up at the sound of a soft tap on the door.
A penguin of a man waddled into the room, his rusty red beard billowing over his short chest. He held a clipboard in one stubby hand, and a plastic cup of water in the other. The dwarf handed the cup to the girl, who drained it immediately, and stood before her, eyeing her worriedly.
‘Red,’ he began, ‘you have been coming here a lot since your mother was-’ He stopped suddenly, selecting the best words to use. ‘Since your mother had her accident.’
Red clenched her jaw tightly. She noted how he did not say, ‘since your mother was found floating in a pool of blood on the brink of death beside the corpse of her best friend.’ She nodded slowly, suppressing her agonized cry.
‘Did you come in here for any specific reason, Doc?’ she asked the dwarf in a falsely calm voice.
Doc shuffled his feet awkwardly before rummaging through the immense pile of paper attached to his clipboard. He extracted a yellow envelope and handed it to Red.
She took it slowly. Without making eye contact with Doc, she turned it over, noting the broken royal seal. Red opened the letter slowly. It was written on an old and yellowing piece of paper, and a dark smear covered one side. Red shuddered to think what it may be from. Red read it through with shaking fingers. Her breathing stopped, breath held as she read it through once, twice, then three times over. As she scanned the note for the fourth time, she began hyperventilating.
Aurora, Beauty and Rapunzel, it began.
As my secret intelligence operatives, I entrust this mission to you, and only you. Only those closest to me can be trusted.
I fear someone is conspiring against me. If I am not careful I am afraid the kingdom shall be taken from me.
I have heard rumours of a spell, a powerful spell, which can call the Power of the Fairies. If I were to have access to such power, all of my enemies would fear to attack me at all.
I request that you set out to find the recipe for this spell. My mages inform me that they have heard rumours of a witch somewhere in the North who knows the recipe.
May you return safely.
The letter was signed with the Emperor’s curvy signature. Red set the letter down on the small cabinet beside her and clenched her fists.
‘What is this?’ she hissed, staring at her feet. Red was confused. She did not like being confused.
Doc shuffled his feet some more, staring anywhere but Red’s rigid, hunched figure. ‘Your mother was carrying that letter with her when she came in,’ he finally said quietly.
Red’s breathing stopped again. Her eyes slowly slid to Doc’s worried face. A frown knitted her thin eyebrows together.
‘It was, was it?’ she said threateningly under her breath. ‘And you’ve kept it from me. For seven years.’ It was a statement, not a question. Red was slowly rising from her seat, towering about the dwarf, who bit his lip in alarm.
‘I was concerned you wouldn’t take it very well,’ he muttered. ‘I thought you were too young to know.’
Red felt all of her anger boiling up within her, filling her lungs so she couldn’t breathe. It spilled into her heart, smothering her blood flow. It clouded her vision and made her legs shake violently. Red gritted her teeth as she reluctantly lowered herself back into the chair. She looked back to her sleeping mother, and her anger was washed away by a pool of grief.
‘What does it all mean?’ she whispered, burying her face in her hands.
Doc laid a reassuring hand cautiously on the girl’s shoulder. He was afraid she may explode again. ‘I thought you might have some idea.’
‘Mother loved lights,’ Red said after a moment of silence. ‘Especially bright, colourful ones.’
‘Aurora,’ Doc sighed. ‘I always thought she was one of the three the letter is addressed to. Belle, your mother’s friend, and her late husband were often referred to as Beauty and the Beast. Perhaps that explains…’
Why she was lying dead beside Mother? Red thought grimly. ‘Then who’s Rapunzel?’
Doc sighed. ‘I don’t know. Do you remember anyone else your mother often conversed with?’
Red flinched. She did not like to think about her traumatic past. She shook her head slowly. My own mother is one of the Emperor’s secret intelligence operatives, Red thought. Her head was reeling. This was far too much to drop on someone after seven years.
‘I think I’m going to leave now,’ Red muttered, standing and picking up her crimson hood, along with the letter Doc had presented to her.
‘But-’ Doc began, but Red had already slipped out of the room.
Red almost flew from the hospital. She dashed down the halls and burst through the front door like the building was on fire. So many thoughts were running through her head that she could not concentrate on one thing at a time. More than once someone cursed her for running into them.
Red’s feet carried her without her controlling them. When she at last stopped and looked up, she found herself in front of Jack’s tiny cottage He was her best friend. She swung the rusty gate open and stepped into the immense garden surrounding the cottage on all sides. Vast beds of flowers formed rainbows beneath Red’s feet as she drifted between the mammoth hedge statues; dragons, imps, elves and skeletons towered above her, casting cool shadows across her distressed face.
‘Ho, Red!’ a voice cried from behind her. She leapt a thousand feet into the air, swinging around with her heart thumping in her ears. A boy with untidy brown hair wearing a pair of very old gardening gloves strolled towards her.
Red exhaled deeply and laid a hand on her heart. ‘Jack, how many times do I have to tell you not to do that?’
‘Sorry,’ Jack replied, shrugging slightly. ‘I assumed you were looking for me, so I made you aware of my presence.’
Red ignored this comment and pulled the old letter from her pocket, passing it to Jack. ‘Read it,’ she told him simply.
Jack opened the envelope and unfolded the letter with a flourish. He read it through, frowning as he did so. He finished and looked up at Red, letter in one gloved hand, envelope in the other.
‘What is this?’ Jack asked, echoing Red’s own question.
‘A letter from the Emperor,’ she explained. ‘Found with my mother when she…’
Jack raised his eyebrows, not offering the letter back. ‘The Emperor? Writing to your mother? But your mother’s name is Briar Rose, not any of the names addressed here.’
‘But they’re codenames, don’t you see? Doc and I guess Aurora is Mother and Beauty is Belle.’
Red shrugged. ‘We couldn’t work it out.’
‘And what do you propose to do about it?’
Red stared at him intensely for a moment before answering quietly. ‘I want to get revenge.’
Jack’s eyebrows flew even higher, threatening to disappear into his dirty hair. ‘Revenge? You don’t even know who tried to kill your mother!’
Red twitched violently at the word ‘kill’. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. ‘Well, if you’re not going to help, I’ll do it all myself.’
She was about to turn and walk away when Jack spoke.
‘Wait. I think I might know who can help.’
The duo walked briskly down the street, avoiding eye contact with any passers-by. The road was quiet, so didn’t pose too much resistance to the friends’ speed.
‘How do even know her?’ Red inquired. ‘How do you possibly know a beggar?’
Jack gave her a look and continued walking. He did not reply.
They soon stopped in front of an alley between a bakery and a toy shop. Jack led Red into the shadows and called softly: ‘Ella? Cinderella?’
Red watched sceptically as a small girl in torn rags scuttled from the shadows and stood straight-backed in front of Jack with a wide grin on her grubby face. The girl held her hand out and Jack kissed it lightly before introducing her.
‘Red, this is Cinderella. Ella, this is my friend Red.’
‘Look, Godmother. A new friend,’ Cinderella said to the air somewhere over her shoulder, inclining her head to Red, who replied with a raised eyebrow. She opened her mouth to speak, but Jack cut in firmly.
‘Ella, Red is looking for the person who tried to kill her mother, Briar Rose, or Aurora, depending on how you know her. They also murdered Belle, or Beauty, but we don’t know what happened to Rapunzel.’
‘Rapunzel?’ Cinderella repeated, face lighting up. ‘Did you hear that, Godmother? What do we know about Rapunzel? Well, I heard from Miss Muffet, who heard from Mother Hubbard who says she saw it all, that Rapunzel was kidnapped about seven years ago in the middle of the night by none other than Snow White.’
Red opened her mouth again, but was once again cut off.
‘I know, right?’ Cinderella continued. ‘Can you even imagine why she was kidnapping someone?’
‘Wait,’ Red broke in. ‘Snow White? Kidnapping? What’s this all about?’
Cinderella made an irritated noise. ‘Snow White is the kingdom’s best assassin. Mother Hubbard said she saw her carrying Rapunzel away the night Beauty and Aurora were found dead and dying.’
Red, hearing the mention of her mother’s attack, shook violently, struggling to control herself. She looked at Jack for help.
Jack immediately jumped to her rescue. ‘So, Ella, do you know how we could find this Snow White?’
‘We’re not sure where you could find Snow White herself, but you could always try her stepmother. She lives in a cottage somewhere in the Forest of Faraway.’
‘Thank you very much Ella,’ Jack said. Then, as an afterthought, added: ‘And you, Fairy Godmother.’
Cinderella nodded and held her hand out again. Jack promptly brushed it lightly with his lips and turned swiftly away as the little girl disappeared back into the shadows of the alleyway.
‘Loony,’ Red stated as they walked. ‘She’s loopy. Fairy Godmother?’
‘She’s had a rough childhood,’ Jack replied simply, and answered no more of Red’s comments on the beggar girl.
‘What now?’ Jack asked, changing topic.
‘I suppose we find this stepmother of Snow White’s,’ Red replied. ‘She could tell us where my mother’s assassin is.’
‘I’ll get some supplies before we leave.’ Jack stepped into his garden and made for the front door. ‘Who knows how long we’ll be lost in the Forest?’
The two approached the tiny cottage cautiously. It was a small cube of a house, evidently having only one room. The windows were alight and Red could hear muffled voices coming from within.
‘Do you think this is it?’ Jack asked quietly as they approached the door.
‘Yes, I think so.’ Red reached up to the door and knocked lightly with her knuckles. The voices inside immediately fell silent, small shuffling sounds came from behind the door before it opened a crack, casting a thin stream of light onto the duo’s faces.
A short man peered through the gap in the doorway. Red could not determine his features as he was in silhouette, but he seemed suspicious to her.
‘What do you want?’ the man asked in a croaky voice.
‘Um, is this where Snow White’s stepmother lives?’ Red asked awkwardly.
‘Who’s asking?’ the little man demanded bitterly.
Red’s eyebrows came together in a frown. ‘I’m Red-’ she faltered, remembering how her mother had had a codename. She thought wildly, looking down at her attire, and suddenly, a thought struck her.
‘I’m Red Riding Hood,’ she said firmly. ‘I’m here to interrogate the stepmother of Snow White for information on her whereabouts.’
‘Red,’ Jack warned her softly.
The silhouetted man contemplated the two before slamming the door in their faces. Red stepped back in shock, listening to the clangs and rattles from inside.
‘That is just rude!’ she cried. Turning the doorknob, she found the door was unlocked, and so swung it wide open. She stamped into the cottage with fire in her eyes, but stopped short when she saw the interior.
There was only a few pieces of furniture; bed, cabinet and table. The only object out of place was the large cage pushed against the opposite wall. A tall woman with curly blonde hair falling to her shoulders was locked within, sitting as dignified as possible in the cramped space. The mysterious man stood beside the cage, pointing a black handgun at Red and Jack.
Both Red and Jack froze in the doorway. Red stared at the short man hard, finding herself unnaturally calm. Slowly, very slowly, she asked: ‘Who are you?’
‘My name,’ the man said slowly, not lowering his arm, ‘is Rumpelstiltskin.’
‘And she is?’ Red asked, eyes flicking quickly towards the woman in the cage.
‘Snow White’s stepmother.’
‘The ex-queen,’ the woman added sourly.
Red took a cautious step forward, raising her hands to show she was not armed. Her eyes drifted down to meet the Stepmother’s. A spark seemed to flash between them for a moment before Red pulled her attention back to Rumpelstiltskin.
At that moment, the Stepmother thrust her arm through the bars of the cage and smacked the gun out of Rumpelstiltskin’s hand, sending it skidding across the floor. Red dived for it, snatching it from the little man’s reach, and aimed it at his head.
‘Why are you holding her hostage?’ Red demanded.
Rumpelstiltskin’s eyes grew the size of moons and he backed up against the wall, wringing his hands, eyes flicking from door to window to gun in desperation.
‘I- I don’t- I’m only doing it for Miss White, I swear! She said she’d pay whoever caught her stepmother!’ the little man cried, staring helplessly down the point of the gun.
‘Did Snow White kill Beauty and kidnap Rapunzel?’ Red demanded.
‘Red,’ Jack warned her again. ‘Don’t overdo yourself.’
Red ignored him and thrust the gun closer to Rumpelstiltskin’s face. ‘Tell me!’
‘Yes, yes, yes!’ he cried, flinging his arms up to shield his face. ‘She did it for the one who wants to take the kingdom! She did it for her!’
‘Her? Who are you talking about?’
Rumpelstiltskin’s eyes widened until they were as round as dinner plates and he opened his mouth to utter a name. Unfortunately, he did not get a chance. A long dagger flew past Red’s arm and jammed itself into Rumpelstiltskin’s throat, killing him instantly. His body flopped to the floor as Red leapt away and swung around.
In the open doorway stood a tall woman with pale skin and dark hair, her garments torn and bloody. Red noticed the crimson colour of her lips; it was as though she had just been sucking the blood from her latest victim. She raised another dagger and flung it at Red.
She wheeled out the line of fire, feeling a soft touch of air on her cheek as the knife missed her by half an inch. Red looked up to see Jack rush at the mystery woman. She grabbed him by the wrist and rolled him over her shoulder, causing him to fly out the door and land heavily on his head, knocking him unconscious.
Red clambered shakily to her feet, facing her new opponent. She began raising the gun, but the woman kicked it out of her hand before punching her in the chest, sending her rolling across the floor.
Red lifted her head, but had barely enough strength to do anything else. She watched the woman walk over to the cage and peered through the bars.
‘Hello, stepmother,’ the woman said wickedly.
The Stepmother cringed and backed away from the woman, crying: ‘You are not my stepdaughter!’
Snow White, Red thought. She’s Snow White.
Snow White grinned evilly at her stepmother and drew a crisp red apple from her pocket. A single bite was missing from one side. ‘Remember this?’ she asked, holding the apple out to the woman in the cage.
The Stepmother’s eyes widened and she backed away further.
‘Come on,’ Snow White said, reaching through the bars to hold the apple close to the Stepmother’s face. ‘Just one bite.’
Snow White tore the Stepmother’s hands from her face with one arm and pushed the apple to her lips with the other, smiling sinisterly.
Red groggily, but subtly, propped herself up on one shoulder and held the gun up. Aiming it at Snow White the best she could, she pulled the trigger.
The bullet ricocheted off the lock of the cage, bursting it open. In an instant, the Stepmother kicked the door open, flinging Snow White to one side, and flew out the open door and into the trees.
Snow White leapt to her feet, giving Red a stare that could kill. She scooped up the apple and rocketed after her prey, leaving Red alone.
Once she had regained most of her strength, Red dragged Jack into the cottage, laying him on the small bed in the corner. She then sat by the window, staring out into the night, considering all she had learnt that day.
Eventually, deciding she could not sleep, Red slipped outside, stowing the gun away in her hood. She walked through the trees for several minutes, breathing in the fresh, clean air of the night, and thinking. She had seen the woman who had put her mother in a coma, and she had let her get away. She had also found out there was much more to this. She was part of something bigger.
‘I fear someone is conspiring against me,’ the Emperor’s letter had said. Whoever it was, they did not want the Emperor finding out how to overcome them.
Red looked up at the sky, which was beginning to pale as the morning neared. She noticed a dark splotch in the corner of her eye, and blinked several times, but the darkness remained. She turned to see what was blocking the light and found herself staring at a ruined castle; the only part remaining upright was a tower reaching toward the sky. Red could see no way in other than a window at the very top.
A soft red glow emanated from the opening, flickering as someone walked past the window every few moments. Soon, that someone leaned out of the window, surveying the surroundings. Red shied back into the darkness of the trees. The figure turned back into the tower, and Red saw from the ruby glow that it was Snow White.
Red felt her anger boil up within her, and she turned away, running back to the Stepmother’s cottage to tell Jack what she had seen.
‘Jack,’ she hissed in his ear when she reached the bedside. She repeated his name several times until he woke up. ‘I think I’ve found the hideout of the person in charge of Snow White.’
The two left the cottage behind in a matter of moments, Red leading the way to the tower. They hid behind the trees where Red had been minutes ago and contemplated the tower.
‘How are we going to get up there?’ Red wondered aloud, searching for a door or stairs.
‘I have just the thing,’ Jack said, digging his hand into his pocket. He drew out three bright green beans, no larger than Red’s thumbnail. They let off a soft green glow, which lit up Jack’s palm like a tiny lantern.
‘What on earth are they?’ Red asked, staring at the glowing beans.
‘Magic beans. I traded an old cow for them,’ Jack explained. ‘That’s why Mother kicked me out. I was supposed to sell the cow, but took four of these instead.’
‘You don’t think I grew my garden naturally, do you?’
The duo slunk closer to the tower and crouched beside the cold stone wall. Red observed as Jack buried one of the beans next to the high stone wall.
‘What exactly are we supposed to do now?’ she enquired. ‘We can’t exactly wait for a tree to grow.’
‘Just wait,’ Jack told her. Red opened her mouth to retort, but stopped as a tall green shoot erupted from the ground where Jack had buried the bean.
The shoot wriggled and twisted before growing taller and thicker, sprouting leaves the size of roofs. The plant blasted into the air, growing taller and thicker with every movement. Red stood with her mouth hanging open in astonishment as she watched the plant rocket into the sky without making so much as a peep.
When at last the plant came to a halt just below the tower window, Red turned to stare at Jack, her eyes larger than the colossal leaves hanging above their heads.
‘What is this? Some kind of mutant beanstalk?’
‘I told you it was magic,’ was all Jack said, as he clambered onto one of the lower leaves. It supported his weigh as if he weren’t even on it. ‘Come on. It won’t be long before whoever’s up there notices.’
They spent the next few minutes climbing the beanstalk, dragging themselves up each leaf. At one stage, Red glanced down and her head swam. The ground lay too far below for her liking. Breathing deeply, she looked back up and propelled herself onto the next leaf.
Red reached the window before Jack. She reached up and took hold of the cold windowsill, hauling herself into the room. She looked around as Jack followed her through the window.
The single room had no doors or stairs, and its stone walls were bare of decorations. A bed, a cupboard and a crammed shelf were the only pieces of furniture. In the centre of the room sat a large cauldron bubbling with a bright red liquid, which appeared to be the only source of light in the tower. Snow White stood beside the cauldron, staring dumbfounded at Red and Jack, arms crossed and red mouth hanging open.
‘Get them!’ a voice hissed from behind Snow White.
The assassin shook her head as if to clear it before launching herself at the two trespassers and slamming them against the wall. They struggled, and broke free for only a moment before Snow White caught them both in a headlock, an arm around each of their necks.
‘Well, well, well.’
Red looked up at the other figure. It was a pale woman with jet black hair that fell to her waist. No, not her waist. It fell to her feet. Actually, it looked like her hair hung all the way to the floor and coiled around the room in dark ringlets.
‘Who are you?’ Jack demanded.
‘Why, I’m Rapunzel, or at least, that’s what the world knows me by,’ the woman said, grinning horribly.
Red’s head reeled. Rapunzel? But she was kidnapped by Snow White. Snow White wasn’t working for her. Was she?
‘I don’t understand,’ Red muttered.
‘Ah, you are Red, aren’t you?’ Rapunzel asked. ‘Daughter of Briar Rose, or Aurora?’
‘Yes,’ Red spat, giving Rapunzel such an intense look of hatred that her eyes burned.
‘So you came to find who tried to kill your mother,’ Rapunzel continued. ‘And you found out much more than you bargained for, I’d wager.’
‘Tell me what happened!’ Red screamed, tearing at Snow White’s wrist. ‘What exactly happened to my mother?’
Rapunzel smiled and turned to examine her cauldron.
‘Oh, it was a lovely night,’ she said. ‘We got a letter from the Emperor, see, telling us to find a way to call the Power of the Fairies to stop whoever may have been trying to take his throne. I always liked being his secret intelligence operative. It gave me access to all of his secrets.’
Snow White tightened her grip on her two captives as Jack dug his fingernails into her flesh, drawing blood the colour of her lips.
‘Naturally, I decided I wanted this power for myself,’ Rapunzel continued. ‘With it, I could take what I wanted like it was no one’s business. I hired an ace assassin-’ she nodded to Snow White, ‘and concocted a master plan. I assisted the girls in finding the spell and had Snow White murder them, pretending to kidnap me so I wasn’t a culprit. I was going to relax and take my time finding everything I needed for the spell.’
She took a slip of parchment from the shelf and flashed it in Red’s face. At the top it read, To Call the Power of the Fairies.
‘But your plan didn’t work,’ Red added slyly. ‘Mother didn’t die.’
‘No, she didn’t,’ Rapunzel said, wheeling around and returning the parchment to the shelf. ‘And I didn’t know when she would awake, so I began tracking down all the ingredients for the spell here.’ She waved a hand over the cauldron. ‘And at last I need just one more thing.’
She turned and stared directly at Jack. ‘How did you grow that beanstalk?’ she asked. Jack remained stubbornly silent.
‘You wouldn’t happen to have a couple of magic beans in your possession, would you?’
Jack looked shocked, and dropped his hand to his pocket, realising too late that he had given himself away.
Rapunzel’s eyes slid to his hand. She walked up to him and wrestled his hand away, slipping one of the last glowing beans from his pocket and holding it up for inspection.
‘Thank you,’ she said mockingly, grinning at him. ‘Now prepare yourselves, my dears, for you are about to witness me gain the ultimate power.’
‘No!’ Red cried as Rapunzel dropped the bean into the crimson liquid with a plop! The liquid flashed green for a moment before changing back to red and spitting bright orange sparks into the air. Rapunzel laughed wickedly.
Red dropped her head in despair, letting her arms fall in defeat. However, one of her arms hit something hard hidden in her hood. The gun! She drew it out slowly and swung it up to aim at Rapunzel, but Snow White tightened her grip on Red once more, making her vision go fuzzy. She dropped the gun and her knees trembled. The headlock loosened again as the gun rolled out of Red’s reach.
‘Be careful, dear,’ Rapunzel said as the cauldron spewed violet smoke onto the floor. ‘You wouldn’t want to do anything stupid.’
Red’s head drooped again, and this time she found something else. Something better. A bright red apple with a single bite missing lay at Red’s feet, shining in the violet smoke.
Red let herself go limp, pretending to be unconscious. As she had hoped, Snow White muttered something about being too heavy, and let her fall to the floor, where she lay still for a moment.
Without warning, she swept her arm across the floor and plucked the apple up. With all her might, she flung the apple at Snow White’s face.
She screamed in anger, opening her red mouth wide. The apple smacked into her mouth, sticking between her teeth. She dropped Jack and tugged the apple out, flinging it across the room. Red saw the apple’s juices dripping from Snow White’s jaw as she screamed and lunged at the girl on the floor, but the juices turned to blood, and her scream turned into a gurgle.
Snow White fell lifeless to the floor, inches from Red’s frozen body.
Red looked up just in time to see Rapunzel desperately trying to catch the apple, which was flying straight towards the cauldron. The apple, now with two bites missing, arced through the air and slipped through Rapunzel’s fingers, landing in the cauldron with a splash.
Rapunzel screamed as the cauldron threw out huge yellow sparks.
‘Do you realise what you have done?’ she cried, looking evilly up at Red. ‘Now this entire tower is going to go sky high!’
Red looked over at Jack, who shared her look of abject terror.
Rapunzel screamed again and ran towards the tower, leaping out into the night, her lengthy train of hair following her a few moments later. Both Red and Jack dashed to watch as she failed to catch hold of the beanstalk, her hair tangling in the vines and leaves, wrapping around her neck.
Red winced as she stopped falling, dangling motionless in the air at the end of her long black hair.
‘We have to get out of here,’ Jack said quickly, clambering out the window.
Red looked behind her to see the cauldron rocking wildly, spewing black smoke, which filled the small room entirely. She hastily followed Jack out onto the beanstalk.
They slid down the stalk as quickly as they could, avoiding the blank gaze of Rapunzel as she swayed in the breeze. They had just reached the bottom and were running toward the forest when the tower exploded with the force of a bomb, throwing Red and Jack to the forest floor and shredding the magic beanstalk into a thousand pieces. Red could not see what happened to Rapunzel.
They clambered stiffly to their feet and ran back through the Forest of Faraway as the last remaining part of the ruined castle tumbled to the ground, shaking the ground like an earthquake.
I did it! Red thought with grim glee. I found out who hurt my mother and I got my revenge. Not only that, but I also saved the Emperor’s throne.
She sprinted alongside Jack until they could run no more, and stopped to catch their breath.
‘Well,’ Jack huffed. ‘I guess it’s time to go home. I’ve seen enough for one day.’
‘Yes,’ Red agreed. ‘Home.’
The two friends sat talking at the bedside. Briar Rose remained sleeping, her machine blip, blip, blipping every few seconds.
The door opened and Doc came in slowly, watching Red cautiously.
‘How are you?’ he asked casually, tapping his clipboard with his pen. ‘I hope you’re all right after yesterday’s news.’
‘Oh, you have no idea,’ Red told him, passing the last glowing magic bean back to Jack.
Doc’s eyes widened and his mouth fell open at the sight of it. He pointed to it, opening and closing his mouth like a fish, but no words came out. He eventually took a deep breath and said: ‘Where on earth did you get that?’
Jack looked down at the magic bean. ‘It’s a long story,’ he said. ‘Why?’
‘Why? That can be what wakes up dear Briar Rose here!’ Doc cried, snatching the bean from Jack’s hand and examining it closely.
Red caught her breath. ‘What did you say?’ she breathed.
‘With the right technique,’ Doc explained, ‘this can be made into a miracle medicine. I’m positive it could wake your mother up in no time!’
Red exchanged stunned looks with Jack before leaping to her feet and flying from the room, dragging Doc at her heels.
‘What are you waiting for then?’ she cried. ‘Go make a miracle medicine! Mother and I can’t wait forever!’
Jack followed close behind, leaving Briar Rose alone in her room. It seemed everything was going to be good again.
However, a headless man, watching subtly through the window, gave a short, deep chuckle as he swung his horse around and galloped away from the hospital without anyone noticing anything.