Twisted Fairy Tale: The Anonymous Assassin by Alex Brown
Welcome to the 8th annual #SpookyShowcase! The Spooky Showcase celebrates the dark minds of creatives around the world through short stories and artistic creations that are dark in nature, macabre, or horror themed.
This year’s theme is Twisted Fairy Tales. Expect twisted legends, creepy creations, and dark fairy tales that will keep you up at night. Visit each day in the month of October for a scare. The master schedule is here.
The Anonymous Assassin
By Alex Brown
Never let the humans learn your name.
Father’s warning haunted me as my oar dipped into the water, propelling my small boat forward. Fog drifted lazily across the sea’s surface. It announced my arrival like a dog who sensed that death was near. Not that anyone would pay enough attention to know what that meant. I’d spent my whole life studying them, only to discover one sad, lonely truth: humans were selfish murderers.
I wanted to be proven wrong. Spent my days working on spells and potions that could make their lives better—but also poisons that would kill them as soon as the bottle touched their lips. Father thought that all they’d ever done was destroy everything they touched. I was slightly more optimistic.
Until they murdered hum.
I’d always tell him that the past was the past. It didn’t matter that I was abandoned as a child and he found me, small and alone. Without anyone’s love. But then, when he set sail for a faraway kingdom one day and never returned, I finally understood why he could never let go of the past. The humans—and their horrible world—swallowed him whole. Took him away from me.
Someone needed to pay for what happened.
My small boat bobbed as it nuzzled the dock. I threw a rope around the wooden cleat, hastily mooring it to wood that creaked with rot as soon as I stepped onto it.
I hated them.
They could’ve easily replaced the wood as it decayed. Ushered in something new and honored the fact that, in the end, everything died. Instead, they ignored it. Just like they did with their problems. They let the rot seep into tiny crevices, expanding until it groaned a threat with every step, promising that, one day, it would give up and plunge you into the unforgiving ocean below.
That was what happened to my father. He became twisted and corrupted. Rotting from the inside out until there was nothing left of him.
It would not happen to me.
Moonlight illuminated my path into town. It was late enough that any sensible human would be asleep in their beds. If I was here for them, I’d come into town when the sun was high in the sky, offering them things to make their dreams come true—or to drive away their nightmares.
But I hadn’t arrived here in the middle of the night for the respectable townsfolk. Or the ones who might see a girl of barely seventeen walking through the darkness and try to take advantage of her, one way or another.
Instead, I walked up to a royal guard. His armor glinted in the moonlight.
“Did you lose your way?” he asked, pretending to be friendly. “You look a little lost.”
Sparks jolted through my body. It was the first time anyone other than my father spoke to me. Like I was actually there. Living and breathing, just like they were.
“I know exactly where I’m going,” I replied. “I just need a little help to get there.”
Fog settled in around me as the voice asked, “What kind of help?”
I held my hand out. A small, bright green fire danced in my palm. “I’d like an audience with the queen.” I did my best to sound confident. Powerful. Even though I wasn’t quite sure that was how I felt.
Terror filled the guard’s eyes for a brief moment. And then it was gone. Anger warped his features as his hands wrapped around my neck. Squeezing harder and harder; like I was a fruit that needed all the juice drained out of it. My knees gave out quicker than I would’ve liked. I fell to the ground, clutching the bag full of things that I’d stolen from home.
A smile pulled at the corners of my mouth as consciousness slipped away from me.
Father was right; the world was vicious and cruel.
But that was fine.
So was I.
They kept me in a dungeon. I didn’t expect anything more from them. It wasn’t like they’d take a witch prisoner and hold her in a room luxurious and lavish enough for a queen.
The manacles binding my wrists stung with each movement. I understood why they tied them so tightly that bruises bloomed under my skin. They didn’t want to risk me escaping.
What they couldn’t understand, though, was that I was exactly where I wanted to be.
A rat crawled across the floor. It payed me no mind as it scampered over to the scraps of bread that lingered on the floor, waiting to be consumed. It grabbed at the small pieces with its little hands. Squealed with delight as it shoved a chunk of it into its mouth.
It made a hasty retreat back to the hole in the wall it’d strolled out of. Pausing only for a brief moment in front of me, as if to check to make sure it could take my food. I gave it a small nod of approval. And then, it was gone.
I wasn’t sure how long I’d been imprisoned in the dungeon. That rat was the only living creature I’d encountered since the night I allowed myself to be taken. Usually, food was delivered through a hole in the door. Someone would open a small hatch and drop bread into the tiny, damp room. It was too far away for me to reach with the restraints.
I knew the point was to starve me. But that didn’t make it feel less cruel.
Today, however, the whole door slowly creaked open. I shrunk back against the cold stone wall. Eyes rebelling against the light that slowly tried to push away the darkness.
A girl who couldn’t have been much older than me darted into the room, closing the door behind her. A chain of keys rattled at her side as she moved. Her dark hair was tied back into a neat bun but that didn’t keep stray strands from flying out at odd angles. Soot covered her tunic and pants. Her hands twisted together into a knot as she stepped closer to me.
“You’re the witch?” she asked. Her voice was more like a beautiful song than I cared to admit. Even when it was filled with a strange mixture of fascination and dread.
“So I’m told,” I replied. A grim smile pulled at the corners of my mouth. “Have you come to kill me, then?”
“Why would you ask me that?”
I nodded to the long dagger sheathed at her side. “You wouldn’t be the first one to drive one of those through my heart. But I think I’d like it if you were the last.”
Father taught me that humans were easily flattered. Perhaps he was onto something.
Her face reddened. “I have to go. They’ll come for you soon.”
“Who—” I started to ask. But the door slammed shut behind her before I could finish the question. I turned my unused words into a low whistle. The only thing keeping me company now that the girl and the rat vanished from my life.
I was asleep when the door opened again. There were no windows in my small dungeon cell, so I had no idea if the sun shone in the sky or the moon glowed down on us from above. Not that it mattered all too much. I’d been summoned—finally—to face the royal family. It was the reason I’d allowed myself to be captured.
The queen was going to pay for what she’d done.
An old flour sack slid over my head. Clammy, rough hands wrapped around my wrist, unlocking my bindings.
“Try anything and we’ll kill you, witch.”
I didn’t dignify that with a response. Even if I wanted to try something, I was far too attached to living to tempt fate.
I memorized each twist and turn as the man pushed me through the castle. Kept track of how many steps my journey consisted of, and the different smells drifted around me as we made our way to the queen. One-hundred thirty-five to the robust stews boiling in the kitchen. Carrots, potatoes, beef—enough to make my mouth water. Three-hundred and four until we made it into a hallway that was particularly echo-ridden. The pungent, crisp snap of cleaning solution wafting through the air. Three-hundred seventy-seven until I came across the rank, gag-inducing stink from unemptied chamber pots.
Finally, after five-hundred twenty-eight steps, the creak of large wooden doors brought my party to a halt. The man who warned me not to try anything ripped the sack off of my head. A warning flashed in his eyes as he handed the bag to one of his colleagues. He grinned at me, yellow teeth menacing as he pulled his coat aside to show the long dagger sheathed at his side.
It was different than the servant girl’s blade. Meaner. The harsh edge carved into the metal screamed out. Longed for my blood.
I swallowed, glaring at the man. I would not let him see fear in my eyes. But I had the distinct feeling that if this blade bit into my skin, it could leech me of my soul.
And I wanted to keep that.
“Behave,” the man growled as he pushed me through the wooden doors. “Or you’ll regret it.” His breath reeked coffee and spoiled meat.
There was no use speaking to him—so I didn’t. Instead, I fixed my gaze ahead, and marched into the room of my own free will.
The grand room where the king and queen waited was the most elaborate thing I’d ever seen. Their thrones sat atop a golden platform that was framed with gilded columns. Long, black swathes of fabric with golden threads weaving through them looped in waves across the ceiling, meeting the floor after they’d wrapped around the columns. A court of masked nobles sat on either side of the room. They stared down at me in silent judgement as I strode to the front of the platform and met the queen’s steel-soaked gaze.
I’d spent my life thinking my father was invincible. But under her discerning stare, his demise didn’t seem so outlandish. One thing was clear from the way she looked at me: if I wasn’t careful, I’d share his fate.
The queen was in a gown that was much simpler than the masked figures that sat in boxes on either side of her. A black gown with gold stars threaded throughout. A proper match to the tapestries that lined the room. She shifted slightly under my gaze. A black shawl that matched her dress slowly slid down off her shoulder, revealing a small baby. The child cooed in her arms.
Fire burned in her eyes as she watched me. A silent dare that I was tempted to challenge.
But there was a time and a place for everything. And this was neither of those things.
“Magic is not welcome here,” the queen said. Her voice filled the room. It was sturdy. Strong. Nothing like I imagined. “I will offer you this only once: leave now and never return. Choose to remain in my kingdom, little mage, and you will die.”
Anger raked the red-hot coals burning in my chest. “Is this the same choice you gave to my father?”
The queen’s grip tightened on her child. “Leave,” she said. Her voice was shaper than a knife. The nobles stood at once, silently falling out of the room. The queen’s gaze fell on the men who escorted me inside. “You too.”
The one who threatened me opened his mouth, as if he wanted to protest. But he snapped it shut and turned on his heel. It was a smart choice for a man who was not yet ready to face his fate. His companions followed. As did the king.
I tilted my head as he quietly walked away. How strange. He was the true ruler of this land—the queen only gained power through marriage. And yet, here she was, commanding everyone in the room. I was determined to kill her. But there was also something to admire.
She waited until the great wooden doors creaked closed before she addressed me again.
“Your father gave me many gifts,” she said, her mouth a thin line. “But he also nearly took what was most precious to me. I don’t want you here. Though I suppose you won’t leave until we’re even.” Pain pinched her beautiful features for a brief moment before it faded away. “Your father gave me three days to beat him at a game. I’ll return the favor. You have three nights to escape from this castle. Do so, and you may live, as long as you never return.”
I scoffed. “And if I fail?”
The queen’s expression hardened. “There’s a price we pay for all things. If you remain in this palace on sunset of your fourth day, your foolishness will cost your life.”
The great wooden doors creaked open once again. As if to punctuate her point, the man with the brutal knife strode back into the room, grabbing me roughly by the arm. “Back to the dungeons with you, girl.” He yanked me away from the queen. His breath was hot on my ear as he leaned in and whispered, “Only three nights to go before I gut you like a fish.”
I paid him no mind. I looked back at the queen one last time before the doors slammed shut behind me. I’d succeed in her challenge. But before I made my escape, I’d visit her one last time.
And then I’d slit her throat.
On the first night of my challenge the servant girl eased open the door and crept into my cell in the dungeon.
“Take this,” she said, sliding a small piece of paper into the palm of my hand. “It will help you escape. But you can’t go tonight—the man with the blade is waiting around the corner. He’ll kill you before the queen can.”
“He’d go against her orders?”
The girl shrugged. “She’s no match for him if he steals a mage’s soul. Besides, once he killed you, the queen would be the last of his worries. If he was smart, he’d run far away and start a new life. That’s what I would do, if I was untouchable.”
My eyes drifted to her dagger. “If you could steal my soul with that thing, would you?”
“No.” Red flushed her cheeks as she tore her gaze away from me and focused on the ground. “I could never harm something so beautiful.”
She might as well have stabbed me through the heart with her blade. Kind words were not something I was used to. For the first time in my life, I didn’t know what to say.
Silence lingered painfully between us. I reached out for her hand, delicately lacing my fingers through hers. Breath caught in my chest. I would’ve stood like that forever, if that was what she wanted.
“Forgive me,” she said, pulling away. That warmth that accompanied her touch gave way to ice in her absence. “I should not be here.”
She hurried out of my cell, sparing me one last glance. “Please wait until the third night to leave. It won’t be safe until then.”
Before I could ask her to elaborate, the door closed behind her.
I was alone once again.
I was halfway through the second night, tearing off chunks of bread and tossing it to the rat that lived in the hole in the wall, when the door to the dungeon opened once again.
The servant girl crept back into my cell. This time, she held out her dagger.
“Take this,” she said, placing her hand on top of mine when I grasped the sheathed blade. “I hope you don’t have to use it, but it will be helpful to have a weapon.”
I swallowed. Something sparked inside of me at her touch. “Is the man with the blade still outside?” I asked.
The girl nodded. Her warm brown eyes could only hold my gaze for a few moments before she looked away. A storm raged inside of them—remnants of war that, perhaps, she’d been fighting quietly for years. She let go of my hand as she said, “I have a plan to remove him, but we must wait until tomorrow night.”
We. It was such a small word that should’ve been easy to miss. But I heard it, clear as day.
A nervous laugh escaped from my mouth. “Cutting it a bit close, aren’t we?” I reached out and tucked a strand of dark hair behind her ear. My fingers brushed the side of her cheek. She shuddered under my touch. I pulled my hand away.
Was she repulsed by my touch?
“You will be safe,” she replied. “I’ll see to it.”
“Why are you helping me?” I asked. My voice was soft. Fragile. It never sounded like that before.
She tore her gaze from the cobblestone floor and met my eyes once more. “It’s the right thing to do.”
She left without another word.
On the third and final night, the girl crept into my dungeon holding a familiar bag. She handed it to me, a grim smile stretching her lovely features.
“You need to go. Now. I poisoned the man using a vial from your bag. But the others will be here soon. They’ll chase you down and keep you here, just to watch you die.”
I held my hand out to her. “Come with me,” I said. “We can protect each other. Be untouchable, just like you wanted.”
“Where would we go?”
I answered her question with all the certainty in my heart. “As long as we’re together, it doesn’t matter.”
Tears filled her eyes as she looked at me. “I’m sorry,” she replied, breaking my heart with the certainty in her words. “I can’t leave.”
“Go,” she said, pushing me through the door. “Let the map guide you. Use the dagger and your bag of tricks if you must. Get as far away from here as you can.” Her voice shook. A tear streaked down her cheek. I wanted to reach out and brush it off of her face. But I didn’t. She sniffled. “Don’t forget about me,” she whispered.
She snapped the dungeon door shut behind her, leaving me in the hallway alone.
I walked past the corpse of the man with the blade. Kicked it a few times for good measure. And tucked the girl’s map into my bag. I spent the last two days memorizing the path that I needed to take. What the girl didn’t understand is that I didn’t want a way out of the castle.
While the queen slept peacefully, I was going to slit her throat.
I crept into the queen’s bedroom just like the girl had crept into my dungeon. But, to my dismay, the queen was awake and tending to her child. “Sit,” she said, without looking at me.
I did. The chair was cushioned and far more comfortable than anything I’d ever been in.
“Have you come to kill me, then?” she asked.
“You’re the reason my father’s dead,” I replied. “What else should I do?”
The queen sighed. “My bargain with your father allowed me to have all of this.” She gestured around the room. “But that’s not what I care about most in this world. This castle could rot, and I wouldn’t fret.” She looked down at her baby. “I was willing to give your father anything in order to please the king. But when he tried to take my daughter from me, I did what no one else could: I found a way to beat him.”
She discovered his name. It was something my parents couldn’t do. They struck a bargain with him, too. And when he demanded their first-born child they gave me away without a fight. So, he whisked me away and taught me magic. But he knew how lonely I was. He left to find me a sibling, but he never returned.
“I protected my child,” the queen said, her voice nothing more than a whisper. “Should I be punished for that?”
“No,” I replied. And I meant it. “But I don’t know what to do with my pain.”
Her expression softened as she looked at me. “I was once a miller’s daughter,” she said. “My home is abandoned now, but if you’d like, I can tell you where it is. Spare my life tonight, and I’ll tell everyone of your death. Those who would hunt you down will forget you ever existed. You’ll be safe. Free.”
Bitterness filled my voice. “Why should I believe you?”
“I don’t owe Rumpelstiltskin anything,” she replied, as her baby cooed in her arms. “But you do not deserve a life filled with so much vengeance and pain. You should have some hope, too. Find something that brings you happiness and love. Like my daughter does for me.”
“Love?” I asked, as tears filled my eyes.
She nodded. “We all deserve a chance at that. Don’t you think?”
Despite my best efforts, I did not kill the queen.
Excitement bloomed in my chest as I stood in front of her childhood home. Endless possibilities unfurled around me. I could provide remedies and potions to the nearby village if they needed them. Heal the sick. Improve the quality of the soil to ensure a successful harvest.
I’d live out the rest of my life anonymous and alone, sure. But it was better than letting pain and bitterness rot away at my heart.
Straw littered the ground. I picked up a piece, stretching it out. The more I tugged on it, the firmer it became. After only a few moments, sunlight caught the thin strand in my hand. A hint of gold threaded through it.
“I never got your name,” a familiar voice said.
I couldn’t keep the smile off of my face as I turned to meet her. “I could say the same to you.” I wanted to rush up to her. Pull her into an embrace and never let her go. Instead, I asked a simple question. “Why did you help me?”
Tears filled her eyes. “My brother was the one who learned your father’s name. He reported it to the queen.” She paused as the weight of her words settled around us. “If he hadn’t done that, your father…” her voice trailed away.
“He’d still be alive,” I said, finishing her thought. “And a child would be stolen from her mother. Perhaps…” the words caught in my throat. “It might be better this way. He wasn’t perfect. And, in the end, the bargain he made was his own undoing.”
Tears streaked down her cheeks. “I’m so sorry,” she said, sniffling. I brushed them away as she continued. “As soon as you walked away from me, I knew I made a mistake. The queen told me where to find you. She said that this made you both even.”
She was right. We were.
I’d live with my father’s loss every day. But now, I supposed, I should see who I could be without him.
I placed my hand under the girl’s chin. Tilted her head up toward me. “I think we can make a wonderful life together. If that’s what you want.”
“Yes,” she replied. She smiled. It broke my heart and mended it all at once. “From the moment we met, I knew I wanted to face the world with you by my side. Together.”
“Untouchable,” I said with a grin.
“Untouchable,” she repeated. She laid her head on my shoulder, surveying the mill. “But what will we do with all this straw?” she asked.
Rumpelstiltskin’s magic buzzed through my fingertips. “Oh, I’m sure we’ll think of something.”
About the Author
As far as she knows, Alex Brown’s name is not a secret that holds the power to kill her. Alex is a queer, biracial Filipina American YA Horror writer, and is also the co-creator of The Bridge, a narrative fiction podcast that’s received over 1,000,000 downloads to date!
When she’s not writing, Alex works in the entertainment industry. She spends quite a bit of time singing an ungodly amount of show tunes to her cat, and can be found occasionally doom scrolling through Twitter @gravity_fail09. Alex is repped by Hannah Fergesen, of KT Literary.