Twisted Fairy Tale: Spinning Wheel by Emily McKeon
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.
By Emily McKeon
Twigs crunched under horses’ hooves as Princess Eleonora and Prince Harold traveled to their final destination. Betrothed at birth, the two met for the first time the day before. Upon Eleonora’s seventeenth birthday, Harold arrived on her doorstep to claim her as his own. With barely a day to pack and say her goodbyes, the princess had been whisked away to start a new life in Harold’s kingdom.
“Nora. Can you hear me Nora?” The voice whispered on the wind, originating from an unseen source. Eleonora pulled her reins, bringing her horse to a stop so she could hear it better.
“I know you’re there, Nora. Hang on and I’ll save you.”
“Everything alright?” Prince Harold’s voice cut off the whispers, bringing along a rush of bird song and forest chatter. Eleonora strained to pick out the disembodied voice, but it was lost among the cacophony.
“Fine. I just thought I heard something.”
A sneer curled Harold’s lip, turning the concern on his face to disdain. “You’re in the woods. There’s noise all around you. Have you never left your castle before?”
“I have, my lord. It wasn’t forest noise. It was a voice. It was calling for Nora.”
The look of disdain slid from Harold’s face and his face whitened. Without a word, he kicked his horse back into movement, urging it to go faster. Eleonora loosened her grip on her reins, allowing her own horse to keep pace with Harold.
“What is it, my lord?”
“Nothing. It’s nothing. There are stories told about these woods, but they’re only there to frighten children. Still, we should hurry home. No sense in being uncomfortable longer than necessary. We can travel until dark and set up camp then. We should be at the edge of these woods by that time, if we hurry.”
Eleonora glanced over at her intended as the horses picked their way through branches and tree roots. The look on his face wasn’t fear, it was something different altogether. Concern? Anger? Determination? Possibly a mixture of all three?
They rode silently until sundown, leaving the ghostly voice far behind them. The edge of the forest waited a few hours away, but Harold didn’t want to risk a lame horse on the dark, uneven path.
“This will do for the night. I know it’s not what you’re accustomed to, but it will only be a night or two. After that, you’ll be back to castle life forever.”
Eleonora nodded, watching Harold set up their camp. Something about it felt familiar, like she had done this before. Had she traveled somewhere as a child and was forced to sleep on the ground overnight like a common peasant? She couldn’t recall such a time. Any travel her family did was generally on well-populated roadways, with inns or lesser lords to room with overnight. Harold’s kingdom was the only one she knew of that had no well-traveled path. It was a mystery how the two kingdoms stayed such good friends for all these years.
“You will sleep in here and I will sleep in front to guard you,” Harold stated as he erected a small, white tent. “Not that there’s anything to guard you from in these woods, but I always want to protect what is mine regardless.”
“That’s very kind of you, my lord.” Eleonora suspected he was ensuring she didn’t run away rather than protecting her from whatever inhabited the woods. This idea seemed silly. Where would she run to? Her own home was a day’s ride in one direction and his kingdom was at least a day’s ride in the other. No other paths branched off of the one they were on, so there wasn’t anywhere for her to hide, even if she wanted to.
They ate a cold dinner sent with them from Eleonora’s cook. Cold chicken and bread, fresh apples from the orchard, and cheese. Cook had hidden a pie at the bottom of the hamper as well, which would make a good breakfast in the morning.
As Eleonora settled down after dinner, Harold’s silhouette darkened the front of her tent. “Sleep well and know that I’m right outside.” The flap closed, but the dying light from the fire continued to impose Harold’s shadow on the tent, reminding her of his promise as she closed her eyes.
Eleonora awoke to the same whispered voice. “Nora. Please, come back to me. I love you. Don’t leave me.”
“Who are you?” Eleonora whispered back to the darkness.
“Nora? Did you see that? Nora, can you hear me?” The voice grew forceful and excited.
“Who is Nora?”
“Come on. You can do it. Come home to me, Nora. I love you.”
Eleonora climbed out of her cot and glanced around the room, searching for the source of the mysterious voice. There was nothing in the tent but her cot. No place for the stranger to hide.
“That’s it Nora. Come to me.”
Maybe the voice was coming from outside. Eleonora crept to the tent entrance and pushed the flap aside.
“Good morning.” Eleonora jumped back as Harold’s smiling face greeted her. “Glad to see you’re up so early. We can make good time today.”
“Of course.” The voice was lost again as tent poles clattered and fabric rustled. Decampment took Harold only minutes and they were on their way just as the sun peeked over the horizon.
“I heard it again.”
“Heard what again?”
“The voice. It keeps calling out for Nora.” Eleonora glanced sideways, looking for a reaction from her companion.
“Nora? What sort of name is that?” Harold snorted. “Don’t worry yourself over it. We’ll be out of these woods in no time, and whatever is making those noises will be far behind us.” There seemed to be less concern on his face this time around. Perhaps it was simply the woods and unfamiliar noises getting to her, and a return to civilization would rid her of the voice.
They left the woods by mid-morning, the path now winding through fields of wheat and barley. Farms at the edge of the kingdom, but with no farmhouses in sight.
“We’re nearly home. With good luck, we’ll be there by nightfall.”
“Where are the farmhouses?”
Eleonora gestured to the empty landscape around them. “The houses of the farmers who work these fields. Where are they all?”
“Oh, that. No one lives out this way. We keep all our citizens inside our walls. It’s the best way to protect them.”
“But how do they farm their fields if it takes at least a day’s ride to reach them?”
“Details that you don’t need to worry about. Just know that we take care of everyone in our kingdom, and our kingdom takes care of us.” Harold refused to say any more on the subject, steering the conversation instead to the wedding celebration prepared for them. Eleonora barely listened, her curiosity still fixated on the absent farmers with healthy fields.
The sun began to set and Eleonora was becoming drowsy when the voice came a third time.
“Nora, snap out of it. You have to fight this.”
A faint line marking Harold’s castle was visible now. A few hours left on their journey.
“Don’t do it, Nora. Come back. It’s not too late.” Eleonora glanced around at the fields, searching for movement to give away the location of the voice, but there was nothing. Not even disturbance from the wind as they rode along.
“Wherever you’re going, don’t go. Stop. Turn around. Do it now before it’s too late.”
“Is everything alright? Are you back to looking for farmhouses again?” Harold had slowed his horse to ride alongside her. “We’re almost home. Look, you can see my, I mean our, castle from here.”
The line on the horizon was darker the closer they got. Foreboding and unwelcoming. Black and dark gray stonework sucked up all the light, giving the whole place a sense of hiding in the shadows.
“It looks empty and dark.”
“Only a trick of the light. Once we get closer, it will be more inviting. I promise.”
They rode on, the walls surrounding the castle and the town growing both taller and more menacing. The only light in this darkness came from the opened gate.
“See? Warm and inviting. Wait until you get inside. The whole town is so looking forward to finally meeting you.” The smile on Harold’s face didn’t match the one in his eyes. Eleonora shivered, the hairs on her arms and neck raising in alarm. This wasn’t right.
“Nora! Stop now. Stop. Turn around and come back to me. Do not go in there.” The voice was urgent, forceful. Harold couldn’t hear it, but he picked up on the fact that it had returned. His face went rigid and he grabbed Eleonora’s arm.
“Is it back? Is that sorcerer’s voice back again?” Eleonora nodded, unable to speak. Which voice should she listen to? The angry one in front of her, who she was sworn to marry, or the ghost who so urgently wanted her attention?
“Turn around, Nora. I know you can do it. Don’t leave me here by myself.”
“Come, let’s get inside. We must hurry.” Harold grabbed her reins, dragging her horse alongside his at a gallop that threatened to unseat her if she didn’t hold on tight.
“No, Nora! No, no, no!” The ghost was wailing, defeat heavy in his screams. Something pressed against her mouth, jerking her horse to a standstill. Harold, still clinging to her reins, jerked off his horse. The horse, now without a rider to direct him, bolted through the gateway. A bright flash of light blinded Eleonora. When she could see again, the horse was gone. On the ground, Harold tugged her reins in an unsuccessful attempt to get her horse to move.
“We must go. Quickly. Get your horse to move or else climb down and we can run to safety.”
“What happened to your horse?”
“Witchcraft. Demons. Whatever that voice is that keeps calling to you. Until we’re inside the castle walls, we’re not safe.”
Eleonora stared down at him and his failed attempts to get her horse to move. Harold was not right. This castle was not right. Whatever happened to the other horse was not right. The voice was warning her, but was it right?
Harold gave up on the horse and was reaching up to pull her down out of her saddle.
“Give me your hand. We must move quickly or we’re doomed.” Eleonora allowed herself to be helped to the ground. Harold grasped her hand and ran, dragging her behind him. This wasn’t right. She had to stop. Eleonora dug her heels into the ground, causing Harold to be yanked off his feet.
“No. I want to know what happened to your horse.”
“He’s inside the walls. You saw him go in.”
“What was the flash of light?”
“The sun hitting the entrance. You’re being silly. Now, let’s go.” The frustration in Harold’s voice crept into his body as his fingers dug into Eleonora’s wrist.
“Let me go back for my horse…”
“No! You can’t go back, only forward.” Harold twisted Eleonora towards him, but it was too late, she had looked back.
The fields that were rich with wheat and barley were blackened and scorched. The tree line they had left behind them hours before was now a dark, tangled mass covered in brambles. Eleonora spun back to face Harold, but he was gone. In his place was a stunted old man, his eyes blazing in a wrinkled face.
“Where am I? What is happening to me?”
“Spinning wheel, spinning wheel, pricked your finger on the spinning wheel. Through the gates and you’ll be mine, asleep forever in my kingdom.”
Eleonora pulled away from the man who she had known as Harold. “What does any of that mean? Who are you, if you’re not really Harold?”
The wind howled around them, bringing with it the voice once more. “That’s it, Nora. Good girl. Fight it. You’re stronger than it is. I know you can fight it and return to me.”
“Shut up, shut up, shut up!” Not-Harold screeched into the wind. “She’s mine now.” He grabbed Eleonora’s hand again, rushing towards the gate.
“No!” Eleonora wretched her hand free and spun around, running towards the brambles and dark forest. “Where are you?” she shouted to the sky. “How do I get to you?”
Behind her, Not-Harold shrieked and charged towards her.
“Nora? I’m right here. Follow my voice.”
“But where? I can’t see you.”
“Close your eyes.” Eleonora obeyed and felt the same pressure on her lips that caused her to stop her horse. She kissed back at the same moment Not-Harold tackled her from behind, knocking her to the ground. The breath rushed out of her as she fell.
She opened her eyes to a white room and beeping machines. Strange faces, tight with concern all stared down at her. Close to her face, lips brushing against hers, was Harold.
“Welcome back, Nora. I thought we had lost you.”
Two days ago, Harry returned home from work to find his worst nightmare come true. His fiancé, Nora sprawled out on the living room floor, unresponsive.
The howl of the ambulance’s siren heightened Harry’s anxiety as they raced to the hospital.
“How long has she been like this?”
“I don’t know. I just got home and found her like this. Is she going to be okay?”
“We’re doing our best. She’s the fourth one we’ve been called for in the last three days.”
Harry tightened his grip on Nora’s hand. “What happened to the other three?”
“One came out of it, the other two went deeper in.”
The outlook when they reached the hospital seemed no better. Nora was rushed to a room while Harry was made to wait outside. Helpless and alone as he waited for the doctors or nurses or anyone who could answer his questions.
Hours later, a doctor came into the waiting room to speak with him.
“Nora is stable, but not out of the woods yet.”
“What is it? What’s wrong with her?”
“New drug called Spinning Wheel. No idea where it’s coming from, but it doesn’t take much. It’s usually administered on a needled coated with the stuff. Prick to the finger is all it takes. Users are called Sleeping Beauties. They end up in a coma that’s hard to wake from. The only one we’ve been successful with told us they were being led somewhere by a loved one, but everything felt off. Just before they went through the doorway, they turned around and knew they shouldn’t go on.”
Harry stood up and headed for the ward door. “How do we get Nora back? What do I do?”
“I don’t know if we can get her back. We’re doing all we can. For now, you can go in and try to talk to her. See if you can get her to respond. If she responds, even small muscle twitches, she stands a better chance of coming out of it.” The doctor led Harry to Nora’s room, where she lay attached to wires and machines.
“Nora. Can you hear me Nora?” Harry whispered in Nora’s ear. “I know you’re there, Nora. Hang on and I’ll save you.”
About the Author
You can read Emily McKeon’s past showcase stories below:
Urban Legends: Conjuring the House by Emily McKeon