Twisted Fairy Tale: Until… by Kathleen Palm
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 Kathleen Palm
The voice in my head whispers to me. She calls me sister.
But I have no sister.
I stare at my peanut butter sandwich, poking dents in the bread with my finger. The dream returned last night. A bar. Dancing. Drinking. Not real, but for the lingering sting of alcohol in my throat.
Only it’s just a dream.
My fingernail taps against the rim of the plate. Red polish, like blood.
Are they dreams?
I didn’t paint my nails this color.
I like red.
I press my hands to my head and mutter, “You’re not real.”
The words are a reaction, one therapists told me to chant. But the words mean nothing. For she is real.
Straight, light-blond hair scatters over my shoulders as I lean forward to finish eating, but my pale fingers tremble. My appetite fades. The wood chair squawks as I stand, the white kitchen cabinets a blur as I stomp to the trash and dump my lunch.
Turning, I catch my reflection in the microwave. The voice has always been there. Mom took me to hundreds of doctors. I took a million different medications. Nothing quieted the her, so I stopped admitting to hearing it.
And tried to ignore it. Because she’s bad.
I swear I see her lurking deep in my eyes, in the curl of my lips, in the flutter of my lashes. But I’m not bad.
I head across the living room’s squeaky wood floor to the front door. My hand curls around my purse and apron that hang on the hooks. Doubt and fear crowd in my mind and scream.
There are memories.
Of Teri. Of George. Of Mr. Elliot.
Of a broken nose. Of a shattered arm. Of a classroom demolished with a sledgehammer.
Except that wasn’t me. I reach for the doorknob.
It was us.
With a sob, I slump against the brown door. “No. I don’t hurt people.”
Always good. Always kind.
Gathering my wits, I stand straight and grip the doorknob. “I’m a nice person.” I rush out into the July afternoon sun and down the concrete front steps where the scent of exhaust mixes with the threat of heat stroke. Traffic putters down the street lined with houses and trees and cars. Dogs bark. Someone yells.
“Off to work, Rosalie?” Mom’s tone is bright and cheery. She sits at her little wicker table on the paver patio and sips her coffee, gazing at the rose bushes.
“Yup.” I swing my lavender apron up, my nametag glinting in the sun. “The people demand greasy food, so I will serve it.” Mom will never know about how the voice still haunts me, that over the last few years in college it’s been harder and harder to explain away what’s been happening. My college friends’ stories of seeing me out wandering the streets at night, me, only with dark hair.
Mom can’t know. She’d have me back in the hospital.
Mom chuckles as she pulls a branch to her and smells the red bloom. “The roses look nice this year, don’t you think?”
Not that I ever really noticed, but I nod, to be nice. “Mom?” I dig through my purse for my keys to the beat up blue ford truck in the driveway. “What is it with the two different color rose bushes? Shouldn’t they match?”
The tremor in her voice makes me look at her, at how she touches the petals with such care. Has she always done that?
“One white. One red.” Mom delicately sniffs the blooms. “So I remember.”
She looks at me, her eyes fierce. “To remember what I lost.”
That’s all she ever says. So I ask again. “What does that mean, Mom? What happened?”
“People die, Rosalie. People you love are taken if you aren’t nice. You remember that. You remember that and be good or you pay the price.” Her last words crack like a whip. She picks up her cup, the liquid sloshing as her hand shakes.
The same answer. My thoughts go to the same place. Dad.
But Mom is the nicest, the best, the kindest. I can’t imagine that she would have not been nice. That Dad would have died because of her.
A car door slams.
“Damn it!” The voice is rough.
I turn. A hunched figure leans against a black truck across the street. Ragged shorts flutter at his knobby knees as he gives the vehicle a swift back kick, the laces of his heavy boots smacking the door.
Mom stands with a gasp, one that signals she has found someone in need.
I step forward. “Are you okay?”
He lifts his head, his dark eyes meeting mine. A scraggly, graying beard hangs from his chin. Bone-thin arms cross over a faded blue T-shirt. “I ran out of gas.”
I don’t like him.
I wince at the voice, at the harshness, but he gives off a bad vibe, or maybe it’s the smoke drifting out of his opened windows. By the smell, not cigarette smoke. But it doesn’t matter. What he looks like…or smells like. Everyone deserves kindness.
Mom strides forward, face glowing with a smile. “I have a gas can in my trunk. Let me help.”
I shift and sway, wanting to stop her from getting anywhere near him, but also needing to live up to her decree of niceness. “Mom, I’ll do—”
“Don’t be silly, Rosalie.” Mom shuffles to her little red car. “You’re going to be late. I’ll deal with this.” She gives the guy a shining grin. “I’ll be right there, sir.”
He gives a small nod, then glances up and down the street over and over again.
I press my lips together, ignoring the voice.
“Rosalie, go to work. Have a good day.” Mom shoos me away with a flick of her wrist.
I glance at the guy leaning against his vehicle, then walk to my truck. I pull open the door and climb in. “He just needs help.”
With a turn of the key, my truck roars to life. My heart stops when music blasts from the speakers, throwing me into fear induced panic. My palm slaps the off button. My fingers curl around the wheel. My forehead rests against my hands. My car. Not my music. The sun catches my shiny fingernails. Not my polish.
My hands tremble.
I had fun last night.
I cringe at what she did, what she could have done. Nothing good.
Gas can in hand, Mom passes my window and waves as she heads to greet the visitor.
Breathing deep, I back out of the driveway, then pull away. My rearview mirror frames Mom and Out-of-Gas Guy as she extends the red can with a shrug. I shift my gaze to the road, then back as Out-of-Gas Guy rips the red can from Mom and tosses it.
My foot slams on the brake. Only I didn’t do it.
Go back. I’ll take care of this.
Cars honk as I stare at my foot, then at the scene of Mom and the guy in the mirror. Mom smiles and picks up the gas can. She’s fine. Just being Mom. “No.”
But then it will be like George, when he thought it was funny to stand me up at the prom. I remember his bones cracking, his screaming.
He deserved it.
“It was just a dream.” Only George missed school, then came back in a cast. I tighten my grip on the steering wheel, peel my foot from the brake, and force it to the gas. I can’t listen to more screaming.
You know it wasn’t.
“It has to be.” I can’t let it be real. If it is…then I’m not nice, not good. And I have to be. Because people die. That childhood fear of losing my mom surfaces. If Mom was not kind and Dad died, then who’s to say I won’t lose her.
I’ll be good. I’ll be nice. And everything will be fine.
We shouldn’t have left her.
The words echo through my mind as I enter the diner, which welcomes me with ringing bells and the smell of burnt and fried everything. A few lonely people read the paper and sip coffee or sodas on worn, maroon benches.
“Rosalie White!” a gruff voice calls from the kitchen. Scraping and clanking accompany the words. The window behind the counter frames Harold’s thin, greasy ponytail. “You’re late!”
A short, round woman with spiky, unnaturally-red hair pushes through the door into the dining room. “Leave her be. It’s not like the place is packed.”
“Sorry, Pam,” I mutter, my stomach twisting at the reprimand, as I hurry to the back room where I hang my purse in my locker.
Pam follows me back. “No big deal, Rosie.” She strips her apron off and shoves it in her bag before giving me a wink and heading out the door. “Have a good shift.”
“See you later, Pam.”
I tie on my apron, then pause, staring at my purse. I dig out my phone and text Mom, then drop it in my pocket and head back to the dining room where the rituals of work wait. Salt pours into glass containers with a soft whoosh, forming tiny mountains. Ketchup glugs into bottles. Harold mutters to himself as he does whatever he does in the kitchen.
You wouldn’t do anything, but I would have.
The voice won’t stop as the afternoon drags into evening, as a few customers come and go. “That’s the problem. I don’t want…I won’t hurt anyone.”
The light shifts to evening. Mom doesn’t text me back.
Being nice gets you stomped on.
“No. That’s wrong.” I stare at my phone screen. Mom doesn’t always have her phone on.
Be nice. Until…
I drop my phone in my pocket. “What does that mean?”
The bells sound. I jump and head behind the counter for a menu. “Have a seat anywhere. I’ll be right with you.”
I stand, crinkled menu in hand, and approach the back booth were the new-comer hunches. At the sight of that frazzled hair and knobby knees, rath burns from the dark corners where she exists.
Mister Out-of-gas. I’ll deal with him.
“He just wants food,” I say, pushing her away, but she lurks in my mind like a smoky shadow.
“Soda,” he demands, his voice still rough. “And a burger…with everything.”
I nod, then turn, taking the menu with me. I look at Harold, who gives me a salute, letting me know that the order has been received, and goes to work. I fill a glass, and, in moments, Harold has the burger done. I set the cup and plate on the table, hoping he can’t see my hands shake or notice the quiver in my voice. “Do you need anything else?”
“Go away.” He pounds his fist on the table, and light reflects off a bit of gold in his hand. He strokes his thumb across it over and over.
It looks just like…
That’s Mom’s necklace.
My insides form a knot of fiery anger and I slam my hand on top of his…only it’s not me.
“That’s not yours.” My voice, but not.
I pull away, stumbling back, horrified at my actions. Out-of-Gas Guy glares at me, almost challenging me to do something.
Stop being nice. He stole that.
Mom would never give her necklace up. Though maybe…if he needed it…maybe she would give it to him. To be nice.
That’s fine. Until…
Out-of-Gas Guy squints at me. “What?”
“Nothing.” I push her down. Though I feel her bubbling anger and darkness.
He stole it. I’ll get it back.
Sharp pain shoots up my spine as the voice echoes in my mind. I hurry to the bathroom, trying not to alarm Harold, trying not to scream.
“No,” I whisper as I dart into the restroom and close the door. “No.” I twist the lock. “No! No! No!”
With a turn, water rushes out of the faucet. Shaky hands bring the coolness to my face. Drops fall from my nose as I stare at my reflection. My light blue eyes darken. My hair starts to curl. Stripes of black waves streak through my blond.
“No!” I cry. My fingers curl around the sides of the sink.
He needs to learn a lesson.
I close my eyes, hanging on to my existence. My body screams in pain.
Oh, my Rosalie pure and white…I am Rose Red, laced with dark thorns.
“I can’t let you do this,” I say through clenched teeth.
Can’t let me do what? Stand up? Fight?
“You’ve hurt enough people.” Against the burning pain, I fight her back. When I open my eyes, my reflection gazes back.
“Hey! Hey, guy!” Harold’s voice booms with irate stomps. “You gotta pay for that food!”
“Oh no.” I race out the door and through the dingy hall to the dining room. Harold rushes to the front door. I shift my gaze to the back booth, where a once occupied table sits empty.
He has Mom’s necklace.
Venom surges through my mind, and I run past Harold to the door, slamming it open. “Hey, you!” Warm summer air wipes away the coolness of air-conditioning. Mister Out-of-Gas-Burger-Thief stumbles over the curb as he turns to face me.
I’ll handle him.
“No. Be nice.”
Be nice. Until we can’t…
The man’s face twists with confusion as the sunset paints him red, the clouds blazing streaks behind him.
My gaze locks on his face, on his sneer, on his hairy brows drawn into anger. “Pay for what you ate, then leave. Please.”
He stares, not moving, except for his thumb that continues to slide back and forth over the gold trinket in his fist.
Mom’s necklace. Don’t let him…
I fight the anger flooding my body.
You can’t push me down forever.
“I can,” I mutter. Only I know I can’t. But I have to try. My body trembling with fear, I approach the thief with my hand out. “Pay. Please.”
He backs away. “What’s wrong with you?”
Red flames rush through my system. My arms wrap around my stomach as I bend over. “No. We have to be nice, be good.” The hair hanging in front of my face shortens, strands of black weave through the blond.
Nice. Until we can’t.
“No.” Maybe at night Red roams free, but not now. I take a step back, staring at the guy. “Please. Go.”
Don’t let him go!
“I will be kind, so will you.”
“Kind?” Out-of-Gas Guy chuckles. “You sound like…” He glances at the necklace. “Do I know you?”
Mom. What did he do to her? You can’t…
“Let him go.” I finish her statement. Or maybe she finishes it. I can’t tell.
He glances over his shoulder. “Let who go? What’s wrong with you?”
“Go before she…just go before something bad happens.” I wave at him, my hands shaking with the violence churning in my gut. The light hair hanging over my shoulder darkens and begins to curl. I brush at it, stumbling back to the sidewalk. “I have to be good.”
Out-of-Gas Guy stares at me for a moment, shakes his head, then laughs.
He just gets away with it? He has Mom’s…
“It might not be…”
Her rage is strong. But so is my need to not hurt anyone. She’s hurt so many.
“No.” My word trembles and breaks.
Be nice. Until we can’t. Because you have to fight sometimes.
A little, red car putters out of the parking lot.
Mom’s car. The voice bursts in my mind.
I race to follow as the car turns down the street. The rose stickers on the back window clear, it is Mom’s car. And my mind explodes with anger and worry and questions, but one screams loudest.
Is Mom okay?
The car continues down the road. I need my truck, but my keys are in my purse in the back room. If I go get them, I’ll lose him.
Then the brake lights flash and he turns.
The Grimm Dwarf.
He’s going to the bar.
The day fades to night as I take off down the street.
The smell of the diner trails after me. Old-fashioned lights throw brightness into the oncoming dark. Cars line the road, the colors of sunset glinting off the windows. The roar of rowdy laughter and clink of glass bottles tumbles out of the bar on the corner. I stop. A vague memory of walking through those doors flashes in my head. It wasn’t me, but it was.
Not me, we.
“We,” I whisper.
Mom’s car sits by the front doors.
He must be inside.
And I don’t want to go in, scared of what will happen, of what we will do.
What will being good get you now?
“Nice is rewarded.”
Nice got Mom’s car stolen, her necklace in the hands of that thief.
Loud voices rumble through the doors of the bar. With a crash, a flailing figure staggers out into the evening.
Mountainous shoulders lean on the doors and a deep voice yells, “Stay out!”
The orange glow from the doors reveals a graying, scruffy beard and scrawny limbs. A band of anger tightens around my chest.
The thief waggles a finger at the man at the doors, muttering some non-sense about being innocent, then heads for Mom’s car.
I don’t want to hurt anyone. I want to be good, be nice, be kind.
Want it so much that I called the memories dreams. Never wanting to admit to the evil, but I was there for all of it. Every fight, every beating, every moment of destruction. In grade school, the over-sized bully ended up in the hospital with a broken nose. In high school, George wore a cast on his arm for two months after standing me up for prom. Mr. Elliot’s classroom had been destroyed after I received a D on my Shakespeare paper.
And more. So many more.
I am your strength.
“You are a monster,” I whisper. “I’m a monster.”
My dear snowy-white sister, living in the light, refusing to see the dark, we need each other.
I don’t want to be a monster. But…Teri never bothered me again. George apologized. And Mr. Elliot quit. Be nice. Until…
Sometimes you have to stand up. I stride to the bar’s entrance. Letting Red come forward. My Rose Red.
“Hey, Mister Out-of-Gas.” Our voices mingle, becoming a threat.
The thief stops at the open car door and looks at me.
Flexing my fingers, I shake my head, sending dark waves bouncing at my jaw. Freedom tingles through my body, mixing with the ire pulsing through my system.
“What the hell?” The thief squeaks as he stares at us.
“Not hell, just me.”
He raises a shaky finger. “But you were…blond. How did you…” With a panicked gasp, he backs up, tripping over the curb and landing on his back.
Once light and good, I’m now dark, strong. I place my feet on either side of him as he stares up at me from the ground. “Thief.” I spit the word. “Ungrateful, no-good…” I draw my arm back, curling my fingers into a fist.
With a growl, I strike. But when pain burns on my forearm, I hiss, pulling my arm back. Light glints off a knife in his hand and his crooked grin.
“I’m done being nice.” I sweep my leg over, knocking the weapon from his fingers.
The metal blade clatters along the road, disappearing under a vehicle.
I lean over, reaching my clawed fingers to his throat. “We helped you, then you stole from us.”
The thief tries to pull my hands from his throat, his eyes wide with fear. “It was you, the other you…at the house.”
“The car and the necklace are my mom’s.” Blood trickles from the cut on my arm to my fingers. Splatters dot the street.
But there is no pain.
I’m here with Rose Red, my dark, my power.
I’m here with Rosalie, my light, my kindness.
Sirens sing in the distance.
His eyes shimmer with fear.
I prepare to strike, then pause at a golden glint. My mind erupts with the worry. “Where’s my mom?” I grab his hand, pry open his fingers, and pull the necklace free. “Where is she?”
“She gave it to me.”
I place my foot on his chest and push. “Where is she?”
Blue and red lights play across his face that crumples with panic. “She’s home! She gave me her keys and made me promise to be good.”
I hold my hand out. “Keys.”
“I don’t care,” I scream in his face as I put pressure on his ribcage. The fear of losing Mom swirls like a dark void in my stomach, cold and devastating. My hair goes from dark and curly to straight and blond. Red retreats, her job done.
Eyes wide, Out-of-Gas Thief stammers. “What are you?” He fumbles the keys out of his pocket and hands them over.
I step back as the police car pulls up, Harold not far behind. “That’s him! He left without paying.” Harold waves at me. “You okay?”
With Mom’s necklace wrapped around my fingers, I hurry to Mom’s car. “I have to go home, Harold. I have to make sure Mom’s okay.”
He gives me a thumb’s up. “I got this, you go.”
I jump in Mom’s car and drive home as if my world is about to end. Because it might. The drive out of town takes forever. My anger and fear and worry collide and fight as I weave through traffic.
The last rays of the sun linger in the sky as I pull into the driveway.
The house is dark, a lonely soul sitting among the shadows. I shove open the car door and fall out, my hands scraping on the concrete as I push myself up and race to the house.
“I couldn’t let him hurt us anymore. Not after what he did.”
My hand on the door knob, I pause at the voice, a whisper, one full of sadness and regret. I turn towards the patio. Mom sits on the ground, staring at the roses and stroking the petals.
“Mom?” Relief soothes my raging emotions. I walk slowly down the steps to where she sways. “I took care of that guy. Your car is back, and…” I pull her necklace out of my pocket. “your necklace. But why give it to him, Mom? You let him walk all over you.”
“I did. I did until he hurt me…hurt us. And she died.”
I stare at her, at how her face flickers between sadness and wrath. “Who died?”
Mom plucks a red rose and stares at it. “Your sister. Your twin sister.”
I place my hand on the back of Mom’s chair to keep me upright.
“I don’t have a sister.”
“You did. Until he hurt me when I was pregnant. I was so angry.” Mom stands and holds the rose out to me, her eyes hard, her face a mask of someone who isn’t sorry. “But that was the last time he hurt us.”
It wasn’t Dad’s death she continued to mourn.
It was mine.
“But I paid the price for my unkindness. Your sister’s life.” Her words are tiny fragments of regret.
I stare at the rose, spinning it between my fingers. “Red. My Red.” She died, but her soul remained. “It’s okay, Mom. Being good, being kind, being nice is important, but so is standing up for yourself.”
“Be nice.” Mom stares at her hands that shake.
“Until you can’t.”
About the Author
Kathleen Palm haunts her 100 year old farmhouse in rural Indiana with her husband, two teenagers, four cats, dog, Harry Potter wand collection, and Stephen King books. She started writing about sixteen years ago, beginning with fantasy and now neck deep in the dark and creepy.
Several of her short stories have been published and featured on blogs, most recently “Freckles” appeared in the horror anthology Bloody Red Nose: Fifteen Fears of a Clown and “Voices” was included in issue 73 of Leading Edge magazine. She contributes twice a month to the horror blog The Midnight Society and can be found on Twitter, if anyone is looking for a new friend.
I loved this! Nice twist at the end. And immediate and powerful, as always. Love your voice.
Kathleen PalmJudi Lynn
Tale of a Story: UNTIL… | Finding Faeries
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Great story and an interesting twist on Snow White & Rose Red. Loved it!