Twisted Fairy Tale: Only The Brave Deserve The Fair by Lindz McLeod
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.
Only the Brave Deserve the Fair
By Lindz McLeod
Once upon a time, in a city near the sea, lived a young woman with golden hair.
Twice every year, the city swelled like an expectant mother; the crowded streets were full of colourful costumes. Smells wafted from the markets – fresh cheese, smoked meats, fried desserts, spices from all around the world. Soaring above these markets, the sound of upbeat music intermingled with the murmur of vast crowds, from pavement to pavement under cobalt skies.
During these days, the young woman preferred to walk through the park on her way to work. It was less crowded, and she had time to admire the floral clocks, the smell of fresh cut grass, and the well-fed pigeons, who bobbed around looking for morsels left by the crowds. Despite the increase in population, she felt as invisible as a breath of wind and longed for someone to notice her.
One day in late spring, a red squirrel slithered down a tree trunk and roamed around in the grass as if hunting for something. The squirrel froze when it noticed the young woman watching, and waited until she had turned her head before it dared to scamper away. The squirrel only moved in her peripheral vision; she tried this a few times, and then began to laugh to herself. A young man in a red coat asked why she was laughing; blushing, she confessed. He smiled, and asked if he could escort her through the park. They walked together in the sunshine, every step propelling them into familiarity. The young man asked if he could see the young woman again. She agreed. He was, after all, handsome, well-dressed, and eloquent – just what she had been looking for.
As the days passed, the young couple grew closer. The young woman caught sight of a beautiful red dress in the window of a shop and paused to take a closer look.
‘I’ve been meaning to say,’ the young man began, ‘Don’t you think you’d look better with less revealing clothes?’
‘Oh.’ The young woman bit her lip. ‘I rather like my clothes.’
‘Only the brave deserve the fair,’ The young man smiled, buttoning his own shirt up to his chin. ‘I could never truly give my heart to a woman who shows too much flesh.’
The young woman was suddenly aware of the sunshine on her exposed collarbones, and of the breeze playing over her bare calves. ‘I suppose you’re right.’
She buttoned her coat up, and the young man smiled at her.
Summer changed into autumn; the warm heat of the sun dissipated. The young woman donned thick sweaters, long trousers, and lots of scarves. Although the weather was cooler, she was hot and often itchy in the new clothes, and longed to be free of them. Still, she thought, it had made her sweetheart happy, and so it must be worthwhile.
As the days passed, the young couple grew closer. The young woman caught sight of a beautiful actress on television, accepting an award for her work. The actress had gleaming black locks, which accentuated her high cheekbones and plucked eyebrows.
‘I’ve been meaning to say,’ the young man began, ‘Don’t you think you’d look better with darker hair, tied up in a bun?’
‘Oh.’ The young woman twirled a lock around her finger. ‘I rather like my hair.’
‘Only the brave deserve the fair.’ The young man tossed his own lustrous hair. ‘I could never truly give my heart to a woman who didn’t have dark hair.’
The young woman was suddenly aware of how golden her hair was, how brightly it shone when it caught the light. It was too garish, too eye-catching. ‘I suppose you’re right.’
She pulled her hood up to hide it, and the young man smiled at her.
Autumn changed into winter; the sharp, tangy crunch of yellow and orange leaves gave way to dark mulch underfoot. The young woman dyed her hair dark and began to wear it up in a bun. She missed the way her golden locks fell over her shoulders. Still, she thought, it had made her sweetheart happy, and so it must be worthwhile.
As the days passed, the young couple grew closer. The young woman caught sight of a protest further down the street and squinted to read their placards. She wanted to join them, but the young man held fast to her hand.
‘I’ve been meaning to say,’ the young man began, ‘Don’t you think you’d feel happier doing what I say?’
‘Oh,’ the young woman’s eyes filled with tears. ‘I rather like making my own choices.’
‘Only the brave deserve the fair.’ The young man turned away from the protest. ‘From now on, I’ll make decisions for you. I could never truly give my heart to a woman who thinks too much.’
The young woman was suddenly aware of how much she talked about politics, and how fervently she had done so in the past. Embarrassment engulfed her as she recalled how many impassioned letters she’d written to local politicians, and all the feminist campaigns she’d contributed to. ‘I suppose you’re right.’
Although she dearly wanted to see what was happening at the protest, she followed the young man into the crowd without a backwards glance. Later that day, the protests made the news and seemed to have made a great impact on local opinion. The young woman wished she’d stayed just a little longer. Still, she thought, it had made her sweetheart happy, and so it must be worthwhile.
Winter seemed to last a lifetime. The young woman hardly recognised herself anymore. Her skin felt choked in her new clothes, while she had developed anxieties about showing any flesh to the outside world. Her once-golden hair, now a rich chestnut brown, only served to accentuate the dark circles under her eyes. The young man made all decisions on her behalf, although it seemed less and less like he had her best interests in mind. He picked from menus without consulting her, and often forgot what her preferences had been before. Food began to taste the same, regardless of the dish. As the winter dragged on, the young man spent money lavishly on himself. He stopped listening to the young woman at all; he began to invite her to fewer events, citing the need to truly be himself, which could only be managed at a distance.
The young woman, having been left home from yet another party, could not bear to sit alone in solitude any longer. She shrugged on her latest high-necked, itchy coat, and let her feet guide her path. They led her to the park where she had first met the young man. A beautiful red squirrel swaggered across the grass – it was the same one, she realised, although the squirrel had grown bigger and more confident, and now moved even when she looked directly at it. The creature, far from being afraid, carried a small nut its paws, and laid it at the young woman’s feet.
‘I’m not the only one who moves when you’re not looking,’ the squirrel chirped, lashing its bushy tail from side to side.
The young woman couldn’t speak. She had forgotten how to.
‘Taste this. What does it feel like?’ The squirrel pressed the nut into her palm.
She pushed the nut past her lips and bit down; it cracked between her teeth. The copper-warm taste of blood filled her mouth, along with a strong bitter scent.
‘It hurts,’ she complained, touching fingers to her jaw, ‘What is this?’
‘Freedom.’ The squirrel shook its bushy tail at her like a large, admonishing finger. ‘You’ve forgotten what it tastes like. It may be bitter, but it’s better than another prison.’
On the long walk home the young woman considered her life, while the faint, bitter taste of the nut lingered on her tongue. She studied her own face in the mirror, wondering why it was that the closer the young man got to her, the more a stranger she became to herself. Making up her mind, she packed her bags. The young man returned from the party just in time to see her drop the keys onto the dining room table.
‘I’m sorry,’ the young woman said, ‘This is something I need to do.’
‘What are you wearing?’ The young man punched the wall. ‘I didn’t tell you that you could wear those clothes.’
‘No, you didn’t. But I wore them anyway.’
‘Why do you look like that?’ The young man punched the wall again, closer this time. ‘I didn’t tell you that you could let down your hair.’
‘No, you didn’t. But I let it down anyway.’
‘What are you doing?’ The young man punched the wall again, mere inches from the young woman’s face. ‘I didn’t tell you that you could think. I didn’t tell you that you could leave.’
‘No, you didn’t. But I’m going to, anyway.’
‘How dare you break my rules?’ The young man cried, beating his fist against his chest. ‘I can’t truly give my heart to a woman who betrays me this way.’
‘My only mistake,’ the young woman said quietly, ‘Was thinking that you had a heart to give.’
The young man pled his case, reprimanding and cajoling in equal terms, but the young woman would not be swayed. Every time she faltered, she pressed her tongue to her teeth; the tart taste reminded her of the possibilities outside the young man’s world. Every time the young man’s impassioned pleas began to sound inviting, she forced herself to examine the holes in the walls he had made only minutes before. Eventually, the young man wore himself out. He sank to his knees, his handsome face soaked in angry tears.
‘Only the brave deserve the fair.’ The young woman placed her hand on the door. ‘I could never truly give my heart to a man who didn’t love me for myself. It took me far too long to realise that you’re not the fairest of them all – I am.’
A mile away, in the darkness of the park, the red squirrel buried another nut.
About the Author
Lindz McLeod lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. Her short stories have been published by the Scotsman newspaper, the Scottish Book Trust, 365 Tomorrows, and the Dundee Victoria & Albert Museum. She has published poetry with Allegory Ridge, Hellebore, perhappened, and more. She is the competition secretary of the Edinburgh Writer’s Club and holds a Masters in Creative Writing.