Twisted Fairy Tale: Three Bowls, Three Beds, Three Shadows by Ron Delaney Jr.
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.
Three Bowls, Three Beds, Three Shadows
By Ron Delaney Jr.
I spin my teacup on its saucer, but I don’t lift it. I’ve been drinking herbal tea for twelve hours to calm my nerves. It hasn’t helped. “She’s never stayed out all night.”
Across the small round table, Trudy leans back. The old wooden chair creaks. “I’m sure she’ll be home soon. You know how children are.” She tries to show a confident, relaxed face, but it doesn’t work. She’s as worried as I am. “Probably got caught somewhere with the sun setting and stayed with a friend.”
If I weren’t so exhausted, I’d pace. I’d get only six steps before turning in my small cottage. Not much, but it’s home. “The sun’s been up for three hours.”
Trudy raises her teacup to her lips. She blows across it three times, sips, blows again, sips again. “Probably stayed for breakfast. Maybe to pitch in with chores to say thank you.” Her eyes dart down and left. She doesn’t believe the words, either.
I would search the surrounding forest, but I have no idea where to look. Stepped out at first sunlight, circled the cottage ten times trying to pick a direction, cried, and gave up. “Thank you for staying, but I know you have other deliveries.”
Trudy grins, but it’s forced. Her brain making her face do something her heart doesn’t believe. “People can wait for their herbs. It’s no trouble for—”
The door flies in and there she stands, my Goldilocks. Her dress is muddy and in tatters at her ankles, leaves hang in her yellow hair like fish caught in a net, and there’s a number of red scratches on her face and arms.
But she’s alive, thank Heaven.
I’m in front of her before I realize my legs have lifted me from my chair. “Where have you been? I’ve been worried to death.”
Her eyes meet my stare for a second before they shift to the tea and small honey cakes on the table. She steps past me, snatches a cake from Trudy’s plate, and jams it in her mouth.
“Wonderful to see you safe, dear.” Trudy pats my daughter on her shoulder. Goldilocks jerks away and downs a cup of tea in a single gulp.
Trudy rises and looks at me with understanding. Her kids are getting older, too. “Well, I’ll be going, then.” She touches my arm, exits, and pulls the door closed behind her.
I move to my daughter’s left. “I asked you where you’ve been?” Goldilocks grabs another cake, but I catch her wrist before the pastry hits her lips. “You will answer.”
She locks stares with me. She steps back, flaps her skirt, and flicks her hands through her hair. “Where do you think? Look at me.”
“You spent the entire night in the woods?” Only seasoned woodsmen dare the dense forest at night. Wolves and far worse beasts come out when the sun goes down. “How many times—?”
“Not like it was by choice.” She packs the cake in her mouth.
She looks to her right, at the small round window that faces the path north. Trudy, her basket of herbs in hand, fades into the distance. “You didn’t have to worry. I’m not a child.”
I step in tight. “You tell me this instant or Heaven help me I’ll chain your ankle to this table until you do.”
She rolls her eyes and reaches for another honey cake.
I smack the back of her hand and push the plate away. “Not another bite or sip until you explain yourself.”
She stomps her foot. “It was Rose’s fault.”
I blink. “What does Rose Red have to do with anything? You two don’t even like each other.”
She drops with a huff into the chair Trudy left open, closest to the hearth. The stiff wood creeks under her. “This one’s too hard.”
She peeks up at me. Her eyes smile with mischief. “Nothing.”
I retake my seat and fold my arms.
She folds hers in response. “It was just a stupid dare.”
It’s my turn to roll my eyes. “And what did Miss Rose Red dare you to do? Sleep in the woods? Because that’s—” Of the half dozen leaves in her hair, I catch sight of one I haven’t seen since childhood, and never expected to see again. Small, star-shaped, red-purple, it belongs to a berry bush that only grows in one place I know of.
Only one creature eats the fruit.
She catches me staring and combs her fingers through her hair. They come away with a pinky-length twig and two leaves, including the star. “What?”
I snatch the leaf and smell it. Honeysuckle and mint. No doubt about it. “You went into Talking Bears Woods?”
She folds her arms again, more standoffish this time. Arrogant, like I’m the one who did something wrong. “You got that from that leaf?”
I hold it up. “Answer me. Did you go into Talking—?”
She throws her head back in a childish display of conversational exhaustion. “Yeeeeees. Can I eat in peace now?”
I lower the leaf. Terror has my hands shaking, but anger and disbelief want their time, first. “I’ve warned you every day of your life to never cross that border. What madness drove you to—?”
“I told you, it was a dare. Okay?”
It is very much not okay.
She nods at my hand, which still holds the leaf. “Does that only grow there? If you recognize it, then you’ve gone in, too.” She grins like she’s caught me in some trap. So sure.
I’m at the window facing west in an instant. All I see are trees. All I hear are birds chirping. “Were you seen?”
“By what, the magic bears you, Trudy, and the other Elders love to lecture us about staying away from? Come on.” She slurps tea behind me like she doesn’t have a care in the world. “Those stories are for babies.”
“Were you seen!?”
“Nooooooo.” The cup clinks hard against its saucer. “Ugh, these cakes are dry. Wish we had porridge.”
My blood turns to ice water. I spin. “Why would you say that?”
She stares at the remains of the morning fire in the hearth and fidgets with her hair.
I retake my seat. “You’ve never asked for porridge before.”
She shrugs and won’t look at me. She’s still got that arrogant air, but it’s slipped away a bit, as if I’ve caught her with her hand in the sweets box.
I lean in. “Goldilocks, this is very important. Did you see anything in Talking Bears Woods?”
She reaches for another of my dry honey cakes and shrugs again. “Just a little house.”
I swallow. My legs are loose bundles of limp straw. “Did you see anyone there?”
“It was empty.” She nibbles the cake. “What’s the big deal? Who lives there? Why aren’t we allowed to—?”
I grab her empty hand. “How do you know it was empty?”
She looks at everything in our cottage but me.
Another huff. “I went in, okay?”
My jaw drops. “What made you think—?”
“I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and smelled something cooking. I knocked. No one answered, so I went in.”
I lean back. “Porridge.”
She smiles like she’s the first person to ever taste it. “It was so good! Lots of honey. Then I got sleepy. Not sure if that was from eating three bowls of it or the long walk. I didn’t mean—”
“Three bowls?” I don’t ask because it sounds like a lot for her too eat. No. Because the number matters.
“I said it was good. Anyway, then I fell asleep on the most comfortable bed. It felt just right.”
In my lap, my hands are two glaciers grinding together. “Was there only one bed?”
“That’s a weird question.”
I take a breath to prevent myself from screaming. “Was there only one bed?”
Another eye-roll. “No, there were three, like the bowls. Why?”
I’m back at the west window. Still just trees, but the birds have stopped singing. “Why didn’t you come home last night?”
She doesn’t answer.
I turn and see her staring at the teacup in front of her. She’s got that look of someone keeping a secret who doesn’t know why they’re keeping it. “Answer me, right now.”
“I told you, I fell asleep.”
I look back to the window. “What else?”
She sighs, loud. “They came home.”
I nearly faint but catch myself against the windowsill. I want to ask Did they see you? but it doesn’t matter. They would have smelled her.
“I heard them come in, then one of them started shouting about the stupid porridge. Real gruff. I jumped out a window and ran. It was right before sundown. Tried to make it back here, but ended up wandering around until sunup.”
She should be dead. They should have caught her in the forest long before she made it…
“Anyway, found the river and followed it. No big deal.”
… home. “It is a big deal. You have no idea—”
Outside, the chickens, who have been quietly picking at bugs all morning, lose their minds. Screaming, flapping their wings. More screaming. The coop is on the north side of the cottage and you can’t see it from inside. I don’t have to.
Goldilocks looks that way. “Sounds like that fox—”
“It’s not a fox.” I rush to the door and slam the latch down. It’s not designed to keep anything big out. Feels like I’m trying to block a rushing river with a bunch of twigs.
She’s on her feet, looking at me like I’ve gone mad. “Mom?”
I close my eyes and lean my forehead against the door. It’s cool and smooth.
“We told you all to stay away from that forest because of what lives in that house.”
I spin and brace my back against the door.
Goldilocks stares at the north window. She points. “I saw eyes. And— And—”
“Fur.” The word is grave dirt on my tongue.
She whirls, looking at each window. “I don’t understand.”
I laugh. I don’t want to, it just happens.
“You don’t understand?” I step away from the door, knowing I could never hold off what’s outside. “We told you children, all of you, to stay out of Talking Bears Woods. Did you listen? Did you ever think there might be a reason?” I reach her. “Under all that gorgeous yellow hair, did it ever occur to you that we weren’t warning you just to hear ourselves talk? That maybe, just maybe, it was for your own good?”
Her brow tightens. “I am not a child.”
The chickens have gone silent. A pop sounds from the last embers of the fire in the hearth. Behind Goldilocks, a shape passes the west window. A massive shape.
I draw my daughter into a tight hug, our faces over each other’s shoulder. She tenses in that way youngsters do when they’ve outgrown touching their parents, but she doesn’t pull away.
Behind me, wood splinters as our cottage door’s rusted hinges tear from the wall. The door hits the ground outside with a whump, far off, as if tossed like a small tree branch.
Goldilocks screams at what she sees over my shoulder. What tracked her to our home after she violated theirs. She panics and tries to wriggle free, but I hold her close. There’s no place to run.
Three enormous shadows fall over us. I don’t need to turn to know what’s there.
I lower my head and catch sight of the honey cakes and empty teacups on the table. Goldilocks was right, the cakes are dry. Porridge would have been a more fitting last meal.
About the Author
Ron grew up, went to college, and works in New Jersey. He lives with his girlfriend and their cat, and spends most of his free time writing. His work includes middle grade ghost stories and historical fantasy, and adult SFF. He’s represented by Kaitlyn Johnson of Belcastro Agency.