I’ve taken up Canadian author ’Nathan Burgoine’s monthly flash fiction quest. This is my first time writing fiction at 1000 words or less, and so far, it’s a blast! If you want to play along, click on the link above to see his January challenge. We had to write a fairy tale that takes place inside a prison, and includes a tattoo machine.
Many centuries ago in a faraway land, an unjust king ruthlessly bullied his subjects. The whimsy of his character allowed him to dole out punishments upon the people willy-nilly—especially the women. It remained unknown why the king indulged in this particular brand of misogyny, but the effects had been seen in the gaols of the capital, which teemed with female inmates.
In one such prison, four ladies sat in a dark, dank cell, ruminating upon their fate.
“Alas, we shall be here forever,” said Lady Renata. “And we’re innocent!” She wrung her alabaster fingers, stripped of their ruby and sapphire rings. Her knees nervously bounced about within the coarse puce fabric of her skirt.
“Indeed. I’m afeared all’s lost,” said Mrs. Persephone Wiley. “An’ my Roger won’t wait fer me. Tha’ rodent’s probably up the pipes of every barmaid in town, the sod. And ’tween him an’ meself, he’s the one what should be in gaol, with those wandering fingers.” Her blue eyes deepened and riotous curly hair bounced with emphasis as she spoke of her ne’er-do-well husband.
Madame Vole stayed quiet. She hadn’t spoken one word since her arraignment. She fidgeted with a dark silken plait that cascaded down the raggedy bodice of her assigned garb. Hazel eyes watched intently. A slight flush adorned her olive skin. Her expression said so much—if only her comrades noticed.
Granny Irma clicked away on her knitting needles, a couple of twigs she’d found discarded in the prison yard before entering into the tower almost twenty years ago. She’d rambled on about how the wooden tools were her new friends, and because she’d seemed so docile, the guards let her keep them. Irma had only possessed one skein of yarn, so she kept knitting, unravelling, and re-knitting new things with it. The other ladies were convinced Granny was mad, since who else could entertain themselves in such a manner for two decades?
“It won’t do, it just won’t do!” cried Lady Renata. “I cannot abide by these accommodations any longer!” She stood up and paced about the cell.
“Commydations?” asked Persephone. “You’re not thinking this a fancy inn, milady, are ye? Commydations indeed. My word!”
“Well, you know what I mean,” said Lady Renata. “I am so frustrated with being cloistered in this dungeon—and for what?”
“What were yer charges?”
“Stealing. Can you believe such an absurdity? I am from one of the wealthiest families in the country. Why would I need to take anything that wasn’t mine?”
“Tha’s rough. They tossed me in here for adulting.”
Her ladyship raised ginger brows. “Do you mean adultery?”
“Ah, yes, tha’s the one. Me, adultering?! How rich, when my husband’s been Roger-ing every wench what got a pulse. We should hide the nuns an’ the Queen herself, else he’ll seducy them right up the clefts!” Persephone turned to Madame Vole. “An’ you, madam?”
Madame Vole gestured to her throat and then gracefully arched her arm forward.
“Singing?” asked Persephone.
Madame Vole smiled and touched her nose.
“Why would someone be ’rested for singing?”
The woman gestured to her throat again, then clenched her fist and flexed her bicep. She used both hands to indicate a crown atop her head.
Persephone frowned and covered her mouth. Her eyes suddenly perked. “Ah, I think I get it. You sang strong words against his majesty!”
Madame Vole nodded.
“Well, this is leaving my spirits quite depressed,” said Lady Renata. She leaned against a stone in the far wall and yelped as it shrank away from its mortar. A fluorescent green glow shone through the gap and half of the wall moved aside, like an open door.
Persephone and Madame Vole jumped up in alarm. Granny Irma continued knitting her tea cosy, which was odd, since they hadn’t a tea pot in their cell.
“What is it?” asked Lady Renata.
“A tatty machine. I seen one on The Boulevard, but not this bright and shiny,” said Persephone.
Madame Vole reached to touch it. The machine whirred and shook. Then, quite bizarrely, it spoke to them:
“I can only write the truth. If you offer me your arm, I shall reveal something about yourself that no one can deny.”
The three ladies blinked. Granny Irma clickity-clacked away, unperturbed.
“Me first!” cried Persephone. She charged forward. Lady Irma held her back.
“Are you insane? It might be dangerous!” cried Lady Renata.
“Bah. It’s some kinda fortune-telly machine.” Persephone yanked herself free and placed her forearm on the shelf.
The machine sensed it and etched into her skin: I’m resilient.
Persephone furrowed her brow. “What does it say?”
“It says you’re resilient. It means you’ll quickly recover from the worst circumstances and thrive,” said Lady Renata.
Madame Vole rushed forward and stuck out her arm. Once again the machine detected flesh and inscribed: I cannot be silenced. She beamed at the phrase and walked away with a determined smile.
“Go on, dearie!” said Persephone to Lady Renata.
“Does it cause much pain?”
“Worth it! Get yer truth!”
Lady Renata shakily offered her arm. The machine wrote in an elegant cursive font: I am rich in friendship. The noblewoman turned to her fellow inmates and smiled. They dashed over to embrace her.
“Thank you”—she said to Persephone and Madame Vole—“for your kindness over these trying years.”
“Think nowt of it,” said Persephone.
Madame Vole squeezed a little tighter.
“Hey!” said Persephone. “Granny needs to try it!”
“Oh, I’m fine, children,” she replied with a knit and a perl.
Granny Irma looked up at three expectant faces. “Very well.”
The old woman went to the contraption, lay her hand upon the shelf, and the machine inked out the phrase: I am a cold-blooded killer.
The next morning, when the guard came to check upon the ladies during his rounds, he found their cell empty, save for another guard—probably the evening man—lying lifeless on the dirt floor, with two makeshift knitting needles protruding from his neck.
Truth Be Told, A Fairy Tale © 2018 Cait Gordon. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without permission except in the case of brief quotations in critical articles and reviews. For more information, contact Cait Gordon.
Cait Gordon is the author of Life in the ’Cosm, a story about a little green guy who’s crushing on the female half of his two-headed colleague. Cait is currently working on a prequel to ’Cosm called The Stealth Lovers, a rom-com military space opera. When she’s not writing, she’s editing manuscripts for indie authors and running The Spoonie Authors Network, a blog whose contributors are writers with disabilities and/or chronic conditions. She also really likes cake.