Story Excerpt Sunday: from Beyond Grimm edited by Deborah J. Ross

Beyond GrimmBeyond Grimm

Tales Newly Twisted

edited by Deborah J. Ross

Hair Raising

by Pati Nagle

Once upon a time there was a beautiful Maiden named Rapunzel, which means “radish.” Her name was given to her by the Evil Witch who kept her locked in a high tower. The Witch had a nasty sense of humor, or perhaps was merely envious of Rapunzel’s incredibly long, golden hair.

It was so long that Rapunzel had no need of carpeting in her room at the top of the tower. She could walk around barefoot on her own tresses and her feet would never get cold.

Being locked up, Rapunzel didn’t have much to do all day once she had finished brushing her hair (which only took an hour or two each morning). She spent the rest of her days sitting by the single window in her room, gazing out at the wide world and singing to amuse herself.

She liked to make up her own songs, but since she had spent her entire life in the tower, they were all incredibly boring. The best one, “Bird, Bird, Where Are You Flying?” was just barely better than insipid. The Witch gave Rapunzel a songbook out of desperation, to keep from being driven mad.

One day, a handsome Prince was riding by and heard Rapunzel singing. As he was a Romantic Hero, he instantly fell in love and decided he must have the singer for his wife. He followed Rapunzel’s voice to the tower and halted beneath her window, gazing up at her in a state of rapture.

Rapunzel gazed back at him in a state of curiosity. She had never seen a handsome Prince before, nor indeed any kind of Hero. She knew, though, that she was looking at a Hero because he had a lot of the qualities that Heroes in her songbook had: waving hair with a dark curl draping over his forehead, square jaw, square shoulders, shining sword, majestic steed.

The eyes that gazed up at her in adoration were as blue as a cloudless sky on a midsummer day. He was a lot easier on the eyes than the Evil Witch.

“Beautiful Maiden,” he said in a deep and husky voice, “your singing would make the angels weep, and now I see that you are the fairest creature in all the land! Pray, tell me your name!”

“Rapunzel,” said Rapunzel, smiling and shifting in her seat so that her hair showed to best advantage.

“And what lovely hair you have! Do you brush it a hundred strokes every day?”

“More like a hundred thousand. It’s quite long.”

The Prince drew a reverent breath. “How long?”

Rapunzel had never measured her hair. She looked down at the Prince, wondering why he cared.

“It’s really, really long, OK? I mean, I’m walking around on it here.”

The Prince looked fit to burst with joy. He leapt from his majestic steed, knelt down on one knee, and clapped a hand to his bosom, the other reaching toward Rapunzel’s window.

“Rapunzel! Rapunzel, let down your hair, that I may climb the golden stair!”

She blinked. “Excuse me?”

“I would rescue you and make you my bride!”

“Oh!”

Being rescued sounded good. Not that she was terribly unhappy, but she knew that the Heroines in her songbook got rescued all the time, and she was pretty sure you had to get rescued before you could live Happily Ever After.

“All right,” she said, smiling. “You can rescue me.”

“Then let down your hair!”

Rapunzel frowned. “Don’t you have a rope or something?”

The Prince glanced at his accouterments, which included his shining sword, saddle, majestic steed and all its tack, but no rope. He shrugged. “Sorry, no.”

“Well, can’t you break down the door?”

The Prince peered at the tower. He got up, strode toward it, circumnavigated its base, and returned to his place beneath Rapunzel’s window.

“Actually, there doesn’t seem to be a door.”

“Oh. Drat.”

Rapunzel had forgotten that little detail about the tower. She didn’t pay much attention to doors anyway, because the ones she had only led to things like her wardrobe and the privy closet. The Witch never used doors. She used Magic.

Undaunted, the Prince struck his princely pose once more and called out, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair that I may climb the golden stair!”

Rapunzel stifled a sigh. She thought being rescued meant that the Prince should take care of everything, and not be making demands of her. However, this was the first Prince who’d come along in her entire life, and she thought she might not get another chance, and he was really cute. So she gathered up her hair and set it in a large, fluffy pile on the windowsill.

“Heads up!” she called, and pushed her hair over the sill. It tumbled down in a golden cascade, fragrant with the scent of honeysuckle, its curling ends just brushing the ground at the base of the tower.

The Prince breathed a sigh of admiration and caught Rapunzel’s tresses in both hands, then set one booted foot against the stones of the tower and began to climb.

“OW!” shrieked Rapunzel.

The Prince let go, lost his balance, and fell smartly on his rump. He scrambled to his feet.

“Sorry, O fair Rapunzel! Maybe you should loop it over a hook or something?”

Rapunzel paused to wipe her watering eyes and mutter a few choice curses that she’d heard the Witch say when she thought Rapunzel wasn’t listening. She then gathered up an armful of hair and wound it twice ‘round the curtain rod.

“Try now.”

The curtain rod clanked in its bracket. She felt a small tug, but not the scalp-burning yank that she had experienced a moment earlier.

Boots scrabbled against the side of the tower. Her heart beat faster to think that any moment she would be Rescued and carried off by her handsome Prince. She was a little vague about what would happen after that, but she figured it would be better than sitting in the tower.

A second tug at her hair was followed by a yelp and a thud. Rapunzel leaned out of her window and saw the Prince on his rump again. He looked up at her.

“Um, it’s a little slippery. Could you maybe braid it?”

Rapunzel glared down at him. “Are you kidding? Do you know how long that would take?”

“All right. Um, OK.”

The Prince picked himself up, brushed himself off, spat on both palms, and then caught hold of Rapunzel’s hair once more. He climbed slowly, hand over hand, slipping back one step for every two he gained. Once he lost his footing against the side of the tower and slid several feet before he caught himself, making Rapunzel utter a small squeak.

His manly brow furrowed in concentration, the Prince tossed back the dangling curl of his own dark hair and twisted Rapunzel’s hair around his ankle. Twisted it around his other ankle, heaved himself upward, then untwined the first ankle and took a new purchase higher up.

Twist and heave, twist and heave; his progress was slower now, but he no longer slipped backward. Rapunzel watched him climb closer, her pulse quickening at the thought that any moment she would be free! Free of the tower and her lonely life! Free to explore the wide world at the side of her charming rescuer! Free–

“Aaahh!”

A heavy jerk on her hair, enough to make her wince, was followed by a thud, a clank, and a small, rhythmic scraping sound. She looked out and saw the Prince dangling upside down, a large Knot of hair twined around one ankle, his arms flopping. His sword’s empty scabbard gently scraped against the stones of the tower as he swung back and forth, pendulum-like, his fingertips a couple of feet from the ground. The sword lay beneath him, shining, just out of his reach.

“Ah–could you, ah–”

Rapunzel turned away. Constrained by her hair twined around the curtain rod, still she managed, just barely, to reach her sewing basket, which sat on a nearby shelf.

“Um–Rapunzel?”

She brought the basket to the windowsill and rummaged inside for her scissors. She held them up, grinning in triumph as the sunlight flashed from the silvery blades.

“Fair one? Could you, ah…help?”

Snip, snip! And snip, snip, snip again. Actually, it took a lot of snipping, but she managed to cut through the entire thick, silky swath of her golden hair and left it hanging from the curtain rod. What remained barely brushed her shoulders.

Freed from the burden of her tresses, she felt an amazing lightness, almost as if she were floating. Her heart filled with exhilaration.

She tossed the scissors back in the basket and danced a little dance of delight, twirling once in the middle of the now-bare stone floor, then hopped up onto the windowsill. Catching hold of her hair, she gave it a tug to make sure it was still secure, and stepped off the sill.

Down, down she slid, the breeze of her descent wafting her newly-shortened locks. When she neared the Prince she kicked once against the tower, swung outward, released her hair and landed lightly on the sward.

“Rapunzel! Darling!”

The Prince gazed at her with hopeful, worshipping eyes. His face was rather red from hanging upside down, but still handsome. She looked at him, trying to decide if she wanted to help him. He had, after all, tried to rescue her. Mayhap they could still live Happily Ever After.

Nah.

She gave him her sweetest smile. “Thanks! I should have thought of that years ago.”

“Rapunzel? Beloved–?”

She turned to his majestic steed, which was peacefully nibbling at the sward. Gathering up her skirts, she nipped up into the saddle (which Heroines are allowed to do, even if they’ve never ridden a horse before), and galloped away into the sunset.

She smiled, feeling that all was well, even though she hadn’t gotten the Prince out of her hair.

*********

Not your grandmother’s fairy tales…

From the far-ranging imaginations of Book View Café authors comes this delirious collection of classic tales newly twisted into dark, dangerous, and occasionally hilarious re-tellings. From the golden isles of Greece to the frozen north, from fairytale castles to urban slums, join us on an unforgettable journey!

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