In this month's IWSG post I mentioned that I strongly believe in writing exercises. Working out with the right one can really help. And let's face it, any type of exercise can never really hurt, right?
*I can not take credit for coming up with the basis for this writing exercise. I'm just passing it along because it happens to be my personal favorite out of all the challenges I've ever done. This writing exercise was initially issued a few years ago, by Frankie Diane Mallis- first to her students and then on her blog. Big thanks and props to Frankie for that!
Here are the rules: Place a bunch of random items down in the room and write a short shory incorporating every object. The items must show up as organically as possible, can not be bought at the store or found in a box. Here are the items: a hanger, notepad, a copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales, 3 quarters, 2 batteries, a black shawl, a candle, golf ball, envelope, flower, badminton racket, box tissues, guitar/magnet, plastic fork, tape dispenser, gold Mardi Gras beads, pair of scissors.
The following short story ( a modern twist and re-telling of the Grimm's fairy tale Maid Maleen) is where Jaybird's crazy mind went with this exercise. Tell me what you think! And now- I'm throwing this challenge out to all of you. Can't wait to see if any of you take it on and what your brilliant minds come up with. My hope is that it helps you as much as it helped me!
It is bizarre enough to wake up not knowing where the heck you are. But to wake up as someone else, with a stranger an inch from your face, takes things to a whole new level. How did this happen to me? I have no clue. All I know is when I went to sleep last night, it was alone in my apartment, in my own cozy bed, in the year 2011. Yet inexplicably when I woke up I found myself transported back in time, trapped inside an ancient, dark, and smelly tower. I have always had a love of fairy tales and being trapped in a tower is a familiar theme to many. (Consider the love affair I had going with my copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales, officially over.) Usually, the person who's trapped in the creepy tower, is alone. Which brings me back to my most immediate dilemma, I am not. The stranger with me is a pushy young girl with dirty blonde hair, who seems to think personal space is not an issue. She's also under the impression I am someone named “Maleen”. From the minute I opened my eyes she has been talking to me like I'm supposed to know who she is. She's also been trying to shove something into my hands. I'm still in shock and am trying to process all of this. And I'm having a hard time seeing anything at all much less what she's been trying to give me since the dim flicker of one candle is apparently the only light in here.
OK. Time out for a little confession... I may have been a little bit drunk when I came home last night. Come on, don't be so quick to judge me. It's Mardi Gras and I live in New Orleans for crying out loud! The details of last night are still kind of sketchy, but I do remember something significant. The very last person I spoke to before waking up in this nightmare was a bizarre, tiny, old woman in a local bar, where I liked to hang out with my friends. There is an abundance of eccentric old women running around in the bars of New Orleans but this one stood out from them all.
She marched in the bar all hunched over, wearing a black shawl, a long black dress, and a brand new pair of Nike's. Here's the kicker: she could barely walk yet she carried a giant gym bag with a badminton racket sticking out of the end of it! Of course, out of the entire bar, she made a beeline straight for me. She walked right up and claimed the empty seat next to me. My inebriated friends who had just gotten done teasing me about my Prince Charming coming in and occupying that exact seat, thought this was absolutely freaking hilarious. The old woman, rummaged around in her giant bag to distract them. Meanwhile, with her other hand, she was expertly swiping some bills and three quarters my friends had left up on the bar. I laughed into my drink but didn't have the stones or the inclination to bust her for what she had done. She turned to me and asked if I would like to know my future.
“Sorry mam, I'm no tourist and I don't believe in any of that stuff.” She laughed at me and said, “It don't matter none whether you believe in it or not, it don't change the truth.”
To be honest, fortune tellers were a dime a dozen in this city and I never paid them the slightest bit of attention before. That having been said, I am a daughter of the South and it's been ingrained in me since birth to respect my elders and above all, to be polite. She was staring at me expectantly, her brown eyes like giant saucers boring into mine, so I caved. “Alright mam, I'd be pleased if you'd tell me my future.”
She smiled at me, then motioned over to the band. At once, they tuned up their guitars and started playing a hypnotic, low rhythm I had never heard before. She snatched up my sweaty hands and turned them palm up. I don't remember a word of what she said, all I know is that when she was done talking, she took off some beads that were wrapped around her neck and put them around mine. I tentatively reached my hands up now, to feel my neck. I was still wearing the gold Mardi Gras beads, but not much else. It dawned on me then what the girl in the tower was shoving at me, clothes! Technically, it was a dress. Relieved, I took it from her and hastily put it on. The material was rough, heavy, itchy and totally wrinkled (I guess hangers weren't invented yet) but it was warm and it fit, so I was thankful nonetheless. I wanted to bombard this strange girl with oh, a million or so questions, but I didn't want to weird her out anymore than was necessary either.
“Maid Maleen, it's your turn.” She shoved something sharp into my hands and took my place, laying down on the floor. Then she closed her eyes and instantly fell asleep. So much for weirding her out. I guess this Maid Maleen was a freak and slept naked in a cold dark tower often? I looked at the object she placed in my hand, it was a sharpened metal fork. It struck a chord in my memory. I sat there, desperately racking my brain, trying to recall every last detail I could from the story of Maid Maleen. Maid Maleen, ironically, was a character from one of Grimm's Fairy Tales. It couldn't be coincidence that I woke up in a tower, with a girl who keeps calling me by that name. I was fairly certain I was trapped inside the fairy tale and living out the story. My thoughts are going in so many different directions, (all of them crazy) but most of all, I'm wondering what the hell I'm supposed to be doing with the fork?
What do you want to hear first, the good news or the bad news? The good news is, this girl really does believe I'm “Maid Maleen”. To the best of my recollection, the girl trapped in the tower with me is Maid Maleen's servant and not some sort of deranged killer. Her name is Hannah and once I got to know her, I found she was actually quite kind, loyal and sweet. She does her best to answer all of my strange questions. Now for the bad news. I know what I'm supposed to be doing with the fork! Hannah and I have to pick our way out of this tower with it, bit by bit, trying to break through the brick or we will both starve to death. According to the tale, I was locked up in this tower by my father as a punishment for refusing to marry some Prince he chose for me to marry. Since there was nothing else I could do here anyhow, I cried and picked and picked and cried until my fingers bled. Somewhere during my pity party I remembered boxes of tissues were not readily available and I had absolutely nothing soft to blow my nose on. Gross.
So time passed, kind of like Groundhog's Day, every day the same as the one before. Hannah went about the tower, surprisingly content, making me weak tea out of some crushed leaves and some stale water. I was never so thankful for the nasty tasting liquid. I needed to take a break so bad; I had developed these wicked blisters on my fingers the size of golf balls! Since I spent every day like the day before, picking, drinking the liquid, picking, thinking, there was no way of telling exactly how much time really did go by. It must have been a significant amount, however, since my hair and my bangs had grown way out. My bangs hung in my eyes, driving me crazy. Periodically, I would blow them out of my face. Oh, how I wished for a pair of scissors! A pair of scissors, a real toilet, a hot shower, a good meal, electricity and a gazillion other comforts of home. Something had to give. After what seemed like an eternity, something finally did. The brick.
Once we were out of the tower, I foolishly thought the change of scenery might trigger something and somehow, I would find myself magically transported back to whence I came. No such luck. My (or rather, Maid Maleen's) father's kingdom had been conquered and completely destroyed while we were locked in the tower. But it was not like I was going to go crawling back asking for help from the very tool that shut me and Hannah up in that stupid tower in the first place! We stumbled along looking for food or work or anyone who would take pity on us. Hannah picked these nettles for us to eat, which is a kind of flower. They are absolutely disgusting, but we survived by eating them. (Which is exactly what happens in the fairy tale.) Eventually we came upon a big city with a huge palace. At long last we were taken in and told we could work in the kitchen as scullery maids. Hannah did her best to help me, but I bumbled a lot. Learning how to polish and wash dishes was a challenge, especially for a girl who back home, ate nothing but take out, off of plastic forks and plates.
Again, life rolled along for me, pretty much exactly as Maid Maleen's did in the fairy tale. Incidentally, Hannah did some asking and discovered that the palace where we were working, was ruled by the same King, who I/Maid Maleen had previously been betrothed to his son. Apparently, his father, had finally convinced him to give up on Maleen and found him a new bride. The bride was here now preparing herself for the wedding.
Day and night the bride-to-be called me up to her room to serve her meals. She simply refused to come down and eat with any of the others. Hannah, of course, snooped around again and found out from the bride's maid servant, she was too ashamed to come out, because she thought herself too ugly to be seen! According to her maid, she was truly as ugly on the outside as she was on the inside. She was absolutely right to be afraid the Prince would take one look at her and call off the wedding. How sad, I thought, to be too afraid to show him her face! For me, living in this time period did wonders for my self esteem. There were no perfect, surgically enhanced girls around to compete with. And since I no longer had access to all of the processed, take-out foods I loved, my skin cleared up. My face could almost be described as radiant. Another bonus my curvy figure was considered hot here, not fat! Woot. Woot. Other than really, really wishing I had an electric razor and a couple of batteries, I was looking and feeling pretty darn good. It also didn't hurt that Hannah told me everyone in the castle whispered about my “angelic beauty”. How do you like that?
On the morning of the wedding, the Princess-to-be had me summoned to her room. Thinking she was hungry I brought a variety of breakfast foods up with me. But she didn't want to eat. Because everyone thought I was so beautiful, she asked me to put on her wedding gown and veil and take her place in the church. That way the Prince would see my face, instead of hers. Later, we would switch places and she would go to the Prince's bed chamber wearing the veil and trick him. In this era, after the wedding night, divorce was not an option. She wanted to use me to pull the old bait and switch on the Prince! I flat out refused. She threatened to have my head chopped off. Here comes the bride!!!
When the Prince saw me, he said, “Oh, you are so beautiful. You look so much like my Maid Maleen, who I lost, but never forgot.” As a side note, he was not at all what I expected either. After working in the kitchen with a bunch of rowdy, crass, kitchen servants, he was like a breath of fresh air. He was tall, broad and blond, had all of his teeth, did not smell and carried himself, well, regally.
On the way to the church, I saw bunches of nettles growing on the side of the dusty road. I couldn't help myself from stopping. I leaned down and picked one. I whispered to it, you saved me once, I wish you could again. I am not the true bride. The Prince saw me and said, “What are you saying to the nettles?” “Nothing” I replied. And we marched on. After a little while, we came upon a foot bridge, and I whispered to it, “Do not break, for I am not the true bride!” The Prince heard me and said, “What are you saying to the stones?” “Nothing, nothing, I replied.”
Just as we were approaching the church, the Prince stopped. He came over and placed a gold necklace with a sparkling ruby around my neck. It was absolutely stunning. It brought tears to my eyes as I remembered the old woman, who had placed the gold Mardi Gras beads around my neck and trapped me in this strange place, so long ago. He took my hands in his and said, “A wedding gift for my beautiful bride. I shall count myself blessed to share my life and kingdom with you. I pledge my heart to you now, so you know all that I am and all that I have, will always be yours.”
Yeah, so, this guy was starting to grow on me. I felt really bad I was about to give him the shaft and he was going to end up with the ugly step-sister.
We exchanged our vows in a long, solemn ceremony. I cried the entire time. When it was over we had to start the tiresome journey to return home. I became more and more nervous as we approached the castle. There was going to be a huge wedding feast, one I was not to supposed to attend. Instead, I was to feign fatigue and return straight to the Princess's room. This is what the princess and I had prearranged. Instead, I sneaked into to the Prince's room and snooped around. He had a desk, and I thought, if I could just write him a note, I might be able to warn him. No one would think me capable of reading or writing. But of course, I couldn't find one freaking notepad, post it, envelope or scrap of paper to write on. There were no tape dispensers, staplers or hole punches that you would usually find on top of a desk, either. Crap, I keep forgetting where I am! I found Hannah and we went to the Princess's room together. She helped extricate me from the elaborate wedding dress. A sadness for my past life washed over me and filled me with grief. In a moment of weakness, I hid the necklace underneath my dress, feeling the Princess didn't deserve it one bit or the handsome Prince who gave it to me.
As soon as I had changed, I went back to the kitchens. It was a short time later the Princess sent for me. When she and the Prince were alone, he had asked her, “What did you say to the nettles, while we were walking to the church today?” She replied, “I don't talk to flowers.” So he said, then you are not the true bride. She called for me and asked, “What did you say, you stupid girl?” So I told her and she sent me away. A few minutes later, I was called back again. The Prince had asked her, “What did you say to the bridge?” She said, “I'm not crazy, I don't talk to stones!” He said, “Then you are not my true bride!” So she asked me again, “What did you say to that bridge you stupid, stupid girl?” So I told her. Instead of sending me away, this time, she ordered her guard to tie me up in her chambers.
At this point, I had royally pissed the Princess off and I was scared. Sure enough, a little while later, the Prince asked her, “Where is the wedding gift I gave to you today?” When she had absolutely no idea about the necklace, the jig was up. He pulled off her veil and saw how ugly her face was. He shrieked and ran, seeking the King. Furious at his rejection and her plan backfiring, she came to make good on her promise to chop off my head.
Good old Hannah was, as always, one step ahead of things. She came running up the steps with an ax, screaming like a banshee to come and save me. We were both screaming like lunatics as we attempted to escape. We were, of course, apprehended immediately. For once however luck was on my side. All of our screaming was overheard by the King and the Prince. The Prince recognized the sound of my voice and came to our rescue, just in the nick of time. He had the crazy Princess arrested immediately for what she had attempted to do. He took my hands in his and said, “You are the one I married in the chapel today. The one I pledged my heart, my kingdom, all that I am and all that I have to share forever?” I pulled out the gold necklace with the ruby I had hidden under my dress and showed it to him. He kissed me and said in a loud voice for everyone to hear, “You are my true bride!” And I didn't disagree.
My future didn't turn out at all like I thought it would, but I was truly happy. I had my Hannah; who I adored. She was without a doubt, the most loyal, kindest and greatest best friend I could have ever asked for. I lived in a grand palace and was spoiled rotten by my handsome husband who adored me and who also happened to be a Prince. All in all, I really had nothing to complain about. I guess fairy tales really do come true. Sometimes, late at night, I wake up and think about where I truly came from. I wondered if there was a girl out there who woke up trapped in another time, in an apartment in New Orleans, in a bed alone and if her new life turned out as happy as mine.
- Jersey Shore, United States
- In case any of my friends or family members actually read this Blog, please consider all Names, Characters, Places and Incidents to be the product of the author's imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales are entirely COINCIDENTAL...Muaaah!! Now, really, about me: I bring the crazy wherever I go, so I've been told...I make fun of myself more than anyone else ever could. I hate: the awkward silence in elevators, watches with no numbers, picky eaters, Cancer and legalism. I love: coffee, stalking Hugh Jackman, my Spanx, COMMENTS, sarcasm and writing: Middle Grade, NA, YA Paranormal and Urban Fantasy.