Hello Internet! In case you don’t follow me on Facebook, I announced on Tuesday Bayou Fairy Tale has been picked up by Dreamspinner Press!
Listen up Fairy Tale fans, Taylor, Corentin, and Ringo are back in action with humor, hijinks, action, adventure, and your tears when you sob for mercy.
Wait. I said that out loud didn’t I?
Well in lieu of Monday Spark, I’m sharing with you another healthy snippet of Bayou Fairy Tale. Did someone say a whole chapter? Yes indeedy!
Now that Taylor and Corentin have settled into a quaint little life and routine, trouble still has a way of always finding them. Please enjoy!
Chapter 4: Through the Looking Glass
Jesup Memorial Library, Bar Harbor, Maine
Despite Miss Miriam’s scrutiny, the children’s wide-eyed wonder and excited clapping of little hands made everything worthwhile. The smiles and giggles of her kindergartener class gave Taylor the much needed armor and ego-boost to face adversity. He still wasn’t ruling out the possibility of Miss Miriam being a witch. Or at least a wicked step-mother going incognito.
Devon and Taylor agreed she was just a bitter woman about a gay man and a lesbian woman teaching children in a small town library. Taylor shook his head as Devon led the children away to the circle of tables and their awaiting coloring pages. The glitter would take a week to get off the floor. When they had the last speck of glitter cleaned up, the glitter explosion would start again.
As Devon led them away, Bennett, the most skeptical five-year-old to grace the planet remained. He glared upward at Taylor, his hands balled into little fists.
“What’s up, little man?” Taylor asked. Bennett had reminded him so much of a crankier Ringo when his favorite shows get cancelled.
“I don’t buy it.” Bennett grunted, his chubby cheeks reddened and puffed with righteous five year old indignation. “How can Sleeping Beauty marry the prince? My mom told me not to talk to strangers. Why did Sleeping Beauty fall in love with a man she just met? How did she know he was a prince? Anyone could pretend to be a prince. Just like Miss Miriam pretends to be nice.”
Taylor choked, trying to hold in the urge to laugh, a boy after his own heart. Bennett would go far in the world. Over at the circle of tables, Miss Miriam narrowed her eyes. Taylor managed the kindest smile while he pictured her head exploding. He crouched down to Bennett’s level, collecting his thoughts. Taylor had to be sure not to go too far off “The Script” as Devon called it. They needed the donations to keep the library running, and they couldn’t afford to piss off Conners-Emerson Elementary.
“Because Sleeping Beauty saw the magic within Phillip’s heart that they were destined to be true loves,” Taylor said sweetly, while mentally gagging.
“You don’t believe it do you?” Bennett asked.
Taylor blinked. Bennett’s sixth sense for bullshit was a gift even Corentin would weep at the little boy’s magnificence. Taylor patted his head. “I’d say the author took some…adaptive liberties.” He raised his hands like claws and gave a comical growl. “I think Sleeping Beauty held a hidden power to slay all the dragons and save the Enchanted Forest from witches that would eat little boys up in one bite.” He gave a childish roar and tickled at Bennett’s cheeks.
Bennett wiggled out of Taylor’s grasp with peals of laughter. Miss Miriam cleared her throat as she stood in the center of the activity area. “Come along, Bennett,” she said sternly.
Bennett frowned and Taylor wanted to share his deepest sympathies. “I think your story is way better, Mr. Taylor.”
Zee turned in circles like an excited puppy inside Taylor’s soul. The vindication from a five year old made his week.
“Bennett.” Miss Miriam said it like it was his final warning.
Taylor scooted him off, and grudgingly Bennett toddled away to join the rest of his class. Corentin would tease him mercilessly that he basically proved the existence of Santa Claus to a single child. The calm that came over Taylor for his good deeds soothed his inner savage beast, and above all, his flash fire of a temper. As long as he kept Zee from blowing up microwaves or turning washing machines into time bombs once they hit the spin cycle, he’d call that a win.
As much as he protested, it was pretty thrilling when Zee shattered the windows behind the dairy joy while he and Corentin got down and dirty. Taylor flushed at the memory, he hasn’t been able to watch Corentin eat a mint chocolate chip cone without getting a raging hard-on ever since. What if he had blown Corentin in the parking lot this morning? He shook his head, trying not to think about it. Once he traded in his V-Card that one night at Mackinac Island, one of Taylor’s ever present thoughts was seeing how many different ways he could get off. Making up for lost time. And boy howdy was he.
Taylor slapped his hands to his face as he blushed hotly. “Stop thinking about it,” he ordered himself out loud.
“Hey,” Devon said over his shoulder, and Taylor jumped, making an embarrassing squeal. She smiled apologetically. “Um. We have a situation over in romance. Cindy Lou made a bit of a mess.”
Taylor nodded. “Tore books down again? I got it.”
“Uh. No,” Devon rubbed the back of her arm, turning sheepish. “Didn’t make it in time….”
She didn’t need to say anything else. Taylor rubbed his itchy eyes. “Some days I wish you paid me.”
Devon patted his shoulder. “I’ll just shove more bills into Corentin’s thong.”
That joke never got old.
*** *** ***
Don’t touch your face. Don’t touch your face. Don’t touch your face. Taylor reminded himself again and again as he scrubbed the urine stains off the floor. It was sheer luck Puddles, aka Cindy Lou, didn’t splash the books on the bottom shelves. He’d never hear the end of it from Phyllis when she found her precious Anita Shreve books smelling like dirty children. The books always came back smelling like cheap beer and tobacco anyhow.
His hands sweat inside the blue rubber dish gloves, and Taylor tried to keep his mind off the odd moist texture of what lingered inside from the previous users.
At least it kept him from close proximity to Miss Miriam. There was only so much of her face he could take before he wanted to scream out in front of the children what the fuck was her problem. He never even did anything to piss her off. Not that he knew of anyway. When he and Corentin came to town, they definitely raised a few eyebrows. Nothing like two unmarried Southern boys settling in the frozen north and sharing a home. Taylor got picked on for his Piedmont accent a time or two. Corentin needed a translator most days. Taylor had grown accustomed, and Corentin’s enchanted arrowhead gave him a head start in picking up the lingo. In these parts, Creole dialect and Yankee colloquialisms gave way into a lot of repeating, pointing, and gesturing.
Taylor sat back on his knees and reached to wipe his forehead. “Don’t,” he told himself once he realized his impending error. He took the white cleaning cloth and then ran it over the wooden floor, meticulously scrubbing through the plank seams. Anything to stall being in Miss Miriam’s personal space.
As the children laughed and giggled, Taylor chuckled under his breath along with them as he blotted the last bits of moisture that had long dried. “There,” he whispered. “Until the next time Puddles needs to mark her territory.”
“Excuse me, I’m looking for the folklore section,” a husky womanly voice said not even a foot away from him.
Taylor jerked in surprise, and hopped to his feet. Inside, Zee perked and listened for danger. Taylor clutched his chest, trying to get his heart to stop racing and quiet her. He plastered on his professional smile and looked up. “Yes, ma’am, anything I can help you find?”
The woman didn’t respond, and seemed to study him over the rim of her sharp nose. Taylor arched a brow. Her red silk kimono jacket paired with her brown leather waist cincher and black pencil skirt screamed she wasn’t the type to be from anywhere near these parts of Maine. And she was dressed far too high class to be a tourist.
She came from “away” as the locals called it. The city. Somewhere. And Taylor knew it was far from anywhere he had known.
Her wine red eyes gave her away.
Taylor danced back. “Fucking hell,” he hissed. “I don’t want any trouble.”
She pursed her lips, and seemed to consider his words or Taylor himself. “You’re one of us,” she said, her eyes widening in fascination.
Taylor stubbornly set his jaw. He glanced over his shoulder at the children working on their drawings and laughing among one another. Miss Miriam strolled between the gaggle of kindergarteners, oblivious to Taylor and this new Enchant.
“Please,” Taylor whispered as he followed the woman deeper into the stacks. “Whatever you’re planning to do, don’t do it in front of the kids. I can’t do this here. I retired from all of this.”
Her pale lips curled into a haughty smirk. “Storyteller forfend, Dragon. I don’t plan to expose them.” She raised her fingertip in a slow purposeful gesture, pointing past Taylor and at the children. “Although, that one.”
Taylor clenched his fists, and snapped his attention back to the children. She indicated a blonde girl holding up a drawing of a glittering tiara.
“That one.” She pointed at a boy with a toy horse as he trotted the horse around like a gallant steed.
“And them.” She made a circle with her French manicured nail, gesturing to Bennett and his two tablemates. “We’re more common than you think.”
Taylor went on the defensive and slowly stepped into position between her and the children. “What do you want? I don’t have anything of use for you.” Zee seemed to sense his anxiety and he shivered with the sensation. His fingers twitched, feeling through the air, and preparing to summon his lance. The lack of trust made his cheeks burn. Flecks of pink magic swirled over his fingertips, and Zee growled, warming his chest with a sense of defensive urgency.
If she wasn’t a witch, Taylor had two other guesses. The least of the likely was probably correct. She was Little Red Riding Hood and a wolf hunter. Or the wolf was not so much a furry quadruped canine and more like a high powered man-eater.
Taylor’s grip on Zee’s inner reigns slipped and Zee rumbled defensively. The bookshelves trembled in warning. Overhead, the lights flickered.
“Neither.” Her voice like a scalpel cutting into his thoughts.
Taylor coughed and then stumbled against the nearby bookshelf. Zee went silent, stealing his breath. “Stop it, Zee,” he whispered.
“Is that her name?” she asked with a tilt of the chin. “Zee?” she tested the name with a childish chirp.
Sweat dripped down Taylor’s forehead. He couldn’t breathe. He gagged for air in a panic.
“It’s not Zee,” she said. “It’s your heart.” She tapped her chin. “I can hear your thoughts on your heart.”
He coughed as his lungs relaxed. Taylor leaned onto the bookshelf and concentrated on his breathing. “Okay. That’s a new one,” he croaked.
She swept a peculiarly gentlemanly bow, and Taylor stiffened.
Fuck. Not another damned female prince.
Her red eyes flashed and Zee stirred in warning.
“Aliss Magnus,” she said, and then stood. “Queen of Hearts. I’ve been looking for you Princess Hatfield and the huntsman.”
Of course, she would have to be an Enchant queen. Taylor huffed in exasperation as he yanked off his rubber gloves. “His name is Corentin. Not huntsman. He’s not even a huntsman anymore. I’m not really a princess either.” He tossed the gloves into the cleaning bucket. He pointed at his face. “Read my lips: We. Quit. We. Want. To. Be. Left. Alone.” He scooped up the bucket and then swept a princess-like curtsey. “Your Majesty, I believe you know the way out.”
Taylor turned an about face, and took one step before she called out, “I know how to break the huntsman’s curse.”
His heart thumped. Taylor pressed his lips together and screamed in his head to fight the impulse to trust her. Enchants trusted at face value, it was hardwired into their identities. Corentin had told him it’s what helped the most in luring his victims. It was Corentin’s Cronespawn gift in manipulating that trust. It was Taylor’s acclimation to mundane society that protected him with a thick layer of skepticism.
“If you give me a moment of your time, I’ll tell you how,” Aliss said. Her voice had a regal tone compelling him to listen.
Taylor’s grip on the bucket tightened as he screwed his eyes shut. Don’t trust her. Don’t trust her. He turned on his heel to face her. “You have a moment.”
Curiosity got the best of him. He hoped beyond hope that she was going to simply try to convert him to some Enchant religion and then be on her way.
“I want you to join us in defeating Snow White.”
The words fell so easily from her lips, but to Taylor he had been assaulted with a freight train. That definitely wasn’t a religious sales pitch.
“At-Atticus?” he stammered. The bucket clunked to the floor. The bottle of Mr. Clean bounced against the stacks and settled against Taylor’s left foot. “Atticus is still in a mental hospital. He’s getting the help he needs.” Taylor’s voice grew in determination as he rose to defend his brother. “He’s not a threat anymore.”
“How can you be so sure of that?” Aliss shifted her weight, jutting out a hip. “Idi will find Snow again. You can only delay the inevitable.”
“Idi’s dead.” Taylor spat. His gut churned with slow brewing anxiety and anger.
“For now.” Her tone came out like a taunt. “Idi only needs a new vessel. If he hasn’t gotten one already.”
Taylor tossed out his hand in frustration. “Who the fuck are you to wander in here and tell me this shit?”
Aliss smiled in a way that didn’t indicate kindness. “I represent a group of likeminded Enchants dedicated to monitoring and defending against threats to our kind. Thanks to you and the huntsman, maintaining our vigilance on the Snow White and Idi situation is our top priority.” Taylor’s palms sweat as she stared him down. Zee whimpered under Aliss’s intimidating presence. The more Taylor fought her unconscious influence, his knees trembled in fear. “Your assistance in our efforts would ensure Princess Snow White will never rise to power. We need a man of a particular set of skills to put an end to Atticus Hatfield once and for all.”
“We?” he asked. “Who the fuck is we?” He forced himself to stand straighter, even if she dwarfed his smaller stature. Damned petite princess genes making female princesses attractive and doll-like but making male princesses look like gangly-limbed teens that haven’t grown into their bodies yet.
“We are the Library, a vast network of Enchants dedicated to preserving peace and our way of life,” she said without arrogance but instead a peculiar hint of regret. “We don’t have the resources or knowledge to stop Snow White on our own. We need the skillset that could.”
“The Library?” Taylor asked. He rolled the name over in his head. Why hadn’t he learned the name before? Was this yet another thing Ringo was conveniently glossing over until the right moment? It seemed like he would. He frowned in an attempt for intimidation. “Tell me how to break Corentin’s curse.”
Aliss brushed away her stick straight blonde hair. “You agree to help us?” she asked as she paced a slow circle around Taylor.
He twitched his fingers, craving the safety of his lance. He couldn’t afford to expose the children to magic, and the mistrust gathered like sweat on his forehead. “I don’t agree or disagree.” He grunted. “Out with it. How do I help Corentin?”
“With this,” Aliss said and flicked her wrist toward Taylor.
There was a soft whistling by his ear, and his hair fluttered, followed by a heavy thump into the bookcase next to his head. Taylor startled when he realized it was a knife, nested between two books, next to his ear. He scowled. “You expect me to kill him? You’re out of luck.”
She narrowed her eyes and gave a tight-lipped frown. She was unflappable, not a single indication Taylor was getting under her skin.
“No.” Even with such a simple phrase, Aliss commanded Taylor’s attention. As much as he tried to brush her off, he couldn’t help being sucked up into her presence. “I expect you to make the sacrifice of true love. That is…,” she trailed off and gave him a knowing smile. “If he is your true love.”
Taylor snorted as he picked up on the jab. “Get a grip. I get it enough dirty looks from a fucking kindergartener teacher already.”
“They did say you had a temper,” Aliss said as she stepped toward him. “Brash, abrasive, wild, problems with authority.”
Taylor slipped back, only to back to trip over the bucket of cleaning supplies. He crashed to his rear, and yelped in embarrassment. No one in the activity area gave him a second glance as Devon led the children through a round of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.
Aliss loomed over him. Her smirk vanished, and replaced with a royal sternness. “If you want to free the huntsman of his curse, you need to listen. In exchange for your full cooperation to the Library, the huntsman will no longer suffer his memory loss. He will remember you.” She smiled, for the first time in kindness. “He will remember you every day. And what you meant to each other.”
Taylor didn’t understand as he slowly stood. “Remember everything?” he asked. The idea made his stomach clench with confusion, yet temptation. “No more journals? No more starting over every seven days?” He failed trying to keep the hopeful tone out of his voice.
“We are in agreement?” Aliss asked. “You’ll cooperate?”
“If I can save Corentin and Atticus, I’m in.” Taylor gave a confident nod.
She held out her palm to the knife. The blade burst into motes of red light, and reappeared in her hand. Taylor squinted at the wide curving blade, a red pulsing glow danced down the knife in a network of thin veins. He swallowed. The blade pulsed with each beat of his heart. Taylor glanced from Aliss, to the blade, and back. He pressed his lips together, keeping silent.
“With this blade,” Aliss began, and the knife lifted from her fingers, hovering and twirling over her palm. “The huntsman must use it to capture his most elusive trophy. He will bring it to me, where the trophy will be destroyed. And he will be truly the huntsman he has forgotten.”
Taylor nodded slowly. Her voice was different, softer, deep inside of his head. Her words pulsed like the blood in his ears. She could have been speaking, and they could have been in the library, but Taylor wasn’t sure. He was elsewhere as the beating light of the blade called to him like a distant whisper. Words he couldn’t quite hear. A language he didn’t understand.
“What is the trophy?” he whispered to the blade.
Your heart. The words roared in his mind like the scream of a hurricane.
Taylor jerked back, backpedaling to find his footing. “What the fuck,” he gasped. “What the hell are you talking about?” He coughed and then glared at Aliss. “I thought you wanted my skillset to help with Atticus?”
Aliss blinked and confusion crossed her features. “Did I say you? I said we wanted the huntsman. We need you to help us secure him.”
“By cutting out my heart?” Taylor snapped. There was always a catch to Enchant bullshit. “What kind of sick fuck are you?”
Aliss narrowed her eyes, and her irritated frown reappeared. “I am the Queen of Hearts, after all. And either you’ll cooperate, or you’ll become another situation the Library has to clean up.”
“How about you try cleaning piss off an antique wood floor?” Taylor growled and flipped her off. “If you think for one second you’re going to go after Atticus, you’re going to have to go through me.”
“Who are you talking to, Mr. Taylor?” a little girl asked behind him.
Taylor startled and spun on his heel. Rachel, Miss Miriam’s perkiest student, smiled up at him, her blue eyes bright and almost too big for her face.
“H-hey Rachel,” Taylor said as the nerves crept into his voice. “I was just talking to my fri—” He turned back to Aliss, only to see the nothingness of the empty aisle. He knew it was useless to think she was elsewhere in the library. When magic was afoot, anything was possible. He shivered as he slowly digested everything Aliss had said. Free Corentin? By sacrificing himself? It had to be bullshit. There had to be another way. If princes and princesses could get their curses broken all the time by making out, breaking the curse of a Cronespawn must be something just as stupidly simple.
“Do you like my drawing?” Rachel asked, as she held up her paper.
Taylor slowly turned to her with a scripted smile on his face. The smile fell at the sight of Rachel’s medium: the Andersen Institute letter.
A sinister stick figure drawn in red crayon grinned wickedly from the letters at him. In one of his appendages, he held a crooked club. Maybe a bat? Taylor ventured a guess. “Is he a baseball player?” he asked as he crouched to her level. “Your dad likes the Red Sox doesn’t he?”
Rachel laughed. “You’re silly, Mr. Taylor.” She pointed the drawing scrawled over the paragraph discussing the specifics of Atticus’s current state of recovery. Taylor winced at the ruined letter. “He’s the Axeman.”
“The… Axeman?” he asked quietly, and forcing himself to smile.
Rachel nodded quickly. The poor thing was all too proud of herself. “He lives in my backyard.”
“Okay!” Taylor yelped as he shot to his feet. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up and he rubbed his hands together. He forced a chuckle and then clapped twice. “Hey sweetie, can I have your drawing? I think my best friend would really like it.” He faked excitement as he folded his hands together in begging. He needed to get the letter. He prayed Devon hadn’t seen it. He had taken care not to mention Atticus to her. “Please? Please? Please can I have it? My best friend would really love it. Really.”
“Mr. Ten?” Rachel asked and bounced on her toes. Her sneakers squeaked and lit up with their pressure sensitive lights. She giggled and spun in a cheerful circle.
Taylor arched a brow and cracked a slow smile. He didn’t know what it was about Corentin, but he even had five year olds that were screaming fans. Did he have all of Hancock County under some spell? Or his rakish charm? Maybe he poisoned the well water.
Rachel started to hand over the letter, but stopped in her tracks. “Oh! I should put my name on it!”
As she scuttled back onto the activity area, Taylor followed close behind. He noted where Miss Miriam and Devon were amid all of the children. Devon smiled at Taylor as she prepared the snack trays. Miss Miriam was instructing Bennett to use his right hand instead of his left.
Rachel yanked out a black crayon and scribbled on the paper. “Tooo….Misssteeeer…Teeeeen…,” she said as she wrote. “Looooove… Raaachel.” She handed Taylor the page in a flourish as if she were a newspaper reporter flinging notes. Taylor took the letter and made sure he could still read the pertinent information under the markings.
Devon plucked a cookie off the tray and handed it to Rachel. She winked at Taylor. “Rachel has a present for Corentin, huh?”
Taylor pressed the letter close to his chest, trying to hide the paper. “Mmmhmm. Very special.”
Rachel overdramatically swooned in her seat. “When I’m old enough I’m gunna marry Mr. Ten!”
Taylor slapped his hand over his mouth, and glanced at Devon. Her cheeks puffed as she held in a laugh. Don’t. He tried to tell her.
Devon grinned instead as he gave Rachel an extra cookie. “And you’ll be his princess?”
Rachel bounced in her seat. “Like Sleeping Beauty!”
“Okay!” Taylor squeaked, and all eyes turned to him. He coughed, and swallowed as the embarrassment stung on every pore. “I’m…,” he pointed toward the break room. “Going to get some more glitter.”
He tacked on a smile, and then hurried to the librarian lounge. Once he crossed the threshold, he made sure to lock the door behind him. Taylor collapsed onto the nearby couch and the letter slipped to the floor.
Ringo fluttered down from the bookcase and settled on the floor. He paced around the letter and rubbed his chin.
“I’m no art critic, but that is a creepy-assed drawing,” he said.
Taylor folded his arms behind his head and sighed. “Tell me about the Library.”
Ringo blinked. “We’re in one?”
Taylor narrowed his eyes. “The Queen of Hearts wants to recruit us.” It wasn’t lying, not really. He pulled his right arm from behind his head. He held up his palm, and then flexes his fingers, imagining a knife there.
“Oh,” Ringo said. “That Library. The Big L.”
“Yeah. Big L.” Taylor snorted.
Ringo wrung his hands. “It’s kind of a long story.”
“Well skip the Once Upon A Time part and get to the point.” Taylor stared at the ceiling. Was this what it was like for Corentin when he had a bad day? Everything going topsy-turvy? Too much to digest all at once? Too many things that were pure coincidence, but had to be fate?
But the questions remained. Did Corentin really have to kill Taylor all along to break his curse? And the only part he needed for the spell to work was to make true love’s sacrifice? Taylor knew he had been a selfish person before, but now he has things in order. He’s changed. The truth prickled like the hair on the back of his neck. The selfishness never left him. He’d stay alive if it meant he could be happy with Corentin forever.
None of it made sense. His eye twitched like someone had taken an icepick to the bridge of his nose. He needed sleep. Who knew how much of the day so far was all in his head. Did he even go to bed last night? Was he dreaming? He snorted in derision. Taylor was Sleeping Beauty after all, the technical expert on dreaming. He waited for Ringo to explain is all away and so everything would fall into place.
“They don’t exist.”
Instead, Ringo’s words ruined everything.
Copyright © 2015 Lex Chase. All Rights Reserved.