So here’s what you’ve been waiting for…!
…until the Fairy Tale Police arrest her while she is in Beauty and the Beast. They offer her a deal: Find Beauty, who left the story when Melinda trespassed into it, or be charged with the ultimate crime — Fairy Tale Killer. If that’s not bad enough the Beast tags along in search of his true love, and Melinda starts falling for the fairy tale prince. She must choose between doing the right thing and having her own happily ever after.
Warning: This title contains the following: Fairy Godmother, the Wicked Witch, dysfunctional fairy tale families, ax-wielding executioners and a happily ever after (or two).
I. In Which Our Heroine Is Charged
Once upon a time there was a woman who could flit in and out of fairy tales…
*** *** ***
“Prisoner Number One Thousand Five Hundred and Sixty-Two.”
Somebody shoved Melinda at the bailiff’s call, and she stumbled forward into the spotlight in the center of the dimly lit room. She glared at whoever was behind her, then quickly turned her attention to her surroundings. Everyone’s gaze zeroed in on her, making her feel like a bear on a circus stage. Maybe I should sing and dance, she thought sourly. Or just growl and look scary, so they’ll let me go.
A small old man in a black robe leaned forward in a high seat behind a wooden podium and peered at her over his half-moon glasses. She thought he should fix the wig sitting crooked on his head, but decided not to say anything that might prejudice him against her. Besides who was she to critique his appearance? She was in the pink Little Mermaid pajamas her niece had given her for Christmas, for gosh sakes.
“Is this the right prisoner?” the judge said.
“Yes, Your Honor,” a smartly dressed police porcupine said from the witness stand. “We caught her red-handed in Beauty and the Beast.”
“What was she doing?”
“Hiding behind the red rose bushes in the main entrance to the castle and spying on Beauty’s father and His Highness the Beast,” the porcupine answered, quills quivering.
“How dreadful. How did you become aware of her alien presence in the story, sergeant?”
“She tripped and fell.”
Melinda heard low snickers from everyone around her and felt her face turn red. The judge merely tsked and rifled through a stack of papers in front of him. “Charge?”
The prosecutor unfolded six feet seven inches of emaciation, his pale narrow face pinched with disapproval. The light glared on his greased black hair as he said, “Misdemeanor: trespassing.”
Melinda raised her hand. “Hold on a minute.”
The judge went on like she hadn’t spoken, “How do you plead?”
“I want a lawyer.”
“That is not the right response,” the judge said sternly. “You plead either guilty or not guilty.”
“I have rights.”
“You do not. This is under Fairy Tale Jurisdiction.”
“Look, Your Honor,” she said, using her most reasonable and no-nonsense tone of voice, the one that never failed to work with the young students in her class. “I didn’t mean to cause any trouble. You’ll probably think it sounds crazy or something, but I’ve been able to enter fairy tales just by reading them and imagining what the story world was like ever since I was a small girl. I have no idea how. My friends can’t do it—”
“Perhaps because they are too polite to trespass, Miss…?”
“Lightfoot, Your Honor. Melinda Lightfoot. But—”
“Miss Melinda Lightfoot of…?” When she just stared at him, he said, “Town name for the record?”
“Oh. Bolinsville. Bolinsville, Virginia, U.S.A. As I was saying—”
The judge held up a hand to stop her as the bailiff rose to his feet.
“His Highness, the Beast!”
The crowd of shepherds and fairy tale critters, including a crowned frog, oohed and aahed as the double doors to the courtroom were flung open, and the Beast marched toward the spotlight…toward Melinda. His magnificent golden mane moved with each step, a royal purple cape billowing behind him. He didn’t have his claws out, but there was an electrifying presence to him that made her mouth dry. A small hope bloomed inside Melinda. He had to be here to tell the judge how mistaken he was to charge her, how she hadn’t done anything wrong and how she was a lover of fairy tales. The hope withered just as quickly as it had blossomed when she saw the expression in the Beast’s narrowed green eyes. She gulped.
“Your Highness, this is rather out of protocol,” the judge said mildly, while the court waited with bated breath for what the cursed prince had to say. “You needn’t trouble yourself like this. We have enough witnesses—”
“I am here to demand that you charge her with kidnapping!” the Beast roared, pointing at Melinda.
Melinda’s couldn’t believe her ears. “What?!”
Her rather pathetic response was lost in the crowd’s speculative whispers. The judge banged his gavel. “Silence!” When the courtroom was in order again, he looked at the Beast. “Why kidnapping, Your Highness?”
“Beauty is gone!”
A collective gasp rose from the gallery. The judge gave them a stern look.
The Beast continued, “Her father has not seen her. I have not seen her. She is nowhere to be found. Yet she was in the story until” — he extended a long curving claw at Melinda — “that woman appeared. Now I will never have my happy ending.”
Another gasp rose from the gallery. A crown crashed to the floor with a loud clang as the frog under it fainted dead away, and he wasn’t the only cursed prince to do so. The judge looked pale. “Are you sure Beauty is gone, Your Highness?”
“Yes! Can you not feel her lack in the very air around us?”
The prosecutor cleared his throat. “Your Honor, this isn’t just a matter of simple trespassing or kidnapping.” He stared at Melinda like she were Snow White’s stepmother. “She’s a Fairy Tale Killer.”
*** *** ***
The court recessed, and the police porcupines dragged Melinda roughly away, swagger sticks in their hands. One of them said, “If you so much as twitch we’ll beat you.”
Maybe she had another strange ability she hadn’t known about until now: entering fairy nightmares. Except that unlike regular fairy tales, she couldn’t leave this one at will. She didn’t know what the porcupines had done to her — she was sure it was something nefarious during the chaos of her arrest, some sort of porcupine brutality no doubt — but she could no longer just imagine herself back in her room and return to her world. The entire situation wasn’t just insane, it was inane. The prosecution’s evidence was circumstantial at best, and the court was trampling all over her rights. She deserved a lawyer if they were planning to charge her not only with trespassing, but kidnapping and…and murder as well. Fairy Tale Killer had an ominous tone to it.
The police put her in a small bare cell. Who would’ve thought the Fairy Tale Government didn’t care about human rights? Melinda felt her shoulders slump. At least it was summer, so nobody was expecting her at her school. Otherwise she would be frantic by now. She was punctual and loved her students; missing class without calling in so the school could find a suitable substitute was simply unimaginable.
Then again, even if she could have called, what would she have told them?
I’m in Fairy Tale Jail for trespassing, kidnapping Beauty from Beauty and the Beast and ruining a perfectly good happy ending.
Melinda glanced at a tiny window high up on the wall, fingering her recently cut shoulder-length auburn hair forlornly. Maybe there was a good reason for fairy tale princesses to have long flowing tresses.
She pressed a button on her watch. It glowed: 10:00 p.m. That was the time she’d entered Beauty and the Beast. The display seemed to be stuck, just like she was. She sighed with regret and a bit of guilt. In addition to ruining her summer, her little adventure had also brought a very obvious distress to the Beast.
Now I will never have my happy ending.
Melinda felt sorry for the Beast. Without Beauty’s love he’d remain cursed for eternity.
A police officer opened the door to her cell. “Out. The prosecutor wants to talk to you.”
“How am I supposed to know?”
What a helpful porcupine. She got up and walked out of her cell. He hadn’t come alone. A platoon of swagger-stick-and-shield-carrying police porcupines surrounded her. Their nervous energy was giving her a headache, and she raised a hand to her temple. They immediately leapt back, quills bristling and shields raised. She rolled her eyes. What could a preschool teacher do besides give them a timeout?
They went through a bright corridor of polished green marble. The air felt comfortably cool and dry and smelled of old paper. It reminded her of the happy times she’d spent in bookstores and libraries, and helped take the edge off her worry. If the judge had decided to declare it all just a big misunderstanding, or even just pardon her, he wouldn’t have sent such a bristly bunch.
“Stop!” one of her escorts said when she reached a heavy wooden double door. He scurried around and pushed it open with a paw, his shield between her and whatever was inside. “Don’t even think about it,” he said suspiciously.
“All I’m thinking about is how much I want to get out of here and have some chocolate,” she mumbled under her breath.
He jerked his chin. “Go in. Slowly.”
She stepped inside. Slowly. As annoyed as she was with them, she didn’t want to disobey and get pummeled with swagger sticks. Fairy Tale or not, it would hurt.
A long dark cherry table occupied the center of the huge room, and uncomfortable looking high-backed black chairs surrounded it like crows around some oversized carcass. The judge sat at the head of the table with the Beast on his right and the prosecutor on his left. A triumvirate of doom.
“I heard you wanted to see me.”
“You heard correctly, Miss Heavyfoot,” the judge said.
She forced a smile. “Lightfoot.”
“If you had been a true Lightfoot, we wouldn’t have caught you,” the prosecutor said, looking at her feet meaningfully.
Everyone else followed suit, and she wanted to drop and hide her hideously filthy bare feet. Instead, she straightened her spine and adopted her sternest preschool teacher voice. “You have no real evidence against me. All you have to do is let me go back to my own apartment, and everything will be fine.”
“Oh, we’d love to get rid of you, Miss Heavy — er — Lightfoot. However, there’s the matter of Beauty,” the judge said. “You cannot return to the mortal world until she comes back.”
“The balance in our world was altered when you so carelessly snatched Beauty out of her story, so until she is here, you cannot leave.”
“What?!” So was that why she couldn’t just imagine herself home? “But—”
“Besides, His Highness the Beast needs his happy ending. All fairy tales do.”
“How can a fairy tale exist without a happy ending? Would Hansel and Gretel be the same if the witch ate them both? What if Prince Charming married one of Cinderella’s stepsisters?” He looked around for support. Both the Beast and the prosecutor nodded gravely.
“What you did — taking Beauty away — broke the unbreakable. It allows for a dastardly tragic ending now.”
“Oh God,” Melinda said weakly, feeling the blood drain from her face. She loved reading fairy tales to her students, and they loved the uplifting endings. How would they feel if the witch had roasted children for dinner? Or Cinderella had to clean the hearth till the day she died?
Worst of all, how was she going to bear it, knowing it was she who made such horrific outcomes possible?
“So what you did is technically an act of murder.”
“Yes, but we can also charge her with” — the prosecutor cleared his throat — “high treason, terrorism and vandalism.”
The prosecutor continued: “The minimum sentencing requirement for all four crimes is two thousand seven hundred and twenty-three years in maximum security prison without the possibility of parole.”
“You want me to die in prison?”
He took off his glasses and began cleaning the lenses with a white handkerchief. “My dear Miss Lightfoot. The decision to die is entirely up to you. We merely imprison.”
“I don’t know about you Fairy Tale people, but I can’t stay here for God only knows how long. We should do something instead of just waiting for Beauty to return.”
The prosecutor looked amused. She turned to the judge, but he shook his head. It was the Beast who finally said, “She’s right.”
“Your Highness!” both of the men exclaimed.
“I cannot wait. No one knows how long it will take Beauty to find her way back to her story. What if she’s forever lost?”
The men were beginning to look a bit green. “The possibility of that happening is—”
Everyone turned at the commanding soprano voice coming from the door, and the three at the table jumped to their feet. “Fairy Godmother!”
Melinda had never seen the legendary Fairy Godmother in all the years she’d flitted in and out of fairy tales, and she’d imagined the elusive sprite to be a personable matronly woman. She’d never think that after tonight.
A tall regal woman in a diamond-studded white dress strode inside. A dainty tiara rested on her head, and her unbound platinum hair curled around the small of her back. She stopped when she reached Melinda and faced the three men at the table. “We have found Beauty.”
Melinda slumped with relief. She wasn’t a Fairy Tale Killer.
“She’s in Miss Lightfoot’s world.”
All four said, “She is?”
“And the Evil Witch is missing as well.”
Two gasps and a growl came from the table.
“With your permission, Your Honor, I should like to present some facts for the court’s official consideration.”
The judge bowed gravely and made a flowing motion with his hand.
“Thank you. Now then… All the evidence the police gathered points to some rather disturbing conclusions. Firstly, in order for Miss Lightfoot here to have come into this world, we may assume that she has the ability to create a sort of bridge between our world and hers. Secondly, we may further assume that the Evil Witch became aware of this bridge, or melding, at some point during Miss Lightfoot’s travels, and that she observed the phenomenon for some time. Thirdly, that she kidnapped Beauty and left our world either when Miss Lightfoot entered Beauty and the Beast, or at some point during her presence here. Finally — and this is not a conclusion based on supposition, but something that I myself have sensed in the past little while — she has established a magical beacon so that when the time is right she can control the path between the worlds.
“So I believe that our course is clear,” Fairy Godmother continued. “We must task Miss Lightfoot with locating and bringing back both Beauty and the Evil Witch.”
“Which Evil Witch is this?” Melinda asked. Her stomach felt queasy. She was okay with the finding Beauty part, but not too sure about the Evil Witch.
“The one who cursed the Beast. The one who taught the forest hag how to trick Hansel and Gretel. The one who longs to destroy all happy endings.”
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