The Fairest of Them All

This short story was originally published in Volume XV of Marine Creek Reflections, the creative literary journal of Tarrant County College Northwest of which Dalise was a student staff editor in 2014. 

Once Upon a Time, there was a Beautiful Princess…

Ivory soaked in her surroundings behind a malevolent scowl. Even sulking, her beauty could not be denied. The few rays of sunlight that managed to break through the thick clouds above danced upon her long, wavy hair as they would dark ocean waters. It was parted in its usual manner, covering half her left eye, and flowed down just past her breasts, which were currently playing a game of peek-a-boo from their confinement in her black, strapless dress. Her mother had begged her to “put on something more appropriate,” but Ivory rather liked the way this old dress wrapped around her curves. She stared at her mother now, who wore a stoic expression as she stared ahead at the open casket – what a difference from the trembling heap who lied sobbing on the kitchen floor for hours after that dreadful phone call only a week before.

Ivory hadn’t understood her mother’s wails; she was glad the bastard died. Of course, she knew better than to inform the poor woman of this. It was pathetic, really. The douche bag left – adios, sayonara, buh-bye – on the eve of Ivory’s sixth birthday nearly eleven years ago. She rushed to the front door every time it opened that day hoping she’d find daddy standing there ready to catch her in his arms, but only found disappointment. She slept by that door until hatred grew in disappointment’s place. Her mother barricaded herself inside her bedroom for weeks that turned to months, leaving young Ivory alone when she needed her most. The woman finally emerged as an empty shell, almost as if her soul had retreated so far deep within her that it disappeared altogether. Ivory resented her mother for abandoning her, but right now that resentment melted into pity. Her mother, too, had been lovely once, before the disease of a broken heart consumed her body like cancer. While Ivory’s sapphire eyes burned with the intensity of blue flame against her cream complexion, her mother’s sat as flat as gray stones. A single tear rolled down Ivory’s cheek and splashed upon her leg, startling her from the depths of her mind back to the shallow surface of reality. She quickly glanced around the sea of unfamiliar faces, praying no one witnessed her brief moment of vulnerability, and with a flip of her hair, shook off emotion altogether.

…who Harbored a Bitterness toward the Lonely Queen…

“Why did we have to go? I mean, seriously, what was the point of that? Did you enjoy sitting there listening to the bastard’s real family, you know, the one he LEFT us for, tell all those stories about what a loving and devoted husband and father he was…huh, tell me, was that as much fun for you as it was for me?” Ivory interrogated as her mother slowly pulled into the driveway.

The clouds suddenly opened up releasing the rain they’d been threatening all day. “God, Mom, they didn’t even know who we are…and the reason I KNOW they didn’t know who we are is because his fucking son was drooling over me like I was a fucking double bacon cheeseburger…or maybe he would raise a son to be the kind of pervert that would check out his own sister…Jesus fucking Christ, Mom, don’t you have anything to say?”

“Watch your language, Ivory,” muttered her mother in a low, grave tone. Lightning flashed, immediately followed by thunder’s roar.

“Language? Watch my fucking language? That’s what you have to say. Wow,” Ivory sneered, her eyes as electrifying as the lightning all around them.

“I’m serious, Ivory!” her mother exclaimed, finally turning to look at her daughter. A devilish smile played on the corner of Ivory’s flaming lips. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d heard her mother raise her voice. “What has gotten into you, lately? You’re pretty face might be able to fool everyone else…But I’m your mother, and I see how black your heart is. I know I haven’t been the best mother and I know I haven’t always been there for you when you needed me, and for that I’m sorry, but I never raised you to be this…this…vindictive little witch you’ve become! Please, Ivory, listen to me, or your vanity will destroy you!”

“I. Hate. You.” No sooner than the words left Ivory’s mouth, she felt her mother’s cold hand slap hard against her face. She licked her lips, tasting the crimson blood now flowing freely. She gasped, stared at her mother in disbelief, then ran from the car, slamming the door with such force that the whole body shook. She fled into the house, never turning to witness her mother collapse sobbing upon the steering wheel.

…so she Decided to Run Away into the Dark Forest…

Ivory wasted no time. She grabbed her suitcase from her closet, stuffed it with her most promising outfits, and dashed out the back door before her mother even entered through the front. She yanked her iPhone from its hiding place in her bra and dialed her best friend Hunter’s number from memory. “C’mon, Hunter, pick up…” she mumbled frantically. Friends since grade school, Hunter remained the only person to never disappoint her. Over the past few years, he’d fallen face-first for her and she knew he would do whatever she asked.

“Hey babe, how was…” he answered, making no attempt to hide his excitement at her call.

Ivory interrupted. “Hunter, listen. I need you to come pick me up, like, now. I’ll tell you what’s up when I see you, but I need you to hurry. How fast can you get here?”

“Already on my way, babe. Be there in less than two. You aight? You’re kinda scarin’ me…” he voiced with concern.

“Yeah, I’m fine, don’t worry. I’ll talk to ya when you get her, k?”

“K babe, well then I guess ya betta start talkin’,” he said as skirted to the front of the house. Ivory laughed, shoved the phone back in her bra, and leapt from the safety of her covered porch into the pouring rain. She had never been more thankful for his maniacal driving skills. He opened the door for her from the driver’s seat and she plopped in with a sigh of relief. He took a minute to take her in, as he always did. Her wet hair clung to her body and beads of water dripped off her face. As his eyes lingered on her lips, he noticed the small cut. He reached out to stroke her but she pushed his hand away.

“Ugh, Hunter, I don’t have time this…would you drive already?”

“Sorry, babe, you can’t call a guy all frantic and mysterious, worry him half to death, sit down in his car with a bloody lip, and expect him not to wanna know what’s up.”

“Look, it’s no big deal, my Mom and I just got into it, alright. But I need a huge favor, okay?”

“Sure, babe, anything, you know that.”

“I need you to drive me to the city and drop me off. Then I need you to call my mom and tell her that I’m crashing at your place for a little bit. Can you do that?” asked Ivory, looking up at him underneath her long, dark lashes.

“Uh, I mean, I guess. Are you sure the city’s safe? Why don’t you come crash at my place for real? I’d sleep on the couch and you could have my bed if you wanted, nothin’ weird,” he eagerly proposed.

“No Hunter. I need to be somewhere where she can’t find me. I just want you to tell her I’m at your place so she doesn’t come looking for me for a while. She will come looking for me eventually, but when she does, I want to be far enough away that she won’t be able to find me. Besides, I’ll be fine in the city. People will help me. You tell me, who wouldn’t help this face?”

He chuckled uneasily. “Alright, babe, have it your way.”

“Aww, Hunter, you’re the absolute best!” she shrieked as she leaned over to kiss his cheek. They sat the rest of the drive in silence as she applied her lipstick, shade Red as a Rose, and tousled her damp hair.

…Where she Died. Happily Ever After.

Ivory waved as Hunter’s taillights disappeared in the distance. The sky had finished waging its war upon the earth, but nightfall rapidly approached and as confident as she was, the thought of sleeping in the filthy streets thoroughly scared her. She saw what appeared to be an old motel up ahead with a flickering neon sign that read “Shorty’s” and decided to investigate it closer. “Shorty’s” proved to be an accurate description, as she had to duck just to get through the front doors. The lights were dim and a faint smell of urine and booze tickled her nostrils. She considered leaving, but decided any bed had to be better than no bed.

“May I help you, miss?” inquired a gruff voice from across the room. She squinted through the musty air to barely make out a dingy counter with the outline of a man sitting behind it.

“Why yes, sir, you can,” she said as she sauntered towards him. Each clank of her heels against the hardwood brought the man’s face clearer into view. She gulped, for she had never witnessed someone so…grotesque. His arms were short and stubby, and it appeared that all the hair that might have once grown atop his head had been relocated to curl out from the top of his stained apron. He had blood under his fingernails that seemed to come from the many picked-at sores that were scattered over his face and arms.

“Something wrong, miss?” he asked with a crooked smile that revealed a set of file-sharpened teeth. This half-shark, half-troll looking man was a stranger to Ivory but the hunger in his eyes as he looked at her was all too familiar, so she decided not to waste an opportunity.

“Oh, nothing sir, it’s just getting dark out there, and I noticed this…uh, fine establishment…and I was hoping that a handsome man like yourself might be willing to show some hospitality to a girl all alone on her first night in the big city?” she said surreptitiously as she leaned slowly over the counter to give him a better glimpse of the merchandise.

The man’s smile grew wider. “I’m sure we can work something out, Princess. How about a night’s stay on-the-house?”

“That would be lovely, uh…”

“You can call me Chef, Princess. I’m in charge of the menu ‘round here. Speaking of menu, you must be thirsty. What can I get you? We call our bartender Doc, ‘cause he’ll get you feelin’ real good.”

“Now that you mention it, I could really go for a glass of Cabernet.”

“Cabernet, eh? Funny, I had you pegged as the Appletini type. Anywho, your room is the first on the left. I’ll have your drink brought to you.”

The room was empty, and the bed was made and seemed clean enough. Almost immediately, there was a quick rasp on the door, but Ivory opened it to find only her glass of wine sitting on the floor. She admired speedy service, however odd, and sipped the wine without a second thought. Ugh! How could her mother drink this stuff? She’d never had Cabernet before, only heard her mother order it at restaurants. In fact, this was only her second time drinking alcohol period. She remembered the first time. She and Hunter stole a bottle of…wait, she didn’t remember it making her this dizzy? She definitely didn’t remember it making her this sleepy. The last words her mother said to her echoed in Ivory’s mind as she collapsed exhausted onto the bed.

“Well boys, what did I tell you? She may be the sweetest one yet!” that familiar gruff voice announced waking her. Her eyes dashed around the room in horror to seven dwarfish men, each as gruesome as the one she recognized as Chef, smiling maliciously. One held a knife in one hand, her cut dress in the other. One smacked his lips approvingly. Another grunted, licked his lips, and clapped his hands. Her screams were smothered by duct tape, while zip ties bound her arms and legs to each bedpost, diminishing any chance she might have had at escape. She whimpered and shook, tears streaming down her face as each little man took their turn entering her until she bled.

“So pretty, so so pretty,” one whispered in her ear right before he bit it off, initiating a feeding frenzy. They nibbled at her flesh like piranhas, not leaving one piece of sinew intact. Chef, however, took one bite of her heart, then spat it out in disgust, saying it was much too bitter.

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