This is my entry to the 3rd challenge of the NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction 2019 Challenge. A yearly competition for writers from around the world (originally 3700+ of them) to create a 1000 word short fictional story in 48 hours based on 3 random prompts – a genre, a location and an object.
I was over the moon to discover I’d scraped through to the 3rd challenge. Scoring 3 points in the first round and 14 points in the 2nd round was enough to see me through. To be honest I’d forgotten about it, with my focus on NaNoWriMo I’d written off any chance of making it through given my low score in the first round.
You can probably imagine my horror when I read the prompt on Saturday morning. Fairy Tale / Rowing Boat / Podium. Dear oh dear. This is my first effort at what is essentially a kids story and I think I’ve discovered a new-found respect for those that specialise in the genre.
Deep in the woods, a kindly fox comes to the aid of an unhappy and scared princess.
ONCE UPON A TIME in a kingdom far away lived a sad little princess; for even princesses have days they dread. Her heart was racing as she looked down from the podium at the packed room. Hundreds of faces stared up at her expectantly.
Taking a deep breath, she started. “My …” her voice broke. The word resounded around the hushed room. She tried to continue, but words eluded her. Darkness descended over the room as she turned and ran. Down the staircase, into the cold night air. A familiar voice called out. “I know you’re upset, but please stop!”
She couldn’t go back and so she kept running. Through the castle gates and across the fields, until panting hard, she reached the woods. Throwing herself into the dense thicket, she pushed through brambles that tore at her dress as she stumbled and fell. She could go no further. Shaking, she hid in the darkness.
She awoke to the warm summer sun breaking through the rich green foliage. When had she’d fallen asleep? Surrounded by a lush green woodland full of wildflowers, she was scared and alone and knew she’d have to return home. Carefully, she started retracing her steps.
Before long, she was lost. As she trudged onwards her thoughts returned to her failed speech, what would they all be thinking of her? She didn’t notice the sun slipping behind the darkening clouds or the leaves falling from the trees. Head down, she was consumed by her thoughts and fears. The rustling of leaves underfoot, made her look up at the now autumnal woodland, its vibrant greens faded to dull browns as umber leaves fell all about.
Confused and scared, she pushed on. The last of the leaves stopped falling and long menacing shadows crept through the bare wood. Still, she couldn’t stop thinking of her failure on the podium. In the darkness, something stirred. The sudden snap of a twig startled her, and she spun around. In the gloom, a pair of orange eyes stared back at her. Terrified, she was about to run. Before a calming voice said. “I know you’re upset, but please stop!”
Curious, she asked. “Who’s there?”
The orange eyes grew large, as out of the murk a fox slinked towards her. It flicked its bushy tail and implored. “Please stop ruining my wood.”
“You can talk!”
“I talk all the time, but it’s only now that you’re listening,” the fox said, sniffing at the rotting leaves. “Can you see what you’re doing to the woods?”
She stared around the barren glade. “I didn’t do this!”
“Well, I don’t see anyone else, moping about.”
“I’m not moping, “she argued. Unhappy memories flashed through her mind. Even as she denied it, an icy chill blasted through the wood.
“Please, stop!” said the fox. His breath, now visible in the cold air.
“I can’t!” she admitted.
The fox sidled up beside her, its bushy tail brushing against her leg. “Of course you can,” he said, reassuringly. “Let’s start by getting you home, eh?” He sauntered off into the darkness. It took her a moment to catch up.
“Do you want to talk about it?” the fox enquired. She didn’t know where to start.
“If you’re not going to tell me, can you at least do something about this,” he said, twitching his nose. She looked down at the icicle and giggled. Carefully she broke it off.
“Thank you,” he sniffed.
Eventually, the woods gave way to a large calm lake. On its far shore, she could see the lights of the castle. “Thank you, but how do we-”
The fox leapt onto the side of a rowboat hidden amongst the undergrowth. He sat on the bow as she struggled with the oars. “If you talk to me. I might be able to help,” he offered. “I’m a good listener. Just look at these ears.”
She chuckled; he did have large ears. “I had to give a speech …” her voice wavered, and she stopped rowing. Once again, her fears overwhelmed her. The wind picked up; large waves threatened to overturn the boat.
“Be mindful of your feelings or we may sink,” the fox warned, calmly. “If you think you’re keeping it to yourself, you’re not. Your emotions are affecting everything around you.”
“Focus on the castle lights,” the fox shouted over the howling wind. “They will guide you home.”
Her emotions raged all around her. Through tearing eyes, she could see the comforting lights of home. Focusing on them, as the fox had instructed the storm around her began to slowly dissipate.
“Your emotions, your sadness. You have to let them go!” the fox said, as he jumped across and sat beside her. She broke down and cried for the first time, emotions she had carried alone for so very long flowed out of her. She wiped her eyes on his bushy tail.
“See, it never helps to keep things bottled up,” he said.
She smiled and hugged him. They watched the sunrise, reflected in the calm water.
“You’ll be okay princess.”
“Princess! You’ll be okay princess,” a familiar voice said, chasing away her strange dream. She opened her eyes and could see the castle in the distance. “Please take me home.”
ONCE UPON ANOTHER TIME in that kingdom far away a princess stood on a podium. Her heart raced, as she looked at the expectant crowd. Taking a deep breath, she started. “My parents-”
She hesitated. Darkness threatened to overwhelm her once again. In the shadows, a pair of orange eyes glinted, and a voice whispered. “Let them go.”
With courage she restarted. “My father was a great King. I promised both my parents I would be a greater Queen. That was my promise to them and my promise to you, my people.”
The bishop lowered the crown onto her head. Her loyal subjects bowed and cheered. “God save the Queen!”
Darkness faded as did the orange eyes with a final wink.