What happens when your fairy tale doesn’t come true?
And I don’t mean that your true love turns out not to be a prince. That happens all the time. And not when no fairy godmother comes and rescues you from you evil step-mother and you have to grow up and get a job and make your own self happy.
I mean, what happens when you actually do have a curse pronounced over you, a threat of death or a hundred year sleep or some sort of animal transfiguration and then it doesn’t happen. Should you be happy? Should you be very, very worried?
That’s the quandary I found myself in.
Let me go back to the beginning.
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess.
Except I wasn’t a princess. We did away with kings and queens about two centuries previous, so really, I was just an average little girl. I wasn’t even the president’s daughter, or the daughter of a movie star or anything. My parents had money, but that was because they owned a huge commercial farm.
They had ‘subjects,’ I suppose, but they each got a very good wage and a benefit package and were in all quite pleased to work for my father.
I didn’t know any of this, because to me, it was just ‘the farm.’ I remember having a hazy idea of a bucolic sort of countryside, with a little pasture with a half dozen cows, maybe a few sheep dotted around. The corn would wave lazily in the summer air and horses would sleep in a big red barn with white paint at the edges.
That’s what farms looked like in school. They were even complete with a pig wallowing the mud, which I thought was a fantastic idea. I tried it out at recess and spent the rest of the day dripping into the carpet of the principal’s office.
When I finally did go out to The Farm, it was a three hour drive into the boonies, with mom and dad arguing the whole way about whether we should have taken the interstate or not. As we were not on the interstate, I don’t see why it would matter, but I was too eager to see the barn and the pig and the cows to worry about it.
“There it is.” My dad said, pointing out the windshield.
I unbuckled, the ultimate no-no, and stood up to see where he pointed.
I blinked at the brown landscape.
“That’s the farm.” He said, grinning at me.
“Those buildings, there.”
I scowled. “Those are silos.” I knew that word. They held grain.
“Yep. Those ones there and those over there.” He pointed to the side. “And those ones you can just see at the horizon. All this,” he waved around. “Is our farm.”
“Where are the pigs?”
He grinned again, telling me he thought I was being funny. “We don’t have pigs. Pork futures are down though, maybe we should buy in.”
That was my mother, telling him she thought he was not being funny.
This stern order was enforced by a bump in the road. I went tumbling back to my seat. I buckled in and scowled. I was exceedingly disappointed with the lack of cows and pigs and mud.
We stopped soon after. My dad lifted me out of the truck, even though I was nearly twelve, thank you very much, and set me down in a gravel driveway.
“Mr. Beckons.” A man drawled out. I turned.
“Jeff!” my dad said cheerfully. He clapped the man on the shoulder. “Glad you could come.”
This Jeff shrugged with one shoulder, looking odd in a pair of coveralls and boots. He had a sort of gas mask on. I wondered what on earth he could be getting up to.
“This is my girl, Becca.”
The man eyed me. I stared back. I thought he might have smiled, but with the mask on I couldn’t tell. His eyes were twinkling, though.
“Miss Becca.” He said gravely, holding out his hand. I shook it, just as I had seen my dad do. His hand was rough, calloused. He must be a farm worker.
“Mr. Jeff.” I returned coolly. He did smile then; I could see his eyes narrow, like he was grinning at me. I scowled some more and turned away.
They talked over my head. I watched as a huge tractor inched across the field, looking like a squat green beetle, a smaller one trailing just behind.
“What’s that?” I asked, pointing.
“That,” Jeff said above me. “Is a combination harvester.”
“What does it do?”
“It cuts down the wheat, chops up the stalks, threshes it and puts it in the truck.”
“All at once?” I asked, amazed out of my initial distrust.
“All at once.” He said. He lifted his mask off his face, perching it on his forehead. He grinned down at me, dirty and sweaty and covered in a light yellow dust.
I peered at him. He was younger than I thought. My basis for age was not concrete. Most men I placed in a category with my father, old, or the boys I went to school with, not old. This man seemed somewhere in between.
“How old are you?” I asked at once.
He gave me an odd look. “Why? How old are you?”
“I’m eleven and three-quarters.”
His mouth twitched like he wanted to smile at me again. “Wow, almost twelve years old.”
“Yes. How old are you?”
“Let’s see…” he thought moment. “I’m eighteen, seven months, a week and…two days.”
I sniffed, then sneezed. “You’re dusty.”
“Yes,” he agreed. “I’ve been loading trucks.”
“Becca!” My mother’s voice cut over my next question.
“Good-bye, Mr. Jeff.” I said formally. She was forever going on about manners and things.
“Good-bye, Miss Beckons.” He said, grinning again.
I hurried after my mother. She took my hand and held it tight, which meant we were going to see things that were dangerous and exciting and she didn’t want me running off and falling into something.
I was very good at doing that. I was always falling into pits or getting lost in enchanted woods. Once, I almost was trampled by a unicorn and barely got out alive. So, you can see I was already the perfect candidate for a fairy tale, even if I wasn’t magic.
I watched as Jeff, his mask back in place, and a few others moved some levers and things and a wave a grain came pouring out of a shoot, filling a the back of a truck. I could see why he was wearing the mask. A great cloud of dust rose up, painting them all a fresh yellow brown.
Mom stayed well back, but Dad jumped right in, getting his jeans and hands dirty. It was boring.
“Charles!” mom exclaimed, forgetting herself enough to let me go in order to scold Dad better. I eased away, still hoping for pigs or cows. Even chickens would have been acceptable.
I walked to the edge of the gravel. The grain started immediately, like a shifting wall of grass. It was very pretty.
I imagined myself slipping through it, like an Indian maiden, a bow slung over my back, looking for my little paint pony that had wondered away. There was a mountain lion I was stalking and I had to move as silent as the wind or he would hear me and pounce.
Caught up in my imagination, I took a step into the wheat.
A strong hand grabbed the back of my shirt and hauled me back.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“Put me down!” I shouted, struggling.
Jeff laughed. “Don’t wonder off, girly.”
I scowled at him. “Shut up!”
His eyes went wide. “Wait until I tell your mother!”
“Tell her what you want!” I snapped, close to tears and furious about it. “Let me go!”
He dropped me in a heap. I jumped up and dusted myself off, kicked his shin and fled back to my parents.
“What is it?” my dad asked as I ducked behind him. I hid my face against his pant leg.
Jeff came up, his mouth tight. “She’s twelve, you say?”
“Nearly.” My mother answered, absently.
“Huh.” Was all he said in response. I bristled. He thought I was being a baby, throwing a tantrum. I glared at him and he glared back. I did not like his smile when he turned away.
I occupied myself for the rest of the afternoon with thoughts of stalking him, leading him into my cleverly designed traps and letting the mountain lion have him. I was not the most gentle-minded child.
Finally it was time to go. It had been incredibly dull. My dad talked with the workers, looked over some things in the little office to one side, made some notes and then we headed back to the car.
The beetle-harvester was facing a different direction, but it hadn’t seemed to have moved at all.
“Say, why don’t you come to dinner?” my dad asked Jeff as they dawdled by the truck. That’s what Mom called it, dawdling, meaning everyone else wanted to go and you were holding everything up.
“Not tonight,” Jeff said, wiping his face with a dirty hand. He left a brown streak across his forehead. “Tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow it is.” My dad said, oblivious to the frantic and silent signals I was sending him. He came finally, patting his jeans to get the worst of the dirt off.
“I still think he’s too young for such responsibility,” my mother said as she dusted me off the same way.
“He’s the best.” Dad said. “He knows just when to water, when it will be a dry summer, hail storms. It’s amazing; like he can feel the land.”
“He can’t be magic.” Mom snapped, affronted at the very idea.
Dad shrugged. “I don’t care. As long as he saves my crops, he’s got a job.”
The idea of him being magic was intriguing. I stood on tiptoe to look over the hood of the truck. He was talking with some of the workers, laughing. He saw me looking and waved.
I stuck out my tongue and whirled around.
There was a woman in the wheat.
I gasped, backing up until I hit the hot metal of the truck door behind me.
“Becca? Becca, where’d you…” Mom’s voice died away in strangled gasp like mine.
The woman stepped out of the stalks. It was almost like she rose up out of them, her dress the same yellow-brown-green, rustling, hissing. I watched with wide eyes as she walked across the gravel, little whirlwinds rising under her feet with each slow step.
I eased to the side and scrambled back to my parents. I turned my face away, not wanting to see whatever magic Jeff could use in action. Did this woman tell him when the rains would come? When it would be dry and hot?
He father’s hands gripped into my shoulders, biting.
“What do you want?” he asked, harshly.
I peeked. She wasn’t standing before Jeff. She was looking at me. At me.
I shivered. Her eyes were the same yellow-brown, shimmering, like grass blowing in the wind.
“This girl,” she said. We all flinched away. Her voice creaked like old boards, dry and ancient. “This girl is cursed.”
“What?” my mother demanded, throwing herself in front of me. “How dare you curse her!”
“I have spoken no such thing.” The woman said sternly. “I only tell you what has already happened. She is cursed. She will reach eighteen summers. Then she will be struck down. That is all I know. You have been warned.”
I blinked, throwing my hand up as the wind gusted, blowing grit and chaff in my face.
My mother started screaming.
It was a confused jumble after that. The police were called It was impossible to arrest someone who could just disappear into thin air.
Finally all the flashing cars went away, leaving us standing in the growing darkness.
“Let’s go.” Dad said. He picked me up and put me in the car. I was still a little shocked about the whole thing. And confused. Being struck down didn’t sound so bad. I didn’t like to fall down as much as the next kid, but so what? I’d scrape my knees and then get up again. I fell all the time. I had a band-aid on my left leg right now. Maybe it had already happened?
Jeff ended up coming for dinner, but he didn’t smile at all. He and my dad sat and talked late into the night. I could hear their voices rumbling downstairs.
My mother cried over me as she tucked me into bed. I watched her, patting her hand.
“Don’t worry, mom,” I said. “I’ll be fine. Who cares about a stupid curse?”
She threw her arms around me and sobbed. Eventually I fell asleep, listening to the wind and wondering where people went when they disappeared.