Sunday, November 15, 2009

Chapter Sixty-One

A raven flies clumsily over the forest of tangled thorns. It is missing one of its main feathers, so it dips and falls erratically. But it speeds ever faster toward the castle atop the Forbidden Mountain.

Here is the home of the uninvited enchantress. Here the Queen will find her answer.

After an eternity of walking, it takes her only moments to reach the castle, dark and cold.

Its many windows are pristinely colored and depict images from long, long ago. The glass, were it not made from magic, would have been an extravagant fortune.

Quickly, she circles the countless towers and turrets. Precious time is wasted looking for an entrance - the spell, devoid of blood or flesh, will not last long - but perhaps a dark force looks out for the Queen, or perhaps the castle wants her inside, for she finally finds an open window and flies in toward her destiny.

Surprisingly, it is not dark within the castle. Torches pulse faintly with an otherworldly glow. Fairy lights, they call them, and they are said to lead travelers toward their doom.

She flies as best she can, bumping against the ceiling numerous times, but it is better than being snatched down by an errant claw. Who knows how many of the creatures are trapped in here? And she feels fortunate, though ever more cautious, that there are no closed doors - they have all been smashed down.

And so the Queen flies, searching for items of magic. They are everywhere in this castle, for everything has been created by the Dark Fairy, but they are as worthless to her cause as the torches.

Rooms of torture. Rooms of pleasure. Rooms filled with the skins of monsters, stuffed into fearful poses. A gallery of stone figures - would-be heroes caught cowering or standing defiant, all dead. A pastoral garden, indoors, the plants still plump and smiling, despite no water or sunlight.

And at last, a room of blackness, dark and dreary, except for a large red book. It glows and pulses with a strange heartbeat. It is alive, and waits to be read once more.

Its power causes the Queen to break into a sweat, though she doesn’t know birds could do such a thing. Without realizing it, her enchantment has worn off, snuffed out by the power of the Grimoire.

Trembling, she dares not touch it, for it is open to a spell... the final spell cast by the Dark Fairy. Its pages glow and thrum. Blood flows through them. The letters glisten and squirm - they were written in something more ageless than ink.

And though the language is none spoken on this mortal realm, the Queen reads it with practiced eyes. She unconsciously mouths the words with an unknowable hunger. Her lungs fill with the breath of magic.

This is the Curse of Living Death, the spell that gave life to that which is dead, a spell of creation, a spell of oblivion, a spell of destruction.

The Queen could never know why the Dark Fairy cast it, whether it was some minor spite for a forgotten festival invitation, or the scorned affections of a pure-hearted mortal, or whether she merely wanted to corrupt death itself. But she did something that none could do, that none should do, and the worlds fell.

Enchanted by the aroma of power, the Queen takes hold of the pages. In this Grimoire are so many spells, one must surely hold the answer. It is not of human creation - it comes from beyond time.

She barely notices the blood draining from her hands as she touches the pages. It is a small and worthwhile sacrifice, her blood for the Grimoire’s knowledge.

And the Queen is nothing compared to these spells. She, a mere mortal, who fancied herself a sorceress. And her own spellbook, priceless and unique in the world, is nothing compared to what the Grimoire contains.

The rapture of knowledge, the beauty of the sacrifice, the words that can change the world - she thanks the dark forces for choosing her to see such truths.

Instantly, she knows the Dwarf lied to her - that his bite wasn’t cursed, that she herself was never dying. But it doesn’t matter.

And for the first time in her life, the Queen feels humbled that she was chosen. Her half-mad companion, for all her inbred idiocy, was something inhuman, something from the realms of magic and so deserved this sight more than the Queen.

But she fell, and it was the Queen who was chosen.

Such spells, so many ways to change this world, which is nothing, really. Nor even the worlds beyond. They are nothing, they are pages to be written upon, or clay to be sculpted - such power these beings have!

The plague of death is nothing. It isn’t life from a corpse, it is a living puppet, it is a cough in the night, it can be fixed and changed as surely as she can make an image disappear from a mirror by covering it with a cloth.

The power courses through the Queen’s soul. The Grimoire drinks thirstily from her fingertips, and she finally listens with her ears, her weak, useless ears, nothing compared to a rabbit’s or a dog’s, but she hears the scratchings on the floor.

And she finally realizes she is not alone.

She turns, and while touching the Book she can see everything – the chamber is as brightest day, and she sees through the great and mighty dragon for what it truly is: the Uninvited Enchantress.

And the Dark Fairy is long dead, her insides chewed, the scales eaten through. An act of childbirth that brought her death. She is the mother from whom the dead first found life. And yet she is alive, she is a plaything of the Spell, she is one of the cursed.

When the Spell went wrong, and the Spell must have gone wrong, her final act had been to transform into this creature. Trapping herself in the Room of Magic, she fought her children, her creations. And inevitably, she died.

To wait, hungry and patient, and, without knowing it, to protect the Grimoire from any interruption.

And now comes an insect, weaker than a dog or rabbit, already her soul is being fed to the Grimoire, but the Dragon, the Enchantress, may feed upon the flesh.

Too late, the Queen sees how the Grimoire protects itself, and still she will not let go, she wants to sacrifice herself, she wants it to drink her blood, she wants the wisdom of death, and it never bothers her, it’s such a paltry little thought, that her body is already dead.


Disney Zombies will conclude with Part III on Sunday, January 3, 2010.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Chapter Sixty

The Wolf doesn’t end up eating the parrot. The Dwarf won’t let him.

“Eh, didn’t want it, anyway,” mutters the Wolf. “It was just a bunch of skin and bones.”

“Sour grapes,” says the Dwarf.

There’s a moment of uncomfortable silence. The Wolf folds his arms and tries to appear casual by leaning against the fireplace.

“So yer really going, huh?” he asks for the third time.

“Yar,” says the Dwarf. He pats down his toolbelt, looks around the nursery one last time, and tightens the twine that is knotted around the parrot’s legs.

The Wolf scoffs. “Just gonna leave us,” he says, but somehow the guilty look on the Dwarf’s face doesn’t bring him any pleasure.

“You can take care of yourself,” growls the Dwarf, “and I’ve done all I can fer the girl.”

We've done,” says the Wolf.

“She’s as safe here as anywhere else.” For some reason, the Dwarf can’t bring himself to look at her bed. “And she’s got a good nursemaid to look after her.”

The bonneted dog sits up a little straighter and cocks her ear in salute. The Wolf glares at her, but she’s grown used to ignoring him.

“And me!” The Wolf doesn’t like the whine that’s crept into his voice, and he clears his throat harshly. “I’ve been riskin’ my neck every night findin’ food!”

The Dwarf grants him that with the slightest of nods. “Fair enough, but there’s a prince out there that needs help. And by gar, I’m gonna help him.”

“Yeah, well, yer wastin’ yer time,” sneers the Wolf. “He’s probably dead. And you don’t know where he is, anyway.”

“You don’t know nothin’,” says the Dwarf. He pulls out the parrot’s golden key, now securely tied around his neck. “You know where this was made? I’ll tell ya. From the Far East, off in one of them desert kingdoms. Merchants pay a fortune fer this kind of craftsmanship back home.”

Seeing the greedy glint in the Wolf’s eyes, he tucks away the key and continues hurriedly, “Not that that means anything nowadays. You can have all the gold you want, and what’s it good for? Nothin’. Can’t eat it, can’t fight the deathlings with it, can’t keep you warm or build a suitable shelter.

“But if this prince sent away this key, it must mean something. That bird died gettin’ this message to us. And lemme tell ya, I’d rather find out what it means than sit here all winter eatin’ yer leftovers.”

The Dwarf double-checks the barricades over the windows and the entrances. He humphs and mutters, but cannot find any faults that could delay them any longer.

Wanting something to do with his hands, the Wolf wanders toward Cinderella’s bed. He smooths out her already smooth quilt and clears his throat again.

“So what am I supposed to do?” he finally asks.

The Dwarf shrugs and looks away.

When it becomes clear the Dwarf isn’t going to speak, the Wolf says, “Well, maybe I should come with you, then.” He steps in front of the only open window.

“I thought yer still wounded,” says the Dwarf.

“I am,” responds the Wolf. He rubs at his stitches, which are now all but invisible beneath his matted fur. “But I can climb like nobody’s business, and I can smell and hear and fight a lot better than you.

“And another thing,” says the Wolf. “I know yer going the wrong way. That bird flew in from the east, and this window faces west.”

“Don’t I know it.” The Dwarf peers over the window sill. “But I ain’t goin’ this way. They are.”

He nods down at the dead creatures milling about. The Dwarf checks the parrot and the length of twine, opens and closes his fist several times, and pulls out his shortest, sharpest knife.

“What’re you doing?” asks the Wolf, but his question is ignored.

After rolling up one sleeve, the Dwarf slices lightly at his arm. The blood flows quickly, and he wipes the wound with the parrot’s body. Soon it is a sticky mess of feathers and blood, and then he begins unraveling it down the side of the house.

“I know it ain’t dignified,” he says to the parrot, “and I’m sorry, but it’ll help us a lot more than it’ll bother you.”

The creatures below immediately take notice. Whether it’s the scent of fresh blood or the sight of something red and wet, they claw at the parrot with a desperate hunger.

At the window’s ledge, the Dwarf stops unraveling the twine once the parrot is just out of reach of the tallest corpse.

He smiles grimly at the Wolf. “That’ll keep ‘em busy for a while. Now, come on, we’re goin’ up the chimney.”

At the fireplace, the Dwarf finally turns and faces the bed. “You watch over her,” he says sternly to the bonneted dog, and she nods once.

“And you,” he says to the sleeping maiden, but he has no words, no use for good-byes or empty wishes of a safe return.

Turning, the Dwarf and the Wolf silently climb the chimney.

It's the last time either of them will ever see Cinderella.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Chapter Fifty-Nine

The Lion does not speak. He merely pads away, dignified and slow, from the forlorn castle. Though the windows are full of staring eyes, he refuses to look back. It’s best to remain gracious in defeat, lest he lose control.

“Why wouldn’t they come with us?” asks Pinocchio. He keeps glancing behind and waving.

“The Master is hurt,” says the Clock. It daintily picks its legs through the fallen branches and leaves. “And it’s their duty to remain by his side.”

“Oh,” says the puppet. “But don’t they want to bring your friend back to life?”

“Of course they do,” says the Candelabra. “But... your plan is a hard thing to believe in, you must understand. We’ve witnessed her die. Twice.”

“And hope is a fragile thing,” says the Clock. Its voice takes on a poetic lilt. “Fragile as a rose in the winter.”

“I believe you’re speaking of love,” says the Candelabra.

“No, love would be the sun in this particular metaphor...”

The Lion suppresses the urge to scream.

His plan has failed miserably. Only two agreed to follow him.

A clownish brigade of three soldiers - this is the bloodless army he’s dreamed of leading? A fine enough trio, he thinks with utmost sarcasm, to find his food and protect him from the dead.

And out of this merry band of four, despite being the strongest, the smartest, the master of tooth and claw, he is the only one who is vulnerable.

His thoughts are interrupted by the baritone voice of the Candelabra.

“Monsieur Lion,” it says. “Tell us, how exactly do you intend to revive the Mademoiselle?”

“Yes,” adds the Clock. “You were a bit vague about that part of the plan.”

The Lion remains silent. Being in front, his face remains hidden from the others, so they cannot see his scar darken. He hasn’t yet come up with a suitable lie for this particular question.

“My father can do it,” Pinocchio pipes up suddenly, and once again, the Enchanted Mirror flashes to life with a vision of Gepetto.

“He can?” says the Candelabra. It peeks into the Mirror, and looks less than hopeful at the skinny old man.

“Oh, I know he can!” says Pinocchio. “He brought me to life, didn’t he? He can ask the Blue Fairy, easy, and she’ll help us all. Why, she’ll probably fix everyone!”

The Clock appears unconvinced. “If that’s the case, why hasn’t she done so already?”

Pinocchio considers for a moment. “Maybe she hasn’t thought to. We just have to ask her, and she’ll do it. Why, that must be it! She only helped Father because he wished for it, wished with all his heart.”

The Lion turns to stare at the puppet for a moment. He decides this lie is as good as any, and smiles warmly. “Of course, that’s exactly what I was thinking. Well done, my friend.”

“Now,” says the Candelabra, “we just have to find him.”

“But he could be anywhere,” complains the Clock.

The Lion continues to smile. He is thinking the exact same thing. He can take them anywhere – anywhere he wants - in the search for Gepetto.

“I think I know where he is,” says Pinocchio. “Look.”

He holds up the Enchanted Mirror. It depicts the old man fighting off one of the undead. He smashes a heavy stave upon a crawling, trampled woman.

For a moment, the Lion wonders what the boy is seeing - was she the victim of an elephant stampede? The wounds are familiar, but harder to understand when they are on Man rather than on beast. Is the old man living in the Wildlands?

“Sacre bleu,” says the Candelabra.

And then the Lion sees it. It isn’t how the corpse was killed, it’s why she is crawling.

She has no legs.

Or, rather, in place of legs, she has the tail of a fish.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Chapter Fifty-Eight

The days trickle into weeks, and the summer darkens into fall.

The bonneted dog suddenly looks up from her position at the foot of Cinderella’s bed, which she’s guarded faithfully since their arrival. She bounds over to the nursery window and - despite the Wolf’s best efforts to silence her - begins barking loudly.

“What is it?” grumbles the Dwarf. The dog never barks, despite the horde of dead bodies that eternally watch from the streets below. This must be something different. He reaches for his spear-axe and peers suspiciously out into the cityscape.

“Look,” says the Wolf, and he flicks his snout.

After a moment, the Dwarf’s beady eyes pick it out - something small and colorful wavering in the morning sky. “Hmph,” he mutters. “Don’t see many birds nowadays.”

He doesn’t like the way it’s flying erratically - could be cursed or bitten. It flaps its wings for as long as it can, then rests and dips closer to the ground, then finally forces itself to fly for a few seconds more.

Once the bird hears the dog barking, it changes course, and finally, with much difficulty, lands on the window ledge.

They stare silently at the bird - a red parrot - for some time. The Wolf begins salivating, even though it wouldn’t be much of a meal.

Maybe once it was plump, judging from the folds of flesh that hang from its frame. But like all the other survivors, it’s lost too much weight. Now, the biggest thing about the parrot is its beak, and even that is no longer a bright and cheerful yellow, but dull and flat.

“Get it some water,” says the Dwarf, once he’s satisfied that it isn’t infected. But something’s wrong with the bird - it shudders and breathes fitfully and its eyes cannot seem to focus.

“You get it,” snaps the Wolf.

The Dwarf grumbles under his breath, but before he can stump to the pail of water, the bonneted dog pads forward, the tin dipper held carefully between her teeth.

At first the Wolf rolls his eyes, but then he experiences a pang of unexpected jealousy as the Dwarf takes the dipper and gently pets the dog. “Yer a good girl,” he says, which she accepts with her usual stoicism.

The Dwarf places the tip of his finger into the dipper, and then gently places it next to the parrot’s beak. Drops of water coat its cracked black tongue.

“What’s that?” asks the Wolf.

“It’s a jungle bird,” growls the Dwarf.

“No, stupid. I mean, on its leg.”

The sunlight flashes on something attached to the parrot’s leg. “Gold?” says the Dwarf. Before the Wolf can step forward, he unties the piece of string.

It’s a key. A miniature golden key. And though he wasn’t a goldsmith in the old days, like all Dwarfs he recognizes skilled craftsmanship of any precious metal or jewel. And while this key wasn’t created by a Dwarf, the man who made it hadn’t done that bad of a job.

Ignoring the hungry look in the Wolf’s eyes, the Dwarf pockets the key. Later, he will scowl at its elegant flourishes and curlicues, and wonder why a smith would waste so much detail on such a tiny item.

“Help,” coughs the parrot in a scratched and parched voice. Although it can no longer see, it seems calmed by the warm hands, the cool water.

“Shh, we’re helpin’ ya,” says the Dwarf. “Just rest up, regain yer strength.”

The parrot sputters and coughs some more. The Dwarf wets his finger and places it in the parrot’s beak, but the water drips uselessly from its mouth.

“Not me,” squawks the parrot in an exasperated near-whisper. “Help the prince.”

And then it dies.