For this part of the series, I have again collaborated with the photographer David Kennedy. As before, he has given me a picture, this time an abandoned theme park castle, and I have written a story inspired by it. It’s my twisted version of a fairy tale. This is the last of the pictures David gave me, and we have no immediate plans to collaborate again, so if you love his work and would like to see more, you can check him out on Instagram as @grey.lord. If you are a creative person or artist and would like to collaborate with me, get in touch! Happy Easter, and enjoy…
Once upon a time is a very cliched and overused beginning to a fairy tale story. But since this is a fairy tale of sorts, or more precisely, an un-fairy tale, it is the best way to begin, or un-begin in this case. Once upon a time, there was a princess. She was a woman of exceptional beauty, with allure the likes of which, are rarely seen. It was said, that the princess was so attractive, that one would fall instantly in love, should they behold even her mere reflection. However, it was also said, that this overwhelming beauty, hid a very dark secret; that the brave souls who dared to venture into her castle, were never seen or heard from again. Over time, suitors decreased. Perhaps, because of the rumours, or perhaps because after years of disappearing men and women, there were few left.
And so, over time, the castle became overgrown by the surrounding forest, and the once white walls turned grey and cracked with age and neglect. The castle, and its single inhabitant, became a story to scare children, a fable, a whisper on the wind, and eventually, forgotten.
Prince Edward was a very handsome prince. Unfortunately, he was also a very spoiled and selfish Prince. He always wanted the very best of everything, and when his frivolous demands were not met to his satisfaction, he would throw tantrums tantamount to none, and have staff beaten for as little as not bowing low enough, or for his tea being too hot. His parents indulged him, as he was their only child, but even they had grown weary of his terrible attitude and childish behaviour. They had given him everything he had ever asked for, and now, they paid for it dearly. When he became of age for a wife, they were distraught, as he was so fussy about everything, that no maiden in their kingdom, or any other, was attractive enough. He dismissed them one after the other, because their hair was too shiny or too dull, they were too short or too tall, their eyes were the wrong colour, as he preferred blue, but the ones with blue eyes had the wrong shade of blue and so on and so forth. He strutted around like a peacock, constantly preening himself, and even polished the gold pendant he wore around his neck to create a mirror on one side, so he could stare at himself any time, any place. No woman could be worthy.
The King and Queen began to fear they would never have Grandchildren, and that the kingdom would be without a Queen, when an old book came into their possession. It contained a map to a castle, long forgotten, and described a treasure beyond wealth, a Princess whose beauty overshadowed all around her. And so, they sent their son, along with their bravest and best knights, to find this castle, and locate their future daughter in law. With a little luck, she would meet his ridiculously high demands, and at the very least, it would get him out of their hair for a while.
It took the knights seven days and seven nights to locate the castle, now entwined by barbs and branches, and hidden deep within a dark and eery forest. Although, it had felt like a lot longer, with the Prince complaining and whinging the entire time. When they located it, the bravest knight, and the head of the imperial army, chopped his way through the thick growth, slicing and cutting a path with his sword. He entered the castle, intending to scout for and remove any dangers within. But after many hours, he had still not returned.
The second bravest knight, took the same path, and entered through the heavy wooden door. Again, hours passed, but he never returned. The other knights, fearing for their comrades, were torn. They wanted to rescue them from whatever danger lay within, but they had also taken an oath to protect the Prince. One by one, the bravest of the remaining men entered the castle, asking the knight behind them to look after the Prince, until only the stable boy and the Prince remained. Two days had passed since the last knight had entered and failed to return, and the stable boy was sick of taking the brunt of the Prince’s selfish wrath, so, when the Prince was asleep, he took all the horses, planning to sell them and start a new life, and he swiftly buggered off.
When the Prince awoke, to find himself alone, with no knights, no horses and no stable boy, he was incensed with rage and despair. After throwing the worlds biggest hissy fit he came to the conclusion that, since he was not a trained soldier or an experienced woodsman, he had no choice really, but to enter the castle himself and locate his other men, or at least, find shelter.
The door was massive and heavy, and creaked as he pulled it open, revealing a world as dark as the forest outside. He crept inside slowly, trying not to make noise with his footsteps, terrified about what he would find. The only light, was the narrow beam which escaped from the gap of a door ajar. It created a path from almost exactly where he stood, across the chequered marble floor, to the room from which it emanated. Slowly, he made his way towards it, the light growing brighter with every step. The door opened without any application of force, as if it was expecting him.
The room inside had the same chequered floor. The walls were covered in heavy velvet curtains. Once, they would have been red and grand, but now, they had faded to a burnt, dirty orange. Cobwebs turned patches even paler, and moths had devoured whole sections, giving the impression that the cobwebs were all that held them together. A chandelier hung from the centre of the ceiling. Once gold, and shining, it was now brass, and spiders had made it their home too. The ceiling was cracked and crumbling, and the plaster moulded cherubs donning each corner, had lost wings, and even faces. They looked horrid, disfigured. The light was coming from the fire place, where a large fire burned and crackled. Grey and black dust coated every surface, almost like snow.
At one end of the room, he noticed a pile of objects, what, he could not tell. When he got closer, he realised they were shields and swords, chain mail armour and boot buckles. Some were new, and shone in the dim light, others were old and beginning to rust and degrade. He kicked over one of the shields, and discovered a red bear, the symbol of his own kingdom. A sinking feeling spread throughout his body as he realised they were dead, his men, his bravest knights. He did not mourn their loss, after all, they were just the help. He feared what had taken them, and what it would do to him.
“Hello my Prince.”
He froze, as he felt every hair on the back of his neck stand up. The voice had come from behind him, back towards the door. It was a sweet voice, a woman’s voice. Could this be the thing that took his men? He turned slowly, and was utterly amazed by what he saw. A woman, the beauty of which surpassed all others, stood before him. Her hair was long and the colour of spun gold. It shone, even in this dull light. Her skin was pale and perfect, and her eyes were the colour of the sky. She had pink, plump lips, which invited a kiss, and she smiled sweetly at him. She was slender, but curved in all of the right places, her body rising and falling like the hills which surrounded his kingdom. She was breathtaking. Suddenly, all thought of his men, and fear for himself dissolved as he took her in. Finally, he had found a woman worthy of his affections.
“My Lady, I, I…”
For the first time in his life, he was speechless. He stood, rooted to the spot, wide eyed and gaping.
“My Prince, I have waited for you for so long.”
“Of course. Only you are handsome and smart and brave enough to have my hand.”
He grinned from ear to ear. Not only was she beautiful, but she was obviously intelligent, perceptive, and a woman of exceptional tastes.
“Come to me my Prince.”
Without thinking, he shuffled towards her, but a thought niggled at the back of his brain. Something about shields? His crest? He couldn’t remember, every thought now absorbed by the splendour which now stood before him. It was as if a song played in his head, so quiet, it could barely be heard. A humming of something familiar and comforting.
When he reached her, she took his hands, and placed them around her waist. She smelled like freshly baked bread, and his mother’s rose perfume and every other smell he had ever loved, rolled into one. She was warm to his touch and he could feel her body moving as she breathed him in in return.
“Kiss me my prince.”
Without any hesitation, he softly placed his lips against hers. They felt like the finest silk, and tasted like honey. He felt a warmth spread from her through his body, like an electric current. It hummed the same way the tune did, the same pitch and tone, the same vibrations. He could feel every part of him vibrating gently, and for that moment he knew true happiness.
But then, the humming began to increase in intensity, at first becoming irritating, before it became painful. Soon, it felt as if thousands of volts were passing through him, and the heat, once warm and comforting, also increased, burning him from his core, outwards. He tried to pull away from her, but he could not move, he could not scream. It felt like lightening now, striking him over and over again. The pain was excruciating He could not speak, but in his mind, he begged her to stop, to release him, to let him go.
“You’re mine now. You will never leave this place. You will sustain me, you will feed me, you will become me.”
The voice echoed inside his mind, not sweet and feminine as before, but deep and bellowing. He began to feel fire spreading from inside his body, outwards, clawing and tearing at his nerves, shredding his flesh. He could see them now, the orange flames, engulfing his body, yet she remained unchanged, untouched. His nerves, now singed beyond use, lost all sensation, so the pain, in one sudden motion, stopped. He could no longer feel his body, but he remained trapped inside it, staring out at her closed eyes, her puckered, pink, perfect lips. As he watched her, he became aware of ash beginning to fill the air, and cover the curtains and floor in a light, grey dust. He knew it was him, that the ash was his body, disintegrating before his eyes. He was crumbling into nothing. He was dying.
The princess smiled with satisfaction. After such a long famine, she had had such a feast. Contented and fat, she vanished to the world beyond this world, awaiting her next prey. The ash settled over everything, the fire slowly died, and large gold pendant, mirrored pendant was added to the pile in the corner.