It’s been a little while. I wrote this story in creative writing class and wanted to share it with you. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.
A modern fairytale
The box was brown, wrapped in red twine. A red and white card hung off the side, reading “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” in block letters. I scooped the box up and balanced it on my hip as I stuck my key into the door and swung it open. I dropped the box and my backpack on the couch, swooping into the kitchen to kiss my brother Nate on the cheek. My mother poked her head out of the hallway.
“Who’s the box from?” she called.
“Not sure, haven’t opened it yet,” I responded, hopping off of the counter and snagging a potato chip from Nate. I snatched the box off of the couch and glanced at the card as I tore off the twine.
“From Grandma,” I yelled, and crumpled the paper up as I threw it into the trash can. I pulled something red and velvety out of the box, held it up, and stared. Nate leaned around the kitchen door, and chuckled. I bit the inside of my cheek.
“What is i-” my mother walked into the living room and laughed. I held the red velvet cape a little lower, and peered over it.
“When,” I asked, “am I ever going to wear a red cape?”
“I asked your grandmother for one, when I was twelve,” said my mother. “I wonder if it’s her odd way of reminding me.”
My mother was a person who, as a child, dreamed of being the tooth fairy, or Mrs. Claus. It made sense that her birthday wish at twelve might have been for something out of the ordinary. I felt something sickening in my stomach. Weirdly, though, it seemed to me as though it was more than my grandmother’s way of reminding her. Grandma hadn’t called lately, and when she did she called me the wrong name- my mother’s name, Althea.
I dropped the cape onto the couch and shrugged.
“Who knows? I have a few things to pick up before tonight, so I’m just going to go out and grab them.” I patted my mother on the shoulder and went to my room to change from leather boots into Uggs. My mother entered the room, toting the red cape and a basket.
“I know that you really like fairytales, but I’m not wearing that into the city.”
Mom sighed, and threw the cape over my shoulders, looking into our reflection in the mirror. She brushed my hair off of my forehead. I almost look like her, although I am dwarfed in comparison. She claims that I get my height from my fathers side of the family; that I look more like them in general. But looking at us in the mirror, I see more similarities than differences. Her eyes, like mine, are blue- but hers are darker. We have curly hair, though mine is a vibrant shade red and hers is complementary to her pale skin. We both have freckles, but I have less. I look like a faded image of my mother, a pale imitation; an abstract sketch- close, but not quite right.
“Wear the cape, just this once, and take this basket to Grandma. Her birthday is tomorrow, after all. And it will make her happy to see you in it. After that,” she threw her hands up, “you never have to wear it again. Come on, Red, do it for me.”
I cross my eyes at the old nickname, smile and kiss her cheek, picking up my purse and the basket.
New York is a universe unto itself, complete with its own monsters and demons. The skyscrapers tower above the city like overlords, blocking out the sun. Homeless people congregate near the street, while the rich run around them like water over rocks. These are the two types of people that you almost never see on the subway. But that does not take away from the complete oddness that is a New York subway. The subway is a catalogue of unusual characters; human and otherwise. An overweight woman clutches a goldfish bowl, complete with two goldfish. They swim around their bowl, looking lost and out of place, which, on a subway, they definitely are. There’s a guy, probably 19, who is covered entirely in tattoos. A black widow spider glares at me from the palm of his hand. A twenty something with a parrot is occupying a handhold, and the people around him are giving him a large berth. The parrot caws and spews insults at another passenger who gets too close, and I understand why. I lean back against the metal ridges on the doors as the fluorescent lighting flickers irritatingly. The familiar three bell warning sounds, and I step away from the door and force my hand into an already occupied loop, getting a dirty look from parrot man. The blackness outside is severe, this city filled with an awkward darkness that street lights seem not to illuminate.
I hop onto the sidewalk, feeling the contents of my basket bumping around. I sigh and hike the strap of my purse up, brushing off my cape and realizing the reason for the odd looks I keep getting. Swiping my subway card, I step out of the terminal and into the oddly bright darkness of the city. I buzz my way into my grandmothers apartment, bypassing the elevator to walk up the dark and dirty stairs. The last time I was here, the elevator broke and I was stuck for three hours with a woman who spoke not a single word, but drank the three mini bottles of vodka that someone must’ve stashed behind the baseboard. In her defense, she offered me some of it.
I knock on her door, and walk in. The door is unlocked, and it’s dark inside, except for a light shining from the end of the hall. I set the basket on the coffee table, and turn towards the hallway. My heart starts beating in my stomach, having sunk out of my chest. I remind myself that my childhood fears do not need to emerge, and stuff them into the back of my mind. Shaking my head, I walk slowly down the hallway, dispelling nightmarish thoughts. The doorknob is metal, and warm to the touch. I realize that it’s freezing in the apartment- odd for November, when the heat should be on. I turn the knob, and step into the room. There’s a lump under the covers on the bed, and I breathe a deep sigh of relief, striding over and placing my hand on grandma’s shoulder. But it’s not my grandmother that sits up in the bed, and it’s not my grandmother who claps a rag over my mouth and pulls me towards him.
“Ironic cape,” he hisses in my ear. I try to scream, feeling myself drift into blackness.
I wake up screaming, tears streaming down my face. Sweat drips down my skin, and my head spins. My stomach aches, and I shiver. I swallow, my mouth dry and cottony. Tears drip onto the floor and I sit up slowly, pressing my palms against the floor. Concrete, I think, and covered in something grimy. My eyes start to adjust, and I move my head slowly, taking in the room. There are bars in the wall, a room on the other side. It’s almost completely black. I lift my hand up and stare until I can make out the silhouette. I drop my hand into my lap, and behind the silhouette of my hand, another dark figure appears. I scream, feel my stomach drop. My breath grows ragged and my heart is making desperate efforts to escape my chest, which is shrinking rapidly.
“Shh,” the figure says. Male, definitely. The same man as before, I think. He bends down and I feel him staring at me. I can’t make out the features of his face. There is a dim crack of light beneath what must be the door. The light illuminates him, brightening the outline of the man.
“What do you want.” I choke out, drawing my knees up to my chest. My throat cracks and I swallow hard.
“Nothing. Just to tell you how things work… around here.” He stands and takes a step back
I take a deep breath and cough as cool, putrid air hits the back of my throat.
He clears his throat.
“You do as you’re told. Not that there is much. This,” he gestures at the space around us, “is your new home. There’s a candle near the door.”
He turns slowly, and his profile is illuminated. I gasp and press my spine into the cold concrete, my fingernails etching scratches into my thighs. I let my head fall back and thunk gently against the wall.
A few days have passed. At least, I think they have. I found a bucket by the door, full of what I hope is water. It tastes rusty, but it’s better than dying of thirst. I haven’t seen him again, since he came in that first time.
My mind bounces between this unknowable reality and memories of happier times. I’m afraid that eventually, the reality will fade away, and I will exist in my past. I open my eyes in the darkness, and reach out for the pack of matches that I found by the door. There are only a few left. I strike one, and light the candle he left for me.
“Happy Birthday,” I whisper to myself. If I’ve been counting right, I am officially 18. An adult.
In my dreams, I am five, and Nate is tugging on my red curls from the way back of the car. He’s telling me that my new nickname is Red. I call to my mother that he is playing with my curls, trying to bother me. She calls back to us to play nicely, and I stick out my tongue at him. He grabs it, which is our old game, but when I look at him, I realize it isn’t Nate, but my kidnapper. In the light of my dream, his face takes on the distinct wolfy features that I thought I imagined in his silhouette.
I wake up breathing hard, and look around my cell, still illuminated by the last of the candle. It’s concrete, and it’s filthy. There is black sludge in the far corner. The ceiling looks as though something is leaking through it, something red-brown and rusty. The wall to my right has a window in it. At first I was excited to discover it, until I realized that the window looks into the next cell, which is empty, and black bars stretch from top to bottom, like the windows of a prison.
I hear footsteps in the hallway, and I stand, pressing my back against the wall. My door opens, and a foot appears between the frame and the door. Just as quickly, the door closes. I walk closer to it, slowly, and I think I hear voices. There’s the wolf, definitely… is he talking to himself?
The Wolf’s raspy voice hisses a question at whatever poor soul is standing in the hallway.
The voice that responds is male. Maybe in his twenties. His words are very round, and he sounds a little scared.
I hear footsteps walk away, and I press my forehead into the door. So close, and yet so far. I would have screamed, but the Wolf would kill me, and now there’s no point. Even Superman can’t hear through foot thick walls of concrete and metal doors. I crawl back to my area at the back of the room, and wrap the red cape around me. It really does nothing to protect against the dark chill in this room, but it’s a tie to my grandmother.
Footsteps. A door opens. But it’s not my door. Light streams in from the cell next to mine. I close my eyes slowly, and open them again to find a flashlight pointed at my face.
“Oh my god,” says a male voice; it’s the boy from the hallway. I scramble towards the cell window. He drops the light in such a way that it illuminates both of our faces. I gasp, this time. It’s the boy from the subway. The tattooed boy. He reaches out his hand, and I take it slowly. He sinks to the ground and stares at me. His eyes are green, like sea glass, and he has day old stubble across his cheeks. I push up his sleeve and stare at the black widow spider inked into his skin. This, for some reason, is important right now.
“Why a spider,” I whisper, tracing the black lines.
“For my dad,” he says slowly. He pulls his sleeve up slowly, pointing out different symbols for different people; his sister, his grandmother, his brother, his niece and nephew. He looks at his tattoos, and I look at him. He is aristocratic looking, almost; delicate features, straight teeth. His ears are pierced, and on him it works.
“Where did you come from?” I murmur, and he answers me. His name is Trevor. His father owns a lumber company which also does carpentry, and the place that I’m in is undergoing renovations.
“It’s a really disgusting place, actually, and I don’t think dad would do the work, normally. But, money’s hard. So if you’ve got to patch up old bars and strip clubs, it’s what you do. Do you know where you are?” he asks.
“He told me,” I say, and shake my head, “that I’m in the Belly of the Beast.” He blinks and laughs a little bit.
“That’s true. It’s a bar. You’re below it.”
I’m stricken by all of the panic of the past few days.
“Please, please get me out of here.”
He nods, a promise, and leaves the room. I wait for what seems like hours, and then I give up. Hot tears spill over my cheeks, and I am terrified by the sound of my own misery. And then a crash from the hallway, and my door opens, and Trevor stands there in the hallway with New York’s finest. The officers are shell shocked, and I am too. I walk towards them slowly, and then I run.