Read an Excerpt
Briar Blackwood's Grimmest Fairytales
By Timothy Roderick
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2014 Timothy Roderick
All rights reserved.
I hope you're not holding out for some lame-ass "once upon a time" shit. Or worse, thinking that I'm gonna spring some happily ever after crap on you. If you are, you're going to be sadly disappointed. That's because I'm dead.
Yep — as in stone cold. And I'm not telling you this so you can get all teary-eyed and feel sorry for the poor little loser girl who died because she was too stupid to listen to reason. She was too blinded by the sack she was being fed by the lying-ass fairies to see beyond, to see where this was all headed. Yeah, she trusted them.
And, I hope you're not getting lost here; 'cuz when I say "she" I mean me. I trusted their manipulative little asses. And before I knew it, I was in so deep that there was no climbing back out.
Oh God, I can see it now. You're all distracted by my use of the f-word. You know, fairy.
Yeah, they exist, and so what? Think about it; I'm dead and I'm talking to you. Is it such a stretch to imagine that fairies are real? Come on. You knew they were real when you were a kid, but someone told you somewhere along the way that they were like some crazy hallucination or a dream. And you bought it. But you knew you saw them. Out of the corner of your eye, in the darkness of your room, under the bed, in your closet, you saw something. A shadow. Movement.
Whatever. Live in your little self-protected bubble-world if you want. But I'm telling you, they're with us all the time, watching, waiting to draw us into their screwed-up plots. You need to know all of this because I can't let this happen all over again to yet one more of us commons.
Oh right, you think you're special. You think, "I'm not common." But that's what they call you — the fairies, that is. And when they're the really mean ones, the wicketts, who only see you as a sorry ass to be used, they'll call you a squelch. Oh sure, it's all kumbaya and "oooh, you're the chosen one," when you're with them. And before you know it, you're getting twirked like somebody's little prison bitch.
They look like us too — the fairies. They don't flutter around on gossamer wings. But they can fly and do crazy magic. They might even try to teach you some. Or they'll give you a taste of something else you want, like love that's just out of reach, or the fantasy of some bullshit power. Hooking you is all they need.
Look, our world isn't brave enough to accept you for who you are, really. I'm proof of that. But the fairies, they will. They want you in all of your quirky glory. And then they'll tempt with such sweetness, that it's almost impossible to resist.
Splat! — right in the back of the head. The apple core left traces of cold, wet juice trickling down the back of Briar Blackwood's neck. It wasn't accidental. Oh no, this was meant for her. She kicked at the brown mushy thing lying on the ground with her black calf-high grunge boots like it was the fruit's fault she stood in the back of the school auditorium with the rest of the freaks, waiting to audition for the play. She looked around to see if anyone nearby had witnessed her mortification. What did it matter? They'd seen it all before, she realized. She wiped the sticky mess off her neck while trying not to get sick.
She scanned the far aisle with a smoldering, half-lidded gaze that she hoped would scorch them — or at least warn them that she knew it was them. It was always the same group who did things like this to the less popular kids. Trash-cannings, spit-ballings, and garbage-bombings were standard in the arsenal of their kind. And there they stood in a group, in the shadowed side aisle of the musty auditorium, unsuccessfully restraining guffaws through their noses.
"Lucky Boys" and "Lucky Girls" is what Briar called them. They were the ones whom everyone liked. Maybe it was because they had mothers and fathers, and they knew where they came from and where they belonged. Everyone had their sad story, Briar knew it well. But some kids were able to hide it better than others — and maybe that's what made them Lucky. Who knows? But whatever it was, there was a serious, unspoken line between the loved and the lame, and an apple core to the back of the head was a perfect reminder of which side Briar stood.
She tried to adjust her perspective, which was something she had become skilled at over the past ten years of school. In this case, seeing that she was standing amid an entire crew of dweebs, she reasoned that she couldn't be certain for whom the apple core was meant. It didn't really matter. Seriously, Briar thought, I've actually stepped onto the escalator to hell. It better damn well be worth it.
There was really no way out anyway, now that the Lucky Ones had seen her at the auditions. The best she could hope for was to have an out-of-body experience and float out of the room. It seemed as reasonable a plan as any. So she tried to will it to happen. But, of course, Briar just stood there, going nowhere, looking a bit constipated.
Some dark, heavy, screaming music just ought to do the trick, she thought, as she stuffed in her earbuds and cranked up the volume on her handheld player. But no music could erase the fact that she was there voluntarily, along with Gluteus High School's celebrated assemblage of oddities. Briar may have had her own problems, but these other kids were just plain wrong. And it was outrageously stupid for her to associate with these bizarre outsiders: the theater geeks. Yet, she had to do it. She had her reasons, even if she wouldn't openly admit them to herself.
To cover for her self-consciousness, she fiddled with her outfit: a tattered black satin Victorian gown made of small scallops (like the lining of a casket, she liked to think), cinched up high enough to reveal fishnet stockings that barely covered her moon-white thighs. She unconsciously twisted the long, iron skeleton key that hung from her neck, hoisted it with one finger to her mouth and nibbled it, tasting the tang of metal.
Briar leveled her scowling eyes at the surrounding herd of nerd and wrinkled her nose in blatant disgust. She had never been to one of the auditions for the annual school play, but they were legendary among the scoffers, side-mouthed whisperers, and hallway chucklers at Gluteus High. And true to the legends, it seemed like every Renaissance-fair-loving, pimply misfit who had ever been a lunch-break target was dying to humiliate himself by dressing as a fairy in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Briar gave them the once-over. Oh yeah, this ought to do wonders for their reputations. Screw that. What about mine? She realized it with a snarl of her tar-black lips and a dramatic roll of her crayon-thick, ebony-lined, eyes.
Briar had to keep reminding herself of her purpose. Seeing as it was just weeks away from her sixteenth birthday, she came to the slow, but burning realization that change was necessary. After all, sixteen was reputed to be some kind of magical number. She read about it in a weird old book she found while hiding out among the tall musty stacks of a used bookshop. She learned that you add the digits one and six to make seven. That was a number representing transformation. It had something to do with fire and alchemy and who the hell knows what. It was mostly gibberish, to be honest. And really, the best part of reading a book like that for Briar was the fretful glances she'd get from soccer moms and tea-toddling bookworms.
That being said, the number and its meaning stuck in Briar's head because nothing in her life really worked and she knew that she was due for an overhaul.
She had never really fitted in, even from a young age. But it wasn't really her fault. There were, well, circumstances. True, she was in foster care. She bounced from one home to another since birth, finally landing in one that "took." They kept her for a good ten years now, at a profit.
But there was more to it than that. Sure other kids could sniff out the ones that had the distinct scent of "reject." Foster kids, once they were discovered, often fell into that category. But ever since she could remember, she had always been associated with bizarre occurrences. For example, there was the time in third grade when a Lucky Girl tried dumping her in a trashcan only to end up with third degree burns all over her body. Then there was the Lucky Boy in fifth grade who tried to covertly cut her hair, but instead found himself in the emergency room, needing surgery for snipping his own tongue in half.
No one knew how these things happened. Not even Briar. But there were innuendos. Words like "witch" and "evil" were whispered around her. And as time passed, the other kids pulled further away until there was no bridging the gap. As the years passed, Briar decided that if they were going to call her a witch, she was going to give them the scariest damned witch they'd ever seen.
Her sullen demeanor and perpetual pout, the capes and black lace veils she'd wear around town had become trademarks. Once she overheard some kids in the bathroom referring to her as the "Queen of Darkness." Not bad, she thought. If you're going to be queen, it might as well be of something spectacular, like the dark. She with her ash-tone rouge, her nose, eyebrow, lip, and tongue piercings and forbidding demeanor — it was social suicide for anyone to venture near her vortex of doom.
Despite its obvious disadvantages, the whole charade had an upside. It kept the wrath of the Lucky Ones at bay for the most part. But despite it all, Briar held to secret fantasies. She imagined that by the age of sixteen, the other kids would have outgrown their distaste for her differences — whatever they may be. Or they might have at least matured enough to politely ignore them. No such luck.
So maybe there would never be all-night texting sessions with scores of girlfriends, or invitations to parties and school dances. Hell, maybe there would never be basic acceptance. But what Briar hadn't planned on in this whole scenario — what made her absolutely crazy — was the fact that there'd probably never be, well ...the boyfriend. So cranking up the volume one more notch was always a good solution, she found.
As the auditions progressed, as usual, Briar kept to herself. She tucked herself away in a shadowed seat near the back of the dusty auditorium and glanced toward the rear double doors for the eighty-sixth time. Where was Dax, anyway? Her best friend was supposed to meet her by three o'clock, yet an hour into the audition process, still no Dax. Now Briar was solo and sharing floor space with Buck-toothed Braces Girl from science class, that skinny Grizzly Chicken Girl from math, and the really, really short boy who either had no name or nobody ever bothered to use it.
She caught the nearby sight of a couple of goobers rehearsing a love scene. It might have been pretty good had one's headgear not tangled with the other's hopelessly frizzy hair. She followed them with an obvious slow-eyed glower as they shimmied out the back doors.
A Juliet who was shaped like a baked potato was in the middle of her onstage fretting when a stagehand signaled to Briar that she was up soon. She felt a knot form in the hollow of her throat and she started to wonder if she could go through with it.
And where was her reason for auditioning in the first place? She hadn't seen him yet. All right, yes, it was a he, Briar begrudgingly acknowledged. Fine. But where was he? He was probably hanging out there among the Lucky Ones.
He had to be there, or her whole bloody scheme was wasted. She was sure that she overheard him one day telling another Lucky Boy that he was going to try out for the play. Even if it was a joke and even if he planned on turning the play into a running gag for his buddies, Briar saw this as an opportunity. As strange as it seemed, she felt that sharing the stage together with him might just level the playing field and offer her a shot to get to — well, she hadn't actually thought it through beyond trying out for the same play.
She arranged her long limp black bangs so that they hung in front of her eyes. It was easier to spy on the group of them without looking conspicuous, she thought. As if sitting there looking like a reject from American Horror Story wasn't conspicuous.
Unexpectedly Grizzly Chicken girl moon-walked up to Briar, probably for the first time ever, and naïvely, innocently, complemented her on her super cool mortician's outfit. "Your little spooky outfits are such a hoot!" she said sunnily.
Briar hadn't anticipated sinking to a new low this afternoon, yet here it was. How glorious.
"Thanks, butt-munch," Briar replied. "Your braces are pretty cool too."
Grizzly's face caved. "That's the color of my teeth," she mumbled, holding a hand over her mouth. She faded back into the crowd.
Briar threw over her shoulder, "Well, lay off the tetracycline, then."
She bit her black lip and felt her stomach twist with guilt, but only for a moment. Then, feebly attempting to soften the blow she said, "Cuz your skin already looks great —" But it was too late. "Aw crap," she said and slunk lower in her squeaky theater seat.
Just the week before, a couple of Lucky Boys had slapped Grizzly's books out of her hands and tripped her. As Briar stared at the scene from the locker across the hall, she felt a strange heat rising from her stomach. She had never felt that before. She used to think that some of these kids, like Grizzly, kind-of brought on their own persecution. Well, whatever. Even if that wasn't exactly true, she had to protect herself, which meant staying out of little self-esteem crumblers like the one that was unfolding.
But that day, while watching Grizzly dab at her skinned knee and dissolve into silent tears, something in Briar snapped as the two Lucky Boys slapped high-fives at their prank. Her vision distorted, blurred really. It felt like liquid fire burned her gut, and her face flushed.
That was when she threw up on them. It came out in buckets. Honestly, Briar didn't know where all the barf came from. I guess they aren't lucky all the time, she thought to herself watching the boys, their faces slimed by her viscous yellow gunk, and they themselves retching in response. Much to Briar's horror, Leon Squire, the hunk, the hero, the — him — happened to wander by as the scene unfolded. At the sight of vomit slopped across lockers and splattered on the faces of his buddies, he doubled over and quickly sped away, holding a hand to his own mouth.
Her nickname changed from that day on. It was announced to the school in the usual way, scrawled across her locker: "Hurl Gurl." Queen of Darkness had a better ring to it, Briar mused. But people ought to keep their distance from a Hurl Gurl just the same. After all that, Briar supposed that Grizzly must now have thought they were BFFs or something stupid like that. Whatevs.
She couldn't have Grizzly and her friends orbiting around in her universe for real, or Leon might never make a move. At least in her imagination, he would make some kind of a move. She scanned the sidelines surreptitiously again. Without warning, a few Lucky Boys parted like cherubs flanking a winged God. They stepped aside just enough for Briar to see Leon standing there in all his chiseled perfection. His face, his body seemed straight out of Bullfinch's Mythology.
Shit. What am I doing? Briar thought. She rolled her eyes, covered her face and tried not to hyperventilate. This will never work. She tugged on the black hoodie that was loosely draped over her satin Victorian get-up, and she thumbed her handheld, trying to distract herself. She kept her gaze down to keep from hurling yet again. The screen's glow reflected blue onto her powder-pale face.
That's when something unusual caught her eye.
Excerpted from Briar Blackwood's Grimmest Fairytales by Timothy Roderick. Copyright © 2014 Timothy Roderick. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
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