Your favorite stories from childhood have a new twist. Seven fairy tales of old with characters across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.
Green Things Grow from Cinders by A.E. Ross – Glass slippers aren’t for everyone.
Gretel on Her Own by Elna Holst – This time around, Gretel Kindermann is on her own. Or is she?
Bremen Town Musicians by Mark Lesney – Loss and love on the road to Bremen Town.
The Scent of Magic by N.J. Romaine – Who can win a hunt against the Big Bad Wolf?
The Rescue by Sam Burns – Saving princesses is hard work. Getting out of marrying them is harder.
Loose in the Heel, Tight in the Toe by Valentine Wheeler – The shoe fits, the prince is won: now what?
Baile de la Marioneta by W.M. Fawkes – No one else can pull his strings.
|Publisher:||NineStar Press, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.79(d)|
Read an Excerpt
JOSÉ SAT CROSS-LEGGED in the middle of a circle of other people's junk. His ass hurt. The studio's concrete floor was unforgiving, and he'd been sitting there, staring at his gathered refuse, for more than an hour. He had no idea where to start. This was his senior seminar project, and he couldn't think of a damn thing that wasn't derivative.
He was screwed.
He heaved a sigh, budged his glasses out of the way, and pinched the bridge of his nose with his eyes squeezed shut. He'd figure this out. There was plenty of time. He wasn't going to be the first in his family to go to college only to drop out just because of one freaking project, even if it was the biggest one — so big it made his heart turn to ice in his chest.
José had the sense, however ridiculous, that all of his future success hinged on this one moment — one sculpture that would make or break him. If he didn't walk out of art school with something gallery-worthy, the last four years' work had been for nothing.
The pressure was on because, if José were being honest with himself, he hadn't come up with anything truly spectacular or moving the whole time he'd been at school. He hadn't produced the kind of work that the local paper, or even the student paper, took note of. Good enough to get into the program, but nothing great — that was José Velásquez.
Fae had said he just needed to "find his truth," whatever that meant. A lot of good her maxims were doing him. He dropped his elbow on his knee and sighed.
A high-pitched yelp carried over the wall of his cubicle and José's head snapped up. At that point, any distraction from the catastrophe his missing muse had left in its wake was a welcome one. Well, he'd thought so before he stood up and saw the seven-foot block of white pine topple over on the other side of the laminate wall. There was a decent chance Anthony had just gotten himself crushed, and José was not equipped to be the point of contact in a medical emergency. He stood up and pushed up on his toes to get a better look.
The enormous block had hit the ground with a crash so loud that José couldn't believe it hadn't cracked. Anthony stood a few feet away with his hands up in front of him. After a delay, he dropped his chisel from slack fingers. That clanged on the concrete too.
"Fuck this," Anthony hissed. He spun and marched out of his cubicle. "I can't work with this shit."
José curled his fingers around the partition between his cubicle and Anthony's and squeezed. The wood was missing a wedge that Anthony had smacked out of it, but it was whole otherwise. Its grain was fine, and it was the color of a white-picket fence in a yellow sunset, or pale golden straw. Even the block — all clean, hard edges — seemed supple. It was beautiful, and José wanted it.
The door to the studio clanged shut behind Anthony, drawing José out of his reverie. He hopped down and followed him outside.
José found his friend leaning against the brick wall, puffing on a cigarette. His brown fingers quivered despite the spring warmth that lingered even after the sun had gone down.
"You okay?" José asked, joining him against the wall. The cigarette tip burned orange in the dark.
Anthony grunted, and for a moment, it seemed like that was all the answer he was going to get.
The sharp, biting secondhand smoke tickled the back of his throat when he inhaled. It made his mouth water. He was trying to quit, but one couldn't hurt, right? Chewing his lip, he was thinking about asking to bum one when Anthony finally answered.
"It yelled at me."
"What?" José asked. On second thought, Anthony's brand wasn't the one José preferred. One smoke probably wasn't worth the setback.
"The wood. It yelled."
Finally, José focused on what Anthony was saying. His brow furrowed. "What?" he repeated, squinting.
Anthony's roommate, Brock, had been growing mushrooms in his closet since the start of spring term. Brock was in business school and said the dissemination of drugs to the university's art-school population was not only his duty, but proof and point of his entrepreneurial spirit. It'd been weeks since Anthony was sober.
"I'm serious," Anthony insisted.
José nodded. He'd made it a point not to argue with high people. It never got him anywhere, even when his peers' drugs of choice were naturally grown and organic. Nature's bounty, Anthony called Brock's products when he pushed them at parties.
"I hit it, and it yelled."
"I believe you," José lied. Anthony'd probably just startled himself. "So, you're not going to work with it?"
"Hell no. Bitch, are you crazy?"
"Want to trade? Whatever you want in my booth for your wood."
Anthony snickered like a thirteen-year-old. "Don't swing that way, man," he said, as if José needed reminding.
"Come on, dude, I didn't mean it like that." José had tried catching his eye in their first year, but Anthony had put him off then and never let him live it down. "I'm serious. Let's trade. Make me an offer."
Despite having spent months gathering that stuff, José wasn't having luck with any of it. He'd picked up anything that looked cool from trash heaps and the side of the road, trusting that inspiration would strike eventually. It hadn't, but he thought he could do something with that wood. All that crap was overwhelming. He needed to get back to something simpler — form, line, skill — not dumpster droppings.
Anthony cocked his brow. The tip of his cigarette flared when he breathed in, considering him. José supposed now that someone wanted it, that wood was valuable. Even if Anthony didn't want it for himself, José wasn't surprised when he wanted to make sure he got the best deal.
"Let's see what you've got." He snuffed his cigarette out against the brick and stuffed the butt back into his carton. José led the way to his treasure trove, where he negotiated the wood block for his wheel bearing, half a dozen old hood ornaments, a good amount of scrap metal, and an old, legless, plastic-laminated bench from the recently renovated burger joint José passed every day on his walk to campus. The bench, Anthony said, was going home with him.
The deal struck, they shook hands, and José heaved the giant block of wood around the partition into his cubicle. It took both of them to get it standing up again. José stood back, hands on his hips, to inspect it. He wasn't quite sure what he was going to do, but he felt in his gut that it was going to be that great something he'd been waiting for.
Anthony grunted and hoisted the bench onto his back.
"You done for tonight?" José asked.
"Definitely. Got to get this beauty home. You be careful with that thing," he said, nodding at the wood.
"Yeah, man. Have a good night."
There was some huffing and scraping from Anthony as he made his way out the door. Then, he and the wood were left alone. It was quiet in the studio — still too early in the semester for procrastinators to give up their Saturday nights in the name of art or a passing grade. It was the perfect time to work, though, and José felt inspired. He chewed his lip and weighed where to start.
Ultimately, he was thinking too hard. If he screwed this up, he'd be right back where he started. No harm, no foul. He picked up his chisel and stepped in. You can't screw this up.
Maybe that was an exaggeration, but he didn't botch it nonetheless. It was like the wood knew what it wanted to be. He'd set the blade of his chisel against it, gave it a smack, and the shapes just came out. It was rough, but it was coming together. Time stopped meaning anything. José worked all night, carving his wooden man out of nothing. His David.
Only he wasn't David. He was Tecún Umán — a warrior victorious. He wasn't prostrate or at leisure. His body was rigid and taut, ready to spring into battle. He was beautiful, but he was not hard or cold like marble.
"I could use a guy like you, Tecún," José mumbled, admiring the bend between Tecún's leg and his pelvis as he sanded down that dip in his wooden musculature. His gaze slipped to his cock. Jesus, it'd been too long if he was thinking about sexing up his senior project. He needed to get laid, like, yesterday.
In one night, José knocked the excess wood away from Tecún, muttering to the piece while he worked. He carved and sanded until he was done and the wood was smooth, and then he sealed it. Light was already streaming in the high windows when he thought he heard a chuckle and looked around. Nothing.
On his knees, he leaned down to consider whether the sculpture's toe needed more definition. José was being neurotic — no one would notice — when he tapped the chisel under Tecún's big toe again.
There was another snicker. He wasn't imagining it but hadn't heard anyone come in. He turned around to look, first to the left, then the right, twisting at the waist to peer back at the door. No one was there.
"Sorry," said a voice above him. The tone of it was low, pleasant, and full of amusement. It made the fine, black hair on the back of his neck stand on end. "Tickles."
As slow as if his neck turned on rusted cogs, José lifted his head. His statue was looking down at him with its wooden arms crossed, its lips spread in a wide grin.
With a yelp, he fell back on his ass, splayed his hands out behind him, and scrambled back, stammering.
The wooden man's eyes crinkled at the outer corners. José's back hit the partition as the statue's toes wiggled. It shifted its hips back and forth, working its weight off of its feet. With a snap, it pulled one foot, then the other, off the pedestal of wood that José hadn't carved away. After all, his sculpture had needed something to help it stand, or so he'd thought.
"You're better with that thing than the last one," the wooden man said. He'd walked close enough to nudge with his big toe the chisel trapped against the floor under José's hand. "Do you mind?" He held open his pine hand. José stared at it. His palm was smooth of lines, with only the illusion of soft, swelled flesh beneath his thumb and fingers. José's tongue was thick and dry, and he'd forgotten how to breathe. There was a gas leak. He'd stayed up too late.
Impatient, the wooden man coughed. Right, right. He held the chisel out, hand shaking. The wooden man took it and scraped splintered wood from the arches of his feet. "Better," he said, satisfied, and passed the tool back to José. He circled each ankle before he put his feet back down.
José's lips worked, but no sound came out until he inhaled sharply. When he spoke, his whole breath came out with his words.
"What are you?" he demanded.
The wooden man crouched in front of him. "I am Tecún, aren't I? That is the name you gave me."
Had he mumbled that aloud? José crossed himself. All his mother's talk of demons and he'd never believed.
The man — Tecún — reached out. He touched José's cheek with surprising lightness. His fingers were hard but smooth, and he was careful with them. José swallowed.
"What are you?" Tecún asked, his voice lightly curious and strangely calm, considering.
"I'm José." That was what he meant, right?
Tecún nodded and brushed his solid fingers over José's lower lip, making his breath hitch. He was terrified, that was all. His heart racing had nothing at all to do with his recent celibacy.
Suddenly, the door opened. Light flooded into the cavernous space, and a trio of girls from his advanced sculpture class came in.
"Shit," José hissed. In a second, he was on his feet, snatching his tarp off the floor, sending sawdust and scraps flying. The abandoned pedestal of wood flipped over with a bang! when he yanked the paint-and-varnish stained cloth out from under it and threw it over Tecún. All three girls stared for a moment and burst into laughter as a unit.
"This is not your hookup spot, José! God!" Lysandra shrieked. José blushed and ducked his head, using the partition as cover while he pulled himself together. It was shorter than he was, but not so short that he couldn't make an effort to hide behind it.
"Yeah, yeah," he muttered. Had they seen Tecún?
"Hey, Mystery Boy," Corina drawled, batting her eyelashes at the filthy Casper knockoff.
"Don't suffocate him," Veronica huffed, hands on her hips. "That thing's filthy."
They weren't screaming, so the partition was tall enough or the light dim enough that they hadn't seen that his supposed fling was made entirely of wood. This was salvageable.
"He's fine," José called, waving them off and slinging his tool bag over his shoulder. Did Tecún even need to breathe? No way. From under the canvas tarp, he heard another snicker. He pushed Tecún ahead of him and guided him by the hips to the door.
"Bye, Mystery Boy," Corina called after them.
Outside, it was way too bright. José squinted and blinked. Tecún shifted the canvas. It drooped and nearly fell off, and José shifted it back into place. Tecún wouldn't be the first streaker on campus, but he would be the first wooden one. That'd get the paper's notice. With some prompting, he got Tecún to hold the tarp around himself like the Virgin Mary's shawl. Tecún was watching him blink and squinted his eyes like he was trying to do it for himself, but couldn't.
"Come on." José sighed. He walked quickly down the sidewalk, across the lawn in front of the old castle. Most students were tucked away in dorm beds, under synthetic comforters, recovering from the night before, but there were a few motivated yoga practitioners on the quad. José felt better once they'd crossed the street, stepped off campus, and turned down the one-way side road where he lived.
Tecún's feet hit the porch's wooden boards with startling claps.
José sent him a look, his eyebrows shooting up high over the rims of his black-framed glasses. "Can you keep it down?"
"Sorry," Tecún responded. His grin said that he was anything but. He had the smirk of a man who knew he was pretty enough to be as annoying as he wanted. José resented it.
He unlocked the bright yellow door — the key took a hard wiggle and some luck before it turned — and rushed into the house, pulling Tecún after him by the wrist.
The second they were alone, he shut the door, dropped his hand, and rounded on Tecún. "Are you a demon?" José demanded in a low breath. First thing in the morning, his roommate was an absolute banshee nightmare. Though the situation might warrant a much louder meltdown, it was best not to rouse the beast.
Tecún didn't answer right away. In the quiet, José couldn't help but study him. The way his mouth curled at just the outer corners was lovely. Could he really take credit for that? José hadn't ever crafted anything that beautiful — he'd tried for meaningful, maybe, but had never managed something so breathtaking.
"Are you?" Tecún retorted. José huffed, so he continued. "No. At least, I don't think so."
José sucked his cheeks between his molars and sighed through his nose. He wasn't sure he believed that, but there was no making sense of a walking, talking sculpture either way.
"I am what you made me," Tecún elaborated, so guilelessly that José couldn't help feeling responsible for him. He crossed his arms, thought briefly about turning him out — who could reasonably expect him to deal with this? — and realized he didn't have the heart.
"You do realize you haven't finished," Tecún hedged while José weighed his options. José scowled, even as Tecún lifted his foot, propped it on his own thigh, and exposed the roughly hewn sole of his foot. It was the only part of him that wasn't perfect.
"Yeah ... okay. Fine," José huffed, leading the way back past Fae's bedroom to his own. "Quietly," he hissed when Tecún's feet clomped again. Shooting a look back over his shoulder at him, José's heart jumped at Tecún's sheepish grin.
There were landfills that were cleaner than José's room, but he hadn't expected company. When they'd first moved in together, Fae had put a stop to José snacking in his room. He had her to thank for the absence of pests from their rental, but his clothes littered every surface. Brushes, crumpled sketches, and an empty fish bowl took up most of his desk. He slept there, but most of his time was spent in the studio or, more recently, sitting at Old Town furiously pounding shots of espresso, feeling guilty for not being in the studio.
Thankfully, his bed was rumpled and unmade but relatively clear. "There," he said, nodding. "Lie on your stomach."
Tecún dropped the tarp by the door. José looked away. Now that he knew Tecún was a living thing, he felt weird for having admired him earlier. Had he noticed?
The bed creaked on its shoddy metal frame when he crawled up toward the pillows. José sat at the edge with his sandpaper and sealant and pulled Tecún's foot into his lap so it hung out over the side with the discarded tarp beneath.
At the first scrape of sandpaper, Tecún snickered and jerked his leg. "Sorry." His voice was muffled by José's pillow.
"It's fine. Try to relax."
It took some more giggling, but José finished. His eyes were beginning to droop when he brushed the seal coat over his feet. He snapped the aluminum top back on the can, set his brush on it, and collapsed onto the mattress.
"You need to stay still for an hour," he mumbled to Tecún.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Once Upon the Rainbow, Volume Three"
Copyright © 2018 A.E. Ross.
Excerpted by permission of NineStar Press, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Baile de la Marioneta by W.M. Fawkes,
Loose in the Hell, Tight in the Toe by Valentine Wheeler,
Green Things Grown from Cinders by A.E. Ross,
The Scent of Magic by N.J. Romaine,
The Rescue by Sam Burns,
Bremen Town Musicians by Mark Lesney,
Gretel on Her Own by Elna Holst,