The Student Publishing House of Townsend Harris High School

The Starling Press

The Student Publishing House of Townsend Harris High School

The Starling Press

The Student Publishing House of Townsend Harris High School

The Starling Press

About
February 13, 2024
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February 12, 2024

Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping+Beauty
Ms. Levine

The beauty slumbered, her skin exposed to the forest air, while she remained impervious to the passage of time. Around her, the woods warped. Trees grew thickly gnarled, and verdant shades multiplied where they used to be barren. The apricot trees, Mulberry brambles, and strawberry patches grew to maturity, falling the same year again and again until wild sweetness was all that remained of domesticated fruits. 

The princess looked as royally youthful as she did before the prick of her finger on the spindle. The air was toxic with mold, spores, and ravenous insects. Around her, the clearing was no longer clear, and critters became vicious as generations passed.

And yet the girl tucked near a ridge in the grass stayed the same. No one came, and tales were crafted by town drunkards who wandered too far, speaking of witches who lurked and beasts that growled in the dead of night. 

Until.

Until the morning, when a polished shoe divided a stick into fragments and the loud noise forced a pause in the chittering of wildlife.

The prince that emerged would’ve been charming, but his arduous journey rendered him weary. He’d journeyed through the rest of the words to find a safe passage home, and it looked like it. 

His horse, chuffing beneath his master, was pearlescent in hue but similarly scuffed. 

The prince was downtrodden and about to choose another way out of the lord-forsaken forest that entrapped him when, out of the corner of his eye, he glimpsed what he was sure was a divine sign. The woman he had spotted must have been sent from the heavens to take home to take as a wife. All the twists and turns from the dreary palace of the Duke of Evesburrow had not been for naught, it seemed.

Clip-clop. The forest was rendered unerringly quiet once more, besides the hushed breaths and snuffles of the wandering. 

He came closer and closer to observe the ethereal image he had just noticed. The image was sharpened.

She was still as perfect as ever. 

Untouched.

Her eyes seemed like they could flutter open. The flush on her cheeks was lively with fresh blood rushing through her body, clothed in a flowing dress of linen, cotton, and lace. The embroidery all over her spoke of her noble standing. The golden hair adorning her crown went down to her back, making waves around dainty fingers as pale as the moon.

He was inching closer, begging to be able to touch this paragon if his vision was true. The background rustling became loud enough to warrant his attention, but he paid it no mind lest he forsake the chance to kiss the maiden in front of him.

The moment their lips touched he knew the kiss was unparalleled, granted he could only compare it to the ones he had secretly snuck at dawn from pretty milkmaids at balls.

Her lips tasted like tulips, like rose wine, and like lavender. It was as if he were the sun and she was the moon during an eclipse, both of them meeting to create a sight too great for human eyes to comprehend. There were some notes of something almost magical flowing into him, filling him with light and making him aware of how empty he was before. It was like he was made for this moment. 

One, two, and three seconds went by without anything happening. 

Her eyes snapped open. 

His did too, but he was forced to breathe so that she could take and take, rejuvenating the energy she had lost in decades of stagnancy. 

Her taste transformed with her demeanor. Now, her tongue tasted like moldy wood and decay. He attempted to inhale to no avail, desperate as he was to wrench free of the earthly siren. But there was no air. Each breath was sucked from his soul instead. There was no air at all, just spores and mosquitoes crowding in his mouth and nose. 

From the inside, he was taken apart, each spore clogging his airways and biting the inside of his mouth for even his tongue was rendered immobile by her silent command. 

He would have coughed if he could, or at the very least held his breath, but by the second, he could feel his mind slowing down to an inevitable halt. Like Medusa, she struck him still for eternity. 

It took one, two, and three seconds for badgers to pounce. All at once, squirrels, snakes, and birds piled on him from every angle.

He was the feast the princess promised them he’d be. His fabric wrappings were so fragile, and his countenance was so gentle and therefore all the more pleasing to ruin.

They all growled, hissed, and snarled atop his body while he twitched as if he could do anything about it. The moment the spores entered his system, there was no hope for him; there was no fate for him besides one ending with blood and gore. 

All around the crowd of critters, the messy eaters threw around his intestines as they gnashed their bloody teeth and bashed his crown. The squirrels and chipmunks shoved gray matter in their cheeks, filling them to the brim for safekeeping. 

The Prince’s blood, once warm, leaked onto every visible surface and quickly cooled, leaving rocks, twigs, fur, and feathers sticky. The devouring made a crimson canvas out of everyone.

The birds pecked at his eyes and gathered some vitreous humor to feed to their chirping children in their nests.  It would make a sane man want to go blind. 

But alas, no men were to be found, and the horse that rode with the Prince sprinted at the first sign of trouble. 

A little crow who got his fill flew over to the stump next to the now-standing princess. She wiped the imaginary dust off her dress, lifting her head only to smile fondly at the animals huddled together in a feeding frenzy.

So handsome. Or he would have been if he hadn’t been so gullible. 

She’d heard his every thought, and if she hadn’t been spellbound, she’d have giggled loud enough to blow her cover. 

He thought to have her wed? If only he’d pondered rather than jested. 

The doublet he donned, though tatters now, lay underneath a cross pendant that shined gold under the scant sunlight the undergrowth allowed.  

She’d bet that if he were allowed final words, his praises to the lord would have pleased her for how pathetic they would have sounded. It is a wonder a man can claim to be virtuous when he is not willing to lower his gaze, much less keep his lips on his person. 

He could have been a henchman, but losses are to be endured with a stiff upper lip. 

‘Thank you, princess.’ The crow rustled his feathers, adjusting himself so he could properly bow to the princess.

Both of them knew that title didn’t quite fit anymore. She was a princess when she traipsed around the castle, discussing plans for espionage with her ladies-in-waiting. She was a princess when she wanted to seem innocent and young.

But now that a fraction of an eternity had passed, she could rise free of a kingdom of pliant peasants agonized by her father’s treacherous taxes. The kingdom she presently ruled couldn’t be more different. The creatures of old were fiercer than humans and wiser than fairies.

More loyal than a kingdom that only prized her for her beauty and everlasting brightness, not knowing of darkness hidden in closed rooms when the moon was its brightest. 

They were more loyal than the spell that coaxed her toward spindles, especially when she thought she’d struck a deal with its caster. 

It turns out spells are set in stone, even if you regret them. But no matter, the forest is where the vicious thrive, and she’d always had a part of herself that was too cruel to offer up to the public. 

For a hundred years, she had to navigate through the internal monologues of travelers, instincts of predators, and whatever cursed things lay outside those two groups. She’d scared off whoever came, patient enough to reject imperfect victims until she gathered enough allies for her cause: chaos to the highest degree. 

Now that the forest could rally behind her, she could make her own decisions. She could change fates as she had with the prince, no one even attempting to stop her. 

Like a queen. Like a king with a crown of thorns who leads his people. 

Only better. More malevolent. 

Either way, she accepted the thanks by taking the crow into her hands.

Her eyes gleamed, enveloping the mangled corpse of the unnamed prince in a white glow.  

The crow was wet with blood and bits of viscera in her hands, but she petted him nonetheless. The strokes of her fingers spoke of a careful strength, controlled yet ready to kill.

Despite everything, she was still clean for the most part. The bottom of her dress dragged along the soil and some stray ruby droplets had hit her during the feast of the forest but the rest of her was impossibly spotless in a way only magic could explain. Without the context, she simply looked like a princess who’d stumbled into the butcher’s path while his hands were still red. 

Without the context, no one would know she was as good as the butcher. No one would dare think that she could do his job and worse. 

The flies buzzed, rubbing their legs together in preparation for their grand share at supper. 

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About the Contributor
Ms. Levine, English Teacher and Advisor
Ms. Levine teaches 9th and 12th grade English and is passionate about creative writing. She has experience as a freelance writer, has published creative nonfiction essays and is working on a novel. She hopes to help students discover their voices and help nurture a new generation of writers.
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