The original Grimm’s fairy tales were much darker than what we commonly see today. Disney followed a trend from the late 19th and early 20th century and further “sweetened” the older stories. This made them into something much softer and cuddlier than they were intended to be. I only mention Disney now because of how pervasive that brand has become in the minds of the world.
Years ago I picked up a great book called Grimm’s Grimmest. As you might expect this is a collection of very dark and often bloody fairy tales. The stories are attributed as the original dark tales penned by Grimm so very long ago.
Fables and fairy tales at one time had a moral lesson. They were often told to show children what might happen if they continued unconscionable behavior. Unlike the messages we have now (if you find your Prince Charming everything in your life will be great).
So now the question of why I bring this up, aside from bringing a great book to your attention. It is Monday, the day I post a story written based on the Chuck Wendig’s TerribleMinds writing prompt of the week. This week is a mash up, fairy tale with a randomly rolled theme. Simple idea, not as simple to execute.
I followed the link on his blog to find a fairy tale to rewrite and I rolled for my theme. To my horror I rolled Southern Gothic. The Gothic I can do, I tend to enjoy gothic. But I am a born and bred Yankee. I know next to nothing about writing Southern Gothic. Time to learn I guess.
The story itself is based on an old story called The Hunter, found on this database. I hope my rendition does the story justice…
Path of the Hunter
He fought his way through the undergrowth, toward the light of the fire ahead. As he drew closer the voices from the shadows around the fire grew louder as well. Something about the voices gave him pause. The accent was wrong. Well, not wrong exactly, at least not wrong for Union soldiers. Terrence was a child of the Carolinas. Union men this far south meant trouble.
He clung to the shadows. It would not do to be caught by the ruffians, not without a plan. Of course he had no plan to call his own. Though the rabbits roasting over their fire teased at his hunger with a crack and sizzle of fat and flame.
He took a chance and stepped into the light of their fire. “Good evening gentlemen,” he said. “I find myself lost and hungry. Could I share your fire?”
There conversation stopped as they turned as one to face him. “You can share the fire stranger,” one said. “What brings you to these woods this evening?”
In the light of the fire he found himself in the presence of lesser enlisted men, all three privates. They would not be out in the deeper woods by themselves. “I parted ways with my mentor a few days ago,” he said. “I am making my way home to see my father once again.” He eyed the roasting meat as one of the men tore pieces away and put them on plates.
“It has been a bit since my last meal,” he said. “I would be willing to make a trade for a bit of those fine rabbits you have there.”
The soldiers scoffed. “What could you offer us out here in these woods?”
“I am a skilled tracker and know these woods well. I could help you find what your looking for.”
The soldiers exchanged a glance. “We are looking for a criminal,” one said. “She ran from a court in Richmond and it is our duty to bring her back.”
Terrence looked from one soldier to the next. The sincerity in their eyes felt genuine, but still they were clearly not from these parts. He knew he could scout ahead of them and check their story just in case. “You need help tracking her down then?
“Not exactly, you see we have found where she is hiding. She found her way to her father’s land and now she hides within his manor house. We need you to sneak in and bring her to us.”
“Can’t you do that by simply walking to the front door?”
“It’s our uniforms, we have no jurisdiction here but the girl must be brought to justice. She murdered a man.”
“I can help.”
A fence line surrounded the plantation. The soldiers helped Terrence over the fence, hidden by the cover of darkness. “Watch out for the guard dog they let run free at night.” He heard a soldier say from the other side.
Terrence loaded his slingshot with a good stone, prepared for the guard dog. A few trees dotted the yard leasing up to the house, though the debris free ground left little cover as he skulked toward the manor house.
A broken twig alerted him to the charging dog. A large grey beast that had not begun to bark right away. Terrence pulled back on his slingshot and released the stone. With a muffled yip the dog dropped to the ground.
“Are you ok?” The soldier’s voice cut through the night air.
“Fine, I’m fine.” He picked up a new stone, and kicked at the dog with his foot. The dog would move no more. With the dog out of the way he rushed up to the house. The front felt too risky, further away from the common areas were his best bet to get inside.
He found an open window toward the back. From what he could tell on the outside, the window belonged to a study. No one inside was a good sign for his ingress into the house.
Terrence landed in a heap on the study floor. He lay there, his breath tight in his chest as he listened for other sounds in the house. After a short time he stood and looked about the room. The wall behind the desk held a pair of crossed cavalry sabers.
More than cosmetic, these swords were frayed and well cared for. He strapped the sharper of the two to his waist then opened the door to the hall beyond. The house shared the empty quiet of night as his footsteps crashed in his ears. To match the silence of the house he would mean stopping his very heart. It beat so fast and so loud he was certain he would wake the dead.
He wandered from room to room when he came across a rare beauty asleep in her bed. Surely, this was not the girl the soldiers sought. Smitten by her grace in sleep, they must be wrong about her, he thought. He cut a piece of her night gown and shoved it in his pocket. At the least this would remind him of her on his lonely nights in the woods. Lest he be caught he fled her room and then the house.
“Where is the girl?” The soldiers met him at the wall.
“I am sorry,” he said. “I couldn’t do it. She appears to innocent and pure to have committed the crime you claim.”
The soldiers around him left him little room to move. “This leaves you as guilty of the crime as she is,” one said.
Terrence’s hand fell to the saber on his waist, forgotten till that moment. It sprang from the sheathe, held fast before him. Against the three he saw little of the fight as the saber guided him through, stabbing and slicing the Union soldiers. In the end the three lay dead at his feet. From each he took their identification tags, and placed them in his other pocket.
When he realized what this mess might look like he ran. His father once warned him about being the first blamed when it came to trouble. Terrence wanted nothing more to do with this trouble.
The season’s hunts provided well for him. Furs and meat sold well at market and he would soon head back into the woods. After he restocked his basic supplies, he liked to stop off at a local place for a fresh cooked meal and a piece of pie. The tanner directed him to a new place down the road a little ways.
He parked his wagon outside the shop, more a hovel really. The outside said little of what he found inside. Though small with a couple communal tables, the smell of fresh baked bread and pie filled the room. His stomach screamed at him to fill it.
A bright cheery woman met him at the door. “Have you traveled far?” She asked.
“As far as my feet have carried me,” he said. He unloaded his pack to the floor and sat at the far end of the table near it. Not much was said between them as she brought him bread and stew. But the light caught her hair, then flashed across her face. He knew her face.
“Have you worked here long?” he asked.
She stopped fussing over his empty dishes. “A little while,” she answered. “My father thought to punish me for my willfulness.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.”
She smiled, a smile he felt down to his toes. “Oh pish, it’s only a trifle.” She sat down beside him. “My father wanted me to marry a man I do not love.” She blushed and placed her hand over her mouth. “You didn’t pry and still I spill my secrets to you.”
“Conversation with a beautiful woman is rare for me, please go on.” He turned toward her and knocked his pack over. The saber he collected so long ago fell behind them.
She leaned down and picked it up. “I know this blade.” After she pulled it free of the scabbard she said, “Yes, this is my father’s cavalry sword. How did you come across it?”
He pulled the swatch of nightgown from his pocket. “I know you,” he said. “I saved you one night though you did not know it.”
“You killed those soldiers. It was you wasn’t it?” She set the sword down and stepped away from him.
“I did. They meant to take you off for a crime you did not commit.”
“My father wanted me to marry a Union man who worked for him for a time. When I refused he sent me away to fend for myself. I built this.” She motioned around the building. “The Union man claimed to have killed those soldiers protecting our home.”
He dug through his backpack and pulled out their identification tags. “I claimed these the night I saved your life.”
“I thank you sir.” She leaned in close and kissed his cheek.