Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bring Me the Head of Prince Charming

This is for Susan Palwick, and it will make more sense if you read the challenge first.

I ripped off the title from a novel by the late, great Roger Zelazny and Robert Sheckley. If you're going to steal, steal from the best.


Bring Me the Head of Prince Charming

"Bah!" said the alchemist, slamming the door to his lab. The miniature stuffed crocodile hanging from the ceiling revolved lazily on its string.

Crouched on the open windowsill, she listened. The old man's footsteps receded down the stairs, his querulous grumble trailing behind. "Francis Bacon had a brazen head. It foretold the fates of empires. I have to settle for plastic, and the bloody thing won't talk about anything but clothes..."

She slipped down to the floor, agile as a squirrel. A pink plastic squirrel. Her high heels tapped unevenly against the warped attic floorboards. Two white mice watched impassively from a wire cage on a shelf.

Barbie hauled herself up a trailing dust-sheet and crept across the table. "Ken! Speak to me, Ken!"

The plastic head turned on its plinth. "Next season's silhouette is... edgy, hyper-realistic, no-frills... High-concept, high-tech colors..."

"Oh, shut up," sighed Barbie. She had to concede the alchemist had a point. Ken was a shallow, babbling fashion groupie, always had been: she'd gone through changes over the years, more than most people would give her credit for, but Ken stayed just the same.

Still, she wasn't going to leave him stuck on a plinth.

"Don't touch the head," muttered a voice overhead. Startled, Barbie looked up. The crocodile squinted glassily down at her. "He'th left thpellth on it, you know."

"I have to," said Barbie. "I have to get him out of here."

"You'll thet off the alarmth."

"Is that all?"

The crocodile shrugged, undulating all the way to the tip of its tail. Dust and a few loose scales drifted down, glinting in the Nevada sunshine. "He'th an alchemitht. He'th full of thurpritheth. What do you think?"

"I float pretty well, actually. I'm hollow," said Barbie.

"Oh, a huldre-woman? Where'th your tail?"

"I beg your—" began Barbie indignantly, but she was interrupted by the sound she'd been dreading: footsteps on the stairs.

Barbie grabbed Ken's head off the plinth and sprinted across the table toward the window. As the door swung open, she broad-jumped to the sill and tumbled forward into the open air. Surely the dry ground below would shatter her plastic limbs—but—she grabbed a thread at her left shoulder and yanked.

Glossy, hot-pink fabric blossomed from her shoulders, revealing itself as one of her innumerable prom dresses, cut and reshaped into an improvised parachute pack. Barbie hit the ground, staggered, but stayed on her feet. G. I. Joe jogged over to join her. "Did you get him?"

Breathless, Barbie held up her prize. From the window above, they heard a shout of rage. Joe grabbed Barbie's free hand. "Run."

Down the hiking path they sprinted, weaving in and out among stones and brush. All too soon, they could hear the alchemist's feet thudding after them. Barbie gasped, "Should we?"

Joe pulled her to a stop. "Yes. Now."

Barbie set down the head, which muttered "Natural fibers are out," and joined hands with Joe. They stood facing each other for a moment. Then Joe inhaled deeply, and Barbie exhaled. She shrank. He grew.

Barbie, now miniature in size, dropped to the ground. She hated being this small. She hugged the Ken head for reassurance as Joe—now about knee-high to an adult—levelled his rifle up the path.

Shots echoed around the rugged hills, followed by a scream of mortal anguish. "TAKE THAT!" shouted Joe. "AND THAT AND THAT! This is for Ken! This is for the Raggedys! This is for Papa Smurf!"

Silence fell.

Joe reached down and took Barbie's hand. The moment he touched her, she rocketed upward. And so did he.

A moment later, they stood staring at each other from a height neither had ever experienced before. Barbie touched her chest cautiously, feeling her skin give under fingers. "I... I feel really strange."

"Me too." Joe looked down. "That's not... us, is it?" There was a pair of tiny plastic figures on the ground, next to the head.

"Not exthactly," said a voice from up the trail. Joe and Barbie snapped to the alert. The crocodile slithered toward them.

"It's okay," said Barbie. "He's friendly... I guess. What happened?"

"That alchemitht? He wath a real magithian. When you killed him, hith magic kind of... thpilled out. You two are real now. I'm alive again." It craned its neck, looking around at the desert landscape. "For what it'th worth."

"Uh..." said Joe. "I guess we can help you find water. You'll have to stay away from humans..."

"No worrieth. Thorry it didn't work for your friend."

Barbie looked down at the Ken head. "Well, it wouldn't have done him any good to come to life as just a head. I mean, then he'd have been dead. For real, dead. That's right, isn't it? We can die now?"

"Yeah, I guess," said Joe. "But hey. We can live." He grinned at her, and she felt a curious thudding behind her breastbone. I have a heart, she thought. How weird.

Joe bent down and picked up the tiny doll of himself. "Guess I'll keep this for a souvenir. Want yours?"

"Nah," said Barbie.

Collection available! Knocking from Inside


Susan Palwick said...

Great job! Thanks, Tiel!

#1 Dinosaur said...