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A Fairy Tale in a Keyhole

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Once upon a time, in a kingdom next to the ocean, there was a king and a queen. He wore a golden crown and loved his people, and she wore roses in her hair and tended the gardens. After time, they had a baby boy, a little prince. They were elated over the birth of their child; the king would play his pipe while the queen would sing, and the baby found himself in a world of music and love and joy. Their family was small, but it was all they could possibly want.

Until one day,

one day,

the queen became sick. Her son was hardly old enough to understand what the matter was, and would frequently occupy himself trying to sing her songs as he played with his toys. The king, however, knew that the queen’s illness was a grave one. She became pale, and the roses in her hair began to crumble and fall out.

There was no castle gardener, and the king was too busy taking care of his wife to tend to the gardens himself. As she became sicker, thin vines of thorns grew up at the edges of the gardens, wrapping around pillars and creeping over thresholds.

Eventually,

eventually,

the queen died. Her gravestone was surrounded by flowers, and those who stood at her funeral saw rose petals dance through the wind, even though no one could be found throwing them in the air. The king wept for the loss of his beautiful wife, and even the young prince clung to her plain circlet as he stood by her graveside.

After a time, the prince decided to leave. He took off on a boat, wearing his mother’s circlet, to explore the seas and find answers to questions he didn’t know how to ask. His mother was gone, he knew that, but perhaps if he searched for her, he would find something to help him fully grasp the concept of her departure.

The king did not travel with the prince. He stood on the shore, too late to stop either his son or the boat that sailed so far out to sea, the wind pushing it ever further. Now left behind, alone in his castle, he could not help but think: Was one loss not enough?

The king became completely overcome with grief. His wife had died, his son was lost to the sea, and he had nothing, nothing. He hid his face from his kingdom, overcome with a horrible, oozing, black feeling that was so violent it poured out from his body, running out from his shadow and covering everything. It burst from him like the flailing arms of an angry leviathan, and its wretched presence radiated like the merciless waves of the ocean.

Soon,

soon,

the entire kingdom was engulfed in his misery. The city that was once bright, made of white stone and golden trim, became dark, covered in black and decorated with red. The wind itself turned foul, and the water became enraged. Houses crumbled, archways fell apart, markers were put up, but there was no one left to explain what they were for; they either left the kingdom or disappeared in the stormy gloom.

When the misery had settled, and everything in the kingdom found its own spot to sit in as it decayed, a ship appeared on the horizon. A wind, contrary and not at all harsh, pushed its sail, as a boy wearing a golden circlet guided it back to what was once his home.

But the land had changed. He did not recognize the crumbled ruins, the vague statues and the creatures that wandered the wastes. At first, he thought he was in the wrong place, that the stars had misguided him. Or perhaps he was dreaming, and wasn’t there yet.

Deep down,

He knew he was in the right place.

The prince ran to his old home, climbing the stairs and searching each floor for someone, anyone, to tell him what had happened, to help him find his father. In navigating the mazes and puzzles the king’s grief had created, he found nothing. The floors each had their own way of trying to break him, to make him give up and go away again.

There was a giant bird who attacked him relentlessly in a blazing midday heat.

There were people who had changed into shadowy, vulturous beings, searching out those who were not yet like them.

There was bitter cold, and a never-ending rain, and a sense of complete loss, as the wonder the prince found in this new kingdom was ripped away from him.

It was in this third and final room that the prince found himself a shadow of who he was, finally darkened by the land’s misery as the stirred waves of despair began to beat against him so that he, too, would settle with everything else. He wanted to settle. He wanted to give up, to stay in place like everything else did, but he needed to find his father.

And so he climbed to the top of the tower, where he found a window that showed him what was left of the kingdom. But when he looked out...

It all looked...

wrong.

The prince squinted, and saw that the ground was moving, rising and sinking in waves such as the surface of water does when looked at from below. In fact, on the other side of it, he could see the reflection of the tower, straight through where the ground should have been. The prince leaned out the tower of the window, and saw something—no, someone—doing the same. He saw a flash of gold, and knew it to be a crown. When the other person stuck his arm out, the prince knew that he was the one being reached out to. The prince reached out in kind, but it did nothing for either of them.

Taking in a deep breath, the prince climbed onto the window sill, and without giving the melancholy tower a second look, he dived.

Far,

far,

far

down he fell, but he didn’t hit the ground. He had closed his eyes, halfway bracing for impact, but when he opened them, he found himself in his old bedroom, sitting on the bed he used to sleep on. In front of him stands his father, who is still leaning out the window. The prince can see pink and orange and blue behind him, breaching the horizon and changing the world.

His father turns, and they both take a moment to take in the other’s face. The father slowly sits down beside his son, never once letting his eyes glance away, and then hugs the young prince as tightly as he can. The young prince hugs him in return, but he knows that he cannot stay for long.

The ocean calls him again, but this time, it is the one offering the question the prince already knows the answer to. This time, the king allows the prince to leave, and while the departure is sad, they both feel... better, somehow. They know this is what must happen for either of their lives to progress.

The ocean takes the young boy again, to a lost kingdom cleaned of the settled misery that had once plagued it, and the king finds a way to present himself to the world again and restore what he tore down.

Who knows, he may even try his hand at gardening.