White Lily

Once Upon A Time

Notes and Disclaimers: The characters in this story are the property of Be-Pappas and Flower Comics, created by Saito Chiho and Ikuhara Kuniiko. I am using them because I can’t stop myself.

If you’d like to talk to me about this or any of my stories, or Anshi, or SKU in general, email me at yuricon@gmail.com. If you want to be my friend, don’t show me your mad writing skillz by sending me a story I don’t have time to read.

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Once Upon A Time

“Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time…”

“I hate those kinds of stories!”

“Shush. You’ll like this one. It’s about a princess…”

“Oh, nooo…..”

“Just be quiet and listen and maybe you’ll learn something. It’s about a princess who would have made a very good prince, but was an even better princess.”

“Oh, god…if I have to listen to this I’ll be sick, I know it.”

“Just listen.”

“Fine, but I’m not going to like it.”

“Yes, you will. Trust me.”

My aunt was a peculiar person. She lived alone in a large house, but everything was always in perfect condition. Nothing ever looked less than spotless. Not that the house was cold or lifeless. No, in my memories it was warm, sunny – a pleasant place to be. I spent many happy days there, reading books from my aunt’s library, drawing, discussing art and music, even doing my homework. And I loved my aunt – the only thing I hated were those fairy tales. Since I had been a small child I had despised those stories of unreal people in those unreal kingdoms.

And my aunt’s stories so rarely had a happy ending.

“Once upon a time, there was an evil king who had an evil daughter. She was willful and unhappy and she made the people around her unhappy, too. She treated all her servants with the most callous cruelty and her family with neglect.

“After many years, a magnificent prince came to the kingdom and asked for the princess’s hand in marriage, but the princess scorned the prince, because she desired marriage with another, more powerful prince.

“The prince went away, but his love turned to hatred and he attacked the princess’s kingdom, killed her family and servants, and left her alone in a ruined palace.

“The princess left her home and went to the kingdom of the prince she loved, but he rejected her, because she now looked tired and worn. She was given a job in the kitchen and lived the rest of her life as a lowly maid. When she died, no one even noticed, and no one mourned.”

When my aunt spoke of her travels, she was fascinating. She had seen every continent and visited every beautiful, historical and powerful place on the planet. Sometimes, when I sat in front of her fireplace, watching the flames as she told stories of her life, I could almost believe that she had been alive forever. When she told me stories of people from far away places and times, it was as if she herself had lived these adventures. I couldn’t get enough of them and often asked her to tell me more, late into the night.

“Once upon a time, there was a prince. He was terribly unhappy, because he was desperately in love with another prince, but his parents wanted him to marry a princess from another kingdom.”

I would beg her to not tell me these stories, but she seemed to find them…neccesary.

“Don’t these princes and princesses have anything better to do but get married and fight stupid duels?”

“Sometimes they get captured by evil magicians and have to get rescued.”

“You are so weird…”

I never understood what comfort she found in telling me these tales. They made me uncomfortable, as if the darkness outside was creeping into me, suffocating me. But my aunt would smile as she told them.

“Then the princess set the prince down off her horse and, drying his tears, kissed him goodbye. Then she rode off, never to be seen again.’

When I was a child, I used to think about what kind of person I would grow up to be. I saw myself as a teacher, or maybe an actor, or even an architect. On other days I was an artist, or a fireman. But I swore, with a fervency that was laughable, that I’d never, ever, be a princess.

“Once upon a time there was a princess…”

“Not again!”

“Yes, again. And again, and again. That’s the whole point, you know.”

“Whatever.”

“This princess had lost something important, something precious, but she couldn’t remember what it was. So she spent her whole life looking for it.”

“And she never found it, I assume?”

“No, she found it. But it wasn’t what she remembered at all.”

After my aunt would tell me one of these stories, I would often have strange, vivid, but unfulfilling dreams. I rarely remembered the dreams, just flashes of color, or smells or emotions that would linger for days.

“Once upon a time there was a princess who loved to act like a prince. But, her parents wanted her to get married, so she came up with an idea. Whatever prince wanted to marry her had to fight her in a contest. The prince who defeated her could have her hand.

“Many princes fought for her, but the princess always won. One day, another princess came with a challenge. And the first princess accepted, because she knew she was better than everyone else.

“The princess was good, but not as good as the challenger – so she lost. And she was forced to marry this princess from a strange and far away land. But because princesses can’t really marry, the challenger went home alone. Before she left, she told the princess that she knew in her heart that they were engaged, and she vowed one day to come back and marry the princess she had won in competition.”

“Did she?”

“No. She never came back.”

One night I had had enough – all these stories of princes and princesses who lived lives of unending misery. I begged her not to tell me any more. I stood, with my hands clenched and screamed, “These stories are stupid!”

I’ll never forget what my aunt said then. “No,” she said calmly, “The stupid ones are the ones in which the prince and princess ride off and live happily ever after.”

“Once upon a time there was a prince who was in love with a princess. But another princess fell in love with him. Because he could not have the princess he loved, he married the one who loved him instead. They were happy for a while, until he ran away with the princess he truly loved, leaving the princess who loved him alone.”

“Do these stories ever have a happy ending?

“Almost never.”

The dreams I’d have were almost worse than the stories themselves. Although I could not remember the dreams, I would wake feeling tired and frustrated as if I had spent the whole night searching for something, but unlike the princess in the story, I never found anything, not even unhappiness.

“Once upon a time, two princes fought for the hand of a princess they both loved. They fought for a long, long time, but neither could prevail. In the end, they both died and the princess was left alone forever.”

It was always late at night when she told me these bizarre fairy tales. The house would be silent, the fire low in the grate and the dark would close in upon the two of us. My aunt’s voice would be low – lower than she normally spoke – and slow, as if she was in a trance. She wouldn’t open her eyes as she recited these tales, but she always answered my questions, even if the answers weren’t the ones I wanted.

“Why are all the princes and princesses so unhappy all the time?”

“Because life is like that.”

And then, one day, I understood. Nothing special triggered my comprehension. I was standing in the garden admiring the flowers – the hibiscus, I think – and it came to me. I stood, stunned at the thought, dismissing it at first. Then I giggled a little because it was so preposterous.

“Are you going to tell me a story?”

“Do you want me to?”

“Yes – but a true one, not a fairy tale.”

“Everything I tell you is a true story.”

I could barely look my aunt in the eyes the whole day, sure that my thoughts were visible on my face. I avoided her as long as I could, but when it became dark, I found her in the big room, in front of the fire. I entered slowly, but could not hold back for long. I blurted out my question in a single incoherent breath and waited, panting, for the answer.

“Once upon a time, there was a princess who wanted to be a prince. She was noble, athletic and very, very idealistic. She was charming and friendly, and everyone who met her wanted to be her friend or lover. But she had no time for them, because she was busy looking for a damsel in distress she could save….”

“Did she find a damsel in distress?’

“Oh, yes.”

Now I knew why none of the stories ever had a happy ending. I lay in bed that night terrified to fall asleep, fearing the dream that was waiting for me.

“It was you all along, wasn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“You were the princess every time?”

“Yes.”

“In all the stories?”

“Yes.”

“Did any of your stories ever have a happy ending?”

She paused, removed her glasses and wiped the tears from her emerald eyes. “Once,” she said.