SPINDLES • by Frances Gonzalez

The prince poisons the spindle. It’s nothing personal. The prince likes the girl enough: they talk about books. She’s a young blonde with full lips and heavy breasts. She’s conscious of her big nose and avoids her reflection in the silverware when they dine. But he can’t marry her. If he marries he will lose his steward. So the prince buys the witch’s poison. His fiancée pricks her finger and falls into deathless sleep and the prince feigns outrage, grief. He mourns loudly and is silently relieved.

The prince is glad she isn’t dead; he is not a killer. He orders her room kept spotless. He checks on her daily at sunrise and watches her nose cast a shadow like a sail on her face in the early light. He then returns to the bed he shares with his steward, Simon, and holds the still-sleeping man in his arms. The prince feels the heat of his lover’s skin, the pulse in the other man’s wrists, and the warmth is balm for his guilt. His steward is the opposite of his princess: delicately thin, dark and morose. He only smiles in his sleep. His acerbic comments frighten the maids but amuse the prince. Simon does not know what the prince has done. His steward has enough secrets to keep.

When months pass and it is clear the princess will not wake, the king fetches a new bride from a different allied kingdom. The prince woos her, dances with her, and takes her riding. She owns a chestnut gelding with a mane that shines from brushing, and no one brushes the horse but the princess. When she is discovered on the floor of her bedroom, her long brown hair a halo around her bloodless face and her body cold from the flagstones, the servants settle her in a room next to the first princess. Soon a third sleeping girl is situated down the hall, and a fourth two doors down from the third.

The rumors grow, spread like a virus. There is a devil haunting the prince, a curse, a spell. Patrols report unseen forces spooking the town’s horses; mothers report children screaming in their sleep. The inns coax travelers to stay the night with little success. And every sunrise the prince visits the four sleeping princesses in reverse order of appearance. He straightens their pillows, brushes the ends of their hair with his fingertips, and watches the rising sun imbue their faces with the false glow of health. None of them stir when the light touches them, though the third sighs in her sleep. When the prince returns to his bed he holds his steward and presses his nose into the smaller man’s neck, willing the gentle heat of their pulses to turn scalding. Lazy warmth is no longer enough.

The witch is captured by a frightened mob after a fifth princess succumbs to sleep. The prince attends the burning. When the guard lights the woodpile in the town square the prince closes his eyes. He tries to ignore the screams of agony and the desperate cheers of a populace now confident that the worst is over, that the danger is past. But the princesses keep coming. They are successively less accomplished, less beautiful, less polished. Instead of sparkling at the prince over dinner, their laughter rich and smooth as wine, they sit stiffly at the table and flinch at his touch. Few discuss books. Fewer ride gracefully. Many are not even princesses. But the prince pricks their fingers and they all slumber the same impenetrable way. Sending the prince fiancées becomes the fashionable way to prune courts of ill-favored maidens. His kingdom is a dumping ground for unworthy daughters, a punishment for disgraced families of other kingdoms, and a story to frighten little girls at bedtime.

The castle rooms fill with dreamless girls. The prince can no longer visit them all over the course of a morning. Soon he stops visiting entirely. The prince sleeps beside his steward until the sun is high overhead though he no longer holds the other man in his arms. Simon’s moroseness upsets the prince; his sharp humor is unbearable. That his lover should not smile more for him after all he’s done, that his steward cannot uncover his loving sacrifice of the women that pile in the castle like logs, provokes the prince to inexplicable rage. They fight secretly in bedchambers and closets over perceived slights accumulated through the day, the steward’s dark cheeks flushed bright and the furrow in his brow marking a permanent crease on his forehead. Each insult is worse for being flung in whispers. The frustrated prince breaks mirrors, shatters furniture. One day the steward is gone, having left the country on a boat in the dark of night, and the prince wonders if his lover knew the truth after all.

The king dies having never seen his son’s wedding. Neighbors refuse to trade with a cursed empire, and the citizens flee for less haunted lands. The kingdom falls into disrepair. The animals grow feral and weeds overcome the farms. The poisoned girls’ bedrooms molder though the occupants remain lovely in sleep. The prince stalks the lonely castle halls in outdated finery, opening and closing windows. He can no longer distinguish between one day and the next. But still the women come. Now they come without having heard of the prince at all. They come because they have heard that this is where women go when they are trapped, when their lives are aimless, when they want to disappear. They are old, poor, young, wealthy, beautiful, sad, fierce. They come in droves and crowd the dusty inns, the abandoned farms. They wait, patient and tireless. The prince does not turn them away. The prince understands traps, and the castle holds dozens of empty rooms. There are hundreds of spindles.

Frances Gonzalez is a Creative Writing MFA candidate at The New School in New York City. Previous publications include SmokeLong Quarterly and Stork. Check out her website, Tales of Pneuma, for more of her work.

Rate this story:
 average 5 stars • 1 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • I enjoyed this very much.

  • fishlovesca

    Above my paygrade.

  • Mary J


  • Andrew Waters

    I found the ending of this story visually and emotionally satisfying. The imagery of the women crowding the inns and farms was great but I could stand even a little more of this.

  • Interesting spin on a fairy tale — a plethora of princesses doomed to an eternal sleeping spinsterhood by a spindle-packing prince.

    A misty tone, perfect for the telling, but very bittersweet — nobody lives happily ever after in this tale. The Kings don’t get their daughters married, the daughters don’t get their prince, and the prince doesn’t get his stewart.

  • Couldn’t get into it. Sorry.

  • ajcap

    Don’t really know what to say about this. Enjoyed it, in a macabre type way.

    I agree the ending was satisfying, thankfully, because I had no idea where it was leading. Even felt sorry for the prince, and I’m not sure why.

    LOL, the author did a great job of making me feel something but I have no idea of what.

  • Sarah

    Wow, I kept thinking something would change..someone would charge in to save the day. Oops. A fairy tale without the fairy tale ending.

    I believe the story is trying to show what happens when society has too many social and legal stigmas. Groups try to make individuals fit into their “ideal”, and the individual lashes out, causing the group to suffer accordingly.

    The sleeping princesses represent the apathy of society and the screams of those poor burning souls represent the prince’s own inner torment.

  • Elizabeth Perfect

    I thought this was wonderfully done. Marvellous use of the present tense, and a very interesting (and dark!) spin on the old Sleeping Beauty fairytale.

  • This is a wonderful fairy tale. Dark, without a single happy ending in sight. Positively Grimm-worthy!

  • Beautifully written and my enjoyment grew as I read. But then, for me, it seemed to fall slightly flat in the final paragraph.

  • JenM

    Wow, I love retelling of farytales and with the prince as a serial killer this one became something more. I enjoyed the prince’s slow decent into madness, seeing the violent fights he would have with his steward. I don’t whether the steward knew what was coming for sure or not but he definitly made a narrow escape. The quality of the princess decressing was interesting too: maybe the prince would’ve been better off to marry someone he could talk to and sneak off to his steward at night?
    I loved the final image of all the desperate women coming to the prince and his killing them all; in what he must feel is compassion. A definite five stars form me!

  • Douglas Campbell

    This story is certainly well-written, stylistically, and creatively conceived. But despite all the rather interesting things that we’re told about, for me this story remained flat and uninvolving. That’s because the whole thing is told to us at secondhand, from a distanced perspective. That’s a perfectly valid narrative approach, except that now and then you need to have something happen live, onstage, in front of readers. Otherwise there’s very little to engage readers, to draw them into the moment. Also, why at the end are we told “the prince understands traps”? He was never trapped; what he did he did of his own free will.

  • If I may, I’d like to offer an answer to Mr. Campbell’s very valid question about the Prince’s “traps”.

    I could be mistaken, but I understand the traps to be: A gay man trapped in a lifestyle that has to at least appear heterosexual, trapped in his castle full of poisoned princesses, trapped in the secret that he’s the one poisoning them, and, finally, trapped in the dismal prospect of offering living death to the endless parade of women who seek him out. With the exception of his sexual orientation, the prince did indeed make his own traps, but they are traps nonetheless. Prisons, more like.

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  • Marguerite

    Loved this one. It just struck all the right notes with me.

  • Bizarre prose. Filled with one-liners, like a poem. Lacks flow.

  • Douglas Campbell

    That’s a thoughtful, valid, and helpful interpretation, Debi. Thank you for offering it. Yes, his sexual orientation became a trap for the prince. But personally I wouldn’t call his other problems “traps.” Those are simply the consequences of his crimes. I do see a lovely poetic justice here, though, with the prince, after putting all those princesses to sleep, ending up condemned to take in and care for an ever growing throng of unhappy women.

  • Loved this. Sad, creepy, and wonderful.

  • Thank you for all the comments, discussion and votes! It’s wonderful that you have taken the time to read and think about my story… that’s a writer’s dream.

  • The imagery in the final paragraph really blew me away.

    I’m usually don’t go for twists on fairy tales, but this worked for me. The prince was a well-developed character with a lot of depth. Nice work!

  • Jan Mann

    An excellent variation on a fairy tale where nothing, ever, will be ‘happy ever after’. Closer to the Grimm tradition than modern Disney-fed readers would believe, ths would be a fantastic tale for oral presentations – storytellers out there, this will captivate your audiences!

  • harley crowley

    So glad I dropped by today, and got to read this story. It just moved inexorably along for me and the ending was superb.

  • vondrakker

    FIVE stars…….for this piece.
    It did not “DO IT” for me.
    Its effect on me was similar to,
    #s 6 , 7, 11 and 13
    HOWEVER…It is one of the very best ,
    well conceived and written stories,
    published by EDF to date.
    Congratulations Frances,
    on this enviable acheivment.
    So very many comments !!

  • Wow, vondrakker, thank you so much for your astounding compliment!

  • Wow.

    I love twists on fairy tales, so this was right down my alley. Better yet, well-written with an end full of imagery. I related strongly to the prince and felt terrible for his bad choices that led him down this road. (reminds me somewhat of Requiem for a Dream film or Gone With the Wind, where you watch the character make all the wrong decisions)

    5 stars. 😀

  • Ric

    great story!

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