3LBE #13
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Peter, Peter

by Dru Pagliosotti

 

Peter?)

He turned and buried his face in her fur cloak.

(Peter?)

“Go,” the Snow Queen directed. Peter sadly lifted his head and left her.

“Your uncle is here for you,” the doctor said with a kind smile. Peter didn’t answer, because she wasn’t supposed to be there.

The Queen said Uncle was supposed to be there, though. Peter watched the worn, angular man draw nearer. The Queen said every story needed a villain.

“C’mon. Time to go home,” Uncle sighed.

Peter obediently followed. Behind them, the doctor jotted notes in her case file.

The sleek bell-caparisoned mice that drew the car tossed their heads when Peter hummed them a song. Uncle kept yanking the car away from where they wanted to go, and it made the mice scream.

“Come on,” Uncle ordered when the car stopped. Peter’s heart ached for the poor steeds standing broken in their harnesses, legs wide, mouths bleeding. Uncle wearily lifted him, carrying him inside the pumpkin.

Peter didn’t like the pumpkin. It was hollowed out and dead. The Eater had gotten to it. The Eater got to everything, eventually. It would get to him, too. And then Peter would be all dry and withered, with his guts all stringy with seeds, spread on a sheet of newspaper in the kitchen. And then the Eater would put a bright candle inside his head.

“Please, Peter, you have to eat,” Uncle pleaded. Peter turned his head away, attention caught by the knife. It sang to him, high and sweet, an Eater song, a King song.

“Careful – no!” Uncle snatched it away from him. The magic blade bit Uncle’s fingers and he yelped, dropping it. Peter smiled at the clatter that sounded like a voice singing.

“That’s not okay to touch!” Uncle slapped him with one hand, holding his hurt hand curled into a fist and pressed against his chest. Peter rocked back with the blow, a horse of wood.

“Aw, Christ, kid. I’m sorry. I just can’t handle this…” Uncle ran his good hand through his hair and picked up the sword, sliding it into his pocket. The song was muted. “Okay, Peter. Please, be good today. Eat something for me.”

Peter slowly lifted his fork and plunged it into the pie. The birds screamed and blood oozed from the crust to the plate, warm and steaming. Peter drew a sharp breath and waited for the King to come from his counting-house.

“Oh, now what’s the matter? It’s going to be one of those days, isn’t it? I don’t know why I do this to myself. God forgive me, sometimes I wish you’d been in the car with Ev and Eileen.” Uncle leaned over him. “C’mon Peter, snap back to the real world. Hello? Reality calling. I need you to look at me.” The girls were crying and Uncle’s hands were big black spiders and there was only one thing to do about a villain.

Peter pulled the magic sword out of Uncle’s pocket. It sang fearfully as it rose and slashed.

Uncle roared and leaped backward, hands clapped to his face, blood streaming between his fingers. Peter leaped up and swung, and oh, it felt so good, and the King wouldn’t be angry after all because Uncle fell from the tower to the brambles below, all red and noisy.

And now the Eater would come with bring a candle to put in Uncle’s head. Peter let the magic sword fall. Two blind mice screeched and scuttled away, bumping into walls and table legs, fresh blood streaming from the stump of their tails.

“Mommy? Daddy?” he breathed. The mice rolled over and stared at him with glazed eyes. The Frog Princess hopped through the doorway from the living room, with webbed hands and feet and a cavernous, horrible mouth. She leered and hopped forward, squashing the mice, and they wouldn’t ever be horses anymore.

“No…” Peter squirmed backward, knocking the chair over. The Frog Princess stood up and pulled off her skin, and the Snow Queen stood over Uncle, but Uncle was a wolf, charred flesh bleeding and animated with unnatural life. The wolf opened its mouth to speak with breath that reeked of canvas and hospital antiseptic.

“All the King’s horses…” it began, and Peter saw the big, friendly egg-man topple to the ground.

“And all the King’s men…”

The egg-man crashed and split open, yellow slime pouring everywhere.

“Couldn’t put him back together again.” The wolf grinned and worms fell from its rotting mouth. The Queen looked sternly at the boy.

“Who killed Cock Robin?” she demanded. Peter leaped up, fists clenched against his chest.

“I did!” he screamed, and they all fell down.

 

 

Dru teaches communication at California Lutheran University and edits The Harrow. Her publications include a handful of short stories and several academic and trade articles, and she used to write about roleplaying games for About.com. Dru lives with a neurotic iguana.


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ISSUE #13

Summer 2003

FICTION

ART