A Grimm Project

242 fairy tales, 242 writing prompts.

Category: Writing Responses

025. The Seven Ravens

*This post is part of A Grimm Project, a series of short fiction pieces using each of the Brothers Grimms’ Nursery and Household Tales as writing prompts. For more information about the project, click here. For more about the story which inspired this freewrite, click here.*

What you’ve carried: A three-legged stool, for sitting. So that’s five legs in all, which makes any journey shorter. A pitcher, for water, for it’s winter here, below the stars, and a jug full of fresh snow will last you till the Glass Mountain and beyond. And a knife, that too, though when you started you didn’t know what for.

What you’ve been given: Most helpful directions from the stars themselves, who arranged themselves in a perfect map to point you to your brothers’ home. A lesson, from the sun and moon, that what looks friendly from far away will devour you if you get too close. A key of bone — oh, where has it gone?

Now you stand, your little boots filling with snow, before the door in the side of the Glass Mountain, and they key is nowhere to be found. You bend your eye to the keyhole. Look there! A table, made of finest wood that you recognize from the forests of home, lovingly varnished to a gleam. Steaming pies — apple and peach — whose scents condescend to find you at the keyhole. Ah, don’t they smell just like your mother’s. As though, for lo these years, your brothers have made a copy of the home they remember, here in this wintery place. But there is no one at the table but birds. Until you are there, it is no home.

Quick, little one, lift up your finger. It will just fit into the lock. A slice, a break, and you will not miss it. Seven brothers, with ten fingers each and more tales than even that, will be your reward. Alas, no one returns home all in one piece.

Cate Fricke
November 2014

Illustration by Arthur Rackham

Illustration by Arthur Rackham

024. Mother Holle

*This post is part of A Grimm Project, a series of short fiction pieces using each of the Brothers Grimms’ Nursery and Household Tales as writing prompts. For more information about the project, click here. For more about the story which inspired this freewrite, click here.*

Mother Holle goes on holiday to a place where there is absolutely no snow. She presses and pulls herself into a two-piece, orange and yellow plaid swimsuit and dons a sun hat with a brim wide enough to say, I know what I’m doing. Regarding herself in the hotel room mirror, contained in a brass frame in need of a polish, she shakes her bottom and watches her hips jiggle. This satisfies Mother Holle. When Mother Holle shakes her behind, Bloody Marys appear next to deck chairs across the land.

Mother Holle takes the elevator to the lobby and shows her key card to the young man guarding the entrance to the pool. In the breakfast buffet, separated from her by a railing — more brass — groups of men and women uniformly divided by gender nurse hangovers with plates of bacon and create-your-own omelets.

A woman in a red two-piece brings Mother Holle a mimosa, still fripping with freshly-poured champagne. Anything else this morning? the woman asks. Mother Holle likes the woman’s clean smile, her feet that show no hint of self-tanner. How often do you work here? she asks the woman. I’m here through Thursday, she answers. She points to a tag pinned to the strap of her bathing suit, leaning askew. I’m Meredith, if you need anything else. Just ask.

Mother Holle adjusts her sunglasses as Meredith walks away, wiping them with a corner of the striped towel draped over the back of the chair. The sun, not yet at its zenith, pours over the roof of the hotel and down into the pool area, and suddenly Meredith is lost, disguised behind rays of gold. Mother Holle squints, and puts her glasses back on.

Cate Fricke
November 2014

 

DBP_1967_539_Frau_Holle

023. The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage

*This post is part of A Grimm Project, a series of short fiction pieces using each of the Brothers Grimms’ Nursery and Household Tales as writing prompts. For more information about the project, click here. For more about the story which inspired this freewrite, click here.*

The dog took up his post at 4pm, as per usual, just as the sun was settling low in the sky, like a wheezing woman sinking into an old chair. The road between the village and the capitol was at its busiest at early dusk. Tradesmen creaked their wagons homeward and mothers lumbered back from market with bread under their arms and children, tired, whining behind them. The dog liked to smell the children’s palms, on which lingered traces of each scrumptious thing the children had fondled before being told no, you’ll ruin your dinner, and for goodness’ sake wipe your nose. The children, and their parents, too, smelled familiar to the dog, and familiar was what he liked.

No one had ever told him to guard the road — but the dog could see that it needed guarding, and he figured himself the best candidate. He was old, nearly twelve, but his nose was still sharp.

In fact, it was his nose which stayed awake on evenings such as this, while the dog himself dozed. This was the bargain he’d struck with himself, for he knew his best skills, and how to account for them. The dog’s eyelids closed while his discerning nostrils remained open. The nose sniffed — the traces of a fine fish chowder — and the dog fancied himself swimming through thick, creamy brine, snapping at haddock, licking the peppered chunks of yellow potato clean.

Cate Fricke
November 2014

Illustration by Walter Crane

Illustration by Walter Crane

022. The Riddle

*This post is part of A Grimm Project, a series of short fiction pieces using each of the Brothers Grimms’ Nursery and Household Tales as writing prompts. For more information about the project, click here. For more about the story which inspired this freewrite, click here.*

A man dies carrying a virus.

He is a pacifist. Correction: he was a pacifist. He had no children and no wife. He lived in celibacy. This was his contribution to the great smooth orb of life. He dies content that he has harmed no one, and that the virus has died with him.

A man dies robbing a store.

Correction: He does not die all at once. He is wounded by a shotgun fired by the store’s owner. The bullet enters his right shoulder as the man runs away. It makes a home for itself behind the man’s collar-bone. He dies later, in the hospital, the result of a surprising resistance to the painkillers he is prescribed.

A woman dies, very old, two streets away in the hospice wing of a retirement home. At the same moment as the robber, isn’t that funny?

Nine more like these come to mind, but you haven’t got all morning.

Let’s be honest with ourselves, shall we? You and I have nothing to do with these. We do not create death. This seems like a fact that one should take comfort in. Let us say that we leave our home, our destination a workplace of some kind, and our coffee spills from the cup-holder and we reach to wipe it up, and hear screeching tires aways behind us, coming closer and then too close. Yes, let’s imagine accidents, both realistic and improbable — a terrible game. There, perhaps we’ve slain someone today, if only in our minds.

But then, let us say that we sneeze at an inopportune moment, and a fellow with a delicate immune system catches the cold we said we’d shoulder through, and cannot produce the necessary antibodies to fight it. We moved ahead in a line of traffic that made it impossible for the robber to make his clean escape, several blocks away. We busied the bank teller with our questions just before closing time, keeping him from his weekly chat at his elderly mother’s bedside, and she, already ailing, slipped away in loneliness. Perhaps we will never know. How am I to take a step, not knowing? I am responsible for a sudden darkness in too many lives to count. So many lights sputtering out, so many more than these I’ve described to you, and I am still here. And that is a riddle indeed.

021. Cinderella

*This post is part of A Grimm Project, a series of short fiction pieces using each of the Brothers Grimms’ Nursery and Household Tales as writing prompts. For more information about the project, click here. For more about the story which inspired this freewrite, click here.*

At first, I did not know that anything at all was happening to me.

But then as my skull grew, and my brain with it, I began to realize that something unnatural was occurring, and I became afraid.

It was not until I drew myself up from staring at my own feet, and found myself tall enough to look into the kitchen maid’s eyes, that I also felt large enough to love her. And I did—all at once. My heart, which only that morning had been the size of a kernel of dried corn, beat at a volume that would have terrified my once-minuscule self. It beat for her.

She, too, was undergoing a change: a new gown and precariously delicate shoes. The dirt had disappeared from her ankle-bones and between her fingers. But almost as soon as I was large enough to know that I loved her, I knew that her transformation had nothing to do with me, and my new heart felt its first breaking.

When, at the evening’s conclusion, I began to shrink back to my former smallness, I felt at first as though I was dying. I couldn’t bear the notion of leaving her—I was finally capable of understanding all her kindness throughout the many days of my life, and my gratitude overwhelmed me. Instead of killing me or setting traps for me, she had left lentils out on the floor for me and my brothers. She had sung both to herself and to us as she lay by the fire, attempting sleep. I remembered all this, and I hoped I always would.

Then the world was so much bigger—my toes extended and became knobby and clawed. The garden path was as wide as I was used to. Goodbye, I tried to say, but the few words I had known in my quick time as a man became no more than a clearing fog in my mind. On the grass of the garden, I saw dewdrops looming. Goodbye, my brain echoed, the last fractured thoughts before the ordinary fright of survivial: Scurry. Go. Goodbye love goodbye goodbye good bye good go go go

Illustration by A.H.Watson

Illustration by A.H.Watson

 

020. The Brave Little Tailor

*This post is part of A Grimm Project, a series of short fiction pieces using each of the Brothers Grimms’ Nursery and Household Tales as writing prompts. For more information about the project, click here. For more about the story which inspired this freewrite, click here.*

We sisters met at nightfall, something our husbands had ever been too thick, or too puffed up with bravado, to consider. We giants’ wives do not enjoy showing off our bulk. And so it was in shadows that we whispered — what are we to do about the tailor?

I’ll rip his head off his lanky neck with my own hands, said Hattie. I don’t care if anyone else comes with me.

Hush now, counseled Bertha. He killed seven men with one blow, and our husbands with less than the same.

My husband cowers in his cave since the tailor’s visit, said Elspeth. He’s never been in such a fright.  And not a word of vengeance for his friends! The children shouldn’t see him like this, reduced to a whimpering babe. I wish I didn’t have to.

Bertha’s right, whispered Minnie. He’s too much for any one of us. But all the more reason we should unite.

Yes, it’s up to all of us now, we all agreed. If any one of us were to claim that we were unafraid, it would have been a falsehood. The tailor, it seemed, was in possession of a fearsomeness that mere strength, size, and blood lust could not contend with. He had clearly outwitted our men, and wit is the most fearsome weapon.

But here’s what most forget, about a giant’s wife: she is clever. A giant’s wife is the one who soothes her violent husband while an Englishman hides in the pantry baskets. She is enormous, with brains proportionate to her size, unlike her mate. And the tailor, god willing, had already played his tricks.

We changed into our husbands’ leathers and breastplates and, for good measure, nabbed their clubs and spears as well. All the doing would need, though, once the man was caught, was but a one of our heavy fists. It was the catching — yes, that was where Death waited for us, ready to take his chance should we be led astray by one of the tailor’s ploys. But we knew where the man slumbered. We were ready.

Cate Fricke
June 2014

Illustration by Arthur Rackham

Illustration by Arthur Rackham

 

019. The Fisherman and His Wife

*This post is part of A Grimm Project, a series of short fiction pieces using each of the Brothers Grimms’ Nursery and Household Tales as writing prompts. For more information about the project, click here. For more about the story which inspired this freewrite, click here.*

When Elerbon returned to the sea, he noticed that the long streak of blood still floated in the clear water. He sat on a rock, crossing his legs beneath him, and watched as the ribbon of red shimmered in the calm water, shuddering as the seawater lapped and bobbed in the pool.

He did not know how to call the fish, but was certain — and this made him sad — that the fish would appear nonetheless. Emilie had not always been so unhappy as to send him clamoring for wish-granting fish. Before their marriage, she had danced when the travelers played mountain songs in the pub, and this had made her happy enough to last for weeks. And even after they had exchanged vows, a festival with fresh fruit vendors selling oranges had lifted her spirits enough carry her smiles well into several months. A sunny day and the drifting sound of a neighbor child singing her favorite song gave Elerbon days of peace from Emilie, which he cherished more and more as they grew older. It was not until the same song only afforded her three minutes of happiness, which Elerbon felt passing away from them like spent coins at the grocer, that he knew she’d become like so many other women — mysteriously unhappy. Her face changed, and she laughed very little, but still he loved her. What else could he do?

The streak of blood had only just dissipated in the water. A tiny white crab the size of Elerbon’s fingernail was climbing bravely up the underside of a rock, then faltered and fell with a plop into the growing foam. Elerbon sighed. A sea wind met his sigh with salt and chill, and Elerbon stood. The fish was swimming toward him.

Cate Fricke
May 2014

Illustration by Kay Nielsen

Illustration by Kay Nielsen

018. “The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean”

*This post is part of A Grimm Project, a series of short fiction pieces using each of the Brothers Grimms’ Nursery and Household Tales as writing prompts. For more information about the project, click here. For more about the story which inspired this freewrite, click here.*

There once was a poor old woman who lived in a village, and she had gathered a bunch of beans that she wanted to cook.

She set a pot to boil over a meager fire, and let the beans soak together in a crock of fresh water. Once the pot began a-bubbling, the old woman took her ladle from the wall and began spooning the beans, a few at a time for it’s all she could lift, into the warm pot.

Oh, how the beans screeched! Oh, how sorry she felt for them. They were kind little beans, like napping babies, and she felt ever so terrible for waking them, only to plunge them in the boiling sup. But what else could she do? She was old, and poor, and the beans had been made good payment for the stitching she’d done that week for the parson up the road. They belonged to her, to do with what was best.

Ach, if only her hands were not so weak, she’d have gotten it over and done with sooner. But a lilt of the spoon, a few beans at a time, was the most she could muster. She took some consolation in naming each bean as she ladled it into its doom.

This one is Ben, she crooned, Old Ben, for his chin looks much like my long-gone father’s.

This one is Terrence, like the neighbor’s little dog. See how it curls, like Terrence’s tail!

This one is Margaret, for I always liked that name, and ne’er had one to give it to.

It occurred to her, halfway through, that the naming of each bean only drew out its death ballet for longer, and that the beans may have already had their own names for themselves. Nonetheless, it brought her comfort, and so she kept along at it until the pot was full, and their sighs had quieted.

Cate Fricke
May 2014

017. The White Snake

*This post is part of A Grimm Project, a series of short fiction pieces using each of the Brothers Grimms’ Nursery and Household Tales as writing prompts. For more information about the project, click here. For more about the story which inspired this freewrite, click here.*

I asked my dog today precisely what she thought of me. Be honest, I said. I won’t take offense.

I figured if anyone would tell me the truth, it would be her — am I generally a kind person? Do others appreciate my charisma, or am I simply annoying? A dog is an excellent judge of character. And as Ghandi said, you can tell a lot about a society by how they treat the weakest among them. As far as our society, me and the dog’s, she would probably be in a good position to let me know if I was on the right track, human-wise.

You smell like ham, she said.

Ok, I said. I’ll work on that.

No, I like that about you, she said, to clarify.

What else? I asked.

What else could there be? she retorted. Would you like me to sniff again?

No thanks, I said. I went outside. She didn’t follow me, and I remember thinking that she might regret that — a pair of squirrels were busy systematically investigating the fallen seed-pods in our yard, and the dog really has a thing for squirrels. I sat on the stoop and watched them. They seemed unconcerned by my presence. Maybe I could ask them, I thought. On the one hand, they didn’t really know me. But on the other, I’ve always been told that first impressions are the most important.

Hi there, I said to the squirrels.

They stopped their picking and stood straight up, bottle-brushed tails erect.

I’m Cate, I said.

They stared at me.

A bird hopped into the yard from the driveway and saw them, studied their stillness before looking to me.

You don’t really want to know what they have to say, the bird whispered.

I don’t? I asked.

The bird hopped closer. I held out my hand for it to alight, thinking at once both of Disney princesses, and bird mites.

They’re thinking that you smell like ham, the bird said, in a low, conspiratorial voice. And also that ham is delicious.

Cate Fricke
April 2014

Illustration by Arthur Rackham

Illustration by Arthur Rackham

016. The Three Snake Leaves

*This post is part of A Grimm Project, a series of short fiction pieces using each of the Brothers Grimms’ Nursery and Household Tales as writing prompts. For more information about the project, click here. For more about the story which inspired this freewrite, click here.*

When I opened my eyes, your face filled my vision. Hope was spread across it like too much butter on toast—you were smiling, proud of what you’d done. What you’d discovered.

I did not like coming back from the dead; I did not know, yet, that dead is what I had been. Your face and its ravenous smile frightened me. Is that an excuse for breaking my vow to you? I wish, in truth, that I could say no. But death made an honest woman of me.

Come, meet my new bridegroom: the shadow that moves in the dark. He does not mind what lovers I take, for I am his, no matter how many leaves you keep in your waistcoat pockets.

I remember loving you. When you said you would give up your life for mine, yes, I loved you. But instead of keeping your vow, you claimed my life and twisted it from sleep into waking. Before you marked me yours, I thought you fine. I do not like the jealous smile you wear when you watch me now. I do not care for the way you beam.

Cate Fricke
April 2014

illustration by Jamison Odone: http://jamisonodone.wordpress.com/about/

illustration by Jamison Odone: http://jamisonodone.wordpress.com/about/