Chapter 1: Cinderfella
Once upon a time there lived a lonely teenager by the name of Michael. He lived a seemingly aimless existence, constantly attending school and doing chores around the house while his parents were at work.
It so happened one night shortly after his seventeenth birthday that he broke down in tears on the living room floor, unable to bear the weight of his mundane existence any longer.
The minutes went by and all of a sudden, the front door was blown open as a sultry redhead seductively strode into the house while clad in skintight leather.
"Who...who are you? And what are you doing in my house?" Michael abruptly asked while looking up at the beauty with tearful eyes.
"Michael, darling..." She crooned softly, bending down to lay a comforting hand upon his shoulder. "Don't you know? I'm Kelly, your sexy Godmother..."
"Wh-what?" He stammered, unsure whether he'd heard right.
"I'm here to help your dreams come true. I believe you want to be admired and swooned over by girls?"
"Yes! Like a rock star!"
The woman stood up and swiftly snapped her painted fingernails, which instantly teleported the two of them to an empty garage and left Michael gaping in awe.
"Oh my God, this is where my Dad works!"
She ignored him and wordlessly tossed a handful of glitter in the air, before inexplicably transforming into a shiny red corvette.
"Get in. You can ride me anywhere you want." Her disembodied voice spoke up, snapping Michael out of his stunned trance before he hurriedly did her bidding.
Once he was behind the wheel, the vehicle automatically sped out of the building and down the street. The suddenness of it all sent Michael flying back in his seat and he began to feel rather breathless, to say the least.
An hour later, he was stepping out of the car and wearing a crisp suit much to the pleasure of those whom had come to see him.
A large group of girls began to scream in ecstasy at the mere sight of his face and it was then that Michael found himself feeling increasingly uncomfortable with all of the attention.
"Oh, Michael!" A sweet young voice unexpectedly called out as one girl in particular pushed her way to the front of the crowd. "I'm your biggest fan, please give me an autograph!"
He instantly recognized her as Lisa, a typically shy girl in his class whom occasionally inspired tingly feelings in him for reasons he couldn't figure out.
He obliged to her request regardless and she sighed in bliss, before making another even more surprising demand.
"I really love your music...could we see each other after the show? It'll only take a few minutes, I promise..."
Michael swallowed nervously and glanced towards where a redhead in a form fitting dress stood. She gave him a smile of reassurance and he decided to take the chance.
"Yes, I'd be perfectly glad to." He replied before Lisa gave an uncharacteristic shriek of victory.
Lisa approached him backstage just as she'd promised and Michael anxiously raised his hand to greet her, noticing through the corner of his eye that the clock was fast approaching midnight.
Before he could ponder what that could possibly entail, Lisa was grabbing him by the shoulders and pulling him in for a kiss. The rash action caused him to panic and Michael instinctively resisted until he was free, at which he stood up tall to face her in disbelief.
"You're...you're not the Lisa I know. The real one would never-"
"But you don't understand!" She yelled in anguish, interrupting his attempt to stay calm. "I love you so much, I can't think of anybody else!"
At that, she produced a pistol and pointed it right at him. He panicked and tried with little avail to rush for the nearest door.
A single gunshot sounded and Michael's grip around the door handle loosened as he plummeted to the floor, chest bleeding profusely while the life slowly left his body.
The minute hand on the clock reached twelve and Lisa gazed wistfully down at him before raising the barrel of the pistol to her head.
Chapter 2: Red Riding Hood
"Tina, could you do me a favor?" Pamela called loudly from the kitchen, distracting her teenage daughter while she watched a talk show on television.
"Sure, Mom..." The seventeen year old groaned upon rising from the couch and exiting the living room.
"Could you take this basket of baked treats to your grandma's place? It's only a ten minute walk."
"Okay..." Tina agreed while reminding herself that any task which helped to burn calories was worth doing.
She made sure to put on her favorite red jacket before leaving, for looking good was always a priority for a girl such as her, no matter what the occasion.
An old and sputtering car pulled over by the sidewalk when Tina was halfway there and she spun around to find out the identity of the driver.
It turned out to be none other than family friend and object of her fantasies David, whom flashed her an uncharacteristically bright smile and asked where she was going.
"To my grandma's place with this basket of treats."
"Sounds fun. Want me to give you a lift? I'm going in this direction anyway..."
"Sure!" She squealed excitedly in response, wasting no time in hopping into the front passenger seat, only to regret the impulsive decision upon realizing that David had never met her grandmother.
"Actually, Dave... maybe I should just go back to walking..."
"Nah, what's the point? You can just give me directions."
"Well, thanks for driving me here. You're such a sweet guy sometimes, is there anything I can do in return?"
"Yeah...save the sentimental stuff for later. I have places to go." David replied, reverting back to his typical cynical and dry demeanor, much to her disappointment.
She sighed and stepped out, slamming the door shut before climbing the steps to her grandmother's doorstep.
It was only after Tina had left and he'd stopped at a traffic light that David realized he'd unwittingly placed a certain brown paper bag inside her basket for the sake of hiding it from a patrolling cop.
As such, he fell into a brief panic and sounded his horn a couple of times in frustration, irritating the driver right ahead of him.
"Oh, you don't know how blessed I am to have a grandchild like you, dearie. You're simply an angel..."
"Stop it, grandma..." Tina countered as her face blushed red in embarrassment. "I'm only here because of Mom and you know it..."
"Well, it's the thought that counts..."
Both grandparent and grandchild then smiled warmly at each other, enjoying the sweet moment until a loud male voice burst their bubble of bliss.
"Give me the basket now! I left something private in there!" David yelled, charging through the front door with arms flailing.
"What? Who the hell is this young man?"
"He's just a friend, grandma. I can explain..."
The old woman ignored Tina's words however and swiftly drew a gun and pointed it straight at David, prompting him to abruptly freeze and place both hands in the air.
"You're not laying a finger on either one of us, you hear?! I'll call the cops and send your delinquent ass to jail!"
David could only stare speechlessly in response as she actually followed through with the threat and dialed an emergency number, while maintaining aim at him the whole time.
A pair of officers arrived ten minutes later and upon finding David's illegal substance, quickly arrested him despite Tina's desperate attempts to defend his innocence.
"David, I'm so sorry! It's all my fault, I should never have let you drive me!"
"Shut up! My future's gone anyway!"
Tina let out a pitiful whimper and bit her nails as she watched the car speed off, heart drowning in guilt until some sweet words from her grandmother cheered her up.
"Well, what's done is done. There's always plenty of other fish in the sea, so why don't we head inside and enjoy some of that cake your Mom baked?
"That's my girl."
Chapter 3: Sleeping Beauty
"Come on, let's see your brother before bed..."
Two year old Michelle giggled as Karen carried her towards the cot in which an infant lay snoring quietly, before babbling excitedly at the sight of his adorable face.
Soon it was time for the little girl to also be tucked away and she obediently snuggled underneath the sheets, feeling both proud and glad that she had the honor of keeping such a small being company.
Karen turned out the lights and went downstairs to the living room where her old sewing machine waited, so that she could get to work mending a pair of jeans.
Steve returned home late that evening to find the living room light still on and his wife lying stiff on the floor. He rushed to her side in a panic and tried fruitlessly to shake her awake, until he noticed that the carpet was stained with dark red droplets.
After finding that she was still breathing and her pulse seemed regular, he glanced around the room for the possible cause of such a deathlike slumber, ironically completely overlooking the needle on the sewing machine as he tried to put the pieces together.
He wound up calling an ambulance after being unable to figure out just what had happened, as well as whether his wife's wellbeing was in danger or not.
Unfortunately, the paramedics later concluded after a thorough check that there were no signs of trauma or injury apart from the pin prick on her finger that had long since stopped bleeding.
"Does your wife take sleeping pills or any other such medication?"
"No, not that I know of..."
"Then I guess she's just a really heavy sleeper. Take good care of her..."
Steve watched in frustration as the team of medical staff all left the house in high spirits while feeling an unpleasant suspicion that there was more to the situation than he was aware of.
He composed himself regardless and lifted Karen's inert body into his arms with some effort, before carrying her upstairs in the hope that all would be well again in the morning.
The sound of a ticking clock seemed deafening as Karen slowly opened her eyes and through blurred vision was able to make out only rays of sunlight, as well as the vague figure of a man standing by her bed.
"Steve..." She mumbled numbly, only to feel her own chest heave in dismay when everything cleared and she instead saw a complete stranger staring speechlessly down at her.
"Who are you?! What are you doing in this house?!"
The young man simply fell to his knees and gazed at her in awe, lips quivering as he struggled to form the right words with his tongue.
"Dad! Michelle! You won't believe it, she's actually awake!" He finally yelled, turning his head rapidly towards the open door.
Karen suddenly grew short of breath upon hearing the unbelievable words and tried to ask what was going on, only to freeze in horror when a middle aged man and young woman rushed into the room moments later.
"Karen, I...I thought you'd never wake up... I love you..." The older one whispered, wrapping both arms around her torso until she demanded to know his identity.
"Don't you recognize me? I'm Steve..."
"And I'm Michelle!"
Karen pushed past her husband and two children so that she could run into the corridor, but the confronting image of her still youthful face in the bedside mirror made her freeze completely.
The shocking realization that everybody else had aged proved too much for her body to handle and she fainted, collapsing upon the bed again in slumber.
Karen woke up from the disturbing dream with a scream that prompted her husband to also rise and ask what was wrong.
"It's nothing..." She replied in embarrassment, upon realizing the difference between fantasy and reality. "Just a silly nightmare..."
Feeling somewhat insecure, she got out of bed and went to the bathroom, turning on the light to find in relief that her forehead was adorned with faint wrinkles.
"Never have I ever been so glad to be fifty... and less attractive than my daughter too!"
Chapter 4: Rumpelstiltskin
This one has a more serious tone compared to the previous chapters. It is also probably the only one that makes sense in the context of some of my other stories.
Ingrid Gustafsson lived a fairly uneventful childhood as the daughter of two dour and no-nonsense immigrants from Sweden.
She had very few friends growing up and as such, spent much of her spare time reading or watching television.
The occasional visit to her grandmother was always a highlight, for the old woman never failed to awe her with stories from the old country.
It was during her first year of college that she first met him. She'd initially assumed him to be a friend of her roommate Patricia, but was quickly proven wrong when he claimed to know no such person.
Having never experienced being the sole target of a young man's interest, Ingrid couldn't help but be suspicious and hastily asked to know his name first.
He didn't answer and instead tipped his hat with a smile, before disappearing into thin air right in front of her.
The only conclusion she could draw from the strange event was that he was a spirit of some sort, so she began visiting the library again to study various books on mythology.
None of her research yielded satisfactory results however and Ingrid came to dismiss his presence as just a figment of her own active imagination.
"I...I'm never going to get this paper in on time..." She thought hopelessly, sinking her head down on the desk as she struggled to think of a way to begin her essay.
The sudden appearance of a dark figure in the nearby mirror caused her to jolt and she spun around to see the strange man again.
"You... you again? I must be going mad..."
"No, you're not. I'm real alright, and I'm here to help you..."
"Oh, really? I don't even know your name."
"You'll find out in time. Right now, let's just focus on your silly essay..."
Ingrid fell speechless as he approached and placed a hand upon her forehead for a few seconds before withdrawing.
"What... what did you just do?"
"I've given you inspiration. Now turn around and try writing again."
Ingrid reluctantly followed his advice and to her surprise, found that the ideas flowed through her mind like a rapid river, as she wrote tirelessly for the next two hours about mortality and the transience of human life.
She turned back in pride upon finishing, only to find that he had once again vanished without a trace.
The years passed as Ingrid graduated from college and settled into a life by her own, the humdrum of a new career and friends preoccupying her to the point of forgetting all about the mysterious muse whom used to help her at unlikely times.
It was only during a particularly cold evening a few weeks before her twenty-fifth birthday that Ingrid found herself wishing for his presence again, for reasons she couldn't fathom.
He appeared instantly, and she began to sob quietly while hoping for consolation.
"Please help me...I feel like I've lost everything, but I don't know why..."
"Relax, it's going to be okay." He said softly in reassurance while kneeling down beside her. "Just guess my name and all your troubles will be over..."
"I'll give you two hints. It has five letters and a 'D' in it."
Ingrid swallowed and rubbed away tears before making her first guess.
"I give up, then."
"Oh, don't be like that. I'll give you three days to think about it, since it's not quite your time yet..."
"But-" She began to protest, but he let go of her and sped out the door, leaving her alone once again in the apartment, with only memories of better times for company.
The second hand on the clock ticked relentlessly as hours went by and Ingrid continued to sit still without surrendering to sleep, determined to find the final solution to her problem.
Mr Gustafsson stood and stared numbly as the coffin containing the body of his only child was lowered down so that she could join her grandmother.
Question upon question clouded his mind as to how death could be so cruel as to take his beloved daughter so suddenly and prematurely, especially when he'd given up so much just for her to enjoy a comfortable life in a prosperous country.
"I'm an old man and everything I've done has been in vain... what's the use of trying to see another day...?"
He lowered his head in resignation and desperately yearned to be reunited with Ingrid soon, while remaining unaware of the dark figure watching him gleefully from afar.
Chapter 5: Hansel and Gretel
Steven sat alone in the schoolyard, watching enviously as other children compared lunches while he had to settle for nothing.
A girlish voice caught him by surprise and he turned to see classmate Barbara, whom approached warily with lunchbox in hand.
"I...I noticed you didn't have anything to eat, so maybe we could share? My Mom made too much anyway..."
"Thanks..." He said in gratitude, trying unsuccessfully to suppress a stomach rumble as she sat down beside him and broke her sandwich in half.
"Hi, Mrs Donovan. Is Steven at home?"
Grace stared down in suspicion at the sweet looking young girl and realized that this was the first time another child was actually seeking her son's company.
She decided it was best to let the visitor inside, regardless of whether their sheer innocence tore at her patience.
Barbara soon sat with Steven at the old wobbly table, slowly studying the surroundings and noting how shabby her friend's house looked compared to her own.
A quick glance at his mother tending to something in the oven planted a devious idea in her mind as to how she could help.
She waited until Steven was in the bathroom to make her move, standing up and walking over to where Grace knelt before offering assistance.
"Sorry, little girl. You're of no use to me..." The woman replied impatiently without making eye contact.
"Oh. I guess in that case..."
Barbara's voice trailed off as she gathered up all of her strength and pushed Grace headfirst into the oven. The woman naturally began to struggle violently, but the nine year old was able to slam the door shut and trap her inside to slowly roast alive.
Steven came out of the bathroom shortly after and stared in stunned silence at the sight of his friend struggling to keep the oven door closed as loud banging sounded from inside.
"What are you doing to my Mom?"
"I'm baking her, so you don't have to live here anymore."
"No, let her go!"
Barbara hesitated and instinctively loosened her grip around the handle, allowing Steven to rush forward and free his badly burned mother while apologizing profusely.
"I...I'm sorry, Mom. None of this would have happened if I'd remembered to pack lunch."
The woman simply collapsed on the floor from her injuries, unable to speak anymore as she gazed up at the two children with rapidly fading vision.
"Is... is she dead?" Barbara asked nervously, finally feeling the overwhelming guilt when she saw Grace's eyes fall shut.
"How should I know?" Steven responded with an indifferent shrug. "The point is, I can go to your place now."
At that, they abandoned the wretched woman and strode out the front door, making their way to Barbara's house in determination.
Chapter 6: Bluebeard
It was while they were at a fancy restaurant that Francis Dupont got down to propose to the young woman he'd been courting for the past year.
Betty tried and failed to hold back a gasp upon seeing the beautiful ring in his hand, before responding with an enthusiastic 'yes' and knowing that her parents would be proud of her choice.
Francis smiled and then slipped the ring onto her finger, also overcome with bliss that he'd acquired such a lovely future bride.
Betty's older brother James made no attempt to hide his disapproval of her rush to marry a man ten years her senior, though she dismissed all of his warnings in lieu of enjoying all the attention that was now being lavished upon her, as well as dreaming of the luxuries coming her way.
The wedding itself was a wonderful affair, with all the guests displaying their deepest respect for the couple and everything going exactly as planned right until the end of the day.
She climbed into bed with her new husband late in the evening and while the first act was painful at first, she came to find it strangely enjoyable and craved more.
Unfortunately, Francis announced his need to go on a business trip just a few weeks into their married life and despite her protests, packed his suitcase in determination before leaving to catch an early bus.
In his absence, Betty tried to fill the silence by regularly inviting friends over, as well as keeping in touch with children she used to babysit.
It so happened one afternoon while cleaning the house, that she inadvertently discovered a door hidden behind the bookshelf and tried to force it open with all her might.
When that failed, she tried to unlock it with every single key that could be found, until at last it swung open with a satisfying creak.
It was rather dark within and Betty had to fumble around for several seconds before finally finding the light switch.
What she expected to be an abandoned storage area turned out to be anything but, when she was met with the horrifying sight of several young women, all dead and in various states of decay.
Betty screamed before bending over and throwing up right where she stood, the noise alerting Francis as he returned home two days earlier than originally planned.
Unaware of her husband's presence, Betty slammed the door shut and rushed to the nearest phone to call the police, only to end up face to face with the man as he began to corner her.
"Oh, hi Francis..." She spoke up shakily, forcing herself to stay calm despite all that she'd seen. "I'm so glad you're back, but I've only cooked enough dinner for one..."
"I couldn't care less. You've seen things that you shouldn't and now I need to deal with you accordingly..."
"Ha ha, what do you mean?"
"What do I mean? It's time to join the others, of course."
"No, please!" Betty cried in desperation, her impending fate quickly becoming clear as he produced a large butcher's knife and came at her.
She instinctively shielded her face just before the first blow was delivered and blood splattered all over the floor.
Chapter 7: Noah's Golden Touch
This isn't really based on a fairytale, but King Midas and the Golden Touch was one of my favorite stories as a child.
"Come back! I'm not going to hurt you!"
The dark haired girl giggled and came to a stop, lifting the hem of her robe slightly as Noah caught up.
She continued to stand and watch in amusement while he slowly regained a steady breath, before raising his head to look her in the eyes.
"Okay, crazy forest nymph. Enough with the games, grant me my wish now."
"Fine..." She sighed with a roll of her eyes. "...I'm all ears."
"Well, I want to be richer than all of my friends combined. And have plenty of hot girls at my disposal."
"Unfortunately, I can't fulfill that desire completely..."
"I knew it."
"...But I can give you the power to turn everything you touch into gold. How about that?"
"What? No, that's a terrible gift! I don't-"
The forest nymph ignored him and with a snap of her fingers, sent him out of the dream world and back to reality.
"Wow, that was some dream..." Noah muttered out loud upon awaking. "...though that lady was kind of hot, even if she was a bit nuts..."
He got out of bed and stretched both arms before approaching the door. It turned to gold as soon as his hand met with the knob.
"I must be seeing things..." He thought, blinking twice only to find that his eyesight wasn't deceiving him. "Man, so this power is real?"
Noah tried again with several more objects in the apartment until he was confident that the new ability wasn't just an illusion spawned from his hungover mind.
The doorbell rang and he rushed to answer, turning it into gold as well while swinging it open to see close friend Jared standing in the corridor.
"Hey, Noah. Sorry if I'm interrupting anything, but I think I left something here last night-"
"No, don't come in!"
"It's not safe right now. I'm...I'm having something repainted."
"Really? Well, I'll be careful..."
Jared took a step right into the apartment and Noah reached out instinctively to push him back out, causing the other young man to instantly transform into a gold statue that blocked the doorway.
Things went from bad to worse when, in an attempt to drag Jared further into the apartment, Noah accidentally dropped him on the floor and his face crumbled into brittle dust.
"Crap...what have I done?!"
He knelt down beside the inert figure and managed to roll it over with some effort, finding that he had indeed succeeded in destroying his friend's visage completely.
"Well, God forgive me. I might as well have killed you instead, since you're not going to get any ladies now..."
It was only after draping a spare blanket over the faceless gold statue, that Noah realized how hungry and thirsty he was. He went to the fridge to find food, but everything he came across was rendered inedible by his touch.
Realizing that he could no longer eat or drink, Noah fell to his knees and cursed the mischievous forest nymph with every foul word he had ever known, until he was out of energy and could only lie on the couch all day.
His younger sister Alicia visited that evening and instantly froze to stare in awe at the golden appliances and furniture.
"Noah, what's happened to everything?"
"I'll...I'll tell you as long as you don't come any closer..."
"It's a long story."
"Well, here goes. You probably know that I was at a party last night and came back here to sleep. Anyway, I dreamt that I met this crazy forest nymph called Melanie and she made everything I touched turn into gold."
"Oh. I think I've heard something like this before." Alicia replied in bemusement, eyeing her brother as if she were waiting for the punchline of some joke.
"I'm not kidding. You see that thing over there? That's Jared..."
Alicia's eyes wandered towards the blanket covered mound a few feet away and in curiosity, trudged over to take a peek before gasping in shock.
"Oh my God. What happened to his face?"
"Let's... let's just say that it got broken..."
"So, what do we do?"
"Um, you could try feeding me? I'm starving..."
"Alright, then..." She whispered quietly in disbelief.
Alicia straightened up and went to the kitchen before returning a few minutes later with an opened can of soup and spoon.
Both spoon and soup unfortunately turned to gold as soon as they touched Noah's lips and he gagged, the sudden movement making Alicia flinch and unwittingly brush her hand against his cheek.
She too transformed into a statue right where she sat and Noah could only blink in despair before bursting into tears at the realization that he loved his sister more than anybody else in the world.
"Please, God, just make this stop..."
The forest nymph from his dreams materialized as soon as he'd made the plea and in pity, offered to reverse the curse for the sake of his sanity.
"Yes, please... I just want everything back to normal..."
With another snap of the fingers, Alicia regained her fleshy form and everything in the apartment reverted to it's original color.
Noah sat up and touched the nearby coffee table to find in delight that it remained the same.
"Well, I hope that this experience has taught you to appreciate friends and family more..."
"Whatever, I just want to eat."
Melanie rolled her eyes at his nonchalance before vanishing for good.
"You won't mind if I stay over here tonight? I don't feel like walking-"
"Nah, it's fine. That's what the spare bed's for-"
The sound of a deep and guttural growl brought their conversation to a stop and the two siblings turned to see the figure underneath the blanket begin to stir.
Jared promptly sat up and twisted his neck with a sickening crunch to display a face disfigured beyond recognition, prompting Alicia to scream in terror while Noah hastily stood up to get the largest blunt object he could find.
Chapter 8: Pygmalion
Jared sat alone at the party, watching in boredom as his fellow teens drank and fooled around with no apparent shame.
The sight of his own sister getting cozy with his best friend did nothing to ease his feelings of dismay and he couldn't help but wander what she saw in the other boy.
"Of all the guys in this town, why does she have to go for him? He's even less mature than me..."
"Hey Jared, my man! How's it going?!"
He turned to see his other friend Noah standing victoriously with a drunk girl leaning upon his shoulder.
"Not bad. Who's that?"
"Her? She's Ashley..."
"Really? She looks different..."
"That's the power of alcohol, Jared. Listen, I was actually hoping you two could have a shot with each other, she'll say yes to anyone right now."
Ashley raised her head instinctively in response to the last few words of Noah's sentence, before nodding off again when Jared shifted uncomfortably.
"Anyway, I'll leave her here with you. There's like three other girls waiting for my number."
Noah let Ashley down beside Jared on the couch and rushed off. Jared glanced at her in uncertainty and she mumbled something barely audible under her breath.
"Get me to the bathroom. I think I'm gonna puke..."
Ashley didn't reply and instead threw her head forward, letting her last meal gush on to the floor as well as Jared's shoes, the smell prompting everyone in the room to begin shrieking in disgust.
"Hey, Michelle. Can I talk to you for a minute?"
"Sure." She replied halfheartedly while opening up a box of Valentine's chocolates.
"Could you give me some advice on how to get girls? I've been trying really hard, believe me."
"First things first, stop acting like such a brat. Secondly, cut back on the video games. Thirdly, work harder on your appearance."
"I'm sorry, but that's the truth. Even if I wasn't your sister, I'd say no to you."
"But you and Zach-"
"Shut up. He's cute and nicer to me than you've ever been. You can't compete with that."
Jared opened his mouth to utter a profanity, but managed to hold his tongue just in time, showing his sister that he was indeed capable of taking criticism gracefully.
Jared saved some extra time after school to create a checklist concerning what he wanted most in a girlfriend, while using his own sister as a negative example.
"Okay. Blonde hair. Nice tits. Long legs. Tolerant. Selectively bisexual and completely devoted to me..."
He turned the page over once he was finished and got to work sketching a rough outline of what such a girl would look like.
Sleep eventually became a tempting notion and Jared put his blueprint aside to instead focus on getting ready for bed.
What started off as just a typical recess placing books back in his locker took a turn for the unexpected when other students suddenly cleared the way for an attractive leggy blonde.
Jared's jaw dropped in awe at her apparent beauty and his heartbeat only quickened when he realized she was heading straight for him.
"Oh...oh my God. I have got to be dreaming."
The girl smiled affectionately at the puzzled expression on his face before she finally spoke, her voice sending a wave of familiarity his way.
"You're Jared, right?"
"I'm Brittany. I've seen you drumming in the music room, where do you get all that energy?"
"Well, when you're passionate about something...wait, how do you know that?"
"The way everyone else does. Word gets around."
"I...I'm confused. Aren't you just a figment of my imagination?"
"What? No way!" She burst out in amusement. "I'm a real person, as far as I know."
"I'm a student at this school too, though I guess we don't share any classes."
"Anyway, here's my number. Call me..."
She strode off to rejoin her friends and Jared paused to scratch his head in confusion, finding it mindblowing that his dream girl had always been around and that it was simply ignorance which had blinded him to her presence.
"Oh my God, what do I wear?!" Brittany thought frantically to herself while trying to choose lingerie that would make her seem enticing yet modest.
She made a selection after much indecision and slipped some casual clothes on top before once again consulting the magazine article that gave advice on how to choose a boyfriend.
While her current catch didn't really meet all of the criteria she had in mind, there was no denying that something about his drive made him rather attractive to her.
She knew that it would be a tough challenge to shape him into the perfect match, but the reward of success was too good to ignore, so she made a vow to stick with him for as long as circumstances allowed them to be together.
Chapter 9: Rapunzel
Twenty-three year old Lesley Sullivan stopped to stare at the frozen leg of lamb in horror, swallowing fearfully at the brief but animalistic urge that had just overcame her.
She blinked and placed a hand against her swollen belly, feeling a subtle kick while she tried to dismiss the bloodthirsty hunger as merely her own cravings spiraling out of control.
"You're just afraid of being a mother. Everything will be fine, and this child is going to be a valuable member of society..."
Kevin could only wonder if it was all a dream after looking up to see what he swore to be the most beautiful girl in the world.
She smiled and gave a little wave, before calling loudly for him to come up and meet her. He blindly obeyed and began shifting both feet towards the front door of her house, only to be interrupted and presented with a more outlandish option.
"Forget the stairs, just use my hair as a rope!"
At that, the young woman threw her long golden locks out through the window for him to use when scaling the wall.
Kevin spent two minutes gaping at the incredible sight before rolling up his sleeves and lifting a foot on to a nearby windowsill, hoping to God that nobody was watching.
"I guess you'll need some refreshments after what I put you through..." She remarked sheepishly once they were finally face to face.
"Sure, I'm thirsty!" Kevin agreed through parched lips, though the lovely face before him was more than enough to renew his energy.
"Well then, I'll go get some lemonade and after that, who knows?"
"By the way, what's your name?"
"Barbara. Barbara Sullivan." She replied, turning away swiftly and leaving the room.
Kevin glanced around in her absence, observing that he seemed to be standing in a rather typical woman's bedroom, though something about the dust coming out from underneath the closet door looked a little suspicious.
Barbara returned before he could investigate and handed a cool glass of the fizzy drink she'd promised.
He drank half of it in one gulp and again turned his attention to her hypnotizing form, while trying to imagine what she looked like underneath the stylish clothes.
She also started to take slow sips and feeling a new sense of comfort, Kevin finished the rest of his drink, only to abruptly feel lethargic for reasons he couldn't quite fathom.
"I...I think I should go..." He slurred while stumbling forward clumsily. "I feel tired..."
"Relax, you can always lie in my bed for a few hours..."
Kevin's eyes rolled shut and he collapsed upon the bed without saying anything further. Barbara smirked before pulling open a bedside drawer and retrieving an ancient jewel-encrusted dagger.
She stood up straight and raised the sacrificial weapon high above Kevin's torso, chanting a prayer to her almighty master before beginning the ritual that would keep her looking young and beautiful.
Chapter 10: The Ugly Duckling
Joel Nowakowski was four years old when welfare workers entered the house to find the place in shambles and both of his parents high on cocaine.
He began to resist when one of them took him by the arm, afraid of being separated from his mother and father despite their frequent abuse.
It took an hour of coaxing and reassurance before he finally relented, only to burst into tears at the realization that he was about to be taken somewhere completely unknown.
A year after being adopted and losing the final remnant of his old life, Joel got into a violent argument with his guardian and ran recklessly from her side into busy traffic.
Expecting death to strike swiftly in that moment, it came as a great shock when several motorists forced their vehicles to a stop, sparing his life and allowing him to reach the other side of the street.
He fired a brief glance back at his so-called mother before pushing all second thoughts aside and continuing to run until his legs screamed for him to take a rest.
He cowered away in fear when she found him at the police station that evening, expecting her to fly into a rage and strike him for his ungrateful behaviour.
She approached him calmly however and instead knelt down to offer forgiveness in such a way that he feared it was all just a ruse.
An understanding look from the supervising officer was what finally put him at ease and he reluctantly took her hand, so that she could lead him outside to the car.
Joel Sullivan by all means lived a rather fortunate life with a beautiful wife, decent house and financial stability, though he would go to bed each night wondering if such privileges were really deserved.
The love from his spouse along with the respect of his colleagues was never quite enough to shake away the feelings of inadequacy, a situation that eventually incited him to delve back into the past and search for his biological parents.
He visited the old orphanage where the discovery that both had long since passed away took a bigger toll on his psyche than expected.
He returned home to find himself feeling even more alienated and despite all efforts to focus solely on the present, depression soon flooded his mind to the point that simply maintaining concentration while at work became a struggle.
Chapter 11: The Red Shoes
"Alright, it's time to get this basement cleaned..." Lisa whispered to herself while putting on a pair of gloves and kneeling down to begin carrying out the duty her father had set for the weekend.
Such a responsibility proved much more difficult than expected, for a good majority of what she found once belonged to her late mother and it seemed unacceptable to ever throw such precious mementos away.
She settled for simply rearranging everything a little for the sake of appearances until a bright red glint caught her eye.
It's source was soon found to be a pair of expensive looking high heels and their beauty was enough to captivate Lisa in no time.
She picked them up with a blissful sigh before blowing away the dust and imagining how her mother may have once looked, strutting down the street whilst attracting glances from complete strangers.
Being the rather insecure girl she was, Lisa often felt as if she would never truly match the charm and glamour that the woman reputedly possessed.
However, temptation soon overcame self-doubt and she ran back upstairs while clutching the shoes to her chest.
Lisa stepped slowly out of the bathroom an hour later dressed up in her mother's clothes and face made up, to find in pleasant surprise that she was capable of looking stunning after all.
Eager to enjoy the moment while it lasted, she turned on her bedside radio and began to dance along to the music.
She eventually grew tired and sat down, only to be forced back up by her legs as if they had developed a mind of their own.
It was then that Lisa started to fear for her own wellbeing and she made a futile attempt to grab on to the doorknob before involuntarily dancing into the hallway towards an uncertain fate.
News of the girl whom was unable to stop dancing quickly spread around town and soon all over the country, which resulted in countless people traveling interstate just to see her.
Despite being somewhat concerned for his daughter's mysterious affliction, George Bukowski decided to temporarily use the situation to his advantage and wasted no time in demanding that each visitor pay five dollars before entering.
A week later, Lisa's health and sanity had declined to the point that she used the last of her energy to plead desperately for medical attention before passing out from exhaustion.
Lisa awoke to find herself lying on a hospital bed with an IV tube inserted in her hand and several classmates gathered around in relief.
"I'm so glad that you're back..." Cynthia spoke up breathlessly. "We were so scared you wouldn't make it."
"Thanks...how's my Dad?"
"Under arrest for reckless endangerment."
"By the way, a certain someone really wants to tell you a secret. Are you ready to hear it?"
Lisa shifted her head wearily in response to guess just whom the girl was talking about, before the answer became clear from the rather anxious look on one boy's face.
"Yeah, I think I can take it..."
At that, everybody cleared the room except for said classmate, whom sat down beside the bed and cleared his throat.
"Um, how should I start? I guess it wasn't until a few days ago that I realized...you mean a lot to me. I don't know why, though."
"Me neither. We don't even hang out much..."
Her voice trailed off when she noticed the red shoes lying idly in the corner, an observation that quickly put her on edge.
"I have to say, you must really love those shoes. You kept kicking the nurse when she tried to get them off your feet."
Lisa stiffened as it became clear what had brought about her misfortune in the first place and she turned back to face her companion in complete seriousness.
"Michael, I want you to do me a favor when you leave..."
"Sure. What is it?"
"I want you to take that pair of shoes and burn it. So nobody else will put them on again."
Chapter 12: The Steadfast Tin Soldier
A long time ago in a universe not much different from this one, a woman by the name of Maria gave birth to a tiny boy in a crowded apartment.
The midwife did not make any attempt to hide disappointment at the infant's frailty and inability to produce any noise louder than a whimper.
"I'm very sorry, but this baby will not amount to much..." She said bluntly to Maria with a shake of the head, before leaving the poor woman alone and demanding payment from the father.
Maria fell into a sobbing fit that evening while she lay in bed between her husband and young daughter, having believed the midwife's words and at a loss over how long such a child would survive.
After being treated like an outcast for much of his childhood, it came as a surprise for Tony when he started college and was readily accepted by his new peers.
A few weeks passed without much change in the way they treated him, at which he could only attribute the peculiarity to city folk simply being more open minded.
It was tiring however, to stay in the company of such people for long periods of time, though there was one exception.
Her name was Patricia and she was so lovely to him that if there had been a nationwide beauty contest, he would have given her second prize.
Apart from that, she was also rather sociable and confident in a way that Tony yearned to acquire some of her boldness when it came to dealing with people.
He sought out former classmate Dolores for advice during summer vacation, but she jealously rebuffed all of his questions and finished by claiming that such a girl was too far out of his league.
Feeling dejected as a result of those harsh words, Tony resigned himself to spending the next two months endlessly studying and doing chores for his busy family without protest.
Patricia slowly got ready for bed after another uncomfortable dinner with her parents and tried to instead focus on her upcoming date with the handsome Charlie.
Something about the whole arrangement unnerved her even more however and despite knowing she should have been grateful that her father had chosen such a fine future husband, it was now clear that someone else was also competing for a place in her heart.
It seemed like that boy Tony wasn't unattractive either, with those soulful brown eyes, pleasant voice and soft lips. He seemed like a gentle soul too, in contrast to the rambunctious athletes she'd dated in highschool.
She eventually decided to just let time take it's course and hope that her irrational feelings would slowly be eclipsed again by reason and the desire to be a worthy daughter.
Tony met her again for the first time in almost two years, remembering how their last encounter had ended in near heartbreak for them both.
Much had changed since then however and he'd been through a lot, to the point that he doubted whether she'd even recognized him at first.
He took brave steps forward regardless, determined to make it known that his love for her was still as strong as the first time they'd met.
He mouthed the words quietly once they were face to face and she smiled sweetly before moving closer with the intent of giving him a long awaited kiss.
A blinding flash of light brought the romantic moment to a premature end as they tore away from each other to instinctively shield their eyes.
The flash dissipated as quickly as it had come and the couple simply stared at each in shock before an even more terrifying truth became evident.
A large mushroom cloud towered high above the trees not far from where they stood and Tony's immediate reaction was to turn to Patricia and urge her to run.
"No." She firmly replied while making eye contact with him for what would be the last time. "I don't want you to be alone."
A tear rolled down Tony's face and he pulled her into his arms, refusing to believe that she couldn't be saved somehow.
The ensuing heatwave engulfed them immediately after and the temperature rose to such an extent that their bodies simply melted together before being completely incinerated.
All that would remain of their existence in the coming years were two dark and misshapen imprints on the pavement, a stark reminder to any wretched survivors of the number of innocent lives lost.