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The Princess of the Golden Wheel

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1.

once upon a time a lovely maid was called to the lovely castle to live happily ever after

she died before she could reach her happy ending

murdered by her accursed sister

 

Himari woke up in a morgue.

 

Most people did not wake up in morgues unless of course they were morticians taking a nap during business hours.

 

Her brothers were red faced. The slab was frigid. The afternoon sun was weak.

 

Later the doctor told her she had died. She wondered about the truth of that. It certainly didn't feel as painful as the last time she had an episode that ended in hospitalization. Truthfully it was more like waking up from a good night's sleep. Himari's whole body fairly tingled with fresh energy and her mind held cobwebs of dreams.

 

They had gone to the aquarium for Himari Day. Did they go to the library on the way over? There was definitely a book she had to return or needed to take out.

 

Shouma made more of her favorite foods every day. Kanba kept glancing at her from the corner of his eye. Other than that life went back to normal.

 

Only with penguins. Cuddly, caricatures of penguins that kept them company.

 

Considering she'd been eating out of the garbage as an abandoned child, adopted by cult leaders, and diagnosed with a condition so rare it didn't have an official name having a penguin that was more or less a real life imaginary friend really was the least of what she'd been through.

 

2.

a magician sought to reawaken the lovely maid and asked of her murderer

"two feet to dance to one's own tune"

in return for golden spinning wheel

 

Himari woke up on the living room sofa.

 

The novel she'd been reading now had its bookmark in a much later chapter. There was a scrawled note on refrigerator in a handwriting she didn't recognize reading “Find it or else!!”

 

On the stove a pot of curry was simmering with chopped up apples. Ringo taught her that recipe, but it smelled different this time and she couldn't recall preparing the ingredients. Miss Three was knitting in the corner.

 

“Hey, Miss Three? Did you help me with curry today? Because I don't really remember.”

 

Three cocked her head to the side and knitted faster. On the family shrine shelf the penguin hat seemed slumped over further forward than usual.

 

“Threesie, sometimes I think I go somwhere when I close my eyes. Do you think a different Himari comes to visit when I leave?”

 

It was nice to pretend that the different Himari was a fairytale princess. Princess Himari probably did all the chores Regular Himari was too tired to do and sang to the ferrets that dug through the trash and made her brothers' lives better just by being.

 

“I'm selfish you know, Threesie. If I was good I'd just slip away quietly and Kan and Shou could forget all about me and live their dreams.” Besides living together as a family Himari didn't even know what dreams her brothers had.

 

Once upon a time she dreamed of being a pop idol. Making people smile with her singing and dancing, being loved by by so many people, and being by the side of her two best friends forever. Not that it mattered now.

 

Did Kanba ever have a dream beyond her? Did Shouma ever think of what he'd do when he was an adult? Part of her squirmed uncomfortably when she remembered there were no future jobs or spouses for her brothers. Not with the Takakura name around their necks like twin nooses.

 

If she could have one wish it'd be to lift the curse off her family. Even if it meant she'd never recover from this disease that would be her wish.

 

Wishes might come true. After all the heavens sent them their penguin friends. And sent Ringo to be her friend.

 

3.

her murderer married the prince promised to the maid

next the magician asked "two hands to weave one's own destiny"

in return for a golden distaff

 

Himari woke up in a hospital bed.

 

Instead of a bleached gown and a scratchy blanket she was dressed in her favorite nightgown and her softest blanket from home laid atop her.

 

“I guess Princess Himari took a little trip,” Himari whispered to herself. “What on Earth did you do this time Princess Himari? Did you tire yourself out on an adventure?”

 

Threesie climbed up onto the bed and pet her hair.

 

In the corner of the dark room she could make out the shadows of her brothers' schoolbags and some grocery bags. Leave it to her to wake up when her brothers stepped out the room and would be overcome with guilt when they returned.

 

“Maybe I'll pretend to wake up again when they return so they don't feel bad. What do you think, Threesie?”

 

Surely it wasn't lying if it was to make someone feel better? After all her brothers were here in the hospital it was simply bad timing they were out of the room when she awoke. She settled against her pillow and shut her eyes.

 

Cute black bunnies with blood dark eyes frolicked in the back of her head. How cuddly! How adorable! She wanted to pick them up and play with them, but they scampered away every time she got close. Himari drifted in that hazy place between slumber and wakefulness for a long while. At one point she dreamt the black bunnies fought over a plump peach before leaving the peach to bite at a little lamb's feet.

 

What awful bunnies! How could creatures so lovely be so mean-spirited?

 

Princess Himari sat on the hill in the dream shaking her head. “The world isn't always like this. There's love and cooperation and survival born out of kindness.”

 

That's just what a gentle princess would say,” Ordinary Himari beamed beside Princess Himari-with-Pink-Eyes. “Even if people are sometimes cruel we can't give up on the world because there are still people we love in it.”

 

Princess Himari's eyes were not soft to her surprise. They held a hard edge akin to a warrior's. Maybe she should call this Himari 'Samurai Himari' instead?

 

Princess, let's team up okay? You seem really strong, stronger than ordinary me. Maybe together we can save the world and bring my brothers happiness.”

 

Himari, that's what we've been doing the whole time,” Princess Himari took her hand.

 

Even if it was only a dream it gave her strength.

 

4.

the sister kept pretending to be the lovely maid 

the magician asked for "two eyes to look forward to a new future" 

in return for golden spindle 

 

Himari woke up on the floor of an outbound train on the Marunouchi Line.

 

Everyone around her seemed panicky and called for the conductors.

 

A pretty dark-haired girl was on the train floor with her.

 

At the hospital the doctors smiled and told her not to worry. Fainting from anemia is not uncommon among teenage girls, they reassured her. Simply add more iron in her diet and be sure to take extra vitamins around that time of the month, the nurses advised.

 

Auntie and Uncle were not angry with her at all. Instead they made sure she stayed home from school for a few days and doted on her twice as much as usual.

 

The dark-haired girl was named Ringo Oginome and she'd never fainted before either. Perhaps it was a weird thing to bond over, but Himari was pleased to make a new friend.

 

Himari loved monkeys and teddy bears. Ringo loved otters and eels. But sometimes when she went to the zoo or an aquarium she felt a powerful urge to say hello to the penguins.

 

"Once upon a time there were two penguin princes," Himari smiled so hard it hurt. It was a sunny spring day like any other, but her chest was tight as though it were crisscrossed with ribbons. 

 

"And they swam in the Milky Way river all the way to the edge of the universe to save their princesses," Ringo put an arm around Himari's shoulder. 

 

"Do you think they were upset with the princesses? Or that they got tired swimming in the stars?" whispered Himari.

 

"I think when you do something out of love that you don't mind it even if it hurts. I think the penguin princes were happy to make the princesses' dreams come true and that their happiness is a silvery boat that keeps them from getting tired." 

 

5.

the golden spinning wheel told the tale 

and the prince ran to the enchanted forest

where his maiden had been revived 

 

Himari was awake at the zoo, in the city she loved, with the friend she cherished most. 

 

If it wasn't a happy ending then surely it was a happy beginning.