Once upon a time, I promised a story (written by my writing group) to anyone on my mailing list who had a story idea they wanted written. A brave soul named Emma presented hers:
An aromantic/asexual fairy tale. What is the magic of true love’s first kiss without romantic love? Aro/ace characters aren’t cold or emotionless, but with fairy tales so rooted in romanticism it’d be interesting to see how a retelling could work when getting the girl/boy isn’t a character’s raison d’etre. A Happily Ever After that isn’t about coupling off!
For months, though, none of my writing friends stepped up to write it for various reasons, and last night, embarrassed that it had dragged out so long, I decided I would make the attempt myself. Considering my addiction to love stories, I seriously doubted my ability to write it, and I’m still not sure I got it at all right.
However, Emma, here you go, and my sincere apologies for it taking so long! Hopefully it won’t terribly disappoint…
Nightmares He Did Not Make
Once upon a time, as most hidden tales begin, lived a girl whose hair was the color of rose and a boy whose lips were gold.
She liked spinning circles in sunlight. He liked to watch fireflies flicker at gloaming.
She loved the sun because darkness brought nightmares. Unchecked, her slumber revived terrible things once done to her, and her sleeping mind sold her screams to the monsters that ran rampant in her dreams.
The boy loved the night because he could toss wishes into its heart like unsung tales. They stuck to the velvet casing like twinkling stars.
As the sun shone down on her rosy hair, she scripted stories of derring-do that urged the boy to chase down those wishes in the sky.
At night, he played a violin whose melodies stole her screams from the monsters in her dreams and twirled them into hummingbirds in flight, and set her soul free on their wings.
They grew up together, laughing at secrets no one else shared, swimming in streams while no one else cared, and playing games no one else dared.
But as the years crept up, they did not creep off into clandestine corners like others their age.
He did not steal kisses on her hair, and she did not tilt her mouth up to him in question. No whispered rhymes sprouted forth in effusive tones, no impassioned confessions whispered in the nave.
They were content with spinning and fireflies and feats of derring-do and the strains of a violin that locked away monsters collecting screams.
Perhaps they would have continued thus forever if not for a spoiled princess who wanted to kiss the boy’s lips of gold.
After all, were those lips not rich? Were they not smooth? Did they not shine so sweet?
She stole him away, for the rich believe they can pay for love.
While the boy stood stiffly in silken clothes, she donned her fancy gowns, put up her shiny white hair, and fawned over his handsome form while strewing all the desires a boy could wish at his feet.
But the boy did not love her. He merely took the violin that she offered among the other gifts, and he poured his melancholy spirit out upon its strings.
But the strains of the violin were finite, and back in the village, with no music to stop them, the monsters in the girl’s dreams bought up all her screams.
Every single night.
No one could sleep with her screaming. Deprived of their rest, they dragged their feet at the plow. They could not sow the fields.
They banished her from the village.
Lost and abandoned, the girl with rose-colored hair had nothing left to live for, and so she spun, crazily under the sun, and resolved to spin until she perished.
But the sun had pity on the girl and knew she needed her true love. He could see it clear as day–for was he not the day itself?
His sunbeams swelled around her, full of the sun-dust and daydreams, and they nudged her spinning figure along the road down which the princess had stolen the boy.
At night, the girl kept spinning, resolved still to spin till she should perish.
But the fireflies had pity on the girl and knew she needed her true love. They could see it clear as a firelit night–for were they not the firelight of the night themselves?
They swarmed around her, hundreds of gauzy wings that bore sweetness and fantasy, and they nudged her spinning figure along the road down which the princess had borne the boy.
And so sun-dust in sunbeams and sweet fantasies on fluttering wings carried her along the path toward the boy, until her famished limbs collapsed, and her exhausted eyelids entwined, and the screams that were sold every night bubbled up to her throat–
Until the strains of the violin swept them like coins from her tongue and bore them aloft above the monsters’ claws, and she slumped into empty dreams and a worn-down, breathing silence.
And as she slept, the fireflies lavished dewdrops upon her tongue and drizzled nectar between her parched lips, and when dawn came, her eyes opened to a stunning white castle above her–and the boy leaning out a tower window, looking right at her.
“Do you want to be free?” she whispered.
His answer was to toss down a piece of parchment. It wheeled in spirals like a leaf until it alighted on her palm.
She read the script there, transcribed in her own hand, a single page of a story she’d written for him, and knew what she must do.
Moments later, as the sunrise breached the hall and dew and nectar enlivened her veins, she challenged the princess for her true love.
The princess stood beside the boy with lips of gold and laughed. “You call him your true love? How can you name him thus when you’ve never shared a single kiss? Never pledged your life to him with a diamond ring? Never undergone the labor of having his child? Do you even want those things with him?”
“No,” the girl with hair of rose answered calmly. “I don’t.”
The princess laughed a laugh laced with caustic disdain. “Then how do you think you can love him better?”
“Because you can’t love him at all if you don’t understand what love means for him.”
“Ha! And you do? Then show me the kiss of true love!” The princess gestured grandly with her silken hand, a curl of sneer upon her haughty mouth.
The girl, holding the boy’s gaze, closed the distance between them.
The entire court held its breath as she took his hands, as she leaned in close…
As she lay the sweetest kiss upon his cheek.
And won the sweetest smile from his golden lips.
The girl, smiling as well, turned to the princess. “You never understood. True love is not his kiss. True love is not his ring. True love is not his child. True love is spinning tales of derring-do until he tosses his wishes into the sky and then dares to romp the earth in search of them. True love is him sitting up far into the night, playing a violin to ease nightmares he did not make. It’s letting him go find his dreams even when it means the nightmares will rise and the screams will win. True love is standing together, falling together, falling apart, and standing apart, all while knowing that at a single beckoning call, we can come together again.”
The princess let them go, and the boy and girl went home.
They grew up into man and woman.
He chased after his wishes–those unsung tales he’d tossed into the sky–until his extravagant adventures became fodder for her stories, which became tales that were shared down the centuries and beyond.
But the boy and girl never shared a single kiss. Never exchanged a wedding vow. Never bore a single child.
And yet she still spun circles under the glorious sun, still they watched the fireflies flicker at gloaming, and when nightfall curtained the day, the boy with lips of gold played a violin whose melodies stole nightmares he did not make.
And when he finally fell asleep, both their dreams twirled into hummingbirds in flight, and their souls rode free on their wings.
Thanks for reading! Be gentle if you criticize.
As to other things going on here, I’m just about to post another new excerpt on Patreon, prepare another newsletter with bits from my story that’s in an anthology, and prepare a blog post for next week about everyday life in Prague 🙂