A modern fairy tale for an extraordinary year.
When the pandemic forces Lena Troy to escape the city for the safety of the countryside, she isn’t sure what to expect from the land she inherited from her godmother. What she finds is a fairy tale cottage, a lake of swans, and wolves. After she rescues an injured swan, her life takes a turn for the wonderful in the form of Fredrich von Rothbart, a cursed soldier trapped in time by an evil magician. Will Christmas magic—and maybe a little help from St. Nick—break the spell for good?
Once upon a time—since that’s the way all good stories start—in a land as close or as far away as you choose, a disease unlike any other seen before ravaged the populace. Some it killed, some it maimed for life, and others it turned into raving, giant assholes, only because it revealed their true selves, full of ignorance and selfishness. Those who were sensible and careful remained healthy, going about their daily lives as best as possible, given the circumstances. Those who thought only of themselves and their desires threw giant parties and refused to use basic hygiene. Many stories had been told of their foolish leader and his band of ne’er-do-wells.
This is not one of those tales.
One of those careful and sensible people was a young woman named Lena Troy. She lived in one of the greatest cities in the land until her godmother—who had been careful and safe—was infected by one of the asshole types and died of the disease.
Due to work and living far away, Lena had not seen Godmother Ellen for many years, but she mourned the old woman’s passing as if it had been Lena’s own mother who had died. She regretted not visiting Ellen more often and rued that fact the old woman had died alone. Though so many others had passed with no one to hold their hands during this time, Ellen’s death was personal to Lena and her grief visceral.
Now one day in the fall of the first year of the Great Pestilence, Lena received a letter from the law firm of Hastings, Jones, and Reichold informing her that Ellen’s estate in the valley of Coole had been left to Lena. Stunned at the unexpected news, Lena had no idea what she would do with the land and money, so she did nothing.
Until the time came when those who refused to think of others undid all of the hard work and sacrifices of the good and careful people, and the disease, which had been marginally under control, resumed its wanton assault. As a result, the case positivity rate and R0 value in her city rose to horrifying levels. But Lena didn’t worry, because she worked from home and abided by all of the phase 2 regulations. She rarely ventured out, but on this particular day her toilet paper situation necessitated going to the local market, so she donned her favorite face cloth and took some latex gloves, just in case, and walked the three blocks—being certain to keep socially distant from all she passed—to Buy-A-Lot.
Buy-A-Lot had health and safety protocols in place and enforced them, which was why Lena felt safe there on her state-sanctioned weekly grocery trips. She had just come to the end of the granola bar and cereal aisle when her phone blared a klaxon wail. The din was echoed by phones throughout the store. Shaken by the urgency of the alarm, she pulled her phone out of her jeans pocket to see a message from the ruling council.
Quarantine to resume at 8 AM tomorrow.
Her stomach dropped. Three more months in her tiny apartment was a daunting prospect. The city had just been allowed to have outdoor dining at 60 percent capacity, and now it was all gone. Moans of dismay rose from other shoppers. A few sounded angry and spoke vile words of defiance. A man with his mask hanging under his chin and standing far too close shouted, “It’s all a conspiracy to take away our freedoms.”
Lena blanched. His type was the most dreadful of all the assholes. “Excuse me, sir.” She maneuvered her cart carefully around the flannel-wearing saggy-bottomed cretin because they could be highly volatile and explode with the least amount of provocation, then dashed across the store to the paper good aisle, where she stopped in her tracks at the scene which lay before her. Two women—both undoubtedly named Karen—fought over what appeared to be the last package of 4-ply toilet paper. One Karen grasped the nattily undercut ombre bob of the other and pulled back, causing the other Karen to bellow like a gored ox and flail about before striking the first Karen with her designer handbag.
“Oh, hell no.” Lena did not need toilet paper that badly, or any of the other things she’d chosen. She left her cart and hastened out of the store, feeling guilty for having done so, but there were greater sins being committed by those who hoarded bleach and flour.
Around her, the city seemed to vibrate with the displeasure of the people. Those she passed frowned with their unmasked lips or complained loudly into their cellphones. She hurried home, head down, and raced up the four flights of stairs before flinging herself through her door and slamming it shut behind her.
“I’ve got to get out of here,” she announced to her empty apartment. “I can’t remain here with these…people.” But where could she go? Her friends were smart and careful and would therefore hesitate to add her to their personal bubbles. And she couldn’t blame them at all.
It was then that her personal air filtration unit kicked on with more force than usual and blew the papers on her desk into a snowstorm of correspondence. Opened letters wafted around before alighting on the floor.
“That’s weird. Maybe the Super installed a new filter or something.” She snatched the nearest paper out of the air and crumpled it in her fist. “I’d better adjust the thermostat.” At least she could control one thing in her life.
Said thermostat was not in an easy or obvious place, like in the hallway or near the front door. Hers was in the kitchen in the tiny space between the pantry and refrigerator. It wasn’t until she has raised the temperature to a responsible seventy-seven degrees that she finally looked at the paper she was clutching.