Nancy Brewka-Clark – Love & the Underdog.

Love & the Underdog

By

Nancy Brewka-Clark

The little dog trembles at being so far above the flagstone floor. With a pair of tongs, Mistress Meat plucks a coal red as the eye of a dragon from the fire and flings it into the metal wheel. He begins to run. The wheel spins, rattling the chain connecting it to the spit on the blazing hearth. Blood from the haunch of venison sizzles. He has no idea he is meant to repeat his futile flight day after day until he dies.

***

“Poor little dog. What do they call him?”

“Oh, he has no name. He’s just a turnspit dog. And from this moment forth you are just a scullery maid.”

“Yes, Step-mama.”

“Call me Your Highness, you stupid girl.”

“Please, Your Highness, I would like to have my book. It was Father’s. Every night before I fell asleep, I would translate the tales of Ovid from Latin for him.”

“What need does a scullery maid have of books? Give me your slippers and your stockings. Now, your frock. Henceforth you shall be barefoot and wear only these rags, as befits a girl who has nothing.”

***

Mistress Meat never notices that the roast is flavored with the salt of the girl’s tears. But far above the kitchen in the great paneled dining hall the prince who has been sent by his father to woo the girl’s step-sisters finds the taste tantalizing. Observing him with slightly crossed eyes beneath modestly lowered lashes, the two step-sisters toy with their forks. One dreams of sprawling naked in a featherbed sprinkled with rose petals, the other of a gossamer gown as easily shed as a snake slithers out of its splitting skin. Their mother, thinking she can use a strong young arm to bolster her rule and a hard, lean body in her bed, leans forward in her low-cut gown of purple velvet trimmed with ermine to tempt the prince with her majestic bosom. The pressure crushes her skin to crepe, but she believes herself irresistible.

***

“My lord and master, I heard a most disturbing tale down in the town. The king’s legitimate heir, a lovely young girl, vanished after his death. ”

“Vanished, Will? How could a princess vanish without a vast hue and cry?”

“Unlike the deceased king, who was dearly beloved, the widow who sits upon the throne is roundly loathed and feared in equal parts. She has ordered the tongue ripped out of anyone who questions her rule.”

“Then we shall hold our tongues, my valiant servant, until we can get to the bottom of this matter.”

***

The little dog lies panting in his dark corner long after the scullery maid has wept herself to sleep. Her feet are blackened and blistered from walking upon errant cinders as she went about her hellish work. What if he could creep out of the kitchen and hunt for the slippers taken by the evil-eyed woman with the golden crown on her head? Surely they would be better than nothing.

***

“Forgive me for waking you, my liege. From the looks of this slipper I believe the missing princess might be within the confines of these very walls.”

“My word, it’s very dainty. Wherever did you find it, Will?”

“I was standing guard outside your door when the largest rat I’d ever seen came scampering down the hall. I drew my sword and prepared to run it through. Then I realized it was a little dog. It had a pair of slippers in its mouth. In its haste to escape, it dropped one and vanished down the staircase.”

“Well done, Will. Now we have a plan.”

***

The little dog scurries into his corner, ashamed and grieving. What good is one slipper? Growling softly so that he won’t waken the slumbering scullery maid, he chews savagely on the soft blue leather until there is nothing left but scraps.

***

“Come, girls, and claim your slipper from the prince! It must fit one of you.”

“Mama, it’s mine! Oh, but it’s far too tight. It must have shrunk when I went walking in the dewy garden.”

“Here, sister dear, give it to me. Ugh! Unh! Yes, it must have shrunk.”

“Tell me, Madam Queen, are there any other royal damsels within these walls?”

“Oh, dear me, no, none that I can think of, my dearest prince.”

“That’s most peculiar. You see, my loyal servant paid a visit to the castle kitchen this morning. Oh, don’t bother to ask why, Madam Queen. But, he found a young girl whose foot fit perfectly into this slipper.”

“Oh, no, no, no, that is quite impossible, my precious prince.”

“Is it, Madam Queen? Why don’t we go down to the kitchens, then, and see for ourselves what mischief might be afoot.”

***

Taking the golden crown from the old lady’s head, the handsome young man puts it on the scullery maid’s raven locks. Smiling radiantly, she points toward the little dog. “Canis Vertigus,” she calls. He creeps forward humbly to lie at her feet. Putting his nose between his paws, he stares at her with eyes as bright as her own. She scoops him up to whisper one word into his ear. “Gus.” And he knows he will be hers not just in name but in heart, body, and soul forever.

 

Nancy Brewka-Clark is a longtime published author of short fiction, poetry, drama and creative nonfiction who lives on Boston’s highly romantic North Shore. She’s delighted that “Love & the Underdog” is the second story of hers to appear in Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction.

(You can find Nancy’s first story, The Invitation, here!).

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Nancy Brewka-Clark – The Invitation

The Invitation

by Nancy Brewka-Clark

Francesca swung herself out over the black mirror of the Thames on the slenderest of cables.

Below, London glittered in a coma of sleepless exhaustion at 3 a.m.

She was the poet Byron’s poor jar of atoms, only too willing to be spilled out and smashed if it freed her. Someday she would climb the tallest building built by man, Burj Khalifa. Dubai. One-hundred-and-sixty stories. Eight-hundred-and twenty-eight meters. Two-thousand-seven–hundred-and-sixteen feet, give or take an inch or two.

It would have to be enough.

*

Francesca returned to her flat after yet another tedious day at work. A heavy ochre envelope lay amongst her usual assortment of take-out brochures and bills. “Doctor John Dee’s Magical Arts, Gloriana Theatre, No. 7, Old Billingsgate Walk.”

She recalled a tale: Elizabeth I the Virgin Queen had rejoiced after seeing the future in her astrologer’s black onyx mirror, the invading Armada wrecked by Dr. Dee’s conjured winds.

Francesca slipped her finger beneath the flap and carefully extracted the card tucked inside.

“The Presence of Miss Francesca Gorham, Party of One, is Required This Very Evening at 9 O’clock.”

Mysterious? Definitely.

Arrogant? Absolute power always was.

Would she go? Absolutely.

*

The cab left her blinking away river mist. A curiously crooked little building of white plaster and black timber sat squashed between two modern monoliths of smoked glass and steel.

Atmospheric.

She yanked open the studded oak door to enter a kaleidoscope of color.

*

The magician peeked into the breast pocket of his tuxedo. A stream of colored balls came flying out to bounce like beads at his feet.

Francesca peered at her watch. Really, was this going to be a case of the emperor’s new clothes? It didn’t bear thinking.

“For my next act, I need a beautiful young lady to assist me.” He was looking directly at her.

Cheeks flaming, she mounted the side stairs to the stage.

“Shut your eyes.”

Francesca heard the rumble of wheels on wood.

*

Gold branches and a mother-of-pearl moon adorned the black lacquered cabinet. He swung open the door. The interior was lined with black silk. “Step in, please.”

A partition shot down silently. Her hands traveled over the thick padding with contempt. He had a colossal nerve billing himself as Dr. Dee. Or perhaps he’d assumed that name because he could only perform the oldest tricks in the book.

“My dear Francesca, what is your heart’s deepest desire?”

“Let me go, you charlatan.”

*

The air in the painted box grew sweeter, and cooler. Her body felt light, her head curiously free of thought. The blackness grew even deeper, the air rushing around her until she felt herself lifting on the unseen current. The power was in her to rise with it fearlessly, and so rise she did, upward and upward—

“Ladies and gentlemen, I give you—” Flinging open the door, the magician laughed as the little black bat flapped out— “the true Francesca.”

And the cabinet stood empty.

Nancy Brewka-Clark believes there’s pure magic in sharing words, whether in poetry, fiction or drama. In 2017 her work will appear in an English theatre textbook on writing flash plays, two poetry collections, and a very long romantic fairytale. Please visit her website nancybrewkaclark.com for more coming attractions.