The Princess and the Whispering Pines
Along the path the princess had to take, the air was heavy and the night sang with a thousand familiar unseen voices: tiny frogs, cicadas, the gallows creak of the tall trunks as they moved in the hot breeze, and, past the wire fence, the distant indistinct rumble of the highway. The winding path through the rusted cars and into the pines was not pretty like the one in her picture book, but she knew the way she had to go.
Her father had given her the picture book, when he was fat and the King of the Woods, and his laughter filled their home, before her mother fed him the three leaves that melted the warmth from his bones and turned his laughter into a whisper and a hiss like the pines boughs rustling in the dark. They carried him out one morning like a bundle of sticks, and soon after, her father’s chair was filled by the Evil King, who had a warm smile for the queen, but had one feverish eye for the princess. He had one hot mouth to whisper terrible things into her ear, and one damp hand that lingered too long on her smooth white neck as the moths with fiery eyes beat against the screens. She knew what to do in the darkest place of the forest. She'd had dreams.
“Oh, father, l have come to pray.” The small frogs chorused back.
“You must listen and obey.” The cicadas keened, and the traffic rolled.
“I have these little paring knives.” The boughs hissed like air in a mask.
“They’re long enough to take two lives.” And the trunks of the pine trees creaked.
“I will be brave: I’m not alone.” Though perhaps she was.
“Make hot hands as cold as stone.”
In the night, her father whispered, until it sounded like no father at all, but like a mosquito in the curve of her ear, and countless yellow blinking lights signaled about her in the dark as she stood there, her thumbs testing the edges of her little knives, the path stretching back through the glorious woods to the trailer, where the last light was already out.