View Full Version : The Princess and the Shoemaker (urban fantasy) (some content and language)

February 3rd, 2013, 10:26 PM
[Here's a piece I wrote for a contest several months ago. The deal is, you give me a crit, I give you one for a short story of yours that you specify. If it's not on this subforum, tell me where it is.]

Ten o'clock. An hour left on my shift. My feet need a good soak.

Once upon a time I wanted to be a princess, marry a handsome prince, and live in a castle. Staten Island has a few castles, but I haven't run into any princes.

When I was little, I would go to Bennie's Diner. He has a big clock on the wall from Royal Cakes, and on the face it has the top of a castle wall and a crown floating above that. I would picture myself on that wall in a pointy pink hat and a pink gown.

Now I work for Bennie. At least I have a pink uniform.

Whoever put up this diner, they thought about keeping it clean. You can get ninety-nine percent of the dirt off brushed aluminum with a wet cloth. Ditto for the red formica on the tables and counter.

Then you got your floor. Little white six-sided tiles with black tile around the baseboards. You sweep it, you mop it, and you still gotta get on your knees with a brush to make it look good.

"Hey! Some service here?" I wake up from another daydream. I grab the coffeepot and take it to Frankie's booth.

"Sorry, Frankie. I haven't been feeling good lately," I say.

"Where's your boyfriend? It's Saturday night."

I hear a dog bark like crazy. "He's not my boyfriend. But I think that's him."

The little panel in the bottom of the front door opens. Jan comes in, waves at me, and walks up the gangplank to the midkin booths.

I pour Frankie's coffee and go over to Jan. "Hello, Jan. What'll ya have?" I try not to look at him.

"Saucer of milk, yes?"

I've always added some cream to his milk. This time I don't. I put the saucer and half a stirring straw on his table.

He wears his usual homespun jacket and pants. Mama asked me how they get clothes so small. I told her they make their own clothes, like they're Amish or something. She keeps asking me about midkins, and I keep telling her, but she can't keep it straight. The elves live in town and make things. The brownies live in the country and grow things. The pixies are really small, so they're spotkins, not midkins at all. They all do things for each other, but they don't live together. She can't remember about those three types, so I don't even bother with the others.

Jan tastes his milk. No reaction. Then he proves he didn't get the message. "Eileen ... I want you back."

I sigh. "Jan ...."

"We were good together!"

"Right. Have you forgotten why we broke up?" Knowing him, he has a response ready for every objection. Except that one. He doesn't move, doesn't blink. The clock ticks.

"We went to the Meatpacking District, remember? You said you were going to buy me a purse, but all you wanted to do was scout out new territories. You only need me because you're not allowed on the ferry by yourself.

"We've gone over this, what, three times now? You used me."

He raises a finger. "The purse you got, though, yes?"

"No! I got a pair of shoes. You make shoes! That's all you do!"

Frankie says, "Is he giving you trouble?"

"Stay out of this, Frankie," I yell. "Jan, you're almost four hundred years old. You're not gonna change. Maybe you need to focus on yourself if you're going to live so long, I don't know.

"And all those practical jokes. You don't care if someone's scared, or embarrassed, or hurt. It's funny for you, and that's all that matters.

"All I know's you don't think about me. I want somebody who'll treat me like I'm something special, not just a big pair of boobs."

"They're really nice boobs," says Frankie.

"Shut up," I yell.

"Well, they are," says Jan.

"You shut up too." I lean in and whisper, "Now ... I'm gonna ask you a question, and I want an honest answer. You told me elves and humans can't have children. Is that true?"

His eyes widen a bit. "No. It's not true."

"Do you know what I'm gonna say next?"

He has a response ready this time. "You're pregnant? Now we have to get married!"

"Really? Why would I wanna do that?"

"So the child will be legal. So there will be a family to raise it. So you will have a husband to support you. Your mother likes me, she said so. She will consent."

"How is this going to work, Jan? The most time we can have together is one night a week. At least that's what you told me. Pixie dust, sundown to sunup, that whole thing."

"There is a way."

"A way to what?"

"To make you one of us."

Frankie says, "Hey, some coffee here!"

I grab the coffeepot again. He doesn't seem to need much coffee. He says, "What's going on?"

"None of your business," I say. "I think he's gonna propose."

"You said he wasn't your boyfriend."

"Right now I'm not sure."

I go back to Jan. He's finished his saucer. "Can I get you more milk?" I say.

"Not right now."

"Did you mean it? You can make me an elf? How long does it last?"

"It's complicated, yes, but we can do. It lasts the rest of your life."

"Hey, Eileen!" Bennie calls from the window. "Could ya come in here a minnit?"

"Sure." I go through the swinging door.

"I don't mind ya talkin' to yer boyfriend," he says, "but could ya do something while yer yakkin'?"

"Sure, Bennie."

"Clean the meat outta this for me." He hands me a pumpkin. "I'm makin' pies for Halloween."

"He's not my boyfriend." I take it to the counter. I go back for a tray, a bowl, and a knife.

I size up Jan. He's not a good liar, but he leaves out important stuff, and that's as good as a lie in my book. I say, "If I do this thing, if I turn into an elf, would the child be an elf?"

"Yes, of course."

"Can you teach me how to do those spells, like the knocking thing?"


"Why not? Because I wouldn't really be an elf?" I pick up the knife and heft it.

"Because you're a woman."

I fight back the urge to throw the knife at Jan. I bring it down towards the stem. The pumpkin begins to glow like it has a candle already inside. I lower the knife and it glows even brighter. I raise the knife and it stops.

"Jan! Is this one of your practical jokes?"

Frankie comes over. "Do it again!" he says. I raise the knife.

The door opens. A cold wind makes me shiver. Woody walks in. Frankie says, "Hey, Woody! Look at this!"

Woody unbuttons the flap of his duster and comes to look.

Frankie says, "Do it again."

I raise the knife. I lower the knife. The pumpkin glows.

Woody scowls at Jan. "Witchcraft," he says and goes to the far corner. Frankie follows him and collects his coffee on the way.

Frankie, Woody, and I grew up together. The two of them have always hung out together, but lately something has happened to Woody. I used to call them Dope and Doper. Now I call them Doper and Hater.

"Okay, Jan, how do I turn it off?" I say, waving the knife.

"Touch them together."

I swivel the knife by the middle and bring the blade down. A kind of spark jumps between the pumpkin and the knife. The glow goes out.

"It's not funny. I don't like practical jokes, especially when they involve sharp objects."

He looks sheepish, or pretends to. I stab the knife into the pumpkin and start sawing around the stem.

"Hey, little man, tell me something," calls Woody. "Why were your people hiding from us all that time?"

I look at Jan and shake my head. He misses my message, or ignores it.

"How much do you weigh?" asks Jan.

"About a hundred and eighty pounds."

"I weigh about twenty ounces. Calculate the odds."

Woody chews on that for a while.

I get the "lid" off the pumpkin.

Woody tries again. "Why did you come out at all? Why not go into the countryside with your little friends?"

"You know why. Stores were everywhere putting up surveillance cameras. It was a matter of time before they caught us. And they did. Bremer's shoe store, Brooklyn, 1985."

That's one of my first memories, seeing the tape of elves making shoes and scurrying across the shop floor. The next memory is from a few days later, seeing the tape of the mob burning down Bremer's store.

Woody curses and says, "My pop lost his job because of you people! Why don't you go back where you came from?"

"Before I moved to Staten Island, I lived in Manchester, England. I made shoes there for your ancestor Doris Monckton. She was a whore, and she died of the clap."

Woody stands up and points at Jan. "You lie!"

Bennie comes out from the kitchen. He never comes out from the kitchen. "Is there a problem?"

Woody goes to the door and points at Jan again. "You shouldn't be serving his kind in here."

"I get a tax break. Sue me."

"C'mon, Frankie, let's go."

Frankie drops a few bills on the table and follows Woody out the door. Woody holds the door open, looks back, and says, "I'll be back."

"What are you, the Terminator?" says Bennie.

Woody lets the door close.

Jan says, "What did he mean?"

"It's a movie," I say. "After the Terminator says, 'I'll be back,' he comes back and kills everybody."

Bennie says, "Aw, c'mon, he ain't got the stones for that. Even if he does come back in here, he knows I got a shotgun."

"Ain't you worried?" I say.

"Nah." He goes back in the kitchen.

"Jan, you should go home."

"I think not."

"Are you crazy?"
"Woody has a Rottweiler. If I leave now, I'll always be looking over my shoulder."

"How do you know he has a Rottweiler?"

"I make it a point to know my customers. This is how I know about Doris and her descendants."

I stare at him. "And how are you going to fight a Rottweiler?"

The clock ticks. This feeling comes over me, like that ticking is the only sound in the world. I'm on the castle wall in my pointy hat, and there's a fifty-foot-tall Rottweiler coming to attack the castle.

I go into the kitchen. I get a pot and a mitten. I fill the pot from the deep fryer. "Are you okay, Eileen?" says Bennie. I go back out, prop the front door open, and climb onto a stool to wait.

Out the window I see Woody and Frankie coming down the sidewalk. Woody has a dog on a leash. The dog has its nose to the ground. It pulls ahead. Woody stoops and unfastens the leash.

I should feel afraid. I should feel something, anything. But I don't.

I don't hear the dog at all, no barking, no panting, no claws clicking. I only hear the clock.

I turn my head. The dog shoots through the front door, all fur and fangs.

"NOW!" yells Jan. I let the pot turn and drop. The oil drenches the dog's head and back.

It skids into the side of a booth.

It lurches around. Steam rises from its back.

It runs back outside.

Through the window I see it drag itself to Woody's feet and collapse. Woody kneels and examines it. He bends his head for a long moment, picks up the limp body, and trudges away.

Frankie looks back at the diner. I can't see his expression with the streetlight behind him. He follows Woody into the night.

Bennie says, "Hey." Suddenly I can move again. "What was that all about?"

I get off the stool. "Tell him, Jan."

"What do you mean?"

"Jan just hypnotized me or something. He made me kill that dog."

He tries to look innocent. "That dog could have killed you. I was trying only to protect you."

"No, that dog was after you," I say. "You used me. Again! That's the last time! If I ever see you again, I'll feed you to a dog myself. Get out!"

He finally seems to get the message. He walks out as if nothing has happened. He even starts whistling.

Bennie says, "It's closing time. Why don't you go home, kid? I'll mop up this grease."

"No, thanks, Bennie. I made this mess, I'll clean it up." Mama would not be happy.


February 7th, 2013, 02:25 PM
What an interesting idea. I got abit confused with some of the dialogue, who was speaking to who, but i think that is just me to be honest. The mixing of the normal and fantasy was done really well. I particularly liked the line about the amish.

If i was being really critical, i would say there are too many characters in it, and it was difficult to remember what species they were, but i am not very good at that sort of thinig.

February 7th, 2013, 03:06 PM
I got about halfway through, and the story was interesting, but (and drwood it isn't just you) it became impossible to tell who was speaking anymore. One reason is that you rarely throw us a tag to let us know who said what, and that doesn't work unless you only have two characters speaking. Another problem was that you would have the same speaker saying something, but instead of including it in one " " you would seperate the sentances:

"We were good together!"

"Right. Have you forgotten why we broke up?" Knowing him, he has a response ready for every objection. Except that one. He doesn't move, doesn't blink. The clock ticks.

"We went to the Meatpacking District, remember? You said you were going to buy me a purse, but all you wanted to do was scout out new territories. You only need me because you're not allowed on the ferry by yourself.

"We've gone over this, what, three times now? You used me."

He raises a finger. "The purse you got, though, yes?"

Normally you star a new paragraph (in dialogue) only when the speak has changed, this way (and this works best with just two speakers) you don't have to use nearly as many speech tags (he said, she said)

"We were good together!"

"Right. Have you forgotten why we broke up?" Knowing him, he has (should be had) a response ready for every objection. Except that one. He doesn't move, doesn't blink. The clock ticks. "We went to the Meatpacking District, remember? You said you were going to buy me a purse, but all you wanted to do was scout out new territories. You only need me because you're not allowed on the ferry by yourself. We've gone over this, what, three times now? You used me."

He raises a finger. "The purse you got, though, yes?"

Once another character was added I became lost and couldn't follow the dialogue anymore so I had to stop.

February 7th, 2013, 04:54 PM
I also had trouble following the dialogue. I'm also a little confused by the character reactions. Would Woody and Frankie be so quick to have a dog attack Eileen if they grew up together?

Jan seems unfocused and Ill-defined in action and conversation. Could be that there's more to his background than what we see.

Overall I liked this idea, the story is interesting.

February 8th, 2013, 12:37 AM
Thought this was pretty good, actually. Rather enjoyed the blend of reality and fantasy, it was handled nicely for a short piece. I'd have some gripes about the way the information is presented if this were part of a longer piece. But in a short piece it works just fine.

Unlike the others I actually didn't find the dialogue hard to follow, but I do agree on the issues you have with dialogue tags and starting new lines when we're still on the same speaker. Possibly the only reason I could keep up was because I'd read the comments first and knew that it was coming.

Stylistically you manage to keep it together despite the fact that such a large portion of this is dialogue (where so many fail) but the action still seems too thin. The odd sentence here and there is enough, but sometimes it needed a little bit of extrapolation to make it flow better.

February 9th, 2013, 10:50 AM
This was interesting. I didn't have trouble with following the dialog but I suspect you've edited it to make it easier by now.

I'm mildly curious how bug the elf was.... 20oz... I had a 9oz steak last night and I thought it was tiny.... his leads me rather odd images of how elves have sex with fully grown people.

But yeah all that's by the by. It was enjoyable

February 9th, 2013, 02:40 PM
If you do modify the tags, don't do too much; it's just barely confusing. I stumbled for a second at the seperated sentences of Eileen's speech. I notice you punctuated with the end quote of her paragraphs gone, which confirmed it was her speaking. Some people wouldn't recognize that. Perhaps you could attach all her lines together, using bits of expositional tag as glue, between "Stay out..." and "..not just a pair of boobs."

The complication of her desire for a 'princess's life'(as opposed to her reality) and the trade-off that would result in a loss of autonomy, very good. And the answer the elf gave about secrecy and the dangers of 'big people', totally real....

March 20th, 2013, 01:25 PM
Okay, a deal is a deal. I'm going to assume nobody else will comment on this story. So drwood, Noxicity, amsawtell, popsrocket, Jagunco, and Kevin, post here or PM me with a link to the story you want me to crit.