Margaret Noel

Jamie strolled through the tunnels with no particular destination in mind. The gentle tapping of the pipes was the only sound that broke the silence. A smile flickered across her features as she thought of Pascal, the pipe master. If asked, Jamie was certain Pascal preferred the rhythm of the pipes to human company or conversation. As she continued her wondering Jamie’s thoughts turned to other members of her tunnel family. Their backgrounds and stories were as unique as the individuals who populated the tunnels. Like the threads of a tapestry, they had been woven into the fabric of the community she called home.

Looking about Jamie grinned, " Maybe more like a fairy tale." Her grin widened as her thoughts conjured up visions of the tunnel’s most unique inhabitant. " Definitely a fairy tale."

With a destination finally decided on Jamie quickened her pace. Moments later she entered Father’s study. Just as she had hoped Father was reading. Glancing about the warmly lit room she noted his audience consisted not only of the tunnel children. It seemed that many of the adults of the community had deemed listening to Father’s stories an enjoyable way to pass a Saturday evening. Even Catherine was there, seated comfortably beside Vincent on a warn loveseat.

Jamie couldn’t contain her chuckle when Father announced he would be reading a selection of Fairy Tales. Her attention was drawn once more to the couple on the love seat. "They have no need of Fairy Tales," she mused. "They are a Fairy Tale come true."

Listening as Father read the tale of Cinderella, Jamie glanced once more at everyone’s favorite couple. Truly they were the personification of the handsome prince and his princess. "Will I ever find my prince charming?" she wondered.

The soothing sounds of Father’s voice and her musings soon carried Jamie away to a world of her own imaging.

Jamie opened her eyes slowly, momentarily disoriented.

"Cinderella!" a shrill voice called again. "Cinderella, you lazy, ungrateful girl! Answer me!"

Realizing she was the one being addressed as Cinderella, Jamie finally answered, "I’m awake!"

"Well it’s about time. Get out here right now, there’s work to be done!" This demand was followed by the appearance of elderly woman dressed in a long black dress. The severe bun in her hair accented her stern features. Jamie was certain she had never seen the woman before.

Before Jamie even had time to react the woman had dumped a pile of laundry on her bed. "These have to be washed and pressed before tonight. Your stepsisters will need them for the ball."

"Ball?" Jamie repeated, utterly confused.

"Not only lazy but stupid too," the other woman snared. "You remember the Ball. The one the Prince is giving tonight. He is going to select his bride. All the single ladies of the Kingdom are required to attend."

Jamie brightened at this. "Maybe I’m dreaming," she thought. To the strange woman she replied "So I can go too!"

Cursing herself for letting too much information slip the Stepmother nodded. "Provided you get all your chores completed and," she added looking with distaste at the meager contents of Jamie’s wardrobe, "provided you have something suitable to wear."

"Oh thank you Stepmother! I’ll get dressed and start on the laundry right away."

Without a backward glance the woman turned on her heel and swept from the room. A moment later Jamie went to the entrance and looked into the hall. "It still looks like the tunnels," she said with a shrug. Certain her "stepmother" was gone she walked over to an old rusty trunk. Lifting the cover she carefully removed a bundle wrapped in faded tissue paper. Inside the paper was a dress. It was old and maybe a little out of fashion but to Jamie it was the most beautiful dress in the world. It had belonged to her mother and was the one possession she had kept from the world above.

Rarely one given to flights of fancy Jamie decided to see where this fantasy would take her. "Who knows", she mused holding up the dress, "Maybe I’ll meet my prince charming."

Dressing quickly, Jamie gathered the clothing that had been dumped on her bed and headed for the laundry facilities. She was slightly bemused to note that certain tunnel dwellers had been carried into her fantasy. William was the butler and Rebecca was the housekeeper. They all called her Cinderella. Hardest to accept were her stepsisters. They looked like Lena and Olivia, but that was where the resemblance ended. They were demanding, rude and mean spirited. It seemed that nothing she did was good enough and each time she thought she had finished her assigned tasks they found something else for her to do. Almost before she realized it, it was time to leave for the ball. Jamie had not had time to get ready.

Taking in her dust covered clothing and dirt smudged face her stepsisters laughed. "I hope you’re not planning on wearing that to the ball," said one.

"Of course she is," snared the other. " She doesn’t know any better!"

"It would appear you are not ready to go Cinderella."

Jamie hung her head, fighting back tears. "No Stepmother, I did not have time to get ready."

"Well I did tell you the conditions under which I would allow you to attend the ball. If you failed to meet your obligations you have no one to blame but yourself. Come along girls we must not keep the Prince waiting."

When they left Jamie ran back to her chamber. She flung herself down on her bed and burst into tears. "It’s not fair," she sobbed. "It’s just not fair!"

"Of course it’s not fair child," a soothing voice responded, "That’s why I’m here."

Looking up, Jamie could hardy believe her eyes. The woman who had spoken stood beside the bed. Her flowing white gown seemed to glow with a luminescence all its own. For a moment Jamie was bereft of speech. "Mary?" she finally managed to utter.

"Oh no child I am your Fairy Godmother. I am here to see you get to the ball. Come we must hurry. The evening is passing quickly."

Jamie tried to interrupt. "But my dress isn’t"

"Your dress isn’t what?" asked the Fairy Godmother indicating to the dressmakers dummy in the corner. Jamie’s dress was beautifully displayed, as pristine as the day it was bought.

Before she could utter "bibbidy, bobbidy, boo" Jamie was dressed and on her way to the ball. She had expected Pascal, dressed in full livery and acting as her guide, to lead her above but he led her instead to the doors of the Great Hall. As she approached the doors swung open. The interior was illuminated by thousands of candles washing everything in a soft glow. Couples were swirling about the dance floor to the lilting tones of a stringed quartet. In the center of the floor were the King and Queen. Jamie vaguely registered the fact the couple were Catherine and Vincent.

As she entered the room all eyes turned to her. The dancing couples parted and the music faded away. The Prince walked toward her. "My Lady" he said with a courtly bow. Reaching out he took her hand.

Jamie’s eyes widened in shock, "Mouse!"

"Jamie," Mouse repeated, shaking her shoulder. "Wake up."

Jamie was momentarily confused. Regaining her senses she pushed Mouse’s hand away. "Stop shaking me. I’m not asleep."

"Okay good. Okay fine." Mouse muttered as he walked away. "Mouse didn’t want you to miss the stories."

As Jamie watched him walk away she briefly reflected on her fantasy. "Mouse as Prince Charming, ridiculous--- isn’t it?"

Looking at the faces around her she wondered if Father’s Fairy Tales had triggered flights of fancy in any of the other tunnel dwellers.

As the evening progressed and Father grew tired of reading other members of the tunnel community took his place. Even Mouse eagerly shared an animated version of his favorite tale, "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves"

Catherine, seated comfortably in the circle of Vincent’s arms, looked around the room, her thoughts echoing those of Jamie’s. This ragtag assembly had become her family. They were as vital to her as the air she breathed. Since the death of her Father these times spent with the tunnel community had become increasingly important. They served as a reminder she was not alone that she had a home here if she desired it.

Before Vincent, and the events that had brought him into her life, a Saturday evening spent listening to Fairy tales would have been considered ludicrous by her circle of friends. Smiling, she studied the profile of the man seated next to her. He was her savior and her reason for living. Because of him her life had taken on the quality of the very stories they had been listening to.

She knew that to the people living here they were the personification of a fairy tale. She was their princess and Vincent their handsome prince. He was her prince charming of that there was little doubt. Privately the fairy tale she felt best-described Vincent was one by Hans Christian Anderson, "The Ugly Duckling". In her minds eye she could see Vincent as the child he had been, raised in a community where he was so obviously different. Just like the ugly duckling, he wanted to fit in, to be one of the group, to belong. Her heart ached for that sad child. Seeking to give comfort, Catherine squeezed his hand.

Vincent smiled. Sensing her flicker of sadness he asked, "What’s troubling you?"

Shaking off her melancholy Catherine stared into the caring blue eyes she loved. She smiled back. "It’s nothing. I was just thinking how sad it is that ugly ducklings don’t know they will grow up to become the most beautiful swans."

Vincent gave her a questioning look but she did not elaborate further. She settled herself once more against his chest. Unable to see her face he rested his chin on the top of her head. His attention drifted from the stories being told once more by Father. He had politely declined the request by the children to tell the tale of "Beauty and the Beast." While he knew his tunnel family considered the love he and Catherine shared to be that story come to life, it made him sad. Yes just as Belle had accepted the beast and loved him in spite of his differences, Catherine loved him. Her love, however, would never change him into a handsome prince; he would remain forever a beast. Some things truly only happened in fairy tales.

Vincent sighed. He did not see himself as a handsome prince if asked he would have compared himself to Victor Hugo’s Quasimodo in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." He could easily relate to people’s repulsion and fear. Just like the hunchback, he believed he was a creature best hidden from view. Vincent also understood the hunchback’s willingness to do whatever was necessary to protect the woman he loved even if it meant exposing himself to danger but then wasn’t that what all prince’s did for their beloved?

Mentally he shrugged maybe he wasn’t so different from price charming after all. Kissing the top of her head Vincent gathered Catherine more snugly against his chest. Yes there were similarities and while some things could only happen in fairy tales Vincent was certain that he and Catherine would live happily ever after.