James Blakey lives in the Shenandoah Valley where he writes mostly full-time. His story “The Bicycle Thief” won a 2019 Derringer Award. When James isn’t writing, he can be found on the hiking trail—he’s climbed forty of the fifty US state high points—or bike-camping his way up and down the East Coast. Find him at www.JamesBlakeyWrites.com.


by James Blakey

I’m in my office sorting a stack of bills higher than Rapunzel’s tower, pondering which to pay and which I can stall. The radio announcer promises an update on a pair of missing kids, but first the weather.

The doorknob jiggles. I kill the radio. Hand on my Colt. Some creditors are more aggressive than others. The door opens. She’s nineteen, twenty tops, in a patched and faded purple dress. Blond hair like it’s spun from gold. Look up sapphire in the dictionary and there’s a picture of those eyes.

“Mr. Pocopson?” Flat accent. Her Os sound like As. Not from around here.

“That’s me.” I rise and shake her hand. Calluses. Short, unpainted nails. From the countryside? That would explain the purple.

“Ranja Brundqvist.”

I remain standing until Ms. Brundqvist takes a seat. Mom drilled that one into me. Only thing she did right.

“Can I get you a drink? Coffee?”

She shakes her head, curls bouncing. “I wish to hire you, Mr. Pocopson. Last year, a friend of a friend, Red, had trouble with a stalker that you… handled.”

Red’s stalker was a wolf with big eyes and big teeth. Tracked him through the Enchanted Forest, got sloppy, and Wolfie had the drop on me. Looked like lights out until I jammed the barrel of the Colt in his big mouth. Forty-five caliber message delivered.

Ranja takes a deep breath, like she’s screwing up her courage. “My younger sister Asta came to the city with dreams of being an actress. Life in Prairie Grove offered little for her. She emailed every week at first. But her messages became less frequent. An entire month went by and no word. I called, but her number’s no longer in service. Her landlord claims she moved out three months ago.”

“Have you gone to the cops?”

“I filed a report.” Ranja waves her hand dismissively. “But the police aren’t doing anything to find her. The ones who aren’t openly corrupt are incompetent.”

Give Ranja an A-plus in Civics.

“Will you look for her? I can pay.” She drops two coins on my desk.

Copper. Prince Charming’s smug mug on the obverse, pumpkin coach on the reverse. This won’t even fill up my truck.

“Ms. Brundqvist, I’d like to help, but an investigation of this sort isn’t cheap.” I hand back her coins. “Probably your sister’s fine. Caught up in the thrill of living in the big city.”

“How silly of me. I should have known.” Ranja’s holding back tears as she stands. But her knees buckle, and she collapses in the chair. Hands covering her face, she sobs.

I hate it when they cry.

I offer a tissue. “I can poke around for a day.”

She blows her nose. Looks at me with those blue eyes. “Thank you.”

“Do you have a photo?”

Ranja hands me a five-by-seven. Same sapphire eyes. Hair so bright, I need to squint. And a smile that reminds me of Hannah’s. I can understand why Asta wasn’t satisfied with life on the farm. One good thing about this case: People will remember her.

“Did Asta talk about any friends that she’d made, perhaps men?”

Ranja shakes her head. “She mentioned no one.”

“Did she have a job?”

“She wrote she landed a gig doing dinner theater at The Poisoned Apple.”

Ranja notices my expression. I need to work on my poker face.

“You’ve heard of it?” she asks.

“Yeah, I know it.” My ex owns the joint.

The girls who work there aren’t doing dinner theater.


The Poisoned Apple sits between an alchemical plant and the stockyards in a section of the city so far from gentrification you couldn’t find it with a magic mirror. The stench alone is enough to keep away all but the most debauched.

I pull into the unpaved parking lot filled with ten-year-old work vans and pickups. The club is two stories, brick, no windows. On the roof, a neon red sign flicks between an apple and an apple missing a bite.

A grumpy muscled dwarf, nose as big as an eggplant, is working the door. I show him the photo of Asta. He growls, face as red as his tunic. Doesn’t know her. Tells me to ask Butcher.

Inside I find the typical Friday night crowd. Enchanted frogs arguing with wisdom-dispensing owls. Tin soldiers drinking away their sorrows and pay. The Three Pigs, fronted by The Pied Piper, jam a rockabilly cover of “Be Our Guest.” Atop six-foot platforms, girls in tiaras, glass slippers, and not much else gyrate to their own beat inside upright crystal coffins.

Butcher’s standing on a riser behind the bar, spectacles thick as whisky tumblers, gray hair peeking beneath his green tuque. Even when we were in the service, he always managed to wear that hat.

I flash Asta’s picture. “Seen her around?”

“Hell, Pocopson. Drink an order, uh, order a drink. We’re running a business here.”

I drop a coin on the bar. “Scotch. Not that bilge you keep under the counter. The real stuff.”

Butcher disappears into the back and returns with my drink. He peers at the photo. “That’s Goldilocks.”

“Her name is Asta.”

Butcher shrugs. “We give dakes to all the fancers. I mean fakes to all the dancers. Protects their privacy.”

“Your concern for the well-being of these young ladies is touching. When’s the last time you saw her?”

Butcher scratches his head. “A week ago? Last Friday, maybe Thursday?”

“And you weren’t concerned that she hasn’t showed since?”

“No big deal. Dancers drift out and in. In and out.”

“Any patrons show particular interest in Goldilocks?”

“Too busy to keep tabs.” Butcher gestures to the line waiting for drinks.

“Keeping tabs is your job.” The joke is lost on him. “Would the boss have any idea?” I want to avoid her, but Butcher’s no help.

“Flutter!” Butcher shouts.

Flutter has his back to us, washing glasses in the sink. Butcher slaps him in the head so hard his purple cap flies off. Butcher signs to go upstairs and ask if she’ll see me.

“It might be a while,” Butcher says. “Want some food?”

I order a plate of wings and a beer. Kingdom News Network (KNN) is muted on a high-def crystal ball mounted over the bar. Volunteers lock arms and march across a meadow. The scroll reports The Royal Family is offering a reward: one hundred gold coins for information leading to the safe return of Hansel and Gretel Lofgren.

I almost crack a tooth on a wing. Not a bone. The damn thing is frozen. Perfect match to the warm beer.

I turn my attention to the crowd. A tipsy miner collides with a drunken woodcutter, spilling his drink. Voices rise. Glasses shatter. Fists fly. The woodcutter’s getting the worst of it. A pair of dwarves lock onto the miner’s legs, but that doesn’t slow him down. Two more dwarves join in, swarming the miner, knocking him off balance. He crashes to the floor.

“Heigh-Ho! Heigh-Ho! It’s to the street you go!” The four diminutive bouncers hoist the miner over their heads, carrying him out the club.

Flutter’s back. He signs: she will see you now.


Mirrors cover the walls of Snow’s office. For as long as I’ve known her, she’s surrounded herself with them. Vanity? A way of processing trauma? Both?

It’s been two years, but she looks better than ever, leaning against her desk with a smile that belongs in a toothpaste commercial. Hair black as an evil queen’s heart. Lips red as a freshly waxed sports car. Skin white as—well, you know.

Blue puffy sleeves must be out. Snow’s dressed in all black: low-cut blouse, micro-skirt, fishnets, knee boots. The contrast against her skin is… enough to make me forget why I’m here.

“You’re looking well, Timmy.” Snow’s the only one I let call me that.

She reaches to hug me. This meeting could quickly go horizontal in more ways than one. I dodge the embrace, grab her hand, and kiss her knuckle.

This satisfies her, lips curling into a demure smile.

“Why are you here, Timmy?” She says my name like a schoolteacher lecturing a naughty second-grader. “Ready to give up chasing deadbeat wizards and cheating royals for a steady paycheck?” Snow does that thing where she arches one eyebrow. “I’m opening a new club: The Spinning Wheel. But I need someone I can trust to run it.”

I shrug. “You’ve got seven candidates downstairs.”

“The dwarves are competent.” She sighs. “Six of them, anyway. But they lack a certain ruthlessness that management in our industry requires.”

“I’ll consider it.” My chest tightens. I don’t enjoy lying to Snow, but no way I’d work for her. I pull Asta’s photo from my pocket.

“Oh, yes, I know this one. Gold—Goldilocks. Really packs them in. What’s your interest?”

Asta’s been missing for a week.”

“Missing?” From her tone, she didn’t know.

“I see you’re on top of the personnel as well as Butcher is.”

Snow shrugs. “Another reason I need a club manager.”

“When Asta was packing them in, did anyone show an unusual amount of attention?”

“Sure, but what’s in it for me?” Snow smiles again, but this time it’s not demure. More like a lioness about to feast on dinner. She steps into my personal space, scent like a peach orchard in the summer. She fiddles with my collar, fixes her gaze on me. Everyone raves about Snow’s skin, but for me, it’s always been about her eyes. Tiny brown circles around the pupils, then a ring of amber, and finally green.

She loops her arms around my neck, pulls herself closer. Her lips brush my ear. She whispers, “Perhaps we can work out a trade.” Snow kisses me, tongue exploring my mouth.

I kiss back, instinctively, reflexively, wrap my arms around her. I miss this, her, us. After ten seconds, I remember how it always ends. I push her away.

“That’s no way to get my help.” She waves her hand dismissively. “You can leave.”

I stand my ground. “I’m the one doing you a favor.”

She crosses her arms. “How magnanimous of you.”

“If The Poisoned Apple gets the reputation for dancers disappearing, you’ll have a tough time replacing them. That’s bad for business. People don’t come for the food.”

Snow laughs. “The Apple has the exact reputation I want. We didn’t skip a beat when Goldy wandered off. There’s an infinite supply of cute peasant girls who trek to the city hoping to strike it big. When things don’t work out…”

No cards left. Time to bluff. “You don’t realize who Asta is. Her aunt spends summers on the North Shore with Cindy. That’s how she put it. Besties with the Princess. The aunt wants the inquiry handled discreetly. If I don’t make progress, she’ll call the authorities. You want a parade of health inspectors marching through the club every night? All your dancers have their working papers? And good luck with the permits for your new place.”

Snow studies me with those eyes, deciding to call or fold. “Fine, I’ll do my civic duty. There was one imp who took an interest in Goldilocks.”

“You got a name? Or do I roust the whole damn city?”

“No name. Nobody knows it. The one with the reputation for making one-sided deals.”

“Let me guess. He hasn’t been around since last week.”

She shrugs.

“Snow, did you bother to warn Asta about the imp?”

“She’s an adult, Timmy. We’re all adults.”

That’s why Snow and I never worked out. She doesn’t care about anyone but herself. The real reason her stepmother went after Snow? She couldn’t stand that they were so much alike.

“Thanks for the info.”

“When you’re done playing White Knight, stop back and we’ll chat.”

“Sure.” Not certain which is worse, seeing Snow again or lying to her.


Years ago, a couple of rival princes fell for the same mermaid. The Kingdom restarted the draft, because royal puppy love is a matter of national security. My number came up, and they shipped me to the front. No one to watch out for Hannah. Even as I told Ranja I’d only spend a day looking for Asta, I knew I wouldn’t stop. Someone has to protect little sisters.

I work my way through the worst of the West End, following the imp’s wake of frauds and swindles. No need for fists or payoffs. The victims are eager to tell their stories. But no one knows where to find him until a cat in the finest looking boots tips me to a spot down by the docks.

Kitty was correct. I find the imp at the end of an alley, standing atop a garbage can. He’s a meter tall, orange hat like a traffic cone, scraggly black beard. The imp’s talking with a sailor in his dress whites. Rats gather in a circle, enjoying the conversation.

The sailor’s voice cracks with doubt. “I have to give up my first-born?”

“She’ll be the love of your life. Can you feel that hole in your heart? It will never heal until you two are together,” the imp goads him. “I’ll also ensure you’re promoted to officer, command your own ship.”

The sailor wavers. “Okay, I gu—”

“Get out of here!” I grab him by the shoulders. “You don’t want this.”

“But I do.” Tears in his eyes.

I slap his face. “Not this way. He feeds off your hope. Exploits your heartbreak. You want this girl? Find a way to make it work without his help.”

The sailor blinks, like he’s waking from a slumber. “You’re right.” He points a finger at the imp. “Deal’s off!” He stumbles up the alley to the street.

I grab a trashcan lid, slamming it against the brick wall. “Scram!” I yell at the rats.

They oblige, chittering as they scurry away.

“Not very neighborly scaring off my customer and friends,” the imp says.

I pull out Asta’s photo. “Seen her around.”

“I know her.” The imp grins with crooked, jagged teeth. “Let’s talk a bargain for her location. What ab—”

I grab him by the collar and lift. His legs pinwheel, kicking at me.

“Do I look like I fell off the sugarplum boat? Where is she?”

The imp says, “Let me give you some unsolicited advice. Leave her be. The girl’s a psycho. Caught her snooping through my phone.”

Holding him with my left hand, I deliver a right across his jaw.

Blood trickles from his lip. “Once made a bargain with a prize-fighter. He would win every bout, but promised me his true love. When she came al—”

I deliver another right. “I don’t want to hear anything, except where I can find Asta.”

Asta?” He cackles. “You must have it bad for her. Here’s the deal, Sport. You can beat me, kick me, torture me. I’ll never tell. This”—he wipes the blood from his lip with his hand, holds it up—“is kid’s stuff.”

I stare into his eyes, brown as coffee beans. The imp’s telling the truth. I can’t knock the info out of him. While I’d enjoy beating him on principle, revenge for everyone he’s used and tricked, I need to focus on finding Asta.

“What kind of deal you offering?” I ask.

“Excellent.” He stares back at me. No, more like staring inside me. “No loves. No prospects. No family. Forget about kids. Not even a pet. What an empty life.”

I shake him. “This is about her, not me.”

He grins. “You do have something of value. Integrity. It’s been decades since I collected on that.”

My arm is getting tired. I drop him on the lid. “How does this work? Do we need a notary? Sign in blood?”

“Nothing so dramatic. A verbal agreement will do. I’ll provide the info to find the girl. Once you retrieve her, I get your integrity.” He rubs his hands together. “How I enjoy dropping you holier-than-thou types down a few pegs.”

“If that’s what you see in me, you’re mistaken.”

“I know your kind. Think you’re better than all of us. Living up to your personal code. A monologue filled with strained metaphors running through your head. I’m going to enjoy taking this from you.

“Afterward, you’ll look and sound the same, but you’ll be hollow inside. Your friends, the people who depend on you? You’ll betray them at the drop of a hat. For no other reason than because.”

I say nothing, glaring at him.

“There’s an escape clause. You get three chances to guess my name. Do that and you keep your integrity. Do we have a deal?”

I furrow my brow and stroke my chin like I’m struggling with the decision. “Deal.”

“Excellent.” The imp raises his hand. “I’ll st—”


“What?” His face white as Snow’s.

“I’m cutting through all the nonsense. Your name’s Rumpelstiltskin.” Been holding this ace in my back pocket for years. “Where is she? Don’t think of backing out or everyone will know your name. I’ll spread it all over the Kingdom. In every newspaper, every subreddit.”

His face contorts in horror. “Don’t do that.”

“Not much fun when you’re on the short end? Tell me what you know.”

“That girl is more trouble than she’s worth. Goldy was using.”

“What did you hook her with?”

He raises his hands in surrender. “Wasn’t me. She was on the Porridge before we met.”


“Bears, the Tribus Ursis, push it. The ultimate high, the most unfathomable downer, or the perfect chill. Not that I’ve used the stuff.” He hops to the ground and heads up the alley.

He gets three steps before I horse collar him.

The imp twists, trying to break my grasp. “Hey, I’m not going anywhere. I want you to see something by the curb.”

Little plastic baggies litter the gutter. I inspect the bags: logo of a bowl. Labels read too hot, too cold, and just right.

“These bears know where she is?” I ask.

Rumpelstiltskin nods. “Last time I saw her, she was going to their cottage in the Enchanted Forest. I’ll draw you a map.”


My truck’s undercarriage scrapes gravel. Must be ten years since they graded this fire road. I’m bringing my shotgun and a pack of cold weather gear for my expedition into Bear Country. The radio is predicting a blizzard: high winds and twenty-five centimeters of snow.

Branches scratch the sides of the pickup. The road narrows, becomes a path. I get out, load up, and check the map. The bears’ house looks to be another five klicks.

Couple of centimeters of old snow on the ground. Clouds blanket the sky. Wind picks up. After an hour, I should be close. But the map’s all wrong. No sign of the rock chute that marks the halfway point. Or the two streams I should cross.

Either Rumpelstiltskin sucks with maps, or he lied. I’ll push on another half hour. If no house, it’s back to the city and make that imp wish he’d never met me.

Fifteen minutes later, I smell burning wood. In a clearing stands a cottage. Lights on. Smoke rising from the chimney. I crouch at the tree line, watching through my binoculars. The siding looks like gingerbread. And the shingles? Are those Rice Krispy treats?

I cross the lawn, peer through a window. Frost covers the glass. I try to wipe it away. No luck. I put a finger to my tongue. Not frost. The panes are made of sugar. Inside, a figure is moving. It’s not a bear. This isn’t the place. Maybe whoever’s inside can direct me to Tribus Ursis.

Shotgun broken open and over my shoulder, I knock on the door (white chocolate?). A redhead answers. She wears a green flowing gown. Around her neck hangs a silver necklace with a crystal pendant. She flashes a smile that makes me feel like I’m floating. Her slim fingers stroke the pendant. A black cat meows and rubs against my leg.

“Can I help you?” she says.

I can’t remember what I want to ask. Or why I’m here. Even my name is fuzzy.

She grabs my hand. “Let’s get you out of the cold.”

The house is warm, smells like a flower garden. I want to take a nap.

“Help!” a girl cries.

“What’s that?” I slap myself across the face, fighting the urge to close my eyes.

“Just the radio.” The redhead caresses my shoulder, and I want to sleep for a hundred years.

“Help!” This time a boy’s voice.

My knees are wobbly. My head spins. I’m falling. Arms out, my hand shatters a sugarcane windowpane. The blast of cold air stirs me from my daze.

I stand, re-invigorated, snap the shotgun closed, aim at the redhead.

Her fingertips crackle with electricity. “Men aren’t as tender as children, but I’ll feast on your leftovers all winter.” Bolts of energy shoot from her hands, blasting the shotgun from my grasp.

I dive for the floor, roll, and come up with the Colt. Fire one shot and hit her in the shoulder. She screams. Blood covers her gown.

I dash toward the cries for help. On a table in the kitchen, a boy and a girl trussed up in a giant roasting pan.

The missing kids!

Pulling a knife from my pack, I slice away their bonds.

An electric bolt strikes the pan, sends it flying. I flip the table, use it as a shield. The kids crouch next to me. I shoot again, miss. The witch retreats behind the doorway.

I grab the pan, fling it, break a window. Cold air rushes in. I tell the kids next time I shoot to scramble out the window. Follow my tracks to my truck and the road out the forest.

I give Hansel my keys. Gretel hugs me. I fire at the doorway, splintering the jam. The kids clamber out the window.

Three bullets left. The wind calms. The flower garden scent fills the room. I fight the urge to yawn.

“Tim?” Hannah’s voice.

My mind’s fogging up. Must be a trick. I pinch myself.

“I knew you’d come for me,” Hannah says.

“You’re not real!” I need to get out of here. Try to stand, but the room spins. I fall to my knees.

“I’m real as you need me to be.”

I peer over the table. Hannah steps into the doorway. Same blue dress as the day I shipped out.

“How is this possible? You’re dead.”

She smiles at me. God, I missed that smile.

“I’ve been hiding in the woods. I always knew you’d rescue me.” She crosses toward me.

I want this to be true. I want it to be her. It’s hard to think, like my brain is molasses.

Hannah hasn’t aged a day since I last saw her.

Deep in my mind, an alarm goes off.

“Hannah, how can you still look like this?”

“The witch cast a spell. A favor while she hid me.”

“Stop!” I point the gun at her.

“Tim, what are you doing?” She holds up her hands.

Not Hannah. A trick.

I hope.

I thumb back the hammer.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper, then unload the last three rounds into her chest. Hannah’s face is a mix of horror and shock. Her dress explodes in red. She falls to the floor.

The cat is nuzzling the body. Not Hannah. Not the redhead. An old woman. Wispy gray hair. Empty black eyes filled with death.

My mind is clearing. I step over the body, grab the shotgun in the next room, and rush outdoors.

Wind is gusting now, blowing snow, filling my tracks. After five minutes, I lose the trail. I continue in what I think is the right direction. When I’m certain I’m lost, I climb a ridge to get my bearings.

From the ridgeline I spot a house down the valley. Wooden, one floor, needs paint. The door opens. Three brown bears rumble out. No Asta. They’re heading toward the opposite ridge. I follow them with the binoculars, watch them disappear over the slope.

I race to the cottage and pound on the door. “Hello?”

No answer.

I push my way inside. Steam rising from bowls on the dinner table. Why’d they leave without finishing their meal? More importantly: when are they coming back?

In the living room, plastic baggies and a scale sit on a table. Broken wood litters the floor. Looks like someone smashed a chair. Was there a fight?

“Asta?” I call out.

Muffled sounds from the next room. I slip through the door. Three beds. The closest two are empty, but they’ve been slept in. Lazy bears, not making your beds. In the third, someone is hiding under the covers.

“Asta?” I pull back the blanket.

Pale clammy skin, bloodshot eyes. Dull matted hair. Hard to believe it’s the same stunner in the photo.

“Wh—Who are you?” she asks.

I pull the covers all the way off. She’s dressed in a t-shirt and shorts. Veins marked up. I help her stand, but she’s shaky. “Can you walk, or do I need to carry you?”

“Carry me where?”

“Home. Your sister’s waiting for you.”

“Ranja?” Her eyes are glazed, lost. “But, I like it here.”

“Not going to argue.”

Pair of sneakers beside the bed. I slip them on her feet. Stuff the shotgun in my pack, dress her in my coat. I carry her out the house—at least she’s light—trudging up the incline. No idea where to find my truck and the fire road.

Roars from behind me. The bears are on the far ridge. Didn’t think they had good vision. Maybe they smell me?

“We have to run.” I set down Asta, hold her hand, and we’re off.

She’s stumbling, but I keep her upright. We make it to the woods. Now what? We can’t outrun them. Climb a tree? They’ll wait us out.

A hundred meters into the woods, we crouch behind a downed log. The bears are racing through the forest. I pull out the shotgun. Can’t hit them at this distance, but I can scare them. I fire a barrel over their heads.

“All I want is the girl!” I shout. “I don’t care about the drugs!”

The bears stay out of range. The smallest stands his ground while the bigger two circle us. If they attack simultaneously, our position is indefensible.

I grab a plastic spray bottle and a box of ammo from my pack. I reload the Colt, hand it to Asta. “Use this to protect yourself.”

The gun slips from her hands. “Baby Bear, help me!”

“I’m coming, Asta,” the small bear shouts. Small! That cub must weight a hundred-and-fifty kilos.

Baby rushes toward me, while his parents yell for him to wait. He hurdles the log, and I deliver a blast of bear spray in his eyes.

He screams, covers his face, rolls on the ground.

“What did you do to my son?” Mama Bear bounds toward me.

I fire a round from the shotgun. Hit her in the front leg. She roars, but comes no closer.

A growl from behind. I turn, and a paw slaps the shotgun from my hands. Papa Bear strikes again, sends me flying. My leg snaps as I strike the ground, looks like I have a second knee. Blood trickles in my eyes. The shotgun is beyond my reach. I try crawling. My leg erupts in pain.

Papa slams me in the jaw. I can’t even plead for him to stop. Never thought it would end this way.

Gunshots explode. Papa Bear halts, a look of surprise on his face. More shots, and he collapses. Did Asta stop him with the Colt? Doesn’t seem possible. I try to wrestle myself up, but fall backward.

“Take it easy.”


I blink through the blood. She’s dressed in a black parka and ski pants, holding a rifle, flanked by Butcher and Flutter.

“Take your son and go.” Snow raises the rifle at Mama Bear. “Or stay and die.”

Mama growls, but she and her blubbering baby wander off.

“This will make a nice rug for my office.” Snow kicks Papa’s lifeless body. “Butcher, see to Timmy.”

Butcher served as a combat medic in the Mermaid War, does a quick evaluation. “Contusions, broken jaw, and a compound fracture of the tibia. He’ll live.”

“What about her?” Snow points at the shivering Asta.

“Withdrawal,” Butcher says.

I try to speak, but my jaw won’t move. I sign: what are you doing here?

Butcher says, “The thoss bought—I mean the boss thought you could use some help.”

That’s the last I remember, before I pass out.


Two weeks later, and I’m starting to heal. Turns out Snow ordered Flutter to follow me when I left The Poisoned Apple. When he reported I was heading into the Enchanted Forest, Snow and Butcher loaded up all firepower they could carry and raced to save my butt. I misjudged Snow. She cares about people. Or at least me. She’s nursing me back to health. Maybe we have a future. But I still won’t work for her.

Rumpelstiltskin skipped town. Heard he set up shop on one of the Seven Isles. I might have to write an anonymous letter to the authorities there.

Hansel and Gretel stumbled through the woods to my truck and drove to civilization. They told their story to the authorities, who ruled my killing the witch was self-defense.

Ranja took her sister to a top rehab clinic in the tropics. Those places don’t come cheap, but it’s the best bet for a full recovery. I used the reward to cover her stay. Have to look out for little sisters. What else was I going to do with the money?

Pay some bills?

Copyright 2023 by James Blakey