Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Gift Returned, By Liz Chernov

Note: I loved this entry because it had a charming hero and a well-drawn villainess.

Old Ms. Slaugh walked ahead of the young students and their teacher, Findlay Milne. She was not Findlay’s usual guide but was available on short notice. She suggested they hike to Stourie Castle. In the cold rain they trudged, eventually reaching its enormous doors. It was gray, cheerless and disappointing to all except Ms. Slaugh.

“There’s something particular,” she said, “you must see.” She gestured for them to enter through a dark passageway leading to a bright room ahead. They vanished one by one into the passage. Findlay hesitated then stepped forward drawn by his students’ voices.

There in awe they stood, staring at a marble table, shocked by the life-sized sculptures seated around it. They circled the room, transfixed for hours, the moon rising overhead. A sharp light caught Findlay’s eye: a silver locket. He walked toward it.

“Mr. Milne,” Ms. Slaugh said, stepping in front of him. “We should go.” Findlay was relieved as they departed.

That night he dreamed of the locket and a woman with onyx black hair and violet eyes, whispering the beginnings of a story, “I was christened Ailsa. My doting parents celebrated my birth with seven festivals where gifts were bestowed upon me. Only one have I treasured, but it did not find me until many years later.”

Findlay reached for her but awoke when the floor slammed into his body. Bewildered, he made for Stourie Castle. His eyes clamped on the woman from his dream. A beauty in stone, the locket she wore, also stone.

“Bewitched by the fable of this unfortunate family Mr. Milne?” questioned the voice of Ms. Slaugh.

She startled him, but Findlay stayed fixed upon the Princess. “I’ve heard little of it really.”

“Seven nights of a festival,” her voice rang out. “Seven powerful sorceresses, each granted gifts to the daughter of a King and Queen and were honored in return. On the seventh night a storm gathered. The King and Queen ordered everyone to board up their homes, the festival dismantled, the seventh sorceress forgotten. Enraged, she cursed them.

“At age 21 the Princess would accept a gift. Once her skin was touched by it a sleep of stone would befall her and those she loved. Until....”

“Until...?” asked Findlay.

“Fairytales have loopholes,” her voice slippery as wet stone. “A word of caution before I leave you, Mr. Milne: stories may allow you into their pages, but tread carefully. Some tales do not let us go.”

The moon glowed through the Atrium. Findlay decided to sleep in the Castle that night. As his eyes began to close he noticed a glint of metal. He stood up and reached out. The locket felt cool in his palm. He opened it. Inside, a cameo of Ailsa on the left and two small words engraved on the right. “True loves,” it said. His eyes blurred as the words seemed to disappear. He could see his reflection in the locket.

Findlay’s hands trembled as he placed it down. Exhausted and confused, he went to the corner of the room and slept.

“You look sad, my love,” he heard his voice saying.

“If I tell you why will you promise to stop looking for me?”

“You don’t want me to?” he said, pained.

“You shouldn’t,” she said plainly. “This is all my doing, you cannot understand. My parents decreed that on the day I turned 1 and 20 no person was allowed to offer me a gift upon pain of death. That afternoon when the village children gathered around a peddler in the market I slipped away to join them.

“She wove silver threads into a lace necklace and attached to it a locket. It dazzled in the light. The children cheered as she placed it in my gloved hand. Opening it, I realized I could not let it go. I tried to pay her but she and the children had vanished.

“I joined my family for dinner adorning myself with the locket. Instantly its paralyzing affects anchored me to my seat. My family fell motionless and petrified into polished marble. I recall the peddler entering the dining hall, her eyes triumphant.”

Findlay awoke, mindful of fairytales. He’d read few but perhaps he recalled enough to find the loophole in this one.

“Ailsa,” he said, falling to his knees in front of her. “I love you.” His eyes glistened. “Will you take my hand?” His lips reached for hers, whispering, “True Loves….Kiss.”

“What grimm business is this...?” Ms. Slaugh’s voice slithered.

“Love,” he said, bravely facing the sorceress.

“You are a simple sort of man Mr. Milne so I’ll be plain with you. She can only be freed by her true love. Are you a likely choice?” she mocked. “And if you should succeed you relinquish your right to exist in the present. Would you sacrifice that to be with her somewhere in history or fairytale?”

Findlay smiled to himself as Ms. Slaugh walked away. He looked at the Princess. All his life he felt unconnected with the present, as if he belonged somewhere else. Slowly and gently, he pressed his lips to hers. A breeze spun around him. Colors were shifting across his eyelids. He heard the sound of rock pounding upon rock and plants coming through the soil. Then the rumblings of voices surrounded him.

He was afraid to open his eyes, but felt a hand take his. “I will,” she said, softly kissing him in return. He dared to look at her. She reached for the locket and opened it. Inside, a cameo of Findlay gazed adoringly at a cameo of Ailsa. “Since first I saw you, I loved you.” Their marriage vows were simple: to give one another a life lived…happily ever after.

500 years later in the midst of a storm, Ms. Slaugh led a group to Stourie Castle. Entering the dining hall, there was nothing more than a glass ceiling, marble walls, and a case baring a small silver locket… unopened.


  1. I loved this story. I particularly enjoyed being able to get a clear sense of the three dimensional characters with very little information.

    Well done!

  2. I love fairy tales and fantasy mixed into a short story about an ever young topic. You have great talent, Liz. Enjoyed your entry very much!

  3. I enjoyed reading this story very much and would love to see more from this writer/illustrator. She has a great talent for crafting a fantasty tale and bringing it to life.

  4. What a lovely re-weaving of one of my very favorite tales. Well done, Liz!

  5. Sorry for not mentioning it before but I wish to be entered in the contest!

  6. I absolutely adore this story. This writers magic tranforms ancient tales and spins a web of fantasy and reality together. Simply beautiful.
    Love it.

  7. I agree with all your comments about LIz' story. Indeed, I only wanted to know more, as I have reread it.
    PS: If anyone besides Craig wants to be in the contest, let me know.



  9. I love this story, you did a wonderful job. WOW AMAZING is my words for this. Keep up the story business, I love your writting. As I was reading I can picture it in my head clearly. Wonderful!!
    Take care, Steph, Brandon, and Jen

  10. dear liz
    such a wonderful tale...not only a talented illustrator but a creative and vivid are truly blessed
    peace and light christina frances

  11. This is such a beautifully written story. The images that it evokes are so clear and it leaves you wanting to read more. Liz is also a very talented visual artist and I think that shows in this story. I hope to read more from her soon!

  12. You sure write well.