Fairy Tales of Cliffside: Volume One
By Corey Daggett
Chapter 1: Secret of the Woods
“Bye honey.” Blair said, giving Malcolm a kiss. She wore a suit with a skirt that ended above the knees, the rest covered in panty hose. Malcolm thought she looked quite alluring, especially with the high heels shaping her calves so nicely. She labored to pull the strap of her bag over her shoulder. “Good luck with your writing.”
He smiled back at her. “Bye. See you tonight.” He waved as she clopped away. Once she had disappeared down the stairwell, he closed the door. Malcolm turned to Arthur, who was slouched on the sofa. “You heard the lady. Time to get to work.” Arthur glanced up at him lazily, then went back to licking himself.
“You’re always so helpful.” Malcolm said as he shuffled into the kitchen. He quickly slapped together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, then went to the bedroom. That was where he had a small setup for writing: a TV tray, an old computer chair, and his laptop. As the computer powered on, he chomped the sandwich. Soon he was staring at a blank page in his word processor, the text cursor blinking over and over, as if mocking him.
His hair was dark brown and short, but long enough to be a mess, standing up here and there. His stubble showed that it’d been a while since his last shave. He never got out of his pajamas until afternoon. He considered his tattered robe to be the source of his creative power, so he would never write in the mornings without it. However, as of late, the robe hadn’t been doing its job.
He finished his sandwich and put his hands to the keyboard, ready for creativity to strike.
Two hours later, Arthur decided to make his presence known. He came into the room and jumped into Malcolm’s lap. He wasn’t a very big cat, but his white hair puffed out from him in all directions, making him seem enormous. “Oh come on, Arthur. Can’t you see I’m writing?”
Arthur looked at the screen with no words, then looked up at Malcolm.
“Okay, can’t you see I’m trying to write? Go on somewhere.” He picked the cat up and set him on the floor. “The problem is... I don’t know what to write about. Do you?”
The cat gazed at him with big blue eyes. “Mraow!”
Malcolm dismissed him by flicking his hand. “Too cliché. Try harder.” He folded his arms and stared at the screen. Staring... staring... staring. The blinking text cursor was hypnotic, both mocking and inviting.
He jerked, as if awaking from a dream, and minimized the window. He navigated to his online publishing account. At the top of the page, it said, “Account Balance: $13.52” He sat back in his chair and folded his arms, a grin on his face.
“See?” he said, looking at Arthur. “I am a writer.”
Arthur didn’t seem to care how many short stories Malcolm had hawked on the internet. He simply sat like a statue and narrowed his glare, as if to say, I’ve listened, now you owe me.
Malcolm continued watching the amount, as if waiting for it to suddenly shoot up into four and five digits, proving to everyone that his career choice hadn’t been a waste.
He smacked his legs and stood up. “Well, that was fun. I think it’s time for a break.”
It was going on lunchtime when Malcolm made it to the coffee shop downtown. He had walked from the apartment, not only because he enjoyed walking, but because Blaire had taken the car to work this morning. But walking around the small town of Cliffside wasn’t so bad. Everything was neatly compacted together on Main street. The cell phone store that Blaire managed could be seen across the street and a couple blocks down.
Malcolm ordered his usual: a tall iced coffee with French vanilla creamer. He didn’t like trying new things. It usually led to disappointment. The barista was a young girl about Malcolm’s age. Her dark hair was short and she wore thick-rimmed glasses accompanied by several piercings. She smiled a warm smile as she passed his cup over the counter. Malcolm smiled back. “Thank you, Tabby. As always, you’re coffee is the best in town.”
Tabby tilted her head and gave a smirk. “And how do you know that, Mr. Birshire? You haven’t tried it yet.”
“Considering this is the only coffee shop in town, I made a wild guess.”
“Oh haha, witty as always.” she said. “So how are the stories coming?”
Malcolm sipped from the straw. He nodded with approvement. “I was right, this is the best. You were saying?”
“I asked how the stories were coming?”
“Oh, fine. Just fine. I’m chipping away day by day. When I publish the next one, I’ll be sure to let you know.”
“Thanks, Mr. Birshire. I’ll be looking forward to it. I really enjoyed the other ones.” She rested her arms on the counter and her short sleeves bunched up a bit, revealing colorful tattoos lacing her arms above the elbows. Malcolm admired them for a second. A fairy sitting on a lily adorned her right arm. The fairy stared upward with a hint of whimsy in her eyes. “Alone in Paradise was great. It really kept me flipping the pages.”
He took another sip as she talked. “Oh yeah, I enjoyed writing that one. Glad you liked it.”
“I really did. What was the meaning behind the flower on the hill?”
Malcolm thought for a moment. There was no meaning to the flower on the hill. He had simply wanted to set a certain mood in the scene. He thought a little more before answering. “The flower... represents Jeffrey’s plight. Always surrounded by beauty... no one to share in it.” He shot another smile at Tabby as he sipped from the cup, a feeling of victory soaking over him. By George, he was a writer, and a damn good one at that if he could come up with nonsense like that.
“Ooh, that makes so much sense now. Why didn’t I think of that?” She smiled back at him. “I’d really like to try writing something. But...” Tabby shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Why not? It’s not the hardest job in the world. You just need to commit to it and see it all the way through. That’s the challenging part.”
Oh, you mean like how you’re working so hard right now?
Malcolm ignored the sarcastic voice that taunted him.
“I guess so.” she said. “Maybe I’m also a little nervous about letting my stuff be seen... and judged... by the world.”
“It sucks, I know. But it’s still better than doing nothing, I’ve found.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Maybe one day.”
“I’ll read every book you write. I’m sure they would be superb.”
She chuckled. “Thanks, Mr. Birshire. I’m glad you have faith in me.”
“The utmost faith. Don’t count yourself out until you’ve tried. And speaking of which, I need to return to my own work.”
“Thanks. See you tomorrow.”
Malcolm left the shop, his steps lighter than when he’d come in. As he walked home, enjoying the iced coffee, he fantasized about what tattoos might be hiding beneath Tabby’s clothes.
Once he reached home, the coffee was gone and he again stared at the blank screen. No ideas had come to him. He had hoped the walk might bring something. Arthur was asleep on the bed behind him. Malcolm glanced over his shoulder at the lazy cat. “Gee, wish we could trade places.” He stared at the screen for another hour or so before finally giving up and leaving the apartment again.
There was a small park near the center of Cliffside. It was simply a square of grass and a fountain surrounded by benches. It had been designed with tourists in mind. When the summer came and they wanted to get away from the sweltering heat, they would flock to Maine in search of fresh clams and lobster. There was even a yearly festival held on Main street which accounted for the majority of the town’s economy.
Malcolm sat on one of the benches with a pencil and notebook in hand. It was brainstorming time. He began writing whatever came to mind. He had no direction when it came to what his next project should be, not even a genre. A romance? A comedy? Suspense? Adventure? Nothing came to mind. Should he invent characters and then put them in a situation? Should he think of a situation and then build characters around it? All the tools he had gained throughout his career and in college seemed to be dull. It was as if the river which turned the mill wheel had dried up and now he was forced to push the grindstone himself. Writing had never been this hard before. It had always been second nature to him. Almost as easy as breathing. And the stories he’d written so far weren’t bad. Maybe even good. But still, sales were almost non-existent and agents never returned his letters.
He ended up jotting a few ideas down. Nothing groundbreaking, perhaps even a little cliché, but at least it was something. As the sun began setting, he felt his phone rumble in his pocket. A text from Blaire asking where he was. He really didn’t want to go home yet. He felt ashamed of his lack of accomplishment. As if he was no better than a lazy man on welfare. He responded with mostly truth. “Went for a walk and lost track of time. You can have dinner without me. I’ll be back later.” He wasn’t sure how else to explain his absence. He just didn’t want to go home yet. Not while he still felt like a worthless dog.
Malcolm wedged the notepad under his arm and began walking down the sidewalk. He might’ve felt like a worthless dog, but he was a hungry worthless dog. What he wanted he had no idea.
After walking aimlessly through downtown Cliffside, he reached the end of cute storefronts and historic houses. Now the town had become dark and unattractive. There was a small section of houses that might have been nice fifty years ago. Now they were half dilapidated and housing the poorest residents of town. There were a few businesses which gave loans or cars to anyone, no credit check required. A few blocks later, he came to a convenience store.
Malcolm considered whether he should go in or not. Would there really be anything appetizing in there? Probably not, but it was the last stop in town, and his stomach wouldn’t stop growling. With a great amount of reluctance, he went inside. There wasn’t anyone there but the clerk: a man in his fifties with a bad comb-over. Mr. Phillips, if Malcolm recalled correctly. (Everyone in a small town knew each other, after all.) “Evening.” Mr. Phillips said without looking up from the titty magazine he had on the counter.
“Evening.” Malcolm responded. “Been busy?”
“Sorry to hear it.” He wandered through the store. Nothing to eat but junk, but he was beyond the point of caring. He grabbed a soda and fixed a hot dog. (A little bit of relish, a little bit of onion.) After paying, he left the store.
The spring night was cool. He stood in the parking lot, which was littered with trash and pot holes. Not the best place for an evening meal, but it would have to do. He sat on the sidewalk in front of the store and ate his hotdog. As he chewed, his eyes wandered around the parking lot. Beside him sat what might have been the last working pay phone in the state, a testament to a forgotten time when phones weren’t in everyone’s pockets.
Once his food was out of the way, he continued his journey. It was nearing eight o’clock, but he didn’t care. It was as if there was a magnet outside town, pulling at him, and a magnet of opposite polarity at home pushing him away.
He continued walking. Beyond the convenience store was nothing. He had left town and was now walking along the side of scenic highway 1 in the dark. Why was he doing it? Was he stupid? Was writing, or the lack thereof, driving him to insanity? He couldn’t figure it out. All he knew was that he wanted to walk. At least the full moon would light his path. He looked up at it and admired its beauty. How he wished it could be full every night.
After a few minutes of walking, the woods surrounding the road dissipated, giving way to the cliffs that Cliffside was named after. The highway hugged the cliff, which gave travelers a great view of the Atlantic. It continued that way through several more small towns and eventually Canada. Just a few yards after the woods had given way, there was a scenic lookout, complete with picnic tables and fencing (to keep curious tourists from taking a mighty nasty fall).
“Hmph. Wish I’d thought of bringing my food here.” Malcolm whispered to himself, even though he knew it would’ve been cold by the time he reached the place. He sat down on one of the tables so that he could gaze at the ocean and enjoy his soda. The sound of waves crashing against rocks was hypnotic. He wondered how long it would take for the water to erode them away, even to the point of the entire cliff disappearing. A millennium? Who knew. But one thing was sure: this cliff’s days were numbered.
The full moon was gleaming on the ocean waves. It was a beautiful scene and if it didn’t inspire Malcolm with ideas, then nothing would. He set the bottle aside and opened his notepad. It was just barely light enough to read the scribbled notes. He looked out at the ocean, doing his best to clear his thoughts.
An engine roared in the distance. Malcolm instinctively glanced over his shoulder, but it wasn’t anywhere near him. He went back to staring at the ocean and wishing for an idea, any idea, to strike him. After all, what good is a writer with no ideas? None, that’s what. Why keep trying? Might as well sit at home and watch daytime TV. Or get a real job.
Malcolm sat on the table, thinking, dreaming, and letting his thoughts wander wherever they wanted. He wrote a few more ideas down. Then he got another text. Blaire was bothering him again. Where are you? When are you coming home? Malcolm considered his options, but ultimately decided it was time to begin his journey home. He responded with a simple Walking home now. He dismounted the picnic table and began walking toward town.
The night air was cool and quiet. If a bird a mile away shook his feathers, he could’ve heard it. That is, until another roaring engine began its song. Yet another disruption to his peaceful walk. Headlights appeared around the corner. Malcolm moved off the road and into the grass, continuing his slow pace and keeping his eyes to his feet, since he didn’t want to end up stumbling into a hole.
The car grew louder as it approached. Without looking up, Malcolm could tell it was an old one. It had the sound of a V8 struggling to make it up a hill that a modern compact wouldn’t break a sweat on. Then he noticed the headlights hitting him directly. Then the sound of dirt being kicked up. Then the screech of tires, a pair of rusty drum brakes struggling to stop the hunk of metal. He looked up just in time to see the long hood bearing down on him. Four round headlights stared a death stare that Satan himself couldn’t trump. Everything went white.
Pain enveloped his entire body, like a blanket of ice. He heard noises, distant, yet close to him. Inside him. He didn’t know that his legs were snapped by the chrome bumper, his body rolling up the long hood, smacking into the windshield, leaving a spider-web’s crack in the center. His body rolled over the roof, flopping like the piece of meat he was, limbs twirling, eventually sliding off the trunk and landing in the grass, two muddy tire tracks to each side. A loud crunch ended the car’s wild ride and the engine calmed to a mild gurgle.
The white pain faded, giving way to a numb, throbbing pain. Trees above Malcolm spun in circles. What had happened? He couldn’t remember. All he knew was pain and the blood which stung his eyes. The slam of a car door bounced off of trees. A figure of a man appeared in his vision. The man uttered something which might have been words. Malcolm’s vision began to return, the spinning coming to a slow halt like a contest wheel.
“Hey, man, sorry about that.” the voice said, the words pounding into Malcolm’s head like a hammer. The figure standing over him was thin and small. He had beady eyes and buzzed hair. Everything about him was thin. And even in Malcolm’s daze, he could smell the reek of liquor. “Hey, man, you ok?”
Malcolm couldn’t respond. Or think.
“Sorry, dude. I sure didn’t mean to hit you. Didn’t see you there. You should wear something…” his slurred speech halted for a moment as his mind tried to catch words. “…something re… re… reflective. Yeah, that’s it. Reflective.” Then he stood up, stumbled, and left Malcolm’s sight. The skinny man grabbed his wrists and began trying to drag Malcolm’s limp body. It was slow going as he tried to grasp reality.
“Come on, man, let’s go. Gotta get you outta the road.” He dragged Malcolm one lurch at a time. He didn’t stop at his car, which was rumbling with the right fender dented in by a tree. He dragged him further and further past the car until they were back at the lookout. Malcolm fought to keep awake, despite how badly his body wanted to sleep. He fought to think of why he was being dragged to the picnic area. He tried to speak, but his mouth wasn’t working. A groan might have slipped out, but nothing more.
“Sorry about this, dude. Nothing personal.” the skinny man said as he dragged Malcolm past the tables. “But I already got two strikes, I don’t need another. Cops are bitches like that. Don’t forgive nothin.”
The air became colder as they neared the edge of the cliff. The skinny man dropped Malcolm’s wrists, struggled to get over the fence, then took them again. “Damn, you’re heavy.” He pulled Malcolm underneath the fence. He could hear the crashes of waves and the spray of ocean. The full moon looked down at him. The stars twinkled as if waving goodbye. This was the last time he’d be seeing them. In his mind, he fought to move, or speak, or fight to save his life. But he couldn’t. His body was paralyzed, either from the trauma or perhaps his spine was broken into many bits of shrapnel.
He was now close to the edge. The man pulled him so that his body was parallel with the cliff’s drop-off. He let go of Malcolm’s wrists and labored to stand up straight. “You should thank me. I mean, not for hitting you. I’ll admit, that was a dick move. But this is me being nice.” He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket, put one in his mouth, and lit it up with a disposable lighter. The man took a long drag and exhaled, as if he needed to summon extra courage for the final push. “If I didn’t do this, you’d be lying there for hours, dying a slow, agonizing death. Terrible way to go. Least this’ll be quick. And hey, I wouldn’t mind going out like this. Least you get a fun few seconds and then BAM. You won’t feel a thing.”
Malcolm prepared himself. With what little consciousness he had left, he tried to recall the happier moments in his life. He remembered the early years with Blaire at college. That was when everything was new and exciting. The sex was amazing and everything he wrote was golden. He preferred to remember those days rather than recent years. Then, he thought about how, when news of his disappearance and the eventual discovery of his remains spread, his books would suddenly become popular. He hoped that Blaire and his parents could split the money.
The skinny man dragged from the cigarette and put his boot against Malcolm’s rib. “Bye, man.”
It echoed through the forest. A small, mousy voice. Skinny stopped and looked up. “Who the fuck are you?”
“Leave him alone!” The voice cried again. It sounded like a young girl’s voice, shaking as if she would burst into tears at any moment. “I won’t let you kill him!”
In Malcolm’s mind, he screamed. He didn’t want anything to happen to his would-be savior. He couldn’t see her, but she sounded like a very young girl. It would’ve been much better for him to be dead than her. Despite how much he wanted to scream and fight back, he couldn’t. He wanted to grab the man’s ankle and roll off the cliff, taking them both to death. But he couldn’t. His body was as useless as a corpse.
The man seemed amused by her. He reached into his jacket and pulled a small pistol, pointing it at the girl. “You really shouldn’t have said anything. Now I gotta throw you both over. Nothing personal, though, babe.”
He fired the gun. The pop bounced from tree to tree. A small whiff of smoke rose from the barrel. He lowered the gun. “The fuck? What are you?”
An explosion. The crackling of electricity. A blinding light. Then silence. His eyes slowly adjusted. The man was gone. Malcolm lay on the grass, teetering on the precipice of death, and he was spending the last bit of his energy contemplating what could have happened to the skinny man with the gun.
A moment later, the young girl appeared above him. She now knelt beside him. His eyes struggled to focus. She looked to be college-aged, with a small, round face that was the epitome of beauty. Then, he noticed a set of wings behind her head. They glowed blue and looked like stained glass. He now realized that he might be hallucinating, dreaming, or dead. Perhaps all of the above.
She reached toward him, placed her hand on his forehead, and left it there. It felt warm, as if he was being touched by a hot towel. The feeling soaked through him. It was a heavenly feeling and he suddenly began to feel better.
“Are you an angel?” Malcolm whispered. She shook her head. “Am I dead?” She shook her head again. “Then... I’m hallucinating.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because you have wings. Bright... glowing wings.”
She giggled. “I know.”
He could feel energy returning to him. While still in pain, he felt it less and began to feel like he could move his head a little. Despite the miraculous improvement, his body was still paralyzed. The girl removed her hand from his head. “That’s all I have. Hope it helped.” Her eyes were wide and grin wider.
“Did you… heal me?”
“What about that guy? Is he dead? Tell me he’s dead.”
“No, I wouldn’t want to kill anyone.” She jumped up and left Malcolm’s side for a moment, then returned. She dangled a squirming mouse over his head. It frightened him at first, though he couldn’t flinch if he wanted to.
“What is that?”
“I turned him into a mouse. Now he can’t hurt anyone else.” She tossed it away from them. It landed in the dirt with a thump.
“Of course. Magic. I should’ve known. I suppose… angels are real.” Consciousness began slipping away.
She shook him. “Don’t go to sleep!” His eyes fluttered open enough to see the concern in her eyes, but he couldn’t obey. Either he was dying or falling asleep. He lost the battle and consciousness escaped.
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