nce upon a time, in a land far, far away, lived a beautiful, vain princess who would one day be queen.
The beautiful princess spent much of her time staring into a bejeweled hand mirror, admiring her beauty and ignoring the rest of the world. So much so that one day, while walking through the kingdom, the princess stepped on an old lady's foot.
The old crone cried out in pain, but the vain princess failed to take notice. Her focus was diverted by her beauty reflected in the flawless mirror.
I shook my head and Asia stopped her story. “The princess didn't see the old woman?” I asked. “I find that kind of hard to believe. No one's that vain.”
Asia's eyebrow rose. “That you don't buy? And yet, you're okay with the whole âI'm cursed' thing?”
I shrugged. “Fine. Finish your story.”
So she did....
Once the princess removed her overly dainty foot from atop the old woman's crushed appendage, the old woman yelped and cursed. Unfortunately for Asia, the curse the woman uttered wasn't of the “fudge, poke” variety, but instead, a curse born of a thousand years of wizardry and warts.
“May you only bear daughters to your king,” the old witch said.
The princess, startled from her vanity by the pronouncement, finally glanced up at the old witch. “Sorry. Did you say something?” And then she promptly stepped on the old woman's other foot.
“Ahhhhhh!!!!!” the witch screamed.
The princess brushed a lock of red hair from her shoulder and returned to smiling into the looking glass, again oblivious to the old witch. That only served to enrage the crone more. She snatched the mirror from the princess and smashed it on the ground. There it shattered into a million tiny pieces, each reflecting the old crone's anger.
“Oh, look what you've done.” The princess dropped to her knees next to the crushed bits of mirror. “This was my favorite looking glass, and now it's broken.”
But that wasn't the only thing broken.
The old crone's foot, crushed by the vain princess, lay smashed upon the pavement too. The princess glanced from the mirror to the witch's foot and then at the old woman. Tears filled the princess's eyes. She sniffed, still delicate and beautiful. The old witch's rage receded under the princess's obvious guilt.
But before the old witch could erase the curse, the princess straightened and gestured to her guards. “Lock her in the dungeon.”
“What's the charge, my lady?” one guard asked.
The princess shook her head as if it was apparent to all. “For being ugly, of course.”
“As you wish,” the guard said.
As the old witch was led away by a contingent of guards, she added the final damning words to her curse. “Vain. Vain. Vain. May no man, woman, or child bear to look upon your firstborn daughter without feeling pain.”
“So your mom locked the witch in the dungeon, huh?” I nodded to Asia, bringing her back to the present. “Rookie mistake.”
“Tell me about it.”
“What's the catch?”
“Come on,” I said. “Every curse has a loophole.”
“Yeah, it does.” My head wobbled to emphasize my point. “Think about it.”
Asia stroked her chin, and my mind flashed to her smooth hands stroking my own skin. Heat rose in my gut, lust pooling with sick desire. After a few minutes, she cleared her throat. “You're right.”
“About what?” As hard as I tried, I couldn't recall a single word of our conversation. My only thoughts were on Asia's body. The swells of her breasts underneath the soft folds of her T-shirt. My blood slipped south, leaving my brain empty. Not a new occurrence.
“I said, you're right.” She bit her lip. “All curses have a way out. Remember the daughter of the miller? The one who was locked in the tower by that crazed midget ...”
“Just 'cuz someone's a little on the short side, it doesn't make 'em a midget!” I jumped from the couch and started to pace, my arms windmilling in anger. Asia ducked out of my way as I muttered to myself.
Six feet tall wasn't short, damn it!
I blamed the metric system. It warped people's minds. Not to mention turned an impressive eight inches into 20.32 centimeters. Centimeters, for fuck sakes. That word made anything sound small.
Asia recoiled, her mouth tightening as I continued to pace. I closed my eyes and swallowed. “Sorry,” I said. “I've had a rough day.” My lips curved into a trembling smile. “So what's the loophole? Did the witch forget to do the Hokey Pokey and spin herself around and around?”
“I don't know.” She scratched her head. “But I know someone who might.”
couple of hours later, I sat in the Three Blind Mice Tavern next to an insanely beautiful, albeit slightly overweight princess and a grumpy bag of wind named Rip. The name suited the grey-bearded man quite well. In fact, as soon as we sat down, Rip let one rip. The stench was so bad that even the drunkest of the patrons staggered from their bar stools and out the tavern door.
Rip shrugged his shoulders. “I had burritos for lunch.”
Like twenty years ago, by the smell of it. Rather than comment on his stench, I jammed my hand over my nose and tried to control the tears leaking from my eyes. Asia's fingers brushed mine, sending a shiver along my skin. I swallowed hard and did my best to grin and avoid throwing up.
Things could've been worse.
“What'd you want,” Rip said, burping another cloud of toxins into the air. His eyes narrowed and he leaned forward. “Don't I know you from somewhere?” he asked me. “You look familiar.”
“I have that kind of face,” I said. Which was partially true. God had blessed me with villainous good looks, chiseled features, and lips meant for kissing demented princesses.
Or was it princi?
“Never mind that.” Asia waved her hand. “I need your help, Rip.”
“For you, my sweet maiden, I'd sleep for a thousand years.”
I smothered a groan.
“What can you tell me about my curse? Is there a way to break it?” Asia tilted her head, her eyes locked on the older man's filmy grey ones. Skinny or fat, no one would be able to resist my princess for long. Rip proved to be no exception. I hoped like hell when the time came I was made of stronger stuff. None of that puppy-dog-tail crap. Forget the snails too. I'd need steel bollocks to walk away from a princess like Asia.
“Only one way to break such a dangerous and powerful curse.” After a brief pause to exhale a fetid breath, Rip rubbed his whiskered chin. “Truth be told, even I, one of the wisest and bravest men in the kingdom, wouldn't dare to break a curse so vile. How can such a sweet young lady have the courage?”
I nearly sprained my eye sockets with my eye roll. Bravest? Really? The dude took a nap. What was so freaking hard about that? “Yeah, you're a prince among men. Anyway ...”
Asia covered her smile with the back of her hand. “I'm sure you're right, Rip, but I'd like to give it a try. Can you help us?”
He nodded, farted once, twice, and then a third time. A stench so foul even the three little pigs would've gagged drifted in the air around us. “To break the curse, the cursed must possess the Devil's Eye.” He shivered as if the very words chilled his old ass. Either that or he finally got a whiff of himself. Valiantly, he continued, pausing long enough to add, “Do you smell that?” before finishing his tale. “And in the Eye, the cursed will see the past, present, and future. Good and evil. She will see beauty and death, a lover and a liar.”
Not good. If Asia possessed the Devil's Eye she would learn the truth about me, about my villainous past, about my even more dastardly plot to relieve her of her virginity.
But without it, she would never be free.
Rip let out another loud belch. “In the end, she who possesses the Eye will either accept what is reflected back or else ...”
“Or else what?” I asked after a few seconds.
“How should I know?” He shrugged. “I'm old, not a fucking rocket scientist.”
Some help he was. I started to say just that, but Asia interrupted. Oh well, not like I could've told the old bastard off anyway.
“Rip,” Asia said. “What is the Devil's Eye?”
“Evil.” Rip stroked his chin. “The Devil's Eye is pure evil born of an unholy alliance.”
Britney and K-Fed?
Rip continued, “It is said to possess all the knowledge in the Universe.”
That left those two out.
“Those who gaze into the Eye are doomed.”
“Have you ever seen it?” Asia asked in a whisper.
Rip shook his gnarled head. “Do I look doomed? Weren't you listening? What is it with you young people today? Why, back in my day ...”
Just tell me what the damn thing looks like and where to find it, I wanted to tell him, but the old goat rambled on and on for twenty more minutes, spouting dire warnings, boring stories from his past, and toxic fumes. Finally, he got to the point. “From what I've been told, the Eye looks like a handheld compact. Sort of oval shaped with a blue jewel covering the top.”
“Worth a pretty penny too.”
Shit, shit, shit.
I pictured the shiny blue-jeweled looking glass that, up until a day or so ago, had resided in the pocket of my Levi's. The very same looking glass I discovered in Cinderella's bedroom and subsequently pawned it.
Just my villainous luck.
“I'd pay anything to end this curse,” Asia said, her voice soft, warm, and pure like my princess herself. She was far too good for the villainous likes of me; yet I couldn't walk away. Not yet. Not until I solved her sister's murder, found my ex-wife's killer, and freed my pretty, pretty princess from her curse. As to-do lists went, mine sounded nearly impossible, almost as bad as Snow White's daily chore of scrubbing out seven pairs of stained dwarf boxers.
But I vowed to find a way to break the curse for Asia, even if it cost me my life. I ran my fingers across Asia's expanding skin. “Don't worry, sweetheart. I'll find the Eye for you.”
“Thank you,” she whispered.
I nodded and swallowed hard. In order to save my distressed damsel I would have to become the one thing I hated. A hero. The very word sent sickness pooling in my gut, sort of like eating bad sushi in the hot sun. My face must have betrayed my emotions because Asia shot me a sweet, endearing smile. My stomach started to ache even more.
I rose from my bar stool, leaned over, and gave Asia a smacking kiss on the lips. Her eyes widened, but she didn't pull away. Instead, she deepened the kiss, drawing my mouth into hers. Our tongues met, greeting each other like long-lost lovers after years apart. Her hands fisted in my hair, tugging my mouth harder against hers. I pulled Asia closer, inhaling her scent. She smelled like the best of holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Rosh Hashanah rolled into one.
For what seemed like an eternity of bliss, but in reality was merely seconds, the world around us vanished. No more stench of rotted beer and decayed old man. No more thoughts of curses or murder. Just us. The two of us.
Happily ever after be damned.
Asia broke the kiss and stared into my eyes as if she could see into the very depths of my blackened soul. Served with a side of collard greens and rice. For a moment I felt completely naked. My villainous armor stripped away to reveal the short, insecure kid underneath.
Rather than scare me, her naked appraisal sent a surge of power through my battered body. I was Rumple Fucking Stiltskin. A badass villain. I could accomplish any feat, big or small. Reacquiring one little bejeweled hand mirror would be easier than getting Georgie Porgie laid. And I'd managed to accomplish that in a matter of a few hours.
I grabbed my princess, kissed her quickly on her pliant lips, and stumbled out of the tavern without a word. It was time to show the kingdom of Maledetto exactly who was the biggest, baddest villain around.
After leaving the tavern, I immediately went to the Pretty, Pretty Pawn & Bait Shop to retrieve the Devil's Eye. The shop was located on the west end of the kingdom, sandwiched between Geppetto's Gyros and a fairy strip club named Wings.
I opened the door and stepped inside the greenish-lit pawnshop. The place was nice enough, clean, and reminded me of the Candlestick Maker's, but without the waxy smell or freaky statues of dead movie villains. Rows of pilfered and pawned electronics, stolen jewels, and magic wands lined dust-free shelves. The recession had hit everyone hard, but it was especially hard on fairy godmothers. Hell, poor Glinda the Good Witch, new mayor of Munchkin County, had to start hooking to pay for yellow brick road repairs while that bitch Dorothy ran off with a priceless pair of slippers and a flying monkey named Bob.
Sometimes fairytales weren't fair.
I strolled up to the counter searching the glass case for any sign of the Devil's Eye. Finding none, I smashed my hand on the service buzzer and waited for the shopkeeper, Baba Yaga, to appear.
When she did, I stifled a scream. Baba Yaga looked ten times worse than she did the last time I saw her. At that time she looked ugly enough to give trolls nightmares. Baba Yaga's nose had grown two extra warts and her skin turned from pale green to full-on chartreuse. Her shoulders hunched even more, nearly toppling her scrawny body over.
“You!” She stabbed her finger in my direction. I jumped back, afraid her ugly was the catchy kind. Instead of stopping her, my ninjalike move only increased her anger. She flew (literally, broomstick and all) over the counter and leapt on me. We crashed to the floor, bits of ugly witch and villain everywhere.
Baba's fist smashed into my jaw. Pain radiated up my face and into my brain. And yet, I couldn't do a damn thing to end her assault. Stupid union. When she started biting, my survival instinct overpowered my impotency. I lashed out with a stern “Owwwwww! Owwww! Quit biting me.”
From a bystander's point of view, it might have sounded more like me begging and squealing like a pretty, pretty princess, but I digress.
“I want my money back. Right now!” Her fist nicked my chin again, opening up a wide cut. Blood welled from the wound, dripping onto my new T-shirt. She punched me again, screaming, “You little sawed-offâ”
That did it.
I shoved the old witch off me. “No need for name calling, you old hag. Give me back my mirror and I'll give you your money.”
She sucked in a putrid breath. “I don't have it.”
“The sheriff. He took it.” She swallowed. “Threatened to arrest me for receiving stolen goods too.”
That didn't make any sense since I didn't steal anything, not really. Okay, that might not be true in a strict legal sense, but still ...
“When'd he confiscate it?”
“This morning,” she said.
Damn. I'd only found the Eye wedged between Cinderella's bed a day ago, and from the look of it, it had been there a while, and now it was missing. Taken by the sheriff of Maledetto. But why? What could the sheriff possibly want with the cursed object? And more so, why would the sheriff retrieve the Eye himself? Why not send his legion of boys in paisley to retrieve the relic? Unless retrieving the Eye wasn't a criminal matter, but a personal one.
I ran my hand through my hair. So much happened in the last day. Natasha was dead. My sweet Asia was cursed by the Eye of the Devil. And if I wasn't mistaken, Baba Yaga was currently picking bits of my skin from her greenish teeth.
She glanced my way and winked. “So where's my dough, pretty boy?”
I pulled out my wallet and tossed her some cash. It wasn't nearly enough, but it would have to do. Her frown warned me of an impending ass-kicking, but I held her off. “I'll have the rest of your money by tomorrow.” My middle finger curved into a Villain Scouts salute. “I promise.”
Her good eye narrowed, but she didn't attack, so I gathered up my tattered, dirt-stained self and headed into the night on a quest for a mythological makeup mirror.
As far as villainy went, I'd had better days.
Around midnight, I crept into the sheriff of Maledetto's backyard and slipped over a row of hedges shaped like the seven dwarfs. A dog barked in the distance, but nothing else stirred. Lights twinkled from inside the house, giving me a good view of the layout. Not that it would do me, an impotent villain, any good. Damn it. The house looked like many of the single-family brick homes in the area. Three bedrooms, a living room, and a kitchen. The bluish light of a television flickered in the living area, as did the soft glow of candles in the bedroom.
's Sexiest Sheriffs Alive Edition, the sheriff of Maledetto (#24) was a bachelor, and yet, it appeared as if the unattached sheriff had company. My mind flashed through a list of possible companions. One name kept repeating itself.
What if the sheriff reclaimed the Devil's Eye in order to gain my lady's favor? Thereby beating me to her chastity belt? It made sense. Asia was beautiful beyond compare. What man wouldn't risk a life sentence or even the death penalty for a little something something from such a perfect princess? Hell, I'd walk through a pit of Prince Charmings for just one kiss from my princess. My princess who was probably swapping saliva with the sheriff at this very moment.
Rage tickled at the back of my throat. I'd kill him. Sure, it might take a while, me being cursed and all, but eventually I'd find a way. Maybe I'd start by replacing the fat-free mayonnaise in his refrigerator with regular.
Yet my murderous plan had one small problem. Unless the sheriff left his house unlocked, I couldn't replace anything, let alone snatch the Devil's Eye as I originally intended.
Being cursed sucked.
In my heyday, I could pick a lock faster than Jack could climb a beanstalk, but not anymore. Now every time I picked up a lock pick my fingers started to tremble like one of the three bears at a NRA meeting.
What I needed was a henchman.
A dumb one at that.
Across the road, a car alarm screeched and I jumped. A totally uncool move for any villain, especially one hiding in the backyard of a man who I assumed might have numerous automatic weapons.
The sheriff rushed from his home, an AK-47 in his bulging arms. He wore a pair of skinny jeans and a tight white T-shirt. The outline of his nipples popped through the fabric in the cool night air. A shadow obscured his face, as well as the person standing directly behind him, but I could make out the outline of a chiseled jaw. A familiar jaw. One I'd recognized from the Maledetto Kingdom Jail. He was the same man Charming had smiled and winked at. What the hell was going on?
I squinted into the dim light, debating whether Asia was the other person standing behind him. The one draped in shadows. Would she really betray me with this idiot? I hoped not, but the more I squinted into the darkness, the less sure I became. Please no, I thought, crossing my fingers, toes, and any other appendage willing to be tied into a knot.
The outline looked about right in terms of weight, but shadows were by nature deceiving, much like transgendered chicks named Raypunzel.
“Who's out there?” the sheriff yelled into the darkness.
I stepped deeper into the shadows, avoiding his gun's steely stare and a high-velocity bullet. Somewhere on my left, a mouse ran up the hedge, checked his tiny watch, shook his head, and then ran down. The sheriff took a step into the light followed by his companion dressed in a long, flowing, lace shirt.
Prince Fucking Charming.
What the hell was he doing here?
More importantly, it wasn't Asia. My princess hadn't betrayed me. Not yet, at least. Relief filled me, sort of like Little Boy Blue when his STD test results came back clean. But more questions surfaced, like was Asia a top or a bottom kind of princess? And would I have to buy her dinner first?
Guess I'd have to wait to find out the answer to either question. Or I could take a peek into the future with a certain looking glass.
Speak of the Devil ...'s Eye.
The sheriff pulled the looking glass from his pocket. It swung back and forth like a pendulum, sparkling with evil in the muted moonlight. My eyes followed. That tiny piece of metal could save Asia's life while it destroyed our future. Was it worth the price?
The villain in me said no, to forget the pretty blue jewels, steal Asia away, and lock her in a tower somewhere. But the new semi-heroic part of me had vowed to save my distressed damsel. I hated that part.
“Here.” The sheriff held the Devil's Eye out to the bastard Charming. “I hope it's worth the price.”
“No doubt.” The prince smiled, his eyes reflected a thousand times in the large sapphire nestled on top of the compact. “This is the only way. You and I both know it.”
Way to what? I was missing a part of the puzzle, a big part, from the sound of it. What was Charming up to? And why did he have me arrested? Because I was pretty damn sure he did. His “friendship” with the sheriff all but confirmed it. The rat bastard. Was my arrest and subsequent incarceration an attempt to keep me from finding the truth about Cinderella's murder? Or did he have designs on my princess?
Trading up in the sister department. One dead blonde for a slightly round redhead with jade eyes and a damn fine left hook. Who could blame him? My pretty, pretty plump princess overshadowed his pancake-flat fiancÃ©e any day.
I smiled, picturing Asia's welcoming arms as I returned victoriously from my quest. Shit. The quest! I needed that Devil's Eye. If I was in full-on villainy mode, I might've launched myself at the idiot prince, snatched the compact from his hands, and run off like the roadrunner after a crack binge.
Alas, the union once again ruined my best-laid plans. Instead of holding my thankful and warm princess in my arms, I watched helplessly as Prince Rotten's fingers curled around the object of my villainous desire. The Eye of the Devil.