Rays of the morning sun filter through mangled blinds, and Al turns onto his side, blocking the annoying sunlight with his arm. A breeze taps him on his backside, and he grumbles as he sits up. His blanket was a size meant for an infant, not a young man on the verge of adulthood, but complaining to his stepfather or his bull-like half-brothers was pointless. Even though they lived off of the money from his mother’s death, they did not share it with him, nor did they use it on the house.
A rat pushes hole-riddled slippers towards the foot of the bed. As Al tries to get up, the mattress sinks further in the middle until his eyes are level with his toes. Pink beady eyes peer over the wooden rail followed by another. Pinky and The Brain had been with him for years. Most of the time, they were helpful creatures. Today…not so much.
Al reaches for the rail, smiles when his fingers fold over it. “Aha!” But his victory is short-lived as he tries to pull himself up, and the mattress sinks until his hind end is on the floor. “Really?” he grumbles.
Pinky and The Brain squeak at one another, then dart off.
“Where are you going?” Al fights with the mattress, but he can’t quite get in a position that will allow him to pull himself out.
A few minutes later, just as Al’s grumbling under his breath, a short, balding man waddles into the room. Not far behind is Pinky and The Brain. The cigar almost falls out of the man’s mouth as he chortles.
“What’ ave ya gotcha yourself into, Al?” He wiggles his caterpillar-like eyebrows. “You’ve been tossin’ in the sheets with a lady?” He grabs Al’s hand. “It’s about time if you ask me.”
“No one’s asking you, Leo,” says Al as his feet finally hit the floor.
Leo tucks his thumbs underneath his suspenders, stretches them out. “Maybe they should.” His eyes scan the room, stopping on Al’s slippers. He picks one up, waves it in the air. “Is this the best they’ll do?” Al doesn’t say anything as he snatches it out of Leo’s hand and slips it on. His big toe peeks out, and Leo’s rugged face turns crimson. “Those no-good, sons of a pig. Your mama would be appalled! I bet she’s a-rollin’ in her grave, God rest her soul. After everything she did to make sure you were taken care of, and this,” he grabs the small, hole-ridden blanket off the bed, “is how they honor her memory?”
“It’s fine, I—”
Leo’s brown eyes turn black as he rolls the blanket into a haphazard ball and slams it onto the bed. The bed shimmies and groans, then the headboard caves in as the rails smack the ground. “That’s it,” Leo says, “I’m callin’ the Godfather. And you, my friend, are going to the ball.”
Fear’s icy fingertips crawl down Al’s spine as he sputters. “B-b-but you c-can’t do that! Riccardo will have my head, and probably yours, too.”
Leo shrugs, unconcerned. “It’s a masquerade. They’ll never even know it’s you. Trust me, Signorino.”
Before Al can protest any further, Leo leaves the room, whistling a merry tune as if he wasn’t angry just moments ago.
Later that morning, Al urges Murray forward with a light click of his tongue. The mule brays as it tosses its head in annoyance. The red-clay field was hard as a rock, the rusty cast-iron plow didn’t slice easily through it, and when it did, the soil stuck to the moldboard, which Al then had to cleanout. It was a long, slow process, and the sun shows no mercy as it heats up the back of his neck. The straw hat he’s wearing is useless. There are more holes than a strainer. But he doesn’t complain. Not like Murray. Instead, he methodically tills the ground until the sun begins to lower on the horizon. And with it, so does his stomach. There are still several rows remaining. Rows he’ll never finish before dark.
As he takes a drink from his canteen, he almost jumps out of his skin as a voice breaks the silence.
“What’re ye doin’, Carrot Top?”
To Be Continued…
I decided to start sharing short stories as I wrote them. They’re nowhere near to being perfect. But I wanted to start writing down fairytale retellings where the princess doesn’t need to be saved by a prince. And no, Al is not going to be saved by Princess Charm. Just wait for me to finish the story. I promise, it’ll be worth it.