Once Upon a Time

A faintly feminist fairytale of a princess, a tower and a frog, not to mention iPods, pulley systems and Ikea boxes.



Genre: ,




Length: words

Notes: This is a story I wrote for Carla, who needed something to make her smile. I’m told this did the trick.

Once Upon a Time
a faintly feminist fairytale
Once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away, in the state of Missouri, there lived a princess named Carla. Carla, like all good princesses, was tall with smooth creamy skin, bright blue eyes, and long curly blonde hair. The latter was a must-have for the fairytale princess, and Carla was nothing if not devoted to doing things right.

Carla, again like a good princess, had been locked away in a tower, though not by an bad fairy, wicked stepmother, or demented ogre. Nobody really knew what Princess Carla had been put in the tower for, but she had amassed quite a line of suitors, all desperate to woo her.

You see, this is where Carla deviated from the programme. A good princess would be thrilled to death that a man—a prince at that—had journeyed far (sometimes making several train changes on his way) or battled evil (experiencing heavy traffic) or overcome all odds (getting stuck behind cows no less that four times) to win her heart. She sent them away all the same.

The first, Prince Charming, was legendary. He, being the first, had not realised what a tempestuous sort she was.

“Carla, Carla, let down your hair, so I may climb without a stair!” he called up.

For the record, Princess Carla lives in a tall circular tower, there are no stairs either on the outside or the inside. I know this sounds a lot like Rapunzel, but honestly, Carla thought of it first. And you’ll also notice that Rapunzel never explains how she eats—after all, food spoils with time, doesn’t it?—well, a few weeks observing Princess Carla answers that. Carla has a cellphone and a pulley system. She calls for take-out, and then sends down a plastic box (from Ikea, in pale blue) on a rope (from the local hardware store in the usual rope colour) with the money in, the delivery boy takes the money (including his tip) then puts the food in the box for Princess Carla to haul up. It’s a little known fact that Princess Carla is a very good tipper. This is because everyone is instructed not to tell anyone that they deliver food to her as it would destroy the illusion she has created.

So, back to Prince Charming, who was standing where we left him outside of Princess Carla’s tower, calling for her to let down her hair. And there he stood for a good few minutes, wondering why she hadn’t answered.

Eventually he tried his luck again.

“Princess Carla, Princess Carla—”

“What?” A furious face appeared in the tower window. (A good story-teller should have mentioned the window in the description, but this particular story-teller is exceptionally bad at description, and leaves that all to… well, Princess Carla herself who… well, let’s not get into it now.)

“Princess Carla?” Asked the now-baffled Charming.

“Yes. What do you want?”

Prince Charming was momentarily dumbstruck. Princesses weren’t supposed to be this direct. In his experience, they were meant to be swoony, with breathy voices and heaving bosoms. Princess Carla’s bosoms might well be heaving, but it was hard to tell under the T-shirt she was wearing. Weren’t princesses supposed to wear dresses that accentuated their best assets?

“Well?” prodded Princess Carla.

He regained his composure and gave her a dazzling smile. It was not his very best smile, but a close second. His best smile was apt to make young ladies faint, and by now Princess Carla was leaning pretty far out of the window. He did not want a dead princess on his hands.

“I have come to rescue you!”

“Rescue me?” she repeated.

Charming wondered briefly if perhaps he should make his excuses and go on his way, searching for a slightly more princessy princess. “Yes, let down your hair, and I will climb up to rescue you!”

Princess Carla’s face vanished from the window, and Charming breathed a sigh of relief. She might be slow, but she was catching on now.

Or was she? No hair appeared to be forthcoming.

Princess Carla reappeared at the window, though slightly lower than last time. “Right, I’ve got myself a chair and a cigarette. This seems interesting, and I want to be comfortable as I listen. You want me to throw my hair out of the tower?”

“Yes!” Charming replied. He hoped this lunacy wouldn’t go on much longer.

“But I’ve just brushed it! Do you know how long it takes to get all the knots and snarls out of naturally curly hair? It’s such a tedious waste of time. I could be doing other things—and now you want me to put my hair outside the tower, where it’s quite breezy, so that you can rescue me?”


“But if I need ‘rescuing’,” she actually made the speech marks with her fingers, and Charming felt somewhat affronted, “what good would that do? If you climbed up my hair—which, by the way, ouch—wouldn’t that just leave us with two people in the tower?”

Charming faltered. He hadn’t really thought this through.

“If you ask me,” she continued, “if I wanted to get out to run away with you, I could pin my hair to the floor and bungee jump out.”

“Well, how about that then?” He tried desperately.

“Well, that just sounds a lot like I’ll be ‘rescuing’ myself and letting you have the credit.” Once again, she made the speech marks with her fingers.

“What’s wrong with that?” Charming asked. “I am a prince! We can live in a palace, and you will be my bride and raise my children.”

As this is a fairy story, I cannot actually repeat Princess Carla’s exact wording, but it was along the lines of, “Are you kidding me? Blow that for a game of checkers. Now, go away.”

Charming, not used to such vulgar language, especially not from someone who should be madly in love with him by now, stomped off in a huff. He managed to charm another princess into being his bride, and apparently they lived happily ever after in frightful tedium attending balls and raising adorable, but rather generic-looking, children.

Before he shacked up with his new princess though, Charming told his story to several mates on his stag night. Since they were all lagered up, and a little cross-eyed after a stripper had performed many amazing… shit, this is a fairytale beautiful enchantress had performed many amazing magic tricks, his mates were quite amused that a mere princess had outwitted him. Especially since their views on princesses were much the same as Charming’s had been.

One in particular, Prince Valiant, was particularly cutting. He was known for his bravery—these are not clever names the princes have, they all suit them, and it’s interesting to note that Valiant believed that Charming could have been better named, but Prince Effeminate is a terrible name.

“I shall win her!” Prince Valiant declared in his booming voice. Prince Valiant had a very loud voice, and his acts of “bravery” were actually less about what he did or said, but more about the volume at which he said things. While it is true that he did vanquish and evil witch (from the town of Burkittsville, formerly Blair), the legend says that he frightened her to death, the truth is a little more mundane. He shouted so loudly that he caused her eardrums to burst and an embolism to pop in her brain.

Everyone heard Valiant’s proclamation (except for Carla, who was listening to Meat Loaf on her iPod at the time), and by the next morning the whole city was alive with excitement that another suitor was going to try to win Princess Carla’s heart.

Valiant himself was not actually as excited as everyone else. It was one thing to say something while more than a little drunk to make oneself feel superior, but another to actually have to do that something, especially with a raging hangover and a slightly dickey tummy from the kebab last night. He bought himself some time by seeking Charming’s counsel, asking him to explain exactly what had transpired between Charming and Carla. He downed his Alka-Selzer and listened to every word Charming said.

You may wonder why Charming is talking to Valiant and not getting married at this moment, but while Charming’s princess might not have been as bright as Princess Carla, but she knew better than to marry a man the morning after he’s been out on the piss with the lads. His wedding is not until tomorrow.

Valiant did not manage to absorb much of what Charming said, but at the very least he managed to keep his Alka-Selzer down, and with that accomplished, he set out to win his future bride.

Once Prince Valiant was outside Carla’s window, he began to feel better. The walk had cleared his head, he had stopped feeling queasy and really, it wouldn’t be hard to charm her. It was no wonder that Charming had failed, he had a foppish nature that, Valiant had to admit, did hold appeal to a certain type of lady, but this one, Princess Carla, seemed a little feisty, so it stood to reason that she’d want someone of a more sturdy nature. Charming had been too tentative, he had given Princess Carla a choice, Valiant would not make that mistake.

Of course, he didn’t have much of a plan.

“PRINCESS CARLA!” he boomed.

Carla immediately appeared at the window. This was more like it.


“I have come to rescue you! We will be married tomorrow!”

“You can’t,” Carla said.

“Can’t what?”

“Marry me tomorrow. Prince Charming is getting married tomorrow. You’ll never find a caterer in time. Or a venue. Or a priest, for that matter,” she said.

“Oh.” Valiant hadn’t considered that, then he brightened. “Well, the day after then!”

“Sounds a bit haphazard if you ask me,” Carla replied. “Weddings take time and effort, so I’m told, and you want to get married the day after Prince Charming gets married. Nobody will have any supplies, no food, no flowers, all the best wedding planners are having nervous breakdowns. They’ll probably emigrate to Iowa and start pig-farming after dealing with Charming’s stroppy bride.”

“Well, we shall be wed however you want.” Come to think of it, this wasn’t going to plan. He wasn’t really being as demanding as he had intended. “Or else!”

“Thankfully, this conversation is hypothetical.” On seeing his puzzled look, she expanded. “I don’t want to marry you. So why don’t you,” once again, we cannot use Princess Carla’s exact wording, “run along and die.”

Valiant, unlike Charming, did not take this as his cue to leave, but instead lurked underneath her window, bellowing up demands to her. And at this point, you, dear reader, should understand that anything Princess Carla says to Valiant is not her actual wording. Please forgive her language, but she did not realise that she would be in a fairytale. She’d read about Rapunzel, Snow White, and so forth, and assumed that she didn’t have the temperament for it.

“Would you shut the heck up?”

“I will not!” he boomed back. “I demand that you come down from there right now and be my bride—and at the very least, I will agree to an unspecified engagement period, since you seem so worried about the timing.”

“But I don’t want to get married.”

“You are a princess and I am a prince. That should be all that matters.”

“Am I supposed to fall for this rubbish?”

“You’re supposed to get down from that tower and be gosh-darned grateful to be marrying me!” Valiant responded. He has also been edited for the rating of this story.

There was a period of silence, and, on looking up, he saw that Carla had vanished from her window. Probably to ready herself for climbing down, he said to himself.

This was not the case at all. Princess Carla had gone to get something ready, but it wasn’t herself. It was a bowl of water, and not even clean water, but the dirty water that her pots and pans had been soaking in since the morning. She went to the window and emptied it over him.

He glared up at her, and opened his mouth to shout, but she cut him off. “Not another word from you! I can’t hear myself think with your great booming voice disturbing my peace and quiet. Now run along or next time it will be boiling water!”

The suitors continued to try, in vain, to win the Princess Carla’s heart, but she just would not be swayed. Many tried, and they tried different approaches. The most notable was Prince Ascender, who tried using a ladder to climb up to her window, thinking that the princess clearly wanted a man to physically rescue her. He was met with an AK-47 and the words “Get the heck off my property before I blast you to kingdom come!” Well, nearly those words, anyway.

Princess Carla stayed in her tower, sending princes away daily. This was her life for many a year until, one day out of the blue, a rock flew through her window (which was open at the time, this is not the anecdote of vandalism, although there was some of that, but that stopped once Princess Carla invested in some land mines). Surprised, Carla picked up the rock, and noticed that around it was a note. It read:

Princess Carla,

I understand that you’re a very busy princess, and that you do not take kindly to people inflicting themselves on you without warning. I respect that about you, but I’m in a bit of a sticky spot, and seriously, you’re the only person who can help.

I would not take up more than a few moments of your time. If you find this to be agreeable, please write down a time when I can see you and attach it to the rock. I’m still outside, I’ll be here for a good half hour. When you throw the rock, please try not to hit me.

With thanks,


Princess Carla was impressed. So far, nobody had bothered to ask if it was convenient before, and what was more, this “Sarah” was not a prince. She didn’t appear to have any title at all. She got up and went to the window, and sure enough, there was a girl outside.

“I’ve got time now,” Carla said. “Why don’t you come up?”

Sarah blinked a couple of times. “With all due respect, how the heck am I supposed to get up there?” Sarah is a particularly profane character, so it’s safe for the reader to assume that almost every sentence has been edited or modified in some way.

“I have a pulley system,” Carla said proudly. See that bit earlier about how Princess Carla ate? That’s foreshadowing—mentioning something casually when it’s actually relevant to the plot later on. “If you get in the box, I’ll pull you up.”

“Wow, aren’t I too heavy?” Sarah asked.

“No, it’s a pretty extensive system, and the more gears it goes through, the less force you need to pull something up. It’s really clever.”

“That is clever,” Sarah agreed.

Moments later, Sarah was standing in Carla’s tower room. “It’s nice. Must be a real bother trying to find curved furniture though.” Only she didn’t say ‘bother’.

“It is, but I don’t change my furniture often. I’m a creature of habit.” Princess Carla, who feared awkward silences, ploughed on. “So, what can I help you with?”

“Ah, it’s this thing,” Sarah said. “It’s a bit tricky, and I’ll understand if you don’t want to help, but… well, not to put any pressure on you, but you’re the only one who can help.”

“What with?” Carla sat down and indicated that Sarah should do the same.

“Well, did you know that you’re the only princess left? Everyone’s gone and gotten married. Everyone’s a queen now with hoards of babies.”

“Surely they have some female children?” Carla asked, interested.

“Well, yeah, but they’re babies, so they can’t help. I need a princess who is in control of her motor functions.” Sarah reached in her bag—did I mention she was carrying a bag? I bet I didn’t. Like I said, I’m very bad at describing things—and produced a frog. “This is my friend, Jake.”

“That’s… nice?” Carla said.

“Not for Jake.”

“Aloha,” said Jake the frog.

“I didn’t know frogs said that.” After all, books tell us that frogs say ribbit. It’s not entirely accurate, but it’s close enough.

“Jake’s Hawaiian,” Sarah said. “Actually, it’s the most coherent he’s ever been. I’m quite tempted to leave him like that.”

“Leave him like…?”

“Sorry,” said Sarah. “I’ll start at the beginning. You see, Jake is usually less frog-shaped, and more humanoid. He’s a very nice guy, but he ticked off a witch, and she turned him into a frog. Usually the escape clause is that his true love has to kiss him, but the witch was feeling persnickity and decided that a princess has to kiss him to turn him back. Since you’re the only one left, and not very approachable…” Sarah paused, then hastily added, “so I’m told, but I think you’re very nice—it seemed unlikely that we’d get him changed back. Probably a good thing, I think I’d have a job finding Jake’s true love. He doesn’t often confide in me, usually he just asks me deep questions that I have to ponder for a couple of days.”

“You want me to kiss a frog?”

“Well, not with tongue or anything.” (The scribe has no idea how to change that into a nice child-like phrase.) “Just a little peck. That’s all it would take. So could you? He’s not covered in acid, so you’re not going to get stoned,” Sarah said, thinking that maybe Princess Carla had seen Family Guy too and that this is what was holding her back. “Look, I’ll prove it!” Sarah kissed the Jake-frog. Nothing happened.

Princess Carla, who had not been adverse to kissing the Jake-frog anyway—a quick peck couldn’t do any harm, could it?—decided that now she had to. Sarah had already kissed the frog, and now Carla was determined to do the same.

She gave the frog a quick peck between its bulbous eyes. She wanted to think that the frog tasted like a man, or had some faintly alluring taste, but really, it just tasted of frog. Not the French delicacy, but of simple pond frog, who enjoys slime, water, and making tadpoles.

For a few seconds, nothing really happened, and Carla idly wondered if Sarah was insane. She would later find out that yes, Sarah was probably insane, but not in this case.

With a puff of rather smelly smoke, Jake appeared in his true form.

Princess Carla was surprised that such a big man could be condensed into a body small enough to be carried by Sarah.

“alkdjakdjiejlkadiid,” said Jake.

“He’s back to normal!” Sarah said with a big grin. She turned to Princess Carla. “You’re a marvel. A tall, springily-curled marvel.”

Carla was pleased by the compliment, even if it did baffle her a little.

“Wow. Check it out,” said Jake, looking around. “No doors in here.”

“He likes doors,” Sarah said. “I’m not sure why.”

“I find them tiresome.” Carla replied. “With a door, anyone can just walk in whenever they please. That’s why I shut myself away up here. I was sick of the interruptions.”

You locked yourself away?” Sarah asked.

“Sure. People kept bothering me. Of course, I began to regret it after the princes started turning up. I don’t want to get married and raise children and attend balls—and I’m so sick of them turning up all the time.”

“What do you want to do, then?” Jake asked, using English for the first time.

“Oh, I want to write. That’s what I’ve been doing up here.”

“I love to write,” Sarah said with enthusiasm. “I’d love to read your stuff… if you’ll let me, that is.”

Carla nodded. “But now you have to help me with the princes. They’re disturbing me. Do you know I’ve been on the same paragraph for three months? It’s all their noise and bluster. It really puts me off, and they’re not even all that inventive. If just one of them wanted something more than the pride of winning me because I’m difficult, then I might consider it. Anything for a bit of peace and quiet.”

“Oh, that’s easy,” Sarah said. “Why don’t you just move out and not leave a forwarding address? I mean, you can’t get much mail here, so you’re not going to lose anything.”

“Where should I move to? I don’t have any friends or family.”

“Move in with us. Jake built a house with lots of space. It’s The House That Jake Built.”

“Doors too,” murmured Jake.

So that is what Princess Carla did. She moved out of her tower, and into The House That Jake Built, with Sarah and Jake. She dropped her title and became a hardcore Ms. instead. She retained her tower though—after all, if you’re going to do something as impossibly reckless as move in with a perfect stranger (or two), then it’s good to have a back-up plan in case it all falls through.

It’s a shame Queen Valiant didn’t think of that. She married Valiant and has to put up with his great booming voice every moment of the day—literally, for the man not only talks, but sings, yodels and shouts in his sleep. She does not have a back-up plan, though as the years have gone by, Carla has considered emailing her to let her know that there’s a lovely tower free at the other end of town, and while it’s not entirely protected from Valiant’s voice, an iPod helps.

Carla, Sarah and Jake still live together. Not exactly “happily ever after” because they row every so often, when Jake talks his strange language, when Carla makes tea the American way and when Sarah holds her Galaxy chocolate to ransom. But basically, they’re ok. Sarah and Carla spend a lot of time in the study Jake built them, it has maps and timelines and post-it notes on the walls, and nobody else is allowed to touch. Jake spends hours by the pond at the end of the garden, giving paternal advice to the tadpoles.

They’re alright together.

So, I guess that means, they lived “alright” ever after.

Not bad for a princess who bucked the system, eh?

The End