The Wicked Stepbrother and Other Stories
Fairy tales. We all know the traditional stories, right? Prince Charming, the hero, fights evil, wins the princess, happily ever after. Three sons, three wishes, witches, dragons, a quest, and happily ever after.
These stories are part of our cultural fabric. We retell them, over and over, and the stories change in the retellings, to reflect contemporary culture, such as Princess Charming, heroes and heroines as people of color. It has been only relatively recently that queer folk have found their way into the retellings, as they have here, in this collection of stories, stories that grew out of questions:
What if the prince falls in love with Cinderella’s gay stepbrother?
What if Rumpelstiltskin doesn’t really want the Queen’s child? He wants his old boyfriend back, the King.
What if Beauty and the Beast were two men?
As fairy tales do, these stories explore the human condition, human experience, through the metaphors of magic and the magical, exploring what it means to be human. After all, all fairy tales are true. But this time, with a gay perspective.
In these tales, retellings and original ones, readers are asked to consider what price must be paid for happily ever after—which is not guaranteed. Love, on the other hand, without a doubt. These tales are love stories.
Duty or love? Is love worth great sacrifice?
So… once upon a time….
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I hate my stepsister.
I hated my stepmother.
I hated my father.
Sometimes I hate myself.
I’m not a nice person.
In the spring of the year I turned eighteen, and Conor, sixteen, Father brought home his third wife. They drove up the long driveway, the great front lawn an explosion of flowers, the canopy of those huge oaks dappling the silver-grey hardwood of the car in green light, and parked in front of the stone steps. When Father opened the door and got out, he wouldn’t even look in my direction as I waited at the door with Conor. Conor, yes; me, no.
He had gone to the capital, New Roesk, six months ago to look for a new rich wife. He had squandered the money Grandfather left him and what money he had from marrying Mother, although Father said she really didn’t have so much. The old families had history and legend, not much cash. He had squandered Conor’s mother’s money as well, on his foolish hunts, his parties, his card games, his other women.
The messenger dove had come to me, a beautiful deep blue-grey bird; I had raised her from her hatching, and only reluctantly let Father take her to the capital. Now she sat on my shoulder as I followed Conor down the steps to wait. We had had the exclusive royal charter to raise doves for the Royal Mail. Father had sold the charter, too. Now I had just the last of the family flock for my pets.
The new wife got out of the car first, then her daughter, Elena. I heard the sharp intake of breath from the butler, the smothered gasp of the housekeeper. I heard even Conor whispering how beautiful they both were. Mary Grace, the house greenwitch, looked at Father looking at Conor; then she looked at me. She knew what he was planning. I knew, too, what Father would say to me, after dinner, when the port was served: Beautiful, eh, Calum? Not that you would know what to do with a beautiful woman if you had her, eh?
When Father goes on about women, I always say nothing. I will never tell him that he is right about one thing: I love men. I just tell him Grandfather would never serve port to women. I let him think I’m weak. He doesn’t know I’m becoming a powerful witch. Like Mother, my blood glows silver in the moonlight.
This time, at the welcoming banquet, and the dance, was different: Father didn’t wait for the meal to end, nor did he wait for the port to be served. He didn’t whisper it to me; he said it out loud.
I just stared at him in the sudden silence. The first salvo, I knew, to making Conor his heir and not me.
Father always underestimated me.
So did Elena. She came to see me a few weeks after that banquet. I was with my pets in the dovecotes out near the stables. She came, she said, looking for Conor, and to apologize to me for all the noise and all the changes since she and her mother had come to Colomendy. I had doves perched on my shoulders, sitting on my head.
“I can tell this all upsets you so, Calum, and I want us to be friends. We are stepbrother and stepsister, after all. These are your pets, yes? These birds, they are so beautiful, the color of soft silver. That deep cooing.”
I stared at her. She was beautiful: golden hair, deep blue eyes, flawless skin, and only sixteen. She would only become more beautiful. And she felt sorry for the weak older brother, who wasn’t really a man, and wasn’t attractive, not like his golden brother. The older brother who was a runt, who had tainted blood.
Elena said she wanted to be my friend. Liar.
Warren Rochelle lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, and has just retired from teaching English at the University of Mary Washington. His short fiction and poetry have been published in such journals and anthologies as Icarus, North Carolina Literary Review, Forbidden Lines, Aboriginal Science Fiction, Collective Fallout, Queer Fish 2, Empty Oaks, Quantum Fairy Tales, Migration, The Silver Gryphon, Jaelle Her Book, Colonnades, and Graffiti, as well as the Asheville Poetry Review, GW Magazine, Crucible, The Charlotte Poetry Review, and Romance and Beyond.
His short story, “The Golden Boy,” was a finalist for the 2004 Spectrum Award for Short Fiction. His short story “Mirrors,” was just published in Under A Green Rose, a queering romance anthology, from Cuil Press. “The Latest Thing,” a flash fiction story, is forthcoming in the Queer Sci Fi anthology, Innovation.
Rochelle is also the author of four novels: The Wild Boy (2001), Harvest of Changelings (2007), and The Called (2010), all published by Golden Gryphon Press, and The Werewolf and His Boy, published by Samhain Publishing in September 2016. The Werewolf and His Boy was re-released from JMS Books in August 2020. The Wicked Stepbrother and Other Stories is forthcoming from JMS Books in late September 2020.
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Oh haillllll no, you are NOT going to sit there and tell me "But this time, a fairytale with a gay perspective!" like women and queer folx in M/M have not been doing exactly that for decades! I have news for you: just because a man hasn't done it yet (also not true, they have) does not mean it hasn't been done at all. It's laughable that the author has done so little research into queer fantasy that he thinks hes the first and only writer to ever think of retelling a fairytale with a gay romance.ReplyDelete
That's a fair point - the blurb does seem to imply this to some degree. It could also be just a bit of unfortunate wording used by someone in their marketing department. I hope the author will see your comment and respond. It's unfortunate that you felt you had to leave your comment anonymously, but perhaps you'll check back here for a reply. Thanks for reading.Delete