Famous Emma Watson lookalike Richard Dawkins made some comments this week on the subject of children being told fairy tales at a young age, remarking that it is “pernicious…to inculcate into a child a view of the world which includes supernaturalism.” Dawkins believes that children should be taught the importance of rational thought and scientific rigour, though he later clarified that such stories probably encourage critical thinking, and thus aren’t particularly harmful.
The idea of a fairy tale bereft of its supernatural elements, and instead rooted in boring old everyday life, is an intriguing one. Have you ever wondered how some of our most beloved fantasy characters would cope within the stringent boundaries of our existential reality? Me neither, but sure we’re here now so let’s find out…
The following account is transcribed from the official report of a detective, who has asked to remain anonymous. It is believed that the author of these extracts retired shortly after the experience, due to the traumatic nature of the events and the psychological repercussions that were suffered in the aftermath.
It was early that morning that I received a tip-off from an anonymous caller about the house deep in the woods. It was an old woman’s voice, harsh and raspy. She kept referring to the cottage as a ‘den of vice’, insisting that her step-daughter was involved in some ‘weird shit’ over there. It was hard to make out anything else amongst the maniacal cackling. I thought she sounded unhinged but protocol dictated that I had to check it out anyway, so off I went.
As I drove through the woods I recalled that there had been a number of unusual incidents there in recent years that I had heard about from colleagues: the simpleton who was convinced his goose was laying golden eggs; the poor young schizophrenic kid who broke his neck climbing a beanstalk; and of course the awful episode of the brother and sister being lured to that pervert’s house made entirely of sweets.
I pulled up in front of the house and got out to have a look around. It looked dilapidated and gloomy, as if it was deserted. The windows were blacked out on the inside, which filled me with an odd sense of dread. I went back to the car and took my revolver out of the glove compartment, holstering it at my side. I knocked a few times on the front door but there was no answer. When I tried the handle it gave way with an eerie, drawn-out creak.
The sordid scene that greeted me upon entering the cottage is still burnt into my mind. The acrid smell of filth and squalor was almost overpowering. There were seven small cages lined up against the wall, filled with soiled rags and torn bedding. In the middle of the floor was a giant trough, with a few morsels of foul-smelling food lying rotting in the dank heat of the room. There was a bucket in one corner that I dared not approach due to the hideous odour emanating from it.
This pig-pen, as it appeared to me to be, took up the entire ground floor of the cottage, with a rickety staircase in one corner leading upstairs. I went up the stairs and opened the door at the top, and stood in shock at what I found there. It was an opulently furnished bedroom, clean and in perfect order. The giant four-poster bed took up most of the room, and a giant chest stood at the foot of the bed. I pulled the lid open to find that it was full almost to the brim with gleaming white diamonds.
It was at this point that I heard a commotion from outside the house, and dashed downstairs to see what it was. When I looked out the front door I saw seven small figures walking towards the house. Their faces and clothes were filthy and their feet were chained together as they marched in unison. They carried tools and chanted sombrely, over and over again,
“Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s home from work we go.”
When the lead figure saw me he stopped dead, dropping his spade and the bag he was carrying. Great chunks of white diamond spilled out of the bag and onto the ground in front of his grimy bare feet. They began to shriek in horror as they scrambled to gather the precious gems. They cried out in anguished voices,
“Her diamonds, her diamonds. We must bring her diamonds. She is the fairest of them all.”
I approached them and told them I just wanted to help, but after collecting the diamonds they dashed into the house. When I went in I found them cowering in a corner. I’ve never seen such a collection of obviously traumatised and troubled individuals. One had a manic grin fixed on his face even as he trembled with fear; another hid his face from me completely and appeared on the verge of a panic attack; one of them even suffered a violent bout of sneezing and lay convulsing on the floor as his friend, obviously suffering stress-induced narcolepsy, collapsed and began to snore loudly.
Only one of them appeared to have his mental faculties intact, and I began to question him. He told me that he was a doctor who had happened upon the cottage one day on his way to give a young girl in a coma her monthly check-up. The one all the papers were calling Sleeping Beauty. He said he had been taken in by “her”, but wouldn’t give me a name. When I asked who she was, the others began to screech in panicked voices,
“She is the fairest of them all.”
Just then I heard the creak of the front door as a shadow passed over the quivering figures crouched before me. I turned to see a striking young woman standing in the doorway, wearing an immaculate blue and yellow dress, and covered in swathes of sparkling jewellery. The dwarfs shielded their eyes and continued to shriek their sorrowful refrain. The woman fixed me with a steely glare, and before I could say anything, took something out of her pocket and held it up.
“A visitor,” she said in a flat tone, “isn’t that nice. Would you like an apple…detective?”
Her eyes had flitted down to see the badge on my belt, and the last word was delivered with an icy venom. In her outstretched hand was a shiny red apple, and fixed on her porcelain face was a wide smile.
“No thank you, miss. I need to know just what the hell is going on here. These men are clearly being mistreated and…”
“It’s a shame,” she interrupted me as she looked me up and down, “that you’re so tall, detective. You’re not really to my taste.”
A fleeting look of disgust crossed her face as she spoke.
“I’m afraid I don’t have time for this detective. It’s getting near their bedtime.”
At this the dwarfs scrambled to their feet and began to strip off their dirty rags as they climbed the stairs. They chanted sadly,
“Bedtime. Bedtime. She is the fairest of them all. Diamonds…”
I turned around to the woman as I reached for my gun.
“Just what kind of sick shit are you…”
Before I could finish I was struck in the face with the canvas bag of diamonds and my legs buckled beneath me. She moved quickly and kicked the gun out of my hand. I grabbed her ankle and pulled her to the ground. Warm blood gushed from my temple and clouded my vision as we struggled on the wooden floor. She bit and clawed at me, and I could hear the frenzied jabbering of the dwarfs from the staircase. Suddenly a loud click echoed through the room and we both stopped wrestling to turn to the staircase.
The doctor stood at the foot of the stairs, half-naked and covered in grime, still chained to his fellow slaves. His hands trembled as he held the gun pointed squarely at the head of the young woman. The others continued to recite their twisted lament.
“She is the fairest of them all. She is the fairest of them all. She is the fair-”
A deafening bang brought the chanting to an abrupt halt as the dead weight of the woman landed on my chest, her glassy eye staring into mine as blood spurted from where the other had been.
“Not anymore she’s fucking not,” whispered the doctor as he dropped the gun. It clattered to the floor and he collapsed in a sobbing heap among the others.
I pushed the corpse off me and stumbled to my feet, taking out my phone to call for backup. I sat on the stairs with them and waited with them for what seemed like an eternity, until eventually I heard the sirens and saw the lights seeping in through the blackened windows. I sat there with them as they whimpered and screamed, and I held them. Just held them. I didn’t know what else to do.