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On Being Ugly

This week's Flash Fiction Friday challenge was to give the backstory on a fairy tale. 

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Once upon a time and long ago, we had great fun with a prompt that had us using a fairy tale villain as our protagonist. This time however, you can feel free to use any of those freaky little players in your story. So, what are we looking for this week? We want you to give us a backstage pass, so to speak, so we can go behind the scenes in the land of enchantment.

There are so many creatures, sweet and evil alike, all wrapped up neatly into pretty little packages, tied with colored ribbons and topped with bows, called fairy tales. That’s all well and good, but what led up to their appearance in these charming fantasies? What are their backstories?

For instance, what’s the deal with Goldilocks? How long had she been committing criminal trespass before she graduated to felony B&E? Think about this too. Would you begin your career as a burglar with a house inhabited by three bears? What drove her to take such a risk?

You get the point. We want you to give us the skinny on who these fairy tale ‘people’ really are.

Prompt: Choose a fairy tale/nursery rhyme (or throw a couple into the mix, if you’d prefer), and share with us the tale behind the tale.

Genre: Fairy Tale/Mixed

Word Count: 1,500 or less

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My story is just under 1000 words, and shows how ugliness can lead to good karma. 

On Being Ugly

Prince Ramel was beautiful, rich, pampered, vain, cruel, and dead. At least he assumed he was, as he was now sitting in a cloud of mist, facing Lord Vishnu.

The god nodded slightly and spread his hands. “And here you are again, young prince, part of samsara, the cycle of life, and death, and rebirth.” He frowned. “And some very bad karma this time. You were given wealth and privilege, but used none of it to help others, choosing instead to sit in your palace, indulging yourself on luxuries, admiring yourself in a mirror. You have much to make up for.”

The prince waved a hand. “Fine, do what you must. Make me a lesser prince, or maybe a tradesman, even a tiger.”

“A duck, I think,” said Lord Vishnu.

The prince shrugged. “Whatever. I will do my penance, and remember nothing of the experience, until I am reborn yet again, back in my proper standing.”

“Not a penance,” said the god. “This is supposed to be an opportunity for you to improve your karma, so that you may advance on the path to final enlightenment. As for memory – I think I will ensure you are not only quite aware you are a duck, but that you once were a mighty prince.”

**

Prince Ramel was warm, wet, and very cramped. In an egg, he assumed. He could hear the thoughts of someone, or something, quite nearby – his mother, he realized. She seemed quite proud of her clutch of eggs, and of him in particular, the largest of them all. As it should be, of course. Soon he would hatch, and then begin his easy life of foraging for insects around the farmyard. Perhaps some of the smaller ducks could be persuaded to forage for him.

Before long it was time to hatch. He had already sensed activity around him, as his brothers and sisters battled their way out, their minds filled with simple thoughts of food. His mother fussed over them, and presented each to the most senior duck for her approval. He waited a few minutes, so as to make a proper entrance, then pushed the sides of the shell away and stood proudly, waiting for the adulation.

There was a silence. “Ugly!” said the most senior duck. “Disgustingly ugly. Sent it away.”

His mother protested. “He was just a little cramped in there. I'm sure he will be just fine once I clean him up.”

But it was no use. Barely able to walk, protesting all the while in pathetic little peeps, with the jeers of the other animals ringing in his ears, Prince Ramel was chased from the farmyard, off into the nearby forest. He managed to find a small pond, with a cave nearby for shelter, and insects and grubs in the nearby grasses. He met a family of wild ducks, but they chased him away, for he was too ugly. He discovered a cottage, owned by an old woman, too blind to see his ugliness. However, she also had a cat and a hen, both possessive of what little food there was to share. They described his ugliness to her, nipping at her toes and claiming it was the ugly duckling's dangerous claws and teeth. Once again he was thrown out. As winter approached, he met some beautiful wild swans, who at least seemed to tolerate him for a few weeks. But, when they spread their wings one day to follow the sun, he found he couldn't fly well enough to keep up with them.

Prince Ramel was not only ugly, he was also hungry and scared. He did not feel like a prince at all. But he was determined to survive, so he gathered some grasses to line his little cave, dug for grubs in the ground, and used his strong beak to break the ice on his little pond. He met a family of rabbits, and an orphaned squirrel, and invited them to share the warmth of his home. He stopped worrying about his future, or his ugliness, and just enjoyed each day as it happened, taking pleasure in the simple things around him.

Day followed day, until at last it was spring, and the rebirth of life all around the prince's little home. One morning he awoke to the sound of loud honking, and discovered that the wild swans were back again.

Their leader, tall, white, and beautiful, stepped forward and bowed slightly. “We are glad to see you are still here. Won't you join us? We are heading to the farmer's field to forage for grain.”

“Me?” said the duckling. “No one ever wants me, they always say I'm too ugly.”

“You? Ugly? My dear boy, look at your reflection in the water. You are the most beautiful we have ever seen, a prince among swans.”

Sure enough, he had changed over the winter, from a duckling to a swan. He bowed back. “Not a prince, just a swan, no better than any of you. But I would be pleased to fly along, and help you forage for grain.”

**

And with those words, he found himself once again facing Lord Vishnu.

“Greetings, young prince,” said the god. “How was life as an ugly duckling? Are you upset I whisked you away once you became a beautiful swan?”

Ramel folded his hands and bowed deeply. “Life was what it was, just a passage of time. I realized that being an ugly duckling, or a swan, was all the same to me. Please, choose whatever you must for my next cycle.”

Lord Vishnu smiled. “You have truly learned something this time, and are closer to enlightenment. Soon, I think, the cycle will cease, and you will have attained moksha.

 

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The story, of course, is The Ugly Duckling, by Hans Christian Anderson. 

 

 

 

Comments

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Rose Green

Lovely retelling and I really liked the inclusion of the cycle of rebirth. It added a really nice dimension to the story.

Thanks for sharing.

Joyce Juzwik

The Ugly Duckling was always one of my favorite stories, and you've really brought even more depth to it. Instead of simply leaving one existence behind and moving through one after another, this time, a great lesson was learned. Beautifully done, Mike.

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