Last year, we started publishing a collection of short stories with disabled characters as the hero or heroine, or where disability is central to the storyline.
Working with disabled writer Hayleigh Barclay and disabled illustrator Philip Hoare, we want to ensure disabled people can see themselves reflected in fiction, and encourage more disabled writers to create books with disabled characters. Here, the first part of our Cinderella story…
Elle’s father left the family home when his daughter was nine years old. He told them he was off on a fishing trip to catch an old trout. Little did the family know that the old trout in question was Mrs Mackenzie down the road.
Understandably, his newest wife (the third in eight years), Annabel Snoop, was a little peeved at being left to pay off the mortgage, monthly car payments for a 1950s pink Cadillac, and a lifetime subscription to Cheese News Monthly.
She considered entering her two sons into various talent and reality shows, but as neither of them had any amount of personality let alone star quality, this idea was quickly dismissed.
Almost two decades later and the less than content foursome found themselves at the heart of a royal scandal. Annabel, who was as work-shy as she was conniving decided it was high time for the Prince of the Realm to marry. Or at least that’s what she told people.
Little did they know her intentions were significantly darker. She had never met the poor boy, but her reasoning for making him marry her suggested that as she paid taxes to keep the Royal family and, therefore, she had the right to dictate their lives.
After a back and forth between the family and the Royal private secretary (which almost ended in Annabel receiving a restraining order), the Prince finally agreed to attend a dinner party at the family home.
Elle, as usual, was kept in the dark about everything. As soon as her father ran away her sole duties involved cleaning, serving her step-family and running errands – although being in a wheelchair it was impossible for her to run anywhere.
Luckily for the Snoops, Elle was the one with the smarts and could often be found sitting by the fireside with a broom in one hand and a book in the other.
Feminist politics of the late 20th century was a particular favourite subject of hers. Of course, her intelligence and ability to spot limescale from 50 paces made her an invaluable asset for the family.
“But you have to come to the dinner,” Annabel said, holding a green lace dress with a plunging neckline. “I bought you this.”
Elle, running an iron over a stubborn creased shirt, maintained her classic resting bitch face. “I’d rather stick a red-hot poker up my ass.”
Her stepmother grimaced. “That’s not why you read by the fire, is it? I mean, I know the boys call you Cinderella, but I just assumed…“
“No, it isn’t!” Elle replied.
“Right, yes I see,” Annabel nodded, not quite convinced. “I just need you to butter up the Prince. Find out his interests so we can use it to our advantage.”
“Really?” Elle said, stacking the laundry onto her lap and manoeuvring towards a closet. “Tell me, do you think he will agree with Kant’s theory of the sublime?”
Annabel rolled her eyes and made a rather disgruntled groan. “Dinner is at 7. I expect you to be there,” she said, placing the dress on a table before leaving.
“It’s not happening,” Elle called after her.
No sooner had the door closed than a streak of bright light flashed across the room. It was a set of car headlights. Nothing out of the ordinary. What was out of the ordinary happened as soon as the Vauxhall drove past.
A woman wearing a pink glittery jumpsuit and Doc Martins stumbled through the window. Wrestling with the curtains, the woman cursed, tripped over a rug, before finally standing to compose herself.
“Who the hell are you?” Elle demanded.
“I,” the woman announced holding a glowstick in the air, “am your Fairy-godmother!”
There was an awkward silence as the two women stared at each other. Elle hadn’t believed in magic since she was six years old and witnessed an unfortunate incident with a rabbit in a hat. She’s never liked the Easter bunny ever since.
The Fairy-godmother hadn’t believed in non-believers since the 60 when LSD catapulted her popularity to new heights.
After what seemed like an insulting amount of time, the Fairy-godmother (and her glowstick wand) managed to convince the young woman in front of her, that magic did indeed exist.
Without giving away too many details, the event included a PowerPoint on levitation, conjuring up shots of tequila, and good old-fashioned bribery.
“So basically, we’re part of the resistance,” the Fairy-godmother said, swishing her wand to turn the wheels on Elle’s wheelchair into glass. “We need you to get rid of the Prince so we can take over the Kingdom.”
Elle looked down at her shiny new ride. “These aren’t very practical for traction… and what do you mean get rid of?”
The Fairy- godmother waved her hands around as though at a loss for words. She plonked herself on the floor, crossed her legs and thought for a moment. “We haven’t got that far. We just want rid of him.”
“Who exactly is we?” Elle replied, feeling the strands of her hair lifting themselves into a beehive. It would have looked elegant if it hadn’t been for the large sunflower that decided to burst from the roots. The nosy little caterpillar crawling along the petals was also unnecessary.
“The Alliance of Magical Beings and Boring Humans,” the Fairy-godmother said before hastily adding, “I didn’t come up with the name. I think humans are marvellous and not at all boring. Just look at toasters. And microwaves. All that cooking without a wand. How do you do it?”
From across the hallway, the sound of plates smashing and pans crashing made the two women jump. Seconds later, Annabel rushed into the room yelling something about baked potatoes.
As soon as she clapped eyes on the Fairy-godmother she stopped in her tracks (along with the gin and tonic and sausage roll in her hands) and said, “Ah, you’ve finally met.”
“Indeed!” the Fairy-godmother replied, standing, and waving her glow stick towards Elle. Seam by seam, the girl’s jeans and t-shirt transformed into a garish neon pink tracksuit alongside flashing trainers.
Annabel and the Fairy-godmother stared at each other as though in some sort of stand-off. Neither dared blink, but instead, noses were sniffed, teeth were sucked, and chins were poised in the air.
Finally, as the tension grew unbearable, Elle interrupted. “How do you know each other? Oh, by the way, I’m not wearing this!”
“Your stepmother,” the Fairy-godmother replied, “is a Boring Human.”
“Believe me, I’m anything but boring,” Annabel said, ravishing a piece of pastry.
Screwing up her face in disgust, the Fairy-godmother turned her back and looked out the window. “We are in the Alliance together.”
“I’m sensing some history,” Elle remarked, taking off the nylon jacket.
A squeak came from the window as the Fairy-godmother tried not to cry. Annabel shrugged her shoulders and muttered some nonsense about a gnome and magic toadstools. Elle ignored them and began dressing herself in the green gown.
“You still haven’t explained why you want this Prince guy dealt with,” she said, wrestling with a stubborn little button.
Dark shadows rose across the walls, fog lingered outside the window, and ominous music pounded through the floorboards.
“He’s plotting,” the Fairy-godmother announced. “Plotting a war which will pit humans against magical creatures. Man against pixie. Woman against sprite. Child against leprechaun. There’ll be blood in the streets and horses’ heads in the sheets. We can’t let that happen.”
As the weight of the mission sank in, Elle turned to her stepmother. “I didn’t know you cared.”
“I just want his castle,” she replied.
It ruined the atmosphere.
“So, let’s say I do this,” she said, “What do I get?”
The Fairy-godmother spun around and beamed, “All the bluebirds will sing for you.”
The room was silent as Elle faced two women who were less than impressed by her lack of enthusiasm. As lovely as bluebirds were, they didn’t offer much to a modern girl; not like a French château, a bank account in the Cayman Islands, and a fifty-foot yacht.
“Oh, I know what you’re after,” Annabel tutted. “A new mop.”
Elle took a deep breath to compose herself. “Not exactly,” she replied, imagining the places she would like her stepmother to stick a mop. Preferably somewhere painful.
At the precise moment, a twitch of a smile crossed her face, the doorbell rang. Annabel shot out the room as though a free piece of stale cheese awaited outside. No such luck; it was only the Prince.
She left as the Fairy-godmother whispered incoherently about the spell lasting until midnight. Under no uncertain terms, Elle assured her, would that be necessary as there wasn’t a hope in hell she’d go anywhere with a ginormous sunflower sticking out of her head.
Minutes later and the Prince stood in the hallway screwing up his face at the suggestion of pumpkin pie for dessert. Surprisingly, his entire staff of thirty servants had been instructed to keep watch in the garden just in case a shifty-looking elf passed by.
It wasn’t long before the Prince grew tired of Annabel; the boredom of the endless house tour was only surpassed by the monotonous family photos.
“You said you had a daughter,” he said, staring at the ceiling. “What’s she like? “
Annabel shuffled in her chair. “She’s intelligent.”
Sitting with his feet resting on the coffee table, the Prince sniffed, unimpressed.
“She’s also very loyal and hardworking,” Annabel continued.
It was no use. The Prince’s mind had already drifted to other things – more important things like cricket, jellied eels, and cat videos on YouTube. To him, the only thing worse than a woman who could think was being forced to sit in the same room as one. When the war came, women would be classed alongside unicorns and trolls; they all had to go.
“How long do I need to stay here before you leave me alone for good?” the Prince said.
Annabel checked her watch. “You said you would stay for dinner.”
“And you said it was time for me to get married.”
“Did I?” Annabel replied, thinking back to the endless letters she had sent to the palace. She regretted nothing; after all, they obviously did the trick.
The Prince huffed. “Well, I can tell you right now, that won’t be happening. I’m at a very crucial stage in my colouring book and I can’t have any distractions.”
Just as Annabel was about to give him what for, she heard Elle’s wheels squeaking down the hallway. Finally, she thought, making her way to the door. As she turned the handle, she caught sight of her stepdaughter looking radiant and with a slight blush creeping over her cheeks.
“Come in, my dear, and meet the Prince,” Annabel said, stepping out of the way.
The second Elle entered the room, magic filled the air and sparks flew as she and the Prince locked eyes. For a brief moment, he smiled in wonder at the beauty in front of him. With her blonde hair and blue eyes, she was all he ever dreamed of. His Princess had arrived. She was less than impressed.
Was this destined to be a true fairy tale romance? No!
Elle stared at the buffoon in front of her and tilted her head as though searching for a brain. Unable to find one, she muttered an incantation and pink smoke engulfed the Prince. Coughing and spluttering, Annabel opened a window but did nothing to save the young man who lay collapsed on the floor.
“That was a little dramatic,” Annabel said, wafting the residual smoke outside.
Elle shrugged her shoulders as though seeing the Royal heap of unconsciousness for the first time.
“Oh,” she said, as one of her glass wheels fell off.
By Hayleigh Barclay
Check out more short stories written by Hayleigh Barclay on Disability Horizons.
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